Los Angeles organizers may have clinched the city's title as a laboratory for cutting-edge economic justice policy with a deal concluded in late May between grassroots groups and downtown developers, including billionaire Philip Anschutz and media titan Rupert Murdoch. The agreement, which concerns a planned expansion of the mammoth Staples Center, stipulates that 70 percent of the 5,400 permanent jobs created will pay a living wage of $7.72 an hour with benefits, $8.97 without, or be covered by a collective bargaining agreement.
The Figueroa Corridor Coalition for Economic Justice, an alliance of twenty-nine community organizations and several union locals, was the driving force behind the unusual deal. Ordinarily, living-wage campaigns focus on public expenditures, arguing that a city subsidy or contract should yield jobs that pay enough to sustain a family. But the only potential subsidy for the Staples expansion has been for a hotel planned for the site--and the agreement covers far more than that.
In addition to the broad living wage commitment, the developers pledged $1 million for the creation or upgrading of parks within a mile of the project, encompassing some of the poorest neighborhoods in Los Angeles and portions of the most densely populated area west of the Mississippi. The Figueroa coalition will be written into city documents as partners in the project.
After coming together in 1998 in support of food service workers fighting subcontracting at the tony University of Southern California, the coalition began meeting regularly about local development issues, says Sandra McNeill, an organizer for the coalition and for Strategic Action for a Just Economy (SAJE), its convening organization. There were plenty of problems to address--such as the expansion of USC into adjacent neighborhoods and the threat to existing housing posed by plans for a light-rail line.
Just before the National Democratic Convention at Staples Center in August 2000, the community became alarmed by reports that there would be a large police presence during the planned protests. That drew hundreds more into the coalition, which soon turned to longer-term issues related to the Staples expansion. Meanwhile, five unions--Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees Local 11; Service Employees International Union 1877, which had organized the landmark Justice for Janitors campaign; the Teamsters; the Operating Engineers; and IATSE, the stage workers' union--had agreed to negotiate collectively with the developers instead of allowing themselves to be split apart by separate deals. The unions and community organizations then banded together, swiftly forging a list of demands around housing, environmental issues, a living wage and union jobs. Says Madeline Janis-Aparicio of Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), "Once [the developers] pulled their jaws up from the floor, they started negotiating."
"When things were tough in our negotiations, the union would bring up the issues in theirs; when things were tough for labor, we'd bring it up in our negotiations," says McNeill. "And that was really powerful."
It helped that the coalition had good timing. LA had just elected a new mayor and new council members to six of its fifteen seats, and the developers wanted the deal concluded and approved before July 1, when new top city officials were to take over. Too much community opposition or potential lawsuits could have been a fatal stumbling block.
Negotiations threatened to jump the track numerous times, not only because of differences between the coalition and the developers but intra-alliance tensions as well. Thankfully, the organizations ironed it out. As Janis-Aparicio says, "The choice was to be divided and conquered or have a united front and win."
The potential domestic consequences of the Administration's national energy policy--opening up protected areas to drilling, increasing greenhouse gas emissions, building more nuclear reactors--have galvanized environmentalists, but its international ramifications, which have received scant comment in the press, give equal cause for alarm. Closer scrutiny of the National Energy Policy Report, released in May, reveals that the White House expects to obtain most of the additional oil and natural gas the United States will need in the years ahead from foreign rather than domestic sources. As the report makes clear, this will entail greater political and military intervention abroad.
According to the report, US consumption of oil is expected to rise from 19.5 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2000 to 25.8 million in 2020, an increase of 32 percent. At the same time, domestic oil production is expected to remain more or less flat, at about 9 million bpd--meaning that total imports will have to rise by 61 percent, from 10 to 16.5 million bpd.
In the report's final chapter, the Administration spells out how America will achieve these increased oil imports. It articulates an aggressive, two-pronged strategy for gaining access to key overseas supplies of petroleum: first, pressuring foreign governments to open up their energy sectors to significant investment by US energy firms, and second, insuring political stability in producing countries so that the US companies can safely operate in them.
In particular the report calls on the government "to continue supporting American energy firms competing in markets abroad," "to level the playing field for U.S. companies overseas" and "to reduce barriers to trade and investment." To overcome these barriers in Latin America, the secretaries of State and Commerce are directed to take steps "to improve the energy investment climate for the growing level of energy investment flows between the United States and each of these countries," especially in Brazil and Venezuela, which historically have resisted foreign involvement in their petroleum industries.
Other such directives are aimed at increasing the involvement of US energy firms in the petroleum industries of Nigeria, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and the Persian Gulf countries. The State and Commerce departments are expected to use economic and political pressure to remove impediments to investment by foreign firms, which could provoke strong opposition in these countries.
But it is not only State and Commerce that will carry out this policy. The report makes clear that the procurement of sufficient energy for future US requirements is a matter of "national security," and it highlights a number of areas where this effort is likely to require support from the US military. One of these is Colombia, now in the throes of a brutal civil war. Because Colombia's oil fields and pipelines are located in areas often attacked by guerrillas, any increase in production there would require intensified counterguerrilla operations by the Colombian military and its US allies, though this is not mentioned in the energy report.
Similarly, the report calls for increased energy production in the Caspian Sea basin, where the Administration seeks to accelerate the construction of an oil pipeline from Azerbaijan through Georgia to Turkey. Because these countries are suffering from internal unrest and violence, any such effort will mean stepped-up arms deliveries and the dispatch of US military advisers.
Even more worrisome are the implications of increased US dependence on the oil supplies of the Persian Gulf. As the report notes, the Gulf is the only area with sufficient petroleum reserves to satisfy expanding American demand over the long term. Given the instabilities in the region, a permanent US military presence there will be necessary, along with intervention in local conflicts.
The basic thrust of the Bush energy policy is clear: To acquire an ever-enlarging supply of imported oil, Washington will have to step up its meddling in the internal affairs of numerous countries around the world, many of which are deeply divided along political, ethnic and religious lines. The accompanying risk of involvement in foreign wars will grow proportionally.
Opposition has already been voiced to oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and to the construction of new nuclear power plants. Now it must be joined by vociferous protest against White House plans to funnel more and more of the world's oil to the United States, which will only lead to increased anti-Americanism overseas and endless energy wars.
One of the most surprising decisions of the Supreme Court term just concluded was Justice Antonin Scalia's ruling in favor of a criminal defendant who claimed that a thermal imaging device violated his Fourth Amendment rights. The police used the device to measure the heat leaking from Danny Kyllo's house and inferred from that information that he was growing marijuana inside with heat lamps. Indeed, he was, as the subsequent search revealed: more than 100 plants' worth.
In the most unlikely collaboration of the year, Justices Scalia and Clarence Thomas joined forces with Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and David Souter to rule that use of the thermal imaging device was an unconstitutional search. The decision is surprising in several respects--and not just because it rules for a drug defendant. It announces a bright-line rule barring the use of high-tech devices to intrude upon the privacy of the home, in an era where the Court has largely abandoned bright-line rules except where they benefit the police. It speaks in majestic tones about protecting privacy from the onslaught of technology, from a Court that has all but given up on privacy in favor of crime control. And it reaches a result that was by no means foreordained. This was a close case, as Justice John Paul Stevens's quite reasonable dissent shows.
So what's going on here? Should liberals (or drug manufacturers) start looking to Justices Scalia and Thomas for protection of criminal defendants' rights? I'm afraid not. This is a rare instance of an alliance between liberals and libertarians, united here in support of the sanctity of the home. For Scalia and Thomas, at least, it all comes down to property. Step outside, and you're fair game.
The dispute centered on whether the use of the thermal imaging device was a "search" that invaded Kyllo's "reasonable expectation of privacy." The police argued that the device merely registered information from the outside of the home. A police officer's observation that snow melted more quickly on certain parts of a roof would provide the same information, but no one would call that a "search." Since the information came from outside the house, it invaded no privacy.
Justice Scalia rejected that approach, and concluded that whenever the police use "sense-enhancing technology" not in general public use to obtain information that they otherwise could not have gathered without entering the home, they have conducted a search, for which they must have probable cause and a warrant. His opinion waxes eloquent on the home as castle and the need to protect citizens from the intrusions of modern technology. (None too soon, as police are already working on ultrasound technology for houses, although one wonders how they're going to apply petroleum jelly to aluminum siding.)
In its attempt to protect privacy from advancing technology, the decision is a landmark and will stand along with the Warren Court's 1967 decision in Katz v. United States, which extended the Fourth Amendment to include wiretapping. But in another respect, the decision marks an ironic return to the pre-Katz world. Before Katz, Fourth Amendment law was governed by property notions, leading the Court to make ridiculous distinctions between listening devices attached to an outside wall with a thumbtack, which were said to invade property and require a warrant, and similar devices merely taped to the wall, which were deemed not to invade property and therefore not to require a warrant.
Katz importantly held that the Fourth Amendment protects "people, not places" and eschewed arcane property questions for an inquiry into whether the government had invaded a person's "privacy." But Kyllo brings us back full circle, because without any reasoned explanation it expressly limits its protection to homes. Justices Scalia and Thomas's libertarian instincts stop at the doorstep. A man's home may be his castle, but in the view of these Justices, at least, the streets still belong to the police.
Augusto Pinochet entered political life in 1973 by destroying the rule of law. Now, twenty-eight years later, thanks to a decision by a Chilean appeals court, he exits the public stage still beyond the reach of the law. The July 9 ruling found the 85-year-old former dictator too sick to stand trial for his role in the kidnap and murder of dozens of civilians. Plaintiffs will attempt a last-chance reversal, but observers agree that this is probably the end of the general's legal travails, which began in October 1998 when he was detained in London on a Spanish arrest warrant.
Over these past three years, Pinochet has been extended every legal recourse and guarantee that he denied his opponents. He was not beaten, kidnapped, tortured or "disappeared." Instead of being hauled before a kangaroo court and sentenced to summary execution, he was delicately passed from the Spanish legal system to the Crown Prosecution Service to the House of Lords to the Chilean Supreme Court.
But then the courts blinked. As the typically understated Chileans would say, this final outcome is lamentable. Still, much has been gained. Pinochet's arrest by Scotland Yard and his detention for 503 days in London shook open the Chilean system and eventually led to Pinochet's indictment in Santiago. A courageous judge, Juan Guzmán Tapia, piled up more than 250 criminal complaints against Pinochet, and he boldly resisted intimidation attempts by Chile's military as well as its civilian government. Soon, dozens of other former military officers, including an active-duty general or two, found themselves formally accused. At precisely the moment when Chile's unresolved human rights debate was threatened with extinction, it came roaring back to life. The Chilean military, which had refused to accept any responsibility for the bloodletting during its seventeen-year rule, finally admitted to killing and throwing into the sea scores of its opponents. Today, even the Chilean right takes pains to distance itself from the sullied general whom it once venerated as a demigod.
Pinochet may be spared trial, but his status as an indicted criminal will stand. His closest collaborators still face prosecution, not only in Chilean courts but also in other Latin American and European legal venues. The Bush Justice Department claims its investigation of Pinochet's role in the 1976 car-bomb murder of Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffitt is still active. It should be pressured to follow through with an indictment. And a fearless Judge Guzmán continues his work in Chile. In early July he was reported to have issued letters to the US government requesting that then-Ambassador to Chile Nathaniel Davis and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger reveal what they know about the murder of Charles Horman, one of two Americans killed in the opening days of the Pinochet dictatorship. As for Pinochet, now suffering from diabetes, "moderate dementia," dental woes and permanent public scorn, one can only wish him many more years among us.
