Friday, April 15, 2011

A pinch of Galt

Life is starting to imitate Ayn Rand

New York Post
April 9, 2011

Who is John Galt? He’s the Han Solo of the most important movie flop of the year.

The first Tea Party movie, the long-gestating adaptation of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged,” hits theaters on Friday (not coincidentally, Tax Day).

The movie is a dystopian public affairs parable — poli-sci-fi — about a collapsing society beset by massive economic strife (the Dow has sunk below 4,000 and gas is $37 a gallon). Airline crashes and oil prices have made railroads economically central again. Nationwide, infrastructure is crumbling; formerly highly paid executives roam the streets begging for work.

A dynamic female railroad executive, Dagny Taggart, takes a chance on a new high-tech steel alloy, made by an arrogant industrialist named Rearden, that could save her business. But her brother, who runs the Taggarts’ firm, is more interested in cultivating ties with a government that keeps passing policies meant to equalize wealth, which is quickly vanishing, and even goes so far as to ban anyone from owning more than one company.

Meanwhile Dagny and other corporate leaders are losing some of their most talented people, each of whom disappears after asking the Delphic question, “Who is John Galt?”

The film is a low-budget affair with almost no marketing muscle. Its success will depend entirely on word of mouth. Its producer’s hopes that it will turn out to be an unexpected hit — “My Big Fat Objectivist Rant” — are unfounded. “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” depended on broad jokes about nutty dads and wacky immigrants. “Atlas Shrugged” is over the heads of most of the audience, being thick with convoluted industrial scheming and enough talk about entrepreneurship, unions and monopolies to fill a copy of The Wall Street Journal.

Yet the movie’s chief flaws — on-the-nose-dialogue, a cheesy score, no-name actors — are fixable, and it is alive with the potency of Rand’s convictions. “Atlas Shrugged” is a rough draft of a movie, but one that’s good enough to renew interest in the story’s cinematic possibilities. Both Angelina Jolie and Charlize Theron have been wooed to star as Rand’s indomitable heroine of the rails and each would be wise to lend her prestige to such a bold project, one that offers juicier dramatic possibilities than “Aeon Flux” or “The Tourist.”

“Atlas Shrugged” is like the Bible (the only title that outscored it in an unscientific 1991 survey that asked readers which books had most influenced them). Neither is to be taken literally. Each makes a lot of valid points.

The film is an indie labor of love, not multiplex fodder. It was shot on a ludicrously meager budget of about $10 million, big talent agencies refused to send it any clients (though it still managed to score a few familiar faces, including “Barton Fink” Oscar nominee Michael Lerner) and it was rushed into production because otherwise the producer’s option would have expired two days later. The producer is a first-time amateur and neither the screenwriter (Brian Patrick O’Toole) nor director (Paul Johansson) has any credits to brag about.

Yet whether the movie, which is set in 2016-17, has any resonance in 2011 depends on your answers to questions like these: Can you picture the government hiring a “Coordinator of Economic Planning”? Can you picture such a coordinator giving directives meant to correct the fact that “rich people are getting richer, poor people are getting poorer”? Do you see any instances of crony capitalism involving close ties between certain CEOs and certain political figures? Do you see any powerful unions out there? Do you worry that fuel prices could rise to unaffordable levels, and if so, do you think the government might have anything to do with that?

Liberals will scoff, “Oh, that could never happen” of things that already are happening. Then they’ll scoff at the box-office receipts — as if the puny circulation of The New Republic or National Review meant either of these magazines should be dismissed.

Most movies, even movies that earn many times what “Atlas Shrugged” will make at the box office, don’t matter. “Hop” and “Sucker Punch” are not going to create any activists, stir any conversation, make people want to read more about the subject. Despite playing on only a couple of hundred screens (and only covering the first third of the novel), “Atlas Shrugged” is going to have an impact. It’ll make kids want to read the book, it’ll get argued about on widely read blogs, it’ll make some viewers question their assumptions: Why is it, exactly, that we are supposed to hate successful businessmen?

And who is this mysterious John Galt, the shadowy figure not fully explained in the movie, who seems to be leading a pinstriped rebellion of the country’s business leaders?

Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, whose plan to restore sanity to federal budgeting made headlines this week, has reportedly ordered his staffers to read “Atlas Shrugged.” That leaves him open to being associated with the more distasteful elements of Randism.

Bring it on.

Ryan need only state that (of course) he doesn’t agree with everything Rand stood for and never said otherwise. Even making Rand a respectable topic in the national conversation (Thursday afternoon, “Atlas Shrugged” the book stood at No. 79 on Amazon’s list of bestsellers) will challenge some minds.

This is Rand’s moment: Her demon vision, despite the odor of brimstone and the screech of axe-grinding that envelops it, seems less and less unimaginable. For all its stemwinders, its cardboard capitalists and villainous bureaucracy, “Atlas Shrugged” makes ringing statements: that wealth has to be created before it can be divided up, that government isn’t necessarily your friend, that the business of America is business.

Rand old time for Ayn adherents

New York Post
April 14, 2011

In "Atlas Shrugged," it's 2016 America. The Dow has fallen below 4,000, gasoline prices are through the roof and infrastructure is falling apart. High-speed rail looks like the future. Government denounces selfish corporate interests and concerns itself mainly with dividing the dwindling wealth.

This isn't loony-bin stuff: Attention must be paid.

Though a bit stiff in the joints and acted by an undistinguished cast amid TV-movie trappings, this low-budget adaptation of Ayn Rand's novel nevertheless contains a fire and a fury that makes it more compelling than the average mass-produced studio item.

"Atlas Shrugged," a mega-fable that is to capitalists roughly what "To Kill a Mockingbird" is to liberals, centers on the struggles of a railroad exec, the beautiful and exacting Dagny Taggart (Taylor Schilling), to overhaul a line with a controversial, untested new steel alloy produced by an equally arrogant industrialist, Hank Rearden (Grant Bowler).

Rearden is being forced to sell off his conglomerate bit by bit because of a new law that no one can own more than one business, while Taggart's brother (Matthew Marsden) believes the railroad's most important source of innovation ought to be collaborating with the government on tightly state-controlled enterprises.

The movie covers only the first third of the book and ends on a cliffhanger without fully resolving its central question: "Who is John Galt?" -- a shadowy figure who seems to be linked to the disappearance of many leading business figures.

The subjects the film deals with are fascinating, important -- and almost completely ignored at the movies. Even "The Social Network," the most acclaimed business movie of last year, placed the building of one of the world's most valuable companies in the background of a personality dispute and some whining about club membership. "Atlas Shrugged" wants to start an argument with you, to force you to (in Rand's often-repeated words) "check your premises."

It would be easier to do no such thing, to laugh off the stilted dialogue and stern, unironic hectoring, so that's what most viewers will do.

Obama’s Demagoguery

The president’s equivalent of “death panels”

By Mona Charen
April 15, 2011

I never felt so simpatico with Joe Biden as I did after President Obama’s Great Deficit Speech. Ol’ lunch-bucket Joe seemed to doze off during the president’s oration. Perhaps he only appeared to be snoozing. But I can report that your faithful correspondent, despite the best intentions, did actually nod off a few times in the course of the address herself.

The first time I found my eyelids drooping was around paragraph four, when the president rhapsodized about the greatness of government: “We’ve laid down railroads and highways to facilitate travel and commerce. We’ve supported the work of scientists and researchers whose discoveries have saved lives, unleashed repeated technological revolutions, and led to countless new jobs and entire industries. Each of us has benefited from these investments, and we are a more prosperous country as a result.”

Who would not, at this point, yawn and grumble, “I’ve seen this movie before”? President Obama never tires of invoking the interstate-highway system as the model of government activism (though we do tire of hearing about it). He’s mentioned it in all three of his State of the Union addresses; when proclaiming the glories of the stimulus bill (“We will create millions of jobs by making the single largest new investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s”); and in defense of his “investment” in high-speed rail.

It’s a truism that, as the president said, some tasks can be performed only by government (national defense, courts of law, etc.). But Obama’s frequent invocation of government’s greatest hits, along with his tendency to attribute economic growth to government action, is part of his utterly conventional, myopic, Great Society–liberal worldview. Snore.

What startled me out of my slumber was this nugget in paragraph 11: “America’s finances were in great shape by the year 2000. We went from deficit to surplus. America was actually on track to becoming completely debt-free, and we were prepared for the retirement of the Baby Boomers. But after Democrats and Republicans committed to fiscal discipline during the 1990s, we lost our way in the decade that followed.”

This “It all started with George W. Bush” trope is more than tiresome — it’s shallow, pandering, and dishonest. The entitlement crisis was the most predictable (and predicted) fiscal train wreck in history. The math about entitlement spending has been evident for decades. In 1994, to cite just one warning that predated the Bush bogeyman presidency, President Clinton’s bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform reported that Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and civilian and military pensions would exceed total federal revenues by 2030. We know today that things are worse. The American Enterprise Institute’s Andrew Biggs reminds us that “the joke among entitlement analysts is that the government will eventually turn into a pension plan with an army.” Or maybe without an army . . .

Remember, the pre-speech buzz suggested that President Obama was going to debut a new seriousness about America’s looming debt. We were led to expect, if not a full embrace of entitlement reform, at least an honest grapple with the scope of the problem. Instead, he stooped to full “Mediscare” scurrilousness. Under the Republican plan, Obama warned darkly, the elderly would have their Medicare withdrawn, to be replaced with “a voucher.” Kids with autism and other debilitating diseases would be told “to fend for themselves.” Obama basically accused Republicans of sponsoring death panels. And “50 million Americans would have to lose their health care in order for us to reduce the deficit.”

