Saturday, December 18, 2004

Jonathan V. Last: Return of the Return of the King

[I don't agree with everything in this piece but Mr. Last does make some valid points]

Return of Return of the King
The Extended Edition DVD of Lord of the Rings: Return of the King is bigger, but is it better?
by Jonathan V. Last
12/17/2004 12:00:00 AM

A YEAR AGO TO THE DAY, I stood, alone, on the banks of the Brandywine River, and raised quiet voice of criticism against The Return of the King. Suspecting that it would win critical praise overdue from The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers--as well as the Oscars those movies deserved--I predicted that down the road Return of the King would be the least loved installment of the series.

Love is difficult to measure, but dollars are not. Look, for example, at the box office returns for the trilogy. Fellowship began by earning $315 million in the United States. The Two Towers saw a modest increase to $342 million, which is what sequels are supposed to do. Return of the King saw only a similar increase, to $377 million. Make no mistake, $377 million is a healthy number.

Most movies would cry to do such numbers. But with $342 million as a baseline and two years of pent-up expectation, it probably should have done better. Particularly considering Oscar: Traditionally, winning big at the Academy Awards has been thought to add anywhere from $10 million to $50 million to a movie's box office gross. (Last year a group of professors at Colby College analyzed data for Academy Award nominees and winners prior to 1987 and found that the true benefit of a Best Picture win was an average bump of $16 million. As movie inflation has skyrocketed, box-office take has been front-loaded, and the Academy Awards have become a more omnipresent event, it is likely that the average boost for a Best Picture winner today is significantly greater.)

DVD sales of Return of the King have been more promising. The trilogy's distributor, New Line, declined to release sales figures for the various DVD editions, but the trade magazine DVD Exclusive reports that Fellowship sold 11.7 million copies (it's Extended Edition sold another 4.3 million) and Two Towers sold 10.8 million copies (plus 4.2 million Extended Edition copies). By contrast, Return of the King has sold 12.5 million copies. Good numbers, but not what you would expect for the most heralded edition of the franchise. You may have talked yourself into loving Return of the King when it first came out, but for most people, grubby reality has finally set in.

The grubby reality is that Return of the King was a deeply flawed enterprise. It was, by leagues, the weakest of the three movies. The pacing was poor, the timeline condensed. There were plot holes and characters who suddenly became passive. There were dramatic deformities aplenty.

And yet there is good news: This week the extended version of Return of the King comes to DVD. The four-disc set is loaded with features and commentaries and, most important, 50 extra minutes of footage which has been woven into the film. This extra footage addresses, I'm happy to say, nearly every defect which I reported on a year ago.

THE FULL EXTENDED EDITION of Return of the King now runs a staggering 250 minutes. Yet, if anything, it moves more briskly than the theatrical release. The new footage is sprinkled in fairly evenly throughout, with large clumps gathering here and there. In the first large-scale addition, we get the confrontation between Gandalf and Saruman at Isengard. Peter Jackson strays from the text in order to avoid another coda from the book. This deviation is not entirely unwelcome.

What is unwelcome is a new scene in Rohan, where, following their victory at Helm's Deep, Legolas and Gimli compete by chugging beers. The comedy is broad and unimaginative. As a rule, you shouldn't film a drinking contest if you can't top Marion Ravenwood's epic victory. The scene ends with Legolas quipping, "Game over." Tolkein should never be made to resemble Spy Kids.

(Nonetheless, this scene and the one following, where we see Legolas standing looking at the stars while the rest of the castle sleeps, are not meant for the Spy Kids camp. No, the catnip is intended for the gentle souls who spend their evenings debating elvish metaphysics and want to see The Silmarillion put on film.)

There are other, less indulgent, inclusions, three of which strengthen the narrative arc of the story considerably. The story of the palantír is fattened and given context. The siege of Gondor is padded, giving the battle greater scope and resonance, because now the passage of time is clear: We see day turn into night and into day again. Instead of looking like a videogame scrum, the fight's momentum now changes by turn. These shifts give the siege dramatic weight to anchor it's visual spectacle.

Perhaps most important, Jackson has added considerable meat to Aragorn's summoning of the armies of the dead. In the theatrical release, Aragorn called for the dead, they laughed at him, and the next thing we knew, ghosts were streaming off of ships in the middle of the Anduin River. In the Extended Edition, this gaping plot hole is filled and we see how the army of the dead captures the corsairs.

There are other rewarding nuggets, too. Included are scenes from the Houses of Healing, which steady the structure by providing a capstone to the siege of Gondor, and a pause before the story hurtles forward. (These scenes also lay the groundwork for the romance of Faramir and Eowyn, instead of simply lumping them together, as the theatrical release did.)

But the most beloved addition might just be the introduction of the Mouth of Sauron at the gates of Mordor. Jackson and his Weta artists have perfectly realized this minor, but fascinating character. To see him onscreen is a disgusting delight. And as an added bonus, the confrontation between Aragorn and Sauron's Mouth gives some strength and decisiveness to an otherwise listlessly written king.

THE FINAL VERDICT on Return of the King: Extended Edition can only be positive. This chapter is still the weakest of the trilogy, but it is a weakling now worthy of celebration in its own right.

The belated triumph makes it easier to appreciate the full scope of Jackson's achievement. He successfully adapted a trio of books totalling more than 1,000 pages and managed to nearly always honor the spirit, if not the letter, of the original. He avoided Hollywoodization. He created lived-in worlds.

Where Tolkein paid as much attention to sound and smell as he did to visuals, Jackson did everything he could to convey that sensibility on a moving picture. Take, for example, the voice work of the principal men in Lord of the Rings: Bernard Hill, Ian McKellen, John Noble, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving. They comprise the finest group of voices ever assembled on film, and they give The Lord of the Rings texture no CGI could ever conjure.

And last, but not least, let us give credit to Peter Jackson for ending his masterwork not with Frodo or Gandalf or Aragorn, but with humble Samwise Gamgee.

The Extended Edition of Return of the King restores order and honor to Middle Earth. Just in time for Christmas.

Jonathan V. Last is the film critic for The Daily Standard. He also runs the blog Galley Slaves.

© Copyright 2004, News Corporation, Weekly Standard, All Rights Reserved.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Charles Krauthammer: Just Leave Christmas Alone

Friday, December 17, 2004; Page A33
The Washington Post

"Holiday celebrations where Christmas music is being sung make people feel different, and because it is such a majority, it makes the minority feel uncomfortable."

-- Mark Brownstein, parent, Maplewood, N.J., supporting the school board's ban on religious music in holiday concerts

"You want my advice? Go back to Bulgaria."

-- Humphrey Bogart, "Casablanca"

It is Christmastime, and what would Christmas be without the usual platoon of annoying pettifoggers rising annually to strip Christmas of any Christian content? With some success:

School districts in New Jersey and Florida ban Christmas carols. The mayor of Somerville, Mass., apologizes for "mistakenly" referring to the town's "holiday party" as a "Christmas party." The Broward and Fashion malls in South Florida put up a Hanukah menorah but no nativity scene.

The manager of one of the malls explains: Hanukah commemorates a battle and not a religious event, though he hastens to add, "I really don't know a lot about it." He does not. Hanukah commemorates a miracle, and there is no event more "religious" than a miracle.

The attempts to de-Christianize Christmas are as absurd as they are relentless. The United States today is the most tolerant and diverse society in history. It celebrates all faiths with an open heart and open-mindedness that, compared to even the most advanced countries in Europe, are unique.

Yet more than 80 percent of Americans are Christian, and probably 95 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas. Christmas Day is an official federal holiday, the only day of the entire year when, for example, the Smithsonian museums are closed. Are we to pretend that Christmas is nothing but an orgy of commerce in celebration of . . . what? The winter solstice?

I personally like Christmas because, since it is a day that for me is otherwise ordinary, I get to do nice things, such as covering for as many gentile colleagues as I could when I was a doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital. I will admit that my generosity had its rewards: I collected enough chits on Christmas Day to get reciprocal coverage not just for Yom Kippur but for both days of Rosh Hashana and my other major holiday, Opening Day at Fenway.

