Yesterday, in British magazine Standpoint, Martin Luther King Jr. biographer David Garrow penned a rather explosive piece revealing previously undisclosed FBI files that detailed shocking events in the life of the legendary civil rights activist. According to the article written by Garrow, King was not only a prolific philanderer, but also an abuser of many women and someone who reportedly laughed while a friend raped a woman.
The weight and validity of the FBI documents raise the first point of contention in the midst of this publication. The files were observations made by an FBI that was under specific instruction to make King look as bad as possible. J. Edgar Hoover was, at the time, convinced that King was a full-blown communist with intentions to turn the citizens of the United States into communists as well.
In fact, when the details of these FBI files became available on the National Archives public website in late 2017, Garrow stated to the Washington Post,“The number one thing I’ve learned in 40 years of doing this, is just because you see it in a top-secret document, just because someone had said it to the FBI, doesn’t mean it’s all accurate.”It is only now that the noted King historian has decided the details of King’s salacious hidden life merits attention and ridicule.
The documents were ordered to be sealed in 1977 by a district judge for 50 years—a date which will officially expire in 2027. A representative for the National Archives stated to me yesterday, “The writer [David Garrow] links to documents released under the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act, which are available through the National Archives and Record Administration’s public website. The research and any interpretation or conclusions in the article are those of the writer/researcher.”
But whether or not the allegations are true, the work King did as a civil rights activist is now in danger of cancellation. Like all historical figures, he was a human man. That is not an excuse for horrific behavior, but a reminder that the faults of our heroes do not define the good work they did.
King’s words are particularly poignant today, in a time that outrage culture and identity politics have replaced his calls for equality and harmony. From his famous “I Have a Dream” speech:
I have a dream that one day right there in Alabama little black boys and little black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
These ideas seem to have gone by the wayside as people are valued by their sex, race, religion, and political beliefs to an extreme degree in the modern age. Regardless of the validity of modern accusations against heroes of the past, it is important to remember the gravity of the good work that was done.
Should King’s legacy and extraordinary work in the advancement and establishment of civil rights for all Americans come under fire because of these 50-year-old FBI documents, we will all lose.
Ellie Bufkin is the co-host of the movie podcast "Flix It" and a senior contributor to The Federalist. Ellie worked in the wine industry as a journalist and sommelier. You can follow her on Twitter @ellie_bufkinand on Instagram @exsommellie.
LSD, amphetamines, Quaaludes. Mescaline scored from a girl who cleaned the fish tanks in a bar. Cocaine for the night. It was no wonder The Blues Brothers, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi’s anarchic 1980 musical road trip, kept swerving off the straight and narrow. Four days of shooting were lost due to Belushi’s druggy incapacity: director John Landis grimly observed that it was fortunate that dark sunglasses were part of Belushi’s outfit. “It wasn’t our intention, but it worked out well that you couldn’t see John’s eyes.”
Nearly 40 years on, the story of Jake and Elwood Blues remains a defining example of the unruly comedy renaissance activated by the launch of Saturday Night Live (SNL) in 1975 and Canada’s Second City Television in 1976. In Wild and Crazy Guys, the film journalist Nick de Semlyen smartly charts the pinballing career paths of the stars of this new comic wave, showing how, like evil Ghostbusters spirits, they improbably possessed mainstream cinema for the next decade.
Hollywood quickly zeroed in on these TV heroes, and the fiercely ambitious comedians — Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy and maverick’s maverick Steve Martin among them — brazenly returned its lustful stare. For every Ghostbusters or Beverly Hills Cop, though, there was a raft of ignominious failures (try 1983’s Doctor Detroit, where Aykroyd played a professor masquerading as a metal-handed pimp). De Semlyen details them all with glee.
In his punchy, nonstop narrative, he argues that post-Vietnam, Americans were ready for authority-challenging recklessness after years of Woody Allen neurosis or films featuring “Clint Eastwood and/or an orang-utan”. They needed ghostbusters, frat-house farces and fish-out-of-water screwball — a new golden age of film comedy.
That the book barely mentions Gilda Radner or Jane Curtin, members of SNL’s founding cast, or Goldie Hawn, whose 1980 film Private Benjamin is arguably worthy of more consideration than the camping caper Meatballs (1979), means that the bigger picture feels fuzzy at the edges. Yet it’s in keeping with the bullish times that De Semlyen focuses on this fraternity of comedy manspreaders, each one desperate to mark their territory. Chase, the first to quit SNL for Hollywood, triggered special wrath among his contemporaries. “Medium talent!” Bill Murray yelled at him during a fight backstage at SNL, a killer blow in that gladiatorial atmosphere. Chase’s wife called his freshly purchased sports car “the silver penis” with good reason.
By any standards, it’s a strong selection of oddballs. Murray, nicknamed The Murricane, exited his career at its highest point post-Ghostbusters to study philosophy at the Sorbonne, redirecting lucrative job offers to answerphone. Martin was an obsessive modern art collector and Disneyland-trained juggler. Akyroyd, meanwhile, was fascinated by parapsychology and police badges: an ex-girlfriend said his ultimate fantasy would be committing the perfect crime, then arresting himself for it.
