Adam Ash

Your daily entertainment scout. Whatever is happening out there, you'll find the best writing about it in here.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Nude Thoughts 38

I shaved my pussy for you. Do you like it? I have something to confess. I did it for me, not for you. I want you to lick my pussy more than you usually do, that's why. And I want you to start now. So get down there, buster, ASAP. Fair exchange no robbery: I shave my pussy for you, and you lick my pussy for me. Capiche?

Columnist Maureen Dowd can't get laid, or: should feminism embrace objectification?

Columnist Maureen Dowd, the well-known Queen of Snark, tackles feminism in a NY Times piece called “What’s a modern girl to do?”

She explains that instead of clearing things up between the sexes, feminism has intensified the confusion between the sexes. “Men and women are still in a muddle in the boardroom, the bedroom and the Situation Room.”

She makes these six points:

1. Women have gone back to pre-feminist womanly wiles to attract men, like playing hard to get and being soft as a kitten, and avoiding sarcasm altogether.

2. No more going Dutch for dinner. Today’s woman offers to pay her half-share afterwards, but if the man accepts, he won’t get a second date.

3. Ms. Is dead; most women prefer to be Mrs. and take their husband’s last name when they marry.

4. Women have to suppress their intelligence to catch a man. A 2005 report indicates that the prospect for marriage increased by 35% for guys for each 16-point increase in I.Q.; for women, there is a 40% drop for each 16-point rise.

5. A successful career stops a woman from marrying and having children. A survey found that 55% of 35-year-old career women were childless. Among corporate executives who earn $100,000 or more, 49% of the women did not have children, compared with 19% of the men.

She tells this story from her own life.
At a party for the Broadway opening of "Sweet Smell of Success," a top New York producer gave me a lecture on the price of female success that was anything but sweet. He confessed that he had wanted to ask me out on a date when he was between marriages but nixed the idea because my job as a Times columnist made me too intimidating. Men, he explained, prefer women who seem malleable and awed. He predicted that I would never find a mate because if there's one thing men fear, it's a woman who uses her critical faculties. Will she be critical of absolutely everything, even his manhood?

He had hit on a primal fear of single successful women: that the aroma of male power is an aphrodisiac for women, but the perfume of female power is a turnoff for men. It took women a few decades to realize that everything they were doing to advance themselves in the boardroom could be sabotaging their chances in the bedroom, that evolution was lagging behind equality.
That’s the nub of her complaint. Feminists don’t get laid. She doesn’t get laid because she’s successful.

What a crock. The man who is intimidated by a woman’s intelligence or success isn’t worth having by that woman. As a man, I want a woman who is intelligent. Also, I’d love a woman who is more successful and makes more money than me; what a relief not to have the role of breadwinner. The idea that being a breadwinner makes you a man is just too fifties for me. And the idea that economic success defines your character is just too shallow. My advice to successful women: be grateful that your success as a woman scares off the ninnies you don’t want to be involved with anyway.

6. The final point she makes is about objectification.
Women have moved from fighting objectification to seeking it … When Gloria Steinem wrote that "all women are Bunnies," she did not mean it as a compliment; it was a feminist call to arms. Decades later, it's just an aesthetic fact, as more and more women embrace Botox and implants and stretch and protrude to extreme proportions to satisfy male desires. Now that technology is biology, all women can look like inflatable dolls. It's clear that American narcissism has trumped American feminism.

It was naïve and misguided for the early feminists to tendentiously demonize Barbie and Cosmo girl, to disdain such female proclivities as shopping, applying makeup and hunting for sexy shoes and cute boyfriends and to prognosticate a world where men and women dressed alike and worked alike in navy suits and were equal in every way.
She's on to something here. One of the charges against early 2nd wave feminism was that it was anti-sex; yet there are enough pro-sex feminists to belie the stereotype. It’s OK to be a pro-sex feminist -- or for that matter, a lipstick lesbian.

But can you be a feminist and actively embrace objectification? I believe you can.

It’s time to change the view that dressing up for the opposite sex, and making your sexuality obvious to males in a way they enjoy, is anti-feminist. It’s not. It’s playing the sexual game. Instead of disdaining the male view that women be girly and sexy, women should require from men that men themselves stop being slobs and dress and look sexy.

The proper feminist stance would be to require an equal effort from men to dress and look sexy – for men to ascribe to the female view of what a sexy man should look like. Women should be free to “objectify” themselves, and demand from men that they “objectify” themselves for women.

Blame the patriarchy not for requiring you to look like a sex kitten, but for allowing men to dress and look like slobs. If you dress to appeal to the opposite sex, you’re not “objectifying” yourself: you’re not playing up to the patriarchy: you’re simply wanting to get laid.

And what’s wrong with that?

Bush: a Canadian view

From the Toronto Star: Bush Administration as Dangerous Now as Before -- by Haroon Saddiqui

The crises engulfing the White House could not have come a day too soon, considering the consistent and blatant abuse of power by the Bush administration over five years.

The indictment against Lewis Libby, chief of staff to Dick Cheney, and the ongoing investigation of Karl Rove, the top political adviser to George W. Bush, speak to more than the crime of outing a secret CIA agent.

That was just a small part of a broad pattern of deceit and double standards set by the president and his cabal of ideologues.

Their mode of governance has been to do whatever they could get away with, including waging an unwarranted war on false pretences by fixing intelligence and exploiting public fears.

Libby was part of the neo-con clique of Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz (now at the World Bank), John Bolton (at the United Nations), Zalmay Khalizad (current envoy to Iraq) and others who, in the 1990s, called for invading Iraq to preserve "U.S. access to oil" and to foster the safety of "friends and allies like Israel."

Once in power, they wasted little time after 9/11 to put the Iraq plan into action, and fixed the facts to justify it.

Hence, the tall tales of Saddam Hussein's ties to Al Qaeda, his weapons of mass destruction and the phoney story of nuclear cake from Niger, which is what CIA agent Valerie Plame's husband Joseph Wilson discredited, only to see a vengeful White House blow her cover.

The probe into Libby and Rove will mean something only if it serves as the start of a process of holding this administration fully accountable for the deaths of 2,000 Americans and between 30,000 and 100,000 Iraqis, and the torture of hundreds in American detention centres.

The people who gave us Iraq are now targeting Syria and Iran, and are likely to get more belligerent in the days ahead to divert attention from their mounting domestic woes.

Canadians need to be alert to the possibility that Stephen Harper and other local chicken hawks, who wanted Canada to go to war in Iraq, may now want us to do Bush's bidding in his new ventures abroad.

The regimes in Iran and Syria do have a lot to account for.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wants Israel to be "wiped off the map," a racist and anti-Semitic notion that Canada and others have rightly condemned. He also wants to pursue a nuclear program.

Syria is not co-operating with the United Nations' probe into its alleged complicity in the Feb. 14 killing of Rafik Hariri in Lebanon. It is also funnelling arms to Palestinian militias in Lebanon.

But Bush has a broader agenda against these two anti-American and anti-Israeli states: he wants to impose economic sanctions on both, and perhaps even engineer regime changes.

That's where much of the world, led by Russia and China, parts company with Bush. Canada should as well.

The Arabs, in particular, fear the kind of chaos Bush has created in Iraq, which threatens to destabilize the entire region.

His diplomatic offensive on Syria/Lebanon is also open to accusations of hypocrisy: He wants the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon disbanded, while turning a blind eye to the Kurdish and Shiite militias in Iraq. He strikes moral poses on Syria but sent detainees to the torture chambers of Damascus, which is how Canadian Maher Arar ended up there.

Canadian hands are not clean either. It was only after an independent inquiry concluded that Arar was indeed tortured in Damascus, as were three other Canadians, that Ottawa has now acknowledged that fact. Having done so, it is busy blaming Syria to deflect any questions about Canadian complicity.

Worse, even as Pierre Pettigrew demands that Damascus prosecute Arar's torturers, his government has been trying to deport Hassan Almrei, a Syrian detained in Canada, to the same Syrian torture chambers.

The Bush presidency has been dangerous to the world and to America itself. Canadians need to remain vigilant about its potential fallout on us.

The British believe in ghosts more than God

More Britons believe in ghosts than God, according to research. In a pre-Halloween poll, 68% said they believe in the existence of ghosts and spirits. 55% said they believe in the existence of a God.

26% believe in UFO's, 19% in reincarnation and 4% in the mythical Loch Ness Monster. The survey found 12% believe they have actually seen a ghost. 76% said that reality TV shows and films like The Blair Witch Project have helped convince them spooks and ghouls really exist.

I MUST SAY, I prefer a nation who believes in ghosts to one who believes in God. We'd have less intolerance in the world if fewer people believed in God. People who believe in ghosts rather than God don't fly airplanes into buildings or want to outlaw abortion or gay marriage.

Bookplanet: Mary Gaitskill doesn't do chick lit

Can a Writer of Malaise Find Happiness in Acclaim? -- by Ginia Bellafante

AMONG the celebrated novelists of her generation, Mary Gaitskill, 52, is easily the writer least interested in the vague malaise of the affluent. Well-pedigreed couples trying to save ailing marriages in Rome or Capri have held no appeal. Since she made her literary debut with a critically acclaimed collection of short stories, "Bad Behavior," in 1988, she has built her career writing about sexual abjection in squalid worlds from which there are few exits.

Ms. Gaitskill's work, as well as her public persona, stand at some remove from the quiet world of domestic fiction so often admired by award committees. But two weeks ago, much to her surprise, she learned that she was a finalist for the National Book Award.

The committee has honored her fourth book and second novel, "Veronica," a structurally complex story about a former model reflecting on her youth through conversations with an older friend who ultimately died of AIDS. In many ways the nomination signals the sort of mainstream sanctioning that has eluded her.

"Her life is not easy," said Knight Landesman, Ms. Gaitskill's friend and the publisher of the magazine Artforum. "There have been good reviews, but that does not translate into dough. She has not been offered the cushy faculty job at Princeton. The work has been too raw, and that's why this has been, really, such wonderful news."

