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E S S A Y S
By Sam Smith
The Progressive Review

MORE RECENT ESSAYS

ON JUSTICE

ON THE MEDIA

ON MUSIC

ON POLITICS

ON PEACE, WAR & IN BETWEEN

INDEX

Last call

Leaving DC

The Review and blogging

The fight that doesn't matter

A dummy's guide to disloyalty

Growing up part Jewish

Dealing with myths

A dummy's guide to disloyalty

Potomac playground

Milton Friedman: Killing America softly with his song

Pilgrim's folly

Martin Luther King Day, Bull Connor years

Who cares who was a communist?

Hendrik Ibsen made me do it

Running things

The hazards of estivation

The Luddites at Microsoft

The hazards of cleaning the attic

What the Christian right forgets about the Bible

On the west side of the Capitol

Preppies at the gate

Standing room only

Living with the American family

A conversation with God

A confederacy of doers

Ship of fools

A confederacy of doers

The Bronx ate my postings

Oh, Hecht

What I learned on my vacation

Calm down everyone

John Wiebenson

Role model

My summer

My late Aunt Kate

Time warp

Entropy beat

Snow job

The American way of death

New York and Montana

What I did on my vacation

Born again economics

45 years later

What Tim McVeigh and I had in common

The gadfly thing

Psalm for the fast lane

Letter to Moscow

Zero tolerance: fool's goal

 

 

 

 

 

2009

Last call

One of the things you learn early as a writer is that the hardest parts of a story are the beginning and the end. The beginning of my story as a Washington journalist was over 50 years ago; the middle has encompassed all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies, and the end will come sometime this year.

I will continue to edit the national edition of the Progressive Review, which has more readers than ever but my wife Kathy and I are moving to Maine where we have deep ties, for me going back more than six decades.

I am leaving my birthplace, a town I have loved but also a place in which I have felt increasingly an exile as local values, culture and community faded - not because they lacked merit but because they did not produce enough power or profit for someone.

It has become a city where the police chief erects apartheid style roadblocks, where the deputy mayor hides a community library in a high rise like it was just another Starbucks, and where the government is spends over $600 million on a baseball stadium but can't keep its recreation centers open all weekend.

It is a city of magnificent views and dismal viewpoints, wonderful communities and dubious egos, natural spaces and artificial words. It is a city that too often can't tell the difference between intelligence and wisdom and, as Russell Baker once noted, the difference between being serious and being somber.

It is also a city in which all politics becomes office politics, and where imagination and free thought are restricted to thirty minutes on weekdays and violators will be towed.

Still, Washington has always been an unsortable amalgam of decadence and decency, undeserved profit and unrequited purpose, subterranean conspiracies and high ideals. Walt Whitman found himself "amid all this huge mess of traitors, loafers, hospitals, axe-grinders, & incompetencies & officials that goes by the name of Washington." Even earlier, Captain Frederick Marry noted, "Here are assembled from every state in the union, what ought to be the collected talent, intelligence, and high principles of a free and enlightened nation. Of talent and intelligence there is a very fair supply, but principle is not so much in demand; and in everything, and everywhere, by the demand the supply is regulated."

One of the things that affects the city's crosscurrents of felicity and felony is what is happening elsewhere in the nation. As a weak colony filled with professional migrants, DC is a beta edition of both the good and the bad. Just as Washington was once deep into the civil rights and peace movements, today it accurately reflects national values sown in the Reagan-Clinton-Bush era that have caused the disintegration of the republic's economy, its global status and its constitution.

You can feel it wandering around downtown, where every last centimeter of the zoning envelope is filled with the dull high rises of a second robber baron era. You see it in the endless piling on of new civil and criminal offenses in place of decent and effective policies. You find it in the official subservience and subsidy to those who already have more than their fair share. You observe it in a school system that values rigid tests and rules but not thoughtful questions and creative ideas.

You see it in the failure to lift a hand to help those unable to play DC's harsh games. And you see it in the increasing division between free and locked down Washington, the former being those parts where you can still cross a threshold without having to prove you are not a terrorist.

Which is not to say you can not find many good things hidden beneath the hubris, behind the ubiquitous fear in the world's most guarded place and under the false renaissance of a city that has spent billions on convention centers, stadiums, arenas, but which can't even provide as many jobs for local residents as it did 20 years ago.

You just have to look harder.

You'll find it still in the neighborhoods like the one I shall miss most: Capitol Hill.

You'll find it in the little oases of commercial sense and service like Frager's hardware store, Distad's auto repair shop and all the other small businesses that get mainly bills and regulations from the city government while the favors go to the big guys.

You'll find it over lunch at places like Jimmy T's, Ben's Chili Bowl and La Tomate.

You'll find it in the files of the Washingtoniana collection at the DC Library, on a trail sign or in an exhibit at the Historical Society of Washington.

You'll find it at the FDR Memorial late on a spring evening or in a quiet spot in some hidden corner high in Rock Creek Park.

You'll find it in a black community that has bravely maintained its values in the face of repression, indifference and socio-economic cleansing. I first did as a young man going to the Howard Theater and as a 20-something member of SNCC, and later in so many ways and places as I was welcomed by, and learned from, those who used the power of decency and friendliness as bridges across cultures and to overcome pain.

You'll find it among the activists of the DC Statehood Green Party who for nearly four decades have risen to the challenge presented by its first leader, Julius Hobson: "What do you want: a Disneyland for the rich or a state for free people?" Youll fine it in their refusal to be silent in a city so colonial, corrupt and contented.

You'll find it among the teachers resisting the dismantling and corporatization of public education.

You'll find it in the artists and musicians who take us away from bitterness and contentions and into better places, those still holding on in a city determined not to even leave them with a pad cheap enough to rent.

You'll find it among those who seek to preserve not only open space and fine buildings, but great communities and wonderful institutions.

You'll find it among those trying to help fill monstrous gaps in government services by working at a food bank or shelter, counseling former prisoners, providing free legal service, or teaching children what the school system can't or won't.

You'll find it in a small band of journalists who haven't deserted the real city in favor of grander stories and sources.

You'll find it among the neighborhood commissions who still sometimes get those downtown to pay attention to things they would rather ignore.

And you'll find it in the shared memory of those who give the city life instead of draining it, add to the local saga rather than diminishing it, and are there for us when so many others aren't.

One place you won't find it much longer, though, is at my place. Sometime this year I'll be off to write the rest of my story someplace else. Thanks for all the good times, the encouragement, the inspiration, the example and the dreams.

Just remember, despite what others would have you believe, a vote in the House leaves you no better off than Algeria when it also was a colony; Washington never was a sleepy southern town and it never was a swamp; there is a J Street (albeit hidden in Northeast and spelled Jay), and most of the people who do serious wrong in this fair city come from somewhere else. We try to teach them different but they never seem to get it.

Thanks for the fun and, as Adam Clayton Powell Jr used to say, "Keep the faith, baby."

Leaving DC

Sometime this year the Review will be moving fulltime to its New England regional headquarters in Freeport, Maine, previously home only for the estivatory editions of summer.

I have deep ties to Maine, going back more than six decades. I have long lived as a geographical split personality, with the phrase bi-coastal meaning in my case Casco Bay and the Potomac River. Wherever my physical presence, part of me was in another place, symbolized by the day when I was quoted in both the Washington Post about Marion Barry and on a Portland TV station about alternative agriculture. My views of the city have always had a touch of tide and pasture in them.

Based on past experience, there is no evidence that this change will in anyway alter the journal's content or its editor's irascibility, so readers have nothing to fear. But as your editor has now covered Washington for all or part of ten of America's presidencies, it seems a good time to try something a little different.

Some random anecdotes from these past 50 years can be found here.

In compiling the these tales, I was struck by how few were of federal rather than local Washington. The stories of federal Washington involve power, intrigue and associated conflicts that, dramatic as they may be at one moment, are easily replaced by others a few moments later. The stories of local Washington are stories of real people and places living and struggling in a center of power, intrigue and associated conflicts. These stories survive because they come from heart, culture and community rather than depending on the transitory misadventures of ambition.

My writings about the nation's capital have been grounded in what the theologian Martin Marty described as the need to have a place from which to view the world. Too much of what is written about this city lacks such a place.

I am leaving my birthplace, a town I have loved but also a place in which I have felt increasingly an exile as local values, culture and community faded - not because they lacked merit but because they did not produce enough power or profit for someone.

It is a city of magnificent views and dismal viewpoints, wonderful communities and dubious egos, natural spaces and artificial words. It is a city that too often can't tell the difference between intelligence and wisdom or, as Russell Baker once noted, between being serious and being somber.

It is also a city in which all politics becomes office politics, and where imagination and free thought are restricted to thirty minutes on weekdays and violators will be towed.

Still, Washington has always been an unsortable amalgam of decadence and decency, undeserved profit and unrequited purpose, subterranean conspiracies and high ideals.

Walt Whitman found himself "amid all this huge mess of traitors, loafers, hospitals, axe-grinders, & incompetencies & officials that goes by the name of Washington." Even earlier, Captain Frederick Marry noted, "Here are assembled from every state in the union, what ought to be the collected talent, intelligence, and high principles of a free and enlightened nation. Of talent and intelligence there is a very fair supply, but principle is not so much in demand; and in everything, and everywhere, by the demand the supply is regulated."

One of the things that affects these crosscurrents of felicity and felony is what is happening elsewhere in the nation. As a weak colony filled with professional migrants, DC is a beta edition of both the good and the bad. Just as Washington was once deep into the civil rights and peace movements, today it accurately reflects national values sown in during the Reagan-Clinton-Bush era that caused the disintegration of the republic's economy, its global status and its constitution.

I was born in Washington during the New Deal, for which my father worked. I also went to a segregated public elementary school and lived a segregated life as a child. Thus, from the beginning, I was introduced to the painful contradictions of American democracy.

We left Washington when I was ten but there was an idealism among their friends from that era that I always admired. Years later, my wife and I joined my then widowed mother at a 50th anniversary of the New Deal at the Mayflower Hotel. The median age was probably 75 but I have seldom been in a room with so much energy and enthusiasm. Even the guest speaker, Hubert Humphrey, had a hard time keeping up with his audience.

In all my years in this town, there has only been one other period that has come close: the Great Society. Like the segregated city into which I was born, there were huge inconsistencies, headlined by the Vietnam War, but it was also true that Lyndon Johnson got more good legislation passed in less time than any president in our history. And Washington was once again filled with those who truly cared.

Such moments, however, are not only rare; they are typically born not in Washington but in what is happening elsewhere - such as a depression, civil rights movement, riots or the rise of the 60s counterculture.

It's one reason I don't worry about leaving Washington: most of the time Washington doesn't make news; it only reacts to it.

And slowly. As Phil Hart once put it, the Senate is a place that does things twenty years after it should have.

Which is why for some three decades, Washington has contributed so little to the nation other than to endorse, codify and promote policies leading to the collapse of the First American Republic. Since 1976 Congress has passed more laws than it did in the previous two centuries. And to what end? To place us in the dismal condition in which we now find ourselves.

I sometimes find myself reciting the lines of Tennessee Williams in Camino Real: "Turn back stranger, for the well of humanity has gone dry in this place. And the only birds that sing are kept in cages."

Those of us who have fought for alternative approaches have constantly been met with contempt and disinterest by those in power, whether in politics or the media. The Review, however, has been around long enough for there to be a scorecard and if you go back 20, 30, 40 years you'll find that those seeking other ways were far ahead of the curve on such issues as civil rights, education, self-government, foreign policy, civil liberties and the environment. It was the capital's elite, and not us, who were extreme and radical - extremely slow and radically wrong. Yet one of the privileges of power is to set standards, even if they are the standards of the slowest kids in the class. Another privilege is never having to say you're sorry. Which is why, beginning in the 1980s, we began to lose the struggle and have been doing so ever since.

Then why have I stayed so long? My fascination an affection for the local city aside, I was spurred by Chancellor Willy Brandt, who fled Germany as a young man in the 1930s, became a Norwegian citizen but returned to his homeland after the war. Asked why he had come back, Brandt said because it was more important to be a democrat in Germany than in Norway. I have long felt, lonely as it often has been, the same way about staying in Washington.


I sometimes describe what I do as drawing pictures on the walls of the Lascaux Caves of our times. Leaving sketches of what democracy and constitutional government once looked like as they galloped through the countryside.


As in Orwell's 1984, it was mainly in cities like Washington that we lost our way. Only ten percent of the people in his book lived in the capital he described. The rest, the proles, still lived largely free of the dismal, cruel dysevolution of which he wrote.


Eric Paul Gros-Dubois of Southern Methodist University described Orwell's countryside this way:

"The proles were the poorest of the groups, but in most regards were the most cheerful and optimistic. The proles were also the freest of all the groups. Proles could do as they pleased. They could come and go, and talk openly about whatever they felt like without having to worry about the Thought Police. . .

"[Orwell] also concluded that the hope for the future was contained within this group. At several points in the book, Winston, the hero, made a point of mentioning that the proles were the hope for the future and the only ones who could end Big Brother's tyranny, since they were the only group still allowed to have feelings and opinions. . . "
Similarly, you can still find a noticeably freer America simply by leaving the major centers of our post-constitutional society - away from those places where the most honored have done us the most damage.
The geographical parochialism of those who have made this mess leaves vast acres of our land still hospitable to dreams and perhaps even to the eventual eviction of those who have done us such wrong.


Further, the difficulty that large cities will have adapting to a dramatically different economy and ecology adds to the appeal of places like Maine - places skilled in survival, kinder to the environment and still appreciative of freedom.

One also finds in such places not only a deep culture of the past but one increasingly invigorated by those - in the best tradition of immigrants - courageous and imaginative enough to have moved there. In such ways such places offer not only a recovery of what one may have thought had disappeared forever but the possibility of another beginning in a land that has badly gone astray.

I shall report from time to time on how it's going.

2007

The Review and blogging

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL'S claim that this is the tenth anniversary of the blog - as well as some of the critical reaction to the story - led us to our archives to find what we could about our role in this tale.

We've tried to avoid the word blog - preferring to call ourselves an online journal - but the phrase has a ubiquity one can't duck.

The Wall Street Journal claimed, "We are approaching a decade since the first blogger -- regarded by many to be Jorn Barger -- began his business of hunting and gathering links to items that tickled his fancy, to which he appended some of his own commentary. On Dec. 23, 1997, on his site, Robot Wisdom, Mr. Barger wrote: 'I decided to start my own webpage logging the best stuff I find as I surf, on a daily basis,' and the Oxford English Dictionary regards this as the primordial root of the word 'weblog.'

"The dating of the 10th anniversary of blogs, and the ascription of primacy to the first blogger, are imperfect exercises. Others, such as David Winer, who blogged with Scripting News, and Cameron Barrett, who started CamWorld, were alongside the polemical Mr. Barger in the advance guard. And before them there were "proto-blogs," embryonic indications of the online profusion that was to follow. But by widespread consensus, 1997 is a reasonable point at which to mark the emergence of the blog as a distinct life-form."

While we refer to Barger as the sainted Jorn Barger - he has been repeatedly kind to this journal over the years - the WSJ has got things somewhat mixed up. It is certainly true that Barger blessed or cursed us with the word blog, but whatever you called it, something was already underway, including at the Progressive Review. As evidence, we would quote from the very issue cited by the WSJ: Barger's December 23, 1997 Robot Wisdom WebLog in which he writes:

"There's a new issue of the Progressive Review, one of the few leftwing sources that's vigorously anti-Clinton. . . The lead story this week is Judge Lamberth's condemnation of White House lies about the healthcare taskforce in 1993. Its editor Sam Smith also offers a nice fantasy of what a real newspaper should be, USA Tomorrow . . ."

Barger's contribution was not just one of nomenclature, but of gracing the Web with an eclectic spirit and curiosity, tapping its holistic wonders and happily mixing technology, politics, literature, philosophy and rants. In musical terms, Barger showed us how to swing.

A few examples from that last week of December 1997 illustrates the point (the copious links are not included)

- This Day in Joyce History. . . On this date in 1891, Dante Riordan left the Joyce household after the Xmas fight depicted in Portrait. In ?1893 the fictional Rudy Bloom was born. In 1916, Portrait was published by Huebsch. In 1931, John S. Joyce died. In ?1953 John Kidd was born.

- Two of the most readable computer journalists-- John Dvorak and Jerry Pournelle-- are about to launch a Siskel/Ebert-style weekly debate site, using 'wallet' technology to charge a dime a week. . .

- Gorillas make gorgeous representational art. . .

- Email from Frankie? TV.Com claims Frank Sinatra will sometimes answer friendly email. The Sinatra Family site is endearingly naif. . .

- A couple of x-rated essays at Salon: Susie Bright's very sweet appreciation of the Pam Anderson/ Tommy Lee bootleg sex video

- Sixties icon Kerry Thornley, intimate of Lee Harvey Oswald and Jim Garrison and Robert Anton Wilson, and author of the Principia Discordia is in poor health, and fans are encouraged to order a copy of PD straight from the source, autographed on request.

- The mass media's undeclared war against the Net is nowhere clearer than in their assaults against Ian Goddard's TWA800 website. CNN has baldly falsified a report that Goddard recanted his site as a hoax. . .

- How has the Newt Right so successfully blindsided the progressive Left? A dryish analysis in The Nation argues that we don't lack the funds, but we're spending them with self-defeating unfocus. . .

- I am having a fear of modern business practices: A fine culture critic named Tom Frank (not to be confused with Troll Mennie) explores Fast Company, the bastard spawn of Wired and Forbes. . .

- Sweden's Crown Princess Victoria (age 20) has been elected Swede of the Year by the evening paper Expressen. Last month it was announced that she's suffering from an eating disorder. . .

- Garrison Keillor, quoted on newsgroup misc.activism.progressive: "We're in the clutches of a bunch of folks trying to turn the U.S. into a third world country. Two hundred billionaires, and 260 million poor people. And they haven't done enough damage yet to be beaten."

Duncan Riley offers this critique of the WSJ article:

|||| According to my history of blogging (still No. 3 on Google BTW, and heavily researched at the time) blogging turned 11 on January 10, the date in which the first credited blogger (according to Wikipedia as well) Justin Hall commences writing an online journal with dated daily entries, although each daily post is linked through an index page. On the journal he writes "Some days, before I go to bed, I think about my day, and how it meshed with my life, and I write a little about what learned me." In February Dave Winer follows up with a weblog that chronicles the 24 Hours of Democracy Project. Winer has often claimed that he was the first blogger, I've long disagreed but whether it was Hall or Winer is a moot point: both were blogging in 1996. . . ||||

According to Wikipedia, "A blog (a portmanteau of web log) is a website where entries are written in chronological order and displayed in reverse chronological order. 'Blog' can also be used as a verb, meaning to maintain or add content to a blog. Blogs provide commentary or news on a particular subject such as food, politics, or local news; some function as more personal online diaries. A typical blog combines text, images, and links to other blogs, web pages, and other media related to its topic.

At least as early as 1993, the Progressive Review was sending a faxed blog-like substance to our media list as a supplement to the print edition. The earliest mention of an online edition that we could find comes from the August 1994 edition: "If you have an Internet address, send it to us on a postcard or to ssmith@igc.org and we will add you to our Peacenet hotline mailing list. You can also find us at alt.activism and alt.politics.clinton. Sorry, offer not good for networks that carry e-mail charges"

There then followed a series of blog-like entries.

But none of that really counts because it wasn't on the Worldwide Web. But by June 1995, the Progressive Review was on the web, where only about 20,000 other websites existed worldwide. We announced it like this:

"The Review now has a site on the World Wide Web. Pay us a visit at: http://prorev.com/ F Here is some of what you'll find: The Crash of America: How this country's elite ruined the economy, fouled the environment and left Newt Gingrich in charge. From the March 1995 issue. The fully informed jury movement: The right of juries to judge both the law and the fact dates back to the trials of William Penn and Peter Zenger. . ."

Still not bloggish, as we initially only posted longer articles. But within a few months - we were promising that "The Progressive Review On-Line Report is found on the Web" and our quasi-blogging had begun.

While we weren't the earliest we were certainly in same 'hood and we may hold some sort of record for consistency. We are still brought to you by Turnpike and we are still using Adobe Page Mill to post our non-blog pages. A year or two ago we ran into an Adobe sales rep at Best Buy and mentioned our loyalty, saying that "we still love it." She looked quite cross and said, "That's what a lot of people say."

The Web would come to value style over substance in design and conventional loyalty over free thinking in politics. But, inspired by a few like Jorn Borger, we have tried to keep our layout simple and our thoughts complex. In the game of Internet high-low poker, we went low and it doesn't seem to have a hurt a bit.

Thanks for sticking around.

The fight that doesn't matter

Last night, browsing through Sartre before bedtime, I came across this:

"Existentialism isn't so atheistic that it wears itself out showing that God does not exist. Rather it declares that even if God did exist, that would change nothing. . . Not that we believe that God exists, but we think that the problem of His existence is not the issue."

It struck me as I read this that here was the key to the currently inflated battle between church and state: in the end it doesn't matter. The moral Christian, Jew or Muslim and the moral rationalist will follow much the same path. Keep them away from the pulpit and you may not be able to tell them apart.

The difference lies not in their actual life but in what they believe about it. The existentialist, for example, believes that existence - and behavior in it - precedes and defines essence. The religious true believer thinks it's faith, or what is known in science as speculation and, in gambling, a bet.

