Bruce Shapiro explains what makes today's anthrax epidemic so threatening; Jonathan Schell calls for a policy to address the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan; Victor Navasky argues that you don't need media concentration to have homogenization of the news; and Stephen F. Cohen says that the US now has a second chance to establish a cooperative relationship with post-Communist Russia.
TERRORI$T CA$H--$TAY$ CLEAN
St. Clairsville, Ohio
Lucy Komisar's June 18 "After Dirty Air, Dirty Money," on money-laundering [posted on the Nation website after the September 11 attack], does not really apply to Middle Eastern terrorist networks, for these two reasons.
First, money laundering in the Indian Ocean basin relies upon a traditional alternative banking system known as hawala or hundi, which makes it difficult to trace money transfers. Hawala has been integrated with gold smuggling for centuries. Wealth can be stored and payments can be made with gold; currency--much less a bank account--is unnecessary. When accounts are needed, neither numbered accounts nor shell corporations are necessary to camouflage the actual owner. Somebody's grandmother can nominally hold the account.
Second, we can enact all the money-laundering legislation in the world, but it will avail nothing unless the police and the judiciary are willing to enforce it. Bribery is rampant. Countries can profusely pledge support to the war on terrorism, be "shocked, shocked" when terrorist activities in their locale are brought to their attention and promptly "round up the usual suspects," as Pakistan appears to be doing right now.
DUNCAN C. KINDER
New York City
Jesse Gordon and Knickerbocker's insightful graphic "The Sweat Behind the Shirt" [Sept. 3/10] left the impression that no one gets rich working for the Gap. The authors should have used a final arrow to track how the $48 spent on the shirt ends up as part of the Gap's $14.4 billion annual revenue; almost $1.5 billion in gross profit; and, of course, $15.7 million in annual salary, bonus and stock options for president and CEO Millard Drexler. Clearly, the labor capital invested throughout the process is all there--one person just gets most of the wages for it.
FLY THE COMPASSIONATE SKIES...
I'm beginning to understand "Compassionate Conservatism" [Robert Borosage and William Greider, "Calling All Keynesians," Oct. 15]. It is cash for large airline corporations in financial difficulty and compassionate, comforting speeches for everyone else.
New York City
However imaginative the "modest proposal" to use Martha's Vineyard instead of Vieques as a naval bombing range ["Letters," Sept. 3/10], the US Navy thought of it first. From World War II until 1996, the Navy used Nomans Land, a 628-acre outcrop close to the Vineyard, as a military target range. More than 250 tons of 33-millimeter rounds, rockets, aircraft flares and bombs were cleaned out in the process of turning it over to the US Fish and Wildlife Service in 1998 (www.s-t.com/daily/07-98/07-09-98/c01lo060.htm). Claiming continued contamination and the presence of unexploded ordnance, the Wampanoag tribe of Gay Head, whose ancestors lived on the site, called the cleanup "an environmental and public safety outrage" (www.wampanoagtribe.net/news/). The tribe has pressed the Navy to allow community members to participate in an ongoing cleanup review (www.capecodonline.com/cctimes/archives/2001/jun/20/tribeseeks20.htm).
'SPEWING' IN PALESTINE
In "Letter From Palestine" [July 23/30] Roane Carey spews falsification upon falsification. He writes that "Israel made it clear that there would be no full withdrawal to the June 4, 1967, borders, as required by international law." Nowhere does UN Resolution 242 say that Israel must withdraw from "all" territories captured in that defensive war. It refers to "territories," not "the territories." Further, the Oslo "peace" process has superseded this resolution with respect to the Palestinian Arabs, and the extent of any territory transferred must be through negotiations. The world has acknowledged that, but apparently Carey hasn't. By the way, in 1979 Israel gave up 91 percent of the territory it had won in 1967. The difference between 100 percent of the West Bank and the 93 percent Barak offered is a difference of 0.5 percent of the land. You have to question a people that aren't happy with 99.5 percent and whether only 100 percent is their goal, or whether they desire all of Israel. Finally, when one speaks of "occupation" of the "West Bank" the obvious question is "occupation from whom?" Palestine? There never was a country of Palestine, there never were a Palestinian people, until it was invented in the 1960s. Maybe occupied from Jordan? Jordan illegally invaded 100 percent of the West Bank in 1948 and illegally annexed it in 1950. No country recognizes the legitimacy of that annexation, with the exception of Pakistan and Britain. From 1948 until 1967, when Jordan renamed Judea and Samaria as their West Bank and expelled all the Jews, there was no talk of making another state in the area for Palestinians--because there were no Palestinians. There were Arabs, living in the area of Palestine. These Arabs should be absorbed into the surrounding Arab states just as the 600,000 Jews expelled from Arab states found their home.
ROGER DAVID CARASSO
Altamonte Springs, Fl.
My family is from Aboud, near Ramallah, and after having three chunks of our olive farm confiscated (the biggest one being 158 acres in 1997), we have had it. We are not going to live like this. We'd rather fight back or be expelled than live in such humiliation. Thank you, thank you, thank you again for this article. It sure is refreshing to read a fair depiction of home.
New York City
Roger David Carasso hauls out an old whopper about Resolution 242 that has no basis in the historical record. Almost all members of the Security Council at the time--including British ambassador to the UN Lord Caradon, who devised the wording; US Secretary of State Dean Rusk and US ambassador to the UN Arthur Goldberg; as well as the French and Soviet delegations--were crystal clear in their interpretation of the resolution, both at the time of its adoption and afterward: The crucial preamble, "emphasizing the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war," mandates full Israeli withdrawal, including from East Jerusalem, with the allowance of only minor and reciprocal border adjustments to rationalize the haphazard 1949 armistice lines. Propagandists for Greater Israel frequently harp on the missing "the," conveniently forgetting to point out that in none of the four other official languages of the UN (French, Russian, Chinese and Spanish) is there any ambiguity; the French version of 242, for example, refers to "des territoires occupés." It should be noted that in 1968 Moshe Dayan, Israel's defense minister during the 1967 war, urged Israel's rejection of 242, as did opposition leader Menachem Begin, precisely because it was understood to mean withdrawal to the June 4, 1967, lines.
With the Oslo accords, Yasir Arafat undermined this international consensus and betrayed his own people, as Carasso indicates. But the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949--which was established in the wake of Nazi crimes against humanity to prevent a reoccurrence of such depredations--specifically invalidates any quisling abrogation of an occupied people's fundamental rights (for a fuller discussion, see human rights attorney Allegra Pacheco's essay "Flouting Convention" in The New Intifada, published this month by Verso). Furthermore, the convention enjoins all High Contracting Parties, among them the United States, to "do everything in their power" to make sure the convention isn't being violated. Thus Israel's chief bankroller and patron is also culpable for the grave breaches of the convention that Israel is carrying out.
Carasso not only irrelevantly mixes in Palestinian land with Egyptian territory properly returned two decades ago. He actually denies the existence and history of Esam Samara and millions of other Palestinians. He then calls for another massive round of ethnic cleansing. (If Carasso were to apply his argument consistently, he would also point out that "there never was a country of Israel...until it was invented in 1948." Would he then make the absurd demand that Israelis now be "absorbed" elsewhere?) Such nonsense might be dismissed as the ravings of an escapee from a lunatic ward or of a member of Milosevic's goon squads itching to apply his sanguinary talents elsewhere, except for the terrifying fact that important sectors of Israeli public opinion, even recent members of the Cabinet, are now calling for the same thing. Such a "final solution" to Israel's Palestinian question is no solution at all; it's the abyss. Sanity demands that Israel end the occupation and recognize the legitimate national and human rights of the Palestinian people, who have already recognized the legitimate right of Israelis to live in their 1967 borders.
ISOLATED NO MORE
I am a 15-year-old boy. Up until a few months ago, thanks to my left-leaning philosophies, I had felt politically isolated. After complaining about this to my parents, they suggested I subscribe to The Nation. As skeptical as I was that any media product would agree with me politically, I decided I would give it a whirl. A few months later, I have found your magazine to be a godsend. Finally, I have found people who think the same way I do. Incredibly, The Nation and I agree on so many issues--trade, the Democratic Party and many others. Thanks for the great articles. Keep up the good work!
The monstrous events of September 11 have given the United States a second historic chance, after the squandered opportunity of the 1990s, to establish a truly cooperative relationship with post-C
This year the Nobel Peace Prize committee got it stunningly right when it honored the United Nations and Secretary General Kofi Annan. For all its bureaucratic and political timidity, the UN has kept alive and vital the idea of collective action for peace by the nations of the world that was central to its founding--an idea of particular importance right now as the world struggles to find a way to deal with terrorism. Despite being handicapped by US indifference, if not hostility, it has made a major contribution in places like East Timor and Cambodia and has galvanized international action on problems like small arms and AIDS.
Central to the UN's renewed credibility on the world stage has been the leadership of Kofi Annan, which has elevated morale within the organization and won the trust of its 189 fractious members. Annan has exhibited a talent for soothing the tender egos of potentates and chieftains jealous of their sovereignty--including the US Congress, whose members he charmed into paying up a portion of America's back dues.
Of course, much of what the UN has accomplished in recent years has been in spite of the United States, which has used it to advance parochial interests or dumped it whenever it wanted to act unilaterally. This do-it-our-way-or-we're-picking-up-our-marbles relationship is unworthy of the UN's importance. It is also contrary to America's national interest.
US foreign policy would be better served if Washington let the UN be a moral as well as a practical guide to American diplomacy. As Washington has discovered, the battle against terrorism is also a battle for the political soul of millions in the Arab and Islamic worlds. Conferences like the recent one in Durban, on racism, tell us just how out of touch America is with the sentiments of many people around the globe.
