The August 26 speech by Vice President Dick Cheney at the Veterans of
Foreign Wars convention in Nashville has made at least two things clear:
first, that the Bush Administration is fully committed to launching a
war against Iraq with the aim of removing Saddam Hussein, regardless of
UN efforts to insert weapons inspectors; and second, that the
Administration will brook no dissent on this matter from Congress or
senior figures in the Republican Party. "At bottom," Cheney declared,
those who favor caution and delay in removing Saddam are advocating a
dangerous path "that could have devastating consequences for many
countries, including our own."
The intolerance of dissent expressed by Cheney is symptomatic of the
assumption of imperial warmaking powers by George W. Bush and his
coterie of close advisers. Bush himself acknowledged this trend in his
response to a number of senior Republican leaders--including noted
conservatives like former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and
former Secretary of State James Baker as well as US special Mideast
envoy, retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni--who have expressed qualms
about his plans. "I am aware that some very intelligent people are
expressing their opinions about Saddam Hussein and Iraq," he told
reporters at his Texas ranch on August 16. "I listen very carefully to
what they have to say. But America needs to know, I'll be making up my
mind based upon the latest intelligence and how best to protect our own
country plus our friends and allies."
There have, of course, been occasions when a sitting President has
assumed warmaking powers with little regard for the views of Congress or
the general public. US forces were already involved in Vietnam when
Lyndon Johnson engineered the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution of 1964, and
George Bush Senior acquiesced in a two-day Senate debate on US
intervention in the Persian Gulf only after 550,000 US troops had been
deployed on the perimeter of Kuwait. Even so, George W. Bush has
surpassed his predecessors in the assumption of imperial powers--most
conspicuously, perhaps, in his tendency to conflate America's war
against terrorism with his own existential destiny. "I will not forget
this wound to our country," he told the nation shortly after September
11. "I will not yield; I will not rest; I will not relent in waging this
struggle for freedom and security for the American people." In assuming
this pivotal role, moreover, Bush has made it clear that he will allow
no bounds on his exercise of national power.
From this, it's a short step to other manifestations of imperial
decision-making, such as the August 26 opinion by White House lawyers
that Bush does not require Congressional approval for an attack on Iraq.
Supposedly, the 1991 resolution secured by the elder Bush for Operation
Desert Storm is sufficient. "We don't want to be in the legal position
of asking Congress to authorize the use of force when the President
already has that full authority," a senior White House official told the
The assumption of imperial powers is also reflected in the President's
tendency to mislead the public: He has repeatedly declared that he has
not yet decided whether to use force in removing Saddam and that he is
prepared to entertain nonmilitary options, but this flies in the face of
growing evidence of a substantial buildup of US forces in the areas
surrounding Iraq and the reports of frantic efforts by the Defense
Department to produce a winning strategy for the assault on Baghdad
(doubters are encouraged to compare the January and June 2002 satellite
photos of the new US military air base in Qatar posted at
And then there's the President's obvious disdain for the views of our
long-term allies, who argue for putting UN inspectors into Iraq before
anything else. This by no means exhaustive catalogue should trouble all
Americans who believe in the democratic process and the preservation of
constitutional limitations on the power of the executive. American
freedom and democracy cannot coexist with an imperial presidency.
The streets of lower Manhattan are deserted--also spotlessly clean and
glowing in the light of the golden hour--when the studio head takes the
movie director outside to tell him he's washed up. Those were great
dreams he had in New York in the old days, with Cassavetes, but they're
over. How it must wound the director to hear these words in Hollywood, on a mere back-lot
simulacrum of New York--and from his own ex-wife! How it must shame him
to hear the name of Cassavetes! Although the director claims to be the
last American auteur, who is being fired because he won't compromise,
we've seen some of the picture he was shooting, and it looks less like
Cassavetes than a feature-length ad for "Dysfunction" by Calvin Klein.
But Hollywood holds out hope even for a moviemaker who's so pretentious
that he spells his first name "Viktor." The director receives a genie in
a bottle--or, in this case, a wonderful computer program on a hard
drive. This gift puts into his hands a virtual actress, or synthespian,
who can be molded exactly as he wishes and secretly inserted into his
not-quite-finished movie. The computer program is known as Simulation
One; the virtual actress, as Simone. When the picture is released, it
will be Simone, not Viktor, who wins the public's unconditional
love--after which it's only a matter of time before he's struggling to
shove the genie back into its bottle.
"Our ability to manufacture fraud," muses the director, "now exceeds our
ability to detect it." These words will do to sum up a theme that has
emerged in the work of Andrew Niccol, who wrote and directed
Simone. He first made a name for himself as the screenwriter of
The Truman Show, in which Jim Carrey unwittingly resided on a TV
soundstage the size of an entire village. Niccol next wrote and directed
Gattaca, a futuristic fantasy about a world where you have to be
physically perfect, or else. Now comes Simone, a story about the
public's adoration for an actress who is too good to be true, and isn't.
"Simone has the voice of the young Lauren Bacall, the body of Sophia
Loren and the face of Audrey Hepburn crossed with an angel," raves one
critic about the new star. "Almost right," the director mutters.
You will observe that Simone is not a fraudulent contest winner, phony
political reformer or bogus war hero (to mention only three of the
impostors who populate Preston Sturges's movies, and so define the great
tradition of American screen comedy). Simone is a mirage of femininity,
projected by a man who can make her into just what he wants a woman to
be. Conversely, when Viktor turns against her, he can make Simone into
his image of everything he finds horrifying in a woman. Since the
director is simultaneously trying to win back his ex-wife (Catherine
Keener, in another of her hard-as-peanut-brittle roles), we can judge
how well his fantasies match reality.
It would be enough for me if Simone played out these ideas
consistently and well. But it does even more--because Viktor is
portrayed by Al Pacino. If you've seen him as the suffering detective in
Insomnia, you've had a recent reminder of how overbearing he can
be. Part of the pleasure of Simone is to see him give pretty much
the same baggy-eyed performance as Viktor, yet make the character come
out funny. Who better than Pacino to take on the role of a director,
railing against those self-regarding actors who think they're more
important than the movie? And who better to be transformed into a
porcelain-skinned blonde? Simone "acts" by mirroring her director's
gestures and speech--which means she's a Victoria's Secret version of
Pacino, right down to the hands spreading apart as if they were pulling
I confess there were moments when I merely chuckled at Simone, or
smiled, or checked my wristwatch (during the meandering third act).
There were also moments--two of them--when I laughed till I wept. I
think that's reason enough to recommend Simone for a holiday
weekend's viewing--that, and the delight of discovering there's still a
moviemaker in America who can toss up three ideas and keep them all in
American moviemakers (including those who, like Niccol, come from New
Zealand) get a hard time from Jean-Luc Godard in his most recent
feature, In Praise of Love (Éloge de l'amour). By
now, one particular sequence in that film has become notorious. A
certain Steven Spielberg wants to buy the life stories of an elderly
couple who were active in the French Resistance in World War II. The
couple's granddaughter bitterly denounces the project; but she is
silenced by Spielberg's negotiator, who comes not from DreamWorks but
the US State Department.
Although I don't want to overprotect Spielberg--he's probably capable of
defending himself--I admit I squirmed at this burlesque. But that was
just on first viewing. The second time through, having got my bearings
(which is no easy matter), I still disliked the too-facile choice of
target but could see it as something more than the product of old
Jean-Luc's crankiness. I now think it's part of a dense, thrumming
network of ideas, which concern resistance both with and without the
Resistance against what, you might ask. Godard shows you some possible
answers and lets you sound out a few others. Here are homeless people
sleeping in the rain, in the world's most beautiful city. (The larger
portion of In Praise of Love, filmed in black and white, brings
Godard back to Paris as a location, for the first time in many years.)
Here are silent, shuffling workers, cleaning railroad coaches late at
night; here is a grim, spray-painted underpass, in one of the workers'
suburbs. And here, too, is a report about the recent massacres in
Kosovo, in case you forgot that mass murder still happens at your
doorstep. Let us agree there is something in the world worth resisting,
and something within ourselves, too--call it slackness, indecision,
indifference, a failure to create ourselves as adults. Resistance is
necessary; and resistance is impossible, the voices on the soundtrack
say, without memory and universalism.
I would suggest that "Spielberg" is the name Godard gives to a false
universalism: the omnipresent culture of Hollywood, which unites people
by offering them all the same fantasies about movie stars. What might
constitute a genuine universalism? Godard's protagonist, a would-be
artist named Edgar (Bruno Putzulu), takes a stab at an answer when he
launches a project about love: its cycle of meeting, passion, rupture
and reunion; its different manifestations in youth, adulthood and old
age. An impossible project, for Edgar anyway. A perfect specimen of the
European mope--a descendant, you might say, of the screenwriter
character from Contempt--he's so weighted with historical memory
that he can't finish anything, let alone mount a resistance to
Spielbergism; so conscious of his cultural birthright that he can't love
the forceful Berthe (Cécile Camp) but can only pursue her and
then push her away.
