Thursday, May 05, 2005

Robert Spencer- Pope Benedict XVI: Enemy of Jihad

By Robert Spencer
April 20, 2005

In choosing Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger to succeed Pope John Paul II as Pope Benedict XVI, the Catholic Church has cast a vote for the survival of Europe and the West. “Europe will be Islamic by the end of the century,” historian Bernard Lewis predicted not long ago; however, judging from the writings of the new Pope, he is not likely to be sanguine about this transition. For one thing, the new Pope seems to be aware of the grave danger Europeans face: he has called upon Europe to recover its Christian roots “if it truly wants to survive.”

For while his predecessor kissed the Qur’an and pursued a consistent line of conciliation toward the Islamic world, despite numerous provocations and attacks against Catholics in Muslim countries, the new Pope Benedict XVI, while no less charitable, has been a bit more forthcoming about the reality of how Islam challenges the Catholic Church, Christianity, and even the post-Christian West. He has spoken up for the rights of converts from Islam to Christianity, who live under a death sentence in Islamic countries and increasingly live in fear even in the West. He has even spoken approvingly of Christians proselytizing Muslims — a practice that enrages Muslims and is against the law in many Islamic countries.

The new Pope has criticized Europe’s reluctance to acknowledge its Christian roots for fear of offending Islam’s rapidly growing and increasingly influential presence in European countries — a presence which, as historian Bat Ye’or demonstrates in her book Eurabia, has been actively encouraged and facilitated by European leaders for over three decades. “What offends Islam,” said Cardinal Ratzinger, “is the lack of reference to God, the arrogance of reason, which provokes fundamentalism.” He has criticized multiculturalism, “which is so constantly and passionately encouraged and supported,” because it “sometimes amounts to an abandonment and disavowal of what is our own.”

He contrasts the modern-day resurgence of Islam with the enervation of Europe. In old Europe, he has said, “we are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as definitive and has as its highest value one’s own ego and one's own desires.” Islam, on the other hand, is anything but relativistic: “The rebirth of Islam is due in part to the new material richness acquired by Muslim countries, but mainly to the knowledge that it is able to offer a valid spiritual foundation for the life of its people, a foundation that seems to have escaped from the hands of old Europe.”

In line with his call to Europeans to recover their own spiritual heritage, the new Pope opposes Turkey’s proposed entrance into the European Union: “Turkey,” he has declared, “has always represented a different continent, always in contrast with Europe.” But his objection is not simply geographical — in fact, he opposes the geographical oversimplifications that underlie Turkey’s EU bid: “Europe,” he has explained, “was founded not on a geography, but on a common faith. We have to redefine what Europe is, and we cannot stop at positivism.” A Europe newly defined as in some sense a Christian entity may outrage secularists, but a secular and relativist Europe has so far proved powerless against the Islamization of Europe — despite the fact that that Islamization threatens cherished Western notions of the equality of rights and dignity of all people.

Europe, the new Pope has written, “appears to be at the start of its decline and fall.”

It may be too late, as Bat Ye’or believes, to arrest that decline and fall. However, the first thing a physician does when he treats a disease is identify the problem. No healing can proceed from a misdiagnosis. It is heartening to see that Pope Benedict XVI has already, in various speeches and writings before his accession to the papacy, dared to speak more clearly about the threat that Islam poses to Western civilization than his predecessor — for all his many and remarkable gifts — ever quite managed to do.

Late in 2003 the semi-official Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica departed from John Paul II’s policy toward Islam and published a scathing criticism of the mistreatment that Christians suffer in Islamic societies. It represented the first indication that any Catholic officials recognized the dimensions of the religious conflict that jihadists are waging against Christians and others around the world. La Civiltà Cattolica pointed out that “for almost a thousand years Europe was under constant threat from Islam, which twice put its survival in serious danger.” Now, through jihad terrorism and demographics Islam is threatening Europe’s survival yet again — and it looks as if now there is a Pope who has noticed. Maybe in Europe the resistance is just beginning.

Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch; author of Onward Muslim Soldiers: How Jihad Still Threatens America and the West (Regnery), and Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World’s Fastest Growing Faith (Encounter); and editor of the essay collection The Myth of Islamic Tolerance: Islamic Law and Non-Muslims (Prometheus). He is working on a new book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and the Crusades (forthcoming from Regnery).

Michael Fumento: Obesity Myths? Fat Chance

Michael Fumento (archive)
May 5, 2005 Print Send

Some Extra Heft May Be Helpful.” That New York Times headline summarizes the tasty tale the media have fed you based on a new study that says the spare tire around your waist may actually give you more mileage in life. Moreover, declared the report, annual U.S. deaths from overweight and obesity are merely 25,814, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate for deaths from "poor diet and physical inactivity" is 365,000 – 14 times higher.

But consume this fat fantasy at your own risk, for the figures published by Katherine Flegal and colleagues in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) utterly contradict decades of previous research the media ignored in their feeding frenzy.

Flegal is with the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), a branch of the CDC. Her study claims the current measurement for “overweight,” a Body Mass Index of 25-30, is actually the healthiest category. In comparison, it said, the CDC’s healthy weight category of 20-25 BMI is relatively risky. Smug commentators went wild attacking “the food police,” while the food and beverage front group Center for Consumer Freedom practically gloated itself to death with an obese $600,000 newspaper advertising blitz declaring “Americans have been force-fed a steady diet of obesity myths.”

Really? Herewith a sampling of studies from America’s top medical journals, all of which are in addition to the six the CDC relied on for its 365,000 figure.

* A 1998 New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) study of 300,000 men and women found the “minimal risk” to be a BMI of 19.0 to 21.9. “I'm sorry to tell you,” lead author Dr. June Stevens of the University of North Carolina told reporters, “but it’s the very lean weight that is associated with the best survival rate.”

* The next year the largest obesity study ever, comprising over a million men and women and also appearing in the NEJM, put the optimum BMI for longevity at “23.5 to 24.9 in men and 22.0 to 23.4 in women.”

* In 2003 JAMA reported “The optimal BMI is approximately 23 to 25 for whites and 23 to 30 for blacks.”

* An analysis published last December in the NEJM by Harvard’s Dr. Frank Hu and colleagues of 116,000 women evaluated over a 24-year period found “the lowest mortality was among women with a BMI of less than 23.”

These all dovetail with findings that in every species from worms to monkeys, calorie restriction increases longevity. The leanest animals also look and act younger. In the only calorie restriction analysis of people, “The results clearly suggest that humans react to such a nutritional regimen similarly to other vertebrates.” If Flegal’s findings were valid, they would stand biology on its head.

Flegal told me one aspect of her analysis that might make it superior to previous ones is that it relied on nationwide data, yet so did the 2003 JAMA study. But whatever the explanation for Flegal’s findings, should we base national health priorities and individual actions not on the rule but the exception?

There are also many disturbing considerations that Flegal’s team didn’t look at. One is that so many in the overweight and obese population are children and adolescents. How can we know the long-term effects of type 2 diabetes or permanently enlarged hearts when they afflict butterball 10-year-olds?

Nor did Flegal’s group consider non-fatal illness or health-care costs. But the Rand Corporation found a direct connection between obesity and disability, and a just-released study shows that a mere 27.5 BMI (the middle of Flegal’s “healthiest” category) can triple the need for knee surgery. Is that 1,800-calorie Ultimate Colossal Burger from Ruby Tuesday really worth titanium joints?

Further, “Expenditures for medical conditions caused by being overweight or obese accounted “for 9.1 percent of total annual U.S. medical expenditures in 1998 and may be as high as $78.5 billion ($92.6 billion in 2002 dollars)” according to the journal Health Affairs. It noted, “Medicare and Medicaid finance approximately half of these costs.”

Strange how something that’s good for you can be so costly. But believe what you will as the Grim Reaper bears down on you while you try desperately to waddle away.