Ms. Gaitskill has a soft, affectless voice that suggests she'd greet news - wonderful or cataclysmic - with the same sort of internalized apprehension. "I couldn't eat, my stomach was so upset," she said of hearing about the reward , while seated in the dining room of her weekend home in Rhinebeck, N.Y. "Some people react to good stress bodily the way they react to bad. I went to bed that evening and had nightmares."

Ms. Gaitskill's home is a small two-story house she rents in Rhinebeck with her husband of four years, Peter Trachtenberg, also a writer.

During the week she lives in a student dormitory at Syracuse University, where she teaches creative writing, an arrangement that is both cost-effective and loud. "But what can you really do?" Ms. Gaitskill said. "You can't tell an 18-year-old to keep it down and turn off Britney Spears or whatever it is that they listen to."

At 18, Ms. Gaitskill, who had grown up outside of Detroit with her parents and two sisters, was not herself immersed in the antics of dorm life. Two years earlier she had run away from home, first to Canada, then California, then back to Canada again, to escape a home life in which she felt stifled. "I had a strong conviction that there was something out there in the world that was wonderful," she said.

She moved about, at one point dating a draft dodger, and keeping journals. She found work selling flowers on the street, performing as a stripper in bars and making crafts. "I had really wanted adventure," Ms. Gaitskill explained. "At the time that I ran away, lots of kids ran away from home. It was something of a social phenomenon."

During the period of estrangement, though, she still came home every Christmas, and when she was 20 she moved back home to enroll first in the community college where her father taught political science, and then at the University of Michigan where she won the prestigious Hopwood award for writing in 1981, the year she graduated.

She subsequently moved to New York to pursue a writer's life, supporting herself as a legal proofreader.

Ms. Gaitskill is a shy woman, with smooth skin and a restless spirit she believes is a legacy from her father, who died in the spring of 2001, four years after the publication of her second collection of short stories, "Because They Wanted To." She describes her mother, who now lives in Chicago, as a woman with a keenly nuanced mind, but it was with her father, Lawrence, that she experienced the deepest familial connection.

Lawrence Russell Gaitskill did not live an easy life. His parents, who were poor, died when he was a child; he grew up an orphan in Lexington, Ky., fought in World War II and went on to become a Fulbright scholar. But his profound intellectual curiosity was coupled with limited ambition. He read a great deal about current affairs and sociology, Ms. Gaitskill said, though she was not sure if he had ever read her. "When he was dying," she remarked, "I said to him, 'You made me everything I am.' "

Alison Owen, the heroine in "Veronica," is the middle-aged woman Ms. Gaitskill might have become had she only her delicate looks to carry her. As Ms. Gaitskill did, Alison runs away as a teenager. She falls into modeling, and into the bed of a corrupt agent in Paris before returning home to New Jersey and then New York, where her dreams require a recalibration.

By her late 40's, she is living outside of Silicon Valley cleaning offices and struggling with Hepatitis C. But she has come to inhabit a deeper level of herself through her acquaintance with Veronica, an ungainly, abrasive, unlikable woman whose failings do not consume her.

Part of Ms. Gaitskill's gift as a writer is that she can evoke the entire essence and image of a character in a single physical description. Of Veronica she writes, "From a distance her whole face looked askew, puckered like flesh around a badly healed wound."

In her work Ms. Gaitskill has often found horror in ordinary imperfection. "There have been times in my life when I would walk around on the street and think, 'My god, people are so ugly,' " she said.

Like Patricia Highsmith, Ms. Gaitskill has been intensely interested in the darker truths of physical appearance throughout her career, and in broad terms "Veronica" is a meditation on beauty as a limited form of social capital.

"Spectacular beauty can estrange you in a deep way," she said. "For me it would have been awful. I would not have been able to use it."

Ms. Gaitskill had begun a first draft of "Veronica" in the early 90's, after the release of "Bad Behavior," when she decided to move to Northern California to escape New York and the quiet life that had been interrupted. She felt that the detached tone of her first book, combined with its subject of sex and cruelty, had fueled various and misguided assumptions about her.

"People expected me to be this embodiment of all knowing hipness and I just wasn't," she said. During a radio interview early on she was at such a loss for what to say that she remained virtually silent throughout it.

Finding herself unproductive in Marin County, Ms. Gaitskill next moved to Texas and took a job in the creative writing department at the University of Houston. (The university assigned her a driver because she didn't have a car.)

It was during that time that she was invited to join a group of writers participating in a Buddhist retreat for Vietnam veterans, held at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, and met Mr. Trachtenberg, who had also been invited. Neither really surrendered to the experience, but after Ms. Gaitskill went back to Texas, the two kept in contact through e-mail. "I liked her against my will because she was initially quite cold to me," Mr. Trachtenberg said.

Their relationship continued when Ms. Gaitskill decided to return to the East Coast in 1997. (Not being able to afford Manhattan, she chose Rhinebeck.) The two were married a few days after 9/11.

The couple began to consider whether they might adopt a child. But they were $50,000 in debt and Ms. Gaitskill was working on two books. "It was really a quandary," she said. "I didn't feel as though I had the freedom to do everything I wanted to do."

Three years ago, she contacted the Fresh Air Fund to see about becoming a mentor. "One boy awoke the most passionate maternal feelings in me that I had ever had," she said. The boy, now 9 and his sister, 13 regularly visit Ms. Gaitskill and her husband, and the couple pays the children's tuition at a Catholic school in Brooklyn.

Ms. Gaitskill had never intended to marry though she had imagined herself spending her life with someone. "I often thought of marriage as rather dull," she said. When Mr. Trachtenberg proposed, she laughed. But she is not cavalier about her choice. "There's a deep level of support that I never knew I was missing," she said, "because I'd never really had it."

And she has enjoyed the kind of social assimilation that marriage affords. "You know, if you're an older woman and you're not married, I think it makes people uneasy," Ms. Gaitskill said. "It was a comfortable feeling to become a recognizable member of the herd."

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Quote of the week

"This administration's grand schemes always end up as the opposite. Officials say they're promoting national security when they're hurting it; they say they're squelching terrorists when they're breeding them; they say they're bringing stability to Iraq when the country's imploding. And the most dangerous opposite of all: W. was listening to a surrogate father about Iraq he shouldn't have been listening to (Cheney), and not listening to his real father, who deserved to be listened to." --Maureen Dowd

Much-admired Fitzgerald not that admirable for only nailing Libby instead of whole conspiracy

Fitzgerald Threw a Softball -- by Sheldon Drobny

Besides my co-founding Air America Radio, I have another day job. I have helped prosecute and defend white collar crime offenses for 38 years including experience with Mr. Fitzgerald's office in my home town Chicago on current political prosecutions. Those of us locally in the know here do not agree that Mr. Fitzgerald is as independent as the press has made him out to be. Let me explain.

Fitzgerald had to indict Libby. Libby's lies were so blatant that Fitzgerald had no choice. But Fitzgerald had a golden opportunity to do enough work to prove the underlying crimes that he was originally investigating. Those crimes involve two offenses in the U.S. Criminal Code; Conspiracy and Outing a CIA agent. Essentially Fitzgerald indicted Libby for preventing his prosecutors from proving the underlying crimes he was investigating by using a baseball metaphor in that Libby "threw sand in the umpires eyes." That part is patently absurd.

In most conspiracy cases, one or more of the co-conspirators invariably lie to the FBI or the Grand Jury. That is something that prosecutors face all the time. The idea that Libby alone prevented Fitzgerald from proving the underlying crime is absurd. If Cheney told Libby about Valerie Plame, there obviously was a reason. The idea that Cheney, Libby, Rove and Bush did not talk to each other about the purpose of passing on this information to the press is simply not believable. And there were many ways that Fitzgerald could have proven the conspiracy in spite of Libby's lies. The fact that Libby lied would normally embolden a prosecutor to prove the underlying crime. This was not the case for Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald stated in his press conference that most of his work has been completed. While there is always a Grand Jury available to indict others in the event of an unlikely plea bargain for Libby, the investigative phase is really over for this prosecutor. His office will now focus on the trial of Libby. Those of us who know about prosecutors and Grand Jury investigations would tell you that Fitzgerald, using a baseball metaphor, threw the Bush ka bal a "softball." And using a football metaphor, he "fumbled the ball."

IT SEEMS CLEAR the mainstream media are already playing the Libby indictment Bush's way -- saying the Libby indictment proves there was no underlying crime of a conspiracy to out Wilson's wife; it was simply a cover-up by Libby of a crime that wasn't a crime.

Fitzgerald is so far giving the Bush administration almost a free pass -- a very narrow indictment. He steered clear of the conspiracy charge and indictment of Karl Rove because he's not very brave: a timid prosecutor who wanted to be sure he'd nail someone, so he chose the easiest route. In the end, he couldn't have helped the administration more. If Libby plea-bargains and there is no trial, the whole Cheney-Libby-Rove conspiracy who outed Valerie Plame -- treason in my book -- will get off scot-free, especially if Libby can stay out of jail till the end of Bush's term, in time for Bush to pardon him. I hope the bloggers will keep the conspiracy charge alive.

Man eBays cup of tea

A man is selling a cup of tea on the internet. Billy Gibbons, from Audlem near Nantwich, Cheshire is set to make £12.50 from the sale on eBay. According to The Sun he said: "I was drinking tea and wondered if anyone would like to share it with me. The original tea I made has gone off, but if someone wants to buy another one, I will make a fresh brew and send it by flask."

The income gap: you're getting poorer, and the rich are getting richer

Two articles about income inequality in the US, getting worse every year, especially under Bush:

1. Growing Gulf Between Rich and Rest of US -- by Holly Sklar

Guess which country the CIA World Factbook describes when it says, "Since 1975, practically all the gains in household income have gone to the top 20% of households."

If you guessed the United States, you're right. The United States has rising levels of poverty and inequality not found in other rich democracies. It also has less mobility out of poverty.

Since 2000, America's billionaire club has gained 76 more members while the typical household has lost income and the poverty count has grown by more than 5 million people.

