<& "$_basedir/include/icaps.imhtml", style=>$icapstyle, letter=>'"A' &>rguing with intelligence, a massive array of facts and a sly wit, Sifry claims that our two-party system is a 'duopoly' that decisively dictates national politics through control of federal money and does not reflect the views or needs of many Americans." --Publishers Weekly, on Micah L. Sifry's Spoiling For a Fight: Third-Party Politics in America.
The Africa trip of Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and Irish rock star Bono produced a bumper harvest of photo ops and articles about aid to Africa. Unfortunately, media coverage was mired in the perennial and stale aid debate: Should we give more? Does it work?
If the O'Neill-Bono safari resulted in Washington finally paying more of its proper share for global health, education and clean water, that would be cause for applause. But any real change requires shifting the terms of debate. Indeed, the term "aid" itself carries the patronizing connotation of charity and a division of the world into "donors" and "recipients."
At the late June meeting in Canada of the rich countries known as the G8, aid to Africa will be high on the agenda. But behind the rhetoric, there is little new money--as evidenced by the just-announced paltry sum of US funding for AIDS--and even less new thinking. Despite the new mantra of "partnership," the current aid system, in which agencies like the World Bank and the US Treasury decide what is good for the poor, reflects the system of global apartheid that is itself the problem.
There is an urgent need to pay for such global public needs as the battles against AIDS and poverty by increasing the flow of real resources from rich to poor. But the old rationales and the old aid system will not do. Granted, some individuals and programs within that system make real contributions. But they are undermined by the negative effects of top-down aid and the policies imposed with it.
For a real partnership, the concept of "aid" should be replaced by a common obligation to finance international public investment for common needs. Rich countries should pay their fair share based on their privileged place in the world economy. At the global level, just as within societies, stacked economic rules unjustly reward some and punish others, making compensatory public action essential. Reparations to repair the damage from five centuries of exploitation, racism and violence are long overdue. Even for those who dismiss such reasoning as moralizing, the argument of self-interest should be enough. There will be no security for the rich unless the fruits of the global economy are shared more equitably.
As former World Bank official Joseph Stiglitz recently remarked in the New York Review of Books, it is "a peculiar world, in which the poor countries are in effect subsidizing the richest country, which happens, at the same time, to be among the stingiest in giving assistance in the world."
One prerequisite for new thinking about questions like "Does aid work?" is a correct definition of the term itself. Funds from US Agency for International Development, or the World Bank often go not for economic development but to prop up clients, dispose of agricultural surpluses, impose right-wing economic policies mislabeled "reform" or simply to recycle old debts. Why should money transfers like these be counted as aid? This kind of "aid" undermines development and promotes repression and violence in poor countries.
Money aimed at reaching agreed development goals like health, education and agricultural development could more accurately be called "international public investment." Of course, such investment should be monitored to make sure that it achieves results and is not mismanaged or siphoned off by corrupt officials. But mechanisms to do this must break with the vertical donor-recipient dichotomy. Monitoring should not be monopolized by the US Treasury or the World Bank. Instead, the primary responsibility should be lodged with vigilant elected representatives, civil society and media in countries where the money is spent, aided by greater transparency among the "development partners."
One well-established example of what is possible is the UN's Capital Development Fund, which is highly rated for its effective support for local public investment backed by participatory governance. Another is the new Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria, which has already demonstrated the potential for opening up decision-making to public scrutiny. Its governing board includes both "donor" and "recipient" countries, as well as representatives of affected groups. A lively online debate among activists feeds into the official discussions.
Funding for agencies like these is now by "voluntary" donor contributions. This must change. Transfers from rich to poor should be institutionalized within what should ultimately be a redistributive tax system that functions across national boundaries, like payments within the European Union.
There is no immediate prospect for applying such a system worldwide. Activists can make a start, however, by setting up standards that rich countries should meet. AIDS activists, for example, have calculated the fair contribution each country should make to the Global AIDS Fund (see www.aidspan.org).
Initiatives like the Global AIDS Fund show that alternatives are possible. Procedures for defining objectives and reviewing results should be built from the bottom up and opened up to democratic scrutiny. Instead of abstract debates about whether "aid" works, rich countries should come up with the money now for real needs. That's not "aid," it's just a common-sense public investment.
The $4.4 million damages award in June against FBI agents and Oakland police for violating the constitutional rights of environmental activists Darryl Cherney and Judi Bari, wrongly accused of terrorism in 1990, represents more than the culmination of a twelve-year struggle for vindication. The case also highlights the risks of today's antiterrorism measures and offers lessons both daunting and encouraging about the years ahead.
In May 1990, an explosion tore through the car carrying Earth First! organizers Bari and Cherney. Bari suffered a fractured pelvis; Cherney, less serious injuries. They assumed the bombing was the work of antienvironmentalists, meant to disrupt planning for the Redwood Summer of civil disobedience against the logging of old-growth forest.
The FBI Joint Terrorist Task Force jumped to quite a different conclusion. As soon as Bari and Cherney were identified, the FBI informed the local police and leaked to the press that the pair were terrorists. The authorities claimed that Bari must have made the bomb herself and that it had accidentally exploded while the two were carrying it to an unknown target. Bari was placed under arrest in her hospital bed. Police and FBI agents searched houses in Oakland where Bari and Cherney had stayed and questioned their fellow activists. Over the next two months, until the government announced it would not charge the two environmentalists, the local police and the FBI continued to call them terrorists.
Only after years of litigation did the truth emerge: The FBI, before the bombing, had been investigating Bari and Cherney because of their political activism. When the bomb went off, the FBI shaded the facts to fit an ideological presumption of guilt. It was also revealed that the FBI, even after Bari and Cherney had been cleared, collected data nationwide on hundreds of individuals and groups merely on the basis of their association with the two Earth First! activists.
The case demonstrates how the truth will come out when the judiciary fulfills its constitutional role. With patience, skill and funding, committed activists and lawyers can bring accountability to the FBI. Just as Bari and Cherney won, just as the secret evidence cases brought after the 1996 antiterrorism law melted in the face of judicial challenges, so the material witness detentions and other rights violations of today will ultimately be held unconstitutional. But the FBI and the Justice Department will resist oversight and use secrecy and delaying tactics to evade accountability, prolonging personal and political damage. Justice was too late for Judi Bari. She died of cancer in 1997.
The most sobering lesson of the Bari-Cherney case may be this: The FBI's focus on politics over hard evidence meant that the real bomber was never captured. In the same way, the Attorney General's recent announcement that the FBI can monitor meetings and groups with no prior suspicion of criminal conduct is likely to take the FBI down the path of investigations based on politics, ethnicity or religion, while real terrorists escape detection.
The journalist I.F. Stone used to joke that the government issues so much information every day, it can't help but let the truth slip out every once in a while. The Bush Administration's recent report on global warming is a classic example. Though far from perfect, it contains some crucial but awkward truths that neither George W. Bush nor his environmentalist critics want to confront. Which may explain why the Administration has sought to bury the report, while critics have misrepresented its most ominous conclusion.
U.S. Climate Action Report 2002 made headlines because it contradicted so much of what the Administration has said about global warming. Not only is global warming real, according to the report, but its consequences--heat waves, water shortages, rising sea levels, loss of beaches and marshes, more frequent and violent weather--will be punishing for Americans. The report's biggest surprise was its admission that human activities, especially the burning of oil and other fossil fuels, are the primary cause of climate change. Of course, the rest of the world has known since 1995 that human actions have "a discernible impact" on the global climate, to quote a landmark report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But the White House has resisted this conclusion. After all, if burning fossil fuels is to blame for global warming, it makes sense to burn less of them. To a lifelong oilman like Bush, who continues to rely on his former industry colleagues for campaign contributions as well as senior staff, such a view is nothing less than heresy.
No wonder, then, that Bush and his high command have virtually repudiated the report. Although their staffs helped write it, both EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham claimed they were unaware of the report until the New York Times disclosed its existence on June 3. Bush himself dismissed it as a mere product of "the bureaucracy," that oft-vilified bogyman of right-wing ideology. But he could equally have blamed his own father. The only reason U.S. Climate Action Report 2002 was compiled in the first place is that George Bush the First signed a global warming treaty at the 1992 Earth Summit that obligates the United States to periodically furnish such reports to the UN (one more reason, it seems, to despise treaties). But somebody in the Administration must have seen trouble coming, because the report could not have been released with less fanfare: It was simply posted on the EPA's website, three unguided links in from the homepage. If you weren't looking for it, you'd never find it.
The Administration has been hammered for issuing a report that on one hand admits that global warming threatens catastrophe but on the other maintains there is no need to reduce consumption of fossil fuels. The report squares this circle by arguing that global warming has now become inevitable, so we should focus less on preventing it than on adapting to it. To deal with water scarcity, for example, the report advocates building more dams and raising the price of water to encourage conservation. Critics see such recommendations as proof that the Administration is doing nothing about global warming. Unfortunately, it's not that simple.