The president didn’t identify those 50 million — except to suggest to his college audience that it might be “someone’s grandmother” — but he may have been referring to the “uninsured” who would be covered by Obamacare. If so, that’s a figure that’s been through more changes than Hillary Clinton’s hairstyle. In July 2009, the president said there were “47 million uninsured Americans.” The following month, he used the figure of 46 million. And in September, he and his administration began to speak of “30 million” uninsured. Is the president now boosting the estimate to 50? None of the numbers, incidentally, was correct. But that wouldn’t trouble someone bent not on leading but on misleading.

Last week, Rep. Paul Ryan was asked whether he and the Republicans were making themselves vulnerable to demagogic attacks by taking on entitlement spending directly. “We are,” he replied. “They are going to demagogue us, and — and it’s that demagoguery that has always prevented political leaders in the past from actually trying to fix the problem.”

You might have expected President Obama to be shamed out of his worst instincts by that prediction. He wasn’t.

— Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2011 Creators Syndicate.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


By Ann Coulter
April 13, 2011

Abortion-rights supporters march in Washington last week. (Joshua Roberts, Reuters)

Back in February, Obama's director of the Office of Management and Budget, Jacob Lew, promoted the White House's allegedly draconian budget cuts in The New York Times.

Saying Obama was going to cut the 2012 budget to the bone, Lew droned on about the "difficult" cuts to "important" programs and the "many tough choices and deep cuts" in the proposed budget.

All told, the White House's brutal, Depression-era austerity plan would have snipped a couple of billion from our multi-trillion dollar federal budget.

When the Republicans proposed that, instead of cutting a few billion, the government chop $60 billion from the budget, Democrats went ballistic. They said it was madness. Republicans were proposing to bring back the miserly federal budget of 2008!

You heard me right: Those lunatics were going to roll back the federal spending clock ... almost three years!

You remember the hellish, "Lord of the Flies" days of 2008 when veterans hospitals were shuttered, Social Security checks ceased to be delivered, our military was stripped of ammunition, national parks were closed and stoplights went dark.

Wait, no -- none of that happened.

But Democrats control the Senate and the White House, and the media were gearing up to blame Republicans for any government shutdown.

The Republicans seemed to be cornered. Between their $60 billion in cuts and the Democrats' proposed cuts of a few billion, it looked as if Democrats were going to succeed in putting the country on a high-speed bullet train to Zimbabwe.

And then, totally by accident, Republicans stumbled onto the Democrats' Achilles heel. Among their specific defunding proposals, Republicans had suggested taking mere peanuts away from Planned Parenthood.


All the Republicans had to do was threaten to cut federal funding for abortion, and they won $40 billion in spending cuts overnight.

I don't think Republicans did it deliberately. I'm pretty sure they just wanted to cut funding for Planned Parenthood. But, holy cow, did they find the Democrats' weak spot!

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid threatened to shut down the government to save abortions in the District of Columbia. Reid, who is known as a "pro-life Democrat," said cutting Planned Parenthood's funding was the "one issue" on which he would not budge.

Comedy Central's allegedly serious Catholic, Stephen Colbert, spent a week ridiculing Sen. Jon Kyl's response to Reid for saying Planned Parenthood had nothing to do with abortion, but mostly provided things like cholesterol screening.

Kyl said: "You don't have to go to Planned Parenthood to get your cholesterol or your blood pressure checked. If you want an abortion, you go to Planned Parenthood. That's well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does."

The entire mainstream media immediately rose in angry denunciation of Kyl -- based on Planned Parenthood's claim that abortion constitutes less than 3 percent of the services it provides.

Apparently, that depends on the meaning of "services it provides." If taking 30 seconds to write a prescription for birth control pills is considered the equivalent of a two-hour, multiple-visit $450 abortion, then perhaps abortion does constitute only 3 percent of Planned Parenthood's work.

But according to Planned Parenthood itself, when it comes to services for pregnant women, abortion constituted 97.6 percent of the services Planned Parenthood provided in 2009. Only 2.4 percent of the organization's services for pregnant women involved prenatal care or adoption referrals.

Again, according to its own reports, Planned Parenthood performed 332,278 abortions in 2009 -- or more than a quarter of all abortions in the entire country. It receives about 37 percent of its total revenue from performing abortions.

Reid and Colbert must be getting a lot of cholesterol tests at Planned Parenthood if abortion constitutes only 3 percent of its services. (Contrary to Sen. Reid's claim that Planned Parenthood administers important cancer screening tests, none of its affiliates even offer mammograms.)

In any event, the Democrats didn't suddenly agree to $40 billion in budget cuts to save Planned Parenthood's cholesterol screening.

If Republicans keep threatening to defund Planned Parenthood, they can probably get Democrats to repeal Obamacare, pass a flat tax and get a capital sentence for Khalid Sheik Mohammed.

Now we know: Democrats absolutely will not cross the abortion ladies.

Blue-collar workers don't like abortion? Democrats say, "You bet!"

Abortion disproportionately targets black babies? Democrats say, "Who cares?"

A majority of women dislike abortion? Democrats say, "Yes, but we're going to lie about that."

The only members of their base the Democrats will never, ever cross are government workers and abortion-crazed feminists.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Confession of the Oklahoma City Bomber: John Doe 2 Exists

By Jayna Davis
April 11, 2011

The conviction of American terrorists, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, symbolizes the FBI's crown jewel of criminal prosecutions. So why do questions linger? Does the official account of what transpired on April 19, 1995 reveal all that certain federal investigators know? In the wake of the 1995 bombing, national polls showed 80 percent of Americans believed additional conspirators evaded capture. Today, as the 16th anniversary approaches, the prospect of shadowy terrorists walking free still pervades the country's psyche. This time, however, the FBI itself is fueling the flames of public distrust.

Last week the vault of top-secret bombing evidence cracked open. The Department of Justice, responding to Freedom of Information Act requests, released a declassified report detailing the May 26, 2005 interrogation of Terry Nichols. According to the record, Nichols broke his decade-long silence, acknowledging his hands-on role in constructing the massive truck bomb that demolished the Oklahoma City Murrah Building. While this revelation was all but academic, what Nichols said next threatens to rewrite history.

During the interview, the convicted bomber unleashed a startling admission: John Doe 2 exists. The FBI report states, "Nichols advised that John Doe 2's name had not been mentioned during the (FBI) investigation, and therefore, he feared for his life and his family's well-being should it become public."

One seemingly innocuous statement in this recently declassified FBI memo effectively shatters the government myth that two angry white males singlehandedly pulled off the crime of the 20th century. To begin, Nichols clearly implied that he knew the identity of John Doe 2 when asserting that his co-conspirator's name "had not been mentioned" during the prodigious FBI investigation. Keep in mind, the bomber had direct access to sealed court files and classified discovery materials that federal prosecutors were legally required to disclose to his defense lawyers during the state and federal trials. As a result, Nichols was informed about every suspect that surfaced on law enforcement's radar screen.

More significantly, Nichols expressed fear that John Doe 2 posed a grave threat to his family and him personally should the suspect's name be publicly disclosed. One can reasonably conclude that the Oklahoma City terrorist did not trust federal authorities would investigate or arrest John Doe 2 if he divulged his identity. And finally, the obvious bears repeating. The man who helped execute the deadliest attack on U.S. soil prior to 9-11 perceives the formidable John Doe 2 as omnipotent, with the ability to kill his family, and even him, in a maximum security lockup. Why?

And what did the FBI do in response to the Oklahoma City bomber's unnerving confession that John Doe 2 exists? Nothing.

A month after Nichols told the FBI that a third man participated in the bombing, he repeated this same daunting revelation to a U.S. congressman. An FBI agent was present during the June 2005 Colorado prison cell interview with California Representative Dana Rohrabacher, scribbling handwritten notes of what was discussed. But Bureau policy strictly forbids the recording of suspect interrogations; therefore, the most trustworthy account of Nichols' earthshaking testimony rests with the congressman.

Upon exiting the meeting, Rohrabacher phoned me and candidly recounted the details of Nichols' stunning disclosures. To insure accuracy, I taped the conversation. Rohrabacher described the prisoner as apprehensive and hesitant to name the infamous third terrorist, but he offered not-so-subtle hints of foreign complicity in a crime that the government has classified as domestically inspired. When Rohrabacher bluntly asked Nichols to assess the plausibility of the multiple eyewitness sightings placing Timothy McVeigh in the presence of Iraqi soldiers in Oklahoma City, Nichols shockingly conceded that the central theory presented in my 2004 book, The Third Terrorist: The Middle East Connection to the Oklahoma City Bombing, "could be correct."

Dispelling the image of Timothy McVeigh as the bombing mastermind, Nichols resolutely confirmed that the decorated Gulf War veteran had numerous liaisons with men of Arab extraction, boldly proclaiming, "McVeigh talked about Middle Easterners on a number of occasions, and quite frequently," but Nichols claimed that he "could not remember the context of those discussions." Once again, Nichols refused to reveal the third terrorist, terrified of retribution.

This incriminating declaration from the country's most notorious mass murderer should have been the FBI's top investigative priority. After all, the implications were enormous. This was the first time the FBI learned directly from the Oklahoma City bomber that John Doe 2 exists. While Nichols declined to name the mystery accomplice, he dropped an unmistakable clue as to his identity when implying to the congressman that the premise of my book, The Third Terrorist, could be accurate.