Now with the bombing in Afghanistan sparking upheavals in the Muslim world and threatening to create a humanitarian crisis, the need for Washington to work with and through the UN has never been more compelling. The allies need a large blue UN umbrella to counter Muslim charges of a US holy war against Islam. Significantly, Iran, a theocracy at odds with America, endorsed the concept of a UN-led fight against terrorism and offered assistance in rescuing downed US fliers. UN participation is essential to preserving a broad coalition against terrorism, and even George W. Bush admits that the UN has a role to play in planning for reconstruction in Afghanistan. Washington should throw full support behind Annan's seasoned special representative for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi. But the real test of Washington's newfound appreciation of the UN is whether America will provide the resources the UN needs to carry out its mission.
Even more urgent is action on the humanitarian front, as Afghans flee their homes and food supplies dwindle. Here the call by UN human rights commissioner Mary Robinson for a pause in the bombing to permit a massive international relief effort before the imminent arrival of winter makes great sense. The US should heed Robinson's call, simultaneously advancing a political vision for Afghanistan in which the UN plays the leading role. Preventing widespread starvation should be a major concern of the United States and its allies. If it is not, all the claimed moral and legal justifications for military action vanish.
It's been three years since Gen. Augusto Pinochet was detained in London under the European Anti-Terrorism Convention for crimes that included terrorist atrocities. If George W. Bush is serious about directing "every resource at our command" to defeating terrorism, Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archive reminds us, there's one relatively easy step he can take: Indict the former Chilean dictator.
General Pinochet, whose rise to power with US support in 1973 first marked September 11 as a bloody day in history, is responsible for what was considered until that hijacked jet rammed the Pentagon as the most infamous act of political terrorism committed in our nation's capital--the September 21, 1976, car-bombing murders of Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffitt. Janet Reno's Justice Department concluded as much after reopening an investigation into his culpability in 1998, sending a team of FBI agents to Chile and reviewing hundreds of still top-secret intelligence reports. But Attorney General John Ashcroft's Justice Department, which inherited the all-but-signed indictment, has refused to prosecute the case--without explanation.
"There is no room for neutrality on terrorism," New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said in his October 1 speech to the United Nations. "On one side is democracy, the rule of law and respect for human life. On the other is tyranny, arbitrary executions and mass murder." Pinochet clearly falls into the latter camp. By indicting the general, George W. Bush can signal the world that the United States will use international law-enforcement powers to pursue those who commit atrocities on our soil. And it would show that Washington's "zero tolerance" for terrorism extends to those who were once our allies, as well as those who are our sworn enemies.
While the United States has spent the past few weeks imploring other countries to cooperate with our war on terrorism, behind the scenes it's apparently retaining an isolationist agenda. In a particularly ill-timed maneuver, the Administration on September 25 pledged to support the deceptively titled American Servicemembers Protection Act (ASPA), sponsored by Republicans Jesse Helms, Henry Hyde and Tom DeLay.
Although it has largely eluded public attention, ASPA is a slap in the face to the many allies that have spent years struggling to construct a legitimate vehicle for combating the most vicious war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. For ASPA not only prohibits all US cooperation with the International Criminal Court (ICC), it suspends military assistance to any non-NATO member (except certain allies like Israel, Japan and Egypt) that joins the court, rejects participation in any UN peacekeeping operations unless the Security Council exempts American soldiers from prosecution by the court and authorizes the President to use "all means necessary" to liberate Americans or allies held by the international tribunal (hence its European nickname, "The Hague Invasion Act").
Until now, the bill might have been dismissed as meaningless venting by a handful of extremists. But the Administration's support gives it a far more sober--and sinister--tone. The Administration signed on after negotiating changes that eliminate some of the original bill's thornier constitutional problems. (The President could now provide military assistance to a country that participates in the ICC if he deems it in the national interest, for example.) But those changes and Bush's support also make it far more likely that this public proclamation opposing an international effort to bring perpetrators of terrorism and genocide to justice will become law.
This obstruction is particularly ironic now, when the United States is insisting on world collaboration against terrorism. But it's also distressing because our government is a signatory to the 1998 Rome treaty that created the court. Although Clinton expressed reservations when he signed it, he at least committed the United States to work toward creating an international court it could support. Even if this Administration won't ratify the treaty in its current form, supporting a bill that undermines a treaty we've already signed and threatening the treaty's supporters is a remarkably underhanded maneuver, given the mask of international cooperation we're now strutting out on the world stage.
Sure, Jesse Helms labels it a "kangaroo court," but keep in mind what the International Criminal Court will be. Hammered out over more than five years by hundreds of international lawyers, scholars and diplomats, including many Americans, the court--which is expected to receive the necessary sixty ratifications by next summer--will be a permanent institution based in The Hague equipped to try, in addition to genocide and strictly defined war crimes, just the sort of crime against humanity we saw on September 11. Setting aside whether military action is justified to seize the perpetrators, if the court existed today it's possible we could have avoided the issue altogether. An international court holds a legitimacy in the eyes of the international community that a United States court cannot. Even a government like the Taliban might have a harder time refusing to turn over suspected terrorists to an international tribunal than to what it views as suspect US authorities.
Opponents claim the court would place American soldiers and officials at risk of frivolous political prosecutions. That ignores the many elaborate constraints written into the Rome statute. Moreover, the court will be controlled by our allies. Right now, we're aligned with countries like Iraq that oppose it. But all NATO members (except Turkey) have signed and most have ratified the treaty, as have most of the nations in the EU, which has announced its intent to ratify, calling it "an essential means of promoting respect for international humanitarian law and human rights." Recently, Great Britain--now our closest ally in the war against terrorism--became the forty-second country to ratify. (Switzerland is the latest to follow suit.)
Republicans have whipped up fears that the ICC is a rogue court that would prosecute Americans and deny them due process. But the treaty provides virtually all rights guaranteed by the US Constitution except a jury trial. Notably, the American Bar Association--always sensitive to such concerns and hardly a body of radicals--is a strong ICC supporter.
Given all the statute's safeguards, the only people truly threatened by the International Criminal Court are those who commit genocide, intentional large-scale war crimes or "widespread or systematic" crimes against humanity. The Administration's support for ASPA suggests it wants to raise American officials above international law. This is a bad time to be pressing that point, both on our allies and before our enemies. For if part of what sparks hostility toward the United States is our arrogance, then actively undermining this landmark step toward worldwide enforcement of the rule of law will only fuel it.
Since September 11, Thomas Friedman has been in fine form. In his New York Times column, he has composed a letter for George W. Bush to send to Osama bin Laden, urged Vladimir Putin to enlist the Russian mafia to rub him out and berated those who would use the Trade Center and Pentagon attacks to raise questions about US foreign policy. In an October 5 column headlined, "Yes, but What?" Friedman wrote, "One can only be amazed at the ease with which some people abroad and at campus teach-ins now tell us what motivated the terrorists. Guess what? The terrorists didn't leave an explanatory note. Because their deed was their note: We want to destroy America, starting with its military and financial centers." Friedman reserved special scorn for those seeking to use the attacks to renew the Israeli-Palestinian peace process: "Have you ever seen Osama bin Laden say, 'I just want to see a smaller Israel in its pre-1967 borders,' or 'I have no problem with America, it just needs to have a lower cultural and military profile in the Muslim world'? These terrorists aren't out for a new kind of coexistence with us. They are out for our nonexistence. None of this seems to have seeped into the 'Yes, but...' crowd, whose most prominent 'Yes, but' states: This terrorist act would never have happened if America hadn't been so supportive of Israel."
Friedman is hardly alone in pushing this line. In Newsweek, for instance, Jonathan Alter blasted "Blame America Firsters" who have "repeatedly breached" the line "between explaining terrorism and rationalizing it." Jim Hoagland, in the Washington Post, warned that the United States should not be inhibited from using "coercive power" in the Middle East by "excessive fear of reaction in the so-called 'Arab street.'" The New Republic has repeatedly inveighed against what it sees as the capitulationism of the Yes, but-ers, and Christopher Hitchens in these pages kicked up a storm by arguing against "rationalization" of terror. "Does anyone suppose that an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza would have forestalled the slaughter in Manhattan?" he asked.
Against this backdrop, I was fascinated to read "Why Do They Hate Us?" Fareed Zakaria's cover story in the October 15 Newsweek. Zakaria is a blue-chip member of the foreign policy establishment. A native of India who earned a BA from Yale and a PhD from Harvard, he served from 1993 to 2000 as managing editor of Foreign Affairs. A sort of junior Kissinger, Zakaria has never hidden his disdain for those naïve souls who do not share his hardheaded balance-of-power worldview. I recall attending a discussion group several years ago, when the Clinton Administration was still debating whether to intervene in Bosnia; Zakaria expressed world-weary impatience with those who argued for humanitarian intervention and nation-building.
I was thus surprised by his 7,000-word take on the current crisis. Zakaria devotes the first part of his article to an astute dissection of the failures of the Arab world. Today, he observed, almost every Arab country "is less free than it was 30 years ago." Analyzing the causes of that decline, Zakaria described how young Arab men, often better educated than their parents, leave their villages in search of work and "arrive in noisy, crowded cities like Cairo, Beirut and Damascus." Here, "they see great disparities of wealth and the disorienting effects of modernity; most unsettlingly, they see women, unveiled and in public places, taking buses, eating in cafes and working alongside them." Surrounded by the shiny products of globalization but unable to consume them, and denied all outlets for venting their frustrations, these alienated young men have fed a resurgence of Islam.
