In many respects, the recent meeting in Chicago of the National Abortion Federation (NAF), the major professional association of abortion providers in North America, looked like any other medical gathering. Participants wearing name tags attended workshops, engaged in lively debate about medical innovations in their field, examined the exhibits set up by vendors and greeted old friends and colleagues.
But in other ways this was not a typical medical conference. Security was tight, with guards checking registration badges and conferring on walkie-talkies. Along with presentations on "Vaginal Ultrasound Assessment" and "Monitoring Chorionic Gonadotropin Levels After Mifepristone Abortion" were sessions on "Ensuring the Rights of Minors: Making Your Judicial Bypass Work" and "Understanding FACE (Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances) and How to Invoke Its Protection." One of the keynote speakers was an FBI agent who played a key role in the apprehension of James Kopp, the fugitive accused of murdering Dr. Barnett Slepian, an abortion provider in Buffalo, New York, in 1998, and of wounding several other physicians.
While NAF meetings always display this surreal combination of conventional medical components and vivid reminders that abortion is the most politicized--and besieged--branch of medicine in the country, this year the atmosphere was especially tense. The fact that the reliably prochoice Clinton-Gore team is gone, replaced by an Administration that is deeply, and cleverly, hostile to abortion, seemed to hover over every conversation. As abortion providers well know, even if Roe v. Wade is not overturned, abortion access can be eviscerated by its enemies. Here are just some of the Bush Administration's initial steps in that direction:
§ As Attorney General, John Ashcroft, one of the most fanatically antiabortion senators in history, is charged with protecting the safety of abortion providers and patients. Despite repeated assertions at his confirmation hearings that he accepts Roe as "settled law," no one expects him to continue with the forceful and active steps that his predecessor, Janet Reno, took to combat antiabortion terrorism. Ashcroft will also play a key role in judicial appointments. While public attention has inevitably focused on the Supreme Court, judges appointed to lower federal courts have an enormous impact on abortion provision, ruling in such diverse areas as waiting periods, legislatively mandated scripted counseling for abortion patients, interpretations of permissible buffer zones outside clinics (areas that may be kept free of protesters) and on any revisitation of "partial birth" abortion bans.
§ Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson sent chills down the NAF community's collective spine when he announced at his confirmation hearings that he would call for a "review" of the FDA's approval last fall of the "abortion pill," RU-486 (mifepristone). Also, antiabortion Congressmen have introduced the Patient Health and Safety Act (PHSA), a bill that seeks to restrict distribution of the drug by prohibiting anyone other than physicians who provide surgical abortions from dispensing it, thereby thwarting its promise to improve access in underserved areas. Thompson's threatened "review" would likely do the same.
For now, Thompson appears to be holding off on such a review. The Administration has not yet named an FDA commissioner, most likely because of the hot-button politics of mifepristone approval. And it is not clear whether the PHSA will pass the Senate. But uncertainty over the fate of this drug is hampering the campaign to disseminate it. Prospective abortion pill providers face a host of other challenges as well: arranging malpractice insurance and managed care reimbursement, conforming to legal requirements (parental notification, waiting periods, etc.). As a result, nearly all those currently offering the drug are surgical providers.
§ The Unborn Victims of Violence Act, passed by the House on April 26, makes it a federal crime to injure or kill the fetus of a pregnant woman. Even though the act specifically exempts abortion, the prochoice community widely views it as a crucial first step in a campaign by abortion opponents to secure the status of "personhood" for the fetus (and indeed, embryos and blastocysts). As one lawyer at the NAF meeting told me, "Fertilized cells will have the same legal status as a woman, and eventually this will threaten various forms of birth control as well as abortion." George W. Bush has voiced his eagerness to sign the bill into law.
And what of the Supreme Court? Amid the rumors of the possible retirement of one or more Justices this summer, the stakes are high for abortion providers--and for Bush as well. Given the public's split on the issue, Bush risks alienating a sizable number of voters no matter what he does. (Despite people's discomfort with abortion, polls show that a majority wants to see Roe stand.) One likely scenario is that Bush will nominate a "stealth" antichoicer--one with no paper trail on abortion--and then try to prevent an abortion case from reaching the Court before the 2004 election.
How can the abortion rights movement respond? Lucinda Finley, a law professor at SUNY, Buffalo, says, "The movement must convince senators to announce that they will not confirm someone who is unwilling to state his or her position on Roe." The Feminist Majority urges a filibuster against any nominee not committed to preserving Roe (see www.million4Roe.com). Whether prochoicers have such political capital remains to be seen. The recent abortion rights march in Washington, whose timing unfortunately conflicted with Earth Day and Quebec demonstrations as well as the NAF meeting itself, attracted a disappointing turnout and almost no media attention.
As the rest of the movement awaits the Court showdown, abortion providers continue to endure countless hassles just to open the doors of their clinics each day. Many states have imposed TRAP--"targeted restrictions against abortion providers"--laws consisting of cumbersome rules, directed only at abortion facilities, regulating such matters as door width and air flow. Even those in states without TRAP laws face constant battles with landlords who try to evict them, vendors under pressure not to service them and frequent threats of violence. The community of providers, which has shown an extraordinary ability to carry on its work with humor and bravery even in such unacceptable circumstances, is gearing up for a long fight.
We are, as a nation, about to experience the changing of two guards. First, Ira Glasser, having given a year's notice, is stepping down after nearly a quarter-century as executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, "Liberty's Law Firm" as they like to call it. Second, Louis Freeh is leaving the FBI after serving eight years of a ten-year term as director.
There is, of course, a built-in tension between an organization dedicated to protecting and expanding rights, like the ACLU, and an institution like the FBI, too often bent on invading them. Thus when Director Freeh began agitating for the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act, providing for the placement of surveillance-friendly equipment in all new telephones, it was Glasser who pointed out that it was like requiring builders to put microphones in buildings to make it easier for the cops to listen in.
Despite occasional differences over this and that, we will miss Ira's energetic and articulate defense of free-speech values, his "First Amendment absolutism," his stewardship of an organization dedicated to eternal verities in a postmodernist culture.
Freeh is a more problematic proposition. He came to the FBI after the bureau's assault in April 1993 on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, and he never fully cleared that air. His public laundering of differences with President Clinton and Attorney General Reno during the year of impeachment was troubling--the head of the nation's secret police has too much behind-the-scenes power to play political-manipulation games without dangerous risks to democratic governance. Also troubling was his decision to leave office two years short of a term deliberately calculated to avoid changing FBI directors and Presidents simultaneously, the Congressional desire being to insulate the bureau from partisan politics.
We wish Ira well in his post-ACLU career; we wish his successor, Antonio Romero, good luck in keeping a fractious community coherent without sacrificing First Amendment principle. We also look to the ACLU to help define the qualities and criteria the Administration, Congress and the people should look for in Freeh's successor. J. Edgar Hoover's name and shadow still dominate and darken the FBI. It's only because of organizations like the ACLU that his bureau did not do more damage.
News that the United States has been voted off the UN Human Rights Commission and the UN international drug monitoring board has elicited vows of revenge from conservatives in Congress. They threaten to withhold payment on the long-unpaid dues owed the UN. They blame our adversaries--China, Cuba, Sudan and others--for the insult. But the secret votes enabled allies as well as adversaries to vent their mounting exasperation with US policies. At the last session of the commission, the United States stood virtually alone as it opposed resolutions supporting lower-cost access to HIV/AIDS drugs, acknowledging a human right to adequate food and calling for a moratorium on the death penalty, while it continued to resist efforts to ban landmines.
The global outrage is by no means limited to US policies on the Human Rights Commission. In barely 100 days in office, the Bush Administration has declared the Kyoto accords on global warming dead, spurning eight years of work by 186 countries. It banned US support for any global organization that provides family planning or abortion services, even as an AIDS pandemic makes this a matter of life and death. It bade farewell to the antiballistic missile treaty, while slashing spending on nuclear safety aid for Russia. It casually bombed Iraq, helped shoot down a missionary's plane over Peru and enforced an illegal and irrational boycott of Cuba. It sabotaged promising talks between North and South Korea, publicly humiliating South Korea's Nobel prizewinning president, Kim Dae Jung. The nomination as UN ambassador of John Negroponte, former proconsul in Honduras during the illegal contra wars, is an insult. "There is a perception," said one diplomat in carefully parsed words, "that the US wants to go it alone."
Our lawless exceptionalism is a deeply rooted, bipartisan policy that didn't begin with the Bush Administration. Under previous Presidents, Democratic and Republican, Washington denounced state-sponsored terrorism while reserving the right to bomb a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan or unleash a contra army on Nicaragua. It condemned Iraq for invading Kuwait while reserving the right to invade Panama or bomb Serbia on its own writ. The United States advocated war crimes tribunals against foreign miscreants abroad while opposing an international criminal court that might hold our own officials accountable. Our leaders proclaim the value of law and democracy as they spurn the UN Security Council and ignore the World Court when their rulings don't suit them. The Senate refuses to ratify basic human rights treaties. The US international business community even opposes efforts to eliminate child labor. And of course, there are those UN dues, which make us the world's largest deadbeat.
Worse is yet to come. US policy is a direct reflection of its militarization and the belief that we police the world, we make the rules. The Bush Administration plans a major increase in military spending to finance new weapons to expand the US ability to "project" force around the globe--stealth bombers, drones, long-range missiles and worse. The tightly strung Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sounds increasingly like an out-of-date Dr. Strangelove as he pushes to open a new military front in space, shattering hopes of keeping the heavens a zone of peace.
As the hyperpower, with interests around the world, America has the largest stake in law and legitimacy. But the ingrained assumption that we are legislator, judge, jury and executioner mocks any notion of global order. From the laws of war to the laws of trade, it is increasingly clear that Washington believes international law applies only to the weak. The weak do what they must; the United States does what it will.
After the cold war, we labeled our potential adversaries "rogue nations"--violent, lawless, willing to trample the weak and ignore international law and morality to enforce their will. Now, in the vote at the UN, in the headlines of papers across Europe, in the planning of countries large and small, there is a growing consensus that the world's most destructive rogue nation is the most powerful country of them all.
This is not a role most Americans support. Public interest groups and concerned individuals will vigorously remind Congress of the widespread popular backing in this country for paying our UN dues, for global AIDS funding and other forms of international involvement. Unilateralism must be opposed in all its guises, from national missile "defense" to undermining efforts to curb global warming. The United States was founded on a decent respect for the opinions of mankind. Let's keep it that way.
Jay T. Harris resigned March 19 as publisher of the San Jose Mercury News, saying he was unwilling to make staff cuts necessary to meet the profit goals of Knight Ridder, the paper's parent company, in the current weakening economy. (Newspaper analyst John Morton estimates that the Mercury News earned a profit of better than 30 percent of sales last year.) On April 26, Dow Jones quoted Knight Ridder executives as saying they had been told they would receive bonuses for cutting staff--as much as twice their salaries, according to one official. Knight Ridder said the story is untrue. Shortly after resigning, Harris explained his action in a speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors.
It was the conviction that newspapers are a public trust that brought me to Knight Ridder in 1985. I understood then and understand even better today that a good newspaper and a good business go hand in hand. Indeed, without a good business it would be impossible for a newspaper to do good journalism over the long haul. But at some point one comes to ask, What is meant by a good business? What is good enough in terms of profitability and sustained year-to-year profit improvement? And how do you balance maintaining a strong business with your responsibilities as the steward of a public trust?
