Something brushed my cheek with damp--
a leaf, its little valley slick with run-off
after rain. One last drop shook loose
and struck a spider web, which shuddered
but held on to this grieving world
so a butterfly--a mourning cloak?--
could uncoil its watch-spring of a tongue
in the time it took a limousine to stretch
down the thin twig of street, almost to my door.
A long albino snake gone straight,
tied with a big white bow--O pet,
you're not mine. You belong a few doors down--
see, here comes a man in gold morning coat,
carrying pale pink roses like a lute.
He leaned inside the low dark cave
of a car to kiss someone I never saw,
who straightened his pale pink cravat.
Orpheus, would love turn back while it can?
Around the corner a nurse in white
stood at an open door, lifting her long white arm
gently to bar the way of an old woman
bundled in hat and coat, though it was August.
When we left that old journalistic evergreen, the evils of daycare, two weeks ago, the media hysteria over the NICHD study had just about peaked. The researchers had begun to turn on each other in public, never a good sign--Jay Belsky, a champion soundbiter who had seized the media initiative by strongly suggesting that the study showed that more than thirty hours a week with anyone but Mom would risk turning little Dick and Jane into obnoxious brats, was sharply challenged by numerous co-researchers, who claimed the study's results were tentative, ambiguous and negligible, hardly results at all, really. After a few rounds of this, the media suddenly remembered that no one had actually seen the study, which won't be published for another year and which does seem on the face of it rather counterintuitive: Daddy care is bad? Granny care is bad? Quality of care makes no difference? What really did the trick, though, I suspect, was that every fed-up woman journalist in America sat down and bashed out a piece telling the doomsayers to lay off, already. With 13 million kids in daycare, and two-thirds of women with children under 6 in the work force, working moms are a critical mass, and they are really, really tired of being made to feel guilty when they are, in fact, still the ones doing double duty at work and home.
Compare the kerfuffle over the quantity of hours spent in daycare with the ho-hum response to studies of its quality. On May 1, Worthy Wage Day for childcare workers, came a study from Berkeley and Washington, DC, that looked at staffing in seventy-five better-than-average California daycare centers serving kids aged 2 1/2 through 5. According to Then and Now: Changes in Child Care Staffing 1994-2000, staffers and directors are leaving the field in droves. At the centers in the study, 75 percent of teachers and 40 percent of directors on the job in 1996 had quit four years later. Some centers had turnover rates of 100 percent or more (!) from one year to the next. Half the leavers abandoned the field entirely--raising their incomes by a whopping $8,000 a year compared with the other half, who remained in childcare. Nor were those who left easily replaced: Most of the centers that lost staffers could not fill all their job slots by the next year.
The demoralization and turmoil caused by constant turnover stress both the workers who stay and the children. Making matters worse, the new workers are "significantly less well-educated" than those they replace--only a third have bachelor's degrees, as opposed to almost half of the leavers. Pay, say the researchers, is the main issue: Not only have salaries not risen with the rising tide supposedly lifting all boats; when adjusted for inflation, they have actually fallen. A daycare teacher works twelve months a year to earn $24,606--just over half the average salary of public-school teachers, who work for ten months (not that schoolteachers are well-paid, either). Center directors, at the top of the field, earn on average a mere $37,571; the recommended starting salary for elementary-school teachers in California is $38,000. (In France, which has a first-rate public daycare system, daycare teachers and elementary-school teachers are paid the same.) Daycare teachers love their work--two-thirds say they would recommend it as a career--but simply do not earn enough to make a life in the field.
It's a paradox: Even as more and more families, of every social class, rely on daycare, and even as we learn more and more about the importance of early childhood education for intellectual and social development, and even as we talk endlessly about the importance of "quality" and "stability" and "qualified" staff, the amount of money we are willing--or able--to pay the people we ask to do this demanding and important job goes down. Instead of addressing this reality, we endlessly distract ourselves with Mommy Wars. (You let your child have milk from the store? My child drinks nothing but organic goat milk from flocks tended by Apollo himself!) And because as Americans we don't really believe the rest of the world exists, when a study comes along suggesting that other-than-mother-care produces some nasty and difficult kids, we don't think to ask if this is a problem in Denmark or France, and if not, why not.
