Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Springsteen's 'Magic' is a rockin' good time

[This is a pretty lightweight review compared to the others that were posted...but it provides links to some good pics and articles of interest. In fact, I can't imagine a dumber summation than the one that kicks off the review. - jtf]

The Boss abandons the message albums of the past to have fun with friends

Mel Evans / AP
Bruce Springsteen performs with the E Street Band at in a benefit rehearsal at Asbury Park's Paramount Theater on Sept. 24. His new album, "Magic," hits stores on Oct. 2.

By Stuart Levine
MSNBC contributor
Updated: 2:39 p.m. ET Sept 25, 2007

After repeated listening to Bruce Springsteen’s “Magic,” the only conclusion I can come up with is that Springsteen — after years of writing message albums — yearns to rock for the sole purpose of having a good time with his best friends.

And while he certainly had a great experience playing with the Seeger Sessions Band, it becomes easy to realize that Springsteen remains in his element with his old chums: the venerable E Street Band. Interestingly, the cover of “Magic” has no mentions of his E Street companions; but make no mistake, this is a full-blown band album that would’ve fit comfortably between “The River” and “Born in the USA.”

Right off the bat with “Radio Nowhere,” Springsteen summons all the power of the E Streeters, including right-hand man Steve Van Zandt on guitar and Clarence “Big Man” Clemons on sax. It’s an up-tempo number with catchy hooks (“I just want to hear some rhythm”) that feels similar in tone “57 Channels and Nothing On,” each lamenting on the loss of connection.

There’s doesn’t seem to be a strong and unified underlying theme of “Magic,” yet there are several songs that delve into mistrust and the darkness that lies ahead. “You’ll be Coming Down,” for example, reiterates how life might be OK now, but just give it time. It’s guaranteed to all fall apart, just wait and see.

“Girls in Their Summer Clothes” is, by far, the most breezy number on the album, one that immediately puts Springsteen back on the boardwalk of the Jersey shore, with little more to do than watch and ogle at the girls who walk by.

Breezes, bicycles, all-night diners, neon signs all bring about a visual landscape that brings both Springsteen and his listeners back to their youth. In feels like a perfect “River” tune, back when cars and girls were still Springsteen’s top priority and a beautiful girl could make all the difference in the world: “She went away / She cut me like a knife / Hello, beautiful thing / Baby, you could save my life.”

If in the first half of the albums the songs may sound a bit similar on a first listen, it’s at “Girls” where “Magic” starts to really hit its stride. Next comes “I’ll Work for Your Love,” which begins with Roy Bittan on the piano, a sound Springsteen fans may liken to such staples as “Backstreets” and “Jungleland.”

Where “Girls” is more of a dreamlike vision — where a young Springsteen would watch the beautiful ladies go by and hoping one would someday be his wife — “I’ll Work for Your Love,” is a much older and mature songwriter who realizes the sacrifices it takes to not only be in love but to keep a marriage and/or relationship together.

The mesmerizing title track is where Springsteen’s aforementioned dark side comes to fruition. Whether he was emotionally scarred by a magician as a young boy, or he just has it out for them, Springsteen sees these tricksters as deceitful and reprehensible, their entertainment value be damned.

From 1973's "Greetings from Asbury Park" to his newest album, "Magic," Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band have continued to define American rock and roll.With lyrics such as “I got a shiny saw blade / All I need’s a volunteer / I’ll cut you in half / While you’re smilin’ ear to ear” makes it very clear what Springsteen thinks of these slight-of-hand artists. Of course, he could be a big fan of magicians and is just toying with us.

The most political song is clearly “Last to Die,” an ode to what John Kerry said as American troops were leaving Vietnam. Springsteen toured in 2004 in support of Kerry’s bid for the presidency and the two have clearly made a connection that has lasted long after the election. It’s another hard rocker that feels urgent in Springsteen’s deep-throated vocals.

Jon Landau, Springsteen’s long time manager, says “Long Walk Home,” about a return to where one grew up, sums up the disc more than anything else on “Magic.” And for a closer, the slow burn of “Devil’s Arcade” feels like a caged tiger waiting to burst through its bar.

Click for related content

Night of ‘Magic’ for Springsteen fans in Jersey

Confessions of a Springsteen addict

The ultimate Springsteen set list

TODAY: Submit your questions for the Boss

Think you look like Bruce? Send us your photo

Attention Springsteen fans: We want photos!

Then there’s “Terry’s Song,” recorded several months after the rest of “Magic” was already completed. Dedicated to Terry Magovern, his friend of over 30 years who passed away this summer, Springsteen whipped up the song only a day before the funeral, and it turns out to be an instant classic.

We should all be so lucky to have someone write something so touching and heartfelt about ourselves for all our friends and loved ones to hear.

© 2007 MSNBC Interactive

Confessions of a Springsteen addict

A new album and new tour brings a joyous smile to one fan’s face

Paul Hawthorne / Getty Images
Bruce Springsteen with wife and fellow E Street Bander, Patty Scalfia. Springsteen's new album, "Magic," hits stores on Oct. 2.

View related photos

By Stuart Levine
MSNBC contributor
Updated: 3:18 p.m. ET Sept 24, 2007

I’m 43 years old and, yes, I believe in “Magic” … and “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” “The Rising” and “The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle.”

Hi, my name is Stuart and I’m a Bruce-aholic.

“Hi Stuart.”

Bruce Springsteen’s newest record, “Magic," is set for release on Oct. 2. Like the days leading up to other Springsteen albums, the anticipation is a slow build, analogous to a kid sitting in class in early June, counting down the days until summer break.

I remember my first taste of Bruce juice. It was 1981 and I was a freshman at Cal State Northridge, vegging out after class in the student union music center where you could choose a record — yes, we’re going back to the days of vinyl — and listen to it in sound-proof booths.

Familiar with the legend of “Born to Run” but not having listened to it in its entirety until then, the music captured me in a way no song or album ever had to that point. Growing up in New York, I was a fan of Billy Joel — that’s the law if you’re raised on Long Island — but Joel’s songs never grabbed me the way Springsteen’s did.

From the opening harmonica of “Thunder Road” to the closing primal scream of “Jungleland,” “Born to Run” left me virtually speechless. It was a masterpiece on first listen and remains Springsteen’s greatest work.

The joy of the live show

But Springsteen, the maker of albums, and Springsteen the concert performer are two entirely different creatures. The music at a Springsteen show doesn’t just come alive, it encompasses you in the way a train would affect your balance if you were standing on the edge of the platform and it passed at 150 mph. It leaves you barely holding on, as you feel the rush of energy move through you on every note, on every lyric sung.

My first show came during the 1984 “Born in the USA” tour, but that’s a somewhat sad story in the fact that I could’ve attended one of “The River” shows three years earlier. In one of those decisions that you regret as soon as you’ve made it, I passed on a ticket because I had English homework that night.

The 'Magic' of Bruce SpringsteenFrom 1973's "Greetings from Asbury Park" to his newest album, "Magic," Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band have continued to define American rock and roll.So I’m forced to wait an excruciating three years — after collecting all the bootlegs, buying the albums, reading the Time and Newsweek cover stories, making friends who had been to the ’78 Roxy show and the famed Winterland set in San Francisco — and it’s finally Oct. 25, 1984. I have no idea what time my daughter was born, but I still remember everything about that day. The drive on the Santa Monica Freeway to the Los Angeles Sports Arena, finding a parking spot, checking out the T-shirts, getting to our seats, and waiting … and waiting some more for the show to start. And then, when the venue went completely dark at 8:13 and, above the screaming, all you heard was Springsteen counting down, about to burst into the title track, and it sent me a place I hadn’t been before.

From that point on I was hooked. Springsteen played seven nights in L.A., and I went to all seven shows. On the second leg of that tour, he played the cavernous Los Angeles Coliseum and I was front row, dead center. By that point, the album, tour and even his own persona had taken on industrial-strength proportions.

Click for related content
The ultimate Springsteen set listNight of ‘Magic’ for Springsteen fans in N.J. Springsteen’s ‘Magic’ is a rockin’ good time

A staggering seven singles were released from “Born in the USA,” including “Dancing in the Dark” (yes, that’s Courtney Cox dancing with him in the video), “I’m on Fire” and concert fave “Glory Days.”

His energy on stage had no bounds. He’d play a 90-minute first set, an hourlong second set and then three encores, closing out around midnight. The set list changed every night but you could be assured of the staples, songs that had more resonance that others, that, as Springsteen liked to say, “made you glad you‘re alive”: “Thunder Road,” “Badlands,” “The Promised Land,” “Rosalita” and the traditional closer, the “Detroit Medley.”

Change is good

When Springsteen hits the road for the upcoming “Magic” tour, I certainly don’t expect to hear those same songs in concert that I heard over 20 years ago. That’s OK as I’ve been to over 100 shows and I’ve pretty much heard everything. He’s added a lot to the canon since those days — and grown up as a musician and family man. He once said he’d never be able to write songs about being a father, but he has, and, whether he’s liked it or not, has taken on the role of Everyman, commenting on the American experience.