The worst thing about the new global warming report is that it is absolutely correct about a fundamental but often unmentioned aspect of the problem: the lag effect. Most greenhouse gases remain in the atmosphere for approximately 100 years. The upshot of this undeniable chemical fact is that no matter what remedial steps are taken today, humanity is doomed to experience however much global warming the past 100 years of human activities will generate. That does not mean we should make matters worse by continuing to burn fossil fuels, as Bush foolishly urges; our children and grandchildren deserve better than that. It does mean, however, that we as a civilization must not only shift to green energy sources immediately but also begin planning how we will adapt to a world that is bound to be a hotter, drier, more disaster-punctuated place in the twenty-first century.
Many environmentalists know it is too late to prevent global warming; the best we can do is minimize its scope. They don't like to admit this truth, because they fear it will discourage people from making, and demanding, the personal and institutional changes needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. There is that risk. But a truth does not disappear simply because it is inconvenient. Besides, a green energy future would mean more, not less, economic well-being for most Americans, while also increasing our chances of avoiding the most extreme global warming scenarios. Sometimes the truth hurts. But avoiding it will hurt even more.
Would it be too early to sense a sudden, uncovenanted shift against the corporate ethic, if ethic is the word? I can barely turn the page of a newspaper or magazine without striking across either some damaging admission, or at least some damage-control statement, from the boardroom classes.
What would the world look like if women had full human rights? If girls went to school and young women went to college in places where now they are used as household drudges and married off at 11 or 12? If women could go out for the whole range of jobs, could own the land they work, inherit property on equal terms with men? If they could control their own sexuality and fertility and give birth safely? If they had recourse against traffickers, honor killers, wife beaters? If they had as much say and as much power as men at every level of decision-making, from the household to the legislature? If John Ashcroft has his way, we may never find out. After twenty years of stalling by Jesse Helms, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in early June held hearings on the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), an international treaty ratified by 169 nations. (President Carter signed CEDAW in 1980, but the Senate blocked it.) George W. Bush originally indicated that he would sign it--that was when he was sending Laura onto the airwaves to blast the Taliban--but under the influence of Ashcroft, he's since been hedging. Naturally, the religious right has been working the phones: According to one e-mail that came across my screen, the operator who answers the White House comment line assumed the writer was calling to oppose CEDAW, so heavily were the calls running against it. The reasons? CEDAW would license abortion, promote homosexuality and teen sex and destroy The Family. In 2000, Helms called it "a terrible treaty negotiated by radical feminists with the intent of enshrining their anti-family agenda into international law."
How radical can CEDAW be, you may ask, given that it's been ratified by Pakistan, Jordan and Myanmar? Genderquake is hardly around the corner. Still, across the globe women have been able to use it to improve their access to education and healthcare as well as their legal status. In Japan, on the basis of a CEDAW violation, women sued their employers for wage discrimination and failure to promote; the Tanzanian High Court cited CEDAW in a decision to overturn a ban on clan land inheritance for women. Given the dire situation of women worldwide, it is outrageous to see US policy in the grip of Falwell, James Dobson and Ralph Nader's good friend Phyllis Schlafly. Like the Vatican, which uses its UN observer status to make common cause with Islamic fundamentalist governments on behalf of fetus and family, on CEDAW the Bush Administration risks allying itself with Somalia, Qatar and Syria to promote the religious right agenda on issues of sexuality. In the same way, at the recent UN General Assembly Special Session on the Child--where the United States opposed providing girls with sex education beyond "just say no," even though in much of the Third World the typical "girl" is likely to be married with children--the Bush Administration allied itself with Libya, Sudan and evil axis member Iran. Some clash of civilizations.
Given this season's spate of popular books about mean girls and inhumane women, it might seem starry-eyed to suppose that more equality for women would have a positive general social effect. Where women are healthy and well educated and self-determined, you can bet that men are too, but the situation of women is not only a barometer of a society's general level of equality and decency--improving women's status is key to solving many of the world's most serious problems. Consider the AIDS epidemic now ravaging much of the Third World: Where women cannot negotiate safe sex, or protect themselves from rape, or expect fidelity from their male partners, where young girls are sought out by older HIV-positive men looking for tractable sex partners, where prostitution flourishes under the most degraded conditions and where women are beaten or even murdered when their HIV-positive status becomes known, what hope is there of containing the virus? Under these circumstances, "just say no" is worse than useless: In Thailand, being married is the single biggest predictor of a woman's testing positive. As long as women are illiterate, poor and powerless, AIDS will continue to ravage men, women and children.
Or consider hunger. Worldwide, women do most of the farming but own only 2 percent of the land. In many areas where tribal rules govern inheritance, they cannot own or inherit land and are thrown off it should their husband die. Yet a study by the Food and Agriculture Organization shows that women spend more time on productive activities, and according to the International Center for Research on Women, women spend more of their earnings on their children than men do. Recognizing and maximizing women's key economic role would have a host of benefits--it would lessen hunger, improve women's and children's well-being, improve women's status in the family, lower fertility.
And then there's war and peace. I don't think it's an accident that Islamic fundamentalism flourishes in the parts of the world where women are most oppressed--indeed, maintaining and deepening women's subjugation, the violent rejection of everything female, is one of its major themes. (Remember Mohammed Atta's weird funeral instructions?) At the same time, the denial of education, employment and rights to women fuels the social conditions of backwardness, provincialism and poverty that sustain religious fanaticism.
If women's rights were acknowledged as the key to human progress that they are, we would look at all these large issues of global politics and economics very differently. Would the US government have been able to spend a billion dollars backing the fundamentalist warlords who raped and abducted women and threw acid at their unveiled faces while "fighting communism" and destroying Afghanistan? At the recently concluded loya jirga, which featured numerous current and former warlords as delegates, a woman delegate stood up and denounced former President Burhanuddin Rabbani as a violent marauder. For a moment, you could see that, as the saying goes, another world is possible.
On September 23, 2001, midpoint between the horrific events of September 11 and the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, the New York Times ran an intriguing headline. "Forget the Past: It's a War Unlike Any Other," it advised, above an article by John Kifner noting that "Air Force bombers are heading toward distant airfields to fight a shadowy foe flitting through the mountains in a deeply hostile land already so poor and so ruined by two decades of war that [it] is virtually bereft of targets." It was a poor headline for an article that began by noting the long history of conflicts among great powers over control of Central Asia, but it was a message with a significant degree of resonance.
History was often being ignored in the heated discussions of the coming war and the attacks that provoked it, of course, but usually without anyone having to instruct us to forget it. Pundits and politicians alike could draw on a long tradition of keeping the public ill informed about the role of the United States in the world. And once the "war on terrorism" actually started, those who tried to speak about a context for the attacks of September, or of how the history of US intervention in the world had produced rage and frustration that could help fuel such actions, were accused of justifying terrorism.
In The Clash of Fundamentalisms, a riposte to Samuel Huntington's much-discussed "clash of civilizations" thesis, Pakistani writer and filmmaker Tariq Ali sets the ambitious goal of challenging such organized historical amnesia--"the routine disinformation or no-information that prevails today"--and of speaking forthrightly about many topics that have become unpopular or even heretical in the West, as well as within what he calls the House of Islam. "The virtual outlawing of history by the dominant culture has reduced the process of democracy to farce," Ali puts it in one chapter, "A short course history of US imperialism." In such a situation, "everything is either oversimplified or reduced to a wearisome incomprehensibility."
Whereas Huntington's "clash of civilizations" thesis posits a cultural conflict between Islamic and Western civilization, and sees religion as "perhaps the central force that motivates and mobilizes people," Ali argues that economics and politics, especially oil politics, remain central to the friction between Western powers and states in the so-called Islamic world, particularly in the Middle East. He rejects Huntington's identification of the West with "human rights, equality, liberty, the rule of law, [and] democracy," and he reminds us of the vast disparities that exist among cultures and nations within the Islamic world itself.
Few people are better disposed than Ali to serve as a guide to the neglected and distorted histories relevant to the conflict in Afghanistan, the broader "war on terrorism" now being fought on numerous fronts by the Bush Administration, and the intimately related conflicts in Pakistan, India and Kashmir, which have recently put the world on a heightened nuclear alert. Ali, a longtime editor of New Left Review and Verso books, is the author of three books on Pakistan and has deep personal and political connections to the region. In The Clash of Fundamentalisms he surveys a range of regional and historical conflicts that remain open chapters, including the creation of Israel and its ongoing occupation of Palestinian lands, the unfinished legacy of Britain's brutal partition of India in 1947 and the fallout from division of the world by the colonial powers. The book is an outstanding contribution to our understanding of the nightmare of history from which so many people are struggling to awake, and deserves serious engagement and consideration. Ali broadens our horizons, geographically, historically, intellectually and politically.
