Wednesday, December 31, 2008

nonetheless real

Unpleasant Truths
What a new German movie can teach America
about confronting its history with domestic radicals
Jeffrey Herf, The New Republic
'Der Baader-Meinhof Komplex' (Courtesy of Momentum Pictures)
There is an ungainly German word, Vergangenheitsbewältigung, that has no equivalent in the English language. It means "coming to terms with past," and it was coined to refer to the efforts of German intellectuals, journalists, and even some politicians who, over the past half century, insisted that facing unpleasant truths about their country's history was both a moral and political necessity. As a result of these efforts, Vergangenheitsbewältigung has become part of the core political culture of contemporary Germany.
A new German movie that has attracted considerable attention in Europe is part of this tradition--albeit in an unusual way. While Vergangenheitsbewältigung generally refers to examination of the Nazi era, this film looks at another chapter in German history: the rise, during the 1970s, of a radical left-wing group called the Red Army Faction (or the Baader-Meinhof Gang, after its leaders, Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof). Obviously, the group's crimes were in no way analogous to those of the Nazis; the RAF ultimately murdered 34 people, while the Nazis murdered millions. Still, an honest reckoning with the past is exactly what the movie attempts. And, in providing a frank and unsentimental depiction of the brutal excesses associated with 1960s radicalism, it sets an example that Hollywood would do well to follow.
In 1985, Stefan Aust--one of West Germany's most prominent journalists and for many years editor of Der Spiegel, the country's most popular news magazine--published a book about the Red Army Faction called Der Baader-Meinhof Komplex, which went on to become a best-seller. In September, a feature film based on the book, and carrying the same name, opened in Germany. And, several weeks ago, the movie's East Coast American premier took place at the American Film Institute in Silver Spring, Maryland, with Aust in attendance to answer questions from the sold-out audience.
Der Baader-Meinhof Komplex begins with the anti-Vietnam and anti-Shah demonstrations in West Berlin of the late 1960s. Its depictions of left-wing leader Rudi Dutschke leading a chant of "Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh" at what is probably the Free University in Berlin, police violence against anti-Shah demonstrators, the shootings of Dutschke and student Benno Ohnesorg, and attacks on the right-wing Springer Press bring the viewer back to the maelstrom of violence out of which the Red Army Faction emerged. We see the evolution of Ulrike Meinhof from left-wing journalist to terrorist, as well as the emergence of Andreas Baader (a foul-mouthed thug with an appetite for violence) and his girlfriend Gudrun Ensslin, a minister's daughter-turned-radical.
Director Uli Edel and writer Bernd Eichinger present the RAF as it was--a brutal, violent organization--while flatly and effectively contradicting some of the myths surrounding the group. They show the RAF shooting an unarmed office worker in a successful effort to free Baader from custody, placing bombs in police departments and at the Springer Press building, and exchanging fire with police after being offered the option of peacefully surrendering. They present the RAF seizure of the German Embassy in Stockholm and the murder of its military attache, Andreas von Mirbach. Scenes of the murder of German banker Jurgen Ponto in his home (though disputed in its details by his widow) and of the assassination of German Attorney General Siegfried Buback and his bodyguards with machine guns by two assassins on a motorcycle leave nothing to the imagination; they are barbaric.
In 1972, Baader, Meinhof, and Ensslin were captured and placed in separate jails. But, in response to pressure from the prisoners and their supporters on the outside, they were moved to a special floor reserved for them in Stammheim prison. Many European intellectuals, including Jean-Paul Sartre, subsequently accepted the RAF's claim that the prisoners were being mistreated in Stammheim. One of the important accomplishments of Der Baader-Meinhof Komplex is to show that the prisoners resided in what was, as jails go, a relatively palatial environment. They had televisions, stereos, radios, and books. For the first time in post-war West German history, men and women were allowed on the same floor. They could meet and talk with one another in preparation for their trial. The film also depicts the role their lawyers played in conveying messages back and forth between RAF prisoners and RAF members on the outside--and in smuggling guns hidden inside legal briefing books to the prisoners.
The high point of public attention for the group came in the fall of 1977 with the kidnapping of Hanns-Martin Schleyer, one of Germany's leading businessmen, in an effort to bargain for the release of the RAF prisoners. (Meinhof had committed suicide in 1976, but others were still alive.) The kidnapping began with a well-planned massacre. Schleyer's car was rammed by another. One of the RAF women pulled a machine gun out of a baby carriage. In seconds, other RAF members mowed down all of Schleyer's bodyguards and his driver with machine guns before seizing him. In a careful reconstruction of the crime scene based on the extensive investigation done at the time, Aust, Edel, and Eichinger have produced a cinematic moment that demolishes any of the romantic aura that may still surround these killers in some circles. In fact, police investigators found over 20 bullets in the corpses of two of the bodyguards. The film ends with Schleyer's murder in woods near the German-Belgium border.
The film shatters one more RAF myth as well. When the West German government refused to release the prisoners, the RAF upped the ante and, with cooperation from Palestinian terrorists, seized a Lufthansa flight and threatened to blow it up unless its demands were met. After German special forces stormed the plane and released the hostages, the RAF prisoners in Stammheim committed suicide. The RAF and its gullible or cynical apologists insisted that they were murdered. Investigations by numerous judicial and parliamentary bodies have repeatedly confirmed that two of the prisoners shot themselves with guns smuggled into the prison, while another hanged herself. A fourth attempted suicide by stabbing herself but was saved by prison doctors. Der Baader-Meinhof Komplex places on the big screen the truth about these self-inflicted deaths, which RAF supporters transformed into a politically useful story of martyrdom at the hands of the allegedly fascist state.
The movie isn't perfect, of course. The biggest failing is that it glosses over the ideological context of the RAF story: the history of anti-semitism and communism in Germany, and how these ugly currents gave rise to a group of politically motivated murderers. True, the movie acknowledges the RAF's connections with Palestinian terror organizations in both Jordan and Iraq, two countries where its members sought refuge from German authorities. But, unfortunately, it does not have Ulrike Meinhof's character recite the anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic diatribe she wrote justifying what she called the Munich "aktion"--the 1972 murder of Israel's Olympic wrestling team. Nor does it make clear that RAF members saw themselves as part of the Marxist-Leninist tradition. In a manifesto from 1971, "On the Armed Struggle in Western Europe," RAF authors wrote that "Lenin had especially advocated the first goal of armed struggle, that is, the liquidation of individual functionaries of the apparatus of oppression." It was no surprise, then, that the East German government granted refuge to RAF members. In its theory and practice, the RAF was a chapter in the history of communism in twentieth century Europe.
Of course, I realize it might have been difficult to cram these points about political ideology into what is, first and foremost, a work of entertainment. The bottom line is that, despite its shortcomings, the film presents the essential--the murders of the 1970s--and shows RAF members as the killers they were. This is cause enough for historians to celebrate.
The admirable candor of Der Baader-Meinhof Komplex provides a much-needed challenge to Hollywood. No major American movie has yet told the story of the Weathermen, or for that matter the Black Panthers, with equal honesty. To be sure, the Weathermen did not engage in a campaign of murder comparable to that of the Red Army Faction in West Germany--or the Red Brigades in Italy or the Japanese Red Army. But neither, as some seem to think, was it simply the angriest part of the anti-war movement. In fact, its stated purpose was to carry out "armed struggle" in the United States in solidarity with third world communist movements and with the Black Panther Party in this country. The bombs being prepared by Weathermen in a Manhattan townhouse that exploded in March 1970 were intended to be set off at an upcoming dance for soldiers and their dates at Fort Dix. Had they exploded at the dance, dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people would have been killed. Members of the Weathermen were fond of arrogantly denouncing the great majority of participants in the anti-war and civil rights movements who declined to "pick up the gun." They mocked this decency as evidence of a "non-struggle attitude" or as the result of "white skin privilege." Today, former Weathermen leader Bill Ayers continues to rationalize the actions taken by his group--most prominently in a recent New York Times op-ed piece. An American equivalent of Der Baader-Meinhof Komplex--a movie that aimed to set the historical record straight by portraying the most violent 1960s radicals as they truly were--would do an enormous service.
The German film industry has nominated Der Baader-Meinhof Komplex for the Academy Award for best foreign film. I hope that it receives that honor and the additional exposure that would come with it. But, whether or not it wins an Oscar, I hope that American filmmakers take this movie as a long overdue invitation to revisit the uglier side of this country's experience with radicalism during the 1960s--and engage in some Vergangenheitsbewältigung of our own.
Jeffrey Herf teaches European history at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is the author of Divided Memory: The Nazi Past in the Two Germanys and The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda During World War II and the Holocaust.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