These were men who always seemed to take things too far: commissioned to take a road trip for Rolling Stone, Belushi and Aykroyd freaked out editor Jann Wenner when “Sheriff Leander Perez” from Louisiana (a drawling Aykroyd) phoned up to tell him his comedians had killed someone with their hire car.
Elsewhere, the mayhem was more controlled. Murphy, who conquered SNL before Trading Places (1983) rocketed him into film, restricted his vices to “cars and girls, girls and cars”, as co-star Jamie Lee Curtis observed, yet found his germ phobia surging as fans clamoured for a handshake. Canadian Rick Moranis, still clipping grocery coupons even as he became a Ghostbusters action figure, would retire almost entirely after his wife’s death to look after his children.
Yet this book underlines just how extreme the endless quest for success could be. The pages are littered with toxic flops, ideas inexplicably pushed into production like a sofa into a skip. Imagine Beverly Hills Cop (1984) made with Sylvester Stallone — a real near-miss — and shiver. Chase, once “The Funniest Man in America”, according to New York Magazine, was brought so low by making the comedy Modern Problems (1981), which left him with muscle damage from a misfiring special effect, and Under the Rainbow (1981), a lurid romp about the making of The Wizard of Oz, that he would hide in his garage burning spiders with a lighter.
Almost as toxic as the chemistry, though, was the yearning to be taken seriously. Belushi tried it with the gentle Continental Divide (1981), but takings reflected audience discomfort with a “mild-mannered” Jake Blues. Murray’s wish to play Hunter S Thompson not only turned to box office brass in Where the Buffalo Roam (1980), but also nearly killed him when the Houdini-obsessed journalist tied him to a chair and threw him in a swimming pool.
Even full-beam comedy hero Murphy tried to transform Axel Foley into a serious action hero when Beverly Hills Cop III lumbered around in 1994. Murray did cross the credibility streams later, falling in with Wes Anderson and Jim Jarmusch. Maybe it was the anti-hubris influence of the giant moose head decorating his New York loft — “a sobering reminder that something so big can die”.
Belushi died at Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles in March 1982 after injecting a mixture of heroin and cocaine. His best friend was bereft: “When I saw him come into a room,” Aykroyd said later, “I got the jump you get when you see a beautiful girl.” It would be easy to see Belushi as the big “what if?” hanging over these events, the absent friend pushing his comrades on to greater, increasingly unhinged things. Wild and Crazy Guys ultimately tells a less sentimental story, though, one where art and commerce smash hard against each other, sometimes causing destruction, but sometimes making sparks fly.
Wild and Crazy Guys: How the Comedy Mavericks of the ’80s Changed Hollywood Forever by Nick de Semlyen Picador £18.99 pp336
Last night I was texting with a Catholic friend, and told him about how the late Father Benedict Groeschel lied to cover himself. Groeschel, trained in psychology, had a lot to do with recycling sexually predatory priests back into the community, via his treatment center. Because he was known to be theologically conservative, and was an EWTN star, he was untouchable among conservatives. I wrote last year, when the McCarrick scandal broke:
I am personally aware of a case in which a conservative superstar priest, the late Father Benedict Groeschel, manipulated the conservative Catholic public’s suspicion of the news media to hide from legitimate questions about his own role in covering up abuse. I wrote about it here. In brief, Groeschel, a psychologist, ran a factory that recycled sexually abusive priests. In 2002, or perhaps early 2003, Brooks Egerton, a reporter for the Dallas Morning News, tried to contact Groeschel to ask him about some of these cases, Groeschel refused to speak to him. Egerton called me at National Review, asking me why Groeschel wouldn’t return his calls, and asking if I knew any way to reach him. Eventually, Egerton published a story … which Groeschel promptly denounced as filled with lies and distortions. He said, in particular:
Mr. Egerton’s article is a prime example of the hostility, distortion and planned attack on the Catholic Church in the United States by certain segments of the media.
Groeschel’s words were disgraceful. Again, Egerton tried multiple times to get Groeschel on the phone to explain his side of the story. Groeschel refused to talk to him, and then when the story came out, denounced it as a “planned attack on the Catholic Church.” It was a lie, but a lot of people wanted to believe that lie. That’s how aiders and abetters of the scandal, like Benedict Groeschel, got away with it.
One of the lasting effects of the church abuse scandal, at least for me, is to learn how eagerly and easily cardinals, bishops, and influential priests will lie for the sake of preserving a false front, and hiding their own guilt. For example, Cardinal Ted McCarrick was named by the Vatican to lead its response to the initial wave of scandal. Here he is from a 2002 interview with the USA Today editorial board:
If after all we’ve gone through, someone would still violate the kind of relationship we need with children, with young people, that person should be out of the ministry immediately. So looking forward, I think there is no difference of opinion among the cardinals. Or among the bishops. Everyone I’ve spoken to feels anyone who would do this now — after we’ve passed through all this — is either sick, therefore should not be a priest, or defiant, and therefore should not be in the ministry.
Cardinal McCarrick is now Mr. McCarrick. He was defrocked for sex abuse last year. McCarrick was filthy, and there is evidence that high-level people in Rome knew he was filthy before he was made cardinal archbishop of Washington.
