Thursday, August 18, 2005

NY Times Film Review: Grizzly Man

August 12, 2005
Exploring One Man's Fate in the Alaskan Wilderness

One rainy afternoon in the Alaskan wilderness two years ago, a self-made man named Timothy Treadwell was mauled and eaten by a grizzly bear. It may be that the animal, a scrawny male about 28 years old and 1,000 pounds, was trying to fatten up in preparation for its winter's sleep. As it happens, Treadwell, who achieved minor celebrity as an expert on grizzlies, publishing a book on the bears and jousting with David Letterman on late-night television, had pitched his tent in a feeding ground. The call of the wild was as irresistible to Treadwell as his flesh proved to be to that bear.

The strange story of Timothy Treadwell, a Long Island native who came to see himself as some kind of ursine Dr. Dolittle, only to die at 46 from a bear attack, is the subject of "Grizzly Man," the latest documentary from Werner Herzog. As fans of the German New Wave know, the director has a fondness for stories about men who journey into the heart of darkness, both without and within - men like the deranged 16th-century explorer in "Aguirre, the Wrath of God," who searches for El Dorado in the Amazon, and the early-20th-century esthete in "Fitzcarraldo" who hauls a steamboat up a mountain to bring Caruso to the Peruvian jungle. Treadwell's journey was no less bold or reckless than these earlier Herzogian tales and certainly no less enthralling.

Mr. Herzog has been making documentaries for more than three decades, about as long as he has been directing fiction films, but he is not part of any nonfiction tradition. In a statement on his Web site,, he declares: "By dint of declaration the so-called cinéma vérité is devoid of vérité. It reaches a merely superficial truth, the truth of accountants." This is a rather crude attempt to separate himself from the nonfiction crowd, but Mr. Herzog is also no ordinary filmmaker. It is the rare documentary like "Grizzly Man," which has beauty and passion often lacking in any type of film, that makes you want to grab its maker and head off to the nearest bar to discuss man's domination of nature and how Disney's cute critters reflect our profound alienation from the natural order.

Beauty enters first in "Grizzly Man," which opens with two bears grazing on a spectacular stretch of green in the Katmai National Park and Preserve, a nearly five-million-acre swath on the Alaska Peninsula. Dressed in black, his pageboy stirring in the wind, Treadwell walks into the frame and introduces the grizzlies as Ed and Rowdy. "They're challenging everything, including me," he says as the bears munch away. "If I show weakness, if I retreat, I may be hurt, I may be killed. I must hold my own if I am going to stay within this land. For once there is weakness, they will exploit it, they will take me out, they will decapitate me, they will chop me into bits and pieces. I'm dead. But so far, I persevere, persevere."

It is a typical Treadwell recitation - sincere, grandiose and intensely worrisome - a bit of bravura that ends with the self-designated "kind warrior" blowing a kiss and signing off like Kojak: "Love you, Rowdy." Even if you don't know that Treadwell was killed along with his girlfriend, a physician's assistant named Amie Huguenard, his familiarity with, and proximity to, the bears bodes badly, for him and for them. There is something surreal (at least to a committed urbanite) about anyone who would talk to these animals, especially a guy whose blond, bland good looks made him seem like an aging surfer, a kind of Spicoli of the backwoods. But as Mr. Herzog points out in his online manifesto, "facts sometimes have a strange and bizarre power that makes their inherent truth seem unbelievable."

Despite some early bumps, Treadwell started off as an average sort. After an injury put an end to an athletic scholarship, he moved to (where else?) Southern California. There he did the usual bumming around, but his life soured and, according to his book, "Among Grizzlies," written with Jewel Palovak, he suffered a near-fatal drug overdose. Scared straight, he gradually reinvented himself, and by the early 1990's was summering in Katmai, home to about 2,000 grizzlies. Mr. Herzog lays out this history in voice-over, illustrating Treadwell's ups and downs through the spectacular videos the amateur naturalist shot and interviews with the dead man's family and friends. The filmmaker also taps the medical examiner who performed the autopsies on Treadwell and Huguenard, Dr. Franc G. Fallico, a character around whom an entire reality show could be built.

Dr. Fallico pops up a couple of times in "Grizzly Man," but the most potent use of his testimony occurs when he expounds at length in an autopsy room, a scene that illustrates Mr. Herzog's sense of drama beautifully. Sporting a blue smock and a fixed gaze, Dr. Fallico recounts his version of the attack, a description based on his examination of the bodies and the six-minute audio record found on one of Treadwell's video cameras. (The lens cap was on the camera.) The account is graphic, gruesome and thoroughly riveting, partly because morbid tales always tug at the imagination, but also because Dr. Fallico turns out to be an incredible storyteller. For Mr. Herzog, it's clear that the truth of this story isn't located just in the facts that the doctor strings together with florid gestures and pregnant pauses, but in a performance that is as artful as it is true.