Poverty and inequality take a daily toll seldom seen on television. "The infant mortality rate in the United States compares with that in Malaysia -- a country with a quarter the income." says the 2005 Human Development Report. "Infant death rates are higher for [black] children in Washington, D.C., than for children in Kerala, India."

Income and wealth in America are increasingly concentrated at the very top -- the realm of the Forbes 400. You could have banked $1 million a day every day for the last two years and still have far to go to make the new Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans. It took a minimum of $900 million to get on the Forbes 400 this year. That's up $150 million from 2004.

"Surging real estate and oil prices drove up several fortunes and helped pave the way for 33 new members," Forbes notes.

Middle-class households, meanwhile, are a medical crisis or outsourced job away from bankruptcy.

With 374 billionaires, the Forbes 400 will soon be billionaires only.

Bill Gates remains No. 1 on the Forbes 400 with $51 billion. Low-paid Wal-Mart workers can find Walton family heirs in five of the top 10 spots; another Wal-Mart heir ranks No. 116. Former Bechtel president Stephen Bechtel Jr. and his son, CEO Riley Bechtel, tie for No. 109 on the Forbes 400 with $2.4 billion apiece. The politically powerful Bechtel has gotten a no-bid contract for hurricane reconstruction despite a pattern of cost overruns and shoddy work from Iraq to Boston's leaky "Big Dig" tunnel/highway project.

The Forbes 400 is a group so small they could have watched this year's Sugar Bowl from the private boxes of the Superdome.

Yet combined Forbes 400 wealth totals more than $1.1 trillion -- an amount greater than the gross domestic product of Spain or Canada, the world's eighth- and ninth-largest economies.

The number of Americans in poverty is a group so large it would take the combined populations of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas, plus Arkansas to match it. That's according to the Census Bureau's latest count of 37 million people below the poverty line.

Millions more Americans can't afford adequate health care, housing, child care, food, transportation and other basic expenses above the official poverty thresholds, which are set too low. The poverty threshold for a single person under age 65 was just $9,827 in 2004. For a two-adult, two-child family, it was just $19,157.

By contrast, the Economic Policy Institute's Basic Family Budget Calculator says the national median basic needs budget (including taxes and tax credits) for a two-parent, two-child family was $39,984 in 2004. It was $38,136 in New Orleans and $33,636 in Biloxi, Mississippi.

America is becoming a downwardly mobile society instead of an upwardly mobile society. Median household income fell for the fifth year in a row to $44,389 in 2004 -- down from $46,129 in 1999, adjusting for inflation. The Bush administration is using hurricane "recovery" to camouflage policies that will deepen inequality and poverty. They are bringing windfall profits to companies like Bechtel while suspending regulations that shore up wages for workers.

More tax cuts are in the pipeline for wealthy Americans who can afford the $17,000 watch, $160,000 coat and $10 million helicopter on the Forbes Cost of Living Extremely Well Index.

More budget cuts are in the pipeline for Medicaid, Food Stamps and other safety nets for Americans whose wages don't even cover the cost of necessities.

Without a change in course, the gulf between the rich and the rest of America will continue to widen, weakening our economy and our democracy. The American Dream will be history instead of poverty.

(Holly Sklar is co-author of "Raise the Floor: Wages and Policies That Work for All Of Us" ( She can be reached at  

2. UN Hits Back at US in Report Saying Parts of America are as Poor as Third World -- by Paul Vallely

Parts of the United States are as poor as the Third World, according to a shocking United Nations report on global inequality.

Claims that the New Orleans floods have laid bare a growing racial and economic divide in the US have, until now, been rejected by the American political establishment as emotional rhetoric. But yesterday's UN report provides statistical proof that for many - well beyond those affected by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina - the great American Dream is an ongoing nightmare.

The document constitutes a stinging attack on US policies at home and abroad in a fightback against moves by Washington to undermine next week's UN 60th anniversary conference which will be the biggest gathering of world leaders in history.

The annual Human Development Report normally concerns itself with the Third World, but the 2005 edition scrutinizes inequalities in health provision inside the US as part of a survey of how inequality worldwide is retarding the eradication of poverty. It reveals that the infant mortality rate has been rising in the US for the past five years - and is now the same as Malaysia. America's black children are twice as likely as whites to die before their first birthday.

The report is bound to incense the Bush administration as it provides ammunition for critics who have claimed that the fiasco following Hurricane Katrina shows that Washington does not care about poor black Americans. But the 370-page document is critical of American policies towards poverty abroad as well as at home. And, in unusually outspoken language, it accuses the US of having "an overdeveloped military strategy and an under-developed strategy for human security".

"There is an urgent need to develop a collective security framework that goes beyond military responses to terrorism," it continues. "Poverty and social breakdown are core components of the global security threat."

The document, which was written by Kevin Watkins, the former head of research at Oxfam, will be seen as round two in the battle between the UN and the US, which regards the world body as an unnecessary constraint on its strategic interests and actions. Last month John Bolton, the new US ambassador to the UN, submitted 750 amendments to the draft declaration for next week's summit to strengthen the UN and review progress towards its Millennium Development Goals to halve world poverty by 2015. The report launched yesterday is a clear challenge to Washington. The Bush administration wants to replace multilateral solutions to international problems with a world order in which the US does as it likes on a bilateral basis.

"This is the UN coming out all guns firing," said one UN insider. "It means that, even if we have a lame duck secretary general after the Volcker report (on the oil-for-food scandal), the rest of the organization is not going to accept the US bilateralist agenda."

The clash on world poverty centers on the US policy of promoting growth and trade liberalization on the assumption that this will trickle down to the poor. But this will not stop children dying, the UN says. Growth alone will not reduce poverty so long as the poor are denied full access to health, education and other social provision. Among the world's poor, infant mortality is falling at less than half of the world average. To tackle that means tackling inequality - a message towards which John Bolton and his fellow US neocons are deeply hostile.

India and China, the UN says, have been very successful in wealth creation but have not enabled the poor to share in the process. A rapid decline in child mortality has therefore not materialized. Indeed, when it comes to reducing infant deaths, India has now been overtaken by Bangladesh, which is only growing a third as fast.

Poverty could be halved in just 17 years in Kenya if the poorest people were enabled to double the amount of economic growth they can achieve at present.

Inequality within countries is as stark as the gaps between countries, the UN says. Poverty is not the only issue here. The death rate for girls in India is now 50% higher than for boys. Gender bias means girls are not given the same food as boys and are not taken to clinics as often when they are ill. Fetal scanning has also reduced the number of girls born.

The only way to eradicate poverty, it says, is to target inequalities. Unless that is done the Millennium Development Goals will never be met. And 41 million children will die unnecessarily over the next 10 years.

For half a century the US has seen a sustained decline in the number of children who die before their fifth birthday. But since 2000 this trend has been reversed.

Although the US leads the world in healthcare spending - per head of population it spends twice what other rich OECD nations spend on average, 13% of its national income - this high level goes disproportionately on the care of white Americans. It has not been targeted to eradicate large disparities in infant death rates based on race, wealth and state of residence.

High levels of spending on personal health care reflect America's cutting-edge medical technology and treatment. But the paradox at the heart of the US health system is that, because of inequalities in health financing, countries that spend substantially less than the US have, on average, a healthier population. A baby boy from one of the top 5% richest families in America will live 25% longer than a boy born in the bottom 5% and the infant mortality rate in the US is the same as Malaysia, which has a quarter of America's income.

Blacks in Washington DC have a higher infant death rate than people in the Indian state of Kerala.

The health of US citizens is influenced by differences in insurance, income, language and education. Black mothers are twice as likely as white mothers to give birth to a low birthweight baby. And their children are more likely to become ill.

The US is the only wealthy country with no universal health insurance system. Its mix of employer-based private insurance and public coverage does not reach all Americans. More than one in six people of working age lack insurance. One in three families living below the poverty line are uninsured. Just 13% of white Americans are uninsured, compared with 21% of blacks and 34% of Hispanic Americans. Being born into an uninsured household increases the probability of death before the age of one by about 50%.

More than a third of the uninsured say that they went without medical care last year because of cost. Uninsured Americans are less likely to have regular outpatient care, so they are more likely to be admitted to hospital for avoidable health problems.

More than 40% of the uninsured do not have a regular place to receive medical treatment. More than a third say that they or someone in their family went without needed medical care, including prescription drugs, in the past year because they lacked the money to pay.

If the gap in health care between black and white Americans was eliminated it would save nearly 85,000 lives a year. Technological improvements in medicine save about 20,000 lives a year.

Child poverty rates in the United States are now more than 20%. Child poverty is a particularly sensitive indicator for income poverty in rich countries. It is defined as living in a family with an income below 50% of the national average.

The US - with Mexico - has the dubious distinction of seeing its child poverty rates increase to more than 20%. In the UK - which at the end of the 1990s had one of the highest child poverty rates in Europe - the rise in child poverty, by contrast, has been reversed through increases in tax credits and benefits.

Dalai Lama in brain science meditation dispute

Scientists Bridle at Lecture Plan for Dalai Lama -- by Benedict Carey

The Dalai Lama, the exiled leader of Tibet who is revered as a spiritual teacher, is at the center of a scientific controversy.

He has been an enthusiastic collaborator in research on whether the intense meditation practiced by Buddhist monks can train the brain to generate compassion and positive thoughts. Next month in Washington, the Dalai Lama is scheduled to speak about the research at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. But 544 brain researchers have signed a petition urging the society to cancel the lecture, because, according to the petition, "it will highlight a subject with largely unsubstantiated claims and compromised scientific rigor and objectivity."

Defenders of the Dalai Lama's appearance say that the motivation of many protesters is political, because many are Chinese or of Chinese descent. The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 after the Chinese crushed a Tibetan bid for independence.

But many scientists who signed the petition say they did so because they believe that the field of neuroscience risks losing credibility if it ventures too recklessly into spiritual matters. "As the public face of neuroscience, we have a responsibility to at least see that research is replicated before it is promoted and highlighted," said Dr. Nancy Hayes, a neurobiologist at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey who objects to the Dalai Lama's speaking. "If we don't do that, we may as well be the Flat Earth Society."

