January 2003 Archives

These are the least diplomatic statements I have ever seen associated with this man who is so extraordinarily popular around the world. Maybe we really are in deep deep trouble.

Nelson Mandela, no friend of current White House policy, yesterday in Johannesburg attacked the Bush administration more forcefully than he had ever done in the past. Maybe the fearless former South African president can shame so many others who could make a difference but have been timid or silent in the face of American power gone insane. Can we and the world still be saved from the sleazy junta in Washington?

"What I am condemning is that one power, with a president who has no foresight and who cannot think properly, is now wanting to plunge the world into a holocaust.

"Why does the US behave so arrogantly? Their friend Israel has got weapons of mass destruction. But because it's their ally they won't ask the UN to get rid of them."

A man who should know racism when he sees it, Mandela asks whether the American president and the British prime minister (to whom he refers, with contempt, as "the foreign minister of the United States") are behaving as racists in their relationship with the UN.
He said: "Both Bush and Tony Blair are undermining an idea (the UN) sponsored by their predecessors.

"Is this because the Secretary General (Kofi Annan, from Ghana) is now a black man? They never did that when Secretary Generals were white...

"Are they saying this is a lesson that you should follow. Or are they saying we are special, what we do should not be done by anyone?"

Like many of those who oppose this war and see it as part of a much larger record of violence, Mandela addresses the world's historical experience with the nation which threatens another conflagration. The article in London's Mirror continues:
The world statesman went on to launch a withering attack on America's human rights record.

Referring to the US wartime atom bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagaski, he said: "Because they decided to kill innocent people in Japan, who are they now to pretend they're the policeman of the world?

"lf there is a country which has committed unspeakable atrocities, it is the US...they don't care for human beings."

He went on to appeal to the American people to vote Mr Bush out of office and protest at his policies.

John Pilger is writing from and for readers in the U.K., so his title suggests a much more parochial statement than what you will actually find in its text. The first part of the essay is an extraordinary attack on the American and British governments; the second lines up the argument in horible detail. The combined effect is devastating, just about the last word on the subject of this mad war and the system which is planning it. Don't read it before dinner.

To call Blair a mere "poodle" is to allow him distance from the killing of innocent Iraqi men, women and children for which he will share responsibility.

He is the embodiment of the most dangerous appeasement humanity has known since the 1930s. The current American elite is the Third Reich of our times, although this distinction ought not to let us forget that they have merely accelerated more than half a century of unrelenting American state terrorism: from the atomic bombs dropped cynically on Japan as a signal of their new power to the dozens of countries invaded, directly or by proxy, to destroy democracy wherever it collided with American "interests", such as a voracious appetite for the world's resources, like oil.

[If the Common Dreams link doesn't show the picture, try the Mirror site.]

But it's about art, not economics, except that the works are priced very economically. In fact nothing costs more than $99. These are serious artists are serious, even when they are being very funny. We know a number of them in several of their generous capacities. The full and very timely name of the show is Recession 2003 $99 Show and it's Curated by Tim Thyzel at the very special Cynthia Broan Gallery, 423 W. 14th St., February 1 to March 10, or as long as supplies last. The gallery is open tuesday through saturday from 12 to 6. Cash and carry, yet "buyers will be asked that unique items remain on display for the first week so that viewers have an opportunity to see the show in its entirety" [from the Gallery site]

"I know a lot of group shows may look like thrift shop tag sales but this actually is one."
-Douglas Kelly, of "The Douglas Kelly Show" fame

New York can't do it, and probably no other American city could either. New Delhi, a city with a dense population of some 14 million, has completed the first five miles (ultimately to extend over 62 miles) of a new, modern subway system, on budget and on time. The NYTimes says it's a rarity in Indian public works projects, but we all know its a rarity, if not unique, for any public works projects in this the firstest of the first world nations.

In a feat of engineering, construction workers are building almost seven miles of underground tunnels and nearly 32 miles of above-ground track without closing major roads. Down the center of busy avenues, precast 50-ton blocks of reinforced concrete are being fashioned into an overheard track. Cranes lift sections at night when there is little traffic. During the day, tens of thousands of cars speed underneath as workers secure the track.
Riders are ecstatic. I'm ecstatic.
The trains arrive with a whisper, speak with a computerized voice and at times are driven by women. Passengers board quickly and quietly at stations that are clean and airy, with graceful 30-foot arched ceilings and computerized entryways.

In a city of 14 million people that otherwise tends toward controlled anarchy, it is a pride-inspiring marvel.

New Delhi's new $2 billion subway system, barely more than a month old, is altering Indians' view of themselves and their capital.

For Shashi Brabha and Sohan Sing, two beaming college students taking a ride purely for the pleasure of it, it represents all that India can be. "It was good," a grinning Ms. Brabha said after her first ride. "It was modern."

No, it's not a political post this time, but the name of a show. We're finally going to get a chance to see our friend David Driver and a gaggle of other brilliants in "People Are Wrong!" at Joe's Pub this saturday!

People Are Wrong! is a manic and joyful celebration of melody and musical fable. Based on a true story, this original cautionary tale of a charismatic cult leader masquerading as a landscape artist in a rural upstate town is told entirely in song.

Starring the brilliant downtown chanteur David Driver (Rent, Fire at Keaton's Bar & Grill), John Flansburgh (They Might Be Giants), Maggie Moore (Hedwig & The Angry Inch) and Chris Anderson (Muckafurguson), People are Wrong! Introduces the songwriting talents of Julia Greenberg and Robin Goldwasser to the musical stage.

"It had its way with me and left me wanting more"
-John Cameron Mitchell, creator of Hedwig

"A cult above the others... Zingy!"
-James Rado, lyricist of Hair

For more details and titilations, see their website.

Joe's Pub at the Public Theater
425 Lafayette Street (at Astor Place)
Two shows: 7:00 pm and 9:30 pm

Did I hear that I had no interest in sports? It turns out the stories have been exagerated. Find one that pushes the right buttons and I'm there!

I resisted the impulse to type, "ice yachts" in the caption line, because of the class implications of the word, but in fact, like many sports associated with monied classes, ice boating has always attracted, and offered full and just about equal roles to, people of every social status. Just be enthusastic and good, and the rich will pay the way (unless you're a woman, of course, but this is finally changing).

My father's interest in ice boating and my own childhood memories of his exploits in Wisconsin may have something to do with the attraction of these wind machines, but who could be indifferent to the sight, even the idea, of these beautiful wooden wraiths skimming across wintry landscapes at up to a hundred miles per hour* on the power of wind alone, soundless but for the whish of their huge blades across the ice? And I haven't even mentioned the stimulus of the clear cold air and the perfect excuse to embrace it. On top of it all, this past weekend the boats were lovingly-maintained or restored beauties up to 120 years old! Ok, they are yachts.

The two teams had agreed to race only the old-fashioned wooden boats known as gaff rigs, some of them a century old. From a distance, the rigs resemble 19th-century schooners, with dark spruce masts and tall parchment-colored sails.

Up close, they are more like gigantic wooden crossbows, with a long main beam and a transverse spar running across it for stability.

After a running start and a leap into the cockpit, the boats accelerate at panic-inducing speed. They can go up to six times the speed of the wind — any ice boater can explain the physics to you. And at just 30 miles per hour, the cold cuts exposed skin like a knife and the runners clatter like skipped stones on water.


* "The current ice speed record was set in 1943 at 145 mph (230 km/h) by John D. Buckstaff. It is thought that the record was set in 70 mph (112.7 km/h) winds in Wisconsin USA." [Statistics are quoted from this UK site, where photographs and other tidbits can be found.]

From Dingercity by Charles Goldman.

It's exciting, I can move it around as I please, and it's very beautiful. When I first saw it as part of Charles' wonderful installation last summer, I could not help thinking of the missing Towers, and even now I see these little pieces of wood as both more human and more grand than anything which once occupied, or even now is imagined might occupy, their site.

First thoughts about the fact that Bush spoke about AIDS in his performance tonight: I just cannot get too excited about the words, first, because right now they are only words, and second, because we are now twenty-three years into the age of AIDS, and any enthusiasm over this product of the political calculations of our current executive's handlers must be weighed against the tragedy of the real opportunities squandered by presidents and others all over the world decades ago to minimize or even eliminate the unspeakable death figures we look at today. The record is clear that they were informed, that they knew, that they did virtually nothing.

The text, excerpted from the State of the Union Address:

As our nation moves troops and builds alliances to make our world safer, we must also remember our calling as a blessed country is to make this world better.


Today, on the continent of Africa, nearly 30 million people have the AIDS virus including three million children under the age 15. There are whole countries in Africa where more than one-third of the adult population carries the infection. More than four million require immediate drug treatment. Yet across that continent only 50,000 AIDS victims — only 50,000 — are receiving the medicine they need. Because the AIDS diagnosis is considered a death sentence, many do not seek treatment. Almost all who do are turned away.