The prospect of Slobodan Milosevic facing justice before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia is a giant step. For the first time in history a former head of state will be tried for crimes against humanity and violations of the laws of war committed during his reign. Milosevic and his cronies must face judgment for the death and suffering they wreaked on the Balkans in furtherance of the delusion of a Greater Serbia. What concerns us at this point is that the trial be an exemplary one, fully upholding the ideal of an objective international tribunal capable of trying and punishing the crimes of war. There are signs that it will not.
For one thing, the indictment against Milosevic is primarily limited to the killings and ethnic cleansing in Kosovo that occurred after NATO's bombing campaign was launched. It is essential that Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte bring the additional charges covering the war in Bosnia that she has promised. A trial limited to atrocities in Kosovo will raise the issue of the legitimacy of NATO's bombing campaign, which was undertaken without UN authorization and which not only Milosevic's supporters will argue led to much of the Serb violence that followed. Would the NATO powers release secret intelligence gathered at the time that could throw light on who ordered the massacres, as well as the strategy behind the bombing campaign? The point is that if this relevant evidence is withheld, the trial will be tainted and will fuel suspicions that it is designed to vindicate NATO's war.
The slaughter in Bosnia--the massacres of Muslims, the atrocities, rapes and ethnic cleansing--was far greater than in Kosovo,and the perpetrators, some of them still at large, must be punished. But bringing in Bosnia (or Croatia) will again open up the question of the role of the United States and the West. Their long support of Milosevic as the man to deal with in the Balkans should be aired in court. Will the governments in Washington and in other NATO capitals produce evidence from their files relative to their appeasement? Not that such information would exculpate Milosevic, but without it the trial will be perceived as victor's justice.
This leads to another question: Were the means and the timing of Milosevic's apprehension proper, in terms of the objectives of international law? A case can be made that they were not. In turning Milosevic over to The Hague, the Serbian government acted under the gun--a threat by the United States that it would veto promised foreign aid. This was a power play, not law. Also, the extradition violated Yugoslav law and bypassed President Vojislav Kostunica, who heads Yugoslavia's first freely elected government in many years. Undercutting the rule of law is no way to encourage a fragile democracy. It arguably would have been better for the Serbs themselves to try Milosevic first. As Kostunica said, "In order for the people to realize what justice is, it should be in their hands."
Ultimately, though, Milosevic should answer to the international community if the principle of prohibiting war crimes is to be upheld. But the reckoning must take place before a fully independent international court. In the long run, the world must move beyond ad hoc courts like the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, set up for specific crimes, to an autonomous body like the International Criminal Court. Milosevic's crimes were against humanity and international law, not the United States and NATO.
For years, environmental advocates in and out of government have labored to construct a connecting arch between opposing interests that could lead to the first real legislative action on global warming. Last year the elements for a breakthrough deal seemed in place. Both major presidential nominees said they were on board. Then George W. Bush came into office and removed the keystone from the arch.
The keystone is the bundle of federal lawsuits that the Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice Department have filed against electric utility polluters, plus the active investigations of a hundred or more other power plants and refineries for similar gross violations. The President has ordered a "review" of these legal actions--in effect freezing enforcement and perhaps halting it entirely. Without the threat of these lawsuits, electric utilities have no incentive to accept new federal regulation of their carbon dioxide emissions--a crucial first step in the long-delayed imperative to reduce global warming.
Bush's action may sound like inside-the-Beltway intrigue--and it is--but the consequences could be momentous if not challenged by a public outcry. His action should also inspire a careful Congressional investigation. Who exactly put the fix in at the White House? The defendants, appears to be the answer, joined by old reliables like ExxonMobil. The companies threatened by the EPA's multibillion-dollar lawsuits--coal, oil and the big-time scofflaws in electricity generation--evidently went through a back door labeled Rove-Cheney Office of Political Environmentalism. Their achievement illustrates another bipartisan scandal--our torturously slow-acting and incomplete environmental laws. The government is, in fact, still struggling to get this crowd to comply with clean-air standards put in place thirty years ago.
To appreciate the contradictions, start with the Clean Air Act of 1970, which grandfathered in, as exempt from the new pollution standards, hundreds of outmoded power plants. Regarded at the time as necessary for passage of the act, this trade-off allowed the plants to keep operating--but not to expand their output--on the assumption that they would gradually be phased out. Instead, more than 300 of the grandfathered power plants are still going and produce more than half the country's electricity, as well as the bulk of its mercury, nitrogen and sulfur air pollution (electric utilities are also the largest source of carbon dioxide pollution). And, in defiance of the law, a lot of the exempted plants expanded. Those violations, after decades of regulatory debate and failed persuasion, led to the first batch of EPA lawsuits filed against seven companies in 1999, with many more promised. They involve serious lawbreaking and huge liabilities--and potentially expose companies to public-health damage suits as well.
Several of the more enlightened companies began looking for a deal: In exchange for relief from the lawsuits, they'd accept a new regulatory law curbingtheir pollution. That's when enviro groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) put global warming on the table too. If Congress enacted legislation covering the other three pollutants, it made sense to include carbon dioxide, never before subject to regulatory curbs. Some utility executives, recognizing its inevitability, accepted the trade-off. Why modernize plants for the three established pollutants, then have to come back to retrofit for carbon emissions? That promising confluence of interests inspired the four-pollutant legislation now pending in Congress.
But the Bushies are proceeding to let industry off the hook. First, Bush canceled his campaign promise to support mandatory carbon dioxide reductions (his policies will likely be hammered at the United Nations conference on global warming in Bonn this month). Then Dick Cheney's secretive energy task force proposed the "review," virtually suspending compliance agreements that some companies had already negotiated with the EPA. The NRDC has identified the National Coal Council, a supposedly nonpolitical federal advisory committee, as a central meeting place where defendant firms and their lawyers collaborate with coal and oil reps on devising the counterattack. Lois Schiffer, head of the Justice Department's environmental enforcement under Clinton, told the Wall Street Journal: "It's sort of like going to the White House to get your parking tickets fixed."
White House tampering with law enforcement on behalf of accused lawbreakers who are the President's patrons ought to be treated as a big deal, even in scandal-jaded Washington. Senate Democrats do not need to engage in bipartisan niceties on this-- they must make a full-throated commitment to legislate and to make global warming a decisive election issue for 2002 and especially 2004, if Bush persists in pandering to the most retrograde industrial interests. Democrats, quite by accident, have a running start here. The new chairman of the Senate environment committee--former Republican Jim Jeffords--is the co-sponsor of the four-pollutant legislation (with Democrat Joe Lieberman). If Jeffords couldn't rally his old party to the cause of global warming, maybe he can convince his new friends on the other side of the aisle to take it seriously.
Starting the week of July 23, many Americans will begin receiving tax "rebates" as part of George W. Bush's massive tax-cut scheme aimed at helping the rich get richer. Some readers, dismayed at how the rebates are being used to win support for Bush's skewed priorities, have asked us to suggest ways to protest. As we see it, the rebates, unlike the broader tax cut plan, are progressive; everyone who pays taxes gets virtually the same amount. Also, they help people hurting from the economic downturn. But for those who feel they can afford to donate their rebate, the Nation Directory (www.thenation.com) lists worthy groups working for voting rights, reproductive rights and other forms of social justice. Or why not consider a donation to The Nation? We've received letters and e-mails suggesting just that (see this week's "Letters" page). If you do forward your rebate to a worthy cause, write George W. Bush as follows: "Your tax rebate has enabled me to make a donation to _______________, which is fighting your repellent policies."
TALKING UNION BLUES
In a little-noticed but far-reaching decision on May 29, the Supreme Court dealt a body blow to nascent efforts to organize professional workers. NLRB v. Kentucky River Community Care, Inc. concerned a group of registered nurses who had tried to exercise their right, under the National Labor Relations Act, to form a union. The NLRB had affirmed that right, declaring that the nurses were not supervisors because they could not use "independent judgment" in performing their duties, which included directing less-skilled employees. The Court disagreed. Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia disdained the "independent judgment" test, placing instead a greater burden on unions to prove that potential members are not supervisors. As a result, the American Medical Association has called off its organizing efforts among private-sector physicians, and similar efforts among nurses and other professionals will likely be stalled as well. So, thanks to this opinion, Scalia's son Eugene, who was nominated to be Bush's Solicitor of Labor despite (or because of) his longstanding commitment to suppressing the rights of working people, will enjoy a lighter work load.
LAST MEALS ON DEATH ROW
Charles Tanzer writes: For those who felt that the media's publication of Timothy McVeigh's last meal--two pints of mint chocolate chip ice cream--was a bit morbid, it only gets worse. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice apparently has so little compunction about leading the nation in executions that it posts the final meal requests of condemned men on its website. A brief perusal of them gives a telling indication of the likely economic class of those on death row: There are many, many requests for double cheeseburgers, french fries and ice cream, but noticeably absent are such upper-class treats as lobster or filet mignon. Equally poignant are those who declined a last meal, one man instead requesting "God's saving grace, love, truth, peace, and freedom," another appealing for "Justice, Temperance, with Mercy." There is no caviar on death row (see www.tdcj.state.tx.us/stat/deathrow.htm).
In early June I sat on a panel, in front of a large and mainly Arab audience, with Thomas Friedman of the New York Times. Our hosts, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, had asked for a discussion of contrasting images of the Israel-Palestine conflict. The general tempo of the meeting was encouragingly nontribal; there were many criticisms of Arab regimes and societies, and one of our co-panelists, Raghida Dergham, had recently been indicted in her absence by a Lebanese military prosecutor for the offense of sharing a panel discussion with an Israeli. However, it's safe to say that most of those attending were aching for a chance to question Friedman in person. He was accused directly at one point of writing in a lofty and condescending manner about the Palestinian people. To this he replied hotly and eloquently, saying that he had always believed that "the Jewish people will never be at home in Palestine until the Palestinian people are at home there."
That was well said, and I hadn't at the time read his then-most-recent column, so I didn't think to reply. But in that article he wrote that Chairman Arafat, by his endless double-dealing, had emptied the well of international sympathy for his cause. This is a very Times-ish rhetoric, of course. You have to think about it for a second. It suggests that rights, for Palestinians, are not something innate or inalienable. They are, instead, a reward for good behavior, or for getting a good press. It's hard to get more patronizing than that. During the first intifada, in the late 1980s, the Palestinians denied themselves the recourse to arms, mounted a civil resistance, produced voices like Hanan Ashrawi and greatly stirred world opinion. For this they were offered some noncontiguous enclaves within an Israeli-controlled and Israeli-settled condominium. Better than nothing, you might say. But it's the very deal the Israeli settlers reject in their own case, and they do not even live in Israel "proper." (They just have the support of the armed forces of Israel "proper.") So now things are not so nice and many Palestinians have turned violent and even--whatever next?--religious and fanatical. Naughty, naughty. No self-determination for you. And this from those who achieved statehood not by making nice but as a consequence of some very ruthless behavior indeed.