Mind you, I've got nothing against Hanukah, although I am constantly amused -- and gratified -- by how American culture has gone out of its way to inflate the importance of Hanukah, easily the least important of Judaism's seven holidays, into a giant event replete with cards, presents and public commemorations as a creative way to give Jews their Christmas equivalent.

Some Americans get angry at parents who want to ban carols because they tremble that their kids might feel "different" and "uncomfortable" should they, God forbid, hear Christian music sung at their school. I feel pity. What kind of fragile religious identity have they bequeathed their children that it should be threatened by exposure to carols?

I'm struck by the fact that you almost never find Orthodox Jews complaining about a Christmas creche in the public square. That is because their children, steeped in the richness of their own religious tradition, know who they are and are not threatened by Christians celebrating their religion in public. They are enlarged by it.

It is the more deracinated members of religious minorities, brought up largely ignorant of their own traditions, whose religious identity is so tenuous that they feel the need to be constantly on guard against displays of other religions -- and who think the solution to their predicament is to prevent the other guy from displaying his religion, rather than learning a bit about their own.

To insist that the overwhelming majority of this country stifle its religious impulses in public so that minorities can feel "comfortable" not only understandably enrages the majority but commits two sins. The first is profound ungenerosity toward a majority of fellow citizens who have shown such generosity of spirit toward minority religions.

The second is the sin of incomprehension -- a failure to appreciate the uniqueness of the communal American religious experience. Unlike, for example, the famously tolerant Ottoman Empire or the generally tolerant Europe of today, the United States does not merely allow minority religions to exist at its sufferance. It celebrates and welcomes and honors them.

America transcended the idea of mere toleration in 1790 in Washington's letter to the Newport synagogue, one of the lesser known glories of the Founding: "It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights."

More than two centuries later, it is time that members of religious (and anti-religious) minorities, as full citizens of this miraculous republic, transcend something too: petty defensiveness.

Merry Christmas. To all.

Newsweek: Major League Baseball and Steroids

Tackling the Pros: Play Hardball
Major League Baseball's drug policies are a disgrace that threaten the integrity of the game.

Some modest proposals

By Mark Starr

Dec. 20 issue - You don't have to hit Major League Baseball or its Players Association over the head with a bat for them to take baseball's drug problems seriously. No, it requires somebody on steroids to bash them over the head a couple of times really hard before they'll think about doing something. Maybe.

Those blows have now been struck. First came the San Francisco Chronicle's account of federal-grand-jury testimony by two of baseball's biggest superstars. Jason Giambi confessed to using an expansive regimen of illegal performance-enhancing drugs, and Barry Bonds may have used steroids, too—though, he insisted, he didn't know what he was taking. Then Sen. John McCain threatened to legislate drug testing if baseball didn't quickly improve its act. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig responded by welcoming a federal initiative, and last week even the players union showed signs of buckling, saying it might agree to tougher testing before next season.

Weak leadership coupled with the union's obstructionism has resulted in an MLB testing policy that is the laughingstock of sports. Players like Giambi and Bonds may have been violating federal laws for years, while not breaking any baseball rules. Anyone with eyes, a brain and a calculator that counted to 73 realized that all the new slugging records didn't quite measure up.

At a minimum, MLB must mimic its minor leagues, which permit four random tests annually and punish all violations with suspensions. But it should go even further to make amends for grievous failings on this issue. Here's a prescription for serious change.

More testing: Once each season is a joke; it's an open signal that a player can return to his cheating ways until next year. Year-round random testing is a must.

Ban more drugs: Steroids are just part of the problem. Tests now exist for other performance-enhancing drugs, like human-growth hormone, that aren't yet banned by baseball.

Harsher penalties: Currently a first-time offender risks neither suspension nor public disclosure. A three-time offender faces only a possible 25-day suspension. Nail the cheats. If the penalties are serious, the players will take them seriously.

Team penalties: Baseball's management has turned a blind eye to the problem. Penalize teams whose players flunk drug tests. Fines don't deter owners. Lost draft choices might.

Disincentive clauses: Players love incentive clauses in their contracts. How about disincentive clauses for illegal drug use that take money out of their pockets?

A "Caminiti tax": The tiniest tax—on team revenues and player salaries—would generate millions. The money could be used for treatment programs and research on performance-enhancing drugs. It might help avert more tragedies like the recent cocaine-related death of 1996 N.L. MVP Ken Caminiti, whose drug problems, he said, began with steroids.

Get the message out: MLB should invest in a big, national public-service campaign aimed at young people who model their behavior after the pros. Don't think of it as hypocrisy; think of it as reform.

Nobody believes that even a comprehensive MLB program will end all abuses. BALCO, the lab alleged to have dispensed performance-enhancing drugs to elite athletes, may be the centerpiece of this scandal, but it can hardly be unique. There has always been more investment in cheating than in detection. But with the U.S. government—indeed much of the world—making anti-doping a priority, the science of detection is gaining ground. Baseball doesn't require a foolproof system. When the threat of penalties outweighs the rewards of cheating, the tide will turn.

Which is why baseball shouldn't be overly distracted by peripheral concerns like record books. Record books don't command history. The collective memory of baseball fans does. And we will remember this generation of record-breaking sluggers—the Asterisk Generation—for its tarnished legacy, one in which deception trumped achievement.

© 2004 Newsweek, Inc.

Newsweek: Steroids and Teens

Toxic Strength

The headlines about illegal steroids have focused on professional and Olympic athletes. But the most vulnerable users may be kids in your neighborhood, high-schoolers who are risking an array of frightful side effects that can lead to death.

By Jerry Adler

Dec. 20 - It can take years to hit bottom with many drugs, decades with alcohol. But on steroids Chris Wash managed it in just 12 months, starting with a dream of playing for a top college basketball team and winding up on a highway overpass, waiting for the moment to jump. In that time Wash, a 6-foot-2 guard on the Plano West High School team in Plano, Texas, went from a rangy 180 pounds to a hulking 230, with shoulders so big he could barely pull on his backpack in the morning. And he developed a whole new personality to match that intimidating physique: depressed, aggressive and volatile.

After a series of fights in his junior year his coach threw him off the team, but by then building muscles had become an end in itself. He switched from pills to injecting himself with steroids in the buttocks, often with a couple of friends, including a promising high-school baseball player named Taylor Hooton. That went on for several months, until one day Hooton was found dangling from his belt in his bedroom, an apparent suicide. Frightened, Wash gathered up his vials and syringes and threw them down the sewer. But an insidious thing about steroids is that stopping them abruptly can lead to depression. A few weeks later Wash drove to a bridge across a Dallas freeway and walked to the middle, looking down at the rushing traffic.

Major League Baseball will no doubt eventually solve, or at least paper over, the explosive charges involving steroid use, and the athletes will live with the consequences to their reputations and their health, cushioned by their eight- figure contracts. But their examples have placed a generation of teenage athletes at risk for the same mistakes, which could end their careers—if not their lives—long before they reach the big time. An authority on youth sports, Dr. Jordan D. Metzl of the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, calls steroid use "a burgeoning epidemic." The annual "Monitoring the Future" survey by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research suggests that the rate of steroid use by high-school students increased throughout the 1990s before dropping off slightly in 2003; a NEWSWEEK analysis of the data indicates that last year more than 300,000 students between the eighth and 12th grades used steroids. And they were not all jocks; as many as one third were girls, and experts say there is a growing problem of steroid use by boys whose heroes aren't baseball sluggers but the sinewy, rock-jawed models glowering from the pages of the Abercrombie & Fitch catalog. This development led to the recent introduction of a new psychological diagnosis, muscle dysmorphia (sometimes called "reverse anorexia"). For teenagers who use steroids, the side effects may begin with severe acne and run through hair loss, infertility, male breast development, violent mood swings and paranoia. And, in an unpleasant irony, steroids can stunt growth and cause injuries that could end the very career they were intended to enhance.

