Los Angeles organizers may have clinched the city's title as a laboratory for cutting-edge economic justice policy with a deal concluded in late May between grassroots groups and downtown developers, including billionaire Philip Anschutz and media titan Rupert Murdoch. The agreement, which concerns a planned expansion of the mammoth Staples Center, stipulates that 70 percent of the 5,400 permanent jobs created will pay a living wage of $7.72 an hour with benefits, $8.97 without, or be covered by a collective bargaining agreement.
The Figueroa Corridor Coalition for Economic Justice, an alliance of twenty-nine community organizations and several union locals, was the driving force behind the unusual deal. Ordinarily, living-wage campaigns focus on public expenditures, arguing that a city subsidy or contract should yield jobs that pay enough to sustain a family. But the only potential subsidy for the Staples expansion has been for a hotel planned for the site--and the agreement covers far more than that.
In addition to the broad living wage commitment, the developers pledged $1 million for the creation or upgrading of parks within a mile of the project, encompassing some of the poorest neighborhoods in Los Angeles and portions of the most densely populated area west of the Mississippi. The Figueroa coalition will be written into city documents as partners in the project.
After coming together in 1998 in support of food service workers fighting subcontracting at the tony University of Southern California, the coalition began meeting regularly about local development issues, says Sandra McNeill, an organizer for the coalition and for Strategic Action for a Just Economy (SAJE), its convening organization. There were plenty of problems to address--such as the expansion of USC into adjacent neighborhoods and the threat to existing housing posed by plans for a light-rail line.
Just before the National Democratic Convention at Staples Center in August 2000, the community became alarmed by reports that there would be a large police presence during the planned protests. That drew hundreds more into the coalition, which soon turned to longer-term issues related to the Staples expansion. Meanwhile, five unions--Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees Local 11; Service Employees International Union 1877, which had organized the landmark Justice for Janitors campaign; the Teamsters; the Operating Engineers; and IATSE, the stage workers' union--had agreed to negotiate collectively with the developers instead of allowing themselves to be split apart by separate deals. The unions and community organizations then banded together, swiftly forging a list of demands around housing, environmental issues, a living wage and union jobs. Says Madeline Janis-Aparicio of Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), "Once [the developers] pulled their jaws up from the floor, they started negotiating."
"When things were tough in our negotiations, the union would bring up the issues in theirs; when things were tough for labor, we'd bring it up in our negotiations," says McNeill. "And that was really powerful."
It helped that the coalition had good timing. LA had just elected a new mayor and new council members to six of its fifteen seats, and the developers wanted the deal concluded and approved before July 1, when new top city officials were to take over. Too much community opposition or potential lawsuits could have been a fatal stumbling block.
Negotiations threatened to jump the track numerous times, not only because of differences between the coalition and the developers but intra-alliance tensions as well. Thankfully, the organizations ironed it out. As Janis-Aparicio says, "The choice was to be divided and conquered or have a united front and win."
Is human cloning a feminist issue? Two
cloning bans are currently winding their way through Congress: In the
Senate, the Human Cloning Prohibition Act seeks to ban all cloning of
human cells, while a House version leaves a window open for cloning
stem cells but bans attempts to create a cloned human being. Since
both bills are the brainchildren of antichoice Republican yahoos, who
have done nothing for women's health or rights in their entire lives,
I was surprised to get an e-mail inviting me to sign a petition
supporting the total ban, organized by feminist heroine Judy
Norsigian of the Boston Women's Health Book Collective (the producers
of Our Bodies, Ourselves) and signed by Ruth Hubbard, Barbara
Seaman, Naomi Klein and many others (you can find it at
www.ourbodiesourselves.org/clone3.htm). Are feminists so worried about "creating a
duplicate human" that they would ban potentially useful medical
research? Isn't that the mirror image of antichoice attempts to block
research using stem cells from embryos created during in vitro
My antennae go up when people start talking about
threats to "human individuality and dignity"--that's a harrumph, not
an argument. The petition raises one real ethical issue, however,
that hasn't gotten much attention but by itself justifies a ban on
trying to clone a person: The necessary experimentation--implanting
clonal embryos in surrogate mothers until one survives till
birth--would involve serious medical risks for the women and lots of
severely defective babies. Dolly, the cloned Scottish sheep, was the
outcome of a process that included hundreds of monstrous discards,
and Dolly herself has encountered developmental problems. That's good
reason to go slow on human research--especially when you consider
that the people pushing it most aggressively are the Raelians, the
UFO-worshiping cult of technogeeks who have enlisted the services of
Panayiotis Zanos, a self-described "cowboy" of assisted reproduction
who has been fired from two academic jobs for financial and other
Experimental ethics aside, though, I have a hard
time taking cloning seriously as a threat to women or anyone
else--the scenarios are so nutty. Jean Bethke Elshtain, who took a
break from bashing gay marriage to testify last month before Congress
against cloning, wrote a piece in The New Republic in 1997 in
which she seemed to think cloning an adult cell would produce another
adult--a carbon of yourself that could be kept for spare parts, or
maybe a small army of Mozart xeroxes, all wearing knee breeches and
playing the Marriage of Figaro. Actually, Mozart's clone would
be less like him than identical twins are like each other: He would
have different mitochondrial DNA and a different prenatal
environment, not to mention a childhood in twenty-first-century
America with the Smith family rather than in eighteenth-century
Austria under the thumb of the redoubtable Leopold Mozart. The clone
might be musical, or he might be a billiard-playing lounge lizard,
but he couldn't compose Figaro. Someone already did
People thinking about cloning tend to imagine Brave New
World dystopias in which genetic engineering reinforces
inequality. But why, for example, would a corporation go to the
trouble of cloning cheap labor? We have Mexico and Central America
right next door! As for cloning geniuses to create superbabies, good
luck. The last thing most Americans want are kids smarter than they
are, rolling their eyeballs every time Dad starts in on the gays and
slouching off to their rooms to I-M other genius kids in Sanskrit.
Over nine years, only 229 babies were born to women using the sperm
bank stocked with Nobel Prize winners' semen--a tiny fraction, I'll
bet, of those conceived in motel rooms with reproductive assistance
from Dr. Jack Daniel's.
Similarly, cloning raises fears of
do-it-yourself eugenics--designer babies "enhanced" through gene
manipulation. It's hard to see that catching on, either. Half of all
pregnancies are unintended in this country. People could be planning
for "perfect" babies today--preparing for conception by giving up
cigarettes and alcohol and unhealthy foods, reading Stendhal to their
fetuses in French. Only a handful of yuppie control freaks actually
do this, the same ones who obsess about getting their child into a
nursery school that leads straight to Harvard. Those people are
already the "genetic elite"--white, with lots of family money. What
do they need genetic enhancement for? They think they're perfect
Advocates of genetic tinkering make a lot of assumptions
that opponents tacitly accept: for instance, that intelligence,
talent and other qualities are genetic, and in a simple way. Gays,
for example, worry that discovery of a "gay gene" will permit
selective abortion of homosexual fetuses, but it's obvious that
same-sex desire is more complicated than a single gene. Think of
Ancient Greece, or Smith College. Even if genetic enhancement isn't
the pipe dream I suspect it is, feminists should be the first to
understand how socially mediated supposedly inborn qualities
are--after all, women are always being told anatomy is their
There's a strain of feminism that comes out of the
women's health movement of the seventies that is deeply suspicious of
reproductive technology. In this view, prenatal testing, in vitro
fertilization and other innovations commodify women's bodies, are
subtly coercive and increase women's anxieties, while moving us
steadily away from experiencing pregnancy and childbirth as normal,
natural processes. There's some truth to that, butwhat about the side
of feminism that wants to open up new possibilities for women?
Reproductive technology lets women have children, and healthy
children, later; have kids with lesbian partners; have kids despite
disabilities and illness. Cloning sounds a little weird, but so did
in vitro in 1978, when Louise Brown became the first "test tube
baby." Of course, these technologies have evolved in the context of
for-profit medicine; of course they represent skewed priorities,
given that 43 million Americans lack health insurance and millions
worldwide die of curable diseases like malaria. Who could argue that
the money and brain power devoted to cloning stem cells could not be
better used on something else? But the same can be said of every
aspect of American life. The enemy isn't the research, it's
Pierre Bourdieu's newsworthiness has become news. The profile of him in the New York Times deals more with how bright his star is than with its substance, and quite a bit of the attention Bourdieu receives from the French press has to do with the attention he receives from the French press. What set this cycle into motion? In France, where academics play a much larger role in public life than they do here, academic visibility is neither rare nor strange. So why did Bourdieu's particular brand of it become a media spectacle?
There are a number of reasons, some of which are obvious--for example, volume. Bourdieu gives televised addresses on the ills of television. He speaks about charged political issues, such as labor and immigration laws, at large demonstrations. He writes incendiary Op-Ed essays in major newspapers. Of course, in order to be taken seriously as a scholar while you do much more than your colleagues in the public arena, much more volubly, you must also maintain enormous intellectual credibility. Bourdieu does. He is professor of sociology at the Collège de France, the apex of French academe, as well as director of studies at the prestigious École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales. And Bourdieu very clearly worked his way to the top. In roughly forty years he has produced approximately thirty books, many of which are regarded by sociologists as major accomplishments. Indeed, the International Sociological Association put his Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (1984) on its list of the ten most important works of sociology written in the twentieth century.
The book examines how aesthetic taste builds and reinforces social hierarchies. It is a typical theme for Bourdieu, who seeks in all his research to lay bare hidden mechanisms of power. When he writes bestselling essays in an activist key, Bourdieu can claim to be drawing directly on his expertise. In this regard, as is often pointed out, he stands in close proximity to another postwar maître penseur, Sartre.
Bourdieu belongs to a different generation, of course, but not necessarily his own. In the early 1960s--before Foucault and Derrida--Bourdieu reoriented structuralism, which was then fashionable among French social scientists, and created a kind of poststructuralist theory. Bourdieu still uses structuralist code-cracking techniques; he sees culture as a series of "fields," each of which is organized according to its own deep grammar. But he dismisses the structuralist principle that you can explain the internal logic of a social system--language, for example--without reference to external factors. Throughout his career, Bourdieu's goal has been to trace shifts in the most autonomous fields, such as the evolution of aesthetic taste and the intensifying opacity of academic discourse, back to the struggle for social or "symbolic" power.
This mode of cultural analysis is quite unlike the other great French poststructuralisms, even the one to which it is most similar, Foucault's. Bourdieu may be interested in something he calls symbolic power; Foucault may have written a history of the prison. Yet the operations of power are much more concrete for Bourdieu than they are for Foucault, who often seems primarily concerned with highly abstract "discursive regimes" that have us by the seat of our subjecthood. And so Bourdieu sees more possibility for getting his hands on, and altering, the power structure: "We must work to universalize the conditions of access to the universal." You will not find a sentence like that in Foucault's writings.
