Friday, June 09, 2006

Concert Review: Springsteen in Bristow, VA



Detour From E Street
The Boss Hasn't Lost His Way, He's Just Walking in Pete Seeger's Shoes
By J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 30, 2006; Page C01

If a banjo solo falls in the middle of a Bruce Springsteen concert, will anybody cheer it?
As it turns out, yes -- though the approbation won't quite be unanimous.

Buy This Photo
Springsteen, the folk singer? Most of Sunday's crowd got the memo. (By Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)

The crowd at Nissan Pavilion was divided into two camps Sunday night, when Springsteen and his sprawling new band staged a remarkable jamboree centered on spirituals, political broadsides, civil rights songs, Dust Bowl anthems and protest ballads mostly popularized, if not written, by the old folk singer Pete Seeger.

The more enlightened Springsteen acolytes in the audience (and they were the majority) hollered their approval during the rollicking, 2 1/2 -hour hootenanny that included more than a few fingerpicking banjo solos by Greg Liszt, plus featured parts for an accordionist, two fiddlers and a pedal steel guitar player.

On the other hand, there were those pitiable concertgoers who didn't get the memo that Springsteen is touring in support of a boisterous, old-timey folk album, "We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions," and that he's therefore left most of his own considerable catalogue -- not to mention the E Street Band -- at home. Baffled by the sight and sound of an upright bass and a tuba onstage, as well as a certain 56-year-old rock-and-roll star who wasn't obviously acting the part, many of those ticket holders spent a good chunk of the night crying out for "Thunder Road" and "Born in the U.S.A." while bemoaning the fact that the Jersey guy Springsteen suddenly sounded as though he were from (gasp!) Kentucky by way of New Orleans.

Silly them. If only they'd stopped whining long enough to actually absorb the joyous music, they might have realized that they were missing a sensational concert. Just how good was it? It was the best live show I've seen in at least five years. (And I've seen a few.)

"Good evening, sinners," Springsteen said to the not-quite-capacity crowd upon entering the stage. He was accompanied by 17 musicians, most of them dressed as if they'd just come from the set of HBO's "Deadwood." Any question that the show would mark a major departure from the Boss's rock roots was answered immediately by fiddler Sam Bardfeld, who kicked off the hoedown by playing the opening lines of "O Mary Don't You Weep."

As with most of the old ground covered by Springsteen and his many, many friends in the freewheeling Seeger Sessions Band, the Negro spiritual's traditional lyrics were framed by a rowdy new arrangement that borrowed from various, aged idioms; in this case, the jubilant "O Mary" suggested a boot-stomping Irish folk band backed by a gospel choir performing at a New Orleans jazz funeral.

Other songs from the "Seeger Sessions" album ("Erie Canal," "Old Dan Tucker," "My Oklahoma Home," "Eyes on the Prize") included elements of everything from zydeco and bluegrass to ragtime, Tex-Mex and Southern soul. Even the lesser-known Springsteen compositions performed Sunday were given extensive makeovers: For instance, "Open All Night," a song from 1982's stark "Nebraska," was recast as jumpy big-band swing, with the blowsy six-piece horn section taking a star turn. "If I Should Fall Behind," a 1992 song about Springsteen's wife, Patti Scialfa, became a gorgeous Tennessee waltz with a touch of Renaissance-era instrumentation. "Cadillac Ranch," from 1980's "The River," was transformed into a fiery New Orleans R&B number.

The well-conceived set was overflowing with kinetic energy, as well as an incredible, almost cathartic spirit that Springsteen largely attributes to the source material itself. In the album notes to "We Shall Overcome," he describes the process of performing the songs as "a carnival ride, the sound of surprise and the pure joy of playing." Sunday, he said: "I'm hearing, like, a thousand lost voices in these songs. I'm picking them up and carrying them on."

Even some of the best-known songs need amplification, apparently. In introducing "We Shall Overcome" -- which Springsteen called "probably one of the most important political protest songs of all time" -- the soulful singer noted that the hymn is "one of those songs that sometimes you hear so much that you can't really hear it anymore." Sunday's powerful version opened with Springsteen accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, his vocal phrasing almost Dylanesque, and it concluded with six singers belting into a single microphone.

"We Shall Overcome" was one of a handful of protest songs performed at Nissan Pavilion, but Springsteen opted to let the music speak for itself. In introducing Seeger's classic antiwar anthem "Bring Them Home," for instance, Springsteen simply noted that he was playing the song for Memorial Day. "Mrs. McGrath," an early-19th-century Irish antiwar ballad, was performed without any additional commentary. Springsteen did mumble a few words about Hurricane Katrina at one point before performing "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?" But the song itself stood as the most powerful statement of all, as Springsteen added three new verses to Blind Alfred Reed's Depression-era lyrics, singing: "Them who's got, got out of town/And them who ain't got left to drown."

Even when Springsteen sang of struggle and pain, the show had a celebratory, uplifting feel to it -- especially during a churchy take on "Jacob's Ladder," which concluded with three chord changes to signify, you know . . . climbing . The song brought down the house, but it was soon eclipsed by the frenetic, jazzy "Pay Me My Money Down," a protest singalong in which the crowd chanted the titular refrain over and over as all but drummer Larry Eagle and tuba player Art Baron vacated the stage. They continued to sing even after Springsteen gave the two lingering musicians the hook. The crowd stopped only when a sweaty, beaming Springsteen returned for an encore, prompting him to commend the crowd.

"Well done," he said. To which a guy in section 101, row N shouted: "Now play the good stuff, Bruce!"

For Springsteen, 'Seeger Sessions' Sends a Message



Updated 6/6/2006 11:24 PM ET
By Edna Gundersen, USA TODAY

Explaining why he resurrected traditional folk tunes popularized by Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen cracks: "I'm an old guy. I can do whatever I want whenever I want, and I like doing it all."

The defiance that fueled 1975 breakthrough Born to Run also gave rise to We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, perhaps Springsteen's most surprising album yet. Few expected this plodding perfectionist, who labors over his handiwork for years in solitude, to serve up a ramshackle batch of covers recorded in three one-day sessions at a farmhouse with 13 players.