I am writing these lines in memoriam for my dear friend and comrade Dr. Israel Shahak, who died on July 2. His home on Bartenura Street in Jerusalem was a library of information about the human rights of the oppressed. The families of prisoners, the staff of closed and censored publications, the victims of eviction and confiscation--none were ever turned away. I have met influential "civil society" Palestinians alive today who were protected as students when Israel was a professor of chemistry at the Hebrew University; from him they learned never to generalize about Jews. And they respected him not just for his consistent stand against discrimination but also because--he never condescended to them. He detested nationalism and religion and made no secret of his contempt for the grasping Arafat entourage. But, as he once put it to me, "I will now only meet with Palestinian spokesmen when we are out of the country. I have some severe criticisms to present to them. But I cannot do this while they are living under occupation and I can 'visit' them as a privileged citizen." This apparently small point of ethical etiquette contains almost the whole dimension of what is missing from our present discourse: the element of elementary dignity and genuine mutual recognition.
Shahak's childhood was spent in Nazified Poland, the Warsaw Ghetto and Bergen-Belsen concentration camp; at the end of the war he was the only male left in his family. He reached Palestine before statehood, in 1945. In 1956 he heard David Ben-Gurion make a demagogic speech about the Anglo-French-Israeli attack on Egypt, referring to this dirty war as a campaign for "the kingdom of David and Solomon." That instilled in him the germinal feelings of opposition. By the end of his life, he had produced a scholarly body of work that showed the indissoluble connection between messianic delusions and racial and political ones. He had also, during his chairmanship of the Israeli League for Human and Civil Rights, set a personal example that would be very difficult to emulate.
He had no heroes and no dogmas and no party allegiances. If he admitted to any intellectual model, it would have been Spinoza. For Shahak, the liberation of the Jewish people was an aspect of the Enlightenment, and involved their own self-emancipation from ghetto life and from clerical control, no less than from ancient "Gentile" prejudice. It therefore naturally ensued that Jews should never traffic in superstitions or racial myths; they stood to lose the most from the toleration of such rubbish. And it went almost without saying that there could be no defensible Jewish excuse for denying the human rights of others. He was a brilliant and devoted student of the archeology of Jerusalem and Palestine: I would give anything for a videotape of the conducted tours of the city that he gave me, and of the confrontation in which he vanquished one of the propagandist guides on the heights of Masada. For him, the built and the written record made it plain that Palestine had never been the exclusive possession of any one people, let alone any one "faith."
Only the other day, I read some sanguinary proclamation from the rabbinical commander of the Shas party, Ovadia Yosef, himself much sought after by both Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon. It was a vulgar demand for the holy extermination of non-Jews; the vilest effusions of Hamas and Islamic Jihad would have been hard-pressed to match it. The man wants a dictatorial theocracy for Jews and helotry or expulsion for the Palestinians, and he sees (as Shahak did in reverse) the connection. This is not a detail; Yosef's government receives an enormous US subsidy, and his intended victims live (and die, every day) under a Pax Americana. Men like Shahak, who force us to face these reponsibilities, are naturally rare. He was never interviewed by the New York Times, and its obituary pages have let pass the death of a great and serious man.
--Headline, New York Times
The dollar's strong. That must be good.
It's doing what a dollar should.
The world cannot afford our junk.
You see: It's never what you thunk.
Should the corporate owners of newspapers like the Los Angeles Times or the New York Post be allowed to own television stations in the same city?
Where is Al Gore? Maybe he hasn't noticed, but all sorts of horrible things are happening under the Bush Administration--just as he predicted. Yet Gore has been totally silent.
That may be his right as a victim of blatant election fraud, but please don't even suggest that this milquetoast be given another chance to be the Democratic candidate for President. Milquetoast is not a word to be used lightly in describing the shell-shocked behavior of someone cheated out of the presidency, but the wound-licking has gone on long enough.
True, as the New York Times documented in excruciating detail Sunday, a six-month investigation found new evidence that the Florida election was distorted by the partisan miscounting of absentee votes. When added to the rest of the evidence from Florida, it's obvious that Gore won both the national popular and electoral votes and should be President. The Republicans played ugly, they misused the power of Congress and the Florida state government to exclude ballots for Gore while including others with the same flaws for Bush.
It is outrageous that Republican members of the Armed Services Committee bullied the Pentagon into turning over the e-mail addresses and phone numbers of Republicans in the military. The absentee ballots of military personnel registered in Democratic precincts were discounted while those in Republican strongholds containing identical flaws were welcomed.
What the Republicans did was reprehensible, and when combined with the foul partisanship of the Supreme Court majority, arguably the lowest point in modern American electoral history. But that's all the more reason to take them on now before they do more damage.
If Gore cared about the issues he raised during the campaign, why isn't he front and center in the leadership of the loyal opposition? He's not the only one hurting, it's the whole country.
While Gore, who decisively won the popular vote, sulks, George the Second seems to wake up each morning convinced that he has a mandate to do as much damage to foreign and domestic policy as possible. He acts as if anointed, although it was certainly not by the voters.
Not content with dismissing the Antiballistic Missile Treaty as a relic, he now threatens to destroy the test ban treaty as well.
Global warming is to be accepted as quite possibly a good thing, energy conservation is dismissed as a foolish notion and the vital work of Planned Parenthood and other world population-control groups has been sacrificed on the altar of Republican fundamentalism.
In a con act that would land a private-sector executive in jail, Bush sold Congress on a mythical recession-proof budget surplus that could be both given away as a tax rebate and simultaneously spent on increased military spending.
If the recession is prolonged, as it now threatens to be, the projected surplus will shrivel further, and long-term funding for Social Security and Medicare once again will be threatened.
Is Gore unaware that the high-tech economy, which the Clinton Administration nourished for eight years, is now in shambles and that the net worth of the average American is in serious decline?
The job market was never better than under Bill Clinton, and it's not too much to expect Gore to hold the Republicans, who have controlled both houses of Congress and the White House, responsible for the loss of 300,000 jobs in the last three months alone.
For eight years we were told that it was Alan Greenspan who deserved the credit for the unprecedented prosperity of the US economy, but now that the Fed chief has been exposed as powerless as the Wizard of Oz, Gore should at least credit the Democrats for having a better way.
Clinton's agenda was pretty moderate, but at least he knew that the federal government was not the enemy and that a massive tax cut for the rich was hardly a prudent alternative to adequately funding essential public services.
Clinton's personal behavior may have been juvenile, but his public policies were most often well thought out and serious. The Bush offspring seems to view the making of public policy as nothing more than the collating of corporate lobbyists' wish lists.
Gore will not defend the achievements of the Clinton-Gore years because he still has problems admitting that he was a member of that winning team. His Clinton phobia is what cost Gore a tamper-proof win in the election, and it's the source of his current failure to effectively critique the Bush Administration.
To put it bluntly: Gore is nothing without Clinton, and his inability to boldly champion the eight years of the Clinton Administration's record has rendered him politically impotent.
Why did Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick want Spielberg to direct Kubrick's A.I., the fable of a robot who wants a human mother's love? Imagine the personals ad Kubrick might have taken out:
"YOU LIKE: sweetness & light, plucky kids, happy endings, 'When You Wish Upon a Star.' I LIKE: a hope-free environment, leering homicidal teens, pitilessly ambiguous Götterdämmerungen, icy Gyorgi Ligeti melodies written 'as a dagger in Stalin's heart.' LET'S MEET FOR A MOVIE!"
Maybe they had a mutual case of genius envy. Kubrick needed Spielberg's speed. Ever since 2001's success freed him to do almost anything he wanted, Kubrick yearned to make a blockbuster as big as The Godfather or Star Wars or E.T. But he couldn't, because he enslaved himself with research. "I usually take about a year [developing a film]," he said in 1968. "In a year, if you keep thinking about it, you can pretty well exhaust the major lines of play, if you want to put it in chess terminology. Then as you're making the film, you can respond to the spontaneity of what's happening with the resources of all the analysis you've done."
After 1971, Kubrick's spontaneity expired (if not his genius). He spent decades mulling movies more than making them. Most of what he actually shot was over-thought, emotionally parched. Spielberg once (according to critic Michael Sragow) compared watching Barry Lyndon to "walking through the Louvre without lunch." Kubrick was all about making marmoreal masterworks, not pleasing mortals with morsels of wish-fulfillment fantasy.
But surely he knew, as the real 2001 approached, that he wouldn't live long enough to fulfill his own fantasy: an A.I. movie starring real robots instead of actors (most of whom he treated like robots). And a child actor would age visibly during a yearslong Kubrick shoot. He hoped Spielberg might whip up a computer-generated boy for the lead, or at least do his famous fast magic with a live child actor.
So what's in it for Spielberg, in making a Kubrick movie? Perhaps to "eat at the grownups' table," as Woody Allen put it--to join the highbrow pantheon. Spielberg makes filmmaking look too easy, and makes too much easy money. We've all spent wild nights with his flying bikes and leaping lizards, but not everybody respects him in the morning. Many say Schindler's List is sui generis and Private Ryan simplistically jingoistic; his serious-issue movies The Color Purple and Amistad suck dead eggs. But when he dares to swap DNA with über-director Kubrick, you've got to give him credit.
There could be deeper motives. Biographical critics Joseph McBride and Henry Sheehan trace a strain of father fear in Spielberg's movies, and the father figures he seems fondest of are akin to movie moguls: Attenborough the proprietor of Jurassic Park, Schindler the factory "Direktor," and in A.I., William Hurt as Professor Hobby, the entrepreneurial inventor of the robot boy David. (Professor Hobby is far kinder than David's adoptive dad, played by Sam Robards.) The company Kubrick formed to produce Aryan Papers, the Holocaust movie he scuttled after Schindler's List hit, was called Hobby Films. How better to honor a cinematic daddy than to finish his film in his style with a character named Hobby? What better way to transcend the anxiety of influence than to blend pastiche with one's own stylistic voice?
Anyhow, now it's finished: A.I., a film (as one producer put it) by "Stevely Kuberg." It's like no other movie, because it's so much like so many other movies. In one brilliant scene, the robots scavenge spare parts for themselves from a dump of less fortunate fellow robots: a new jaw here, a forearm there. The parts fit together jaggedly, but the crude welds enable the robots to function. That's the way A.I. is built: not just Spielberg's style mashed into Kubrick's, but characters and stories and particular shots from multitudinous movies (especially Kubrick's), all stuck together at odd angles. It's weird, but it works.
The primary source of A.I. is Brian Aldiss's "Supertoys Last All Summer Long," and two of his other very short stories about David, the robot with the mommy problem. Kubrick jammed David's story together with the story of Pinocchio. This misses the point of Aldiss's tale: Pinocchio wants to earn the right to be real, but David the robot doesn't get it that he's not a real boy. In the film, David (portrayed with sensitive precision by the eeriest boy actor on earth, Haley Joel Osment) has a more primal urge: to make Mommy (the generically cute Frances O'Connor) love him, no matter what it takes.
When David enters his human Mommy and Daddy's house, he's backlit to look like the tall, spindly extraterrestrials in Close Encounters. Then he's revealed to be an almost perfect replica of a human: a bit shiny-faced and stiff, but convincing, even by the standards of the day (the usual futuristic post-apocalyptic Earth, whose advanced gizmo science produces what Kubrick used to call a "mechanarchy"). At first, sitting at dinner, shot from above through a circular lamp that echoes the War Room in Dr. Strangelove, David seems remote. When he emits a barking laugh and points at the strand of spaghetti dangling from Mommy's chin, and then Mommy and Daddy laugh, it's hard to say whose laugh is more mechanical.
After Mommy imprints herself on David according to the owner's manual, however, his face melts into beatific rapture. Osment does a good job of conveying love at first sight. David hugs Mommy. Later, he's shot from below, with a lamp granting him a halo, like the one that gives Strangelove a nimbus when doomsday arrives. David gets his halo when he becomes aware of death: "Mommy, will you die?"
