Commentary Magazine


Topic: Philadelphia Inquirer

Who Can Trust Sestak on Israel?

Rep. Joe Sestak’s “shut up” strategy followed by his “I’m really, honestly a friend of Israel” isn’t working. The local media have figured out that Sestak’s keynote speech to CAIR is far more revealing than his recent avowals of devotion to the Jewish state. Benyamin Korn writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Does it matter if a candidate for U.S. Senate served as a keynote speaker for an extremist group? Does it matter if he hired one of the group’s staff to serve on his staff? These are some of the questions being asked about Rep. Joe Sestak as voters learn about his ties to the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

After reciting CAIR’s affection for Hamas (“CAIR executive director Nihad Awad has said, ‘I am in support of the Hamas movement more than the PLO,’ the Palestine Liberation Organization”) and its well-known ties to terrorists, Korn observes:

Despite all this, Sestak hired CAIR’s director of communications in Philadelphia, Adeeba Al-Zaman, to work in his new Washington office in 2007. Soon thereafter, Al-Zaman had arranged for Sestak to be invited to speak at CAIR’s Philadelphia dinner that year.

Sestak accepted the invitation to headline the dinner. Members of the Jewish community met with him beforehand and pleaded with him to cancel, citing CAIR’s terrorism ties. But Sestak wouldn’t budge. To this day, Sestak refuses to acknowledge that his appearance at the dinner was a mistake. Instead, his campaign has tried to pressure Comcast to stop broadcasting an advertisement challenging his record on Israel. A letter from Sestak’s lawyer demanded that the ad be suppressed because it falsely characterized Sestak as anti-Israel.

Nor does Korn buy Sestak’s resume puffery that he “put his life on the line to defend Israel.” (“Pardon me for doubting that an Arab army would attack Israel during a joint American-Israeli military exercise.”)

Despite all of Sestak’s huffing and puffing, he has dodged the central concerns about his Israel record. Did he not realize that the Gaza 54 letter was a left-wing slam on Israel? Does he regret his slobbery praise for CAIR and now recognize that it is, in fact, a terrorist front group? Why hasn’t he — if he’s so devoted to Israel — demanded that the U.S. leave and refuse to fund the UN Human Rights Council?

Sestak is walking a fine line here. J Street has ponied up cash and run ads for him, so Sestak can’t fully embrace a robust pro-Israel line. But now that he has been exposed as a pol who “plays footsie with CAIR,” he’s had to rush toward a mainstream position on Israel. In the end, the Israel-bashing left and pro-Israel voters may very well both conclude he can’t be trusted. But CAIR still stands by their man (and he by the group). That should help clarify matters.

Rep. Joe Sestak’s “shut up” strategy followed by his “I’m really, honestly a friend of Israel” isn’t working. The local media have figured out that Sestak’s keynote speech to CAIR is far more revealing than his recent avowals of devotion to the Jewish state. Benyamin Korn writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Does it matter if a candidate for U.S. Senate served as a keynote speaker for an extremist group? Does it matter if he hired one of the group’s staff to serve on his staff? These are some of the questions being asked about Rep. Joe Sestak as voters learn about his ties to the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

After reciting CAIR’s affection for Hamas (“CAIR executive director Nihad Awad has said, ‘I am in support of the Hamas movement more than the PLO,’ the Palestine Liberation Organization”) and its well-known ties to terrorists, Korn observes:

Despite all this, Sestak hired CAIR’s director of communications in Philadelphia, Adeeba Al-Zaman, to work in his new Washington office in 2007. Soon thereafter, Al-Zaman had arranged for Sestak to be invited to speak at CAIR’s Philadelphia dinner that year.

Sestak accepted the invitation to headline the dinner. Members of the Jewish community met with him beforehand and pleaded with him to cancel, citing CAIR’s terrorism ties. But Sestak wouldn’t budge. To this day, Sestak refuses to acknowledge that his appearance at the dinner was a mistake. Instead, his campaign has tried to pressure Comcast to stop broadcasting an advertisement challenging his record on Israel. A letter from Sestak’s lawyer demanded that the ad be suppressed because it falsely characterized Sestak as anti-Israel.

Nor does Korn buy Sestak’s resume puffery that he “put his life on the line to defend Israel.” (“Pardon me for doubting that an Arab army would attack Israel during a joint American-Israeli military exercise.”)

Despite all of Sestak’s huffing and puffing, he has dodged the central concerns about his Israel record. Did he not realize that the Gaza 54 letter was a left-wing slam on Israel? Does he regret his slobbery praise for CAIR and now recognize that it is, in fact, a terrorist front group? Why hasn’t he — if he’s so devoted to Israel — demanded that the U.S. leave and refuse to fund the UN Human Rights Council?

Sestak is walking a fine line here. J Street has ponied up cash and run ads for him, so Sestak can’t fully embrace a robust pro-Israel line. But now that he has been exposed as a pol who “plays footsie with CAIR,” he’s had to rush toward a mainstream position on Israel. In the end, the Israel-bashing left and pro-Israel voters may very well both conclude he can’t be trusted. But CAIR still stands by their man (and he by the group). That should help clarify matters.

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Specter’s Lesson: Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth Is an Ungrateful Abortion Lobby

Consistency on the issues has never been one of Arlen Specter’s character traits as a politician. Yet for all of his flips and flops on just about everything, not to mention his two changes in party affiliation, there is one issue on which the ultra-cynical senator has been fairly consistent: abortion. Indeed, if there is any one point of contention that defined him in his Senate career as a “liberal” Republican, it was his “pro-choice” beliefs. But despite three decades of such a stance and the fact that he has now joined the party that generally treats the backing for abortion as a litmus test, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the premiere pro-abortion lobby, is throwing Specter under the bus in the midst of his life-and-death struggle to hold on to his Senate seat.

NARAL endorsed Specter’s opponent Rep. Joe Sestak yesterday in a statement that dismissed the senator’s decades of work without so much as a backward glance. Indeed, far from treating the question of which pro-choice Democrat to back in the primary as a dilemma, NARAL Pro-Choice America’s president Nancy Keenan stuck the proverbial knife in the back of her group’s erstwhile loyalist by saying: “Many Pennsylvanians are under the impression that Arlen Specter might be a reliable pro-choice voice, but his record says otherwise. Pennsylvanians deserve a senator who considers being pro-choice a position of conviction, rather than a position of convenience.”

Ouch! Reading that, you have to sympathize a bit with Snarlin’ Arlen. You might well say that such a swipe at his character would be justified if you were talking about anything else, but it’s hard to argue that his stand on just about the only issue on which he has been consistent was merely a matter of convenience.

