November 30, 2002

Bob does (did) it again.

Leafing through one of the last issues on my New Yorker subscription, and there on the bottom of page 17, lower right hand corner, underneath the Patek Philippe ad, is a quarter-page ad for Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series Vol. 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue.

Bootleg Series Vols. 1-3, it will be remembered, was a triple-disc collection of studio outtakes released back in the mid-90s. Volume 4 was the first official issue of the legendary Royal Albert Hall concert from 1966.

I put the magazine down, told my son to put his shoes and sweater on, drove down to Barnes & Noble and bought it. “First day it’s here,” the girl said, reaching in a box behind the register. “It’ll probably go on sale tomorrow when we put it out on the shelf.” Just gimme the CD.

Rolling Thunder Revue in full swing. From left Roger McGuinn, Joni Mitchell, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan.

I’d known about the Rolling Thunder Revue, of course. Too young to see it in ’75, I’d heard bits and snatches here and there, read the Ratso Sloman book and wondered what it must have been like – Bob and a motley of his old Village cohorts barnstorming theaters and hockey rinks throughout the Northeast, picking up whoever felt like joining in along the way – Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, Kinky Friedman, Allen Ginsberg, Arlo Guthrie, his mother at one point – working out the songs which would appear on Desire – to me always a curiously lifeless rendering of some of his best songwriting.

But here it all is in its raging, freewheeling, emotional glory. Having seen lousy, average and great Dylan shows from about 1986 on, this set blows away any concert I’ve seen.

What Dylan’s shows are all about is hearing his one-time-only take on the songs. Will it come across sorrowful or angry tonight? Up-tempo electric or meandering acoustic? What new words will there be? Live 1975, as it will come to be known, is a collection of the best performances from the revue, and what a treasure trove of wonderful surprises. Slow dirge-like songs – “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” – are blazing anthems, the version of “Mr. Tambourine Man” is probably the best I’ve heard. “Tangled Up In Blue” and “Sara” are revelations.

Going through the CD song by song is a useless exercise, suffice it to say there isn’t a song which doesn’t need to be here except for “One More Cup of Coffee,” which I have never liked in any way, shape or form. According to the liner notes the complete 1964 concert at Philharmonic Hall, the Halloween Concert, will be released in 2003 as Volume 6. With what must be a roomful of tape somewhere one’s already impatient for Volume 7.

And if Sony’s taking suggestions for Volume 7, how about the complete Basement Tapes?

For the record: I don’t know.

Always instructive looking to see what sort of Google and Yahoo! searches lead folks to Clubbeaux. Most are of the standard “Lazare, Daniel ossuary,” “Bonnie Witherall” or “al-Qaeda psychological profile” variety, having to do with topics dealt with here at Clubbeaux.

But sometimes windblown travelers leave disappointed. Two recent examples:

Yesterday someone got to Clubbeaux through a Yahoo! search for “whores contact numbers in Turkey.” I sincerely hope this gentleman finds accommodation, sorry I couldn’t be of any help.

Another one hit the site via a Google search for “margaret trudeau panties.” That one, I confess, remains a mystery.

Update: One of the better blogs online, South Knox Bubba, has moved uptown. Follow him to his new address.

South Knox Bubba: “Yes, but…”

November 29, 2002

United Airlines R.I.P.

It looks as though United’s going into bankruptcy. Good. Maybe they’ll go out of business and sell their assets to someone who thinks treating customers like human beings might be good business strategy.

Labor’s not cutting them a break – no reason they should. Their stock’s dropped 25% as of this writing Friday at noon. They’re losing $7 million a day. You’d think that’d wake them up to the fact that maybe not giving a damn about customer service – United’s easily the worst airline for customer service currently in the air – has its consequences.

No such luck, they’re blaming everyone but themselves – the mechanics who are so unreasonably hesitating about approving a $600 million pay cut needed because of United’s boneheaded business strategies, the government for not bailing them out, the private sector for not bending over yet again with more “loans,” 9/11, the prophecies of Nostradamus and El Niño.

Back in 2000 Headley and Bowen’s annual report of American domestic airline quality ranked United dead last for things like on-time performance, bumpings, mishandled baggage and passenger complaints – you know, customer service – so it really shouldn’t have come as a surprise when customers said you know, I’m tired of this crap, I’ll fly Southwest instead.

Good riddance.

Are they waking up?

A couple heartening developments this past week for the Palestinian people, weary of being the cannon fodder, the foot soldiers in Yasser Arafat and the Arab world’s campaign to destroy Israel.

A poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research shows 56 percent of Palestinians favor steps by the Palestinian Authority to stop attacks in Israel. As recently as May, the AP reports, a similar poll showed that 86 percent of Palestinians opposed arresting Palestinian militants involved in suicide bombings inside Israel.

Seeing as how unapproved things unhappen in the police state Arafat’s running, the one thing we can be sure of is that the results of this poll – which I believe underestimate the truth if anything – were foreordained, that had the results been not what the Palestinian Authority wanted to hear, nobody would have heard them. Whether one was actually taken or not is irrelevant, of course.

The poll is most likely intended to serve as cover for the PA calling an end to Arafat’s astonishingly stupid and self-destructive intifadeh. It will be done with a lot of blather about how “responsive” the PA is to its “citizens’” wishes. Evidently Arafat has decided it’s better to lay off killing innocent Israeli civilians before the Palestinians themselves decide they’re better off without Arafat and his slimy cronies ruining their society and lives.

“The public very strongly blames Arafat.”

Khalil Shikaki, the director of the center confirms as much when he told the AP “There is no doubt that the public very strongly blames Arafat ... I think they mainly blame him for the lack of leadership.” Israeli commentator Akiva Eldar wrote in Haaretz that “Arafat might have begun to understand that if he doesn't take matters into his own hands, they'll be taken away from him."

