Lousy At Math
A poem by Hafiz (c. 1320-1389), known in the Persian-speaking world as a "tongue of the mysterious" (lesan ol qayb).

Once a group of thieves stole a rare diamond
Larger than a goose egg.

Its value could have easily bought
One thousand horses

And two thousand acres
Of the most fertile land in Shiraz.

The thieves got drunk that night
To celebrate their great haul,

But during the course of the evening
The effects of the liquor
And their mistrust of each other grew to such
An extent

They decided to divide the stone into pieces.
Of course then the Priceless became lost.

Most everyone is lousy at math
And does that to God-

Dissects the Indivisible One,

By thinking, saying,
"This is my Beloved, he looks like this
And acts like that,

How could that moron over there


Free speech and the head of state: A 15-year old boy drew a picture of George Bush's head on a stick for an art class. The teacher turned it in to school officials, who called the police, who called the Secret Service. Bush's enlarged head--in the drawing--was supposed to be an effigy, said a spokesman for the boy's family. (Via AMERICAblog.)

Prochoice women = Terrorists: Unofficial White House spokesperson Karen Hughes has likened advocates for choice to terrorists. As activists gathered last weekend to rally for reproductive rights, she answered a reporter's question about abortion and the presidential election: "I think after September 11, the American people are valuing life more and realizing that we need policies to value the dignity and worth of every life. And I think those are the kind of policies that the American people can support, particularly at a time when we're facing an enemy, and really the fundamental difference between us and the terror network we fight is that we value every life." Hear her comments--and Jon Stewart's reaction to it--here. (Via Cursor.)
Hmm: The new Iraqi flag--an aquamarine crescent with gold and blue stripes on a white field--has been met with bewilderment by Iraqis for many reasons. Chief among them: its resemblance to the Israeli flag.

Is the net killing libraries? A spooky report from The Guardian: public libraries in the UK could die out within 15 years. With the US's comparatively young literary tradition, not to mention a surging trend toward privatization in all fields, when will ours close down?

On privatization: Arundhati Roy's "The Reincarnation of Rumpelstiltskin" is a poetic and sharp-toothed look at water privatization in India: "When all the rivers and valleys and forests and hills of the world have been priced, packaged, bar-coded and stacked in the local supermarket, when all the hay and coal and earth and wood and water has been turned to gold, what then shall we do with all the gold? Make nuclear bombs to obliterate what's left of the ravaged landscapes and the notional nations in our ruined world?"

Hard facts: A study published in New Scientist this month suggests that men who masturbate frequently are significantly less likely to get prostate cancer. My mom's reply to that news? "You can't believe everything you read on the internet."


Instilling confidence: The website for Iraq's Coalition Provisional Authority may have a ticker to count down "Days to Iraqi Sovereignty"--68 and counting--but it can't tell you how safe the situation there is. The page dedicated to "Consolidated Weekly Reports" reads, merely: "For security reasons, there are no security reports."


Profiling the Fox viewer: A columnist at the traditionally conservative Canadian daily The Globe and Mail recently opined that bringing the Fox News Channel to Canada was a great idea, if only because then Canadians could be amused by American rhetoric. Bill O'Reilly railed against the article, calling Canadians "pinheads" and inaccurately dubbing the paper "the far-left Toronto Globe and Mail." O'Reilly's lathered groupies wrote venomous letters to the paper, offering an interesting cross-section of the networks fans. Writes John Doyle:
The people who support Fox News must be the most uncivil and foul-mouthed creatures on the planet. This is an informed opinion. They'd give English soccer hooligans a run for their money.

I lost count of the number of times I was called "an a**hole." It was at least 43 times, anyway. I was called "a pussy," "a wussy," "a pr**k," "a jerk," "a hack" and "a creep." A man in Cleveland not only called me "an a**hole" but also wished me a "f***ed-up day." A lady -- and I use the term advisedly -- in Colorado wrote to say that all Canadians are "a**holes" and thenordered me not to visit her state. I was also called a Canadian numerous times, as if that were an automatic and withering insult.

In an nice touch, a man from somewhere-in-the-USA opened by cheerfully calling me "sonny bub" and, after some confusing name-calling that involved the word "intellectual," he rose to a great rhetorical flourish -- he asked if I had served in Vietnam!

Bringing home the dead: A cargo worker in Kuwait secretly photographed flag-draped military coffins--"transfer tubes"--coming home from Iraq. After one of the images ran on the front page of the Seattle Times, in defiance of the Bush administration's ban on such photos, the woman was fired. The Memory Hole received the entire 361-photo collection after filing a Freedom of Information Request (mirrored here). The US death toll in Iraq now stands at 706. And: An excerpt from Susan Sontag's Regarding the Pain of Others,, her book on war photography, spectatorship, and the rhetoric of brutal images of suffering.


Earth Day gift suggestions for me: A set of four dinner plates made from recycled traffic light lenses. (Via Mimi.)

Freeculture, the movement: On April 23, Swarthmore students are launching an international student movement for free culture, dedicated to raising awareness of and access to free software and open-source technologies. Other issues of interest to Free Culture (which is named after Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig's new book): fair use, a creative commons, file-sharing, smart copyright, Wikipedia.

TV Turnoff Week continues through tomorrow; for ideas how to fill the void, visit the TV Turnoff Network.


The Anarchist in the Library: A conversation with Siva Vaidhyanathan

One year ago tomorrow, I ran an interview with cultural historian, copyright scholar, and NYU professor Siva Vaidhyanathan on his book, The Anarchist in the Library: How the Clash Between Freedom and Control is Hacking the Real World and Crashing the System. In anticipation of its general release on May 4, I'm reposting excerpts from that interview (full transcript here). Although Siva might disagree, the timing couldn't be better; the topics we discussed are still making news, from George Bush pushing to expand the reach of the Patriot Act to the recording industry's redoubled efforts to clamp down on mp3 file-sharing. I especially like his argument that anarchistic structures--organizational forms that are radically democratic, decentralized, and communally focused--offer a serious threat to the commercial takeover of our culture: peer-to-peer technologies and open-source programming, for example, offer us an alternative to corporate channels for discussing and growing our ideas. "For the past 200 years, the centralization of power and information under the aegis of the state was considered the greatest challenge to republican forms of government and commerce," he writes. "But now decentralization and distribution have emerged as the most important political reactions to the expanding power of the global state-corporation partnership that is setting the political and economic agenda for the entire world."

Paul Schmelzer: The background for your work on copyright: huge corporations are gradually but firm-fistedly getting more control over information that at some point should become the property of the culture at large--the kind of information that the framers of the Constitution thought vital to advances in creative culture: literature, music, scientific research, ideas. Why is this happening? And why is it important for the average citizen to take notice?

Siva Vaidhyanathan: Both democracy and creative culture share this notion that they work best when the raw materials are cheap and easy and easily distributed. You can look at any cultural development that’s made a difference in the world--reggae, blues, crocheting--and say, y’know, it’s really about communities sharing. It’s about communities moving ideas between and among people, revision, theme and variation, and ultimately a sort of consensus about what is good and what should stay around. We recognize that’s how culture grows… In the last 25 to 30 years, the United States government made a very overt choice. [It] decided that the commercial interests of a handful of companies--the News Corporation, Disney, AOL-Time Warner, Vivendi--were selling products that could gain some sort of trade advantage for Americans.

You can look at any cultural development that’s made a difference in the world--reggae, blues, crocheting--and say, y’know, it’s really about communities sharing.