A doctor in rural South Africa describes his frustration. He says, "We have no medicines. Many hospitals tell people, `You've got AIDS. We can't help you. Go home and die.' "

In an age of miraculous medicines, no person should have to hear those words. AIDS can be prevented. Antiretroviral drugs can extend life for many years. And the cost of those drugs has dropped from $12,000 a year to under $300 a year, which places a tremendous possibility within our grasp.

Ladies and gentlemen, seldom has history offered a greater opportunity to do so much for so many. We have confronted and will continue to confront H.I.V./AIDS in our own country. And to meet a severe and urgent crisis abroad, tonight I propose the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief — a work of mercy beyond all current international efforts to help the people of Africa.

This comprehensive plan will prevent seven million new AIDS infections, treat at least two million people with life-extending drugs, and provide humane care for millions of people suffering from AIDS and for children orphaned by AIDS.

I ask the Congress to commit $15 billion over the next five years, including nearly $10 billion in new money, to turn the tide against AIDS in the most afflicted nations of Africa and the Caribbean.
This nation can lead the world in sparing innocent people from a plague of nature. And this nation is leading the world in confronting and defeating the man-made evil of international terrorism.

So reads the actual lead headline this afternoon on the Reuters site--cross my heart and hope to die if I'm lying!

How can these guys live with themselves?

Breslin says it's in the faces of the people. But, no, it's not a reflection of memories of the the Trade Center destruction. It's the consciousness of the destruction yet to come.

On the streets yesterday, when greeting each other, people did it with no expression. Certainly, the cold had much to do with that, but this is a time when people do not smile anywhere.

You study the faces on television. I would not hire the press guy for the president, Ari Fleischer, for a job in a funeral parlor because he is too somber. I single him out because he is on TV a lot at this time.


But when you study faces anywhere, you can't find a smile.

The faces tell you the time in which you're living. The government is talking about a war with Iraq as if discussing a commuter train home. When we have the war, when we get the 101st Airborne in place, when the carrier group arrives, when the war starts at the end of February. The 8:42 to Long Beach.

The government talks about a war in terms of personal insults, deliberately keeping us waiting, by Saddam Hussein, of whom we're all sick and tired.

No one so far has talked about the number of people who will be killed in Iraq. We will lose great young people. Oh, there has to be tens of thousands of Iraq civilians killed. How can they bomb and invade without killing tens of thousands? Particularly those school children whose mothers dress them for the day and send them off to be blown apart by a smart bomb that turns dumb on the way down and hits a schoolhouse.

But death will not visit Iraq alone.
Of course, people display gloom. When you're in something this lousy it tells on everybody. The soul shows.

Bush talks about this war as if he is driving us to it on a one-way street. We bomb them. We flatten them under tank treads. What happens then? Why, America wins again! The Bush people want the thrill of the invasion news without having to read the casualty lists on the following days.

Neither he, nor anybody else, mentions the obvious fact that an attack on Iraq will cause a response someday. Maybe a month, a year, five years. They will come. And the only place they will attack is New York.

That came to mind naturally yesterday during a walk along the fence of the old World Trade Center site.

No suicide bomber wants to go Waco, Texas.

Nobody tries poison gas on Denver.

They can't wait to hit New York again.

And if there is one sure thing, this Bush and his southern Republicans will simply shuck off the news of anything happening to New York.

Thanks, Jimmy.

This blog is directed to the world outside of New York. Its message is hardly necessary for those who have lived in the Gotham City for the last ten years.

An opinion piece in Newsday today, from an author who once saw the former prosecutor as a hero, and who co-authored a book describing him as such, reminds us of the truth about the the man who later became an unpopular mayor. Giuliani had a 32 percent approval rating in 1999 and throughout his second term, until the destruction of the World Trade Center, he remained unable to claim any real popularity in the city itself.

It is an exhilarating experience to publish a book critical of a pop culture icon like Giuliani, who enjoys an 80-percent approval rating nationally, is routinely called "America's Mayor," and will be the subject of a made-for-television docu-drama in March. Friends think I am committing career suicide by deflating a political diety. TV talk-show bookers say Giuliani is too popular to dispute.

But there is a case against canonization. Something bogus is going on here. One day has become a career.

Jack Newfield hardly misses a beat in his account of Giuliani's failings. Even crime reduction, for which he boasts credit, was hardly accomplished by the mayor in a vacuum. The list of Newfields's indictments includes the mayor's pervasive racist policy, education system disasters, union antagonisms, violations of major constitution rights, the undermining even of existing programs for the poor and, most damaging from the point of view of the constituency which most enthusiastically supported him, fiscal irresponsibility.

John Berger, the Anglo-French writer and critic, recently wrote this, for a site which asks writers, artists and civic leaders for their words on what Bush has called "the first war of the twenty-first century:


I write in a night of shame.

Many fear that U.S. military forces will soon be launching its “preventive” war against Iraq. Others hope that this can be avoided. Between the announced decisions and the secret calculations, everything is kept unclear, since lies prepare the way for missiles.

By shame I do not mean individual guilt. Shame, as I’m coming to understand it, is a species feeling which, in the long run, corrodes the capacity for hope and prevents us looking far ahead. We look down at our feet, thinking only of the next small step.

The shame begins with the contestation (which we all acknowledge somewhere but, out of powerlessness, dismiss) that much of the present suffering could be alleviated or avoided if certain realistic and relatively simple decisions were taken.

To understand and take in what is happening, an inter-disciplinary vision is necessary in order to connect the “fields” which conventional arguments keep separate. The precondition for thinking on a global scale is to see the unity of the unnecessary suffering taking place. Any such vision is bound to be, in the original sense of the word, political.

I write in the night, but I see not only the tyranny. If that were so, I would probably not have the courage to continue. I see people sleeping, stirring, getting up to drink water, whispering their projects or their fears, making love, praying, cooking something whilst the rest of the family is asleep, in Baghdad and Chicago. (Yes, I see too the forever invincible Kurds, 4000 of whom were gassed – with US compliance – by Saddam Hussein.) I see pastry cooks working in Teheran and the shepherds, thought of as bandits, sleeping beside their sheep in Sardinia, I see a man in the Friedrichshain quarter of Berlin sitting in his pyjamas with a bottle of beer reading Heidegger and he has the hands of a proletarian, I see a small boat of illegal immigrants off the Spanish coast near Alicante, I see a mother in Mali, her name is Aya which means Born on Friday, swaying her baby to sleep.

Democracy is a proposal (rarely realised) about decision making; it has little to do with election campaigns. Its promise is that political decisions be made after, and in the light of, consultation with the governed. This is dependent upon the governed being adequately informed about the issues in question, and upon the decision makers having the capacity and will to listen and take account of what they have heard. Democracy should not be confused with the “freedom” of binary choices, the publication of opinion polls or the crowding of people into statistics. These are its pretense.

Today the fundamental decisions, which effect the unnecessary pain increasingly suffered across the planet, have been and are taken unilaterally without any open consultation or participation.

The new tyranny, like other recent ones, depends, to a large degree, on a systematic abuse of language. Together we have to reclaim our hijacked words and reject the tyranny’s nefarious euphemisms; if we do not, we will be left with only the word shame.

This is written in the night. In war the dark is on nobody’s side, in love the dark confirms that we are together.

©John Berger 2003. His most recent book of essays is THE SHAPE OF A POCKET (Bloomsbury, London and Pantheon, New York)

Just now I made the mistake of turning on the television for the first time in months. I wanted to see if there were millions, shivering, standing in support of reason outside the United Nations Security Council, and I was properly feeling very guilty for not being there myself

I didn't really find out anything, because all I saw and heard on each network were the usual, now iconic, talking shirts (and blouses), describing a world and representing a logic totally alien to me.

The world is the one created by this White House and the media which represents it, to the exclusion of any alternative. The logic, I believe, at the moment goes something like this: Ok, we just may give Iraq a tiny bit more time, but if then the inspectors still don't find weapons of mass destruction, it will mean Hussein is hiding them. At that point the Europeans and any others who oppose a war won't have a leg to stand on, and we can go in and nuke the people responsible for September 11, making us all feel both virtuous and safe.

I don't have to comment any further right now. I'm just going to sign off and weep--for reason, logic, sanity, history, the present, for any future, but above all for the millions of people who will be caught up in this evil.


Not In Our Name has two full pages in today's NYTimes. The statement is excellent, and it properly references more than just this war. Sign it.

For a visible image of resistance to this war and the new foreign and domestic order, see the Blue Button Project.

James Wentzy's film documentary, "Fight Back, Fight AIDS – 15 Years of ACT UP," has been accepted for screening next month by the 53rd Berlin International Film Festival.