Michael Fumento (mfumento at is author of The Fat of the Land: The Obesity Epidemic and How Overweight Americans Can Help Themselves, a fellow at Hudson Institute, and a nationally syndicated columnist with Scripps Howard News Service.

Robert Novak: Investigating the IRS

Robert Novak (archive)
May 5, 2005

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A Senate rider inserted in an emergency appropriations bill in the dead of the night, which would close a rare window into political foul play at the Internal Revenue Service, was quietly removed Tuesday in Senate-House negotiations. That offers full disclosure of a major scandal that has been percolating for a decade.

The rider would have de-funded the investigation begun in 1995 of then-Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros by Independent Counsel David Barrett. The amendment was sponsored by three highly influential Democrats, purportedly to stop leakage of federal money in a run-on program and end persecution of a no-longer-prominent Democratic politician. In fact, Barrett's investigation is the first independent probe, with subpoena power, of the IRS.

Passage of the amendment probably would have meant Barrett's voluminous report on the Cisneros case never would see the light of day. The document has been inspected by attorneys for prominent Democrats mentioned in it. That inspection was followed by belated efforts from Senate Democratic leaders to terminate Barrett, raising suspicions.

Democrats and their friends in the news media complain with sudden new urgency that Barrett has squandered $21 million over 10 years on a case in which Cisneros admitted in 1999 to lying to an FBI background investigation about his payments to a former mistress to keep her quiet. He was fined $10,000 and then pardoned by President Bill Clinton in 2001. Cisneros' bigger problem is an allegation of fraud in not paying taxes on funds used for the hush money.

The report, described as 400 pages long with over 2,000 footnotes, is sealed by court order. So are Barrett's lips. But enough has leaked from sources familiar with its content to suggest political dynamite. Sources indicate an IRS whistle-blower contends the tax fraud investigation was transferred from a regional office to Washington, where the IRS and the Justice Department suffocated it. That raises the question of whether Cisneros, then a rising Democratic star, was improperly protected by Clinton administration officials. Barrett's use of the subpoena, according to sources, has fleshed out the story.

The investigation has been so protracted because of delaying motions by the Williams & Connolly firm, attorneys for Bill and Hillary Clinton. These lawyers, headed by David Kendall, are described as poring over the sealed Barrett report, according to sources, because clients are named. Coincidentally or not, the case aroused sudden interest within the Senate's Democratic power structure.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, Senate Democratic Policy Committee chairman, in the middle of a long floor speech on April 5, gave notice he would try to amend the emergency money bill "to shut off the funding" for Barrett.

Dorgan was the amendment's principal sponsor. Co-sponsors were Sen. Richard Durbin, the minority whip, and Sen. John Kerry, the 2004 nominee for president. In the collegial Senate Appropriations Committee, the amendment was routinely added to the emergency bill to fund hostilities in Iraq. It passed the Senate without debate or comment late in the evening of April 21.

The first public notice of their plans was an April 22 editorial in The Wall Street Journal that elicited a letter to the newspaper from Dorgan, Durbin and Kerry that was published April 27. It asserted Barrett's "report should be made public, and we hope that it will be," even if the independent counsel is stripped of funds. This marked the first mention by the de-funders about making the report public.

Maneuvers like this de-funding are best done quietly, but that no longer was possible. On April 27, two freshman Republican senators (Tom Coburn and Jim DeMint) and two more senior colleagues (Jeff Sessions and Jim Inhofe) wrote Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran. They urged elimination of the de-funding because of "the risk that the final report on this investigation will not be released."

Although none of the four Republican letter-signers sits on Appropriations, they prevailed. In the Senate-House conference Tuesday, the House objected to the Dorgan amendment, and the Senate receded. The report may soon be public, and people who have read it say the worst suspicions about the IRS will be confirmed.

©2005 Creators Syndicate, Inc.
Contact Robert Novak Read Novak's biography

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Michael P. Tremoglie: Neo-Anti-Catholicism

By Michael P. Tremoglie
May 4, 2005

People who do not know the difference between a vanilla wafer and a Communion wafer expressed fear and loathing when it was announced that the Catholic Church’s conclave of cardinals elected Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger the new pope.

The shibboleths of international secularism abounded after Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, who chose the regnal name Pope Benedict XVI, was proclaimed as the new Bishop of Rome. The tocsins by the media were emblematic of the disdain of those who are religious by bien pensants of the world.

The similarities of the news reporting by both the American and European media were astonishing. They were absolutely apoplectic that Ratzinger was the new Holy See because he strictly adheres to Church doctrine. They were aghast that Ratzinger was the new Pope.

London’s Daily Telegraph referred to Ratzinger as "God’s Rottweiler." The BBC mentioned the fears caused by Ratzinger’s conservatism - whose fears they did not say. Indeed, one BBC commentator called him Pope John Paul II’s "enforcer." Ratzinger’s hometown media, Germany’s Deutsche-Welle TV, broadcast a program called Journal, which did a special report titled, Quo Vadis Pope Benedict. This program expressed concerns by many that Ratzinger was a conservative who "was suspicious" of Marxism - as if being suspicious of Marxism were a criterion for mental instability. A French TV news report repeatedly stated that Ratzinger was a conservative, and therefore perceived to be a threat by many around the world. Other European publications referred to Ratzinger as the "Panzer Pope."

American news media interviewed many citizens who said they were disillusioned by Ratzinger’s conservatism and his adherence to church dogma. American journalists reported incessantly that many " progressive" Catholics worldwide and particularly in America consider Pope Benedict a danger (much like they consider Republicans and President Bush) to the world because of his conservative Catholicism.

National Public Radio said Ratzinger could be considered a Catholic Church "neocon." The L.A. Times said the election of Ratzinger validated the notion that the Catholic Church was a "colonial enterprise." MSNBC repeated the "God’s Rottweiler" and "Panzer Cardinal" slurs.
The Village Voice said that Ratzinger was controversial because he opposed liberation theology, which they describe as " progressive thinking." This said much about the Village Voice. Liberation theology is merely communism clothed in Christianity.

Cartoonists also chimed in with their graphic venom. The new D.C. daily tabloid, the Washington Examiner, quickly revealed its liberal bias. It contained a cartoon with Pope Benedict singing, "Are you ready to party like it's 1299?" Italy's Corriere della Serra had a parody of Pope John Paul II’s first address during which he told the Italian people that if he made a mistake speaking Italian they will correct him. The cartoon shows Benedict saying, "And If I make a mistake, woe to you if you correct me!"

The Nazi theme was common with cartoonists. An Argentine newspaper published a cartoon with goose-stepping cardinals parading by Pope Benedict who responded with a Nazi-like salute.
The invective used against Pope Benedict is typical of the diatribes used by communist propagandists. It is formulaic. They routinely refer to people whose ideas they do not like as Nazis. They said this about President Bush and they are saying it about Pope Benedict.

One can only conclude that the character assassination of Pope Benedict by the media both here and around the world will be an integral part of the campaign to discredit him. One can predict then that the news media will report, ad nauseum, about Ratzinger’s relationship to the Nazi Party during World War II and the alleged passivity by the Catholic Church towards Nazism – or as claimed by some – the collaboration between the Church and the Nazis. A claim that has been proffered by some academicians who state that Pope Pius XII either did not object to or endorsed Hitler and Nazism.

Such " history " will be part and parcel of the campaign by liberals, communists, feminists, and others who hate the Catholic Church to discredit, once and for all, the papacy and Catholicism. The liberal mainstream media – even those who are Catholic – will be gleeful participants. They will repeat verbatim and without contradiction the vitriol about the relationship between Catholicism and Nazism as if it were established fact.
Fortunately, there are at least two sources to refute these claims. One is a book, written in 2000, by University of Mississippi Law Profesor Ronald Rychland, titled Hitler, the War, and the Pope. It can debunk many of these myths.

