Thursday, September 02, 2010


By Mark Steyn
Steyn on Culture
Wednesday, 01 September 2010

from the July 19, 2010 issue of National Review

“I think it is kids’ preference to pair up and have that one best friend. As adults – teachers and counselors – we try to encourage them not to do that.”

Thus, Christine Laycob, “director of counseling” at Mary Institute and St Louis Country Day School in Missouri, speaking to The New York Times the other day about why “best friends” are a bad thing. “Parents sometimes say Johnny needs that one special friend. We say he doesn’t need a best friend.”

By “we”, she means the expert opinion of “educators”. Granted that “educators” seem to have minimal interest in education, and that therefore it would be unreasonable to expect them to regard, say, American students’ under-performance in everything from math to music as a priority, one is still impressed by their ability to conjure hitherto unknown crises to obsess over. The tone of the Times piece is faintly creepy – not least in its acceptance of the totalitarian proposition that it’s appropriate for “experts” to re-engineer one of the most building blocks of our humanity: the right to choose our friends.

If the report reads like something out of The Stepford Kindergarten PTA, it is no more than the logical endpoint of the educational establishment’s preference for collectivized mediocrity over individual achievement: A child should no longer have best friends, and close friends, and people he’s happy to hang around with, and folks he doesn’t much care for. Instead, he should just be friends with the collective, with the commune, all the same.

We conservatives have been wasting our energy arguing the difference between equality of opportunity and equality of outcome. The statists have moved on, and are now demanding equality of basic human relationships, and starting in nursery school.

Oh, come on, you scoff. Why make a big deal about one itsy-bitsy New York Times education story?

By Hall Smith, Hannibal Courier-Post via AP

The bronze statue of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn stands at the north end of Main Street in Hannibal, Mo.

Well, because much of the contemporary scene owes its origins to silly little fads among “educators” that seemed too laughable to credit only the day before yesterday. I see the Times piece references those literary best friends of yore, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. But Tom and Huck’s boyhood is all but incomprehensible to today’s children. Unlike its fellow Missouri educational establishment in St Louis, I don’t believe the grade school in St Petersburg had a “director of counseling”, because, if it had, she would have diagnosed Tom with ADHD, pumped him full of Ritalin, and the story would have been over before he’d been told to whitewash the fence. The suppression of boyhood would have been thought absurd half-a-century back. Yet the “educators” pulled it off, effortlessly. Why not try something even more ambitious?

Speaking of best friends, in 1902 Theodore Morse and Edward Madden wrote the song “Two Little Boys”, in which the eponymous tykes are wont to play soldiers on wooden horses. (The great Aussie didgeridooist Rolf Harris revived the song in 1969, and it got to Number One: Mrs Thatcher named it one of her favorite records). “One little chap/Then had a mishap,” as the song says, and breaks his mount. So his friend offers to share his steed:

“Did you think I would leave you crying
When there’s room on my horse for two?
Climb up here, Jack, and don’t be crying
I can go just as fast with two…”

Come the next verse, the horses are real, and they’re in the thick of battle. This time round, the other boy loses his mount, shot out from under him, and it’s Jack’s turn to say:

“Did you think I would leave you dying
When there’s room on my horse for two?
Climb up here, Joe, we’ll soon be flying…"

The lessons we learn in childhood stay with us. The Battle of Waterloo, they used to say (and with a straight face, too), was won on the playing fields of Eton. But in British schools today competitive sports have been all but abolished. It was recently reported that in one children’s soccer league in Ottawa any team that racked up a five-goal lead would be deemed to have lost, and the losing team declared the winners, to spare their feelings. By those standards, the hapless England footie team might have managed to “beat” Germany and get through to the next round of the World Cup (almost). What’s less clear is whether boys raised on such playing fields would be capable of winning another Waterloo, or even be prepared to fight it. Indeed, early setbacks in post-Saddam Iraq and current difficulties in Afghanistan derive in part from that Ottawa soccer mindset – that it would be insensitive to open up a five-goal lead over the enemy.

In an essay on democracy for The New Criterion, Kenneth Minogue began by “observing the remarkable fact that, while democracy means a government accountable to the electorate, our rulers now make us accountable to them. Most Western governments hate me smoking, or eating the wrong kind of food, or hunting foxes, or drinking too much… The distribution of our friends does not always correspond, as governments think that it ought, to the cultural diversity of our society. We must face up to the grim fact that the rulers we elect are losing patience with us.”

What to do? The state can, as Brecht advised, elect a new people – which the immigration policies of many western nations seem intended to accomplish. But you can also change the existing people, in profound ways and over a surprisingly short space of time. Give me a boy till seven, said the Jesuits, and I will show you the man. Give me a boy till Seventh Grade, say today’s educators, and we can eliminate the man problem entirely.

'Dracula's Guest' collection returns vampires to creatures of terror

[No emoting, baseball-playing, vegetarian vampires to be found here...only ravenous, blood-thirsty children of the night...just like in real life. - jtf]

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Most vampires aren't handsome, romantic or protective. They kill. When they rip out your throat, you die smelling corpse breath and terrified.

If you need proof, read "Dracula's Guest," a superb collection of vampire fiction — and nonfiction — from writers dealing with the undead.

Michael Sims has culled stories from the Victorian era to make a collection guaranteed to delight anyone who enjoyed Bram Stoker's "Dracula."

Queen Victoria reigned from 1837 to 1901, but Sims stretched his selections to the beginning of World War I in 1914. He includes several nonfiction pieces reaching back to the 1700s.

In "Dracula's Guest," the vampires run from those who slowly drain the spirit — "Good Lady Ducayne" — from their victims to those who are frightening enough to give nightmares.

There is nothing seductive about the vampires in Aleksei Tolstoy's "The Family of the Vourdalak," set in Serbia, where family sentiment overrules the final warning words of grandfather Gorcha, and all the family dies only to come back and hunt an unwary suitor.

"I turned away from (the daughter) Sdenka to hide the horror which was written on my face. It is then that I looked out the window and saw the satanic figure of Gorcha, leaning on a bloody stake and staring at me with the eyes of a hyena. Pressed against the other window were the waxen features of Georges, who at that moment looked as terrifying as his father." Exit suitor chased by fiends.

Eastern Europe is just the best-known source for vampire tales. "Luella Miller" is placed in a New England village. Sweden is the setting for "Count Magnus." A chilling story, "A Mystery of the Campagna," is based in Italy.

What makes these Victorian stories different from contemporary ones? In general, the afflicted that run afoul of vampires die. There are very few happy endings here.

You have the lurid pulp fiction of James Malcolm Rymer's "Varney the Vampire," written in installments for the periodical market. "With a sudden rush that could be foreseen — with a strange howling cry that was enough to awaken terror in every breast, the figure seized the long tresses of her hair and, twining them round his bony hands, he held her to bed. Then she screamed — Heaven granted her the power to scream."

Sims' introduction covers the reality of death and how the legends of vampires might have come into existence. There are several nonfiction pieces, and an excellent bibliography provides more sources and websites.

Bram Stoker gets the last word. The final story is an early draft of the first chapter of his classic novel. The unnamed narrator ventures out on Walpurgisnacht, the last day of April, to run afoul of wolves and the dead. He's rescued by troopers on the orders of his host — Dracula.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The New Moral Equivalence

Prominent media hosts equate Christian and Muslim violence.

By Dennis Prager
August 31, 2010 12:00 A.M.

There was one thing more than any other that turned this New York, liberal, Jewish, Columbia University graduate student away from modern liberalism: its use of moral equivalence to avoid confronting evil during the Cold War.

There was a time when liberalism was identified with anti-Communism. But the Vietnam War led liberals into the arms of the Left, which had been morally confused about Communism since its inception and had become essentially pacifist following the carnage of World War I.

After the Vietnam War, even liberals who continued to describe Communism as evil were labeled “right-wingers” and “Cold Warriors.” And the United States, with its moral flaws, was often likened to the Soviet Union. I recall asking the preeminent liberal historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., in a public forum in Los Angeles in the late 1970s, if he would say that the United States was a morally superior society to the Soviet Union. He would not.

Little has changed regarding the Left’s inability to identify and confront evil. Its moral equation of good guys and bad guys was made evident again in recent weeks by hosts on three major liberal networks: ABC, National Public Radio (NPR), and the Public Broadcasting System (PBS).

First, on May 25, PBS host Tavis Smiley interviewed Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the ex-Muslim Somali writer and activist for human, especially women’s, rights in Islamic countries. After mentioning American Muslim terrorists Major Nidal Hasan (who murdered 13 fellow soldiers and injured 30 others at Fort Hood) and Faisal Shahzad (who attempted to murder hundreds in Times Square), this dialogue ensued:

Ali: “Somehow, the idea got into their [Hasan’s and Shahzad’s] minds that to kill other people is a great thing to do and that they would be rewarded in the hereafter.”

Smiley: “But Christians do that every single day in this country.”

Ali: “Do they blow people up?”

Smiley: “Yes. Oh, Christians, every day, people walk into post offices, they walk into schools, that’s what Columbine is — I could do this all day long. There are so many more examples of Christians — and I happen to be a Christian.

“There are so many more examples, Ayaan, of Christians who do that than you could ever give me examples of Muslims who have done that inside this country, where you live and work.”

Then, on August 22, Michel Martin, host of NPR’s Tell Me More, in discussing whether the Islamic Center and mosque planned for near Ground Zero should be moved, said this on CNN’s Reliable Sources with Howard Kurtz: “Should anybody move a Catholic church? Did anybody move a Christian church after Timothy McVeigh, who adhered to a cultic white supremacist cultic version of Christianity, bombed [the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City]?”

