Monthly Archives: May 2006

America’s Sweetheart

So, NBC’s “Today Show” said goodbye to host Katie Couric today. The giggly, ultra-liberal Couric is headed for the anchor spot at the CBS Evening News, after some well deserved time off. I’m not interested in retreading any of the beefs people have with Katie. It’s all out there and, anyway, I don’t want to look mean.

Back when CBS was picking a new full-time anchor to replace the inimitable Dan Rather, Mrs. RWB made an observation that seemed to me then to be on the money, and still does. If CBS wanted a well-qualified woman to anchor their evening news program, why didn’t they offer it to Gwen Ifill — she of “The Newshour with Jim Lehrer” and “Washington Week,” on PBS?

Now, I wouldn’t argue with anyone who would maintain that the Public Broadcasting Service is inherently a liberal institution. Nevertheless, individuals who work there should be acknowledged for their excellence when deserved, and anyone who sees Gwen Ifill in action would have to concede that she is head and shoulders above the average network news person in terms of knowledge, professionalism, and at the very least a demeanor of objectivity. When refereeing a group of talking heads discussing some controversy of the day, Ifill always seems to start out by actually having a grasp of the issues involved (a rare thing in itself) and seems more often than not to ask the appropriately challenging questions of both sides in the debate, and to give fair opportunity to each side to make its case. She’s simply smarter than almost anyone on network news, and, whatever her own political opinons, she actually seems to have a reasonable understanding of the definition of balance, and some idea of what journalistic integrity might mean in practice.

CBS could have offered her the anchor position on the Evening News (of-course I don’t know if she’d take it, but it seems more than likely given the money and prestige involved) and sent a fantastic signal about the direction their news division had decided to go — rinsing off the slime of the Rather years, and investing themselves firmly in the goals of competence, substance and balance. And at the same time they would have been breaking ground by having a full-time female anchor, and a minority one to boot.

Instead, they chose another obvious mainstream media liberal, and one who is known more for fluff and for her girlish charms than for anything else.

I guess there’s only two words to say to the suits at CBS: “Message received.”

Gwen Ifill
Gwen Ifill: not the new anchor of the CBS Evening News.

Odds and Ends

From AllahPundit an excellent round-up of links and info regarding the Haditha story. This piece in TIME makes particularly interesting reading.

At First Things, Joseph Bottum has an initial reaction to Pope Benedict’s words at Auschwitz.

On a completely different note, last week Bottum linked to some hilarious faux movie trailers in this post (3/4 of a page down). Scenes from films like The Shining and Jaws reworked by talented pranksters into utterly believable trailers for rather different stories. Amazing what kids can do with their computer machines these days.

I’m tardy getting to this, but Clive Davis wrote an excellent article for The Times (England’s) on hip-hop a couple of weeks ago. It’s here at his own site — and the reaction it got was kind of interesting too.

Always a change of pace is Charlie Daniels, who recently paused to clarify things over at his Soapbox, and explain just what he’s about to any newbies who weren’t getting it.

I am pro-Israel, I love Old Glory, NFL, NASCAR and big mouth bass fishing and shooting guns. I like cornbread and pinto beans, fried chicken, rice and gravy, fried okra and hominy grits.

I am a southerner and proud of it and just happen to think that the United States of America is the greatest place on earth and when I leave Tennessee I want to go to Heaven.

I love animals and wide open spaces as much as anybody but can’t see the harm in drilling for oil in Alaska and our western states while I can see the harm in not drilling as the Arab fist tightens around our national cohonos a little more each day. It just doesn’t make sense to depend on people who hate you for our energy needs

I love four-wheel drive vehicles, spinning reels, thunderstorms and rivers. I absolutely adore little babies and happen to think that rednecks are some of the finest people on earth.

Plenty more where that came from, in case you’re not clear on anything.

Feel the power: On May 20th, RWB referred to some words and writings of one Karl Zinsmeister. A few days later, President Bush named him as his new Domestic Policy advisor.

Readers of this blog should never doubt that that they are part of a small but highly influential cadre of movers and shakers.

Time Running Backwards … ?

Pope Benedict XVI visited Auschwitz today. Among his reported remarks:

To speak in this place of horror, in this place where unprecedented mass crimes were committed against God and man, is almost impossible — and it is particularly difficult and troubling for a Christian, for a pope from Germany. … In a place like this, words fail; in the end, there can be only a dread silence, a silence which itself is a heartfelt cry to God: Why, Lord, did you remain silent? How could you tolerate all this?

(Addendum: full text here)

Meanwhile, some of the remarks President Ahmadinejad of Iran made in the course of an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel have been hitting the wires.