Rychland disproves the claims of politically correct historians like Garry Wills, who pronounced Pope Pius XII silent about Nazi atrocities - or possibly implying that he was sympathetic to the Nazis. Rychland provides irrefutable proof that Pius XII worked against Hitler. He provided information about German troop movements to the Allies. He asked Italian churches and convents to hide Jews. Thousands of Jews lived in the Vatican and at the pope’s summer home Castel Gandolfo.

These myths are also debunked by watching the contemporaneous World War II film made by Frank Capra about Nazism titled Prelude to War. This was one of a series of films made by Capra to inform the American public about the causes of WWII.
Capra’s movie shows that the Nazis thought religion and the Catholic Church as contemptible institutions – an attitude very similar to the liberal media. Capra tells how worship of Hitler and of Christ was considered incompatible.

The attempt to link Pope Benedict to the Nazi Party will be politics pure and simple. As Catholics hear these tirades they should consider the source. Those who are dispensing the venom are either ignorant of Catholicism, anti-Catholic, or believe that Catholic Church hierarchy is benighted.
The criticisms of Pope Benedict by liberals reveal their own bigotry and prejudice. Their invective is merely an attempt to censor politically incorrect beliefs. The only thing about Pope Benedict that some could consider dangerous are his ideas.

SF Chronicle: Recovery the Key for Pitchers in Long Season

Ron Kroichick, Chronicle Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 3, 2005

The popular steroid image of Herculean sluggers swatting long home runs does not fit Elvis Avendano, William Collazo or Ricardo Rodriguez. They weigh 165 pounds, 175 pounds and 185 pounds, respectively.

Avendano, Collazo and Rodriguez are among the 47 minor-leaguers suspended recently after testing positive for steroids, and they have something else in common: They're pitchers.

Twenty-one of those 47 players are pitchers, illuminating an often overlooked benefit of performance-enhancing drugs: Not only can they help increase muscle mass, they also can accelerate recovery after games and workouts.

That counts as a huge asset for pitchers and hitters alike. Rapid recovery could help athletes in virtually every sport, not only those where strength and power matter most.
The first major-leaguer suspended for testing positive for steroids, Tampa Bay's Alex Sanchez, is a 180-pound journeyman with four career home runs in nearly 1,400 at-bats. Monday's suspension of Minnesota reliever Juan Rincon, also for a positive drug test, reinforced the reality that pitchers are not immune, either.

"It's not about getting big as a pitcher, it's about recovery," said Tom House, a former major-league pitcher and coach who co-founded the National Pitching Association near San Diego. "A pitcher who recovers more efficiently over the course of the year will have more left in the tank at the end of the season. ...

"The prevailing thought is you take steroids to get big, hit the ball farther and be a gorilla. It's almost the opposite for pitchers -- they want muscles that repair quickly and recover."
House preaches against steroids to the high school pitchers he counsels at clinics and camps. He acknowledged it's sometimes tough to convince the teenagers they can become stronger, and recover faster, without using steroids.

They hear what's happening at the professional level, where suspicions have long stretched beyond muscle-bound position players. One source close to the game said players often joke about the relentless focus on home-run hitters, knowing pitchers are equally culpable. Pitchers talk of gaining strength, adding velocity and recovering more quickly while on steroids, the source said.
This would not surprise Padres general manager Kevin Towers, who often has wondered in recent years about pitchers who increase their velocity by 6-7 mph in one offseason.
"I think a lot of pitchers were trying to be quiet, lie dormant and complain about small parks and big power hitters, when they were just as involved (in using steroids)," Towers said.

Steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs are known to promote muscle repair and growth, especially when taken in high doses and combined with intense workouts and high-protein diets. Dr. Gary Wadler, a professor of medicine at New York University and longtime steroid expert, suggested pitchers could take lower doses and still gain benefits in recovery.
Those benefits could apply to their specific duties -- relievers who want to be available for 70 to 80 appearances per season, or starters who need to shed soreness between outings.

"The body is always breaking down and building up muscle tissue," said Dr. Marc Safran said, director of sports medicine at UCSF. "A lot of times the soreness after workouts comes from the muscle breakdown. Steroids slow that process and allow the buildup more than the breakdown."
Long after he retired, Nolan Ryan illustrated the significance of recovery for a pitcher. Ryan participated in a charity event a few years ago in Round Rock, Texas, a promotion in which businessmen donated as much as $10, 000 to take their swings against him.

Ryan, in his mid-50s at the time, consistently threw 89 to 91 miles per hour. One pitch registered 93 mph on the radar gun, prompting several Round Rock minor-leaguers to excitedly, half-jokingly tell Ryan he still could pitch in the majors. "Maybe if I only have to pitch once a month," he said.

His point -- recovery after a start is instrumental and becomes more difficult with age -- helps explain why steroids tempt pitchers. Anecdotal evidence confirms these drugs boost endurance, vital in a 162-game season.
Jose Canseco, in his book about steroid use in the game, detailed the benefits beyond adding bulk. Canseco, an admitted user, noted players inevitably become tired and lose strength over the course of a six-month regular season. He found aid in steroids.

"But the added strength isn't even the most important benefit for a baseball player," he wrote. "What makes even more of a difference in terms of performance is the added stamina it gives you all year-round. On the last day of the season, you feel as strong as you did on the first day of spring training."

Another first-hand example, outside baseball but still revealing, came from author/cyclist Stuart Stevens. He made himself a human experiment, taking various performance-enhancing substances (under a doctor's supervision) to see how they would help his athletic performance.

Stevens then wrote about his experience in a November 2003 story in "Outside" magazine. One passage described how his body reacted after a cycling event in central California in March '03.
"The last time I'd ridden 200 miles, I felt awful the next day, like I'd been hit by a truck," Stevens wrote. "After the Solvang race I woke up and felt hardly a touch of soreness. ... I realized I'd entered another world, the realm of instant recovery."

It's easy to see why this realm would seem inviting for athletes in all sports and of all sizes. Avendano, who pitches for Class-A Stockton (an A's affiliate), blamed his positive test on what he thought were vitamins he took in the offseason in his native Venezuela, according to A's director of player development Keith Lieppman.

The Angels declined to comment about Collazo, now on the roster at Triple- A Salt Lake City. Rodriguez, who spent last season at Class-A Rome (Ga.) in the Braves' system, admitted using steroids in "a weak moment" while playing winter ball, Atlanta director of player personnel Dayton Moore said.

Teams lean heavily on radar-gun readings to evaluate young pitchers, another logical motivation for minor-leaguers to try the drugs. Detroit Tigers pitching coach Bob Cluck, no fan of the reliance on radar guns, said so many prospects hear "they don't throw hard enough," some probably become seduced by the idea of increased velocity.
Even pitchers who say they do not use steroids still hear the stories.

"You hear they help performance and add miles (per hour) to your fastball, " said Tomas Santiago, a pitcher with Class-A Modesto. "And also for pitchers, because the season is so long and we depend on our arms, I've heard people do it to maintain performance through the season without fading at the end.''

Said A's pitcher Barry Zito: "I think for pitchers, recovery is bigger than strength. It's a pretty big thing to have a pitcher who doesn't get hurt, who's available."
That's the twist for those 21 minor-league pitchers. They might have wanted to make themselves available to pitch more frequently, but they ended up missing 15 games by testing positive.

The breakdown

Positions for the 47 minor-leaguers suspended:
Listed weights
(Three not available)

A look at the five major-league players suspended:

Team: Twins
Position: Pitcher
Age ...26
Height ...5-11
Weight ...215.

Team: Devil Rays
Position: Outfielder
Age ...28
Height ...5-10
Weight ...180.

Team: Rockies
Position: Outfielder
Age ...26
Height ...6-0
Weight ...190.

Team: Rangers
Position: Pitcher
Age ...27
Height ...6-3
Weight ...210.

