Saturday, December 15, 2007

Jason Whitlock: The System Spawned Drug Use in Baseball

The Kansas City Star
Posted on Fri, Dec. 14, 2007 10:15 PM

Pro athletes are no different from the rest of us.

They’ll self-medicate over the objections of doctors, spouses, parents, law enforcement, Bud Selig, George Mitchell and self-appointed, hypocritical, never-touched-the-field guardians of baseball’s records book in the media.

At the end of the day, after spending 20 months and Alex Rodriguez’s salary to tell us what we already knew — Roger Clemens and a bunch of other major-leaguers are accused of improving their play and physical fitness chemically — the Mitchell Report avoided making every obvious point except the most important one:

There’s too much money to be made, and we’ve been too conditioned to seek solutions in a bottle, to fix the American sports drug culture with testing and punishment.

Oh, Bud Selig is going to try. Emboldened by his desire to win the approval of “the media guardians,” the tiny sports reporters who believe burning Barry Bonds at the stake will cleanse Babe Ruth’s soul, Bud is ready to lead a war on drugs.

Never mind that his lack of leadership ability is the most dangerous weapon of mass destruction baseball has ever faced. Never mind that there is indisputable evidence across America — from the ’hood to the ’burbs — that you can’t win a war on drugs. Wars destroy lives.

But that’s where we’re headed. Bud wants some of that tough-guy publicity that has made Roger Goodell a hero to NFL fans and sportswriters. Bud fails to realize that absolutely no one would’ve been shocked had Brian McNamee testified that Selig and other owners personally injected their players with steroids.

Goodell passes as Clint Eastwood because we don’t believe Goodell ever went strip-clubbing with Pacman Jones or moonlighted as a personal trainer for Michael Vick’s pit bulls.

Selig and his peers are nothing more than unindicted co-conspirators. They’re as honest and untainted as your typical politician.

Having jealously watched TV cameras spend an entire afternoon focused on Mitchell, Selig and Donald Fehr, Washington politicians now want the Three Blind Mice to bring baseball’s controversy and ratings back to Congress’ studio for a little more grandstanding and pontificating about the virtues of old-time players.

It’s not what we need. There is no easy solution to this problem. You don’t scare drug users straight, especially drug users who have good reason to believe their drug use is improving their health and ability to function.

These aren’t crackheads, coke whores or meth fiends.

These are world-class athletes working with highly educated doctors and trainers. That’s the big difference, to me. You see, everybody wants to pretend the steroids era in baseball started in the 1990s or mid-1980s. That’s a joke.

Non-Olympic athletes figured out how to “properly” use steroids and performance-enhancing drugs in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s. But the experimentation and random use of the drugs began long before then.

At the same time professional football, basketball, baseball and hockey players — they’re all on the stuff, don’t kid yourself — learned how to use performance-enhancing drugs, salaries skyrocketed, which means the incentive to use skyrocketed.

Extending your career by any means necessary could add several million dollars to your retirement portfolio. Roger Clemens earned $140,000 in 1985 and $18 million in 2005.

My point is Clueless Bud Selig should spend his time trying to get his athletes to have an open, real discussion with him and the rest of ownership about performance-enhancing drugs and how to curb their use, limit the health risk and level the playing field. Selig should also take the lead among sports commissioners in getting American scientists to have a spirited debate about human growth hormone, a drug some doctors call the “fountain of youth.”

Investigating every athlete and trying to punish some of the athletes mentioned in the Mitchell Report are wastes of time and counterproductive.

For the most part, these guys are not criminals. They’re competitors trapped in the American moneymaking machine, an instrument that cares little about the exploitation of the human body.

To reach Jason Whitlock, call 816-234-4869 or send e-mail to For previous columns, go to

Mark Steyn: Children? Not if you love the planet

Orange County Register
Friday, December 14, 2007

Botticelli, Sandro
The Mystical Nativity
c. 1500
Tempera on canvas
108.5 x 75 cm
The National Gallery, London

This is the time of year, as Hillary Rodham Clinton once put it, when Christians celebrate "the birth of a homeless child" – or, in Al Gore's words, "a homeless woman gave birth to a homeless child."

Just for the record, Jesus wasn't "homeless." He had a perfectly nice home back in Nazareth. But he happened to be born in Bethlehem. It was census time, and Joseph was obliged to schlep halfway across the country to register in the town of his birth. Which is such an absurdly bureaucratic overregulatory cockamamie Big Government nightmare that it's surely only a matter of time before Massachusetts or California reintroduce it.

But the point is: The Christmas story isn't about affordable housing. Joseph and Mary couldn't get a hotel room – that's the only accommodation aspect of the event. Sen. Clinton and Vice President Gore are overcomplicating things: Dec. 25 is not the celebration of "a homeless child," but a child, period.

Just for a moment, let us accept, as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins and the other bestselling atheists insist, that what happened in Bethlehem two millennia is a lot of mumbo-jumbo. As I wrote a year ago, consider it not as an event but as a narrative: You want to launch a big new global movement from scratch. So what do you use?

The birth of a child. On the one hand, what could be more powerless than a newborn babe? On the other, without a newborn babe, man is ultimately powerless. For, without new life, there can be no civilization, no society, no nothing. Even if it's superstitious mumbo-jumbo, the decision to root Christ's divinity in the miracle of His birth expresses a profound – and rational – truth about "eternal life" here on Earth.

Last year I wrote a book on demographic decline and became a big demography bore, and it's tempting just to do an annual December audit on the demographic weakness of what we used to call Christendom. Today, in the corporate headquarters of the Christian faith, Pope Benedict looks out of his window at a city where children's voices are rarer and rarer. Italy has one of the lowest birth rates in Europe. Go to a big rural family wedding: lots of aunts, uncles, grandmas, grandpas but ever fewer bambinos. The International Herald Tribune last week carried the latest update on the remorseless geriatrification: On the Miss Italia beauty pageant, the median age of the co-hosts was 70; the country is second only to Sweden in the proportion of its population over 85, and has the fewest citizens under 15. Etc.

So in post-Catholic Italy there is no miracle of a child this Christmas – unless you count the 70 percent of Italians between the ages of 20 and 30 who still live at home, the world's oldest teenagers still trudging up the stairs to the room they slept in as a child even as they approach their fourth decade. That's worth bearing in mind if you're an American gal heading to Rome on vacation: When that cool 29-year-old with the Mediterranean charm in the singles bar asks you back to his pad for a nightcap, it'll be his mom and dad's place.

I'm often told that my demographics-is-destiny argument is anachronistic: Countries needed manpower in the Industrial Age, when we worked in mills and factories. But now advanced societies are "knowledge economies," and they require fewer working stiffs. Oddly enough, the Lisbon Council's European Human Capital Index, released in October, thinks precisely the opposite – that the calamitous decline in population will prevent Eastern and Central Europe from being able to function as "innovation economies." A "knowledge economy" will be as smart as the brains it can call on.

Meanwhile, a few Europeans are still having children: The British government just announced that Muhammad is now the most popular boy's name in the United Kingdom.

As I say, the above demographic audit has become something of an annual tradition in this space. But here's something new that took hold in the year 2007: A radical antihumanism, long present just below the surface, bobbed up and became explicit and respectable. In Britain, the Optimum Population Trust said that "the biggest cause of climate change is climate changers – in other words, human beings," and professor John Guillebaud called on Britons to voluntarily reduce the number of children they have.

Last week, in the Medical Journal of Australia, Barry Walters went further: To hell with this wimp-o pantywaist "voluntary" child-reduction. Professor Walters wants a "carbon tax" on babies, with, conversely, "carbon credits" for those who undergo sterilization procedures. So that'd be great news for the female eco-activists recently profiled in London's Daily Mail who boast about how they'd had their tubes tied and babies aborted in order to save the planet. "Every person who is born," says Toni Vernelli, "produces more rubbish, more pollution, more greenhouse gases and adds to the problem of overpopulation." We are the pollution, and sterilization is the solution. The best way to bequeath a more sustainable environment to our children is not to have any.

What's the "pro-choice" line? "Every child should be wanted"? Not anymore. The progressive position has subtly evolved: Every child should be unwanted.

By the way, if you're looking for some last-minute stocking stuffers, Oxford University Press has published a book by professor David Benatar of the University of Cape Town called "Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence." The author "argues for the 'anti-natal' view – that it is always wrong to have children … . Anti-natalism also implies that it would be better if humanity became extinct." As does Alan Weisman's "The World Without Us" – which Publishers Weekly hails as "an enthralling tour of the world … anticipating, often poetically, what a planet without us would be like." It's a good thing it "anticipates" it poetically, because, once it happens, there will be no more poetry.

Lest you think the above are "extremists," consider how deeply invested the "mainstream" is in a total fiction. At the recent climate jamboree in Bali, the Rev. Al Gore told the assembled faithful: "My own country, the United States, is principally responsible for obstructing progress here." Really? The American Thinker's Web site ran the numbers. In the seven years between the signing of Kyoto in 1997 and 2004, here's what happened:

•Emissions worldwide increased 18.0 percent;

•Emissions from countries that signed the treaty increased 21.1 percent;

•Emissions from nonsigners increased 10.0 percent; and

•Emissions from the United States increased 6.6 percent.