Now one can have an interesting debate about this, but the point here is that as far as politics and social policy are concerned the difference should make no difference once it moves to the level of actually doing something rather than just talking about, celebrating or praising why you're doing it.

Of course, politically, it does make a difference. One reason is that there are a hell of a lot more registered practicing Christians than there are registered practicing existentialists. Another is that politicians, aware of this demographic, find it much easier to pander to the faith that drives these voters rather than to the works the faith demands.

Thus, whether in the White House or in Selma, you never hear politicians described themselves as "works-based Christians," because it is much easier to associate oneself with unchallengeable holiness than with intended products too simple to observe and assess.

There was a time when there are a lot more works-based Christians around to serve as models. At one point, for example, we had Father Drinan in Congress, Father Baroni in the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Father Kemp on the DC school board. During the war on poverty I found myself constantly in the company of preachers, some of whom became close friends. When I asked myself why, my answer was in part that while the engines driving us were different, our intended routes were the same. We accepted uncertainty, honored inquiry and persisted in the hope that what we did that day might make a difference.

Today's obsession with faith is driven by a number of causes, among them the deterioration of American culture and democracy, a desperate searching for certainty, evangelical abuse and heresy, political cynicism and deceit, as well as a media that perpetuates the illusion that it is better to raise one's hands in prayer than to use them for good in this life and on this day.

Of these forces, it is the media that often wields the greatest clout - a media that pretends to be fact-based and objective yet all but writhes in the aisle, screams Hallelujah and shouts Jesus' name when a fraudulent pol mounts the pulpit or a president declares some carefully concocted connection with the Almighty for his war or budget policy. This adulation of false faith and the indifference to true works is not only cynical but is helping to destroy America.

It has also helped turn the press from being reporters to being mere acolytes at the holy communion of America's powerful. If, on the other hand, the media followed the lead of Sartre, it would do us all a great service. Instead of telling us what politicians pretended to believe it would report on what they actually did. . . moving, one might say, from faith-based to fact-based reporting

A dummy's guide to disloyalty

Lately, I've been trying to figure out how to pass on state secrets to someone without getting into trouble. I don't actually have any such secrets, mind you, but the matter is getting so hopelessly complex that I thought I better straighten it out before I responded to the small flower pot my neighbor across the street regularly puts on the sill of his right second floor window.

There are a number of models, each with their own hazards.

The most dangerous, clearly, is that used by former FBI agent Robert Hanssen. Hanssen's main error was to give the secrets to the Russians before Bush became pals with Pootie, to gave them really valuable stuff, to take a lot of money for it, and to do it around a photogenic and photomnemonic young assistant able to work well with photodocumentarian movie producers.

Considerably less costly was the route followed by Sandy Berger. For one thing he lifted his documents from the National Archives where even the secrets are more boring than those in real life. There is no evidence that he took any money for them and his beneficiary, while unknown, is more likely to have been a presidential candidate rather than some nasty Russian. For his penalty, as one observer put it, "He had to pay a $50,000 fine and pick up some garbage on the side of the road in Virginia." A friendly media made as little of it as it could, albeit quoting Berger's lawyer as saying, "It never ceases to amaze me how the most trivial things can be politicized. It is the height of unfairness . . . for this poor guy, who clearly made a mistake." From the coverage, it is fair to assume that much of the media agreed.

As this is written, I don't know the price Scooter Libby will pay - if any - for his alleged offenses - if proved. But not one mainstream journalist has yet explained why it is so much worse to lie about passing on the identity of an apparently not all that covert CIA official than it is to remove state secrets from the archives. If convicted, Libby - accused in the prosecutor's own words of a 'dumb lie' - will, at least until the pardon, face a dramatically greater punishment than Berger. And the befuddling thing is that no one in establishment Washington - regardless of their clearance - seems to give a damn.

I do, however, have the uncomfortable sense that if I were to steal some documents from the National Archives and stick them in my sock I might be treated more like Patrick Fitzgerald plans to treat Libby so I guess I better not try.

There is, however, one further possible route. Pass on the stuff, reveal the covert identity, but not to benefit the Russians or a fellow politician. Instead, give it to some officials at AIPAC to pass on to Israel. This encouraging possibility is raised by a report in Secrecy News about the espionage trial of two former AIPAC officials which is not going so well for the government. Judge T.S. Ellis III has raised all sorts of obstacles but the one most cheering to a prospective spy is this one:

"The nature of the relationship between the governments of the U.S. and Israel may also have a bearing on the defendants' state of mind, the Judge wrote, in language that may foreshadow close
scrutiny of U.S.-Israel relations at trial: 'The more specific the details of the alleged cooperation between the two governments, the more probative [i.e., legally significant] such cooperation becomes," Judge Ellis wrote. In another important observation, the judge wrote that 'testimony that disclosures of alleged NDI were viewed by defendants, or their contacts in the diplomatic establishment, as beneficial to the United States' interests is exculpatory.'"

In other words, if you want to spy for Britain or Israel, you have a pretty good chance of getting away with it, at least in Judge Ellis' courtroom.

There are, to be sure, a few residual moral questions such as precisely how closely the goals of Israel and the U.S. are really aligned and who gets to cut the deal: the President, Congress or the people? And which policies are covered: attacking Iran, starving Palestinians, invading Lebanon?

So it remains a bit tricky, but, for the moment, if you want to steal state secrets in the safest possible fashion, just make sure AIPAC gets a copy.

Growing up part Jewish

I grew up part Jewish. It was hard not to if you lived in a New Deal family where your father was involved in things like starting Americans for Democratic Action. My own introduction to politics came as a pre-teen stuffing envelopes for the local ADA director Leon Shull as he helped organize the removal of Philadelphia's 69-year-old Republican machine. Shull was one of those who early convinced me that there were three branches of Judaism: your Orthodox, your Reform and your Liberal Democratic, with the last clearly the most powerful. I was certain that Jews were put on this earth to run labor unions and win elections for the good guys.

If you think I'm kidding, consider this: for many years we lived across the street from a prominent activist couple - she black, he Jewish. One day one of their sons came over and slumped at our kitchen table. "What's the matter?" asked my wife. "I had a terrible night," the boy explained. "I dreamt I was Jacob Javits." He had already learned to fear becoming a Jewish Republican.

Although I knew Jews went to synagogue, I wasn't all that impressed. After all, as my friend Peter Temin was going to Hebrew school on Saturdays, I got to go to the Henry Glass music store and take drum lessons, clearly the better deal. During the week we went to a Quaker school where perhaps a quarter of the students were Jewish and nobody thought it odd. The tradition continues. The joke about Washington's Sidwell Friends School is that it is a place where Episcopalians teach Jews how to act like Quakers.

Much later I would figure out what Quakerism and Judaism had in common: a blend of individualism, pragmatism, and responsibility, with a particular emphasis on the last. You didn't come into the world pre-ordained and your primary goal wasn't to leave it saved; what really mattered is what you did in the meantime.

For much of my life, what I have done and what I have thought have been deeply influenced by existential Judaism and its practitioners. I can't even begin to count the number of times I have come across Jews in the lonely corners of hope trying to do what others, through lack of interest or courage, would not.

But a number of things have happened since I was first introduced to Judaism. The direct ties to the often radical Jewish immigrant tradition began to fade. The offspring of the immigrants became wealthier and less involved. America of whatever ethnicity began paying less attention to others and more to itself.

As I put it once, "The great 20th century social movements [were] successful enough to create their own old boy and girl networks, powerful enough to enter the Chevy Chase Club, and indifferent enough to ignore those left behind. The minority elites had joined the Yankee and the Southern aristocrat and the rest of God's frozen people to form the largest, most prosperous, and most narcissistic intelligentsia in our history. But as the best and brightest drove around town in their Range Rovers, who would speak for those who were still, in Bill Mauldin's phrase, fugitives from the law of averages? The work of witness remained."

A whole history began to disappear. A part of the story was told by journalist Paul S. Green in his memoir, From the Streets of Brooklyn to the War in Europe. He notes that by the dawn of the 20th century

"Jewish youth in Poland grew more and more impatient with the narrow focus of their lives. They were determined to take part in the opportunities opening up around them - exciting new developments in science, the arts, in social relationships. This brought them into conflict with their parents and grandparents. In seeking a different way of life, they began to do the unthinkable - to reject the strict age-old Orthodoxy of their ancestors. "

Out of this grew several new movements, one of which, Zionism, looked towards retrieving a Jewish nation. Others were socialist, ranging from hard-core Bolshevik to the Bund, which Green describes as

"An organization of free-thinking Jewish youth who whole-heartedly embraced Yiddish culture and a Yiddish life that completely rejected traditional religion. The Bundists believed that only a socialist government - evolutionary rather than revolutionary - could hope to bring together all peoples of whatever origin and outlaw racial and religious conflict, with all men becoming brothers, thereby bringing an end to anti-Semitism and pogroms."

And so we find, not too many years later, the New York City Jewish cigar-makers each contributing a small sum to hire a man to sit with them as they worked - reading aloud the classic works of Yiddish literature. And the leader of the New York cigar-makers, Samuel Gompers, became the first president of the American Federation of Labor.

Green's own family joined the rebellion:

"In embracing the principles of free-thinking non-religious belief, my parents had made a profound break with the past. The generation gap with their own parents was unbelievably deep. They had been born and brought up in a world that brooked no deviation. . . They were turning their backs on the fearsome God of their forefathers who had ruled Jewish lives for thousands of years. . . They realized that maintaining their beliefs set them apart from the mainstream of Jewish life, but the fact that they were a small minority did not bother them. "

They became part of a Jewish tradition that profoundly shaped the politics, social conscience, and cultural course of 20th century America. It helped to create the organizations, causes, and values that built this country's social democracy. While Protestants and Irish Catholics controlled the institutions of politics, the ideas of modern social democracy disproportionately came from native populists and immigrant socialists, heavily Jewish.

It is certainly impossible to imagine liberalism, the civil rights movement, or the Vietnam protests without the Jewish left. There is, in fact, no greater parable of the potential power of a conscious, conscientious minority than the influence of secular Jews on 20th century modern American politics.

Sadly, however, social and economic progress inevitably produced a dilution of passion for justice and change not just among Jews but within the entire post-liberal elite. And, in many ways, Israel became the icon that replaced the cause of social justice. This is not to say that the two are antithetical. That certainly wasn't the case when I was younger. But as Jewish rhetoric and politics became increasingly in the hands of powerful conservative interests, an iconic, unexamined Israel began to serve Jews much as an absurdly trivialized Jesus has been used by the powerful conservative Christian interests to serve their ends. And other things just got forgotten.

Just as it is important for Americans not to define their country's past by the tragic distortions of the past quarter century, it is important for Jews not to be misled by a powerful right wing's reduction of Judaism to the goals of a deeply misguided and militaristic nation.

The fact is both America and Israel have badly damaged themselves through grandiosity, arrogance and narcissism. Beyond that is a truth few want to admit: no culture, no ethnicity, no value system can exist in a vacuum any more. This is not the fault of terrorists or anti-Semites. It's the result of television and multinational corporations that have usurped the role of culture, values and ethnicities. Add to that Israel's demographic trends and you've got a problem that AIPAC and Abe Foxman can't help you with in the slightest.

The answer, to the extent there still is one for the human species, is to be found in honest, personal witness. You can't save Christianity with hypocrisy and you can't save Judaism with missiles. What might work, however, is to reach back into the past of one's own culture or ethnicity and find examples of actions and behaviors that produced positive change. Neither Christians nor Jews have always been as absurdly self-destructive as they are today. And before they offer any more dangerous directions for dealing with today's problems, they need to rediscover their own good paths.

It is along such paths - and not on battlefields - that faith is solidified, admiration is encouraged, and loyalty is attracted. And along the way you may even pick up some unorthodox stragglers like me.

2006

Dealing with myths

Having been an anthropology major, I don't get as riled up about mythology in public life as many in the media and politics. Myths can be helpful, benign, sad, or deadly but mostly they're there to fill the empty places in reality.

Sometimes myths are carried on the backs of famous people because the reality isn't powerful enough to do the job. A classic case involves the death of Dr Charles Drew, the famous black surgeon.

It is widely told that Drew, then 46, died in North Carolina in 1950 following a car accident for which he was unable to get treatment at a white hospital and had to be transported to a much more distant black hospital, wasting critical treatment time.

But the Annals of American Survey notes:

"The authoritative work by historian Spencie Love entitled, One Blood: The Death and Resurrection of Charles Drew, described how the myth has been cultivated because of the time and place of Dr. Drew's death and serves as an unfortunate filler between living memory and written history. True enough, a 23-year-old black World War II veteran by the name Maltheus Avery was critically injured in an auto crash on December 1, 1950, exactly 8 months after Dr. Drew's death. He was a student at North Carolina A&T, a husband, and a father of a small child. Like Dr. Drew, he was treated initially at Alamance General Hospital. He was transferred to Duke University Hospital and subsequently turned away because they had exhausted their supply of beds for black patients. Mr. Avery would die shortly after arrival at Lincoln Hospital, Durham, North Carolina's black facility. Spencie Love's book discusses how the story of the lesser-known Maltheus Avery confronted the circumstances of the death of the more prominent Dr. Drew, and thus a myth was born."

Something similar was at work in the black response to the OJ Simpson case. To many blacks, Simpson was carrying the mythic weight of decades of ethnic abuse under the justice system. In a column at the time for Pacific News Service, a black journalist, Dennis Schatzman, outlined some of the black context for the Simpson trial:

Just last year, Olympic long jumper and track coach Al Joyner was handcuffed and harassed in a LAPD traffic incident. He has settled out of court for $250,000.

A few years earlier, former baseball Hall of Famer Joe Morgan was "handcuffed and arrested at the Los Angeles airport because police believed that Morgan 'fit the profile of a drug dealer.'" He also got a settlement of $250,000.

Before that, former LA Laker forward Jamal Wilkes was stopped by the police, handcuffed and thrown to the pavement.

A black man was recently given a 25-year to life sentence for stealing a slice of pizza from a young white boy.

In 1992, a mentally troubled black man was shot and killed by LA sheriff's deputies while causing a disturbance in front of his mother's house. Neighbors say they saw a deputy plant a weapon by the body.

Simpson case detective Mark Fuhrman was accused of planting a weapon at the side of a robbery suspect back in 1988. The LAPD recently settled for an undisclosed amount.

In North Carolina, Daryl Hunt still languishes in jail for the 1984 rape and murder of a white newspaper reporter, even though DNA tests say it was not possible.

These examples would be rejected as irrelevant by the average lawyer or journalist but in fact OJ Simpson's case served as the mythic translation of stories never allowed to be told. The stories that should have been on CNN but weren't. Everything was true except the names, times and places. In Washington, they do something similar when stories can't be told; they write a novel.

Something parallel took place around the same time when militia members imagined that the Bloods & Crips were being armed by the US government or when blacks believed the same thing about the militias. Or when the UN was thought to on the verge of invading the U.S.

Like urban blacks considering the justice system, the rural right saw things the elite would prefer to ignore. It observed correctly phenomena indicating loss of sovereignty for themselves, their states and their country. They saw treaties replaced by fast-track agreements and national powers surrendered to remote and unaccountable trade tribunals. And they saw a multi-decade assault by the federal government on the powers of states and localities.

Like urban blacks, they were not paranoid in these observations, merely perceptive. But because the story could not be told, could not become part of the national agenda, they turned, as people in trouble often do, to a myth -- and, yes, sometimes a violent myth -- that would carry the story.

We tend to get very self-righteous when dealing with other people's myths but very tolerant about our own. Thus a conference dedicated to spreading doubt about the Holocaust is an outrage but a generation of teaching Americans fabrications about the economy in the name of robber baron capitalism is perfectly fine even if it has done infinitely more damage than an anti-Holocaust conference.

The Holocaust conference was a mythological alternative to doing what many participants would like to do but can't: invade and destroy Israel. Defeat is a prime breeding ground of myth.

But even as the Washington Post was attacking the conference, it was slipping in its own myth, witness this report:

Even by the standards of Neturei Karta, these most ultra of ultra-orthodox Jewish Hasids took a step into the world of the very strange, if not the meshuga, or crazy, when they showed up as honored guests at a conference of Holocaust skeptics and deniers in Tehran. With a hug and a smile for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Rabbi Aharon Cohen walked into a conference room with former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, discredited academics, and more than a few white supremacists and served up a rousing welcome speech. . .

Neturei Karta is best understood within the confines and context of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which harbors the world's largest ultra-orthodox Jewish shtetl, or community. Here the garb -- black coats and hats for the men, wigs and demure dresses for the women -- is that of the 18th century, Yiddish is the lingua franca and there is no deviation from the teachings of Torah and Talmud. The Satmar sect dominates this ghetto, and anti-Zionism is central to their identity. . .

Neturei Karta acknowledged never before having gone to a Holocaust deniers meeting but offered no apologies; they are practiced practitioners of the outrageous. Chaim Freimann used to hang around hotels in Washington during the 1992 Mideast peace talks, wearing a Palestinian flag in his lapel and giving old-comrade greetings to Hanan Ashrawi, the Palestinian spokeswoman.

The Post thus declared as outrageous the idea of a Jew being on friendly terms with a Palestinian. And what is a Jew doing at Mideast peace talks anyway?

Once again, proof that it's a lot easier to explode the other guy's myth than to examine one's own.

America's view of the Holocaust, for example, is filled with its own myths. Such as the one that redefines Nazism and the European conflict primarily by its anti-Semitic manifestations, safely exempting us from considering the changes in German governance that led to these manifestations, changes that are becoming uncomfortably familiar in America.

And it is missing important stories, stories like the one Richard Rubenstein tells in the Cunning of History about a Hungarian Jewish emissary meeting with Lord Moyne, the British High Commissioner in Egypt in 1944 and suggesting that the Nazis might be willing to save one million Hungarian Jews in return for military supplies. Lord Moyne's reply: "What shall I do with those million Jews? Where shall I put them?" Writes Rubenstein: "The British government was by no means adverse to the 'final solution' as long as the Germans did most of the work. " For both countries, it had become a bureaucratic problem, one that Rubenstein suggests we understand "as the expression of some of the most profound tendencies of Western civilization in the 20th century."

And this one from the Village Voice:

The infamous Auschwitz tattoo began as an IBM number. And now it's been revealed that IBM machines were actually based at the infamous concentration-camp complex. . . The new revelation of IBM technology in the Auschwitz area constitutes a final link in the chain of documentation surrounding Big Blue's vast enterprise in Nazi-occupied Poland, supervised at first directly from its New York headquarters, and later through its Geneva office. . . IBM spokesman Carol Makovich didn't respond to repeated telephone calls. In the past, when asked about IBM's Polish subsidiary's involvement with the Nazis, Makovich has said, "IBM does not have much information about this period." When a Reuters reporter asked about Poland, Makovich said, "We are a technology company, we are not historians."

Similarly, in a mythology obsessed with Israel, the American story of secular Judaism has all but disappeared. Last century's great immigration of European Jews brought with it many rebels who had rejected Zionism if not religion. As I wrote in Why Bother: "They became part of a Jewish tradition that profoundly shaped the politics, social conscience, and cultural course of 20th century America. It helped to create the organizations, causes, and values that built this country's social democracy. While Protestants and Irish Catholics controlled the institutions of politics, the ideas of modern social democracy disproportionately came from native populists and immigrant socialists. It is certainly impossible to imagine liberalism, the civil rights movement, or the Vietnam protests without the Jewish left. There is, in fact, no greater parable of the potential power of a conscious, conscientious minority than the influence of secular Jews on 20th century modern American politics."

These stories make the Holocaust more complex than we would like it to be.

Elsewhere in Why Bother, I discussed a less contentious example of myths at work:

Consider, for example, the Ojibwa, described by Brian Morris in Anthropology of the Self. These Indians, a group of nomadic hunters and fishers living east of Lake Winnipeg, "do not make any categorical or sharply defined differentiation between myth and reality, or between dreaming and the waking state; neither can any hard or fast line be drawn between humans and animals. . . . A bear is an animal which unlike humans hibernates during the winter, but in specific circumstances it may be interpreted as a human sorcerer. . . . The four winds are thought of not only as animate by the Ojibwa, but are categorized as persons."

Not only may a culture define the four winds as persons under certain circumstances, it may also define a slave or someone from another tribe as not a person at all. Nonetheless the slave or the outsider really exist so at some level are treated as a person anyway. Hence people in such societies may trade goods with the stranger or attempt to convert the slave to Christianity even though they are not considered human. Or the society may try to quantify such anomalies as Americans did when they declared a black legally equal to three-fifths of a white person. Or it may create a hierarchy as Aristotle did when he confidently declared that "the deliberative faculty in the soul is not present at all in a slave: in a female is present but ineffective, in a child present but undeveloped." Or it may declare that "all men are created equal" but really mean only white male property owners. Or it may fight a revolution for liberty but leave women as chattel. Or the culture can painfully change such values over two centuries and still have to go repeatedly to court to fight over what was really meant by the change. . .

Here is how anthropologist Morris describes his own western culture: "It is individualistic, and has a relatively inflated concern with the self which in extremes gives rise to anxiety, to a sense that there is a loss of meaning in contemporary life, to a state of narcissism, and to an emphasis in popular psychology on 'self actualization.' "

Bad as this sounds, though, you will probably get along better in New York or Chicago with a loss of meaning, state of narcissism, or overflowing self-actualization than if you try to escape your angst by acting like the Ojibwa. In the Big Apple, to lack a sharply defined differentiation between myth and reality, between dreaming and the waking state; or between humans and animals, risks not only ridicule but actual legal sanctions. Even in a culture that celebrates the power of the individual, the restraints on that individualism are substantial and we, like peoples everywhere, go about our daily business regarding them as largely normal."