That, in turn, has sparked a wave of what he calls "raw anti-Americanism." In exploring the roots of this, Zakaria harshly scrutinizes US policies in the region. As recently as the 1960s, he writes, America was widely admired in the Arab world. Since then, however, "the daily exposure to Israel's iron-fisted rule over the occupied territories has turned this into the great cause of the Arab--and indeed the broader Islamic--world. Elsewhere, they look at American policy in the region as cynically geared to America's oil interests, supporting thugs and tyrants without any hesitation. Finally, the bombing and isolation of Iraq have become fodder for daily attacks on the United States." Zakaria especially faults the United States for its "sins of omission," including its failure to press Arab regimes to open up. In response to the current crisis, he goes on, the United States should adopt a long-term strategy on three fronts--a military effort, aimed at the "total destruction of Al Qaeda"; a political effort, stressing multilateralism, cooperation with the United Nations and a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and a cultural strategy seeking to help Islam "enter the modern world," in part by pressing Muslim nations to reform.
This seems a far cry from Henry Kissinger. And, toward the end of his piece, Zakaria acknowledges his changing views: "I have myself been skeptical of nation-building in places where our interests were unclear and it seemed unlikely that we would stay the course." In the current instance, he added, "stable political development is the key to reducing our single greatest security threat. We have no option but to get back into the nation-building business."
Zakaria's interest in nation-building and a peace settlement in the Middle East does not mean he's rationalizing terrorism. On the contrary, he fully supports the current campaign against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. His position shows that re-examining the US role in the region does not preclude taking a tough stand on terrorism. In fact, it can be argued that adjusting US policies in the Middle East--for instance, by resolving the Palestinian problem--could further the campaign against bin Laden by making it easier for Washington to keep its coalition together.
At least one other conservative has made an about-face similar to Zakaria's. George Bush's recent endorsement of nation-building in Afghanistan and his expressions of support for a Palestinian state show that he readily accepts the need to reassess US policies in the Islamic world. To the extent that there is a "Yes, but..." crowd, the President seems to be its leading member.
My three favorite media stories in recent weeks were how Bill "Politically Incorrect" Maher kept his job at ABC-TV, how Ann Coulter got herself fired from National Review and how all the networks simultaneously agreed to the Bush Administration's request that they suppress any future Osama bin Laden tapes.
I also got a kick out of the Dan Rather interview on a cable channel in which he answered questions about whether it's OK for a network in the interests of objectivity to ban anchors from wearing American flags on their lapels, while a simulated American flag flew in the logo on the lower left-hand corner of the screen. (Rather himself prefers not to wear a flag but said nothing about appearing with a flag logo in the lower left-hand corner.)
Bill Maher got into trouble on Politically Incorrect when he correctly observed in the aftermath of September 11 that it's wrong to call the suicide bombers "cowards" and impolitically added, "We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away: That's cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it's not cowardly."
Two advertisers, Sears and Federal Express, pulled their ads, seventeen stations canceled his program and Maher apologized for being, well, politically incorrect. Or rather for being misinterpreted ("I offer my apologies for anyone who took it wrong," he said), although why he should apologize to people who misinterpreted him he never explained. The defecting advertisers claimed patriotism, but in fact they were the cowards for withdrawing ads from fear of the controversy Maher's remarks might spark.
So what do we learn from this first profile in cowardice? Maher demonstrated that at best he is only incorrect within permissible limits. The advertisers should come back, the seventeen stations should reinstall the show (if they haven't already) and Maher should resign, not for what he said but for flying under false colors. You can't have a show called Politically Incorrect and then abjectly apologize for not being PC.
Next case. Ann Coulter, rudely dismissed by the Boston Globe's Alex Beam as "a right-wing telebimbo" for her colorful but intemperate attacks on the Clintons, was fired by National Review after she wrote in National Review Online that "we should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." My question is, In which order?
Technically, they didn't give her the boot until she wrote a follow-up about requiring passports from "suspicious-looking swarthy males." Now there are two possibilities here: One is that National Review fired her because they didn't like what she said. The other is that National Review fired her because by saying what too many National Review readers believe, she embarrassed the home team. Solution: After Maher apologizes for apologizing and resigns, Politically Incorrect should hire the truly politically incorrect Coulter.
Finally, on the networks, I don't understand why Condoleezza Rice didn't include Al Jazeera in the request to suppress the bin Laden tapes. It's true that Washington doesn't control the Qatar network, but it doesn't control the major US networks either, and surely Al Jazeera has a higher quotient of terrorist viewers. Originally, I thought the Administration's request had to do with not showing enemy propaganda, and I wondered whether this meant that the networks' much-vaunted claims of political neutrality--giving equal time to both sides in a dispute--stopped at the water's edge. But the Administration said the issue had to do less with propaganda than with national security, claiming that bin Laden might be using the occasion to send a message by secret code.
Since potential terrorists can still get bin Laden's message via Al Jazeera and via the Internet, I am baffled as to the networks' true motives, unless, like Maher, his advertisers and National Review, they are also in the controversy-avoidance business.
What this incident does show is that you don't need media concentration to have homogenization of the news. The simultaneous capitulation of all the major TV networks proves that concentration or no concentration, they are perfectly capable of marching in lockstep on their own.
Every closet in my medical office is suddenly filled with samples of Ciprofloxacin, an ordinary antibiotic intended primarily for use with bladder infections. This week, every patient phone call I receive and almost every patient visit to my office includes a request for this antibiotic. Physicians as well as patients are stockpiling the drug. One of my patients returns home to his wife, and she relays to me that instead of reassuring her with news of his normal test results, he instead brags, "I've got it. I've got it," brandishing his hoard of Cipro samples that he must have smuggled from my closet. Another patient calls me from Philadelphia to ask whether she can take Cipro to prevent anthrax. "Not unless you live by a certain building in Boca Raton," I reply. Five minutes later she calls me back frantic--her neighbor is returning from Boca wheeling her possibly contaminated luggage down the hall. "No," I groan. "No Cipro."
Bayer, the Cipro manufacturer, is stoking this frenzy and playing into public hysteria by promoting the drug. The drug reps drop off hundreds of sample cartons at my office without saying what for, though I can see them frowning when they hear me say, "I am not prescribing Cipro for anthrax."
Why Cipro? What the drug company is not telling either patient or doctor is that Cipro was originally tested as an alternative treatment for anthrax only for penicillin-allergic patients. Antibiotics have never been properly tested for prophylaxis, so Cipro's usefulness for prevention is speculative, though there is clearly some rationale for prophylaxing patients with close exposure. But doxycycline, a generic, is just as effective and costs one-tenth of what Cipro costs. A month's supply of Cipro costs more than $300; the equivalent amount of doxy is $32. In fact, there are multiple antibiotics available with similar efficacy, many of which are cheaper.
Which is not to say that any of these antibiotics should be prescribed. Prolonged use of Cipro, for example, without a real treatment target or reasonable endpoint, could cause significant side effects--including diarrhea, rash, colitis, gastrointestinal bleeding and insomnia--in a large population. Insomnia affects 5 percent of Cipro users, a fact that may be of interest to the drug rep for Ambien who follows the Cipro rep into my office to encourage me to prescribe more sleeping pills.
Another problem is drug resistance. Cipro, a milestone drug when it first appeared, has already lost some effectiveness because of excess use over the years and has largely been replaced by other drugs in its class, such as levofloxacin. I worry that continued unnecessary use will further cripple Cipro until people who really need it, for conditions ranging from the most minor kidney infection all the way to life-threatening cystic fibrosis, could find it useless.
Plus, if all the antibiotics stores are used up by a panicking though healthy public, people who really need the drugs for life-threatening conditions may find that they are out of luck. If antibiotic prophylaxis on a small scale does become necessary, then doxycycline or other relatively inexpensive antibiotics will represent a more cost-effective approach.
Most of all, I am concerned about a perpetuation of unsavory sales practices. In contrast to the altruism and heroism that rescue and healthcare workers have shown in the wake of the disaster of September 11, many of them working through the night without sleep or food, a drug company is attaching itself to the exact fear that is crippling us. The well-dressed Cipro rep whose territory includes my office and who plies me with "free lunches" is justifying the fear by pretending that there is a treatment for it. With the drug industry returning to what it knows best, parasitism, we find our dread exploited by a monolith that can't resist an opportunity to make more money.
War skeptics such as Richard Gere, Susan Sontag, Rep.
Although it may appear that the aftershocks of September 11 have somewhat deposed the discourse of human rights and international law and replaced it with that of law and order, there is still a great deal to fight for. If anything, in fact, the new context makes it more urgent that there be solid rules of international criminal evidence and reliable institutions of international law. . . .The most vocal public opponent of the principles of "universal jurisdiction" is Henry Kissinger, who has a laughably self-interested chapter on the subject in his turgid new book Does America Need a Foreign Policy? (a volume, incidentally, that if it had any other merit might be considered as a candidate for title of the year). . . . It was utterly nauseating to see Kissinger re-enthroned as a pundit in the aftermath of September 11, talking his usual "windy, militant trash," to borrow Auden's phrase for it.
So V.S. Naipaul finally gets the prize.
It's said he's willing, through unblinking eyes,
To make his observations, then recall
The bleakest Third World countries, warts and all.
While valuing his writing, I still think
It wouldn't hurt if, now and then, he'd blink.