It's creepy, because of course Mommy doesn't love David--he's just a substitute for her real son, Martin (Jake Thomas), who must remain comatose for years until science can revive him. (The lad is stashed in a bubble bed like the ones astronauts hibernate in in 2001.) At last, Martin is defrosted and comes home. It's bad for David, an echo of the displacement of Alex by Joe the Lodger in A Clockwork Orange. The convincingly bratty Martin taunts David, a cold, Kubrickian echo of the domestic comedy of Spielberg's enchanted suburbia.
Two scenes of mythic impact ensue. Martin tricks David into snipping a lock of Mommy's hair as she makes like Sleeping Beauty one night; Mommy makes excuses for him. But at a pool party soon after, the real boys threaten David, who clutches Martin, begs, "Keep me safe!" and falls with him into the pool. Martin requires CPR after being fished out, and as he's receiving it, the camera pans back from David, infinitely disconsolate on the pool bottom. He recedes, like the castoff astronaut drifting into space in 2001 (the one who doesn't get to be reborn as the Star Child).
David recedes yet again later in the film--in Mommy's rearview mirror when she abandons him in the woods. This is palpable horror. It's not a standard Spielberg kiddie-peril scene, though, because one uneasily identifies with the mom's predicament--at least she didn't send him back to the factory to be destroyed--and David's monomania has begun to alienate our affections just a bit.
Into the woods goes David. He glimpses those scavenging robots--a folksy lot, like hobos in a 1930s Warner flick, though their busted-upness mainly alludes to the wooden boys hacked up by wicked Stromboli in Pinocchio. He meets his rakish new pal, Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), a robot with hair like a Bob's Big Boy statue, built for sex with lonely human women. Law breathes life into a clammy mise en scène--you'll miss him when he goes. Spielberg made him nicer than Kubrick would've done, but it's no sellout. It simply buries the weirdness deeper. Joe tries to tell David that his mommy doesn't love him any more than Joe's dates love him, but David won't listen.
When Joe laments of his creators, "They made us too smart, too quick and too many," he's echoing Coppola's quote about how his crew making Apocalypse Now had "too much money, too much equipment, and little by little we went insane." The idea is to critique techno-culture, but the point is muddled, and the film's heart isn't really in it whenever it sounds the danger: technology alarm. Ominously, the woods are lit up by a false moon--an aircraft that hunts robots for the Flesh Fair, a demolition derby where humans take out their frustrations by burning and hacking up robots. The moon is a cruel parody of the kindly moon in E.T. But whereas abandonment by Mommy registers emotionally, violence against robots just doesn't.
It's a relief when Joe leads David to Rouge City, a sci-fi update of Pinocchio's Pleasure Island, with big bridges shaped like women's gaping mouths, to evoke the Korova Milk Bar in A Clockwork Orange (which was much scarier). Rouge City is a letdown: It's Blade Runner; it's Judge Dredd's town; we've seen it all before. Its plot function is to give David the Pinocchio prediction that a Blue Fairy will make him a real boy.
David heists an amphibicopter and buzzes off with Joe to Manhattan, flooded up to the Statue of Liberty's torch (a nod to Planet of the Apes). He meets his maker, Professor Hobby (a nod to Rutger Hauer's scene with his maker in Blade Runner), confronts the existence of other Davids and has an existential tantrum. Here's where Kubrick would nastily stress that David has become a real boy in the sense that now he kills robots too; Spielberg makes it a friendlier reunion, just as he changed Michael Crichton's sinister dinosaur-park entrepreneur to a jolly man in Jurassic Park. Either way, as a Kubrickian snarl or a Spielbergian coo, the scene would come off as abstract and unaffecting.
Arbitrarily, Hobby leaves David alone a minute, and soon we see him leap from a skyscraper (Radio City) into Manhattan's briny abyss. This is formally a quote from Pinocchio's dives to escape Pleasure Island and rescue his father at the bottom of the sea, but it has no resonance, because it's not really part of an intelligible narrative movement. There is no sense of escape; it's a slow fall, not scary at all. The whole movie is by this point as drifty as seaweed in a lulling current. David's bed at home resembles Monstro, the whale that imprisons Pinocchio, and yet it's snug and inviting. What does this mean? Plainly, this movie doesn't work at the level of straightforward causality. It's a troubling dream.
A.I. has two endings involving the Blue Fairy, and I guess I shouldn't reveal either. Suffice it to say that the one Kubrick probably would have stopped with is clearly superior, colder, mysterious without being muddled. The second, Spielbergian ending is fuzzier, more redemptive and alludes to the cosmic ending of 2001 and Kubrick's cuddly aliens and snug family feelings.
A.I. ends with a whimper (or two), but I got a huge bang out of it. It's full of stunning images: sad, disintegrating faces, a robot boy's strangely shining eyes, lively artifacts of humanized technology. Although it's in an utterly different key, the blend of sensibilities is not an adulteration but an improving alchemy. A.I. effectively combines the moody indeterminacy of Kubrick, especially the Kubrick of 2001, and the addiction to happily-ever-aftering of Spielberg. There's also the merest flavor of what William Everson once called "one of the screen's supreme moments of horror"--the scene in Pinocchio where the boy, in midtransformation into a donkey, shrieks, "Mama!" until he's deprived of human speech and his mama can't hear him anymore. When you're not a real boy, no one can hear you scream.
Kate Millett. Feminist, sculptor, lesbian, activist, advocate, New Yorker to the core. Just over thirty years ago, Millett published the hugely influential bestseller Sexual Politics, and Time pasted her portrait on its cover to give a face to what was then called Women's Liberation. But just a year later, it looked like the beginning of Millett's end: At nearly the same moment, she was booted out of academia (Sexual Politics had been her PhD thesis), outed as a lesbian and practically abandoned by the movement she helped create. Switching gears, she embarked on a film project and another book, Flying. As different from the highly theoretical Sexual Politics as one could get, Flying was composed literally on the fly. Jumping from Europe to the Bowery to her farm outside of Poughkeepsie, Millett produced, as the New York Times Book Review put it then, an "autobiographical work of dazzling exhibitionism"--a sort of stream-of-consciousness, blow-by-blow of what happened to her in the period following her accidental rise to fame.
Her first book as a "writer"--Millett described Sexual Politics as written merely "in mandarin mid-Atlantic to propitiate a committee of professors of English"--Flying is a trying read; too much detail, too many characters and, simply, too many words. Modeled on the style of documentary film, with which Millett was enamored at the time, Flying was meant to capture "the voice we hear in our heads, sentence fragments...phrases as familiar as guilt in childhood, as easy as the feel of wheels, as necessary to survival as food, as encouraging as the sound of an engine turning over.... I wanted to write a book in American." She accomplished that mission for sure, and has, for better or for worse, continued to write in the same pressing style for the past thirty years; from The Prostitution Papers (1971) to Flying (1974), from Sita (1977) to The Loony-Bin Trip (1990), Kate Millett has consistently captured the world the way she has experienced and lived it.
But with that kind of truth comes a ton of pain, and Millett has stepped on more than a few toes (with her oft-heavy foot) along the way. Sisters, lovers, her once-husband, sculptor Fumio Yoshimura--all have co-starred in her books, and not in the most flattering roles. But the latest co-star, mother Helen Millett, is perhaps the person Kate Millett has most worried about wounding with words. And with good reason. While others have been upset with Kate the writer, for publicizing what could have been kept private, Helen Millett was often upset with Kate the daughter, for living the way she did. In Flying, Millett describes a phone conversation during which Mother asks after her writing.
"You're not going to put that awful stuff about Lesbianism in it?" Hit finally. At last.... "Katie, you are not writing about that Lesbianism, are you?" She is a terrier after a bone now.... "Well Mother, that has to be in it because it's part of my experience." Now there is just her nervous wail.... She escalates to moaning. I am a freak. One queer drop queers it all.
Describing her mother-inspired anxiety to Doris Lessing over lunch in 1971 (the year she composed Flying), Millett explained, "You see if I write this book my mother's going to die. She has already given me notice." Lessing laughs. "Mothers do not die as easily as they claim. My own announced her intentions with every book I wrote."
Lessing, of course, was right. Helen Millett did not die after Flying was published, despite that book's leitmotif of gay liberation. Nor after the harder to handle Loony-Bin Trip, in which she had a key role as an accomplice in getting her own daughter committed to the Mayo wing of the University of Minnesota. And she made it through Sita, an elegy focused on lesbian love and sex, crafted in remembrance of the lover Millett most obsessed over, who eventually took her own life. In fact, Helen Millett lived into the 1990s; and perhaps surprisingly, this was largely thanks to her most difficult of three daughters, Kate.
"I began writing about my mother," Millett explains in her new book, "in 1985, when my elder sister Sally...forced me to pay attention and understand that our mother Helen Millett could actually die and indeed was old and recently ill enough to do so certainly, and perhaps soon." A collection of sketches composed during visits to the Millett hometown of St. Paul, Mother Millett is simultaneously a portrait of the mother as an old woman, a confessional and an argument against forced institutionalization, specifically of the aging and infirm. In the beginning, things aren't so bad; the 88-year-old Helen has trouble hearing and walking--both of which conditions her physician simply writes off as part of old age--but she is nestled happily in the Wellington, a deluxe apartment complex for the elderly who are able to take reasonably good care of themselves. Helen seems to have accepted her advanced age, and even speaks openly of dying. Still, she is not without some fear. "There are only two things I'm afraid of.... Just two things," Helen tells Kate. "I'm scared of falling. And of nursing homes." About falling, Kate can do little. But quietly, Kate makes a deal with herself over the nursing home: "You're safe with me, I think. I've been put away, I'm not likely to do it to anyone else."
Months later, after Helen undergoes shunt bypass surgery for a brain tumor her family doctor failed to locate for some ten years--fear of falling explained--Kate rushes to St. Paul once more to find her mother installed in St. Anne's Home, a full-service nursing facility. During her post-op recovery, Helen was overcome by a condition called "hypercalcemia"--literally, an attack of calcium on the body; her doctors say there is no hope, a diagnosis that excludes her from the "self-sufficient only" Wellington and lands her in the "cost-conscious box," St. Anne's. But Kate, unlike others in the Millett clan, refuses to accept this as her mother's fate. "This is my own mother abandoned," she writes of first seeing Helen, tiny in her white bed. "Dying of abandonment, parked here to die like the mothers of strangers parked to die at St. Peter's Asylum when I worked there as a college kid." So when Helen looks at her daughter and says, "Now that you're here, we can leave," Kate ignores the rules and whisks her mother out the door and back to the Wellington.
Kate relishes the moment. "She picked the right daughter," she writes. "We are on the lam. It's a movie, it's the most unlikely American car fantasy, we are Thelma and Louise, this frail old woman beside me, and I some undefined criminal type: I light a cigarette." If only for an evening of lobster and baseball (Helen's a huge Twins fan), the escape is exhilarating. But as that one lovers' evening stretches into a weekend, the jailbreak turns from a simple transgression into a bona fide scandal. Despite the considerable challenge of tending to her mother--rising every two hours through the night to see her to the bathroom, cleaning up after her frequent bouts of vomiting--Kate becomes more and more determined not only to save her mother from St. Anne's but also to restore Helen's independence and dignity. "She must have her own life," Millett convinces herself. "She risked her life giving you birth, laid down her life to support and raise you. Risk your own life a little."
