Friday, June 17, 2005

Mexico's Blind Eye to al-Qaida Activity

[The situation in Mexico is dire and outrageous. The Bush Administration's border policy is inept, corrupt and irrational. We don't appear to have learned much since September 11, 2001. - jtf ]

From World Net Daily:
Intel sources see porous border posing major terror threat to U.S.
Posted: June 13, 2005© 2005

Al-Qaida "communities," like the one busted in Lodi, Calif., have direct ties to other networks in Mexico and Central America, where jihadi terrorists are not viewed as a local threat, reports Joseph Farah's G2 Bulletin. "South of the Rio Grande Valley there exists a dire situation," said an intelligence researcher who took part in an academic meeting in west Canada. Intelligence sources and researchers agree there is hardly any effective cooperation between the Department of Homeland Security and the intelligence establishment of Mexico's President Vicente Fox.

Mexican agencies charged with intelligence and counter-terrorism, such as the Office of Coordination of the Presidency and the Center for Research on National Security, CISEN, do little more than offer half-hearted monitoring of militant Islamic activity, say G2 Bulletin sources. Mexico is facing a national crisis in dealing with drug lords who are killing elected officials, police chiefs and innocent civilians. Officials there have little interest and fewer resources to devote to law enforcement and intelligence activities that threaten the U.S., not Mexico.

As WND reported last week, Islam is on the move in Mexico and throughout Latin America, making dramatic gains in converting the native population, increasing immigration, establishing businesses and charities and attracting attention from U.S. government officials who have asked their neighbors to the south to keep an eye on foreign Muslim groups. While Mexico has pledged to monitor these activities on behalf of the U.S., those familiar with the recruitment practices and the Mexican government's oversight say the U.S. has reasons for concern.

For instance, Gen. Jorge Serrano, the head of the Attorney General Office's special terrorism investigation unit, says no Muslim terrorists have been found living in Mexico. Yet intelligence sources in the U.S. and Canada say Islamic jihadists have been working with zealots in Mexico for more than 20 years. Early activities were sponsored by Iran. Later, the recruitment activities got support from the Egyptian, Pakistani and Saudi embassies.

It is known the Egyptians paid the rent for a prayer hall and allocated funds for students who wanted to study at the Islamic al-Azhar University in Cairo. The Pakistanis organized Muslim converts and others to visit madrassas in Pakistan, a golden opportunity offered to the Taliban and al-Qaida to reach a larger pool of recruitment candidates. Saudi funds created a range of activities linked to Hajj or studies in Saudi Arabia where young zealots established contacts with Sufi and Wahabi activists one way or another connected to master terrorist Osama bin Laden.

Mexican authorities revealed in 2002 they knew Spanish Muslim converts of Basque origin were present in Chiapas state preaching the ideas of Islam and jihad as they mingled with local aboriginals. At least in two cases Mexican authorities, unable to determine the whereabouts of Basque Muslims, sent letters to their last known address informing them their stay in the country was illegal. According to a CISEN official, most Basque and Spanish Muslims were linked to the North African-based al-Murabitun World Tzotzil Movement, known for its blend of socialism and Islam. Information on Basque activity in Mexico is regularly collected by the Spanish government, but is not shared with the U.S. by the Mexicans.

Small, sometimes clandestine Islamic clubs in Mexico, usually disguised as cultural groupings, are on the increase. Information on ways to cross the U.S. and Mexican border and where to go, including recommended U.S. states and so-called asylum cities has actually already reached all corners of the jihadi Khalifat world. Some documents found in Pakistan, and more information from Iraq and Lebanon, proves jihadists are aware they are in danger of being detected when they use legitimate ports of entry to the U.S. Therefore they prefer to reach their sympathizers in Mexico and then penetrate the U.S. together with hundreds of thousands of Mexicans, drug lords and gang members.

As one Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer familiar with the situation in Mexico said: "What’s the point of having old ladies remove their shoes at airport security checks, when all it takes to carry a small package of the potent ricin poison into the U.S. is a friendly Mexican jihadist escorting you on a dark moonless night across the porous U.S.-Mexican border."

Manohla Dargis Reviews 'Batman Begins'

June 15, 2005
Dark Was the Young Knight Battling His Inner Demons
The New York Times

Near the big-bang finish of "Batman Begins," the title avenger, played by the charismatic young British actor Christian Bale, scoops up a damsel in distress, played by Katie Holmes, and spirits her away to his lair. Watching this scene, it was hard not to think how nice it would have been if Batman had instead dispatched the infernally perky actress, whose recent off-screen antics have threatened to eclipse this unexpectedly good movie. As it happens, the most memorable rescue mission in "Batman Begins" isn't engineered by the caped crusader, but by the film's director, Christopher Nolan.