Two new books of great interest, Ann Crittenden's The Price of Motherhood and Nancy Folbre's The Invisible Heart: Economics and Family Values, point out that there is a crisis of care in America. Women are incredibly disadvantaged when they perform traditionally female work--childcare, housework, eldercare--unpaid within families. (According to Crittenden, motherhood is the single biggest cause of poverty for women.) The free market cannot replace this unpaid labor at decent rates, Folbre argues, because it would be too expensive: Even now, most families cannot afford tuition at a "quality" daycare center, any more than they can afford private school. And men are hardly falling over themselves to do their share--nobody's talking about the Daddy Track, you'll notice. Both writers call for recognizing the work of care as essential to the economy: Top-quality daycare should be funded by the government, like school, because it is a "public good."
Unfortunately, funding public goods is not exactly a high priority of government, which is busily cutting programs for children in favor of a huge tax cut for the rich. These days our main public goods seem to be prisons ($4.5 billion), the drug war ($19 billion, including $1 billion in military aid to Colombia), abstinence education ($250 million) and executing Timothy McVeigh ($50 million, not counting plane tix for celebrity death witness Gore Vidal). You can always find money for the things you really want.
Once again the Bosnian Initiative Frankfurt, a German human rights group, is asking Nation readers to help fund summer camp for Bosnian refugee children. Many readers have become an integral part of this wonderful effort, sometimes going beyond donations to correspond with particular children. $150 makes you a "godparent" and pays for two weeks of camp for a child, but gifts of any size are welcome. Send checks made out to the Bosnian Initiative Frankfurt to me at The Nation, and I will forward them.
One recent Tuesday, members of the literary old guard gathered at the Church of All Souls on Manhattan's Upper East Side to bid final farewell to one of their secret society and to be reminded that the literary agent Candida Donadio, who had died some weeks earlier, was always clear in her devotion to the
written word and the men and women who make it. So much so that she never allowed herself to be pulled off her course by issues of money or power, meanness or shortsightedness. She had represented, over the years, so many of our literature's mega-authors--Heller, Pynchon, Roth and so on. Everything was always personal with Candida. You sensed her Sicilian past the moment you met her, and with Candida business was always the handservant of literature, not the other way around.
I met Candida in 1984. At the time, all of Nelson Algren's novels were out of print, and Algren himself had died just three years earlier. A short story of his that I'd read in a battered anthology compiled by Robert Penn Warren, "A Bottle of Milk for Mother," had knocked me off my feet. A young editor at Norton then, I blazed through the Algren canon. Although the books were out of print, people everywhere seemed to love to say they had known Algren, and two separate short-fiction prizes had been named after him. He was being silenced and cited simultaneously, and to me that seemed like a kind of posthumous torture. So I called Candida, who had represented him, and said I would like to start reissuing his books, which I could arrange through a company called Writers and Readers, where I moonlighted. Candida dutifully called each of Algren's previous publishers--Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, Doubleday, Putnam. None were interested in putting him back into print, so after about six months of demurring she told me yes, and from then on she never ever said no to me. Once she accepted me as a fellow keeper of the flame, I could have proposed running the texts backward and I think she would have given serious consideration to the proposal.
Candida's connection to her authors, and particularly Algren, was devotional both in the sense of requiring an absolute loyalty and in that there was an incense of faith and ritual that surrounded her--and you also, if you were fortunate enough to be on the inside with her. Her youthful partner Neil Olson said that Candida never thought of herself as a literary agent at all, but rather, she said, as a person polishing silver. You could picture her as a goddess disguised as a servant, in order to make sure that the silver--those words written by her clients--not be denied its brightness. For its sense of egolessness in the extreme, and its implied narrative of enhancing the beauty of what is precious, the image is brilliant and pure Candida.