Mythology soars when a culture is under threat or in great isolation. Might the fact that the U.S. hasn't talked with Iran for 27 years have anything to do with the latter's current treatment of the Holocaust?

And what changes this? I have argued that if you want to bring peace in the Israeli-Palestine conflict you just put a few Wal-Marts. Thus you would rid the area of both feuding cultures and replace them with Wal-Mart customers.

The theory behind this is more serious than it appears. People get on better when there is something more important going on than what it is that divides them. Thus, despite all the talk about cultural diversity in liberal circles and on campuses, the places where you are most likely to find people of different ethnic backgrounds mixing well include shopping malls, the military, sports teams and ethnic restaurants. Key to the relationship is the fact that everyone thinks they're getting something out of the deal.

The same principle would work in foreign policy. The best way to deal with a harmful myth is to eliminate the anger, isolation and other problems that caused it to thrive in the first place. You replace them with a deal that works well for everyone.

These myths are not the problem; they are just good warning signs of the problem. Solve the problem and you'll get much better myths.

A dummy's guide to disloyalty

Lately, I've been trying to figure out how to pass on state secrets to someone without getting into trouble. I don't actually have any such secrets, mind you, but the matter is getting so hopelessly complex that I thought I better straighten it out before I responded to the small flower pot my neighbor across the street regularly puts on the sill of his right second floor window.

There are a number of models, each with their own hazards.

The most dangerous, clearly, is that used by former FBI agent Robert Hanssen. Hanssen's main error was to give the secrets to the Russians before Bush became pals with Pootie, to gave them really valuable stuff, to take a lot of money for it, and to do it around a photogenic and photomnemonic young assistant able to work well with photodocumentarian movie producers.

Considerably less costly was the route followed by Sandy Berger. For one thing he lifted his documents from the National Archives where even the secrets are more boring than those in real life. There is no evidence that he took any money for them and his beneficiary, while unknown, is more likely to have been a presidential candidate rather than some nasty Russian. For his penalty, as one observer put it, "He had to pay a $50,000 fine and pick up some garbage on the side of the road in Virginia." A friendly media made as little of it as it could, albeit quoting Berger's lawyer as saying, "It never ceases to amaze me how the most trivial things can be politicized. It is the height of unfairness . . . for this poor guy, who clearly made a mistake." From the coverage, it is fair to assume that much of the media agreed.

As this is written, I don't know the price Scooter Libby will pay - if any - for his alleged offenses - if proved. But not one mainstream journalist has yet explained why it is so much worse to lie about passing on the identity of an apparently not all that covert CIA official than it is to remove state secrets from the archives. If convicted, Libby - accused in the prosecutor's own words of a 'dumb lie' - will, at least until the pardon, face a dramatically greater punishment than Berger. And the befuddling thing is that no one in establishment Washington - regardless of their clearance - seems to give a damn.

I do, however, have the uncomfortable sense that if I were to steal some documents from the National Archives and stick them in my sock I might be treated more like Patrick Fitzgerald plans to treat Libby so I guess I better not try.

There is, however, one further possible route. Pass on the stuff, reveal the covert identity, but not to benefit the Russians or a fellow politician. Instead, give it to some officials at AIPAC to pass on to Israel. This encouraging possibility is raised by a report in Secrecy News about the espionage trial of two former AIPAC officials which is not going so well for the government. Judge T.S. Ellis III has raised all sorts of obstacles but the one most cheering to a prospective spy is this one:

"The nature of the relationship between the governments of the U.S. and Israel may also have a bearing on the defendants' state of mind, the Judge wrote, in language that may foreshadow close scrutiny of U.S.-Israel relations at trial: 'The more specific the details of the alleged cooperation between the two governments, the more probative [i.e., legally significant] such cooperation becomes," Judge Ellis wrote. In another important observation, the judge wrote that 'testimony that disclosures of alleged NDI were viewed by defendants, or their contacts in the diplomatic establishment, as beneficial to the United States' interests is exculpatory.'"

In other words, if you want to spy for Britain or Israel, you have a pretty good chance of getting away with it, at least in Judge Ellis' courtroom.

There are, to be sure, a few residual moral questions such as precisely how closely the goals of Israel and the U.S. are really aligned and who gets to cut the deal: the President, Congress or the people? And which policies are covered: attacking Iran, starving Palestinians, invading Lebanon?

So it remains a bit tricky, but, for the moment, if you want to steal state secrets in the safest possible fashion, just make sure AIPAC gets a copy.

Potomac playround

Phil Hart said the Senate was a place that did things 20 years after it should have. The same could be said of much of the rest of Washington. In fact the yet-to-be accomplished U.S.-Iranian negotiations are now at 27 years and still counting.

The common presumption is that such tardiness is a function of politics. In fact, it is more a product of culture, a culture founded on infantile presumptions about the proper image one should present. Thus you find grown men walking around the Pentagon with rows of ribbons on their uniformed chests to remind everyone of their purported accomplishments. You have ex-preppies plotting invasions against small countries to prove their machismo. You have graduates of Yale and Princeton, whose daddies - as LBJ said - wouldn't let them into the stock brokerage firm - figuring out the best way to torture people for the CIA. You have drones from business and law schools trained to think that certainty is an adequate substitute for competence. You have journalists getting big bucks for the privilege of sitting through endless, newsless White House briefings and flying off with the president to his ranch. And you have experts at think tanks trading arcane knowledge apparently unaware that their resulting decisions might affect real people.

Although there are far more women engaged in this charade than was formerly the case, the culture is primarily based on childish male notions of strength and prowess. The women who get to the top in such a culture often do so because they emulate its values rather than offering an alternative, witness the cruel capitalism of Margaret Thatcher, the indifference of Madeleine Albright to the deaths caused by Iraqi sanctions, or the heartless aggression of Condoleezza Rice.

We don't read about this or hear about it because the mass media is a fulltime participant in this never consummated ritual of manhood that our politics have become. In tribal times, the ritual would have been followed by manhood. In Washington, the ritual never ends.

The costs can be enormous. The Vietnam War, for example, was driven in part by Harvard faculty members trying to prove their virility. Over the last fifty years, a narcissistic establishment absorbed in its self-image and indifferent to its consequences, has destroyed constitutional government, made the United States hated around the world and done so much damage to the environment that two major scientists recently suggested that we better plan to find ourselves another planet.

The immediate problem is Iraq, now so much a mess that they had to call in a commission, which is to say some adults. As Representative Frank Wolfe put it, "there's almost a biblical thing about wise elderly people. . . I mean, Sandra Day O'Connor is not looking for another job. So they can speak truth."

In other words, to do in Washington what you're supposed to do, you have to be retired.

What's missing here is rational adulthood. What's lacking is a town that attracts those still full of energy but mature enough to put away childish things and moral enough to serve their land ahead of themselves. Instead we have a city overflowing with those whose egos and ambitions are trapped in almost teenage garb.

And so we have to wait 27 years for anyone to dare to suggest that it might be wise to talk with Iran. That's not a thoughtful issue for discussion on NPR or the News Hour. That's a matter for a therapist.

If George Bush has done one service he has brought the capital's destructive childishness out of the closet. What has still to be recognized, however, is that he is not an exception but merely a sadly extreme example how the place really works.

Pilgrim's folly

I have considered Pilgrims among the most overrated American historical figures ever since he wrote a college paper in Robert G. Albion's class on forty recorded voyages to New England before the Mayflower. And that didn't include all the ones made by those who didn't - or didn't know how - to write it down. About a decade before the Pilgrims, for example, Samuel Champlain not only visited Plymouth harbor, he charted it, including Plymouth Rock.

But history favors occupiers over explorers, hunters, fishermen, and traders. And the literate over the literate. If you want to be remembered here, you have to stay here. And write it down.

A wonderful history of Maine, "Lobster Coast," also suggests that the Pilgrim's Thanksgiving dinner didn't hold up all that well. That winter the Pilgrims were forced to go to get food from some of their pre-arriving countrymen manning a trading post on a Maine island.

The first Europeans to visit New England waters were probably Scandinavian fishermen, who could make the northern transit of the Atlantic and never be more than a few hundred miles from shore. John and Sebastian Cabot, five years after Columbus, passed through and charted Maine's Casco Bay on their way from Nova Scotia to the Carolinas. By 1602, when Bartholomew Gosnold arrived at Cape Neddick, his presence was considered by the Indians to be less than remarkable. John Bereton, the chronicler of the voyage, wrote:

"One who seemed to be their commander wore a coat of black work, a pair of breeches, cloth stockings, shoes, hat and band. . . They spoke divers Christian words and seemed to understand more than we, for lack of language, could comprehend. . . They pronounced our language with great facility; for one of them sitting by me, upon occasion I spake smilingly to him with these words: 'How now sirha are you so saucy with my tobacco,' which words (without any further repetition) he suddenly spake so plaine and distinctly as if he had been a long scholar in the language."

As far back as 1524, Giovanni da Verrazano, arriving to the west of Casco Bay near Ogunquit, got a reception from the Indians that suggested more than a little previous contact with Europeans or "the boat people" as the natives called them. The Indians insisted on standing on a cliff and trading with Verrazano's crew by use of a rope. "We found no courtesy in them," Verrazano complained. Worse they rounded out the transaction by "showing their buttocks and laughing immoderately."

As for Robert G. Albion, who got your editor started on all of this, his course was considered a "gut" at Harvard, heavily attended by football players and other lightweights. While I fit the latter category, I also was an avid sailor and an admirer of Albion's mentor, maritime historian Samuel Eliot Morrison. Much later, I realized another reason Albion didn't get much credit at Harvard; he was, well ahead of his time, a social historian on a campus that believed deeply that history was the work of great men. Nonetheless, another student of Albion named his motor yacht the "Robert G. Albion," making the professor probably the only Harvard professor ever to reach this pinnacle of honor.

Milton Friedman: Killing America softly with his song

You'd never guess it from the sycophantic obituaries, but Milton Friedman did more damage to American democracy and culture than just about any figure in the 20th century.

The sycophancy isn't surprising. Friedman was blessed with it from the start. For example, the supposedly liberal PBS starred him in a ten part series, "Free to Choose" in 1980 just in time to help Reagan win the presidency. To this day, even NPR babbles about the "free market" when you all you have to do is count the number of lobbyists in Washington to understand that such an economy doesn't exist.

Further, one of the best kept secrets of economics is that there are lots of systems that work provided, that is, you don't care who they work for. Feudalism, for example, was great if you were a lord, not so efficient a marketplace is you were merely a serf. And each system works differently depending on the culture in which it operates, which is why communism in the Soviet Union, China and Italy meant such different things. In the end, the real test of an economy is not its math but its social, financial and moral effect on its culture and those who live there.

This is why the commentaries on Friedman were so consistently wrong. They treated economics as though it was a cold science when, in a mind as distorted as Friedman's, it was really just a sort of creationism myth applied to money.

If you read far enough down the stories, you would find, grudgingly, a single quote from a critic. The Washington Post cited Galbraith biographer Richard Parker who said that Friendman's "passionate calls for financial and securities market deregulation played no small role in ushering in the half-trillion dollar S&L fiasco of the 1980s and the deeply corrupt Wall Street stock market boom of the 1990s. His tax-reduction-at-all-costs policies helped lead to the nation's yawning budget deficits." And the Wall Street Journal admitted deep in its account, "Critics said he inspired policies that put millions of people out of work in pursuit of low inflation and demonized almost everything the government did, no matter how beneficial or democratically chosen. 'Milton Friedman didn't make a distinction between the big government of the People's Republic of China and the big government of the United States, said James Galbraith, professor of government at the University of Texas."

But for the most part both public figures and the media bought Friedman's mythology, never stopping to look critically at the effect it had on America. Here are a just few things that have happened since America's elite swallowed the Friedman myth:

- Real income down
- Real manufacturing wages down
- Top one percent's share of wealth up
- Income gap between rich and poor up
- Family indebtedness up
- Bottom forty percent's share of wealth down
- CEO pay as a percent of average workers' pay up
- Workers covered by pensions down
- Workers covered by health plans down
- Age at which one can receive Social Security down
- Personal bankruptcies up
- Housing foreclosures up
- Median rent up

But the worst damage of Friedman economics is not fiscal but what it has done to the social and moral principles that made America what it was before the greedsters of neo-capitalism began taking it apart. The underlying principle of laissez faire economics is that power is intrinsically good and decency intrinsically irrelevant.

No society can long function on such a lie. It is essentially that of the Mafia with the exception being that you don't have to always ignore the law to get what you want; often, with the help of your lobbyists and purchased politicians, you can just change it to fit your needs.

The moral vacuum was clear from the start. Ronald Reagan said things like "We were told four years ago that 17 million people went to bed hungry every night. Well, that was probably true. They were all on a diet." And: "Unemployment insurance is a pre-paid vacation for freeloaders."

As for Margaret Thatcher, whose platform of public selfishness was used as a model for the Reagan campaign, she thought there wasn't even anything one could call a community: "There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families." Thatcher wrapped herself in economic slogans that justified greed not only to accomplish economic ends but also to deal with gays and abortions and everything else she didn't like. In her paradigm, the free market and Victorian tyranny formed a civil union. By the time Reagan, Bush, and Clinton were through with the concept, they had created a gaping corporate exemption from common morality and decency. The market not only offered adequate justification for any act, it had replaced God as the highest source of law.

We have paid a terrible price for this corruption of our culture by the new robber barons egged on by Friedman and his ilk. We so accept their foul standards that we don't even discuss or debate them. We have become prisoners of their lie.

Martin Luther King Day, Bull Connor years

I would like to celebrate Martin Luther King Day but I can't get Bull Connor out of my mind. I look for reminders of Martin Luther King but they are either old and weary or in lonely, small places. Reminders of Bull Connor are all around us.

The spirit of Bull Connor can be found in our foreign policy, in our police methods, in our treatment of the weak and the poor, in our abuse of the Constitution, in the implicit values of our media, in the violent forms of entertainment we prefer and our contempt for those who are different than ourselves, even in how we raise and teach our children. And, of course, as Charles Rangel said, "George Bush is our Bull Connor."

Bull Connor was more than a brutal police commissioner. In describing William Nunnelly's biography of Connor, Neal Tate writes, "Connor had the backing of the local corporate elite in spite of his declarations of being free of outside influence. Connor helped the industrial elite by 'controlling strikes...silencing radicals. . . Connor was exactly what companies that controlled Birmingham were looking for. . . ' He was counted on to keep the status quo. Connor 'stayed on the good side of the business leaders... [and was] always receptive to corporate suggestions.' His preaching about economy in government and no new taxes reflected the influence of Birmingham's industrial and financial interests, who 'always insisted in cheap government with only bare essential services.' "

In short, a Bush era conservative without the social graces.

It is hard to remember without reminders: an object, a story, a contemporary version of what we are trying to recall. The sense of Martin Luther King seems to have vanished. You won't find him in the Senate. You won't find him on CNN, nor C-SPAN nor NPR. He's even hard to find in the pulpit or in the streets. Bull Connor, on the other hand, is everywhere.

In that sense, we are living in a Birmingham before anything happened. Before Bull Connor was challenged.

But eventually he was, and here is what one man named King said about it:

I remember in Birmingham, Alabama, when we were in that majestic struggle there, we would move out of the 16th Street Baptist Church day after day; by the hundreds we would move out. And Bull Connor would tell them to send the dogs forth, and they did come; but we just went before the dogs singing, "Ain't gonna let nobody turn me around."

Bull Connor next would say, "Turn the fire hoses on." And as I said to you the other night, Bull Connor didn't know history. He knew a kind of physics that somehow didn't relate to the trans-physics that we knew about. And that was the fact that there was a certain kind of fire that no water could put out. And we went before the fire hoses; we had known water. If we were Baptist or some other denominations, we had been immersed. If we were Methodist, and some others, we had been sprinkled, but we knew water. That couldn't stop us. And we just went on before the dogs and we would look at them; and we'd go on before the water hoses and we would look at it, and we'd just go on singing "Over my head I see freedom in the air."

And then we would be thrown in the paddy wagons, and sometimes we were stacked in there like sardines in a can. And they would throw us in, and old Bull would say, "Take 'em off," and they did; and we would just go in the paddy wagon singing, "We Shall Overcome." And every now and then we'd get in jail, and we'd see the jailers looking through the windows being moved by our prayers, and being moved by our words and our songs. And there was a power there which Bull Connor couldn't adjust to; and so we ended up transforming Bull into a steer, and we won our struggle in Birmingham.

Who cares who was a communist?

Reading about Arthur Miller's alleged Communist connections brings to mind some unfinished business for American historians: a fair account of American Communists. Even today, the image projected by the media is heavily tilted towards the FBI version of the tale, an absurd melding of fact, rumor, fiction, and extreme rightwing bias.

In fact, many American Communists were simply people driven by a deep concern for human justice. If, for example, you went into the south before the civil rights movement and found a white working on the issue, it would not be surprising to discover that the activist was a member of the Communist Party, about the only one that cared at the time. Even in the 1960s, it was not unusual to run into former Communists providing important leadership, using their years of activist experience.

Were these evil people? Far from it. They were among the decent people in politics. Many were in the arts strong, sensitive and deeply idealistic. Others were in the labor movement helping unionists become so successful that more than a few would end up voting Republican. You can't tell the story of American social democracy without the story of American communism.

Where the trouble began was not with domestic politics but with the foreign. Precisely because they were so idealistic, many had a hard time melding ideology with what was actually going on. Even today, there are echoes of this in left debate: a conflict between intellectually-based and reality-based discussions of politics - issues of faith versus those of fact.

Nowhere was this more striking than with American Communists who defended the Stalin regime. A handful engaged in espionage they justified by their beliefs, but most simply tolerated, excused, or explained away the Soviet beast. The fact that Adolph Hitler was there as a convenient negative comparison didn't hurt.

Lest one become too sanctimonious about this, however, it is useful to compare the naivete of American Communists with that of the American establishment which has supported an extraordinary line of dictators and other monsters and helped create more such as Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Ladin.

As one who, at the age of 23 because of his parents' not atypical associations in the Washington of the time, found himself a victim of the Communist hysteria foisted by the FBI and others, I have long understood how distorted the story has been.

But when I read Marx in college, I couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. In fact, having stuffed envelopes in a political campaign when I was only 11, I was never sure of what the purpose of political theory was. Both Communists and political science professors struck me as members of odd sects far removed from the reality of politics. I didn't hate or fear them; I just didn't want to join them.

But misguided as some of their views and stupid as some of their allegiances were, the Communists I have run into have been a far better bunch than, say, the cruel, selfish egos of the Republican right.

Besides it can get confusing. I remember covering a major local meeting once and sitting behind the one Republican present. I was amused by the fact that he had been regularly voting in the minority with, among others, a man I knew was still a Communist. At one point the Republican turned to me before a vote and said, "Now we'll see how the hard left handles this one." I replied, "I hate to tell you this but you've been voting with the Communists all evening."

It is now almost time that some historian develop the courage to tell the story of American communism, not as the FBI and media would have us believe, but as the complicated, fascinating, and inconsistent story that it really is.

Running things

Kind reader William Davidson writes to ask, "Sam, I want to know why we can not get you to be the president." Your editor tries to soft--pedal the many nice notes he receives but this one is so excessive it deserves some sort of response.

In fact, I reached the pinnacle of my political career when I was elected a neighborhood commissioner. One term of this remarkably complex task sated all further political ambition. My problem, I slowly discovered over the years, was that while I have, run, or helped to run, such varied things as a Coast Guard vessel, radio station, political organizations, a band and an alternative agriculture center, I didn't really enjoy the running part all that much. It seems that the more power you have, the more removed you become from what attracted you in the first place. I also found myself enjoying groups and places where no one seemed to be running things because everyone was.

My father liked running things along the principles set forth in Winnie the Pooh: "It was just the day for Organizing Something, or for Writing a Notice Signed Rabbit, or for Seeing What Everybody Else Thought About It.." My mother, however, took an aptitude test that told her she was not likely to do well on boards and committees. She came home and immediately resigned from all of them. I have tried to take a more moderate position, which is to say that I join new boards doing something worthwhile but typically only to the point when they discover they don't have a personnel committee, a sure sign that they are getting too bureaucratic for my tastes.

The serious part of this ramble is that I suspect that there are many people like myself who could do a halfway decent job (thereby busting the curve) in politics or other places of power but avoid them out of ADD: ambition deficit disorder.

The guy who used to print the Review insisted that politicians should only be allowed one term and only one office during a lifetime. This idea fit well with one I have suggested, namely that each legislative body have a certain number of members picked by lot in order to provide a living benchmark. Perhaps, for starters we could have a separate house of Congress for lottery winners and short-timers: the Recalcitrant Branch. Our role model would be Cincinnatus who served as dictator just long enough to defeat the Aequi - it took 16 days - and then returned to his farm where the really serious work remained unfinished. Another model would be Benjamin Franklin who believed one should never seek nor refuse a public position.

I do occasionally have the fantasy that I would make an excellent post-revolutionary leader - the sort of guy who could cool things off, get the various factions working together, and move from armed critique to placid programs. The problem with this fantasy is that I would have had to have also been a revolutionary leader to get the job in the first place, something at which I would have been terrible. Further, a dissident faction would quickly discover my ambivalence towards power and remove me from office either by election or by coup and/or sudden death. At which point I quit my day dreaming and return to my true love, writing.