And those presuming the project was The Boss' spring break from his real job are discovering the depth of his commitment in the Seeger ensemble's enthralling live performances. After an emotional launch in New Orleans, the rambunctious Americana hoedown drew raves across Europe. In the UK, The Independent dubbed the concert "an astonishingly rich evening," while The Observer called it "an inspiring triumph." The newly launched U.S. leg is similarly wowing critics; a Washington Post reviewer declared Springsteen's ragtime orchestra "the best live show I've seen in at least five years."

The brief 18-date U.S. swing won't meet demand, so Springsteen is cherry-picking one song from each show for AOL Music (aolmusic.com), along with photos, set lists and recaps. Among on-demand videos so far are Erie Canal, Old Dan Tucker, O Mary Don't You Weep and John Henry. A full 18-tune set will be available when the tour ends June 25 in New Jersey.

Springsteen, 56, never set out to make an album of freewheeling folk music and socially conscious messages that dovetail with the current political climate.

"It happened so spontaneously," he says. "As I've gotten older, I tend to be more comfortable, and there's less second guessing. I'm always looking for another road to go down. I knew a good deal about Pete's work, but I hadn't steeped myself in it. In my late 20s, I went back to Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie and some early blues. I've continued to look into different types of music that gave birth to rock. In Pete's records, I found compelling music and characters, and I thought I could find these voices inside of me. Also, it was a release from my own writing. When you're released from your own style and sense of structure or what you're trying to convey, it allows a real free musical expression, which I hadn't had in a while."

The album, which entered Billboard at No. 3 and has sold 365,000 copies, scouts beyond the familiar protest tunes and refutes the notion that folk is feeble.

"I wanted it to be really raucous," Springsteen says. "Folk, in its essential element, is some of the rawest music ever made. I was interested in capturing some of that. Pete's thing could be so directly political, but I tried to get a balance of songs that had overt social implications, like Eyes on the Prize, a big freedom song from the civil rights era, and character studies, like Jesse James. It wasn't a conceptual project. It just happened and conceived itself over time."

The trick, he says, was finding a modern context for revived traditions, antique compositions and retro flavors of banjos, accordions, fiddles and washboards.

"I want to remember and yet forge ahead and find out what's over the next hill," he says. "A lot of this music was written so long ago, but I felt I could make it feel essential right now. I've always got an eye toward the future and an eye to the past. That's how you know where you've come from and where you want to go. If you look at our recent history, it seems there's been so much disregard of past experience in the way the country has conducted itself."

Though the album's politics are restrained, Springsteen has been increasingly vocal in his criticism of the Bush administration since joining 2004's Vote for Change tour. His solution to domestic ills?

"Obviously, get rid of the president," he says. "When you see the devastation (in New Orleans) and realize the kind of support the city will need to get back on its feet, there's no way to make sense of someone pushing for more tax cuts for the 1% of the 1% of the population. It's insanity and a subversion of everything America is supposed to be about. You can't travel around the city and not wonder what in the world is going on."

With midterm elections looming, that's probably not his last word on the subject. Nor will the Seeger tunes be his last whirl with history. He hopes to explore other areas of American and international folk music. He also has a roots-based solo project on the back burner.

And fret not, rock fans.

"I have a pretty good book of songs for the E Street Band," he says.

His longtime bandmates may discover their new Boss isn't the same as the old Boss. The fast and loose Seeger process taught Springsteen valuable lessons.

"It's fascinating to record a song when musicians don't know it," he says. "It's a powerful tool, especially with experienced musicians, in getting a certain spontaneity that you lose with too much rehearsal. If people learn their parts too well, they consciously perform rather than flat-out play. When you just launch into it, it breaks down another barrier between you and the audience. It's one less layer of formality. I like that a lot. I've done it with the E Street Band at times over the years, but never an entire record. We may try it."

Christopher Hitchens: Why Zarqawi's Death Matters

A Good Day's Work
Posted Thursday, June 8, 2006, at 2:00 PM ET
Slate.com

The death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is excellent news in its own right and even more excellent if, as U.S. sources in Iraq are claiming, it resulted from information that derived from people who were or had been close to him. (And, if that claim is black propaganda, then it is clever black propaganda, which is also excellent news.)

It hasn't taken long for the rain to start falling on this parade. Nick Berg's father, a MoveOn type now running for Congress on the Green Party ticket, has already said that he blames President George Bush for the video-beheading of his own son (but of course) and mourned the passing of Zarqawi as he would the death of any man (but of course, again). The latest Atlantic has a brilliantly timed cover story by Mary Anne Weaver, which tends to the view that Zarqawi was essentially an American creation, but seems to undermine its own prominence by suggesting that, in addition to that, Zarqawi wasn't all that important.

Not so fast. Zarqawi contributed enormously to the wrecking of Iraq's experiment in democratic federalism. He was able to help ensure that the Iraqi people did not have one single day of respite between 35 years of war and fascism, and the last three-and-a-half years of misery and sabotage. He chose his targets with an almost diabolical cunning, destroying the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad (and murdering the heroic envoy Sérgio Vieira de Melo) almost before it could begin operations, and killing the leading Shiite Ayatollah Hakim outside his place of worship in Najaf. His decision to declare a jihad against the Shiite population in general, in a document of which Weaver (on no evidence) doubts the authenticity, has been the key innovation of the insurgency: applying lethal pressure to the most vulnerable aspect of Iraqi society. And it has had the intended effect, by undermining Grand Ayatollah Sistani and helping empower Iranian-backed Shiite death squads.

Not bad for a semiliterate goon and former jailhouse enforcer from a Bedouin clan in Jordan.
There are two important questions concerning the terrible influence that he has been able to exert. The first is: How much state and para-state support did he enjoy? The second is: What was the nature of his relationship with Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaida?

For the defeatists and pacifists, these are easy questions to answer. Colin Powell was wrong to identify Zarqawi, in his now-notorious U.N. address, as a link between the Saddam regime and the Bin-Ladenists. The man's power was created only by the coalition's intervention, and his connection to al Qaida was principally opportunistic. On this logic, the original mistake of the United States would have been to invade Afghanistan, thereby forcing Zarqawi to flee his camp outside Herat and repositioning him for a new combat elsewhere. Thus, fighting against al-Qaida is a mistake to begin with: It only encourages them.

