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April 23, 2001 | The Nation

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April 23, 2001

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Letters


REFORMER IN THE DELLS

Milwaukee

A postscript to Frances
Fox Piven's excellent "Thompson's Easy Ride" [Feb. 26], on the
elevation of Wisconsin Governor (and die-hard welfare reformer) Tommy
Thompson to Health and Human Services Secretary: Wisconsin's
independent Legislative Audit Bureau recently released a report
showing that Employment Solutions, one of the "nonprofit" private
agencies running the Milwaukee welfare program, spent more than
$370,000 of Wisconsin's TANF [Temporary Assistance to Needy Families]
money on things like staff time and expenses trying to get welfare
contracts in Arizona, and legal fees to determine whether its
lobbying would jeopardize its nonprofit status and staff
parties.

Employment Solutions also made "incentive
payments" averaging more than $9,600 each to eighty-four staff
members in 1999 (a total of more than $800,000). Its director, a
former Thompson aide, got bonuses of nearly $100,000 from 1997 to
'99. As has been its pattern, the state never bothered to set
standards for private contractors' use of incentives--even though the
bonuses came out of welfare funds, not the contractors'
multimillion-dollar profits.

The response of Wisconsin's
Department of Workforce Development? No further investigation
necessary. Meanwhile, Employment Solutions claims to be out of money
to fund portions of the current TANF system, like a loan program for
families in crisis situations. The state itself is running out of
money to fund its childcare subsidy program. It's clear who's
benefited from Thompson's welfare reform.

KARYN ROTKER


Madison, Wisc.

I must respond to
Frances Fox Piven's inaccuracies and bold misinterpretations of the
Wisconsin Works (W-2) program. There is a reason former Wisconsin
Governor Tommy Thompson was easily confirmed as HHS Secretary with no
opposition by Republicans or Democrats. He has made the necessary
investments in people who are making the transition from welfare to
work.

Piven makes a big mistake saying benefits were cut
under the W-2 program, when in fact they have increased dramatically.
In 1996 the state spent $141 million on childcare, transportation and
other employment services for people participating in work programs
under AFDC. In 2001 the state is budgeted to spend well over $350
million.

Is it true that the amount spent on cash benefits
has been reduced? Certainly. That is the whole premise behind W-2, to
help people make the transition from cash assistance to independence
while providing them with the necessary supportive services to make
that change. These investments in supportive services have paid off.
A recent study indicates that 76 percent of people who left welfare
since the inception of W-2 did so because they got a job or had other
income that allowed them to leave public assistance. The department
was also able to obtain the earnings for just over 13,000 of those
22,000 families and determined that 69 percent were receiving between
$34,000 and $38,000 in income and benefits, based on monthly,
annualized earnings.

All indications are that children in
Wisconsin are better off since W-2 began. Infant mortality rates have
dropped and the rate of child abuse and neglect has decreased, along
with juvenile crime rates and domestic abuse incidents. And in
contrast to Piven's statement, foster care placements have remained
stable since W-2 was implemented. She also fails to point out that
Wisconsin consistently ranks among the top ten states for having the
lowest number of children living in poverty.

W-2 is all
about hope--hope for the future and hope for a better life. And it
has succeeded beyond even the most optimistic expectations.

JENNIFER REINERT
Wisconsin Department of
Workforce Development


PIVEN REPLIES

New York City

Fuzzy math and funny numbers. Jennifer
Reinert, secretary of the Wisconsin department that runs TANF, claims
that families formerly on welfare in that state now earn $34,000 to
$38,000 a year. What planet is she living on? Indeed, if we pause
over Reinert's misleading sentences, we can figure out that her
numbers apply to less than one-fourth of these families. Even for
this minority, she appears to be adding in the cash value of such
benefits as Medicaid, which certainly can't buy food or pay the rent
(and maybe adding in their share of missile defense too). More
soberly, we know from other studies, and in particular a study
undertaken by researchers at the University of Wisconsin, that on
average families lose income when they leave welfare, even without
taking into account their added costs in work-related
expenses.

As for all that money spent on work-related
services for welfare recipients, only a fraction of eligible families
are actually receiving help for childcare, for example, and much of
the money is soaked up by the private companies Wisconsin is relying
on to administer its programs.

The bad news about
Wisconsin, and similar "welfare reform" programs elsewhere, is only
beginning to trickle in. The deluge of supplicants for help from food
pantries and shelters is part of the bad news. And in Wisconsin,
there is the alarming reversal in black and Hispanic infant mortality
trends. The state has gone from having one of the best records in the
country to one of the worst. And since Wisconsin was a pioneer of the
new welfare regime, these statistics should be taken as a grim
warning for other states.

I thank Karyn Rotker for the added information in her letter.

FRANCES FOX PIVEN



PORN TO BE MILD?

Chatsworth, Calif.

A significant
part of Mark Cromer's "Porn's Compassionate Conservatism" [Feb. 26]
is based on incorrect information. While the industry list of no-no's
Cromer refers to does exist, its contents were never meant as a basis
for self-censorship of adult videos. As one prominent producer
(Christian Mann of Video Team) explained to me for my article in the
March Adult Video News, the list came about after a group of
XXX producers asked their attorney what sort of material on video
box covers
had caused legal problems in the past, and the list
was the result.

Mann told me (since confirmed by several
other producers) that most of what is on the list will continue to
appear in the videos--including the much-discussed "no black men,
white women"--and most consider the idea that such material would
disappear to be ludicrous. The logic behind the list was that police
rarely bring VCRs when they raid adult video stores; they look at the
box covers before seizing the tape(s) and preparing a
prosecution.

The reason for not censoring the videos
themselves is simple: Just about every item on the list has appeared
in videos from every company for the past twenty years, and
they make much of their income by selling those "catalogue" videos.
While one or two companies have announced plans to recall and edit
certain titles, the vast majority have no plans to do so. However,
when the government comes after the companies with obscenity charges,
it is by no means limited to seizing new releases. As long as a video
is still being sold, it is ripe to be busted. Whether it's a 2001
release or a 1981 release, it can be the subject of
prosecution.

Mann pointed out that the list, by its very
nature, cannot be enforced. Video companies are free to ignore it,
and several have announced plans to do so, while others plan to
follow some of it. My sources within the Larry Flynt organization
tell me that Flynt intends to follow the list's recommendations with
some of his magazines and videos but not others, which my source
assumed would then become test cases for the new enforcement
measures.

There is little consensus among producers on what
to do to protect themselves from possible federal prosecutions, just
as thevideo stores have no strategies for the much more common
prosecutions at the local level. They simply rely on their attorneys
and all too often fail to take the attorney's advice. Sorry to throw
a wet blanket on what seems a very juicy story--Porn Censors
Itself--but the facts simply don't fit the theory.

MARK KERNES, senior editor
Adult Video News--AVN Publications


CROMER REPLIES

Los Angeles

To state, as AVN's
Mark Kernes does, that the production guidelines recently issued by
some of the biggest porn companies in the nation "were never meant as
a basis for self-censorship of adult videos" is both illogical and
simply wrong. The fact is, producers from a variety of major
companies (myself included) were instructed specifically to stop
shooting various sex acts and were provided with guidelines to use
when making adult videos. I don't know what Kernes calls that, but it
smacks of self-censorship to me.

Kernes claims that self-censoring videos is pointless because of the huge number of
older videos already on the market, many of which feature the same
acts now being cut. The fact is, some companies have been butchering
their old, classic titles for years now, in a sad effort to ward off
prosecutions, well before Bush/Ashcroft. A concrete example of this
would be the films Honeypie and Vanessa: Maid in
Manhattan
, both re-edited and released back into the market with
entire "offending" dialogue tracks cut out--thus in some scenes the
performer's mouth is moving in eerie (and pathetic)
silence.

Porn has indeed been censoring itself for years, particularly after the Meese Commission opened fire and highlighted
some of its more fringe elements. Thus, scenes depicting adult-age
incest, rape scenes and other fantasy fare have all been wiped from
the adult filmmaker's palette. One major company--as the election
began to shape up for Bush--cut a scene featuring a pregnant white
female and a black male out of a tape altogether. That's
self-censorship, a pure reaction to fear of being
busted.

The president of another major video company known
for its softer, more mainstream fare openly speculated that he may
fold his firm's line of explicit videos rather than risk legal
problems. That's extreme self-censorship. Kernes is correct when he
notes that some companies will not follow the guidelines and that the
guidelines themselves are being revised even now. That doesn't change
the cold, hard fact--which my article detailed--that the industry has
recoiled with the swearing-in of Bush and the confirmation of
Ashcroft and is scrambling to avoid prosecution. Artistic and sexual
freedom are clearly taking a back seat to financial
considerations.

While Kernes may feel he has thrown a wet
blanket on a juicy story--he has not. He does, however, seem to have
that blanket draped rather snugly over his head, blinding him to the
facts.

MARK CROMER

Editorials

Two senior citizens of the
cold war are chatting amiably over small cups of thick, sweet Cuban
coffee in a Havana hotel. Bob Reynolds, tall and erect in his
mid-70s, made clandestine trips to Havana for the CIA in the early
years of the Cuban Revolution. And in Miami, as CIA station chief, he
was in charge of recruiting thousands of tough young Castro-haters
and turning them into a fighting force to invade Cuba. Comandante
Ramiro Valdes, shorter, a few years younger than Reynolds, has a gray
goatee reminiscent of Trotsky and an iron handshake. One of the most
feared and respected men in Cuba, he was at Castro's side at all the
major events of the revolution and became chief of state security
after the 1959 victory.

Their encounter, counterspy and
spy, was one of many head-turning vignettes at a historic meeting
here in Havana, March 22-25, in which Americans and Cubans from
all sides reconstructed and relived the April 17, 1961, Bay of Pigs
invasion. On the Cuban side for three days of intense discussions
were Fidel Castro and sixty of his top military leaders; the US
delegation included five Cuban veterans of the CIA-trained 2506
Brigade, which carried out the invasion, and White House advisers
Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Richard Goodwin.

"We talked as
professional to professional," Reynolds said of his first-ever
meeting with Valdes. "I congratulated him on the effectiveness of
their system." Valdes had only a few months to organize islandwide
security before the Bay of Pigs invasion. He rejected the notion that
it was a draconian secret police system that doomed the effort. "I
told [Reynolds] it was the total support of the people for the
revolution," said Valdes.

