Friday, August 09, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: 'Game of Snipers: A Bob Lee Swagger Novel'

By Paul Davis
August 5, 2019
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Stephen Hunter has published his 12th Bob Lee Swagger novel, “Game of Snipers: A Bob Lee Swagger Novel,” which has the popular character pitted against an equally skilled and practiced professional sniper.
The reticent, rangy and retired rifleman, a former U.S. Marine Corps Vietnam War sniper known as “Bobthe Nailer,” still manages to become involved actively in action plots and new tests of his specialized skill as a sniper.
Bob Lee Swagger has been portrayed by Mark Wahlberg in “Shooter,” a 2007 film based on Stephen Hunter’s 1993 thriller “Point of Impact,” and by Ryan Phillippe in the “Shooter” TV series. I enjoyed the film and TV series, but both actors were too young and short to fit Stephen Hunter’s description of Bob Lee Swagger as a tall, lean, grizzled and slow-talking but fast-thinking “Arkansas hick” with a hip replacement and assorted other combat injuries.
To me, there is one actor who can best portray the 72-year-old sniper, and that is Clint Eastwood. AsClint Eastwood at 89 is still acting in films he directs, such as 2008’s “The Mule,” I’d like to see him direct a film based on “Game of Snipers” and portray Bob Lee Swagger.
Until then, one can enjoy reading about Bob Lee Swagger in this new novel. In the opening of “Game of Snipers,” Bob Lee Swagger is resting on a rocker on the porch of his Idaho ranch when Janet McDowell arrives unannounced and unwelcomed.
“Ma’am,” he called. “Just so you know: this is private property, and I’m not what you call a public fellow. If you’re selling, I’m not buying. If you’re interviewing, I’m not talking. And if you’re campaigning, I don’t vote. But if you’re lost, I will happily give you directions, and a glass of water,” Mr. Hunter writes.
“I’m not lost, Mr. Swagger — Sergeant Swagger. It took me days to find out where you lived. I know you don’t like interruptions, and there’s no reason you should, but I would claim the right to a hearing because of the circumstances”
 “Well,“ he said, thinking, oh, Lord what now?
“My son. Lance Corporal Thomas McDowell, sniper, 3/8. Baghdad, 2003. Came home to me in a box.”
And Mom wants the sniper who killed him dead.
Bob Lee Swagger recalls that the Iraqis had an effective sniper program and many Americans died, but then an American team analyzed data and designed new strategies to counter the sniper program. So our dying went way down and theirs went way up, he noted.
The woman told him that after her son died, she traveled to Iraq seven times. She had been raped four times, bilked by con artists three times and beaten three, once severely, while trying to learn who killed her son. She used money from the sale of her house, and she became a Muslim to understand the killer. She learned about an outsider who trained the Iraqis with a Russian sniper rifle and taught them effective tactics. He later vanished when the Americans gained the upper hand.
“He was called “Juba the Sniper,” she told him.
Bob Lee Swagger admired the determined woman, but the principled former sniper told her that he would not kill the sniper for her, as that would be murder, not war, and revenge, not justice. But he tells her that he has a contact in the Israeli Mossad, and he offers to go to Israel and tell them about Juba the Sniper.   
The elderly former sniper meets with the Mossad. They tell him about an Israeli agent who was shot by a sniper with a very long and impressive shot. They also suspect Juba of firing on a school bus and killing several children. The Mossad tells Bob Lee Swagger that Juba is a Syrian, a Sunni peasant named Alamir Alaqua.     
The American sniper suggests taking him out, but the Mossad officers want to have a chat with him.
“But Juba’s secrets are more important than his life,” a Mossad officer tells Bob Lee Swagger. “Who can he identify? What is he working on? … Perhaps most important, what is the source of their considerable funding.
Bob Lee Swagger accompanies the Mossad on a raid that delivers some of the answers to these questions and suggests that the sniper is heading to America. Bob Lee Swagger once again becomes a gun consultant on the FBI/Mossad team as the manhunt for Juba in America begins.
The most important aspect of Stephen Hunter’s Bob Lee Swagger thrillers is guns. Mr. Hunter gets guns — and he gets guns right. As a gun enthusiast and shooter, he knows guns.     
“Game of Snipers” is a suspenseful, interesting and action-packed thriller. I hope Clint Eastwood reads it and thinks about portraying Bob Lee Swagger.  
• Paul Davis covers crime, espionage and terrorism.
• • •
By Stephen Hunter
G.P.Putnam’s Sons, $27, 400 pages

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Everything They’re Telling You About Mass Shootings Is Wrong

