April 6, 2007 - March 30, 2007
Thursday, February 23, 2006
The New Right Wing
We've never been big fans of Alan
, but we have to acknowledge that he seems to be up to
something admirable. This is a good news-bad news situation. The good
news is that Dershowitz is reasserting the importance of morality in
the politics of the American left. The bad news is that he is reacting
to a state of affairs which is far graver than most casual observers
would suspect. And, yes, he has a book to sell, but even we are not so
cynical as to believe that the most famous professor at Harvard Law
School is fabricating a phony ruckus to pump up his royalties. We think
he's sounding an important alarm. So what's he been up to?
He's been speaking out on three fronts. One is the war on terror, which
is the subject of his book. The hawkish Tony Blankley previewed the
work in a column
Next week a vastly important book will be
A Knife That Cuts Both Ways" by Alan Dershowitz. Yes, that Alan
Dershowitz: the very liberal civil libertarian, anti-capital punishment
Harvard Law School professor. And but for my lack of his legal
scholarship, there is nary a sentence in the book that I -- a very
conservative editor of the Washington Times, and former press secretary
to Newt Gingrich -- couldn't have written.
The premise of his book is that in this
age of terror, there is a potential need for such devices as profiling,
preventive detention, anticipatory mass inoculation, prior restraint of
dangerous speech, targeted extrajudicial executions of terrorists and
preemptive military action including full-scale preventive war.
Is Dershowitz abandoning his liberal roots? No. He's brilliantly
defending them in the context of a post-9/11 world. Blankley
characterizes it thus:
He shrewdly observes that historically,
nations -- including democracies -- have resorted to such deviations
from law and custom out of necessity. But that it has all been ad hoc,
secret or deceptive. Prof. Dershowitz argues that now, rather, we need
to begin to develop an honest jurisprudence of prevention to legally
regulate such mechanisms. It is better, he argues, to democratically
decide now, before the next disaster, this new jurisprudence -- the
rules by which we will take these necessary actions.
Dershowitz is also boldly challenging the great liberal postulate that
has caused the left to advocate extending American constitutional
protections to avowed foreign enemies:
(H)e raises the great maxim of criminal
law: better that ten guilty go free, than one innocent be wrongly
convicted. That principle led our law to require proof beyond a
reasonable doubt before conviction in criminal trials. Most of us agree
with that standard.
But then Prof. Dershowitz updates the
maxim thusly: "Is it better for ten possibly preventable terrorist
attacks to occur than for one possibly innocent suspect to be
preventively detained?" I would hunch that most people would not be
willing to accept ten September 11th attacks (30,000 dead) in order to
protect one innocent suspect from being locked up and questioned for a
That's right. Dershowitz is reminding us that being liberal is not
synonymous with being stupid, self-destructive, or suicidal. This idea
alone would be enough to occupy most minds, but the professor is frying
other fish at the same time. In today's Washington Post, he co-authors
with ultra-conservative Bill Bennett, in which the two erstwhile
opponents combine to say:
We two come from different
and philosophical perspectives, but on this we agree: Over the past few
weeks, the press has betrayed not only its duties but its
Since the war on terrorism began, the mainstream press has had
problem printing stories and pictures that challenged the
administration and, in the view of some, compromised our war and peace
efforts. The manifold images of abuse at Abu Ghraib come to mind --
images that struck at our effort to win support from Arab governments
and peoples, and that pierced the heart of the Muslim world as well as
the U.S. military.
The press has had no problem with
breaking a story using classified information on detention centers for
captured terrorists and suspects -- stories that could harm our allies.
And it disclosed a surveillance program so highly classified that most
members of Congress were unaware of it.
In its zeal to publish stories critical
of our nation's efforts -- and clearly upsetting to enemies and allies
alike -- the press has printed some articles that turned out to be
inaccurate. The Guantanamo Bay flushing of the Koran comes to mind.
