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It was, take it for all in all, a near-faultless headline: HENRY KISSINGER RATTRAPÉ AU RITZ, À PARIS, PAR LES FANTÔMES DU PLAN CONDOR. I especially liked the accidental synonymy of the verb rattraper. What a rat. And such a trap. It was in this fashion that the front page of the Paris daily Le Monde informed its readers that on Memorial Day the gendarmes had gone round to the Ritz Hotel--flagship of Mohamed Al Fayed's fleet of properties--with a summons from Judge Roger Le Loire inviting the famous rodent to attend at the Palace of Justice the following day. In what must have been one of the most unpleasant moments of his career, noted Le Monde, the hotel manager had to translate the summons to his distinguished guest. Kissinger left the hotel, surrounded by bodyguards, and later announced that he had no desire to answer questions about Operation Condor. He then left town.

Operation Condor [see Peter Kornbluh, "Kissinger and Pinochet," March 29, 1999, and "Chile Declassified," August 9/16, 1999] was a coordinated effort in the 1970s by the secret police forces of seven South American dictatorships. The death squads of Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Ecuador and Bolivia agreed to pool resources and to hunt down, torture, murder and otherwise "disappear" one another's dissidents. They did this not just on their own soil but as far away as Rome and Washington, where assassins and car-bombs were deployed to maim Christian Democratic Senator Bernardo Leighton in 1975 and to murder the Socialist Orlando Letelier in 1976. The Pinochet regime was to the fore in this internationalization of state terror tactics, and its secret police chief, Col. Manuel Contreras, was especially inventive and energetic.

Thanks to the efforts of Representative Maurice Hinchey, who attached an amendment to the Intelligence Authorization Act last year, we now know that this seven-nation alliance had a senior partner. At all material times, those directing the work of US intelligence knew of Operation Condor and assisted its activities. And at all material times, the chairman of the supervising "Forty Committee," and the key member of the Interagency Committee on Chile, was Henry Kissinger. It was on his watch that the FBI helped Pinochet to identify and arrest Jorge Isaac Fuentes de Alarcón, a Chilean oppositionist who was first detained and tortured in Paraguay and then turned over to Contreras and "disappeared." Contreras himself was paid a CIA stipend. Other Condor leaders were promised US cooperation in the surveillance of inconvenient exiles living in the United States.

Judge Roger Le Loire has had documents to this effect on his desk for some time and is investigating the fate of five missing French citizens in Chile during the relevant period. He has already issued an arrest warrant for General Pinochet. But he understands that the inquiry can go no further until US government figures agree to answer questions. In refusing to do this, Kissinger received the shameful support of the US Embassy in Paris and the State Department, which coldly advised the French to go through bureaucratic channels in seeking information. Judge Le Loire replied that he had already written to Washington in 1999, during the Clinton years, but had received no response.

On the Friday immediately preceding Memorial Day, another magistrate in a democratic country made an identical request. In order to discover what happened to so many people during the years of Condor terror, said Argentine Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral, it would be necessary to secure a deposition from Kissinger. And on June 4 the Chilean judge Juan Guzmán Tapia asked US authorities to question Kissinger about the disappearance of the American citizen Charles Horman, murdered by Pinochet's agents in 1973 and subject of the Costa-Gavras movie Missing (as well as an occasional Nation correspondent). So that, in effect, we have a situation in which the Bush regime is sheltering a man who is wanted for questioning on two continents.

Partly because I have written a short book pointing this out, I have recently been interviewed by French, British and Spanish radio and TV. Indeed, if it wasn't for that, I might not have learned of Kissinger's local and international difficulties for some days. The Financial Times carried a solid story on the Paris episode, with some background, the day after Le Monde. But in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post--not a line. And where were Messrs. Koppel and Lehrer? They usually find the views of "Henry" to be worthy of respectful attention. I admit my own interest, but I still feel able to ask: By whose definition is Kissinger's moment at the Ritz not news?

It is, meanwhile, practically impossible to open the New York Times without reading a solemn admonition, either from the Administration or from the paper itself. Colin Powell lectures Robert Mugabe. George Bush takes a high moral tone with Serbia. All are agreed that wanted men should be given up to international law. All are agreed that however painful the task, other societies must face their own past and shoulder their own grave responsibilities. For a long time I have found it somewhat surreal to read this righteous material, but the experience of ingesting it now becomes more emetic every day.

The seven Condor countries, groping their way back to democracy after decades of trauma, are making brave and honest attempts to find the truth and to punish the guilty. Time and again, commissions of inquiry have been frustrated because the evidence they need is in archives in Washington. And it is in those archives for the unspeakable reason that the United States was the patron and armorer of dictatorship. There is a heavy debt here. Is there not a single Congressional committee, a single principled district attorney, a single leader in our overfed and complacent "human rights community," who will try to help cancel it? Or are we going to watch while the relatives of the murdered and tortured seek justice by lawful means, and are waved away by armed bodyguards if they even try to serve a scrap of paper on the man whose immunity befouls us all?

The March 14 announcement by the Coca-Cola Company that it is scaling back its aggressive marketing strategy in public schools is a clear victory for opponents of schoolhouse commercialism. But it's unlikely that it will do much in the long run to halt the flow of sugary caffeinated drinks into the hands of schoolchildren. According to one soft-drink-industry insider, Coke has so little control over its independent bottlers and distributors that it couldn't turn off the school spigot even if it wanted to. "Local bottlers can't afford to turn down the contracts with schools, because they know a competitor will step right in--and Atlanta [Coca-Cola headquarters] knows this too," the industry expert told me. Executives at five large Coca-Cola bottling companies all said in interviews that they would continue to sign exclusive contracts with local schools if the schools still want them.

And want them they do. The sad reality is that public school officials are so thoroughly addicted to the cheap fix of soda money that they've become a chief ally of the soft-drink industry and a driving force behind school commercialization. In Ohio recently, local school officials defied a state order to stop peddling soda and candy to students while breakfast and lunch are being served (a violation of federal law) because it would have cut into their profits. The state is now threatening to withhold federal money from the schools. And in Maryland, school administrators and organizations like the National Association of Secondary School Principals joined forces with the bottlers, the vending machine lobby and companies like Channel One and Frozen to squash a bill aimed at limiting commercialism in Maryland public schools.

The measure--The Captive Audience/Stop Commercialism in Schools Act of 2001--would have required school boards to ban commercial advertising in schools, restrict soda and candy sales and prohibit the purchase of textbooks with commercial logos. "The lobbyists kicked my ass," said Democratic State Senator Paul Pinsky, the measure's chief author. Pinsky noted that his bill went down to defeat one day after Coke's announced policy changes and only after Coke lobbyists had checked back with the home office on how to proceed.

A similar scenario is shaping up in California, where a bill that would effectively ban sales of soda and junk food in state schools is facing opposition from school officials and the California-Nevada Soft Drink Association. Ironically, the measure was drawn up in cooperation with leading child nutrition experts and school nutrition directors, who increasingly find themselves on the opposite side of school-health issues from their bosses.

Through contracts with Coke and Pepsi, some schools are raising as much as $100,000 a year, money that pays for things like band uniforms, field trips, team sports and computer rewiring. But in exchange schools become indentured to the corporations. Typically, the contracts require that schools sell a set quota of soft drinks each year (with cash incentives for selling more). This transforms schools from the status of being mere custodians of vending machines into active sales agents for soda. In Colorado Springs in 1998, for example, school officials sent teachers a letter urging them to allow students to drink Coke in class and suggesting that they keep soda machines on twenty-four hours a day [see Manning, "Students for Sale," September 27, 1999].

There can be no solution to the commercialization of public education until public schools are adequately and equitably funded. The Bush Administration will offer little help. Education Secretary Rod Paige signed a $5 million, five-year contract with Coca-Cola while superintendent of the Houston public schools and has proposed no solutions to the school funding crisis.

Consequently, parents and community activists should encourage local school boards to find other solutions to their budget problems. One obvious solution is higher taxes, an option that school districts are loath to propose. But as Andy Hagelshaw, the director of the Center for Commercial-Free Public Education, points out, none of the approximately 250 exclusive cola contracts in effect nationally pay out more than $10 to $15 extra per pupil per year, less in bigger school districts. Surely, paying $10 a year more in school taxes is a good investment if it helps eliminate corporate hucksters and exploitation in schools. There are other funding alternatives as well, many of which the center helps schools adopt and implement: For example, instead of relying on the soda subsidy, many school districts are negotiating beneficial arrangements with smaller local businesses that contain no advertising or commercialism. Nationally, the Algebra Project, which produces a math curriculum and provides teacher training to urban schools, has accepted corporate underwriters who receive nothing in return except a brief mention in an annual report.

The failure of educators to think critically about the impact of school commercialism on the quality of schools is a terrible ethical lapse. It's time for the education establishment to think twice before it sells out its students to the highest bidder.

Politics, they say, is the art of the possible. And for much of the spring it seemed possible that America's second-largest city would elect as its mayor a progressive Latino who at one time had a tattoo that read, "Born to Raise Hell." Antonio Villaraigosa hailed from the barrio, marched with striking workers, replaced municipal bromides about economic development with a call for "economic justice" and asked the right questions about the drug war, immigration and a tattered safety net. The high school dropout who parlayed a second chance into the Speakership of the California Assembly sought to build a rainbow coalition of the left in a rapidly diversifying city.

So Villaraigosa's 53-to-47 loss Tuesday to City Attorney James Hahn, the colorless scion of the city's best-known political family, was more than just another municipal dream deferred. It was a reminder to progressives in LA and nationally that coalition politics is always easier said than done. Villaraigosa's army of 2,500 union volunteers tripled Latino turnout from just eight years ago, but African-American voters--many loyal to the moderately liberal Hahn because of his father's long advocacy for communities of color, and others worried about losing political clout in a city that is 47 percent Hispanic--gave Villaraigosa barely one-third of their votes. And suburban Anglo voters were scared off in droves by a relentlessly anti-Villaraigosa campaign that portrayed the former president of the Southern California ACLU as soft on crime. Last-minute Hahn mailings to suburban neighborhoods sought to link Villaraigosa to a cocaine dealer and warned, "Los Angeles just can't trust Antonio Villaraigosa." Shelly Mandell, president of the LA National Organization for Women, said, "I've never seen anything worse done to a good person."

The viciousness of the final phase of the campaign was not typical of Hahn, whose record and rhetoric suggest he will be a more liberal leader than outgoing mayor Richard Riordan. But Hahn will never be the movement mayor Villaraigosa would have been.

The election was "a gut check," said Antonio Gonzalez, president of the William C. Velasquez Institute. LA didn't quite have the guts to embrace what the Los Angeles Times described as "the audacity of [Villaraigosa's] aspirations for the city." (Nor, if a close unofficial tally holds, did it have the guts to elect the audacious Tom Hayden to the City Council.) But in a year when New York, Detroit, Cleveland and other major cities--all experiencing their own demographic and political shifts--will elect mayors, opportunities remain for progressives to make the rainbow real. The challenge, and it is a big one, will be to recognize that the rainbow does not just appear; it must be created. And it must be strong enough to withstand the politics of fear and division that can dash even the most audacious aspirations.

Memo to editors of campus papers: When the next right-wing ideologue shows up with an ad full of nonsense, just take the money and print it. That way, they will not be able to pose as the victim of "political correctness," they will not get millions of dollars' worth of free publicity and their ideas will not acquire the glamour of the forbidden. By the same token, you will not look afraid of debate and controversy, nor will you have to explain why you rejected their ad while printing something equally false, offensive or stupid on some previous occasion.

Never mind that the people accusing you of censorship practice it themselves: In an amusing riposte to David Horowitz's flamethrower ad opposing reparations for slavery, Salon's David Mazel proved unable to place an enthusiastically pro-abortion ad in papers on conservative campuses; and as Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting points out, the Boston Globe, which editorialized against students who rejected the Horowitz ad, itself rejected an ad criticizing Staples, a major advertiser, for using old-growth forest pulp in its typing paper. So there, and so there! But you're in a better place to make such arguments stick if you can stand--however cynically and self-servingly--on the high ground of free speech yourself.

Just as Horowitz faded, having shot himself in the foot by refusing to pay the Daily Princetonian after it printed his ad but editorialized against it, up comes the soi-disant Independent Women's Forum--you know, that intrepid band of far-right free spirits funded by the ultraconservative Sarah Scaife Foundation--with an ad in the UCLA Daily Bruin and Yale Daily News urging students to "Take Back the Campus!" and "Combat the radical feminist assault on Truth." The IWF charges "campus feminism" with being "a kind of cult" in which "students are inculcated with bizarre conspiracy theories about the 'capitalist patriarchal hegemony,'" a fount of "Ms./Information," "male-bashing and victimology." Brainwashing isn't exactly what comes to mind when I think of the revolution in scholarship that has produced such celebrated historians as Linda Gordon, Ellen DuBois, Joan Scott, Rickie Solinger, Leslie Reagan and Kathy Peiss. The sweeping, paranoiac language gives it away--this is IWF member Christina Hoff Sommers speaking from her perch at that noted institution of higher learning, the American Enterprise Institute.