Hendrik Ibsen made me do it

I'm a little late getting down to work today because I've been attending a Norwegian Embassy symposium at the Library of Congress celebrating the one hundredth anniversary of the death of the man who helped to ruin my life: Henrik Ibsen.

I don't really hold it against him and I'm far from the only one who has been affected by the Norwegian playwright. At this moment, for example, some 184 performances of Ibsen's plays are being readied around the world, including one at Washington's Shakespeare Theater next fall. Others will take place in Nepal, Bangladesh, Palestine, Mexico, Chile, Cuba, Australia, Argentina and South Korea. New translations are underway in Polish, Farsi, Vietnamese, German and French.

Ibsen introduced to the stage, and helped define, the existential and humanistic side of what would become the 20th century. Unfortunately, within a decade of his death, tanks and submarines would make it clear who would really be in charge of the century and it wasn't to be existentialists and humanists.

Nearly a hundred years before Earth Day, he wrote a strongly ecological play and declared in his notes for another work, "There are two kinds of moral law, two kinds of conscience, one in man and a completely different one in woman. They do not understand each other; but in matters of practical living the woman is judged by man's law, as if she were not a woman but a man." He also wrote about child abuse, incest, business ethics, venereal disease and media morality.

He has been praised as the greatest playwright since Shakespeare. Freud credited him with helping him discover the Oedipus complex. The National Committee for the Promotion of Ibsen describes his writings as "alive and relevant, constantly rejuvenating new generations." And that's just for starters.

But in a new book, Said About Ibsen, novelist Nikolaj Frobenius points out that there is another Ibsen: "An argumentative, provocative, stubborn and prickly sod."

This was the Ibsen I met in the 1950s in high school, an Ibsen alien to everything the 1950s stood for, as removed from the gestalt of 20th century American Pleasantville as he had been from conventional 19th century Norway. A still subversive Ibsen.

One of the Ibsen plays I read was the Arthur Miller adaptation of An Enemy of the People about the doctor had tried to warn his spa-dependent town of the ecological dangers of their polluted water system . At first, the town is receptive but when they find out how much it will cost to repair they turn against Dr Stockmann and he then turns against them. At point he says of the town, "It should be razed to the ground, I tell you! And wiped out, like vermin, all of those who live with the lie."

If the play had been commissioned by Move On and written by Michael Moore, Dr Stockmann would have been an unblemished hero. But Ibsen was a writer, not a polemicist. And so, a half decade before Silent Spring, a young man was able to learn in one play about ecological hazards, whistle-blowing, and the hubris that can come from just being right.

With it, life became far too complicated to just settle down as a happy 1950s lawyer, doctor or corporate executive, especially if you had also read a Man in the Gray Flannel Suit and Willie Loman musing, "After all the highways, and the trains, and the appointments, and the years, you end up worth more dead than alive." Or one year after graduation, picking up William Whyte's Organization Man:

"The corporation man is the most conspicuous example, but he is only one, for the collectivization so visible in the corporation has affected almost every field of work. Blood brother to the business trainee off to join Du Pont is the seminary student who win end up in the church hierarchy, the doctor headed for the corporate clinic, the physics Ph.D. in a government laboratory, the intellectual on the foundation-sponsored team project, the engineering graduate in the huge drafting room at Lockheed, the young apprentice in a Wall Street law factory. . .

"Listen to them talk to each other over the front lawns of their suburbia and you cannot help but be struck by how well they grasp the common denominators which bind them. Whatever the differences in their organization ties, it is the common problems of collective work that dominate their attentions, and when the Du Pont man talks to the research chemist or the chemist to the army man, it is these problems that are uppermost. The word collective most of them can't bring themselves to use--except to describe foreign countries or organizations they don't work for--but they are keenly aware of how much more deeply beholden they are to organization than were their elders."

The problem with such an education is that it is far easier to write and read about it than to actually live with the message. At Germantown Friends School I was, politically and philosophically at least, non-radical and normal. One year later I would learn that Harvard wasn't interested in Ibsen, Sloan Wilson or William Whyte; and, still later, Washington even less so. And so, with no little help from Henrik Ibsen and those who followed, I became an outsider.

Even one among my supposed allies. Because if you approach things as a writer you see too many things to please the truly committed. For example, I have never subscribed to the notion that those who disagree with me politically are therefore evil. Some of this comes from living in a large family but I suspect the lesson of Dr. Stockmann lingers as well: the underrated dangers of righteousness. And so I found myself siding with Al Camus who, when asked if he were willing to die for his beliefs, responded, "of course not, what if I am wrong"?

Yet oddly, and without premeditation, I have spent an extraordinary amount of my life dealing with whistleblowers like Dr Stockmann, both as a journalist and as a board member of a fund backing groups helping whistleblowers. I wrote about it in Why Bother?

Whistleblowers, in the course of doing their jobs, typically stumble upon facts that point to danger, neglect, waste, or corruption. Far too often this discovery is met not with approbation and as a sign of exemplary public service, but rather as a threat to the agency or company. Among the consequences: firing, reassignment, isolation, forced resignation, threats, referral to psychiatric treatment, public exposure of private life and other humiliations, being set up for failure, prosecution, elimination of one's job, blacklisting, or even death. . .

From the doctor in Ibsen's Enemy of the People to Karen Silkwood, the nuclear industry worker killed after her car was forced off the road on her way to talk to a reporter, speaking truth to power has proved costly. The Mongolians say that when you do it, you should keep one foot in the stirrup.

Whistleblowers fall easily into traps that can hurt if not destroy them. They may become monomaniacal, paranoiac, depressed, confused, and terribly lonely.

On the other hand, whistleblowers have forced the cancellation of a nuclear power plant that was 97% completed, potentially prevented widespread illness due to poor meat inspection, ended the beating of patients in a VA hospital, and exposed multi-billion dollar waste in the Star Wars program.

And not all whistleblowers are defeated. When Ernest Fitzgerald discovered a $2 billion cost overrun on a military cargo plane, Richard Nixon personally ordered his staff to "get rid of that son of a bitch." Twenty-five years later Fitzgerald was still on the job. . .

One study found that 232 out of 233 whistleblowers reported suffering retaliation; others found reprisals in about 95% of cases. As Admiral Hyman Rickover told a group of Pentagon cost analysts: "If you must sin, sin against God, not against the bureaucracy. God may forgive you, but the bureaucracy never will."

The whistleblower, the outsider, the rebel, always faces the dilemma that trapped Dr. Stockmann. I didn't like his solution, but I understood it. There is no textbook for the outsider, only stories like Ibsen's. Here's how I tried to explain it in my memoir, Multitudes:

I didn't plan it this way. I didn't want it this way. In truth, a large part of me still would like to have been one of the popular boys in the class, but things kept getting in the way - some addictive confluence of moral aggravation, periodic accident, undisciplined imagination, sporadic and unpremeditated courage randomly suppressing chronic shyness and cowardice, sloppy romanticism, episodic existentialism, recurrent hope, stultifying stubbornness, and an abiding intolerance for the dull. A child's dreams and an adult's faith pounding tide after tide on the rock of reality, thinking that maybe this time I'll float off.

Some people take it personally, as though I rebelled simply to annoy them. They make little jokes about the fact that I'm different, as if I had a moral obligation to be like them. When they see someone like me coming, they close the doors of their institutions, their imaginations, and their hearts. We are, after all, thieves who might abscond with their most precious possession: the tranquility of unexamined certainty.

But it's really more like Vaclav Havel said long ago when he was still a rebel:

"You do not become a 'dissident' just because you decide one day to take up this most unusual career. You are thrown into it by your personal sense of responsibility, combined with a complex set of external circumstances. You are cast out of the existing structures and placed in a position of conflict with them. It begins as an attempt to do your work well, and ends with being branded an enemy of society . . . "

Those dissidents who somehow remain connected to the normal find themselves alone in the crowd. Even in my home town, I often feel an exile - as though all had emigrated except for me, as though somehow I had missed the ship. . .

Emerson understood the problem:

"You will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude."

Still, you can't talk about such things because it would further confirm the belief that you are best ignored, dismissed, or considered absurd. So you become the charming stranger from a strange place, you tell the jokes first, and you change the subject when it starts to get too close to the real. Better yet, you fool them into thinking that you are one of them even though you really blend better with those the urban itinerant Joe Gould described as the "cranks and misfits and the one-lungers and might-have-beens and the would-bes and the never-wills and the God-knows-whats."

Still, among the illusions of my life has been that if I stuck it out long enough, time would provide the acceptance that my words and thoughts had prevented. I. F. Stone used to say that when you're young you're blamed for things you didn't do and when you're older you get credit for them. It hasn't worked out like that, in part because just when I should have started coasting, the world around me took a nasty, greedy, and dangerous turn. America began destroying itself. It was the wrong time to start fitting in .

True, the best period for a revolution of the good is when one is young. To be twenty or thirty and part of an uprising of the collective soul is a rare gift of life. It does spoil you, though, for you go through the rest of your time wondering why that moment went away and why nothing seems able to bring it back.

What was unexpected, both in timing and intensity, was that I would not only live through one of America's great revivals but during a subsequent era when my country -- without debate, consideration, or struggle -- decided it really didn't want to be America any more.

And so today, sitting in a library that was under construction as Hedda Gabler and the Master Builder were being written, across the street from a US Congress that still won't deal with problems such as polluted water systems, I felt blessed by the ghost of that argumentative, provocative, stubborn and prickly sod. May he rest in peace. And keep everyone else riled up.

The hazards of estivation

A reader - and Democratic candidate for a New England state legislature - writes: "I have been a subscriber to both Progressive Review as well as Undernews for some time now. Recently the issues have become sporadic and now nothing. As a convert to SHAFARism I feel my 'faith' has abandoned me. Woe is I." [1]

There are two explanations, neither particularly satisfactory. The first is that the Review has been in its normal estivation mode. [2]

We usually announce this but what with 40% of Americans not even able to take a vacation this summer - some because they are running for state legislature - and with that ubiquitous excuse, a war or terror, your editor thought it better to pretend that he was still hard at work in the steamy capital rather than enjoying the pleasures of the Review's New England regional headquarters, overlooking beautiful northwest Casco Bay.

At odds once again with mainstream culture, your editor prefers the values expressed by Paul LaFarguein 1907 in The Right to be Lazy & Other Studies: "Jehovah, the bearded and angry god, gave his worshipers the supreme example of ideal laziness: after six days of work, he rests for all eternity."

The other explanation forces me to reveal one of the deepest secrets of journalism, which is that news is largely the artificial creation of reporters, editors and other media hacktoids. I discovered this years ago when I found I could date the seasonal end of news by an abrupt drop off in press releases arriving in our office after June 15. Now, with the Internet, I sense the same phenomena marked by the sudden paltry flow of RSS headlines and a large number of journalist-readers announcing by e-mail that they are out of the office until a date certain. Something similar happens every Thanksgiving and Christmas, which are probably the safest times to be alive, since no terrorist would waste a bomb knowing that so much of the media was off visiting relatives and not caring about what happened.

I will, however, say in my defense that - as is usual in rural and waterfront communities - it has been impossible to be inert for long. For example, this summer we have had two power outages of more than 8 hours. Standard practice is to call Central Maine Power and punch in your account number. This allows CMP to aggregate the reports and narrow down the possible wire malefactors under its control. It also wins you a phone call when the lights come back on. One night the call came at 2 am. I tried a switch but it didn't work, so said to hell with it and went back to bed.

But as I lay there, visions of melting ice cream in the fridge ballooned in my brain until sleep became impossible. I arose and messed with the Gen Tran switches from my portable generator to no avail. I then got in my car to find the wires I knew had fallen in the nearby woods and as I turned out of the drive the woods became alive with an orange glow.

With the power restored further up the line, our fallen wire had apparently done its mischief and started a fire accompanied by a strange electric moaning sound. It's not the sort of thing the brain - especially one previously only filled with visions of melted ice cream - can deal with easily alone at two am.

But I pulled myself together, called the local volunteer fire department, assured them that the blaze was only about three fireplaces large, and waited. Within minutes a small truck was there, the fire had almost burned itself out, and CMP was on the way.

At 4:30 am I got another call. Still half asleep I said in full greeting, "Thank you very much." The woman at the other end laughed and replied, "I guess you were expecting me."

I have also been deep into a locally hot and totally unanticipated issue during which I have spent two and half hours at the state attorney general's office, written one op ed for the Portland Press Herald, two letters to the editor and come up with a pull-out quote used by another newspaper. I have also testified before the Freeport planning commission citing James Madison among other things.

Unlike easy federal issues like Iraq, gay marriage and abortion, local matters are far too complex to sum up in a few sentences. Suffice it to say that it involved some residents of a development being unhappy with a semester program in coastal studies for 32 high school girls being planned for a small corner of what was formerly my parents' organic beef farm, which they started in the 1950s. The farm is now a non-profit (that I once headed), struggling to stay alive and burdened by too many decrepit but historic rural structures. The coastal studies program would result in one of these burdens being lifted from the farm as well as some additional income. But some of the increasingly suburban neighbors thought it would be a travesty of rural life.

The issue has made me realize how far rural reality has drifted from urban consciousness. There is a romantic notion that farms simply exist when, in fact, some 90% of farm family income these days comes from non-farm sources.

My investigations also reminded me of how important rural education has always been to rural America - from one room school houses to land grant colleges.

As I noted in a letter to the Falmouth Forecaster: "According to Freeport's zoning ordinance, uses within the RRII Zone are 'limited to those which are compatible with its historic and rural qualities.'

"Well, schools were a prolific part of the rural landscape including several in the area such as the Litchfield School, one near Flying Point, and one within easy walking distance of the proposed coastal studies program. . .

"One town in Maine had 14 schools in the 19th century. Typically such schools were placed about three miles apart, hardly an oddity in the rural landscape.

"You could not have had American agriculture without rural schools. They were inseparable. One study reports, 'During the 1930s about one-half of all children went to school in rural areas, where the proportion of children to adults was higher than in the cities.' . . . In short, if you really want to be true to the landscape's 'historic and rural qualities' we would need more and not fewer schools."

I concluded my talk to the planning commission by saying that "Finally, if you wish to preserve historic buildings, farmland, and open space, you must constantly be educating a new constituency. You can not have the things you value yet fail to teach our children their value. If we had been blessed with many more coastal studies programs over the years we might well not be in the ecological danger we now face."

And, I might have added, we might have fewer power outages as well.

So there are several weak excuses for the seasonal entropy of the Review. Shortly after Labor Day, I hope to ease myself back into hyperactivity - unproductive as it seems to be these days. Meanwhile, gentle reader, I appreciate your constant patience and forbearance.

[1] SHAFARS are comprised of - according to a Review article some time back - skeptics, humanists, agnostics, free thinkers, atheists and rationalists.

[2] Estivation is the same as hibernation except it occurs during summer.

The Luddites at Microsoft

ON THIS DATE in 1811, Ned Ludd and friends smashed weaving machines in effort to preserve jobs for the workers. Last weekend your editor observed the anniversary by attempting to recover from the ill effects of a smashed machine, in this case a computer.

It occurred to me, as I toiled away on the minutia of data retrieval, that the Luddite tradition was alive and well at Microsoft, only rather than the manufacturing equipment being the target, it is now the final product. And rather than destroying machinery in order to permit employees to retain old ways, Microsoft employees are destroying machines with delayed fuses in order to force the rest of us into new ways. They have taken the old scheme of planned obsolescence and combined it with chaos theory to create vicious and unpredictable interruptions in our lives. And because of the high volume of calls, they can't speak to us about it right now.

I know of no machine I have owned from my first Lionel train to my last car that ever displayed as many manifestations of ill health as the average computer. Further, while I have lost cars to thieves, collisions with errant cows, and old age, I have never had one crash in the totally inexplicable manner of a computer.

And so it was that during the past three days, I have made one visit each to Radio Shack, Staples, and Office Depot and two to Comp USA. I have had two lengthy conversations with Sony Technical Support and four with Checkfree. I have cursed my carelessness, gloried in unexpected gems still on my high selective backup discs, and been amazed at how many files one man can create between computer upgrades.

Even though Sony Technical Support assured me that there was no hope for my machine short of wiping clean the hard disc, I discovered a $50 wonder from On Track that allowed me to delve into the mysteries of DOS for the first time in years.

And so I sat for hours in front of a 13" black sky, filling it with alphanumeric constellations and feeling a bit like God and a bit like a damn fool. Somewhere in an unused corner of my mind the difference between DIR W and DIR P still lurked and as time wore on I found the uses of *.* and its variations slowly returning. I could, despite the contrary assurances of Sony, retrieve modest sized files as long as I remembered what was in them, based on the truncated nomenclature of DOS in which WHITEWATER SCANDALS CHAPTER 10 becomes WHITEWA~.DOC.

I've done as much as I can for the moment and the old machine will sit behind me for a month or so in case I can remember other goodies still hidden on it. If, when I reformat it, it still works, it will be exiled to my home where the present occupant lacks a shift key.

Meanwhile, I have a new machine. Which means I have moved from Windows 2000 to Windows XP, which means that (a) my old printer doesn't work with it (b) the old printer cable doesn't work with it and (c) I no longer can sneak on an old Excel program whose serial number I lost but worked fine except for a series of error messages. These are not revelations that arrived simultaneously, but were spaced with annoying distance across the past three days. And they all cost money.

My wife tells me I am far too stingy about all this, but I can't get over the feeling that one of the world's richest men ought to be able to manufacture an operating system that lasts at least as long as my Plymouth minivan, which not only is happily in its seventh year but has outlasted its own brand name.

Instead, I am forced by the reverse Luddites of Microsoft to upgrade when all I want to do is just want to keep on trucking. I don't believe it is really Bill Gates' business to decide when I should improve my lot in life, and it is certainly not his privilege to do so in a totally unannounced fashion.

At the very least, he could not be so damn patronizing about it. With each new Windows upgrade I find my work increasingly interrupted by strange cartoon creatures making gratuitous suggestions, balloons telling me the obvious, and formerly useful space taken up by visual therapy guiding me towards purportedly rational computer behavior. In time, I remove most of these invasions of privacy and sanity and get the machine back to looking as much like Windows 95 as possible. Still, each new edition presents novel challenges; I have already been peremptorily ordered a number of times to send an "error report" to Microsoft. But since I bought an operating system and not a long term relationship, I have simply ignored the command.

Meanwhile, I love my minivan more than ever. I have never had to have a conversation with Heather or Justin in technical support in order to get to the end of the block, it has no funny creatures leaping out at me, most of the time it does its job, and, best of all, when it doesn't feel well, not only does it usually warn me in time, there are scores of people in my town alone who know what to do about it and have it ready for me by the end of the day. Would that computers worked as well. SAM SMITH

The hazards of cleaning the attic

I'M A LITTLE LEARY of the plans to renovate the National Museum of American History. There seems to be a notion abroad that the problem with museums is the space they're in when, in fact, it's often more a matter of what's on the walls and on the floor.

I recently spent some time in the recently renovated Museum of Modern Art, which is full of new space. I suddenly had a subversive idea. I walked into a large gallery and stood in the middle of the room, about as far from the works as they would have typically been had I purchased them for a new McMansion on the California coast.

I found myself alone. Close to 90% of the others in the gallery stood about one to five feet away from the paintings, reading the labels, examining the brush strokes and looking thoughtful. I had positioned myself where I assumed many artists would prefer me to gaze at their work, but I felt like a philistine. I also had a hard time seeing the paintings behind all the people crowded around them.

The point is that people often behave differently than how others - such as artists and museum directors - think they should. In fact, the crowd in MOMA would have been perfectly happy viewing the art had it been hung inside a railroad car. I stood there and gloated about the millions that had been spent to make me happy in my "space."

Here's how Jacqueline Trescott of the Washington Post describes the plans for NMAH:

"After four decades of sending visitors through a maze of hallways and galleries, the museum is planning to redo the core of the building, adding 10-foot-high 'artifact walls' on the first and second floors -- glass cases that will display hundreds of items from the museum's vast collections. The center of the 750,000-square-foot building will have an atrium with a new skylight and a glass staircase that will allow visitors at the entrance from the Mall to see all the way through the building to the entrance on Constitution Avenue. . .

"The announcement of the new plan for the building comes four years after a blue-ribbon commission issued a report sharply critical of the museum's layout and organization. The report said the museum didn't meet any obvious test of comprehensibility or coherence," adding that even its employees got lost in the building. It suggested old-fashioned timelines, directories of the events of American history and a more coherent narrative.

"The panel was most concerned that the museum was claustrophobic, uninspired and cluttered. 'Now it has opened up the lines of sight horizontally and brought in light vertically,' [commission chairman Richard] Darman said."

In fact, the museum as it now exists is one of the most popular in the world. It is indeed cluttered, just like an enticing attic or basement; and it is sometimes uninspired but never claustrophobic or incoherent. It represents, with surprising honesty, the anarchistic chaos of American virtues.

Now, I admit I'm biased. The museum is filled with things I like, starting when you first walk in the door and ahead of you are the chairs, tables and counters from the ice cream parlor down the street from where I lived as a kid. Then there's the steam engine that is so big they had to build the museum around it and the upright transposing piano made for Irving Berlin. Berlin was self taught and preferred to play on the black keys, just like Mr. Platt, my anthropology teacher, who also gave me pop piano lessons in high school. In another room, there's a big navigational buoy sitting like a Roman statue to warm the heart of ex-coastguardmen like myself and an actual piece of Route 66 as well as a mid 1980s minivan just like the one I used to have.