It's hard not to conclude a form of mental illness has gripped the world's elites. If you're one of that dwindling band of Westerners who'll be celebrating the birth of a child, "homeless" or otherwise, next week, make the most of it. A year or two on, and the eco-professors will propose banning Nativity scenes because they set a bad example.


Going Out, Gervais Picks Bang Over Whimper

The New York Times
Published: December 15, 2007

Ray Burmiston/HBO
Ricky Gervais and Ashley Jensen in the “Extras” series finale.

LOS ANGELES — Ricky Gervais says he decided to make an 80-minute finale to his HBO series “Extras” because he had a few things left to say about the wages of fame, and the people who pay them.

“Shame on you” is one of the printable expressions that Andy Millman, the pompous sit-com star portrayed by Mr. Gervais, lobs toward the network executives who put “freak show” reality series like “Celebrity Big Brother” on television.

But he doesn’t reserve his vitriol just for the programmers. He sprays bile toward the audience who watches the train-wreck television and the celebrities who feed the beast, having weddings sponsored by tabloid magazines and calling their publicists before they call taxis to go to rehab.

“I’ve always sort of deconstructed telly a little bit,” Mr. Gervais said in a telephone interview from New York this week, where he recently finished shooting his first starring role in a feature film, “Ghost Town.” “I’ve also been in my ‘study of fame’ years. ‘The Office’ was sort of my life’s work, where I downloaded everything I knew about the minutiae of behavior from working in a normal job. The last few years, I’ve been in the media, in the middle of fame. They say, ‘Write about what you know.’”

Here is where it is difficult to talk about what Mr. Gervais concludes without spoiling the effect of the “Extras” finale, which will be shown Sunday night at 9, Eastern and Pacific times, on HBO. (The episode, which is more than twice the length of regular ones, is the first new installment to be shown since February.) So here is a spoiler alert: Stop reading now to maintain the full effect of Mr. Gervais’s diatribe.

What Millman concludes about the celebrity life could be as powerful an indictment of fame and the medium of television as Howard Beale’s “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore” in the 1976 film “Network” — even if Mr. Gervais has failed to produce such a notable catchphrase.

“The Victorian freak show never went away,” Millman rails in a soliloquy that serves as a climax of the “Extras” final episode and a moment of redemption for the character, whose life and friendships have been corrupted by fame. “Now it’s called ‘Big Brother’ or ‘American Idol,’ where in the preliminary rounds we wheel out the bewildered to be sniggered at by multimillionaires.”

To the networks, he says: “You can’t wash your hands of this. You can’t keep going, ‘Oh, it’s exploitation, but it’s what the public wants.’ No.”

To the audience watching at home, he says: “Shame on you. And shame on me. I’m the worst of all. Cause I’m one of these people that goes, ‘I’m an entertainer, it’s in my blood.’ Yeah, it’s in my blood because a real job’s too hard.”

Mr. Gervais, who won an Emmy for best actor in a comedy series this year for his role in “Extras,” said he was not ashamed of his life’s work — far from it, in fact. He said he ended both the original British version of “The Office,” which he created, and “Extras” after only two seasons because he had said the things he wanted to say, and did not want to continue milking the ideas simply for profit.

“Of course I want the respect of my peers and to do well in my chosen field,” he said. And he acknowledges that his indictment of celebrity and television dissects “only a symptom of what’s going on elsewhere.” He cites a 2005 British survey of 10-year-olds who, when asked what they most wanted to be, responded most often, “rich and famous.”

Mr. Gervais said: “I think life’s about the struggle. Too many people see fame as a shortcut and think that the quick and easy way might be the way for them.”

He said he was not aiming his jeremiad at anyone in particular, including Ben Silverman, whose production company took “The Office” to the United States and who now, as the recently installed co-chairman of NBC Entertainment, is offering greater volumes of reality fare like “The Celebrity Apprentice” and “American Gladiators.”

“No, I haven’t talked to Ben for a while now,” Mr. Gervais said. “Is he doing reality programs?”

Friday, December 14, 2007

Mark Steyn: The stranglehold of political correctness

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Aqsa Parvez in a photo from her Facebook account.

The stranglehold of political correctness [Mark Steyn]

Michelle Malkin has a post on the strikingly evasive coverage of Aqsa Parvez, the young lady from the Toronto suburbs strangled to death allegedly for refusing to wear a hijab. The Washington Post headline?

Canadian Teen Dies; Father Charged

Which at least is blandly indisputable. Faced with an honor killing in a Toronto suburb, much of the rest of the coverage adds insult to fatal injury. Mohamed Elmasry, president of the Canadian Islamic Congress and the man currently accusing me of "hate crimes", "human rights" abuse and "Islamophobia", is predictable enough when he says:

I don't want the public to think that this is really an Islamic issue or an immigrant issue... It is a teenager issue.

Kids today, right? It's like Bye Bye Birdie - The Director's Cut. But much of the media have rushed to echo him. Canada's Number One news anchor went to weirdly contorted lengths to avoid the word "strangle":

Her neck was compressed, to the point she couldn't breathe.

And a strangely insistent editorial in the Montreal Gazette declares:

Muhammed Parvez might have been fighting a losing battle trying to make Aqsa wear a hijab, but that hardly sets him apart. Few are the fathers, of any faith or none, who have not clashed with their adolescent daughters over something...

Hmm. A Canadian reader sent me the following observation:

If the allegation is true, his unquestioning obedience to a culturally enforced dress code overrode the natural love of a father for his daughter to the extent that he strangled her to death to enforce it. Again, if the allegation is true, it is difficult to imagine an act more diametrically opposed to Western values; more filled with hatred and contempt; or an act more damningly illustrative of violence arising from systemic discrimination against women.

The key word here is "systemic". See also this story, and this excellent post by Lisa Schiffren on the declining expectations of Muslim women. "Honor killings" were something we assumed took place on the fringes of the map - the Pakistani tribal lands, Yemen, Jordan. They now happen in the heart of western cities, and western feminist groups are silent, and western media rush to excuse it as just one of those things, couldda happened to anybody. The underlying message the press coverage communicates is horrible and heartless: the murder of Aqsa Parvez is an acceptable price to pay for cultural diversity.

12/13 09:03 AM

TV Review | 'Extras'

Extra Who Found Fame Has Now Found the Exit

Ray Burmiston
In the finale of HBO’s “Extras,” from left, George Michael; Ricky Gervais, the star of the series; and Gerard Kelly.

The New York Times
Published: December 14, 2007

Is that a Kramer doll, or is it really a gauntlet?

Early in the series finale of “Extras,” Sunday night on HBO, this reference-filled show drops in a “Seinfeld” reference: Ricky Gervais’s character, Andy, a minor television star, finds a doll based on him in a store display next to a doll of Kramer, the “Seinfeld” lummox. It’s an occasion for an easy dig at Michael Richards, who played Kramer and then flamed out in his “Seinfeld” afterlife, but perhaps it’s also a bit of braggadocio by Mr. Gervais: “I can do a better series finale than that forgettable ‘Seinfeld’ farewell.”

And he does. Not great, maybe, but a solid sign-off, and one that’s not afraid to let you know that the series is over. Mr. Gervais and his co-creator, Stephen Merchant, may get predictable and sentimental toward the end of this 80-minute special, but they balance the maudlin with one of the funniest scenes television has served up in a while.

It comes at the expense of Maggie (Ashley Jensen), Andy’s long-suffering sidekick, who has landed a part as an extra in a movie starring the real-life Clive Owen. The big star finds the little extra lacking in the looks department. With Maggie standing right there, he complains to the director, who tells him, “Clive, seriously, they sent me a truckload of absolute hogs, and this is the very best one.” That begins a devastating two and a half minutes that ought to win Ms. Jensen an Emmy for best use of facial flinches.

In September it was Mr. Gervais who won the Emmy for best actor in a comedy series for his portrayal of Andy. The show has been around only two seasons (the last new episode was in February), but it has had a clear arc, which is closed nicely here. Andy began the series as a lowly extra but managed to get himself his own sitcom. A putrid one, but still, fame is fame. Or is it?

In the finale Andy confronts what he has become and learns the obvious lessons about who he is and who his friends are. A cliché, or a parody of a cliché? With Mr. Gervais, of course, it’s hard to tell, but either way, this final installment has a satisfying feel.


The Extra Special Series Finale

HBO, Sunday night at 9, Eastern and Pacific times; 8, Central time.

Written and directed by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant; Charlie Hanson, producer; Jon Plowman, executive producer.

WITH: Ricky Gervais (Andy Millman), Stephen Merchant (Darren Lamb), Ashley Jensen (Maggie Jacobs), Shaun Williamson (Barry); and George Michael, Clive Owen, Gordon Ramsay, Jonathan Ross and David Tennant (as themselves).

