Saturday, October 21, 2006

Ron Cook: A special manager has his team in a special place

Saturday, October 21, 2006
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

By next weekend, if things go as expected and Detroit beats St. Louis in the World Series that starts tonight at Detroit's Comerica Park, the baseball world will know what Cardinals manager Tony La Russa and at least one of us here figured out a long time ago.

"Jim Leyland," La Russa said several years back, "is the most perfect baseball manager I've ever been around."

One of the best of all time, too.

Even Leyland's most stubborn critics, who always will hold a misguided grudge against him because he left the Pirates a decade ago, will have to recognize his special place in the game if his Tigers take out the Cardinals. A lot of managers have won a World Series -- somebody does every season -- but only 21 have won two or more championships. Leyland would be No. 22.
That would separate him from five of the 16 managers in the Hall of Fame and from three of the top nine managers with the most wins, including La Russa .

Leyland and La Russa -- best friends since Leyland was La Russa's third-base coach with the Chicago White Sox from 1982-85 -- also are chasing an even rarer piece of baseball history. One will join Sparky Anderson as the only managers to win a World Series in both the American and National Leagues. Leyland won with the 1997 Florida Marlins, La Russa the '89 Oakland Athletics.

When told this week about what's at stake, Leyland's reaction was typically blunt and profane.
"I don't care about any of that [stuff]. I just want to win the World Series. I don't care if it puts me in a special place in the record books. I just want my team to be the champions of 2006."

Absolutely no one expected Leyland and the Tigers to be in this position this quickly. The team had been almost Pirates-like, losing 91 games last season, its 12th consecutive losing season.
Even Leyland said he would have been thrilled if the Tigers had finished a game or two over .500. "I was thinking we would get in there and professionalize 'em, show 'em the right way to go about their business and take our shot next year."

Maybe it happened faster than anyone imagined, but you just knew Leyland was going to be successful with the Tigers. He performed a similar resurrection with the Pirates, taking over a team that lost 104 games in 1985 and leading it to its only four winning seasons in the past 23 years, including three consecutive division championships in the early 1990s. It's sad to think he'd probably still be here if Kevin McClatchy hadn't traded his team out from under him in '96.

It's not just Leyland's phenomenal grip on the intricacies of baseball strategy that makes him so good, although you could go a whole season and not question more than two of his moves. It's the way he works his clubhouse. He makes it a point to speak to every player every day.
Usually, it's just a passing word -- obscene and humorous, no doubt -- as he makes his way around the field during batting practice, fungo bat in hand. But when a more in-depth conversation is needed -- either as a supportive pat on the back or a motivating kick in the rear -- he's there to provide that, too. Early this season, he tore into one of his players in front of the rest of the team after he felt the player showed up third base coach Gene Lamont.

Does that remind you of Leyland's blowup with Barry Bonds in the spring of '91 or what?

"I really didn't do anything different from what I did in Pittsburgh," Leyland said. "I just told 'em, 'I don't have all the answers, but I know the right way to do things. If you don't like it, go somewhere else ...'

"What did I have to lose? What were they going to do? Fire me and send me home with the kids? That wouldn't be such a bad thing, would it?"

Like always, Leyland found the right message for his team at the right time.

After an early season loss in which Leyland felt his players went through the motions, he lit into them. "I never ask 'em to win. I only ask that they prepare to win."

After another early loss when the players were hanging their heads, Leyland lit into them again in a much different way. "All that feeling sorry for themselves only showed me they were a losing team. Winners know they're going to win tomorrow."

After the Tigers limped to the regular-season finish line by going 19-31, Leyland was a source of strength. "We're no fluke team. We ended up winning two less games than the New York Yankees."

After the Tigers were beaten by the powerful Yankees in Game 1 of their divisional playoff series and were written off by everybody, Leyland was defiant. "It's not like we brought the junior varsity."

The Tigers haven't lost since, stunning the Yankees and sweeping the Athletics, winning seven consecutive games, the past six by three or more runs.

The man has some touch.

Leyland's players know it and showed it by carrying him off the field after they beat the Yankees, something that's hardly ever done in baseball. Then again, if memory serves, the Pirates also carried Leyland off after those three division titles.

This is a special man, a special manager.

How much different Leyland must have felt on his players' shoulders at Comerica Park than he did on the day in '99 when he announced he was quitting as the Colorado Rockies' manager after just one season. He wasn't himself then, had burned out on the job and felt like he was stealing money.

How the critics harped then. They pointed out how Leyland bailed on the Rockies just as he had the Marlins and Pirates. What they never mentioned and still don't is how McClatchy encouraged Leyland to leave Pittsburgh and take his $1 million salary with him, how Leyland stayed with the Marlins through a 54-108 season in '98 after management had cut payroll to the bare bone and how he left behind $4.5 million when he walked in Colorado.

"I'm no jumper," Leyland once said, a fact supported by the 18 years he spent in the Tigers' minor-league system and the 11 seasons he spent with the Pirates.

But that's a fight Leyland never will win. He accepted that long ago. "My career is what it is. I don't care what anyone else thinks." What he couldn't come to peace with was the way he left the game as a manager. He kept trying to tell himself and everyone else that he was happy as a scout -- "If I manage anything again, it will be a K-mart," he said as recently as the summer of '04 -- but you had the sense he didn't really believe it.

"I didn't want to go out that way," Leyland said this week. "I was embarrassed by what happened in Colorado. It killed me.

"I needed to come back for me."

Leyland was hurt when the Philadelphia Phillies didn't hire him after the '04 season, then hurt again when the Pirates didn't consider him after the '05 season. It's safe to say the Phillies' and Pirates' loss is the Tigers' gain. Detroit's team is just four wins away from completing one of sports' all-time great success stories.

"It's all because of the players," Leyland said.


(Ron Cook can be reached at or 412-263-1525. )

Friday, October 20, 2006

Film Review: "Flags of Our Fathers"

Clint Eastwood examines the Allied invasion of Iwo Jima in "Flags of Our Fathers."

Published: October 20, 2006

It seems hard to believe there is anything left to say about World War II that has not already been stated and restated, chewed, digested and spat out for your consideration and that of the Oscar voters. And yet here, at age 76, is Clint Eastwood saying something new and vital about the war in his new film, and here, too, is this great, gray battleship of a man and a movie icon saying something new and urgent about the uses of war and of the men who fight. “Flags of Our Fathers” concerns one of the most lethal encounters on that distant battlefield, but make no mistake: this is also a work of its own politically fraught moment.

The film distills much of the material covered in James Bradley and Ron Powers’s affecting book of the same title about the raising of the American flag during the battle for Iwo Jima. Mr. Bradley’s father, John Bradley, nicknamed Doc and played by an effectively restrained Ryan Phillippe, was one of six men who helped plant the flag (it was the second planted that day) on the island’s highest point on the fifth day of the monthlong American offensive. An Associated Press photographer, Joe Rosenthal, immortalized the moment, and American politicians seized the day, sending the three surviving flag raisers — Doc, Ira Hayes (Adam Beach, delivering heartbreak by the payload) and Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford) — on a hugely successful war-bond drive.

Collectively hailed as heroes from sea to shining sea, Rene embraced the spotlight, Doc settled into stoic unhappiness, while Ira, a Pima Indian shattered by Iwo Jima and its dead, sobbed and drank himself into oblivion. The efforts of Doc’s adult son (Tom McCarthy) to tell his father’s story years later give the film its scaffolding, but it is Mr. Beach’s Ira, with his open face and vulnerability, who haunts it. Tears mixing with booze, he floods his scenes with raw emotion that serves as a rebuke to gung-ho fictions like “Sands of Iwo Jima,” a 1949 bad joke in which John Wayne hands an American flag to the real Ira, Doc and Rene so they can raise Old Glory once more, this time over the sands of Southern California.

Mr. Eastwood’s cinematic deconstruction takes a considerably darker view of the historical record. The Air Force had repeatedly bombed Iwo Jima before the American landing on Feb. 19, 1945; by D-Day, barely a blade of grass survived, even as more than 20,000 Japanese soldiers remained dug in. To replicate that scorched earth, Mr. Eastwood drains much of the color from the film’s already muted palette, so much so that many of the scenes on the island look as if they were shot in black and white. It seems impossible that anything living could survive long in this charred, spooky place, and it isn’t long after the invasion that American bodies begin piling up amid the orange-red explosions and dull-red sprays of blood.

During these anxious moments, Mr. Eastwood characteristically keeps his sights (and ears) on the troops and the choreographed chaos of their movements; the focus remains on them, not the filmmaking. When the men hit the shore, the cameras stick close to them, moving and then, during a sudden hailstorm of bullets, running alongside the men as if similarly searching for cover. Despite the occasional bird’s-eye view that underscores the staggering scale of the operation — the hundreds of boats hugging the coast, the thousands of men dotting the land — the filmmaking retains a devastating intimacy, as in a quiet shot of dead soldiers lying facedown on the beach, the water under their bodies receding as if it were blood.