I think that (for once) Colin Powell was on to something. I know that Kurdish intelligence had been warning the coalition for some time before the invasion that former Afghanistan combatants were making their way into Iraq, which they saw as the next best chance to take advantage of a state that was both "failed" and "rogue." One might add that Iraq under Saddam was not an easy country to enter or to leave, and that no decision on who was allowed in would be taken by a junior officer. Furthermore, the Zarqawi elements appear to have found it their duty to join with the Ansar al-Islam splinter group in Kurdistan, which for some reason thought it was the highest duty of jihad to murder Saddam Hussein's main enemies. But perhaps I have a suspicious mind.

We happen to know that the Baathist regime was recruiting and training foreign fighters and brigading them with the gruesome "Fedayeen Saddam." (This is incidentally a clue to what the successor regime in Iraq might have looked like as the Saddam-plus-sanctions state imploded and Baathism itself went into eclipse.) That bomb at the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, for example, was no improvised explosive device. It was a huge charge of military-grade ordnance.
Are we to believe that a newly arrived Bedouin Jordanian thug could so swiftly have scraped acquaintance with senior-level former Baathists? (The charges that destroyed the golden dome of the Shiites in Samarra were likewise rigged and set by professional military demolitionists.)

Zarqawi's relations with Bin Laden are a little more tortuous. Mary Anne Weaver shows fairly convincingly that the two men did not get along and were in some sense rivals for the leadership.

That's natural enough: Religious fanatics are schismatic by definition. Zarqawi's visceral hatred of the Shiite heresy was unsettling even to some more mainstream Wahhabi types, as was his undue relish in making snuff videos. (How nice to know that these people do have their standards.) However, when Zarqawi sought the franchise to call his group "al-Qaida in Mesopotamia," he was granted it with only a few admonitions.

Most fascinating of all is the suggestion that Zarqawi was all along receiving help from the mullahs in Iran. He certainly seems to have been able to transit their territory (Herat is on the Iranian border with Afghanistan) and to replenish his forces by the same route. If this suggestive connection is proved, as Weaver suggests it will be, then we have the Shiite fundamentalists in Iran directly sponsoring the murderer of their co-religionists in Iraq. This in turn would mean that the Iranian mullahs stood convicted of the most brutish and cynical irresponsibility, in front of their own people, even as they try to distract attention from their covert nuclear ambitions. That would be worth knowing. And it would become rather difficult to argue that Bush had made them do it, though no doubt the attempt will be made.

If we had withdrawn from Iraq already, as the "peace" movement has been demanding, then one of the most revolting criminals of all time would have been able to claim that he forced us to do it. That would have catapulted Iraq into Stone Age collapse and instated a psychopathic killer as the greatest Muslim soldier since Saladin. As it is, the man is ignominiously dead and his dirty connections a lot closer to being fully exposed. This seems like a good day's work to me.

Related in Slate

For Slate's take on Iraq's chief terrorist click here. Eric Umansky assessed this "semiliterate goon and former jailhouse enforcer." In 2004 Dan Benjamin chided the White House for making Zarqawi's capture a low priority. Christopher Hitchens noted that even some Iraqi insurgents wanted Zarqawi out of the picture. Fred Kaplan wondered if it was wise for the United States to release a video showing a "fat" and "lazy" Zarqawi. With Zarqawi out of the picture, could one of these guys be the next leader of al-Qaida in Mesopotamia?

Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair. His most recent book is Thomas Jefferson: Author of America. His most recent collection of essays is titled Love, Poverty, and War.

Bob Raissman: Sterling's Call Drops Ball

I don't know how John Sterling has managed to keep his job all these years...it's an embarrassment to have this boob calling games for the friggin' New York Yankees.

The New York Daily News
June 8, 2006

The odds are fairly good that if you are listening to a baseball game on the radio, you cannot actually see what is taking place on the field.

This is why radio stations, or individual major league teams, hire play-by-play voices. Their primary job is, to the best of their ability, accurately describe plays and guide listeners through a game.

This simplistic notion came to mind Tuesday night while listening to Red Sox-Yankees on WCBS-AM, the Bombers' flagship station.

And in the eighth inning, when Melky Cabrera made a spectacular catch off the bat of Manny Ramirez, it also became clear that the world is a safer place because John Sterling is a radio play-by-play man.

For if Sterling descended upon God's green Earth as a Seeing Eye dog, well, the poor owner of this mutt would be - at best - constantly walking into walls or - at worst - crossing the street directly into the path of oncoming traffic.

At least when Sterling blows a call, nobody gets hurt. Not even him. If Sterling was a Yankee player, he would have been dumped long ago. But in his 17th season in the Bombers' radio booth, Sterling is rewarded (with a major league salary) by Yankees brass for constantly blowing calls and recapitulating plays.

Nice work if you can get it.

Still, even if you appreciate the fact that Sterling is the shill's shill, or love his ever-expanding list of signature calls and his self-absorbed style, there is no debating the fact that he is severely challenged when it comes to painting the word picture. More often than not, Sterling is behind the play.

In Sterling, the Yankees have the American League's Most Valuable Seven-Second Delay.

Sterling's "call" of Cabrera's catch is just another example, albeit a very embarrassing one. His "description," from the time Ramirez hit the ball until it was caught by Cabrera, left listeners with no idea of how the catch was made.

Sterling: "...Hit in the air to deep left center. Cabrera and Damon back. That ball is going to be...caught by Cabrera. Did he make the catch? He made the catch. The play of the game. Maybe the play of the year."

So, you knew Cabrera caught the ball, but did not know how he caught it. You also had no idea why this was "maybe the play of the year."

Now, here is - in the same time sequence - the way Michael Kay described the catch on YES.

Kay: "Deep fly ball, left center. Giving chase is Cabrera. On the track...at the wall...LEAPS....And he makes the play. He made the play. He took away a game-tying home run from Manny Ramirez."

Kay's call accurately captured the moment. It was a basic just-the-facts job. Kay's play-by-play included geography and the critical fact that Cabrera jumped at the wall to make the catch. The call on YES would've worked on radio too.