Horror Under the Hijab

By Stephen Brown | Friday, December 14, 2007

Aqsa Parvez is seen on the left without a hijab and on the right with a hijab. The teenager was allegedly killed over her over her choice not to wear traditional Muslim clothing.

A Canadian Muslim teenager was murdered this week for trying to establish her own identity by moving out of her family home and for reportedly defying her father’s command to cover her head. Meanwhile, Canada’s largest daily newspaper, the Toronto Star, disgracefully hid its own head in the sand.

Pakistani-Canadian Aqsa Parvez, 16, was strangled by her father in an honor murder last Monday in the Toronto-area city of Mississauga. Refusing to wear the Islamic hijab, Parvez, who was herself born in Pakistan, wanted to live the normal lifestyle of a Canadian teenage girl, but ran into conflict with her strict, religious father. One friend and schoolmate said the Canadian teenager was afraid of her father and often came to school wearing bruises, the result of his violence.

“She was scared of her father; he was always controlling her,” the friend told the National Post, a Canadian national newspaper. “She wasn’t allowed to go out or do anything.”

Nevertheless, the Grade 11 student, according to friends, would leave home wearing the hijab but arrive at school in western-style clothes, having changed on the way. This was part of her courageous desire to live her own life and overcoming the fear in which she lived.

Despite the Canadian public’s disgust and outrage over this murder and in contrast to Parvez’s courage, the Toronto Star avoided tackling head on the issue of Muslim male intolerance and violence toward female family members who wish to establish their independence and lead their own lives. Instead, the Star published a story that, incredibly, accuses a supposedly racist Canadian society for being equally responsible for the cultural “tension” in Muslim families concerning the issue of head coverings. In the story, two young Muslim women say some Muslim families do not want their daughters to wear the hijab because it will make them “the targets of racism.” If only Aqsa Parvez could have lived in such a family! Not surprisingly, no Muslim women or girls were interviewed who are forced to wear the Islamic clothing.

But this unbelievable attempt to detract people’s attention from the real issue of Muslim intolerance, even hatred, towards females’ desire for freedom and to establish a moral equivalency between a tolerant Canadian society and an Islamic culture that has seen dozens of Muslim women perish in honor killings in Western Europe (48 in Germany alone between 1996 and 2006) should not come as a surprise to anyone who has ever read the left-leaning Star.

The politically correct Star, you see, is Canada ’s paper of multiculturalism. Hardly an issue ever comes out without the word "racism" appearing somewhere on its pages. (multicultural societies always have racism as their rallying cry). As a result of its support of, and belief in, the possibility of establishing a multicultural country, left-wing media organs like the Star and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation will never deeply investigate any negative aspects of cultures newly arrived in Canada. Such revelations, they fear, may damage their unrealizable multicultural dream.

By the way, in the Star’s and CBC’s world, racism does not exist in the newcomers’ cultures. And if it does, it is the fault of the host Canadian society. In fact, the same day the blame-racist Canadian society story appeared, a Toronto Star columnist wrote that English Canadians, one of the Canada’s two founding peoples who now make up only about fifteen per cent of Toronto’s population, do not welcome immigrants with enough love -- again the host country’s fault.

A memorial for Aqsa Parvez is set up at Applewood Heights S.S. in Mississauga, in this undated handout photo. The Canadian teenager who was said to have clashed with her father about whether she should wear a traditional Muslim head scarf died of injuries late on Monday, and her father told police he had killed her. REUTERS/Handout/ Peel District School Board.

Leftist Canadian women’s groups are also passengers in the same see-no-evil-in-new-cultures, hear-no-evil-in-new-cultures boat as the Star, since they also support multiculturalism. Their hypocrisy does not even allow them to criticize and intervene to help oppressed Muslim females let alone oppose the polygamy some Muslims are practicing here in Canada. For this, western feminists are criticized by Muslim feminists both in Canada and in Western Europe. These Muslim feminists say they can’t get over the fact that western feminists pretend they care so much for the rights of women in some land thousands of miles away but ignore the oppression of Third World women right in their own societies. The silence of their western sisters, these Muslim feminists point out, facilitates this oppression.

But if left-wing Canadian media ever investigates the Parvez killing properly, they will most likely have to face some hard, cold and uncomfortable cultural facts. While the refusal to wear the hijab has been reported to be a significant contributing factor in her murder, the main reason for the brutal killing, they may discover, is that the terrified Muslim teenager had moved out of her home two weeks earlier and was living with a friend. In fact, one newspaper quoted another of Aqsa’s friends who said her father threatened to kill her if she left the family home. Moving out, western European social workers say, is a death sentence for these woman. In a strict, religious Muslim family, no woman is allowed to establish an identity of her own outside of her family, religion and culture.

Aqsa Parvez’s death, they will learn, may also have been a family decision. The high school student, one of eight children, lived, according to one newspaper report, in a house with eleven other people in an extended family. Like the Hatun Surucu murder in 2005 in Germany that awoke the people of that country to the suffering of Muslim women in their midst, police are investigating Parvez’s killing as a premeditated one that involved the concurrence of several family members, possibly even including female ones.

After all, one newspaper reported Aqsa’s older sister used to spy on her at school for the family and Aqsa only discarded the hijab after her sister had graduated. The dead teenager had even established her own Facebook site with her photo and uncovered hair on it accompanied by comments about popular culture. Tragically, this also may have led to her demise as her non-traditional, independent lifestyle was now visible to everyone.

Moreover, the unfortunate teenager was probably also, like Hatun Surucu, lured to her death by her brother, possibly her favorite one. The police are currently investigating this angle. The independent Surucu was lured to a bus stop to meet a brother who murdered her to restore the family’s honor because she was “living like a German.” Parvez was picked up by her brother at a bus stop, saying he would bring her home to get a change of clothes, where she was then killed, for living like a Canadian. At this point in time, the brother has been charged with obstruction of justice.

What will probably be the most sickening discovery is that none of the people involved in Aqsa’s killing will express any regret or remorse. On the contrary, they will be happy because they believe they have restored their family’s honor and will be respected for having done so by like-minded others in their community who, like them, practice an anti-civilizational legal and cultural apartheid in the country hosting them and their families. The Star will never investigate why such people come to Canada and other western countries but never really live here.

But unlike the Star, not everyone has their head in the sand. Tarek Fatah, founder of the Canadian Muslim Congress, calls Parvez’s murder a blight on Islam.“In my mind, this was an honor killing,” said Fatah, adding its going to get worse before it gets better.

And as if he was talking directly to the Toronto Star, the Muslim community leader also said there needs to be an honest debate about this murder and that “the media should not just talk to the ones wearing head scarves but the ones who do not want to.”

With or without the hijab on, Aqsa Parvez would only have nodded her agreement with that.
Stephen Brown is a columnist for Email him at

Mitchell report sheds light on what Giants knew about Bonds

By Mark Fainaru-Wada

Updated: December 13, 2007, 10:13 PM ET

Stan Conte and Barry Bonds

SAN FRANCISCO -- The San Francisco Giants were told in August 2002, a full year before the BALCO steroids scandal broke, that Barry Bonds' personal trainer was believed to be distributing performance-enhancing drugs to players in the clubhouse, but the team did nothing about it, according to the Mitchell report.

While the long-awaited report reveals no new information about Bonds' connections to steroids, it does shed new light on how much the Giants knew, when they knew it and their aversion to confronting an issue that ultimately exploded in 2003 with government raids on the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative and the home of Bonds' weight trainer, Greg Anderson.

Bonds was indicted Nov. 15 on perjury and obstruction of justice charges connected to his testimony before the BALCO grand jury. He pleaded not guilty.

The Giants were playing in Atlanta during the summer of 2002 when then-team trainer Stan Conte was approached by a player who said he was considering taking steroids, according to Conte's statement to Mitchell's investigators. The player, Conte said, planned to obtain the drugs from Anderson, a member of Bonds' entourage who had become a staple in the team's clubhouse.

After advising the player not to take the drugs, Conte said he promptly told general manager Brian Sabean about the encounter, according to the report.

Conte, no relation to BALCO chief Victor Conte, "told Sabean he was concerned that Anderson might be distributing steroids to Giants players." Sabean responded by suggesting Stan Conte confront Anderson and Bonds, but the trainer refused, saying that wasn't his responsibility.

"When I was interviewed by the Mitchell investigation, I answered all the questions honestly and to the best of my recollection," Conte told ESPN in a telephone interview. "I think all the facts that were presented in the area that involved me were true."

Sabean told investigators he recalled the conversation with Conte similarly, but the general manager said he did not tell anyone else with the team or Major League Baseball because he didn't want to expose Conte as the source of the information.

At Sabean's request, Conte did contact an agent he knew at the Drug Enforcement Administration to "check out" Anderson. The DEA agent came back with no information, and the report says Sabean "believed that if Anderson was in fact selling drugs illegally the government would have known about it."

