Saturday, November 21, 2009
The Orange County Register
My radio pal Hugh Hewitt said to me on the air the other day that Barack Obama "doesn't know how to be president." It was a low but effective crack, and I didn't pay it much heed. But, after musing on it over the past week or so, it seems to me frighteningly literally true. I don't just mean social lapses like his latest cringe-making bow, this time to Their Imperial Majesties The Emperor and Empress of Japan – though that in itself is deeply weird:
After the world superbower's previous nose-to-toe prostration before the Saudi king, one assumed there'd be someone in the White House to point out tactfully that the citizen-executives of the American republic don't bow to foreign monarchs. Along with his choreographic gaucherie goes his peculiar belief that all of human history is just a bit of colorful back story in the Barack Obama biopic – or as he put it in his video address on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall:
"Few would have foreseen on that day that a united Germany would be led by a woman from Brandenburg or that their American ally would be led by a man of African descent."
Tear down that wall ...so they can get a better look at me!!! Is there no-one in the White House grown-up enough to say, "Er, Mr. President, that's really the kind of line you get someone else to say about you"? And maybe somebody could have pointed out that Nov. 9, 1989, isn't about him but about millions of nobodies whose names are unknown, who lead dreary lives doing unglamorous jobs and going home to drab accommodations, but who, at a critical moment in history, decided they were no longer going to live in a prison state. They're no big deal, they're never going to land a photoshoot for Vanity Fair. But it's their day, not yours. It's not the narcissism, so much as the crassly parochial nature of it.
Is it the only template in the White House speechwriters' computer? "Few would have foreseen at the Elamite sack of Ur /Napoleon's retreat from Moscow/the assassination of the Archduke Franz-Ferdinand/the passage of the Dubrovnik Airport Parking Lot Expansion Bill that one day I would be standing before you talking about how few would have foreseen that one day I would be standing before you."
Some years ago, when Ellen DeGeneres came out as a lesbian and ensuing episodes of her sitcom grew somewhat overly preoccupied with the subject, Elton John remarked: "OK, we know you're gay. Now try being funny." I wonder if Sir Elton might be prevailed upon to try a similar pitch at the next all-star White House gala: OK, we know you're black. Now try being president. But a few days later, Obama dropped in on U.S. troops at Osan Air Base in South Korea for the latest episode of The Barack Obama Show (With Full Supporting Chorus). "You guys make a pretty good photo op," he told them.
Hmm. Do I detect a belated rationale for the Afghan campaign?
Probably not. The above are mostly offenses against good taste, but they are, cumulatively, revealing. And they help explain why, whenever the president's not talking about himself, he sounds like he's wandered vaguely off-message. The other day, for example, he told Fox News that "if we keep on adding to the debt ... people could lose confidence in the U.S. economy in a way that could actually lead to a double-dip recession."
That's a great line – but not from a guy who plans to "keep on adding to the debt" as a conscious strategy. This is the president who made "trillion" the new default unit of federal budgeting, and whose irresponsibility is prompting key players around the world to consider seriously whether it's time to ditch the dollar's role as global reserve currency. But Obama's much-vaunted "bipartisanship," to which so many "moderate" conservatives were partial a year ago, seems to have dwindled down to an impressive ability to take one side of an issue in his rhetoric and another in his actions.
Which brings us to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11. He'd been brought before a military commission, and last December indicated he was ready to plead guilty and itching for the express lane to the 72 virgins.
But that wasn't good enough for Obama, who, in essence, declined to accept KSM's confession and decided to put him on trial in a New York courthouse. Why? To show "the world" – i.e., European op-ed pages and faculty lounges – that America would fight terror in a way "consistent with our values," and apparently that means turning KSM into O.J. and loosing his dream team on the civilian justice system. But, having buttered up Le Monde and the BBC and many of his own Lefties by announcing that Mohammed would get a fair trial, Obama then assured NBC that he'd be convicted and was gonna fry.
So it's like a fair trial consistent with "our values," except for the one about presumption of innocence? If the head of state declaring you guilty and demanding the death penalty doesn't taint the jury pool, it's hard to see what would. The KSM circus is not, technically, a "show trial": He could well be acquitted. But, even if he is, he's unlikely to be strolling out a free man like Frank Sinatra beating the rap in "Robin And The Seven Hoods" and standing on the courthouse steps to sing "My Kind Of Town (Manhattan Is)" – although I wouldn't entirely rule it out: In a world in which the self-confessed perpetrator of the bloodiest act of war on the American mainland in two centuries is entitled to a civilian trial, all things are possible. The other day, Attorney General Eric Holder promised us that it would be "the trial of the century" – and he said it like it's a good thing.
Why would you do that?
So how's it playing with its intended audience? Alas, the world moves on. Not being George W. Bush may be enough to impress the 2009 Nobush Peace Prize committee in Oslo, but it's old news everywhere else. America's enemies have figured out that the Superbower is their best opportunity since their Seventies, and for America's friends the short version of the hopeychangey era to date is last week's cover story at the London Spectator showing an empty suit in the Oval Office over the headline "The Worst Kind Of Ally."
Hang on, wasn't that title retired with Bush? Well, no. Apparently, he routinely called up prime ministers hither and yon and kept them in the picture and up to speed. Obama doesn't have time for any of that: When he stiffed Poland on missile defense, he got Hillary to phone it in. The Poles, bless 'em, declined to take her call. In Delhi, meanwhile, they're horrified by Obama's performance in China. America's enemies smell weakness, and our allies feel only the vacuum of U.S. leadership. About himself, the president speaks loudly. For America, he carries a small twig.
By KYLE SMITH
New York Post
Posted: 1:00 AM, November 19, 2009
Twilight,” which was about a girl and a vampire who don’t hook up, is totally different from “The Twilight Saga: New Moon,” which is about a girl, a vampire and a werewolf who don’t hook up. And it’s not at all like the next sequel, in which a girl, a vampire, a werewolf and a mummy fail to find romance, nor the one after that, in which the girl gets unfriended by all of the above plus the Invisible Man and King Kong — yet finds her heart aflutter when she befriends the Bride of Frankenstein.
“New Moon” is supposed to be an exciting love story plus monster action. So where’s the excitement? Where’s the action? Bella (Kristen Stewart) and vampire boyfriend Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) stare longingly past each other (Pattinson, who keeps entering in hilarious slo-mo, is so intent on smoldering at the camera that he seems to forget there’s another person around) and swap excruciating love-chat: “You can’t (long pause) protect me (longer pause) from everything.”
Bad dialogue, like bad news, doesn’t get better with age. This movie moves like the line at the post office. “Twilight” — that culture phenomenon that resembles “Star Wars” much as the prime minister of Belgium resembles the president of the United States (respective box office ranks of these two films in their respective decades: 71, 1) pushes its leads apart with thin contrivances that set up predictable last-minute rescues.
This time, Edward walks out on Bella for half the film because one of his family members almost jumps her when she cuts her finger. So Edward can best protect her by . . . leaving? Even though he knows she is being stalked by a rival clan of vampires? Not to mention a rival guy, buff Jake (Taylor Lautner), who, when angry, turns into a werewolf. They don’t kiss because if he ever got angry in her presence, he might maul her. So she’s stuck in thwart mode with him, too.
Director Chris Weitz proves that “The Golden Compass” was no fluke: He really is a non-master of action. His CGI werewolves, who look like they were designed by the animatronics crew at Disney’s Country Bear Jamboree, go at it in about three semi-OK bouts. These are by far the best scenes in the movie, but they cut off suddenly after a minute or two (you can almost hear the producer yelling, “That’s it for our budget, sorry”), as does a vigorous but pointless chase involving Bella’s redheaded vampire nemesis, Victoria.
The supposed climax, in which Edward goes to Italy to duel with a trio of Louis XVI-style vampire dandies, leads merely to a desultory bit of flinging around. Nor does an attempt to get all goth-y with a mention of hell succeed. The only real shudder-inducing moment comes not from a monster but from Bella’s dad: “You’re going to Jacksonville.” Noooooo!
The Twilight Saga: New Moon
BY ROGER EBERT / November 18, 2009
The characters in this movie should be arrested for loitering with intent to moan. Never have teenagers been in greater need of a jump-start. Granted some of them are more than 100 years old, but still: their charisma is by Madame Tussaud.
