President George W. Bush's effort to repeal the estate tax has revealed contradictions in the nonprofit sector and confusion about what it values and where it stands.
We learned a few things from Dan Burton's hearings into the Clinton pardons. We learned that Bill Clinton's pardon of billionaire expatriate Marc Rich was no last-minute rush job.
About a year and a half ago I received a book from Bosnia. Its title was I Begged Them to Kill Me. It was a collection of some forty accounts by Muslim women who were raped, mostly by Serbian soldiers and paramilitaries in 1992. During the past ten years several collections of the same kind have been published, but this one was different because the raped women themselves, organized into the Association of Camp Inmates-Canton Sarajevo, collected and published it. They had decided to spread the information about what had happened to them without the help of journalists or experts, or even a professional editor.
This book, bearing all the signs of amateurism, is nonetheless an important and moving document of suffering we thought we had heard and known all about. The anonymous women speak of the unspeakable--of rape, torture, enslavement, forced pregnancy, the selling of women as slaves. This is a very special book to me. The women from the association sent it to me with a dedication because of my book S: A Novel About the Balkans, which also deals with mass rape. I admire their decision to publish their accounts in the belief that their truth deserved to be heard.
Women who were raped before them, in Germany, China and Korea during the two world wars, rarely spoke about it in public. It was not to be mentioned but to be forgotten. Indeed, it was forgotten. However, the raped women in Bosnia believed in the possibility of justice through the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia in The Hague, established by the UN Security Council in 1993. And they understood that justice could not be done without their help. In the book, all of the violated women say they would volunteer as witnesses in that court, and many did. Not in a local court but the international one--because they know very well that the culprits will not be brought to court in their own country. Who would arrest them? Who would put them on trial? What kind of sentences would they get? They had only "had fun."
Agreeing to testify as witnesses in The Hague was a brave, even heroic step for the raped Bosnian women. To the world they had to say, "Yes, I was raped!" They had to live with that confession afterward--with their children and husbands, their brothers and fathers, their community. And this is not liberal Berlin or Stockholm, marked by decades of women's emancipation.
Without these brave women, what would have happened? What would have happened in the trial of Dragoljub Kunarac, Radomir Kovac and Zoran Vukovic, three men from Foca who, on February 22, received sentences in The Hague of from twelve to twenty-eight years in prison? Most likely they would be living free in Foca, every day passing by the Partizan Sports Hall where they kept their Muslim prisoners, then by the houses where they kept enslaved women. They would sit in a cafe smoking cigarettes and drinking brandy, telling anecdotes from the war. If any of their victims happened to pass by, they would point at her with their finger and laugh. Indeed, if these women had kept their "shame" to themselves, the three men would not have entered history. Now they are the first men ever to be sentenced exclusively for sexual crimes defined as crimes against humanity--systematic mass rape, sexual enslavement and torture of women and girls during war. This was only possible thanks to the Bosnian women who did not shut up. Perhaps this time it was impossible not to speak--there were too many women violated (a UN report put the number at 20,000, but that is only an estimate). There were also too many journalists around, too many experts and humanitarian workers, people willing to listen and to help.
No matter what made them speak, the women from the book and the other violated Bosnian women are the real heroes of this historical trial, the women who were not supposed to speak. That was exactly what the three men from Foca were counting on--their silence. I wish I had been in the courtroom when the three men received their sentences. What was in their eyes? Disbelief? Despair? Never could they have imagined that any of those women would have the courage to stand up and face them in court. The men must have thought it was a joke when they heard that they were going to be on trial for rape. OK, perhaps they were rude sometimes if the imprisoned women were not obedient. So what? Never could they have imagined that they would get such heavy sentences. After all, they did not even kill anybody. And among those who did kill, there were some who got much lighter sentences. How is that possible? they must have wondered. I wish I had seen that discrepancy on their faces, a discrepancy between what they believed they did (and what perhaps they might have thought was wrong but certainly not a crime)--and what was deemed a crime against humanity by the international court.
When I asked the women from the Association of Camp Inmates-Canton Sarajevo how I could help them, they asked if I could give them a fax machine. They have nothing, not even their own office. A fax machine would mean a lot to them. Not only to spread information but to enable them to fight to be recognized as war victims in their own society, and to get at least some social aid. There is symbolism in their request: They are still not willing to shut up. Recently I received a thank-you letter from them, via fax. They are grateful for the machine, they wrote. But I and millions of other women are grateful to them because they spoke up and changed something for us, too.
The loudest applause during George W. Bush's first budget address to Congress--a thumping, shouting, jump-to-your-feet outpouring of enthusiasm--erupted in response to his first mention of his proposed $1.6 trillion tax cut. Coming at the end of a masterful but deceitful description, with more concealed trapdoors than a funhouse ride (they have the fun and we get taken for a ride), of how he could do everything from funding Social Security to paying down the debt and have money "still left over," Bush's proposal argued for returning that money "to the people who earned it in the first place."
The country is not buying. The latest Pew Research Center poll finds that only 19 percent of Americans think the current budget surplus should be used for a tax cut, and 79 percent believe the proposed Bush tax cut will most benefit the wealthy. Meanwhile, 60 percent want any surplus used for domestic programs as well as Social Security and Medicare.
Why, then, was the response to Bush's tax cut proposal so enthusiastic? Perhaps for the same reason that the words "campaign finance reform" never crossed Bush's lips, an omission Senator John McCain wryly noted in a CNN interview. The Wall Street Journal reported the morning after the speech that industry groups have formed a coalition to push the tax cuts in what one White House adviser described as "the largest PR campaign this party has ever conducted." The same adviser went on to say that the effort "will test if we can use the power of the White House and congressional control and the lobbying world to work our will."
With the cat thus out of the bag, Bush's budget should be pronounced dead on arrival. Now is the moment for the minority party to put forth a sensible alternative: No new tax breaks for the wealthy. An earlier, bigger check--either in the form of a tax credit or a "prosperity dividend"--for middle- and low-income earners, to jump-start the economy. Prescription drug coverage for seniors and affordable healthcare for all. Investment in schools and teachers' salaries. Investment to combat the growing shortage of affordable rental housing. Electoral reforms that will insure that every vote is counted.
In opposition, Democrats find it difficult to speak with one voice. A few have already thrown in their lot with Bush. Others are looking to deal. Still others seem stuck on paying down the debt as their prime concern. Thus it is vital that progressives in the party--and the increasingly vibrant base of the party that is central to its electoral hopes--speak out independently to force the debate. Here the Progressive Caucus has done well by pushing its prosperity dividend, which would give every American a $300 check in contrast to Bush's tax giveaway to the rich. Responsible Wealth has done remarkable work organizing the statement by about 120 of America's richest men and women against estate-tax repeal. The large coalition of groups convened to fight the tax cuts--under the leadership of progressive unions, civil rights groups and the public interest community--will help stiffen the backbone of faltering legislators. The Campaign for America's Future's plan for creating a progressive leadership organization will help define and broadcast the choice we face.
Bush has benefited, of course, from the continuing press focus on former President Clinton's tawdry unpardonables and his legacy of political timidity and tactical retreat. Now, progressives must force Democrats to shed that defensiveness. The country did not vote for the Bush agenda, and the vast majority will not benefit from it. Time to go on the attack. This is a fight that can be won.
MCCARTHYISM ALIVE AND WELL IN NH
New Hampshire State Senator Burt Cohen thought that putting up a plaque honoring the Abraham Lincoln Brigade would provide a history lesson about Americans who volunteered to fight fascism in the Spanish Civil War. He did not foresee that the gesture would instruct about another kind of history--McCarthyism. When it was announced that the bronze plaque would be hung in the Statehouse at a ceremony on Lincoln's Birthday, the archreactionary Manchester Union Leader rallied Granite State granite heads. The Republican leadership in the legislature ordered the plaque removed. When Cohen, along with an ALB vet, relatives of another vet and supporters of the plaque went ahead with the dedication ceremony in the legislative office building on Lincoln's Birthday, an angrily buzzing swarm of Republican legislators descended. One addressed "Comrade Cohen"; another told a reporter, "Thank God for Franco--he saved us in Spain." When a plaque supporter stalked out saying, "McCarthyism is alive in this hall and in this state," an onlooker yelled, "Goodbye, Communist." The following week a legislative committee voted to ban the plaque from all state property, although it said another one might someday be displayed. Senator Cohen vowed to go ahead with a redesign. As for the insidious commie plaque, it now reposes in a Statehouse vault. Said Cohen (who has written for this magazine), "I thought the cold war was over."
SPEAK & BE ARRESTED
C. Clark Kissinger, head of Mumia Abu-Jamal support activities at Refuse & Resist!, was sentenced to ninety days last December for violating his probation (see David Lindorff, "Mumia and Free Speech," December 18, 2000). The violation? Traveling to speak at a Mumia rally. He was scheduled for release on March 5, but supporters worry he may be in for more harassment, such as demands for names of contributors. A larger issue is the chilling message his imprisonment sent to dissidents in this country. An open letter championing Kissinger, signed by Terry Bisson, Kurt Vonnegut, Alice Walker, Norman Mailer, Grace Paley, Barbara Kingsolver, Adrienne Rich and others sums up: "It is not polite, sanctioned, or permitted speech that the First Amendment is intended to protect. It is political dissent--and dissidents." For a copy of the letter and more information call (212) 571-0962; firstname.lastname@example.org.