The timing of Conte's contact with the DEA also suggests the team could have inadvertently had a hand in helping set off the BALCO probe. In August 2002, according to court records, Jeff Novitzky of the Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Investigations unit began investigating the distribution of performance-enhancing drugs to elite athletes by BALCO.

Novitzky wrote in an affidavit that the probe was launched based on "the development of information." He cited two identical tips stating that Anderson was providing drugs to major leaguers. One of those tips came from a local DEA agent.

Thirteen months after Conte had his discussion with Sabean, Novitzky led the raids on BALCO and Anderson's home. Ultimately, nine major leaguers, several of whom played for the Giants at some point, were implicated in the BALCO case.

The Giants did not return repeated calls for comment Thursday, but owner Peter Magowan issued a statement saying the team supported the Mitchell probe from its inception. Magowan did not address specific allegations in the report.

"Our organization has diligently and fully cooperated with Senator Mitchell throughout his inquiry," Magowan said. "We believe that Senator Mitchell's thoughtful and comprehensive report will serve as a meaningful tool in the fight against the use of performance-enhancing drugs. The Report clearly demonstrates the pervasiveness of the problem. The Giants accept our fair share of responsibility."

Magowan, too, has a part in Mitchell's report. The owner told Mitchell that after BALCO became public, he asked Sabean whether the team "had a problem," meaning, was there concern Anderson was dispensing steroids to members of the team. Magowan, according to the report, said Sabean indicated he was not aware of any problem.

Sabean denied to Mitchell that any such conversation occurred.

In February 2004, two months after Bonds testified before the BALCO grand jury, Magowan spoke on the phone with Bonds, according to the owner's interview with Mitchell. Magowan said he was direct with his star player, saying, "I've really got to know, did you take steroids?"

"According to Magowan, Bonds responded that when he took the substances he did not know they were steroids but he later learned they were," the report reads. "Bonds said he took these substances for a period of time to help with his arthritis, as well as sleeping problems he attributed to concern about his father's failing heath."

Magowan also told Mitchell's investigators he asked Bonds if he were being truthful, and the seven-time All-Star said he was.

Two days later, through a lawyer, Magowan amended his statement to say he had misspoken: Bonds had not indicated he later became aware of what he was taking.

Mark Fainaru-Wada, co-author of "Game of Shadows," is a reporter for ESPN. He can be reached at

Dan Shaughnessy: Tainted Gloves

Steroid investigation raises allegations - and more questions than answers

Boston Globe
December 14, 2007

It's never going to be tidy. There will be no closure. You won't be able to get your arms around it.

Baseball had its steroid era. Yesterday the much-anticipated Mitchell Report was released. The former senator spoke of "widespread illegal use" of anabolic steroids and human growth hormone to improve athletic performance.

There was much gum-flapping after the release of the report, and debate will rage forever. No one will be satisfied, but here in Boston and across Baseball America, we know the biggest loser of Dec. 13, 2007, was Roger Clemens.

The Rocket's résumé was flushed down the toilet yesterday when he was dimed out by a report that relies heavily on witnesses of questionable credibility. The report holds that Clemens was a steroid guy, starting in 1998 and continuing through two years with the Yankees (2000-01). The juicy disclosure might not hold up in court, but that doesn't matter to much of the viewing public or probably to the Hall of Fame electorate. Clemens has assembled a legion of haters through the decades (many of them Red Sox fans), and they now have a weapon any time his name is raised. The Mitchell Report says Clemens walks hand in hand with Barry Bonds. One of the greatest pitchers who ever lived is now tainted.

Clemens sounds like a man ready to fight. He didn't have an ounce of Mark McGwire in him when he issued his denial last night through his attorney.

Commissioner Bud Selig said he ordered the Mitchell investigation so nobody would ever be able to say, "What were they hiding?" He hired the dignified but compromised Mitchell (fifth on the depth chart of the Red Sox masthead) to dig into the recent dark past of illegal performance-enhancing users in baseball.

Today, a lot of fans and people in the game are asking not, "What were they hiding?" but, "Why, Bud?"

Why name names? Why sign on to such an obviously incomplete report (Mitchell did not have subpoena powers and almost 100 percent of the ballplayers told him to take a hike)? Why put so much weight on the testimony of a former bat boy and a onetime trainer who cooperated under the threat of prison time?

Oh, and while we're at it - why not read the whole report, Bud? Is that too much to ask when a man with seven Cy Young trophies is getting thrown under the bus to Cooperstown?

The report is guaranteed to infuriate the Players' Association, but union director Donald Fehr held his tongue when he spoke with the media during the dinner hour. Fehr even admitted that steps to prevent steroid use could have been taken sooner. Fehr and his minions were portrayed as enablers of the steroid scandal. Mitchell's decision to trash reputations by naming names will not go over well with the ever-militant and protective association. It certainly doesn't bode well for the next basic agreement negotiations.

We'd known for a couple of days that Mitchell's report was going to be released yesterday. Naturally, there was a rush to "be first" with the breaking news, and ESPN did a nice job reporting Clemens was going to be named in the report. However, in the early afternoon there were web reports listing names, many of which turned out not to be in the Mitchell Report. One can only wonder how much damage was done. How many bloggers and radio jockeys reacted to "reports" of players who were going to be named by Mitchell? Some of the names were pretty interesting. Where do those players go to reclaim their reputations?

Mitchell again arrogantly dismissed his obvious conflict of interest by citing his good works and his efforts brokering peace in Northern Ireland. It's astounding that a man as smart as Mitchell can so easily shrug off his compromised position. He either has a blind spot or he thinks his audience is stupid. The man is the official "director" of the Red Sox and he just issued a report that trashes some Yankee gods while leaving the championship Red Sox unscathed (Mo Vaughn played here in the pre-Mitchell era, Eric Gagné was dirty as a Dodger, and who cares about Mike Lansing?). Mitchell's reputation is impeccable, but he had no business holding his Red Sox title while conducting this investigation.

Speaking of the pre-Mitchell days, what about Dan Duquette? The former Sox general manager said Clemens was in the "twilight" of his career when he let the Rocket walk after 1996. The Duke was ridiculed when Clemens went on to win four more Cy Young trophies, but appeared vindicated by Mitchell's findings.

"I don't have any comment," Duquette said last night.

Selig had plenty of comments. He said the report was a "call to action." He said he will react. He defied Mitchell's recommendation and said there might be punishments.

Years from now, we might look back at Dec. 13, 2007, and say it was a good day for baseball. It just doesn't feel that way now. And it will always be the worst day in the career of Roger Clemens.

Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at

Thomas Boswell: The Rocket's Descent

The Washington Post
Friday, December 14, 2007; Page E01

Now, Roger Clemens joins Barry Bonds in baseball's version of hell. It's a slow burn that lasts a lifetime, then, after death, lingers as long as the game is played and tongues can wag. In baseball, a man's triumphs and his sins are immortal. The pursuit of one often leads to the other. And those misdeeds are seldom as dark as their endless punishment.

Shoeless Joe Jackson, an illiterate outfielder who hit like a demon in the 1919 World Series, but neglected to blow the whistle on his crooked teammates, died with his good name as black as their Sox. Pete Rose, who bet on his team, but never against it, finally confessed. It could be good for his soul, and buys him dinner at my house any night, but may never get him into Cooperstown. Now, they have company: two giants of our time, just as humbled, though no less tarnished.

Yesterday, the only man with seven Cy Young Awards came crashing down the mountain of baseball's gods and ended in a heap beside the only man with seven most valuable player awards. What a sport. Half the players of the last 20 years may have cheated, but who gets nailed? The greatest slugger since Babe Ruth and the greatest power pitcher since Walter Johnson.

Clemens and Bonds now stand before us like twin symbols of the Steroid Age: cheats, liars, ego monsters who were not satisfied with mere greatness and wealth but, as they aged, had to pass everyone in the record book, break every mark and do it with outsize bodies, unrecognizable from their youth, that practically screamed, "Catch me if you can." The whole sport whispered as both walked by. Now, everyone can speak aloud. Not because their guilt has been admitted or proven beyond any doubt, mind you. That would be too clean and easy for us, for baseball.

But the Rocket and Barry stand convicted in the court of public opinion, in Bonds's case by his flaxseed-oil defense and now, in this thunderclap Clemens catastrophe, by the direct I-injected-him-manytimes-in-the-buttocks testimony of his own personal trainer. Clemens denied all charges vehemently. In a statement, he claimed that he is being slandered by "the uncorroborated allegations of a troubled man threatened with federal criminal prosecution."

Yet those nine pages of Mitchell report "slander" have been placed in the public's hand by baseball itself in 311 pages, plus attachments, blessed by the commissioner. Pete Rose had 10 times the chance against the Dowd report than Clemens has against the august Mitchell. What a public-relations mismatch: a tobacco-chewing, hot-tempered Texas right-hander against a former federal judge and Senate majority leader who helped bring peace to Northern Ireland. This time, the Rocket's out of gas and the bullpen is empty.