The scenes on Iwo Jima are harrowing, borderline surreal, and even after Doc, Ira and Rene leave the island, they never fully escape it. During the bond drive, the pop of a camera bulb, a flash of lightning and the bang of a backfiring car engine instantly return the three to the island and its horrors, a blurring between past and present that, with seamless, ruthless efficiency, Mr. Eastwood and his longtime editor, Joel Cox, turn into a dreadful memory loop. In Mr. Bradley and Mr. Powers’s book, one Iwo Jima veteran describes seeing his dead friends while sitting in class at medical school; the flashbacks, he says, were “like a movie screen wrapped around me.” We see a version of that movie here, and it is terrible.

Most war movies, even those that claim to be antiwar, overtly or implicitly embrace violence as either a political or cinematic means to an end. Few filmmakers can resist the thrill of the rocket’s red glare and the spectacle of death; the violence is simply too exciting. There are plenty of big bangs in “Flags of Our Fathers,” but because the screenplay, by William Broyles Jr. and Paul Haggis, oscillates among three separate time frames — Iwo Jima, the bond tour and, less successfully, contemporary scenes involving Doc and his son — and because the flag raisers were pulled off the field before fighting ended, the violence of their war remains at a frenzied pitch. It doesn’t build, evolve, recede; it terrifies and keeps terrifying.

What do we want from war films? Entertainment, mostly, a few hours’ escape to other lands and times, as well as something excitingly different, something reassuringly familiar. If “Flags of Our Fathers” feels so unlike most war movies and sounds so contrary to the usual political rhetoric, it is not because it affirms that war is hell, which it does with unblinking, graphic brutality. It’s because Mr. Eastwood insists, with a moral certitude that is all too rare in our movies, that we extract an unspeakable cost when we ask men to kill other men. There is never any doubt in the film that the country needed to fight this war, that it was necessary; it is the horror at such necessity that defines “Flags of Our Fathers,” not exultation.

In this respect, the film works, among other things, as a gentle corrective to Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan,” with its state-of-the-art carnage and storybook neatness. (Mr. Spielberg, whose company bought the film rights to “Flags of Our Fathers,” is one of its producers.) Where “Saving Private Ryan” offers technique, Mr. Eastwood’s film suggests metaphysics. Once again, he takes us into the heart of violence and into the hearts of men, seeing where they converge under a night sky as brightly lighted with explosions as any Fourth of July nocturne and in caves where some soldiers are tortured to death and others surrender to madness. He gives us men whose failings are evidence of their humanity and who are, contrary to our revolted sensitivities, no less human because they kill.

One view of Mr. Eastwood is that he has mellowed with age, or at least begun to take serious measure of the violence that has been an animating force in many of his films. In truth, the critical establishment caught up with the director, who for decades has been building a fascinating body of work that considers annihilating violence as a condition of the American character, not an aberration. “Flags of Our Fathers” is an imperfect addition to that body of work, though its flaws are minor and finally irrelevant in a film in which ambivalence and ambiguity are constituent of a worldview, not an aftereffect. Notably, Mr. Eastwood’s next film, “Letters From Iwo Jima,” set to open early next year, revisits the same battle, this time from the point of view of the Japanese.

“Flags of Our Fathers” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). The representation of war and its battlefield atrocities is extremely graphic.


Opens today nationwide.

Directed by Clint Eastwood; written by William Broyles Jr. and Paul Haggis, based on the book by James Bradley with Ron Powers; director of photography, Tom Stern; edited by Joel Cox; music by Mr. Eastwood; production designer, Henry Bumstead; produced by Mr. Eastwood, Steven Spielberg and Robert Lorenz; released by Paramount Pictures. Running time: 132 minutes.

WITH: Ryan Phillippe (John Bradley), Jesse Bradford (Rene Gagnon), Adam Beach (Ira Hayes), John Benjamin Hickey (Keyes Beech), John Slattery (Bud Gurber), Barry Pepper (Mike Strank), Jamie Bell (Ralph Ignatowski), Paul Walker (Hank Hansen) and Robert Patrick (Col. Chandler Johnson).

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Denis MacShane: Britain's Surrender to Radical Islam

Denis MacShane
October 19, 2006

At long last, the debate on Islamism as politics, not Islam as religion, is out in the open. Two weeks ago, Jack Straw might have felt he was taking a risk when publishing his now notorious article on the Muslim veil. However, he was pushing at an open door. From across the political spectrum there is now common consent that the old multicultural emperor, before whom generation of politicians have made obeisance, is now a pitiful, naked sight.

The 10,000 Muslims in my constituency of Rotherham can only benefit from removing the dead hand of ideological Islamism – allowing their faith to be respected and their children to flourish in a Britain that finally wakes up to what must be done. Despite the efforts of extremists to prevent any sort of rational debate about the place of Islam in Britain, it is at last happening.

A fight-back is beginning to reclaim Britain from the grip of those who refuse to acknowledge the centrality of British values of tolerance, fair play and parliamentary democratic freedoms – notably those of free speech and respect for all religions, but supremacy for none. Voltaire noted this attribute of the English three centuries ago, when he wrote: "If there was just one religion in Britain there would be despotism. If two, there would be civil war. But as there are 30, they all live at peace with each other."

It is worth returning to Voltaire on this issue. The struggle is not between religion and secularism, nor between the West and Islam, and still less between Bush-Blair and the Taliban or Iraqi insurgents. It is the ideologisation – an ugly word for an ugly thing – of religion that needs confronting. Return to Voltaire who noted, "Neither Montaigne, Locke, Boyle, Spinoza, Hobbes, or Lord Shaftesbury lighted up the firebrand of discord in their countries; this has generally been the work of divines, who, being at first puffed up with the ambition of becoming chiefs of a sect, soon grew very desirous of being at the head of a party."

The row ignited by Jack Straw has, so to speak, ripped away the veil over the failure of British policy-makers since the 1980s to come to grips with growing ideological Islamism in our midst.

In David Blunkett's diaries, he refers to the arrest of the Finsbury Park radical Islamist imam, Abu Hamza, in January 2003. Mr Blunkett records: "We had been to-ing and fro-ing on this for months." For months! For years, every other politician in Europe had been complaining about the failure of Britain to act against Hamza and the other ideologues of hate who were turning young Muslim minds – long before 9/11 or the Iraq conflict – into cauldrons of hate against democracy, and some, tragically, into self-immolating killers of innocent men, women and children.

Where Blunkett and previous ministers failed to act, it has taken a young, devoutly religious Christian politician, in the form of Ruth Kelly, who knows the difference between private faith and public politics, to come forward and to speak en clair to organisations and ideologues who believed that their world view would – and should – overcome British values and traditions.

An all-party commission on anti-Semitism that I chaired reported recently. Our most worrying discovery was the complacency on many university campuses about harassment of Jewish students. Jew-baiting behaviour that would have had the Left outraged in the 1930s is now actively encouraged by an unholy alliance of the hard Left and Islamist fundamentalists, and the odious anti-Semites who have infiltrated some lecturers' unions. Ruth Kelly, whose fealty to her faith matches that of any deeply religious British Muslim, is right to make clear there are now limits which must not be overstepped.

As a Foreign Office minister, I tried to get Whitehall to take the issue seriously. I argued that diplomats who spoke relevant languages should go and talk, discuss and report back to ministers.

Chinese walls in Whitehall prevented effective inter-departmental co-operation. The Home Office, in addition to allowing Hamza to poison the minds of a generation, refused to return to France Rashid Ramda, who was wanted for questioning in connection with the 1995 Paris Metro bombings – a foretaste of our own 7/7. I hated having to go on French television and waffle defensively at a policy of not extraditing this evil man. But the prevailing culture was to deal with religious leaders, not elected politicians. Whitehall sought the advice of friendly theologians from Cairo, or Muslim ideologues such as Tariq Ramadan. This denied political space to British citizens of Muslim faith, women as well as men.

Late in 2003, I made a routine speech to my constituency. It followed the murder of British and Turkish men and women at our consulate in Istanbul by Islamist terrorists. At the same time, a young South Yorkshire Muslim had gone to Israel and killed himself in a suicide bombing attack.

The two events led me to make a speech in which I said: "It is time for the elected and community leaders of British Muslims to make a choice: it is the democratic, rule of law, if you like the British or Turkish or American or European way – based on political dialogue and non-violent protests – or it is the way of the terrorists against which the whole democratic world is now uniting." I thought my remarks were banal. After 7/7, everyone used them.

But, three years ago, the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, Trevor Phillips wrote a whole page in the Observer denouncing me. The Foreign Office and Downing Street would not allow me to defend my position. It was an ugly, uncomfortable time, as no one in Whitehall or the media showed any support for efforts to get a debate going on issues that today rightly predominate. Red boxes are here today and gone tomorrow. But if a minister is to be dismissed for telling the truth, even if the telling of the truth is not perfectly timed, then this or any government is in trouble.