Valdes disclosed that his
security network quickly rounded up 20,000 suspected dissidents in
the hours after the invasion began, squelching the US expectation
that the invasion would set off mass rebellion and sabotage on the
island. Valdes also revealed that Cuba had no intelligence from
inside the 2506 Brigade itself. The Cubans knew from secondary
sources and partly from US press accounts that an invasion was
imminent but did not know the date or landing site. Security on the
island, however, was so tight that according to Samuel Halpern, the
other CIA official at the meeting, the CIA found it virtually
impossible to plant agents anywhere but in rural areas. Halpern was
the CIA's point man on Operation Mongoose--the Kennedy Administration
special project against Castro that included intelligence collection,
sabotage and assassination missions inside Cuba.

Castro sat
across from Halpern and Reynolds, showing no sign of lingering
hostility to the Americans and Cubans who had plotted his overthrow,
even his death. On the contrary, the atmosphere was jovial,
respectful. Castro--who missed not one minute of the presentations
and himself talked in long half-hour and hour stretches--remarked at
one point that it was more than respectful, it was friendly. At a
final banquet, Castro used the word "family" to describe the
conference participants and the frank, intimate exchanges. Once,
José Ramon Fernandez, the Cuban battlefield general at the Bay
of Pigs, called the anti-Castro troops mercenarios, and Fidel
pointedly corrected him. "They're brigadistas," he
said.

During a break, Castro rushed over for a private
conversation with CIA official Reynolds after an exchange in which
the Cuban side had been adamantly skeptical about Reynolds's denial
that the CIA saboteurs had blown up a ship unloading weapons in
Havana harbor in 1960. He shook hands and put his hands on Reynolds's
shoulders, saying, "I don't want you to think we are trying to settle
old scores."

The five members of the 2506 Brigade
delegation were also frequently engrossed in deep conversation with
Cuban officials, although Castro himself seemed to make a point of
keeping them at arm's length. One brigade member, Roberto Carballo,
who runs a hotel in Cancun, Mexico, has a long record of anti-Castro
activities, including being named in newly declassified US documents
as a suspect in terrorist activities in the 1970s.

The
strongest disagreements at the meeting were among the members of the
US delegation over the actions of President Kennedy and his
Administration. Kennedy adviser Schlesinger presented a picture of
Kennedy as trapped--inheriting an ill-conceived invasion plan from
the previous Administration. There was the implication that CIA
officials sold Kennedy a bill of goods: Schlesinger said Kennedy
consistently refused to approve the direct use of US soldiers, but
the CIA strategy seemed premised on the conviction that Kennedy would
change his mind in the heat of battle and send in the Marines rather
than allow the invasion to go down to ignominious
defeat.

There was no disagreement on the US side that the
invasion was ill conceived. Brigade member Alfredo Duran said the
United States not only failed to invade but also abandoned the troops
on the beach when it was clear that the invasion had failed. Duran
said privately later that some of the brigade soldiers were so angry
they fired their weapons at the US Navyships waiting
offshore.

CIA official Halpern vigorously rebutted
Schlesinger's scenario. The Kennedys were not so innocent, he
insisted. He described a time shortly after the failed invasion when
Richard Bissell Jr. was called to a meeting with Robert and John Kennedy. "Get rid of
Castro, the Castro regime," Bissell said he was told. Halpern recounted, "I said what does
'get rid of' mean? And [Richard Bissell] said, 'Use your imagination.'"
The result, Operation Mongoose, proposed thirty-two different
measures, including assassination, to get rid of the
regime.

The National Security Archive, a sponsor of the
conference, presented a declassified document that refuted the idea
that the CIA led Kennedy to believe that all would not be lost if the
invasion failed, because the anti-Castro forces could melt into the
mountains and continue guerrilla warfare. The document described a
meeting in which a CIA official told Kennedy explicitly that in the
event of a failure, the only alternative was to evacuate the invasion
force.

Perhaps the most bitter exchange came from brigade
member Luis Tornes, who said he became convinced that the United
States intentionally sent the soldiers to their death in the hope
that world opinion would blame Castro for mass murder. But Castro
didn't cooperate, and instead took the surviving invaders prisoner
and gave them medical treatment. About 120 of the 1,400 troops were
killed in battle. Cuba eventually released all the prisoners after
long negotiations.

For Castro and his men, Playa Giron (as they prefer to call the battle) was an unalloyed David and Goliath victory. But in the United States the battle is still construed as just another episode in a dictator's undemocratic
survival. It is like much else in the tortured conflict between the
United States and Cuba. History and common sense point to ending a
standoff that has outlasted nine US Presidents and become an
increasingly absurd post-cold war footnote. As they did at the
meeting, Castro and his men couldn't proclaim more clearly their
desire for respect from, if not friendship with, the United States.
But it won't happen--not as long as the US Presidents who control the
writing of that final chapter remain tangled in a trap of their own
making, as was Kennedy when he launched the invasion forty years ago.

The Senate's passage of McCain-Feingold was
welcome if only as a comeuppance to the Trent Lotts and Mitch
McConnells who had arrogantly defied popular sentiment by keeping the
bill under wraps for six years. There were several factors that made
the time right for McFein--including a strategic calculation by the
parties that they had reached soft-money parity--but paramount among
them was the prevailing climate of popular disgust with the sale of
the government to the highest bidder. For this the interest groups
that helped raise public consciousness with a steady flow of
statistics and gamy anecdotes about the American way of bribery and
extortion deserve great credit. Even George Bush has mumbled that he
would sign a campaign finance reform bill, which doesn't say much for
present legislative efforts but is a tribute to the critical mass
reached by pro-reform sentiment in the country.

The fact
that the Senate was even able to debate the bill seemed a freshet of
democracy released by a spring thaw. Once the threat of filibuster
and suppression by the leadership was lifted, a feisty debate bloomed
on the floor. During the colloquy ending in the 60-40 rejection of
one "compromise" that would have repealed a 1907 law banning direct
contributions from corporations, some of the fiercest denunciations
of corporate influence were heard since, well, 1907. Although Paul
Wellstone's amendment to allow states to apply public financing
systems to their own federal office races failed, it drew the support
of thirty-six senators and more than seventy major groups--labor,enviro, black, Latino, religious.

But let's not get carried
away. The bill that finally passed does little to alter a system
pushed to the brink of plutocracy by the obscene power of money (note
Bush's tax cut, incorporated in the budget bill the Senate next took
up, so blatantly weighted toward his wealthy supporters). And it bore
little resemblance to the measure John McCain and Russ Feingold
originally proposed, which promised a ban on unregulated soft money
and "bundling" (whereby givers maximize their influence by pooling
their contributions), limits on spending by candidates and political
action committees and provisions for free TV time.

The
struggle to win Republican co-sponsors cost the bill all these
reforms save the soft-money ban. But coming off a 2000 campaign that
saw an unregulated $500 million flush through the political process,
the passage of that ban was a meaningful achievement. Not nearly so
meaningful, however, as it would have been in combination with the
original McCain-Feingold reforms, and even less meaningful after a
final round of compromises doubled "hard money" contribution limits
for individuals from $1,000 to $2,000, increased the amount
individuals can donate to candidates and parties during an election
cycle from $25,000 to $37,500 and limited communication between
advocacy groups and campaigns so much that the bill could be read to
restrict legitimate public-interest lobbying.

These
"poison pills" proved too much to swallow for former McCain-Feingold
backers at Public Campaign, the US Public Interest Research Group and
the Alliance for Justice. Representative Jesse Jackson Jr.
complained, "When you talk to people I represent about campaign
finance reform, the first thing that comes to mind is not doubling
the amount wealthy donors can give to campaigns."

Jackson
and others can raise questions about the compromises that warped the
Senate bill when the House finally debates its version of McFein, but
they'll have a hard time making themselves heard in a body under the
iron thumb of Tom DeLay, poster boy for everything that's corrupt
about the current system. Also, Democratic leaders are having qualms,
fearing that the GOP advantage in hard-money raising may kill their
chances of financing a winning take-back-the-House-drive in '02. Even
if a bill passes, it could be defanged in conference committee,
giving Bush the innocuous bill he really wants to sign. And beyond
that stretch inevitable court challenges.

Reformers should
keep the heat on Congress with a new focus on the hard money system
that constitutes the vast bulk of all campaign dollars. They should
also understand that the real action will continue to be in the
states, where "clean money" bills, which contain the true and only
solution--full public financing of campaigns--are proliferating. Such
laws have already been adopted by Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts
(though statehouse Dems are shamefully trying to eviscerate the law)
and Vermont, and drives to pass them are now under way in
Connecticut, Minnesota, North Carolina and Wisconsin--and
municipalities like Austin, Texas. Americans are well aware that
their system is sick, and the Senate debate over McCain-Feingold has
left them more open than ever to the heroic remedies needed to cure
it.

HOW THE 'MAESTRO' HAS FALLEN

William
Greider writes: While it is not exactly news that Federal Reserve
chairman Alan Greenspanhas fallen from his state of infallible grace,
the New York Times headline on April 2 still caused a rush:
"Suddenly, Critics Are Taking Aim at Greenspan." When the
Times announces this on its front page, it means Icarus is
definitely losing altitude in elite opinion. The article itself was
quite gentle, given the harsh things Wall Street traders and Main
Street investors are saying about the chairman. Nevertheless, the
report will perhaps embolden some members of Congress to begin a
tougher inquiry. Why exactly did Greenspan launch his campaign
against the economy back in 1999, steadily raising interest rates
until the expansion faltered, then swooned? If he was slyly
attempting to pop the stock-market bubble, he certainly succeeded.
But in that case, why did he not use the Federal Reserve's
credit-control mechanisms much earlier to contain the speculation
before it unhinged economic balance? These and other questions about
Fed policy ought to be examined by Congressional investigation, now
that the maestro's baton is broken.

HISS & CHAMBERS: TRAFFICKING IN HISTORY

No sooner did "The Alger Hiss Story" premiere
on the web (www.nyu.edu/hiss) and at a launch party in the Tamiment
Library at New York University recently, than assorted
sectarians--Rupert Murdoch's Weekly Standard and other cold
warriors who have yet to lay down their arms--leaped into the fray.
Why bother with a pro-Hiss website, asked the Standard
(pointing out that the Nation Institute was one of its
facilitators), when Whittaker Chambers's "monumental" book
Witness tells you all you need to know about the case? Hiss's
son, Tony, archivist Jeff Kisseloff and assorted scholars who helped
build the site made clear at the launch their joint goal: a site that
makes the case for the defense but will ultimately be the definitive
depository of documents and scholarly research related to the case.
One of the peculiarities of the post-cold war period is that those
who keep vociferously proclaiming each new archival find the final
nail in Hiss's coffin never seem willing to examine the evidence too
closely. Truth be told, the Standard would prefer to let the
case rest with Chambers, whose farm, his last resting place, was
declared, over the objections of the National Park Service, a
National Historic Landmark by the Reagan Administration in 1988.
Perhaps traffic will decide the matter. When last asked, the Park
Service estimated to historian Jon Wiener that two people a year go
there. Maybe the Hiss website can do better.

