Depleted Uranium: Confusing Ends and Means

War is brutal. This is not news, as we all know innocent lives are inevitably lost in the pursuit of "strategic goals." Hawkish foreign policy wonks explain it away with shrugged resignation: "You’ve gotta break some eggs to make an omelet." But, it turns out, our military technologies do more than that, they annihilate the eggs while also altering the genetic legacy of the hen.

In Gulf War I, we broke plenty of eggs; the image of carbonized bodies of Iraqi soldiers along the road to Baghdad is a wrenching depiction of the immediate horrors of war. Here’s the long-term horror: the use of depleted-uranium (DU) warheads—which are frighteningly effective in piercing and destroying tanks—is causing severe birth defects in the children of Gulf War veterans and Iraqi citizens, according to Dr. Siegwart Horst-Gunther, President of the International Yellow Cross. And scientists are strongly suggesting a link between their use and Gulf War Syndrome.

In one particularly graphic account, babies are being born with extreme hydrocephalus, without eye sockets and arms, some with a mysterious white substance shrouding their entire bodies, enormous tumors, and fused fingers, not to mention respiratory disorders and leukemia. And the Pentagon remains firm in its plans to use depleted uranium warheads in our upcoming confrontation with Iraq.

Depleted uranium has been in wide use by the US military for years: made from low-level nuclear reactor waste, DU warheads were used by the US in the first Gulf War, in Kosovo, in Vieques, and in Afghanistan—although the Pentagon denied each of these uses for many months. In the first Gulf War alone, some 400,000 vets were exposed to depleted uranium, according to Pentagon estimates, and when our troops pulled out they left between 300 and 800 tons of the stuff on battlefields between Kuwait and Iraq. The government denies any link between DU and Gulf War Syndrome or other ill effects, despite this reference to its hazards in Appendix D of the armaments, munitions, and chemical command report "Kinetic Energy Penetrator Long Term Strategy Study, July 1990":

Aerosol DU (Depleted Uranium) exposures to soldiers on the battlefield could be significant with potential radiological and toxicological effects. …Under combat conditions, the most exposed individuals are probably ground troops that re-enter a battlefield following the exchange of armour-piercing munitions. …We are simply highlighting the potential for levels of DU exposure to military personnel during combat that would be unacceptable during peacetime operations. …[DU is]a low level alpha radiation emitter which is linked to cancer when exposures are internal, [and] chemical toxicity causing kidney damage. …Short term effects of high doses can result in death, while long term effects of low doses have been linked to cancer. …Our conclusion regarding the health and environmental acceptability of DU penetrators assume both controlled use and the presence of excellent health physics management practices. Combat conditions will lead to the uncontrolled release of DU. ...The conditions of the battlefield, and the long term health risks to natives and combat veterans may become issues in the acceptability of the continued use of DU kinetic penetrators for military applications.

According to Dr. Asaf Durakovic, a Gulf War vet and former DU researcher for the VA (he was fired when his research implicated the military) interviewed yesterday on Democracy Now, more than 60% of veterans referred to him at the Uranium Medical Research Center contain depleted uranium in their bodies. (Democracy Now also reports that soldiers shipping out to Iraq, fearing another round of Gulf War Syndrome, have been banking their sperm in anticipation of DU’s effects.)

Depleted uranium warheads are made by Honeywell and its subsidiary Alliant Techsystems, the latter of which is headquartered right here in the Twin Cities. Alliant makes at least two such weapons, 120mm tank ammunition (dubbed "the silver bullet") and 30mm Gattling gun ammo. While Alliant's promotional copy ironically boasts how these warheads save Allied lives (presumably in the short-term), the words "depleted uranium" never appear. Instead, they use the almost-happy term "kinetic energy."

When hawks suggest that the "ends justify the means," I contend they have no clue what that truly means. It takes 4.5 billion years for depleted uranium to lose its radioactivity. Is the "ends" of a "liberated Iraq" really worth an eternity of "means"?

History Gone to the Dogs

Do dogs have history? In his book The Pawprints of History, psychologist Stanely Coren raises the question. According to this New Yorker review, dogs have a colorful place in history: in the 30-year reign of shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, born in the Year of the Dog (1646), between 60,000 and 200,000 people were put to death or exiled for violating the Laws of Compassion, which protected dogs from abuse, death, or even being ignored. Coren includes other examples: Columbus brought dogs with him to the Americas because he believed one dog to be more effective than 50 soldiers in killing natives; dogs saved the lives of Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Lincoln, Lewis and Clark, to name a few; the Church of England might not have been had Cardinal Wolsey's greyhound not bitten the pope's foot--thus severing relations between the annulment-seeking Henry VIII and the Catholic church; etc. Whether dogs have history of their own or not isn't, to me, the question. Clearly they've left their prints all over ours.


A Run for the Money

Democratic presidential contender John Kerry is loaded. Congress' richest member, he reported assets worth up to $688 million (gained, in part, from his wife's inheritance of the H.J. Heinz ketchup fortune), according to The Center for Public Integrity's "Buying the President" database of candidate wealth. But he's not alone: of the eight men who've already declared their interest in running for president, seven are multimillionaires. With biographies of the declared candidates and a searchable database of nearly 200 financial documents, the site will be an invaluable tool in deciding who we the (poor) people want to be our next president.

Rushin' to Leave

When Rush Limbaugh called antiwar protesters "fascists," the fascists got pissed off. Their boycott/letterwriting campaign has forced key Limbaugh adverisers like Bose, Radio Shack, Overstock.com, and Amtrack to pull their sponsorship. Put pressure on the remaining sponsors here.

Proud to be an American?

"I'd like to be able to go somewhere in the world and not have to apologize for being from the United States," said the Episcopal Church's top bishop in a scathing rebuke of US foreign policy.


The White House cancels a poetry symposium out of fear that, gasp, the poets might have something to say about the war. "While Mrs Bush respects the right of all Americans to express their opinions, she, too, has opinions and believes it would be inappropriate to turn a literary event into a political forum," Laura Bush's spokesperson said.


Things Left Unsaid

I don't meant to be petty, but the best part of William Rivers Pitt's assessment of the State of the Union, responding to Bush's self-congratulatory list of accomplishments, is this:
At one point during the reading of this fiduciary laundry list, Bush demanded fiscal responsibility from the government. A roving camera caught House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi bursting into laughter when that line came across.
Pettiness aside, Pitt writes a superb piece on what the Prez failed to mention:

• Osama bin Laden

• On linking Iraq to al-Qaeda:"He failed to mention that Hussein is a secular dictator who has spent the last thirty years crushing Islamic fundamentalism in Iraq, failed to mention the death threats levied against him by al Qaeda, and failed to mention the absolute fact that Hussein would never be so stupid as to give weapons or aid to blood enemies."

•"He proposed the development of cleaner energy technology while increasing energy reliance at home, but failed to explain that this was code for the despoiling of the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge."

• After proposing $1.2 billion in spending to develop hydrogen-powered automobiles, he "failed to explain how he can afford any of this, and likewise failed to parse the hypocrisy of touting hydrogen cars while his new tax plan provides tens of thousands of dollars worth of write-offs for owners of gas-guzzling SUVs."

•"He spoke of holding corporate criminals to account, failing to mention the incredible number of Enron executives - including his beloved Kenny-Boy - who still walk free and clear across the nation they defiled with their fraud and deceit."

And much, much, much more.

The Green State of the Union

Minneapolis' own Natalie Johnson Lee, city council member from the Green Party, steps up to offer the real state of the union. Part rebuttal, part GP party platform, it's a welcome bit of spunk from a party on the mend. Johnson Lee is such a forceful, eloquent speaker, it makes me wonder if such a high-profile national gig means she's the Green Party's Nader in training. Let's hope so.
Bush is no reluctant warrior, he is a warmongering draft-dodger, and together with a weak and compliant Democratic Party in Congress, he is threatening American interests.  

The President claims the inspections have failed. He is wrong. In fact, his attempts to drum up a war fever are what has failed.

Poets for Peace

A free e-book:
Over 100 of the world's leading, mid-career and emerging poets who work in the English language, have gathered their work together in a book of new peace poems. 100 Poets Against The War is perhaps the fastest-assembled world anthology ever--one week from Todd Swift's call for entries 'til the ebook was uploaded. All the contributors have donated their poems, so download the .pdf file, share it, host it on your own site, print it and make it into a book of poetry.

Man-Made Evil

When the President spoke of "man-made evil" last night, he was referring to international terrorism, but I couldn't help wondering if there was any other kind. There is no evil in the natural world, as animals lack forethought. A hyena munching on a gazelle isn't the same thing, no matter how nastily he eviscerates said beast, so evil is our species' alone. Makes me wonder: does Bush understand the nature of evil at all (i.e. that the capacity for it resides, in varying degrees, within us all)? Does he think that by naming evil he's exempted from its definitions?