"The Twilight Saga: New Moon" takes the tepid achievement of "Twilight" (2008), guts it, and leaves it for undead. You know you're in trouble with a sequel when the word of mouth advises you to see the first movie twice instead. Obviously the characters all have. Long opening stretches of this film make utterly no sense unless you walk in knowing the first film, and hopefully both Stephanie Meyer novels, by heart. Edward and Bella spend murky moments glowering at each other and thinking, So, here we are again.
Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart: How white the skin, how red the lips.
Bella (Kristen Stewart) is still living at home with her divorced dad (Billy Burke), a cop whose disciplinary policy involves declaring her grounded for the rest of her life and then disappearing so she can jump from cliffs, haunt menacing forests, and fly to Italy so the movie can evoke the sad final death scene from--why, hold on, it's Romeo and Juliet! The very play Edward was reciting narcissistically and contemptuously in an opening scene.
Yes, Edward (Robert Pattinson) is back in school, repeating the 12th grade for the 84th time. Bella sees him in the school parking lot, walking toward her in slow-motion, wearing one of those Edwardian Beatles jackets with a velvet collar, pregnant with his beauty. How white his skin, how red his lips. The decay of middle age may transform him into the Joker.
Edward and the other members of the Cullen vampire clan stand around a lot with glowering skulks. Long pauses interrupt longer ones. Listen up, lads! You may be immortal, but we've got a train to catch.
Edward leaves, because Bella was not meant to be with him. Although he's a vegetarian vampire, when she gets a paper cut at her birthday party one of his pals leaps on her like a shark on a tuna fish.
In his absence she's befriended by Jake (Taylor Lautner), that nice American Indian boy. "You've gotten all buff!" she tells him. Yeah, real buff, and soon he's never wearing a shirt and standing outside in the winter rain as if he were--why, nothing more than a wild animal. They don't need coats like ours, remember, because God gave them theirs.
Those not among that five percent of the movie's target audience that doesn't already know this will (spoiler) be surprised that Jake is a werewolf.
Bella: So…you're a werewolf?
Jake: Last time I checked.
Bella: "Can't you find a way to...just stop?
Jake (patiently): "It's not a lifestyle choice, Bella."
Jake is influenced, or controlled, or something, by Sam, another member of the tribe. He's like the alpha wolf. Sam and his three friends are mostly seen in long shot, shirtless in the rain, hanging around the edges of the clearing as if hoping to dash in and pick off some fresh meat.
Bella writes long letters to her absent vampire friend Alice (Ashley Greene), in which she does nothing to explain why she is helplessly attracted to these sinister, humorless and vain men. It can't be the sex. As I've already explained in my review of the first film, The Twilight Saga is an extended metaphor for teen chastity, in which the punishment for being deflowered I will leave to your imagination.
The movie includes beauteous fields filled with potted flowers apparently buried hours before by the grounds crew, and nobody not clued in on the plot. Since they know it all and we know all, sitting through this experience is like driving a tractor in low gear though a sullen sea of Brylcreem.
Just Bite Her Already
Tired of dashingly handsome vampires? Then skip The Twilight Saga: New Moon.
By Thomas S. Hibbs
20 November 2009
If Elvis and Christopher Walken had a son, he would look like Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), the dreamy-eyed vampire in Chris Weitz’s film The Twilight Saga: New Moon. The much-anticipated film is a sequel to the hugely popular Twilight, based on the best-selling series of books by Stephenie Meyer, who has found a teeny-bopper formula for repackaging the classic Wagnerian theme of love-death. If the screeches from the audience during the screening I attended are any indication, then this film will, like its predecessor, satisfy the romantic longings of its target audience: twelve-year-old girls. For that group, the endless focus on star-crossed lovers hurts so good; for the rest us, it just hurts.
As you may know, at the center of the plot is Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), a high-school student who has moved from Phoenix, where she lived with her mother, to a small town in the Pacific Northwest, to live with her father, a cop who devotes some of his time to tracking the mysterious source of brutal slayings. Bella, a withdrawn, brooding teen, draws the attention of the aloof Edward, who has previously shown no interest in any girl. Eventually, he reveals that he is a vampire, but not in a bad way. With his vampire family, he feeds only on animal blood, which he compares to tofu: It provides nourishment but never really satisfies. Danger thus lurks in every meeting between Bella and Edward. He might be tempted to feed on her, as might other members of his family; even if those temptations can be suppressed, there is the risk of Bella’s being caught up in the battle between the Cullen family and a group of much less principled vampires.
Twilight is the ultimate female teen romantic fantasy, about the awkward female outsider who finds a complex, deep, dark male outsider, the one all the other girls wish they had. In this case, standard teen romance becomes a kind of teen gnosticism, since here the brooding James Dean happens to have preternatural powers and is clued in to the secrets of the universe.
The filmmakers are clever enough to know that the real draw here is the seeming impossibility of the love between the two characters. In New Moon, Bella and Edward just happen to be studying Romeo and Juliet in class. The story is all about longing unrealized, never about what Shelley called “love’s sad satiety.” It is also about being addicted to the danger itself. As Edward says in one of many instances of clichéd dialogue: “You’re like my own personal brand of heroin.”
The dreadful dialogue is matched by poor filmmaking technique. The Pacific Northwest setting, with its gloomy weather and its heavily wooded landscapes, suits the plot perfectly. But the rest of the filmmaking is utterly uncreative. The film tediously repeats slow-motion shots, zoom shots, and encircling shots. There is also that cheesy glitter vampires sport when they are seen in the sun. Large werewolves appear on the scene via the crudest CGI in recent memory, and Edward communicates with Bella in a hologram reminiscent of Princess Leia’s appearance to Obi-Wan. Then there are the profound silences, as Bella and Edward, with eyes averted, bear the excruciating pain of a love that cannot be.
In New Moon, Edward decides to end the relationship permanently after a paper cut on Bella’s finger during her birthday party at the Cullen home has nearly tragic consequences. Unable to rid the world of the threat of paper, the Cullen family leaves town. Without Edward, Bella becomes despondent and self-destructive. Seeking risky pursuits — both because, whenever she is in danger, Edward makes one of his holographic appearances to admonish her, and because the girl simply loves danger — she begins motorbike riding with her Native American childhood friend Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner). Whereas Edward was cold to the touch, Jacob is unusually hot. Edward is pale; Jacob, dark-skinned. But both are gorgeous and both harbor secrets. Repeating Edward’s pick-up line, Jacob tells Bella, “Go away. . . . I’m not good.” The girl has a thing for attracting handsome monsters, and she loves every minute of the pain.
In Edward’s absence, Bella actively cultivates pain because it is a “reminder.” One of her friends worries that she is suicidal, but she is not so much in love with easeful death as she is in love with the thrill of the constant risk of death — especially of a dramatic death. As she puts it in her opening voiceover in the first film, “I never really thought about death. . . . Dying for someone else would not be a bad way to go.”
One of the attractions of romanticism is that it counters the reductionist tendencies of the modern world. Romanticism reacts against the elimination of mystery from human life and the reduction of human sexuality to a mere appetite and of love to a contractual arrangement. As Roger Scruton argues (Death-Devoted Heart: Sex and the Sacred in Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde), romanticism is a remedy for what ails the modern world — a “morbidly unheroic world,” dominated by “cost-benefit calculation,” which tempts us to regard our own existence as a “cosmic mistake.” The remedy is to “live as if a heroic love were possible, and as if we could renounce life for the sake of it.” Bella is in the grip of precisely such a vision. But we have serious reason to wonder how admirable her vision (or Scruton’s, for that matter) is. Her love-death passion is an escape from the banality of ordinary life: boring high-school classes with dull kids and a humdrum family life. The best thing about her father, Bella says, is that “he doesn’t hover.”
There is an attempt in New Moon to invest Bella’s dilemmas with some sort of moral, perhaps even metaphysical, significance, but the discussion of the soul she would lose in joining the undead is specious and vacuous. The film made me nostalgic for the days of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a TV series that extracted much greater humor from high-school existence and treated the loss of one’s soul with moral gravity and dramatic sensitivity. By contrast, Bella worries that if she doesn’t join the undead, she will grow old and become unattractive to the eternally dashing Edward. One shudders at the prospect of an eternity spent pondering self-indulgent romance masquerading as heroic self-sacrifice. Halfway through New Moon some viewers will likely have had enough. Those of us in this non-target audience have an urgent piece of advice for Edward: Just bite her already.