NEWS OF THE WEAK IN REVIEW

What was the story of Dan Rather's accidental appearance
at a Democratic fundraiser in Texas doing on the front page of
the April 4 Washington Post? If Rather unknowingly appeared at
such an event, that's news, though perhaps not as big a story as Fox
anchor Tony Snow's knowingly writing for an official GOP website.
Rather was drawn into the appearance by an old friend and by his
daughter, who appears to be considering a political career. Should he
have looked into it more carefully before agreeing to show up?
Surely. Should he have left once he discovered the nature of the
gathering? That's arguable.What's odd, though, is that the
Post believes that in the midst of a crisis with China and a
collapse in the stock market, Rather's appearance at a local
Texas event was front-page news. Could its front-page treatment of
Rather, long a bête noire of the right, be an
effort to distance itself from the "liberal media" the Bush
people have been shunning recently? Much the same kind of sucking-up
by the Post and other papers happened during the Reagan
Administration twenty years ago, and believe us, it's no prettier
today.

We're pleased to announce that Jamie Lincoln Kitman's special report, "The Secret History of Lead" (March 20, 2000), has been awarded the Investigative
Reporters and Editors' highest honor for 2000: the IRE Medal. The
IRE, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of
investigative reporting, singled out Kitman's revelations of
continuing sales of leaded gas to the Third World after it was banned
in the United States in 1986 and said that his report "reads like a
classic turn-of-the-century muckraking piece.... The research
manifested here is nothing short of breathtaking." The article was
made possible by a grant from the Investigative Fund of the Nation
Institute.

In the words of
the old folk song, "When will they ever learn?" David Horowitz,
former radical who these days is in the business of promoting (1)
neoconservatism and (2) David Horowitz (although not necessarily in
that order), has done it again. A few weeks ago he placed an ad in
the Brown Daily Herald denouncing--in deliberately offensive
terms--the idea that black descendants of slaves should be paid
reparations. Instead of ignoring, answering or ridiculing the ad,
Brown student activists denounced the Herald and trashed most
of its 4,000-copy press run, thus giving the demagogic provocateur
undeserved high ground.

As our own Katha Pollitt put it in
a cyberconversation, "Publish it and then attack it, mock it, parody
it, I say. Use it as a springboard for a teach-in, discuss it in
classes.... Shutting down a discussion doesn't change anyone's mind
or introduce any new information--and the views Horowitz expresses
are held in whole or in part by many people. What message do they get
if a paper won't print them? That the real truth is too threatening
to publish. It's always better to promote speech than to silence
people. Force those views out into the open and have a debate. That's
how minds are changed."

As far as advertising policy goes,
we believe that it is the prerogative of the Herald and the
other college papers targeted by Horowitz to accept or to turn down
ads they consider repellent, at their discretion. At The
Nation
, however, we start with the presumption that we will
accept advertising even if the views exposed are repugnant to some of
the editors. In fact, we go out of our way to refrain from making a
judgment based on our opinions of the views expressed in an
advertisement.

We are comfortable with this
policy--although it occasionally discomforts some of our
subscribers--because our editors are free to attack the views of our
advertisers and often do; because for the reasons Katha lists above,
we have confidence that our readers are more than capable of
determining for themselves what views to accept or reject; and
because we accept advertising not to further the views of The
Nation
but to help pay the costs of publishing.

We
recognize that other papers can reasonably come to a different
conclusion about which ads go over the line, but in this case our
view is that if a right-wing propagandist like Horowitz is foolish
enough to put his money at our disposal, then it would be foolish for
us to turn it down.

The arrest in France of James Kopp, the accused assassin of Buffalo obstetrician Barnett Slepian, could not have come at a more awkward time for the Bush Administration. Bush inaugurates himself by blocking aid to international family planning agencies and by nominating antiabortion fanatics to run the Justice Department. Then fugitive Kopp surfaces to remind the American public of where
these bottom-line commitments lead.

In 1994 Bill Clinton's Justice Department initiated a grand jury inquiry into
abortion-clinic violence. But FBI agents grumbled that Justice was
wasting their time, and the grand jury folded its tent in January of
1996 after finding no evidence of a national conspiracy. Five years
later, it's clear that Kopp--accused in three nonfatal shootings in
Canada and the United States in addition to the murder of Dr.
Slepian--had a lot of help, the kind of help for which "conspiracy"
is the operative legal term.

So far, investigators have
arrested two antiabortion felons in Brooklyn--Dennis Malvasi,
convicted of a 1987 clinic bombing in Manhattan, and Loretta Marra,
who blockaded clinics with Kopp. They sent Kopp money and stayed in
touch with him through a Yahoo drop box. The circle is almost
certainly wider--and transnational. For the past year Kopp lived in
Ireland, bunking in hostels and mingling with the fundamentalist
breakaway Catholic sect founded by excommunicated Archbishop Marcel
Lefebvre. Kopp managed to acquire at least two separate Irish
identities and passports for himself and a blank Irish passport and
birth certificates for his New York friends, and someone in Ireland
vouched for his references for an employment agency--all of which
makes it obvious that his was not a solo act. Ireland's right-to-life
leaders deny any connection to the assassin, and it's entirely
possible that his support network was American. In the last
half-decade US antiabortion campaigners have moved on Ireland in a
big way, introducing a militancy previously unknown
there.

Speculation necessarily swirls around the followers
of the Rev. Patrick Mahoney of the Washington-based Christian Defense
Coalition. In March 1999 Mahoney led a brigade of forty Americans to
Dublin, where they occupied the offices of the Irish Family Planning
Association and taught their Irish counterparts all-American
blockade-and-intimidation techniques. Indeed, only a day before
Kopp's arrest, Mahoney was slapped with an Irish court injunction
prohibiting him from further harassing the IFPA. Mahoney had tolerant
words in 1997 after Slepian's shooting, and responded to Kopp's
arrest by warning the Bush Administration not to "harass and
intimidate the pro-life movement."

It can't escape notice
that the Kopp conspiracy began to unravel just as the Court of
Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturned a jury verdict and
injunction on the Nuremberg Files website, which displays
photos of abortion providers and a list with a strike through the
names of assassinated physicians. On March 28 the Ninth Circuit
unanimously found, in the words of presiding Judge Alex Kozinski,
that if the website's rhetoric "merely encouraged unrelated
terrorists," it is protected by the First Amendment.

Kate
Michelman of NARAL called the ruling "a major setback for a woman's
right to choice," and along with Planned Parenthood vowed to pursue
the case to the Supreme Court. To me, Kopp's overdue arrest suggests
a different conclusion. There can be no doubt that the Nuremberg
Files
website contributed to a climate of fear--that the website
is the theory and James Kopp's rifle is the practice. Yet the
emerging facts of Kopp's flight make it clear that keeping The
Nuremberg Files
off the Internet would not have saved Dr. Slepian
or brought the shooter to justice. The important thing is to
investigate real antichoice gangsterism, real shootings, real escape
routes. The important thing is to insist on the continuity between
Kopp and the "respectable" antiabortion agenda of the White House.
Bush and Ashcroft have been assiduously working to accomplish by
executive order what Kopp attempted with a gun: diminishing the
availability of abortion and thus undermining a civil right. This,
and the climate of fear generated by clinic violence, must be fought
with politics, not censorship. And the recent rise of police
surveillance aimed at antiglobalization protesters only makes more
clear the danger of prosecuting an inflammatory publication as if it
were the hand that smashed the windowpane or pulled the
trigger.

Kopp's arrest is full of ironies. The most
antichoice Attorney General in US history is now stuck prosecuting an
antichoice assassin; an Administration wild about the death penalty
must forgo capital punishment to secure Kopp's extradition because
France opposes it. It would be a final, and tragic, irony if
prochoice advocates permit antiabortion thugs like Mahoney to play
the martyr--drawing attention away from the very violence they have
nurtured.

Columns

Stop the Presses

Remember the term "useful idiots"? Those were the well-meaning leftists who during the cold war couldn't distinguish between the beautiful dream of communism and the murderous reality of Soviet Stalinism. They blinded themselves to tyranny and weakened the democratic left by inviting redbaiting demagogues like Joe McCarthy and Roy Cohn to tar anticommunist socialists and liberals with the same Stalinite brush.

In the case of 28-year-old James Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of Star TV and the scion and possible heir to Rupert's massive media empire, the term "idiot" may be overly generous. Speaking to a Milken Institute gathering in Los Angeles shortly before the Chinese captured a US spy plane and held its crew, the onetime college dropout sang the praises of the Communist oppressors in Beijing in terms that might have made Mao blush. He attacked the global media for its coverage of Chinese human rights abuses, insisting that "destabilizing forces today are very, very dangerous for the Chinese government." He instructed Hong Kong's brave champions of democracy to accept the fact of an "absolutist" government. And he all but endorsed the persecution of what he called the "dangerous" and "apocalyptic" Falun Gong religious movement, which "clearly does not have the success of China at heart." (Some 150 adherents of the group have died in police custody and another 10,000 are currently in prison.)

The reason "idiot" is overly kind is that young Murdoch need only read his own publications to learn the truth about his beloved tyrants. According to the editors of the Murdoch-owned Weekly Standard, "China is the largest and most powerful despotism in the world" and a military threat to the United States, while "Communists, who cannot justify their dictatorial rule except by appeal to 'stability,' must inevitably behave this way: constantly inventing new 'instabilities'--and crushing them."

When I called various journalistic members of the conservative Murdoch fraternity--few of whom are ever at a loss for words--none were available to respond to the comments of young James. Over at Fox News, network president Roger Ailes and talk-show hosts Tony Snow and loudmouth Bill O'Reilly were unavailable. Mum was the word for New York Post editor in chief Ken Chandler as well as for Bob McManus, who edits the paper's editorial page, usually eager to scream at the top of its (metaphorical) lungs at the slightest provocation. Over at the Weekly Standard, editor and publisher William Kristol, executive editor Fred Barnes and senior writer Christopher Caldwell were apparently too busy to return my calls. Opinion editor David Tell was kind enough to point me to the article containing the above quotes but would say nothing about the magazine's proprietors. Senior editor and bestselling swami David Brooks was all charm and no information: "I'm sorry. I'm having some computer problems. At first I thought you were asking me to comment on the son of my employer. Must be some garble."

The issue is not exactly a new one for News Corp. employees. Rupert Murdoch has been the nation's most notorious Communist fellow-traveler for years. In hopes of protecting his considerable investments in China, he has proved willing to kick the BBC off his satellite network, cancel unfavorable books and pay millions to publish unreadable propaganda to curry favor with China's Communist gerontocracy.