At the same time, Bourdieu hardly exudes optimism. His worldview is dark, but not quite in the way critics generally make it out to be. What they tend to find most striking is the ubiquity of competition--how, for him, the grubby struggle to get ahead, to accumulate "symbolic capital," pervades all areas of culture, even the most refined. Yet something else weighs more heavily on Bourdieu: the unconscious complicity of the oppressed. Bourdieu's world is Kafkaesque rather than Brechtian. For hidden, complicated reasons, those who are "dominated" cede authority to an "established order" that is manifestly absurd. This, Bourdieu claims, is the great "paradox of doxa." Its prime example is masculine domination.
Bourdieu, accordingly, takes up the topic of gender inequality in most of his studies on symbolic power. In fact, his earliest research--on familial organization in North Africa's Kabyle society--figures prominently in his new book, as do ideas worked out in The Logic of Practice (1990). But Masculine Domination is neither a rehashing of old material nor a collection of thematically cohesive essays. Rather, it is itself an essay, the form of which may have been influenced by Virginia Woolf, whom Bourdieu repeatedly invokes as the guiding spirit of his project. For although he states that his deepest affinities are with To the Lighthouse, and not with Woolf's "endlessly quoted" feminist essays, Masculine Domination bears similarities to them in structure (its pointed argument is sustained over about 100 pages and divided into three sections), if not in style.
Following Woolf, Bourdieu wants to "suspend...'the hypnotic power of domination.'" With him, as with her, this means challenging readers to take a new approach to the problem, which in turn means exposing the inadequacy of existing approaches. Bourdieu believes that we produce gender identity. It is a function of our worldview, not a simple anatomical fact around which we form our worldview. For this reason he attacks "differentialist" feminists. By celebrating certain patterns of behavior as natural female strengths, they bolster the false consciousness on which masculine domination relies: the fallacy that what we consider to be male and female characteristics are essential properties. Bourdieu's attitude toward the most dynamic alternative to this feminism, constructivist gender theory, is more complex. He agrees with its main premise: that gender identity is a linguistic construct, right down to its most intimate parts. But he questions its practical value and argues that while constructivism probes forcefully, it does not probe far enough. It is insufficiently radical.
Here Bourdieu's position is refreshingly counterintuitive. For constructivist gender theory, which has been influential in France and the United States since the late 1980s and is itself refreshingly counterintuitive, appears to be nothing if not radical. Indeed, Monique Wittig, a well-known French constructivist, avers that she has no vagina. This claim may sound strange. But its basis is a rational response to a series of reasonable questions: What is the real significance of the term "vagina"? What is its referent? And what is its social function? The point is that "vagina" is not a neutral, innocent label that we give to a self-evidently discrete body part. Rather, as for Bourdieu, it is a concept that imposes an artificial order on the body and regulates our perception of it. When such concepts feel natural to us, when we see what they refer to as organic objects, we are confusing linguistic objects, objects we construct by "inscribing" names and borders onto the world, with diffuse physical reality.
Most of us accept as organically given a vast matrix of constructs, starting with our own bodies. According to critics like Wittig and Bourdieu, this leaves us blind to a very important fact: Power interests always guide our articulation of the world. Concepts not only designate objects, they carry meanings, meanings that generally will be advantageous to some of us. For example, the word "vagina" does not simply refer to a female anatomical feature. In our culture it connotes the defining feature of the female body, the locus of gender identity. And classifying people according to their reproductive organs reflects and institutionalizes a heterosexual bias.
One implication of all this is that when we use everyday language we reinforce meanings and structures of perception that support our gender norms, even where our utterances contain annihilating invectives against our gender norms. Since these meanings and structures depend on reinforcement from the very people who suffer under them, refusing to acknowledge words like "vagina," or playing with them subversively, counts, at least for some constructivists, as resistance. So does constructing identities that openly challenge "normal," heterosexual assumptions about the stability of gender and the natural function of certain body parts.
Bourdieu thinks otherwise. In his preface he declines, rather peremptorily, even to consider the idea that "parodic performances" of identity might loosen masculine domination. He calls instead for "political mobilization, which would open for women the possibility of a collective action of resistance." And in the body of his book Bourdieu writes, "Symbolic power cannot be exercised without the contribution of those who undergo it and who only undergo it because they construct it as such. But instead of stopping at this statement (as constructivism in its idealist, ethnomethodological or other forms does) one has also to take note of and explain the social construction of the cognitive structures which organize acts of construction of the world and its powers." In order to deconstruct patriarchy, it is not enough to speak in abstract terms about how gender identity is constructed. You need to know, in some detail, how gender identity has been constructed historically.
This is not exactly a novel proposition. Much research has been done over the past two decades on the historical construction of gender identity. In fact, Bourdieu draws freely on this research in his own book. What such works--he cites the second volume of Foucault's History of Sexuality as an example--have not done is grab the problem of masculine domination by its roots. They may go back to the ancient Greeks, as is the case with Foucault, but they discuss only famous interpretations of gender constructs (for instance, Plato's), not the ur-constructs that continue to undergird "masculine sociodicy." For Bourdieu it is crucial to penetrate to this level. If we do not, we will go on thinking in circles, laying down a Faustian injunction that is oppressive to both men and women: Become what you already are. Or, as Bourdieu puts it, "The particular strength of the masculine sociodicy comes from the fact that it combines and condenses two operations: it legitimates a relationship of domination by embedding it in a biological nature that is itself a naturalized social construction." Gender identity starts as a social construction, only to become biological. Because "it is brought about and culminates in profound and durable transformations of bodies (and minds)," masculine domination is its own justification. A relationship of domination produces the very biological differences that, when treated as ahistorical and organic, legitimize that relationship.
The way to break out of such "circular causality" is to "reconstruct the history of the labour of dehistoricization." And the way to do this is, again, to begin at the beginning, at the very beginning: with an archetype. In Kabyle society in North Africa there exists, according to Bourdieu, "a paradigmatic form of the 'phallonarcissistic' vision and the androcentric cosmology which are common to all Mediterranean societies." We can see, in Kabyle society, the foundation of Western patriarchal ideology being poured. By bringing to light similarities between it and us, Bourdieu hopes to show us that our most basic premises about gender rest upon an originary, arbitrary social construction and, therefore, cannot be timeless or natural.
Bourdieu analyzes Kabyle society for a second reason. He often asserts that symbolic power works only when the dominated come to see the world from the perspective of the dominant. The process through which this happens, "symbolic violence," is "gentle," "invisible" and "unconscious." It creates cognitive structures so deep and so durable that superficial enlightenment as to the constructedness of gender norms does not suffice to dismantle their coercive power. For as we all know, people who know better behave in accordance with pejorative gender norms, "despite themselves," all the time. More is necessary to break the hypnotic spell of masculine domination: the shock of seeing yourself, or a "paradigmatic" version of yourself, under hypnosis, and eerily unaware of it. Bourdieu thinks that by confronting us with gender relations in Kabyle society he will present us with our own "cultural unconscious," making visible the invisible workings of symbolic violence.
And so he takes us on a "detour through an exotic tradition" in his attempt to develop a forcefully historicizing, psychologically plausible and, therefore, practically effective gender theory. This plan is very compelling. Unfortunately, the detour turns out to be little more than a bleak frontage road. For Bourdieu simply points out a series of damning parallels between modern and Kabyle gender discrimination. He does not go into the latter in detail; the invisible process of symbolic violence never becomes visible--a visible target for critical analysis. Thus his argument does not quite reach its goal. Yet this small book contains many original insights and therefore great promise. Indeed, if Bourdieu decides to write a more comprehensive study of masculine domination, a study on the scale of The Logic of Practice or Distinction, he will produce a theoretical breakthrough in an important field. And that, of course, would be big news.
Thinks..., David Lodge's new novel about cognitive science, university politics and marital infidelity, shows once again the author's knack for making intellectual concepts user-friendly by couching them in funny, satirical plots that even anti-intellectuals will chuckle over. With a cast of characters from both on and off campus, Lodge's latest foray among imaginary academic communities deftly conveys an insider's take on a scene we'd never have dreamed of as undergraduates.
At the center of this wily spoof is middle-aged bad boy Ralph Messenger, director of the Holt Belling Centre for Cognitive Sciences at the University of Gloucester. A successful popularizer of scientific theories of cognition, Messenger brandishes an unshakable, if rather smug, conviction in the prerogatives of science and its ultimate truth-value over other forms of critical inquiry: "These postmodernists are mounting a last-ditch defence of their disciplines by saying...there are no foundations, and no sand. But it's not true. Science is for real. It has made more changes to the conditions of human life than all the preceding millennia of our history put together."
Messenger's intellectual forthrightness doesn't prevent him, however, from being a sly departmental intriguer, an effective media pundit and an incorrigible adulterer. But for appearance' sake he keeps his skirt-chasing at a distance, indulging in these shenanigans only at academic conferences, with the tacit consent of his rich and shrewdly tolerant wife, Carrie, who likes to address him by his last name. (It is a name well suited to a cognitive scientist, but one with ironic implications for a philanderer.)
Messenger's academic archrival, Douglas C. Douglass (a k a Duggers), weighs in on cognition when he describes quantum physics: "Very small particles behave like waves, in random and unpredictable ways. When we make a measurement, we cause the wave to collapse. It's been suggested that the phenomenon of consciousness is a series of continuous collapses of the wave function." When certain secrets unexpectedly come to light, a series of private collapses, or crises, ensue. But the mind of Messenger is an excellent and durable thing, and after a number of complex electrochemical interactions in his brain, clever political maneuvers among his colleagues and a thorough re-examination of the mental hard-drive of his heart, Ralph Messenger is back--if kinder, gentler, more monogamous.
In short, the book is a novel of consciousness updated for the postcomputer age. At a time in which the human mind is increasingly theorized in terms of simultaneously running software programs, Lodge seems to have selected the multitasking model as a way of formally structuring his story, putting a kind of Cubist twist on a Henry James novel. (It's no accident that James is either referred to or quoted at least ten times.) Thinks... also follows on Lodge's many successes in the "campus novel" genre that has so recently tempted the likes of Francine Prose, Philip Roth, Michael Chabon and Jane Smiley. Lodge's multiple entries include Changing Places, Small World and Nice Work, incisive spoofs of academe, replete with university dons, internecine scholarly feuds and all the schmoozing and posturing that goes on at academic conferences.