I've always been stunned by this guy's hypocrisy: Iran, Iraq and North Korea are the Axis of Evil, yet he's rabid about killing up to 260,000 people in Iraq, seemingly to get access to their oil. Out of one side of his mouth comes words like: our "conviction leads us into the world to help the afflicted and defend the peace," yet he's approved a military tactic called "Shock and Awe," in which the US aims to shatter the people of Iraq "physically, emotionally and psychologically." In the plan, the US will rain down some 800 cruise missiles in two days--as much as was dropped during the entire 40-day Persian Gulf War I. (A modern-day Guernica, some say.) If this terror campaign against civilians--based on little or no evidence of UN resolution breaches--isn't "man-made evil," what is?



The shock of delight you get when you hit on the right combination of words to talk about what you've just seen--say, the slow parade of words in Great Blue Heron for a particular bird that one morning stately alights, and statelily looks out to sea--is closely tied to why poetry is political, why our attempts to name what we know something about is a saving thirst, an instinctual need, a more-than-gesture towards what Adrienne Rich calls a more "humane civil life."

...and Dirt

Sometimes a garden is just a garden... Are our basest instincts noble enough? In and of themselves, can the struggle to grow things--to combat weeds and suffering alike so that people everywhere have a chance to thrive--retain its dailiness even in our ideas about them? Can we resist that everloving urge to try to make everything we do appear to be somehow more and more noble? (Obviously, even as I write this I'm finding it can be tricky.)

Just as Adrienne Rich comes at the earth from the point of view of one chasing down words to incarnate the birds of the air, Ron Sulllivan here comes at the earth from under the soil, and asks if it isn't enough that we engage in politics as ordinarily and with as much gusto as we do when we eat, laugh, talk across the fence, dance.

The Fruits of War

Florida and the Brazilian state of Sao Paulo produce about 90% of the world's orange juice. As relations have soured over a potential free-trade agreement, Florida wants to keep a closer eye on its powerful rival. So Florida's Department of Citrus is considering aiming a satellite at Sao Paulo's massive groves--one of the same satellites that has photographed nuclear facilities in Iraq. (Link requires subscription.)

Say Your Peace

Sure, it's a given that Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, Susan Sarandon and Martin Sheen don't want war. But who else is speaking up? More than 1000 historians, more than 40 American Nobel Laureates, the more than 600,000 members of MoveOn.org, and one cautious Schwarzkopf, plus the author of this gutsy letter to the editor, that ran in--guess where?--the U.S. military's own newspaper, Stars & Stripes:
Soldiers and sailors: Go to the brig, not to Iraq.

If President Bush declares unilateral war, I will not support our troops.

They will be guilty of unprovoked aggression and the unnecessary killing of tens of thousands of Iraqis. These Iraqis will not be defending Saddam, but defending their homeland, motivated by blind patriotism, just like many of our troops.

Our troops will be fighting to replace Saddam with a new American-puppet warlord, or worse, a neo-colonial governor. God bless America, but forget about an American empire. They will be obeying the orders of a corrupt government, not the wishes of most Americans.

When more than 68 percent of Congress voted for unilateral war, only 37 percent of their constituents supported such a war. By obeying these orders, our troops will be supporting this corruption. Corrupt dollar politics has created corrupt dollar diplomacy.

Our troops should refuse to fight. Aside from the moral basis, there may also be a legal basis to refuse. Our troops have sworn to uphold the Constitution. Congress voted, but it cannot delegate to the president its responsibility to declare war, and how can its vote be considered tantamount to a declaration of war when there was not then and is not now a clearly stated “cause for war?”

America now needs moral courage, not physical courage.

Going to the brig is the single most important duty an American servicemember can now perform for their country.

John F Scanlon
San Diego, Calif.

For the Love of God (or Oil)

Daniel Ellsberg, the man who made public the Pentagon Papers, credits George Bush’s zeal to destroy Iraq to his love of three things: oil, oil, and oil. But he offers a fourth (more ominous) motivator: his and the Republicans’ election bids. Bush is creating a rally-‘round-the-president scenario (the same one that helped GOP candidates fare so well in 2002) in which he hopes to:
shift American Jews from the Democrats to the Republicans, semi-permanently, by the total backing of Sharon's (Greater Israel) policy, while gratifying the Christian Right by the same policy, in their current alliance with Likud and Likud-supporters in the US, reflecting the Christian Right's bizarre apocalyptic beliefs (about the necessary in-gathering of Jews in Israel as a precursor to Armageddon: at which time, incidentally, the Jews either convert, belatedly, or are doomed along with other unbelievers).
Say what? Armageddon? What may sound like a fringe theory actually isn’t. Remember the October 8, 2002 episode of 60 Minutes when Jerry Falwell called Muhammad a "terrorist"? The furor over that lame-brained comment distracted us from the real terror of Jerry: his belief (shared by 70 million fundamentalist Christians) that a war in the Holy Land will prompt Christ’s return:
Why do they love Israel so much? The return of the Jews to their ancient homeland is seen by Evangelicals as a precondition for the Second Coming of Christ. Therefore, when the Jewish state was created in 1948 they saw it as a sign. Israel’s conquest of Jerusalem and the West Bank in 1967 deepened their excitement, heightened their anticipation. And today’s war between Jews and Arabs was also prophesized, they say. They’ve seen it all before – in the pages of the Bible.

…it all winds up here in Israel where, according to the Book of Revelations, the final battle in the history of the future will be fought on an ancient battlefield in northern Israel called Armageddon. It will follow seven years of tribulation during which the earth will be shaken by such disasters that previous human history will seem like a day in the country. The blood will rise as high as a horse’s bridle here at Armageddon, before Christ triumphs to begin his 1000-year rule.

And the Jews? Well, two-thirds of the will have been wiped out by now. And the survivors will accept Jesus at last.

Bush’s baffling deafness to the peaceful wishes of those who elected him now makes a bit more sense: there’s something beyond mere greed that fuels his war-at-any-cost zeal. Fulfilling Biblical prophecy, now that’s something you can put on a resume.


More Roy

The ArundhatiRoy/Howard Zinn interview I mentioned below is so good I have to excerpt more. Visit Democracy Now to hear her speech.
Recently, those who have criticized the actions of the U.S. government (myself included) have been called "anti-American." Anti-Americanism is in the process of being consecrated into an ideology.

The term "anti-American" is usually used by the American establishment to discredit and, not falsely - but shall we say inaccurately - define its critics. Once someone is branded anti-American, the chances are that he or she will be judged before they are heard, and the argument will be lost in the welter of bruised national pride.

But what does the term "anti-American" mean? Does it mean you are anti-jazz? Or that you're opposed to freedom of speech? That you don't delight in Toni Morrison or John Updike? That you have a quarrel with giant sequoias? Does it mean that you don't admire the hundreds of thousands of American citizens who marched against nuclear weapons, or the thousands of war resisters who forced their government to withdraw from Vietnam? Does it mean that you hate all Americans?

This sly conflation of America's culture, music, literature, the breathtaking physical beauty of the land, the ordinary pleasures of ordinary people with criticism of the U.S. government's foreign policy (about which, thanks to America's "free press", sadly most Americans know very little) is a deliberate and extremely effective strategy. It's like a retreating army taking cover in a heavily populated city, hoping that the prospect of hitting civilian targets will deter enemy fire.


Flags are bits of colored cloth that governments use first to shrink-wrap people's brains and then as ceremonial shrouds to bury the dead.

-Arundhati Roy, author of The God of Small Things, from an interview with Howard Zinn

Quick Links

•Helen Thomas, who has reported on every president since JFK: “This is the worst president ever. He is the worst president in all of American history.”

• We're a nation of enablers, and Bush is our Enabler in Chief: "At times, it seems that the U.S. political system is dedicated to treating George W. Bush like he's some addicted adolescent in a family that won't confront the youngster's behavioral problems and "enables" the problem to get worse."

• As Colin Powell gets on the war bandwagon, his son Michael, chair of the FCC, gets on the corporate bandwagon, positioning himself to deregulate the telecommunications industry and do away with infodiversity in the process.

Gun Types

It's no coincidence that the gun manufacturer Remington offered America's first typewriter in 1874, writes Barry Sanders in the ever-quirky Cabinet Magazine. Both gun and type-layer utilize the same rifle-stamping equipment in their production, but the similarities don't end there:
The typewriter was a machine in a way that the pencil or the pen was obviously not. No one would ever ask an author, “How many words a minute do you write?” But people do, as a matter of course, ask that question about typing. For typing is a skill in itself, requiring manual dexterity, and a degree of hand/eye coordination. One can refine and master it through practice. The typewriter, by definition, mechanizes writing, the way the rifle mechanizes killing. The cold metal of a rifle or a typewriter insinuates itself between a person and his or her passion. A pen and a knife both have a distinctive immediacy. Both can be deadly. With his usual Dust Bowl brilliance, Woody Guthrie warned that in an America already in deep Depression, you’ve got to watch your back and front, for “some men will kill you with a shotgun, and some with a fountain pen.”
Read this fascinating history.

