Saturday, November 12, 2011

Film Review - 'Blackthorn'

By Ken Hanks
Mountain Xpress
October 25, 2011

Mateo Gil's Blackthorn is not only one of the year's biggest and best surprises, but it's the most beautifully photographed film I've seen in some considerable time. It was also a surprise, because -- on the surface -- its premise wasn't that appealing. I wasn't jazzed about the prospect of a movie that works on the premise of what if Butch Cassidy didn't die in that shoot-out with the Bolivian army in 1908. What if instead Butch lived on to early old age as a farmer and horse-breeder in the backwaters of Bolivia? Turns out that the idea -- as dealt with by the film -- is actually a good one. Maybe even a great one.

Sam Shepard stars as James Blackthorn -- the former Butch Cassidy -- a man who has decided that it's time to go home to America. He wants to see his "nephew," the ostensible son of the Sundance Kid and Etta (played in flashbacks by Padriac Delaney and Dominque McElligott), who in reality might just as likely be Butch's son. (The exact nature of the three's domestic arrangement is left to us to ponder.) To put these plans into action, he sells his horses and closes his bank account -- much to the consternation of his banker who asks if the bank has done something wrong. To this Butch replies, "Well, you know, there is just one thing -- I can't remember ever being so well received in a bank before."

Things, however, don't go quite according to plan. Butch loses his horse -- and the money on it -- when he's ambushed by man-on-the-run Eduardo Apodaca (Eduardo Noriega, Transsiberian). But Eduardo has a story -- and a plan to cut Butch in on $50,000 he stole from a rich mine owner -- if Butch will help him recover the money and get away from the vengeful man from whom he stole the money. So, rather than go home to die, Butch finds himself embroiled in one further adventure. What he hasn't reckoned on is that the morals -- even his kind of morals -- aren't the same in 1927 as they were in 1908. He's a man out of his time, and things may not be quite as they seem. But what he sees -- implied, but never stated -- is Eduardo as a kind of surrogate Sundance.

There's much more to the story -- and even more to the emotional resonance of it all -- than that much of the plot conveys. But it would do the film a disservice to give more than that away. Much of the way in which we come to understand Butch/Blackthorn is conveyed in flashback where Butch is played by TV actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (who, it's worth noting, credibly conveys the man who might age into Blackthorn). At first, the flashbacks seem a kind of unnecessary addition, but as the film progresses they become an integral part of the story -- a necessary device for our understanding of Butch and what happens.

It can be said -- and has been said -- that the film belongs to Shepard. He gives a wonderfully modulated performance. He's at once worldly wise, cynical, slyly amused by life, but also a somewhat naïve sentimentalist, whose memories are more real to him than reality -- and those memories are what drives his performance. Yes, it's a treat to see him attempt to sum himself up by his blusteringly defiant rendition of "Sam Hall" as he rides along the mountain trails of Bolivia. But it would be a mistake to overlook the other performers, especially Noriega and Stephen Rea as the retired -- and tired -- Pinkerton man who never believed Cassidy was dead. There's not a false note from any of the performers.

In some ways, yes, this is a revisionist Western -- a twilight work -- but it's by no means a deconstruction. Blackthorn may tell us what might have happened after that freeze-frame that ends Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), and it may do so in grittier -- or at least earthier -- tones, but it doesn't set out to debunk the myth of it all. If anything, it expands and enlarges upon the myth -- and in so doing becomes one of the best and most satisfying films of the year. It might almost be this year's True Grit.

Rated R for violence and language.

Butch Cassidy rides again

Veteran actor Sam Shepard plays famed outlaw Butch Cassidy, who turns up in South America, in "Blackthorn."

Minneapolis Star-Tribune
October 8, 2011

Sam Shepard made a big entrance into the world of movie acting as the doomed romantic farmer in Terrence Malick's critically acclaimed "Days of Heaven." He has appeared in 40-odd films since that 1978 breakthrough. He has played iconic roles (heroic test pilot Chuck Yeager in "The Right Stuff"), walk-ons (Valerie Plame's father in "Fair Game") and a whole lot of sheriffs.

But rarely has he appeared to enjoy himself so thoroughly as in the new Bolivian western "Blackthorn," which opens Friday in Minneapolis. Shepard, 67, stars as an aging Butch Cassidy, who evaded an army ambush to live out his golden years as a solitary rancher.

A Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Oscar-nominated actor, Shepard chooses his scripts with some care. This one offered him several irresistible lures: the best screenplay he had seen in a decade, a nine-week trip to Bolivia's gorgeous high-desert plateau and the chance to ride lots of horses.

"This was a special script, I could recognize that from the get-go," Shepard said by phone last month.

The film is more than a latter-day epilogue to 1969's "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." Spanish director Mateo Gil, who co-wrote "Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes)" and "The Sea Inside," toys with western lore, imagining the old outlaw returning to his daredevil ways after a long retirement. Cassidy wants to visit America to meet the grown son of Etta Place, who might be his child. A chance encounter with a crooked Spanish mining engineer (Eduardo Noriega) hauls the old fugitive back into trouble with the law.

The role gives Shepard a role to rival Jeff Bridges' Rooster Cogburn in "True Grit." He has richly written dialogue duels with an old adversary from the Pinkerton detective agency (Irish actor Stephen Rea), exciting shootouts and even a raspy-throated singing scene.

The outlaw aspect

"I loved the scope of it, the storytelling aspect and the way it keeps twisting and turning and going through different contortions," Shepard said. "I thought it was quite interesting the way it was structured. And from the very beginning it didn't seem like an exploitive film," riding the coattails of the Paul Newman-Robert Redford classic. "It just seemed very much itself, its own animal."

Making the role his own was an enjoyable challenge.

"I haven't played a big, deep role like that for quite some while. I did some research on it. I wasn't looking to try to recreate who Butch Cassidy was, but to invest in the history and the time of it and the outlaw aspect of it."

An even bigger challenge was shooting at the crest of the Andes, where the air was so thin that the filming locations and the actors' hotel rooms had auxiliary oxygen tanks.

Shepard's first experience of South America was arduous "and also adventurous," he said. "It had a 'Mad Max' appeal to it, like you were really out there on the edge of something. Shooting in a place like Uyuni, which is on the edge of the salt flats, and the high plateau, you did feel that there was a pioneering aspect to it that was kind of great."

"A lot of the time the altitude's around 15,000 feet, so the air was very thin," he recalled. "Breathing was somewhat of a problem. Sometimes we'd travel two hours to the location.

"It's amazing country. When you're out there on the salt flats you have absolutely no orientation. There are flamingoes flying parallel to the car about 6 feet above the salt. You wonder where in fact you are. It's like another planet."

Shepard, a former Stillwater resident who lives in Kentucky and New Mexico, also did a fair amount of high-altitude filming in the upcoming "Darling Companion," an ensemble comedy set for a 2012 release. The film, produced by Minneapolis-based boutique studio Werc Werk Works from a script by Lawrence and Meg Kasdan, was shot in mountainous northern Utah this year. The cast includes Kevin Kline, Diane Keaton, Richard Jenkins and Dianne Wiest.

"I enjoyed it very much," Shepard said. "Great actors. I've worked with Diane many times," memorably as her suitor in 1987's "Baby Boom." "Always love working with her."

Kline and Keaton play a long-married couple whose relationship has sputtered to a stop. She pours her emotions into a stray dog; Kline loses it, and their friends go on a mission to find it. In outline it sounds like a shaggy-lost-dog story, "but what comes out of it is this hilarious conjunction of all these different characters, the way they bang up against each other and the way they deal with the situation. It's a very well-written, funny little script. It's a true comedy."

Shepard's role? "The sheriff, of course," he laughed. "The tin star."

The Middle East Studies Establishment vs. Walid Phares

By Cinnamon Stillwell

November 11, 2011

Mitt Romney and Walid Phares (Credit: AP/        

When Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney announced last month that Walid Phares -- a Lebanese-American Christian, adjunct professor of jihadist global strategies at the National Defense University, and former Middle East studies professor at Florida Atlantic University -- would be a special adviser on the Middle East and North Africa, it elicited howls of fury from the usual suspects.
Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) -- an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation Hamas funding case and the chief Islamist organ in the U.S. -- sent a letter to the Romney campaign stating CAIR's predictable objections, while publications such as the Daily Beast,, and Mother Jones followed suit with error-filledhit pieces.