This leaves Godard himself to love and remember and resist, in the best
way he knows how: by making something ravishing. In Praise of
Love is an achingly beautiful picture, both in its initial filmed
section and in the later portion that was shot on video, with vibrating,
Fauvist colors. (The video section seems to take us into Edgar's memory,
where he has just met Berthe, where an orange sea crashes onto chocolate
rocks.) Every image is incisive; every cut to a fresh shot, musically
timed; every musical fragment, eloquent; every spoken line, evocative of
some new picture.
Still, I can understand why some people resist the autumnal beauty of
In Praise of Love. Its sense of melancholy can become oppressive.
(There are four suicides in the story, not counting the death of Simone
Weil.) The protagonist is insufferable (and is meant to be so, I think);
and the proliferation of allusions can make you feel like the slowest
student in Professor Godard's seminar room. As has usually been the case
in his later films, the characters speak almost entirely in quotations,
while hanging around settings that are themselves in need of footnotes.
Were Godard still interested in actors, you would at least have a strong
performance to help carry you through the quiz; but he hasn't cast
anyone with a personality since he put Depardieu into Hélas
pour moi. To Godard, people are now just elements in the
sound-and-image mix. He's the sole actor.
And, of course, he is a brilliant actor. In Praise of Love may be
a kind of directorial soliloquy about loss and failure--including
cinema's failure to put up an adequate alternative to Hollywood--but
it's performed with such deftness and vigor that it can make the heart
Short Takes: In Satin Rouge, first-time feature director
Raja Amari gives us the tale of Lilia, a respectable widow in Tunis who
finds happiness through belly dancing. To get a hint of Amari's deadpan
methods, and of the magnificence of Hiam Abbass's performance as Lilia,
you need look no further than the opening shot. A 360-degree pan reveals
the details of a humble apartment, which is being briskly cleaned by a
handsome woman on the verge of middle age. Lilia dusts the mirror,
checks the surface to make sure it's clean and then belatedly notices
herself in the glass. As she does so, she begins to move to the music on
the radio. She unpins her hair, letting it flow over the shoulders of
her housedress; she dances; and then, just as simply as she'd begun, she
pins the hair up again and cleans her way out of the room. A woman
capable of such interludes might end up just about anywhere, to the
astonishment of both her daughter and the audience in the movie theater.
Lilia may well astonish you, too.
You may recall Liz Garbus as co-director of a fine documentary titled
The Farm: Angola, USA. She's back now with a new picture, The
Execution of Wanda Jean, which was made for HBO but will have a
well-deserved theatrical run, starting September 6 in New York. The
picture follows convicted murderer Wanda Jean Allen, her family, her
defense team and her victim's family over the final weeks of Wanda
Jean's life: from the preparations for her clemency hearing, to her
execution in January 2001, to her funeral. Garbus worked wonders in
winning the confidence of her subjects (as she also did in The
Farm); and to her great credit, she chose to follow a genuinely
thorny case. On the one hand, prejudice seems to have played a role in
Wanda Jean's getting the death penalty: She was an African-American
woman accused of having killed her lover, Gloria Leathers. On the other
hand, Wanda Jean had previously done time for manslaughter, and she shot
Gloria outside an Oklahoma City police station. Those of us who oppose
the death penalty need to be able to look at cases like this, take a
deep breath and then say, "Even so." The Execution of Wanda Jean
is a tough movie, and a valuable one.
When Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, reunited to tour behind
The Rising, came to Madison Square Garden on August 12, they
juxtaposed "41 Shots," Springsteen's powerful song about Amadou Diallo's
shooting by NYPD officers, with "Into the Fire," the new album's
uplifting gospel tribute to the emergency workers who climbed into the burning Twin Towers never
to emerge. Stripped to incantatory simplicity, the newer song's
chorus--a litany, really--invokes the healing circle of community that
on 9/11 magically materialized--as hordes of volunteers and
photo-covered memorial walls that abruptly elevated the NYPD and NYFD
and EMS to hero status: "May your strength give us strength/May your
faith give us faith/May your hope give us hope/May your love give us love." The crowd, mostly middle-aged in suburban
summer attire, stood in rather stony silence for the Diallo tune, which
drew boos and threats from the NYPD when Springsteen unveiled it at the
Garden in June 2000; for the second they eased into a reverential hush.
Everyone around here knows, after all, that Springsteen's music,
especially "Thunder Road" and "Born in the U.S.A.," resounded through
countless post-9/11 memorial services for the many blue-collar victims.
Springsteen's set lists are typically narratives; a sort of rock
cabaret, they build emotional tensions and releases to tell some larger
story. So at the Garden, he donned his plaid shirt as High Priest of the
secular religion rooted in his audience's belief that he is somehow one
of them writ magically large, as were the Local Heroes who flocked
toward danger that beautiful, deadly September day, transfigured by
necessity, rising to the call. Here he stood, with the E Street Band,
his own symbolic community, ready to transform this site not three miles
from the fallen towers into a temple of expiation, release, remembrance,
hope, loss, despair, acceptance, resolve, love--and, of course, a
Like the strain of American populists he springs from, Springsteen has
always seen this country as a dichotomy, the Promised Land that waits
within the dream of This Hard Land. Originally inspired by what he has
called "class-conscious pop records" like The Animals' 1960s hits "We
Gotta Get Out of This Place" and "It's My Life" ("I'd listen...and I'd
say to myself: 'That's my life, that's my life!' They said something to
me about my own experience of exclusion"), during the 1970s he delved
into Flannery O'Connor and John Steinbeck, William Carlos Williams and
John Ford, country music ("a very class-conscious music") and Guthrie,
Walker Percy and Robert Frank.
"I've made records," Springsteen told Percy's nephew Will several years
that I knew would find a smaller audience than others I've made. I
suppose the larger question is, 'How do you get that type of work to be
heard--despite the noise of modern society?'... There's a lot of
different ways to reach people, help them think about what's really
important in this one-and-only life we live. There's pop culture--that's
the shotgun approach, where you throw it out and it gets interpreted in
different ways and some people pick up on it. And then there's the more
intimate approach like I tried on Tom Joad.
For The Rising he grabbed the shotgun. For the first time ever,
the E Street Band blasted through endless TV talk shows and promo spots
and you-name-its to launch the record and tour. When the CD was released
on July 30 it was ubiquitous, and the marketing campaign looked like an
avalanche. The number of editorial pundits in places like the New
York Times and The Economist who've felt they had to comment
on what is, after all, a pop record, struck me as remarkable. No wonder,
issues of artistic quality aside, the disc debuted at Number 1 and went
gold in the first week--an unprecedented hit for The Boss.
Boss or not, Springsteen hasn't exactly been burning up the charts since
the breakup of the E Street Band, except--predictably--for greatest-hits
packages. But he has been looking for new entrance ramps onto the
artistic freeway. In 1992 he made Human Touch and Lucky
Town, essentially by himself, and got complaints that he'd lost the
old power, that the songs had gotten clichéd, or repetitive, or
superficial--all of which had some merit. He tried touring with a mostly
black, largely female band, but the new band was loud and oddly bland.
With The Ghost of Tom Joad he walked in the footsteps of
Steinbeck and Guthrie and Ford, but for whatever reasons--the prosperity
of the times? the alien heroes? the lack of Max Weinberg's bedrock
backbeats and Clemons's predictable sax?--despite a terrific acoustic
tour, most of his fans bought in only because the themes and approach
interested him. They really wanted the Friday-night adrenaline rush of
his earlier hits, their imaginary glory days represented to them in
rocked-out concert form; but still they came, in reduced but dedicated
numbers, to see Bruce because...hey, he's Bruce.
One PR edge about The Rising pushed Springsteen's calling victims
and families, piecing together reportage for the album. There's a
queasiness about this among longtime fans, including me, although
Springsteen's genius has always shone in his talent for telling other
people's stories. Which may be the main reason fans like me believe in
Springsteen: this pop mega-star who describes what he does as a job and
bikes around the country during his downtimes. Unlike Michael Jackson,
Springsteen doesn't live in Neverland. He believes in his ability--his
duty, the requisite for his gift of talent--to move us to more than
adoration and sales. His human touch is the ghost in the pop industry's
"I'm more a product of pop culture: films and records, films and
records, films and records," Springsteen told Percy. "I had some lofty
ideas about using my own music to give people something to think
about--to think about the world, and what's right and wrong. I'd been
affected that way by records, and I wanted my own music and writing to
extend themselves in that way."
My first reactions to The Rising were mixed. I don't know what I
wanted to hear, but the marketing onslaught about 9/11 had shoved me
into an emotional corner. Listening however expectantly, I felt my
enthusiasm drain: A lot of these songs sounded like retreads whose
earlier incarnations told fuller-bodied stories. Some of them, despite
the hype, were barely if at all about 9/11. Shifting critical gears, I
postulated problems--the limits of realism, the boundaries of
Springsteen's talents and vision, the impossibly tangled American weave
of commerce and culture, Reagan's attempt to appropriate "Born in the
U.S.A." as a campaign tool, all kinds of intellectual reasons I wasn't
blown away. I groused about the sketchy thinness of the tales, their
flatness, their itchy transcendental yearnings, their failures. It
didn't, I kept repeating to friends I played it to, really work.
