Saturday, October 15, 2005

Now Zen Now Posted by Picasa

The Daily Quote

“No need to survive.”
Nano Sakaki, Japanese wandering poet

Friday, October 14, 2005

Bush Approval Among Black Americans at 2%
By Dan Froomkin
Special to [excerpts; emphasis added]

In what may turn out to be one of the biggest free-falls in the history of presidential polling, President Bush's job-approval rating among African Americans has dropped to 2 percent, according to a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll.

The drop among blacks drove Bush's overall job approval ratings to an all-time low of 39 percent in this poll. By comparison, 45 percent of whites and 36 percent of Hispanics approve of the job Bush is doing.

Tim Russert called attention to this startling statistic on the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams yesterday: "Brian, listen to this," he said. "Only 2 percent -- 2 percent! -- of African-Americans approve of George Bush's handling of the presidency -- the lowest we have ever seen in that particular measure."

So this morning, I called Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted the survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff, to get a better sense of the significance of the results.

"African Americans were not supporters, but I don't think that they outright detested him -- until now," Hart said. "The actions in and around Katrina persuaded African Americans that this was a president who was totally insensitive to their concerns and their needs."
Hart said he has never seen such a dramatic drop in presidential approval ratings, within any subgroup.

A few months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found Bush's approval rating among blacks at 51 percent. As recently as six months ago, it was at 19 percent.

John Harwood writes in the Wall Street Journal: : "Looming over Mr. Bush's second term is what Mr. McInturff calls a 'very difficult, sour' public mood. Just 28% of Americans say the nation is heading in 'the right direction,' the lowest figure in nearly 10 years, according to the Journal/NBC survey."

Looking at the latest crop of presidential polls, Catholic University Professor John Kenneth White recently wrote for that "for the remainder of his presidency, George W. Bush will govern without the consent of the governed."

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Harold Pinter in the 90s. Posted by Picasa

The Daily Quote

There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false."
Harold Pinter
How Pinteresque! Nobel for Literature--Can the Peace Prize Be Far Behind?

The New York Times [excerpts; emphasis added]

Harold Pinter, the British playwright known for enigmatic plays such as "The Birthday Party" and "The Homecoming" and a well-known peace activist, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature today.

Mr. Pinter, 75, has also acted, directed, written poetry and written for film, including the screenplay for "The French Lieutenant's Woman," during his long career.

Mr. Pinter was treated for cancer of the esophagus in 2002 and has announced that he has retired from writing to focus on working for peace. He is a prominent anti-war activist in Britain, writing frequently in British newspapers about his staunch opposition to the United States-led invasion of Iraq.

Mr. Pinter's trademark style is full of tense silences and spare dialogue, and he is among a handful of writers whose name has inspired an adjective: "Pinteresque." His plays, which have been labeled as absurdist, are deeply psychological. His characters speak to each other, but have difficulty truly communicating, and are often unable to finish sentences or express their desires.

In awarding the $1.3 million prize, the Swedish Academy said Mr. Pinter "uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression's closed rooms." The citation added, "Pinter restored theater to its basic elements: an enclosed space and unpredictable dialogue, where people are at the mercy of each other and pretense crumbles."

Influenced by James Joyce and Samuel Beckett - who became a friend -- Mr. Pinter wrote plays, particularly those during the 1960's, that veer unexpectedly from comedy to examinations of fear and evil. In his early plays, menace lurked just beneath the comedic surface of things - a style that became known as the "comedy of menace."

Mr. Pinter was born in London in 1930 to working class Jewish parents and studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and the Central School for Speech and Drama. As a child, he grew up during the Blitz, and he and his family were forced to evacuate London for three years. That experience, he said later, informed his desire to work for peace.

As a teenager, he twice refused national military service, and was fined.

The Nobel committee has on occasion presented awards with a political tinge, and this is the second Nobel Prize in a week that has gone to an opponent of the Iraq war. Last Friday, the peace prize was awarded to the International Atomic Energy Agency and its head, Mohamed ElBaradei; in the weeks before the 2003 United States invasion, Mr. ElBaradei openly disputed the American contention that Saddam Hussein had rebuilt a nuclear weapons program.

In the 1970's, Mr. Pinter became outspoken on political issues, especially about human rights violations. In 1985, he and the American playwright Arthur Miller traveled to Turkey. During remarks at a party at the American embassy, Mr. Pinter said he had spoken to Turks who had been the victims of torture by the Turkish government, including having their genitals electrically shocked. Although the party was held in his honor, he was asked to leave the embassy.

In recent years, Mr. Pinter criticized the NATO bombing of Kosovo and the American-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

One World, One Nelson Mandela Posted by Picasa
Mandela, President of Earth

from the BBC

Former South African President Nelson Mandela has topped a BBC poll to find the person most people would like to lead a fantasy world government.

More than 15,000 people worldwide took part in the interactive Power Play game, in which players were invited to choose a team of 11 to run the world from a list of around 100 of the most powerful leaders, thinkers and other high-profile people on the planet.

The second choice was former US President Bill Clinton.

The winning 11 were exclusively male, with Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi the highest-ranking woman at 13th. Hillary Clinton was the next most popular woman at 16th.
Entrepreneurs feature prominently in the selection. Microsoft head Bill Gates, Apple chief Steve Jobs, and Virgin boss Richard Branson all made the final 11, as did stock market billionaire and philanthropist George Soros.

Players also placed emphasis on the need for financial probity - US Federal Reserve boss Alan Greenspan made the list at number five.

And two religious leaders, both associated with challenges to dominant authority, found a place in the winning line-up - the Dalai Lama in third and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in eighth. Pope Benedict XVI came 28th.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the success of the American linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky, who came fourth. Another outspoken American, Michael Moore, was 15th.