For more than a year, the Mitchell commission on performance-enhancing drugs appeared to be a harmless fishing expedition that might land a few guppies. After all, what can you expect to catch with five-pound test line, a defiant players' union and no subpoena power? Yet, apparently by dumb luck, a baseball drug peddler got caught, then rolled over on an insignificant scoundrel who happened to be Clemens's trainer. In a blink, baseball's blindfolded Ahabs found a whale in their seine. What's this? It feels like, it might be, oh my God, it's Clemens, hooked and gaffed, whether we want him or not.

"Bud, this is George. We're going to need a bigger boat."

Mitchell's opus was intended as many things. It was, of course, a severe front-to-back slam at the union for its 20 years of intransigence on drug testing. The charge is absolutely correct. Still, how self-serving can Commissioner Bud Selig be? He appoints Mitchell, closely affiliated with management in general and specifically with the Red Sox, to spend 21 months finding out who's guilty when he already knows that Don Fehr will get handcuffed in the last chapter.

And, of course, owners, mid-level baseball employees and even Selig get taken to ritual task. Oh, everybody should have acted faster, been smarter, seen the signs. But, gosh, how were we to know? Just because our players showed up for spring training like they'd spent the winter inhaling helium. Just because scouts in their reports and general managers discussing trades evaluated how much weight to give the "juice" factor.

Finally, naturally, because Congress knows a vote-grabber in an election year, the report serves as baseball's proactive shield against further embarrassing visits to Capitol Hill. I'm shocked, shocked, to discover that both Mitchell and Selig -- who, just two hours later, endorsed every recommendation in the report -- are passionately in favor of tougher "best-practices" drug testing. What a stunner. Why, right off the bat, Bud said there would be no more 24-hour warnings to clubs that a random drug test would be held the next day. You mean there were warnings for "random" tests? And MLB could have changed it unilaterally, but it took the Mitchell report before they did it? What impressive self-motivation.

However, the report's predictable functions -- a punch in the nose to the union, a slap in the face to MLB, a predictable recitation of the usual (already revealed) steroid suspects and a T-bone steak to placate congressional watchdogs --were all obliterated by the discovery nobody expected. In the end, the Mitchell report will forever be the Clemens indictment.

Clemens plummeted from icon to fallen idol in a matter of hours. Even if he is innocent, as his lawyer claims, the damage is done. The report devotes nine scathing pages to him, far more than any other player. This is baseball's own officially commissioned history of its most tainted period. And who is its protagonist? Clemens.

How can that ever be undone? If Mark McGwire got only 25 percent of the Hall of Fame vote a year ago because he refused to answer questions before Congress -- and, coupled with Jose Canseco's accusations, looked ashamed and guilty -- then how does Clemens get elected when his own trainer and longtime friend says he injected him more than a dozen times?

Baseball and its fans may require a few days to digest the pairing of Bonds and Clemens, one player so prickly and against the grain, the other the ultimate good ol' boy. But the match is fitting because it makes us face the core of baseball's drug problem. At one end of the cheating spectrum, performance-enhancing drugs provided a last hope for marginal players clinging to a big league job. Their dilemma may touch us. We understand. Perhaps we sympathize. At the other extreme, among the greatest players, we harden our hearts. They had it all and threw it away for more money, more glory and more years in the spotlight.

That harsh judgment is true, but only by half. The fiercer the competitor, the greater the pride, the bigger the talent-- in other words, the more qualities a man possesses that we claim to admire in a champion -- the greater his fury will be at the thought of being beaten, outstripped, surpassed by another man. And the greater the chance that he will defy the rules, risk his health and "do what it takes" to win.

How like a superman to be above the law. How close to invulnerability to disregard your own health. How easy to confuse self-sacrifice for your team for a deeper and governing selfishness. How easy to mistake the sins of ego for the virtues of sport.

Such men would almost be heroic, if they weren't so tragic.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

As Baseball Braces for Report, Pettite and Clemens Cited

The New York Times
Published: December 14, 2007

A former trainer for Roger Clemens, winner of seven Cy Young Awards, provided information about Clemens's steroid use to investigators for former Senator George Mitchell, who will release a report Thursday on steroids in baseball, two lawyers familiar with the investigation said Thursday.

The trainer, Brian McNamee, also provided information about steroid use by pitcher Andy Pettite and first baseman David Segui, the lawyers said. McNamee spoke to Mitchell’s investigators under pressure from federal prosecutors investigating the use of steroids in baseball.

Mitchell is to release his 304-page report, covering 20 months of investigation, Thursday afternoon. More than 50 players are named in the report, according to individuals who saw the report.

Clemens had previously been suspected of steroid usage, but denied it. This report would be the first confirmation that McNamee provided testimony about Clemens.

Clemens and Pettitte helped lead the New York Yankees to one of the most dominant winning streaks in baseball. Pettitte pitched for the Yankees when they won three consecutive World Series from 1998 to 2000. In a conference call Wednesday to discuss his 2008 contract with the Yankees, Pettitte said that he was not working out with McNamee and did not know if McNamee had spoken to Mitchell’s investigators.

Clemens pitched for the Yankees from 1999 through 2003.

Clemens had a 40-39 record from 1993 through 1996 and was not re-signed by the Boston Red Sox. The next year, he signed with the Toronto Blue Jays and began working out with McNamee.

Clemens had two of the best years in pitching history in 1997 and 1998, winning the Cy Young Award in both seasons and also led the league in wins, earned run average and strikeouts.

Clemens, who retired last season, has been considered one of the best pitchers in baseball history. Information and evidence from McNamee could raise questions about whether Clemens should be elected to the Hall of Fame.

More negative information about former Yankees is expected to be included in the Mitchell report, sources said.

Mitchell’s report on performance-enhancing drugs in baseball will be highly critical of the commissioner’s office and the players’ union for tolerating the presence of drugs throughout years of abuse, a person who has read the closely guarded report said Wednesday.

Mitchell has been battling the union during his 20-month investigation, but sharp criticism of Commissioner Bud Selig, who hired Mitchell and is paying for his investigation, would be more unexpected and would seemingly prove Mitchell’s claim of independence in this endeavor.

Selig, the commissioner since 1992, and Donald Fehr, the executive director of the players’ association since 1986, have scheduled separate news conferences after Mitchell holds a briefing. The three sessions will take place within blocks of one another in Midtown Manhattan.

Mitchell’s report will have substantial attachments, according to the person who read it. It will pull player names from three main sources: Kirk Radomski, a former Mets clubhouse attendant who pleaded guilty to steroid offenses in April and says he supplied players with performance-enhancing drugs from 1995 to 2005; the Signature Pharmacy investigation led by the Albany County district attorney; and one other source that the person did not make clear. The bulk of the names are believed to be from Radomski.

Over all, Mitchell has interviewed scores of former players and club executives. But the report will state that there is a lot of information the investigation did not uncover, the person said, making it unlikely that baseball’s steroids issue will be put to rest.

That person and one other person familiar with Mitchell’s findings said the report would name more than 50 active and former major league players who are linked to the use of performance-enhancing drugs. The person who read the report said among those named would be the winners of Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards.

The report is also expected to call for beefed-up testing, but it apparently does not address the use of amphetamines.

Baseball officials felt the report was harsh when they read it this week, the second person said. The sources were granted anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about the report.

The players’ association is expecting to be attacked for doing what it says was nothing more than what it was supposed to do: advising players of the harm that could come from talking to Mitchell. Partly as a result of that advice, only one current major league player, Jason Giambi, is known to have cooperated with the investigation, and then only after Selig threatened to suspend him for tacitly acknowledging steroid use.

A former prosecutor and United States senator, Mitchell was appointed by Selig to conduct the investigation in March 2006.

Informed Wednesday that the Mitchell report would pointedly criticize the commissioner’s office, Fay Vincent, Selig’s predecessor, said, “Very interesting.” In a telephone interview from Florida, Vincent declined further comment until he read the report. “I do have expectations, but I’m almost certain to be proven wrong,” he said.

Vincent had tried to crack down on steroids in his last year as the commissioner. In June 1991, he sent every major league club a memorandum saying all illegal drug use was “strictly prohibited” by law, “cannot be condoned or tolerated” and could result in discipline or expulsion. Vincent specifically highlighted steroids in the memo.

The next year, Selig became commissioner. Through the 1990s, even as newspapers reported that as many as one in five baseball players used steroids, Selig and the union played down the issue. “If baseball has a problem, I must say candidly that we were not aware of it,” Selig said in 1995.

In 2000, The New York Times reported steroids were rampant in baseball, but a baseball spokesman said they “have never been much of an issue.” In 2002, after a Sports Illustrated cover story said baseball “had become a pharmacological trade show,” the commissioner and the union finally agreed on a testing policy.

Random tests would be done in 2003 without penalties. If more than 5 percent of players failed the tests, penalties would be imposed starting in 2004, which is what happened. The penalty for a first offense was treatment, and for five violations, a one-year suspension. That policy failed to satisfy critics.

