Friday, September 28, 2012

Mark Rothko: The Tragedy and the Ecstasy

In a surprising intersection of pop culture and avant-garde art, a scene from AMC’s hit television series Mad Men centered on a painting by Abstract Expressionist Mark Rothko in a 2008 episode. In the scene, word gets around the Sterling Cooper advertising agency that eccentric co-founder Burt Cooper has bought an outrageously expensive painting for his office. A few employees decide to sneak a look.

A secretary calls the painting’s colored rectangles “interesting.” Accountant Harry Crane, panicked that this might be Cooper’s way of testing his employees’ aesthetic acumen, decides to search the office for “a brochure that explains it.” The agency's art director, Sal Romano, immediately recognizes the artwork as a Rothko and admires it. But only account executive and part-time writer Ken Cosgrove seems to feel it.

KEN: I don't think it's supposed to be explained.

SAL: I'm an artist, okay? It must mean something.

The Egyptian President: Respect the Arab World

As President Obama’s disastrous Middle East policy “comes home to roost” and he retreats to the safety of TV talk show couches, Egypt’s new president presses his advantage. Mohamed Morsi, a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, is now demanding a fundamental change (sound familiar, Obama?) in the way the United States relates to Egypt.

In an interview with The New York Times prior to his first trip to the U.S., Morsi said it was up to Washington to repair relations with the Arab world, specifically with Egypt. America must change its approach to the Arab world, show greater respect for its values, and help build a Palestinian state, to atone for decades of pent-up Arab anger caused by our support for autocratic Middle Eastern regimes like that of the deposed Hosni Mubarak in Egypt: “Successive American administrations,” Morsi said, “essentially purchased with American taxpayer money the dislike, if not the hatred, of the peoples of the region.”

So all the recent anti-American violence against U.S. embassies in the region is our fault. It’s no surprise that Morsi, who seems comfortable speaking on behalf of the Arab world, wouldn’t apologize on their behalf as well. Apologizing might be Obama’s go-to diplomatic strategy, but that’s not the Arab way. Blaming others is.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Our Infinite Capacity for Distraction

H.G. Wells, often called the father of science fiction, was born this week in 1866. In his first novel, The Time Machine in 1895, Wells’ unnamed, time-traveling protagonist journeys into mankind’s distant evolutionary future. There he discovers the Eloi, a race of frail, childlike adults living amid the decaying remnants of civilization, enslaved to the brutish Morlocks.

He is dismayed by the Eloi’s utter lack of intellectual curiosity. He comes across a gallery of “brown and charred rags” which he is shocked to realize are “the decaying vestiges of books.” This is the result, he theorizes, of adapting to an environment, conquered by technological advancements, which no longer offered any natural challenges, and thus fitness and intellect were no longer necessary for survival. Humanity had lost the intelligence and vitality of the time traveler’s own era, that of the post-industrial revolution.

Also this week, in 1917, young Aldous Huxley was hired as a schoolmaster at Eton. Huxley would go on to become a celebrated novelist, writing dozens of books, including that staple of high school reading lists, the dystopian classic Brave New World. One of Huxley’s students at Eton was Eric Blair, who would also go on to be celebrated by his pen name George Orwell. Orwell, of course, wrote his own famous dystopian novel, 1984.

Escape from North Korea

“More than twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall,” writes Melanie Kirkpatrick, “North Korea remains the world’s last closed totalitarian state, intent on keeping foreigners out and its own citizens in.” It ranks at the bottom of every international standard of freedom. Those trapped inside North Korea (leaving is a capital crime) are doomed to a hellish existence. Those who risk their lives to flee face a different kind of hell.

Journalist Kirkpatrick, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. and deputy editor of the editorial page for The Wall Street Journal, is the author of Escape from North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia’s Underground Railroad, a gripping read about the treacherous journey for those not only seeking freedom for themselves, but also helping to expose their fellow countrymen to Western ideas that may subvert the totalitarian regime.

Mark Tapson:         What is the new underground railroad out of North Korea, and who runs it?

Melanie Kirkpatrick:       The new underground railroad actually begins in China, not North Korea. It’s very difficult for an outsider to help someone in North Korea, which is a tightly sealed country. If a North Korean wants to reach freedom, he first needs to get to China – something he needs to do on his own or, perhaps, with help from a broker who specializes in extractions from North Korea. If he can get to China, however, there are people who can help him hook up with the new underground railroad.