Team: Mariners
Position: Outfielder
Age ...26
Height ...5-10
Weight ...180

E-mail Ron Kroichick at Chronicle staff writer Jorge L. Ortiz contributed to this report.
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©2005 San Francisco Chronicle

SF Chronicle: House's Steroid Use a 'Failed Experiment'

Ron Kroichick, Chronicle Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 3, 2005

Tom House was a modestly built left-handed relief pitcher with a below-average fastball. He also used steroids.
In a vivid illustration of the long history of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball -- and how they tempted more than hulking power hitters --
House acknowledged trying steroids for "a couple of seasons" during his playing days. He was drafted by Atlanta in 1967 and spent eight years (1971- 78) in the majors.

House, later an accomplished pitching coach with Texas and now co-founder of the National Pitching Association near San Diego, said performance- enhancing drugs were widespread in baseball in the 1960s and '70s. He and his teammates laughed and rationalized losses by saying, "We didn't get beat, we got out-milligrammed. And when you found out what they were taking, you started taking them."

House described the dynamic as similar to the majors in recent years: Players knew their competition had chemical help and felt compelled to keep pace. He said he and several teammates used amphetamines (known as "greenies"), human growth hormone and "whatever steroid" they could find.
"I pretty much popped everything cold turkey," House said in a phone interview. "We were doing steroids they wouldn't give to horses. That was the '60s, when nobody knew. The good thing is, we know now. There's a lot more research and understanding. ...

"I'd like to say we were smart, but we didn't know what was going on. We were at the tail end of a generation that wasn't afraid to ingest anything. As research showed up, guys stopped."
House was listed at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, and he ballooned to 215 or 220 while on steroids. He blamed the increased weight for putting additional wear and tear on his knees; he had five surgeries on his right knee and two on his left.
House estimated that six or seven pitchers on every staff were "fiddling" with steroids or growth hormone. He said the drugs and devoted conditioning improved his recovery, but his velocity didn't budge.

"I tried everything known to man to improve my fastball and it still didn't go faster than 82 miles per hour," House said. "I was a failed experiment."
House, now 58, might be best known for catching Hank Aaron's 715th home run on April 8, 1974, in the Braves' bullpen at old Fulton County Stadium. He later pitched for Boston and Seattle, finishing his career at 29-23 with a 3. 79 ERA.
He stopped using steroids, he said, because he went to school every offseason and learned about their potentially damaging long-term effects. House became nervous about shortening his life, not his career.

Now he passes along these lessons to the young pitchers he tutors.
"As an instructor, I'm about as anti-steroid as you can be, not through research but through first-hand knowledge," House said. "I try to aim people toward research and make it clear it's an unacceptable choice. It's OK to ask questions, but it's not OK to experiment."
He worries about high school kids with little or no understanding of the risks involved. His concern is especially acute because he lives and works near San Diego, only a short drive from the accessible pharmacies of Tijuana.
"The risk-reward isn't worth it," House said. "You may get lucky in the short term, but the medium- and long-term effects are if not life threatening, then close to life threatening."

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©2005 San Francisco Chronicle

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Hilburn Reviews Springsteen's Opening Night in Detroit

April 27, 2005
Acoustic Boss
No E Street Band, no raucous crowd, plenty of personal power.

Bruce Springsteen
(Robert Gauthier / LAT)
Bruce SpringsteenWhere: Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood.When: May 2-3, 7:30 p.m.Tickets: Sold outContact: (323) 468-1770

By Robert Hilburn, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Detroit — For anyone who didn't attend Bruce Springsteen's only previous solo acoustic tour a decade ago, it must have felt strange to see the celebrated rocker walk on the Fox Theatre stage Monday without the Big Man, the Professor and the rest of the E Street Band gang.

Even though this was clearly labeled a solo tour, numerous fans in the lobby speculated on who from the band would be joining him on this opening night of the tour.

It was probably even more surprising when Springsteen stepped to the microphone at the beginning of the concert to set ground rules: Please turn off cellphones and don't clap or sing along on the tunes.

In his marathon shows over the years with the E Street Band, audience reaction has been so much a part of the celebratory event the fans seemed virtual partners in the experience.

Then again, it would have been hard for the 5,100 fans to sing along anyway because they hadn't even heard most of the songs that made up the heart of Monday's sold-out concert. They are from "Devils & Dust," the album that went on sale Tuesday.While the 2 1/2-hour concert was in the deeply personal tradition of "The Ghost of Tom Joad" solo tour, which began in 1995 at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles, it featured only three tunes from that earlier show, including "This Hard Land," a biting statement about survival and faith in the face of overpowering obstacles.

Wearing a plain black shirt and jeans, Springsteen connected most consistently and powerfully during the evening with the new tunes, especially the spiritually tinged "Jesus Was an Only Child," which he sang at the piano.

It's a message of comfort and strength to help make it through the most troubling of times:

A mother prays, "Sleep tight, my child, sleep well,
For I'll be at your side
That no shadow, no darkness, no tolling bell
Shall pierce your dreams this night."

He was equally moving with portraits of people, including immigrants from south of the border, who have become victims in their search for a better life. The lusty "Reno" is an especially gripping expression of losing a loved one. "Matamoros Banks" is a surreal tale of a drowned immigrant's reaching for a final embrace with those left behind.

These are eloquent songs that suggest a further deepening of Springsteen as a writer. His vocals, too, have taken on an added urgency and drive, as he moved from growls to falsetto-edged cries to reach into the heart of the songs' characters.

Springsteen, who campaigned for Sen. John F. Kerry in the last presidential race, only touched overtly on politics once, engaging in some Bush bashing during the intro to the sarcastic "Part Monkey, Part Man."

Some of the older numbers felt a bit out of place, but Springsteen is good at shuffling the song lineup, and things should be smoother by the time the tour reaches the Pantages next week. Except for two small video screens above the stage, special effects were minimal, offering an intimacy that kept attention on Springsteen and the songs.

By mixing solo and band tunes, Springsteen wove together the two traditions that have sometimes seemed to divide his work.

In the brilliant '70s albums "Born to Run" and "Darkness on the Edge of Town," he was the excited young man who loved Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan and wanted to be both — a joyful, charismatic performer and a stylish songwriter who could chronicle the feelings of a generation.

By the time of "The River" in 1980, however, it was clear that a second Springsteen was emerging. This was the adult who was increasingly intrigued by songwriters, such as Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams, and novelists, such as John Steinbeck, who could depict so poignantly the plight of outsiders.

Springsteen explored that new terrain in "Nebraska," a storytelling masterpiece blessed with a grim, relentless vision rarely seen in pop music. Most of the "Devils & Dust" songs have a similar folk-country flavoring and are framed sometimes with just the barest of melodies.

Backstage before the concert, Springsteen said he understands how some critics and fans see a sharp line between the music with the E Street Band and his acoustic work. Yet he doesn't share that view. "It's just two sides of what I do and what I've always done," he said. "It's not like one's my day job and the other's my night job. Some of the songs can work equally well in either style with a few changes of arrangement. Even back when I was playing in bands in Asbury Park when I was 17 or 18, I used to put down the electric guitar in one club and pick up a 12-string and go play coffeehouses."

Springsteen said the freedom he feels playing solo "eventually balances and defines and I think deepens the work I do when I'm out with the band." But he doesn't prefer it to the E Street Band. "I love being a front man," he said, smiling. "I always wanted to write songs that connected with the construction workers and the firemen and the policemen, the guys and girls on the street. The E Street Band reached that audience. "It's fun to be riding down the street and some firemen go by and they say, 'Hey, Bruce.' I enjoy that."

Later on stage, the two sides of Springsteen came together in disarming fashion during a slowed-down version of "Waitin' on a Sunny Day," one of the most infectious tunes from his "The Rising" album.

In the concerts with the E Street Band, Springsteen joyfully leads the audience in singing the chorus. As he looked out at the crowd during the encore Monday, he could surely sense the fans straining to sing along but holding back to honor his pre-show request.