So Arafat’s simply retreating before he’s run out of town on a rail – his popularity is currently at 35 percent – but it’s a calculated retreat: the poll allowed as how Palestinians still strongly favor attacks against Israeli settlers and soldiers in the West Bank and Gaza. Expect those to continue while the suicide bombings in Israel, which aren’t doing much for the Palestinians’ image worldwide, taper off.

Also Arafat’s deputy, Mahmoud Abbas, went on record as telling Palestinian activists that the uprising has been a disaster and has led to “complete destruction of everything we built.” He also made the common-sense observation that there was no reason why the Palestinian Authority – read: Arafat – should not stop the militants from attacking Israel.

Mahmoud Abbas: Arafat’s successor?

It’s pretty rare for anyone to get away with direct criticism of Arafat like that. So my guess is Abbas is being positioned to take over as an ersatz Palestinian prime minister, someone the West can do business with instead of the discredited Arafat. The same poll indicated that 73 percent of Palestinians favored selecting a prime minister to take over some of Arafat’s powers, a move he’s always resisted but which he probably sees now as his only alternative to being deposed.

Palestinians themselves have long regarded anyone who trusted Arafat as nuts, a mistake fewer of his former apologists have been making since he was caught red-handed buying huge illegal arms shipments last spring. He lost much of his standing among the Palestinians after admitting defeat in Ramallah last May, surrendering wanted terrorists to Israel from his own inner circle after unsuccessfully trying to dupe the world into believing a “massacre” had taken place in Jenin.

Arafat’s a spent force, thanks to George Bush’s blunt honesty he’s increasingly marginalized and irrelevant worldwide and trusted by few anymore. Evidently the filthy little terrorist finally realizes this, and is adroitly positioning his own end game.

November 28, 2002

More real-life racism.

Thanks to a reader living in Britain who sent this in from The Times. Just in case you were wondering where racism’s flourishing in America today:

Craig David defies US “racism” over white guitarist

By Adam Sherwin, Media Reporter and Nicholas Wapshott in New York

The British singer Craig David believes that “inverse racism” against a white
member of his band is threatening his career in America. David, the 21-year-old R&B songwriter and vocalist from Southampton, is one of the few British performers in recent years to have gained a foothold in the American pop market.

But the son of a half- Jewish white mother and a father from Grenada angrily rejected calls in the US to replace his white guitarist with a black musician to maximise sales among black audiences.

The singer’s outspoken criticism of black music executives could lead to an industry backlash in the US, where he has sold 1.5 million copies of his debut album Born To Do It.

The suggestion was made to David, whose music combines the American R&B style with UK Garage, when he made an American promotional tour last month to unveil his new album. When he visited “urban” radio stations, which are listened to by predominantly black audiences, he was repeatedly told by black executives that he should replace his white guitarist, Fraser T. Smith, with a black musician to take his career to the next level.

Craig David with guitarist Fraser T. Smith

David often performs acoustic numbers with Smith on television and radio and he was told that this multiracial presentation could damage his credibility with black record-buyers. Commentators say that he could sell up to five million CDs and become one of the biggest stars in the US if he made further inroads with this audience.

The Grammy-nominated singer, who has sold seven million CDs worldwide since emerging as a 19-year-old prodigy, refused the advice. He told BBC Radio 5 Live: “It was disappointing that there was still this slight sense of racism going on over there.” He had found the attitude particularly unacceptable because of his mixed-race background.

British acts are told by record companies to play by the rules of the US industry if they are to have any chance of breaking through in a country which has largely rejected them. But David said: “They can take their black guitarist and shove it where the sun doesn’t shine. It shouldn’t matter what colour or creed you are. Fraser plays licks that half those urban guys can’t even fathom. They can lump it or leave it.”

The world of racially segregated radio and entertainment is rarely commented on in the American press. It is taken for granted that hundreds of urban radio stations specialising in black music are intended for black audiences only and will rarely, if ever, play the work of a white musician.

The irony now is that black musicians do not become successful unless black music breaks through to young white audiences. “The people who keep hip-hop going are the white kids,” Mr Dann said. “Black kids don’t buy records in vast numbers, so you have bombastic, militant rappers and the Puff Daddys getting rich off the backs of young white boys in the Midwest.”

It should also be noted that Jimi Hendrix was under pressure his entire career to get rid of his band – a white bassist and white drummer – and replace them with black musicians. Some racism never ends.

“Oh, and us too.”

One meaningless phrase which can slide into oblivion for the good of the world is “Abrahamic religions.” It’s used almost exclusively by Islamic apologists trying to sneak Islam into Judaism and Christianity’s sphere of credibility.

Think about it: Only Islam tries to talk up the three “Abrahamic religions.” Christianity talks only about things Judeo-Christian, and Jews talk about Judaism.

The guy who finishes tenth talks about the top ten, the guy who finishes fifth talks about the top five and the guy who wins talks about the winner. Princeton talks about the Big Three, Yale talks about Harvard-Yale. Harvard talks – and thinks – only about Harvard.

Christianity, Judaism and Islam are not “Abrahamic” religions. Judaism is the religion of Mosaic law, and Christianity is the religion of Jesus’s salvation by grace. Islam is the religion of the law of Muhammad, which has nothing whatsoever to do with Judaism and Christianity, but Islam’s always craved the historical legitimacy Christianity and Judaism have, so it tries to squeeze in the picture on the grounds that there was a certain person all three religions find significant.

Father Abraham.

Jews regard Abraham as the patriarch of their race through Isaac, and consider Muslims as being outside of God’s promise. Muslims point to Abraham as the patriarch of their faith (“Us too!”) through Ishmael and try to rewrite the story to put God’s promise on Ishmael. Christians, who do not care about earthly heritage, regard Abraham as little more than a pre-Christ example of righteousness through faith – Jesus once said to Jews hey, you think you’re something special because you trace your lineage back to Abraham? I can raise up children of Abraham from these rocks here on the road. That’s how seriously Christians take Abraham.