And third, on August 26, ABC 20/20 anchor Chris Cuomo tweeted this to his nearly 1 million followers: “To all my christian brothers and sisters, especially catholics – before u condemn muslims for violence, remember the crusades . . . . study them.”

I have known Tavis Smiley since the 1980s, when we both worked at the same radio station in Los Angeles. He is smart, and he is a gentleman who has accorded me great respect both on and off the air.

How, then, does such a man equate Muslims who murder in the name of Islam with Americans who “murder every day,” none of whom commit their murders in the name of Christianity?

How does Michel Martin equate the thousands of Islamic terrorists around the world, all of whom are devout Muslims, with a single American (one who professed no religion at all)?

And how does ABC’s Chris Cuomo claim that Christians cannot condemn Muslims for violence because of the Christian Crusades?

First of all, the Crusades occurred a thousand years ago. One might as well argue that Jews cannot condemn Christian and secular anti-Semitic violence because Jews destroyed Canaanite communities 3,200 years ago.

Second, it is hardly a defense of Muslims to cite comparable Christian conduct that occurred a thousand years ago.

Third, even if we do compare the Crusades with contemporary Islamic jihadism, there is little moral equivalence. The Crusades were waged in order to recapture lands that had been Christian for centuries until Muslim armies attacked them. (Some Crusaders also massacred whole Jewish communities in Germany on the way to the Holy Land, and that was a grotesque evil — which Church officials condemned at the time.) As the dean of Western Islamic scholars, Princeton professor Bernard Lewis, has written, “The Crusades could more accurately be described as a limited, belated and, in the last analysis, ineffectual response to the jihad — a failed attempt to recover by a Christian holy war what had been lost to a Muslim holy war.”

So how did Tavis Smiley, Michel Martin, and Chris Cuomo make such morally egregious statements?

The answer is not that these are bad people, or that they are not repulsed by terrorist violence.

The answer is leftism, the way of looking at the world that permeates high schools, universities, and the news and entertainment media. Those indoctrinated by leftist thinking become largely incapable of making accurate moral judgments. They once regarded America and the Soviet Union as morally similar. Today, they claim that the people they call Christian “extremists” (who are they?) and Islamist terrorists and their supporters pose equal threats to America and to the world.

That is how bright and decent people become moral relativists and thereby undermine the battles against the greatest evils — Communist totalitarianism in its time, and Islamic totalitarianism in ours.

The only solution is to keep exposing leftist moral confusion. One problem, however, is that in countries without talk radio, an equivalent to the Wall Street Journal editorial page, conservative columnists, and a vigorous anti-Left political party, this is largely impossible.

The other major problem is that the media that dominate American life have little problem — indeed, they largely concur — with the foolish and dangerous comments made by their mainstream-media colleagues. That is why these comments, worthy of universal moral condemnation, were ignored by the mainstream (i.e., left-wing) media. Instead, they directed mind-numbing attention and waves of opprobrium toward Dr. Laura.

Those who don’t fight real evils fight imaginary ones.

— Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host and columnist. He may be contacted through his website,

Glenn Beck’s Ecumenical Moment

The “Restoring Honor” rally showcased a nation dedicated to its constitutional heritage.

By Jonah Goldberg
September 1, 2010 12:00 A.M.

TV commentator Glenn Beck addresses the crowd on camera as he stands on the steps in front of the Lincoln Memorial to address supporters at his Restoring Honor rally on theNational Mall in Washington, August 28, 2010. REUTERS

Predictably, the “Restoring Honor” rally on the National Mall last Saturday has evoked a lot of consternation.

Because the rally explicitly and studiously avoided trumpeting a political agenda, it freed up a lot of people to fill in the blanks themselves. For instance, Greg Sargent of the Washington Post insists it was all a con: “As high-minded as that may sound, the real point of stressing the rally’s apolitical goals was political.” By leaving the listener to infer an anti-Obama agenda from all of this talk of lost honor, host Glenn Beck was practicing “classic political demagoguery.”

So let me get this straight: If Beck had done the opposite, and invited hundreds of thousands of anti-Obama signs, and carved up Obama like a turkey dinner, folks like Sargent would think the rally was less demagogic? Hmmm.

Obviously, Sargent’s not entirely wrong about the rally’s political resonance. Of course it was a conservative-and-libertarian-tinged event. Of course it would have been impossible without the right-leaning tea-party movement. Of course the fact that Beck and Sarah Palin managed to attract so many people to the Mall is not a ringing endorsement of the Democrats.

But the partisan implications of the rally aren’t that interesting. Nor, really, is the argument that the relentless celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. at the National Mall amounted to some grave insult to his memory.

One striking feature of Saturday’s rally was how deeply religious and ecumenical it was. It seems like just yesterday that everyone was talking about how Christian evangelicals were too bigoted to vote for upright and uptight Mormon Mitt Romney. Yet Christian activists saw no problem cheering for — and praying with — the equally Mormon but far less uptight Beck, who asked citizens to go to “your churches, synagogues, and mosques!”

The inclusiveness transcended mere religion. While the crowd was preponderantly white, the message was racially universalistic. That was evident not just on the stage, but in the crowd as well. When Reason TV’s Nick Gillespie asked a couple whether as “African-Americans” they felt comfortable in such a white audience, the woman responded emphatically but good-naturedly: “First of all, I’m not African, I am an American . . . a black American.” She went on to explain how “these people” — i.e., the white folks cheering her on — “are my family.”

Peter Viereck, a largely forgotten conservative intellectual, would have found this familiar. During the 1950s, he noted that anti-Communism — whatever its other faults and excesses — had the remarkable effect of lessoning inter-ethnic tensions among like-minded activists. Anti-Communist blacks were celebrated and welcomed by anti-Communist whites. Anti-Communist immigrants and Jews were welcomed to the supposedly nativist and anti-Semitic movement. Viereck, who disliked the phenomenon (he said it was akin to xenophobia practiced by a “xeno”), dubbed it “transtolerance.”

I’m more upbeat about the dynamic. Of late there’s been a lot of debate, largely in the context of the so-called Ground Zero mosque, about the evils of American identity. Will Wilkinson, an influential liberal-libertarian writer, sees opposition to the mosque as an entirely reprehensible expression of the “cult of American identity” and the “zaniness of right identity politics.” The upshot of Wilkinson’s argument is that it’s absolutely preposterous for the American people to see themselves as a people.

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat recently argued that there are “two Americas.” The first America is wholly secular, “where allegiance to the Constitution trumps ethnic differences, language barriers and religious divides. An America where the newest arrival to our shores is no less American than the ever-so-great granddaughter of the Pilgrims.” The other America is culturally defined: “This America speaks English, not Spanish or Chinese or Arabic. It looks back to a particular religious heritage: Protestantism originally, and then a Judeo-Christian consensus that accommodated Jews and Catholics as well.”

Douthat makes some good points, but he downplays the relationship between what are really the two faces of one America. It is America’s conception of itself as a people that keeps it loyal to the Constitution. The Constitution, absent our cultural fidelity to it, might as well be the rules for a role-playing game.

I confess, if Beck weren’t a libertarian, I would find his populism worrisome. But his message, flaws and excesses notwithstanding, is that our constitutional heritage defines us as a people, regardless of race, religion, or creed. Is that so insulting to Martin Luther King Jr.’s memory?

— Jonah Goldberg is an editor-at-large of National Review Online and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. © 2010 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

A ‘Family’ Celebration at the Emmys

The New York Times
August 30, 2010

LOS ANGELES — “Where’s your cupcake?” Nolan Gould, the trouble-making boy on ABC’s “Modern Family,” asked Ariel Winter, who plays his sister Alex, backstage at the Emmy Awards on Sunday night.

After only one season, “Modern Family” had just come of age, capturing the Emmy for best comedy series and unseating NBC’s “30 Rock,” the winner for the past three years.

Behind the scenes, E! channel was handing out cupcakes, which Ms. Winter skipped, smartly, as Mr. Gould was soon whining, “Chocolate’s dripping everywhere!” He was doing what many 11-year-old boys do best: shouting.

The scene could have been pulled from the show itself. In “Modern Family,” ABC and the 20th Century Fox studio have successfully built a broad, relatable family comedy appreciated by critics and viewers alike.

“Everyone can see a little something about their family somewhere in the show,” said Jason Winer, one of its directors.

Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

Eric Stonestreet won an Emmy for outstanding supporting actor in a comedy for “Modern Family.” The series was named best comedy.

“Modern Family,” at least this year, occupies a sweet spot in television. With an average of 11.1 million viewers in its first season, it draws fewer people than the CBS sitcoms that are generally snubbed by Emmy voters but more than the NBC sitcoms that television critics tend to favor.

Clutching his two Emmys backstage (for best comedy and for writing), Steven Levitan, one of the show’s executive producers, said he would leave those labels up to reporters but added, “Believe me, I’m happy to be in that spot.”

So too is ABC, which hasn’t had a best-comedy winner since “The Wonder Years” in 1988. The network is trying to build an all-comedy night on Wednesday, with “Modern Family” as the backbone.

Although it hasn’t entirely won over Middle America, “Modern Family” is the kind of show that families can watch together, which partly explains its success. This mockumentary-style series follows three connected families: a nuclear family; a stepfamily with Ed O’Neill and, playing his much younger wife, Sofia Vergara; and a gay couple with a newly adopted Vietnamese baby. The families have an overtly upper-middle-class lifestyle, making the show either aspirational or envy-provoking, depending on the mood of the viewer.