A month later, I still think that whole chunks of The Rising
don't work. I just don't care. Why, I keep asking myself, does the
album's title track choke me up every time I hear it, its
call-and-response gospel chorus with Bruce listing the sky's
contradictory attributes ("Sky of mercy, sky of fear/Sky of memory and
shadow") and the chorus answering, "A dream of life"? The story of a
rescue worker who "left the house this morning/Bells ringing filled the
air/Wearin' the cross of my calling/On wheels of fire I come rollin' down
here," he inches through the dark to his death: "There's spirits above
and behind me/Faces gone black, eyes burnin' bright/May their precious
blood bind me/Lord, as I stand before your fiery light," and the chorus
erupts into the wordless jigging chorus. This mini-epic opens with
drawling guitar and spare backing gradually thickened by swirling
keyboards and more guitars, grinds its gears into a blues-rock basher
for the race to the disaster site and the climb, dissolves into
kaleidoscopic textures as the hero dies dreaming of "holy pictures of
our children/Dancin' in a sky filled with light"--a dream, he says, of life. It
closes with gusts of contrapuntal voices that fade into the band's final
The opening of "Into the Fire" is the last time the narrator sees his
comrade, who climbs into the flames because "love and duty/called you
someplace higher." Its incantatory chorus rides backed by an organ
figure over a taps-derived beat. The instruments growl and skate with
that understated amazing grace the E Street Band at its best can dazzle
with. On "Empty Sky," Patti Scialfa's ghostly, quavering vocals frame
Springsteen's tight-lipped narration in a stark rock ballad with doomed
minor-major modulations and a foreground-shifting mix. "The Fuse" chuffs
electrotech industrial sounds while a couple gropes for comfort in sex
while funeral processions wind through town--carrying on, living, as
time's beats tick into forever.
These are the songs I can't stop playing.
The reunion of Springsteen and the E Streeters reaffirms The Boss's
basic mythic community; musically the album integrates the surprisingly
varied styles the World's Greatest Garage Band has tackled over
thirty-odd years. The album's title signals reassurance. The Boss has
gathered us tonight in the Church of Rock and Roll, as he used to holler
in those ferocious live gospel set pieces, to...gather us, to bear
witness, to go on--to live. Because that, as clichéd as it is, is
what we do, with a snatching of images, pangs of emotion and a gazing at
One musician I know called The Rising "comfort food--classy,
well-done comfort food." He was right, but it didn't really matter. Over
the years Springsteen has become part of the soundtrack for our lives,
as The Animals were for his. The album's failures are part of its
package, its blandness a necessary function of the affirmation,
reconciliation, healing. Think of Springsteen as the plugged-in
troubadour who shapes his artistry into what his audience wants and
needs, not cynically but because he wants to bring them with him, and
its structure becomes clearer.
Structure and intention, however, can't save all the songs. They move
effortlessly, though not always successfully, from one tempo and
soundscape to another as they talk of heroism and transcendence, devils
in the mailbox and dreams of the garden of a thousand sighs. There are
no Big Statements; there are sketchy stories. The standard imagery of
romantic love and loss is tilted into the post-9/11 world. Sometimes, as
in "You're Missing," this leaves us with a catalogue of unsatisfying
clichés against generic synth backgrounds. On the
r&b-flavored "Countin' on a Miracle," which explodes after a gentle
acoustic-guitar intro, it plays off Springsteen's longstanding
hope-against-hope trope: "It's a fairytale so tragic/There's no prince
to break the spell/I don't believe in magic/But for you I will." The
familiar language tries to embrace the unimaginable; mostly, inevitably,
But when it doesn't it cuts deep. Among the album's speakers are the
dead, the determined and fragile living, the suicidal and transfigured,
and the living dead: "Nothing Man" is a breathy ballad about a
working-class hero who makes his hometown paper, gets glad-handed and
bought rounds, and mutters, "You want courage/I'll show you courage you
can understand/The pearl and silver/Restin' on my night table/It's just
me Lord, pray I'm able." The linguistic conceit gets tangled, stretched.
The earnest "Worlds Apart," where star-crossed lovers meet to an
Arab-music inflection and a Pakistani chorus, is camp-hilarious. "Sounds
like Sting on a bad day," quipped one pal who hates Sting. Every three
or four tunes is a party piece like "Skin to Skin," a throwaway
Still, even the failures reflect Springsteen's vision of an
unpredictable, hostile world where individuals overcome, evade,
understand in defeat, or are simply crushed by the loaded dice of the
Powers That Be, whether They are the fates, the rich, the government or
the lonely crowd. He sees community as a necessary refuge: "Mary's
Place," bubbling r&b, is about a survivor throwing a post-9/11 party
while "from that black hole on the horizon/I hear your voice calling
me." These songs don't lay out a political agenda. Who needs more of
that in a world where endless voices politically spin What Happened
every day? Catch the Rashomon-style perspective shifts in
"Lonesome Day": "House is on fire, viper's in the grass/A little revenge
and this too shall pass.../It's alright...It's alright...It's
alright.../Better ask questions before you shoot/Deceit and betrayal's
bitter fruit/It's hard to swallow, come time to pay/That taste on your
tongue don't easily slip away."
This is the ineluctable lure of Springsteen's storytelling at its
best--its suggestions of life's complexity. His voice, soaked in blues
and gospel, sounds incredible, and its sheer allure, its phrasing and
catches, its demands and pleas, carry many of the weaker songs. The
singing's rich cracks and crannies evoke empathy and redemption,
separation and defeat, wrapped in religious imagery that suggests, among
other things, that the ways we were on 9/11 are more complicated than
anyone can capture yet--how long, after all, did it take for Vietnam to
yield Going After Cacciato and Dog Soldiers and "Born in
Which brings us back to the Garden, where the band pranced through
nearly three hours, delivering note-perfect renditions--the blues-rock
throb of "Into the Fire," the chug-a-lug suspensions and
industrial-metal thrust of "The Fuse," the stark-yet-full acoustic
colors of "Empty Sky," the skirling keyboards and snarling guitars that
alternate sections of "The Rising"--that often flared but never quite
built into the emotional peak that is their hallmark. The crowd leapt
from their seats and sang the show's carefully salted oldies like "Prove
It All Night," "Darkness on the Edge of Town" and "The Promised Land."
They danced to "Mary's Place" and cheered the second half of the line
from "Empty Sky" that runs, "I want a kiss from your lips/I want an eye for an eye." For the rest they mostly milled and sat and
drank. The encores were all classics, from "Thunder Road" to "Born in
Careful, scared, wondering if the glory days are past, sifting for
omens. That's how the concert felt. Maybe that's who we are now. What
kind of oracle did we expect?
Consider kids who bullied Richard Perle--
Those kids who said Perle threw just like a girl,
Those kids who poked poor Perle to show how soft
A mamma's boy could be, those kids who oft-
Times pushed poor Richard down and could be heard
Addressing him as Sissy, Wimp or Nerd.
Those kids have got a lot to answer for,
'Cause Richard Perle now wants to start a war.
The message his demeanor gets across:
He'll show those playground bullies who's the boss.
He still looks soft, but when he writes or talks
There is no tougher dude among the hawks.
And he's got planes and ships and tanks and guns--
All manned, of course, by other people's sons.
As summer winds down, retreats and vacations come to an end (no more
toasted marshmallows) and regular life begins again, with everyday
chores like buying new shoes for children and paying long-ignored bills
and getting files back in order--the whole workaday schedule.
Usually the end of summer has its own bittersweet cyclical comforts, but
this year I've been feeling more than the ordinary stress of returning
to tall stacks of unread mail and to the zip and chaos of subways and
traffic lights and elevators and buses. I realized the other day that
much of my extra angst is about September 11, and starting up life again
in New York (otherwise known as Targettown).
I'd been up in the Adirondacks, where we try to spend a week every
summer, and attempting to figure out which was reality, this--the lake
spread out before me, distant pines, a couple of ducks diving, a canoe
gliding by, the gas station that sells sub sandwiches, the ice-cream
shop with the "Pies Today" sign, the campfires and the cold nights--or
New York City; in the same state, the two places seem to exist on such
As a New Yorker, I've joined in the general quest for stress relief (we
did this pre-9/11, too, but the answer was usually Prozac or yoga or a
Manhattan, not an inflatable lifeboat or a lifetime supply of instant
milk and potassium iodide), to little avail. Still haven't got the ten
gas masks, one set for home and one for school and work...
The latest step I've taken in the quest for inner peace--while "ongoing
police investigations" in my city cause traffic jams and mini-panics and
nightmares for overactive imaginations--is to sit back with a few issues
of Adirondack Life. Eight times a year it hides a happily
provincial interior behind a handsome, sophisticated cover, and provides
a perfect escape from real troubles but is not escapist in its
intentions: Life doesn't feel compelled to paper over the
troubles of the region it's covering, it just doesn't happen to be
covering Manhattan or Iraq, and its own ground zero is the Adirondack
Park, not Ground Zero. Like many regional magazines, it contains
puffery. The October cover story, "Hunting Wild Elk," is little more
than a paean to the resplendent Elk Lake--hence no final beauty shot of
an actual wild elk, but plenty of pictures of canoes and swimming
platforms and autumn foliage. (Indeed, an issue of Adirondack Life
without a single image of a canoe would be like an issue of
Rolling Stone--at least, the old Rolling Stone--with no
reference, even glancing, to the Beatles.) Even when puffing, though,
Adirondack Life is not as touristy as some regionals, and it
feels less provincial, less like the local section of a small newspaper.