The anecdotes at All Souls were revelatory of how her values increasingly stood out in a changing landscape. Knopf associate publisher Vicky Wilson recalled that Candida used to say sometimes that she wanted to become a Carmelite nun--not a big change, I can't help thinking--and how, at one of their regular lunches, Candida had fixed her large eyes on Wilson and said of a contract, "Can't you do better on the dough?" The interesting thing is that the anecdote suggests mostly they were talking about things other than money.
Robert Stone regaled the crowd with his favorite Candidaism: "She loved to say, 'Trust is good, not to trust is better.'" And then added, "Not that she believed that not to trust is better. Just that she loved to say it." Leaving us in the audience who knew her to be infused one last time with her complexity: Not that she didn't believe that not to trust wasn't better. She knew when to do both. And loved to say it.
Peter Matthiessen added some color along those lines: During a lunch at which Candida had been drinking heavily, she was sitting next to Matthiessen and hardly responded to an attorney's harsh demands during a negotiation over one of Matthiessen's books. At the very end she turned to the attorney and thanked him politely for the pleasure of lunching together, and then raised her voice to say: "We like you but we don't love you. You are not our brother!" And then she countered each of the attorney's points. "She hadn't missed a single thing," Matthiessen recalled, still marveling.
Frank Conroy recalled when Candida and he were both just starting out, he a pimply-faced, 24-year-old unknown, she the receptionist and assistant at a literary agency. At the end of their first meeting, he described how he called up his courage and reminded her that she was never going to make any money off him, then asked, "So why do you want to represent me?" And how she had leaned forward and whispered in his ear, "The prestige!" The complete implausibility of her response had stayed with him all these years. And perhaps too that in the end she had been proved right.
Eden Collinsworth, a young, willowy Hearst executive who had grown close to Candida in the past decade, told a story that was not related to publishing and yet expressed her magic nonetheless. On the evening Collinsworth introduced her to her fiancé, Candida pulled her aside to say, "He has a very interesting mind, but have you looked at his shoes?" Collinsworth had to confess she had not. "Have you looked at his shoes," Candida repeated, "and considered their implication? They're handmade shoes; it's not going to be easy for you."
We miss her. We need more like her.
When the guy I'm seeing, Dan, invited me to the Wayne Wang film The Center of the World I felt sure it would lead to a hot night. The movie poster featured a stripper licking a lollipop and I'd heard that Wang had collaborated on the script with novelist Paul Auster. The film sounded sexy but erudite, kind of like me. "I hear it's a feminist, indie Pretty Woman," Dan said, "and supposedly the sex is real." That was enough to catapult me into a seat, but after ten minutes watching the pretentious, digital-video-shot claptrap the only emotion swirling in me was disgust at Wang's fake take on female power.
Bridget Jones's Diary, on the other hand, was low on my list of movie priorities. Though like every other single woman I'd enjoyed the book, I just didn't get the Renéeacute;e Zellweger appeal, and I was convinced the adaptation would be glossy and corny. So when my friend Emily asked me to accompany her, I agreed only in the interest of female bonding. As Emily happily gobbled Whoppers and laughed at every joke, I rolled my eyes and shook my head. But by the time I got to Renée lip-synching to "All By Myself" I was a goner, crushed out on the character, hooked on the film. It was so bizarre: The indie erotic drama's take on women proved shallow and unbelievable, while the mainstream mega-hit pretty much got women right. Who knew?
The Center of the World was directed by Wayne Wang and written by Wang and Auster under the pseudonym Ellen Benjamin Wong from a story by Wang, Auster, novelist Siri Hustvedt and multimedia artist Miranda July. The plot revolves around an Internet entrepreneur named Richard (Peter Sarsgaard) who pays Florence, a stripper (Molly Parker), $10,000 to spend three nights with him in a Las Vegas hotel. Florence, an aspiring rock drummer, needs the money but wants to set limits, so she insists that there be no talk about feelings, no kissing on the mouth and no penetration. Each night will begin at 10 and end at 2, and she even finagles herself a Woolfean room of her own.