Last year there was intense controversy over Vatican diplomat Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s allegations that Rome had long known of McCarrick’s behavior — and that Benedict XVI had placed McCarrick on restriction, which the arrogant cardinal ignored with impunity. Viganò said that he personally told Pope Francis about McCarrick, but that made no difference. Francis brought McCarrick, a key ally, out of the cold, and put him to work as an envoy.
In one letter, McCarrick suggests the Vatican wanted to “avoid publicity” and thus kept the restrictions confidential.
The correspondence also shows that despite the restrictions, McCarrick gradually resumed traveling and playing prominent diplomatic roles under both Popes Benedict XVI and, to a greater extent, Francis, including talks with China that may have helped shape a controversial 2018 deal between Rome and Beijing over the appointment of bishops.
McCarrick’s activities were not carried on in secret, as he regularly wrote to Pope Francis between 2013 and 2017 to brief him on his trips and activities.
In the correspondence, McCarrick denies any sexual misconduct.
“I have never had sexual relations with anyone,” he wrote, but he does admit to “an unfortunate lack of judgment” in sharing his bed with seminarians in their twenties and thirties.
From an examination of the correspondence, which involves emails and private letters from McCarrick over the period 2008-2017, it appears that senior Church officials, including the Vatican’s Secretary of State under Pope Benedict XVI, the head of the Congregation for Bishops, and the pope’s ambassador in the U.S., were aware of the informal restrictions, and whatever their response may have been as McCarrick resumed his activities, it did not prevent him from doing so.
McCarrick also writes that he discussed the restrictions with Wuerl in 2008, saying Wuerl’s “help and understanding is, as always, a great help and fraternal support to me.” In a 2008 letter to the papal ambassador in the U.S., McCarrick said he had shared a Vatican letter outlining the restrictions with Wuerl.
Wuerl, who resigned as McCarrick’s successor as the Archbishop of Washington last October amid criticism in a Pennsylvania Grand Jury report of his handling of abuse cases as the Bishop of Pittsburgh, initially denied knowing of abuse charges against McCarrick until they became public in 2018, though in January he admitted to a “lapse in memory” with regard to one allegation that reached him in 2004.
In the subsequent sections, I present facts from correspondence that I hold relevant to questions still surrounding McCarrick. These facts show clearly that high-ranking prelates likely had knowledge of McCarrick’s actions and of restrictions imposed upon him during the pontificate of Benedict XVI. They also clearly show that these restrictions were not enforced even before the pontificate of Francis. It is not my place to judge to what extent the fault lies with the failure to impose canonical penalties, instead of mere restrictions, at the start, or with other Church leaders who later failed to expose McCarrick’s behavior and the impropriety of his continued public activity, and indeed may have encouraged it. My intention throughout this report is to present facts – not judgments or condemnation of anyone – for the protection of minors and vulnerable persons, the salvation of souls, and the good of the Church Universal. As a priest ordained by then Archbishop McCarrick and one who served him closely, I reflect often upon how much damage to the physical, psychological and spiritual lives of so many might have been avoided had the restrictions been made public and enforced as soon as they were imposed.
Neither Benedict nor Francis come off looking good here. There is written evidence from McCarrick himself that he was put on informal restriction. When he flouted the restrictions, nothing happened to him.
Pope Francis and then-Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick (Vatican Media/CNA)
Figueiredo seems to have been motivated by personal repentance. He was arrested in a drunk-driving accident last year, and indicates that he became addicted to alcohol. He has now embraced a life of sobriety. Whatever the monsignor’s motivations, the documents are judged to be authentic. He goes on:
It is clear that for far too long, a culture has existed in the Church that allowed those like McCarrick to continue their public activity after serious and even settled allegations had come to the attention of Church leaders. Moreover, it is all too evident that Cardinals, Archbishops, and Bishops – in their cover up – until quite recently have enjoyed the propitious benefit of a more “forgiving” and “lenient” standard of evaluation as compared to those applied to lower ranking clerics and religious. A double standard and non-independent accountability harm the credibility of Church leadership and impede efforts to reestablish fundamental trust in the Catholic clergy.
Speaking of re-establishing fundamental trust, the Vatican press office initially released a transcript of Francis’s May 21 interview, omitting the part where he said he’s not sure if he was told about McCarrick. The version the press office put out featured a flat denial by the Pope. Only when reporters questioned the press office did it release a corrected version, in which Francis said he wasn’t sure if Viganò told him about McCarrick, and just forgot about it.
In comments to LifeSite following the release of the interview, Archbishop Viganò said: “What the Pope said about not knowing anything is a lie. […] He pretends not to remember what I told him about McCarrick, and he pretends that it wasn’t him who asked me about McCarrick in the first place.”
In the May 28 interview, Alazraki presses Pope Francis further on whether or not he knew about former cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s misdeeds.
“I didn’t know anything about McCarrick, obviously, nothing, nothing,” he says. “I’ve said that several times, that I didn’t know, I had no idea.”
It’s unclear as to what Pope Francis is referring to when he says that he denied knowledge of McCarrick’s immoral activities on several occasions as his refusal to comment one way or another has been a particularly notable element of the scandal.
Pope Francis continues: “When [Archbishop Viganò] says that he spoke to me that day [on June 23, 2013], that he came … I don’t remember if he told me about this, whether it’s true or not, no idea! But you know that I didn’t know anything about McCarrick; otherwise I wouldn’t have kept quiet, right?”