Islamist politics is now one of the most important issues for the future of democracy. Getting the right answers will define the world's future. All main parties, other than the odious BNP, rightly shun Islamophobia. British Muslims will be welcome at Eid parties in the Commons to celebrate the end of Ramadan. But we have to find answers to calls for censorship, to celebrations of jihadist terror, or a religiously ordained world view that denies equal rights for women or gays here and in Afghanistan.

Some difficult politics lies ahead. It is bizarre that neither David Cameron nor Sir Menzies Campbell have spoken. At some stage, the metro-populism of Notting Hill will have to engage with the worries of British citizens who understand a problem long before Whitehall gets it.

There is a new generation of British Muslims who want to engage in politics and reclaim the issues that concern their communities from religious-based outfits or those who see their task as importing foreign conflicts into domestic British politics.

They must be encouraged before it is too late. From Margaret Thatcher, until very recently Tony Blair, political leaders have been in denial. It is time to wake up.

Denis MacShane is Labour MP for Rotherham and worked at the Foreign Office as PPS and minister, 1997-2005.

Ann Coulter: O.J. Trials for Terrorists

Ann Coulter
October 19, 2006

The Democrats claim they want to treat terrorism as a criminal law problem, but when we give them an American citizen convicted of aiding terrorists – as happened this week – a Democrat judge gives her a slap on the wrist. Or he was going to give her a wrist slap until someone told him that wrist slapping was banned under the Geneva Conventions, so he let the wrist off with a warning.

Last year, a New York jury found Lynne Stewart guilty of helping her former client, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, communicate with his Egyptian-based group of murderous terrorists, appropriately known as "the Islamic Group."

The blind sheik needed to instruct his followers to abandon a truce and resume murdering innocents, but he couldn't get the message through because, by sheer coincidence, he was in prison for conspiring to murder innocents here in America by plotting the first World Trade Center bombing. So Stewart and a "translator" met with her former client in prison and took his messages for transmission to his followers in Egypt.

With the full constitutional protections Democrats want for terrorists in Guantanamo, Stewart was convicted by a New York jury last year.

This week, Judge John Koeltl – appointed to the bench by President Bill Clinton in 1994 – spurned the prosecution's request for a 30-year sentence and gave Stewart 28 months for being a terrorist's mule. Now she'll clog up the criminal justice system with endless appeals for the next several years – using procedures that leftists also want for Guantanamo detainees.

At Stewart's sentencing, the judge noted that the defendant's actions had not resulted in any deaths. I'll have to remember that in case I'm ever on trial for attempted murder. "Hey, your honor, did I mention that the guy lived? Yeah, the darn gun jammed on me. Go figure, huh?"

In rejecting a 30-year sentence in favor of a 28-month sentence, the judge commended Stewart for her "public service, not only to her clients, but to the nation" for representing members of the Black Panthers and the Weather Underground. In a sane world, that would have justified a longer sentence, not a shorter one.

If only Democrats could turn the entire War on Terrorism over to the courts, they could release terrorists and terrorist sympathizers with wild abandon – and Nancy Pelosi or Hillary Clinton would never have to take a position.

When Americans are allowed to vote, a fireman's vote counts as much as George Soros' vote. But if leftists can just get terrorists into the judicial system, a Clinton-appointed judge can rule on a defense funded by George Soros – precisely what happened in Stewart's case. Note that even in left-wing New York City, average citizens on the jury voted to convict Stewart, despite her Soros-funded defense.

Democrats run apparently sane candidates for office, like James Webb in Virginia and Bob Casey in Pennsylvania, who can puff up their chests and pretend they want to pursue terrorists – while carping about any and all military action in the terrorists' general direction. Instead, let's turn terrorists over to courts full of Clinton and Carter judges! Democratic candidates get to look tough, and the terrorists go scot-free.

It would be frightening enough to treat terrorism as a criminal law problem if it were Republicans saying it. But these are Democrats. Their idea of a major criminal case is Tom DeLay's campaign treasurer accidentally depositing a campaign contribution into a checking account rather than a savings account.

By contrast, terrorists imprisoned in Guantanamo for trying to kill Americans must be treated as innocent little lambs. Oh, to be there when Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman is exonerated due to previously unavailable "DNA evidence"!

After President Bush signed a law this week providing for military tribunals for terrorists being held at Guantanamo and prohibiting their torture, Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin said, "We will look back on this day as a stain on our nation's history." (Note to Democrats: It's still too soon to use "stain" as a metaphor for a White House brouhaha.)

Democrats stood outside the White House shouting "Torture is a crime!" and "Bush is the terrorist!" Yep, these are the people who claim they're going to keep us all safe, America. Everybody good with that?

Gen. George Washington tried Maj. John Andre, Benedict Arnold's British co-conspirator, by military tribunal and ordered Andre hanged within 10 days of his capture. Nazi saboteurs, including an American citizen, captured on U.S. soil during World War II were tried in secret by military commission and promptly executed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Nuremberg trials were a form of military tribunal.

But Democrats think military tribunals aren't good enough for the terrorists plotting to kill Americans today. Leftists are going to make the terrorists love us! What better way to start than with criminal trials in front of judges like John Koeltl?

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Ann Coulter is a bestselling author and syndicated columnist. Her most recent book is
Godless: The Church of Liberalism.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Allison Kasic: Title IX, on the way out?

Untilting the Playing Field
October 18, 2006

The tides may be turning when it comes to gender politics on campus. For the past 30 years, Title IX has reigned supreme, its quotas for athletic participation the norm for gender “equality.” But as hundreds of students protest the most recent Title IX cuts at James Madison University, and as major publications, from Sports Illustrated to the New York Times, harshly criticize the policy, it looks as if the end of Title IX may be near.

Times have changed since Title IX’s inception in 1972. The law aimed to prevent sex discrimination in education. It covered several areas of concern, not just athletics. At that time, women, especially athletes, faced many challenges. The law was created with seemingly the best of intentions to address a legitimate need for more opportunities for female students. The law is now outdated. Women make up a majority of the undergraduate student population nationwide (on some campuses accounting for more than 60 percent of the student body). This presents a unique challenge to Title IX compliance, which calls for proportionality: The ratio of male to female athletes must match the ratio of male to female students. As the number of female undergraduates continues to climb, schools unable to attract enough female athletes to fill the quota are forced to cut men’s teams to make the numbers work.

An outrageous and recent example of this took place at James Madison University, a school where 61 percent of the student body is female. On September 29, JMU announced the largest Title IX cuts to date: seven men’s teams (wrestling, swimming, cross-country, indoor and outdoor track, archery, and gymnastics) and three women’s teams (gymnastics, archery, and fencing) to be eliminated effective July 2007. The cuts will affect 11 coaches and 144 student athletes.

The purpose of Title IX was to promote equality between the sexes. If JMU was discriminating against female athletes, perhaps the cuts would have been justified. They were not. Sports Illustrated reports that before the cuts, JMU fielded 15 women’s sports to only 13 men’s sports and a majority of its student-athletes (50.7 percent) were female. Female athletes were hardly being denied opportunities. Perhaps most shocking of all, the massive cuts were strictly voluntary and came without any pressure — not as a result of a lawsuit or even complaint. Title IX supporters have speculated that budget concerns were the real culprit and Title IX is being used as a scapegoat by partisans. But JMU Spokesman Andy Perrine confirmed in an interview with Jessica Gavora of the College Sports Council that the cuts were due to Title IX compliance (in a clear nod to proportionality, the cuts increase the proportion of female athletes to 61 percent — an exact match of the female undergraduate enrollment at the school). Meanwhile JMU athletic director Jeff Bourne told the New York Times that money was not a factor on the decision. In fact, the ten sports programs in question make up a measly $550,000 in an athletic budget of $21 million.

Students at JMU are not giving up without a fight. Students have already staged a protest with over 400 attendees and have many more activities planned in the coming months to raise awareness about their situation. Male and female athletes, adults, coaches, students, and a host of others are coming together to fight to reinstate the cut sports. Their message is clear: Enough is enough — we need Title IX reform now. The challenges facing JMU are not local to Harrisonburg, Virginia. The same issues, from increased female enrollment to the constant threat of litigation from radical women’s groups like the Women’s Sports Foundation, are relevant across the country. As the New York Times reports, most schools struggle even to meet the 50-50 split in male and female athletic participation rates that James Madison had before the cuts, let alone the 61-39 legal proportionality it reached after the cuts.

How will schools react to these challenges? If they take the lead of James Madison, Rutgers, or a long list of other schools, they will cut men’s teams. But hopefully the students of these schools will take the lead of the student activists at JMU and shout with all their might: “Save our sports!”

Allison Kasic is director of campus programs at the Independent Women's Forum.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Book Review: 'Baby Jack'

Boomers Discover Virtues Of Military Service When Their Sons Enlist
Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse

"Is a soldier's death honorable even if he fights in an unpopular war?" asks author Frank Schaeffer in his new book Baby Jack. The question draws from the cultural fallout over Viet Nam and is raised today as the Iraq war becomes increasingly unpopular.