Look no further than Sept. 11, when he watched the Twin Towers fall from across the Hudson River. From that he came up with “The Rising,” in which he delivered the album’s powerful message of agony, sorrow, redemption and joy.

While Springsteen will forever be connected with the E Street Band, their association in the last 20 years or so has been tenuous at best. From 1973’s “Greetings at Asbury Park, N.J.” to “Tunnel of Love” in 1987, he and the band were inseparable, but Springsteen has taken a more solo route since then, offering up material that seemed better suited for an acoustic guitar than a full-band treatment. Understandable? Absolutely. He deserves to present his material in any way he seems fit.

But that’s what makes both the upcoming “Magic” album and tour such a joy. It’s the Big Man (and, at 65, a much older Clarence Clemons) back on sax again, Professor Roy Bittan tinkling the piano, Little Steven Van Zandt (aka Silvio Dante from “The Sopranos”) strumming guitar and sharing a mic during “Two Hearts,” and all the other E Streeters returning to deliver the goods again. Back in the day, we used to take the band’s contributions for granted. Now, longtime fans treasure every show, every song.

Back in the ’80s and ’90s, traveling around the country to see a Springsteen show was always de rigueur, never even given second thought. Jersey shows, Philly shows, maybe a stop in Texas, or Boston, or D.C., or even somewhere in the heartland was something that wasn’t discussed so much as implied. Of course, these days — with jobs, families, bills to pay — road trips are a bit tougher, though certainly not impossible.

At 58 years old, it’s hard difficult to say how much longer Springsteen will be able to play these marathon concerts. And though he said a “farewell tour” now or later is out of the question, one needn’t be a mathematician to figure out that, with the band getting older as well, there will be fewer and fewer tours to come.

So, to repeat what the late, great American songwriter Warren Zevon said when asked what advise he would give just before he passed away a few years back, he said, simply, “Enjoy every sandwich.”

Relish in the revelry of “Cadillac Ranch,” in the quiet pleasures of “If I Should Fall Behind,” in the communal nature of “10th Avenue Freezeout.”

And know that more magic is on the way.

Stuart Levine is an assistant managing editor at Variety. He can be reached at
© 2007 MSNBC Interactive

Bruce Springsteen Comes Home ... to Hell

September 25, 2007

Sinister Magic


There are a few ways you can be both a political artist and a rock-star, and Bruce Springsteen has been trying them out for almost four decades now. You can write songs that adopt and/or explore the perspectives of people without power. You can offer moral and financial support to progressive causes, mostly low-key and local. You can go on the stump nationally for a presidential candidate. You can trawl the folk tradition and try to revive interest in some of its more radical manifestations--and while you're at it you can take an archival curiosity like 'How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?' and reshape it into a great and bitter song about New Orleans and Katrina.

Springsteen hasn't so far taken the Neil Young approach--release an evidently heartfelt but often risible collection of agitprop songs in the apparent hope they'll become the soundtrack for a (nonexistent) mass movement. (That was Young last year; this year is sure to be different.) And because Springsteen again avoids that tack on his new album, Magic, there has been a murmur afoot, since the album leaked on the internet in early September, that Bruce has (in the words of New York magazine's Vulture blog) "gotten the politics out of his system."

Politics for Springsteen is not, however, some infection to be purged, but apparently a part of his intrinsic make-up. Despite only a song or two that can remotely be said to be 'about' particular issues, and despite the absence of the lovingly detailed wretched-of-the-earth who occupied The Ghost of Tom Joad and Devils & Dust, Magic is a devastatingly political record, if not always in the predictable ways. It is, for one thing, permeated with war, foreign and domestic, present and past. If this artist has spent two decades wandering the highways and byways of America in search of sounds and stories and themes, on Magic Bruce Springsteen comes home, to New Jersey (no more drawl), to rock & roll (the E Street Band denser than on any record since Born to Run), to the Sixties (for what is more homely than our memories of the period of our own youth?). And home--the home-front, if you like--turns out to be apparently comforting but also fraught, a place of lying, cheating, misunderstanding, and clinging on for dear life.

On Magic, the words 'Vietnam' and 'Iraq' are never sung, but the two wars and the two eras shout out to each other across the musical din.

Partly this is about the sound: with the help of Brendan O'Brien's almost monaural production, we hear bits of Sixties pop, including a big dose of Beach Boys that should help us place the slightly bitter sweetness of 'Girls in Their Summer Clothes' firmly in the narrator's distant past: the song's portrait of a buzzing small town makes it a companion piece to 'Long Walk Home', where we hear about the same place in countrified 21st-century alienation mode. (In 'Girls', a waitress brings coffee and says "Penny for your thoughts"; in 'Long Walk Home', the diner is "shuttered and boarded with a sign that just said 'gone'.")

But the album's sounds are also of the present day, including echoes of the acts who in turn owe so much to Springsteen: Arcade Fire, the Killers, Lucinda Williams. Even the resonant orchestral sound of Irish-ironist band The Divine Comedy is audible on a couple of tracks. Those who insist on caricaturing him as a musical conservative should at least note how Springsteen's last project started with a tribute to Pete Seeger and ended up sounding like the Pogues.

On first listen, especially to the lyrics of 'Long Walk Home', there is more than a faint whiff of nostalgia here, political and otherwise:

My father said "Son, we're lucky in this town,
It's a beautiful place to be born.
It just wraps its arms around you,
Nobody crowds you, nobody goes it alone

"The flag flyin' over the courthouse
Means certain things are set in stone.
Who we are and what we'll do and what we won't"

But sniff again. The nostalgia for the golden community of a past generation that seems to permeate 'Long Walk Home' and that is implied in much of 'Girls in Their Summer Clothes' is undercut sharply by 'Gypsy Biker', which precedes 'Girls' on the album. 'Gypsy Biker' is a lament for a friend killed in war, and there's no reason to say it isn't in Iraq--the friend has been sent "over the hill" with the cry "victory for the righteous", and the benefit going to "profiteers" and speculators"--but the wailing rock guitars, and the emotion in Springsteen's wailing voice, reach back 35 years or more. The biker culture that is invoked as the dead man's friends "pulled your cycle up out of the garage and polished up the chrome" (itself a line echoing from an Eighties Springsteen song about a Vietnam vet, 'Shut Out the Light') then burn it in the desert is emblematic of the Vietnam era, though that culture persists to this day. The evocation of domestic turmoil about the war ("This whole town's been rousted / Which side are you on?") is, unfortunately, more redolent of 1970 than 2007.

Even the idea of Springsteen writing about a Gypsy Biker after decades in which his white working-class characters have mostly been rather blander, bleached into some version of universality, is something of a throwback to the early Seventies.

In short, the beloved Gypsy Biker may have been killed in Vietnam, or in Iraq. Being a fictional character, indeed, he may have died in both wars. Either way, "To them that threw you away, you ain't nothing but gone."

To Springsteen, product of the Sixties, the personal is political. The album starts with a sort of animating first track, 'Radio Nowhere', a largely successful attempt at a kick-ass declaration of life-in-the-old-guy-yet, as the narrator, "trying to find my way home", rocks through a familiar Springsteen lexicon of location and desperation in search of human and musical connection. It's not hard to hear "Is there anybody alive out there?" as a plaintive cry about Life During Bushtime. Then the next three tracks are apparently 'relationship' songs that might not be out of place on 1987's marriage-on-the-rocks album, Tunnel of Love. Given that the present Mrs Springsteen, Patti Scialfa, has just released Play It as It Lays, a fine album of often cuttingly intimate new songs that must have Bruce blushing and squirming even more than other long-lasting husbands who happen to hear it, it's tempting to listen to these songs for his side of the story.

But unlike on Tunnel of Love, he keeps inserting lyrics that indicate wider significance. 'You'll Be Comin' Down' and 'Your Own Worst Enemy' are titles it's easy enough to politicize, and the words oblige. The self-loathing you-cum-I of the latter song is uncertain of his social identity, his place in the world. "The times they got too clear / So you removed all the mirrors Your flag it flew so high / It drifted into the sky." The protagonist of these songs could easily be the United States of America--this sequence almost ends up sounding like a joke about the intense identification between Springsteen and his country that has trailed him since 'Born in the USA'.

He has most fun with this murky idea on 'Livin' in the Future'. (It's true, Springsteen has rarely meet a letter-G he couldn't drop.) A pop-rocking tune in 'Hungry Heart' mode, and again ostensibly about a troubled relationship, its chorus is a paradox and an instant classic in the annals of false comfort:

Don't worry, darlin'
No baby don't you fret
We're livin' in the future and
None of this has happened yet

If only. The second verse reminds us that Springsteen, as John Kerry's musical mascot, had a peculiar stake in the last presidential poll. The narrator wakes on election day, whistles the time away

Then just about sun down
You come walkin' through town
Your boot heels clickin' like
The barrel of a pistol spinnin' round

I wonder who that could be? Yet on an Internet message board for Springsteen fans, a contributor get roasted for suggesting this song is political. Sadly, or perhaps magically, once the E Street Band starts touring next week, there will be arenas full of people bopping to this song as though its chorus could somehow be literally true.