Despite his obvious hostility to religious modes of thinking--defending against religious orthodoxy in favor of "the freedom to think freely and rationally and [exercise] the freedom of imagination"--Ali has a sophisticated appreciation of the many contradictory movements and ideas that have organized themselves under the banner of Islam. He can debate Islamic doctrine with the most ardent purists while at the same time dispensing with the simplistic (and all too often racist) caricatures of Islam that pass for analysis in the West. In The Clash of Fundamentalisms he takes the reader on a necessarily schematic and selective history of Islam, though one wishes he had provided more signposts for those interested in further study than the scattered and inconsistent references included in this volume.
Ali writes here of his "instinctive" atheism during his upbringing in Lahore, Pakistan, and of being politicized at an early age. His experiences then helped him understand Islam as a political phenomenon, born of the specific historic experiences of Muhammad, who worked on a merchant caravan and traveled widely, "coming into contact with Christians and Jews and Magians and pagans of every stripe." Ali writes that "Muhammad's spiritual drive was partially fueled by socio-economic passions, by the desire to strengthen the communal standing of the Arabs and the need to impose a set of common rules," thus creating an impulse toward the creation of a universal state that remains an important element of Islam's appeal.
Ali offers a fascinating discussion of the Mu'tazilites, an Islamic sect that attempted to reconcile monotheism with a materialist understanding of the world, including a theory of the atomic composition of matter; some of its members also argued that the Koran was a historical rather than a revealed document. "The poverty of contemporary Islamic thought contrasts with the riches of the ninth and tenth centuries," Ali argues. But he is by no means backward looking in his own vision. He is particularly scornful of the mythical idealized past valorized by the Wahhabites in Saudi Arabia, the Taliban and other Islamic sects. "What do the Islamists offer?" Ali asks rhetorically: "A route to a past which, mercifully for the people of the seventh century, never existed."
Ali sees the spread of reactionary impulses within Islam in part as a response to "the defeat of secular, modernist and socialist impulses on a global scale." Various forms of religious fundamentalism, not only Islamic ones, have partially filled a void created by the failures of parties operating under the banner of secular nationalism and Communism in the Third World. These failures--his examples include Egypt and Syria--were connected to the limits of the nationalist leaderships themselves, especially their lack of democracy and suppression of religious movements by politicians seeking to preserve and extend their own power. But Ali also goes on to argue that "all the other exit routes have been sealed off by the mother of all fundamentalisms: American imperialism."
Consider, for example, the consequences of the US work to train and arm the Islamic forces in Afghanistan, the mujahedeen, to wage a holy war against the Soviet Union. A decade after the Soviets were expelled, the country "was still awash with factional violence," while "veterans of the war helped to destabilize Egypt, Algeria, the Philippines, Sudan, Pakistan, Chechnya, Dagestan and Saudi Arabia." The factional instability in Afghanistan, coupled with Pakistan's intervention, created the conditions that led to the Taliban's rise to power.
To discuss the US government's role in overthrowing the secular nationalist Mossadegh in Iran in 1953 and supporting the brutal Shah for decades; in operating through the intermediary of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence units to back the mujahedeen in Afghanistan; in repeatedly downplaying serious human rights abuses by US "friends" such as Pakistan under Zia ul-Haq and Benazir Bhutto, whose governments actively sponsored the growth of the Taliban; and in lending support to groups like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Sarekat Islam in Indonesia and Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan is not merely a case of obsessing about past wrongs. As Ali argues persuasively, the past is indeed prologue.
Ali has a sharp mind and wit. His mode of history telling is lyrical and engaging, humane and passionate. He repeatedly points to the lessons learned by people in the course of struggle, challenging the pervasive view that people can be liberated by those other than themselves, setting out his differences with the advocates of "humanitarian intervention." Ali writes that Western intellectuals have been far too quick to support US-led military interventions such as the Gulf War and to provide a liberal veneer of respect to wars prosecuted only rhetorically in the name of human rights and democracy but actually motivated by traditional "reasons of state." Where other people see closed doors in history, he sees roads not taken and paths that remain to be pursued.
Yet Ali spends too little time enumerating what some of those alternate paths might be, especially for readers who are new to the history recounted in The Clash of Fundamentalisms (certainly a significant section of his readership, given the intense interest in Islam, Central Asia, the Middle East and US foreign policy that has been so much in evidence in recent months). In his final chapter, "Letter to a young Muslim," Ali provides a thoughtful challenge to his correspondent, but I fear he has not done enough to convince his reader to change allegiances. He has more to say about the weakness of Islamism than about any alternative vision of how a more just world might be achieved. What would a compelling agenda look like in an era when, as he notes, "no mainstream political party anywhere in the world even pretends that it wishes to change anything significant"? What might a radical secular program consist of today? How does one effectively mount a challenge to the claim that there is no alternative to American-style capitalism, or that attempts at fundamental change will reproduce the horrors of the Soviet Union?
Indeed, The Clash of Fundamentalisms would have been stronger if Ali had engaged this question more thoroughly. Though he expresses contempt for the bureaucratic and dictatorial regimes that confronted the United States during the cold war, at times he gives the Soviet bloc more credit than it deserves. To suggest that China and the Soviet Union were "striving for a superior social and economic system" is to give those regimes far too much credit, and in essence to maintain some illusion that Stalinist authoritarianism was a real alternative.
Ali at times repeats himself verbatim and gets a few details wrong (such as misdating Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1991, rather than 1990). None of this takes away from the importance of his argument that we are not living in a radically new epoch in history, but in a period with all too much continuity to the one before September 11.
No one has contributed more to the United States than James Madison. He was the principal architect of the Constitution, the brilliant theorist who, more than any other single individual, was responsible for designing the American system of government. Moreover, along with Washington and Franklin, Madison was one of the men who made the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia work. Whenever passionate disagreements threatened the enterprise, it was Madison's calm logic to which the others listened. As one delegate put it, it was Madison who had "the most correct knowledge" about government affairs.
And no one did more than Madison to get the Constitution ratified in the face of strong anti-Federalist opposition. The most hyperbolic superlatives cannot do justice to the twenty-nine newspaper essays Madison wrote that, together with essays by Alexander Hamilton and John Jay (all written under the pseudonym Publius), comprise the Federalist Papers. Suffice it to say that 200 years later a distinguished political scientist wrote, "The Federalist is the most important work in political science that has ever been written, or is likely to be written, in the United States," and that Madison's contributions shine the brightest.
And that is not all. At the convention in Richmond when anti-Federalists George Mason and Patrick Henry used every argument and stratagem to persuade Virginia to refuse to ratify the new Constitution--which, had they been successful, would have caused the Union to be stillborn--it was Madison's cool, clear reasoning that once again saved the day.
Madison's place in the pantheon of great Americans, therefore, is secure regardless of how we evaluate his performance as the nation's fourth President (1809-17). His reputation can withstand the central inquiry of Garry Wills's short and provocative new book, namely: Why was James Madison so great a constitutionalist but so dreadful a President?
Perhaps I overstate by calling Madison's presidency "dreadful." Wills does not go that far. He presents an evaluation of Madison's successes and failures, finding both. Nor do historians generally consider Madison a dreadful President. When C-SPAN asked historians to rank the forty-two American Presidents, Madison came in at number 18, putting him slightly above average and, by way of modern comparisons, ahead of George H.W. Bush (20) and Bill Clinton (21).
Wills's strongest pejorative is his description of Madison as a "hapless commander in chief." Nevertheless, Wills's examination makes me wonder whether, out of deference to Madison's other accomplishments, historians are being unduly charitable to his presidency.
The defining issue of Madison's tenure was the War of 1812. Some historians argue that he cannot be blamed for a war thrust upon him by a "War Hawk Congress." Others, however, including most prominently Ralph Ketcham of Syracuse University, argue that Madison wanted the war and maneuvered Congress into declaring it. Wills sides with Ketcham and builds a persuasive case that Madison deliberately propelled America into a war for which it was ill prepared.
War was raging between England and France when Madison came to office. Napoleon's armies were conducting their bloody marches across the Continent while England was using her sea power to try to keep him confined there. During his term, Jefferson had been confronted with the problem of what to do about the combatants seizing ships that were carrying American exports to their adversaries or, in England's case especially, boarding American ships to seize sailors, many of whom were deserters from the British Navy. At Madison's urging (Madison was Jefferson's Secretary of State), Jefferson imposed an embargo on American ships crossing the Atlantic. While some supported an embargo to keep American ships out of harm's way, Madison believed an embargo would exert enough commercial pressure on England to force it to agree to leave American shipping alone.