This is not easy, especially for Mother, who is bullied by her daughter constantly and escorted through a grueling schedule of daily therapies. And for Kate, both the slow life of the elderly and the stifling Midwestern-ness of St. Paul are almost too much to bear; the longer she stays with her mother, the more distant and unreal her New York artist existence becomes: "You are losing your own life here somehow, your life energy, maybe even interest in your own life. Hers has become more interesting, a challenge." As she accepts that challenge--which requires canceling a book tour in England to stay longer in St. Paul, lining up various folks to help out with her farm back east, postponing work on another book--she actually begins to take pleasure in it. The smallest victories are huge triumphs, like getting through a day without Helen vomiting or working out the details of various Medicare benefits. (Few are thriftier than Kate Millett, who reminds us more than once that she gets by on just $12,000 a year.) And as the extended Millett family, who unanimously thought Helen would be safest in St. Anne's, see the changes in their matriarch, Kate is overwhelmed by a sense of satisfaction.
We have succeeded. And in succeeding I have turned back time.... we have given Mother her own life back, an acceptable life compared to the despair and quick death at St. Mary's. But in restoring Mother's life, something of mine is restored as well. As if I have prolonged my own youth, assured I would continue as a daughter not an orphan.
Through a complicated (yet cost-effective) mix of part-time caregivers, bath ladies, daughter's visits and willpower, Mother Millett lived in the Wellington for the four final years of her life, and never again put one tiny foot inside a nursing facility.
Mother Millett is moving in that way. It's the story of a mother and daughter who, in some sense, save each other: Kate rescues Helen from St. Anne's and restores her to a respectable retirement in the Wellington; Helen gives Kate the opportunity to redeem every sharp word spoken, every obscenity put into print, by allowing her daughter to save her life. But it's also a political work, an extension of The Loony-Bin Trip that reinforces Millett's first argument against forced institutionalization, but focuses on the elderly, whom we are often eager to put away.
In the course of springing her mother, Kate discovers that the use of "restraint"--strapping residents into their beds--is a not uncommon practice at St. Anne's. Looking over the nursing notes in her mother's file, she finds that such treatment was recommended for Helen--"specifically a black belt, a great hunk of rough fabric like a huge karate belt with which one is tied to the bed and made immobile and helpless"; the notes convey that Helen "does not cooperate in taking every medication put before her...and even strikes the hand that would administer, refuses many blandishments, is not adjusting. An unwilling resident, who from the moment she entered the place seems to have provoked the admitting nurse." There is a palpable sense of personal pride in Millett's account; like daughter like mother, one might say. But there is also a very important current of indignation that propels this book, and Millett's other work, down its wild course.
That indignation stems from deep beliefs in rights to self-determination, freedom and dignity--beliefs that have inspired the entirety of Millett's writing. Her involvements with various movements--feminism, gay liberation, justice for political prisoners, nonviolence--are obvious extensions of those basic convictions; each of her books, even the super-personal Sita, is a manifesto. She wrote The Loony-Bin Trip out of a desire to affirm "the integrity of the mind...its sanctity and inviolability"; Flying intended "a structure for 'coming out' and an ethic in nonviolence to live by"; the slim Prostitution Papers--lengthy and frank interviews with two New York City prostitutes--was aimed "at direct action. 'Organize, organize' this book calls out." Even though, time and again, she describes herself--wills herself--an artist first and foremost, Kate Millett is, at her very core, an activist.
Millett is, and probably always will be, thought of primarily as a face and name of 1970s feminism. Yet, although she wrote what is a pioneering work of feminist theory, Millett is largely lost to an entire generation of women. Sexual Politics--which, through hilarious close readings of Henry Miller and D.H. Lawrence (and lots of less hilarious theoretical analysis), showed how stifling patriarchal attitudes impressed contemporary literature--is rarely taught in the classroom, despite the rise of women's studies. In fact, most of Millett's work was out of print until a year ago, when the University of Illinois Press reissued several of her books.
Kate Millett has recorded, from the beginning, an alternative life--one centered on justice, complicated love, making art and honesty. And even as her work is self-indulgent at times, even as she pats herself on the back a bit too much for being so bohemian, her work is engaging and personal and political in a unique way; by virtue of being composed in real time--note that her memoir of the feminist movement, Flying, was written in 1971!--it lacks the nostalgia of so many popular memoirs of "the movement" today. And as Millett has moved through her life, she's left a lot of work to learn from.
I'm guessing that Mother Millett will not be a popular book, but I think it should be. As young activists search for ways to define their own movements, Kate Millett contributes a novel idea: Think outside yourself and fight for your mother's, or father's--or grandmother's and grandfather's--rights. Eventually, they will be your own.
When they came for Newton Arvin, as he had always known they someday would--the sex cops, the truth squad, the Cossacks, fathers and philistines--he spilled his beings. In the cross-shaped top-floor apartment of his Northampton tower, "unbreachable save for two narrow sets of steeply twisting stairs," the 60-year-old professor of English at Smith College was listening to Mozart, reading Proust and drinking Scotch. He didn't own a TV set. (Nor had he ever learned to drive.) But there were drawers full of linen shirts and cashmere sweaters, shelves stocked with leather-bound Loeb Library Greek and Latin classics, a Leonard Baskin woodcut (of Tormented Man) and the journal to which he had recently confided: "Emerson is right about old age: one of its blessings is the knowledge that there cannot be so very much more of all this."
There were also, alas, muscle magazines like Adonis and Physique Pictorial, photographs of Athenian boys at homoerotic play and, on his bedroom bureau, a bodybuilder snapshot of a nude Truman Capote. Yes, Truman Capote, the one great love of Newton Arvin's life and the only hero in this dreary tale, which is otherwise a parable of the Closet and the Snitch.
Although his criticism was admired by both H.L. Mencken and Edmund Wilson, Arvin had all but vanished from our sonar till three years ago, when The New Yorker published Barry Werth's "encapsulation" of this book. He might turn up occasionally in memoirs of the 1930s and 1940s, back when he was still a radical, before giving it up for Harry Truman, as he gave up writing for The Nation in favor of Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, but those suggestive biographies in which he looked at the secret lives of Hawthorne, Whitman and Melville through binoculars of Marx and Freud were out of print, waiting for queer theory to catch up. He was a regular, and even a trustee, at Yaddo, the Saratoga Springs Bomarzo of writers' colonies, before they dumped him at crunch time, just like Smith. And he is also mentioned in the journals of his former student Sylvia Plath, who, maybe because he had so disliked Ted Hughes, describes him as "fingering his keyring compulsively in class, bright hard eyes, red-rimmed, turned cruel, lecherous, hypnotic, and holding me caught like the gnome Loerke held." But until Werth got interested, the rest was fuzzy. Didn't he die suddenly at age 63, coincident with the publication of his book on Longfellow, during a New York newspaper strike, after some hushed-up smut-ring scandal?
Whereas we tend to recall the worst of Truman Capote: the performing seal and celebrity pudge of the talk shows, gossip columns and police blotters, devolved back into a caterpillar from the monarch butterfly on the jacket of Other Voices, Other Rooms; the neogothic parajournalist who propagandized for capital punishment before and after his masked ball at the Plaza Hotel; the corrupted choirboy who traded in his bamboo flute and his marzipan sweet tooth for a cold-blooded, bestselling Grant Wood grotesque (and still his boozy mother couldn't stand her sissy son); the society poodle who stopped licking and started biting the hands of those who used to pet him, only to end up with a bottle for a mother, never delivering that so-much-blabbed-about great novel, guzzling vodka in a dirty bathrobe and hallucinating assassins from whom he could only be saved by Liz Smith. Of this Truman Capote, Elizabeth Hardwick wrote that he "never showed an interest in political or moral debate and perhaps this was prudent since ideas, to some degree, may define one's social life and could just be excess baggage he didn't need to bring aboard; and, worse, boring, like the ruins and works of art he declined to get off the yacht to see."
Yet only one of these two men was brave, loyal, free or even liked himself. After Newton Arvin named every name he could think of to the Massachusetts State Police in September 1960, he would explain himself to one of those he fingered: "I couldn't go through this alone." We are reminded not only of Whittaker Chambers, Elia Kazan, Linda Tripp and David Brock, but of what Marianne Moore once said about Jean Cocteau:
One has...the sense of something submerged and estranged, of a somnambulist with feet tied, of a musical instrument in a museum, that should be sounding; of valor in a fairy tale changed by the hostile environment into a frog or carp that cannot leave its pool or well. In myth there is a principle of penalty. Snow White must not open the door of the dwarf's house when the peddler knocks. Pandora must not open the box. Perseus must not look at the Gorgon except in his shield.
Newton Arvin's stereotypical story is almost as depressing to read about as it must have been to live through. From his unhappy, bookish childhood in Valparaiso, Indiana, he recalls an ominous incident with a secondhand bike when he was 12. Noticing that the seat was too low for him, his father raised it. After a long July afternoon of riding, the boy developed a painful limp. During the next few days of "nervous anxiety, irritability, and dejection," he suffered what he would come to believe was his first nervous collapse. His subsequent propensity for "crackups and breakdowns," his physical weaknesses and cowardice, his hypochondria and hysterical self-absorption, even the symbolism of the sexually injured, father-hating hero in the Ahab section of his Melville book, could all be traced back to this Philoctetes trauma, as if a bicycle seat were a pineal gland. Still, "I had succeeded in getting attention of a concerned and kindly sort from my father, and that, no doubt, was enough."
He was, he thought, "uniquely misbegotten": "I was certainly a girlish small boy, not a virile one, even in promise. I was timid, shrinking, weak, and unventuresome. I had no skill in boyish games and sports, and no interest in them, and I was quickly penalized as a result." But at Harvard, although they drummed him out of the Student Army Training Corps for failing a physical, Arvin by age 19 had already read everybody from Freud to Lenin, from Emily Dickinson to William James, plus, decisively, Van Wyck Brooks, whose Letters and Leadership persuaded him that "literary criticism was social criticism, a nobler calling" than the business culture he despised. He had also discovered a crush on his roommate.
Van Wyck Brooks was more obliging than the roommate. So impressed was the literary editor of The Freeman by Arvin's Phi Beta Kappa book reviews that he offered Arvin a job. When that fell through, Arvin taught briefly at the Detroit Country Day School, where "the strain of working with boys just a few years younger than he while concealing his ambiguous sexual longings unnerved him." He didn't finish the year. Fortunately, an all-girl student body at Smith College needed an instructor in English composition, and he fell spellbound into his lifelong locus, like a frog in a pool or a carp in a well. While he would leave Northampton--to Europe on one fraught occasion, to Yaddo whenever they said yes and to mental hospitals almost as often as Yaddo, as if they were weight-watcher spas with electroshock--Northampton was the only home that Arvin knew for the next thirty-seven years. He was afraid of Harvard, afraid of New York and afraid of himself. It is hard to imagine his ever voting for William Z. Foster in 1932.
But in the Smith library, Arvin found the clue to Hawthorne, a "queer changeling" like himself: "It was an ill thing to have a poetic imagination." Worse, "to be a writer of storybooks was little better, little less degenerate, than to be a fiddler." The indifference of the world was a punishment for "the very act of withdrawing into himself." The essential sin, Hawthorne seemed to say, "lies in whatever shuts up the spirit in a dungeon where he is alone, beyond the reach of common sympathies and the general sunlight. All that isolates damns: all that associates, saves." The "A" embroidered on Hester's breast obsessed Arvin as much as Hawthorne: "For how deep a wrong might it not be the expiation, and how terrible loneliness the cause!" Werth sums up both of them: "The root sickness of America...wasn't exploitation or deviancy. It was repression and self-hatred--shame."