How depressing was the October 13 peace rally in Washington Square? Well, the Bread and Puppet Theater performed--that should give you an idea. "It's the sixties all over again," murmured the portly graybeard standing next to me as the funereal drum thudded and the players, holding their papier mâché body masks, paraded glumly through the crowd of perhaps 500 people--most, by the look of them, veterans of either the peace and justice or sectarian left. Look on the bright side, I thought: At least we don't have to sing "Down by the Riverside," as happened at the peace rally in Union Square on October 7, a few hours after bombs started falling on Afghanistan.
I don't like to criticize the activists who put together what little resistance to the bombing there is. But the 2000s aren't the 1960s, and whatever else Afghanistan is, it isn't Vietnam, any more than international terrorism or Islamic extremism is the new communism. Essential to the movement against the war in Vietnam was the pointlessness of our involvement: What had Ho Chi Minh ever done to us? The Vietcong never blew up American office buildings and murdered 5,000 ordinary American working people. You didn't have to be a pacifist or an opponent of all intervention everywhere to favor getting out of Vietnam--there were dozens of reasons, principled, pragmatic, humanitarian, self-serving, to be against the war. This time, our own country has been attacked, and the enemies are deranged fanatics. No amount of military force short of nuclear weapons would have defeated the North Vietnamese and Vietcong, who really did swim like fish in the sea of the people and had plenty of help from the Soviet Union besides; the Taliban, by contrast, are widely, although not universally, hated in Afghanistan, and Osama bin Laden's men, known as the Arab-Afghans, are viewed there by many as a hostile foreign presence.
Faced with a popular air war conducted, at least on paper, in such a way as to minimize civilian casualties, the peace movement falls back on boilerplate: All war everywhere is wrong, no matter what evils pertain; any use of force merely perpetuates the "cycle of violence"; the war is "racist," whatever that means; it's a corporate plot. The most rousing and focused speech at Washington Square was physicist Michio Kaku's denunciation of Star Wars--but no one I heard (I missed the noted foreign policy experts Al Sharpton and Patti Smith) grappled with the central question: If not war, what? Realistically, some of the alternatives that have been proposed would also involve military action. Osama bin Laden is not likely to mail himself to the International Criminal Court to be tried for crimes against humanity; the disarming of both the Taliban and the Northern Alliance by United Nations peacekeepers, followed by free and democratic elections--the course favored by the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan--is not likely to happen peacefully either.
The attack on the World Trade Center, an unspeakable and unjustifiable crime, created a sense of urgency and feelings of fear and anger that do not easily accord with calls for a deeper understanding of America's role in the Muslim world. It's hard to care that the US government armed and bankrolled the fundamentalist mujahedeen in Afghanistan to fight the Soviets, or that it supports clerical-fascist Islamic governments like the one in Saudi Arabia, when you're afraid to fly in an airplane or open your mail. Say for the sake of argument that the "chickens" of American foreign policy "are coming home to roost": You can see why many would answer, Well, so what? Why not just kill the chickens and be done with it? That may prove much more difficult than today's pro-war pundits acknowledge--what if one only hatches more chickens?--but it's not totally off the wall, like Alice Walker's embarrassing and oft-cited proposal that bin Laden be showered with love and "reminded of all the good, nonviolent things he has done."
Right now, the argument that the war will have unforeseen and disastrous consequences may sound like handwringing, but it is doubtless true. Given the millions who are starving in Afghanistan, the 37,500 mini-meals that have fallen from the sky are a cruel joke. And even if the Al Qaeda network is destroyed and the Taliban overthrown, the circumstances that created them will remain. This is the case whether one sees the attack on the WTC as inspired by religiously motivated hatred of modernity and Enlightenment values, like Christopher Hitchens, or as a response to particular American policies in Israel, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, as Noam Chomsky argues. Experts can debate the precise amount of motivation this or that factor contributes to terrorism--but unless the Muslim world is transformed on many levels, it is hard to see how the bombing of Afghanistan will keep Americans safe or prevent new Al Qaedas and Talibans from forming. For that, we would have to be able to look down the road ten years and see a peaceful, well-governed, rebuilt Afghanistan; a Pakistan in which the best chance for a poor boy or girl is public school, not a madrassah for him and nothing for her; a Saudi Arabia with a democratic, secular government; an Egypt without millions living in abject poverty and a hugely frustrated middle class. This is all the more true if militant Islam is relatively independent of concrete grievances like Israel and Iraq.
Unfortunately, anyone who tries to talk about the WTC attack in this way--as Susan Sontag did in her entirely reasonable but now infamous New Yorker piece--is likely to find themselves labeled a traitor, a coward, anti-American or worse. (I found this out myself when I made the mistake of going on the radio with mad Andrew Sullivan, who has said the "decadent left...may well mount a fifth column," and who accused me of objectively supporting the Taliban and likened me to someone who refuses to help a rape victim and blames her for wearing a short skirt.) But a war can be "just" in the sense that it is a response to aggression--as Vietnam was not--and also be the wrong way to solve a problem.
Al Giordano is currently a free-speech defendant in the New York State Supreme Court [see Mark Schapiro, "Drug War on Trial," September 17, 2001].
New York's Democratic mayoral primary revealed the city's racial fault lines.
Whoever controls Saudi Arabia's oil wields great power over the world economy.
The White House is likely to keep a don't-rock-the-boat Congress in the dark.
New types of violence are on the rise, and the only exit route is political.
Serendipity is rotten cotton candy. No, more like actual cotton dipped in rich, drippy chocolate--the confection hawked by Catch-22's greedhead Milo Minderbinder. About a quarter of the audience I saw Serendipity with (evidently a fair national sample) wolfed it down and clamored for more. Newcomer Marc Klein's script is so insidiously predictable, it won him a three-picture deal. Suits are scared; they reward reassurance, as long as they can respect its cynicism. Still, the flick is worth a look, because it's a station of the cross in the career of John Cusack, the Ninth-Greatest Actor of All Time (so says an Empire Magazine poll) and the unwitting recipient of a grassroots campaign to draft him for President (hey, stranger Presidents have happened).
Stop me if you've seen the trailer, but here's the gist: Jon (Cusack) and Sara (Kate Beckinsale) tussle over a pair of gloves at Christmas. Each has a squeeze to shop for. They shouldn't but they spark, they skate, they float beneath improbably starry skies through enchanted Manhattan, skillfully fairytale-ified by director Peter Chelsom and cinematographer Jon de Borman, who enclose the two beauties in a space like a big snow globe with swirling plastic flakes.
Cusack's droll, knowing, McCartney bedroom eyes glint with Lennon venom, and he stammers romance with convincing conviction. He's still very much that heartbreak kid Lloyd in Say Anything, hoisting the boombox to serenade his girl. Back then, young Cusack lobbied director Cameron Crowe to file his moral sweet tooth down to fangs--he wanted Lloyd, a kickboxing fanatic, to assault and batter the girl's oppressive dad. "Yeah, I can see that," said Crowe sweetly, "but this is the movie where he doesn't throw the dad up against the fence." Crowe and Cusack likened themselves to Lennon and McCartney, temperaments clashing in harmony.
Cusack, a born director, an actor in training since 8, soaked up the lesson: Now he's sweetness and blight in one smart package. He can lend heft to featherweight lines, pull moments out of thin air, even defuse Hollywood bombs. Like the hunky sapper in The English Patient, Cusack is cool.
Beckinsale, a call-all-your-friends find in Cold Comfort Farm, remains too chipper and remote--she's still got the Oxford chill in her bones. Too bad--her feebly imagined Serendipity role needs all the humanity it can get. She and Cusack have potential chemistry, but not the heat required to bring the experiment to a rolling boil. It's cold fusion at best. She would've been ideal for High Fidelity, but she was sixty-five pounds bigger then, pregnant, so Cusack had to wait for her until now. Pity.
Jon jots his phone number on a $5 bill; Sara promptly spends it on mints, then jots her number in a copy of García Márquez's Love in the Time of Cholera. She says she'll sell it, and then if fate places that fiver and that book in each other's hands someday, they'll know they were meant to be together. (Does Sara know that before fate reunites the couple in García Márquez's book, the guy cheats on the girl with 622 women?) Sara, dimwit mystic tease that she is, devises yet another trial: They'll simultaneously punch random buttons in separate elevators at the Waldorf, and if they emerge on the same floor, it'll be kismet. What is this, the Immunity Challenge on Survivor? Sara's not a maiden, she's a MacGuffin, a plot point, a marketing concept.
Flash forward a few years. Jon's about to marry some girl so devoid of personality she's practically transparent. It's Bridget Moynahan, who induces in the viewer total short-term memory loss of her existence. Sara has a more engaging fiancé, a musician (John Corbett) who comes off like Kenny G playing a hookah. Corbett gets one fun bit, agonizing over the motivations of the Vikings in his music video. But his courtship with Sara exists solely to receive a decent Viking funeral--she burns him to return to the New York site of her old flame. Horribly, pointlessly, she's accompanied by her best friend (Molly Shannon, who specializes in one emotion, awkward discomfort). At least Moynahan is forgettable; Shannon's performance is the stuff of nightmares. She ought not to be in pictures.
Jon has the film's only beautiful relationship, with his best friend, a New York Times obituary writer (Jeremy Piven, Cusack's best friend for life, and the hungriest actor you ever saw). Piven gets two fine scenes: his wedding-rehearsal toast, which hails himself as the true love of Jon's life (there's lots of weird homophobia in the film, but this bit at least is funny), and his attempt to tackle Jon on Sara's front lawn to prevent him from seeing an apparently naked Sara in flagrante delicto through a window. The good scenes start strong and go nowhere, but most scenes in this film start nowhere and wander off into nothingness.