But in fact the embargo meant little to England or France. It meant much more to America, particularly New England, whose economy depended heavily on trade with England. In the first year of the embargo America's exports fell by almost 80 percent. New England preferred having some of its ships and cargo seized by combatants to suspending all trade. Under great pressure, Congress ended the embargo and replaced it with the Nonintercourse Act, which permitted American ships to cross the Atlantic as long as they did not trade with England or France. The virtue of this approach was that it was unenforceable; once American ships disappeared over the horizon, there was no telling where they went.
The embargo ended on the last day of Jefferson's presidency, and the indignity of combatants seizing American ships and sailors resumed in full force as Madison took office. Then Madison heard good news: A British diplomat reported that his government was ready to grant America neutral trading rights. Thrilled, Madison immediately issued a proclamation repealing America's prohibition against trade with whichever nation, England or France, first granted neutral trading rights to the United States. Believing troubles with England at sea to be at an end, 600 ships sailed from American ports confident that all would be well when they arrived at their trading destinations across the Atlantic.
But England quickly announced there had been a mistake. Its representative had failed to communicate that England would grant neutral status only upon several conditions, one of which was that England would continue to stop and board American ships and seize former British sailors. Madison was fit to tied. By reneging on its word, said Madison, England had committed an "outrage on all decency" more horrible than the capture of black slaves from the shores of Africa.
Madison should have realized something was wrong with the original repre-sentation, Wills argues. The US government's own survey revealed that roughly 9,000 American crewmen were British deserters, and England could not possibly afford so many of her sailors safe haven on American ships.
Madison tried to wipe the egg off his face by announcing a new policy--America would unilaterally resume trade with England and France and continue to trade with both until either nation recognized America's neutral trading rights, at which time America would automatically reimpose an embargo upon the other. In view of the failure of the first embargo, there was no reason to believe a potential new embargo would force England or France to change its policy. But, says Wills, Madison remained stubbornly committed to the failed policy of embargo. Unfortunately, Wills believes, Napoleon shrewdly exploited it as a means to maneuver America into war against England.
Napoleon announced he would repeal his ban on neutral trade on November 1, 1812, provided that the United States reimposed its embargo against England by then. Acting once again without bothering to get clarification, Madison reimposed the embargo upon England. But just as he had previously acted without learning England's details and conditions, this time Madison acted on Napoleon's offer only to discover that Napoleon refused to rescind an order confiscating American ships at port in recently captured Holland and other harbors of the empire.
Getting bamboozled by Napoleon appears, paradoxically, to have made Madison even more furious at England. For its part, England found Madison's willingness to side with France deplorable. "England felt that it was defending the free world against the international tyranny of Bonapartism," Wills writes. "Anyone who was not with them in that struggle was against them." And so, increasingly, America and England perceived each other as enemies.
Madison's anger with England was one factor that moved him toward war, but there was another as well: He wanted to seize Canada. Jefferson urged Madison to pluck this ripe plum while England was militarily engaged with Napoleon. "The acquisition of Canada this year will be a mere matter of marching," advised Jefferson.
It may be worth pausing to observe that many of Madison's worst disasters involve following Jefferson. With the exception of the War of 1812, the most lamentable mistake of Madison's career was his plotting with Jefferson to have states nullify federal laws, specifically the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. The acts violated fundamental principles of free speech and press, and Jefferson and Madison cannot be blamed for opposing them. But the medicine they prescribed--the claim that the states could enact legislation nullifying federal law--was potentially far worse than the disease.
At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Madison had argued that Congress should be given the authority to nullify state law, and was discouraged when he lost this battle. He later betrayed his own convictions by arguing that the state legislatures could nullify laws enacted by Congress, though for tactical reasons he called this "interposition" rather than "nullification." Moreover, Madison allowed himself to be Jefferson's cat's-paw in this matter. Jefferson, then Vice President, wanted to keep his own involvement secret, and Madison fronted for both of them. Madison was haunted by this throughout his career: Southern states invoked Madison's support of nullification during disputes over slavery, and Madison's political opponents delighted in forcing him to try to explain the difference between "interposition" and "nullification."
Why did Madison so readily follow Jefferson over cliffs? Madison was nervous, bookish, provisional and physically unimposing (5'4" and 100 pounds). He was so insecure with the opposite sex that he did not attempt courtship until he was 31. The object of his desire was 15, and Madison was so crushed by her rejection that he did not venture into romance again until he was 43, when he successfully won Dolley's hand. It would be only natural for Madison to fall under the thrall of the tall, dashing, passionate, cosmopolitan and supremely self-confident Thomas Jefferson.
Any sensible strategy to seize Canada from one of the world's superpowers would necessarily hinge upon a quick and powerful attack to overwhelm British forces before they could be reinforced or before the British Navy could be brought to bear in the conflict. Madison and his military commanders planned a rapid, two-pronged strike: One American force, commanded by William Hull, was to invade Canada from the west, crossing over the border from Detroit. Meanwhile, Henry Dearborn was to lead American forces from the east, crossing the Saint Lawrence River from various points in New York.
Rather than take the time to raise and train a professional army, Madison decided to invade Canada with militia forces. But this strategy was the military equivalent of throwing pebbles at a hornet's nest--and Madison should have known it.
Before the Revolutionary War, there had been much soapbox rhetoric about the glories of the militia: Citizen soldiers were supposed to be more virtuous and therefore more capable than professional soldiers. The Revolutionary War proved this to be bunk. After the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord, the militia performed terribly. So often did the militia bolt in the face of even much smaller opposing forces that it became Continental Army doctrine to position militia units in front of and between regular army units, who were ordered to shoot the first militiamen to run. Washington won the war only after raising and training a professional army.
Notwithstanding the militia's dismal performance, some politicians--particularly Southern slaveholders like Madison who relied on the militia for slave control--continued to cling to the notion that the virtuous citizen militia was superior to a professional army. One Southerner who would have found these views laughable if they were not so dangerous was George Washington. "America has almost been amused out of her Liberties" by pro-militia rhetoric, he said: "I solemnly declare I never was witness to a single instance, that can countenance an opinion of Militia or raw Troops being fit for the real business of fighting."
Madison, however, had not been listening. In the Federalist Papers, he and Hamilton expressed differing views about the militia. Hamilton argued that an effective fighting force required professional training and discipline, and he urged Congress to support only a select militia. Madison, however, continued to envision a universal militia consisting of all able-bodied white men.
This debate resonates even today in the gun-control debate. Because the Second Amendment connects the right to bear arms to the militia, gun-rights advocates suggest that the Founders considered the universal militia to be sacrosanct. The militia was then composed of the whole body of the people, and thus the Constitution permanently grants the whole body of the people the right to keep and bear arms--or so the argument runs. This makes little sense as a matter of constitutional law, however, because, as both Hamilton and Madison recognized, the Constitution expressly empowered Congress to organize the militia as it saw fit.
Despite the Revolutionary War experience, Madison launched his attack on Canada almost entirely with militia forces. The results were predictable. In the east, most militiamen refused to cross the Saint Lawrence, claiming that it was unlawful to take the militia outside the United States. Dearborn did manage to coax a small contingent across the river. But when shooting accidentally broke out among his own forces, they all fled in confusion back across the Saint Lawrence.
Meanwhile, in the west, Hull's forces were paralyzed by militia refusing to take orders from regular Army officers. There was an invasion, but American forces were not the invaders. By the end of 1812, when America was to be in possession of most of Canada, a few American units that had failed to retreat successfully back into New York were being held prisoner in eastern Canada, and English forces had taken Detroit and the Michigan Territories.
Things continued downhill. Two years later, a British force of 1,200 marched nearly unchallenged into the District of Columbia while 8,000 American troops, mostly militia, "ran away too fast for our hard-fagged people to make prisoners," as one British commander put it. The British, of course, burned the White House and Capitol to the ground.
Wills gives Madison high marks for grace and courage during the British invasion of Washington, and, all in all, the war did not turn out too badly. The British had not wanted it and settled for the status quo ante bellum. And rather than feeling disgraced, America took patriotic pride in a series of Navy successes, remembered through battle slogans and anthems ("Don't give up the ship," James Lawrence; "We have met the enemy and they are ours," Oliver Hazard Perry; "the rockets' red glare," Francis Scott Key). America came out of war feeling good about itself. For this, historians give Madison much credit.
Some credit is undoubtedly deserved. More than once, Madison acted with courage and grace in the midst of panic. America was properly proud of its naval feats, though it is not clear that a President who took a nation with seven warships into battle against an adversary with 436 deserves laurels.
Is it unfair to call Madison a dreadful President? If Wills is correct about Madison stumbling his way toward war through a series of diplomatic blunders and then deciding to take on a world power with militia forces, perhaps not.