Other placings included Osama bin Laden, at 70th, and Harry Potter author JK Rowling, who was 49th.

1 - Nelson Mandela
2 - Bill Clinton
3 - Dalai Lama
4 - Noam Chomsky
5 - Alan Greenspan
6 - Bill Gates
7 - Steve Jobs
8 - Archbishop Desmond Tutu
9 - Richard Branson
10 - George Soros
11 - Kofi Annan

US President George W Bush was placed 43, ranking below two of his fiercest adversaries on the world stage, Fidel Castro - 36th - and Hugo Chavez, 33rd.

The game - modelled on the hugely popular Fantasy Football - was run as part of the BBC's Who Runs Your World season, which explores where power lies in the 21st century. More than half of votes came from users in the United States.

Users were required to pick at least one each from a select list of leaders, thinkers and economists, and had a free choice of any other eight, including the option of selecting "wild cards" from areas such as sport, politics, arts and design.

Dalai Lama, third of top ten for President of the Planet. Posted by Picasa

Captain Future's Log

Memo to Dems: It's the Congress, O Wise Ones

Have fun, enjoy the indictments. Sit glued to the tube for every morsel about the fall of Bush.

But remember: Bush doesn't matter.

Congress matters.

While Bush fiddles, and Bush burns, the Republican Congress isn't slowing down. It hasn't seen the light of the burning Bush. It is busy worshipping down at the Golden Calf bar and grill with oil lobbyists and bankers, Halliburton and other mercenaries.

DeLay indicted, Dems delighted, and still the hammer pushes through legislation to enrich oil buddies at the expense of the American people, the environment and every child's future.

Dems can cry, Shame! Shame! but the Republicans don't care. Re-read Susanhu's frontpager at BooMan Tribune and weep.
It's just going to keep happening. It's business as usual in Congress--on the backs of the poor. Bad today, worse tomorrow.

Bush may be toast, but Bush is history anyway. He and his downfall are important now only in how they affect the Congressional elections. Not even '08 matters as much.

Congress is doing the damage, and it's stopping them ASAP---in '06 if not sooner---that's vital. The Democratic version of the contract with America sounds like a promising start. Pay attention to it, debate it, hone it, insist on it. Don't play the Plame game too long.

The only thing Bush can do alone now is war and torture. He's self-destructing, and tragically killing so many people and so many hopes in the process. Get a Congress that will cut him off.

Things are going to get hot, no matter what anyone does. But we don't need a vicious Congress of cynical, corrupt, hypocritical pillagers and scavengers, to make things so much worse.

So rave over Rove, let your piggy come over. Liberate your inner Libby. But don't get distracted. Don't let the Democratic Party get distracted.

It's the Congress, O wise ones.

"Curtain walling" solar power tech in the UK Posted by Picasa
Solar Power Heats Up
By Joanna Glasner

[excerpts; emphasis added]

Drive through even the sunniest parts of the nation today, and you probably won't see more than a smattering of roofs decked out with solar panels. But with heating costs projected to rise sharply this winter, demand for electricity swelling and tax incentives for solar-powered homes taking effect, rooftop panels are likely to become a much more common sight in coming years.

Solarbuzz, an energy-research firm, estimates that the global market for solar-power system installations generated $6.5 billion in revenue in 2004 and predicts sales will nearly triple to $18.5 billion by 2010. Just last year, worldwide shipments of photovoltaic cells and modules, used in rooftop panels, surged by more than 50 percent, according to Strategies Unlimited, another research firm.

New tax incentives at the state and federal level and a boom in construction have boosted the solar energy industry in the past year. Tax perks will be a boost -- if they catch on: The high cost of installing solar electric systems has in the past kept many homeowners from investing in them. New tax breaks for homeowners and businesses that put in solar systems, however, promise to bring real costs down.

The energy bill signed by President Bush in August provides tax credits of up to $2,000 for homeowners who activate solar energy systems in 2006 and 2007, with potentially larger benefits for businesses, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (.pdf). Industry insiders are also eyeing a bill pending in California: The Million Solar Roofs Initiative aims to place solar energy systems on a million residential and commercial sites -- including 50 percent of new home developments -- within 13 years.

"That'll be a game changer for California and the United States," said Ron Pernick, co-founder of Clean Edge, a research and marketing firm focused on clean-energy technologies.

Currently, the United States lags Japan and Germany in installing new solar power systems, something that Rhone Resch, the Solar Energy Industries Association's president, attributes in part to weaker tax incentives and lower conventional electricity costs. Resch believes tax incentives in the new U.S. energy bill will be particularly beneficial in boosting installations of solar thermal systems, which are used to heat water and typically cost less than $5,000 to install.

Some of the emerging applications that Resch views as promising, such as power-conducting plastic that can be incorporated into portable devices, are being developed by private companies . "That's where our largest increase in energy demand is coming from: the iPods and cell phones and portable devices we carry," Resch said.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

New Orleans convention center:
the poor to pay. AP photo. Posted by Picasa
Business As Usual--On the Backs of the Poor

from "Liberal Hopes Ebb in Post-Storm Poverty Debate"

By JASON DePARLE in New York Times [excerpts; emphasis added]

As Hurricane Katrina put the issue of poverty onto the national agenda, many liberal advocates wondered whether the floods offered a glimmer of opportunity. The issues they most cared about - health care, housing, jobs, race - were suddenly staples of the news, with President Bush pledged to "bold action."

But what looked like a chance to talk up new programs is fast becoming a scramble to save the old ones.

