Monday, December 11, 2017

Forget Derek Jeter's blunder, Yankees will pay in long run for Giancarlo Stanton deal

By Bill Madden
December 10, 2017

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Shunned by Shohei Ohtani, the Yankees have wasted no time in giving themselves an even bigger, more expensive Christmas present in Giancarlo Stanton. Enjoy this one for the now, Yankee fans. Deck your halls with boughs of holly over your new twin giants of power because not too far down the road this deal is destined to give the Yankees more regret than the second Alex Rodriguez contract.
It was rather stunning how Stanton fell to the Yankees, especially since they were probably the last team in baseball Derek Jeter wanted to do business with in his first major trade as the new Marlins co-owner. But Jeter — who’s made one public relations blunder after another in the few short months since he and his gazilionaire partner Bruce Sherman bought the team from Jeffrey Loria — made the mistake of announcing to the world his intentions of trading Stanton, his marquee player and 59-homer NL MVP, without first talking to Stanton, who had a no-trade clause in the record $325 million contract he signed in 2014.
To put a no-trade clause in what was already a no-trade contract was ludicrous. But what did Loria care? He knew he wasn’t going to be around to pay the piper on this contract. This was just a further extension of the fleecing he did on Jeter and Sherman.
Jeter’s arrogance in not at least gauging his star player’s feelings about being traded and what teams he might agree to being traded to, resulted in a whole lot of wasted talks between the Marlins and the Giants and Cardinals, both of which offered decent packages for Stanton that were for naught when he turned both trades down. There were only a very limited number of teams to begin with that could take on the remaining 10 years/$295 million left on Stanton’s contract.
At least Stanton said he’d be willing to go to either of the two richest teams, the Dodgers and Yankees, but when even the Dodgers, with the highest payroll ($244 million) in baseball last year and five straight years of paying luxury tax, said a trade would be too rich for them, Jeter was left with only his old pal Brian Cashman to deal with.
He had zero leverage, which is why someone is going to have to explain to me why the Yankees agreed to this deal without insisting the Marlins take back Jacoby Ellsbury’s contract in it?
First of all, it was a deal they didn’t have to make, other than the irresistible thrill of teaming up Stanton and Aaron Judge, the two most prodigious sluggers in the game, in the middle of their lineup seemingly for the next 10 years. From Ruth and Gehrig to Mantle and Maris to Judge and Stanton. Like I said, irresistible.
But the Yankee offense was already more than just fine last year, second in the majors in runs, first in homers with 241. What they lacked — and still lack — is another frontline starting pitcher.
And even with throwing in Starlin Castro and the $21 million owed him the next two seasons, and getting $30 million in cash back from the Marlins, the Yankees, for payroll purposes, will still be paying Stanton roughly $29 million per year for the next 10 years though age 37. That’s all fine — since when did the Yankees ever care about money? — as long as Stanton stays healthy and produces just reasonably consistent to how he did last season.
Unfortunately history — both his own and these monster contracts in general — suggests he won’t. It’s a fact of baseball life that players after the age of 32, start breaking down and Stanton, before last year, already had a number of concerning injury issues.
He missed the final 17 games of the season after being hit in the face with a pitch in 2014. He missed 88 games in 2015 with a broken hamate bone from swinging too hard on a pitch, 44 games in 2013 with a hamstring strain and shoulder soreness, 36 games in 2012 loose knee bodies and abdominal strain, and another 11 games in 2011 with a quad strain.
All these while he was in his early-to-mid 20s. What’s going to be the case when he hits his 30s?
At least, even keeping Ellsbury’s onerous $21 million salary, the Yankees could make this Stanton trade and stay under the $197 million luxury tax threshold — which is all Hal Steinbrenner cared about in approving the deal. There is still enough wiggle room money to re-sign CC Sabathia and add a bullpen piece, but as far as the Yankees’ No. 1 target, Alex Cobb, that’s very problematic now.
With Jeter over the barrel, this was their one best chance of finally ridding themselves of Ellsbury’s contract — or if nothing else make the Marlins take Chase Headley’s $13 million for ’18 as well — to have plenty of remaining money to go after Cobb. Instead, they let the Stanton stars get in their eyes.
No doubt there were high fives aplenty in the Yankee front office Saturday, with visions of Stanton-Judge sugar plums dancing in their heads. I’m sure no one was thinking about four years from now when Judge and Gary Sanchez are coming up on free agency and Stanton will be closing in on 32, with six more years at $29 million per to go. At least, by then, Ellsbury will be off the books.
Nor could Yankee fans care less about four years from now. For them, it’s already a Merry Christmas with giddy visions for a Happy New Year. No longer are the Yankees those lovable over-achieving kids. Overnight they’ve been transformed back to Beasts of the East. For everyone in Yankeeland’s sake, especially Aaron Boone, they better win next year. Because the euphoria over this trade is almost guaranteed to have a short shelf life. 

