Thanks to Richard Falk and The Nation for daring to defy the
party line in the American media when it comes to Middle East coverage
["Ending the Death Dance," April 29]. Keep up the good work.
YUSUF A. NUR
Except for its criticism of the Bush Administration, Richard Falk's
article contains more sophisticated nonsense than almost anything I've
read. Bush is wrong, Sharon is wrong and Arafat stands by as young women
prostitute themselves as mass murderers. Meanwhile, Falk and The
Nation raise sophistry to new heights.
Even in the Arab press it would be hard to find such distortions,
misleading statements and open justification of suicide bombers as are
in Richard Falk's article. For example:
(1) Falk justifies suicide bombers as the "only means still available"
for the Palestinians. One can only react to such an endorsement of
suicide bombers with outrage.
(2) Then he equates the suicide Passover bombing at Netanya with the
Israeli incursion in the West Bank. The Israeli incursion may have been
wrong, but not all wrongs are moral equivalents. The suicide bombings
have no possible justification and are sheer terror.
(3) Falk says Arafat did not opt for terrorism. What a distortion.
Arafat's history of terrorism, from hijacking in 1968 to Munich in 1972
and thereafter is documented beyond contradiction. Has Falk forgotten
Arafat's financial support for and public tribute to "martyrs"?
There are numerous other distortions in the article, but worst of all is
Falk's blatant justification of suicide bombers. Just what is Falk's
affinity for terrorists?
JEROME J. SHESTACK
Richard Falk says, "surely the United States is not primarily
responsible for this horrifying spectacle of bloodshed and suffering."
Such a view is typical of coverage of the conflict across the spectrum
of the US press, from left to right. If we look solely at the
actions of the United States, it is clear that this country is
backing the occupation of Palestine with great vigor and enthusiasm.
Last December, the Defense Department signed off on a sale of fifty-two
F-16 fighter jets and 106 million gallons of jet fuel to Israel through
the Foreign Military Sales program, earning Lockheed Martin $1.3 billion
and Valero Energy $95 million.
If this doesn't constitute a green light to Prime Minister Sharon for
the siege of Ramallah, then it certainly enables it. There is some
controversy over whether Iran is backing the Palestinian Authority with
military aid; it's beyond dispute that Israel is armed to the teeth with
US-made weapons. If President Bush is genuine in his call for an Israeli
withdrawal, then he should suspend military aid to Israel immediately.
Of course the violence is not beyond our control.
Senator Jesse Helms, once head of the Foreign Relations Committee,
stated in 1995: "Israel is at least the equivalent of a US aircraft
carrier in the Middle East." There is no mystery here. Israel's military
aggression guarantees the maintenance of US global domination. As long
as we keep silent about the crimes committed in our name, Palestinians
and Israelis alike will continue to die.
Richard Falk begins on a false premise and goes downhill from there.
He claims simplistically that many analysts fault Arafat and the
Palestinians because Ehud Barak at Camp David made an offer Arafat
should have accepted. Actually, the argument is not that Arafat should
have accepted the offer but that Arafat should have negotiated and made
a counteroffer. Any counteroffer at all would have been welcome.
Instead, Arafat made a fool of Barak and President Clinton and crushed
the hopes that political moderates in Israel would be the driving force
for peace. Falk treats the most significant gesture on Israel's part
toward peace as rather trivial and similarly downplays Arafat's present
attempt to make Israel bargain against itself through targeting innocent
women and children.
Falk apparently feels that sophisticated people will agree that the
Palestinians have no choice but to send suicide bombers into churches
and marketplaces. However, there are certain tactics that cannot be
rationalized as part of a bargaining process. The Palestinians can
bargain by using publicity, civil disobedience, general strikes,
boycotts, marches and other peaceful methods to help obtain their goals
and popularize them. Instead, they violate the most fundamental notions
of civilized behavior. No one can endorse wholeheartedly Israel's
fiercely violent response. However, we can understand it and agree that
it is necessary for the self-defense of its citizens.
EDWARD C. SWEENEY
Richard Falk ignorantly states that the Oslo agreements concerned 22
percent of the original British Mandate over Palestine, leaving 78
percent to Israel. The original mandate over Palestine also included
what is now Jordan, which was essentially created by Winston Churchill
when the British client Sharif Hussein was booted out of Mecca. Will
Falk say next that the Six-Day War was a war of Israeli conquest? Or
that there was a Palestinian national consciousness in 1948? You should
JEFFREY A. GOLDMAN
New York City
Thank you for Richard Falk's bold and clear analysis of the current
morass in the Middle East, which provides some much-needed corrections
to the mainstream media's narrative of the Israel-Palestine conflict. It
was high time someone pointed out that Sharon is at least as much an
obstacle to peace as Arafat.
Indeed, nothing in Sharon's career, or in his actions since his visit to
the Temple Mount, suggests that peace is remotely a priority for him.
His only goal is to expand Israeli settlements so that the prospect of a
contiguous, viable state within which Palestinians can live in dignity
becomes ever more slim. He is basically continuing the same colonialist
project that he helped initiate as agriculture minister.
It is amazing that in this country, for the most part, people react with
such horror to the suicide bombings (which are indeed deplorable) but
take no notice of the Israeli settlements. The settlements are the
original violence to which all Palestinian action is a retaliation. To
pretend that violence originates with the Palestinians and that Israel
only retaliates out of necessity is a grotesque reversal of causality.
One hopes that Falk's bold piece will give at least a momentary pause to
many who are otherwise committed to perpetuating the official lies.
How long can pernicious myths persist? Richard Falk writes, "It was
Sharon's own provocative visit to the Al Aqsa Mosque that started the
second intifada." This is a blatant deception. On December 6, 2000, the
semiofficial Palestinian daily newspaper Al-Ayyam reported as
follows: "Speaking at a symposium in Gaza, Palestinian Minister of
Communications, Imad Al-Falouji, confirmed that the Palestinian
Authority had begun preparations for the outbreak of the current
intifada from the moment the Camp David talks concluded, this in
accordance with instructions given by Chairman Arafat himself. Mr.
Falouji went on to state that Arafat launched this intifada as a
culminating stage to the immutable Palestinian stance in the
negotiations, and was not meant merely as a protest of Israeli
opposition leader Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount." Why does
Falk ignore the damning statements of a Palestinian government official
in an article that purports to get at the reality behind the image?
Thank you for Richard Falk's intelligent and balanced piece, which
places blame and responsibility for the madness in the Middle East right
where it really belongs--with Sharon. I am sick of the lies that assault
us endlessly in the nonexistent daily "news." Sharon is a butcher and an
intransigent, blind criminal whose actions could easily cascade into
World War III and destroy everyone on earth just to fulfill his own
sick, narcissistic sense of destiny. The parallels to Hitler are now
Superb! If only all American media had the guts to address the blatant
hypocrisy and bias the US government employs when dealing with the
Israel-Palestine crisis. Richard Falk has done an outstanding job of
delineating the injustices perpetrated by the Israelis and has revealed
another side to the story that should be reported on a far greater
I anchor my response in a personal observation. My whole intention in
"Ending the Death Dance" was to focus on the need for a fair solution
that brings peace and justice to both peoples. As a Jew I am profoundly
concerned with the future and well-being of the Jewish people. To
consider me "a self-hating Jew" because I am critical of the Israeli
government or of certain interpretations of Zionism is absurd, as if
being an opponent of the Vietnam War made me "a self-hating American"!
The most vital premise of democracy and cosmopolitanism is that
conscience trumps both obedience to the state and tribal loyalties, and
that international law should be respected to the extent possible,
especially by one's own country.
The harsh tone of the critical letters reveals a partisan unwillingness
to engage in serious dialogue; denunciation and distortion takes the
place of argument and discussion, thus reinforcing the gathering gloom
about how to resolve the Israel-Palestine struggle. Take Jerome
Shestack's provocative assertion that my analysis displays a "blatant
justification of suicide bombers" and an "affinity for terrorists."
Could I have been clearer than to assert early in the piece that what I
write is "not in any way to excuse Palestinian suicide bombers and other
violence against civilians"? Far from any alleged affinity for
terrorists, I condemned all forms of terrorism, and avoided the
distorted effects of treating only antistate violence as terrorism and
regarding state violence as "self-defense" and "security." As I argued,
George W. Bush has contributed mightily to this lethal distortion of the
meaning of terrorism by the way he phrased the post-September 11
campaign against global terrorism.
I essentially agree with Edward Sweeney's point that Arafat is to be
faulted not for rejecting the Barak/Clinton proposals but for his
lamentable failure to explain the grounds of his rejection and, even
more, for his failure to produce a credible counteroffer, providing the
Palestinians and the world with an image on behalf of the Palestinian
Authority of a fair peace. Arafat remains an enigmatic figure, as
disappointing to militant Palestinians who feel shamed by their leader's
deference to Washington as he is enraging to those who expect the
Palestinians to accept Israeli occupation of their territories without a
whimper of resistance.
Jeffrey Goldman's comments about the British Mandate of Palestine and
its relation to modern Jordan are confusing and wrong. The part of the
original Palestine Mandate that has been the scene of the
Israel-Palestine struggle has nothing to do with the sovereign territory
of Jordan. Jordan occupied the West Bank during the 1948 war, and
administered the territory until 1967, when Israel became the occupying
power as a result of the Six-Day War, but with the understanding
unanimously backed by the Security Council in famous Resolution 242 that
Israel was under a duty to withdraw "from territories occupied in the
recent conflict." The US government has all along backed this 1967
resolution as the starting point for any vision of peace between the two
My point was different and, I feel, important. By removing pre-1967
Israel from the Oslo negotiations, the Palestinians were conceding 78
percent of the territory of the Palestine Mandate partitioned by the UN
in 1947, leaving 22 percent available for a potential Palestinian state
(that is, 5,897 square kilometers versus Israel's 20,235 square
kilometers) and making the presence of more than 200 armed settlements
in the West Bank protected by IDF forces radically inconsistent with the
agreed goal of a viable Palestinian state. There is a second Palestinian
concession that should also be taken into account: In contrast to the
modern belief that legitimate sovereign states should be secular,
without religious or ethnic identity, the Palestinian leadership has not
questioned the Jewish identity of Israel even though it means that the
Palestinian minority of over 1 million will remain second-class Israeli
citizens indefinitely and that any Palestine that emerges will be an
ethnic state whether the Palestinians desire it or not. Israel has not
even contemplated comparable concessions to Palestinian aspirations.
Finally, Jordan Green's argument that the US government has seen Israel,
at least since 1967, as a strategic partner in the Middle East is
pushing against an open door. My only point was to stress that in the
setting of the conflict with the Palestinians, it is Israel that makes
the decisions on how to pursue peace and security, and although backed
to the hilt by Washington, "primary responsibility" lies with Israel.