"Yes," Schaeffer replies, but it's not an answer he came by easily. Schaeffer, a cultural conservative even before the term became part of the cultural lexicon, felt a vague disdain towards military service. ("It's only for people who cannot do anything else.") Many late-boomer conservatives who, like Schaeffer, have no military experience probably hold the same benign contempt. It was part of the air we breathed growing up.

Recently an acquaintance said of his son's enlistment: "Even his officers had a hard time believing he joined just because he wanted to serve his country. They are so used to seeing kids influenced by sex, drugs, and rock and roll that at first they thought he joined to get the scholarship freebie on the other end."

"Baby Jack" reveals that the altruism had a practical side (and I suspect for my acquaintance's son as well): the only way to defeat the slow dissolution of character fostered by the MTV culture was to find a place where virtue can be forged.

How does this work? In the case of Jack the fictional son, joining the Marines was the first step of self-denial. Self-absorption was replaced by virtues like loyalty, self-discipline, bravery, honor, and love of country -- the characteristics necessary to fulfill the command that we should esteem our brothers higher than ourselves. The stakes are high. Take away these virtues and the team breaks down. Sooner or later someone gets killed who should have lived.

Marine training is like a monastic order, writes Schaeffer, who has visited monasteries on Mt. Athos, the center of Orthodox Christian monasticism. The drill instructors are like the elders who burn out self-centeredness and the weakness it fosters. Character can grow in this climate.
After reading Schaeffer's book I called a friend of mine, a graduate of the Naval Academy and now a full-time priest, for a book or two to read about military leadership. "Start with the movie '12 O'Clock High'" he said. "That's what they told us watch at the Academy."

The movie confirms Schaeffer's observations. A squadron of young flyers developing daylight bombing techniques over Nazi Germany was suffering too many casualties. A wise higher-up saw that their commanding officer was not instilling the proper discipline and replaced him. The fliers learned that discipline creates order, and order allows the required virtues to develop to face an enemy and win. They won.

It's hard to imagine in our post-Viet Nam era that the larger culture once honored these virtues. I would have seen the movie as one more piece of candy from the Hollywood fantasy machine if the recommendation came from someone other than a former sailor. We've drifted a long way from the things that matter.

Old conceits die hard like they did for the fictional father in Schaeffer's book (and perhaps for Schaeffer himself). For many tail-end boomers, the discovery that the military preserves many of the virtues that conservatives work hard to restore may come as a pleasant surprise. It should deepen our respect for the men and women who maintain them despite their failures from time to time.

"Is a soldier's death honorable even if he fights in an unpopular war?" Yes, it can be. Self-sacrifice is a virtue that draws legitimacy not from the political exigencies surrounding a war, but from a higher constellation of virtues. Baby Jack shows us that despite the increasing brokenness and corruption in the world, that higher place is still important.

Baby Jack: A Novel Frank Schaeffer $17.13

Johannes L. Jacobse, a Greek Orthodox priest, edits the website
Read the entire article on the
Town Hall website (new window will open).

Posted: 11-Oct-06

Ira Berkow: A Man Who Will Actually Do the Heavy Lifting

Strength Competitions

The New York Times
Published: October 17, 2006

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Phil Pfister, who owns a Ford Crown Victoria, is an unusual kind of motorist. Not only can he drive the car, he can lift it, too.

“One day we were driving with another couple and we got a flat tire,” recalled Pfister’s wife, Michelle. “Somehow, the jack didn’t work. So Phil picked up the rear of the car and the other guy changed the tire. Phil was the jack. Other drivers on the road passed by and they couldn’t believe their eyes.”

That’s hardly the half of it. Pfister has hefted, flipped, hoisted, curled, pulled or carried a 300-pound log, a 350-pound beer keg, a 420-pound boulder, eight women on a platform, a 1,500-pound tire, and, while harnessed up, two 18-wheel tractor trailers, a fire truck, and the 300-ton Riverboat Cajun Queen in New Orleans among sundry items.

“When we needed a new couch — one of those big, three-seater couches — Phil hoisted it up and carried it into the house,” Michelle said. “Friends are always calling and asking, ‘Would Phil come over and move our piano?’ Things like that. And he will. He’s a good guy.”

Not only is Pfister “a good guy,” he is also the world’s strongest man. He made it official last month, when he won the World’s Strongest Man competition, becoming the first winner from the United States since 1982.

Pfister, at 6 feet 6 inches and 345 pounds with only 5 percent body fat, wears a size 56 jacket. He has forearms that would make Olive Oyl swoon, and hands and fingers so big and thick that friends describe them as two bunches of bananas hanging from his wrists.

The World’s Strongest Man contest was a 10-day event in Sanya, China, in which boulders, pipes and cement blocks were hauled and buses were pulled — though, to be sure, not without a certain amount of grunting, wheezing, puffing, throbbing veins and popping eyes.

“There was a lot of drama,” Pfister said last week. “I was behind going into the final day, into the final event, in fact. And then. ...”

Pfister, 35, a blue-eyed blond with a gentle demeanor that belies his prodigious strength, has been competitive in previous World’s Strongest Man contests: He placed fourth in the 1998 and 2001, fifth in 2000 and didn’t make the finals in 2003.

At the competition last month, he was neck-and-neck — 20-inch necks, as it were — with Mariusz Pudzianowski of Poland, the defending champion and a three-time winner.

“The finals are held over three days and include seven events,” Pfister said. “Mariusz won the first two. But I won the third, and I knew he was getting nervous. I had beaten him earlier in the year in a Strongest Man contest in Columbus, Ohio, and I saw the worried look on his face, and he was pacing. We were way ahead of the other contestants, and you get 10 points for winning, and 9 points for second, and so on down the line.”

It came down to the final event, the Atlas stones, on the third day, Sept. 23. Competitors carry five Atlas stones, which start at 220 pounds and increase in weight to 352 pounds, and place them on platforms while being timed. Pfister was in second place, trailing by half a point.

“On the last stone, I carried it to the pedestal and placed it on the platform,” he said. “Then Mariusz tried to place his stone on the pedestal, but missed, the stone rolling off and falling to the ground.”

That made Pfister the champ, winning the coveted title and $40,000; strongmen don’t earn anywhere near what, say, a Yankees infielder does.

Pfister’s rise to this station was an unlikely one, although he has always been rather large for his age, at any age. His parents are physicians; his father, Alfred Pfister, is an internist in town, and his mother, Lois Knapp, is a retired pediatrician. In high school, Pfister wasn’t interested in sports, other than skateboarding or riding a Jet Ski, because he thought practicing three hours a day with the school football or basketball team was not fun. He went to West Virginia State College, at first majoring in pre-med, but he said he “didn’t have the motivation or dedication to make my way through organic chemistry and physics.” He finally graduated with a general-courses Board of Regents degree.

What he wanted to do was become a firefighter, a career, he said, “that gives a guy a lot of flexibility beyond a life of work.” And seven years ago, he did. He is in station No. 4, which has a gym in the basement that includes bricks and stones and huge pipes, perfect for his workouts.
“The bed’s a little small up in the second floor,” he said, “and I have to kind of curl up, but it’s O.K. And I don’t slide down the pole when there’s a call. At 345 pounds, if I land wrong, I could hurt something. I take the stairs; I’m pretty quick about it.”

Pfister, who says he has matured in his approach to sports since his high school days, now actually enjoys the training. Besides the firehouse, he also works out at a fenced-in outdoor area nearby, where he may wrap his arms around 300-pound boulders and transport them the way someone else might carry a bag of groceries.

A casual observer might ask two questions: What possesses him to do this lifting, and doesn’t he risk, well, a hernia?

“I like competing, I like doing things most people can’t do, and there is a certain amount of recognition that is satisfying as long as you win,” he said.

He said he had never been seriously injured. “You develop an intelligence on how to lift, or carry, using all your muscles, especially your legs and butt,” he said.

But there is a problem with sitting in some chairs, particularly lawn chairs. “They have a tendency to crumble, so I stack a few together before sitting down,” he said.

Pfister took some time to regain his strength after the grueling events in China, then appeared on “Late Show With David Letterman” on Oct. 5. For the national television audience, he went about doing what has made him legendary— flipping a car. This time it was a Pontiac Sunfire, on West 53rd Street in Manhattan.

At home here, he said, people he has never met stop him and congratulate him. At a stoplight, the man in the car in front of him sticks his arm out the window and makes a muscle, another form of congratulations. Pfister taps the horn on his Ford Excursion to thank him. (His wife usually drives the Crown Victoria, which he hardly fits into.)

He has cut down on his portions at meals. “I realized I didn’t need all that food,” he said. But in a restaurant, he will still knock off a platter of seafood for an appetizer, a T-bone steak the size of the plate, a heap of mashed potatoes, and large crepes for dessert. (He often eats the dessert first. “It’s the best part of the meal, why wait for last?” he said.) He doesn’t drink alcohol.