Yankees are the Evil Empire again

By Kevin Kernan
December 10, 2017

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Cancel the Toe-Night Show dugout interviews and all those shenanigans. They were fun while they lasted, but, boom, that time of baseball innocence has passed.
Those lovable Baby Bombers are now the Bronx Behemoths.
Deal with it, haters. The Yankees are back where they belong, as public enemy No. 1.

The Evil Empire is ready again to snuff out the baseball universe. The team with 27 World Series titles is hot on the trail for No. 28.
The 6-foot-6, 245-pound Giancarlo Stanton and his major league leading 59 home runs will join the Yankees and the 6-7, 282-pound Aaron Judge and his AL-leading 52 home runs, thanks to a stunning trade, pending a Stanton physical, with Derek Jeter’s bargain basement Marlins.
Don’t forget Gary Sanchez’ 33 bombs, that’s 144 home runs from those three hitters — Stanton, Judge and Sanchez — last season.
That’s 16 more home runs than the Giants hit last year, the same Giants Jeter thought he had a Stanton trade worked out with — neglecting to run it by Stanton with his full no-trade clause. The NL MVP painted Jeter into a corner, saying he would only accept a trade to the Yankees, Dodgers and Astros.

Stanton, 28, called his trade shot and the Yankees are the big winners, thanks to the Captain’s gift to his old team — just another South Florida deal some might call shady.
The Yankees are going to be loathed this season by everyone who is not a Bombers fan. Goliaths with gobs of cash opposing fans will be rooting against, much like opponents and fans disliked Alex Rodriguez.
This is an organization that has haters anyway and it’s going to be magnified now. Can these Yankees players deal with that kind of adversity and the hateful atmosphere in other ballparks, starting with Fenway Park?
The team with the most home runs in 2017, the Yankees, with a booming 241 blasts, are adding the major league’s home run leader, shades of Babe Ruth joining the Yankees on Dec. 26, 1919, when he was purchased/stolen from the Red Sox for $100,000.
The team that came one win away from going to the World Series, losing the ALCS to the eventual world champion Astros in seven games, has reloaded and the Winter Meetings have yet to officially begin.
The Yankees are back to being the Big Bad Bombers playing in a bandbox.
“It’s going to be a devastating lineup, a force to be reckoned with,’’ one scout told The Post on Saturday. He laughed and added, “They better order another 500 dozen BP balls. That is going to be must-see TV with Sanchez, Judge, Stanton and [Greg] Bird hitting in the same group. I can’t wait until the first warm night in May when the ball is jumping at Yankee Stadium.’’
Noted another scout, “This is the new Murderers’ Row. Stanton is going to take a lot of pressure off Judge and Sanchez.’’
At Minute Maid Park the Yankees managed to score only three runs in four ALCS games, all Yankee losses. Stanton will change that. The days of Didi Gregorius hitting fourth are over.
The mighty Stanton can check his swing and hit one into the right-field seats. After playing in cavernous Marlins Park, Yankee Stadium will be home, sweet home, the ultimate nightmare for opposing pitchers.
Be prepared for a new home run call by the Yankees’ Broadway-loving broadcaster John Sterling — another Stantonian blast.
Aaron Boone is the world’s luckiest manager, going from the broadcast booth to choreographing his near nightly version of the Home Run Derby all within a week.
Sure there are possible problems ahead. Nothing is guaranteed in baseball.
Stanton does not possess Judge’s easy-going nature with the media. He can be overly defensive and that may wear thin in the media capital of the world. Boone has too many outfielders, with no place for young Clint Frazier, but another trade could change that. Jacoby Ellsbury becomes the world’s most expensive pinch-runner and defensive replacement. So be it. Money can’t buy you love, but it can sure pay for home runs.
The Yankees are short on starting pitching at the moment as well, but that could change quickly because general manager Brian Cashman still has his major trade chips.
And yes, in February 2004 the Yankees thought they hit World Series gold with the trade for Rodriguez, but it took time to win a title. That was a Yankees team opposing fans loved to hate.
With this trade the Evil Empire is back. Game on, hate on.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Churchill review: Brian Cox dazzles in a scalpel-sharp, timely lesson in political leadership