Phares's moral clarity on Islamism and jihadism do not sit well with those who would rather engage in apologetics and obstructionism. This explains why his fiercest opponents have included some of the worst from the field of Middle East studies.

California State University, Stanislaus political science professor and "Angry Arab" blogger As'ad AbuKhalil, writing for, blamed Phares's appointment on "the Israel lobby and its affiliates," claimed that his "writings are only relevant to Zionist discourse and polemics," and concluded that "when the appointment of Israeli experts on terrorism is not possible, a man like Phares is the second best choice."

AbuKhalil's hostility towards Israel -- and hence, towards anyone who isn't an anti-Zionist fanatic -- is well-established. He accused President Obama, of all people, of giving "free reign to the Zionist lobby" in a 2010 Al Jazeera television interview. Speaking in April 2011, he ranted:
[N]ever will we recognize the Zionist State of Israel! ... The Arab World will never prosper until the Zionist regime is removed! ... We celebrate the demise of Israel; yes, Israel, your days are truly numbered!
AbuKhalil paints Phares's early years in Lebanon as those of a right-wing, Christian militant -- charges that have been repeated by many of Phares's opponents, despite being debunked on numerous occasions. Yet it turns out that AbuKhalil may have questionable allegiances of his own. According to John Hajjar at Family Security Matters, AbuKhalil "is known in the Lebanese and Middle Eastern American communities as the mouthpiece of [Hezbollah secretary general] Hassan Nasrallah in the world of petrodollar-funded Middle East studies."

Ebrahim Moosa, associate professor of Islamic studies at Duke University, told the Daily Beast's McKay Coppins that Phares "is hostile to Muslims and Romney has adopted an expert who is going to alienate him from a good section of the voting public." This coming from a man who downplayed the dangers of Saudi funding for higher education by telling the Charlotte Observer in February 2010 that "Wahhabism is like the Baptists; it's kind of a denomination of sorts that started out in Saudi Arabia." Similarly, Moosa, speaking at a University of California, Berkeley workshop in May 2011, and as described by journalist Stephen Schwartz, "defended Deobandism, the madrassa-based radical ideology that inspires the Taliban."

Omid Safi, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill who was quoted in the same Daily Beast article, declared the Phares appointment a "pathetic reflection on Governor Romney to have surrounded himself with such a person for advice on the Middle East and Islam" and likened it "to turning to [former KKK leader] David Duke to get advice on race relations."

Safi is accustomed to making these sorts of inflammatory accusations. In a 2005 article, Safi labeled the isolated prisoner abuse at Abu Graib prison in Iraq "a continuation of twenty years of American foreign policy centered on dehumanizing Muslims." In April 2010, he falsely claimed that Islam scholar Robert Spencer "threatened me and my family with death" in a Facebook message. The recipient's Facebook account was later disabled with no explanation, and although Spencer called Safi out for defamation, Safi never retracted the claim, nor did the university take action.

In fact, Phares's views are not hostile to Muslims, nor biased toward Israel. Rather, Phares is a scholar who advocates pluralism as the most effective means of triumphing over extremism, tribalism, and Islamic supremacism in the Middle East. He also calls out those in the West, and particularly in academia, who would point the finger at America, Israel, Christians, and Jews. This may be why, as claimed by AbuKhalil at, "Phares has not been seen in Middle East Studies conferences for many years." The Middle East studies establishment -- and especially its leading body, the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) -- is not particularly welcoming to academics who stray from the post-colonial, Edward Said-originated Orientalist narrative.

As Phares put it in his 2007 book, The War of Ideas: Jihadism Against Democracy:
In the West, the central battlefields over the perception of the world remain academic and educational... Even as the war with Jihadism is raging in the real world, and America is facing off with the most dangerous enemy infiltration it has ever known, the bulk of its students are being educated today by an elite that refuses to teach the real history and politics of the jihadists.
Fortunately, we have academics such as Phares himself and alternatives to MESA such as the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA), for which he often lectures, to help turn the tide. The usual suspects should indeed be afraid.

Cinnamon Stillwell is the West Coast representative for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum. She can be reached at

Friday, November 11, 2011

Supercommittee to the rescue

Deficit-reduction fever rages, but plans for a Christmas-tree tax are axed.

By Mark Steyn
The Orange County Register
November 11, 2011

Have you been following this so-called Supercommittee? They’re the new superhero group of Superfriends from the Supercongress who are going to save America from plummeting over the cliff and into the multitrillion-dollar abyss. There’s Spender Woman (Patty Murray), Incumbent Boy (Max Baucus), Kept Man (John Kerry) and many other warriors for truth, justice and the American way of debt. The Supercommittee is supposed to report back by the day before Thanksgiving on how to carve out $1.2 trillion of deficit reduction and thereby save the republic.

I had cynically assumed that the Superfriends would address America’s imminent debt catastrophe with some radical reform – such as, say, slowing the increase in spending by raising the age for lowering the age of Medicare eligibility from 47 to 49 by the year 2137, after which triumph we could all go back to sleep until total societal collapse.

But I underestimated the genius of the Superfriends’ Supercommittee. It turns out that a committee created to reduce the deficit is, instead, going to increase it. As The Hill reported:

“Democrats on the supercommittee have proposed that the savings from the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan be used to pay for a new stimulus package, according to a summary of the $2.3 trillion plan obtained by The Hill.”

Do you follow that? Let the Congressional Budget Office explain it to you:

“The budget savings from ending the wars are estimated to total around $1 trillion over a decade, according to an estimate in July from the Congressional Budget Office.”

Let us note in passing that, according to the official CBO estimates, a whole decade’s worth of war in both Iraq and Afghanistan adds up to little more than Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill. But, aside from that, in what sense are these “savings”? The Iraq war is ended – or, at any rate, “ended,” at least as far as U.S. participation in it is concerned. How then can congressional accountants claim to be able to measure “savings” in 2021 from a war that ended a decade earlier? And why stop there? Why not estimate around $2 trillion in savings by 2031? After all, that would free up even more money for a bigger stimulus package, wouldn’t it? And it wouldn’t cost us anything because it would all be “savings.”

Come to think of it, didn’t the Second World War end in 1945? Could we have the CBO score the estimated two-thirds of a century of “budget savings” we’ve saved since ending that war? We could use the money to fund free Master’s degrees in Complacency and Self-Esteem Studies for everyone, and that would totally stimulate the economy. The Spanish-American War ended 103 years ago, so imagine how much cash has already piled up! Like they say at Publishers’ Clearing House, you may already have won!

Meanwhile, back at the Oval Office, the president is asking for your votes for the 2011 SAVE Award. To demonstrate his commitment to fiscal discipline, he set up a competition whereby federal employees can propose ways to cut government waste. A panel of experts (John Kerry, Paula Abdul, etc.) then weigh the merits, and the four finalists go up on the White House website to be voted on by members of the public: It’s like Dancing With The Czars. Last year, Marjorie Cook of Michigan, a food inspector with the Department of Agriculture, noted that every year USDA inspectors ship 125,000 food samples to its analysis labs by “next day” express delivery, and that a day or two later the labs ship the empty containers back to the inspectors using the very same “next day” service. Marjorie suggested that, as the containers are empty, they can’t be all that urgent, and should be mailed back at regular old ground-delivery rates.

But this reform was way too radical, so it didn’t win. And happily, even as we speak, mail couriers are rushing empty containers back and forth across the USDA-inspected fruited plain at your expense. This year’s SAVE Award nominees include Faith Stanfield of Toledo, a “General Technical Expert” with the Social Security Administration. As someone who’s technically expert in a very general sense, she sees the big picture. It’s on the front of the SSA’s glossy magazine. Did you know Social Security has its own glossy magazine? It’s called Oasis, and it’s sent out to 88,000 SSA employees plus about a thousand government retirees. It’s like Vogue or Vanity Fair, but without the perfume and fashion ads, because who needs Givenchy and Yves St Laurent to fund your mag when you’ve got the U.S. taxpayer? It’s the magazine that says you’re cool, you’re now, you’re living the SSA bureaucrat lifestyle. But Faith thinks they should scrap the glossy pages and publish it only online.