"Batman Begins" is the seventh live-action film to take on the comic-book legend and the first to usher it into the kingdom of movie myth. Conceived in the shadow of American pop rather than in its bright light, this tense, effective iteration of Bob Kane's original comic book owes its power and pleasures to a director who takes his material seriously and to a star who shoulders that seriousness with ease. Until now, Mr. Bale, who cut his teeth working with Steven Spielberg on "Empire of the Sun" almost two decades ago, has been best known for his scarily plausible performance in "American Psycho," an intellectual horror movie that now seems like a prelude to this one: think American Psycho redux, this time in tights.

As sleek as a panther, with cheekbones that look sharp enough to give even an ardent lover pause, Mr. Bale makes a superbly menacing avenger. His Batman is leagues away from Adam West's cartoony persona, which lumbered across American television screens in the mid- and late-60's with zap and pow, but never an ounce of real wow. Mr. Bale even improves on Michael Keaton, who donned Batman's cape both in Tim Burton's 1989 "Batman" and its funhouse sequel three years later, and gave the character a jolt of menace. What Mr. Keaton couldn't bring to the role, and what Mr. Bale conveys effortlessly, is Bruce Wayne's air of casual entitlement, the aristocratic hauteur that is the necessary complement of Batman's obsessive megalomania.
What Mr. Nolan gets, and gets better than any other previous director, is that without Bruce Wayne, Batman is just a rich wacko with illusions of grandeur and a terrific pair of support hose.
Without his suave alter ego, this weird bat man is a superhero without humanity, an avenger without a conscience, an id without a superego. Which is why, working from his and David S. Goyer's very fine screenplay, Mr. Nolan more or less begins at the beginning, taking Batman back to his original trauma and the death of his parents. With narrative economy and tangible feeling, he stages that terrible, defining moment when young Master Wayne watched a criminal shoot his parents to death in a Gotham City alley, thereby setting into motion his long, strange journey into the self.

The story opens with the adult Bruce in the middle of that journey, in the far reaches of Asia, where he first rubs shoulders with "the criminal fraternity," then a clandestine brotherhood called the League of Shadows. Lead by a warrior sensei, Ra's al Ghul (Ken Watanabe), and his aide, Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson, at his lethal best), the league invites Bruce into its fold, an offer he violently declines. Thereafter, he returns to Gotham City, where he assumes a dual identity as both the city's wealthiest citizen and its avenging angel. Intrigue ensues involving a crime lord played with brio by Tom Wilkinson, a headshrinker brought to skin-crawling life by Cillian Murphy and the last honest cop in Gotham, James Gordon, given expressive poignancy by a restrained Gary Oldman.

It's amazing what an excellent cast, a solid screenplay and a regard for the source material can do for a comic book movie. Unlike Robert Rodriguez, whose faithfulness to Frank Miller's comic sucked the juice out of "Sin City," Mr. Nolan approaches Batman with respect rather than reverence. It's obvious that Mr. Nolan has made a close study of the Batman legacy, but he owes a specific debt to Mr. Miller's 1980's rethink of the character, which resurrected the Dark Knight side of his identity. Like Mr. Miller's Batman, Mr. Nolan's is tormented by demons both physical and psychological. In an uncertain world, one the director models with an eye to our own, this is a hero caught between justice and vengeance, a desire for peace and the will to power.

That struggle gives the story its requisite heft, but what makes this "Batman" so enjoyable is how Mr. Nolan balances the story's dark elements with its light, and arranges the familiar genre elements in new, unforeseen ways. Weaned on countless comics and a handful of movies, we may think we know the bat cave like we know the inside of our childhood bedroom. But to watch Bruce Wayne stand in the atmospheric gloom of this new cavern, surrounded by a cloud of swirling bats, is to see the underground refuge for the first time. Likewise the Batmobile, which here resembles a Hummer that looks as if it had been gently flattened by a Bradley tank, then tricked out for some hard street racing with fat tires and gleaming black paint.