Most businesses can reduce expenses more or less proportionately with demand and revenue without doing irreparable damage to their core capabilities, their market position or their mission. But news and readers' interests do not contract with declining advertising. Nor does our responsibility to the public get smaller as revenue declines or newsprint becomes more expensive.
In the same way that hospitals are important to the health of individuals and communities, good newspapers are important to the health of our communities, our nation and our democracy. My argument today is that a freedom, a resource, so essential to our national democracy that it is protected in our Constitution, should not be managed primarily according to the demands of the market or the dictates of a handful of large shareholders.
Quality is not a matter of public versus private ownership--the issues are the same in both. There are publicly held newspapers where quality does not vary noticeably in good times or bad. There are others, and I would include Knight Ridder in this number, that publish very good newspapers, but the tension between quality and responsibility on the one hand and financial expectations on the other is constant, and the balance is tenuously maintained.
I thought the tension and its sources were captured clearly and succinctly in a recent segment on The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer during which correspondent Terrence Smith asked Lauren Rich Fine, a Merrill Lynch media analyst, "What profit margin does Wall Street expect from a newspaper, a publicly held newspaper company? If they average in the 20s, is that enough? What does it have to be?" To which Fine responded: "Well, it's never enough, of course. This is Wall Street we're talking about."
That is an honest and unabashed statement of what some of us see as the tyranny of the current situation. It matters not whether the source of that tyranny is the demand of analysts and major shareholders, the reaction of corporate executives to those demands or merely the demand of owners of privately held newspapers for an unreasonably high return.
The trend threatening newspapers' historic public service mission is clear--if we're willing to see it. And it can be challenged and reversed--if we're willing to speak out. Of course, many are unable, or unwilling, to see or speak the truth of the situation. One reason is that the high salaries many of our leaders receive, in newsrooms and business offices as well as corporate headquarters, have turned into golden handcuffs. And those handcuffs have morphed into blindfolds and gags as well.
But this muffle of good fortune has not produced absolute silence. Today, we hear a growing chorus of brave souls, inside and outside the industry, protesting vigorously--and an audible grumbling of discontent from within the ranks of journalists and readers alike.
So where do we go from here? I am hopeful and optimistic about the future of American newspapers--both as a business and as key contributors to the vitality of our democracy. I neither believe nor will I accept that the current trend can't be changed, that the proper balance can't be restored, that the unwise is somehow unavoidable or that a course that is inconsistent with our principles and values must be followed. I believe that if we are willing to speak the truth, willing to talk together and work together to determine what the proper balance is and how it can be restored, we can achieve that end. Here are a few thoughts on how this might be done:
§ The discussion needs to include all the stakeholders, not just publishers, editors, large shareholders and institutional investors. Journalists and employees from the business side need to be at the table as well. So do readers, scholars and a diverse group of community representatives.
§ One goal of the effort should be to develop a working definition of what being a good and faithful steward of the public trust requires of newspaper managers and newspaper owners.
§ The moral, social and business dimensions of the issue should be fully explored and given equal priority.
§ The discussion should build the case for a steady and reliable investment, insofar as prudent business allows, in news, circulation, research and promotion.
§ The case needs to be made that editors must seek equal access to the publisher's chair. Journalists cannot leave the helm to those who do not have a deep commitment to a newspaper's responsibilities to its readers and its community.
§ And finally, a way must be found to give the public a sense of "ownership" in its community's newspaper. It should hold the paper--its managers and owners--to reasonably high standards and accept nothing less.
BUSH'S CHILDPROOF BUDGET
George W. Bush pledges to "leave no child behind" even as he touts his tax cut as coming from "the surplus funds" left "after we've met our needs." But a report released by the Institute for America's Future, joined by Senators Edward Kennedy, Barbara Boxer and Jon Corzine, shows how deceptive Bush's bookkeeping is. One could draw up a ledger to illustrate this. On the left side of the ledger are the disgraceful numbers: One in six children in America is raised in poverty; 11 million lack healthcare coverage; 14 million attend schools in dire need of repair. And on the right (wrong) side, the numbers in Bush's budget, which show cuts in funding for children's health, school renovation and after-school programs. The institute's report describes how Bush could "balance" this budget by taking the $555 billion he wants to spend on tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent--who average more than $1 million in annual income--and spending it instead on children. The money would lift 2 million kids out of poverty, provide 5 million of them with health insurance, extend childcare to two-thirds of those eligible and provide 7 million children with food stamps. No one doubts how Americans would vote if asked, Should the government spend the money on the wealthy or give poor children a fair start? Be sure to let your representatives in Washington know your choice--and tell them you'll hold them accountable for theirs. The report--and the senators' statements--are available at www.ourfuture.org.
VICTORY AT HARVARD
At 3 pm on May 8, the protesters who for twenty-one days had occupied Massachusetts Hall at Harvard declared victory. Although the administration did not agree to the workers' demands for a living wage, it will set up a committee that will examine and redress the conditions of low-wage workers. The committee will include faculty, students and, for the first time in Harvard's history, worker representatives. The strikers said their victory would not have been possible without the support of alumni and parents who faxed and e-mailed the administration, the New York alumni who picketed the office of corporation member Ronald Daniel, the Boston activists who picketed the Harvard Club there and continuing media coverage. This successful outcome should give heart to the burgeoning living-wage movement, which John Nichols discusses on page 8. As SEIU International president Andrew Stern said: "Today the students are the ones doing the teaching. They have taught America that all working families deserve a living wage, affordable healthcare and a secure retirement."
MAKING A NEUMAN OUT OF BUSH
We've striven mightily to notify winners of the great Name the President Contest, and the T-shirts should go out in a couple of weeks. In line with a reader's suggestion, we plan to send one to George W. Bush, addressed Occupant, The White House, Washington, DC. But it turns out that the Bush-as-Alfred-E.-Neuman picture that adorns the shirt may not be such an unkind caricature after all. We have it on the testimony of the Washington Post, no less. A reader wrote the paper's ombudsman complaining that a picture accompanying an article on Bush's first 100 days showed "Mr. Bush as Alfred E. Newman [sic] or worse." The ombudsman defended the picture, writing that the photo editors chose it because it was "up close and personal, a bold image taken during an interview with the Washington Post, and different from the more traditional shots with flags and busts of presidents in the background that you see all the time.... the photo is pensive, intimate. It matched the tone of the story." So T-shirt owners, you are actually wearing a sensitive likeness of His Illegititude--up close and personal.
Max Holland, a contributor to these pages, was awarded a J. Anthony Lukas Prize for a work in progress, for his book A Need to Know: Inside the Warren Commission. Runner-up for the honor was Elinor Langer, another Nation contributor who is also an editorial board member, for The Death of Mulugeta Seraw. And the winner of a Lukas prize for the best nonfiction work of the year was David Nasaw's The Chief, a biography of William Randolph Hearst. Nasaw has contributed book reviews to this magazine. Columnist Katha Pollitt won an EMMA (Exceptional Merit Media Award) from the National Women's Political Caucus for editorial/news analysis.
NEWS OF THE WEAK IN REVIEW
At a fundraiser in heavily Democratic Broward County, Florida, Governor Jeb Bush compared the GOP activists who raised a ruckus during the recount in the late presidential election to "the French Resistance in World War II." "You were the freedom fighters at a time when it was so important," said the President Select's favorite brother.
I scanned all the cheap effusions that followed the Bob Kerrey disclosures, looking for just one mention of just one name. Ron Ridenhour. Ron was the GI who got wind of the My Lai massacre, followed up on what he'd heard, complained to the higher-ups and, when that didn't work, blew the whistle to the press (which took about a year to print anything). He was a friend of mine and by any known test an American hero. Except that there is a strong tendency in all cultures and all societies to hate people like Ron. By his simple and principled action, he destroyed all the excuses of those who say that war is hell and "whaddayagonnado." He was from Texas whiteboy stock and an uneducated draftee; call him a grunt--he wouldn't have minded. His example demolishes both those who say that only combat-hardened men can judge other veterans, and those who shiftily maintain that those who weren't actually there have no business making judgments. Ron wasn't at My Lai, but he'd seen quite enough to know that the rumors of what had happened were probably true, and he felt obliged to check them out, and to risk his own skin to do so.
Things evidently happened rather fast in the village of Thanh Phong on February 24, 1969. Calley's platoon in March 1968 had taken much of a day in which to really work on the villagers of My Lai. Nonetheless, even given more leisure, Bob Kerrey would not I think have raped any of the women, cut off any ears, disemboweled any babies or tortured any of the prisoners. He never went around referring to the Vietnamese as "gooks" or "slopes" or "slants." Whenever the subject of war came up in Washington during his tenure as a senator, he was a sane and lucid voice. And I should add that I know him somewhat and that, since I'm a lowly adjunct prof at the New School, he is actually my president.
By the end of his week before the cameras, however, I began to wish that he wasn't. If you have had more than three decades to reflect, and some weeks of advance notice on top of that, you don't have to rise to the Ron Ridenhour standard. But you must not disgrace it. It is, I suppose, arguable that both Gerhard Klann (a man in possession of a somehow unfortunate name) and the Vietnamese witnesses are all under a misapprehension. But neither the New York Times Magazine nor 60 Minutes II gave them any chance to compare notes or concert their story. And then Kerrey, confronted by the contradictions of his own account, said the following: "The Vietnam government likes to routinely say how terrible Americans were. The Times and CBS are now collaborating in that effort." This was a sad improvisation of paltry lies, adding up to a lie on the Spiro Agnew scale. (As this was going to press, Kerrey told me that he's written to the Times to withdraw at least the "collaborating" part.)
Nobody troubled to report an even worse moment at Kerrey's press conference, which occurred when the invaluable Amy Goodman asked him about the command responsibility for war crimes borne by the Nixon-Kissinger architects of the aggression. (He was, after all, under orders in a "free-fire zone" to treat all civilians as potential cadavers and all cadavers as part of the enemy "body count"; he did accept a citation for carrying out this standing policy.) I can appreciate that Kerrey might not have wanted to seem to shift responsibility; the Ridenhour standard makes it plain that you can't be ordered to commit crimes against humanity. However, such a standard must not be twisted for the purposes of moral relativism. Kerrey answered Goodman's inescapable question by focusing entirely on his own need to "get well." He thus excused himself--and his political "superiors."
The date of the "firefight" is almost unbearable to contemplate. February 24, 1969, is about a month after Nixon took the oath of office. It's about two months after he asked Henry Kissinger to be his National Security Adviser. It's about three months after the South Vietnamese military junta withdrew precipitately from the Paris peace negotiations. And it's about four months after the Nixon campaign made a covert approach to that same junta in order to incite it to do so, and to take out an illegal and treasonous mortgage on another four years of war, as well as to subvert an American election. (For still more evidence of this historic crime, see most recently Robert Mann's A Grand Delusion: America's Descent Into Vietnam, published by Basic Books.) One must of course sympathize with Kerrey's pain. Only a few weeks after Thanh Phong, Kerrey lost a healthy limb to Nixon's sick design. But even the most tentative judgment requires that we give moral priority to the more than 20,000 US servicemen who died after the sabotage of the Paris talks, and to the uncountable number of Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians who were immolated as a result of the same despicable policy.