Before the show had its premiere last September, Mr. Levitan, who has three children, said, “I just wanted it to be real.”

After the Emmy victory, after the interviews were all over, the cast looked remarkably like a real family, with each person reverting to his or her on-camera role. Ms. Winter, 12, was sending her friends text messages. Sarah Hyland, 19, who plays the older sister of Ms. Winter’s and Mr. Gould’s characters, was figuring out which after-party to go to first. And what was Julie Bowen, who plays the mother of the three, doing? Naturally, she was keeping tabs on Ms. Hyland’s party plans.

Meanwhile, Rico Rodriguez, 12, who plays the old soul Manny (son of Ms. Vergara’s character; stepson of Mr. O’Neill’s), was on the phone with his father, who was wishing him a good night. He had school on Monday morning.

The one family member missing from this scene was Eric Stonestreet, who won an Emmy for best supporting actor. He was the sole “Modern Family” actor with a victory Sunday night, although four other cast members — Mr. Stonestreet’s on-screen partner, Jesse Tyler Ferguson; Ms. Bowen; her on-screen husband, Ty Burrell; and Ms. Vergara — were also nominated in supporting roles.

Notably, Mr. O’Neill, the most recognizable cast member, was submitted as a supporting actor, not a lead, and was snubbed for a nomination, something that Mr. Winer chalked up to the idea that “people think of Ed as a lead actor.”

The cast of "Modern Family" poses after winning the outstanding comedy series award at the 62nd annual Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles, California August 29, 2010. Shown (L-R) are Julie Bowen, Ed O'Neill, Ty Burrell, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Ariel Winter, Eric Stonestreet, Rico Rodriguez, Nolan Gould, Sofia Vergara, and Sarah Hyland .REUTERS/Danny Moloshok.

The show was introduced at a time when the TV chattering classes predicted that comedies were on the rise, a byproduct of the recession. ABC had so much faith in it that the network screened the entire first episode to advertisers at its new-season presentation in May. “Modern Family” was championed by ABC’s president of entertainment, Stephen McPherson, who hastily exited last month. Mr. Levitan thanked him while accepting the writing award.

Asked what viewers can expect in Season 2, Mr. Levitan said, “More of the same.” Someone is stuck in a bathroom during an earthquake. Ms. Winter’s character gets a boyfriend, kind of. Mr. Stonestreet’s and Mr. Ferguson’s characters, Cameron and Mitchell, kiss.

That kiss has been the subject of much speculation and some criticism, since there was no such kiss in Season 1. The producers say it has been planned for a while.

Backstage, Mr. Stonestreet was asked if he thought the show had influenced the same-sex-marriage debate in California. Without wading into that specifically, he said, “We get amazing compliments from kids of same-sex-marriage families” and recounted a recent conversation with a man who thanked him for giving his sister “ammunition for the bullies.”

Echoing Mr. Stonestreet in an interview, Mr. Levitan said, “We’re here to make people laugh,” but added, “I think that if people fall in love with Cam and Mitchell, then maybe they’ll be a bit more understanding when they’re thinking about those issues at the ballots or in general in life.”

Eventually on Sunday night, the cast and producers caught up with their real families. Mr. O’Neill walked quietly through a parking garage to the Governors Ball, holding his wife’s hand. Mr. Rodriguez was teased by his older sister, Raini, an actress, after accidentally referring to “Modern Family” as “Emmy-nominated.”

“Emmy-winning!” she said to him. “Emmy-winning show. There’s no more ‘nominated.’ You won.”

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

For NFL, no limits to greed, hypocrisy

By Phil Sheridan
Philadelphia Inquirer Sports Columnist
August 30, 2010

Give the NFL credit for this much. It doesn't let reason, fairness or logic stand in its way if there's an extra dollar to be made.

Remember the league that fought the state of Delaware's attempt to legalize sports betting? It is now the league that "partners" with state lotteries to separate hardworking citizens from their cash via NFL-themed scratch-off games. The Eagles announced their deal with New Jersey on Sunday - significant, because the weekend is usually a good time to slip potentially controversial news past people.

Remember the league that spent decades forcing season-ticket holders to purchase two "preseason" (never, ever "exhibition") games, at full price, as part of their package? It is now the league that cites concern about its fans when pitching the elimination of two preseason games in exchange for two more regular-season games.

OK, so you already knew NFL owners were breathtakingly greedy. So what's the point? Well, the point is that the league is relying on our short memories and outright ignorance as it runs these latest scams. Maybe we can't stop the current outrages, but calling the NFL out just might deter it from the next money-grubbing idea. Let this stuff slide without comment and eventually you'll have to pay a toll to get past Lincoln Financial Field on I-95.

The announcement about the new Eagles-themed lottery game in New Jersey stressed that revenues will benefit "schoolchildren, college students, and our state's veterans." That's clever, because it makes it seem being against such an endeavor means being against education and honorable treatment of our most deserving citizens. But the Eagles are involved in order to make some money for the Eagles.

(Why New Jersey and not Pennsylvania? Maybe Gus, the Second Most Famous Groundhog in Pennsylvania, is represented by Drew Rosenhaus. Next question.)

Plenty of NFL teams are doing this now. It is a new way to suck a few dollars out of a struggling economy. Better still, such revenues are not shared equally among all the teams, like TV and merchandise money. They go right into the bank.

It would just be another example of common greed if not for the galling hypocrisy. In Delaware, where the league would not get a slice of the profits, gambling was a blight on our society that led decent folk down the path toward moral ruin. Drive over the Commodore Barry Bridge and gambling is not only fun but virtuous. Buying an Eagles scratch ticket is practically your civic duty.

Give NFL commissioner Roger Goodell his due here. You think it's easy to hold two such contradictory ideas in your head without having it explode? It takes years of training.

Goodell is also the point man on the expansion from a 16- to an 18-game regular season. Following his lead, Jeff Lurie and other owners are talking up the benefit to the fans. After perpetrating consumer fraud by forcing these pretend games on their best customers all these years, the league suddenly cares deeply about them. Either that, or there's more money to be made.

The timing of this remarkable kindness is no accident. The owners voted last year to reopen their collective bargaining agreement with the players, setting up the very real possibility of a strike or lockout in 2011. For a year, the owners grumbled that they needed to cut the players' percentage of revenues. Now, lo and behold, the owners are leaning on the players to extend the season by two revenue-enhancing games.

As sleazy as it is to trumpet the "benefit" to fans, the real deception here is worse. The league is planning to extend the season, and by definition the wear and tear on players, as we are beginning to understand the long-term effects of the sport.

Concussions. Dementia. Arthritis. Chronic pain. Shortened life expectancy. Now doctors are exploring a possible link between brain trauma and ALS.

At a time we should be asking whether it is morally defensible to stage and support such a violent sport, NFL owners are asking players to wring a few million more dollars out of the TV networks by adding two weeks of wear and tear to each season.

Think about the owners' rationale, that they could offset the injury risk by expanding rosters and changing the injured-reserve rules. What they're really saying is that the solution to the attrition problem is to throw more bodies on the pile. The players are just that disposable.

Here's a guess. They're also just that gullible. The players will resist the extended season only long enough to get more money in the next CBA. They will remain in their own state of denial about the long-term implications of the game they play. They will continue to take more money now for pain and destitution later.

After all, why worry? They can always buy an Eagles lottery ticket.

Contact columnist Phil Sheridan
at 215-854-2844


Read his recent work at

We Are All Prostitutes Today

August 30, 2010 - by Michael Ledeen

The mullahs have declared Carla Bruni, aka Mrs. Nicholas Sarkozy, aka France’s First Lady, a prostitute, in response to her letter to an Iranian woman sentenced to be stoned to death for adultery. If ever there were a case of the pot calling the kettle black, this is it. The Islamic Republic is a thoroughly corrupt regime that pauperizes its people while the top dogs live in luxury that would be the envy of a Hollywood star.

Carla Bruni and Nicholas Sarkozy

I use “top dogs” carefully, because in recent days a leading ayatollah has banned all advertisements for dogs, their food, stores that cater to them, or indeed anything having to do with them, in Khamenei’s domain. This is the latest in a series of ukases or fatwas devoted to the elimination of the pursuit of happiness. Music and fun haircuts have been recently banned, and of course the color green has been banished long since.

On the other hand, prostitution is blessed. It’s not called prostitution, mind you, but it’s hard to call the “temporary marriage” center operating out of a shrine in Mashad as anything other than that. The man pays some money and gets some sex. What do you call that?

Don’t forget that the Islamic Republic rests on misogyny. Khomeini, the founding tyrant, hated women and undid a century of Persian progress in a few years. Someone on Twitter the other night said that Supreme Leader Khamenei had counseled some of the regime’s torturers and rapists to make sure the women they violated were properly dressed. It may have been an attempt at humor, I don’t know, but it does reflect a state of mind.

It’s hard for Westerners to imagine what’s going on in Iran these days, namely a state that has lost all legitimacy in the eyes of its subjects, in which the rulers are fighting each other for shards of power and scraps of graft. Perhaps the most revealing recent anecdote comes from a newspaper report about the Revolutionary Guards spying on political leaders:

Rah-e-Sabz claims that the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps had installed monitoring systems in a seven-story building frequented by high-ranking politicians.