In 2005, as a congressional hearing was approaching, Selig and the union reopened the collective-bargaining agreement to toughen the penalties to start at a 10-day suspension and public identification of a first offender.

At the time, Selig cited a survey showing steroid use in baseball had fallen to 1 to 2 percent in 2004, compared with 5 to 7 percent in 2003.

Narnia, It's Not

By Don Feder
Thursday, December 13, 2007

Like Japan's sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, "The Golden Compass" (an atheist's stealth attack on faith) was unleashed on December 7.

Unlike Yamamoto's attempt to sink the U.S. Pacific Fleet, there isn't much bang to "The Golden Compass." The $150-million blockbuster is as flat as cola left in a glass overnight.

The first in a planned cinematic trilogy intended to rival "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe" and "The Lord of The Rings," "Compass" may turn out to be the "Heaven's Gate" of juvenile fantasy films.

The movie is based on a series of children's books ("His Dark Materials"), by British writer Philip Pullman, that are rabidly anti-faith. Pullman is an atheist who makes Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens seem calm by comparison.

"I don't think it's possible there is a God," Pullman opines. "I'm trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief." "My books are about killing God," and "I am all for the death of God."

In this regard, Pullman brings up the rear of a very long line. The death of God has been a cherished goal of French revolutionaries, German philosophers, Soviet commissars and the architects of Nazi genocide. (Hitler confessed that genocide was an act of deicide -- that by killing Jews, he intended to prove the non-existence of God) -- not to mention Hollywood scriptwriters and the current crop of proselytizing atheist authors.

"The Golden Compass" is a devious project that has enlisted powerful allies. Everyone from Random House (publisher of Pullman's books) and Barnes and Noble to brand partners like Coca-Cola and Burger King have a big stake in the movie's success.

So as not to offend families at the outset, Pullman's message has been downplayed to the point where most of the story's anti-religious elements were removed from the script.

While the books make it clear that the evil Magisterium is a Calvinized Catholic Church (demonstrating Pullman's grasp of theology), in the movie, it's an ominous authority bent on global domination, whose motives are murky.

Still, there are echoes of the books' anti-religious theme. Agents of The Magisterium refer to certain ideas as "heresy." Unknown to most 8-year-old moviegoers, "Magisterium" refers to the teaching authority of the Catholic Church embodied in the episcopacy.

If "The Golden Compass" succeeds, Pullman's agenda will be up front in the next two installments.

Director Chris Weitz (the genius who brought us "American Pie") told MTV "The whole point, to me, of ensuring that 'The Golden Compass' is a financial success is so that we have a solid foundation on which to deliver a faithful, more literal adaptation of the second and third books. This is important: whereas 'The Golden Compass' had to be introduced to the public carefully, the religious (anti-religious) themes in the second and third movies can't be minimized without destroying the spirit of these books."

Thus, the movie is chock-a-block full of cute, talking animals (external reflections of the human soul), armored polar bears, valiant flying gypsies, good witches, and even poor Sam Elliot typecast as the wise, folksy ole hombre (but looking like he'd rather be in a sequel to "The Big Lebowski").

"The Golden Compass" (movie, not book) may be mostly innocuous. It's also insipid. As the wicked Mrs. Coulter, agent of The Magisterium, Nicole Kidman looks and feels as sinister as a Vogue model. This is thin gruel next to Tilda Swinton's menacing, manipulative White Witch in "The Chronicles of Narnia." Even the young heroine (actress Dakota Blue Richards) comes across more bratty and petulant than spunky. Its lack of luster is reflected in receipts. "Compass" bombed on its opening weekend. In the U.S. and Canada, the box office was only $26.1 million -- compared to $65.5 million for "The Chronicles of Narnia" on its first weekend out, and $33.3 million for the recently released Disney flick, "Enchanted."

There's nothing tentative about Pullman's books, which the author proudly declares are about "killing God" (exactly what happens in the final volume of his trilogy).

Various characters instruct young readers that: "The Christian religion is a very powerful and convincing mistake, that's all," and "In every world, the agents of the Authority (Magisterium) are sacrificing children to their cruel god!"

The Magisterium experiments on children, separating them from their animal spirits (called daemons) and turning them into zombies, in an attempt to create a more compliant, docile populace. Sounds like public education.

Mark Morford, who spews for the San Francisco Chronicle, is a huge Pullman fan. (In an October 24 commentary, the columnist sounds like he wants to have the author's child.)

Eva Green stars in New Line Cinema's The Golden Compass - 2007

Morford is borderline delirious over Pullman's work: "The nefarious thing the books aim to kill is, well, religious authority. It's about the destruction of dogma. It's about power, about who wants to control and manipulate life on Earth; it is about blind, ignorant, even violent adherence to insidiously narrow codes of thought and belief and behavior, sex and desire and love. This, of course, is the God of organized religion. This is the false deity that promotes numb groupthink and inhibits growth and abhors the feminine divine... the same paranoid, dreadful God that votes for George W. Bush because, well, he will smite the icky gays and protect us from vile pagans and Buddhists and Muslims and feminists and frumpy genius atheist British writers."

Secularists never want to control or manipulate, which is why we have the progressive income tax, campus speech codes, hate-crimes legislation and the cult of global warming.

It's revealing how the God-haters always get around to whining about constraints on their sexual behavior. They long for the happy days of Canaanite frat parties, when sex was purely sensual and people rolled in the proverbial hay with men, women, children, domestic animals and every imaginable combination thereof -- much like San Francisco today.

That's what feckless middle-class parents are supporting when they schlep their kids to see "The Golden Compass" and buy them boxed sets of Pullman's trilogy for Christmas. How's that for irony? ("Mommy, why does the Catholic Church want to turn me into a zombie?")

Hollywood has been bashing believers for decades. In movies like "V for Vendetta," "King Arthur," "The DaVinci Code," "Kingdom of Heaven," "The Saint," "The Name of the Rose," and "The Magdalene Sisters," Christians are portrayed as vile, violent (but also cowardly), sadistic, hypocritical, greedy, lustful and intolerant, with marked totalitarian tendencies.

Compare the number of movies that depict Christians positively (I saw only one this year -- "Amazing Grace") to those that show them as mutants.

There is no more powerful force for inculcating values (especially in adolescents) than Hollywood, witness a Barna Group Survey, released in September ("A New Generation Expresses its Skepticism and Frustration with Christianity").

The survey found that only 3% of non-Christians (mostly the never-churched or those who've fallen away from the faith) had a favorable impression of evangelicals, versus 25% of the Boomer generation. Most of the former view Christians generally as judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), old-fashioned (78%) and too involved in politics (75%).

As a result, while non-Christians are less than 25% of adults over 40, they comprise fully 40% of Americans 16 to 29. Barna observes that this is not a passing trend which will change as the youth of today mature. "While Christianity remains the typical experience and most common faith in America, a fundamental recalibration is occurring within the spiritual allegiance of America's upcoming generation."

You can thank Hollywood for that. More than any other institution, the entertainment industry shapes our attitudes about everything from fashion, politics and personal conduct to religion.

I just saw a photograph of Arlington National Cemetery in the snow, with Christmas wreaths resting against row upon row of headstones. Courage and loyalty don't come from Bruce Willis movies but from the faith symbolized by those floral displays.

Pullman understands this, writing: "The kingdom of heaven promised us certain things: it promised us happiness and a sense of purpose and a sense of having a place in the universe, of having a role and a destiny that were noble and splendid; and so we were connected to things. We were not alienated."

But now that God is dead (or at least on death row), Pullman finds, unsurprisingly, that, "I still need these things that heaven promised, and I'm not willing to live without them."

The British novelist believes that all can be achieved in a "republic of Heaven" -- a this-worldly, secular utopia.

This is the delusion of Jacques-Rene Hebert (with his Goddess of Reason), Marx, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, advocates of psychotherapy and other proponents of the isms that have dominated the past two centuries. All end at the gates of Auschwitz, the steps of the scaffold, in an icy gulag, at the doorway of an interrogation cell or on a psychiatrist's couch at $150 an hour.

Pullman has created a world with talking spirits in animal-form, flying witches, warrior polar bears and a compass that detects the truth. But without God there is no magic (what the Lion Aslan calls "the deep magic").

Not surprisingly, Pullman detests C.S. Lewis' children's classics, calling the series "cruel," "unjust" and "anti-life" (not to mention that Lewis is a better writer).

Of the Narnia books, Pullman says: "I hate them with a deep and bitter passion, with their view of childhood as a golden age from which sexuality and adulthood are a falling away." (Sex again.) Besides God, this author of children's stories also hates childhood.

Magic is more than the miracles celebrated at this season (for Jews, the miracle of the menorah, for Christians, the virgin birth). The wonder is all around us. A flower, a sunset, a lover's kiss, a friend's embrace, the smile of a three-year-old -- these too are magic.

Everything in creation has a purpose. Doubt often leads to certainty. By challenging complacent faith, atheism can lead to a more mature belief.