Therefore all policy has shifted in their favor. That means policy about who gets to own and run networks, who gets to own and run radio stations, how long copyright protection will last, what forms copyright protections will take. We’ve put ourselves in a really ugly situation though, because we’ve forgotten that a regulatory system like copyright was designed to encourage creativity, to encourage the dissemination of knowledge. These days, copyright is so strong and lasts so long that it’s counterproductive to those efforts.

PS: So how has copyright changed with the advent of digital technology?

SV: It didn’t have to change. In 1976, Congress made it very clear that any work that’s fixed in any tangible medium is covered by copyright. So we already had copyright in digital materials. Every time you wrote an e-mail it was protected by copyright. The problem is that the companies that invest so many millions of dollars in these high-end commercial products--the sort of products the US Government decided represented culture--stopped believing in copyright. They stopped believing that you could regulate culture softly and reasonably, because they were afraid that digital technology would encourage us to undermine the market for those legitimate goods. There was this untested assumption that markets for music, for instance, would disappear if digital technology allowed people to share music files.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act took the regulation of culture away from human beings, courts, and Congress and shifted it into the machines, made it a matter of technology rather than humanity.

Well, in order to head off this problem, Congress at the behest of the media industries actually passed a bill that the media industries wrote for them. It’s called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The [DMCA] was a radical shift in how we regulate culture. It took the regulation of culture away from human beings, courts, and Congress and shifted it into the machines, made it a matter of technology rather than humanity. The [DMCA] also made technology sacrosanct. In other words, if there’s a technological form that wraps a particular piece of culture--like a song, if there’s a digital file of a song and it’s covered by encryption--the [DMCA] makes it illegal to evade that encryption without permission, even if the song in question is in the public domain, in other words it’s not covered by copyright; in other words you own it. You can’t even get past those sorts of barriers to get to material that you and all of us own.

So this created a much higher level, a really absurd level, of protection. These digital locks, they last forever, theoretically. Although with technological breakdown, they could last forever and be inaccessible. They have absolutely no way of feeling through the complexities of the ways we use culture in our lives. And, there's been a huge chilling effect on librarians and scientists who do work in areas surrounding encryption and digital distribution and digital information management. So we've created this really ugly situation through the foolish deployment of technology to intervene in what are complex human, social and cultural problems.

PS: How is this different from when we were kids and would Xerox chapters of books or copy a record onto a cassette tape and trade them with friends?

VS: All of those behaviors are older than even cassette tapes. The behaviors of sharing culture are what build culture. So this is a long-standing human habit. What is different is that these behaviors have been amplified and extended by the powers of digital technology and networking. We can't deny that quantitatively we're in a new situation, although qualitatively we are not. We're actually behaving the way we always have.

Culture is worthless if you keep it in your house.

Culture is worthless if you keep it in your house. So, yes, in that sense, this proliferation of shared culture--this proliferation of ostensibly free material--is simply the electronic simulation of what we've been doing in towns and villages and neighborhoods and garages and high schools all around the world for centuries.

PS: In your first book Copyrights and Copywrongs, you discussed blues music as arising from something akin to "the circle" in African cultures, where ideas are introduced, gestate and grow within community. Is such a circle still alive now, and what's the prognosis for its health?

VS: This sort of creative circle--the drum circle or the blues-singing circle--is simply the most vivid image we have of these sort of creative communities. These creative communities are all over the place. Anyplace artists gather, any place musicians just jam for the fun of it… I think that this is a powerful form and a powerful habit. It's also an important part of being human. It's the essence of being cultural.

We're not missing those communities; we're just not investing in them and celebrating them like we should. Because the form of cultural production that this country and therefore the world has decided to celebrate, protect and promote is the industrial form. It's the form that says: it's gonna start with a piece of paper by a scriptwriter, it's going to go through a series of meetings, it's going to be produced step by step with the contribution of hundreds or thousands of people with hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars and then be distributed to millions of people, perhaps billions of people, in a form that the institution that produced it dictates.

The form of cultural production that this country and therefore the world has decided to celebrate, protect and promote is the industrial form.

Now, all of that in some ways makes our life better. These mass-produced movies are things that human beings value, share, talk about. They become parts of our cultural commerce. They become parts of our cultural life. We quote Star Wars all the time in daily life. We quote Casablanca. And I don't think we want to imagine a world in which there's no incentive to produce Star Wars or Casablanca--although we might imagine a world without Jar-Jar Binks--and we might imagine a world in which someone could write a sequel to Casablanca and not be laughed at (although perhaps that's hard to imagine). Nonetheless, it's this notion of working from the common cultural phenomena that we share to build new and special things. That's what we have to focus on. That's why we need a low barrier of entry to creative processes. That's why we need free and cheap access to cultural materials. Free and cheap access can come a number of ways: through electronic networks, through networks of friends sharing material, through public libraries, through universities, through schools, through churches. These are all institutions built for sharing. One of the things I'm concerned about is this ideology of the industrial production and dissemination of cultural products is infecting some of those institutions as well.

PS: In your new book, I like where you're talking about the anarchy of cassette tape culture--leaderless, vibrant, creative networks. Tell me about that: where do you find hope in the face of this corporate onslaught?

SV: When I look at how cultures build themselves and proliferate, they pretty much do what anarchists have been describing as the ideal political state. I'm not willing to go far enough to say this I think this is the ideal political state, but I do think the anarchists are onto something descriptively, if not prescriptively. Culture is anarchistic. Culture builds itself without leaders. Culture proliferates itself through consensus and revision. Culture works best when there is minimal authority and guidance. Now if we accept that culture is anarchy, then we have to look at these systems in which oligarchy is imposing itself and creating all sorts of horror stories about anarchy. The horror stories might be legitimate, they might have some serious ramifications. I think the best example is: the information systems that we've built that are inherently anarchistic help child pornographers. I don't think anyone can support the notion that child pornography is so easily available, so widely distributed. Those of us that celebrate the freedom of these new information systems, tend to want to ignore those problems. Tend to want to ignore the fact that some very bad things can go on through these systems. There's some measure of irresponsibility.

Culture is anarchistic. Culture builds itself without leaders. Culture proliferates itself through consensus and revision. Culture works best when there is minimal authority and guidance.

The real question is: what methods do we use to attack those bad things. Do we want to interpret these bad things--child pornography for one, white supremacy being another, terrorism in general being a third--these are real problems. How do we attack them? Do we attack them by building new machines that stop up these flows of information? Is that good in the long term, and, just as importantly, is that harmful to those of us who want to use those systems for good. This is my big problem with it: I think that these real problems are complex, are deep-seeded, have deep historical roots and are gonna take decades or centuries to confront, if we're going to confront them honestly. Instead, we're trying to confront them technologically and shallowly, and I think this is a big mistake. The negative externalities of this, the spillover effects of this sort of harsh technological policy is that legitimate movements for freedom and democracy and creative culture are undermined, along with the bad stuff. The big problem is, these moves don't actually do enough to stop the bad stuff.

PS: We've got John Ashcroft in power, and we've got a legitimate need to deal with terrorism and intercept e-mails, for example, to prevent terrorist acts, but to Ashcroft, just about everything is "bad stuff."

VS: One of the things the United States government has been pushing since September 11, 2001 is a new information policy, a new information system. There are suggestions coming out of Washington DC to radically redesign the internet, or at least the last mile of the Internet--the mile through which the users interact with the internet service providers--to have more oversight, less privacy, to tether our internet presence to a particular place, a particular city, state or country. There are also efforts to monitor all of our electronic transactions, whether that’s through credit cards or long-distance phonecalls or cellphones, and have a huge database--run through the Pentagon--trace all our moves.