Ooh, I dunno. Sounds a bit extreme to me. Could result in hundreds of Social Security lifestyle editors being laid off and reduced to living on Social Security.

Anyway, the winner of the SAVE Award gets to meet with the president to discuss his or her proposal. The proposal then gets submitted to a committee for further discussion on whether to set up a committee to discuss discussing it further. But, unlike the Superfriends’ Supercommittee, the lunch expenses are cheaper.

What with the proposal to use the nearly two centuries of budget savings from the end of the War of 1812 to fund the construction of high-speed monorails and the plan to turn the Social Security Administration’s in-house glossy into an in-house virtual-glossy, it’s no surprise that the president himself has got the deficit-reduction fever. On Wednesday, he signed an executive order “Promoting Efficient Spending” – and ending government waste. Just like that! According to Section Seven:

“Agencies should limit the purchase of promotional items (e.g., plaques, clothing, and commemorative items), in particular where they are not cost-effective.”

Sounds like someone’s seen one amusing Janet Napolitano bobblehead too many at the DHS holiday party. About to stick in one of those giant commemorative plaques on the side of the road saying “These next three miles of single-lane scarified pavement brought to you by the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act”? Don’t even think about it.

Fresh from launching the war on tchotchkes, the administration then proposed a 15-cent tax on Christmas trees in order to fund a federal promotional campaign to promote the sale of Christmas trees. Possibly Commerce Department research showed that there’s a dramatic fall-off in the sale of “holiday trees” round about Dec. 26 every year, and Obama figured a little stimulus surely couldn’t hurt. He was forced to rescind the proposal, presumably after an ACLU chum pointed out that settling the Bureau of Christmas Tree Promotion lawsuit would wipe out all the budget savings from the French & Indian Wars.

Meanwhile, as these ruthless austerity measures start to bite, the Government of the United States continues to spend one-fifth of a billion dollars it doesn’t have every hour, every day, every week, including Thanksgiving, Christmas and Ramadan.

And remember, folks, Rick Perry is the dummy because he wants to abolish so many government departments, he can’t keep track of them all. Keep it simple, Rick. Just stick to a campaign pledge to set up a supercommittee to report back on the possibility of using savings from mailing back empty specimen beakers by three-day ground service to fund Medicare. Then people will take you seriously.

Photo: Reuters


Today's Tune: Lightnin' Hopkins - Baby, Please Don't Go

On Target Salute to SEALs' Most Famous Mission

by Neil W. McCabe

In a November 9 Human Events interview, retired SEAL Chuck Pfarrer, author of SEAL Target Geronimo: The Inside Story of the Mission to Kill Osama bin Laden, [St. Martin’s Press, $25.99], described how after decades of repeated intelligence failures, the CIA used stagecraft to take advantage of presumed SEAL-silence to turn their work into a public relations coup for the agency.

“The more I dealt with gathering information on this book, the more I found that the agency was trying to make all the hay it could,” said the former SEAL commander, who spoke to members of SEAL Team Six, and other principals involved in the raid code-named “Neptune’s Spear.”

The stagecraft involved three main steps, he said. First, at the insistence of the Director of Central Intelligence Leon E. Panetta, a CIA civilian interpreter, untrained in air assault, was put on the mission, which allowed it to be described as a joint SEAL-CIA mission.

This was the basis for reports that CIA and special operations forces have learned to work together despite the clash of cultures.

It was also a useful capstone to the agency’s tragic failure to alert leaders to bin Laden’s 1998 attacks on our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the 2000 attack on the destroyer U.S.S. Cole and the Sept. 11 Attacks, Pfarrer said.

“It was an attempt for them to redeem themselves on the backs and on the valor of my teammates, another thing I did not take too kindly to,” he said.

Second, a SEAL liaison officer was assigned to CIA headquarters to sit next to Panetta all through the evolution to explain the unfolding events, Pfarrer said. “It is a common practice; we call them ‘pet SEALs.’”

This arrangement had information passing from Adm. William H. McRaven, the commanding admiral of Joint Special Operations Command, forward deployed at his mobile joint operations center in Afghanistan relaying updates to CIA headquarters along with the drone provided video feed with the SEAL LNO making sure Panetta got it right as he passed data to the White House.

This created the impression at the White House and elsewhere that it was a CIA-led project, he said.

The third element of CIA stagecraft was Panetta’s invitation to reporters and Hollywood-types to the CIA for briefings about the mission to ensure that the CIA’s narrative was dominant, he said.

It was from this maneuver that the press reported there was a 40-minute firefight at bin Laden’s compound—remarkable for a 38-minute mission.

Another story that leaked out was that during the mission, a crowd gathered outside the compound and the CIA interpreter addressed and dispersed it, Pfarrer said. “Look, it was something out of a fairy tale.”

In the book, Pfarrer wrote that after the publicity surrounding the Sony Pictures fundraiser for the president linked to the film company’s development of a bin Laden movie, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, timed to hit screens just before the 2012 election, the outsiders were blocked out of the CIA.

But, after Panetta left CIA to lead the Defense Department, Bigelow was quietly invited to the Pentagon. It was not quietly enough, however, to avoid being overheard by two SEALs in street clothes sitting at the next table. This overheard conversation may have been the true genesis of the book.

Pfarrer said the CIA counted on the SEAL culture of silence to leave the field uncontested.

Given their choice, the SEALs would have preferred the news of the hit on Geronimo remained a secret as long as possible, so they could fully exploit the trove of intelligence in the documents, hard drives and other items seized from the compound, he said.

With that opportunity lost, and the work of CIA mythmakers, it is right that the true story be told.

The book is more than just a high-adventure black ops thriller. It is a work of historical importance that sets the record straight about our struggle against forces dedicated to rebuilding an Islamic caliphate in the Middle East.

The author covers a lot of ground: Beirut, the life of Bin Laden, weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq, the birth and maturation of al Qaeda and more. It is a book you will read as you walk on the sidewalk because you do not want the action to stop.

Neil W. McCabe is the editor of Guns & Patriots. McCabe, was a reporter and photographer at The Pilot, Boston's Catholic newspaper for several years. An Army reservist, he served 14 months in Iraq as a combat historian. Follow him on Twitter


By Ann Coulter
November 9, 2011

Former White House Senior Advisor, David Axelrod

Herman Cain has spent his life living and working all over the country -- Indiana, Georgia, Minnesota, Nebraska, Kansas, Washington, D.C. -- but never in Chicago.

So it's curious that all the sexual harassment allegations against Cain emanate from Chicago: home of the Daley machine and Obama consigliere David Axelrod.

Suspicions had already fallen on Sheila O'Grady, who is close with David Axelrod and went straight from being former Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley's chief of staff to president of the Illinois Restaurant Association (IRA), as being the person who dug up Herman Cain's personnel records from the National Restaurant Association (NRA).

The Daley-controlled IRA works hand-in-glove with the NRA. And strangely enough, Cain's short, three-year tenure at the NRA is evidently the only period in his decades-long career during which he's alleged to have been a sexual predator.

After O'Grady's name surfaced in connection with the miraculous appearance of Cain's personnel files from the NRA, she issued a Clintonesque denial of any involvement in producing them -- by vigorously denying that she knew Cain when he was at the NRA. (Duh.)

And now, after a week of conservative eye-rolling over unspecified, anonymous accusations against Cain, we've suddenly got very specific sexual assault allegations from an all-new accuser out of ... Chicago.

Herman Cain has never lived in Chicago. But you know who has? David Axelrod! And guess who lived in Axelrod's very building? Right again: Cain's latest accuser, Sharon Bialek.

Bialek's accusations were certainly specific. But they also demonstrated why anonymous accusations are worthless.

Within 24 hours of Bialek's press conference, friends and acquaintances of hers stepped forward to say that she's a "gold-digger," that she was constantly in financial trouble -- having filed for personal bankruptcy twice -- and, of course, that she had lived in Axelrod's apartment building at 505 North Lake Shore Drive, where, she admits, she knew the man The New York Times calls Obama's "hired muscle."

Throw in some federal tax evasion, and she's Obama's next Cabinet pick.