He is also proud, he said, that he has always been drug-free and has succeeded in a sport where “the vast majority,” use performance-enhancing drugs. He speaks often to school, church and civic groups about achieving goals, and about staying clean and healthy. “I feel everyone should make a contribution,” he said, “and that’s my way.”

He and Michelle, who is studying to be a registered nurse, have been married for seven years. At first, she said, she wondered about all this lifting business of Phil’s, but when he carried her across the threshold on their wedding night, she began to have second thoughts. In fact, Michelle, at 5-7 and 145 pounds, became so involved in it that she once competed in a Strongest Woman contest. “I came in fifth out of five,” she said. “And I decided that I was going to take up yoga.”

Their 5-year-old son, Wyatt, also takes pleasure in a lot of this. “After dinner, Phil will say, let’s go out and pull a truck,” Michelle said. “It’s practice for Phil. We harness him up and he pulls our pickup. Wyatt sits in the front seat, loving every minute of it. It’s better than sitting home watching television. Sometimes he’ll ask, ‘Can Daddy lift that building?’ ”

At the firehouse, Capt. Rob Kinser spoke about Pfister in glowing terms. “He’s a gentle giant, a top Grade A individual,” Kinser said. “Like, we had a brush fire a while back and we were having a devil of a time getting the hose up the cliff — 250 feet of hose. When you have those big hoses filled with water, they’re tremendously heavy, five-, six-hundred pounds.

“But then Phil came over and started pulling the hose. I was at the nozzle, and he was pulling me up the cliff with the hose! Oh, he’s a big asset. A very big asset.”

Robert Spencer: Muslim Moderates Under Siege

Robert Spencer
October 17, 2006

Since I began work on my new book The Truth About Muhammad, I have often been asked whether I really think it will do any good to discuss the actions of Muhammad that jihadists use to justify violence. Doesn’t that alienate moderate Muslims? I have responded that actually no Islamic reform can possibly take place without an acknowledgment that there are elements of the Qur’an and the example of Muhammad that need searching reevaluation: how can reformers succeed if no one admits that anything needs any reforming?

At the same time, however, Islamic reformers have a difficult road. They are often targeted as apostates by jihadists, and often physically threatened. Farzana Hassan Shahid, the new president of the Muslim Canadian Congress (MCC), is the latest victim of this phenomenon.
After her liberal views on many Islamic hot-button issues became known, she began receiving death threats from Muslim hardliners who considered her positions evidence of her falling away from Islam. One called her the “younger sister of Satan.” Another accosted her husband at an Ontario mosque and demanded he “control his wife.”

Consequently, Farzana Hassan Shahid explained, “there is an underlying fear all the time...that uneasy feeling is part of my daily life. I have been declared an apostate twice, for opposing the Sharia [Islamic law]. We have asked [Ontario Attorney General] Michael Bryant to include or acknowledge accusation of blasphemy and apostasy into the existing hate laws so the public and legal frame work is sensitized to this issue.”

Hassan Shahid is not the first MCC official to be targeted by jihadists. Up until recently, Tarek Fatah was the MCC’s communications director. But in August he abruptly resigned from his position, as well as from the group’s board, severing all ties with the organization, although he had been one of its founders.

Fatah had excellent reasons to want to get out of the limelight. He had long been one of the most high-profile Muslim spokesmen in Canada: he was host of Muslim Chronicle, a current affairs TV-show focusing on Muslims in Canada. And as communications director of the Muslim Canadian Congress, he never shied away from controversy, endorsing positions on homosexual rights and other issues that deviated from Islamic orthodoxy – positions that Hassan Shahid has now echoed. Fatah even opposed the 2005 campaign to introduce arbitration courts based on Islamic law into Canada.

All that took courage. But instead of receiving congratulations from the Canadian Muslim community at large, Fatah became the target of an email campaign initiated by a Muslim student group, the Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC). The CIC claimed that Fatah didn’t represent the majority of Canadian Muslims. Fatah commented: “This is as close as one can gets to issuing a death threat, as it places me as an apostate and blasphemer.”

And Fatah, like Hassan Shahid, has received outright death threats. He told the Toronto Police that he has been receiving death threats since 2003, but lately they’re grown in number. And they’re credible enough in content to move him to resign and duck out of sight.

Voices of moderation or reform within Islamic communities are at a distinct disadvantage because jihadists can so effectively use the Qur’an and Sunnah against them to lend credence to their charges of apostasy. Also, all the schools of Islamic law mandate that an apostate male must be killed -- a command rooted in the teachings of Muhammad, who said, “If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him’” (Bukhari 4.52.260). Thus a death threat can become an act of piety.

It is bitterly ironic that Western non-Muslim observers who know little or nothing of Islam assume that voices of liberalism and reform are the dominant mainstream within Islamic communities in the West and elsewhere, when the reality is that people like Hassan Shahid and Fatah are, despite their popularity among Westerners who like to pride themselves on their “tolerance,” only marginally influential among Muslims -- and are, above all, hunted.

Muslim reformers deserve all the support we can give them. But we should stop deluding ourselves into thinking they’re the majority. And above all, government and law enforcement officials should stop building policy on the assumption that people like Farzana Hassan Shahid and Tarek Fatah are the majority.

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Robert Spencer is a scholar of Islamic history, theology, and law and the director of
Jihad Watch. He is the author of six books, seven monographs, and hundreds of articles about jihad and Islamic terrorism, including Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World’s Fastest Growing Faith and the New York Times Bestseller The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades). His latest book is The Truth About Muhammad.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Book Review: 'Echo Park'

Books of the Times 'Echo Park'
Imagine if This Guy Really Existed

by Janet Maslin
The New York Times
October 16, 2006

By Michael Connelly.
405 pp. Little, Brown & Company. $26.99

Detective Harry Bosch has a Los Angeles phone number (323-244-5631) that takes messages. You can listen to his recorded voice or play back his voice mail. You can also see him on YouTube in a video that shows him enacting the opening scene from “Echo Park,” the latest book about him. And you can read a serialized version of the novella “The Overlook,” yet another of his adventures, continuing in The New York Times Magazine .

All told, Harry’s doing quite nicely for a guy who doesn’t exist.
The flip side of this fame is familiarity. By now there’s not much about Harry that Michael Connelly’s readers don’t know. Since the first Bosch novel, “The Black Echo,” appeared in 1992, readers have learned that Harry broods, loves jazz, hates corruption, behaves like a lone wolf and feels morally obligated to help crime victims who are too dead to help themselves. He likes to refer to this last part as his mission.

Mr. Connelly’s own mission is more complicated. He turns out Bosch novels at a brisk pace, but he also tries periodically to branch out beyond this inexorable franchise. His previous book was “Crime Beat,” a collection of nonfiction pieces he wrote as a newspaper reporter, with glimmers of what would eventually become the tight, propulsive Bosch style. Before that came “The Lincoln Lawyer,” the start of a less solemn crime series about Mickey Haller, Harry’s much trickier and conniving half-brother.

“Echo Park” includes a truism about “the dog you feed,” the side of oneself that an individual chooses to favor. Feeding Harry Bosch remains Mr. Connelly’s unavoidable mandate, even if it means writing what are essentially episodes of a long-running television series. Its main character holds no novelty. Almost all of its supporting characters are in place. Its well-chosen locations are murky even by Los Angeles noir standards and make picture-perfect crime scenes. Whenever Harry rivets the reader, he is succeeding at something that makes detective work look easy by comparison.

“Echo Park” is another prime demonstration of Mr. Connelly’s handiwork: he has woven entirely unsurprising elements into a surprisingly suspense-filled story. Just read his rivals in the crime genre to realize how difficult this is and how easy he makes it look. The book begins, as in that YouTube video, with the 1993 discovery of a car linked to a missing-persons case. It is found in the garage of the High Tower apartments in Hollywood, and aficionados of noir fiction should take note.

Harry’s partner mentions that this place has been made familiar by movies, but this is an understatement. It was the home of Raymond Chandler’s detective, Philip Marlowe, in Robert Altman’s 1973 version of “The Long Goodbye.” It was also home to Mr. Chandler. And Mr. Connelly now does some of his writing in Mr. Chandler’s old apartment, a place he uses for inspiration. No living crime writer has a better right to be there.

The car belonged to a young woman named Marie Gesto. She has never been found, and for 13 years she has haunted Harry. So Harry becomes extremely interested when a creep nicknamed the Echo Park Bagman, because he was caught in Echo Park with plastic bags containing body parts, confesses to having killed Marie. Guilt, obsession, justice overdue: here we go again, or so it would seem. But another staple of these books is that they give first impressions that turn out to be wrong.

The creep is called Raynard Waits. For a while he threatens to lead the way into James Patterson country, since there is a storybook connection: reynard means fox, and that means the fox of a French medieval fable. (“I studied European folklore in college,” says the character explaining this to Harry.) Add the fact that female foxes are called vixens and you have Waits, serial killer of women. You also have Hannibal Lecter, who is evoked by Waits’s taunting demeanor and eagerness to give Harry a sadistic runaround.