Thinks... is told in the form of alternating first-person narratives (in the respective media of speech-recognition software or traditional diary) by Messenger and Helen Reed, the English department's new Writer in Residence. Helen is teaching a seminar in creative writing--a profitable course for the university but one that pays "peanuts," as Helen acknowledges and any adjunct professor knows. Recently widowed, she is half in mourning and half in heat, though she doesn't yet realize the latter. She only came to Gloucester U to get out of her emotional rut, and if Messenger has his way, she will, just as fast as you can say "artificial intelligence."
But Helen is a well-known novelist of sensitivity and subtle expressiveness (the kind that Joyce Carol Oates writes appreciative reviews about), so we know it'll take more than the usual academic high jinks to bed her. Like many in the humanities, she's stereotypically suspicious of scientific endeavors to quantify human consciousness: "They have decided that consciousness is a 'problem' which has to be 'solved.' This was news to me, and not particularly welcome. I've always assumed, I suppose, that consciousness was the province of the arts, especially literature, and most especially the novel," she asserts. Ralph will have to engage her mind at a higher level of intellectual involvement than he's used to with women, and he only manages it with the full arsenal of tantalizing scientific tales (handily represented on an illustrative mural) about the problem of consciousness. It's a form of intellectual seduction that seems to work on Helen, if not quite so well on the reader, who can't help wondering where this putatively successful novelist has been for the last ten years, considering that she doesn't even know how to use e-mail until Ralph installs it on her computer. But before such questions are ever answered, unsuspected infidelities are exposed and the delicate balance of human relations crashes, like the central computer system at the Holt Belling Centre. Thus the novel manages to prove, by a kind of narrative algebra, Ralph's thesis that you can never really know what another person is thinking (something most of us know already).
Lodge's story caps the "subjective" chapters told by his characters with a third, "objective" kind, as if to capture in third person the wave of first-person blather, mostly about past sexual experiences or lost loves, in the female register. Lodge is attempting to isolate constituent narrative elements that are normally fused, as Helen observes, in the work of someone like James, where "it's all narrated in the third person, in precise, elegant, well-formed sentences. It's subjective and objective."
These narrative triads are also interrupted by experimental chapters that parody the work of Martin Amis, Irvine Welsh and Salman Rushdie in the form of writing exercises by Helen's students (take that, amateurs!), or as funny e-mail exchanges between Ralph and the various women in his life, all jockeying for advantage. (Ludmila Lisk, a Czech graduate student he meets in Prague, is especially adept at this kind of electronic blackmail.)
While the subjective chapters imply how language can reproduce the lived experience of human consciousness--or qualia, as the novel informs us--the objective ones hint at the efforts of cognitive scientists to quantify such experience. Thus the book represents a kind of formal struggle between sense and sensibility, science and subjectivity.
Each half of the paradigm is personified by Ralph or Helen, who find their mutual seduction taking place in the form of a continuing debate about the nature of mind, its relation to the body and whether or not it has an existence all its own, like a soul. Sensualist that he is, Ralph denies the possibility of mental life existing independently of the body, while Helen stubbornly insists that the best works of literature suggest otherwise. But Helen suffers from residual religious feeling, even if she doesn't accept the basic catechism of her old faith anymore. Not surprisingly, she finds that her shaky beliefs, like her determination to resist Ralph's advances, are flagging under the assault of a rather glib scientific discourse generated by the "Messenger."
Ralph Messenger is Lodge's ad man for cognitive science, artificial intelligence and other cutting-edge disciplines. Like most skilled careerists, he seems to outsmart all his critics, often to the detriment of the reader's appreciation. He even wriggles from the grasp of threatened fate when a potentially cancerous lump discovered in his liver gets downgraded to a mere "hydatid cyst," whatever that is. That's OK in a story intended to tickle our sense of quirky destiny and intellectual fun--particularly at the expense of new-age and postmodern pieties. But one can't help thinking that Lodge himself is taking a few too many swipes at the usual suspects: political correctness, cultural studies, women and... incidently, does anyone of color attend Gloucester U?
One gets impatient with Lodge's contrived plot twists, pedantic explanations (the book defines things like CT scans and colonoscopies) and tendentious dialogues that often betray a smug contempt for nonconformists with unpopular critical agendas. The crafty Messenger even short-circuits student activism, noting, "Students these days are more concerned about what hurts their pockets than about principles." Anyone who doesn't scintillate with media savvy or swagger at departmental cocktail parties is routinely caricatured and usually turns out to be some kind of backstabber or sexual deviant (Douglas Douglass is Humbert Humbert).
This, of course, does not apply to Helen, whose supple aesthetic instincts sometimes cruelly position her for the most chilling revelations about her colleagues, their spouses, her students, her deceased husband. She provides the conscience her male counterpart often lacks and, by the end, even manages to draw moral lessons about the new technologies themselves. When Ralph informs her that everything one downloads from the Internet is indelibly recorded on a computer's hard drive, she asks: "Like the recording angel writing down your sins?" Yet even Helen (Lodge's bait for a larger female readership?) seems to fall in and out of love, in and out of mourning, with a kind of mechanical efficiency and not from any deeper fund of feeling. Thus what Lodge often gains through structural complexity, formal experimentation and witty observation, he squanders through facile characterization. But in the end, for anyone still struggling with the reality of A.I. and the theories behind the machines that increasingly run our lives, the book should provide a humorous introduction.
--Headline, New York Times
The dollar's strong. That must be good.
It's doing what a dollar should.
The world cannot afford our junk.
You see: It's never what you thunk.
THE HUDSON, THE MOON, THE JEJUNE
Eric Alterman's July 2 "Full-Court Press" insinuates that the Hudson
Institute "sent [scholar Evan Gahr] packing" because Gahr called Paul
Weyrich an anti-Semite. This charge has no merit and presents a false
impression of the institute. Alterman made no effort to contact us
before writing his piece. Had he done so, he would have learned that
Gahr's firing was an internal matter, unrelated to any ideas Gahr
For forty years, Hudson Institute has been a research
organization that encourages debate among peers, affording scholars
considerable latitude to express their ideas. Our researchers
regularly voice opinions more controversial than Gahr's comments
about Weyrich. Gen. William Odom (ret.), director of security studies
at Hudson, was in fact quoted in the June 18 Nation, arguing
for the dissolution of the CIA. Evidence for Hudson's eclecticism can
be found in the fact that our scholars are Democrats and Republicans,
liberals, moderates and conservatives. Moreover, in the past few
months alone, two prominent contributors to The Nation--David
Corn and Rick Perlman--have spoken at institute-sponsored
Vice president and director
apparently thinks lying is a form of mooning. In his case it's also
compulsive, relentless and boring. For the record, I am obviously not
a "staunch defender of the anti-Semites' right to blood-libel Jews,"
as he hilariously proposes; nor did I "expunge" or remove a single
word, sentence, paragraph--let alone an entire article--by the
equally addlebrained Evan Gahr from my website. Nation readers
interested in the facts--Gahr's original article and Weyrich's, my
commentaries on Gahr and Weyrich, Gahr's infantile complaints,
Crouch's column, my answer and an account of the slanders against
Laszlo Pastor by the Soviet occupiers of Communist Hungary, which
Alterman and Conason eagerly spread--can find them with ease on my
"censorious" website (www.frontpagemagazine.com). Such a waste of
valuable Nation space that could have been put to better use
defending the oppressed.
New York City
Weinstein says that I
"insinuate" anti-Semitism on the part of the Hudson Institute. That's
silly. I "insinuate" only cowardice. His defense, meanwhile, in
making reference to Nation contributors sounds a great deal
like the "some of my best friends..." line. When using it, however,
he would be wise to get the names of his friends right. It is
"Perlstein," not "Perlman." I hate to stereotype, but I hear Jews can
be quite touchy about that kind of thing.
As for David Horowitz,
well, I don't write about David Horowitz unless I'm getting paid for
GALE BREWER'S RUN
New York City
Doug Ireland writes an article ["Those Big Town
Blues," June 4] and a letter ["Exchange," July 2] asserting his
positions on city politics and the Working Families Party and manages
to make such an incorrect statement about one of the candidates that
one wonders what else he has wrong. Ireland dismisses Gale Brewer's
increasingly successful run for the City Council by describing her as
"a longtime patronage employee of the Manhattan Borough President's
Office." For the record, Brewer never worked for the Borough
President's Office. She came onto my Council staff when I was first
elected, in 1978, with no party or patronage ties of any kind. She
established a record in that office of being available to
constituents, solving problems of every type, attending to the needs
of people who had never called a legislative office in their lives
and training at least thirty student interns every year for eleven
years. She won us the Daily News designation of Most
Accessible Council Office. It is a great tribute to Gale that the
contacts she made in the district in the 1980s are standing her in
great stead in this campaign. Mayor Dinkins hired Gale to do the
city's federal relations and to increase government accessibility.
She also worked for Public Advocate Mark Green and for a private
contractor increasing services to public housing residents in Queens.
Quite a record, none of it in the Borough President's Office and all
of it on her own merits. No wonder the Working Families Party, trying
to change politics in New York, picked her as a candidate.
Manhattan Borough President
Former City Council member
My only point about Gale Brewer was that she
could hardly be included on a list of "nontraditional" candidates,
because she had spent quite a few years as a political appointee on
the public payroll--which Messinger's letter confirms.
GLOWING IN THE DARK IN CAROLINA
Thanks for David Potorti's excellent article on the
nuclear waste battle in North Carolina ["Nuclear Danger Zone, NC,"
July 2]. Most media have ignored the key facts of Carolina Power and
Light's creation of the nation's largest storage site for "spent"
nuclear fuel--the $7 billion corporation has worked hard to mute
criticism. And the potential for horrific fires from high-density
waste pools at nuclear plants across America has been left out of the
nuclear revival debate.
Loss of cooling pool water at most plants
could result in a fire that would spread across the entire pool (in
CP&L's case, four pools). Since most pools have been tightly
packed with thousands of assemblies (compared to hundreds in a
reactor core), such a fire could exceed the Chernobyl
The dirty secret is that an NRC security assessment
program concludes that US plants are highly vulnerable to terrorist
attack. Even after being allowed to bolster security in advance of
scheduled drills, at nearly half the plants mock intruders not only
got inside but also were able to simulate meltdown of the reactor
core. Now the industry is furiously working to abolish the NRC
You'd think Democratic rising star and "populist"
Senator John Edwards would be standing up to CP&L and the NRC on
this hometown debacle, especially with the NRC under investigation
for colluding with CP&L. The only logical reason for his silence
is the nuclear industry's prominence in funding presidential
Executive director, NC WARN
(NC Waste Awareness & Reduction Network)
POLL OF THE PEOPLE REVEALS...