By its end 'Livin' in the Future' is at least in part a self-parodying memoir of Springsteen's failed electoral venture:

I opened up my heart to you
It got all damaged and undone
My ship Liberty sailed away
On a bloody red horizon
The groundskeeper opened the gates
And let the wild dogs run

My faith's been torn asunder
Tell me is that rollin' thunder
Or just the sinkin' sound
Of somethin' righteous goin' under

'Righteous' is a word that crops up more than once on Magic--though not as often as the keynote, 'home'--and while the charge of righteousness sometimes seems to refer to the American political posture, one senses that Springsteen is also pointing the finger at himself.

The John Kerry relationship re-appears, as does the Vietnam connection, in more obvious form in 'Last to Die', the album's clearest polemical song 'about' Iraq and the first in a three-song suite that closes the album with deadly serious State-of-the-Union intent, albeit with continuing vibrations of personal politics. 'Last to Die' is a sketch, drawn from inside the traditional Springsteenian bubble of a car driving away from something (and toward "Truth or Consequences") on some American road--a sketch of the home-front's alienation from the terrible reality of war and of the rending of the social fabric. ("Things fall apart," he sings, inviting us to fill in the rest of Yeats' 'The Second Coming', which funnily enough was also a feature of the final episodes of The Sopranos. It's a Jersey thing.) From the car radio comes a voice, "some other voice from long ago," and the chorus that follows is lifted, loosely, from John Kerry's brilliant 1971 testimony to the Senate foreign-relations committee:

Who'll be the last to die for a mistake
The last to die for a mistake
Whose blood will spill, whose heart will break
Who'll be the last to die for a mistake

(At least the narrator is not listening to Radio Nowhere; more like WBAI.)

Except that he tells us Kerry's voice is from "long ago", 'Last to Die' is another song that could be set a generation ago. As it is, however, the chorus needs to be sung today precisely because Kerry and his ilk now lack of the courage of their earlier convictions. "We don't measure the blood we've drawn any more," Springsteen sings. "We just stack the bodies outside the door." As the guitars drop away momentarily, from the car there is a glimpse of reality, perhaps a news promo seen in the window of a TV shop:

A downtown window flushed with light
"Faces of the dead at five"
A martyr's silent eyes
Petition the drivers as we pass by

The song concludes in full rock & roll roar with a vision of "tyrants and kings strung up at your city gates," so maybe Bruce won't be going the electoral route in 2008.

It isn't the only vision on this album, which has more elements of prophecy than propaganda. Even the 'love song', 'I'll Work for Your Love', is an ode to a bar-waitress written as a half-jokey exercise in extended religious metaphor:

Pour me a drink, Teresa, in one of those glasses you dust off
And I'll watch the bones in your back like the Stations of the Cross

The last song, 'Devil's Arcade', is the among the album's most literal: a lover recalls portentious, and passionate, youthful episodes with a man, then tells the story of than man enlisting, being wounded, probably by an IED ("Just metal and plastic where your body caved"), being hospitalised and returning home to fragile life, "the beat of your heart" repeatedly seven spine-tingling times over a slow rhythm. But there are meanings that are harder, in every sense: the Devil's Arcade could be the war, but Springsteen also uses the phrase as he describes the characters' first sexual experiences. This is no simple and simplistic exercise in painting devil's horns on George W. Bush.

Springsteen has rarely been so difficult. At its most challenging, Magic is an attack on American cruelty and pretensions, on the indifference of its political class; but it is also a continuation of the occasional auto-critique that in the last two decades has seen him write scathingly about "a rich man in a poor man's shirt" ('Better Days') or admit that "The highway is alive tonight / But nobody's kidding nobody about where it goes" ('The Ghost of Tom Joad'). The name of the album, Magic, draws attention to his self-referential intent: no words in the Springsteen Canon are more beloved than the audience sing-along line from 'Thunder Road': "Show a little faith, there's magic in the night ... " But here, magic is something entirely more sinister.

The slow title track is sung from the perspective of a conjuror who runs the listener through his ominous bag of tricks, including his capacity to escape the "shackles on my wrists" that are probably the most potent global symbol of today's USA. "Trust none of what you hear / And less of what you see," he then sings, and the political meaning for media consumers is clear enough. But with the song's passing references to a river and a rising, you also sense something of a personal confession. That Magic publicity shot of 58-year-old Springsteen with a biologically unlikely full head of thick dark hair, wearing tough-guy chains and clutching the old Telecaster, its famed wood veneer cracked with age--is that just another untrustworthy image from the Magician's PR department?

On an album of screaming guitars, crying sax and mourning organ, one that often feels haunted by perdition, at best, and apocalypse, at worst, the song 'Magic' takes the most directly prophetic form, every verse ending with "This is what will be." And, as always, prophecy is not about the future. Springsteen reads America's past, the 'strange fruit' of racist lynchings echoed in the disaster of Katrina, the spectre of domestic refugees in the shadow of the political uses of terror, and emerges with a vision of hell:

Now there's a fire down below
But it's coming up here
So leave everything you know
Carry only what you fear
On the road the sun is sinkin' low
There's bodies hangin' in the trees
This is what will be
This is what will be

Magic by Bruce Springsteen is officially scheduled for release on vinyl in the US on September 25th and on CD October 2nd. It is on sale in Europe and elsewhere later this week.

Harry Browne lectures in Dublin Institute of Technology and writes for Village magazine. Email

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Steroids bust may implicate athletes

DEA raids drug labs across U.S.

By Mark Zeigler
September 25, 2007

U.S. Attorney Robert Clark Corrente, foreground, flanked by agents from the IRS, FBI and DEA, announces indictments, seizures and arrests in an international smuggling and distribution ring for human growth hormone and anabolic steroids during a media briefing in Providence, R.I. on Monday, Sept. 24, 2007.

An array of top law enforcement officials wearing expensive suits and stern faces stood behind U.S. Attorney Karen Hewitt yesterday morning at the federal courthouse in downtown San Diego as she proudly announced an international investigation that is called “Operation Raw Deal” and is being called the largest steroids bust in history.

The numbers are staggering: seven U.S. law enforcement agencies, 10 countries, 20 months, 56 underground labs, 124 arrests, 143 search warrants, 242 kilograms of steroid raw materials, $6.5 million and 11.4 million dosage units – or enough, by some calculations, to supply 50,000 muscle heads for a year.

Here's another number: zero.

That's how many names of athletes were revealed yesterday.

“The investigation is ongoing,” Hewitt said when pressed about names. “I'm not going to talk about specific customers.”

Next question: Can you say if some of them are athletes?

Hewitt: “There's a broad spectrum of individuals who are customers. I'm not going to go into details.”

The sad reality is that, without names, Operation Raw Deal – and the years of hard work by law enforcement agents here and across the country – likely will fade from the public consciousness by the weekend. Big names, not number of dosage units seized, drive the media these days.

You know all about BALCO, which implicated the biggest names in baseball (Barry Bonds) and track and field (Marion Jones), along with a couple of dozen more high-profile athletes.

But have you heard of Operation Gear Grinder?

Didn't think so. It came two years later and wiped out three-quarters of the illicit steroids trade in the United States from Mexican suppliers, impacting thousands of users across the country and making it that much harder for the high school kid trying to beef up for the football season to find “gear,” as steroids are called. Number of athletes implicated: zero.

Operation Raw Deal is a pumped-up version of Operation Gear Grinder, targeting the Chinese labs that provided steroid raw materials and the underground labs in the U.S. that processed and repackaged it.

“What Gear Grinder showed us is that we could take out what appeared to be the very source of the majority of anabolic steroids, which was Mexico,” said Timothy Coughlin, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted those cases. “But we realized we really weren't cutting off the source. If we were really going to make an impact, we had to strategize and go after the source.”

Or as Ralph Partridge, who runs the Drug Enforcement Administration's San Diego office, put it: “We're aiming at the head of the dragon, if you will.”

The paradigm for U.S. law enforcement in the war on drugs, whether recreational or performance-enhancing, historically has been to go after the manufacturer and trafficker, and not the end user. Operation Raw Deal, on the surface at least, sounds like more of the same.

So athletes have nothing to worry about, right?

Maybe not.

Two things changed in recent years. One is that President Bush mentioned the scourge of steroid use in his State of the Union address in 2004. The other is BALCO, which showed law enforcement and anti-doping authorities could work together effectively.