Treadwell's adventures among his beloved grizzlies were also a kind of performance, built on lies and truth and played out on the stage of celebrity. Even though his choices were dangerous and finally fatal, he traveled a familiar American path shaped by boundless optimism and an almost religious belief in the self. He lived among grizzlies because he believed that he could. Given this, the cheap shots that followed his death, including the appalling snarkiness that crept into newspaper headlines ("Grizzly bear that killed pair attacked at lunchtime"), are revelatory. For some, Treadwell's death confirmed that animal activists and environmentalists are dangerous wackos; for others, though, his unhappy end may have suggested something equally disturbing: sometimes a smile and American goodwill aren't enough.

Throughout "Grizzly Man," men and women pay testament to Treadwell's niceness and naïveté. Some are kind; others less so. Each testifier seems to capture some authentic quality of Treadwell, who from the evidence of his videos and Mr. Herzog's sympathetic inquiry, seemed equally nice and naïve, brave and foolish. At some point that foolishness mushroomed into a welter of delusions about his power to survive the wilderness in which he so recklessly tried to find himself. His death, as inevitable as it was preventable, could mean that he may have been more lost than found. Mr. Herzog remains generous to a fault on this particular point, perhaps because he recognizes that for someone like Treadwell, there is nothing more terrifying than being ordinary, even the claws of a grizzly.

"Grizzly Man" is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). It has some adult language and vivid descriptions of a bear mauling.

Grizzly Man

Opens in New York and Los Angeles.

Directed by Werner Herzog; director of photography, Peter Zeitlinger; edited by Joe Bini; music by Richard Thompson; produced by Erik Nelson; released by Lions Gate Films. Running time: 103 minutes. This film is rated R.

Michael Fumento: A Race-Baiter Falls From Grace
Michael Fumento (archive)
August 18, 2005

Will inner-city blacks ever throw off the yoke of self-victimization imposed by “leaders” like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton? Perhaps, judging by the brief fame of race-baiting HISPANIC demagogue Nativo Lopez, who went muy pronto from media darling to pathetic buffoon.

Lopez was elected to the Santa Ana school board in southern California in 1996, vowing to fight for legal immigrants, illegals, and Hispanics. Never mind that the vast majority of Hispanics aren’t immigrants, that about a third of Hispanics favor tightening immigration laws, that many immigrants aren’t Hispanic, and that the majority of immigrants are here legally. The white media are always looking for somebody they can designate as a mouthpiece to make complex issues seem simple, and for awhile using Lopez worked fine.

But he never had real legitimacy. True, he heads two localized groups with international-sounding names, the Mexican American Political Association and Hermandad Mexicana Latinoamericana. But that second group is a spin-off of another group Lopez headed called Hermandad Mexicana Nacional. It was rocked by so many tax problems, scandals, and lawsuits that Lopez simply ditched it and incorporated a new organization.

Lopez became a leading member of both the Crusade-of-the-Month and Victim-of-the Month Clubs. Sometimes those crusades are relatively petty, though revealing of his demeanor. He rants against those using the term “illegal alien” to describe, well, illegal aliens. In typically crude fashioned he declared: “We are not niggers. We are not kikes. We are not paddies [Asians]. We are not homos.” Nice. And what you mean “we,” paleface? Lopez isn’t even an immigrant, and was christened “Larry.”

Bombast aside, no racial or ethnic group has ever advanced in our society by playing the victim card. Scots, Italians, Irish, and Asians from a multitude of countries all won acceptance and economically bounded past natives by becoming more American than Americans. Nobody climbs the ladder to the American dream by refusing to assimilate.

Further, the surest way to keep or even make somebody a victim is to repeatedly insist he is. For most of us, if somebody else is seated ahead of us at a restaurant we assume it was a mistake. But when it happens to a victim group member, it’s a sign they’ll never get an even break. Why try?

Nevertheless, Lopez wants to keep Hispanics trapped in Spanish-speaking ghettoes. And that proved his downfall. He fought doggedly against the "English for the Children" initiative, which would turn California’s Spanish instruction program disguised as “bilingual education” into one that mandates English instruction unless parents request a waiver for Spanish instruction.