We should also abandon easy nonjudgmental relativism and give moral priority to men like Hugh Thompson, Lawrence Colburn and Glenn Andreotta. These three were flying over My Lai in their helicopter on March 16, 1968, and saw Charlie Company butchering the inhabitants with no "enemy" in sight. Thompson not only grounded his chopper between the remaining civilians and his fellow Americans, he drew his weapon and told the murderers to back off. This was no impulsive gesture; he took some civilians away with him and then returned. Andreotta (who was killed three weeks later) found a small child in one of the corpse-choked ditches and managed to save him. Exactly thirty years after the atrocity, Thompson, Colburn and--posthumously--Andreotta were awarded the Soldier's Medal in a ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It's the highest award you can get for an action that doesn't involve engaging "the enemy." There was no mention of their awkward bravery in the recent coverage, either, though as far as was possible, these three men lived up to one of our current dopey mantras, which is to "leave no child behind."
If Kerrey wishes he could say the same, rather than have left a pile of children behind him, then he has missed several opportunities to do so. His official statement was entirely about himself. It did not in fact come clean about what happened. And it did not contain one word of contrition for the action, or of sympathy for the victims. It was also internally inconsistent in other ways. The war, he said, hadn't become unpopular until 1969. Whatever this was supposed to mean, it didn't explain his accepting a Medal of Honor from Richard Nixon on May 14, 1970, in a ceremony that he now claims he knew was a tawdry and stagy bid for public opinion, and in the immediate aftermath of the assault on Cambodia and the killings of lawful protesters at Kent State and Jackson State.
Talking of universities, I was ashamed and disgusted to read the statement put out by the authorities at the New School. Here it is in full: "The Board of Trustees of New School University gives its unqualified support to Bob Kerrey. It is hard for most of us to imagine the horrors of war. War is hell. Traumatic events take place and their terrible effects may last a lifetime. We should all recognize the agony that Bob has gone through and must continue to deal with. We should also recognize that Bob's heroism and integrity have been demonstrated on many occasions. The Board of Trustees stands solidly behind him."
I try to teach English to humorous and intelligent graduates at this place. I could and will use this pathetic text--signed by John Tishman and Philip Scaturro, respectively chairman of the board and chancellor--as a case study in subliterate euphemism. ("What about Bob?" Leave no cliché behind!) But it is worse than it looks. Notice the insistence that only Kerrey's feelings count. And notice the insinuation that wartime actions are above moral distinction or discrimination. The New School, founded by some antimilitarist defectors from the then-conformist Columbia University at the end of the First World War, became the host campus for dozens of anti-Nazi refugee scholars in the succeeding decades. It gave podiums to Erich Fromm and Hannah Arendt, in lecture rooms where the nature of political evil was thoroughly discussed. It still runs democracy programs from Kosovo to South Africa. Its student body is multinational and always has been. A word or two about the slaughtered Vietnamese might not have been out of place. But this graceless little handout didn't even refer to them. Unrepudiated, the statement is a direct insult to everybody at the school and a surreptitious invitation to a creepy kind of secondhand complicity in murder.
I've no wish to hurt Kerrey's feelings unduly, but it ill becomes him to act as if he's facing a firing squad while he's being made the object of apparently limitless empathy. The truth of the matter is that I can't guess what these "many occasions" of "heroism and integrity" have been. (I'm assuming, perhaps incorrectly, that the New School authorities aren't counting the Thanh Phong massacre.) He was a fairly decent senator, as I've already said. But he showed then, as he shows now, a pronounced tendency to have things both ways. Like the Moynihans and the Gores, he was fond of privately denouncing Clinton as a crook and a liar and a thug, and then casting the ultimate vote in his favor. He told me in the week of the impeachment trial that he was determined to vote to convict Clinton for obstruction of justice, adding rather irrelevantly that it "wouldn't do him any harm" in his home state of Nebraska. And then, maybe when he remembered that he'd steered the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee through one of the greatest fundraising bonanzas in history, he thought better of it. "They all do it," of course, but then they needn't expect moist tributes for their bravery.
And yet--they don't all do it. Think again of Ridenhour, Thompson, Colburn, Andreotta--names that are barely known, names of men who would have been ashamed to leave a ditchful of women and children behind them, or to watch such a ditch being filled and say and do nothing. And think of what a great wall we'd have to build if we intended to inscribe all the Indochinese names. There's no possible repair or apology that could measure up to such a vast crime. But this must not mean a culture of stupid lenience and self-pity, in which the only wounds to be healed are those of the perpetrators, or of their obedient servants. How wonderful that at last we are forgiving the people of Vietnam for what we did to them.
There are war crimes and there is the crime of war, and it's ethically null to say that only veterans can pronounce on either. (There could be no human rights tribunals or Truth and Justice Commissions if this were so.) Kerrey was not caught in an ambush or suddenly placed in a hopeless situation. He led a stealthy, deliberate incursion into other people's homes, and the first act of those under his command was to slit the throats of an elderly couple and three children to keep them from making a sound. Kerrey now says that he didn't enter that particular "hooch" before, during or after--something of an oversight for the team leader, whose job it was to ascertain the nature of the opposition. He says it was a moonless night; the US Naval Observatory says there was a 60 percent disk until an hour after the squad had finished up....
This horror occurred in the context of two others: the Phoenix program and Operation Speedy Express. The first has been acknowledged even by its architects as a death-squad campaign, and the second was exposed at the time, by Kevin Buckley of Newsweek, as a mass slaughter of the civilians of the Mekong Delta. In other words, it's a bit late for armchair supporters of the war, or armchair excuse-makers, to discover indecipherable subjective mysteries where none in fact exist. Kerrey's after-action report on Thanh Phong, for which he received a Bronze Star citation, reads, in a vile code compounded of cruelty and falsification: "21 VC KIA (BC)." That stands for twenty-one Vietcong, killed in action according to body count. Did he accept that medal as part of coming to terms with how haunting it all was?
The humanoid who came up with the shady term "Vietnam syndrome" was of course Henry Kissinger, who had every reason to try to change the subject from his own hideous responsibility. But even now, the president of a humanist academy takes up that same pseudo-neutral tone of therapy-babble and quasi-confessional healing, instead of demanding the Truth and Justice Commission that might establish what we owe to the people he killed, as well as what we could and should do about the still unpunished and still untroubled people who directed him to slay them in their sleep.
When we left that old journalistic evergreen, the evils of daycare, two weeks ago, the media hysteria over the NICHD study had just about peaked. The researchers had begun to turn on each other in public, never a good sign--Jay Belsky, a champion soundbiter who had seized the media initiative by strongly suggesting that the study showed that more than thirty hours a week with anyone but Mom would risk turning little Dick and Jane into obnoxious brats, was sharply challenged by numerous co-researchers, who claimed the study's results were tentative, ambiguous and negligible, hardly results at all, really. After a few rounds of this, the media suddenly remembered that no one had actually seen the study, which won't be published for another year and which does seem on the face of it rather counterintuitive: Daddy care is bad? Granny care is bad? Quality of care makes no difference? What really did the trick, though, I suspect, was that every fed-up woman journalist in America sat down and bashed out a piece telling the doomsayers to lay off, already. With 13 million kids in daycare, and two-thirds of women with children under 6 in the work force, working moms are a critical mass, and they are really, really tired of being made to feel guilty when they are, in fact, still the ones doing double duty at work and home.
Compare the kerfuffle over the quantity of hours spent in daycare with the ho-hum response to studies of its quality. On May 1, Worthy Wage Day for childcare workers, came a study from Berkeley and Washington, DC, that looked at staffing in seventy-five better-than-average California daycare centers serving kids aged 2 1/2 through 5. According to Then and Now: Changes in Child Care Staffing 1994-2000, staffers and directors are leaving the field in droves. At the centers in the study, 75 percent of teachers and 40 percent of directors on the job in 1996 had quit four years later. Some centers had turnover rates of 100 percent or more (!) from one year to the next. Half the leavers abandoned the field entirely--raising their incomes by a whopping $8,000 a year compared with the other half, who remained in childcare. Nor were those who left easily replaced: Most of the centers that lost staffers could not fill all their job slots by the next year.
The demoralization and turmoil caused by constant turnover stress both the workers who stay and the children. Making matters worse, the new workers are "significantly less well-educated" than those they replace--only a third have bachelor's degrees, as opposed to almost half of the leavers. Pay, say the researchers, is the main issue: Not only have salaries not risen with the rising tide supposedly lifting all boats; when adjusted for inflation, they have actually fallen. A daycare teacher works twelve months a year to earn $24,606--just over half the average salary of public-school teachers, who work for ten months (not that schoolteachers are well-paid, either). Center directors, at the top of the field, earn on average a mere $37,571; the recommended starting salary for elementary-school teachers in California is $38,000. (In France, which has a first-rate public daycare system, daycare teachers and elementary-school teachers are paid the same.) Daycare teachers love their work--two-thirds say they would recommend it as a career--but simply do not earn enough to make a life in the field.
It's a paradox: Even as more and more families, of every social class, rely on daycare, and even as we learn more and more about the importance of early childhood education for intellectual and social development, and even as we talk endlessly about the importance of "quality" and "stability" and "qualified" staff, the amount of money we are willing--or able--to pay the people we ask to do this demanding and important job goes down. Instead of addressing this reality, we endlessly distract ourselves with Mommy Wars. (You let your child have milk from the store? My child drinks nothing but organic goat milk from flocks tended by Apollo himself!) And because as Americans we don't really believe the rest of the world exists, when a study comes along suggesting that other-than-mother-care produces some nasty and difficult kids, we don't think to ask if this is a problem in Denmark or France, and if not, why not.
Two new books of great interest, Ann Crittenden's The Price of Motherhood and Nancy Folbre's The Invisible Heart: Economics and Family Values, point out that there is a crisis of care in America. Women are incredibly disadvantaged when they perform traditionally female work--childcare, housework, eldercare--unpaid within families. (According to Crittenden, motherhood is the single biggest cause of poverty for women.) The free market cannot replace this unpaid labor at decent rates, Folbre argues, because it would be too expensive: Even now, most families cannot afford tuition at a "quality" daycare center, any more than they can afford private school. And men are hardly falling over themselves to do their share--nobody's talking about the Daddy Track, you'll notice. Both writers call for recognizing the work of care as essential to the economy: Top-quality daycare should be funded by the government, like school, because it is a "public good."
Unfortunately, funding public goods is not exactly a high priority of government, which is busily cutting programs for children in favor of a huge tax cut for the rich. These days our main public goods seem to be prisons ($4.5 billion), the drug war ($19 billion, including $1 billion in military aid to Colombia), abstinence education ($250 million) and executing Timothy McVeigh ($50 million, not counting plane tix for celebrity death witness Gore Vidal). You can always find money for the things you really want.
Once again the Bosnian Initiative Frankfurt, a German human rights group, is asking Nation readers to help fund summer camp for Bosnian refugee children. Many readers have become an integral part of this wonderful effort, sometimes going beyond donations to correspond with particular children. $150 makes you a "godparent" and pays for two weeks of camp for a child, but gifts of any size are welcome. Send checks made out to the Bosnian Initiative Frankfurt to me at The Nation, and I will forward them.