The Voice of National Public Radio

Former NPR journalism fellow Brian Montopoli writes an interesting piece in Washington Monthly about the Voice of NPR:
The Voice is tough to describe, but you know it when you hear it: It's serious, carefully modulated, genially authoritative. It rings with unspoken knowledge of good wine and The New York Times Book Review.
In short, it's a voice that mimics the majority demographic of NPR's 20 million listeners: white, affluent, passively liberal babyboomers. No problem if you fit the demographic, but tough luck if you don't. Even the diversity on NPR is molded to conform with The Voice:
In an interview with the Philadelphia City Paper, Tavis Smiley, the former host of Black Entertainment Television's "BET Tonight" and new host of "The Tavis Smiley Show," pointed out that at NPR, "I have to be authentically black, but not too black." And his show bears that out: It's a good program about black topics that follows the same respectful, all- sides-of-the-issue formula of all the other good, respected programs that came before it.


Merton on True Identity (and More)

The late Trappist monk Thomas Merton on the solitary life, identity, war, rain, Ionesco's "Rhinoceros," the sixth century Syrian hermit Philoxenos, "Lord of the Flies," and Coleman camp lanterns. A sampling:
Now if we take our vulnerable shell to be our true identity, if we think our mask is our true face, we will protect it with fabrications even at the cost of violating our own truth. This seems to be the collective endeavor of society: the more busily men dedicate themselves to it, the more certainly it becomes a collective illusion, until in the end we have the enormous, obsessive, uncontrollable dynamic of fabrications designed to protect mere fictitious identities-- "selves," that is to say, regarded as objects. Selves that can stand back and see themselves having fun (an illusion which reassures them that they are real).
Read the full essay,"Rain and the Rhinoceros," as an html file, or download it as a pdf.

GOP: Manufacturing Consensus

The GOP has been orchestrating letterwriting campaigns to newspapers around the country to try to create the illusion of support for the Bush administration: its evidence-free war, right-wing judicial nominations, its rich-focused economic stimulus plan, etc. Fake grassroots letters--aka "astroturf"--have appeared in papers cross-country, from The International Herald Tribune to the tiny Wausau Daily Herald in my hometown. A Google search by The Inquirer generated three pages of hits on the phrase "When it comes to the economy President Bush is demonstrating genuine leadership"--all written by different "authors." Turns out the GOP is paying people GOPoints for each letter they write; if they collect enough points they can get great Republican schwag, from bumperstickers to a leather portfolio. Plus, the GOP has a spam engine that The Faithful can use to automate letters to the editor.

What to do? Write letters back! When you find form letters on the OpEd page (see previous link for examples of the seven letters), write your own listing all the other papers the letter has already run in.


Who Owns Organic?

At long last--thanks to the struggles of independent farmers who risked everything to make earth-friendly, sustainable agriculture economically feasible--organic agriculture has come of age. The organic food market is growing by up to 24% per year and, by 2005, it's expected to be worth $20 billion in sales. Organic means big business.

And Big Business is just who's clamoring to cash in. Consider who owns your favorite co-op brands:
- Unilever (maker of SlimFast and I Can't Believe It's Not Butter; worth $52 billion) owns Ben & Jerry's.
- Kraft/Philip Morris own Boca Burgers and Balance Bars.
- General Mills owns Cascadian Farms, Muir Glen, and Small Planet Foods.
- Coca-Cola owns organic juice maker Odwalla.
- Dannon just bought Stonyfield Farm.
- Heinz has just introduced an organic ketchup line.
- Nestle owns PowerBar, Kellogg's owns Kashi, Smucker's owns After the Fall.

It stinks. Because as the bottom line ascends as the core value in organizations previously guided by concern for the environment, workers, and the communities that support them, companies change. According to an article in the recent issue of Mother Jones, Unilever halted the practice of donating 7.5% of profits to charity after they bought Ben & Jerry's.

So, what to do? Shop locally. Go to a co-op, where you can speak to the actual human being who ordered the latest shipment of produce and where transparency--knowing who grew the food and under what conditions--is a primary concern, and ensuring big dividends to stockholders isn't.

Or support a CSA. Community Supported Agriculture means buying a share in a local organic farm and getting a season's worth of macriobiotic veggies grown by people you actually know. (The CSA I'm part of, Elsie's Farm, offers approximately 18 weeks of sustainably grown vegetables, herbs and flowers for $400. Sign up now for the coming season.) In a consumer market increasingly dictated by a profit-at-any-cost mentality, here's a way to cast your dollar-vote for something better. As David Korten, author of When Corporations Rule the World, organic agriculture has to be "human-scale." Because that's who'll be eating it.

God is on Our Side?

Worth rereading monthly during these Bush years, Mark Twain's The War Prayer (excerpt below) says it all. (Thanks Bill, I mean, Dad.)

...O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells;

Help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead;

Help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain;

Help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire;

Help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief;

Help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -

For our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!

We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

Green House

Green, affordable, stylish, smart. Since when can sustainable architecture be, as the Guardian says, both "virtuous and sexy"? The Beddington Zero Energy Development (or Bedzed) in South London is a carbon-neutral neighborhood (i.e. doesn't contribute to global warming) built with recycled materials for maximum solar gain and comfortable community with plenty of eco-gadgets: rainwater collectors, solar panels, two-way rotating chimneys that recycle stale air, etc. The best part is that it's real architecture--the kind of homes people want to live in, not a house-sized green hairshirt.


Art in War

In this exceptional piece in The Guardian, Jeanette Winterson frames a question: what is the purpose of art in times of war? What she offers, however, is a far broader answer about the purpose of real art. I wish everyone at work would read--no, memorize--this essay. Pardon the length, but it's worth the effort. (Thanks, Heather.)
The secret life of us
By Jeanette Winterson

An American lady travelling to Paris in 1913 - the kind of American lady who will still be travelling to Paris in 2013 - asked Ezra Pound what he thought art was for. Pound replied: "Ask me what a rose bush is for."

Europe was on the edge of war. Do rose bushes matter in a war? What can art do for us now, in the likelihood of another war?

I know there is a sneaking feeling, even among art lovers, that art is a luxury. While pictures, books, music and theatre are not quite handmade luggage or perfume, most people would not admit that art is essential. The endless rows over funding centre on an insecurity about the role of art in society. Nobody doubts that hospitals and schools must be paid for by all of us. Mention art, and the answer seems to be that it should rely on the marketplace; let those who want it pay for it. Art is specialised, particular, elitist and probably bogus. In Britain, a few old masters, Shakespeare and Dickens, Mozart and Puccini, are enough to feed the general interest in the arts.

Modern art has become a media circus; a money-driven, prize-hungry extravaganza, dependent on marketing and spin, which may leave the public with a few extra names it recognises, but that makes everyone cynical about the product.

The word gives it away: product. Art is being treated as a commodity. We doubt that it is special. Dead artists belong to the heritage industry. Live artists belong to the PR industry.

It may be that capitalism will be as successful with art as it has been with religion, absorbing it to the point of neutrality. Capitalism, for all its emphasis on the free market, hates competition - that is, any challenge to its system. Anybody with a smattering of English history knows about the great conflicts between church and state. We know that traditionally there have been been two powers: the material world and the invisible world. God and Mammon.

Well, Mammon won the big battle, and there is no effective force in the west to challenge the dogma of capitalism. The church at least paid lip service to a different value system to the one Margaret Thatcher hailed as "no alternative".

Art is a different value system. Like God, it fails us continually. Like God, we have legitimate doubts about its existence but, like God, art leaves us with footprints of beauty. We sense there is more to life than the material world can provide, and art is a clue, an intimation, at its best, a transformation. We don't need to believe in it, but we can experience it. The experience suggests that the monolith of corporate culture is only a partial reality. This is important information, and art provides it.

When you take time to read a book or listen to music or look at a picture, the first thing you are doing is turning your attention inwards. The outside world, with all of its demands, has to wait. As you withdraw your energy from the world, the artwork begins to reach you with energies of its own. The creativity and concentration put into the making of the artwork begin to cross-current into you. This is not simply about being recharged, as in a good night's sleep or a holiday, it is about being charged at a completely different voltage.

When I read Seamus Heaney or Ted Hughes, I'm not just reading a poet's take on the world, I am entering into a different world - a world built from the beginning on other principles. William Carlos Williams said: "It's hard to get the news from poems, but men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there."

Art's counterculture, however diverse, holds in plain sight what the material world denies - love and imagination. Art is made out of both: a passionate, reckless love of the work in its own right, as though nothing else exists, and an imaginative force that creates something new out of disparate material. Art's experiments are not funded by huge state programmes, venture capital, or junk bonds; they are done when someone picks up a pen or a brush, or sits down at the piano, or takes a piece of clay and changes it for ever. A money culture wants the figures, the bottom line, the sales, the response, it wants a return on its investment, it wants more money.

Art can offer no obvious return. Its rate of exchange is energy for energy, intensity for intensity. The time you spend on art is the time it spends with you; there are no shortcuts, no crash courses, no fast tracks. Only the experience. Art can't change your life; it is not a diet programme or the latest guru - it offers no quick fixes. What art can do is prompt in us authentic desire. By that I mean it can waken us to truths about ourselves and our lives; truths that normally lie suffocated under the pressure of the 24-hour emergency zone called real life. Art can bring us back to consciousness, sometimes quietly, sometimes dramatically, but the responsibility to act on what we find is ours.