August 7, 2019
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Democrats have complained about police brutality for years. The police, they assure us, are out of control. And, the story goes, they have it in for anyone whose skin is not lily white. You can’t trust the racist cops, they tell us. Remember Ferguson, Missouri, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, and others.
But these same Democrats also tell us that the police are the only ones who should have guns, which is to say that the police we’re not supposed to trust, who are guilty—in their view—of unspeakable crimes against Americans, should be given a monopoly on physical force and that private citizens should be deprived of their most effective means of defending themselves. That’s a headscratcher, but I’ll come back to that later.
For now, I want to focus on faithless Republicans who are being stampeded by an activist-driven, media-empowered hysteria into passing ill-advised gun control legislation that is bad on its surface and is rife for abuse. Not only are congressional Republicans making noise about gun control laws that Obama could never get passed but the New York Times reported that President Trump is looking for ways to enact gun control through executive action.
Allow me to propose a radical thought: Rushing important legislation that affects people’s most fundamental rights based on what’s trending on Twitter is not the best way to run a serious country.
So why the hysteria? The proximate cause, of course, is three mass-shootings that occurred within 10 days of each other: Gilroy, Calfornia, El Paso, Texas, and Dayton Ohio. If you believe the media—and sadly this applies to much of the conservative media, too—the country is experiencing an epidemic of mass shootings driven by “white supremacy.” Of course, “white supremacy” is not so much a defined political or cultural movement as it is an all-purpose slur used to shut down debate and dehumanize your opponents.
Labeling someone a “white supremacist” means not only that you don’t have to listen to them anymore, it also means that they are legitimate targets for all kinds of aggression. That’s what the shooter in Dayton, Ohio thought. He described himself as a leftist and he supported Elizabeth Warren, Antifa, and, ironically, gun control. His Twitter feed included statements like, “Vote Blue, for god’s sake” and “I want socialism and I’ll not wait for the idiots to come round to understanding,” and “Kill every fascist.”
In case you’re wondering who fit his definition of a fascist, you won’t have to look too far. It probably includes you and many of your friends and family. It certainly includes the 63 million Trump voters.
But how big is the problem? Do you know? If you watch our media you would think there was an epidemic of psycho mass-shooters, that you couldn’t go to a movie or out to lunch without dodging bullets. It’s not true.
In fact, most of what we’re being told about mass shootings and mass shooters is not true and it’s offered on an endless loop in order to manipulate public opinion and to pursue a political agenda that demonizes white people.
“Everyone I don’t like is a white supremacist!” is the rallying cry and it’s meant to cow weak-kneed Republicans into submission and, at a minimum, get them to pass dangerous gun control legislation. Remember, as just one example, that Representative Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) recently said, “Our country should be more fearful of white men . . . ” It’s become an article of faith that white men are responsible for most mass shootings, but that’s not true either.
What are the facts?
Fact: There were 387 deaths from mass shootings in the United States in 2018 (defined as four or more shot—not necessarily killed—at one time). Of those, most were regular criminals as we expect to see ingang-related drive-bys, bar fights, and a strangely large number of shootings at parties (like this one). About 100 deaths were the result of the random, psycho-killer shootings that dominated news coverage for days and weeks at a time. Mercifully, those are quite rare. But that’s not the impression we are given by the news coverage.
Fact: There are more privately owned guns in the United States than ever before and the number of murders has been declining for decades and has been at or near a multigenerational low for several years. More guns, less crime.
Fact: There were 660 murders in Chicago in 2017. That’s nearly twice the number from mass shootings in the whole country and six or seven times the number murdered by random psychos mass-shooters. Chicago has some of the strictest gun control in the country. Maybe it’s not the guns.
Fact: There are between 1.2 million and 1.5 million defensive uses of guns per year in the United States. How many more murders, rapes, thefts, and assaults would there be without armed citizens?
Fact: There were more than 70,000 opioid deaths last year. That’s 4.5 times the total number of murders and 700 times the number of people killed by psycho mass-shooters. Yet, liberals want to enact far-reaching  gun control laws and prevent Americans from defending themselves.
Maybe there’s another agenda. Well, not maybe. There is.
Power-hungry ideologues are playing on people’s emotions, using terrible, tragic—but also quite rare—incidents to push a false narrative about America and to enact dangerous gun control legislation that would leave millions of Americans subject to abuse.
Do you want the people who dox conservatives and get them banned from social media deciding who is allowed to own a gun? “Red flag” laws don’t stop crazy people and will empower bad actors to harass American conservatives, depriving them of their ability to defend themselves.
Republicans politicians seeking to doctor our Second Amendment with gun control legislation should stop. Then they should take a breath and remember the Hippocratic Oath: first, do no harm.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Quentin Tarantino & American Mythmaking