Nevertheless, David Tell is correct when he points out that the Standard's editorial independence on the issue speaks for itself--and speaks pretty well. As Michael Kinsley has explained, it's just plain stupid to wait around for Slate "to give Microsoft the skeptical scrutiny it requires as a powerful institution in American society," and so it would be wishful thinking to hope that Standard editors would apply the same nasty epithets they like to trot out for honest liberals to the lying commie-boot-lickers who sign their checks. (Though now might be a good time for the magazine to apologize for the reprehensible slander it published, under Robert Novak's byline, attacking posthumously the good name of I.F. Stone, who denounced Soviet atrocities at considerable personal cost before most of its editors were born and, on his deathbed, defended the democratic dissidents in Tiananmen Square.)

Writing on his vanity website, Andrew Sullivan tsk-tsks the Standard's refusal to condemn the Murdochs, insisting, "A good test of any magazine's editorial integrity is its ability to criticize its proprietor." By that standard, The Nation should be Sullivan's favorite magazine, but I'll buy him dinner at Le Cirque if he can unearth a New Republic editorial attacking owner Marty Peretz's comically obsessive Jewish xenophobia and anti-Arab racism. And of course one doesn't read much about the dangers of cults that prey on confused young teenagers in the pages of Sun Myung Moon's Washington Times. Even Inside.com, which specializes in Talmudic real-time coverage of exactly the kind of deal its parent company, Powerful Media, recently made with Steven Brill, preferred to see its competitors break the news before publishing David Carr's terrifically Talmudic coverage of it.

When it comes to their owners, most publications find silence to be golden. The problem is not so much with the somewhat defensible hypocrisy of the Weekly Standard editors but with the larger picture it paints of the conservative movement. Whatdoes it mean for the right that its most generous patron openly sides not only with Communist totalitarians but also with the regime that these same conservatives have identified as the number-one security threat to the United States? The Wall Street Journal editorial page has acquitted itself honorably in this regard, publishing a blistering attack on the Murdochs by its deputy editorial features editor, Tunku Varadarajan. But where are the Buckleys and Bennetts of yesteryear? Has the fact that Murdoch shells out salaries for virtually the entire Podhoretz family managed to shut them up as apparently no other force in the universe can? Are the rabbis of redbaiting now stamping Communism kosher for Passover? Why is it so hard to find a good right-wing anti-Communist when you finally need one?

To put it all in a nutshell, come
the month of May Edward Said won't be traveling to Vienna; Susan
Sontag will be traveling to Jerusalem.

It's a backhanded
tribute to his effectiveness as a spokesman for the Palestinian cause
that the attacks on the Palestinian Said have, across the past couple
of years, reached new levels of envenomed absurdity.

The
latest uproar over Said concerns a trip to Lebanon he made last
summer, in the course of which he and his family took the opportunity
to travel to the recently evacuated "security zone" formerly occupied
by Israeli forces. First they visited the terrible Khiam prison and
torture center, then a deserted border post, abandoned by Israeli
troops and now crowded with festive Lebanese exuberantly throwing
stones at the heavily fortified border.

In competitive
emulation of his son, Said pitched a stone and was photographed in
the act. You can scarcely blame the man for being stunned at the
consequences. Throw a rock at a border fence, and if you are a
Palestinian called Edward Said you'll be the object of sharply
hostile articles about the infamous stone toss in the New York
Times
, face a campaign to be fired from your tenured job at
Columbia University and--this is the latest at time of writing--be
disinvited by the Freud Society and Museum in Vienna from a
longstanding engagement to deliver the annual Freud lecture there in
May. (To its credit, Columbia stands by him and says the calls for
his removal are preposterous and offensive.)

What, aside
from being an articulate Palestinian, is Said's crime? As he himself
has written, while "I have always advocated resistance to Zionist
occupation, I have never argued for anything but peaceful coexistence
between us and the Jews of Israel once Israel's military repression
and dispossession of Palestinians has stopped." Perhaps that's the
problem. Said makes a reasoned and persuasive case for justice for
Palestinians. He doesn't say that the Jews should be driven into the
sea. These, not the fanatics, are the dangerous folks.

Let
us now contemplate the role of Susan Sontag, another public
intellectual of large reputation. You can pretty much gauge a
writer's political sedateness and respectability in America by the
kind of awards they reap, and it is not unfair to say that the
literary and indeed grant-distributing establishment deems Sontag
safe. Aside from the 2000 National Book Award for her latest novel,
In America, she received in 1990 the liberal imprimatur of a
five-year (and richly endowed) "genius" fellowship from the MacArthur
Foundation, which once contemplated giving just such a fellowship to
Said but retreated after furious protests from one influential Jewish
board member, Saul Bellow.

Now Sontag has been named the
Jerusalem Prize laureate for 2001, twentieth recipient of the
biennial award since its inauguration in 1963. The award, worth
$5,000, along with a scroll issued by the mayor of Jerusalem, is
proclaimedly given to writers whose works reflect the freedom of the
individual in society.

Sontag was selected by a
three-member panel of judges, comprising the Labor Party's Shimon
Peres (now Ariel Sharon's foreign minister) and two Hebrew University
professors, Lena Shiloni and Shimon Sandbank. Peres approvingly cited
Sontag's description of herself: "First she's Jewish, then she's a
writer, then she's American. She lives Israel with emotion and the
world with obligation." When notified of her latest accolade,
Sontag's response was, "I trust you have some idea of how honored and
moved, deeply moved, I am to have been awarded this year's Jerusalem
Prize." Sontag is now scheduled to go to Jerusalem for the May 9
awards ceremony.

Why dwell on the mostly tarnished currency
of international literary backslapping? I do so to make a couple of
points concerning double standards. American intellectuals can be
nobly strident in protesting the travails of East Timorese, Rwandans,
Central American peasants, Chechens and other beleaguered groups. But
for almost all of them the Palestinians and their troubles have
always been invisible.

It can scarcely be said that Sontag
is a notably political writer. But there was an issue of the 1990s on
which she did raise her voice. Along with her son, David Rieff,
Sontag became a passionate advocate of NATO intervention against
Yugoslavia, or, if you prefer, Serbia. On May 2, 1999, Sontag wrote
an essay in the New York Times Magazine, "Why Are We in
Kosovo?" urgently justifying NATO's intervention. "What if the French
Government began slaughtering large numbers of Corsicans and driving
the rest out of Corsica...or the Italian Government began emptying
out Sicily or Sardinia, creating a million
refugees...?"

Sontag cannot be entirely unaware of a
country at the eastern end of the Mediterranean from which at least
750,000 residents have been expelled. She has always been
appreciative of irony. Does she see no irony in the fact that she,
assiduous critic of Slobodan Milosevic, is now planning to travel to
get a prize in Israel, currently led by a man, Ariel Sharon, whose
credentials as a war criminal are robust? Does Sontag see no irony in
getting a prize premised on the recipient's sensitivity to issues of
human freedom, in a society where the freedom of Palestinians is
unrelentingly suppressed? Imagine what bitter words she would have
been ready to hurl at a writer voyaging to the Serb portion of
Sarajevo to receive money and a fulsome scroll from Radovan Karadzic
or Milosevic, praising her commitment to freedom of the
individual.

Yet here she is, packing her bags to travel to
a city over which Sharon declares Israel's absolute and eternal
control--in violation of international law--and whose latest turmoils
he personally provoked by insisting on traveling under the protection
of a thousand soldiers to provoke Palestinians in their holy
places.

When the South African writer Nadine Gordimer was
offered the Jerusalem Prize a number of years ago, she declined,
saying she did not care to travel from one apartheid society to
another. But to take that kind of position in the United States would
be a risky course for a prudent intellectual. Said knows he lives in
a glass house, yet he had the admirable effrontery to throw his
stone.

McCain and Feingold seem to have Big Mo:
Soft money could now face a total ban.
Which means some folks who've bought pols in the past
Need now select a different purchase plan.

scheer

It's cherry blossom time in Washington, DC, and there's no better
place to retreat from the lobbyist feeding ground that is called the US
Congress than the Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorial. The stench of the
trough recedes, and the optimism of spring is restored as one wanders
down the beautiful Cherry Walk along the Tidal Basin to absorb the words
of a president who cared so deeply about putting government at the
service of all.

At the Capitol, the avarice of the over-represented rich and powerful
is on sickening display as their lackeys rush to pass the current
President's plans to stuff the pockets of their kith and kin. This is a
President who never learned that it's possible to be a leader born of
privilege and yet be absorbed with the fate of those in need.

Not so Roosevelt, a true aristocrat whose genuine love of the common
man united this country to save it during its most severe time of
economic turmoil and devastating world war. At the memorial, his words,
cut in granite, are a stark reminder of how far greed has taken us from
the simple but eloquent notion of economic justice that sixty-four years ago a
President dared embrace:

"The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance
of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who
have too little."

Does George W. Bush not know there are tens of millions in this
country, many of them children, who have too little? Is it conceivable
that he believes the best way to serve them is a tax cut whose main
purpose is to add to the abundance of the super-rich? We may no longer be
the nation that Roosevelt saw as one-third "ill-housed, ill-clad,
ill-nourished," but we are uncomfortably close.

Rich people can be progressive, as Roosevelt so admirably
demonstrated, but only when they step out of their own too-comfortable
skins, a feat Bush the Younger has yet to attempt. Roosevelt, like Bush,
was raised by servants, but for FDR they became the constituency he most
faithfully served.

Objecting to Bush's feed-the-rich policies is not class warfare, as
GOP reactionaries claim, but rather a rational attempt to save capitalism
from its worst excesses. That's why more than 800 wealthy Americans, led
by Warren Buffet and Bill Gates Sr., have risen to decry the proposed
repeal of the estate tax, which would further exacerbate class
differences based on accident of birth.

Even more obscene is the Bush administration's attempt to blame
environmental safeguards for poverty when it's the poor who are stuck
with toxic land and foul water. Roosevelt was ever mindful, as this
administration isn't, that it's counterproductive when economic crisis is
used as an excuse to rape the environment. In his message to Congress on
January 24, 1935, Roosevelt warned: "Men and nature must work hand in hand.
The throwing out of balance of the resources of nature throws out of
balance also the lives of men."

That was said in the midst of the country's deepest economic
depression, yet now we have the sight of our presumed leader smashing
environmental safeguards when faced with the prospect of a mild
recession.

