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An article on religious circumcision

Is Ritual Circumcision Religious Expression?

Americans pride themselves on their commitment to freedom of religion, but how much religious freedom is too much religious freedom? At the moment, the thorniest dispute over the issue concerns a male-circumcision ritual practiced by some Hasidic Jews in New York. The ritual is called oral suction, or metzitzah b'peh. After removing the foreskin, the mohel, who conducts the circumcision, cleans the wound by sucking blood from it. According to city health officials, the ritual may have caused three infants circumcised by the same mohel in 2003 and 2004 to contract neonatal herpes (one of the infants subsequently died). New York's city health commissioner recently issued a warning about the dangers of oral suction, leading some Orthodox Jewish leaders to complain that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg had reneged on promises to let religious authorities handle the issue. Meanwhile, secularists like the writer Christopher Hitchens have attacked the mayor for banning smoking in restaurants while failing to protect helpless children from diseases transmitted by "religious fanatics."

Among other things, the rabbis fear that restrictions on metzitzah b'peh might lead to bans on male circumcision itself. And these fears aren't entirely unfounded. In 1999, a British family court blocked a religious circumcision of a 5-year-old boy on the grounds that it wasn't in the best interest of the child. The rabbis fear that once courts feel emboldened to make their own judgments about whether circumcisions are medically beneficial or harmful, the United States could go the way of the British court.

There are, after all, individuals and advocacy groups in America who oppose male circumcision on principle and could use the courts to their advantage. In 1997, a North Dakota mother whose son had been circumcised over her objection with his father's consent argued in federal court that North Dakota's ban on female genital mutilation — which some Muslims believe is compelled by the Koran — was unconstitutional. Because the state protected girls but not boys from a harmful and medically unnecessary procedure, the mother argued, it failed to treat boys and girls equally. Either both forms of circumcision had to be banned or both had to be allowed. Although the suit was dismissed, it points toward an aggressively secularist system, as in France, where inflexible visions of equality are used to curtail traditional religious practices.

America, with its longstanding tradition of accommodating minority religious practices, has chosen an alternative model, more consistent with the demands of a multicultural democracy. The harms of female circumcision are more obvious than those posed by the oral suction procedure in male circumcision, which no state has yet regulated. (There are 2,000 to 4,000 of these circumcisions performed each year in New York City, and no more than seven recorded cases of herpes.) U.S. judges and politicians should defer to religious authorities in the cases where reasonable people can disagree about the health risks.

Ultimately, the American compromise depends on a delicate series of judgments about when, precisely, private religious expression imposes harms on unconsenting and innocent third parties. Courts have held that Jehovah's Witnesses may not deprive their children of blood transfusions. But should the city of Newark be able to prohibit all police officers — including practicing Muslims — from wearing beards in order to foster a uniform appearance on the job? In a 1999 ruling, Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. sided with the Muslim officers. Since Newark allowed police officers not to shave for medical reasons (typically if they had a skin condition), Alito said that it was discriminatory not to make an exception for those whose religion required them to wear beards. Alito stressed, however, that states can refuse to accommodate religious minorities in the interest of promoting public health, as long as they treat religious and secular citizens equally.

This Solomonic ruling makes sense, as far as it goes, but it doesn't tell us how deferential Alito will be to religious practices in other cases. The most prominent American conservative scholar of religious liberty, Judge Michael McConnell, agrees that noncoercive religious expressions, like yarmulkes worn by Jewish soldiers, should be accommodated. But he emphasizes that public prayer in schools, which coerces nonbelievers to pray, should be banned. By contrast, Justice Antonin Scalia, who generally opposes religious accommodations, supports prayer in schools because he says that the state needn't be neutral between religion and secularism. Let's hope that Justice Alito, whatever his views on Orthodox circumcision rituals, doesn't go that far. The beards of Muslim police officers should indeed be protected, but not as a cautious first step toward the goal of creating an openly religious state.

A fascinating article on Governor's Island and development thereof.

Sleeping Beauty

GOVERNORS ISLAND, 172 acres of American history lying just off the southern tip of Manhattan, is terra incognita to most New Yorkers. Commuters, glimpsing it from the Staten Island Ferry, see only an array of abandoned modern buildings and two unpromising landmarks: a white ventilation tower belonging to the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, and Castle Williams, a grim 19th-century fortification, dark red and pierced by black windows.

The island had belonged to the Army since the 1800's. The Coast Guard took over in 1965 but left in 1997, and it's been moldering ever since. Only within the past few months, after years of neglect and delay, has this stark backdrop to a cross-harbor commute emerged as a major concern for the city.