Conservatives have already used the storm for causes of their own, like suspending requirements that federal contractors have affirmative action plans and pay locally prevailing wages. And with federal costs for rebuilding the Gulf Coast estimated at up to $200 billion, Congressional Republican leaders are pushing for spending cuts, with programs like Medicaid and food stamps especially vulnerable.

"We've had a stunning reversal in just a few weeks," said Robert Greenstein, director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal advocacy group in Washington. "We've gone from a situation in which we might have a long-overdue debate on deep poverty to the possibility, perhaps even the likelihood, that low-income people will be asked to bear the costs. I would find it unimaginable if it wasn't actually happening."

Mr. Greenstein's comments were echoed by Representative Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut: "Poor people are going to get the short end of the stick, despite all the public sympathy. That's a great irony."

But many conservatives see logic, not irony, at work. If the storm exposed great poverty, they say, it also exposed the problems of the very policies that liberals have supported.

"Doubt about the effectiveness of some programs is only one factor shaping the current antipoverty debate. Another is political muscle: poor people do not make campaign contributions. Many do not even vote.

A third factor is the federal deficit, which leaves little money for new initiatives. And a fourth is the continuing support for tax cuts, including those aimed at the wealthiest Americans, which further limits spending on social programs.

Indeed, even as he was calling for deep spending cuts last week, Representative Mike Pence, Republican of Indiana, who leads the conservative caucus, called tax reductions for the prosperous a key to fighting poverty.

Economic growth is crucial to reducing poverty, but the effect of tax rates is less clear. In 1993, President Bill Clinton raised taxes on upper-income families, the economy boomed and poverty fell for the next seven years. In 2001, President Bush cut taxes deeply, but even with economic growth, the poverty rate has risen every year since.

In 2004, about 12.7 percent of the country, or 37 million people, lived below the poverty line, which was about $19,200 for a family of four. The figure was 7.8 percent among whites, 24.7 percent among blacks and 21.9 percent among Hispanics.

Hurricane Katrina gave those figures a face as no statistic can.

"As all of us saw on television, there is also some deep, persistent poverty in this region," with "roots in a history of racial discrimination," President Bush said in a Sept. 15 speech from New Orleans. Using the language of the civil rights movement, Mr. Bush pledged "not just to cope, but to overcome."

But liberal critics say his policies will have the opposite effect.

The week before his speech, Mr. Bush suspended the Davis-Bacon Act, a 1931 law that prohibits federally financed construction jobs from paying wages less than a local average. The administration argued that the suspension, which applied only to storm areas, would benefit local residents by stretching financial resources. Critics said the savings would come at the expense of needy workers.

Likewise, the president suspended rules requiring federal contractors to file affirmative action plans, which his allies called cumbersome.

"He talks about lending a helping hand to the poor and disadvantaged," Jared Bernstein, a researcher at the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal research and advocacy group in Washington, said of Mr. Bush. "But these policies push the other way, toward lower wages and less racial inclusion."

As they search for spending cuts, neither chamber has turned away from the $70 billion package of tax reductions authorized last spring. Mr. Greenstein, of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, says those tax cuts come on top of two others, passed in 2001, that are scheduled to take effect in January and that benefit the wealthiest Americans.
Mr. Greenstein argues that the logic of shared sacrifice requires the tax cuts to be reconsidered. But most Congressional Republicans disagree.

Camp Xray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Photo by
Chris Hondros/Getty Images) Posted by Picasa
Guantanamo Hunger Strike in Second Month:
Red Cross Raises Alarm

from "Gitmo hunger strike worries Red Cross" in Science Daily

An ongoing hunger strike by detainees at Guantanamo Bay is raising concerns and questions.

The BBC reports the International Committee of the Red Cross has made a rare move and gone public with their concern about the strike.

ICRC spokeswoman Antonella Notari said her group was worried but wouldn't give any details of what recent visits to Guantanamo Bay uncovered.

The U.S. military said 28 prisoners are on the hunger strike but lawyers for some detainees say that up to 500 may be refusing to eat in protest of conditions at the detention camp.

The military defines a hunger strike as refusing nine straight meals. A military official said that all detainees are being stabilized with nutrition and fluids. British lawyer Clive Stafford Smith said the U.S. military is force feeding detainees with feeding tubes as they are shackled to a bed.

Guantanamo Bay Prison Posted by Picasa


Don't Look, Don't Tell

from Gitmo's Hunger Strikers by CLIVE STAFFORD SMITH
[from the October 17, 2005 issue of THE NATION [excerpts]

"I am slowly dying in this solitary prison cell," says Omar Deghayes, a British refugee and Guantánamo Bay prisoner. "I have no rights, no hope. So why not take my destiny into my own hands, and die for a principle?"

This magazine goes to press on the forty-ninth day of the Guantánamo hunger strike. In 1981 near Belfast, Bobby Sands and nine other members of the IRA starved themselves to death. But there are two important distinctions between the experience of Sands and Omar Deghayes: The US military has insisted on secrecy regarding Guantánamo, and the US media have been compliant in their apathy.

Despite the traditional British hostility to free speech, every moment of Bobby Sands's decline was broadcast live. In contrast, nothing we lawyers learn from our Guantánamo clients can be revealed until it passes the US government censors. Thus, two weeks went by before the public even knew there was a hunger strike, and the military has been allowed to dissemble on the details since.

From its inception, Guantánamo has relied on a soldier-speak that is replete with half-truths and distortions. In 2002 there was a ripple of concern at the number of Guantánamo detainees trying to take their own lives. The military then announced that suicide attempts had radically declined. It took a foreign journalist to expose the truth: The very word "suicide" had been replaced by the authorities with the term Manipulative Self-Injurious Behavior (SIB)--and there were still plenty of SIBs. The military was lying by semantics.