August 5, 2019
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Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio
I saw the new Quentin Tarantino movie last night, “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.” It’s a movie about the Manson murders, and Hollywood mythmaking (which is to say, American mythmaking). It’s as if Tarantino, who wrote the script, consulted with Joan Didion and Walker Percy. I thought it was a powerful film, and a pleasure to watch (the ultraviolence at the end was hard to take, but this is Tarantino, and you can turn your head if you want to). I’m trying to think my way through it, especially after this violent weekend, but I have a few thoughts to add now.
First, if you haven’t read this Caitlin Flanagan piece about the movie, please do. She talks about how all the Social Justice Warrior critics have excoriated the movie for being too white. Excerpt:
The justice critics aren’t interested in fictions that feel like memories. They want movies that adhere to their vision of the way the world should be. To them, the movie is too white, too violent toward women, and too uninterested in Margot Robbie, whose Sharon Tate has few lines. The New Yorker’s Richard Brody reviled the picture, calling it “ridiculously white.” But Charles Manson was a white supremacist, a fact that does tend to put a lot of white people in a movie. The majority of these white people are drugged-out sadists who live in filth, and scrounge in garbage, entirely repellent. And the Hollywood of the time was a deeply insular place from which progressive values flowed easily, but that never stopped to examine itself as a racially exclusive enterprise. Depicting it as inclusive would give the lie to the decades of hard work that have gone into changing that fact, work that is finally beginning to pay off.
As to violence against women, what can I tell you? If you don’t like it, don’t go to a movie about the Manson killings. Say what you will about Charles Manson; he really empowered women to pursue excellence in traditionally male-dominated fields. From armed robbery to sadistic murder at knifepoint, he put women in positions from which they had been traditionally excluded, and ultimately helped them to break that hardest, highest glass ceiling, the one that makes death row such a male purview. The Manson crimes became famous because of the savagery of the killings, the killers became famous because so many of them were women, and the most famous of the victims was a very specific woman, so particularly feminine—and at the height of femininity, the peak of her young beauty, and eight-and-a-half months pregnant—that her slaughter instantly assumed a mythic importance. Moreover, without giving away the ending, for many of us the violent scene that the justice critics hate was something we’ve been waiting 50 years to see. As for me, I closed my eyes during part of it, an option available to any ticket holder.
Flanagan talks about the Brad Pitt character, stuntman Cliff Booth, and how he embodies an older American masculine ideal, and how the movie contrasts this with the neurotic, emotional, narcissistic character Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), whose stunt double Cliff has long been. She goes on:
We can’t have a movie like this. It affirms things the culture wants killed. If men aren’t encouraged to cry in public, where will we end up? And the bottom line is the bottom line: Audiences don’t want to see this kind of thing anymore. The audience wants the kind of movies the justice critics want. But the audience gave Once Upon a Time in Hollywood the biggest opening of Tarantino’s career. The critics may not get it, but the public does. Is Tarantino making a reactionary statement at a dangerous time? Or does the title tell the truth, that the whole thing—including those old masculine values—was always just a fairy tale, a world “that never really existed, but feels like a memory”?
I think he’s doing both. Let me explain. I’m not going to give any spoilers.
The movie — I’ll call it “Once” — is a buddy pic about Rick (DiCaprio) and Cliff (Pitt) who are navigating Rick’s professional decline in the late 1960s. Rick got famous playing an old-fashioned Hollywood cowboy in 1950s TV Westerns. The time is 1969, and Rick’s character type is out of fashion. He’s melting down because the personal myth he lived by — that he’s a Hollywood Cowboy — no longer counts for much. Meanwhile, the man who actually did the rough stuff for Rick on screen — Cliff, the stunt double — is keeping his cool.
Meanwhile, Rick’s neighbors in the Hollywood Hills, director Roman Polanski and his wife Sharon Tate, are headed for disaster. Six months after the film’s narrative begins, Tate and others staying at the house will be murdered by members of the Charles Manson cult (Polanski was in Europe filming at the time). Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) is the third major character in the movie. She embodies a mythological idea of American femininity. There’s a moment in which she’s dancing poolside at the Playboy Mansion, free as a bird. Tate is the poster girl for California dreamin’. We know, because we have lived through that history, and because we have read our Joan Didion, that that myth was dying.
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Margot Robbie
The Manson family, as much as anybody else, killed it. They were the dark side of the counterculture. The hippie girls detached from their families, looking to explore their sexual freedom, and the pleasure of drug use — they became Charlie’s devotees. The tensest part of the film comes when Cliff, who ends up at the Spahn Ranch (where the Manson family lived), decides to go check on an elderly man there he used to know, and who he suspects may be being abused by the Manson cult. Though he is badly outnumbered, Cliff does his duty as a man. As Caitlin Flanagan writes, Cliff Booth lives by a Code. It is the kind of code celebrated in “High Noon.”
There’s a scene in which Cliff beats the hell out of a hippie dude who, believe me, deserves it. The irate hippie women stand around cheering for the victim. It’s a powerful scene, because in it, Tarantino is showing that these women, by siding with the hippie layabout coward, become complicit in cultural decline. Cliff executes what, under the old code, would have been rough justice. The female mob, though, exalts the kind of man-child the old code would see as contemptible. In another scene — I won’t give details — an old-style Hollywood manly-man complains that feminine movie idols like Sharon Tate stopped caring about men like him, and started going for weaklings.
