Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Today's Tune: Bruce Springsteen - I Hung My Head (Live 2014)

'The Imitation Game': A Poor Imitation of Alan Turing

December 19, 2014

I’ve been fascinated by the computer science pioneer Alan Turing ever since I came across the remarkable account of his life written by the British mathematician and gay rights activist Andrew Hodges in 1983. The moment of publication was no accident, for two reasons. First, by the early 1980s the story of Turing’s wartime efforts to break Nazi codes had receded just far enough in time to overcome the draconian security restrictions that had prevented it from being told. Second, gay rights campaigners in Europe and the US were enjoying some of their first big successes in breaking through long-standing discrimination. Suddenly it became possible not only to celebrate Turing’s enormous contribution to Allied victory in the war but also to tell the story of his 1952 conviction and subsequent punishment on charges of homosexuality (still a criminal offense in Great Britain at the time), followed by his death, at the age of forty-one, two years later. (For Hodges, this death was clearly a suicide; intriguingly, Jack Copeland, his more recent biographer, isn’t so sure. More on that later.)
To anyone trying to turn this story into a movie, the choice seems clear: either you embrace the richness of Turing as a character and trust the audience to follow you there, or you simply capitulate, by reducing him to a caricature of the tortured genius. The latter, I’m afraid, is the path chosen by director Morten Tyldum and screenwriter Graham Moore in The Imitation Game, their new, multiplex-friendly rendering of the story. In their version, Turing (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) conforms to the familiar stereotype of the otherworldly nerd: he’s the kind of guy who doesn’t even understand an invitation to lunch. This places him at odds not only with the other codebreakers in his unit, but also, equally predictably, positions him as a natural rebel.
Just to make sure we get the point, his recruitment to the British wartime codebreaking organization at Bletchley Park is rendered as a ridiculous confrontation with Alastair Denniston (Charles Dance, of Game of Thrones fame), the Royal Navy officer then in charge of British signals intelligence: “How the bloody hell are you supposed to decrypt German communications if you don’t, oh, I don’t know, speak German?” thunders Denniston. “I’m quite excellent at crossword puzzles,” responds Turing.
On various occasions throughout the film, Denniston tries to fire Turing or have him arrested for espionage, which is resisted by those who have belatedly recognized his redemptive brilliance. “If you fire Alan, you’ll have to fire me, too,” says one of his (formerly hostile) coworkers. There’s no question that the real-life Turing was decidedly eccentric, and that he didn’t suffer fools gladly. As his biographers vividly relate, though, he could also be a wonderfully engaging character when he felt like it, notably popular with children and thoroughly charming to anyone for whom he developed a fondness.
All of this stands sharply at odds with his characterization in the film, which depicts him as a dour Mr. Spock who is disliked by all of his coworkers—with the possible exception of Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley). The film spares no opportunity to drive home his robotic oddness. He uses the word “logical” a lot and can’t grasp even the most modest of jokes. This despite the fact that he had a sprightly sense of humor, something that comes through vividly in the accounts of his friends, many of whom shared their stories with both Hodges and Copeland. (For the record, the real Turing was also a bit of a slob, with a chronic disregard for personal hygiene. The glamorous Cumberbatch, by contrast, looks like he’s just stepped out of a Burberry catalog.)
Now, one might easily dismiss such distortions as trivial. But actually they point to a much broader and deeply regrettable pattern. Tyldum and Moore are determined to suggest maximum dramatic tension between their tragic outsider and a blinkered society. (“You will never understand the importance of what I am creating here,” he wails when Denniston’s minions try to destroy his machine.) But this not only fatally miscasts Turing as a character—it also completely destroys any coherent telling of what he and his colleagues were trying to do.
In reality, Turing was an entirely willing participant in a collective enterprise that featured a host of other outstanding intellects who happily coexisted to extraordinary effect. The actual Denniston, for example, was an experienced cryptanalyst and was among those who, in 1939, debriefed the three Polish experts who had already spent years figuring out how to attack the Enigma, the state-of-the-art cipher machine the German military used for virtually all of their communications. It was their work that provided the template for the machines Turing would later create to revolutionize the British signals intelligence effort. So Turing and his colleagues were encouraged in their work by a military leadership that actually had a pretty sound understanding of cryptological principles and operational security. As Copeland notes, the Nazis would have never allowed a bunch of frivolous eggheads to engage in such highly sensitive work, and they suffered the consequences. The film misses this entirely.
In Tyldum and Moore’s version of events, Turing and his small group of fellow codebreakers spend the first two years of the war in fruitless isolation; only in 1941 does Turing’s crazy machine finally show any results. This is a highly stylized version of Turing’s epic struggle to crack the hardest German cipher, the one used by the German navy, whose ravaging submarines nearly brought Britain to its knees during the early years of the war. What this account neglects to mention is that Turing’s “bombes”—electromechanical calculating devices designed to reconstruct the settings of the Enigma—were already helping to decipher German army and air force codes from early on.
The movie version, in short, represents a bizarre departure from the historical record. In fact, Bletchley Park—and not only Turing’s legendary Hut 8—was doing productive work from the very beginning of the war. Within a few years its motley assortment of codebreakers, linguists, stenographers, and communications experts were operating on a near-industrial scale. By the end of the war there were some 9,000 people working on the project, processing thousands of intercepts per day.
A bit like one of those smartphones that bristles with unneeded features, the film does its best to ladle in extra doses of intrigue where none existed. Tyldum and Moore conjure up an entirely superfluous subplot involving John Cairncross, who was spying for the Soviet Union during his service at Bletchley Park. There’s no evidence that he ever crossed paths with Turing—Bletchley, contrary to the film, was much bigger than a single hut—but The Imitation Game includes him among Turing’s coworkers. When Turing discovers his true allegiance, Cairncross turns the tables on him, saying that he’ll reveal Turing’s homosexuality if his secret is divulged. Turing backs off, leaving the spy in place.
Not many of the critics seem to have paid attention to this detail—except for historian Alex von Tunzelmann, who pointed out that the filmmakers have thus managed, almost as an afterthought, to turn their hero into a traitor. The movie tries to soften this by revealing that Stewart Menzies, the head of the Special Intelligence Service, has known about Cairncross’s treachery from the start—a jury-rigged solution to a gratuitous plot problem. (In fact, Cairncross, “the fifth man,” was never prosecuted.)
Jack English/Black Bear Pictures
Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, 2014
These errors are not random; there is a method to the muddle. The filmmakers see their hero above all as a martyr of a homophobic Establishment, and they are determined to lay emphasis on his victimhood. The Imitation Game ends with the following title: “After a year of government-mandated hormonal therapy, Alan Turing committed suicide in 1954.” This is in itself something of a distortion. Turing was convicted on homosexuality charges in 1952, and chose the “therapy” involving female hormones—aimed, in the twisted thinking of the times, at suppressing his “unnatural” desires—as an alternative to jail time. It was barbarous treatment, and Turing complained that the pills gave him breasts. But the whole miserable episode ended in 1953—a full year before his death, something not made clear to the filmgoer.
Copeland, who has taken a fresh look at the record and spoken with many members of Turing’s circle, disputes that the experience sent Turing into a downward spiral of depression. By the accounts of those who knew him, he bore the injustice with fortitude, then spent the next year enthusiastically pursuing projects. Copeland cites a number of close friends (and Turing’s mother) who saw no evidence that he was depressed in the days before his death, and notes that the coroner who concluded that Turing had died by biting a cyanide-laced apple never examined the fruit. Copeland offers sound evidence that the death might have actually been accidental, the result of a self-rigged laboratory where Turing was conducting experiments with cyanide. He left no suicide letter.
Copeland also leaves open the possibility of foul play, which can’t be dismissed out of hand, when you consider that all of this happened during the period of McCarthyite hysteria, an era when homosexuality was regarded as an inherent “security risk.” Turing’s government work meant that he knew a lot of secrets, in the postwar period as well. It’s likely we’ll never know the whole story.
One thing is certain: Turing could be remarkably naive about his own homosexuality. It was Turing himself who reported the fateful 1952 burglary, probably involving a working-class boyfriend, that brought his gay lifestyle to the attention to the police, thus setting off the legal proceedings against him. In The Imitation Game he holds this information back from the cops, who then cleverly wheedle it out. It’s another indication of the filmmakers’ determination to show Turing as an essentially passive figure. He’s never the master of his own destiny.
But even if you believe that Turing was driven to his death, The Imitation Game’s treatment of his fate borders on the ridiculous. In one of the film’s most egregious scenes, his wartime friend Joan pays him a visit in 1952 or so, while he’s still taking his hormones. She finds him shuffling around the house in his bathrobe, barely capable of putting together a coherent sentence. He tells her that he’s terrified that the powers that be will take away “Christopher”—his latest computer, which he’s named after the dead friend of his childhood (just as he did with his machine at Bletchley Park).
As near as I can tell, there is no basis for any of this in the historical record; it’s monstrous hogwash, a conceit entirely cooked up by Moore. The real Turing certainly paid periodic and dignified respects to the memory of his first love, Christopher Morcom, but I doubt very much that he ever confused his computers with people. In perhaps the most bitter irony of all, the filmmakers have managed to transform the real Turing, vivacious and forceful, into just the sort of mythological gay man, whiney and weak, that homophobes love to hate.
This is indicative of the bad faith underlying the whole enterprise, which is desperate to put Turing in the role of a gay liberation totem but can’t bring itself to show him kissing another man—something he did frequently, and with gusto. And it most definitely doesn’t show him cruising New York’s gay bars, or popping off on a saucy vacation to one of the less reputable of the Greek islands. The Imitation Game is a film that prefers its gay men decorously disembodied.
To be honest, I’m a bit surprised that there hasn’t been more pushback against The Imitation Game by intelligence professionals, historians, and survivors of Turing’s circle. But I think I understand why. After so many years in which Turing failed to get his due, no one wants to be seen as spoiling the party. I strongly doubt, though, that many of those in the know are recommending this film to their friends. (For his part, Andrew Hodges is apparently opting to avoid talking about the movie during his current book tour—it’s easy to imagine why he might choose to do so, and I don’t fault him for it.)
If you want to see a richly imagined British movie about a fascinating historical character, go see Mike Leigh’s new film about the painter J.M.W. Turner. But if you want to see the real Alan Turing, you’re better off reading the books.

Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game is now in wide release. This post is drawn from a longer essay that will appear in a coming issue of The New York Review of Books.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Schools Don't Teach Kids to Read

Phyllis Schlafly | Dec 30, 2014

A high school English teacher at Rosemount High School in Minnesota, which was called a "top-ranked school" by the Minnesota Department of Education, given the Blue Ribbon School of Excellence Award by the U.S. Department of Education and named a top school in the nation for 2014 by Newsweek Magazine, just wrote a shocking letter alerting parents and the public that her high school juniors can't read. Her letter, published by the Minnesota Star Tribune on Dec. 4, was eloquent, so I quote it verbatim.
"We are in the midst of one of the greatest literacy crises ever encountered, and we are fighting an uphill battle. Every day I experience firsthand what it means to be illiterate in a high school classroom. Average students with average abilities can fervently text away, but they cannot read."
She said some of her students just sleep away an assigned unit. Others resort to depression or aggression. She gave them a not very difficult test, but they couldn't read the test.
When she assigns her students a book to read, they often don't even try to read it. Ask them why and they say, "It's boring." She wrote that this translates into "It's too hard to read." The teacher appeals to parents and the public, saying, "I need your help."
Don't count on the shift to Common Core to teach school kids to read. Common Core will change the assigned stories and books, but it won't change the fact that elementary school kids are only taught how to memorize a few dozen "sight," mostly one-syllable, words, but not taught phonics in order to sound out the syllables and then read the bigger words in high school and college assignments.
Students are not assigned or motivated to read whole books. In the name of "close reading," they are given short so-called "informational" excerpts to read over and over in class, almost until they are memorized. You don't find the students going to the library to take out and read the classics, and students don't acquire the vocabulary necessary to do college work.
Limited reading skill means that what the students read is tightly controlled. Common Core has rewritten the history of America's founding to present James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and other Founders to fit the leftwing narrative of gender, race, class and ethnicity, and students have neither motivation nor skill to seek out the true history of the Founders.
Common Core does, however, find space for stories that many parents find morally objectionable, such as "The Bluest Eye" by Toni Morrison.
The change from teaching school children to read by phonics and replacing phonics with the so-called "whole word" or "look-say" method was fully debunked in the landmark book "Why Johnny Can't Read" by Rudolph Flesch in 1955. Unfortunately, the truth had no impact on public schools, which stuck with the new method because it was part of "progressive" education. It was brought to Teachers College at Columbia University with a $3 million grant from John D. Rockefeller Jr., who then sent four of his five sons to be educated by Dewey's progressive ideas.
Publishers responded eagerly to the opportunity to sell new books to all elementary schools, and the "Dick and Jane" series seemed much more attractive than the widely used McGuffey readers. Reading suddenly appeared to become easy because the Whole Word method teaches the child to guess at the words from pictures, to memorize a few dozen one-syllable words that are used over and over again, and to substitute words that fit the context.
The "Dick and Jane" books were full of color pictures and only a couple of short sentences on every page. A typical page showed Dick and Jane on a seesaw. The kids could easily "read" the two sentences below: "See Dick up. See Jane down."
Nelson Rockefeller, who became governor of New York and ran three times for U.S. president, described his reading handicap in The Reading Teacher in March 1972: "I am a prime example of one who has had to struggle with the handicap of being a poor reader while serving in public office."
Rockefeller hired expensive speechwriters, but he said that many times he threw away the speech and told the audience he was just going to give his "spontaneous thoughts." He confessed that the real reason was that he could not do an adequate job of reading the speech prepared for him.
If parents want their children to be good readers, parents will have to do the teaching as I did with my six children. When the book I used was allowed to go out of print and its publisher went out of business, I wrote "First Reader" to teach phonics to my grandchildren at ages 5 or 6 (now available at and "Turbo Reader" for kids over age 8 (available at