And they don't even get you high, at least not in the way most drug addicts would recognize. Consequently, steroid users don't consider themselves addicts, even those whose dependency is obvious, usually in retrospect. "He'd say, 'Pop, I'd never do drugs'," recalls Donald Hooton Sr., the father of Wash's friend Taylor. "I sincerely believe he didn't see steroids as a drug. None of these kids do." But steroids have their own seductions. "They make you pumped, aggressive, hypersexual, and that's going to feel good to a lot of these kids," says Dr. Kirk Brower, an addiction-treatment specialist at the University of Michigan. You can still hear the rueful note of pride in Wash's recollection of how the other boys would steer clear as he swaggered down the hallway—"They'd say, 'Don't fool with that kid'"—and how his girlfriend admired the rocklike consistency of his biceps. Athletes who train on steroids can gain muscle mass at phenomenal rates, as much as two pounds a week. Training for strength and speed is grueling work, pitting your muscles against the whole mass of the Earth, with only the unforgiving clock or weight stack to measure your progress. Suddenly, a pill appears and what seemed agonizingly impossible is within your grasp.

Joshua Dupont, a star running back at a Southern California high school and a highly ranked wrestler, began taking steroids in the summer before his junior year because he was jealous of the praise a stronger, faster teammate was getting from the coaches. He began seeing results, he claims, within three days: "I could spend the entire day at the gym and just keep pumping iron, working the same muscle without fatigue. After a week of taking this stuff, I went from 4.7 seconds to 4.6 [in the 40-yard dash]. It was incredible." For those who can tolerate, or have yet to experience, the side effects of steroids, there isn't much motivation to give them up. "If you're big and muscular and people admire you for that, why would you seek treatment to become smaller?" asks Harrison Pope Jr., a psychiatrist and addiction specialist at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass. "I could count on both hands the number of patients who have sought treatment from me for [addiction to] steroids."

Steroids are hormones, and for body-building purposes the ones of interest are "anabolic" steroids—a number of related compounds that mimic the effects of testosterone, the male hormone secreted by the testes. (There are several other classes of steroids, including the female hormone estrogen and the drugs called corticosteroids, which are used to treat inflammation and asthma; neither of these builds muscle, and their side effects are very different.) Anabolic steroids build strength by entering a muscle cell and switching on the genes that manufacture muscle proteins. Weightlifting amplifies the effect by stressing the muscles. "If you just took steroids by themselves, you'd gain some muscle protein, but not nearly as much as if you do it with exercise," says Dr. Alan Rogol, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of Virginia. "The combination can make a skinny Pittsburgh Pirate into a San Francisco Giant who hits 73 home runs, but we won't mention any names."

Testosterone and its relatives are controlled substances, approved to treat only a few, uncommon medical conditions—although any doctor can legally prescribe them for so-called off-label use to anyone. Some body-builders do obtain them that way, but most traffic in a bewildering black market of pills, gels and injectable solutions purchased over the counter in countries such as Mexico, on the Internet or from a guy at the gym whose cousin knows a batboy. Since the market is unregulated, products claiming to be steroids might in fact be almost anything, in concentrations that can only be guessed at by anyone without an analytical lab at his disposal.

Until now, teenage body-builders have been able to get around the obstacles to obtaining steroids by substituting androstenedione, a chemical "precursor" that is converted to testosterone in the body. In fact, says Dr. Gary Wadler of the New York University School of Medicine and a member of the World Anti-Doping Agency, andro has virtually the same effects, and side effects, as steroids, although it requires a much higher dosage. It was the enhancer of choice for Mark McGwire the year his coconut-size biceps propelled 70 home runs over outfield walls. Andro has been sold legally in nutrition stores and on the Internet for years. (Although a California law made it illegal to sell to minors, Dupont says he had no trouble buying it over the counter as a high-school student.) Congress closed that loophole only this October—the change takes effect in January—by adding andro to the list of Schedule III drugs, with "medium" potential for abuse. Wadler notes, though, that the law does not affect a compound known as DHEA, which is sold over the counter as an anti-aging drug. DHEA, as it happens, is converted in the body to ... androstenedione.

And this does not begin to exhaust the list of performance-enhancing drugs in circulation. Human-growth hormone, thyroid hormones and compounds to enhance the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood are all available, albeit illegally, to professional and Olympic athletes; soon, gene therapy may make its mark on the record books. There's not much evidence that high-school athletes have access to these. They do, however, legally obtain, and often use in prodigious amounts, a product known as creatine phosphate, which doesn't build muscle, but is believed to boost athletic performance by enhancing cellular-energy production. Most researchers believe that creatine is essentially harmless for adults, but it hasn't been studied much in children. At least one survey found it was being used by sixth graders—a result Dr. Eric Small, the chairman of the sports-medicine committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics, calls "scary."

Moreover, since the sale of "dietary supplements" like creatine is essentially unregulated, "you don't know what's in them," says Dr. Douglas McKeag, who heads the Indiana University Center for Sports Medicine. "You've got somebody saying, 'Well, my trainer gave me this'," says McKeag, who once analyzed a "protein supplement" one of his students had bought at the gym, and found it contained a cocktail of steroids, plus the poison strychnine, none of them listed on the label.

Anabolic steroids are inherently dangerous, though, no matter what else the pills may contain. The average adult male produces 35 to 50 milligrams of testosterone a week in his testes; athletes may inject 300 to 1,000 milligrams or more. That induces a kind of hypermasculinity, like adolescence on, well, steroids. Users may develop "horrific" acne, Wadler says, and can suffer an early onset of male-pattern baldness. Women are at risk for a whole set of masculinizing changes including body hair, enlargement of the clitoris and a deepened voice.

Paradoxically, steroids can also cause feminizing changes in men. The pituitary gland, which regulates hormone production in the body, responds to an oversupply of testosterone by signaling the testes to shut down, causing them to shrink. Another way the body deals with excess testosterone is by converting some of it to estrogen, which can cause men to grow breasts. Admittedly these effects are unusual, and sophisticated users try to manage them by taking the drugs in cycles of four to 20 weeks, timed to their training regimen. At any gym in the country you can find people who claim to have been using steroids for years with minimal problems, says Pope. But there's an enormous range of variability in how people respond to steroids—and some of the effects are permanent.

There are other risks as well. Adolescence signals the beginning of the end of skeletal growth, and steroids can hasten this process, shutting down growth prematurely. Steroids cause muscles to grow without a compensating strengthening of the tendons that attach them to the bones, a disproportion that increases the risk of crippling injuries. Steroids lower levels of so-called good cholesterol and raise the bad kind, sometimes to alarming levels, and they can be toxic to the liver. And there are the infamous psychological effects of volatile aggressiveness—the " 'roid rage" that cost Wash his position on the team, and have landed other users in jail or in the hospital. "When I was hitting someone, I couldn't stop," says Mike Bauch, an 18-year-old former high-school wrestler who has been off and on andro and steroids since seventh grade. Yet when a heavy user stops taking steroids, his testosterone level can drop practically to zero for weeks until his testes resume production—producing the opposite syndrome, a devastating depression.

Unfortunately, explaining cholesterol ratios to a 15-year-old who's just been cut from the baseball team and thinks his life is over anyway may not have the desired effect. "You have to understand high-school kids," McKeag says. "They think they're immortal." In any case, the message doesn't seem to be getting through as well as it could: the proportion of high-school seniors who consider steroids a "great risk" to their health actually dropped from 68 to 55 percent over the past five years, according to the University of Michigan study. In talking to young athletes who did take steroids, it's striking how little notice their parents and coaches took of the Gargantua taking shape before their eyes. Other than his brother, "nobody knew" he was taking steroids, says Bauch, even after he added what he claims was 30 pounds of muscle last summer. "Coaches are oblivious to it," says California state Sen. Jackie Speier, who sponsored a bill to crack down on sales of dangerous supplements to minors, "some out of lack of knowledge, others because they don't want to know." Speier's bill was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger—who has admitted using steroids in his own body-building career—on the ground that dietary supplements were best left to the FDA.