Fight Back, Fight AIDS – 15 Years of ACT UP von James Wentzy (USA)

From the Festival site [my translation from the German]:

Absent for years from the Berlinale, AIDS appears again as a topic of feature films in the Festival's Competition and Panorama theaters. Two documentary films examine socio-political issues [the second, also an American film, is Louise Hogarth's The Gift]: As gays began to die like flies in the 80's, the world looked away. ACT UP became, for the media, the voice of AIDS: And the world was shocked that this the most easy-going of minorities was able to apply itself to deal with the crisis, to ACT UP, to shout back. This film shows how the media-savy actions of this loose organization came about and how AIDS politicized the gay world and moved it to assume real responsibility: Ashes are thrown onto the lawn of the White House of an ignorant President Bush senior, corpses are laid out in front of the two-faced Clinton--and the film historian Vito Russo (who was at the Panorama theatre in 1983 with his lecture, "The Celluloid Closet") is shown delivering his last great speech.
In November I announced the screening of the film here in New York, and after seeing it, wrote:
The ACT UP documentary was beautiful, but for all the evidence of the success of the activism it records, the reminders of how little has changed in the world in fifteen years is a horrible concomitance. Bush, war in the middle east, health care, drug company profiteering, oil, greed and stupidity. There were also the images of so many activists whose lives were destroyed at the height of their beauty and their powers. I would not have missed this screening for anything, but it was a melancholy, if not terrifying, experience, and one which an intelligent and generous world could have prevented.

So. I guess if we think it was cold in January, the globe really is warming.

As of late last week, January 2003 was only the 36th coldest January on record for New York City. Averaging 29 degrees, this January has been downright balmy compared with, say, January 1918, when the average was 21.7 degrees.

Not a single low temperature has set a record. The lowest temperature so far this month was an un-record-shattering 7 degrees on Jan. 18 in Central Park. That would not be a record for any day in Januaries past.

I hate to take the narrow view, to personalize the big issues, but as someone who lives in New York, and is absolutely mad about its people and its beauty, I see this news first as the death knell for the vulnerable, very open city I love. Still with my initial reaction, no, I don't give a fuck for what happens to anyone elsewhere in the country who hasn't been screaming at the top of their lungs all along about the insane regime which has highjacked the nation.

WASHINGTON -- One year after President Bush labeled Iraq, Iran and North Korea the "axis of evil," the United States is thinking about the unthinkable: It is preparing for the possible use of nuclear weapons against Iraq.

At the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) in Omaha and inside planning cells of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, target lists are being scrutinized, options are being pondered and procedures are being tested to give nuclear armaments a role in the new U.S. doctrine of "preemption."

Louis Lapham, the editor of Harper's, has come up with the phrase, "radical nationalists," as a description of the party interests which currently control Washington, and thus the nation and already much of the world. Don't call them "conservative."

"Conservative" is hardly an accurate description of Bush, the Republicans, the corporatists and the religious fundamentalists whose agenda for change, well underway already, will clearly destroy the republic, and perhaps much more.

I don't for a moment doubt the eager commitment to the great and noble project of "regime change," but on the evidence ot the last eighteen months they've been doing their most effective work in the United States, not in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, or Iraq. Better understood as radical nationalists than as principled conservatives, they deploy the logic endorsed by the American military commanders in Vietnam (who found it necessary to destroy a village in order to save it), and they offer the American people a choice similar to the one presented by the officers of the Spanish Inquisition to independent-minded heretics--give up your liberty, and we will set you free. [online text not available]

salvation army store

The image is very sad at first, especially if you know there were actually two "Bridal Keepsake" boxes in the windows of the Salvation Army store today. I prefer to think of these boxes as images of liberation, and I wish only the very best for the brides (I do hope there were two) who once wore them.

[But first, a warning, home ain't what it used to be.]

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The State Department is sending a cable to embassies around the world telling Americans abroad to be ready to leave their resident country quickly if for any reason they have to, a U.S. official said on Friday.
Well, yes, the sky is almost certainly going to fall, but remember, they don't hate us. Like us, they hate this government and lots of the things we do. Our best bet to begin turning things around: Impeach the miscreants--now! The administration is pretty free with the word "treason,"* but the charge could and should be directed toward themselves.

*How's this?

"The President considers this nation to be at war," a White House source says," and, as such, considers any opposition to his policies to be no less than an act of treason."

Everybody out there knows I read the NYTimes, but that doesn't mean I eat it up, and I don't suggest such a narrow or uniform diet for anyone.

Today's edition included on page A6 an image of the "Turmoil In Venezuela," as the headline above the caption reads, but no news story, so it can't be found online. Yes, there is a caption--five lines they give it--but no real story, no background or explanation. Other news sources (even our own government's Voice of America News) featured the story prominently yesterday and today, but the Times must have decided it was too difficult to reconcile the story behind the image with the impression they have been giving for months that Venezuela is in the midst of a popular revolt against a mad dictator. The importance of the story, almost ignored by the Times, is suggested even in the few words of their own tiny item [my italics].

One of the hundreds of thousands of supporters of President Hugo Chávez who gathered yesterday in Caracas, Venezuela's capital. They denounced a strike by the opposition that has slashed oil production. Several blocks away, an explosion killed one person, a 45-year-old man, and wounded 14. No one claimed responsibility.

The White House tells us that it's up to Iraq to prove that it is innocent.

The Bush administration's case against Iraq can be summed up in one sentence: Iraq has not led United Nations inspectors to the weapons Washington insists Baghdad is hiding.
But why should we be surprised at such arrogance and disregard for the niceties of international law? The current administration has been treating people this way for a long time.
A federal judge in New York attacked the Bush administration recently for defying his order to allow Jose Padilla, who is accused of being part of a plot to set off a "dirty bomb," to meet with a lawyer. In case after case, the administration has taken the position that if it accuses someone of being a terrorist, he can be prevented from communicating with a lawyer.
If it serves their political purpose, anyone, even American citizens, can be held without trial or counsel or charges, and in some cases, murdered. It's up to us to prove we are innocent, except that sometimes we're offed first.
. . . November 3 of last year when Bush gave the green light for operatives to kill Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, a suspect in the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen. From 150 miles away at a base in the east African country of Djibouti, the CIA launched a remote-controlled unmanned drone to track al-Harethi, and when his car reached an open road in the Yemeni countryside, a Predator missile was fired from 10,000 feet overhead. Al-Harethi and the five other passengers in the vehicle were immediately incinerated.

One of those passengers subsequently turned out to be an American citizen.

Check out the section devoted to Secretary of the Treasury in this White House website. Why would we need a Secretary of the Treasury in these fat times, especially when, in the absence of [an appointee of an appointee], we have a brilliant President-select to fill that silly little economic portfolio thing?

Washington to world: "Drop dead!

"WASHINGTON/BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Washington shrugged off growing vocal opposition to a possible war on Iraq as big powers lined up to reject military action.

China and Russia, as well as Canada, joined France and Germany Thursday in opposing any rush to war. They said U.N. weapons inspectors should be allowed to continue efforts to disarm Iraq by peaceful means. Washington dismissed the objections, saying it would find other supporters if it decided to go to war.

"I don't think we'll have to worry about going it alone," Secretary of State Colin Powell said in Washington after talks with Britain's supportive Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

What a county! So, it appears we're fighting a war on drugs at the same time we're fighting a war on drugs. [Since we're not making any progress in either campaign however, the White House claim that we can fight two wars at the same time remains just a dangerous boast.]

WASHINGTON, Jan. 18 — A military hearing into the deaths of four Canadians in an airstrike by two American pilots in Afghanistan has focused attention on the military's long-held but little-known practice of using drugs to keep its weary forces awake and alert — or to help them sleep off the stress of combat.
But it seems that there's more to this story than the NYTimes is willing to print. We have to go to The Village Voice for perspective. Read "The Guilt-free Soldier" in this week's edition. The sub-headline, "A Pill That Wipes the Conscience Clean," is a bit sensational, since the Pentagon doesn't even have these drugs, yet, but horrendous issues await us just down the road.
Pills like those won't be available to the troops heading off for possible war with Iraq, but the prospect of a soul absolved by meds remains very real. Feelings of guilt and regret travel neural pathways in a manner that mimics the tracings of ingrained fear, so a prophylactic against one could guard against the other. Several current lines of research, some federally funded, show strong promise for this.

This report from Mother Jones is decidedly not what you hear in the North American commercial media, and in any event with its length it's decidedly more information than we have come to expect from the media, regardless of bias. Don't expect the same old same old.