I know of a man, a Quaker, who volunteered as an ambulance driver in the second world war. While other men had pictures of their sweethearts in their breast pockets, he carried a photo of a Queen Anne chair. In his despair at where human folly had brought him and millions of others, he needed to remember the glory of the human spirit, as well as its loss. Like Barbara Hepworth, he believed that art affirms and sustains life at its highest level. He became an antique dealer because he wanted to be surrounded by what the Jews call "real presences". A real presence is one where spirit and body, or spirit and object, have never been separated. It doesn't matter whether we are talking a chair, a picture, a book or a human being; what makes us feel alive is the living quality lodged there.

This quality is abundant in art. It is the reason why art is timeless. It is the reason why art does not date. We don't go to Shakespeare to find out about life in Elizabethan England; we go to Shakespeare to find out about ourselves now. Go and visit Antony Gormley's Angel of the North and you will meet the same imaginative hugeness as in Chartres or Westminster Abbey. The scale is different, the sensibility has changed, but the spirit is the same.

Mass production is about cloned objects. Art is about individual vision. Individuals can work together, as they must in theatre or opera, or where assistants work under a master, or they can work alone. However it happens, art is never a factory or a production line. Even Duchamp's Readymades were a way of forcing us to concentrate on the thing in itself as it really is.

Capitalism doesn't want you to concentrate - you might notice that much is amiss. A blurred, out-of-focus consuming is what suits the marketplace best. Somebody has to buy all that overproduction of useless dead objects. In contrast, all art is live theatre. The dialogue continues between object, maker, owner, viewer, listener, reader. Roger Warner is 89 and he still talks to his furniture. His daughter Deborah Warner makes the stage talk to us.

Art is a continuum, passed down from hand to hand, lost, rediscovered, found in objects as proof of a living spirit that defies the orthodoxy of materialism. Yes, art becomes a collector's item, or a rich man's trophy. Yes, art is traded for large sums of money, but this is not art's purpose, nor its nature. If money ceased to exist, art would continue. If war flattened London tomorrow, someone would start to make an installation out of the rubble.

Why did the Taliban bullet down the Buddhas? Why did Hitler burn books? Why was Ulysses banned? Why did Franco refuse to show Guernica? Art is potent, confrontational, difficult. It challenges what we are, and that is equally true of a Queen Anne chair, the Mona Lisa or Rachel Whiteread's House. We can muzzle the power of art in all sorts of ways - destroying or banning it is too obvious. A favourite gag is to familiarise it so that we no longer see it (Constable), or to sentimentalise it, so that we read it but do not allow it to read us (Dickens). Even better if we can just watch an adaptation on TV. The Queen Anne chair may seem unthreatening compared with Rachel Whiteread, but before we console ourselves with its antiqueness (ie expensive, dead), let's take it into Ikea and watch some MDF look pale.

Don't be fooled by the way capitalism co-opts art. It pretends to do it for money, but underneath money is terror. Terror that there might be a different way to live. There is a different way, and it's not a William Morris utopia, or an Omega workshop niche; it's a celebration of the human spirit. Art reminds us of all the possibilities we are persuaded to forget. Peace or war, we need those alternatives.

Outside? Who Says?

The annual Outsider Art Fair is going on right now at the Puck Building in New York. Absent this year will be visionary artist and hardcore eccentric Joe Coleman, prohibited because he's not "outside" enough (he studied art for two years). Curious, considering the amazing artist Paul Laffoley--who graduated from Brown University, attended Harvard's design school, and apprenticed with Italian sculptor Mirko Baseldella--is a mainstay of the show. I'm a big fan of so-called "outsider art" (see my Raw Vision piece on Simon Sparrow), but I'm wondering if it's merely the gallery owners and art buyers who get to draw the borders of "outside." To me, this type of art is a spirit--urgent, raw, personally meaningful--not a club with a membership dictated by galleries. I asked Coleman's gallery representative Katherine Gates if she knew whether well-educated Laffoley was excluded too--I checked the art fair's website, but it only lists the exhibiting galleries and not the artists (which is pretty telling)--and she responded:
Not sure about Paul Laffoley. I doubt it, as he's represented by one of the
more powerful galleries in the show. It was really all about the power plays
of various galleries against each other.
Unlike Jean Dubuffet's hard-line criteria for "art brut" artists, "outsider" is a pretty loose definition. And unfortunately, it's often used to exploit artists who are portrayed as naives and isolates. Which doesn't fly with Coleman:
"I'm no retard," says Mr. Coleman, who these days commands $50,000 for a painting. "But I've been at the fair for 10 years, and this feels like a betrayal. When I finally get some success in my life, then I'm not an outsider anymore?"

See the Wall Street Journal's article on the Coleman affair (link requires subscription):

When Is an 'Outsider' Really an Insider?


Thrown out of art school and rebuffed by mainstream galleries, Brooklyn
artist Joe Coleman is used to rejection. But he was stung when he recently
learned that his work won't be shown at the Outsider Art Fair in SoHo
because he's not "outsider" enough.

The annual fair, which runs tomorrow through Sunday, has always been a
flashpoint for the never-ending debate about what "outsider" means. Some
artists whose work is exhibited there have serious mental disorders, while
others are rural recluses or urban eccentrics. Many in the field prefer the
label "self-taught," which covers anyone who paints or sculpts without
benefit of academic art training.

This year, however, term warfare has teeth. For the first time in its
11-year history the fair has barred work by Mr. Coleman and several other
artists for not meeting "outsider" criteria -- even though neither the fair
nor the outsider art field has ever been able to specify exactly what those
criteria are.

"I'm no retard," says Mr. Coleman, who these days commands $50,000 for a
painting. "But I've been at the fair for 10 years, and this feels like a
betrayal. When I finally get some success in my life, then I'm not an
outsider anymore?"

Mr. Coleman's fanatically detailed acrylics certainly aren't standard-issue
contemporary art. His style crosses 1960s comics with medieval illuminated
manuscripts, and his paintings portray his obsessions with death, disease,
serial killers and carnival freaks.

Chicago gallery owner Ann Nathan dropped out of the 2003 fair after she was
asked not to show Mr. Coleman's work. Fair organizers cited the 2? years
that Mr. Coleman spent at the School of Visual Arts in New York in the
1970s. "He might have had some training for a very brief period of time,"
Ms. Nathan concedes. "But he's such an outsider artist that it's crazy to
eliminate him."

This year, though, being weird isn't enough to make you an outsider. "Over
the years we've been criticized for being all over the place, anything
goes," says Caroline Kerrigan, one of the fair's directors. "And with
certain artists, questions came up every year -- does he really belong in
the fair? Something had to be done."

In 2002, almost 10,000 people attended the fair, which added a day this year
to accommodate the crowds. And the hotter outsider art becomes, the more
artists see "outsider" as a desirable label. Now the flood of wannabes
threatens the fair's credibility. "This material is very collectible," says
Carl Hammer, a Chicago dealer on the fair's advisory committee. "What
happens when people collect these artists and spend several thousand dollars
and then find out they aren't really outsiders after all?"

Carolyn Walsh, whose Sailor's Valentine Gallery has shown at the fair every
year, was among those urging stricter standards. "We all agreed that we
needed to clean up the fair," she said.

She was shocked when the cleanup turned out to include her gallery, which
was disinvited this year. One key reason is her championing of Matt Lamb, a
funeral-home tycoon who extols peace and tolerance in clumsily Chagallesque
paintings. Fair organizers nixed Mr. Lamb for being "a savvy and successful
businessman with a keen awareness of the art world and marketing

Ms. Walsh insists that Mr. Lamb's lack of formal art training and compulsive
need for self-expression qualify him for inclusion. And she questions the
fair's motives. "He's not toothless and not marginally brain-dead and he
doesn't live in Appalachia, so he can't be snowed by some dealer who can
make a lot of money off of him," she said.

"They said I was a millionaire -- what's that got to do with anything?"
asked Mr. Lamb from his studio in Florida, one of five he maintains
world-wide. He added that he's through with the fair, saying "I will never
go to something that discriminates against people."

But Ms. Walsh plans to bring a van packed with paintings by Mr. Lamb and
others to the fair's doorstep where, in a kind of fringe replay of the 1863
Salon des Refuses, she will hand out fliers inviting fairgoers to see the
"outsider outlaws."

For Mr. Hammer, the defining question is whether artists are responding to
the art world or are oblivious to it. With outsider artists, "there's a lack
of self-awareness," he explains. "They have no idea what the mainstream
definitions of art are all about. Artists that actually want to be outsider
artists know exactly where they fit in -- they just haven't been accepted

Another member of the advisory committee, New York dealer Roger Ricco,
concedes that judgments about who is an outsider are ultimately as
indefensible as judgments about quality. "This is necessary for the field to
grow up, because it's reaching the point where exclusions will be made," he
says. "But what this field really needs is not criteria about whether the
artist is feeble or deprived, but whether the art is good."


AIDS Audacity

Pennsylvania dimbulb Jerry Thacker calls AIDS "the gay plague." Futhermore, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, he "had argued that religious faith could cure homosexuals, that condoms do not stop the spread of HIV and that people choose to be gay." Sounds like the perfect guy to serve on the Presidential Advisory Commission on HIV/AIDS.

This just in from Carrie McLaren

...and guess what: AT&T's stock is down 22% since the announcement of the suit!