It’s impossible not to see this as Tarantino’s comment on the demise of traditional masculinity. If women reward dirtbags like Charlie Manson and the men in his circle, that’s what they will encourage. That is not a politically correct point of view, obviously.
But Tarantino’s reactionary critique is more nuanced than that. Remember, the iconic masculine hero, Rick Dalton, is actually a self-absorbed punk. He is not a Real Man™; he only plays one on TV. The myth can is supported because, in Rick’s case, Cliff does all the rough stuff. Tarantino also seems to be saying that the myth rests on the willingness of flesh-and-blood men to inhabit it, to make it real by living it out.
For me, the most powerful moment in the film comes when Sharon Tate (Robbie) is so delighted by her own celebrity — in an innocent way — that she dips into a movie theater to watch a matinee of her latest movie, starring Dean Martin (by the way, Tarantino screens clips from the actual Tate film). It could have been a sequence set up to condemn Hollywood narcissism, but it doesn’t play that way at all. In fact, the sequence is luminously graceful; Margot Robbie does so much acting without saying a word. She makes us feel the bubbly pleasure Tate experiences, sitting there in the theater, unobserved by others, enjoying their laughter at her comic performance.
The Tate character is living out the phenomenon mentioned by Walker Percy inThe Moviegoer:
Nowadays when a person lives somewhere, in a neighborhood, the place is not certified for him. More than likely he will live there sadly and the emptiness which is inside him will expand until it evacuates the entire neighborhood. But if he sees a movie which shows him his very neighborhood, it becomes possible for him to live, for a time at least, as a person who is Somewhere and not Anywhere.
That’s what’s going on with Sharon Tate in this scene, I think. She doesn’t come across in “Once” as sad or empty. I thought we were supposed to see her as blissed-out and shallow, but John Podhoretz points out in his review that Tate visits a bookstore to check on an order of “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” that she has requested for her husband, because she read it and liked it. Sharon Tate is not dim; she’s unironic. but this sequence is revelatory in that we can see the relief that spreads across her face, like a morning glory welcoming the sunrise, when she hears the approval of the audience. It is so endearing it almost brought me to tears. It’s as if she had to go into that theater on a sunny afternoon to remind herself that she really was Sharon Tate™, that she was Someone who lives Somewhere. Put another way, she had to experience herself mythologized in order to be comfortable in her skin. To be certified. 
DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton, on the other hand, is losing his sense of self because he has mistaken the mythological figure he played on the screen for his real self. He has remained a man-child, because he assumed that all he had to do was to seem like a Man to be a Man.
“Once” is a movie about the difference between certification and authentication. Rick has never been authentic, is losing his certification, and is coming apart because of it. He watches TV shows in which he makes guest appearances, just to remind himself of who he is, or was. Sharon is a rising star; the fact that she feels the need to become a moviegoer one afternoon, and to experience certification, is a sign that she too will suffer from the same crisis one day. She doesn’t have the crippling self-consciousness that Rick does, but that’s because she’s young, inexperienced, and is the image of a myth that at the time was still powerful. Sharon is becoming Hollywood royalty; Rick is washed up, and will never be invited to party with the cool kids at the Playboy Mansion.
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The only authentic one of this trio is Cliff. Why is he authentic? Because he lives by a code that tells him who he is, that gives him a stable identity. He doesn’t depend on the gaze of others to certify him. It doesn’t seem to occur to him that he needs to be certified. The thing is, he’s a loner. He doesn’t have a wife, or a girlfriend. Just him and his dog, and the man he serves. Pitt’s character is a true icon of American freedom, zipping around the L.A. freeway in his Karmann Ghia, living in a travel trailer, beholden to no one.
Before you get too comfortable thinking that Pitt is the only real hero here — and he is a hero — reflect on the character of George Spahn, the real-life owner of Spahn Movie Ranch. If you don’t know the Manson saga, it’s enough to know that Spahn was an elderly man who took in the Manson cult as residents. He turns up in this movie, played by Bruce Dern. His character is a version of what could happen to Cliff as he ages, and becomes vulnerable to predators.
Above all, “Once” is a movie about Quentin Tarantino’s love affair with Hollywood. As I said, watching it is purely pleasurable. More deeply, though, it’s a film about our relationship with myth, which for us modern Americans comes to us primarily through Hollywood. The Catholic screenwriter Barbara Nicolosi’s old blog was called “Church Of The Masses,” based on a quote from a 1930s film critic:
“Theaters are the new Church of the Masses — where people sit huddled in the dark listening to people in the light tell them what it is to be human.”
Take that thought with you into the theater to see “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.” The movie has a very Hollywood ending, which has proved controversial, though it reminds us why we all love Hollywood endings, and why we need to live by myths that tell us we live in an ordered universe, and that call us out of ourselves to make that order real.
I’m thinking of what Kamila Bendova, the Czech philosopher and anti-communist dissident, told me last year when I asked her why she and the other Charter 77 dissidents read Tolkien to their children. She said, “Because we knew that Mordor was real.”
Tarantino’s film reminds us that Mordor is real, but also that we need myths that help us fight its minions when they show up in our suburban driveways, in the flesh. When that happens, seeming, and certification, will not help us; only being, and authenticity, gives us a fighting chance.
Here’s a trailer for the movie. Caitlin Flanagan calls “Once” Tarantino’s most “transgressive” movie yet. She’s right:

Quentin Tarantino’s Cosmic Justice

By David Bentley Hart
August 6, 2019

(This Opinion piece contains spoilers for the Quentin Tarantino film “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.”)
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Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and Al Pacino
I have never exactly been a Quentin Tarantino enthusiast, only because — as far as I can tell — my sensibility rarely coincides with his. But I have never doubted his talent. I applaud his insistence on the endangered cinematic virtue of closely crafted storytelling. And I definitely share his preference for the gorgeously saturated, Chardin-like layerings of color that a great cinematographer can create on real film over the shrill pointillistic sheen and candy-hued incandescences of digital recording. Regarding the richness of his films’ emotional and moral palette, however, I’ve had my doubts.
I admit that it’s very easy to be unfair on this point. Tarantino’s films are often said to be cruel; certainly, they can be extremely brutal. But then again, a similar accusation is often made against the fiction of certain writers — Vladimir Nabokov, Silvina Ocampo, Clarice Lispector — whom I see as deeply compassionate. In reading their work, I’ve been inclined to interpret the unflinching and seemingly cold portrayal of violence and suffering as a kind of morally indignant arraignment of the brutality of the universe we actually inhabit. I hadn’t credited Mr. Tarantino with that much subtlety. Now, I think I may have misjudged him.
At least, Tarantino’s most recent opus, “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” seems to me to exhibit a genuine ethical pathos, one that actually brought tears to my eyes. Not that I expect most viewers to respond that way. The particular emotional impact of the film, which takes place in 1969 and involves Charles Manson’s “family,” may be palpable only to persons of a certain age. A viewer born much earlier or much later may not get the point at all. But for me, apparently, it’s a film I had been waiting to see for roughly 50 years without knowing it.
I was four and a half years old in August 1969. It was the first full year in which I was entirely conscious of myself as a distinct human being, or aware of the world around me, or able to learn about the still greater world beyond (if only through the medium of a television or radio overheard by chance, when my parents were caught off guard). It was also in that year, and in the half-decade following, that I came to know of the first monsters who ever truly terrified me and tormented me with nightmares. These were not ridiculous fantasy fiends in the old horror films I caught glimpses of on the local UHF channel but rather very real monsters: the members of the Manson family who had brutally murdered four people in a Hollywood home, including the actress Sharon Tate.
One gets past childhood’s terrors of course (at least, so I hear); other things, however, leave a more indelible impression. For almost all of us, there is that moment early in life when we first discover just how hideously cruel this world and the forces that govern it truly are. We’ve all known — even if most of us suppress the memory — that first trauma of the imagination that initiated us into the mysteries of true cosmic and personal evil. For me, it was learning the whole story about the Manson family murders. In my elementary school, there were children, principally boys, of course, who knew more than they ought to have known about those events and found it exciting to share their knowledge. From them, I learned all the horrific details. And by then I had also heard that those who had known Ms. Tate described her as having a personality of almost ethereal sweetness.
I would not know if that’s true, but that’s certainly how Tarantino depicts her, and how Margot Robbie plays her. It’s impossible not to find the Tate of the film endearing. Whether dancing at a party, singing along with Paul Revere and the Raiders while folding clothes, giving a girl hitchhiker a lift and parting from her with a hug, charming her way into a matinee of the Matt Helm film she appears in, grinning in guileless — almost childlike — delight at the audience’s response to her performance onscreen, she comes across as kind, young, beautiful and happy, and one wants nothing bad to happen to her, ever. But of course, one thinks one knows what’s to come.

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Margot Robbie

I knew from certain of Tarantino’s previous films — specifically, “Inglorious Basterds” (2009) and “Django Unchained” (2012) — that he has a fondness for creating alternate, counterfactual histories. Until now, it was not clear to me why. Perhaps the sheer immensity of the evils those films addressed — the Holocaust, slavery — overwhelmed my critical perspicacity. I certainly understand why some find it pointless to pretend even for a few hours that the most gigantic evils of the irrevocable past never occurred because fate took another turn at some crucial juncture. What can it offer, after all, other than a temporary emotional salve?

I admit that it came as a shock of relief and an immense emotional pleasure when, in the much-discussed ending of “Once Upon aTime … in Hollywood,” Tarantino’s version of the story unexpectedly veered away into some other, dreamlike, better world, where the monsters inadvertently passed through the wrong door and met the end they deserved — torn to shreds, bludgeoned to a pulp, burned to a cinder. Even the violence delighted me. I thought it gave glorious expression to a perfectly righteous rage. And I was glad to slip briefly into some other order of reality, if only an imaginary one, where ethereal sweetness had survived and horror had perished. Still, what’s the point?

A deeply moral one, perhaps — though the correct ethical grammar here is somewhat elusive. Over the years I’ve made the acquaintance of many philosophers of religion and a few theologians who dabble in the practice of theodicy: the attempt, that is, to justify “God’s ways” (supposedly) by arguing for some meaning, purpose or metaphysical necessity in the evils of nature and history. Usually, the proposed solution has something to do with the clarifying contrast with goodness that evil provides, its utility in teaching us (or, in some particularly silly theologies, teaching God) compassion or ethical commitment or something of the sort. No light without shadow, no love without hate, no pity without cruelty — that sort of thing. All of which is quite nonsensical.
My own metaphysical dispositions are very different (and, as it happens, of more ancient pedigree). I tend to believe that goodness, love and moral beauty are substantial and eternal realities that attest to themselves quite immediately to any rational nature, without the need for any edifying “contrast” to make them intelligible. No one, I think, actually learns pity from cruelty. The “ontological status” of evil (to use the jargon of the philosophers) is one of pure contingency, inevitable perhaps, but adding nothing necessary to the form and fabric of reality. After all, a good that required evil to become actual would always be only a conditional good at best, one probably not worth its price. Those who argue for the necessity of evil in the abstract, surely, would also generally lament any specific evil in the concrete, and would gladly unmake many evils of the past if only they could. But then, once one grants that it would be virtuous to undo any past evil in particular, one really cannot plausibly argue for evil’s metaphysical necessity in general. And who would be so callous or morally confused as not to want to go back and prevent the evils of the past?
Who would not right now, if he or she could, retreat just a week or so and try to warn the authorities of the impending mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton? When the horror is still so fresh in our minds, and the pain still so palpable, it seems quite obvious that it would be a kind of moral idiocy on our parts to try, through some specious moral metaphysics or some bloodless calculus of the balance between the pain of others and the ethical tutelage it might afford us, reconcile ourselves to the reality of things that simply should never have happened and to which nothing good attaches. It is only the emotional palliative of historical distance that deceives us that the same is true in regard to every evil.