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told Germans they should no longer allow themselves to be held prisoner by a sense of guilt over the Holocaust and reiterated doubts that the Holocaust even happened.

“I believe the German people are prisoners of the Holocaust. More than 60 million were killed in World War Two … The question is: Why is it that only Jews are at the center of attention?,” he said in the interview published on Sunday.

“How long is this going to go on?” he added. “How long will the German people be held hostage to the Zionists?… Why should you feel obligated to the Zionists? You’ve paid reparations for 60 years and will have to pay for another 100 years.”

These are certainly interesting times, as that supposed Chinese curse goes.

Ring them bells, ye heathen
From the city that dreams,
Ring them bells from the sanctuaries
Cross the valleys and streams,
For they’re deep and they’re wide
And the world’s on its side
And time is running backwards
And so is the bride.

(Click here for sample of Dylan’s astounding string-accompanied rendition in Japan, 1994)

Whistling Dixie

It’s been real nice watching the saturation media coverage in the U.S. of the Dixie Chicks this past week, and seeing them continue to be willingly held up as noble champions of free speech. “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” I’ve heard that old John Ford movie line a lot lately for some reason. I don’t want to devote too much more space and spleen to a tired subject — although I don’t think I’ve written about the Chicks before — but just for the sake of it, it’s worth clarifying a few things.

It is nothing new for artists and entertainers to hate Republican presidents. It’s been that way for a long time — certainly since Nixon’s time it’s been de rigeur, as John Kerry would say. People in the arts who are — or who admit to being — political conservatives are conspicuous in their rarity, and are truly the ones who display courage in not following the pack (witness Robert Downey Jr.’s somewhat hesitant admission today that he has a picture of himself and the Bushes on his refrigerator. Downey isn’t claiming to be conservative, but rather that he is apolitical, and he seems leery enough about even doing that).

When, on March 10th, 2003, one of the Dixie Chicks (Natalie Maines) said* that they were “ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas,” the outcry that followed had little if anything to do with the mere fact that the Chicks didn’t like President Bush. It’s necessary to recall the actual context in which the fateful remark was made. This is a tall order for most of those multi-millionaire brainiacs who work in the media and do the kinds of powder-puff interviews that the Chicks have been treated to recently.

Number one: Hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops were massed on the Kuwaiti border with Iraq, and in neighboring territories, awaiting what seemed a very likely order to heft their rifles, start the engines of their humvees and tanks, and go forward into life or death battle with an enemy of ultimately unknown capability. That’s right, kids: Contrary to the legends that are being printed with regularity these days, the truth is that no one knew what Saddam Hussein had waiting, and, back then, we knew that we didn’t know. So, aside from the inherent massive risk of any military action, we also believed that it was possible that chemical or biological weapons could be used. The possibility of massive American casualties was real in most people’s minds. Grown-ups, at least, know that war is always uncertain. Americans who had loved ones in the military, who had friends in the military, or who just plain cared were hoping and praying that any military action would succeed quickly and with minimal loss of life.

Number two: The Dixie Chicks made their statement of contempt for the sitting U.S. president at a time of imminent war from a stage in a foreign country. It was in London, in the Shepherd’s Bush Empire Theater. Yes, it’s true that Britain was and remains our ally in the war in Iraq, but, when it comes to something like this, all that matters, viscerally speaking, is whether the statement was made inside America or not. Let’s not fool ourselves: Natalie Maines made her statement (“Just so you know, we’re ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas”) to a foreign audience that she knew would heartily approve of it. If the Chicks had been playing a gig in, say, Houston that day, it seems rather less than likely that the same comment would have been made from the stage.

So, here you had American performers, conscious of the imminent likelihood of hundreds of thousands of American soldiers going into battle, deliberately denigrating the U.S. Commander-in-Chief, while in a foreign country, in full knowledge that it would gain applause and approval.

These are the facts and this is the context that burned so many people up so much. These are also the facts and the context that the Dixie Chicks have continued to brush aside — to this day — in all of their self-serving and self-aggrandizing media appearances.

That was true even back in March of 2003, when, chastened by the reaction, Natalie Maines issued this quasi-apology:

“As a concerned American citizen, I apologize to President Bush because my remark was disrespectful. I feel that whoever holds that office should be treated with the utmost respect. We are currently in Europe and witnessing a huge anti-American sentiment as a result of the perceived rush to war. While war may remain a viable option, as a mother, I just want to see every possible alternative exhausted before children and American soldiers’ lives are lost. I love my country. I am a proud American.”

The point, however, was not that she was “disrespecting” President Bush. The point was the when and where of how she did it, and this is exactly what she refused to acknowledge.