There is no commonality in how the three religions view Abraham, so how can all religions be “Abrahamic?” Answer: They can’t, and aren’t.

November 27, 2002

Gee thanks, but why?

Word has it that Simon & Garfunkel, one of my all-time favorite musical acts, will receive a special lifetime achievement award from the Grammys.

Great, but, um, why Simon & Garfunkel and why now? Leaving aside the fact that the Grammys are completely irrelevant these lifetime achievement awards usually go to the likes of Tito Puente, Neil Young and B.B. King – people who didn’t get any Grammys back when they should have and whoever beat them out is completely forgotten now.

Lifetime achievement awards are the Grammys’ way of saying “Sorry we had our heads completely up our butts back when you were one of the most potent musical forces of your day and we were giving awards to the likes of Petula Clark, here’s your Grammy 25 years too late.”

Take 1965, a landmark year for music. The Stones unleash “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and Bob Dylan drops “Like A Rolling Stone” on an unsuspecting world. Two concussion bombs which utterly transform the pop idiom, songs which today rank in the top five greatest singles of the rock era. What song won the Grammy’s Best Contemporary Single that year? Roger Miller’s “King Of The Road.” A good song, sure, but it ain’t no “Like A Rolling Stone.”

But Simon & Garfunkel got their Grammys back when they should have. They haven’t been together but once in the past 32 years. They made their mark, hoisted their Grammys and that’s that. Why is Grammy trying to milk it now? Paul Simon’s got yet another compilation out and Art Garfunkel’s released yet another album that’ll go nowhere, so what?

Instead of trying to retroactively associate the Grammy with worthwhile acts, they should concentrate on hitting the worthwhile artists while they’re still in their prime. Maybe this is their way of calling attention to one of the few times they actually did.

Goodbye, NFL.

I don’t think I’ll be watching too much National Football League action this year, and probably not a whole lot next year either.

That’s saying a lot. I usually watch five games a weekend – where I live I get the Redskins and Ravens games and flip back and forth between them. There’s another Sunday afternoon doubleheader game and I watch that one. Then the Sunday evening game and, of course, Monday Night Football.

There are far too many commercials and breaks in the games, it takes three hours and change to complete a one-hour game. That irks me. I’ve mulled giving it up for that reason alone, but never did. I liked it too much.

But I watched the Green Bay – Tampa Bay game last weekend. It wasn’t a great game, as most NFL games aren’t, and it had far too many time-wasting timeouts and commercial breaks, but I’m almost used to that by now. But it finally showed me what the NFL has become: a gangsta league, a product aimed at the urban, violence-soaked hip-hop culture – much like the suicidal marketing direction taken by the NBA, currently fading into cable irrelevance. I don’t think that’ll happen to the NFL for a while, but they’ve lost me as a viewer.

There is violence in the NFL, sure. It’s a hard-hitting game, and while I think they should go to leather helmets to keep players from using helmets as offensive weapons – rugby players and Australian rules football players wear far less padding, almost none yet play as physical a game and suffer far fewer serious injuries – I expect the physical danger that comes with the game. Officials are usually pretty good about flagging unnecessary roughness, and the league’s gotten more stringent on fining excessive violence. Granted a $5,000 fine to a guy making a million bucks a year is a slap on the wrist, but it’s a slap.

But when I saw Tampa Bay’s Warren Sapp do nothing but try to intentionally injure another player, Green Bay offensive lineman Chad Clifton, it nauseated me in a way I have never been nauseated by the NFL before. It was a “legal” hit, the way it’s legal not to stop and help an old lady who’s fallen on the sidewalk, and about as moral too.

Tampa Bay had intercepted a pass and was running it back. Clifton was on the other side of the field jogging in the general direction of the action, but a good twenty, thirty yards from the guy with the ball. In other words, completely out of the picture. Sapp, who was farther away, comes running towards Clifton and blasted him full-force. Left his feet to do it – solely to unload on a guy who wasn’t expecting it. Solely to try to injure a man as viciously as he could.

That’s why the depraved Romans crowded the Colosseum, to see people get hurt. I don’t watch football to see people get hurt. If that’s the sort of game the NFL’s interested in running – and the non-reaction from league offices to the Sapp incident confirms yes, it is – count me out.

This isn’t just me. Sports Illustrated’s Paul Zimmerman, the dean of NFL writers says “I always knew Sapp was a phony, but I underestimated his vicious streak. Sapp is a clever person. He’s funny, a terrific quote machine, although he can be nasty to people who get on his bad side. He's also an outstanding football player. As a human being, though ... well, you can have him for Christmas and 10 points.” Zimmerman, a former player, says such a pointlessly vicious move is known as “crippling the dummy.” Sapp, obviously, relishes such moves. If he’d been in Vietnam he’d have been one of the guys fragging civilians just for the hell of it.

There was no conceivable football reason for Sapp to deck Clifton. The play might as well have been on Mars for all Clifton was going to have to do with it. Sapp didn’t help his team one whit, all he did was put Clifton in so much pain that Clifton couldn’t travel back to Green Bay with the team, he had to stay in an area hospital with the dislocated hip, a nasty injury that usually recurs throughout life, internal bleeding and other injuries. As of this writing, three days after the game, Clifton’s still hospitalized.

Warren Sapp reveled in it. Loved it. Never expressed the slightest regret or regard for the man whose body he had mangled for no other reason than the thrill of doing so. He proudly announced that all he’d done was “play football for sixty minutes” while thinking SportsCenter, here I come. “I was a heat-seeking missle,” Sapp said. “Boom. Boom. Boom. And I hit him.” Scoreboard replays show Sapp celebrating the hit as Clifton writhed on the ground in pain.