BUSHISMS OF THE WEEK
Asked after his meeting with Tony Blair what he and the British Prime Minister had in common, George W. Bush replied: "We have both got great wives. We are both dads, and proudly so. That's our most important responsibility, being loving dads." Advocating his education reform package: "You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test."
When former Republican Governor Pete Wilson & Co. started the ball rolling on electric power deregulation in California, there were probably many results they didn't anticipate. Not least is a revival of social-democratic and populist politics in the Golden State.
The Left Coast may turn out to be just the left coast after all. Having gone into eclipse in the mid-nineties with the passage of the anti-immigrant Proposition 187 and the rise of deregulation fervor, and suffering through two years of disappointment under moderate Democratic Governor Gray Davis, progressives are again on the move, with even the preternaturally cautious Davis, a potential 2004 presidential contender, along for much of the ride.
Most Californians now favor both a state takeover of the power grid and the establishment of a public power authority. Most don't believe there's a real power shortage and blame their utilities and the out-of-state power companies for manipulating the situation. Two-thirds oppose deregulation, and in a Los Angeles Times poll 60 percent opposed new nuclear power plants. Meanwhile, organized labor, consumer advocates and environmentalists are coming together to urge a dramatic expansion of public ownership of power and an end to the decades of private utility dominance in California politics that led to the debacle. "We're fighting to protect jobs, hold the line on the environment, protect against rate increases for fixed-income consumers and to keep the utilities out of bankruptcy to protect workers," says California Labor Federation chief Art Pulaski.
Coalitions have come and gone over the years, but shifts in political tectonics caused by the power crisis make this one's prospects far better. "The atmosphere is dramatically different," notes former State Senator Tom Hayden. "You can work for years hitting your head against the wall. Then crisis can lend clarity, making many things possible."
Even some Republicans are questioning the utilities' decision to shovel money from their nearly bankrupt operating companies into the safe havens of their holding companies. But that's as far as they'll go. It doesn't matter, though. Democrats control the governorship and both houses of the legislature, and although they needed Republican votes to pass emergency bills allowing the state to enter into long-term contracts to buy power and distribute it through the utilities, they don't need Republicans to enact more far-reaching measures.
Outside the political establishment, a populist consumer movement has been revitalized, with former Nader associate Harvey Rosenfield making credible threats of an omnibus energy initiative on next year's state ballot. Lost on few is the fact that the 30 percent of Californians with municipal power are in good shape. "I want a coherent plan to restore reliable and affordable electric power with a public power authority as its centerpiece," says Rosenfield, head of Ratepayer Revolt. "It would look a lot like Prop 103 [an insurance reform initiative he wrote in 1988], with re-regulation of the market and consolidation of duplicate agencies." He goes on to say, "If they pass a bailout, we'll reverse it at the ballot box."
Governor Davis, like others in the establishment, sees Rosenfield as a gadfly who finally finds himself in the right place at the right time. Davis believes he can head off an initiative by limiting rate increases through the election. That's far easier said than done, however, even with the state on the verge of entering into long-term electric power contracts. And no one wants to look like they're caving in to utilities' demands for a second bailout in five years (the first being the $28 billion they got as part of the 1996 deregulation package). So the debate has shifted--away from an earlier proposal of Davis and Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg to get stock options from the utilities in exchange for an infusion of state money and toward a proposal by State Senate President John Burton and State Treasurer Phil Angelides for a state takeover of hard assets and an ongoing role in the power business.
Davis and Hertzberg have been more solicitous of the utilities than Burton and Angelides, with Davis neglecting to mention the utilities' central role in crafting the disastrous deregulation in his tough-sounding State of the State address in January. Indeed, Davis opposed Rosenfield's unsuccessful 1998 anti-deregulation initiative, a move Hayden describes as "part of an overall shift of the Democratic Party to market ideology and deregulation to avoid the 'big government' image."
But as the crisis has worn on, the utilities have tried to push the blame onto the Davis administration, and Davis has moved closer to Angelides and Burton (brother of the late Congressman Phil Burton, whose most famous saying was, "The only way to deal with exploiters is to terrorize the bastards"). There's a very good reason for that. Public polls show widespread disdain for the utilities and their role in fomenting the crisis. Private research goes further, indicating that people are very open to sweeping government solutions. Says one Davis associate: "Even some people who don't like government have had enough. They want a sense of control. They think government can give them that, and the market's given them chaos." The coalition of consumer and environmental groups backing Rosenfield's initiative also supports Burton and Angelides's plans for a takeover of the power grid and a state power authority, as does organized labor.
While generally supportive, Davis's old boss, former Governor Jerry Brown, who pioneered conservation and renewable energy programs in his administration, sounded a note of caution. "We have to be careful about centralizing power in opposing the centralization of power," says Brown. "It requires a lot of thought to make sure that government doesn't merely replicate the same old patterns."
The price for a grid takeover remains unclear, as does the price of other efforts to stabilize the utilities. If any action looks more like a bailout than a buyout, Rosenfield's initiative, and Davis--still looking good in the polls--could be in trouble. This is especially true given future rate increases, which are assured. By next year (because a "temporary" increase in January will be permanent and a 10 percent reduction that was part of the dereg scheme expires) rates will be at least 20 percent higher than they were at the beginning of this year.
The state's big utilities have ridden high, wide and handsome over California's political range for a century, so much so that their leaders felt free to junket off to England with their putative regulators to gain inspiration from Thatcherite deregulation. But that's over. It's a supreme irony that a scheme designed to further the dominance of radical capitalism would trigger its opposite. Just as Pete Wilson didn't foresee that his anti-immigrant Prop 187 would lead to overwhelming Latino support for Democratic candidates a few years later, he and the other Republican free-marketeers who started deregulation didn't foresee that their market nostrums would trigger a resurgence of public power and populism. But in yet another of the unintended consequences that mark the deregulation debacle, they have.
Will Paris become the first large city in France (indeed, the first major city or national capital anywhere in the world) to elect an openly gay candidate as mayor--the Socialist Bertrand Delanoë? Beyond that question, highly symbolic for same-sexers everywhere, the two-stage Paris elections, which take place on March 11 and 18, will have far-reaching consequences. If the left succeeds in winning the City of Light for the first time ever, that could presage a national victory in France's presidential and legislative elections, to be held in May 2002.
The right has maintained hegemony in Paris since the first municipal elections in 1977, when Jacques Chirac--then president of the neo-Gaullist RPR--led the right to victory. He remained mayor of Paris until his election as President in 1995, when he dictated the selection of his successor--the current mayor, Jean Tiberi, Chirac's first deputy mayor for nearly two decades.
But the unbroken succession in this city, dominated for the past twenty-four years by la droite chiraquienne (the Chirac conservative majority), has suddenly and dramatically deteriorated following an avalanche of financial and electoral scandals. Mayor Tiberi is at the center of accusations concerning, among other things, the secret financing of political parties through a highly organized system of corrupt rakeoffs and kickbacks on contracts, filling the electoral rolls with phantom voters, illegally allocating low-rent apartments in city-owned housing (reserved for the economically disadvantaged) to political cronies and the families of elected officials and giving hundreds of no-show municipal jobs to full-time workers for the RPR and its campaigns. These scandals now threaten to undo Chirac himself, a danger underscored by the recent arrest of Chirac's former municipal chief of staff.
Aside from the scandals, the right's management of the city has also been sharply criticized. Paris is in danger of becoming a city-museum: Rents have skyrocketed, and the lack of subsidized housing for low- and middle-income families has forced many of them to move to less costly suburban developments with onerous commutes. While tourism continues to increase, Paris has serious air pollution and has not modernized or improved its public transportation or its noncommercial recreation facilities (especially for the young, hardest hit by unemployment).
All this means the left has an excellent chance of winning the municipal elections. Its leading candidate, Dominique Strauss-Kahn (number two in Prime Minister Lionel Jospin's government and the man in charge of the French economy), was forced to withdraw and lost his ministry after being tainted by yet another money scandal. After much internecine maneuvering, Jospin's Socialist Party finally settled on Delanoë. A little-known senator at the time of his designation, with a reputation as an unimaginative apparatchik and Jospin loyalist, Delanoë chose to make his homosexuality public during a 1998 television appearance. His matter-of-fact manner in coming out made few waves at the time, but since then he has enjoyed the media's favor, and--thanks to the Ubuesque situation in which Paris's right finds itself--his popularity has steadily increased in the opinion polls. And he has secured the endorsement of all the smaller parties in Jospin's "plural left" coalition, including the Communists (except for the Greens, who are nonetheless expected to support Delanoë in the second round of municipal voting). Within the city's sizable gay population, Delanoë has broad support, all the more so because, in contrast to his right-wing opponents, he has been a supporter of the pact of civil solidarity (PACS) for unmarried couples. Passed by the left-controlled National Assembly in 1999, the PACS recognizes and gives a large number of social and fiscal rights to domestic partnerships, whether homo- or heterosexual.