NOT AN APOLOGIST FOR ISRAEL
His justifiable zeal to defend Palestinian rights leads Alexander
Cockburn to call me an apologist for "policies put into practice by
racists, ethnic cleansers and, in Sharon's case, an unquestioned war
criminal who should be in the dock for his conduct" ["Beat the Devil,"
June 3]. Since I share Cockburn's criticism of reflexive support for
every Israeli policy and I agree with much of what he says about false
claims of anti-Semitism, I wish he'd accompanied his identification of
my possible inconsistencies with accurate reporting of what I actually
wrote. Ascribing to me words I'd never say and views I reject is either
sloppy or dishonest.
My essay in Salon suggested the pro-Palestinian left should
address, where it exists, anti-Semitism, superficial argumentation and
difficulties of communication. I end with this: "The justice-based left
must seek analyses and solutions built on general principles, and reject
those that make new forms of oppression inevitable."
I also say this: I march to protest Israeli policy; Israel has committed
past massacres and West Bank atrocities; ending Palestinian oppression
is central; the occupation must end; expulsion of Palestinians would
amount to ethnic cleansing; the pro-Israel explanation of how
Palestinians became refugees in 1948 is unsupported; armed resistance
(though not against uninvolved civilians) is legitimate; a Palestinian
call for militant nonviolent resistance is welcome. And I say clearly
that opposing Israeli policy is not anti-Semitic.
Cockburn's absolutism is matched by his opposites. A letter to my local
newspaper, for which I write a column, claimed that my views would lead
to "the destruction of Israel and create a danger to Jews throughout the
world." That writer, too, sees only what he wants to see.
I continue to advocate justice-focused discussion. Please see
people.uis.edu/dfox1/politics/israel.html for more.
There was nothing sloppy or dishonest about what I wrote. The third
paragraph of Fox's letter is fine, and if my column pushed him to make
it clear, it served its purpose. I wish he'd written it in his
NOT AN ON-THE-RECORD SOURCE
Jason Leopold's "White Should Go--Now" [May 27] is built upon lies and
unethical reporting. Not only did Leopold unethically list me as an
on-the-record source, he attributed comments to me that were never
discussed and are absolutely not true.
In reference to energy contracts signed with major California customers
in 1998, the article incorrectly states, "Jestings said he told [Thomas]
White that EES [Enron Energy Services] would actually lose money this
way, but White said Enron would make up the difference by selling
electricity on the spot market...which Enron had bet would skyrocket in
2000." The article continues the lies by stating that "Jestings said he
continued to complain to White that the profits declared by the retail
unit were not real." These statements were never made to Leopold and are
absolutely false. I had significant responsibility for these 1998
contracts and believed that they would be profitable, and therefore I
would never have made such statements. Furthermore, if Enron believed
the spot market would skyrocket in 2000, it would never have signed
long-term, fixed-rate contracts with these California customers in 1998!
Leopold then states that "Jestings said he resigned from EES in 2000
because he did not agree with the way EES reported profits." Again, this
is not true. I resigned in early 1999 for personal reasons and not
because of the way EES reported profits. In fact, EES was not making
profits when I left.
It is clear that Leopold is trying to build a picture of cover-up and
manipulation by White using statements falsely attributed to me. This is
irresponsible reporting at its worst. In my short tenure at EES, I
developed great respect for White. He is an honest and ethical man and
deserves fair reporting.
During my hourlong conversations with Lee Jestings on not one but
three different occasions leading up to the publication of this story, I
reminded Jestings that I would be using his comments in print. Simply
put, Jestings was well aware that he was on the record. He cannot
retract his statements after the fact and then accuse me of being
unethical and a liar. I sought out Jestings, and when I found him he
chose to respond to my numerous questions about EES and Thomas White. I
did, however, mistakenly report that Jestings left EES in 2000.
Jestings says that EES did not show a profit when he left. However, EES
under White's leadership reported that the unit was profitable in 1999
after Jestings left the company. But Enron was forced in April to
restate those profits because they were illusory. Moreover, Jestings
said during the interview that he had taken issue with EES's use of
"mark to market" accounting, in which the unit was able to immediately
book gains based on contracts signed with large businesses. Jestings
never said during the interview that he believed these contracts would
eventually become profitable. But that's beside the point. Jestings said
EES's use of aggressive accounting tactics during White's tenure left
shareholders believing the company was performing better than it
Jestings says White was honest and ethical while he was vice chairman at
EES. My report indicates otherwise.
NOT SMALLER THAN A DAISY CUTTER
West Orange, NJ
There was a critical error in "Relearning to Love the Bomb" by Raffi
Khatchadourian [April 1]. Khatchadourian says that so-called mini-nukes
of about five-kiloton yield have smaller explosive effects than the US
conventional "daisy cutter" bombs. This is clearly wrong. A five-kiloton
explosion is equal to 5,000 tons of TNT, while the daisy cutter weighs
only 7.5 tons. Even allowing for the development of modern explosives
more powerful than TNT, the difference between the weapons, and their
relative destructive potential, is of several orders of magnitude. The
following excerpt from the Federation of American Scientists' Military
Analysis Network (www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/dumb/blu-82.htm) directly addresses that point.
"The BLU-82B/C-130 weapon system, nicknamed Commando Vault in Vietnam
and Daisy Cutter in Afghanistan, is a high altitude delivery of
15,000-pound conventional bomb, delivered from an MC-130 since it is far
too heavy for the bomb racks on any bomber or attack aircraft.
Originally designed to create an instant clearing in the jungle, it has
been used in Afghanistan as an anti-personnel weapon and as an
intimidation weapon because of its very large lethal radius (variously
reported as 300-900 feet) combined with flash and sound visible at long
distances. It is the largest conventional bomb in existence but is less
than one thousandth the power of the Hiroshima nuclear bomb."
No useful analysis of nuclear policy can be made by equating large
conventional bombs with even the smallest nuclear bombs in any way. An
analysis of policy and decision-making regarding the
conventional/nuclear threshold demands a clear understanding of how very
powerful and devastating nuclear weapons are. The author seems to be
blurring the lines of allowable nuclear-weapons use far more than the
Administration he criticizes.
New York City
Let me begin by pointing out that I said "five kilotons or less." Some
proponents of new nukes have pushed for weapons of lower tonnage. Others
argue that five kilotons is roughly optimal.
C. Paul Robinson, director of Sandia National Laboratories, demonstrates
the debate: "I'm not talking about sub-kiloton weapons...
as some have advocated, but devices in the low-kiloton range, in order
to contemplate the destruction of hard or hidden targets, while being
mindful of the need to minimize collateral damage." In April, Benjamin
Friedman, an analyst at the Center for Defense Information, wrote: "What
is revolutionary about current proposals is the idea of reducing the
yield of tactical nuclear weapons to levels approaching those of
conventional explosives, to around one-tenth of a kiloton, which would
theoretically bridge the gap between a conventional and a nuclear
The United States has developed "sub-kiloton" atomic weapons before. One
such weapon, the Davy Crockett, contained warheads weighing only
fifty-one pounds, with explosive yields near 0.01 kilotons (roughly 10
tons of TNT). We made 2,100 of those between 1956 and 1963.
When my article was written, it was unclear what size the Bush
Administration's defense team envisioned for its nuclear bunker buster.
To a degree it still isn't, although some now suggest it could be above
five kilotons. However, this doesn't change what's being contemplated: a
weapon that appears to avoid the kind of casualties that put current
nukes outside the boundary of political acceptability.
I regret if I seemed to suggest that a five-kiloton nuclear warhead
could be smaller in explosive power than the world's largest
conventional weapon. That is inaccurate. I attempted to illustrate that
on the continuum of weaponry, a gap that appeared inconceivably wide not
so long ago is now being pushed closer. As the recent Nuclear Posture
Review demonstrates, narrowing that distance is as much a matter of
ideas as a matter of tons.
NOT THE GREAT WHITE HOPE?
Katha Pollitt is right on about great white hope Dennis Kucinich
["Subject to Debate," May 27 and June 10]. The boys who disparage
abortion rights as a foolish, single-issue orthodoxy don't have a clue.
Here's a hint for you guys. "Abortion" is about equitable reproductive
health services for women, obviously including the ability to end a
pregnancy, but it's also about how we think of women, and how we treat
them. Are women valued as the sum of their reproductive parts, or as
We know where the fundamentalists stand: Protestant, Catholic, Hindu,
Islamic and Jewish fundamentalisms, as well as secular dictatorships,
are united on the need to control women's bodies. And now, thanks to
Pollitt, we know where Kucinich stands. He moves or he loses.
New York City
As co-directors of an organization of the economic left, we second
Katha Pollitt's admonition that Dennis Kucinich cannot claim the mantle
of an economic progressive while being virulently anti-choice.
Reproductive freedom is not just a matter of personal morality, it is a
fundamental element of economic justice. No woman can determine her own
economic destiny without the freedom to choose whether to bear a child.
Progressives looking for champions cannot be so desperate as to overlook
such a fundamental right. There are numerous other members of
Congress--of course, we'd like a lot more--who understand that
reproductive rights are part of the fight for economic justice.
RICHARD KIRSCH, KAREN SCHARFF
Citizen Action of New York
My weekly ritual of reading the Nation cover to cover on Monday
was stymied last week when my postman left my mailbox door open on a
soaker of a day. I got home eager for the week's insights only to find a
soggy Nation limp in the box. Eek! I ran upstairs and spastically looked
for options. My girlfriend with astonishment: "What the heck are you
doing?" when she saw me using the hair dryer to dry my coveted pages one
by one. Did you ever know how important your work is!
I enjoyed Matt Bivens's April 15 "Fighting for America's Energy
Independence," which is important in getting the vision and
possibilities of renewable energy sources to the public. I have one
small correction. Bivens says, "The Union of Concerned Scientists says
100 square miles in Nevada could produce enough solar electricity to
power the nation." The actual land area is more like 10,000 square miles
(a square 100 miles on a side) and the photovoltaic panels cover only
half that land. My explanation of the calculation of that number is in
the July 30, 1999, Science. Since then our energy use has grown,
and the area is now almost 12,000 square miles (110 miles on a
side)--still not a large area, when compared with the 45,000 square
miles of land we've covered with paved roads.
It is interesting to note, given the Freedom car announcement, that if
you wanted to supply hydrogen for 200 million fuel-cell vehicles
(current US fleet), you would need an area of only 3,600 square miles.
This is not necessarily the way we should do it, but it is important to
note that we have the technologies in hand to utilize the solar
resource, should we wish to exploit it.