Similar dissimulation is taking place around the Guantánamo hunger strike, which began June 28. It was suspended July 28, when the military promised various concessions, terrified at the public relations prospect of having six prisoners in the hospital within forty-eight hours of death. The strike started again on August 11, because the detainees concluded that the military had broken its promises.

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has insisted that the Guantánamo prisoners are being treated in a manner "consistent" with the Geneva Conventions. To end their hunger strike, the detainees ask simply that they be treated in a manner "consistent with the Geneva Conventions."

The Conventions forbid coercive interrogations. The prisoners reasonably objected when, on August 5, Hisham Sliti had a mini-refrigerator thrown at him by an interrogator nicknamed King Kong.
The Conventions guarantee the free exercise of religion. So why, the detainees demand, haven't they been allowed to meet with an imam for three years? Why is collective prayer curtailed? And why was a Yemeni prisoner recently beaten and his Koran trampled because he asked to finish his prayers before responding to a guard's demand?

The conclusion is inescapable: The detainees have a series of valid complaints, and Rumsfeld is not telling the truth.

Governments did learn one lesson from Bobby Sands: He is famous because he died. The US military is determined not to allow its prisoners to make this ultimate, tragic political statement. Thus, the military admits to force-feeding prisoners. Recently its spin doctors changed the phrase to "assisted feeding," another attempt to hide the truth of what is going on. During the July hunger strike, prisoners tore the needles out of their arms to prevent drip-feeding, so the military is now using nose tubes. They assure us that none of the twenty-one people in the Guantánamo hospital will be able to kill himself.

But someone committed to self-starvation could easily remove such a tube, if he had any freedom of movement. So we can surmise that there is a line of twenty-one hospital beds, each with a prisoner held tight in four-point restraints. His head must be strapped down, immobile, and forcible sedation seems probable. Hardly the image evoked by the term "assisted feeding."

Deprived of legal rights, the Guantánamo detainees must rely on public scrutiny to protect them. This is also true for detainees in Iraq, where the United States has acknowledged it is bound by Geneva, but where soldiers recently interviewed by Human Rights Watch describe systemic humiliation and torture, encouraged by military higher-ups.

The only lasting solution is for the United States to practice what it preaches, rather than hide its hypocrisy behind a smokescreen of secrecy and semantics. Human rights enforcement is the most effective counterterrorism measure the US government can take, and deep down its leaders have always known this. The United States signed the Geneva Conventions more than fifty years ago. Surely Rumsfeld has had enough time to work out how to apply them.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Maura, Brian and David Shepard. Boston Globe photo. Posted by Picasa
Family feels misled by recruiter
student to be sent to Iraq

By Jenna Russell, Boston Globe [excerpts; emphasis added]

Brian Shepard thought he had the perfect plan: a special program, offered by a Marine Corps recruiter last spring, that would let him finish four years of college before he faced active duty.

Instead, the 18-year-old was notified last week -- less than one month into his freshman year at New Hampshire Technical Institute -- that his Marine Reserve unit will be sent to Iraq early next year, a development that Shepard said his recruiter never told him was possible.

A Marine spokesman said recruiters make no guarantees to enlistees about their deployment. The enlistment paperwork signed by Shepard stated he would have to leave college if his unit was activated, according to the spokesman.

The college student and his parents have appealed to military leaders, state legislators, and US Representative William D. Delahunt to help Shepard leave the Marines. Their complaint joins a rising chorus of concern nationwide over military recruiting tactics as the conflict in Iraq drives high demand for new enlistments, and pressure grows on recruiters to meet quotas.

Both the Army and the Marines have missed some monthly recruiting quotas this year as casualties in Iraq have continued to mount, and polls have shown steep increases in the number of parents who said they would discourage their children from enlisting.

''Recruiters are under pressure, and they will say anything," said Neil Berman, a Somerville lawyer and volunteer for the GI Rights Hotline, a national organization that advises enlistees who are trying to leave the military.

In an interview Saturday at their blue-clapboard, Cape-style Kingston home, where the large, fireplaced family room looks out on rambling woods, Shepard's parents said they hope, with assistance from Delahunt, to help their son exercise an early-exit option available within the first 180 days of enlistment. They said they don't know if the Marines must honor his request.

Members of the Shepard family, who described how they got to know the local recruiter, and came to trust him over several months, said they relied on him -- not the fine print in a written contract -- to explain Shepard's options and guide him.

That guidance, they say now, was marked by deception.

''I felt totally betrayed, and extremely frightened," his mother said. ''I was absolutely shocked, and I was very sad for Brian because he took a long time deciding, and he felt good about it."

David Shepard said he felt angry -- and desperate. Both parents met last week with the recruiter, who blamed the situation on a misunderstanding, they said.

According to a fact sheet compiled by the GI Rights Hotline, a national clearinghouse that has handled thousands of phone calls from military members, the most common complaint is: ''my recruiter lied."

In May, amid mounting concern about aggressive and unethical recruiting tactics, the Army ordered all 7,500 recruiters to set aside their regular work to spend one full day reviewing recruiting guidelines.

The same week, US Representative Pete Stark, a California Democrat, called for an investigation of recruiting strategies, citing a 50 percent increase from 2002 to 2004 in the number of reported recruitment improprieties that were substantiated by the Army.

Burial of Kentucky National Guardsman William A.
Allers III, killed in Iraq in October. AP photo. Posted by Picasa
Reserve, National Guard Death Toll Rises in Iraq

from "Death Toll Rises for Military Reservists"
By ROBERT BURNS, AP Military Writer [excerpts]

The National Guard and Reserves are suffering a strikingly higher share of U.S. casualties in Iraq,their portion of total American military deaths nearly doubling since last year.