By Robbie Collins
14 June 2017
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What breed of political animal was Winston Churchill? If this new biopic of the wartime Prime Minister is anything to go by, "a big one" is a reasonable start. As played by Brian Cox, he’s like a distant cousin of a brown bear or a Hereford bull, snuffling and stalking through his subterranean Whitehall war rooms, champing at underlings and barking at his reflection, while cigar smoke uncurls from his nostrils in great, steaming snorts. 
In a low moment, he even describes himself as “a clapped-out, moth-eaten old lion whose teeth have been pulled so as not to frighten the ladies” –  and Churchill’s commitment to making sense of its title character, and the historical figure into which he evolved, makes it less a period drama than a work of scalpel-sharp political taxonomy.
Rather than trying to encompass an entire lifetime, or even zeroing in on a defining test of character in the style of Joe Wright’s forthcoming Churchill biopic Darkest Hour, which takes place over the turbulent first few weeks of his premiership, Jonathan Teplitzky’sfilm plays out over the 96 hours before the D-Day landings – beginning on the “1,736th day of World War 2”, as an opening caption soberly frames it. 
By this time, the Blitz was three long years ago, and the Churchill who galvanised a nation in those terrorised times has become a marginalised figure in the war operation, while Field Marshal Montgomery (Julian Wadham) and General Eisenhower (John Slattery) plot Operation Overlord, the coming Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France.
For Churchill, the plan smacks of costly old mistakes: specifically, the ruinous Gallipoli Campaign he personally championed almost three decades before. The result then was eight months of fighting that ended in Allied retreat and with more than 100,000 men dead, and the culpability still weighs as heavily on him as if he were carrying one of their bodies on his back.
The one terrain he still can’t be outmanoeuvred on, however, is rhetoric – and we see his talents deployed to subtle but dazzling effect early on, in a "speech" he rehearses like a stadium-rousing set-piece but eventually delivers to a small but vitally important audience of one. This is George VI (James Purefoy), at a meeting of the Allied high command at Southwick House, during which Churchill hopes to persuade the King to back his alternative strategy: less a multi-pronged attack than an entire cutlery drawer of manoeuvres, so as to outflank and outfox the Axis powers, and thereby minimise the risk.
The meat of Teplitzky’s film comes in these verbal confrontations, and its best scenes are all head-to-heads, whether Churchill is butting heads with Monty over a map of the Normandy coast, or grumbling at his wife Clementine (Miranda Richardson) – whose own role in the creation and maintenance of her husband’s political persona is given unexpected, welcome room to breathe.
And while you don’t envy Purefoy for a moment in having to follow Colin Firth’s George VI in The King’s Speech, even at a seven-year distance, he’s quietly tremendous in a scene in which he dissects the strange inconsistencies of a leader’s wartime obligations: “My job is not to fight, not to die…I must exist. That is my duty.” 
Without wanting to overplay Churchill’s timeliness, let’s just say the film’s notion that true authority stems from complexity and compromise is a lesson Westminster’s Class of ’17 would do well to heed. Still, if any of them have unexpected spare time on their hands in the immediate future, there’s always a cinema trip.
They might also learn something from Cox, whose brilliant performance here isn’t a superficial Churchill impersonation – though the famous brandy-thickened baritone and lugubrious bearing are both impeccably reproduced – but a restlessly smart interrogation of the statesman’s image, and how the man behind it may or may not have measured up.
The screenplay, by historian Alex von Tunzelmann, is laced with trainspottery detail – minor items of Churchilliana, such as his preference for a hole punch, nicknamed Klop, over clips and staples are dropped in as character-revealing asides – but it’s also refreshingly unafraid to pick over its subject’s carcass. 
Churchill isn’t a stop-you-in-your-tracks reinvention of the biopic like Pablo Larraín’s Jackie: it’s still ultimately beholden to the genre’s good manners, with the obligatory pretty cinematography and music. But when Cox finally announces “This is the Prime Minister speaking” as he delivers his D-Day address to a waiting nation, you understand the significance of those six words exactly – both what they mean, and what they need to mean in order to mean anything at all. Now that’s escapism.

Film Reviews: Darkest Hour

Gary Oldman is a tremendous Winston Churchill in high-octane drama

By Peter Bradshaw
13 September 2017

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Just as Britain negotiates its inglorious retreat from Europe, and our political classes prepare to ratify the chaotic abandonment of a union intended to prevent another war, there seems to be a renewed appetite for movies about 1940. Christopher Nolan has just given us his operatic immersion in Dunkirk, and now Joe Wright — who himself staged bravura Dunkirk scenes in his 2007 film Atonement — directs this undeniably exciting and beguiling account of Winston Churchill’s darkest hour in 1940, as Hitler’s forces gather across the Channel, poised to invade. It is written by Anthony McCarten, who scripted the recent Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything.