The conservative RPR, recognizing that Tiberi was politically bankrupt, dropped him as its mayoral candidate in favor of Philippe Séguin, a former party president and minister under Chirac. But even though Séguin is an RPR heavyweight with a reputation for intellectual honesty, his rigidity and independence (in the past he's feuded with Chirac) render him unsuited for the kinds of concessions necessary to unify the fractious Paris right. Meanwhile Mayor Tiberi, despite being disavowed by the RPR, has maintained his candidacy for re-election as an independent and is running a slate of candidates for City Council. In addition, the two extreme-right parties are running their own slates.
Delanoë's ambitious campaign proposals include making Paris "a model of democracy" (through the creation of neighborhood and youth councils and an official forum for civic organizations, the institution of referendums by petition and, above all, a guarantee of "real financial transparency" in government); building 5,000 new low-income and student housing units a year; ending the policy of "autos first" by building a new tramway to encircle Paris, creating 300 kilometers of new bus lanes, more car-free zones for pedestrians, cyclists and roller skaters, and improved river transport on the Seine; providing more daycare centers and facilities for the aged and handicapped; and doubling the city's cultural budget. He also promises halfway houses for gay kids rejected by their parents, giving gay organizations equal access to the subsidies the city already provides to civic groups, creating a new gay archive/research center and waging aggressive city-sponsored campaigns against antigay discrimination and AIDS.
However, even if Delanoë wins, as now seems probable, giving Paris back its former demographic mixture and improving its quality of life--especially for those of modest means--won't be easy, given a city budget that has been fiscally unsound for many years. Moreover, Delanoë's personal shortcomings continue to raise doubts, including on the left: Can a party workhorse with no management experience, nominated almost by default for his mayoral post, innovatively lead the first city of France?
Still, changing the political control of Paris--and ending what Le Nouvel Observateur has dubbed "the corrupt Chirac-Tiberi system"--is a top priority, one that could lead to the right's (and Chirac's) defeat next year. And if this permits one of the world's greatest cities to elect a mayor who is openly gay, why not gamble on his success? Frédéric Martel
The truth is out there--perhaps. During the postelection turmoil in Florida, Al Gore advocates prophesied that after the inauguration, journalists would descend on the disputed ballots and discover that Gore had undeniably bested George W. Bush. Well, it's not going to be that easy. Various reviews have been launched, and the results are unlikely to settle the matter. The Miami Herald recently reported that its inspection of 10,644 undervote ballots in Miami-Dade County--ballots that didn't register a presidential preference--netted Gore only forty-nine extra votes, not enough to change the election outcome. The newspaper's numbers jibed with my own. In January I examined one-third of these ballots (see "In the Field of Chads," January 29) and found a Gore gain of about fifteen votes. (An examination of Miami-Dade undervotes by the Palm Beach Post yielded a Bush pickup of six votes.)
Republicans heartily embraced the Herald's finding. Mark Wallace, a Miami attorney for the GOP, declared, "President Bush was lawfully elected on Election Day.... Now, after a ballot review, using liberal standards unprecedented under the law, we find President Bush would still win." And the editorialists of the Wall Street Journal opined, "No matter how you total the votes in all four of the disputed counties that Mr. Gore sued to have recounted, George W. Bush emerges the winner." Case closed? Not exactly.
The answer to Who Really Won Florida? depends on what's counted. And that's open to argument. When the Florida presidential election ended in a virtual tie, Gore and his advisers limited their recount request to the undervote ballots in four counties--Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Volusia. Team Gore wanted to appear reasonable (hey, we're not asking for a statewide recount), and it chose--duh--areas that leaned Democratic. The Miami Herald noted that if Gore's forty-nine new votes in Miami-Dade (which did not complete the recount it started) were added to the official recount results from the three other counties, Gore still would have fallen 140 votes short of a win. But the story doesn't end there. A Palm Beach Post analysis of disputed ballots in its home county concluded that Gore would have snagged an additional 682 votes had recounters there considered dimpled ballots. This would have put Gore over the top. Now case closed? Alas, no. The Post reviewed only undervote ballots challenged during the postelection hand recount. Since Democrats were then claiming that dimpled ballots should be tallied and Republicans were claiming the opposite, Republicans didn't object as often when the canvassing board ruled a dimpled ballot a nonvote. Consequently that group of ballots, the Post acknowledged, "carried a heavy Democratic tilt."
Squeezing an exact number out of these four counties is no breeze. There's the issue of standards. Different reviewers can come up with different results. Still, contrary to GOP spin, it's not at all tough to compose reasonable guidelines for ballot inspection. But should after-the-fact reviews be limited to undervotes in these counties? Why not overvotes? Many voters selected a candidate and also wrote the candidate's name on a write-in line. Such ballots were not counted, although the intent of the voter was obvious, doubly so--and state law does say that recounters can look for signs of intent. A Washington Post analysis of computerized records for 2.7 million votes in the eight largest counties in Florida found Gore "was by far most likely to be selected on invalid overvoted ballots, with his name punched as one of the choices on 46,000 of them. Bush, by comparison, was punched on 17,000." A manual recount of these ballots most likely would have benefited Gore.
Moreover, postbattle reviews need not be restricted to the four counties Gore requested. The Florida State Supreme Court ordered a manual recount of undervotes throughout the state--a decision overturned by the US Supreme Court. If you want to know what might have occurred had five GOP-appointed Justices not smothered the recount, you have to scrutinize undervote ballots throughout the state. In Orange County, an Orlando Sentinel review unearthed a 203-vote gain for Gore among under- and overvotes. And a Sentinel review of 16,000 undervotes and overvotes in fifteen other counties--mostly Republican counties-- turned up a further gain for Gore of 366 votes. But on the other hand--this is a dizzying exercise--the State Supreme Court recount order referred only to undervotes.
Other factors render a hard-and-fast accounting difficult. A Herald review indicates that more than 5,200 people who used the infamous butterfly ballot in Palm Beach selected both Gore and Pat Buchanan, nullifying their votes. Throw a portion of them into the Gore column, and Gore trounces Bush. But no official recount would have included such ballots. The Herald also reported that at least 3,000 illegal ballots were cast throughout the state--by felons, residents not properly registered and people who voted twice. There's no way to ascertain whom they supported. Nor can there be an exact count of citizens who went to the polls and were wrongly turned away. In Miami-Dade, 1,700 ballots were punched in the place below the one corresponding to a presidential candidate--possibly the result of machine error. One academic study concluded that Gore was the intended choice on 316 more of these ballots than Bush. And during the initial mandatory recount, many counties did not run the ballots through the machines. Instead, they merely checked the arithmetic of their original count. By the way, Seminole County election officials recently discovered eighty-three ballots not read by the machines that contained clear presidential votes; Gore edged Bush out by thirteen in that batch. How do you sum all this up?
A consortium of major news outfits is conducting a statewide review of 180,000 under- and overvotes. The goal, though, is not to reach consensus but to amass data that consortium members can crunch as they see fit. Prepare for different conclusions--and different formulations. Will the fog ever lift? With most reviews producing results that trend in Gore's favor, it appears clear that had this been a better-run contest--with better machines, better pollworkers and better voters (who carefully followed instructions)--Gore would have triumphed. But an incontrovertible and concrete final tally--the ultimate truth--is probably beyond reach. There are just too many ways to count the leftovers from this lousy election.
If a critic's clout can be measured by the ability to make an artist's name, the most important art critic in America today is clearly Rudolph Giuliani. Just over a year ago he excoriated the Brooklyn Museum of Art for including in its "Sensation" show Chris Ofili's Holy Virgin Mary--the elephant-dung-decorated painting of an African BVM, which the mayor found "anti-Catholic," blasphemous and disgusting--and turned Ofili himself into a sensation overnight: One collector, I heard, complained that the media attention had driven Ofili's prices so high he couldn't afford him anymore. If I were Jake & Dinos Chapman, represented by a perverse sculpture of deformed and weirdly sexualized children, I would have been seriously peeved, and if I had been Richard Patterson, whose Blue Minotaur, a profound meditation on postmodernity and the heroic tradition, got no attention at all, I would have wept.
You'd think the mayor would have learned to stay his theocritical thunderbolts, but once again he has gone after the Brooklyn Museum for including an "anti-Catholic" work--Renee Cox's Yo Mama's Last Supper--in the new show of contemporary black photographers, "Committed to the Image." He's even suggested that what New York needs is a "decency commission," which got big laughs all around, since the mayor, a married man, is openly carrying on with his mistress, upon whom he has bestowed police protection worth some $200,000 annually at taxpayers' expense. As the whole world now knows, Yo Mama is a five-panel picture in which Cox appears naked, as Jesus, surrounded by male disciples--ten black, one white--at the Last Supper. As an artwork it's negligible, glossily produced but awkwardly composed and, to my eye, rather silly. Cox is thin and beautiful; the men, in robes and caftans, are handsome and buff--apparently the first Christians spent a lot of time in the gym and at the hair salon, getting elaborate dreadlocked coiffures. Unlike the figures in Leonardo's Last Supper, which are highly individualized and dramatically connected, the figures here are generic and stiff. My eye kept going to the limited food on offer: bowls of wax-looking fruit (did they have bananas in Old Jerusalem?), rolls, pita bread. Was the Last Supper a diet Seder?