As is often the case with movies about toys and boys, "Batman Begins" drags on too long, but even the reflexively Bruckheimer-like finish can't diminish its charms. Mr. Nolan needs to work on his action: Fred Astaire made sure that he was filmed so that you could see the entirety of his body, advice this director should have heeded when shooting his superhero. Still, what makes "Batman Begins" the most successful comic-book adaptation alongside Terry Zwigoff's "Ghost World" isn't the noisy set pieces, the nods to "Blade Runner" or the way a child's keepsake, an Indian arrowhead, echoes the shape of a bat. It's the way Mr. Nolan invites us to watch Bruce Wayne quietly piecing together his Batman identity, to become a secret sharer to a legend, just as we did once upon a time when we read our first comic.

"Batman Begins" is rated PG-13 (Some material might be inappropriate for children under 13). The film includes intense if bloodless action, notably the gun death of the Bruce Wayne's parents. People with bat phobias should take care.

Batman Begins

Opens nationwide today.

Directed by Christopher Nolan; written by Mr. Nolan and David S. Goyer, based on a story by Mr. Goyer and "Batman" characters created by Bob Kane and published by DC Comics; director of photography, Wally Pfister; edited by Lee Smith; music by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard; production designer, Nathan Crowley; produced by Emma Thomas, Charles Roven and Larry Franco; released by Warner Brothers Pictures. Running time: 137 minutes. This film is rated PG-13.

WITH: Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Michael Caine (Alfred), Liam Neeson (Henri Ducard), Katie Holmes (Rachel Dawes), Gary Oldman (James Gordon), Cillian Murphy (Dr. Jonathan Crane), Tom Wilkinson (Carmine Falcone), Rutger Hauer (Richard Earle), Ken Watanabe (Ra's al Ghul) and Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox).
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Robert Denerstein Reviews 'Batman Begins'

Standing tall
Christian Bale's edgy new Batman looks like Gotham's best yet
By Robert Denerstein, Rocky Mountain News
June 15, 2005

This year's tank-like edition of the Batmobile may lack the swooping elegance of Batman's previous rides, but packs a decidedly harder wallop. The same can be said of Batman Begins, the latest movie in a long-running franchise. Avid and operatic, Batman Begins arrives with fire in its belly.

Thanks to a new director (Christopher Nolan) and a new Batman (Christian Bale), we have a fresh and exciting take on Batman that charts the transformation of disillusioned rich boy Bruce Wayne into a bona fide superhero. Aficionados no doubt will debate the merits of those who have played Batman, but I'm inclined to forget Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer and George Clooney.

In my view, Bale makes the most interesting Batman yet. The actor who gave us American Psycho, doesn't seem quite rooted in the "real" world, yet can be alarmingly physical. In Batman Begins, Bale brings fear, danger and simmering rage to the role of Gotham's main protector.

Nolan (Memento and Insomnia) has picked up the Batman torch and allowed it to flicker through one of the darkest stories yet. And although Batman Begins doesn't have a signature villain (a la The Joker), it boasts an amazingly strong cast of supporting actors, some of whom collaborate to spin an intricate web of villainy.

Nolan's is not the first name that springs to mind for a movie with "blockbuster" potential, but he gives an interesting edge to the Batman franchise, dipping into twisted psychology, exploring the tension between vengeance and justice and assaying the role of fear in fighting evil.

Working with screenwriter David S. Goyer (Blade), Nolan explores Batman's origins, opening the movie with Bruce Wayne languishing in a wretched Asian jail. The events that follow have a slightly preposterous ring, but they're kept plausible by some fine actors. Liam Neeson shows up as Henri Ducard, a man who springs Bruce from jail and encourages him to visit a spectacularly isolated Himalayan haunt presided over by Ra's Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe).

There, Wayne trains in the martial arts and is invited to join the mysterious League of Shadows, an organization that ruthlessly fights evil. In a monastery clinging to the side of a steep hill, the movie establishes itself thematically: Bitter and guilt-ridden over the murder of his parents, Wayne discovers that justice must make room for compassion. He declines the league's invitation and returns to Gotham to fight crime in his own way.

The Batman persona then begins to take shape, and the movie expands its cast of characters, introducing Morgan Freeman (as an inventor at Wayne Enterprises), Rutger Hauer (as the unscrupulous head of Wayne Enterprises) and Michael Caine (as Alfred, the devoted family butler).

Caine brings a bit of winking humor to the proceedings, and Freeman seems particularly relaxed. And in case, these names aren't enough to generate interest, more soon arrive: Tom Wilkinson has a marvelously sleazy turn as mob boss Carmine Falcone and Gary Oldman portrays Jim Gordon, one of Gotham's few honest cops.