Alexander Cockburn quoted the journal Dissent in his June 18
"Beat the Devil" and called it "an obscure journal," then later adds
this 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
Saved by the hip editor. I suggest that a poll of the
American people would consider The Nation obscure. But a poll
of Nation readers would not consider Dissent
Even before I
saw the footnote, I'd reached for my pen: Dissent is hardly
"obscure," and a less-than-majority poll vote won't establish that it
EVELYN A. MAUSS
is clearly targeted to the academy and to a broader "intelligentsia,"
and in this regard is not at all "obscure." All academic journals are
obscure to the general population, so a poll of "the American people"
would prove little. Journals tailored to a specific subdisciplinary
group, such as Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography (now
in its thirty-third volume), are even more "obscure" to the public,
but even this example is one of the leading sources of citations in
its field. Dissent might even be called popular when judged
within its context.
RAYMOND P. BARUFFALO
I am not particularly erudite but I did subscribe to
Dissent for a year. I must have picked it up at a bookstore;
as I recall it had an article by Dr. Gerda Lerner, whose books I had
read. I found it to be, well, challenging--but obscure? If a
lab technician in Rochester has read it, it's not
GE... BRINGS PCBs TO LIFE
Richard Pollak did a fine job of
summarizing the sad saga of GE, PCBs and the Hudson River ["Is GE
Mightier Than the Hudson?" May 28]. Unfortunately, there's another
GE-type destruction in the making. People who value the historic and
natural beauty of the Hudson Valley do not want to read "Is PG&E
Mightier Than the Hudson?" years down the road. Largely because of a
faulty and undemocratic state permit process, Athens Generating (a
subsidiary of PG&E), a 1080-megawatt, gas-fired electric power
plant, was recently given final approval by the Army Corps of
Engineers. New York State's sham of an energy deregulation process,
including corporate "gifts," behind-the-scenes political maneuvering,
community profiling, disregard of environmental policies and public
sentiment, amounts to an unholy alliance between a huge corporation
and a state bureaucracy. The press, the politicians, even
environmental groups have been silenced or have treated the project
as a done deal. This story, and its ramifications for the whole
Hudson River Valley, needs to be brought to light and now.
Have we learned nothing from the GE story?
STOPP (Stand Together
Oppose Power Plant)
East Nassau, N.Y.
result of your exposé, I decided to sell all my shares in GE.
Thanks for helping me to make my decision.
Any day now the Bush Administration will begin sending out its
much-touted tax rebate. How should progressives who believe this
rebate is wrong both as a matter of principle and policy respond to
this "windfall"? Spend it on themselves? Send it back to the
government? We'd like to propose another possibility: Use it against
Bush and his right-wing compatriots by sending it to The
Nation. Use the master's tools to dismantle the master's house!
We plan to send a portion of our rebate to The Nation and the
rest to progressive PACs that will have the greatest impact during
the next election cycle. When other media are complicit in this
Administration's mis-exercise of power, The Nation continues
to speak truth to power. You are a national treasure!
PETE BROSIUS and ELLEN WALKER
So if you managed to endure CBS's three-plus hours of Grammy cov erage, if you survived the sparsely attended protests from GLAAD and NOW, host Jon Stewart's lame commentary, the lip-synced perfor
WILLIAM KRISTOL KIDNAPPED BY ALIENS--
REPLACED BY SILLY, DISHONEST IMPOSTER
"I admit it. The liberal media were never that powerful, and the whole thing was often used as an excuse by conservatives for conservative failures."
--The real William Kristol,
The New Yorker, May 22, 1995
"The trouble with politics and political coverage today is that there's too much liberal bias.... There's too much tilt toward the left-wing agenda. Too much apology for liberal policy failures. Too much pandering to liberal candidates and causes."
--William Kristol imposter, in a Weekly Standard subscription pitch, June 2001
NEW YORK TIMES WRITERS/EDITORS
LOVE-BOMBED INTO BRAIN DEATH
Remember when the Times's Frank Bruni thought George Bush's boots "peeked out mischievously" from beneath his trousers in Mexico? Well, Bruni's condition--enabled by apparent narcolepsy on the part of his editors--appears to be deteriorating. First, there's the prose. Bruni noted that upon meeting Tony Blair, Bush "broke into a smile, indulged a mischievous impulse and offered him a greeting less formal than the ones the British leader usually hears. 'Hello, Landslide!' Mr. Bush shouted out. It was a reference--an irreverent, towel-snapping one at that--to Mr. Blair's recent re-election, and it recalled the playful dynamic...when he cracked during a news conference that he and Mr. Blair liked the same brand of toothpaste." An "irreverent, towel-snapping" reference? Methinks Bruni spent too much time in the sauna. Recalling the "playful dynamic" of the toothpaste "crack"--how about "doltish" dynamic? And, hello, Blair did actually win in a landslide. (And so should have Gore!) Now, if the Prime Minister had greeted the Court-appointed Bush as "Landslide," that might qualify as "irreverent."
Perhaps the Times editors might also be willing to offer us a short seminar on the rules and purpose of the official "background" quotation in their newspaper. Two days before he began snapping presidential towels, Bruni quoted a "senior administration official" offering up the following explanation of the European reaction to Bush's missile defense proposal, in language identical to that frequently used by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. "It was, 'We very much appreciate the President's decisions to consult fully, we understand that there is a threat, we want to work with the United States.'"
We have a few problems here. First off, the statement is false. One paragraph earlier, French President Jacques Chirac, who, after all, is one of the people reacting, is quoted condemning the idea as a "fantastic incentive to proliferate" (which Vladimir Putin proved almost immediately by promising to "reinforce our capability by mounting multiple warheads on our missiles" should Bush go ahead with missile defense). Second, Bush, who presumably outranks said "senior official," offered up virtually the same quote on the record. "Still pumped up," according to Bruni, Bush professed to detect "a willingness for countries to think differently and to listen to different points of view." The Times rolls over because someone in the Administration finds it convenient to spin reporters and readers while avoiding responsibility for her (?) misleading comments. I know why "senior officials" do this, but why does the Times allow it?
And finally, before bidding adieu to Mr. Bruni, how long are we going to keep reading stories celebrating the fact that the President did not pick his nose in public? "Rarely," Bruni wrote, "have the two nations' leaders so surpassed the limited expectations of their meeting." Oh really? How rarely? Whose expectations? How limited? Limited to what? I guess Bush surpassed the expectations of those who didn't know he could see into people's souls, but I don't think pandering to viewers of the Psychic Friends Network is going to help much when it comes to missile defense.
SAY WHAT YOU WILL ABOUT GEORGE WILL, THE MAN HAS GOOD TASTE IN PLAGIARISM...
George Will...calls Chris Matthews "half-Huck Finn, half-Machiavelli."
--New York magazine, June 18, 2001
"Imagine if you will, a guitar-wielding political synthesis of Huck Finn and Machiavelli..."
--Eric Alterman, "GOP Chairman Lee Atwater: Playing Hardball,"
The New York Times Magazine, April 30, 1989
MORE LIBERAL MEDIA MUSH: THE NUMBERS SPEAK
Number of weeks the New York Post's new editor took to fire Jack Newfield, its most distinguished and only liberal columnist: six. Weeks it took same to fire the Post's only black editor, who, by the way, has breast cancer: same.
While we're on the topic of the Post, Rupert Murdoch, who has already been granted more than his share of waivers to hold on to his extremist, Republican/Chinese Communist-pandering scandal sheet, is now back before the Senate communications subcommittee, seeking yet another special antidemocratic dispensation to allow him to become the first mogul to control, in addition to the Post and The Weekly Standard, a major broadcast network (Fox), a major cable network (FNC) and soon, a fast-growing satellite distribution system that already has 10 million subscribers (DirecTV). If this sounds like an Orwellian nightmare to you, to say nothing of the onslaught of right-wing sleaze, sensationalism and suck-ups to torturers it will likely produce, contact the committee at (202) 224-5184 (phone) and (202) 224-9334 (fax), and get on their case.
We're on the edge of the twentieth century and Mayor James Phelan of San Francisco concludes that without abundant water and electrical power San Francisco is stymied. He fixes his thirsty gaze upon Hetch-Hetchy 200 miles east, a U-shaped glacial valley in the Sierras, flat-floored and hemmed in by 2,500-foot granite cliffs. Through it flow the abundant waters of the Tuolumne River. Problem: Hetch-Hetchy lies within the bounds of Yosemite National Park, and conservationists led by John Muir vow a fight to the death to save the valley.
After an epic struggle Congress passes the Raker Act in 1913, which OKs the construction of a dam that will inundate Hetch-Hetchy. Muir dies the following year. Representative John Raker, in whose district Yosemite lies, is a progressive, a profound believer in public power. Under the terms of his act the Feds will waive Hetch-Hetchy's protected status to San Francisco. The dam must be used not only to store water but also to generate electric power. This power must be sold directly to the citizens of San Francisco through a municipal power agency at the cheapest possible rates. Publicly owned water and electric energy will free the city from what another progressive Congressman calls "the thralldom...of a remorseless private monopoly." If San Francisco does not honor the terms of the Raker Act, it will lose the federal waiver.
By the early 1920s San Francisco is watering itself with the Tuolumne, and it has built a powerhouse at Moccasin Creek to use the Tuolumne's pent-up power. It buys hundreds of miles of copper wire to run that power into the city. Pending completion of its own power lines, it agrees to sell the hydro-power to a rapidly growing utility company called Pacific Gas & Electric, which will use its grid to carry the power to San Francisco, at which point PG&E will sell the power back to the citizenry at an outrageous markup.
The camel's nose is under the tent, and there it stays. In the Roosevelt era Interior Secretary Harold Ickes fights a tenacious struggle to force San Francisco to abide by the terms of the Raker Act. PG&E's mayors, newspapers, public utility managers, city supervisors and legislators steadfastly thwart the bonds required to finance a municipally owned utility.
Years go by. The Raker Act is all but forgotten. PG&E rules supreme. In the mid-1960s a young muckraker called Bruce Brugmann comes to San Francisco. He's grown up in Rock Rapids, Iowa, a public-power town. He's gone to school in Nebraska--thanks to George Norris, a public-power state. He founds the Bay Guardian and by the late 1960s is deep into the PG&E wars. By now the utility is trying to build a nuclear power station at Bodega Bay. Joe Neilands and Charlie Smith, respectively a UC biochemist and an organizer, mount a successful battle against PG&E's plan. In the course of this campaign Neilands disinters the hidden history of the Raker Act and Brugmann publishes the story.