If you want to see visually haunting work at "Committed to the Image," there's Gordon Parks, Albert Chong, Imari, Nathaniel Burkins and many others. LeRoy W. Henderson's black ballet student, dressed in white and standing in front of a damaged classical frieze, interrogates the Western tradition much more deeply than Yo Mama does. Mfon's self-portraits of her mastectomized torso, a meditation on beauty, heroism and tragedy expressed through the female body, lay bare the high-fashion hokiness of Cox's costume drama. For fan and foe alike, the interest of Yo Mama appears to be political. Cox describes her art in ideological terms ("my images demand enlightenment through an equitable realignment of our race and gender politics"), and she has been quite pungent in defending it. As with The Holy Virgin Mary, the mayor hasn't actually seen it, nor had the numerous people who sent me frothing e-mails after I defended government support for the arts on The O'Reilly Factor.
Even the New York Observer's famously conservative art critic, Hilton Kramer, who usually delights in withering descriptions of pictures he hates, apparently felt that depicting Christ as a naked black woman was so obviously, outrageously anti-Catholic he need say no more about the photo before embarking on his usual rampage. It would be interesting to know where the offense lies: Is it that Cox as Christ is naked, black or female? All three? Two out of three? If one thinks of Catholics, the people, there's nothing bigoted about any of this. (Like Ofili, Cox is Catholic--as are most perpetrators of "anti-Catholic" works.) There is no ethnic stereotyping of the sort on view, for instance, on St. Patrick's Day, when the proverbial drunkenness of the Irish is the butt of endless rude humor, especially from the Irish themselves. While we're on the subject of ethnic stereotyping, it's worth noting that in a great deal of Christian art, Jesus and the disciples are portrayed as Northern Europeans, while Judas is given the hooked nose and scraggly features of a cartoon Jew.
But if what is meant by anti-Catholic is anti-Catholic Church, why can't an artist protest its doctrines and policies? The Church is not a monastery in a wilderness, it's a powerful earthly institution that uses all the tools of modern politics to make social policy conform to its theology--and not just for Catholics, for everyone. It has to expect to take its knocks in the public arena. A church that has a 2,000-year tradition of disdain for women's bodies--documented most recently by Garry Wills (a Catholic) in his splendid polemic Papal Sin--and that still bars women from the priesthood because Jesus was a man can't really be surprised if a twenty-first-century woman wonders what would be different if Jesus had been female, and flaunts that female body. And a church with a long history of racism--no worse than other mainstream American religions but certainly no better--can't expect the topic to be banned from discussion forever.
At the Brooklyn Museum, Yo Mama's Last Supper is in a separate room with its own security guard. On Sunday afternoon, it attracted blacks, whites, Asians, parents with small children, older women in groups, dating couples, students taking notes--le tout Brooklyn, which is turning out in large numbers for the show. I asked one black woman, who described herself as a Christian, what the picture meant to her. "It shows Life as a woman," she said. "It's beautiful." Her friend, who said he was a Muslim, liked the picture too.
If only I could get the Mayor to review my book!
Show George W. Bush you support RU-486. Make a donation in W.'s name to the Concord Feminist Health Center (38 South Main Street, Concord, NH 03301) and help it buy the ultrasound machine this method requires. The center will send the President a card to let him know you were thinking of him when you wrote your check.
During his closing weeks in office, Bill Clinton refused a plea, signed by many leading lawyers and civil libertarians, that he declare a moratorium on capital punishment. The moratorium enjoys quite extensive support among Republicans and is gaining ground with public opinion; its imposition would undoubtedly have given a vital second chance to defendants and convicts who are in dire need of it. Clinton waved the petition away. So I think we can safely dispense with the argument being put forward by some of his usual apologists--that his sale of indulgences in The Pardoner's Tale was motivated by his own fellow feeling for those trapped in the criminal justice system. His fellow feeling is for fellow crooks, now as ever.
The media coverage of the Clinton pardons has been so biased,
overblown and vituperative as to call into question the very purpose of
what currently passes as journalism. It is difficult to recall a more
partisan, one-sided hatchet job.
Surely, even the faintest sense of fairness would compel a comparison
of former President Clinton's actions with that of his predecessors and,
as Rep. Henry Waxman pointed out at a recent hearing to a largely
indifferent Washington press corps, Republican Presidents have more than
matched the outrages of Clinton.
Forget Gerald Ford's pardon of Richard M. Nixon, which, while
effectively short-circuiting an ongoing probe of possibly the most
egregious behavior of any US President, can be rationalized as a
healing gesture. Nixon had accomplished much, and he was by then a broken
man. We can also overlook Ronald Reagan's pardon of Yankee owner George
Steinbrenner, who had pleaded guilty to violating election laws.
But unforgivable is what former President George Bush did. He
protected himself--a former Reagan Administration official--in an ongoing
investigation when he pardoned Reagan's Defense secretary, Casper
Weinberger, and the rest of the Iran/contra gang of six.
At the time, Independent Counsel Lawrence E. Walsh bitterly charged
that "the Iran/contra cover-up, which has continued for more than six
years, has now been completed"--by presidential fiat. Walsh called it
"evidence of a conspiracy among the highest-ranking Reagan Administration
officials to lie to Congress and the American public" and said that, "in
light of President Bush's own misconduct," he was "gravely concerned"
about Bush's decision to pardon others.
Bush could easily have been said to have covered up his own potential
culpability--far short of anything Clinton has been accused of doing in
his pardon of Marc Rich or anyone else. Nor did the Bush Iran/contra
pardons pass the one-more-pardon-before-leaving-the-White-House "smell
test" so liberally applied to Clinton's pardons; the pardon came after
intensive lobbying by former Reagan aides and many last-minute White
As for pardoning drug dealers, so upsetting when ordered by Clinton,
again why no comparison with Bush's similar and arguably more offensive
pardon of that nature? Bush's pardon of Aslam Adam, a Pakistani heroin
trafficker serving a fifty-five-year sentence, would seem more startling than
Clinton's pardon of an LA Latino from a sentence one-fifth as long.
And, OK, let's talk about Marc Rich. Let's compare his pardon to that
of another financier, Armand Hammer. If Rich bought his pardon, he at
least felt the need to employ the precaution of funneling a contribution
through his ex-wife, as some charge. Hammer was considerably more
blatant. Not only had he pleaded guilty to the charge of making illegal
campaign contributions but also, when pardoned from that offense by Bush,
he forked over two gifts of $100,000 to the GOP as well as to Bush's
Those represented fresh contributions to an incoming administration
that could continue to bestow favors--not, as with Clinton, to a
soon-to-be ex-President's library. But if it is library contributions
that now so fascinate, why did House Government Reform Committee Chairman
Dan Burton turn down ranking Democrat Waxman's request that the records
of contributions to Republican Presidents' libraries also be subpoenaed?
And imagine the outcry if Clinton had pardoned an immigrant exile
accused of masterminding an airline bombing that cost the lives of seventy-three
people, including twenty-four teenage members of an Olympic fencing team. Yet
that is what George Bush did in acceding to the requests of his son, Jeb,
to pardon Orlando Bosch, gaining Jeb support in Miami's exile Cuban
The most serious of Clinton's pardon excesses, that of former CIA
Director John Deutsch, does not rise to that level, but it is odd that it
has not been criticized. By pardoning Deutsch, Clinton ended an inquiry
into how sloppily top secrets are handled at the highest level. The
Clinton Administration had held former Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee in
solitary confinement for mishandling data that wasn't even classified as
secret at the time. It was Lee and not Deutsch who deserved a pardon. But
that would have meant enduring criticism, and Clinton only does that for
What Clinton did in catering to the wishes of his rich backers was
probably less motivated by library gifts than by misplaced compassion for
well-heeled but seedy people. That makes it all the more depressing, for
one would have hoped that someone who came up the hard way would know
that the filthy rich don't deserve special favors. But the rich pay the
piper, and no matter who's in the White House, Presidents do dance.
So it is, and so it always has been. The presidential pardon is a perk
of office, which has only the function of exonerating those the judicial
system would otherwise continue to condemn. It is a power begging to be
abused, but no more so by Clinton than many a Republican President who
At Brazil's "counter-Davos," democracy was in; elitism, corporations were out.
LIBERTÉ, EGALITÉ, FÉMINISME
"Feminism...is the most popular and most effective movement to emerge from the sixties left," writes Katha Pollitt in her introduction to Subject to Debate, the volume of her selected columns published in The Nation over the past seven years. Dismissed by the right and the left as identity politics, proclaimed "dead" by Time in 1998, eschewed--as denoted by the term "feminist"--by young women everywhere, the women's movement, Pollitt declares, "moves on."
And it's a good thing, too. Although, as Pollitt writes, "political feminism is still with us: regulations are challenged and proposed, candidates funded and campaigned for, lawsuits fought and not infrequently won"--there's much work to be done. And many of the essays included in Subject to Debate have worked, and still do, as a call to action. Writing on issues including reproductive rights, school vouchers, privacy, welfare, the culture wars, religion, the workplace, education and "family values" with wit and a perspective simultaneously personal and political, Pollitt has composed pieces that, collected in this volume, articulate a larger argument for social change. She reminds us that "feminism is not a single, independent, all-powerful force, but is connected in complicated and even contradictory ways with other historical forces--egalitarianism and individualism, hedonism and puritanism, capitalism and the critique of capitalism," and that "gender equality requires general equality."