Finally, what Roosevelt and his saintly wife, Eleanor, brought to
Washington, and which Bush seems bent on denigrating, is a respect for
government as an indispensable ally to our betterment. At the FDR
memorial, one is overwhelmed by the breadth of Roosevelt's achievements
in putting the power of the government at the service of the people.
Projects that transformed this nation, ranging from the Tennessee Valley
Authority, which brought electricity to vast darkened swaths of this
nation, to the Works Progress Administration, which treated artists not
as a suspect and subversive cadre but rather as an indispensable source
of light in the bleakest of times.

There was no rural hovel or city ghetto beyond the reach of FDR's
government. When Roosevelt died, I was a young kid living in a Bronx
tenement being raised by a family of often unemployed workers, until
Roosevelt became our salvation. Millions like us, of all ages, poured
into the streets at the news of FDR's death, crying from love but also
from fear that the man who had stood between us and the abyss was no
longer our President.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, who lived a few subway stops from my
neighborhood, and who was in my class at the publicly funded City College
of New York, has written in his autobiography that he and his family felt
the same way about Roosevelt. Maybe he should take his boss down to the
FDR memorial some quiet night to consider a new role model.

Articles

A question for the new millennium: When there is no paper, is there still a
paper trail? Answer: Not unless you vacuum the Internet and print
the download.

In the clash over tax cuts and social programs, much of what progressives need to do is defensive. But it would be a mistake not to float new ideas, too.

A tough bill is falling victim to the power of warlords and corporations. Meanwhile, diamond sales pay for wars that are killing thousands in Africa.

Cities that say no to new malls and superstores are enjoying regeneration.

A glance back to 1964 shows that predictions are always wrong and always political--and that the left's possibilities may be greater than they seem.

Books & the Arts

Music

Courtney Love's plea to fellow recording artists
to join her in the creation of a new musicians' guild, printed below,
is the latest blow to the beleaguered "Big Five

Book

Although it may come as a surprise to the
rest of America, people from Hawaii also feel the urge to get away
from it all--even the inhabitants of a paradise theme park can get
bored. Driven by "rock fever," economic need or ambition, they leave
the islands, and one of their favorite destinations is Las
Vegas, which receives thousands of Hawaii gamblers on
packaged tours each year. Others retire there to escape the
prohibitively high cost of living at home, where cereal, milk and
other staples cost fully twice as much as on the mainland.

Sonia Kurisu, the wise-talking heroine cruising for a
breakdown in Lois-Ann Yamanaka's Father of the Four Passages,
has been trying for seven years to complete her bachelor of fine arts
at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, while supporting herself as
Tiger Lily Wong, the lounge singer. She could perfectly well have
done this back home, where there are universities and no lack of
opportunities in the sleazy clubs of Waikiki or Hilo, her hometown,
where her mother's a hostess in a golf-course bar. But Sonia had
dreams of broader horizons, inspired in part by her wandering father,
an MIT grad who for twenty years has sent poetic letters to his
daughter from Amsterdam, Italy, China and Thailand, about how little
girls remind him of Sonia and his love for her. (He just can't be
with her!) However, bad boyfriends and a serious drug and alcohol
habit have impeded her academic progress, and the book opens with her
latest challenge: single motherhood.

It's a terrible
shock. Sonia's breasts are engorged and painful, and she's angered by
the crying of the baby, Sonny Boy. "I hit his face, squeeze his
cheeks inside my closing palms. Distort his cry with my hands on his
face and throat, until the sound makes me laugh." His baby bottles
and dirty diapers lie strewn around with the adults' mess, "warm beer
in tilting bottles, a glass of merlot with lip-gloss rainbows on its
surface, Percodan and Prozac strewn on the countertop, glass pipes,
amber vials, burnt pieces of tinfoil," with mom's lover, Drake,
"passed out on the futon in the arms of a girl/boy drug
friend."

Sonia regrets having borne Sonny Boy, excoriates
herself for her decision, motivated by religious guilt over past
abortions: "I vanished three babies. A hospital's toxic-waste bin, a
dirty toilet at Magic Island, and a jelly jar buried outside my
bedroom window." At the same time, she feels ashamed and scared by
her rages, and desperately wants to be a good mother; she just
doesn't know how. For this she blames her own mother, Grace, who
"vanished" 12-year-old Sonia and her sister from Hilo to live with
their grandmother in a Honolulu slum. Instead of the absolution Sonia
hoped for, though, the baby's birth summons the ghosts of her three
unborn sons, whom she calls Number One, Number Two (Turtle Boy) and
Jar. She sees and hears them everywhere, outside her window, in the
laundromat. They want to know who their fathers are. They seem to
want to live.

Wallowing in self-pity, abusing drugs, booze
and her child, Sonia, a heroine for our times, does not lack appeal.
We see, in flashback chapters, where she comes from and what she's
been up against, and we root for her as an underdog who's scrabbling
for a second chance. Which seems a distant prospect: For a time, all
that stands between Sonia, Sonny and disaster is their neighbor Bob,
an unemployed black Vietnam veteran who seems to have moved in the
day of the baby's birth, and who provides free and loving baby care,
and grocery and laundry services, while Sonia works and occasionally
goes to school. After she kicks out Drake and his girl/boy friend,
Bob keeps watch in her apartment by night. They are joined by her
platonic friend Mark, who helped her abort two of the fetuses (not
his--he and Sonia weren't lovers) and who also came to Nevada for
college. Mark and Bob clean the apartment and try to keep Sonia off
the drugs and booze and out of her destructive relationship with
Drake.

Yamanaka is one of the most prominent members of the
so-called Asian literary mafia of Bamboo Ridge, the Hawaii
journal that first published her work and that of others who wrote in
pidgin, the language of plantation laborers. Yamanaka's fiction falls
short of the beautiful craftsmanship of her peers Gary Pak and Sylvia
Watanabe and of the mythical allusiveness of Nora Ojka Keller's
work.What sets Yamanaka apart, though, is her lack of cultural
nostalgia and her avoidance of gentility, as if she sprang fully
formed from the head of Milton Murayama, along with his 1959 classic
All I Asking for Is My Body. Her plot moves outward from the
small palette to the large: Although devout herself, in her fashion,
Sonia also sees through and rails about the pretensions of her
religious, self-righteous family, who leave bossy messages on her
answering machine. At one point, her whole Hawaii clan converges in
Las Vegas for a religious convention, including her yuppie big sister
Celeste, a leader of a Hawaii Right to Life Coalition chapter and so
much else. The sisters grew up in divergent socioeconomic spheres:
Celeste tested into Punahou School, the elite private prep academy
founded by New England missionaries in 1841; but "slow-minded" Sonia,
who could never make the grade, went to one of the tough public high
schools, Farrington. Every day, they'd take the bus with the other
"Kalihi Valley working-class poor," and "Celeste would hop off...one
block before the manicured school grounds. She didn't want to be seen
with Granny Alma, a lowly custodian."

Another friend from
home--handsome but troubled Jacob, the father of Number Two--comes
through Vegas after his own drug habit derails him from the track to
an astronomy degree. Sonia's dad, Joseph, drops in as well, to see
his grandson. "Something's wrong," he says when he observes the boy.
As Sonny Boy grew, he stopped screaming and Sonia stopped punishing
him. But he also grew real quiet, and still isn't talking as
his second birthday comes and goes. He repeatedly lines up his toy
cars, sorted by color. He pounds his head on the floor. He's
fascinated by his fingers. He spins. When he's diagnosed as autistic,
Sonia first reacts as if it's all about her--that what she'd seen as
her vehicle of redemption for past sins is actually her punishment
from God. A visit from Drake precipitates an overdose, and she wakes
in the hospital to find her mother by her bed, trying to mother her
far too late, in Sonia's opinion. The whole extended family forcesher
to move back to Honolulu with Sonny Boy, where Celeste books
appointments with autism specialists.

Yamanaka remains a
wonderful comic writer, producing perfect-pitch satire of Celeste's
cultivated Punahou speechand frequent lapses into local tita
tantrums. Continuing the exposé of local prejudices that's run
through all of Yamanaka's novels, there are wonderful passages in
which the Japanese-American grandma, mother and aunties, based on
knowledge gleaned from Oprah, Rain Man and the like, blame
Sonia's lifestyle for Sonny Boy's condition. They point to her
association with the kuro-chan, or black person. They say it's
Sonia's bachi, the evil she's brought on herself for the sin
of "murdering" abortion. Still, they begin to cheer up as they
litanize the celebrities afflicted with autistic children: Stallone,
Father Mulcahy from M*A*S*H, Dan Marino, Doug Flutie, etc.
"And I read in Newsweek or maybe Time that Albert
Einstein and Bill Gates were autistic," Grace says.

For
the most part, Yamanaka continues to pull back from the racism she
exposed in Saturday Night at the Pahala Theatre and Blu's
Hanging
(the depiction of a Filipino stereotype in the latter
caused her to lose an Asian-American literary award; she nevertheless
has won other awards, including one from the Lannan Foundation),
though she continues to confront class issues head-on. Many of the
themes in Father of the Four Passages extend those in her
previous work: sibling rivalry; silent and traumatized little
children; struggling and battling parents; tough, compulsive sex;
loud, bad Japanese girls spurning the cultural mores of modesty,
education, respect for elders and upward mobility. After essentially
rewriting the same story in many ways, in this book she's busted
out--and leaving the island venue seems to have refreshed Yamanaka's
work. It's also--remarkably for a writer renowned for her fluency in
local argot--her first book not written, or spoken, predominantly in
pidgin. Everybody here speaks the King's English, more or less. "Both
of you denied your eyes nothing they desired, refused your heart no
pleasure. What futility it all was. What chasing after the wind. I've
just quoted Ecclesiastes, mind you," says Celeste. Some of the
stiltedness of the dialogue can be attributed to her characters'
pretensions, but Yamanaka often stumbles as well, particularly during
climactic scenes, as when Sonia unearths Jar from their Hilo backyard
in order to cremate the fetus. Her father says, "Three babies. Oh,
Sonia, what have you done?" And she replies with words he's said to
her before: "Daddy, you were right. True freedom is holding on and
seizing--" "Seizing what?" "Love--no matter the cost or ferocity of
that love." There are too many such maudlin, confrontational
speeches, a tendency toward in-your-face summarizing that has
encumbered this author's earlier books as well. There's also some
over-the-top sentimentalism: a confusion of Bob with some kind of
angel as Sonia communicates with him telepathically, and a misguided
flirtation with magic realism, including one fetus mailing her a gift
of blue silk cloth.