— Thomas S. Hibbs, an NRO contributor, is the author of Shows about Nothing.
20 November 2009
As the Pentagon and Senate launch what one analyst dubs “dueling Fort Hood investigations,” will they confront the hard truth of the Islamic angle?
Despite encouraging references to “violent Islamists” by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (Democrat of Connecticut), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, there is reason to worry about a whitewash of the massacre that took place on Nov. 5; that is just so much easier than facing the implications of a hostile ideology nearly exclusive to Muslims.
Indeed, initial responses from the U.S. Army, law enforcement, politicians, and journalists broadly agreed that Maj. Nidal Hasan’s murderous rampage had nothing to do with Islam. Barack Obama declared “We cannot fully know what leads a man to do such a thing” and Evan Thomas of Newsweek dismissed Hasan as “a nut case.”
But evidence keeps accumulating that confirms Hasan’s Islamist outlook, his jihadi temperament, and his bitter hatred of kafirs (infidels). I reviewed the initial facts about his record in an article that appeared on Nov. 9 but much more information subsequently appeared; here follows a summary. The evidence divides into three parts, starting with Hasan’s stint at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center:
* He delivered an hour-long formal medical presentation to his supervisors and some 25 mental health staff members in June 2007, the culminating exercise of his residency program at Walter Reed. What was supposed to be on a medical topic of his choosing instead turned into a 50-slide PowerPoint talk on “The Koranic World View As It Relates to Muslims in the U.S. Military” that offered such commentary as “It’s getting harder and harder for Muslims in the service to morally justify being in a military that seems constantly engaged against fellow Muslims” and the “Department of Defense should allow Muslims [sic] Soldiers the option of being released as ‘Conscientious objectors’ to increase troop morale and decrease adverse events.” One person present at the presentation recalls how, by the time of its conclusion, “The senior doctors looked really upset.”
* Hasan informed at least one patient at Walter Reed that “Islam can save your soul.”
* So apparent were Hasan’s Islamist proclivities, reports National Public Radio, that key psychiatry authorities at Walter Reed met to discuss if he was psychotic. One official told colleagues of his worries “that if Hasan deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, he might leak secret military information to Islamic extremists. Another official reportedly wondered aloud to colleagues whether Hasan might be capable of committing fratricide,” recalling Sergeant Hasan Akbar’s 2003 rampage.
Then followed Hasan’s record at Ft. Hood:
* His supervisor, Captain Naomi Surman, recalled his telling her that as an infidel she who would be “ripped to shreds” and “burn in hell.” Another person reports his declaring that infidels should be beheaded and have boiling oil poured down their throats.
* In his psychiatric counseling sessions with soldiers returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, Hasan heard information he considered tantamount to war crimes. As late as Nov. 2, three days before his murderous spree, he tried to convince at least two of his superior officers, Surman and Colonel Anthony Febbo, about the need legally to prosecute the soldiers.
* Hasan routinely signed his e-mails with “Praise Be to Allah.”
* He listed his first name as Abduwalli, rather than Nidal, in the e-mail address in his official Army personnel record. ‘Abd al-Wali is an Arabic name meaning “Slave of the Patron,” where Patron is one of God’s 99 names. It is not clear why Hasan did this, but Abduwalli could have been a nom de guerre, this being a common practice among Palestinians (Yasir Arafat even had two them – Yasir Arafat and Abu Ammar).
The title page of Nidal Hasan’s PowerPoint demonstration for a medical lecture in June 2007, indicates how little interest he took in medicine and how much in the perceived contradiction between being a Muslim and an American soldier.
Finally, Hasan’s extracurricular activities revealed his outlook:
* He designed green and white personal business cards that made no mention of his military affiliation. Instead, they included his name, then “Behavior Heatlh [sic] Mental Health and Life Skills,” a Maryland mobile phone number, an AOL e-mail address, and “SoA (SWT).” SoA is the jihadi abbreviation for Soldier of Allah and SWT stands for Subhanahu wa-Ta‘ala, or “Glory to Him, the Exalted.”
* Hasan contacted jihadi web sites via multiple e-mail addresses and screen names.
* He traded 18 e-mails between Dec. 2008 and June 2009 with Anwar al-Awlaki, Al-Qaeda recruiter, inspiration for at least two other North American terror plots, and fugitive from U.S. justice. Awlaki had been Hasan’s spiritual leader at two mosques, Masjid Al-Ribat Al-Islami in San Diego and the Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center outside Washington, D.C., and he acknowledges becoming Hasan’s confidant. Awlaki speculates that he may have influenced Hasan’s evolution and praises Hasan for the massacre, calling him a “hero” who “did the right thing” by killing U.S. soldiers before they could attack Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan.
* In those e-mails, Hasan asked Awlaki when jihad is appropriate and about killing innocents in a suicide attack. “I can’t wait to join you” in the afterlife for discussions over non-alcoholic wine, Hasan wrote him. One Yemeni analyst calls Hasan “almost a member of Al-Qaeda.”
* That Hasan, of Palestinian extraction, wore Pakistani clothing on the morning of his rampage points to his jihadi mentality.
* Hasan had “more unexplained connections to people being tracked by the FBI,” other than Awlaki, including some in Europe. One official characterized these as “Islamic extremists if not necessarily al Qaeda.”
* Duane Reasoner Jr., the 18-year-old Muslim convert whom Hasan mentored in Islam, calls himself a “extremist, fundamentalist, mujhadeen, Muslim” who outspokenly supports Awlaki, Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban, Omar Abdur Rahman (the blind sheikh) and Adam Gadahn (Al-Qaeda’s top American figure).
These symptoms in the aggregate leave little doubt about Hasan’s jihadi mentality. But will the investigations allow themselves to see his motivation? Doing so means changing it from a war on “overseas contingency operations” and “man-caused disasters” to a war on radical Islam. Are Americans ready for that?
Mr. Pipes (http://www.danielpipes.org/) is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.
By Charles Krauthammer
November 20, 2009, 0:00 a.m.
For late-19th-century anarchists, terrorism was the “propaganda of the deed.” And the most successful propaganda-by-deed in history was 9/11 — not just the most destructive, but the most spectacular and telegenic.
And now its self-proclaimed architect, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, has been given by the Obama administration a civilian trial in New York. Just as the memory fades, 9/11 has been granted a second life — and KSM, a second act: 9/11, The Director’s Cut, narration by KSM.
Sept. 11, 2001 had to speak for itself. A decade later, the deed will be given voice. KSM has gratuitously been presented with the greatest propaganda platform imaginable — a civilian trial in the media capital of the world — from which to proclaim the glory of jihad and the criminality of infidel America.
So why is Attorney General Eric Holder doing this? Ostensibly, to demonstrate to the world the superiority of our system, in which the rule of law and the fair trial reign.
Really? What happens if KSM (and his co-defendants) “do not get convicted,” asked Senate Judiciary Committee member Herb Kohl. “Failure is not an option,” replied Holder. Not an option? Doesn’t the presumption of innocence, er, presume that prosecutorial failure — acquittal, hung jury — is an option? By undermining that presumption, Holder is undermining the fairness of the trial, the demonstration of which is the alleged rationale for putting on this show in the first place.
Moreover, everyone knows that whatever the outcome of the trial, KSM will never walk free. He will spend the rest of his natural life in U.S. custody. Which makes the proceedings a farcical show trial from the very beginning.
Apart from the fact that any such trial will be a security nightmare and a terror threat to New York — what better propaganda-by-deed than blowing up the entire courtroom, making KSM a martyr and making the judge, jury, and spectators into fresh victims? — it will endanger U.S. security. Civilian courts with broad rights of cross-examination and discovery give terrorists access to crucial information about intelligence sources and methods.
That’s precisely what happened during the civilian New York trial of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers. The prosecution was forced to turn over to the defense a list of 200 unindicted co-conspirators, including the name Osama bin Laden. “Within ten days, a copy of that list reached bin Laden in Khartoum,” wrote former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, the presiding judge at that trial, “letting him know that his connection to that case had been discovered.”
Finally, there’s the moral logic. It’s not as if Holder opposes military commissions on principle. On the same day he sent KSM to a civilian trial in New York, Holder announced he was sending Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, mastermind of the attack on the U.S.S. Cole, to a military tribunal.