This is not so much a period war movie as a high-octane political thriller: May 1940 as House Of Cards, with the wartime Prime Minister up against a cabal of politicians who want to do him down. It’s interesting for a film to remind us that appeasement as an issue did not vanish the moment that Winston Churchill took over as Prime Minister; despite the famous David Low cartoon, not everyone was right behind him, rolling up their sleeves. Here, his immediate enemies do not seem to be Hitler and Mussolini as much as Chamberlain and Halifax, agitating for a deal with the Nazis and scheming to undermine Churchill’s cabinet and parliamentary position.
They are played respectively by Ronald Pickup and Stephen Dillane, the latter having a malign mandarin impassivity. Dillane makes him a pretty unholy fox. Ben Mendelsohn plays George VI, who is also an appeasement fan at first, though the film gallantly makes him a Churchill convert, conjuring a scene between the two of them in which his job is to stiffen Winston’s sinews. (This film incidentally doesn’t make the mistake in The King’s Speech of implying that Churchill sided with Bertie during the Abdication.)
Darkest Hour has obvious similarities to the recent film Churchill, with Brian Cox; like that drama it imagines a pretty young WAAF figure as his secretary, for him to be at first grumpy and then soppy with - Lily James plays this part here. Miranda Richardson played the exasperated wife Clemmie in the Brian Cox movie and here it’s Kristin Scott Thomas being exasperated and affectionate, helping the impossible old devil dress etc, in more or less the same way - although there’s more here for Scott Thomas to get her teeth into. But this movie packs a much bigger and more effective punch, and that’s down to a more ambitious scale, pacier narrative drive - and the lead performance.
Every time I sit down to another Churchill drama, I promise myself I won’t just roll over for another actor in the latex/Homburg/bowtie/cigar/padding combo and doing the jowl-quivering while speaking in thevoish and the weird cadencesh. And yet there’s no doubt about it, Gary Oldman is terrific as Churchill, conveying the babyishness of his oddly unlined face in repose, the slyness and manipulative good humour, and a weird deadness when he is overtaken with depression. There is a scene (a bit fancifully imagined) with Churchill slumped in a bleakly lit almost unfurnished room, where he looks like something by Lucian Freud. He spends a fair bit of time down in the bunker-ish Cabinet War Rooms yelling at people: these are the “Upfall” scenes, which might get YouTube-subtitled in German in all sorts of irreverent ways. And it is here that Winston reaches his nadir, before the miracle of the little boats has manifested itself. He allows Halifax to send word via the Italians that Britain would be theoretically interested in the Danegeld-price: what might induce Hitler to hold back from Britain and its colonies? Oldman shows Churchill going into a kind of stricken shock.
This is not to say that there isn’t a fair bit of hokum and romantic invention. This film imagines Churchill needing to take a journey on the tube because his official car is held up in traffic. So he meets a quaint cross-section of forelock-tugging British and empire subjects in the underground carriage, from whom he learns something very important — that he is absolutely right!

    There is room for a more sceptical movie about Churchill: something revisiting his performance during the Tonypandy Riots or the Siege Of Sidney Street. Or just something that acknowledges that he hated Adolf Hitler for the same reason he hated Mahatma Gandhi: they were both enemies of the British Empire. But Gary Oldman carries off a tremendous performance here, and it’s impossible not to enjoy it. It’s as if his establishment panjandrum George Smiley was suddenly infused with the spirit of Sid Vicious. 
    An Injustice to Winston Churchill
    Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour butchers history to make the British prime minister a much less decisive figure than he actually was.

    By Kyle Smith
    November 20, 2017

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    Because an irresolute and small-minded age applies its own neuroses backward to history, because actors love to portray internal torment, and because we fancy ourselves so sophisticated that we know the official story of the past to be a ruse, movies about important historical figures have become less inspiring and “more human,” at times even iconoclastic. In 1988, Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ presented a very modern Nazarene wracked with anguish about whether he could carry on with his duty, delivering a casual, vernacular Sermon on the Mount from a dusty slope scarcely more elevated than a pitcher’s mound. The Queen (2006) depicted a matter-of-fact Elizabeth II who fixed car engines. The Iron Lady (2011) approached Margaret Thatcher via the Alzheimer’s disease she suffered in her final years. Lincoln (2012) reconceived the most revered orator in American history as a quizzical figure speaking in a high-pitched, soft rasp.

    Now it’s Churchill’s turn to be shrunken down to a more manageable size. In Darkest Hour, which is set across May and June of 1940, the English director Joe Wright and his star Gary Oldman conspire to create a somewhat comical, quavering, and very human prime minister. In dramatic terms it’s an engaging picture, and Oldman is terrifically appealing, but if you’re looking for indecision and angst, the person of Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill is a curious place to declare you’ve found it.