What’s NARAL’s motive? Is it belated payback for Specter’s roughing up of Anita Hill? Maybe. But according to its release, it’s the fact that Specter voted for Republican court nominees John Roberts and Samuel Alito and at one point voted, along with many Democrats, in favor of a ban on partial-birth abortion. But Specter’s record on court nominations has been anything but consistent, given his participation in the vicious attacks on Robert Bork in the 1980s, which pleased NARAL, and his vote in favor of the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor last year.

But the real answer may be elsewhere in the statement, where Keenan claims, “Joe Sestak is the candidate who is best positioned to defeat an anti-choice opponent in the November general election.” Which is to say that she has read the polls, which show that Specter’s lead over his opponent has evaporated and that Sestak may be a tougher opponent for likely Republican nominee Pat Toomey. Now that he really needs them, Specter is finding that NARAL, like every other political entity, prefers backing likely winners to helping out old friends.

But just to show that ingratitude and extremism aren’t confined to the pro-choicers, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the long-shot challenge to Toomey in the Republican primary next week is also motivated by abortion. Activist Peg Luksik thinks that the former congressman isn’t sufficiently fanatic on the issue because despite his consistent pro-life record, he believes there should be exceptions to any potential ban on abortion in cases of rape or incest or to save the life of the mother. Luksik’s claim to fame is that 20 years ago, she won 46 percent of the vote in a failed attempt to deny a GOP gubernatorial nomination to Barbara Hafer, a pro-choice Republican. Since then, she twice ran as a third-party candidate for governor against Tom Ridge.

Toomey is a prohibitive favorite and doesn’t have much to worry about in the primary. But looking ahead to November, he does seem to have a firm grasp on the difference between running against Specter and running against Sestak. While claiming that either would energize the Republican base, the Inquirer quotes Toomey as summing up the contrast between the two in this way:

“If Joe Sestak wins the nomination, I do think it will be a much more substantive discussion about policy, whereas if it was Arlen Specter, it would be a series of personal, negative ads trying to smear character. That’s the way he’s always operated.”

Consistency on the issues has never been one of Arlen Specter’s character traits as a politician. Yet for all of his flips and flops on just about everything, not to mention his two changes in party affiliation, there is one issue on which the ultra-cynical senator has been fairly consistent: abortion. Indeed, if there is any one point of contention that defined him in his Senate career as a “liberal” Republican, it was his “pro-choice” beliefs. But despite three decades of such a stance and the fact that he has now joined the party that generally treats the backing for abortion as a litmus test, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the premiere pro-abortion lobby, is throwing Specter under the bus in the midst of his life-and-death struggle to hold on to his Senate seat.

NARAL endorsed Specter’s opponent Rep. Joe Sestak yesterday in a statement that dismissed the senator’s decades of work without so much as a backward glance. Indeed, far from treating the question of which pro-choice Democrat to back in the primary as a dilemma, NARAL Pro-Choice America’s president Nancy Keenan stuck the proverbial knife in the back of her group’s erstwhile loyalist by saying: “Many Pennsylvanians are under the impression that Arlen Specter might be a reliable pro-choice voice, but his record says otherwise. Pennsylvanians deserve a senator who considers being pro-choice a position of conviction, rather than a position of convenience.”

Ouch! Reading that, you have to sympathize a bit with Snarlin’ Arlen. You might well say that such a swipe at his character would be justified if you were talking about anything else, but it’s hard to argue that his stand on just about the only issue on which he has been consistent was merely a matter of convenience.

What’s NARAL’s motive? Is it belated payback for Specter’s roughing up of Anita Hill? Maybe. But according to its release, it’s the fact that Specter voted for Republican court nominees John Roberts and Samuel Alito and at one point voted, along with many Democrats, in favor of a ban on partial-birth abortion. But Specter’s record on court nominations has been anything but consistent, given his participation in the vicious attacks on Robert Bork in the 1980s, which pleased NARAL, and his vote in favor of the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor last year.

But the real answer may be elsewhere in the statement, where Keenan claims, “Joe Sestak is the candidate who is best positioned to defeat an anti-choice opponent in the November general election.” Which is to say that she has read the polls, which show that Specter’s lead over his opponent has evaporated and that Sestak may be a tougher opponent for likely Republican nominee Pat Toomey. Now that he really needs them, Specter is finding that NARAL, like every other political entity, prefers backing likely winners to helping out old friends.

But just to show that ingratitude and extremism aren’t confined to the pro-choicers, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the long-shot challenge to Toomey in the Republican primary next week is also motivated by abortion. Activist Peg Luksik thinks that the former congressman isn’t sufficiently fanatic on the issue because despite his consistent pro-life record, he believes there should be exceptions to any potential ban on abortion in cases of rape or incest or to save the life of the mother. Luksik’s claim to fame is that 20 years ago, she won 46 percent of the vote in a failed attempt to deny a GOP gubernatorial nomination to Barbara Hafer, a pro-choice Republican. Since then, she twice ran as a third-party candidate for governor against Tom Ridge.

Toomey is a prohibitive favorite and doesn’t have much to worry about in the primary. But looking ahead to November, he does seem to have a firm grasp on the difference between running against Specter and running against Sestak. While claiming that either would energize the Republican base, the Inquirer quotes Toomey as summing up the contrast between the two in this way:

“If Joe Sestak wins the nomination, I do think it will be a much more substantive discussion about policy, whereas if it was Arlen Specter, it would be a series of personal, negative ads trying to smear character. That’s the way he’s always operated.”

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Liberals Like Swift-Boat Attack Against Specter’s Foe

With less than two weeks to go until the Pennsylvania Democratic primary that will decide the fate of Senator Arlen Specter, the race between the incumbent party-switcher and the liberal congressman who is hoping to knock him off has gotten tighter and nastier.

After holding a huge lead over Rep. Joe Sestak for most of the past year, Specter is shown by the latest polls to lose his lead. An Allentown Morning Call tracking poll showed Specter with just a five-point lead (45 percent to 40) on May 5, down three points from May 2. Though a Quinnipiac poll from May 2 showed Specter with a larger lead (48 percent to 39), it still showed remarkable gains for Sestak since he had trailed Specter in that survey by as much as 21 points only a month earlier.