And at Smith, in 1931, he met the woman who would be his wife. Poor Mary Garrison, a college swimmer with "a full face, bobbed hair, long limbs, and sumptuous breasts." If it worked for Hawthorne... Before their marriage, he asked her to read Walt Whitman's Calamus poems, hoping she'd guess his secret. Mary didn't. She was no more use to him than electroshock, morphine or tranquilizers. "Real intimacy with anyone," says Werth, "was more than Arvin could achieve." If he emerged from his "guilt-filled isolation," it was to consort with male friends, whether heterosexuals like Granville Hicks and Daniel Aaron or homosexuals like Oskar Seidlin, Howard Doughty and, later on, untenured faculty like Ned Spofford and Joel Dorius, whose names he blurted to the cops in 1960. Not even his oldest boyhood pal, David Lilienthal, busting trusts all the way up to the Atomic Energy Commission, ever guessed that Newton was a Calamus until he read it in the papers. There was room in this closet for only one hanger.
Yaddo was another story. In that magic castle, not only did he write the Whitman book that faced up to the poet's "manly attachment" and self-celebration, if not his own, but he also met Katherine Anne Porter, Louis Kronenberger, Eudora Welty, Marguerite Young, John Malcolm Brinnin, Carson McCullers and Truman Capote, age 21 in 1946, after which many meals, movies, moonlit walks and, Werth tells us, a two-year love affair that was "the happiest, most productive period of Arvin's life," including most of the hard work on Melville. About this furtive scholar, Capote said: "He was like a lozenge that you could keep turning to the light, one way or another, and the most beautiful colors would come out." And later added: "Newton was my Harvard." To "Little T," Newton wrote:
Only I am not a bad boy, and neither are you; we are very good indeed and we shall be better and better as time wears on--for we are at the source of good, and we are drinking the water of truth, and what we are making between us is purely beautiful. Is it possible to be better than that?
More amusing, so much so that it breaks the heart, is a note from Newton in Northampton to Truman in New York: "LOST probably in Manhattan, one peppermint stick, beautifully pink and white, wonderfully straight, deliciously sweet. About a hand's length. Of great intrinsic and also sentimental value to the owner."
But they couldn't live together: Not in New York, where Arvin was as terrified as he was fascinated by drag queens in Harlem. Not even in Nantucket, which was all right in the mornings when Arvin worked on Meville and Capote wrote Other Voices, and also in the afternoons, when Arvin read Pascal and Capote sunbathed. But over dinner, F.O. Matthiessen and the Trillings were not impressed by Truman. (Said Edmund Wilson: "A not unpleasant little monster, like a fetus with a big head." Said Capote: "I must have looked like a male Lolita to those people.") And surely not in Northampton, where Arvin "lived under more or less strict protective cover as a faculty bachelor." It was, Werth tells us, "unthinkable that a staid New England townsman, even a reluctant one like Arvin, would cohabit with someone as flagrantly undisguised as Capote," who showed up on alternate weekends, "raced through town on his visits trailing a signature long scarf" and even sat in the back of Arvin's classes on Proust, James and Shakespeare.
Moreover, Arvin didn't want to live with anybody. Not for the first time or the last, he undertook to sabotage himself. Putting off Capote, who couldn't write at home with his alcoholic mother and wanted to spend time up north, Arvin cautioned him: "It is as if something physical like blood were ebbing out of me--not always, but much of the time--when I am not alone; and the point comes when my identity begins to slip away from me, and I cease to be a whole person even for someone I love." And no sooner had Capote sailed for Europe in May 1948 than Arvin entered into an affair with one of the young novelist's best friends in New York. Capote, as it happens, didn't find out about it from the friend himself, although he would have. He found out about it by reading Arvin's journal.
Which would have been the end of it, except that twelve years later when Arvin was sick, broke and besieged, abandoned by Smith and Yaddo, arrested and facing a trial for trafficking in pornography in a state in which sodomy was still against the law, it was Capote who phoned and wrote from New York and Europe, Capote who made repeated offers of money to help out, Capote who stuck to a friend who hadn't even liked his books, Capote who left funds in his will to endow an award for Lifetime Achievement in Literary Criticism in Arvin's name, Capote who may have been out, flagrant and undisguised, but understood his loyalties enough to stand tall and fast. One of many slogans in Alcoholics Anonymous--we call them bumper stickers--is that you're only as sick as your secrets. Like many AA bumper stickers, this one is smarter than it looks.
I see that I want to fast-forward through the rest, speed-read the writing on the wall, past behaviors simultaneously more reckless and clandestine--the blue movies, the readings from Propertius and the seducing of junior faculty; the trips by bus to Springfield to cruise the Arch and to New York for the Everard Baths; the Etruscan dancers and the public restrooms--unto hospitals (McLean's was his favorite) and suicide attempts (two, both featuring sixteen Nembutals). Of course, Arvin suffered from depression. Of course, he medicated that depression with alcohol, which is a depressant. Of course, if you are serious about suicide, try jumping like F.O. Matthiessen from eleven stories up. And, of course, he died of pancreatic cancer complicated by diabetes, both of which are associated with alcohol abuse. But, at a certain point of muddled vehemence, all these ailments conspire with one another, transcending any one origin myth. Even after Lionel Trilling and Irving Howe raved about his Melville book, he still left the light on all night long. Equally, of course, as Werth observes, "his whole life had been against the law." Death by misadventure in the closet.
How can he be read with respect, or perhaps at all, in a time when we all seem agreed that anguish, inquietude, the experience of guilt, and the knowledge of the Abyss are the essential substance of which admissible literature is made?
(Newton Arvin on RalphWaldo Emerson)
Oh, come off it, Newton.
Still, when the cops came to ransack his tower and then asked him who his friends were, who else had looked at the dirty pictures so ferociously objected to by the Postmaster General of the United States, whatever possessed him to rattle off their names and ruin their careers? Werth doesn't have a theory, any more than he has time for more than a cursory look at the scholarly books, any more than he has bothered to talk to any of the women who worshiped Arvin at Smith in the 1950s and who speak of him, even today, as "a tragic figure," any more than he has done any comparison shopping among brave and craven behaviors by literary intellectuals at moments of stress or witch hunt, even before they started mortgaging their skepticism, their intellectual property rights and their firstborn children for a think-tank sinecure, a corporate canary cage, an Op-Ed parking space, a cable-television camera and an invitation to a way-cool party. He is just relieved to be able to tell us that 1960 was the last time such a thing could happen here.
Are we so sure? I'm as pleased as anyone else that Northampton elected a lesbian mayor in 1999 and that the Empire State Building turns lavender on Friday nights before Gay Pride parades. But the blood-dimmed tide has reversed itself before, even in the ancient world, where you'd think Alexander the Great taught us something about gays in the military. And in the Renaissance, where Michelangelo proved to be a credit to his race. And in prewar Vienna, postwar Weimar and merry old England, which chose to crush its very own Enigmatic thinking machine, Alan Turing. From Harvey Milk to Matthew Shepard, the signals are scary. And the same sexual hysterics are also busy going after stem cells and French contraceptives. Meanwhile, people lose their jobs for logging on to the wrong website.
I sometimes wonder if the Closet doesn't create the Snitch; if, according to another principle of penalty, outlaw desires encoded like A.E. Housman's in Latin poetry, or Alan Turing's in cryptanalysis, or Newton Arvin's in symbolic literature, or even in the superstructure of Marxism and the manifest content of psychoanalysis and the deconstructive text, don't elaborate a psychology of secrets--a kind of underground, spycraft and espionage of false-bottomed narratives, counterfeit identities, microdots, camouflage and disinformation; the closet as deep cover and the snitch as counterintelligence. Are we all hiding? Will we all betray ourselves...and others? If any of this is true, then "outing" may contain an element of self-hatred. On the other hand, without snitches, there couldn't be a War on Drugs, nor would we need the Witness Protection Program. On the third hand, Truman Capote was transparency itself.
Pierre Bourdieu's newsworthiness has become news. The profile of him in the New York Times deals more with how bright his star is than with its substance, and quite a bit of the attention Bourdieu receives from the French press has to do with the attention he receives from the French press. What set this cycle into motion? In France, where academics play a much larger role in public life than they do here, academic visibility is neither rare nor strange. So why did Bourdieu's particular brand of it become a media spectacle?
There are a number of reasons, some of which are obvious--for example, volume. Bourdieu gives televised addresses on the ills of television. He speaks about charged political issues, such as labor and immigration laws, at large demonstrations. He writes incendiary Op-Ed essays in major newspapers. Of course, in order to be taken seriously as a scholar while you do much more than your colleagues in the public arena, much more volubly, you must also maintain enormous intellectual credibility. Bourdieu does. He is professor of sociology at the Collège de France, the apex of French academe, as well as director of studies at the prestigious École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales. And Bourdieu very clearly worked his way to the top. In roughly forty years he has produced approximately thirty books, many of which are regarded by sociologists as major accomplishments. Indeed, the International Sociological Association put his Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (1984) on its list of the ten most important works of sociology written in the twentieth century.
The book examines how aesthetic taste builds and reinforces social hierarchies. It is a typical theme for Bourdieu, who seeks in all his research to lay bare hidden mechanisms of power. When he writes bestselling essays in an activist key, Bourdieu can claim to be drawing directly on his expertise. In this regard, as is often pointed out, he stands in close proximity to another postwar maître penseur, Sartre.
Bourdieu belongs to a different generation, of course, but not necessarily his own. In the early 1960s--before Foucault and Derrida--Bourdieu reoriented structuralism, which was then fashionable among French social scientists, and created a kind of poststructuralist theory. Bourdieu still uses structuralist code-cracking techniques; he sees culture as a series of "fields," each of which is organized according to its own deep grammar. But he dismisses the structuralist principle that you can explain the internal logic of a social system--language, for example--without reference to external factors. Throughout his career, Bourdieu's goal has been to trace shifts in the most autonomous fields, such as the evolution of aesthetic taste and the intensifying opacity of academic discourse, back to the struggle for social or "symbolic" power.
This mode of cultural analysis is quite unlike the other great French poststructuralisms, even the one to which it is most similar, Foucault's. Bourdieu may be interested in something he calls symbolic power; Foucault may have written a history of the prison. Yet the operations of power are much more concrete for Bourdieu than they are for Foucault, who often seems primarily concerned with highly abstract "discursive regimes" that have us by the seat of our subjecthood. And so Bourdieu sees more possibility for getting his hands on, and altering, the power structure: "We must work to universalize the conditions of access to the universal." You will not find a sentence like that in Foucault's writings.
At the same time, Bourdieu hardly exudes optimism. His worldview is dark, but not quite in the way critics generally make it out to be. What they tend to find most striking is the ubiquity of competition--how, for him, the grubby struggle to get ahead, to accumulate "symbolic capital," pervades all areas of culture, even the most refined. Yet something else weighs more heavily on Bourdieu: the unconscious complicity of the oppressed. Bourdieu's world is Kafkaesque rather than Brechtian. For hidden, complicated reasons, those who are "dominated" cede authority to an "established order" that is manifestly absurd. This, Bourdieu claims, is the great "paradox of doxa." Its prime example is masculine domination.