Yes, I'm biased, but approximately three million people each year find similar icons with which they can recall, relax, reflect, and bore their families talking about.

But planners prefer things neat, comprehensive and with a coherent narrative. Not to mention timelines, even if nothing much happened in 1837 and even if time lines are not a particular useful way to organized as multifaceted a culture as America's.

And they love that space. Says Trescott, "The museum is planning to redo the core of the building, adding 10-foot-high 'artifact walls' on the first and second floors -- glass cases that will display hundreds of items from the museum's vast collections. The center of the 750,000-square-foot building will have an atrium with a new skylight and a glass staircase that will allow visitors at the entrance from the Mall to see all the way through the building to the entrance on Constitution Avenue."

The problem here is a combination of too little and too much. Once I've spent ten seconds seeing all the way through the building to the entrance on Constitution Avenue, what will I do next? Probably ask a guard where they've put the trains. On the other hand, ten foot artifact walls with hundreds of items - based on other such exhibits I've seen - will quickly wear me out. Such things remind me of the back room of shoe stores and I'll probably soon ask a guard whether they still have Irving Berlin's piano.

There is a tendency in the museum world these days, as elsewhere in America, to use design as a substitute for evidence, style as a substitute for reality, empty space as a substitute for substance, and abstract words as a substitute for specific knowledge. Ironically, it all costs a lot of money that could better be spent on creating the sort of alternate realities that actually draws people to such places.

The sad thing is that the Museum of American History already understood this. Now it seems to want to forget it all.

MORE MUZIM MUSIN'

2005

Brief encounter with the normal

Upon reading the lead story in today's Washington Post the thought occurred that if I weren't a dissident journalist I'd make a hell of a member of the establishment. The thought quickly dissipated even though my futile arguments that the president needed multiple sources of intelligence information rather than having it all filtered through one assistant had now been recommended by an official panel.

The story began, " A presidential commission assigned to look into the intelligence failures leading up to the Iraq war will recommend a series of changes intended to encourage more dissent within the nation's spy agencies and better organize the government's multi-tentacled fight against terrorism, officials said yesterday."

My idea was that on such matters the president should have at least as many sources as a reporter, and besides did you really want to rely on John Negroponte to find out whether death squads were coming back in Central America? But such doubts had been met with the usual blank stares and occasional ex cathedra inference that, unlike the inferrer, I didn't really understand.

Yet even with my new high level support, I am still left with a fatal problem. It was the same one faced by the comedian being interviewed:

REPORTER: And to what do you attribute your great. . .

COMEDIAN: Timing.

Nothing one says or does in Washington matters if it is said or done before the right time, typically that moment when the media, think tanks and "thoughtful observers" all finally agree it needs to be done - usually upon the suggestion of whoever is in the White House.

What makes this difficult is that Washington - as Phil Hart once said of the Senate - is a place that does things 20 years after they should have been done. Outside of evangelical quarters, there is hardly anywhere in America less comfortable than the capital with unconventional or new ideas.

Even if Henry Kissinger eventually agrees we should get out of Vietnam or the Washington Post finally comes to accept the notion of global warming, that doesn't imply one can suggest such things before the appropriate moment. Absent, for starters, a presidential commission report, a new White House or Pentagon "strategic vision," or a Brookings analysis, offering a new idea is the Washington version of insurrection.

Further, my experience has been that the more high placed is the person to whom one introduces a new idea, the more likely this individual is to be uncomfortable, dismissive, or suddenly in need of another drink. Unchallenged myopia is one of the most cherished privileges of power.

Once an idea has the appropriate imprimatur it is immediately treated as worthy of discussion, advocacy and thoughtful comment. It makes absolutely no difference if the idea is dangerous or absurd - Hillary Clinton's healthcare plan and George Bush's No Child Left Behind Act are recent examples. It is the source and not the logic that matters.

Tom Friedman can now lunch out on it, Jim Lehrer can stage one of his turgid faux debates, and Sebastian Mallaby can define it as possessing gravitas, a Washington synonym for mental ponderosity and verbal obesity.

As one who has been putting forth new ideas in Washington for a number of decades, my efforts have earned me such identifications as radical, eccentric, crazy, trouble-maker, and, as late as an introduction last evening, local revolutionary. But I have become absolutely convinced that the problem is not in my ideas but in their novelty. It's not even that they are terminally unacceptable - after all much of what I have advocated has come to pass - but that the other person hasn't been given the talking points with which to respond. In the end, I often try to calm them by suggesting that I'm not really a radical at all, merely a moderate of a time that has not yet come.

I sympathize with them in a way, though. I remember being annoyed by some of my freshman classmates who started quoting Marx in a course before that part of the reading was even due. On the other hand, I was at the time only a freshman and not a high government official or Washington correspondent for some major publication.

Now that the national commission has spoken, it will not change my life in the slightest, however, because the other aspect of this timing business is that precocious thought remains a sin even after the thought itself becomes acceptable. The FBI once had a name for this: Americans who took part in the Spanish civil war were listed in the records as "premature anti-fascists."

Still it was nice to feel normal in Washington if only for a few minutes. Now about that single payer health care I was mentioning. . .

What the Christian right forgets about the Bible

[This appeared in the Progressive Review during the Reagan administration. Not much has changed.]

Our text for today is found in the eighth chapter of 1 Samuel. When Samuel got old he appointed his sons as judges over Israel. As so often occurs with nepotism this didn't work out: the offspring taking dishonest gain and bribes and perverting justice. So the elders of Israel paid a call on old man Samuel and suggested that he appoint a real king like other nations had. This didn't sit too well with Samuel so he took the matter to the Lord and the latter said in effect, "If you feel bad, think how I feel. Look, I brought these bums out of Egypt and what do I get for thanks? They go and serve other gods. Now they want to ditch you too.

"So Sam, here's what's going to come down. We're going to give them a real king and see how they like it." Continuing in the more literal translation, the Lord said: "However^ you shall solemnly warn them and tell them of the procedure of the king who will reign over them."

Here were the ground rules the Lord laid down through Samuel: "This will be the procedure of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and place them for himself in his chariots and among his horsemen and they will run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and of fifties, and some to do his plowing and to reap his harvest and to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots.

"He will also take your daughters for perfumers and cooks and bakers. And he will take the best of your fields and your vineyards and your olive groves, and give them to his servants.

"And he will take a tenth of your seed and of your vineyards and give to his officers and to his servants. He will also take your male servants and your female servants and your best young men and our donkeys and use them for his work. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his servants.

"Then you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer your in that day."

I submit this as further evidence that the Lord is not a conservative but probably a libertarian - if not an anarchist. It is one of the tragedies of modern political debate that the Bible has been surrendered to the right, even when it is clear, as in this case, that the Almighty approves of neither authoritarian regimes, military build-ups nor the concentration of land-holdings. Consider as well the little noted fact that the Bible is far clearer on the evils of usury than of abortion and that it not only is far less prudish about human sexuality than some in office, it even suggests an alternative approach to pornography, urging that if one's eye offends thee, one eye and not the vision should be removed. Further, as some deep ecologists have noted, the Bible suggests that the earth is the Lord's and not the property of multinational corporations.

The ultimate irony of the conservatives it that they pretend to be a bastion of Christian politics when, in fact, they are comprised in no small part of despoilers, usurers, war-mongers, hypocrites, idolaters and groupies of false prophets - all of whom are frowned upon by the book it pretends to follow. And its opponents, who are more faithful to the words the conservatives only quote, are often such good Christians that they never say a mumblin' word about it all.

PHOTO BY JAMACDONALD

On the west side of the Capitol

YOUR editor enjoyed lunch today with his wife at Jimmy T's five blocks down East Capitol Street from where George Bush and his capos were being given four more years to do damage to their country, its constitution, its culture, and its environment -- not to mention further mischief to the rest of the world. The inauguration was taking place on the opposite side of the Capitol and there were hardly any cars or people and no signs of security.

The counter at Jimmy T's was full so we sat in a booth. The TV was on but no one looked at the inauguration and the sound was turned to WASH-FM - loud enough so you couldn't hear the helicopters overhead. For as long as it takes to eat a short stack with bacon and drink a cup of coffee we could pretend everything was okay.

The other day I walked by the Capitol and found myself wondering why we weren't more paranoiac during the Cold War. When Johnson and Kennedy and Nixon were president you could still wander about the Capitol's halls and through the associated office buildings as though you were actually a part owner. Yet if Tom Ridge had been in charge of setting the alerts for that era, he would have run out of colors. We were in far more danger than we are now.

Even if one wants to argue that a dirty bomb in a backpack is more dangerous than a clean bomb sent by a rocket or that a few suicidal young Arab guys are more dangerous than divisions of well dressed Soviet troops, you still do have to argue the point and that in itself suggests that the response should be somewhat similar.

But there's little similar about it and as I walked down the hill by the Capitol it suddenly struck me that this isn't about me and you; it's about them. We are being governed by some intensely frightened people. From George Bush on down. Much of the homeland security business, in Washington at least, is to provide personal protection to important people from the consequence of the extremely bad things they are doing. We are the victims of both Al Qaeda and Il Dubya, told to give up our rights and freedoms so that the worst leaders of our entire history can go about their business without having to suffer for it. The whole city of Washington has become the armored vest of the Bush administration and Congress.

Preppies at the gate

ALTHOUGH DANA MILBANK has done some good reporting from the White House he continues to display a curious anti-Nader fetish, most recently making fun of Nader selling books on his website. Given that Nader, David Cobb of the Greens, and Michael Badnarik of the Libertarians were clearly the three most decent human beings in the race who got any notice, the question arises: why does Milbank so dislike honesty and decency in a politician?

Ironically it may lie deep in the same preppy arrogance that Milbank's other target, George Bush, displays so regularly. It is the assumption that only people who act like them and belong with them matter. The rest are fools.

You don't even have to have gone to a prep school to pick up this nasty trait. Four years at Harvard or Yale are plenty to develop what songwriter Alex Jay Lerner described to as an "indubitable, irrefutable, inimitable, indomitable, incalculable superiority."

And since such people often go far in public life, it becomes a curse that affects us all. It was the arrogance of the Harvard faculty that helped mire us in Vietnam. It was the arrogance of George Bush that has us mired in Iraq. And no small part of the origins of such arrogance can be found in the training of such schools as Yale and Harvard especially if - as in the case of Bush, Kerry and Milbank - you add in the perverted and power lusting curriculum of Skull & Bones.

One can identify this way of thinking easily. Just ask a hard question and see how dismissive the answer is. Take Milbank being asked whether it wasn't strange for the Washington Post to have assigned a Bonesman to cover the election in which two Bonesmen were running. His response:

"I have been assigned to monitor all secret hand signals during the debates. . . I have it on good information that if this one gets tied up in a recount, [late Supreme Court Justice and Bonesman] Potter Stewart will return from the grave to write the majority opinion."

The odd thing about people like Milbank is that they expend so much effort trying to prove how sophisticated and grownup they are, yet in the end basically display a remarkable childishness. They are culturally imprisoned in a narrow set of values and perceptions and even in conversation repeatedly use the techniques of power - such as putdowns and dismissiveness - in place of intelligent argument.

Thus, they become little more than members of a club, rather than grownup members of the society they purport to serve or run. It is the irony of institutions like Yale and Harvard that they produce so many childlike products. And it is the thing that in the end make Dana Milbank and George Bush have far more in common than either would wish to admit.

Standing room only

Washington's subway system is considering removing some if not most of the seats from its cars, thus converting its rolling stock into high capacity freight cars for those it used to consider its valued customers. In one concept there would be just 16 seats in a car for 225 passengers.

While we have become accustomed to the disrespect of citizens by the police, airport screeners and so forth, we are less aware of the many ways in which government and large corporations increasingly demonstrate contempt for those they are supposed to be serving.

For example, corporations regularly add conditions to what was once a simple transaction. We no longer buy things from a pleased firm; we have to "accept" or "agree" to a lengthy list of stipulations in order to do so. I received an electronic device for Christmas and came within seconds of throwing away a small yellow piece of paper full of small print that in fact contained a code needed to make the thing work. This is a long way from the time when the worst corporate cop-out was that batteries were not included.

Politics also overflows with contempt for the citizen, largely in the form of covert bribes known as campaign contributions that have made a handful of individuals infinitely more important than the average voter.

Respect is essential in a functioning society, yet not only are we losing the concept, we don't even hear much about it - with a few exceptions such as Richard Sennett's interesting book on the topic. In a society where citizens exhibit mutual respect, class and ethnic conflict is mediated, people feel better about themselves and children are sent in good directions. In a society lacking respect, we start to behave like too many rats in a cage, we lose the sense of both the needs of others and of their value to us, and adult and children alike become lonely warriors in false empires of one.

In recent years, thanks in large part to the post-9/11 panic but also to a general disintegration of local culture, respect has been markedly disappearing from my home town of Washington. The cops have gotten meaner and more brutal, the processes more pointlessly complex, the interactions between strangers more sullen, the local politicians less interested in what people say, the bureaucracy more burdensome, and the weakest - including the poor, the homeless and our children - more mistreated or ignored.

It may seem trivial to add to such a list the proposed removal of seats on the Metro. But it is precisely in such small ways that respect or disrespect is demonstrated and announces its priority. I, for example, make a point of saying "sir" or "ma'am" to cabbies and clerks. I suspect I am in a tiny minority, but like Blanche Dubois, I have always relied on the kindness of strangers and have tried to return the favor, not for reasons of ettiquette but because it makes life far more pleasant and interesting.

Our officials - certainly those in my town - have become remarkably indifferent to such concerns. One Metro board member actually said, "Part of the goal is not just squeezing more people on the train, but making the overall experience better." That makes no sense; it convinces no one; but as long as you can get away with it, so what?

The fact is the early myths of Metro as a transit system have proved badly wrong. It has created more development than it can handle, thus actually contributing to street traffic; it has pulled jobs and residents out of the city while vastly increasing the number of non-taxpaying commuters coming into downtown; and it is now running out of money and equipment to do what it so vastly over-promised.

And the transit system originally meant to serve us has now become our responsibility to save. Our role has shifted from passenger and valued customer to mere input into the ongoing budgetary process.

If you watch for it, you'll come up with your own examples of the increasing disrespect of the powerful towards the ordinary. You don't even have to be poor. You just have to be one of those not in charge.


Living with the American family

Since the election the tone of our Feedback section has become more vituperative that at anytime I can recall. The anger is mostly not coming from the right but from liberal Democrats and is not directed at wrong-headed policies but at - in the opinion of our correspondents - wrong-head people and wrong headed sections of the country, particularly the south.

The irony is that these messages followed a piece in which I suggested that the future of a better politics lay partly in the toleration of some differences in order to unite on other matters, that there was no progress in polarity but rather in unexpected alliances. The first reactions were highly favorable but then began to shift into a crueler rhetoric of a sort that if, say, directed against gays or women, would get one censored or banned on many campuses. I had always assumed that diversity included people who didn't agree with me; many of our correspondents apparently do not share that view.

My thoughts on this matter stem in part from having lived in a part of the country that is a major target: the south. Washington is not really the south you may say, but I come from a time when it was very much so and my early reporting included covering the city's struggle to break away from its segregated past and related heritage which dated back as far as the Civil War when over half of the officers in the DC militia resigned and joined the Confederacy.

My experiences, which have ranged from going to a segregated school to working in SNCC, have affected my view of how change is really brought about. For example:

- I have seen Washington break with its segregated past becoming one of the most progressive cities in the country but then turning its back on its hard-won new values to become a corrupt and contented place where ethnic discrimination has been replaced by socio-economic cleansing.

- I have seen people with various degrees of willingness and fairness give up their old ways for something better. I have watched former voices of fairness become corrupt and indifferent.

- I have seen once deep antagonists discover common ground and use it for useful purposes.

- I have seen hate wither and decency sprout, but I have also seen the once fair-minded start to use the sort of slyly invidious distinctions that supported segregation to justify other forms of discrimination.

- I have seen principles and tactics, such as those invoked by Saul Alinsky, bring people together who are theoretically not supposed to be together and form powerful new coalitions. Out of these coalitions, diversity stopped being just a theory and became a personal experience and habit.

I have, as a result, learned to concentrate on specific wrongs at specific times and to expect, indeed try to foster, the unexpected.

It is bad enough when the right engages in slapstick slander against others, but it is scary to see liberal Democrats picking up the habit as well. Are we on our way to a sort of American Bosnia or Middle East?

We do not have to accept insults but that does not mean we have to match them and raise them ten. It is certainly, for example, within the realm of reasonable politics to start a boycott against a city or state that has show rank prejudice against gays, but we must always concentrate our efforts on those in power and not the powerless who, through propaganda and maleducation, have come to believe them.

I once asked the black journalist Chuck Stone how to get along with other Americans. As columnist and senior editor of the Philadelphia Daily News, 75 homicide suspects had surrendered to him personally rather than take their chances with the Philadelphia police department. Stone also negotiated the end of five hostage crises, once at gun point.

He said that he had learned how to listen and to believe in building what he called the "the reciprocity of civility." His advice for getting along with other Americans: treat them like a member of your family.

Which reminded me of something my father had told us from time to time: "You don't have to like your relatives, you just have to be nice to them." It might work with the greater American family as well.

A conversation with God

[Encouraged by our two leading presidential candidates I decided to also try to have a conversation with the Father Almighty. I got through without any trouble ]

SAM - Hey Pops, this is Sam down on earth just checking in.

GOD - Good to hear from you. I get so tired of those suck-ups at the Christian Coalition and the Republican National Committee. Like I told them, the deal was I work six days, take the next day off, and then get at least three millennia in comp time.

But, no, they keep calling me and saying stuff like "You're with us if we take down Fallujah, right?" and I tell them they're on their own but then they run it through the spin cycle and the next thing I know I got a bunch of dead or angry Muslims on my hands.

SAM - Got any thoughts on the race?

GOD - Well, I wish that Shilling guy wouldn't give me so much credit for his pitches in the World Series. I mean, where does that leave me with those born-agains on the Cards and the Yankees? I try to be fair, you know, but everyone keeps insisting I'm their God and then using it as an excuse to beat the shit out of somebody else. Besides, I've been a Red Sox fan since at least 1932 and it hasn't done them much good until now.

SAM - I didn't know you used language like that.

GOD - Where do you think Howard Stern learned it? I'm God to all people, after all, not just to George Bush and Michael Powell.

SAM - I was actually asking about the presidential race.

GOD - Oh that one. Well, I got to say I'm pretty disappointed in how you all are handling your democracy. Kind of wished I had thought of that one a little earlier myself, but then when Tommy Jefferson and the gang came along I had real hopes that the earth might work out better than it seemed. Now it's only two centuries later and you folks are about to blow the whole deal. I don't believe in messing with things, but I did try to warn them with those Florida hurricanes and all. I guess I was too subtle. I'd hate to think I'd have to come back down there but I'm getting pretty pissed. . .

SAM - Sounds like you're backing Kerry.

GOD - Well, I'm tempted but my basic rule is create and then stand back. But it's me damn tough, especially when you've got that Bush guy taking my name in vain every chance he gets and talking about sanctity of life and then going out killing a whole bunch of people. Thing I want to know is why does the sanctity of life expire after only nine months? It should have a longer warranty than that.

SAM - So you got anything less than an endorsement, say like a suggestion?

GOD - Me yes, here's my tip for swing states: vote Kerry and then gain absolution by voting for every Green elsewhere on the ticket. It's that old Catholic trick: sin and then say a few Hail Marys. I like those Catholics because they still sin. The trouble with the born-agains like Bush is that they think they're always right because they claim I said so. Never said no such thing. Ever heard of Bush admitting he was wrong after he found Jesus? I mean, my me, if that was the case I could close down this place and move to Texas. You don't need two heavens.

SAM - Didn't know you were a Green.

GOD - Well, I got to admit I prefer folks who try to do my will over those who claim I blessed them and then do whatever they want. Remember my man Frankie over at Assisi? He said, always preach the gospel and if necessary use words.

It was like I was telling my son the other day: you know, if you go back on earth you might want to think about registering Green. And he says, but Dad, I thought Bush was the Big Christian. And I said, my me, if Bush had been born in that manger instead of you he would have had cut some Enron type deal with Pontius Pilate, privatized miracles, outsourced charity, and give a big tax deduction to crucifix manufacturers.

SAM - I thought maybe you were more the Ralph Nader type.

GOD - Oh, I like Ralph and he and I are pretty much on the same wavelength. But it's like I tried to tell him, you don't have to do my will every damn moment. I said, why don't you take some time off, and get back to my will after the election?

SAM - Doesn't look like he listened to you.

GOD - Nope, but keep in mind that I'd still take him over the whole Democratic and Republican Party combined. And, me, have those Democrats been mean to him. They don't hold a candle to him but they treat him like dirt. Now I admit, the saintly can be a real pain in the butt, but, me knows, they do more for the world than the average politician.

SAM - Well, this is quite a different take on the election than I've been hearing from certain Catholic bishops and members of the Christian right.

GOD - So you think I'm going to go to all the trouble to create a world and then pass on my opinions through the likes of some pompous priest, Pat Robertson, or George Bush? I am the almighty after all. I don't have to use charlatans to get my word out. Hell, I'd rather use Jessica Simpson as my emissary.

SAM - Well, that raises a whole new issue, but I've taken enough of your time.