The league agreed. No flag was thrown on the play. League officials reviewed the play and said all’s jake here. No fine, no admonishment, nothing, good shot on that anonymous schmuck Warren, we’ll put that one in our next lucrative Greatest Hits (Literally) Of The NFL video. The league’s response was to circulate a memo warning all teams that any payback on Sapp would be dealt with harshly. Can’t hit Warren Sapp the way Sapp hit Clifton, Sapp moves a tidy amount of NFL-licensed product. Clifton didn’t.

I’m sorry, but that is not the football I am willing to watch. Football is hard physical play, it’s not trying to injure people. Football is passing, blocking, tackling, catching, running and hitting. That’s a great sport, I can watch that all day. If the NFL says Warren Sapp blindsiding guys for the sheer evil joy of hurting people is the football it’s marketing, count me out.

The gradual transformation of the NFL from showcasing athletic skill to marketing a product appealing to hip-hop culture’s love of violence and flash has been subtle but steady. Ray Lewis is a clear accessory to murder in Atlanta and isn’t kicked out of the league. Terrell Owens exhibits the worst sportsmanship anyone’s seen and he’s the subject of Monday Night Football’s special in-depth halftime feature. When teams change colors and logos now they almost invariably switch to darker colors more favored by the Cadillac Escalade crowd. Never before has a bad-boy image been such a lucrative marketing trait.

Quick question: If Clifton were black, you think the black Sapp would have leveled him? Be honest.

Jack Tatum getting a kick out of seeing somebody suffer.

Look, football attracts the Lyle Alzados, the Jack Tatums, the Gary Fenciks who genuinely enjoy hurting people. It’s not a perfect game and it’s a side the league will always have. I can’t pretend I’m above it either, my favorite player to watch ever was Lawrence Taylor and I’ll call my wife in to watch a particularly acrobatic de-cleater. I’ll make sure the de-cleatee gets up first, though. Nothing wrong with a good, clean snotrattler; they wear the pads for a reason, don’t they?

I thought seriously about giving up the NFL after the sordid Ray Lewis incident, where the fact that the man was a clear accessory to murder was swept under the carpet as quickly as possible by the league since Ray moved product and it played well in the inner city. Hey, look at us, hip-hop world, we can be as gangsta as you, we got brothers pulling some serious stuff and getting away with it. We got Randy Moss, we got Terrell Owens, we got Ray Lewis, we got Warren Sapp. Today's NFL.

Today's NFL. We got any kind of attention-drawing me-first it’s-all-about-me team-what-team? dance you can think of – we got the sack the quarterback ritual, the knock down a pass dance, the tackle the guy for a two-yard loss choreography, lookit me lookit me lookit me I bad.

Fine. But I’m not watching any more. I’ll stick to the college game from now on except for the odd playoff game or two. In the college game it’s still all about passing and catching, running and tackling, blocking and hitting and the rivalries. Players aren’t bucking for marketing cachet or to get on a career-enhancing Most Vicious Hits Of the Year videos, they’re bucking to win games and improve their skills. That’s the football I’m interested in, not the gangsta game the NFL evidently wants to play.

P.S. Just got an e-mail from a reader who says “I lost all respect for the NFL when they threatened Peyton Manning with a fine if he wore black hightops in honor of Johnny Unitas. The NFL didn’t like Unitas. He spoke his mind about how they didn’t take care of the older players who didn’t make much money, the guys who made the league what it is today. They had injuries and the league turned its back.” As they undoubtedly will to Chad Clifton if, as seems likely, his NFL career is over. Oh, you didn’t make enough in endorsements to retire comfortably? Warren Sapp did, so tough luck, buddy. Thanks for playing.

There you go. The NFL will fine you if you don’t wear your socks correctly or try to honor the greatest quarterback the league’s ever known but you can end some non-superstar offensive lineman’s career with a cheap shot and the league won’t lift a finger.

America’s real racism.

As a Southerner I’m alternately bemused and disgusted at Northerners’ ignorant yet firmly-believed opinions of Southern “racism.” I’ve lived and traveled all over, and in America the worst racism I’ve ever seen is in either Chicago or Boston, it’s a toss-up.

It’s the old “love the race in the abstract but avoid the individual person” attitude white and black Northerners take. You’ll hear more honest talk about the difficulty of blending two distinct cultures down South, sure, yet nearly every white Southerner has at least one black friend. Up North, on the other hand, you don’t hear a word outside of the politically correct songbook yet I’ve noticed the incidence of white-black friendship is much lower.

Now I have statistical proof that the North is, in fact, much more racist than the South. The Census Bureau has released a report noting that “America's metropolitan areas became more integrated during the 1990s, particularly renovated inner cities that attracted whites from suburbia and immigrants from abroad.”

Even so, many areas remain highly segregated, with blacks more isolated than other ethnic or racial groups. And where might this segregation be? Atlanta? Richmond? Charleston? Jackson? Nope:

“The bureau said the five most segregated metropolitan areas were Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis and Newark, N.J.”

Explain that one, white and black Northern racists.

1967 Newark race riots.

Salman Rushdie speaks.

Rushdie may very well have earned himself another fatwa from mainstream Islam with this editorial he wrote for The New York Times today. Rushdie correctly notes that the “moderate” element in Islam is actually in the distinct minority, and a fearful minority at that – as his own experience shows.

Illustration for 5 October 1998 issue of TIME Asia by Harry Harrison.

I really can’t do better than this intelligent, courageous and egocentric Muslim’s own words, so here goes:

It’s been quite a week in the wonderful world of Islam.

Nigerian Islam’s encounter with that powerhouse of subversion, the Miss World contest, has been unedifying, to put it mildly. First some of the contestants had the nerve to object to a Shariah court’s sentence that a Nigerian woman convicted of adultery be stoned to death and threatened to boycott the contest – which forced the Nigerian authorities to promise that the woman in question would not be subjected to the lethal hail of rocks. And then Isioma Daniel, a Christian Nigerian journalist, had the effrontery to suggest that if the prophet Muhammad were around today, he might have wanted to marry one of these swimsuit hussies himself.