Deputy Mayor Daniel L. Doctoroff has labeled redevelopment of the island a top priority for Mayor Bloomberg's second term. "Everyone recognizes that to achieve the island's potential," Mr. Doctoroff said, "we have to spend wisely now."

Later this month the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation, known as Gipec, the state and city entity responsible for oversight of the island, will choose consultants to help it supervise planning for the island. And on Feb. 15, Gipec will solicit formal proposals from interested developers.

Some financing is finally on the horizon. On Jan. 12, Gov. George Pataki announced that his 2006-07 budget request would include $30 million, and the mayor has asked for $30 million more in his current budget to pay for urgent repairs to the island's most frail structures. These improvements, Mayor Bloomberg indicated in his Jan. 26 State of the City speech, will pave the way for a grand design, soon to materialize. "We will select a specific plan for the future of Governors Island," he said, "that makes the most of its spectacular location, beauty and history."

Of course, the money earmarked for the island so far constitutes only an installment on an estimated $400 million repair bill. But an infusion of energy at Gipec has begun to draw serious attention from the private developers on whom much of the island's future will depend; both the agency and its supporters, keenly aware that projects will have to be practical, nonetheless want them to be worthy of the island's distinctive charisma.

"It's a very special place, a place of beauty, a place of history," Mr. Doctoroff said. "The island in the center of the world."

The experience of disembarking at the stone quayside after the seven-minute ferry ride from the Battery Maritime Building on South Street routinely elicits superlatives. Norman Twain, a producer of "Spinning Into Butter," a forthcoming movie starring Sarah Jessica Parker for which scenes were shot on the island, recalled one particularly evocative misty day. "I remember leaving our offices and walking outside in the rain, with a spectacular view of the skyline in the distance," Mr. Twain said. "It was heaven."

That indeed describes the 92 northern acres facing Manhattan. But Governors Island is, in fact, a place of two sharply distinct landscapes, and the southern one is far from heavenly: 80 acres of landfill, moved there between 1901 and 1912 from excavation for the city's first subway. It's griddle-flat and pocked with ramshackle 20th-century military buildings, almost certain candidates for razing and redevelopment.

The so-called North Island is a bucolic contrast: its lawns, woods, rolling hills — occupied by the Lenape Indians for hundreds of years before the Dutch arrived in 1624 — seem steeped in the past. While no visible traces of early settlement survive, the North Island is home to a dignified ensemble of 19th-century brick and stone warehouse buildings that climb gently toward a green hillside.

Just beyond them lies Fort Jay, surrounded by a dry moat and dating from 1794. Even Confederate soldiers, imprisoned there during the Civil War, sometimes succumbed to its allure. William Drummond, who spent several months confined to the fort in 1862, described it in his diary as "a very fine place" that "commands a view of all the Cities about New York and a full view of the Harbour."

Nearby, an enclave of old yellow clapboard and brick houses surrounds Nolan Park, a New England-like village common. Beyond is the neo-Georgian Liggett Hall, designed by McKim, Mead & White; its tower, the island's tallest structure, crowns an immense archway that frames a vista toward the tip of the island. Until the opening of the Pentagon in 1943, Liggett Hall, built in 1929 to house an entire Army regiment, was the largest structure ever undertaken by the American military.

But once the Army and the Coast Guard left, the place fell asleep, as if under an enchantment: lawns and Victorian houses, the red-brick Works Progress Administration-era movie theater with its gaping box office, the old officers' club with two deserted ballrooms overlooking the channel atop a bastion built for the War of 1812. A broad, empty promenade lined in places by a parade of London plane trees surrounds the island, opening a panorama of sea and air from the Narrows to the Statue of Liberty and the towers of Manhattan in the background.

Perhaps no other place in the city offers a single view of so much of New York Harbor, from the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge up the Hudson and East Rivers as they diverge northward from the Battery.

Stunning an asset though the island is, New York was slow to take advantage of it. The federal government deeded it to the state and city in 2003, but collaboration lagged between the public and private agencies charged with raising money to renew the island and make it accessible to the public. Only now, more than three years later, does the process seem definitively under way. And none too soon, according to those familiar with the island, because some of the most significant buildings are in danger.

"The cost of restoring them will be astronomical if they're allowed to deteriorate too much," said Andrew S. Dolkart, a professor of historic preservation at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation.

Mr. Doctoroff is equally emphatic. "Every day that goes by, the infrastructure on the island and the historic buildings deteriorate," he said. "The longer it takes to have a plan, the more it's going to cost us."