(Yankee and Hudson Valley magazines come to mind.)
It's a more important magazine, closer to the heart of the country, or
what's good about it, than most others of its type. For me, and many
others, the Adirondacks are a throwback to what American life was or
could have been--at some idealized moment of pioneering and small camp
settlements, of fur trading and logging and fishing, all on a small
scale; a paradigm of man and nature together in the East among pines and
hills and lakes. Though there is nothing left of the wild in Manhattan
and only about a square block of it remaining on Long Island, in the
Adirondacks there are places where you can imagine the continent before
the advent of the white man, and how rich, promising, altogether
stupendous and just plain big it must have seemed to the settlers. You
can see how the sheer sweep of the land was predictive of the future of
Over and over Adirondack Life captures that sweep, as well as the
idiosyncrasies of the citizens of what is self-consciously called the
"North Country" but might as well be called America. In another October
article, called "First Estate," Lynn Woods presents the utopia of
Brandreth Park, a huge piece of land bought in 1851 by Dr. Benjamin
Brandreth with proceeds from the fortune he made as the maker of
Life-Addition and Vegetable Universal pills and remedies. (Along with
quackery, Dr. Brandreth could boast of a gift for Bible-thumping
advertising.) After he lost the then 24,038-acre park in 1873 for
failing to pay taxes, his wife bought it back from the state for $5,091
at public auction. The 12,500 remaining acres of Dr. Brandreth's park
are still held by ninety of his descendants--offshoots of his thirteen
children--and their families. Paulina Brandreth, a granddaughter, was a
fabled Adirondack iconoclast who dressed as a man and who in photographs
barely differs from her wilderness guide, Reuben Cary, except for her
beardlessness. Boozers, cross-dressers, big-gamesmen, Presidents,
madwomen and steely-eyed, bear-shooting great aunts--all the material is
Today, that flinty, eccentric spirit remains at Brandreth Park, which is
like a dream of Adirondack perfection. No motorboats allowed here, no
noise pollution except for the generator that powers Brandreth's water
pump, the main road rerouted so that headlights won't play across the
pristine face of the lake. The architecture is utilitarian, not
twig-bedecked and touristy.
It would be splendid to visit the Brandreths of old; to drive down a
dirt road to a wooden camp and live off the lake with the help of a
Reuben or Paulina. The best way to get a sense of what that visit would
provide is to read Adirondack Life. You won't learn only about
quacks and scenic lakes, though. You'll also read Bill McKibben on how
the changing global environment is affecting the Adirondacks, and Amy
Godine on the summer at Saratoga.
I tried to get other magazines up in the North Country, but the best
periodical I could find other than Adirondack Life was a consumer
shopper on trucks for purchase at public auction (call Mrs.
Brandreth...). There was, however, no shortage of Adirondack
Life. No sense of timeliness or, worse yet, "news," mars the
unchanging, eternal stasis here. At Hoss's Country Corner in Long Lake
you can buy about two years' worth of back issues.
One more thing: I failed to mention the photographs, which alone can
soothe the terror-tried breast. Barns in the snow. Mist coming off a
pond in early morning. Purple ice cracking at sunset. Green grasses in
the blue Cedar River. Another world.
Now back to the 111th Street newsstand.
MORE FUN THAN A BARREL OF...
In an accurate review of Jonathan Marks's loosely argued What It
Means to Be 98% Chimpanzee, Micaela di Leonardo passes on to readers
the misleading impression that the Great Ape Project uses the genetic
similarities between humans and apes to argue for "human rights" for
apes, "frequently to the detriment of the impoverished African and
Southeast Asian residents of ape homelands" ["Too Much Monkey Business,"
This is false from start to finish. First, the Great Ape Project is not
based on the genetic similarities of humans and great apes but on the
rich emotional and mental lives of the great apes, so well documented by
supporters of the Great Ape Project like Jane Goodall and many others.
Second, the Great Ape Project does not seek the full range of human
rights for great apes, but only the basic rights to life, liberty and
protection from torture, and even the rights to life and liberty that we
seek are not absolute, for they allow euthanasia in the interests of the
apes, and captivity where that is in the best interests of the apes or
is required for the safety of others. Finally, the protection of the
remaining, and rapidly dwindling, forests of Africa and Southeast Asia
where the great apes live in their natural habitat is, surely, also in
the best long-term interests of the human residents of those regions.
Readers interested in finding out more about the project for themselves
may go to www.greatapeproject.org.
DI LEONARDO REPLIES
You've got to hand it to notorious headline-grabbing philosopher Peter
Singer, who has endorsed infanticide for disabled human babies, claimed
we can solve global poverty by just consuming a little less and donating
as individuals to aid agencies (no need, apparently, to complicate
matters by considering capitalist functioning and state and NGO actions)
and called for a revision of taboos against bestiality since "sex with
animals does not always involve cruelty." Now how exactly can he hold
his mouth to call Jon Marks's 98% Chimpanzee loosely argued?
What is so refreshing about Marks's work is that he is a hard scientist
who really understands that we live and act within a shifting political
economy. Animal and ecosystem conservation and human rights for the
impoverished who live in surviving great ape territories in Africa and
Southeast Asia need not be antithetical projects, but Marks quotes
numerous Great Ape Project activists who believe they are, including the
zoologist who chillingly said to him, "Think percentages, not numbers"
in weighing Southeast Asian human vs. ape rights. Others frequently
liken apes to human children or mentally retarded adults. And Singer is
most disingenuous in claiming that the GAP does not argue on the basis
of genetic similarity. The group's official website clearly argues for
apes' inclusion with humans in a "community of equals" because they (and
Singer co-wrote this statement) "are the closest relatives of our
The issue, as Marks makes crystal clear, is not whether apes are
adorable, interesting, endangered and in need of aid--of course they
are--but how we use science to make political arguments. "Why should the
mentality of apes have any bearing on their humanness (or lack thereof)
or their rights (or lack thereof)? If you lose the ability to reason and
communicate, do you...forfeit your humanity and rights? This is a scary
moral place for apes and people to be.... Human rights should neither be
forfeitable nor accessible by nonhumans.... Singling out particular
classes of people in order to show how similar they are to apes is a
troubling scientific strategy, not least of all when the humans
rhetorically invoked are the very ones whose rights are most
conspicuously in jeopardy."
Disability groups and others quite rightly have weighed in en masse
against Singer, but nonhuman primates, too, deserve a better, more
MICAELA DI LEONARDO
THIS IS A TEST. THIS IS ONLY A TEST...
Santa Barbara, Calif.
Eighty years ago, journalist Walter Lippmann took on the standardized
testing enterprise in The New Republic, addressing such broad
issues as the effects of education, opportunity and heredity on test
scores. For example, Lippmann dismissed the claim that IQ tests measure
hereditary intelligence as having "no more scientific foundation than a
hundred other fads, vitamins and glands and amateur psychoanalysis and
correspondence courses in will power." His articles on testing continue
to be valued today not merely because he could turn a phrase but because
he had a firm grasp of the complex technical and political issues
surrounding the use of test scores.
Alas, Peter Sacks is no Walter Lippmann. To Sacks, who reviewed my book
Fair Game? The Use of Standardized Admissions Tests in Higher
Education ["Testing Times in Higher Ed," June 24], the issues are
simple: Tests are evil; eliminating them is good. Sacks has undoubtedly
been aware of my work because I have pointed out errors and omissions in
his writings on testing; in fact, I do so in my book. He ignores large
portions of the book in order to characterize it as "a defense of the
hegemony of gatekeeping exams." A reader of the review might be
surprised to find that my book proposes a new consumer agency to monitor
admissions testing, discusses the perils of relying too heavily on test
scores in admissions decisions and describes research, including some of
my own, in which test scores did not do a good job of predicting
Rather than attempt to address every inaccuracy, I will focus on a
central feature of Sacks's review--his belief that the existence of
score disparities among ethnic and economic groups proves that
admissions tests are biased. In Fair Game? I point out that
determining whether tests are biased is complex and requires a
willingness to look beyond patterns of average test scores. In
Change (March/April 2001), I commented on Sacks's earlier
Change article, "Standardized Testing: Meritocracy's Crooked
Yardstick": "[Sacks] cited several studies to prove that SAT scores and
socioeconomic status are related, and alluded to [a study conducted by
the National Center for Education Statistics]. What he neglected to
mention is that this study showed that socioeconomic status was also
related to high school grades... [and to course background, teacher
evaluations and extracurricular activities]. In particular, 24 percent
of the high-SES group, compared to only 10 percent of the low-SES group,
had high school [grade-point averages] of at least 3.5..."
What the GPA and the SAT have in common is that they are indexes of
previous achievement and therefore reflect past inequalities in
educational opportunity. In The Nation (June 5, 2000), Pedro
Noguera and Antwi Akom noted that "explaining why poor children of color
perform comparatively less well in school is relatively easy:
Consistently, such children are educated in schools that are woefully
inadequate on most measures of quality and funding."