Night one goes without a hitch--she puts on a tight dress, does an erotic dance for Richard and after telling him she doesn't want to go fast, brings him to orgasm in about three minutes. But by night two, after they go out on the town and share some laughs, the attractive grungers begin to fall for each other, and everything gets confusing. Caught up in a playful moment, Florence kisses Richard on the mouth and immediately regrets it, insisting, "We have to stick to the agreement.... If we don't play by the rules this isn't going to work." The relationship must be kept fiduciary; feelings complicate money.
Yet the couple can't stick to the rules--each gets broken and love quickly erupts into violence. In the denouement Florence lies on the bed, intones, "You want real? I'll give you real," masturbates in front of him (always a pleasant way to say goodbye) and the two lovers part ways and return to their isolated, empty lives.
The film strives for a gritty, intellectual tone--like Wang and Auster's previous collaboration, the pseudo-gritty, pseudo-intellectual Smoke. But despite The Center of the World's low-light, digital-video format and indie-cred cast, the premise is an old misogynistic crowd-pleaser: hooker falls for her john. This timeless tale has roots in Jane Eyre and Pygmalion and was featured more recently in Leaving Las Vegas, Indecent Proposal and the genre-defining standard, Pretty Woman, in which Julia Roberts, America's sweetwhore, similarly insisted on no mouth-to-mouth.
It's a tale men never tire of: You pay a woman to sleep with you but she likes it, meaning you, so much that she wants to keep doing it for free. Whore can morph into wife. It's a tale with a panacean, if twisted, appeal to single women as well: If a guy can fall for a hooker, then gosh darn it, maybe I've got a chance too!
Wang's ending is far darker than Pretty Woman's, and his intent is to show that money is a corruptive, alienating force (though the dot-com crash makes his take seem outré). Director of, among other films, The Joy Luck Club, Chan Is Missing and the chick flick Anywhere But Here, Wang has stated that he is "pro-woman" and that in The Center of the World he wanted "to show audiences how strong this character is, in spite of what she has to sacrifice."
Yet the Florence he has written comes off as little more than a computer geek's wet dream; she moves sexily but doesn't have much to say. Despite one intriguing monologue about having held a job rescuing people from locked cars, she is devoid of nuance. When she pulls at a beer morosely we know she's "numbing herself"; when she applies lipstick we know she's "putting on an act"; when she stands in front of an empty pool we know her "life is hollow." Even her nurselike name is too obvious by half. Furthermore, the guy she falls for seems like such a socially inept loser that it's hard to see even a glimpse of what draws her to him.
In the final moments of the film Wang gives us a shot of Florence pounding away on her drums, but she comes off as bruised and weakened, more vulnerable than before. Though financially richer she is emotionally bereft and may never open herself up again. She doesn't seem strong, she seems wrecked for life.
Bridget Jones's Diary, written by Helen Fielding, Andrew Davies and Richard Curtis and directed by Sharon Maguire, supplies its heroine with a Hollywood ending but also gives her a rich character, a sense of humor and a brain. While Florence is slender, cool and matte, Bridget (Renée Zellweger) is chunky, compulsive and sweaty. Yet she's a striving compulsive sweater, so her plight plays as engaging.
After well-off barrister Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) snubs Bridget at a party, she develops a crush on her publishing-house boss, Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant). Charmed by Daniel's smarmy wit, and status, she moonily gazes at him in his glass-walled office as he types on a flat-screen monitor and takes important calls. When he makes a sexual advance, she doesn't press charges but instead sends him a joking e-mail stating, "How dare you sexually harass me in this appalling manner?" and shows up to work the next day in a see-through top.
The blatant flirting is mined for comedy over sex appeal: She's thwarting the rules brazenly but seems prepared to accept the consequences; she seems less a slut than a kook. Though we know she's flirting with disaster we get the feeling that no matter what happens, she'll pick herself up and brush herself off.
Daniel's entire modus operandi with Bridget is to banter in a mock-sexist way. He calls her "bitch," "orders" her to come to dinner with him, and when she asks if he loves her after some kinky (read: anal) sex, says, "Shut up or I'll do it again." Yet Bridget is no pushover herself; she seems capable of matching him tit for tat. She blows him off the first time he shows interest, calls him a "stupid ass," challenges him when she's suspicious of his behavior and tells him how she feels.