This is merely the setup for a novel that involves a political angle (one scheming character is running for district attorney), a few wonderfully red herrings (like the venerable character almost ready to retire from the police force and move to a Caribbean paradise), some forgotten details that remind Harry of a long-overlooked Carnegie Hall recording of John Coltrane with Thelonious Monk and, of course, Harry’s trademark insubordination. The Zen Master of Homicide, as a girlfriend and colleague teasingly calls Harry, simply isn’t very good at following orders.

Mr. Connelly stages a tense, extended sequence in which the police are directed through the wilds of Beachwood Canyon to the spot where Marie is supposedly buried. And Harry, like the Dirty Harry whose stubbornness he shares, plays ball with a killer because he has no other choice. But when this outing turns deadly, all bets are off for Harry: he begins operating as a solo agent despite having been yanked off this case. Mr. Connelly then leads him into a second, even more nerve-racking action episode that plays on Harry’s fear of tunnels. As “The Black Echo” made clear right from the start, Harry saw enough tunnels during his stint in Vietnam.

“Echo Park” takes its title not only from the Bagman but from Mr. Connelly’s typically sharp, evocative eye for his Los Angeles terrain. Of this melting-pot neighborhood near Dodger Stadium, he writes: “By day a walk down the main drag of Sunset Boulevard might require skills in five or more languages to read all of the storefronts. By night it was the only place in the city where the air could be split by the sound of gang gunfire, the cheer for a home-run ball, and the baying of the hillside coyotes — all in the same hour.” The familiar sound of Harry Bosch stalking justice can now be heard there, too.

Book Review- 'Johnny Cash: The Biography'

The New York Times
Published: October 15, 2006

The Biography.
By Michael Streissguth.
Illustrated. 334 pp. Da Capo Press. $26.

Long before Johnny Cash became immortalized as the “Man in Black” because he refused to wear rhinestones at the Grand Ole Opry, he was grappling with twisted visions of sin and salvation, like a soapbox preacher trying to decode God’s Plan in the public square. Gospel songs like “I’ll Fly Away” filtered through him and never left. Raised impoverished during the Great Depression, this brooding young Arkansan absorbed tall tales and hillbilly banter like a kerosene-hungry railroad lantern. At night, the dysfunctional Cash family would gather at the kitchen table and talk about Jesus Christ. By day, Johnny (or J. R., as he was called) would work the cotton fields reciting old-time Protestant hymns to ward off the tedium.

Then there were the Gene Autry movies that brought cowboy cavalcades into his imaginative life, thrilling him with romantic notions of the purple sage. By all accounts, he was the proverbial kid by the camp ring of fire, leaning forward with bated breath, absorbing his elders’ rural cadences with the attentive ears of a piano tuner. No mundane utterance passed his notice. Somehow he managed to extract the ethereal from even cornball blather. “He was the one who could express himself and his feelings more than the rest of us,” one childhood friend recalls. “He was sensitive. He thought a little deeper than the rest of us. He went way down deep inside and brought up feelings.”

Among the numerous coming-of-age anecdotes that populate the early chapters of Michael Streissguth’s richly detailed “Johnny Cash: The Biography,” however, one stands out. It involves a Texas hobo who wore a ragged blue bandanna around his neck, like the ghost of Jimmie Rodgers. Occasionally this mysterious codger, named Jim George (or so he said), would appear at the Cash homestead, eager to swap yarns for a hot meal. Because this drifter “smelled like a barnyard,” as Cash later explained, the singer’s mother would coax Jim George to wash up. But even in the bath, he wouldn’t take off his bandanna. When teased about this, the vagabond turned somber. “I don’t want you to see the rope burns,” he said. “I was hanged with some of the James Gang in 1882.”

A whopper like that, delivered during World War II by a bum, defies credibility. But Cash, even as late as 1997, seemed to take Jim George at his word. “We didn’t have any reason not to,” Cash told The Journal of Country Music. “The law was if they hanged you and you didn’t die, you were set free.”

No recent American recording artist — not even a trickster like Bob Dylan or Miles Davis — has been as proficient at male mythmaking as Cash was. Whether it was honoring the Texas gunslinger John Wesley Hardin or the alcoholic Iwo Jima veteran Ira Hayes or the country music legend Hank Williams, among dozens of others, Cash’s repertory brimmed with songs about these heroic all-American Lazaruses. The Sun Records impresario Sam Phillips once claimed that Howlin’ Wolf’s voice was “where the soul of a man never dies.” The same could be said of Cash. Hardin, Hayes and Williams may have perished as mortals, but Cash made sure their brazen exploits were remembered. Like Jim George, Cash seemed to be telling stories from the half-grave, full of roguish confessions and redemptive pleas, reporting back to listeners what it meant to shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die, or scream “Hey Porter” as the Orange Blossom Special headed straight for San Quentin. For all his uplifting Billy Graham crusade performances, and there were many, it was his dark real-life travails — the horrific death of his older brother Jack by a wood-shop blade, his penchant for gobbling amphetamines, his bouts of infidelity — that inspired his most enduring art.

What makes this so valuable a biography is that Streissguth, an associate professor of English at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, debunks the myths that have enveloped Cash, in large part owing to two autobiographies, “Man in Black” (1975) and “Cash” (1997), both full of exaggerations. Although Streissguth is not the literary equal of Peter Guralnick (Elvis Presley) or Elijah Wald (Robert Johnson), he avoids the gush-and-awe prose of Rolling Stone and Spin.

Still, he sometimes approaches his subject like a fastidious academic clinging to notecards. The amount of new archival material he unearths, however, is truly impressive. “When one might have expected his pen to be dulled by the demands of stardom, the fogs of drug addiction or the inadequacy of rural education, he wrote long and thoughtful letters in hotel rooms, airplanes, at home and in his office,” Streissguth says of Cash’s correspondence. “In his rounded script or pecked out on a typewriter, his letters were about his faith, his love life, his anger and ideas for his career. He wrote to Air Force buddies, his wife, his manager and his daughters. He seemed programmed to write.”

“Johnny Cash” makes the reader want to rediscover the hardscrabble troubadour’s back catalog. Besides the five brilliant albums Cash recorded with the producer Rick Rubin for American Recordings between 1994 and 2003, you’ll want to listen to “Johnny 99” (including a haunting version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Highway Patrolman”), “Johnny Cash Is Coming to Town” (particularly Elvis Costello’s “Big Light”) and “John R. Cash” (especially Tim Hardin’s song “The Lady Came From Baltimore”) after reading this book. This is also true of Cash’s campy Highwaymen collaborations with Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson. The making of the Nashville neo-folk sessions with Bob Dylan in 1969 — available on bootlegs, and well worth the hunt — is explored to its natural conclusion: it led to the birth of country/folk rock.

Although much of Cash’s rags-to-riches story line is well known, Streissguth offers new revelations. The recent film “Walk the Line,” for example, ended with Cash clean and sober. In truth, although he was off drugs from 1970 to 1976, he reverted to his old ways about the time Jimmy Carter became president, creating deep stresses in his marriage to June Carter Cash for almost three decades. In public, Cash frequently portrayed his father as the epitome of a loving patriarch; Streissguth says Ray Cash was often monstrous, constantly belittling his son’s mega-success. Whenever Johnny appeared on TV, his father jealously scoffed that he was “back on the tube acting like a big shot.”

One thing is abundantly clear: Johnny Cash wasn’t a saint and was often hyper-ornery. Three of his daughters — Rosanne, Cindy and Kathy — explain in interviews what it was like having a part-time dad. And they also elaborate on his slow demise in 2003. “We didn’t want him to be in pain anymore,” Kathy says. Cash was an archangel of self-destruction to the bitter end; his entire life was based on warding off demons, so God might embrace him in the Promised Land.
In death, however, Cash has proved more popular than ever. You can’t walk into a Starbucks and not hear him singing Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind” or Ian Tyson’s “Four Strong Winds.” The redemptive spirit of Johnny Cash — the American spirit — is very much alive through his music.

In “The Man Comes Around,” one of his last original compositions, Cash pondered apocalyptic rejection versus acceptance as delineated in the Book of Revelation: “Will you partake of that last offered cup / Or disappear into the potter’s ground?” The line is classic Cash: drawn to both darkness and light. That was his struggle. Either way, the songwriter Rodney Crowell was on to something when he claimed that Cash deserved to have his face carved on Mount Rushmore.
Why not? At his best, he was that good.

Douglas Brinkley is a professor of American history at Tulane University and the author of “The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.”

P.J. O'Rourke: The GOP is stinking up the joint

What's That Smell?

by P.J. O'Rourke
10/23/2006, Volume 012, Issue 06

LIKE OTHER DEEP-THINKING people, I'm full of principled, idealistic, high-minded indignation at the GOP. What a stampede of sleaze. Jack Abramoff is the world's best lobbyist--for the Federal Penitentiary System. Bob Ney was deep in the ethical rough at St. Andrew's. Randy "Duke" Cunningham's favorite weap ons system turned out to be the political suicide bomb. Tom DeLay may or may not have broken campaign finance laws, but he did his best to look like he was breaking them. He might as well have tied quail feathers to the GOP majority in Congress and sent it hunting with Dick Cheney.