The reason all this is relevant is that both Axelrod and Daley have a history of smearing political opponents by digging up claims of sexual misconduct against them.

John Brooks, Chicago's former fire commissioner, filed a lawsuit against Daley six months ago claiming Daley threatened to smear him with sexual harassment accusations if Brooks didn't resign. He resigned -- and the sexual harassment allegations were later found to be completely false.

Meanwhile, as extensively detailed in my book "Guilty: Liberal 'Victims' and Their Assault on America," the only reason Obama became a U.S. senator -- allowing him to run for president -- is that David Axelrod pulled sealed divorce records out of a hat, first, against Obama's Democratic primary opponent, and then against Obama's Republican opponent.

One month before the 2004 Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate, Obama was way down in the polls, about to lose to Blair Hull, a multimillionaire securities trader.

But then The Chicago Tribune -- where Axelrod used to work -- began publishing claims that Hull's second ex-wife, Brenda Sexton, had sought an order of protection against him during their 1998 divorce proceedings.

From then until Election Day, Hull was embroiled in fighting the allegation that he was a "wife beater." He and his ex-wife eventually agreed to release their sealed divorce records. His first ex-wife, daughters and nanny defended him at a press conference, swearing he was never violent. During a Democratic debate, Hull was forced to explain that his wife kicked him and he had merely kicked her back.

Hull's substantial lead just a month before the primary collapsed with the nonstop media attention to his divorce records. Obama sailed to the front of the pack and won the primary. Hull finished third with 10 percent of the vote.

Luckily for Axelrod, Obama's opponent in the general election had also been divorced.

The Republican nominee was Jack Ryan, a graduate of Dartmouth and Harvard law and business schools, who had left his lucrative partnership at Goldman Sachs to teach at an inner-city school on the South Side of Chicago.

But in a child custody dispute some years earlier, Ryan's ex-wife, Hollywood sex kitten Jeri Lynn Ryan, had alleged that, while the couple was married, Jack had taken her to swingers clubs in Paris and New York.

Jack Ryan adamantly denied the allegations. In the interest of protecting their son, he also requested that the records be put permanently under seal.

Axelrod's courthouse moles obtained the "sealed" records and, in no time, they were in the hands of every political operative in Chicago. Knowing perfectly well what was in the records, Chicago Tribune attorneys flew to California and requested that the court officially "unseal" them -- over the objections of both Jack and Jeri Ryan.

Your honor, who knows what could be in these records!

A California judge ordered them unsealed, which allowed newspapers to publish the salacious allegations, and four days later, Ryan dropped out of the race under pressure from idiot Republicans (who should be tracked down and shot).

With a last-minute replacement of Alan Keyes as Obama's Republican opponent, Obama was able to set an all-time record in an Illinois Senate election, winning with a 43 percent margin.

And that's how Obama became a senator four years after losing a congressional race to Bobby Rush. (In a disastrous turn of events, Rush was not divorced.)

Axelrod destroyed the only two men who stood between Obama and the Senate with illicitly obtained, lurid allegations from their pasts.

In 2007, long after Obama was safely ensconced in the U.S. Senate, The New York Times reported: "The Tribune reporter who wrote the original piece (on Hull's sealed divorce records) later acknowledged in print that the Obama camp had 'worked aggressively behind the scenes' to push the story."

Some had suggested, the Times article continued, that Axelrod had "an even more significant role -- that he leaked the initial story."

This time, Obama's little helpers have not only thrown a bomb into the Republican primary, but are hoping to destroy the man who deprives the Democrats of their only argument in 2012: If you oppose Obama, you must be a racist.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Real J. Edgar Hoover

By Elise Cooper
November 9, 2011

If the goal of the new movie J. Edgar was to tear down J. Edgar Hoover, the filmmakers did a good job. The film portrayed him in an unfavorable light, not as the person once considered a hero. It makes innuendos about his sexual orientation, his personality, and his lack of ethics as FBI director. American Thinker interviewed former FBI agents who worked under, and closely with, J. Edgar Hoover to get their impressions of the man.

Contrary to what the filmmakers are saying about the movie being historically accurate, it is obvious that rumors were used as facts. John Fox, the FBI historian, met with the filmmakers before the movie was made because he was hoping there would be an "accurate depiction of the Bureau as so many people get their first and primary impressions of the FBI and its work through entertainment media." Obviously, from watching the movie, they did not take notes during the meeting.

Both the Society of Former Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Inc. and the J. Edgar Hoover Foundation wrote letters requesting that the film portray Hoover as a strong public figure who, during tumultuous times, dealt with controversial issues. Unfortunately the movie did just the opposite.

The organization's members also feel that the movie should not have tarnished the lives of Director Hoover and former FBI Deputy Clyde Tolson by making unproven allegations that they desired a sexual relationship. The response, in a letter sent by Clint Eastwood, the director and a producer of the film, and Robert Lorenz, a producer, was that "we have not set out to present anopen homosexual relationship between J. Edgar Hoover and Clyde Tolson ... Though no one can know his private side with certainty, we hope that a thoughtful, intelligent portrayal of the man will put his life story in proper historical context." True, the movie did not have any "open" homosexual scenes; yet the innuendos were so suggestive it left little doubt what the filmmakers were trying to convey.

For the former agents, the point is to get the facts correct. They do not deny that Tolson and Hoover had dinner together most nights, traveled to and from work together, and went on vacations with each other. However, they point out that after dinner, they were dropped off at separate houses. The are not denying that the two men had affection and respect for each other, but the facts do not support the conclusion that they were homosexual. Deke Deloach, a deputy director who knew Hoover well and worked closely with him for thirty years, told American Thinker that he talked to Clint Eastwood and Leonardo DiCaprio at length about Hoover. He commented that he told both, "I traveled with him, we were in each other's homes for dinner, and I saw him more than I wanted to. There was never any indication of homosexuality. He would never do anything that would do disfavor to the FBI or himself." In that same light, all interviewed vehemently denied the accusation that Hoover was a crossdresser. As with the inference of homosexuality, the movie took extreme artistic license.

All interviewed agreed and emphasized that given the culture of the 1940s, '50s, and '60s, neither the public nor the FBI agents would have tolerated a director who was gay. If the movie is falsely implying Hoover as gay, is it done to taint his reputation? If so, is Mr. Black, the screenwriter, saying it is embarrassing to be gay? William Branon, in charge of several offices throughout his career under Hoover's directorship, feels that Americans should understand that "homosexuality is viewed differently today [from how] it was back then. He would have been thrown out and disgraced. Disgruntled agents would have known about it and talked about it. It would have gotten out." Since the FBI was a rumor mill, those agents who chauffeured him or were on his security detail would have seen something. R. Jean Gray, a former agent on Hoover's security detail, described how "we would follow him, one car running behind and another running parallel. There were two cars, four guys. Off and on we would be watching him for years all night, depending on the credible threats. If someone would have seen something, it would have been spread around the bureau in ten minutes."

According to the former agents, Hoover should be seen as the father of modern law enforcement, taking over a corrupt organization and molding it into a very proficient investigative agency. The movie did spend some time, although not much, on Hoover's role in establishing the FBI as a scientific crime-fighting force. The former agents describe him as being "married to the FBI" -- stern, dictatorial, an absolute monarch, a Puritan, a patriot, and a premiere civil servant. William Baker, a former agent, and Branon both said that the director was "not loved, but respected. He was like a priest, completely devoted to the Bureau, that was his whole life." Deloach and Gray also described him as a caring boss. Deloach tells the story of how Hoover picked up the expensive hospital bill incurred when his son was gravely ill. Gray remembers that as a young agent, he requested a meeting with the director while at a refresher course. Not only did Director Hoover meet with him for 55 minutes, but "he also knew everything my squad was doing. It was absolutely amazing."

These people see Hoover as a man of great vision who surrounded himself with knowledgeable people. The movie did show how Hoover made significant changes to law enforcement by being bold and innovative. Baker points out that Hoover recruited men who demonstrated leadership abilities: those who had previous military experience, lawyers, and accountants, at a time when many people did not have advanced degrees. Craig Dotlo, a former FBI agent, says that Hoover should be remembered for making sure "no cases got buried and fell through the cracks. He had the foresight to create and develop an incredible index system that retrieved and coordinated information about suspected criminals before the computer age. In addition, he had police departments send in fingerprints to make matches and identify criminals. He made use of the latest developments in science and technology." Deloach told American Thinker that he proposed that Hoover have a National Crime Information Center (NCIC), which the director had qualms over, "thinking it was a waste of funds. He made me prove to him the importance of it, and after that[, he] embraced it."