    Darkest Hour begins with the resignation of Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) and Churchill’s accession to the premiership on May 10, 1940, building up to the concluding “We shall fight on the beaches” speech he delivered in the House of Commons on June 4, after the miraculous Dunkirk rescue. (The flight of British forces from the Continent takes place almost entirely offscreen here but has been covered in another movie this year. It also inspired a memorable interlude, captured in one of the most elaborate continuous shots ever put to film, in Wright’s own 2007 movie Atonement).

    Introduced to us as a kind of rumpled, absent-minded professor with an alarming predilection for drink and a habit of terrifying his secretary (Lily James), Oldman’s Churchill is alternately funny, disarming, wheedling, and unsettled by events in Europe and Washington, from which in a dismal phone call Franklin Roosevelt is heard informing him that the United States cannot by law come to Britain’s rescue. Churchill insists he must at least have the ships he bought: “We paid for them . . . with the money that we borrowed from you.” Yet Roosevelt’s hands are tied. “Just can’t swing it,” he says. Britain must stand alone.

    Such moments capture the sense of a Britain gasping for air as Hitler’s fingers tightened their grip around its neck. But then, in its last half-hour, Darkest Hour veers far off the path of truth. Screenwriter Anthony McCarten has claimed, citing Cabinet minutes, that Churchill’s intentions changed virtually from “hour to hour,” and “this is not something that’s ever been celebrated — that he had doubts, that he was uncertain.” All of this is a gross exaggeration. Churchill told his War Cabinet on May 28 “that every man of you would rise up and tear me down from my place if I were for one moment to contemplate parley or surrender. If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground.” I understand the needs of Method actors, but Churchill was not George McFly.

    Hectored by a combination of Chamberlain and his fellow appeaser, Foreign Secretary Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane), the prime minister is shown as nearly ready to give in and sue for peace through Mussolini. Buckling under pressure, he rediscovers his resolve only because of last-minute pep talks from his wife Clementine (Kristin Scott Thomas) and King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn). The clincher is that traffic halts the premier’s car and he is forced to take the Underground to Parliament.

    Wright and screenwriter Anthony McCarten would have us believe that the ghostwriters of the immortal speech to follow were random Londoners Churchill met on that train, where they gave him both courage and some of the actual words he later used. But these events did not occur; the only time Churchill ever rode the Underground was during the general strike of 1926, according to his biographers William Manchester and Paul Reid. To suggest otherwise trivializes Churchill’s defining speech by reducing it to the level of stenography, while completely misstating the direction of wartime inspiration. Churchill was nothing like the people’s puppet. He felt he was born to lead them. As he would later write, “At last I had the authority to give directions over the whole scene. I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial. . . . I was sure I should not fail.” 

    It is a cliché of the motion-picture industry that, in order to sufficiently excite audience interest, the climactic moments must incorporate a reversal of direction. Since we all know how this chapter of World War II ends — to give Wright and McCarten credit, it’s a stirring, magnificent scene in which Churchill rouses the nation with the 34-minute address one MP called “the speech of 1,000 years” — Darkest Hour simply imposes its dramatic needs upon the days preceding it. For the sake of a good yarn, it mistakes a lion for a jellyfish.


    Friday, December 08, 2017

    Trump Puts Fact Ahead of Fiction in Israel

    The only reason recognizing Jerusalem as the Jewish State’s capital is controversial is that the world has been pretending it’s not for decades.

    By Jonah Goldberg
    December 8, 2017

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    The most exhausting thing about the Middle East — except for the bloodshed, poverty, tyranny, etc. — is that it refuses to conform to how it’s described in the West.

    It’s like journalists, diplomats, and politicians want to announce a football game, but the players keep insisting on playing rugby. The field looks similar. The scoring isn’t all that different. It’s just a different game. But don’t tell the gang in the booth. They get furious when you point out that the facts don’t line up with the commentary.

    Consider President Trump’s momentous (though for now mostly symbolic) announcement that the United States will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Before you can debate whether this was a good move, you must acknowledge one glaring fact that the chatterers want to ignore or downplay: It’s true. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. The Knesset, Israel’s parliament, convenes there. Israelis call it their capital for the same reason they claim two plus two equals four. It’s just true.

    What makes the decision controversial is that everyone had agreed to pretend it wasn’t the capital in order to protect “the peace process.”

    That’s another term that doesn’t quite correspond with reality. There is no peace process. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president finishing the twelfth year of his four-year term, has refused to meet with the Israelis to discuss anything since early in the Obama administration.

    Part of the blame for that, of course, belongs with Obama, who built an entire foreign policy around what he wanted to be true rather than what was actually going on. Obama sought to distance the U.S. from Israel on the assumption that Israel was the unreasonably stubborn party in the “peace process.” That’s why, on the way out the door, the Obama administration broke with precedent and opted not to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution declaring East Jerusalem “occupied territory.”