Monday, December 29, 2014

Film Review: 'The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies' is best of the bunch

By Randy Myers
December 14, 2014
We can squabble about whether there was a valid reason to stretch J.R.R. Tolkien's trim "The Hobbit" out into three long-winded movies and grouse about how greed motivated Hollywood to cleave the final "The Hunger Games" book into two sections, a dubious trend cribbed from the "Twilight" and "Harry Potter" franchises.
But let's not. Instead, let's just agree to table the debate about whether padding a series is pointless and simply take Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" at face value. From that perspective, Jackson's final bit of Tolkien tinkering ends on a high enough note, giving fans of the author and director what they want: Middle-earth showdowns, sweeping spectacles and distressing deaths.
Unlike both predecessors, "Five Armies" doesn't sag in the storytelling. It starts with a thrilling opening, loads up the screen with a destructive dragon, evil Orcs, immortal elves, brave dwarves and concludes with a bravo ending. The parts in between aren't bad, either.
As a bonus, "Armies" is armed with one of the best performances in the entire Jackson Middle-earth series, and that's saying a lot when the cast includes Cate Blanchett and Ian McKellen. As Dwarf Lord Thorin Oakenshield, Richard Armitage perfectly embodies one of Tolkien's steady themes about man's eternal war with his own inner demons. Even when the showy director can't restrain himself and allows that epic battle sequence to run on too long, Armitage's performance brings the film back to its classic literary firmament. He taps into his character's "dragon-sickness" -- coveting riches at the expense of the soul -- and does it with a mad glint in his eye one instance, a conflicted expression the next. His performance is a highlight, as is the presence of Martin Freeman, whose hobbit Bilbo Baggins feels the tug of his own dark side. And, yes, "Ring" veterans Blanchett, McKellen and Christopher Lee contribute as well.
"The Battle of the Five Armies" picks up right after the cliffhanger that ended "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," starting with the dragon Smaug pulverizing the waterlogged Lake-town. To recap, Bilbo and the dwarves of Erebor have awakened the dragon Smaug and taken back their homeland, Lonely Mountain, which was also the dragon's lair, where he protected his treasures, including the coveted Arkenstone.
Unwittingly, Thorin and company have played a part in Smaug's unleashing his fury on the residents of Lake-town. But Bard the Bowman (a heroic hunk played by Luke Evans) has a bone to pick with Smaug, and after Lake-town gets fried, "The Battle of the Five Armies" brings us up to date with the cliffhanger dilemmas of key players. That character gallery is huge and a part of why the film is nearly 2 1/2 hours long.
The real villain remains the shapeless evil entity Sauron (voiced, along with Smaug, by Benedict Cumberbatch). He eggs on the battle looming in the title. Seeking to dominate Middle-earth and plunge it into darkness, Sauron summons the ugly, fearsome Orcs and gives them marching orders to attack. Meanwhile, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) escapes from a cage, and an elf population that includes Elvenking Thranduil (Lee Pace), Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Silvan Elf Warrior Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) must decide what to do. Jackson earned jeers for adding Lilly's character to Tolkien's world in "Smaug," but in this mostly male-dominated landscape, she's a welcome addition.
And then there's Jackson's illustrious imagining of Tolkien's world, and one again, he gets it right. All of it plays well together: the otherworldly production design from Dan Hennah, the large-scale special effects and the gorgeous New Zealand scenery. The 3-D, however, adds nothing.
Some puritans might argue the entire three-film series adds nothing. And while it's true that none of the "Hobbit" films was as good as any in the "Rings" trilogy, "The Five Armies" at least comes closest to capturing Tolkein's essence. And in this instance, that is good enough.

Black Progression and Retrogression

Walter E. Williams | Dec 24, 2014

Martin Luther King, Jr.