JOHN A. TURNER
National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Matt Bivens's implicit assumption that so-called renewable energies
have negligible external costs in relation to nuclear power is an often
repeated canard. According to an exhaustive study by the European Union,
the externalities of nuclear power are comparable to those of wind- or
solar-generated electricity. The study calculates external costs on a
euros-per-megawatt-hour basis for several means of generating
electricity and finds that the basic premise of Bivens's article cannot
be supported in Europe. Naturally, nuclear power also has the tremendous
advantage of not being beholden to the weather and being able to provide
a reliable base load, night and day, 24/7, 365 days a year. Many US
nuclear power plants routinely operate continuously for more than a year
without a glitch (see www.externe.info).
Simply put, to produce relatively small, unreliable amounts of
electricity, renewable energies must consume large amounts of materials
(some toxic, like selenium or cadmium for solar panels), land, natural
resources and person-power. Nuclear power produces abundant power from
small amounts of material, at small external costs, even when one
accounts for the vanishingly small probability of accidents and the cost
of waste disposal.
Matt Bivens does not mention battery-powered vehicles, which have zero
pollution and are now available as fleet vehicles (e.g., buses, trucks,
rental cars). One company, Electric Fuel Corp. (www.electric-fuel.com),
has demonstrated an electric bus using zinc/air batteries, which will
power a loaded, air-conditioned bus over a full day's bus route.
While the battery-powered (electric) bus is now available, a vehicle
will not be powered by a hydrogen fuel cell in the near future. The
current hydrogen fuel cell is many times the cost of an
internal-combustion engine, and it is likely that the hydrogen fuel will
be generated on board the vehicle from an oil derivative (e.g.,
methane), which will emit the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. It is high
time that someone recognized the high cost and limited usefulness of the
hydrogen fuel cell and the availability (today) of a zero-emission
(all-electric) fleet vehicle (see the MIT January/February Technology
Matt Bivens leaves out the single most effective method of reducing
dependence on fossil fuels: increased taxes on all types of fossil fuels
(with tax rebates/credits for low-income households). History shows that
the only truly effective way to reduce consumption of any good is to
raise its price. Increased fossil fuel taxes will get all businesses and
consumers to look hard for energy efficiency and alternative sources of
energy. Look at the gasoline tax in Europe and then look at the types of
cars people drive. Taxes on fuels will drive innovations in efficiency
and alternative sources of energy more directly and efficiently than
subsidies. Increased taxes will also reflect the true environmental
costs of fossil fuels, something the "market" does not do now.
Here in Florida (one of the most pesticide-polluted states in the
nation) it is almost impossible to produce your own electricity with
photovoltaic cells because it is too expensive. FP&L, the bandits
making electricity, using a very polluting plant, don't want it to
happen. Until March 18 you couldn't have a system because it was
prohibited, prohibitive and you couldn't connect to the grid. Now you
can, but it takes an investment of about $40,000. We subsidize the
polluters while the program that offered about $16,000 back to people
installing a solar system will not be renewed.
Florida's governor, like his brother, is not an environmentalist. The
only reason he doesn't want drilling along the coast of Florida is that
it would be bad for tourism. I hope they will drill along the
coast, as close as possible to the pristine beaches. Maybe then people
will wake up and abandon their SUVs (Stupid Ugly Vehicles) and start
thinking about the legacy they're leaving their kids. (I just exchanged
a minivan for a Toyota hybrid.)
Like most of the country, we are having a drought, but no one wants to
force new constructions to install water caption from roofs with
cisterns. My roof will collect 90,000 gallons of water a year, more than
my wife and I need, with enough left over to irrigate our fruit trees.
The stuff we do to our earth is crazy. Future generations will curse us
all the way to hell, with good reasons.
Matt Bivens's article is a "breath of fresh air." With Texas leading
the way in windpower plants, and several states following, I am anxious
to see the results of the two wind plants that are on the drawing board
here in Illinois. To a citizen in a small community of 15,000-plus
residents, this seems like a logical and safe way for our state, and our
country, to get our energy. The obvious worry is of the reliability of
wind to keep the turbines going, but with the billions upon billions the
government spends on slowly killing us all, I think we should take a
chance on it.
Your cover graphic perfectly illustrates the behavior of most
Americans regarding energy consumption/consumer habits. They're addicts.
It says that the masses of Americans indulge in an orgy of consumption
while engaging in a level of collective denial that would delight a
totalitarian regime. Every day I see them: overweight Americans (usually
alone) sucking on cigarettes and gobbling Big Macs while they careen
down the ever-expanding highways in their gas-guzzling,
pollution-belching SUVs. They're often waving American flags--their
statement to the world that they are somehow entitled to binge on the
world's finite resources.
As Bivens points out, we have the knowledge to take another path, of
energy independence, a much cleaner environment, a more sustainable
economy, lives saved, other countries not exploited, wars averted--but
one of reduced profits for the few in power. There's knowledge but lack
of will. And such is the denial of the addict who lies, cheats, exploits
and is hellbent on self-destruction. Such is the tragedy of the America
that is unfolding in the twenty-first century.
Please follow the advice of Boro Malinovic, and check out the Externe
research project he cites. There you'll read: "A major EU-funded
research study undertaken over the past 10 years has proven that the
cost of producing electricity from coal or oil would double and the cost
of electricity from gas would increase by 30 percent if external costs
such as damage to the environment and to health were taken into
So, this study backs up a key assertion
of my article: Renewables are already cost-competitive, provided the
market gets the prices right. Unfortunately, our market doesn't get the
prices right, and instead subsidizes oil, gas and coal with billions of
dollars of tax breaks and pork funding out of Washington, and less
directly, by shifting to you and me the financial burden for illnesses
and property destruction caused by pollution.
The text then asserts that "nuclear power involves relatively low
external costs due to its low influence on global warming and its low
probability of accidents in the EU power plants. Wind and hydro energy
present the lowest external costs." In other words: Even if you use a
very forgiving methodology that assumes no nuclear accidents,
wind power still beats nuclear power. Malinovic and Externe are
too boosterish in arguing the low probability of nuclear accidents.
After all, we have repeatedly heard since 9/11 that terrorists may hit
our nuclear plants. And a Chernobyl comes with a helluva price tag.
Even without acts of malice, our fleet of reactors is aging poorly.
Perhaps Malinovic and Externe are unaware of the spate of nozzle cracks
at reactors across America that have the NRC frightened; or of the
six-inch hole discovered in the reactor vessel head at Ohio's Davis
Beese nuclear power plant, where boric acid had eaten through the
reactor roof. Yes, in March Ohio was three-eighths of an inch from a
chain of possibilities ranging from bad to meltdown. A "vanishingly
small probability of accidents"? Then let the nuclear industry buy its
insurance on the open market like the rest of us instead of wheedling it
out of the government like a bunch of Soviet-era factory directors.
Malinovic worries about solar power's "large amounts" of toxics, like
cadmium and selenium. Irresponsible nonsense. (Whenever a nuclear-power
booster frets about "solar-power-generated toxic waste," hold on to your
George Douglas of the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy
Laboratory (NREL) puts that into perspective. Even if we got a whopping
20 percent of our energy from solar power, he says, we would still come
nowhere near to using as much cadmium for that as we do now in cell
phone and digital videocamera batteries. In fact, cadmium we now toss
away in the form of dead or obsolete rechargeable batteries can instead
be recycled into solar panels--where it will sit, inert and safe, for
the thirty-year life of the panel. Bottom line: Toxics are already out
in the world, and dealt with routinely at levels many times that
produced by solar power production. Malinovic is welcome to pursue his
concern about cadmium proliferation and launch a campaign to mandate
background checks and five-day waiting periods for purchasing cell
phones. Perhaps next he will tackle a far scarier menace: the highly
toxic and occasionally explosive mix of sulfuric acid--which eats
through skin and clothing--with lead dioxide plates and molded
polypropylene, otherwise known as the car battery, an institution that
will dwarf, for all time, all hazardous-material disposal problems
associated with solar power.
Josh Bruns is hopeful for wind but worried about its being an
intermittent power source. This is a drawback for both wind and solar
power. But as John Turner of NREL observes, we could use solar-generated
electricity to zap water and create hydrogen--which is another way of
saying we are technologically prepared to store electricity. The
hydrogen generated by wind farms at night could be poured into fuel
cells by day, and the fuel cells could churn out electricity for
everything from cars to factories. (I gratefully accept Turner's
correction and update of the figure I cited from the UCS.) It's also
worth noting that we have a grid that mixes electricity generated from
all sorts of sources. So as the EPA has observed, a kilowatt-hour of
solar PV capacity at work represents somewhere from 1,300 to 5,000
pounds of CO
Bill King says there are zinc/air battery-powered buses on the road, and
that's a fine thing. But he is incorrect in asserting there are no
fuel-cell vehicles; in fact, fuel-cell-powered buses are everywhere,
from California to Chicago to Vancouver. (The January/February
Technology Review has tons of articles about the rise of the fuel
cell; nothing about zinc/air batteries.) The municipal bus is a very
specific animal, however: It doesn't go fast, it has lots of room for
monster engine structures, and no one minds plugging it in for several
hours overnight. The real test will be personal autos, and the industry
and science consensus is that fuel cells are the next step. King is
correct in noting the debate over where the hydrogen comes from. Will it
be made from water by wind-powered electrolysis? Someday, yes, but later
is better than sooner for the oil-and-gas oligarchy. Will it in the
meantime be made from hydrocarbons like methane and natural gas?
Probably, because, again, that suits the oil companies. Will this happen
at a factory--with resulting hydrogen pumped to filling stations and
then to cars--or will it happen on board the car itself, with methane or
natural gas pumped into the tank and then "re-formed" to hydrogen?
Either way, harvesting hydrogen from natural gas or methane creates
carbon dioxide pollution. But it creates far less than burning gasoline
in internal combustion engines, it doesn't create other automobile
exhaust pollutants, and it's still a huge step toward the
wind-and-sun-fueled emission-free car.
I appreciate the ire of Jean Renoux and Glenn Reed and the tax argument
of John Mattar. It's good to be pissed off about these things. We are
paying extra for the privilege of being made sick; we should demand a
refund. But where I part ways with the left is in condemning SUVs, or
thinking of ways to make people do what we want by taxing them. There's
a much more positive argument to make: Charge the oil and gas companies
and nuclear power utilities the full cost of their revenue-generating
activities. Let them pay for at least some of the asthma hospital bills,
the catastrophic nuclear accident insurance, the cleaning up of uranium
mine tailings and for honest-to-goodness post-9/11 security along
pipelines, at refineries and at reactor facilities. Phase those charges
in at the right pace, and you'll see a pretty smooth market-driven,
job-creating transition to a twenty-first-century, clean,
terrorist-proof energy infrastructure.