By what logic? In his congressional testimony Wednesday, Holder was utterly incoherent in trying to explain. In his November 13 news conference, he seemed to be saying that if you attack a civilian target, as in 9/11, you get a civilian trial; a military target like the Cole, and you get a military tribunal.
What a perverse moral calculus. Which is the war crime — an attack on defenseless civilians or an attack on a military target such as a warship, an accepted act of war which the U.S. itself has engaged in countless times?
By what possible moral reasoning, then, does KSM, who perpetrates the obvious and egregious war crime, receive the special protections and constitutional niceties of a civilian courtroom, while he who attacked a warship is relegated to a military tribunal?
Moreover, the incentive offered any jihadi is as irresistible as it is perverse: Kill as many civilians as possible on American soil and Holder will give you Miranda rights, a lawyer, a propaganda platform — everything but your own blog.
Alternatively, Holder tried to make the case that he chose a civilian New York trial as a more likely venue for securing a conviction. An absurdity: By the time Obama came to office, KSM was ready to go before a military commission, plead guilty and be executed. It’s Obama who blocked a process that would have yielded the swiftest and most certain justice.
Indeed, the perfect justice. Whenever a jihadist volunteers for martyrdom, we should grant his wish. Instead, this one, the most murderous and unrepentant of all, gets to dance and declaim at the scene of his crime.
Holder himself told the Washington Post that the coming New York trial will be “the trial of the century.” The last such was the trial of O. J. Simpson.
— Charles Krauthammer is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2009, The Washington Post Writers Group
Friday, November 20, 2009
By HOLLAND COTTER
The New York Times
November 20, 2009
At monasteries on Mount Athos in northern Greece, you wake in the night to the sound of Greek Orthodox monks chanting Byzantine prayers. It’s an unforgettable sound, distant and unearthly, but also inside you, like a buzz in the blood.
Collection of Ecclesiastical Art, Saint Catherine of the Sinaites, Heraklion, Crete
The Origins of El Greco Christ Pantokrator, from the 14th century, is among the religious works in this show at the Onassis Cultural Center
The painter Domenikos Theotokopoulos, better known as El Greco, almost certainly heard it growing up far to the south on the island of Crete. You can hear it today when you visit “The Origins of El Greco: Icon Painting in Venetian Crete,” a lustrous exhibition at the Onassis Cultural Center in Midtown Manhattan.
With its extraordinary ensemble of almost 50 religious images, most of them painted on Crete — seven by El Greco and some of the rest by artists whose names are not known — the show is essentially a dual-purpose visual essay. On the one hand it roughs out the texture of a specific, cosmopolitan, East-meets-West island culture. On the other it tells the story of a great artist who emerged from that culture, lived outside it and lastingly belonged to it.
At the time of El Greco’s birth, in 1541, Crete had been a preserve of Byzantine tradition for a hundred years, since the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453, and a colonial possession of Venice for more than three centuries. Most of the population was Greek Orthodox, but economic power was in the hands of a Roman Catholic minority. Local artists necessarily catered to both, turning out Byzantine-style icons for one, late Gothic devotional paintings for the other and, increasingly, synthesizing the two modes.
The show opens with an example of Byzantine art in something like a pure form: a large 14th-century image (unsigned, as many of these paintings are) of Christ Pantokrator, or All Powerful, modeled after an older icon preserved in the Vatopedi monastery on Mount Athos. It’s a classic of its kind, an egg tempera painting on a wood panel of a bust-length male figure, dressed in royal purple, against a gilded ground.
The figure is half-abstract. The bearded face, set on a brawny neck, is a dainty oval topped by a turban of pulled-back hair. The nose is thin, a long droplet of flesh; the mouth, with its coral-pink lips, is minute, unsuited for eating or speaking. The eyes — large, shadowed and radiating fine stress lines — are the central feature. They look impassively at or past us, as we look into them. In the context of a church or monastery, a two-way connection between icon and worshiper is assumed.
"Virgin Hodegetria" from the Holy Monastery of Saint Panteleemon in Fodele, Crete.
Photo: Collection of Ecclesiastical
No doubt for some viewers, the much-reproduced Pantokrator image more or less defines icons as a genre: conservative and limited in variety. But the show, organized by Anastasia Drandaki, curator of the Byzantine collection at the Benaki Museum in Athens, demonstrates otherwise.
The Virgin, for example, appears in several guises: as a nursing mother, as the mourner of an adult child, as a corpse shrouded in ultramarine and about to be beamed up to heaven. Saints come in many picturesque forms and types. In a sparkling little panel, two spun-gold soldier-saints, wearing chain-mail miniskirts, do their martial thing: one skewers a dragon, the other pins the emperor Julian the Apostate like a bug to the ground.
A depiction of the death of St. Sabas is set in a craggy landscape dotted with hermits’ caves and painted in a Tuscan, or maybe Persian, palette of pink, orange and bread-crust brown. Aged and infirm monks — one riding a lion, another hunched in a litter, a third crawling on the ground — approach the saint’s prone body. Their faces are painstakingly detailed; his is gone entirely, worn away by the kisses of worshipers over the centuries.
By the time this picture was done in the second half of the 15th century, painting in Crete had moved far beyond categories like Byzantine and Gothic. Artists had absorbed Renaissance naturalism and were pushing toward Mannerism, inventing, stealing and collaging motifs as they went. In a “Pieta,” on loan from the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, the figures of Jesus, Mary and St. John are straight-up Giovanni Bellini plunked down on a plain gold ground. Is the painting Cretan or Venetian? Your call.
In Crete, an art-star system, long in place in Italy, came into vogue. Many early pictures went unsigned, but as painting grew more cross-culturally idiosyncratic, names appeared. Artists like Angelos, Andreas Pavias and Nikoloas Tzafouris enjoyed considerable celebrity, as did the home-grown Mannerist Georgios Klontzas, whose fantastically seething miniaturist cosmologies are among the show’s highlights. By 1584, Michael Damaskenos, who was a big deal in Venice, had returned to Crete to be a big deal there, perfecting a Byzantine-Renaissance synthesis that sold like hot cakes and spawned countless imitators.
Where was Domenikos Theotokopoulos in all of this? He was in the cosmopolitan thick of things. Until around 1567, when he was in his mid-20s, he stayed in Crete and thrived. Not much of his output from that period survives, but a few things do, and they are fascinating documents of an ambitious career on the move.
"The Baptism of Christ," by El Greco, circa 1570, at "The Origins of El Greco: Icon Painting in Venetian Crete"
Photo: Municipality of Heraklion, Crete
A small, beat-up “Dormition of the Virgin,” which some scholars take to be his earliest known work, is standard-issue Byzantine, with foreign intrusions. Italianate angels parachute into the scene; a fancy gold candlestick with figures of female nudes sits indecorously front and center in what is, after all, a funeral.
The painting dates to sometime before 1567, when El Greco left — permanently, it turned out — for Venice. He may have spent time with Titian there. He certainly looked hard at the master’s painting and at Tintoretto’s, and then at Michelangelo’s and Parmigianino’s when he got to Rome in 1570. Bits of all of them stew around in a murky painting of the “Adoration of the Shepherds” that most likely belongs to the Roman stay.
He moved on to Spain with great hopes: King Philip II was a big fan. But then, for some reason, he wasn’t. What happened? Most likely the artist’s peculiar style — Mannerist extravagance laced with island-art gumbo — didn’t fly after all at court, where suavity usually tends to be rewarded. So he ended up working for churches, the institutions that had hired him in the first place in Crete. And the icon painter in him gradually resurfaced.
We see it in the very last painting in the show, a 1603 oil study for a “Coronation of the Virgin” commissioned by the Hospital of Charity in the town of Illescas. The composition has an iconlike symmetry. The figures, in their expressive abstraction, are as much Byzantine as Mannerist. And the picture scintillates with light, illusionistically painted rather than reflected from gold. Even cherubs tumbling around like kittens can distract from the picture’s nuclear focus: this is an image meant to promote, as music can, time-suspending, space-vivifying contemplation.
Exactly this psycho-sensual dynamic lies at the heart of how icons, as spiritual utensils, function. I wish the exhibition made something of this; had taken, as its third theme, the reality of these objects, not just as historical artifacts illustrating the progress of a culture or a famous career, but also as living and interactive energy sources, designed to embody and radiate charisma.