Reservists have accounted for one-quarter of all U.S. deaths since the Iraq war began, but the proportion has grown over time. It was 10 percent for the five weeks it took to topple Baghdad in the spring of 2003, and 20 percent for 2004 as a whole.

The trend accelerated this year. For the first nine months of 2005 reservists accounted for 36 percent of U.S. deaths, and for August and September it was 56 percent, according to Pentagon figures.

The Army National Guard, Army Reserve and Marine Corps Reserve accounted for more than half of all U.S. deaths in August and in September — the first time that has happened in consecutive months. The only other month in which it even approached 50 percent was June 2004.

Casualties in Iraq have shifted toward citizen soldiers as their combat role has grown to historic levels. National Guard officials say their soldiers have been sent into combat in Iraq in numbers not previously seen in modern times — far more than were sent to Vietnam, where active-duty troops did the vast majority of the fighting.
Earthquake death toll rises to 30,000
Randeep Ramesh in Rawalakot
Monday October 10, 2005 [excerpts]
The Guardian

More than 30,000 people were killed by this weekend's powerful earthquake centred below the Hindu Kush mountain range in Pakistan, sending shockwaves across south Asia and reducing cities and villages to rubble.

The majority of the deaths from the quake, which measured 7.7 on the Richter scale and struck early Saturday morning, were in Pakistan. One state minister estimated that 30,000 people were killed in Pakistani Kashmir alone. In Indian Kashmir more than 600 were reported dead. At least 50,000 were believed to be injured. The UN estimated that more than 2.5 million people needed shelter.

The quake flattened dozens of villages. It killed farmers, students, soldiers and schoolchildren, and triggered landslides that blocked rescuers from many areas where bodies lay in streets.
Six US army helicopters are expected to arrive today to airlift the injured from the worst-hit city, the capital of Pakistani Kashmir, Muzaffarabad, where 11,000 people died.

The quake and its aftershocks were felt from central Afghanistan to western Bangladesh. Buildings were wrecked in an area spanning at least 250 miles from Jalalabad in Afghanistan to Srinagar in Indian Kashmir.

Many survivors were left without shelter in near-freezing nighttime temperatures. In India's portion of Kashmir, villagers burned wood from their collapsed homes for warmth.

There were warnings from relief agencies that children could make up half the population of the quake-affected areas and would be vulnerable to hunger, cold, illness and trauma. On the roads into the foothills of the Himalayas from Islamabad displaced villagers had gathered for shelter.

The Guardian was the first western news organisation to reach Rawalakot, a normally bustling market town in Pakistani Kashmir, 87 miles from Islam. It is also home to a brigade of the Pakistani army. Perched in the the western Himalayas, the town's university, law courts and shopping market had collapsed, encasing hundreds of bodies in tombs of brick, wood and concrete.

Locals said there was no electricity to give them light, no running water for bathing and cooking, no working landlines on which to phone family and friends or get out the word about the rapidly deteriorating conditions.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Remembering August Wilson. photo: Posted by Picasa

The Daily Quote

"Imagination does not argue and does not correct itself, it just plays a new tune."
James Hillman

In memoriam

There Is A Grace Beyond Matter

How Do We Transform Loss? August Wilson asked this question in a remembrance of Benjamin Mordecai III in the September issue of American Theatre, which will publish the text of Wilson's last play, "Radio Golf," in its November issue.

Mordecai was an associate dean at Yale School of Drama and a former managing director of Yale Rep. He is the only person to have worked on all ten of August Wilson's plays. He also produced Tony Kushner's Angels in America, possibly the only American play of recent decades that is likely to be as well regarded as August Wilson's work . Wilson refers to him as "my friend, my partner, my confidant and my brother." In memoralizing Mordecai, August Wilson wrote these words:

How do we transform loss? How do we mitigate its fierce hold on our consciousness? Time has false contours. Its healing balm is essentially a hoax, a palliative that has little reward. There are some wounds that time broadens. Ben's absense continues to spread over my life like a brutish conspiracy, and I try to find those glorious remarks of faith that sustain and reward the spirit. Now, haunted by the specter of my own death, I find solace in Ben's life, a life lived with dignity and purpose magnified by his indomitable spirit. There is a grace beyond matter. It is our way of knowing, and accepting, the splendor of death with its voluminous atlas. We find it when we must."

Captain Future's Log


Now that human unconsciousness is about to eliminate the great apes from the face of the planet along with at least some other primates, we are starting to learn how much of our so-called human behavior has its crucial roots in our closest relatives among the animal species.

We are especially learning what we could have learned a long time ago if our prejudices concerning what we expected to find hadn't gotten in the way. That was the subtext of the compedium of research edited by Filippo Aureli and Frans B.M. De Waal, published by the University of California Press in 2000 under the title Natural Conflict Resolution.

Scientists continue to learn more. There's some intriguing research described in Robert Sapolsky's new book, Monkeyluv: And Other Essays on Our Lives as Animals (Scribners), which received a mixed review in
today's San Francisco Chronicle, by, as it happens, me. I wasn't happy about writing it, but it was my job, and I stand by my impressions (when I read it in August anyway.) Fortunately, here I don't have to evaluate the book but only point out a couple of interesting chapters in it.

In "The Pleasure (and Pain) of 'Maybe,' " Sapolsky tells the story of a lovelorn baboon as the context for the laboratory findings that the brain releases dopamine (the pleasure chemical), not when a reward is achieved but when it is anticipated. Moreover, the pleasure is greater when the chances of reward are neither certain nor remote, but about even. He suggests these findings can be applied to studying addictions, but it's an intriguing possibility to keep in mind in everyday life.