There is no question, though it's not acknowledged enough, that black Americans have made greater gains, over some of the highest hurdles and in a very short span of time, than any other racial group in mankind's history. What's the evidence? If black Americans were thought of as a nation with their own gross domestic product, they'd rank among the 20 wealthiest nations. It was a black American, Gen. Colin Powell, who headed the mightiest military in mankind's history. A few black Americans are among the world's wealthiest. Many black Americans are among the world's most famous personalities.
The significance of all this is that in 1865, neither an ex-slave nor an ex-slave owner would have believed that such progress would be possible in less than a century and a half. As such, it speaks to the intestinal fortitude of a people. Just as importantly, it speaks to the greatness of a nation within which such progress was possible. That progress would have been impossible anywhere except in the United States of America. The challenge that lies before us is how those gains can be extended to a large percentage of black people for whom they appear elusive.
A good start to meeting that challenge is to recognize that much of the pathology seen in many black communities is entirely new in black history. Let's look at some of that history. In the late 1800s, depending on the city, 70 to 80 percent of black households were two-parent. In 1925 New York City, 85 percent of black households were two-parent. As late as 1950, only 18 percent of black households were single-parent. From 1890 to 1940, a slightly higher percentage of black adults had married than white adults. In 1940, black illegitimacy was about 14 percent.
Today it's an entirely different story. Black illegitimacy is 75 percent. Close to 50 percent of marriage-age blacks never marry. Close to 70 percent of black households are female-headed. If one thinks family structure doesn't matter, consider that the poverty rate among black female-headed families is about 47 percent but among married families it has been in the single digits for more than two decades. It's not just poverty. Children raised by single parents are likelier to be physically abused; use drugs; engage in violent, delinquent and criminal behavior; have emotional and behavioral problems; and drop out of school.
What about employment? Every census from 1890 to 1950 showed that black labor force participation rates were higher than those of whites. Today it's a mere fraction. Prior to the mid-'50s, the unemployment rate for black 16- and 17-year-olds was under 10 percent and less than that of whites. Who would argue that this more favorable employment picture was because there was less racial discrimination in the job market in earlier times? Labor laws such as the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931 -- a federal minimum wage law for construction workers -- and the 1938 federal minimum wage law for all workers reduced work opportunities for blacks.
Then there's the high crime rate. Each year, roughly 7,000 blacks are murdered. Ninety-four percent of the time, the murderer is another black person. Though blacks are 13 percent of the nation's population, they are more than 50 percent of homicide victims. Nationally, the black homicide victimization rate is six times that of whites, and in some cities, it's 22 times that of whites. Along with being most of the nation's homicide victims, blacks are most of the victims of violent personal crimes, such as assault and robbery.
Older black people, who were raised in an era when there was far greater discrimination and who faced far fewer opportunities, need to speak out against behavior and excuses that their parents would have never accepted. Otherwise, the race hustlers, poverty pimps and white liberals will continue with the narrative that black problems are a result of racism and racist cops and condemn future generations of blacks to a lifetime of mediocrity.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Today's Tune: Southside Johnny & Bruce Springsteen - I Don't Want To Go Home (Live 1978)

Glory Day: On Aug. 9, 1978, there was no stopping the Boss and his band at the Cleveland Agora

December 27, 2014


(Originally published in The Plain Dealer on Nov. 12, 1999)

When Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band perform Sunday and Monday at Gund Arena, they'll be hard-pressed to top their legendary show of Aug. 9, 1978, at the Cleveland Agora. The 1,200 fans who packed the landmark venue in its old location on E. 24th St. were treated to a 22-song marathon of old favorites and then-new tunes from the "Darkness on the Edge of Town" album.

Broadcast live on WMMS FM/100.7 to mark the radio station's 10th anniversary, the free show was simulcast in seven Midwest markets, reaching an estimated 3 million listeners. The widely bootlegged concert captures the Boss and his crackerjack band at the height of their powers, making a rare club appearance in the midst of their first major arena tour.
What follows is a blow-by-blow account of that unforgettable night by a few fortunate eyewitnesses who were there - as well as one serious Springsteen devotee who wishes he had been.

Kid Leo, WMMS disc jockey: Obviously, 'MMS was going to be the sponsor because we broke Springsteen. Cleveland gave him a foothold in middle America. It was the first city that embraced him outside the Tri-state area.

John Gorman, WMMS program director: That was the summer Dennis Kucinich had the vote recall. The mayor and city council were snarling at each other like dogs. Cleveland was sliding into default. The Springsteen concert was such an amazing high at the time, considering everything else was going south - and fast. As crazy as it sounds, rock 'n' roll was one of the few salvations in this city.

Hank LoConti Sr., Agora owner: 'MMS gave away the tickets. People actually slept on the sidewalk the night before because it was a general-admission show. They wanted to be right up front. These four guys brought a lamp, sleeping bags, everything. I ran an extension cord out to them so they could hook up their lamp.

Chuck Crow, Agora bartender (and now Plain Dealer photographer): People were waiting to get in when I showed up for work. Someone offered me $100 for a ticket.

Jim Kluter, one of the hardcore fans known as the Cleveland Boys: Bruce used to give us 20, 30 tickets. To make a long story short, we went to Asbury Park in 1976. We caught wind that he was playing a benefit softball game. One thing led to another and Bruce asked us to play. He invited us back the following weekend. We stayed at his house. To us, he was just a regular guy hanging out with regular guys.

John Gorman: It was very important to us that everything ran smoothly. We didn't want a situation where a left channel cut out or a cue was missed. That would have made us look bush-league. Leo and I were very nervous.

Kid Leo: Nervous? Oh, no. This was a celebration. I remember taking a tray of my mom's lasagna to Bruce and the band before the show. Bruce goes, "What are you, nuts? I can't eat this. You see what I do. Do you think I could do that weighed down with lasagna?" While Bruce objected, the band cleared out the whole tray. There was none left.

Kid Leo got the crowd's attention with the following introduction: "Ladies and gentlemen, the main event. Round for round, pound for pound, there ain't no finer band around - Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band!" They came out swinging with a cover of "Summertime Blues" that went directly into a knockout rendition of "Badlands."

John Gorman: The segue from "Summertime Blues" to "Badlands" was like launching a rocket. It was powerful. Each song just kept building and building and building.

Chuck Crow: It was the best version of "Badlands" I ever heard. I recall Bruce singing and a sea of hands clapping in front of him. I sat on the bar right next to the stage. We didn't serve during the show. I think they didn't want all that noise in the background because of the radio broadcast.

Sam Kopper, radio broadcast producer: Jimmy Iovine handled the music mix. He was Springsteen's producer. That was the first time I saw Springsteen live. I was blown away. I had seen James Brown and he surely deserved his moniker as "the hardest working man in show business." But when I saw Springsteen, I realized the mantle had been passed.