There are two questions here: would such a system be effective against the real problems? And would the harm that comes from that sort of intervention outweigh the benefits? The 2nd question is really hard to ask, so let me ask it a different way. If this technological intervention is effective--and that’s a big if--is there a less intrusive way to achieve the same result, and if so, I think we should look for the less intrusive way.

The USA Patriot Act is a blank check to a government institution that is notorious for overstepping its bounds, notorioius for being ineffective, incompetent and on the verge of corrupt. It’s probably the biggest example of legislative malpractice in the last 50 years.

So if surveillance of everybody might stop a handful of terrorist acts--and hopefully that’s all we’re facing--is there a way to imagine more targeted surveillance? Surveillance based on hard work, surveillance based on real investigations. Surveillance based on the trust the government establishes with its citizens, such that its citizens feel invested I the public good? What I mean by that is: the best way to stop any illegal act, terrorist or otherwise, is to make sure that those terrorists do not have support structures in society in general. In order to eliminate those support structures, you have to make sure life is good and secure and that the people around those ne’er-do-wells have some sort of investment or loyalty in the larger community. Now this sounds sort of snitchy, and that’s really what I’m talking about. There are really complicated, hard, messy ways to attack terrorism, and they’re expensive, and they’re imperfect. But I think that they are ultimately, down the road, more effective and more likely to engender trust in the nation at large.

PS: The USA Patriot Act is pretty scary. Do we have any evidence how they’re utilizing it and that rights are being stripped?

VS: Part of the problem with The Patriot Act is that it is self-denying. If you’re being investigated under the powers of the Patriot Act, you’re not allowed to tell anybody that you’re being investigated. If you run an institution like a library or a bookstore and the FBI comes and says “Look we want to look at all the records of this particular patron,” you’re not allowed to complain about that, protest that, inform the person who’s being investigated. You’re sworn to secrecy. In other words, you’re enlisted in the world of security and law enforcement, whether you want to be or not.

We don’t know what the effects of the Patriot Act are. And Congress doesn’t know. Congress doesn’t know how many times it’s been invoked. Congress doesn’t know how many people are being investigated under this system. Congress doesn’t know and therefore we don’t know how effective it has been and we have absolutely no way of testing it. This is a blank check to a government institution--in this case the Federal Bureau of Investigation--that is notorious for overstepping its bounds, notorioius for being ineffective, incompetent and on the verge of corrupt. It’s an institution that we know is and has been blatantly racist in many of its practices. This is not the sort of power we want to give to any particular government agency without very careful oversight. But that’s exactly what we did. Well, Congress did it. And Congress did it without even reading what it was doing. The USA Patriot Act is probably the biggest example of legislative malpractice in the last 50 years.

PS: The title of your book, then, takes on a new tenor when you think about how independent booksellers and librarians are shredding records to protect the privacy of readers and municipalities are voting not to enforce the Patriot Act. The "anarchist in the library" takes on a whole new cast.

VS: For some reason, libraries have become the site of conflict. Libraries are perceived now as a den of terrorists and pornographers. And this is not only a misdescription of how libraries work in our lives, but I think ultimately also a very dangerous assumption. What we’re doing though is making librarians choose among their values. Librarians believe very strongly in recordkeeping and in maintaining archives. It’s part of the historical record; that’s half of what they do. But the other half of what they do is serve and protect their patrons. The federal government has made librarians choose between retaining records that might be useful, for instance in budgetary discussions not to mention historical research, and protecting their patrons, so their patrons don’t feel intimidated by the books they choose to read or by the potential of oversight of the books they choose to read. There are a lot of librarians around the country right now who are taking a very noble and strong stand against this situation, and I think we need to celebrate them and support them in this effort.

PS: I love the title of the book because you think of librarians as mousy and meek, but now they’re the vanguard…

VS: Libraries are considered to be dangerous places and librarians are our heroes. This is something that we really have to emphasize. The library is also not just functionally important to communities all over the world, but a library itself is the embodiment of enlightenment values in all the best sense of that. A library is a temple to the notion that knowledge is not just for the elite and that access should be low cost if not free, that doors should be open. Investing in libraries monetarily, spritually, intellectually, legally is one of the best things we can do for our immediate state and for the life we hope we can build for the rest of the century.

A library is a temple to the notion that knowledge is not just for the elite and that access should be low cost if not free, that doors should be open.

PS: Since we’re in the library, I first saw you on Now with Bill Moyers and someone on there was raising the specter of “pay-per-use” models for culture and how the “lending library” will change.

VS: Yeah. Hollywood has this dream of efficiency. A dream of a perfectly efficient distribution system. Stuff in Hollywood is pretty inefficient. They invest millions of dollars in products up-front that could completely bomb on the market. They have no way to steer these ocean liners deftly as they walk through the production process and the markets. So one of the reasons that business people in Hollywood are so nervous is that they never really know what’s going to win or what’s going to lose. They don’t what their markets and audiences really want; they don’t know how to adjust things in mid-stream. So there’s constant pressure to make their systems more efficient.

The notion of pay-per-view comes right out of that desire for a more efficient distribution system. In a pay-per-view system you’re not paying for thousands of prints of a movie, you’re paying to keep the digital material on a handful of servers. And you know the people who are going to tap into this server are precisely the people who want to watch it. People who, if they’re charged low prices, aren’t going to feel ripped off by this process. But to install this kind of pay-per-view system, much like we have with cable TV, in all forms of culture--to build a global jukebox--they feel like they need to have control over every step of the commercial process, in terms of format and content and so forth. Price. So to build the global jukebox they have done things like pass the [DMCA] and go crazy on enforcement. They’re afraid that we’re going to build that jukebox by ourselves with our own material. And, unfortunately for them, that’s exactly what we’re doing.

Now, what does this mean for libraries? That means that there are incredible pressures on libraries to conform to this pay-per-view model. We’re seeing it first in the world of academic journals, which are coming to libraries in electronic form more and more, less in paper form. So imagine this: an electronic journal gets streamed into a library. A library never has it on its shelf, never owns a paper copy, can’t archive it for posterity. Its patrons can access the material, maybe can print it, maybe not. But if the subscription runs out, if the library loses money and has to cancel that subscription, if the company itself goes out of business, all the material is gone. The library has no trace of what it bought: no record, no archive. It’s lost entirely. This is not a good model for a library. It defeats a lot of the purpose of a library. You might as well be sitting at a computer terminal in Kinko’s at that point.

Read an excerpt of The Anarchist in the Library here. Also, the quarterly library journal Counterpoise--"for social responsibilities, liberty, and dissent"--is publishing the interview in its next issue, due out later this month.


Media fast: Today is the first day of international TV Turnoff Week. Call it what you want--a media fast, a weeklong spiritual quest, a glancing (albeit small) blow off the chin of big media--but try it, a week without television.

If we don't keep threatening your civil rights, the terrorists have already won. "To abandon the Patriot Act would deprive law enforcement and intelligence officers of needed tools in the war on terror, and demonstrate willful blindness to a continuing threat," says the prez.

99 dead in April so far in Iraq.


Credibility is on the ballot: The DNC has made a nice campaign video out of the president's fumbled response to a reporter's question about his biggest mistake since 9/11. Part of the script:
Bush: Hmm. I wish you would have given me this written question ahead of time, so I could plan for it. ... You know, I just, uh, I'm sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference, with all the pressure of trying to come up with an answer, but it hadn't yet. .. I, uh, hope I -- I don't want to sound like I've made no mistakes. I'm confident I have. I just haven't -- you just put me under the spot here, and maybe I'm not as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one.