For a half-century, Antony Flew was the world's most prominent atheist. An eminent philosopher, Flew was Dawkins before Dawkins -- Hitchens with an intact brain.

Beginning with his paper "Theology and Falsification" (which became one of the most widely read philosophical treatises of the 20th century), delivered at the Oxford Socratic Club when Lewis chaired the group, Flew argued passionately and persuasively for the non-existence of God.

The professor said that absent convincing evidence, atheism must be the default position. However, if I ever find that proof, I'll get back to you, Flew promised.

He did in 2004, announcing that he is now a deist. Among other factors, Flew observed that human biology can't be explained by evolution or accident but presupposes a prime mover. This argument is expanded in his just-published book, "There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind."

So there is hope for Philip Pullman. In the meantime, by challenging us (modestly), he will end by bringing some closer to God. And that must drive him nuts.

Don Feder is a former Boston Herald writer who is now a political/communications consultant. He also maintains his own website,

Jilted Blank hurt himself

By Terence Moore
Wednesday, December 12, 2007, 08:31 PM
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank speaks during a news conference Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2007 in Flowery Branch, Ga. to announce assistant coach Emmitt Thomas will serve as interim coach. Bobby Petrino resigned Tuesday.

Flowery Branch — The Falcons are a mess, and they will be for years, probably longer than that. So contrary to what general manager Rich McKay said on Wednesday at a news conference about how he has received some “unique names” among the slew of messages he’s gotten about his vacant head coach’s job, nobody with an accomplished resume is coming here.

Nobody with an accomplished resume should come here, not unless he has absolutely no place to go, especially given the depth of the Falcons’ mess.

This is a self-created mess by Arthur Blank, the owner, and by McKay, that normally invisible general manager who actually surfaced in public for a change. In other words, Bobby Petrino, who created that vacancy at head coach for the Falcons by leaving abruptly on Tuesday to do that “Woo Pig Sooey” thing in Arkansas, is getting too much blame for this franchise threatening to drop off the face of the earth again.

Petrino didn’t hire Petrino.

Blank and McKay did.

All Petrino did was become Petrino, and this is what Petrino does: He lies, and then he leaves. He almost did it when he coached Louisville and tried to sneak into Alabama in the middle of the night to take the job of Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville. Later, Petrino signed a hefty extension with Louisville, supposedly as a sign of his loyalty, but he tried to get the LSU job a few days later. He also swore his allegiance to the University of Louisville, and then to the city, and then to college football two summers ago after he agreed to a 10-year deal worth $25 million. Several months later, he worked in the shadows to get his “dream job” in Atlanta.

Even so, Blank and McKay did a series of foolish things. First, they ignored Petrino’s historically deceitful ways - including the ones that got him to the Falcons - and then they shrugged over the fact that college coaches regularly flunk in the NFL, and then they hired the guy anyway.

Head coach Bobby Petrino of the Atlanta Falcons yells at his players during the preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals on August 27, 2007 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

That’s why it deserved just a yawn when Blank spent his portion of the news conference speaking of feeling “betrayed” and “let down” after Petrino did what Petrino always does. Blank also said he felt “abused” when he was told by Petrino that “You’ve got a head coach” after a firm handshake only to watch Petrino smile and grin and laugh the next day as the new head coach of the Razorback Nation.

McKay added later that Petrino expressed often during recent days that “He was able to communicate better with college players than pro players.”

Really? I mean, how could Blank and McKay not know as much before they did the ridiculous by giving the guy that five-year contract worth $24 million? The examples were everywhere (Lou Holtz, Steve Spurrier, Butch Davis, Nick Saban, Dennis Erickson) of college coaches who didn’t realize they were dealing with grown men in the NFL. “He couldn’t handle a lot of noise, so he didn’t even want us to speak that loud at team dinners,” said the normally taciturn Warrick Dunn, whose tongue was on automatic on Wednesday while speaking of Petrino. “It was like we were in kindergarten. He didn’t even want us to have the TV on in the locker room, and not even Coach [Bobby] Bowden or Coach [Mark] Richt was like that.”

This was just Petrino being Petrino, which contributed to a vivid microcosm of the Falcons’ mess this week. On Monday morning, the Falcons’ franchise quarterback stood before a federal judge wearing black-and-white prison stripes. On Monday night, they were flattened on national television by their archrivals from New Orleans. The next day, Petrino took a $2 million-a-year pay cut to bolt for a lesser job with three games left during his first season.

In general, the Falcons’ offensive line is abysmal, and their starting quarterbacks are underwhelming. Plus, the rest of their roster isn’t good enough to compensate for all of those other deficiencies along the Falcons’ way to more horrors at 3-10.

If that isn’t enough, the Georgia Dome has become a wonderful place for fans either to boo or to sleep.

There’s good news, though. Said McKay, when asked if he has learned from his mistake of ignoring the obvious when hiring a head coach, “My answer is yes, because we’re sitting up here [during a news conference]. … We learned a lot from it. I’m not sure I’ll sit here and enunciate all of those things.”

Here’s one: Don’t hire a coach who likes to lie and leave.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Susan Easton: Global Wallet Warming

Susan Easton

Posted: 12/12/2007

On his way to pick up his Nobel Prize, Algore stopped off in London to deliver an address to The Fortune Forum. His back-up group of global warmies included The Prince of Brunei, Bob Geldof, David Frost, Darryl Hannah and Jerry Hall (the ex Mrs. Mick Jagger).

In case the name of the host organization glanced too lightly off your intellectual windscreen, go back one sentence and read the name of Algore’s hosts. They are “The Fortune Forum,” a self-proclaimed multi-issue global group devoted to the red-hot issues of the day. This includes fighting poverty.

The Fortune Forum does appear to live up to its title. In 2006, Bill Clinton became the highest paid public speaker in the world when he made three speeches. When combined, the fees for these three talks helped him pay off his legal fees and buy the Clinton homes in both Chappaqua, NY, and Georgetown, D.C. One of these speeches was to help launch the Fortune Forum Summit in London for that year. His cohort for the evening was Mr. “Greed is Good,” Michael Douglas.

Tickets for that FF event were 1,000 pounds a head or about $1850 at the 2006 pound to dollar conversion rate. We shall now defer to the Fortune Forum website for an explanation of the scope of global poverty:“More then 1 billion people still live below the extreme poverty line of $1 a day, and 20,000 die from poverty each day. More then 3 billion, more then half of humanity, live in poverty, with less then $2 per day. Over 1 billion people have no access to health care. Out of the population of the developing countries 66% have no toilets, nor even latrines.”

But those are mere statistics. At The Fortune Forum in late November of 07, money was no object. (This is an attempt at irony). The audience included world leaders, entrepreneurs and (surprise) celebrity activists, who, when they could bend their minds to think about things other than whose designer clothing label they were wearing, were in heated anticipation of Algore’s speech. They ought to have had great expectations. The price tag to attend this gala poverty consciousness-raising event was as high as $100,000 per person. Lesser fees were probably (if at all) paid by those whose names are aforementioned.

According to reliable sources, Saint Al was his usual humble self when he arrived to give his speech to The Fortune Forum. Of course, he insisted on a VIP room for himself and his entourage, barring any and all press from his presence. The better to be holy. Who bought into the evening? Scan the official website at you will see photos of both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown making warm welcoming remarks to the well-heeled guests. Then check out the photos of the glitterati -- all arriving in haute couture evening wear. Say, isn’t that Sir David Frost who left the BCC for the Al Jazerra TV Network? There’s Cat Stevens, the American pop songwriter who converted to Islam. Isn’t that Darryl Hannah who slept at least once with JFK Jr. and can hold her breath long enough to portray a believable mermaid?

The most credible Fortune Forum guest might well have been a woman who was once married to an aging rock star. Yes, the ex Mrs. Mick Jagger. Bless him, Mick knew how to stash his cash before he made it because he has a degree from The London School of Economics. Lest we get us a fatwa, one does not dare remark on the fabulously wealthy Prince of Brunei, nor on the blond arm candy which adorns him. Eat your heart out, Paris Hilton.

Did we mention the location of the poverty consciousness raising dinner?? That would be THE ROYAL COURTS OF JUSTICE. Yes, you can apparently BUY Justice -- or at least eat there in London -- for the right price.

What’s the punchline? Apparently, when Algore rose to the podium he delivered a speech that was SO boring that guests reportedly began talking among themselves before it was over. Other Fortune Forum members subsequently trashed the speech in press interviews. Well, boo. What did they expect for a mere $200,000 (or -- as it worked out on the clock -- $6,600 per minute)?

Worse yet, some of the charities that were to benefit from this fund raising event were treated (gasp) like “uninvited guests.” They did not get to meet the Nobel Gore whose causes he was there to triumph. Fortune Forum organizers apologized to some of the other invited guests when they expressed dismay over their inability to have a photo taken with Al. In England they call this “a shambles.”

A spokesperson for the expert on hot air later made it clear that Mr. Gore was donating “a percentage of his fees” to the Alliance for Climate Protection.