caroline no whiz

Caroline Kennedy
no whiz with words
Caroline Kennedy, you know, might need, you know, a speech coach, um, if she, you know, wants, um, to be a senator.
Um, you know?
Kennedy, who gave a flurry of media interviews on Friday and Saturday, revealed some cringing verbal tics that showed her inexperience as a speaker, experts told the Daily News.
In a 30-minute session with The News on Saturday, Kennedy punctuated her answers with "you know" more than 200 times. "Um" was fairly constant, too.
Transcripts of her interviews with other media outlets showed the same problem. She said "you know" at least 130 times to The New York Times and more than 80 times on New York 1.
When The News asked if President Bush's tax cuts on the wealthy should be repealed immediately, Kennedy replied:
"Well, you know, that's something, obviously, that, you know, in principle and in the campaign, you know, I think that, um, the tax cuts, you know, were expiring and needed to be repealed."
Jocelyn Rasmussen, a Manhattan voice coach, said Kennedy's verbal tics don't necessarily betray weakness or doubt.
"She's just inexperienced," she said. "It's just a habit, the way young people all say 'like' every other word. I don't think she even knows she's doing it, to that degree."
Tim Malloy, a Pennsylvania speaking coach, suggested this cure: She should learn how to pause and would benefit from coaching, or listening to some recordings of the most famously eloquent Kennedy.
"She needs to listen to her father," he said.
Spokesman Stefan Friedman said, "Caroline has acknowledged that she hasn't mastered the art of the political sound bite, but if Gov. Paterson appoints her, she'll fight her heart out to make sure New York families have their voices heard in Washington."

new_york_dail167:"Caroline Kennedy, you know, might need, you know, a speech coach, um, if she, you know, wants, um, to be a senator. Um, you know? ";
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Captain Sundowner Dec 30, 2008 9:38:44 AM Report Offensive Post Leave Caroline Alone!
SteveMcQueenlatifah Dec 30, 2008 9:44:35 AM Report Offensive Post I feel that Caroline should, um...y'know...uh, let's see, oh yeah, uh, y'know..and stuff like that.
Kathie404 Dec 30, 2008 9:45:48 AM Report Offensive Post As far as I am concerned, we sure dont need another Kennedy in Congress, just because her dad was President. Those days are over & we need a little flair to it for Main St. What does she know about Main St. when she has been undercover all these years & never opened her mouth be4. Now she wants something & surprise we hear from her.
kathyvinnie Dec 30, 2008 9:59:18 AM Report Offensive Post It is curious that the majority of the blogs are negative concerning Caroline but yet the NY Daily News internet poll has her ahead. There is only one explanation: people do not vote according to accomplishments.It is strictly name recognition. It would not even matter if Caroline had ten lovers or did coke or even lived in Canada, she would get the overwhelming liberal vote in states like NY, Massachusetts, NJ and California. It is no wonder that names like Kennedy, Clinton, Dodd have prevailed throughout the years regardless of scandal. People choose to ignore their shortfalls. Is it because secular progressives do not believe in crime or is it because rich liberals are incapable of felonious deeds or corrupt politics. Afterall, families like the Kennedys are not capable of evil or injustice. Don't hold your breathe and be naive. Their millions did not initially come without some underhanded events.
MHK Dec 30, 2008 10:53:17 AM Report Offensive Post I find it so funny that when Bush was making his verbal gaffes the lib's were all over him saying how stupid he is, here we have the darling of the Democratic party and she can't speak a simple sentence without sounding like a valley girl, like you know.. How is it that now it's just about not being a gifted speaker, rather then it being about how her family contacts got her into Columbia & Harvard where it's clear that she didn't learn much.
NY/NJ Man Dec 30, 2008 10:56:02 AM Report Offensive Post I have listened to good speakers use "um" plenty of times when they are in a question and answer session and not on stage delivering a prepared speach. It doesn't say anything about one's intelligence level. However I don't think Caroline should be appointed Senator.
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Monday, December 29, 2008

holder's hearing will

Holder's hearing might be rocky
GOP could grill Cabinet nominee
Republicans are likely to press Eric Holder about Clinton-era decisions.
By Scott Helman

Globe Staff / December 29, 2008
With Barack Obama anxious to take office, the public eager for fresh leadership, and the economy demanding urgent attention, the Senate is likely to defer to the president-elect and swiftly approve his Cabinet nominees, congressional aides and political analysts say.
But there will be one prominent exception: The confirmation hearing for Eric Holder, Obama's pick for attorney general, promises to be bruising, with Republicans determined to explore Holder's role in controversial pardons under President Clinton, his views on gun rights, and his involvement in the case of Elian Gonzalez, the 6-year-old Cuban boy returned to his homeland by Clinton's Justice Department.
"You're probably only going to have one truly horrendous confirmation; that's always the case," said Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution, who served on the White House staffs of presidents Eisenhower and Nixon. "In this case, it is clearly the attorney general-designate, Eric Holder."
The Senate must consent to presidents' Cabinet appointments, but it rarely stands in the way. The chamber has formally rejected less than 2 percent of nominees since 1789; occasionally a president has had to pull a nomination in the face of criticism, as Clinton did in 1993 when an initial choice for attorney general, Zoe Baird, came under fire for hiring illegal immigrants.
Barring some unexpected revelation, Obama may have even more clout than usual because the Democrats picked up additional Senate seats in last month's election.
He drew heavily on Congress for his Cabinet nominees, whose former colleagues will be loath to go after aggressively. And he is benefiting from broad public support and a universally acknowledged urgency about an orderly transition to power.
So while some senators may, for example, want to deeply examine the involvement of treasury secretary nominee Timothy Geithner, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, in the $700 billion bailout of the financial industry, the need for him to start working right away may be paramount.
"If you hold up Tim Geithner and the stock market falls 500 points, is it your fault?" said Forrest Maltzman, a political science professor at George Washington University.
There are some potential friction spots as Obama's Cabinet picks make the rounds on Capitol Hill. A federal grand jury is reportedly investigating a financial firm's donations to commerce secretary nominee Bill Richardson, and Hilda Solis, Obama's pick for labor secretary, could be challenged over her support for a controversial union-backed workplace organizing measure.
Senator Hillary Clinton, Obama's choice for secretary of state, is likely to be pressed on her husband's business and philanthropic ties abroad, but she is expected to be approved with ease. Indeed, Richard Lugar of Indiana - the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which will hold a hearing on Clinton - has already signaled his approval.
"He wants the national security team in place as quickly as possible," said Lugar spokesman Mark Hayes.
But Holder - a partner at a Washington law firm and a former judge, federal prosecutor, and deputy attorney general under Clinton - appears to be the Republicans' prime target, and both sides are busy preparing for a tough grilling.
Holder's hearing is scheduled to begin Jan. 15, after Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, agreed to Republican requests to move the date back, to allow more time to check Holder's record.
Judiciary Committee staff members have pulled more than 150 boxes from their archives and have been poring over internal memos and transcripts from Holder's tenure at the Department of Justice.
Republicans have also asked the Justice Department and the Clinton Presidential Library for documents relating to, among other things, Clinton's impeachment, former vice president Al Gore's fund-raising activities during the 1996 presidential campaign, the 1993 federal raid on the Branch Davidian complex in Waco, Texas, and the pardon of financier Marc Rich.
And on Dec. 17, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to Holder asking him to account for "apparent omissions" in his questionnaire, including work on gaming that Holder did in 2004 for Rod Blagojevich, the beleaguered Illinois governor.
One senior Republican Senate aide, who agreed to discuss Holder's nomination only on the condition of anonymity, said GOP senators are not necessarily looking to derail his appointment, but to force a careful review. "No one on our side wants to filibuster or slow down this nominee; that's not the issue," the aide said.
Holder will surely be pressed hard on the pardon of Rich, who faced charges of tax fraud and making illegal oil deals with Iran and whose former wife had been a Clinton donor. Clinton pardoned Rich in the closing hours of his presidency after Holder's recommendation had been "neutral leaning towards favorable." Holder has since said that his judgment was a mistake.
Some Republicans and analysts say Holder may also be pressed on his past support for gun control measures. In January 2008, he joined several former Justice Department officials in urging the Supreme Court to uphold Washington's ban on handguns. (The court later struck it down.)
Obama's transition team is helping prepare him for the hearing, and Holder is rehearsing his defenses. On Dec. 22, Leahy released more than four-dozen letters of support for Holder's confirmation from a variety of individuals and groups, including James B. Comey, the prosecutor in the Rich case, who said Holder "knows and loves the department and has demonstrated his commitment to the rule of law across an entire career."
An Obama transition official, granted anonymity to address strategy, said that Holder, if challenged on whether in light of the Rich case he can be trusted to display political independence from the president, will cite two high-profile example of him breaking with party leaders.
The first, according to the transition official, was Holder's prosecution, as US attorney for the District of Columbia, of former US representative Dan Rostenkowski, an Illinois Democrat and House Ways and Means Committee chairman who served prison time for misusing taxpayer money. The second, the official said, was Holder's support, while deputy attorney general, of broadening independent counsel Kenneth Starr's investigations into Clinton's activities.
Part of the opposing party's goal in tough questioning, analysts say, is to take the incoming president down a peg, to force him to spend political capital early in the term, thereby lessening the capital he can spend on policy battles down the road.
"If you can burn it up on confirmations and make the president spend the capital getting Eric Holder confirmed as attorney general and things like that, politically, from the Republicans' perspective, that's a win," said Maltzman.
But Brian Darling, director of Senate relations at the Heritage Foundation, said the GOP has to be careful in this political environment not to push too hard.
Scott Helman can be reached at
© Copyright 2008 Globe Newspaper Company.