Text: Suggestions for the next time Bush is asked about his mistakes...

Text: "Mission accomplished."

Text: "We found the weapons of mass destruction."

Text: "Bring 'em on."

Text: Credibility is on the ballot this November.
The Republicans have begun taking out ads on videogame websites that offer viewers the chance to play a game in which Bush kills terrorists.
My so-called privacy: According to 3-month study by Earthlink, the average PC is infected by 28 spyware programs, tiny parasite programs that, in many cases, send your web-surfing habits back to the the programs' creators.

Happy trails: Mark Honigsbaum, writing in the Observer, goes in search of happiness:
The biggest puzzle of all, however, is why, given their wealth, the leading Western democracies aren't happier. After all, income levels in Europe and North America have risen steadily since the Seventies, yet satisfaction levels have hardly improved at all, and in the US they have actually fallen. Indeed, many psychologists argue that if the incidence of depressive illnesses is a guide (three to 10 times higher today than in 1950), then misery and angst are on the rise.

According to Andrew Oswald, an economist at Warwick University, one explanation is that under capitalism we spend too much time looking over our shoulders at the Joneses. The other - more compelling - theory is that because of higher educational expectations and the onus on achievement, more and more of us are tortured by our failure to live up to the aspirations of youth.

'People start out in life pretty certain that they're going to end up like David Beckham or win the Nobel Prize,' says Oswald. 'Then, after a few years, they discover it's quite tough out there - not just in their careers, but in life. Unsurprisingly, their happiness drops.' The good news is that the downer doesn't last. According to Oswald, if you trace the trajectory of most peoples' happiness over time it resembles a J-curve. People typically record high satisfaction levels in their early twenties. These then fall steadily towards middle age, before troughing at around 42. Most of us then grow steadily happier as we get older, with those in their sixties expressing the highest satisfaction levels of all - as long, that is, as they stay healthy.
Goo from the other side: The ever-fascinating Cabinet magazine geeks out on ectoplasm:
The word ectoplasm, from the Greek ektos, "outside," and plasma, "something that can be formed or molded,"... is defined as "a viscous substance ... from which spirits make themselves visible forms... alive, sensitive to touch and light... cold to the touch, slightly luminous and having a characteristic smell...." In the 1920s, a French doctor who conducted numerous experiments expanded on the characteristics of the stuff: "The color white is the most frequent.... On touch ... it can seem soft and a bit elastic when it spreads; hard, knotty or fibrous when it forms strings.... Sometimes it gives the sensation of a spider's web fluttering over the observers' hand.... The substance is mobile. At one moment it evolves slowly, rises, falls, wanders over the medium, her shoulders, her breast, her knees, with a creeping motion that recalls that of a reptile..." The same witness warned, "Any touch will resonate painfully on [the medium]. If the touch is ever so slightly harsh or prolonged, the medium evinces pain compared to that which a shock to the quick would produce."5 After making its appearance, ectoplasm was re-absorbed into the medium's body—unless it was rudely captured, as in the case of Helen Duncan.


No longer an "honest broker" in the Middle East: Palestinians are burning effigies of George W. Bush tonight in the wake of his expressed support for Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw Jewish settlements from Gaza while making permanent settlements on West Bank land claimed by Palestinians. Why? For one, the pullout of Gaza means little: no one ever believed these illegal settlements would end up in Israeli hands--so it's no true concession--and, as the Guardian reports, "Israel will retain large population centers on the West Bank" and "Palestinian refugees seeking resettlement should live in the state he hopes will be established next year rather than in Israel"--i.e. they won't be allowed to return to land they've been driven from.

Diplomatically, as Mark Shields put it on tonight's News Hour, it looks worse. "The president broke tradition, broke pattern of six previous presidents, four Republicans and two Democrats, and I think it's fair to say that we took sides for really the first time so publicly so dramatically between the Palestinians and Israelis. We ratified and validated the land grab on the West Bank... [T]he United States may be a broker in the Middle East between the Palestinian and Israelis but it can no longer be an honest broker. Because we have come down and we have come down on the side of the most extreme position." Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak fears the decision--made without consulting Palestinian leaders--will mean an "escalation of tension, much more violence." John Kerry--long past channeling the iconoclastic verve of Howard Dean--quickly agreed with Bush's decision: "I think that could be a positive step. What's important, obviously, is the security of the state of Israel."

Earlier: If Kerry Wins, Little Will Change in US Middle East Policy and Kerry Indicates He Would Continue Bush's Pro-Sharon Policy.

Insurgent Inquiry: The Art of Allora & Calzadilla

Break the word "question" down to its root--quest--and you get a sense of the insurgent inquiry practiced by artists Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla. Their poetic and unabashedly activist conceptual art challenges everything from common definitions--they define protest as "proactive testing" and responsibility as "the ability to respond"--to concepts like free speech and historical commemoration. Confronting the assumptions behind everyday terms arises from a state of permanent questioning, says Calzadilla. "We believe that art has much to offer to this task, in its potential to provoke the public into a space of individual questioning about preconceived notions of truth, about forms of representation, participation, and identification."

In their Landmark series, created with activists in Vieques, Puerto Rico, they interrogate how land is marked: What traces do we leave of our existence on earth? How is land physically scarred? Who determines which sites are worthy of historic preservation and which--like this tiny, sparsely populated island--aren’t? For more than 60 years, the U.S. military has used Vieques for naval maneuvers, bombing practice, and to test various technologies, including napalm, radioactive depleted uranium shells, and--as was revealed in 2002--germ and chemical warfare agents (secretly tested on the island’s residents in 1969). Allora & Calzadilla, who are based in Puerto Rico, worked with resistance groups to create rubber shoe soles to be worn during civil disobedience actions. When activists illegally entered the bombing range--tripping Navy sensors and halting the day’s bombing run (which ultimately became so costly that in 2003 the US government acquiesced and closed the range)--they left behind indented messages created by the resisters. Intended for viewing not by gallery-goers but only by the military staff working the bombing range, the imprints are a way of reclaiming the disputed territory, giving new power to the term "landmark." In a second project, they used satellite images and 3D modeling software to create a two-dimensional depiction of the bomb-pitted topography of Vieques. Presented as geographical contour lines on felt carpeting--a choice that references the term "carpet bombing"--the installation gave visitors to London’s Tate Modern a jarring view of the bombs’ violent reshaping of the terrain.

Another work takes on the seeming impermeability of another type of landmark--memorial statues--and the one-sided histories they perpetuate. Inspired by Old San Juan’s most prominent public statues, mercenary explorer Christopher Columbus and conquistador Ponce de Leon, they cast these famous men in an unexpected way--in the impermanent medium of chalk and shrunken to an unmonumental scale. But this inversion wasn’t enough: they then distributed the chalk to area teachers who, in the course of telling stories of conquest and colonization and raising questions about public commemoration of historical events (from whose vantage point is history told?), began the process of dissolving mythologies away into fine dust.

In nearly all of Allora & Calzadilla’s work, the art object is merely a catalyst, awaiting activation by those who happen upon it. The public art piece Chalk, presented in Lima, Peru in 2002, underscores how a work that was met with relatively benign response during its previous showings has explosive potential in a new context. The artists positioned 24 enormous pieces of chalk in a public plaza adjacent the parliament building and the president’s mansion. Measuring nearly six feet, the cumbersome chalk required passersby to either cooperate in scrawling a message on the ground or break off smaller pieces. As street protesters entered the plaza, chalk smiley faces and doodles gave way to fiercer statements alleging government corruption and unfair labor practices. After three hours, officials shut down the project, breaking up the chalk and hauling it away in a truck, before sending in a cleaning crew to wash the streets clean. Showing "the limits of free speech in a so-called democratic society," in Calzadilla’s words, the project will have another showing--ironically enough--at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, July 26 through 29. In this highly charged setting--a supposedly democratic event where fenced-off "free speech zones" will be situated far out of sight of convention attendees--the defiant questioning that animates all of Allora and Calzadilla’s work shouldn’t be hard to find.