TORTURE 'OFF THE BOOKS'?
William Schulz, in his respectful but selectively critical review of
"less than two of [Shouting Fire]'s 550 pages," misses the point
of my proposal regarding torture warrants ["The Torturer's Apprentice,"
May 13]. I am against torture, and I am seeking ways of preventing or
minimizing its use. My argument begins with the empirical claim--not the
moral argument--that if an actual ticking bomb case were ever to arise
in this country, torture would in fact be used. FBI and CIA sources have
virtually acknowledged this. Does Schulz agree or disagree with this
factual assertion? If it is true that torture would in fact be used,
then the following moral question arises: whether it is worse in the
choice of evils for this torture to take place off the books, under the
radar screen and without democratic accountability--or whether it is
worse for this torture to be subjected to democratic accountability by
means of some kind of judicial approval and supervision. This is a
difficult and daunting question, with arguments on all sides. In my
forthcoming book Why Terrorism Works, I devote an entire chapter
to presenting the complexity of this issue, rather than simply proposing
it as a heuristic, as I did in the two pages of Shouting Fire on
which Schulz focuses. Schulz simply avoids this horrible choice of evils
by arguing that it does not exist and by opting for a high road that
will simply not be taken in the event that federal agents believe they
can actually stop a terrorist nuclear or bioterrorist attack by
administering nonlethal torture.
Schulz asks whether I would also favor "brutality warrants,"
"testilying" warrants and prisoner rape warrants. The answer is a
heuristic "yes," if requiring a warrant would subject these horribly
brutal activities to judicial control and political accountability. The
purpose of requiring judicial supervision, as the Framers of our Fourth
Amendment understood better than Schulz does, is to assure
accountability and judicial neutrality. There is another purpose as
well: It forces a democratic country to confront the choice of evils in
an open way. My question back to Schulz is, Do you prefer the current
situation, in which brutality, testilying and prison rape are rampant,
but we close our eyes to these evils?
There is, of course, a downside: legitimating a horrible practice that
we all want to see ended or minimized. Thus we have a triangular
conflict unique to democratic societies: If these horrible practices
continue to operate below the radar screen of accountability, there is
no legitimation, but there is continuing and ever-expanding sub
rosa employment of the practice. If we try to control the practice
by demanding some kind of accountability, we add a degree of
legitimation to it while perhaps reducing its frequency and severity. If
we do nothing, and a preventable act of nuclear terrorism occurs, then
the public will demand that we constrain liberty even more. There is no
I praise Amnesty International for taking the high road--that is its
job, because it is not responsible for making hard judgments about
choices of evil. Responsible government officials are in a somewhat
different position. Professors have yet a different responsibility: to
provoke debate about issues before they occur and to challenge
absolutes. That is what Shouting Fire is all about.
New York City
Neither I nor Amnesty International can be accused of having closed
our eyes to the reality of torture, police brutality or prison rape. Of
course, some authorities may utilize torture under some circumstances,
just as others choose to take bribes. The question is, What is the best
way to eradicate these practices? By regulating them or outlawing them
and enforcing the law? That an evil seems pervasive or even (at the
moment) inevitable is no reason to grant it official approval. We tried
that when it came to slavery, and the result was the Civil War. Had we
applied Professor Dershowitz's approach to child labor, American
10-year-olds would still be sweating in shops.
WILLIAM F. SCHULZ
HITCHENS'S 'CULTURE WAR'
Christopher Hitchens argues that "suicide murders would increase and
not decrease" if a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians
moved closer to reality ["Minority Report," May 13]. This claim seems to
bolster Sharon's cataclysmic "war on terror" in the occupied
territories: If terrorists seek to destroy peace and only feed on
Israel's generosity and sincerity, surely Sharon is correct to eliminate
"terror" as a precondition for negotiations?
In fact, the Oslo process has moved the Palestinians further from the
goal of a viable state, and the Israeli left's best offers to date (at
Camp David and Taba) envisage the annexation of the vast majority of
settlers to Israel in perpetuity along with blocs of land, which would
fatally compromise a nascent Palestine. As for Hitchens's observation
that the first suicide bombings coincided with the Rabin/Peres
government: How does this undermine the explanation that Israel's
prolonged oppression has created and fueled the bombers? Rabin and Peres
imposed a curfew on Palestinians rather than Israeli settlers after the
murder of twenty-nine Arabs by Baruch Goldstein in Hebron early in 1994
(the first suicide bombing was in response to this); they sent death
squads into the West Bank and Gaza to kill militants and those who
happened to be in their vicinity (the wave of suicide bombings in the
spring of 1996 followed one such assassination); and they greatly
expanded the settlements, contributing their share to the broader trend
of illegal settlement expansion that's doubled the number of Israelis
living across the Green Line since 1992.
Hitchens's promotion of a "culture war" between religious extremists and
secular opponents of "thuggery and tribalism" obfuscates the reality of
Israel's prolonged and enduring oppression of Palestinians. His argument
that a more generous Israeli policy would lead to more Palestinian
violence, meanwhile, serves to legitimize Sharon's current tactics. How
did such a clearsighted commentator become so myopic? Perhaps if
Hitchens stopped looking at every situation through the lens of the "war
on terror," he'd regain his former clarity of vision.
LBJ A RACIST? THINK AGAIN
I share Eric Alterman's admiration for the work of biographer Robert
Caro ["Stop the Presses," May 6]. But why does Alterman feel compelled
to refer to Lyndon Johnson as a "thoroughgoing racist"? Johnson was a
white man born in 1908 in the most racist region of the most racist
country on earth. He was born in a time and place where racism was
accepted as part of the atmosphere, where lynching was commonplace,
where black people led lives of unimaginable degradation (see Leon
Litwack's Trouble in Mind, a portrait of the early
twentieth-century Jim Crow South, which has to be read to be believed).
Of course, given his background, political ambitions and ineligibility
for sainthood, Johnson used racist language and shared racist
assumptions. Who from that time and place, wanting what he wanted, did
not? But what distinguishes Johnson, at all stages in his public career,
was his relative lack of public racism. Johnson was a New Deal
Congressman from 1937 to '48 who never strayed from loyalty to the
national Democratic Party even though conservative Texas Democrats were
in revolt against it from 1944 onward. Of course, running for the Senate
against a Dixiecrat in 1948 as Southern resistance to civil rights was
beginning to build, he opposed the Truman civil rights program. That was
the minimum required to be elected to Texas statewide office. Given the
pathological ferocity of Johnson's ambition, sticking with Truman for
re-election, as Johnson did, took guts that year. As a senator, Johnson
was never identified as a leader of the Southern bloc or as an enemy of
civil rights. Again, especially in public, he said and did the political
minimum to pay homage to the racist consensus. Caro evidently describes
his involvement in the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the forerunner of all
the other civil rights laws to come. Texas black and Hispanic voters
never doubted that, given the alternatives, LBJ was their man.
Johnson later became the greatest civil rights President in history,
pushing through the epochal changes in the laws, appointing Thurgood
Marshall to the Supreme Court and going so far as to vet prospective
federal judges with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Blacks who worked with
him, like Roger Wilkins, remember him fondly while acknowledging his
ancestral racism, which he tried, not always successfully, to transcend.
But if Johnson is a "thoroughgoing racist," where does that leave
Richard Russell, James Eastland or Strom Thurmond--or Richard Nixon, for
that matter? What about Barry Goldwater, who was probably less "racist"
than Johnson but was an opponent of all civil rights legislation and was
the leader of the forces of unrepentant segregation (i.e., racist murder
and oppression) in 1964?
As with Abraham Lincoln, also now under renewed attack on similarly
ahistorical grounds, to describe Johnson as an extreme racist flattens
the historical landscape and renders the fierce conflicts of a past age
meaningless. There is nothing wrong with honestly describing anybody's
racial views, including those of Lincoln or Johnson. But in studying
history, context is everything. And in studying Lincoln or Johnson, what
matters most is not the ways they shared their contemporaries' racial
attitudes but the ways they did not, as reflected in their words and
PETER M. CONNOLLY
New York City
There's a bit of hyperbole in Peter Connolly's thoughtful letter, and
I disagree with his point about it taking guts to stick with the
Democratic President, but by and large I think his criticism is on the
mark, and I appreciate it. He is right. Context is everything.
Johnson may have been a racist, but unlike most politicians in his time
and place he was not a "race man." That's an important distinction, and
I wish I had considered it.
DENNIS KUCINICH--BOY WONDER
I just finished Studs Terkel's valentine to Dennis Kucinich ["Kucinich
Is the One," May 6]. In the '60s I was on the copy desk of the
Cleveland Plain Dealer, back when you edited with a thick black
pencil and would cut and paste copy, literally, using big shears to cut
and goo in a white coffee mug to paste. Dennis was a copy boy back then.
He was a smartass--my emphasis is on "smart." Anyone with an ounce of
brains could see that he was destined to be much more than a factory
worker or, worse, a Midwestern newspaperman. Studs, I'm with you. I'd
love to see Dennis debate Dubya. Go, Dennis, go.
ROBERT J. HAVEL
In his admirable eloquence espousing Dennis Kucinich for national
office, Studs Terkel says that three Ohioans became President after
Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-81): William McKinley (elected in 1896),
William Howard Taft (1908) and Warren G. Harding (1920). There's one
more: James Garfield, elected in 1880 but assassinated only months after
I have long admired Kucinich. If there's a bandwagon for his national
ambitions, I'd like to know where to sign up. Here in Minnesota, where
Paul Wellstone has his hands full this year against a slippery
Republican, I'm looking for a national progressive leader, and Kucinich
just might be that person.
Sunset Beach, Calif.
Kucinich for President? Sounds better than condemning Congress to
pruning the Shrub for four more years. But why not go all out? Put Jim
Hightower on the ticket with him. Then Dubya just might not be able to
take Texas for granted. And if you think a Kucinich-Bush debate would be
a first round knockout, how would you classify Hightower-Cheney?
$OCIAL $ECURITY FIX: HR 3315
I agree with many points made by former Senator Paul Simon ["Social
Security Fixes," April 29]. While Social Security is projected to face
modest financial challenges in several decades, it is emphatically
not in crisis. And I agree that privatization will make Social
Security's shortfall much worse.