After a while, he smiled and threw out his silence rule. "Come on," he said enthusiastically. The delighted audience sang and clapped heartily, followed by familiar chants of "Bruuuuce." If that moment gave the audience a taste of the more freewheeling spirit of the E Street Band shows, Springsteen returned two songs later with one of his most prized E Street anthems.

In closing with "The Promised Land," he transformed the number from a triumphant statement of hope to a stark, desperate prayer. Earlier, Springsteen spoke between numbers about the need for a "humane immigration policy" in the United States. In this context, the song's classic final lines — "Blow away the dreams that tear you apart," "blow away the dreams that break your heart" — seemed like a solemn benediction for those who have died in their pursuit of finding their own promised land in this country.

It wasn't a cheerful way to end the evening, but the point of the concert and the new album couldn't have been delivered with any more passion and impact. Since his superstar days following "Born in the U.S.A.," Springsteen has suffered at times from the inevitable backlash of such massive success. He mocked such thinking by his ambition and command Monday. This was an artist on his own, with no smoke and mirrors. It was just Springsteen and his craft, and he showed he can still dig so deep inside that he could give you chills.

Robert Hilburn, pop music critic of The Times, can be reached at

Dennis Prager: Moral Absolutes: Judeo-Christian Values, Part XI
Dennis Prager (archive)
May 3, 2005

Nothing more separates Judeo-Christian values from secular values than the question of whether morality -- what is good or evil -- is absolute or relative. In other words, is there an objective right or wrong, or is right or wrong a matter of personal opinion?

In the Judeo-Christian value system, God is the source of moral values and therefore what is moral and immoral transcends personal or societal opinion. Without God, each society or individual makes up its or his/her moral standards. But once individuals or societies become the source of right and wrong, right and wrong, good and evil, are merely adjectives describing one's preferences. This is known as moral relativism, and it is the dominant attitude toward morality in modern secular society.

Moral relativism means that murder, for example, is not objectively wrong; you may feel it's wrong, but it is no more objectively wrong than your feeling that some music is awful renders that music objectively awful. It's all a matter of personal feeling. That is why in secular society people are far more prone to regard moral judgments as merely feelings. Children are increasingly raised to ask the question, "How do you feel about it?" rather than, "Is it right or wrong?"

Only if God, the transcendent source of morality, says murder is wrong, is it wrong, and not merely one man's or one society's opinion.
Most secular individuals do not confront these consequences of moral relativism. It is too painful for most decent secular people to realize that their moral relativism, their godless morality, means that murder is not really wrong, that "I think murder is wrong," is as meaningless as "I think purple is ugly."
That is why our culture has so venerated the Ten Commandments -- it is a fixed set of God-given moral laws and principles. But that is also why opponents of America remaining a Judeo-Christian country, people who advocate moral relativism, want the Ten Commandments removed from all public buildings. The Ten Commandments represents objective, i.e., God-based morality.

All this should be quite clear, but there is one aspect of moral relativism that confuses many believers in Judeo-Christian moral absolutes. They assume that situational ethics is the same thing as moral relativism and therefore regard situational ethics as incompatible with Judeo-Christian morality. They mistakenly argue that just as allowing individuals to determine what is right and wrong negates moral absolutes, allowing situations to determine what is right and wrong also negates moral absolutes.
This is a misunderstanding of the meaning of moral absolutes. It means that if an act is good or bad, it is good or bad for everyone in the identical situation ("universal morality").

But "everyone" is hardly the same as "every situation." An act that is wrong is wrong for everyone in the same situation, but almost no act is wrong in every situation. Sexual intercourse in marriage is sacred; when violently coerced, it is rape. Truth telling is usually right, but if, during World War II, Nazis asked you where a Jewish family was hiding, telling them the truth would have been evil.

So, too, it is the situation that determines when killing is wrong. That is why the Ten Commandments says "Do not murder," not "Do not kill." Murder is immoral killing, and it is the situation that determines when killing is immoral and therefore murder. Pacifism, the belief that it is wrong to take a life in every situation, is based on the mistaken belief that absolute morality means "in every situation" rather than "for everyone in the same situation." For this reason, it has no basis in Judeo-Christian values, which holds that there is moral killing (self-defense, defending other innocents, taking the life of a murderer) and immoral killing (intentional murder of an innocent individual, wars of aggression, terrorism, etc.).

But situational ethics aside, the key element to Judeo-Christian morality remains simply this: There is good and there is evil independent of personal or societal opinion; and in order to determine what it is, one must ask, "How would God and my God-based text judge this action?" rather than, "How do I -- or my society -- feel about it?"

That different religious people will at times come up with different responses in no way negates the fact that at least they may be pursuing moral truth. In secular society, where there is no God-based morality, there is no moral truth to pursue. The consequences may be easily seen by observing that the most morally confused institution in America, the university -- where good and evil are often either denied or inverted -- is also its most secular.

©2005 Creators Syndicate, Inc.
Contact Dennis Prager Read Prager's biography

Stephen Metcalf: Why I Still Love Bruce Springsteen

Faux Americana
Posted Monday, May 2, 2005, at 2:01 PM PT

Bruce almighty?
In his early live shows, Bruce Springsteen had a habit of rattling off, while the band vamped softly in the background, some thoroughly implausible story from his youth. This he punctuated with a shy, wheezing laugh that let you know he didn't for a second buy into his own bullshit. Back then, in the early 1970s, Bruce was still a regional act, touring the dive bars and dive colleges of the Atlantic coast, playing any venue that would have him. As a matter of routine, a Springsteen show would kick off with audience members throwing gifts onto the stage. Not bras and panties, mind you, but gifts—something thoughtful, not too expensive. Bruce was one of their own, after all, a scrawny little dirtbag from the shore, a minor celebrity of what the great George Trow once called "the disappearing middle distance." By 1978, and the release of Darkness on the Edge of Town, the endearing Jersey wharf rat in Springsteen had been refined away. In its place was a majestic American simpleton with a generic heartland twang, obsessed with cars, Mary, the Man, and the bitterness between fathers and sons. Springsteen has been augmenting and refining that persona for so long now that it's hard to recall its status, not only as an invention, but an invention whose origin wasn't even Bruce Springsteen. For all the po-faced mythic resonance that now accompanies Bruce's every move, we can thank Jon Landau, the ex-Rolling Stone critic who, after catching a typically seismic Springsteen set in 1974, famously wrote, "I saw rock and roll future, and its name is Bruce Springsteen."

Well, Bruce Springsteen was Jon Landau's future. Over the next couple of years, Landau insinuated himself into Bruce's artistic life and consciousness (while remaining on the Rolling Stone masthead) until he became Springsteen's producer, manager, and full-service Svengali. Unlike the down-on-their-luck Springsteens of Freehold, N.J., Landau hailed from the well-appointed suburbs of Boston and had earned an honors degree in history from Brandeis. He filled his new protégé's head with an American Studies syllabus heavy on John Ford, Steinbeck, and Flannery O'Connor. At the same time that he intellectualized Bruce, he anti-intellectualized him. Rock music was transcendent, Landau believed, because it was primitive, not because it could be avant-garde. The White Album and Hendrix and the Velvet Underground had robbed rock of its power, which lay buried in the pre-Beatles era with Del Shannon and the Ronettes. Bruce's musical vocabulary accordingly shrank. By Darkness on the Edge of Town, gone were the West Side Story-esque jazz suites of The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle. In their place were tight, guitar-driven intro-verse-chorus-verse-bridge-chorus songs. Springsteen's image similarly transformed. On the cover of Darkness, he looks strangely like the sallower cousin of Pacino's Sonny Wortzik, the already quite sallow anti-hero of Dog Day Afternoon. The message was clear: Springsteen himself was one of the unbeautiful losers, flitting along the ghostly fringes of suburban respectability.