When Daniel inevitably betrays and rejects her, Bridget is forced not only to get over her broken heart but also to get a new job--because she can't stand to be around him. Getting screwed gets her screwed; though she didn't exactly sell her booty, now she's out on it. But before she leaves she publicly humiliates him, in a clever Tootsie-like outburst, cheered on by her female co-workers.
Instead of mourning her state of unemployment she sees her situation as an excuse to look for a better job, and she winds up getting one, as a television producer. Her new boss puts her on the air, she snags (with some help) a good story and is catapulted to celebrity.
The high career status helps to empower her--when Daniel comes crawling back with his tail between his legs, telling her, "If I can't make it with you, I can't make it with anyone," she thinks for a second and then tells him she's "not willing to gamble my life on someone who's not quite sure.... I'm still looking for something more extraordinary than that." In the end she snags her extraordinary man, but, more important, she gets her act together, while Florence in The Center of the World may never do so.
One of the keystones of Helen Fielding's book Bridget Jones's Diary was Bridget's daily, self-flagellating listing of the alcohol, calorie and cigarette units she consumed. While the joke got stale after the first few pages, women related to this tallying, because it anchored its heroine in a sensual life. Like many conflicted single women, Bridget was a hedonist striving for self-control.
The film maintains sensuality as a theme: In almost every scene we glimpse Bridget coming into contact with the physical world. We watch her wriggle into her panties, inhale countless cigarettes, slurp margaritas through a straw, spoon down cereal, wax her pubic area, get dough on her face, fall on the floor. Some of the jokes play off as pale imitations of Lucille Ball but most of them feel hilariously true-to-life.
While most romantic comedies feature scenes in which the heroine falls on her ass (as Janeane Garofalo put it, all a beautiful woman has to do to be funny is fall down a lot or act stupid), the heroines never seem to get a hair out of place in the process. But Renée gets filthier than Julia, Jennifer or J-Lo. Bridget is literally a mess--unlike Florence in The Center of the World, who, in spite of the fact that she has sex in almost every scene, never gets mussed in the slightest.
The one Bridget Jones fluid we don't get to see is blood--that is saved for Glenn Close, whom Bridget, in a postdump slump, mournfully watches in Fatal Attraction on TV. As the quintessential psychotic single gal of the late1980s gets shot to death by her lover's wife, Bridget's eyes pop out of her head in bemused wonder. She seems to be saying, "Is this what's in store for me?" Yet her glance has a slyness that lets us know she's not really worried, that she thinks Adrian Lyne got it wrong, that Fatal Attraction was a piece of crap. The moment works as a comment on the future of women in movies. In the post-Bridget Jones era, women get to mock the misogynistic standbys, not live in them. With Helen Fielding rapidly eclipsing Adrian Lyne as an A-list Hollywood player, perhaps we'll see more films where pithy careerist single gals can meet ends cheerier than a bullet wound.
A VICTIM OF THE WAR ON DRUGS
Your editorial on "The Worst Drug Laws" [April 9] was excellent. It's long past time to reverse the damage done by the war on drugs as well as the damage it has done to the rights of all Americans.
I am 39, have always been gainfully employed and have used drugs recreationally since my teen years. Never had I run afoul of the law or victimized anyone except maybe myself. I am currently doing my third year of a twelve-year sentence on drug charges (Health & Safety Code violation) in a California prison, even though I had no criminal history. The first person I was in a prison cell with was convicted of manslaughter. He was sentenced to six years. Go figure.
There is no way I can convince myself that this should be called a free country. This experience has opened my eyes, though--not to the dangers of drugs but to the dangers of an out-of-touch and out-of-control government.
WHO KILLED KYOTO?
Ross Gelbspan ["Bush's Global Warmers," April 9] quotes my colleague Tom Wigley as saying that my "statements on [climate models] are a catalog of misrepresentation and misinterpretation." The University of Virginia's promotions committee, the dean of the faculty and the provost must think otherwise!