Like most Venezuelans, Escobar has plenty of reason to be dissatisfied. Since Chávez won election in 1998, even many of his staunchest supporters believe he has mismanaged the economy and picked needless fights with the opposition. Under his leadership, Venezuela has fallen into severe recession: Factories are shuttered, inflation is soaring, and credit has disappeared. The government sits atop the largest reserve of oil in the hemisphere, yet upwards of 40 percent of Venezuelans still live in poverty. But despite the widespread economic misery, what upsets Escobar most is that Venezuela's rich want Chávez out of power, now. Chávez, she says, is the only leader who has ever cared for Venezuela's poor. "The rich have always had so much, and we, nothing," she explains as thousands of marchers -- mostly of mestizo or African descent -- surge past, blowing whistles, singing, waving flags. "Now Chávez wants the rich still to have, but us too, a little."
It's not just a coincidence that the White House has taken such a special interest in President Chavez, a special interest exceeded only by its special interest in President Hussein.
But there's little doubt that after Iraq, Venezuela is the oil-rich country where the White House would most welcome "regime change."
But why does it look like Venezuelans themselves want a regime change? The American press and television tells us that the people want to oust their president, but this could hardly be the whole story even there were any sense at all in such a lazy explanation.
For three decades after the last dictator fell in 1958, the country was often held up as Latin America's model democracy. There were two powerful political parties, both with a strong base of support among the upper and middle classes, both able to rally large masses of the poor via well-honed patronage systems. It was, everyone liked to say, just like the United States.

. . .

And when the big oil dollars started flowing in the early 1970s, it was a system that organized one of the longest-running fiestas of the 20th century.

After the riots of the late eighties, triggered by an attempt by the conservative government to pass on to the poor, through an austerity program, much of the bill for the consequences of a decline in oil receipts, Venezuela went through economic and political agony for nearly a decade. he period of strife included an unsuccessful coup attempt led by (then Colonel) Chavez in 1992, for which he served two years in prison. A civilian Chavez was elected president in 1998 with a record 56 percent majority, and a new constitution followed in 1999, drafted by a popularly-elected Assembly and approved by an overwhelming vote in December of that year.
What Chávez has done, through the new constitution, is to start a process of formalizing and solidifying their political power, channeling their anger through political institutions rather than the streets. "Venezuela is a time bomb that can explode at any moment," Chávez said when the constitution was approved. "It is our task, through the power of the vote, to defuse it now." Chávez threatens Venezuela's elite because he wants to turn the mob of February 1989 into what he likes to call el soberano -- "the sovereign citizen." Which is reason enough, in a country where the poor and working class form a solid majority of the voting population, for the elite to want Chávez out.

For starters, he's more interesting and more his own man and woman than any of the others--and, not incidently, he's the only one who has actually served time when he was arrested. Oh, and he's the only presidential candidate who ever showed up at City Hall for an AIDS demonstration, bless him.

Jimmy Breslin in today's Newsday:

Take some of these Democratic candidates we've had: Mike Dukakis, Dick Gephardt, Joe Lieberman, Walter Mondale, Al Gore, and put them in a room and you'd open the window and jump out.

Sharpton may be stale in New York. But he is new practically everywhere else.

When crowds find that Sharpton can be exciting, and that he produces laughter with quick observations, he will have his moments as a candidate. He can use the language with more speed and fervor than anybody around. He is a master at "out of the past we see the future" phrases. About Martin Luther King, he told the crowd yesterday, "Celebrate the past. Fight for the future."

He has credentials on real issues which should be the envy of any candidate--if they actually had any real interest in real issues.
He also knows more in five minutes about hospitals, schools, ambulance responses, prison sentences for the poor, welfare, food stamps and going into the service to fight wars than the rest of these presidential candidates have learned in their lives.

I don't know how far he goes. But at the start, he will have some of them on the verge of throwing up after appearing with him.

Wishing us all good cheer, in a sign for our time, from the South Pole.

The Icelandic artist, Hlynur Hallsson, has, in an extrordinary gracious gesture, included my name along with those of a New York artist/curator and a German curator as part of his email announcement of his current show in Reykjavik ["20 pages Catalog with text from Horst Griese, James Wagner, Paul T Werner and more. ISBN 9979-60-826-9"]. I had been impressed with a NYTimes account of Hallsson's installation in Marfa, Texas, so I posted some words inspired by admiration and respect for his art and what I could divine even then of his good humor and charm. He found my blog and thanked me for those comments. The installation had created quite a stir last summer in a sleepy, yet somehow jumpy, in our post-September-11 way, West Texas town.

I love conceptual art so much I can like it even without actually seeing, hearing or feeling whatever its it is, and sometimes it's better only reading about it, but damn, I wish I could get to that show in Reykjavik!

Bengie is the name of the leader of the Jokers, a South Brooklyn street gang of the 50's immortalized in the photographs of Bruce Davidson. In "The City" section today the NYTimes has more than a full page of Tom Vanderbilt's text, with photographs from Davidson, devoted to Davidson's career. [Click onto "Slide Show: The Picture Man" and go to the third photograph for a heart-stopping image of Bengie, but don't miss the others.]

The Lost World of a Street Gang

In his 1959 series "Brooklyn Gang," published originally in Esquire with a text by Norman Mailer, and in 1998 as a book, Mr. Davidson entered the lives of a South Brooklyn street gang called the Jokers whose usual haunt was a local candy store.

"They had had a rumble that was written up in the newspaper, and I went out and offered to take photographs of their wounds, in color," he said. He stayed on. "They had a youth board worker with them, and I had a tendency to come when I knew he wasn't going to be around." Mr. Davidson was 25 at the time, living in a one-room walkup in Greenwich Village.

"I had a kitchen/darkroom combination with a red light in my refrigerator," he said. "I had a mattress on the floor, no girlfriend, and lived like a monk."

The photographs today portray a lost world of stickball and boardwalks, of Vaseline hair and rolled sleeves, Kent Filters and Karl Droge Big Squeeze Ices, basement dances and Susie the Elephant Skin Girl at Coney Island. The atmosphere was tight and intense, filled with flinty looks and an almost accidental glamour, where tattoos were more a fierce indoctrination than a calculated lifestyle choice.

As with his other projects, Mr. Davidson needed entry, and he got it in the form of the gang leader, known as Bengie.

"He was kind of a brilliant visual guy," Mr. Davidson said. "He took me to this roof, and I remember thinking, 'This kid's going to throw me off the roof and then rob me,' but he's pointing down at the stickball game and saying, 'Get that,' and saying: 'Oh, there's the Statue of Liberty. You can see it through all these television antennas.' "

The images of that summer have an eternal quality to them, as if the gang might still be drinking beer in paper cups on the beach, but the Jokers' world was already beginning to change. Heroin was making an entrance; one gang member died from an overdose at 19.

A few years ago, Bengie got in touch with Mr. Davidson.

"I went out with him to the old neighborhood," the photographer said. The candy store where the gang used to hang out was gone. "He took me for a cafe latte." The neighborhood had changed, and so had the Jokers; Bengie is now a drug counselor, and Mr. Davidson's wife is writing a book about his life.

In the apartment, Ms. Davidson pointed to a photo of Bengie back then, glaring out from a wall, standing beneath a thermometer that says "Have a Pepsi." "You can see the frustration," she said. "He's so angry. He looked right out at Bruce, and the thermometer behind him seems to be registering his anger, rage and depression."

Across the U.S. and abroad yesterday, and in some areas continuing today, hundreds of thousands of people refused to be robots in Washington's plans for war.

Bush spent the weekend at the presidential retreat at Camp David. But White House spokesman Ari Fleischer made clear last week that the president does not see the growing protests as evidence that support is fading for his policy toward Iraq.

"Most people who support what the president is doing are not going to take to the street to say, 'Disarm Saddam Hussein,' "Fleischer said.

Maybe the NYTimes was saying something to Fleischer about the commitment of "those people who" want to bomb other people in this paragraph from its own coverage of the demonstrations:
Two hours before the start of the antiwar rally here, supporters of the war effort held a counter protest on the National Mall, southeast of the Vietnam Memorial. Fewer than 100 people — mostly from two groups, one called Move-Out and another called Free Republic — waved flags as "The Star Spangled Banner" played over a portable speaker.
During the period of the Vietnam tragedy it took ten years to build anti-war protest to this level. I'd like to believe Bush will be in very big trouble if he atacks Iraq, but then there's such a disconnect in the White House between themselves and all reality here and abroad, they just might do it anyway.

Since the nineteenth century, the Mount Morris bathhouse has survived punctured realty bubbles, white flight, home plumbing, moral crusades, wars, racism, depression, fashion, homelessness and AIDS. A beautiful article in the NYTimes today helps us to understand how.

The Mount Morris bathhouse, the only one in the city that caters to gay blacks, has been operating continuously since 1893 and survived the [early 80's bathhouse crackdown when panicked state officials banned many homosexual gathering places, but did little else] essentially for two reasons. First, it is far from the city's gay meccas, on a quiet, unassuming block of Madison Avenue at East 125th Street, across the street from the offices of the Rev. Al Sharpton. Second, it has matured through the years, remaining a place to meet new people and enjoy a steam, but with the reality of the city health code's prohibition on open sex.

"I always tell the clients, `If I can't bring my wife down here, it isn't right,' " said Walter Fitzer, who owns the place.

These particular baths offer much more than a place to "meet new people and enjoy a steam."
It may also be the only bathhouse anywhere to employ an education director. His name is Dr. Eugene A. Lawson, and he has worked as a principal at a handful of New York public and private schools.