Of-course, as we speak, Natalie Maines has retracted even that disingenuous and muddy apology from 2003. With President Bush’s poll approval numbers in the 30s, and after two years of being lionized as the greatest free speech heroes since Copernicus, obviously the Chicks feel safe to spread their wings.

What all this says about their character is another question.

More light was shed on the issue of character when another Chick said this in a recent interview in TIME magazine (which had splashed them on the cover, of-course):

“I’d rather have a smaller following of really cool people who get it, who will grow with us as we grow and are fans for life, than people that have us in their five-disc changer with Reba McEntire and Toby Keith. We don’t want those kinds of fans. They limit what you can do.”


Of-course, there’s one more point that should not escape clarification, and that is that this never had anything to do with “free speech.” No one in the U.S. government tried to silence the Dixie Chicks. Congress passed no law with respect to their right to make inane statements from here to eternity. Neither did any violent thugs try to chase them off of any stage. Instead, private citizens, who found their statements and attitudes to be immature, obnoxious and repulsive, chose not to spend their money on them anymore. This included private owners of country radio stations who decided that their business was altogether better off not purveying Dixie Chick product.

Yes, America is a free country. Natalie Maines can say whatever she wants, and buy whatever CDs she wants to buy. And so can everyone else.

As for those morons who sent death-threats and otherwise disgusting messages to the Chicks, they displayed plenty regarding their own lack of character by doing so, but they are not representative of the greater mass of ordinary people whose chief reaction to the whole controversy was to raise their eyebrows and hold their noses.

Clearly, it’s still not safe to let go of those nostrils. Too bad.


*Note: all Chick related quotes are from the incontrovertible — or at least highly convenient — Wikipedia.

Just Like a Woman

The world’s media outlets are a-flutter today with the news that Cate Blanchett is to play the role of the young Bob Dylan in the forthcoming unconventional biopic to be directed by Todd Haynes. From The Telegraph:

Cate Blanchett confirmed at the Cannes Film Festival yesterday that she will depict the early Dylan in I’m Not There, the first Hollywood film that he has authorised on his peripatetic life.

Heath Ledger, the star of Brokeback Mountain, Richard Gere, Christian Bale and Ben Wishaw will depict Dylan at other times in his life.

Final details of the film, which was first announced three years ago, were given in Cannes. The producers called it “a ferocious musical romp”.

Shooting will start in Montreal in July, with one more Dylan to be cast.

News blurbs of this kind, regarding this potential film, have been coming out now for several years. I take it that this story is getting more attention because there is a date when shooting is actually supposed to start. Nevertheless, having been there for the previous reports, my reaction to this “news” is not much more than a yawn. I am a little concerned that Haynes’ original vision (which reportedly included the idea of Beyonce Knowles or Venus Williams starring as Dylan) seems to have become rather watered-down and whitewashed as the years have gone by.

I mean, Richard Gere? Heath Ledger? Dullsville.

If you’re going to make a whacked-out, super-weird film on Dylan’s life, I say you should go all the way, or there’s very little point.

Nevertheless, good luck to all concerned. They’re certainly going to need it.

Man On the Street

The city of Duluth, Minnesota, where Bob Dylan was born (he was raised largely in Hibbing) is naming three streets after him — at least on an honorary basis. From the Duluth News Tribune:

Duluth city councilors voted 8-1 to give the honorary designation — which means no one in the area will need to change their letterhead or driver’s license — from The Depot at West Fifth Street, east along Michigan Street to where it meets Superior Street and ending at London Road on 15th Avenue East.

Some residents have criticized the choice of Michigan Street, calling it grungy and like an alley. Supporters, however, said it houses many art organizations and is on the edge of redevelopment.

The area includes the beginning of London Road, which turns into Minnesota Highway 61, the same highway that Dylan named “Highway 61 Revisited” after. Councilors settled on a section of London Road in front of the historic Armory, where Dylan famously was inspired by a Buddy Holly concert.

The appropriateness of using the block that includes that Armory is uncanny. Dylan saw Buddy Holly in 1959 at that venue. Three days later Holly was dead in the airplane crash that also killed Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper. Dylan recently referred to that on his radio show as “the day the music supposedly died.” Seeing Holly undoubtedly made a big impression on Bob, and he even mentioned his memory of that concert when he received his Grammy for 1997’s Time Out of Mind, and alluded to feeling Holly’s spirit nearby during the making of that record.

Of-course it needs no comment from me to highlight the aptness of also using a street that leads into Highway 61. As for Michigan Street, which some residents have said is “grungy and like an alley,” well, there’s only one thing you can say in response to that:

Shakespeare, he’s in the alley
With his pointed shoes and his bells

Thank You

The Iraqis have formed a government, based on the results of democratic elections, according to a constitution also adopted by a national vote. Yesterday President Bush congratulated them and also said, “The sacrifices of many of our country’s noblest and bravest have helped make this day possible. We will not forget their contribution to our security and Iraq’s democracy.”