Monday, December 22, 2008


The Disciples of Hatred,
in Their Own Words and Images
By BRENT STAPLES, Editorial Observer
Nazi hunters have made an art of exposing war criminals through photographs taken in the death camp era. This strategy would have worked well against Southern lynch-mob killers who posed for the camera while murdering African-Americans in a campaign of terror that persisted into the mid-20th century.
Black American lives were viewed as expendable in the pre-civil rights South. The murderers who hanged, dismembered or burned black victims alive — before crowds of cheering onlookers — knew well that the law would not act against them. These savage rituals were meant to keep the black community on its knees.
The white men and women who flocked to these carnivals of death sometimes brought along young children, who were photographed no more than an arm’s length away from a mutilated corpse. These photos were often turned into grisly postcards that continued to circulate even after Congress made it illegal to mail them.
A particularly vivid lynching postcard depicts the charred and partially dismembered corpse of Jesse Washington, who was burned before a crowd of thousands in Waco, Tex., in 1916.
The card, which appears to have been written by a white spectator to his parents, is signed “your son Joe.” He refers to the horrific murder — in which the victim’s ears, fingers and sexual organs were severed — as the “barbecue we had last night.” He identifies himself in the crowd by placing a mark in ink about his head.
By permitting images like this one to move through the mail at all, the government tacitly endorsed lynching, along with the presumption that African-Americans were less than human. The mailings also aided a propaganda campaign that was intended to terrorize the black population in the nation as a whole, not just in the South.
Joe from Waco is no doubt long dead. But many of the people who attended lynchings as children in the 1930’s and 40’s must be still alive and walking the streets of the principal states of the lynching belt. They include Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas, all of which voted against the first black president.
The nearness of the past was fully evident not long ago in Atlanta, when the collectors James Allen and John Littlefield were trying to mount an exhibition of lynching images that had drawn a huge audience and international attention when shown at the New-York Historical Society’s “Without Sanctuary” exhibition of 2000.
Influential Atlantans equivocated. As a person familiar with the issue told me recently: “There were concerns that people in crowds were still alive. And of course, family members and relatives of those people might come in and have to say, ‘That’s my dad’ or ‘That’s my mom.’ ”
“Without Sanctuary” was shown in Atlanta in 2002 at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site and drew more than 175,000 people, three times as many as viewed it in New York. But the tension surrounding the exhibition made it seem unlikely that the images and the accompanying documents would find a permanent home in Georgia or any other lynching belt state.
So it came as a surprise earlier this year when the collection was acquired by Atlanta’s Center for Civil and Human Rights, an ambitious cultural and historical institution that has yet to break ground for its building and plans to open in 2011. The center aspires to emulate the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington in method, linking the civil rights movement to national and international issues of the day.
The notion of housing the lynching material in the same institution as, say, Martin Luther King’s sermons and speeches strikes some as jarring. But this is just as it should be. The civil rights movement can only be properly understood in the context of the reign of terror that gripped black Southerners.
The victims of those public hangings and burnings were sometimes accused of crimes. But they were often guilty of nothing more than seeking the right to vote, speaking truth to white power. Black business owners who challenged white supremacy in the marketplace were favorite targets.
The victims were sometimes killed after they had been marched through the black section of town — with a stop at the school for the colored — and fully exploited as a testament to black powerlessness. Lynching, in other words, was a method of social control.
When visitors to the Center for Civil and Human Rights confront these realities, they will know what the civil rights pioneers faced — and what they feared — when they took those first, perilous steps along the path to freedom.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Conor Cruise O’Brien,
Irish Diplomat, Is Dead at 91
By WILLIAM GRIMES, NYT, December 20, 2008
Conor Cruise O’Brien, an Irish diplomat, politician, man of letters and public intellectual who staked out an independent position for Ireland in the United Nations and, despite his Roman Catholic origins, championed the rights of Protestants in Northern Ireland, died Thursday. He was 91 and lived in Howth, near Dublin.
His death was announced by the Labor Party, of which Mr. O’Brien was a member. No cause of death was given. He was reported to have suffered a stroke in 1998 and several broken bones in a fall last year.
Once described by the social critic Christopher Hitchens as “an internationalist, a wit, a polymath and a provocateur,” Mr. O’Brien was a rare combination of scholar and public servant who applied his erudition and stylish pen to a long list of causes, some hopeless, others made less so by his combative reasoning. When called upon, he would put down his pen and enter the fray, more often than not emerging bruised and bloodied.
As a diplomat, he helped chart Ireland’s course as an independent, anticolonialist voice at the United Nations and played a critical role in the United Nations intervention in Congo in 1961. As vice chancellor of the University of Ghana in the early 1960s, he fell out with the dictator Kwame Nkrumah over the question of academic freedom, and while teaching at New York University later that decade, he took part in an antiwar demonstration that led to his arrest.
Most notably, as a lifelong commentator on Irish politics and as a government minister in the early 1970s, he argued passionately against a united Ireland without the full consent of the Protestant north and bitterly criticized the tacit support for the Irish Republican Army then prevalent in the Republic of Ireland. “I intend to administer a shock to the Irish psyche,” he said in defiance.
With the Troubles raging in the North, his position made him a hate figure for many Irish, as did his later opposition to the peace effort aimed at bringing Sinn Fein into the government of Northern Ireland.
Mr. O’Brien, known to friends as the Cruiser, was born in Dublin on Nov. 3, 1917, to a family with a long political pedigree on both sides of the widening split in Irish political life. Ardent republicans in the family somehow took tea with supporters of the Irish Parliamentary Party, which favored home rule but not a break with Britain.
His father, a journalist, moderate nationalist and agnostic, insisted that Conor, his only child, attend a Protestant school, although his mother — the model for Miss Ivors in James Joyce’s story “The Dead” — managed to keep him in a Catholic school until he received his first communion. He later studied history at Trinity College, Dublin, which was also Protestant. On graduating, he found a job in the civil service, initially in the finance department but soon with the department for external affairs (now called the foreign office).
In 1939, Mr. O’Brien married Christine Foster. The marriage ended in divorce. Two of their children survive, a son, Donal, and a daughter, Fidelma Sims. He later married Maire MacEntee, an Irish-language poet who writes under the Gaelic name Maire Mhac an tSaoi. She also survives him, as do their two children, Margaret and Patrick, as well as five grandchildren.
While a civil servant, Mr. O’Brien published two books to wide acclaim: “Maria Cross” (1952), a collection of critical essays on modern Catholic writers, and “Parnell and His Party” (1957). The latter, submitted as his doctoral dissertation at Trinity, caught the eye of Frank Aiken, minister of external affairs, who in 1957 sent Mr. O’Brien to the United Nations with instructions to take an independent line. The British magazine New Statesman wrote of Mr. O’Brien in 1968: “In so far as a civil servant can, he became a minor national hero; the Irish independent, asserting his country’s independence along with his own.”
In 1961, Dag Hammarskjold, the secretary general of the United Nations (and an admirer of “Maria Cross”), sent Mr. O’Brien on a special mission to Congo, which had recently achieved independence from Belgium but faced a separatist revolt in the mineral-rich province of Katanga. The rebellion was being backed openly by Belgium and secretly by France and Britain.
Mr. O’Brien, determined to take decisive action, ordered in United Nations troops, but the operation ended in disarray. In the aftermath, as the United Nations hastily repudiated the mission, Mr. O’Brien took the fall and left the world body. He recounted his version of events in “To Katanga and Back” (1962) and later wrote “Murderous Angels,” a play about Hammarskjold and Patrice Lumumba, Congo’s murdered premier, which was produced in Los Angeles and New York in 1970.
His tenure as vice president of the University of Ghana proved nearly as eventful. Nkrumah, becoming increasingly dictatorial, removed the nation’s chief justice. Mr. O’Brien publicly protested. The Ghanaian press mounted a campaign against the university, portraying it as a hotbed of subversion. Mr. O’Brien departed for the more welcoming environment of N.Y.U., to lecture on literature and social issues.
Mr. O’Brien then plunged into Irish politics, where a changed social climate made it possible for him, as a declared nonbeliever and a divorced man, to take part in public life. “For me, the idea of being able to represent a constituency in the Parliament of Ireland, without accepting the teachings of the church or pretending to accept them, had powerful existential attractions,” he wrote in “Memoir: My Life and Themes” (1998). “It meant that I would be accepted by my own people for what I really was. It closed a kind of schism in the soul, which had long troubled me more than I had ever consciously acknowledged.”
In 1969, as a Labor candidate, he won a seat in Ireland’s Parliament representing Dublin Northeast. Regarded as left-wing by Irish voters, he soon surprised many of his supporters with the provocative and highly influential book “States of Ireland” (1972), in which he attacked what he saw as the myths of the Republican movement and excoriated the nationalist dream as sectarian and colonialist. As minister of posts and telegraphs in the coalition government that formed in 1973, he banned Sinn Fein from the airwaves.
With the defeat of the coalition, Mr. O’Brien became editor in chief of The Observer, the London Sunday newspaper. For the two years he occupied the post, it gave him a platform from which to write polemical articles on politics and to indulge his passion for literature and history.
This he did, in a variety of forums and forms, for the rest of his long life. He was a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books and The Atlantic in the United States and The Irish Independent in Ireland. He also wrote many books, among them “Religion and Politics” (1984); “Passion and Cunning: Essays on Nationalism, Terrorism and Revolution” (1988); “The Great Melody” (1993), a biography of Edmund Burke; and “The Long Affair,” a revisionist study of Thomas Jefferson and the French Revolution. At his death, he was working on a study of George Washington’s presidency.
“I think the intellectual in relation to politics is something like the Greek chorus,” Mr. O’Brien told an interviewer in 2000. “He’s outside the action, but he tells you quite a bit about it.”