Indeed, Pollitt notes, "rights are free; social justice costs a fortune." This has been especially evident in the welfare debate, which she plumbs often. In a signature lampoon, she writes in "Deadbeat Dads: A Modest Proposal" that "Marion Barry's views...are shared by millions: Women have babies by parthenogenesis or cloning, and then perversely demand that the government 'take care of them.'" In "Of Toes and Men," a 1996 column responding to the exposed relationship between Clinton "family values" strategist Dick Morris and Sherry Rowlands, a $200-an-hour dominatrix, Pollitt quips: "[Since] family values don't seem to generate much work.... welfare moms should take a leaf from struggling single mother Sherry Rowlands.... [and] become dominatrixes. Here is a lucrative profession with flexible hours that combine well with childrearing, which...it resembles in many ways."
On a different tack, Pollitt worries in "Opinionated Women" that women in the media are largely confined to certain issues in terms of giving their opinions: "As Saint Augustine put it, men need women only for the things they can't get from a man. For procreation (the one thing Saint A. could come up with), substitute 1,000 words on breast implants or day care, and that view still holds a lot of sway." Luckily, as Subject to Debate makes plain, Pollitt has never been so constricted.
I am no doubt not the only one who writes in order to have no face. Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same.
Ever since I was assigned to read A Room of One's Own in college eight years ago, I have kept it close for support. Besides the fact that, like Virginia Woolf, I had also read Leo Tolstoy's journals and was similarly enraged by the clarity he exhibited at such a young age, I felt she was on to something. "A room of one's own," however, wasn't quite it.
I grew up in the 1980s inside a charming, if small, Spanish-style California home with a mom, a sister, a piano, many dogs and two brothers who were relentless in their efforts to jimmy my locks with butter knives. Although I liked to think I had my own room, the space's original and (now that I'm an adult I can say it) idiotic plans called for its doubling as a shortcut to one of the house's more popular bathrooms. I went to great and occasionally violent lengths to discourage use of this particular feature. The results? Ha, as DrRogue would say.
Time and time again, my brothers broke triumphantly in, capturing me on my bed writing in my journal. I smile now, but back then, those intrusions enraged me. You see, unlike those jerks I was becoming a woman, and it was making me miserable. I liked being a girl. And it wasn't necessarily that I was surprised to discover that girls became women--in a rational way, I knew it happened all the time. It was just that I found the obvious sexuality of it offensive. It was clear to me that once breasts made their appearance against a shirt, a person could not be taken seriously.
I looked around at school and saw happy, pretty girls who went to the beach. They seemed content being female, and I liked boys too, so I did what they did. Then I went home depressed, slammed my doors, locked them and wrote to my journal about how much I loathed myself, until my brothers broke in after school. Here is a genuine entry from November 4, 1988: "I've gained five lbs. in a week if that's possible. I loathe myself. I'm sick of being regarded as 'muscular'--I want to be petite like Kate. Sports have ruined me."
Yes, you could say I was self-involved, melodramatic, petty. Worse, I was repetitive: November 4, 1988, was no date with an epiphany. Nonetheless, I was in pain. All I knew was that I'd gone from being an outspoken girl interested in everything to someone withdrawn and incapable of participating in class. I was depressed, but more than that I was hating myself for being a woman. I'd slipped onto a path that is as vicious and uncreative as it is a cliché of young womanhood. In a rare moment of teen lightness, I named it the Dark Horrible Sucking Trail of the Lost Voice. The Trail shouldn't be underestimated. Every day, another girl gets stuck in its mud.
Virginia Woolf would have liked DrRogue, a bright, confident writer with a lashing wit. As to whether DrRogue is a genius as defined by Woolf, only time will tell. In the meantime, she manages beyond the confines of a tiny school (there are just five girls in her class), her parents' limited financial means and, oh yes, childhood, to find experience and "a room of her own" for the cultivation of her talents. You see, DrRogue is known to those in her small New England town as 13-year-old Susan.
We met on July 14, 2000. I'm a part-time producer of commercial websites for teen girls and was spending some time perusing the vast number of homepages linked to one another on the Internet. There are thousands out there, colorful and animated, with names like Glitter Girl, Fairy Dawn, Overcooked, Pixie Kitten, Foily Tin, Quasi Grrrl, Peppermint and Intelligent Life. They can be constructed at established homepage-building areas of sites such as gURL, ChickClick, Lycos and Bolt. Or they can be created independently, then hooked into freer-floating webrings like "Shut Up You're Only 16!" and "Music Girl." Some are smart; some are sappy. Most are filled with poetry. If you visit, you may find writings, drawings, photos, interactive games and the creator's deepest, darkest secret. But you won't ever find her. Instead, your experience will be that of discovering an anonymous diary on a crowded city street. You can read it and learn everything about its owner, but look up and she's long gone.
DrRogue, however, is right here. I have no idea who she is.
She flashes onto my screen, an insistent clump of text in a small, square dialog box aboard America Online's ubiquitous Instant Messenger (IM).
DrRogue: Hey, Bronwyn!
Aha, exclamation points. Dead giveaway. DrRogue, I now know, is one of the dozen or so teen girls whom I have e-mailed about their homepages. By now, I've visited enough to identify the prints.
I flip through my list of teen e-mails. DrRogue is Susan, the one with the website called Intelligent Life. Evidently, she has made a note of my AOL e-mail address and posted it to her "buddy list" to see when I'm online. She's flashing again.
DrRogue: Hello, it's Susan.
(Slowness, you see, is terminal here.)
BGAR2: Yes, Susan, of Intelligent Life. Hello.
DrRogue: Yeah, yeah, just thought I'd reiterate.
In my web travels, I've discovered that most Internet-savvy, homepage-creating girls provide only first names on their sites and to people they meet online. Discussing this find via e-mail with many different young women, I learn that the "first name only" policy is pretty strictly followed in these parts. Not every teen, of course, approaches her online development in the same way. Websites like Goosehead, for example, the work of a 15-year-old student, her parents and a growing staff, serves up a huge number of provocative photos of the pretty tenth-grade founder. For self-run sites, however, those who forgo anonymity are just throwing bait to bad people. "Avoid the psychopaths," as DrRogue says.
Anonymity is one of the hallmarks of safety online. And both anonymity and online safety, I learn, are crucial to privacy. If you'd asked me in high school what privacy meant in my life, I might have said, locked physical space that cannot be invaded with a butter knife. I mention this to DrRogue. It becomes clear that things have changed.
DrRogue: Privacy is [about] having your personal space in a more intellectually abstract, metaphysical sense. It is making sure that no one can find out too much about your real life through your online follies, keeping relationships strictly anon and not putting yourself at risk of psychopaths.
Evidently, DrRogue's issues go beyond keeping her brother out of her room (although this is cited as an ancillary goal). No matter the "horror stories blown up by newscasters," Susan asserts that she doesn't "feel threatened that [her] anonymity is slipping away." On the contrary, she blames the media for exacerbating the situation with their stupidity:
DrRogue: Newscasters report the invasion of my privacy very sternly, as though they're the ones decoding the human genome. From the way they speak, as though every technical word is new and unknown, it's clear that they're still asking their kids how to log on to the Internet.
Notwithstanding adult ignorance, DrRogue's understanding of privacy, "metaphysical" as it may be, is still predominantly about hiding the cord that could lead "psychopaths" to the "real" her. But isn't this paranoia for good reason? I ask. Haven't we all heard stories of "psychopaths" locating teenagers from clues carelessly dropped in chatrooms? DrRogue blisters at this one.
DrRogue: And then we have, "Cyber stalkers! Are your kids safe on the net?" If they have an IQ higher than a rock. Never give your full, real name, specific location, or phone number to a stranger. EVERY kid should know that!
"Keeping relationships strictly anon," in fact, is just the beginning of what a user, child or adult, must learn about the web, according to DrRogue. Sensing my ignorance, she outlines society's paranoia, the real issues as she sees them and the solutions--albeit in a somewhat mocking tone:
DrRogue: "Companies are putting something called 'COOKIES' onto your hard drive to TRACK WHAT SITES YOU VISIT!" screams the television. Anyone with a brain and a mouse should know that you can clear all the cookies off your hard drive anytime, or even set your computer to not accept them at all. "CREDIT CARD FRAUD!" is another big one. If you have a grain of sense, you won't give your credit card number to sites with names like Bob's Discount Warehouse. If you're not sure it's credible, DON'T SHOP THERE. "A new virus is spreading like wildfire around the world and through major corporations!" Major corporations where the employees are so out of touch, apparently, that they'll download anything.
Although DrRogue and most of the teens I encounter online are very careful about their privacy, the Annenberg Public Policy Center's The Internet and the Family 2000 reports that 75 percent of teens consider it acceptable to reveal what the study has defined as "private family information" in exchange for gifts, online. These "older kids," aged 13 to 17, are even more likely than younger ones, according to the study, to divulge personal details, including the names of their own and their parents' favorite stores, the type of car their family drives, whether their parents talk about politics and what their parents do on the weekends.
In the adult world, a person's concern for her own physical safety goes without saying, while the current discourse surrounds public image more than it does personal safety. In a New York Times Magazine article on privacy and technology, Jeffrey Rosen states that through the interception of e-mails, the tracking of browsing habits and purchases online and statements made in chatrooms, one's "public identity may be distorted by fragments of information that have little to do with how you define yourself."