However, I strongly dissent from Senator Simon's support for reducing
cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs). I also want to build on the point
Simon raised about the cap on wages subject to the Social Security
I have introduced legislation, HR 3315, the Social Security
Stabilization and Enhancement Act, that has been certified by the Social
Security actuaries as restoring seventy-five-year solvency to the
program (for more information, see www.house.gov/defazio). HR 3315
includes a provision to eliminate the cap on wages (currently $84,900)
subject to the Social Security payroll tax, as Simon suggests. All wages
are already subject to the Medicare payroll tax. It only makes sense to
do the same for Social Security. However, my legislation does retain the
cap for determining benefit calculations, which makes it much more
progressive and still entitles all contributors to a benefit. These
changes equal 2.13 percent of payroll, more than enough to solve the
projected Social Security financing deficit of 1.87 percent of payroll.
My legislation also exempts the first $4,000 in wages from the Social
Security payroll tax, but not from calculation of benefits, so there's
no benefit cut. The bottom line is that 95 percent of Americans would
get a payroll tax cut.
HR 3315 also includes a provision allowing aggregate investment of a
portion of the Social Security Trust Fund in equities other than
government debt, to increase the rate of return received by the Trust
Fund without the individual risk and administrative complexity of
privatization. Unfortunately, while the response from Oregonians about
HR 3315 has been overwhelmingly positive, it has been tough to interest
progressives inside the Beltway.
I encourage Senator Simon to reconsider his support for lowering the CPI
and thus reducing the COLAs of Social Security beneficiaries. The
current CPI does a poor job of measuring inflation faced by seniors.
Because seniors spend much of their money on healthcare, they are
especially vulnerable to the annual increases in the medical costs,
which run far above the rate of inflation. Rather than lowering COLAs
for seniors because some economists argue the CPI overstates inflation
for the general population, it makes more sense for the Bureau of Labor
Statistics to calculate a separate CPI for seniors. In fact, the BLS
has calculated an experimental index based on seniors'
consumption habits since 1984. It shows that seniors face an average
inflation rate 0.4 percent higher than the general population. That
argues for increasing seniors' COLAs, not lowering them.
Member of Congress, 4th District, Oregon
Peter DeFazio is an excellent Congressman, and his proposal is an
improvement over where we are now. The actuaries disagree with his
conclusion that we face "modest financial challenges in several
decades." DeFazio may be correct, but when it comes to the basic income
of so many millions of Americans I would err on the side of caution. His
proposal to eliminate the cap but retain the ceiling on benefits is
good. Exempting the first $4,000 of income makes our tax system more
progressive, which I like, but reduces the long-term benefits of
buttressing the system, which I do not like. The CPI should be accurate,
and recent increases in healthcare costs for seniors may offset the
failures to consider substitution, generic drugs and other factors that
also must be calculated. But accuracy should be the goal, and that may
involve a slight slowing of growth of benefits.
Director, Public Policy Institute
STATES LEAD US TO CLEAN ELECTIONS
Is John Nichols ["Campaign Finance: The Sequel," April 29] unaware
that, in addition to Maine, Arizona and Massachusetts, Vermont has an
effective Clean Elections law? The 2000 gubernatorial campaign of
Progressive Party candidate Anthony Pollina under that law came within
one percentage point of forcing the election to be decided by the
Vermont legislature. Nichols's reference to clean money election
roadblocks erected by Massachusetts House speaker Tom Finneran begs
amplification. Finneran's demagoguery, like that of Tom DeLay in
Washington, defines the clean money struggle. The problem is not the
buying of favors but politicians extracting money to maintain their
abusive and undemocratic power.
Nichols correctly concludes that McCain-Feingold falls far short of
reform, as will any such window-dressing initiative in Congress. Change,
as Pollina said during his campaign, will have to come from the states,
and it's time other states join these four, which have set this country
on a historic course of true reform.
Oakland, Calif.; Boston
John Nichols is correct to highlight a new "sense of possibility"
since the passage of McCain-Feingold. Campaign finance reform finally
does have the public's attention, and full public funding is on the
horizon. Equally important, the Fannie Lou Hamer Project, the
Greenlining Institute and others have done the critical work of
redefining campaign reform as a civil rights issue. Still, the movement
has been missing an important element, present in most other successful
US movements for justice: the creative grassroots action of college
students. Democracy Matters is a new campus-based organization that is
mobilizing popular pressure from college students to get private money
out of politics (www.democracymatters.org).
ADONAL FOYLE, CHRIS VAETH
PACIFICA LICKS ITS WOUNDS
Susan Douglas's "Is There a Future for Pacifica?" [April 15] posits
two polarized factions at war over the Pacifica Foundation radio
network, then reasonably urges us to bring a unified Pacifica to bear
upon common foes. In fact, people from all sides of the recent disputes
are now working together to advance its mission for antiwar,
cross-cultural, community-based free-speech programming. Why the unity?
Magnanimity and openness. This is the first transition of power in
Pacifica's fifty-three years that has not resulted in a purge. Some have
left, but nobody's been fired, and the few who left got agreeable
severance packages. Those remaining enjoy the rejuvenated community
But there are lessons. Many who haughtily "avoided the fray" carefully
protected their own personal privilege and airtime, even while the
foundation's coffers were being openly looted. Conversely, others
sacrificed jobs, money and personal privilege to gain broader community
control over Pacifica. Equating these two cheapens the sacrifices of
some and unfairly assuages the guilt of others. But that's history to
learn from, not to relive.
The issue now is not who did more but who is doing anything now and what
still needs to be done. So instead of staying above the fray, those
interested in Pacifica should jump in with both feet and help realize
its potential. Unlike our predecessors, we welcome all who support
Pacifica's mission, even those who once barred us from entering the
Interim Pacifica Advisory Board;
KPFK local advisory board
Your magazine is thin enough. Please don't waste any more space on
NATION 'SLAMS' FEMINISTS
In her review of my book Fast Girls: Teenage Tribes and the Myth of
the Slut ["The Fishnet Fallacy," April 15], Elaine Blair accuses me
of neglecting to talk about "what the rest of the school is thinking"
when spreading rumors about these girls. In her reading (skimming?)
Blair seems to have missed entire sections dedicated to the stories of
kids who spread rumors. In fact, the whole book is built around my own
memory of spreading rumors. While Blair wants to know what the kids were
"thinking," the point of Fast Girls is that they weren't
thinking--which is why I use words like "irrational" and "unconscious"
throughout the book. Blair ends her slam by launching into her own
memory of a girl who fit the "slut story." While this memory was clearly
triggered by my book, and while Blair even borrows my language to fill
it out ("the site of the slut's continuous re-creation, the high school
hallways"), she still insists I haven't done my job.
It's interesting to consider Blair's review alongside other slams of
feminist writing in The Nation (Katha Pollitt on Carol Gilligan,
Susan J. Douglas and Meredith Michaels on Naomi Wolf). Maybe it's a vast
left-wing conspiracy: It seems whenever a feminist writes a book, The
Nation runs a review that says she shouldn't have.
NEW LIFE FOR DORMANT BOOKS
New York City
As a longtime admirer of André Schiffrin's publishing programs, I was disappointed by a conspicuous omission in his coverage of developments in the book industry ["The Eurocrush on Books," Dec. 31, 2001]. The single most significant technological development to affect publishing since, arguably, the paperback revolution is the maturing of print-on-demand technology. Print-on-demand publishing, when applied to deep backlist (i.e., older) books, means that publishers need not put a book out of print or overprint it by the hundreds or thousands. Presses can now simply meet demand as it arises, whether a single copy or a hundred. Print-on-demand technology renders the economies of scale that have so fettered publishers--particularly such publishers of serious nonfiction as university presses and Schiffrin's New Press--largely obsolete, to the advantage of all.
At Oxford University Press, we have breathed new life into literally thousands of dormant books, much to the delight of our authors and of readers and booksellers everywhere. We, and many other presses, both commercial and academic, are simply applying new technologies to do what we do best: publish good books and, now, with print-on-demand, keep them available ad infinitum.
Oxford University Press
Gee, it's heartening to see reviews of poetry by women, especially those working in an experimental vein [Eileen Myles, "Not Betsy Rosses," March 11]. I hope The Nation plans more coverage of the subversive issues that these poets explore: power, ideology and subjectivity at the levels of syntax of everyday language, (non)aestheticized ideas of composition and the disruption of, to paraphrase the poet Martha Ronk, the easy-to-digest, like breast milk or nostalgia--in effect, the Romantic project that has dominated US literary consciousness.
It may be useful to readers of Dodie Bellamy's Cunt-Ups to go beyond Myles's characterization of it as a book that "uses overtly sexual texts, her own and ones written by others" to turn to the author's statement in Issue 7 of Chain, the premiere literary journal of experimental poetry, where Bellamy wrote, "I used a variety of texts written by myself and others, including the police report of Jeffrey Dahmer's confession (which I bought on eBay).... I cut each page of this material into four squares. For each Cunt-Up I chose two or three squares from my own source text, and one or two from the other sources. I taped the new Frankenstein page together, typed it into my computer and then re-worked the material. Oddly, even though I've spent up to four hours on each Cunt-Up, afterwards I cannot recognize them--just like in sex, intense focus and then sensual amnesia. They enter the free zone of writing; they have cut their own ties to the writer. She no longer remembers them as her text." Then Bellamy asks provocatively: "Is the cut-up a male form? I've always considered it so--needing the violence of a pair of scissors in order to reach nonlinearity," and she devilishly continues by claiming that her finished poems remind her of Adrienne Rich's "Twenty-One Love Poems," which begin:
Whenever in this city, screens flicker
with pornography, with science-fiction vampires
and concludes by dedicating her Cunt-Ups to Rich and "to Kathy Acker, who I was reading when I started the project and who inspired me to behave this badly."
HIS PROSE IS POETRY
Taline Voskeritchian's fine review "Lines Beyond the Nakba" [Feb. 11] points out that there are almost no translations of Mahmoud Darwish's poetry in English but doesn't mention that Darwish's prose is also his poetry. I would like to recommend Memory for Forgetfulness/August, Beirut, 1982 to readers who wish to learn more about the blending of Darwish's prose, poetry and poetic sensibilities. In the introduction to his translation, Ibrahim Muhawi, following talks with the poet, points out that Darwish does not distinguish aesthetically between prose and poetry. This will become readily apparent while reading one of the world's great meditations on life in the face of death.
FANTASY THAT CAN'T BE FILMED
Hats off to The Nation and Meredith Tax for giving Ursula Le Guin her due ["In the Year of Harry Potter, Enter the Dragon," Jan. 28]. When Harry Potter failed to grab me, I wondered if I had a wizard allergy. To test the idea I turned to A Wizard of Earthsea. It delighted me, and it taught me that, as Tax notes, "style is key in fantasy." Tax's discussion of the literalness of most modern fantasy is right on target. Certainly "fantasy" films (e.g., Star Wars) have contributed to this hard-edged realism, with their need to fill every frame with concrete detail. Although I wish Le Guin riches in royalties, I like to think of her work as defying translation to film. Thanks for telling us about Tales From Earthsea. I plan to request it for my seventy-fifth birthday.