America Is Drowning in the Left’s Lies About Trump

August 6, 2019
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Protest in San Jose, 2016 (Reuters)
The president of the United States, Donald Trump, never said there were “fine” Nazis or Ku Klux Klansmen.
This is one of the two great lies of our time—the other being that all Trump supporters are racists—and perhaps in all of American history. I cannot think of a lie of such significance that was held as truth by so many Americans, by every leading politician of one of the two major political parties and disseminated by virtually the entire media.
The major news media need to understand these are important reasons that half of America considers them frauds. And we get no pleasure from this fact. The reason we don’t recoil when the president labels the mainstream media “fake news” is that we know the charge is true. Has one major media news outlet yet apologized to the American people for preoccupying them for nearly two years with the lie of “Trump collusion” with Russia? Has one Democrat? Of course not. Because with regard to the Trump-Russia collusion issue, the news media were never driven by a pursuit of truth; they were driven by a pursuit of Trump.
In my last column, I offered a way of proving Trump supporters are not racists. The timing was, unfortunately, perfect. I could not anticipate how two horrific mass shootings would enable the left—the press, the Democrats, academics and Hollywood—to scream even louder than before that Trump and his supporters are racists and that their racism is why such shootings are taking place.
This is all predicated on what may be the most glaring lie of all: that, after the Charlottesville demonstrations, President Trump said Nazis are “fine people.”
The president never said there were fine Nazis. The left-wing assertion that the president of the United States said there were fine Nazis will long endure as an example of something that has been true since Lenin: Truth is not a left-wing value. Truth is a liberal value, and it is a conservative value. But it is not left-wing value. A leftist says whatever is necessary to gain power.
By remarkable coincidence, this week’s PragerU video is titled “The Charlottesville Lie.” It proves the president never said Nazis were fine people. When Trump said there were “very fine people on both sides,” he was referring to people demonstrating in Charlottesville for and against tearing down a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, not to Nazis and antifa.
The video is presented by CNN political commentator Steve Cortes, a voice of courage in the herd known as the mainstream American media. At this moment, of PragerU’s 325 videos, Cortes’s “The Charlottesville Lie” is the one I most want Americans to watch.
The harm that the media and others on the left have done and continue to do to this country by charging the president with praising Nazis and other white supremacists is incalculable. It has only served to inflame and divide Americans: the tens of millions who believe the lie and the tens of millions who know the truth.
Typical of the former is author Wajahat Ali, whose attack on supporters of the president recently appeared in The Atlantic, which identifies Ali as “the lead author of … Fear Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America.” Ali has the audacity to write: “I feel compelled to ask Trump supporters: Is it worth it? How many have to suffer for you to feel great again?” The Atlantic is proud to publish such hate-inducing mendacity.
And the left accuses conservatives of hate.
Aside from the clear evidence that the president never called Nazis “very fine people,” isn’t the very idea preposterous? Trump has a Jewish daughter, a Jewish son-in-law and Jewish grandchildren. Nazis want Jews dead. How do all the New York Times columnists, CNN anchors and correspondents and Democratic officeholders who say the president called Nazis fine people and who believe the president is a white supremacist reconcile those two facts?
They don’t—because they can’t, and because they can get away with saying anything they want. When a nation’s media and one of the two dominant parties are in lockstep, they can lie all they want.
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said, referring to El Paso: “(Trump) has created a national emergency of rampant white nationalism across the country. … I think we need to blame President Trump and the rhetoric he’s used since he got elected.”
Beto O’Rourke, in an obscenity-laced statement against the president the day after El Paso:
“He’s not tolerating racism, he’s promoting racism. He’s not tolerating violence, he’s inciting racism and violence in this country. We shouldn’t be asking if … he’s responsible for this when we know the answer.”
Meanwhile, half a day later, there was another mass shooting at a popular nightspot in Dayton, Ohio, resulting in nine deaths, including the shooter’s sister. Not much political hay against the president is being made of that one because, according to early reports, the shooter was a leftist, antifa-supporting Democrat who said he’d be happy to vote for Elizabeth Warren.
It is worth recalling that after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the American media blamed the assassination on right-wing bigotry that, they said, permeated Dallas. That Kennedy was murdered by a communist quickly disappeared from media descriptions of the assassination. Today, it is all but unknown to the American people.
Lee Harvey Oswald was a communist. And President Trump is not a white supremacist. No matter what the press says.
P.S. I just learned that within hours of PragerU posting “The Charlottesville Lie,” Google placed it on YouTube’s restricted list—just two weeks after a Senate hearing at which a Google representative swore under oath that Google doesn’t censor on the basis of political views. The ease with which the left lies is breathtaking.