The bulk of the ad consists of a list of "the ten most common feminist myths" and the "facts" that supposedly prove them false. Much of this is lifted from Sommers's Who Stole Feminism?, a book that attempted to deploy a few gotchas against hyperbolic statistics and questionable studies to deny the significance of violence, sexism and discrimination in women's lives. I mean, how important is it that "rule of thumb" may not derive, as some feminist activists believe and some newspapers have printed, from an old legal rule permitting husbands to beat their wives with a stick no thicker than their thumb (Myth #4)? Feminists did not make this folk etymology up out of nothing--actually, according to Sharon Fenick of the University of Chicago, writing on the Urban Legends website, it probably goes back to the eighteenth century, when the respected English judge, Francis Buller, earned the nickname "Judge Thumb," for declaring such "correction" permissible. That it was legal for premodern English husbands to beat their wives within limits is not in dispute (in her book, Sommers obscures this fact by omitting the Latin phrases from a passage in Blackstone's Commentaries); nor is the fact that wife-beating, regardless of the law, was, and sometimes still is, treated lightly by the legal system under the rubric of marital privacy. Thus, in 1910 the Supreme Court, in Thompson v. Thompson, barred wives from suing husbands for "injuries to person or property as though they were strangers." (I learned this, and much else relating to the history of American marriage, from Yale feminist historian Nancy Cott's fascinating Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation.)

And what about Myth #2, "Women earn 75 cents for every dollar a man earns." That doesn't come from some man-bashing fabulator squirreled away in a women's studies department. It comes from the US government! The IWF argues that the disparity disappears when you take education, training, occupation, continuity of employment, motherhood and other factors into account--but even if that were true, which it isn't, to overlook all those things is itself advocacy, a politicized way of defining sex discrimination in order to minimize it.

And then there's #1, the mother of all myths: "One in four women in college has been the victim of rape or attempted rape." The IWF debunks this number, which comes from the research of Mary Koss, by citing the low numbers of reported rapes on college campuses, but the one-in-four figure includes off-campus and pre-college rapes and rape attempts. Are Koss's numbers the last word? Of course not. In 1998 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that among all women, one in five had experienced a rape or attempted rape at some point in her life. In January the Justice Department released a report claiming that 3 percent of college women experience rape or attempted rape per school year, which does add up over four years.

Does irresponsible, lax or even slanted use of facts and figures exist in "campus feminism"? Sure--and out of it, too. (Try economics.) But what does that have to do with women's studies, a very large, very lively interdisciplinary field of intellectual inquiry, in which many of the supposed verities of contemporary feminism are hotly contested? The real debate isn't over the merits of this study or that--in social science "results" are always provisional. Now that the IWF has thrown down the gauntlet, feminist scholars should call for that real debate--Resolved: Women's lives were more seriously studied and accurately understood when almost no tenured professors were female. Or, Resolved: Violence against women is not a major social problem. Or, Resolved: If women aren't equal, it's their own darn fault.

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Those inscrutable Japanese. They've inspired more trash between hard covers over the past century than anyone--far more than the Chinese, if that's what you're thinking. Mysterious Japan, Japan Real and Imaginary: They come by the cartload, and they aren't books so much as specimens. You learn little of Japan in them, but something of their moment in the West--in these two cases the early 1920s. They are about folly, in the end, and the human habit of cultivating blindness toward others. Cracked and discolored, they are old mirrors worth but a few moments' gaze. "A thousand books have been written about Japan," Lafcadio Hearn noted in his best on the subject, "but among these...the really precious volumes will be found to number scarcely a score." This observation is not quite a century old; Hearn made it at the start of Japan: An Interpretation, which he completed not long before his death in Tokyo in 1904. But the genre lives on, certainly: The tap rushes or drips only according to the trade tensions, it sometimes seems. I put these unhardy annuals under the heading "JAJB." Each one is Just Another Japan Book.

We have seen superb work on Japan over the past few years, it must immediately be added. John Dower's Embracing Defeat and Herb Bix's recent biography of Hirohito swept the prizes, and so they should have. They announce an era of revision and demystification, and numerous other writers are up to the same thing. It's a rich time, it seems to me, for the simple reason that there is so much in our accounts of Japan that requires revising and demystifying. And now we have a compendium of Donald Richie's work to remind us that beneath the blanket of cold war claptrap and beside the running stream of JAJBs, this essayist, film critic, fiction writer, screenwriter, portraitist and master of the journalistic feuilleton has built an honest, revealing body of work that spans the entire postwar era. Richie is neither a Dower nor a Bix, because he's not a scholar. Is he a Hearn? The work requires no such flattering light to claim its place, but the comparison is useful--and more than moderately apt.

Most readers--Richie among them, one suspects--come to Hearn via the productions of his fourteen years in Japan. Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan, Kokoro, the aforementioned Interpretation: This is the stuff he's remembered for. But the pre-Japan period was formative. Son of an Anglo-Irish father and a Greek mother, he was abandoned early and at 19 departed the old world for the new. After some years newspapering in Cincinnati, he left the industrial North for New Orleans and the pre-industrial South. From there it was on to Martinique--ever-deeper into the nonwhite world--and by then Hearn had identified that which he detested most. "One can become weary of a whole system of life, civilization," he wrote a friend in 1889. "Such is exactly my present feeling,--an unutterable weariness of the aggressive characteristics of existence in a highly organized society.... One feels this especially in America,--the nervous centers of the world's activities." All Hearn needed at that moment was an objective correlative. He found it when he docked in Yokohama a year later.

The short, orphaned itinerant, the olive-skinned misanthrope who held on to nothing and never belonged, the seer and sayer with one blind eye and the other enlarged, sank instantly into Japanese life. He wore yukata (robes) at home and sat on tatami (mats). He took a Japanese wife and then her family name--he is still Koizumi Yakumo in Japan--and in time became a patriot and a citizen. Japan was a rising power in Hearn's day; it was leaving one life behind and borrowing another from the West. So it gave Hearn space to elicit all the regret and loss he considered implicit in anything beautiful. In Japan he found the superiority of the "primitive" he had always sought, and he could at last defend the soul and the shadow--the inner and the unseen--as against the hard, material substance of "civilization." In all of this he gave expression to the two souls his parents imparted to him, "each pulling in a different way," as he once put it. Japan, then, was more than the object of brilliant reportage: It was at bottom a canvas upon which to paint an unconscious self-portrait. "Japan gave Hearn nothing," one of his later editors said a bit too baldly. "He himself, not Japan, is the interesting subject in his writings on Japan."

There is a kind of template here--a couple of them, actually. Japan as mirror is an old idea, stretching back to the first Western arrivals in the 1540s. One saw in it the inverse of all one was, believed in, treasured, thought. Since its defeat in 1945, Americans have simply reversed the reflection: Being a nation of narcissists now, we look across the Pacific and think we see only ourselves. But Japan as a freshly gessoed canvas awaiting one's oils--that is a tradition Hearn can be credited with inventing, more or less. It rests, paradoxically, on the "otherness" we still assign to the Japanese (and which many of them claim often enough) and the simultaneous sense some round-eyes have of arriving home upon arriving in Japan--of seeing things there that long ago fell by the wayside in the West. Then there is Japan as a site of eternal regret. Because it came so late to the modernization process, you can still affect to see the old gods and old ways as they fade into faint traces. "What is there, after all, to love in Japan, except what is passing away?" Hearn once asked. Again, too bald. But many writers have posed the same question since, and they haven't all produced JAJBs.

"And I realized that my quest was over--at least part of it. Sitting in the sunny Hiroshima station.... I understood what I had guessed earlier: that the voyage had not been to find them, but to find myself, and that--to an extent--I now had." That isn't Hearn, though it could be, apart from its cleanliness of style. It is Richie, toward the end of the The Inland Sea, which recounts his midlife journeys--and midlife crisis, fair to say--over many warm months spent along the coasts of Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu islands. Many consider this book, first published in 1971 (and which Stone Bridge is due to reissue in a handsome new edition later this year), Richie's masterpiece. Richie calls it fiction, perhaps because he reshaped multiple voyages into one. But it's a fine line, and what it is in this respect hardly matters in any case. From the title onward, it is an almost perfectly realized effort to express the self through what one sees--without slighting either.

Learning from Hearn, then? Perhaps even consciously, as the rest of the passage just noted suggests. It is worth quoting at length because it could easily stand as a statement of Richie's lifelong purpose in swimming ever toward the bottomover five decades among the Japanese (while accepting that he would never touch the sand and rocks that lie there):

In the train, looking at the flat, bright coast, traveling to the ferry station, I suddenly, and for no apparent reason, thought of Lafcadio Hearn dying and penning a few last bitter pages. The book was called Japan: An Interpretation, but he, like all of us who come to this land--attractive, mysterious, and impenetrable as a mirror--was writing about himself; the tender, myopic, beauty-loving Lafcadio was being, finally, interpreted. I mingled with the others who left the train, waiting for the gates of the ferry to open. This disillusioned end I would be spared, I thought, I hoped. I would never find them, the real Japanese, because they were always around me, and they were always real, but I might at last decide what my own real self was, and hence create it. But it was too nice a day just to sit and ponder. So, for the first time in my life, I was able to achieve the feat I had so long admired in the Japanese: I shook my head and put aside perplexing thoughts. Then I turned with a smile to the waiting, open day, and--along with all the others--boarded the boat.

The boat Richie first boarded to Tokyo arrived by way of Okinawa on New Year's Eve of 1946, a year and a few months after the surrender. There wasn't much left, Richie the occupation sailor wrote in a journal entry included in The Donald Richie Reader. But there were those things wars don't destroy. And Richie, like Hearn, was immediately enthralled. "I remember Tokyo moving slowly in front of me, fittingly undressed in the hot summer night, showing a beauty and an innocence and a naturalness by which I, from the rigid West, was alternately ravished and enlightened." In 1949 came a trip home for five years of study at Columbia (and another, from 1968 to 1972, during which Richie was curator of film at the Museum of Modern Art in New York). In between and after came thirty-odd books on everything from Zen gardens and Japanese cookery to biography and history, along with many decades of (as yet unpublished) journals and enough rent-paying literary journalism (some for The Nation) to put most full-time correspondents to shame.

Hearn once wrote admiringly of "civilized nomads," and there is something of this rare type in Richie's sprawling output as well as in his life. One could argue that Hearn anticipated and Richie found his own use for that practice of purposely purposeless drifting that Guy Debord, the peripatetic Situationist, used to call dérive. It seems especially suited to the expatriate in Japan. But Richie's method is not Hearn's: He seems never to have sought a place in the folds, or to write from within: He preferred surface and sunlight to all that. Japan, he notes in a later essay called "I Like Myself Here,"

allows me to keep my freedom. It makes very few demands on me--I am considered too much the outsider for that, a distinction I owe to the color of my skin, eyes, and hair--and, consequently, I become free. I become a one-member society, consistent only to myself and forever different from those who surround me.... Our basic agreement permits an amount of approval, some of it mutual; our basic differences allow me to apprehend finally that the only true responsibility a man has is toward himself.

Japan as proscenium? Well, to an extent. And there's something learned from the postwar existentialists in this, too--as Arturo Silva, who edited this volume, points out in his lengthy and finely considered introductory essay. But neither notion should be taken to suggest that Richie has been a dishonest observer, or that he never truly had his eye on the ball. He hasn't, and he has rarely taken his eye off it. Better to recognize, it seems to me, that Richie accepts two things Hearn never did: On the one hand, surface and substance are joined in Japan; on the other, one's nomadism is to be entered into, for--gift or curse--it is never to be overcome.

It can hardly be a surprise that film was Richie's principal milieu for much of his life in Japan. Today one recognizes Japan's mastery of surfaces in everything from fashion to the placement of objects in shop window displays. But it was in the golden age of Japanese film--the first decades after the war, before the big studios commodified it--that this preoccupation was best expressed in a modern art form. Film was his escape as a child in Lima, Ohio, Richie explains; in Japan, it became a form of embrace. He saw his first Japanese movie during the occupation, when it was against the rules to fraternize with the locals. He was soon writing criticism, standing at the edges of sets, and watching rushes with Akira Kurosawa and other directors.

Richie chatting with Yasujiro Ozu or Kon Ichikawa; Richie behind the camera on the set of Futari: These are among the pictures peppered through The Donald Richie Reader, and they suggest the story, if they don't quite tell it. The Japanese Film: Art and Industry, which he wrote with Joseph Anderson and published in 1959, brought Richie recognition as an authority. Books on Kurosawa and his beloved Ozu followed--along with screenplays and films of his own. Here and in his lectures, Richie tells the marvelous story of watching Ozu spend obsessive hours arranging the cushions on a sofa before he let a camera roll. "Ozu was perhaps primarily interested in pattern, in the design that Henry James called 'the figure in the carpet,'" Richie writes in the excerpt here from Ozu (1975). It is among Richie's best books. In it you see how, even in a critical study, Richie manages to evoke Japan's eternal dedication (and his own) to the reality of appearances.

I came to Richie's writing via film, as one comes to Hearn via Japan. But as with Hearn, there are immense other plots and prairies to explore. And this is the great pleasure of The Donald Richie Reader. The work spills across genres and subjects like a river without banks. All of his best books are properly represented: The Inland Sea and the film volumes; A Lateral View and Partial Views, his two gatherings of essays; and The Honorable Visitors, a 1994 collection of portraits of expatriates from Pierre Loti to Henry Adams. Sprinkled throughout are entries from the journals, more portraits from his 1987 collection, Different People, and various pieces in the short, discursive form known as thefeuilleton, on gods, gardens, temples, tattoos, television and--well, you see where it all goes.

It is a strength and a weakness, this profligate wandering. While it makes the Reader a handsome whole, it also seems over the years to have diffused interest in Richie on this side of the Pacific, so that his output--in terms of reputation, I mean--is not quite the sum of parts. I doubt Richie cares; one can't imagine him entering into "the quality lit biz," as Terry Southern used to call it, the way young American writers market themselves now with distasteful enthusiasm. The Reader's imaginative, broken-up layout is, if anything, a celebration of Richie's mosaic. And the surprise for me is the extent of the fiction--and the extent to which Richie's graceful, easy style works when applied to it. Apart from The Inland Sea (a special case, in any event), there are stories from a collection called A View From the Chuo Line and parts of two novels. The first is called Where Are the Victors? and the second Tokyo Nights. They make a fine frame: The former is from 1956 and concerns the occupation; the latter is Richie's droll take on the bubble of the 1980s, when the Japanese at last finished their century-and-some game of catch-up with the West.