Sacks omitted the findings on grades and other achievement measures from
his book and from his Change article. Presenting the complete
results would have undercut his position that some inherent property of
tests causes the scores to be related to economic factors. (Including
all the findings might have also required him to abandon his pet phrase,
"the Volvo effect," which he uses to refer to the association between
family income and standardized test scores.)
In addition, Sacks is incorrect in implying that class-rank admission
plans like the Texas 10 percent plan, which involve consideration of
high school grades but not test scores, have uniformly led to greater
campus diversity. The Dallas Morning News, for example, reported
on June 19, 2002, that at Texas A&M, the percentages of black and
Latino students have decreased since the initiation of the Texas plan.
As I point out in my book, the plan is structured so that diversity
benefits are likely to accrue to the state's flagship institution, UT
Finally, in response to Sacks's criticism that my writing is
textbookish, I readily concede that I lack his ability to generate
catchy phrases like "Volvo effect" and "crooked yardstick." But clever
labels are a poor substitute for thoughtful consideration of the
controversies that surround the use of standardized tests.
In response to my criticisms of her new book, Rebecca Zwick takes aim
at the reviewer. She says I believe that "tests are evil; eliminating
them is good." It's not surprising she'd make up this straw man, since
attacking it also sums up the entire marketing strategy behind her book.
Zwick--a former researcher at the Educational Testing Service, the firm
that produces such standardized tests as the SAT--and her publisher have
touted Fair Game? as a source of objective information about
testing, positioned to clear up all this testing fuss with common sense
and straight facts. If one chooses to look at a different or broader set
of facts than she does, or to interpret them with a non-ETS spin, Zwick
seems to imply that one must then be a simpleton and an ideologue.
Zwick tries to make hay of the finding that high school or college
grades, just like test scores, also correlate strongly to socioeconomic
status. Not recognizing this, as Zwick takes pains to do in her book, is
to unfairly single out standardized tests as punitive to poor and
minority kids, Zwick claims.
Like so much of her book, Zwick seems to miss the big picture. The
thrust of my entire critique of the testing culture--and her book--is
that gatekeeping tests give questionable weight to one-time performance
on highly abstracted testing exercises, which by definition are mere
approximations of genuine work. And mostly poor approximations, at that.
Given this, it's no wonder that test scores are such feeble predictors
of later success, whether in school or work.
Just as Bates College and other institutions have done, with great
success, in their efforts to reduce the importance of admissions tests,
I'll take classroom performance--as measured by grades, portfolios of
student work and other documentation of student accomplishments both in
and out of school--any day over test performance as an indicator of how
a student will perform in real life, not the tested life.
Regarding the Texas 10-percent plan, Zwick says I'm incorrect in
implying that de-emphasizing the SAT has led to greater diversity for
all state institutions. In fact, I'm not implying any such claim in the
context she quotes. I draw on data only from the University of Texas at
Austin. Zwick speculates that the plan has merely reshuffled the deck in
terms of statewide enrollments of minorities. If Zwick wants me
or another reviewer to take her seriously on this point, she'd better
offer up something of substance or do some real analysis. In her book,
Zwick could only muster up this: "Data on the statewide effect of
the Texas 10 percent plan are hard to come by."
What can she possibly mean with such a vague statement? That university
officials are trying to hide some dirty little secret? Does it mean that
there are no campus-specific enrollment data broken out by race and
ethnicity? Seems improbable. Or could it mean that Zwick could find no
readily available studies by credible researchers that support her claim
that enrollments have merely been redistributed from other state
campuses to Austin? But even a boatload of data needs a theory, an
explanation of what the data mean. Alas, Zwick offers readers no
theoretically plausible explanation whatsoever as to why minority
enrollments might be expected to decline across the state as a result of
reducing the emphasis on SAT scores. In fact, there's every reason to
expect just the opposite.
As for textbookishness, that is certainly no major offense. Sign me up
any day for a dry but forthright book about testing in America.
Regarding Zwick's curious reference to me and Walter Lippmann, I won't
touch that one with a ten-foot number-2 pencil.
When Rio hosted the first Earth Summit in 1992, there was so much
goodwill surrounding the event that it was nicknamed, without irony, the
Summit to Save the World. This week in Johannesburg, at the follow-up
conference known as Rio + 10, nobody is claiming that the World Summit
on Sustainable Development can save the world--the question is whether
the summit can even save itself.
The sticking point is what UN bureaucrats call "implementation" and the
rest of us call "doing something." Much of the blame for the
"implementation gap" is being placed at the doorstep of the United
States. It was George W. Bush who abandoned the only significant
environmental regulations that came out of the Rio conference, the Kyoto
Protocol on climate change. It was Bush who decided not to come to
Johannesburg (even his father showed up in Rio), signaling that the
issues being discussed here--from basic sanitation to clean energy--are
low priorities for his Administration. And it is the US delegation that
is most belligerently blocking all proposals that involve either
directly regulating multinational corporations or dedicating significant
new funds to sustainable development.
But the Bush-bashing is too easy: The summit isn't failing because of
anything happening now in Johannesburg. It's failing because the entire
process was booby-trapped from the start.
When Canadian entrepreneur and diplomat Maurice Strong was appointed to
chair the Rio summit ten years ago, his vision was of a massive
gathering that brought all the "stakeholders" to the table--not just
governments but also nongovernmental organizations (environmentalists,
indigenous and lobby groups) as well as multinational corporations.
Strong's vision allowed for more participation from civil society than
any UN conference before, at the same time as it raised unprecedented
amounts of corporate funds for the summit (it helped that Coca-Cola
donated its marketing team and Swatch produced a limited-edition Earth
Summit watch). But the sponsorship had a price. Corporations came to Rio
with clear conditions: They'd embrace ecologically sustainable practices
but only voluntarily--through nonbinding codes and "best practices"
partnerships with NGOs and governments. In other words, when the
business sector came to the table in Rio, direct regulation of business
was pushed off.
In Johannesburg, these "partnerships" have passed into self-parody, with
the conference center chock-a-block with displays for BMW "clean cars"
and billboards for De Beers diamonds announcing Water Is Forever. The
summit's main sponsor is Eskom, South Africa's soon-to-be-privatized
national energy company. According to a recent study, under Eskom's
restructuring 40,000 households are losing access to electricity each
And this cuts to the heart of the real debate about the summit. The
World Business Council for Sustainable Development, a corporate lobby
group founded in Rio, is insisting that the route to sustainability is
the same trickle-down formula already being imposed by the World Trade
Organization and the International Monetary Fund: Poor countries must
make themselves hospitable to foreign investment, usually by privatizing
basic services, from water to electricity to healthcare. As in Rio,
these corporations are pushing for voluntary "partnerships" rather than
"command and control" regulations.
But these arguments sound different from a decade ago. Post-Enron, it's
difficult to believe that companies can be trusted even to keep their
own books, let alone save the world. And unlike a decade ago, the
economic model of laissez-faire development is being militantly rejected
by popular movements around the world, particularly in Latin America but
also here in South Africa.
This time around, many of the "stakeholders" aren't at the official
table but out in the streets or organizing countersummit conferences to
plot very different routes to development: debt cancellation, an end to
the privatization of water and electricity, reparations for apartheid
abuses, affordable housing, land reform. The most ambitious is the Week
of the Landless, a parallel event arguing that unfulfilled promises to
introduce substantive land reform--in South Africa and across the
postcolonial developing world--have been the single greatest barrier to
sustainable development globally.
Key to these movements is that they are no longer willing simply to talk
about their demands--they're acting on them. In the past two years,
South Africa has experienced a surge in direct action, with groups like
the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee, the Landless People's Movement,
Durban's Concerned Citizens' Forum and the Western Cape Anti-Eviction
Campaign organizing to resist evictions, to claim unproductive land and
to reconnect cut-off water and electricity in the townships.
A mass demonstration is planned for August 31, but the fate of the march
is by no means certain. The South African government appears to have
decided that if nothing else comes of it, the summit is at least an
opportunity "to change misconceptions about safety and security in South
Africa...[and] attract the attention of foreign tourists and investors,"
in the words of Provincial Police Commissioner Perumal Naidoo.
What this means in practice is that while street signs welcome delegates
to "feel the pulse" of "the Sensational City," Sandton, the ultrarich
suburb where the conference is being held, has been transformed into a
military zone, complete with "mega search park" and remote spy planes
patrolling the skies. All protests are confined to a 1.8-kilometer
"struggle pen," as many are calling it, and even there, only
police-permitted marches are allowed.
Vendors and beggars have been swept from the streets, residents of
squatter camps have been evicted (many have been relocated to less
visible sites, far from busy roads). Moss Moya, a township resident
facing eviction from his home of eighteen years, holds out little hope
that the summit will help South Africa's poor. "If they are going to
help us," he said, "they need to see us."
But when Moya and his neighbors held a rally to resist the attempts to
relocate them behind a grove of trees, the police cracked down, and
Moya, a former ANC supporter, was shot in the mouth with a rubber
bullet, knocking out six of his teeth. When he went to file a complaint
with the police, he was thrown in jail.