Last week some of the politicians detected the surveillance and, unaware of who carried it out, asked the Ministry of Intelligence to check the building. The Ministry denied responsibility and sent technical specialists, who inevitably discovered many IRGC cameras and microphones. As the specialists were leaving, they were accosted by a group of Revolutionary Guard. A fight followed, with guns even being drawn.

Every now and then, in one of these frequent confrontations, somebody pulls a trigger, and the press reports an “accident.” More often, the attacks against politicians or Revolutionary Guards take the form of automobile crashes, failed hydraulic systems on RG aircraft, or suicide attacks against large RG gatherings, as in the July terror assault on the mosque in Zahedan.

It was only a matter of time before some elements of the opposition would resort to violence against the regime, even though the leading spokesmen for the Green Movement, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, have constantly called for non-violent methods. Meanwhile, the regime slaughters its opponents at a fearsome rate, e.g.:

A Mashad human rights activist told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran of the secret group executions of hundreds of prisoners inside Mashad’s Vakil Abad Prison without the knowledge of their families or lawyers. According to the activist, there are some 2,100 prisoners on death row at this prison who might face abrupt secret group executions at any moment.

And so we head into the autumn. The first significant date is Friday, September 3rd, “Quds Day.” Many opposition groups seem ready to take to the streets. Karroubi has promised to join them, and the regime has surrounded his home with thugs. Four days to go.

Meanwhile, no Western leader has openly supported the opposition. Maybe the best way to do it is to join in solidarity with Carla Bruni, and declare ourselves Prostitutes for Freedom.

Glenn Beck Rocks D.C.

Posted by David Horowitz on Aug 31st, 2010

We all get used to things so quickly these days that we don’t reflect on how unthinkable a rally like the one staged on the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech by talk show host Glenn Beck would have been as recently as two years ago. Outside the missionary environs of the pro-life movement you couldn’t have found ten people on the right – ten Republicans or ten conservatives — to march on Washington for a political rally. Marching in lock step would have seemed a collectivist act to them, almost unclean and something that only leftists and Democrats would do. The individualistic instincts of conservatives were admirable philosophically, but politically they put the cause of individual rights and the defense of the American republic at a severe disadvantage in the battles that had been joined with the collectivist left.

The gathering of 500,000 conservatives last weekend in front of the Lincoln Memorial was a triumphant step in conservatives’ effort to take back the culture – this is our civil rights march, get used to it! But it was also a historic moment in the Great Political Awakening” that marks the development of a new and unprecedented activist conservatism in America. This new conservatism began with the Tea Party movement but its real trigger is the seizure of the federal government through electoral double-talk and political stealth by the collectivists of Obama progressivism. There no figure on the public scene who has done more to educate millions of Americans as to the nature of this neo-communist left than the leader of Saturday’s demonstration: Glenn Beck. It is because of his exposure of the Democrats as progressive wolves in “liberal” sheep’s clothing that Glenn Beck is at top of the liberal hate lists; it is for the same reason that hundreds of thousands of conservatives across the country answered his call. That is the political dimension of what transpired on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Some on the right are claiming that because of its religious, cultural and moral themes, Beck’s Restoring Honor rally was not political. These conservatives are partly expressing their irritation that conservatives like Beck and his activist followers should consider themselves conservative at all. Beck is too confrontational, too divisive. His history lessons are sometimes overwrought and inaccurate – (more overwrought and inaccurate than those of progressive icons like Barack Obama, Jesse Jackson and Howard Zinn?). Conservatives don’t do politics the way collectivists do – as war conducted by other means. They’re too civilized. True conservatives don’t protest and they don’t march.

Well, they do now.

Marty Stuart, Classically Inspired

By Tom Roland
August 30, 2010

Marty Stuart photo courtesy of The GreenRoom.

When Marty Stuart set out to record his latest album, Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions, at a historic Nashville studio, he was the perfect guy to do it.

RCA Studio B was the breeding ground for a ton of country hits by the likes of Dolly Parton, Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers and Jim Reeves. It’s currently owned by the Country Music Hall of Fame and serves more as a tourist attraction these days than a working studio, but it was a great location for Marty, who has an avowed appreciation for country’s past.

The RCA studio had a personal connection, because it was the site of Marty’s very first recording session, when he worked as a sideman for Country Music Hall of Fame member Lester Flatt. Since then, Marty’s gone on to have some important final moments with several other Hall of Famers. He was the producer of Porter Wagoner’s very last album, Wagonmaster. And Marty co-wrote the last song that Johnny Cash authored. Both Porter and Johnny are recalled on Ghost Train — Marty wrote a recitation called “Porter Wagoner’s Grave,” and he recorded the song that he and Johnny wrote together, “Hangman.”

“He was my next-door neighbor, and I went over there and had that song started, and it didn’t take 10 minutes to finish it,” Marty told American Songwriter. “As I left, I said, ‘Well I’ve got to go to Washington, and I’ll see you in about four days.’ I said, ‘You feeling good?’ And he said, ‘I’m feeling good.’ And I said, ‘How’s your spirit?’ ‘It’s good.’ ‘You got plenty of rope left?’ And he said, ‘Yup.’ And I said, ‘I’ll see you when I get home.’”

Of course, he did not see Johnny. The Man in Black died while Marty was out of town in September 2003. Marty is working to keep the the spirit of classic country alive, and it becomes tougher every day as contemporary country sounds overtake the old stuff. Many members of the country-music community — and some fans — are frustrated or angry about that development. But Marty has no ill will about it.

“I absolutely encourage modern country music, trust me,” he said. “There aren’t a lot of people out there that think the way I do about some things, but we need modern country music as much as we need traditional country music. It’s a balance, and we need bluegrass, and folk music. We need all those divisions of country music, firing on all cylinders. That’s what makes country music so cool to me.”

Marty Stuart Returns To His Roots On 'Ghost Train'

by Ken Tucker
August 20, 2010

Like countless performers before him, Marty Stuart portrays himself as hunted, haunted, misunderstood — a rebel on the lam. It's a familiar story, whether it's coming from the blues, honky-tonk or hip-hop. The trick is to make that story sound fresh. Stuart does in the ringing guitars and high-lonesome holler of a song on his new album, Ghost Train, called "Branded." Whether he intends it or not, "Branded" is also something of a pun: This new collection is Stuart's proclamation that, while he can't help but become a consumer brand, his branding is that of the outsider. All of this would be hopelessly hokey if the music didn't bolster his line of patter.

In "Drifting Apart," Marty Stuart howls about a broken marriage in what amounts to an homage to the kind of steel-guitar super-hits George Jones and Buck Owens made decades ago. Stuart wrote the song and produced it himself. The steel guitar is played by Ralph Mooney, the man credited with nothing less than inventing the so-called "Bakersfield Sound" on hits with Buck Owens and Wynn Stewart, among many others. Stuart is a fluid guitar player himself, who played bluegrass mandolin behind Lester Flatt when Stuart was 13. But he never gets bogged down in fussy arrangements or mere nostalgia.

Stuart's duet partner in the vibrant new song "I Run to You" is his wife, Connie Smith, a great country singer, starting with her indelible 1964 hit "Once a Day." Sometimes it seems as though Marty Stuart has built a life around him that allows him to live in a kind of perpetual country-music time-machine. He curates exhibits of music memorabilia and photography, and does restoration work on legends such as Porter Wagoner, for whom Stuart produced a lively 2007 album, shortly before Wagoner's death at age 80. Stuart has a song on Ghost Train called "Porter Wagoner's Grave" that's at once eloquent and maudlin in a long tradition of country death songs.

All is not gloom and grave-dust, however, as "Little Heartbreaker" demonstrates. The longer you ride in Marty Stuart's Ghost Train, the more its speed and energy hits you like the wind in your face. In the liner notes to this new album, Marty Stuart says that he felt it was time to "write some songs and play some hard-hitting country music." Most of the time, Ghost Train hits hard, dead center in the sweet spot between old and new, until you can't tell the difference.

Marty Stuart has country music in his blood, and Ghost Train is no retro record

Let It B

by Jon Weisberger
August 19, 2010

Playing Wednesday, 25th at The Belcourt It's been just about a decade since Marty Stuart decided to quit chasing the country music big-time, and since then, he's put together one of the best bands in the business and made some fine albums. But today, when he talks about country music and the making of his latest effort, Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions, he has the impassioned air of a man who's been born again — and maybe he has.

"Growing up in the middle of Mississippi was the perfect place to be as a young musician," he recalls. "I got to listen to Dixieland from New Orleans. The blues came down from the Delta. Memphis was about Stax and Sun and soul music. If I dug deeply enough, there were people who knew about bluegrass, and of course, the church was everywhere. But country music was the thing that absolutely is what I was about. It was radio and records and those 30-minute TV shows — I knew every record and every star. I devoured it as a 12-year-old kid, and that was my thing. And as time went on, I went with whatever I was doing and wherever my heart led me. But there comes a point in your life you have to draw a line in the dirt and go, 'You know, it's time to define some things.' And what defines me, what reduces me to a puddle of tears when I'm going down the road driving in my car by myself, is the very same thing that pretty much did it to me when I was a kid — the same songs, the same records, after all this time. It's country music."

Stuart calls Ghost Train "traditional country music," but these days, that's a phrase that begs for amplification, as "traditional" is too often used to denote just one strand of the music's rich history — honky-tonk shuffles, say, or drinking songs, or the kinds of artless exercises that try to substitute earnest enthusiasm for musical skill and a deep familiarity with the syntax and diction of the real deal.