The occasional overexplicitness and
unevenness in dialogue are themselves outweighed, however, by several
moving aspects of the novel. There's the fine portrayal of Sonny Boy
and his autism, which rings true, and the ways different members of
the family, from his little cousin to his grandfather and Jacob,
tenderly relate to him; we observe how he helps them heal themselves.
In Heads by Harry, a baby's birth solves all the problems in
an easy, obvious way, bonding the jolly family; in Father of the
Four Passages
it happens with far more struggle, ambiguity and
risk.

Yamanaka pulls back from the shallow, sitcom surfaces
of Heads and dives deep. More than in her other books,
images--the remembered Hilo rain on hot pavement, the thousand
gilded-paper origami good-luck cranes that hover around Number
One--link throughout, building into metaphors and registering
emotional impact. Images spring from her father's childhood stories
and his effete but often beautiful letters--he plants flowers and
sends her descriptions of them from all over the world. With a
description of the window boxes of Amsterdam, he once sent a copy of
Anne Frank's diary, which motivated 8-year-old Sonia to finally learn
to read, saving her from special ed. A story he told his children
about hatching sea turtles and a Hawaiian fisherman gives Turtle Boy
his name. The color blue in the midnight sky above Las Vegas is also
a theme in her father's letters, as is the color of the liquid that
surrounds the fetus Jar. In Heads by Harry, the daughter of a
Hilo taxidermist and hunter falls in love with the rainforests along
the flank of the volcano; in Father, Sonia is drawn to the sea
and to the barren, pure moonscape of the volcano's top. In both
books, nature provides the absolution and calm that Yamanaka's
troubled urban characters yearn for.

For a social critic,
which is what Yamanaka really is, the choice of Las Vegas is fitting
in many ways; the place is an apt metaphor for the yearning and
frustration of Hawaii's working poor. It gives them a chance to be
tourists in a desert Waikiki. The biggest lure, of course, is
gambling, the chance to be a high roller, to actually win for a
change. Many Kanaka Maoli, or Native Hawaiians, have immigrated to
Nevada as well as California, Oregon and Washington; the 2000 census
shows that populations of Pacific Islanders and Asians in Nevada has
climbed to 98,692 from 38,127 in 1990. And back home, gambling has
long been a subtext in the ongoing debate over Kanaka Maoli
sovereignty; as has been reported, lobbyist Tommy Boggs has been
helping the Office of Hawaiian Affairs plan to get gambling on
Hawaiian lands. First, of course, Hawaiians have to get their
lands--a process set back by the recent Supreme Court holding in
Rice v. Cayetano, which has put all Hawaiian blood
entitlements on the defensive. And many Hawaiian leaders are leery of
the social ills that gambling would bring. If Hawaii, or a Hawaiian
nation within a nation, gets legalized gambling, then girls like
Sonia will be able to find plenty of bachi at home.

At the other end of the spectrum from Las Vegas sits
another powerful metaphor: snowcapped Mauna Kea, the highest mountain
in the world, if you're measuring from the bottom of the blue
Pacific, which rings the Big Island that its eruptions made. The
extinct volcano is iconographic in Hawaiian culture, a symbol in
songs and chants of motherhood, purity and home. It's here that Sonia
climbs with her father, Jacob and her son to scatter the ashes of Jar
and bring him, and his aborted brothers, peace. In this last scene,
above the treeline and in the rare Hawaiian snow, the sentiment
works. For the rest, Yamanaka's cold-eyed realism is enough, and
readers should revel in her unsparing view of lowlife in contemporary
Hawaii, a side the Hawaii Visitors Bureau doesn't want shown. You've
got to give Yamanaka, and her characters, credit for their compulsion
to go straight where no one wants to go, and fight their way back
out.

Art

Jean Clair, director
of the Musée Picasso in Paris and widely respected both as
scholar and art critic, has for some years been out of sympathy with
contemporary art. When he and I shared a platform in the Netherlands
a year ago, he spoke of a new aesthetic marked, in his view, by
repulsion, abjection, horror and disgust. I have been brooding on
this ever since, and particularly on disgust as an aesthetic
category. For disgust, in Jean Clair's view, is a common trait, a
family resemblance of the art produced today not only in America and
Western Europe but even in the countries of Central Europe recently
thrown open to Western modernity. We do not have in English the
convenient antonymy between goût (taste) and
dégoût (disgust) that licenses his neat
aphoristic representation of what has happened in art over the past
some decades: From taste...we have passed on to disgust. But
inasmuch as taste was the pivotal concept when aesthetics was first
systematized in the eighteenth century, it would be a conceptual
revolution if it had been replaced by disgust. I have never, I think,
heard "disgusting!" used as an idiom of aesthetic approbation, but it
would perhaps be enough if art were in general admired when commonly
acknowledged to be disgusting. It is certainly the case that beauty
has become a ground for critical suspicion, when its production was
widely regarded as the point and purpose of art until well into the
twentieth century.

Though "disgusting" has a fairly broad
use as an all-around pejorative, it also refers to a specific
feeling, noticed by Darwin in his masterpiece, The Expression of
the Emotions in Man and Animals
, as excited by anything unusual
in the appearance, odor or nature of our food. It has little to do
with literal taste. Most of us find the idea of eating cockroaches
disgusting, but for just that reason few really know how cockroaches
taste. The yogurt that sports a mantle of green fuzz--to cite an
example recently mentioned in a New Yorker story--may be
delicious and even salubrious if eaten, but it elicits shrieks of
disgust when seen. A smear of soup in a man's beard looks disgusting,
though there is of course nothing disgusting in the soup itself, to
use one of Darwin's examples. There is nothing disgusting in the
sight of a baby with food all over its face, though, depending on
circumstances, we may find it disgusting that a grown man's face
should be smeared with marinara sauce.

Like beauty, disgust
is in the mind of the beholder, but it is one of the mechanisms of
acculturation, and there is remarkably little variation in our
schedules of what disgusts. So disgust is an objective component in
the forms of life that people actually live. The baby is very quickly
taught to wipe its face lest others find it disgusting, and we hardly
can forbear reaching across the table to remove a spot of chocolate
from someone's face--not for their sake but for our own. What he
speaks of as "core disgust" has become a field of investigation for
Jon Haidt, a psychologist at the University of Virginia. He and his
associates set out to determine the kinds or domains of experience in
which Americans experience disgust. Foods, body products and sex, not
unexpectedly, got high scores when people were queried on their most
disgusting experiences. Subjects also registered disgust in
situations in which the normal exterior envelope of the body is
breached or altered. I was philosophically illuminated to learn that
of fifty authenticated feral children, none evinced disgust at all.
But I am also instructed by the fact that my cultural counterparts
are disgusted by what disgusts me, more or less.

This
overall consensus encourages me to speculate that most of us would
unhesitatingly find the characteristic work of the artist Paul
McCarthy, largely live and video performance, disgusting. There may
be--there doubtless is--more to McCarthy's art than this, but
whatever further it is or does depends, it seems to me, on the fact
that it elicits disgust. It may, for example, debunk a false idealism
McCarthy regards as rampant in Hollywood films, advertising and
folklore, as one commentator writes. But it achieves this just so far
as it is disgusting. It may relentlessly and rigorously probe the
airbrushed innocence of family entertainment to reveal its seamy
psychic underpinnings, to cite another critic. So it may show what
really underlies it all, the way the worm-riddled backside of certain
Gothic sculptures whose front sides were of attractive men and women
were intended to underscore our common mortality. But that does not
erase the fact that maggots count as disgusting. So possibly McCarthy
is a kind of moralist, and his works are meant to awaken us to awful
truths and their disgustingness as a means to edificatory ends. That
still leaves intact the revulsion their contemplation evokes. Disgust
is not something that can easily be disguised. Beautiful art, Kant
wrote, can represent as "beautiful things which may be in nature ugly
or displeasing." But the disgusting is the only "kind of ugliness
which cannot be represented in accordance with its nature without
destroying all aesthetic satisfaction."

"Nothing is so much
set against the beautiful as disgust," Kant wrote in an earlier
essay. So it is all the more striking that McCarthy's commentators
attempt to find his work beautiful after all. I wanted to think about
the question of beauty in your work, an interviewer murmured, to move
from the manifest to the latent. The New York Times speaks of
the "unlikely beauty of the work," adding that it is "not standard
beauty, obviously, but a beauty of commitment and absorption." I have
to believe that McCarthy's perceptions can be very little different
from the rest of ours. He has, indeed, almost perfect pitch for
disgust elicitors, and accordingly making the art he does must be
something of an ordeal. That may have the moral beauty that
undergoing ordeals possesses, especially when undertaken for the
larger welfare. But if it is that sort of ordeal, then it has by
default to be disgusting. As the Gothic statuary demonstrates--or for
that matter, the history of showing the fleshly sufferings of Christ
and the martyrs--artists down the ages have had recourse to some
pretty disgusting images for the ultimate benefit of their viewers.
(Taking on the iconography of Disneyland, as he does, is hardly
commensurate with overcoming Satan's power, but I'll give McCarthy
the benefit of the doubt.)

Something over three decades of
McCarthy's work is on view through May 13 at New York's New Museum of
Contemporary Art in SoHo, and since he is widely admired by the art
establishment, here and abroad, there are prima facie reasons for
those interested in contemporary art to experience it. The disgusting
works have mainly to do with food, but--citing Haidt--disgust is, at
its core, an oral defense. There is no actual gore, though McCarthy
uses food to evoke the images of gore. Similarly, there are no actual
envelope violations; no one is actually cut open. But again, various
accessories, like dolls and sacks, are enlisted to convey the idea
that the exterior envelope of the body is breached or violated.
McCarthy makes liberal use of ketchup in his performances, and in
interviews speaks of the disagreeable smell of ketchup in large
quantities. That is part of what I have in mind in speaking of his
art-making in terms of ordeal. There may or may not be actual shit,
but chocolate is what one might call the moral equivalent of feces,
as you can verify through watching a few minutes of his Santa
Chocolate Shop
. Karen Finley used only chocolate to cover her
body in the performance that landed her in hot water with the
National Endowment for the Arts a few years ago--but everyone knew
what she was getting at.

The use of foodstuffs
distinguishes McCarthy's art from that of the so-called Vienna
Actionists of the 1960s--Hermann Nitsch and Otto Mühl are
perhaps the best known, though the actor Rudolf Schwarzkogler
attained a happily unmerited notoriety through the rumor that he cut
bits of his penis off in successive performances of Penis
Action
. The Actionists made use of real blood and excrement, and
excited at least the illusion of humiliation through such happenings
as that in which a broken egg was dripped into Mühl's mouth from
the vagina of a menstruating woman. They were heavily into
desecration. McCarthy is pretty cheery alongside these predecessors.
His work refers to nursery rhymes and children's stories, and he
makes use of stuffed animals and dolls, often secondhand, and
costumes as well as rubber masks from the joke shop. Some writers
have described McCarthy as a shaman, but he rightly sees that as
something of a stretch: "My work is more about being a clown than a
shaman," he has said. As a clown, he fits into the soiled toy lands
of his mise en scènes, which kick squalor up a couple
of notches, as Emeril Lagasse likes to say when he gives the pepper
mill a few extra turns.