Like the original underground railroad in the antebellum American South, the new underground railroad is a clandestine network of safe houses and transit routes. It carries North Koreans across China to safety in a neighboring country, usually in Southeast Asia. Once the North Korean fugitives are in Vietnam or Laos or Thailand, the South Korean government can help them reach permanent homes in South Korea. Under South Korea’s constitution, every North Korean has the right to live in the South.

Drawing a ‘Red Line’ to Protect Free Speech

Even as Islamic violence against American embassies swells around the world, and evidence emerges of its coordination and premeditation, our own government and media continue to insist that the source of it all is an hilariously incompetent YouTube film that offended Muslim hair-trigger sensitivities.

Americans abroad have been killed this last week. The black flag of jihad has been raised over our Egyptian embassy. Our Libyan ambassador was sodomized, murdered, mutilated and dragged through the streets. As with Salman Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses, the Danish cartoon riots, and Geert Wilders’ film Fitna, the Islamic uproar ostensibly due to the micro-budgeted The Innocence of Muslims has been riotous and murderous, but the blame is once again falling on the “provocateur,” not the rabid mobs looting and killing in the name of cultural sensitivity. Thanks to a president who always sides with the Islamic world over America, our kneejerk official response was to blame the seeming religious bigotry of the filmmaker.

Our State Department, which is in “meltdown,” as Charles Krauthammer put it, has been scrambling to find the right wording for a response to all this, culminating in spokesman Jay Carney’s laughable pronouncement that “this is not a case of protests directed at the United States writ large or at U.S. policy; this is in response to a video that is offensive to Muslims.” So far, our official responses are all variations on the theme of “Nothing excuses this violence, but we also strongly condemn religious bigotry.” This neatly echoes the left’s attitude toward free speech in general these days, which is “Sure I believe in free speech, but hate speech must be punished.”

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Hero Behind the Dark Knight’s Mask

In a time when celebrities are most often associated with sex tapes, court appearances, and rehab, it’s refreshing to report on the good deeds and quiet humility of one of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

Following the recent mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, internet campaigns urged the movie’s star Christian Bale to visit the town. One young woman sent out a Facebook plea to the onscreen Batman, pointing out that the hospitalized victims “need to know Heroes can be real too, not just the bad guys.”

Bale set out to prove just that. He went to Aurora (as a private individual, not a representative of the Warner Brothers studio) to offer his condolences to the victims of the massacre, and his gratitude to the hospital staff at the Swedish Medical Center and The Medical Center of Aurora.

“He just said he wanted to come to thank all of us because he has been thinking about this,” said a hospital official. “He did this out of his heart, and you could really tell. It was so sincere," she said. “It was just, ‘Thank you.’”

Barbarians at the Gate

Yesterday angry protesters scaled the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, tore down the American flag, and held up shredded bits of it to television camera crews. Welcome to the new democratic Egypt, a product of the glorious, Obama-inspired Arab Spring which sent so many thrills up the collective leg of the mainstream media.

The embassy had been cleared of diplomatic personnel earlier that day, ahead of the imminent threat. Shots were fired (by whom it isn’t clear) as a large crowd gathered around the compound. Egyptian police and army personnel attempted to prevent the demonstrators from advancing farther, but not before the protesters planted the black flag of Islam atop a ladder inside the embassy. On it was lettering that read, “There is no God but Allah and Mohammad is his messenger,” the profession of Muslim faith.

The demonstration was apparently in protest of a film which the crowd deemed insulting to their prophet Mohammed. It was unclear which film upset them – in fact, it’s probably unclear even to the protesters, who rarely need a specific reason to become insanely offended and rampage through the streets. Some took the opportunity to express their perceived grievances over U.S. policy, with the usual chanting of anti-American slogans. It’s difficult to imagine what they have to complain about where Obama’s America is concerned, since our President actively assisted the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power there and just signed off on a $1 billion aid package to the new regime.

A 9/11 Story: Transcendence in the Face of Death

Today marks the eleventh anniversary of the 2001 attacks on New York and the Pentagon. Everyone personally involved that day, whether victim or survivor, has a story to tell, tales of kindness and courage, selflessness and sorrow, even generosity and joy. Now the Stamford Advocate relates a poignant new one.

Trapped in his offices in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, very near the impact of United Airlines Flight 175, Randy Scott jotted down this terse SOS on a piece of paper:

84th floor
West Office
12 people trapped

Presumably he released it from a window, because the note drifted from that 84th floor to the street below, where someone found it and gave it to a guard at the Federal Reserve Bank. The guard went to report the note, but the Tower collapsed.