TICKED-OFF TEACHERS Washington State teachers got a bitter civics lesson this spring, as legislators refused to implement fully plans to reduce class sizes and increase pay for teachers that were overwhelmingly endorsed by voters in statewide referendums last fall. Washington Education Association members responded with a May Day lesson of their own: More than 5,000 teachers, classroom aides, bus drivers and custodians walked out of Puget Sound-area schools in protest. Their one-day strike was followed by walkouts in school districts across the state, and union officials say mounting anger could escalate to statewide action. The new militancy mirrors a rise in teacher activism nationwide, which comes at a time of mounting cynicism about whether the new "education President" will significantly increase aid for schools. Senator Paul Wellstone dismissed Bush's education bill as "a charade" and lashed out at Congressional Democrats in early May for going soft on school-funding issues. "I thought Democrats were going to stand up for resources the right way," said Wellstone, after Senate Democrats sided with Republicans to clear the way for debate on the Bush bill. "I wish we would fight harder."... Teachers are fighting harder at the state level. Education unions across the country provided financial aid in April to the 13,000-member Hawaii State Teachers Association's twenty-day statewide strike, which ended with Hawaii Governor Ben Cayetano's agreement to up teacher pay not by the 9 percent over the next two years he initially proposed but by 16 percent.
WAGE WARS The Harvard Living Wage Campaign sit-in has focused national attention on the burgeoning movement to pass ordinances that lift pay rates for public and nonprofit workers above the poverty level. More than sixty local governments and school boards--from Ypsilanti, Michigan, to New York City--have enacted living-wage ordinances, according to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). Miami Beach; Ann Arbor; Missoula, Montana; and Rochester, New York, have passed municipal living-wage provisions this year, as has the Richmond, Virginia, school board. Living-wage campaigns are currently under way in more than seventy-five other communities, including Pittsburgh, Little Rock and Sacramento--where local unions working in coalition with church and student groups have begun organizing mass rallies to press for city action. Some college-based campaigns, such as the one at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, have already succeeded, while major efforts continue not just at Harvard but at other schools such as Swarthmore, where the Swarthmore Living Wage and Democracy Campaign got a boost from folk singer Si Kahn when he appeared on campus. Living-wage movements have progressed to the state level--in Massachusetts the Senate has passed a proposal to guarantee regular wage hikes by indexing the state minimum wage to the Consumer Price Index. Backed by a coalition that includes the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, the state's Tax Equity Alliance and ACORN, the bill has a passionate supporter in Senate president Thomas Birmingham, a Democrat. He told a state House committee this spring, "We are in danger of becoming a bifurcated society, where the top 20 percent enjoy fabulous riches but many struggle like hamsters on a wheel just to keep their heads above water."
DRUG WARRIOR DISSENT President Bush is drawing fire for his nomination of "do drugs, do time" extremist John Walters to serve as the nation's drug czar. A Heritage Foundation acolyte, Walters quit a Clinton Administration drug-policy job to protest moves to spend more money on treatment. In a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing he dismissed calls for greater emphasis on prevention and treatment as "this ineffectual policy--the latest manifestation of the liberals' commitment to a 'therapeutic state' in which government serves as the agent of personal rehabilitation." How does Walters propose to win the drug war? He's a big fan of stepping up US drug-war interventions in Colombia and Peru. He opposes state moves to exempt users of medical marijuana from drug laws. He calls complaints that drug law enforcement tactics disproportionally penalize young black men one of "the greatest urban myths of our time" and dismisses as "utter fantasy" the claim that jails are packed with drug users who need treatment--despite Bureau of Justice Statistics data showing that 25 percent of America's 2 million prisoners were locked up for drug offenses.... One Republican who is definitely not on the Walters bandwagon is New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, who is pushing a legislative agenda that would make marijuana available for medical use, remove criminal sanctions for possession of under one ounce of marijuana and emphasize sending drug offenders to treatment programs rather than prison. Already, Johnson has signed bills to increase drug-treatment spending by 35 percent and to legalize syringe sales to fight AIDS. Clinton drug czar Gen. Barry McCaffrey once mocked the governor as "Puff Daddy Johnson," but he warns that his successor's positions are too extreme. "Instead of finding a 'compassionate conservative' to lead our antidrug efforts," says Keith Stroup, founder of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, "President Bush has selected a man whose views are regarded as harsh and extreme, even among drug warriors."
Remember when Hillary Clinton dared suggest that a vast right-wing conspiracy was behind the campaign to destroy her husband's presidency? Well, the troubles besetting the nomination of Theodore B. Olson as US solicitor general provide stunning evidence of what she had in mind.
Olson's confirmation hearing was abruptly suspended last week by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) after a report in the Washington Post raised questions about Olson's truthfulness under oath about his relationship to right-wing billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife and the $2.3-million, anti-Clinton Arkansas Project of Scaife's American Spectator magazine. Olson served as the magazine's lawyer and on its board of directors, but when questioned by Democratic members of the committee as to his connection with the infamous Arkansas Project, Olson stated: "It has been alleged that I was somehow involved in that so-called project. I was not involved in the project in its origin or its management."
That statement was subsequently contradicted in testimony before the Judiciary Committee by David Brock, the writer responsible for the key American Spectator articles attacking the Clintons. Brock stated that he was present at "brainstorming" sessions on the Arkansas Project with Olson at the home of American Spectator Chairman R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. Brock connected Olson with the Spectator's strangest article linking Clinton to the suicide of his close friend and aide, Vincent Foster. According to the Post, Brock said Olson told him that "while he didn't place any stock in the piece, it was worth publishing because the role of the Spectator was to write Clinton scandal stories in hopes of 'shaking scandals loose."'
That is not the sort of judicious, nonpartisan stance that one would hope for from a nominee to the position of solicitor general, often called the "tenth member of the Supreme Court," who represents the US government before the Court.
Since judicial objectivity is key to the performance of this all-important job, it was irresponsible of President Bush to nominate Olson, a key leader of the right wing's nonstop attacks on Clinton. Olson not only was deeply connected with Scaife and the American Spectator but he also represented David Hale, the key witness against Clinton in the Whitewater case, and advised Paula Jones. His partisanship was amply manifested when he represented Bush before the US Supreme Court to halt the recount of Florida ballots.
But the issues now being raised against Olson's nomination go beyond partisanship and deal with the honesty of his testimony under oath before the Judiciary Committee. In addition to the testimony of ex-Spectator writer Brock, the Washington Post reported that Olson and a fellow law partner at Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher prepared some of the anonymous anti-Clinton material that was published in the Spectator.
The Post reported last Friday that American Spectator documents show that Olson's law firm was paid more than $14,000 for work on the Arkansas Project. Part of this money was to pay for a hit piece on the Clintons that Olson purportedly wrote under a pseudonym, cataloging all the possible laws that the Clintons might have violated if the unsubstantiated charges hurled at them by their right-wing critics proved true.
After the Post ran its story last week, Hatch conceded "there are legitimate issues" justifying his decision to defer action on Olson's nomination pending further investigation. One issue concerns Olson's testimony at an April 5 hearing of the Judiciary Committee as to how he came to represent Hale, a key source for the Spectator. Olson said he couldn't remember how the contact was made and never mentioned David W. Henderson, the Arkansas Project director. But Henderson last week told the Post he was the person who introduced Hale to Olson.
Even if one assumes that Olson has a conveniently poor memory on key matters relating to his involvement with the American Spectator and its Arkansas Project, his behavior hardly suggests the stellar qualities required of the chief representative of the US people before the highest judicial body. Nor is this the first time Olson's credibility in testimony before Congress was questioned. The Post article noted that, in 1986, Independent Counsel Alexia Morrison was appointed to investigate whether Olson had provided misleading testimony to a congressional committee when he worked at the Justice Department in 1983. Morrison concluded that Olson's testimony was "disingenuous and misleading," but that his statements were "literally true" and therefore he could not be criminally prosecuted.
Pretty slippery for the "tenth member of the Supreme Court," but, sadly, given the recent shenanigans of the Court's right-wing majority, Olson should fit right in if he is ultimately confirmed.
The almost exact coincidence in time between the destruction of the Buddha figures by the Taliban in Afghanistan and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's renewed jihad against the Brooklyn Museum vividly underscores the problems that authorities seem to have in dealing with images. It hardly matters whether it is the most sophisticated city in the world or one of the world's most backward countries--authorities form Panels on Decency or mount Exhibitions of Degenerate Art or ship avant-garde painters off to rot in gulags or divert funds badly needed for the relief of famine to pound, with advanced weaponry, effigies into rubble. And let us not forget Plato's scheme for ridding the Just Society of mimetic art generally. As these examples suggest, iconoclasm cannot always be explained with reference to religious orthodoxy. William Randolph Hearst and Congressman George Dondero of Michigan did what they could on grounds of patriotism to cleanse America of any images that smacked of Modernism. "Art which does not beautify our country in plain simple terms that everyone can understand breeds dissatisfaction," Dondero proclaimed. "It is therefore opposed to our government and those who create and promote it are our enemies." Why should our taxes support imagery of which our officials disapprove? (The answer, of course, is that they were not elected to tell us what we could see--they were elected to secure our basic freedom to make up our own minds on matters of expression, artistic and otherwise.)
Renee Cox's suddenly famous photograph, which shows a naked woman at a dinner party, has been stigmatized by Mayor Giuliani as indecent and anti-Catholic. It is in fact neither. The title, as everyone in the world now knows, is Yo Mama's Last Supper, but Yo Mama has been one of the ways in which Cox has referred to herself since the time when, enrolled in the Whitney Independent Study Program, she did a number of large nude photographs of herself pregnant and, later, with her son. The title in effect means "The Last Supper According to Renee Cox," and the art-historical reference is to the Last Supper according to Leonardo da Vinci. There are a great many pictures of Christ's last meal with his disciples, all of them by the nature of the case interpretations, since literal pictorial records are out of the question. Cox's interpretation enjoys the protections of the First Amendment, but one loses a great opportunity in thinking of her work--or anyone's work, for that matter--merely in terms of the artist's right to make it or the museum's right to display it. Cox is a serious artist, with serious things to say in her chosen medium. The First Amendment exists to protect the freedom of discourse, rightly perceived as central to the intellectual welfare of a free society. Art belongs to that discourse, and our taxes support museums in order to give citizens access to it. Mayors should be first in line to secure these rights and benefits rather than voice hooligan pronouncements against art for the evening news.
Yet the history of images is also the history of forbidding the making of images. This interdiction is wholesale at Exodus 20:4, where Jehovah prohibits any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or is in the water under the earth. There is an implied thesis in pictorial psychology in this commandment, which probably goes to the heart of the matter: People have a hard time not believing that there is an internal connection between pictures and their subjects. If you can place a picture of an antelope on your cave wall, you have made an antelope present in the cave. If you have a picture of a saint before you, the saint herself is right there, mystically present in her icon. So if you pray before the icon, your prayers are immediately heard by her whose image it is. It was this intimacy with holy beings that made icons so greatly cherished in early Christianity, and that accordingly made them so vexed a political nuisance in the Byzantine Empire, which was torn asunder for more than a century by controversy over what we might think of as pictorial metaphysics. The arguments pro and con had an intricacy and deviousness that help give the term "byzantine" its familiar meaning. But when the Iconoclasts were in power, it also meant an actual destruction of icons so thorough that very few of what must have been an almost countless number of them have survived.