In the past decade, scientists and journalists have increasingly taken interest in meditation and "mindfulness," a related state of focused inner awareness, topics once left to weekend mystics and religious retreats. The Dalai Lama has been working with a small number of researchers to study how the practice of Buddhist contemplation affects moods and promotes a sense of peace and compassion. In one widely reported 2003 study, Dr. Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison led a team of researchers that found that 25 employees of a biotechnology company showed increased levels of neural activity in the left anterior temporal region of their brains after taking a course in meditation. The region is active during sensations of happiness and positive emotion, the researchers reported.

In a 2004 experiment supported by the Mind and Life Institute, a nonprofit organization that the Dalai Lama helped establish, and also involving Dr. Davidson, investigators tracked brain waves in eight Tibetan monks as they meditated in a state of "unconditional loving-kindness and compassion." Using an electronic scanner, the researchers found that the monks were producing a very strong pattern of gamma waves, a synchronized oscillation of brain cells that is associated with concentration and emotional control. A group of 10 college students who were learning to meditate produced a much weaker gamma signal.

Taken together, the studies suggest that "human qualities like compassion and altruism may in some sense be regarded as skills which can be improved through mental training," said Dr. Davidson, who is director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin.

Yet the neuroscientists who have signed the petition say that there are several problems with this research. First, they say, Dr. Davidson and some of his colleagues meditate themselves, and they have collaborated with the Dalai Lama for years. Dr. Davidson said he had helped persuade the spiritual leader to accept the society's invitation to speak, and was with him when he received the request. The critics also point out that there are flaws in the 2004 experiment that the researchers have acknowledged: The monks being studied were 12 to 45 years older than the students, and age could have accounted for some of the differences. The students, as beginners, may have been anxious or simply not skilled enough to find a meditative state in the time allotted, which would alter their brain wave patterns. And there was no way to know if the monks were adept at generating high gamma wave activity before they ever started meditating.

"This paper has not tested the idea whether meditation promotes compassion or any kind of positive emotion," Dr. Yi Rao, a neuroscientist at Northwestern University who helped draft the petition and was one of the sharpest critics, said in an e-mail message. "Nonetheless, advocates of Buddhism and meditation have confused the public with the claim that this idea has received scientific proof," Dr. Rao said. "If one reads the published scientific literature, it is not difficult to see that this claim is far from being proven. It will not hurt if the public also realizes that some researchers are declared believers playing dual roles as advocates and researchers."

In a telephone interview, Dr. Davidson said that the critics' assertions were overblown, given that the field of study was in its infancy and the studies so far had been exploratory. "I wouldn't consider myself a Buddhist or a card-carrying zealot at all," Dr. Davidson said. "My first commitment is as a scientist to uncover the truth about all this." He said it was "ridiculous" to suggest that neuroscientists should shy away from topics just because they were difficult to study.

Many of his colleagues agree. "This research is a first pass on a new topic, and you just can't do perfect science the first time through," said Dr. Robert Wyman, a neurobiologist at Yale. "You get curious about something and you mess around. That's what science is in the beginning, you mess around."

Fair enough, say some scientists who have signed the petition, but neuroscientists must be extra careful with such subjects. The field is already trying to manage a deeply mystifying presence: the brain, which in some ways is still as dark as deepest space.

The scientists point out that scans showing areas of the brain that light up during emotions like jealousy or guilt are fascinating but that their significance is still unclear. And in their laboratories, some investigators who plan to attend the neuroscience meetings are trying to find the neural traces of consciousness itself, a notoriously disorienting quest that has led more than one enterprising scientist into a philosophical fog.

"Neuroscience more than other disciplines is the science at the interface between modern philosophy and science," wrote one neuroscientist on the petition, Dr. Zvani Rossetti of the University of Cagliari in Italy. He added, "No opportunity should be given to anybody to use neuroscience for supporting transcendent views of the world."

One thing certain about the Dalai Lama's scheduled talk is that he will not lack for an audience. Neuroscientists around the world have been intensely debating the event, and Dr. Carol Barnes, president of the neuroscience society, says she will not cancel the talk or change the schedule. "The practice of meditation is a human behavior, and the Dalai Lama is extraordinarily skilled at it and at promoting qualities of peace and compassion that I thought could bring us together," said Dr. Barnes, a professor of psychology and neurology at the University of Arizona who invited the Dalai Lama to speak last February. "That's not the way it's gone so far."

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Letter to the NY Times about Libby indictment

To the Editor:

With the indictment of I. Lewis Libby Jr., we are seeing the beginning of the end of the Bush White House and the Republican majority in Congress.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

The Bush administration, handed a large budget surplus, world sympathy and a veritable political free ride after 9/11, has left us deficit-ridden and bogged down in Iraq.

Instead of providing vision and leadership, it has given us division and a steady diet of attack politics.

Tom DeLay and Mr. Libby are only the tip of the iceberg. The American people are waking up to how much they have been misled by men who are not only foolish but also accused of being criminals.

The sad news is that the damage is done. Our troops are dying, and our international reputation is in tatters.

Mark Greene
Kingston, N.Y., Oct. 28, 2005

Oh, these artists: one is paid tax-payers' money to drink beer and fall over

In London, a Japanese artist has been paid £5,000 of taxpayers' money to drink 48 bottles of beer and then fall off a wooden beam. The performance, at an arts centre in Cardiff, outraged members of the local council, reports the Times. However, an arts centre spokesman said: "This wasn't just about a woman drinking a lot of beer. This was a powerful piece of art."

Tomoko Takahashi, 39, who performs under the name Anti-Cool, was once nominated for the Turner Prize for her installations of rubbish. She says her performance "comments on the availability and use of mass-produced products".

But she is now being accused of encouraging binge drinking. The three-hour act consisted of Takahashi drinking more and more beer and trying to see how far she could walk across the beam before she fell off.

David Davies, a Conservative member of the Welsh Assembly, said: "If anyone is daft enough to want to see a young woman getting plastered and tottering around in high heels, they can do it in just about every city centre most nights of the week. The worrying thing is that people are making decisions to hand out taxpayers' money like this when they are sober."

US -- a psychological profile

By Charles Marowitz (From good site, check them out)

Having been requested to diagnose the Patient to determine the extent of psychic damage and render a personal opinion as to subsequent therapy, I submit the following:

The Patient under consideration (Case #17762005) suffered a serious trauma circa September 11th 2001, which thoroughly shattered a certain complacency that had been in place for some forty-five years when a similar but less severe trauma had occurred in the Far East. The shock brought with it a sense of vulnerability that the Patient had never experienced heretofore and, as a consequence, a complex, combining elements of fear and perplexity, arose. "Why," the Patient asked, "has this happened to me, and how could I be the object of such a powerful enmity without having consciously provoked forces that are now directed against me?"

The need to try to understand the calamity was soon overtaken by the Patient's overpowering desire to exact revenge. Although the culprits responsible for the original trauma were clearly identified, the Patient almost wilfully shifted the burden of guilt onto a more accessible and more visible source and proceeded to vent the pent-up aggression on to the alternative object.

In the course of this transference, it was necessary to curb some of the customary freedoms and liberties which had become second nature to the Patient. The Head Surgeon increased the Patient's anxiety regarding these liberties and the Patient was persuaded to forego them. So persuasive were the arguments for their suppression that the subject found it natural to accept, without protest, certain restrictions which, before the onset of the trauma, would have incited strong rebellion. But the Head Surgeon and his team assigned to overcome the trauma, were so powerful and persuasive, the Patient gradually accepted their strictures, but not without intense feelings of resistance. The underlying fear was that these questionable injunctions might ultimately alter the very nature of the subject's characterological make-up and beliefs.

The Patient gradually accepted the advice of the Head Surgeon who prescribed a variety of palliatives to ease the anguish. It was easy to do so as many of those suffering from the same condition seemed to be taking the self-same course. "Patriotism" and a commitment to "normal routine" became strongly favored anodynes. The Patient was persuaded that "specialists" and people with "more know-how in such matters" were in a better position to prevent the recurrence of subsequent, even more violent pathologies. Despite strong reservations, the Patient maintained a firm belief in the intelligence and integrity of the Head Surgeon and his team, all of whom promptly began to impose measures to ameliorate the more disturbing aspects of the trauma.

Over a period of three years, the effects of post-traumatic shock not only remained but grew more and more injurious to the Patient's health. Fears that the causes of the original condition might recur at any moment were increased by instances of similar cases being reported in far-flung locations -- viz. throughout the Middle East, in Spain, and in the United Kingdom. These only intensified the Patient's fears causing the Patient seriously to question the treatment then being applied in larger and larger doses and with increasing insistence that "staying the course" was the only way of averting even more serious after-effects. Abandoning the treatment, the specialists warned, would serve only to exacerbate the original condition.

Gradually, the Patient managed to muster the inner strength to question both the initial prognosis and the validity of the treatment the Head Surgeon had been applying. It was impossible not to recognize that the medication itself was issuing from a corrupted source, that those attempting to alleviate the anxiety were foisting bogus cures and futile solutions. The manufacturers of the drugs administered to combat the condition, the Patient noted, were becoming more and more affluent -- even as their companies became embroiled in scandals which exposed the deleterious effects of their dubious medications.

The Patient's condition rapidly deteriorated; the trauma intensified, which is to say, became more firmly repressed. The Patient complained of heightened anxiety symptoms and a feeling that "soon, the other shoe would drop" -- i.e., that even greater distress might be impending. Much of the therapy applied to the growing anxiety consisted of upbeat lectures and announcements that the condition was "actually, clearing up," despite appalling evidence to the contrary. At the end of four painstaking years of treatment, the healer's prognoses were revealed to be false and self-serving. The Patient was devastated, but having been constantly encouraged to "live life normally," was conditioned not to reveal the degree of panic which had developed. A classical double-bind arose. As the anger and helplessness increased, so did the need to conceal it. "Normality" became the dressing beneath which the suppurating wound was seeping through.