Even when Sterling offered his predictable recapitulation, he left listeners confused. Sterling said Cabrera "went over the fence" to rob Ramirez. What exactly does "over the fence" mean? What went over the fence? Cabrera? His glove? Did he get caught on the wall and tumble over? Sterling failed to offer specifics.

Still, much to his own delight, Sterling came up with a catchphrase for the moment. He called it "The Melky Way."

Even as Cabrera jogged toward the Yankees' dugout, Sterling continued to leave listeners in the dark.

"You should have seen (Johnny) Damon celebrating," Sterling said. This is radio. We can't see.
Sterling is supposed to do the seeing for us. But Sterling doesn't see things that way. If he did, he might have informed us exactly how Damon spontaneously celebrated Cabrera's catch.

"When you see the replay wait until you see how far Melky's glove went over the wall," Sterling said.

What Sterling meant to say was: "When listening to my radio call, you also must have a TV replay at your disposal. That's the only way to figure out what the hell I'm talking about."
See, providing essential facts would get in the way of Sterling making each and every broadcast all about him.

To Sterling, that's all that matters.

Mike Lupica: Impossible to Detect, But Easy to Suspect

The New York Daily News
June 8, 2006

Jason Grimsley doesn't want to be a distraction the way Jason Giambi didn't want to be a distraction. Giambi, one of the BALCO All-Stars, never admitted that his leaked grand jury testimony in the BALCO case was true, never admitted that he used steroids to get bigger and stronger and much richer, just apologized for nothing and was celebrated for that far and wide. Even now Giambi keeps saying he did what he had to do and moved on.

Mostly by hitting home runs.

"I didn't want to be a distraction to my teammates," Giambi, who gets cheered wildly now for hitting the ball as far as he ever did when he was (allegedly) using steroids, said last year.

What a guy. Now Grimsley, whose home got raided and who copped not only to using steroids but human growth hormones as well, says pretty much the same thing. He is a journeyman pitcher at the end of his career, he isn't good enough to play himself out of trouble the way Giambi has, now or ever. But, boy oh boy, he sure is a good teammate. These cheats think that is going to help get them into heaven, even as they will clearly do anything to make more money and get more career for themselves. For the last time, they don't call this stuff dope for nothing.

Here is Joe Bick, Grimsley's agent, talking:

"Anybody that knows anything about Jason knows he's a very good teammate and he told all the players, 'I don't want to be a distraction now.'"

Grimsley shouldn't worry about that. He's through. And you wonder how his fellow members of the Major League Baseball Players Association are going to feel about him if it turns out that a world-class teammate like this named names when the feds came calling.

These are the same union members who have been patting themselves on their backs for the testing program now in place, even as they know that the guy in the locker next to him and the guy in the locker next to him have found something like human growth hormones to stay strong, and ahead of the law.

Maybe these guys thought they were in the clear because they could beat the current testing. Maybe they thought the government would just go away after BALCO. Now they find out differently. I hope it has scared the new wave of cheats half to death. You think Grimsley is the only one using this stuff? You think the government is going to stop with him? Think again.

So it is a pitcher this time. It is a popular pitcher who has pitched in a lot of places and been friendly with a lot of guys. It isn't one of the BALCO boys. It isn't Barry Bonds, Gary Sheffield, Comeback Player of the Year Giambi. It is a pitcher, and you better believe that it is going to bring suspicions about other pitchers out into the open. It is going to make everybody a suspect all over again, especially all of Grimsley's good buddies all over baseball.

We are still putting an awful lot on faith in baseball, and were doing that before Grimsley, who sounds like a Rite-Aid all by himself, got good and busted. We are supposed to take it on faith that even though Giambi (allegedly) took steroids in the first place to get bigger and stronger and much richer, keep up with all the other guys he thought were using drugs to do that, he is now as big and strong and clean as he was before all that.

The other night at Yankee Stadium he hit one off the facing of the upper deck and I didn't think he even got all of it.

Roger Clemens is having the same kind of second half of his career that Bonds is having. He is one of a handful of pitchers who goes against everything we have ever seen in pitching in the history of the world, which means his fastball has gotten better and better after the age of 35, which is when pitchers start to break down. And we are supposed to take it on faith, even as he signs one amazing contract after another as he approaches his 44th birthday, that it's that workout regimen of his, with maybe some B-12 shots thrown in there.

We are supposed to take it on faith that Sheffield went out and spent all that time with Bonds and didn't know anything about steroids, and that Mike Piazza just suddenly aged faster than milk does.

We are supposed to take it on faith that current home run heroes aren't on anything because they've never tested positive for anything. Grimsley didn't, either, at least not after that survey year that has brought us to the testing program baseball now has, one that still does not prevent us from seeing suspects all over the sport.

Now one of the suspects gets busted. When he does, when Jason Grimsley has the feds come to his front door, he apparently started singing like he was on "American Idol" until he got lawyered up.

Bud Selig hasn't collectively bargained for blood testing baseball players. Not yet. Nobody has. The Players Association has fought that the way it fought everything else. But Selig, who got more testing and more penalties out of the Players Association than anybody ever thought he would, has to do something, even if it's preserving samples until a reliable test does come along.
Or finding an entirely new method of anti-doping in a DNA, CSI world, as a way of putting these bums on notice.

Until then the national pastime in the national pastime is all these good teammates staying one step ahead of the testers. If not the law.

SF Chronicle: Federal Probe of Drugs in Sports Goes Beyond BALCO

Pitcher whose home was raided said he used human growth drug, according to affidavit

Lance Williams, Mark Fainaru-Wada, Chronicle Staff Writers

The San Fransisco Chronicle
Thursday, June 8, 2006

A federal raid on the home of a veteran pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks highlights a gaping loophole in Major League Baseball's steroid testing policy and shows that government investigators are becoming more aggressive in their efforts to go after suspected sports drug cheats.

A team of 13 federal agents led by the investigator who ramrodded the BALCO steroids case in San Francisco spent six hours Tuesday searching the Scottsdale home of pitcher Jason Grimsley.

