Friday, June 01, 2018

Today's Tune: Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore - Downey To Lubbock

Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore team up on ‘Downey to Lubbock’ album

By Peter Blackstock
May 30, 2018

Premiere: Dave Alvin, Jimmie Dale Gilmore team on 'Billy the Kid and Geronimo'
Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Dave Alvin

If you’re a fan of Texas troubadour Jimmie Dale Gilmore, you’re most likely also a fan of California singer-songwriter Dave Alvin. For decades they’ve been among the best-known artists in Americana music, and their career tracks are similar.
Alvin rose up with roots-rock group the Blasters, with whom he wrote the now-classic tune “American Music.” Gilmore first got noticed as a member of country-folk outfit the Flatlanders, with whom he wrote the now-standard song “Dallas.” Both ventured out on their own in the late 1980s and soon built impressive catalogs that received multiple Grammy nominations (Alvin won one, for 2000’s “Public Domain”).
So when Gilmore’s booking agent suggested a couple of years ago that they do a tour together, it seemed a natural fit. They’d become good friends over the years, meeting around 1990 as part of a songwriters’ tour and staying in touch ever since.
What they didn’t expect was the inspiration that struck almost immediately when they began touring. The eventual result was “Downey to Lubbock,” a collaborative album out this week on Yep Roc. They celebrate its release with a show on Saturday at Antone’s.
Their previous duo appearance here, in January 2017 at Stateside at the Paramount, was just a couple of nights into that fateful run. Even then, they’d already been struck by the depth of their bond as musicians.
“We said, ‘Oh, yeah, we’ll do some gigs, that’ll be fun,’” Alvin recalled over lunch with Gilmore at an Austin barbecue joint this spring. “But after one or two gigs it was like, ‘Oh, this is REALLY fun.’”
“We had this common interest in the history” of American music, Gilmore picks up the story. “We like knowing the progression of it — how did this style lead to this style, you know. Kind of the musicology of it.”
They also had a tendency to surprise each other, in ways that were creatively reinvigorating for both of them. They had a loose idea going in about how the shows would go, but they bypassed formal structure in favor of allowing each other to act on a whim.
“Each show was different. Each show was like a discovery,” Alvin recalled. “We quickly discovered that we had a common bond of music we both knew.”
Exhibit A was “Silverlake,” a gorgeous ballad that California songwriter Steve Young recorded on his 1993 album “Switchblades of Love.” It was almost contentious at first, as both Alvin and Gilmore had stories about how the late Young had “given” them the song.
Young wrote it for Alvin, as it turned out, but he’d specifically suggested to Gilmore a little later that Gilmore should sing the song. It was a signal that perhaps this collaboration should involve more than just a tour.
The dozen tracks on “Downey to Lubbock” — naturally, including “Silverlake” — range from gritty old-school blues to new material written for the album and even a revival of the 1960s touchstone “Get Together.” Collectively, the record is like a road map to the common ground where Alvin’s southern California and Gilmore’s West Texas intersect.
The title track serves as a mission statement upfront. Written specifically to define this partnership, it’s poetic geographical autobiography, with Alvin and Gilmore trading verses that tell their respective stories. “I’m a wild blues blaster from a sunburnt California town,” Alvin begins the first verse, leading into Gilmore’s flip side in the second verse: “I’m an old flatlander from the great high plains.” By the end, they’re singing to each other: “I know someday this old highway’s gonna come to an end/I know when it does you’re going to be my friend.”
What these friends didn’t know until they dug deeper was that they had ties reaching back well beyond their first meeting. On the title track of his 2004 album “Ashgrove,” Alvin sang of sneaking off at age 13 to the Ashgrove, a Hollywood blues club where legends such as Lightnin’ Hopkins regularly performed. As it turns out, Gilmore was at some of those same shows.
Ten years apart in age — Gilmore was born in 1945, Alvin in 1955 — they overlapped in Los Angeles in the late 1960s. Alvin was growing up in suburban Downey; Gilmore had moved out there from Lubbock with his first wife, Jo Carol Pierce. Vivid memories of those nights at the Ashgrove shows still linger for both of them.
That’s part of the reason “Downey to Lubbock” is grounded deeply in blues music. Alvin won his Grammy for a folk record, and Gilmore generally has been associated more with country. But they’re both plenty tuned in to the blues, and Alvin especially wanted to draw out that color in Gilmore’s voice.
“I wanted to get the rawer, rocking side of Jimmie Dale,” he says. “He’s usually had a song or two on a record (in that vein), but I thought, let’s really make a bluesy record here. Let’s take advantage of the fact that Jimmie is a great white blues singer.”
They dig in deep on several tracks. “K.C. Moan,” a traditional tune that dates back to the early 20th century, features haunting slide guitar and leads into Lloyd Price’s piano-driven “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” a 1952 R&B gem that kicks Gilmore’s vocal heat up a notch. Even rawer and more central to the duo’s blues bond is Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Buddy Brown’s Blues,” which repays their debt to the Houston blues legend both of them first saw in California.
Elsewhere, they broaden the horizons with songs that one or the other has held dear for decades. The border-flavored accordion tune “The Gardens” comes from a 1989 album by Alvin’s late, beloved bandmate Chris Gaffney. “Get Together,” a 1960s Chet Powers anthem immortalized by the Youngbloods, was one Gilmore pulled out as an encore tune during their tour last year. And Alvin has a crystal-clear memory of the first time he heard “July, You’re a Woman,” from onetime Kingston Trio fixture John Stewart’s landmark 1969 album “California Bloodlines.”