Finally, realizing the treatment had only worsened the condition rendering the healers' optimistic prognostications null and void, the Patient began to rankle against the empty homilies and brazen lies. The suspicion grew that the motive of the Head Surgeon and his team was more concerned with protracting the fearful condition than dealing honestly with its causes and effects. It became clear that the subject's own self worth, common sense, and objectivity were ultimately more salutary than the ministrations of the healers to whom the cure of the malady had been entrusted.

After four years of growing paranoia, ineffectual therapy, and escalating treatment, the Patient realized that the cause of the trauma had been consciously diverted into areas that had only increased tensions, proliferated infection, and produced bitter divisions among those suffering from the same symptoms. It was time for the Patient to reject the bogus remedy and develop a cure based on truthful diagnoses and realistic solutions, even if it involved shameful exposés of missteps and hair-brained panaceas on the part of the healers. The enforced cure, in a tragic sense, had become worse than the disease. It became equally clear that the rising toll of fatalities caused by the misguided treatment had not only exacerbated a grave situation but created the beginnings of an epidemic for which no known cure was available.

The Patient was justifiably outraged. Whereas the cause of the trauma had been real and inescapable, every measure adopted by the Head Surgeon and his team had been motivated by twisted logic and unachievable goals that converted a tragedy into a travesty, and one into which the Patient, and millions of other fellow sufferers, had been cynically manipulated. The Patient began to experience a bitter loathing towards his own gullibility at having been "used" but realized that, as irrational aggression had caused the first crisis, so an equally aggressive response would only make things worse. But it was hard to forgive those who, out of timorousness or complicity, had uncritically lauded the healers' false prognoses to all and sundry without questioning either their validity or probity.

At this writing, the Patient, although still in denial, is coming to terms with a series of painful realities, which, as we all know, is the first step towards true rehabilitation. Whether the Patient ever recovers the aplomb which has been lost must remain speculative. Clearly, the forces working against the restoration of health are stronger now than they were at the outset and, although there is a greater awareness of their wrongheadedness, there are still those that cling to the illusion there is some justification for their wayward policies. So long as that belief is maintained, the Patient stands in serious danger of relapse.

However, there have been some faint signs of improvement. As a result of rejecting the lethal treatment founded on heresy and equivocation, deception and quackery, the Patient may now be able to abreact, and deal more directly with the true nature of the shocking events. A new course of behavior will not entirely eradicate the effects of the trauma, but it may strengthen the subject's ability to determine right from wrong and that could conceivably lead to partial improvements. In my opinion, the central problem is that the Patient finds it virtually impossible to directly confront the forces responsible for inflicting the initial pathology and, without mustering the requisite courage to actively engage and oppose them, full recovery remains problematic.

Bookplanet: Critics on Coetzee

J.M. Coetzee is one of my favorite contemporary writers. In fact, he's the only contemporary novelist of whom I've read more than two books (I think I've read five). Being a fellow South African, and a fellow Afrikaans speaker to boot, and having met him, I obviously cannot ignore the man. But I say here and now that he is probably the one novelist in recent years who fully deserves his Nobel Prize, and I'm very proud of our little S.A. nation that we've now produced two Nobel Prize winners (though I'm not sure Nadine Gordimer deserves hers: a better S.A. choice would've been Athol Fugard). Coetzee is of course a favorite of academia, because he writes enigmatic Beckett-like, allegory-infused, postmodern meta-novels, whose concentrated and very readable particulars always reflect a much wider context, and go off like little handgrenades in the mind that rapidly expand into atomic explosions. If you haven't read "Waiting for the Barbarians" yet, please do so. It is far and away the greatest novel I know of in English since, well, Lolita. Anyway, here's some recent good writing about Coetzee, about the new direction he has taken since introducing a stand-in author, Elizabeth Costello, into his last two books.

1. From Conversational Reading: A Fine Week for Coetzee Essays

This piece by Pankaj Mishra must be the best criticism of Slow Man I've yet read.
More acutely than any other contemporary novelist, Coetzee has been aware of the aesthetic difficulty and moral conceit of turning man-made suffering into art. Certainly, his confession of inadequacy is far from the bold assumption Naipaul and Rushdie share even as they argue about what literary form is likely to capture best a vital and diverse human world: the assumption that the individual author has the intellectual and spiritual resources to describe a human condition larger than his own, and indeed to convey it, in either fictional or nonfictional forms, to his easily distracted middle-class audience. Increasingly, Coetzee seems to lack the egotism necessary to play the role of the wise, omniscient narrator. Much of his fictional energy is now devoted to revealing how writers struggle no less anxiously than their characters with a human self increasingly fragmented and diminished by the pressures of modern life.

The French-Romanian essayist E.M. Cioran once wrote that although "we know a great deal about ourselves," "we are nothing"; as a result, "the material of literature...grows thinner every day, and that of the novel, more limited." The only novels worthy of attention today, Cioran asserted, are "precisely those novels in which...nothing happens, and which are a research without points of reference, an experiment pursued within an unfailing vacuity, a vacuity experienced through sensation, as well as a dialectic paradoxically frozen." Cioran was writing about his friend Samuel Beckett, and he looked forward to the "last novelist" bringing down the shutters on the "epic of the bourgeois era." But his words increasingly seem apt for Coetzee, an admirer of Beckett, whose recent novels play out a dialectic between bodily pain and intellectual uncertainty while casting doubt on almost every grand claim made in the past fifty years for storytelling and storytellers.

Slow Man shows Coetzee writing himself deeper into silence.
And this new NYRB essay is good as well.
As Coetzee's subsequent books have made clear, his moral vision is increasingly concerned with man's attitudes toward animals, and with the ideas about the primacy of reason and humanity which underlie those attitudes. . . .

This is the thread that runs through Coetzee's recent work. It is close to being a mystical idea, about the primacy of feeling, of our basic impulses of empathy and sympathy and solidarity and, in Costello's sense, kindness, over reason. And it is this which gives his recent books a particular tension. Coetzee's work has always had an unusual quality of passionate coldness. His books are intensely thought and felt, while also being, in their affect, cool, detached, held back, and distanced. We see the characters struggle and writhe, and we might at times feel for them, but we would no more identify with them than we would with the characters in the works of, say, Sade. We see their pain but we are not supposed to feel it. It is not just the affect of the books that is distancing but their techniques, too: witness the masterly ethical misdirection of Disgrace I have referred to, or the use of fictional devices to frame the memoir Youth and the polemics in Elizabeth Costello. These chilly books are about the primacy, the all-consuming importance, of suffering, and what we should learn from it. This is the energizing tension of Coetzee's recent writings, and it is both described and acted out in his new novel, Slow Man.

2. From Maud Newton: Coetzee, and suffering in fiction

In the current New York Review of Books, John Lanchester tracks some of the concerns that have increasingly preoccupied J.M. Coetzee since Disgrace, and considers the function the author character, Elizabeth Costello, serves in the latest novel.
When a writer turns up in his own fiction it is often to pose questions about the arbitrariness and artificiality of narrative. That doesn’t seem to be the main focus of Coetzee’s interest here. It is more, perhaps, a question of ethics, touching on the morality of making people up, and then devising trials and torments for them, designed to expose and test their deficiencies. Is there anything of ethical content to be said about the fortunes of these imaginary people? Does making things up have an effect on the maker, and on the reader? At one point in Elizabeth Costello, she speaks of the terrible effects books can have on their writers. ("Certain books are not good to read or to write.")

This seems to be the concern Coetzee is continuing to investigate in Slow Man, which is a novel about the difficulty of writing novels, and especially about the peculiar sense in which the creatures in novels can be said to exist. A cartoon version of this would be to say that Coetzee has moved from a concern about human beings to a concern about animal beings to a concern about fictional beings. A reader who has followed Coetzee’s books since Disgrace, and followed the thread of ethical inquiry that runs through them, might pose Slow Man’s central question differently: Why should we care about fictional characters when the world is so full of real suffering?

I'M GOING to read both pieces quoted from, and will report back if there's anything else interesting from them.
Four figures have haunted my art-mind lately: Ingmar Bergman, J.M. Coetzee, Celan, and Bob Dylan. They're very much master/mentors to me: maybe I'll one day write a book about them, and ponder about what links them together in my mind, besides the fact they mean much to me. One thing they share is depth, and grappling with the eternals of pain and despair: maybe that's it.

Why is it the best political comment comes from the Onion and Jon Stewart's Daily Show?

From the Onion: Bush To Nominate Next Person Who Walks Through Door (via Bitch.Phd)

After Harriet Miers withdrew her nomination for the Supreme Court Thursday, President Bush announced that he will nominate the next person who walks through his door. "I assure the American people that the next person who enters my field of vision will be a highly qualified candidate of unimpeachable character, with a solid record, and--what's more--a good heart," Bush said. As of press time, 17 people were waiting outside the door, including the president's daughter Jenna, and special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald.

THE BEST POLITICAL comment makes fun of politics. Because that's the best way to respond to a bunch of self-serving, self-lauding, money-grubbing, bromide-spouting hacks who want to exercise power for a living. They must be punctured at all times, these people with the gumption to run for our leadership - and that's why funny is how to comment on their doings. We can only enjoy our leaders when we see them embarrassed or made fun of. Making fun of authority, especially when it's so blowhard, appeals to the child in us all. Pundits, take note. Bill Maher sort of has the right idea with his version of the McLaughlin show, but he should really load up on more comics in his lineup -- at least two comics per roundtable -- if he wants to enter the pantheon of the Onion and the Daily Show, our two sharpest political commentators.

Friday, October 28, 2005

A lot of people read blogs at work

Today's reports that in 2005 U.S. workers will waste the equivalent of 551,000 years reading blogs.

According to the article: "About 35 million workers -- one in four people in the labor force -- visit blogs and on average spend 3.5 hours, or 9%, of the work week engaged with them."

Employees this year will spend 4.8 billion work hours reading and posting to blogs. They estimate that everyday workers "essentially take a daily 40-minute blog break."