Here's Something You Won't Hear About on the Shootings

By John R. Lott Jr.
August 6, 2019

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Connor Betts (Dayton), Patrick Crusius (El Paso)

Here is something that you won’t hear on the news. The Dayton mass shooter who left nine people dead and some 27 people injured was a registered Democrat, a self-described “leftist” who hated Donald Trump, and a strong proponent of more gun control.

If you believe the media, the murderer from the El Paso Walmart killer to the New Zealand Mosque shooter were right-wingers. 

“The white supremacist rantings are only the most recent far-right wing writings to emerge behind senseless mass shooting deaths in the past several months,” according to Time magazine, in reference to both the El Paso and New Zealand mass public shooters. A headline at NBC News proclaims: “After El Paso, Dayton shootings, world media warns about right-wing extremism in U.S.

On Sunday, Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke blamed President Trump for the violence and agreed with CNN’s Jake Tapper that Trump was a “white nationalist.” One Democratic presidential candidate after another laid the blame at Trump’s feet.

This drumbeat has been going on for awhile. The Washington Post called the New Zealand mosque shooting, “One of the worst cases of right-wing terrorism in years.” CNN’s John Berman, meanwhile, said, “The person giving a sign of allegiance to President Trump is the killer here."

The logic goes that President Trump is a right winger and a racist, and that therefore he is in league with and responsible for mass public shootings by white supremacists. Supposedly, there has been a flood of these mass public shootings because Trump has engendered a culture of hatred.

But Trump’s political views are worlds apart from those of the El Paso and New Zealand killers. Both were extreme environmentalists who opposed immigration because they thought that overpopulation would damage the environment. 

The El Paso killer’s environmentalism was clearly the basis for his anti-immigrant views: “Our lifestyle is destroying the environment of our country. The decimation of the environment is creating a massive burden for future generations. Corporations are heading the destruction of our environment by shamelessly overharvesting resources. This has been a problem for decades. . . . If we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can become more sustainable.”

Similarly, the New Zealand killer wrote: “The environment is being destroyed by over population, [and] we Europeans are one of the groups that are not over populating the world. The invaders are the ones over populating the world. Kill the invaders, kill the overpopulation and by doing so save the environment.”

The El Paso killer opposed all immigration, and was upset with Trump for advocating merit-based immigration. “Recently, the senate under a REPUBLICAN administration has greatly increased the number of foreign workers that will take American jobs. Remember that both Democrats and Republicans support immigration and work visas.”

Of course, the media is silent about the fact that the Dayton killer was a self-described “leftist,” a registered Democrat, and a gun control proponent. On Feb. 14, 2018, he tweeted at Sen. Rob Portman: “@robportman hey rob. How much did they pay you to look the other way? 17 kids are dead. If not now, when?” That was the date of the mass shooting at a school in Parkland, Florida. He also wrote on Twitter, “I want socialism, and i’ll not wait for the idiots to finally come round to understanding.”

On Sunday, The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin claimed: “The facts indicate white nationalists are responsible for more deaths than Islamic fundamentalist-inspired killings under this president.”

The Crime Prevention Research Center (CPRC) collected data on the raceand ideology (political and religious) of mass public shooters. Since 1998, 58% of these killers have indeed been white, but this percentage is smaller than the white share of the US population (64%, as of 2015). Middle Easterners are by far the most overrepresented among mass public shooters, given that they represent about 1% of the US population and 8% of mass public shooters. Blacks, Asians, and American Indians are also overrepresented. Hispanics are the most underrepresented, committing attacks at a rate that is little more than a third of their share of the population.

Environmental extremism is on the rise, and doomsayers on the left should take some responsibility for the unhinged frame of mind that many young Americans now occupy. Trump certainly didn’t inspire this strain of environmental fanaticism. But instead of having an honest conversation about where such fanaticism comes from, the media would rather just stereotype all angry white males as “right-wingers” and warn of a “white nationalist terrorism crisis.” 

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

What’s Really Behind the ‘White Supremacy’ Terrorism Scare

August 5, 2019

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The anti-Trump forces, now stripped of their Russian collusion ammunition, have invented another imaginary threat they hope to weaponize against the president: The public menace posed by “white supremacist” terrorism.
Much like the collusion conspiracy theory—which relied on random incidents, fictional villains, unconvincing evidence, and the Bad Orange Man in the White House—there is little substance to this purported danger.
Unironically, the whole ruse is being pushed by the same people who foisted the Russian collusion hoax on the American people for three years in the hopes of prompting President Trump’s impeachment and removal. The political agenda behind this manufactured white supremacy crisis is equally sinister because its specific purpose is to influence and undermine the 2020 elections.
The “white supremacy” canard is intended to further demonize Trump; falsely defame his supporters as white supremacists; and pressure nervous voters into defeating Trump and Republican candidates next year. The strategy is as cynical as it is pernicious.