Not on the podium at yesterday's news conference but in attendance was Travis Tygart, the CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

“I think it's a day of vindication for athletes who compete ethically and they see the federal government is willing to put its resources behind these types of investigations,” Tygart said. “Those who were maybe tempted to dope feel their decision not to do it is vindicated.”

And what about those who were tempted to dope, and did?

No one has been named, but you figure Tygart isn't flying out from Colorado for the news conference if elite athletes aren't involved. And the U.S. Olympic Committee isn't putting out a statement that calls Operation Raw Deal a “landmark victory” that “could represent the beginning of a new era.”

Beyond the 27 pill presses, three boats and 25 cars seized in raids of underground labs, investigators also obtained distribution lists and have begun compiling a database of “thousands” of end users.

“I'm not going to go into detail,” said Coughlin, the assistant U.S. attorney, “but that was certainly part of the DEA's strategy, to at some point identify the end users and begin to look at that as people who needed to be addressed and contacted.

“I think absolutely they should be worried . . . They will probably be contacted at some point in time by the DEA. I'm not indicating that there necessarily will be prosecutions, but they are in violation of the law.”

Or put it this way: If you're a college or professional athlete and you used steroids or human growth hormone or some other banned substance in the past few years, and unless you are 100 percent certain you can't be linked to its origin, you suddenly have that queasy feeling in your stomach that is equal parts fear and paranoia.

Fear, because you know you did something wrong and you might now get caught.

Paranoia, because you don't know when.

“It's probably a day of reckoning for a lot of athletes,” USADA's Tygart said. “There are probably a lot of nervous people in locker rooms.”

Mark Zeigler: (619) 293-2205;

Musical "Magic" entrances audience

WARM-UP ACT: As they've done before, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band introduce their latest work in Asbury Park

Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 09/25/07


Post Comment

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band performed a little prestidigitation Monday night, bringing a sold-out crowd at Convention Hall in Asbury Park to its feet.

Fans yelled "Happy Birthday!" to Springsteen — Sunday was his 58th birthday — as he and the band launched into "Radio Nowhere," the first single from the new album "Magic."

This was the first of two rehearsal shows at the 3,600-seat venue. The second show is tonight.

The early part of the set featured music from the new album, but also reached back to songs from throughout the band's catalog.

"Radio Nowhere" was followed by "No Surrender," a song from the "Born In The U.S.A." album.

Fans reacted especially well to older songs such as "Something in the Night" and "Night."

Other songs from the new work, which appeared early in the set, included "Gypsy Biker" and the Beach Boys-tinged "Girls In Their Summer Clothes."

Springsteen welcomed fans and said: "We're gonna run through a bunch of things; there may be some mistakes, but I doubt it." Indeed, the show went off as smoothly as any Giants Stadium extravaganza, and Springsteen seemed pleased, saying at the end: "This is our first go-round, so thanks for helping us out, and we'll be seeing you."

Better than the Garden

This concert, along with the upcoming album and tour, is being met with a lot of anticipation.
For Patti Kofler of Brick, it was a huge thrill.

"I've been a Springsteen fan since the early '80s," she said. "And this is the first time I've gotten tickets. This is the best place to see them play. Better here than a huge place like Madison Square Garden."

Part of the joy of a Springsteen concert is singing along to old favorites. But these shows were expected to have a lot of new music from "Magic," set to be released on Oct. 2.

"I've got mixed emotions about that," said Carl Fuhring of Ocean Township. "I like the old stuff. But then again, the old stuff was new once. And there's no doubt in my mind that I'm going to like the new stuff."

Nostalgia also had something to do with how he was feeling.

"I played basketball here for Neptune High School in 1962," he said. And he was glad to be back after so many years, he added.

"It's Bruce. It's worth it"

The tickets for these two shows sold out in minutes when they went on sale Friday. But that didn't stop Alison and David Bottimore from coming anyway.

"We drove 200 miles from Fairfax, Virginia, without a ticket," said Alison.

She and her husband hoped to get tickets that would go on sale just hours before the concert began.

"It was very organized," she said. "We were given wristbands and, if and when tickets go on sale, we'll be fourth in line to get them."

There were approximately 300 people waiting in line behind her.

"Even if we don't get in," she said, "we'll listen from the beach before we head home. It's Bruce. It's worth it."

Rehearsal concert Friday

A third rehearsal concert has been announced for Friday at Continental Airlines Arena. Tickets, $100, go on sale at noon today through Ticketmaster charge-by-phone only. Numbers are (201) 507-8900, (212) 307-7171 and (866) 448-7849). Tickets will not be sold online at, Ticketmaster outlets or at the box office. There is a two-ticket limit.

Cal Thomas: Intolerance in the name of tolerance

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (R) shakes hands with John H. Coatsworth, Columbia Dean of School of International Affairs, after speaking at Columbia University in New York, September 24, 2007.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

I would not be as bothered by Columbia University's decision to host Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad if Columbia and other universities had a consistent policy toward those they invite to speak and the rules applied equally to conservatives and liberals; to totalitarian dictators and to advocates for freedom and tolerance.

Any conservative who has ever tried, or actually succeeded, in speaking on the campus of predominately liberal academic institutions knows it can resemble to some extent the struggle experienced by African Americans when they attempted to desegregate lunch counters in the South during the Civil Rights Movement.

In the 1980s, I spoke at universities from Smith College in the East to the University of California at Davis in the West. At Smith, lesbians sat in the front row kissing each other while the rest of the crowd shouted so loud no one could hear me (NPR's Nina Totenberg witnessed the riotous behavior, prompting me to remark, "I hope you're getting this on tape, Nina, because this is what liberals mean by tolerance.").

Former U.S. News and World Report columnist John Leo has been among the chroniclers of the demise of free speech on many college campuses. Writing in last winter's issue of the publication City Journal, Leo noted that Columbia University officials prevented a large crowd from hearing Walid Shoebat, a former PLO terrorist who is now an anti-jihadist. The reason given was security, which as Leo pointed out is a frequent excuse for restricting speech. Had Shoebat remained a PLO terrorist, Columbia might have allowed the students in, because anti-Jewish rhetoric of the kind Ahmadinejad delivers always seems welcome on too many campuses. Only Columbia students and 20 guests were allowed to hear Shoebat speak.

Why would Columbia expect Ahmadinejad to answer what they promised in advance would be "tough" questions? Have they not seen him interviewed by America's best reporters? He doesn't answer questions. He uses the interviews to lecture America and make his propaganda points. The exercise is useless, except to him because he scores points at home for "standing up to Œthe Great Satan,' or whatever the preferred term du jour for the United States is at the moment.

Last October at Columbia, a mob of students stormed a stage, curtailing speeches by two members of the anti-illegal immigration group known as the Minutemen. The students shouted "They have no right to speak," which was revealing, given the "academic freedom" argument that is used to defend liberal professors and their frequent anti-American rants when conservatives attempt to shut them up.

As John Leo wrote, "Campus opponents of (Rep.) Tom Tancredo, an illegal immigration foe, set off fire alarms at Georgetown to disrupt his planned speech, and their counterparts at Michigan State roughed up his student backers. Conservative activist David Horowitz, black conservative Star Parker, and Daniel Pipes, an outspoken critic of Islamism, frequently find themselves shouted down or disrupted on campus." The number of instances involving censorship of conservatives on college campuses and denial of honorary degrees to people who don't toe the liberal line could fill a book.

There is something else about Columbia's decision to admit Ahmadinejad and that is the notion that by exposing a tyrant and religious fanatic to a liberal arts campus - a man who believes he has been "called" to usher in Armageddon - might make him less genocidal and students and the rest of us more understanding. We understand he and his legion of murdering thugs wish to kill us and are contributing to the death of Americans in Iraq. What part of mass murder do they not understand at Columbia, or don't they have time to study history these days?

Ahmadinejad is probably using his visit to case our country, like a bank robber does before a big heist.

Before we allow more of our enemies into America and give them a freedom unknown in their own countries, we should at least demand reciprocity. Their president gets to speak in America? Our president gets to speak in Iran. Their president has access to our media? Our president should have access to their media. And while we're at it, how about for every liberal who gets to speak on campus, the school must also invite a conservative.

Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the forthcoming book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America"

Monday, September 24, 2007

Bruce Springsteen's Magic: A Deeper Shade Of Soul Review

Bruce Springsteen's Magic: A Deeper Shade Of Soul Review

“The great romantic makes an album about working-class defeat – and, leaving most of his innocence hanging in the air, comes away ready for a long, uncertain fight against cynicism.” – Greil Marcus on Darkness on the Edge of Town, from Stranded, 1979.

“Better ask questions before you shoot/Deceit and betrayal’s bitter fruit” – Bruce Springsteen, “Lonesome Day” (2002)

Bruce Springsteen looks like a weary man on the cover of Magic, his new album with the E Street Band. But there’s also a look of defiance in his eyes, and it seems as though it’s defiance that Springsteen has tapped into to make Magic his best album in twenty years, a luminous and often gorgeous collection of songs, that typical of Springsteen, are filled with a sense of defeat, alienation, dread, anger and the residue of betrayals both personal and political, while also conveying a spirit of steely determination to carry on regardless.