But for the past month, the Islamist
street has been on an intifada over cartoons depicting Muhammad that
were first published months ago in a Danish newspaper. Protests in
London -- never mind Jordan, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Iran and
other countries not noted for their commitment to democratic principles
-- included signs that read, "Behead those who insult Islam." The
mainstream U.S. media have covered this worldwide uprising; it is,
after all, a glimpse into the sentiments of our enemy and its allies.
And yet it has refused, with but a few exceptions, to show the cartoons
that purportedly caused all the outrage.
Once again, it is tempting to ask: Has Dershowitz betrayed his liberal
convictions and moved to the right with the likes of Bill Bennett? But
again, the answer is no. As the essay reminds us:
There was a time when the press was the
strongest guardian of free expression in this democracy. Stories and
celebrations of intrepid and courageous reporters are many within the
press corps. Cases such as New York Times v. Sullivan in the
1960s were litigated so that the press could report on and examine
public officials with the unfettered reporting a free people deserved.
In the 1970s the Pentagon Papers case reaffirmed the proposition that
issues of public importance were fully protected by the First Amendment.
The mass media that backed the plaintiffs
in these cases understood that not only did a free press have a right
to report on critical issues and people of the day but that citizens
had a right to know about those issues and people. The mass media
understood another thing: They had more than a right; they had a duty
This is the kind of ringing liberal affirmation that should have the
editorial board of the New York Times rising to its feet in a standing
ovation. The old New York Times, that is. Not the current version,
Is your plate full enough yet, Professor Dershowitz? Confronting
both the left-wing foreign policy establishment and the liberal
establishment media at the same time is battle enough for one man,
isn't it? No. It isn't. Dershowitz is trying for a hat trick. He's also
confronting the leftist academic establishment. Yesterday, he published
yet another essay
blasting Harvard's decision to fire Lawrence Summers from the
A PLURALITY of one faculty has brought
about an academic coup d'etat against not only Harvard University
president Lawrence Summers but also against the majority of students,
faculty, and alumni. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences, which forced
Summers's resignation by voting a lack of confidence in him last March
and threatening to do so again on Feb. 28, is only one
component of Harvard University and is hardly representative of
widespread attitudes on the campus toward Summers. The graduate
faculties, the students, and the alumni generally supported Summers for
his many accomplishments. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences includes, in
general, some of the most radical, hard-left elements within Harvard's
diverse constituencies. And let there be no mistake about the origin of
Summers's problem with that particular faculty: It started as a hard
left-center conflict. Summers committed the cardinal sin against the
academic hard left: He expressed politically incorrect views regarding
gender, race, religion, sexual preference, and the military.
In elaborating on his views about the Harvard situation with talk
radio host Hugh Hewitt, Dershowitz said:
(I)t was incredible chutzpah for the arts
and sciences faculty, merely a plurality of them, to engineer this
coup. And let me tell you who engineered it. It was engineered by
particularly an anthropology professor, a guy named Randy Matory, who
teaches Afro-American and Afro-South American studies. And basically,
what he said in his resolution that he first proposed, was Summers has
to go because number one, he's too patriotic. He's trying to tell us to
be more patriotic. And that, by Matory, is regarded as the great sin,
that he's teaching patriotism...
Dershowitz also made the following startling statement during the
In America, I am left-center, but
certainly closer to the left. And on the Harvard arts and sciences
faculty, I would be on the extreme right."
Wow. Here at last is the punchline of Dershowitz's multi-pronged
offensive. He is drawing a line in the sand between the traditional
left so many Americans imagine the Democrat leadership is speaking for
and the hard left which has hijacked the party and turned it into a
viciously anti-American instrument of politically correct insanity.
In this context, all of Dershowitz's fronts are the same front. He
is standing up for the fading idea that it is possible to be a
bleeding-heart big-government liberal and
a hard-eyed patriot who is committed to crushing our country's enemies
without becoming like them -- rigid, fanatical, oppressive, tyrannical
-- in the process.
It's also vital to note that it isn't Dershowitz who has moved right.
It is the Democratic Party, the mainstream media, and the
academic establishment which have moved a vast distance to the left.