    This implied that, as a matter of international law, the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem itself really belong to the Palestinians — which is an insane fantasy.

    But denying reality is how this game has long been played. In his speech after Trump’s announcement, Abbas talked at great length about Jerusalem’s history as a Muslim and Christian city. He made no mention of the fact that it’s also a famously Jewish city, having been established as the capital of ancient Israel 1,000 years before Jesus was born.

    Trump called his decision “a recognition of reality.” People invested in irreality insist the move will worsen “the Middle East conflict.”

    Here, too, we have mislabeling. Whole books are dedicated to the Middle East conflict, as if the Israel–Palestinian issue were the only conflict in the region. Tell that to the hundreds of thousands of dead Syrians or the millions displaced by the civil war there. Tell it to those dying in Yemen, site of a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

    It’s been this way for decades. The Palestinians and their Arab patrons insisted to gullible Westerners that the Israel–Palestinian conflict was the source of all the region’s problems. Was the Iran–Iraq War, which cost more than a million lives, a fight over Palestinian statehood? What about the Lebanese Civil War? Turkey’s campaign against the Kurds?

    The only people who bought the idea that the Middle East conflict began and ended with Israel were those guys in the control booth describing the wrong game — i.e., Western experts and activists deeply invested in the “peace process.”

    In a sense, that’s understandable. If you’ve dedicated your entire professional life to a moveable feast that covers your airfare and lodging in Paris or Geneva while you discuss grave matters, it’s probably hard not to cling to fictions.

    But those fictions are losing their hold, ironically thanks in large part to the Obama administration. By working on fantasy rather than facts, Obama threw the balance of power in the region heavily in Iran’s favor, lifting sanctions and giving Iran hundreds of billions of dollars. He thought the Iranians would join the community of nations or some such twaddle. Instead, they pocketed the money and are now on a surer path to a nuclear bomb.

    As a result of this new reality, the old fictions are a luxury that Iran’s regional adversaries can no longer afford. That’s why Saudi Arabia, a longtime Palestinian patron, has been moving steadily closer to Israel: because Israel is a more valuable friend in the new Middle East conflict than the Palestinians are — or Obama was.

    — Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior editor of National Review. © 2017 Tribune Content Agency, LLC

    Thursday, December 07, 2017

    Trump's truth-telling on Jerusalem marks an all-new Middle East

    By John Podhoretz
    December 6, 2017
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    American and Israeli flags displayed in the old city of Jerusalem. (Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

    ‘This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality,” President Trump said in announcing America’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Never have truer words been spoken, and they were delivered in the best speech Trump has ever given.
    What Trump did was stunning. He could just have signed the waiver of the law passed in 1995 compelling the executive branch to move America’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He did it six months ago, just like his three immediate predecessors did every six months since 1996. Or he could have not signed the waiver and simply said he was going to start the process of building the new embassy.
    Instead, he called the international community’s seven-decade bluff and ended a delusion about the future that has prevented Palestinians from seeing the world and their own geopolitical situation clearly. It is a bold shift.