Testing might help, of course, but only about 13 percent of school districts test athletes for drugs at all, and virtually none for steroids; it would cost $50 to $100 for each test, compared with $10 to $30 for the standard urine sample for substances like marijuana. In the largest high-school steroid scandal in memory, which led to the suspension of 10 varsity-football players in Buckeye, Ariz., coach Bobby Barnes—who had coached the team for only nine weeks—was as surprised as anyone when the police swept down on the practice field one day in September 2003. "This is the first time in all my years of coaching it had come up," Barnes told NEWSWEEK. "It wasn't something coaches were looking for."

And even if they were looking for it, they would miss the increasing number of cases of steroid use that don't involve athletes at all, but students who simply believe they don't measure up to what an American boy ought to look like—an image they probably formed playing with their G.I. Joe action figures, around the same time their sisters got their idea of female body shape from their Barbies. "Much like the anorexic never feels thin enough, men with muscle dysmorphia never feel big enough," says Roberto Olivardia, a clinical psychologist at Harvard and coauthor with Pope of "The Adonis Complex: The Secret Crisis of Male Body Obsession."

Could it really be that decades of education aimed at boosting the self-esteem of normal teenage girls has just transferred the body-image problem to boys? Or is vanity simply too deeply ingrained in human nature to eradicate, merely shifting its form and locus with the times? For answers, we turn to Charlie Hyvarinen, a 15-year-old aspiring football player from a suburb of Cleveland, who insists he would never take steroids. "Those are fake muscles, and it's cheating, and it's bad for you," he says. "The ones who use it are really a bunch of losers. But man," he adds wistfully, "for a little while, they're really something."

Oops, sorry, that's not the answer we were looking for. Let's hear instead from Chris Wash, who stepped back from the railing and called his mother to come get him, and after intensive therapy is now free of steroids—but after losing months of classes transferred out of Plano West and is now finishing up at an alternative high school for troubled kids that has no basketball team. "I could have had a scholarship to play ball in college," he muses. "Basketball was my life. It's who I was."

With Anne Underwood, Julie Scelfo and Vanessa Juarez in New York, Dirk Johnson and Hilary Shenfeld in Illinois, Jamie Reno, Andrew Murr and Karen Breslau in California and Joan Raymond in Ohio

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Hugh Hewitt: Newsweek's Anti-Christian Cover Story Assailed By Bloggers

The Year of the Blog
An anti-Christian hit piece lets Newsweek become the latest big media organization to be debunked by the blogosphere.
by Hugh Hewitt
12/16/2004 12:00:00 AM

NEWSWEEK put Christmas on the cover of its December 13th issue, and the reaction among orthodox Christians was widespread and emphatic. Once again a leading member of the legacy media had produced a hit piece on Christian belief, employing many deceits, including the use of false dilemmas, the employment of only scholars with radical views, and the omission of evidence in support of the Biblical account of the birth of Jesus.

The author, Newsweek managing editor Jon Meacham, didn't even try very hard to conceal his bias, becoming to religion reporting what Dan Rather has become to political reporting. My favorite line is this gem: "To many minds conditioned by the Enlightenment, shaped by science and all too aware of the Crusades and corruptions of the church, Christmas is a fairy tale."

Meacham goes on to immediately declare that "faith and reason need not be constantly at war," but makes it clear that this is possible only when faith surrenders pretty much everything that defines it as orthodoxy. No explanation is ever given as to why the Crusades have any bearing on the legitimacy of Luke's and Matthew's accounts of the Nativity.

Hit pieces like Meacham's targeting Christianity have become commonplace in recent years as magazine editors and book publishers have come to understand the size of the market for stories on faith, but find themselves staffed almost exclusively with skeptics of one degree or another--usually extreme skeptics. So the offensive article/book/documentary appears, sales skyrocket, and a few weeks later some angry letters to the editor follow which are shrugged off as way too little, way too late.

That was then. The blogosphere is now.

Within 10 days of Meacham's article's appearance, his credentials had been reviewed for all to see by Dr. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The article itself had been painstakingly--and fairly--sliced and diced by accomplished theologian, pastor, scholar, and author, Dr. Mark D. Roberts, whose double Harvard degrees, including a Ph.D. from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, make his careful and complete criticisms of Meacham's reporting hard to dismiss.

After interviewing both Mohler and Roberts for two hours on the air, I then posted links to the Newsweek piece and their criticisms, and invited bloggers from around the internet to weigh in via a virtual symposium I term a "Vox Blogoli." Dozens of bloggers accepted the invite, and an astonishing array of piercing reviews of Meacham followed. Among many favorites are the Evangelical Outpost and Tapscott's Copy Desk, but all of them are well worth the read. (The complete list of symposium posts can be read here.)

What the blogosphere allowed to happen is the organization of dissent which is focused, credentialed, complete, and--crucially--publicized. No fair reader of Meacham's piece and the commentaries on it can conclude that Meacham produced good journalism. It is simply too one-sided, too agenda-driven, and too ignorant of serious scholarship to qualify as anything other than a polemic. The exposure of Meacham's folly doesn't guarantee that Newsweek won't stumble again, but it surely must give others in his position pause. The blogosphere has experts and megaphones. As Joe carter of Evangelical Outpost concluded "the mainstream media is only able to retain their influence by convincing the populace they possess special skill and knowledge. But as the Internet continues to fill with . . . debunkers, the media continues to lose credibility, influence, and power."

As 2004 closes, the calendar is littered with the reputations of previously untouchable media bigs. Jon Meacham is only the most recent recipient of the sort of attention legacy media has never experienced and finds unwelcome. This accountability is long overdue.

Hugh Hewitt is the host of a nationally syndicated radio show, and author most recently of If%20It/102-8093702-8387319' target=_blank>If It's Not Close, They Can't Cheat: Crushing the Democrats in Every Election and Why Your Life Depends Upon It. His daily blog can be found at

© Copyright 2004, News Corporation, Weekly Standard, All Rights Reserved.

William F. Buckley: Illegalize Illegals

Time for showdown in open frontier

The Houston Chronicle
16 December 2004

The new intelligence law, courtesy of 9/11, is mystifying because it does not face directly what is the most prominent threat to homeland security. It is: inimical action by non-Americans. All the people who participated in 9/11 were foreigners, here under various auspices. And yet the bill that has evolved from the findings of the 9/11 commission reads like an elocutionary exercise by a national committee to avoid saying anything unpleasant about unpleasant people born abroad.

Specifically, the threat at this moment is from foreign terrorism. The day may come when there are native-born Americans who join in such a threat, such as the Weather Underground types we experienced during the '60s.

But at this point, the terrorists come from abroad. "Last May," writes National Interest editor John O'Sullivan, "illegal aliens from Malaysia, Pakistan, Morocco, Uganda and India were released without bond. They are now at large in the U.S."

What happened is that as the intelligence bill crystallized, a fear developed that it might be construed as xenophobic. Somewhere along the line the word came down from the White House that for the president to be able to sign the bill, it had to be plucked clean of any suggestion that an illegal Muslim fundamentalist should be treated at all differently from an illegal Christian evangelist. Remember the odd deportment of Norman Mineta, who has been reappointed as transportation secretary? He went to extraordinary lengths several years ago to insist that security personnel at airports should pay no greater attention to 30-year-old Near-Eastern Muslims called Mohammed than they would to Shirley Temple.

The immigration problem is the primary unmet challenge of modern times. It is so because the whole of our political establishment cringes at any suggestion that the United States is inhospitable to immigration. We do have laws on the books, but they are apparently made for the sole purpose of flouting them. Time magazine published the most florid essay on the question, estimating the annual flow of illegal immigration at more than 2 million persons.

There are two questions on the table. The first deals with raw immigration: How many people beyond those formally welcome under existing laws should we admit into the United States? The second, what are the risks to security in being as offhanded as we have been?

In the age of terrorism, it is obvious that the enemy will seek to do damage operating within U.S. territory. That, of course, was the story of the 9/11 hijackers, 19 Muslim terrorists who took advantage of loose laws to practice flying accurately into U.S. skyscrapers.