Moya and some 1,000 other township residents decided to take their
struggle to downtown Johannesburg, holding a peaceful rally outside the
offices of the Premier of Gauteng, the province in which Johannesburg is
located. Right underneath a sign that announces, The People of Gauteng
Welcome WSSD Delegates to the Smart Province, seventy-seven
demonstrators were arrested, including the entire leadership of the
Landless People's Movement. (All but one--a US citizen, still facing
deportation--have since been released.)
On August 24, police even attacked a candlelight "freedom of expression
march," held to protest these and other mass arrests. The spontaneously
organized march was headed to a downtown prison, but before the crowd of
1,000 local and international activists had walked a block, riot police
surrounded them and barricaded the road. Without warning, stun grenades
were fired at the marchers, injuring three.
The World Summit on Sustainable Development isn't going to save the
world; it merely offers an exaggerated mirror of it. In the gourmet
restaurants of Sandton, delegates are literally dining out on their
concern for the poor. Meanwhile, outside the gates, poor people are
being hidden away, assaulted and imprisoned for what has become the
iconic act of resistance in an unsustainable world: refusing to
America's rate of unwanted pregnancy is a huge public health scandal,
but five years after being approved by the FDA, emergency
contraception--the use of normal birth control pills to block pregnancy
within seventy-two hours of unprotected sex--has yet to fulfill its
potential. Part of the problem has to do with the difficulty of getting
EC in time; many doctors don't want the hassle of dealing with walk-in
patients, many clinics are closed on weekends and holidays (times of
peak demand) and some pharmacies, like Wal-Mart's, refuse to stock it.
That anti-choicers falsely liken EC to abortion and tar it as a
dangerous drug doesn't help.
The main barrier to EC use, though, is that most women don't know what
it is. To spread the word, Jennifer Baumgardner and I have written an
open letter explaining how EC works, how to get it and why women should
even consider acquiring it in advance. If every Nation
reader with access to the Internet forwards it to ten people and one
list, and those people do the same and on and on, it could reach
thousands, even millions of women. Like ads for Viagra, only not spam.
Activism doesn't get much easier than this!
An Open Letter About EC
The one thing that activists on every side of the abortion debate agree
on is that we should reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies. There
are 3 million unintended pregnancies each year in the United States;
around 1.4 million of them end in abortion. Yet the best tool for
reducing unwanted pregnancies has only been used by 2 percent of all
adult women in the United States, and only 11 percent of us know enough
about it to be able to use it. No, we aren't talking about
abstinence--we mean something that works!
The tool is EC, which stands for Emergency Contraception (and is also
known as the Morning After Pill). For more than twenty-five years,
doctors have dispensed EC "off label" in the form of a handful of daily
birth control pills. Meanwhile, many women have taken matters into their
own hands by popping a handful themselves after one of those nights--you
know, when the condom broke or the diaphragm slipped or for whatever
reason you had unprotected sex.
Preven (on the market since 1998) and Plan B (approved in 1999), the
dedicated forms of EC, operate essentially as a higher-dose version of
the Pill. The first dose is taken within seventy-two hours after
unprotected sex, and a second pill is taken twelve hours later. EC is at
least 75 percent effective in preventing an unwanted pregnancy after sex
by interrupting ovulation, fertilization and implantation of the egg.
If you are sexually active, or even if you're not right now, you should
keep a dose of EC on hand. It's less anxiety-producing than waiting
around to see if you miss your period; much easier, cheaper and more
pleasant than having to arrange for a surgical abortion. To find an EC
provider in your area, see www.backupyourbirthcontrol.org,
www.not-2-late.com or ec.princeton.edu/providers/index.html.
Pass this on to anyone you think may not know about backing up their
birth control (or do your own thing and let us know about it). Let's
make sure we have access to our own hard-won sexual and reproductive
The Things You Need to Know About EC
EC is easy. A woman takes a dose of EC within seventy-two hours of
unprotected sex, followed by a second dose twelve hours later.
EC is legal.
EC is safe. It is FDA-approved and supported by the American College
of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
EC is not an abortion. Anti-choicers who call EC "the abortion
pill" or "chemical abortion" also believe contraceptive pills,
injections and IUDs are abortions. According to the FDA, EC pills "are
not effective if the woman is pregnant; they act primarily by delaying
or inhibiting ovulation, and/or by altering tubal transport of sperm
and/or ova (thereby inhibiting fertilization), and/or altering the
endometrium (thereby inhibiting implantation)."
EC has a long shelf life. You can keep your EC on hand for at least two
EC is for women who use birth control. You should back up your
birth control by keeping a dose of EC in your medicine cabinet or purse.
What You Can Do to Help
Forward this e-mail to everyone you know. Post it on lists, especially
those with lots of women and girls. Print out this information,
photocopy it to make instant leaflets and pass them around in your
community. Call your healthcare provider, clinic, or university health
service and ask if they provide EC. Spread the word if they do. Lobby
them (via petitions, meetings with the administrators, etc.) to offer EC
if they don't.
Make sure that your ER has EC on hand for rape victims and offers it to
them as a matter of policy. Many hospitals, including most Catholic
hospitals, do not dispense EC even to rape victims.
Get in touch with local organizations--Planned Parenthood, NOW, NARAL,
campus groups--and work with them to pressure hospitals to amend their
If you can't find a group, start your own. Submit an Op-Ed to your local
paper or send letters to the editor about EC.
Make sure your pharmacy fills EC prescriptions. Some states have
"conscience clauses" that exempt pharmacists from dispensing drugs that
have to do with women's reproductive freedom.
"In the Roman empire, only Romans voted. In modern global capitalism,
only Americans vote," declared George Soros in June. "Brazilians do not
He spoke too soon. With only weeks remaining till the presidential
election on October 6, Workers Party (PT) candidate Luis Inacio Da
Silva--"Lula," as he is popularly known--is still leading in the polls.
His closest competitor, Ciro Gomes, is an ordinary politician whose rise
to second place was fueled by harsh populist rhetoric against the IMF,
neoliberalism and the economic failures of the current administration.
The ruling party's candidate, José Serra, is a distant
third--despite Soros's claim that Brazilians had no choice but to elect
The Wall Street-Treasury Complex, as Columbia economist Jagdish Bhagwati
has named the IMF and its private sector allies, won't be able to pick
the president this time. So they are going for second best: choosing the
policies. On August 19 President Fernando Henrique Cardoso met with the
contenders and tried to rope them into pledging support for continuing
IMF policies over the next three years. "The candidates," he told the
press, "whether they want to or not, will have to commit to these [IMF]
We'll see about that, too. The IMF recently approved a $30 billion loan,
with most of it to be disbursed in installments next year. The idea is
that the IMF can cut off the flow of money if the new government
deviates from its program of fiscal and monetary austerity. That's the
way it usually works, but this time Imperial Rome may not get to choose
the policy any more than the proconsul.
Why not? First, Brazil has an explosive debt burden. The IMF's latest
loan was intended to stabilize Brazil's bond and currency markets, so as
to prevent a default before the election. It will also help US banks,
which have outstanding loans of more than $25 billion in Brazil, to get
some of their money out, on more favorable terms, before the collapse.
(The IMF may as well have written the check to Citigroup, FleetBoston
and J.P. Morgan Chase.) But it will not prevent a default.
The default--or "restructuring," if it takes place in an orderly,
negotiated manner--will make plain to everyone the failure of the
Cardoso/IMF model in Brazil. Since 1994 growth has been rather
slow--about 1.3 percent in per capita income annually. At the same time,
the public debt has soared relative to the economy--from 29 to 60
percent of GDP. And this was on top of $100 billion worth of
privatization, a massive raiding of public assets that should have
helped government finances significantly. The country's foreign debt has
also swelled. This is truly an enormous mortgaging of the country's
future, with very little to show for it. For Cardoso to lecture the
current candidates about fiscal austerity is like Ronald Reagan and
George Bush Senior--who presided over a similar record-breaking debt
run-up in the United States--telling their successors to please keep the
The business press seems to have missed the irony of all this, and
instead has blamed Lula's rise in the polls for the current financial
crisis. That, they say, has spooked investors, causing the currency to
fall (26 percent so far this year), foreign credit to dry up and the
country's risk premium to soar to the level of Nigeria's. But this
picture confuses the event that triggered the crisis with the actual
cause. Just as the accounting and corporate scandals did not cause the
stock market collapse in the United States--stocks were overvalued
relative to any conceivable economic future and had to crash sooner or
later--Brazilian bond prices aren't falling because Lula is ahead in the
polls. The real reason for the financial crisis is that the smarter (or
more risk-averse) bondholders have done the necessary calculations and
concluded that Brazil cannot pay its debt. Although some gamblers will
hang on to collect high returns in hope of jumping ship at the last
minute, default is inevitable.
But that's no reason for Brazil to surrender its democracy to Washington
and Wall Street. The PT has a reasonable reform program: lower domestic
interest rates (now set by the central bank at 18 percent, among the
world's highest), some support for domestic industry and small and
medium-sized agriculture, and a "zero hunger" program, including food
stamps, for the poor.