Who Owns "Freedom of Speech"?

Freedom of expression, it turns out, may not be for everyone.

Kembrew McLeod, assistant professor of communications studies at the University of Iowa, believes that "freedom of expression" — or at least the phrase — belongs to him, because he registered it as a trademark in 1998. And now that AT&T is using the phrase in some print ads, he wants the company to stop.

Yesterday, Mr. McLeod sent AT&T a "cease and desist" letter, asserting that consumers might infer a link between the company and his anti-corporate publication, "Freedom of Expression." The bigger idea behind his legal action, he said, is to object to corporate power over words, speech and even ideas.

"I do want to register my genuine protest that a big company that really doesn't represent freedom of expression is trying to appropriate this phrase," he said.

AT&T has not received the letter and will not comment before it does, said Jeff Roberts, a company spokesman.

While it may seem unlikely that Mr. McLeod will be able to push around a corporate titan like AT&T, stranger things have happened on the increasingly bizarre battleground of intellectual property, trademark and copyright law.

The notion of intellectual property became tabloid fodder in 1993 when NBC lawyers tried to prevent David Letterman from taking skits like Stupid Human Tricks from "Late Night" to his new CBS show. Then the game show hostess Vanna White successfully sued Samsung Electronics for making a commercial with a robot in her likeness without her consent.

Dust-ups proliferated, and by last October, the premise was pervasive enough to drive a plotline on an episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" on HBO in which the comedian Richard Lewis tried desperately to prove he coined the all-purpose pejorative, "blank from hell" (as in "nanny from hell").

"Trademark law really wasn't that big a problem several years ago," said Lee Tien, senior staff lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a technology-oriented civil liberties group in San Francisco.

Traditionally, the litmus test was customer confusion: if a potential trademark infringement confused customers, it was probably illegal, he said. But the courts increasingly have ruled that diluting a brand — by using a similar name even in an entirely different business — is against the law, Mr. Tien said. And the spreading reach of the Internet has brought every McDonald's dry cleaners and McDonald's car wash into potential conflict with the McDonald's Corporation.

One result is a lawsuit from Victoria's Secret in Columbus, Ohio, part of Limited Brands, accusing a store in Elizabethtown, Ky., originally named Victor's Secret, of dilution. Although the store was renamed twice — Victor's Little Secret and then Cathy's Little Secret — the case still landed before the United States Supreme Court in November.

"No one would think for a moment that Victoria's Secret has anything to do with Victor's Little Secret," said Jonathan Band, a partner at the Washington office of Morrison & Foerster. "But he's clearly trying to trade on the name." The court now has to decide how much damage, if any, Victoria's Secret has been done, he said. A ruling is expected this summer.

While such contests often pit large trademark holders against mom-and-pop companies, it is not always that way. Behemoths are subject to scrutiny as well, including Microsoft, which is suddenly defending its trademark on the word "Windows" in court.

Microsoft began the legal dispute when it filed suit against Lindows .com Inc., in December 2001, asserting that Lindows, a maker of Linux-based software, was freeloading on the Windows name. Microsoft said it had invested $1.2 billion in marketing Windows, which it had successfully registered as a trademark. Lindows .com later sued to strip Microsoft of its trademark, arguing in part that "windows" was too generic to trademark. The case is pending.

Daniel R. Harris, partner at the law firm of Clifford Chance, which is representing Lindows.com, said Microsoft wanted to reserve a common word exclusively for its own marketing. "They're trying to use their monopoly power to monopolize a word out of the English language," he said.

Not surprisingly, Microsoft takes a different position. "Our viewpoint is a fairly simple one," said Jon Murchinson, a company spokesman, "that Lindows not free-ride on the investments that we've made in building Windows into one of the most recognizable brands in the world in the last 20 years."

The stakes seem lower for AT&T. The ads using "freedom of expression" ran only in college-oriented newspapers during the third quarter of last year, said Mr. Roberts, the AT&T spokesman.

For Mr. McLeod, however, a confrontation with AT&T could generate welcome publicity, and not only for his belief that private ownership of language can impede the free flow of information. His trademark certificate will be part of an exhibit of art on the fringes of intellectual property, entitled "Illegal Art," opening in Chicago on Saturday.

From The New York Times. Click these for info on Illegal Art, Carrie McLaren's excellent Adbustersesque zine STAY FREE! or Kembrew McLeod.


“The President considers this nation to be at war,” a White House source says,” and, as such, considers any opposition to his policies to be no less than an act of treason.”


A Banner Day for the USA

Which is more flabbergasting: the level of artifice the president uses to try to convince the American people that his economic stimulus plan actually helps small business owners (his evidence for this is, ahem, banner thin), or the stupidity of the guy who stacked the "Made in China" boxes next to the podium? (From ABCNews, via This Modern World)
The White House, long known for its catchy, attention-grabbing backdrops, had designed a gigantic banner made to look like stacked boxes stamped with 'MADE IN U.S.A.'

To television viewers around the country, the banner was indistinguishable from a real wall of boxes made in the good old U.S. of A., which were perfectly lined up on either side of the banner.

For an event meant to draw attention to the president's plan to help small businesses hurt by the sagging economy, it appeared to be another hit designed by the White House advance staff, known for their eye-catching 'made for TV' backgrounds.

The pitch was to deliver the president, concerned about the economy, taking time out of his busy schedule to visit a mom-and-pop company he says would save thousands of dollars under his tax-relief plan.

The problem was that the real boxes surrounding the president at the scene of his speech — a small shipping and receiving plant, JS Logistics — should have read: 'NOT Made in U.S.A.'

The president was introduced by the company's owner, John Cochrane.

Mystery Tape Job

Next to the banner and stacked around his podium were hundreds of boxes labeled 'Made in China' — and Taiwan and Hong Kong. Someone apparently became aware of the mixed message, for white stickers and brown packing tape were mysteriously taped over the true origin of the real boxes that travel through the trucking and warehouse business daily.

Many of the boxes also had handwritten numbers meant to represent routing codes written across them with markers.

White House officials traveling with the president today said the tape job came as a complete surprise to them. Deputy press secretary Claire Buchan attributed the cover-up to an overzealous advance office volunteer and said the matter would be taken up through the appropriate channels.

Workers busily taking apart the stage after the president's departure were chuckling over the incident. No one in the group could say exactly who was responsible. One said, 'They just sort of appeared yesterday.'

At Last

Some guy explains how the fizzy gizmo in the bottom of a can of Guinness works.


Found Poetry?

Heading out of my apartment building this morning, I found the common area near my mailbox littered with 15 or 20 scissor-cut slips of paper. I bent down and cocked my head to read, in inkjet-printed type:

nobody got to me about the phone my kid found out


I put it in the post office

Say what? Is this some addle-pated haiku? Or, to my disappointment, just some guy's attempt to reunite a man and his telecommunications device?

The nearest post office is four blocks away, but why would you put a lost phone "in" a post office? How would anyone "get to" the man and his kid to reclaim it? ("Get to" as in "irritate"?) Who left this unsigned note, and what good do they imagine this cryptic glyph could do without any identifying marker? And furthermore, what the hell has happened to American English?

I'm not sure what we're glimpsing when we find notes not necessarily intended for us. There's probably some witty anthropological essay to be written, but that sounds like an awful lot of work. Let's leave it this: it's entertaining. The way this Canadian $5 bill scrawled with the words "I had a bad mudder fukin day 2 flat tires" is. Or this parking ticket festooned with expletives and an awkwardly drawn seven-fingered hand flipping the bird. I'm happy just to find it, scratch my head, and move on.

A new poem by Harold Pinter

From tomorrow's Guardian:

God bless America

Here they go again,
The Yanks in their armoured parade
Chanting their ballads of joy
As they gallop across the big world
Praising America's God.

The gutters are clogged with the dead
The ones who couldn't join in
The others refusing to sing
The ones who are losing their voice
The ones who've forgotten the tune.
The riders have whips which cut.

Your head rolls onto the sand
Your head is a pool in the dirt
Your head is a stain in the dust
Your eyes have gone out and your nose
Sniffs only the pong of the dead
And all the dead air is alive
With the smell of America's God.

(Gulp, part II)

Buy an SUV and deduct up to $75,000! Thanks to the Bush tax plan!

The Only Empty Warheads...

After the discovery of four more empty missile shells in Iraq this weekend, one blogger wrote, "The only empty warheads are in Washington." How true. In fact, warheads is the wrong term, according to William Rivers Pitt, author of War on Iraq. In a letter to CNN last week, Pitt wrote that: they're artillery munitions, not warheads; that former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter says they were included in Iraq's December declaration; and they're likely a kind of missile allowed under UN sanctions. How come CNN doesn't report this kind of stuff?

On a related note, Take Back the Media posts an actual photo of said "warheads" (all cruddy and rusted out) along with a Fox News graphic of sleek, devastating-looking missiles (click here, then scroll down).


The US and Britain will resort to "any means necessary" to disarm Saddam Hussein, says British Prime Minister Tony Blair, even nuclear weapons.