Thursday, December 18, 2008

yes, jesus

In partnership with the Du Bois Institute, Autograph ABP presents a retrospective exhibition of large-scale colour and black and white photographs from the estate of Rotimi Fani-Kayode, In partnership with the Du Bois Institute, Autograph ABP presents a retrospective exhibition of large-scale colour and black and white photographs from the estate of Rotimi Fani-Kayode, including archival works exhibited here for the first time.Produced during the 1980s in a career spanning only six years, often in collaboration with his late partner Alex Hirst, Fani-Kayode’s photographic scenarios constitute a profound narrative of African sexual and cultural difference, seminal in their exploration of complex notions of identity, spirituality and diaspora and the black male body as subject of desire.The highly saturated and sexually charged colour tableaux from Fani-Kayode’s Communion and Bodies of Experience series are juxtaposed with the ambiguous subtlety and formal aesthetics of his black and white portfolio. Inspired by what Yoruba priests call ‘the technique of ecstasy’, his photographs fuse archetypal motifs from European and African cultures, tracing ancestral memories through a provocative symbolism to evoke a dialogue between past, present and future."On three counts I am an outsider: in matters of sexuality; in terms of geographical and cultural dislocation; and in the sense of not having become the sort of respectably married professional my parents might have hoped for." - Rotimi Fani-Kayode.Intensely personal and politically engaged, Kayode’s oeuvre is central to various critical discourses in British photography of the late twentieth-century. A founding member and first Chair of Autograph ABP, Fani-Kayode died in 1989. This exhibition marks twenty years since Fani-Kayode’s death, and is closely linked to the establishment of Autograph ABP’s Archive and Research Centre for Culturally Diverse Photography at Rivington Place, London.Rotimi Fani-Kayode was born in Nigeria in 1955 to a prominent Yoruba family who left Africa as refugees in 1966. He studied in the United States, before settling in the UK in 1983, where he lived and worked until his early death at the age of 34 on December 21, 1989.including archival works exhibited here for the first time.Produced during the 1980s in a career spanning only six years, often in collaboration with his late partner Alex Hirst, Fani-Kayode’s photographic scenarios constitute a profound narrative of African sexual and cultural difference, seminal in their exploration of complex notions of identity, spirituality and diaspora and the black male body as subject of desire.The highly saturated and sexually charged colour tableaux from Fani-Kayode’s Communion and Bodies of Experience series are juxtaposed with the ambiguous subtlety and formal aesthetics of his black and white portfolio. Inspired by what Yoruba priests call ‘the technique of ecstasy’, his photographs fuse archetypal motifs from European and African cultures, tracing ancestral memories through a provocative symbolism to evoke a dialogue between past, present and future."On three counts I am an outsider: in matters of sexuality; in terms of geographical and cultural dislocation; and in the sense of not having become the sort of respectably married professional my parents might have hoped for." - Rotimi Fani-Kayode.Intensely personal and politically engaged, Kayode’s oeuvre is central to various critical discourses in British photography of the late twentieth-century. A founding member and first Chair of Autograph ABP, Fani-Kayode died in 1989. This exhibition marks twenty years since Fani-Kayode’s death, and is closely linked to the establishment of Autograph ABP’s Archive and Research Centre for Culturally Diverse Photography at Rivington Place, London.Rotimi Fani-Kayode was born in Nigeria in 1955 to a prominent Yoruba family who left Africa as refugees in 1966. He studied in the United States, before settling in the UK in 1983, where he lived and worked until his early death at the age of 34 on December 21, 1989.

tar baby ain't sayin' nothin'

Obama defends choice of pastor
By Associated PressThursday, December 18, 2008
CHICAGO - President-elect Barack Obama is defending his choice of Pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration.
The selection brought objections from gay rights advocates who say they’re troubled by Warren’s support for a California ballot initiative banning gay marriage. It was approved by voters last month.
Obama told reporters in Chicago that America needs to "come together," even when there’s disagreement on social issues. He also said it’s "no secret" that he’s a "fierce advocate for equality" for gays and lesbians — and he said that support will continue.
Obama pointed out that a couple of years ago, he was invited to Warren’s church to speak, despite their disagreement on some issues.
The president-elect says a "wide range of viewpoints" will be presented during the inaugural festivities.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

val, baby, paleese

President-elect Barack Obama's incoming chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, was pushing for Obama's successor just days after the Nov. 4 election, sources told the Chicago Sun-Times.
Emanuel privately urged Gov. Blagojevich's administration to appoint Obama confidante Valerie Jarrett, and the Sun-Times learned Tuesday that he also pressed that it be done by a certain deadline.
Sources told the Sun-Times that Emanuel urged Blago's administration to select Barack Obama's Senate replacement by a certain deadline.
Jarrett was initially interested in the U.S. Senate post before Obama tapped her to be a White House senior adviser, sources say.
The disclosure comes days after Obama's camp downplayed Jarrett's interest in the post.
At one point, an "emissary" who said he represented Jarrett had discussions with Blagojevich chief of staff John Harris and the governor about naming Jarrett to the post, according to a criminal complaint.
In addition to the discussions, Emanuel submitted a list of names of candidates suitable to the Obama team to the governor's administration. Jarrett was not among those names because she had pulled herself out of the running at that point, a source with the Obama camp said.
Obama said Monday that an internal report detailing any staff contacts with the embattled governor or his aide would be made public next week.
Emanuel's discussions do not indicate he was involved in dealmaking with the governor. However, his deeper involvement creates a sticky political situation for Obama.
An Emanuel source said it was "possible" that Emanuel discussed the appointment with Harris and that a specific date was mentioned. "Valerie was deciding whether she wanted to go the Senate. Others had talked to her about it. There were plenty of people who talked to her about it and thought she would be a good choice," the source said.
Jarrett could not be reached for comment about the conversations. Emanuel has refused to answer questions about his conversations with either the governor or his top aides.
Last week's explosive charges and arrest of Blagojevich have put into play impeachment proceedings against the governor, which continue today in Springfield. The arrest also triggered a request to the Illinois Supreme court to remove Blagojevich from office.
Blagojevich was charged with trying to leverage the U.S. Senate seat appointment for campaign contributions, an ambassadorship or job for himself and his wife.