Now, we connect the dots further. If McVeigh did, indeed, collaborate with Saddam Hussein's former soldiers, then John Doe 2 has escaped justice for slaughtering 171 innocent Americans. But, not surprisingly, the FBI's final summary of the prison interview, which was declassified and published last week, redacted Nichols' damning statements that McVeigh associated with Middle Easterners in the very city where the terrorist bombing took place.

For 16 years, the FBI has brazenly refused to speak to two dozen Oklahomans who encountered Timothy McVeigh colluding with Iraqi ex-enemy combatants in an act of terror that murdered more civilians within our borders than all the U.S. soldiers who perished on the sands of the Persian Gulf War. Now their sworn testimonies, identifying eight specific Middle Eastern collaborators, have been validated as "correct," ironically, through the unwitting confession of McVeigh's partner in crime, Terry Nichols.

Despite the Justice Department's herculean effort to airbrush John Doe 2 from the American landscape, history has appointed Dana Rohrabacher the star witness to Terry Nichols' affirmation that the third terrorist lives. It seems the government's monolithic wall of resistance has fractured, but the crushing injustice still stands. That is, until our elected officials exercise their constitutional authority to "correct" the historical record. The American people expect it. The truth demands it.

- Jayna Davis is the author of The Third Terrorist: The Middle East connection to the Oklahoma City Bombing.


Jayna Davis: The Tea Party, Timothy McVeigh, and Tainted History  -

Author links man arrested in Quincy to the subject of her book on Oklahoma City bombing -

Best-Selling Author, Investigative Journalist Breaks Silence About OKC Bombing Video Tapes -

Attorney Says Unedited Versions of the Oklahoma City Bombing Surveillance Tapes Are ‘Somewhere’ -

Gangland Violence Comes to Dodger Stadium

It was L.A.'s gang culture that killed trendy Westwood Village when a 27-year-old was shot in 1988. Will a recent brutal attack kill a legendary L.A. stadium too?

By Jack Dunphy
April 12, 2011

In a big city, most crime victims suffer in obscurity. In Los Angeles last year, police investigated 21,241 violent crimes, including 297 homicides, yet who outside their own circle of family and friends could name even a single one of those victims?

But sometimes a crime occurs in such a manner or in such a place that it comes to gain far wider significance than one victim’s misfortune. In 1964, Kitty Genovese was raped and stabbed to death outside her Bronx apartment. Many of her neighbors heard her screaming, yet no one came to her aid and only a few even went as far as to call the police. Her murder is still cited as being symbolic of large cities where people remain unknown to their neighbors and indifferent to their troubles.

In 1988, Karen Toshima[1], a 27-year-old graphic artist, was shot to death in Westwood Village, an area of shops, restaurants, and movie theaters adjacent to the UCLA campus. Toshima was walking on the sidewalk with a friend when two groups of rival gang members squared off. One of the gangsters pulled a gun and fired two rounds, missing his intended target but hitting Toshima in the head. She died the next day.

Toshima was one of the 736 people murdered in Los Angeles that year, a time when gang violence was on the rise and no one, it seemed, knew what to do about it. It’s fair to say that her death was a catalyst to the battle against L.A.’s gangs, whose violence had until then been confined to the city’s less upscale neighborhoods.

Will Bryan Stow be the Karen Toshima of 2011?

On March 31, Stow, a 42-year-old man from Santa Cruz, Calif., went to L.A.’s Dodger Stadium to attend the opening-day game between the Dodgers and his favorite team, the San Francisco Giants. Near the end of the game, apparently after assessing the behavior of some of the people in the stands, Stow sent a text message to a relative to say he feared for his safety. A paramedic by trade, Stow is a man we may presume doesn’t frighten easily, and indeed his fears were tragically borne out. After the game, as he and two companions walked through the parking lot in search of a taxi, they were set upon by two men who pushed Stow to the ground before beating and kicking him into a coma.

Unlike Karen Toshima, Stow has, at least for now, survived the attack, though he remains in a coma at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center. But like Toshima, his misfortune at the hands of uncivilized thugs has galvanized the city and shone a spotlight on a problem that has been festering for years.

When Karen Toshima was murdered in 1988, Westwood Village was perhaps the only place in Los Angeles where people from all over the city came into contact with one another. People from the nearby Westside mingled with Angelenos from the San Fernando Valley and from neighborhoods to the south and east as they dined, went to the movies, or simply hung out. Sadly for Toshima, this eclectic mix included gang members from South Central L.A., one of whom brought along a gun he was willing to use on scant provocation.

That bullet didn’t just kill Karen Toshima; it killed Westwood Village. Though gang violence had been on the rise in Los Angeles for years, for most people in the city it remained little more than an abstraction, something that only occurred “down there” and among “those people.” But with Toshima’s murder that violence escaped the rough neighborhoods where it could be easily ignored by the city’s elites. Suddenly even Westwood Village, in the very center of one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country, was regarded as unsafe. It wasn’t long before the once-thriving Village became, if not quite a ghost town, a place to be avoided. And even now, 23 years later, the vacant storefronts along Westwood Boulevard offer testimony that it has yet to fully recover.

I grew up with the Dodgers. I still have two baseballs autographed by Sandy Koufax, Maury Wills, and every other player on their 1965 World Series-winning team. All through my youth I went to several games a year at Dodger Stadium, and when I was in my 20s I attended every Dodger opening day and an additional ten to twenty games a season. But my attendance has trailed off over the years, and in the last two seasons I attended but one game each. This year I probably won’t attend any.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy baseball as much as I did when I was younger, it’s just that I don’t enjoy the experience of attending the games at Dodger Stadium like I used to. Putting it simply, I have to watch my back all day at work; I don’t like having to do it at the ballpark, especially at the prices the Dodgers charge for tickets.

When you’ve been a cop in Los Angeles for as long as I have, you can hear even a vague account of a crime and fill in the details yourself. If I hear that a robbery has occurred at the bus stop at Century Boulevard and Broadway at seven in the morning, I know beyond almost any doubt that the victim is a Latino and that the suspects are black. And if I hear that someone has had his head bashed in at Dodger Stadium, I am just as certain that the suspects are young Latino gang members. No one who’s been following the decline of civility at Dodger Stadium was surprised to see the police sketches of the men who attacked Stow.[2]

LAPD sketches of the men who attacked Bryan Stow

Civic leaders and the Dodger organization have condemned the attack on Stow (though Dodgers owner Frank McCourt was oddly, even callously silent for days after the crime), and a $150,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the two attackers.

All well and good, but in all the public outcry over what happened to Bryan Stow, there has been precious little said or written about the genuine nature of the problem at Dodger Stadium, which is that Latino gang members have staked out large sections of it as their turf. Just as they have done on the streets of some Los Angeles neighborhoods, they have announced that they are here, they are in charge, and they will tolerate others only up to a point. Woe be to any baseball fan who, like Bryan Stow, dares to wear a cap, jersey, or T-shirt signifying an allegiance to the visiting team. True, attacks such as happened to Stow are rare, but taunts, insults, thrown food, and abusive language are appallingly commonplace.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has announced that there will be a noticeably increased police presence when the Dodgers return for their next home stand beginning April 14. But even as he vowed to make Dodger Stadium safe, Beck couldn’t avoid putting his foot in his mouth.[3] “All of us set the standards,” he told reporters. “And if you allow fans to misbehave incrementally around you when you attend one of these games then you are part of the problem.”

Sure, Chief.

The world envisioned by Beck is one where unruly behavior is checked with a click of the tongue and a wag of the finger. That world hasn’t existed at Dodger Stadium in more than twenty years. Making matters worse is the Dodgers’ policy that prohibits off-duty police officers and others who legally carry concealed weapons from bringing those weapons into the stadium. Cops attending games run the very real risk of encountering someone they’ve arrested or otherwise angered in the past, and I’d rather not have such an encounter while deprived of the means to defend myself. Yes, all fans must pass through metal detectors upon entering the stadium, so the gangsters are presumably unarmed during the game as well, but if while attending a game I run into someone who remembers me as the cop who sent him off for a stretch in prison, I can only hope that when the last out is recorded I get to my car and my gun before he can get to his.

The Dodgers have hired former LAPD chief William Bratton to advise them on security measures, and I’m sure they’ll pay him handsomely for a suggestion they can right get here for free: Put the gangsters in check, and don’t back down when the confrontation occurs, as it surely will.

If Charlie Beck and Frank McCourt are serious about making Dodger Stadium safe for baseball fans, the focus of their efforts will of necessity be on Latino gang members. They will not admit such a politically incorrect thought in public, of course, but they will rely on LAPD officers to stand up to the challenge posed by these gangsters and reclaim the stadium from them even as the hoodlums squeal about being “harassed” and “profiled.” Every police contact in the grandstand and in the parking lot will be recorded on cell phone cameras and presented as evidence that the police are unfairly singling out Latinos, claims that the local media will exuberantly repeat and endorse.

How will Beck and McCourt respond when this happens? If the gangsters win, Dodger Stadium will come to be regarded, like Westwood Village years ago, as a place that isn’t safe. It was L.A.’s gang culture that killed Westwood Village. Will it kill Dodger Stadium too?

“Jack Dunphy” is the pseudonym of an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department. The opinions expressed are his own and almost certainly do not reflect those of the LAPD management.