Bourdieu, accordingly, takes up the topic of gender inequality in most of his studies on symbolic power. In fact, his earliest research--on familial organization in North Africa's Kabyle society--figures prominently in his new book, as do ideas worked out in The Logic of Practice (1990). But Masculine Domination is neither a rehashing of old material nor a collection of thematically cohesive essays. Rather, it is itself an essay, the form of which may have been influenced by Virginia Woolf, whom Bourdieu repeatedly invokes as the guiding spirit of his project. For although he states that his deepest affinities are with To the Lighthouse, and not with Woolf's "endlessly quoted" feminist essays, Masculine Domination bears similarities to them in structure (its pointed argument is sustained over about 100 pages and divided into three sections), if not in style.
Following Woolf, Bourdieu wants to "suspend...'the hypnotic power of domination.'" With him, as with her, this means challenging readers to take a new approach to the problem, which in turn means exposing the inadequacy of existing approaches. Bourdieu believes that we produce gender identity. It is a function of our worldview, not a simple anatomical fact around which we form our worldview. For this reason he attacks "differentialist" feminists. By celebrating certain patterns of behavior as natural female strengths, they bolster the false consciousness on which masculine domination relies: the fallacy that what we consider to be male and female characteristics are essential properties. Bourdieu's attitude toward the most dynamic alternative to this feminism, constructivist gender theory, is more complex. He agrees with its main premise: that gender identity is a linguistic construct, right down to its most intimate parts. But he questions its practical value and argues that while constructivism probes forcefully, it does not probe far enough. It is insufficiently radical.
Here Bourdieu's position is refreshingly counterintuitive. For constructivist gender theory, which has been influential in France and the United States since the late 1980s and is itself refreshingly counterintuitive, appears to be nothing if not radical. Indeed, Monique Wittig, a well-known French constructivist, avers that she has no vagina. This claim may sound strange. But its basis is a rational response to a series of reasonable questions: What is the real significance of the term "vagina"? What is its referent? And what is its social function? The point is that "vagina" is not a neutral, innocent label that we give to a self-evidently discrete body part. Rather, as for Bourdieu, it is a concept that imposes an artificial order on the body and regulates our perception of it. When such concepts feel natural to us, when we see what they refer to as organic objects, we are confusing linguistic objects, objects we construct by "inscribing" names and borders onto the world, with diffuse physical reality.
Most of us accept as organically given a vast matrix of constructs, starting with our own bodies. According to critics like Wittig and Bourdieu, this leaves us blind to a very important fact: Power interests always guide our articulation of the world. Concepts not only designate objects, they carry meanings, meanings that generally will be advantageous to some of us. For example, the word "vagina" does not simply refer to a female anatomical feature. In our culture it connotes the defining feature of the female body, the locus of gender identity. And classifying people according to their reproductive organs reflects and institutionalizes a heterosexual bias.
One implication of all this is that when we use everyday language we reinforce meanings and structures of perception that support our gender norms, even where our utterances contain annihilating invectives against our gender norms. Since these meanings and structures depend on reinforcement from the very people who suffer under them, refusing to acknowledge words like "vagina," or playing with them subversively, counts, at least for some constructivists, as resistance. So does constructing identities that openly challenge "normal," heterosexual assumptions about the stability of gender and the natural function of certain body parts.
Bourdieu thinks otherwise. In his preface he declines, rather peremptorily, even to consider the idea that "parodic performances" of identity might loosen masculine domination. He calls instead for "political mobilization, which would open for women the possibility of a collective action of resistance." And in the body of his book Bourdieu writes, "Symbolic power cannot be exercised without the contribution of those who undergo it and who only undergo it because they construct it as such. But instead of stopping at this statement (as constructivism in its idealist, ethnomethodological or other forms does) one has also to take note of and explain the social construction of the cognitive structures which organize acts of construction of the world and its powers." In order to deconstruct patriarchy, it is not enough to speak in abstract terms about how gender identity is constructed. You need to know, in some detail, how gender identity has been constructed historically.
This is not exactly a novel proposition. Much research has been done over the past two decades on the historical construction of gender identity. In fact, Bourdieu draws freely on this research in his own book. What such works--he cites the second volume of Foucault's History of Sexuality as an example--have not done is grab the problem of masculine domination by its roots. They may go back to the ancient Greeks, as is the case with Foucault, but they discuss only famous interpretations of gender constructs (for instance, Plato's), not the ur-constructs that continue to undergird "masculine sociodicy." For Bourdieu it is crucial to penetrate to this level. If we do not, we will go on thinking in circles, laying down a Faustian injunction that is oppressive to both men and women: Become what you already are. Or, as Bourdieu puts it, "The particular strength of the masculine sociodicy comes from the fact that it combines and condenses two operations: it legitimates a relationship of domination by embedding it in a biological nature that is itself a naturalized social construction." Gender identity starts as a social construction, only to become biological. Because "it is brought about and culminates in profound and durable transformations of bodies (and minds)," masculine domination is its own justification. A relationship of domination produces the very biological differences that, when treated as ahistorical and organic, legitimize that relationship.
The way to break out of such "circular causality" is to "reconstruct the history of the labour of dehistoricization." And the way to do this is, again, to begin at the beginning, at the very beginning: with an archetype. In Kabyle society in North Africa there exists, according to Bourdieu, "a paradigmatic form of the 'phallonarcissistic' vision and the androcentric cosmology which are common to all Mediterranean societies." We can see, in Kabyle society, the foundation of Western patriarchal ideology being poured. By bringing to light similarities between it and us, Bourdieu hopes to show us that our most basic premises about gender rest upon an originary, arbitrary social construction and, therefore, cannot be timeless or natural.
Bourdieu analyzes Kabyle society for a second reason. He often asserts that symbolic power works only when the dominated come to see the world from the perspective of the dominant. The process through which this happens, "symbolic violence," is "gentle," "invisible" and "unconscious." It creates cognitive structures so deep and so durable that superficial enlightenment as to the constructedness of gender norms does not suffice to dismantle their coercive power. For as we all know, people who know better behave in accordance with pejorative gender norms, "despite themselves," all the time. More is necessary to break the hypnotic spell of masculine domination: the shock of seeing yourself, or a "paradigmatic" version of yourself, under hypnosis, and eerily unaware of it. Bourdieu thinks that by confronting us with gender relations in Kabyle society he will present us with our own "cultural unconscious," making visible the invisible workings of symbolic violence.
And so he takes us on a "detour through an exotic tradition" in his attempt to develop a forcefully historicizing, psychologically plausible and, therefore, practically effective gender theory. This plan is very compelling. Unfortunately, the detour turns out to be little more than a bleak frontage road. For Bourdieu simply points out a series of damning parallels between modern and Kabyle gender discrimination. He does not go into the latter in detail; the invisible process of symbolic violence never becomes visible--a visible target for critical analysis. Thus his argument does not quite reach its goal. Yet this small book contains many original insights and therefore great promise. Indeed, if Bourdieu decides to write a more comprehensive study of masculine domination, a study on the scale of The Logic of Practice or Distinction, he will produce a theoretical breakthrough in an important field. And that, of course, would be big news.
Thinks..., David Lodge's new novel about cognitive science, university politics and marital infidelity, shows once again the author's knack for making intellectual concepts user-friendly by couching them in funny, satirical plots that even anti-intellectuals will chuckle over. With a cast of characters from both on and off campus, Lodge's latest foray among imaginary academic communities deftly conveys an insider's take on a scene we'd never have dreamed of as undergraduates.
At the center of this wily spoof is middle-aged bad boy Ralph Messenger, director of the Holt Belling Centre for Cognitive Sciences at the University of Gloucester. A successful popularizer of scientific theories of cognition, Messenger brandishes an unshakable, if rather smug, conviction in the prerogatives of science and its ultimate truth-value over other forms of critical inquiry: "These postmodernists are mounting a last-ditch defence of their disciplines by saying...there are no foundations, and no sand. But it's not true. Science is for real. It has made more changes to the conditions of human life than all the preceding millennia of our history put together."
Messenger's intellectual forthrightness doesn't prevent him, however, from being a sly departmental intriguer, an effective media pundit and an incorrigible adulterer. But for appearance' sake he keeps his skirt-chasing at a distance, indulging in these shenanigans only at academic conferences, with the tacit consent of his rich and shrewdly tolerant wife, Carrie, who likes to address him by his last name. (It is a name well suited to a cognitive scientist, but one with ironic implications for a philanderer.)
Messenger's academic archrival, Douglas C. Douglass (a k a Duggers), weighs in on cognition when he describes quantum physics: "Very small particles behave like waves, in random and unpredictable ways. When we make a measurement, we cause the wave to collapse. It's been suggested that the phenomenon of consciousness is a series of continuous collapses of the wave function." When certain secrets unexpectedly come to light, a series of private collapses, or crises, ensue. But the mind of Messenger is an excellent and durable thing, and after a number of complex electrochemical interactions in his brain, clever political maneuvers among his colleagues and a thorough re-examination of the mental hard-drive of his heart, Ralph Messenger is back--if kinder, gentler, more monogamous.
In short, the book is a novel of consciousness updated for the postcomputer age. At a time in which the human mind is increasingly theorized in terms of simultaneously running software programs, Lodge seems to have selected the multitasking model as a way of formally structuring his story, putting a kind of Cubist twist on a Henry James novel. (It's no accident that James is either referred to or quoted at least ten times.) Thinks... also follows on Lodge's many successes in the "campus novel" genre that has so recently tempted the likes of Francine Prose, Philip Roth, Michael Chabon and Jane Smiley. Lodge's multiple entries include Changing Places, Small World and Nice Work, incisive spoofs of academe, replete with university dons, internecine scholarly feuds and all the schmoozing and posturing that goes on at academic conferences.
Thinks... is told in the form of alternating first-person narratives (in the respective media of speech-recognition software or traditional diary) by Messenger and Helen Reed, the English department's new Writer in Residence. Helen is teaching a seminar in creative writing--a profitable course for the university but one that pays "peanuts," as Helen acknowledges and any adjunct professor knows. Recently widowed, she is half in mourning and half in heat, though she doesn't yet realize the latter. She only came to Gloucester U to get out of her emotional rut, and if Messenger has his way, she will, just as fast as you can say "artificial intelligence."
But Helen is a well-known novelist of sensitivity and subtle expressiveness (the kind that Joyce Carol Oates writes appreciative reviews about), so we know it'll take more than the usual academic high jinks to bed her. Like many in the humanities, she's stereotypically suspicious of scientific endeavors to quantify human consciousness: "They have decided that consciousness is a 'problem' which has to be 'solved.' This was news to me, and not particularly welcome. I've always assumed, I suppose, that consciousness was the province of the arts, especially literature, and most especially the novel," she asserts. Ralph will have to engage her mind at a higher level of intellectual involvement than he's used to with women, and he only manages it with the full arsenal of tantalizing scientific tales (handily represented on an illustrative mural) about the problem of consciousness. It's a form of intellectual seduction that seems to work on Helen, if not quite so well on the reader, who can't help wondering where this putatively successful novelist has been for the last ten years, considering that she doesn't even know how to use e-mail until Ralph installs it on her computer. But before such questions are ever answered, unsuspected infidelities are exposed and the delicate balance of human relations crashes, like the central computer system at the Holt Belling Centre. Thus the novel manages to prove, by a kind of narrative algebra, Ralph's thesis that you can never really know what another person is thinking (something most of us know already).
Lodge's story caps the "subjective" chapters told by his characters with a third, "objective" kind, as if to capture in third person the wave of first-person blather, mostly about past sexual experiences or lost loves, in the female register. Lodge is attempting to isolate constituent narrative elements that are normally fused, as Helen observes, in the work of someone like James, where "it's all narrated in the third person, in precise, elegant, well-formed sentences. It's subjective and objective."