And what is it that allowed Madison to be so great a constitutionalist and so poor a President? Wills argues that it was provincialism and naïveté: What Madison had learned from the great minds by reading books allowed him to understand political theory better, perhaps, than anyone else. But without greater worldly experience, even Madison could not operate the levers of power that he himself designed. Yet as Wills aptly concludes, "Madison did more than most, and did some things better than any. That is quite enough."
Dread ripples through me as I listen to a phone message from our manager saying that we (The Doors) have another offer of huge amounts of money if we would just allow one of our songs to be used as the background for a commercial. They don't give up! I guess it's hard to imagine that everybody doesn't have a price. Maybe 'cause, as the cement heads try to pave the entire world, they're paving their inner world as well. No imagination left upstairs.
Apple Computer called on a Tuesday--they already had the audacity to spend money to cut "When the Music's Over" into an ad for their new cube computer software. They want to air it the next weekend, and will give us a million and a half dollars! A MILLION AND A HALF DOLLARS! Apple is a pretty hip company...we use computers.... Dammit! Why did Jim (Morrison) have to have such integrity?
I'm pretty clear that we shouldn't do it. We don't need the money. But I get such pressure from one particular bandmate (the one who wears glasses and plays keyboards).
"Commercials will give us more exposure," he says. I ask him, "so you're not for it because of the money?" He says "no," but his first question is always "how much?" when we get one of these offers, and he always says he's for it. He never suggests we play Robin Hood, either. If I learned anything from Jim, it's respect for what we created. I have to pass. Thank God, back in 1965 Jim said we should split everything, and everyone has veto power. Of course, every time I pass, they double the offer!
It all started in 1967, when Buick proffered $75,000 to use "Light My Fire" to hawk its new hot little offering--the Opel. As the story goes--which everyone knows who's read my autobiography or seen Oliver Stone's movie--Ray, Robby and John (that's me) OK'd it, while Jim was out of town. He came back and went nuts. And it wasn't even his song (Robby primarily having penned "LMF")! In retrospect, his calling up Buick and saying that if they aired the ad, he'd smash an Opel on television with a sledgehammer was fantastic! I guess that's one of the reasons I miss the guy.
It actually all really started back in '65, when we were a garage band and Jim suggested sharing all the songwriting credits and money. Since he didn't play an instrument--literally couldn't play one chord on piano or guitar, but had lyrics and melodies coming out of his ears--the communal pot idea felt like a love-in. Just so no one got too weird, he tagged that veto thought on. Democracy in action...only sometimes avenues between "Doors" seem clogged with bureaucratic BS. In the past ten years it's definitely intensified...maybe we need a third party. What was that original intent? Liberty and justice for all songs...and the pursuit of happiness.... What is happiness? More money? More fame? The Vietnamese believe that you're born with happiness; you don't have to pursue it. We tried to bomb that out of them back in my youth. From the looks of things, we might have succeeded.
This is sounding pretty depressing, John; where are you going here? The whole world is hopefully heading toward democracy. That's a good thing, John.... Oh, yeah: the greed gene. Vaclav Havel had it right when he took over as president of Czechoslovakia, after the fall of Communism. He said, "We're not going to rush into this too quickly, because I don't know if there's that much difference between KGB and IBM."
Whoa! Here comes another one: "Dear John Densmore, this letter is an offer of up to one million dollars for your celebrity endorsement of our product. We have the best weight loss, diet and exercise program, far better than anything on the market. The problem is the celebrity must be overweight. Then the celebrity must use our product for four weeks, which will take off up to 20 pounds of their excess body fat. If your endorsement works in the focus group tests, you will immediately get $10,000.00 up front and more money will start rolling in every month after that--up to a million dollars or more." Wow! Let's see...I've weighed 130 pounds for thirty-five years--since my 20s...I'll have to gain quite a bit...sort of like a De Niro thing...he gained fifty pounds for Raging Bull--and won an Oscar! I'm an artist, too, like him...
We used to build our cities and towns around churches. Now banks are at the centers of our densely populated areas. I know, it's the 1990s.... No, John, it's the new millennium, you dinosaur. Rock dinosaur, that is. My hair isn't as long as it used to be. I don't smoke much weed anymore, and I even have a small bald spot. The dollar is almighty, and ads are kool, as cool as the coolest rock videos.
Why did Jim have to say we were "erotic politicians"? If I had been the drummer for the Grassroots, it probably wouldn't have cut me to the core when I heard John Lennon's "Revolution" selling tennis shoes...and Nikes, to boot! That song was the soundtrack to part of my youth, when the streets were filled with passionate citizens expressing their First Amendment right to free speech. Hey...the streets are filled again! Or were, before 9/11. And they're protesting what I'm trying to wax on and on about here. Corporate greed! Maybe I should stick to music. I guess that's why I hit the streets with Bonnie Raitt during the 1996 Democratic National Convention. We serenaded the troops. Bob Hope did it during World War II, only our troops are those dressed in baggy Bermuda shorts, sporting dreadlocks. Some have the shaved Army look, but they're always ready to fight against the Orwellian nightmare. A woman activist friend of mine said that with the networking of the Net, what's bubbling under this brave new world will make the '60s unrest look like peanuts. I don't want "Anarchy, Now," a worn-out hippie phrase, but I would like to see a middle class again in this country.
Europe seems saner right now. They are more green than us. They're paranoid about our genetically altered food and they're trying to make NATO a little more independent in case we get too zealous in our policing of the globe. When The Doors made their first jaunt from the colonies to perform in the mother country back in '67, the record companies seemed a little saner, too. The retailers in England could order only what they thought they could sell; no returns to the manufacturers. That eliminated the tremendous hype that this country still produces, creating a buzz of "double platinum" sales, and then having half of the CDs returned. Today, there is a time limit of three to six months for the rackjobbers to get those duds back to the company.
Our band used to be on a small folk label. Judy Collins, Love and the Butterfield Blues Band were our Elektra labelmates. We could call up the president, Jac Holzman, and have a chat...and this was before we made it. Well, Jac sold out for $10 million back in '70, and we were now owned by a corporation. Actually, today just five corps own almost the entire record business, where numbers are the bottom line. At least we aren't on the one owned by Seagram's! Wait a minute...maybe we'd get free booze...probably not. Advances are always recoupable, booze probably is too.
Those impeccable English artists are falling prey as well. Pete Townshend keeps fooling us again, selling Who songs to yuppies hungry for SUVs. I hope Sting has given those Shaman chiefs he hangs out with from the rainforest a ride in the back of that Jag he's advertising, 'cause as beautiful as the burlwood interiors are, the car--named after an animal possibly facing extinction--is a gas guzzler. If you knew me back in the '60s, you might say that this rant--I mean, piece--now has a self-righteous ring to it, me having had the name Jaguar John back then. I had the first XJ-6 when they came out, long before the car became popular with accountants. That's when I sold it for a Rolls Royce-looking Jag, the Mark IV, a super gas guzzler. That was back when the first whiffs of rock stardom furled up my nose. Hopefully, I've learned something since those heady times, like: "What good is a used-up world?" Plus, it's not a given that one should do commercials for the products one uses. The Brits might bust me here, having heard "Riders on the Storm" during the '70s (in Britain only) pushing tires for their roadsters, but our singer's ghost brought me to my senses and I gave my portion to charity. I still don't think the Polish member of our band has learned the lesson of the Opel, but I am now adamant that three commercials and we're out of our singer's respect. "Jim's dead!" our piano player responds to this line of thought. That is precisely why we should resist, in my opinion. The late, transcendental George Harrison had something to say about this issue. The Beatles "could have made millions of extra dollars [doing commercials], but we thought it would belittle our image or our songs," he said. "It would be real handy if we could talk to John [Lennon]...because that quarter of us is gone...and yet it isn't, because Yoko's there, Beatling more than ever." Was he talking about the Nike ad, or John and Yoko's nude album cover shot now selling vodka?
Actually, it was John and Yoko who inspired me to start a 10 percent tithe, way back in the early '80s. In the Playboy interview, John mentioned that they were doing the old tradition, and it stuck in my mind. If everybody gave 10 percent, this world might recapture a bit of balance. According to my calculations, as one gets up into the multi category, you up the ante. Last year I nervously committed to 15 percent, and that old feeling rose again: the greed gene. When you get to multi-multi, you should give away half every year. Excuse me, Mr. Gates, but the concept of billionaire is obscene. I know you give a lot away, and it's easy for me to mouth off, but I do know something about it. During the Oliver Stone film on our band, the record royalties tripled, and as I wrote those 10 percent checks, my hand was shaking. Why? It only meant that I was making much more for myself. It was the hand of greed. I am reminded of the sound of greed, trying to talk me into not vetoing a Doors song for a cigarette ad in Japan.
"It's the only way to get a hit over there, John. They love commercials. It's the new thing!"
"What about encouraging kids to smoke, Ray?"