One way of saying thanks is through the auspices of “Operation Gratitude” which is accepting various gift items (current active appeal until June 15th), cash donations to help create care packages, and/or letters of thanks — details here.


In the Music Hall

In October of 1988, Bob Dylan played four nights at Radio City Music Hall in New York, sometimes known as the “media capital of the world.” It was some seven years since he had released what’s known as his final gospel record (Shot of Love). The absence of any new “Jesus material” had been commonly interpreted by countless speculators to mean — well, we know what. (I would like this to be a short post.) Anyway, on all four nights in New York City, Dylan played the song In the Garden, from his 1980 album Saved. And each night, he introduced it with only small variations of the following statement (these exact words are from the October 17th show):

“You know this Amnesty Tour is going on [That was a tour undertaken by various rock and pop luminaries in support of Amnesty International -ed] and I was very honored last year they chose a Bob Dylan song to be their theme song — ‘I Shall Be Released’ that was. This year they surprised me again by doing another Bob Dylan song as their theme song — they used ‘Chimes of Freedom.’ Next year, the Amnesty Tour, I think they’re going to use ‘Jokerman.’

Anyway, I’m trying to get them to change their mind. I’m trying to get them to use this one.”

Click here for file sample.

When they came for Him in the garden, did they know?
When they came for Him in the garden, did they know?
Did they know He was the Son of God, did they know that He was Lord?
Did they hear when He told Peter, “Peter, put up your sword”?
When they came for Him in the garden, did they know?
When they came for Him in the garden, did they know?

When He spoke to them in the city, did they hear?
When He spoke to them in the city, did they hear?
Nicodemus came at night so he wouldn’t be seen by men
Saying, “Master, tell me why a man must be born again.”
When He spoke to them in the city, did they hear?
When He spoke to them in the city, did they hear?

Slowness, Steadiness and Races

I caught a little of Karl Zinsmeister being interviewed by Ben Wattenberg on his TV show, “ThinkTank,” this morning. He quoted some interesting numbers about the evolution of attitudes towards America in the Muslim world over the past several years. I found the same story in this piece he wrote for the American Enterprise Online on his return from spending a month in Iraq– Fact vs. Fiction: A Report from the Front.

As terrorists’ attacks have shed light on their goals and principles, and as the U.S. has shown it is serious about promoting democracy in Iraq and then going home, new views of America are evolving in Islamic countries. According to surveys in 17 nations carried out in 2005 by an organization chaired by Madeleine Albright, support for terrorism in defense of Islam has “declined dramatically” in the last couple years — from 73 percent to 26 percent in Lebanon, from 40 percent down to 13 percent in Morocco, from 41 percent to 25 percent in Pakistan.

Support for Osama bin Laden has plummeted in nearly every Islamic nation. Rationalizing suicide bombing and violence against civilian targets is way down. A majority of Muslims in many nations now “see Islamic extremism as a threat to their countries.” And majorities of Muslims in many countries now believe that “the U.S. favors democracy in their country” — and rather like the idea. The upshot: positive views of the U.S. are rising — up 23 percentage points in Indonesia, up 15 points in Lebanon, up 16 in Jordan.

Now, I’m sure those increases in numbers are from extremely low previous levels, and no one should pop champagne corks. Nevertheless, the movement is in the right direction; it also seems substantial and significant, and it goes against conventional wisdom. History usually does.

Honoring a Hero in New York City

Port Authority Police Office Donald McIntyre died in the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. The handcuffs he carried were recovered from the rubble. A fellow officer, Det. Thomas McHale, Jr., brought the handcuffs with him when he went to Pakistan and Afghanistan as part of the Joint Terrorism Task Force in 2002. And they were used there to handcuff numerous al-Qaeda and Taliban captures, including Abu Zubaydah. Story in today’s New York Post: Detective has the right ’cuff. McHale is being awarded the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s Medal of Honor today for his achievements against terrorism during that sojourn in Central Asia — which included:

  • He helped uncover and close down a biological weapons laboratory in Kandahar, Afghanistan, while serving alongside federal agents and military forces in the Operation Anaconda mission.
  • He responded to a deadly bomb attack on a Protestant church near the American Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, and helped secure the area as a crime scene, even though live bombs were still present.
  • He arrested a would-be terrorist from Pakistan who was found with $25,000 and a recipe for explosives similar to those used in the 1993 truck-bomb attack on the World Trade Center.