"Stress and Your Shrinking Brain" describes research suggesting that part of the brain of some post-traumatic stress disorder sufferers may actually shrink. (This research is mostly on the human animal.) Specifically it's the hippocampus, which involves memory, and is the area ravaged by Alzheimer's. The damage may be done by chemicals released during high stress. Sapolsky describes the conclusions as preliminary, and the phenomenon may affect only those with a physical predisposition, but the relevance in a time of war and terror and other persistent assaults is acute.

Another new book, which I have not read but which was reviewed by Temple Grandin in the
New York Times under the title: "The Inner Ape: Hey, Hey We're the Monkeys," takes a more systematic and specific look at two primate species in comparison to each other, and to human beings.

The book is Our Inner Ape (Riverhead Books) by Frans de Waal, one of the aforementioned editors of the UC book. He writes now about how (in Grandin's words) "Our closest genetic cousins, the apes, are capable of great empathy but also of violent, ruthless killing. Frans de Waal, a prominent primatologist, compares our social behavior with that of two species of apes: chimpanzees and bonobos." The chimps are the violent ones, the bonobos are peaceful and empathetic.

According to Grandin, de Waal's thesis is that humans have elements of both in us, accounting to some extent for our inner conflicts and conflicting behaviors. His review points out some complications and problems, but the book sounds interesting. Grandin ends with an appropriate observation:

De Waal's most hopeful message is that peaceful behavior can be learned, as he showed when he raised juvenile rhesus and stumptail monkeys together. The aggressive rhesus juveniles picked up peaceful ways of resolving conflict from the larger, gentler stumptails. And the lessons took: even after the two species were separated, the rhesus continued to have three times more grooming and other friendly behavior after fights. This important and illuminating book should help our own species take that lesson in civility to heart.

This isn't just a warm and fuzzy way to end a review--it is an important observation to highlight. In a highly social species endowed with consciousness but still creatures of habit, it is very important what behavior is modelled and taught. Civilization is selected. And so, in our complex world made more complicated by our somewhat bizaare species, is survival.

The variety of behaviors in animals argues against rigid determinism, as does consciousness. Many of our received ideas about animals were the result of bad research. Because certain species weren't supposed to be smart, or remember much, or use tools, or learn or even teach, scientists didn't see the evidence that they were wrong in their assumptions.

It's a good sign that Grandin chose to emphasize this ability to learn, because he's a scientist himself, and author of Animals in Translation. When I review books on science, I can only be the representative of the non-scientist reader, and a citizen of the planet. I'm looking for help. We need it. So do the apes.

Rove and friends; a fantasy by bood abides
at the Booman Tribune Posted by Picasa
The Empire Strikes Out?

This is the best analysis I've seen so far of the political project of Bushcorps and the contemporary Republican power structure. It suggests that the strange bedfellows of neocons, political Christian fundamentalists and particular corporate powers (and their respective armies of lobbyists) were united not so much by the visions of empire abroad, but of empire in America. The neocons and corporations would be the big winners and the rulers, but the political religious right would get their most cherished agenda items. Now this empire is in trouble, as each element turns against others. But it hasn't fallen yet. And what might replace it?

from Fall of the Rovean empire? Drunk on power, the Republican oligarchs overreached. Now their entire project could be doomed.

By Sidney Blumenthal in salon [excerpts; emphasis added]

For 30 years, beginning with the Nixon presidency, advanced under Reagan, stalled with the elder Bush, a new political economy struggled to be born. The idea was pure and simple: centralization of power in the hands of the Republican Party would ensure that it never lost it again. Under George W. Bush, this new system reached its apotheosis. It is a radically novel social, political and economic formation that deserves study alongside capitalism and socialism.

Neither Adam Smith nor Vladimir Lenin captures its essence, though it has far more elements of Leninist democratic-centralism than Smithian free markets. Some have referred to this model as crony capitalism; others compare the waste, extravagance and greed to the Gilded Age. Call it 21st century Republicanism.

At its heart the system is plagued by corruption, an often unpleasant peripheral expense that greases its wheels. But now multiple scandals engulfing Republicans -- from suspended House Majority Leader Tom DeLay to super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff to White House political overlord Karl Rove -- threaten to upend the system.

Because it is organized by politics it can be undone by politics. Politics has been the greatest strength of Republicanism, but it has become its greatest vulnerability.

The party runs the state. Politics drives economics. Important party officials are also economic operators. They thrive off their connections and rise in the party apparatus as a result of their self-enrichment. The past three chairmen of the Republican National Committee have all been Washington lobbyists.

An oligarchy atop the party allocates favors. Behind the ideological slogans about the "free market" and "liberty," the oligarchy creates oligopolies. Businesses must pay to play. They must kick back contributions to the party, hire its key people and support its program. Only if they give do they receive tax breaks, loosening of regulations and helpful treatment from government professionals.

Those professionals in the agencies and departments who insist on adhering to standards other than those imposed by the party are fired, demoted and blackballed. The oligarchy wars against these professionals to bend government purely into an instrument of oligopolies.

Corporations pay fixed costs in the form of legal graft to the party in order to suppress the market, drastically limiting competitive pressure. Then they collude to control prices, create cartels and reduce planning primarily to the political game. The larger consequences are of no concern whatsoever to the corporate players so long as they maintain access to the political players.


August Wilson in the context I remember him: at the
O'Neill Center summer playwrights conference. Posted by Picasa
Remembering August Wilson

In New York Sunday night, the lights of Broadway will be dimmed in memory of playwright August Wilson. A few days ago, only a few hundred miles away and yet very far in other ways, there was a memorial service in the Hill district of Pittsburgh, where August Wilson grew up.