Serendipity, like Cusack's whole career, illustrates the New Auteur Theory in action: Forget the old heroes, the people with the camera--they can't save us. Who could have more heart and soul than Chelsom (Funny Bones) and de Borman (Saving Grace, The Full Monty)? All Chelsom can do here is smuggle in the odd slice of life: a random Hasidic golfer glimpsed at a driving range, a bracing swoosh of the camera here and there. If you want to work, you've got to cast your style before swine.
No, our sole hope is the enlightened despotism of actors. Look what Cusack's ornery independence has achieved. He broke out of the Brat Pack by renouncing and artistically trouncing the soulless corporate youth movie, etched his Grifters role in righteous acid, co-wrote the against-the-grain High Fidelity and Grosse Pointe Blank, and made the screen world safe for Spike Jonze and Nick Hornby. When he does a big, dumb film, it's to collect clout for art, and he subverts Mammon at every opportunity. If he must do an action hero in Con Air, he does it in Birkenstocks. He forced a wholesale rewrite of America's Sweethearts when he took the lead from Billy Crystal, trying to put some English on the gags, some backspin. Cusack may even reverse Woody Allen's creative death spiral in the film they're cooking up. The key is that Cusack is savvy, pragmatic, yet skew to the plane of all that makes movies so bad.
Most signs of life in Serendipity were planted furtively by actors desperate to escape the story's shackles. Eugene Levy does much with little as a martinet sales clerk who briefly torments Cusack. (But see how much more he can do in Best in Show or the lost worlds of SCTV or Splash, where he was unconfined by formulas.) Most of the film's best moments are the largely improvised scenes of Cusack and Piven cracking wise. Those spontaneous looks of shock you see on the wedding party's faces in Piven's toast scene are reactions to startlingly off-the-script things he made up on the spot. It would be grimly charmless to hear Jon and Sara quiz each other about their favorite sex positions on their first skating-rink date without Beckinsale's expert pratfall on the ice and the nice-guy naturalness of Cusack's quip, "Yeah, that's my favorite position too." His performance has qualities the studio system can't grasp: It's humane, understated, seemingly uncorrupt.
When I'm on movie sets with big male stars, I'm always struck by how small they are--I feel like I could carry Nicolas Cage or Sly Stallone off under my arm, like Dino grabbing Sammy Davis and saying, "I'd like to thank the NAACP for this award!" Yet how they strut and puff themselves up! One $20 million star actually has a colleague slap his face to ready him for the camera, shouting, "You're [name of $20 million star]!" causing the star to bellow, "I'm [name of $20 million star]!" until he really feels big. It's Pathetic Method acting.
John Cusack, by contrast, really is big, over six feet tall. He flying-tackled me in the snow once on a film set, just for fun and out of boredom (and maybe to express his opinion of the press). It hurt: The guy is all muscle. But instead of acting big, he does the opposite. He crouches, makes himself look smaller, a rather cryptic human question mark in place of the human exclamation point that most stars aspire to become. (The scene in Being John Malkovich where he's on the 7 1/2 floor of a building with extremely low ceilings uses this Cusack tendency to excellent comic effect.) He always ducks the obvious, loud, self-aggrandizing statement in favor of the quiet, inquisitive, other-focused, elusively self-concealing statement. Not that he's any less of an egomaniac than most other stars--just more interesting.
Every love story on film is contrived, and we're all inclined to give the most rickety fairy tale the benefit of the doubt. All it takes is the illusion of spontaneity. Serendipity should have heeded the stern Correct Usage warning under "serendipity" in my Encarta dictionary: "The idea of discovery is necessary to the word." As John Barth put it, "You don't reach Serendib by plotting a course for it. You have to set out in good faith for elsewhere and lose your bearings." But nothing is left to chance in Serendipity. The film should have been as open to discovery as its star is. As it is, the whole excessively premeditated thing has less emotional resonance than that single quick scene in Being John Malkovich where Cusack's puppeteer character manipulates a pair of marionettes miming a tortured embrace. You know they're made of wood, you can clearly see the strings--everything you see on a screen is a manipulation--yet you can feel an unmistakable human pain and passion.
John Cusack probably won't get elected President of the United States. But maybe he should be President of Hollywood.
It is life that Joy Williams is after in this book about (at times overwhelmingly or bizarrely) death. Ill Nature means her anger, her attitude, but it really means sick Nature. Abused animal life and habitat land, ruined water, strangled forests, proxy environments, corrupted science, lost mind; for it is we, the caretakers, who are the most ill of all in what we do to the life that's being flushed away, along with 7,000 acres daily lost to development, which only begins to tell the story. Intrusive, pointedly detailed, painfully entertaining and likely to outlast some considerable portion of the life defended in it, Williams's bill of particulars has its own emphasis. It arises from the writer's own Florida and the perhaps chance occasion of some of these essays, polemics and emblematic bulletins. But it adds up to a jeremiad classically American and on-the-edge uncanny, at a time of waste, greed, skewed self-love and a death wish unquestionably global--a plague even of petri dish and adoption babies in one of her population pieces that is contrarian with a vengeance.
Williams's book often urges action. Yet it seems sometimes to doubt the possibility of action, given where we are, which is not only the land and our deeds and joint procedures but, as I read her, includes a spiritual outage for which there may not be a secular solution.
On this side of that divide much is familiar. Disposables achieving an awesome afterlife. Baboons in vises getting their brains beaten in on behalf of head-injury research. A tobacco industry pumping experimental smoke down the windpipes of thousands of dogs and rats that weirdly did not get cancer. A new image like a vision tells us that natural disasters are upon us that are likely the end of us, though we may not go first--a "deranged" heron, "white as robed angels," "beating its head against a tree knocked down by bulldozers to widen a road." I learn from the essay "Neverglades" that that famous Florida ecosystem park of ours is down to 20 percent of what it once was; came the '28 hurricane, then a vast Army Corps of Engineers dike built to "protect" 700,000 acres, in fact to create an "agricultural area" to be dried up for the benefit of Big Sugar; then decades of shrinkage promoted even into the Clinton years under the pretense that the dying park, its water beshitten by dairy farms and cane-growers' used irrigation water back-pumped through it, was being cleaned up by the alliance of federal and state government and the agricultural interests that had managed to kill it. It gets complex, as this kind of capital operation tends to.
The "earth-unfriendly" "corporate environmental community" is now apparently supported in one way or another by the National Wildlife Federation, the Environmental Defense Fund, The Nature Conservancy and other "ECOWIMP" organizations. As for the "most reactionary of all," what could one expect from an Audubon Society named after "the premier avian slaughterer of his time"? What have you done when you bring the gray wolf back to Yellowstone, an area abandoned in the winter by most animals, and remove it from the endangered species list to please ranchers and hunters? Florida subsidizes staged "youth hunts," kids shooting deer from stands in wildlife management areas that help them "understand man's role in the ecosystem."
Animals are almost at the center of this book. How does it happen that hunters who already kill on millions of acres of public land are now invited into more than half of our tax-subsidized wildlife refuges to kill a million animals a year? "Wildlife-oriented recreation," it is called. "Nowhere is the murder of animals, the manipulation of language, and the distortion of public intent more flagrant." This from the famous hunting piece "The Killing Game," originally in Esquire, of all places, where Williams lets the apologists convict themselves with their own self-serving Orwellisms: Conservationists "harvesting" venison; population control of "underutilized birds" for which special seasons are designed; "recreational" lovers of beautiful creatures exercising "a God-given right" to kill for the fun of it--that glamorous "primitive," the bowhunter, leaving half his (or her) hits to die out of reach; or the ludicrously overequipped (and underinformed) mobile strategists using doe-urine sex lures, spreading popcorn on the golf course to draw geese, snowmobiling moose, outflanking animals that are resting, eating. And "as for subsistence hunting, please."
But this tour de force seems a mere parenthesis when we come to Williams's animal rights essay. Here the apparent inconsistencies of the radical position only strengthen the devastating case against cruelty to other sentient beings. Vegetarians, be reminded that animals are usefully turned into our clothes, condoms, anti-aging creams, Jell-O and such drugs as a menopause estrogen booster (derived from horse urine, an industry in itself that breeds 75,000 doomed foals annually). "Animals are everywhere in our lives" but distanced "so that our remaining compassion and ethical concerns for them" become "irrelevant." Tools in the lab, their suffering "a theoretical abstraction" for engineers genetically reinventing them, some not even defined as "animals" now by the Department of Agriculture.
Williams sardonically describes "The Animal People" as opponents see them (as totalitarians subtly offensive to many groups, for example, to Jews with the misuse of Holocaust analogies, to feminists on "right to life"). We can't act morally toward animals because they can't act morally back, it is urged. We know, though, that animals fear death when they face it. "They care for their young and teach them...they play and grieve...they have memories and a sense of the future." "Suffering aside," the thinking goes, "when people care too much about animals, it's suspected that somewhere, somehow, some person is being deprived of generic love and...attention because of it." The subtle difficulty of change is no light-bulb joke. What would it take for "the mass mind" to find, for example, "the vivisector's work totally unacceptable"? That switch will take more than logic. It may require a flash of intuition, an "instantaneous electron orbital exchange," in Thomas Kuhn's image of a gestalt shift in our thinking, Williams muses ironically. In any case, a new "moral attitude toward a great and...mute nation," whose mysterious otherness has no more saved them than if they could speak in "the tongues of angels" to remind us of our vanity--as a human (so says the preacher in Ecclesiastes 3) "hath no pre-eminence above a beast," for we "have all one breath."