The engine that has driven the move is political correctness, and the
vision that unites this new constituency is the hatred of western
civilization promulgated by post-modern philosophy.
Everyone should heed the alarm Dershowitz is sounding. Conservatives
need to understand how strong, irrational and extreme their real
opposition is. Liberals need to understand exactly who is beating the
drums they've been dutifully marching to. It's urgent that they seek
out a different drummer.
Thank you, Professor Dershowitz. Keep beating your drum. We hope your
solitary walk becomes a parade.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
She fulfilled her mission.
DOWN TO SLEEP
before they become feeble or ill, old people can begin to
give up. Things they have always regarded as necessities of life start
to seem too difficult, too onerous. The process was underway with
Mandy's people before they met her. They had lost a beautiful,
brilliant German Shepherd named Kristie who declined in pain from hip
dysplasia for a brave long time, so crippled at the end that she could
climb stairs only with a belt looped under her thinning loins. Her
death was too much an agony, and the age-old cure of a puppy seemed out
of the question. "We are too old," they said. "We can't, we don't want
to go through that again."
But their children, worried and domineering, issued a threat: "Find
yourselves another dog or we'll find one for you and you'll lose the
opportunity to choose."
Blackmail resurrected the memory of a Boston Terrier named Mugsy, the
one who greeted a returning WWII fighter pilot by leaping from the
floor into his arms the instant he walked through the door of his
parent's home. He remembered that fierce and simple love. Inquiries
were made. A couple who had owned setters and shepherds and varied
Scottish-bred terriers for 50 years were suddenly expectant parents
awaiting the caesarean (always with Boston Terriers) birth of the dog
kingdom's smallest bulldog.
She came with instructions. No table food. Exact times for strictly dry
food meals. A mandatory harness instead of a collar. A schedule for
outings to perform basic functions. She also came with that smashed-in
face which flat defies the beauty standards of long-nosed hunting and
herding breeds. But her youth was rejuvenation for her aged parents.
She seemed, from the first, to understand her responsibilities
perfectly. She was a grave, obedient, and predictable puppy. She was
also on a schedule. She mastered paper training, housebreaking, the
sedate rhythms of an old people's house. She played like a bulldog, but
with care and reserve, lest she injure her charges with the incredible
strength of her compact body and beartrap jaws.
That highly controlled and abbreviated puppyhood was 17 years ago. She
soldiered through the inevitable fading away of her people without
destroying anything but vulcanized rubber toys, although as the years
passed, she rarely got to run in her spectacular windmilling style, and
the walks grew shorter as the old legs grew weaker. She stood her post
on the bed while her fighter pilot slowly evaporated into the final
morphine fog of cancer. She dutifully kept company in chair and
bed with the survivor, who clumped from one to the other with her
walker while Mandy, despite
sightless eyes and failing ears, nimbly dodged the loud aluminum tattoo
of approaching loss.
There was a brief -- a pitifully, heartbreakingly brief -- Indian
summer, when Mandy was able to join a small pack of sighthounds
her lifelong companions and her home were gone. Like other dogs, she
seemed to aspire to their long-legged magic, and there was a day, or
perhaps two or three, when she joined them in their running world
without a leash -- for the first and only time -- and showed off
her joyous windmilling, prancing run. But she was already fifteen by
then, and the arthritis had bowed her legs and brittled her bones. The
vet forbade her to jump on or off the couch, and she stopped being able
to accompany the pack and its huge exuberant puppy
Characteristically, though, she never gave up. Never. Until about 48
hours ago, she clamored loudly for breakfast and dinner, luxuriating in
the life-changing cuisine of soft food with savory gravy. And less than
a week ago, she managed a final bit of mischief, escaping a leash badly
attached under her red parka and seizing the opportunity to explore her
acreage -- blind, deaf, and as ever, full of eager energy.
I believe she may have been looking for the missing ones. Perhaps
that's why she chose to leave last night and rejoin them in a place
that could never be called heaven if our dogs can't be there with us.
Perhaps she knew that, too.