Monday, December 15, 2008

mon mec aurait du m' du pardon

First lady of France, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy
sues to get naked pictures of her on handbags destroyed
Posted in December 13th, 2008
by Claudette Rothman in world
France first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy is suing fashion label Pardon over her image being used on handbags without her permission.
Fashion label Pardon is selling black and white canvas handbags that have a naked picture of the first lady, which was taken in 1993, with her hands crossed covering her private area.
Attorneys for Sarkozy stated, the use of the picture on the bags amounted to theft of her image and want the bags removed from shops and destroyed. In a statement released to the public, he said, “Carla Bruni-Sarkozy has exclusive and absolute rights over her image; the photo has been used without her consent……and to promotional and commercial ends.”
Peter Mertes, owner of Pardon’s fashions argued that the picture was of a public woman, you could find photo of her everywhere.
April of this year, an authorized print of the photo sold for $75,000 at an auction for charity.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

what didn't he know, and when didn't he know it?

Obama's unsatisfyingly vague response
to the Blagojevich scandal
John Dickerson
When a president-to-be does anything for the first time, it's interesting. Today we saw Barack Obama give his first denial related to a scandal. It's good practice, because sooner or later, a scandal (real or manufactured) will confront him while he's in office. As New York Sun reporter Josh Gerstein (I think it was he) used to joke: On any given day, you could ask President Clinton, "Mr. President what about the allegations?"
How did Obama do when asked about Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's effort to hawk his Senate post? It was a bit of a muddle.
Obama was asked: "Were you aware at all about what was happening with your Senate seat?" He responded: "I had no contact with the governor or his office and so we were not, I was not aware of what was happening." He didn't want to go any further, citing the ongoing investigation.
It's hard to know what to make of this. As I wrote initially, Obama and his team come off quite well in the indictment. They didn't want to pay-or-play in any of the governor's games. In fact, this is what seems to have propelled Blagoevich into several bouts of plenteous profanity.
But Obama's answer wasn't terribly nourishing. First, as Jake Tapper notes, this seemed to contradict a statement last month by David Axelrod, Obama's top strategist. "I know he's talked to the governor," Axelrod said about the Senate seat, "and there are a whole range of names, many of which have surfaced, and I think he has a fondness for a lot of them."
The second part of Obama's answer was so vague as to be nearly meaningless. "I was not aware of what was happening" can mean anything you want it to. It can mean you weren't aware of anything relating to the Senate seat, or that you weren't aware the governor was trying to sell the Senate seat, or that you weren't aware the governor was under federal investigation for trying to sell the Senate seat. Or it could mean you were not aware that Blagojevich was using hairspray (or not, as the case may be).
The answer has the whiff of imprecision we're familiar with from politicians. They want to sound definitive without being definitive. But it's also true that officials can also run into trouble by acting in good faith. They try to give a short, simple, digestible denial, and by going for brevity, they unwittingly leave a door open. Was Obama purposefully trying to be unclear? It's hard to say. It's a little hard to believe that he didn't know anything that was happening relating to his old seat. Maybe he's just really, really focused—though he did say on Meet the Press, when ducking a question about Caroline Kennedy being appointed senator from New York, "The last thing I want to do is get involved in New York politics. I've got enough trouble in terms of Illinois politics."
Obama refused to elaborate on the Blagojevich business, citing the ongoing investigation. But an Obama aide responded to my questions by telling me that Axelrod was mistaken.
So much for the first part of the president-elect's answer. We now know, according to transition officials, that Obama did not speak with the governor or anyone else from his office about who would replace him.
What we don't know, and what the aide would not address, is what Obama meant by the second part of his statement. Did he really know nothing at all about what Blagojevich was doing with his Senate seat? If so, that would seem to be as easy to clear up as the Axelrod mix-up. But the aide wouldn't go any further. This could just be a function of an aide not wanting to speak for the next president. That's a healthy instinct—for the aide's survival and for all of us.
So we're left with vagueness. Why does it matter? It always matters when a politician won't say the simple thing. Maybe it matters a little more with Obama, who can answer the dickens out of a question when he wants to. There's evidence that Obama wanted Valerie Jarrett to take his seat—the governor sure seemed to think the president-elect wanted that. Suddenly, in the middle of the process, Obama stopped wanting that. Why?

Friday, December 12, 2008

a tale from the dark side

Dr. King’s Documents Withdrawn From Auction
December 11, 2008
On the eve of a planned Sotheby’s auction of three documents related to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Harry Belafonte, the singer and a friend of Dr. King who owned the papers, withdrew the items for sale.
In a brief statement released on Wednesday afternoon, Sotheby’s said the items had been removed from the auction roster “at the request of Mr. Harry Belafonte.” Sotheby’s gave no reason for the withdrawal, and Mr. Belafonte did not return calls left with his agent.
The items scheduled for the auction on Thursday included a three-page handwritten outline of one of Dr. King’s most important speeches, “The Casualties of the War in Vietnam,” delivered in February 1967, and notes for a speech recovered from his suit pocket after he was assassinated in 1968. The third document was a typewritten condolence letter to Coretta Scott King, Dr. King’s widow, from President Lyndon B. Johnson.
After news reports early this week about the auction the King estate released a statement condemning the sale and saying that it believed the documents had been “wrongly acquired” by Mr. Belafonte.
“The King estate contends that these documents are the property of the estate of Martin Luther King Jr.,” the statement read. “Mrs. Coretta Scott King and the King estate stopped a previous attempt by members of Harry Belafonte’s family to anonymously and secretly auction wrongfully acquired King documents through a Beverly Hills auction house.” In the statement the estate said lawyers were “looking into issues related to the December 11th Sotheby’s auction of King documents.”
Joseph M. Beck, a lawyer representing the King estate, did not return calls or an e-mail message seeking comment. Calls to Bernice King and Martin Luther King III, children of Dr. King, were not returned. Phillip Jones, a King family representative, and Isaac Newton Farris Jr., a nephew of Dr. King and president of the King Center in Atlanta, did not return calls.
In a telephone interview before Mr. Belafonte withdrew the items for sale, David Redden, vice chairman of Sotheby’s, said that the outline for the anti-Vietnam War speech was written in Mr. Belafonte’s Manhattan apartment. The notes from Dr. King’s pocket, Mr. Redden said, had originally been given by Mrs. King to Stanley Levison, an adviser to Dr. King, who left the notes to Mr. Belafonte. Mr. Redden said that Mrs. King had given the condolence letter to Mr. Belafonte. Mr. Redden, who estimated the documents together could fetch from $750,000 to $1.3 million, declined to comment on whether the King family objected to the sale of the papers.
Mr. Belafonte originally met Dr. King, the civil rights leader, when he gave a speech at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem in the mid-1950s. In an interview this week with The Associated Press Mr. Belafonte said he met with Dr. King for four hours in the basement of the church outlining plans for the singer to help spread the civil-rights message through the entertainment industry. In the interview Mr. Belafonte said he later invited Mr. King to use his apartment during his visits to New York. In other news media interviews Mr. Belafonte said he planned to donate the proceeds from the auction to charities representing “the disenfranchised.”
Mr. Belafonte appeared to fall out with the King family around the time of Mrs. King’s funeral in 2006, when he was invited, and then disinvited, to give a eulogy.
The King family has been criticized for its handling of Dr. King’s papers and for trying to profit from them. In 2006 the family selected about 10,000 items from its collection of his papers to auction at Sotheby’s. At the last minute the collection was withdrawn from auction because the city of Atlanta secured a privately financed loan of $32 million and established a nonprofit organization to buy the papers and store them at Morehouse College, Dr. King’s alma mater.
David J. Garrow, a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Dr. King, said that the Belafonte documents were historically important and that he hoped they would go to a “professionally respectable archive.” In addition to Morehouse, Boston University, where Dr. King received his Ph.D., holds a collection of his papers. “It is regrettable if Mr. Belafonte has been intimidated by the estate, if indeed he was going to put the proceeds to good social cause,” Mr. Garrow said in a telephone interview. “Given the years of intimate loyalty that Belafonte had with Dr. King, he is one of the last people who should be legally intimidated by the estate.”
Taylor Branch, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of a trilogy on Dr. King and a friend of Mr. Belafonte, said he was more concerned about the fate of hundreds of documents still stored in the King Center, the nonprofit foundation started by the King family in Atlanta. “Most of Doc King’s collections are locked up in the King archives, which have been essentially nonfunctional for years,” Mr. Branch said. “This is what really worries historians, which is that everything will get lost.”
Clayborne Carson, founding director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University and director of the King Papers at Morehouse, said that he was not so concerned about the content of Mr. Belafonte’s papers getting lost, because Mr. Carson had already obtained copies from Sotheby’s. “To me the buying and selling of papers is a whole other world from what my interest is,” Mr. Carson, a historian, said. “I wish we could go back to the days when people cared about the ideas as opposed to the commodity.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: December 12, 2008 An article on Thursday about Harry Belafonte’s withdrawal of documents related to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that he had planned to auction, including notes for a speech found in Dr. King’s pocket after he was assassinated, misspelled the surname of an adviser to Dr. King who left the notes to Mr. Belafonte. He was Stanley Levison, not Levinson.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008