Given the events of these past few years, it would be impossible to expect Springsteen not to have experienced both weariness and a deep sense of defeat. The Iraq war, which Springsteen publicly opposed from the stage months before Bush gave the orders to invade (Introducing “Born In The U.S.A." in the fall of 2002, he occasionally said, “I don’t want to have to write this song again.”), has entangled this country into a quagmire with no end in sight, with unimaginable costs of blood and treasure. And Springsteen no doubt remembers that it is a war that at its outset, a huge majority of the country supported (most notably Congress and the mainstream media) with little or no hesitation or qualification.

Springsteen’s endorsement and campaigning for John Kerry in 2004 on the Vote For Change tour failed in its intention to remove the president - “You voted and you didn’t change,” was how Springsteen explained it at a Devils & Dust performance in Cleveland in the spring of 2005. And Springsteen’s 2006 tour with the Seeger Sessions band played to half empty arenas in several U.S. cities, despite the shows featuring some of the most enervating music of the man’s life, possibly calling into question for Springsteen the relationship between he and his fans.

Springsteen has always sought to create consensus through his music – he is a uniter, bringing together multitudes of people who on the surface, have little in common other than a reaction to his music. But the divide between his ideals of America and the reality of America in 2007 feels more like a chasm. And so to attempt to bridge that enormous divide he is back with the band, and while a cynic might say that he needs them commercially, what seems more likely is that he needs them personally - to combat his own sense of isolation by once again reconvening the best community he’s known and seeing what possibilities can be created by bringing it face to face with an audience.

Magic succeeds brilliantly because for the first time since perhaps Born In The U.S.A., Springsteen has paid as much attention to the melodies, hooks and sounds on the album as he has to the lyrics. Several of the songs – “Livin’ In The Future,” “Girls In Their Summer Clothes,” “You’ll Be Coming Down” and “I’ll Work For Your Love” are simply the some of the most enjoyable sounding songs Springsteen has ever recorded, downright gorgeous in both their melodies and arrangements. Producer Brendan O’Brien continues to create an updated version of the E Street sound – Roy Bittan’s piano shines as does Danny Federici’s organ and glockenspiel - but as on The Rising, the guitars are up front leading the band, sounding vaguely reminiscent of the 60’s British Invasion bands that Springsteen grew up listening to (and that Steven Van Zandt continues to lionize on his radio show). Clarence Clemons’ solos sometimes feel somewhat less than essential, but when they come in, like they do in “Livin’ In The Future” and "Long Walk Home," they occur as the sound of a beloved friend, one that you’re simply happy and grateful to know is still around. Garry Tallent’s bass is fluid as always and Max Weinberg’s drums, while still powerful, sound far lighter on their feet than they did on The Rising, which helps matters considerably.

Springsteen is universally and justifiably recognized as a great performer and lyricist, but he’s woefully underrated as a singer, and on Magic, his vocals shine. In the past fifteen years, Springsteen has substantially broadened the range of his voice, creating a myriad of options for his own phrasing, and on Magic, it seems like he utilizes them all. Whether singing plaintively or with a full-throated passion, Springsteen remains one of the few singers in popular music that has the ability to convey a multitude of emotional dimension within the same song, like in the mournful determination of “Long Walk Home,” the wistfulness of “Girls In Their Summer Clothes” and the humor and delight in the face of calamity of “Livin’ In The Future.”

The war in Iraq, while never addressed explicitly, can be felt all over the album. Springsteen, never interested in ideology or polemics, instead delves into the cost of the war in human terms – of death, sorrow, anger and cynicism. “Last To Die,” an angry lament, quotes the young John Kerry’s testimony during Vietnam (“How do you ask a man to be the last to die for a mistake?”) and asks the question anew, while making his statement about our current leadership: “The wise men were all fools.” “Magic” occurs as both prophecy and warning: “Now there’s a fire down below/That is coming up here/So leave everything you know/Carry only what you fear/On the road the sun is sinking low/Bodies hanging in the trees/This is what will be.” And in “Devils Arcade,” the most explicitly “Iraq” song on the album, Springsteen looks at it with a heartbroken eye: “You said heroes are needed, so heroes get made/Somebody made a bet, somebody paid/The cool desert morning then nothin' to save/Just metal and plastic where your body caved.”

Magic is not a flawless album. “Radio Nowhere,” the album’s opener and first single, is a less than thrilling rocker, and on occasion, the album feels a little too glossy, missing the grittiness that is a hallmark of some of Springsteen finest work. But these are minor quibbles.

Magic is an album that ranks among Springsteen’s greatest music – and whether you listen to it for fun or hunker down with the lyrics and pore over every detail, what emerges is both the brilliance and commitment of an artist who continues to grow musically and emotionally; an artist whose values remain intact and who continues to fight the good fight - even in the face of these badlands.

Buy Magic at Amazon

Hitler’s Muslim Nephew Comes to New York

By Kenneth R. Timmerman
Monday, September 24, 2007

What was New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg thinking? Apparently the former Democrat believed that escorting Iran’s Hitler-wannabe president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to the site of the September 11 memorial at Ground Zero would generate a terrific photo op.

“Here I am with world leaders,” that type of thing.

After all, Bloomberg has already made his appearance at the “World Leaders Forum” at Columbia University, so he was in the zone. And last year, U.S. News & World Report crowned him as one of America’s “best leaders.”

But within hours of the announcement by New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly on Wednesday that the city was “in discussions” with the Secret Service to escort the Mighty Midget of Tehran to Ground Zero, Bloomberg’s office issued a hasty retraction.

No way, nada, not going to happen, they said. Kelly had spoken based on “outdated information.”

Actually, what happened was that someone told the Mayor that the Tweed Hall switchboard had been paralyzed by calls from outraged citizens who were responding to appeals from talk radio hosts, bloggers, Jewish organizations, and human rights groups. Feeling the political heat, Bloomberg backed down.

So much for this man’s presidential aspirations.

Bloomberg, of course, is not the only U.S. politician who thinks there’s an audience for cozying up to dictators. We’ve already seen Dennis of Damascus and Tehran Tom. And let’s not forget Nancy Pelosi’s journey on the road to Damascus, just in time for Passover and Easter.

If Bloomberg still clings to that outdated notion of political accountability, Columbia University president Lee Bollinger does not. He has maintained the speaking invitation for the boy president at Columbia’s World Forum – cleverly scheduled to coincide with a protest organized by major Jewish organizations at UN Plaza. (Guess where the press will go? If you guessed, to cover the Jews, guess again).

Bollinger actually had the chutzpah to tell Columbia undergrads that Ahmadinejad’s visit would be “a celebration of the university and its values,” according to notes taken at a rowdy meeting with student groups on Thursday afternoon.

The students soon discovered that the invitation to Iran’s Hitler wannabe had been convoyed by Richard Bulliet, a former board member of the American-Iranian Council, once the foremost promoter of Tehran’s viewpoint in Washington (now overtaken by NIAC, of course).

Also instrumental in promoting a “dialogue” with Tehran’s murderous regime is Gary Sick, the former deputy National Security Council advisor to Jimmy Carter who so gloriously managed the 1979-1981 hostage crisis.

Sick’s “Gulf 2000” Project, created in the early 1990s and fueled by Exxon-Mobil, George Soros and the Ford Foundation, among others, focused from the start on “engaging” Tehran. When Rafsanjani was president, Sick and his crowd promoted Rafsanjani as the great turbaned hope who would make Iran safe for U.S. business.

Gary Sick conceals his lobbying activity behind a cloak of cuteness, claiming that access to his website, emails, and electronic library “is limited to scholars and analysts with a professional interest in and association with the Persian Gulf region.” Critics and hostile reporters, stay away.
When Khatami took over in 1997, Sick began working with Hossein Alikhani, an Iranian businessman who spent time in a U.S. prison on felony charges after pleading guilty to violating anti-terrorist sanctions.

With Alikhani’s support, Sick founded the “Center for World Dailogue” in 1999 to promote rapprochement (read: business) between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Grateful for these efforts, a Tehran court signaled last year that it planned to award Alkhani the deed to the U.S. embassy in Tehran, supposedly to compensate him for damages he suffered at the hands of the Great Satan.

And among the apologists for the regime in Tehran, let’s not forget Washington, DC Episcopal bishop John Bryson Chane, who is planning to grovel to Qom on October 7 to meet with former president Khatami to discuss “theology.”

Bishop Chane disgraced himself last year by inviting Khatami to the National Cathedral and seems to believe that radical Shiite Islamic fundamentalism is just like Christianity, at least the kind practiced by Orthodox Anglicans or evangelical Christians.

In an interview with the Washington Times yesterday, the Freedom Center’s David Horowitz called Ahmadinejad’s visit to his alma mater “a disgrace.”

