General: January 2003 Archives

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. 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.

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

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."

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.

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.


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.

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.

This page is an archive of entries in the General category from January 2003.

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