The article quotes Blogads founder Henry Copeland who said, " Traffic rockets at 8 a.m. EST, peaks at 5 p.m. EST and then slides downward until L.A. leaves the office. You see the same thing in the collapse of traffic on weekends. … Bottom line: At work, people can't watch TV or prop up their feet and read a newspaper, but they sure do read blogs."

Technorati , the major blog search engine, tracks 19.6 million blogs.

Ad Age reports the number of blogs has doubled about every five months for the past three years. "If that growth were to continue, all 6.7 billion people on the planet will have a blog by April 2009."

YOU'RE PROBABLY reading my blog at work now. Thank you. I trust it gives you a good break in your day. As well as entertain, educate, and amuse you. See you tomorrow again.

Libby, Cheney's chief of staff, resigns after indictment

Scooter Libby, "the Vice-President's Dick Cheney," indicted on 5 counts: obstruction of justice, 2 counts of false statements, and 2 of perjury. Obstruction of justice so big, it amounts to a planned scheme. Rove not indicted, but still under investigation. Conclusion so far: since office of Dick Cheney deeply implicated, Cheney himself is deeply implicated. Cheney and Bush both make speeches about war on terror on day of indictment in feeble attempt to seize the news.

From the indictment: "On or about June 12, 2003, LIBBY was advised by the Vice President of the United States that Wilson's wife worked at the Central Intelligence Agency in the Counterproliferation Divison. LIBBY understood that the Vice President had learned this information from the CIA."
Conclusion: Cheney told Libby to get Wilson with this bit of information. His wife being outed would send a strong signal to others not to tell the media that WMD was a trumped-up reason to start a war (as Wolfowitz called it in Vanity Fair, the "bureaucratic" reason), as against the real reasons, which I will blog about later.

In poll, 42% say they'd support impeachment if evidence that Bush misled us into war is strong enough

Do you remember when Bush was riding high, when liberals were in despair, when war fever was rampant? How soon we forget. Now Bush has the lowest approval rating than any President at this stage of his term in office, lower than Clinton's when the nation found out Presidential sperm had been splooged freely on a 20-something girl's dress. This week has been disastrous: US death toll in Iraq at 2,000, Miers withdrawing her nomination, Fitzgerald's indictments expected -- God knows where Bush's poll numbers are going to be a year from now, or three years from now. He may turn out to be so unpopular, he has to resign. Here are a few articles that plumb the depths to which he is sinking:

1. Impeachable Offense: Why Must Justice for a Monumental Crime Grasp at Straws? -- by Robert C. Koehler

In 1970, Gerald Ford defined an impeachable offense in unarguably practical terms, as: “whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.”

Ford’s defintion is the only thing saving George Bush’s hide right now, as Plamegate hemorrhages and the high-level machinations that drove the country into an unnecessary war publicly unravel. Beyond special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s possible perjury indictments of Scooter Libby and Karl Rove lie 100,000 or so deaths, a ruined country, worldwide enmity and a bill to U.S. taxpayers of $200 billion and counting. Admittedly, this is no semen-stained dress, but it’s a colossal screw-up nonetheless.

Even if the president isn’t impeached for these offenses, which meet every requirement for this action except the one that matters (and has growing public backing, with 42 percent saying they would support impeachment if the evidence that Bush misled us into war were strong enough, according to a recent Zogby poll), his administration and its cynical agenda are unraveling with Category 5 counterspin.

Fitzgerald’s investigation into the White House leak that resulted in the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame reveals a ruthless shortsightedness within the administration that should shatter every non-insider’s Civics 101 naivete about how our government works.

Plame, as everyone knows by now, is the wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who — about the time Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” banner was beginning to sink into the quagmire — wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times titled “What I Didn’t Find in Africa.” What he didn’t find was any evidence that Saddam Hussein had purchased yellowcake uranium in Niger, which could have been used to build a nuclear bomb. Wilson’s testimony exposed the whopper justifying the invasion: Saddam’s cache of WMD.

What happened next is a case study in why we teach children not to lie. Their cover story cracking, Team Bush was forced to lash back. They tried to discredit Wilson by revealing his wife’s CIA status to cooperative reporters. Plame was an NOC — non-official cover — agent monitoring nuclear proliferation. She was deep undercover, and her outing shakes the whole infrastructure of U.S. spookdom. The safety of anyone who had ever talked to her was jeopardized with the public disclosure of her status.

To send such a tremor through U.S. intelligence operations — and in so doing, to run afoul of the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which was pushed through Congress by Reagan-era conservatives — is so wildly irrational it bespeaks blind desperation, and begs the question, what are these guys hiding?

What they’re hiding is a fusion of politics and ideology that resulted in a war of raw aggression. We invaded Iraq to ensure GOP electoral success in future elections and to advance a neoconservative agenda long obsessed with control of Iraq. The first casualty of the war, as ever, was the truth.

“We wouldn’t be invading Iraq to further Rovian domestic politics or neocon ideology; we’d be doing so instead because there was a direct connection between Saddam and al-Qaida and because Saddam was on the verge of attacking America with nuclear weapons,” wrote Frank Rich in last Sunday’s New York Times. “The facts and intelligence had to be fixed to create these whys; any contradictory evidence had to be dismissed or suppressed.”

Rove and Libby, representing opposite poles of the Bush administration, joined forces to create a win-win scenario for everyone except the Iraqis, the American public and the rest of the world. If they’re indicted for lying about it — what irony.

Why is it that justice for the truly monumental crimes is a matter of grasping at such straws? I ask this question not to look a gift horse in the mouth — Fitzgerald’s guts and doggedness in pursuing this investigation may have saved the republic — but to examine the learning opportunity the scandal opens up.

The abuses of the Bush administration may be the most extreme in U.S. history, but they came wrapped in the cloak of patriotism and fear-based necessity, and most of us, including the media, barely questioned them, or we accepted them with a shrug as the unchallengeable prerogatives of the powerful.

What kind of democracy can such an enervated, powerless people hope to spread to the rest of the world? How did we wind up with a system of government that practices the ideals it trumpets only by mocking them? How do we let future leaders know that waging an unnecessary war is an impeachable offense?

(Robert Koehler, an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, is an editor at Tribune Media Services and nationally syndicated writer.)

2. Shipwrecked -- by Sidney Blumenthal (from

Bush has so thoroughly destroyed the Republican establishment that no one, not even his dad, can rescue him now.

There is no one left to rescue the Republican Party from George W. Bush. He is home alone. The Republican-establishment wise men whose words were once quiet commands are shouting unheeded warnings. The Republican leaders of Congress are distracted and obsessed with their own crises of corruption.

Suspended House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is under indictment for criminal campaign practices while Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission for insider stock trading in his family-owned Hospital Corporation of America. The only revolt brewing in the Senate is on the right against President Bush's nomination of his White House legal counsel, Harriet Miers, to the Supreme Court; some Republican senators fear her potential for secret liberal heresy despite the president's protestations of her conservative purity.

On Aug. 7, 1974, three Republican leaders of Congress made a fateful journey down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. Sen. Barry Goldwater, tribune of the conservative movement; Sen. Hugh Scott, the stalwart minority leader from Pennsylvania; and Rep. John Rhodes, the minority leader in the House, informed President Richard Nixon that as a result of the Watergate scandals he must resign the presidency in the interest of the country and the Republican Party. Two days later, Nixon quit.

On Nov. 25, 1986, Attorney General Edwin Meese announced at a White House press conference that tens of millions of dollars from illegal sales of weapons to Iran had been siphoned to Contra guerrillas in Nicaragua by a far-flung conspiracy centered in the National Security Council. National Security Advisor John Poindexter immediately resigned and NSC military aide Oliver North was fired. Within the next month, President Reagan's popularity rating had collapsed from 67 to 46 percent; it did not recover until a year and a half later, in May 1988, when he negotiated an arms control treaty with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and traveled to Moscow to declare the Cold War over. After the revelation of the Iran-Contra scandal, Reagan purged his administration of right-wingers and neoconservatives in particular. The Republican establishment in all its aspects took control. Former Sen. Howard Baker, who had been the Republican leader at the Watergate hearings, became White House chief of staff; Colin Powell was named national security advisor; neocon protector and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger was forced out and replaced by pragmatic bureaucratic player Frank Carlucci; and Secretary of State George Shultz was given charge of foreign policy in order to negotiate terms with Gorbachev.

The storm enveloping President Bush is a consequence of his adoption of the vicious smear tactics of the Nixon political operation, learned there by Karl Rove, who was called as a witness to testify about them before the Watergate inquiry, and of Bush's elevation to power of the neoconservatives removed by Reagan and excluded from office by Bush's father. Bush is haunted by the history he insisted on defying.

The elements of the Republican establishment that Bush brought into his first administration as a sort of symbolic tribute were gone by his second. By their nature, these people are discreet, measured and private. It is not their impulse to voice disagreement in public. Their sweeping and emotional jeremiads against what Bush has wrought are extraordinary not only in their substance but in having been made at all. Those expressing their disquiet about Bush are more than simply losers in bureaucratic struggles for primacy of place. Once representative of the heart and soul of the Grand Old Party, they are historical castaways. They stand for another Republican Party that has been supplanted by Bush's version.

Paul O'Neill, the former CEO of Alcoa, was shocked at the degradation of policymaking he witnessed as Bush's first secretary of the Treasury. He had anticipated that the councils of government under Bush would be no different from those he had experienced as an economic aide under Nixon. Nixon had rigorously insisted on objective analysis, hearing all sides and considering all options. In Cabinet meetings, O'Neill wrote in his memoir, "The Price of Loyalty," Bush was like "a blind man in a roomful of deaf people." The White House struck back at O'Neill by falsely charging him with leaking classified materials and subjecting him to an investigation, which had the desired effect of silencing him. In retrospect, the accusation of leaking classified information can only appear ironic.

Christine Todd Whitman, former Republican governor of New Jersey, was stunned by her denigration and the suppression of science when she was Bush's first director of the Environmental Protection Agency. After her resignation, she compared Bush unfavorably to Reagan, who, she said, "didn't reach out in a way that indicated that there was no room for others." Whitman's book, "It's My Party Too," was a meek plea for attention from the "social fundamentalists" she claimed had seized control of the family firm. She would not name names, as though she might have another go at riding the tiger that had already devoured her.