Well, obviously, that was going too far. True-believing Nigerian Muslims then set about the holy task of killing, looting and burning while calling for Ms. Daniel to be beheaded, and who could blame them? Not the president of Nigeria, who put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the hapless journalist. (Germaine Greer and other British-based feminists, unhappy about Miss World’s decision to move the event to London, preferred to grouse about the beauty contest. The notion that the killers, looters and burners should be held accountable seems to have escaped notice.)

Meanwhile, in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Hashem Aghajari, a person with impeccable Islamist credentials – a leg lost in battle and a résumé that includes being part of the occupying force that seized the Great Satan’s Tehran embassy back in the revolution’s salad days – languishes under a sentence of death imposed because he criticized the mullahs who run the country. In Iran, you don’t even have to have cheeky thoughts about the prophet to be worthy of being killed. The hearts of true believers are maddened a lot more easily than that. Thousands of young people across the country were immature enough to protest against Mr. Aghajari’s sentence, for which the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, duly rebuked them. (More than 10,000 true believers marched through Tehran in support of hard-line Islam.)

Meanwhile, in Egypt, a hit television series, Horseman Without a Horse, has been offering up anti-Semitic programming to a huge, eager audience. That old forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion – a document purporting to prove that there really is a secret Jewish plot to take over the world, and which was proved long ago to have been faked by Czar Nicholas II’s secret police – is treated in this drama series as historical fact.

Yes, this is the same Egypt in which the media are rigorously censored to prevent anything that offends the authorities from seeing the light of day. But hold on just a moment. Here’s the series’ star and co-writer, Mohammed Sobhi, telling us that what is at stake is nothing less than free speech itself, and if his lying show “terrified Zionists,” well, tough. He’ll make more programs in the same vein. Now there’s a gutsy guy.

Finally, let’s not forget the horrifying story of the Dutch Muslim woman, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who has had to flee the Netherlands because she said that Muslim men oppressed Muslim women, a vile idea that so outraged Muslim men that they issued death threats against her.

Is it unfair to bunch all these different uglinesses together? Perhaps. But they do have something in common. Ayaan Hirsi Ali was accused of being “the Dutch Salman Rushdie,” Mr. Aghajari of being the Iranian version, Isioma Daniel of being the Nigerian incarnation of the same demon.

A couple of months ago I said that I detested the sloganization of my name by Islamists around the world. I’m beginning to rethink that position. Maybe it’s not so bad to be a Rushdie among other “Rushdies.” For the most part I’m comfortable with, and often even proud of, the company I’m in.

Where, after all, is the Muslim outrage at these events? As their ancient, deeply civilized culture of love, art and philosophical reflection is hijacked by paranoiacs, racists, liars, male supremacists, tyrants, fanatics and violence junkies, why are they not screaming?

At least in Iran the students are demonstrating. But where else in the Muslim world can one hear the voices of the fair-minded, tolerant Muslim majority deploring what Nigerian, Egyptian, Arab and Dutch Muslims are doing? Muslims in the West, too, seem unnaturally silent on these topics. If you’re yelling, we can’t hear you.

If the moderate voices of Islam cannot or will not insist on the modernization of their culture – and of their faith as well – then it may be these so-called “Rushdies” who have to do it for them. For every such individual who is vilified and oppressed, two more, ten more, a thousand more will spring up. They will spring up because you can’t keep people’s minds, feelings and needs in jail forever, no matter how brutal your inquisitions. The Islamic world today is being held prisoner, not by Western but by Islamic captors, who are fighting to keep closed a world that a badly outnumbered few are trying to open. As long as the majority remains silent, this will be a tough war to win. But in the end, or so we must hope, someone will kick down that prison door.

Put on yer dancin’ shoes.

Once again has seen fit to include Clubbeaux in their weekly Best of the Blogs roundup, Carnival of the Vanities. The whole list is worth a read, I’d recommend South Knox Bubba as being consistently good and pick your favorites out of the rest – Bloviating Inanities makes its Carnival début.

November 26, 2002

Book in… progress (yawn)…

Trying my durndest to finish The Two Faces Of Islam, Stephen Schwartz’s attempt to cordon off all the negative actions of Islam into a separate entity of Wahhabism apart from and innocent of “true” Islam and basically blame every bad thing from 9/11 to the Miss World riots in Nigeria on the House of Saud alone, as if all the evil Islam has committed can be pinned on the crazy uncle in the attic.

Trying to stay awake, actually, and keep swallowing such lines as “Thus did Islam liberate the hearts and minds of seekers among the Jews and Christians.”

Party line on the Crusades? Check.

Schwartz refers to himself on the dust jacket as an “interfaith activist,” i.e. a guy who doesn’t think any one religion is right and just wants us all to get along, okay? His efforts so far to prove that Islam apart from fundamentalist eruptions has been a powerful force for good in world history are… strained at best.

Case in point: In contrast to the best scholarship being done today, for Schwartz the Crusades must be (mis)understood in their politically correct form as heedless, brutal Christian warmongering among the peaceful, enlightened Muslims, writing that “the conquest of Constantinople avenged the crimes of the Crusaders a thousandfold” without a word about the vast Christian lands Islamic armies criminally overran to provoke the Crusades in the first place. Evidently Schwartz prefers to think of Muslims “liberating” these lands before the mean and nasty old Christians took it in their heads to despoil their advanced culture.

I made it through the first fifty or so pages with as open a mind as I could muster, and much of what he says is true – especially as regards Ottoman Turkish enlightenment; it’s depressing to think that the Turkish model is explicitly rejected in the Arabic Islamic world today as a paradigm for a workable society. I’m up to page 59 so far, however, and it’s starting to look bad.