Gotham looks like a slightly degraded version of New York, a city mired in corruption and scarred by the effects of lingering economic depression, but it's the city Bruce calls home, and once he's there, he meets a childhood friend (Katie Holmes), who by this time has become an incorruptible district attorney.

The movie is so convincingly dark that the few attempts at winking humor almost seem out of place. Bale definitely comes across as a man on a mission, and the movie's set pieces - building of the Batcave, for example - have a driving energy to match.

Batman Begins does have its liabilities. Well-suited to the exploration of interior life, Nolan proves less fluent in the language of action, and, at times, I wished that he had a more stylized vision for Batman. He doesn't relish set design in the same way as Batman's first director, Tim Burton.

Still, Batman broods and roils effectively. Say goodbye to "pow" and "zowie." Say hello to a level of raw excitement that at times makes Batman look like a predator for justice.

As for the movie's central question - Is Gotham beyond saving? - the jury remains out, but there probably will be more movies that afford an opportunity to answer the question. I look forward to them.

Robert Denerstein is the film critic.
Copyright 2005, Rocky Mountain News.
All Rights Reserved.

John Podhoretz: Dick Durbin Goes 'Over the Line'

The New York Post

June 17, 2005 -- For years, Democratic politicians have reacted with spitting, consuming rage at the accusation that they are reflexively anti-military. That anger has, at times, been justified, as the charge has been thrown around too cavalierly. But Democratic anger has also been an effective tool because it puts Republicans on the spot, and usually Republicans back off when confronted.

You don't hear Republican politicians throwing around the "anti-military" charge these days with the abandon that, say, Democrats hurl the charge that Republicans are "anti-poor."

Well, as the White House finally recognized yesterday, it's time to take the gloves off. It's time for Republican politicians to put Democratic politicians on the spot.

On Wednesday, the second highest-ranking Democrat in the U.S. Senate compared American soldiers engaged in the punishing and difficult task of interrogating known terrorists to Nazis.

Sen. Dick Durbin isn't some loudmouth caller to Air America Radio or some psycho poster on loony-Left Web sites like He is a machine-cog pol from the state of Illinois. And he's a big, big cheese.

After reading an e-mail from an FBI agent who complained that prisoners at Guantanamo Bay were subjected to extremes of heat and cold — and to loud rap music — Durbin went on to say: "If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags or some mad regime — Pol Pot or others — that had no concern for human beings. Sadly, that is not the case."

There was general outrage when Amnesty International made the disgusting comparison of Gitmo to Stalin's gulag. A million of the approximately 26 million incarcerated in the Gulag actually died from it — which makes analogizing it to a prison facility holding, at most, 750 people an act of intellectual barbarity.

But being merely intellectually barbarous was evidently small beer for Dick Durbin, whose comfort in using genocides as cheap rhetorical devices earns him the rare position of being intellectually genocidal.

No, Stalin wasn't enough for our Dickie. He had to add on the Nazis (concentration camp death toll: 7 million) and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia (total death toll: 2 million). Their victims were innocents. Those incarcerated at Gitmo, it must be said again and again and again, were taken on the battlefield in Afghanistan or in proximity to it.

And who gets the blame from Durbin? "This was the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisoners," said Durbin. Yes, it was. Those Americans happen to be enlistees in the U.S. military. They are, in other words, soldiers or sailors or airmen or Marines, under the command of other military officials.

Now, at this point in a column on this subject, it's usually the time for the standard disclaimer that goes something like this: Yes, there can be bad apples in the American military. Yes, our techniques have been controversial and deserve serious debate. Yes, torture is bad. Yes, yes, yes.

No, no, no. Not this time. Dick Durbin has slandered the American military. He has slandered his country. He has defiled truth and he has spat on reason. He has given aid and comfort to all those who seek to use America's tough stance in the War on Terror as a recruiting tool for anti-Americanism.

He is the Senate's Democratic whip: a leader of his party by any stretch of the imagination. If he remains a leader of his party, his party deserves to be judged by his words — by his anti-military, anti-American words.

Judged, and held to account.


Ann Coulter: Losing Their Heads Over Gitmo
Ann Coulter (archive)
June 15, 2005

I guess Bush should have backed Katherine Harris, after all. Sen. Mel Martinez, the Senate candidate Bush backed instead of Harris, has become the first Republican to call for shutting down Guantanamo. Martinez hasn't said where the 500 or so suspected al-Qaida operatives currently at Gitmo should be transferred to, but I understand the Neverland Ranch might soon be available.