A contrarian always on the edge, Williams hears voices. Unabomber Ted Kaczynski's 10-by-12 cabin having its say: "Not a hideout, a home..." "Where is he, where's all my stuff...books...typewriters...?" Wrapped up in an Air Force hangar in Sacramento, "this can't be existence.... We're both being stored." The people from Exxon "still haven't paid the five billion dollars they were supposed to." Eerie, unwanted offspring: "I never asked to be built." Unlike those thousands of Thoreau cabins, "No clone we," which, in the author's slightly undergraduate Henry-bashing, extends to (by contrast with Ted's manifestoes) Walden's prose. Willing to plead not guilty at the risk of a jury's death sentence in order to present his views on technology, Ted got to be instead "a paranoid schizophrenic awash in delusions"--the worst one being that technology is the vehicle by which people are destroying themselves and the world.
"What? It's not true?" asks Williams, sidestepping with rhetoric Kaczynski's real delusion that you can fix things by blowing people up. "The writer," she instructs us in "Why I Write," "cherishes the mystery...protects it like a fugitive in his cabin." In the most upsetting "essay" of Ill Nature, one must remember that she is a powerfully original writer of fiction: "Hawk" leaves us less with an explicit idea than with the presence of a consuming event. Nonfiction in the tone of its remembering, its lacerating report nonetheless turns upon implication and yields a curious confessional and pivotal darkness. It recounts how her German shepherd, her "darling" whom she loved (though not without discipline) and whom she had named not, like her previous dogs, from the Bible but "from Nature, wild Nature," attacked her and was put down. She thought when she took off her bra "the nipple would fall out like a diseased hibiscus bud." Her hands badly bitten, the fractured one required immediate surgery to prevent bone infection, which, from the bite of the dog, could kill her.
The wildness so valued in her thinking as a quality diminished in our denatured world has somehow requited her, and the terrible strangeness of the dog's act, eventually ascribed to a possible brain tumor, is pondered in writing not only great in its free exactness but curious in its clues. At the outset she is mysteriously ill (her "body had turned against" her, a fatalist with no health insurance), but she and Hawk "kept to our habits." "He had presence. He was devoted...engaging," but "I really knew nothing of his psychology.... surely, I believed, he had a soul." She tells us she is a Christian, her father a minister. Kierkegaard warned, "The closer you keep to God and the more involved you get with him, the worse for you"--after all, He abandoned His own child. Cryptically we are told, "It ended badly for my mother's and father's dogs over the years and then for my mother and father." And there at the beginning of the essay, like a strange or false lead, we've had a quick collage of facts about the pianist Glenn Gould! His impenetrable individuality, his notorious eccentricities--hands he bathed in wax; his St. Francis medal; half his estate left to the Toronto Humane Society. In him is some genius Williams decides is unknowable and in his music she listens to, though less dangerous than the unknown that will shortly almost destroy her. Later, in bewilderment, shock, grief, the music she listens to is healing, though still unknown.
Is this a reconversion story about utter unhappiness, when life has no value and when, "crucified to a paradox...[giving] up reason," one can (according to Kierkegaard) "make a bid for Christianity"? She had dreamed a prevision of Hawk dead, and now she dreams she is walking with him among the dead. Were these visits part of a pattern of being too close to a wildness you love but do not understand, suddenly precipitated into waking life violently, the attack of this Other marking a state of grace she must pay for? Is real experience grace? I do not know.
Something like this is to be found in the willing, grotesque and marvelous journey through a psychic wilderness of the girl in Williams's first novel, State of Grace. In her recent The Quick and the Dead, "We must see things we do not see now...and not see things we see now," observes a rehab nurse given to "grim homilies about [an]...absent-minded God." The visionary suddenness in "Hawk" is like Flannery O'Connor's; the intimacy with the animal unpredictable and sensed is all Joy Williams, who believes it's a writer's job to disturb and who grants, to my mind a bit too readily, that the writer may be a vehicle (what did Plato say in the Ion?) with only the dimmest knowledge of what she bears. A music, say--an art like that of Orpheus, that great musician who nonetheless could not call his love back from death and instead pursued her there. Gould dead at 51; Williams asks, like Rilke, what she has done with her life--she couldn't even keep her pet alive. Perhaps she has served, as she says in "Why I Write," "not [herself] and not others, but that great cold elemental grace that knows us."
Less "great," though more helpful and even more interesting, is "One Acre," her development-surrounded land in Florida that she finally had to sell. But on her terms--no subdivision, buildings occupying no more space than the two structures there already and half the property (once owned by a botanist) left as a wildlife habitat. This huge profusion of plants and trees the essay describes in magnificent detail: the extravagant banyan, the stubborn palmetto, the mangrove, "my tangled careless land," a small ecosystem she is determined to let live like the birds and animals, the rats living in "the fronds of the untrimmed palms." It took some doing; witness the utter simplicity of the enforceable document she drew up for the incredulous real estate agents to show prospective buyers. Who did she think she was? The flailing arguments typify attitudes and language targeted in other parts of Ill Nature. At last, for much less money, she finds her buyer who understands and is content.
The essay expresses a tension between privacy and community in the context of land. Land? A "fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants and animals," in Aldo Leopold's mid-twentieth-century and now ideal and virtually impracticable definition, which "has had about as much effect on the American conscience as a snowflake." For by another, "land is something to be 'built out,'" and "privately the landowner makes decisions that render land, in any other than financial terms, moot." What privacy is that? Is it, along the lagoon, the community of condos, their owners often absent? Wasn't it privacy Williams wanted?--buying three lots in 1969, two more in 1972? "I did not feel that the land was mine at all but rather belonged to something larger that was being threatened by something absurdly small..."
In the first sentence of the essay, "I had an acre in Florida on a lagoon close by the Gulf of Mexico," she has put herself up against Isak Dinesen's "I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills," the famous opening of Out of Africa (for some reason marred here by a misprint). Williams, who is not much interested in icons as icons, notes that Dinesen had believed in some "drivel" about hunting as "a declaration of love," though later found it wrong. Yet when Dinesen had to leave her farm at last, she wanted (though she was dissuaded from it by the pleas of friends) to shoot her animals, which "belonged to her, as had the land, which she ceased to own when it became owned by another." Williams adds, "Of course, it became hers again through the writing about it.... Once again, Art, reflective poesy, saves landscape." I call that a dig. But, to take nothing away from Dinesen's great nonfiction book, one earned. If killing is no way to keep control, is writing? A modernist, nay, iconic literary figure certified by Ernest Hemingway, Dinesen expressed in her fabulous fictions an ethos brave, aristocratic and sometimes cruel. This typically in her best-known tale, "Sorrow-Acre," where land as an abiding character is inseparable from the ancient and fixed relation between peasant and lord, threatened in that story by new democratic ideas at large. Joy Williams writes differently, in an American language full of our Day-Glo, our killer culture, our most unseemly and unseamlessreality, whether or not it is shadowed by God. no sniveling reads the sign in a funky bar noted in Williams's The Florida Keys, maybe the most beautiful, intelligent, profound guidebook ever written. In this world, for better or worse, she does what little she can. She has conserved by deed her acre. "I had persisted. I was well pleased with myself. Selfishly, I had affected the land beyond my tenure. I had gotten my way."
"Writing," on the other hand, "has never done anyone or anything any good at all, as far as I can tell," observes the daughter, reflecting on her efforts to make her mother comfortable during her painful last illness. "Nothing the daughter, the writer, had ever written or could ever write could help my mother who had named me," writes Joy Williams near the end of this troubling, fascinating book, Ill Nature. Of course, not all readers are terminally ill.
As a child, while waiting for my weekly piano lesson to start, I used to read with pleasure Erma Bombeck's column as it appeared in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette. What prehomosexual boy can resist a sardonic housewife? Somewhere in my teenage years, however, I lost the taste, and so it was difficult for me to enjoy Douglas Coupland's latest novel, All Families Are Psychotic, even though the tone of voice was unexpectedly familiar.
"Life is a bowl of chainsaws," says Janet Drummond, the novel's 65-year-old heroine, as she establishes a rapport with Florian, the fey, Eurotrashy villain who is heir to a pharmaceuticals fortune. Bombeck added cherry pits to the proverb; Coupland has added chainsaws. But the sensibility is the same: a comfortable, petulant knowingness about the world. It's wacky out there, or so Coupland would have you believe.
The speech rhythms in All Families Are Psychotic derive from sitcoms. Characters describe each other with tags like "That cheesy slut," and they silence each other with lines like "Drive, Howie." The prose style is aesthetically bankrupt, so much so that a reviewer feels a little silly and priggish for pointing it out. A lake is described as "a very lake-y looking lake." A house is described as "an event in itself." One suspects Coupland of writing badly on purpose, as if he meant to suggest that sloppiness of perception might be raised to a metaphysical disposition--a strategy for approaching the world.
Either that or he's just sloppy. On page 25, the one-armed astronaut Sarah Drummond explains to her underachieving brother Wade, "In a weird way I think doing things is easier than not doing things." Evidently the lesson does not sink in, because on page 73, Sarah feels obliged to repeat herself: "There are simply these things that need to be done, and it's simpler to do them than to not do them." (Now how did that note card get back in the pile?) On page 254, Coupland has Janet's ex-husband Ted speak a line of dialogue in a room that he and his second wife left two pages before. By the time Wade explains to his mother on page 270 which super power he would have if he were a cartoon character, he seems to have forgotten the details of the conversation he had with his girlfriend on the same topic, back on page 130.
It's no doubt unwise to take this novel too seriously. Unfortunately, Coupland, famous for having tapped into the zeitgeist of 1991 with Generation X, has chosen a topic that is hard to take unseriously: AIDS. Janet becomes infected with HIV when a bullet fired by Ted passes through their HIV-positive son Wade and into her. Ted happens to be shooting at Wade because he has just discovered that Wade has slept with Ted's new wife, Nickie, and Nickie, too, becomes infected. Another character, Beth, thinks she has HIV, but her case turns out to be a false positive. Ted, in turn, comes down with liver cancer (though no one suggests that it's HIV-related).