BARBARA M. WALKER
John Leonard's "The Jewish Cossack" [Nov. 26, 2001] is a truly wise and erudite review of Isaac Babel's life and work against the background of the epic nightmare of Russian literature in the twentieth century. However, when he mentions that Bruno Schultz was murdered about the same time as Isaac Babel, some may not be aware that Bruno Schultz, a Jew like Babel, who brought radical and fresh depth to the Polish language, was shot by the Nazis in a ghetto in eastern Poland. His death has to be properly assigned to the other murderous ideology of Europe.
As the author of Tangled Loyalties, a biography of Ilya Ehrenburg, I would like to clarify several aspects of the friendship John Leonard alludes to between Isaac Babel and Ehrenburg. After citing Ehrenburg's loving remarks about Babel in his memoirs, Leonard implies that Ehrenburg "wouldn't say so in public until it was safe," as if Ehrenburg would acknowledge his closeness to Babel only once Stalin was dead. But it was Ehrenburg, during the First Soviet Writers' Congress, in 1934, who defended Babel for publishing so little. In 1939, following Babel's arrest, only Ehrenburg's secretary came to Babel's Moscow wife, Antonina Pirozhkova, and gave her money.
Ehrenburg was in Paris when Babel was arrested, but he was not in Paris for convenience, as Leonard implies. As Stalin was negotiating with Hitler, Ehrenburg's articles stopped appearing in the Soviet press; he was too much the Jew and the outspoken opponent of Fascism. Following the signing of the Nonaggression Pact, Ehrenburg lost the ability to swallow solid food for eight months and prolonged his stay in Paris to protest Stalin's new alliance. Leonard seems to think Ehrenburg was never that vulnerable. But in the spring of 1940, his dacha in Peredelkino was taken, and he was publicly condemned as a defector, leaving his daughter Irina the subject of abusive late-night phone calls that could have come only from one source.
Leonard also refers to Ehrenburg's troubling encounters with Evgenia Gronfein, Babel's first wife, who lived in Paris for many years. It was cruel for Ehrenburg, in 1956, to tell her so abruptly about Babel's other widow and daughter in Moscow and to ask her to sign a statement that she and Babel were divorced, which wasn't true. I am convinced that he wanted to preserve Pirozhkova's status as Babel's legitimate widow (and heir) in Moscow. He always brought her copies of Western editions of Babel's works (I saw scores in her Moscow apartment in 1984), just as he brought foreign editions of Doctor Zhivago to Pasternak's family. Pirozhkova remained devoted to Ehrenburg, in part because of his solicitude for her and her family. When he died in 1967, she sat with his widow at the funeral and often stayed with her at the dacha. Ehrenburg could not save Babel, but, next to Babel's wives and children, he did more to preserve his memory and make his work available to generations who were supposed to have forgotten him.
THE COOING 'FEMINIST'
Thank you, thank you, thank you, to Susan J. Douglas and Meredith Michaels, for their review of Naomi Wolf's latest excretion, Misconceptions (oh, the delicious irony of the title that is apt in unintended ways) ["The Belly Politic," Nov. 26, 2001]. I urge women and friends of women everywhere to send this review to anyone interested or implicated in the debate about essentialist views of pregnancy and motherhood. Wolf's book is as pernicious as it is narcissistic, for two reasons: She is (was?) considered a feminist, and it is hard to argue with the authority of experience. If a writer speaks with the authority of the first person, especially the persuasive and pseudo-confessional narrative of self-discovery, it is usually cited as hard proof. The last thing women need is for a high-profile so-called feminist to start spouting essentialism. Her book can, and no doubt will, be used against women who try to put forward a different narrative of pregnancy. Here's a book by one of you feminists, we will be told. Read this and it will make you see what you should be feeling. If a feminist admits she has cuddle hormones and needs a man, then that must be what is best for all women, right? Wolf may not have intended for her narrative to be used against women who argue for a different experience of pregnancy, but that's exactly what will happen, and she must take responsibility for how her book will be used in the ongoing motherhood debates.
UNCLE MILTY, R.I.P.
Santa Monica, Calif.
My 88-year-old writing partner, Irv Brecher, had a rough week, losing two friends. And then he went to the Milton Berle funeral without me, the bastard. Jan Murray spoke ("way too fucking long," said Irv, "not offended" that he wasn't asked), and Red Buttons said some things. Rickles too. Larry Gelbart read a wonderful tribute.
"It was a show," Irv said. "It went two and a half hours, and then we all went over to the Rainbow Room for a feast at 4 o'clock."
Irv said both Gelbart and Sid Caesar came over and asked him why he didn't speak, since Milton Berle gave Irv his first job writing gags for him at the Loews State Theater in Manhattan, in March of 1933. Here's what Irv told me about his friend Milton: "He was, after all, 93. He had a great life. He was an original, outstanding at his craft, and he taught them all. I might not be here if it weren't for him. Your life turns on not only what you do, but what everyone else does."
About being at the Hillside cemetery Irv said, "The way it is these days, when I go there I leave the motor running."
"Are you going to Billy Wilder's funeral?" I asked him. (Irv and Billy took morning walks together around Holmby Park in Westwood for years. I wondered if they talked about writing and great filmmaking, etc. He told me no, "Wilder did birdcalls mostly, and the birds sneered at him.")
"No," Irv replied. "I'm not going to his funeral. And I'm trying to arrange not going to mine either." I was wondering what Red Buttons had said when Irv told me this about life and death: "When you're 88, time is of the essence. At my age, hurry."
ENRONED OR NOT, HERE THEY COME
Rocky River, Ohio
I was unable to digest William Greider's "Enron Democrats" [April 8]. It's important to know about Dems who had Enron ties, but to consider them unacceptable as presidential candidates is nonsense. Any potential candidate will have liabilities, but comparison on issues is what's necessary. Progressive Democrats always manage to damage potential candidates who aren't "perfect," which makes a unified response to the right impossible. Let me introduce you to the real world. It's OK to feel guilty that these Democrats did not do the right thing, but shooting ourselves in the foot is not the way to relieve our guilt. It just might be the way to support the right wing.
William Greider is right on: We do have a problem of viable candidates in the Democratic Party. Here's a list of those I believe could get the job done, based on speaking ability and intact ethics: John Kerry, Russ Feingold, Mark Udall, Dennis Kucinich and Chaka Fattah. Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt may be qualified but won't get the votes, and our erstwhile ex-VP has taken far too much money from Enron to even be considered.
"Enron Democrats" explains why I left the Democratic Party in the early 1990s. As near as I can tell, the main difference between Democrats and Republicans in economic matters is that the Democrats feel sheepish about doing the bidding of big business while the Republicans consider it a virtue.
New York City
I enjoyed William Greider's article, including his mention of Terry McAuliffe's overlapping role at Global Crossing. The political intricacies of Global Crossing are astonishing, given its five-year history relative to Enron's seventeen-year one.
Global Crossing isn't simply the fourth-largest US telecommunications-industry bankruptcy; it leads the list of telecommunications bankruptcies of more than $60 billion filed just in the past year. This list includes ancient darlings like Exodus, Winstar, PSInet and 360 networks. It may grow to include Qwest and Worldcom as the SEC and Congressional investigations gain steam. It may also include XO and Metromedia, tottering under heavy debt. A major Democratic Party cause of this meltdown was Bill Clinton, who signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Republican Tom Bliley, chairman of the House energy and commerce committee at the time (and buddy of Leo Hindery, ex-CEO of Global Crossing) helped. Both lobbied the WTO to pass their 1998 telecommunications liberalization rules, which allowed the globalization of deregulated networks.
Global Crossing's Republican ties also include co-chairman Lodwrick Cook's $862,000 election gift for George Bush Senior's 1988 presidential campaign while he was CEO of ARCO, the seventh-largest oil company. Republican exDefense Secretary William Cohen sat on Global Crossing's board as he helped pass key defense initiatives enabling growth of its fiber optic networks. Global Crossing Development gave more than 62 percent of its $1.33 million political donations to the GOP. Gary Winnick and Cook are trustee and board member, respectively, of the George W. Bush Library foundation. Campaign finance reform may help untangle future corporate-government ties but will unfortunately not undo the myriad of past bipartisan damage.
THANK GOD I'M AN ATHEIST
Katha Pollitt was dead right in identifying and roundly criticizing the hypocrisy and immorality of contemporary religion, from Boston's Cardinal Law to violent fundamentalists of all stripes ["God Changes Everything," April 1]. The question, however, is what all this tells us about the nature of religion in general; and my hunch is that it tells us very little. A
lot of people use their religion to justify all sorts of horrible things; but a lot of people use their religion to justify all sorts of progressive, positive things.
"God changes everything" for Rabbis for Human Rights and for the West Bank settlers, for engaged Buddhists working for peace and ecology and for Buddhists who fight with Hindus in Sri Lanka, for courageous Christian peacemakers like the Mennonites and Sant'Egidio and for Osama bin Laden. The problem is not with religion; and the problem with religious violence and suppression is violence and suppression, not religion. I imagine Pollitt would be irritated if we talked about how "the secular changes everything" and by implication lumped Stalin with Eugene Debs, Margaret Thatcher with Robin Morgan, and Henry Kissinger with Ralph Nader. The secular IMF, World Bank and WTO can match the destructiveness of any crazed Islamic, Jewish or Christian fanatic. In our tortured time, religion has not cornered the market on sin, nor secular politics, on virtue.
ROGER S. GOTTLIEB
God and his/her/its adherents can be blamed for much human misery, but they've had lots of help from nonbelievers. There is Nicolae Ceausescu, Idi Amin, Jonas Savimbi, Slobodan Milosevic, Roberto D'Aubuisson, Gen. Rios Montt (a born-again Christian but not killing in God's name), not to mention Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, the rulers of Red China. And those are just a few of the twentieth-century butchers. None of these blood-stained "leaders" benefited their compatriots, nor was any god the inspiration for their murderous acts. Clearly, human beings don't need a deus ex machina to take the blame for their violence.
ROSA MARIA PEGUEROS
Too bad Andrea Yates wasn't a priest. Had she been, the Catholic Church would have moved her quietly to another town where she could have begun another family; she would have been assured a living wage and become a pillar of spiritual and moral leadership until the next time her psychosis overtook her. She would have had the backing of a powerful and moneyed patriarchal institution pressuring the community to suffer her crimes in silence. Instead, the delusional Mrs. Yates will pay dearly for killing her children in an attempt to save them from the devil, while those sane priests who harm children for pleasure will be flanking Cardinal Law at the bake sale to pay off their legal debts.