Drawing is said to have been invented by a Corinthian girl, Dibutades, who traced the outline of her lover's shadow on the wall so that she would keep a trace of him with her when he left. Images in their nature have outlines, which is why Byzantine theorists regarded every likeness of God as false: God has no outlines, and so to picture God is to represent God as finite. The Byzantine practice of worshiping God through worshiping an icon of God is idolatry, which is the worship of finite things. And it was the intent of Exodus to forestall idol worship. The problem this presented to the established religion was that the church in fact exercised monopolistic control over images, and prohibition accordingly had deep economic consequences, given the appetite that was a defining trait of Byzantine culture. Supporters of icons had a clever answer. Toleration of images is one of the grounds on which Christianity distinguishes itself from Judaism and indeed Islam. The whole message of Christianity rests on the proposition that God decided to save humanity from sin by self-incarnation in human form. But human beings in our nature are finite. Since God is Jesus, in worshiping Jesus one is worshiping an infinite being in finite form. Indeed, we have Jesus' own testimony for the acceptability of images, since he himself conferred his image upon Saint Veronica, who offered him her veil to wipe his brow with as he struggled up the road to the cross: When she received it back, there was the image of Christ's face, like a photographic impression. This was considered a miracle, and Veronica's veil is one of the most important relics in the Church's large inventory.
The identity of the persons of the Trinity is the most abstruse and contested teaching of the early Church, but once the decision is made to take on human form, the question of gender immediately arises, and this brings us to the Brooklyn case. Humans are sexually bimorphic, so the question cannot be avoided. Could God have chosen to be incarnate in a female body? To say that God could not have is inconsistent with God's power. My sense is that a male body would have recommended itself at that moment in history, in order to make sure that Jesus would have a respect and authority not ordinarily accorded females. But does this rule out that Jesus could be represented as female? That might have been difficult for worshipers to deal with during certain stages of iconography, though it should hardly be an insuperable problem, once we appreciate that pictures may be regarded as symbols rather than mere likenesses. Not even the first Christians had difficulties in accepting that Christ could be represented as a fish! The Greek word for fish, Ichthys, acted as an acronym for "Jesus Christ God's Son Savior." One of the great theologians went so far as to play on the idea that through the sacrament of baptism, water is the medium in which we live, so that Christians, like Jesus, are fishlike in nature.
The masculine identity of Jesus is explicit in representations of the Christ child in Western art, over and over again shown with a penis, often pointed to in pictures, sometimes by the Christ child himself. The great art historian Leo Steinberg has made this the theme of a major contribution, The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion. Any ambiguity on the matter raises difficulties of interpretation. When, for example, pilgrims carried lead badges showing Christ bearded and crucified but wearing a robe, these were found puzzling in Northern Europe, where only women wore such garments. Here is the reasoning that resolved the issue: On the evidence of dress, the figure had to be female. (Evidently clothing trumps beards, since there are bearded women.) A myth evolved that the bearded woman was Saint Wilgefortis, which derives from virgo fortis--Strong Virgin. Wilgefortis, a beautiful virgin, wanted to devote her life to Christ but was betrothed to the King of Sicily. She prayed that she be made ugly, and God answered by causing a beard to grow on her face. The King of Sicily, disgusted, canceled the wedding. Her father was so angry that he had his bearded daughter crucified. Thus grew up the cult of Saint Wilgefortis, and her worshipers, praying before the figure of a bearded woman, were unbeknownst to themselves really praying to Christ.
An image of a crucified person wearing a dress could be, taken literally, Saint Wilgefortis, or symbolically it could be Jesus. The central figure in Yo Mama's Last Supper, since nude, is hardly ambiguous in point of gender. But it is ambiguous as to whether it is literal or symbolic representation. So let's begin to examine the work as art critics:
It is an exceptionally large photograph, in color, consisting of five panels, each 31 inches square. The female figure occupies the entire central panel. She is standing, arms outspread, palms upturned, behind a table, set with some bowls of fruit and a wineglass. Because of the title and certain formal similarities to Leonardo's painting, one has to say that she occupies the place of Christ. I think that it is incidental to the meaning of the picture that Cox photographed herself as Jesus, since I don't think she is suggesting that she is Jesus, or that it is a self-portrait of Renee Cox as Jesus. Rather, she is working along lines associated with Cindy Sherman, who photographs herself but not as herself, with the difference that Sherman has never, so far as I know, shown her own nakedness. Renee Cox has used herself as model for Jesus, symbolically represented as a woman. This is interpretive conjecture: It is impossible to know from the picture alone whether Cox is saying that Jesus was in fact a woman or merely that he is being represented as a woman. The differences are immense, one being about theological, the other about representational, fact. Obviously the two can be connected. No one thinks that Jesus was actually a lamb, but he is often enough depicted as a lamb, and this is thought to be a symbolic way of presenting some deep truth about Jesus. One speaks about being washed in the blood of the lamb, but as Muriel Spark observes in a novel, blood is too sticky to wash with, so the image is poetic license.
In the "Sensation" show (at the same museum and which also drew the Mayor's ire), the British artist Sam Taylor-Wood showed a Last Supper with a woman, nude from the waist up, as Jesus. She titled the work Wrecked. Taylor-Wood's picture is somewhat baroque and even Carravagesque, and in it Jesus looks haunted. Cox's picture is rather classical, with the disciples distributed in two groups of three on either side, and Jesus appears (I would say) magisterial. S/he is holding what I imagine is a shroud over his/her arms and passing behind the body, so as not to conceal her femininity. Taylor-Wood's picture raised no hackles at the time, but this may be explained through hackle-fatigue--unless the fact that Jesus is black in Cox's image is the suppressed premise in the recent complaint.
Since Christ has been shown as a lamb in many wonderful paintings--and continues to be represented by a fish in various gift items and ornaments for automobiles, there is iconographic room for him to be shown in many different ways. Showing God as male is, as I say, a historical contingency. It could be a metaphor, through which one conveys Christ's absolute authority, males traditionally having that in patriarchal societies. But there is a more central consideration. Let us remember that the whole message of Christianity is that God took on a human form in order to redeem us through his suffering. There is a magnificent piece of criticism by Roger Fry of a Madonna and Child by Mantegna. "The wizened face, the creased and crumpled flesh of a new born babe...all the penalty, the humiliation, almost the squalor attendant upon being 'made flesh' are marked." In view of the profound suffering both women and blacks have undergone through history, it would be entirely suitable that Christ be represented as either of these, or both. It is true that in Cox's picture, Christ looks exalted and self-certain. It is a picture of someone defiant and prepared to face down her oppressors. But it is, on whatever symbolic level, after all a picture of God. Taylor-Wood's picture is of Jesus as human. But the important truth is that Jesus is supposed to have been both, and the issue of what gender the human is to be in a given representation is a matter of delicate interpretational negotiation.
These are the considerations on which I want to deny that the picture is either indecent or anti-Catholic. The Mayor blurted out these epithets when he was shown a photograph of Yo Mama's Last Supper in the Daily News. Giuliani can always be counted on to make entertaining noises in the presence of art. He might have said the same thing had an artist scanned a picture of a fish into Leonardo's painting. I appreciate the fact that the Mayor has more pressing things to deal with than pondering the mysteries of Christ's body or the language of religious symbols, but if the so-called Decency Panel he has formed presses forward, I think he owes it to art and to his religion to ask that pictures that offend him be explained to him. I would be astonished if the panel he has appointed is interested in doing that on his behalf. If I were summoned as a witness, I would be eager to point out the complexities of interpretation involved with the art that comes before it, and that the panelists should consider the art the way it is considered by a critic, from the perspective of what view is being visually advanced. Seen that way, it becomes a matter of finding plausible critical hypotheses and then seeing whether they could not be true--giving the art the benefit of the doubt. I cannot imagine the panel having to meet very often, once its meetings turned on such matters of interpretation. The issue finally becomes of a piece with conflicts in society at large, where we have learned to tolerate views whether we like them or not.
There is, to be sure, a distinction between protecting a right and supporting an art museum with our taxes. There are those who see free expression as a right but not necessarily a public right to art museums as institutions. That question reduces to one of why we should have art museums, paid for by our taxes. My view is that it would not be art if it did not advance views, whether the views are mine or agree with mine or not. So, you can't have art museums without the question of freedom of expression arising. (Whether there should be museums at all is another question entirely, though fortunately it is not the mayoral panel's charge to answer it!)
So let's imagine that after all the explanations, an image really is anti-Catholic and indecent. Should our tax dollars support such art--or further, since any view can be expressed in art, are there other views we would not want expressed in our art museums? I say that if it can be expressed outside of art, there is room for it in the museum if expressed as art. Let us take a very controversial view--that abortion is murder. That is part of the discourse on abortion, and it is certainly at the heart of the "prolife" movement. A painting that shows an abortion clinic with the title Massacre of the Innocents has a right to be shown if the belief it expresses has a right to be voiced--as it of course has. It is offensive to prochoice advocates, but hanging it in an art museum harms them less than having to face people shouting their position in front of clinics. A painting showing antiabortion protesters jeering in a very ugly way could be painted by someone like Leon Golub, and it would be offensive to them in just the same way.
All this takes us a long way from Renee Cox's photograph, and it shows how irrelevant to the deep issues of expressive freedom a panel on decency really is. These days, "indecency" is a fairly marginal infraction, since questions of fittingness and suitability are almost impossible to arbitrate. If anything is unsuitable, I would suppose it is officials talking recklessly about art when they are representatives of a city in which interest in art is profound and serious talk about art is as expressive of the city's soul as talk about baseball. A city of great museums and universities, a beacon of high culture to the world at large, deserves decency in discourse about art on the Mayor's part. I would not insist on a panel to keep the Mayor in line.
In 1995 the brutal slaying of Elisa Izquierdo by her crack-addicted mother seized headlines. Responding to the public's outrage that city officials had ignored obvious signs that the 6-year-old was being tortured at home, New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani declared that he was creating a new children's agency with a tough new executive in charge and adopting a stringent new policy of removing children from their homes at the first signs of danger.
Of course, Elisa Izquierdo was not the first child supposedly under the watch of authorities to die at the hands of her caretaker--there were twenty-six others in New York City in that year alone. But only when these gruesome stories make the nightly news do politicians step into the spotlight and announce innovative new policies as solutions to this newfound concern. In fact, abuse and neglect of children have always been with us, and the answer to the problem is neither new nor complicated.
The mid-nineteenth century might seem an unlikely place to embark on an exploration of the failings of modern child welfare. But in Orphan Trains: The Story of Charles Loring Brace and the Children He Saved and Failed, Stephen O'Connor reveals the value of tracing a dysfunctional system back to its troubled origins. By telling the story of the father of modern foster care, O'Connor illustrates how the haphazard amalgam of paltry efforts we today call a child-welfare "system" developed out of well-intentioned but frequently misguided notions about children, poverty and social responsibility.