Let Brugmann carry our drama forward:
"What heated me up and got me increasingly angry over the years was that this was a structural scandal of epic proportions. PG&E had stolen hundreds of millions of dollars down the years. But it was verboten to discuss PG&E publicly. The phrase is, When PG&E spits, City Hall swims. The company had wired the city, put out thousands of dollars to various civic groups. It controlled the grand jury, and to a large extent the judiciary. Then the downtown boys managed to put in at-large elections in San Francisco, meaning candidates had to raise large sums. That slowed us down for a generation.
"Finally we got district elections again. That changed the rules of the game. Now we have a more progressive board of supervisors, beholden to constituents and their districts. Then we won a sunshine ordinance. Our coalition got the 24,000 signatures last year. We dealt with each and every condition the city attorney imposed. Then, in the first district elections in years, our slate won, so we suddenly have a progressive 9-to-2 majority. At the Guardian we tied down every supe to a pledge to put a municipal utility district on the ballot and to support MUD. We finally have a pro-public power and anti-PG&E majority. Of course, we still have to win the election. PG&E is lobbying behind the scenes, putting millions into the fight, even though it's bankrupt. But for the first time in our memory nobody is running on a pro-PG&E platform."
Act III is unfinished at this time, but if ever there was a favorable moment, it's surely now. When PG&E successfully pushed deregulation through the California legislature in the mid-1990s it surely patted itself on the back for a master stroke. The public would pick up the tab for the company's vast losses in nuclear power. Nationally, the Clinton Administration was ushering in a whole new era of energy deregulation. Senator Dianne Feinstein was at PG&E's beck and call. The public-power crowd was hemmed in, and "green" outfits like the Environmental Defense Fund and Natural Resources Defense Council were actually in the vanguard of the dereg movement.
Now we have California State Attorney General Bill Lockyer pushing a criminal investigation into the conspiracy to hike energy prices. Among the big questions: Is PG&E a shark that got chewed by bigger sharks from Houston, like Enron, or did the utility simply shuffle its money elsewhere on the Monopoly board and then declare bankruptcy? Almost a century after Raker sought to write public power into the history of San Francisco, the tide may be turning, and we have long-range populist campaigners like Brugmann and his Bay Guardian to thank for it.
Maybe that Karl Rove ain't such a genius. In the past few weeks Democrats have, with a touch of glee, been wondering about George W. Bush's Svengali-strategist as Rove has stepped into several cow pies. Shortly after the Jeffords jump--for which Rove took his lumps--the Associated Press revealed that in March Rove met with senior Intel executives seeking federal approval of a merger of two chip manufacturers--at a time when Rove held between $100,000 and $250,000 worth of Intel stock as part of a portfolio worth $2 million. Rove claimed he had not discussed this particular matter and merely referred the Intel guys to others in the government. But if someone knocks on the door of a Bush Administration official and can say, "Karl sent me," does that not help the visitor? Several weeks later, the Justice Department OK'd the merger--and Intel politely sent a thank-you note to several Bushies, including Rove.
In addition to his ethics, Rove's judgment has been questioned, as his ham-handed role in contentious policy decisions has made the Bush White House appear as political as its predecessor--a tough task! On the campaign trail, Bush the Outsider blasted the Slickster in Chief for governing by polls and setting policy by focus groups. Yet Rove has pushed the Administration to oppose stem-cell research, which involves human embryos, to advance his plan to cement Catholic voters into the GOP bloc. And when Bush announced that the Navy would halt bombing practice on Vieques in Puerto Rico in 2003, angry Hill Republicans questioned Rove's crucial part in the decision and assailed him for placing politics above national security.
Other bad news for Rove: A much-ballyhooed (and front-page) New York Times/CBS poll in mid-June showed Bush's key numbers in decline. Have Bush's (anti-)environment stands and coziness with Big Bidness taken a toll? In other words, is Rove losing his knack?
The White House stood by him--for Rove is the White House--and quickly tried to douse the Rove/Intel story. "My level of confidence with Karl Rove," declared Bush, "has never been higher." White House press-spinner Ari Fleischer pooh-poohed the Rove matter, claiming, "The American people are tired of these open-ended investigations and fishing expeditions." How did he know? Did he take a poll? And how convenient for the GOP to gripe about free-for-all investigations now. Dan Burton, the conspiracy-chasing Republican chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, who investigated every speck of controversy hurled at the Clintons, is still pursuing the Clintonites, most recently by probing a nine-year-old prosecution in Florida that tangentially involves Janet Reno. In any event, when Fleischer made his statement, there was no Rove investigation under way. Henry Waxman, the ranking Democrat on Burton's committee, had merely written Rove, asking him to answer six questions regarding his stock holdings and whether he had conducted meetings with representatives of other companies in which he owned stock, including Enron, the Texas energy company. (At press time, Waxman had yet to receive a reply.)
Perhaps Democratic senators--who, unlike Waxman, possess the power to initiate an investigation--ought to consider poking into Rove's finances and, more important, the influence of corporate contributors and lobbyists at the White House. (Of course, the latter would invite similar questions about the Democratic Party.) Yet they have not pounced. Senate majority leader Tom Daschle said publicly, "Democrats want to legislate, not investigate." But Waxman and Democratic Representative John Dingell have tried to push beyond the Rove/Intel episode. They asked the General Accounting Office, the Congressional watchdog, to examine the meetings of Vice President Cheney's energy task force and determine who--and what interests--helped shape the Bush energy plan.
Cheney's office balked. "We have not released a list of names so that people could choose whether or not they wanted to air [their] views publicly," explained Mary Matalin, a Cheney aide. Funny, Republicans weren't this respectful of privacy several years ago, when they demanded information about the proceedings of Hillary Clinton's healthcare task force. But few Democrats have raised a fuss about White House reluctance to release the information. The GAO, though, told Cheney he must comply with its request. And still Cheney has not turned over the material, setting up a potential clash.
The bloom may be off the Rove, but he's far from wilted. After all, Rove got a fellow widely derided as a boob into the White House, and then he guided a gigantic relieve-the-rich tax cut through Congress. Those are damn good first--if not last--laughs. Now Bush can also thank Rove (and Cheney) for helping to show that his White House is a down-home hoedown of corporate and political favoritism.
In a famous sequence of photographs, Henri Matisse documented, over the course of six months in 1935, twenty-two states of his evolving Large Reclining Nude. On impulse, I recently made photocopies of these and fastened them together as a kind of flipbook. This yielded a crude approximation to a cinematic experience in which the nude figure turned and twisted and fluttered her legs up and down, while parts of her body swelled and subsided. It was in fact quite sexy but did not seem quite to fit what Matisse spoke of, figuratively of course, as a motion picture film of the feeling of an artist. So I shifted into a sort of slow motion, and register the following tentative observation: In the first state, recorded on May 3, Matisse's model is depicted in a fairly straightforward way, occupying roughly the lower half of the canvas. By September 6, her head has been disproportionately enlarged, and it has become a recognizable portrait of Lydia Delectorskaya, his poseuse. On October 30, the head has grown disproportionately small, the features are schematic, the torso has grown lank and her bent arms fill the canvas from top to bottom. It really felt as if I had been able to track the artist's feelings toward the model, who becomes for him an individualized woman about midway through the painting's development. If so, the sequence does more than document the stages of a painting. It charts a transformation, from an external relationship between artist and model to an intimate relationship between man and woman. The motion picture film then yields something we could not easily get from the completed painting itself, marvelous as that great work is, and it shows something about the limitations of painting as a medium. Who knows if Matisse did not begin photographing his painting because he sensed there might be a deeper story to tell than the history of how a painting changes.
The artist's emotional involvement with Lydia Delectorskaya has remained a Matisse family secret, but it is difficult to suppress the thought not only that a change of feeling toward her took place in the course of executing Large Reclining Nude but, more boldly, that Matisse used painting as a way of discovering what his feelings were. The South African artist William Kentridge speaks of drawing in almost these terms: "The activity of drawing is a way of trying to understand who we are or how we operate in the world. It is in the strangeness of the activity itself that can be detected judgment, ethics and morality.... So drawing is a slow motion version of thought.... The uncertain and imprecise way of constructing a drawing is sometimes a model of how to construct meaning." Note the cinematic metaphor through which Kentridge characterizes mental process and how, though his artistic ambitions otherwise resemble those of Matisse to no appreciable degree, he also sees drawing as an avenue to self-discovery.
South Africa was invited to exhibit in the Venice Biennale in 1993 in acknowledgment of the repeal of apartheid; and in 1995 the first Johannesburg Biennale was organized as a gesture that South Africa was now part of the international art community. Kentridge himself exhibited in the Fourth Istanbul Biennale, held that same year, and ever since he has been widely shown and highly admired for his animated films, based on his drawings. But the drawings themselves have an independent authority, in large part, I believe, because of the palpable evidence they provide of their author's search for meaning and even for personal meaning. It may seem curious that in work with so marked a political intention as Kentridge's, there should be the same preoccupation with self-understanding that we find in Matisse, who seems almost flagrantly hedonistic as an artist. But upon reflection it is no less curious that someone who created for himself a world of luxe, calme, et volupté--to use an early title that Matisse appropriated from Baudelaire--should, at a somewhat advanced age, use painting as a method of self-analysis.
In point of style, Kentridge's work has a certain retrospective aura, as if it belonged more to the era of Matisse than to the contemporary world. The drawings and, indeed, the animated films for which they serve as material feel much in spirit as if their provenance were the art world of Mitteleuropa from the early part of the twentieth century. Kentridge himself has commented on this:
Much of what was contemporary in Europe and America during the 1960s and 1970s seemed distant and incomprehensible to me.... The impulses behind the work did not make the transcontinental jump to South Africa. The art that seemed most immediate and local dated from the early twentieth century, when there still seemed to be hope for political struggle rather than a world exhausted by war and failure. I remember thinking that one had to look backwards--even if quaintness was the price one paid.
It is perhaps testimony to the deep pluralism of the contemporary art world that the language of early Modernism should be accepted and even admired as a vehicle for expression and exploration today. Kentridge is rightly considered a very important artist, which explains why he is the subject of a major exhibition at New York's New Museum of Contemporary Art (until September 16). It will then travel to the MCA in Chicago, the CAM in Houston and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, before its final venue in the South African National Gallery in Cape Town, from December 7, 2002, through March 23, 2003.