But that’s a major subject. It needs a full-dress show of its own. Maybe some day we’ll get it. In the meantime this one has some of the most enwrapping and enrapturing art in town, framed by alert scholarship, a lambent environment (the installation design is by Daniel Kershaw), and a score of Byzantine music, arranged and performed by the Greek ensemble En Chordais, that will soak into your system and stay there. Miraculously, admission to all of this is free.
“The Origins of El Greco: Icon Painting in Venetian Crete” remains at the Onassis Cultural Center, 645 Fifth Avenue, near 52nd Street, through Feb. 27; (212) 486-4448, onassisusa.org.
Icon Painting and Crete
November 18, 2009
It cannot be said often enough that the chief of staff of the United States Army, Gen. George Casey, responded to a massacre of 13 Americans in which the suspect is a Muslim by saying: "Our diversity ... is a strength."
As long as the general has brought it up: Never in recorded history has diversity been anything but a problem. Look at Ireland with its Protestant and Catholic populations, Canada with its French and English populations, Israel with its Jewish and Palestinian populations.
Or consider the warring factions in India, Sri Lanka, China, Iraq, Czechoslovakia (until it happily split up), the Balkans and Chechnya. Also look at the festering hotbeds of tribal warfare -- I mean the beautiful mosaics -- in Third World hellholes like Afghanistan, Rwanda and South Central, L.A.
"Diversity" is a difficulty to be overcome, not an advantage to be sought. True, America does a better job than most at accommodating a diverse population. We also do a better job at curing cancer and containing pollution. But no one goes around mindlessly exclaiming: "Cancer is a strength!" "Pollution is our greatest asset!"
By contrast, the canard "diversity is a strength" has now replaced "at the end of the day," "skin in the game," "blood and treasure," "jumped the shark," "boots on the ground," "horrific" (whatever happened to the perfectly good word "horrible"?), "not so much," "I am shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on here," and "that went well," as America's most irritating cliche.
We should start making up other nonsense mantras along the lines of "diversity is a strength" and mindlessly repeating them until they catch on, too.
Next time you're at a cocktail party, just start saying, "Chocolate pudding is dramatic irony" from time to time. Eventually other people will start saying it, without anyone bothering to consider whether it makes sense. Then we'll do another one: "Nicolas Cage is a two-cycle engine."
Before you know it, liberals will react to news of a mass murder by muttering, "Well, you know what they say: Nicolas Cage is a two-cycle engine," while everyone nods in agreement.
Except mere nonsense makes more sense than "diversity is a strength."
If Gen. Casey's wildly inappropriate use of this lunatic cliche in the aftermath of the Fort Hood massacre doesn't kill it, nothing will.
Among the worst aspects of America's "diversity" is that liberals' reaction to a heterogeneous population is to create a pecking order based on alleged victimhood -- as described in electrifying detail in my book,Guilty: Liberal "Victims" and Their Assault on America.
In modern America, the guilty are sanctified, while the innocent never stop paying -- including with their lives, as they did at Fort Hood last week. Points are awarded to aspiring victims for angry self-righteousness, acts of violence and general unpleasantness.
But liberals celebrate diversity only in the case of superficial characteristics like race, gender, sexual preference and country of origin. They reject diversity when we need it, such as in "diversity" of legal forums.
After conferring with everyone at Zabar's, Obama decided that if a standard civilian trial is good enough for Martha Stewart, then it's good enough for the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. So Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is coming to New York!
Mohammed's military tribunal was already under way when Obama came into office, stopped the proceedings and, eight months later, announced that Mohammed would be tried in a federal court in New York.
In a liberal's reckoning, diversity is good when we have both Muslim jihadists and patriotic Americans serving in the U.S. military. But diversity is bad when Martha Stewart and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed are subjected to different legal tribunals to adjudicate their transgressions.
Terrorists tried in civilian courts will be entitled to the whole panoply of legal protections accorded Stewart or any American charged with a crime, such as the presumption of innocence, the right to a fair trial, the right to exclude evidence obtained in violation of Miranda rights, the right to a speedy trial, the right to confront one's accusers, the right to a change of venue, the right to examine the evidence against you, and the right to subpoena witnesses and evidence in one's defense.
Members of Congress have it in their power to put an end to this lunacy right now. If they don't, they are as complicit in Mohammed's civilian trial as the president. Article I, Section 8, and Article III, Section 1 of the Constitution give Congress the power to establish the jurisdiction of the lower federal courts and to create exceptions to that jurisdiction.
Congress could pass a statute limiting federal court jurisdiction to individuals not subject to trial before a military tribunal. Any legislator who votes "nay" on such a bill will be voting to give foreign terrorists the same legal rights as U.S. citizens -- and more legal rights than members of the U.S. military are entitled to.
In the case of legal proceedings, diversity actually is a strength.
COPYRIGHT 2009 ANN COULTER
Thursday, November 19, 2009
The Raleigh News & Observer
8 November 2009
Coaches' memoirs are usually a sorry lot, rife with the sorts of nostrums and treacle and pithy life lessons one endures in the campaign biographies of politicians and the masterworks of celebrities.
The problem is that as autobiographers, coaches tend to play it safe. To put their propriety into basketball terms, they get a lead and resort to the sort of stall ball once famous in these parts. Piety prevails. Homilies are spun. Backsides are kissed. The chair-thrower, the jacket-stomper, the profanity-spewer are nowhere in sight.
The modern coach represents himself as a leader in the vein of General Electric's Jack Welch or Berkshire-Hathaway's Warren Buffett, successful memoirists themselves. His vast knowledge of human nature and mastery of motivational tactics simply can't be confined to a gym. His book is marketed to white-collar Joes who are supposed to apply the wisdom of a genius in help-side defense to the game of corporate ascent. To that, this reader says: as an experiment, try stomping on your jacket at work one day or cursing your boss as if he were a ref, and see how many office "victories" you win.
The first thing, therefore, that needs to be said about North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams' memoir "Hard Work" is that it isn't like that. Yes, there is some coach-speak in it but rather than a portrait as manicured as Rick Pitino's shiny little nails, readers actually - refreshingly - get a close look at a man unwilling or unable to groom his image, a fellow perhaps unashamed of who he really is. Which is to say a "plodder," as Williams puts it, from the North Carolina mountains who grew up poor in a broken family headed by his adored mother, Lallage. He was a feisty but mediocre athlete (and not much of a square dancer, either) who knew early he was destined to be a coach.
The book's structure feels a little gerrymandered, and is not so much a fast march toward an inevitable ending as an afternoon spent driving around town doing errands, a common deficiency of narratives built of taped conversations and hastily wrapped in the face of terrifying deadlines. But Tim Crothers, Williams' co-writer, has done an excellent job of eliciting new material from the coach and embodying these revelations in a salty Carolinian voice, equal parts swagger and humility. This is no small accomplishment.
We already knew that Roy Williams didn't particularly care for his father Babe's roaming ways, but until this book, we had no idea that as a 14-year-old, the future coach pulled his dad off his mother during a fight, knocked him to the floor and thrust a bottle under his chin. He told his father: "Get out of here or I'll bust this over your head. I'll kill you." When decades later, a wary reconciliation occurs between father and son, it is far more impressive, given the violence here.
We knew that Williams could on occasion be a little ornery, but we had no idea about how ornery. Home to Asheville from college, he found himself stuck in the passing lane behind a slow car. Eventually, he pulled up alongside to see a woman driving and a man asleep in the passenger seat. He yelled, "Lady, either drive faster or pull that old piece of [expletive] ...." The passenger woke up and Williams saw that it was his Uncle Gordon. The driver was his Aunt Bertha.
We knew he was competitive, but we didn't realize that he'd actually race his assistant coach, Steve Robinson, to see who could put their keys in the office door lock first. "Gotcha!" Williams, triumphant, said. Robinson didn't even know they were competing. "It's always a competition," Williams told him.
And of course, if we follow this sort of thing, we knew that Williams, then coaching at Kansas, went nose-to-nose with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski in 2000 during the second round of the NCAA tournament. "I'll tell you what you can do," he told Krzyzewski, before telling him a lot of other things you can't print in a newspaper.