The performance continued at a breakneck pace with "Spirit in the Night," "Darkness on the Edge of Town," "Factory," "The Promised Land," "Prove It All Night" and "Racing in the Street." Two of Springsteen's most popular songs, "Thunder Road" and "Jungleland" (complete with a cameo by the Cleveland Boys), closed the first half of the concert.

Hank LoConti Sr.: Bruce put on a fantastic show. It's the best I've ever seen him. The first time he played the Agora in '74, he maybe drew 500, 600. Four years later, he packed the place.

Kid Leo: It was electric. The crowd, the band, the walls - the whole setting was electric.

John Gorman: The crowd knew it was witnessing history. It would have to be one of the best crowds Springsteen has ever played to. You could feel the emotions going back and forth. The audience and the band were both having fun. The vibes were going both ways. There was a connection.

Jim Kluter: We ended up sitting in the second row. There was an iron I-beam above the stage. During the show, Bruce swung across it from one end to the other. He dropped right in front of me and Joe and stuck the microphone in our faces in the middle of "Jungleland." We sang the line: "Explode into rock 'n' roll bands."

Joe Juhasz, member of the Cleveland Boys: We were way off-key. I'm sure it wasn't planned. If it wasn't us, it would've been someone else. Everyone was singing along. It was so loud between the crowd and the band.

After an intermission, the instrumental "Paradise by the 'C' kicked off the second half of the show - "Round Two," as Springsteen put it. "Fire," "Sherry Darling" and a medley of "Not Fade Away," "Gloria" and "She's the One" followed.

John Gorman: The band just clicked. They were talking to each other onstage. It was raw emotion. Every single band member was right on. Everybody was reading everybody else's mind.

Joe Juhasz: They always give 100 percent. That night, they gave more. The songs were tighter and the solos were excellent. Max Weinberg was just crazy on the drums. Clarence Clemons was right on, too.

Mary Polcyn, future wife of Cleveland Boy Joe Juhasz and fan in her own right: Clarence pulled me onstage to dance. I didn't feel too good. We had a party at our bungalow in Parma the day before and the band came. That's why Bruce said, "Cleveland Boys, a little party noise" at the beginning of "Sherry Darling."

John Gorman: One thing went wrong. Clarence had a portable Nakamichi stereo. Somebody stole it from his hotel room. He was (angry). But it never showed in his performance. 
Springsteen even made a joke about it during "Growin' Up."A 13-minute version of "Growin' Up" found Springsteen in classic storytelling mode for a rock 'n' roll parable that came to be known as "Teenage Werewolf." He related how, en route to meet his maker, he ran into Kid Leo: "I go, 'Kid, what are you doing?' He says, 'Praying for more watts. I gotta blast this baby all the way to New Jersey!'

John Gorman: I never saw Leo cry. But that's probably the closest he ever came. I was standing with him when Springsteen said that. Leo was in shock.

Charles Cross, founding editor of Backstreets fanzine: Springsteen's raps combined poetry and pop culture in this unique way. That's one of the problems with the current tour. Bruce isn't telling enough stories. The few stories he does tell are the same every night. Back in '78, he was making this stuff up on the spot."Backstreets" (dedicated to the Cleveland Boys) and a giddy version of "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)" brought the second set to an over-the-top climax. A nearly hoarse Springsteen and the indefatigable E Street ensemble returned to the stage for encores of "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)," "Born to Run," "Because the Night" and "Raise Your Hand." "I'd like to thank Cleveland for supporting us," Springsteen told the audience. "When we first came here, we got some respect." At 12:15 a.m., more than four hours after it began, the marathon performance ended with a surprise cover of "Twist and Shout."

Kid Leo: After "Raise Your Hand," Sam Kopper wanted to sign off. I said, "I'm telling you. Listen to that crowd. He's gonna come back." Sam said, "No, he ain't. If you're not gonna sign off, I'm gonna sign off." So I read the credits. As soon as we were off the air, Bruce came back out and did "Twist and Shout." It didn't make the broadcast. But there are copies of it out there because the tape kept running.

Joe Juhasz: I saw Clarence backstage after the show. He was soaked with sweat. I remember looking at Jimmy. We just shook our heads. We were exhausted just from watching them.
Hank LoConti Sr.: They knew they put on a good show. Bruce was very satisfied.

John Gorman: One of the greatest compliments I ever got was from Bob Seger a few years later. He said, "Man, I heard the concert you guys put on with Springsteen. That was the greatest rock 'n' roll show I ever heard." If it were put out today as a live album, I think it would outsell the live collection that Springsteen put out in '86.

Kid Leo: That concert is probably one of the biggest-selling bootlegs, both on vinyl and now on CD, in the large catalog of Springsteen bootlegs. People who don't know me from Cleveland recognize my name because they have the bootleg. Everything just clicked that night. It was a special point in Bruce's career. He was coming off "Born to Run," which had made him an American icon. It was like, can he follow it up? And he did.

Charles Cross: I wasn't there. But through the magic of bootlegging, I feel like I was. In the annals of Springsteen shows, it was one of the most dynamic he ever did. He was just on fire that year. When we talk about the best shows that Bruce and the band are doing today, which are quite good, they still don't come close to the ferocity of '78. People think Bruce was always as big as he is now. He wasn't. He was a minor act on Columbia Records who was in danger of being dropped. The success he had came from his live shows. And that Cleveland show was one of the best.

John Soeder

Plain Dealer Pop Music Critic


Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at the Cleveland Agora: A mythical show-

Bruce Springsteen releases first-ever official recording of fabled 1978 Cleveland Agora show-

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Bradley Cooper sets high targets in new film 'American Sniper'