Kentridge draws primarily in charcoal, a medium versatile enough to have been used in the achievement of the demi-teinte drawings prized by the beaux-arts academies of the nineteenth century, as well as in the broad expressive drawings of German Expressionism. Kentridge appreciates charcoal (enhanced by a sparing use of pastel) for its softness and quickness on paper. But with its sensitivity to pressure, to revision and overdrawing, to erasure and smudging, it lends itself particularly well to the kind of probing exploration for which Kentridge prizes drawing as an activity. The final result often stands as a kind of palimpsest of the stages of its emergence as an image. There is, moreover, an internal connection between drawing in charcoal and the exceedingly primitive technique of animation Kentridge evolved. One can photograph a drawing, then modify the drawing, then photograph that--and continue this process until one has transcribed, through sequences of smudging, erasing and overdrawing, a complete transition not just in the drawing, physically considered, but in what the alterations in the drawing sequentially depict. In short, the photographs taken at various stages of a drawing's alteration literally become frames in a filmstrip that, when projected, show a change in the reality depicted. Animation enables Kentridge to get beyond the limits that Matisse circumvented by means of serial photography.
An example will make this clear. Consider a sequence of fourteen frames from Kentridge's 1991 film, Sobriety, Obesity, & Growing Old. Each of these is a photograph of the same drawing, as it has undergone a series of changes. In the first frame, we see a factory building in a somewhat dated modernesque style of architecture, drawn in a correspondingly dated Modernist style that Kentridge has made his own. The factory, sharply highlighted, stands against the sky, alone in a barren landscape. In the next frame, the artist has begun to scribble a sort of dark mass, like a dust cloud, at the building's base. In the third frame, the artist has begun to erase, hence lighten, the top part of the cloud. This cloud grows larger and lighter through a number of frames. Meanwhile, he has begun to rub out the drawing of the building. The building grows fainter and fainter as the cloud engulfs it. Now the artist begins to erase the cloud so that there is a frame in which a ghostly pentimento of the building hovers over the thinning cloud. Finally, as the dust has settled, the artist has drawn the figure of a man standing in what remains of the cloud, his back to us, facing where the building used to be. In the final frame, the figure of the man is darkened. He stands alone before the traces on paper of an erased factory. As with Matisse's Large Reclining Nude, where there is only one canvas, the changes in which have been documented by his photographs, here there is only one drawing, systematically modified. But where Large Reclining Nude shows no signs of the changes Matisse made, the final photograph in Kentridge's sequence shows the stages it has gone through--the erasures, the scribbles, the darkening, the outlines of the factory that used to be there, the shape of the man who entered the picture only in the final stages of the drawing. It is like a face that bears the marks of its owner's experience. "What is interesting about doing the animated films," Kentridge told interviewers, "is that it's a way of holding on to all the moments and possibilities of the drawing." His drawings record the struggle to achieve them.
Put another way, the changes in Large Reclining Nude were not made for the sake of being photographed; the photographs merely document those changes. The changes in the drawing of the factory, by contrast, were narratively driven, and made for the sake of the photographs, because it is through them, as a film sequence, that a story is told. It is the story of a world falling apart. The figure in the drawing is internally related to the factory. He was in fact the factory's owner, as we know from the film from which this sequence has been extracted. We have been shown the fact that his world has fallen apart, that he is left alone in the landscape in which his factory once stood. The figure is that of the industrialist Soho Eckstein, a character Kentridge invented--the star of his series of allegorical films, which he calls "Drawings for Projection," of which Sobriety, Obesity, & Growing Old is the fourth.
Soho is an overweight, balding, ruthless man, with a heavy cigar and an emblematic pinstriped suit and striped necktie. The suit-and-tie is his attribute--as much so as keys are the attribute of St. Peter or a chalice of blood that of the bereaved Madonna in Christian iconography--or a silk hat and moneybags the attributes of The Capitalist in left-wing iconography. Soho is never shown not wearing it, whether working or sleeping, or lying in a hospital bed, or in a symbolic pool of water, embracing his alienated wife. In the first of the films in which he is introduced--Johannesburg, 2nd Greatest City after Paris--Soho Eckstein is the embodiment of greed and rapacity. He has bought up half the city of Johannesburg, and sits at his desk, running his vast network of enterprises, or at a table swilling down mountains of food with bottle upon bottle of wine. Outside, we see an industrial wasteland, punctuated with pylons and floodlights, and traversed by the expropriated masses. In Monument, Soho addresses a crowd as a benefactor, at the dedication of a monument to the Working Man. In Mine--a wonderful pun, since the mine is mine--the film connects Soho with his mining enterprises. We see rows of miners blasting away in dark precincts, and we see Soho orchestrating their activity from a desk, on which are displayed pieces of African art as trophies. But things have begun to go very badly for Soho in Sobriety, Obesity, & Growing Old. His empire has collapsed. He is alone in a world for whose barrenness he is largely accountable.
But the loss is more personal by far than my narrative thus far would suggest. Soho's wife has been taken away from him by his alter ego, Felix Teitlebaum, a moony artist who looks like a somewhat leaner Soho with his clothes off. Aside from these differences, Felix and Soho look much alike, which suggests that together they constitute a self-portrait of the artist, since he resembles them both. And that is another illustration of how drawing leads to self-knowledge.
As in the final frame of the collapsing factory, we see Soho alone against an empty sky--a mere smudged blankness onto which the artist has superimposed the words, printed in block letters:
And we find ourselves feeling sorry for poor Soho, a human being after all, with a broken heart.
Kentridge's commentators see the films as filled with references to the political drama of South Africa, and doubtless the artist's countrymen will be able to read these in terms far more local than are available to us who have not lived through the agonies of those struggles. At the same time, the films attain a level of allegory that makes them almost universal. Soho is an inspired invention, but he corresponds to the hard-nosed kind of industrialist commonplace in the representation of capitalism since at least the time of Marx and Engels. "I paint the capitalist and the landlord in no sense couleur de rose," Marx wrote in his preface to Capital. But here individuals are dealt with only insofar as they are the personifications of economic categories, embodiments of particular class relations and class interests. Were it not for lettering in "Johannesburg"there would be no way of knowing that the masses represented in Johannesburg, 2nd Greatest City after Paris were African blacks. The image could have been by Käthe Kollwitz or some illustrator for New Masses. There is thus something generic in the relationship between Soho and the country he exploits, into which the particularities of apartheid have to be read. But similarly, it is by virtue of romantic allegory that Soho's guilt is internalized as insensitivity to his wife's emotional needs. And where in South African political reality does the sensitive and artistic figure of Felix Teitlebaum exactly fit? In Sobriety, Obesity, & Growing Old, the political becomes the personal. There is a wonderful image in that film in which the essential triangle of Soho, Mrs. Eckstein and Felix is represented. Soho, holding a cigar that gives off the dense black smoke of one of his factory chimneys, is gazing into what I take to be a loudspeaker, while luscious Mrs. Eckstein lies beneath Felix, her eyes closed either in dream or rapture, while--in the animation--a kind of fish swims from Felix to her. It is exceedingly erotic, as the film itself at moments is, though it is difficult to know whether the love scenes are imagined by Soho or enacted by the couple, or, for that matter, imagined by them. In a way, Soho, Felix and Mrs. Eckstein--Tycoon, Artist and Wife--form as rich an allegorical triangle as Offissa Pupp, Ignatz and Krazy Kat in George Herriman's inspired landscape. The films Kentridge made afterward are deeply introspective exercises in which both Soho and Felix undertake, in their different ways, to construct meanings for their lives. Mrs. Eckstein is not developed further.
I am very impressed by the way, as an artist, Kentridge seeks to reflect political problems through interpersonal relationships. In her instructive catalogue essay, Lynne Cooke cites Kentridge's way of seeing his situation as an artist who is at once engaged and disengaged: "Aware of and drawing sustenance from the anomaly of my position." At the edge of huge social upheavals, yet also removed from them. Not able to be part of these upheavals, nor to work as if they did not exist. That is the way I see his art--not part of the upheavals but to be understood through the fact that they exist and in some deflected way explain the art. In the end, if one thinks about it, this is the way artists have often dealt with political upheavals: at their edge, and in the framework of love stories. Think of Hemingway or Tolstoy or, if you like, Jane Austen or possibly Matisse.
The films are the heart of the exhibition, as they are the crown of Kentridge's oeuvre, and I would head for them immediately. After that you can work your way back through the gallery, in which some of the stills--the drawings he used for the films--are on display. On your way in, you will have passed a sort of animated Shadow Procession, in which silhouetted figures, which inevitably remind one of the disturbing cutouts of the brilliant Kara Walker, sweep past your vision. It is a little soon to pronounce the show unforgettable, but I have not been able to erase from my memory the song by Alfred Makgalemele, which accompanies the Shadow Procession, and my feeling is that certain of the images will be with me for a very long time.
Ron Radosh seems an easy target, so easy that a toy pistol (or automatic writing) should be weaponry enough--and no need to bother Nation readers, keen folks that we are, with a detailed analysis of the turncoat's latest piece of folly.
It isn't that simple. Radosh's newest book can't be as facilely dismissed as one might like. About half of Commies is yet another red-diaper memoir, some of it vivid and charming, most of it familiar and unexceptionable. The book's second half, however, requires more attention. It contains some closely reasoned arguments, particularly about the Sandinista revolution and (yes, once again) the Rosenberg case. There are those on the left convinced that definitive judgments, one way or the other, on those issues have already been rendered.
But for those who remain less certain, Commies contains a critique that must be dealt with; Radosh's arguments may not convince, but they do trouble the waters. And they give some credence to his long-standing claim that he is not a knee-jerk right-winger but rather an antitotalitarian liberal in the tradition of those dissenters (Sidney Hook, say) who refuse to pledge automatic allegiance to every left-wing hero (Castro, say, or Daniel Ortega) who comes down the pike.
As a way of assessing Radosh's "antitotalitarian" credentials, I want to concentrate, as Radosh himself does, on the Sandinistas and the Rosenbergs. But first, it's important to emphasize that Radosh is an exceedingly slippery writer. Avoiding the heavy-handed polemical style of, for instance, a David Horowitz, he opts instead in Commies for quietly dropping in a loaded adjective here, subtly highlighting (or ignoring) a given piece of evidence there. This can sometimes make Radosh's biases difficult to detect, but they are decidedly present, and the reader needs to stay on steady alert.
This is worth spelling out in some detail. Radosh writes, for example, that Paul Robeson "squandered his early success by dedicating himself relentlessly to a vigorous defense of the Soviet Union and Joseph Stalin." This is not untrue, but neither is it the full truth. By choosing to remain silent after Khrushchev's 1956 revelations about Stalin's crimes (he did not, publicly or privately, "vigorously defend" against Khrushchev's indictment), Robeson did give his enemies ammunition, and to that degree can be said to have "squandered" his career. But he had already had his passport lifted and his concert bookings canceled. The conservative hound dogs, led by J. Edgar Hoover, had long since determined to bring Robeson down--not solely because he was pro-Soviet but even more, perhaps, because of his militant insistence on black rights, his socialism, his outspoken critique of American imperialism. In failing even to mention these other ingredients in the FBI's and CIA's hounding of Robeson, Radosh places the full responsibility for his decline on the man himself, letting the government's colonialist policies and vicious racism entirely off the hook.