Somewhere in the 1970s, Arturo Silva points out, Richie's writing began to reflect his disappointment in the Japan he saw emerging from the postwar ashes--the consumption-crazy Japan that eventually produced the bubble. He wanted his "nourishing void," that emptiness at the center that Roland Barthes famously identified in Empire of Signs, to remain unblemished and unfilled. Long earlier, Richie had recognized that much of what there is to admire in the Japanese--their aesthetic, the old proximity to nature--grew from a culture of poverty. "If you don't have furniture, then you pay a lot of attention to empty space," Richie tells Silva in an interview included here. "And if you have only mud, then you pay a lot of attention to pottery." It's gone now, he laments--the pathos, the folkways, the demotic culture of the city's poorer quarters--gone from film as it is gone from life, lost to "cultural carpetbaggery and nouveaux riches." So there arrives a touch of the old, familiar regret. Richie, like Hearn, has not been spared after all.

He ought to have known. The 1940s were to Richie precisely as the 1890s were to Hearn: Japan was rising again, becoming other than what it had been. The transformation Hearn witnessed is described in all the histories as radical and swift, and the one that Richie has watched for half a century has been no less so. The best of what is offered for tasting in The Donald Richie Reader will last beyond its time. But it has a time--a very specific one. Richie's Japan is cold war Japan. His work presents life observed during that period, now also coming under renewed scrutiny by such scholars as John Dower. It lends much of what Richie has done a value never intended and a unity never sought.

"There is no simple cut to 'The End,' no surge of music to indicate a final cadence," Richie writes in a concluding piece. "Life, not being art, knows no such conventions." No, not for a writer now in his 70s, and not for a nation still finding its way forward. Japan stumbles on now in search of nobody knows quite what. Only itself, in my view. And to judge by this fine collection, this record of a quest, that may be what Donald Richie has all along admired most about it.

They thought that Jeffords was their bane,
But now they see that John McCain,
Who shrugs off efforts to restrain
His longtime love of speaking plain,
And likes to jerk George Bush's chain
And demonstrate complete disdain
For rules Republicans maintain,
Could cause them even greater pain--
Could, thinking he's the knight Gawain
(Or pilot of a fighter plane),
Just bolt, and run his own campaign
To be a sagebrush Charlemagne.

In him they don't know what they've got.
One thing's for sure: Trent Lott he's not.

Let's begin with a Denis Johnson moment. One Saturday, in Los Angeles, I venture out to buy a newspaper; when I get home, I discover, wedged between its C and D sections, a grainy flier offering spiritual aid. The flier is signed by a guy named Steve, who's a member of something called the Motorcycle Church of Christ, and right there on the paper is his phone number, inscribed neatly in ballpoint pen. Normally, I'd just throw it in the garbage without thinking about it; if I need help, I won't be looking to a flier in the newspaper, and anyway, the Motorcycle Church of Christ? But this day, I'm feeling buffeted, aswirl in signs and incantations, indications that there's something bigger going on. On my walk to the newsstand, I'd seen a young girl wearing an athletic department T-shirt, only instead of "Property of USC" or "Property of L.A. Dodgers," it screamed out "Property of God." Weirder, though--chilling, even--is this: When I left the house, I was in the midst of reading Johnson's essay "Bikers for Jesus," which recounts a trip he made to Newark, Texas, for the Eagle Mountain Motorcycle Rally, a three-day evangelical revival featuring, among other born-again bikers, the selfsame Motorcycle Church of Christ.

Were I living in a different universe, I might call this a coincidence, the kind of synchronicity that arises when you have something on your mind. But in Denis Johnson's universe there is no such thing as coincidence, only hints, clues, patterns of connection that let us see the world in a new light. His novel Already Dead is nothing less than a metaphysical passion play, in which life and death, soul and substance, come together like the threads of an elaborate tapestry, until we're no longer sure where reality and illusion begin or end. Resuscitation of a Hanged Man, meanwhile, posits God as the ultimate conspirator, less a deity than a puppetmaster whose intentions are never clear. What's extraordinary about this vision is that for all its spiritual uncertainty, it offers moments--flashes, really--of revelation, although it's up to us to decipher what those mean. Nowhere is this more deftly rendered than in Johnson's story cycle Jesus' Son, where a hopeless drifter, junkie and occasional criminal navigates a middle road between transcendence and despair. "What a pair of lungs!" he crows in "Car Crash While Hitchhiking," describing a woman who has just learned that her husband is dead. "She shrieked as I imagined an eagle would shriek. It felt wonderful to be alive to hear it! I've gone looking for that feeling everywhere." Such lines can't help but rewire our expectations, not only because of Johnson's willingness to sink down deep into the darkness but because, even in the throes of loss and degradation, it is often wonder that he finds.

Johnson's first book of nonfiction, Seek: Reports From the Edges of America & Beyond, stakes out a similarly elusive territory, featuring eleven pieces that move fluidly, sometimes within the span of a single sentence, from memoir to meditation to reportage. Much of this material first appeared in mass-market publications--Esquire, Harper's--but to call Seek a collection of magazine work would be to miss the point. Rather, in much the same way as Johnson's fiction, the accounts here mean to get beneath the surface of their circumstances, to root out the ambiguities, the question marks, the inexplicable juxtapositions--those moments when, without warning, everything is cast in doubt. Don't get me wrong; it's not a metaphorical world that Seek reports on: From the shattered, warred-upon landscapes of Afghanistan and Liberia to the neo-hippie enclave of the Rainbow Gathering, these are actual places full of actual people, living actual lives. But if there are no ghosts wandering California's North Coast, no junkies having mystical visions in the backs of family cars, as in Johnson's fiction, Seek evokes an equivalent sense of rawness, the idea that, at any instant, we may step through the looking glass into a domain unknown. "Another night under a strange sky in a different realm," Johnson writes in a dispatch from Somalia.

I listen to the reports on the shortwave of bombings, attacks, plagues, even witch-burnings (seventy elderly women burned in South Africa in the last ten months) and I feel I'm living in a world where such things are all there is...I've got a pocket New Testament, but I can't read much of it--because I'm living in the Bible's world right now, the world of cripples and monsters and desperate hope in a mad God, world of exile and impotence and the waiting, the waiting, the waiting. A world of miracles and deliverance, too.

The question, of course, is how we reconcile this--the desperate hope and the deliverance, the miracles and the attacks and plagues. For Johnson, the answer is a kind of studied incredulity, which allows him to approach most situations with eyes wide open and no preconceptions, other than those he needs in order to survive. In "Three Deserts," he visits a religious sect called the Children of the Light at their fertile compound in the Arizona desert, where they live "as virgins and eunuchs in the Reign of Heaven...they do not expect to die." Such a setup is ripe for skepticism, but Johnson goes the other direction, writing about the group's miraculous discovery of a freshwater lake 200 feet underground as if it could be luck or blessing, or a little bit of both. It's not that he suspends judgment exactly, just that judgment isn't what he's after. Rather, his purpose is to leave the question open and allow us to decide for ourselves. The closest he gets to any real conclusions comes in "Hippies," when, reflecting on the Rainbow Gathering, he notes that "here in this bunch of 10,000 to 50,000 people somehow unable to count themselves I see my generation epitomized: a Peter Pan generation nannied by matronly Wendys like Bill and Hillary Clinton, our politics a confusion of Red and Green beneath the black flag of Anarchy; cross-eyed and well-meaning, self-righteous, self-satisfied; close-minded, hypocritical, intolerant--Loving you!--Sieg Heil!" Lest it appear he's exempting himself, though, Johnson soon reveals his complicity by ripping off an old friend in a mushroom deal. "Back at my tent," he admits, "I dig out my canteen and prepare to split the stuff, whatever it is, with Joey while he finds his own canteen so we can wash it down quick. And here is why I can't permit myself even to try and co-exist with these substances: I said I'd split it, but I only gave him about a quarter. Less than a quarter. Yeah. I never quite became a hippie. And I'll never stop being a junkie."

The reason all this works is Johnson's honesty, which carries a sense of relentlessness about it. His "Hippies" riff is just the tip of the iceberg; throughout the book, he revels in the idea of being caught off-guard. That's a difficult trick to pull off, especially with nonfiction, where, in the thirty-odd years since Terry Southern, Hunter S. Thompson, and other New Journalists first sought to efface it, the line between reportorial observer and participant has come to appear nonexistent at times. Yet Johnson gets away with it because, for the most part, his personality remains secondary to what he's seeing, the often fragmentary substance of the world. In several pieces, he goes so far as to write about himself in the third person, constructing a series of personas not unlike the muddled men who motivate his fiction, and even at his most overtly personal--"Down Hard Six Times," about his honeymoon panning for gold in Alaska, or "Jungle Bells, Jungle Bells," a reminiscence of his Boy Scout initiation, circa 1962--he maintains a reserve, a filtered quality, framing his experiences through some larger issue (self-sufficiency, say, or weakness) that goes beyond self-reflection or memoir.

On the surface this might seem to distance us from the subject, yet paradoxically it draws us closer by letting us engage with the material on our own. In "The Small Boys' Unit," for instance, which recounts a 1992 trip to Liberia to interview military strongman Charles Taylor, Johnson meanders along, overwhelmed by African inefficiency, until the very notion of the interview starts to seem beside the point. He gets the runaround, he may or may not be arrested, he feels ineffectual in the face of poverty and civil war. What this does is lull us into an equivalent state of torpor, so that when Johnson finally opens up, it's unexpected and profound. "My parents raised me to love all the earth's peoples," he writes in one of Seek's most ruthlessly self-lacerating passages. "Three days in this zone and I could only just manage to hold myself back from screaming Niggers! Niggers! Niggers! until one of these young men emptied a whole clip into me."

It's unsettling to read something like that--unsettling, hell, it's disturbing in the extreme. But it's also deeply meaningful, a moment that lingers, resonates. Once you get over the initial shock, you realize that Johnson's throwing down a gauntlet, not about race so much as about assumption, challenging us to rethink all the things we take for granted, to consider them from another point of view. In many ways, that's the defining ethos of the collection, and if any one piece reflects this, it's "The Militia in Me," a response to the Oklahoma City bombing, originally published in Esquire in the summer of 1995. Here Johnson humanizes those in the militia movement by acknowledging his sympathy--not for their methods or their ideology but for their discontent. "This is a free country," he tells us. "I just want to be left alone." Then, he describes the ways our rights have been eroded, from the FBI's standoff with survivalist Randy Weaver at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, to Johnson's own confrontation with an INS officer sixty miles north of the Texas-Mexico border:

"Can we have a look in your vehicle?" "What if I said no?" "Then we'd bring the dog over and he'd tell us we'd better search the vehicle." "You mean he'd give you probable cause for a search?" "Just your refusal to let us search," the officer says, "would be probable cause."

This is dangerous work, daring work, not least because it asks us to think rationally about an issue so thickly layered with emotion there's very little room for common ground. "I believe the State should be resisted wherever it encroaches," Johnson argues. "But the bombers of that building will demonstrate for us something we don't want demonstrated: There's no trick to starting a revolution. Simply open fire on the State; the State will oblige by firing back. What's harder is to win a revolution, and the only victory worthy of the name will be a peaceable one."

What's most compelling about "The Militia in Me" is the sense we get that Johnson is walking an intellectual and emotional tightrope, suspended between polarities of belief. "I want to float above the fray," he confesses, "want to be like Walt Whitman, 'both in and out of the game, and watching and wondering at it.' But when the violence starts, I'm not aloof. I'm in the middle, pulled both ways." Although in a different essay Johnson's confusion might be a liability, here it assures us that he's on to something--albeit something with a quicksilver quality. There's considerable power, after all, in watching a writer wrestle with his material as it rearranges his mind and ours; it's the kind of power that makes you trust him. Even down to its structure, Seek operates like such a line of inquiry, each installment building on the last. It's only fitting that "The Militia in Me" occupies the exact middle of the collection, where it can function as a fulcrum, just as it's appropriate that the other pieces form an ensemble in which ideas, references, even bits of narrative echo back and forth until some subtle harmonies arise. How are we to see the Rainbow Gathering and the Eagle Mountain Motorcycle Rally if not as parallel events, a pair of traveling tent shows meant to offer solace in a universe of faith and terror? And how should we read the militia movement's don't-tread-on-me rhetoric and Johnson's desire for solitude except as the public and private faces of a single impulse, the need to preserve some space, some identity, against a society gone out of control?

If any resolution can be drawn from this, it's an elliptical one, although that, too, seems fitting in the end. What Johnson is saying is that every one of us, regardless of allegiance or background, is equally lost, equally longing, equally hungry for meaning in our lives. Were this an earlier age, we might look to church or state or family for connection; but we live in a time when those systems have long since failed us, leaving us adrift. Given such a world, it probably makes less difference what answers we come up with than which questions we choose to raise in the first place. It's tempting to regard this as a form of nihilism, and there's some nihilism in it, to be sure. But Johnson's peculiar, even visionary, genius is how he turns that around on us, until we have no choice but to reassess our terms. Is it nihilism to imagine abortion-clinic bomber Eric Robert Rudolph's retreat to the caves of North Carolina as a symbolic return to the womb? Or to acknowledge, as Johnson does more than once here, his sense of failure in the face of circumstance, his feelings of being overwhelmed? No, for Johnson, this is all simply part of the picture, which comprises equal parts light and darkness, heaven and hell. His is a universe where patterns manifest themselves in the most unlikely places. Even a flier from the Motorcycle Church of Christ.