Four examples:

· Schwartz spends a great deal of time trying to prove that pre-1453 Islamic literature was just as emotionally expressive as Jewish and Christian writing. He quotes Denis de Rougemont as “an inspired analyst of courtly love” as tracing courtly lyrical poetry to the encounter of Sufi writing by the south of France: “This did Islam liberate the hearts and minds of seekers among the Jews and Christians.” Um, how about tracing out the myriad other influences rather than letting one staggering overstatement do the job?

· According to Schwartz “Greek-speaking Jews had produced the Septuagint, the first translation of Torah out of Hebrew, as well as founding Christianity and writing the Gospels.” See, the Jews were having a slow patch, so they decided to found Christianity and whip up the Gospels. Let’s see, what to do tomorrow… This is the classic error of the essentially agnostic nomenclaturist such as Schwartz, to assume that all religion is simply created by man. Maybe there’s an element of divine action at work here as well? Just… maybe?

· Nowhere does Schwartz acknowledge the fact that where the Qu’ran retells Biblical stories it usually gets them wrong, and that, in fact, it’s quite easy to trace out the confusions which transpired as Muhammad sought to retell the stories he’d heard Christian and Jewish tradesmen and merchants for his own pagan Arabs. (Miriam is a good place to start.)

· The conquest of Constantinople (Istanbul) by Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453 had in Schwartz’s evaluation as an “unintended outcome” Columbus’s discovery of America.

Why Wahhabism in the first place?

Schwartz’s penchant for injecting credibility-destroying overstatements in his fawning on Islam is aggravating, to say the least. One random example: “The fall of the Byzantine Empire was an unparalleled stroke for Islam, and made possible a spectacular renewal of Islamic creativity. Trade between the Ottomans and Italy made both dominions rich – also making possible the Christian Renaissance.” Right. Had it not been for Ottoman business savvy the Renaissance never would have happened. Uh-huh. One is left to ponder why a culture capable of offhandedly inspiring earthshaking renaissances in other cultures has never been capable of a renaissance of its own.

I guess one could ask what there is inherent in Islam itself that fosters violent fundamentalist intolerance which has absolutely no correlate in Christianity or Judaism. One could, so far Schwartz hasn’t, and I’m not holding my breath for him to do so. One could also ask why a supposedly superior Islamic culture crumbled into the sea while Western culture dominates the world today, and why Judaism and Christianity were able to tame their darker sides while Islamic culture nurtures its. Again, I’m not expecting a treatment of the question.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Maybe Schwartz is trying to win bona fides from Muslim readers so they’ll let him get away with delineating the other side of Islam, the one that can rampage through Christian neighborhoods in Nigeria setting fire to anyone they think might be a Christian. Or maybe he’s simply another Western apologist for Islam since that’s the chic thing to be these days.

Sprung full-blown and fully-grown?

He’s certainly no Islamic scholar, and to his credit he doesn’t try to sound like one. Maybe he gets to this later, but he’s had ample opportunity so far, in the discussion of Muhammad and the early years of Islam, to explore the dark side even then, the same dark side he claims has no roots in “true” Islam. Surely he can’t expect us to believe that Islam’s evil heart simply appeared ex nihilo, but it appears so far he’s asking us to do just that as the picture he’s painted from Muhammad to 1453 is that of a beautiful, tolerant culture of Islam with isolated irruptions of regrettable fanaticism. Of course that’s no more a portrait of reality than his mendacious depiction of the Crusades, but it is the one calculated to get him booked on the most talk shows and up his speaking fee.

If I get around to finishing the book I’ll see whether he admits that Westerners can’t assume Muslims are people much like themselves with the same cultural presets any more than Islamic culture can “coexist” with Western culture. So far it sounds as if he’s one of these solipsists who think all religions and all cultures really draw from the same basic values – e.g. his own.

I’m not sure I have that many free nights before it’s due back at the library, but I’ll try.

The solution to the health care crisis: Princess Haifa.

According to The New York Times, recently released Census Bureau figures show 1.4 million Americans lost their health insurance last year. The problem’s seeping into the middle class, evidently: “The largest group of the newly uninsured some 800,000 people had incomes in excess of $75,000. They either lost their jobs, or were priced out of the health care market by rapidly rising insurance premiums,” The Times reports.

Frankly I have no idea why this is such a problem when the answer’s clear as day: If you have any health care expense needs, simply petition Princess Haifa al-Faisal, wife of Saudi Ambassador to the United States Prince Bandar bin Sultan.

A Saudi official said Princess Haifa al-Faisal sent a steady stream of monthly checks for about $3,500 to the wife of Saudi national Osama Basnan to pay for medical expenses. Saudi foreign policy adviser Adel al-Jubeir said Sunday that some of the money also may have gone to the wife of his friend, Omar al-Bayoumi.

The Basnans seem to have racked up quite a bit of medical expenses. A Saudi Embassy official said Princess Haifa had provided $15,000 to Basnan in 1998 and followed up with $2,000 monthly checks to Basnan’s wife. The exact nature of the medical problem was not disclosed.

Oh, granted there has been a flap about most of the money ending up in the hands of their husbands, Osama Basnan and Omar al-Bayoumi, otherwise known as accomplices for Sept. 11 hijackers Khalid Al-Midhar and Nawaf Alhazmi. But just because 15 of the 19 hijackers and Osama bin Laden himself are all Saudis is no reason to suspect that Saudi Arabia foments or supports terrorism in any way, come on now. The fact that the money started flowing after Al-Midhar and Alhazmi attended an al-Qaeda planning summit is also the most unfortunate of innocent coincidences.

It’s simply a bizarre coincidence that large sums of money channeled to anonymous Saudis by the royal family of Saudi Arabia ended up in assisting 9/11 hijackers. The princess was motivated by nothing but the purest of altruistic motives. “Princess Haifa is a very generous woman ... she donates large amounts of money to charities,” al-Jubeir said.

Which is why anyone with pressing medical bills should direct them to the Saudi embassy in Washington, D.C. Mark them “Personal for Princess Haifa.”