Archbishop Viganò observed of this remark: “He tries to be clever, claiming that he doesn’t remember what I told him, when he was the one who asked me about McCarrick.”
Who has more credibility in this matter: Viganò or Francis? At this point, how is this even a serious question?!
Cardinal George Pell at the Vatican in 2015 (Paul Haring/CNS)
UPDATE: I want to add that this toxic climate of deception contributes to what I consider to be a true injustice against Cardinal George Pell, apparently railroaded by an Australian court on trumped-up abuse charges. I could be wrong about this, but it seems to me that Pell was made a scapegoat. I don’t say this because Pell is known as a conservative; I say it because this trial and conviction were so bizarre. See here for more details. Again, I might be wrong about this, but I believe that Cardinal Pell did not lie here, but his credibility was savaged because so many high-ranking churchmen did lie about abuse, and accepted public alibis that they knew to be lies.
Ultrasound: 14 weeks (American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine - AIUM.org)
At the time of the Roe v. Wade decision, I was a college student — an anti-war, mother-earth, feminist, hippie college student. That particular January I was taking a semester off, living in the D.C. area and volunteering at the feminist “underground newspaper” Off Our Backs. As you’d guess, I was strongly in favor of legalizing abortion. The bumper sticker on my car read, “Don’t labor under a misconception; legalize abortion.”
The first issue of Off Our Backs after the Roe decision included one of my movie reviews, and also an essay by another member of the collective criticizing the decision. It didn’t go far enough, she said, because it allowed states to restrict abortion in the third trimester. The Supreme Court should not meddle in what should be decided between the woman and her doctor. She should be able to choose abortion through all nine months of pregnancy.
But, at the time, we didn’t have much understanding of what abortion was. We knew nothing of fetal development. We consistently termed the fetus “a blob of tissue,” and that’s just how we pictured it — an undifferentiated mucous-like blob, not recognizable as human or even as alive. It would be another 15 years of so before pregnant couples could show off sonograms of their unborn babies, shocking us with the obvious humanity of the unborn.
We also thought, back then, that few abortions would ever be done. It’s a grim experience, going through an abortion, and we assumed a woman would choose one only as a last resort. We were fighting for that “last resort.” We had no idea how common the procedure would become; today, one in every five pregnancies ends in abortion.
Nor could we have imagined how high abortion numbers would climb. In the 43 years since Roe v. Wade, there have been 59 million abortions. It’s hard even to grasp a number that big. Twenty years ago, someone told me that, if the names of all those lost babies were inscribed on a wall, like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the wall would have to stretch for 50 miles. It’s 20 years later now, and that wall would have to stretch twice as far. But no names could be written on it; those babies had no names.
We expected that abortion would be rare. What we didn’t realize was that, once abortion becomes available, it becomes the most attractive option for everyone around the pregnant woman. If she has an abortion, it’s like the pregnancy never existed. No one is inconvenienced. It doesn’t cause trouble for the father of the baby, or her boss, or the person in charge of her college scholarship. It won’t embarrass her mom and dad.
Abortion is like a funnel; it promises to solve all the problems at once. So there is significant pressure on a woman to choose abortion, rather than adoption or parenting.
A woman who had had an abortion told me, “Everyone around me was saying they would ‘be there for me’ if I had the abortion, but no one said they’d ‘be there for me’ if I had the baby.” For everyone around the pregnant woman, abortion looks like the sensible choice. A woman who determines instead to continue an unplanned pregnancy looks like she’s being foolishly stubborn. It’s like she’s taken up some unreasonable hobby. People think, If she would only go off and do this one thing, everything would be fine.
But that’s an illusion. Abortion can’t really “turn back the clock.” It can’t push the rewind button on life and make it so she was never pregnant. It can make it easy for everyone around the woman to forget the pregnancy, but the woman herself may struggle. When she first sees the positive pregnancy test she may feel, in a panicky way, that she has to get rid of it as fast as possible. But life stretches on after abortion, for months and years — for many long nights — and all her life long she may ponder the irreversible choice she made.
This issue gets presented as if it’s a tug of war between the woman and the baby. We see them as mortal enemies, locked in a fight to the death. But that’s a strange idea, isn’t it? It must be the first time in history when mothers and their own children have been assumed to be at war. We’re supposed to picture the child attacking her, trying to destroy her hopes and plans, and picture the woman grateful for the abortion, since it rescued her from the clutches of her child.
If you were in charge of a nature preserve and you noticed that the pregnant female mammals were trying to miscarry their pregnancies, eating poisonous plants or injuring themselves, what would you do? Would you think of it as a battle between the pregnant female and her unborn and find ways to help those pregnant animals miscarry? No, of course not. You would immediately think, “Something must be really wrong in this environment.” Something is creating intolerable stress, so much so that animals would rather destroy their own offspring than bring them into the world. You would strive to identify and correct whatever factors were causing this stress in the animals.
The same thing goes for the human animal. Abortion gets presented to us as if it’s something women want; both pro-choice and pro-life rhetoric can reinforce that idea. But women do this only if all their other options look worse. It’s supposed to be “her choice,” yet so many women say, “I really didn’t have a choice.”