Godspeed, Mandy. Thank you for everything. And give them both a kiss
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
NBC's Olympic Crash
Like a Train Wreck, But Worse.
Where to begin? To gain the true measure of NBC's incompetence, one must look beyond even the
worst of the 2006 Olympics itself. The American alpine skiing team may be a sorry joke -- Surprise! A "star" who boasts of competing
while drunk doesn't win any medals! -- But at least one of its members came through with a gold. The old media giant
that calls itself the peacock network, on the other hand, hasn't made it to the podium once, in any event.
The commentators are so indolent and ill-informed that they rarely seem present at the venue they're covering. In a couple of
hours of televised skeleton sled racing, they couldn't stir themselves to explain how the sledders actually steer the devices. In countless,
endless hours of curling competition, they couldn't bring themselves to lay out the rules of the game and the requirements for
scoring; these can only be deduced by the superhuman masochist who manages to stay awake long enough to see how points accumulate. Despite
a concerted effort to (over)sell the T.V. audience on the excellence of the U.S. women's hockey team, the game announcers couldn't
be bothered to specify exactly which rules differences from the men's game are responsible for the ice-capades serenity of the action.
In the ever mysterious biathlon events, the experts confined their commentary to the purely self-evident -- as the bullet struck the target
or not (in closeup), they told us whether the bullet struck the target or not, but never uttered a word about the make or design
features of the peculiar rifles the biathletes employ. For the person trying to watch, it's like repeatedly entering a conversation
too late, after the important points have been agreed on and all that's still being bandied about are trifles. But in this case it's
hard not to suspect that no important points are being made. The casual observer could be pardoned for imagining NBC's ace sports analysts
snuggled up in vast overstuffed chairs before a roaring fire in some mountaintop chalet, swilling schnapps and ogling ski bunnies while
casting only an occasional glance (and offhand remark) at the four-inch monitor on the coffee table where the Olympic action they're
supposed to be covering is unfolding. If they don't care, why should we?
And we haven't even mentioned the only real ratings draw the Winter Olympics offers -- the gender-bending mix of costumery, soap
opera, and corrupt judging that normally attracts women, etc, by the millions to the figure skating competition. Sunday night
may have been a low point in the history of Olympic skating, as ice dancers transformed their intricate rumba routines into a kind
of human demolition derby, complete with end-over-end crashes and wall-smacking collisions, but even that pitiful spectacle was
a masterpiece of finesse compared to NBC's coverage of it. After one faintly amusing contribution from Dick Button on the first night
of pairs competition -- in which he ceaselessly ridiculed every non-American, non-Russian entrant -- network bigwigs apparently took
him aside and ordered him to cease reporting in any knowledgeable way on the proceedings. Since then, the various events have played
out on the small screen in a sort of vacuum. Most times, the commentators are so uninvolved they don't bother to identify the music
the skaters are performing to and, especially in the case of ice dancing, they refuse to describe what the performers are doing. The
only step ever called out by Button's female colleague is the "twizzle," whatever that is, which whenever it occurs seems to rouse her
from her lethargy so that she can pronounce the word before resuming her nap. Dick, for his part, clearly disdains any responsibility
for knowing what ice dancers do; he prefers to lean back (in his overstuffed chair?) and announce at the end of the routine whether
or not it held his attention.