When Charles Loring Brace arrived in New York in 1848, fresh out of Yale Divinity School, he found a city in chaos. The "belles and beaus of high society" strolled down Broadway alongside the most wretched of the poor. Nearby, slums overflowed with immigrants and workers who had flocked to the factories that proliferated with the boom of industrialization. Working-class families lived on the edge of poverty; when they slipped over that line, their children were forced to supplement their parents' income with what they could earn on the streets. Those from the most destitute families--ravaged by disease, alcoholism and violence--often never returned home.
Brace, of course, was not among this crowd. Although at 22 he'd ostensibly come to New York to teach, write and continue his theological studies, he was a confident young man-about-town who spent much of his time with prominent friends like Frederick Law Olmsted, enjoying the "rush and whirl" of Manhattan in posh clubs and hotels. The son of a minister with a keen interest in moral philosophy, Brace had some sympathy for the poor, but it was not until his sister fell seriously ill that he began to act upon it. He started by preaching at almshouses, where he found solace in a belief in God and a conviction that he, as a gifted young man, could do God's work. As his sister, Emma, neared death, Brace wrote to her of his growing concern: "You can have no idea, Emma, what an immense vat of misery and crime and filth much of this great city is! I realize it more and more. Think of ten thousand children growing up almost sure to be prostitutes and rogues!"
It is telling that Brace chose to describe them that way. As O'Connor carefully documents, relying on letters and Brace's published writing, when Brace founded the Children's Aid Society (CAS) three years later, his motives were twofold: He wanted to help poor children but also to rid the city's upper classes of the frightening vagrants who preyed upon them. Such children were destined, he believed, to "poison society," growing up to become what he later termed, in the title of his 1872 book, The Dangerous Classes.
Confident in his own superior intellectual and moral fiber and mindful that taking the lead on such an issue could do much for his social standing, Brace helped to found the Children's Aid Society, which provided religious, vocational and academic instruction and created the first shelters for runaways. But the agency was soon overwhelmed by the demand of thousands of needy children for its services. In 1853, Brace and his colleagues hit upon what they deemed a brilliant idea: If the conditions for the poor were so miserable in the city, why not send their offspring to the country? In Brace's idealized vision, country folk were solid, virtuous people of the soil, thriving on fresh air and abundant food and opening their arms to strangers. Surely, Brace thought, children would be better off with them than with their wretched parents in the city's slums. Brace began to advertise vagrant children to country families and made the earliest placements in this manner. But he soon decided upon an easier and far cheaper way to place children: Simply round up a group and send them on a train headed west. When they arrive at their destination--usually an isolated farming town--the local residents could look them over and choose the ones they liked best.
Not surprisingly, this didn't turn out to be the best way to forge new families. Using original testimony and vivid accounts of a sampling of children, O'Connor illustrates the harsh consequences of taking children from their impoverished parents and placing them in poorly screened and supervised homes with strangers. Although some of these "orphan train" riders were apparently successful, at least professionally--two became governors, another became a Supreme Court Justice and several more held other public offices--many fared poorly. Some became criminals, and at least one became a murderer.
But perhaps most significant is that we know almost nothing about what happened to the vast majority of them. For the agency not only made little attempt to investigate the families that received children, it made even less effort to determine what happened to the children after they arrived. Record-keeping was so poor that estimates of the number of children the society placed between 1854, when the first train took forty-six children to Dowagiac, Michigan, and 1929, when the CAS sent its last batch from New York City to Sulphur Springs, Texas, range from 32,000 to 300,000. O'Connor concludes that roughly 250,000 city children found foster homes via orphan trains, run not only by CAS but eventually by various other agencies that followed suit.
The impression of this venture is, to say the least, disturbing by today's standards. But O'Connor is careful to point out that Brace, despite his flaws, was revolutionary in his thinking about child welfare. In an era when poor, orphaned and abused children were either left on the streets, thrown in prison or warehoused in orphanages, he was the first to articulate and act upon the belief that if at all possible, children should be raised in families. Rejecting the Puritan notion that children are damned and must be saved through strict discipline and piety, Brace adopted the Victorian conception of them as innocents in need of protection.
That notion of children persists today. Unfortunately, so does the complete failure of society to invest the resources necessary in a system that can protect and nurture them. O'Connor follows his well-told account of Brace's life with a thoughtful examination of his legacy. Sadly, there are countless parallels between the failures of the Children's Aid Society's early attempts at child-saving and the shortfalls of our child-welfare system today.
Although we no longer send them half-way across the country, the more than half- million children in contemporary foster care face a similarly uncertain future, frequently bounced from one ill-prepared home to another, placed with families set up for failure because they rarely receive the support they need. And although these days preservation of the birth family is at least a stated goal of child welfare policy, effective programs to accomplish it are sorely lacking, and often the first slice off a child welfare agency's budget. Caseworkers receive minimal training, too many cases and inadequate pay, and rarely stay in the job long enough to learn how to do it well. Poor record-keeping and computer systems compound the problem, making it often impossible to monitor progress of any given child.
Many of those shortcomings, and the difficulties contemporary child-savers encounter in trying to solve them, are exemplified in the saga of Shirley Wilder and the lawsuit brought in her name, told in Nina Bernstein's The Lost Children of Wilder.
Shirley Wilder was a 13-year-old runaway when her father went to Manhattan family court asking that she be "put away." Unfortunately, there was no good place to put her. By the time she entered foster care in 1971, Shirley had endured the death of her mother and grandmother, and the abuse by her father and stepmother, who had taken her in. It was clear she needed intensive therapy in a residential treatment center. But none of the private agencies that ran them would accept her. The judge had no choice but to send Shirley, who had not been accused of any crime, to a harsh reformatory for delinquents that provided virtually no psychiatric or therapeutic services. "Hadn't the time come," a frustrated judge asked Shirley's lawyer in court, "for the law guardians of New York County to...sue the state on behalf of children like Shirley?"
The problem was that although the system was ostensibly run by the city and state, it was largely controlled by private religious agencies that contracted with government to provide foster care. Mostly Catholic and Jewish, they were legally allowed to discriminate in favor of children of their "own kind." That meant that children like Shirley--African-American Protestants--were stuck with the worst the child-welfare system offered: the most underfunded and poorly managed foster care and institutions.
This was what Marcia Robinson Lowry, then a 32-year-old lawyer at the New York Civil Liberties Union, hoped to change when she filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court in 1973. Charging that the system violated the Constitution's First, Eighth and Fourteenth amendments, Lowry sought to end the use of religious agencies to provide child-welfare services in New York City.
It was a bold move on Lowry's part, for in suing the city, state and seventy-seven private agencies, she was taking on not only the government but also some of New York's most influential power brokers, including the Catholic Church and the distinguished lawyers and businessmen who sat on the agencies' boards. As one advocate put it, "She was fighting against the most powerful, wealthy people in New York, and they had God on their side."
But Lowry was not deterred. On the contrary, the challenge was intoxicating. But her determination and ambition could be blinding, and, matched with poor public relations skills, it only exacerbated the animosity of her opponents and hampered the possibility of an earlier and more productive compromise. Indeed, many of her adversaries recognized that the system was unfair; they just didn't believe the answer was to cut out the religious agencies, which provided far better services than the city-run facilities. But for years, the remedy was not open for discussion.
Bernstein intersperses chapters chronicling the behind-the-scenes drama of this bitterly fought lawsuit with the disheartening narrative of Shirley's life, emphasizing the disconnection between the battle of the advocates and the lives of the children they aimed to represent. At 14, Shirley gave birth to a son, Lamont. She had little choice but to relinquish him to foster care. Although he was initially sent to what seemed a promising home, it was destined to be temporary. Like so many, writes Bernstein, "Lamont's placement...had been selected not through some conscious weighing of alternatives informed by law and social policy, but in a kind of paroxysm of bureaucratic improvisation."
Like the early Children's Aid Society, the modern foster-care system Bernstein illustrates is plagued by chronic shortages: of decent foster homes and of sufficient staff trained to screen and supervise them. The children in care, moreover, rarely get the help they need. Lamont, for instance, was shunted from one failed foster home to another, to a psychiatric hospital and then to a frightening institution. He was denied medical care and inappropriately diagnosed for his all-too-predictable emotional disorders. Lost files and glaring gaps in record-keeping over the years hampered the ability of even the most well-meaning caseworkers to help him, and frequent staff turnover only reinforced his sense of instability.
Lowry's lawsuit, meanwhile, was stymied by hostile opponents, obstructionist judges and the inflated egos of lawyers on both sides. While the attorneys fought over settlement details, New York City and its child-welfare system sped beyond it; the crack epidemic in the 1980s devastated inner-city families and overwhelmed the city's social-service systems. By 1988, when the Wilder settlement was finally approved by the Court of Appeals, it had become irrelevant: The overwhelming majority of children in the child-welfare system were black Protestants, and the agencies had little choice but to accept them.
The settlement decree, moreover, had spawned a bureaucratic thicket that arguably did more harm than good. A professor of social work and member of the panel created to oversee the settlement's implementation called it "a quagmire." It's "the most frustrating thing I've ever been involved with.... I can't even explain it to myself at the end of the day." Although no longer placed according to religion, children were now placed in foster care according to "hit-or-miss telephone brokerage."
Like Charles Loring Brace, the child-savers of the modern world, Bernstein shows us, are limited by personal ambition, overconfidence and limited means. A lawyer like Lowry can pursue ideals unimpeded by the political and financial considerations that restrain government officials. But the pace of a lawsuit snaking its way through the court system is out of sync with the rapid changes in the life of a child. While the twenty-six-year action dragged on, Shirley's life descended into crack addiction, homelessness and chaos. The same week the lawsuit ended, 39-year-old Shirley died alone in an AIDS hospice. Lamont was working in a barber shop but living a marginal existence, intermittently homeless and unable to support his estranged girlfriend, who struggled to keep their son out of foster care.
Unfortunately, that is where Bernstein leaves us. Although she provides an effective narrative of the dour lives of foster children and the immense efforts made on their behalf, Bernstein never analyzes the problems or suggests ways of fixing them. As a result, The Lost Children of Wilder implies that the child-welfare system and attempts to improve it are hopeless. That's the wrong message. Like Brace, child advocates of today may be flawed, but they play an important role by prodding an otherwise intransigent system. Indeed, New York has begun to improve foster-care services partly in response to a lawsuit Lowry and her colleagues brought in late 1995 that reached beyond the Wilder case.
Still, far more remains to be done. New York foster children spend too long in care: four and a half years on average, excluding the very short-term cases. Improvident placement means most have to switch homes at least once, and some 7 percent of the 32,000 suffer that trauma five or more times. Meanwhile, abuse in foster homes seems to be on the rise: Substantiated reports of maltreatment more than doubled between 1996 and 2000, although the city's foster care population declined by almost 25 percent in that time. And New York's system is no worse than many others: conditions are so bad around the country that since 1980, sixty-five class actions have been filed against child welfare systems for failure to meet minimum legal standards.
The consequences of such failures are explored well in another recent book, Michael Shapiro's Solomon's Sword: Two Families and the Children the State Took Away. More than just a sensitive account of two ruptured families, it also provides an insightful analysis of child welfare policy and practice and offers prescriptive suggestions.
As O'Connor aptly concludes, "the simple truth is that if we are going to have a child welfare system that does everything we know it can do, and that ostensibly we want it to do, we are going to have to spend more money."