Go to the website and start by taking the pledge. Once that’s done, click on “At The Store” and there you will find a variety of ways to purge your climate guilt by further thinning out your own wallet. Like with a line of vintage clothing.

Al Gore is in that business in case you couldn’t guess. It is The Global Warming Shell Game. Players are simply being suckered into padding Al Gore’s warmed up wallet. Gore is, need we say it, very hot.

Susan Easton is a third career theologian. She holds a B.A. and M.A. in Religious Studies and Theology from the Jesuits. Susan and her husband of 37 years, Terry, divide their time between homes in the Bay Area and London.

Petrino was never up to the job

By Jeff Schultz
Tuesday, December 11, 2007, 08:13 PM
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Atlanta Falcons coach Bobby Petrino looks up at the scoreboard during first-quarter NFL pre-season football against the New York Jets, in this Aug. 10, 2007 file photo at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Petrino accepted the head coaching job at Arkansas on Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2007 after resigning as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons earlier Tuesday.

He lost his quarterback. But Bobby Petrino didn’t quit because he lost Michael Vick.

He lost players to knee injuries, ankle injuries — injuries because the JetSki went one way and his defensive tackle’s leg went the other. But Bobby Petrino didn’t quit because the Falcons’ roster was decimated.

Bobby Petrino quit because being an NFL coach isn’t just about Xs and Os. It’s about all of those things Petrino didn’t want to handle and clearly wasn’t equipped to handle. Salary cap issues. Players egos. The most basic form of communication.

Bobby Petrino quit because he couldn’t handle almost anything.

Michael Vick lied to Arthur Blank. Bobby Petrino lied to Arthur Blank. The second guy didn’t break any laws, but the two are closer than we could have imagined in the character department.

Petrino is a quitter. Thirteen games and he is checking out for a job back in the college ranks, where he can mold young men by stepping on them first, which is something you can’t do in the NFL.

Nick Saban couldn’t handle it either. Hey, at least Nick Saban lasted two seasons. By comparison, Nick Saban is a martyr.

Thirteen games. Are you kidding?

When Blank’s head stops spinning after all he has endured this season, he should breathe a sigh of relief. He should get past the fact he has to find another coach. Get past the fact that the franchise he would open a vein for has hit bottom and will take some time to turn around.

Arthur: Get past all of that, because things probably just got better. Save the balance on the five-year, $24 million contract you gave Petrino. Find yourself a coach who won’t melt down every time the temperature rises above 78.

If football is the ultimate game of physical and mental toughness, Petrino turned out to be the ultimate mushhead. This is the NFL. This is Big Boy football. The Falcons already have too many players who stomp their feet and hold their breath. The last thing they needed was a coach who did the same thing.

Petrino said the Falcons were his dream job. He said he wanted to work for Blank and Rich McKay. He said he wanted one season to see what he could do with Vick.

Things didn’t go as planned. Obviously. Petrino didn’t win. That wasn’t really his fault, given circumstances. But there were so many warning signs about how he handled situations, you wondered how he would function in the NFL environment, even without the extreme issues.

He rarely communicated with his players. He didn’t seek any input from the veterans he inherited — and while it’s certainly his prerogative as a head coach to do as he pleases, constructing such walls is counter-productive for a coach trying to build unity.

Petrino didn’t tell players when they were being benched, or why. Some found out when they got to the stadium on game day. Joey Harrington found out from reporters in a news conference that he might not start at quarterback that week.

Say what you want about Harrington — no professional athlete deserves to be humiliated like that. No man deserves to be treated like that.

Bobby Petrino. Not a man. He is running like a coward.

It has been apparent all season that Petrino and McKay were on different pages in personnel issues (Why make Ovie Mughelli the league’s highest-paid fullback if he’s not going to be used?)

Most of all, he had lost the team. That was never more apparent than in Monday night’s game against New Orleans. Hall walked into the Georgia Dome carrying a sign, and Roddy White wore a T-shirt, both reading, “Free Michael Vick.” Once you got past the vitriol directed toward Hall and White, you had to ask yourself: Would any player have done that if they liked, respected or even feared their coach?

Petrino took exception last week when I asked him about the possibility of leaving the Falcons for a college job (I was giving him the benefit of the doubt, and figured he would wait until after the season).

“My plans are to be here, there’s no question about that,” he said. “I get asked the same question every day, and that’s my plan.”

And now his plan is taking him to Arkansas. At least 13 games covers a full college season.

The Falcons now have one less quitter to worry about.

Good riddance.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Led Zeppelin Finds Its Old Power

Music Review

The New York Times
Published: December 10, 2007

Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham -- son of the original drummer John Bonham -- played 16 songs, including classics like "Stairway to Heaven" and "Black Dog."
Photo: Ross Halfin/Getty Images

LONDON, Dec. 10 — Some rock bands accelerate their tempos when they play their old songs decades after the fact. Playing fast is a kind of armor: a refutation of the plain fact of aging, all that unregainable enthusiasm and lost muscle mass, and a hard block against an old band’s lessened cultural importance.

But Led Zeppelin slowed its down a little. At the O2 arena here on Monday night, in its first full concert since 1980 — without John Bonham, who died that year, but with Bonham’s son Jason as a natural substitute — the band found much of its old power in tempos that were more graceful than those on the old live recordings. The speed of the songs ran closer to those on the group’s old studio records, or slower yet. “Good Times Bad Times,” “Misty Mountain Hop,” and “Whole Lotta Love” were confident, easy cruises; “Dazed and Confused” was a glorious doom-crawl.

It all goes back to the blues, in which oozing gracefully is a virtue, and from which Led Zeppelin initially got half its ideas. Its singer, Robert Plant, doesn’t want you to forget that fact: he introduced “Trampled Underfoot” by explaining its connection to Robert Johnson’s “Terraplane Blues,” and mentioned Blind Willie Johnson as the inspiration for “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” (Beyond that, the band spent 10 luxuriant minutes each in two other blues songs from its back catalog — “Since I Been Loving You” and “In My Time of Dying”).

Ahmet Ertegun, the dedicatee of the concert, would have been satisfied, sure as he was of the centrality of southern black music to American culture. Ertegun, who died last year, signed Led Zeppelin to Atlantic Records; the show was a one-off benefit for the Ahmet Ertegun Education Fund, which will offer music students scholarships to universities in the United States, England, and Turkey, his homeland.

By the end of Zeppelin’s two-hour-plus show, it was already hard to remember that anyone else had been on the bill. But the band was preceded by Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings—a good-timey rhythm-and-blues show with revolving singers including Paolo Nutini and Albert Lee, as well as a few songs each by Paul Rodgers (of Free and Bad Company) and Foreigner — all of whom had recorded for Atlantic under Ertegun.

There was a kind of loud serenity about Led Zeppelin’s set. It was well-rehearsed, for one thing: planning and rehearsals have been underway since May. The band wore mostly black clothes, instead of its old candy-colored wardrobe. Unlike Mick Jagger, Mr. Plant — the youngest of the original members, at 59 — doesn’t walk and gesture like an excited woman anymore. Some of the top of his voice has gone, but except for one attempted and failed high note in “Stairway to Heaven” (“there walks a la-dy we all know{hellip}”), he found other melodic routes to suit him. He was authoritative; he was dignified.

As for Mr. Page, his guitar solos weren’t as frenetic and articulated as they used to be, but that only drove home the point that they were always secondary to the riffs, which on Monday were enormous, nasty, glorious. (He did produce a violin bow for his solo on “Dazed and Confused,” during that song’s great, spooky middle section.)

John Paul Jones’s bass lines got a little lost in the hall’s acoustics — like all such places, the 22,000-seat O2 Arena is rough on low frequencies — but he was thoroughly in the pocket with Mr. Bonham; when he sat down to play keyboards on “Kashmir” and “No Quarter” and a few others, he simultaneously operated bass pedals with his feet, keeping to that same far-behind-the-beat groove.

And what of Jason Bonham, the big question mark of what has been — there’s no way to prove this scientifically, but let’s just round it off — the most anticipated rock reunion in an era full of them? He is an expert in his father’s beats, an encyclopedia of all their variations on all the existing recordings. And apart from a few small places where he added a few strokes, he stuck to the sound and feel of the original. The smacks of the snare drum didn’t have exactly the same timbre, that barbarous, reverberant sound. But as the show got into its second hour and a few of the sound problems were gradually corrected, you found yourself not worrying about it anymore. It was all working.

Led Zeppelin has semi-reunited a few times in the past, with not much success: short, problematic sets at Live Aid in 1985, and at Atlantic Records’ 40th Anniversary concert in 1988. But this was a reunion that the band had invested in, despite the fact that there are no plans yet for a future tour; among its 16 songs was one the band had never played live before: “For Your Life,” from the album “Presence.”

The excitement in the hall felt extreme, and genuine; the crowd roars between encores were ravenous. At the end of it all, as the three original members took a bow, Mr. Bonham knelt before them and genuflected.