Marion Ramey, deputy assistant director of the FBI, felt that Hoover was ahead of his time, establishing in 1935 a forensic science program, implementing a Miranda-type warning, and establishing a professional training program. He created in 1932 the first technical lab, which was able to identify different blood types and offered those services to other law enforcement agencies. Ramey said FBI agents were required to warn suspects of their rights and were given the opportunity to hire an attorney. John Fox, the FBI historian, confirmed these facts, stating, "The FBI tried to go above what was expected before it was required. Take for example the acknowledgement that an arrestee had certain rights and should be made aware of those rights. Hoover also in the mid-1930s formalized a training program of agents and established the FBI National Academy, which was eventually centered in Quantico." Of course, the movie failed to mention these facts.

All interviewed agreed that Mr. Hoover had flaws and was not perfect, especially in his later years. However, even these imperfections have to be analyzed in the context of the period of time and not by today's standards. Dotlo's biggest criticism of Hoover is that there was no diversity in the FBI -- hardly any minorities, and no female agents.

Others like John Fox concede that Hoover might have misused civil liberties, but there is another side to the story. Fox noted, "Given what the FBI is charged with doing, having significant criminal investigations and national security responsibilities, the FBI is at the center of that balance between liberty and security." All the former agents believe, and many have seen the memos, that Attorney General Robert Kennedy was the one who ordered the wiretaps of Martin Luther King and signed the approval papers. During that time period, King's advisory board included members who were in the "underground Communist Party." If anything, Hoover can be faulted not for gathering intelligence from electronic surveillance, but for taking the personal information and floating it out to different powerful people in an attempt to damage King's reputation. Fox points out that before 1968 there was no provision in the law requiring a warrant to gather evidence, and that "Hoover minced no words, publicly stating that the FBI would use wiretaps to solve crimes and deal with national security measures. There was the attitude that this was acceptable."

Although Director Hoover did not have the FBI overtly protecting those in the civil rights movement, he did pursue anti-civil rights groups such as the KKK, which the movie mentioned only in passing. Baker, whose first assignment was to investigate the KKK in North Carolina, conveyed that Hoover detested that organization and wanted to limit its ability to function. Deloach also told of agents in Mississippi who were physically and emotionally threatened -- "[p]eople were trying to run agents over. Agents had rattlesnakes put in their cars. There was an incident where a coffin was carried up to an agent's house when his wife and children were home. The family was told that the agent was executed and his body was in the coffin. At Hoover's direction, we broke our backs trying to stop this group." All the agents agree with Fox, who said that Hoover was very effective against the Klan by "breaking down their ability to conduct terrorist activities in the South."

Was Hoover a glory-hound, as the movie portrayed? Hoover was the public face of the FBI. Deloach describes him as "the engineer in charge of the train. He stood up front when things went right but also was up front to take the slings and arrows." Baker puts it in historical perspective, noting that the DOJ in the 1930s wanted a face for fighting crime, and Hoover became that face since there was no separation in the public's mind between the FBI and Hoover. Fox also pointed out that within the Bureau, agents were recognized for their successes, but "[p]eople don't put names and faces to the true heroes. The FBI agent was almost iconic and thought of as a single entity."

All the agents agreed with Ramey, who saw Hoover as "a great American hero, a very strong and powerful director, that molded the FBI into a great organization that served the public well. It will be unfortunate that this movie is going to be young people's lasting impression of Director Hoover." It is a tribute to Mr. Hoover that he was able to obtain national and world respect for what the FBI accomplished -- something the movie neglected to emphasize.

See also: Citizen J. Edgar? and J. Edgar The Film Falls For KGB Disinformation

Penn State Coach Joe Paterno reaches a sad conclusion

By , Published: November 9
The Washington Post

Everybody has weak spots in their character, fault lines in their personality where the right earthquake at the wrong time can lead to personal catastrophe. Most of us are fortunate that our worst experience doesn’t hit us with its biggest jolt in exactly the area where our flaws or poor judgment or vanity is most dangerously in play. It’s part good luck if we don’t disgrace ourselves.

But when it does happen, as appears to be the case with Joe Paterno, that’s when we witness personal disasters that seem so painful and, in the context of a well-lived life, so unfair that we feel deep sadness even as we simultaneously recognize that the person at the center of the storm can never avoid full accountability.

On Wednesday night, Paterno was fired after 46 years as Penn State’s head football coach. At such times, we feel both pity and a terrible awe as we watch events conspire around an admirable man in exactly the wrong way, so that he then conspires against himself to make the situation far worse.

For the millions who ask, “How could Paterno, the football ethicist, fail to do the Right Thing in a situation where almost anybody else would,” we got more evidence on Wednesday afternoon. Joe Pa did it again.

Paterno, 84, said he’d retire after this season — a decision that added another damaging mistake in judgment to a chain of failure that dates from 2002, and perhaps earlier. He said Penn State’s Board of Trustees “should not spend a single minute discussing my status. They have far more important matters to address.”

That sounds right, for a split second, until you see that it is all wrong.

Penn State, with the child sexual-abuse case surrounding former Paterno assistant Jerry Sandusky in the courts, had few bigger issues than deciding whether Paterno coaches its last three regular season games, then a possible conference championship and a bowl game, too. The circus around those games, starting with Nebraska on Saturday, boggles the mind.

“I will spend the rest of my life doing everything I can to help this university,” Paterno said in his statement on Wednesday.

But what if the biggest help you can be is to get out of the way? Right now.

That decision, when for Paterno to leave, how to leave, was no longer in his control. Those days ended when Sandusky was arrested. Wednesday night, less than 12 hours after Paterno announced he would finish the season, the school’s trustees said that he would not. They fired him.

Paterno has been a man above authority at Penn State for decades. He’s been allowed to be selectively deaf or dumb or blind when it suits him. Those days are over.

Even now, as he leaves the public spotlight of coaching, Paterno will still be questioned — and will have to decide how much he will choose to answer — about what happened in 2002 and, maybe as important, 1998.

In 1998, university police did an extensive investigation of accusations against Sandusky, then Penn State’s defensive coordinator, involving his showering with children; two separate incidents, both with 11-year-olds.

The mother of one child (identified as “Victim 6” in the Sandusky grand jury report) and a university policeman, who was eavesdropping in a makeshift sting operation, have testified that, when confronted by the mother, Sandusky said: “I understand I was wrong. I wish I could get forgiveness. I know I won’t get it from you. I wish I were dead.”

I’d call that a red flag — and every other color in the moral-alarm spectrum. Penn State’s decision was to close the investigation, bring no charges and not call the police or other outside authorities.

Sandusky, assumed to be Paterno’s successor, retired from coaching the very next year. Why quit when you’re only 55? Sandusky’s explanation: To stay around State College helping young kids at risk in the Second Mile foundation he started in 1977; that’s where the grand jury said he combed the child population to find his victims.

Was Sandusky’s retirement a coincidence or, in some part, a reaction to the 1998 university police investigation, which took weeks? Who knew? What did they know? What did they suspect?

Could Paterno, the lord of this tiny world, not have knowledge of a potentially monstrous scandal about his do-gooding right-hand man? Maybe. You may have heard about what happens to messengers who bring bad news to the King. Maybe nobody told Joe. But who knew what in 1998 is way beyond a fair question. It’s an essential question — and one nobody at Penn State or its football program is answering.

It’s hard to spot entrenched pedophiles in an institutional setting. They make sure they become beloved figures as cover. However, when you have an investigation of multiple similar complaints against Sandusky by two separate 11-year-olds, the difficulty in identifying a possible tragic problem disappears. Penn State knew enough in 1998 that it should’ve followed up — in triplicate. And Paterno should have known or been told.

It’s pertinent because in 2002, with Sandusky retired, Paterno followed the narrow letter of the law after being given eyewitness information by a graduate assistant about Sandusky and a 10-year-old boy. You probably don’t need to hear that narrative again.