Ravello, Italy

Katha Pollitt's heart-wrenching "Happy Mother's Day" was, of course, a treat ["Subject to Debate," May 28]. But the crystalline masses of her prose were sometimes flawed by odd cracks. She rightly mentions how the bogus drug wars waste federal money, not to mention the ever-more-frenzied war on terrorism, which spent, by her calculation, $50 million "executing Timothy McVeigh...not counting plane tix for celebrity death witness Gore Vidal." For the record, my "tix" are paid for by Vanity Fair, which in 1998 printed a piece by me on the shredding of the Bill of Rights, causing McVeigh to begin a three-year correspondence with me. We were due to meet recently; then the Attorney General decided that he was to be sequestered during the weird endgame now begun. McVeigh, who has a sense of humor, proposed I witness his departure instead. Since I am an opponent of the death penalty, I said yes. Read all about it, Nation readers, in Vanity Fair this fall. Meanwhile, you have your mom--Katha.



New York City

Alexander Cockburn's first preposterous diatribe against my accepting the Jerusalem Prize was so full of fabrications that I hardly know where to begin. Now he wants to take credit for inspiring the attack on current Israeli government policies and military conduct I made in the speech I gave at the prize ceremony ["Beat the Devil," April 23, June 4]. Just three corrections: 1. It is a literary prize given not by the Israeli government but by the Jerusalem International Book Fair (among past winners: Jorge Luis Borges, Graham Greene, Zbigniew Herbert, Milan Kundera, V.S. Naipaul, Octavio Paz, Don DeLillo, J.M. Coetzee). 2. According to the longtime director of the fair, my friend Nadine Gordimer has never won the prize, so could not have been in a position to decline it; according to him, she has never been a candidate. 3. I did not say, could never have said and obviously do not think that Mayor Olmert is "an extremely persuasive and reasonable person."

C'mon, Alex, you can fabricate a more plausible quote than that.



Alexander Cockburn was not the only one to pressure Susan Sontag. The Boston-based Jewish Women for Justice in Israel/Palestine sent a very strong letter to Sontag, following the letter publicized by the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace. Two other prominent Israeli intellectuals, Professor Alice Shalvi and the poet Ada Aharoni, added their voices.

Coalition of Women for a Just Peace


Petrolia, Calif.

To address Sontag's three points: Nowhere did I write that the Jerusalem Prize was awarded by the Israeli government, though I correctly identified the judges who honored Sontag, among them Shimon Peres, Israel's current Foreign Minister. I also mentioned that the person handing her the prize was Ehud Olmert, Mayor of Jerusalem and a leading ethnic cleanser.

Sontag may in retrospect find it incredible that she could have spoken with such warmth about Mayor Olmert, but on May 15 the Jerusalem Post reported her thus. On receipt of Sontag's letter, my colleague Jonathan Shainin contacted the Post's reporter, Greer Fay Cashman, and she responded thus: "Yes, she did say it. It was a spontaneous response to complimentary remarks Olmert made about her at the Jerusalem International Conference Center." As befits an employee of this extremist publication, Cashman added a note of praise for Sontag as being "sufficiently open-minded to be able to publicly say what she said about Olmert."

So far as Nadine Gordimer is concerned, Sontag knows perfectly well that a number of years ago Gordimer was approached by the Jerusalem Prize committee and asked whether she would accept the award if offered. Precisely in the manner I described in my first column she said she would not, and so the offer was never formally made. It is scarcely surprising that Sontag's director friend should have difficulty in recalling this episode.



Berkeley, Calif.

Hal Espen, Outside's editor, makes two errors ["Letters," May 21]. He insists that during an interview with Jay Heinrichs, Ralph Nader said that, if forced to choose, he would vote for Bush. Espen then says the Nader campaign did not contact Outside to complain that the quotation was false. In fact, campaign staff did call Outside several times to object and spoke directly with Heinrichs. I was with Nader for roughly 200 days last year. During that time the which-would-you-choose-if-forced question was asked at least 100 times by ordinary folk and some of the nation's best political reporters. None received the "Bush" answer. Given that he got Nader's other remarks correct, Heinrichs either misunderstood Nader during their phone interview or simply manufactured the "Bush" answer.



New York City

Ken Silverstein's April 23 "Diamonds of Death" is grossly misleading and contains several errors. The World Diamond Council, the Jewelers of America and others in the industry vigorously support effective, enforceable legislation to stop the traffic in conflict diamonds. Silverstein ignored statements by industry leaders making that point and ignored an obvious fact: All legitimate segments of the industry have every incentive--in both moral and business terms--to eliminate conflict diamonds.

It's true there's been disagreement on a handful of provisions in legislation that all concerned want Congress to approve. But industry representatives still search for common ground, even with some who publicly criticize us. Here are some examples of Silverstein's errors.

§ He says that on December 8, I announced that the World Diamond Council was "withdrawing support" from Congressman Tony Hall's bill, thereby killing a measure poised for passage in the final days of the session. Untrue. The WDC worked with Hall's office but did not agree to certain critical aspects of his draft. Further, it was a drastically different rider, originating in the Senate, that had been appended to the appropriations bill cited in the article.

§ Silverstein implies that the WDC then decided to draft its own legislation. Actually, that decision was made, and announced, much earlier. By December 8, drafting was well under way.

§ In an attempt to demonstrate a "hiring spree" of consultants allegedly assigned to oppose proper legislation, Silverstein mentions a "Shandwick Associates" and describes it as specializing in corporate grassroots campaigns. No such firm is associated with us, and no such campaign is being conducted.

§ Silverstein insinuates that the WDC retained the law firm Akin, Gump because its principals include "notable door openers." We went to this firm solely because Warren Connelly and Bruce Wilson have great expertise in international trade issues, which they put to good use in drafting model legislation.

World Diamond Council


Ken Silverstein did prodigious research on lobbying by the diamond industry. But he erred when he wrote that "groups such as Global Witness, World Vision, Physicians for Human Rights and Amnesty International threatened to launch a consumer boycott until the industry changed its buying practices so as to insure that conflict diamonds are eliminated from international markets." None of the groups named nor any of the members of the 100-member Campaign to Eliminate Conflict Diamonds has ever advocated a boycott of diamonds. The CECD is the legitimate diamond industry's best friend. We are pushing for tough import controls that will eventually allow jewelers to promise their customers that the diamonds in their stores are clean. They certainly can't say that now.

Physicians for Human Rights

Physicians for Human Rights


Washington, D.C.

Matthew Runci suggests that his industry is strongly supportive of efforts to eliminate conflict diamonds and that I overlooked the "rather obvious fact" that it has "every incentive" to do so. Runci overlooks one rather obvious incentive for companies to deal in conflict diamonds, namely profit. That's why De Beers until a few years ago was buying up almost the entire supply of conflict diamonds from UNITA, the Angolan guerrilla group. Runci's suggestion that the industry has always been deeply troubled about conflict diamonds is equally misleading. Diamond firms began responding to the problem only after NGOs put the issue on the public's radar screen and horrific images of victims of Africa's diamond wars began appearing in the media. The problem became too embarrassing to ignore, and the industry began emitting anguished wails about how something really must be done.

Runci denies withdrawing support for Hall's measure on December 8, but multiple participants at the meeting that day assert that he did just that, to the outrage of NGO representatives on hand. The rider attached to the appropriations bill did originate in the Senate, but there was a clear understanding among the various parties that Hall's measure would be substituted for it.

I don't doubt that Warren Connelly and Bruce Wilson have great expertise in international trade issues, but everyone in Washington--except Runci, apparently--knows that Akin, Gump is one of the best-connected firms in town.

The diamond industry did engage in a "hiring spree," as I documented, though I did err in stating that Shandwick Associates is part of the industry's campaign. The confusion arose because Powell Tate, one of the firms working for the industry, bought a PR company called Shandwick International in late 1999 and for a time used the Shandwick name. A Powell Tate staffer named Larry Barrett--who as a younger and more hopeful man wrote for The Nation--gave his business card to various members of the NGO coalition during this period, and several told me that Barrett worked for "Shandwick." The only firm with that name that I came across in a lobbyist database was Shandwick Associates, hence, the mistake. (Powell Tate, by the way, is a specialist in grassroots campaigns. One of its greatest accomplishments, achieved on behalf of the drug industry, was defeating a Clinton Administration initiative to control the costs of childhood vaccines.)

Runci, like many diamond industry officials or lobbyists I spoke with, says that his side is seeking common ground with its critics. Perhaps that's true, but spending huge amounts of money to draft a competing bill and push it through Congress doesn't seem like the best way of demonstrating good faith.


How much does the White House stand to save from Bush's tax cut?

On July 1 Larry Summers--the Wunderkind economist who ran the Treasury Department under President Clinton--takes over as president of Harvard University.

Wonder why it took ex-Republican Jim Jeffords to alert the national media to the fact that the Bush Administration is run out of the extremist end of the GOP? Writing from inside the belly of the beast not long ago, the Washington Post's White House correspondent John Harris helped crystallize an increasingly unavoidable proposition: "The truth is, this new president has done things with relative impunity that would have been huge uproars if they had occurred under Clinton."

The argument over whether reporters are "liberal" is tired and stale. It's also irrelevant. You'd have to be deaf, dumb and blind to believe that liberals get more generous coverage. Harris focuses on the structural part. "There is no well-coordinated corps of aggrieved and methodical people who start each day looking for ways to expose and undermine a new president.... the liberal equivalent of this conservative coterie does not exist." What he does not say is that in the press itself there is no liberal equivalent to nakedly biased news sources like Fox News, the Wall Street Journal editorial pages, the Washington Times, the New York Post, Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge and The McLaughlin Group, which dictate punditocracy discourse and cable schmoozathons.

Add to this the rapid decline of what constitutes verifiable "news" among our most high-minded journalistic institutions. Harris gingerly notes that his colleagues "may have fallen a bit out of shape at the hard work of examining, exposing, and critiquing public officials as they go about making the decisions that affect national life." Oh yeah, that. Now throw in the natural tendency of Beltway reporters to write for sources rather than for their readers. At least before the Jeffords switch, those sources were almost exclusively Republican and conservative.

Consider the news coverage of the China "crisis," as has an intelligent examination in the Columbia Journalism Review. The media wanted inside "ticktock" coverage, and the White House complied. Harris's Washington Post presented readers with a twenty-six-paragraph, front-page analysis replete with inside anecdotes designed to make the President appear somehow simultaneously in charge and comfortable with delegating details. He "peppered" his advisers with questions about Bibles and exercise. Bush "grilled" Condoleezza Rice. He set "redlines" for negotiators regarding possible concessions. Never mind that no Post reporters were there during the events they so breathlessly reported as fact. To question the official version handed out by the President's propaganda machine is no longer part of the job description. (And let's not even go into why these aides wanted to portray their boss, as the Guardian's Jonathan Freedland observed, as "a know-nothing, fundamentalist fitness freak.")

An equally egregious example can be found in the media coverage of the alleged vandalism perpetrated by Clinton aides before their departure from the White House. Washington Post gossip Lloyd Grove originally broke the nonstory, as Bush officials pretended to pooh-pooh it while privately stoking it. What began as a few missing W's on keyboards soon mushroomed into--according to a page-one Post report by Mike Allen--"sliced phone and computer lines, obscene messages left in copy machines and champagne flutes missing from an Air Force jet." Lurid reports were aired by Tom DeFrank in the New York Daily News, Andrea Mitchell on NBC News, Matt Drudge, Tony Snow, Fred Barnes, Paula Zahn, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, William Kristol, Tom Schatz, Oliver North and Brit Hume on Fox.

Apparently, no one thought to ask the Bush White House if there was any evidence for these claims. When GSA investigators looked into the matter, they found, "The condition of the real property was consistent with what we would expect to encounter when tenants vacate office space after an extended occupancy." The GAO also looked into it and found "no record of damage that may have been deliberately caused by the employees of the Clinton administration." Not surprisingly, this news went buried or unreported. Mitchell's employer, NBC, ignored it; the Post ran a wire service report on page 13.

Mike Allen and Andrea Mitchell did not return my call seeking their reaction to the news. Tom DeFrank told me he is "deeply puzzled" and plans to do more reporting on it. The respective reputations of Matt Drudge and Fox News speak for themselves. But you get the point. At least until Jim Jeffords upset its applecart, the Bush Administration, and the conservative movement supporting it, controlled its press coverage so effectively, it owned just about all the marbles in the game. And as every kid knows, it's the guy with the marbles who gets to decide the rules.

* * *

Did former New York Times executive editor and anti-Communist hysteric Abe Rosenthal squash an article that shed light on the guilt of the Rosenbergs for fear of offending the judge who sent them to their deaths? Ronald Radosh makes this shocking claim in his memoir, Commies, citing as his source Ed Klein, then editor of the Times magazine. Radosh's article, commissioned by the magazine and written with Sol Stern, concurred with the judgment that Irving Kaufman had illegal ex parte communications with the likes of Roy Cohn during the trial. But Kaufman had been promoted to the US Court of Appeals, which heard many First Amendment cases, so Rosenthal killed the piece, insisting that the Times "could not afford to run a piece that might inflame Kaufman to vote against the paper in an important press case."

Rosenthal did not (surprise, surprise) return my call, but Klein informs me that the Radosh version is "flat-out false." There was no "shocking late-night call" from Klein to Radosh and no admittance that "Abe killed it." (Indeed, even if true, what editor would be stupid enough to admit such an order to a writer?) Unfortunately, much of Radosh's memoir appears to exist only in his imagination. Conspiracies abound, wild charges are tossed about and the public record is contradicted sans evidence. A great many of Radosh's failures in life are blamed on a large and powerful pro-communist conspiracy controlling virtually every important cultural institution in America. Who knew?