Like good parents everywhere, Hispanics want their children to succeed. English for the Children passed (and Lopez flunked) by a 61%-31% vote. Still, Lopez stubbornly resisted. Using his influential school board position he personally campaigned to convince parents to keep their children in Spanish-taught classes. Yet as one newspaper put it, “bilingual education evaporated in mostly Hispanic districts.”

All Lopez got for his trouble was being recalled from the school board, with 71% of Santa Ana voters saying “Adios!” Ever the victim, Lopez declared “This recall wasn't just about Nativo Lopez; it was to keep our people in check." Never mind that he lost every precinct including the heavily Hispanic ones.

Lopez remains hell-bent on inflicting more damage on his own people than any Ku Klucker or Skinhead ever could. But he’s now reduced to such antics as declaring a boycott (that failed miserably) when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger AGREED to support driver’s licenses for illegals, but only if they were specially marked. Allegedly speaking for Hispanics and not just illegals, he ranted: "We do not want to be the Jews of Nazi Germany in California.”

But native-born Hispanics don’t think marking a license is the same as shuffling people off to the gas chambers; a just-released poll shows 60% favor denying ANDY TYPE of driver’s license to illegals.

As Jackson and Sharpton (to whom Lopez has been compared) are albatrosses to their own race, so was Lopez to his ethnic group. Nothing Lopez has said or done is more ridiculous than the words and actions of these two men, which is just the point. Are you looking over your shoulder guys?

Michael Fumento (mfumento at is a former Los Angeles resident and attorney with the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. He’s currently a senior fellow at Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. and a nationally syndicated columnist with Scripps Howard News Service.
©2005 Michael Fumento

Robert Spencer: Jihad in America Continues

By Robert Spencer
August 18, 2005

As far as most Americans are concerned, the last jihad activity in the United States took place on September 11, 2001. But jihadists undeniably continue to be quite active in America. A number of incidents in the last few days indicate that they are still trying to pull off an attack on the scale of the July 7 London bombings — or worse.

• Two Southern California converts to Islam, Gregory Vernon Patterson and Levar Haney Washington, are being held on suspicion of planning terror attacks in the Los Angeles area. Patterson and Washington were allegedly hoping to commit mass murder at a military recruitment office in Santa Monica and other locations on September 11, 2005 and other dates. Investigators found literature about jihad along with weapons and military equipment in Washington’s apartment; and Washington claimed that he and Patterson belonged to a group named Jama’at al Islam (Party of Islam), a jihadist group in California’s prisons (Washington served several years in prison on an attempted robbery conviction; he was released in November 2004).

• Working from information discovered in the investigation of Washington and Patterson, Los Angeles officials arrested a Pakistani named Hammad Riaz Samana. He seems to have been involved in terror plots targeting, among other places, the Israeli Consulate and the California National Guard.

• Lodi, California imam Shabbir Ahmed agreed to accept deportation to his native Pakistan on immigration charges. However, this case was not all about immigration: Ahmed and several others in Lodi allegedly planned to establish a madrassa, or Islamic school, there that would be used, according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, “to recruit individuals to engage in jihad.” When asked if he believed that Ahmed was involved in planning a terrorist attack, agent Gary Schaaf responded: “That’s some of the information that has been provided to us.”

• A document leaked from the New York State Office of Homeland Security and published in the Times of London last Sunday revealed that “Al Qaeda leaders plan to employ various types of fuel trucks as vehicle borne improvised explosive devices (VBIED) in an effort to cause mass casualties in the US (and London), prior to 19 September. Attacks are planned specifically for New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. It is unclear whether the attacks will occur simultaneously or be spread over a period of time. The stated goal is the collapse of the US economy.”

• A map of the Washington Metro subway system was posted last Thursday on an Internet site that has been linked to Al-Qaeda. The poster noted that a chemical weapons attack in the Washington subways would bring “amazing results” and advocated attacks in the U.S. on the scale of the one executed by Muhammad Atta.

• Three men described as being of “Middle Eastern descent” were spotted videotaping facilities in Santa Monica, California. Tourists? Unlikely. Santa Monica Police Chief James T. Butts explained: “Ordinarily, when tourists videotape, they don’t videotape security structures for an extended period of time. They don’t focus on access roads, and usually, the tourists themselves are in the photographs to document they were there, and that’s not what these photographs showed.”