John Danforth, for 18 years a U.S. senator from Missouri, served briefly before resigning as Bush's ambassador to the United Nations. He did not stipulate the reasons for his departure, but he did publish an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times on March 30 of this year decrying how "Republicans have transformed our party into the political arm of conservative Christians." The GOP, he wrote, has become "a party that has gone so far in adopting a sectarian agenda that it has become the political extension of a religious movement." Danforth, an old friend of George H.W. Bush's, lamented the loss of the party's heritage: "Our current fixation on a religious agenda has turned us in the wrong direction. It is time for Republicans to rediscover our roots." Danforth was replaced at the U.N. not with a believer in old-fashioned bipartisan internationalism but with John Bolton.

Lawrence Wilkerson, the former head of the Marine War College who had served as chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, revealed the inner struggles of the Bush administration in a speech before the New America Foundation on Oct. 19. A "Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal" ran U.S. foreign policy for a president "not versed in international relations and not too much interested." Wilkerson defined the Bush doctrine as "cowboyism." Condoleezza Rice as national security advisor was "extremely weak" and more interested in "her intimacy with the president" than in acting as an honest broker. Cleaning up after Bush's tarnishing of America's image in the world was an impossible task. "It's hard to sell shit," said Wilkerson.

Powell, Wilkerson's principal, has remained publicly quiet since his September outburst, in which he said that his speech before the United Nations arguing the case for the existence of WMD and an invasion of Iraq, which subsequently was revealed to be filled with disinformation, was a "blot" on his record and continues to be "painful now." Behind the scenes, however, Powell has been active in countering the Bush torture policy, which he opposed from the beginning. Powell sent personal letters and made telephone calls to Republican senators urging them to support the amendment to the military appropriations bill that would end the torture policy. As a result of Powell's lobbying, 90 senators voted for it. It was a stinging rebuke to Bush, who has threatened to veto the entire military appropriations package if the amendment is attached.

Brent Scowcroft, perhaps more than anyone else, personifies the realist, bipartisan Republican tradition of internationalism. He is also the former national security advisor to the elder Bush and among his closest friends. President Bush dismissed him early this year from the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, having ignored his advice through the first term. Scowcroft's candid views appear in an article in the current issue of the New Yorker, in which he details his rejection by Bush at length. "I don't want to go there," Scowcroft replied when asked about the difference between the father and son. He said dismissively of the Iraq policies of a leading neoconservative, former Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, "He's got a utopia out there." On Cheney, Scowcroft sounded perplexed: "The real anomaly in the Administration is Cheney. I consider Cheney a good friend - I've known him for thirty years. But Dick Cheney I don't know anymore."

But Scowcroft the foreign policy mandarin may not have been exposed to the partisan Cheney when he served as secretary of defense in the administration of Bush Sr. He may have missed Cheney's tenure as a representative in the House leadership, where he compiled a far-right voting record and, as House minority whip during the 1980s, was the hidden hand behind the rise of Newt Gingrich and his band of radicals. When he was slated to be Bush's running mate, it was widely assumed that Cheney would act as a stabilizing and moderating presence. Only those who understood his congressional career knew of his affinities with the radical right, his vengeful instincts and his mean-spiritedness. His emergence at the center of the "cabal" now under investigation by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald should not surprise those who have penetrated his avuncular image to see the hard man beneath. Cheney was not the substitute father figure but the false father.

Bush's highhanded treatment of the few Republican moderates of his first term all but eviscerated what was left of the establishment that once controlled the party. The story of the old party's fall from grace and Bush's part in it is a well-known bildungsroman, a family saga that begins with the father.

The son of Prescott Bush, a patrician moderate Republican senator from Connecticut and a Wall Street investment banker, George H.W. Bush traveled to Texas to make his fortune in the wildcat oil industry. He was hardly a roaring success, but he took up his father's line of work, getting elected to the House from suburban Houston. It was then that he opened the negotiations of his Faustian bargain. His father had been the head of the United Negro College Fund; he and his wife were prominent members of the local chapter of Planned Parenthood. But George Bush Sr., seeking political advantage in Texas, declared his opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Bush spent the next decade advancing himself as a consummate Republican loyalist in positions ranging from chairman of the Republican National Committee under Nixon to Gerald Ford's CIA director and United Nations ambassador. After losing the Republican presidential nomination to Ronald Reagan in 1980, he swallowed his criticism of Reagan's supply-side nostrums as "voodoo economics" when he became his running mate.

The Faustian negotiations deepened. In 1988, he ran for president as Reagan's anointed successor. Faltering on his own, with unenthusiastic backing from Reagan's evangelical supporters, he ran a series of nativist and racially charged attacks on his Democratic opponent. Bush won that election with the right-wing Republican base voting for him but still doubtful of his authenticity. As president his compromises on taxation and realism in foreign policy led to their open disillusionment.

His son George lost his first campaign for the House from Texas, tainted by association with his father, who was tarnished by the right as a member of the Trilateral Commission international conspiracy. From then on, Bush was never outmaneuvered on his right flank. His political field marshal, Karl Rove, managed the right wing for his benefit. The Faustian bargain of the father became business as usual for the son.

Now the old establishment is faded. Its remnants largely consist of his father's superannuated retinue. Not even the old Texas establishment in the person of James A. Baker III, Bush's father's field marshal and the former secretary of state (among his many official posts), who managed the Florida contest that gave the presidency to the son, is welcome in this White House.

The Republican Party after Bush, minus its traditional establishment, threatens to become the party of its irreducible base, the party of the old Confederacy and the sparsely populated Rocky Mountain states. But this base, however loyal and obsequious to Bush, regardless of any crisis, does not offer statesmen to step in to handle his shaken White House.

A sharp reversal of policy and turnover in personnel are the only actions that may enable Bush to salvage the shipwreck of his presidency, as they did for Reagan. But bringing in the elders, even if they could be summoned, would be psychologically devastating to Bush, a humiliating admission that his long history of recklessness and failure, from the Texas Air National Guard to Harken Energy, with rescue only through the intervention of his father and his father's friends, has reached its culmination.

3. From NY Daily News:
Bushies feeling the boss' wrath: Prez's anger growing in hard times -- by Thomas M. DeFrank

Facing the darkest days of his presidency, President Bush is frustrated, sometimes angry and even bitter, his associates say.

With a seemingly uncontrollable insurgency in Iraq, the White House is bracing for the political fallout from a grim milestone that could come any day: the combat death of the 2,000th American G.I.

Last week alone, 23 military personnel were killed in Iraq, and five were wounded yesterday in a relentless series of attacks across the country.

This week could also bring a special prosecutor's decision that could shake the foundations of the Bush government.

The President's top political guru, Karl Rove, and Vice President Cheney's right-hand man, Lewis (Scooter) Libby, are at the center of a two-year criminal probe into the leak of a CIA agent's identity. Many Bush staffers believe indictments are likely.

"He's like the lion in winter," observed a political friend of Bush. "He's frustrated. He remains quite confident in the decisions he has made. But this is a guy who wanted to do big things in a second term. Given his nature, there's no way he'd be happy about the way things have gone."

Bush usually reserves his celebrated temper for senior aides because he knows they can take it. Lately, however, some junior staffers have also faced the boss' wrath.

"This is not some manager at McDonald's chewing out the help," said a source with close ties to the White House when told about these outbursts. "This is the President of the United States, and it's not a pleasant sight."

The specter of losing Rove, his only truly irreplaceable assistant, lies at the heart of Bush's distress. But a string of political reversals, including growing opposition to the Iraq war, Hurricane Katrina's aftermath and Harriet Miers' bungled Supreme Court nomination, have also exacted a personal toll.

Presidential advisers and friends say Bush is a mass of contradictions: cheerful and serene, peevish and melancholy, occasionally lapsing into what he once derided as the "blame game." They describe him as beset but unbowed, convinced that history will vindicate the major decisions of his presidency even if they damage him and his party in the 2006 and 2008 elections.

At the same time, these sources say Bush, who has a long history of keeping staffers in their place, has lashed out at aides as his political woes have mounted.

"The President is just unhappy in general and casting blame all about," said one Bush insider. "Andy [Card, the chief of staff] gets his share. Karl gets his share. Even Cheney gets his share. And the press gets a big share."

The vice president remains Bush's most trusted political confidant. Even so, the Daily News has learned Bush has told associates Cheney was overly involved in intelligence issues in the runup to the Iraq war that have been seized on by Bush critics.

Bush is so dismayed that "the only person escaping blame is the President himself," said a sympathetic official, who delicately termed such self-exoneration "illogical."

A second senior Bush loyalist disagreed, saying Bush knows "some of these things are self-inflicted," like the Miers nomination, where Bush jettisoned contrary advice from his advisers and appointed his longtime personal lawyer.

"He must know that the way he did that, relying on his own judgment and instinct, was not good," another key adviser said.

Despite the turmoil, Bush is determined to soldier on, already preparing for two major overseas trips in November and helping shape next year's legislative agenda.

"I've got a job to do," he told reporters last week. "The American people expect me to do my job, and I'm going to."

4. From NY Daily News:
W's legacy threatened -- by Thomas M. DeFrank

Top White House imagemakers and Republican political operatives say the steadily rising Iraq death toll is a sobering reminder that an unpopular war not only threatens the remainder of President Bush's term, but also jeopardizes his legacy.

Presidential defenders say the Oct. 15 election approving a draft Iraqi constitution was new evidence democracy is finally taking root in a nation long repressed by Saddam Hussein.

Yet some of these same sources acknowledge that U.S. and Iraqi deaths from a persistent insurgency have trumped the progress made toward democracy, Iraqi-style.

"Until the American people see something that persuades them we're winning, Iraq is going to continue to plague him," a source close to Bush said, "and they won't believe anything positive is happening unless they see an end to the violence."

"The election was a real accomplishment," a Bush foreign policy adviser said. "And we didn't get any [positive] bump from it at all."