The pitcher, who has played for seven major league teams in his 15-year career, was implicated in drug use when a parcel containing $3,200 worth of the powerful anabolic drug human growth hormone was delivered to his home April 19, according to an affidavit written by Internal Revenue Service special agent Jeff Novitzky.

Novitzky, who was lead investigator in the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative steroids case, said federal officers tracked the parcel to Grimsley's home and confronted him.

Grimsley has not been accused of a crime.

In a two-hour interview, the pitcher confessed to using banned drugs throughout his major league career, Novitzky stated. Grimsley told Novitzky and other agents that "boatloads" of other big leaguers also use growth hormone, and he briefly agreed to become a cooperating witness in a widening probe of baseball and steroids, according to the affidavit.

Later, when Grimsley balked at continuing to cooperate, the agents got a warrant to search the player's home, the affidavit says.

Edward F. Novak, Grimsley's attorney, told the Arizona Republic that federal agents tried to pressure his client into wearing a listening device to get other major league players to divulge incriminating evidence against Giants slugger Barry Bonds.

"It was a specific effort to target Bonds," Novak told the paper. "We were told that Jason's cooperation was necessary to their case."

Grimsley is the first reported Major League Baseball player whose home has been raided in connection with performance-enhancing drugs. The Diamondbacks said Wednesday that he requested, and was granted, his release from the team after news accounts of the search.

Documents filed in federal court in Arizona in connection with the raid describe how easily players are eluding Major League Baseball's steroid testing program, which baseball executives have called the toughest in professional sports.

MLB screens players' urine samples for evidence of steroid use, but it does not test for human growth hormone, which can be detected only via a blood sample.

Grimsley told drug agents that after baseball began its steroid testing program, he switched from steroids to growth hormone, according to the affidavit.

Growth hormone is a prescription drug used in medicine to treat dwarfism and AIDS wasting disease. It is illegal to use the drug without a prescription and a doctor's supervision.

From the BALCO case, baseball already knew it had a problem with growth hormone.

Documents seized in the 2003 raid on the Burlingame-based nutritional supplement company implicated six major leaguers, including Bonds, in the use of human growth hormone.

New York Yankees star Jason Giambi admitted to the BALCO grand jury that he used growth hormone and even demonstrated for grand jurors the proper technique for injecting the drug, The Chronicle has reported.

Rep. John Sweeney, R-New York, who has aggressively pushed baseball to toughen its drug policy, cited Grimsley's confession to using growth hormone as "yet another example of a failed policy and undelivered promises by MLB."

He called on the owners and the players to "take immediate action or face congressional interference again."

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said he was "deeply saddened" by the case but declined specific comment.

Selig's point man on steroids, Rob Manfred, released a statement arguing that no valid test exists for growth hormone, although Olympic authorities began using a blood test for growth hormone at the 2004 Athens Games.

The Grimsley court documents show a widening sweep of the government's probe into sports and drugs.

In his affidavit, Novitzky said he was seeking evidence dating back to January 2000 of the illegal distribution of banned drugs by "any and all amateur or professional athletes, athletic coaches or athletic trainers." The agent said he also was seeking evidence of money-laundering.

Grimsley, 38, a right-handed relief pitcher, had his best season in 1999, when he had a won-loss record of 7-2 for the New York Yankees and also won a game in the World Series.

In 2005, Grimsley pitched for the Baltimore Orioles, a team that was racked by a drug scandal after star first baseman Rafael Palmeiro tested positive for the steroid Winstrol. The day Palmeiro returned from his suspension, Grimsley told a Baltimore Sun reporter that fans should know that "steps are being made" to solve the sport's drug problem.

Grimsley joined the Diamondbacks as a free agent this year.

Court records show that the BALCO investigators zeroed in on Grimsley around Opening Day, when they learned that an unnamed drug dealer was about to mail a package containing two "kits" of human growth hormone -- approximate value, $3,200 -- to the pitcher's suburban Phoenix home. Grimsley allegedly told Novitzky the kits were enough to last him through the season.

On April 19, hours before the Diamondbacks were to play the Giants at Chase Field in Phoenix, agents followed the parcel to Grimsley's house.

As soon as the mail was delivered, Novitzky knocked on the door and gave the pitcher a choice: He could tell the agents what he knew, or they were prepared to sweep the house looking for drugs.

Novitzky said he made a "low key" approach to the player "because of a desire to gain Grimsley's cooperation in a covert manner."

Grimsley agreed to cooperate, and he was interviewed for two hours by federal agents, including three from the IRS and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration who were involved in the original Burlingame BALCO raid in 2003. According to the affidavit, Grimsley confessed that during his baseball career he had used steroids; human growth hormone; amphetamines; Clenbuterol, an asthma drug that promotes muscle growth much in the way steroids do; and a "prohormone" called 1-AD that he bought on the Internet. In 2000, when his career with the Yankees was interrupted by a shoulder injury, Grimsley said, he used the weightlifter's steroid Deca-Durabolin to speed his recovery from surgery.

In 2003, when baseball conducted its first drug tests, Grimsley said he was informed that he had tested positive for steroids, even though that year's test was supposed to be anonymous and confidential.

After that, Grimsley said, he used only human growth hormone. He said it helped him to recover from elbow surgery after the 2004 season.

Grimsley allegedly said many big leaguers use steroids and named seven present or former big league players as growth hormone users. "Boatloads" of ball players obtained their growth hormone from the same dealer, Grimsley said.


What is human growth hormone?

Medical use: It is an injectable chemical used to correct short stature in children who suffer from growth hormone deficiency. It also is prescribed for AIDS wasting disease.

Performance-enhancing use: Growth hormone builds muscle, especially when taken in combination with steroids. Some users report that the drug strengthens connective tissue and improves eyesight.

Side effects: Thyroid deficiency, enlarged heart and acromegaly, a condition marked by growth of hands, feet and skull.

Sources: U.S. Food and Drug Administration; PDRHealth.com; http://www.steroid.com/.

Chronicle staff writer John Shea contributed to this report. E-mail the writers at lwilliams@sfchronicle.com and mfainaru-wada@sfchronicle.com.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Paola Boivin: Grim Reaper Makes Perfect Sense

The Arizona Republic
http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/
Jun. 8, 2006 12:00 AM


Bravo, Jason Grimsley. Really.