“I was home sick from school, and we had this little black-and-white TV on the kitchen table,” he begins. “My mom was making lunch and there was a show on channel 9. They had this songwriter on, John Stewart. He did ‘California Bloodlines,’ and he did ‘Daydream Believer,’ and it’s just him and an acoustic guitar. And he did ‘July, You’re A Woman,’ and it was just like, ‘Oh, this is amazing.’ That moment with my mom at the kitchen table stuck with me through my whole life.”
On the album, the song rises up like water from a wellspring, Alvin’s weathered voice out front with Gilmore laying back on harmonies as mandolin runs propel the tune through a splendid backdrop of acoustic rhythm guitar.
Though the record is mostly about unearthing old songs on which the duo found common ground, Alvin’s “Billy the Kid and Geronimo” is a major new addition to his songbook. An imagined late-1800s meeting in New Mexico between the young outlaw and the Native American warrior unfolds into a character study of Wild West mythology.
“I was going to co-write it with him, but he finished it,” Gilmore says. “And it was so good, I thought there was nothing I could add to it.” His contribution came in the studio: They trade verses back and forth, with Gilmore voicing Geronimo’s reflections to counter Alvin’s assertions (as Billy the Kid) that the two legends were cut from the same cloth.
The song fits perfectly on “Downey to Lubbock,” which is at its heart “a Southwest kind of record,” Alvin suggests. “It’s one of those Interstate 10 records.” On the map, Downey to Lubbock is a journey of about 1,100 miles. On tour, they’ll take the long way around, starting in Texas this weekend and winding their way through the east in June before an extended California jaunt in July.
Along the way, they’ll probably surprise each other some more. Alvin hesitates for a moment at that characterization: “I don’t know if ‘surprise’ is the right word.” Then he remembers the night on tour when Gilmore pulled out a Blind Lemon Jefferson tune “and he nailed it, vocally. That was pretty amazing. Yeah, surprise is good.”
Gilmore chimes in to offer up a slightly different word. “It occurred to me that it’s ‘delight.’ Delighted by something new.”

Antony Beevor: 'There are things that are too horrific to put in a book’

By Keith Lowe
17 May 2015
Antony Beevor (Photo: Paul Cooper / Rex Features)
Antony Beevor has sleepless nights. When I met him recently at his west London home, he confessed this in a matter-of-fact way, and neither of us sees anything unusual in it. We each take it for granted that any historian who immerses himself in the study of the Second World War, as both of us have for most of our working lives, is bound to suffer occasional bouts of disturbed sleep.
His own insomnia, he tells me, tends to hit him only during intense periods of research, or when he is preparing to write about some of the more disturbing aspects of the war. “Of course, you mustn’t let it get to you straight away because you’ve got to get the facts down accurately,” he says. “But it will get to you a few nights later. In the middle of the night, you’ll suddenly wake up, and it will be there at the back of your mind.”
Certainly, many of the subjects Beevor has covered have been dark. His history of the battle of Stalingrad, which catapulted him to international fame in 1998, described one of the most bitterly fought campaigns of the Second World War. He admits that some of the accounts he discovered, particularly of soldiers starving in the snow, still haunt him today. His subsequent book about the battle for the German capital, Berlin: The Downfall 1945, described the rape of German women on a vast scale – a subject that repeatedly drove him to tears. Most recently, The Second World War described in sickening detail the way that some Japanese soldiers in south east Asia not only cannibalised their dead, but even reared and slaughtered prisoners of war to be eaten.
Writing about such things has not always provoked kind reactions among his critics. Fellow historian Niall Ferguson once accused him of writing war pornography, a charge he categorically rejects. “One has to try to understand these things,” he says. “Let’s face it, the duty of a historian is to understand, and to try to convey that understanding to others.” In fact, given the brutal nature of war, he feels he has actually been relatively restrained. There are many details that have never made it into his books. In his history of the Soviet attack on Berlin, for example, he stopped short of including graphic accounts of German suicide attempts, including the suicides of young children. “I left them out because you couldn’t read them without bursting into tears. There are things that you can’t put in a book because they are too horrific. And yet at the same time you wonder afterwards if you are chickening out by not putting them in.”
If there’s one thing that sets Beevor apart from other historians – beyond his gifts as a storyteller – it’s that he is not afraid to look at the most uncomfortable, even frightening subjects, but does so in a way that doesn’t threaten the reader. There’s rarely a judgmental note to his writing. It’s like having Virgil there to lead you through the underworld: he doesn’t leave you stranded amid the horror, but leads you back out again, a wiser person for having undergone the journey.
He has a knack for choosing controversial subjects at the right moment – when they are raw enough to touch a nerve, but not so raw as to be too painful to acknowledge. His latest is an account of the battle of the Ardennes in 1944. The book, which comes out this month, is a natural progression from his earlier history of D-Day. There is the same political tension between the British and American commanders; there is the same desperation in the fighting of ordinary soldiers on both sides; but at the heart of it lies another dark subject: the indiscriminate killing of prisoners. This, Beevor says, is “unmentionable”, one of the last taboos of the war. “I still haven’t read any American historian on the subject of the shooting of prisoners. And until recently I don’t think many British historians have written about the British killing of prisoners. That was something the Germans did, but we prefer not to talk about our boys doing it.”
The book begins with a description of one of the battles that preceded Hitler’s massive Ardennes offensive, and it is this that sets the tone of the pages to come. In the autumn of 1944, the Allied advance across western Europe finally got bogged down on the borders of Germany. The Americans found themselves entangled in a bitter fight for the Hürtgen forest, a place that, in Beevor’s words, was “so dense and so dark that it soon seemed cursed, as if in a sinister fairy-tale of witches and ogres”. There is no hyperbole in this description, he insists. “It is purely a reflection of the way the soldiers saw it themselves. Everybody who described that place talked of it in those sort of terms.” As part of his research, Beevor visited the forest, “and there is something spooky about it”.