After the UNC team that would eventually win the NCAA championship in 2005 unexpectedly lost its season opener to Santa Clara, Williams forbade the Tar Heels from hitting the beaches of Maui. We knew he was mad, but we didn't know quite how mad. "They had made me mad and so I was going to make them mad. I was going to get even," he writes. "I was going to run them until half the team puked. I was vicious and they responded."
I was vicious and they responded!
This coaching lore may not be the most corporate of mantras, but Roy Williams seems like the kind of guy who'd rather hit the boards than the boardrooms. "Hard Work" is a successful coach's memoir not because it provides a blueprint for success but because it reveals the humiliations and insecurities that have stoked Williams' competitive fire and made him a basketball coach. May he always feel free to sling that jacket.
Will Blythe's memoir, "To Hate Like This Is to Be Happy Forever," examines the UNC-Duke basketball rivalry from a Carolina fan's perspective.
Roy Williams will sign copies of his book "Hard Work: My Life On and Off the Court" at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh, and 7:30 p.m. Friday at The Regulator Bookshop in Durham. Tickets for the signing lines will be issued with the purchase of each book.
by Peter Cooperon
The Nashville Tennessean
November 19, 2009
Bruce Springsteen has still got it, and it seems to mean more now than ever.
The guy is 60 now, and he doesn’t have to work for the applause anymore. Nostalgia is the cheapest pathway to emotion, and Springsteen’s songs are interwoven into the fabric of so many American lives that he could do a by-the-numbers, greatest hits set each night and thousands would cheer.
At the Sommet Center on Wednesday, Springsteen and his E Street Band instead delivered a sweaty three-hour workout that featured 13 different songs than they offered at last year's Nashville show, and seven different songs than they’d played four nights ago in Milwaukee.
Of the songs on this year’s 18-song Greatest Hits album, Springsteen’s Sommet night did not feature “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” “The River,” “Born in the U.S.A.,” “I’m On Fire,” “Glory Days,” “Fire” and three others. On an evening in which he and the band performed breakthrough album Born To Run in order and in its entirety, Springsteen still managed to balance the smiling shock of recognition with spontaneity and invention.
That doesn’t mean Springsteen was going for esoterica. It meant he and the E Streeters sought, and achieved, presence and emotion. Oh, and volume as well.
“So you’re scared, and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that young anymore,” Springsteen sang in “Thunder Road.” He’s not young anymore at all, and “Thunder Road” turned 25 years old nine years ago, and yet he and the band delivered the song with all of the throb and romance and desperation present in its long-ago recording.
The evening began with some of Springsteen’s darker, more difficult material: “Wrecking Ball,” “Seeds,” “Trapped” and “Something in the Night” demanded attention that would be rewarded with a sing-along of “Hungry Heart,” a song that offered saxophone man Clarence Clemons his first of many spotlight solos of the show. Last year, Clemons spent much of the concert sitting down. He’s apparently recovering nicely from hip and knee replacement surgery, as he stood for the entire three-hour concert on Wednesday.
Born To Run included more Clemons solos, most memorably on the the title track and on the epic “Jungleland.” For the Born To Run material, the band stuck fairly close to the original plot, though never to the point of rote replication.
After Born To Run, Springsteen began taking “requests” in the form of posters from fans that had song titles printed on them (the posters, not the fans). “Waiting on a Sunny Day,” “Santa Claus is Coming To Town,” “Two Hearts” and “Darlington County” were requested, and then Springsteen began crafting the show’s end without help from posters or shouted requests, save for a casual pass at the requested Johnny Cash hit “Ring of Fire.”
Late-show highlights included a slinky “Darlington County” that nodded to the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women” and an impassioned “Badlands” that found bass man Garry W. Tallent’s fingers racing while he stood stock-still and rock-solid enough to appear as if no combination of strong winds and linebackers could derail him from his rock ’n’ roll purpose.
The show closed in encore, with “Dancing in the Dark,” “Rosalita” and a thrilling take on Jackie Wilson’s "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher."
There has always been a Peter Pan-esque, “Do you believe?” question involved in a Springsteen show. Wednesday’s show was a call to believe that, in this shuffling, iPod age, it’s relevant to deliver an album’s songs in original order. And it was a rollicking insistence that music is not a soundtrack or a backdrop, that music is in fact the heartbeat of the whole deal.
“Wendy, let me in, I want to be your friend/ I want to guard your dreams and visions,” Springsteen sang then and sings now, in the most Peter Pan line of them all. Dreams and visions aren’t often well-guarded, but they can be illuminated. Sixty years into this world, Bruce Springsteen refuses to turn off the light.
Something in the Night
Working on a Dream
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out (with Curt Ramm)
Born to Run
She's the One
Meeting Across the River (with Curt Ramm)
Waitin' on a Sunny Day
Santa Claus is Comin' to Town
You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
* * *
Ring of Fire
American Land (with Curt Ramm)
Dancing in the Dark
Rosalita (with Curt Ramm)
Higher and Higher (with Curt Ramm)
By Michael Fumento
19 November 2009
‘Swine flu has killed 540 kids, sickened 22 million Americans,” screams USA Today’s page-one headline, with a sub-head proclaiming, “CDC: Cases, Deaths are Unprecedented.” “Swine flu cases in the U.S. are rising at the fastest pace for influenza in four decades,” breathlessly declares the lede of a Bloomberg News article. Another article’s title refers to a “national swine flu spike.”
Scary stuff — but it’s phony. It’s actually a desperate effort to distract from an alarmist media world’s greatest nightmare: that the epidemic has peaked.
The latest hype is based on the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 22 million Americans have been infected with H1N1 swine flu from the outbreak’s early-April beginning through October 17. (Though the word “sickened” hardly applies, since about a third of cases are wholly asymptomatic.) Of those, the agency says 4,000 have died.
Put in perspective, through a comparison with garden-variety seasonal flu, these figures aren’t at all alarming; and the CDC’s report indeed provides seasonal-flu data. But perspective is the alarmists’ enemy. So, instead, reporters simply cut, rearranged, and pasted press-conference statements from unofficial swine-flu “czarina” Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC’s Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
Thus Schuchat’s reference to “unprecedented” had nothing to do with absolute numbers of infections or deaths, but referred just to the time of year at which they were occurring. That’s because swine flu spreads more easily at warmer temperatures. Normally, flu doesn’t get into stride until early January and then peaks in mid-February. The figures themselves are far from “unprecedented.” The CDC estimates 5 to 20 percent of the population (15 to 60 million people) gets the flu in a typical year, with almost all cases occurring from January through April. That’s as many as 15 million a month, compared to 22 million spread over half a year.
What’s truly unprecedented about this swine flu is its incredible mildness. The CDC estimates seasonal flu annually kills 36,000 Americans, again spread over four months. That compares to 4,000 swine-flu deaths in the current cycle. The seasonal-flu death rate therefore ranges from 0.06 percent to 0.24 percent, while the CDC estimate puts it at only 0.0182 percent for swine flu. So seasonal flu is three to twelve times deadlier per case.
The media also used Schuchat to invoke the horrific Spanish flu of 1918-19, in which about 675,000 Americans died out of a much smaller U.S. population. CNN.com paraphrased Schuchat, saying: “The prevalence of flu cases is higher than at any time since the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.” Utterly false. Her only reference to the calamity was “what we’re seeing with this H1N1 virus is nowhere near the severity of the 1918 pandemic.” Apparently something got lost in the translation.
And just as swine flu arrived early, so too must it peak earlier. Indeed, it already has — as data readily available on the CDC FluView website and elsewhere, and just as readily ignored, show. The accompanying graph from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows a sharp decline in both new deaths and hospitalizations.
Even more telling, though, is that the bottom has fallen out of new infections. Test samples doctors have submitted to CDC-monitored surveillance laboratories went from 26,000 two weeks ago to 21,000 last week to just 13,000 at present. Further, progressively fewer of those samples have actually shown flu. Overall, the number of positive samples has plunged over 60 percent in just two weeks.
But could these indicators start to shoot up again? Not likely. According to Farr’s law, named after 19th-century epidemiologist John Farr, infectious disease patterns follow a bell curve. As the disease first plucks low-hanging fruit, infections rise rapidly, but as fruit gets harder to reach the rate of increase slows – until, finally, infections start falling off either to zero or to a low “endemic” level.