The Real Axis of Evil

At the San Francisco peace rally Saturday, Representative Barbara Lee--the only member of Congress to vote against authorizing the Bush administration to use "all necessary and appropriate force" against suspected terrorists--redefined "the real axis of evil" as poverty, racism, and war.

Where'd the *&$!%-ing Cheese Go?

When Pizza Hut hired Ween to come up with a jingle for their cheese-in-the-crust pizza, they probably weren't thinking of the lyrics "Where'd the *&!@$*?!-ing cheese go?" Ween gave the restaurant six versions; all were shot down. (Mom, this one's not for you.)

More on the Media (Moron, the Media?)

The press' predictable underestimation of antiwar protest crowds "is not just shoddy journalism but willful disinformation being perpetrated by corporate newspapers that want to curry favor with the White House, Congress, and the Pentagon," writes Wayne Madsen in CounterPunch. Before you write it off as a conspiracy theory, you've gotta wonder. I was one of around 10,000 protesters on October 26 who filled St. Paul's streets from the Cathedral to the Capitol. Our efforts were barely mentioned in the following days news; what they did mention was a crowd almost 1/5th the actual size (the same day nearly 200,000 protested in DC; the New York Times reported the crowd as in the "thousands"). As Madsen writes, the conservative press (like Fox News Sunday who called Saturday's protesters "socialists") and Republicans (who marginalize them as "hippies") is in cahoots too.


-When a video of George Bush the Elder was played on screen at the American Music Awards, his image was met with "a loud chorus of boos." But, according to witnesses, ABC censors edited out the crowd's reaction when it was broadcast.

- City workers in Minneapolis removed a "No War with Iraq" sign from a private lawn recently, reportedly because the sign was no longer current. "The war started over a year ago," the offending worker allegedly said.



I've received several requests for a comment box on Eyeteeth. Unfortunately, Blogger doesn't offer such a service (yet). I'm looking into an outside provider, but, in the meantime, click on the "Posted by Paul Schmelzer" link below to e-mail me your comments. I'll post the most fiery, entertaining, or weird.

Shattering the False Myth of Consensus

A Minneapolis newscast last night estimated the crowd of antiwar protesters in Washington DC yesterday at "up to 500,000." The major national media, however, reported a limp "tens of thousands," and most reports put it at between 30,000 and 50,000. Around the world: 50,000 protesters in San Francisco, 6,000 in Paris, 5,000 in Goteberg, Sweden, 4,000 in Beirut, 4,000 in Tokyo, 1,000 in Cairo... But it's not about the numbers, it's about critical mass. As one protester says, "This shatters the false myth of consensus" on war with Iraq.


Access of Evil

Wage Slave Journal is keeping a "Scorecard of Evil" on George W. Bush, ranking his doings--from tax cuts for the rich to his attempted abolition of affirmative action--on a scale from "evil" (one black heart) to "very, very, very, very evil" (five black hearts.)

On Media Toadies

Why do bigshots like Rather, Jennings, and Lehrer swallow everything the White House says and broadcast it as truth on the nightly news? Why is George W. Bush presented as a "straight-shooter" in the media--when his shady dealings with Halliburton, Enron, and the Florida Recount suggest quite a few crooked shots--whereas horny Bill Clinton goes down in history as a major scumbag? Why is the press such a bunch of uncritical, flaccid sycophantic toadies?

In an exclusive ZNet commentary, Dave Edwards offers an explanation: "professional servility."
Although corporations, including media corporations, are indeed totalitarian structures of power, we do not live in a totalitarian society. Control is maintained not by violence, but by deception, self-deception, and by a mass willingness to subordinate our own thoughts and feelings to notions of 'professionalism' and 'objectivity'. There is much evil and violence in the world but the people who make it possible are not for the most part evil or violent.

Psychologist Stanley Milgram reported that the most fundamental lesson of his study on obedience in modern society was, "ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible, destructive process". (Stanley Milgram, Obedience to Authority, Pinter & Martin, 1974, p.24)

Milgram's second key lesson was that when other "ordinary people" refuse to obey, when they refuse to stay meekly in the box, and instead claim their human right to speak out in the name of their own perceptions, their own thoughts, their own truly felt compassion for the suffering of others, this has an inordinately powerful impact on the world around us. Greedy and destructive power based on thoughtless obedience is supremely vulnerable to compassionate rebellion. We should never lose sight of this.
(This short excerpt is taken from a much longer subscribers-only e-mail to sustainers of Z magazine's ZNET. Become a sustainer at ZNet.)

Two ways to take the media to task: Sign up for FAIR's free e-mail newsletter and be alerted of opportunities for e-mail campaigns and news. To tell key members of the Washington press corps to grow a spine, visit Take Back the Media.

The Sanctity of Whose Life?

According to a Nobel Prize–winning physicians group, a US-led war in Iraq will kill between 48,000 and 260,000 people--in the first three months alone. And the president has the cojones (or perverse sense of irony) to declare tomorrow National Sanctity of Life Day?


The MLK You Won't See on TV

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting Media Beat
January 4, 1995
By Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon

It's become a TV ritual: Every year in mid-January, around the time of Martin Luther King's birthday, we get perfunctory network news reports about "the slain civil rights leader."

The remarkable thing about this annual review of King's life is that several years-- his last years-- are totally missing, as if flushed down a memory hole.

What TV viewers see is a closed loop of familiar file footage: King battling desegregation in Birmingham (1963); reciting his dream of racial harmony at the rally in Washington (1963); marching for voting rights in Selma, Alabama (1965); and finally, lying dead on the motel balcony in Memphis (1968).

An alert viewer might notice that the chronology jumps from 1965 to 1968. Yet King didn't take a sabbatical near the end of his life. In fact, he was speaking and organizing as diligently as ever.

Almost all of those speeches were filmed or taped. But they're not shown today on TV.


It's because national news media have never come to terms with what Martin Luther King Jr. stood for during his final years.

In the early 1960s, when King focused his challenge on legalized racial discrimination in the South, most major media were his allies. Network TV and national publications graphically showed the police dogs and bullwhips and cattle prods used against Southern blacks who sought the right to vote or to eat at a public lunch counter.

But after passage of civil rights acts in 1964 and 1965, King began challenging the nation's fundamental priorities. He maintained that civil rights laws were empty without "human rights"-- including economic rights. For people too poor to eat at a restaurant or afford a decent home, King said, anti-discrimination laws were hollow.

Noting that a majority of Americans below the poverty line were white, King developed a class perspective. He decried the huge income gaps between rich and poor, and called for "radical changes in the structure of our society" to redistribute wealth and power.

"True compassion," King declared, "is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."

By 1967, King had also become the country's most prominent opponent of the Vietnam War, and a staunch critic of overall U.S. foreign policy, which he deemed militaristic. In his "Beyond Vietnam" speech delivered at New York's Riverside Church on April 4, 1967-- a year to the day before he was murdered-- King called the United States "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today."

From Vietnam to South Africa to Latin America, King said, the U.S. was "on the wrong side of a world revolution." King questioned "our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America," and asked why the U.S. was suppressing revolutions "of the shirtless and barefoot people" in the Third World, instead of supporting them.

In foreign policy, King also offered an economic critique, complaining about "capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries."

You haven't heard the "Beyond Vietnam" speech on network news retrospectives, but national media heard it loud and clear back in 1967--and loudly denounced it. Time magazine called it "demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi." The Washington Post patronized that "King has diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people."

In his last months, King was organizing the most militant project of his life: the Poor People's Campaign. He crisscrossed the country to assemble "a multiracial army of the poor" that would descend on Washington--engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience at the Capitol, if need be--until Congress enacted a poor people's bill of rights. Reader's Digest warned of an "insurrection."

King's economic bill of rights called for massive government jobs programs to rebuild America's cities. He saw a crying need to confront a Congress that had demonstrated its "hostility to the poor"-- appropriating "military funds with alacrity and generosity," but providing "poverty funds with miserliness."

How familiar that sounds today, more than a quarter-century after King's efforts on behalf of the poor people's mobilization were cut short by an assassin's bullet.

As 1995 gets underway, in this nation of immense wealth, the White House and Congress continue to accept the perpetuation of poverty. And so do most mass media. Perhaps it's no surprise that they tell us little about the last years of Martin Luther King's life.

Why the Rich Love Bush

Nathan Newman writes that Bill Gates' dividend income from Microsoft is around $97.9 million. Under Bush's new tax plan--which will provide less than $100 in tax relief for more than half of tax filers--Gates will save $37.8 million. (Via Cursor.)

George W. Lott

Our considerate president is making friends with the black community: Thoughtfully timed to coincide with the birth of Martin Luther King, he filed a brief yesterday with the Supreme Court arguing that affirmative action admission policies at the University of Michigan are unconstitutional. As a former C-student whose oily family name got him into Yale, he should know all about admission policies that discriminate againt qualified students.

Bush earned only 9% of the black vote in the 2000 elections and, despite the GOP ouster of overt racist Trent Lott, his chances for upping that number next time around seem slim. Replacing Lott with Bill Frist, one-time member of a whites-only country club, and re-nominating segregationist judge Charles Pickering (whose nomination was shot down by Democrats just last year) to the federal appeals court aren't harbingers of a black groundswell of Bush support.

With Allies Like These...