Maybe Sen. Arlen Specter – the liberal Republican Bush backed instead of conservative Pat Toomey, which still didn't help Bush in Pennsylvania – will step forward to defend the Bush administration. That Karl Rove is a genius.

Martinez explained his nonsensical call for the closing of Guantanamo by asking: "Is it serving all the purposes you thought it would serve when initially you began it, or can this be done some other way a little better?"

There are Arabs locked up at Guantanamo, no? Admittedly, not enough. (And not under what any frequent flier would describe as "harsh conditions.") Still and all, Arabs are locked up there. That is what we call a "purpose."

By becoming a focus of evil for human-rights groups, Martinez suggested, Guantanamo has become a recruiting tool for al-Qaida: "It's become an icon for bad stories," Martinez said, "and at some point you wonder the cost-benefit ratio." (I've been wondering the same thing about Mel Martinez.)

This is preposterous. NBC's "The West Wing" is an icon for bad stories; Gitmo is a place where we keep an eye on evil, dangerous people who want to kill us.

Martinez was borrowing a point from Sen. Joe Biden – which is always a dangerous gambit because you never know who said it originally. The "Biden" version was: "I think more Americans are in jeopardy as a consequence of the perception that exists worldwide with its existence than if there were no Gitmo."

So if people around the world believe that if they try to kill Americans they might go to a bad, scary place called Guantanamo, that will make them more likely to kill Americans? How about doing a cost-benefit ratio on that analysis?

Let's also pause to ponder the image of the middle-of-the-road, "centrist" jihadist who could be "recruited" to jihad by reports about abuse at Guantanamo. You know – the kind of guy who just watches al-Jazeera for the sports and hits the "mute" button whenever they start in about the Jews again, already.

Liberals want us to believe such a person exists and that he is perusing newspaper articles about Guantanamo trying to decide whether to finish his coffee and head off to work or to place a backpack filled with dynamite near a preschool.
Note to liberals: That doesn't happen.

What happens is this: There are thousands of Muslim extremists literally dying to slaughter Americans, and only three proven ways to stop them: (1) Kill them (the recommended method), (2) capture them and keep them locked up, or (3) convince them that their cause is lost.

Guantanamo is useless for No. 1, but really pulls ahead on No. 2 and No. 3 (i.e., a "purpose").
Let's just hope aspiring jihadists are not reading past the headlines and discovering that what Amnesty International means by "the gulag of our time" is: No Twinkie rewards for detainees!
That's not a joke. As described in infuriating detail by Heather MacDonald in the Winter, 2005, City Journal, interrogators at Guantanamo are not allowed to:

* yell at the detainees, except in extreme circumstances and only after alerting Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld – and never in the ears;

* serve the detainees cold meals, except in extreme circumstances;

* poke the detainees in the chest or engage in "light pushing" without careful monitoring and approval from the commander of the U.S. Southern Central Command in Miami;

* reward detainees (for example, for not throwing feces at the guards that day) with a Twinkie or a McDonald's Filet-O-Fish sandwich in the absence of express approval from the secretary of defense. (I suppose it goes without saying, "supersizing" their order is strictly forbidden under any circumstances.)

Without careful monitoring, interrogators aren't even allowed to subject the detainees to temperature changes, unpleasant odors or sleep cycle disruptions. But on the bright side, they are allowed to play Christina Aguilera music and feed the savages the same food our soldiers eat rather than their usual orange-glazed chicken. That isn't sarcasm; these are the rules.
No cold meals, sleep deprivation or uncomfortable positions? Obviously, what we need to do is get the U.S. Army to serve drinks on commercial airlines and get the airlines to start supervising the detainees in Guantanamo.

American soldiers make do with C-rations. Dinner on an America West flight from New York to Las Vegas consists of one small bag of peanuts. Meanwhile, one recent menu for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo consisted of orange-glazed chicken, fresh fruit crepe, steamed peas and mushrooms, and rice pilaf. Sounds like the sort of thing you'd get at Windows on the World – if it still existed.

Ann Coulter is host of, a member group.

Paul Johnson: What Europe Really Needs

The Continent has turned its back on both the past and the future.
The Wall Street Journal
Friday, June 17, 2005 12:01 a.m. EDT

That Europe as an entity is sick and the European Union as an institution is in disorder cannot be denied. But no remedies currently being discussed can possibly remedy matters. What ought to depress partisans of European unity in the aftermath of the rejection of its proposed constitution by France and the Netherlands is not so much the foundering of this ridiculous document as the response of the leadership to the crisis, especially in France and Germany.