    The idea that Jerusalem is not Israel’s capital has been a global pretense for decades, including here in the United States. It’s a pretense because Jerusalem has been Israel’s capital from the moment the new country secured a future by winning a bloody war for independence waged against it by Arab nations after they rejected the UN partition of the old British mandate into a Jewish state and an Arab state.
    Under the plan, Jerusalem was to be an international city governed by the United Nations. But the Arab effort to push the Jews into the sea — an effort no other nation on earth intervened in to prevent — left a divided Jerusalem in the hands of the Jews in the West and Jordan in the East.
    There would be no “international” Jerusalem because the Arabs made sure there could not be one.
    So, in 1949, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion moved the government from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. “The people which faithfully honored for 2,500 years the oath sworn by the Rivers of Babylon not to forget Jerusalem — this people will never reconcile itself with separation from Jerusalem,” Ben-Gurion told the United Nations at the time.
    After Israel’s triumph in the Six-Day War in 1967, Jerusalem was unified and became, in the words spoken by every Israeli prime minister, the “eternal and undivided capital” of the Jewish state.
    And yet the international fiction that Jerusalem is not only not Israel’s capital but isn’t even to be considered formally part of Israel has persisted for 50 years now.
    Nominally, the idea is that Palestinians need to be allowed to believe they’ll secure sovereignty over at least a part of Jerusalem for them to pursue a final peace deal with the Israelis. And so most of the world has chosen to act as though Israel has no legal dominion over any part of Jerusalem.
    That is, in a word, insane. Jerusalem is now home to 860,000 people — 10 percent of Israel’s population, nearly double that of its second city, Tel Aviv. Every one of them, Jew and Arab, is a citizen of the state. (The city is 60 percent Jewish and 35 percent Muslim.) It is the locus of Israel’s government, where the parliament sits, where the prime minister lives and where most government agencies are located.
    The pretense has been allowed to continue for two reasons. The most rational reason is this: There has always been fear that any change in Jerusalem’s status might ignite a violent Palestinian response, retard peace efforts and inflame the “Arab street” throughout the Middle East. So why create a crisis when the status quo is at least stable?
    Then there are those who simply believe Israel is a bad actor deserving of international scorn and isolation and should not be allowed to get away with it — it, in this case, being Jerusalem.
    Trump rightly scorns the latter view and has an answer for the former: “This is a long overdue step to advance the peace process. And to work towards a lasting agreement.”
    The Palestinians need to accept reality. They continue to act as though they will get what they want through rejection and resistance and rage. “It is time,” Trump said, “for the many who desire peace to expel the extremists from their midsts. It is time for all civilized nations and people to respond to disagreement with reasoned debate, not violence.”
    The Palestinian refusal to accept Israel for what it is and what it has become has been the greatest bar to peace. And there are reasons to believe the so-called Arab street has bigger problems to concern itself with right now than Israel’s capital.
    And not just the street — the capitals as well. Trump’s act comes at a time when there is a tectonic shift in the Middle East. If I had told you 20 years ago that Israel would one day find itself in a de facto alliance with Saudi Arabia and Egypt, you would’ve had me committed. But two weeks ago, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reportedly urged Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to sign on to a peace deal Israel actually likes. MBS isn’t happy about Trump’s move, but that doesn’t change the fact that the sands are shifting rapidly after decades of stagnation.
    In the end, as Trump said, “Israel is a sovereign nation with the right, like every other sovereign nation, to determine its own capital.” Indeed it is. Indeed it does. Bravo.

    The Courage of Larry David

    December 6, 2017

    Image result for larry david fatwa
    Salman Rushdie and Larry David (HBO)
    In the new season of HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David – and I'm speaking here of the character, not the real-life guy – doesn't waste any time getting into one of his trademark unpleasant run-ins with a total stranger. In the opening scene of the first episode, the stranger is a butch dyke for whom he doesn't hold a door open because, he tells her, she looked to him like the kind of woman who wouldn't want him to do that. Later, he explains to her and her fiancée, a lipstick lesbian, that, their plans to the contrary, the latter should be the “bride” at the wedding, and the former the “groom.”

    And that's only the beginning. In later episodes, Curb mines for humor the fact that Larry's friend Marty Funkhauser has a daughter who's “transitioning” into a son. One running joke involves a girlfriend of Larry who attributes her son's brattiness to Asperger's. (These days, complains Larry, “any bad behavior can be written off as being on the spectrum!”)

    In short, Season 9 does a neat job of catching up with some of the social phenomena that have come to the fore since Season 8 wrapped up six years ago. Although the tyranny of political correctness has grown more oppressive since then, Larry David (the character) hasn't shaken off his habit of cluelessly breaching social taboos at every turn and Larry David (the real guy) hasn't let himself be cowed by the PC police.

    Proof positive of this is the season's truly sensational story arc. As noted, it's been six years since Season 8 of Curb. What has Larry (the character) been doing since then? It turns out he's been writing Fatwa!, a musical comedy about the Ayatollah Khomeini's 1989 fatwa against the author Salman Rushdie. When his manager, Jeff Greene (Jeff Garlin), sends the script around to potential backers, everybody wants in. This, of course, is supremely implausible: one overarching cultural reality of the post-9/11 era is that, with extremely few exceptions, book publishers, movie studios, museum curators, and opera and theater producers aren't eager to be involved in any project that touches even remotely on the negative side of Islam.

    I devoted a whole chapter to this topic in my 2009 book Surrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom. In it, I listed several cases of cultural self-censorship driven by fear of Muslim retaliation: the Deutsche Opera cancelled a production of Mozart'sIdeomeneo because one prop represented the severed head of Muhammed; a Rotterdam performance center dropped an opera about Muhammed's child wife, Aisha; the Barbican Centre in London bowdlerized Marlowe's Tamburlaine the Great to avoid offending Muslims. In the year since my book was published, the examples of cowardice in the face of Islamic intimidation have kept on coming.