Today's Tune: Johnny Cash - Further on up the Road

Death Warrant of Ancient Christianity

By Philip Jenkins
April 11, 2011

House of Saint Ananias, Damascus, Syria

The House of Saint Ananias (also called Chapel of Saint Ananias) (Arabic: كنيسة القديس حنانيا‎) is the ancient alleged house of Saint Ananias, in the old Christian quarter of Damascus, Syria. It is said by some to be the house where Ananias baptized Saul (who became Paul the Apostle).
Located near Bab Sharqi (Eastern Gate), at the very end of the Street Called Straight. Five metres below ground level, the church is supposedly the cellar of the House of Ananias, but more likely it is built at the level of the Roman street. The church, which has been restored many times, is the only early Christian house of worship from the first century to survive in the city. A simple structure consisting of two small rooms with bare stone walls, it houses only an altar, some icons and a few pews. The icons tell the story of the conversion of Paul. It represents the simplicity of the initial Christians and is one of the earliest churches still standing where services continue to be held to this day.

Ever since the wave of popular movements started sweeping the Middle East, Western media have rarely found much good to say about the authoritarian regimes under attack. Few observers deny that the last generation or so of Arab rulers were indeed greedy despots, and it seems desirable for Western powers to intervene as forcefully as they can on behalf of what are commonly billed as pro-democracy movements. The arguments against intervention are obvious enough, most obviously that it is much easier to begin a military intervention than to end it, while we rarely have much idea about the political character of the supposed democrats we are trying to aid. But in one case above all, namely Syria, debates over intervention have missed one overwhelming argument, which is the likely religious catastrophe that would follow the overthrow of the admittedly dictatorial government. Any Western intervention in Syria would likely supply the death warrant for the ancient Christianity of the Middle East. For anyone concerned about Christians worldwide -- even if you believe firmly in democracy and human rights -- it's hard to avoid this prayer: Lord, bring democracy to Syria, but not in my lifetime.

Why is Syria so critical to the religious geography of the region? From ancient times, the territory had a complex mixture of religious traditions, and one that was far too complex to reduce to a simple Christian-Muslim divide. Under the long centuries of Ottoman power, Syria retained its sizable Christian minority, but other minority populations also flourished, groups that originated within Islam, but which orthodox believers condemned as heretics and apostates. Particularly important were the Alawites, a group that certainly includes Christian and even Gnostic strands in its esoteric world view. In fact, they were long known locally as Nusayris, "Little Christians" The Druze are no less secretive in their beliefs, and are equally loathed by strict Islamists. Although estimates are shaky, a reasonable estimate is that Alawites make up around ten percent of Syria's population of twenty million, with the Druze at another three percent.

Christian numbers are still harder to determine. Over the past century century, Syria regularly served as the last refuge for Christian communities who had been largely destroyed elsewhere in the Middle East -- for Christians fleeing massacre in Turkey after 1915, or in Iraq after 2003. A standard figure for the number of Syrian Christians is ten percent, or around two million believers, but that omits an uncertain number of thinly disguised crypto-believers, not to mention the recent arrivals from the wreck of Saddam's Iraq. A fifteen percent Christian minority is quite probable.

It's one thing to catalogue the religious oddities of a particular country, but we also have to know that that diversity is the absolute foundation of Syrian politics. Basically, a large majority of Syria -- officially, some 74 percent -- is Sunni Muslim, and the nation's politics for almost fifty years has been devoted to ensuring that this majority does not gain power. Ever since 1963, Syria has been ruled by variations of the Ba'ath Party, an Arab ultra-nationalist movement originally co-founded by the Syrian Christian intellectual, Michel Aflaq. Because of its devotion to absolute secularism, the Ba'ath cause appeals strongly to religious minorities who fear the overwhelming demographic power of Sunni Islam. Christians, Alawites and others all have a potent vested interest in drawing all Arab peoples, regardless of faith, into a shared passion for secular modernity and pan-Arab patriotism, in sharp contrast to Islamism.

Since the 1960s, Ba'ath rule in Syria has meant the dictatorship of a highly structured one-party system closely allied to the armed forces and the intelligence apparatus. But it has also meant the dominance of the nation's religious minorities, who are so over-represented in the military-intelligence complex. This means above all the Alawites, in alliance with Christian elites. Hafez al-Assad (President from 1971 through 2000) was of course an Alawite, and by the 1990s, five of his seven closest advisers were Christian. The deadliest enemies of the al-Assad clan were the Sunni Islamists, organized in groups affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood. But any effective Sunni opposition ended violently in 1982, when government forces suppressed a revolt in the city of Hama, killing possibly twenty-five thousand.

The evils of the Syrian regime are obvious enough: this is a classic police state with a penchant for assassination whenever it sees fit, and no compunction about supporting terrorist attacks at home or abroad. But just imagine that the Ba'ath regime fell. Whatever happened in the first few months of revolution, by far the most likely successor regime in the long term would be Islamist, led by activists anxious to avenge Hama. Alawites, Druze and Christians could all expect persecution at best, massacre at worst, a fate that could potentially befall five million residents. And this time, there would be no welcoming Middle Eastern refuge (Egypt has millions of its own Coptic Christians, but is not going to welcome a mass immigration of foreign Christian refugees). The only solution for these Syrian minorities would be exile from the region -- to France or the US, Australia or Canada.

The West might like to see the Ba'ath regime crushed as thoroughly as its counterpart in Iraq, but as on that earlier occasion, the religious consequences of intervention could be horrible. Before planning to intervene in Syria, Western nations had better start printing several million immigration visas to hand out to refugees seeking political asylum, and demanding protection from religious persecution.

Philip Jenkins teaches at Penn State University.

Interview- David Freddoso Discusses His New Book: "Gangster Government: Barack Obama and the New Washington Thugocracy"

Monday, April 11, 2011

Big government on the brink

By Robert J. Samuelson
The Washington Post
April 11, 2011

We in America have created suicidal government; the threatened federal shutdown and stubborn budget deficits are but symptoms. By suicidal, I mean that government has promised more than it can realistically deliver and, as a result, repeatedly disappoints by providing less than people expect or jeopardizing what they already have. But government can’t easily correct its excesses, because Americans depend on it for so much that any effort to change the status arouses a firestorm of opposition that virtually ensures defeat. Government’s very expansion has brought it into disrepute, paralyzed politics and impeded it from acting in the national interest.

Few Americans realize the extent of their dependency. The Census Bureau reports that in 2009 almost half (46.2 percent) of the 300 million Americans received at least one federal benefit: 46.5 million, Social Security; 42.6 million, Medicare; 42.4 million, Medicaid; 36.1 million, food stamps; 3.2 million, veterans’ benefits; 12.4 million, housing subsidies. The census list doesn’t include tax breaks. Counting those, perhaps three-quarters or more of Americans receive some sizable government benefit. For example, about 22 percent of taxpayers benefit from the home mortgage interest deduction and 43 percent from the preferential treatment of employer-provided health insurance, says the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.

“Once politics was about only a few things; today, it is about nearly everything,” writes the eminent political scientist James Q. Wilson in a recent collection of essays (“American Politics, Then and Now”). The concept of “vital national interest” is stretched. We deploy government casually to satisfy any mass desire, correct any perceived social shortcoming or remedy any market deficiency. What has abetted this political sprawl, notes Wilson, is the rising influence of “action intellectuals” — professors, pundits, “experts” — who provide respectable rationales for various political agendas.

The consequence is political overload: The system can no longer make choices, especially unpleasant choices, for the good of the nation as a whole. Public opinion is hopelessly muddled. Polls by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago consistently show Americans want more spending for education (74 percent), health care (60 percent), Social Security (57 percent) and, indeed, almost everything. By the same polls, between half and two-thirds of Americans regularly feel their taxes are too high; in 2010, a paltry 2 percent thought them too low. Big budget deficits follow logically; but of course, most Americans want those trimmed, too.

The trouble is that, despite superficial support for “deficit reduction” or “tax reform,” few Americans would surrender their own benefits, subsidies and tax breaks — a precondition for success. As a practical matter, most federal programs and tax breaks fall into one of two categories, each resistant to change.

The first includes big items (Social Security, the mortgage interest deduction) whose benefits are so large that any hint of cuts prompts massive opposition — or its specter. Practical politicians retreat. The second encompasses smaller programs (Amtrak, ethanol subsidies) that, though having a tiny budget effect, inspire fanatical devotion from their supporters. Just recently, for example, the documentary filmmaker Ken Burns defended culture subsidies (“an infinitesimally small fraction of the deficit”) in The Post. Politicians retreat; meager budget gains aren’t worth the disproportionate public vilification.

Well, if you can’t change big programs or small programs, what can you do? Not much.

If deficits were temporary — they were certainly justified to temper the recession — or small, they would be less worrisome. That was true for many years. No more. An aging population and uncontrolled health costs now create an ongoing and massive mismatch between spending and revenue, even at “full employment.” The great threat is a future debt crisis, with investors balking at buying all the Treasury bonds the government requires to operate. So President Obama and Congress face a dilemma: The more they seek to defuse the economic problem of too much debt, the greater the political risks they assume by cutting spending or raising taxes.

The package to prevent a shutdown barely touches the prevailing stalemate. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s proposed 2012 budget forthrightly addresses health spending but doesn’t make any cuts in Social Security. Ryan’s plan would ultimately gut defense and some valuable domestic programs; it wouldn’t reach balance until about 2040. Compared with Democrats, however, Ryan is a model of intellectual rigor and political courage. Obama would run huge deficits from now to eternity; the Congressional Budget Office has projected about $12 trillion of added debt from 2010 to 2021 under his policies. Obama urges an “adult” conversation and acts like a child, denying the unappealing choices.

Government is suicidal because it breeds expectations that cannot be met. All the partisan skirmishing over who gets credit for averting a shutdown misses the larger issue: whether we can restore government as an instrument of progress or whether it remains — as it is now — a threat.