"I did not want a retro record," Stuart says with a slight wave of the hand. "The challenge was not just to recreate the past. That's done every day — badly. The challenge was to get started on a new chapter of traditional country music."

It's easy to see that Stuart's the right man for that job. A professional since his teens, he apprenticed with the likes of Lester Flatt and Johnny Cash, then rode a more raucous (but still tradition-conscious) kind of new country music to stardom in the late '80s and early '90s, and the experience has given him a breadth of outlook that he shares with colleagues like Vince Gill, Carl Jackson and Ricky Skaggs — but not many others.

"Look around here," he says, gesturing to the world-class collection of country music artifacts he's acquired over the decades. "When we saw country music take off for a younger crowd and bigger numbers, all of this stuff started fading. It was an embarrassment. It was out of style. But the split in my heart was that I was part of the whole new era — my age, my look, my sound, whatever — and I had to go for that, but this stuff, this is the world that raised me."

Indeed, one of the great strengths of Ghost Train is the way it acts as a sort of musical counterpart to the racks and rows and tables filled with those artifacts. Every song is made up of vintage tones, echoes of signature sounds, sly references to almost-forgotten gestures that made up the vocabulary of decades' worth of country music — and, in one stunning move, Stuart reached out to one of the greatest shapers of the music's past by inviting legendary steel player Ralph Mooney to join him and the Fabulous Superlatives in historic Studio B for nearly half of the album.

"If I had to pick one guy that I'd say, 'Here, take the keys to my car, here's my house, what do you want, my dog, whatever,' to it's Ralph Mooney," Stuart says with a hearty laugh. "He's the alpha and omega of hillbilly pickers to me, and we've been close since the early 1980s. I really got to missing him, and I thought, if we're going to make a country record, I need to go to Texas and investigate this. So I took a couple of songs down there to Fort Worth, just to feel each other out, just to pick and hang out. Well, Mrs. Mooney called us in to lunch, and while we were eating, 'Little Heartbreaker' started coming. I said to Ralph, 'It's somewhere between what you played on Wynn Stewart's "Big, Big Love" and Waylon's "Rainy Day Woman," ' and that's all I had to say — that song came in about three minutes over Mrs. Mooney's banana pudding."

Not every song on Ghost Train has such a straightforward story, but every song has one — not only the ones Stuart wrote or had a hand in writing, but the deftly chosen classics, too, like Don Reno & Red Smiley's rave-up, "Country Boy Rock & Roll," or a dandy instrumental version of Mooney's immortal "Crazy Arms."

"We were there, in Studio B," Stuart recalls, "and I just thought, 'There's a red button, there's a band, and there's the man who wrote the song — whether we use it or not, let's do this!' "

And at the end of the day, that's what makes Ghost Train such a compelling piece of work. Nearly 40 years in, the music he's loved and devoted himself to has sunk so deeply into his heart and his fingers that making rich, complex yet classically straightforward country music has become purely instinctual, and with the Fabulous Superlatives — "the band of a lifetime," he calls them — barely a step behind him in that regard, he's doing exactly what he wants.

"When we first started the Superlatives," Stuart says with one last laugh, "I told somebody, if I could stay in the Hermitage Hotel in every town and play The Ryman in every town, and we had a good meal before the show and a quiet place to tune my guitar, I don't know that I could ask for a lot more than that."


On a Lost Highway


Ryan Bingham’s crazy heart opens up.

By Lisa Robinson
Photograph by Bruce Weber
September 2010

Ryan Bingham won an Academy Award with T Bone Burnett for their song “The Weary Kind,” from last year’s film Crazy Heart. This month, the singer-songwriter, photographed here in Miami, releases a new album.

What’s life like after winning an Oscar?

Unlike some whose careers or marriages fall apart, Ryan Bingham says things are pretty much the same since he and T Bone Burnett won for best song (“The Weary Kind,” from Crazy Heart). Here, the singer-songwriter and former rodeo bull rider talks about that award, life on the road, and his new album, the T Bone Burnett—produced Junky Star, out this month.

LISA ROBINSON: Were you really a rodeo bull rider?

RYAN BINGHAM: I grew up in New Mexico and Texas doing that. My uncle rode bulls and my grandfather was a rancher; junior rodeos were like Little League in our family.

L.R. You get categorized as ‘country,’ but your music really sounds more like Gram Parsons—style rock and roll.

R.B. We always felt we were a rock and roll band. People thought we were a country band because I wore a cowboy hat, and [while] I was raised on Willie and Waylon—and that’s a lot of where my roots are—the Stones and Zeppelin are in there, too. A lot of times people don’t listen to your music; they just see what you’re wearing and put a stamp on it. Then they come to our shows, see us play live, and it’s a whole different deal.

L.R. What was the sound you and T Bone were going for on your new album?

R.B. Just the same sound as before with my band, the Dead Horses. We spent a week working up the songs, played all of them in T Bone’s living room, and he told us to record [everything] exactly the way we played them for him. It was all recorded live; most of the songs were done in one or two takes.

L.R. The album is called Junky Star, but you don’t mean ‘junky’ as in drug addict, do you?

R.B. No, it’s like junkyard; a lot of these songs sound like they’ve been beat up for a long time. The album cover picture is a wrecked-out plane with the wings broken off; it looks like it’s flown a million miles, but there’s something special about it.

L.R. So, how did the movie and the Oscar change your life?

R.B. It’s still been life; no change really around the house or in my world. But without that movie, the kind of music we play would never have reached that broad an audience.

L.R. In Crazy Heart, you and your band perform in the bowling-alley scene. How authentic was that?

R.B. We’re a bowling-alley band. That’s what I told the director when he asked us about doing it. We’ve played bowling alleys more times than I want to count.

L.R. What’s the worst place you ever played?

R.B. We played a gig somewhere in Mississippi, in a shitty motel lounge where they had a racetrack set up and they were racing rats. In the bar. Ryan Bingham and Mice Races.

L.R. From there to wearing an Alexander McQueen tuxedo onstage at the Kodak Theatre. Did you keep the tuxedo?

R.B. No, I didn’t get to keep it. But I really don’t know where I’d wear it. Maybe for the mice races—next year.


Album Reviews: Ryan Bingham - 'Junky Star'

Pop & Hiss
The L.A. Times music blog
August 30, 2010 10:55 pm

In "Strange Feelin’ in the Air," a crooked guitar riff stalks, offering a feeling of apprehension as sure as the shifty outsider bursting through the swinging doors of the townie saloon. It’s pure Ryan Bingham, a conjurer of atmosphere, a gift that he put to good use for "The Weary Kind," his Oscar-winning song featured in "Crazy Heart."

The Topanga Canyon troubadour wrote the movie’s theme with roots maestro T Bone Burnett, who also lends his production skills to "Junky Star," Bingham’s third album of dirty-fingernail Americana. Unlike Bingham’s last outing, "Roadhouse Sun," in which his native windswept Texas dominated the proceedings, California creeps up in the margins. In the ragged, heartfelt "Depression," the Golden State might be an escape from a wasteland, but it’s not that simple; on the title track, he’s "sleeping on the Santa Monica Pier, with the junkies and the stars."

Whatever specter California casts, thank heavens it doesn’t add polish. Bingham’s voice still sounds like a gut-shot animal dragging itself across the road. It can bend toward a moment of relief, like when he sings "Hallelujah," or it can fold into sorrow, as it does on "Yesterday’s Blues." Burnett wisely stands back and lets Bingham, the former bull rider, bleed or buck in the spotlight.

The only quality that’s sorely missed on "Junky Star" is Bingham’s sense of adventure. There’s nothing on here that approaches the meltdown of "Change Is" or the spitfire of "Hey Hey Hurray" on "Roadhouse Sun." Bingham, no stranger now to the Hollywood circuit, might be in a new land but he shouldn’t forget his pioneer spirit.

-- Margaret Wappler

Ryan Bingham

"Junky Star"

Lost Highway

Three stars (Out of four)

Junky Star – 2010 (Lost Highway)
Ryan Bingham

Reviewed by Michael Berick
August 31, 2010

Ryan Bingham's name recognition took a quantum leap this year after his Academy Award win for Best Original Song with "The Weary Kind". But fear not, the Texas troubadour hasn't gone Hollywood on his marvelous new album. There isn't a stylistic overhaul or big-name guests. The only slight change for his third full length is that T Bone Burnett replaced Marc Ford in the producer's chair. However, Burnett also co-helmed the "Crazy Heart" soundtrack, and their raw, organic styles are quite simpatico.

If there is a Hollywood influence, it's in Bingham's songwriting. His hard-lived tales resemble Western noir stories. The lead-off track," The Poet", establishes the cinematic atmosphere. A lonesome harmonica sets the stage for a colorful, yet dark-hued, story where "senoritas lose it to mariachi music" and "the poet writes his songs in blood." It's as if Springsteen had done "Nebraska" under the influence of Sam Peckinpaugh.

Violence and guns play an important role in several other tunes. The title track starts off with "a man came to shake my hand and rob me of my farm/I shot him dead, hung my head and drove off in his car." The man then heads off to the squalid life among the "junkies and the stars" at the Santa Monica Pier. In "Hallelujah", a man thinks he recognizes someone as an old friend, only to be shot dead by this impoverished, desperate man, with the now dead man realizing that there is no real salvation, and "hallelujah is just a song."