So what can Americans do?

• If you live in New York, join the street protests

Ahmadinejad addresses Columbia at 1:30 pm on Monday, but the media is gearing up for a rip-roaring street protest centered around 116th and Broadway. The mainline American Jewish groups will be gathering at UN plaza at 12:30 pm on Monday. Take your pick.

• Restrict Ahmadinejad’s visa.

Congress can pass special legislation next week to restrict the travel of Iranian government leaders the next time they come to the United Nations. The current rules restrict Iranian government representatives to a 25-mile radius of New York City, without specific prior approval.

That 25-mile radius, of course, makes it easy for Ahmadinejad or his successor to visit Columbia, Ground Zero, or to meet and greet with Iranian regime supporters in the New York metropolitan area. This should and can be stopped immediately. Iran’s leaders should be restricted to the UN building, the Iranian consulate in New York, and their hotel. Period.
As I peer into my crystal ball, I can discern just a handful of members of the Party of Surrender (plus Libertarian Ron Paul) who would oppose such restrictions, once the phone calls start flooding their offices.

• Demand reciprocity from Iran.

If Iranian leaders can come to the United States and make public statements (which they will do at the UN, even under the above proposal), then Congress should demand similar access so that a senior U.S. government official can address the Iranian Majles, Tehran University, or similar gatherings.

Imagine the panic of Iran’s senior leaders (okay, and the Secret Service) if the President or Vice-President were allowed to speak at Tehran University to deliver America’s message of freedom and self-determination. A high-risk proposal – but one worth considering.

• Demand that the UN enforce genocide convention

Congressmen Steven Rothman (D-NJ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) introduced House Concurrent Resolution 21 on Jan. 9, 2007, calling on the UN Security Council to charge Ahmadinejad with violating the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and the UN Charter because of his calls for the destruction of the State of Israel. This wise legislation has 103 cosponsors and is being supported by the Zionist Organization of America, among others.

• Sue Columbia University

The Coalition for Jewish Concerns (AMCHA) is considering legal action against Columbia University to challenge the university’s refusal to allow outside demonstrators to attend the Ahmadinejad speech.

As AMCHA national president Rabbi Avi Weiss wrote, “This limitation on non-University affiliated persons is particularly inappropriate here where the speaker and his considerable entourage is not affiliated with Columbia University.”

• Alumni boycott

Although Columbia depends mainly on its huge endowment and on big alumni donors, nevertheless a grass roots alumni boycott of the university could have an impact. Stay tuned, as I hear that alumni groups across the country are mulling action on this front.

• Congressional ban on federal grants

“If Hitler were in the United States and wanted a platform from which to speak… we would certainly invite him,” the Dean of Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs, John H, Coatsworth, told FoxNews.

Is this merely an expression of Columbia’s respect for the 1st amendment? No way. Columbia seems to likes proponents of genocide – past and present - but won’t allow Minuteman leader Jim Gilchrest onto campus to talk about securing our borders, or Columbia alum David Horowitz to address academic freedom.

Congress should examine the conditions for federal grants to the University, and consider suspending all grants to Columbia programs that openly defy the United States Constitution.

• Sign the petition

Brigitte Gabriel’s American Congress for Truth has launched an on-line petition to stop Ahmadinejad from speaking at Columbia, and plans to forward the names of signatories (more than 8,000 as of Sunday afternoon) to Columbia president Lee Bolinger.

• Send the lawyers

My favorite (okay, barring a non-stop flight to Gitmo) would be to serve the boy president with a subpoena as a material witness in the billion dollar lawsuit brought against the Islamic Republic of Iran by former U.S. diplomats held hostage in Tehran from 1979-1981.

As I reported at the time of Ahmadinejad’s first visit to New York two years ago, several former hostages have positively identified the boy president as their most vicious interrogator during their 444 ordeal.

Former assistant air attaché David Roeder described in excruciating detail Ahmadinejad’s tactics in a June 2005 interview with the German newsweekly Der Spiegel.

“[Ahmadinejad] was present at at least a third of my personal interrogations, which took place nightly for a little over a month early on in the hostage-taking situation,” Roeder said. “He seemed to be calling the shots, but from the background. The interrogators would ask a question and it would then be translated from Farsi into English by a woman interpreter.”

Most chilling was the very personal nature of the threat Ahmadinejad used in an effort to “break” Roeder.

“Because I was not cooperating, they threatened that they were going to kidnap my handicapped son and send various pieces of him -- fingers and toes is what they mentioned -- to my wife if I didn't start cooperating. You don't forget somebody who is involved in something like that.”

No, you don’t forget somebody who is involved in something like that.

But in its infinite wisdom, the State Department last year intervened to block efforts by attorneys for the 52 hostages and their families from seeking damages from the Islamic Republic of Iran.

These days, of course, Ahmadinejad doesn’t make individual threats such as those he made to Roeder. Today he merely threatens to “destroy America” and to “wipe Israel off the map.”
At Columbia, of course, that passes for free speech.

Just don’t hold up a “Support the Troops” banner – or Columbia’s dean might call security.

Kenneth R. Timmerman was nominated for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize along with John Bolton for his work on Iran. He is Executive Director of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran, and author of Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran (Crown Forum: 2005).

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Aid and Comfort by Any Other Name

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, center, holds the hand of the head of the supreme leader's office, Mohammad Mohammadi Golpayegani, before leaving Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Sept. 23, 2007, for New York to attend the U.N General Assembly, as Vice-President Parviz Davoudi, right, looks on.

It is naïve to ignore the uses to which Ahmadinejad will put his invitation.

By David J. Feith & Jordan C. Hirsch

September 23, 2007 11:10 Am

Since news broke of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s upcoming speech at Columbia University, student groups on campus have been organizing protests to highlight the Iranian regime’s human-rights violations and belligerency. Correct as our peers are to do this, Columbia’s student leaders have wrongly answered the controversy’s central question: What standards should apply to a university’s decision to give an official invitation to a person such as Ahmadinejad?

In a joint response to the invitation, a number of prominent student leaders wrote that the Ahmadinejad event “presents an incredible opportunity for the student body to learn about world affairs and to challenge a major controversial figure.” They added that “in a University setting no view is too disreputable to be excluded.”

These views echo Columbia President Lee Bollinger’s description of the invitation as an affirmation of academic freedom. Granting that “many, most, or even all of us” find Ahmadinejad “offensive and even odious,” Bollinger wrote this week that to “examine critically all ideas” is “our nation’s most potent weapon against repressive regimes everywhere in the world.” In Bollinger’s view, “this is America at its best.”

But Bollinger is begging the question. Certainly the ideas of a powerful world leader should be studied on American campuses. The true question is whether the university should dignify the Iranian leader by making him an officially invited guest.

It is naïve to ignore the uses to which Ahmadinejad will put his invitation. Over the past years, Ahmadinejad’s confrontational rhetoric and policies have resulted in diplomatic isolation and economic hardship for Iran. These developments are unpopular among Iranians. It is beneficial to Ahmadinejad and his regime, then, if he can claim to the Iranian people that his leadership is not hurting their country. If he can demonstrate that he is treated abroad as a respected leader, he will be better able to counter his critics at home. Columbia’s invitation thus gives political assistance to Ahmadinejad.

Bollinger has written that “it should never be thought that merely to listen to ideas...implies our endorsement of those ideas.” That is true. But the argument against the official invitation of Ahmadinejad is not an argument against listening to his ideas. It is an argument against bestowing prestige on Ahmadinejad. There are many ways Columbia can engage with his ideas without giving him the politically valuable respectability of an official speaking invitation. Columbia can hold a forum on his views. It can play recordings of his speeches and ask experts to comment on them. It can create courses on the history and ideology of the Iranian Revolution. Indeed, if “listening to ideas” is truly Bollinger’s goal, then bringing to campus Ahmadinejad, a master of deception and propaganda, should be one of his last options.

The issue here is not free speech. That is a red herring. We have heard no one argue against free speech. The issue is values: What standards should Columbia use in giving out valuable, prestigious official speaking invitations? Whatever standards apply, they should preclude an invitation to the head of a regime that behaves as Iran’s does and they should in particular preclude an invitation to an individual who promotes hatred and violence as Ahmadinejad does.

Ahmadinejad’s regime punishes homosexuality by hanging and stoning gays. Religious minorities — Sunni Muslims, Bahais, Jews, and others — are routinely abused by the Islamic police. Women are publicly flogged for not dressing according to regime edict. Academics and students survive in the academy only so long as the regime decides not to purge them as “infidels.” And Ahmadinejad has made repeated calls for Israel’s destruction, fantasizing about mass murder while developing the weapons necessary for achieving his fantasy.