NEW YORK Wed Dec 24, 2014 9:09am EST

(Reuters) - Actor Bradley Cooper is quick to say that "American Sniper," his film about Navy Seal sharpshooter Chris Kyle, is not about the Iraq conflict but an intimate character study of the harrowing impact of war on a soldier and his family.
The dual Academy Award nominee, who is also a producer of the film, directed by Clint Eastwood, had planned to collaborate with Kyle to bring his story to the big screen.
But Kyle, a former rodeo rider, survivor of four tours in Iraq and the most lethal sniper in Navy history, was murdered near his Texas home by a disgruntled veteran before the two had a chance to meet.
"It is a movie about what someone like Chris, a soldier, has to go through and the dilemma and the horror of it and the battle internally and with the family," Cooper said about the film that opens on limited release on Christmas day and nationwide on Jan. 16.
Although Cooper never met Kyle, his wife gave the actor access to personal emails the couple had exchanged during his tours inIraq and family videos that he found invaluable in finding the essence of the man.
"She opened up her life. We didn't have to create anything with our imagination, literally nothing. All we had to do was soak in what she gave us," Cooper, a best actor nominee for "American Hustle" and "Silver Linings Playbook," told a news conference.
The film shifts between battle scenes in Iraq, flashbacks to his childhood, and difficult homecomings as the couple try to cope with the impact of Kyle's experiences on their family.
"It is important to show their relationship, to show the dilemma that Chris faced. It is his story," said Sienna Miller, who plays Kyle's wife in the comeback role.
Cooper, currently winning rave reviews on Broadway in a revival of "The Elephant Man," about the life of a disfigured 19th century Briton, bulked up for the role and trained with live ammunition to get into the mindset of Kyle.
He said he hopes the film will open viewers' eyes to the struggles soldiers face, in battle and when returning home.
"The takeaway will be, for those who can relate to him, will be healing, to relate to a vet who has gone through similar things that Chris has gone through, and maybe not feel so alone," he said.

(Reporting by Patricia Reaney; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Film Review: 'American Sniper'

'American Sniper' is the year's most extraordinary film

By Kyle Smith
December 23, 2014

There is a class of men in whom is contained a distilled essence of the American spirit. Sturdy, taciturn and mysterious, these men tend to come from places like Virginia, Georgia, Texas. They have a devout attachment to guns, which are, to them, Old Testament swords of righteousness. Their seriousness of purpose seems archaic. They are our warrior class. Women find them irresistible; lesser men salute, if they are wise, or scoff, if they are not.

Chris Kyle was one such warrior. As embodied by Bradley Cooper in “American Sniper,” he is imposing, determined and lethal, a Navy SEAL who did four tours of duty in Iraq, killing by the score men who needed to be killed. In the film, Kyle calls the Islamist fanatics what they are: “savages,” and in such moments, director Clint Eastwood’s overpowering war film scintillates with clarity.
The film runs on three tracks: Kyle’s childhood, in which he absorbed his values; his Iraq tours, in which he shot and killed some 160 enemies and witnessed the agony of many comrades; and his off-duty life in Texas, where, in the company of his children and wife (a composed Sienna Miller), he continued to hear war’s echoes, sometimes so loud that they submerged his personality.
“American Sniper” portrays Kyle as something of an armed saint, if a troubled one, but though I ordinarily resist one-sided portrayals, I think that Cooper and Eastwood find in the man a template. After 40 years of Hollywood counterpropaganda telling us war is necessarily corrupting and malign, its ablest practitioners thugs, loons or victims, “American Sniper” nobly presents the case for the other side. It doesn’t say violence is beautiful, but that it is necessary, placing it closer to “Unforgiven” than to Eastwood’s dreadfully reductionist war pictures “Flags of Our Fathers” and “Letters from Iwo Jima.”
Cooper is devastating, not straining to be fierce but letting his newly beefy presence and his attention to the details of long-range marksmanship convey the robust professionalism of the SEALs. Eastwood alternates between harrowing war imagery — a mesmerizing battle in a sandstorm recalls the vertiginous chaos of “Black Hawk Down” — and quieter moments of equal power. When young Chris learns that the world is divided among sheep, wolves and sheepdogs, and that his calling is to be one of the latter, it’s a parable with biblical weight.
The moral alertness of the film is of the level normally confined, in military pictures, to talky courtroom scenes, yet Eastwood skillfully works dilemmas into propulsive and suspenseful action. The depth is present from the beginning, when Kyle must decide whether to shoot an Iraqi woman who might be concealing an explosive. He processes the staggering consequences of making the wrong decision — even as he knows that should his suspicions prove correct, to take a life is an immense thing.
Mapping the interior landscape of a damaged soul is something books do better than movies, but in Cooper’s recoils from sudden noises, in his slumping at a hometown bar when his wife doesn’t even know he’s back in the country and in his staring at the floor when thanked for his prowess, we learn much about the price warriors pay. Cowboys, adventurers, joyriders — these are exactly what our best fighting men are not. They suffer merely to be alive, when so many brothers lie in boxes draped with flags. “American Sniper” does honor to them.

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Nutritional Junk Science of Our Government Nannies

Posted By Rand Simberg On December 25, 2014 @ 11:15 pm In Education,Food and Drink,Health,Politics,Science,Science & Technology,US News | 4 Comments

Do you think you know how to eat healthy? Your friendly neighborhood federal government doesn’t think you do. And they’re here to help.

Buried deep in the ObamaCare law, the gift from the Democrats to the nation that keeps on giving, chain restaurants are required to start labeling calories on all of their menu items. The law applies to vending-machine items as well. It’s proven to be a nightmare [1] for small business and franchises, adding cost (which will have to be passed on to the diner, if they choose to pay it). In the case of things like “order your own” sandwiches or pizza, it is almost impossible to implement. As with much of the poorly written misbegotten law, it is unclear whether it applies to things like food trucks, or what the penalty is for non-compliance. Despite the uncertainty, overall cost has been estimated to be half a billion dollars, which will be “eaten” by consumers.

Meanwhile, over in the public-school cafeterias, food is being wasted, and money is being lost by the school districts [2], because kids refuse to purchase or eat what Michelle Obama thinks is good for them. The goal of her Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, passed in 2010, was to wage war on childhood obesity. But unsurprisingly, the children, obese and otherwise, find the high-fiber, low-fat, low-salt fare unappetizing, and when they don’t brown bag to avoid having to buy it, they throw much of it away. Worse, and particularly insanely, the law makes no distinction between different kids’ dietary needs, and completely fails to take into account physical activity — the football player gets as many (or few) calories as the chess champ.

Leaving aside the legitimate issue of whether or not such one-size-fits-none policies are actually in the purview of the federal government, the worst thing about them is that they’re based on junk science.