Paris vs. Havana
Since visiting Cuba a few weeks ago, I’ve been thinking about the visual assault on our lives. Climb in a New York taxi these days and a TV comes on with its bombardment of news and ads. It’s become passé to gaze out the window, watch the sunlight on a wall, a child’s smile, the city breathing.
In Havana, I’d spend long hours contemplating a single street. Nothing — not a brand, an advertisement or a neon sign — distracted me from the city’s sunlit surrender to time passing. At a colossal price, Fidel Castro’s pursuit of socialism has forged a unique aesthetic, freed from agitation, caught in a haunting equilibrium of stillness and decay.
Such empty spaces, away from the assault of marketing, beyond every form of message (e-mail, text, twitter), erode in the modern world, to the point that silence provokes a why-am-I-not-in-demand anxiety. Technology induces ever more subtle forms of addiction, to products, but also to agitation itself. The global mall reproduces itself, its bright and air-conditioned sterility extinguishing every distinctive germ.
Paris, of course, has resisted homogenization. It’s still Paris, with its strong Haussmannian arteries, its parks of satisfying geometry, its islands pointing their prows toward the solemn bridges, its gilt and gravel, its zinc-roofed maids’ rooms arrayed atop the city as if deposited by some magician who stole in at night.
It’s still a place where temptation exists only to be yielded to and where time stops to guard forever an image in the heart. All young lovers should have a row in the Tuileries in order to make up on the Pont Neuf.
Yet, for all its enduring seductiveness, Paris has ceased to be the city that I knew. The modern world has sucked out some essence, leaving a film-set perfection hollowed out behind the five-story facades. The past has been anaesthetized. It has been packaged. It now seems less a part of the city’s fabric than it is a kitschy gimmick as easily reproduced as a Lautrec poster.
I know, in middle age the business of life is less about doing things for the first than for the last time. It is easy to feel a twinge of regret. Those briny oysters, the glistening mackerel on their bed of ice at the Rue Mouffetard, the drowsy emptied city in August, the unctuousness of a Beef Bourguignon: these things can be experienced for the first time only once.
So what I experience in Paris is less what is before me than the memory it provokes of the city in 1975. Memories, as Apollinaire noted, are like the sound of hunters’ horns fading in the wind. Still, they linger. The town looks much the same, if prettified. What has changed has changed from within.
At dinner with people I’d known back then, I was grappling with this elusive feeling when my friend lit a match. It was a Russian match acquired in Belgrade and so did not conform to current European Union nanny-state standards. The flame jumped. The sulfur whiff was pungent. A real match!
Then it came to me: what Paris had lost to modernity was its pungency. Gone was the acrid Gitane-Gauloise pall of any self-respecting café. Gone was the garlic whiff of the early-morning Metro to the Place d’Italie. Gone were the mineral mid-morning Sauvignons Blancs downed bar-side by red-eyed men.
Gone were the horse butchers and the tripe restaurants in the 12th arrondissement. Gone (replaced by bad English) was the laconic snarl of Parisian greeting. Gone were the bad teeth, the yellowing moustaches, the hammering of artisans, the middle-aged prostitutes in doorways, the seat-less toilets on the stairs, and an entire group of people called the working class.
Gone, in short, was Paris in the glory of its squalor, in the time before anyone thought a Frenchman would accept a sandwich for lunch, or decreed that the great unwashed should inhabit the distant suburbs. The city has been sanitized.
But squalor connects. When you clean, when you favor hermetic sealing in the name of safety, you also disconnect people from one another. When on top of that you add layers of solipsistic technology, the isolation intensifies. In its preserved Gallic disguise, Paris is today no less a globalized city than New York.
Havana has also preserved its architecture — the wrought-iron balconies, the caryatids, the baroque flourishes — even if it is crumbling. What has been preserved with it, thanks to socialist economic disaster, is that very pungent texture Paris has lost to modernity.
The slugs of Havana Club rum in bars lit by fluorescent light, the dominos banged on street tables, the raucous conversations in high doorways, the whiff of puros, the beat through bad speakers of drums and maracas, the idle sensuality of Blackberry-free days: Cuba took me back decades to an era when time did not always demand to be put to use.
I thought I’d always have Paris. But Havana helped me see, by the flare of a Russian match, that mine is gone.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

axe man

In choosing chief strategist, Obama chooses politics as usual
David Axelrod, the Chicago political consultant behind Barack Obama's message of change, is coming to the White House to help "tell the American people our story," as he put it in an interview with the Chicago Tribune.
Peter S. Canellos
WASHINGTON - David Axelrod, the Chicago political consultant behind Barack Obama's message of change, is coming to the White House to help "tell the American people our story," as he put it in an interview with the Chicago Tribune.
From his new perch as senior adviser to the president, he hopes to continue the tale of how Obama changed the way America practices politics. But it's now obvious that there's one part of George W. Bush's political legacy that Obama and Axelrod aren't eager to change: the very dubious notion of having the president's campaign strategist rubbing elbows with all the policy wonks in the West Wing.
Bush's decision to bring Karl Rove, his Texas-based strategist and the architect of his rally-the-conservative-base approach to politics, to the White House was controversial back in 2001. Even Bill Clinton, whose White House was viewed as overly political by many people, didn't have his chief strategist ensconced in an office down the hall.
And Rove, of course, proved to be a magnet for trouble. There was, for instance, the federal investigation into whether Rove helped expose the identity of a CIA agent in an attempt to discredit her husband. Rove was never charged, but he did return to the grand jury repeatedly to correct his testimony.
But that was a minor political kerfuffle compared with the suggestion that Rove pushed for an early vote to authorize war in Iraq to take advantage of the 2002 midterm elections, when many Democrats would be reluctant to vote against the president on a pressing matter of national security and then have to face the voters a few weeks later.
Then, when Bush was mulling whether to give the United Nations arms inspectors in Iraq more time to finish their job, Rove reportedly urged Bush to start the war as soon as possible to get it over before the 2004 reelection campaign. (If that was his thinking, he was off by at least six years.) It's important to note that these are merely allegations made in various books about the Bush administration; Rove is now working on his own memoirs, in which he will presumably correct the record. And it's also worth noting that Rove could just as easily have made those recommendations to Bush from an office in Austin as from the White House.
But there's an extra degree of influence that comes from working in the White House; that's why political strategists are willing to give up lucrative consulting work to set up shop in the West Wing.
Among the president's staff, influence is determined by how much face time each aide gets with the chief executive. An ordinary staff member on the National Security Council might have to wait weeks to get in to see the president. But the president's chief political strategist, who traveled with the candidate for years on end and spoke to him constantly, arrives at the White House with more channels of access than anybody outside the president's family.
Other aides, from Cabinet secretaries on down, can only imagine what the strategist is telling the president about them; many will seek the strategist's favor, believing him to be the president's eyes and ears, and will listen intently whenever the strategist makes a recommendation.
So Rove's advice on Iraq may have carried more weight with the people around Bush than with the president himself. And Rove's presence as a virtual gatekeeper to the Oval Office almost certainly contributed to a top-down culture in which few, if any, advisers felt free to deliver bad news or offer competing views to the president.
Axelrod, of course, is not Rove, and Obama is not Bush. A former newsman, Axelrod is reputed to be an idealist more concerned with preserving Obama's image than with achieving political victories or influencing policy. His fame has come mostly from helping black candidates attract the votes of white people. He views himself as a storyteller, and no lover of hard-ball political tactics.
Still, as Axelrod probably knows better than anyone, most Americans think that politics already influences policy to too great an extent. Removing politics from the nation's decision-making process was a key talking point of the Obama campaign. It's part of the "story" that Axelrod wants to tell.
But it's curious that Obama feels the need to have a political consultant on his staff to reassure Americans that decisions aren't being based on political concerns.
Peter S. Canellos is the Globe's Washington bureau chief. National Perspective is his weekly analysis of events in the capital and beyond. He can be reached at
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Monday, November 24, 2008