When, at 13, my rebellious move toward the left coincided with the emerging cold war, a teasing Bronx cousin took to calling me "Ana Pauker." Some boys in my school in the heart of Flatbush also picked up on the "Ana Pauker" routine. Pauker, a Jewish woman who'd become the chief party theoretician in Communist Romania and the sole female leader in the Soviet bloc, was in the news quite a bit in the late 1940s. On the cover of Time, in a spread in Life, the image of Romania's Iron Lady was stout and unsmiling, a monolith with a face of stone, dowdy clothes and unkempt hair. The Pauker taunt wasn't a caveat about Stalinism. It was a nasty dig about a girl's looks when she starts to spout unpopular opinions.

By the time I reached college I'd forgotten Romania's Iron Lady. So had the rest of the world. Purged under Stalin's orders early in the 1950s, Pauker had been arrested and imprisoned. She spent her last years as a shunned person in Bucharest with her daughter's family, dying after a long battle with cancer in 1960.

Three years after her barely noted demise, my own career had progressed to researcher for Newsweek, with volunteer work for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Congress of Racial Equality on the side. To my horror, a senior editor who considered himself a wit resurrected the "Ana Pauker" routine. This time I was terrified that the taunt really was about Stalinism or--same thing in those days--about unmasking a red, but Pauker had been out of the news for so long that few of my colleagues caught the joke. The wit concocted a fresh salute, "Mother Bloor of the Eleventh Floor," which was tolerably funny because it didn't quite rhyme.

All this is by way of saying that I am personally grateful to Robert Levy for writing a thoughtful, meticulous biography of the real Ana Pauker that fills the gaps in a mystery that haunted my early radical journey. More important, he reassesses her role in Eastern bloc history and provides answers to many questions about Romania's special conditions in the immediate aftermath of World War II that I had never thought to frame. Ana Pauker: The Rise and Fall of a Jewish Communist explores the impossible contradictions inherent in being an urbane, atheistic assimilationist, and a woman, in a fiercely nationalistic, predominantly peasant, deeply paranoid satellite state. Without gliding over Pauker's serious delusions, desperate compromises and calculating moves, Levy pulls off a surprising feat by offering a credible defense for many of her actions. Comrade Ana, as she was called in party circles, is still being demonized in post-Ceausescu Romania as the malevolent force behind the worst atrocities of the Stalinist era. It's nice to learn, on the basis of Levy's evidence, that she tried her best to stem the tide.

So how did the favorite grandchild of a learned village rabbi in rural Moldavia manage her "galloping climb"--the phrase is Levy's--to pre-eminent female apparatchik of Eastern Europe? Born in 1893, Ana Rabinsohn was the elder daughter of an Orthodox shoket, a ritual meat slaughterer, who settled in Bucharest with his wife and family. The girl was precocious. Encouraged by her mother, a food peddler, Ana broke the sex barrier to attend a boys' heder. After that, the best her impoverished parents could do was to enroll her in a Jewish vocational school, where she picked up the trade of tailoring and mastered enough Hebrew to teach it to others. When Ana was 17 a fellow teacher who became her lover brought her into a socialist workers' club. Soon after, she met the ardent socialist Marcel Pauker, her future husband, and followed him to Switzerland with the dream of becoming a doctor. Forced to abandon her medical studies when their money ran out, a pregnant Ana came home with Marcel, who refused to accept help from his prosperous family. The baby died at eight months from dysentery. Imprisoned three times by the monarchist government during Communist sweeps in the 1920s, Ana had a second baby and was pregnant again when the couple made their way to Moscow and were admitted to the prestigious Lenin School for revolutionary training. Ana's recommendation came from the famous German Communist Klara Zetkin (the woman, I wish to add, whose Reminiscences With Lenin squelched feminism in Marxist orthodoxy), but it was Marcel who appeared to be the rising red star in the family Pauker.

The union apparently fizzled in the Soviet capital. Marcel fathered a child with a Bessarabian woman, while Ana's new baby girl resulted from an affair with a French Comintern organizer close to Maurice Thorez. The infant was stowed in Paris with Thorez's estranged wife while Ana finished the Lenin School's three-year program with honors, winning a number of high Soviet patrons. Sent to Bucharest by the Comintern in 1935 to confer with the outlawed, severely factionalized Romanian Communist Party, she was arrested on the street while leaving a meeting and was shot in both legs during the scuffle. At the conclusion of her publicized trial she was given a ten-year sentence.

Several crucial events took place in the outside world while Ana organized the political cadres in Dumbraveni women's prison in Transylvania: the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939 and the infamous Moscow show trials, in which nearly all of the Bolshevik old guard were charged with high treason. Through party documents smuggled into Dumbraveni via a food parcel, Ana also learned that Marcel Pauker had been purged in Moscow for Trotskyist tendencies and oppositionist crimes. Ana swallowed these developments without asking questions. It was dangerous to ask questions; questions implied one was a "wavering element" who lacked the mettle to sacrifice bourgeois personal concerns for the revolution. Her denial was so total that until her last years she refused to believe that Marcel had been shot soon after his purge.

By not protesting the fate of her husband, Comrade Ana had proved her mettle. Her Moscow patrons secured her release from prison shortly before the Nazi invasion in 1941 by trading her for a minor Romanian leader they had conveniently detained. She spent most of the remainder of the war in the Soviet Union directing a "Free Romania" radio station and visiting liberated Romanian towns on Germany's receding Eastern Front. She flew home to Bucharest after Romania's battered collaborationist monarchy surrendered to the Red Army in 1944. At 51, Ana Rabinsohn Pauker was given a directive by Moscow to assume command of Occupied Romania's transition to a Communist regime.

It was Ana, not her Soviet mentors, who worried that her glaring drawbacks--woman, Jew, intellectual--might pose a leadership problem for the ethnic Romanian peasants and workers about to taste the new social order. She proposed that she share the power with Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, a Communist railway worker who'd been in prison for eleven years. Comrade Ana and Comrade Dej would be at ideological loggerheads for most of the next decade, until Gheorghiu-Dej got his orders from Stalin to arrange Ana's fall.

I'm going to take a deep breath here and say that I wish Levy had applied more narrative skills to this published version of the doctoral dissertation that engaged him for twenty years. Ana Pauker: The Rise and Fall of a Jewish Communist is an academic treatise. Levy's strong suits are his exhaustive readings of archival records pried from their reluctant sources--transcripts of party meetings, prison interrogations, self-criticisms, confessions--and a motherlode of original interviews with Pauker's daughters, her son-in-law, her former deputy secretary and others, although where he conducted these interviews, and under what circumstances, Levy does not say.

Still, Ana Pauker is a rip-roaring story that deserves a wider audience than what I imagine to be a small, intense, squabbling group of exiled Romanian scholars. Lots of Americans are knowledgeable about Soviet history, but what do we know about postwar Romania? Probably as much as we know about Bulgaria. I'm not kidding when I say that I found Levy's chapter on the forced collectivization of the peasantry a whiz of a read, not because it echoes a painful story in other Communist countries with which I'm better acquainted, such as Russia, China and Vietnam, but because it is the first account I've seen that reveals an excruciating struggle inside the party. By quoting from transcripts of Romanian Politburo meetings, edgy debates full of scorn and bite, Levy shows that Pauker and what was to be called her faction argued against the craziness of herding the stubborn, individualistic peasants into huge state farms before the state could even offer them tractors to lighten their load. Furthermore, she tried to stall the measures by countermanding many of Gheorghiu-Dej's decrees.

Pauker's "peasantist" tendencies (a right-wing deviation in Communist jargon) were the start of her troubles with Stalin. As it happens, she was sidelined in Moscow while getting treatment for her first bout with breast cancer during the initial roundups, beatings, killings and land expropriations, but even if her vaunted powers of persuasion had been at full strength it's unlikely that she could have stopped the madness. Yet the woman who "couldn't even tell the difference between the wheat and the sickle," as she was later mocked by Nicolae Ceausescu, her former subaltern, had been correct all along.

Of course, the general populace had no inkling that Ana had opposed forced collectivization, criticized the party's emphasis on heavy industry at the expense of manufacturing and housing, warned against the deployment of forced kulak labor on an ill-conceived, grandiose Stalinist project that was ultimately abandoned, the Danube-Black Sea Canal. Under the devilish principle of so-called democratic centralism, inner-party struggles were not made public. The articulate woman who could be so passionate in party debates and rationalize the party line afterward in rousing speeches, never wrote any books or essays to attempt to explain her ideas. As far as disaffected Romanians could tell, Ana was stamped from the classic Soviet mold. Levy reports that a typical joke went something like this:

Passer-by: "Comrade Ana, why are you carrying an umbrella? The sun is shining gloriously in Bucharest today."
Ana: "Haven't you heard the Soviet radio? It's raining in Moscow!"

As a relative latecomer to the Axis machine, Romania had not complied with Hitler's demands to eliminate its Jews. (The reasons appear to have been practical rather than sympathetic; the Iron Guard, its home-grown brownshirts, had been more than eager to do the job.) In consequence, at the end of the war there were more Jews in Romania than anywhere else in Eastern Europe, with the exception of the Soviet Union. Levy cites a figure of 353,000, roughly half the prewar population. By 1947 most of them wanted to leave.

The "Jewish Question" was exceedingly vexing for Romania's Communist Party, whose flip-flops on emigration reflected worries about a brain drain and the loss of skilled workers counterposed to a layering of anti-Semitism that amounted to "good riddance." Obviously the Jewish Question was particularly sensitive for Ana, who fully believed that assimilation and socialism, her chosen path, would solve all the world's problems, including the barely discussed "Woman Question." But Pauker could not turn a blind eye to the need for God and Orthodoxy that infused so many Romanian Jews, including her own kin. Her sister Bella had followed her into the Communist Party, but her brother Zalman, sticking to his Orthodox ways, had leaped at the chance to immigrate to Palestine with his wife and children at the earliest opportunity, in 1944. Three years later Ana pulled her considerable strings to secure an exit visa and safe passage for her Orthodox father.

Brother Zalman was to play a curious role in Ana's life. In 1949, a year after the birth of the State of Israel, Zalman returned to Romania, ostensibly for a family visit but perhaps as a secret emissary to the powerful red commissar David Ben-Gurion had slyly dubbed "The Empress." Israel's manifest interest in opening a back-channel to Pauker was twofold: to secure exit visas for all Romanian Jews wishing to immigrate to the Jewish homeland, and to halt the impending trials of Zionist agitators who were kicking up a fuss inside the country. A third possible interest, as deduced by the conspiracy-minded Communists, was that Zalman would be advantageously situated to glean state secrets. Whatever influence Zalman had on his sister while he lived in her house, demanding kosher food, making do with a tin of sardines, wearing his yarmulke at the table, his presence, Levy writes, would be crucial to the purge and arrest of Ana Pauker and her faction.

Stalin's increasingly anti-Semitic paranoia has been exhaustively reported. Citing the scholar Arkady Vaksberg, Levy suggests that the despot acquired a special phobia about Jewish women, convinced that gossiping Jewish wives of a number of major Soviet figures had brought details of his personal life, such as his wife's suicide, to the West's attention. Women in general had begun to annoy him. He no longer saw the use in keeping one or two in positions of power to impress the imperialist camp. In any event, Pauker's opposition to some of his favorite schemes was enough to do her in.

In April 1951, while Gheorghiu-Dej was in Moscow for an ideological tuneup, he was awakened at 2 in the morning and summoned to the Kremlin for one of Stalin's famous middle-of-the-night dinners. During the repast, the despot allegedly wailed, "Dej, how many times did I tell you to get rid of Ana Pauker, and you didn't understand me? If I were in your place, I would have shot her in the head a long time ago." A member of the entourage recalls that at least one person in the Dej faction cried on the plane all the way home.

Ana was not shot in the head, nor did she undergo the humiliations of a craven show trial like Rudolf Slansky in Prague, where a whole generation of Jewish Communists stood accused of an International Zionist Conspiracy. Providence, in the form of Stalin's death in 1953 from natural causes, intervened.

Levy rings in the usual experts--Arthur Koestler, Ignazio Silone, Solzhenitsyn et al.--in an attempt to explain why Pauker did not wake up screaming as she witnessed her youthful dream of idealistic communism turn into a nightmare. Perhaps the truest clue can be found in a willful statement made by the California Communist Dorothy Healy, whose allegiance to the American CP outlasted the loyalty of most of her disillusioned comrades: "I'm not going to let those bastards have the party."

After a period of disorientation when she was stripped of her power, Pauker regained her crusty defiance, conceding nothing, refusing to grovel. It hurt that none of her old comrades from the ministries had the courage to pay her a visit, but she understood the danger, and the rules. Her family reports that she secretly expected a miraculous reversal, a full vindication, perhaps even another chance. The good ideology would triumph, decent folk would assert themselves, things would "get better."

Instead, as Levy writes, the fall of Ana Pauker was a significant step in the process that fated Romania to the ultimate horrors of the Ceausescu regime.

It was the first Cannes Film Festival of the new century, but it felt more like an end than a beginning, as the past returned, in film after film, with weight and insistency. This year marked the fiftieth anniversary of Cahiers du Cinéma, and two of that venerable journal's founders, Jean-Luc Godard and Jacques Rivette, made fugitive appearances on the Croisette (the beachside thoroughfare where starlets promenade in the shadow of film history) with works in competition, their white hair and grizzled chins at odds with the general carnival atmosphere. Francis Ford Coppola brought a brilliant new version of Apocalypse Now, adding fifty-three minutes and the ghosts of the French occupation of Indochina to his dark and delirious vision of war's insanity, which shared Cannes's top prize, the Palme d'Or, in 1979. And a 92-year-old director, the Portuguese auteur Manoel de Oliveira (who began his career in silent cinema), provided one of the festival's highlights with I'm Going Home, a film about an aging actor (Michel Piccoli), infused with lightness and simplicity.