But the movements of such folk are not of primary concern to the U.S. government, to judge from the record. O'Sullivan reports that the Transportation Department has launched several lawsuits against airlines because pilots had banned passengers they thought were security risks.
Asa Hutchinson, an official in the Department of Homeland Security, recently cut down a Border Patrol initiative to catch illegal aliens. The reason? It was catching too many illegal aliens.

We have the piquant problem of what to do with illegals. It approaches the problem of what to do with drinkers during Prohibition. You couldn't put them all in jail because there weren't enough jails. Illegals remain largely undisturbed, and the main reason for it isn't U.S. sentimentality toward aspirant Americans. It is the market contribution to the dilemma: There are jobs only illegals are willing to perform, e.g. serving as nannies for Bernard Kerik. Much of the menial and agricultural work done in the southwestern states is done by illegals.

The result of the combined forces — the need for cheap labor and the passion to avoid any appearance of ethnic or religious discrimination — is an open frontier. Yes, a few illegals are deported. These should get a parade, signaling such distinction as attaches to the infrequency of their apprehension. And perhaps a parade when they come through the next time, often through the same gap in the southwestern frontier.

A subsidiary but not uninteresting question is: Where do our deportees gather? What help is available to them to reassemble? Perhaps to return to Arizona in time for high school reunions?
It's a tough one politically, but Congress should bear down on the subject, intimately related to concerns for homeland security.

Buckley is a nationally syndicated columnist based in New York.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Nick Schulz: Bush Was Right on Kyoto Protocol

December 15, 2004, 8:39 a.m.
“Fatally Flawed”
Key players in the climate-change debate are coming around to Bush’s position.
By Nick Schulz

Buenos Aires — "No to Bush, Yes to Kyoto" reads a slogan adorning the credentialing lanyards draped around the necks of several delegates and journalists here at the United Nations' tenth annual climate-change conference (COP 10). But the U.S. president is an odd choice for a villain. A more accurate reflection of what's happening on the ground would be the slogan, "Yes to Bush, No to Kyoto."

The Kyoto Protocol — the global treaty drafted to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases in order to prevent global warming — is set to go into effect early next year. It will do so, much to the chagrin of many European bureaucrats and green activists, without the participation of the United States. Early in his first term, President Bush labeled the treaty "fatally flawed" and announced the U.S. would not participate in its schedule of forced emissions reductions.

President Bush rejected Kyoto for a few simple reasons. First, it would impose significant economic damage on the American economy (a Clinton administration report on the costs of Kyoto put the tab at $300 billion per year). Second, the reduction targets and timetables were impractical from a technological perspective. Third, the treaty exempted developing economies such as India and China from any restrictions even though their emissions are rising rapidly. Instead, the Bush team under Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham charted a different course, which involved investment in basic research, technology transfer to poor countries, and bilateral agreements.

Critics cried foul at President Bush's "unilateral" decision and questioned his motives, saying he was ignoring scientific evidence and rewarding fossil-fuel producers and users who supported him politically. It's too bad the critics focused on the administration's alleged motives and not its arguments. As it turns out, several key players in the climate-change debate are starting to come around to President Bush's view.

On the first day of the conference, a group of developing countries, including China, announced that they would not commit to any specific emissions reductions in the future. Gao Feng, a top official in the Chinese foreign ministry, boldly stated: "We are a developing country, we're not yet making international commitments.... We will continue to attend to our energy needs. We will need to increase our energy consumption for the next 30 to 50 years."

In an important forthcoming book on energy trends, The Bottomless Well, Peter Huber of the Manhattan Institute and Mark Mills, a former consultant to the White House Science Office under President Reagan, explain developing country demand. "How...can anyone responsibly favor the burning of more hydrocarbons?" they ask. "The short answer is that, for most people, the only practical alternative today is to burn carbohydrates [wood, biomass], and that's much worse."

The developing nations have been bolstered by an uncomfortable fact for Kyoto supporters. Several Kyoto participants, including most European nations, will not meet their stated emissions-reduction targets. Data from the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasts that European emissions will grow rapidly, increasing by as much as 25 percent by 2030. Several Kyoto signatories in Europe are already 20 to 30 percent above their emissions targets. If the Europeans can't drastically reduce their emissions, developing-country representatives reasoned, they have little reason to make similar pledges.

Then on Monday of this week, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, a key Kyoto cheerleader and a player in climate-change negotiations for years, issued a new report, "Climate Data: Insights and Observations." A co-author of the report, Jonathan Pershing of the World Resources Institute, said, "We are beginning to see more research on adaptation strategies in response to climate change." Adaptation means having the capacity to handle climate changes of any kind, and organizations like Pew are beginning to focus more on adaptation — as opposed to mitigation — in part because the emissions reductions called for in Kyoto are too costly and technologically infeasible.

This is a sensible move by Pew. The focus on adaptation to climate change — whether that change is human influenced or not — will be a boon to poor countries around the world. These countries are most vulnerable to climate changes because they lack the wealth and infrastructure to handle hazardous events such as heat waves, cold spells, hurricanes, and floods. A new appreciation for boosting developing-country adaptive capacity, and a new respect for the tools that make it possible — such as free trade, property rights, and the rule of law — are welcome developments.

Lastly, at a forum on Tuesday, Italian environment minister Corrado Clini admitted to Kyoto's huge structural flaws and its current inability to deal adequately with the challenges posed by climate changes. Acknowledging the growing global need for secure energy resources, particularly by poor countries hoping to raise their living standards, Clini argued that "a much broader long-term strategy, and much more global effective measures, than those within the Kyoto Protocol, are needed, involving both developed and emerging economies."
In other words, the Kyoto Protocol is "fatally flawed."

— Nick Schulz is editor of

Michelle Malkin: Homeland Security For Dummies

By Michelle Malkin
December 15, 2004

Can you imagine if an al-Qaeda bureaucrat had ordered the 19 Sept. 11 terrorists to wear "I heart Osama" T-shirts when they embarked on their murderous flights?
No idiot would send his men on a covert mission wearing clothes that would so blatantly give them away, right?

Wrong. Meet Federal Air Marshal Service Director Thomas Quinn. The man in charge of our in-flight cops, who are supposed to be spying secretly on would-be terrorist hijackers, refuses to allow his employees to dress undercover. Quinn insists that air marshals abide by military-style grooming standards and a rigid business dress policy regardless of weather, time of year or seating arrangement. He wants them to look PROFESSIONAL.

That means collared shirts and sports coats -- even if a pair of marshals is traveling in coach from Los Angeles to Orlando.

As The Washington Times recently reported, Quinn blew his top on Thanksgiving when he spotted nearly 30 marshals at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., in violation of his insipid dress code. Some were reportedly threatened with suspension.

This nonsense has been going on for two years. The result is that the federal government has not made air travel any safer, and is instead endangering the people who are supposed to be protecting us. The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, which represents over 22,000 federal agents including air marshals, notes that civilian passengers have publicly outed marshals on countless flights since the Sept. 11 attacks. Air marshals have recounted receiving thumbs-ups and thanks from travelers nationwide. No doubt al-Qaeda's operatives who are surveilling flights are mumbling thanks under their breath, too.

Indeed, on an infamous American Airlines Flight 1438 from Chicago to Miami, two air marshals, dressed conspicuously in their professionally mandated suits, received the following greeting from a passenger walking down the aisle: "Oh, I see we have air marshals on board!"

Another air marshal working out of the Las Vegas field office, who wished to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation, told the government watchdog group Airline Passengers for Safer Skies (APSS): "Under the current policies of Director Quinn, airline passengers are actually safer flying on aircraft that do not have air marshals on them." Marshals refer darkly to Quinn's dress requirements as the "kill-me-first dress-code policy." The Las Vegas field officer remarked: "If all the passengers know we are carrying the guns on the plane, then so do the terrorists -- we just don't want to get our throats slit."