Jacques Chirac reacted by appointing as prime minister Dominque de Villepin, a frivolous playboy who has never been elected to anything and is best known for his view that Napoleon should have won the Battle of Waterloo and continued to rule Europe. Gerhard Schröder of Germany simply stepped up his anti-American rhetoric. What is notoriously evident among the EU elite is not just a lack of intellectual power but an obstinacy and blindness bordering on imbecility. As the great pan-European poet Schiller put it: "There is a kind of stupidity with which even the Gods struggle in vain."

The fundamental weaknesses of the EU that must be remedied if it is to survive are threefold. First, it has tried to do too much, too quickly and in too much detail. Jean Monnet, architect of the Coal-Steel Pool, the original blueprint for the EU, always said: "Avoid bureaucracy. Guide, do not dictate. Minimal rules." He had been brought up in, and learned to loathe, the Europe of totalitarianism, in which communism, fascism and Nazism competed to impose regulations on every aspect of human existence. He recognized that the totalitarian instinct lies deep in European philosophy and mentality--in Rousseau and Hegel as well as Marx and Nietzsche--and must be fought against with all the strength of liberalism, which he felt was rooted in Anglo-Saxon individualism.

In fact, for an entire generation, the EU has gone in the opposite direction and created a totalitarian monster of its own, spewing out regulations literally by the million and invading every corner of economic and social life. The results have been dire: An immense bureaucracy in Brussels, each department of which is cloned in all the member capitals. A huge budget, masking unprecedented corruption, so that it has never yet been passed by auditors, and which is now a source of venom among taxpayers from the countries which pay more than they receive. Above all, règlementation of national economies on a totalitarian scale.


The EU's economic philosophy, insofar as it has one, is epitomized by one word: "convergence." The aim is to make all national economies identical with the perfect model. This, as it turns out, is actually the perfect formula for stagnation. What makes the capitalist system work, what keeps economies dynamic, is precisely nonconformity, the new, the unusual, the eccentric, the egregious, the innovative, springing from the inexhaustible inventiveness of human nature. Capitalism thrives on the absence of rules or the ability to circumvent them.

Hence it is not surprising that Europe, which grew rapidly in the 1960s and 1970s, before the EU got going, has slowly lost pace since Brussels took over its direction and imposed convergence. It is now stagnant. Growth rates of over 2% are rare, except in Britain, which was Thatcherized in the 1980s and has since followed the American model of free markets. Slow or nil growth, aggravated by the power of the unions, fits well with the Brussels system and imposes further restraints on economic dynamism: Short working hours and huge social security costs that have produced high unemployment, over 10% in France and higher in Germany than at any time since the Great Depression which brought Hitler to power.

It is natural that high and chronic unemployment generates a depressive anger which finds many expressions. One, in Europe today, is anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism. Another is exceptionally low birthrates, lower in Europe than anywhere else in the world except Japan. If present trends continue, the population of Europe (excluding the British Isles) will be less than the United States by midcentury--under 400 million, with the over-65s constituting one-third of that.

The rise of anti-Americanism, a form of irrationalism deliberately whipped up by Messrs. Schröder and Chirac, who believe it wins votes, is particularly tragic, for the early stages of the EU had their roots in admiration of the American way of doing things and gratitude for the manner in which the U.S. had saved Europe first from Nazism, then (under President Harry Truman) from the Soviet Empire--by the Marshall Plan in 1947 and the creation of NATO in 1949.

Europe's founding fathers--Monnet himself, Robert Schumann in France, Alcide de Gasperi in Italy and Konrad Adenauer in Germany--were all fervently pro-American and anxious to make it possible for European populations to enjoy U.S.-style living standards. Adenauer in particular, assisted by his brilliant economics minister Ludwig Erhardt, rebuilt Germany's industry and services, following the freest possible model. This was the origin of the German "economic miracle," in which U.S. ideas played a determining part. The German people flourished as never before in their history, and unemployment was at record low levels. The decline of German growth and the present stagnation date from the point at which her leaders turned away from America and followed the French "social market" model.


There is another still more fundamental factor in the EU malaise. Europe has turned its back not only on the U.S. and the future of capitalism, but also on its own historic past. Europe was essentially a creation of the marriage between Greco-Roman culture and Christianity. Brussels has, in effect, repudiated both. There was no mention of Europe's Christian origins in the ill-fated Constitution, and Europe's Strasbourg Parliament has insisted that a practicing Catholic cannot hold office as the EU Justice Commissioner.