And along with the tighter poll numbers have come the inevitable negative ads. Specter had thought he would cruise to victory in the primary because of name recognition, a big edge in campaign contributions, and the overwhelming support he has received from Democratic leaders from President Obama, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, and most of the county Democratic committees. But faced with Sestak’s rising numbers, in the last couple of weeks, Specter has now resorted to trying to stress his opponent’s negatives. The senator is now airing a TV ad in which he claims that Sestak, a retired Navy admiral, was relieved of his post as chief of planning for the Navy in 2005 because he created a “poor command climate” — though Sestak has always said that his exit from the Navy was due to policy differences with a new chief of naval operations, Admiral Mike Mullen. Sestak has now responded to Specter’s ad with one of his own, in which he accuses the senator of “swift-boating” him and lying about his record. For good measure, he’s also released another one tying Specter to his Republican past, including his support for figures that are demons to Democratic activists: George W. Bush, former senator Rick Santorum, and Sarah Palin.

Though Specter’s turncoat status has made it hard for him to cozy up to the sort of hardcore liberals who vote in Democratic primaries, it is interesting to note that the chief institutional voice of Pennsylvania liberalism — the Philadelphia Inquirer — has taken its cue from Obama and not only endorsed Specter but also backed his attacks on Sestak’s record and character. In an editorial published today, the Inky follows Specter’s lead and demands that Sestak release his private Navy records if he wants to quiet the discussion related to the issue.

Yet 6 years ago, when conservative activists were raising embarrassing questions about the naval record of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, the Inquirer took a very different point of view. At that time, the liberal newspaper decried the “Swift-Boat” vets who attacked Kerry and thought their demands for the release of Kerry’s records were not only unreasonable but also an indication of the vicious nature of ultra-partisan GOP politics. But with the possibility of losing a Senate seat for the Democrats (polls also show that Sestak is a weaker general-election candidate than Specter), the Inquirer is no longer so squeamish about messing with former military men.

Ultimately, the race will be decided by voter sentiment about Specter. Much of his campaign material emphasizes his 30 years in the Senate and his ability to bring home the bacon for his state as one of the most expert practitioners of earmark spending. But in a year in which voters are clearly saying that they think politics as usual isn’t the answer, Specter’s old strengths may turn out to be big weaknesses. While this trend is a clear boost to Republicans — not least to former Rep. Pat Toomey, a principled libertarian and the man whom polls show able to beat either Democrat in the November election — these ideas may have an impact on May 17, when Democrats vote as well. Under these circumstances, swift-boating Sestak, even if liberals who once were outraged by such tactics when it they had turned on their own heroes now endorse them, may not be enough to save the slippery Specter.

With less than two weeks to go until the Pennsylvania Democratic primary that will decide the fate of Senator Arlen Specter, the race between the incumbent party-switcher and the liberal congressman who is hoping to knock him off has gotten tighter and nastier.

After holding a huge lead over Rep. Joe Sestak for most of the past year, Specter is shown by the latest polls to lose his lead. An Allentown Morning Call tracking poll showed Specter with just a five-point lead (45 percent to 40) on May 5, down three points from May 2. Though a Quinnipiac poll from May 2 showed Specter with a larger lead (48 percent to 39), it still showed remarkable gains for Sestak since he had trailed Specter in that survey by as much as 21 points only a month earlier.

And along with the tighter poll numbers have come the inevitable negative ads. Specter had thought he would cruise to victory in the primary because of name recognition, a big edge in campaign contributions, and the overwhelming support he has received from Democratic leaders from President Obama, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, and most of the county Democratic committees. But faced with Sestak’s rising numbers, in the last couple of weeks, Specter has now resorted to trying to stress his opponent’s negatives. The senator is now airing a TV ad in which he claims that Sestak, a retired Navy admiral, was relieved of his post as chief of planning for the Navy in 2005 because he created a “poor command climate” — though Sestak has always said that his exit from the Navy was due to policy differences with a new chief of naval operations, Admiral Mike Mullen. Sestak has now responded to Specter’s ad with one of his own, in which he accuses the senator of “swift-boating” him and lying about his record. For good measure, he’s also released another one tying Specter to his Republican past, including his support for figures that are demons to Democratic activists: George W. Bush, former senator Rick Santorum, and Sarah Palin.

Though Specter’s turncoat status has made it hard for him to cozy up to the sort of hardcore liberals who vote in Democratic primaries, it is interesting to note that the chief institutional voice of Pennsylvania liberalism — the Philadelphia Inquirer — has taken its cue from Obama and not only endorsed Specter but also backed his attacks on Sestak’s record and character. In an editorial published today, the Inky follows Specter’s lead and demands that Sestak release his private Navy records if he wants to quiet the discussion related to the issue.

Yet 6 years ago, when conservative activists were raising embarrassing questions about the naval record of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, the Inquirer took a very different point of view. At that time, the liberal newspaper decried the “Swift-Boat” vets who attacked Kerry and thought their demands for the release of Kerry’s records were not only unreasonable but also an indication of the vicious nature of ultra-partisan GOP politics. But with the possibility of losing a Senate seat for the Democrats (polls also show that Sestak is a weaker general-election candidate than Specter), the Inquirer is no longer so squeamish about messing with former military men.

Ultimately, the race will be decided by voter sentiment about Specter. Much of his campaign material emphasizes his 30 years in the Senate and his ability to bring home the bacon for his state as one of the most expert practitioners of earmark spending. But in a year in which voters are clearly saying that they think politics as usual isn’t the answer, Specter’s old strengths may turn out to be big weaknesses. While this trend is a clear boost to Republicans — not least to former Rep. Pat Toomey, a principled libertarian and the man whom polls show able to beat either Democrat in the November election — these ideas may have an impact on May 17, when Democrats vote as well. Under these circumstances, swift-boating Sestak, even if liberals who once were outraged by such tactics when it they had turned on their own heroes now endorse them, may not be enough to save the slippery Specter.

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J Street Loses a Congressional Recruit

Are liberal Democrats starting to be wary of the siren calls of J Street? This story from Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent shows that at least one congressional candidate has figured out that associating with the far-Left lobby can be dangerous for his political health.

The Exponent’s Bryan Schwartzman reports that Doug Pike, one of the contenders for the Democratic nomination for Pennsylvania’s 6th congressional district, has “asked J Street officials this week to remove him from its list of 41 endorsed candidates, and said he’s planning to return some $6,000 donated via the group.” It appears that Pike, who is fighting for the right to challenge incumbent Republican Jim Gerlach, has gotten the message from voters and contributors that aligning himself with J Street is not the path to the hearts or the wallets of pro-Israel Democrats.