Just when the Suns' magic carpet ran out of fuel, just when the Diamondbacks - the first-place Diamondbacks - had an opportunity to grab the Valley's attention, you caused these two words to be in the lead headline of The Arizona Republic on Wednesday: "D-Back" and "steroid."

It's guilt by association, even though nothing suggests team culpability. While some on the club are applauding you for instigating the request for your unconditional release, the rest of us can't stop thinking how you knew about this federal investigation since mid-April, when you were nailed at home for receiving a package containing two kits of human growth hormone.

How you walked into a clubhouse for the subsequent 43 games and pretended nothing was wrong. What a trouper.

Grim Reaper. Now I get the nickname.

The scariest thing about all of this? Grimsley is the anti-Barry Bonds. He's a pitcher, not a high-profile slugger in pursuit of a record. He's considered the ultimate player's player - a vocal Major League Baseball Players Association representative, a guy who would do anything for his teammates - not a surly superstar who makes his peers feel uncomfortable around him. He's a once-a-week guy, not an everyday guy.

If this isn't a statement about the far reach of performance-enhancing drugs, what is? Here's hoping fans express enough outrage to keep the fire lit under Major League Baseball. Too many shrug this off as a non-story.

"It's just entertainment," a radio caller said Wednesday.

Yes, and the reason it's entertainment to me is because of the promise that everyone is starting on a level playing field, that the players and teams who thrive are ones with the best work ethic, not the best pharmacist.

Think about how ugly this has become. Federal agents watched on April 19 as a package from the U.S. Postal Service arrived at Grimsley's house, according to documents obtained by The Republic. How his wife must have felt as she answered the door and saw three agents asking for her husband. How his wife must have felt considering the Grimsleys had houseguests at the time. He accepted the agents' offer to move to another location because he "desired (the houseguests) know as little as possible."

It's depressing. One can't help but feel the chemists and bad guys will always be a step ahead of the drug-testers. That shouldn't dissuade Major League Baseball from the chase, because fighting a losing battle is better than not fighting at all.

Here's the biggest lesson every major league player should take from this fiasco: The ramifications of cheating can be devastating.

The Diamondbacks were 15-6 in the 21 games before news broke Tuesday, 0-2 after it. Is Grimsley to blame? Maybe not, but if the Diamondbacks suddenly plunge into a tailspin, the implication will be there.

"It's a huge distraction for our team, but it is what it is," Luis Gonzalez said after Wednesday's 7-3 loss to Philadelphia.

During interviews with federal agents, Grimsley mentioned that Latin players are a major source of amphetamines in baseball. How does that make teammates Miguel Batista and Enrique Gonzalez feel?

During Dan Patrick's radio show on ESPN Wednesday, Keith Olbermann mentioned names of many players who have been on the same team as journeyman Grimsley - not implicating them, just stating how he has cast a shadow on all of them. How does that make them feel?

It's only going to get worse. The players' names that were blacked out of the federal document will surface - they always do - and this story will turn into a bigger monster.

"You hate to see anything dragged through the mud," manager Bob Melvin said.

The Diamondbacks know that better than anyone.

Reach Boivin at paola.boivin@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8956.

Monday, June 05, 2006

George Will- 25 Years of AIDS: Have We Learned Anything Yet?

Jun 5, 2006
The Washington Post

``In the period October 1980-May 1981, 5 young men, all active homosexuals, were treated for biopsy-confirmed Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia at 3 different hospitals in Los Angeles, California. Two of the patients died.''
-- Centers for Disease Control
June 5, 1981

WASHINGTON -- Those words 25 years ago announced the arrival of something most Americans thought anachronistic -- an infectious disease epidemic. At first it was called GRID -- gay-related immune deficiency. In September 1982, CDC renamed it acquired immune deficiency syndrome -- AIDS.

Its worldwide toll has already exceeded the 20 million killed by the 14th-century bubonic plague. By 2020, it probably will have killed more than has any epidemic in history, with most fatalities in sub-Saharan Africa, where it probably began about 75 years ago after some people who ate wild chimpanzees in Cameroon became infected with a low-virulence progenitor of the virus that causes AIDS.

An epidemic requires both a microbe and an enabling social context. In Africa, aspects of modernity in a primitive setting became a deadly combination: HIV was spread by roadside prostitutes serving truckers and soldiers traveling on modern roads. Africa's wars caused population dislocations; economic development caused migrations of workers across porous borders. Both weakened families and dissolved traditional sexual norms. Jet aircraft integrated Africa into the world flow of commerce and tourism. In 1980s America, the enabling context included a gay community feeling more assertive and emancipated, and IV drug users sharing needles.


AIDS arrived in America in the wake of the Salk vaccine which, by swiftly defeating polio, gave Americans a misleading paradigm of how progress is made in public health. Pharmacology often is a small contributor. By the time the first anti-tuberculosis drugs became available in the 1950s, the annual death rate from TB had plummeted to 20 per 100,000 Americans, from 200 per 100,000 in 1900. Drugs may have accounted for just 3 percent of the reduction. The other 97 percent was the result of better nutrition and less urban crowding. Thanks to chlorination of water and better sanitation and personal hygiene, typhoid, too, became rare before effective drugs were available.

Which suggests that the most powerful public health program is economic growth. And the second-most powerful is information.

The 14th-century Black Death killed one-third of Europe's population, but it was in the air, food and water, so breathing, eating and drinking were risky behaviors. AIDS is much more difficult to acquire. Like other large components of America's health care costs (e.g., violence, vehicular accidents, coronary artery disease, lung cancer), AIDS is mostly the result of behavior that is by now widely known to be risky.

The U.S. epidemic, which so far has killed 530,000, could have been greatly contained by intense campaigns to modify sexual and drug-use behavior in 25 to 30 neighborhoods from New York and Miami to San Francisco. But early in the American epidemic, political values impeded public health requirements. Unhelpful messages were sent by slogans designed to democratize the disease -- ``AIDS does not discriminate'' and ``AIDS is an equal opportunity disease.''