Here, men on both sides developed extraordinarily creative ways of killing one another. They fired bursts of artillery at the tree tops so that splinters would tear through the people below. They learnt to play on the instincts of their enemies, placing landmines wherever they might seek shelter, such as in hollows or shell holes. Soldiers were often afraid to look about them, because they were too busy scanning the forest floor for trip wires. The Germans, in particular, developed a habit of placing explosive charges beneath American wounded or dead, knowing that as soon as a rescue team or burial party tried to move them, they, too, would be killed by the explosion.
“This is not a normal part of human behaviour,” Beevor tells me. The purpose of tactics such as this was not only to kill the enemy but also destroy their spirit. Both sides, he says, knew that demoralising the enemy could be the key to winning each battle; thus brutality, even atrocity, became an integral part of the fighting.
Over the coming weeks, the logic of such brutality would be tested to the full. On December 16, 1944, the Germans launched their counter-attack across the boggy fields and wooded hills of south east Belgium. Much of the German army was made up of SS soldiers who had served in Russia, where they were notorious for torching villages and killing all the inhabitants. Now they brought the fighting methods of the eastern front to the heart of Belgium: civilians suspected of sympathising with the Americans were murdered, women were raped, farmhouses looted, and prisoners of war were shot. There were several massacres, most notably at Malmédy, where 130 American prisoners were herded into a field by SS Panzergrenadiers and 84 were machine-gunned to death.
Faced with this onslaught, the American defenders fell back in disarray. The units defending this part of the line were already demoralised by their recent encounters in the Hürtgen forest, and many of them now simply broke down. Those who suffered worst were the new recruits who had only recently joined their units to replace men who had already died. “There probably is no more desperate position than finding yourself in combat for the first time,” Beevor says. “It’s counter to every form of normal human experience. It becomes intensely personal, as if every bullet is aimed at you, as if every shell is aimed at you. The poor b------- came in without proper training – they were the ones who cracked in no time at all.”
The morale of American troops quickly became a serious problem. Instances of self-inflicted injuries increased as traumatised soldiers did whatever they could to escape the violence of the front. Usually these injuries took the form of an “accidental” rifle shot through the left hand or the foot, but one soldier from the 99th Infantry Division was so desperate that he lay down beside a large tree, reached around it, and exploded a grenade in his hand.
However, if the shock of the German attack struck fear into some American soldiers, it seemed to have the opposite effect on others. “The determination to fight back was astonishing,” says Beevor, “and probably the most important contribution to the eventual outcome.” News of the atrocities committed by SS troops also strengthened American resolve.
At this point, Beevor begins to tell me some of the savage details of American revenge. Their first targets, he says, were SS soldiers, who were often shot out of hand. He also talks of at least one platoon that vowed never to take any prisoners at all: whenever the Germans raised a white flag, a sergeant would stand up and beckon them closer before giving his men the command to fire. At Chenogne the 11th Armoured Division shot 60 German prisoners: “There was no secret about it – Patton even mentions it in his diaries.”
Perhaps the most shocking thing about this culture of revenge is that the American commanders were not only complicit but actively encouraged it.
“There was anger among the commanders that they had been taken by surprise. There was a large element of embarrassment. When something like that happens, you get very angry, and you refuse to accept responsibility for what you’ve done.” Several of the American generals openly approved of the killing of prisoners, and gloried in the gruesome nicknames the Germans were beginning to know their troops by, such as “Roosevelt’s butchers”.
As we talk, it is clear that Beevor struggles with these issues. Outside academia, there are few people who are prepared to look unflinchingly at the less flattering parts of our behaviour – and certainly no one with Beevor’s large readership has. What’s more, it is one thing to state that such events happened – an admission that many historians have shied away from – but quite another to know how to react to them. The whole subject runs counter to our most cherished communal myths about British and American heroism and gallantry.
Beevor knows instinctively that he must tread carefully, neither condoning the revenge nor reaching for outright condemnation.
“I think what one should try to do is to leave the moral judgments up to the reader. There’s no use in being judgmental. Far from it; we can only speculate as to how we would react in the circumstances ourselves,” he says.
For the first time in our conversation, he displays a flicker of discomfort.
“Why do we do this to ourselves?” I ask. Surely there are less disturbing ways for a historian to make a living – ways that do not involve the study of violence, atrocity and inhumanity? He answers with a single word: “Fascination.” He says it casually, in the same way that he spoke about his sleepless nights, but after everything we have spoken about the word is impregnated with layers of meaning. There is his fascination with the war period, which, he says, defined the world that he grew up in. There is his fascination with man’s ability to endure the most incomprehensible violence, and his fascination with what makes some men break while others are able to rise above their most primitive instincts. And beneath it all, there is that compulsion to lean over the abyss and gaze into the heart of darkness. “I’m afraid the whole nature of evil is something we are all fascinated by.”
Sadly, I have to agree.
Keith Lowe is the author of Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II
Antony Beevor will be speaking at the Hay Festival on May 23. His book, Ardennes 1944: Hitler’s Last Gamble, is published by Viking (£20, 0844 8711515)

Antony Beevor: the greatest war movie ever – and the ones I can't bear

29 May 2018
For a long time now, my wife has refused to watch a war movie with me. This is because I cannot stop grinding my teeth with annoyance at major historical mistakes, or harrumphing over errors of period detail. She only made an exception when Valkyrie came out, with Tom Cruise playing Count Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg. Such a folly of miscasting was bound to be a hoot, and we were not disappointed, especially when Cruise saluted in that downward cutaway style as if he were still in Top Gun. But I was soon grinding away again when the director and screenwriter felt compelled to improve on history, by making it look as if the 20 July plot to blow up Hitler had still very nearly succeeded.I despair at the way American and British movie-makers feel they have every right to play fast and loose with the facts, yet have the arrogance to imply that their version is as good as the truth. Continental film-makers are on the whole far more scrupulous. The German film Downfall, about Hitler’s last days in the bunker, respected historical events and recreated them accurately.
The 317th Platoon
In my view, the greatest war movie ever made is The 317th Platoon, a French film from 1965 set during the country’s first Indochina war. This was the original “platoon movie”, whose format later directors followed but failed to match in its portrayal of characters and their interaction, to say nothing of the moral choices and the corruption of combat. It is followed closely by 1966’s The Battle of Algiers, set during the Algerian war of independence. This was one of the first war films to adopt a quasi-documentary approach, and tackle the moral quagmire of torture justified by the need to save lives.
More recent imitators lack all intellectual honesty. They throw dates and place names on to the screen as if what you are about to see is a faithful reproduction of events, when they are simply trying to pass off their fiction as authentic. This is basically a marketing ploy that has developed over the last 20 years or so. Unfortunately, fake authenticity sells. People are more likely to want to see something they think is very close to the truth, so they can feel they are learning as well as being entertained. In a post-literate society, the moving image is king, and most people’s knowledge of history is regrettably based more on cinematic fiction than archival fact.
There are many examples of shameless deception, such as the notorious U-571, in which a US warship is shown to capture a German submarine and seize its Enigma decoding machine, thus enabling the Allies to win the battle of the Atlantic. Right at the end, in the credits, a brief text admitted that in fact it had been the crew of a Royal Navy destroyer, HMS Bulldog, that performed the feat – seven months before the US entered the war.
When promoting Enemy at the Gates, a fictitious sniper duel set in Stalingrad, Paramount Pictures even had the gall to claim: “One bullet can change the course of history.” I hasten to add that, even though Jean-Jacques Annaud invited me to come out to Germany to watch the filming, the movie had nothing to do with my book Stalingrad and I was not an adviser in any form.
The director was trying to woo me and persuade me not to be too severe on the question of truth, because we had found in the Russian ministry of defence archives that the whole story of the sniper duel – portrayed by Jude Law and Ed Harris – had been a clever figment of Soviet propaganda. I liked Annaud, but in the end I was not popular, of course, because Paramount had bought the movie as “a true story”. His great line was: “But Antony, who can tell where myth begins and truth ends?”
The real problem is that the needs of history and the needs of the movie industry are fundamentally incompatible. Hollywood has to simplify everything according to set formulae. Its films have to have heroes and, of course, baddies – moral equivocation is too complex. Feature films also have to have a whole range of staple ingredients if they are to make it through the financing, production and studio system to the box office. One element is the “arc of character”, in which the leading actors have to go through a form of moral metamorphosis as a result of the experiences they undergo. Endings have to be upbeat, even for the Holocaust. Look at Schindler’s List and the sentimentality of its finale, revealing that in movies only the survivors count.
I was asked by a large-circulation American weekly magazine to review Saving Private Ryan. My piece was spiked since it did not share the widespread adulation, and I still shake my head in disbelief when it is regularly voted the best war movie ever. It is nevertheless a work of intriguing paradoxes – some intended, others not. Steven Spielberg’s storyline rightly dramatises the clash between patriotic and therefore collective loyalty, and the struggle of the individual for survival. Those mutually contradictory values are, in many ways, the essence of war.
Spielberg said at the time that he sees the second world war as the “defining moment” in history. One also suspects that he wanted this film to be seen as the defining movie of the war. If so, it is a uniquely American definition of history, with no reference to the British let alone the Soviet role.
Eight US rangers under the command of a captain, having survived the initialD-day bloodbath, are detailed to seek out and save a single man, Private Ryan. The Hollywood notion of creativity often takes the form of cinematic ancestor worship – but in this case, it is images and effects that are recycled. Spielberg may not even have included them consciously but, during the landing, the blood in the water in the first machine-gunning prompts memories of Jaws, another Spielberg film. And German Tiger tanks can indeed appear like prehistoric monsters, but when the sound effects of their approach later in the film resemble that of the Tyrannosaurus rex in Jurassic Park, it all seems too much.

Image result for saving private ryan
Saving Private Ryan

After a truly extraordinary opening – probably the most realistic battle sequence ever filmed – everything changes and becomes formulaic. The climax combines just about every cliche in the book, with a very mixed handful of men (almost a la Dirty Dozen) improvising weapons to defend a vital bridge against an SS Panzer counterattack. The redeemed coward and the cynic reduced to tears – both ticking the “arc of character” box – are straight out of central screenwriting. The US air force arrives in the nick of time, just like the cavalry in 1950s cowboy films. And to cap it all, the final frames are of Private Ryan, standing in old age amid the rows of white crosses in a military cemetery, saluting his fallen comrades as tears run down his cheeks.
So what, apart from milking our tear ducts with both hands, was Spielberg really trying to do? Was his revolutionary approach to realism – the special effects and stunt teams make up the largest blocks in the credits – simply an attempt to conceal a deeply conservative message, as some commentators claimed?
It was not quite as simple as that. Amid the horror of war, Spielberg seems to be trying to rediscover American innocence, that Holy Grail that existed only in the Rousseau-esque imagination yet was virtually incorporated into the constitution. Spielberg, like other Hollywood directors of the time, came from a generation scarred by the moral quagmire of Vietnam. He understood the national need, in the post-cold war chaos, to reach back to more certain times, seeking reassurance from that moment in history – the second world war – when the fight seemed unequivocally right. “Tell me I’ve led a good life,” says the weeping veteran in the cemetery to his wife. “Tell me I’m a good man.”
“You are,” she replies, and the music begins to swell, with drum beats and trumpets. This representative of American motherhood appears to be reassuring the US as a whole. She seems to be speaking to a nation unable at that time to come to terms with its role in a disordered world, to a nation that, for all its power, can be bewilderingly naive abroad because it so badly needs to feel good about itself at home.
Even movies ostensibly showing corruption and criminality in the heart of the CIA and the Pentagon have to end on a nationalistic note, with a tiny group of clean, upstanding American liberals saving democracy. And it is, of course, hard to forget The Patriot, starring Mel Gibson, that fearless symbol of Brit-bashing films, whether at Gallipoli or all woaded up in the Scottish Highlands as Braveheart.
Andrew Marr rightly called The Patriot, set in the American war of independence, “a stinker”. As he pointed out: “Black Americans, in fact destined to stay slaves thanks to the war, very many of whom enlisted with the British, are shown fighting shoulder to shoulder with their white rebel ‘brothers’. The British are portrayed as effete sadists and serial war criminals, just as in other American films. The huge support of the Bourbon French, who helped win the war, is airbrushed out. And the fact that most colonists actually sided with King George is airily forgotten.”
Patriotism also permeated those British war movies of the 1950s and 60s – The Dam Busters, Reach for the Sky, The Cruel Sea, The Heroes of Telemark, The Battle of the River Plate, Cockleshell Heroes. It camouflaged itself in self-deprecation, but the rousing march music in the finale always braced our belief in the rightness of our cause. We have long made fun of all the period cliches, unable to believe that anyone talked like that. But when researching my new book Arnhem: The Battle for the Bridges, I found that German officers really did say to the British paratroopers taken prisoner: “For you the war is over.”
One of my favourite remarks, recorded at the time by a junior doctor, is the reaction of Colonel Marrable, the head of an improvised hospital in the Netherlands, when Waffen-SS panzergrenadiers seized the building. Still puffing gently on his pipe, he says to his medical staff: “Good show, chaps. Don’t take any notice of the Jerries. Carry on as if nothing has happened.” I have always been doubtful about the notion of “a national character”, but a national self-image certainly existed during the war and for some time afterwards. Perhaps that is partly why I do not react so angrily when watching films of that era. Also, they never used that weasel claim “based on a true story”.Patriotism also permeated those British war movies of the 1950s and 60s – The Dam Busters, Reach for the Sky, The Cruel Sea, The Heroes of Telemark, The Battle of the River Plate, Cockleshell Heroes. It camouflaged itself in self-deprecation, but the rousing march music in the finale always braced our belief in the rightness of our cause. We have long made fun of all the period cliches, unable to believe that anyone talked like that. But when researching my new book Arnhem: The Battle for the Bridges, I found that German officers really did say to the British paratroopers taken prisoner: “For you the war is over.”
Recent productions are a very different matter. Last year’s Dunkirk and Darkest Hour were strong Oscar contenders. Yet watching Dunkirk, you would have thought that CGI had not been invented. Where were all those 400,000 men and their discarded equipment on all those miles of empty, pristine beaches? The film also gave the impression that the air battles took place at low level over the sea when, in fact, Fighter Command was counterattacking at altitude and well inland. It also implied that “the little ships”, as Churchill called them, rescued more soldiers than the Royal Navy warships. Wrong again.
Darkest Hour had even more historical inaccuracies. Gary Oldman fully deserved the best actor Oscar for his brilliant performance as Churchill, but those responsible for the script get “nul points”. I fear that anyone who agrees to be a historical adviser for a movie is putting their reputation on the line. The ludicrous scene of Churchill in the underground (where he had never set foot in his life) was not the only howler.
On becoming prime minister in 1940, Churchill remained in the Admiralty, but he generously allowed Chamberlain to carry on in Downing Street. His respectful treatment of his former leader is important because – when it came to the crunch with Lord Halifax, over the question of asking the Italians to discover Hitler’s peace terms – Chamberlain supported Churchill and did not plot against him as the film suggests.
Also, why were so many scenes shot in the bunker war rooms when the Luftwaffe had not yet bombed London? I was so irritated, it was a good thing I saw it on my own. Another visit to the dentist, I fear.

Tommy Robinson Drew Attention to ‘Grooming Gangs.’ Britain Has Persecuted Him.

By Douglas Murray
May 31, 2018
Image result for tommy robinson arrest may 2018
Tommy Robinson being arrested outside Leeds Combined Courts on 25 May 2018 ( Facebook )
Tommy Robinson is a British political activist and “citizen journalist” who came to prominence in Britain almost a decade ago when he founded the English Defence League. The EDL was a street-protest movement in Britain whose aims could probably best be summarized as “anti-Islamization.” It emerged in the town of Luton after a group of local Islamists barracked the homecoming parade of a local regiment returning from service in Afghanistan.
From their earliest protests the EDL’s members sought to highlight issues including sharia law, Islam’s attitudes toward minorities, and the phenomenon that would become euphemistically known as “grooming gangs.” In reality these protests often descended into hooliganism and low-level violence (naturally helped along by self-described “anti-fascists”). The authorities did everything they could to stop the EDL, and the media did everything possible to demonize them. In a foretaste of things to come, very few people made any effort to understand them. And nobody paid any price for (indeed many people benefited from) claiming that the EDL was simply a fascist organization and that anybody who even tried to understand them must be a fascist too. The usual prohibition against sweeping generalizations doesn’t seem to apply if the generalization tilts in that direction.
interviewed Tommy Robinson five years ago, after he had left the EDL (having by his own admission failed to keep extremists including actual neo-Nazis away from the movement). As he said then, one of the problems of everyone insisting that a particular movement is campaigning for the Fourth Reich is that the few people who think that sounds like a great idea will show up. Whatever his other faults, there is no evidence that Robinson thinks that way. Indeed he was once charged with assault for head-butting a Nazi sympathizer who wouldn’t leave an EDL protest. Not many people bothered with those details. The assault got reported, but not the cause. So the fact that Robinson had head-butted a Nazi became yet more evidence that he himself must be some kind of Nazi.
Anyhow — Robinson wised up slightly, and eventually began to plough his energies into a type of citizen journalism/activism. Some of this has been remarkably brave, some of it remarkably wrong (such as a video he made after last year’s Manchester Arena attack, in which he seemed to furiously suggest that everyone living around a particular mosque in the area must be some type of enemy combatant), and some remarkably ill-advised — not least because it has allowed him to be presented in the worst possible light.
For example, a couple of months ago Robinson went to Italy. In May of last year an Italian television crew reporting on migrants in Rome had been attacked by some migrants near a local train station. The female presenter was assaulted, and the whole thing became big news in Italy. But in the normal modern European fashion, after much tut-tutting everybody went back to the safe semantic discussions we like to have. Such as whether or not the term “no-go zone” is exactly appropriate to describe an area where a female journalist cannot go without being physically assaulted. So round and round we go.
Robinson took another view and turned up a while later at the same spot with his own camera crew to find that nothing had changed. The area was still dominated by migrants, and a number swiftly demanded that he leave. One of them then got into a tense stand-off with Robinson, and at one point, as Robinson turned his back on him, this man raised his hands over Robinson and said something like “I can kill you.” At which point Robinson promptly turned around and punched the man in the face. As so often it was a gift to his critics. This episode was reported in the Daily Mail Online under the headline “Far-right thug Tommy Robinson punches a migrant in Rome while filming in an apparent ‘no-go zone.’” The decision over where to put the scare quotes in that headline (and where not to) tells its own story about modern European mores.
The controversy around him continued. In March, Robinson was suspended from Twitter, where he had almost half a million followers. The social-media site (which merrily allows terrorist groups like Lashkar e-Taiba to keep accounts) decided that Robinson should be suspended for tweeting out a statistic about Muslim rape gangs that itself originated from the Muslim-run Quilliam foundation. And it is on this matter that the latest episode in the Robinson drama started — and has now drawn worldwide attention.
Ten years ago, when the EDL was founded, the U.K. was even less willing than it is now to confront the issue of what are euphemistically described as “Asian grooming gangs” (euphemistic because no Chinese or Koreans are involved and what is happening is not grooming but mass rape). At the time, only a couple of such cases had been recognized. Ten years on, every month brings news of another town in which gangs of men (almost always of Pakistani origin) have been found to have raped young, often underage, white girls. The facts of this reality — which, it cannot be denied, sounds like something from the fantasies of the most lurid racist — have now been confirmed multiple times by judges during sentencing and also by the most mainstream investigative journalists in the country.
But the whole subject is so ugly and uncomfortable that very few people care to linger over it. Robinson is an exception. For him — as he said in a 2011 interview with the BBC’s Jeremy Paxman — the “grooming gangs” issue isn’t something that afflicts some far-off towns but people in the working-class communities that he knows. And while there are journalists (notably the Times’ Andrew Norfolk) who have spent considerable time and energy bringing this appalling phenomenon to light, most of British society has turned away in a combination of embarrassment, disgust, and uncertainty about how to even talk about this. Anyone who thinks Britain is much further along with dealing with the taboo of “grooming gangs” should remember that only last year the Labour MP for Rotherham, Sarah Champion, had to leave the shadow cabinet because she accurately identified the phenomenon.
Which brings me to last Friday. That was when Robinson was filming outside Leeds Crown Court, where the latest grooming-gang case was going on. I have to be slightly careful here, because although National Review is based in the U.S., I am not, and there are reporting restrictions on the ongoing case. Anyhow, Robinson was outside the court and appeared (from the full livestream) to be filming the accused and accosting them with questions on their way in. He also appeared to exercise some caution, trying to ensure he was not on court property.
But clearly he did not exercise enough caution, a strange fact given that last year Robinson had been found guilty of “contempt of court” for filming outside another rape-gang trial, one involving four Muslim men at Canterbury Crown Court. On that occasion Robinson was given a three-month prison sentence, which was suspended for a period of 18 months. Which meant he would be free so long as he did not repeat the offense.
Although Robinson appeared to be careful at Leeds Crown Court last Friday, to dance along the line of exactly what he could or could not livestream outside an ongoing trial with a suspended sentence hanging over his head was extraordinarily unwise. What happened next went around the world: The police turned up in a van and swiftly arrested Robinson for “breach of the peace.” Within hours Robinson had been put before one Judge Geoffrey Marson, who in under five minutes tried, convicted, and sentenced Robinson to 13 months. He was immediately taken to prison.
From that moment it was not just Robinson but the U.K. that entered a minefield of legal problems. In addition to the usual reporting restrictions on the ongoing trial, a reporting ban was put on any mention of Robinson’s arrest, swift trial, and conviction, meaning that for days people in the blogosphere and the international media got free rein to claim that Tommy Robinson had been arrested for no reason, that his arrest was a demonstration of a totalitarian state cracking down on free speech, and even (and this one is remarkably clueless as well as careless) that the recent appointment to the position of home secretary of Sajid Javid — who was born to Muslim parents — is the direct cause of Robinson’s recent arrest.
The facts are both more prosaic and depressing. Robinson would not now be in jail if he had not once again accosted defendants in an ongoing trial outside the courthouse. He had been told by a judge last May not to do this and yet he did this again. It isn’t the worst thing in the world (it isn’t child rape, for instance), but it is an offense to which Robinson understandably pleaded guilty. More important, the trial that was coming to a close last Friday is just one part of a trial involving multiple other defendants. It is certainly possible that Robinson’s breaking of reporting restrictions at the Leeds trial could have prejudiced those trials. To have caused the collapse of such a trial would have been more than a blunder; it would have been an additional blow to victims who deserve justice.
Some supporters of Robinson have been pointing out that there have been reporters outside the trials of celebrities accused of child abuse (Rolf Harris, for instance). But the comparison isn’t exact. It is exceptionally difficult to put reporting restrictions on the trial of a household name, and difficult to select jurors with no views on the defendants. The fact that this legal complexity exists in some cases does not mean that an additional layer of difficulty ought to be overlaid on the already-difficult-enough attempts to bring to justice gangs of otherwise unknown men. In any case, accosting a celebrity on their way into court would also be an offense.
The whole affair is in many ways maddening. Maddening in that Robinson stepped over a line that had been very clearly drawn for him. Maddening that he gave the police and courts a legitimate reason to arrest him. And maddening because, as he must have known (and as I have said a number of times over the years, including during a speech at the Danish Parliament three years ago), it is by now abundantly clear that every arm of the British state has been out to get Tommy Robinson from the moment he emerged on the scene in Luton a decade ago.
The problem — as I said in 2015 — is that any challenge Robinson presents is all a secondary issue. The primary issue is that for years the British state allowed gangs of men to rape thousands of young girls across Britain. For years the police, politicians, Crown Prosecution Service, and every other arm of the state ostensibly dedicated to protecting these girls failed them. As a number of government inquires have concluded, they turned their face away from these girls because they were terrified of the accusations of racism that would come their way if they did address them. They decided it wasn’t worth the aggravation.
By contrast, Tommy Robinson thought it was worth the aggravation, even if that meant having his whole life turned upside down. Some years ago, after crawling over all of his personal affairs and the affairs of all his immediate family, the police found an irregularity on a mortgage application, prosecuted Robinson, convicted him, and sent him to prison on that charge. In prison he was assaulted and almost killed by Muslim inmates.
What can be said with absolute certainty is that Tommy Robinson has been treated with greater suspicion and a greater presumption of guilt by the United Kingdom than any Islamic extremist or mass rapist ever has been. That should be — yet is not — a national scandal. If even one mullah or sheikh had been treated with the presumption of guilt that Robinson has received, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the rest of them would be all over the U.K. authorities. But different standards apply to Robinson.
And on it goes. On Sunday there was a protest in London in support of him. The legal blogger “The Secret Barrister” might have spoken for a whole nose-holding class when he dismissed this protest as “a Nazi-themed march.” Look at the video he links to and you will see a lot of people with their arms in the air chanting “Oh Tommy Robinson.” If our eminent legal correspondent thinks this is Nazi-themed, he can never have been to a football match or, come to that, a Jeremy Corbyn rally.
So it will continue. Tommy Robinson will be in prison for another year. And all those people happy with the status quo will breathe a sigh of relief. “Thank goodness that troublemaker has gone away.” Yet their real problem has not gone away. There is no chance of their real problem going away. Because they have no plan for making it go away.
They have a vague hope, of course, which is that at some point soon in the coming generations this will all simmer down and the incoming communities will develop similar views about the status of women as the rest of society. And perhaps we will get there someday. But it is telling that the apparently tolerable roadkill en route includes one young man from Luton — and thousands of raped girls.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Obama Says ‘I Didn’t Have Scandals.’ So What Are All These?

May 29, 2018
Former President Barack Obama on Wednesday delivered an hourlong keynote address at Oktane18, a three-day customer conference held by Okta, a San Francisco-based security software firm at the Aria ...
Former President Barack Obama last Wednesday delivered an hourlong keynote address at Oktane18, a three-day customer conference held by Okta, a San Francisco-based security software firm at the Aria Hotel in Las Vegas. Photo by Okta, Inc.
At a Las Vegas tech conference last week, former president Barack Obama told an audience that his presidency had been scandal-free. “I didn’t have scandals, which seems like it shouldn’t be something you brag about,” Obama joked, according to Newsweek. We hear this talking point quite often from Democrats.
Now, perhaps the president didn’t experience the fallout from a scandal, which is very different from never having been involved in one. For this confusion, Obama can thank the political media.
Why does it matter now? For one thing, historical revisionism shouldn’t go unchallenged. Democrats are running to retake power, and many of them were participants or accomplices in numerous corrosive scandals that have been airbrushed.
The other reason, of course, is that when we start to juxtapose the mythically idyllic Obama presidency with the tumultuous reign of Trump, we’re reminded that many journalists largely abdicated their responsibilities for eight years — which has a lot to do with the situation we find ourselves in today.
It’s not about Obama’s brazen lying about Obamacare or even recurrent abuse of power. I’m talking about supposed non-scandals like “Operation Fast and Furious,” a program devised by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) that put around 2,000 weapons into the hands of narco-traffickers (and an Islamic terrorist), leading to the murder of hundreds of Mexicans and at least one American, border agent Brian Terry.
The body count could have been higher when a homegrown extremist who, with another assailant, attempted to murder the audience at a “Draw Muhammad” contest in Garland, Texas with one of the Fast and Furious weapons. An off-duty police officer killed both of the attackers.
Despite the incompetence, absurdity, recklessness, and fatalities of the program, the entire affair never really received scandal-like attention. No one lost his job. There will almost certainly be a tweet from Trump this week that political media will afford more attention than a story in which an American border agent was murdered with the gun Obama’s ATF provided.