Ever since Bush's infamous "Mission Accomplished" speech from the deck of the carrier Abraham Lincoln in May 2003, his defenders have repeatedly said the situation on the ground was about to turn the corner.

"I don't see public concerns getting worse," a top Bush election strategist said again last week, "and my instinct is that by this time next year, things will look better."

But with Bush's political support sinking and critical mid-term elections 13 months away, the President faces increasing pressure from Republican strategists and nervous candidates for a major U.S. troop withdrawal.

"We need a lot fewer troops to be there," one 2006 GOP election planner said, "or we're going to get killed."

Bush officials have said a major U.S. pullout is in the works by next summer. But with a majority of Americans now believing the war was a mistake, Operation Iraqi Freedom likely will remain a drag on Bush's political standing.

In the long run, moreover, many Bush aides believe his legacy will rise or fall largely on how Iraq plays out.

"If a year from now they have a functional government with even a semblance of democracy and U.S. deaths are lower, that will give Bush a huge boost," said a senior Republican political strategist. "But if there's a civil war and Americans are still dying, Bush will end his term as one of the most unpopular Presidents in history."

The names of 2,000 US soldiers killed in Iraq ask:

The Dreadful 2,000 Mark -- by Matthew Rothschild

So now we’ve passed the dreadful 2,000 mark.
2,000 American families will never be the same.
And for what?
15,000 U.S. soldiers have been wounded and will never be the same.
And for what?
Between 25,000 and more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died.
And for what?
On Tuesday, Bush said it was to “give millions in a troubled region of the world a hopeful alternative to resentment and violence.”
How’s that again?
Bush’s war, and all this blood, represents an alternative to violence?
And to resentment, also?
What planet is he on?
Bush’s war, launched on lies, has fueled resentment throughout much of Iraq and the Muslim world.
He’s transformed Iraq into a recruiting ground for Al Qaeda, as Bush’s own CIA director, Porter Goss, has admitted.
Bush tried to deflect that criticism on Tuesday, saying: “Some have argued that extremism has been strengthened by the actions of our coalition in Iraq.”
His answer, in the very next sentence, was to utter yet again the nonsequitur of 9/11.
“I would remind them,” Bush said, “that we were not in Iraq on September 11th, 2001, and Al Qaeda attacked us anyway.”
That’s all Bush has got? How pathetic.
The fact that Al Qaeda attacked the United States prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq has no bearing on the question of whether that invasion has given Al Qaeda a boost.
But logic is not Bush’s forte.
Fear is.
So he mentioned September 11 five times.
And he mentioned Osama bin Laden three times.
And bin Laden’s deputy, Zawahiri, four times.
And Zarqawi six times.
Bush has always viewed the ranks and leadership of Al Qaeda as static and finite, just as he has viewed his adversaries in Iraq. Remember the deck of cards?
But even if he killed bin Laden and Zawahiri and Zarqawi tomorrow, their cause would go on. And it’s a cause that Bush promotes by the very presence of U.S. soldiers in Iraq and by the brutality of U.S. bombings, house-to-house raids, mass detentions, and torture.
Bush repeated his demand for “complete victory” against the Islamic radicals.
But there will be no complete victory, as after the Civil War or World War I or World War II. There is no Berlin Wall to tear down, no Soviet Union to implode.
At best, there will be a slow evaporation of appeal for bin Ladenism, but only if Bush stops playing the part that bin Laden has assigned to him.
And as for Iraq, Bush said: “The best way to honor the sacrifice of our fallen troops is to complete the mission.”
But the mission cannot be completed—or accomplished, as he once put it.
It’s a quagmire at best, a losing battle at worst.
To the 2,000 families, Bush promised only more morbid company.
He’s content to send more U.S. soldiers on this fool’s errand.
And we, nonviolently, must stop him.
We will stop him when we can convince more of our elected officials to be courageous, like Senators Russ Feingold and Patrick Leahy, in denouncing this war, and when we can prod even these officials to demand a withdrawal within six months.
We will stop him when we can assemble protesters by the hundreds every week in every county of every state to demand this withdrawal.
We will stop him when we have convinced the vast majority of our fellow citizens not only that the war was a mistake (they know this already) but also that withdrawal is the only way out of this hopeless situation.
This is our urgent task.

(Matthew Rothschild has been with The Progressive since 1983.)

FOR YOUR INFORMATION: US Military Deaths in Major Conflicts:

1. Revolutionary War (1775-1783) -- 4,435 (only those killed in action, not those killed by disease or privation).
2. War of 1812 (1812-1815) -- 2,260
3. Mexican War (1846-1848) -- 13,283

4. Civil War (1861-1865) Estimate: -- 524,332--529,332
(Authoritative statistics for the Confederate forces are not available. The final report of the Provost Marshal General, 1836-1866 indicated 133,821 Confederate deaths based on incomplete returns. In addition, an estimated 26,000-31,000 Confederate personnel died in Union prisons.)

5. Spanish-American War (1898) -- 2,446
6. World War I (1917-1918) -- 116,516
7. World War II (1941-1946) -- 409,399

8. Korean War (1950-1953) -- 36,574
9. Vietnam War (1964-1973) -- 58,209
10. Afghanistan (2001-Oct. 15, 2005) -- 245
11. Iraq War/Occupation (2003-Wednesday) -- 2,001

ODD: only 3 of these wars seem warranted.

Poem of the week

IN THE BULRUSHES by Katha Pollitt

Lotus. Papyrus. Turquoise. Lapis. Gold.
A jackal-headed god
nods in the noon
that shimmers over the river
as if fanned by invisible slave girls.
Frogs fall silent , stunned
by the sun or eternity.
The Pyramids have been crumbling for centuries.

Snug in his bassinet of reeds
the lucky baby plays with his toes,
naked. What does he care
for his mother's eyes in a thorn tree?
Around his head an alphabet of flames
spells Thunder. Transformation.
Woe to women.

The sun begins its red plunge down the sky.
Deep in the earth a locust's eyes snap open.
Frogs resume their trill
And punctual to the minute
down the path,
tottering on jewelled sandals, comes
the beautiful lonely princess

who's wandered in from another kind of story.

(Katha Pollitt is a columnist for the Nation. Her most recent book is Subject to Debate: Sense and Dissents on Women, Politics, and Culture. She's a writer whose mind in her columns is so beautiful, I'd want to fuck her even if she had a moustache.)

Bush's next nomination for Supreme Court

He can go two ways: he can pick an outright Roe v Wade opponent and satisfy his conservative base, who want a knockdown fight with the Dems that they can win to get their revenge for being Borked; or he can indulge his irritation with his conservative base, and nominate a highly qualified candidate whom many Dems will vote for. Either way he displays weakness: that is the sorry pass to which the Incompetent Chimp has now sunk.

Top dead earners

From the Forbes Rich and Deceased List, earnings since October last year:
1. Elvis Presley, $45 million
2. Charles M. Schulz, $35m (not peanuts)
3. John Lennon, $22 million
4. Andy Warhol, $16 million
5. Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, $10 million
6. Marlon Brando, $9 million
7. Marilyn Monroe and J. R. R. Tolkien, $8 million
8. George Harrison, Johnny Cash and Irving Berlin, $7 million
9. Bob Marley and Ray Charles, $6 million

When they're dead, the arty types out-earn the biz types.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

If democracy means a women's magazine editor gets 2 years for complaining about a death-by-stoning law, then heck, Afghanistan is a democracy

Afghan women's magazine editor jailed for articles against stoning to death and lashing -- by Doug Ireland (Direland)

The editor of a respected women's magazine in Afghanistan has been sentenced to two years in jail for "blasphemy" after the judge in the case was ordered to imprison the editor by the Ulama Council, the country's leading religious body which is dominated by conservative clerics, according to reports from the Associate Press and regional newspapers like the Pak Times.

The editor of Haqooq-i-Zan (Women's Rights), Ali Mohaqiq Nasab was arrested on Oct. 1 after he published articles in two issues of the magazine denouncing the law making stoning to death for leaving the Islamic religion, criticized the practice of punishing adultery with 100 lashes, and argued that men and women should be considered by law to be equals. ("In some cases, the testimony of a female witness is considered to have only half the value of a male," the AP noted.) In other words, saying that men and women should be equal under the law and that stoning to death is wrong are "blasphemous" statements for which one can be sent to the slammer for years.

Now, do you remember Laura Bush's "crusade" for women's rights in Afghanistan, which was part of the Bush administration's propaganda campaign to convince Americans the U.S. military invasion of the country was justified? Remember how the CIA's puppet choice for president of Afghanistan, the theatrically-dressed Hamid Karzai, was sent to sit next to Laura during the State of the Union ( left ) and, once elected President, how Karzai the "democrat" was applauded by both Houses of Congress (and both parties) when he spoke to them?

Well, guess who ordered editor Nasab (who is also an Islamic scholar) to be arrested? Why, the complaint was made by President Karzai's top adviser on religion, Mohaiuddin Baluch, says the Committee to Protect Journalists, citing a previous Baluch statement to the AP that, ""I took the two magazines and spoke to the Supreme Court chief, who wrote to attorney general to investigate." And the presiding judge of Kabul's primary court, Ansarullah Malawizada, told the AP, "The Ulama Council sent us a letter saying that he should be punished so I sentenced him to two years' jail." So, here we have the spectacle, in what Bush & Co. insist on calling Afghanistan's "democracy," of a top aide to the president ordering a courageous editor put on trial for criticizing the barbaric policies of stoning and lashing, and a judge acting on the orders of a group of reactionary clerics and sending the editor to jail because such articles were "blasphemous."

Remember all that Bush rejoicing when the Afghanis passed their new constitution? It was drawn up with the help of then-US Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad -- now performing the same role in Iraq as the architect of its new Constitution. Well, the Khalilzad-sponsored Afghani Constitution's Article 31 makes it a crime to criticize Islam in any form, and that includes criticizing Islamic Sharia law. And it is under that dictatorial Article 31 that editor Nasab has been put behind bars.

Yes, Afghanistan is a great democracy, alright--Bush TOLD us so.