For more on Allora and Calzadilla, read my interview "The Art of Response-ability."
Smart guns: According to WiredNews, new "smart-gun" technology is being developed so that gun owners can have a computer chip implanted in their hand that will send a digital message to a device in a gun to unlock the trigger. The technology will be marketed first to law enforcement within a year. The NRA, needless to say, isn't pleased, citing that all devices fail. Smart guns don't kill people, smart gun owners do, apparently.
General mayhem: Retired Gen. Anthony Zinni, a 39-year Marine veteran and former commander of the U.S. Central Command, wonders why Donald Rumsfeld, who just announced that 20,000 additional troops will be deployed, was caught off guard by the high American death toll in Iraq in April. Zinni says he warned US officials for years about the religious clashes that would result from deposing Saddam:
I'm surprised that he is surprised because there was a lot of us who were telling him that it was going to be thus. Anyone could know the problems they were going to see. How could they not? ...I think that some heads should roll over Iraq. I think the president got some bad advice... We're betting on the U.N., who we blew off and ridiculed during the run-up to the war. Now we're back with hat in hand. It would be funny if not for the lives lost.
While Zinni has been called a traitor for voicing this opinion, he's likely not alone. Writing that "the iconic image of the 'war president' has tattered," Sidney Blumenthal says, "A revolt within the military against Bush is brewing" among many in the military's strategic echelon who "share the same feelings of being ignored and ill-treated by the administration."


Bush's "devastating" legacy: Jonathon Porritt, Tony Blair's senior advisor on sustainable development, writes in today's Guardian that George Bush has had a "devastating impact" on global sustainable development. "On climate change, international aid, family planning, arms, nuclear proliferation, trade, corporate responsibility--to name but a few--the US president's efforts to impose 'a new world order' and stay true to a discredited model of extreme economic liberalism have set the world back a decade or more," he writes.
Benjamins for W: Thanks to the big tax cuts he passed last year, George W. Bush personally saved $31,000, according to tax documents filed yesterday. Bush paid $227,490 in taxes on an adjusted gross income of $822,126, but I suspect that's not his entire tax picture: according to a July 2003 profile, W's net worth is estimated between $9,634,088 and $26,593,000. (For a detailed breakdown, see the Center for Public Integrity's site The Buying of the Presidency 2004.)

Reactions to Bush's press conference: The most frightening part of the president's press conference last night was his repeated statement that before 9/11 "we weren't on a war footing." His eyes seemed to light up (or was it the soft ka-ching of dollar signs?): imagine it, eternal war! That, and the fact that on four occasions he sidestepped questions about his own culpability or fallibility--he makes no apology, like Richard Clarke did, for errors leading up to 9/11; he feels no personal responsibility for his agencies' inability to prevent the attacks; he couldn't come up with an answer about his "biggest mistake" since 9/11; and he refused to acknowledge that perhaps he wasn't so great at communicating his oft-confused messages. This is a man without humility. The right answer: I did my best, but I apologize; I could've done better.

Other opinions: David Sirota compares Bush's claims versus the facts, and Juan Cole posts his point-by-point counterarguments to Bushian logic, including:
Bush: "See, the war on terror had changed the calculations. We needed to work with people. People needed to come together to work. And, therefore, empty words would embolden the actions of those who are willing to kill indiscriminately."

I can't understand what this string of Bushisms could possibly mean. If Bush needed to work with people, why did he blow off the Security Council in March of 2003? If people needed to come together to work, wouldn't they need to come together about launching a major war that affected the entire world? Why then did Bush go to war virtually unilaterally (bilaterally at most)? That wouldn't represent much in the way of "people" "coming together." If empty words would embolden killers, wouldn't turning the entire United Nations Charter, which forbids unilateral wars of aggression without Security Council permission, into so much scrap paper be a way of "emboldening" such killers?
The Guardian offers a rundown of US press reactions, from the Washington Post's Tom Shales' assessment of Bush's 17-minute intro as "a peculiar performance... He might as well have been reading letters off an eye chart" to Michael Tackett of the Chicago Tribune: "The president who spoke repeatedly about being on a war footing hardly seemed sure-footed, even on questions that could scarcely be seen as overly aggressive."

30,000 dead? From LewRockwell.com, an article about neocon Lawrence Kaplan, "Senior Editor of the New Republic, former top editor at Irving Kristol’s National Interest, current op-ed columnist at the Post, and – most significantly – co-author with William Kristol of that definitive neocon text, The War Over Iraq." His assessment in a recent Washington Post Op-Ed? Our citizenry would gladly accept losing 30,000 American dead in Iraq if such losses were required to achieve neocon strategic objectives.

More interested in PB&J than PDBs: From AriannaOnline:
I’ve watched a lot of TV cop shows over the years, and, as far as I can remember, the good guys are never told exactly where and when crimes are going to occur. They investigate, follow leads, talk to informants, and generally track down the bad guys. Bush should have made damn sure his top terror cops were doing the same. Instead, it appears that we have a president more consumed with his PB&Js than his PDBs.


Keeping count:
Iraq Coalition Casualty Count reports that 680 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq, the majority of the coalition's 783 deaths. That breaks down to:

Total fatalities since Bush declared "Mission Accomplished" May 1: 611

US deaths since Bush announced "Bring 'em On," on July 2: 474

Total Fatalities since Saddam's capture on December 13: 239

Iraqi civilian death toll, according to Iraq Body Count: between 8,865 and 10,715.
Amy Goodman tour: The Exception to the Rulers
Tomorrow night, Democracy Now host/journalist Amy Goodman launches a 76-city book tour for her just-released The Exception to the Rulers: Exposing Oily Politicians, War Profiteers, and the Media That Love Them; it'll make its way to the Twin Cities on Saturday, April 24, at St. Joan of Arc Church. Read the introduction to the book, "The Silenced Majority," here. Order tickets for her Minneapolis visit online.

Also: Media scholar and Free Press co-founder Bob McChesney's new book is out. Read about The Problem of the Media: U.S. Communications Politics in the 21st Century, then check out the Eyeteeth interview "An opening salvo: Robert McChesney on democracy, the FCC, and launching a media revolution."


The Art of Response-ability: An interview with Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla

As Swiss artist Thomas Hirschorn once said, "I don't make political art, I make art politically." Since 1995, the mantra has permeated the work of Philadelphia-born Jennifer Allora and Havana-born Guillermo Calzadilla, who together create poetic and smartly subversive conceptual art that tweaks, needles, and humorously exposes the machinations of power and the assumptions engrained in mainstream western culture. Based in Puerto Rico, their work has been featured at Tate Modern, the Walker Art Center, Galerie Chantal Crousel, and elsewhere.

Key works, discussed below, include: Chalk, a public art piece shut down in 2002 by officials in Peru (two dozen 54-inch pieces of chalk, made available for use by passersby in a plaza near the president's mansion, were used by protesters to write statements critical of the government); in Chalk Monuments they took images from public statues of Columbus and Ponce de Leon and cast them in chalk at miniature scale, inverting their monumental power; and Landmark (Vieques), created as part of the resistance movement against the US Navy's bombing of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques. Each is designed, in Allora's words, to "detonate some sort of chain of events" or provoke individual questioning. In a recent interview in Minneapolis, Allora & Calzadilla discussed "response-ability," the role of artists in social movements, and the vibrant history of Puerto Rico's "emergency designs."