The awards, announced May 20, confirmed this sense of a film culture unfurling under the banner of memory, as the jury (headed by Liv Ullmann) honored films about a father in mourning (Nanni Moretti's The Son's Room) and a woman (Isabelle Huppert) crushed by her own masochism and the suffocating mass of Austria's musical heritage (Michael Haneke's The Piano Teacher). In this year of transition, as festival president Gilles Jacob handed over the reins of artistic direction to newcomer Thierry Frémaux, the world's great cinematic behemoth seemed haunted by the specter of previous generations.

Yet their vitality continued to surprise us. "If filmmaking doesn't kill you, it prolongs your life instead," the nonagenarian Oliveira affirmed in an interview. I'm Going Home opens with Gilbert Valence (Piccoli) on the Paris stage, playing the enfeebled but tyrannical king in Ionesco's Le Roi se Meurt, and surrounded by colleagues and admirers. Backstage, after the performance, his friend and agent George informs him that his wife, daughter and son-in-law have been killed in a car accident. Unlike Nanni Moretti's film, which (despite its considerable accomplishments) strikes a few false, forced notes in its depiction of a family's sorrow, Oliveira handles Gilbert's grief with gentle humor and extreme discretion. The distinguished actor brings his orphaned grandson to live with him, but otherwise continues his daily routine, refusing to acknowledge (even to himself) the magnitude of his losses. Perhaps it's the result of Oliveira's long experience; in this graceful and uncompromising meditation on time and its vicissitudes, he gives the small consolations of life a place beside its great catastrophes.

The actor's life is also the focus of Who Knows, Jacques Rivette's metaphysical farce about an Italian theater troupe performing Pirandello's Come tu mi vuoi in Paris. Camille (Jeanne Balibar), the lead actress and lover of the troupe's director, is French and a former Parisian; as she returns to Paris, she's filled with longing and trepidation over the prospect of meeting Pierre, her ex-lover. Pierre now lives with Marianne, who in turn conceals her own secrets. A precious ring, a cake recipe and an unpublished Goldoni manuscript circulate among a sextet of characters, providing clues to each one's desire. Rivette's magical direction changes this watery plot into wine. The actors inhabit their roles with sparkling vitality; the film buzzes with life, with the strange coincidences, emotional truths, hesitations and intense passions that shape love, in all its complexity.

"It's very demoralizing for a director to see bad films," the notoriously reclusive Rivette admitted at his press conference. "You have the feeling that you've wasted your life on a crummy profession." At 73, he retains the lightning reflexes and fluid gestures of an acrobat, and his deftly magisterial and lovely film belongs to that rare genre of comedy whose effects are more profound than tragedy.

Cannes is perhaps the only place in the world where the fight to view Jean-Luc Godard's latest opus could provoke a minor riot. Security police were called out to handle the huge, unruly crowd of journalists assembled to see his Éloge de l'amour, screening just once for the press in a small room. Those who gained admission found themselves in the presence of a lyrical, melancholy and ultimately puzzling cinematic essay on the relation between film and history. Godard picks through the ruins of the twentieth century, citing its high culture (painting, music, philosophy) and its moral disasters (most notably Auschwitz) in this elusive and fragmentary work, which calls itself a love story but is really a semiautobiographical reflection on the director's nostalgia for, and belief in, a cinema of resistance. The film's few coherent plot points involve a disappointingly facile anti-Americanism, with Steven Spielberg set up as the fall guy (however deservedly) for Hollywood's need to transform history into entertainment, as his fictive company purchases rights to the life story of an elderly couple, French Jews who fought in the Resistance. (Roberto Benigni, the Italian director of Life Is Beautiful, might have served the cause as well. And do Godard's credentials, as either a longtime member of the artistic avant-garde or a citizen of Switzerland, give him any greater claim to this history?) Still, Godard's poignant use of sound and imagery--his lush, black-and-white visions of nighttime Paris and crayon-bright, handheld, digital seascapes--teases you into thinking.

In the festival's curious conjunction of artistic and market considerations, each person's place in the food chain is clearly demarcated, from the color of your press pass (among four levels, white passes claim the greatest privileges) to the amount of time old colleagues will afford you. Sometimes, as at the Godard screening, the promise of Old World cultural capital whips the crowd into a frenzy; at other times, historic occasions and films from marginal locations go relatively unremarked. Only a handful of journalists attended the screening of Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner), the first film shot with an Inuit cast and crew, which won the Camera d'Or for best debut feature. Director Zacharias Kunuk's nearly three-hour saga is based upon an ancient Inuit legend about sexual conflicts and vengeance pursued across two generations of nomadic tribespeople on a remote Canadian Arctic island, where Kunuk was raised and still lives. In an extraordinarily beautiful landscape suffused with an unearthly light, women with elaborate facial tattoos and men sporting futuristic-looking sun goggles build igloos, hunt for seal meat, make love and participate in shamanistic rituals. Closely based upon both eyewitness accounts of the first European settlers (who arrived there in the early nineteenth century) and Inuit oral tradition, Atanarjuat shows a sophisticated culture, filled with art and humor, that has survived virtually unchanged for some four millennia.

And while Godard danced around history like a mournful clown, those viewers seeking a cinema of resistance might have turned instead to Sobibor, 14 October 1943, 16 heures, the latest chapter in Claude Lanzmann's piercing, thirty-year exploration of the memory of the Shoah. Sobibor screened out-of-competition, and its inclusion here (alongside an arresting documentary by Abbas Kiarostami on the ravages of AIDS among children in Uganda) marked a welcome expansion of the festival's traditional focus on fiction. The film returns to an episode mentioned in Shoah, Lanzmann's landmark 1985 epic, in which the inmates of the Sobibor death camp carried out the only successful revolt of Jewish prisoners against their German captors.

Sobibor begins with an archival photograph of SS officers saluting the corpses of Nazi officials murdered in the uprising. A strange sense of joy wells up with the knowledge that, for once, the executioners became victims. In 1979, while filming Shoah, Lanzmann interviewed Yehuda Lerner, who was deported from the Warsaw Ghetto at the age of 16 and whose unquenchable thirst for life led him to escape from eight death camps. Six weeks after arriving at Sobibor, Lerner took part in the rebellion organized by Alexander Pechersky, a fellow inmate and Soviet Jewish officer.

Lanzmann maintains both a journalist's surgical precision and an artist's sense of wonder as he questions Lerner, who traces his remarkably suspenseful tale in a vibrant Hebrew, infused with mythic grandeur. The clarity and beauty of his voice contrast sharply with the film's opening panorama of Warsaw--a city of dead monuments and anonymous architecture--and in one surreal sequence, with flocks of geese, whose unendurable cacophony was used by camp officials to cover up the screams of dying prisoners. Shoah rendered the annihilation of European Jewry astonishingly palpable; Sobibor is a hymn to the courage of people who were less than nothing, yet rose up to defend themselves. Lanzmann has titled his film with the place, day and time of the uprising, recalling the question posed by both Rabbi Hillel and Primo Levi, "If not now, when?" And it brings that decisive moment alive to us.

Watching the competition's twenty-three features over the course of twelve days, along with a good number of the twenty-two films included in the subsection called "Un Certain Regard" and the dozens more screening in two sidebar festivals, critics' week and directors' fortnight, alters one's experience of time considerably. A second, imaginary life begins to take shape. How many couples made love and separated, how many cups of coffee and cigarettes were consumed, how many characters died or were murdered onscreen each day? In rare instances, a film manages to impose its own sense of time and reality. Such was the case with David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, a wildly idiosyncratic work by a home-grown American surrealist. Lynch deserved his own award but shared the directing prize with Joel Coen (whose highly stylized The Man Who Wasn't There also screened in competition) for his story of two actresses, a sensual, winding, noiresque exploration of both the literal topography and the psychic geography of Los Angeles.

Lynch's film, the Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf's Kandahar and Taiwanese filmmaker Tsai Ming-liang's What Time Is It There? (all French co-productions) proved that there is hope for the future of auteurism, as long as you look beyond the confines of Europe. Filmed in Afghanistan and among refugee communities along the Iranian border, using a style that mixes documentary elements with an improbable visual poetry and humor drawn from the desolation of war and poverty, Kandahar is Makhmalbaf's attempt to give a face to Afghan women, who remain hidden behind the heavy veil of their burkas and the world's indifference.

If Kandahar is a model of social engagement, Tsai's film is a homage to the golden age of art-house cinema, incorporating footage from François Truffaut's classic, The 400 Blows (a 1959 Cannes sensation), into a contemporary Taipei story about the different time zones we inhabit when we look at films, travel to distant countries or mourn the loss of someone. Halfway around the world, Tsai works like an old-style European auteur, writing his scripts in Taipei cafes and working with a limited number of actors, whose roles have evolved over the course of five features focusing on urban anomie, family alienation and Taiwan's restless youth culture. "I'm really a sixties person," the 43-year-old director explained in an interview. "That's why I make these sixties-style films. Luckily, there are a few other sixties people around, who like to watch them."

The leftists organizing in Vermont since the 1970s prepared the ground for James Jeffords's jump, and he never would have done it without them. In the 1970s and 1980s Democrats howled with fury when Vermont's Progressive Party said that no matter what the short-term consequences, the important political task was to build a radical, third-force movement in the state.

In 1988 this progressive coalition backed Bernard Sanders, then the mayor of Burlington, in a run for Vermont's single Congressional seat. Democratic liberals raised the "wrecker" charge, saying the Sanders intervention would cost the Democrats votes and put in a Republican. It did. Then, two years later, Sanders ran again against the incumbent Republican and won. Creative destruction worked.

Without decades of work by radicals, nourishing the propriety of independent politics in Vermont, would Jeffords ever have jumped the Republican ship and handed control of the Senate back to the Democrats? I don't think so.

A couple of weeks ago someone sent me an article by Todd Gitlin and Sean Wilentz, published in an obscure journal called Dissent. Since Gitlin's prime political function for years has been to fortify respectable opinion about the impropriety of independent thinking, I knew what to expect, particularly since he was in harness with Wilentz, a truly hysterical proprietarian.

Sure enough, it was an attack on those who voted for Ralph Nader, tumid with a full-inventory parade of every cliché from the past forty years about the folly of radical hopes. Want a taste?

Numbers aside, there is a deeper force at work, behind the delusion that the masses hanker for radical change that Gore would not give them--a purist approach to politics. This all-or-nothing approach, allergic to democratic contest and compromise, is rooted equally in American self-righteousness and traditional left-wing utopianism. It is as if by venting one's anger, one were free to remake the world by willing it so...

Yup, this pompous cant translates into the single, finger-wagging admonition, "You should have voted for Al Gore," the latest variant on Gitlin's one-note career sermon about voting for Hubert Humphrey in 1968. (What is it about these Humphrey lovers? Vermonter Marty Jezer, another sermonizer about main-chance political propriety, recently lashed out at CBS in his column in the Brattleboro Reformer for what he denounced as excessively hostile and prejudicial interviewing of baby-killer Bob Kerrey! The lust to be respectably "fair," whether to HHH or Kerrey, leads to some astonishingly ridiculous postures.)

In Vermont the Republican Party is pretty much dead. Jeffords should sign up right now as a member of the Progressive Party, with whose political positions he has some things in common. Of course Jeffords, at least in his latest incarnation, is truly an independent, whereas Sanders is effectively a Democrat.

Now let's see how much fortitude the Democrats on the Hill have in contesting Bush and Cheney. They no longer have the alibi of the Republicans' controlling the White House and both chambers. Footnote: The Nation's editor, Katrina vanden Heuvel, wishes it to be on record that she takes exception to the description of Dissent as "obscure." I suggest a poll of the American people.

More on the Gandoo Man

In a recent column I described how the Chicago police have declined the request of a gay Pakistani poet to hit his supposed assailant, Salman Aftab, with a hate-crimes charge. Ifti Nasim claims Aftab called him a faggot bottom and lunged at him with a knife. For some of Chicago's gays it's become a very big issue. The Chicago Anti-Bashing Network prompted the ACLU's Pamela Sumner to write a three-page letter to State's Attorney Dick Devine detailing why she felt he should pursue hate-crimes charges in Nasim's case. Devine has refused to do so.

The cops and Devine are quite right. It turns out that the initial quarrel between Nasim and Aftab wasn't about the former's sexual orientation but about an article he'd written. Aftab never attacked Nasim with a knife (though Nasim insists he'd gone to the kitchen to get one). And Nasim put up Aftab's bail money, though he still wants him hit with a hate-crimes charge for calling him an insulting sexual term. The Chicago Anti-Bashing Network supports this position, which only goes to show how dementedly wrongheaded progressives are on the hate-crimes issue.

The Bush Menu

Poor Jenna Bush's travails with the absurd liquor laws of Texas take me back to my gilded youth at Oxford, when even the appearance of sobriety, at least at Keble, was an object of scandal and reproof from the better element. As it admits elsewhere in this issue, The Nation was a tad unfair relaying the claim that the Bush White House has ordered its chef to prepare genetically modified foods on some state occasions. The source of this claim was a piece by Jennifer Berkshire posted on Alternet. The Nation earnestly commented that "the demonstration smells like a paid political announcement for the agribusiness lobby."