South Orange, N.J.
Every time I read Katha Pollitt I have one comment, and "God Changes Everything" was no exception: Amen.
In "The Politics of Ethics" [April 8], Randy Cohen levels two laughable and false charges against Reason magazine. First, he asserts that Reason is "right wing," lumping us in with the weekend Wall Street Journal, The American Spectator and National Review. That Reason is right wing is news to me. We have praised vulgar culture as liberatory, argued that illegal drugs can be used responsibly and should be legalized, and raised serious civil liberties concerns regarding the war on terrorism. We support gay marriage, open immigration, choice and human biotech--none of which was particularly popular on the right the last time I checked. To be sure, we're not left wing, either; authoritarianism, wearing a Che beret or a bishop's miter, leaves us as cold as Lenin's corpse. But I'd expect a professional ethicist to understand that American politics is not simply the bipolar, manic-depressive spectacle it often seems to be.
Second, Cohen mischaracterizes Reason's critique of his column. "There was something particularly vituperative about these screeds," writes Cohen of his detractors en masse, also referring to "the virulence of these attacks." Make no mistake: In 1999 Reason panned his "Ethicist" column as trivial, but the critique is made in measured tones, with ample evidence. Unless Cohen believes that to criticize him is inherently virulent and vituperative--alas, a position held by windbags irrespective of ideology--I'd say he's mistaken. In fact, I'm tempted to say he's willfully mistaken. The alternative is that he's simply delusional. (Nation readers can judge for themselves by reading the Reason column at http://reason.com/9912/co.jl.the.shtml.)
editor in chief, Reason
New York City
It seems to me that the only people absorbed by the precise taxonomy of Reason are its editors and its readers, assuming it has readers. What insensitive American was it who, when asked what his countrymen think of Canada, replied: "Well, er, we don't"?
'CITY OF THE WESTERN WORLD'
Like Jonathan Schell ["Letter From Ground Zero," April 1], I too was born, raised, live in and love New York City and am worried about the destruction of this incredible place and its people. But he offers no prescription for having the iconic city of the Western world de-targeted by terrorists. Instead he frets about the Nuclear Posture Review, which will "inspire those targeted to do likewise to us."
Aren't we already targets of these nations, as they finance and supply terrorists? The difference between a fuel-laden plane crashing into a skyscraper and a nuclear weapon detonating in a shipping container is one of the magnitude of destruction; it is not a question of motive or intent. The intent to destroy us is already present, as it was in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and in every attack before and since.
Leo Szilard was right; nuclear weapons will eventually be available to all. During the cold war, the Soviet Union had a lot to lose in a nuclear exchange, just as we did--the primary reason a nuclear war never occurred. But the ghettos of the Middle East, Africa and every other poor place on earth produce people who feel they have nothing to lose. The terrorists and some of their state sponsors are not interested in our world. They don't just want to be left alone or to get along, they want us gone. We face nihilistic, theologically extreme enemies. No amount of negotiation will yield the results they seek, so we will not be de-targeted.
The prescription must have three components: a strong defense, a renewed commitment to nonproliferation and a long-term commitment to lifting the poor out of their misery. A strong defense requires us to signal potential enemies that they will lose everything, including their states and lives, if they are governments supporting terrorism (the reason the Nuclear Posture Review was leaked), and we must capture or kill terrorists. Nonproliferation must be pursued not because it is effective but because it is right. And while not generally effective, the treaties and negotiations surrounding nonproliferation may be useful tools. A long-term commitment to lift the poor out of their misery will require us to change the way we interact with the world, and it will require the rise of local leaders who have the best interests of their people in mind, another factor we must gently nurture.
Judith Butler's April 1 "Guantánamo Limbo" intelligently discusses the failure of the Geneva Conventions to take account of "prisoners of the new war" and links this failure to its flawed premises regarding states.
MIA: WOMEN FIGHTING STATE TERROR
We would like to thank Alexander Cockburn for his excellent March 25 "Beat the Devil" column, "The Nightmare in Israel." As activists in Ta'ayush (Arab-Jewish Partnership), we commend his giving voice to the courageous Jewish Israelis who are fighting against Sharon's state terror. However, we were disappointed that Cockburn did not mention any women. Ruchama Marton, for example, as founder and president of Physicians for Human Rights Israel, has been struggling against Israel's occupation and draconian policies in the territories for over a decade. Gila Svirsky is one of the leading activists in the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace; this group has been instrumental in raising public awareness and organizing protests and vigils over the past year and a half. Yehudith Keshet is one of the organizers of Machsom Watch, a group of women who stand witness at the various Israeli checkpoints around the country. These are just three of the many Jewish women who deserve recognition for speaking and acting out against the evil being perpetuated by the Israeli government. And while it is crucial at times like these to heed the voices of all progressive Jewish opposition, it is equally vital to recognize the participation of Palestinian citizens of Israel in the same struggles. Often forgotten in a conflict purportedly between "Arabs" and "Jews," Palestinians in Israel continue to play a foundational role in anti-occupation groups like Ta'ayush, PHR and Bat Shalom. We must insure that women and minorities are not, once again, elided from the historical record.
DENMARK VESEY'S SLAVE REBELLION
We encourage readers interested in the debate about black abolitionist Denmark Vesey to turn to the October 2001 and January 2002 William and Mary Quarterly (WMQ) rather than rely on Jon Wiener's misleading and error-ridden recapitulation of it ["Denmark Vesey: A New Verdict," March 11]. Wiener applauds the "stunning piece of historical detective work" by Michael Johnson, who contends that the Vesey plot in Charleston in 1822 was "not a plan by blacks to kill whites but rather a conspiracy by whites to kill blacks." In pinning superlatives on Johnson, however, Wiener neglects to disclose that he and Johnson have been close friends for almost thirty years, dating back at least to the 1970s when both worked together at the University of California, Irvine. With the ethics of historians currently under a great deal of public scrutiny, we find this omission disingenuous at best.
We will have more to say about Johnson's novel interpretation in future publications. We do agree with Wiener that Johnson relies on the manuscript court records, although Wiener errs in implying that scholars writing prior to Johnson neglected to examine those documents. We also agree with Wiener that the coerced testimony of Carolina bondmen in the court records, like virtually all documents pertaining to slavery, should not "be taken at face value." Thus, we do not agree with him (or Johnson) that the manuscript court record "is the only authoritative contemporary source." As with any other surviving document about slave resistance, the court record must be evaluated in the context of other relevant sources. We do not believe that Johnson has adequately responded to our criticism in the WMQ. Indeed, given his energetic investment in denying black agency, we wonder what sort of evidence short of the second coming of Vesey himself with an admission of guilt on his lips would persuade Johnson that at least some of the slaves in Charleston in 1822 were planning to liberate themselves by force.
Johnson responded to his critics by concluding that Vesey and his followers were really the victims of a Machiavellian hoax perpetrated by James Hamilton Jr., the politically ambitious Charleston mayor. For the moment, we will merely say that the principals of 1822, white as well as black, were far more complicated than Johnson, or Wiener, seems to think.
DOUGLAS R. EGERTON, ROBERT L. PAQUETTE
Did Denmark Vesey plan what would have been the biggest slave uprising in US history? Or was he framed because of a rivalry between political factions of the slaveholding elite? For decades historians--including myself--have been teaching the former. Now there's important evidence that we may have been wrong. The evidence comes from Michael Johnson. It's true that he was my colleague at UC Irvine until he left for Johns Hopkins eight years ago and that we remain friends. But Southern history is a small field in which people tend to know one another, and I'm friends with those on both sides of this debate. These friendships are less significant for readers than the quality of the evidence about Vesey's trial and execution. Egerton and Paquette promise they'll tell us what they think about that "complicated" issue in "future publications." It's too bad they didn't give us more substance in this one. Meanwhile, Johnson's piece has just been honored by the board of editors of the William and Mary Quarterly, the leading journal of early American history, as its best article of 2001.
TULSA'S (AND AMERICA'S) SHAME
Adrian Brune's insightful and informative article "Tulsa's Shame" [March 18] shines light on a subject once cloaked in a conspiracy of silence. But Tulsa's shame--a horrible act of ethnic cleansing of blacks by the institutions of white power--is not solely Tulsa's or Oklahoma's but America's shame as well. After World War I white mob violence, often tacitly supported by local governments, flared up across the country. Chicago, Omaha and St. Louis were just some of the cities that experienced race riots similar to Tulsa's. The systematic violence and disfranchisement of blacks in Tulsa is not unique to this little oil town on the plains, even though its remoteness from national centers of political and cultural power make it an easy target.
Tulsa may indeed be a conservative town on the buckle of the Bible Belt, but it is the only city, as far as I know, that has been courageous enough to take a good hard look in the mirror in its attempt to seek justice and reconciliation for its almost forgotten victims of racial violence during the pre-civil rights movement era. And it wasn't the legions of cosmopolitan journalists now swooping over the story that broke the silence but the voices of a few brave souls who cared enough about the riot's legacy to keep its history alive.
I am of Native American descent and have lived in Tulsa my whole life, except for a tour in the Navy. The US government took the Oklahoma Territory, gave it away to whoever wanted it and drove Native Americans out of our lands and onto reservations with poor living conditions, then and now. The people who should be upset are the Native Americans, but you don't see Native Americans fighting or complaining that "you took my land." We were here first, but you don't see us wanting a memorial for something that happened long ago. So as far as I am concerned on the race riot, yes, it was a tragedy, the Oklahoma City bombing was a tragedy, September 11 was a tragedy, and I am, with the rest of the country, sorry for those people's losses. Life goes on. Always remember, never forget, but move on.
Adrian Brune mentions that at the end of the Civil War blacks flocked to Oklahoma looking for a state to "call their own." But Tulsa was, as a part of Indian Territory, not a place for either blacks or whites to call their own--unless they were stealing it. Tulsa was part of the Creek Nation, given to the displaced Creeks for "as long as grass grows and water flows." I support reparations for the victims of the Tulsa race riot but find it appalling that there is no recognition that the entire eastern part of the state was created in an orgy of racism unparalleled in the history of our country.
To clarify a statement toward the end of the article that "the Tulsa Metropolitan Ministries has raised about $20,000 toward reparations privately": The Unitarian Universalist Association contributed that $20,000 to the TMM, an interfaith coalition, to initiate a fund for the direct payment of reparations to riot survivors. The UUA has also contributed another $5,000 to help TMM set up antiracism programs.