Pike, the son of Otis Pike, a onetime New York congressman, is a former Philadelphia Inquirer editorial writer and is locked in a tough fight against Manan Trivedi, a physician and Iraq-war veteran who has got the endorsement of two key Democratic committees in the district, which stretches across three suburban counties in the western suburbs of Philadelphia. Schwartzman says that one pro-Israel fundraiser claims “a number of potential contributors walked away from Pike after the J Street endorsement became known, and after Gerlach — considered a strong Israel backer — decided not to run for governor.”

Pike told the Exponent that “when he first sought J Street’s endorsement back in September, he had underestimated his policy differences with the group.” Of special interest, in the context of this past week’s dispute between the Obama administration and Israel, is that Pike was “troubled” by J Street’s recent stance that Israel halt construction in eastern Jerusalem because J Street has backed Obama against Netanyahu on the issue of plans to build Jewish homes in an eastern Jerusalem neighborhood. “People simply assumed when they heard that I was endorsed by J Street that I agreed with them on everything,” said Pike. “The endorsement was an impediment to my being able to explain my convictions about Israel’s security.”

Pike’s attempt to extricate himself from J Street’s death grip may or may not save his candidacy, but it ought to serve as a warning to other Democrats who assume that the group’s claim that it is within the mainstream is true. J Street representatives and other left-wingers have asserted that Obama’s 2008 victory — and his huge share of the Jewish vote — proved that mainstream pro-Israel groups like AIPAC no longer represented the community’s view. But, as Pike has found out, most rank-and-file Jewish Democrats, even those who call themselves liberals, do not support putting pressure on Israel to make more concessions to the Palestinians and are appalled by the administration’s attack on Jewish rights in Jerusalem.

So is the White House, which has become even more brazen in its open contempt for the Israeli government, capable of understanding what Doug Pike has now discovered — that sooner or later, its attitude toward Israel, which is inspired in part by its misconception that J Street is representative of mainstream Jewish opinion, may be a huge political mistake?

Are liberal Democrats starting to be wary of the siren calls of J Street? This story from Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent shows that at least one congressional candidate has figured out that associating with the far-Left lobby can be dangerous for his political health.

The Exponent’s Bryan Schwartzman reports that Doug Pike, one of the contenders for the Democratic nomination for Pennsylvania’s 6th congressional district, has “asked J Street officials this week to remove him from its list of 41 endorsed candidates, and said he’s planning to return some $6,000 donated via the group.” It appears that Pike, who is fighting for the right to challenge incumbent Republican Jim Gerlach, has gotten the message from voters and contributors that aligning himself with J Street is not the path to the hearts or the wallets of pro-Israel Democrats.

Pike, the son of Otis Pike, a onetime New York congressman, is a former Philadelphia Inquirer editorial writer and is locked in a tough fight against Manan Trivedi, a physician and Iraq-war veteran who has got the endorsement of two key Democratic committees in the district, which stretches across three suburban counties in the western suburbs of Philadelphia. Schwartzman says that one pro-Israel fundraiser claims “a number of potential contributors walked away from Pike after the J Street endorsement became known, and after Gerlach — considered a strong Israel backer — decided not to run for governor.”

Pike told the Exponent that “when he first sought J Street’s endorsement back in September, he had underestimated his policy differences with the group.” Of special interest, in the context of this past week’s dispute between the Obama administration and Israel, is that Pike was “troubled” by J Street’s recent stance that Israel halt construction in eastern Jerusalem because J Street has backed Obama against Netanyahu on the issue of plans to build Jewish homes in an eastern Jerusalem neighborhood. “People simply assumed when they heard that I was endorsed by J Street that I agreed with them on everything,” said Pike. “The endorsement was an impediment to my being able to explain my convictions about Israel’s security.”

Pike’s attempt to extricate himself from J Street’s death grip may or may not save his candidacy, but it ought to serve as a warning to other Democrats who assume that the group’s claim that it is within the mainstream is true. J Street representatives and other left-wingers have asserted that Obama’s 2008 victory — and his huge share of the Jewish vote — proved that mainstream pro-Israel groups like AIPAC no longer represented the community’s view. But, as Pike has found out, most rank-and-file Jewish Democrats, even those who call themselves liberals, do not support putting pressure on Israel to make more concessions to the Palestinians and are appalled by the administration’s attack on Jewish rights in Jerusalem.

So is the White House, which has become even more brazen in its open contempt for the Israeli government, capable of understanding what Doug Pike has now discovered — that sooner or later, its attitude toward Israel, which is inspired in part by its misconception that J Street is representative of mainstream Jewish opinion, may be a huge political mistake?

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CAIR Seeks to Censor Books on Radical Islam

The Council on American-Islamic Relations came into existence in the early 1990s as a political front for the Holy Land Foundation, a group that raised money in the United States for Hamas terrorists and their network of “charitable” institutions. Since then, the Holy Land Foundation was shut down and prosecuted by the federal government. But its CAIR spin-off has survived and prospered as both government agencies and the media have accepted its pose as a Muslim civil-liberties group as well as its rationalizations of terrorism and opposition to the struggle against Islamist extremists.

The latest instance of CAIR’s duplicitous behavior is the campaign being conducted by its Philadelphia branch to censor a series of textbooks on The World of Islam for young readers, produced by Mason Crest Published in partnership with the Foreign Policy Research Institute, an independent think tank. They are particularly angry with one of the ten books in the set titled Radical Islam, which deals with the threat from Islamist groups. CAIR wants the books to be withdrawn from public libraries and schools. Although the books are respectful of Islam and acknowledge that the vast majority of Muslims are neither terrorists nor engaged in spreading hate, they still note the existence of terrorists and Islamists hate groups. While CAIR’s charges of the books being inaccurate are clearly false, their objective is to simply remove all mentions of Muslim terrorism and Islamist ideology from the public square.

For example, the group objects to this line in one the books, Muslims in America: “some Muslims began immigrating to the United States in order to transform American society, sometimes through the use of terrorism.” As FPRI director Harvey Sicherman told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “Well, yes, some people did come to the United States to commit terrorism, and I don’t know how one can quarrel with that sentence.”

While Sicherman and FPRI’s Alan Luxenberg, who wrote Radical Islam, are right to complain that the examples cited by CAIR take their books out of context and unfairly tar a respected and valuable institution with a false charge of religious prejudice, the Muslim group’s agenda isn’t accuracy or tolerance. They regard all mentions of Islamist terrorism — a phenomenon that has become a growing homegrown threat to Americans — as a slur on every Muslim. What they want is to simply remove the conflict with radical Islam from the national conversation.