The clown persona is central to
what within the constraints of McCarthy's corpus might be regarded as
his chef-d'oeuvre, Bossy Burger (1991). But he worked
his way up to the creation of this role through a sequence of
performances. In these, he stuffed food in his pants, covered his
head with ketchup, mimicked childbirth using ketchup-covered dolls as
props. In one, or so I have read, he placed his penis inside a
mustard-covered hot dog bun and then proceeded to fill his mouth to
the point of gagging with ketchup-slathered franks. Throughout, food
was placed in proximity to parts of the body with which food has no
customary contact. But many human beings are reluctant to touch food
that has merely been left untouched on the plates of strangers.
Disgust is a defensive reflex, connected with fear, even if we know
the food that evokes it is perfectly safe and edible. That is why
there is so strong a contrast between beauty and disgust: Beauty
attracts.

McCarthy got the idea of using food as the medium
of his performances in the course of searching for a very basic kind
of activity. Inevitably, he had to deal with disgust, which is
inseparable from eating as symbolically charged conduct. It is
understandable that he would stop performing for live audiences (as
he did in 1983) and begin to devise a form of theater to put a
distance between himself and his viewers. I would not care to perform
Bossy Burger a second time, even if I had the stomach to
perform it once. It is perhaps part of the magic of theater that
disgust survives as an affect, even through the video screen. It
doesn't help to know it is only ketchup.

The action of
Bossy Burger transpires in what in fact was a studio set for a
children's television program, and the set--a hamburger stand--is
exhibited as an installation. It shows the damage inflicted on it by
the performance, and looking in through the open wall--or the
windows--we see an utterly nauseating interior, with dried splotches
and piles of food pretty much everywhere. It has the look of
California Grunge, as we encountered it in the work of Ed Kienholz. A
double monitor outside the set shows, over and over, McCarthy's
character, togged out in chef's uniform and toque--and wearing the
Alfred E. Neuman mask that connotes imbecility--grinning his way
through fifty-nine minutes of clownishly inept food preparation. Thus
he pours far more ketchup into a sort of tortilla than it can
possibly hold, folds it over with the ketchup squishing out and moves
on to the next demonstrations. These involve milk and some pretty
ripe turkey parts. The character is undaunted as his face, garments
and hands quickly get covered with what we know is ketchup but looks
like blood, so he quickly takes on the lookof a mad butcher. He piles
the seat of a chair with food. He makes cheerful noises as he bumbles
about the kitchen or moves to other parts of the set, singing, "I
love my work, I love my work." Everything bears the mark of his
cheerful ineptitude. At one point he uses the swinging door to spank
himself, but it is difficult to believe this constitutes
self-administered punishment. He looks through an opening at the
world outside. McCarthy says he envisioned this chef as a trapped
person, but whether that is an external judgment or actually felt by
the character is impossible to decide from the work itself. Viewers
may find themselves wanting to laugh, but a certain kind of
compassion takes over. Perhaps it is a test for tenderness. Whatever
the case, even writing about Bossy Burger makes me feel
queasy.

You won't get much relief by looking at Family
Tyranny
, in which the character uses mayonnaise and sings, "Daddy
came home from work" as he prepares to do unspeakable things to his
children. "They're only dolls" helps about as much as "It's only art"
does, which underscores Kant's point about disgust. Painter
mercifully turns to other substances in its slapstick comedy about
the art world. McCarthy plays the role of art star, wearing a sort of
hospital gown, a blond wig and huge rubber hands, and he has a kind
of balloon by way of a nose. Everyone else in the action--his dealer
and his collectors--wears the same kind of nose, which perhaps
caricatures the hypertrophied sensitivity that exposure to art might
be thought to bring. At one point, the Painter climbs onto a sort of
pedestal as an art-lover kneels to smell his ass. In another action,
he chops away at one of his fingers with a cleaver, and crows OK!
when it comes off. This belongs to the iconography of self-mutilation
that has, since van Gogh--and perhaps Schwarzkogler--become an
ingredient in our myth of the true artist. The Painter's studio is
filled with huge tubes of paint (one of them labeled shit), and he
parodies the Abstract Expressionist address to painting by slapping
pigment wildly here and there, rolling it onto a table and then
pressing his canvas down onto the paint while pushing it back and
forth, all the while singing some version of "Pop Goes the Weasel."
Paint, food and blood serve throughout McCarthy's work as symbolic
equivalents. I could not suppress the thought that Painter is
a kind of self-portrait--there are photographs elsewhere in the show
of an early performance in which McCarthy frantically whipped a
paint-laden blanket against a wall and window until they were covered
with pigment.

It will be apparent that I am a squeamish
person, an occupational impediment for an art critic if Jean Clair is
right about the new aesthetic (for my response to that contention,
see www.toutfait.com/issues/ issue_3/News/Danto/danto.html). I am
not, however, disposed to prudery, though I have a strong memory of a
certain visceral discomfort when I was first writing on Robert
Mapplethorpe's photographs. McCarthy's Spaghetti Man I thought
was pretty funny. It is a sculpture, 100 inches tall, of a kind of
bunny, wearing a plastic grin of self-approval. It could easily be on
sale at F.A.O. Schwarz were it not that the bunny has a fifty-foot
penis, which coils like a plastic hose on the floor beneath him. It
is a kind of comment, but from an unusual direction, on Dr. Ruth's
reassuring mantra for insecure males that Size Doesn't Matter. It
really does matter from the perspective of masculine vanity, even if
Spaghetti Man's organ would put too great a distance between himself
and a partner for any show of tenderness during coitus. So its
message may well be that we should be grateful for what we've
got.

I don't have anything very good to say about The
Garden
, an installation of McCarthy's on view at Deitch Projects,
18 Wooster Street. The garden consists of fake trees and plants--it
was a movie set--in which one sees--Eek!--two animatronic male
figures, one doing the old in-and-out with a knothole in one of the
trees, the other with a hole in the ground. Some ill-advised writers
have compared the work to Duchamp's strangely magical last work,
Étant Donnés, where one sees a pink female nude,
legs spread, sharing a landscape with a waterfall and a gas lamp. The
masturbations in The Garden are too robotic for mystery, and
the meaning of all that effort too jejune to justify the artistic
effort. Cultural Gothic, a pendant to The Garden, is in
the main body of the show at the New Museum. It is a life-size
sculpture of a neatly dressed father and son engaged in a rite de
passage
in which the son is enjoying sex with a compliant goat.
Whether the motor was in its dormant phase or the electricity not
working--or the museum inhibited by some failure of nerve--there was
no motion when I saw it. I thought that an improvement, but purists
might think otherwise.

Book

The
conflict in Kargil took place in the summer of 1999. It was the
fourth war between India and Pakistan since their emergence as
independent nations in 1947, but this was the first that the two had
fought as nuclear powers. A few months after the cease-fire, Bill
Clinton made a trip, the last official visit of his
presidency to the Indian subcontinent. Before leaving the United
States, he described the region he was about to visit as "the most
dangerous place in the world today."

Around the time of
Clinton's visit to India, a small incident took place in a town
called Marcel, near Goa. An Indian schoolteacher named Dharmanand
Kholkar was assaulted because of a question he had posed on a test.
Kholkar had asked his students to imagine a fictional scenario. An
Indian soldier, injured during the Kargil war, finds himself in a
Pakistani hospital. The soldier is surprised to be alive and asks why
he has been shown such consideration. A Pakistani soldier replies
that they are both soldiers and human beings. Kholkar asked his
students to state the moral of the story.

Angered by this
presentation of the Pakistani soldier in a good light, a mob attacked
Kholkar and blackened his face. The attackers were members of the
Sangh Parivar, the fundamentalist Hindu group close to India's ruling
right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, the BJP. This brand of
ultranationalism and sectarian politics has taken root in both India
and Pakistan, a phenomenon explained thusly by the late Eqbal Ahmad
in a book of collected interviews, Confronting Empire: "We are
so-and-so because we are not the Other. We are what we are because we
are different from the West, or from the Muslims, or from the Hindus,
or from the Jews, or from the Christians. It necessarily leads to
extreme distortions."

The distortions that Ahmad is
speaking of are actually part of the official, sanctioned histories.
They claim as casualties not only truth but also the education of
youth in the rival nations when they are taught in schools to hate--a
theme implicit not just in Ahmad's final work but in books by Indian
journalists Praful Bidwai and Achin Vanaik, and the academic Urvashi
Butalia as well, albeit from very different approaches.

A
Pakistani newspaper reported last year that the objectives enshrined
in the federal curriculum for the education of a 12-year-old child
include the "ability to: 1. understand the Hinduand Muslim
differences and the resultant need for Pakistan; 2. know all about
India's evil designs against Pakistan; 3. acknowledge and identify
forces that may be working against Pakistan; 4. demonstrate by
actions a belief in the fear of Allah; 5. demonstrate the desire to
preserve the ideology, integrity and security of Pakistan; 6. make
speeches on jihad and shahadat; 7. guard against rumor mongers who
spread false news and to stage dramas signifying the evils of rumors;
8. understand the Kashmir problem; 9. collect pictures of policemen,
soldiers and National Guards."

Conversely, in Delhi, a BJP
minister responsible for education declared that history textbooks in
India should be "enthused with national spirit." The minister would
no doubt approve of a text on conversation given to students in
Rajasthan. Its example: "Student: 'Master, what has India achieved by
doing the nuclear tests? Was it a right step?' Teacher: 'Undoubtedly
it was correct, India has achieved a huge success.' Student: 'What
success? Economic sanctions have been slapped on.' Teacher: 'Economic
sanctions do not matter. The country should first become powerful.
Only the powerful are listened to. Now we can talk about world peace
aggressively.'"

The case of Dharmanand Kholkar and his
crowd-blackened face was on my mind when I went to talk to Indian and
Pakistani schoolchildren recently. I first went to a school in Bihar,
in India, where I had been a student many years ago; then I traveled
to Karachi, where my wife, a Pakistani citizen, had gone to school. I
asked the students in the schools I visited to write letters to those
that they were being taught to think of as enemies.