The Planning Challenges

Most urgent — and likeliest to get immediate attention — are problems like the island's disintegrating sea wall. In addition, $46 million will be used to make emergency repairs on buildings on the North Island. Hazardous materials like asbestos will have to be removed, at an estimated cost of $8 million.

Access to the island will need to be improved before any major construction can take place: transporting large numbers of visitors, like the thousands who might come to hear a concert, poses a major challenge, which will have to be addressed soon. Gipec plans to build a second landing on Buttermilk Channel to allow a new ferry service from Red Hook, Brooklyn. Another recent proposal calls for something more elaborate: a cable car system to link the island with Brooklyn and Manhattan.

In addition, sewage and water systems, which both date from the 19th century, will have to be upgraded; when Mr. Twain, the movie producer, took his walk in the rain, the path led to a bathroom plastered with warnings against drinking the water.

If the current timetable holds, the worst deterioration will be halted within the next few years. Old buildings will be adapted to new uses, and new construction will begin by 2008, at which point Governors Island will begin its transformation into an amenity its advocates hope will resemble nothing else in any other metropolis.

Though a few truly Promethean schemes — like dividing the island in two by digging a channel — have been suggested, many of the 101 preliminary ideas submitted to Gipec during the spring and summer of 2005 were modest: bed-and-breakfasts, restaurants, retail stores housed in existing buildings.

Others were larger in scale, like a 5,000-seat amphitheater, and the 20 acres earmarked for education, for which suggestions include a new home for the New York Harbor School, a public high school with a maritime emphasis, or a campus for advanced research, perhaps specializing in nano- or biotechnology.

These ideas will have to take into account certain restrictions imposed by the deed that transferred the island to the city from the federal government.

The oldest buildings must be preserved and adapted to contemporary use. Casinos, private cars and permanent housing are forbidden. The 2.2.-mile esplanade must be kept intact; 40 acres must be preserved for parks; and 22 acres, stretching from Fort Jay to Castle Williams, will remain under the control of the National Park Service.

But ultimately, whatever finally rises on the island will be the result of a complex dance between public entities like Gipec and private money, a dance made more delicate by the juxtaposition between the palimpsest of history on the North Island and the blank canvas to the south.

Governors Island, 2010

Ideally, the Governors Island of the future might blaze a middle path between two battling urban creeds — the hunger for size, boldness and spectacle of the Robert Moses era, and the desire, powerfully articulated in the 1960's by the urbanist Jane Jacobs, for quiet, intimate spaces hospitable to the improvisation and serendipity of city life. Governors Island could be an urban extravaganza, or it could be a contemplative 19th-century village floating in the harbor, preserved for family strolls and quiet conversation.

Some planners might hope for development on the epoch-making scale of great New York projects built (like Central Park or Battery Park City) or unbuilt (like Westway). But for Kent Barwick, president of the Municipal Art Society, the true grandeur of the island lies in the harbor surrounding it: the incomparable natural gift that spurred the city's meteoric 19th-century growth, then vanished from its awareness as industrial development walled it off from its people and their neighborhoods.

Mr. Barwick sees Governors Island as a focal point for New York's return to its harbor. Ellis and Liberty Islands, along with the waterside promenades and gardens begun or proposed for the Hudson and East Rivers, promise a system that could, linked by water transport, release the city's pent-up urban energy into a romance with the channels, bays, rivers and sea it has turned its back on for much of the last 150 years.

"Add all these places up," Mr. Barwick said, "and you get the equivalent of a number of Central Parks."

Robert J. Pirani, executive director of the Governors Island Alliance, a group of organizations monitoring development plans, sees the island's imminent resurrection as a step beyond even successful water's-edge projects like South Street Seaport, the promenade in Battery Park City or the refurbished piers between Morton and 14th Streets in the West Village.

"They gave the city a new edge," Mr. Pirani said. "But Governors Island is a whole new place."

On the High Line park to-be-built.

Blasts From the Past

IF you walk out the back door of the Chelsea Market, housed in the old Nabisco Building, and onto Tenth Avenue, you will be standing in the shadow of history. Any sunlight will be eclipsed by the rusted relic of an improbable railroad track that spans the street 30 feet overhead. While the scent of fresh-baked Oreo cookies and the screech of train brakes have vanished, the massive elevated rail tracks known as the High Line still snake north to the deserted 30th Street Rail Yards and south to Gansevoort Street.

But change is coming around the bend. Though the elevated structure will remain, by the end of this month the 1.5-mile High Line will conclude its 72 years as a busy and then an idle track and begin its transformation to a public park. By 2008, New Yorkers could be meandering above the meatpacking district amid the grasslands, wild petunias and hazelnut trees.