Iran is the world’s leading exporter of terrorism. It founded and supports Hezbollah, a terrorist group which is undermining Lebanon, seeks to destroy Israel, and killed nearly 300 American Marines in 1983. In fact, the American death toll at the hands of Iranian terrorism increases daily, as U.S. troops in Iraq are killed and maimed by Iranian-provided improvised explosive devices. Amazingly, American soldiers may be killed by Iranian bombs at the very moment that Ahmadinejad is being hosted by Columbia — and in the name of American ideals, no less.

Columbia properly considers free speech its ultimate value. Universities should not try to shield students from controversial views or be fearful of any ideas. But this is beside the point. By its invitation, Columbia has chosen to give Ahmadinejad a valuable political gift that he does not deserve, and that he will use to further repress his people and threaten his neighbors. It is shameful to receive him here as an official guest.

— David J. Feith and Jordan C. Hirsch are undergraduates at Columbia University. They are editors of The Current, a journal of politics, culture and Jewish affairs.

Did Giants' special treatment of Bonds contribute to messy end?

John Shea, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, September 23, 2007

Goodbye, Barry
Knapp: Major questions in post-Bonds world
Bonds will leave with 'head high'
Did special treatment contribute to messy end?
Bonds' farewell show remains a mystery
Giants part ways with slugger
Knapp: The bubble bursts
Ratto: 15-year marriage ends
Jenkins: Bleak future as a player
Greats of yesteryear react
Fans not surprised
News hits 'Barry's room'
Pick your favorite Chronicle front page
Readers' Platform: A Giant is gone
Time line Stats
Bonds page

When Barry Bonds takes off his Giants uniform for the last time next weekend, it will end a relationship between a ballplayer and his team unlike any other in baseball history.

Long before free-roaming trainers, big-screen TVs and vibrating lounge chairs in the clubhouse - long before any mention of BALCO and steroids - the Giants let Bonds get away with more than other players.

In return, he delivered much more on the field than the Giants could have expected when they acquired him 15 years ago. But management's indulgence also contributed to off-field developments that clouded Bonds' final four years as a Giant.

In the end, the Giants didn't grant Bonds his final wish. Their announcement Friday that they're severing ties with the seven-time Most Valuable Player was a rare example of the team not catering to him.

Bonds, 43, wanted to return for one more year, and the Giants rejected him. Managing general partner Peter Magowan, who pursued Bonds as a free agent in December 1992 before his group's purchase of the franchise was finalized, said it's time for a change after an unforgettable run of record-smashing home runs and colossal scandals.

"No one is more aware of what Barry has meant to the Giants and San Francisco than I am," Magowan said. "He gave our ownership group instant credibility when we bought the team in 1993 and helped transform the Giants into a consistent winner. ... However, all good things must come to an end, and now seems like the right time to move on."

Bonds received preferential treatment before he wore his first Giants uniform. Shortly after first signing the outfielder to baseball's richest contract, six years and $43.75 million, the Giants showed in a surprising announcement just how willing they were to do Bonds a favor.

They were giving him Willie Mays' number.

The Yankees never offered Mickey Mantle No. 3 (Babe Ruth's number), and the Braves never considered giving Andruw Jones No. 44 (Hank Aaron's number). A retired number is a retired number. But Bonds was going to wear 24, the number the great Mays wore during his cherished career as a Giant.

Though Bonds never got to wear 24 - fans and columnists complained, and he settled on 25, which his dad, Bobby, wore - the groundwork was laid. Bonds wasn't just a special player on the field but someone who'd receive special favors off the field from an organization going to great lengths to satisfy the game's premier player.

Bonds won five of his MVPs with the Giants and evolved into possibly the best hitter who ever lived. But along the way, the authority he was bestowed allowed him to control his environment and create a support group that had the run of the clubhouse, all with hardly an objection from his employers.

As a result, Greg Anderson got access.

Anderson, Bonds' weight trainer, made performance-enhancing drugs available to some of Bonds' teammates and players on other teams, and his BALCO ties linked Bonds to the biggest international doping scandal in sports history.

"Did Barry get special treatment? Of course he did. How can we deny that was not the case?" Magowan said in a Chronicle interview last year. "Did he deserve special treatment? There, you get, I suppose, a debate between those who say every player on a team should be treated the same and those who say that certain players, by what they have achieved, deserve to be treated in a different, preferential manner."

At first, keeping on Bonds' good side was hardly as momentous as it later became for Giants management. In the early years of Bonds' tenure with the team, he took advantage of simpler perks.

He regularly missed pregame stretching.

He blew off lengthy spring-training trips to Tucson.

His father was on the coaching staff.

He had a hotel suite.

He sat in the media bus (always in the front row, in front of team executives) rather than the packed players' bus.

It was all G-rated stuff, considering that previous Giants superstars were afforded their own luxuries, such as suites on the road for Mays and Willie McCovey. But Bonds' favors accelerated once the Giants moved from Candlestick Park to Pacific Bell Park in 2000. If Bonds believed this was the House that He Built, he certainly acted accordingly. Suddenly, he had four lockers, his own TV, a leather recliner and a growing entourage.

The Giants did unofficial background checks on Bonds' three personal trainers who regularly were in the clubhouse - Anderson, stretch coach Harvey Shields and running coach Raymond Farris - and the research, according to the book "Game of Shadows," showed Anderson was rumored to be a dealer at a popular local gym where steroids were said to be readily available.

But the Giants, according to the book, did not try to have the trainers removed because they "didn't want to alienate" the player who'd be the top gate attraction at the new park.

Taking no action was commonplace. After Anderson became a target of a federal investigation, Major League Baseball, reacting to unregulated personnel in clubhouses amid the BALCO case, sent memos to all teams before the 2002 and 2003 seasons with a warning that personal trainers were prohibited. But Bonds' trainers, along with PR people and bodyguards, even a videographer, were still allowed access by the Giants.

General manager Brian Sabean admitted the Giants made "allowances" for Bonds and that MLB was aware of the situation, though Kevin Hallinan, baseball's highest-ranking security chief, said he was unaware the Giants still allowed Bonds' trainers.

"We cooperated with MLB to uphold the letter of that memo, but they also work with the clubs knowing ... the needs of a high-profile player," Sabean said at the time. "You do due diligence, and you trust the player himself and his responsibility to be above board in recommending who's in there.
"We're aware of who's in our clubhouse, and that applies not only to personal trainers. ... It's a complex world, and we're trying to accommodate the players."

But as Hallinan said, "If the Giants did this, it was certainly not done with a green light from us."

When spring training opened in 2004, Anderson was not present. Neither was Shields, and Bonds made a stink. In May, the Giants and MLB came to an agreement, allowing the Giants to circumvent the rule forbidding personal trainers. Bonds could have Shields at his side again only if he were added to the Giants' payroll and made available to all players, not just Bonds. Greg Oliver also was hired by the Giants in a similar capacity.

Instead of working with all players, however, both Shields and Oliver were accountable exclusively to Bonds. When Bonds left the team in 2004 to rehab his surgically repaired right knee, Shields and Oliver were nowhere to be seen. They were with Bonds.

Though the Giants had their own training staff - led by Stan Conte, who received a degree at Cal State Northridge's physical therapy department and is credentialed in physical therapy and athletic training - Magowan defended the Giants for allowing Bonds to have his own collection of trainers.

"The guy played an equivalent of 157 of 162 games for 11 years," Magowan said. "Now, would we prefer that he only deal with our trainers and doctors? Of course we would. We like our trainers and doctors. We know them well. They have good track records. But does that mean a player doesn't have a right to have his own trainer and doctor when he is able to demonstrate the kind of success in terms of getting his body on the field day after day, month after month, year after year?

"The same thing is true with stretching or all these other activities everyone else does and Barry Bonds doesn't do. Would we prefer he do them? Of course we would. Again, the fact he hasn't done them has not prevented him from performing at a level that maybe no one else in baseball has ever performed at. So to make a case or argument in principle that everyone has to be treated the same when you have this tremendous disparity in what they've done, I don't think it's right.

"I think the differential in Barry Bonds' case has been justified. He's earned it by his performance over the years, particularly getting on the field and playing."

But one of Bonds' personal trainers, Anderson, was providing him and others with an array of illegal performance-enhancing drugs. After Anderson supplied Bonds, his childhood friend, with "the cream" and "the clear," both BALCO products, he pleaded guilty in July 2005 to conspiracy to distribute steroids and money laundering and served three months in prison in Atwater, Merced County, and three months' home confinement.

Anderson returned to prison in July 2006 for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating Bonds for perjury. He was released briefly but sent back last November and remains at the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin.

The first Bonds subordinate with regular clubhouse access, during the Candlestick years, was Stevie Hoskins, another longtime friend who served as Bonds' gopher and business partner. Ultimately, Bonds accused Hoskins of selling memorabilia with forged Bonds autographs, and Hoskins became an important witness in the perjury case. Bonds' lawyer, Michael Rains, called Hoskins "vindictive" and predicted he'd be discredited as a vengeful ex-friend with a motive to lie. The FBI later exonerated Hoskins in connection with Bonds' complaint, according to the business manager's lawyer.