In
Patna, a student wrote, "Please be peaceful and love us." Another
student asked, "Why don't you all change the attitude of your mind?
Why don't you all think in a positive way?" In this letter, the
demand for peace was actually an accusation. It found the Pakistanis
solely responsible for war--and for peace. A similar impulse, in
reverse, was at work in a letter written some days later by a student
in Pakistan. That letter began: "Dear Indians, First of all hello!! I
am a Pakistani Muslim and I want to inform you that you are
liars."

I laughed when I read some of the letters--in the
absence of any opportunities for dialogue, it would seem that Indians
and Pakistanis haven't even had a chance to abuse each other
properly. There is some official trade between the two countries, as
well as illicit trafficking in music and videocassettes. But the
common people on both sides have been starved of contact. The result
has been ignorance and suspicion as much as hostility. A boy in
Karachi Grammar School raised his hand and asked me, "How did you
convince your wife that you were not the enemy?" And yet, there is a
shared desire for peace. One of the students in Pakistan wrote in her
letter: "Once I went to the Lahore border, where I saw so many Sikhs
on the other side. I waved to them and they also waved back. They
were so friendly."

The border at Wagah, near Lahore, is the
only entry point by road for the whole of approximately 1,250 miles
that make up the length of the India-Pakistan frontier. What the name
Wagah conjures in the minds of many people in the subcontinent is the
memory of the partition, arguably the largest migration in human
history and certainly the bloodiest. The trains, laden with corpses,
crossed the border at Wagah in 1947. It was also past places like
Wagah that the sinuous human columns had passed on foot: The longest
of these bedraggled columns is said to have consisted of 400,000
people. That procession of the displaced took as many as eight days
to cross a given spot.

The partition is the bloody
underside of independence. It is the name for the division of British
India into two independent nations, one Muslim and the other secular
but predominantly Hindu. It is also the name of the riots and rape
and slaughter that accompanied that division. It is the story of the
people who, just as they were told they were free, also learned that
they had lost their homes. They were now living in a country where,
on account of their religion, they did not belong. The partition was
marked by many tragic ironies. One of them was that the new borders
were lines drawn by a hastily summoned British official, Cyril
Radcliffe, who, writes one contemporary writer, "knew nothing about
India other than the five perspiring weeks he spent
there."

The horror of the partition and even its dark
ironies have long been the concern of writers in the subcontinent,
beginning with names like Saadat Hasan Manto, Ismat Chugtai,
Qurratulain Hyder, Khushwant Singh and others. Despite the currency
of contemporary Indian writing in the West--fueled by a migration of
Indians to cities like London and New York--it is the earlier
migration of writers, from India to Pakistan and vice versa, that
gave birth to independent India's first wave of vital writing. At
their best, the writers of the partition threw into crisis the claims
of the nation-state; they raised questions about the relation to the
broader world of the men and women living inside the new nations'
boundaries. Urvashi Butalia's The Other Side of Silence seeks
a place in that older, somewhat forgotten, canon.

About
50,000 Muslim women and an estimated 35,000 Hindu and Sikh women are
believed to have been abducted during the partition. Where are their
voices in the annals of nationalist historiography? Butalia is a
pioneer in feminist publishing in India. She is especially alert to
the presence--and absence--of marginal voices. Her book, a collection
of oral narratives of the survivors of partition, is supplemented by
meditations on the limits of conventional history. Although its more
academic sections lack the raw power of many of the oral narratives,
and sometimes seem a bit repetitive, the study of popular
interpretations of violence as well as the persistence of memory
makes this book a critical, self-reflective work. It may seem
paradoxical, but the book's freshness comes also from the fact that
it examines wounds that have festered for more than fifty
years.

"To understand what happened in Kargil you have to
go back half a century, to the colossal and premature sundering of
the subcontinent known as Partition," writes Suketu Mehta in his
essay "A Fatal Love." He adds: "The men who killed each other over
Tiger Hill and Drass and Batalik were dealing with the unfinished
business of Partition."

The unresolved issues of the past
in India are locked in the pain of the partition. In Pakistan,
however, the division doesn't loom quite so large. There, despite the
upheaval, there was also the creation of a new identity and a new
nation. Nevertheless, the past as "unfinished business" in Pakistan
can be swiftly conjured with another name. That name is
Kashmir.

In one of the letters I brought back with me from
Karachi, a student wrote: "Kashmir is a Muslim majority province and
India promised that they will occupy Kashmir for some period...but
they betrayed. Can't they see the Kashmiri mothers bitterly crying
before their children's dead bodies?" There were similar passages in
other letters, written in a language borrowed from Pakistani news
reports. One letter, although it didn't take into account the wishes
of the Kashmiri people themselves, took a creative step toward peace:
"I wrote a poem sometime before in which I put forth the idea that
just as our parents and teachers have told us that sharing is a very
good habit, why can't India and Pakistan share Kashmir and make it a
place to visit for everyone?"

One is never far away from
the possibility of sharing, and more important, from the struggle for
peace, when reading the words of Eqbal Ahmad in Confronting
Empire.
Like Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky, Ahmad was a great
teacher and a luminary of the academic left in the United States. The
collected interviews range over all the passions that filled his
politics--his voice moves effortlessly from the demands of peace in
the Middle East to revolutionary poetry, and from the politics of
Islam to offering career advice to V.S. Naipaul.

As a
child, Ahmad met Gandhi. In the 1960s, he joined the National
Liberation Front and worked with Frantz Fanon in Algeria; later, in
America, he opposed the Vietnam War and was indicted with the
Berrigan brothers on charges of conspiracy to kidnap Henry Kissinger.
(The charges were dismissed.) Ahmad was also engaged in conversations
with Yasir Arafat and other members of the PLO; Edward Said, who was
responsible for this alliance, describes Ahmad as a "genius at
sympathy." When he died in Islamabad in 1999, just days before the
Kargil war broke out, he was working to establish an independent,
alternative university in Pakistan.

Ahmad was still a boy
during the partition in 1947. His family had been living in their
ancestral village in Bihar, India, and Ahmad was witness to his
father's murder as he lay beside him in bed. In the company of his
elder brothers, Ahmad then migrated to Pakistan. Their mother,
however, stayed behind in India; Ahmad would not see her again until
1972, when she was on her deathbed, too ill to speak.

I
often thought of Ahmad while reading the letters of the Indian and
Pakistani schoolchildren. In Confronting Empire, Ahmad, in
conversation with well-known radio activist David Barsamian, returns
again and again to the divisions erected by nationalism. His critique
is against the embrace of Western-style nationalism--often by those
who fought so hard against Western imperialism. It is his readiness
to distance himself from the nationalist desire for possessing
disputed territories that allows him to recommend that Kashmir serve
"as the starting point of normalizing relations between India and
Pakistan."

Ahmad's proposal is that the part of Kashmir
under Pakistani control should be left as it is; Jammu and Ladakh,
which do not share the premises of Kashmiri nationalism, should
remain a part of India; the valley of Kashmir, where a ten-year-old
uprising continues today, should be given independence. More
radically, Ahmad envisioned a unified Kashmir with divided
sovereignty. There would be no more lines of control and border
patrols, and the ruling entities would be jointly responsible for
defense. Ahmad concludes by saying, "In fact, the longer we delay
normalization of relations between India and Pakistan and the
resolution of the Kashmir conflict, the more we are creating an
environment for the spread of Islamic and Hindu
militancy."

The nuclearization of the subcontinent earns
Ahmad's denunciation as well: "We are living in modern times
throughout the world and yet are dominated by medieval minds," as he
put it. At the same time, he was also able to see very clearly that
this is not happening without protest. He pointed out, "In Calcutta,
250,000 people came out against nuclear weapons. In Delhi, 30,000."
It is precisely this critical stance--what Gramsci called "the
pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will"--that animates
the pages of Praful Bidwai and Achin Vanaik's New Nukes, a
public account of the real costs of nuclearization. In their powerful
book, the authors note that the Kargil conflict cost India $2.5
billion in direct economic expenses. Hundreds of soldiers on both
sides came back in body bags. If patrolling is now increased around
Kargil, that region will become another Siachen--the Himalayan
glacier where India and Pakistan have lost more than 10,000 troops
since 1984 and spend more than $10 million on patrolling each day.
(All of this, as Bidwai and Vanaik rightly point out, in two of the
world's poorest societies.)

Both Bidwai and Vanaik are
respected Indian journalists and veteran peace activists; they
perceive very clearly the systemic implications of nuclearism,
including the growth of religious fundamentalism in both countries.
Other heavy social costs include revivified militarism and male
supremacy; the growth of media manipulation and intolerance; the
suppression of debate and dissent. But while charting in historical
detail India's and Pakistan's descent into the nuclear club, Bidwai
and Vanaik also note the growth of movements for peace since the
mid-1990s. These have been in the main people's movements, with
particular contribution by South Asian feminists who have "a strong
awareness of the connections between nuclearism and patriarchy, and
between militarism and suppression of women's rights." According to
Bidwai and Vanaik, only two months after the May 1998 nuclear tests
in India, 72.8 percent of the people polled there opposed the
manufacture and use of nuclear weapons.

New Nukes is
a comprehensive handbook on nuclear deterrence. Using India and
Pakistan as its immediate context, it maps a global history of
nuclearization. The book is very distinctively a view from the South,
with a stringent critique of the cold war era as well as of the role
of the United States and Western imperialism. It should also be added
that Bidwai and Vanaik represent a departure from the Indian,
specifically Gandhian, strains of pacificism. That earlier form of
appeal for nonviolence was content to call for peace in the abstract;
the programmatic, interconnected plans that are at the heart of the
analyses in New Nukes make peace a part of a process that is
less spiritual and more political. After all, the authors stress,
"Indian and Pakistani leaders exchanged direct or indirect nuclear
threats no less than thirteen times in just five weeks during the
Kargil crisis." In fact--and this is their crucial assertion--Kargil
"dramatically highlighted South Asia as the most likely place in the
world for a nuclear exchange to take place."

Once again I
return to the students, from across all classes, whom I met in India
and Pakistan. How many of them can remain in school in a nuclearized
subcontinent? What is the future into which they will grow? According
to Bidwai and Vanaik, after the nuclear tests, "India's education
ministry quietly decided to slow down the program to universalize
primary education, even as the government raised the military
spending allocation by fourteen percent." Which make the voices of
Ahmad and the writers of the partition collected by Butalia all the
more important--and, sadly, plaintive.

As Arundhati Roy
writes in her introduction to New Nukes (an essay that
appeared in The Nation on September 28, 1998): "Making bombs
will only destroy us. It doesn't matter whether we use them or
not.... India's nuclear bomb is the final act of betrayal by a ruling
class that has failed its people. However many garlands we heap on
our scientists, however many medals we pin to their chests, the truth
is that it's far easier to make a bomb than to educate 400 million
people."