November 25, 2002

Ramsay Midwood

Today’s musical recommendation is the literate swamp rock of Ramsay Midwood. It’s grossly unfair to an artist to compare him to a roster of established artists, but hey, there’s no better way to convey the feel of the music, so let’s say that if you like Tom Waits – especially Mule Variations; Jim White’s Wrong-Eyed Jesus or No Such Place or the old, twangy mid-tempo electric folk/blues sound, you’ll probably want to give Ramsay Midwood’s Shoot Out At The OK Chinese Restaurant a whirl.

It’s hard finding much about Ramsay Midwood on the Internet apart from the usual blather on the “official” Web site – as of this writing there isn’t even anything up at, were I not such an ethical S.O.B. I’d steal the domain – so as usual Amazon’s the best place to start for the skinny:

“Ramsay Midwood’s début, Shoot Out at the OK Chinese Restaurant, is an album of swampy, bluesy songs full of soul and steeped in myth about backwaters and working-class outsiders – hobos, junkies, lusty men, and their dangerous ladies,” writes Jillian Steinberger. “Originally self-released, Shoot Out at the OK Chinese Restaurant received so much grassroots attention that, unsigned, Midwood became a darling of Los Angeles venues like House of Blues. He landed at Vanguard Records, and his folk-rock fits comfortably alongside the label’s legendary folk and blues artists, many of whom could serve as archetypes for his idiosyncratic characters.”

In a nice touch the CD insert is made to look like an old-time record, down to the faint white crease of the record edge in the jacket and “Side One,” “Side Two” song listings.

Steinberger hears Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan in Midwood, I don’t, other than the fact that most anyone who picks up a guitar and writes his own songs about jes’ folks from now to Armageddon will be compared to Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. It’s not a useful comparison, Bobbie Gentry is a better one, and it’s more helpful to think of Midwood as an East Coast private college English major dropout who’s spent the past ten years living out of a rented room in Austin while hustling a living from honky-tonks and roadhouses from Kentucky to Oklahoma. Which he might have done, for all I can find on the Internet.

Somebody named Jerome Clark posting on describes the album thusly: “[Midwood] has an astonishing way with words and stories, typically rendered as stream-of-consciousness meanderings through the not wholly functioning brains of bewildered working-class and down-and-out characters. Midwood’s mumbling vocals conjure up the sounds of people obliviously muttering to themselves or woozily filling your ear from the next barstool. Meanwhile, the band’s sneaky, snaky rhythms curl around the lyrics, drive the narratives, and set you off on a lost highway and a magical journey.” Clark is right.

Frankly I’m not looking forward to the follow-up to Shoot Out at the OK Chinese Restaurant, Midwood sounds like the kind of guy who’s got one good record in him and hit the bull’s-eye his first time out. And it’s worth the price of admission just to be able to sing along with “Monster Truck,” and roll down the windows when you get to

That’s the truth
As I know it to be,
Here in the land
The land of the free.
If you don’t like it
You can kiss my ass
‘Cause I drive a monster truck.

Empty headlines.

Look at the Associated Press headline: “FBI: Surge in Crimes Against Muslims.” If you’re like the majority of Americans you stop reading right there, armed with a “fact” to throw in the face of that right-wing nut you work with or your brother-in-law, who maintains that American society is superior to Arabic Islamic society since there has been no anti-Islamic backlash in the United States.

But you make the mistake of reading the whole article. Here’s what happens to your juicy fact:

Hate crimes surged last year against people of Islamic faith and those of Middle Eastern ethnicity in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, the FBI reported Monday.

Oh, so not “crime” really, just this amorphous recent P.C. construct, “hate [i.e. thought] crimes.” Well, still it’s bound to be pretty bad.

Incidents targeting Muslims, previously the least common involving religious bias, increased from just 28 in 2000 to 481 in 2001 – a jump of 1,600 percent.

Only if your school taught that a “jump” from 0.02 to 0.04 = 1600%. More on the real numbers below.

Hate crimes directed against people because of their ethnicity or national origin – those not Hispanic and not black – more than doubled from 354 in 2000 to 1,501 in 2001. This category includes people of Middle Eastern origin or descent, the FBI says.

Oh, um, so it’s not really “Muslims,” it’s “people of Middle Eastern origin or descent,” even though the majority of Middle Eastern immigration to America is Middle Eastern Christians fleeing persecution back in the Islamic Middle East. And that statistical definition also includes Jews born in Israel. Hm.

The increases, according to the report, happened “presumably as a result of the heinous incidents that occurred on Sept. 11” of 2001.

Sure would be nice if there were some more solid factual basis than an anonymous “presumably.”

Overall crime motivated by hate rose just over 17 percent from 2000 to 2001, from 8,063 to 9,730 incidents. Part of the increase, however, is a result in an increase in the number of law enforcement agencies voluntarily supplying hate crime data to the FBI from year to year.

So… the “surge” in crimes is probably just improved reporting of existing crimes, coupled with a more liberal interpretation of what constitutes a “hate” crime, then – being laughed at on the street, say.

There were just over 12,000 victims of hate crimes in 2001, with 46 percent of those targeted because of their race. There were 2,899 bias crimes against 3,700 black victims, by far the largest single category.

The majority of incidents were against individuals, including 10 murders, four rapes, 2,736 assaults and 3,563 cases of intimidation. There were more than 3,600 property crimes as well, all but a few incidents of vandalism or destruction.

Most incidents against Muslims and people of Middle Eastern ethnicity also involved assaults and intimidation, but there were three cases of murder or manslaughter and 35 arsons.

“Muslims and people of Middle Eastern ethnicity?” But the headline said “Muslims” – this statistic then includes hate crimes against Jews born in Israel. Were the three murders or manslaughters perpetrated by whites or other Middle Easterners? After all, if a Muslim American of Saudi descent kills a Muslim American of Iranian descent in New York because the Iranain national soccer team has just beaten the Saudi national soccer team that goes down in this report as an American anti-Muslim “hate crime.”