    The exceptions to this rule stand out for their rarity. For several years, the Showtime series Homeland was admirably blunt about the Islamic threat – until its latest season, when the producers finally capitulated to the media critics who kept calling it Islamophobic. Mandy Patinkin, who stars in the series as CIA honcho Saul Berenson, approved heartily of the series' change of tune, blaming Hollywood for making “Muslim 'terrorists'...the bad guys” and promising that viewers of Homeland's new season would “see who the bad guys really are.” Patinkin, reported Fox News, said that it's the fault of “white male politicians and 'the military establishment'” that Islam has such a bad reputation in the U.S.

    Anyway, back to Curb. After clinching a Broadway deal for Fatwa, Larry talks about it on The Jimmy Kimmel Show. The next day, the Ayatollah issues a fatwa against himfor having “disparaged the beliefs of Muslims.” Larry is quick to cower: “I'll convert! I'll become a Muslim!” He proposes going back on the Kimmel show to apologize – but he's told that Kimmel “wants nothing to do with you.” All the backers have fled, too. (Now, that's realistic.) Terrified, Larry hides away in a hotel and starts drafting an apology in longhand: “Dear Ayatollah....”

    He also seeks out a female Muslim friend, who, it turns out, knows the Iranian consul. He's surprised. “Are you a....plotter?” he asks. “Are you one of the plotters? Do you plot?” She replies: “I've plotted before.” They go to bed. (She's turned on by the sin of sleeping with an infidel.) “Blaspheme to me, Larry!” she insists as they go at it. “Blaspheme like you blaspheme the nation of Islam!” In compliance, he screams out the names of members of the Trump administration. Later, Larry skypes with the Iranian consul, who discusses his favorite Seinfeld episodes. (Larry, of course, was the co-creator and executive producer of that series.) “I must tell you, Mr. David,” the consul says, “the Ayatollah himself is a bit of a close talker.”

    It's a laugh riot. I think so, anyway. You may not. But one thing that's unarguable is that it's pretty damn brave. The Larry of the show is a spineless coward – trembling in terror like a Bob Hope or Woody Allen character. But the Larry David who conceived this story arc and put it on HBO is one gutsy son of a bitch.

    The season goes on. There are other plot lines. But it all keeps coming back to the fatwa. Because Larry has a target on his back, his friends peel off, canceling poker and golf games. Finally Larry decides there's only one person who can help him: Salman Rushdie himself. And yes, in the next scene, there he is, Rushdie, in the flesh – who turns out to have some of the most hilarious lines in the whole season. Rushdie assures Larry that while a fatwa is no joke, it does have its advantages. For one thing, some women will be attracted to Larry precisely because of the danger. (“Fatwa sex,” he confides, is “the best sex there is!”) For another thing, a fatwa is a great excuse: “You don't have to go to anything you don't want to go to. So like, your cousin is giving a reading of his lousy poetry book. You say, sorry, can't make it, fatwa! Somebody calls you and says, 'Can you pick me up at the airport?' Sorry, can't make it, fatwa.”

    Again, I laughed out loud. It was the Ayatollah Khomeini, remember, who pronounced that “there is no humor in Islam.” It's precisely for this reason that jokes are the very best weapon in the war against it. No, I don't know the specifics of the real-life Larry David's politics when it comes to the Religion of Peace. (I don't know what he thinks, for example, about Trump's “Muslim ban.”) I know he's supposed to be a big lefty; his ex-wife Laurie David is an environmental activist, one of those rich celebrities who take private planes halfway around the world to scold people for using the wrong light bulbs. But while Larry has sometimes seemed to support her cause (his Curb ex-wife, Cheryl David, played by Cheryl Hines, shares Laurie's real-life politics, and the National Resources Defense Council, of which Laurie is a trustee, featured prominently in one Curb episode), he's also seemed to mock it (in one Curb episode he tries to skirt Cheryl's ban on “environmentally unfriendly” toilet paper).

    Certainly neither Larry nor his former TV partner Jerry Seinfeld was ever afraid to give offense. Various Seinfeld episodes found Kramer stomping out a fire on a Puerto Rican flag; Jerry making American Indian jokes in the presence of a woman who, unbeknownst to him, is an American Indian; Elaine wondering whether her new boyfriend is black or white; and George trying to find a black guy to pretend to be his friend so he can prove to his black boss that he's not racist. Jerry made headlines not long ago when he complained that the ultra-PC atmosphere on campuses made them virtually off-limits for comedians. For all I know, Larry is a fan of Bernie Sanders, but his impression of him on Saturday Night Live (“We're doomed!!!”) perfectly captured the senator's fatuous radicalism and the utter impracticality of his policy ideas.

    In the final analysis, however, I don't really care what Larry David's politics are. What matters to me is that he's funny and he's fearless. The Fatwa season of Curb Your Enthusiasm is exactly the sort of thing that's been all but entirely missing from American pop culture since 9/11. Three cheers, then, for Larry David. May his courage be infectious.