Classic Monk
Classical Jazz at Lincoln Center
The jazziest scene at the second night of Jazz at Lincoln Center's Monk Festival was in the fifth floor atrium, during intermission of simultaneous concerts by pianist Danilo Perez's trio (reprising his cd Panamonk, in the Allen Room) and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra performing members' arrangements of Monk's music in big band settings led by Wynton Marsalis, with featured pianist Marcus Roberts (in more formal Rose Hall).
Between sets all-age, all-hipster-style attendees mingled in the buzzy, high ceilinged room. Especially fashionable young couples gazed out upon the lights of Columbus Circle, Central Park and 59th Street and sometimes at each other. Films of Monk were projected on a large screen while a excitedly engaged, unannounced piano trio, lit but not raised off the floor, jammed on Monk themes. Arrestingly artful album covers of Monk's lps were displayed on stands politely guarded by low ropes; high end drinks and snacks were sold at kiosks around which the multi-generational crowd surged. CDs and Monk paraphernalia were available at one table, sponsorship info for J@LC at another, and brewer Doug Moody was pouring free samples of his tasty Brother Thelonious Belgian-style abbey ale at a third. The mood was lively as a village fair, in perhaps unfair contrast to the seriousness of intent palpable at the LCJO's concert, from which I'd come.
Not that there's anything wrong with taking the exacting, enduring music of Thelonious Monk seriously. Few American composers' ouevre pay off close listening so well by demonstrating the fundimental complexities, puzzling paradoxes, potential alternatives and profound implications arising from jazz-related song. His songs are memorable, hummable, funny ha-ha and funny peculiar. Like Kafka or Escher or Bach, for that matter, his art has a logic of its own, though it is clearly put forth and immediately accessible.
The LCJO did it's characteristically note-perfect rendering of quite difficult charts that mostly embellished several of Monk's less-often played melodies -- "Crespuscule with Nellie," "Epistrophy," "Ugly Beauty," "Hackensack," "Four In One," "Pannonica," "Criss-Cross" and "Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues Are," "Bye-ya," "We See," "Skippy," "Light Blue," "Evidence" and "Blue Monk," avoiding familiarities such as "Well You Needn't," "Straight No Chaser," "Round Midnight," "Off Minor" or "Rhythm-n-ing." The show was sonorously scripted by historian Geoffrey Ward, with actor Courtney B. Vance delivering the biographical data; Wynton contributed introductory ad libs and T.S. Monk told an old family anecdote about how his dad earned his piano lessons. Marcus Roberts, winner of the first annual Monk instrumental Competition sponsored by the Monk Foundation, is an apposite keyboardist for such a program by virtue of his temperament as well as his technique; he breaks into oom-pah bass patterns, elicits unexpectedly delicate touches from up-high registers, rings percussive repetitions of insistent chords -- does anything except offer predictably polished effusions.
Yet Roberts did not dominate the evening,because this concert wasn't meant to be a piano showcase nor a blowing date, although there were some piquant solos. It was much more consciously a repertory presentation, and therein lies the challenge Jazz at Lincoln Center continues to set for itself.
How does the respectful preservation of enduring work jibe with the jazz imperative to make it new, keep it fresh, deliver excitement? Here, arranger-soloists including bassist Carlos Henriquez, drummer Ali Jackson, reedists Walter Blandings, Sherman Irby, Ted Nash and Victor Goines, trombonist Chris Crenshaw and trumpeters Marcus Printup and Wynton Marsalis himself focused on not smothering but rather highlighting the quirky spareness of Monk's original small band in-the-moment versions, employed everything from picollos to congas and clavé beats, sweepingly harmonized Benny Carteresque sax section blends and extreme polyphony. What did they expect from all this? Was their intent to update the material, invest and interest themselves in it, or just show off? They evoked dreamy airs, bumptious rhythms, obliquely expansive references and mysterious conundrums -- like a a chamber orchestra tackling the reflective intricacies of a revered modernist, not much like a jazz gang attacking tried and true tunes to shake up the full house.
Of course, this is the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, with a mission to elevate the art of jazz, not to sentimentalize or indulge the stereotype of its low-born if honest roots. Such concerts might seem perfect for an elite audience, designed for aficionados as informed as me, who are hyper-aware of and pre-ordained to be interested in signficiant albeit subtle variations on works we love and have heard many times. Rigorous extrapolation of possibilities Monk alludes to, which can only be realized by larger, more organized forces than the quartets he typically worked with, will inevitably de-emphasize interactive spontaneity, however much 16 musicians may try to make every note count (as Monk said essential to his method). The question is: must such repertory presention downplay the bold power of Monk's -- or Mingus', Coltrane's, Ellington's, Morton's, Miles'? -- music. The Jazz at Lincoln Center answer has always been, "No!" So then why do we feel as exhausted as elated leaving a Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra Concert? Are we just getting old?
There's that, but not only that. For all this concert's assertions that Monk's music is here and now for all to enjoy, there was something about the intricate frameworks in which this music was delivered that required listeners to make an effort to unpack it. Though I know Wynton Marsalis and all the aces on the bandstand want to swing hard and have fun, there is still something, maybe built in, only occasionally escapable, that makes these big, impressive events problematic for the less-than-devoted-yet-eager-to-be-enveloped fan.
Were 14 densely detailed, multi-faceted arrangements too many to absorb? Should concerts be held in barns rather than well-appointed confines like "the house that swing built," as Wynton calls his estimable institution? Are the ongoing attempts to justify jazz as America's classical music doomed to leech the juice from jazz? Or is it just jaded critics, grouchy and prejudiced, who romanticize and indulge stereotypes of jazz's low-born but honest roots as the real thing, and can't accept that more upright presentations can be just as expressive and thrilling, as quickly convened, off-hand sets in crowded, rowdy clubs?
Did anyone else hear the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra play Monk -- and think, "Gee, the party is here in the lobby among the crush of folks chatting, touching, talking and listening too, more than it is when we're in our seats"? Did you react/have you reacted similarly or differently to comparable concerts? As ever, comments on this question, which has troubled me a while, will be welcomed. I'm sure I've heard performances, even some by the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra (recalling a memorable battle of the bands with Jon Faddis' sadly disenfranchised Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra), that delivered the longed-for visceral experience. What does it take to make classic jazz live, to keep classic jazz alive?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

kulik images impounded as 'porn' at fiac

Russian gallery directors handcuffed by police,
but case dropped
By Georgina Adam From Art Market
PARIS. French police seized a number of works by the Ukrainian performance artist Oleg Kulik on the stand of Moscow’s XL gallery during Fiac (Foire international d’art contemporain), the leading contemporary art fair, held in the Grand Palais, Paris, on 23-26 October. The police were acting on a complaint of pornography brought by the French customs against photographs from the 1990s depicting Kulik performances, sometimes naked and sometimes simulating sexual acts with animals. Kulik is well known for his performances as a dog, notably I Bite America and America Bites Me in 1997 at Deitch Projects in New York, when he spent two weeks living in a heavily secured dog cage in the gallery. While it is not illegal in France to show “zoophilia” (sex with animals), article 227-4 of the penal code states that it is illegal to show “violent or pornographic images…which could be seen by minors”. The French customs had seen the Kulik images on their arrival in France and informed the public prosecutor.“The police didn’t know which ones to take, so finally they took all the ones showing Kulik naked,” XL gallery’s director Sergei Khripun told the French newspaper Le Monde. He and co-director Elena Selina were taken to the local police station and handcuffed to a bench before being released a few hours later. Fiac’s director Martin Bethenod stayed with them and served as interpreter. Mr Khripun and Ms Selina have now returned to Russia. “There is no case against them and they are not being investigated,” Mr Bethenod told The Art Newspaper. The photo-graphs in question, some of which had already been sold, have now been given for safekeeping to Fiac. “I have them under lock and key and am awaiting the magistrate’s decision as to what to do with them,” said Mr Bethenod.
©2008 The Art NewspaperClose