The battle to transform the High Line into a park has been waged for years. But hidden in the shadows of that struggle is the rail line's long and colorful history, a tale that is as compelling as the fight for its new life.

The defunct, weed-ridden High Line is a vestige of a century when trains were the city's lifeline. Along with ships, the trains brought in lumber and bricks for the buildings rising on every corner; meat, fruit and vegetables to feed the city's residents; and coal to provide power.

The Hudson River Line, opened in 1849, was a grand track that ran from New York City up the Hudson River to Albany, built at a cost of $45,316 per mile of track. Below 30th Street, railroad cars drawn by horses funneled goods from the West Side railyards to Spring Street, with stops that today's subway riders will recognize: 23rd Street, 14th, Christopher.

In 1867, when the horses were replaced by steam engines, both traffic and speed increased. So did the inevitable conflicts arising from a street-level railroad operating in a crowded neighborhood. This lethal mix of industry and humanity earned Tenth Avenue the nickname Death Avenue.

"The traction of freight and passenger trains by ordinary locomotives in the surface of the streets is an evil which has already been endured too long," a state senator said in 1866, "and must be speedily abated."

The speedy abatement took half a century. Finally, a deadline was set: If the tracks were not raised above the street by May 1, 1908, the city would seize them. The date came and went, with neither elevation nor condemnation.

The only concession to safety that had ever been made was the recruitment of young men to ride horses one block in front of the trains, waving a red flag by day and a red light by night. These men, a total of 12 often recruited from the countryside, rode the two-mile stretch for more than 80 years starting in 1850.

A 1934 newsletter from a local apartment house wrote effusively about the West Side Cowboys, as the group was known. "The horses used in this unusual service are tried and true, and are perfectly aware of their important mission in life," the newsletter observes, noting that the horses "move surely and serenely," allowing their riders "to amuse the passerby with amazing variation of the routine waving the lanterns."

Apparently, citizens weren't impressed enough. They organized under the name The League to End Death Avenue, but nothing was done beyond the cowboys.

Five months after the 1908 deadline had passed, 7-year-old Seth Low Hascamp, dressed in a shirt and overalls, left his home at 544 West 44th Street and headed to school at St. Ambrose, on 54th Street. The train that killed him reportedly ripped his small body apart. Seth was one of hundreds who had died since the tracks had been laid. His family, neighbors and classmates held a silent funeral procession through the streets.

Another 20 years would pass before Mayor Jimmy Walker and Gov. Al Smith stepped in with public money to elevate the tracks. By 1933, 1,000 men had eliminated 105 street-level rail crossings, and when the elevated track was christened in June 1934, The New York Times reported, "The West Side is coming into its own."

With its danger removed, the trains became something new. "It was very magical," said Ruth Olsen, a teacher at P.S./I.S. 123 in the Soundview neighborhood of the Bronx. She and her twin sister, Judith Courtney, peered down at them from the 20th-floor apartment on 20th Street and Ninth Avenue where they grew up in the 50's.

"They were so big, riding above ground, and terribly noisy," said Ms. Olsen, who still lives in Chelsea. "Those massive black trains — and they were all black back then — would screech and squeal. It would go on forever."

Ms. Courtney, who is moving back to the city after 30 years in San Francisco, can't shake the fantasy that she always saw the trains disappearing into the buildings — but never coming out.

"I think they went into an alternate universe, like Harry Potter," she said. For both sisters, the trains ranked with the smell of Nabisco cookies and the Maxwell House sign, "Good to the last drop," that blinked at them from across the Hudson River as neighborhood landmarks. "It's all gone," Ms. Courtney said. "It's terrible."

BUT even by the sisters' time, the trains were dying. The High Line had been built to last — it can support four fully loaded freight trains — but gradually it was replaced by trucks and an interstate highway system.

One part of the High Line, from Gansevoort Street to its southern terminus, was demolished in sections in 1963 and 1991. The line carried its last load in 1980: three boxcars of frozen turkeys. Then the line just sat. Passers-by ignored the forsaken mass overhead as it slowly went native. The only ones who saw possibilities there were advertisers and graffiti artists. Today, a billboard for the Jennifer Aniston movie "Rumor Has It" hovers over signs for auto repair shops and parking lots.

But seeds drifting through the Manhattan air found a home there, and irises, grape hyacinth and ailanthus trees sprouted. Neighbors helped nature. One resident slid a gangplank out his window and strung Christmas lights on a pine sapling; another planted a clump of daffodil bulbs.