Another example is Radosh's guileful treatment of the Black Panther leader Fred Hampton. "The local police," he writes, "stormed the Black Panther's home and killed him in the ensuing confusion." This makes it sound as if the police and the Panthers were equally muddled--and thus equally responsible for Hampton's death. But there are solid grounds for believing that the police deliberately set off on a mission of assassination and cold-bloodedly murdered Hampton in his bed.
It has to be said that the few African-Americans who appear in Commies are portrayed as either unlikable or downright villainous. Radosh refers at one point to the mugging of Conor Cruise O'Brien by "neighborhood black thugs." (Is it possible to believe that they may have been desperate, frightened and remorseful--something more than, other than, "thugs"?) Radosh describes John Davis, the project director of the American Negro Reference Book and a man for whom he briefly worked, as a terse martinet, who quickly and unfairly fired him and had no redeeming qualities. And he characterizes educator and anthropologist Johnnetta Cole, egregiously, as someone who cast in her lot with the cause of "Communist totalitarianism."
And that's about it for the African-American cast of characters who appear in Commies (except for a cameo appearance by David Dinkins: "Once David Dinkins became mayor, the city grew markedly worse"). It seems odd (I'm trying to be charitable) that Radosh can, impressively, find generous things to say about any number of whites, including William Appleman Williams, Michael Harrington and Marshall Brickman, with whose politics he disagrees, whereas if there are any black people he felt as charitably toward, they haven't made the final cut.
At this point, I suspect, readers of The Nation are impatiently wondering why I ever suggested in the first place that Commies should be taken seriously. Only, I meant, in part--the part that focuses on the civil war in El Salvador, the Sandinista uprising in Nicaragua and the Rosenberg case. It's time to look more closely at each.
I am not a Latin America expert, and perhaps for that reason alone I pretty much believed what I read at the time in the left-wing press about events in El Salvador and Nicaragua. Namely, that José Napoleon Duarte was simply a tool of the right-wing military, and that the guerrilla assault on his rule was in the name of democracy and thus wholly justified. And additionally, that the successful Sandinista revolution against the brutal Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua was an uncomplicated triumph for the good.
These views were common on the left, despite some dissenters, and to a considerable extent they still are. Radosh's argument is that our enthusiasm was naïve and misplaced--and he includes himself among the naïfs. In the early 1980s Radosh still thought of himself as a person of the left, though he had begun to waver ideologically. Nonetheless, he organized a folk music benefit on behalf of the Revolutionary Democratic Front (the political body allied with the FMLN guerrillas), attended any number of street demonstrations on their behalf and insisted that the armed rebellion against Duarte was "an indigenous protest against a repressive government" that ruled in the name of landowning oligarchs and a vicious military.
That the military death squads were omnipresent and the landowning class determined to yield no ground is not in dispute, certainly not by Radosh. But much else, he argues, is. Duarte, he reminds us, was himself once a political exile from military dictatorship and saw himself, not inaccurately--as we should have understood--as a social democratic reformer who was out of sympathy with the Salvadoran right wing.
Radosh's argument here is in part persuasive: One could even agree that Duarte had decent instincts and did not regard himself as a tool of the ruling military/landowner clique. Yet that doesn't mean that the policies he adopted didn't end up serving the right-wing cause, making him, despite his intentions, their proxy. And it certainly doesn't mean, as Radosh apparently believes, that the left-wing guerrillas in opposition to Duarte were "a pro-Soviet revolutionary group." The proof of that, according to Radosh, is that they failed to inspire massive and sustained support from El Salvador's poor. But it can also be argued, as Radosh does not, that the guerrillas were simply too factionalized and ideologically divided to animate a mass movement.
Radosh gives far more attention in Commies to the Sandinistas. Once again, he started out a supporter, thrilled that the Front for National Liberation had, in armed conflict, toppled Somoza's cruel dictatorship, believing that the Sandinista regime would be democratic and pluralist, and appalled that the United States was backing the contras in a brutal civil war. But in 1983, on assignment for The New Republic, Radosh went to Nicaragua for a firsthand look. And what he concluded, over a period of time, led him to change his mind.
When the Sandinista regime proclaimed a state of emergency, suspending civil liberties and political rights, when it jailed some domestic dissidents, including labor militants, and when it attacked the Miskito Indians on the Caribbean coast, Radosh decided--too uncomplicatedly, I believe--that the Soviet Union had become the Sandinista Front's material support and Castro's Cuba its political model: The front had fallen into the hands of "ultrarevolutionary Marxist-Leninists."
Many left-liberals, including Irving Howe (rightly, in my view), rebuked Radosh for taking an exaggerated position, pointing out that the Sandinista leadership included many democrats as well, and that in any case, the Sandinistas should not be publicly criticized while "under attack" by the American empire. Radosh replied, with some justice, that the same adamant advice (and ostracism) had been handed out by American leftists fifty years earlier to those who, like Emma Goldman, pointed to the betrayal of the Russian Revolution.
Not wanting to rely solely on my own limited knowledge of Central America, I asked the respected expert Laird Bergad, director of the CUNY Center for Latin American, Caribbean and Latino Studies, to read over a few of Radosh's pages on the Sandinistas. "Fundamentally," Bergad told me, "Radosh is right. There were too many Stalinists among the leadership. By following the Castro model they did submerge democratic impulses, and their attack on the Miskito Indians was a huge blunder."
Bergad also felt, however, that although some of Daniel Ortega's acts were regrettable, Radosh overuses Ortega as the personification of the Sandinista regime. And we would do well to remember, Bergad added, that the Sandinistas were responsible, after all, for overthrowing the feral Somoza regime--a dictatorship far worse than that of the Sandinistas.
We should also add, on Radosh's side, that he has valuably reminded the left in this country that we have all too often in the past greeted insurgent movements uncritically and turned a blind eye to mounting evidence of repression; when the evidence could no longer be dismissed, we've sometimes resorted to ethically dubious slogans like "you can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs" or "the revolution may be less than perfect but we have to maintain solidarity with those resisting the encroachments of the American Empire."
As for the Rosenbergs, Radosh's name has been centrally connected to their case for some twenty years. The 1983 book The Rosenberg File, which he wrote with Joyce Milton, billed itself as a disinterested, scholarly "search for the truth," and indeed the book's conclusions could be considered moderate--that is, when measured against the inflamed rhetoric surrounding the case in the early 1950s, when the Rosenbergs (who were executed in 1953) were denounced for having "stolen the secret of the atom bomb" and given it to the Soviets--"the crime of the century," J. Edgar Hoover called it.
By the time the Radosh/Milton book appeared, public views had become less apocalyptic. It was understood by then that there hadn't been any single secret central to making the bomb, that the Soviets' own scientists had already made headway toward producing atomic weapons--and the spy who had most helped them was not Julius Rosenberg but the British physicist Klaus Fuchs.
In general, The Rosenberg File confirmed those views. It insisted that Julius had run a spy ring, but that the evidence of Ethel's complicity was weak; that a scientific sketch obtained by David Greenglass (Ethel's brother) and passed through Harry Gold to the Russians was in fact of low-level importance and certainly not the secret for making an atomic bomb; that both the prosecutorial and defense lawyers--indeed, almost everyone involved with the case--had behaved badly, depriving the Rosenbergs of a fair trial.
In Commies, Radosh claims that when The Rosenberg File was published in 1983, he "never received an iota of public support from the democratic socialist intellectuals." (But, weirdly, he then goes on to mention favorable treatment in print by Nation columnist Katha Pollitt, historian Maurice Isserman and James Weinstein--hardly chopped liver in democratic socialist circles.) In this regard, Radosh singles out for special attack the historian Eric Foner and The Nation's Victor Navasky.
Foner's paramount sin seems to have been his ongoing insistence (one that I share) that the Communist Party USA was not simply, or even primarily, a recruitment agency for spies but rather contained a broad spectrum of idealistic left-wingers who joined the party for reasons that had nothing to do with espionage. Radosh's anger at Navasky focuses on his 1983 review of The Rosenberg File in The Nation, which, according to Radosh, attacked the book in "the crudest of political terms."
To evaluate Radosh's claims, I not only read Navasky's review but asked both him and Foner to respond to Radosh's complaints against them in Commies. I asked them, too, whether the publication two years ago of Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America, by John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, had to any degree changed their minds about the culpability of the Rosenbergs and, more generally, about the amount of espionage engaged in by members of the CPUSA. (Venona analyzes the nearly 3,000 pages of deciphered cables between Moscow and its US agents--some 350 people, in the authors' estimate.) When Venona appeared, it was widely hailed in the mainstream press as having conclusively demonstrated that the CPUSA was indeed a significant "fifth column" working against our country's interests, with the added implication that the anti-Communist crusade undertaken by McCarthy and others was therefore justified.
First, the matter of Navasky's 1983 review of The Rosenberg File. I found it subtle and evenhanded--not by any fair-minded stretch a "crude" political attack. Time and again, in fact, Navasky actually gives Radosh and Milton the benefit of the doubt in weighing their claims against those of Walter and Miriam Schneir's protestations of Rosenberg innocence in Invitation to an Inquest. Navasky even cautions the reader, and more than once, that his own political views may be affecting his evaluation of the evidence. But the review does target what I believe is Radosh and Milton's central weakness as historians: They have a low tolerance for ambiguity. They prefer to see--and proclaim--absolute truth where others would be more likely to see uncertainties. This shows up most clearly in their penchant for accepting the reports of FBI agents at face value.
As someone who has worked with FBI files for a biography of Paul Robeson, and also in researching the early years of the gay movement, I can testify to the frequent inaccuracy of agents' reports, and their sometimes laughable distortions (which don't make them any less dangerous). In regard to the gay movement, I've read FBI reports that defined transvestites as "a militant group of women," referred to the early 1970s countercultural university of "Alternate U" as "Ultimate You" and mislabeled the gay Marxist study group Red Butterfly as prototypically anarchist (they "do not recognize authority of any kind").
As regards Robeson, FBI headquarters learned from its various agents, along with much else, that Robeson had taken out formal membership in the Communist Party (which he never did); that he and his brother Ben "do not get along" (it was Robeson's wife, Eslanda, who didn't get along with his brother); that the union members who volunteered to form a cordon around Robeson during his dangerous Peekskill concert, and who held various political allegiances, were all "Communists endeavoring to recruit delegations." One FBI agent even managed, during the run of Othello on Broadway--in which Robeson co-starred with Uta Hagen and Joe (José) Ferrer--to report that he hadn't been able to identify the "Joe" mentioned in a phone log, though he thought "Joe" might "possibly [be] associated with Paul Robeson's show."