While it is to be hoped that librarians will reject this call for censorship, CAIR’s Philadelphia branch has demonstrated in the past that it has some friends in high places. In 2007, Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak and Governor Ed Rendell appeared at a CAIR fundraiser in Philadelphia, setting off a firestorm of criticism from friends of Israel. Neither Sestak nor Rendell apologized for their support of the group — though the congressman, who is now running for the Democratic nomination to the Senate against incumbent political turncoat Arlen Specter, has tried to distance himself from the incident. But whether or not this comes back to haunt Sestak at the ballot box, the lesson here is the way a dangerous extremist group has been able to whitewash its past and insinuate itself into the mainstream political debate.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations came into existence in the early 1990s as a political front for the Holy Land Foundation, a group that raised money in the United States for Hamas terrorists and their network of “charitable” institutions. Since then, the Holy Land Foundation was shut down and prosecuted by the federal government. But its CAIR spin-off has survived and prospered as both government agencies and the media have accepted its pose as a Muslim civil-liberties group as well as its rationalizations of terrorism and opposition to the struggle against Islamist extremists.

The latest instance of CAIR’s duplicitous behavior is the campaign being conducted by its Philadelphia branch to censor a series of textbooks on The World of Islam for young readers, produced by Mason Crest Published in partnership with the Foreign Policy Research Institute, an independent think tank. They are particularly angry with one of the ten books in the set titled Radical Islam, which deals with the threat from Islamist groups. CAIR wants the books to be withdrawn from public libraries and schools. Although the books are respectful of Islam and acknowledge that the vast majority of Muslims are neither terrorists nor engaged in spreading hate, they still note the existence of terrorists and Islamists hate groups. While CAIR’s charges of the books being inaccurate are clearly false, their objective is to simply remove all mentions of Muslim terrorism and Islamist ideology from the public square.

For example, the group objects to this line in one the books, Muslims in America: “some Muslims began immigrating to the United States in order to transform American society, sometimes through the use of terrorism.” As FPRI director Harvey Sicherman told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “Well, yes, some people did come to the United States to commit terrorism, and I don’t know how one can quarrel with that sentence.”

While Sicherman and FPRI’s Alan Luxenberg, who wrote Radical Islam, are right to complain that the examples cited by CAIR take their books out of context and unfairly tar a respected and valuable institution with a false charge of religious prejudice, the Muslim group’s agenda isn’t accuracy or tolerance. They regard all mentions of Islamist terrorism — a phenomenon that has become a growing homegrown threat to Americans — as a slur on every Muslim. What they want is to simply remove the conflict with radical Islam from the national conversation.

While it is to be hoped that librarians will reject this call for censorship, CAIR’s Philadelphia branch has demonstrated in the past that it has some friends in high places. In 2007, Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak and Governor Ed Rendell appeared at a CAIR fundraiser in Philadelphia, setting off a firestorm of criticism from friends of Israel. Neither Sestak nor Rendell apologized for their support of the group — though the congressman, who is now running for the Democratic nomination to the Senate against incumbent political turncoat Arlen Specter, has tried to distance himself from the incident. But whether or not this comes back to haunt Sestak at the ballot box, the lesson here is the way a dangerous extremist group has been able to whitewash its past and insinuate itself into the mainstream political debate.

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A Memorial Day Thank You

Writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Arnold Garcia Jr recounts a less-known chapter of the Allies’ slow and bloody advance across war-ravaged Italy in 1944 – The Rapido River battle. In the Allied Italian campaign there were countless such episodes of mass casualties and slaughter, where thousands of American soldiers lost their lives while liberating Italy – and the rest of Europe – from the totalitarian plague of Nazi-Fascism. At the Rapido River battle shows, the Allies were not always victorious – and the conflicts were rarely bloodless.

Today, memories of World War Two have faded – and Europe has adopted a different, less appreciative, view of the United States. It should not be so – the resolve of wartime America to come to Europe’s rescue and the heroism of US soldiers in countless battles should never be forgotten. America is routinely accused of imperialism – and yet, countless fields silently bear witness to a simple fact: the only land ‘imperial’ America ever claimed from other countries is the one needed to bury its fallen heroes.

Had it not been for their sacrifice, Europe would not be what it is today – peaceful, prosperous, and free. On such a day then, I offer thanks to America for saving us from tyranny. Do not pay attention to the anti-Americanism of our chattering classes – Europe is forever indebted to America and its fallen soldiers.

Writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Arnold Garcia Jr recounts a less-known chapter of the Allies’ slow and bloody advance across war-ravaged Italy in 1944 – The Rapido River battle. In the Allied Italian campaign there were countless such episodes of mass casualties and slaughter, where thousands of American soldiers lost their lives while liberating Italy – and the rest of Europe – from the totalitarian plague of Nazi-Fascism. At the Rapido River battle shows, the Allies were not always victorious – and the conflicts were rarely bloodless.

Today, memories of World War Two have faded – and Europe has adopted a different, less appreciative, view of the United States. It should not be so – the resolve of wartime America to come to Europe’s rescue and the heroism of US soldiers in countless battles should never be forgotten. America is routinely accused of imperialism – and yet, countless fields silently bear witness to a simple fact: the only land ‘imperial’ America ever claimed from other countries is the one needed to bury its fallen heroes.

Had it not been for their sacrifice, Europe would not be what it is today – peaceful, prosperous, and free. On such a day then, I offer thanks to America for saving us from tyranny. Do not pay attention to the anti-Americanism of our chattering classes – Europe is forever indebted to America and its fallen soldiers.

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Down the Memory Hole

Imagine, for a moment, that you are the book review editor of a major newspaper, and a book has been written by someone who was a high-level public official deeply involved in what has been the biggest and most controversial story of the past half-decade.

This official has been mentioned in news stories in your paper on hundreds of occasions, your paper’s editorials have regularly railed against him and his colleagues, and your paper’s op-ed columnists have penned an entire oeuvre of scathing indictments of the policies he helped implement. The official, subjected to years of obloquy in your pages, writes an account of his involvement in the story that by any fair estimation is not just detailed and serious, but one of the most important and useful of its kind to date. Do you choose to review the book, or do you simply pretend that it was never written?

The book I’m talking about, of course, is War and Decision, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Doug Feith’s account of his role in the Iraq war. And it is being subjected to an astonishing and shameful blackout from many of America’s biggest newspapers. Noting the decision of the Washington Post and New York Times not to review the book, Rich Lowry wrote, “Apparently it’s OK to heap every failure in Iraq on Feith’s head, but then to turn around and pretend he’s a figure of no consequence when he writes a book.”

Curiosity got the better of me, so I checked to see whether the book has been reviewed by other large newspapers. The MSM does not disappoint: There has been no mention of War and Decision in USA Today, the LA Times, NY Daily News, Houston Chronicle, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, or Miami Herald. What charming behavior from our nation’s journalism professionals. You would think the book interfered with the preferred narrative or something.