Brazil used to have one of the fastest-growing economies in the world:
From 1960 to 1980, income per person grew by 141 percent. From 1980 to
2000 it grew by 5 percent, or hardly at all. This is the story of
Brazil's neoliberal experiment. It is similar throughout most of the
region: hence the spreading political unrest. A Workers Party victory
could change the history of Latin America.
Lula might just be the right person for the job. Born into an
impoverished peasant family in one of the poorer areas of Brazil's
Northeast, he confronted hardship and hunger, and by the age of 12 had
to go to work. He rose through the ranks of the metalworkers' union and
was jailed for labor activism during the military dictatorship. He was
elected to Congress in 1986, where he helped win some important
provisions for workers' rights, healthcare and education in the new
(postmilitary) Constitution. Tens of millions of poor and working people
in Brazil identify with both his personal and political struggle against
the injustice of one of the world's most unequal societies. He has been
compared to Nelson Mandela, fighting to bring the poor of Brazil out of
economic apartheid. And the PT also has considerable support among those
in the educated classes, many of whom recognize that the party's program
makes more economic sense than the slow-growth, high-interest-rate,
explosive-debt scenario of the past and present.
But winning the election is only half the battle. One reason the IMF is
so eager to postpone the inevitable until after the election is so it
can threaten the new president with default if he doesn't knuckle under.
If he wins, Lula and the PT will have to explain to the country that
they didn't create this mess and stick to their program as the way
forward. It won't be easy, but it can be done.
There was a huge outcry in France this summer over a move by allies of French President Jacques Chirac to narrow the character and quality of that country's political competition. Stung by recent shows of electoral strength by the nationalist right and the Green and Trotskyist left, France's political establishment is preparing to rewrite election rules in order to essentially assure that only traditional major parties of the center-right and center-left can prevail in elections for the domestic and European parliaments. Objections from across the political spectrum echo a similar theme: The changes proposed by the insiders in Paris would "Americanize" that country's politics.
Casual observers in the United States might object to the notion that there is something wrong with Americanizing the politics of France or any other country. But they should understand that the complaint is grounded in our own experience in the US. For all the frenzy and hype of the cable television commentators and the vast political industry that now operates inside the Washington beltway, our country's political processes have become so leaden and disengaged that they no longer are deemed worthy of attention by the majority of voters. Almost two-thirds of America's eligible voters (64 percent in 1994, 66 percent in 1998) no longer participate in Congressional elections, and the most hotly contested presidential election in a generation (the unsettling and unsettled 2000 contest between Democratic Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush) could barely draw half the electorate to the polls.
The range of opinion expressed at the upper levels of American political discourse have been narrowing for more than a decade, as marketing men and women have taken over the levels of power in both the Democratic and Republican parties. Even a misguided war and the threat of its expansion to dramatic new levels of folly, corporate scandals of epic economic consequence and the clear corruption of executive branch decision making musters little in the way of straight talk in a Congress where the calculation of campaign contributions takes precedence at every turn over Constitutional responsibilities and the public interest.
Micah Sifry's August 1, 2001 Nation Online article, "Greens at the Crossroads," sparked a number of letters from many of those active in the Green movement. We've published six of them below along with a reply from Sifry.
New York City
Micah Sifry gets some things right. The Minnesota Greens' decision to run a candidate against Paul Wellstone is wrong; at this moment retaining a Democratic Senate is an important part of progressive strategy. And while Ralph Nader has helped the Green Party grow, the Greens must stop hanging on his celebrity and build on their own candidates and issues. But in contending that the Greens are too far left and should stick to economic populism, Sifry misconstrues the party's nature and purpose.
Unlike most electoral parties, the Greens are a hybrid--a social movement as well as an electoral vehicle. Instead of reflecting the "left wing of the possible," whose boundaries have become so narrow that yesterday's centrists are today's liberals, we have a vision of change that seeks to expand people's idea of what's possible and persuade them to act on hope rather than despair. This vision includes proposals for economic democracy that entail a strong anti-corporate position; the Greens are on the cutting edge of campaign and electoral reform. But our concerns are far broader. Our signature issue, ecological sanity, marks us off from virtually every other formation in American politics. We take the global context seriously: We are the only party to argue that the crisis of global warming requires radical changes in our way of life, especially democratic transnational institutions that confront rampant oligarchic capitalism. And unlike the economic populists who disdain social radicalism because they believe it is "divisive," the party is feminist and opposes the death penalty and the war on drugs. In short, the Green Party aims to become an alternative to the two major parties, not a single-issue organization.
Sifry seems to think the Green Party should exercise centralized political discipline over local organizations. But decentralization is the hallmark of a democratic social movement. The results are inevitably messy and contentious. (Indeed, from my perspective, some Greens are too cautious about distinguishing themselves from politics as usual.) But this does not mean the Greens are fated to remain marginal. Opponents of Green politics may use decisions like Minnesota's as an excuse to discredit the party as such, but most of our potential constituents are capable of understanding that we are not a monolith.
This is a moment of turbulence, when many elements of conventional wisdom are in doubt. It is the Greens' role to deepen those doubts and convert them into action.
(The writer is Green Party candidate for Governor of New York State.)
New Haven, CT
For the record, however Micah Sifry chooses to describe or analyze the relationship between Ralph Nader and the Green Party, he should have included some crucial facts. For example, since the November 2000 elections, Ralph Nader has headlined about thirty-eight fundraisers for the Green Party and its candidates, including seven joint fundraisers for the national and one of the state Green parties. This has helped Greens to raise over $200,000. When the fundraisers have been with the national party, Nader has also allowed the use of his donor list for that state, to assure that the fundraisers have had the best
turnout possible. As part of those thirty-eight fundraisers, Nader has headlined fundraisers for the Green Party in conjunction with each
of the Democracy Rising super-rallies. Democracy Rising also shares the list of the DR attendees with the state Green Party where the Democracy Rising event is held.
Finance Director, Green Party of the United States (title for identification purposes only)
For the record, the relationship between Ralph Nader and the Green Party is as good as it's ever been. While Micah Sifry would not be incorrect to point to strains in that relationship, it is surely an overstatement to proclaim, as he did in "Greens at the Crossroads," that the relationship is "dysfunctional."
While it's true that Nader has not agreed to many things the party
has asked of him, it is also a fact that he has continued to actively
support our growth and development. For example, since the November
2000 elections, Ralph Nader has headlined, at last count, thirty-eight
fundraisers for the Green Party and its candidates, including seven joint
state/national fundraisers, helping Greens to raise over $200,000. Nader also talks up the Green Party in the media and in his many public appearances.
It would be unrealistic to expect a historic and powerful figure such as Ralph Nader and a 250,000-member political party such as the Greens to have a smooth relationship. We are grateful to Nader for everything he has done for our party.
Co-Chair, Green Party of the United States
Micah Sifry quotes me and I feel takes my comments very much out of context. I agree in many respects with his analysis of the challenges facing the Green
Party. But in regard to the issue of the Minnesota Greens running Ed McGaa, he seems to have done little more than justify his own fear and outrage, and paint anyone who does not share his apprehensions as hopelessly naive and out of touch with political reality. Of course I know who Senators Orrin Hach and Patrick Leahy are and the importance of the Senate Judiciary committee, but was not prepared to compare and contrast them for Sifry. What Sifry did not say in his analysis of the Green Party speaks volumes. He did not say that Badili Jones, an
African-American, and I, a Latina, are part of a grassroots of "Citizen Leaders" who are driving the Green Party to become the mechanism for making real the myth of democracy. In addition to being co-chairs of the national Green Party both Badili, in Atlanta, Georgia, and I, in Toledo, Ohio, undertake the bulk of our activism on the ground and in our communities. We are both involved in numerous
projects including efforts to address issues of racism and how it has manifested since September 11, 2001. Sifry didn't say these things because he probably didn't know these things, and he didn't know because he didn't ask, and he didn't ask because he was too busy running around acting like "the sky is falling," and blaming it on the Greens. What I expressed to Sifry when he interviewed me in Philadelphia was that both the Democrats and the Republicans have failed the ordinary people of this country and that the Greens should
not be expected to insulate the democrats from their mistakes.
How presumptuous of Sifry to assume that my indifference to his concerns about the Senate race in Minnesota stems from ignorance. As the daughter of migrant farmworkers, as someone who has stood in welfare lines, as someone who has stood in unemployment lines, as someone who has known what it feels like to be hungry in America, I know very well the consequences of continuing with our
farce of a democratic political system. And I am far more concerned about
the reelection of Cynthia McKinney than I am about Paul Wellstone, and it isn't Greens who are running against her.
Co-Chair of the Green Party of the United States
East Windsor, NJ
Micah Sifry laments that the Greens "risk being hobbled by their own impatience." Just two years after our first major presidential campaign, nine months after being recognized by the Federal Elections Commission as a national party, one week after our first-ever midterm convention, the article holds us to awfully high standards of political maturity. I guess we could take that as a compliment of sorts, but I can't help feeling that Sifry is the one who's showing impatience.
He mentions "promising Green candidates in places like Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Wisconsin, and Texas," but cites a single problematic situation in Minnesota as evidence that "the Green Party is at risk of being fixed in the public's mind by the choices of its most flamboyant branch"--and he devotes more than half the text of his article to oy-vaying about that particular situation!