Penn State did nothing but take Sandusky’s keys away. Paterno didn’t follow up at all, a total ethical abdication. The school didn’t even ask, “Who was the child?”

How could this happen? Look at a larger context. For generations, shabby coaches have turned their eyes, avoided learning incriminating details and said “tell all this to the athletic director” when they heard about a player or booster breaking NCAA rules.

Paterno didn’t turn away. He’d act right, even if it hurt.

He set the gold standard and everybody around him, pretty much, shaped up for 46 years. He built a model program, transformed a school — he may have helped raise a billion dollars for Penn State — and helped almost everybody he touched.

Then along came Sandusky.

“This is a tragedy. It is one of the great sorrows of my life,” Paterno’s statement said. “With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.”

When the earthquake struck Paterno’s life, it attacked him directly at his flaw lines — his pride in his life’s work and, perhaps, an utter inability to imagine the worst of a lifelong close friend. So in 2002 he appears, and this is actually a generous interpretation, to have reacted with don’t-want-to-know negligence of his ethical responsibilities, as a coach and as a man.

Forces collide, conspire, confuse and an icon of integrity fails to act, fails to see, but in his case, the stakes were far higher than wins. The lives of children, already at risk, were in the balance.

Something shameful, if everything falls just wrong, could happen to any of us. How do we know? Because it even happened to Joe Paterno.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Growing Up Penn State

The end of everything at State College

By Michael Weinreb

Something terrible happened on my street when I was kid, something that I had screened from my consciousness for many years until last weekend. My neighbor Scott Holderman and I were futzing about near the side of his house, setting up one of those epic Star Wars tête-à-têtes or digging for earthworms or doing whatever children do on nice days in quiet neighborhoods, and then there came a horrible screeching, the braking of an automobile that could not stop in time. The car had crested the steep hill of our street and slammed into a child who wandered into it. I can still see the child lying there, and I can still hear the mother's tortured shriek when she realized it was one of hers. An ambulance arrived, and then a medevac helicopter touched down 30 feet from our house, and they took the child away. He survived, but he wasn't the same.

A few years earlier, back when I was 5, my parents moved from suburban New York City to State College, Pa. They did this because my father took a job as a professor at Penn State, but I assume they also did this because State College was considered a good place to raise children, a placid college town set in the geographic center of Pennsylvania. Those of us who grew up there like to say we lived three hours from everywhere. We resided in a development called Park Forest, on a street named after a British county.

The kids from the neighborhood would gather to play basketball in my driveway, not because I was particularly popular, but because we had a good hoop. In high school, we engaged in epic pick-up football games in Sunset Park, a little patch of grass right next to a house owned by Joe and Sue Paterno. In the second grade, my Little League coach was an enormous neighbor of ours named Mr. McQueary, and his son Mike was the best player on our team. We went to school at Park Forest Junior High, and then we went to State College High School, where we learned how to drive and how to date and how to do quadratic equations. We were the sons of farmers and college professors and football coaches. One of my brother's classmates was named Sandusky; one of my classmates was named Sandusky, too. I goofed off in the back of Latin class with a kid named Scott Paterno. We knew who their fathers were; their fathers were royalty to us, even if we acted like it was no big deal. Our football team's nickname was the Little Lions. There was no way to extricate the happenings at our school from the happenings at the university, and the happenings at the university always centered around football. Everything in State College — even the name of our town — was one all-encompassing, synergistic monolith, and Joe Paterno was our benevolent dictator, and nothing truly bad ever happened, and even when it did, it was easier just to blot it from our lives and move on.

I can't add a lot to what's been written about the facts of the burgeoning scandal at Penn State, except to tell you how strange it feels to type the phrase "burgeoning scandal at Penn State." I know that I'm in denial. I know that I'm working through multiple layers of anger and disgust and neurosis and angst. I know that I'm too emotionally attached to the situation to offer any kind of objective take, though I don't think I realized how emotionally attached I was until this occurred. I never understood how much of an effect both football and a sense of place had on my persona. I apologize if what follows seems disjointed, because I am still coming to terms with the fact that this is real. "What can I say?" my mom wrote me from State College on Monday afternoon. "We're sort of going around in a daze."

I do not mean to make excuses for anyone involved, nor have any of the alums or townspeople I've spoken to or corresponded with, including my friend Brad, who is the most rigidly optimistic Penn State booster I've ever met. There's a group, about 15 or 20 of us, who have kept in touch since college, and I haven't seen some of them in years, and I've never met some of the others, but I still consider them close friends because we share a bond that was forged through football. And I know that, if you attended a secondary institution where football was not a priority, that sounds like an absurd basis for a relationship. But this is why college football evokes such extreme emotion, and this is why schools work so damn hard and often take ethical shortcuts to forge themselves into football powers: If they are successful, then the game serves as the lifelong bond between alums and townspeople and the university, thereby guaranteeing the institution's self-preservation through donations and season-ticket sales and infusions into the local economy. It is a crass calculus, when you put it that way, which is why there will always be skeptics and there will always be those of us for whom college football is (other than our own families) the purest emotional attachment of our adulthood, and there will always be some of us who bound between those two poles.

Every year, Brad sends out an eight-page e-mail, a meticulous scouting report on a team that is inevitably destined for an Outback Bowl berth but that Brad believes really has a shot at 12-0 this time around. This is what Brad wrote on September 6, a few days before Alabama pounded Penn State in a game none of us believed we could win: "We're gonna hang on Saturday. I think we're gonna give 'em a run."

And this is what Brad wrote on Monday: "The nature of this crime is the worst that has ever happened anywhere."

We moved to State College in 1978, the season Penn State lost to Alabama on a goal-line stand in the Sugar Bowl. I was in first grade, and I didn't have much in the way of social skills, and Penn State football was the language by which I could relate to the world and through which I could speak to the adults around me. I drew pictures of Curt Warner and Todd Blackledge; I memorized the rosters so that when people in our section at Beaver Stadium would ask who made that play, I could tell them. To this day, when I try to recall the combination of my gym locker or a friend's birthday or the license plate of my rental car, I think in terms of uniform numbers. It is not 31-17-03; it is Shane Conlan-Harry Hamilton-Chip LaBarca. Those were great years, and Penn State was in its heyday and Joe Paterno was the Sportsman of the Year and State College was a community that never gave in to the ethical lapses of the '80s and early '90s, because our coaching staff would not stand for it. One former player called it Camelot, and that sounds apt enough.

Jerry Sandusky had been promoted to defensive coordinator the year before we arrived in town. For decades, Penn State defined itself through its ability to stop people when it mattered, and, speaking from a strict football perspective, Sandusky was as responsible for the school's glory years as Paterno was. Linebacker U. thrived under Sandusky, and Penn State won its first national championship in 1982, and then won another in 1986, defeating Miami 14-10 in the Fiesta Bowl in a game predicated entirely on defense. It is widely acknowledged that Sandusky's game plan was the difference, that he rattled Vinny Testaverde and Miami's impetuous wide receivers by devising confusing coverage schemes and instructing his defensive backs to hit Michael Irvin until he cried. The day after it happened, they played that game on a continuous loop in our high school cafeteria. It is still my favorite football game of all time, a metaphoric triumph of the unadorned hero over the flamboyant villain. I wrote a long piece about it for ESPN, and a portion of a book, that now rings completely hollow. I have the original video recording of it in my living room, and I have thought several times over the past couple of days about taking a hammer to it.

I remember one Saturday morning in the autumn of my adolescence, the coach shambling along in his parka, brow furrowed, glasses shadowed in the sharp glare of the sun, black sneakers kicking at the leaves as they eddied and then parted on the asphalt path before him. I did not intend to follow him; it just happened that way, so that one moment I was headed to a football tailgate and the next moment I was trailing along behind Joe Paterno.

I walked behind him for several miles that day. Back then, in the late 1980s, it was still a routine of his to walk from his house to the stadium where he coached, slipping across the Penn State campus, past science labs and classroom buildings and parking lots occupied by stunned tailgaters who could never quite get over the fact that it was really him. Sometimes we were guilty of regarding him as more deity than man, as if he presided over us in mythological stand-up form. He was as much our own conscience as he was a football coach, and we made that pact and imbued him with that sort of power because we believed he would wield it more responsibly than any of us ever could. Maybe that was naïve, but we came of age in a place known as Happy Valley and naïveté was part of the package, and now that word isn't in our dictionaries anymore.