Or maybe Coupland isn't writing about AIDS. It's hard to tell. The name of the disease is not mentioned until page 46; everyone infected with HIV is cured, more or less by magic; and the plot is so baroque that Wade's recap of events to Sarah, two-thirds of the way into the book, omits AIDS altogether. (Skip to the next paragraph if you don't like plot summaries.)
"I'm standing outside a trailer in Orlando's shittiest neighborhood. It belongs to a guy named Kevin whose arm was shot up in the restaurant holdup yesterday. By the way, Mom and Nickie are best friends now. What else..." Probably best not to tell her that we're hiding out here from the thugs who kidnapped her husband. Should I go on? Why not. "And then a few hours ago, me, Mom, Dad and Bryan rescued Shw from these freaky rich people in Daytona Beach who were going to lock Shw in their basement prison, steal her baby, and then probably kill her--so suddenly Shw's all nicey-nicey, and Bryan's like a pig in clover. Oh, by the way, Shw's real name is Emily."
Kevin is the book's one gay character, a waiter kept mostly offstage, whose trailer home is described as "faggy." Shw was not toilet-trained as a child and was allowed to choose her own name (it stands for Sogetsu Hernando Watanabe) as a teenager.
Should I go on? Not for much longer. There's nothing wrong in principle with a farce about AIDS. I liked David Feinberg's Eighty-Sixed, for example. Everything is or should be laughable, even sad and infuriating things. But Coupland jump-cuts directly from smarty-pants mania to saccharine happy ending, with no emotional in-between. In this novel, the feelings stirred up by AIDS range from "And these HIV drug cocktail thingies make you grow fat deposits in the weirdest places--I could end up with six tits" to "This HIV thing, now that I think about it, is almost like a relief--it's like we're a part of a big death club," until finally the reader witnesses "a simple peaceful wave of light passing through" the characters as they are cured. At best, Coupland's humor will help to exhaust the shock value of the disease.
All Families Are Psychotic is not a meanspirited book. Nor is there any psychosis in it. "Psychotic," here, is just a synonym for "wacky"--a word to athetize people who can't be understood without the expense of further attention. In fact, Coupland's characters are homely, safe neurotics. As Janet shouts to Florian, late in the novel, "Don't let Bryan or Emily be killed or beaten--they're not evil--they're merely idiots." Fair enough. But it's not quite fair of Janet to claim that "we're people, not cartoons" when her son discovers her in bed with her ex-husband. Coupland hasn't spent enough attention on the Drummond family for us to see how it is unhappy in its own way.
The twin towers had barely toppled before the ubiquitous Henry Kissinger was on TV proclaiming the gravity of the assault and the urgency of American retaliation. The Forrest Gump of international disaster, Kissinger has been repeating the identical commentary for thirty years: Other countries commit inexplicable crimes against the United States; our national will is being tested; military power must be relentlessly employed. No matter how ponderous the tone or predictable the message, the networks never seem to tire of him.
Why is this guy still on the air? We can set aside the irony of an individual who has caused so many civilian deaths in the world moralizing about "terrorism." The fact remains that when Kissinger and Richard Nixon were in charge, their biggest military project--the war in Vietnam--ended in humiliating defeat. Although this enterprise devastated three countries, produced upward of a million casualties and left 20,000 American soldiers dead on their watch alone, it has never diminished Kissinger's stature as a pundit.
As is well known, during their tenure in office both Nixon and Kissinger were obsessed with matters of secrecy. And it turns out that they were wise. Without nosy reporters on the ground, the two benefited from those government regulations that have kept the important records of their international activities concealed for all these years. For extra insurance, Kissinger carefully stashed his official papers in the Library of Congress, with instructions that they not be opened until five years after his death.
But now the relevant documents and tapes are finally being declassified. And since Kissinger's transactions involved more people than himself, copies of his hidden papers are turning up in other collections. It is on these rich materials that Larry Berman has based No Peace, No Honor, his provocative new study of the 1968-73 Vietnam peace negotiations and the final treaty, for which Kissinger and his North Vietnamese adversary Le Duc Tho received the Nobel Peace Prize.
It is hardly a revelation that this agreement was a failure, but what Berman makes clear is that it was also a fraud. The North Vietnamese had no intention of abiding by its provisions, having dedicated their lives to reunifying their country. Nor did Kissinger and Nixon intend any halt in the hostilities: Once the remaining American troops were home and the POWs released, they expected Saigon to continue the fight, while the US government would return to bombing.
In the President's address to the nation on January 23, 1973, he exhorted his listeners to "be proud that America did not settle for a peace that would have betrayed our allies, that would have abandoned our prisoners of war, or that would have ended the war for us but would have continued the war for the 50 million people of Indochina."
This was gross deception. As finally drafted, the Paris accords made no mention of the more than 150,000 North Vietnamese soldiers remaining in the South. Their presence virtually guaranteed continued warfare. While a central feature of the agreement was "a cease-fire in place," Berman demonstrates in painstaking detail how nonsensical that provision really was.
For a cease-fire to have worked, there would have to have been a mutually accepted definition of who controlled what area. Yet this task was never undertaken. Instead, the responsibility was left to a future Two-Power Joint Military Commission, composed of the Saigon regime and the communist Provisional Revolutionary Government (PRG) in the South. Yet neither side had accepted the legitimacy of the other, nor given the slightest indication that it would cooperate on anything. This flawed procedure reflected the "total disinterest at the highest levels in any of the details for securing the peace."
Indeed, US officials had signaled their true expectations by rushing millions of dollars of new military equipment to South Vietnam, transferring to it the title of US bases and assisting the South Vietnamese Army to gain as much territory as possible before US troops withdrew. Despite these efforts, there was fury in Saigon when the provisions of the accord became known in mid-October 1972. President Nguyen Van Thieu assailed Kissinger: "The South Vietnamese people will assume that we have been sold out by the United States and that North Vietnam has won the war." His country might be "scarcely more than a dot on the map of the world to you," but "for us, the choice is between life and death." To sign the agreement "would be accepting a death sentence."
From the South Vietnamese perspective, the crucial point was that the United States was withdrawing its troops while leaving in place the soldiers of North Vietnam. The United States was also accepting the principle that Vietnam was one country, that the PRG was a valid entity with the right to negotiate with the Saigon government on the basis of equality, and that a tripartite Committee of National Reconciliation would be created to oversee the elections. In Thieu's assessment, this latter body was tantamount to a new coalition government.
Faced with Saigon's recalcitrance, Kissinger was beside himself. For years, Le Duc Tho had been insisting on Thieu's removal as the condition for peace, and now that position had been abandoned. Yet the South Vietnamese leadership was ungrateful. Kissinger warned that "if we have to, the United States can sign a separate peace treaty with Hanoi," but "as for me, I'll never set foot in Saigon again. Not after this. This is the worst failure of my diplomatic career!"
Had the choice been his alone, Kissinger would probably have held Thieu's feet to the fire. But in the weeks preceding the US presidential election, Nixon did not want to be perceived as betraying an ally, especially when more than 50,000 young Americans had laid down their lives for the alleged purpose of saving it. However, by temporizing with Saigon, the Administration provoked Hanoi into withdrawing some previous concessions.
Using the new documents, Berman does an exemplary job of showing how the peace negotiations fell apart in December 1972, and how Nixon chose to bomb North Vietnam "in order to pressure the South, yet happy that the American public would believe that he had succeeded in pressuring the North." He also makes clear how, in the aftermath of the famous "Christmas bombing," Nixon forced Thieu to sign an agreement that the latter believed would destroy his country.
Several of these points have appeared in earlier works, by Seymour Hersh, Walter Isaacson and historian Jeffrey Kimball. Berman's special contribution is to show that both Kissinger and Nixon recognized that the Paris accords were inherently unworkable; that they took no serious steps to insure their implementation; and that they were primarily concerned with circumventing the newly elected Congress, which was expected to cut off all funding for American involvement in Vietnam, come January 1973.
By completing the peace settlement and freeing the POWs, they hoped for public acquiescence in their resumption of the bombing. This was a recipe for "permanent war (air war, not ground operations)," a program of "indefinite stalemate by using the B-52s to prop up the government of South Vietnam" until the end of Nixon's second term.
Along with other writers, Berman acknowledges the resemblance between the final Paris treaty and proposals offered by North Vietnam as early as 1969. From this standpoint, "we can only conclude that many tens of thousands died for very little, or simply while waiting for Thieu to give in." And there is the obvious implication that, had Congress permitted, Kissinger and Nixon would have continued to use the B-52s for four more years, yielding even more destruction and human suffering.
Had Berman stopped here, No Peace, No Honor would have stood as a tightly argued, clear contribution to the literature on the Vietnam War. Unfortunately, he muddies the waters by his repeated suggestion that Kissinger and Nixon betrayed the South Vietnamese regime by bludgeoning it into a disadvantageous peace agreement. He actually concludes his book with the sorrowful reflection of Gen. Vernon Walters: "We let 39 million people fall into slavery."
For decades this has been the outlook of former South Vietnamese officials, as well as that of some US military people. But it is curious to find it here, since the entire thrust of Berman's narrative is to show the exact opposite, i.e., that Nixon and Kissinger did not plan to abandon South Vietnam. Though deceiving the American public that the war was finished, they were never planning to leave.