Something brushed my cheek with damp--
a leaf, its little valley slick with run-off
after rain. One last drop shook loose
and struck a spider web, which shuddered
but held on to this grieving world
so a butterfly--a mourning cloak?--
could uncoil its watch-spring of a tongue
in the time it took a limousine to stretch
down the thin twig of street, almost to my door.
A long albino snake gone straight,
tied with a big white bow--O pet,
you're not mine. You belong a few doors down--
see, here comes a man in gold morning coat,
carrying pale pink roses like a lute.
He leaned inside the low dark cave
of a car to kiss someone I never saw,
who straightened his pale pink cravat.
Orpheus, would love turn back while it can?
Around the corner a nurse in white
stood at an open door, lifting her long white arm
gently to bar the way of an old woman
bundled in hat and coat, though it was August.
One recent Tuesday, members of the literary old guard gathered at the Church of All Souls on Manhattan's Upper East Side to bid final farewell to one of their secret society and to be reminded that the literary agent Candida Donadio, who had died some weeks earlier, was always clear in her devotion to the
written word and the men and women who make it. So much so that she never allowed herself to be pulled off her course by issues of money or power, meanness or shortsightedness. She had represented, over the years, so many of our literature's mega-authors--Heller, Pynchon, Roth and so on. Everything was always personal with Candida. You sensed her Sicilian past the moment you met her, and with Candida business was always the handservant of literature, not the other way around.
I met Candida in 1984. At the time, all of Nelson Algren's novels were out of print, and Algren himself had died just three years earlier. A short story of his that I'd read in a battered anthology compiled by Robert Penn Warren, "A Bottle of Milk for Mother," had knocked me off my feet. A young editor at Norton then, I blazed through the Algren canon. Although the books were out of print, people everywhere seemed to love to say they had known Algren, and two separate short-fiction prizes had been named after him. He was being silenced and cited simultaneously, and to me that seemed like a kind of posthumous torture. So I called Candida, who had represented him, and said I would like to start reissuing his books, which I could arrange through a company called Writers and Readers, where I moonlighted. Candida dutifully called each of Algren's previous publishers--Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, Doubleday, Putnam. None were interested in putting him back into print, so after about six months of demurring she told me yes, and from then on she never ever said no to me. Once she accepted me as a fellow keeper of the flame, I could have proposed running the texts backward and I think she would have given serious consideration to the proposal.
Candida's connection to her authors, and particularly Algren, was devotional both in the sense of requiring an absolute loyalty and in that there was an incense of faith and ritual that surrounded her--and you also, if you were fortunate enough to be on the inside with her. Her youthful partner Neil Olson said that Candida never thought of herself as a literary agent at all, but rather, she said, as a person polishing silver. You could picture her as a goddess disguised as a servant, in order to make sure that the silver--those words written by her clients--not be denied its brightness. For its sense of egolessness in the extreme, and its implied narrative of enhancing the beauty of what is precious, the image is brilliant and pure Candida.
The anecdotes at All Souls were revelatory of how her values increasingly stood out in a changing landscape. Knopf associate publisher Vicky Wilson recalled that Candida used to say sometimes that she wanted to become a Carmelite nun--not a big change, I can't help thinking--and how, at one of their regular lunches, Candida had fixed her large eyes on Wilson and said of a contract, "Can't you do better on the dough?" The interesting thing is that the anecdote suggests mostly they were talking about things other than money.
Robert Stone regaled the crowd with his favorite Candidaism: "She loved to say, 'Trust is good, not to trust is better.'" And then added, "Not that she believed that not to trust is better. Just that she loved to say it." Leaving us in the audience who knew her to be infused one last time with her complexity: Not that she didn't believe that not to trust wasn't better. She knew when to do both. And loved to say it.
Peter Matthiessen added some color along those lines: During a lunch at which Candida had been drinking heavily, she was sitting next to Matthiessen and hardly responded to an attorney's harsh demands during a negotiation over one of Matthiessen's books. At the very end she turned to the attorney and thanked him politely for the pleasure of lunching together, and then raised her voice to say: "We like you but we don't love you. You are not our brother!" And then she countered each of the attorney's points. "She hadn't missed a single thing," Matthiessen recalled, still marveling.
Frank Conroy recalled when Candida and he were both just starting out, he a pimply-faced, 24-year-old unknown, she the receptionist and assistant at a literary agency. At the end of their first meeting, he described how he called up his courage and reminded her that she was never going to make any money off him, then asked, "So why do you want to represent me?" And how she had leaned forward and whispered in his ear, "The prestige!" The complete implausibility of her response had stayed with him all these years. And perhaps too that in the end she had been proved right.
Eden Collinsworth, a young, willowy Hearst executive who had grown close to Candida in the past decade, told a story that was not related to publishing and yet expressed her magic nonetheless. On the evening Collinsworth introduced her to her fiancé, Candida pulled her aside to say, "He has a very interesting mind, but have you looked at his shoes?" Collinsworth had to confess she had not. "Have you looked at his shoes," Candida repeated, "and considered their implication? They're handmade shoes; it's not going to be easy for you."
We miss her. We need more like her.
When the guy I'm seeing, Dan, invited me to the Wayne Wang film The Center of the World I felt sure it would lead to a hot night. The movie poster featured a stripper licking a lollipop and I'd heard that Wang had collaborated on the script with novelist Paul Auster. The film sounded sexy but erudite, kind of like me. "I hear it's a feminist, indie Pretty Woman," Dan said, "and supposedly the sex is real." That was enough to catapult me into a seat, but after ten minutes watching the pretentious, digital-video-shot claptrap the only emotion swirling in me was disgust at Wang's fake take on female power.
Bridget Jones's Diary, on the other hand, was low on my list of movie priorities. Though like every other single woman I'd enjoyed the book, I just didn't get the Renéeacute;e Zellweger appeal, and I was convinced the adaptation would be glossy and corny. So when my friend Emily asked me to accompany her, I agreed only in the interest of female bonding. As Emily happily gobbled Whoppers and laughed at every joke, I rolled my eyes and shook my head. But by the time I got to Renée lip-synching to "All By Myself" I was a goner, crushed out on the character, hooked on the film. It was so bizarre: The indie erotic drama's take on women proved shallow and unbelievable, while the mainstream mega-hit pretty much got women right. Who knew?
The Center of the World was directed by Wayne Wang and written by Wang and Auster under the pseudonym Ellen Benjamin Wong from a story by Wang, Auster, novelist Siri Hustvedt and multimedia artist Miranda July. The plot revolves around an Internet entrepreneur named Richard (Peter Sarsgaard) who pays Florence, a stripper (Molly Parker), $10,000 to spend three nights with him in a Las Vegas hotel. Florence, an aspiring rock drummer, needs the money but wants to set limits, so she insists that there be no talk about feelings, no kissing on the mouth and no penetration. Each night will begin at 10 and end at 2, and she even finagles herself a Woolfean room of her own.
Night one goes without a hitch--she puts on a tight dress, does an erotic dance for Richard and after telling him she doesn't want to go fast, brings him to orgasm in about three minutes. But by night two, after they go out on the town and share some laughs, the attractive grungers begin to fall for each other, and everything gets confusing. Caught up in a playful moment, Florence kisses Richard on the mouth and immediately regrets it, insisting, "We have to stick to the agreement.... If we don't play by the rules this isn't going to work." The relationship must be kept fiduciary; feelings complicate money.
Yet the couple can't stick to the rules--each gets broken and love quickly erupts into violence. In the denouement Florence lies on the bed, intones, "You want real? I'll give you real," masturbates in front of him (always a pleasant way to say goodbye) and the two lovers part ways and return to their isolated, empty lives.
The film strives for a gritty, intellectual tone--like Wang and Auster's previous collaboration, the pseudo-gritty, pseudo-intellectual Smoke. But despite The Center of the World's low-light, digital-video format and indie-cred cast, the premise is an old misogynistic crowd-pleaser: hooker falls for her john. This timeless tale has roots in Jane Eyre and Pygmalion and was featured more recently in Leaving Las Vegas, Indecent Proposal and the genre-defining standard, Pretty Woman, in which Julia Roberts, America's sweetwhore, similarly insisted on no mouth-to-mouth.
It's a tale men never tire of: You pay a woman to sleep with you but she likes it, meaning you, so much that she wants to keep doing it for free. Whore can morph into wife. It's a tale with a panacean, if twisted, appeal to single women as well: If a guy can fall for a hooker, then gosh darn it, maybe I've got a chance too!
Wang's ending is far darker than Pretty Woman's, and his intent is to show that money is a corruptive, alienating force (though the dot-com crash makes his take seem outré). Director of, among other films, The Joy Luck Club, Chan Is Missing and the chick flick Anywhere But Here, Wang has stated that he is "pro-woman" and that in The Center of the World he wanted "to show audiences how strong this character is, in spite of what she has to sacrifice."
Yet the Florence he has written comes off as little more than a computer geek's wet dream; she moves sexily but doesn't have much to say. Despite one intriguing monologue about having held a job rescuing people from locked cars, she is devoid of nuance. When she pulls at a beer morosely we know she's "numbing herself"; when she applies lipstick we know she's "putting on an act"; when she stands in front of an empty pool we know her "life is hollow." Even her nurselike name is too obvious by half. Furthermore, the guy she falls for seems like such a socially inept loser that it's hard to see even a glimpse of what draws her to him.
In the final moments of the film Wang gives us a shot of Florence pounding away on her drums, but she comes off as bruised and weakened, more vulnerable than before. Though financially richer she is emotionally bereft and may never open herself up again. She doesn't seem strong, she seems wrecked for life.
Bridget Jones's Diary, written by Helen Fielding, Andrew Davies and Richard Curtis and directed by Sharon Maguire, supplies its heroine with a Hollywood ending but also gives her a rich character, a sense of humor and a brain. While Florence is slender, cool and matte, Bridget (Renée Zellweger) is chunky, compulsive and sweaty. Yet she's a striving compulsive sweater, so her plight plays as engaging.
After well-off barrister Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) snubs Bridget at a party, she develops a crush on her publishing-house boss, Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant). Charmed by Daniel's smarmy wit, and status, she moonily gazes at him in his glass-walled office as he types on a flat-screen monitor and takes important calls. When he makes a sexual advance, she doesn't press charges but instead sends him a joking e-mail stating, "How dare you sexually harass me in this appalling manner?" and shows up to work the next day in a see-through top.
The blatant flirting is mined for comedy over sex appeal: She's thwarting the rules brazenly but seems prepared to accept the consequences; she seems less a slut than a kook. Though we know she's flirting with disaster we get the feeling that no matter what happens, she'll pick herself up and brush herself off.
Daniel's entire modus operandi with Bridget is to banter in a mock-sexist way. He calls her "bitch," "orders" her to come to dinner with him, and when she asks if he loves her after some kinky (read: anal) sex, says, "Shut up or I'll do it again." Yet Bridget is no pushover herself; she seems capable of matching him tit for tat. She blows him off the first time he shows interest, calls him a "stupid ass," challenges him when she's suspicious of his behavior and tells him how she feels.
When Daniel inevitably betrays and rejects her, Bridget is forced not only to get over her broken heart but also to get a new job--because she can't stand to be around him. Getting screwed gets her screwed; though she didn't exactly sell her booty, now she's out on it. But before she leaves she publicly humiliates him, in a clever Tootsie-like outburst, cheered on by her female co-workers.