"You always have to be PC, don't you, John?" I stuck to my guns and vetoed the offer, thinking about the karma if we did it. Manzarek has recently been battling stomach ulcers. So muster up courage, you capitalists; hoarding hurts the system--inner as well as outer.
So it's been a lonely road resisting the chants of the rising solicitations: "Everybody has a price, don't they?" Every time we (or I) resist, they up the ante. An Internet company recently offered three mil for "Break on Through." Jim's "pal" (as he portrays himself in his bio) said yes, and Robby joined me in a resounding no! "We'll give them another half mil, and throw in a computer!" the prez of Apple pleaded late one night.
Robby stepped up to the plate again the other day, and I was very pleased that he's been a longtime friend. I was trying to get through to our ivory tinkler, with the rap that playing Robin Hood is fun, but the "bottom line" is that our songs have a higher purpose, like keeping the integrity of their original meaning for our fans. "Many kids have said to me that 'Light My Fire,' for example, was playing when they first made love, or were fighting in Nam, or got high--pivotal moments in their lives." Robby jumped in. "If we're only one of two or three groups who don't do commercials, that will help the value of our songs in the long run. The publishing will suffer a little, but we should be proud of our stance." Then Robby hit a home run. "When I heard from one fan that our songs saved him from committing suicide, I realized, that's it--we can't sell off these songs."
So, in the spirit of the Bob Dylan line, "Money doesn't talk, it swears," we have been manipulated, begged, extorted and bribed to make a pact with the devil. While I was writing this article, Toyota Holland went over the line and did it for us. They took the opening melodic lines of "Light My Fire" to sell their cars. We've called up attorneys in the Netherlands to chase them down, but in the meantime, folks in Amsterdam think we sold out. Jim loved Amsterdam.
I received the news of paleontologist and popular science writer Stephen Jay Gould's death, at age 60, in the week I was reading Jonathan Marks's new book on genetics, human evolution and the politics of science. My friends and I discussed our shock--Gould had famously "beat" cancer some years back--and shared charming and ridiculous Gould information, like his funny-voice contributions to The Simpsons. Postings on leftist listservs noted that Gould's fulsome New York Times obituary, which rattled on about his "controversial" theory of punctuated equilibrium, his SoHo loft and love of baseball, neglected to mention his extensive antiracist writing and many other radical activities, including working with the Science for the People group. Rhoda and Mark Berenson wrote in to commend his strong support for the release of their daughter Lori, the young American leftist sympathizer long imprisoned as a "terrorist" in Peru.
With Gould gone, the landscape of progressive English-language popular science writing is much impoverished. In particular, in an era in which silly, and most frequently racist and sexist "it's all in our genes" narratives have become--alas!--purely commonsensical in the mass media, if not in the academy, we have lost a stalwart and articulate evolutionary biologist who wrote prolifically against sociobiology's reductionist framings of human experience. But molecular anthropologist Jonathan Marks, with his broad history-of-science background, his take-no-prisoners stance on scientific stupidity and overreaching, and his hilarious Groucho Marx delivery, can help to fill that void.
What It Means to Be 98% Chimpanzee addresses precisely that question--the issue of human/higher primate connections--and all its existential and political entailments. Marks reframes the old C.P. Snow "two cultures" debate, on the gulf between the sciences and the humanities, in a new and interesting way. Rather than blaming the general public for its scientific ignorance--which I must confess is my own knee-jerk tendency--Marks turns the lens around. He indicts scientists, and particularly his own confrères in genetics, for their long history of toadying to elite interests: "Where human lives, welfare, and rights are concerned, genetics has historically provided excuses for those who wish to make other people's lives miserable, to justify their subjugation, or to curry favor with the wealthy and powerful by scapegoating the poor and voiceless." Marks's conclusion is that genetics "is therefore now obliged to endure considerably higher levels of scrutiny than other, more benign and less corruptible, kinds of scientific pronouncements might."
And scrutinize he does. First, Marks provides us with an accessible history of the linked Western efforts, since the seventeenth century, to comprehend the natures of nonhuman higher primates, and to develop biological taxonomy, both before and since the rise of evolutionary theory. With word-pictures and actual illustrations of explorers' and others' accounts of "Pongoes," "Baboones, Monkies, and Apes," he makes vivid for us the ways in which "the apes, by virtue of straddling a symbolic boundary, are highly subject to the projections of the scientist from the very outset of modern science." Not the least of Marks's virtues are his deft along-the-way explanations, as for instance the key physiological differences between monkeys and apes (the latter are "large-bodied, tailless, flexible-shouldered, slow-maturing"). Only last week, I found myself hectoring a hapless video-store worker about the absurd conjunction, in the store's display case, of an orangutan (ape) stuffed animal with a Monkey Business movie poster. Now I can just hand out 98% Chimpanzee.
The "projection" problem, according to Marks, is far more inherent to biological taxonomy than heretofore realized. He offers amusing lightning sketches of scientists past and present, from the eighteenth-century catfight between Buffon and Linnaeus over whether intrahuman variation could be categorized biologically--the latter eventually acknowledging Buffon "by naming a foul-smelling plant after him"--to paleobiologist George Gaylord Simpson's two-martini lunches in his 1980s Arizona retirement as he declaimed against contemporary genetic reductionists. These humanized history-of-science narratives allow Marks to make clear the uncertainties and arbitrariness of "hard" science categorizations. While "every biology student knows that humans are mammals," because human females nurse their young, Marks notes that "it is not obviously the case that breast-feeding is the key feature any more than having a single bone in the lower jaw (which all Mammalia, and only Mammalia, have)." He uses historian Londa Schiebinger's work to show us how Linnaeus, who had been operating with Aristotle's four-legged "Quadrupedia" label, switched to Mammalia because he was active in the contemporary movement against upper-class women sending their infants out to wet nurses: "He was saying that women are designed to nurse their own children, that it is right, and that it is what your family should do."
Political apprehensions, as we know, were woven just as deeply into scientists' evolving modes of categorizing intrahuman--"racial"--variation. Here Marks tells some familiar stories in new ways. Many know, for example, about racist University of Pennsylvania anthropologist Carleton Coon's last-ditch claims, in the early 1960s, that "the length of time a subspecies has been in the sapiens state" determines "the levels of civilization attained by some of its populations." But Marks offers us as well a fascinating sense of the times. We see, for example, Sherwood Washburn, the Harvard Yankee of later Man the Hunter fame, and Ashley Montagu, the debonair English anthropologist redbaited out of the academy and onto What's My Line appearances, ending up "on the same side, working to purge anthropology once and for all of the classificatory fallacy that had blinded it since the time of Linnaeus.... Coon died...an embittered and largely forgotten figure, done in, he supposed, by the forces of political correctness, and more darkly (he allowed in personal correspondence) by a conspiracy of communists and Jews as well."
The importance of cultural constructions, and their irreducibility to biological functions, have been hoary apothegms in anthropology classrooms for a half-century. Awareness of the susceptibility of scientific practice to the politics of reputation has been with us since the Kuhnian 1960s. Ethnographic, historical and journalistic work on bench science from the 1980s forward has focused on the political framing of, and politicized language use in, hard science research and on the power of corporate and state funding to determine research directions and even findings. But Marks takes the "cultural construction of science" line much further than even most progressive critics of the contemporary idiocies of sociobiologists--although he does get off some lovely lines, like "sociobiology, which studies the biological roots of human behavior, whether or not they exist." He takes the critique home to his specialty, evolutionary molecular genetics, and demonstrates the multifarious ways that recent claims about human nature and evolution, based on DNA evidence, have been misframed, are irrelevant or often simply stupid.
That we "are" 98 percent chimpanzee, says Marks, is a profound misframing. First, our biological closeness to the great apes "was known to Linnaeus without the aid of molecular genetics." "So what's new? Just the number." Then he points out that the meaning of phylogenetic closeness depends upon the standpoint from which it is viewed: "From the standpoint of a daffodil, humans and chimpanzees aren't even 99.4% identical, they're 100% identical. The only difference between them is that the chimpanzee would probably be the one eating the daffodil." Then, the diagnostic genetic dissimilarities between chimpanzees and humans do not cause the observed differences between them, and are therefore irrelevant to discussions of the "meaning" of our genetic ties:
When we compare their DNA, we are not comparing their genes for bipedalism, or hairlessness, or braininess, or rapid body growth during adolescence.... We're comparing other genes, other DNA regions, which have either cryptic biochemical functions, or, often, no known function at all. It's the old "bait and switch." The genes we study are not really the genes we are interested in.
Thus all of the wild claims about our "chimp" nature, which have ranged over the past forty years from male-dominant hunter (early 1960s) to hippie artist and lover (late 1960s through 1970s) to consummate competitor (Gordon Gekko 1980s) are entirely politically constructed. And, Marks adds, in considering the "demonic male" interpretation of chimp competition as like that of Athens and Sparta, they are simply argument by analogy: "Maybe a chimpanzee is sort of like a Greek city-state. Maybe an aphid is like Microsoft. Maybe a kangaroo is like Gone With the Wind. Maybe a gopher is like a microwave oven." Just plain dumb.