As the High Line becomes something new, it will not entirely lose what it was. The jagged edge of the concrete at Gansevoort Street, for example, will be incorporated into the new entrance. In that way, the park will resemble another local landmark, the Chelsea Market. Now, a visitor there walks past fresh flowers and fresh bread, but at the back, scribbled on the wall, are some mysterious words: "One brick every block, two bricks every block. ..." They are the instructions for mixing mortar, and they testify to a time when the West Side of Manhattan was laying the foundations for an industrial future, and the smell of cookies and the screech of train wheels still filled the Chelsea air.

On the dump

The Dump Was Closed, but the Rancor Never Ends

SOMEWHERE in the wilds of Fresh Kills, within view of a Gold's Gym and a shuttered movie house that sit on service roads to the West Shore Expressway, the trash fears of Staten Island are still alive.

The fears are embodied by the Staten Island Transfer Station, a warehouse-style building soon to open on the site of the former Fresh Kills landfill. And though the building is an innocuous midnight blue, in the eyes of many islanders, its purpose is ominous and unwelcome.

When it opens this spring, the station will begin accepting and compacting waste for transport elsewhere, all on a site that was once the sprawling, reeking resting home for the city's garbage. Although local officials and residents could not prevent construction of the station, they are now demanding that it never handle trash from other boroughs.

Their fight is an indication that on Staten Island, where the Fresh Kills landfill closed five years ago, garbage remains an emotional flash point.

"Anybody who knows the mind-set of Staten Islanders knows that for 50 years, we were the victims of trash injustice," said City Councilman Michael E. McMahon, who represents the island's North Shore. Despite Mr. McMahon's friendly demeanor, his tone grows dark when talk turns to garbage. "We all grew up in the shadow of the Fresh Kills landfill," he said. "It really defines the zeitgeist of my generation here on Staten Island."

Mr. McMahon, who is chairman of the council's committee on sanitation and solid waste management, is helping lead the fight to restrict trash at the new transfer station to refuse from Staten Island only. Officially, that is the present state of affairs; the current State Department of Environmental Conservation permit for the station states that only Staten Island trash may arrive there. But the permits expire next year, and Mr. McMahon is demanding that the provision be made permanent. This development was first reported in The Staten Island Advance.

Since the dump closed in 2001, with a brief reopening after the attacks of Sept. 11, much has changed on Staten Island. The ferry system, the island's main link to the rest of the city, now has bigger, cleaner boats and sleek new terminals at both ends of the route. New houses and condominium towers are sprouting throughout the island; more cultural events being are held than ever before. The 220-acre landfill site, no longer smelly, is slated to become an enormous park, with completion in 20 to 30 years.

Yet the island's reputation as a haven for trash endures. Last year, the radio station Z100 began playing a parody song claiming that the island "reeks like garbage, G-A-R-B-A-G-E." The fear of ridicule is still present.

"Throughout my life," Mr. McMahon said, "when I traveled anywhere around the country or the world, people said, 'That's where the city's garbage goes.' It was really the manifestation of the injustice that Staten Islanders felt on a daily basis."

Given such a stigma, it is understandable that Staten Islanders are watching the new waste transfer station warily. Nevertheless, there are signs that islanders may be able to let their guard down, at least a little.

This is evident at the new Whitehall terminal for the Staten Island Ferry in Lower Manhattan, where an aide named Amy Dowd stands in the Visit Center, a booth topped by a huge illuminated sign that reads "Info ??? Info." Ms. Dowd, a North Shore native who this chilly day was bundled up in a hooded sweatshirt and a huge navy scarf, cheerfully dispenses tourist information to the uninitiated. "Our goal," she said, "is to encourage them to get off the boat on the other side."

Ms. Dowd, who began working in the booth in September, has heard nary a word about the island's garbage. Instead, people ask about things like the 1988 film "Working Girl," whose title character, played by Melanie Griffith, lived on the island.

Ms. Dowd says that when she is traveling outside New York with other Staten Islanders, they are the first ones to mention the dump to strangers, not the other way around. When that happens, she can't help cringing.

On "Grease" and small-town "culture-wars"

In Small Town, 'Grease' Ignites a Culture War

FULTON, Mo. — When Wendy DeVore, the drama teacher at Fulton High here, staged the musical "Grease," about high school students in the 1950's, she carefully changed the script to avoid causing offense in this small town.

She softened the language, substituting slang for profanity in places. Instead of smoking "weed," the teenagers duck out for a cigarette. She rated the production PG-13, advising parents it was not suitable for small children.