Quinn's response to critics? Kill the messengers! As online journalist Annie Jacobsen reported in September, the air marshals service threatened to take action against the passenger who pointed out the marshals made vulnerable by Quinn's own dress-code policy. The passenger, Quinn protested, had disclosed "sensitive security information." Meanwhile, according to APSS, Quinn himself participated in a NBC Nightly News segment that revealed classified and sensitive information on marshals' boarding procedures, credentials, equipment and look-out criteria.

Quinn spent two decades at the Secret Service before taking over the air marshals service, which may explain his dangerous fashion taste for the Men in Black uniforms. According to several sources inside the agency, Quinn has used his position to hire several former Secret Service cronies -- who have plenty of experience guarding high-profile politicians and celebrities, but no clue about what it takes to blend in and be effective watchdogs in the air.

There is reportedly a provision in the intelligence reform bill passed last week that will put Quinn's kill-me-first dress policy on ice. But it's not enough. If President Bush wants to rescue airline safety from the abysmal national joke that it has become, the first thing he should do is fire Thomas Quinn before the end of the year. How many more people will die before we learn that bureaucracy and security don't mix?

Monday, December 13, 2004

Jihad Watch: "Mired in a Religious War"


[I seem to have overlooked this when it was published over a week ago, but it is still well worth reading. From Sam Harris in the Washington Times, with thanks to Fanabba:]

"Perhaps it is time we thought the unthinkable about Iraq. Perhaps it is time we considered the possibility that we will break everything we touch in that country — or everything we touch will break itself. However mixed or misguided our intentions were in launching this war, we are attempting, at considerable cost to ourselves, to improve life for the Iraqi people.

Despite the numbers of Iraqi dead and the travesty of Abu Ghraib, the Iraqi insurgents know that we did not come to their country to rape their women or to kill innocent civilians. Every thinking person in the Muslim world understands that if our goal had been to kill Iraqis and steal their oil, millions of Iraqis would now be dead and their oil would be flowing.

The terrible truth about our predicament in Iraq is that even if we had invaded with no other purpose than to remove Saddam Hussein from power and make Iraq a paradise on Earth, we should still expect tomorrow's paper to reveal that another jihadi has blown himself to bits for the sake of killing scores of innocent men, women and children. The Iraqi people have been traumatized by this war and by decades of repression. But this does not explain the type of violence they wage against us on a daily basis. War and repression do not account for suicidal violence directed against the Red Cross, the United Nations, foreign workers and Iraqi innocents. War and repression would not have attracted an influx of foreign fighters willing to sacrifice their lives merely to sow chaos.

We are now mired in a religious war in Iraq, and elsewhere. Our enemies, as witnessed by their astonishing willingness to slaughter themselves, are not principally motivated by political or economic grievances.

[Except insofar as the Islam for which they fight is itself political.]

Anyone who imagines that terrestrial concerns account for terrorism by Muslims must explain why there are no Palestinian Christian suicide bombers. They, too, suffer the ordeal of the Israeli occupation. Where are the Tibetan Buddhist suicide bombers for that matter? The Tibetans have suffered an occupation far more brutal than any we or the Israelis have imposed on the Muslim world. The truth that we must finally confront is that Islam contains specific doctrines about martyrdom and jihad that directly inspire Muslim terrorism."

Michael Fumento: Vitamin E Witch Hunt

The Washington Times
13 December 2004

Less than two months ago, I debunked a report in the Lancet medical journal claiming antioxidants slightly increase one's chance of dying, rather than reducing it as most researchers believe. Now I'm writing about a report that says the same thing about a specific antioxidant, vitamin E.
Why are these pills being persecuted? Among the similarities of the earlier report and this one, authored by researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, is that the mainstream media accepted both without question. Both times the researchers smugly declared their work the final word on the subject, though both reports were, as the vitamin E report admitted, "a qualitative departure from previous findings."

Since a good scientist knows no single report ever proves anything, we know these weren't good scientists. In fact, they have less in common with Johns Hopkins than Matthew Hopkins — England's infamous "Witch-finder General." Consider the vitamin E paper, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. It analyzed 19 clinical trials between 1993 and 2004, involving 136,000 people. These were combined into what's called a "meta-analysis," which showed no overall increase in deaths. But at high levels, defined as above 400 international units (IUs) per day, the researchers insisted "vitamin E supplements may increase [deaths] and should be avoided."

A glaring problem is there have been far more than 19 vitamin E trials since 1993, and one way the pack was whittled down was exclusion of all studies reporting fewer than 10 deaths. The witch-hunters weren't about to interrogate witnesses who might keep the accused from a visit to the gallows. Also, if "more is worse," why did the two studies using the highest dose, 2,000 IUs daily, indicate fewer deaths among vitamin E users?

Another problem with this report is that, though clinical trials are important, epidemiological studies cannot be ignored. Yet ignored they were. Thus there was no reference to the 1996 study from the National Institute of Aging that followed 11,000 elderly people for seven years and found the death rate for vitamin E users was a third that of nonusers. Adding another antioxidant, vitamin C, cut fatalities even more. A 1993 Harvard study of 40,000 male health professionals found those who took at least 100 IUs daily for two years had a third fewer cases of heart disease than those receiving no vitamin E supplements. A Harvard study of 87,000 nurses that year found an even greater reduction in heart disease when comparing women who took the highest amount of vitamin E vs. those taking the lowest amount.

Does this have you running in terror at the sight of a vitamin E capsule? But what's with the supplement witch-hunt? Why the reports of vitamin E flying on broomsticks, and beta carotene casting hexes? "Unfortunately, there are some doctors who are biased against dietary supplements," says John Hathcock, vice president of Scientific & International Affairs at the D.C.-based Council for Responsible Nutrition. To an extent, this is understandable. First, some supplements are worthless and a few have proved harmful. But you just can't lump "eye of newt" in together with vitamin E or other antioxidants.

Mainstream medicine is also biased toward that which has formal FDA approval. You know, like Vioxx. And never mind the many supplements such as iron and iodine that have tacit FDA support but no formal approval. Some doctors also fret that people will try to substitute supplements for good eating habits. "We don't think that people need to take vitamin E supplements, that they get enough from the diet," said the lead vitamin E prosecutor, associate professor Edgar Miller. Yet the average American gets only about 10 IU daily. With some studies show 2,000 IUs to be beneficial, dietary intake leaves us a bit shy of the mark. Anyway, those taking vitamins and other supplements also have the best diets. The final explanation for vitamin-pill persecution is that medical journals are becoming increasingly sensationalist. Publishing articles contrary to popular wisdom is a cheap and easy way to get headlines. But there's no excuse for throwing a noose around the neck of good science and healthful products.

Michael Fumento is a senior fellow at Hudson Institute, a columnist with Scripps Howard News Service and author of "BioEvolution: How Biotechnology is Changing our World."

John Leo: Christmas Censors

John Leo (archive)
December 13, 2004

The annual assault on Christmas comes in many forms. First, there is the barrage of litigation by the American Civil Liberties Union, which is reliably offended by almost any representation of Christianity in the public square. Small towns, facing the prospect of expensive litigation over religious displays on public property, often cave in simply out of fear. Part of the intimidation is that if the towns lose, they must pay the legal fees of the ACLU. But now religious-liberties legal groups provide attorneys to stand up to the ACLU. The Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund won in federal court last month in a suit filed by the ACLU against the city of Cranston, R.I. Cranston allows religious and secular displays of all kinds on the front lawn of City Hall.The ACLU argued that this was a church-state violation, but U.S. District Judge William Smith ruled that nothing in the evidence “reveals or even remotely supports an inference that a religious purpose was behind the creation of the limited public forum.”

Another standard anti-Christmas maneuver is to argue that all references to Christmas in public schools are suspect, while references to Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, for whatever reason, are not. The policy of the 1,200 New York City public schools is that no purely religious symbols are allowed, only ones that have a “secular dimension,” such as Christmas trees, menorahs, and the star and crescent. But the star and crescent is hardly secular. It is the symbol of Islam. And the menorah, though now losing some of its religious significance, is the symbol of an intervention by God to save the Jewish people. The Thomas More Law Center filed suit on behalf of a Roman Catholic mother of two public-school students, saying, in effect, that if the city’s public schools are allowing brief and educational use of religious symbols for Muslims and Jews, then the Christian crèche should be permitted, too. Last February, U.S. District Judge Charles Sifton ruled for the school system. The case is under appeal. The crèche, for now, remains banned.Like New York’s schools, Bay Harbor Islands in Florida refuses to allow a Nativity scene on public property but has menorahs and the Star of David on lampposts and permitted a local synagogue to erect a 14-foot-high menorah on public land.