More to the point, however, is that it was Tom's own calculation that killed Kyoto. In 1998 he demonstrated that if all signatory nations complied completely with the protocol, the reduction in realized warming by the year 2050 would be 0.07 degrees C (and 0.14 degrees C by 2100). The cost runs around 2 percent of GDP per year, according to the Energy Information Administration (under the Clinton Administration). That figure assumes the strictures on carbon sequestration and emissions trading that the European Union held us to at The Hague this past November.
The mathematics works out rather simply: If one assumes the UN's mean expectation of 2.5 degrees warming in the next hundred years (a number that is demonstrably a bit too high), Kyoto prevents one twentieth of it (an amount that will never even be measurable with precision), at an enormous annual cost. That's why Bush quit Kyoto. It has nothing to do with an industry conspiracy, which you seem so fond of, and everything to do with Tom Wigley's calculation.
PATRICK J. MICHAELS
Senior fellow, Cato Institute
As his coal-industry funders have long appreciated, Pat Michaels has a special talent for generating much confusion with very few words. Michaels undermines and misstates the projections of twenty-first century warming by the more than 2,000 scientists who compose the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, who project the world will warm from 2.5 to 10 degrees in this century.
Assuming the mantle of economist, Michaels declares the cost of complying with the Kyoto Protocol to be "enormous." In so doing, he ignores the far more professional estimates of the insurance industry. Munich Re-Insurance estimates the coming costs of climate impacts will amount to $300 billion a year in the next several decades. The largest insurer in Britain, CGNU, says that, unchecked, climate change could bankrupt the global economy by 2065.
Finally, in assuming to speak for the White House, Michaels asserts that Bush withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol because its costs are too high for its low goals. In fact, Bush said he withdrew from the protocol because it "unfairly" exempts developing countries from the first round of carbon cuts--and because the "science is unsettled."
If, as Michaels suggests, Bush were to take his guidance from such pre-eminent scientists as Dr. Tom M. L. Wigley of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the United States would be leading the world's efforts to curb global warming--instead of fashioning energy policies designed to plunge us even deeper into a climate hell.
THE WHO (PLAYS A MEAN PINBALL)
Robert James Parsons is incorrect in his "The Balkan DU Cover-Up" [April 9] on a number of counts. He claims that the UN system is under pressure "to keep the lid on DU contamination investigations." Concerned about possible public health consequences of the use of DU munitions and aware of concerns voiced by governments and the public, the World Health Organization has, on the contrary, undertaken a number of activities related to this issue. These include a field mission to Kosovo, a meeting with an Iraqi delegation of scientists on further cooperation and future action, publication of a fact sheet on DU, an appeal to donors to fund WHO work on DU and health in affected countries and a forthcoming monograph on DU.
The WHO monograph on DU was never expected to be released in December 1999. A document of some 200 pages, encompassing a review of a large amount of the best available scientific literature on uranium and DU, this work was undertaken only in autumn 1999. Studies of this scope take more than a few months to complete.
The four-page WHO fact sheet on DU (www.who.int/inf-fs/en/fact257.html) is consistent with all m ajor reviews recently conducted on the possible health effects of exposure to DU and is not contradictory. WHO intended to release its fact sheet together with its monograph on DU, but because of intense public concern about DU early this year, the fact sheet was issued earlier than planned. The fact sheet was never "quietly canceled."
The 1959 agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) does not affect the impartial and independent exercise by WHO of its statutory responsibilities, nor does it place WHO in a situation of subordination to IAEA. The above-mentioned DU-related activities were all undertaken independently by WHO, without any approval or influence whatsoever by the IAEA.
Parsons writes that "WHO radiation safety standards [are] designed for measuring a brief 'one event' source of radiation." In reality, WHO radiation safety standards cover both short- and long-term effects. WHO may conduct a field investigation only if the government authorities request it and if funding is provided by donors. Two such requests were made in January 2001; WHO replied positively and took action rapidly.