Five nights a week, Dr. Lawson, whose degree is in education, oversees a lecture series in the back room, where speakers from advocacy groups like the Gay Men's Health Crisis and the Minority Task Force on AIDS discuss topics of particular interest to gay men. There are lectures on being gay in high school and on gay men raising families.

"A lot of our fellows are bisexual," Dr. Lawson said, "so we have lectures on that subject, too."

Six years ago, Dr. Lawson persuaded a handful of teachers, all bathhouse regulars, to start a G.E.D. program for local youths who had dropped out of school. Today, the program counts 270 students.

"It's a community thing," Dr. Lawson said proudly.

Mr. Fitzer does his own work for the community. He allows a dozen or so homeless men to pay $20 a night to sleep in the bedrooms, not much bigger than telephone booths, which once had holes drilled in their walls to facilitate anonymous gay sex.

"They have to be out in the morning and everything they have goes with them," Mr. Fitzer said. "I can't run a hotel, but it's the least that I can do."

Interesting take on the HBO series, "Oz" from a letter in tomorrow's NYTimes "Arts & Leisure" section:


I like "Oz" for many reasons, but I suspect that it touches something in me that the article ["In the Brutal World of 'Oz.' a Rare Place for Women" by K.A. Dilday {Jan. 5}] did not mention: As someone who went to college in the mid-60's, when women were locked into the dorms at night to protect us from the men, who suffered no such restrictions, I find the sight of violent men behind bars deeply comforting.

Mary McKenny
San Rafael, Calif.

Without taking anything from Ms. McKenny, for the record, I feel compelled to admit that, while I was a man in college in the 60's, I too was locked into the dorm at night. Also for the record, I must admit that while there I enjoyed neither the horrors nor the rough pleasures of "Oz."

They're finally speaking about the trauma of carpet-bombing, ruin and displacement after a silence of almost sixty years. As a historian manque, I've collected some book knowledge on the subject, but also a few very real memories of my own, not of the war itelf, but of a postwar Germany which still showed its scars even if it never talked about them. I had always accepted this very obvious and perhaps unique phenomenon as simply a kind of embarassment, if not actually part of a penance, for twelve years of enormous suffering inflicted in the name of Germany, but there seems to be a much better explanation.

Peter Schneider, a novelist and journalist based in Berlin, writes in today's "Arts & Ideas" section of the NYTimes, "Only in the past three years or so have German writers and historians begun to tackle a topic previously taboo: the sufferings of the German civilian population in the last years of World War II."

At least one reason for the almost complete avoidance of this topic would appear to be self-evident: the critical authors of postwar Germany considered it a moral and aesthetic impossibility to describe the Germans, the nation responsible for the world war, as being among the victims of that war.
Schneider discusses W.G. Sebald's recently-published "Luftkrieg und Literature" ["Air War and Literature"], exerpted in The New Yorker in November and to be published by Random House in February, but his own grasp of the complex issues seems more mature and more humanist than that of the essay he describes as brilliant.
Like Sebald, I belong to the generation that declared war on the Nazi generation with its rebellion in 1968. The student revolutionaries of 1968 simply banished from their version of history all stories about Germans that did not fit in with the picture of the "generation of perpetrators." It was the frantic attempt of those born after the war to shake off the shackles that bound them to the guilty generation and regain their innocence by identifying with the victims of Nazism.

The fact that some Germans who belonged to the "generation of perpetrators" had ended up as its victims, and that some Germans had even shown civil courage and rescued Jews, seemed to weaken the force of the indictment. As far as I can remember, we never said a word about the Germans who were expelled.

. . .

However absurd these taboos may appear today, I still think there were powerful reasons for this more or less unconsciously observed list of forbidden topics. It was too much to expect our generation to identify the perpetrators of the Nazi generation on the one hand and to consider the fate of German civilians and of those who were deported on the other.

He closes with what is both gentle observation and great hope.
Probably it is only possible now, after the realization of the terrible things that the Germans did to other nations, to remember the extent to which they themselves became the victims of the war they unleashed.

That this is happening now seems to me to be a gain. It turns out that the belated recollection of suffering both endured and culpably inflicted in no sense arouses desires for revenge and revanchism in the children and grandchildren of the generation of perpetrators. Rather it opens their eyes to and enhances their understanding of the destruction that the Nazi Germans brought upon other nations.


[What appears below is my footnote, but it's actually a paragraph from Schneider's NYTimes text.]

From scattered diaries, eyewitness accounts, newspaper items, fragments of reports and prose texts, Sebald assembles a grandiose account of the firestorms that raged through the German cities in the last years of the war. Here, for example, are the consequences of Operation Gomorrah, the raids on Hamburg in midsummer 1943 whose aim was to inflict "maximum destruction on the city and reduce it to ashes":

"Horribly disfigured corpses lay everywhere. Bluish little phosphorous flames still flickered around many of them; others had been roasted brown or purple and reduced to a third of their normal size. They lay doubled up in the pools of their own melted fat, which had sometimes already congealed. . . . Elsewhere, clumps of flesh and bone or whole heaps of bodies had cooked in the water gushing from bursting boilers. Other victims had been so badly charred and reduced to ashes by the heat . . . that the remains of families consisting of several people could be carried away in a single laundry basket."

The apologists of a "just war" will hardly be able to read Sebald's essay without asking themselves whether the adjective in this euphemistic phrase should not be replaced by a more modest word like "justified."

Citizen Works has a full-page ad in the NYTimes today describing the Bush administration’s assault on privacy and civil rights. Not news for most anyone who normally sees this weblog, but posssibly a reminder, if not a terrifying reality check, even a goad for action, for many who will see it in the paper around the country.

The University of California has suddenly reversed its decision forbidding its own Emma Goldman Papers Project from printing quotations from Emma Goldman about war and the suppression of free speech. [See my post of three days ago.]

"Now I understand, maybe one tiny, tiny, tiny part of what Emma Goldman's life must have been like in the sense of both taking risks and also appreciating what it feels like when your voice is really speaking for others who have similar concerns," [the director of the Project, Dr. Candace S. Falk,] said.

She said she had been overwhelmed by public reaction to news reports about the deletions. Since Tuesday, Dr. Falk said, the Goldman Project had received more than 300 letters and e-mail messages from around the world, all but a few supporting her view that deleting the quotations amounted to censorship. The university had insisted the disagreement was about fund-raising techniques, not free speech.

This small victory is good news, but we still shouldn't fool ourselves into thinking it's free speech if an authority (any authority) is permitted to decide when it's not ok to speak freely, or even to decide when it is.

I can't take it anymore! The American media has been misrepresenting events in Venezuela, slavishly adopting the account, one of pure invention, furnished by the Right in both Caracas and Washington. Too much time has passed for me to believe that the reportage error is purely a matter of ignorance, especially when the NYTimes, normally more subtle about its heavy corporate slant, follows the cant so readily.

What we read and what we hear is a lie.

This is clearly an oil strike, not a "general strike," as it is often described. At the state-owned oil company, PDVSA, which controls the industry, management is leading the strike because it is at odds with the Chavez government.

Over the past quarter-century PDVSA has swelled to a $50-billion-a-year enterprise, while the income of the average Venezuelan has declined and poverty has increased more than anywhere in Latin America. And while Venezuela depends on oil for 80 percent of its export earnings and half its national budget, the industry's workers represent a tiny fraction of the labor force.

Outside the oil industry, it is hard to find workers who are on strike. Some have been locked out from their jobs, as business owners - including big foreign corporations such as McDonald's and FedEx - have closed their doors in support of the opposition.

Read on.

Not my quote, but that of that wacky agitator, John le Carré, printed as the headline of his piece in The Times of London.

America has entered one of its periods of historical madness, but this is the worst I can remember: worse than McCarthyism, worse than the Bay of Pigs and in the long term potentially more disastrous than the Vietnam War.

The reaction to 9/11 is beyond anything Osama bin Laden could have hoped for in his nastiest dreams. As in McCarthy times, the freedoms that have made America the envy of the world are being systematically eroded. The combination of compliant US media and vested corporate interests is once more ensuring that a debate that should be ringing out in every town square is confined to the loftier columns of the East Coast press.

. . .

How Bush and his junta succeeded in deflecting America’s anger from bin Laden to Saddam Hussein is one of the great public relations conjuring tricks of history. But they swung it. A recent poll tells us that one in two Americans now believe Saddam was responsible for the attack on the World Trade Centre. But the American public is not merely being misled. It is being browbeaten and kept in a state of ignorance and fear. The carefully orchestrated neurosis should carry Bush and his fellow conspirators nicely into the next election.

Thanks to Fred H. for the le Carré tip.

". . . I knew that I could never again raise my voice agains the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government. . . . for the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent."

-Martin Luther King, Jr., April, 1967, Riverside Church, New York

Egads, he's so good he's scary! Mark Morford make's you glad you're not on his wrong side, especially when he writes as he does in his attack on the new Hummer, in fact on all SUVs, and the perverseness of the very small world which created and continues to crave such monstrosities.

