- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Olympic hope

“When academics and cultural critics speak of ‘the Greeks,’ they don’t mean Melina Mercouri, Costa-Gavras or anyone living in Greece over the last 2,000-plus years. …

“A Cyclops could see that there’s something wrong here.

“No wonder living Greeks … look forward to the Olympics this month as a moment for overdue laurels. … They’d like us to pay more attention to Greek buildings with functioning roofs and walls … to Greek writers and thinkers with more than one name (an elusive if not Eleusinian mystery to contemporary non-Greek critics), and Greek plays whose actors don’t know a toga from a tunic.

“Publishers might have eased this problem. Just as Olympic host governments normally arrange for a kind of Cultural Olympiad to parallel the Summer Games (and Athens brims this summer with art exhibits, conferences, and the like), publishers fond of seasonal hooks often use the Games for spinoff tomes. This year, however, they’ve simply reinforced the perception problem: that there’s no Greek culture to write home about since the classical period.”

Carlin Romano, writing on “Revising the Grecian Formula,” in the Friday issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education

Limits of liberation

“From the start of the war on terrorism, America’s mission in fighting radical Islamic fundamentalism has been described not only in terms of protecting the homeland but also of bringing freedom to the oppressed — particularly to women. But have women in the Islamic world truly benefited from the U.S. intervention? Can we — and should we — export women’s liberation? …

“We are confronting societies in which male supremacy is deeply ingrained. In Afghanistan, voter registration teams are trying to register women to vote while accommodating the tribal customs that forbid them to leave their homes. So a housebound teenage mother of three, married at 12, will be able to vote in a free election: what a victory for women’s rights. What do you do when it’s not a dictatorship but custom that keeps women imprisoned, and when honor killings are condoned even by the victim’s female relatives? …

“Let us, by all means, try to help women; but let’s be realistic about our possibilities.”

Cathy Young, writing on “Freedom for Afghan, Iraqi Women?” Aug. 9 in the Boston Globe

‘Elderly’ gymnasts

“Heartbroken! That’s how I felt when the finalists for the U.S. women’s gymnastics team were announced. … The big news was that two grown women earned spots on the squad: Annia Hatch, 26 … and Mohini Bhardwaj, 25. …

“I’m a former would-be gymnast who retired at 15, due to an ankle injury and looming ‘middle age.’ … Most profiles of female gymnasts emphasize the enormous sacrifices required to become an Olympian. The smashed toes! The ripped palms! The long hours! The eating disorders! But that’s not the entire truth: They’re young girls, but they’re not lobotomized automatons. …

“Having a pair of 20-somethings on the team does illuminate how hilariously condescending the coverage of these athletes … can be. One New York Times piece about the girls who made the final cut made two references to tears and used the words ‘hangdog,’ ‘sad,’ ‘breathless,’ and ‘heartbreak.’ The women, though, have shown nothing but style and gravitas since the team was announced.”

Meghan O’Rourke, writing on “The 2004 Olympics,” Thursday in Slate at www.slate.com

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