Death also figures prominently in "Hard Worn Trail", where a man is left for dead and the closer "All Choked Up Again", in which a man admits "I think I just killed a man, think it was my old man." The turmoil in the first tune is evocatively accentuated by the musical arrangement, which offers dramatic use of a slide guitar and percussion. Burnett guests in tremolo guitar on the latter tune, adding a haunting quality to the narrative.

While Bingham works well in simple musical settings, Burnett does a fine job of utilizing Bingham's road-tested band, The Dead Horses (there's the image of death again). The sinister guitar line snakes through "Strange Feelin' In The Air", and "Hallelujah" also uses guitars (building from a quite acoustic to noisier electric) to reflect the song's dramatics. The band works up some roadhouse grooves too on "The Wandering" and "Direction Of The Wind", which provide some welcome change of musical pace. In "The Wandering", Bingham also stretches out his older-than-his-years, nicotine and whiskey voice into a twangier croon.

Bingham does offer a few rays of lights amidst his generally dark narratives. Despite its title, Depression actually is a song about the power of love - although set against these grim economic times. Bingham powerfully expresses here, on one of the standout efforts, how love can pull someone through the darkest of times. Similarly, in "Yesterday's Blues", he movingly conveys how love can conquer the bad times of someone's past.

Although he's not covering particularly new territory here, Bingham does refine what he does best - creating indelible, down-to-the-bone tales of souls lost or struggled to survive - that he has made him one of Americana's finest young songwriters.

Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses' 'Junky Star' review: Has the voice, the soul, but not the music

By Jim Farber
Tuesday, August 31st 2010, 4:00 AM

Ryan Bingham's 'Junky Star,' his follow-up to the Oscar-winning 'Crazy Heart,' has the right voice but the music is not quite up to snuff.

Ryan Bingham seems like such a well-groomed and promising young man. Articulate, handsome and, earnest, Bingham has also been richly rewarded of late, having bagged both an Oscar and a Golden Globe for co-writing "The Weary Kind" for Jeff Bridges' character in "Crazy Heart."

But Bingham's voice tells a rougher story. It's all whisky and heartache, desperation and age. Blessed with a classic rasp, 29-year-old Bingham wheezes meaningfully through his songs, exhaling just enough consequence and grit to suggest a junior Steve Earle or a cub Waylon Jennings.

Those qualities gave Bingham's first two albums on the alterna-country label Lost Highway credibility and heart. If anything, they're on even rawer display on the new, "Junky Star." The songs seem looser, less formal and, as a consequence, not as catchy or easily embraced.

Clearly, Bingham hasn't tried to slick up his sound in the slightest since his breakthrough. Once again he worked with Americana producer T-Bone Burnett, who frayed the sound even further, letting Bingham's crinkly vocals cackle around flintier guitar chords.

The scenarios of the songs delve into the dark side as well. "Hallelujah" (not the Leonard Cohen song, thank God), features a dead man as its main character. Murdered near the song's start, he narrates the rest as a ghost caught between worlds.

In "All Choked Up Again," the narrator kills his father then tears himself apart. "Everyday I seem to dig a little deeper into nothing that is left behind," he broods.

Not that the songs lack a hint of redemption. There's a lot of love-conquering-all-here, which tips off Bingham's biggest problem: his debt to cliche. The heroin addicts who nod through two key tracks, the poet who wanders through "shelters and shambles," come off more as self-glorifying archetypes than gnarly individuals.

The ambling nature of the music doesn't help. As compositions, the songs don't feel complete, which makes the whole package seem hollow.

Bingham's romantic view of beautiful losers - unredeemed by humor or self-awareness - plays into a long-running American stereotype: the seen-it-all gunslinger, hobbled but hopeful.

Bingham may have the voice of withered knowing down. But without enough compelling music to support it, his album ends up seeming like a movie version of a life rather than the real thing.

Album review: Ryan Bingham's new album 'Junky Star' shines

By Melinda Newman
August 30, 2010

Ryan Bingham would seemingly have every reason to be happy after traveling from relative mainstream obscurity to nabbing the best original song Oscar for “The Weary Kind” from “Crazy Heart.”

However, he’s keeping his glee to himself. There is no evidence of celebration or his growing celebrity on “Junky Star,” his third album with the Dead Horses. The characters who populate the largely acoustic “Junky Star” are so downtrodden, they make “Crazy Heart’s” desolate Bad Blake seem as successful as a Fortune 500 CEO.

These protagonists aren’t diamonds in the rough. They are, and always will be, chunks of coal and it is to Bingham’s credit that he sees the tarnished beauty amid the decay.

Bingham’s roughnecks may not have shot a man in Reno just to watch him die, but they create their own murderer’s row, in some cases killing strangers, in others, killing kin. They’ve been marginalized by the economy and by their own misdeeds and no one notices when they’re no longer there. If they aren’t physically dying, as they are on “Hallelujah” or “All Choked Up Again,” they are spiritually and morally.

The few flickers of hope are still muted in desperation. On “Depression” and “Yesterday’s Blues,” love is the only life raft in very choppy waters.

The stripped down production, handled nimbly by T-Bone Burnett (with whom Bingham worked on “Crazy Heart”) allows the songs to be front and center. Recorded solely with the Dead Horses--drummer Matthew Smith, bassist Elijah Ford and guitarist Corby Schaub-- and no outside musicians, the album feels insular and slightly claustrophobic, just like the characters. Everyone is going nowhere fast, but they’re in no hurry to get there. Bingham’s weatherbeaten vocals--he’s 29, but he sounds like he’s 65--add to the high lonesome feel. His growl can be a slap or a caress.

Bingham isn’t doing anything that Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Steve Earle and Bruce Springsteen haven’t done before, but that he can even stand comfortably within their shadows here is an accomplishment worth celebrating.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The last refuge of a liberal

By Charles Krauthammer
The Washington Post
Friday, August 27, 2010; A21

Liberalism under siege is an ugly sight indeed. Just yesterday it was all hope and change and returning power to the people. But the people have proved so disappointing. Their recalcitrance has, in only 19 months, turned the predicted 40-year liberal ascendancy (James Carville) into a full retreat. Ah, the people, the little people, the small-town people, the "bitter" people, as Barack Obama in an unguarded moment once memorably called them, clinging "to guns or religion or" -- this part is less remembered -- "antipathy toward people who aren't like them."

That's a polite way of saying: clinging to bigotry. And promiscuous charges of bigotry are precisely how our current rulers and their vast media auxiliary react to an obstreperous citizenry that insists on incorrect thinking.

-- Resistance to the vast expansion of government power, intrusiveness and debt, as represented by the Tea Party movement? Why, racist resentment toward a black president.

-- Disgust and alarm with the federal government's unwillingness to curb illegal immigration, as crystallized in the Arizona law? Nativism.

-- Opposition to the most radical redefinition of marriage in human history, as expressed in Proposition 8 in California? Homophobia.

-- Opposition to a 15-story Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero? Islamophobia.

Now we know why the country has become "ungovernable," last year's excuse for the Democrats' failure of governance: Who can possibly govern a nation of racist, nativist, homophobic Islamophobes?

Note what connects these issues. In every one, liberals have lost the argument in the court of public opinion. Majorities -- often lopsided majorities -- oppose President Obama's social-democratic agenda (e.g., the stimulus, Obamacare), support the Arizona law, oppose gay marriage and reject a mosque near Ground Zero.

What's a liberal to do? Pull out the bigotry charge, the trump that preempts debate and gives no credit to the seriousness and substance of the contrary argument. The most venerable of these trumps is, of course, the race card. When the Tea Party arose, a spontaneous, leaderless and perfectly natural (and traditionally American) reaction to the vast expansion of government intrinsic to the president's proudly proclaimed transformational agenda, the liberal commentariat cast it as a mob of angry white yahoos disguising their antipathy to a black president by cleverly speaking in economic terms.

Then came Arizona and S.B. 1070. It seems impossible for the left to believe that people of good will could hold that: (a) illegal immigration should be illegal, (b) the federal government should not hold border enforcement hostage to comprehensive reform, i.e., amnesty, (c) every country has the right to determine the composition of its immigrant population.

As for Proposition 8, is it so hard to see why people might believe that a single judge overturning the will of 7 million voters is an affront to democracy? And that seeing merit in retaining the structure of the most ancient and fundamental of all social institutions is something other than an alleged hatred of gays -- particularly since the opposite-gender requirement has characterized virtually every society in all the millennia until just a few years ago?

And now the mosque near Ground Zero. The intelligentsia is near unanimous that the only possible grounds for opposition is bigotry toward Muslims. This smug attribution of bigotry to two-thirds of the population hinges on the insistence on a complete lack of connection between Islam and radical Islam, a proposition that dovetails perfectly with the Obama administration's pretense that we are at war with nothing more than "violent extremists" of inscrutable motive and indiscernible belief. Those who reject this as both ridiculous and politically correct (an admitted redundancy) are declared Islamophobes, the ad hominem du jour.

It is a measure of the corruption of liberal thought and the collapse of its self-confidence that, finding itself so widely repudiated, it resorts reflexively to the cheapest race-baiting (in a colorful variety of forms). Indeed, how can one reason with a nation of pitchfork-wielding mobs brimming with "antipathy toward people who aren't like them" -- blacks, Hispanics, gays and Muslims -- a nation that is, as Michelle Obama once put it succinctly, "just downright mean"?

The Democrats are going to get beaten badly in November. Not just because the economy is ailing. And not just because Obama over-read his mandate in governing too far left. But because a comeuppance is due the arrogant elites whose undisguised contempt for the great unwashed prevents them from conceding a modicum of serious thought to those who dare oppose them.