Paul Schmelzer: Cao Yu, a Chinese dramatist, once said that "Art for art's sake is a philosophy of the well-fed." Your work—which is presented in museums, but also in government squares and on streets—seems to straddle the line between art and activism. How do you define those two terms?

Guillermo Calzadilla: For us it's important to put into crisis the very terminology you're speaking about—activism and art—by extending and complicating the understanding, the meaning, and the use of these terms. For example, for us the word "protest" means a proactive testing. To test something actively. I think that that shouldn't be exclusively relegated to marches and demonstrations in the street but should be included in all fields of knowledge—science, art, all of it. For us the political or critical dimension is that it can serve as a space for personal questioning, to question preconceived notions of truth or political positions. Art at that level can be really powerful.

Jennifer Allora: Another word that we like is the word "responsibility," the idea of being able to respond to something... As artists our role is to facilitate vehicles or devices that enable people to respond to a so-called frozen situation. For us the potential of art is to insert something into a situation to stir things up, cause a catalytic change, or detonate a chain of events.

GC: Or to make visible frictions, conflicts, and balances. To make visible things that were not represented.

PS: When discussing socially engaged art, a curator recently told me his job was about building a canon, not social work. You don't seem to shy away from the idea that art can function in society.

JA: Because we're part of society. We live in these times, too. A part of what an artist's experience is is being part of a community, being part of a group, or not part of a community. It's natural and ethical to want to insert yourself within that reality and not think you can remove yourself just by saying, "We don't need to deal with these issues. Ours is a meta-role and we're supposed to step back and reflect." Throughout history we've seen movements of artists who have constantly engaged with their times and what was happening in a more direct way. To me, that's a natural thing.
We like the word "responsibility," the idea of being able to respond to something... For us the potential of art is to insert something into a situation to stir things up.
PS: When you say "Responsibility is about the ability to respond," you're really talking about reshaping basic notions of the world. That doesn't really have the same meaning we've socially agreed upon. Are there other words that you—

JA: The starting point for a lot of our projects has to do with words. Because we're two people and we collaborate, a lot of our work gets formulated on a conceptual level. So one of the materials we use—just as a studio-based artist might experiment with pieces of paper—is language itself, just trying to communicate the fundamental understanding of words and what they signify and how they can be reformed. "Reform" is a great word too. Reform means to form differently, to actually give another shape to something. We love them all. Revolt. We're proposing this project for Paris where we take all the lights on a certain street and re-volt them literally—take them from pointing downwards to going up to the sky so that a new part of the city becomes darkened and another part becomes illuminated. There's this really interesting idea about how the dark parts of the city or the abandoned spaces are where revolutions happen.

PS: The idea of bearing witness also seems important in your work: you give chalk to regular people to write their stories, you give soles of shoes to people who are bearing witness to land they own--

GC: Well, we don't give the chalk to anyone in particular. The chalk is just a means, we don't have a specific end. The chalk is placed there and the context defines what may happen or may not happen with it.

PS: So whoever wants to have a voice can have a voice.

GC: Well, I don't like the idea of giving voice to anyone. People have their own voice. Who the fuck am I to give voices to people? That's very arrogant. I would just conceive it as this sculpture that has this potential in it, in which things can happen, and by placing it in a very specific way and a very specific moment a very specific result may come out of it. And in Lima, the specific results showed the limits of free speech in a so-called democratic society.

JA: We like to think of ourselves as critical collaborators with certain groups we share an identification with. In the case of the civil disobedience in Vieques, there were many people doing many things: there were people who were cooking food, there were people who were bringing in water, there were the actual people who went into the bombing range. As artists, we asked "What is our role? What are we going to contribute to this?" So that's how it came about.

PS: That feels radically different from the way a lot of people view contemporary art: the artists are above us, the curators are above us. Instead you're down with those who are carrying banners and washing dishes.

JA: So many interesting things happen on that level!

GC: The success of that movement was that there were people of different ideologies—religious, political, class—who detected a passion towards a common enemy. And they all did something about it. [After 60 years of Navy presence in Vieques--which included testing live ammunition, depleted uranium shells, napalm, and germ and chemical warfare, the US government shut down Navy operations there in 2003.]
I don't like the idea of giving voice to anyone. People have their own voice. Who the fuck am I to give voices to people?
JA: It can't be homogenized—the idea of community—as some kind of wholistic, coherent group. Within them they had their own differences, their own individualities, but they shared an identification with one thing in common that they were working toward. Which I think is a really important characterization of how a lot of the other globalization movements have taken shape. And I think that's an important difference from other historic struggles.

GC: And the work, Footprints, in Vieques, came out of a long tradition of "emergency designs" to intervene within the bombing. The work was part of that specific civil disobedience in which they stopped the bombing by the US military. In that process there were all these different things. One of the many things that happened was the footprints that actually mark that land with messages that were counter-representations of the sites' current function as well as proposals for future development.

We basically made soles for shoes that could attach with velcro to any kind of shoe. All the different organizations that worked with this civil disobedience gave us the information. They gave us signatures—very direct signatures: "I am against this" or "I want this" or "This is my position"—and historical images, biographical images, basically an archive of images that were counter-representations of the site's function. Each person had their own message underneath their shoes. They selected what they wanted to leave in their space.

PS: That theme of leaving your mark on the world and claiming ownership runs through several of your pieces. Does that have an autobiographical root?

GC: There's a famous quote by Walter Benjamin that says: we are remembered by the traces that we leave. I think that's very poetic and interesting and political at the same time.

JA: I don't think here's anything autobiographical about it. It's a great expression, an index of one's existence in a place and what one did. A mark. How do you leave a mark? What is the mark? What is the physical, indexable imprint of your being here, or not?

PS: Your legacy.

JA: But not in a glorified way either. It could be in the most humble way. Something that could be ephemeral and disappear a second later. It's not about monumentalizing the mark. It's not like the arrogant footstep left on the moon that's going to be there forever because there's no wind. It's about something that's a transitional marking that's constantly being reclaimed and redefined and shifting. The whole project of Land Mark was about that idea, about how land can differentiate itself from other land by the way that it's been marked, historically, socially, politically.
How do you leave a mark? What is the mark? What is the physical, indexable imprint of your being here, or not?
GC: We wanted to insert this practice within a tradition of emergency designs in Puerto Rico. In the 1960s, for example, a practice developed where people gathered all different kinds of metals on the beaches and in the streets and in car shops and welded them together to make gigantic metal chains that they attached to a rope and a buoy. When the NATO forces in '78 came to practice maneuvers for 28 consecutive days—you had countries from all over the world practicing there, renting Vieques for $80 million—fishermen went out in small boats, going in front of the boats and dropping the buoys with the ropes and the metal chains. When a boat goes over a buoy, the propeller eats the rope—

JA: The motor sucks up the chain and it clunks the motor and it makes it stop. They stopped the entire NATO fleet that way.

GC: This is just like another design within that history of really creative emergency designs.

JA: I wish art historians would go and look at these popular expressions of resistance—the level of creativity and dandyism and Dadaism and all this kind of vocabulary we use to try to look at this very insular canon of a particular set of Western particularly male European artists—and apply it to different things people are doing that are so much more rich and lively.

GC: Emergency design is not to fix something permanently. It's like, you scratch your hand and it's bleeding. What do you have around you right now that you can use to stop the bleeding for a second? It's like something you need to deal with right now, immediately.