DR. RICHARD HELMER
World Health Organization
If WHO was "concerned about possible public health consequences of the use of DU munitions," it certainly has been discreet about making that concern known. The field mission and meetings with the Iraqi delegation of scientists, etc. have all taken place since mid-January, whereas the alarm bells concerning Kosovo were first sounded by Bakary Kante's preliminary assessment in May 1999. The problem in Iraq was brought before the world's public long before that, largely by the Gulf War veterans.
Further, once the Iraqi government had finally made up its mind officially to seek help from WHO (in November 1999), WHO did not respond to Iraq's letter until the end of July 2000. WHO headquarters in Geneva claims that it was misplaced at the Middle East Regional Office. Such a politically hot document, received after years of waiting and conjecture as to just what the Iraqis were intending to do about the DU problem, could never have been simply mislaid without knowledge and approval from WHO's highest echelons.
The WHO monograph is not a monograph at all, as acknowledged by Ann Kern, WHO's executive director for sustainable development and healthy environments, but a review of some of the available literature on the chemical and radiological toxicity of uranium, obviously selected for its lack of treatment of the subject of nonsoluable, ceramic-like DU particles--the source of the threat to health and the environment.
The fact sheet was, indeed, not canceled. But an earlier one was. WHO did it quietly, with the result that I, as well as a Dutch journalist, Saskia Jansens, a longtime veteran of DU inquiry, kept having to ask about its progress until Gregory Hartl, WHO's principal spokesman, finally admitted that it would never see the light of day. We did not go quietly upon hearing the news in August 1999, barely two months after the fact sheet had been announced as in the works. The result was an announcement that WHO was undertaking a "generic" study of DU, to be focused exclusively on its chemical toxicity as a heavy metal and thus entrusted to the direction of Barry Smith, a geologist. The study has been rechristened a "monograph."
Dr Michael Repacholi, WHO coordinator for occupation and environmental health, sustainable development and healthy environments, announced at a January press conference at UN headquarters here in Geneva that the scope of the generic study had been extended to include radiological toxicity and also stated that in addition to a review of literature, there would be actual testing of people, such as urine analysis. He then claimed, in an April 26 press conference on release of the "monograph," that it has always included radiotoxicity and chemiotoxicity, but he admits that it is only a review of literature with no clinical or field studies ever intended.
The four-page WHO fact sheet is at stark variance with the draft of the canceled one. The latter dealt with DU as a source of internal, constant radiation, DU in the form of ceramic-like, inhalable particles that have been let loose on the planet by the thousands of billions where DU munitions have burned on contact with their target. The later fact sheet deals with DU as natural uranium, soluble in the human body, hence easily, often quickly, eliminated.
The 1959 agreement with the IAEA, was, according to my sources, the reason the initial fact sheet was canceled as well as the reason the generic study had to be confined to DU's chemical toxicity until the public outcry, particularly in Europe, made it necessary to deal with the radiation side. Not surprisingly, that radiation side is dismissed by the "monograph" as of negligible importance. Helmer's statement that "WHO radiation safety standards cover both short- and long-term effects" does not address the question of constant, long-term radiation from an internal source. The long-term effects of "one event" radiation are still effects from "one event" radiation, like a bomb blast, and not applicable to the radiation generated by the ceramic-like particles lodged for years in lung tissue.
As for the statement that WHO may conduct a field investigation only if government authorities request it, one may point out that regardless of the huge and increasing mountain of evidence about Iraq, the WHO never requested an invitation to investigate, as it could have done.
The just-released "monograph" is one more stone in the huge wall of denial about the dangers of radiation that WHO and the UN are party to. Since the "monograph" and a recent UN Environment Program report are supposed to be the last word on the subject for a long time, we still have a long way to go before anything serious is done about what WHO perceived as a major threat to the human species back in the 1950s before the IAEA agreement silenced WHO on the subject of radiation and public health.