"Israel is embarking upon a more aggressive approach to the war on terror that will include staging targeted killings in the United States and other friendly countries, former Israeli intelligence officials told United Press International." Read more.


This Guy Should Have a Day Named After Him

Yesterday was Martin Luther King’s 74th birthday. With the world as it is, this speech seems apropos.

It’s significant that [Jesus] does not say, ‘Like your enemy.’ Like is a sentimental something, an affectionate something. There are a lot of people that I find it difficult to like. I don’t like what they do to me. I don’t like what they say about me and other people. I don’t like their attitudes. I don’t like some of the things they’re doing. I don’t like them. But Jesus says love them. And love is greater than like. Love is understanding, redemptive goodwill for all men, so that you love everybody, because God loves them. You refuse to do anything that will defeat an individual, because you have agape in your soul. And here you come to the point that you love the individual who does the evil deed, while hating the deed that the person does. This is what Jesus means when he says, ‘Love your enemy.’ This is the way to do it. When the opportunity presents itself when you can defeat your enemy, you must not do it.

Delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church
Montgomery, Alabama, November 17, 1957


Dog Tags

A few years ago, the 7-year old boy next door (known to me only as Blue Knuckles) asked about my mutt-brown border collie: "Is Chomsky more like your son or your brother?"

Er, um. Astute question, kid, I thought, and to this day I’ve never really been able to answer it. If you’re a dog owner, maybe you know what I mean. Sure, you provide for them like a parent, cleaning up puddles of grassy-biley barf from the rugs, gingerly pinching plastic bags of steaming matter en route to the nearest trashcan, shivering through twice-a-day walks weighed down by an arsenal of spit-sodden tennis balls, fragmented Milk Bones, and crinkled baggies. But you also have those moments where you’re not sure who’s benefiting more--or who’s really representing the wiser species. When the dog isn’t merely buddy, chum, or pal, but compadre, mentor, or sensei.

Non-dog people, you who are pshawing my hyperbole right now, you just don’t get it. And you won’t understand when I say "right on" to the fine members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors who this week passed an ordinance granting pet owners recognition in the city health code as "pet guardians." While I still can’t answer Blue Knuckles’ query, I know Chomsky’s more an animal than he is a piece of property.

Free Money!

In 2000, a class-action lawsuit was filed against the recording industry for price fixing (in short, if retailers advertised CDs at prices below the record labels’ preferred price, the labels would bail on their agreement to share ad costs). Long story short: if you bought a compact disc between 1995 and 2000, you’re eligible to take part in the suit and receive up to $20. Go here before March 3, 2003, to file a claim.

Operation Desert Spam

We've got the mightiest military in recorded history and this is the best we can come up with: an e-mail spam campaign that urges Iraqi military personnel to defect, disable nuclear weapons, and hand over info on weapons of mass destruction? A senior US military officer said on CNN, "This is just the beginning of a psychological warfare campaign." Ahh, yes. And I'm sure there's more to come, the crafty devils...


The Bill of Rights is Non-Negotiable

Cities across the country are telling the Bush administration that fighting terrorism shouldn't mean forfeiting our civil rights. From Berkeley and Boulder to Denver and Detroit, 22 cities representing more than 3.5 million people have passed resolutions calling for the repeal of portions of the USA-PATRIOT and Homeland Security acts. And 70 other cities have similar proposals in the works. To see if yours is one of them (or to find tools you can use to start such a movement in your town), visit the website of the nonprofit Bill of Rights Defense Committee. Here in Minneapolis, visit the Minneapolis Bill of Rights Defense Committee website to learn more. Ben Franklin was onto something when he wrote in 1759, "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Kurt Vonnegut

"We have been conquered by psychopathic personalities who are attractive." (Read the interview)

When W Wanted War

When did the president cook up his plan to unleash America's fury on Iraq? Hard to say for sure, but a Washington Post article puts the date at September 17, 2001, just six days after the World Trade Center attacks. In a document outlining war plans in Afghanistan, measures for taking out Saddam Hussein were discussed, echoing sentiments that White House insiders like Paul Wolfowitz and Zalmay M. Khalilzad have been clamoring for for years. But, given the obvious influence of George Herbert Walker Bush on his son, you can bet it goes back further than that.

GW's inaugural speech, delivered before 9/11, used the same kind of rhetoric as his post-9/11 addresses. He foreshadows the "Axis of Evil" namecalling by referring to "the enemies of liberty" and offers a posture that, in retrospective, is more prophetic than macho: "We will build our defences beyond challenge, lest weakness invite challenge. We will confront weapons of mass destruction, so that a new century is spared new horrors."

But tough ol' gal of the Washington press corps Helen Thomas nailed it when she asked press secretary Ari Fleischer why the president wants to drop bombs on innocent Iraqis. Fleischer hemmed and hawed, weaseling out of the question, before Thomas asked: "Have they laid the glove on you or on the United States, the Iraqis, in 11 years?" The press secretary's response: "I guess you have forgotten about the Americans who were killed in the first Gulf War as a result of Saddam Hussein's aggression then."

Hmmm, so it's not about weapons of mass destruction or the supposed ties between Iraq and Al-Qaeda. As Thomas put it: "Is this revenge, 11 years of revenge?"


Man of Conviction

White House Press Briefing with Ari Fleischer

Monday, January 6, 2003 12:30 pm

White House reporter Russell Mokhiber: Ari, other than [National Security Council member] Elliot Abrams, how many convicted criminals are on the White House staff?

Ari Fleischer: You tell me, Russell.

Mokhiber: Could you give a list of convicted criminals on the White House staff, other than Elliot Abrams?

Ari Fleischer: I'll go right to the convicted criminals division and ask them.

Mokhiber: Seriously, why isn't being convicted of a crime a disqualifier for being on the White House staff?

Ari Fleischer: Russell, this is an issue that you like to repeat every briefing--

Mokhiber: But you don't answer it Ari.

Ari Fleischer: -- I refer you to the repeat that I gave you the third time that you asked, which masked the second, which corresponded to the first.

Mokhiber: Why isn't it a disqualifier?

(Ari moves on)


Zinn, War, and The Banality of Evil

On PBS's NOW, Bill Moyers interviews historian Howard Zinn, author of A People's History of the United States: 1492–Present on Bush's war with Iraq and his own experiences with preemptive warfare:

"If we go to war, we will kill thousands, tens of thousands, we don't know how many people. A hundred thousand? We will kill huge numbers of people. And who will we kill? We will kill the victims of Saddam Hussein. If we go to war against Iraq, we are killing the victims of the tyrant. That to me creates a moral equation which is intolerable."

Zinn also recounts his experiences as a pilot in World War II. Two weeks before the war ended, he was called up to bomb the small French town of Royan, where a few thousand German soldiers were hiding. 1200 heavy B-17 bomers dropped "jellied gasoline"--the first use of napalm in the European theater of war:

"I can understand how atrocities are done by ordinary people... What Hannah Arendt called 'the banality of evil.' I understand how--because I--I didn't even think about it. I was just trained to drop bombs. There is the enemy, you make a decision at the beginning of the war, they're the bad guys, you're the good guys, and therefore everything goes. And so we just did this. And so, we destroyed the town of Royan. Killed Frenchmen, killed women, children, killed the German soldiers. Victory. And it was only afterwards-- it was only after Hiroshima and Nagasaki that I thought about that. And then I thought about Dresden. And then I thought about the other-- killing civilians in the war. Unnecessary even from the point of view of winning the war. And I thought war brutalizes everybody involved in it."

Causa Belli

They read good books, and quote, but never learn

a language other than the scream of rocket-burn.

Our straighter talk is drowned but ironclad:

Elections, money, empire, oil and Dad.

British Poet Laureate Andrew Motion sticks it to George Bush in this 30-word poem that ran on the front page of Thursday's Guardian, creating something of a stir (wait, aren't poets supposed to be charming and benign?). The title is a Latin reference for "pretexts of war."


Food Stuff

A few quick links on the stuff of life:

The US's top trade offical, trying to bully the EU into dropping barriers to the sale of American genetically modified crops, diplomatically calls them "luddites" and "immoral" and European policies "antiscientific." But the EU, God love 'em, isn't buying.

After the holidays, The Guardian's George Monbiot, a meat-eater, is thinking about going, ahem, cold turkey. The environmental costs of meat, dairy and egg production are preventing us from feeding the world's hungry: while around 800 million people are permanently malnourished right now, livestock consume half of the world's grain. (Click here, then look for the link, "The Poor Get Stuffed.")

Holy cow! McDonalds in the UK begins offering cartons of organic milk to complement the free-range eggs they already use. Who knew?


Sex Miseducation

According to Nicholas Kristof, conservative groups have been running a dangerous disinformation campaign against condoms. Evangelical Christian groups have sent out e-mail missives stating that condoms don't prevent AIDS (they do, Kristof says), Texas radio spots say condoms don't work, and US administration officials at a Bangkok conference last month demanded the removal of references to "consistent condom use" in the fight against AIDS/HIV. At the same time, the administration has cut condom distributions--which cost just $3.50 per year of life saved compared to the $1050 antiretroviral therapy costs--from 800 million per year to 300 million.