Film Reviews: 'Taxi Driver'

At 35, 'Taxi Driver' Enters Digital Age

The Wall Street Journal
March 16, 2011

Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro

"There's always an element of serendipity when something works," the director and screenwriter Paul Schrader said recently. Mr. Schrader was speaking about "Taxi Driver," the 1976 film he wrote and Martin Scorsese directed with Robert De Niro in the title role. Thirty-five years after their collaboration had its debut, claimed the Palme d'Or at Cannes, redefined New York City on the screen and began working its way deep into the American cultural psyche, "Taxi Driver" has been digitally restored by Sony Pictures. A new print of "Taxi Driver" will begin showing for two weeks at Film Forum on Friday in advance of a blu-ray release later this year.

"I wrote the script in six days," Mr. Schrader said of the film's gestation. Creating "Taxi Driver," he explained, was as much therapy as expression: "I was in a particular rough patch and I felt this character becoming me. I was afraid of him. I wrote it so that I could get rid of him—get him outside of me and look at him and exorcise myself of him."

When the result went before the cameras in July of 1975, Mr. Schrader said his personal connection to Travis Bickle and the blurred moral landscape of mid-'70s New York City were echoed and reinforced by Mr. Scorsese and by Mr. De Niro. "It plugged into our lives at just the right time." Mr. Schrader said. "I think Bob and Marty and I all knew this guy."

Cinematographer Michael Chapman credits a mutual familiarity with New York itself for the film's hallucinatory, detailed vision of the city. "All of us who were deeply involved in making [the film] lived in New York," Mr. Chapman said. "All of us had strong feelings and a view of New York."

Mr. Chapman allowed that the film's modest budget forced creatively auspicious practical compromises during principal photography. "It's something that happens over and over again," he said. "The physical situation and the technology determines the aesthetics. We were a low-budget movie so we couldn't do a lot of the things people would do in those days." Rather than secure Travis Bickle's Checker cab on a trailer and use costly lighting rigs to illuminate passing building fronts, Mr. Chapman said he and the production team "let the city light itself. Because of that it looks, I think, as ominous and realistic as it does. We didn't have the time or the money to do anything else."

When the Motion Picture Association of America threatened to give the finished product an X rating for violence, the production team's facility for ingenious compromise was further tested. Having labored to realize Travis Bickle's climactic one-man, multi-weapon assault with the same detailed realism as the rest of the film, Mr. Scorsese chose to subtly distance the movie's audience from Travis's actions by re-rendering the sequence in a less representational light.

"I used the phrase 'toned the color down,'" Mr. Scorsese told an audience attending the "Taxi Driver" restoration unveiling at the DGA Theater last week.

Citing experiments in altering color film tones undertaken by director John Huston and cinematographer Oswald Morris in 1956's "Moby Dick" and 1967's "Reflections in a Golden Eye," Mr. Scorsese had the section of edited film negative depicting the attack reprinted to radically shift the scene's color values. The alteration was undertaken at Manhattan's TVC labs, a behind-the-scenes city location that, like so many onscreen in the film, has vanished in the intervening 35 years. So has the original piece of negative, and with it the ability to return the sequence to its prior appearance.

"There's this impression from some people that we can easily go back and restore the original color that generated the controversy," said Grover Crisp, Sony's senior vice president of asset management, restoration and digital mastering, who, under the supervision of Messrs. Scorsese and Chapman, oversaw the digital restoration of the film. "Technically it's not possible to do that." According to Mr. Crisp, technicians previously shepherding the film's image from celluloid to video for prior DVD editions have inadvisedly attempted to put color back into the sequence without either Mr. Scorsese or Mr. Chapman's input. "All they could do is to kind of digitally mess with the print, which is not a good thing to do," Mr. Chapman said.

At the DGA Theater, Mr. Scorsese explained that he remains pleased with the result of the compromise. "I liked it a lot," the director said, "it gave [the film] more of a tabloid feel." Recalling a city that so unalterably transformed since "Taxi Driver" had its premiere at the Beekman Theater in 1976, Mr. Scorsese smiled, shrugged and told the crowd at the 2011 premiere: "The whole picture should've looked that way."

35 Years Later, Taxi Driver Still Stuns

By J. Hoberman
The Village Voice
March 16, 2011

1976, New York — Robert De Niro, as Travis Bickle, and director Martin Scorsese, on the set of Taxi Driver. The two had previously collaborated in the 1973 film, Mean Streets. It’s hard to believe that Scorsese originally offered the role of Travis Bickle to Dustin Hoffman, who turned it down. Hoffman recalls, “I remember meeting Martin Scorsese. He had no script and I didn’t even know who he was. I hadn’t seen any of his films and he talked a mile a minute telling me what the movie would be about. I was thinking, ‘What is he talking about?’ I thought the guy was crazy! The film was Taxi Driver.”

Some motion pictures produce the uncanny sensation of returning the spectator’s gaze. Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver—a movie in which the most celebrated line asks the audience, “Are you talkin’ to me?”—is one such film. It came, it saw, it zapped the body politic right between the eyes.

Celebrating its 35th anniversary with a newly restored print and a two-week Film Forum run, Taxi Driver was a powerfully summarizing work. It synthesized noir, neorealist, and New Wave stylistics; it assimilated Hollywood’s recent vigilante cycle, drafting then-déclassé blaxploitation in the service of a presumed tell-it-like-it-is naturalism that, predicated on a frank, unrelenting representation of racism, violence, and misogyny, was even more racist, violent, and misogynist than it allowed.

The 12th top-grossing movie of 1976, Taxi Driver was not just a hit but, like Psycho or Bonnie and Clyde, an event in American popular culture—perhaps even an intervention. Inspired by one failed political assassination (the 1972 shooting of presidential hopeful George Wallace), it inadvertently motivated another (the 1981 attempt on President Ronald Reagan). The movie further established its 33-year-old director as both Hollywood’s designated artist and, after Taxi Driver was awarded the Palme d’Or at Cannes, an international sensation—the decisive influence on neo–New Wave filmmakers as varied as Spike Lee, Wong Kar-wai, and Quentin Tarantino.

Scorsese didn’t direct Taxi Driver so much as orchestrate its elements. Lasting nearly 20 minutes and fueled by Bernard Herrmann’s rhapsodic score, the de facto overture is a densely edited salmagundi of effects—slow motion, fragmenting close-ups, voluptuous camera moves, and trick camera placement—that may be the showiest pure filmmaking in any Hollywood movie since Touch of Evil. Certainly no American since Welles had so confidently presented himself as a star director. And yet Taxi Driver was essentially collaborative. It was the most cinephilic movie ever made in Hollywood, openly acknowledging Bresson, Hitchcock, Godard, avant-gardists Michael Snow and Kenneth Anger, and the John Ford of The Searchers. Moreover, the movie’s antihero, Travis Bickle—a homicidal combination of Dirty Harry and Norman Bates who describes himself as God’s Lonely Man—sprang from the brain of former film critic Paul Schrader and, as embodied for all eternity by the young Robert De Niro, all but instantly became a classic character in the American narrative alongside Huck Finn and Holden Caulfield.

Citizen of a sodden Sodom where the steamy streets are always wet with tears, among other bodily fluids, Bickle embarks each evening on a glistening sea of sleaze. Seen through his rain-smeared windshield, Manhattan becomes a movie—call it “Malignopolis”—in which, as noted by Amy Taubin in her terrific Taxi Driver monograph, “the entire cast of Superfly seems to have been assembled in Times Square” to feed Travis’s fantasies. The cab driver lives by night in a world of myth, populated by a host of supporting archetypes: the astonishing Jodie Foster as Iris, the 12-year-old hooker living the life in the rat’s-ass end of the ’60s, yet dreaming of a commune in Vermont; Harvey Keitel as her affably nauseating pimp; Peter Boyle’s witless cabbie sage; and Cybill Shepherd’s bratty golden girl, a suitably petit-bourgeois Daisy Buchanan to Travis’s lumpen Gatsby.

Brilliant and yet repellent, at times even hateful, Taxi Driver inspired understandable ambivalence. (At Cannes, the announcement that it had won the Palme d’Or was greeted with boos.) How could reviewers not be wary? Taxi Driver is nakedly opposed even to itself, as well as the culture that produced it. For Travis, all movies are essentially pornographic; had he met his creators, he would surely, as observed by Marshall Berman in his history of Times Square, consider them purveyors of “scum and filth.” It’s the slow deliberation with which this lunatic kicks over his TV and terminates his connection to social reality that signals his madness—and the filmmaker’s.

Like Werner Herzog’s Aguirre or Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, Taxi Driver is auteurist psychodrama. Not for nothing did Scorsese give himself a cameo playing a character even wiggier than Travis. Who can possibly imagine the internal fortitude or psychic cost this movie required or exacted? Certainly no one connected with Taxi Driver ever again reached such heights (or plumbed such depths), although Albert Brooks became a significant filmmaker in his own right, while Scorsese and De Niro would come close with Raging Bull and The King of Comedy—two movies that equal or surpass Taxi Driver in every way except as the embodiment of the historical spirit.

Recalling his youth, Baudelaire wrote of simultaneously experiencing the horror and the ecstasy of existence. So it is with Taxi Driver . The pagan debauchery the child Scorsese saw in Quo Vadis is played out in the Manhattan of 1975 A.D. Hysterical yet sublime, the movie crystallizes one of the worst moments in New York’s history—the city as America’s pariah, a crime-ridden, fiscally profligate, graffiti-festooned moral cesspool. Scorsese ups the ante by returning endlessly to his boyhood movie realm of 42nd Street, which, in the mid-’70s, was a lurid land of triple-X-rated cinema, skeevy massage parlors, cruising pimp mobiles, sidewalks crammed with hot-pants hookers, and the customers who on any given weekday evening, according to NYPD stats, were patronizing porn-shops at the rate of 8,000 per hour.