ROBERT JAMES PARSONS
TICKED-OFF TEACHERS Washington State teachers got a bitter civics lesson this spring, as legislators refused to implement fully plans to reduce class sizes and increase pay for teachers that were overwhelmingly endorsed by voters in statewide referendums last fall. Washington Education Association members responded with a May Day lesson of their own: More than 5,000 teachers, classroom aides, bus drivers and custodians walked out of Puget Sound-area schools in protest. Their one-day strike was followed by walkouts in school districts across the state, and union officials say mounting anger could escalate to statewide action. The new militancy mirrors a rise in teacher activism nationwide, which comes at a time of mounting cynicism about whether the new "education President" will significantly increase aid for schools. Senator Paul Wellstone dismissed Bush's education bill as "a charade" and lashed out at Congressional Democrats in early May for going soft on school-funding issues. "I thought Democrats were going to stand up for resources the right way," said Wellstone, after Senate Democrats sided with Republicans to clear the way for debate on the Bush bill. "I wish we would fight harder."... Teachers are fighting harder at the state level. Education unions across the country provided financial aid in April to the 13,000-member Hawaii State Teachers Association's twenty-day statewide strike, which ended with Hawaii Governor Ben Cayetano's agreement to up teacher pay not by the 9 percent over the next two years he initially proposed but by 16 percent.
WAGE WARS The Harvard Living Wage Campaign sit-in has focused national attention on the burgeoning movement to pass ordinances that lift pay rates for public and nonprofit workers above the poverty level. More than sixty local governments and school boards--from Ypsilanti, Michigan, to New York City--have enacted living-wage ordinances, according to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). Miami Beach; Ann Arbor; Missoula, Montana; and Rochester, New York, have passed municipal living-wage provisions this year, as has the Richmond, Virginia, school board. Living-wage campaigns are currently under way in more than seventy-five other communities, including Pittsburgh, Little Rock and Sacramento--where local unions working in coalition with church and student groups have begun organizing mass rallies to press for city action. Some college-based campaigns, such as the one at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, have already succeeded, while major efforts continue not just at Harvard but at other schools such as Swarthmore, where the Swarthmore Living Wage and Democracy Campaign got a boost from folk singer Si Kahn when he appeared on campus. Living-wage movements have progressed to the state level--in Massachusetts the Senate has passed a proposal to guarantee regular wage hikes by indexing the state minimum wage to the Consumer Price Index. Backed by a coalition that includes the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, the state's Tax Equity Alliance and ACORN, the bill has a passionate supporter in Senate president Thomas Birmingham, a Democrat. He told a state House committee this spring, "We are in danger of becoming a bifurcated society, where the top 20 percent enjoy fabulous riches but many struggle like hamsters on a wheel just to keep their heads above water."
DRUG WARRIOR DISSENT President Bush is drawing fire for his nomination of "do drugs, do time" extremist John Walters to serve as the nation's drug czar. A Heritage Foundation acolyte, Walters quit a Clinton Administration drug-policy job to protest moves to spend more money on treatment. In a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing he dismissed calls for greater emphasis on prevention and treatment as "this ineffectual policy--the latest manifestation of the liberals' commitment to a 'therapeutic state' in which government serves as the agent of personal rehabilitation." How does Walters propose to win the drug war? He's a big fan of stepping up US drug-war interventions in Colombia and Peru. He opposes state moves to exempt users of medical marijuana from drug laws. He calls complaints that drug law enforcement tactics disproportionally penalize young black men one of "the greatest urban myths of our time" and dismisses as "utter fantasy" the claim that jails are packed with drug users who need treatment--despite Bureau of Justice Statistics data showing that 25 percent of America's 2 million prisoners were locked up for drug offenses.... One Republican who is definitely not on the Walters bandwagon is New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, who is pushing a legislative agenda that would make marijuana available for medical use, remove criminal sanctions for possession of under one ounce of marijuana and emphasize sending drug offenders to treatment programs rather than prison. Already, Johnson has signed bills to increase drug-treatment spending by 35 percent and to legalize syringe sales to fight AIDS. Clinton drug czar Gen. Barry McCaffrey once mocked the governor as "Puff Daddy Johnson," but he warns that his successor's positions are too extreme. "Instead of finding a 'compassionate conservative' to lead our antidrug efforts," says Keith Stroup, founder of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, "President Bush has selected a man whose views are regarded as harsh and extreme, even among drug warriors."