Going to the sun in Montana

Glacier National Park

Winding ribbon of a road takes you past park's glorious interior scenery

By Janet K. Keeler
St. Petersburg Times
The Denver Post
Posted: 08/28/2010

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK, Mont. — There is a moment on every grand tour that you'd like to stuff into a bottle, its cap shut tight, only to open and experience again in some distant instance when things aren't going so well. Instead, the smell of the air, the panorama before you, even the feel of a cool breeze can settle into memory to be recalled days, months or years later as the best souvenir ever.

Such are my hopes for the glorious scene at Pray Lake on the east side of Glacier National Park. We have just walked down the hill from the Two Medicine Campground's amphitheater and a session with Ernie Heavy Runner of the Blackfeet tribe. His talk on what animals taught native people about survival in this rugged land has us thinking about bears. Then again, so do the signs all around that remind us we are in grizzly country.

It is nearly 9:30 p.m. and not quite dusk some 3,300 miles north of the equator. The sun will not set for another 45 minutes. We amble to the edge of the slick-calm lake. The Blackfeet call the Two Medicine area "the Backbone of the World," and we are immersed in that universe as we gaze at 8,271-foot Sinopah Mountain, patches of snow still visible. As if on cue, the setting sun lights the mountain's wizard-cap top orange. The dramatic reflection and color burst reach a fisherman, who is dancing a lyrical ballet with fly, line and rod.

We watch for 30 minutes. He doesn't catch anything, but tells us he has to keep moving or his legs, protected from water by waders, will go numb. This is his favorite spot in the world, he says. The small lake is clear and cold. The air is that way, too. In late June, and at 4,000- plus feet above sea level, we need sweatshirts. And bug spray. We know bears can be ferocious, but right now the mosquitoes threaten. Suddenly, they are gone. Our fisherman whips one last cast. We can't remember ever breathing air so pristine.

In that perfectly peaceful moment, we know Ken Burns got

Crown of the continent

We are at the start of a June-July tour of four national parks that will take us along the Rocky Mountains from Glacier to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, then veer southwest to the Grand Canyon. Though the calendar says otherwise, it is spring in Glacier. Red, yellow and purple-blue wildflowers dot the roadsides and gentle slopes. Melting snow gushes down mountains, and the rivers madly rip with white foam. There is stubborn snow on the highest peaks, and the famed 52-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road is a few days away from being completely open to traffic.

That's good and bad news. The lousy thing is that we won't be able to experience the entire white-knuckle drive over 6,600-foot Logan Pass, but the upside is that the park isn't crawling with tourists yet. People flock to Glacier once the Sun Road opens. Lots of folks want to experience one of America's most scenic (and challenging) drives, and it's open only about 12 weeks a year. We negotiate most of it and marvel at the engineering feat — and our survival.

We aren't alone on the road. Many of the national parks are seeing more visitors, thanks to Burns' 2009 PBS series and because the shaky economy has kept travelers closer to home. The parking lots in Glacier are crammed with cars boasting license plates from all Western states, plus Minnesota and Michigan, and a fair amount from faraway Florida.

Glacier, which is celebrating its centennial this year, reports that 500,000 people have visited the park through June, the largest number since 2005. To put that in perspective, more than 9 million people go to the most-visited national park, the Great Smoky Mountains, each year. The Smokies' popularity is cemented by its proximity to major population centers and its accessibility throughout the year.

Glacier doesn't even make the top 10 among visited parks, but it is one of the most stunning. A look up at its tall peaks has us thinking Switzerland rather than the United States. It is a destination park, not one that you're likely to visit on your way to somewhere else.

If you want to experience Glacier National Park fully, you've got from June to September to do it. Beyond those months, the park is open, but only those well acquainted with snowshoes and roughing it will be comfortable. Most facilities, including hotels, are closed.

Glacier covers 1 million acres in the northwest corner of Montana, the country's fourth-largest state in landmass but only 44th in population. The park spreads north into Canada, where it's called Waterton Lakes National Park. (If you want to visit, don't forget your passport, and be ready to answer questions at the border crossing. You can't transport fruits and vegetables across; peanut butter crackers are OK.)

Glacier's rugged peaks, lush valleys and 200 lakes, only 100 with names, are the products of glacial movement. When Glacier was designated a national park on May 11, 1910, there were 150 glaciers within its boundaries. Today, that number is about 25, and those are expected to disappear by 2025.

When the glaciers are gone, several park rangers tell us, the name will remain. After all, it's glaciers that cut the terrain. We learn this on Day 1 during a boat ride on the 10-mile- long Lake McDonald. Look north, says the young guide through the vintage wooden boat's raspy PA system. When I study the vista, I see how the mountains around the lake rise in a soft U-shape toward the Continental Divide. That shape, the guide says, rather than a V, signifies the slow march of a glacier. In this case, it's suspected that a glacier more than 2,000 feet thick carved Lake McDonald.

Time to head to the lodge to ponder that.

Historic digs

Glacier has many types of accommodations, including lodges, motor inns and cabins. Camping, of course, is one of the most popular ways to stay in the park, and we see people pitching tents and hooking up RVs, both humongous and vintage, in various locations. Glacier is backcountry heaven, with more than 65 campsites that can be reached only on foot.

We are neither backpackers nor campers, though the scene at Two Medicine almost converts us. Almost.
We have two nights in the nearby motor inn of the Lake McDonald Lodge (pictured at right), on the park's west side, and two nights at the Glacier Park Lodge, at the southeast corner. It was luck that got us those reservations in January. Most rooms are booked a year or more in advance.

The Lake McDonald Lodge was built in 1914, an example of Swiss chalet architecture set on the shores of the lake. The lobby sweeps us off our feet, though it hardly evokes anything that came from the country of yodeling. It is small and compact with dozens of mounted animals staring down. Inscriptions in Kootenai, a local American Indian dialect, are carved in the floors, and painted hanging lanterns celebrate more native heritage. A huge fireplace at one end is a popular place to hang out, and it's cold enough outside to warrant the heat.

We don't want to leave. Ever. We wonder if we can get a job stoking the fire. A young staffer routinely stops by with a giant poker that gets the sparks flying. Perhaps he needs assistants.

One day we drive to Many Glacier Lodge and then on to the Prince of Wales Hotel on the Canada side, just to see. We vow to come back and stay there, too. From the back of Many Glacier, we see Gem, Swiftcurrent and Grinnell glaciers rising above Swiftcurrent Lake. They are small, but the entire tableau is breathtaking. A boat ride gets visitors a little closer.

We sit and breathe deeply. Again, that air.

Back in the car, we head north to Canada. The Prince of Wales Hotel rises on a bluff, framed by a bowl of mountains. Fewer people are here. Late-afternoon tea in the Prince of Wales lobby looks out on Waterton Lake and the sweet town nearby. A very cool place to eat cucumber sandwiches.

Glacier Park Lodge, at the southeast entrance of the park, was built about 100 years ago by the Great Northern Railway, and the train legacy remains. The Amtrak station, buzzing with tourists in the summer, is within walking distance. A flower garden rioting with color leads the way to the lodge.

The rooms are good-sized, and the lobby is bracketed by enormous timbers that might have been 800 years old when cut for the project. The large trees that make the cathedral- like lobby were brought into the park from the Pacific Northwest. No local trees were big enough to fit the architect's vision.

Like many of the historic lodges, Glacier Park is more about the shared experience of nature than private plushness. Bathrooms are small and adequate, beds are comfortable. But the bigger emphasis is communal spaces. Great care has been taken to provide windows in public spaces to view the changing sky and light.

The lodge has plenty of modern touches, though. We enjoy latte from the coffee bar, and it's a relief to get cellphone connections after a few days without.

Going-to-the-Sun, and then some

There are two ways to traverse the winding, mountain-hugging turns of the Going-to-the-Sun Road that crosses the wild interior of the park. You can travel on your own wheels (bicycle, motorcycle, car or motor home that's less than 21 feet long) or you can pay to be a passenger in a red touring "Jammer."

Make sure you do one or the other. We did both.

On a rainy Monday, we let Chelsea do the driving in the vintage bus, its name from the days when drivers had to "jam" the gears to get the manual-transmission vehicle over the challenging heights. Today, the jitneys have been restored, and there's no jamming the automatic gears, just a smooth ride fueled by clean-burning propane.

With her do-you-want-fries-with- that headset, Chelsea narrates the sights, and makes us only slightly nervous when she says she is starting her second week of work. Not exactly what you want to hear when someone is steering you toward the Continental Divide on a ribbon of road. But she is more than competent, and on subsequent days, I experience the truth of her words.

"This place just sucks you in."

We consider canceling our reservations for the nearly eight-hour tour because it is supposed to rain. We don't and are rewarded by a nearly empty tour bus, which can hold 17 but carries only seven of us this day. It rains, and it doesn't matter.

Going-to-the-Sun Road takes you past the most glorious scenery of the park, from gushing waterfalls to lush valleys below. The road is carved right out of the mountains, and there are numerous turnouts where you can stop and marvel. Or simply let someone speedier go by.

They won't get too far ahead, though, because roadwork slows drivers frequently. A multiyear, multimillion-dollar project funded by federal stimulus money brings the road to one lane occasionally. Take a deep breath and go with it.

We twice drive the road as far as it is open, and then traverse it from the east, too. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and we want to remember every scary turn and sheer dropoff.