The calorie counts are based on the flawed theory, per basic thermodynamics, that a calorie is a calorie, in terms of weight gain or loss, regardless of whether it comes from fat, protein or carbohydrates. The reduction in sodium is mandated on the notion that salt is bad for everyone.
The low-fat and reduced-cholesterol items are based on the primitive thinking that “you are what you eat.” In short, the FDA and USDA food “pyramid” (which the first lady recently replaced with a “plate” [3]) upon which these laws and regulations are based is (like the scene from Woody Allen’s movie Sleeperalmost exactly the opposite [4] of what we now know to be nutritionally healthy.

In fact, what kind of calories you consume is much more important than how many — protein and fat are actually beneficial in weight reduction, because they are more satiating and increase metabolism, while grains (a key part of the “plate”) and other high-glycemic carbohydrates, such as potatoes, actually promote weight gain (which is why cattle are fattened on corn, not on lard). Calorie counters have trouble keeping weight lost off because the diet is so unsatisfying and counterproductive metabolically. So the labels are actually worse than useless.

Unless one has elevated blood pressure, there is no scientific evidence that sodium is bad for most people, particularly young people. It might help to use sea salt rather than table, which provides additional elements such as magnesium and potassium, but for kids, reducing salt per se only reduces willingness to choke down the unappealing food.

With regard to fat and cholesterol, you are not what you eat. All of the recommendations for reducing fat in diet are based on flawed decades-old “studies,” and the actual science (as revealed by Nina Teichholz’s recent best seller, The Big Fat Surprise) indicates that saturated fat is healthy [5], and that elevated bad cholesterol and triglycerides, and weight gain, come from eating grains [6] and other bad carbohydrates, not the consumption of fat. In the case of children, they need fat to promote the growth of not just their bodies, but particularly their young brains. Giving them low-fat milk is not just distasteful to them, but dietary child abuse.

It’s bad enough that flawed nutrition advice from the government agencies has in fact promoted obesity, diabetes and premature mortality from heart disease and stroke for decades. But it’s long past time to stop forcing Americans to follow it.

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[2] food is being wasted, and money is being lost by the school districts:

[4] almost exactly the opposite:

The Cuban Archipelago

Posted By Jamie Glazov On December 26, 2014 @ 12:17 am In Daily Mailer,FrontPage | 6 Comments

In this 11 September 1994 photo, three refugees cling to their overturned raft and life preservers as the US coast guard moves in to pick them up approximately 15 miles north of Cuba.

In this 11 September 1994 photo, three refugees cling to their overturned raft and life preservers as the US coast guard moves in to pick them up approximately 15 miles north of Cuba. Photograph: Alon Reininger/AP

Crazy with fury I will stain my rifle red while slaughtering any enemy that falls in my hands! My nostrils dilate while savoring the acrid odor of gunpowder and blood. With the deaths of my enemies I prepare my being for the sacred fight and join the triumphant proletariat with a bestial howl.
—Che Guevara, Motorcycle Diaries

President Obama’s recent move to cozy up to Communist Cuba is a crucially  important moment not just diplomatically, but as a moral one in regards to human rights, dignity and justice. As we witness a Radical-in-Chief throwing an economic lifeline to a barbaric tyranny, it is our duty and obligation to shine a light on the dark tragedy of the Cuban Gulag — and to reflect on the unspeakable suffering that Cubans have endured under Castro’s fascistic regime.

Until July 26, 2008, Fidel Castro had ruled Cuba with an iron grip for nearly five decades. On that July date in 2008, he stood to the side because of health problems and made his brother, Raul, de facto ruler. Raul officially replaced his brother as dictator on February 24, 2008; the regime has remained just as totalitarian as before and can, for obvious reasons, continue to be regarded and labelled as “Fidel Castro’s” regime.

Having seized power on January 1, 1959, Fidel Castro followed the tradition of Vladimir Lenin and immediately turned his country into a slave camp. Ever since, Cuba has distinguished itself as one of the most monstrous human-rights abusers in the world.

Half a million human beings have passed through Cuba’s Gulag. Since Cuba’s total population is only around eleven million, that gives Castro’s despotism the highest political incarceration rate per capita on earth. There have been more than fifteen thousand executions by firing squad. Torture has been institutionalized; myriad human-rights organizations have documented the regime’s use of electric shock, dark coffin-sized isolation cells, and beatings to punish “anti-socialist elements.” The Castro regime’s barbarity is best epitomized by the Camilo Cienfuegos plan, the program of horrors followed in the forced-labor camp on the Isle of Pines. Forced to work almost naked, prisoners were made to cut grass with their teeth and to sit in latrine trenches for long periods of time. Torture is routine.[i]

The horrifying experience of Armando Valladares, a Cuban poet who endured twenty-two years of torture and imprisonment for merely raising the issue of freedom, is a testament to the regime’s barbarity. Valladares’s memoir, Against All Hope, serves as Cuba’s version of Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago. Valladares recounts how prisoners were beaten with bayonets, electric cables, and truncheons. He tells how he and other prisoners were forced to take “baths” in human feces and urine.[ii]

Typical of the horror in Castro’s Gulag was the experience of Roberto López Chávez, one of Valladares’s prison friends. When López went on a hunger strike to protest the abuses in the prison, the guards withheld water from him until he became delirious, twisting on the floor and begging for something to drink. The guards then urinated in his mouth. He died the next day.[iii]

Since Castro’s death cult, like other leftist ideologies, believes that human blood purifies the earth—and since manifestations of grief affirm the reality of the individual, and thus are anathema to the totality—mourning for the departed became taboo. Thus, just like Mao’s China and Pol Pot’s Cambodia,[iv] so too Castro’s Cuba warned family members of murdered dissidents not to cry at their funerals.[v]

The Castro regime also has a long, grotesque record of torturing and murdering Americans. During the Vietnam War, Castro sent some of his henchmen to run the “Cuban Program” at the Cu Loc POW camp in Hanoi, which became known as “the Zoo.” Its primary objective was to determine how much physical and psychological agony a human being could withstand. The Cubans selected American POWs as their guinea pigs. A Cuban nicknamed “Fidel,” the main torturer at the Zoo, initiated his own personal reign of terror.[vi]