A fairly new tactic in the Christmas wars can be called the sensitive person’s veto. In 2000, the city of Eugene, Ore., banned Christmas trees on public property, then allowed firefighters to put up a tree on Christmas Eve and Christmas, with the provision that if one person objected, the tree had to come down. The next year, Kensington, Md., banned Santa Claus from a tree-lighting ceremony because of two complaints. So the city’s most sensitive person was, in effect, allowed to make policy.

The sensitivity argument—that any reference to Christmas at all might make someone feel bad—is responsible for the spread of the anti-Christmas campaign from religious symbols to the purely secular and harmless trappings of the season, including red poinsettias, red-and-green cookies, holiday lights, and Rudolph the reindeer. Santa Claus, originally based on a Christian saint but no more religious than Kermit the Frog, is considered much too divisive and hurtful to non-Christian students in many schools. The principal of Braden Middle School in Florida said, “You won’t see any Christmas trees around here. We keep it generic.” Some principals and teachers around the country even ban the word Christmas. In Rochester, Minn., two girls were reprimanded for saying “Merry Christmas” in a school skit.And though Christmas trees are considered secular when they are useful in warding off Nativity scenes, the word Christmas is often removed by panicky officials, thus producing multicultural trees, holiday trees, community trees, care trees, and giving trees. The White House still has a Christmas tree, but Congress has a Capitol Holiday Tree. Accommodating all traditions is a worthy goal. But a broad movement to erase the word Christmas is an extraordinary development in a culture that is more than 80 percent Christian. How much more of this is the public willing to tolerate? William Donohue, head of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, points out that an elementary school in New Hampshire declared that December is a gift-giving month but couldn’t explain why or how it got to be a giving time of year, since it refused to use the word Christmas.

The South Orange/Maplewood, N.J., school district banned religious Christmas songs, even in instrumental versions. In Florida, an elementary school concert included songs about Hanukkah and Kwanzaa but offered not a single note of Christmas music. A recent winter parade in Denver looked very much like a Christmas event, except for one small thing: Every reference to Christmas was banned. Unless believers and religious-liberties groups begin to push back, the anti-Christmas trend will prevail in the public square.

©2004 Universal Press Syndicate

Contact John Leo Read Leo's biography

Buy it now! From John Leo
Incorrect Thoughts: Notes on Our Wayward Culture
John Leo will open your eyes to the world of political correctness. This book, a collection of Leo's columns over the years, exposes the PC media and university elite and turns their arguments upside down.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Keith Christiansen: The Bounty of Caravaggio's Glorious Exile

The Entomement, Vatican Museums

Published: December 12, 2004

How many pictures does it take to make a memorable exhibition? Fifty? A hundred? How about 18? That's the number of paintings by Caravaggio that people are lining up to see in Naples in an exhibition that is something of a landmark event. (There is also a coda, five copies of lost works and five recently proposed attributions, though none are convincing.) The reason for the success of this magnificent show has less to do with numbers than with the quality of the works and the period that they document: the last four years of Caravaggio's life, spent peripatetically outside Rome, where he had made a name for himself before he died at 39 of malaria.

That this exhibition should attract crowds is no surprise: the admiration previous generations lavished on Michelangelo, Rembrandt and El Greco is now directed at Caravaggio, the first and most audacious realist in European art. He would have both savored and dismissed the adulation, for seldom has there been such a conflicted artist. He was the consummate outsider. Indeed, he built his reputation in Rome by staking out polemical positions calculated to enrage the artistic establishment and endear him to sophisticated, largely ecclesiastical collectors.

St Jerome
c. 1606
Oil on canvas, 112 x 157 cm
Galleria Borghese, Rome

In 1576, El Greco was hounded out of town (or so we are told) for suggesting that Michelangelo, though a great sculptor, could not paint. But when Caravaggio arrived 16 years later, he did not simply thumb his nose at the worshippers of Michelangelo; he took on the whole premise of Renaissance painting. His bohemian, quasi-criminal life style - late nights in taverns and frequent brawls - seemed a head-on attack on the social status that artists had fought so hard to gain. And by rejecting the hierarchies that prized figurative painting over landscape and still life, and the beau ideal over naturalism, he called into question the very basis of Renaissance poetics.

Caravaggio insisted on working outside the aesthetic and social boundaries of his time. Yet he was also enormously status conscious. Like every other artist in Rome, he measured success by the social caliber of his patrons and he quickly abandoned still life and genre painting for grand, figurative compositions.

That Caravaggio's Roman paintings exert such a broad appeal today is the result of their sensational use of naturalistic effects: a basket of blemished fruit precariously posed on the edge of a table, a figure screaming as his head is severed, pretty boys flaunting their nudity. In Caravaggio's hands, naturalism - painting directly from a posed model rather than working through the idealizing process of drawing - became a weapon of attack, a means of undermining the critical standards of his day. Michelangelo had astounded the world with his heroic male nudes on the Sistine ceiling, and in his first public commission Caravaggio framed the martyrdom of Saint Matthew with shockingly naturalistic male nudes, two of whom watch the murder with disturbing detachment. (Scholars sometimes explain these figures as neophytes waiting to be baptized, but this seems to me a misunderstanding of the transgressive genius of Caravaggio, whom one contemporary pointedly called "that anti-Michelangelo.")

Beheading of Saint John the Baptist
Oil on canvas, 361 x 520 cm
Saint John Museum, La Valletta

For most admirers, Caravaggio's career pretty much ends in 1606, when he killed a tennis opponent and fled Rome. After spending some time on the estates of the Colonna family, south of Rome, he made his way to Naples, Malta and Sicily, and then back to Naples, where one of his many enemies slashed his face and a rumor circulated that he had been killed. (He made a point of offending people wherever he went.) These years, during which he awaited a papal pardon so that he could return to Rome, were a period of exile, but they were also a liberating experience. In Rome, Caravaggio had necessarily to do battle with the ghosts of Michelangelo and Raphael, as well as the legacy of Greek and Roman art. They were the measures by which art was judged. But in Naples, Malta and Sicily, there was no such dominant tradition. Caravaggio was the biggest act in town, and the finest commissions were offered to him.

I have long thought that Caravaggio's greatest paintings were done during the four years of his Roman exile, and so I attach special importance to the Metropolitan Museum's acquisition seven years ago of one of his last works, a deeply expressive painting that shows a woman accusing Saint Peter of being an apostle of Christ, and Peter denying it. (I made the case for the purchase to the acquisition committee, but they required no convincing.) The half-length composition is stripped of all extraneous narrative detail, color is subordinated to effects of light and dark, and the summary, rapid-fire brushwork aims to capture the psychological conflict of a dramatic moment rather than to describe its physical appearance. We sense the artist moving beyond the polemics of so many of his Roman works, in which naturalism is pitted against idealism, and the goal was to create a sensation. In this and kindred works you have the sense of an artist turning inward to discover the emotional truth behind the biblical narrative.

The Annunciation
Oil on canvas, 285 x 205 cm
Musee des Beaux-Arts, Nancy

At the Capodimonte Museum in Naples, the Metropolitan's canvas takes it place alongside some of Caravaggio's most memorable paintings, including virtually all of his late altarpieces: the "Crucifixion of Saint Andrew" from Cleveland; the "Seven Acts of Mercy" and the "Flagellation" from Naples; "Raising of Lazarus" and "Adoration of the Shepherds" from Messina, Italy; the "Burial of Saint Lucy" from Syracuse, Italy; and the badly damaged but haunting "Annunciation" (Caravaggio's least studied masterpiece) from Nancy, France. Only the great "Beheading of Saint John the Baptist" from Malta is missing. (It is simply too large to travel.) These works will probably never again be brought together, and the fact that they can be seen alongside pictures like the Metropolitan's "Denial of Saint Peter," and the "David With the Head of Goliath" and "Saint Jerome" from the Borghese Gallery in Rome only adds to the overwhelming effect.