Thirty years later, and largely thanks to Landau, Springsteen is no longer a musician. He's a belief system. And, like any belief system worth its salt, he brooks no in-between. You're either in or you're out. This has solidified Bruce's standing with his base, for whom he remains a god of total rock authenticity. But it's killed him with everyone else. To a legion of devout nonbelievers—they're not saying Bruuuce, they're booing—Bruce is more a phenomenon akin to Dianetics or Tinkerbell than "the new Dylan," as the Columbia Records promotions machine once hyped him. And so we've reached a strange juncture. About America's last rock star, it's either Pentecostal enthusiasm or total disdain.

To walk back from this impasse, we need to see Springsteen's persona for what it really is: Jon Landau's middle-class fantasy of white, working-class authenticity. Does it derogate Springsteen to claim that he is, in essence, a white minstrel act? Not at all. Only by peeling back all the layers of awful heartland authenticity and rediscovering the old Jersey bullshitter underneath can we begin to grasp the actual charms of the man and his music. A glimpse of this old bullshitter was recently on display when Springsteen inducted U2 into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame on March 14. Springsteen had recently caught the new iPod commercial featuring the Irish rockers. "Now personally, I live an insanely expensive lifestyle that my wife barely tolerates," the old BSer confided to the audience of industry heavyweights, adding, Now, I burn money, and that calls for huge amounts of cash flow. But, I also have a ludicrous image of myself that keeps me from truly cashing in. You can see my problem. Woe is me. So the next morning, I call up Jon Landau … and I say, "Did you see that iPod thing?" and he says, "Yes." And he says, "And I hear they didn't take any money." And I said, "They didn't take any money?" and he says, "No." I said, "Smart, wily Irish guys. Anybody—anybody—can do an ad and take the money. But to do the ad and not take the money … that's smart. That's wily." I say, "Jon, I want you to call up Bill Gates or whoever is behind this thing and float this: a red, white and blue iPod signed by Bruce 'The Boss' Springsteen. Now remember, no matter how much money he offers, don't take it!"

Every now and again, the majestic simpleton breaks character, and winks; and about as often, he works his way back to subtlety and a human scale and cuts a pretty great song or album. From the post-Landau period, the harrowing masterpiece Nebraska is the only record you can push on the nonbelievers, followed by the grossly underrated Tunnel of Love. The Oscar-winning "Streets of Philadelphia," an account of a man with AIDS slowly fading into his own living ghost, is the equal of any song he's written. In 1995 Springsteen produced The Ghost of Tom Joad, the culmination of a 15-year obsession with Woody Guthrie, whose biography he had been handed the night after Reagan defeated Carter, in 1980. The album is stronger than its popular reception might lead one to believe. "Across the Border" and "Galveston Bay" are lovely and understated and bring home the fact that Springsteen—a man who wrote monster hits for acts as diverse as Manfred Mann, the Pointer Sisters, and Patti Smith—remains a skilled melodist. Nonetheless, the record is a little distant in its sympathies, as if Springsteen had thumbed through back issues of The Utne Reader before sitting down to compose.

His new album, Devils & Dust, is a sequel to The Ghost of Tom Joad. It's mostly acoustic and intimate in scale; but Springsteen appears to have taken criticism of Tom Joad to heart, and Devils & Dust is warmer, and in patches, fully up-tempo. It's hard to describe how good the good songs are. The title song is classic Springsteen—"a dirty wind's blowing," and a young soldier may "kill the things he loves" to survive. And on "Black Cowboys," Springsteen unites a visionary concision of detail with long lines in a way that channels William Blake:
Come the fall the rain flooded these homes, here in Ezekiel's valley of dry bones, it fell hard and dark to the ground. It fell without a sound. Lynette took up with a man whose business was the boulevard, whose smile was fixed in a face that was never off guard.

Though initially signed as a folkie, Springsteen has never been much of a technician on the acoustic guitar, compared to, say, the infinitely nimble Richard Thompson. But on Devils & Dust there's a new comfort with the instrument; and he decorates many of the songs with a lovely, understated filigree. Ah, but how hard the lapses in taste! The strings and vocal choruses used to punch up the sound are—what other word is there?—corny. Next to, say, Iron and Wine, Devils & Dust too often sounds like a chain store selling faux Americana bric-a-brac. One always suspects with Springsteen that, in addition to a blonde Telecaster and "the Big Man," a focus group lies close at hand. The album is suspiciously tuned in to two recent trends, the exploding population of the Arizona and New Mexico exurbs; and the growing religiosity of the country as a whole. Devils & Dust is very South by Southwest—Mary is now Maria, there's a lot of mesquite and scrub pine, and one song even comes with a handy key to its regional terminology (Mustaneros: Mustangers; Pradera: Prairie; Riata: Rope). It's also crammed with Biblical imagery, from a modern re-telling of the story of Leah to Christ's final solacing of his mother. The first is a silly throwaway; the second is a fetching, Dylan-inspired hymn that ends with the teasing rumination, "Well Jesus kissed his mother's hands/ Whispered, 'Mother, still your tears,/ For remember the soul of the universe/ Willed a world and it appeared.' "

The high watermark for Springsteen commercially, of course, was 1984, when "Born in the USA" somehow caught both the feelings of social dislocation and the euphoric jingoism of the Reagan era. Landau's mythic creation, the blue-collar, rock 'n' roll naif, has never held such broad appeal since. In recent years, Springsteen has settled into a pattern of selling a couple million albums (Born in the USA sold 15 million) to the Bruce die-hards. A clue to who these people are can be found in Springsteen's evolving persona, which is no longer as structured around his own working-class roots. On a short DV film on the CD's flip side, Springsteen says he tries to "disappear" into the voices of the migrant workers and ghetto prisoners whose stories make up Devils & Dust: "What would they do, what wouldn't they do, how would they behave in this circumstance, the rhythm of their speech, that's sort of where the music comes in." With Landau nowhere in evidence (he's thanked, but excluded from the album's formal credits), it is up to Springsteen alone to impersonate the voices of the dispossessed. The pupil has finally surpassed the master.

Nonetheless, here I am, starting to hum its tunes, growing a little devil's patch, hitting the gym, and adding a distant heartland twang to my speech. (My wife, meanwhile, curls up on the sofa in shame.) You old bullshitter, you got me again.

Stephen Metcalf is a Slate critic and lives in Brooklyn. Audio excerpts from Devils & Dust © 2005 Columbia Records. All rights reserved. Photograph of Bruce Springsteen courtesy Getty Images.

USA Today: The Wonderful World of 'Narnia'

Posted 5/2/2005 10:44 PM

The wonderful world of 'Narnia'
By Susan Wloszczyna, USA TODAY

The majestic lion doesn't pal around with wacky sidekicks.

The haughty White Witch doesn't cast a spell on a princess.

And the stately wardrobe, with a secret passageway that leads into an enchanted kingdom, doesn't break into a jaunty chorus of Be Our Guest.

When the first trailer for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe makes its U.S. premiere Saturday night during ABC's showing of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets— airing at the same time in 30-plus countries — viewers are apt to gaze in wonder. And be taken aback.

The TV audience may feel as disoriented as the tale's four young siblings — curious Lucy, disgruntled Edmund, smart Susan and sensible Peter — after they enter the wooden closet and suddenly stumble into Narnia, a frozen paradise terrorized by a power-mad sorceress. Before their eyes, the snow-globe fantasy land of the most popular book in C.S. Lewis' treasured literary collection comes to swirling life with mythic beasts, snarling wolves and white vistas punctuated by a thunderous roar.

No cutesy creatures. No anachronistic wisecracks. What rushes by is like flipping through a picture book full of rich images. Those who catch the preview of the epic adventure due out Dec. 9, either on TV or when a longer version is attached to the May 19 arrival of the Star Wars finale Revenge of the Sith, may ask themselves, "Can this be Disney?"