By 1987, when President Reagan gave his first speech on the subject, 20,798 Americans had died, and his speech, not surprisingly, did not mention any connection to the gay community. No president considers it part of his job description to tell the country that the human rectum, with its delicate and absorptive lining, makes anal-receptive sexual intercourse dangerous when HIV is prevalent.

Twenty years ago a San Francisco public health official explained death's teaching power: Watching a friend die, like seeing a wreck along a highway, is sobering. But after driving more slowly for a few miles, we again speed up. AIDS has a more lasting deterrent effect.

There has, however, been an increase in unsafe sex because pharmacological progress has complicated the campaign against this behavior-driven epidemic. Life-extending cocktails of antiviral drugs now lead some at-risk people to regard HIV infection as a manageable chronic disease, and hence to engage in risky behavior. Furthermore, the decline of AIDS mortality means that more persons are surviving with HIV infection -- persons who can spread the virus. And drugs like Viagra mean that more older men are sexually active.

Still, even with no pharmacological silver bullet, AIDS deaths in America have been declining for a decade. In Africa, where heterosexual sex is the primary means of transmission, the death rate is steady relative to population growth, and the age of beginning sexual activity is rising, as is the use of condoms. Human beings do learn. But they often do at a lethally slow pace.

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner, whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.

Copyright © 2006 Washington Post Writers Group

Jihad: From London to Toronto

By Walid Phares
http://www.FrontPageMag.com
June 5, 2006

Over the past nine months, speeches by Usama Bin Laden, Ayman Zawahiri, other Jihadi cadres and the documents found after the arrest of Terror-architect Abu Mus'ab al Suri all put the West and democracies on notice: the second generation al Qaida is marching. The "Jihad country-list" includes those countries whose troops are engaged in battles against the Terrorists around the world or whose police force is attempting to disrupt the cells at home.

Beyond the "regular" countries-targets such as the United States, UK, Australia, Russia, India, Jordan and Israel many others "infidel" countries made it to the top 20: Denmark, Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Norway, Belgium, Germany, Portugal, Canada etc.

The first type of countries, those who are engaged directly in confrontations with Jihadi networks on battlefields such as Afghanistan and Iraq, are "open targets." This is the A list. However, countries on the B list are "enemies of the cause" but decisions to strike them fall into the hands of the "local emirs."

This week two countries from the A and B lists witnessed ponctual counter Terrorism operations leading to the arrests of dozens suspects and the foiling, according to authorities, of potential future bombings: Great Britain and Canada. The security moves were successful but were the public statements as focused?

London

In the British capital, dawn operations ended with the arrests of young men accused of preparing for a "dirty bomb." Authorities asserted that an ongoing campaign aimed at exploding the bomb on British territory. "We are absolutely certain this device exists and could be used either by a suicide bomber or in a remote-controlled explosion," one source told the Sun newspaper.

At a first glance, connoisseurs of Jihadism realize this finding was strategically connected to the War waged on London last July. It goes without hard analysis that the Ghazwa launched on 7/7 was a first round, followed by a failed one during the summer, and most likely the most recent discoveries were to be the 2006 follow up strikes to last year's. However, one notices that UK spokespersons went to extra length just to underline that "there are no evidence in last week's arrests that is linked to July 7 Terror attacks."

A proposition if anything, shows how fearful are British authorities from war statements. London's politicians theoretically mention the War on Terror, but when push comes to shove, refuse to look political reality in the eyes.

Suggesting that "nothing" indicates that the Jihadi cell that was accordingly about to massacre British citizens this year is linked to last year's attacks is indicative of strategic failure in the war concepts. For once an enemy is defined all its forces are linked to each other. Otherwise, Londoners shouldn't have established a link between each wave of Stukas sent by the Luftwaffe during the 1940 Blitz. As I am meeting with European and British legislators, I realize that the debate about "Jihadism" is still raging on this side of the Ocean. Despite the fact that al Qaida's two generations are clear on the matter, yet officials are tiptoeing. If London doesn't identify the overarching ideology of the war waged on its people, it will hardly be able to connect any attack to another.

Toronto

Canada is even more hesitant. While 17 suspects were arrested for plotting Terrorist attacks in Toronto, Canadian authorities and some media are struggling with "recognizing" the threat identity.

"The men arrested yesterday appeared to have become adherents of a violent ideology inspired by al-Qaida," said Luc Portelance, the assistant director of operations with Canada's security agency. Hesitations in the rhetoric are impressive. Despite the clarity through which al Qaida and the Jihadists worldwide advance their doctrine designate their enemies, many in the West and now in Canada are still nervous. Ottawa mentions a "violent ideology," but refrains from citing its name, let alone its objectives.

Some in the press are running in the opposite direction by digging "reasons" for Terrorism. The Toronto Star reported Saturday that "Canadian youth in their teens and 20s, upset at the treatment of Muslims worldwide, were among those arrested."

Probably without knowledge, the Toronto Star adopts the propaganda arguments of al Qaida.
Indeed, the "story" of Bin Laden and his subalterns, laid out fully in his last April audiotape, is that "Muslims are under attack everywhere, hence, Jihad is prescribed." Strangely, instead of citing courageous Muslim voices opposing Jihadism, journalistic analysis flows with the suspected bombers stated claims. Obviously, awareness is on its way as appropriate expertise is surfacing rapidly in the US and Canada alike and that thanks to al Jazeera and the Salafi web sites, the actual doctrinal injunctions behind the self established cells are coming to the light.
In three days, London and Toronto have experienced an encounter, thankfully successful with second generation Jihadis.

Hundreds of citizens on both sides of the Atlantic may have been saved so far. But it is crucial as a new stage of the War with Terror develops that the minds of the public are served in as much efficiency as their security is. It is incumbent to authorities and hopefully from the press, to provide the public with as much data as possible about al Qaida's ideology, strategy and methodology. Without a mass mobilization of the public and its talents, the next generations of Jihadists, already operating within democracies will be wrecking havoc in the lives of our current and future generations.

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Professor Walid Phares is the author of Future Jihad. He is a Visiting Fellow with the European Foundation for Democracy in Brussels and a Senior Fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington.

Book Review- Islamic Imperialism: A History

Theodore Dalrymple
All or Nothing
The quest for a moderate Islam may be futile.