GOD - No problem, mate. Just answer me one question

SAM - Sure

GOD - I thought you didn't believe in me so how come we're having this conversation?

SAM - Well, you know what they say about us journalists. We'll do anything for a story.

GOD - Okay, but don't go soft on me. I get so tired of talking with phony true believers. Especially the ones who give big tax cuts to the rich and bomb the hell out of people they don't like.

SAM - If you want I could get you a list of states with same day registration

GOD - You tempt me but I think I'll stay here and wait to see how it all comes out..

A confederacy of doers

I had never been invited to dinner by Ralph Nader before, so I figured I'd better check it out.

The hall where the drinks were being served could have been at any one of the scores of events Washington was throwing that night, but the difference soon became apparent. The difference was in the cause and the crowd. It was a confederacy of doers gathered to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the publication of one of the most important books of our moment in history: Unsafe at Any Speed.

It had to be a large room because Nader, after all, was the guy who introduced cloning to contemporary progress. The business of leadership, he says, is creating more leaders, not more followers and the fruits of his labor were there: people like Lowell Dodge, Joan Claybrook, Sid Wolfe, John Richard, Teresa D'Amato, Russell Mokhiber, and Carl Nash. And reporters who shared or spread Nader's sense that the truth - whether in a Vietnam village or in a automobile factory - even if it doesn't set you free, may at least keep you alive. Reporters like Jim Ridgeway, Bill Greider and Sy Hersh. And people who had taken the Nader idea and applied it to other things, like Linda Schade of True Vote, currently leading the fight to make elections in Maryland safe at any speed of vote count.

Auto safety seems so reasonable today, but when Nader proposed Unsafe At Any Speed to a big publisher, he replied that "Alas, I fear it would only be of interest to insurance agents." Around that time, my wife, then assistant press secretary to Senator Gaylord Nelson, pitched a auto safety article to Parade Magazine that drew on Nader's work. They weren't at all interested.

The auto manufacturers, however, quickly saw the importance. Jim Ridgeway - whose coverage of Nader drew the attention of Unsafe's eventual publisher, Richard Grossman - described in a 1966 article the industry's reaction to the "lanky Washington attorney of 32 who recently has been getting publicity because he went after the automobile makers." His landlady got a call to find out whether he paid his rent on time. His stockbroker was called by an investigator who claimed to be representing someone who wanted to hire Nader. The editor of a law journal for which Ralph had written was approached the same way and asked about Nader's drinking habits. An attractive brunette approached him and said that a group of her friends were interested in foreign affairs and they wanted to get all viewpoints. Would he join them? He claimed to be from out of town. Oh that's all right, the woman said. The meeting's tonight. The next day, the man to whom Nader had dedicated his book, got a call from an investigator wanting to know about the activist's sex life and left wing leanings. And later that afternoon, Nader discovered two men following him as he flew back from Philadelphia from an appearance on the Mike Douglas Show. . .

If that all seems out of another time, consider this: from the moment Nader testified to the Ribicoff committee on Capitol Hill to the time that America had new federal car safety legislation that is still saving lives took all of about six months. Try to get anything done in Washington today in six months.

But that was a time of Phil Hart and Gaylord Nelson, not Tom DeLay and Duke Cunningham. And a time of Jim Ridgeway and Sy Hersh and not of TV toy journalists who look as though their last beat had been covering themselves at a beauty parlor.

Of course, the stories are still there. Dr. Sid Wolfe is doing much the same thing with medicine that his friend once did with the auto industry. Medicine - that's medicine, not disease - is one of our major causes of death through such things as adverse drug reactions and hospital infections.

Yet if you read the morning paper, you will get little idea of the problem other than as incidents without context, as if each bad drug was an exception to the general rule of benign health care. Perhaps even the user's fault.

Just like, forty years go, they said about auto crashes. Until Ralph Nader came along.

Ship of fools

THE SHIP OF STATE these days is a vessel full of fools, steered by an administration engaged in the reckless endangerment of its citizens as a servile and sycophantic media cheers it on.

Less obvious in Washington, however, is the almost total lack of voices of calm and care. Once, such voices belonged to people sometimes referred to as 'wise heads." They weren't really that wise at all; but they did help sometimes to keep the ship off the rocks.

In normal times, they were negative forces, restricting political, social and economic progress in the name of the status quo. They weren't even necessarily particularly honorable, for they included hustlers like Clark Clifford.

Their main virtue was that they periodically kept presidents and other politicians from making us all victims of their foolishness. This didn't require wisdom so much as simply the respected advocacy of traditional establishment ways.

But something strange has happened. America's establishment is no longer traditional. Many of its lawyers are not keepers of precedent at all, but wildcat litigators treating every social concept and value as just one more new well of legal opportunity. Its politicians rise from mounds of selfish cash rather than from complex and deep-rooted constituencies. Its academics and journalists have joined the cult of celebrity. Its business people have adopted the ways of gamblers and bootleggers rather than of producers and their accountants have destroyed the evidence. In short, the establishment class no longer cares all that much about the status quo, in part because in a derivative reality you are either climbing over someone else or you're dead.

So if you seek, in the midst of the present madness, some non-heretical voices saying, "hey, slow down," or "think again" you won't find them. And without that, even the normally heretical voices become more cautious and quiet until the silence is deafening.

The Bronx ate my postings

Your editor's casual inattention to duty over the past few days is in part the result of an unpredictable pleasure of parenthood: being swept into the migratory path of one's children - in this case from Long Island to the Bronx.

For the past eight years I have been an occasional visitor to Suffolk County, discarding stereotypes in favor of a view based on innumerable random experiences ranging from the pleasures of the Montauk coastline to the less pleasurable experience of being imprisoned with my wife and a crew member for 45 minutes aboard the Bridgeport to Port Jefferson ferry on a 85 degree day.

I have come to learn that Long Island does indeed have more shopping malls per square mile than just about any place on earth, but that not far behind is the acreage devoted to farming, some of the most productive in the state, that no one had bothered to mention to me. I have learned to expect to drive within blocks from a corner dominated by a futon discount store to a revolutionary era post road whose buildings and trees still remind one of what once happened here.

It is a place where the past and present have been dumped together, a place that can spawn both Walt Whitman and Bill O'Reilly, and where patriotic icons of post-constitutional America sprawl about the landscape like exhausted geese unable to reach their destination, yet where you can attend a Unitarian church and hear a guitar backed choir singing about Joe Hill.

Except when out on the battlefield known as the Long Island Expressway, the residents seem quite content with their inconsistencies. They neither brag about them nor even seem to notice them. It is the stranger, arriving with misapprehensions, who finds it all extraordinary.

But now, as uncontrollably as a tie-up at exit 47, it is time to leave Long Island and make friends with North Bronx, site of my daughter-in-law's next adventure with the medical profession. From a little cottage within walking distance of Long Island Sound to the eighth floor of an apartment building overlooking a subway yard and distant Manhattan. From a landlord who happily enclosed a porch for our granddaughter to the complexities of getting a new rug in an old, large New York apartment building. To one who has always felt threatened by the negotiations of everyday New York life, I watched with amazement as my son and wife double-teamed the issue with the aid of a cleaning woman who said she had told the super "I wasn't going to clean that rug because it was a waste of money. He was going to have to get a new one anyway."

Even as this is written the apartment is being repainted and rerugged and I have turned my energies to other matters like checking out the stores within walking distance and finding some lights for under the kitchen cabinet. We also ate in a restaurant that offered cream cheese for your bagel in two varieties: full or schmeared.

I am already proud of my new proxy neighborhood and am making secret plans to run my granddaughter for lieutenant government based on her connections with both Suffolk County and the Bronx. She walks with the self-assurance of a New Yorker so the rest shouldn't be difficult.

Meanwhile, I apologize for the dilatory postings and expect things to be back to normal by Tuesday.

What I learned on my vacation

SOME YEARS BACK a high schooler by the name of Sam used to take out our office trash and serve as our computer consultant (in no particular order). Sam is now with a major government contractor complete with a top secret clearance, but I always save up a question or two for when our paths cross, as they did this summer at a wedding.

I asked Sam what it meant when one of my laptops refused to start at all unless I randomly pushed various buttons twenty or thirty times until I happened on the right combination.

"Sounds like you need a new computer."

I wasn't going to let him get off that easily, so I mentioned that Maine had been extraordinarily damp this year and did he think that might have something to do with it. He immediately brightened and told me of the time he had recovered a wet cell phone by sticking it in the oven for an hour at 150 degrees. Sam suggested that I do the same.

On my return I quickly decided I had a choice: either Best Buy or the oven. I chose the latter and, being a bit more conservative than Sam, put my laptop in for a half an hour on warm. It then started up immediately.

Unfortunately, the bad weather continued and my laptop returned to its persnickety state. Not wanting to press my luck, I fooled around with the buttons and discovered something further. On the front edge of the Toshiba were a series of buttons I had heretofore ignored. On testing them, I discovered that, in the right sequence, my computer would still not turn on, but that Dinah Washington, who was neatly stored in my media library, would. Further, a little experimentation informed me that once I heard Dinah I was only a button push or two away from full operation. I have been doing this ever since, adding only a minute of downtime to my day, and holding Best Buy at bay for at least another month.

Calm down everyone

The current hysteria over the outing of a CIA official by Robert Novak is of little benefit to anyone except those wishing to perpetuate the myth of the agency among the general populace. The incident is a classic case of the capital's concern for an issue being in inverse proportion to its importance.

The media attention is being driven by a number of puerile factors:

- Some Bush capos' desire to embarrass Joseph Wilson.
- The CIA's desire to embarrass George Bush
- The Democrats desire for an issue, any issue, that might work
- And the media's desire for an issue it can understand.

To get an idea of how silly this frenzy is, consider what is being alleged - that Novak endangered the life of a CIA operative by revealing her name.

If she had really wanted to keep her cover, the first thing she should have done is divorce Wilson. Surprising as it may seem, the evil forces of the world are quite aware that CIA agents are omnipresent on diplomatic staff, hanging around ambassadors, and so forth. A would-be assassin merely has to narrow the field down from about a dozen people to pick his target. They don't need the help of the Prince of Darkness. In fact, the proper of Novak when told about Wilson's wife should have been, "So?"

I asked an old Washington hand how he would pick out the chief agency person at an embassy. His answer: "the one who was too much of a smart ass and [being on another's payroll] didn't have respect for the ambassador."

Over the years, much of the best work of the CIA has been done by those who in a different environment would be known as scholars or senior fellows. They get their status by knowing more about their subject than most other people and not by handing explosive cigars to their subjects. The good ones, as in other places such as the campus or the newsroom, are, however, the exception. More fall into that category well encapsulated by Lyndon Johnson when he told an aide to bear in mind that the agency was filled with Princeton and Yale graduates whose daddies wouldn't let them into the stock brokerage firm.

The evil forces don't usually assassinate analysts. Instead, they go after their opposite numbers in the spy game. In this game, the agency's record has been pretty pitiful ranging from painstakingly building a secret tunnel in Berlin only to find out later that the East Germans knew about it all along, to totally misrepresenting the Soviet economy, to not being able to find bin Laden.

The agency has been able to avoid responsibility for its history of failure largely because of a sycophantic media, some of which - hundreds during at least one period - were either directly in its employ or at its service. Given the contemporary lack of honor in the media, one might reasonably surmise that the day of the agency-embedded journalist has returned.

The CIA has all the virtues and failings of a government bureaucracy but without even the minimal open oversight that other departments get. During its history, only a tiny number of agents have been killed or endangered by the media. Its own failings, exercises in institutional machismo, career stuffing, and foolhardy fantasies have cost far more lives.

Howe many? Well, the notorious CIA official James Angleton said shortly before his death, "You know, the CIA got tens of thousands of brave people killed. . . We played with lives as if we owned them. We gave false hope. We - I - so misjudged what happened. . .

"Fundamentally, the founding fathers of US intelligence were liars. The better you lied and the more you betrayed, the more likely you would be promoted. These people attracted and promoted each other. Outside their duplicity, the only thing they had in common was a desire for absolute power. I did things, that in looking back on my life, I regret. But I was part of it and loved being in it. . . Allen Dulles, Richard Helms, Carmel Offie, and Frank Wisner were the grand masters. If you were in a room with them you were in a room full of people that you had to believe would deservedly end up in hell. . . I guess I'll see them there soon."

So calm down and think about something else more important, say like the law known as the Constitution that George Bush broke - by failing to uphold it in his lies to the people and the Congress about Iraq.

Born again economics
Putting the money changers back in the temple

WHILE A LOT OF attention is being paid to evangelical Christian extremism, far less is directed towards an equally dangerous religious sect - the practitioners of evangelical economic extremism.
Although the latter faith is not often regarded as an actual religion, it has far more in common with evangelism than it does with rational intellectual inquiry or thoughtful academic analysis. Along with the Christian extremists, the economic evangelists share an arrogant certainty, single factor fetishism, missionary mania, belief in intelligent design, an unlimited desire to impose their myths on others, and a rhetoric that is only meaningful if you already accept their premises. Their arguments are largely based on iconic folkloric texts and ignore the true variety of human existence and its communities and families.

And they both speak in tongues, which they consider a good thing. The big difference is that while the Christian bible has the money changers being chased out of the temple, the free market bible wants them back in again.


One sect blasphemes its namesake by practicing such unchristian traits as bigotry, intolerance, and aggression. The other mocks its namesake by fostering an economy that is free only to those who manipulate or steal from it.


In the end, both share an extraordinary narcissism with one putting their own salvation before everything else, the other doing the same with their own power and fiscal fortunes.


There are, of course, plenty of nice economists just as there are plenty of good Christians. The former practice their faith for the betterment of society just as good Christians practice love, charity, and forgiveness. They use their faith as a guide for themselves rather than as a weapon against others.

Increasingly, however, both Christians and economists have been tarnished by roving bands of heretical Talibanic bullies who have left the sanctuary of church and classroom to enforce their narrow and mean will upon the land. The one would have us believe that abortion and gay marriage are more important than housing, health and a breathable environment; the other that salvation lies in letting the robber barons do just what they want.


And as their false doctrine has caused countless suffering to others, these false prophets have gained status and wealth, an issue so profoundly raised by Ray Stevens in his epic work "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex":

Would Jesus be political
if He came back to earth?
Have His second home in
Palm Springs, yeah, and try
to hide His worth?
Take money, from those
poor folks, when He comes
back again?

For twenty five years, while one sect has increasingly controlled what we watch and read and how we mate, the other has helped create an ever more monopolized economy, indifferent to either conscience or consumer. One believes that their particular God and Jesus reveal all truths. The other says it's the market and money that does it.

In fact, it is hard to imagine a free market in a real world, and certainly not in Washington where 35,000 corporate lobbyists work hard to make sure the market is anything but free, as the politicians they have indentured and the media they have fooled prattle endlessly about said market's virtues.

Although free market advocates parade themselves as - and often appear to be - highly intelligent people, they are either exceptionally deluded or are perpetrating a massive fraud. As Robert Kuttner has pointed out, "There is at the core of the celebration of markets a relentless tautology. If we begin, by assumption, with the premise that nearly everything can be understood as a market and that markets optimize outcomes, then everything else leads back to the same conclusion -- marketize! If, in the event a particular market doesn't optimize, there is only one possible inference: it must be insufficiently marketlike. This epistemological sleight of hand is an astonishing blend that blurs the descriptive with the normative. It is a no-fail system for guaranteeing that theory trumps evidence."

In fact, any moderately observant person, not brainwashed by a quarter century of contrary missionary zeal, would notice that in addition to money, humans are affected by such things as community, religion, family, friends, social ambition, politics, virtue, and psychological faults and strengths. In short, the market driven society is just another form of false salvation being foisted on the unwary citizen, in this case by the Elmer Gantries of rightwing economics.

As with various forms of religious excess, the media has played a deeply enabling role. From the moment the Jerry Falwells of free markets - Thatcher and Reagan - commenced their con, the media bought into it with hardly a scintilla of skepticism. To this day one can easily assume from the media that there is a constitutional amendment guaranteeing a free market.

The damage evangelical economics has done of the country has been stunning, ranging from the extreme monopolization of American business to the disintegration of our language into a collection of corporate cliches. It has destroyed pensions, made decent healthcare and housing ever more difficult, and threatened social security. And yet none dare call these tyrants bullies, fools or liars.

In the end, it may be argued that all promises of salvation are false, but if a Christian evangelist and a market missionary should happen to ring your door at the same time, go with Jesus. Even the most extreme Christian advocate will at least offer you food, shelter, and warmth. The free marketer will leave you dying in the gutter, and standing over your last gasps, proudly tell you that the market was right again.

2004

Zero tolerance: fool's goal

During the Cold War someone defined the difference between the major parties this way:

In America everything is permitted that is not prohibited.
In Germany everything is prohibited that is not permitted.
In France everything is permitted even though it is prohibited.
In Russia everything is prohibited even though it is permitted.

One of the ironies of that great conflict is that while the Soviets lost the political struggle, they seem to have won the cultural one; America is not only engorging itself on prohibition it constantly brags about it. Raising gross oversimplification, automated distrust, and cultural intolerance to a national credo, one need only declare "zero tolerance" towards some malfeasance to be loudly applauded by public and media alike.

And of what are we zero intolerant? Of students, the poor, those who prefer drugs less addictive or damaging than vodka or tobacco, the alienated, the unconventional, the mentally ill, and any other group that stands zero chance in such a culture.

We are not, however, totally without tolerance,. For example, we tolerate television and movies and computer games that teach some young people how to kill and maim. We tolerate a president who is the anti-democratic, dissembling companion of a gaggle of certified felons and lesser miscreants. We are tolerant of anyone with enough zeroes after the dollar sign in their gross income. We tolerate the destruction of our national, state and local sovereignty by an international gang of lawyers and their corporate clients. We tolerate an extraordinary and growing maldistribution of wealth. The destruction of the environment, the commercialization of community and sport. And so forth.

There is, in fact, no ethical principle that guides us as we veer from cruel suppression to self-serving laissé faire. In its ad hoc nature, its absurd results, and the uniform vulnerability of the targets, zero tolerance reminds one of nothing so much as southern justice before the civil rights movement or the unequal ministration of the law in a police state. In many ways zero tolerance is just another way of saying we have legalized prejudice and hate as well as arbitrary and capricious power.

We have also legalized violence. The bully on the playground and the abusive husband provided prototypes for zero tolerance because, like the abusive and bullying politician of today, they exercised power without reason or justice against a victim too weak to resist.

It is also a fool's paradise. Too often zero tolerance has arithmetically similar results, a fact typically ignored by a media easily infatuated with any idea that sounds as though it might work. Thus we don't hear much about the failure of those once vaunted boot camps, the "crackdowns" without results, and the dark side of simplistic remedies.

Until that is, as in Maryland recently, the government is forced to concede that its guards had, in the words of one account, "routinely beaten and brutalized cadets, smashing heads into the ground, gouging eyes and, in one case, fracturing a wrist."

There is also short shrift given to less brutal and simplistic approaches. For example, a 1996 study by the Rand Institute found that programs to help youths finish high school were five times more cost effective than harsh jail terms. The study also found that parent training programs prevented approximately 160 crimes for every million dollars budgeted for them. In contrast, "three strikes" measures were found to prevent only 62 crimes for every million dollars budgeted. Meanwhile, the most disastrous example of zero tolerance - the war on drugs - continues on autopilot even as the government itself is forced to admit failure.

We live in a time when we are constantly being taught by government and media to forget our most basic instincts, the lessons from our own past, and the wisdom of those who helped us along the way. There is an unstated presumption that we have somehow moved into a period so complex and novel that our own culture and tradition have no further use. If we are to be saved, we must instead upon external protectors such as the law, the military, and a proliferation of plenary prohibitions.

Only the frightened, the defeated, the vengeful, and the badly confused would voluntarily accept such a coup against reason. And even if one explains as simple prejudice the mistreatment of ethnic minorities, the homeless, the addicted, and the otherwise hapless, how does one explain the use against our own young of infinite intolerance -- which is, after all, the unspoken corollary of zero tolerance?

Do we really hate them that much? If we cannot treat our own young with compassion, love, and respect then what human is left in us? What worse epitaph for a country than that it despises its own offspring?

Perhaps there is a connection between our treatment of the young and the shrinking years of productive work in America. Richard Sennett in The Corrosion of Character points out the problem at the other end: the number of men aged 54-65 still in the workplace dropped from nearly 80% in 1970 to 65% in 1990. The rate of involuntary dismissal has doubled in the last twenty years for men in their 40s to early 50s. Combined with a later age at which the young become significantly employed, this has greatly narrowed the lifespan of individual usefulness.

Adolescents who ran farms and captained ships when this country was young and its median age was in the teens, have now become surplus demographic inventory. Perhaps this explains our growing intolerance of youth as we cull from those huge cold warehouses called high schools that minority compliant and competent enough needed to fill the country's productive requirements. The rest we label, dismiss, ignore, punish, and cage if need be.

I do not say we do this consciously, but increasingly I can find no better explanation for the mean-spirited measures espoused on behalf of "normalcy" and for the distaste we display towards our young. We don't need them, we don't want them, and we say they are to blame, not just for the errors of their ways, but for existing in the first place.

So grudgingly welcomed into contemporary American culture, the young may react with confusion, creativity, anger, or depression. We can expect a wide range of responses but we should not be surprised if among them is pure rage itself scaled from the silent to the explosive. This rage doesn't describe a generation, it is not normal, but given the dysfunction of adult America and the technical training in destruction provided by television and movies, we should consider ourselves lucky that it does not reveal itself more often.