Jack Abramoff

Watching Republicans in Washington is like watching lemmings, if lemmings jumped into cesspools instead of off cliffs. Splash! There goes Mark Foley! Now the news networks are broadcasting G.O.P.U. around the clock.

Actually, the Republicans should be grateful for their lying, thieving scum. It distracts the public from the things the Republicans have done that are honestly bad. Our postwar policy is creating Weimar Iraq. And when the Islamofascist Beer Hall Putsch comes there won't even be beer.

Social Security privatization was presented to the electorate with a public relations and marketing flair not seen since New Coke. Intelligence collection has been given an additional bureaucracy to correct the problems created by too much bureaucracy in intelligence collection.
"Homeland Security" sounds like a failed 1980s savings and loan. Didn't Grandma lose $20,000 when Homeland Security went under? Then there's No Child Left Behind. What if the child deserves to be left behind? What if the child deserves a smack on the behind? We have a national testing program to test whether kids are . . . what? Stupid? You've got kids. Kids are stupid.

Immigration policy will fence the border, providing economic stimulus to the Mexican ladder industry. The National Guard is stationed on the Rio Grande--U.S. troops standing be tween you and yard care. President Bush said that if illegal immigrants want citizenship they'd have to do three things: pay taxes, hold meaningful jobs, and learn English. Bush doesn't meet those qualifications.

And Republican federal budgets have shown less self-restraint than Mark Foley's instant messaging. Billions are being spent so college students will have someplace below sea level to get drunk during Mardi Gras. Hundreds of billions are being spent indiscriminately dumping Medicare prescription drugs on old people. There's a new warning on the Levitra bottle: If arousal lasts more than four hours you haven't screwed the taxpayers enough.

I am so moved by principle and idealism, so indignantly high-minded, that I'm changing sides. At least the Democrats aren't hypocritical about being scum. After Gerry Studds was censured for molesting an underaged congressional page, he was reelected six times. Therefore, in the mid term elections, I'm working to get Democrats into office.

And work it is. There's the problem of putative speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, whose very name summons images of children coming home from day care madly scratching their scalps. Then, when you see Pelosi speak, it's impossible not to think of Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown. I hope her campaign slogan isn't "A New Kick-Off for America."

There is also the problem of issues for the Democrats to run on. You're going to elect Democrats to control government spending? And you're going to marry Angelina Jolie for her brains. The privacy issue--government spying on U.S. citizens--isn't going to work. True, NSA has been collecting all our telephone information, but anyone who's answered the phone during dinner knows that every telemarketer on earth has that information already. Illegal immigration?
When the Democrats were in charge, the illegal immigrants were from al Qaeda. And as for Iraq, the best the Democrats have been able to do is make the high school sex promise: "I'll pull out in time, honest."

Maybe I won't work for the Democrats. It's too much of a job. And jobs are not something the Democratic base is famous for having. Maybe I'll just act like a Democrat and stay away from the polls on November 7 and hang around the house drinking beer. In fact, I think I'll start practicing that now, so I'll be ready on Election Day.

Opposing Republican hegemony is not without cost. It's going to cost me my marriage if I keep hanging around the house drinking beer. But I'm willing to do whatever it takes to make sure the GOP loses. And I promise to stay involved in my children's' lives, occasionally picking them up at day care as they madly scratch their scalps. It takes a village, etc.

No price is too high to pay for principled idealism. And as soon as high-minded indignation has defeated the Republicans, there will be the impoverishment from protectionism, the horror of nuke-wielding petty dictators, and the increased killings by terrorists to prove it. Deep-thinking people will be relieved that Dennis Hastert can no longer cover up misbehavior in the congressional page program.

P.J. O'Rourke is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Just a Balladeer? A 43-Track Manifesto Testifies Otherwise

The New York Times
Published: October 15, 2006

Vince Gill releases a four-CD set this week (below left, the packaging for the individual discs) called “These Days,” featuring 43 songs. “You always write a lot of songs, but you only cut so many,” he says. “I didn’t want that to happen this time.”

Most people know Vince Gill as a sweet-voiced singer of country ballads. Some might also know him for the high tenor harmonies he lends to the records of others, while others will recognize him as a perennial winner at the Grammy and Country Music Association Awards (and, from 1992 to 2004, as the affable host of the latter). Few beyond Music Row in Nashville, however, know Mr. Gill to be a serious guitarist, a pedigreed bluegrass musician, a prolific songwriter or a performer versed in blues, jazz and rock ’n’ roll.

All of which could change with the release this week of “These Days,” Mr. Gill’s latest album for MCA Nashville. The record certainly reveals him to be a consummate musician, and in an assortment of genres. Even more impressive, it does so with four CD’s of new studio recordings and an expansive cast of collaborators ranging from pop stars like Bonnie Raitt and Sheryl Crow to the jazz singer and pianist Diana Krall.

Multidisc concert albums are of course de rigueur in rock, and scores of musicians have put out two-record sets consisting entirely of new studio material. Prince went one better, issuing a triple-CD of new work in 1996, while George Harrison, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and the Clash each made three-record studio albums during the heyday of the vinyl LP. But not counting the four solo records that the members of Kiss released on the same day in 1978, no major pop act has done what Mr. Gill will do on Tuesday with his four-CD box set of new original music.

His project is nothing if not ambitious, even, at first blush, bordering on an act of hubris. The set contains 43 tracks and has a running time of more than 165 minutes. All of the songs were written or co-written by Mr. Gill. “These Days” is the sort of outsize gesture people have come to expect from an inveterate self-promoter like Garth Brooks, not from Mr. Gill, a self-deprecating golf buff who by most accounts would rather be out hitting the links than holed up in a recording studio.

Skeptics will find plenty to quibble about. Mr. Gill, after all, is no Bob Dylan, who is perhaps entitled but has yet to attempt such a prodigious feat. For much of the decade Mr. Gill, who turns 50 next year, has been on the brink of becoming a “heritage act,” a euphemism used in country music circles to describe longtime radio favorites who are no longer deemed young or hip enough for airplay.

“These Days,” though, isn’t the work of an artist easing into retirement but that of someone reasserting his bona fides. The scope and reach of the album go beyond even that, suggesting that Mr. Gill is making a case for why people who don’t consider themselves fans of country music might want to listen.

“There are a lot of questions out there about how people are going to buy music in the future,” said Chris Parr, vice president of music programming at Country Music Television in Nashville. “Vince’s record shows that Nashville is still looking at innovative ways to engage the consumer. It also reminds us that the country music format is at its strongest and most dynamic when it embraces the diversity of sound you hear on his four CD’s.”

Mr. Gill, who kicks off his United States tour by bringing a 17-piece band with horns to the Nokia Theater in New York on Monday night, wasn’t necessarily out to prove such a point. “I guess I’m shedding my skin a little with this record,” he said. “And yet it’s not about me trying to convince the rest of the world that I am all these things. That’s just not in my makeup. It’s always been enough for me to know that I played guitar on my records. I bet 8 out of 10 people who walk up to me after seeing my live show go, ‘I had no idea you could play like that.’ It never bothered me because that was the most obvious place for my guitar playing to come to light.”

Mr. Gill was speaking in the den of the homey Southern manor he shares with his wife, the pop singer Amy Grant, in the Belle Meade enclave of Nashville. Barefoot and dressed in jeans and an old Sun Records T-shirt, Mr. Gill, whose sleepy eyes and tousled thatch of hair always make him seem as if he has just risen from a nap, was surrounded by vintage guitars, Grammy Awards and golf mementos. A five-hole putting green beckoned from the north lawn.

“It didn’t start out as this great big thing,” he said about his new record. “It became that. You always write a lot of songs, but you only cut so many. I didn’t want that to happen this time, so I just stayed in the studio and wound up, five or six weeks later, having recorded all these songs. Then I was like, ‘Now what are you going to do?’ ”

The solution, reached with the help of Mr. Gill’s record label of 17 years, was to group the tracks together stylistically so that the package would contain four distinct albums, each with its own title. A modest list price of $29.98 is likely to make it an easier sell, especially during the holidays, when box sets are popular gift items. There are no plans at this point for the four discs to be sold separately.

The first album in the series, “Workin’ on a Big Chill,” makes the biggest statement of the four, devoid as it is of the ballads that have been Mr. Gill’s stock in trade. Consisting mainly of Southern-style swamp pop, the record spotlights Mr. Gill’s gutbucket guitar runs as well as guest vocalists like Rodney Crowell and the former Doobie Brother Michael McDonald. One track, a risqué tête-à-tête with the country singer Gretchen Wilson called “Cowboy Up,” couldn’t be further from the heart-tugging plaints with which Mr. Gill made his name.