Indeed, Berman clearly demonstrates that the main obstacle to an early peace treaty was the US insistence on keeping Thieu in power. One motivation was Nixon's dirty deal back in 1968, when in order to win the election he encouraged the South Vietnamese leader to undermine Lyndon Johnson's peace efforts. This had left him in Thieu's debt. But what was more important, Thieu was needed for the guaranteed return of American air power. Any one else was "likely to move toward a coalition government and would reject B-52s," propelling South Vietnam into the neutralist camp.
In dealing with Saigon's officials, Kissinger could be insulting and inclined to treat them like lackeys, but he was understandably frustrated by their inability to grasp the real situation. Nixon was giving them the best deal they could get. As Kissinger lamented, "Haig and I, who have saved you before, are in despair about you." Of course, the North Vietnamese would cheat, but with a peace treaty, the United States would have the legal basis to strike back. Without one, "all our aid will be cut off, that is why we who support you despair of your short-sightedness."
By illogically endorsing the notion that the Nixon Administration handed South Vietnam to the Communists, Berman has given fresh grist to the American right. He has also neglected the point that South Vietnam was never a country in any ordinary sense of the term, that the regimes in place during the period of US involvement were always artifacts of American power and that South Vietnam's governing class was corrupt, incompetent and cruel.
Berman expresses no curiosity about the fact that as of January 1973, Saigon had an estimated 38,000 political prisoners in its jails; nor does he wonder why it was that despite an army of 1 million men, equipped with the most modern American weapons, it was afraid to face a much smaller enemy.
Had this book been written thirty years ago, one might say that all this was widely known and did not bear repeating. But the majority of Berman's readers will have little information about the Saigon regime, nor will they necessarily understand that three US administrations, including that of Richard Nixon, had used unprecedented levels of firepower to expel the Communists from South Vietnam, with the perverse result that they grew stronger.
From this narrative, one could even gain the impression that it was the US peace movement that was at fault, since it narrowed White House options. What Berman does not adequately explain is that the peace movement was itself the product of a brutal, ineffectual war that by 1972 appeared to millions of Americans, and indeed to many of Kissinger's and Nixon's most prominent colleagues, as pointless murder.
It is true that in their conduct of the Vietnam War, Nixon and Kissinger were continuing many of the appalling practices of their predecessors. Yet it matters that they came later, when there was strong political support for withdrawal. While previous administrations clung to the illusion of victory, theirs did not. Moreover, with the opening to China and the improved relations with the Soviet Union, any geopolitical rationale for the war had evaporated.
And yet they persisted. There is betrayal in this story. However, it was the betrayal not of the puppet regime in Saigon but of the people in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and the United States who lost their lives needlessly.
At the controls of an overgrown national security state, Nixon and Kissinger had become unhooked even from their own bureaucracies. Indifferent to the human costs and with no practical objectives to be achieved, the two were indulging their own predilection for violence while asserting the power of the United States as a goal in itself.
From the presidential tapes, Berman quotes Nixon: "I'm not worried about bombing pauses, I'm, we're gonna take out...the power plants, we're gonna take out Haiphong, we're gonna...level that goddamn country!" And Kissinger: "Mr. President, I think, I think the American people understand that."
Sometimes fanatics wear business suits. Why is Henry Kissinger still on television? Because as a society we have denied our own history, and we confront the frightening present in a state of ill-founded innocence.
I would like an unbroken stretch of drizzly
weekday afternoons, in a moulting season:
nowhere else to go but across the street for
bread, and the paper.
Later, faces, voices across a table,
or an autumn fricassee, cèpes and shallots,
sipping Gigandas as I dice and hum to
No one's waiting for me across an ocean.
What I can't understand or change is distant.
War is a debate, or at worst, a headlined
nightmare. But waking
it will be there still, and one morning closer
to my implication in what I never
chose, elected, as my natal sky rains down
"God Diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder," the satirical magazine The Onion has proclaimed, citing "His confusing propensity to alternately reward and punish His creations with little rhyme or reason." Given His omnipotence, it's hardly surprising that God often drives people crazy: His affliction becomes our own. Consider the violent mood swings, between ecstasy and despair, that characterized historic religious revivals. As eighteenth-century evangelist Jonathan Edwards attested, "Those who are saved are successively in two extremely different states--first in a state of condemnation and then in a state of justification and blessedness." There is method to this madness, Edwards explained. God wanted us to appreciate the "evil from which he delivers us, in order that we may know and feel the importance of salvation."
More than 200 years later, Americans are still wrestling with evil, quite literally, according to sociologist Michael Cuneo. In American Exorcism: Expelling Demons in the Land of Plenty, he examines popular notions of demonic possession and rituals of deliverance from evil. Exorcism is a "booming business" (if not a highly visible one), Cuneo claims, particularly among charismatic Protestants and Catholics. The Catholic Church has been skeptical of demonic-possession cases, he notes, but "maverick priests" began performing exorcisms during the 1970s and '80s. Meanwhile, Pentecostalism, an ecstatic form of worship institutionalized in the early 1900s, involving spirit baptism and speaking in tongues, began to influence mainline Protestant churches, contributing to the rise of charismatic "deliverance ministries."
What inspired a cultural preoccupation with demons? Tracing the apparent rise of demonology in late-twentieth-century America, Cuneo attributes contemporary interest in exorcism partly to popular entertainments (the 1973 film version of William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist is often cited for inspiring belief in possession). He also sees in the demand for exorcisms a stereotypically American quest for reinvention. Cuneo attended "dozens" of exorcisms and talked to "hundreds" of people (Catholic and Protestant) who believe that demonic possession (or the lesser evil of demonic affliction) are routine occurrences in contemporary America. "Untold numbers" of ordinary middle-class people believe that they have been possessed or afflicted by demons and have undergone exorcisms, he asserts.
It's difficult to evaluate this claim: You can't substantiate, much less confirm, a number that's "untold." According to Michael Cromartie, director of the Evangelical Studies Project at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, there was a surge of interest in exorcism in the 1970s, but ministries that practice exorcisms or deliverance rituals constitute a very small, almost imperceptible subculture of conservative Protestantism today. Cuneo's evidence of exorcism's entrenched popularity is mainly anecdotal and circumstantial. In addition to accounts of the exorcisms he's witnessed and the exorcists he's interviewed, he relies on cultural indications of a widespread belief in demonism, like hysteria about satanic cults that emerged in the late 1980s and early '90s.
But whether exorcisms and an underlying belief in demonic influences are practically mainstream or merely fringe phenomena, they're worth considering, partly because they demonstrate the connections between religion and therapy in America. Cuneo is both a skeptical and sensitive observer; if his work does not stand up as social science, it includes some astute social criticism. As he observes, these outré religious rituals and beliefs mirror the preoccupations of popular therapeutic culture (partly because some popular therapies are rooted in religion). The notion of addiction promoted by the recovery movement resembles possession: Addiction is a disease of the will that takes control of its victims and can be cured only by surrender to the will of a Higher Power. The notion of demonic affliction promoted by some deliverance ministries, according to Cuneo, resembles addiction: Sometimes people are delivered merely from unwanted habits and impulses--like gluttony or lust (what a twelve-stepper might call a sex or food addiction). And, like familial dysfunction, demons can apparently be inherited: Some people, it seems, suffer from "congenital demonism" or "transgenerational evil."
As it made its way into American culture, demonism became rather banal, Cuneo observes: Exorcism "was converted... into a kind of suburban home remedy," and by the early 1980s, middle-class charismatics were seeking to expel their "demons" of anger, resentment, frustration, lust and addiction. Like co-dependency, demonic affliction was apt to be blamed for a multitude of "symptoms" from which everyone was bound to suffer, or simply for a sense of discontent or unease. "I felt there was something inside me, holding me back, dragging me down," one woman says, describing her affliction. An exorcist recalls delivering a woman from "seventy different demons--demons of lust and violence and duplicity--they just kept manifesting." It's not hard to imagine the same woman being diagnosed with multiple personality disorder, had she been in recovered-memory therapy instead of church. Meanwhile, people engaged in psychotherapy talk about exorcising demons.
Some of the exorcists Cuneo interviews lament the trivialization of demonism and advise some people demanding exorcisms to seek counseling instead. Others who are less honorable or more certain of their own righteousness, as well as their ability to identify demons, engage in "blatant emotional manipulation," Cuneo writes: Just as recovered memory therapists supplied their patients with incest stories, some prayer groups pressure people into acknowledging that they're demonized. A belief in your own affliction may be hard to resist, Cuneo surmises, if you want to participate in the agony and ecstasy that deliverance provides. And once delivered, you can be part of an elite, like someone who has survived co-dependency or been enlightened by therapy.
Of course, a sociological analysis of exorcism or any form of therapy seems uninformed, unenlightened and insulting to people who believe in demons (literal or metaphoric) and consider themselves saved by an exorcism, a twelve-step group or some other curative ritual. Cuneo suspects that exorcisms conducted with compassion and humility can be genuinely therapeutic, whether the demons they expel are real or imagined. But, as he observes, the dearth of hard data makes it impossible to know whether exorcisms are generally helpful or hurtful. There are no longitudinal studies of people who've undergone exorcisms (just as there are virtually no reliable outcome studies of various pop therapies). All we have is the personal testimony of believers.
Cuneo seems surprised that exorcism can flourish in contemporary America; despite his sympathy for the possessed and the exorcists who try to help them, his book has the tone of an exposé. But the news is familiar. According to a 2000 Gallup poll, some 79 percent of Americans believe in angels. Why shouldn't they believe in demons as well? There's less virtue in going to heaven if you haven't been tempted by hell.