Imagine, for a moment, that you are the book review editor of a major newspaper, and a book has been written by someone who was a high-level public official deeply involved in what has been the biggest and most controversial story of the past half-decade.

This official has been mentioned in news stories in your paper on hundreds of occasions, your paper’s editorials have regularly railed against him and his colleagues, and your paper’s op-ed columnists have penned an entire oeuvre of scathing indictments of the policies he helped implement. The official, subjected to years of obloquy in your pages, writes an account of his involvement in the story that by any fair estimation is not just detailed and serious, but one of the most important and useful of its kind to date. Do you choose to review the book, or do you simply pretend that it was never written?

The book I’m talking about, of course, is War and Decision, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Doug Feith’s account of his role in the Iraq war. And it is being subjected to an astonishing and shameful blackout from many of America’s biggest newspapers. Noting the decision of the Washington Post and New York Times not to review the book, Rich Lowry wrote, “Apparently it’s OK to heap every failure in Iraq on Feith’s head, but then to turn around and pretend he’s a figure of no consequence when he writes a book.”

Curiosity got the better of me, so I checked to see whether the book has been reviewed by other large newspapers. The MSM does not disappoint: There has been no mention of War and Decision in USA Today, the LA Times, NY Daily News, Houston Chronicle, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, or Miami Herald. What charming behavior from our nation’s journalism professionals. You would think the book interfered with the preferred narrative or something.

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The Post-Mortem

There are a few strains of post-debate coverage today. Some (including the Philadelphia Inquirer) see the debate as semi-disastrous for Barack Obama and the spin from the Obama camp as self-contradictory. Others, including online reporters and high-octane MSM outlets like the New York Times and Chicago Tribune, have picked up on the Bill Ayers and handgun answers.

Then there is the meldown in the Left blogosphere, apparently mortified that Obama had to answer these questions. But some concede that The Great Orator simply did not do his job. So it is to be expected that the Clinton camp is doing a victory dance. They are having a field day reinforcing favorite themes (Obama has a glass jaw, is untested, and can’t take scrutiny).

But, alas, the latter only serves to emphasize the former: the louder Obama’s fans whine, the more obvious it is that their candidate bombed and that tough questions are Obama’s kryptonite. It would be best for the Obama supporters to say it doesn’t matter, they’re all only words, words, words. Oh, wait: maybe not. . .

There are a few strains of post-debate coverage today. Some (including the Philadelphia Inquirer) see the debate as semi-disastrous for Barack Obama and the spin from the Obama camp as self-contradictory. Others, including online reporters and high-octane MSM outlets like the New York Times and Chicago Tribune, have picked up on the Bill Ayers and handgun answers.

Then there is the meldown in the Left blogosphere, apparently mortified that Obama had to answer these questions. But some concede that The Great Orator simply did not do his job. So it is to be expected that the Clinton camp is doing a victory dance. They are having a field day reinforcing favorite themes (Obama has a glass jaw, is untested, and can’t take scrutiny).

But, alas, the latter only serves to emphasize the former: the louder Obama’s fans whine, the more obvious it is that their candidate bombed and that tough questions are Obama’s kryptonite. It would be best for the Obama supporters to say it doesn’t matter, they’re all only words, words, words. Oh, wait: maybe not. . .

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Bring the Boys Home

All Americans, Right and Left, want America to exit from Iraq. No one wants to see another year of carnage, of American casualties, of mourning families. But when and how should we bring them back?

Last March, Barack Obama was roundly criticized, and compelled to apologize, for saying that “[w]e’ve wasted a lot of our most precious treasure, which is American lives, “over there” in Iraq. If Obama’s choice of words was poor, his point was sound — but only in an ironic sense. For if his own proposal for a hasty withdrawal from Iraq were ever implemented, the lives of our boys and girls would indeed have been wasted as Iraq disintegrated into chaos, becoming the kind of breeding ground for terrorists that would undoubtedly compel us one day to return.

Now another presidential candidate, John Edwards, has set forward his own proposal for wasting American lives. According to a story by Michael Gordon in today’s New York Times, Edwards says “that if elected president he would withdraw the American troops who are training the Iraqi army and police as part of a broader plan to remove virtually all American forces within 10 months.” This of course goes further than Hillary Clinton and Obama; both of them say they would keep American trainers and counterterrorism forces in Iraq for some unspecified period.

What would be the likely consequences of following Edwards’ — or for that matter, Hillary Clinton or Obama’s — advice? Gordon points out that a January 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq “warned that the withdrawal of American troops over the ensuing 12 to 18 months would probably lead to ‘massive civilian casualties and forced population displacement.’” True, some NIE’s lately have been very wide of the mark; but given the impressive but still precarious nature of the security improvements brought about by the surge, the January 2007 assessment remains pertinent.

But there are ways to bring some forces home now without wasting the precious lives of our soldiers. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports today that the Air Force’s usage of remotely piloted drones has significantly increased over the past year, and the total flight time has now reached 500,000 hours in the sky.

Air Force officials said Predator flights steadily increased last year, from about 2,000 hours in January to more than 4,300 in October. They are expected to continue to escalate when hours are calculated for November and December, because the number of combat air patrols increased from about 14 per day to 18.

“The demand far exceeds all of the Defense Department’s ability to provide [these] assets,” said Lt. Col. Larry Gurgainous, deputy director of the Air Force’s unmanned-aircraft task force. “And as we buy and field more systems, you will see it continue to go up.”

The pilots flying these craft, operating out of bases in less-than-dangerous locations like Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, are able to do some very dangerous things.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJ7nw1v3LUc[/youtube]

If anything, the boys who can do such things stateside are the ones to bring home. But Connecting the Dots is still left with one question: is it really possible that next November American voters would go for a man with a plan to bring home even the U.S. trainers of the fledgling Iraqi army and police? Would that be an act of statesmanship, or of dishonor and even madness?

All Americans, Right and Left, want America to exit from Iraq. No one wants to see another year of carnage, of American casualties, of mourning families. But when and how should we bring them back?

Last March, Barack Obama was roundly criticized, and compelled to apologize, for saying that “[w]e’ve wasted a lot of our most precious treasure, which is American lives, “over there” in Iraq. If Obama’s choice of words was poor, his point was sound — but only in an ironic sense. For if his own proposal for a hasty withdrawal from Iraq were ever implemented, the lives of our boys and girls would indeed have been wasted as Iraq disintegrated into chaos, becoming the kind of breeding ground for terrorists that would undoubtedly compel us one day to return.