Using this set of insights, Marks eviscerates a wide array of contemporary "hi-tech folk wisdom about heredity" claims, from the "successes" of both the Human Genome and Human Genome Diversity Projects to the "Caucasian" Kennewick Man, the "genetic" athletic superiority of black Americans, the genetics of Jewish priesthood and the existence of a "gay gene." He is particularly trenchant against the Great Ape Project's use of human/ape genetic similarities to argue for "human rights" for apes, frequently to the detriment of the impoverished African and Southeast Asian residents of ape homelands: "Apes should be conserved and treated with compassion, but to blur the line between them and us is an unscientific rhetorical device.... our concern for them can't come at the expense of our concern for human misery and make us numb to it."
There is much more in 98% Chimpanzee, a real treasure trove of thoughtful, progressive scientific thought. But I do have a quibble. While Marks takes an uncompromising equal rights stance when it comes to female versus male biology, he doesn't delve anywhere near as deeply into the insanities of contemporary "hi-tech folk wisdom" about sex--like the "rape is genetic" claims of a few years back--as he does about race. And they are legion, and just as politically consequential. Nevertheless, this is an important and refreshing book, the first claimant to replace the magisterial and out-of-print Not in Our Genes, and a fitting monument to Stephen Jay Gould's passing. Now tell me the one again about the duck with lips.
Although car chases are formulaic, they needn't be standard issue. One of the many substantial pleasures that The Bourne Identity offers is a thoughtful car chase, a loving car chase, in which the characters truly care about their conduct amid prolonged automotive mayhem. It doesn't hurt, of course, that the scene is Paris. The streets there are barely wide enough for a single fleeing vehicle--which means that Jason Bourne may as well use the sidewalk when he needs an extra lane. Once the pedestrians dive out of the way, he gets to skid through every degree of turn except ninety--Descartes never laid his grid over this city--until the route ends at a set of stairs. They're very picturesque; and considering what his car's undercarriage was already like, they can't do much harm.
By the time the car fully resumes the horizontal, some of the pursuing motorcycle cops have managed to pull up. "Turn your head," Jason warns his passenger, Marie Kreutz, in a surprisingly gentle tone. She was guzzling booze straight from the bottle even before this ride; he'd rather not worsen her alarm by letting her watch the next maneuver. But we see it, as one cop after another is shaken off and the car hurtles onto a highway. At last--a chance to make time! The camera drops to within an inch of the macadam so that our brains, too, can get a good rattle, as Jason and Marie's car seems to race straight out of the screen. Then, almost without transition, it's shooting through more non-Cartesian turns, off a ramp, past the spot where the last motorcycle cop makes his rendezvous with a passing truck, to come to a very temporary version of rest.
How should a car chase end? If the sequence is standard issue, the filmmaker will require a fireball, or a roll downhill and then a fireball, followed perhaps by the sight of the good guys speeding away. But in The Bourne Identity, director Doug Liman has been witty enough to conclude the sequence by having Jason pull into a parking garage. From this, we may learn that the hero is a fundamentally conventional person, despite what he's been doing for the past five minutes. But this is only part of what we learn--because Liman is also clever enough to make the real action start when the motor stops.
All but vibrating from what they've been through, Marie and Jason sit in the car in silence, each glancing awkwardly toward the other and then looking away. The camera, static at last, takes them both in at once. Time stretches; they squirm. Someone is going to have to say something pretty soon--and the words, when they come, will have the shy banality of a postcoital stab at conversation, when the two people have scarcely met and are wondering what the hell they've just done.
For me, this was the moment when The Bourne Identity revealed its true nature, as a study of those people in their 20s who can't yet put up with workaday life. Liman has looked at such characters before, in Swingers and Go. Those movies were about using recreational drugs, selling recreational drugs, selling over-the-counter medicines that you claim are recreational drugs, losing yourself in music, losing yourself in lap dancing, losing your sense that this cute thing before you might not be an ideal companion when you get to be 70. Jobs in these movies count for little or nothing; friendships mean the world, though they're always breaking apart. If you can recognize these attitudes, and if you're familiar with the behavior through which they're expressed nowadays, you will understand Jason Bourne and Marie Kreutz. They're typical Doug Liman characters, who just happen to live in a spy thriller.
Now, since The Bourne Identity is adapted from a Robert Ludlum novel and was written for the screen by two people other than the director, you might doubt the wisdom of ascribing all the above to Liman. But look at the casting. In the title role, Liman has Matt Damon, who carries over from Good Will Hunting his persona of the regular working stiff--an unpretentious guy who must nevertheless come to grips with a great power he's been given. In Good Will Hunting, the gift was mathematical genius, which somehow was shut up behind Damon's sloping brow and wary, squinting eyes. In The Bourne Identity, in which he plays a CIA assassin suffering from amnesia, Damon is puzzled to hear himself speak many languages, and to find that his arms and legs demolish anyone who threatens him. Different skills; same aura of being troubled, but decent and game. When Jason Bourne refuses to hold on to a gun--something that he does more than once in the picture--Damon infuses the gesture with the gut-level morality of a Catholic boy from South Boston.
Paired with Damon, in the role of Marie, is Franka Potente, the young German actress who is best known for Run Lola Run. She, too, has retained her persona from the earlier film, so that she brings to Marie a convincing impression of having enjoyed quite a few good times over the past years, many of which she can't remember. Her basic facial expression is something between a scowl and a sneer--the sign, you'd think, of a feral sexuality that bores her, because it encounters no worthy challengers and yet prevents her from concentrating on anything else. No wonder she runs--or drifts in this case, playing someone who has done nothing since high school except wander about. When first seen in The Bourne Identity, Potente is at the American Embassy in Zurich, making a pain of herself by demanding a visa to which she is most likely not entitled. When first approached by Damon, Potente establishes her baseline attitude toward people by snapping "What are you looking at?" Her Marie isn't a bad person, you understand--she's just been bad news for any man she's hung around. Now, though, she's met the right guy in Jason Bourne, meaning someone who can be bad news for her.
I think it's worthwhile to compare these characters with those played by Chris Rock and Anthony Hopkins in Bad Company, a routine bomb-in-a-suitcase thriller, whose main function is to help audiences kill time till the release of Men in Black 2. Hopkins plays the self-controlled CIA agent, who is so white he's English. Rock plays (guess what?) the street-smart, fast-talking black guy, who must be put into the field at once, or else the world will end. There's an underground trade in nuclear weapons, you see, which Hopkins can foil only with the aid of someone who looks exactly like Rock.
And there's the essential problem of Bad Company. The mere appearance of Chris Rock is supposedly enough; the assignment requires no one to act like him. In any decent movie of this sort--48 Hours, say, or Trading Places--the white character will fail in his task, except for the wiles the black character can lend him. But in Bad Company, Rock exists solely to be educated. A very smart man who has made nothing of his abilities--the reasons for which failure are left disturbingly vague--his character must be trained to wear a suit, sip Bordeaux and rise at dawn. These traits, according to the movie, are proper to a white man; and Rock will help defeat terrorism by adopting them. As an interim goal for the character, this is bad enough. What's worse is the final justification for rubbing some white onto Rock: to make him a fit husband.
Bad Company was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, directed by Joel Schumacher and written, so far as I can tell, by the welfare policy officials of the Bush Administration. Heartless in theme and faceless in style, it is so many thousands of feet of off-the-shelf filmmaking, through which you sift, disconsolate, in search of a single live moment. There is one: the scene in which Rock tells off a CIA supervisor. Of course, this, too, is part of the formula; but when Rock lets loose his falsetto indignation, the world's shams all wash away in the torrent. You feel clean and free, listening to Rock's outrage. I wonder what he'd say in private about this movie.
Maybe he'd say The Bourne Identity has more soul than all of Joel Schumacher's films put together. I think soulfulness has to do with acknowledging the reserves of personality in someone who might at first seem a mere type--or acknowledging, for that matter, the personality in a movie that appears generic. It's about individual but strict judgments of right and wrong; and, always, it's about the exuberance of talent. This last point is the one that makes The Bourne Identity into Liman's movie. His direction is a performance in its own right, combining the logic and flair of a first-rate bop solo. He attends to the small, naturalistic gestures--the way Jason pauses to brush snow off his sleeve, or Marie shields her mouth to hide a smile. He pushes the cinematography to extremes, using low levels of light from very few sources, to give you a sense of intimacy with the characters' flesh. He continually thinks up ways to keep the action fresh. Sometimes his tricks are unobtrusive, as when he makes a shot shallower than you'd expect, and so more arresting. Sometimes he's expressive, as when Bourne teeters on a rickety fire escape, and the camera peers down at his peril while swinging overhead. And sometimes he's flat-out wild. In the midst of a fight scene, Liman tosses in a point-of-view shot, about half a second long, to show you what the bad guy sees as he flies over a desk, upside down. If my schedule of screenings and deadlines had been more merciful, I would now compare Liman's direction with that of the master, John Woo, in his new Windtalkers. But I wasn't able to see Windtalkers by press time; and, on reflection, I'm glad I didn't. The Bourne Identity deserves to be enjoyed for its own sake.