I changed my opinion on abortion after I read an article in Esquire magazine, way back in 1976. I was home from grad school, flipping through my dad’s copy, and came across an article titled “What I Saw at the Abortion.” The author, Richard Selzer, was a surgeon, and he was in favor of abortion, but he’d never seen one. So he asked a colleague whether, next time, he could go along.
Selzer described seeing the patient, 19 weeks pregnant, lying on her back on the table. (That is unusually late; most abortions are done by the tenth or twelfth week.) The doctor performing the procedure inserted a syringe into the woman’s abdomen and injected her womb with a prostaglandin solution, which would bring on contractions and cause a miscarriage. (This method isn’t used anymore, because too often the baby survived the procedure — chemically burned and disfigured, but clinging to life. Newer methods, including those called “partial birth abortion” and “dismemberment abortion,” more reliably ensure death.)
After injecting the hormone into the patient’s womb, the doctor left the syringe standing upright on her belly. Then, Selzer wrote, “I see something other than what I expected here. . . . It is the hub of the needle that is in the woman’s belly that has jerked. First to one side. Then to the other side. Once more it wobbles, is tugged, like a fishing line nibbled by a sunfish.”
He realized he was seeing the fetus’s desperate fight for life. And as he watched, he saw the movement of the syringe slow down and then stop. The child was dead. Whatever else an unborn child does not have, he has one thing: a will to live. He will fight to defend his life.
The last words in Selzer’s essay are, “Whatever else is said in abortion’s defense, the vision of that other defense [i.e., of the child defending its life] will not vanish from my eyes. And it has happened that you cannot reason with me now. For what can language do against the truth of what I saw?”
The truth of what he saw disturbed me deeply. There I was, anti-war, anti–capital punishment, even vegetarian, and a firm believer that social justice cannot be won at the cost of violence. Well, this sure looked like violence. How had I agreed to make this hideous act the centerpiece of my feminism? How could I think it was wrong to execute homicidal criminals, wrong to shoot enemies in wartime, but all right to kill our own sons and daughters?
For that was another disturbing thought: Abortion means killing not strangers but our own children, our own flesh and blood. No matter who the father, every child aborted is that woman’s own son or daughter, just as much as any child she will ever bear.
We had somehow bought the idea that abortion was necessary if women were going to rise in their professions and compete in the marketplace with men. But how had we come to agree that we will sacrifice our children, as the price of getting ahead? When does a man ever have to choose between his career and the life of his child?
Once I recognized the inherent violence of abortion, none of the feminist arguments made sense. Like the claim that a fetus is not really a person because it is so small. Well, I’m only 5 foot 1. Women, in general, are smaller than men. Do we really want to advance a principle that big people have more value than small people? That if you catch them before they’ve reached a certain size, it’s all right to kill them?
What about the child who is “unwanted”? It was a basic premise of early feminism that women should not base their sense of worth on whether or not a man “wants” them. We are valuable simply because we are members of the human race, regardless of any other person’s approval. Do we really want to say that “unwanted” people might as well be dead? What about a woman who is “wanted” when she’s young and sexy but less so as she gets older? At what point is it all right to terminate her?
The usual justification for abortion is that the unborn is not a “person.” It’s said that “Nobody knows when life begins.” But that’s not true; everybody knows when life — a new individual human life — gets started. It’s when the sperm dissolves in the egg. That new single cell has a brand-new DNA, never before seen in the world. If you examined through a microscope three cells lined up — the newly fertilized ovum, a cell from the father, and a cell from the mother — you would say that, judging from the DNA, the cells came from three different people.
When people say the unborn is “not a person” or “not a life” they mean that it has not yet grown or gained abilities that arrive later in life. But there’s no agreement about which abilities should be determinative. Pro-choice people don’t even agree with each other. Obviously, law cannot be based on such subjective criteria. If it’s a case where the question is “Can I kill this?” the answer must be based on objective medical and scientific data. And the fact is, an unborn child, from the very first moment, is a new human individual. It has the three essential characteristics that make it “a human life”: It’s alive and growing, it is composed entirely of human cells, and it has unique DNA. It’s a person, just like the rest of us.
Abortion indisputably ends a human life. But this loss is usually set against the woman’s need to have an abortion in order to freely direct her own life. It is a particular cruelty to present abortion as something women want, something they demand, they find liberating. Because nobody wants this. The procedure itself is painful, humiliating, expensive — no woman “wants” to go through it. But once it’s available, it appears to be the logical, reasonable choice. All the complexities can be shoved down that funnel. Yes, abortion solves all the problems; but it solves them inside the woman’s body. And she is expected to keep that pain inside for a lifetime, and be grateful for the gift of abortion.
Many years ago I wrote something in an essay about abortion, and I was surprised that the line got picked up and frequently quoted. I’ve seen it in both pro-life and pro-choice contexts, so it appears to be something both sides agree on.
I wrote, “No one wants an abortion as she wants an ice cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal, caught in a trap, wants to gnaw off its own leg.”
Strange, isn’t it, that both pro-choice and pro-life people agree that is true? Abortion is a horrible and harrowing experience. That women choose it so frequently shows how much worse continuing a pregnancy can be. Essentially, we’ve agreed to surgically alter women so that they can get along in a man’s world. And then expect them to be grateful for it.