Equally, what strikes the observer about the actual workings of Brussels is the stifling, insufferable materialism of their outlook. The last Continental statesman who grasped the historical and cultural context of European unity was Charles de Gaulle. He wanted "the Europe of the Fatherlands (L'Europe des patries)" and at one of his press conferences I recall him referring to "L'Europe de Dante, de Goethe et de Chateaubriand." I interrupted: "Et de Shakespeare, mon General?" He agreed: "Oui! Shakespeare aussi!"

No leading member of the EU elite would use such language today. The EU has no intellectual content. Great writers have no role to play in it, even indirectly, nor have great thinkers or scientists. It is not the Europe of Aquinas, Luther or Calvin--or the Europe of Galileo, Newton and Einstein. Half a century ago, Robert Schumann, first of the founding fathers, often referred in his speeches to Kant and St. Thomas More, Dante and the poet Paul Valery. To him--he said explicitly--building Europe was a "great moral issue." He spoke of "the Soul of Europe." Such thoughts and expressions strike no chord in Brussels today.

In short, the EU is not a living body, with a mind and spirit and animating soul. And unless it finds such nonmaterial but essential dimensions, it will soon be a dead body, the symbolic corpse of a dying continent.

Mr. Johnson, a historian, is the author, among others, of "Modern Times" (Perennial, 2001). His most recent book is "Washington," due this month by HarperCollins.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Bill Wyman: Dylan Gives the People What He Wants

The New York Times
June 12, 2005

The theater, 70 miles north of Lansing, Mich., was big and boomy and boxy, and a third empty. The fans sat, six to a side, at long tables perpendicular to the stage. A few dozen yards away, slot machines jangled, lights flashed, cards snapped. Onstage, the frail-looking singer hunched over the keyboard and bleated out a tune that the patient audience strained to recognize. The singer, dressed as he always is in courtly dark garb, said little to the audience, though once or twice he emerged from behind the keyboard to play a harmonica solo from center stage.

The place was the Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort, and it was an odd rock 'n' roll show. But it was the kind of show and the kind of site that Bob Dylan has increasingly made his own.

Mr. Dylan, 64, plays big cities, of course. (In April he played five nights in Manhattan.) But more and more, he is choosing stranger settings: state fairs, corporate events, urban street fairs and casinos (from Indian casinos like the Turning Stone in Verona, N.Y., and the Soaring Eagle to more traditional ones in Las Vegas and Reno). He is now in the middle of his second summer barnstorming tour of minor-league baseball fields, like the Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, Fla., with Willie Nelson in tow.

Mr. Dylan may be in the final phase of his long and iconoclastic life as a star, and for it he has chosen a very long and very iconoclastic tour: 1,700 shows and counting, beginning in 1988. Caught in an artistic crisis then, he decided to defibrillate his career and go back on the road. Accompanied by a small combo, he reintroduced himself to fans, sporting a lean energy and a commitment to exploring his nonpareil song catalog. He shows no signs of slowing down, though he has lately replaced the guitar he has played for more than 45 years with a keyboard, causing speculation that back problems might be responsible for the switch. (Through Mr. Dylan's publicist at Columbia Records, his management said playing keyboards was "just his musical preference" and declined to comment otherwise for this article.) Mr. Dylan has turned his act into one of the weirdest road shows in rock. He rarely speaks to the crowd, and when he does, his remarks are often gnomic throwaways. ("I had a big brass bed, but I sold it!") He plays some of his best-known songs, but often in contrarian, almost unrecognizable versions, as if to dampen their anthemic qualities. He highlights recent compositions more than most of his 60's coevals, but these, too, are delivered as highly stylized, singsongy chants. He strives to play as many kinds of places as possible, even playing successive nights in different theaters and clubs in large cities.

In other words, Mr. Dylan seems to have developed an unparalleled commitment to sharing his art, but only on his own very specific terms.
Of course, a hundred shows a year is not unheard of in the rock world; some well-known figures, Mr. Nelson and B. B. King among them, play even more shows than Mr. Dylan. But no performer of similar stature has exhibited his decades-spanning commitment to the stage. Acts like Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones and U2 tend to tour every two or three years as part of a grandly themed marketing package, complete with a new album, an intricate publicity strategy, tractor trailers to carry their massive stage sets; later there is souvenir bric-a-brac like a live album or an HBO special for later DVD release.