The movement for Green politics in the United States is clearly in its infancy. Based on reasonable standards of comparison (for instance, relative to initiatives like the Reform Party, New Party, Labor Party, and Citizens Party) the Greens are showing exceptional potential and impressive growth in all measurable areas: number of activists, registrants, votes, candidacies and electoral victories.
Constructive, empathetic criticism is most welcome, but we hope Sifry and all who wish to see a progressive challenge to the only-two-choices system will maintain some perspective. Even better--join up and help us achieve the standards we all agree to be desirable and ultimately attainable. We're on the road toward becoming America's third significant political party.
Green Party of New Jersey
Working with Anita Rios closely, as I do here in Ohio, I am not
surprised that she did not profess to an intimate familiarity with
Patrick Leahy or Orrin Hatch nor their possibly different approaches
to running the Judiciary Committee of the US Senate.
What would surprise me is if Anita had not talked passionately about
the need to empower the disenfranchised in this society. Nor provided
details of the challenges Greens face in organizing grassroots
opposition to corporate power. Opposition such as the rally Anita
helped organize near Toledo the weekend after the national convention
to urge the final and complete shutdown of the damaged Davis-Besse
nuclear power plant on the shores of Lake Erie.
I also am not surprised that Sifry chose a comment by Anita
that supported his thesis regarding Greens' supposed lack of
As for surprises, know now that you should not be surprised if we
who fight in the trenches on a regular basis ignore the tut-tutting
of armchair politicos who profess to offer guidance on the "proper"
path. If the Greens eventually gain national power it will not be
because we artfully finessed conflict and setbacks. We will have
gained national power because we fought the tough conflicts and
overcame setbacks and defeated, in an upset of millennial
proportions, the entrenched powers that are sucking the lifeblood
from this nation.
Convener, Green Party of Ohio
New York City
Since readers can easily find my original article online, I'm not going to reiterate all my arguments here, but just respond to what I see as the key points made by these letters.
1. Steve Welzer says I'm being impatient with the Greens, who are still in their infancy. Maybe yes, maybe no. As I see it, the Greens were in their infancy all through the 1980s and into the early 1990s, when organizers in a few states (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Maine and New Mexico in particular) began building the electorally oriented state parties that became the core of the Association of State Green Parties (formed in 1997) that eventually absorbed its rival Greens/Green Party USA and became the Green Party of the United States in 2001. Some state parties are obviously much younger than others, having been spawned by the Nader campaigns of 1996 and 2000.
2. Besides, if the goal is to grow out of one's infancy, the question has to be: By what strategy? Steve is right to point to the Greens' growth and potential--all of which I noted at the beginning of my article. But new/minor political parties are incredibly fragile flowers. Stanley Aronowitz's wise letter suggests that he knows this. However, he misreads me when he says that I favor "centralized political discipline over local organizations." I don't (and in my book I criticize Ross Perot for trying to do exactly that to his Reform Party). The Greens of Minnesota are welcome to make whatever political choices they want: That is, as Anita Rios put it, what democracy looks like. But the rest of us, including Green activists and leaders throughout the country, can also either welcome those choices or criticize and attempt to revise them. That is not "centralized political discipline," but vibrant democratic discussion--another hallmark of a democratic social movement. And even though it is ultimately for Minnesotans to decide the US Senate race, since that race may well tip that body back into Republican hands, it is inevitably a question that Greens everywhere must face: Do you want your party to have that impact this year? Here's how the Miami-Dade Green Party answers that question (for the full text of their letter to the Minnesota Greens, click here): "We are a political party. So 'political fallout' is a perfectly valid factor in making decisions. Political fallout affects both our present and our future. The loss of a progressive voice. The loss of other potential allies to the Greens. And given the close split of the Senate, this could give Bush the full ultra-conservative control he seeks. We say, let Greens run for every state and local office we reasonably can. Let's get our best candidates and run for federal office as well. But let's pick and chose where that would most help us, and not hinder either Green Party image nor growth (they are intimately tied together)--and where it will not permit this nation to slide further down the slippery slope of repression."
3. Stanley makes a second criticism of me, that I believe the Greens have moved too far left and should stick to economic populism. Let me clarify on both points. I think the pressures of post-2000 Democratic whining, 9/11 and the war are impelling the Greens to push certain issues with a left style that may feel good and right to many core party activists, but will hinder the party's potential growth--especially at a moment when the party's anticorporate message couldn't be more in tune with popular sentiment. During the Green Party's convention in Philadelphia, I participated in a workshop on outreach to nonprogressives where Dean Myerson, the party's national coordinator, made a telling point. Greens, he said, need to recognize the difference between being activists, engaged in pushing their own issues, and organizers who seek to draw more people into the party by finding out what issues will move them. It's the difference between choosing to emphasize the plight of Mumia Abu-Jamal and the plight of low-wage immigrant workers, or stopping plutonium-laden rockets from being shot into space versus stopping CEOs from gorging themselves with stock options. I don't think party organizers should drop their social vision (feminism, opposition to the death penalty, war on drugs, antimilitarism, etc) at all, but I question whether they should lead with it. Stanley is doing this with his own campaign for governor of New York: focusing on a "tax and spend" agenda that seeks to rebuild the state's public infrastructure with the help of those most able to pay for it, and telling Greens that he's a meat-eater who thinks war can sometimes be justified. If Greens want to participate in their own marginalization, they can keep using language and picking issues that set them apart from less politically active Americans. My study of the rise and growth of third parties in contemporary politics suggests to me that what matters to most voters is not how a challenger positions him- or herself on some right-to-left checklist, but how well he or she connects to people's desire for a better life and shows how to carry them forward.
4. Jack Uhrich and Ben Manski both say that Ralph Nader has done lots of good things for the Green Party since 2000. I don't dispute that at all. But their letters confirm my basic point: The relationship is dysfunctional. It's all on Nader's terms. The party is the subject of his decisions at every turn, never the other way around. Part of this is a reflection of the Greens' problems with formally empowering their own leaders (as a result they have lots of behind-the-scenes jockeying and tension). But most of it is a result of Nader's reluctance to be bound to anything he doesn't control. He says that he isn't a Green because he doesn't want to be drawn into internal party disputes. But, to take a current example, that hasn't stopped his latest comments on the Wellstone race, where he dismissed the Green Party's candidate as unlikely to get even a few thousand votes, from being interpreted as an intervention in the party's affairs. Hidden, unresolved conflicts between the Nader staff and the Green base continue to fester. If you doubt that, take a look at democracywrithing.org, a critique posted by Maine Green Party activists unhappy with the top-down nature of Nader's "Democracy Rising" rallies. One could argue that none of this is any better that the actual relations between any top Democrat and their party, of course. But I don't think Greens want to brag about being as bad as the major parties on this score.
5. Anita Rios is right that I didn't ask her about her local activism; I didn't have time, nor is it clear to me what that has to do with her role as one of the party's five national co-chairs. (I did do a longer interview with Badili Jones, one of her co-chairs, earlier in the weekend). I didn't ask her to "compare and contrast" Orrin Hatch and Patrick Leahy, but to tell me if she thought it would make a difference if the Senate was controlled by Ds or Rs, and then followed up by asking if it made a difference if the Senate Judiciary Committee was controlled by Hatch or Leahy. Her letter makes clear that she doesn't see a meaningful difference. As for Paul Dumouchelle's letter, I read only rhetoric of a peculiarly messianic kind. Parties grow or stagnate because of many things, including the decisions made by their leaders. They have to finesse conflict and articulate a strategy, not just a vision. At this time in our nation's history, we desperately need smart third-party strategies. My intention in writing this article (as well as my book) was to try to ask some hard questions about that problem. Hopefully, the discussion will continue.
MICAH L. SIFRY
In responding to comments on his article "Greens at the Crossroads", Micah Sifry made a major misstatement of fact: "As I see it, the Greens were in their infancy all through the 1980s and into the early 1990s, when organizers in a few states (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Maine and New Mexico in particular) began building the electoral oriented state parties that became the core of the Association of State Green Parties (formed in 1997) that eventually absorbed its rival Greens/Green Party USA and became the Green Party of the United States in 2001." Sifry's statement here is generally weak as a piece of historical analysis but that is not my concern. What is my concern, is that his statement that the Green Party USA has been absorbed by the Association of State Green Parties/Green Party of the US is simply untrue, although it is perhaps a wish fantasy in the minds of some of Green Party USA's rivals.
The facts are that the Green Party USA--which was organized in 1991 as a formal reorganization of the original US Green Party (Green Committees of Correspondence formed in 1984) still exists, with annual FEC filings, a national membership, a clearinghouse in Chicago, national officers, a website, two national publications, a Program and Platform and an ongoing political campiagn of radical grassroots organizing (which does not exclude electoral organizing as a strategy/tactic). This is a simple fact which no amount of denial or evasion can change. The Green Party USA is probably one of the very few Green parties in the world that has not succumbed to the reformist deformation of the original Green vision that has overtaken so much of the Green movement. Perhaps this is why statements of its "non-existence" appear in the press. I would appreciate a comment from Sifry.
Doomed by the incoherence of a foreign policy defined largely by biblical notions of the struggle between good and evil, the Bush Administration thrashes about in its hunt for the devil.