NBC is an entertainment network, is it not? The producers should be aware that without voluminous gossipy commentary, figure skating
consists of little more than a dozen or so strictly choreographed tricks that are repeated again and again by a gang of vainglorious, uneducated
monomaniacs of various sexes who have spent all their waking hours since childhood on an ice rink in Delaware. (Yes, Russians included,
though not so much the Chinese.) The job of the commentators at an Olympic competition is to tell their mostly female audience who
is sleeping with who, why the rules of this "sport" tolerate flesh-colored thongs and nude-tone brassieres speckled with jimmies, which
particular Nelson Eddy role the male skater is got up to look like, and exactly how it is that the various turns, spins, and skip-steps
"interpret" the music that's playing while they do their tricks. Beyond this, the commentators also have a responsibility to the
hostage male audience to explain WHAT THE HELL IT IS THE SKATERS ARE DOING ON THE ICE, which is indispensable for all the beleaguered husbands
who are trying to keep their mouths shut and not spoil the experience for their wives by filling the void with their own irreverent
It appears that NBC has entirely forgotten what entertainment is. Perhaps that's why the company has also mounted the most
monumentally incompetent promotional scheme in television history for peddling their Olympic product to the public. As the owner
of (at least) four television networks -- NBC, USA, CNBC, and MSNBC -- this giant of old media has the capacity to fill the pipe
with nearly live Olympic coverage of a huge number of events. And if the NBC brass had been paying attention to the development of the internet
over the past decade, they'd also be aware that it's possible to cover everything, completely live, and still earn advertising
dollars for every minute of every transmission. But what have they done instead? They've decided they can exert -- in this age
of infinite media and 24/7 multimedia news reporting -- monopolistic control of a global event few people can avoid hearing about,
even if they're making an effort to stay uninformed. To this end, the geniuses in the NBC sports division have refused to share
highlight footage with other media outlets, guaranteeing that their programming will be mocked and slighted at every
opportunity by competitors while potential audience members fail to catch a glimpse of dramatic moments that might have persuaded them
to tune in. Then these same geniuses postpone the climactic segment of the most popular event to the timeslot between
11:00 p.m. and 12:00 a.m., which is, for many hard working Americans, past bedtime.
No wonder Fox entertainment has been kicking NBC's ass in the ratings. Of course, I'm sure the network honchos will be happy to blame
their execrable audience share on the fact that Bode Miller's mouth is bigger than his heart, female hockey is just plain dull, Johnny
Weir flounces better than he skates, and that when it comes to snow, Americans excel exclusively at stoner sports like snowboarding while the
only truly awe-inspiring events -- downhill racing and ski jumping -- are dominated by anonymous, personality-free blondes from Norway,
Finland, Sweden, Germany, and Austria. All this may be true. But when your mission is entertainment and you've made billions convincing
people to watch empty-headed sitcoms written by dirty-minded retro-vaudevillians and starred in by talentless clothes racks, you
should be able to package middling content better than this.
Stay tuned for the women's figure skating. It should be killer -- another multi-car pileup on the freeway. Until then, we'll leave you
with the one Olympic highlight NBC couldn't keep to itself.
U.S. Olympic hockey star
Angela Ruggiero -- shopping in Torino.
I forgot to mention Bob Costas. Now I have. I promise not to do it again.
Friday, February 17, 2006
THE LIGHTHOUSE ON THE BEACH
. Sometimes the news is just too full of
obvious absurdity to dignify it with comment. How is it possible to
highlight the lunkheaded narcissism of a David Gregory more starkly
than he does himself every time he opens his baboon mouth? How is it
possible to further underscore the screamingly self-evident hypocrisy
of mainstream media that are too "sensitive" to print mildly satirical
cartoons about Muhammed but too committed to the public's "right to
quasi-pornographic photos from the years-old Abu Ghraib scandal? Even
repeating the facts for the purpose of laughing is a tautology. The
people whose job it is to collect and report the facts about today are
insane. How can we escape their manufactured loony bin of jackass
headlines and feckless talking heads?
The only recourse on such occasions is to look beyond the headlines for
a topic of interest or intrigue, a doorway into more fertile realms. It
so happens that if you ask, the universe will provide. Today, it turns
out, is the birth date of the man credited with writing the mysterious
Australian national anthem/drinking song/mystical hymn Waltzing Matilda
, whose baffling
lyrics are, once decoded, a paean to the universal desire to escape the
insanity of those who insist their will upon you.