It was while Taxi Driver was in post-production that the Daily News ran the headline “FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD.” The movie is Scorsese’s hometown farewell (a love letter quite different from Woody Allen’s). Like Nero, he torches the joint and picks up his lyre. Taxi Driver is a vision of a world that already knows it is lost. A third of a century later, the Checker cabs are gone, as are the taxi garages at the end of 57th Street and the all-night Belmore cafeteria. Times Square has been sanitized, the pestilent combat zone at Third Avenue and 13th Street where Iris peddles her underage charms has long since been gentrified. New York is no longer the planet’s designated Hell on Earth. (Six years after Taxi Driver , Blade Runner would dramatize a new urban space.)

No nostalgia, though: In other aspects, the world of Taxi Driver is recognizably ours. Libidinal politics, celebrity worship, sexual exploitation, the fetishization of guns and violence, racial stereotyping, the fear of foreigners—not to mention the promise of apocalyptic religion—all remain. Taxi Driver lives. See it again. And try to have a nice day.

Passion Still Drives Scorsese Masterwork

by Josh Boone
The Virginian-Pilot
April 8, 2011


Blu-ray widescreen, 1976, R for violence and language

Best extra: A new high-def documentary “Influence and Appreciation: A Martin Scorsese Tribute,” features interviews with Oliver Stone, Robert De Niro, Roger Corman and others

“MEAN STREETS” MAY have garnered critical acclaim, but it was “Taxi Driver,” Martin Scorsese’s seething, volatile, follow-up, that scorched the American psyche. Writer Paul Schrader’s disturbing look at the mental breakdown of a NYC taxi driver that culminates in an assassination attempt and a whorehouse bloodbath, still retains its visceral power.

“Taxi Driver’ is a vigilante picture,” Oliver Stone says in the new, high-definition documentary, “Influence and Appreciation: A Martin Scorsese Tribute.” Stone had just returned from Vietnam to be mentored by Martin Scorsese, his teacher at New York University. “Marty had hair down to his shoulders,” he says “He struck me right away as a lunatic, in the sense that his energy was ferocious, and he loved, loved film.”

That unsettling, searing passion comes full circle – 35-years later – as “Taxi Driver” now receives a breathtaking, 4K restoration (double the quality of Blu-ray) that looks and sounds absolutely great on Blu-ray and easily one of the most impressive releases since the format’s inception. Consider this an early contender for Blu-ray of the year.

There are several hours of newly made and carry-over bonus features. Big treats are three audio commentaries, including the 1986 Criterion Collection track from the laser disc which features Scorsese and Schrader.

New featurettes include “Taxi Driver Stories” with interviews from real cabbies who worked the Big Apple in the ‘70s. “God's Lonely Man” has Schrader on board to discuss writing the screenplay and its origins. Producer Michael Phillips explains his involvement in “Producing Taxi Driver,” while the previously mentioned “Influence and Appreciation” showcases Scorsese through his colleagues and other filmmakers. All of the 2007 DVD extras have been carried over as well, including a feature-length making-of documentary from the previous DVD.

Many interesting behind-scenes tidbits can be gleaned from the wealth of bonus material. The shoot itself took place during a heat wave and garbage strike, and underage Jodie Foster had to undergo psychological testing to prove that she wouldn’t be psychologically damaged by her part (she would be nominated for an Academy Award). We also learn that De Niro got a cabbie license in preparation for his role and spent some time driving around the city picking up fares. He also wore Schrader’s boots and jacket and listened to taped readings of Arthur Bremer’s diaries at Schrader’s request. Bremer shot presidential candidate George Wallace in ‘72, leaving him paralyzed; he was in prison for 35 years for the crime. “Taxi Driver’s” initial X-rating is also discussed, detailing how Scorsese was forced to desaturate the color of the blood in the finale.

“Taxi Driver” was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and won the Palm d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Sidney Lumet: 1924 - 2011

A Director of Classics, Focused on Conscience

The New York Times
April 9, 2011

Sidney Lumet with Al Pacino on the set of "Dog Day Afternoon", which opened in 1975. (Photo: Warner Bros./Photofest)

Sidney Lumet, a director who preferred the streets of New York to the back lots of Hollywood and whose stories of conscience — “12 Angry Men,” “Serpico,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” “The Verdict,” “Network” — became modern American film classics, died Saturday morning at his home in Manhattan. He was 86.

His stepdaughter, Leslie Gimbel, said the cause was lymphoma.

“While the goal of all movies is to entertain,” Mr. Lumet once wrote, “the kind of film in which I believe goes one step further. It compels the spectator to examine one facet or another of his own conscience. It stimulates thought and sets the mental juices flowing.”

Social issues set his own mental juices flowing, and his best films not only probed the consequences of prejudice, corruption and betrayal, but also celebrated individual acts of courage.

In his first film, “12 Angry Men” (1957), he took his cameras into a jury room where the pressure mounted as one tenacious and courageous juror, played by Henry Fonda, slowly convinced the others that the defendant on trial for murder was, in fact, innocent. (Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor of the United States Supreme Court said the film had an important influence on her law career.)

Almost two decades later, Mr. Lumet’s moral sense remained acute when he ventured into satire with “Network” (1976), perhaps his most acclaimed film. Based on Paddy Chayefsky’s biting script, the film portrays a television anchorman who briefly resuscitates his fading career by launching on-air tirades against what he perceives as the hypocrisies of American society.

The film starred William Holden, Faye Dunaway and Peter Finch as the commentator turned attack dog whose proclamation to the world at large — “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” — became part of the American vernacular.

“Network” was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including best film and best director, and won four: best actor (Mr. Finch), best actress (Ms. Dunaway), best original screenplay (Mr. Chayefsky) and best supporting actress (Beatrice Straight).

Honorary Oscar

Yet for all the critical success of his films and despite the more than 40 Academy Award nominations they drew, Mr. Lumet (pronounced loo-MET) never won an Oscar for directing, though he was nominated four times. (The other nominations were for “12 Angry Men,” “Dog Day Afternoon” and “The Verdict.”)

Only in 2005 did the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences present him with an honorary Academy Award. Manohla Dargis, writing in The New York Times, called it a “consolation prize for a lifetime of neglect.”

In 2007, in an interview that was videotaped to accompany this obituary online, Mr. Lumet was asked how it felt to receive an Academy Award at long last. He replied, “I wanted one, damn it, and I felt I deserved one.”

That he was more a creature of New York than of Hollywood may have had something to do with his Oscar night disappointments. For Mr. Lumet, location mattered deeply, and New York mattered most of all. He was the quintessential New York director.

“Locations are characters in my movies,” he wrote. “The city is capable of portraying the mood a scene requires.”

He explored New York early on in “The Pawnbroker” (1964), the story of a Holocaust survivor, played by Rod Steiger, numbed and hardened against humanity by the horrors he has endured, who deals with racketeers in his Harlem pawnshop until his conscience is reawakened by a vicious crime on his doorstep.


The city loomed large in Mr. Lumet’s several examinations of the criminal justice system. Police corruption particularly fascinated him, beginning with “Serpico” (1973). The film, based on a book by Peter Maas, was drawn from a real-life drama involving two New York City police officers, David Durk and Frank Serpico, who told David Burnham, a reporter for The New York Times, that they had ample evidence of police graft and corruption.

Publication of their story led to the mayoral appointment of a commission to investigate the charges and ultimately to major reforms. Both the book and the film concentrated on Detective Serpico, played by Al Pacino, and his efforts to change the system. Mr. Pacino’s performance brought him an Oscar nomination.

Mr. Lumet returned to the theme in 1981 with “Prince of the City,” for which he shared screenwriting credit with Jay Presson Allen. Based on the book by Robert Daley, the film dealt with an ambitious detective, portrayed by Treat Williams, who goes undercover to gather evidence for an investigative commission and who winds up alienated and alone after being manipulated into destroying the lives and careers of many of those around him.

Mr. Lumet focused on criminals, rather than the police, in “Dog Day Afternoon” (1975), telling the story (again, based on fact) of a botched attempt to rob a Brooklyn bank. Mr. Pacino again starred, this time as Sonny, the leader of an amateurish gang of bank robbers whose plans go awry and who winds up taking hostages and demanding jet transport to a foreign country. It turns out that Sonny, although he has a wife at home, had planned the robbery to pay for his boyfriend’s sex-change operation. In 2009, the film was added to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

New York, or at least a fantasy version of it, was even the backdrop for Mr. Lumet’s most uncharacteristic film, “The Wiz,” his 1978 musical version of the “The Wizard of Oz” starring Michael Jackson and Diana Ross. Roundly panned, it was also a box-office failure.

By the time he finished shooting “Night Falls on Manhattan” in 1996, Mr. Lumet had made 38 films, 29 of them on location in New York City. That film, written by Mr. Lumet and based on another Daley novel, “Tainted Evidence,” once again looked at the justice system as it moved from a shootout with drug dealers into a revealing courtroom trial.

The courthouse was one of Mr. Lumet’s favorite arenas for drama, beginning with “12 Angry Men.” He returned to it again in “The Verdict” (1982), with a screenplay by David Mamet and a cast led by Paul Newman as a down-at-the-heels lawyer who redeems himself and his career when he represents a malpractice victim in a legal battle with a hospital.