Mr. Dylan does none of that. There are no themes, little publicity and no tractor trailers; he just plays shows. The writer Paul Williams, who founded Crawdaddy, arguably the first rock magazine, in 1966, said Mr. Dylan's focus had moved away from recording in the last few decades. "This is his art form," he said, "the performing."

These shows have none of the strict choreography of the modern rock concert. Major touring acts will charge hundreds of dollars for a tightly scripted performance, with one or two opportunities for spontaneity. By contrast, Mr. Dylan's small ensemble plays confidently during each set's few anchors, but watches somewhat warily during the rest of the show, as Mr. Dylan decides which part of his huge repertory to sample next.
"He would do anything from old folk songs, Civil War-era songs, up to standards," said the guitarist G. E. Smith, who played with Mr. Dylan at the start of what has become known as the Never-Ending Tour. "I remember once, we were playing in Hollywood, and he played 'Moon River.' "

Unlike some of his peers, Mr. Dylan doesn't seem to be motivated primarily by money. His ticket prices average a bit over $40, according to Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the concert industry magazine Pollstar; that's significantly below the industry average. "Bob is one guy who's realized it's not all about the money," said Jerry Mickleson, of Jam Productions in Chicago. "It's about making music and making people happy. It's not about charging $100 a ticket."

For the Bob and Willie tour, in 2004, he added, tickets were $45. This year, they were $49.50.

Still, finances may play a part in Mr. Dylan's touring strategy. Casino shows are highly remunerative; the Soaring Eagle had an uncharacteristically high $150 top ticket price, reflecting a high upfront fee for the artist. He will never starve, but Mr. Dylan did not come out of the 1960's and 70's with what could be called McCartney money. Howard Sounes, in his Dylan biography, "Down the Highway," writes that Mr. Dylan has had four generations of Zimmermans and Dylans to house at various times, besides two wives and, it seems, the odd mistress. If Mr. Dylan plays 100 shows a year before 4,000 fans at an average price of $40 a ticket, he may walk away with more than $5 million profit. And of course, that's on top of the million or so albums he sells a year.

Yet money doesn't fully explain the restless nature of the touring, and it certainly doesn't explain Mr. Dylan's refusal to give the audience what it wants to hear, his casual approach to publicity, the small clubs or the costs involved in playing at different sites in the same city. For some of his 1960's peers, whose tours can gross in the nine figures, it's hardly worth leaving the Hamptons for $5 million.

One clue to what Mr. Dylan is doing may be found in the liner notes to "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan," one of his early albums: "I don't carry myself yet the way that Big Joe Williams, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly and Lightnin' Hopkins have carried themselves," he said. "I hope to be able to someday, but they're older people. I sometimes am able to do it, but it happens, when it happens, unconsciously." These figures aren't merely musical heroes; they're also counterpoints to Mr. Dylan's casually decadent rock star peers, who happily cater to their fans' demands. Unlike them, Mr. Dylan offers the audience only what he thinks they should want: an opportunity to see an artist work.

He has even become something of a proselytizer for the road's healing powers. A call from Mr. Dylan encouraged the singer Patti Smith to go back on the road after a 16-year hiatus. "He told me I should share what I do with the people," she said. "I think that resonates with his philosophy."

The journey Mr. Dylan is on has eerie premonitions in his songs, nowhere more so than in "Like a Rolling Stone," whose refrain of "no direction home" can sound both ominous and triumphant. "I think when he sang 'no direction home,' he's talking about being lost, kind of a stranger in a strange land," Mr. Williams said. "And then ironically, it's how he chooses to live his life."

Jonathan Cott, the author of "Dylan," said: "I've thought about it, and I know it's a cliché, but I think he finds himself on the road - 'finds' in both senses of the word. I think for him the goal is the road."

There is a final issue, and a more sensitive one, given the singer's penchant for privacy. Beyond his relatively well-chronicled relationship with his first wife, Sara, little is known about his private life. Until very recently, biographers were unfamiliar with the basic details of his family, and many fans don't know that Mr. Dylan was married for a second time, in the '80's, to one of his gospel-era backup singers, with whom he had a child.

The question, bluntly put, is what Mr. Dylan is running away from, or to. At the height of his fame, in the late 60's, he famously took himself off the road for almost seven years to raise a family in something approximating peace. What personal demons could compel a man to spend his late 40's, then his entire 50's and now his 60's, away from home?

"Is it running away or finding your own path?" Mr. Cott asked. "I don't know."