These narrative triads are also interrupted by experimental chapters that parody the work of Martin Amis, Irvine Welsh and Salman Rushdie in the form of writing exercises by Helen's students (take that, amateurs!), or as funny e-mail exchanges between Ralph and the various women in his life, all jockeying for advantage. (Ludmila Lisk, a Czech graduate student he meets in Prague, is especially adept at this kind of electronic blackmail.)
While the subjective chapters imply how language can reproduce the lived experience of human consciousness--or qualia, as the novel informs us--the objective ones hint at the efforts of cognitive scientists to quantify such experience. Thus the book represents a kind of formal struggle between sense and sensibility, science and subjectivity.
Each half of the paradigm is personified by Ralph or Helen, who find their mutual seduction taking place in the form of a continuing debate about the nature of mind, its relation to the body and whether or not it has an existence all its own, like a soul. Sensualist that he is, Ralph denies the possibility of mental life existing independently of the body, while Helen stubbornly insists that the best works of literature suggest otherwise. But Helen suffers from residual religious feeling, even if she doesn't accept the basic catechism of her old faith anymore. Not surprisingly, she finds that her shaky beliefs, like her determination to resist Ralph's advances, are flagging under the assault of a rather glib scientific discourse generated by the "Messenger."
Ralph Messenger is Lodge's ad man for cognitive science, artificial intelligence and other cutting-edge disciplines. Like most skilled careerists, he seems to outsmart all his critics, often to the detriment of the reader's appreciation. He even wriggles from the grasp of threatened fate when a potentially cancerous lump discovered in his liver gets downgraded to a mere "hydatid cyst," whatever that is. That's OK in a story intended to tickle our sense of quirky destiny and intellectual fun--particularly at the expense of new-age and postmodern pieties. But one can't help thinking that Lodge himself is taking a few too many swipes at the usual suspects: political correctness, cultural studies, women and... incidently, does anyone of color attend Gloucester U?
One gets impatient with Lodge's contrived plot twists, pedantic explanations (the book defines things like CT scans and colonoscopies) and tendentious dialogues that often betray a smug contempt for nonconformists with unpopular critical agendas. The crafty Messenger even short-circuits student activism, noting, "Students these days are more concerned about what hurts their pockets than about principles." Anyone who doesn't scintillate with media savvy or swagger at departmental cocktail parties is routinely caricatured and usually turns out to be some kind of backstabber or sexual deviant (Douglas Douglass is Humbert Humbert).
This, of course, does not apply to Helen, whose supple aesthetic instincts sometimes cruelly position her for the most chilling revelations about her colleagues, their spouses, her students, her deceased husband. She provides the conscience her male counterpart often lacks and, by the end, even manages to draw moral lessons about the new technologies themselves. When Ralph informs her that everything one downloads from the Internet is indelibly recorded on a computer's hard drive, she asks: "Like the recording angel writing down your sins?" Yet even Helen (Lodge's bait for a larger female readership?) seems to fall in and out of love, in and out of mourning, with a kind of mechanical efficiency and not from any deeper fund of feeling. Thus what Lodge often gains through structural complexity, formal experimentation and witty observation, he squanders through facile characterization. But in the end, for anyone still struggling with the reality of A.I. and the theories behind the machines that increasingly run our lives, the book should provide a humorous introduction.
THE HUDSON, THE MOON, THE JEJUNE
Eric Alterman's July 2 "Full-Court Press" insinuates that the Hudson Institute "sent [scholar Evan Gahr] packing" because Gahr called Paul Weyrich an anti-Semite. This charge has no merit and presents a false impression of the institute. Alterman made no effort to contact us before writing his piece. Had he done so, he would have learned that Gahr's firing was an internal matter, unrelated to any ideas Gahr advocated.
For forty years, Hudson Institute has been a research organization that encourages debate among peers, affording scholars considerable latitude to express their ideas. Our researchers regularly voice opinions more controversial than Gahr's comments about Weyrich. Gen. William Odom (ret.), director of security studies at Hudson, was in fact quoted in the June 18 Nation, arguing for the dissolution of the CIA. Evidence for Hudson's eclecticism can be found in the fact that our scholars are Democrats and Republicans, liberals, moderates and conservatives. Moreover, in the past few months alone, two prominent contributors to The Nation--David Corn and Rick Perlman--have spoken at institute-sponsored events.
Vice president and director
Eric Alterman apparently thinks lying is a form of mooning. In his case it's also compulsive, relentless and boring. For the record, I am obviously not a "staunch defender of the anti-Semites' right to blood-libel Jews," as he hilariously proposes; nor did I "expunge" or remove a single word, sentence, paragraph--let alone an entire article--by the equally addlebrained Evan Gahr from my website. Nation readers interested in the facts--Gahr's original article and Weyrich's, my commentaries on Gahr and Weyrich, Gahr's infantile complaints, Crouch's column, my answer and an account of the slanders against Laszlo Pastor by the Soviet occupiers of Communist Hungary, which Alterman and Conason eagerly spread--can find them with ease on my "censorious" website (www.frontpagemagazine.com). Such a waste of valuable Nation space that could have been put to better use defending the oppressed.
New York City
Weinstein says that I "insinuate" anti-Semitism on the part of the Hudson Institute. That's silly. I "insinuate" only cowardice. His defense, meanwhile, in making reference to Nation contributors sounds a great deal like the "some of my best friends..." line. When using it, however, he would be wise to get the names of his friends right. It is "Perlstein," not "Perlman." I hate to stereotype, but I hear Jews can be quite touchy about that kind of thing.
As for David Horowitz, well, I don't write about David Horowitz unless I'm getting paid for it.
GALE BREWER'S RUN
New York City
Doug Ireland writes an article ["Those Big Town Blues," June 4] and a letter ["Exchange," July 2] asserting his positions on city politics and the Working Families Party and manages to make such an incorrect statement about one of the candidates that one wonders what else he has wrong. Ireland dismisses Gale Brewer's increasingly successful run for the City Council by describing her as "a longtime patronage employee of the Manhattan Borough President's Office." For the record, Brewer never worked for the Borough President's Office. She came onto my Council staff when I was first elected, in 1978, with no party or patronage ties of any kind. She established a record in that office of being available to constituents, solving problems of every type, attending to the needs of people who had never called a legislative office in their lives and training at least thirty student interns every year for eleven years. She won us the Daily News designation of Most Accessible Council Office. It is a great tribute to Gale that the contacts she made in the district in the 1980s are standing her in great stead in this campaign. Mayor Dinkins hired Gale to do the city's federal relations and to increase government accessibility. She also worked for Public Advocate Mark Green and for a private contractor increasing services to public housing residents in Queens. Quite a record, none of it in the Borough President's Office and all of it on her own merits. No wonder the Working Families Party, trying to change politics in New York, picked her as a candidate.
Manhattan Borough President
Former City Council member
New York City
My only point about Gale Brewer was that she could hardly be included on a list of "nontraditional" candidates, because she had spent quite a few years as a political appointee on the public payroll--which Messinger's letter confirms.
GLOWING IN THE DARK IN CAROLINA
Thanks for David Potorti's excellent article on the nuclear waste battle in North Carolina ["Nuclear Danger Zone, NC," July 2]. Most media have ignored the key facts of Carolina Power and Light's creation of the nation's largest storage site for "spent" nuclear fuel--the $7 billion corporation has worked hard to mute criticism. And the potential for horrific fires from high-density waste pools at nuclear plants across America has been left out of the nuclear revival debate.
Loss of cooling pool water at most plants could result in a fire that would spread across the entire pool (in CP&L's case, four pools). Since most pools have been tightly packed with thousands of assemblies (compared to hundreds in a reactor core), such a fire could exceed the Chernobyl disaster.
The dirty secret is that an NRC security assessment program concludes that US plants are highly vulnerable to terrorist attack. Even after being allowed to bolster security in advance of scheduled drills, at nearly half the plants mock intruders not only got inside but also were able to simulate meltdown of the reactor core. Now the industry is furiously working to abolish the NRC program.
You'd think Democratic rising star and "populist" Senator John Edwards would be standing up to CP&L and the NRC on this hometown debacle, especially with the NRC under investigation for colluding with CP&L. The only logical reason for his silence is the nuclear industry's prominence in funding presidential campaigns.
Executive director, NC WARN
(NC Waste Awareness & Reduction Network)
AND A POLL OF THE PEOPLE REVEALS...
Alexander Cockburn quoted the journal Dissent in his June 18 "Beat the Devil" and called it "an obscure journal," then later adds this footnote: "The Nation's editor, Katrina vanden Heuvel, wishes it to be on record that she takes exception to the description of Dissent as 'obscure.' I suggest a poll of the American people."
Saved by the hip editor. I suggest that a poll of the American people would consider The Nation obscure. But a poll of Nation readers would not consider Dissent obscure.
Even before I saw the footnote, I'd reached for my pen: Dissent is hardly "obscure," and a less-than-majority poll vote won't establish that it is.
EVELYN A. MAUSS
Dissent is clearly targeted to the academy and to a broader "intelligentsia," and in this regard is not at all "obscure." All academic journals are obscure to the general population, so a poll of "the American people" would prove little. Journals tailored to a specific subdisciplinary group, such as Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography (now in its thirty-third volume), are even more "obscure" to the public, but even this example is one of the leading sources of citations in its field. Dissent might even be called popular when judged within its context.
RAYMOND P. BARUFFALO
I am not particularly erudite but I did subscribe to Dissent for a year. I must have picked it up at a bookstore; as I recall it had an article by Dr. Gerda Lerner, whose books I had read. I found it to be, well, challenging--but obscure? If a lab technician in Rochester has read it, it's not obscure.
GE... BRINGS PCBs TO LIFE
Richard Pollak did a fine job of summarizing the sad saga of GE, PCBs and the Hudson River ["Is GE Mightier Than the Hudson?" May 28]. Unfortunately, there's another GE-type destruction in the making. People who value the historic and natural beauty of the Hudson Valley do not want to read "Is PG&E Mightier Than the Hudson?" years down the road. Largely because of a faulty and undemocratic state permit process, Athens Generating (a subsidiary of PG&E), a 1080-megawatt, gas-fired electric power plant, was recently given final approval by the Army Corps of Engineers. New York State's sham of an energy deregulation process, including corporate "gifts," behind-the-scenes political maneuvering, community profiling, disregard of environmental policies and public sentiment, amounts to an unholy alliance between a huge corporation and a state bureaucracy. The press, the politicians, even environmental groups have been silenced or have treated the project as a done deal. This story, and its ramifications for the whole Hudson River Valley, needs to be brought to light and now. Have we learned nothing from the GE story?
STOPP (Stand Together
Oppose Power Plant)
East Nassau, N.Y.
As a result of your exposé, I decided to sell all my shares in GE. Thanks for helping me to make my decision.
Any day now the Bush Administration will begin sending out its much-touted tax rebate. How should progressives who believe this rebate is wrong both as a matter of principle and policy respond to this "windfall"? Spend it on themselves? Send it back to the government? We'd like to propose another possibility: Use it against Bush and his right-wing compatriots by sending it to The Nation. Use the master's tools to dismantle the master's house! We plan to send a portion of our rebate to The Nation and the rest to progressive PACs that will have the greatest impact during the next election cycle. When other media are complicit in this Administration's mis-exercise of power, The Nation continues to speak truth to power. You are a national treasure!
PETE BROSIUS and ELLEN WALKER