Nobody wants to have an abortion. And if nobody wants to have an abortion, why are women doing it, 2800 times a day? If women doing something 2,800 times daily that they don’t want to do, this is not liberation we’ve won. We are colluding in a strange new form of oppression.
* * *
And so we come around to one more March for Life, like the one last year, like the one next year. Protesters understandably focus on the unborn child, because the danger it faces is the most galvanizing aspect of this struggle. If there are different degrees of injustice, surely violence is the worst manifestation, and killing worst of all. If there are different categories of innocent victim, surely the small and helpless have a higher claim to protection, and tiny babies the highest of all. The minimum purpose of government is to shield the weak from abuse by the strong, and there is no one weaker or more voiceless than unborn children. And so we keep saying that they should be protected, for all the same reasons that newborn babies are protected. Pro-lifers have been doing this for 43 years now, and will continue holding a candle in the darkness for as many more years as it takes.
I understand all the reasons why the movement’s prime attention is focused on the unborn. But we can also say that abortion is no bargain for women, either. It’s destructive and tragic. We shouldn’t listen unthinkingly to the other side of the time-worn script, the one that tells us that women want abortions, that abortion liberates them. Many a post-abortion woman could tell you a different story.
The pro-life cause is perennially unpopular, and pro-lifers get used to being misrepresented and wrongly accused. There are only a limited number of people who are going to be brave enough to stand up on the side of an unpopular cause. But sometimes a cause is so urgent, is so dramatically clear, that it’s worth it. What cause could be more outrageous than violence — fatal violence — against the most helpless members of our human community? If that doesn’t move us, how hard are our hearts? If that doesn’t move us, what will ever move us?
In time, it’s going to be impossible to deny that abortion is violence against children. Future generations, as they look back, are not necessarily going to go easy on ours. Our bland acceptance of abortion is not going to look like an understandable goof. In fact, the kind of hatred that people now level at Nazis and slave-owners may well fall upon our era. Future generations can accurately say, “It’s not like they didn’t know.” They can say, “After all, they had sonograms.” They may consider this bloodshed to be a form of genocide. They might judge our generation to be monsters.
One day, the tide is going to turn. With that Supreme Court decision 43 years ago, one of the sides in the abortion debate won the day. But sooner or later, that day will end. No generation can rule from the grave. The time is coming when a younger generation will sit in judgment of ours. And they are not obligated to be kind.
The favorite leftist tool for the attack on our nation's founding is that slavery was sanctioned. They argue that the founders disregarded the promises of our Declaration of Independence "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." These very ignorant people, both in and out of academia, want us to believe that slavery is unusual, as historian Kenneth Stampp suggested in his book, "Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South." But slavery is by no means peculiar, odd, unusual or unique to the U.S.
As University of Nebraska-Lincoln political science professor David P. Forsythe wrote in his book, "The Globalist," "The fact remained that at the beginning of the nineteenth century an estimated three-quarters of all people alive were trapped in bondage against their will either in some form of slavery or serfdom." Slavery was common among ancient peoples — Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Hittites, Greeks, Persians, Armenians and many others. Large numbers of Christians were enslaved during the Ottoman wars in Europe. White slaves were common in Europe from the Dark Ages to the Middle Ages. It was only during the 17th century that the Atlantic slave trade began with Europeans assisted by Arabs and Africans.
Slavery is one of the most horrible injustices. It posed such a moral dilemma at our 1787 Constitutional Convention that it threatened to scuttle the attempt to create a union between the 13 colonies. Let's look at some of the debate. George Washington, in a letter to Pennsylvania delegate Robert Morris, wrote, "There is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it." In a Constitutional Convention speech, James Madison said, "We have seen the mere distinction of color made in the most enlightened period of time, a ground of the most oppressive dominion ever exercised by man over man." In James Madison's records of the Convention he wrote, "(The Convention) thought it wrong to admit in the Constitution the idea that there could be property in men."
John Jay, in a letter to R. Lushington: "It is much to be wished that slavery may be abolished. The honour of the States, as well as justice and humanity, in my opinion, loudly call upon them to emancipate these unhappy people. To contend for our own liberty, and to deny that blessing to others, involves an inconsistency not to be excused." Patrick Henry said, "I believe a time will come when an opportunity will be offered to abolish this lamentable evil." George Mason said, "The augmentation of slaves weakens the states; and such a trade is diabolical in itself, and disgraceful to mankind."
Northern delegates to the Convention, and others who opposed slavery, wanted to count only free people of each state to determine representation in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College. Southern delegates wanted to count slaves just as any other person. That would have given slave states greater representation in the House and the Electoral College. If slaveholding states could not have counted slaves at all, the Constitution would not have been ratified and there would not be a union. The compromise was for slaves to be counted as three-fifths of a person when deciding representation in the House of Representatives and Electoral College.
My question for those who condemn the Three-Fifths Compromise is: Would blacks have been better off if northern convention delegates stuck to their guns, not compromising, and a union had never been formed? To get a union, the northern delegates begrudgingly accepted slavery. Abolitionist Frederick Douglass understood the compromise, saying that the three-fifths clause was "a downright disability laid upon the slaveholding states" that deprived them of "two-fifths of their natural basis of representation."