JA: The other great example is when the NATO fleet was doing maneuvers called "amphibious practices." There's a control tower on top of a mountain and then all the beach areas that the boats bomb from the sea. The way it works is: a fleet of boats maneuver one in front of the other based on what the control tower tells them. On the side of the boats are these numbers that are like their tags—F5125, etc. The fishermen got slingshots and paintballs, so that when the boats came out they paintballed the sides of the boats so all the numbers were blocked out. The control tower couldn't tell them what to do and all the boats stopped. What an interesting indictment: it's the US military and NATO forces, and they're totally useless when they don't have their set of commands—

PS: It's like found art, yet the intent isn't to make art.

GC: You look in art history and it fits within a tradition, but it also fits within a very creative history of Caribbean culture about how to do something with anything. Creativity and an economy of means how to do it.

PS: Let me ask you about Chalk Monuments. It strikes me that that's about dissolving mythologies, literally and figuratively. Is that right?

JA: We're definitely interested in this idea of taking something that is permanent, that seems incontestable, and rendering it fragile, ephemeral, open to questioning. That is the basis of our practice—to take things that seem polarized, isolated, and try to undo them in some way. Of course the monuments of a city are a clear object of interest because they're so present and, especially those particular monuments in Old San Juan in Puerto Rico, they're just so unavoidable, and the sort of arrogance of their placement in the city that, seeing them day after day, makes you want to create a structure to respond to it.
We're definitely interested in this idea of taking something that is permanent, that seems incontestable, and rendering it fragile, ephemeral, open to questioning. That is the basis of our practice.
PS: How old are they?

JA: They're both from the 20th century. But Puerto Rico has this total colonial complex still. There's a funny story: a mayor on the other side of the harbor from San Juan wanted to use taxpayer money to buy a statue of Christopher Columbus. It was larger than the Statue of Liberty, so it would be the first thing that would welcome American cruise ships to the island. But he didn't have enough money to buy the entire monument. In fact, the story's even more complex because it was made by a Russian sculptor who wanted to give it as a gift to the people of Columbus, Ohio, but the people of Columbus didn't want it. So, while the Russian government and the sculptor decided to give it to the people of Columbus, they wanted to sell it to the Puerto Ricans. The mayor didn't have enough money to buy the whole monument, so he only bought the head. Now there's only the head of Christopher Columbus, decapitated in the plaza!

This sort of colonial mentality is really part of the culture, and it's something that really needs to be contested. That's why we thought using the the discursive place of the classroom would be a really important way to link this public monument with the place these stories get generated and constructed. [After casting images of Columbus and Ponce de Leon in chalkboard-sized chalk, they distributed them to area teachers to use in their social studies and history classes.]

PS: Is your best known work, Charcoal Dance Floor, a critique of globalization?

JA: Definitely. It was the first work we made together and we were in our early 20s and going through this process of trying to figure out our identities. We got interested in how people try to differentiate themselves through the costumes they wear and the projection of identification through clothes. There's such violence in the process of identifying; because of advertising and media and consumerism, you feel somehow compelled to have to dress in a certain way, shop in a certain way, either to affirm a certain relationship with a group or to try to distinguish yourself. So we chose to represent a space where people are in a hyper-state of expressing their individuality—a dance floor. The idea is that you would be walking around [on a floor drawing of dancers, rendered in charcoal that easily smudges underfoot] and looking at the different people, and as you look at the work, you inevitably step on the people who are dancing below. And, because we're wearing these shoes that are part of this global commodity culture, people start getting branded with all those same things that are trying to make them feel like they're different. So they've got Nike emblazoned on their face, and Adidas, and not only that but the actual shoes start to smudge all the drawings and instead of them being very clean and detail-ful, they become smudged and dirty and homogenized and erased.

PS: The idea being that, in our efforts to express our individuality by wearing youth culture's globally recognized brands--by our "hip consumerism," as Tom Frank calls it--we blend in instead of stand out?

JA: Yeah. In the end it becomes kind of a blur.

Read more: From Adbusters, "Insurgent Inquiry: The Art of Allora and Calzadilla."
More calls for impeachment: "When you plunge our country into war on a platform of fabrications and deceptions, and you bring back thousands of American soldiers who are sick, injured or dead, and that war is unconstitutionally authorized to begin with, Mr. Bush's behavior qualifies for the high crimes and misdemeanor impeachment clause of the Constitution," said presidential candidate Ralph Nader.

Faux fans: According to a St. Louis Cardinals employee, the team was so concerned that the president would get booed when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch that they "piped in fake applause when he strode out to the mound." (Scroll down.)

Dead president: A photomosaic of Bush's visage made up of the 638 Americans killed to date in the Iraq war.
An ex-nun on compassion and "lazy theology": Karen Armstrong, a former nun, Islamic scholar, and the author of The Spiral Staircase, interviewed in the Sunday New York Times by Deborah Solomon:
Do you believe in the afterlife?

I am not interested in the afterlife. Religion is supposed to be about losing your ego, not preserving it eternally in optimum conditions.

If there's so much similarity among world religions, why have wars been fought for centuries?

Because of egotism. Compassion is not a popular virtue. A lot of people see God as a sacred seal of approval on some of their worst fantasies about other people. With the election coming up in the United States, we'll be hearing a lot about God being either a Democrat or a Republican.

You had a nervous breakdown before you left the convent. I wonder how you feel about the current widespread use of antidepressants.

We live in a culture where we think we shouldn't be depressed and we demand things, including good moods. But you should be depressed if, say, your child dies. It's a shame to miss it by blocking yourself off.

Oh, that's so Catholic of you to ennoble suffering.

No. It's a very Buddhist idea. Suffering in itself can be really bad. It can make you into a psychopath. But if we do suffer, it can help us to appreciate the suffering of other people.

Is there any hope for the future of religion?

We need to rediscover what is in our religions, which has gotten overlaid with generations of egotistical and lazy theology. The current thinking -- my God is better than your God -- is highly irreligious.


Bremer's provocation: Naomi Klein reports that on Sunday, a protest in Baghdad turned bloody when US-controlled Iraqi soldiers opened fire on protesters, killing 47 and injuring many more. But it isn't the civil war everyone keeps warning about, it's a deliberate provocation by Paul Bremer, waged to lure radical Shia leader Moqtada al-Sadr into all-out battle. Why? One possible motivation: "Washington has given up on its plans to hand over power to an interim Iraqi government on June 30, and is creating the chaos it needs to declare the handover impossible. A continued occupation will be bad news for George Bush on the campaign trail, but not as bad as if the hand-over happens and the country erupts, an increasingly likely scenario given the widespread rejection of the legitimacy of the interim constitution and the US- appointed governing council. But by sending the new Iraqi army to fire on the people they are supposed to be protecting, Bremer has destroyed what slim hope they had of gaining credibility with an already highly mistrustful population. On Sunday, before storming the unarmed demonstrators, the soldiers could be seen pulling on ski masks, so they would not be recognised in their neighbourhoods later."

Contemporary Passover: In the event commemorated during Passover--which began yesterday--God parted the sea and drowned the Egyptians, allowing the Israelites to escape from slavery. But don't miss the point of the story, writes MJ Rosenberg:
This is the commentary on their drowning from the Talmud. "When Israelites saw the wondrous power which the Lord had wielded against the Egyptians…the Israelites sang a song of praise to the Lord….At that moment, the angels of heaven wanted to sing praises to God. But God silenced them, saying: 'My children are drowning and you are singing to me?'"