Let’s clear one thing up before I get into the details: There is no systemic threat posed by white supremacy. Domestic white terrorists are not the same as, let alone worse than ISIS Jihadis. There has been no massive “surge” in white supremacy activity, as I wrote in November. These groups remain fringe, disorganized, and unrespected.
In his Senate testimony last month, FBI Director Christopher Wray was intentionally vague when questioned by Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) about the supposed rise of white supremacy.
“In terms of number of arrests, we have, through the third quarter of this fiscal year, had about, give or take, a hundred arrests in the international terrorism side, which includes the homegrown violent extremists,” Wray explained. “But we’ve also had about the same number, again, don’t quote me to the exact digit, on the domestic terrorism side. And I will say that a majority of the domestic terrorism cases that we’ve investigated are motivated by some version of what you might call white supremacist violence but it includes other things as well.”
Some version of what you might call white supremacist violence? Even giving Wray the benefit of the doubt, that means the FBI investigated roughly 50 or so cases of some version of white supremacy. Not exactly solid evidence to justify a law enforcement, political and media war against white supremacy.
But that is precisely what the Left and the NeverTrump Right now are demanding after the horrific mass shooting in El Paso, Texas over the weekend, when an alleged white supremacist murdered at least 22 people at a shopping center; most of the victims are presumed to be Hispanic and law enforcement officials are investigating whether a manifesto posted online was authored by the shooter.
The editors and writers of National Review are comparing the threat of domestic white terrorism with the threat of international Islamic terrorism while blaming Trump for it all. “It’s time to declare war on white-nationalist terrorism,” wrote David French, a NeverTrump promoter of the white supremacy fallacy. “It’s time to be as wide awake about the dangers of online racist radicalization as we are about online jihadist inspiration. And it’s time to reject the public language and rhetoric that excites and inspires racist radicals.”
This, according to French, would include comments made by the president related to immigration policy or criticism of Central American migrants breaking U.S. law to enter the country illegally. In his call for war and his argument that Trump has been breeding white terrorists, French posted this tweet by Trump in support of his claim: “Many Gang Members and some very bad people are mixed into the Caravan heading to our Southern Border. Please go back, you will not be admitted into the United States unless you go through the legal process. This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!”
His editors evidently agree with French’s hysteria, insisting that the country should “crush” the evil of white supremacy; Rich Lowry suggests that the FBI should go after white supremacists just like it went after the Ku Klux Klan in the 1960s.
What could possibly go wrong with a plan to ramp up an agency populated by partisan holdovers from the Robert Mueller-James Comey era? In fact, in a rambling op-ed in the New York Times the morning after the massacre, Comey warned the president, “because of what you have done, you owe us more than condolences sent via Twitter. You must stop trying to unleash and exploit the radioactive energy of racism.”
Democratic presidential candidates quickly exploited the El Paso atrocity and lined up to condemn Trump.
“Donald Trump is responsible for this,” blasted Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.). Democratic activists compared the shooter to Fox News’ host Tucker Carlson. “If you work for Fox News, advertise on Fox News, or support Fox News in any way, you are enabling the spread of White Nationalism in America and probably making a pretty penny doing so,” tweeted former Obama advisor Dan Pfeiffer on Monday morning.
The former president chimed in late Monday afternoon: “We should soundly reject language coming out of the mouths of any of our leaders that feeds a climate of fear and hatred or normalizes racists sentiments; leaders who demonize those who don’t look like us,” warned Obama in a lengthy screed posted on Twitter. Trump’s predecessor then compared Trump’s language to previous political leaders responsible for the Holocaust, Rwandan genocide and Balkan ethnic cleansing.
What should frighten every American is that the emerging proposals to mitigate “white supremacy” include a jaw-dropping array of strong-arm tactics that will, in short order, violate the free speech rights of millions of Americans as the government and news media malign anyone they identify as sympathizing with “white supremacy.”
If these measures are enacted, they will give legal and political cover to social media platforms to ban Trump officials, his supporters and perhaps even the president himself—they may extend to anyone in the Republican Party. Guns will be confiscated, careers ruined, and reputations irreparably destroyed. It will be the Kavanaugh hearing and show trials on steroids.
Conservative news and opinion outlets such as this one could be placed on some kind of watch list, or worse, shuttered altogether simply for challenging immigration policy or defending the president. Private companies and financial institutions could be warned against doing business with the Trump campaign or Republican candidates and lawmakers. Donors could be censured under the guise of aiding and abetting a domestic enemy.
MSNBC already is advocating on behalf of taking that path: “Because you keep writing checks to this president, it’s on you . . . because you are funding this white supremacist campaign . . . It is your money that is funding this white supremacy,” claimed Joe Scarborough on Monday’s show.
Pending approval of a catalog of harsh policy prescriptions, the Democrats, the news media and NeverTrump Right will continue openly to brand any voter planning to reelect Donald Trump as a white supremacist. The social shame will be as destructive as any measures that could be taken by any law enforcement agency.
And while the Trump haters scream at shadows and unleash the dogs of war, the real danger—how we address the mental, emotional and social defects in a generation of isolated young men—will be ignored just so #TheResistance can move poll numbers before November 2020.
Our inner cities will continue to burn as urban violence destroys families and neighborhoods. The opioid epidemic, a true systemic threat to domestic tranquility, will rage throughout blighted communities unabated. Just like Russian collusion, our ruling class will busy themselves chasing apocryphal demons while America’s legitimate problems go unresolved.
Who, exactly, are the real political terrorists in this scenario?