Here's my hypothesis about people who use slavery to trash the founders: They have contempt for our constitutional guarantees of liberty. Slavery is merely a convenient moral posturing tool they use in their attempt to reduce respect for our Constitution.
Ray Darcy isn’t the king of self-doubt. That crown, in fact, rests rather more heavily on the head of Bruce Springsteen.
The New Jersey poet of self-distrust has travelled along many long dark highways of the soul in his life time.
He is a midnight cowboy looking for home in the darkness on the edge of town, with still miles left to travel .
You can hear that search for something he never quite finds all over his 13 track, new album Western Stars, out on June 14 worldwide.
Western Stars could well be one of his greatest albums yet, not bad for a record that his critics will deride as a cowboy album. Wrong. It is indisputably one of Bruce’s most soul-wrenching long players.
It focuses more on his singing voice. And as such his words, often beautiful, seem almost to soar more than ever because they are backed in places by sweeping orchestral walls of sound - Phil Spector meets Daniel Lanois - and in other places by sparse, lonely arrangements as big and lonely as a desert on a cloudless night.
On the emotive There Goes My Miracle, Bruce, singing like Scott Walker channelling Burt Bacharach on a night on the town in the New Jersey of his youth, asks: ‘Where's my lucky star tonight? The streets lost in lamp light.’
And then: ‘The book of love holds its rules/Disobeyed by fools.'
Other tracks reveal a lot about a philosophical man on his inner journey. They shine a light into the deepest recesses of Bruce’s often troubled psyche...
Moonlight Motel (‘There’s a place on a blank stretch of road where nobody travels and nobody goes’), Chasin' Wild Horses (‘Guess it was something’ I shouldn’t have done/Guess I regret it now/Ever since I was a kid’).
Sundown (‘Sundown ain’t the kind of place you want to be on your own’), and the short but to the point Somewhere North of Nashville (‘I came into town with a pocketful of songs/I made the rounds but I didn’t last long’).
On the sublime Hitch Hikin’ which opens the album, Bruce sings with a smile presumably on his face: ‘Family man gives me a ride/Got his pregnant Sally by his side.’
Sleepy Joe’s Cafe is a track that will turn into the first song at the second wedding of many an ageing hipster who knows great music when he hears it. It sounds like Bruce ‘in a place out on the highway, across the San Bernardino line, where the truckers and bikers gather,’ having the time of his life, dancing on a Friday night. It sounds like Bruce at his advanced age might realise that America under Trump might not be a country for old men (less so for a Democrat like him); but that doesn’t stop Bruce enjoying himself on a track that sounds like one of the better tracks from Dylan’s Together Through Life.
Elsewhere, on Bruce’s new single Hello Sunshine - the first release from Western Stars – the bard of blue collar America is in typically reflective mood (is there any other mood for Bruce?).
‘Had enough of heartbreak and pain
I had a little sweet spot for the rain
For the rain and skies of grey
Hello sunshine, won't you stay?
You know I always liked my walking shoes
But you can get a little too fond of the blues
You walk too far, you walk away
Hello sunshine, won't you stay?
You know I always loved a lonely town
Those empty streets, no one around
You fall in love with lonely, you end up that way
Hello sunshine, won't you stay?’
Bruce’s vocals sound not unlike those found on his moody masterpiece from 1982, Nebraska.
In terms of the lack of sunshine in his head, you only have to read his 2016 memoir Born To Run to learn about Bruce's cold, controlling father Doug, Bruce's battle with anxiety, depression and fear, with himself.
“I couldn’t get out of bed,” writes the man whose 1984 album Born In The USA sold over 40 million copies. “Hell, I couldn’t even get a hard-on. I was uncomfortable doing anything. Everything brought waves of an agitated anxiety that I’d spend every waking minute trying to dispel.”
In fact, re-read the foreward to Born To Run and get an instant insight into the Boss’ complex vulnerability as a person and as an artist: “I come from a boardwalk town where almost everything is tinged with a bit of fraud. So am I. By 20, no race-car-driving rebel, I was a guitar player on the streets of Asbury Park and already a member in good standing amongst those who ‘lie’ in service of the truth… artists, with a small ‘a.’”
On Western Stars (his 19th studio album and his first album since 2014's High Hopes) Bruce is once more ‘lying’ in service of the truth, this time as a man who will be 70 years of age in September.
As Tony Parsons wrote in GQ magazine this month: "What makes Springsteen unique is that – like that other son of New Jersey the late Philip Roth – he has somehow managed to do his most interesting work in old age."
Bruce's record company has described the new album as inspired by his devotion to Southern California pop records of the late 1960s and early 1970s. “This record is a return to my solo recordings featuring character driven songs and sweeping, cinematic orchestral arrangements,” Springsteen said in a statement. “It’s a jewel box of a record.”
In an interview with Variety in 2017, Bruce said of the influences of Western Stars, an album that has waited patiently in the wings for some time: “Glen Campbell, Jimmy Webb, Burt Bacharach, those kinds of records. I don’t know if people will hear those influences, but that was what I had in my mind. It gave me something to hook an album around; it gave me some inspiration to write. And also, it’s a singer-songwriter record. It’s connected to my solo records writing-wise, more Tunnel of Love  and Devils and Dust  but it’s not like them at all. Just different characters living their lives.”