As a journalist, of course, you're taught to be skeptical of everything, and in college, we tried our damndest at the college newspaper to cover Penn State football like professional journalists did. At one point, a talented young reporter thought she'd caught Paterno in a loophole regarding the housing policy at the school, but nothing much ever came of it. Most of the time, Joe got what he wanted. We grew older, and we came to understand one of the central truths of human nature, which is that when you brush up against a truly powerful force, it is never quite as benevolent as you imagined it to be. In order to acquire power, you have to be at least a little ruthless. All you can hope for is that those who do acquire power operate by some sort of rough ethical standard, and even if I no longer deified Paterno, I continued to believe that the monolith I'd grown up inside was essentially a force for good. They did things I found untoward, but I always presumed they did them for the right reasons.

A few years ago, I drove down to the University of Maryland to research a story on Len Bias. I'd gone to see his mother speak at a high school, and now I sat in her office, and I asked her what went wrong at Maryland, whether the administration and the people in power deserved to share any of the responsibility for her son's death, and I remember precisely what she told me. "There was no covering," she said.

I don't know if there are any apt analogies to anything when it comes to this case, but this seems a little bit like our Len Bias moment at Penn State. Our leaders failed to cover, and while they deserve the benefit of due process, they deserve to be held accountable for whatever mistakes they made. If it means that this is how Joe Paterno goes out, then so be it; if it means that 30 years of my own memories of Penn State football are forever tarnished, then I will accept it in the name of finding some measure of justice. Every sane person I know agrees on this. It took Maryland the better part of two decades to regain its soul, and it will take us many years, as well, and in some way it will never be the same. We've come to terms with the corruptibility of the human soul in State College, and we've swept away the naïve notion that this place where we lived so quietly was different from the rest of America.

I have two close friends, a husband and wife, both alums, who moved to State College from New York City a few years ago. They did this because they couldn't afford to raise children in Manhattan, but they also did it because he couldn't imagine a safer place to raise their kids than a little town in a valley situated three hours from everywhere. I don't know what it feels like to grow up there now. I want these things to disappear from my consciousness, but they won't. The place where I grew up is gone, and it's not coming back.

Michael Weinreb is a Grantland staff writer and the author, most recently, of Bigger Than the Game: Bo, Boz, the Punky QB and How the '80s Created the Modern Athlete.

Sports Book Hall of Fame: Ghosts of Manila

The passing of Joe Frazier got the Sports Guy thinking about that epic battle in the Philippines and the book it inspired

By Bill Simmons

Once upon a time, on a sweltering night in the Philippines, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier tried to murder each other. This happened legally, which somehow made it OK.

See, they signed a contract to "fight" each other in Manila. They wore padded gloves, trunks and sneakers so it looked like "boxing." They agreed to fight for 15 three-minute rounds with 60-second breaks in between. They gave a trained referee (Carlos Padilla) and two trusted trainers (Eddie Futch for Frazier, Angelo Dundee for Ali) the power to stop the "fight" if it went too far. They confined themselves within a roped ring and fought furiously for 180 seconds at a time, only halting when they heard a bell … and even then, there were a couple of times when they just kept going. Thirteen times, they retreated to their respective corners, sat on stools directly facing one another, slurped water, gathered their breath for 60 seconds, stared across the ring at one another and thought about things like, "I have to kill him before he kills me." Each time, a bell would ring. They would stand up, walk toward the middle of the ring and try to murder each other again.

During the 14th and final break, when it became clear somebody might die — probably Frazier, who couldn't see anything out of either eye — Futch decided that he couldn't live the rest of his life knowing that he didn't save Frazier. He stopped the fight. A weary Ali figured out what had happened, stood to make sure, then sagged to the ground like someone had sliced his hamstrings. He spent the next few seconds lying on his back, finally sitting up and staring ahead blankly as his entourage congratulated him — not just for winning, but for surviving. This wasn't a fight. This was something else. With all due respect to Hagler-Hearns, Leonard-Hearns, Foreman-Lyle, Castillo-Coralles and everything else on that level, the third Ali-Frazier bout went to a different place. For sweeping drama, clashing styles, mutual hatred, historical significance and sheer brutality, nothing else approached the "Thrilla in Manila." The fight eventually ruined both men, only neither of them cared. They were fine with the stakes.

Upon hearing last night's news that liver cancer had claimed Frazier, I found myself thinking about Smokin' Joe's final thoughts: whether it gnawed at him that Ali was outlasting him one more time, whether he thought about Ali anymore, whether that bitterness fades away when your life is hitting those last few minutes. I thought about 6-year-old me watching the replay of the Thrilla in Manila on Wide World of Sports, right when boxing was sucking me in — how I gravitated towards Ali and away from Frazier, how you instinctively had to choose between the two of them, even if you were only a first-grader. I considered how those feelings changed over the years as Frazier's resentment festered and it became retroactively clear that Ali — in the spirit of promoting their fights, or whatever he was trying to do — had crossed every conceivable line. And I remembered the talented Mark Kram, a lyrical Sports Illustrated writer whose on-deadline essay about Manila ranks among the best sports pieces ever written. Thirty-six years later, we remember that fight through YouTube clips and paragraphs like this:

"Who is it?" asked Joe Frazier, lifting himself to walk around. "Who is it? I can't see! I can't see! Turn the lights on!" Another light was turned on, but Frazier still could not see. The scene cannot be forgotten; this good and gallant man lying there, embodying the remains of a will never before seen in a ring, a will that had carried him so far — and now surely too far. His eyes were only slits, his face looked as if it had been painted by Goya. "Man, I hit him with punches that'd bring down the walls of a city," said Frazier. "Lawdy, lawdy, he's a great champion." Then he put his head back down on the pillow, and soon there was only the heavy breathing of a deep sleep slapping like big waves against the silence.

Kram expanded that piece into his 2005 book, "Ghosts of Manila," which examines the Ali-Frazier rivalry from Frazier's side … something that, probably out of deference to Ali and everything he meant in the 1960s and 1970s, nobody had ever really done. Even if the book treats Ali too unfairly, it's an essential read: partly because it's so well written, partly because he audaciously challenges the Myth of Ali. According to Kram, Ali wasn't as savvy as his Kram's media cronies wanted us to believe, nor was he a visionary by any stretch, just a self-promoter who lit up every room, energized every television set and manipulated the media better than any other celebrity from that era. Kram also argues that Ali was fundamentally nastier than anyone wanted to admit — both in the ring (specifically, the Ernie Terrell and Floyd Patterson fights) and outside the ring (where he relentlessly hammered Frazier for being an "Uncle Tom" and cruelly compared him to gorillas and apes). And he writes that Ali was more of a reckless bully than anyone wanted to admit.

If you revere Ali and his place in sports history, it's an especially jarring book to read. (Same for seeing HBO's 2009 documentary, which hammered home many of Kram's themes). How can you love Ali and defend what he did to poor Frazier? Kram preys on that moral dilemma and shifts his book's perspective against Ali to make Frazier more sympathetic. (Mission accomplished.) At times, he goes too far. For instance, at the end of Kram's famous SI piece, Ali praises Frazier for an entire paragraph and calls him a "great man" … an anecdote that Kram conspicuously omits from his book because it undermines his premise that Ali never gave Frazier credit. Kram also dismisses the fact that Ali may have kept baiting Frazier because — in his own shortsighted way — he knew a possessed Frazier would bring out his best. Ali had developed a nasty habit of rising or sinking to the skill level of his opponents.1 Only two boxers provoked his A-game during that stretch: Frazier and the seemingly invincible George Foreman (knocked out by Ali in 1974).

Styles make fights, and, for whatever reason, Frazier's style became Ali's kryptonite: a brawling southpaw with a head of granite, someone who threw punches from every angle, who kept lunging toward Ali again and again and unleashing that bitch of a left hook. Why else would Ali pick on Frazier so relentlessly? He wanted the challenge. He needed the challenge. That's what alpha dogs do — over everything else, they vanquish. Why do you think Michael Jordan was the best basketball player ever? He deliberately sought out rivals, beat them and broke their will as he did it. The mere process of winning was never quite enough for him. He wanted to collect heads. Like a deer hunter.