The follow-up questions are obvious: What would have happened with Bonds if he never dragged Hoskins, Anderson or any of his other assistants into the clubhouse? What if the Giants kept out all of Bonds' aides?
Perhaps Bonds would be in the same predicament, with the same legal troubles, but the freedoms the Giants afforded him made it easier for him to maintain relationships that came back to haunt him.

Magowan, speaking last year on the issue of Bonds' trainers, said, "It's all very easy to think those things now, after the fact, when things went wrong. Last year (when Bonds missed all but 14 games in 2005 after multiple knee surgeries), they went wrong with the medical situation, much worse than any of us thought it was going to be. It's easy to say after the fact, 'Well, they never should've done it in the first place.' But for 12 years it was right.

"The fact of the matter is," Magowan continued, "there are two ways to really measure our success. The most important way is how we've performed on the field. Until 2005, when (Bonds) wasn't on the field, the Giants had the (majors') third best record over 12 years. The Yankees and Braves were the only teams that were better. You can complain and criticize all you want, but this team has performed over a long period of time.

"The second way we're performing comes from how our customers think of us. Over the (first) six years we've been in this ballpark, only the Yankees (had) outdrawn the Giants. We (had) drawn 19.5 million people. That's more than the Dodgers, Red Sox, Cubs, Cardinals and every other team in baseball.

"We've performed well, and our fans have supported us. We haven't won a World Series, but short of that, we've accomplished just about everything we could have accomplished."

In 2006, the first of Bonds' entourage members was banned from the clubhouse. Anthony Phills, his videographer, had his pass pulled by the team after the ESPN reality series "Bonds on Bonds" was canceled. Bonds protested at first - Phills was granted clubhouse access long before the TV show - but the Giants ultimately had their way.

That was an exception. For the most part, Bonds has been the favored son through his years as a Giant. The club passed on signing popular Will Clark after the 1993 season, sided with Bonds during his long-standing feud with Jeff Kent - who left as a free agent following the 2002 World Series - and re-signed the left fielder to a 2007 contract despite telling fans the team would get younger, quicker and more athletic.

Bonds had a $15.8 million base with incentives that could have pushed his salary to $20 million (he's topping out at $19.3 million). As part of the agreement, and in the wake of MLB pressing the Giants that no personal trainers were welcomed, Shields and Oliver were banned from the clubhouse - though they regularly sat behind the Giants' dugout and waited for their boss outside the clubhouse.

The Giants brought back Bonds for 2007 knowing he was the focus of a grand jury probe and investigation into steroid use in baseball conducted by former Sen. George Mitchell, who was hired by Commissioner Bud Selig after the release of "Game of Shadows."

Through it all, the Giants believed Bonds was worth every penny of the $172 million they paid him the past 15 years. He helped revive a franchise and its building of a ballpark that has generated among the highest revenues in baseball the past eight years. He led them into four postseasons, including one World Series.

What's more, the Giants have gone on record saying they plan to eventually erect a statue in Bonds' honor, joining their bronze tributes to Hall of Famers Mays, McCovey and Juan Marichal.

In Sports: Gwen Knapp on the questions that linger after news of Bonds' departure. C1

E-mail John Shea at

This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Mark Steyn: Bend over for Nurse Hillary

Saturday, September 22, 2007
Orange County Register

Our theme for today comes from George W Bush: “Freedom is the desire of every human heart.”

When the president uses the phrase, he’s invariably applying it to various benighted parts of the Muslim world. There would seem to be quite a bit of evidence to suggest that freedom is not the principal desire of every human heart in, say, Gaza or Waziristan. But why start there? If you look in, say, Brussels or London or New Orleans, do you come away with the overwhelming impression that “freedom is the desire of every human heart”? A year ago, I wrote that “the story of the Western world since 1945 is that, invited to choose between freedom and government ‘security,’ large numbers of people vote to dump freedom – the freedom to make your own decisions about health care, education, property rights, seat belts and a ton of other stuff.”

Last week freedom took another hit. Hillary Rodham Clinton unveiled her new health care plan. Unlike her old health care plan, which took longer to read than most cancers take to kill you, this one’s instant and painless – just a spoonful of government sugar to help the medicine go down. From now on, everyone in America will have to have health insurance.


And, if you don’t, it will be illegal for you to hold a job.

Er, hang on, where’s that in the Constitution? It’s perfectly fine to employ legions of the undocumented from Mexico, but if you employ a fit 26-year-old American with no health insurance either you or he or both of you will be breaking the law?

That’s a major surrender of freedom from the citizen to the state. “So what?” says the caring crowd. “We’ve got to do something about those 40 million uninsured! Whoops, I mean 45 million uninsured. Maybe 50 by now.” This figure is always spoken of as if it’s a club you can join but never leave: The very first Uninsured-American was ol’ Bud who came back from the Spanish-American War and found he was uninsured and so was first on the list, and then Mabel put her back out doing the Black Bottom at a tea dance in 1926 and she became the second, and so on and so forth, until things really began to snowball under the Bush junta. And, by the time you read this, the number of uninsured may be up to 75 million.

Nobody really knows how many “uninsured” there are: Two different Census Bureau surveys conducted in the same year identify the number of uninsured as A) 45 million or B) 19 million. The first figure is the one you hear about, the second figure apparently entered the Witness Protection Program. Of those 45 million “uninsured Americans,” the Census Bureau itself says over 9 million aren’t Americans at all, but foreign nationals. They have various health care back-ups: If you’re an uninsured Canadian in Detroit, and you get an expensive chronic disease, you can go over the border to Windsor, Ontario, and re-embrace the delights of socialized health care; if you’re an uninsured Uzbek, it might be more complicated. Of the remaining 36 million, a 2005 Actuarial Research analysis for the Department of Health and Human Services says that another 9 million did, in fact, have health coverage through Medicare.

Where are we now? 27 million? So who are they? Bud and Mabel and a vast mountain of emaciated husks of twisted limbs and shriveled skin covered in boils and pustules? No, it’s a rotating population: People who had health insurance but changed jobs, people who are between jobs, young guys who feel they’re fit and healthy and at this stage of their lives would rather put a monthly health-insurance tab towards buying a home or starting a business or blowing it on booze ’n’ chicks.

That last category is the one to watch: Americans 18-34 account for 18 million of the army of the “uninsured.” Look, there’s a 22-year-old, and he doesn’t have health insurance! Oh, the horror and the shame! What an indictment of America!

Well, he doesn’t have life insurance, either, or homeowner’s insurance. He lives a life blessedly free of the tedious bet-hedging paperwork of middle age. He’s 22, and he thinks he’s immortal – and any day now Hillary will propose garnishing his wages for her new affordable mandatory life-insurance plan.

So, out of 45 million uninsured Americans, 9 million aren’t American, 9 million are insured, 18 million are young and healthy. And the rest of these poor helpless waifs trapped in Uninsured Hell waiting for Hillary to rescue them are, in fact, wealthier than the general population. According to the Census Bureau’s August 2006 report on “Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage,” 37 percent of those without health insurance – that’s 17 million people – come from households earning more than $50,000. Nineteen percent – 8.7 million people – of those downtrodden paupers crushed by the brutal inequities of capitalism come from households earning more than $75,000.

In other words, if they fall off the roof, they can write a check. Indeed, the so-called “explosion” of the uninsured has been driven entirely by wealthy households opting out of health insurance. In the decade after 1995 – i.e., since the last round of coercive health reform – the proportion of the uninsured earning less than $25,000 has fallen by 20 percent, and the proportion earning more than 75 grand has increased by 155 percent. The story of the past decade is that the poor are getting sucked into the maw of “coverage,” and the rich are fleeing it. And, given that the cost of health “insurance” bears increasingly little relationship to either the cost of treatment or the actuarial reality of you ever getting any particular illness, it’s entirely rational to say: “You know what? I’ll worry about that when it happens. In the meantime, I want to start a business and send my kid to school.” Freedom is the desire of my human heart even if my arteries get all clogged and hardened.

I was glad, at the end of Hillary Health Week, to see that my radio pal Laura Ingraham’s excellent new book, “Power To The People,” has shot into the New York Times bestseller list at No. 1. It takes a fraudulent leftist catchphrase (the only thing you can guarantee about a “people’s republic” is that the people are the least of it) and returns it to those who mean it – to those who believe in a nation of free citizens exercising individual liberty to make responsible choices.

Do you remember the so-called “government surplus” of a few years ago? Bill Clinton gave a speech in which he said, yes, sure, he could return the money to taxpayers but that we “might not spend it the right way.” The American political class has decided that they know better than you the “right way” to make health care decisions. Oh, don’t worry, you’re still fully competent to make decisions on what car you drive and what movie you want to rent at Blockbuster.

For the moment.

But when it comes to the grownup stuff, best to leave that to Nurse Hillary.