But Mr. Lumet’s concerns could also range more broadly, to issues of national survival itself. One of the most sobering films of the cold war era was his 1964 adaptation of Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler’s novel, “Fail-Safe,” a taut examination of the threat of accidental nuclear war, with Henry Fonda as the president of the United States and a young Larry Hagman as his Russian-speaking interpreter. The film concluded with a harrowing suggestion of an atomic blast on American soil, rendered as a series of glimpses of ordinary life — children playing, pigeons taking wing — simply stopping. The scenes were from the streets of New York.

Sidney Lumet was born on June 25, 1924, in Philadelphia to Baruch Lumet and Eugenia Wermus, both actors in Yiddish theater. His father was born in Poland and moved his family to New York when Sidney was a baby and joined the Yiddish Art Theater. By the time he was 4, Sidney was appearing onstage with his father, and he went on to make his Broadway debut in 1935 as a street kid in Sidney Kingsley’s “Dead End.” He appeared in several more Broadway shows, including Maxwell Anderson’s “Journey to Jerusalem” in 1940, in which he played the young Jesus.

After wartime service as a radar technician in the Far East, Mr. Lumet returned to New York and started directing Off Broadway and in summer stock. His big break came in 1950, when he was hired by CBS and became a director on the television suspense series “Danger.” Other shows followed, including the history series “You Are There.”

His career soared in 1953, when he began directing original plays for dramatic series on CBS and NBC, including “Studio One,” “Playhouse 90” and “Kraft Television Theater,” eventually adding some 200 productions to his credits. He returned to the theater to direct Albert Camus’s “Caligula,” with Kenneth Haigh as the Roman emperor, and George Bernard Shaw’s “Man and Superman,” among other plays.

Among the highlights of Mr. Lumet’s television years were a full-length production of Eugene O’Neill’s play “The Iceman Cometh,” with Jason Robards as the salesman Hickey, and “12 Angry Men,” which he directed for television before turning it into his first film.

Some of Mr. Lumet’s early films had their origin in the theater. He directed Anna Magnani and Marlon Brando in “The Fugitive Kind” (1960), an adaptation of Tennessee Williams’s play “Orpheus Descending”; he traveled abroad to film part of Arthur Miller’s “View From the Bridge” (1962) in Paris, with Raf Vallone, Maureen Stapleton and Carol Lawrence, completing the film on the Brooklyn waterfront; and he returned to the world of O’Neill to film “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” (1962), with Katharine Hepburn and Ralph Richardson as the tormented Tyrones. His 1968 adaptation of Chekhov’s “Sea Gull,” however, was generally deemed uneven despite a stellar cast that included James Mason, Simone Signoret and Vanessa Redgrave.

A trainload of stars turned out for Mr. Lumet’s 1974 adaptation of Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express,” a project that took him abroad again, this time to Britain, France and Turkey, to film the famous whodunit in which the detective Hercule Poirot (Albert Finney) must single out a murderer from a crowd of suspects that included Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery and John Gielgud.

There was a run of less-than-successful films, including “Running on Empty” (1988), with Judd Hirsch and Christine Lahti as ’60s radicals still in hiding from the F.B.I. 20 years after participating in a bombing; the police drama “Q & A” (1990), with a screenplay by Mr. Lumet, about a racist New York detective (played by Nick Nolte); and “Critical Care” (1997), a satiric jab at the American health care system.

Return to Television

In 1995, Mr. Lumet published a well-received memoir, “Making Movies,” in which he summed up his view of directorial style: “Good style, to me, is unseen style. It is style that is felt.”

He returned to television in 2001 as executive producer, principal director and one of the writers of a new courtroom drama for cable television, “100 Centre Street” (the title was the address of the Criminal Court Building in Lower Manhattan). The series, which ran for two seasons on A&E, had an ensemble cast, with Alan Arkin as an all-too-forgiving judge known as Let-’Em-Go Joe.

The director seemed immune to advancing age. Before long, he was behind the camera again. “Find Me Guilty” (2006), which starred Vin Diesel, was a freewheeling account of the events surrounding the federal prosecution of a notorious New Jersey crime family.

And he marked his 83rd year with the 2007 release of his last feature film, “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” the bleakly riveting story of two brothers (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke) propelled by greed into a relentless cycle of mayhem. The film drew raves.

Mr. Lumet’s first three marriages — to the actress Rita Gam, Gloria Vanderbilt and Gail Jones, the daughter of Lena Horne — ended in divorce. He married Mary Gimbel in 1980. She survives him. Besides his stepdaughter, Ms. Gimbel, he is also survived by two daughters he had with Ms. Jones, Amy Lumet and Jenny Lumet, a screenwriter; a stepson, Bailey Gimbel; nine grandchildren and a great-grandson. Mr. Lumet also had a home in East Hampton, on Long Island.

Ms. Dargis called Mr. Lumet “one of the last of the great movie moralists” and “a leading purveyor of the social-issue movie.” Yet Mr. Lumet said he was never a crusader for social change. “I don’t think art changes anything,” he said in The Times interview. So why make movies? he was asked.

“I do it because I like it,” he replied, “and it’s a wonderful way to spend your life.”

Lumet was drawn to the messy business of simply being human

Whatever pushed Sidney Lumet in that direction, we are forever richer that he was fascinated by moral ambiguity.

By Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times Film Critic
April 11, 2011

Somehow it has always felt right to me that Sidney Lumet's first film was 1957's "12 Angry Men," with all the elements that Lumet loved best. It was a dialogue-driven set piece by writer Reginald Rose that was perfect for a director who loved words. There was its powerful ensemble of actors, with Henry Fonda's lone dissenting juror facing off against Lee J. Cobb's rage. An unseen defendant's life hinged on a moral dilemma, with the jurors' debate an examination of social class and cultural perceptions as much as one man's guilt or innocence.

Lumet was 33 at the time, already seasoned by life in the theater, where he was raised, and television, where he cut his teeth behind the camera. The film would earn the first of five Oscar nominations. A win would elude him for a lifetime, though I'm sure the lifetime achievement award from the Academy in 2005 softened the blow.

But it was the anger, and all that created it, that became the thread running through the best of Lumet's work. In his prime there was Al Pacino as the cop fighting corruption in "Serpico" in 1973; Pacino again in 1975's "Dog Day Afternoon," a cornered lover in a robbery gone bad; Peter Finch destroyed by depression, both his and the country's, in 1976's "Network"; Treat Williams, a cop forced to do the right thing in '81's "Prince of the City"; all the way through to Lumet's final film, the under-appreciated "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead," another robbery gone wrong with Philip Seymour Hoffman in 2007. Lumet was 83 then, still not tired of making movies.

I knew all along there was more to his passion than all those angry men. It was the messy business of simply being human that the filmmaker found so compelling. Whatever the forces that pushed him in that direction, we are forever richer that he was drawn to moral ambiguity, and the high price exacted by integrity and corruption alike.

His were grown-up stories, most often New York stories, of adults caught up in fundamental conflicts of the kind that have mostly left cinema for television these days. His New York was more Lower East Side seamy, where he grew up, than the Upper West Side that his success would allow him to buy into. Would a young Lumet and his fascination with our baser nature find a home in Hollywood now? I doubt it.

He was less a stylist in the way of a Scorsese or a De Palma, than a populist, and he was extraordinarily prescient. "Network," to my mind his best film, his greatest legacy, was certainly that. Written by the great Paddy Chayefsky, it envisioned a broadcast world that fed off life, literally. In this case the uncensored telecast of a man going mad in prime time, a ratings hit. In 1976, it seemed some bizarre Orwellian fantasy — the adrenaline rush of a culture craving reality, a society just waiting for someone to be the voice of discontent. Today it saturates the airwaves.

Peter Finch as the deconstructing TV host, Howard Beale, became an iconic figure, as did his chant: "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore." It still plays on YouTube 35 years later. Just as important to the story though, and as culturally defining, was the network producer played by Faye Dunaway, the role that would win her an Oscar, walking away in triumph, knowing, as she said, that with Beale's madness "we hit the mother lode."

Lumet was fascinated by the broadcast media — its obsession with real people and our obsession with it. That circus surrounds and drives "Dog Day Afternoon," so much so that it's easy to forget that Al Pacino plays a bisexual man trying to pull off a bank heist to pay for his lover's sex-change operation. It would win an Oscar for writer Frank Pierson, and earn Lumet another nomination. What the film would also do was tackle America's discomfort with homosexuality years before most of his contemporaries would get close to the subject.

Linchpin moments, when decisions must be made in difficult circumstances, infused most of his work. It made for films that were, by nature, talky. But he brought a brisk economy to his films; he was a maestro of one or two takes years before Clint Eastwood would turn it into a respected specialty. Dunaway once told me that Lumet worked so fast it was as if he were on roller skates. A racing pulse generated by a big heart.

He made more than 40 films and was prolific on TV as well. Not all the films were great. Maybe the quantity hurt the quality, but I suspect it was a restlessness of spirit that drove him to take the best of what he was given.

One of my favorites is 1988's "Running on Empty," a small ensemble drama that garnered little attention. Written by Naomi Foner (better known these days as mother to Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal), it's a story of '60s political radicals, played by Christine Lahti and Judd Hirsch, who have raised a family despite spending a lifetime on the run. Beyond the politics, it is a story of mothers and fathers and children and convictions — when to hold on, when to let go. A complex story, filled with simple truths, flawed people, heartbreak, but most of all love.

That was Lumet — intensely in love with humanity, forgiving of its flaws. Never running on empty.
Copyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Dylan's Beijing Bob

What happens when the world's greatest protest singer performs in the world's largest no-protest zone?.