The illustrated and documented essay ends,

Perhaps it is worth noting, in this time of imminent, useless war, when our country is being run by, essentially, a failed Texas oilman, that it might be about time to rethink our all-American, bigger-is-better, screw-the-environment, high-fivin', the-world-is-our-prison-bitch mentality.

Perhaps this is the ultimate reminder the Hummer makes so explicitly clear. Perhaps this is why the SUV itself is such the ideal ethical lightning rod in today's global climate.

For in truth, it is exactly the mentality that gave birth to the SUV and the Hummer in the first place -- the weak ego, the need to strut a phony toughness, the insecurity, the patriotic narcissism, the false sense that all is solid and protected and that we care for no one but ourselves -- that has turned us into what we are today.

Which is to say, the world's bully, the preemptive superpower aggressor, the Great Antagonist, the most openly reviled nation on the planet, equal parts loathed and bitterly envied and grudgingly feared and desperately in need of a long, deep sociopolitical colonic -- to say nothing of a nice bicycle.

Footnote: Anyone who has been to Europe, Asia, or in fact anywhere outside this country, in recent years knows that there really is another way to design the automobile in the global climate of today, but we never see those solutions in the U.S. They're too small, we're told.

In a column whose overall message is the continued decline in Dubya's popularity figures. Maureen Dowd hits a few bullseyes, but none better than her take on what passes for foreign policy in Washington these days.

It's equally hard to fathom the president's bipolar approach to nuclear threats. Yesterday he hurled new ultimatums at Saddam Hussein. "I'm sick and tired of games and deception," he said, even as he responded to Kim Jong Il's games and deception with pleas and promises to send food and oil to Pyongyang. There are inspectors in Iraq who are not finding nuclear weapons, while inspectors have been kicked out of North Korea, which has admitted to a nuclear weapons program.

So what's the message here? If Saddam had already developed nukes, we'd send him a fruit basket? But since he hasn't, we'll send him Tomahawk missiles. We know Saddam's weak, but we're pretending he's strong so America can walk tall by whupping him.

In a great essay in this week's Village Voice, "Persecuting Pee-wee
A Child-Porn Case That Threatens Us All," Richard Goldstein manages to sort out a lot of scary stuff, and he warns us that Paul Reubens is the canary in the mine.

Most of Reubens's collection would be considered softcore by current standards, but nestled among the many portraits of naked bronco busters and javelin throwers in posing straps—typical of the types that graced the pages of physique magazines—were a few dozen photos that could be contraband today, though they were quite legal when they first appeared.

Not all of us are blind.


To the Editor:

Re "Detention Upheld in Combatant Case" (front page, Jan. 9):

If the definition of "wartime president" has changed from being president at a time of war that has been declared (Harry S. Truman most recently, as I recall) to when Congress has authorized money for military force but has not declared war (Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Bosnia and the Persian Gulf war, to name the major conflicts) to the president's simply declaring a war (on poverty, on cancer, on drugs, on crime, on terrorism), then we have had a "wartime president" for as long as I have been alive.

The war on terror is not a real war. It is not declared by Congress. This is a continuing, never-ending excuse to forward an agenda and, at least as described in your article, trample civil liberties in the name of "war" — a conflict that is politically nurtured despite its terrible and very real roots.

Barnstable, Mass., Jan. 9, 2003

I believe however that Bebe Brown is mistaken, in this letter which appeared in the NYTimes today, about Truman declaring war. Truman inherited the Second World War and Korea was a police action where no war was actually declared.

Almost a century after she helped create the conscience of a once lively American Left, Emma Goldman's words have been proscribed by a great American University. The University of California at Berkeley was the birthplace almost forty years ago of the free speech movement [Is America is regularly in need of a free speech movement, like, it's a such a new idea?], and for 23 years it has been the repository of Goldman's papers, but the school doesn't seem to have learned a thing from its extraordinary history.

In an unusual showdown over freedom of expression, university officials have refused to allow a fund-raising appeal for the Emma Goldman Papers Project to be mailed because it quoted Goldman on the subjects of suppression of free speech and her opposition to war. The university deemed the topics too political as the country prepares for possible military action against Iraq.
And the words which are so offensive and political?
In one of the quotations, from 1915, Goldman called on people "not yet overcome by war madness to raise their voice of protest, to call the attention of the people to the crime and outrage which are about to be perpetrated on them." In the other, from 1902, she warned that free-speech advocates "shall soon be obliged to meet in cellars, or in darkened rooms with closed doors, and speak in whispers lest our next-door neighbors should hear that free-born citizens dare not speak in the open."

Just before they occupied the Administration building in December of 1964, Mario Savio had exhorted his comrades,
"There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, you can't take part, you can't even tacitly take part, and you've got to put your bodies upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to indicate to the people who own it, to the people who run it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all."

Mario Savio

It's that time again.

Zachie Achmat still won't take his pills, even though Nelson Mandela has asked him to. It's part of a very big plan, and it seems to be working, since, as he says, "The country is realizing that people can actually buy life, and that this is unacceptable."

The class, racial or economic foundation of the world's response to the AIDS pandemic has rarely, if ever, been illustrated so dramatically as it has been and continues to be in South Africa. A heroic activist in the country with the highest official count of AIDS-infected people in the world, Achmat has "dragged his government into savings its people," fighting denial at all levels [the goverment of Thabo Mbeki questions the very existence of HIV as the cause of AIDS and minimizes the problem otherwise] and demanding access to AIDS medications for all regardless of ability to pay.

He needs those drugs himself, and he can afford them, but in 1998 he vowed not to take them until everyone in South Africa could. While that day may be dawning, at least in his own country, it may in the end be too late for the man most responsible for what would be a very great victory, one which would honor that associated with Mandela, who now calls Achmat a role model.

The parallels between the campaign and the A.N.C. are haunting. The [Treatment Action Campaign, of which Achmat is chairman] is one of the few organizations still wearing the A.N.C.'s mantle of activism. Its leaders are using techniques they learned in the anti-apartheid struggle. Mr. Achmat was jailed several times in the 1970's, and spent the 1980's living underground as an A.N.C. activist. The campaign is fighting an evil even more formidable and deadly than apartheid, and one that, absent universal access to AIDS treatment, is just as selective in bringing most of the suffering down upon South Africa's poor.

While some may say the gesture trivializes and distracts from the gravity of the anti-war message, Unreasonable Women organizer Donna Sheehan said desperate times . . .

"It got your attention, didn't it?" joked Sheehan of Marshall, who said she doesn't even go into the kitchen without a robe on.

--maybe too stupid to deserve democracy.

I've always thought that the reason most Americans do not vote their interests, but instead support those of the super-wealthy, is that they actually expect to be among the super-wealthy themselves some day.

So goes a good part of the argument of an OP-Ed piece in saturday's NYTimes.

People vote their aspirations.

The most telling polling result from the 2000 election was from a Time magazine survey that asked people if they are in the top 1 percent of earners. Nineteen percent of Americans say they are in the richest 1 percent and a further 20 percent expect to be someday. So right away you have 39 percent of Americans who thought that when Mr. Gore savaged a plan that favored the top 1 percent [the repeal of the estate tax, which is explicitly for the mega-upper class], he was taking a direct shot at them.

We have to be reminded, and remind others, that the streets are for people first, and that everything else is there only with the sufferance of the people.

The NYTimes decided to print two letters [ok, it was a saturday, when the big boss editor types are out and only the diehards read the paper anyway] defending the pedestrian against, well, machines. Not entirely characteristic for the Times, but we should encourage the old gray lady whenever this sort of thing happens. Significant excerpts are:

Since the dawn of civilization, streets have been the principal public space of every community. Sidewalks are a relatively recent modification of the urban streetscape intended to segregate walkers from motorized travelers, greatly privileging the latter while diminishing community life, public health, economic vitality and environmental quality.

Pedestrians are besieged enough in their already meager sidewalk ghetto, without the additional hazard of pricey high-speed scooters like the Segway.

Revitalizing our cities begins with reclaiming public space to enhance social interaction. And this begins with defending our fundamental right to free movement — to walk.


While permitting the Segway to patrol our sidewalks is (I hope!) unthinkable, the bicycle seems to have claimed for itself a popular right of way. As a result, people who are old or disabled cannot count on going to the corner grocery without putting their lives at risk. I am legally blind and have had many nasty surprises from bicyclists who don't know or don't care about the meaning of the white cane.

Too bad we had to wait for the Segway to make us ask to whom our sidewalks rightfully belong.


Calvin Trillin in the January 27 edition of The Nation:


Korea has the bomb, but not to worry.
It's not a crisis. No, we needn't hurry
To get inspections back. Why try to spot
The weapons they already say they've got?
Containment's fine, no reason for attack.
The threat, we've said for months, is just Iraq.
And why destroy Saddam but still contrive
To let this wicked Kim Jong Il survive?
Because one wicked tyrant must remain
To run against in Bush's next campaign.