of the song's composition
reads like a series of haphazard
circumstances that somehow combined to produce a permanent cultural
On this day in 1864 A. B. ("Banjo")
Paterson, the Australian bush poet who wrote "Waltzing Matilda," was
born in New South Wales.... While on a visit with his fiance to
Dagworth Station (large ranches, originally run by the government on
convict labor) in Queensland, Paterson
was taken with a nameless tune that he heard his hostess play on the
piano from memory. Having decided to set words to it, Paterson
immediately found his raw material in his host's guided tour of the
Station, which included a description of those events surrounding the
eight-day Shearers' Strike several months earlier. The "swagman [a
drifter or itinerant sheep-shearer, carrying his swag or blanket-roll]
camped by a billabong [waterhole]" was Samuel "Frenchy" Hoffmeister. He
was a militant member of the Shearers' Union, thought to have been the
one responsible for burning down the Dagworth woolshed, killing 140
sheep. He was not relaxing "under the shade of a coolibah [eucalyptus]
tree" but hiding out. If "he sang as he watched and waited 'til his
billy [tin can of water] boiled," it would have been very softly. When
the swagman "stowed that jumbuck [sheep] in his tucker [food] bag" he
was adding the fuel of poaching to the fire of political and class war.
When "up rode the squatter [wealthy landowner], mounted on his
thoroughbred," backed by "the troopers, one, two, three," it was a
contest no swagman -- least of all a militant unionist-arsonist-poacher
-- could win. When he suicidally "leapt into the billabong," crying
"You'll never catch me alive," it was the leap of a cornered, outback,
underclass, convict-bred martyr, to the cry of 'up yours, mate.'
Thus, it all begins with a remembered tune played by ear and overheard
by a writer of lyrics. According to legend the original tune was a
Scottish air called Thou Bonnie Wood
, which you can listen to here
in midi format. You'll note right away that it doesn't sound very much
like the world famous melody of Waltzing
(there's a fuller version, plus lyrics, of Thou Bonnie Wood here
advised, though, that the midi file at this site plays automatically),
but that's part of the wonder of the process. In fact, an additional
, is credited with revising Paterson's original into the
song's current form in 1906. Reading the history, it's as if the song
itself is somehow determined to be and so guides its own seemingly
random journey of creation to achieve its full incarnation.
Which brings us to the puzzle of the key phrase, the title. What
Matilda"? Here's your answer:
Frenchy" Hoffmeister, the historical
swagman... was from German stock, as was the expression "waltzing
Matilda." Auf der walz means to 'go on the tramp' or hit the road, used
in Germany to describe traveling workers or soldiers on the march; a
Matilda came to mean those women who followed the soldiers, to 'keep
them warm.' Eventually the soldier's greatcoat or blanket was a
Matilda. Thus Paterson's swagman-hero was not only without justice, or
food, or a way out, but a woman's warmth.
The Swagman with his Matilda
So, what appears to be a highly parochial Australian folk song is
revealed as a blending of Scottish, German, and English cultural
artifacts that began by accident and subsequently wandered its way into
worldwide consciousness. It has escaped its original historical
context, and it has even escaped Australia. The sound file accessed by
button above is the opening title of the Hollywood movie On the Beach
, which was set in
Australia but peopled by characters from around the globe. The song was
used to dramatize their plight as the last survivors of nuclear war,
awaiting the inevitable death by radiation that would eventually
descend from the sky. For them there could be no escape, no more
waltzing away from insanity. And while Waltzing Matilda
extraordinary property of being effective as a military march, a joyous
bar singalong, and as an endearing folk tune, in this movie the
emotional climax is provided by a choral rendition that approximates a
funeral lamentation. Wherever it goes, Waltzing Matilda
seems to carry all
shades of life within it.
The pilgrimage of this special piece of music is likely to continue on
and on, but we'll close today with a nod to the most powerful current
interpretation, Tom Wait's Tom
. This sound file
is only a sample, but you can buy the album here
and if you do, I think you'll find that just like the original, it has
a way of growing stronger and more deeply moving on each hearing.
When the news gets to be like it has been in recent days, here's your
way out. Turn off the TV, log off the Internet, and turn up the volume
on Tom Traubert's Blues
You'll eventually come waltzing though the worst of the madness,
chastened and stirred, but still very much alive.