Indeed, we've all heard stories about e-mail fragments being taken out of context by employers and others. The Washington Post described the case of James Rutt, the CEO of Network Solutions Inc., who feared his years of candid postings about sex, politics and his weight problem might be taken out of context, thus damaging his reputation and his ability to run his company effectively. Consequently, the new CEO employed a program called Scribble to help erase his online past.
Rutt's story is not unusual. This fear of being taken for a "fragment" of information is enough for most of us to employ private e-mail accounts we switch to at work when we have something personal to communicate. Even though we take these precautions, everyone I know goes to great lengths to erase all of her business e-mails when leaving a company. Why? Because the medium is seductive: Web travel is about exploration, and e-mails begun as impersonal memos often become more intimate exchanges. Intimacy does not translate well to third parties.
Take the 1997 example Rosen cites of Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig's e-mailed comment to a friend that he had "sold [his] soul" in downloading Microsoft Internet Explorer. Lessig, who had downloaded Explorer simply to enter a contest for a PowerBook, was not stating a biased opinion about the company, he was flippantly quoting a song. However, Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, who had chosen Lessig as an adviser in the Microsoft antitrust suit, was forced to take such a bias seriously, removing Lessig as his adviser.
Rosen makes the point that we all wear different social "masks" in different settings and with different people. This may be true, even as it is socially taboo. From our estimations of Joan of Arc down to President Clinton, we celebrate and trust those with consistent (and consistently good) characters and criticize those who "waffle," or behave as if they are "spineless." Because we do not know how to define someone who changes with each new setting, we call her things like "mercurial," a "chameleon" or "two-faced." Consequently, the web induces fear in an adult not just for the things online crooks might do with Social Security numbers and other personal information but what a user herself may do to complicate her own "character."
However, while the adult world may suffer from a preoccupation with consistency, teens have the peculiar advantage of being dismissed as inconsistent before they begin. Adolescence is the societally condoned window in which we may shuffle through identities with abandon. My older sister, for example, horrified my grade-school self by morphing from punk to hippie to Hare Krishna to surfer girl all in the next room. Yet by the time I graduated from high school, I'd been through a few of those identities myself.
Besides their assumed role as explorers, teens may actually face fewer risks of this kind than their adult counterparts. Statistics relate that around 45 percent of large companies monitor their employees e-mail accounts, while few junior highs and high schools in America offer all their students computers or e-mail accounts. Even if they did, chances are that monitoring kids' private mail in public schools would raise countless legal issues. DrRogue's school is just now hooking up six new computers for the whole school of fifty-six students and has no intention of providing them with e-mail accounts. Ironically, it is this deprivation that has made monitoring less of an issue for students than it is for employees at big companies.
For girls like DrRogue who create and maintain personal homepages and explore the web's massive serving of chatrooms and boards, safety is not the only motivation for anonymity. "Bodilessness," it seems, can be the means to a more intellectual objective: credibility. Says Peppermint, a 17-year-old writer,
I definitely feel "bodiless" when writing for my page. The Internet has provided me with an audience that will forever be my biggest fan and my worst enemy. Just as I can say what I want on my site without fear of rejection, others can e-mail me their honest thoughts without the face-to-face consequences of criticism. My audience, as well as my privacy, is crucial to my development as a writer.
In a world with, as DrRogue sees it, "a seemingly endless supply of people to talk to and sites to visit, from all around the world," immediate, physical privacy gives some young women confidence they don't have when they're attached to developing physiques, school cliques or societal and familial expectations.
Only bodiless, confess some girls, can they relate certain ideas and thoughts at all. Indeed, screen names have become so popular that AOL is currently offering the option of seven aliases to the users of Instant Messenger. DrRogue herself has five that she can remember. In addition, girls can, if only for the experience, switch genders online. (Studies suggest 40 percent have done it.) "The ONLY reason I go into a chatroom is to pretend to be someone else!" insists DrRogue. Other young women are altogether wary of chatrooms. "I don't believe in chatrooms," explains Peppermint. "They've become a forum for online popularity contests and cyber sex." Does the monitoring of chatrooms add to their problems?
DrRogue: I've never felt like I was being monitored, because a monitor would do a better job of kicking out the scum.
Bodiless, many girls use their homepages as a sounding board before taking ideas out into "the real world." Others put the space and the "audience" to work on facets of themselves or ideas they plan to confine permanently there.
Peppermint, whose "real life" friends know her as Caitlin, addresses the consequences that she believes her physicality can have upon the reception of her ideas. "I do not post pictures of myself," she states in an e-mail, "simply because I want to be perceived as 'more than just a pretty face.'" Peppermint is so adamant that her physical self be distinct from her online self that she does not give her website address to "real life" friends.
Peppermint: I don't allow friends that I have known in person to have my Website address. The Web is a sacred place for me to speak to a receptive and critical audience, while at the same time, I do not need to worry about making a first impression, [about] coming off how I'd like to, or [about] what will happen the next time I see them. Because I don't need to make impressions, I am who I am, and I am being honest.
Peppermint believes her femininity and "real life" identity can negatively affect the reception of her ideas. She observes: "As a woman, I think we will always be viewed as sexual objects. [I want a person] to be able to look past the outside and realize that there is an opinionated, intelligent, creative young woman behind the pretty face." DrRogue, who at 13 is really just entering adolescence, simply may not have experienced her femininity as a handicap yet. If all goes well, she never will.
To many, appearance is the essential problem of female development. With the world standing by to notice her changing body, a young woman begins to perceive her somewhat limited access to what psychologist Lyn Mikel Brown (and many others, of course) points to as the patriarchal framework of our culture. From here, a struggle to retain her childhood identity and value system ensues, followed typically by a loss of voice, the narrowing of desires and expectations and the capitulation to conventional notions of womanhood. Yes, the Dark Horrible Sucking Trail of the Lost Voice is so trodden it is cliché. We've all seen countless articles on the phenomenon, but that doesn't make it any less painful for the young women going through it.
Less publicized, though more interesting than the pervasiveness of the Sucking Trail, is what Lyn Brown and Carol Gilligan (author of groundbreaking studies of female adolescence) have identified as a period before adolescence when girls' "voices" are at their most powerful. Young women, most of whom I imagine to be variations on DrRogue, actively resist dominant cultural notions of femininity at the edge of puberty. Finding a means to connect, harness and preserve the loud, defiant voices may empower girls to defy cultural norms and, in the process, eclipse the resentment that Virginia Woolf so protested.
On the one hand, Peppermint's sensitivity to a societal bias we'd like to think has passed is tragic. On the other hand, unlike those of us who were teenagers even ten years ago, Peppermint and DrRogue can literally construct their own worlds, with their own standards, where the only thing that matters is their ideas. They can't live in it forever, but maybe a few hours a day is long enough to change their lives.
BGAR2: how many hours do you spend online each day?
DrRogue: 1, usually.
BGAR2: really? That's nothing.
DrRogue: 2, really.
DrRogue: 3, if I'm bored.
BGAR2: still, I imagined more.
DrRogue: well, I'm prolly scaling down a lot.
BGAR2: why's that?
DrRogue: let's just say I've had to LIMIT my online time in the past.
BGAR2: ahh. los padres?
BGAR2: how much time did you spend yesterday?
DrRogue: lemme check my log.
DrRogue: ok, I lied. I spent 4 hours online.
Intelligent Life, DrRogue's latest homepage, which makes vague note of a Susan somewhere in the meat of its smart, sometimes acerbic, steadfastly spelling-error-free content, is exactly what it sounds like: an SOS for brain activity in a spectrum overwrought with misspelled emotion. Intelligent Life, when just a month old, had already received nearly 400 visitors--and that was during the summer. Whether they're up to DrRogue's standards is another matter.
Intelligent Life: I'm not being snobbish or narrow-minded, the time has simply come to draw the line. I want to meet people (of any age) who are bright and exciting, funny, kind, and intelligent. I want to meet people who are clearly individuals, not stereotypical, bumbling, senseless teenagers with limited vocabularies who take extreme liberties with spelling.
In short, do not visit Intelligent Life if you are, and there's no easy way to say this, a "ditz." Ding.
DrRogue: Have you been to Narly Carly yet?
Narly Carly's Super Awesome Page, to be specific, is DrRogue's spoof site--she recommended I look at it for research. Pulling the purple page with the rotating star up onto the screen, I see another reactionary move by DrRogue: a parody of the many sunny, earnest, "overwrought" teen sites splattered across the web. In the usual autobiographical style of these things, the fictional Narly Carly describes herself and her life, albeit without any of the eloquence DrRogue saves for, well, DrRogue. "I am a junior at Willingford High!" screams Narly at her visitors, "Go Wolfs!!!"
Although to the naked eye Narly Carly's Super Awesome Page looks quite a lot like any other teen site, its status as a farce lies in its suspicious abuse of exclamation points, the word "like" and an overload of personal information, among other things. Narly gives away reels of intimate details--for the visitors who "get it," this is a reproach of lax security. There is, after all, no one currently policing the Internet to keep people from divulging too much about themselves. In this era, something like Narly Carly serves as a gentle warning--as gossip does in a small town--to keep people in line. The irony is, of course, that a real Narly Carly may not understand irony.