Noah Taylor, the actor who portrays Adolf Hitler in "Max" explains his approach to an intimidating assignment in a tiny item of the NYTimes today, "Seeking the Dictator Within."

Speaking of obstacles, there were some lines that must have presented a challenge. "'I'm Hitler, Adolf Hitler.' It was hard to say that without sounding like, 'Bond, James Bond,' " Mr. Taylor said. "But John [Cusack] had the hardest one: 'C'mon, Hitler, I'll buy you a lemonade.'"

Willam Cohn's letter may have just pushed us over the edge.


I have been a football fan since I was 14 years old, but I don't think a sporting event is important enough to rate the entire first, second and third pages of your paper. We had better reassess our values as to what is important, or our country will make the fall of Rome look like a picnic.

William Cohn

Great headline for the letter!

The football splurge was followed yesterday by another blockbuster story. In the midst of the heady competition offered by events unfolding throughout the city, the state and the world, every square inch of the first three pages of the paper, below the banner at the top, were devoted to the world-shaking news that the Wendy's murderer had penned a rap song in which he bragged about the slayings. Headline: "WENDY'S MURDER RAP."

There are a lot of reasons why we get the Daily News delivered every morning in addition to the NYTimes. but I think we're ready to wean ourselves from its seductions, now that Newsday seems to have re-entered the Gotham market.

Some people still just don't get it. A Daily News reader writes to the paper today complaining aout the Mayor's threat to her personal freedoms.


South Orange, N.J.: What state of prohibition has Mayor Bloomberg gotten us into now? Isn't the smoking ban an infringement on our personal freedoms, masked under the guise of bettering our health? I suppose he should now ban cheeseburgers and french fries, since they are also detrimental to our health.

Doreen Dany

I cannot speak for Mr. Bloomberg or the rest of the New York City Council, but I'm sorry, I absolutely do not care if someone wishes to shoot up heroin on the street, so long as he or she does not block or litter the sidewalk which others share. Restricting smoking in closed public areas is not about tyranny.

Smoking is a threat to my health and that of anyone else who must share the air fouled by those who smoke, and it makes it impossible for me and others unable to breathe smoke to enter the spaces where it is permitted. I am ecstatic about the fact that within less than three months I will finally be able to enjoy smaller restaurants, bars and music clubs and the pleasures and society only they can provide, and, yes, I will be delighted to share these places with people who choose sometimes to smoke--only elsewhere.

His website, that is. It looks great and of course the work is great.

Barry supplied the technology, and Charles and he created the design.

I'm outrageously enthusiastic about both of them and their work, and it's totally independent of relationship and friendship.

My quarrel is not with their sleeping habits, or even the manner in which they entertain themselves. I'm just glad I don't have to be any part of the current regime in Washington.

"All the senior staff has no life, or has too many lives — kids," said Mary Matalin, who recently quit after two years as counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney.
What concerns me is what a self-imposed isolation says about their minds and their souls and therefore what is its impact on the rest of us.

The Washington of the Bush administration is dead, and it's not just the social life. It starts at the top, with the senior occupant of the White House avoiding society whenever possible, preferring to visit only with their oldest, closest friends when they entertain at all.

They venture out with friends to favorite restaurants, like the Peking Gourmet Inn in suburban Arlington, Va. [also his father's favorite, a locked-down suburban Chinese restaurants for a night out?], but like the first President Bush they prefer low-key evenings at home with longtime friends.

"It's the social-life equivalent of comfort food," said Mrs. Bush's press secretary, Noelia Rodriguez, who said the Bushes held perhaps only one film screening in the White House theater in all of last year, preferring to watch movies at Camp David on the weekends. "Being with close friends and family and doing things that are more family-oriented, like T-ball. The focus there is not on th 40-somethings, but on the 5- and 6-year-olds."

---Like little George Dubya.


The only way we will wean this country from its monster passenger truck obsession is to shame it. I used to think the SUV would eventually be abandoned when Americans perceived it as uncool, since so much of its popularity is all about fashion, but in such an uncool society that may take too long. Arianna has a better way.

Ratcheting up the debate over sport utility vehicles, new television commercials [the brainchild of Arianna Huffington] suggest that people who buy the vehicles are supporting terrorists. The commercials are so provocative that some television stations are refusing to run them.

Patterned after the commercials that try to discourage drug use by suggesting that profits from illegal drugs go to terrorists, the new commercials say that money for gas needed for S.U.V.'s goes to terrorists.

The ABC affiliate in New York will not be running the ads, scheduled to be broadcast on "Meet The Press," "Face the Nation" and "This Week With George Stephanopoulos." New York must either love the SUV more inordinately than other cities or some of us are unable to take such "hot-button issues," as the local ABC director of programming describes the subject of the ads. He also said that a lot of the statements being made were not backed up, but I'm guessing the affiliate was less concerned about textual support for the arguments made by the Bush administation's antidrug spots.

I like to think of myself as a proud activist queer with an enormous interest in history, but the awesome story of Willem Arondius [alternatively, "Arondeus"] and his friends was completely unknown to me until this week. It played itself out across the screen of my laptop only because I had been going through the website of the Holocaust Museum in connection with their latest special exhibit, "Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals, 1933-1945."

What follows is the story I composed as a collage, quoting and editing accounts from several web sources which deal with Arondius.

During the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, on the evening of March 27, 1943, a resistance unit comprised of artists, students and two young doctors raided the Bevolkingsregister [residents' registration office] in Amsterdam. One of them, costume designer Sjoerd Bakker, had himself tailored [German] police uniforms for the entire unit. The leader of the group, artist and writer Willem Arondius, wore the uniform of a police captain. With the aid of these disguises, they managed to gain entrance to the building without attracting any attention and immediately set to work disarming all the guards posted there. While doing so, they took extra care not to harm any of them. The guards were temporarily rendered immobile after being injected with harmless amounts of a tranquilizing substance. After dragging the anaesthetized guards outside and laying them down in a garden, the next few minutes were spent planting incendiary benzole compounds all over the building that were then ignited by remote control. After five detonations, fire broke out in all the rooms. All the arsonists involved managed to escape the scene undetected.

The bombing of Amsterdam's Bevolkingsregister had an enormous psychological effect on the Dutch people: Even if all files were not destroyed by the flames, the German occupiers were now extremely nervous, and many Resistance groups throughout the country felt encouraged to follow suit with similar actions. The Netherlands had been occupied by the Wehrmacht (regular German army) since May 1940, and from the beginning of July 1942, deportations of Jews to the Polish death camps had already begun. Approximately 25,000 of the ca. 140,000 Jews living at that time in Holland resided there illegally. Most of them were forced by the circumstances to live in hiding-places and be provided for by non-Jews. The artists active in the Resistance were mainly busy with fashioning forged identity cards for these victims of persecution. However, even perfectly made I.D. imitations could be dangerous for their holders, as soon as they were compared with the duplicates that existed in the bevolkingsgregister. Thus came the idea of bombing the registration office, in order to destroy as many of those files as possible.

The homosexual writer and artist Willem Arondius was the chief coordinator of the operation. Two other gay comrades-in-arms were the tailor Sjoerd Bakker and the writer Johan Brouwer. They were later betrayed by a person or persons unknown, arrested and sentenced to death. During the Nazi show trial Willem Arondius assumed full responsibility for the bombing. The only ones to survive the Nazi era, by their receiving long sentence terms instead of the death penalty, were the two doctors (Cees Honig and Willem Beck) who had tranquilized the guards.

Shortly before his execution Willem Arondius had his lawyer promise that she would pass the following words on to others so that future generations might not forget: [In Dutch: "Homo's hoeven niet minder moedig te zijn dan andere mensen"] "Homosexuals aren't any less courageous than other people."

Even in the liberal Netherlands it took until April 1990 for the larger part of the population to receive this message. Toni Bouwman's highly praised 1990 documentary on Arondius' life was broadcast that year on Dutch television:["Na het feest, zonder afscheid verdwenen--Notities uit het leven van Willem Arondius"] "After the Party: Gone Without Saying Good-Bye.--Notes from the Life of Willem Arondius."

[slightly edited from the Ben Boxer's Silver Foxe Clubhouse site's excellent account]

There's apparently only a little more available on the net in English, and this is just about all of that:

Arondius had been born in Amsterdam in 1895. An artist and author, Arondius [fabulous photo!] was commissioned to do a mural for the eighteenth-century villa then serving as provincial capital, or Provinciehuis, for North Holland in Haarlem in the 1920's (which still survives) and later published a biography of Dutch painter Matthijs Maris. But he would never become a really successful artist. One account says that he was subject to mood changes and that he suffered from a inferiority complex [actually, the words used are "He suffered from a minority complex," but although I believe they really meant, "inferiority complex," I entirely understand the heavy impact of the other possibility, and it may say even much more]. He seemed to both love and hate the capital. He moved a couple of times to the countryside, but always returned. Prior to World war II he lived with Jan Thijssen, the son of a green grocer, in the countryside near Apeldoorn, but they moved to Amsterdam in the late thirties. Arondius joined the "Raad van Verzet" resistance movement shortly after the invasion. This underground unit specialized in falsifying registration papers.