Ben Brantley offered his thoughts on August Wilson in the New York Times. Here is part of what he wrote:

People talk about an artist having an eye. But with playwrights, it's the ear that counts. Mr. Wilson had a peerless pair. His writing comes closer to the sweep of Shakespearean music than that of any of his contemporaries. Edward Albee creates intense and elegant chamber pieces; David Mamet, machine-gun jazz; Sam Shepard, rhapsodic plainsong; Harold Pinter, monastic chants; and Tom Stoppard, jaunty concertos. But these days only Mr. Wilson has written plays that sound like grand opera - and it is no contradiction to say that it is opera rooted in the blues.

Mr. Wilson's majestic cycle of 10 plays of the African-American journey through the 20th century, each set in a different decade, doesn't just sound operatic. Even though his characters are almost all poor and socially powerless, their stories bring to minds the gods of Wagner and the doomed royalty of Verdi.

Poltergeists, mad prophets, fatal curses, visions of unavenged dead men and of roads to heaven, genealogies that twist into constellations of legend, and bloody crimes of passion that seem as inevitable as they are unnecessary. These elements recur regularly in the works of the Wilson cycle, the last of which ("Radio Golf") was first produced this year.

Yet the mythic and otherworldly are always anchored to a landscape dominated by the physical and economic facts of hard lives: the exact costs of shoes and coffins and bottles of liquor; the potential for profit in stolen refrigerators and dog feces; precise psychological descriptions of bodies scarred and shattered by knives and bullets; the hungry before and depleted after of quick sexual couplings. It is the music of Mr. Wilson's prose that connects the mundane and the mystical, and allows earthbound men and women to raise voices that fly to heaven.

In "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," Mr. Wilson's 1984 breakthrough drama about a fractious recording session of blues artists in the 1920's, the combustible title character speaks about the music she performs. "White folks don't understand about the blues," she says. "They hear it come out, but they don't know how it got there. They don't understand that's life's way of talking. You don't sing to feel better. You sing 'cause that's a way of understanding life."

Not everyone in Mr. Wilson's plays - including, by the way, Ma Rainey - is always in touch with this music of illumination. Nor is this music the same for everyone. Mr. Wilson's major characters are all in search of songs that define them both as individuals, as specifically as handwriting, and as parts of a shared history.

In a prefatory note to his masterpiece, "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" (on Broadway in 1988), set in 1911, Mr. Wilson writes of the African-Americans who have made the exodus from the South to the North: "Foreigners in a strange land, they carry as part and parcel of their bags a long line of separation and dispersement" as they "search for ways to reconnect, to reassemble, to give clear and luminous meaning to the song which is both a wail and a whelp of joy."

This describes not only the quest of Mr. Wilson's major characters but also his own emergence as a playwright. Mr. Wilson said - and said so many times that the story has acquired the burnished sheen of myth - that it was discovering vintage blues recordings, as a young man living in a Pittsburgh boarding house, that made him start to listen to the people around him with a new sense of the notes beneath the words.

Transforming that perception into fluid theater took Mr. Wilson years. He spoke with wry disparagement of the self-conscious poetry of his early work. But it would be foolish to mistake the voices in his plays as mere transcription of overheard conversations from the Hill. That would be like assuming that Elizabethans spoke in Shakespearean blank verse.

The actor Charles S. Dutton, who has starred in several of Mr. Wilson's plays, has said of the dialogue: "It is a lingo that has an inherent rhythm of its own. Most of us have been black all our lives. But we kid each other about August's writing. We'll say, 'I've never heard anything in my life like that, have you?' "

Pick up any play by Mr. Wilson, and a few pages into it, you'll start to pulse to the music. He uses real songs, from children's game-playing chants to raunchy scorchers à la Smith like "Anybody Here Wanna Try My Cabbage" (in "Seven Guitars"). And his characters, especially those wild-eyed soothsayer types who show up a bit too persistently, will sometimes speak in the manner of oracular professors about the nature and importance of song.

But none of this would count for much if Mr. Wilson didn't deliver the music that infuses his characters' talk. It buzzes like traded jazz riffs when men argue about subjects as pedestrian as train schedules. It acquires the wistfulness of Puccinian lament when lonely souls recall love. It shifts into subversively antiphonal call and response when fathers and sons quarrel in the voices of their respective generations. And it soars into gospel chorales when characters journey into the historical night of their slave ancestors, as in "Joe Turner" and "Gem of the Ocean."

In such passages, the subliminal movement is from disjointedness and friction into transcendent, seemingly unwitting harmony. And then there are the arias - the monologues of remembered losses and thwarted ambitions that build in Wagnerian crescendos, given reverberant life on Broadway by actors like James Earl Jones (in "Fences") and Delroy Lindo (in "Joe Turner"). Some of these arias end in defeated dying falls; others in moments of epiphany. But in either case, there is triumph in the very music, in the sense of pain and chaos woven, however briefly, into an ecstatic symmetry.

Music here is always a way of remembering, a congenital, instinctive force that reaches back through the centuries to the first slave ships. It seems telling that in the last play of the cycle, a tale of capitalist pipe dreams set in the 1990's, the music often sounds fainter than before. The central character in "Radio Golf" is an urban redeveloper, which in the world of the Hill means he is an eraser of history. In other words, he has lost his song. Mr. Wilson sets him on the path to looking for it by the end.