Getting Over 9/11

Eleven years ago, nineteen fanatical Muslims turned hijacked aircraft carrying hundreds of terrified passengers into missiles targeting symbols of American economic might. Nearly 3000 innocents died horribly that day, including hundreds of courageous, selfless first responders making a superhuman effort to rescue their fellow citizens. And for years, when the anniversary of that day rolls around, progressives and their Islamic allies have been rolling their eyes and urging Americans to “get over it.”

They’re weary of being bummed out by reminders of 9/11. They wish we’d forgive and forget that it happened. Stop bringing it up and “harshing their buzz.” Move on, move forward. Some of those people simply don’t grasp that we must not forget because we are still at war with the enemy that attacked us that morning; the rest are very much aware that we are still at war, and they want us to forget because they are siding with that enemy.

It may seem impossible for many to believe that that morning could be forgotten – just as it once seemed impossible to believe that our government could erase words like “jihad” and “Islamist” from our national security lexicon, preventing us from even naming or describing the enemy; or that our government could deem a terror attack on our own soil to be “workplace violence” and whitewash it of its Islamic motivation; or that an American President could announce that one of his duties was to “fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear”; or that he could proclaim us one of the world's largest Muslim countries.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Me Jane

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the creation of one of the most recognizable and enduring figures in pop culture history–Tarzan of the Apes. And this month will mark the publication of Jane, the first version of the Tarzan story written by a woman, authorized by the estate of the prolific novelist Edgar Rice Burroughs, or ERB.
Robin Maxwell is the author of several historical novels featuring female protagonists, most notably The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn. Her recruitment to pen a woman-centric spin on the Tarzan saga is clearly an attempt to court a new generation of female readers who have only a limited familiarity, if any, with the original work.
The popular conception today of Tarzan and Jane is unfortunately not so much formed by ERB’s novels as deformed by the old Johnny Weismuller movies of the ‘30s and ‘40s, which falsely portray the Ape-man as more ape than man, and Jane as a (tree)housewife in animal skins. In fact, Burroughs’s Tarzan was an educated English nobleman, Lord Greystoke, and Jane was a bold lady of their African manor.
The books were pulp adventure fare written long before today’s action heroines became as kick-ass as their male counterparts. But Burroughs’s fictional women weren’t mere helpless damsels in distress rescued by brawny he-men. His female characters like Jane and Martian princess Dejah Thoris, featured earlier this year in Disney’s movie John Carter, were not only feminine but, well, ballsy, and worthy adventuresses in their own right.

Racism! Racism! Racism!

This past February, at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the late great Andrew Breitbart correctly predicted that this would be the year of the “dog whistle” election, that the media would hurl charges of racism at President Obama’s opponents at every opportunity. How right he was.

When the Republican National Convention got underway with great fanfare last week, the now-openly leftist media went all out to perpetuate their narrative that candidate Mitt Romney is “stoking the racial politics of yesteryear.” The ever-reliable propaganda organ known as The New York Times, for example, accused the Romney campaign of making the election about race, a case of psychological projection if there ever was one. It’s the progressive left that is doing their damnedest to make this election entirely about race. It’s the only weapon they have in their impotent arsenal.

In order to paint Republicans a whiter shade of pale, the media cut their RNC coverage of conservative speakers of color, and when they did acknowledge non-white conservatives, it was only to dismiss them as patronizing tokens. After all, to the left, non-white conservatives are white “on the inside” anyway – hence such derogatory labels as “Oreos” and “coconuts” – and are therefore just as racist as their white counterparts.

Siding with Savages

Atlas Shrugs blogger Pamela Geller, lightning rod for the hateful fury of the unholy alliance of Islamists and the radical left, is under attack again for daring to run a pro-Israel advertising campaign in New York and San Francisco.

Ms. Geller is executive director of the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) and of Stop Islamization of America (SIOA), in addition to being the author of Stop the Islamization of America: A Practical Guide to the Resistance and The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration's War on America (with Robert Spencer). For Islamists and the multiculturalist progressives who have bought into the Muslim Brotherhood’s strategy of demonizing its opposition as “Muslim-hating,” Geller is the most public face of the mythical “Islamophobia” in America.

Geller’s AFDI advertisements in San Francisco read, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat jihad.” In New York, the ads read, “19,250 deadly Islamic attacks since 9/11/01. And counting. It’s not Islamophobia, it’s Islamorealism.”