If you're interested in the plot, you can enjoy that, too. I've left it till last, since that's what Liman does. In one of his cheekiest gestures, he lets the movie's McGuffin go unexplained. But as a public service, I will give you this much detail: The Bourne Identity assumes that the CIA's activities are an endless chain of cover-ups, with each new calamity needing to be hidden in turn. That's why the agency needs unlimited power.
Bad Company? Right.
GOULD & SCIENCE FOR THE PEOPLE
In his excellent June 17 piece on Stephen Jay Gould, John Nichols mentions the Science for the People movement and our involvement in it, and by implication incorrectly places Steve and me in leading roles. Neither Steve nor I was a founder of Science for the People, nor were we in any sense leading actors in it. True, we did each write an occasional piece for the Science for the People Magazine and were members of SftP study groups--for example, the Sociobiology Study Group--and we each appeared at some SftP public functions and press conferences and helped write some of its public statements. We were, however, much less responsible and active in the movement than many others who devoted immense amounts of time and energy to it and who kept it going for so many years.
It is important to understand the nature of the Science for the People movement. It came out of the anti-elitist, anti-authoritarian movement of the 1960s and was committed to participatory democracy and lack of central organization. Like many others, Steve and I separately became adherents of the movement precisely because of its anti-elitism and participatory nature, as well as for its political orientation. We all struggled very hard to prevent those outside it from picturing it falsely and conventionally as being composed of leading persons and their allies. If, despite everyone's best efforts, there were some people who from time to time were forced into leading roles, Steve and I were never among them.
TOUGH LOVE FOR ISRAEL
Philadelphia; New York City
Liza Featherstone in "The Mideast War Breaks Out on Campus" [June 17] mentions a number of Jewish groups critical of Israeli policy in the occupied territories, including Rabbinical Students for a Just Peace, the group of 108 students from seven rabbinical seminaries (not only the Jewish Theological Seminary, as indicated in the article) who recently sent a letter asking American Jewish leaders to recognize the suffering of the Palestinians and to support the creation of a viable Palestinian state.
As two of the organizers of this letter, we wish to clarify that our goal is both, as Featherstone indicates, to be "outspoken critics of Israeli policy" and to support Israel's right to a secure existence within its pre-1967 borders. Discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict generally suffers from a lack of nuance. Both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine activists routinely vilify the other and ignore the mistakes and abuses committed by those they support.
As future rabbis who have spent significant time living in Israel, we speak out of deep love for Israel and concern for Israel's continued security. We are committed to creating a Zionist, pro-Israel voice willing to criticize Israeli policy, out of a desire to guarantee Palestinians the right to live in dignity in their own state, and to insure the security of Israel. Our views may appear radical within the context of an American Jewish community that offers unqualified support for the Israeli government, but they are in no way inconsistent with the mainstream Israeli political debate, which has always allowed for a greater range of opinion than does the US pro-Israel community.
SHOSHANA LEIS GROSS
DO WHAT MEN DO: HAVE IT ALL
I agree with Katha Pollitt that being childless can be as voluntary a choice for women as for men ["Subject to Debate," May 13] and that we sometimes make choices "unconsciously" by giving a goal a low priority and then getting to the point where it is no longer achievable. But I'd like to make one point: Successful, high-achieving women might consider the "marriage strategy" of successful, high-achieving men. If you want a fulfilling marriage and a high-powered career, choose a spouse who is willing to put your career ahead of theirs--someone who loves you enough to "hitch their wagon to your star."
Men have always felt free to marry for love and emotional support and to choose women younger, poorer and less educated than themselves. Women could broaden their "eligibility pool" in a similar way.
JOHN F. BRADLEY
RAWA IN THE USA & AFGHANISTAN
We applaud Jan Goodwin's "An Uneasy Peace" [April 29] on the perilous situation for Afghan women and the crucial need for basic security. However, we were dismayed by her characterization of the Afghan women's organization RAWA as having "garnered considerably more publicity in the United States than it has credibility in its own country." Both sides of this comparison are oversimplified and dangerously misleading.
RAWA (www.rawa.org), an indigenous organization founded in 1977, has indeed become better known in recent years, but not only in the United States, and not for superficial reasons (as Goodwin suggests by setting "publicity" against "credibility"). Rather, RAWA's website (since 1997) and its dogged work for humanitarian relief, underground education and documenting fundamentalist atrocities have broadened its international exposure.
Goodwin's statement also implies that RAWA lacks credibility in Afghanistan. Certainly, jihadis, Taliban and other extremists will say RAWA members are whores and communists, because they oppose RAWA's goals (e.g., secular democratic government) and very existence. Among Afghan refugees, however, RAWA is said by many to be one of the few organizations that keeps its promises and is respected because it is Afghan and has remained active in Afghanistan across two decades of conflict. People in both Afghanistan and Pakistan speak highly of its schools, orphanages, hospital, income-generating projects and views. However, many inside Afghanistan do not know when they have benefited from RAWA's help, since threats and persecution have made it impossibly dangerous for RAWA to take credit for much of its work.
This is indeed a pivotal moment for human rights in Afghanistan, including women's rights. It would therefore be a grave mistake to misrepresent a major force advancing these goals: RAWA is, unfortunately, the only independent, pro-democracy, humanitarian and political women's grassroots organization in Afghanistan.
As a factual correction, while Sima Samar is a former member of RAWA, she was not among the founders.
ANNE E. BRODSKY
New York City
Concerning RAWA's credibility, I was surprised that Anne Brodsky, who was handling press and helping to host the RAWA representative during her tour of the United States last fall, failed to disclose that connection.
Western feminists may be able to identify with what RAWA has to say, but as I mentioned in my article, the group lacks credibility and acceptance in its own country. Part of its marginalization has to do with its inability to make alliances with other Afghan organizations of any stripe. RAWA is also not the only humanitarian and political women's organization in Afghanistan, and to suggest so is to insult the many Afghan women who have risked their lives to work in these arenas through twenty-three years of conflict. Sima Samar was indeed a founding member of RAWA but since breaking with the organization some years ago has been disavowed by them.
A GEORGE OF A DIFFERENT COLOR
Thank you, thank you, thank you! Senator McGovern's "Questions for Mr. Bush" [April 22] speaks to my heart. Bravo! We do have fascist madmen in the White House, and phrases like "Axis of Evil" and "War on Terrorism" are going to be the end of us. I am relieved that there are still intelligent men in the world working for the good.
Melrose Park, Pa.
I voted for George McGovern in 1972, but I cannot agree with some of the views in his editorial. He wonders if the Bush Administration's bunker mentality suffers from paranoia, if the Bush team has become obsessed with terrorism and if terrorism may replace Communism "as the second great hobgoblin of our age." These questions reflect a deep skepticism about the severity of the threat from Al Qaeda, a skepticism shared by many writers for The Nation and close to denial in its pervasiveness. Millions of other Americans, however, realized soon after September 11 that our immense infrastructure is vulnerable precisely because it is so large and diverse. Dams, bridges, tunnels, 103 nuclear reactors, airports--all these and more must now be guarded against mega-terrorism.
Senator Ted Kennedy has co-sponsored funding for measures against bioterrorism, while Senators Tom Harkin, Carl Levin and Paul Sarbanes have chaired major hearings. Gary Hart chaired a commission two years ago that warned of attacks such as September 11. These former colleagues of Senator McGovern appear to believe that the terrorist threat is not a hobgoblin, but all too real.
George McGovern was my hero when he ran for the presidency, oh so many years ago. A more decent and capable man would be hard to imagine. The weakness in his bid may, in fact, have been his honesty and kindness--commodities not in much demand in a system that worships money and power. McGovern argues for the nexus of poverty, oppression and violence. He is far too generous in giving the Bush team the benefit of the doubt that they will learn on the job and improve policies. I started with Truman, and in my lifetime the presidency has never been occupied by a smaller figure.
J. RUSSELL TYLDESLEY
I so wish George McGovern were our President right now.
CLOSE, BUT NO CIGAR
If Fidel Castro rises to George W. Bush's challenge to hold "a real election" and "to count [the] votes" ["In Fact...," June 10], will Bush also challenge him to figure out a way to take office even if the people don't elect him?