'Narnia' nearly ready

Yes, says Dick Cook, the studio chairman and 34-year Disney veteran, about the PG-rated co-production with Walden Media (Holes, Because of Winn-Dixie) whose cost has been estimated as high as $150 million. "This is, without question, one of the most ambitious projects we have been a part of," he says. "Our desire is to raise our level of storytelling and filmmaking."

The same Disney that wouldn't foot the bill for its Miramax label to do three films based on J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy (New Line Cinema did it, instead) is hoping to launch a seven-part franchise culled from the vivid writings of one of Tolkien's colleagues. As a result, Wardrobe is a lavish spectacle that aims to reach heights of sophistication and scope that haven't been seen in non-animated Disney family films since Mary Poppins floated onto the big screen in 1964.

"This is mature family entertainment," says Narnia producer Mark Johnson, who has overseen such films as The Alamo and The Notebook. He and director Andrew Adamson, responsible for much of the wit and heart found in the Shrek computer-animated comedies, insisted that the digitally rendered animals would push the limits of photo-realism. As Johnson says, "It would be a big mistake if the creatures appear to be cuddly stuffed animals on a little girl's bed."
Just as The Little Mermaid rescued Disney animation from going off the deep end in 1989, Narnia aspires to restore the studio's legacy as the leading maker of all-ages, live-action escapism. And in the nick of time. With its house-brand animation in decline and its partnership with Pixar (The Incredibles) in disrepair, Disney's family entertainment crown has lost its luster.
Meanwhile, DreamWorks (Shrek 1 and 2, Shark Tale) and 20th Century Fox (Ice Age, Robots) have happily taken up the 'toon slack. And studios such as Warner Bros. (the Harry Potter series, The Polar Express), Paramount (Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events) and Universal (How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Cat in the Hat) continue to push the dark-and-edgy envelope of family fun.
"Disney used to be the only game in town," says Paul Dergarabedian of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. "They were the gold standard of family films, but the rest of the world has gotten more competitive. A big prestige picture could boost the entire studio."

Narnia, which has sold 85 million copies in 29 languages since Wardrobe was published in 1950, carries a built-in core audience that crosses generations, much like The Lord of the Rings. But fervid fans tend to be sticklers. One sign of Disney's commitment: the casting of such semi-famous but skillful actors as Tilda Swinton as the Witch. The Scottish actress known for her androgynous looks and offbeat screen roles (Constantine, The Deep End) is about as far as you can get from the music-hall warmth of Julie Andrews.
"I've never made a children's film," says Swinton, 44, about personifying the most famous wicked witch in literature since The Wizard of Oz. "I've never made a film my children can see. I'm not even sure if they're going to see this one. I don't want them backing away from me for the rest of my life."

Disney has been tight-lipped about specific Narnia details, save for the controlled release of general information that appears on the film's primary independent online site,
Instead, early press has been content to focus on what is being painted as a huge marketing test for the studio. That's because Narnia is no mere bedtime fable.
Lewis invested his adventures with more than such whimsical beings as Mr. Tumnus, a gentle faun forced to do the Witch's bidding, and Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, talking animals that aid the children in their quest.
The tales also are infused with Christian allegory, and the heroic Aslan is meant as a Christ figure, a redeemer who resurrects in triumph. The challenge: to attract the spiritual-minded moviegoer without turning off the secular crowd.

Disney, along with other studios, has often courted the so-called faith community when the appropriate movie comes along, including such religious-themed comedies as Sister Act or uplifting sports dramas like The Rookie. But since the advent of box-office sensation The Passion of the Christ, such wooing has become a science. For that reason, Disney and Walden have hired Motive Marketing, the company that oversaw The Passion's outreach program, to assist them.
"It is natural that the press will manufacture more importance about the religious significance than is our intent," says Dennis Rice, the studio's vice president of publicity. "We are not going to reach out to one group over the expense of another, but embrace and acknowledge the fans of a very important piece of literature."

Yes, the filmmakers hosted representatives of more than 30 faith-based and educational groups at a preview held at Disney's Burbank, Calif., headquarters earlier this year. But, Rice says, "we're also at Comic-Con in July," referring to the annual San Diego fantasy, sci-fi and comic-book convention.
Mixing commerce and religion could be risky. But David Koenig, author of Mouse Under Glass: Secrets of Disney Animation and Theme Parks,suggests otherwise. "Left Behind would have been risky," he says, referring to the evangelical sci-fi book series. "Narnia isn't risky. It's the safest way for Disney to reconnect with a large section of its core audience that it has alienated over the last decade." That includes religious boycotts over gay-friendly policies at theme parks, as well as the often-controversial content of Miramax films.

Faithfulness to the source will likely be of higher importance than faith itself. That is where Adamson comes in. Much as director and fellow New Zealander Peter Jackson used his own love of Tolkien as a guide to bring the Rings trilogy to the screen, Adamson, 38, is relying on the good-vs.-evil battle that unfolded in his imagination as he read the books as an 8-year-old.
"You ultimately can only make something that appeals to your own sensibilities," says Auckland-born Adamson, whose parents were both associate missionaries in Papua New Guinea. "I am not making religion an issue one way or another. It's a story about family. People should take from it what they want to take from it."
Douglas Gresham, Lewis' stepson who controls the estate and is a co-producer on the film, has wanted to make a movie of Narnia for decades. Lack of the technological tools relegated adaptations to TV versions up until now.

Still, Lewis himself had a love-hate relationship with Hollywood, says Terry Lindvall, who will teach a Christian theology and film course at the College of William & Mary this fall and is author of Surprised by Laughter: The Comic World of C.S. Lewis. "He believed there was death in the camera. Meaning, when you translate word to image, the imagination dies."
But if anyone could do justice to Lewis' words, Lindvall believes the man who injected such hilarity into a sour green ogre is the chosen one. "Adamson is the perfect director for this. Lewis was never as somber as Tolkien. He was playful."
Besides, Lewis believed in translating faith into the vernacular. And, as Lindvall puts it, "The vernacular of our age is movies."

Monday, May 02, 2005

Arizona Republic: Springsteen Concert Review

Springsteen captivates Glendale crowd with acoustic show
Larry Rodgers
The Arizona Republic
May. 1, 2005 12:00 AM

Pics from Springsteen's performance

When Bruce Springsteen announced that he would perform for more than 5,000 people at Glendale Arena in the third concert of his solo acoustic tour, it raised the question: Could even a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer keep the attention of such a large crowd for a quiet show running more than two hours?

Springsteen quelled any doubts Saturday night with a brisk, masterful performance that kept the well-mannered audience mesmerized with the best storytelling songs in rock music today.
After asking for "as much quiet as I can get" at the start of the concert, Springsteen let his catalog of American tales, including a generous sampling from his strong new "Devils & Dust" album, do most of the talking in the arena for the next few hours.

With the concession stands closed during the entire performance, most members of the baby boomer-heavy crowd remained in their seats for the duration, basking in the glow of a singer-songwriter who seems to only get more talented as the decades pass.

Deftly accompanying himself on guitar, harmonica and piano, Springsteen, 55, showed that he made the right choice in seeking no backing from anyone except for a one-song visit by Scottsdale guitarist Nils Lofgren - a member of the on-hiatus E Street Band - during an encore version of "This Hard Land."

Springsteen chose to be fairly economical with his comments between songs, although he did call for "a humane immigration policy" before playing the new "Matamoros Banks," lambaste the "dinosaur" mentality of the Bush administration (before "Part Man, Part Monkey") and talk about drifting away from the Catholic church (as a prelude to the new "Jesus Was An Only Son" ), among other ramblings. He ad-libbed a "That's right" after one audience member yelled "(Expletive) the president" at one point.

His decision to keep the songs flowing left little chance for anyone to scream for "Born To Run" or "Born in the U.S.A.," but this crowd was more than willing to let Springsteen call the shots. (In fact, he played no songs from either of the huge albums named after those two hits.