The wild kingdom

We want to see a bear. Not up close and personal, but from the comfort of a car or through the window of a cozy lodge.

Bears are serious business here and the National Park Service wants us to be prepared. Clap or sing loudly while hiking; bears don't like to be surprised. Keep food locked up tight. Never approach a wild animal.

There are both black bears and grizzlies in the park, and it seems everyone but us has spied one or the other. We drive with camera ready, just in case. We go to the places where people have spotted them. We watch for bear jams, backed-up traffic that signals an animal sighting.

Still, I am a bit skittish about the prospects. We walk the easy Trail of the Cedars, and every leaf rustle has me looking over my shoulder. On a short hike to Baring Fall near Sunrift Gorge, I turn back when I see a grizzly-bear warning sign. I know they are out there and am content to let others get close. My singing voice isn't that good.

Instead of bear, we see mountain goats of all ages cavorting high on a hill and plenty of deer and soaring birds. I think I spot an elk, its huge antlers disappearing into a forest.

I am happy with my mountain goat sighting. Honestly. Though it is a bit irritating when a young boy plops down beside us at a cafe in St. Mary, just outside the park, to tell the tale of the cute cub he just saw walking across the parking lot. OK, kid, it's just not in the cards for us.

We accept the fly-fisherman and the reflection of Sinopah Mountain in Pray Lake as our gift.

Such a good idea, this Glacier National Park.

Janet K. Keeler: or 727-893-8586

Glacier Insider's Guide

PLAN: If you are at all entertaining the idea of staying in lodges or camping in the national parks, call soon to make reservations. Reservations are being taken now through 2011, and you can always cancel if your plans change (deposits are refunded up until a few weeks before the date). Check those details when you make reservations.

The historic lodges fill up quickly. We called in mid-January for a June trip, and there were no rooms available in the historic Lake McDonald Lodge's main building, so we booked the nearby motor inn.

Hotel rates range from $65 to about $300 a night, though high rollers can pay nearly $800 for a suite at the Prince of Wales Hotel on the Canada side of the park. If you want to stay in one of the historic lodges, expect to pay about $200 a night.

For more information on park lodging, including camping, go to or call 406-892-2525.

We like where we stayed, but if we go again (and plan further in advance), we would try to get into the main lodge at Lake McDonald and the Many Glacier Lodge. They are at opposite ends of the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

There are also accommodations outside the park gates.

GET THERE: Unless you're on a major road trip, you'll likely fly to Montana and then rent a car for the drive to Glacier, in the vast state's northwest corner. You can fly into Missoula, Great Falls or even Kalispell, depending on which part of the park you're entering first. We needed a car for what would eventually be a 4,000-mile road trip, so we flew to Spokane, Wash., because we got a better price for the three- week rental. The downside of that was that we had a 300-mile, five-hour drive to Glacier.

WHAT TO DO: The 52-mile Going- to-the-Sun Road cuts across the park from east to west. It is open from mid-June to about mid-September and is an engineering marvel that shouldn't be missed. Plan for about three hours if you drive it yourself or longer if you take a small bus tour. Other draws of Glacier, besides the stunning terrain, are hiking, backpacking, fishing and camping. There are many ranger-led programs for adults and children. Schedules and maps are available at visitor centers and as you enter the park.

ABOUT GLACIER: Though the 100- year-old park is open year-round, most facilities operate from mid-May to late September only. Beyond those times, the park attracts cross-country skiers and self-reliant souls. Summer entry to the park is $25 per car for seven days. A year pass is $35, and an annual pass for the national parks is $80. Much more information is available at We also found Fodor's Montana guidebook helpful.

THE DOWNSIDE: The food is so-so in the park and a bit pricey. There are camp stores where you can buy some essentials that will suffice as morning meals and snacks. Two restaurants that we found outside the park are worth a visit. Get the huckleberry pie and anything else on the menu at the Park Cafe in St. Mary, just outside the east entrance on U.S. 89. The cafe is open June through September. Eat lunch late or dinner early; otherwise plan on waiting. Go to for a funky preview.

For breakfast on the west side of the park, stop by the old-school West Glacier Restaurant. It sort of feels like the 1960s in there, and the prices are good, even for giant pancakes. It also serves lunch and dinner. You'll pass it on the left as you make your way to the park's west entrance and Apgar Visitor Center.

Read more: Going to the sun in Montana - The Denver Post

Pols Clueless on Ground Zero Mosque

By Nat Hentoff
August 26, 2010

The angry national debate over Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf's intention to build a mosque two blocks north of the horror of 9/11 at Ground Zero has been further fueled by supporter Nancy Pelosi declaring, "I join those who have called for looking into how ... this opposition to the mosque is being funded."

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf

If one of her sleuths knocks on my door, this opponent will readily state that I need no outside funding as a reporter who is deeply investigating the motivation of Imam Rauf's choice of this site of mass murder for the mosque. I will add that, of course, all American Muslims have their First Amendment right to exercise their freedom of religion in their place of worship. There have been other mosques in New York City built without opposition. That freedom is not at stake here.

As for Rauf's inflammable site choice, however, one of a growing number of construction workers pledging they will not work on this mosque (New York Daily News, Aug. 20), Dave Kaiser, a blaster, explains:

"I wouldn't work there, especially after I found out about what the imam said about U.S. policy being responsible for 9/11."

Imam Rauf said was interviewed on CBS' 60 Minutes (Sept. 30, 2001) by Ed Bradley. (I have the transcript.) Asked how he felt as a Muslim "knowing that people of your faith committed this act," Imam Rauf spoke about Muslim reaction throughout the world "against the policies of the U.S. government, politically, where we espouse principles of democracy and human rights and where we ally ourselves with oppressive regimes in many of these countries."

"Are you in any way suggesting that we in the United States deserved what happened?" Bradley asked.

"I wouldn't say that the United States deserved what happened," Rauf answered, "but the United States' policies were an accessory to the crime that happened. ... Because (the United States has) been an accessory to a lot of - of innocent lives dying in the world. In fact, it - in the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the U.S.A."

Were the heads of government in Iran, Hamas and Sudan also "made in the USA?"

Imam Rauf has refused to call Hamas a terrorist organization and had no comment when, on Aug. 15, Mahmoud al-Zahar, its co-founder, strongly supported the Imam's mosque near Ground Zero, saying, Muslims "have to build everywhere" (Associated Press, Aug. 16). Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said the support by Hamas of the Imam's mosque carried no weight because "Hamas is a terrorist organization."

Why, yes, it is, Imam Rauf, with its suicide bombers and endless rockets into Israel. How else can suicide bombers be characterized?

This imam - widely lauded in much of the press as "a moderate" Muslim - is not reticent, however, in his firm commitment to Sharia (Islamic law), which regards women as far less than fully human. In the Dec. 9, 2007 Arabic newspaper Hadi el-Islam, Rauf insisted:

Throughout my discussions with contemporary Muslim theologians, it is clear an Islamic state can be established in more than just a single form or mold. It can be established through a kingdom or a democracy. The important issue is to establish the general fundamentals of Sharia that are required to govern.

I would greatly appreciate it if Imam Rauf explained, maybe Pelosi will ask him, more fully what he meant in his 2004 book, "What's Right With Islam is What's Right With America." In it he declares: "American Constitution and system of governance uphold the core principles of Islamic law." Rauf says Sharia law is a core principle of Islamic law. Does that also include a core principle of our Constitution?

This 2004 book's title in the English-language edition yields to a different title for non-English-speaking readers in Malaysia, reports Andrew McCarthy ("Rauf's Dawa from the World Trade Center Rubble,"

This alternate title in Malaysia brings us right back into the civil war here about the imam's mosque near Ground Zero: "A Call to Prayer from the World Trade Center Rubble: Islamic Dawa in the Heart of America Post-9/11."

What does "dawa" mean? McCarthy explains: "Dawa, whether done from the rubble of the World Trade Center or elsewhere, is the missionary work by which Islam is spread. ... The purpose of dawa, like the purpose of jihad, is to implement, spread, and defend Sharia. ... through means other than violence and agents other than terrorists."

As of this writing, Imam Rauf is on the State Department tour (financed by us) of Arab nations in the Middle East. He has been on four such State Department tours - two under George W. Bush. Says State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley (New York Post, Aug. 20):

"I wouldn't be surprised if he talks about the ongoing debate within the United States, as an example of our emphasis on religious tolerance and resolving questions that come up within the rule of law."

Does our State Department include Sharia as being within our rule of law?

At the end of that news story, we are told that Rauf "is not allowed to fund-raise on the trip." Yet, in the Aug. 18 New York Post, Geoff Earle and Tom Topousis report that "in an interview overseas, he (Rauf) said 'he would also tap Muslim nations for help.'"

I would not be surprised if Saudi Arabia ultimately becomes a generous contributor, but not quite in the agreement with the State Department's "emphasis on religious tolerance."

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg charges that opponents of Imam Rauf's mosque "should be ashamed of themselves" and are bigots.

Me, too, Mr. Mayor?

If you want to join Speaker Pelosi in investigating me, your honor, I'd be glad to oblige. I'm just doing my job as a reporter. I wish more reporters had gone beneath the shouting on both sides. There's another part of the First Amendment in addition to the free exercise of religion: The press is free to investigate the reasons for Imam Rauf's fixation on the 9/11 location of his mosque.

And why does this location make Hamas glow?

Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights. He is a member of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the libertarian Cato Institute, where he is a senior fellow.