So, if Hello Sunshine, The Wayfarer and Tuscon Train are second cousins of Glen Campbell’s 1968 version of Jimmy Webb’s Wichita Lineman or Danny O’Keefe’s 1972 Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues, other tracks from Western Stars like Somewhere North of Nashville, Chasin' Wild Horses and Moonlight Motel are things of affecting simplicity.
Stones has one of the greatest chorus lines of all time - ‘Those are only the lies you’ve told me.’
As I left the Lucky Duck pub on Aungier Street tonight after the special listening event by Sony Records for their prize artist’s new release, those words were in a loop in my head.
‘Those are only the lies you’ve told me... I woke up this morning with stones in my mouth.’
Bruce (in my humble opinion) at his ragged glory best. Born to stay on the run, because he knows nothing else.
Full review of Western Stars to come at the weekend
The moral panic caused by the Game of Thrones finale was a reminder that your biggest fan can turn Rupert Pupkin if they think you didn’t quite nail the landing. Whatever misgivings you may have had about The Iron Throne, at least the show delivered a grandstand finish. The 2006 finale of HBO’s Deadwood can barely be called that. A show abruptly cancelled after its third season was completed, its swansong fell flat with character arcs terminated in mid flight and a whole world of possibilities unexplored. Set in the historic lawless mining camp in the Black Hills gold rush of the 1870s, Deadwood melded profanity and poetry like no TV show before, reimagining the historic figures of the town in a bloody, grimy revisionist western that felt resolutely arthouse from its first shot to its last. It deserved better and now Deadwood: The Movie is a bold attempt to right that wrong, 13 years after its cancellation.
It does the trick. While it isn’t quite Deadwood at its jaw-dropping best – few things in TV history are – there is enough of the old magic left to deliver a satisfying ending. We find Deadwood well on its way to gentrification, a far cry from the rough-as-guts encampment that greeted us in 2004, caked in shit and blood. Trains not wagons now deliver newcomers, the thoroughfare looks more like a street, less like a pigpen, and there’s even a public phone. We are 10 years down the line from the final action of the TV show, with the town coming together to celebrate South Dakota becoming the 40th state of the Union. Philosopher king Al Swearengen is in still in situ at The Gem, perma-angry marshall Seth Bullock still inhales and expels pure righteousness and malevolent robber baronGeorge Hearst is back in town.
Perhaps because it’s so concerned with tying up loose ends, this final episode lacks the tension of Wild Bill Hickock’s murder or Hearst’s season three rampage, where it felt like the camp might be burned to the ground at any moment. Deadwood is now too firmly established to feel under any real existential threat. Still, it’s a great place to get your throat cut. In the film, a brutal murder puts Bullock on the warpath, Trixie’s past recklessness puts her life in danger and the return of Calamity Jane pretty much guarantees carnage. There’s an epic shootout when a stand-off escalates. Deadwood, now a legitimate town, is here to stay but so is the bloodshed. Gentrification has its limits.
The big relief for fans is that the language is still extraordinary. Creator David Milch’s mastery of the spoken word is as strong as ever. Deadwood’s monologues can be celebrated as standalone pieces, so if you loved Al’s reflections on his upbringing or EB Farnum’s floor scrubbing cri de coeur you will appreciate flashes of that brilliance throughout the movie.
Deadwood always excelled in finding beauty in depravity. Murder, betrayal and mutilation were always ever-present threats in the show, but over time the cruelty softened. Civilisation comes through necessity and even evil men must bow to progress. Heroes and villains find common purpose. A fragile consensus forms. The movie develops the theme. Producer Carolyn Strauss says, “It’s about the passage of time. The toll of time on people.”
And time has taken its toll on David Milch, with the onset of Alzheimer’s likely to curtail his career. It’s a particularly cruel affliction for one of the finest minds in TV. His legacy is outstanding: he’s been involved heavily in three revolutionary shows, writing for Hill Street Blues, co-creating NYPD Blue then producing his masterpiece Deadwood. A born renegade, he was expelled from Yale Law School for shooting out a police siren, suffered a heart attack while arguing with actor David Caruso while filming NYPD Blue and is a recovering heroin and gambling addict. There is no one in TV like him.
The movie honours the characters and conflicts properly, and only occasionally strays into ‘playing to the gallery’ territory. Even that feels more like Milch’s affection for his characters coming through rather than any desire to please the audience. If the response to the Game of Thrones finale teaches us anything, it’s that fans should often be ignored. Deadwood is far too important a work to be infected by fanfic. Like The Sopranos, it is unashamedly about big ideas – civilisation emerging from chaos, inventing right and wrong, capitalism red in tooth and claw. Milch is a heroic writer – artistically ambitious and fearlessly intellectual, with the soul of a poet.
Deadwood’s complexity and inherent difficulty means that it will never be as influential as many lesser shows. There was no stampede to make the next Deadwood the way there was for The X-Files, The Office or Lost. Still, you can hear its echoes in prestige TV like Ripper Street, Justified and Black Sails, and it inspired at least one screenwriter to take up the pen. Thirteen years on, it remains as fresh and compelling as it ever was and it now has an ending worthy of its revered name.
Deadwood: The Movie airs on HBO in the US on 31 May, and on Sky Atlantic in the UK on 1 June.