August Wilson, probably at the O'Neill. It
looks like his O'Neill "uniform" he wore
every day there. Posted by Picasa
Ervin Dyer talked to a number of people who knew August Wilson as a boy and a young man in the Hill District of Pittsburgh. This is part of his story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Dyer starts with recollection of the Hill 38 years ago:

On the corners and in the clubs were a peculiar people, giving life and lyricism to an emerging black pride. They were using their art to carry messages of community and justice.

Folded into this eccentric mix was a young man, yellow-skinned and soft-spoken. He often crouched in the shadows, scribbling, always scribbling, capturing snatches of life on napkins or scraps of paper. In his white shirt or natty cap, the young man occasionally stood and recited the poetry of others. Soon, finding the strength and voice to present his own words.

The young man was August Wilson -- before he became a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright heralded for his 10-play cycle that would chronicle and serve as a metaphor for the 20th-century black experience in America. Much of it takes place in the Hill District.

Mr. Wilson's plays are fueled by strong, unsung characters -- garbage men, blues musicians, ex-cons, domestics and mystics. All streetwise philosophers and storytellers. In many ways, they are like Mr. Wilson, before the fame: as humble and peculiar a character as any that made its way into his opus of black struggle and triumph.

"Everybody was an oddball in the Hill," said Mr. [Amir] Rashidd, sitting in the basement of Monumental Baptist Church, Hill District, where he fondly shared a thousand memories of his old friend.

They included Sy Morocco, painter, sculptor, musician; Charlie P. Williams, poet; Maisha Baton and Rob Penny, poets and writers. Out of this groove came the Kuntu Writers Workshop and the Centre Avenue Poets, who made protest a song.

Mr. Rashidd moved to Pittsburgh in 1976, and over the years, his friendship with Mr. Wilson deepened. In their quiet moments, Mr. Rashidd would pull out his harmonica and the two would sit down and talk. In Mr. Wilson's theatrical world, bits and pieces of real-life show up in his plays: In "Seven Guitars" there's a harmonica player, Canewell, among seven friends in 1940s Pittsburgh.

Mr. Wilson, with his scraps of paper, took notes as life rolled along at Florentine's, a bar on Wylie; at Mom's Pan Fry, where an old man told stories out of the Bible as if he lived through them, and the Virginia Bar, where the proprietress who survived the Depression ruled with a grand flair. Before the night fell, Mr. Rashidd recounted that on many a day, his friend walked over to St. Joseph, a Catholic care home for indigent men.

There, on Bedford Avenue -- not far from where the house he was born in is crumbling -- Mr. Wilson would get a cheap lunch and listen to all the old timers. "He'd ask them to talk about the Hill."

After Mr. Wilson found fame, he'd occasionally come back home and the two would rendevous at Eddie's Restaurant on the Hill. Mr. Rashidd ate peach cobbler and Mr. Wilson drank black coffee and smoked. The owner, Eddie Owens, died five years ago, and the eatery, known for its home-cooked meals, closed soon after. But in its heyday, scruffy little Eddie's was a favorite hangout for Mr. Wilson.

That's where[waitress Thelma] Ms. Smalls met him. "August would come in and sit at the counter. He'd sit there all day." He'd always have the same meal: two eggs over easy, home fries and biscuits with butter and jelly or wheat toast. "He drank his coffee black and he asked that I keep it coming," said Ms. Smalls. He was nice, she recalled, but he was quiet and "people thought he had issues," because he carried all these papers around.

In the restaurant, Ms. Smalls remembered the playwright would joke around only with Mr. Owens, who occasionally put him out to make room for a paying customer. For one day, Mr. Wilson washed dishes for Eddie's. He lost his job when Mr. Owens found him in a booth scribbling, scribbling, always scribbling.

August Wilson and Lloyd Richards Posted by Picasa
No Peace With Atoms

from the Boston Globe editorial:

MOHAMED ELBARADEI, who won the Nobel Peace Prize [Friday], was on point when he said the Nobel Committee was recognizing the problems of the nuclear age as much as his International Atomic Energy Agency's efforts to solve them. The prize underlined ''the urgency of addressing the dangers we face: nuclear proliferation, nuclear armaments, and nuclear terrorism," said ElBaradei.

There can hardly be any quibbling with the intent of the Nobel Committee's choice. And if that choice is tinged with undertones of chastising President Bush for his scorn of the IAEA in the run-up to the Iraq war, it is part of the committee's mission to take sides for the cause of peace.

Similarly political messages were sent when the prize was given to the Iranian lawyer Shirin Ebadi for her defense of prisoners of conscience and to the Kenyan champion of ecologically sustainable development Wangari Maathai for mobilizing ''poor women to plant 30 million trees."

The committee members are no less justified in using their platform to present a timely brief for the principle of multilateralism. In a statement yesterday, ElBaradei spelled out this principle explicitly: ''It has always been my belief," he said, ''that the road to international peace and security lies through multilateralism -- the collective search by people of all racial, religious, ethnic, and national backgrounds to find a common ground based not on intimidation or rivalry but on understanding and human solidarity." This is an ideal worth honoring.

Nonetheless, the IAEA is being recognized more for what it is meant to accomplish than for what it has accomplished.

Yet more troubling is a contradiction at the core of the IAEA's twofold mission: to promote civil nuclear energy while stopping the spread of nuclear weapons. Every nation that set out to become a nuclear power during the life of the IAEA -- Israel, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Iraq, Libya, Iran -- did so under the guise of developing peaceful nuclear energy. With energy prices soaring and plans for new nuclear power plants sprouting around the world, the time has come to reconsider the optimistic mission of an agency that came into being with the name ''Atoms for Peace."

If the Nobel Peace Prize helps crystallize a reconsideration of the problematic symbiosis between nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons, it will have performed a great service for mankind.