But a month after the performances in November, three letters arrived on the desk of Mark Enderle, Fulton's superintendent of schools. Although the letters did not say so, the three writers were members of a small group linked by e-mail, all members of the same congregation, Callaway Christian Church.

Each criticized the show, complaining that scenes of drinking, smoking and a couple kissing went too far, and glorified conduct that the community tries to discourage. One letter, from someone who had not seen the show but only heard about it, criticized "immoral behavior veiled behind the excuse of acting out a play."

Dr. Enderle watched a video of the play, ultimately agreeing that "Grease" was unsuitable for the high school, despite his having approved it beforehand, without looking at the script. Hoping to avoid similar complaints in the future, he decided to ban the scheduled spring play, "The Crucible" by Arthur Miller.

"That was me in my worst Joe McCarthy moment, to some," Dr. Enderle said.

He called "The Crucible" "a fine play," but said he dropped it to keep the school from being "mired in controversy" all spring.

To many, the term "culture war" evokes national battles over new frontiers in taste and decency, over violence in video games, or profanity in music or on television. But such battles are also fought in small corners of the country like Fulton, a conservative town of about 10,000, where it can take only a few objections about library books or high school plays to shift quietly the cultural borderlines of an entire community.

The complaints here, which were never debated in a public forum, have spread a sense of uncertainty about the shifting terrain as parents, teachers and students have struggled to understand what happened. Among teenagers who were once thrilled to have worked on the production, "Grease" became "the play they'd rather not talk about," said Teri Arms, their principal, who had also approved the play before it was presented.

"Grease" and "The Crucible" are hardly unfamiliar; they are standard fare on the high school drama circuit, the second-most-frequently-performed musical and drama on school stages, according to the Educational Theater Association, a nonprofit group. The most performed now are "Seussical" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

But challenges to longstanding literary or artistic works are not unusual, said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, deputy director of the American Library Association's office of intellectual freedom. Complaints generally are growing; in 2004, the last year for which figures are available, 547 books came under fire, an increase of nearly 20 percent over 2003, when 458 books were challenged.

"That a literary work is a classic does not protect it from being challenged, or even removed from a particular community," Ms. Caldwell-Stone said. Fulton, about 90 miles west of St. Louis, is best known as the home of Westminster College, where Winston Churchill gave his Iron Curtain speech in 1946. Presidents since Harry S. Truman have spoken in Fulton, lending the town a more cosmopolitan image.

Joseph Potter, an assistant professor of performing arts at William Woods University here, has staged dozens of shows for the community, including "Grease," and said he had never received a complaint. But politically and socially, Mr. Potter said, the town's core is conservative.

The three complaints about "Grease" reached Dr. Enderle within the same week.

Mark Miller, a 26-year-old graduate student, said he was moved to complain after getting an e-mail message about the show from Terra Guittar, a member of his church. Her description of the pajama party scene offended him, he wrote, adding that one character should have worn a more modest nightgown. Mr. Miller did not see the play.

"It makes sense that you're not going to offend anyone by being on the conservative side, especially when you're dealing with students, who don't have the same power as a principal or a theater director," he said.

A tape of the dress rehearsal showed that while most of the girls in the scene wore pajamas or a granny gown, Rizzo, the play's bad girl, wore just a pajama top. After the other girls fell asleep, Rizzo slipped her jeans on to sneak out for a date.

Ms. Guittar was so outraged by the drinking and kissing onstage that she walked out on the performance. She said she was not trying to inhibit artistic creativity. "It was strictly a moral issue," she said. "They're under 18. They're not in Hollywood."

But other parents were happy with the play. Mimi Curtis, whose son John played the lead, said the principal and drama teacher went out of their way to respect parents' wishes, changing the script in response to her own objections to profanity.

Ms. Curtis, who ran a concession stand during the play, saw all four performances.

"I didn't view it as raunchy," she said, adding that children who watch television are "hearing worse."

Dr. Enderle said he did not base his decision to cancel "The Crucible," which was first reported by The Fulton Sun, a daily, just on the three complaints and the video. He also asked 10 people he knew whether the play crossed a line. All but one, he recalled, said yes.

"To me, it's entirely a preventative maintenance issue," Dr. Enderle explained. "I can't do anything about what's already happened, but do I want to spend the spring saying, 'Yeah, we crossed the line again'?"

Nevertheless, the superintendent said he was "not 100 percent comfortable" with having canceled "The Crucible."

The absence of public debate meant that students heard of the cancellation as a fait accompli from their principal, Ms. Arms, and Ms. DeVore, the drama teacher. Others learned "The Crucible" was off limits through an internal school district newsletter. In it, Dr. Enderle said he dropped the play after seeing this summary on the Web: "17th century Salem woman accuses an ex-lover's wife of witchery in an adaptation of the Arthur Miller play."

Mr. Miller wrote "The Crucible" in the 1950's, in response to the witch hunt of his own day, when Congress held hearings to purge Hollywood of suspected Communists, pressuring witnesses to expose others to prove their innocence. The affair is not acted out in the play, which focuses on how hysteria and fear devoured Salem, despite the lack of evidence.

Dr. Enderle said Fulton High's students had largely accepted his decision and moved on. They are now rehearsing "A Midsummer Night's Dream" as their spring drama.

But in interviews here, students, who had already begun practicing for auditions of "The Crucible," expressed frustration and resignation, along with an overriding sense that there was no use fighting City Hall.

"It's over," said Emily Swenson, 15, after auditioning for "A Midsummer Night's Dream." "We can't do anything about it. We just have to obey."

Both the students and Ms. DeVore seemed unsure of why "The Crucible," which students study in 11th grade, was unacceptable.

Jarryd Lapp, a junior who was a light technician on "Grease," said he was disappointed that "The Crucible" was canceled. But he had a theory. "The show itself is graphic," he said. "People get hung; there's death in it. It's not appropriate."

Ms. DeVore believes it was canceled because it portrays the Salem witch trials, "a time in history that makes Christians look bad."

"In a Bible Belt community," she added, "it makes people nervous."

The teacher and her students are now ruling out future productions they once considered for their entertainment value alone, like "Little Shop of Horrors," a musical that features a cannibalistic plant, which they had discussed doing next fall.

Torii Davis, a junior, said that in her psychology class earlier that day, most students predicted that "Little Shop of Horrors" would never pass the test.

"Audrey works in a flower shop," Ms. Davis said. "She has a boyfriend who beats her. That could be controversial."

Ms. DeVore went down a list of the most commonly performed musicals and dramas on high school stages, and ticked off the potentially offensive aspects. " 'Bye Bye Birdie' has smoking and drinking. 'Oklahoma,' there's a scene where she's almost raped. 'Diary of Anne Frank,' would you take a 6-year-old?" the drama teacher asked.

"How am I supposed to know what's appropriate when I don't have any written guidelines, and it seems that what was appropriate yesterday isn't appropriate today?" Ms. DeVore asked. The teacher said she had been warned that because of the controversy, the school board might not renew her contract for next year.

For the moment, Dr. Enderle acknowledged, the controversy has shrunk the boundaries of what is acceptable for the community. He added that "A Midsummer Night's Dream" was "not a totally vanilla play."

But asked if the high school might put on another Shakespeare classic about young people in love, "Romeo and Juliet," he hesitated.

"Given the historical context of the play," the superintendent said, "it would be difficult to say that's something we would not perform."

"Shadow Shogun Steps Into Light, to Change Japan"

Shadow Shogun Steps Into Light, to Change Japan


AT day's end, it was perhaps one of the few things over which he held no sway, the relentless logic of aging, that made Tsuneo Watanabe, Japan's most powerful media baron, decide to step out of the shadows.

For years, most Japanese had caught only glimpses of the man, usually leaving, late at night, one of his favorite ryotei, the members-only redoubts where Mr. Watanabe dined with fellow power brokers and received supplicants. Reporters would swarm around him as he made his way toward his black sedan, peppering him with questions on the day's topic, and he would oblige them with imperious one-liners that made him the embodiment of the arrogant, ultimate insider.

But Mr. Watanabe, now nearly 80 years old, has stepped into the light. He has recently granted long, soul-baring interviews in which he has questioned the rising nationalism he has cultivated so assiduously in the pages of his newspaper, the conservative Yomiuri — the world's largest, with a circulation of 14 million. Now, he talks about the need to acknowledge Japan's violent wartime history and reflects on his wife's illness and his own, as well as the joys of playing with his new hamsters.

Struck by his own sense of mortality, Mr. Watanabe seems ruffled that his power may be waning. He has railed against Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who he says just doesn't listen to him anymore. "Before, early on, he used to listen to me sometimes," Mr. Watanabe told a television interviewer.

During a two-hour interview at his office, where, in addition to the paper, he presides over Japan's most popular baseball team, the Yomiuri Giants, and the rest of the Yomiuri Media Group's empire, he puffed on one of the three pipes on the coffee table before him. He was a man in a hurry, in a hurry to change Japan, no less, by forcing it to confront, understand and judge its wartime conduct — and set it on the correct path as his testament to the nation. "I'll be 80 years old this year," he said. "I have very little time left."

His first move was to publish an editorial last June criticizing Mr. Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, the Shinto memorial where 14 Class A war criminals, including the wartime prime minister, Hideki Tojo, are deified. It was an about-face for The Yomiuri, which had tended to react viscerally against foreign criticism of the Yasukuni visits.

Indeed, the paper was a main force in pushing for the more muscular nationalism now emerging in Japan. Shortly after becoming editor in chief in 1991, Mr. Watanabe set up a committee to revise the American-imposed pacifist Constitution. If MacArthur's Constitution emasculated Japan by forbidding it to have a real military, Mr. Watanabe's Constitution, published in 1994, restored its manhood. Now, it seems only a matter of time until Japan completes the process that Mr. Watanabe started years ago. Still, he seems troubled by some aspects of the nationalist movement he helped engender. The editorial, which reflected his worries about Japan's relations with its Asian neighbors, sent shock waves through the political world. It called for the building of a secular alternative to the shrine and said Mr. Koizumi did not understand history.

Mr. Koizumi worships at a shrine that glorifies militarism, said Mr. Watanabe, who equates Tojo with Hitler. He added, "This person Koizumi doesn't know history or philosophy, doesn't study, doesn't have any culture. That's why he says stupid things, like, 'What's wrong about worshiping at Yasukuni?' Or, 'China and Korea are the only countries that criticize Yasukuni.' This stems from his ignorance." Like many of postwar Japan's leaders with wartime experience, Mr. Watanabe is suspicious of the emotional appeals to nationalism used increasingly by those who never saw war. In his high school in Tokyo, he said, military officials visited regularly to instill militarism in the young. "I once instigated my classmates to boycott the class and shut ourselves in a classroom," he recalled. "We were punished later."

When he entered the army as a second-class private, the war was in its last stages. The military began dispatching kamikaze pilots, whom the Japanese right wing now glorifies as willing martyrs for the emperor. "It's all a lie that they left filled with braveness and joy, crying, 'Long live the emperor!' " he said, angrily. "They were sheep at a slaughterhouse. Everybody was looking down and tottering. Some were unable to stand up and were carried and pushed into the plane by maintenance soldiers."

AFTER graduating from the University of Tokyo after the war, Mr. Watanabe joined The Yomiuri newspaper in 1950 and made his mark as a political reporter. Political reporters in Japan tend to succeed by becoming close to a particular politician. According to a 2000 biography by Akira Uozumi, Mr. Watanabe ingratiated himself so much with one Liberal Democratic heavyweight, Banboku Ohno, he became the gatekeeper at his house. Politicians seeking favors from Mr. Ohno would ask Mr. Watanabe to put in a good word. One young politician helped by Mr. Watanabe was Yasuhiro Nakasone, the future prime minister. They remain close.

Such was Mr. Watanabe's power that by the 1980's, he helped broker major political deals. In those ryotei, nationally known politicians prostrated themselves before the shadow shogun. It was only after Mr. Watanabe became the head of the media group's baseball team in 1996, that the Japanese became aware of his existence. He became a George Steinbrenner-like figure of a team even more dominant than the New York Yankees. "I'm not an ogre or a snake," Mr. Watanabe said with a smile, protesting that his one-liners were frequently twisted.

NOWADAYS, he is expansive, even on his own frailty, including his fight against prostate cancer eight years ago. Talking about his wife of 50 years and the brain hemorrhage that led to her senility, he turns reflective. "We rarely went to the play or other places together," he said. "I'd come home late at night and then leave home early in the morning. She dozes all day now. She's lost much of her personality. I remembered that one time I slapped her on the cheek. I want to make it up to her, but there's nothing that I can do. Sometimes she smiles happily. That makes me the happiest."

The couple moved to a new home, where he misses the wild birds that used to fly into their old garden. So Mr. Watanabe began keeping hamsters. He is hardly ready for retirement, though. Convinced that Japan will never become a mature country unless it examines its wartime conduct on its own, Mr. Watanabe ordered a yearlong series of articles on the events of six decades ago. In August, the newspaper will pronounce its verdict.

The series and Mr. Watanabe's attacks on Mr. Koizumi are said to have shaken Japanese politics, as Mr. Koizumi prepares to retire in September. Even though he won a landslide election a few months ago, attacks against his legacy are rising. Political analysts see the hand of Mr. Watanabe. The series, he said, has started changing the opinions of some politicians. But he is far more ambitious. "I think I can change all of Japan," he said.
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