The exhibition is scheduled to travel to the National Gallery, London. The Metropolitan was supposed to be a third stop, but it proved impossible to secure the needed loans for all three museums. In any case, Naples is the place to see it, not only because the exhibition in London will lack one or two key works, but also because in Naples the paintings resonate as nowhere else. The Capodimonte has transformed itself into what may be the most beautifully installed museum in Italy. On one floor it offers the celebrated Farnese collection, with its wealth of paintings by, among others, Titian, Raphael, Bellini, Correggio, Parmigianino and Annibale Carracci. Another floor has a panorama of painting in Naples, from its origins in the 13th century through the 19th century. The Caravaggio show is installed so that the visitor comes upon the artist at precisely the right chronological place in that history, and when you leave the exhibition galleries, you pick up the threads of that narrative again with those artists whose careers were transformed by Caravaggio's presence in the city: Ribera, Caracciolo, Artemisia Gentileschi and many others. This has the effect of at once situating Caravaggio within his historical context and demonstrating just how much he transcended his times. If Velázquez can be claimed as the precursor of 19th-century realism, in these works Caravaggio lays his claim to being the first modern painter: one who looked beyond appearances to uncover the turbulent and conflicted passions that give life its tragic dimension. Darkness in Caravaggio's Roman paintings was primarily a pictorial device. Here, it acquires a profoundly psychological dimension.

Caravaggio. The Flagellation of Christ. 1607. Oil on canvas. Museo di Capodimonte, Naples, Italy.

Perhaps the most memorable room is the one in which Caravaggio's three great Sicilian altarpieces are hung, one to a wall. Facing each other are two works created virtually contemporaneously, which probe the opposite poles of human existence. On one side is Caravaggio's most tender painting: an "Adoration of the Shepherds." Exceptionally for the artist, the scene is staged in a carefully described space, with shepherds, their heads aligned along a descending diagonal, gathered in mute reverence at the miracle of Jesus' birth. A humble still life of Joseph's carpenter's tools in the foreground and a donkey and an ox at the back of the stable complete the aura of sacred poverty and set off the touching figure of the Virgin reclining against the wooden manger, protectively cuddling her newborn child. A quality of vulnerability pervades the picture. Opposite this extraordinary work is the dramatically charged "Raising of Lazarus," in which the dead Lazarus is summoned - violently and, it seems, painfully, perhaps even reluctantly - back to life, to the astonishment of the onlookers and the impassioned but disturbingly noiseless cries of his sisters. Here the space is a shallow shelf, with the figures pressed into a narrow foreground area. A raking light plays across them and its life-giving powers are contrasted with the oppressive darkness of the upper half of the composition. Caravaggio has discovered the tragic eloquence of emptiness - the silent void.

At the heart of Western painting is the romantic notion of the isolated genius confronting his own mortality and the enigma of human existence. This myth little accords with the popular image we have of Caravaggio, but it is the one that occurred to me over and over at this unforgettable exhibition.

Keith Christiansen is a curator of European paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Selena Roberts: Hockey Fans Are Silent

Hockey Fans Are Silent, and Union Is Listening
Published: December 12, 2004

During his savvy strategy of passivity, Commissioner Gary Bettman could let public apathy do the devil's work for him as the National Hockey League spiraled silently toward its third month of a lockout.

He didn't have to belittle his league, not when a poll in The Hockey News revealed that only 56 percent of Americans even knew the N.H.L. had faded to black. He didn't have to rail about the gluttony of players, not when the lunch-pail fan base already blamed the catered-to stars.

Bettman could preserve his voice of doom when others were speaking volumes. As the Coyotes' Brett Hull recently told The Arizona Republic, "I think there's no question that the fans are going to lose interest because the game that's not being played right now wasn't that exciting to begin with." As an editorial in The Globe and Mail of Toronto on Nov. 6 explained: "By locking down major league hockey nearly a month ago, you've shown us something. We can live without it."

For weeks, this public indifference was Bettman's leverage, with fan silence as his support system. How could the union protect the box-office salaries of its stars when the box office didn't have a line of fans panting to get in? How could the union justify A-list money to a Ranger like Bobby Holik if his celebrity couldn't swing him a table at Nobu?

The union boss Bob Goodenow had to do something to undermine Bettman's ability to parlay the N.H.L.'s irrelevance into a negotiating tool. On Thursday, Goodenow stirred up the suffocating dead air by unveiling an offer that rippled with shock value.

Salary rollbacks, Goodenow proclaimed. To his credit, it was a monster concession from the union, perking up jaded followers who had wondered if the union possessed an ounce of economic or social awareness.

Suddenly, Goodenow had placed players in the same sort of sacrificial roles as the union pilots across the United States who had absorbed pay cuts to keep airlines flying. And he had turned players into sympathetic symbols instead of examples of excess by putting 24 percent of each goon, rookie and journeyman's salary into the pockets of beleaguered owners.

"Let me be clear on this," Goodenow said. "This is no grandstanding ploy. This is no P.R. move."
This denial was glorious, one dripping with grandstanding moves and this simple P.R. ploy: rouse the dormant fan base while putting the pressure on Bettman to counter with a good-faith proposal when bargaining resumes Tuesday.

It's a smooth move by Goodenow on the surface because his celebrated plan begs for attention but does not address the one systemic issue Bettman covets most: cost certainty, as in a potential salary cap.

Goodenow's calculated offer preys on the quick-fix addictions of undisciplined owners who, with a little extra money in their wallets, will only toss it into a wishing well of roster stars.
The union's blueprint for a resolution does nothing to eliminate payroll disparity between the league's big spenders and its coupon clippers. Goodenow has proposed a luxury tax, but it is certain to be ignored by icon collectors like the yachtsman and Rangers overseer James L. Dolan, providing an uneven playing field when a romantic small-market team like Calgary tries to re-sign its beloved Jarome Iginla.

The union did not move toward Bettman's cost-certainty-or-bust mandate, but Goodenow did move in the right direction by recognizing, if begrudgingly, the fragile financial state of a niche league. With a third of the season vanished, the union finally acknowledged the league's dire fiscal reports, ledgers it once bashed as fuzzy math.

Why the wait for a revelation? Perhaps the union leadership didn't count on the protracted public apathy toward the N.H.L. in the United States and especially in, of all places, Canada, where baby booties have skate blades.

It seems Canadians are a lot like the Whos of Whoville: After the N.H.L. leaders slithered and slunk, with a smile most unpleasant, and took every Modano, Sakic and Wade Redden, Canadians gathered around the ice rinks, the big and the small, and watched junior league hockey without commercialism at all.

"What's not to like?" The Globe and Mail said to its readers. "Some might call it reconnecting with the simple pleasures. Some might call it a return to reality. It turns out that reality is not such a bad place. Even on a Saturday night."

This contentment with the true meaning of hockey has been working against the union because it validated the owners' argument that player salaries are out of line and out of touch with the league's reality.

The public wasn't arguing. For months, this was Bettman's leverage. Unlike N.B.A.

Commissioner David Stern, who will probably use the league's Ron Artest image issues against the union during its collective bargaining, Bettman hasn't had to sully his league to court public opinion.

Who was in Goodenow's corner? The baseball union god Donald Fehr - one of the more polarizing leaders in sports. With the lockout dragging, Goodenow had no time for a hard-line Fehrism. He needed to reach out to the owners and, just as important, to the N.H.L.'s alienated loyalists.
He responded with a salary-slashing deal that ignored the core issues but provided a moment that hard-working fans could embrace and that even Bettman could appreciate.

"The magnitude of the rollback is what you need to get our economics back in line as a starting point," Bettman said. "To me, it's an acknowledgment of our economics."

For Goodenow, it was an acknowledgment of the quiet reality that public indifference had become Bettman's ally.