You could say the same about Ali. His three biggest challenges were Sonny Liston, George Foreman and Frazier … and with all three, he went after them personally. Frazier suffered the worst abuse by far. For years and years, Ali peppered him with an endless barrage of racially charged comments, intentionally swaying the African-American community against him2 , unfairly painting Frazier as the symbol of the white establishment, and selfishly pushing himself as the voice of change, the symbol of black power and the leader of young people wrapped into one potent package. Even if the last part was essentially true in many ways, Ali didn't need to humiliate Frazier to prove it.

Years later, once Frazier's anguish about that verbal abuse became public, a contrite Ali distanced himself from those antics, saying that he meant to drum up interest in their fights and meant no real harm. Frazier never believed him — either afterwards or at the time — and spent the past 36 years alternately despising Ali, pretending he had gotten over what happened, then admitting that he still despised him. One thing's for sure: Heading into that third fight, Joe Frazier genuinely hated Muhammad Ali. Even if Ali never intended to kill Frazier, he quickly realized there was no other recourse. They ended up beating the living shit out of each other. By the 14th round, when Frazier couldn't see anymore — his good eye had closed, and his bad eye never really worked to begin with — Ali hammered him with punches the same way characters on The Walking Dead hammer those zombies with baseball bats. He hit Frazier with everything he had, his punches bouncing off Frazier's head so violently that his hands would remain swollen for weeks. The man kept coming forward, his animus for Ali overcoming everything else. He didn't care about his own life anymore. Muhammad Ali would have to murder him to take him out. That was the only acceptable result for Joe Frazier.

That's what made the Manila fight so special, that's what made the Ali-Frazier rivalry iconic, and that's what made the next 36 years increasingly unpleasant. Frazier kept smoldering about their three fights and every mean-spirited word Ali said along the way, taking a twisted pride in Ali's increasingly incoherent state. In 2008, the message on Joe's answering machine actually said, "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, I done the job, he knows, look and see." You could say Ali brought the best out of Frazier, and the worst, too. Ghosts of Manila bangs that message home. As one of Frazier's cronies tells Kram, "Ali's influenced Joe so much he's determined the man he is today. A couple of ghosts, if you ask me. One is still in the ring in Manila, the other doesn't even know there was a Manila. It was a bad reckoning for both, that day." Ali outlasted Frazier that night … and again this week, when Frazier passed away. Both men lost the "Thrilla in Manila." Neither was ever the same.

You know who else was never really the same after that night? Mark Kram. In Michael MacCambridge's superb book about the history of SI, The Franchise, we learn that Kram sometimes sent friends out on assignment to do his research for him, and that SI fired Kram in 1977 for gross misconduct after questions arose that Kram had been paid off for positive spins with certain stories (including a flattering feature about Don King's ill-fated heavyweight box-off). Someone as gifted as Kram should been remembered for more than just that brilliant SI piece or the book it eventually inspired, just like Frazier shouldn't have allowed his animosity to consume him until he died, and Ali should have retired that night in Manila over scrambling his brains for a few extra bucks. It's a bittersweet book about a bittersweet night. Maybe Ghosts of Manila isn't as extraordinary as Kram's seminal deadline piece, but it's still one of the best boxing books ever written despite its aforementioned flaws. It also makes you wonder if there were three ghosts from that night, not two.

Sports Book Hall of Fame: The Inaugural Class

Bill Simmons is Grantland's Editor in Chief, the host of the BS Report podcast, the author of the New York Times no. 1 best-seller The Book of Basketball and the co-creator of ESPN's Peabody-award winning "30 For 30" series. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

A Champion Who Won Inside the Ring and Out

By Dave Anderson
The New York Times
November 7, 2011

Some people mean more together than they do apart, whatever the stage. Churchill and Hitler. Bogart and Bacall. Ali and Frazier. And for all the deserved accolades for Muhammad Ali, I’ve always believed that each at his best, Joe Frazier, who died Monday night at age 67, was the better fighter. And the better man.

After both entered the Madison Square Garden ring undefeated in 1971 for what was called the Fight of the Century, Frazier flattened Ali with a left hook and earned a unanimous and unquestioned 15-round decision that Ali didn’t wait to hear. His jaw swollen, he hurried out of the ring on the way to a nearby hospital. He knew who had won.

The Thrilla in Manila in 1975 was awarded to Ali when Frazier’s trainer, Eddie Futch, wouldn’t let him answer the bell for the 15th round because “he couldn’t see the right hands coming” out of his closed left eye, but Frazier soon talked freely in the interview area. When an exhausted Ali finally arrived, he described their epic in brutality as “next to death.”

That evening, at a party in an old Filipino palace, Ali, his ribs battered, walked stiffly and sat stiffly, painfully offering a finger or two instead of shaking hands.

At his hotel, Frazier sang and danced. Seeing them both, if you didn’t know what had happened in the fight, you had to think Frazier was the winner.

Not long after that, Ali had a party for his autobiography at the Rainbow Room high in Rockefeller Center. Frazier was invited, but would he show up?

For years, Ali had insulted Frazier, calling him a “gorilla” and “stupid.” Frazier seethed; he once grappled with Ali briefly — and seriously — in a television studio before they were separated. But the night of the book party, he greeted Ali with a smile and “Hiya, champ” — the ultimate compliment from one boxer to another. Class.

To me, Joe Frazier won that night, too.

But the Joe Frazier I’ll always remember wasn’t in a boxing ring or at a book party. Soon after the Garden triumph, he was back home in Beaufort, S.C., where, one of 12 children, he had grown up picking vegetables for 15 cents a crate when not helping his father, a handyman who lost his left arm in an auto accident.

“I was his left arm,” he said.

Ten years earlier, Joe had left Beaufort with about $200 in his pocket on a Greyhound bus bound for New York and a better life. He soon settled in Philadelphia, where he sometimes worked in a meat locker, battering a side of beef as if it were a punching bag — the inspiration for a scene in the “Rocky” movie.

Now, as the undisputed heavyweight champion who had earned $2.5 million at the Garden, he had returned to Beaufort in a maroon Cadillac limousine. He was there to buy a new-home site for his 62-year-old mother. “Dolly Frazier, the mother of the champ,” she introduced herself. “How sweet it is.”

That day they drove over to a nearby farm: “Trask and Sons, Fancy Vegetables,” where Mrs. Frazier had picked radishes. “Four lots right here,” said the land owner, Harold Trask, known as Beanie. “At $1,500 a lot, that’s a good price. Or if you want twice as much property, from the corner down to that bend there, it’s $3,000 an acre. And I’ll sell you four acres for $9,000.”

Joe and his mother listened and thanked Trask for his offer. On their way back to her shingled home between drooping moss trees, she said: “It’s nice, high land. No swamps. And we owe him first choice for showing it to us.”

“You say give him first choice, Momma,” Joe said, his voice rising, “but he can’t be first choice if he don’t give the right price. He ain’t giving you nothin’. He’s selling it to you. He ain’t giving you nothin’ at all.”

Back in his mother’s home, Joe talked about how he had watched fights on their little television. “Sugar Ray, Hurricane Jackson, Floyd Patterson,” he said. “Joe Louis was my idol. Down in the South, the black goes for the black.” But soon he was talking about Trask’s land offer.

“He’s talking that white talk,” Joe said. “He was saying that he wouldn’t mind if I came over to his house for a cup of coffee. And tell me that I could come back down and live. I’ll forgive, but I’ll never forget.”

I never learned what happened with that land deal for his mother, but Joe Frazier sure won the conversation about it. The next day, South Carolina state troopers escorted him in a high-speed motorcade to Columbia, S.C., where he was the first black man to address the State Legislature since the Civil War. Joe won that day, too. Just as he won at the Garden and “won” in Manila. Won that book party, too.

The record shows that Joe Frazier lost four fights — two against Ali (a mostly forgotten 12-round decision in a nontitle fight between their two classics) and two knockouts by George Foreman. But to me, somehow he always won.