I remember reading Berkshire's Alternet piece as an excellent little satire, and Jennifer confirms that this was indeed the case. Satire is always an uncertain weapon. My father once wrote an update of Swift's "A Modest Proposal," this time about inoculating people with the same sort of lethal strain that wiped out rabbits with myxomatosis. When it appeared in Punch furious letters poured in, denouncing him as an advocate of mass murder. Back in my days at the Village Voice I wrote a parody of conspiracy mongering and awoke to hear it being read out as serious news on WBAI by the late Samori Marksman. Since then I've stayed with the unvarnished truth, which is usually far more incredible than anything a satirist could dream up. For evidence see Marty Jezer's onslaught on CBS, noted above.

What sticks in my mind more than any particular accomplishment of the supersecret National Security Agency is its mammoth size. Only a few miles from my home, I now know, exists a secret Orwellian town where tens of thousands of people live and work. It is surrounded by barbed-wire fences, massive boulders and thick cement barriers, all hidden by tall earthen berms and thick forests. Armed police patrol the boundaries of Crypto City, as this restricted area near the sleepy hamlet of Annapolis Junction, Maryland, is called. Telephoto surveillance cameras peer down. Heavily armed commandos dressed in black and wearing special headgear are on standby in case of trouble.

Beyond lies a forbidden city unlike any other on earth. Its main business is global eavesdropping; its mission is to obtain secrets about foreign enemies and friends alike, and to identify terrorist threats, drug trades, illegal arms sales and so on, all by intercepting voice, phone and radio communications. Using math, cryptology, statistical and other techniques, the NSA can break any code or cipher. The raw material is collected by its spyplanes, ships, satellites and through various other technical means, then is processed by the largest, most powerful electronic brain on earth.

More exact details of this forbidden city remain secret. County officials say they have no idea how many people work there, and no one will tell them. But James Bamford, in his Body of Secrets, offers some clues. The city's post office distributes 70,000 pieces of mail a day; there are more than 37,000 cars registered there. The local police have more than 700 uniformed officers and their own SWAT team. The city's consumption of electricity--to power six acres of computers, twenty-five tons of air-conditioning equipment and more than a half-million lightbulbs--costs nearly $2 million per month. In case of power outages, its own power-generating plant can quickly produce enough wattage for a community of more than 3,500 homes. It has its own fire department as well as twenty-three separate alarm systems and 402 miles of sprinklers, feeding 210,000 sprinkler heads. There are theaters, a bank, kindergartens, fitness centers, gas stations, clubs (even its own Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual Employees--"GLOBE"--club). Religious services are held in an unbuggable room, where priest and minister have security clearance far above Top Secret.

At the heart of this community is the NSA headquarters; with 3 million square feet of floor space, it could accommodate the entire US Capitol building four times over. The headquarters building almost metaphorically represents the NSA as well: From the outside, it looks like a stylish modern office building of dark one-way glass. But the real building is hidden under this reflective glass and is protected by a skin of orange-colored copper and unique windows--a thick outer pane, five inches of sound-deadening space, a thin copper screen and an inner pane. The protective shielding is designed to keep all sounds--and indeed any type of electromagnetic radiation--from getting out. It is used throughout much of the city to keep what is said to be the largest body of secrets ever compiled.

Created at the height of the cold war, the NSA was to be the eyes and ears of the Central Intelligence Agency after the Communists drew an impenetrable "iron curtain" around their borders and effectively put human spies out of action. Its very existence has been so highly classified that few people outside the top echelons of government knew much about it. Until, that is, Bamford's first book, The Puzzle Palace, was published in 1982.

Body of Secrets is more than an update of Bamford's previous effort. It includes an engaging and informed history of signals intelligence during World War II, chronicling the breaking of Japan's ciphers and Britain's success in cracking Germany's code. After the war's end, the United States insisted on hosting the opening session of the United Nations in San Francisco to enable it to "eavesdrop on its guests," Bamford says. "Like cheats in a poker game they [the Americans] were peeking at their opponents' hands." For a few years after 1945, the United States also read encrypted Soviet communications. But one Friday in 1948--it is still known as Black Friday among intelligence watchers--all Soviet ciphers went dark. Just as the Americans had successfully penetrated secret Soviet networks, so the Russians had penetrated the Army Security Agency. After that, Washington apparently knew little about Communist intentions. In 1950, when the North Koreans invaded the South, Washington was caught by surprise. Ditto on China's entry into the war. With the Russians having just exploded a hydrogen bomb, the situation was getting more perilous. The loss of effective intelligence work prompted the Director of Central Intelligence, Walter Bedell Smith, to tell the National Security Council that he was "gravely concerned" by "ineffective" intelligence operations. President Truman, on Election Day 1952, scrapped the Pentagon-run operation and created in its place a new agency to be largely hidden from Congress, the public and the world.

Bamford, an accomplished journalist, weaves a narrative about the NSA that includes sympathetic portraits of key players and detailed accounts of such highly publicized events as the Cuban missile crisis, the Vietnam War and the capture of the spy ship Pueblo by North Korea. There are many heretofore undisclosed tidbits of information. President Eisenhower, for example, was personally micromanaging each U-2 high-altitude surveillance flight over Russia but refused to admit it after Francis Gary Powers was shot down in 1960. Further, Eisenhower instructed his Cabinet officers to lie about it while testifying under oath. The famous Gulf of Tonkin resolution, which officially plunged the United States into the Vietnam War, was passed by Congress on the strength of Robert McNamara's "unequivocal proof" of a North Vietnamese attack on a US ship; that "unequivocal proof" turned out to be a "major blunder by NSA, and the 'hard evidence' on which many [in Congress] based their votes for the war never really existed."

Beyond this there is Bamford's somewhat speculative account of an Israeli assault on the US spy ship Liberty during the 1967 Middle East war. Bamford argues that it was a coldblooded action by Israel but offers no evidence of the culpability of the Israeli political leadership. The attack may well have been sanctioned by an Israeli military commander, but it is hard to imagine the top Israeli politicians signing off on such a risky venture, which carried enormous potential dangers for their state.

The NSA is only one component of the US intelligence community, and for a good deal of its existence it has been subservient to the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency. Its business was to collect raw information that was then analyzed by other agencies. The Director of Central Intelligence--head of the CIA--supervised the whole process. All along there has been, to be sure, a good deal of institutional and bureaucratic rivalry among the agencies, which is presented by Bamford in readable and dramatic fashion. Underlying these rivalries is a doctrinal issue: the conflict between old-fashioned, cloak-and-dagger human intelligence (humint) versus high-tech signals intelligence (sigint). The NSA, which spends the lion's share of the $30 billion annual intelligence budget, reflects America's predilection for gadgetry and high tech.

If there is a serious shortcoming in this massive book, it is the failure to provide a critical assessment of the mission for which the NSA was founded: to provide Washington with accurate information on the political, military and economic state of the Soviet Union. For most of the second half of the twentieth century, the NSA had one singular objective: "to break the stubborn Russian cipher system and eavesdrop on that nation's most secret communications," Bamford writes. But there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that the NSA ever cracked a single high-level Russian cipher system. That being the case, what are the nation's most precious secrets that Bamford keeps mentioning are held in a fantastic system capable of storing 5 trillion pages of text--a stack of papers 150 miles high--allowing for almost instant retrieval of any piece of information? What is there to be retrieved?

Not much, I suspect. From personal experience I know that whenever the NSA did successfully accomplish something--it managed to decrypt Russian voice communications in the early 1970s and for a long time eavesdropped on the phone conversations of Soviet leaders talking in their limousines--word of its success filtered out. Washington, apart from its almost bottomless appetite for "intelligence," is also a town where anything worth knowing is quickly disclosed by gossiping officials eager to show that they are in the loop. One such official told me in early 1973 about a car accident involving Soviet Premier, Alexei Kosygin. He knew exactly when it happened and where, but nothing more. As a young reporter, I rushed breathlessly to my office, already envisioning it on the front page of the Post the next morning. I had no idea how this information had been obtained; now I know that we would have blown an important intelligence operation had we published the story. But executive editor Ben Bradlee knew it was sensitive enough to require consultations with the Post's legal counsel Joseph Califano and Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms. After protracted haggling the story was scrapped, but not because of Helms's talk about dire consequences: Only if Kosygin was hurt and a leadership change was imminent, Bradlee said, would he run the story.

In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, US intelligence stood accused of having failed in its primary mission. Since few people knew much about the NSA, blame naturally fell on the CIA; critics said it had overestimated the Soviet military threat and not foreseen the economic and political demise of our prime adversary. Stansfield Turner, Director of Central Intelligence from 1977 to 1981, talked about the "enormity of failure" in a 1991 article in Foreign Affairs, in which he alleged that "I have never heard a suggestion from the CIA, or the intelligence arms of the departments of defense or state, that numerous Soviets recognized a growing systemic economic problem." William Odom, NSA director from 1985 to 1988, argued in 1994 that the CIA was superfluous and should be disbanded. "The only serious issue here is whether you want to continue to pay all these people.... I consider...their analytical effort a welfare transfer package," he stated at the Harvard Intelligence and Policy Project, conducted by professors Ernest May and Philip Zelikow.

How did US policy-makers get into such a state of ignorance? Solid though the product of an intelligence service may be, it is only as good as the uses to which it is put. Governments--all governments--gather, conceal, suppress and manipulate "intelligence." American leaders have frequently done so to serve their political objectives. Richard Nixon, under the rubric of "national security," tried to use the intelligence community to hide his involvement in the Watergate scandal; he also used the NSA to secretly target antiwar protesters. In the late 1970s Congress outlawed wholesale, warrantless acquisition of raw telegrams and arbitrary watch lists containing the names of Americans, but the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act did not cover Americans living abroad.

The product, by the late 1970s, was no longer solid. Internal bureaucratic struggles consumed the community. Once an unwanted stepchild of the CIA--the NSA director was initially denied a seat on the Intelligence Advisory Committee--the NSA had in fact grown large and powerful. Its original mandate was to collect intelligence, not analyze it, but by the late 1970s the NSA began hoarding its information. The material it distributed was sanitized, according to then-Director of Central Intelligence Turner, who charged it with "deliberate withholding of raw information from the true analytic agencies. NSA wants to get credit for the scoop."

Under Ronald Reagan, arguably the most zealous cold war President, the intelligence community regained its footing to become once again the chief tool of US foreign policy. Its anti-Soviet activism led to the criminal excesses of the Iran/contra scandal. The chief strategist of malfeasance was William Casey, the first Director of Central Intelligence to be a member of the Cabinet as well. Casey chose as his deputy Robert Gates, a hard-line anti-Soviet analyst. Odom was their soulmate, "an arch-conservative military hard-liner" who wanted the NSA to assume a greater analytical role.

Throughout the 1980s the intelligence community provided Congress and the public with exaggerated accounts of Soviet military and economic prowess. The slick annual Pentagon review called "Soviet Military Power" showed the Russians developing and deploying ever-more dangerous weaponry. America was facing a "window of vulnerability"--a time when the Soviet Union, an indestructible colossus, could start a nuclear war. Paul Nitze and his Committee on the Present Danger speculated that the Russians could win such a war, owing to their extensive civil defense network and capacity to absorb a US retaliatory strike but deliver the final nuclear blow. As late as October 1988, top CIA analyst Robert Gates warned that "the dictatorship of the Communist Party remains untouched and untouchable. A long competitive struggle with the Soviet Union lies before us." When the Senate intelligence panel asked Gates earlier what the intelligence community was doing to prepare American policy-makers for the consequences of Gorbachev's reforms, Gates replied: "Quite frankly, without any hint that such fundamental change is going on, my resources do not permit me the luxury of sort of just idly speculating on what a different Soviet Union might look like."

Yet we all know that in 1989 the Soviet empire was dismantled; in 1991 the Soviet Union itself collapsed, and American leaders were clueless. What went wrong?

Reagan's Secretary of State George Shultz, who says in his memoirs that he was "misled, lied to" by the CIA, reveals that Casey had effectively usurped the prerogatives of the Secretary of State and had run an alternative foreign policy. Casey could do so because he controlled the analytical process, the estimates, covert action and counterintelligence. Casey's views, Shultz writes, "were so strong and so ideological that they inevitably colored his selection and assessments of materials. I could not rely on what he said, nor could I accept without question the objectivity of 'intelligence' that he put out, especially in policy sensitive areas."

Gorbachev was initially described as "just talk, just another Soviet attempt to deceive us," Shultz says. "When it became evident that the Soviet Union was, in fact, changing, the CIA line was that the changes wouldn't really make a difference."

Casey and Gates systematically ignored their own specialists and overstated the "evidence" of Soviet arms procurement programs, and the state of the Soviet economy in general, to buttress their argument. Douglas MacEachin, director of the CIA's Office of Soviet Analysis from 1984 to 1989, has testified that the pattern of self-deception was promoted by an Administration eager to rebuild US military power. The intelligence community aided the effort by inflating projections of Soviet military strength.

"Never mind that the Soviet Union never in ten years, from the late 1970s through the entire 1980s, ever lived up to the projections that were made," MacEachin said. "We projected these huge forces, then used those projections as a rationale for our [military] spending, and they never lived up to those projections." Richard Kerr, deputy director for intelligence, took a memo to that effect from MacEachin before the National Foreign Intelligence Board--but it wasn't mentioned, even as a footnote, in the final documents.

The problem here was not one of honest people with strong views having honest disagreements. Rather, it was a blatant politicization of intelligence. Hawks were in charge; those who disagreed were singled out for being "soft" on communism. Robert Blackwell, a high-level CIA official, talked of palpable tension at Langley. "Whether anything was being twisted or reordered upstairs or not, people felt that they were under extra burdens to somehow be very careful about how things were said." MacEachin said the Reagan Administration "thought of us as the enemy." The implication was, he added, "that part of the national threat was that the CIA undercut our ability to rebuild our national forces."