THE REV. WILLIAM G. SINKFORD
As one who has discussed this history with students, colleagues and fellow residents, I know that the riot remains highly controversial. The question is who, if anyone, is going to pay? The city? state? federal government? Tulsa is undergoing significant demographic change with the influx of immigrants from Latin America and Asia. Might it not be more effective to "correct" for past injustices by investing in public services and providing grants to innovative community groups, businesses and individuals to facilitate positive, progressive cultural relations across not just black-white but a number of racial and ethnic lines?
The plan backed by many Tulsans, a museum in the old Vernon AME church in Greenwood, and memorial and educational resources funded through the Greenwood Cultural Center, would do more than reparations could ever do. Why feed a few when you can teach a city's population to fish?
NEVER DROPPED THE WELFARE BALL
Barbara Ehrenreich and Frances Fox Piven charge that think tanks, including the Economic Policy Institute, failed to look "ahead to the prospect of rising unemployment" in the context of welfare reform ["Who's Utopian Now?" Feb. 4]. That erroneous critique from people we respect and we hoped would be more familiar with our work was disappointing. EPI researchers have published many papers and developed mountains of data on the need to address welfare reform with labor market conditions in mind. We've highlighted the problems of unemployment and underemployment for low-wage workers. We've also shown that falling wages among low-wage workers reflected these problems, which are only worsened by forcing people into the labor market without any corresponding job creation programs.
When welfare reform was first debated, we produced a widely cited report that examined the potential for increased labor supply to outstrip demand and therefore lower wages (by 12 percent!) among low-wage workers. We provided statistics on wages, unemployment and underemployment among workers likely to have left welfare, to illustrate the weaknesses in the job market for former welfare recipients. We published frequent analyses on the labor market experiences of young minority women. We even added staff to try to insure that this work reached a large network of advocates and activists.
To accuse us of not noticing the relationship between the labor market and welfare reform is inaccurate and unfair. We have continued to examine the job prospects of former welfare recipients, even during the boom years. Our current work focuses on how the downturn is affecting former welfare recipients. We haven't once dropped the ball.
New York City
The only true characterization of Kanan Makiya in Turi Munthe's review of The Rock: A Tale of Seventh-Century Jerusalem ["Muslim Jerusalem: A Story," April 1] is Munthe's claim that Makiya is the "Arab world's most ardent and vocal supporter of America's projected intervention in Iraq." Munthe could have added that Makiya was also the most ardent Arab voice calling on the Americans to continue to bomb Iraq all the way to Baghdad after they had decided to stop their bombing campaigns and end the Gulf War. As for Makiya being, in Munthe's words, "the hammer of liberal Arab intelligentsia, [and] the arch anti-Orientalist," there is no basis of truth to these astonishing claims. Not only is Makiya not known anywhere in the Arab world, whether in liberal or illiberal intellectual, academic or journalistic circles (except perhaps among the Iraqi expatriate community in London and among some of the Arab journalists working in that city), indeed, he is not known among the Arab reading public at large, as only selections of his book Republic of Fear were translated into Arabic and published in 1990 by an obscure Egyptian publisher during the heyday of the gulf crisis. Makiya, however, seems to be better known in the West, celebrated by the mainstream American media as a native informant who reproduces views about the Arab world that accord with official US policy. Now, it seems, The Nation is also celebrating him through Munthe's ill-informed review. The main irony, however, is in portraying Makiya as a major Arab intellectual, which he neither was nor is, whether in the Arab world or in the West.
Contrary to the claim that he is an "arch anti-Orientalist," Makiya's own words reveal him to be a deeply Orientalist thinker. Not only did he never take on Orientalists and their anti-Muslim and anti-Arab racist claims, in his own writings he reproduces Orientalist opinion: In his Republic of Fear, a slapdash account of Iraqi politics in which an amateurish pseudopsychological analysis substitutes for social, economic or political analysis and in which facts are selectively chosen to suit the argument (see my review in Against the Current (March/April 1991), he writes, for example, that "conspiratorial thinking has broad roots in the extreme fatalism and hostility to individualism that may be characteristic of Islamic culture generally." Makiya's views in his other book, Cruelty and Silence, are reminiscent of the Israeli Orientalist Raphael Patai's racist book The Arab Mind. Makiya tells us in Cruelty and Silence that unlike in English culture, which considers it rude, "belching" is allegedly an "Arab custom of hospitality" to be practiced at the dinner table in appreciation of one's hosts. In fact, this "arch anti-Orientalist" goes to some pains to excuse anti-Arab racism in the West by affirming that "racism exists everywhere else in the world" (see As ad Abukhalil's excellent review of this book in the Middle East Journal, Autumn 1993).
It is relevant to note that Makiya and his father, Mohamed, ran an architectural firm in London in the 1980s making much of their money doing business with, yes, Saddam Hussein, who had commissioned the firm to rebuild Baghdad, among other projects. The irony of Republic of Fear itself, as a sympathetic profile of Makiya and his father uncovers in The New Yorker ("Architects Amid the Ruins," by Lawrence Weschler, January 6, 1992), is that the book was funded by money paid by Saddam to the firm owned by Makiya's father, which paid the salary of Kanan himself. It should also be added that in the early 1990s, Makiya was affiliated (and may still be) with the discredited and corrupt Iraqi National Congress, whose funding comes from the CIA.
Adding to Makiya's contrived mystique is his choice of pseudonyms for himself throughout his career. While most Iraqi and other Arab dissidents write under their own names, Makiya wrote in his youth under the name Muhammad Ja'far and later under the name Samir al-Khalil. He claimed that the latter name was used to protect himself against assassination by Saddam Hussein's henchmen. It is ironic, however, that he revealed his name only after his father's firm no longer had ongoing business with Saddam's Iraq (see the New Yorker profile).
It is disheartening that The Nation would publish such an ignorant review of a minor pamphleteer whose recent book The Rock is hardly more than a disguised attempt to rob the Palestinians of their own Islamic national heritage and strengthen Israeli Zionist claims not only to archeological finds that Israel (mis)identifies as "Jewish," but to Muslim monuments that have not hitherto been claimed by the most ardent of Zionist fanatics as "Jewish" at all--namely, the Dome of the Rock. The undeclared aim of the book is to convince readers that the Dome of the Rock was built by a Jewish convert. It is only a matter of time before Zionist fanatics will follow Makiya's lead and lay claim to the dome as they have laid claim to everything else in the land of the Palestinians.
Joseph Massad makes five points. He tells us (1) that Makiya is not an intellectual (and certainly not an intellectual with any clout in the Arab world); (2) that Makiya is an Orientalist; (3) that Makiya is a fraud who made money from Saddam Hussein; (4) that Makiya is a Zionist agent trying to "rob the Palestinians of their own Islamic national heritage" by proving in his book The Rock "that the Dome of the Rock was built by a Jewish convert"; and (5) (less important) that I am ill informed.
(1) Very briefly: Who knows what Massad considers "intellectual," but a professorship at Brandeis, the directorship of the Iraq Research and Documentation Project at Harvard and (most important) a commitment to unfashionable causes would satisfy me. As for his recognition in the Arab world, al-Hayat (one of the most respected Arabic-language broadsheets, with a daily readership approaching half a million) has already been in touch to ask about translation rights to my Nation review.
(2) That Makiya is an Orientalist is a very old argument, one that first greeted the publication of Republic of Fear in the late 1980s and that Makiya himself tackled head-on in Cruelty and Silence. My review tried to show how, if listened to, Makiya's voice might sharpen Western Arab intellectuals' critique of the problems facing the Arab world. He suggested that blaming the West for its ills was high condescension and a flagrant form of Orientalism in itself, since it assumed no solution could come from within the Arab world. For the last twenty-odd years, taking on "Orientalists and their anti-Muslim and anti-Arab racist claims" has been the staple crusade of the intellectual brigade that Massad follows. Their work has been vital in reshaping the West's conception of its most immediate cultural neighbor, and as an intellectual posture, it has gained widespread and well-deserved currency. In recent years, however, its very currency has made bullies of some of its practitioners. Much as the Jerusalem Post dismisses any criticism of Israeli policy with the cover-all charge of anti-Semitism, so the charge of "Orientalism" works for criticism of the Arab world. In this particular case, it is almost criminally irresponsible. Makiya's Republic of Fear, hailed by many of the leading analysts of the region (from Fred Halliday to Peter Sluglett) as uniquely brilliant, details some of the most horrendous atrocities being committed by any regime in the world. The book was attacked as violently as it was because in justifying America's campaign against Iraq, it weakened criticism of US Middle East policy. That criticism, conceived around the notion of Orientalism, attacked US policy as universally mistaken. For those like Massad principally concerned with Palestine, Makiya seemed to dilute the force of their case. He doesn't. It is deeply disheartening, to say the least, that Massad should try to discredit factual evidence of the suffering of millions of fellow Arabs because it doesn't serve his interests. Dismissing the evidence of that suffering because of its allegedly "Orientalist" tone can only be seen as gross intellectual dishonesty.
(3) A piece of writing should be judged on its own merits: T.S. Eliot was an anti-Semite and the father of modern poetry. But facts: Kanan Makiya never worked for Saddam Hussein, nor was Republic of Fear funded by Saddam. For the record, it was in 1980 that Makiya and his father argued over whether their company should work for Iraq. Kanan refused, left the company and began working on Republic of Fear before his father began work there. As for the "contrived mystique" of a pseudonym, Makiya went public at Harvard (at the explicit request of Roy Mottahedeh and Edward Mortimer) at the time of the Iraqi uprising against Saddam Hussein following the Gulf War, not when his father stopped working in Baghdad. Mohamed Makiya's business with Iraq ceased in 1986; Iraq invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990.
(4) My review of The Rock tried to show how Makiya's delicate treatment of the historical places of Abrahamic tradition suggests that any absolute territorial claim to the spiritual geography of Jerusalem is idiotic, not simply because of the inextricable links among the three religions but because it confuses symbol with truth. Massad seems to be making the same mistake as his Zionist arch-enemies.
(5) Massad would have opinion different from his own stifled: He criticizes The Nation for giving Makiya the credibility of a review as well as for choosing such an ill-informed reviewer. Massad, an assistant professor of modern Arab politics at Columbia (with, I assume, teaching functions), should not be ill-informed. Nor should he be advancing two-bit conspiracy theories in the national press--he cannot seriously believe that Kanan Makiya is trying to pave the ground for a Zionist take-over of Jerusalem. Makiya's ideas hark back to that old ideal of Arab political thinking that saw the Arab world as a community with a shared sense of purpose and responsibility. It is the shallow (and in this case deceitful) self-interest of men like Joseph Massad that has consistently turned a possibility into a utopia.