None of which is to say that the FBI didn't often get things right, only that its agents were and are human, with blind spots, prejudices, areas of ignorance and ambitions to make a mark or please a boss. Too often Radosh and Milton relied in The Rosenberg File on a single agent's report, uncorroborated by independent evidence, treating it as the full story, unblemished and unbiased.
In Commies, predictably, Radosh hails the release of the Venona files as conclusive proof that Julius Rosenberg committed espionage; "all doubts," Radosh writes, "have been laid to rest." But not everyone is convinced, and besides, Radosh is strangely mute about whether Ethel should be regarded as guilty; far too often he writes about "the Rosenbergs," lumping husband and wife together as co-conspirators, whereas many of us feel that although Ethel may well have had knowledge of her husband's work, any evidence that she directly shared in it is weak; that she may in fact have been framed by the US government; and that the depth of her involvement, in any case, hardly deserved the death penalty.
As to Julius, the Venona evidence has changed minds on the left. Navasky, for example, told me that he has shifted "from agnosticism to the belief that Julius did something." And contrary to Radosh's portrayal of him as Julius's rigid defender, Foner (before the release of the Venona files) never claimed that Julius was innocent, only that the case against him had not been proved. Since Venona, Foner's opinion has, he told me, "to some extent changed," but only toward accepting the possibility that Julius (not Ethel) may have engaged in some sort of low-level espionage. Walter and Miriam Schneir, writing in these pages, noted that although the account would be "painful news for many people," as it was for them, Venona had convinced them that while there was no evidence against Ethel, and key elements of the atomic spying charge were not confirmed, "Julius Rosenberg was the head of a spy ring gathering and passing nonatomic defense information."
Yet we can't even be sure of the nature of that information: We still don't know what portion of the total number of Venona documents transmitted to the Soviets by US espionage agents has in fact been released. Nor do we know how or why particular code names in the documents have been linked to given people like Julius Rosenberg. Radosh and others feel entitled to declare that the Venona material has "proved conclusively" Julius's guilt, but they can't tell us precisely what sort of "secrets" Julius was guilty of passing to the Soviets.
In addition, if we put aside nationalistic fervor, we might dare raise a broad question that Radosh, the zealous patriot, refuses to go near: Why do we seem unable to feel some compassion and extend some understanding toward those who chose, often at enormous personal sacrifice, to give primary allegiance to a country that they believed (however mistakenly, we might feel today) stood, alone among the great nations in the 1930s and '40s, for antiracist, anticolonialist principles (gleeful crowds in the American South were still enjoying the community spectacle of a burnt, lynched black body)?
The principles, we now know, were mostly window dressing in the Soviet Union; beyond the windows stood the most ghastly horrors. But the point remains: If someone managed to produce a statistical study of those Americans who became espionage agents in the 1930s and '40s, my guess is that the motivation of the larger portion by far would turn out to have been not material considerations but humanitarian ones. (Awright, Ron, fire off that outraged Letter to the Editor, in which, once again, you applaud Sidney Hook's dictum that despite its "failings, drawbacks and limitations, the defense and survival of the West was [and must remain] the first priority....")
Toward the end of Commies, Radosh concludes that "the Left was wrong not just about the Rosenberg Case, but about most everything else...the entire socialist project was wrong." He doesn't offer his definition of socialism, but I have always been drawn to the one that stresses ends, not means: "The highest social priority must go to the needs of the least fortunate."
And that can be "wrong," it seems to me, only if, like Radosh, you believe our country is under attack from within, which at the present moment he defines as attack from "radical feminism, ultra-environmentalism, pro-Arabism, political correctness [and] the new anarchism"--meaning the young protesters "who trash Starbucks and picket the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund."
And what about poverty, healthcare, racism and the like? Well, what we do, it seems, is simply change our vocabularies. Here is how Radosh works the trick: "Walking our son, Michael, to public school we were often accosted by bums--or the unfortunate homeless, as some of my friends called them." If "unfortunates" become "bums," is it any wonder that all Commies become spies?
The Supreme Court, in the final week of June, handed down three decisions, each of which seems to endorse a valuable social principle.
In the first, involving the right of legal immigrants who have pleaded guilty to crimes in the past to a judicial review of deportation proceedings, the Court upheld the principle that no matter who you are, you are entitled to your day in court.
In the second case, the High Court affirmed the right of writers and artists to share in the wealth made possible by the new media. The case was brought by a group of freelancers who objected to the inclusion of their work in electronic databases without permission or remuneration; the group was led by Jonathan Tasini, the president of the National Writers Union and a man with an admirable mission.
In the third case, the Supreme Court made it more possible for Congress to provide correctives to the influence of money in politics by upholding Watergate-era limits on how much political parties can spend in coordination with candidates for federal office. Had the Court eliminated the restrictions, it would have legitimized the parties as cash-laundering machines for donors.
Left to be determined, in all three cases, are the appropriate remedies for the ills the rulings addressed, and the difficulty of fashioning these should not be underestimated. But it is heartening to see the Court acting in its proper role as the guardian of both the individual and society.
Last August, amid the final throes of President Alberto Fujimori's scandal-ridden administration in Peru, he bowed to US pressure and announced that Lori Berenson's conviction by a secret military court would be voided and that she would be granted a new civilian trial. Thanks to nearly six years of poisonous publicity, Berenson, who in January 1996 was sentenced to life in prison for "treason against the fatherland," was widely viewed by Peruvians as a gringa terrorista who had come to Peru to join the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), an unpopular guerrilla organization. So when her new trial finally opened this past March, Berenson's supporters held out little hope that it would yield a just verdict.
As expected, on June 20 the panel of three judges handed down a conviction on the reduced charge of collaboration with terrorism. Sentencing Berenson to the maximum of twenty years in prison, the court declared that she was not an active member of the MRTA but neither was she a "mere spectator" in the house she shared in Lima with fifteen MRTA militants. Because of the more than five years she has already served, she is scheduled to be released in 2015.
As Peru's fragile democracy grapples with the legacy of Fujimori's war on guerrilla movements--carried out by notorious spymaster and former CIA collaborator Vladimiro Montesinos, recently captured in Venezuela after an eight-month international manhunt--Berenson's trial was an opportunity to show how far the country has come since the days of hooded military judges, doctored evidence, coercion of witnesses and trumped-up terrorism charges. Sadly, the answer turned out to be, Not far enough. In many respects Berenson's new trial was a vast improvement over the last--she was able to confront her accusers, her lawyers cross-examined witnesses and the proceedings were open to the public. But Peru's judicial system has yet to resolve the thorny issue of how civilian courts should deal with evidence that may have been tainted or even fabricated by Fujimori's ruthless antiterrorism police force. While hundreds remain in prison on the basis of no evidence at all, thousands more, like Berenson, are serving lengthy sentences as a result of circumstantial evidence and untrustworthy investigations [see Jonathan Levi and Liz Mineo, "The Lori Berenson Papers," September 4/11, 2000]. Peruvian courts must devise an approach to those cases that respects international standards of fairness and due process. In the absence of that, Berenson's pending appeal to the Peruvian Supreme Court is unlikely to succeed, although the court might decide to reduce her sentence.
Incoming President Alejandro Toledo, who could pardon Berenson when he takes office on July 28, disappointed her supporters when he said on a late June visit to the United States that he would not interfere with the court's decision. Toledo pointed out the need to respect the independence of the courts, but surely there is a difference between a president meddling with the judiciary to enhance his own power, as Fujimori did, and using executive authority to pardon someone denied a fair trial.
Granting clemency to Berenson and others like her is no long-term solution, however. Peru still needs far-reaching judicial reforms, beginning with the repeal of the draconian antiterrorism laws enacted in 1992. That would be an important step forward in the long process of exorcising the ghosts of Fujimori and Montesinos, and restoring the faith in government shattered by their corrupt rule.
Thomas Jefferson was not anticipating a summer holiday when he told Lafayette that "the boisterous sea of liberty indeed is never without a wave." In Philadelphia, where Jefferson and his countrymen created a monumental wave back in 1776, a new generation of patriots will meet from June 29 to July 1 to turn a tide of anger over the denial of democracy in Florida into a national movement for electoral reform.
The national Pro-Democracy Convention, organized by the Institute for Policy Studies, the NAACP, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Nation Institute and others, comes at a moment of more activism on voting rights and electoral reform than at any time since the 1960s. From energetic voter-registration drives in Florida, where young people gathered in mid-June to kick off Democracy Summer, to a renewed push for instant-runoff voting in Vermont, to a move in Congress to make real the promise of the Voting Rights Act, there's a sense that from the disappointment that was Florida there may come a movement capable of assuring that, in the words of Representative Cynthia McKinney, "We will not allow a repeat of Florida 2000."
Essential to this movement is the recognition that Florida was only part of the story. Across the United States more than 2 million presidential votes went uncounted last November. Election officials actually discarded more ballots in Illinois than in Florida--3.9 percent compared with 2.9 percent. Added to this are concerns about aging voting equipment, restrictive registration laws, failed implementation of the federal motor-voter law and bans on voting by former prisoners that continue to deny millions of citizens--especially people of color and the poor--full access to the franchise.
With Democrats now in control of the Senate, there's a chance to crystallize the energy of this new movement by passing the Equal Protection of Voting Rights Act. Written by Chris Dodd, Senate Rules Committee chairman, and John Conyers, ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, the bill addresses basic issues of access and equal opportunity and sets universal standards for voting machines. It has the support of the NAACP, the AFL-CIO, the National Council of La Raza, the National Organization for Women, the National Federation of the Blind and at least 172 Congress members. Citizens will have a chance to voice their support at hearings across the country this summer.
Meanwhile, the House is preparing for a post-July 4 showdown on the related issue of campaign finance reform. House majority whip Tom DeLay has vowed to defeat the reform effort, modest as it is, but supporters hope momentum created by Senate passage of a similar measure and by a Supreme Court decision upholding restrictions on party contributions to candidates will overwhelm defenders of what Senator Russ Feingold calls "a system of legalized bribery."
Electoral reforms are never easily won--just ask a suffragist, or, for that matter, the Civil Rights Commission members who were excoriated for exposing the "injustice, ineptitude and inefficiency" that disfranchised minority voters in Florida. No single law will cure what ails our democracy. But now is the time to take the first steps. American democracy was devalued last year, and it will require a wave of liberty to begin to set things right.