The Wall Street Journal
April 7, 2011

Bob Dylan does Beijing (Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

The times, he sang long ago, are a-changing. Yet when the world's greatest protest singer steps on stage in the world's biggest no-protest zone, the astonishing thing is that even after half a century, little has changed. The media assail the performer for not raising more of a ruckus, fans cheer songs few really understand, and purists complain about the sound system and ticket prices.

It's almost 50 years to the day since he played his first big show in the Big Apple—as a teenage folkie opening for John Lee Hooker—and Bob Dylan is making his debut on perhaps the last remaining big stage, China. Wearing a spiffy Panama hat, the dapper Mr. Dylan runs through a tight two-hour set that features his always-bewildering mix of lesser-known tracks sprinkled with landmarks like "All Along the Watchtower," "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" and "Like a Rolling Stone."

Long before his April 6 gig in Beijing, the international media was speculating whether he would buck the censors. The government has unleashed a tsunami of censorship that has seen the Internet disrupted and dissidents rounded up. On Sunday, Ai Weiwei, China's most famous artist and a belligerent critic of Beijing, was arrested.

So will the man who crafted such classics as "Blowing in the Wind" and "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall" dare criticize China's abysmal human rights record? After all, exactly a year ago, Mr. Dylan's China debut was abruptly cancelled. The word on the street was that the authorities rejected some anti-establishment songs on the set-list.

However, fans who paid stiff ticket prices that topped out at more than $200 are uninterested in the manufactured controversy. They seem uniformly pleased with what Dylan veterans call a consistently entertaining performance by a star known for erratic shows.

"I really like folk music, and early rock," says Tian Zizhang, 21, a university student shopping for resale tickets outside the Worker's Gymnasium with two of her young friends. They snap up three passes for $85 each. "It's a rare chance," she explains.

The crowd is a mixture of young Chinese and middle-aged expats old enough to remember the heyday of America's most iconic singer of the 1960s and 1970s. Dylan discs, while widely available in China, have never been officially released, and many questioned his appeal to a market focused more on club mixes and a range of midstream acts from Air Supply to Madonna.

Yet Mr. Dylan does have a cult following among local musicians. "He's been a huge influence on creative talents in China," says Michael Pettis, an emerging markets expert who teaches finance in Beijing and runs a music label and the punk club D-22 on the side.

Zhou Yunpeng, one of China's biggest folk singers, first heard Mr. Dylan in the early 1990s, while still at college. "I couldn't understand English, so I didn't know what the lyrics meant, but I was immediately attracted to his music," he recalls. "This is most definitely a big deal," he says of Mr. Dylan's shows (also in Shanghai April 8 and Hong Kong April 12-13). "It's second only to the Olympics in importance."

Outside the stadium, one of China's most influential rockers from the 1990s, Zhang Chu, is walking by wearing a floppy hat. "I've been listening to Bob Dylan since about 1988," he volunteers. "His influence is his words. It's great to finally see him.

"Chinese music is becoming more and more about spirit, so more like Dylan music," he adds. "The most important thing tonight was to realize that he still has that essence of the artist. You have to keep true to yourself as an artist."

But for most Chinese, Bob Dylan remains a mystery, so it's unlikely that any pointed remark about the Chinese government would resonate. Near the stadium entrance, a vendor slowly grilling sticks of chicken, squid and lamb can only remember the performer has a B in his name. A guard at the gate knows it is "Baobo Dilun." "But he's not really a big star," he confides. "He's not famous at all."

In great voice, Mr. Dylan plays a spirited 90-minute set without pause or comment, switching from keyboard to guitar, even blowing a bit of his harmonica with astonishing energy for a man who turns 70 next month. He introduces his crack five-piece band, and plays another 30 minutes of crowd-rousing encores: "Like A Rolling Stone," "All Along the Watchtower," and "Forever Young." And then the icon is gone.

Reporters slink off to file headlines like: "Dylan bows to China censors," while fans buzz about seldom-heard material like "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'," "Love Sick," and "Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking," from "Slow Train Coming." Released in 1979 around the time of Mr. Dylan's conversion to Christianity, the lyrics carry just a hint of the old rebelliousness, for any in Beijing who are listening carefully: "I'm gonna change my way of thinking, make myself a different set of rules. Gonna put my best foot forward, stop bein' influenced by fools."

Mr. Gluckman is a Beijing-based writer. Michele Scrimenti contributed to this article.

Dylan works around China’s bosses?

by Terry Mattingly
April 7, 2011

Bob Dylan performs with his band at The Workers' Gymnasium in Beijing. (Liu Jin, AFP/Getty Images)

Is there anyone in American popular culture who intrigues and frustrates journalists of a certain age — the Baby Boomer elites — than Bob Dylan? The man is a walking history book, when you combine the landmark events in his life with the confusing but gripping map that is his canon of songwriting.

That’s why it is big news when agrees to take his road tour that never ends to Beijing, where the Communist authorities insisted that he play by their rules when picking songs for his set list. Now there’s a tug of war could have been an amazing subject for musical, cultural, political and, yes, theological commentary, in large part since this man’s songs many-layered songs are packed with subtle themes as well as baseball-bat-to-the-head commentary.

This is what the Washington Post served up at the top of its report from the front lines:[1]

BEIJING — Rock music icon Bob Dylan avoided controversy on Wednesday in his first-ever appearance in Communist-led China, eschewing the 1960s protest anthems that defined a generation and sticking to a song list that government censors say they preapproved, before a crowd of about 5,000 people in a Soviet-era stadium.

Keeping with his custom, Dylan never spoke to the crowd other than to introduce his five-member band in his raspy voice. And his set list — which mixed some of his newer songs alongside classics made unrecognizable by altered tempos — was devoid of any numbers that might carry even the whiff of anti-government overtones.

In Taiwan on Sunday, opening this spring Asian tour, Dylan played “Desolation Row” as the eighth song in his set and ended with an encore performance of “Blowin’ in the Wind,” whose lyrics became synonymous with the antiwar and civil rights protest movements. But in China, where the censors from the government's Culture Ministry carefully vet every line of a song before determining whether a foreign act can play here, those two songs disappeared from the repertoire. In Beijing, Dylan sang “Love Sick” in the place of “Desolation Row,” and he ended his nearly two-hour set with the innocent-sounding “Forever Young.”

There was no “Times They Are a-Changin’ ” in China. And definitely no “Chimes of Freedom.”

OK, let me confess that I am a minor-league Dylan fan. I’m not a fanatic who named his children after the guy, but I have been paying close attention for several decades. Anyway, the first question that popped into my head after reading the top of this story was, methinks, rather logical: So what was the opening song of this rather symbolic show? I mean, Dylan has a history of sending signals with the first words out of his mouth (think about that HBO special with Tom Petty years ago, when Dylan opened with “In the Garden”).

I mean, I assume that the Post reporter was there, right?

Luckily, there are websites out there that sweat the details on this type of question. The following set list looks short, for a Dylan show, but the opening number seems like a logical choice — that is, if one assumes that Dylan may have framed his thoughts about politics, faith and freedom in a less obvious way.

In other words, he opened with “Gonna Change My Way of Thinking.” Thus, it appears that the first words out of his mouth were these:

Gonna change my way of thinking, make myself a different set of rules
Gonna change my way of thinking, make myself a different set of rules
Gonna put my good foot forward, and stop being influenced by fools.

So much oppression, can’t keep track of it no more
So much oppression, can’t keep track of it no more
Sons becoming husbands to their mothers, and old men turning young daughters into whores.

Stripes on your shoulders, stripes on your back and on your hands
Stripes on your shoulders, stripes on your back and on your hands
Swords piercing your side, blood and water flowing through the land.

There’s quite a bit going on there in this song from his gospel classic “Slow Train Coming,” not the least of which is that “stripes” reference to torture and religious oppression. Perhaps a message for the millions of believers in the underground church in China, including the saints in prisons? And who would the “fools” be, in this case?

Then, if he sang the song straight (always a question with Dylan), he later would have added:

You can mislead a man, you can take ahold of his heart with your eyes
You can mislead a man, you can take ahold of his heart with your eyes
But there’s only one authority, and that’s the authority on high.

Did the principalities and powers in the Chinese government parse that one carefully?

Then again, there is a chance that Dylan used some of the new lyrics from the version of this song that appeared on the tremendous 2008 “Gotta Serve Somebody” disc in which gospel music greats performed many of his classics. In that version, Dylan joins up with the great Mavis Staples and, in part, belts out this message. This would not comfort the business lords of the new China.

Jesus is coming, he’s coming back to gather his jewels
Jesus is coming, he’s coming back to gather his jewels
We live by the golden rule, whoever’s got the gold rules.

Anyway, it does not appear that Dylan went silent in China. It appears that he did not perform some of the obvious political songs that the Post team would have recognized and, thus, considered important. However, it seems that Ron Gluckman and the team at the Wall Street Journal was paying attention, with that final reference to the opening declaration in “Gonna Change My Way of Thinking.” Kudos, for not missing the obvious!


1.Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking
2.It's All Over Now, Baby Blue
3.Beyond The Horizon
4.Tangled Up In Blue
5.Honest With Me
6.Simple Twist Of Fate
7.Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum
8.Love Sick
9.Rollin' And Tumblin'
(Elmore James cover)
10.A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall
11.Highway 61 Revisited
12.Spirit On The Water
13.Thunder On The Mountain
14.Ballad Of A Thin Man
15.Like A Rolling Stone
16.All Along The Watchtower
17.Forever Young