Now another presidential candidate, John Edwards, has set forward his own proposal for wasting American lives. According to a story by Michael Gordon in today’s New York Times, Edwards says “that if elected president he would withdraw the American troops who are training the Iraqi army and police as part of a broader plan to remove virtually all American forces within 10 months.” This of course goes further than Hillary Clinton and Obama; both of them say they would keep American trainers and counterterrorism forces in Iraq for some unspecified period.

What would be the likely consequences of following Edwards’ — or for that matter, Hillary Clinton or Obama’s — advice? Gordon points out that a January 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq “warned that the withdrawal of American troops over the ensuing 12 to 18 months would probably lead to ‘massive civilian casualties and forced population displacement.’” True, some NIE’s lately have been very wide of the mark; but given the impressive but still precarious nature of the security improvements brought about by the surge, the January 2007 assessment remains pertinent.

But there are ways to bring some forces home now without wasting the precious lives of our soldiers. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports today that the Air Force’s usage of remotely piloted drones has significantly increased over the past year, and the total flight time has now reached 500,000 hours in the sky.

Air Force officials said Predator flights steadily increased last year, from about 2,000 hours in January to more than 4,300 in October. They are expected to continue to escalate when hours are calculated for November and December, because the number of combat air patrols increased from about 14 per day to 18.

“The demand far exceeds all of the Defense Department’s ability to provide [these] assets,” said Lt. Col. Larry Gurgainous, deputy director of the Air Force’s unmanned-aircraft task force. “And as we buy and field more systems, you will see it continue to go up.”

The pilots flying these craft, operating out of bases in less-than-dangerous locations like Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, are able to do some very dangerous things.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJ7nw1v3LUc[/youtube]

If anything, the boys who can do such things stateside are the ones to bring home. But Connecting the Dots is still left with one question: is it really possible that next November American voters would go for a man with a plan to bring home even the U.S. trainers of the fledgling Iraqi army and police? Would that be an act of statesmanship, or of dishonor and even madness?

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Cartoons After Columbia

Unctuous bows, veiled threats, and smug mockery do not an edifying speech make, but Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s performance at Columbia University offers at least one consolation: the cartoons. The utter absurdity of the event has drawn forth a pageant of arresting editorial cartoons, some quite amusing. But only one managed to capture its essential grotesqueness—the ostentatious display of tolerance to a man whose most notable characteristic is his murderous intolerance, killing with roadside bombs today and atomic weapons tomorrow.

Presumably because of the pressure of deadlines, most cartoonists did not deal with the substance of the Iranian president’s talk, and depicted the event only in generic terms. Ed Stein of the Rocky Mountain News, for example, simply showed the worm in the Big Apple. Others focused on the theme of free speech. Pat Oliphant showed a disdainful Statue of Liberty, holding a diminutive Ahmadinejad at arm’s length as he jabbers away harmlessly; for Tom Toles, Columbia gave its speaker a rope long enough with which to hang himself, the noose labeled “free speech.”

Those who waited until after the speech to draw produced more penetrating images. Jerry Holbert of the Boston Herald had Ahmadinejad telling a politically incorrect joke (“a bunch of American infidels, a rabbi, and a suicide bomber walk into a bar”), which, while amusing, was not enough removed from reality to be truly funny. Far less amusing was the smattering of cartoonists who evidently have no objection to Ahmadinejad at all. Some like Tony Auth, the graphically inept cartoonist of the Philadelphia Inquirer, did not even think the event worthy of note. But then this discreet silence is preferable to the work of Lalo Alcaraz, who writes the daily comic strip La Cucaracha. His cartoon showed the Iranian under a sign labeled Republican Party Dept. of Homosexual Control, sitting between a photograph of President Bush and a sign “22 days gay free.” In other words, the only real problem Alcaraz finds with Ahmadinejad, whose regime enforces the public execution of homosexuals, is that the Iranian leader reminds the cartoonist of Republicans—whose actions might just conceivably remove the death threat from those same homosexuals.

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Unctuous bows, veiled threats, and smug mockery do not an edifying speech make, but Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s performance at Columbia University offers at least one consolation: the cartoons. The utter absurdity of the event has drawn forth a pageant of arresting editorial cartoons, some quite amusing. But only one managed to capture its essential grotesqueness—the ostentatious display of tolerance to a man whose most notable characteristic is his murderous intolerance, killing with roadside bombs today and atomic weapons tomorrow.

Presumably because of the pressure of deadlines, most cartoonists did not deal with the substance of the Iranian president’s talk, and depicted the event only in generic terms. Ed Stein of the Rocky Mountain News, for example, simply showed the worm in the Big Apple. Others focused on the theme of free speech. Pat Oliphant showed a disdainful Statue of Liberty, holding a diminutive Ahmadinejad at arm’s length as he jabbers away harmlessly; for Tom Toles, Columbia gave its speaker a rope long enough with which to hang himself, the noose labeled “free speech.”

Those who waited until after the speech to draw produced more penetrating images. Jerry Holbert of the Boston Herald had Ahmadinejad telling a politically incorrect joke (“a bunch of American infidels, a rabbi, and a suicide bomber walk into a bar”), which, while amusing, was not enough removed from reality to be truly funny. Far less amusing was the smattering of cartoonists who evidently have no objection to Ahmadinejad at all. Some like Tony Auth, the graphically inept cartoonist of the Philadelphia Inquirer, did not even think the event worthy of note. But then this discreet silence is preferable to the work of Lalo Alcaraz, who writes the daily comic strip La Cucaracha. His cartoon showed the Iranian under a sign labeled Republican Party Dept. of Homosexual Control, sitting between a photograph of President Bush and a sign “22 days gay free.” In other words, the only real problem Alcaraz finds with Ahmadinejad, whose regime enforces the public execution of homosexuals, is that the Iranian leader reminds the cartoonist of Republicans—whose actions might just conceivably remove the death threat from those same homosexuals.

In compensation for this, the event has produced at least one instant classic. In the cartoon by Sean Delonas of the New York Post, Ahmadinejad is shown at the podium as he calls on a questioner, saying “One last question, yes, the gentleman in the back.” Our point of view is from behind Ahmadinejad, and we must peer deep into the crowd to see the questioner, a skeletal concentration camp victim, in his stripes and yellow star. He wears a mournful and weary expression, and we are not even certain if he is dead or alive.