Narly Carly bears the treadmarks of an adolescent critical of hypocrisy in older girls, making Susan appear to be someone Gilligan might identify as a "resister." Before they give up any measure of voice and shift into idealized femininity, girls are louder than ever, embodying what Gilligan believes may be political potential of an active adolescent underground. Whatever Susan's reasons for building an older "teenybopper's" site, they are her own. However, the underground political potential, along with Susan's strength and clarity of character, are palpable on Narly Carly. Indeed, a handful of the guestbook's visitors, whether male or female, passed the first test--they "got it." Said one visitor: "This page is so evil! I know whoever made it did this intentionally. No 'real' person acts this pathetic. And 'like' was WAY back in the 1980s. I know this is a joke and the person who made it is laughing their head off reading the guestbook."
When I argue that web diarists like her must be a bit self-conscious, DrRogue seethes: "People really put themselves out on these things!" Unlike my diaries though, they also get visitors who comment and provide discourse and insight, making the creator feel less alienated, making the pages actually useful methods of growth. Not to knock the diary--I certainly got somewhere venting in my own. Anaïs Nin kept a journal to "free" herself of "personae." The web is, in some ways, a more evolved journal, even as it is so many other things. Studies have shown that students write better papers and learn foreign languages more fluently when they actually have something to communicate to another person.
BGAR2: so these sites are like journals.
BGAR2: couldn't you print them out and store them in a closet or something and then delete them?
DrRogue: AH no!
DrRogue: that would defeat the purpose of the web!
BGAR2: what's the purpose?
DrRogue: interactivity, for one.
DrRogue: longevity of information, two. i can visit the Susan of a year ago. she's there in the same place, just as alive.
BGAR2: but how do you know when you're done?
DrRogue: I stop visiting it. I'm sick of it.
D.W. Winnicott defined a process of imaginative "saturation" in children's play in which the child plays with a certain toy or enacts an imaginative experience until all of the emotional ambivalence, fear, anxiety, etc., are diffused from that action or thing. DrRogues may be "playing" out their emotions to make offline "reality" less emotional. Selfishly, while she contributes to the textual wasteland of so many sites created and then abandoned, DrRogue hates to stumble upon such a "haunted" site herself.
DrRogue: It makes me feel really bad, manipulated almost, when I'm browsing a site, and then there's a date, and that date is like, March 13, 1996.
BGAR2: why, because it's old?
DrRogue: "does this person still exist?"
DrRogue: because I spent time getting to know the person
BGAR2: is it a waste if it's old?
DrRogue: it depends.
DrRogue: I like retail sites because they're constantly busy.
BGAR2: yeah, the idea of an updated site is good.
DrRogue: like someone's alive.
A good character's job is to "manipulate" her audience. Perhaps then, a date is some sort of narrative flaw that pulls DrRogue out of the story. What should a date matter to her anyway, I wonder: She'll never meet the site's creators. Why does she care whether she or he is still "alive"? The presence of a date on a site is like an actor's mustache falling off--it brings reality back into focus.
DrRogue's sense that a retail site, for example, might have human qualities, or something resembling a heartbeat, implies her ability to suspend disbelief so that the mechanism--words on the web--dissolves away. Further, it suggests a narrative view of the Internet, a desire to read and live through other people's stories. Susan seeks to learn about the world, about people and about herself, insight she can glean from any good story, regardless of its medium. I express some weariness of the homepages, but DrRogue says reading about their creators' everyday doings is fascinating, "sort of like having someone's life for a minute."
Stories, like "playing," can be powerful agents of personal transformation. "The right stories can open our hearts and change who we are," says Janet Murray, a professor of a digital fiction course at MIT. Indeed, ultimately the best stories render their technologies transparent so that we experience only the power of the characters and the story itself.
DrRogue created Intelligent Life to find other people, to hear their stories, to "have someone's life for a minute." In exchange, she shares her own experiences and, in doing so, develops a bit more as a human being. Logging on has enabled DrRogue to get beyond her small town, her age and her financial situation and has allowed her through narrative to experience the world.
Somehow, maybe because she pummels me with Instant Messages whenever I log on, I have come to associate the web with DrRogue. It is her "room," you might say.
BGAR2: shouldn't you be at camp or something
DrRogue: I said ALL my friends were at camp. I'm not so fortunate.
BGAR2: oh. sucks. well, you have the web.
DrRogue: I have the web.
Writing has always allowed people to step outside their skin, to try on different identities, to see through other perspectives. Lyn Lifshin, who edited a collection of women's journals by professional writers and others, recalled that contributors' friends were often shocked at the people represented in the diaries. For Foucault, writing was about growth and escaping the confines of identity. No one understands this better than the growth-hungry DrRogue, who, thanks to technology, can go even further in her explorations. She can gain experience of the world from a tiny room in Vermont.
The term "cyberspace" was coined by William Gibson, the prolific science fiction novelist, to define the virtual landscape of a human being's consciousness. It is voyeurism, entertainment, education, communication, interaction and self-expression all at once. Above all, it is a human environment, an extension of, rather than an escape from, the "real world." As such, it poses "real world" risks as well as opportunities. For young women like DrRogue and Peppermint, it is the real stories, the sense of community and communication, that keep them coming back.
Peppermint: Receiving responsive email to something I've written is the most rewarding part of the experience. I've received in excess of fifty letters, especially from girls a few years younger than myself, saying that I've taught them that there is nothing wrong with being yourself. This is a lesson that I wish I had learned at their age, and to know that I have taught it to someone younger than me is an incredible feeling.
DrRogue: IGG. [I gotta go.] Time to do something productive today.
BGAR2: Go write your novel.
I forgot to mention that, since she's not going to camp, DrRogue is writing a novel. It's tentatively titled: Teen Girls: Not as Stupid as You Think.
V.S. Pritchett, whose essays are an invaluable companion, a sort of Dante's Virgil in the navigation of modern literature, once described Don Quixote as "the novel that killed a country by knocking the heart out of it and extinguishing its belief in itself forever." This is no doubt an incisive statement, and perhaps truthful too. If so, it should be expanded to say that Don Quixote also artfully extirpated Spain from Europe's intellectual conscience. For beyond Cervantes, where are its influential figures to be found in the international sphere? This is not to say that Spain has given up on literature. On the contrary, many thousands of books--nonfiction, poetry and as much fiction as there are mushrooms that spring up in a forest after a rainstorm--are published annually at home. The number of Spanish literary awards has multiplied dramatically in the last couple of decades: Every major publisher has its prize and parades its winners with unrestrained flair. But does anybody abroad really pay attention?
If this diagnosis--that the Spanish novel is in a centuries-old hiatus--sounds improbable, even a bit offensive, I suggest an exercise in improvised criticism. Stop for a moment at your local bookstore and look for, say, a dozen Iberian novels--classics and commercial--on the shelf. I bet the task defeats you. You might stumble upon a title by Camilo José Cela, whose Nobel Prize, like that of his fellow Spaniard, Jacinto Benavente, only accentuated his obscurity; and you will surely come across the "brainy" thrillers of Arturo Pérez-Reverte, probably the most popular español of our time. But beyond these, what? It would be easy to blame the publishing industry for this void, yet most editors, especially at university presses, are far from parochial, and censorship is not a principle they endorse. Furthermore, even in such an atmosphere as ours, fastidiously allergic to foreign cultures, far more literature from France and Germany, even from Italy--not to mention the quick westbound trip of scores of Britons--is released in the United States. Spain simply isn't trendy; its intellectual life is of no global consequence.
The problem, in part, is internal. It is symptomatic that whenever an Iberian's letters are discussed at home, critics recur to similes: "Benito Pérez Galdós was our Dickens," it is said, "and Juan Benet our Faulkner." In all fairness, these comparisons are often to an author's advantage. A handful of essayists, and chiefly poets, fare better: Unamuno and Ortega y Gasset, still not fully translated into English, are the owners of pungent, incisive voices unstilted by time that are delightful to read; and Federico García Lorca, along with poets of the Civil War (Machado, Cernuda et al.), are true giants. But a quick survey of the landscape in fiction evidences a kind of wasteland: Miguel Delibes, Carmen Martín Gaite, Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio, Alvaro Pombo and younger figures like Almudena Grandes, Juan Luis Cebrián, Antonio Muñóz Molina. Are these recognizable names? Even if he isn't taken at face value, Pritchett, I think, is on to something of significance: The country's literary flame might not have been extinguished altogether with Don Quixote, but it surely burns at a low intensity. Spain appears in a permanent state of eclipse.
Beyond national borders, one of the very few heralded talents of the last decade is Javier Marías. His work has been timidly appearing in US bookstores, praised in literary supplements and review pages. But it remains, not surprisingly, largely ignored by readers. Still, Marías has much to offer; even if his work isn't consistently breathtaking, a push should be made to bring him to the attention of a wider audience. From his 1971 debut novel Los dominios del lobo to collections of essays like Literatura y fantasma, his books have sold in excess of 3.2 million copies, mainly in Europe and Hispanic America. (Sales and quality don't always match, but they do in his case.) He has been translated into some twenty languages. It is time Americans also wake up to this skillful littérateur.
Marías (born in 1951) is a grounded madrileño, the son of a prominent cultural critic. Figuratively, he is one of Borges's grandchildren, although Proust should also be considered a prominent source of inspiration: Marías's themes are circular and metaliterary, his style meditative to the point of cantankerousness. Infatuated by British fiction since an early age, Marías has been, aside from a practitioner of fiction, a translator of high caliber who has made Hardy, Conrad and Yeats sit comfortably in Cervantes's tongue. His rendition of Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy is especially noteworthy: It brings the original to life without ever mimicking it. This talent, it ought to be said, is no meager achievement in a culture with a miserable history of translation, one made of uninhibited displays of ineptitude and misinformation.