Not even when the administration refused to cooperate with congressional investigators was it handled like a scandal. Not even when a federal judge rejected Obama’s assertion of executive privilege in efforts to deny Congress files relating to the gun-walking operation was it treated as a scandal. Not even when we learned that Obama attorney general Eric Holder misled Congress about when he was made aware of the program did it rise to the importance of a Trump tweet. Holder became the first sitting attorney general in American history to be held in contempt of Congress — a vote that included 17 Democrats — and Obama still never paid a political price.
As it was, the Obama administration persistently ignored courts and oversight, breaking norms because it was allowed to do so. The president was articulate, friendly, and progressive. He might have executed an American citizen without a trial (not a scandal!), but his contempt for the process could be forgiven.
It’s why Obama could secretly send planes filled with cash to pay a ransom to a terror state (using money earmarked for terror victims) and most reporters and analysts would regurgitate the justification they heard in the echo chamber. One Politico reporter might drop a 14,000-word heavily sourced investigative piece (two officials involved in the program went on the record) detailing how the Obama administration undermined law enforcement efforts to shut down an international drug-trafficking ring run by the terror group Hezbollah operating in the United States, and most major news organizations never even mentioned the piece.
When they did, it was usually to give space to former Obama officials to smear the reporter.
It needn’t be said, but if the names were changed to Trump and Russia, the president would be accused of sedition. But by any conceivable journalistic standard, it’s a scandal that should have triggered widespread coverage. So when we see mass indignation over every single hyperbolic statement from the current president, it’s a bit difficult to buy the outrage.
An Obama official famously bragged to The New York Times Magazine that he could rely on the ignorance, inexperience, and partisan dispositions of reporters to convey administration talking points to help push through preferred policy. Rather than being hurt or embarrassed by this kind of accusation of unprofessionalism, many reporters are more reliant on the same people than ever before.
Yet many professionals who supposedly deplore the authoritarian nature of an administration that doesn’t answer CNN’s questions were generally quiet when Obama spied on reporters. The Obama DOJ spied on the Associated Press in an attempt to crack down on internal leaks. The DOJ tapped around 20 different phone lines—including cell phone and home lines—that snared at least 100 staffers who worked for the outlet. The Justice Department spied on Fox News reporter James Rosen in 2010, collecting his telephone records, looking at his personal emails and tracking his movements.
Color me skeptical, but somehow I doubt similar Trump efforts would be framed as a “rare peek into a Justice Department leak probe,” as if we were pulling the curtains back on a fashion show. It would be, rightly, depicted as an assault on democracy.
Then again, spying was also never really given the scandal treatment during the Obama years. As Obama’s CIA director, John Brennan became aware of an operation ofillegal spying of a legislative branch staffer over torture files and misled the media about it. Did the president know? Shrug. The story hardly made a dent. Likewise, Obama’s director of national intelligence, James Clapper, admitted he misled Congress about spying on American citizens. No scandal.
Today both these people are on TV chumming around with serious journalists who allow them to continue to make reckless, unsubstantiated political statements all the time. It isn’t Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” who asks Clapper tough questions, it’s Meghan McCain on “The View.”
There was unprecedented politicization of the government under Obama — most of it, I imagine, excused for being part of a good cause. The NLRB. The Justice Department. The IRS. The Office of Special Counsel, which reviews whistleblower allegations, foundthat IRS employees urged callers to vote for Obama, wore pro-Obama swag, and campaigned for Democrats in conversations with taxpayers — all of it illegal.
But far more seriously, IRS leadership, specifically Lois Lerner, aggressively targeted conservative groups before elections. The IRS admitted as much in an apology letter. Lerner was held in contempt by Congress for refusing to comply with investigators’  demands. She never answered questions for this genuine attack on democracy.
What difference does it make, right? While the extent of the incompetence and negligence during the Benghazi terror attack on September 11, 2012 is still unknown, what we do know is that Obama and a number of high-ranking officials in his administration lied about what happened for partisan reasons. Susan Rice went on a number of national television shows and claimed that Benghazi was a “spontaneous reaction” to “hateful and offensive video,” even when she knew it was a sophisticated and pre-planned terror attack. (Rice is now on the Netflix board, and Obama is a very rich man. At some point you’ve made enough money, but that time is not yet. )
Although they knew it was a complex terror attack, Obama and Hillary Clinton cut television ads to placate radicals in Islamic nations by repeating the claim that a video perpetuated the attack, and apologizing for American free speech — a scandal in itself.
Worse, however, the administration detained the man who produced the offensively amateurish “Innocence of Muslims,” and initially charged him with lying about his role in the production of the video. This was a blatant attack on free expression. Yet most of the mainstream press continued to take the administration’s word for it and report that the video was the cause of the “protests.”
Democrats in general just kept pretending that every accusation was merely a partisan, racist plot to undermine the president. Whether it was bypassing process and oversight to fund cronyistic green projects that enriched political and ideological allies with tax dollars, or the Secret Service’s embarrassing debauchery or Hillary Clinton’s attempts to circumvent transparency or, perhaps the most immoral, the Veterans Affairs’ negligence regarding veterans, they would never admit they faced a scandal.
This double standard in coverage makes today’s often sanctimonious reactions to Trump a bit difficult to take. Many reporters will snarkily point out that most of the stories critics latch onto have been reported on or broken by mainstream journalists. It’s true. There are plenty of good journalists out there. But it’s the intensity of the coverage and the framing of the events that is evidence of ideologically motivated coverage.  And every time Obama or his allies claim that they were scandal-free, millions of Americans are reminded of the obsequiousness of most media coverage.
David Harsanyi is a Senior Editor at The Federalist. He is the author of the forthcoming book,First Freedom: A Ride Through America's Enduring History with the Gun, From the Revolution to Today. Follow him on Twitter.