“Intimidation?” Isn’t that the most bogus P.C. “crime” imaginable? Yes, and what percentage of “hate crimes” are Muslim girls complaining that somebody on the street looked at them funny because they were wearing a headscarf? The report doesn’t say.

Whites made up the vast majority of known offenders for all cases, at 6,054, followed by blacks at 1,882.

The 2001 hate crimes report was drawn from 11,987 law enforcement agencies around the country, up from 1,160 agencies in 2000.

So let me get this straight: 1,160 agencies polled in 2000 found 28 instances – 0.02 per agency – and 11,987 agencies working under a vastly increased definition of a “crime” found 481 instances in 2001, for 0.04 per agency – and at worst 11,506 of 11,987 law enforcement agencies found no instances of anti-Muslim crime whatsoever? And what about doubling? If the Shreveport Police Department gets a complaint about a hate crime and turn it over to the FBI, that’s the same instance recorded twice in this survey – once for Shreveport and once for the FBI.

Granted I wasn’t a math major, but going from 0.02 in a tiny pond to 0.04 in an exponentially larger pond doesn’t sound like a 1600% jump to me.

Real Christianity vs. Real Islam.

Bonnie Penner Witherall, a 31-year old American woman providing free prenatal care to Islamic women in Lebanon, was killed by Muslims last week. The New York Times, in their usual editorial-disguised-as-news style of coverage, blamed Mrs. Witherall for her own death.

According to The Times, Mrs. Witherall was a member of the Christian and Missionary Alliance medical teams working to provide the sorts of crucial medical services Islamic governments such as Lebanon’s refuse to provide for their own people. The Times thought this was okay, but basically concluded that Muslims were justified in murdering her because she told her patients why she had left a comfortable life in America to come to Lebanon and do this: to show the love of Jesus to them. This, The Times concluded, provided all the reason a Muslim could need for gunning her down.

Anybody who wonders at the reality of Christianity and Islam can forget the blather on both sides and look only at what Christianity – not Western governments – exports to the Islamic world: Millions of dollars supporting thousands of health care and literacy and other social services workers in Islamic countries worldwide for the glory of God and Jesus. Then look at what Islam in its governmental and extragovernmental forms, exports to the Christian world: Millions of dollars supporting thousands of terrorists trained to kill innocent civilians for the glory of Allah and Muhammad.

Show and tell.

As Christians these workers naturally talk about their faith, but they’re much more interested in their actions showing Muslims, through their lifestyles of self-sacrifice and service, what real Christianity’s all about. Conversely Islam talks about Islam as a religion of peace but shows us its reality by supporting, funding and joyfully carrying out deadly terrorism. Christianity teaches that those who die for their faith are to be honored, Islam teaches that those who kill for their faith are to be honored.

It’s a common complaint among Muslims that Christianity is presented in an imperialistic context – Christian nations such as America fighting wars against good, model Muslims such as Saddam Hussein, for example. The fact that the vast majority of American military action is in defense of Muslims – liberating Muslims in Kuwait, feeding starving Muslims in Somalia, halting genocide against Muslims in Bosnia – evidently hasn’t filtered through to the Islamic world yet.

Never mind that military action is done in the name of the United States and not in the name of Christianity – there’s no such thing as military action in the name of Christianity, a concept Muslims can’t understand since to them church and state are one – and medical missions is done in the name of Christianity, Muslims feel just as good about killing unarmed prenatal nurses as they do killing thousands of unarmed civilians in New York City. About the only sort of fighting Muslims don’t have any stomach for is meeting armed soldiers on the field of battle.

“Thanks, now die.”

So here’s Christianity coming to the Islamic world in the form of free, urgently-needed medical services ensuring healthier, happier lives for thousands of Muslims, safe births of more and more Muslim babies and improved quality of life for Muslim women, who aren’t technically “people” in Islam, but come close and are about as important as, say, your favorite horse or gun.

The Christians providing these services do so to stress that this is the real Christianity, that this is what Christianity’s all about, and the real Islam thanks it by putting bullets through the heads of the young women providing the services.

At any given time there are thousands upon thousands of Bonnie Witheralls leaving comfortable lives in America and other Western countries to work in poor, underprivileged cultures to show the people what being a Christian is really all about. As this concept is unknown in Islam, where “charitable organization” is code word for “terrorist funding network” Muslims simply can’t accept the idea of a mission of love from a Christian to a Muslim.

No comparison.

The Times follows strict Muslim Thought Police guidelines in blaming Christian medical missionaries such as Mrs. Witherall for their own deaths. If they weren’t here trying to convert us from Islam to Christianity, the line goes, they wouldn’t have been shot dead, so it’s really their own fault.

Leaving aside the question of what right does any government have to decide a person’s religious faith for him, this is patent hogwash. Christians have been sending missionaries to Islamic countries since Samuel Zwemer over a hundred years ago. Zwemer worked forty years in Arabia and never saw a single convert. Christian missionaries today see few converts. More Americans – such as John Lindh – convert to Islam in a year than have converted at the hands of Christian missions in twenty years. Conversion isn’t the problem. Being compared to Christianity, that’s the problem.

Muslims complain up and down that Christianity’s “threatening” Islam. The worst threat to Islam today is exactly what Bonnie Witherall was doing when Muslims murdered her: Showing the true, real-life differences between Christianity and Islam. That’s a comparison Islam can’t stand – free grace and a loving, forgiving God vs. a God who balances your good and bad works on the edge of a sword; medical missions vs. suicide bombers, tolerance vs. Draconian rigidity. There are no Islamic medical missions to Christian societies and there are no Christian terrorist organizations killing innocent Muslims.

The truth, of course, is that Christianity is at heart the religion of the Bonnie Witheralls of the world, whereas Islam is at heart the religion of the AK-47s of the world, and Islam knows it and hates Christianity for this reason.