The City Journal
4 June 2006

Islamic Imperialism: A History, by Efraim Karsh (Yale University Press, 288 pp., $30)

The week following the Muslim protests in London against the Danish cartoons—with marchers carrying signs calling for the beheading of infidels—other Muslims demonstrated to claim that Islam really meant peace and tolerance. While their implicit recognition that peace and tolerance are preferable to strife and bigotry did these Muslims personal honor, the claim regarding Islam was both historically and intellectually preposterous. Only someone ignorant of the most elementary facts could believe such a thing. From the first, Islam was a religion of pillage, violence, and compulsion, which it justified and glorified. And it is certainly not “the evident truth of the doctrine itself,” to quote Gibbon with regard for what, with characteristic irony, he called the primary reason for the rapid spread of Christianity throughout the civilized world, that explains the exponential growth of the Dar-al-Islam in its early history.

It is important, of course, to distinguish between Islam as a doctrine and Muslims as people. Untold numbers of Muslims desire little more than a quiet life; they have the virtues and the vices of the rest of mankind. Their religion gives to their daily lives an ethical and ritual structure and provides the kind of boundaries that only modern Western intellectuals would have the temerity to belittle.

But the fact that many Muslims are not fanatics is not as comforting as some might think. Consider, by way of illustration, Eric Hobsbawm, the famous, much feted, and unrepentantly Marxist historian. No one would feel personally threatened by him at a social gathering, where he would be amusing, polite, charming, and accomplished; if you had him to dinner, you wouldn’t have to count the spoons afterward, even though he theoretically opposes the idea of private wealth. In short, there would be no reason to suspect that he was about to commit a common crime against you. In this sense, he is what one might call a moderate Marxist.

But Hobsbawm has stated quite openly that, had the Soviet Union managed to create a functioning and prosperous socialist society, 20 million deaths would have been a worthwhile price to pay; and since he didn’t recognize, even partially, that the Soviet Union was not in fact on the path to such a society until many years after it had murdered 20 million of its people (if not more), it is fair to assume that, if things had turned out another way in his own country, Hobsbawm would have applauded, justified, and perhaps even instigated the murders of the very people to whom he was now, under the current dispensation, being amusing, charming, and polite. In other words, what saved Hobsbawm from committing utter evil was not his own scruples or ratiocination, and certainly not the doctrine he espoused, but the force of historical circumstance. His current moderation would have counted for nothing if world events had been different.

In his new book, Islamic Imperialism: A History, Professor Efraim Karsh does not mince words about Mohammed’s early and (to all those who do not accept the divinity of his inspiration) unscrupulous resort to robbery and violence, or about Islam’s militaristic aspects, or about the link between Islamic tradition and the current wave of fundamentalist violence in the world. The originality of Karsh’s interpretation is its underlying assumption that Islam was, from the very beginning, a pretext for personal and dynastic political ambition, from the razzias against the Meccan caravans and the expulsion of Jewish tribes from Medina, to the siege of Vienna a millennium later in 1529, and Hamas today.

Contrary to its universalistic pretensions, Karsh argues, Islam has never succeeded in eliminating political power struggles within the Muslim world, where, on the contrary, such struggles have always been murderous. Islamic regimes, many espousing in the beginning the ascetic principles of what one might call desert Islam, invariably degenerate (if it be degeneration) into luxury- and privilege-loving dynasties. Like all other political entities, Islamic regimes seek to preserve and, if possible, extend their power. They have shown no hesitation in compromising with or allying themselves with those whom they regard as infidels. Saladin, a mendaciously simplified version of whose exploits has inflamed hysterical sentiment all over the Middle East, was not above forming alliances with Christian monarchs to achieve his imperial ends; the Ottoman caliphate would not have survived as long as it did had the Sultan not exploited European rivalries and allied himself now with one, now with another Christian power.

In short, Islamic imperialism, in Karsh’s view, illustrates three transcendent political truths: the Nietzschean drive to power, Michels’ iron law of oligarchy, and Marx’s economic motor of history. Religious feeling, on this reading, is but an epiphenomenon, a mask for what is really going on.

This interpretation raises the difficult and perhaps unanswerable question of what should count in history as a real, and what as merely an apparent, motive for action. When Bernal Diaz del Castillo claims a religious motive for the conquest of Mexico, at least in part, should we just dismiss it as a sanctimonious lie to justify a more rapacious motive? That he ended up a rich man does not decide the question; and Diaz himself would have taken his material success as a sign that God smiled upon his enterprise, just as Muslims have viewed their early conquests as proof of God’s approval and the truth of Mohammed’s doctrine. (On the other hand, failure for Muslims never seems to provide proof of the final withdrawal of God’s favor, much less of his non-existence, but rather shows his dissatisfaction with the current practices of the supposedly faithful, who will return to His favor only by restoring an earlier, purer form of faith.)
Karsh seems to oscillate between believing that Islamic imperialism is just a variant of imperialism in general—imperialism being more or less a permanent manifestation of the human will to power—and believing that there is something sui generis and therefore uniquely dangerous about it.

I hesitate to rush in where so many better-informed people have hesitated to tread, or have trodden before, but I would put it like this. The urge to domination is nearly a constant of human history. The specific (and baleful) contribution of Islam is that, by attributing sovereignty solely to God, and by pretending in a philosophically primitive way that God’s will is knowable independently of human interpretation, and therefore of human interest and desire—in short by allowing nothing to human as against divine nature—it tries to abolish politics. All compromises become mere truces; there is no virtue in compromise in itself. Thus Islam is inherently an unsettling and dangerous factor in world politics, independently of the actual conduct of many Muslims.

Karsh comes close to this conclusion himself, when he writes at the end of the book:

Only when the political elites of the Middle East and the Muslim world reconcile themselves to the reality of state nationalism, forswear pan-Arab and pan-Islamic dreams, and make Islam a matter of private faith rather than a tool of political ambition will the inhabitants of these regions at last be able to look forward to a better future free of would-be Saladins.

The fundamental question is whether Islam as a private faith would still be Islam, or whether such privatization would spell its doom. I think it would spell its doom. In this sense, I am an Islamic fundamentalist. The choice is between all and nothing.

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