Back in 1989, I wrote that Farr’s law indicated that U.S. AIDS cases had already peaked. For my troubles I was called — to use the mildest of the epithets — a nutcase. Somehow, we were told, AIDS was going to go on infecting and infecting, killing and killing. There were predictions of more dead Americans than there were people in the U.S. population. These projections obviously simply ignored Farr’s law – and also flunked the common-sense test. And Farr’s law applies in the current case, too. Since Australia is in the southern hemisphere, its flu season has ended. Almost all cases were swine flu and there was no vaccine. And Australia’s epidemic curve indicates that, yes, once swine flu cases started going down they kept dropping.
No, the bell wasn’t symmetrical, and we shouldn’t expect it to be here in the U.S. either. Expect a long “tail” extending to the end of normal flu season in April. In other words, the fact that infections have peaked doesn’t mean we’ve necessarily seen half of them yet.
And that should actually prove to be good news. Consider that even without a vaccine, Australia along with New Zealand reported significantly fewer flu deaths than in normal years. Why? As I mentioned above, the newly released CDC estimate of infections and deaths in the U.S. indicates that seasonal flu is anywhere from three to twelve times deadlier than swine flu. Other data, including data from New York City, also indicate that swine flu is far milder. Yet swine flu spreads more easily, essentially outcompeting seasonal flu. In doing so, it’s essentially acting as a vaccine against its far deadlier cousin. (The father of vaccinations, Edward Jenner, observed something similar: Cowpox protected dairy workers from the often-deadly and horribly disfiguring smallpox.)
Swine flu, therefore, prevents more flu deaths than it causes. Unfortunately, the U.S. “hysteria curve,” as indicated by emergency-room visits by people worried they have the flu (and worried enough to seek medical attention) is still at a higher level than for any other flu season in the 21st century. You can probably credit, in part, Obama’s October 23 “national emergency” declaration. Nothing like an official pronouncement to send people with slight fevers — real or imagined — into fever pitch. Perhaps the administration can argue that extra work hours put in by exhausted health-care personnel, and by a sensationalist media hyping the story, are stimulating the economy.
— Michael Fumento is director of the nonprofit Independent Journalism Project, where he specializes in science and health issues, and author of The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS: How a Tragedy Has Been Distorted by the Media and Partisan Politics.
19 November 2009
Last Tuesday, I had the pleasurable task of being Master of Ceremonies for the Atlas Economic Research Foundation dinner in Washington, D.C., that celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Founded in 1981, the Atlas Foundation assists the formation of free market think tanks around the world to spread the ideas of personal liberty, private property rights and limited government. So far, they have been successful in at least 70 countries. Attending the two-day celebration were think-tank representatives from many of these countries, including those from Croatia, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, Mozambique, South Korea, Russia and Brazil.
Alan Kors, University of Pennsylvania history professor, gave the evening’s keynote address. What he revealed about the dereliction and character weakness of academics, intellectuals, media elites and politicians is by no means complimentary, but worse than that, dangerous. Professor Kors said that over the years, he has frequently asked students how many deaths were caused by Joseph Stalin and Mao Tsetung and their successors. Routinely, they gave numbers in the thousands. Kors says that’s equivalent to saying the Nazis are responsible for the deaths of just a few hundred Jews. But here’s the record: Nazis were responsible for the deaths of 20 million of their own people and those in nations they conquered. Between 1917 and 1983, Stalin and his successors murdered, or were otherwise responsible for the deaths of, 62 million of their own people. Between 1949 and 1987, Mao Tsetung and his successors were responsible for the deaths of 76 million Chinese.
Professor Kors asks why are the horrors of Nazism so well known and widely condemned, but not those of socialism and communism? For decades after World War II, people have hunted down and sought punishment for Nazi murderers. How much hunting down and seeking punishment for Stalinist and Maoist murderers? In Europe, especially Germany, hoisting the swastika-emblazoned Nazi flag is a crime.
It’s acceptable to hoist and march under a flag emblazoned with the former USSR’s hammer and sickle. Even in the U.S., it’s acceptable to praise mass murderers, as Anita Dunn, President Obama’s communications director, did in a commencement address for St. Andrews Episcopal High School at Washington National Cathedral where she said Mao Tsetung was one of her heroes. Whether it’s the academic community, the media elite or politicians, there is a great tolerance for the ideas of socialism — a system that has caused more deaths and human misery than all other systems combined.
Academics, media elites and leftist politicians both in the U.S. and Europe protested the actions and military buildup of President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and ultimately the breakup of the Soviet Union. Recall the leftist hissy fit when Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union the evil empire and predicted that communism would wind up on the trash heap of history.
Professor Alan Kors did not say this but the reason why the world’s leftists give the world’s most horrible murderers a pass is because they sympathize with their socioeconomic goals, which include government ownership and/or control over the means of production. In the U.S., the call is for government control, through regulations, as opposed to ownership. Unfortunately, it matters little whether there is a Democratically or Republican-controlled Congress and White House; the march toward greater government control continues. It just happens at a quicker pace with Democrats in charge.
You say, “Come on, Williams, there will never be the kind of socialist oppression seen elsewhere here!” You might be right because Americans have become very compliant with unconstitutional and immoral congressional edicts. But what do you think would happen if some Americans began to rise up and heed Thomas Jefferson’s admonition “Whensoever the General Government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force.” and decided to disobey unconstitutional congressional edicts?
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
By Robert M. Goldberg on 11.18.09 @ 6:07AM
The American Spectator
Think Congress is regretting having allocated over a billion dollars to let the government generate studies to tell us what medical tests and procedures should be covered under Obamacare?
In the wake of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendation to tell women in their forties to take a hike on mammograms, and to suggest that other screening technologies aren't worth the money, I bet it won't be long before that budget and the agency that has it and also controls the information the Task Force uses to make such wise decisions, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, are the subjects of congressional hearings.
The breast cancer recommendations come in a 30-page review of 10 studies that even the authors admit cannot be generalized to individual forms of breast cancer and different groups of patients .
But there's more. The Task Force on Monday also issued a second recommendation that has received no media coverage -- on screening for heart disease. Because heart disease kills more women than breast cancer, that decision could be even more dangerous for women because it is based on -- or biased towards -- old, even outdated methods for determining risk for a serious illness.
The Task Force rejected the use of a test for heart inflammation called C-reactive protein (CRP) as a reliable predictor of risk of heart disease. Instead, it said doctors should stick to a rule of thumb called the Framingham Risk Evaluation (FRE).
The FRE uses the number of fatal and nonfatal heart attacks suffered by workers in Framingham, Massachusetts, within a ten-year period, and it is based on a summary estimate of major risk factors for coronary heart disease, such as age, blood pressure, blood cholesterol levels and smoking.
How did the Task Force conclude CRP testing is worthless? The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality told them so based on "the evidence."
But AHRQ ignored three recent studies demonstrating the importance of CRP. A 2005 study from Johns Hopkins and funded by the National Institutes of Health found that the FRE fails to identify approximately one-third of women likely to develop coronary heart disease. Many women deemed "low risk" by the geniuses at AHRQ had had coronary atherosclerosis, which even the Task Force will admit predicts heart attacks.
Second, it ignored the JUPITER ("Justification for the Use of Statins in Primary Prevention: An Intervention Trial Evaluating Rosuvastatin") study. That experiment tested whether giving healthy people with low LDL cholesterol levels but high hs-CRP levels would reduce death from heart attacks. It did. Or more to the point, it showed that screening CRP along with cholesterol tests can cut the incidence of heart disease by 40 percent in high risk individuals with statins and reduce death from heart disease by 20 percent.
Third, the Task Force, in a rush to save a buck for Obamacare, skated past the most recent findings from JUPITER that apply particularly to women. Forty percent of JUPITER's participants were women 60 and over with low cholesterol and no history of heart disease but were tested and found to have high levels of inflammation. It turns out that women are more likely to benefit from testing and treatment than men: the incidence of heart disease of any form was cut by 46 percent in women over 60 compared to 42 percent in men over 50.
But that's not the Task Force recommendation. Instead, the Task Force, relying on a review of studies and research that ignored these important findings and stopped looking in 2002, just when the understanding of CRP as a predictor was in its infancy, came to a pre-ordained conclusion that conveniently fits the party line that so-called evidence-based medicine can actually reduce the cost of care even as government creates a new health care entitlement.