The message here is unambiguous. We may rejoice in our own triumph but may not celebrate the killing of others.
As Rosenberg writes, 1000 Israelis and 3000 Palestinians have died since the Oslo peace accords crumbled 40 months ago. In observance of Passover, remember those killed in Israel and Palestine, and pray for a real roadmap to peace in the Middle East. (Via Sivacracy.)


Irradiated in Iraq: The spectre of depleted uranium mortar shells raises it's ugly head, again. Four members of the New York-based 442nd Military Police unit have become the Iraq war's first confirmed cases of radiation contamination from DU shells. "These are amazing results, especially since these soldiers were military police not exposed to the heat of battle," said Dr. Asaf Duracovic, who examined the G.I.s. Translation: among front-line troops in Iraq, the rates of exposure to radioactive DU dust are likely to be much higher. Earlier: Depleted Uranium: Confusing ends and means.

Headline du jour: Leaders of 9/11 Panel Say Attacks Were Probably Preventable


And now your moment of Zen: Via Boingboing, a photoblog of Buddhist monks creating a Tibetan sand mandala.
"An impeachable offense": John Dean, former counsel to Republican president Richard Nixon, says Bush ought to be impeached for secrecy and deception over the war with Iraq. To join 393,000 others who agree, visit Votetoimpeach.org.


Privacy concerns with Gmail: When reading about Google's much-hyped plans to provide email, make sure to read the fine print: Gmail will allegedly be superior to Hotmail and Yahoo because it'll help organize your mail using technology that may invade your privacy. The Guardian reports:
the company revealed it would be employing technology that would search through the contents of its users' emails, thereby enabling it to place related adverts alongside those emails. If, for example, a user mentioned DVDs in the text of his or her email, then Google could attach an advert for a company selling cut-price DVDs...

'It's absurd that using a communications medium should subject one to privacy-invasive advertising,' said Chris Hoofnagle of the Electronic Privacy Information Centre. 'Why not put an operator on the phone to listen to your conversation and pitch things to you while you're talking? You'd say that's ridiculous. Well, this is ridiculous. We have a norm in this country not to allow commercial interests to interfere with our communications.'
No time for Osama: More evidence that Bush's unhealthy Saddam fixation put rooting out the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks on the backburner: he and Tony Blair made a secret pact to attack Iraq nine days after the World Trade Center terrorism.
McCain: "I believe my party has gone astray." Sen. John McCain lays into the GOP. Citing Bush's lousy record on the environment, treatement of minorities, and preparedness for the Iraq war, McCain chides, "You can't fly in on an aircraft carrier and declare victory and have the deaths continue. You can't do that." Also: The Guardian reports that, with US troops growing thinner in Iraq, the military is sending ill and battle-injured soldiers back before they've healed.

W is for Waffler: With his credibility tanking and a growing list of reversed opinions and reneged promises, it's no wonder people are calling George W. Bush "flip-flopper in chief."

White House whitewashes environmental disaster: How will the White House smear government whistleblower Jack Spadaro? On 60 Minutes tomorrow night the former head of the National Mine Health and Safety Academy will allege that the Bush administration "covered up the reasons for a toxic coal slurry spill in Appalachia that ranks among the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history." According to Spadaro, the 300-million gallon spill (reportedly 25 times the size of the Exxon Valdez disaster) was caused by Massey Energy, a generous donor to the GOP, and the Bush administration stepped in to curtail the investigation. Massey had to pay a $110,000 fine. "It polluted 100 miles of streams, killing everything in the streams, all the way to the Ohio River. The Bush administration came in and the scope of our investigation was considerably shortened," says Spadaro. "I had never seen something so corrupt and lawless in my entire career…interference with a federal investigation of the most serious environmental disaster in the history of the Eastern United States.”

Headline of the day: Brawl breaks out at anger management assembly.


Smear without Fear: David Letterman ran a clip of a bored kid in the audience at a Bush speech, then, after CNN replayed it, the anchor came back on the air and reported that the White House said the benign footage was a fake. "That is an out and out 100 percent absolute lie," says Letterman. "The kid absolutely was there, and he absolutely was doing everything we pictured via the videotape"--and CNN changed their claim: the White House had nothing to do with the "fake" statement. What gives? It's part of a disturbing pattern of media complicity with White House smears, writes Paul Krugman.

9/11 Question of the Day: Why did the Bush administration withhold thousands of pages of classified foreign policy and counterterrorism documents from former President Bill Clinton's White House files from being turned over to the 9/11 commission investigators?

More ignored warnings: Turns out, Richard Clarke wasn't the only official who warned the Bush administration about terror attacks prior to 9/11. So did former Sen. Gary Hart, co-chair of the Commission on National Security, who co-authored a report that "warned that a devastating terrorist attack on America was imminent and called for the immediate creation of a Cabinet-level national security agency, and delivering it to President Bush on January 31, 2001," reports Salon, adding that Rice, Rumsfeld, and Powell were personally briefed on their findings.

Made-for-TV dissent: Hollywood is taking on Bush, not just with their wallets, but with their scripts, writes the New York Times.


Lost in the latte: Pentagon (former?) employee Eric Ruff's gotta have his coffee. Before a briefing with Donald Rumsfeld before the Sunday morning talk shows, he stopped at a DC Starbucks and accidentally left his hand-written talking points behind. Turned over to the Center for American Progress, the notes expose the Bush administration's spin strategies for the day, indicating that they're worried about damage from Richard Clarke's testimony and urging Rummy to "Stay inside the lines. We don't need to puff this (up). We need (to) be careful as hell about it. This thing will go away soon and what will keep it alive will be one of us going over the line." Download the notes here.

Anarchy in Iraq: After four civilians were dragged from their torched vehicle, murdered, and dragged through the streets (two were hung from a bridge), a US military Humvee was attacked in Fallujah. Six hundred US soldiers have been killed in Iraq so far, but as Robert Fisk tells Democracy Now, most of the people dying in Iraq are Iraqis. And the situation isn't improving:
Look, things are getting worse here. All Iraqis think so. Most of the journalists on the ground fear it is getting worse. The violence is getting worse. The trust in the Coalition Authority is getting worse. There's little trust in the governing council appointed by the U.S. Consul Paul Bremer. Other things are getting better. There are more schools opening, more University students. New rail tracks have been laid in the south of Iraq. This is what the authorities keep telling us about, and it's true. The problem is that the violence, insecurity, and sense of anarchy is greater.
Billionaires for Bush: Making statements like "Work is for suckers" (attributed to Robin Eublind, aka Paul Bartlett) and "Never have so many sacrificed so much to enrich so few!" the elegantly dressed Billionaires for Bush are forging a new kind of street theater/protest. Staying in character at all times and going by snooty pseudonyms--Iona Bigga Yacht, Robb deVerker, and K. Ching--these anti-Bush activists get welcomed into the pro-Bush "free-speech zones" due to their general beautifulness, but after awhile their real motives become apparent. And sometimes, real across-the-aisle dialogue ensues.

Where was the USAF on 9/11? asks Ted Rall: "The notion of a hijacked passenger jet meandering over the northeastern United States, unmolested for more than an hour before blasting away a chunk of the Pentagon, should appall anyone whose taxes contributed to the quarter of a trillion dollars spent on defense that year. And if you stop and think about it, there was actually two hours in which something could have been done."

Priorities? 57% of Americans believe Bush prioritized attacking Iraq ahead of fighting terrorism, according to a new poll. And the Washington Post (via Xinhua) reports that Bush's focus was on missile defense prior to 9/11, not al-Qaeda.