And it's not just the young. Joel Dyer, author of Harvest of Rage, notes that there are 15 million poor middle-age white men in this country "who have more in common with urban blacks and Hispanics than they do with the average CEO." This constituency has, like that of the young, has been cast adrift by our culture. Says Dyer in an interview in the Sun Magzine, "Once long-term depression, chronic depression, has set in, only three things can happen: One, you can get help through counseling and the like. But because most people caught in an economic crisis don't have insurance. . . that option doesn't exist for the bast majority. The next option is that you turn the anger inward, which means maybe you kill yourself or drive your family away . . . The last option is that you turn your anger outward, into some form of anger."

Dyer points out that there's no help for these men from the left which has vilified them as "rednecks" and "Bubbas" and they become easy clients of preachers of violence. Just like those kids we dismiss as Goths or part of a "trench coat mafia."

It doesn't have to work out like this. We could make it the nation's business to find a place for everyone, not just for the abandoned young but the abandoned middle-aged and older American as well. We could teach and practice a discipline that grew along with compensating respect and compassion rather than under a cascade of threats and punishments. We could turn our backs on simplistic notions and our hands towards building communities in which no group is considered expendable or irredeemable. And, most of all, we could model ourselves on those who -- because of their kindness, wisdom, and tolerance -- were able to help even us to grow up as reasonably decent human beings.

 

JOHN WIEBENSON

John Wiebenson

Architect John Wiebenson died the way he lived - helping somebody and fixing something. He had gone to Martha's Table to check out a fumed filled space below an old auto garage planned as part of the social service organization's expansion. The fire department said later that only 4% of the air down there was oxygen, not enough to keep someone alive. In fact, for several hours the only people who went in wore gas masks and hazmat clothing.

But Wiebenson was not easy to dissuade once he decided something needed to be done. And he had imported to this capital of risk aversion some of the casual affection for adventure of the Colorado in which he had been raised. Wieb, as everyone called him, simply did what he thought had to be done.

Which is one reason there was housing for Resurrection City in the 1960s and the Old Post Office is still on Pennsylvania Avenue and some of the niftiest maps of DC were published and Bread for the City got a new headquarters. And some landscaping. The Washington Post that the organization had told Wieb it couldn't afford any landscaping. The executive director "arrived at the site one Sunday to find Wiebenson there, digging with a shovel and pulling weeds."

Wieb was also one that tiny party of architects who really understand that buildings are meant to serve people and not the other way around. He also understood that one of the ways this happened was with spaces that made you happy. Joanne Leonard wrote in the Washington Post, "With cutout paper letters stuck to the window of his Connecticut Avenue office, John Wiebenson identifies himself and his partner, Kendall Dorman, as 'basic' architects."

I knew that office well because for 23 years I was a subtenant in a back room at ridiculously low rent. It was a complicated arrangement because while I was Wieb's tenant, he was my cartoonist, and I had the only fax machine on the floor. And the only bathroom. Wieb created for the DC Gazette (now the Progressive Review) the first urban planning comic strip in the country, Archihorse, a subtle graphic blend of his professional and geographic background.

One of the things I noticed along the way was how comfortable Wieb was with something that either bores or baffles some architects - the details of making your dreams actually function. There was just no conflict in Wieb's mind between imagination and results. It had to be different and it had to work.

His house was right around the corner on S Street where he lived with Abigail - his wife, anchor to windward, enthusiast, calmer down, brightener up, and head of Lowell School - plus three sons striving to outdo their father in independence, competence, and humor. They lived in an anarchistic mélange of styles, but mostly in a place that, while lacking the look, still somehow had the feel of a western cabin that you had just entered after a long ride in the snow.

It was there that Wieb had presided over Wild Man Nights, Friday meals at which he and his young sons would prepare and eat a meal without any utensils or normal table manners, picking up steaks in their hands and smashing baked potatoes with their fists while reading and discussing the latest comic books. Like most of what Wieb did or built, Wild Man Nights had several primary characteristics: they were different, they were fun, and they worked.

What you have read here over the years has been deeply affected by my proximity to this remarkable man who loved freedom and common sense and helped me to cling on to them. I hope I can still do it without his encouragement and laughter.

Role model

ONE OF THE MOST PLEASANT SCENES on television this weekend was that of Andy Roddick winning his championship. As the Washington Post put it: "Roddick yelped. He cried. Every sentiment he'd ever tucked into his 6-foot-2 frame boiled over and out onto the court, until all he could do was stagger toward his family in the stands, repeating 'I don't believe it, I don't believe it' over and over again. . . For two weeks, he'd been careful. For two weeks, he'd been cautious. For two weeks, Andy Roddick had kept his bubbling emotions from washing him out of this U.S. Open. . . Holding the trophy five minutes later, he wasn't any more calm, nor any more trusting. . . He hugged the silver cup tightly, daring anyone to take it away from him, and when it wasn't nearby after a trip to the locker room, he asked for it again."

Roddick's joy and enthusiasm was in marked contrast to the standard victory reaction these days. Somewhere along the way, unabashed pleasure at winning has typically been replaced by a pugnacious and self-righteous gesture that is somehow both triumphant and angry in which the victor clenches fists, pumps arms upward, and grimaces without a hint of grace or sportsmanship. Thanks to Roddick, we got to see what winning a championship used to be about.

My summer

In a few days your editor will return to that town of which - in Gore Vidal's novel of the same name - Senator Burden Day remarks, "hypocrisy is our shield; inaction is our sword." It is a place where (as Russell Baker once noted) solemnity is confused with seriousness and where clichés pass for ideas, projections cross-dress as reality, and no one can remember what anyone did more than six months ago.

To suggest how different it has been the past few weeks on the shores of Casco Bay, Maine, I have made a list of some things about which I have talked that never seem to come up in Washington. The converse is also true. For example, the topic of terrorism was raised only once, by my younger sister who has recently joined the Coast Guard Auxiliary. She mentioned that she had been assigned to patrol aboard a Casco Bay Line ferry during the Code Yellow alert. And what, I asked, would you have done if you had found a terrorist hidden among the tourists and islanders on their way to Chebeague or Peaks? "I would have told the captain," she explained. It sounded sensible to me.

On the other hand, here are some of the other subjects that did come up:

Is the tree whose large limb fell across the Burnett Road likely also to collapse against Charlie's house?

Is it true that ospreys and seals, while accustomed to motorboats approaching, are spooked by brightly colored kayaks?

Why are clam prices so high and why isn't the lobster business better?

How Paul at the Bow Street Market is dealing with his meat delivery problems.

Is grazing young steers for the season and then selling them preferable to a year-round livestock program?

A discussion with Andy, the state park director, and his assistant Patty about the best way to handle the brown tail moth crisis slowly spreading along the Maine coast.

Further discussions with the aforementioned on whether hardwood or softwood tree were most likely to grow in an untended pasture.

Whether a dowser should be called in to find a desired well. I offered a recollection of the time when my father got Henry Gross up from Kennebunk for a whole day. This man was so impressive - after all, he had found water in Bermuda simply by dowsing over a map - that two of his fans joined him on the daylong expedition to our farm: one was the novelist Kenneth Roberts and the other was the actress, Bette Davis. When my father died, the minister apologized to the family as we approached the grave site for the diggers had struck water. To the minister's mixed confusion and relief, we all laughed.

What is the best dinghy to replace the old leaky one? And what to call it?

Simultaneous contact with which two metal objects gets the lawn mower going despite a broken starter?

Can anyone remember such a foggy August?

The politics of buying a lighthouse.

A brief conversation with Tommy as he was leaving the Jamison Tavern after dinner in order to go to Portland, where he would captain a tugboat helping a tanker into port that night.

How to get a bit out of a recalcitrant keyless chuck?

My latest acquired Maine story, to wit: Bert and I was walkin' along the shore when a seagull shat on his head. "You want me to get some toilet paper?" I asked him. "Nope," he said, "that bird's left already."

And soon, so will I.

My late Aunt Kate

Although a Republican, my grandmother had been an active suffragette. She had three sons. One was my father. Another was lost off Admiral William Halsey's first command while going forward to secure an open hatch in a stormy sea. The third was Ludlow, who gained early folk hero status for me because of his acquisition of the entire family attic for a large-scale train layout. By the time I found it, the rolling stock was down to an engine and several cars, but Ludlow had made his own rails and switches and had covered all the attic floor with them in the manner of a major freight marshalling yard.

As if this were not honor enough for one uncle, Ludlow had also been married to Katherine Hepburn, a marriage that soon proved incompatible with Hepburn's stage and movie career. They were divorced three years before I was born.

My father always seemed annoyed at the mention of Hepburn, perhaps out of loyalty to his brother, and I felt tension when my mother would speak fondly of her and of the lively dinners at Granny's house when she was present. Granny also liked Hepburn. The three strong women had much to talk about.

Even Ludlow, it would turn out, was still fond of his ex-wife. In later years, very quietly, the two would see each other and, after the death of Spencer Tracey, spend weekends together. Once - only once and when I was young - I met her. My father reluctantly took his family backstage at a Philadelphia performance. She looked down at us and explained how she really loved Lud but had loved her work more. It sounded reasonable to me.

A cousin of mine recalls as a youth being seated in the front row during a performance and noticing that Hepburn seemed to be playing directly at him. He was flattered, but not completely surprised. After all, Hepburn had lived for a while at his grandmother's house when his mother was young. Afterwards, he was taken backstage to meet the actress. Hepburn remarked that she had noticed him in the audience. My cousin was delighted until she added, "You were the only person in the audience chewing gum."

Over the years my father and Ludlow grew apart. Ludlow seemed disinterested in seeing his brother. My parents finally invited themselves for a visit in Connecticut on the way to Maine. There they found a man struggling with a deeply alcoholic second wife and they understood and the barrier was broken.

By then, however, it was too late to get to know this charming and bright man who had been an early expert on computer installations for banks and who, to the end, still had a model railroad layout. I saw him a few times, always with a sense of denied discovery.

So there were many stories I never heard. Like the one Hepburn told in her autobiography of Ludlow and a friend renting a stone hut near the Bryn Mawr campus, where among other things Luddy, as she called him, took nude photos of Kate. Like the time Luddy, before they were married, accidentally set himself ablaze while lighting a fire with kerosene with Hepburn leaping from the tub and directing, in the nude, their housemates as they saved both my uncle and the house.

Things like that weren't meant to happen in my family.

In her autobiography, Hepburn regrets her treatment of Luddy, saying that "the truth has to be that I was a terrible pig." She then describes the uncle I never knew:

"Luddy could make anything work - my life - the car - the furnace - the this - the that. Carpenter-mechanic-plumber. It was great. But mostly - from the beginning - he was - what shall I say? - he was there. . . I could ask him anything. He would do anything. You just don't find people like that in life. Unconditional love."

I think I, too, would have liked him very much. Love in my family was always conditional.

After my father died, Ludlow and Kate made a number of visits to my mother in Maine, usually in the fall after children and visitors had left. On the first, she stopped by the home of an older neighbor to ask for directions. Mrs. Nason, every bit as comfortable in her being as the stranger, said, "Why you're Katherine Hepburn. You must come in and have lunch." Hepburn settled for directions and continued down the country road.

Ludlow and Kate traveled with Hepburn's aging secretary and carried a toaster oven so they could avoid eating in public. Visiting my mother, however, had other risks, once verging on the mortal as my mother, who drove with exuberance on the back roads, sideswiped a truck coming the other way, totaling her car and in the process nearly killing herself, Hepburn, her brother-in-law and the aging secretary.

Katherine Hepburn did not take umbrage at this, however, perhaps because she and my mother shared a fascination with each other, the actress once telling a friend, "If someone would write a play about Eleanor, I would take the part." I would have enjoyed seeing that play. - SAM SMITH

FROM 'MULTITUDES: AN UNAUTHORIZED MEMOIR'

Time Warp

I was 34 when the draft ended. In the preceding years my own views had shifted from those of a cold war liberal to those of an ambivalent apathetic and finally to those of a situational pacifist. But whatever my personal beliefs, I was deeply and constantly conscious of the inevitability of the military's involvement in, and power over, my life. The impact of this certainty on young men was profound and it led also to a sense of inevitability about the purposes for which the draft had been created.

My eldest son is 34. He was almost six when the draft ended. Our only conversation on the subject I remember took place a bit earlier. We were driving in the car and he, in a bit of precocious career planning, asked, "Dad, do they draft baseball players?" I was troubled to hear the fear and sense of inevitability being passed to yet another generation.

I knew about it because they had been passed on to me as well. Both my parents had lost brothers in World War I and my mother had also lost a cousin.

The fears, however were soon gone and my son joined a generation coming to maturity with war being only a distant, surrogated, and sanitized interruption to the regular programming.

In this parable of fathers and sons may lie an important part of today's story: a generation raised to see war and its military instruments as an essential part of life confronting another to whom war and its accessories had become, for the most part, history.

Nothing has been so moving and heartening as the young students walking out of high schools and middle schools to protest this war and the millions in the streets marching while there was still time to do something about the madness rather than as a belated expression of regret. For these seem manifestations of a changed consciousness in the human spirit, one of those moments when the weak and many leap ahead of the powerful and the few and alter history forever.

I have seen this once before - during the civil rights movement, a rebellion not just against the specifics of power but against the paradigms, paradoxes, and presumptions that created that power, the lies that made segregation as inevitable, say, as war.

One of the great turnings in this struggle - and it happened like a virus rather than as a revolution - was when the merely reprehensible became truly incomprehensible as well.

Segregationists were no longer only evil; they became anachronistic as well, eventually so much so that when they would reappear, it would be as if suddenly confronting a strange and vicious animal thought long extinct.

I have had this feeling in recent months, as though - totally unexpected and unprepared - I had been tossed back into a Jurassic ecology surrounded by violent creatures I believed gone except in memory and that my sons would only have to confront in books and on film.

This is frightening, it is surprising, it is unpredictable. But history moves in both directions and America may well have run out of progress. Yet even in the barbaric awfulness cabled into our homes there is reason for hope - if the protests are truly what they seem: not merely a complaint about policy but the rising of a new definition of decency, calling not just for the end of a war but for an abolition of our deepest assumptions about the inevitability of war.

Hopeful as the manifestations may be, the new abolitionism faces mighty hurdles. Among them, of course, is a media that has become the pet poodle of power, one inundates us with assurances of the normalcy of violence. The semiotic bunker bombs began landing deep inside our brains long before Iraq; you can find their provenance in TV's celebration of state violence against drug users or in the tacitly approved brutality of reality police shows.

Less noted is the continued allegiance to state violence by the Anglo-American academic elite. To unlearn what those middle schoolers walking out of class already know about war requires some heavy education.

Places like Harvard and Oxford - and their after-school programs such as the Washington think tanks - teach the few how to control the many and it is impossible to do this without various forms of abuse ranging from sophism to corporate control systems to napalm. It is no accident that a large number of advocates of this war - in government and the media - are the products of elite educations where they were taught both the inevitability of their hegemony and the tools with which to enforce it.

It will be some time before places such as Harvard and the Council on Foreign Relations are seen for what they are: the White Citizens Councils of state violence. Still, in a little gift of history, one of their lesser offspring, George W. Bush, may speed things up a bit as he brags and blithers about, gleefully brutalizes, perversely exaggerates, and cynically promotes cruel and authoritarian ideas his brighter colleagues have worked so hard to wrap in the costume of decency and democracy. He is the Council on Foreign Relations out of the closet, the carefully contrived paradigm run amuck, the great man of history turned dangerous fool, real politik turned into absurdist caricature. For that at least, we should thank him: he has shown us the true nature of a great lie.

The final challenge is the most confounding: violence resulting from the demands of technological and bureaucratic 'progress.' What we call modern warfare developed because we had the means to carry it out. Richard Rubenstein has pointed out that Nazism could not have arisen without the sort of bureaucracy needed to support the Holocaust. It is no accident that both Hitler and Lenin turned to the teachings of American technocratic apostle Frederick Winslow Taylor to carry out their evil or that the Nazis used IBM cards to help manage their death camps.

We prefer a simpler story of the Holocaust as one of power and hate and ignore the much more relevant one of technocratic organization. Thus we don't hear its echoes in the Department of Homeland Security or in journalistic celebration of new technologies of war.

At the heart of a technocratic system is the willingness of individuals to give up their own morality, judgment, and perceptions in return for a job, perceived safety, or escape from fear - to become in Eric Fromm's term, homo mechanicus, "attracted to all that is mechanical and inclined against all that is alive." Our society is increasingly structured on this mechanization of the human spirit and while the military may be the ultimate example, the modern American corporation is not far behind.

So it's far too early to cheer, but we have also come too far in the past few months to despair. We must just keep on leading our leaders until they also see war as wrong - and as archaic - as slavery or segregation.

Snow job

This issue is coming to you from the emergency center of the Progressive Review, just six blocks from the U.S. Capitol, where - more than two days after the snow started falling - the major arterial of East Capitol Street has yet to be plowed.

Your editor has spent much of this holiday weekend searching in vain for the "massive snow storm" promised him by Channel 5. In fact, the best I could come up with - absent cheating by measuring drifts - was a moderately impressive 13" in my back yard.

Anyway, the problem with snow in Washington is not the precipitation but the difficulty in removing it. Some years back, when Marion Barry was mayor and I was not yet on the Washington Post's blacklist, I was asked by the paper to write an Outlook section piece about a recent storm. I decided to compare Washington's snow removal with that of another town I knew well, Freeport, Maine. As it turned out, Freeport had one percent of Washington's population but ten percent of its road mileage. If memory serves, Freeport did the job with five trucks while it took 150 in DC - or three times as many per mile.

In the most recent storm the figure for DC was up to 300 trucks with plows although the city's geography hasn't expanded in the interval. This would mean that it now takes six times as many trucks per mile to clean a Washington street than it took to clean a Freeport road a decade ago.

Admittedly things are a bit simpler in Freeport and there are not as many cars parked where they shouldn't be. Further the pace is decidedly slower. I once got a call from the local highway director who wanted a meeting. I invited him over for coffee and after a half hour of discussing the interesting irrelevancies of day he laid out his problem: would I mind if he cut a few alders that were blocking the view around a curve?

Still, a road is a road and snow is snow whether they're in Washington or Maine. Something else has definitely happened over both time and space to make it much harder to plow a path - and it isn't the weather.

My suspicion is that snowplowing, like everything else in this fair city, is being over-managed. That would explain a snow plow going down a street with a supervisor's pickup truck ahead or three plows moving ad seriatim down an already well plowed street. Fortunately, however, the mayor was in Puerto Rico when the storm broke so he didn't have time for his normal response to crisis: which would have been to call a 'town meeting' to seek input on outputting the snow.

There is at least six degrees of separation between DC's winter practices and the small town plowers given 20 or 30 miles to clear and not to come back until it's done. It is not that the latter are more competent, it is just that their local governments have more trust in their competency so the whole operation is much simpler.

As in public education and other government matters, we are spending enormous sums to make sure nothing goes wrong but in fact are just increasing the number of people able to screw things up.

There are certain jobs that do not lend themselves to the bureaucratic pyramid - they are jobs in which employees carry most of the capacity for good or evil in their own skill, judgment and ethical standards. Jobs like teaching school, patrolling a beat, or plowing a street. Training makes them better; bureaucratic systems rarely do.

It is something that Washington doesn't understand at all, which is why I will remain in the Review's emergency center save for an occasional visit to the Congress Market or Jimmy T's grill until it all blows over.

The American way of death

America's growing hypochondria - spurred by government, health industry, and the media - takes another leap as the feds declare nearly twice as many people as previously to have excessive blood pressure. Scaring people about their health is one of the country's most profitable industries, but it also drives up health costs something fierce. Here are a few facts, based on recent government statistics, to bear in mind when reading such stories:

- The average life span of an American is 28 years longer than a century ago.

- 75% of that improvement occurred between 1900 and 1950, the remaining 25% has been fairly equally distributed over the last 50 years. Further, most of the improvement has occurred at an earlier age. For a 65 year old white male, for example, life span has only increased five years in the past century.

In short, medicine has done a fine job of improving America's longevity but it is slowing down. The hyping of health problems - and declaring tens of millions of people to be ill or health-impaired for one reason or another - reflects far more a cultural and commercial choice rather than a health one. And it is a choice far healthier for drug companies than for citizens.

For example, in a study not well covered in the American media (perhaps because it challenges our health myths), WHO in 2000 ranked countries by "healthy life expectancy," based on the number of years lived in what might called "full health" - without disability or crippling illnesses. WHO reported:

"Japanese have the longest healthy life expectancy of 74.5 years among 191 countries, versus less than 26 years for the lowest-ranking country of Sierra Leone. . . The rest of the top 10 nations are Australia, 73.2 years; France, 73.1; Sweden, 73.0; Spain, 72.8; Italy, 72.7; Greece, 72.5; Switzerland, 72.5; Monaco, 72.4; and Andorra, 72.3. . .

"The United States rated 24th under this system, or an average of 70.0 years of healthy life for babies born in 1999. . . "The position of the United States is one of the major surprises of the new rating system," says Christopher Murray, M.D., Ph.D., Director of WHO's Global Program on Evidence for Health Policy. "Basically, you die earlier and spend more time disabled if you're an American rather than a member of most other advanced countries."