HarperCollins and Harcourt both tried to publish Marías in the United States in the nineties, with little success. New Directions, the small, estimable New York publisher founded by James Laughlin, has now taken over the effort. It is serving a few of Marías's previously published titles and a novel formerly available only in England as an hors d'oeuvre, along with a main dish comprised of a fresh collection of stories, When I Was Mortal, and Dark Back of Time, a bizarre experiment in fiction--described by the author as a "false novel." The project is laudable: Although I'm sure it won't change the global status of Iberian fiction, it should at least make the exercise of browsing through a shelf for invigorating stories from Spain a bit less frustrating. And it should place the ball in the reader's court: From now on anybody who doesn't read Marías is doomed (as, loosely, Neruda once put it of Cortázar).
I used the word bizarre in reference to Marías. It fits him to the dot, for he enjoys exploring the eerie, mysterious and supernatural--what Cortázar once described as lo neofantástico, a term limited to Hispanic letters, close to the neogothic in English, it indulges in the supernatural without ever inspiring fear--in a way that is reminiscent of Stevenson, Wells and W.W. Jacobs (author of the legendary tale "The Monkey's Paw"). But, to extend the comparison, the figure to whom he can be equated without hesitation is Henry James: Marías's writing has the same syncopated prose and introspective inquisitiveness, and he often uses equally long, tortuous sentences. But, unlike James, he isn't quite a novelist, even though, for lack of a better term, he is invariably portrayed as one. Under close scrutiny, it is clear that Marías's narratives are made of disconnected segments--fragments that are abrupt and constantly interrupted by side effects that seldom add up to a whole--and his train of thought functions as a spiral: One scene leads to another, and then another--ad infinitum. Still, the result is rewarding because he is a literary magician who understands literature as a game of mirrors.
This is not to say, of course, that everything he writes is spun of gold. I've just reread him in the lucid translations by Margaret Jull Costa and Esther Allen: The pedantry and sense of superiority to his readers that I came across the first time around, when I discovered Marías in the original half a decade ago, strike me as more pronounced in re-encounters. He loves the donnish pose, a little as Wilde did. He invites you to his universe, but once you're in it, he shrieks: Look at how divine, how gifted I am! The effect might be off-putting, but the reader should put it aside and persevere in order to enjoy the material in full.
The sermonic tone is explicit in All Souls, based on his two-and-a-half-year experience at Oxford (the institution that has turned "donnishness" into a profession, after all). The novel fits snugly into a tradition of so-called campus fiction that includes recent entries by such figures as David Lodge, Jane Smiley, Francine Prose, A.S. Byatt and Philip Roth.
The narrator of All Souls is a Spanish lecturer who observes the ridiculous pomposity of academics devoted to obscure themes, painfully aware of their overall insignificance--people for whom, as Marías puts it, "simply being is far more important than doing or even acting." The adventures Marías comes up with are sheer fantasy, although his characters, among them faculty and bookstore owners, are not; some of the author's acquaintances have recognized themselves easily in his portrayals. The narrative suffers some from homogeneity: Marías's erudite monologues too frequently sound alike. Perhaps that doesn't matter here, though, for the author doesn't seem to be looking for full-fledged characterizations; instead, his is a tangential disquisition, one about Spain from without, a study of an Iberian intellectual abroad in the spirit of James's Daisy Miller, an American's rendezvous on the Continent. Marías zooms in on the dislocation of one lonesome, perplexed Spanish observer in the land that Dr. Johnson once invoked with the chant: "Ye patriot crowds, who burn for England's fame." He never ponders issues of national identity. And yet, this is a book about a self-imposed "highbrow" traveler, a stranger in a strange place.
My personal favorite among Marías's books is Tomorrow in the Battle Think of Me, originally released in 1994 and the recipient of Venezuela's prestigious Rómulo Gallegos Prize. It is a complex, centripetal whodunit about the reverberations of a sudden death. The protagonist is a scriptwriter in Madrid who has an affair with a married woman while her husband is in London. As her child goes to bed and she begins to undress, she is taken ill and collapses grimly. The narrator's consciousness is vividly mapped out. The leitmotif is the quest for morality in a dissolute universe. Marías ponders large philosophical themes, like the role of memory and morality in human affairs, by intertwining the individual in a larger picture. A quote:
No one knows anything for sure, not even what they do or decided or see or suffer, each moment sooner or later dissolves, its degree of unreality constantly on the increase, everything travelling towards its own dissolution with the passing of the days and even the seconds that appear to sustain things but, in fact, suppress them: a nurse's dream will vanish along with the student's vain wakefulness, the tentatively inviting footsteps of the whore, who is possibly a sick young man in disguise, will be scorned or go unnoticed, the lover's kisses will be renounced.... And, as if it was just another insignificant, superfluous tie or link, the murder or homicide is simply lumped in with all the crimes--there are so many others--that have been forgotten and of which no record remains and with those currently being planned and of which there will be a record, even though that too will eventually disappear.
This is the book Marías was destined to write by the Emersonian High Spirit and is the introduction to him that readers should have. Its exposition is hypnotizing, and its plot plays tricks on us: It falsifies its routes by pushing to its denouement.
Also of notice is A Heart So White, portions of which take place in Havana and New York, about a 34-year-old husband haunted by the demons of suicides by women close to him (his father's first wife, his mother's sister, his aunt Teresa). It has brought Marías the applause of many, including Francis Ford Coppola and Salman Rushdie, and is considered his best work. It might well be: It is an anti-detective story about genealogy and sin. (The title pays homage to Macbeth: "My hands are of your colour; but I shame/To wear a heart so white.")
In contrast, Marías's collection of stories, When I Was Mortal, is in a minor key. It appeared in 1996 and is made of material published in anthologies, as well as in periodicals like El País and El Correo Español. The short tale constrains him as a form and pushes him to summarize in a way that does him a disservice. His is an elastic vision that fits the longer narrative better. These are all pieces drafted on commission, which Marías states in his foreword didn't "compromise them." He then goes on to craft an ars poetica that again recalls Henry James:
You can write an article or a story on commission (though not, in my case, a whole book); sometimes even the subject matter may be given and I see nothing wrong in that as long as you manage to make the final product yours and you enjoy writing it.... It is perhaps worth reminding those sentimental purists who believe that, in order to sit down in front of the typewriter, you have to experience grandiose feelings such as a creative "need" or "impulse," which are always "spontaneous" or terribly intense, that the majority of the sublime works of art produced over the centuries--especially in painting and music--were the result of commissions or of even more prosaic and servile stimuli.
The best tales in the volume are peopled by victims of mistaken identities, unexpected friends and professional liars. Through "In Uncertain Time," Marías explores the fanaticism surrounding soccer in Spain in particular and Europe in general. In another, "Everything Bad Comes Back," clearly autobiographical in tone, a melancholic translator of Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy ponders his place in the world. And yet another, "On the Honeymoon," reproduces the same subplot of A Heart So White and also several of its paragraphs, thus acknowledging Pierre Menard's lesson: The same page used twice is a different page.
By far the brainiest, most emblematic and abstruse book by Marías, as well as the most demanding, is Dark Back of Time, about, well, everything and nothing. This is what Italo Calvino described as hyperfiction, a kind of narrative that twists and turns of its own volition, that is ever reflecting on its rhythm and style, ultimately giving the reader the sense that it is literature itself, not reality, that the author attempts to capture. I'm inclined to describe the book as a meditative essay. But to pigeonhole it seems preposterous anyway, for its strength lies precisely in its amphibious, if not anarchistic, structure. This, after all, is a nonlinear opera aperta that functions as a circuitous rendezvous through the realms of knowledge and imagination. It mixes autobiography with fiction, truth with lies, so as to show the extent to which an author--Javier Marías himself--is enriched and also cursed by his oeuvre.
Marías's overall journey, with stops in Tristram Shandy and All Souls and explorations of such figures as John Gawsworth and Wilfrid Ewart, accompanied by a long list of cameo appearances by the famous and not-so-famous, as well as maps, news clips, photographs and insignias, parades before our eyes. G.K. Chesterton, in a mini-biography of Stevenson, offered some poignant thoughts on the role of the critic, helpful as advice on how to think of Marías. Chesterton argued (in 1928) that reviewers had been in the business of "depreciating" Stevenson, of "minimizing and finding fault" with his work. He suggested that the matter that mainly interested him, and the one critics should always be on the lookout for, "is not merely [a writer's] pose, but the large landscape or background against which he was posing; which [the writer] himself only partly realised, but which goes to make up a rather important historical picture." That, I think, is the way Marías ought to be perceived: The merit of his books is unquestionable, but the niche he has made for himself in Spain must be understood. He isn't really "a writer's writer," as I've seen him described, but a reader's writer: His corpus invites us to engage a rereading of the Spanish tradition beyond the nation's borders, in an unconstrained, cosmopolitan fashion. Marías's worth is to be found in his disinterest in lo español. Indeed, he might be among the last to try to rescue his country by refurbishing its belief in itself. Of course, that attribute might be precisely the one that makes him such an enthralling Spaniard today.