SUV = Son Under Vehicle?

Last year, at least one American child per week was killed in his own driveway, backed over by a parent or close relative. Most of the 55 dead children were under age four, and 60% of the vehicles involved were SUVs or light trucks, notorious for their poor visibility. In his new book High and Mighty: SUVs: The World's Most Dangerous Vehicles and How They Got That Way, Keith Bradsher takes on the SUV on environmental and safety grounds. Most startling is how lenient safety and environmental restrictions are for SUVs (which are regulated as "light trucks"), a testament to the auto industry’s capable, heavily funded lobbying efforts. Some facts:
  • For every one life saved by driving an SUV, five others will be taken.
  • On average, SUVs are three times as likely to kill drivers of cars they collide with, but the Chevy Tahoe is five times as likely.
  • The four-ton Tahoe kills 122 people for every million models on the road; in comparsion, the Honda Accord only kills 21.
  • By law, SUVs are allowed to emit up to 5.5 times as much smog-producing gases per mile than cars; for example, they’re allowed to emit 1.1 gram of nitrogen oxide compared to an allowable 0.2 gram per mile for cars.

    Read about Bradsher’s book at Alternet, or listen to yesterday’s interviewwith him on Democracy Now.

    If you drive an SUV, please don't run over your loved ones. If you’re in the market to buy one, think twice.


The Mayberry Machiavellis

Ron Suskind's chilling profile of Karl Rove in the current issue of Esquireheavily quotes John DiIulio, one-time head of Bush's Faith-Based Initiatives program:

"There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus," says DiIulio. "What you've got is everything--and I mean everything--being run by the political arm. It's the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis."

"I heard many, many staff discussions but not three meaningful, substantive policy discussions," he writes. "There were no actual policy white papers on domestic issues. There were, truth be told, only a couple of people in the West Wing who worried at all about policy substance and analysis, and they were even more overworked than the stereotypical nonstop, twenty-hour-a-day White House staff. Every modern presidency moves on the fly, but on social policy and related issues, the lack of even basic policy knowledge, and the only casual interest in knowing more, was somewhat breathtaking: discussions by fairly senior people who meant Medicaid but were talking Medicare; near-instant shifts from discussing any actual policy pros and cons to discussing political communications, media strategy, et cetera. Even quite junior staff would sometimes hear quite senior staff pooh-pooh any need to dig deeper for pertinent information on a given issue."

...Sources in the West Wing, echoing DiIulio's comments, say that even cursory discussion of domestic policy became much less frequent after September 11, 2001, with the exception of Homeland Security. Meanwhile, the department of "Strategery," or the "Strategery Group," depending on the source, has steadily grown. The term, coined in 2000 by Saturday Night Live's Will Ferrell, started as a joke at the White House, too, but has actually become a term of art meaning the oversight of any activity—from substantive policy to ideological stance to public event—by the president's political thinkers.

"It's a revealing shorthand," says one White House staff member. "Yes, the president sometimes trips, rhetorically, but it doesn’t matter as long as we keep our eye on the ball politically."


The Tao of Google

Last October, exploring my own befuddlement over these troubling times -- George W. Bush, the death of Paul Wellstone, an impending war -- I wondered how I could check the rest of the world’s emotional pulse. What’s ticking us off? Where are we finding elation? Is everyone as glee-filled and optimistic as, say, the president’s approval ratings suggest? I started typing phrases into the search engine Google, wondering if poverty or corporate corruption -- or maybe the high price of gas -- would top the list of psyche-rattling ire. Sifting through more than three billion personal home pages, corporate websites and chatrooms, I didn't find what I was looking for.

It shouldn’t have surprised me that the search strand "It makes me angry when…" turned up websites for every family therapist, school counselor, and child-development guru this side of Cape Horn. Wisely, I suppose, they’re all advocating the clear, calm expression of one’s emotional states: "It makes me angry when you don’t appreciate my cooking," and the like. Not the kind of visceral, frypan-chucking anger I was hoping for. So I keyed in the more vinegary, "It pisses me off when…" and found a jackpot of crass, bold, sometimes poignant views. In a Studs Terkel sort of way, it was better snapshot of the world: a crazy collage of ire and irony, inanity and humanity.

  • I get pissed off when all the construction workers are gawking and all, but today I smiled back at every guy who smiled at me.
  • I get pissed off when the rules are changed in the middle of the game, especially when these new rules are screwing me.
  • I get pissed off when progressives take Ithaca for granted and ignore its problems.
  • I get pissed off when my hubby lies to me.
  • I get pissed off when someone wins simply because they meet the EOE check-boxes on the application form.
  • I get pissed off when my cane falls over.
  • I get pissed off when people ask me how her weight is.
  • I get pissed off when people who know nothing about Indonesia judge the country only based on what they hear from the media.
  • I get pissed off when I have to drive 4 and a half hours to Queenstown and find out the reports were a load of shit.
  • I get pissed off when I go in a store and see a guy hiding behind a computer.
  • I get pissed off when someone takes a piece of fiction and applies it to their own life.
  • I get pissed off when I read beauty magazines.
  • I get pissed off when things go bad for the team.
  • I get pissed off when people talk behind my back, and when I get pissed off I get violent.
  • I get pissed off when Mark kisses me and calls me a girl.
  • I get pissed off when people call AIDS a manageable disease.
  • I get pissed off when people diss Britney Spears
  • I get pissed off when I’m defending you and you turn on me and start insulting me.
  • I get pissed off when he asks, "Ba-abe, where do you want me to put these pair of pants? In the closet?"
  • I get pissed off when I don’t win, so I’m only there if I’m on a winning streak.
  • I get pissed off when he walks in without knocking.
  • I get pissed off when I hear about fucking retards going around singing "Light My Fire" by The Doors.
How odd and voyeuristic to be sitting in my living room tapping such personal emotions from, of all places, the public commons of the internet. I was hearing intimate tales I’m not sure I wanted to know told by people I’ll never meet but can’t help wondering about.

And clipping these sentences from their contexts, pinpointing the irritation and butting them against each other in catchy cadence, gives me a disjointed buzz. The specific becomes the archetype, and I think that maybe I understand our species a bit better. Erroneous or not, I'm hooked.

Fancying myself something of a conceptual artist, I continued on. I ran a search for "It makes me happy when…" in hopes of creating emotional parity (and trying to counter my gloomy inclinations). I inserted a range of synonyms like "excited" and "ecstatic," and--hoping to tap into other demographics -- "psyched," "stoked" and, archaically, "jazzed." (Which was silly: what jackass is going to type "I’m jazzed when my new shipment of Harry and David apples arrives!"? ) After my "anger" lesson, I was learning.

I was learning that people who are happy -- or at least those who feel compelled to write about it on their web sites -- aren’t interesting.

So I tried a more cynical route, the avenue of emptiness and isolation we can all relate to. What does it feel like to be ignored, maligned, erased? How does it feel to be not taken at your word?

Fine, apparently.

  • Nobody believes me when I tell them I’m Gary Coleman’s cousin.
  • Nobody believes me when I tell them the Sims can give the finger when they get mad and tired enough.
  • Nobody believes me, when I tell them that I’m not a professional but "only" an amateur-massager!
  • Nobody believes me when I tell them it’s a $75 guitar.
  • Nobody believes me when I tell them that we pull the BBQ pit behind a truck, so here’s the picture to prove it.
  • Nobody believes me when I tell them they won’t be stuck.
  • Nobody believes me when I tell them I was swatting a bug.
  • Nobody believes me when I tell them that my cat has fangs... well, he does..
  • Nobody believes me when i tell them Houston TX was a great place to live.
  • Nobody believes me when I tell them that HMV stands for His Master’s Voice
  • Nobody believes me when I tell them I hear a strange noise.
  • Nobody believes me when I tell them he has never had mac and cheese, or hotdogs, and has only had two slices of pizza in his lifetime
  • Nobody believes me when I tell them that we do a "perfect" shirt and deliver everything on time.
  • Nobody believes me when I tell them that what we have is real.
  • Nobody believes me when I tell them that it took three days for me to lose my virginity.
  • Nobody believes me when I tell them I grew up in Texas.
  • Nobody believes me when I tell them I’m a fast healer and feel great already.
  • Nobody believes me when I tell them my favorite amp is a Peavey.
  • Nobody believes me when I tell them that I used to be a lawyer.
  • Nobody believes me when I tell them how loud that fucker is.
  • I am Mexican. Nobody believes me when I tell them though since I’m so damn pallid.

So I didn’t peer into the bared soul of America, and maybe the internet isn't a pixelated potpourri of exposed longing, rage, and tenderness. But I conjured some pretty vivid mental images. I wish I could see the beater pickup truck putt-putting along with a monster barbecue pit in tow (I imagine it comically large, like a postcard from Idaho that shows a baked potato Photoshopped onto the bed of a semi trailer). I wish I could hear a developmentally disabled choir belting out Jim Morrison’s verse about "no time to wallow in the mire" at glee-club volume. Just how pale do Mexicans get? Someday these stories should be written down. Of course, they have, and I’ve picked them apart, rather clinically. Maybe better stories could be forged. But, people being what we are (and truth being stranger than fiction), probably not.