Taking the stage dressed all in black, Springsteen refused to play it safe, launching into a harmonica-and-vocals take on "Reason To Believe," one of only two songs from his first solo album, 1982's "Nebraska." Stomping his boot on the stage for percussion, he sang gritty, distorted vocals through a microphone designed for his harmonica - hardly a polished start.
But he followed that tune with a flawless, engaging take on "Devils & Dust," a song written from the perspective of a confused solider hunkered down in Iraq. He breathed heavily as he delivered lines like the opening "I got my finger on the trigger / But I don't know who to trust," adding to the resignation and drama of the studio version. Extended harmonica work also fleshed out the live version.

He continued to fill the arena with plenty of sound with booming 12-string guitar on "Youngstown," from his second solo album, 1995's "The Ghost of Tom Joad." His vocals were spine-tingling, especially when he repeated the final line from the narrator, who has lost his steel-mill job: "When I die I don't want no part of heaven {ellipsis} I pray the devil comes and takes me / To stand in the fiery furnaces of hell." "Youngstown" and the bittersweet "My Best Was Never Good Enough" were the night's only selections from "Tom Joad."

"The Rising" album, Springsteen's poignant 2002 response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America, got a generous nod on Saturday, starting with a 12 string-and-harmonica treatment of "Lonesome Day," which made up for the absence of the E Street Band's rocking guitar work on the original.

That album's title track, delivered with a light silhouetting the singer from behind, was well-received. But even with some crowd participation, Springsteen's attempt to transform the good-timing "Waitin' On a Sunny Day" came off half-empty, one of the evening's few missteps.
Other standouts from his latest CD included a crisp take on "Leah," which he described as inspired by how we balance "the seeds of our creativity and the seeds of our own destruction," and the upbeat "Maria's Bed," in which he playfully moved around the stage and shouted "C'mon, boys!" as he does when onstage with the E Streeters.
He nailed the cinematic "The Hitter," commenting that "I like to write songs about people whose souls are at risk," and made a strong case for making "Long Time Comin' " the second single from "Devils & Dust."

Springsteen moved behind the piano for a handful of songs, including a show-stopping version of "Racing in the Street," from 1978's "Darkness on the Edge of Town." Although the sound system, which was crystal-clear for most of the night, was cranked a bit too high for the song, Springsteen showed off improved piano skills and still-passionate vocals.

He later drew laughs as he sat at the keyboard and introduced a very rare performance of 1992's "Book of Dreams" by calling it "a song about wedding days" and adding, "I say 'days' plural, unfortunately." That referred to the fact that his current marriage to E Street singer Patti Scialfa followed a failed first try at matrimony. He also cracked up as he told the crowd that his late father once told him, "Bruce, love songs are a government plot. Their sole purpose is to get you married so you'll pay your taxes."

Springsteen made a valiant attempt at giving 1978's "Promised Land," an E Street concert favorite, a slower, more emotional feel. He tapped his acoustic guitar, pounded the strings with the palm of his hand and did some extended yodeling, but this remains a song best performed with electric guitars and Max Weinberg's drums.

He also added some yodeling to the end of a dead-on version of the new "Reno," which stirred a few murmurs with its graphic description of a lonely man's encounter with a hooker. ("If there's any kiddies out there, it might be a good time to go check out some of that fine merchandise" in the lobby, he said before the song, which mixes poetic images of better times in Mexico in with the adult language.

Springsteen and the Glendale audience both deserve congratulations for being up to the challenge of delivering and appreciating an evening of music that was rare in the increasingly formulaic and corporate world of rock and roll.

Reach Rodgers at or (602) 444-8043.

George Weigel: The Spiritual Malaise That Haunts Europe

May 1, 2005
Continent faces a grim future if it turns its back on its religious roots.
By George Weigel
The Los Angeles Times

America's "Europe problem" and Europe's "America problem" have been debated for years. The debate is usually framed in terms of policy differences: over prosecuting the war on terrorism; over the United Nations' role in world affairs; over the Kyoto Protocol on the global environment; over Iraq. The differences are real. But attempts to understand them in political, strategic and/or economic terms alone will ultimately fail because such explanations don't reflect the human texture of contemporary Europe.

Europe, and especially Western Europe, is suffering from a crisis of civilizational morale. The most dramatic manifestations are not Europe's fondness for governmental bureaucracy or its devotion to fiscally shaky healthcare schemes and pension plans, its lagging productivity or the appeasement mentality that some leaders display toward Islamist terrorism. No, the most dramatic manifestation is the brute fact that Europe is depopulating itself.

Europe's below-replacement-level birthrates have created situations that would have been unimaginable when the European Common Market was being created in the 1950s. As recent demographic studies show, by the middle of the 21st century, 60% of Italians will have no personal experience of a brother, a sister, an aunt, an uncle or a cousin; Germany will lose the equivalent of the population of the former East Germany; and Spain's population will decline by almost one-quarter.Europe is depopulating itself in numbers greater than at any time since the Black Death of the 14th century. When an entire continent, healthier, wealthier and more secure than ever before, fails to create the human future in the most elemental sense — by creating the next generation — something serious is afoot.Some analysts have tried to explain this extraordinary phenomenon economically (the cost of children), others sociologically (changing social attitudes), still others ideologically (the rise of feminism). Each explanation contains an important grain of truth. But I am convinced that Europe's demographic meltdown is best analyzed in the realm of the human spirit, and that it is directly related to European high culture's abandonment of biblical religion.

Getting at the roots of this crisis of civilizational morale means thinking about "history" differently. Europeans and Americans usually think of history as the product of politics (the struggle for power) or economics (the production of wealth). Both lines of thinking take a partial truth and try, unsuccessfully, to turn it into a comprehensive truth. Understanding Europe's current situation requires us to look at history through cultural lenses.

Europe began the 20th century confidently expecting unprecedented scientific, cultural and political achievements. Yet within 50 years, Europe produced two world wars, three totalitarian systems, a Cold War that threatened global destruction, mountains of corpses, the gulag and Auschwitz. What happened? And why? Political and economic analyses don't offer satisfactory answers. Cultural — which is to say spiritual — answers might do a better job.

When the European Union was debating its new constitutional treaty in 2003 and 2004, why were so many European intellectuals and political leaders determined to prevent any acknowledgment of Christianity as one of the roots of contemporary Europe's commitment to human rights and democracy? Because, over the last 150 years or so, the makers of European culture and politics have convinced themselves that, to be modern and free, Europe must jettison its Judeo-Christian heritage: that part of its culture formed by faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus.

A free European public square, Europeans have convinced themselves, must be radically secular. That is why the 70,000-word European constitution awaiting ratification could not find room within it for one word — "Christianity" — in describing the sources of European civilization. That is why the French government — the embodiment of secularism in public life — was attacked for flying the flag at half-staff in honor of John Paul II. That is why Europeans can only debate grave issues in biotechnology in utilitarian terms; "will it work?" completely trumps "is it right?"
European high culture's conviction that to be adult, mature and free is to be radically secular has led to a vast and withering spiritual boredom — a drastic shrinkage in personal and social aspiration.

That spiritual boredom, I suggest, is why Europeans seem content to leave all hard political decisions to courts and bureaucracies, as they seem content to leave most questions of international security to the U.N. That spiritual boredom is why Europe is depopulating itself. Europe, bored, asks only to be left alone with its pleasures.

But the cost of spiritual boredom is very high. Demographic vacuums don't stay vacuums; they get filled — in Europe's case, by Islamic immigrants, some of whom become radicalized in the process. Europe's effort to create a tolerant, civil, democratic civilization by cutting itself off from one of that civilization's sources — Jewish and Christian convictions about the dignity of the person — is likely to fail. If Europe rejects what Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday called its "unrenounceable Christian roots," the results are likely to be grim for those committed to decency, human rights and democracy.

George Weigel is the author of "The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics Without God" (Basic Books 2005) and "Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II" (HarperCollins, 2005).