Monday, November 17, 2008

obama should follow carter's lead...

bring jazz back to the white house
By Howard Reich
November 16, 2008

If President-elect Barack Obama wants to make a bold cultural statement—one that resonates deeply with his autobiography and with the legacy of his adopted hometown, Chicago—there's a compelling way to do it: Teach the White House to swing (again).That's what President Jimmy Carter did in spring 1978, casting the unique brilliance of a presidential spotlight on a distinctly American art form. Carter convened a galaxy of jazz luminaries at the White House, to spectacular effect. Eubie Blake (at 95), Dizzy Gillespie, Pearl Bailey, Teddy Wilson, Max Roach, Louie Bellson and other giants performed jubilantly on the White House South Lawn, basking in the kind of official recognition jazz richly deserves but rarely receives. Anyone who follows jazz never will forget the sight of a wheelchair-bound Charles Mingus, a musical icon then and now, weeping openly as President Carter praised him at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave."That was the best jazz concert the White House has ever seen," Carter told Time magazine last year, and he could be believed because he wasn't running for anything and already had his Nobel Prize.Even if Carter were looking for votes, he surely had sewn up the global jazz constituency that sweltering June night, when he vocalized with the great Gillespie. The tune? What else? Gillespie's "Salt Peanuts," the ideal jazz anthem for a former peanut farmer. After the last riffs, Gillespie leaned toward Carter and said, "Mr. President, I have one question. Could you take it on the road?"Carter laughed and, without missing a syncopated beat, responded, "After tonight I may have to!"But Carter struck a more meaningful note at the end of the evening, when he told the illustrious musicians, "What you have given America is as important as the White House and the Capitol building." It was music to any jazz lover's ears.President Bill Clinton picked up on the theme, inviting jazz virtuosos back to the South Lawn 15 years to the day after Carter's soiree. This time, icons such as Joe Williams, Dorothy Donegan and Illinois Jacquet shared the spotlight with a new wave of emerging masters: Wynton Marsalis, Jon Faddis and Joshua Redman among them. Once again, the musicians were galvanized by the experience. Pianist Donegan, a native Chicagoan who did not grow up in luxury, swore she would title her memoirs, "From the Out House to the White House."And once again, a sitting president sang the praises of jazz."It's especially important that we should be together here in America's house to celebrate that most American of all forms of musical expression, jazz," Clinton told the crowd. "Jazz is really America's classical music. Like the country itself, and especially like the people who created it, jazz is a music born of struggle but played in celebration."There haven't been any White House nights quite like that in the last eight years, which means President-elect Obama—who has said he's partial to John Coltrane and Frank Sinatra—finally could heat up the place again. Indeed, it would be difficult to imagine a president better suited to re-igniting jazz at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., and not because he's African-American.More specifically, Obama's mixed-race heritage reflects the genome of jazz, which first blossomed when multiple cultures and classes converged in New Orleans at the turn of the previous century. No other American metropolis brought largely self-taught black musical geniuses (such as Louis Armstrong) and their formally trained Creole counterparts (such as Jelly Roll Morton) into such proximity. In effect, the black oral tradition merged with more formalized European methods and instrumentation; the rhythms of West Africa linked up with the harmonies of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. A riotous new sound shook New Orleans, then Chicago, then the world. Here was a buoyantly improvised music as freewheeling as America itself, and as democratic too. For in jazz, each musician stands up and has his (or her) say in solos, before rejoining the rest of the band toward the common good.No city (New Orleans included) has given more to jazz than Chicago, the place where Armstrong, Morton and generations thereafter have launched their international careers. If Obama hopes to bring the sound of Chicago and the spirit of cooperation to Washington, he could start with jazz—and not simply by holding another grand concert on the South Lawn (though that would be fine).Better still, Obama could insist that the next chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts builds on the achievements of outgoing Dana Gioia, who expanded the Jazz Masters program with national tours, educational initiatives and radio programming.Further, Obama could ensure that jazz greats, including Chicago's, bow at the White House when heads-of-state come to call. Let them hear what American musical ingenuity sounds like.Perhaps Obama even could persuade the Kennedy Center Honors to pay belated attention to America's jazz creators. Incredibly, none has won since Benny Carter, in 1996 (unless you count classic-pop vocalist Tony Bennett, in 2005). Any recognition for jazz from an Obama administration would have a galvanizing effect on the art form while expressing, in music, Obama's message of hope and unity. At a time when credit is tight and budgets are tighter, why not loosen things up a bit—with jazz?
Copyright © 2008, Chicago Tribune

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

obama win triggers run on guns

Buyers said to fear
crackdown on their rights, civil unrest
By Howard Witt
Tribune correspondent
November 12, HOUSTON — A week after the election of Barack Obama, gun buyers across the country are voting with their feet, flocking to gun stores to stock up on assault rifles, handguns and ammunition.Some say they are worried that the incoming Obama administration will attempt to reimpose the ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004. Others fear the loss of their right to own handguns. A few say they are preparing to protect themselves in the event of a race war.But whatever the reason, gun dealers in red and blue states alike say they've never seen anything like the run on weaponry they've been experiencing since Election Day— surpassing even the panic buying in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks."People are terrified of losing their right to protect themselves," said DeWayne Irwin, owner of Cheaper Than Dirt, a large gun store in Ft. Worth. "The volume is 10 times what we ever expected. It started with assault rifles, but at this point people are buying ammunition, high-capacity magazines, Glocks—it's all flying off the shelf. With the economy the way it is, people are worried about instability. They are scared of civil unrest."There are no nationwide figures on gun sales available yet to document a post-election trend, and the number of pre-purchase background checks conducted by the FBI—a major barometer of national gun sales—actually rose more slowly through Oct. 31 of this year than during comparable periods in 2007 and 2006.But anecdotal reports from around the nation suggest the sudden surge of November gun-buying is far surpassing the normal hunting-season spike that often occurs this time of year.At the Memorial Shooting Center in Houston, which shares a building with a church, managers said they sold out of assault weapons a day after the election and are now adding new orders, at more than $1,000 each, to a monthlong waiting list. In Colorado, state authorities said they set a record for background checks on gun purchasers on the Saturday before the election—and the requests have been growing ever since.And in Obama's home state of Illinois, business at gun stores is brisk."We've had a lot of people concerned because our president-elect is extremely anti-gun and so is his running mate," said Jerry Bricco, owner of 1st Class Firearms in north suburban Zion. "They're afraid of future gun bans and what you will be allowed to get."Not every gun enthusiast is so worried. Mark Greene, a hunter and member of Gun Owners for Obama who led a grass-roots campaign for the Democrat in Tarrant County, Texas, said he regarded fears of a looming ban on assault weapons as unfounded."People are being pretty reactionary," Greene said. "There's a small contingent of folks in and out of the gun-owning community concerned that Obama's election is such a revolutionary change that it could portend mayhem. I think it's hysteria."Obama's record on gun rights is conflicting enough to give ammunition to either side.His campaign Web site said he "respects the constitutional rights of Americans to bear arms" and promised that he would "protect the rights of hunters and other law-abiding Americans to purchase, own, transport and use guns."Seeking to reassure gun owners, Obama told a campaign audience in Ohio in October: "I will not take your shotgun away. I will not take your rifle away. I won't take your handgun away."But Obama also has said he favors "common sense" gun laws, and as an Illinois state legislator he voted to support a ban on semiautomatic assault weapons and tighter restrictions on all firearms. He has said in the past that he opposes allowing gun owners to carry concealed weapons.And Obama's controversial comment last April that some rural Americans "cling to guns or religion" in difficult times suggested to many gun owners that he was fundamentally hostile toward them.The sum of those positions prompted the National Rifle Association to warn its members during the campaign that Obama "would be the most anti-gun president in American history."Obama "says he's in favor of common-sense gun laws," Irwin said. "Well, what people up north think is common sense is something different from us down here in Texas. The criminals have all this illegal stuff. I don't want to fight them with a handgun if I can get an AK. I'm entitled to that. I should be able to defend my home."One expert sees a darker motive driving some post-election gun purchasers."Why are white people buying assault weapons?" said Ben Agger, a sociology professor at the University of Texas at Arlington who wrote a book about the Virginia Tech slayings. "I almost hate to say it, but there is a deep-seated fear of the armed black man, because Obama now commands the military and other instruments of the justice system. They are afraid Obama will exact retribution for the very deep-seated legacy of slavery."Tribune reporter James Kimberly contributed to this report from Chicago.