• Meanwhile, while agents are busy monitoring jihadist activity in the United States and trying to head off attacks, some officials were tied up for hundreds of hours investigating false claims made by a Chicago Muslim named Abdul Rauf Noormohamed. Noormohamed told agents that some of his relatives were members of Al-Qaeda, and were planning large-scale attacks in Chicago. What benefit would Noormohamed have possibly seen in tying up agents in this way? Well, as the Muslim Prophet Muhammad remarked, “War is deceit.” By sending investigators on wild goose chases, Noormohamed diverted attention and manpower from legitimate terror investigations. Last Monday he pled guilty to charges of misleading agents, and is facing five years behind bars.

And all this is just from the last week. It indicates that the threat of new Islamic terror attacks in the United States continues to be very real. As stories like these become more and more common in the nation’s newspapers, it becomes more and more difficult for the mainstream media to sustain its indifference to the ways in which jihadists (inside prisons and elsewhere) use core teachings of Islam to recruit and motivate terrorists. And until the media – and more importantly, government and law enforcement – confront this phenomenon and try to formulate effective means to meet the challenge it represents, every new week will bring more stories of this kind. At least until one of the jihad groups in the United States actually accomplishes its goal.

Robert Spencer is a scholar of Islamic history, theology, and law and the director of Jihad Watch. He is the author of five books, seven monographs, and hundreds of articles about jihad and Islamic terrorism, including Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World’s Fastest Growing Faith and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades). He is also an Adjunct Fellow with the Free Congress Foundation.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Thomas Sowell: Immigration Taboos

August 16, 2005

By Thomas Sowell

Immigration has joined the long list of subjects on which it is taboo to talk sense in plain English. At the heart of much confusion about immigration is the notion that we "need" immigrants -- legal or illegal -- to do work that Americans won't do.

What we "need" depends on what it costs and what we are willing to pay. If I were a billionaire, I might "need" my own private jet. But I can remember a time when my family didn't even "need" electricity.

Leaving prices out of the picture is probably the source of more fallacies in economics than any other single misconception. At current wages for low-level jobs and current levels of welfare, there are indeed many jobs that Americans will not take.

The fact that immigrants -- and especially illegal immigrants -- will take those jobs is the very reason the wage levels will not rise enough to attract Americans.

This is not rocket science. It is elementary supply and demand. Yet we continue to hear about the "need" for immigrants to do jobs that Americans will not do -- even though these are all jobs that Americans have done for generations before mass illegal immigration became a way of life.

There is more to this issue than economics. The same mindless substitution of rhetoric for thinking that prevails on economic issues also prevails on other aspects of immigration.

Bombings in London, Madrid and the 9/11 terrorist attacks here are all part of the high price being paid today for decades of importing human time bombs from the Arab world. That in turn has been the fruit of an unwillingness to filter out people according to the countries they come from.

That squeamishness is still with us today, as shown by all the hand-wringing about "profiling" Middle Eastern airline passengers.

No doubt most Middle Eastern airline passengers are not carrying any weapons or any bombs -- and wouldn't be, even if there were no airport security to go through. But it is also true that most of the time you will not be harmed by playing Russian roulette.

Europeans and Americans have for decades been playing Russian roulette with their loose immigration policies. The intelligentsia have told us that it would be wrong, and even racist, to set limits based on where the immigrants come from.

There are thousands of Americans who might still be alive if we had banned immigration from Saudi Arabia -- and perhaps that might be more important than the rhetoric of the intelligentsia.
In that rhetoric, all differences between peoples are magically transformed into mere "stereotypes" and "perceptions."

This blithely ignores hard data showing, for example, that people who come here from some countries are ten times more likely to go on welfare as people from some other countries.
The media and the intelligentsia love to say that most immigrants, from whatever group, are good people. But what "most" people from a given country are like is irrelevant.
If 85 percent of group A are fine people and 95 percent of group B are fine people, that means you are going to be importing three times as many undesirables when you let in people from Group A.

Citizen-of-the-world types are resistant to the idea of tightening our borders, and especially resistant to the idea of making a distinction between people from different countries. But the real problem is not their self-righteous fetishes but the fact that they have intimidated so many other people into silence.

In the current climate of political correctness it is taboo even to mention facts that go against the rosy picture of immigrants -- for example, the fact that Russia and Nigeria are always listed among the most corrupt countries on earth, and that Russian and Nigerian immigrants in the United States have already established patterns of crime well known to law enforcement but kept from the public by the mainstream media.

Self-preservation used to be called the first law of nature. But today self-preservation has been superseded by a need to preserve the prevailing rhetoric and visions. Immigration is just one of the things we can no longer discuss rationally as a result.

Copyright 2005 Creators Syndicate