Instead of mourning her state of unemployment she sees her situation as an excuse to look for a better job, and she winds up getting one, as a television producer. Her new boss puts her on the air, she snags (with some help) a good story and is catapulted to celebrity.
The high career status helps to empower her--when Daniel comes crawling back with his tail between his legs, telling her, "If I can't make it with you, I can't make it with anyone," she thinks for a second and then tells him she's "not willing to gamble my life on someone who's not quite sure.... I'm still looking for something more extraordinary than that." In the end she snags her extraordinary man, but, more important, she gets her act together, while Florence in The Center of the World may never do so.
One of the keystones of Helen Fielding's book Bridget Jones's Diary was Bridget's daily, self-flagellating listing of the alcohol, calorie and cigarette units she consumed. While the joke got stale after the first few pages, women related to this tallying, because it anchored its heroine in a sensual life. Like many conflicted single women, Bridget was a hedonist striving for self-control.
The film maintains sensuality as a theme: In almost every scene we glimpse Bridget coming into contact with the physical world. We watch her wriggle into her panties, inhale countless cigarettes, slurp margaritas through a straw, spoon down cereal, wax her pubic area, get dough on her face, fall on the floor. Some of the jokes play off as pale imitations of Lucille Ball but most of them feel hilariously true-to-life.
While most romantic comedies feature scenes in which the heroine falls on her ass (as Janeane Garofalo put it, all a beautiful woman has to do to be funny is fall down a lot or act stupid), the heroines never seem to get a hair out of place in the process. But Renée gets filthier than Julia, Jennifer or J-Lo. Bridget is literally a mess--unlike Florence in The Center of the World, who, in spite of the fact that she has sex in almost every scene, never gets mussed in the slightest.
The one Bridget Jones fluid we don't get to see is blood--that is saved for Glenn Close, whom Bridget, in a postdump slump, mournfully watches in Fatal Attraction on TV. As the quintessential psychotic single gal of the late1980s gets shot to death by her lover's wife, Bridget's eyes pop out of her head in bemused wonder. She seems to be saying, "Is this what's in store for me?" Yet her glance has a slyness that lets us know she's not really worried, that she thinks Adrian Lyne got it wrong, that Fatal Attraction was a piece of crap. The moment works as a comment on the future of women in movies. In the post-Bridget Jones era, women get to mock the misogynistic standbys, not live in them. With Helen Fielding rapidly eclipsing Adrian Lyne as an A-list Hollywood player, perhaps we'll see more films where pithy careerist single gals can meet ends cheerier than a bullet wound.
A VICTIM OF THE WAR ON DRUGS
Your editorial on "The Worst Drug Laws" [April 9] was excellent. It's long past time to reverse the damage done by the war on drugs as well as the damage it has done to the rights of all Americans.
I am 39, have always been gainfully employed and have used drugs recreationally since my teen years. Never had I run afoul of the law or victimized anyone except maybe myself. I am currently doing my third year of a twelve-year sentence on drug charges (Health & Safety Code violation) in a California prison, even though I had no criminal history. The first person I was in a prison cell with was convicted of manslaughter. He was sentenced to six years. Go figure.
There is no way I can convince myself that this should be called a free country. This experience has opened my eyes, though--not to the dangers of drugs but to the dangers of an out-of-touch and out-of-control government.
WHO KILLED KYOTO?
Ross Gelbspan ["Bush's Global Warmers," April 9] quotes my colleague Tom Wigley as saying that my "statements on [climate models] are a catalog of misrepresentation and misinterpretation." The University of Virginia's promotions committee, the dean of the faculty and the provost must think otherwise!
More to the point, however, is that it was Tom's own calculation that killed Kyoto. In 1998 he demonstrated that if all signatory nations complied completely with the protocol, the reduction in realized warming by the year 2050 would be 0.07 degrees C (and 0.14 degrees C by 2100). The cost runs around 2 percent of GDP per year, according to the Energy Information Administration (under the Clinton Administration). That figure assumes the strictures on carbon sequestration and emissions trading that the European Union held us to at The Hague this past November.
The mathematics works out rather simply: If one assumes the UN's mean expectation of 2.5 degrees warming in the next hundred years (a number that is demonstrably a bit too high), Kyoto prevents one twentieth of it (an amount that will never even be measurable with precision), at an enormous annual cost. That's why Bush quit Kyoto. It has nothing to do with an industry conspiracy, which you seem so fond of, and everything to do with Tom Wigley's calculation.
PATRICK J. MICHAELS
Senior fellow, Cato Institute
As his coal-industry funders have long appreciated, Pat Michaels has a special talent for generating much confusion with very few words. Michaels undermines and misstates the projections of twenty-first century warming by the more than 2,000 scientists who compose the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, who project the world will warm from 2.5 to 10 degrees in this century.
Assuming the mantle of economist, Michaels declares the cost of complying with the Kyoto Protocol to be "enormous." In so doing, he ignores the far more professional estimates of the insurance industry. Munich Re-Insurance estimates the coming costs of climate impacts will amount to $300 billion a year in the next several decades. The largest insurer in Britain, CGNU, says that, unchecked, climate change could bankrupt the global economy by 2065.
Finally, in assuming to speak for the White House, Michaels asserts that Bush withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol because its costs are too high for its low goals. In fact, Bush said he withdrew from the protocol because it "unfairly" exempts developing countries from the first round of carbon cuts--and because the "science is unsettled."
If, as Michaels suggests, Bush were to take his guidance from such pre-eminent scientists as Dr. Tom M. L. Wigley of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the United States would be leading the world's efforts to curb global warming--instead of fashioning energy policies designed to plunge us even deeper into a climate hell.
THE WHO (PLAYS A MEAN PINBALL)
Robert James Parsons is incorrect in his "The Balkan DU Cover-Up" [April 9] on a number of counts. He claims that the UN system is under pressure "to keep the lid on DU contamination investigations." Concerned about possible public health consequences of the use of DU munitions and aware of concerns voiced by governments and the public, the World Health Organization has, on the contrary, undertaken a number of activities related to this issue. These include a field mission to Kosovo, a meeting with an Iraqi delegation of scientists on further cooperation and future action, publication of a fact sheet on DU, an appeal to donors to fund WHO work on DU and health in affected countries and a forthcoming monograph on DU.
The WHO monograph on DU was never expected to be released in December 1999. A document of some 200 pages, encompassing a review of a large amount of the best available scientific literature on uranium and DU, this work was undertaken only in autumn 1999. Studies of this scope take more than a few months to complete.
The four-page WHO fact sheet on DU (www.who.int/inf-fs/en/fact257.html) is consistent with all m ajor reviews recently conducted on the possible health effects of exposure to DU and is not contradictory. WHO intended to release its fact sheet together with its monograph on DU, but because of intense public concern about DU early this year, the fact sheet was issued earlier than planned. The fact sheet was never "quietly canceled."
The 1959 agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) does not affect the impartial and independent exercise by WHO of its statutory responsibilities, nor does it place WHO in a situation of subordination to IAEA. The above-mentioned DU-related activities were all undertaken independently by WHO, without any approval or influence whatsoever by the IAEA.
Parsons writes that "WHO radiation safety standards [are] designed for measuring a brief 'one event' source of radiation." In reality, WHO radiation safety standards cover both short- and long-term effects. WHO may conduct a field investigation only if the government authorities request it and if funding is provided by donors. Two such requests were made in January 2001; WHO replied positively and took action rapidly.
DR. RICHARD HELMER
World Health Organization
If WHO was "concerned about possible public health consequences of the use of DU munitions," it certainly has been discreet about making that concern known. The field mission and meetings with the Iraqi delegation of scientists, etc. have all taken place since mid-January, whereas the alarm bells concerning Kosovo were first sounded by Bakary Kante's preliminary assessment in May 1999. The problem in Iraq was brought before the world's public long before that, largely by the Gulf War veterans.
Further, once the Iraqi government had finally made up its mind officially to seek help from WHO (in November 1999), WHO did not respond to Iraq's letter until the end of July 2000. WHO headquarters in Geneva claims that it was misplaced at the Middle East Regional Office. Such a politically hot document, received after years of waiting and conjecture as to just what the Iraqis were intending to do about the DU problem, could never have been simply mislaid without knowledge and approval from WHO's highest echelons.
The WHO monograph is not a monograph at all, as acknowledged by Ann Kern, WHO's executive director for sustainable development and healthy environments, but a review of some of the available literature on the chemical and radiological toxicity of uranium, obviously selected for its lack of treatment of the subject of nonsoluable, ceramic-like DU particles--the source of the threat to health and the environment.
The fact sheet was, indeed, not canceled. But an earlier one was. WHO did it quietly, with the result that I, as well as a Dutch journalist, Saskia Jansens, a longtime veteran of DU inquiry, kept having to ask about its progress until Gregory Hartl, WHO's principal spokesman, finally admitted that it would never see the light of day. We did not go quietly upon hearing the news in August 1999, barely two months after the fact sheet had been announced as in the works. The result was an announcement that WHO was undertaking a "generic" study of DU, to be focused exclusively on its chemical toxicity as a heavy metal and thus entrusted to the direction of Barry Smith, a geologist. The study has been rechristened a "monograph."
Dr Michael Repacholi, WHO coordinator for occupation and environmental health, sustainable development and healthy environments, announced at a January press conference at UN headquarters here in Geneva that the scope of the generic study had been extended to include radiological toxicity and also stated that in addition to a review of literature, there would be actual testing of people, such as urine analysis. He then claimed, in an April 26 press conference on release of the "monograph," that it has always included radiotoxicity and chemiotoxicity, but he admits that it is only a review of literature with no clinical or field studies ever intended.
The four-page WHO fact sheet is at stark variance with the draft of the canceled one. The latter dealt with DU as a source of internal, constant radiation, DU in the form of ceramic-like, inhalable particles that have been let loose on the planet by the thousands of billions where DU munitions have burned on contact with their target. The later fact sheet deals with DU as natural uranium, soluble in the human body, hence easily, often quickly, eliminated.
The 1959 agreement with the IAEA, was, according to my sources, the reason the initial fact sheet was canceled as well as the reason the generic study had to be confined to DU's chemical toxicity until the public outcry, particularly in Europe, made it necessary to deal with the radiation side. Not surprisingly, that radiation side is dismissed by the "monograph" as of negligible importance. Helmer's statement that "WHO radiation safety standards cover both short- and long-term effects" does not address the question of constant, long-term radiation from an internal source. The long-term effects of "one event" radiation are still effects from "one event" radiation, like a bomb blast, and not applicable to the radiation generated by the ceramic-like particles lodged for years in lung tissue.
As for the statement that WHO may conduct a field investigation only if government authorities request it, one may point out that regardless of the huge and increasing mountain of evidence about Iraq, the WHO never requested an invitation to investigate, as it could have done.
The just-released "monograph" is one more stone in the huge wall of denial about the dangers of radiation that WHO and the UN are party to. Since the "monograph" and a recent UN Environment Program report are supposed to be the last word on the subject for a long time, we still have a long way to go before anything serious is done about what WHO perceived as a major threat to the human species back in the 1950s before the IAEA agreement silenced WHO on the subject of radiation and public health.
ROBERT JAMES PARSONS