The efforts and courage of such units of the resistance are attested to in works such as The Diary of Anne Frank. Monuments to the resistance commemorate the brave acts of Dutch citizens who participated in the general strike that brought the country to a standstill in reaction to the Nazi's violent attacks on the Jewish community in Amsterdam. Streets are named after the brave leaders of the resistance who gave their lives in defense of others. However, the social attitude towards Gays in post-war Europe made recognition of a homosexual such as Arondius more difficult.

The world that survived the war was not ready to endure a homosexual hero.

[edited largely from the account found on Lambda's site and including material from the site of Hans and Thomas {see another, more conservative, photo of Arondius}]

Would we be able to do as much as did Willem, his friends and so many others?


Those who can read Dutch may want to look at the brief biographical text from the Instituut voor Nederlandse Geschiedenis [Institute for Netherlands History] site.


Willem was of course not alone. The story of at least one other member of his circle. Frieda Belinfante, will need her own post.

I really love this picture, but yeah, it needs the story it accompanies, which includes the sassy quote above.

Grass-roots anti-war activists in the Northwest are reporting a very visible and audible growing swelling of support for a once-local overpass peace vigil. By their report, even a majority of the truckers who drive under the bridges where they display their signs are giving them the thumbs up and honking.

"It's my belief that lots of people have the same feelings but they don't know if there is someone else who agrees with them," Bird said. "If you stand up and say what you think, that encourages all the people who say the same thing."
There are many ways to do just that, and along with so many other initiatives of all kinds, the Blue Button Project is based on the conviction that it will work.

But do we have time?

The United States Holocaust Museum in Washington currently includes an exhibit on the Nazi persecution of homosexuals, the first in a series on specific groups other than Jews who were victimized by the regime.

The numbers of victims identified with a pink triangle never rivalled those of Jewish victims*, but there was a particular horror awaiting those who managed to survive in the camps until "liberation," and for the world's memory of those who did not survive.

As the Allies swept through Europe to victory over the Nazi regime in early 1945, hundreds of thousands of concentration camp prisoners were liberated. The Allied Military Government of Germany repealed countless laws and decrees. Left unchanged, however, was the 1935 Nazi revision of Paragraph 175. Under the Allied occupation, some homosexuals were forced to serve out their terms of imprisonment regardless of time served in the concentration camps. The Nazi version of Paragraph 175 remained on the books of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) until the law was revised in 1969 to decriminalize homosexual relations between men over the age of 21.

The continued legal and social prohibitions against homosexuality in Germany hindered acknowledgement that homosexuals were victims of Nazi persecution. In June 1956, West Germany's Federal Reparation Law for Victims of National Socialism declared that internment in a concentration camp for homosexuality did not qualify an individual to receive compensation. Homosexuals murdered by the Nazis received their first public commemoration in a May 8, 1985, speech by West German President Richard von Weizsäcker—the fortieth anniversary of the war's end. Four years after re–unification in 1990, Germany abolished Paragraph 175. In May 2002, the German parliament completed legislation to pardon all homosexuals convicted under Paragraph 175 during the Nazi era.

Some of this history is current events in the U.S., where "don't ask, don't tell" remains the law of the land, where homosexual activity remains a crime punishable by prison in many states, where there is no federal protection for homosexuals and where gays have always been generously tolerated during wartime but hunted out at other times when seeking careers in military service.
With the reintroduction in 1935 of conscription for all men ages 18 to 45, Germany's homosexual men became liable for service in the armed forces, the Wehrmacht. The German military code did not bar homosexuals, even convicted homosexuals, from serving in the armed forces. As a result, thousands of homosexual men were drafted to serve a regime that persecuted them as civilians.

Homosexual activity in the military was regulated by §175 and §175a. As huge numbers of men were called up, convictions rose, but the long–held fear that homosexuality would spread as an epidemic through the often–isolated all–male military proved to be unfounded. Still, arrested soldiers faced brutal punishments. Individuals convicted as "incorrigibly homosexual" or for abuse of authority under §175a were discharged, imprisoned, then dispatched to a concentration camp. Those sentenced for having "erred by seduction" served terms in prison and returned to service.

As an option to enduring the notoriously wretched military prisons, men convicted for any but the worst crimes under §175 could petition to join the "cannon-fodder" battalions. Commanders mercilessly used such troops in battles that in most cases were suicide missions.

From its founding the Museum has always been extraordinarily inclusive about the area of its concern, making available materials and literature on the persecution of homosexuals, the handicapped, Gypsies, Poles, Soviet prisoners of war and Jehovah's Witnesses.

The Museum website exhibit, which includes primary source material and photographs, is as excellent as it is horrible.

After it closes in D.C. on March 16, the entire installation travels to New York, San Francisco, other cities and in fact to any additional venues which might still request it (check the site for that information). We were planning a special visit south this winter until hearing the exhibit would be coming here. Actually, as enthusiastic patrons of the Washington Museum, we may decide to travel anyway, take the family, and go back with friends when it gets here.

In any event, the Museum itself should be visited by everyone who possibly can, ideally with some frequency, for the permanent as well as the changing exhibits.


* Umm. When I went to link here to Yad Vashem as a source for the numbers of Jewish victims (usually given as around six million), I failed at first to find a specific figure. While distracted by other information I did notice that wihin the site there are various references to other victims of the Nazis, and that all but one of the usual categories are enumerated specifically. The category of homosexuals is not included. In fact, with further effort, using their own search engine, to locate any reference to homosexual, homosexuality, gay, queer, paragraph 175 or the pink triangle, I only turned up, repeatedly, the answer, "No documents matching your query were found." I was shocked and not a little angry.

The world is fortunate there are models other than our own.

SANTIAGO, Chile — It is a measure of how much this country has changed that Michelle Bachelet today works from an office that once belonged to Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the dictator whose forces tortured her father to death nearly 30 years ago.

When she was appointed Chile's minister of defense a year ago this week, much was made of the fact that she was the first woman to hold that portfolio in Latin America. As if that were not novelty enough, she is also a Socialist, a physician and the daughter of Alberto Bachelet Martínez, an air force general who died in prison after he was arrested and convicted of treason by his own colleagues.

It's an amazing story, perhaps especially for an American reader, since our own government facilitated the establishment of the Pinochet regime [to use a euphemism].
Not long after her father died, Dr. Bachelet and her mother, Ángela Jeria, were themselves jailed for several months and held in separate cells at two detention centers notorious for torture, Villa Grimaldi and Cuatro Álamos. Dr. Bachelet was beaten and blindfolded, though "there was nothing with electricity," she says, as if to minimize the severity of the experience.

"I'm not an angel," she said. "I haven't forgotten. It left pain. But I have tried to channel the pain into a constructive realm. I insist on the idea that what happened here in Chile was so painful, so terrible, that I wouldn't wish for anyone to live through our situation again."

She became a well-known pediatrician and public health specialist in the eighties, and today many Chileans wonder how that earlier career can be reconciled with her position today.
"I studied medicine because I wanted to serve and help others," she said, and in her mind, national defense and security are no different. "I am convinced that the duty of defense is to maintain peace and avoid war," she said.

FORT HOOD, Texas (Reuters) - President Bush said on Friday the United States was ready to win a potential war with Iraq and "liberate" its people as he rallied soldiers at the largest U.S. Army base amid an intensifying military buildup around the Gulf nation.

"Some crucial hours may lie ahead," Bush, wearing a green military jacket, told about 4,000 troops at Fort Hood Army Base in his home state of Texas. "We are ready. We're prepared."

"If force becomes necessary to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction ... to secure our country and to keep the peace, America will act deliberately, America will act decisively, and America will prevail because we've got the finest military in the world," he said. His speech was punctuated with applause, whistles and the soldiers' traditional "hoo-ah" cheers of approval.

Gosh oh gee wiz, he talks as if the most-powerful-by-far empire on the planet has a worthy (that is, equal in strength) enemy. So, does that mean that there's a chance that this war thing could all end up in a draw? After all, isn't it now clear we're going to be just about helpless in combat, since our primary defense, as has become usual in these wars against "the lessor sorts," will be to drop bombs from several miles up if anyone dares to shoot at us? Sounds like an equal contest to me.

Seriously however, will it be another war like Granada, or will it look more like Viet Nam or the Boer War?

Can't someone tell Georgie that it isn't a big-screen thriller, but rather the real world in which he is supposed to be working?

I've been seeing lead story headlines quoting this fool for two years now, and I still can't believe this is what the man who presides over the country sounds like.

This page is an archive of entries from January 2003 listed from newest to oldest.

previous archive: December 2002

next archive: February 2003