MacEachin's successor, George Kolt, had set up in September 1989 a supersecret contingency planning group "looking at the possibility of the collapse of the Soviet Union and what we do." This was rejected by the higher-ups, however. Robert Gates's views on Russia had not changed. A month before the collapse of the Berlin wall, Vice President Dan Quayle publicly referred to Gorbachev as a "master of public relations" and called perestroika a "form of Leninism."

Gates was consistent to the end. When on August 19, 1991, Kremlin hard-liners mounted a coup attempt against Gorbachev, Kolt called President Bush's National Security Adviser, Brent Scowcroft, saying the coup might not succeed and implicitly suggesting that the White House condemn the coup leaders. Gates saw no reason to hope the coup would fail, and President Bush's initial pronouncements were noncommittal. As Gates explained later, "Based on all prior experience in Russian and Soviet history, when you know at the outset that you've got the KGB and the army and the party all together in a coup attempt, the chances of it not succeeding...are near zero."

Something is obviously wrong with what Bamford calls the largest, best-funded, and "most advanced spy organization on the planet." The entire intelligence community has grown lazy and fat over the years. In the case of the NSA, there is a cozy relationship between it and parts of private industry: Former top NSA officials often end up working for TRW, Honeywell, E-Systems or Booz-Allen & Hamilton. Eavesdropping equipment alone is a $2 billion-a-year market.

Is our money being spent wisely? A former intelligence analyst, Robert Steel, who now runs a private intelligence firm called Open Source Solutions, recently demonstrated to the Presidential Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board that he could produce more usable information more quickly by using open sources and the Internet than the intelligence community could get from its secret work (his demonstration included satellite photography and military orders of battle).

I'm not suggesting outsourcing here. But what is the point of having a powerful spy agency in the sky--eavesdropping on friend and foe alike--when we are caught by surprise by India's nuclear tests in 1998? Or when, as during the Gulf War, we are unable to locate Saddam Hussein's Scuds?

Not so long ago, the United States declared war on terrorism. Yet there are only two references to Osama bin Laden in this book (one of them being that the NSA, "to impress cleared visitors," occasionally plays audiotapes of bin Laden talking to his mom), and other well-known groups suspected of international terrorism are not even mentioned. Perhaps there is a great deal of information about them in 50-100 million documents that the NSA classifies each year--more than all other agencies of the US government combined. But I wonder who reads these documents and evaluates their content. As someone who is bilingual, I seriously question the quality of work of the NSA computers said to translate up to 750 pages of Russian text per hour. NSA language training itself sounds pretty skimpy: Chinese and Japanese take "two years," Bamford reports, but this reads as more than presumptuous to anyone even remotely familiar with Chinese (a literate Chinese uses between 20,000 and 40,000 individual characters, which take many years to learn). Michael Hayden, the current NSA director, does assure us that "There is a whole other addition there [in training] to turn someone who has working knowledge of the popular language into a cryptolingist." Good Lord! Is Hayden kidding us or does he believe this? I hope it is the former.

"That NSA has the technical capability to intercept and store enough information to wallpaper much of the planet is unquestionable," Bamford writes. "What is in doubt, however, is the agency's ability to make sense of most of it."

In the acknowledgments to Body of Secrets, Hayden is the first person on the author's list of thank-yous. Which is an important clue. The NSA is an agency in search of a new mission. Some of its work remains invaluable, especially tactical intelligence needed by the Pentagon. But sigint now has far less strategic value. Moreover, digital communications, fiber-optic cables and powerful encryption software make it nearly impossible for the NSA to dominate the ether the way it did a decade ago. There is also a growing realization in Congress that something is wrong. In 1998 the House Intelligence Committee threatened to withhold funding unless the agency made "very large changes" in its "culture and methods of operation." For several years auditors found that the NSA had ignored laws and regulations, that its financial statements were not in order and that it had mismanaged its expensive high-tech systems. Hayden's attempt at candor may be a way to rally support.

Judging by the book's last chapter, NSA leaders hope that new scientific breakthroughs--fabricating computing devices out of biological entities, using biological processes to manufacture nonbiological devices--will solve their problems. The computer of the future, we are told, is going to be constructed from both mechanical and living parts. It will be 100 billion times faster than the fastest PC today. What that means when it comes to problems of terrorism, international organized crime, arms proliferation, narcotics trafficking, illicit trade and such issues is a mystery.

Just think, though, how impressive it will be!

The urban rebellion in Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine neighborhood that followed the April 7 death of yet another black man, Timothy Thomas, at the hands of police shocked city residents. Mayor Charlie Luken lamented the "violence" as "unthinkable" and at a press conference pleaded for it to stop. At times like these it is vital to think clearly about how social problems, especially violence, are defined. In Cincinnati the media identify the core problem as "police-community" relations. But reducing the myriad and interrelated forms of violence in the inner city to a problem of police-community relations misses an opportunity to understand such issues in a deeper and more systemic sense. We need to understand how violence has been waged against people of color for a very long time.

Since the late 1940s a series of moves on the part of government and the private sector have reinforced an American form of apartheid. Ushering in the explosion of the suburbs for the white middle class, the Federal Housing Authority's liberalization of the mortgage market, its regulations favoring new construction of single-family detached houses and its appraisal process helped insure that neighborhoods continued to house the same social and racial classes. Under "urban renewal," many black neighborhoods were razed to make way for freeways, sports arenas and corporate redevelopment. Global restructuring of the economy then gutted the black working class's job base in the manufacturing sector.

Add to these the rise to power of neoconservatives, who divest the state of responsibility for meeting social needs, evidenced by rollbacks of affirmative action, the elimination of welfare and cutbacks in housing, combined with more punitive measures like increases in police forces and prison-building and a continued militarized economy.

The "hypersegregation" of blacks in the inner cities is now a structural reality. As sociologists Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton note in American Apartheid, "One-third of all African Americans in the United States live under conditions of intense racial segregation.... No other group in the contemporary United States comes close to this level of isolation within urban society."

Recent census data show that Cincinnati is the ninth most segregated city in the United States, with Over-the-Rhine, about 77 percent black, being its poorest neighborhood. This extreme social and spatial isolation exacerbates the effects of poverty, making it difficult to sustain neighborhood institutions and social organizations. These trends take a particular form in Cincinnati. Consider that in 1996, at the request of an alliance of corporate, business and city power, the Urban Land Institute came to Over-the-Rhine bearing gifts of a homeownership agenda for a community where approximately 75 percent of the population have incomes well below the reach of the rental market, let alone homeownership. Consider Cincinnati Pops director Erich Kunzel's "dream" to build the Greater Cincinnati Fine Arts and Education Center near Music Hall, which, after originally promising no displacement, called for the removal of the Drop Inn Center, the area's largest homeless shelter and lead institution in the Over-the-Rhine People's Movement.

And consider the motion passed by the City Planning Commission last July not to fund additional low-income housing units on Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine, a motion that discriminates against a particular race and class and ignores the city's own Consolidated Plan, which identifies the need for 30,000 affordable housing units. Further, city records show that between January 1995 and the first quarter of 2000, 60 percent of the $8 million invested by the Department of Neighborhood Services in housing programs in Over-the-Rhine supported market-rate rather than affordable housing development.

Last, consider the mayor's about-face decision last summer not to support the $4.5 million tax-credit package of ReSTOC, a community-based, nonprofit housing cooperative, intended to finance construction of economically mixed housing in Over-the-Rhine, a project that qualified for state funding. The mayor then forced ReSTOC to sell one of the buildings in its package to a private owner to develop dotcom enterprises.

These examples of institutional violence have one thing in common: the way they market Over-the-Rhine as an idealized version of itself, effectively erasing it as a place for poor people of color. Revitalization efforts are selling an image that has no place for the poor who actually live there. "Development" means attracting people of higher incomes to live and play and work.

I am not suggesting that the neighborhood keep out newcomers, including people of higher means. The point is that the city fights to deny resources to community-based organizations while promoting renovation that caters to white, wealthier residents. And in this process, the buildings and urban ambience are sold like a stage set to folks who want to consume an urban night out. Over-the-Rhine is being Disneyfied, and this requires pushing people who don't fit the postcard image out of the way. No wonder Over-the-Rhine residents feel resentful.

Gentrification is often advocated as an antisegregation measure. This may be true in the short run, before poor residents are displaced. But community development today is rarely conceived outside the ideology of corporatism, with its lingo of public-private partnerships, enterprise and empowerment zones, tax incentives, and abatements and deregulatory legislation, all of which are ploys to advance privatization and subordinate social movements to the interests of business and the profit system. Community development has been reduced to a kind of plea bargaining with the powers that be, and thus what gets constructed as hope within the community is the desire to have a little more money funneled in its direction. That community institutions persist at all in these circumstances is an amazing testament to their perseverance in meeting desperate need.

Urban disruptions like the rebellion in Cincinnati are indictments of entrenched patterns of police-community relations and community development. Gentrification that produces displacement is an act of violence. Economic development that neglects to provide jobs for Over-the-Rhine residents is an act of violence. Building stadiums and supporting corporations at public expense while closing inner-city schools are acts of violence. We should not be surprised when communities erupt in righteous anger against the bonds of their oppression.

Vermont, as John Kenneth Galbraith once observed, is the only state in the union represented in Congress by a Democrat, a Republican and a Socialist, who all vote more or less alike (that is, liberal). Scratch the Republican label, otherwise his point holds. This small state of delicious anachronisms has once again worked its magic on the leaden cynicism of big-time power politics. Let's hear it for Vermonters, who send people of distinctive quality to speak for them in Washington.

And let's hear it for Jim Jeffords and his truth-telling. The larger meaning of his defection is that, in a single stroke, he cut through the smoke and spin manufactured by Bush's White House to obscure the radical nature of its right-wing agenda and rang the gong on those media suck-ups who compliantly portrayed this new President as the moderate middle. The senator's action even obliquely rebuked Democrats for the limpness of their opposition. Thus, Jeffords effectively resolved the dissonance between the establishment version of business as usual in Washington and what citizens at large are perceiving with growing alarm and anger. People distant from Washington, it turns out, were not wrong about Bush. Thanks, Senator, for blowing his cover.

The governing classes should rather quickly digest the truth of what Jeffords was telling them, starting with Bush but including Democratic leaders. If the President is a more formidable character than we assume, he will take seriously the senator's warning that he is on track to become a one-term President like his father. He might begin by looking close around him, assigning blame and getting real distance from his lousy counselors. Karl Rove, the political adviser mentored by the late Lee Atwater, embodies hard-right arrogance and small-town, get-even tactics--an approach regularly expressed for him by the Wall Street Journal's hit man, columnist Paul Gigot, who in April urged the White House to "get even privately" with Jeffords for his mild dissents on tax cuts and education. The Senate GOP leader, Trent Lott, comes from the same school. His crude manipulations of regular order--firing the Senate parliamentarian, pocketing the campaign finance bill after the Senate passed it--reflect the cynicism of one-party rule found in Mississippi and originally practiced by segregation Democrats. Bush needs new eyes and ears in Congress--people who understand that this representative institution is bigger than the Sunbelt.

George W. is further endangered by his adolescent dependence on Vice President Cheney, a 1970s politician whose grasp of present issues like energy and the environment is not only tone-deaf to public attitudes but so outdated that even leading industrialists admit his remedies are wrongheaded. In short, without a major shift in strategic direction the Bush presidency is in long-term trouble, too deep for the usual cosmetics. We doubt he is up to it, even if he recognizes the danger.

Democrats, meanwhile, have the chance to make themselves over--if they will shake off the accommodationist mush, recognize they are engaged in a deadly fight over the future and appreciate that the abrupt Senate makeover challenges them to be as bold as Jeffords. Thanks to him, the new majority has been given critical leverage: the ability to block the right wing's capture of the federal judiciary, the platform to launch a fresh activist legislative agenda and an opening to begin the hard politics of canceling major portions of Bush's just-enacted tax-cut boodle. Democrats can stall and dilute and even kill the right's agenda, but they do not have the power to legislate. What they do have is the luxury of testing new frontiers--advancing an agenda of big ideas that can be long-term winners, forcing this conservative President and his right-wing camp followers to block them or run for cover. Big ideas mean taking risks, of course, but they would begin to reconnect the party with its own tattered ideals and neglected constituencies: Universal health insurance and a step-by-step plan to achieve it, starting at the state level. Challenging market power with renewed inquiry into whether antitrust doctrine really protects the small but vital elements of enterprise from monopolistic domination. The deteriorated condition of work and wages, not only for the working poor but across a broad spectrum of occupations. The inequity of the tax code, as explored from the ground up.

The alternative--more of the same--means piddling along halfheartedly with too-cute positions that are easily rolled by a dedicated opposition. The Democrats' sorry debacle in the tax-cut debate should have taught them that they don't win by going halfway toward the right's zealotry--they merely lose bigger. Ambitious politics can set the stage for more ambitious governing. The Jeffords message, in that sense, is threatening to both parties--another invitation to independent figures, from Jesse Ventura to John McCain, to step clear of tired party labels and truly upend the status quo.

We don't wish to overinterpret the import of one politician's change of heart. The Senate remains composed of the same 100 men and women who enacted Bush's reactionary comfort-the-wealthy tax bill and who will no doubt enact other odious measures, with the assistance of turncoat Democrats. Still, the poetic drama--an obscure and diffident senator from a very small state shocking the system with truth-telling--does renew our sense of hopefulness. The conservative hegemony is living on borrowed time. Right-wing nostrums are no longer convincing to most people, but they're not yet challenged by an aggressive progressive agenda, and an alternative vision has yet to find a confident voice. Our optimism may still sound premature, but the boldness of Senator Jeffords encourages us to believe that things really are changing--perhaps changing faster than the rest of Washington understands.