In every sense it is a masterpiece. Most editorial cartoonists think schematically, like Toles or Stein, placing cut-out figures on flat backgrounds. But Delonas typically employs dramatic perspective, as here with the haunting juxtaposition of foreground and background. Rather than a self-contained visual pun entailing a single joke, Delonas’s image implies much more than it shows, and we can’t help but imagine what is about to be said. Whatever the reason, it does what all successful graphic art must do: present an unforgettable image that resonates in the mind. It is a work of great dignity that almost washes away the vicious agitprop of Alcaraz.

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“Chunky Jello Salad”?

The plan to move the Barnes Foundation from suburban Merion to central Philadelphia took another step forward last Friday when a short list of six architects was announced. The Barnes, of course, houses the peerless collection of post-Impressionist and modernist paintings of Dr. Albert C. Barnes, which until recently was accessible only to the students of his idiosyncratic school of art. Since a controversial 2004 court decision permitted the trustees of the Barnes to relocate its collection to a site near the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the foundation has been preparing to build a new museum.

According to Inga Saffron, architecture critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer, the short list is a fashionable roster of current celebrities: Rafael Moneo, the Spanish designer of the new Los Angeles Catholic Cathedral; Tadao Ando, the Japanese specialist in museum architecture; Thom Mayne of Morphosis, a Los Angeles firm whose work has an assertively theoretical character; and Kengo Kuma, a Japanese minimalist who works with traditional materials. The final two firms on the list, coincidentally, are the husband-and-wife teams I mentioned here last week: Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, designers of the American Folk Art Museum, and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, whose Institute of Contemporary Art opened in Boston last fall.

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The plan to move the Barnes Foundation from suburban Merion to central Philadelphia took another step forward last Friday when a short list of six architects was announced. The Barnes, of course, houses the peerless collection of post-Impressionist and modernist paintings of Dr. Albert C. Barnes, which until recently was accessible only to the students of his idiosyncratic school of art. Since a controversial 2004 court decision permitted the trustees of the Barnes to relocate its collection to a site near the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the foundation has been preparing to build a new museum.

According to Inga Saffron, architecture critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer, the short list is a fashionable roster of current celebrities: Rafael Moneo, the Spanish designer of the new Los Angeles Catholic Cathedral; Tadao Ando, the Japanese specialist in museum architecture; Thom Mayne of Morphosis, a Los Angeles firm whose work has an assertively theoretical character; and Kengo Kuma, a Japanese minimalist who works with traditional materials. The final two firms on the list, coincidentally, are the husband-and-wife teams I mentioned here last week: Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, designers of the American Folk Art Museum, and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, whose Institute of Contemporary Art opened in Boston last fall.

The list is revealing. Note the conspicuous absence of such “starchitects” as Frank Gehry and Richard Meier, but also the absence of local firms and firms with no celebrity status whatsoever. None are signature architects, possessing immediately recognizable personal styles. Evidently the Barnes does want celebrity architects—but, as much as possible, pliable ones.

It remains unclear precisely what the chosen firm will do. According to the court decision, the new building must replicate exactly the layout, proportion, and materials of the original galleries, as well as Barnes’s famously eccentric hanging scheme. There is little scope for invention, other than in the way this simulacrum is to be enclosed. I spoke with Andrew Blanda, of the Philadelphia firm Sandvold/Blanda, who was interviewed for the Inquirer article. His prediction: “I’m betting that the effect will be like a chunky jello salad: blocks of galleries encased in a glassy shell of nebulous public space.” Those who dread this prospect might want to pay a visit to Paul Cret’s stately classical pavilion before it’s too late.

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Big-Screen Spartans

No one is going to confuse 300, Zack Snyder’s film about the battle of Thermopylae, with Citizen Kane. Adapted from Frank Miller’s graphic novel, it is in essence an animated comic book, its lavish sets and special effects created entirely by computer. Computers seem to have generated the dialogue as well; characters speak in the sort of timber-hewn oratory last heard from Victor Mature in his sword-and-sandal spectacles of the 1950′s.

This is not the worst of it. The film’s creators seem not to have trusted the story itself, which they have tinkered with shamelessly. Evidently it is insufficiently dramatic that three hundred Spartans sacrificed themselves 2500 years ago, holding off the Persian army long enough for the Greek city-states to rally. That story must be tarted up with prehistoric wolves, eight-foot giants, and a monstrous hunchback straight from the set of Lord of the Rings. As is often the case with surgical enhancements, something stately and simple has been disfigured beyond recognition.

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No one is going to confuse 300, Zack Snyder’s film about the battle of Thermopylae, with Citizen Kane. Adapted from Frank Miller’s graphic novel, it is in essence an animated comic book, its lavish sets and special effects created entirely by computer. Computers seem to have generated the dialogue as well; characters speak in the sort of timber-hewn oratory last heard from Victor Mature in his sword-and-sandal spectacles of the 1950′s.

This is not the worst of it. The film’s creators seem not to have trusted the story itself, which they have tinkered with shamelessly. Evidently it is insufficiently dramatic that three hundred Spartans sacrificed themselves 2500 years ago, holding off the Persian army long enough for the Greek city-states to rally. That story must be tarted up with prehistoric wolves, eight-foot giants, and a monstrous hunchback straight from the set of Lord of the Rings. As is often the case with surgical enhancements, something stately and simple has been disfigured beyond recognition.

Equally distorted is the film’s morality. The Spartan king Leonidas speaks thunderously against Persian cruelty and despotism, although we see that the Spartans practice a merciless form of eugenics as state policy (at the film’s beginning we learn that they toss sickly infants from cliffs), an exaggerated nod to the tyrannic propensities of the historical Spartan state. And Leonidas’s denunciations of the Persians have (somewhat predictably) called forth condemnation: the film is “simple propaganda, demonizing an alien enemy” (Philadelphia Inquirer) or “race-baiting fantasy and nationalist myth” that might easily serve as an incitement to total war (Slate). (It has even been attacked, in the modern-day counterpart of Persia, as “psychological warfare aimed at the Iranian culture.”)

But despite the worries of film critics, 300 contains not a jot of the considerable skill needed to create effective propaganda. Snyder’s ham-handedness reveals itself in the film’s odd juxtaposition of stupefying brutality and a quaint idealism of valor, resolve, and self-sacrifice—which are blithely depicted, amid the cartoonish gore, as noble qualities toward which one should aspire.

Still, a mediocre or downright bad work of art can be, oddly, more revealing than a great one: it often brings to light the broadest cultural forces and longings of an era. To judge from its unexpected box office success, 300 certainly satisfies some need. It is worth pondering what is filling the seats: a love of violent spectacle or a still-strong admiration for martial valor and self-sacrifice. One hopes it is the latter.

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