The second disc, a largely romantic collection titled “The Reason Why,” includes cameos from Ms. Raitt and Ms. Crow and a saloon-style duet with Ms. Krall. The third disc is an old-school honky-tonk record called “Some Things Never Get Old.” Long on shuffles, twin fiddles and steel guitar, it features collaborations with Nashville mainstays like Patty Loveless, Emmylou Harris and Ms. Grant. The last of the four discs, the bluegrass-steeped “Little Brother,” enlists the support of the Del McCoury Band, the Texas singer-songwriter Guy Clark and Jenny Gill, Mr. Gill’s daughter from his previous marriage to the singer Janis Oliver.

Not surprising for a project that strives to do so much with so many people, not all of “These Days” works. The duet with Ms. Krall is a bit stiff, and doubtless some will wish that Mr. Gill had cut back on the guitar vamping on Disc 1. Elsewhere a couple of the ballads betray the middle-of-the-road sensibility that has limited Mr. Gill’s appeal among fans of rock and harder-edged R&B. (In addition to his early work in first-tier bluegrass bands Mr. Gill was the lead singer in a late installment of the unremarkable country-rock band Pure Prairie League.)

The project’s occasional lapses aside, “These Days” is a signal achievement for Mr. Gill, a musical ecumenist who brooks few distinctions between art and entertainment. The four CD’s not only testify to his depth and range as a musician, but do so, as Mr. Gill has often done, through collaborations that smack more of mutual inspiration than of back-scratching or expediency.

Most of the people who sing or play on “These Days” are friends of Mr. Gill, 7 of whose 17 Grammy Awards have involved musical pairings with other artists. A performer who has earned considerable goodwill in Nashville over the last two decades, he has sung or played on the records of many of the guests on his new album, including stints as a guitarist in the formative bands of Ms. Harris and Mr. Crowell. Everyone from Phil Everly and Alison Krauss to the NRBQ alum Al Anderson and Buddy Emmons, the pioneering pedal steel guitarist, appears on “These Days.”

Mr. Gill says the spur for this creative abandon was a phone call he received at home two years ago from Eric Clapton, asking him to play at his Crossroads Guitar Festival in Dallas. “Here’s one of the finest musicians that will ever live, and he sees me for what I am, a musician,” Mr. Gill said. “It took all these chains and all these thoughts of what I should be and what this town was counting on me to be and said to me: ‘Hey, play what you love. If it’s jazz, let it be jazz, and if it’s rocking, turn it up.’ ”

Mr. Gill has always considered himself a guitar player first. “I think it’s because I’ve done it the longest,” he explained. “For years I was too bashful to sing. I’d just bury my head in my guitar and play.”

Fond of the old Martin guitars associated with country and folk music, Mr. Gill also prizes his Telecasters and Stratocasters, instruments linked to rock giants like Keith Richards and Jimi Hendrix. “I was a rock ’n’ roll kid too,” he said. “I was drawn to the records of the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. And my brother was a blues hound. I had all these old Muddy Waters records, so there are elements of greasy, dirty blues in my playing.”

“It’s ironic,” Mr. Gill went on. “Because if you said, ‘What do I do best?’ you’d say: ‘He sings ballads. He’s a great torch singer.’ And I guess it’s been wise of me to lean on the ballads. The world’s full of great guitar players, and the country world has never really been about guitar gods like rock ’n’ roll has.”

Mr. Gill’s songwriting is another aspect of his musicianship that he feels has been underappreciated. “I took a beating for a long time,” he admitted. “People said, ‘Yeah, love his playing, love his singing, but his songs aren’t that great.’ And warranted — your best work isn’t your first work. I got better as a songwriter. I want my body of work to encompass the songwriting element as well.”

“Arrogant, isn’t it?” quipped Mr. Gill when the fact that he wrote or co-wrote all of the material on “These Days” came up in conversation.

The people of his home state, Oklahoma, certainly recognize Mr. Gill’s gifts as a songwriter. Earlier this year he and Jimmy Webb, the composer of classics like “Wichita Lineman” and “MacArthur Park,” were commissioned to write a song commemorating Oklahoma’s first 100 years of statehood. Their collaboration, “Oklahoma Rising,” is now one of two official state songs, alongside Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!”

As the title and sweep of his new album attest, Mr. Gill wants to remind people, and not just those in sometimes insular Nashville, that he still prides himself on making music — all kinds of it. “I think people look at me and say: ‘He doesn’t care that much anymore. He likes to go out and play golf.’ And I go: ‘Well hang on. Sure, I like to do other things, but I’m as passionate about every note of the music I play now as I ever was.’

“We didn’t compromise or sell ourselves short,” added Mr. Gill, referring to his new record. “It got to be as twangy as it needed to be, as slick as it needed to be, as raw as it needed to be. There were no times when I felt like we had to rein something in to make it fit into some narrow little format.”

George Will: The economics of baseball

The Washington Post
Sunday, October 15, 2006

Sins can be such fun. Of the seven supposedly deadly ones, only envy does not give the sinner at least momentary pleasure. And an eighth, schadenfreude -- enjoyment of other persons' misfortunes -- is almost the national pastime.

Speaking of baseball, two Saturdays ago old Dodger Stadium was reverberating with fans' excitement. It might seem odd to call "old" a ballpark that opened in 1962, but it is tied with the Nationals' RFK Stadium as the National League's second oldest, behind only the Cubs' Wrigley Field (1914). (A riddle: What do the Cubs and Cardinals have in common? Neither team has won a World Series in its new ballpark. Of course, the Cardinals' new park opened in April.) Anyway, shortly before their Dodgers were beaten by the Mets in the National League Division Series, Angelenos emitted animal roars of approval as they watched, on the giant screen in left-center field, the Tigers defeat the Yankees in the ALDS.

New York Yankees manager Joe Torre smiles at a news conference at Yankee Stadium in New York, October 10, 2006. He announced that he had been told by owner George Steinbrenner that he would return as manager for the 2007 season, despite the Yankees loss to the Detroit Tigers in the American League Division Series. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine (UNITED STATES)
Some Dodgers fans still nurse a grudge they inherited from Brooklynites when the Dodgers decamped for California after the 1957 season. But rooting against the Yankees is as American as a microwaved wedge of frozen apple pie topped with a slice of processed cheese. Such rooting often is the unlovely underside of the democratic ethos -- envy of excellence. But there also is resentment of the Yankees' financial advantage that has been inimical to baseball's competitive balance.

That, however, is a diminishing problem, for two reasons: Major League Baseball has implemented more redistribution of resources, and a new breed of general managers (e.g. Oakland's Billy Beane and Minnesota's Terry Ryan) are using new player-evaluation metrics to wring more baseball value from fewer dollars.

The Yankees' payroll of $206.4 million (not including the almost $30 million tax paid to MLB on the portion of the payroll over $136.5 million) is 2.4 times the Tigers' payroll. The Yankees' third baseman earns 68.7 times the salary of the Mets' all-star third baseman (Alex Rodriguez, $25.7 million; David Wright, $374,000). The shortstop makes approximately what the Marlins' team makes (Derek Jeter, $20.6 million; Marlins, $20.68 million). But the 2006 Yankees did baseball -- and the rest of America, if it learns the larger social lesson of the story -- the favor of demonstrating the steeply declining utility of the last $100 million of payroll.

New York, the world's financial capital, takes money very seriously. And New York has been the intellectual epicenter of political liberalism, which has consistently preached, and has consistently disproved, the efficacy of pitching large sums of money at social problems. In the city where America's welfare state was first imagined and implemented, the entitlement mentality bred by the welfare state includes the assumption that the Yankees are entitled to be in the World Series, which they have not been since -- gasp -- 2003.

There still are revenue and spending disparities between baseball teams that are impossible between NFL and NBA teams because those leagues have salary caps and more centralized revenue sources. Nevertheless, when the Tigers dispatched the Yankees that Saturday, baseball was guaranteed its seventh different World Series winner in seven years. There never have been seven consecutive Super Bowls, or seven consecutive NBA championships, won by seven different teams.

Baseball's supposed "golden age" of the 1940s and 1950s was not so golden outside New York. In 1947 the Yankees won the American League pennant and beat the Dodgers in the World Series. In 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952 and 1953 the Yankees were World Series winners over the Dodgers, Phillies, Giants, Dodgers and Dodgers, respectively. If the Phillies had not beaten the Dodgers in the 10th inning of the last game of the 1950 season, every World Series game for five years would have been played in New York. And if 103 wins, which usually are enough to win the pennant, had sufficed in 1954 (the Indians won 111, an American League record for a 154-game season), the Yankees would have won 10 pennants in a row, because they also won in 1955, 1956, 1957 and 1958.

Great Yankee teams have been good for baseball. In the 1930s, one of every four tickets sold to an American League game was for a game involving the Yankees. And this year, when the Yankees were drawing 4,200,518 fans to Yankee Stadium, they also played in front of 3,080,290 million on the road. But improved competitive balance is one reason why, for the third consecutive year, MLB set an attendance record (76,043,902), and why today is MLB's golden age, even west of the Hudson River.

George F. Will, a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide, is the author of Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball.