THE DEATH OF PISCATORIAL PARADISE
First the Justice Department ruled that three Canadian films, two of them dealing with acid rain, were "political propaganda" and that the distributors therefore had to identify themselves as foreign agents. That resulted in an outcry in the press, the introduction of legislation in Congress to repeal the law under which Justice acted and a legal challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union. Next the Interior Department demanded that the National Wildlife Federation turn over its copy of a film the department had commissioned in 1979, during the Carter presidency, touching on the controversy over whether waterfowl hunters should use steel shot or lead shot. Interior officials said they were trying to block the film's showing because it was "incomplete" and "a disservice to the hunter," but the federation said it would not give its copy up on the grounds that the government had no right to suppress a film made with taxpayers' money.
Those well-publicized controversies have engendered heated debate over such matters as free speech and censorship. But what do the films themselves show? SI Writer-Reporter Brooks Clark, who has viewed all three of the environmental films, reports:
Acid From Heaven (31 minutes). "My lake is dead and so is my business," says 70-year-old Pete Carpenter of his north woods resort, Piscatorial Paradise. Good old Pete heads down to "the university" to find out what killed his business and learns that the culprit is acid rain. By the end of this determinedly homespun but informative Canadian-made docudrama, Pete has become an expert on the subject and assures his town council that it's possible to get rid of acid rain. "The technology is there. The politicians and the people in industry say it's going to cost too much, but that's not true," he says.
Acid Rain: Requiem or Recovery (27 minutes). The second of the Canadian films calls acid rain "one of the miscalculations we made when we learned to burn." An aerial shot of the Statue of Liberty, which has been severely corroded by acid rain, accompanies the narrator's lament that the word "bronzed" no longer connotes permanence—a strange observation since the Statue of Liberty has a copper surface. A young girl is shown riding a slalom ski as the narrator says, "Water...cool and refreshing. Many scientists say life began there. It is ironic that the source of life is a source of death." This one is more somber in tone than Acid From Heaven, but no more so than the subject warrants.
Field Testing Steel Shot (28 minutes). Noting almost in passing that millions of waterfowl die each year after ingesting lead shot in the course of normal feeding and that steel shot is an environmentally safer alternative, this documentary examines some of the problems associated with using the latter. Current Interior higher-ups, notably Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife G. Ray Arnett, object that shooting with steel is too difficult for most waterfowl hunters, and that's apparently why the attempt was made to block the film. But the documentary, while admittedly unpolished, is about as evenhanded as it can be and freely concedes that "learning to shoot steel shot well is no easy task." The film's pitch, innocuously enough, is that hunters should simply allow time to practice with steel shot.
FROM LAGOS TO OLYMPUS?
The heroics of Akeem Abdul Olajuwon in the NCAA basketball tournament have been a source of considerable national pride in his native Nigeria. A daily newspaper in Lagos, The Punch, carried a front-page story on Olajuwon's role in leading Houston to the NCAA finals under the headline NIGERIAN IS WORLD'S NUMBER ONE, a bit of button-popping that wasn't really all that excessive.
Until very recently basketball was viewed by Nigerians as strictly a woman's game. Introduced to the country by British colonial authorities, it was played on open, bitumen-surfaced courts with no backboards, only metal rings. U.S. Peace Corps volunteers introduced the American-style game in the early 1960s, but it still doesn't rival soccer or boxing in popularity. Today there are fewer than 3,000 "active players" among Nigeria's 90 million inhabitants.
Although Nigerian sports officials conceded that, as one of them put it, "a tree doesn't make a forest," they hope that Olajuwon's success will stimulate interest in the sport. They also hope that he'll resist the NBA's blandishments long enough to play for Nigeria in the 1984 Olympics. "We shall give Akeem all the help he requires to lead a Nigerian team to Los Angeles," a spokesman for the Ministry of Sports said last week. Indeed, just playing in L.A. would be quite an achievement, because up to now Nigeria has never so much as qualified a basketball team for the Olympics.