The ordeal of Lt. Col. Earl Cobeil, an F-105 pilot, illustrates the Nazi-like nature of the experiment. Among Fidel’s torture techniques were beatings and whippings over every part of his victim’s body, without remission.[vii] Former POW John Hubbell describes the scene as Fidel forced Cobeil into the cell of fellow POW Col. Jack Bomar:
 The man [Cobeil] could barely walk; he shuffled slowly, painfully. His clothes were torn to shreds. He was bleeding everywhere, terribly swollen, and a dirty, yellowish black and purple from head to toe. The man’s head was down; he made no attempt to look at anyone. . . . He stood unmoving, his head down. Fidel smashed a fist into the man’s face, driving him against the wall. Then he was brought to the center of the room and made to get down onto his knees. Screaming in rage, Fidel took a length of black rubber hose from a guard and lashed it as hard as he could into the man’s face. The prisoner did not react; he did not cry out or even blink an eye. His failure to react seemed to fuel Fidel’s rage and again he whipped the rubber hose across the man’s face. . . . Again and again and again, a dozen times, Fidel smashed the man’s face with the hose. Not once did the fearsome abuse elicit the slightest response from the prisoner. . . . His body was ripped and torn everywhere; hell cuffs appeared almost to have severed the wrists, strap marks still wound around the arms all the way to the shoulders, slivers of bamboo were embedded in the bloodied shins and there were what appeared to be tread marks from the hose across the chest, back, and legs.[viii]
Earl Cobeil died as a result of Fidel’s torture.
Maj. James Kasler was another of Fidel’s victims, although he survived the treatment:
 He [Fidel] deprived Kasler of water, wired his thumbs together, and flogged him until his “buttocks, lower back, and legs hung in shreds.” During one barbaric stretch he turned Cedric [another torturer] loose for three days with a rubber whip. . . . the PW [POW] was in a semi-coma and bleeding profusely with a ruptured eardrum, fractured rib, his face swollen and teeth broken so that he could not open his mouth, and his leg re-injured from attackers repeatedly kicking it.[ix]
The reign of terror against American POWs in Vietnam was just a reflection of Castro’s treatment of his own people. In addition to physical hardships even for those who don’t wind up in prison or labor camp, Cuba’s police state has denied Cubans any freedom at all. Cubans do not have the right to travel out of their country. They do not have the right of free association or the right to form political parties, independent unions, or religious or cultural organizations. The regime has outlawed free expression; it has consistently censored publications, radio, television, and film.
There is a Committee for the Defense of the Cuban Revolution (CDR) for every single city block and every agricultural production unit. The CDR’s purpose is to monitor the affairs of every family and to report anything suspicious. A Cuban’s entire life is spent under the surveillance of his CDR, which controls everything from his food rations to his employment to his use of free time. A vicious racism against blacks accompanies this repression. In pre-Castro Cuba, blacks enjoyed upward social mobility and served in many government positions. In Castro’s Cuba, the jail population is 80 percent black, while the government hierarchy is 100 percent white.[x]

Cuban Communism follows Lenin’s and Stalin’s idea of “equality,” wherein members of the nomenklatura live like millionaires while ordinary Cubans live in utter poverty. The shelves in the stores are empty, and food is tightly rationed for the average citizen. Teachers and doctors drive taxis or work as waiters to support their families. Under the system of tourist apartheid, ordinary Cubans are not allowed inside the hotels designated for tourists and party functionaries. There are, of course, police inside every such hotel to arrest any unauthorized Cuban citizen who dares to enter.

The $5-billion-a-year Soviet subsidy that just barely kept the Cuban economy afloat during the Cold War is long gone. And notwithstanding the $110 billion that the Soviets pumped in over the decades, Cuba has become one of the poorest nations in the world. Its sugar, tobacco, and cattle industries were all major sources of exports in the pre-Castro era. Castro destroyed them all.[xi] Because of his belief in “socialism or death,” Cuba is now a beggar nation. Even Haitian refugees avoid Cuba.

Denied the right to vote under Castro, Cubans have voted with their feet. Pre-Castro Cuba had the highest per-capita immigration rate in the Western hemisphere. Under Castro, approximately two million Cuban citizens (out of eleven million) have escaped their country. Many have done so by floating on rafts or inner tubes in shark-infested waters. An estimated fifty thousand to eighty-seven thousand have lost their lives.[xii]

Not content to trust the sharks, Castro has sent helicopters to drop sandbags onto the rafts of would-be escapees, or just to gun them all down. Epitomizing this barbarity was the Tugboat Massacre of July 13, 1994, in which Castro ordered Cuban patrol boats to kill forty-one unarmed Cuban civilians—ten of them children—who were using an old wooden tugboat in their attempt to flee Cuba.[xiii]

These are the heart-breaking stories, and only a few among many, of the Cuban people who have suffered excruciating pain and agony under an evil tyranny that now, as it stands on its last legs, is having its life extended by an American president.

It is food for thought.


[i] For one of the best accounts of the brutality of the Castro regime, see Pascal Fontaine, “Cuba: Interminable Totalitarianism in the Tropics,” in Courtois et al., The Black Book of Communism, pp. 647–665.

[ii] Armando Valladares, Against All Hope: A Memoir of Life in Castro’s Gulag, trans. Andrew Hurley (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2001), p. 137.

[iii] Ibid., p. 379.

[iv] For China’s case, see chapter 7 of my book, United in Hate: The Left’s Romance With Tyranny and Terror; for Cambodia’s, see John Perazzo, “Left-Wing Monster: Pol Pot,”, August 8, 2005.

[v] Valladares, Against All Hope, p. 378.

[vi] Stuart I. Rochester and Frederick Kiley, chapter 19, “The Zoo, 1967–1969: The Cuban Program and Other Atrocities,” in Honor Bound: American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia 1961–1973 (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1999).

[vii] Humberto Fontova, Fidel: Hollywood’s Favorite Tyrant, (Regnery, 2005). pp. 141–142.

[viii] Rochester and Kiley, Honor Bound, p. 400.

[ix] Ibid., p. 404.

[x] Fontova, Fidel, p. 88.

[xi] Ibid., pp. 14–15 and 49.

[xii] Ibid., pp. 8 and 56–57.

[xiii] Ibid., pp. 157–163.
To get the whole story on why leftists venerate Castro’s tyranny, order Jamie Glazov’s United in Hate: The Left’s Romance With Tyranny and Terror:

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