The one-size fits all recommendation for breast cancer screening ignored the fact that breast cancer is not just one disease, but many related illnesses with different pathways and signatures. Worse, it acknowledged the wide variation that makes individualized risk assessment essential but went on to claim it wasn't worth the effort. And it failed to estimate the impact of telling women to simply go away. It took years to build up screening rates to where new drugs could have an impact on mortality. Now all that could be undone.
Similarly, the failure to take into account advances in testing and treatment, insights that will save the lives of thousands of women, is hard to explain, let alone justify. Dr. Diane Petitti, vice chair of the Task Force, maintains: "we have to say what we see based on the science and the data."
But if you only see what you are shown, then what you see or say isn't really science. It's politics. And if you think these two decisions were controversial, just wait. With billions to spend and a high profile, the AHRQ and its Preventive Services Task Force will turn prevention into just another word for saying "no" to medical innovation.
Robert M. Goldberg is vice president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest and founder of Hands Off My Health, a grass roots health care empowerment network.
By Jonah Goldberg
November 18, 2009, 0:00 a.m.
I get where President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder are coming from. They think that if we change our way of life, the terrorists will have won.
In principle, I agree. If upholding our values makes fighting the War on Terror harder, then it should be harder.
That’s why I don’t care much that it will cost more money to try suspected terrorists in the Big Apple than it would in the state-of-the-art facility at Guantanamo Bay. Similarly, while the security concerns stemming from a trial in New York are real, I think we can handle them. And, again, just because something is harder or more dangerous, that doesn’t necessarily mean we shouldn’t do it. That’s the whole point behind “millions for defense but not one cent for tribute.” Some things just aren’t for sale.
Nonetheless, I think the decision to send Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his buddies to a civilian trial is a travesty.
Ultimately, the disagreement is one of first principles. If we are at war, then the rules of war apply. The fact that this is a war unlike others we’ve fought should not mean that it isn’t a war at all.
Don’t tell that to Obama. He’s made it clear that he doesn’t see the threat as an unconventional war but as a conventional law-enforcement problem. The attorney general insists that 9/11 is a matter for civilian courts. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says attacks such as 9/11 should be thought of as “man-caused disasters.” Her top priority after the Fort Hood shootings was to bring Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan to justice — a fine answer for a law-enforcement official, but not from someone charged with protecting the homeland. The War on Terror itself has morphed into “overseas contingency operations.”
Just as telling, Obama insists that the decision to move Mohammed to civilian court was entirely Holder’s. This is deceptive nonsense. Even if technically true, the choice to let Holder make the decision was the real decision. The commander in chief opted to hand off jurisdiction over enemy combatants to the cops. He can’t duck that responsibility by saying it wasn’t his call.
But there’s a more immediate problem. This won’t be a show trial, strictly speaking. But it will be a trial for show.
Prominent defenders of the decision insist that this trial is at least partly to benefit America’s image around the world. That’s a laudable goal — and another example of why this is not a mere law-enforcement issue. But I’m dubious that will be the result.
Sen. Jack Reed (D., R.I.) defended the administration Sunday on Fox News, echoing suggestions from the White House that even if the accused are acquitted on a technicality, they won’t be released. They would go back to the legal purgatory known as “preventive detention.” That is the right policy; these are dangerous men, after all. But it is an affront to civilian jurisprudence. Under military law, preventive detention is a well-established norm. Under civilian law, it’s an affront.
Throw into the equation that these men weren’t read their rights, were interrogated in a manner that is illegal in civilian courts, are being tried with little if any possibility of an impartial jury — and the fact that Holder all but insists they’ll be convicted — and it all adds up to a farce.
Moreover, the administration has not abolished military tribunals. Holder is sending the al-Qaeda suspects in the attack on the destroyer Cole to one. Hence, enemies who attack us abroad are treated like enemy combatants with fewer rights, while terrorists who managed to kill civilians here at home are treated like American citizens. That is perverse.
If history is a guide, this trial will unavoidably come at a cost in terms of leaked intelligence and propaganda victories for our enemies.
Obama’s defenders don’t believe it. “Does anyone think,” asks Joshua Micah Marshall, a prominent liberal blogger, that the “Nuremberg trials . . . advanced (the defendants’) causes?” Obama himself invoked the Nuremberg trials during the presidential campaign. “Part of what made us different was even after these Nazis had performed atrocities,” he explained, “we still gave them a day in court, and that taught the entire world about who we are but also the basic principles of rule of law.”
Such arguments are revealing on at least two counts. First, the Nuremberg trials were military tribunals — it was understood that the Nazis were not mere criminals.
Second, they took place after we had won the war against Nazi Germany. We could afford such a spectacle because the Nazi cause was dead.
Meanwhile, the War on Terror lives. Just don’t tell that to Barack Obama.
— Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and the author of Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning.
© 2009 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Are we at war -- or not?
For if we are at war, why is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed headed for trial in federal court in the Southern District of New York? Why is he entitled to a presumption of innocence and all of the constitutional protections of a U.S. citizen?
Is it possible we have done an injustice to this man by keeping him locked up all these years without trial? For that is what this trial implies -- that he may not be guilty.
And if we must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that KSM was complicit in mass murder, by what right do we send Predators and Special Forces to kill his al-Qaida comrades wherever we find them? For none of them has been granted a fair trial.
When the Justice Department sets up a task force to wage war on a crime organization like the Mafia or MS-13, no U.S. official has a right to shoot Mafia or gang members on sight. No one has a right to bomb their homes. No one has a right to regard the possible death of their wives and children in an attack as acceptable collateral damage.
Yet that is what we do to al-Qaida, to which KSM belongs.
We conduct those strikes in good conscience because we believe we are at war. But if we are at war, what is KSM doing in a U.S. court?
Minoru Genda, who planned the attack on Pearl Harbor, a naval base on U.S. soil, when America was at peace, and killed as many Americans as the Sept. 11 hijackers, was not brought here for trial. He was an enemy combatant under the Geneva Conventions and treated as such.
When Maj. Andre, the British spy and collaborator of Benedict Arnold, was captured, he got a military tribunal, after which he was hanged. When Gen. Andrew Jackson captured two British subjects in Spanish Florida aiding renegade Indians, Jackson had both tried and hanged on the spot.
Enemy soldiers who commit atrocities are not sent to the United States for trial. Under the Geneva Conventions, soldiers who commit atrocities are shot when caught.
When and where did Khalid Sheikh Mohammed acquire his right to a trial by a jury of his peers in a U.S. court?
When John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln, alleged collaborators like Mary Surratt were tried before a military tribunal and hanged at Ft. McNair. When eight German saboteurs were caught in 1942 after being put ashore by U-boat, they were tried in secret before a military commission and executed, with the approval of the Supreme Court. What makes KSM special?
Is the Obama administration aware of what it is risking by not turning KSM over to a military tribunal in Guantanamo?
How does Justice handle a defense demand for a change of venue, far from lower Manhattan, where the jury pool was most deeply traumatized by Sept. 11? Would not KSM and his co-defendants, if a change of venue is denied, have a powerful argument for overturning any conviction on appeal?
Were not KSM's Miranda rights impinged when he was not only not told he could have a lawyer on capture, but that his family would be killed and he would be water-boarded if he refused to talk?
And if all the evidence against the five defendants comes from other than their own testimony under duress, do not their lawyers have a right to know when, where, how and from whom Justice got the evidence to prosecute them? Does KSM have the right to confront all witnesses against him, even if they are al-Qaida turncoats or U.S. spies still transmitting information to U.S. intelligence?
There have been reports that in the trials of those convicted in the first World Trade Center bombing, sources and methods were compromised, weakening our security for the second attack on Sept. 11.
If the trial is held in lower Manhattan, how much security will be needed to protect against a car bomber who wants the world to see a mighty blow struck against the Great Satan? And if, as some suggest, the trial should be held on Governor's Island, would that not make the United States look like a nation under siege?
What do we do if the case against KSM is thrown out because the government refuses to reveal sources or methods, or if he gets a hung jury, or is acquitted, or has his conviction overturned?
In America, trials often become games, where the prosecution, though it has truth on its side, loses because it inadvertently breaks one of the rules.
The Obamaites had best pray that does not happen, for they may be betting his presidency on the outcome of the game about to begin.
Mr. Buchanan is a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Churchill, Hitler, and "The Unnecessary War": How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World, "The Death of the West,", "The Great Betrayal," "A Republic, Not an Empire" and "Where the Right Went Wrong."