The fascinating thing about this is that among the top-rated countries are ones like France who citizens take a decidedly less paranoiac view of health issues than Americans who are trained to worry about their every breath. But then what can you expect in a country where the vice president argues his fitness for public office by announcing that a doctor "watches me very carefully 24 hours a day?"

2002

New York and Montana

IN KEEPING WITH it never-ending struggle to prove that it is as sophisticated at the New York Times, the Washington Post ran an odd and nasty pre-Thanksgiving story in which the author Sarah Vowell, who works for NPR and based this essay on her new book from Simon & Schuster, describes the pain and suffering of having her parents visit her for the holiday. Their faults include being clueless, boring, and from Montana.

It is not clear just how boring the parents are because Vowell spends most of her time boring us with her reaction to them. We do learn, however, that her mother prefers to use white cornmeal processed by the Shawnee Company in Muskogee while Vowell prefers yellow, which merely proves that they have food fetishes in Montana just like in Manhattan.

Vowell displays the sort of arrogance towards the bulk of America that is particularly common in New York City and Washington. She doesn't even feel compelled to explain why her life is so much better than that of her parents - she just assumes - wink, wink - that we will understand.

Nor does she mention that Montana, unlike Washington, has played only a minimal role in dismantling the Republic over the past year; that, unlike New York City, it has not created a grotesque language of advertising and public relations as barren as any western plain; and, unlike both cities, has not engaged in acts so upsetting to others in the world that they feel compelled to kill themselves flying planes into its most treasured icons.

In short, there remains the possibility that there might be something that Vowell, or the Washington Post, or NPR, or Simon & Schuster could learn from a place like Montana. They might even figure out why people who are repeatedly treated with disdain by the country's elite tend to vote for those who seem to show them some regard, even if it's not really true. In the end, Vowell's piece served one purpose: it helped to explain the recent election results. - SAM SMITH

What I did on my vacation

YESTERDAY I drove to the Portland store of the Hannaford grocery chain to watch the propitiously named governor of Maine, Angus King, grill some Wolfe's Neck Farm steaks in the parking lot. Among others present for steak and speeches were the president of the state senate, the head of Hannaford, a herd of reporters, and a couple of natural beef farmers who had driven 225 miles from Fort Kent for the occasion.

The farmers, like the rest of us, were there to celebrate the decision of Hannaford to stock Wolfe's Neck Farm natural beef in about 75 of its Maine stores, joining two dozen A&P outlets around New England as well as some Fresh Fields stores. The farm is now the largest supermarket supplier of natural beef in the greater Northeast thanks to the creation of a marketing cooperative that for the first time offers scores of Maine natural beef producers a cost-effective way to get their meat into supermarkets and which, if all goes well, will soon include some 24,000 acres of cattle land, rivaling the state's much better known potato crop. Governor King noted that this wasn't the only way Maine's agriculture was diversifying; last year state farmers also shipped three million cases of broccoli.

According to another state official, the natural beef breakthrough was the biggest thing to happen in Maine agriculture in 20 years. For Wolfe's Neck Farm, it was the biggest thing to happen in over 40 years. I know because I was the only one present who had worked on the farm at the start - when my parents began raising organic cattle in the late 1950s. Even before 'Silent Spring,' they had won a settlement from Central Maine Power Company not to spray anyone's property in the state who didn't want it.

The farm gained a fine reputation but the beef operation had tended to be marginal at best. Which isn't to say that my parents didn't try. They brought the first wood chipper and the first round hay bailer into the state. They experimented with cafeteria feeding, trench silos, and even plastic wrapped silage from which air was removed by one of my mother's vacuum cleaners, which - not surprisingly - didn't quite last the season.

The farm dealt with all manner of problems including the day the commander of the Naval Air Station in Brunswick called my mother to tell her that the entire North American air defense had been immobilized because 14 of her cows were on his runway. Too impatient to await their removal, the captain sent out the station fire engines with sirens blaring which quickly scattered the 14 cows over 1,000 acres of Navy property. They finally showed up a week later - all of them - at the 7th hole of the golf course on the morning of the Officers' Invitational Tournament.

There were other problems such as the fact that there was only one meat processor in the state who charged four times as much a head as did operations in the West. Besides, my father considered corn a pesticide and so the meat had an acquired, strikingly stringy taste.

Before my mother died, she gave the farm to the University of Southern Maine, which was not a good idea. The first president told a friend that she felt embarrassed to have cows under her and the second president was a product of late 20th century management training which put an inordinate emphasis on hubris and jargon and very little on what one was actually managing. It would, however, help me understand how the Russians felt when Jeffrey Sachs arrived from Harvard to tell them how to do it, and, later, why some of the biggest names in American business collapsed so easily.

I was head of an organization designated to help the university run the farm. It did not go well. Any community participation or outside advice was unwelcome - the "camel's nose under the tent" the dean once said. One day the president said to me, "I know what you want; you want a product champion" for the farm. I told him that what I was really hoping for was someone on his staff who actually gave damn about the place.

I gave up in frustration and was succeeded by Peter Cox, former publisher of the Maine Times. Some years later, in 1997, the university announced that it no longer wanted the farm. A few of us scrambled up a community-based non-profit to take over the operation.

The effects were immediate. John McKnight would not have been surprised for ten years earlier he had written, "The structure of institutions is a design established to create control of people. On the other hand, the structure of associations is the result of people acting through consent. . . You will know that you are in a community if you often hear laughter and singing. You will know you are in an institution, corporation, or bureaucracy if you hear the silence of long halls and reasoned meetings."

People began returning to the farm's campsites arm; a day camp quickly developed a waiting list. A newly formed Friends of the Farm gained hundreds of members, many of them volunteers as well as donors, and the farm entrance gained the appearance of a page from a Richard Scarry book, a cacophony of animals, ages, and activities.

But the beef market still languished - until farm manager Erick Jensen finally was able to pursue his dream of bringing beef producers from all over the state into a cooperative venture, a dream that required driving hundreds of miles to encourage, solicit, and assist those interested in the project - many from the poorest end of the state. Jensen was also able to help the farmers produce just the right feed mixture - which at Wolfe's Neck had included leftover mash from the Gritty McDuff's brew pub - so their meat would be as good as the Wolfe's Neck steak that had won praise from Julia Child.

Much of what appears in this journal is pretty grim, much of the story of agriculture in Maine and elsewhere is pretty grim, but yesterday I was present for one of the rarest of joys - the rebirth of something that almost died. And the steaks weren't bad either.

PORTLAND PRESS HERALD STORY
WOLFE'S NECK FARM

45 years later

Forty-five years ago this month I came back to my hometown of Washington at the age of 19 to work as a radio reporter. I returned to college in the fall with an offer of fulltime employment upon graduation which I gladly accepted.

Since then I have covered more administrations than Helen Thomas - although from the street rather than from the West Wing. The street is a better vantage point because that's where the news is.

Those in power make far less news than one might assume reading the paper or watching television. This is because they are mainly interested in preserving the system that gave them power in the first place. News implies that something has changed.

Even wars are better covered in the field than in the Pentagon press room, which is why the government tries so hard to keep journalists away from the front and at the Pentagon. Russell Baker once said of his years in Washington that he felt he was serving as a megaphone for fraud.

I have sometimes wondered whether, if Jesus were to return to earth, anyone would notice. I have concluded that the best he would rate would be occasional mention as a "Christian activist," "a gadfly," or perhaps even a "conspiracy theorist."

Which is one of the reasons being an alternative journalist has been so much fun. You are still allowed to go after the news. In fact, most of history's major changes during my lifetime have been far better covered by those outside the media establishment. Not that it doesn't catch up eventually, but it's a bit like the late Senator Phil Hart's definition of the Senate: a place that does things 20 years after it should have.

Here are just a few of the stories on which the major media was scooped, not just by days but by years: the import of the civil rights, black power, women's, gay, and other movements; the impossibility of winning the Vietnam war; the level of anger in the urban ghettos; global warming; the futility of the war on drugs; the loss of American democracy and constitutional rights; the many downsides of globalization; the myopia of our anti-Arab policies; the true nature of the 1990s economic bubble. And so forth. . . .

In many of these cases, the major media went far further than mere nonfeasance. It provided moral cover for segregationists and corrupt politicians. It helped discrimination gain tenure. It repeatedly excused economic inequities as a natural state or presented them as containing some yet to be revealed magic. It perpetuated myths about drugs and their proper treatment that have caused incalculable pain and death. It paraded as heroes some of the most corrupt figures, corporations, and institutions of our time. It promoted economic lies that served the interests of only a tiny number of the rich and powerful. And perhaps most shamefully, it helped the recalcitrant and the reckless deny the dreadful damage that our way of living was doing to our planet.

Further, and in direct contradiction to its own myths about itself, the major media dismissed, ignored, or blacklisted voices that might have raised some of these issues far earlier and with a much greater audience.

Recently, much of the media seems to have decided that news isn't real at all, but only another form of entertainment. Thus we find Ashley Banfield, with unconscious accuracy, being featured in her reports as "on location," a phrase once reserved for the making of make-believe.

One of the advantages of being in the journalistic underground is that your clip file is far less embarrassing than those of more conventional scribes. It is not that you were so prescient; it's only that history seldom comes totally by surprise and the first job of a journalist is to listen well and then write it down. My personal rule of journalism is this: if I learn something and find myself saying, "Holy shit!" - I know it's probably news.

If, on the other hand, you spend your time transmitting official assurances of tranquility, self-interested declarations of impending nirvana, unsupported suppositions in the drag of fact, or personal judgments more worthy of a rock groupie than of a skeptical observer, then what you have written will eventually seem childish or stupid.

Of course, alternative journalists would be nothing without alternative readers and I consider myself blessed with as fine a lot as one could seek. Thus I dedicate my future efforts as with those of the past, to - in the words of Charles Lamb - "the friendly and judicious reader who will take these papers as they were meant; not understanding everything perversely in the absolute and literal sense, but giving fair construction, as to an after-dinner conversation."

What Tim McVeigh and I had in common

TIMOTHY MCVEIGH AND I had something in common: we both memorized William Ernest Henley's poem "Invictus." I don't why McVeigh did it, but I did it as part of a grim Sunday lunch ritual during which my siblings and I were expected to demonstrate our mnemonic skills to my father's satisfaction. One of the examples was "Invictus" which went like this:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

It was written by William Ernest Henley, an English editor, writer, playwright and poet who by 1877 had proved himself so unmarketable that he had to "addict" himself to journalism for the next ten years. He died in 1903, 98 years to the day that Timothy McVeigh was executed.

Learning "Invictus" was about the only thing that Timothy McVeigh and I had in common. I went to a Quaker school and later entered the Coast Guard where I learned how to save people. McVeigh went into the U.S. Army and where he learned how to kill people. He became so proficient that his military colleagues admired him and the U.S. government gave him a medal. The war in which he fought continues silently, with many people still dying because of the embargo and the toxics we left behind. We don't call it terrorism, however, because a government did it and not an individual.

Iraq was a good place for an American to learn how to kill large numbers of innocent people and then dismiss it as "collateral damage." That phrase wasn't from a poem; McVeigh may have picked it up from a White House press statement.

After I left the Coast Guard I got a job. After Timothy McVeigh left the Army, he didn't. This was not unusual. In fact, the unemployment rate of veterans 20-24 years old is twice that of those who have not had the benefit of Army training.

McVeigh has been made to take responsibility for his part in creating the Oklahoma City disaster. When does America take responsibility for its part in creating Timothy McVeigh?

2000

The end of treason

If treason, in one of its typical forms, consists of trading the national interest of one's country to another for profit, then FBI Agent Robert Hanssen had some stiff competition. In the past decade or so this form of disloyalty has been codified, advocated, and revered not only by our own leaders in the government, media, and business, but by their peers in what is still quaintly known as the "free world." You can find it in its most precise form in various trade agreements such as NAFTA and GATT, in its mathematical form in the listing of foreign contributions to our political campaigns, and its rhetorical form in the statements of many of our most favored political commentators.

Beyond doubt, the new trade agreements have done more damage to our national, state and local sovereignty than any foreign enemy or all the spies of American history combined. The last three presidents have helped give the Chinese more secrets than they could ever have hoped to acquire through archaic techniques of personal espionage. And in the end, we have learned not to worry because it has all occurred for trade not treason, corporate not individual profit, and public policy rather than private perversion.

Consider, for example, some words Vaclav Havel wrote in that intellectual Leisure World for lemming liberals, the New York Review of Books:

"In the next century I believe that most states will begin to change from cult-like entities charged with emotion into far simpler and more civilized entities, into less powerful and more rational administrative units that will represent only one of the many complex and multileveled ways in which our planetary society is organized."

"The practical responsibilities of the state -- its legal powers -- can only devolve in two directions, downward or upward; downward, to the non-governmental organizations and structures of civil society; or upward, to regional, transnational and global organizations."

Thus in a few paragraphs, Havel scraps democracy at every level of society leaving us to be run, presumably, by business improvement districts and NATO. It is a profoundly anti-democratic and anti-patriotic view, because at none of Havel's levels is the consent of the governed considered.

He is not alone. Here was Strobe Talbott writing in the July 20, 1992 issue of Time: "Within the next hundred years . . . nationhood as we know it will be obsolete; all states will recognize a single, global authority . . . All countries are basically social arrangements, accommodations to changing circumstances. No matter how permanent and even sacred they may seem at any one time, in fact they are all artificial and temporary."

Agent Hanssen, you are hereby charged with betraying the sacred trust of a cult-like entity - basically a social arrangement that is artificial and temporary, otherwise known as the United States of America. It just doesn't have quite the ring of a capital crime.

In fact, though, nothing has been more central to the character of American politics over the past few decades than a cynical, corrupt, unconstitutional and, yes, commercial betrayal of the national interest. The continuing symbiosis of drug lords, politicians, and law enforcement has betrayed our land and our constitution. The Iran-Contra affair involved not just bad politics but the betrayal of America for profit. The cover-up of the BCCI scandal by the first Bush administration was a betrayal of America to protect, in no small part, foreign profits.

Perhaps China represents the best case in point since the Chinese know as much about espionage as anyone. While the Soviets and then the Russians were allegedly playing their John LeCarre games with Agent Hanssen, the Chinese were taking care of serious business.

As journalist Robert Parry has noted, "Little-noticed evidence from the Iran-contra files reveals that it was the Reagan-Bush administration that opened the door to sharing sensitive national security secrets with communist China in the 1980s. This clandestine relationship evolved from China's agreement to supply sophisticated weapons to the Nicaraguan contras beginning in 1984, a deal with the White House that entrusted China with one of the government's most sensitive intelligence secrets, the existence of Oliver North's contra supply network. In the years after that secretly brokered deal, the Republican administration permitted trips in which US nuclear scientists. . . visited China in scientific exchange programs. Those visits corresponded with China's rapid development of sophisticated nuclear weapons, culminating in the apparent compromise of sensitive US nuclear secrets by 1988. Seven years later, in 1995, a purported Chinese defector walked into US government offices in Taiwan and turned over a document. Dated 1988, the document contained detailed information about US-designed nuclear warheads. The document showed that Chinese intelligence possessed the secrets of the W-88 miniaturized nuclear bomb by the last year of Ronald Reagan's presidency. China's first test of a light warhead similar to the W-88 was conducted in 1992, the last year of George H.W. Bush's presidency."

The Chinese connection exploded with the arrival of the Clinton administration. A younger crowd of American politicians had skipped the part about patriotism, about the pledge of allegiance, about loyalty not only to country but to much of anything other than themselves. The Clinton policy towards China was merely an extension of these values: what's in for us and how soon? The notion of national security was almost alien to them; besides they had the new paradigm of globalization to keep them warm. Here are just a few of the things that happened along the way:

- Named Commerce Secretary, Ron Brown treated his post as just another place to wheel and deal. He was irrepressible, on one occasion okaying the sale of new American engines for China to put in its cruise missiles. The engines had been built as military equipment but Brown reclassified them as civilian.

- Neither was Brown above doing a little business on the side. The Saudis wanted some American planes; Brown told them: you want the planes you also want a phone contract with ATT. Cost of the planes and hardware: $6 billion. Cost of the phone contract: $4 billion. Part of the deal, it turned out, was an ATT side agreement with a firm called First International. The owner: Ron Brown

- According to the New York Times, Clinton removed $2 billion in trade with China from national security scrutiny. Among the results: 77 supercomputers - capable of 13 billion calculations per second - that could scramble and unscramble secret data and design nuclear weapons. These were purchased by the Chinese without a peep stateside. At least some of them would be used by the Chinese military.

- With the transfer of the Panama Canal, four of Panama's ports ended up being controlled by a company partially owned by Hutchinson-Whampoa Ltd., which in turn was owned by Li Ka-Shing, a billionaire so close to the Chinese power structure that he was offered the governorship of Hong Kong. Another owner of the Panamanian ports was China Resources Enterprise, called an "agent of espionage" by Senator Fred Thompson. CRE was also a partner of the Lippo Group, owned by the Riady family that played a central if mysterious role in the rise of William Clinton. According to congressional testimony by ex-JCS chief Admiral Thomas Moorer, Hutchinson-Whampoa won the right to pilot all ships thought the Panama Canal, including US naval vessels.

- President Clinton signed national security waivers to allow four US commercial satellites to be launched in China, despite evidence that China was exporting nuclear and missile technology to Pakistan and Iran, among other nations. One of these satellites belonged to Loral. Nine days later a Chinese Long March rocket carrying a $200 million satellite belonging to Loral failed in mid-flight. A subsequent law suit charged that the circuit board from the highly classified encryption device in the satellite was found to be missing when the Chinese returned debris from the explosion to US authorities, even though a control box containing the circuit board was recovered intact. After the crash, NSA reportedly changed the encoded algorithms used by US satellites because of the apparent release of highly classified information.

- President Clinton approved a waiver allowing the launch of another satellite on board a Chinese rocket, despite a recommendation by the Department of Justice that the waiver would have a significant adverse impact on any prosecution arising from its pending investigation of Loral.

- The NY Times reported in 1998 that the Defense Technology Security Administration said Loral's unauthorized release of sensitive technology to the Chinese gave rise to at least three "major" violations of US national security, three medium violations and twelve "minor" infractions.

- Throughout these dealings, the CEO of Loral, Bernard Schwartz, contributed at least $1.5 million to the Democrats, making him the single largest contributor to these groups during the period in question.

- Softwar newsletter reported that that some of the radios and cell phones being used by Chinese police in their campaign against dissidents were those sold the Chinese by Motorola after Clinton overrode human rights objections by the State Department.

- In the end, the brunt of the evidence was that the Chinese had obtained more American military secrets over the past two decades than all the previous spies in American history put together. They had basic information on all nuclear weapons systems, they got our most advanced supercomputers, they gained extraordinarily important information about satellite systems. Some of this knowledge they used for themselves; some they retrofitted and repackaged and sold to other countries like Iraq, where it was used against our own fighter planes. While the problem occurred under both Republican and Democratic administrations, it got completely out of hand under Clinton. Some of the information was stolen, some was given to China in the classic manner of spies, but a stunning proportion was obtained either as a direct result of political and economic decisions by the Clinton administration or as a result of what can best be described as premeditated indifference.

- Three major players in the China scandal - John Huang, Charlie Trie and Johnny Chung - were all allowed by the Justice Department to cop pleas.

- Carol Cameron of Fox News reported that cover stories provided by Chinese operatives to hide China's illegal campaign contributions may have come from or been approved by President Jiang Zemin. Johnny Chung told Congress he was under orders from the Chinese to keep the whole thing quiet. His orders, he said, came from a suspected Chinese intelligence operative named Robert Luu, who worked for a Los Angeles law firm. In a phone conversation tapped by the FBI, Chung was told by Luu to say the campaign money came from the so-called princelings: Chinese leaders' grown sons, who live, study and often live lavishly in the West.

A transcript of the wiretap, obtained by Fox News, contains the following:

LUU: "Shove the blame on the shoulders of the princelings."

CHUNG: "So blame it on the princelings. Do not implicate the Chinese government."

LUU: "Yes. Chairman Jiang agreed to handle it like this; the president over here also agreed."

- Newsweek quoted intelligence officials as saying that the Chinese "penetration is total. They are deep into the (US nuclear weapons) labs' black programs."

- In an AP story ignored by major media, former CIA Director R. James Woolsey accused the Clinton administration of pursuing a policy of appeasement toward China and likened it to the way Britain and France dealt with Nazi Germany on Czechoslovakia before World War II.

- The Wall Street Journal wrote: "Top business executives are issuing a blunt warning to federal lawmakers: Vote against the trade deal with China, and we will hold it against you when writing campaign checks.

- Operating with an interim top secret clearance (but without FBI investigation or foreign security check) Commerce official Huang requested several top secret files on China just before a meeting with the Chinese ambassador. Huang and the Riadys then held a meeting with Clinton. Not long after, Huang went to work as a Democratic fund-raiser, but remained on Commerce's payroll as a $10,000 a month consultant. Huang raised $5 million for the campaign. About a third of that was returned as having come from illegal sources. Among the problem contributions: $250,000 to the DNC from five Chinese businessmen in order to have a brief meeting with Clinton at a fund-raiser.

- Macao businessman Ng Lap Seng, closely linked to a couple of major Chinese-owned enterprises, was regularly bringing in large sums of money to the US, according to customs records. On one occasion, he arrived with $175,000 and then two days later met with Charlie Trie and Mark Middleton at the White House. That evening Ng sat at Clinton's table at a DNC fund-raiser.

This is just a sample, not of treason, but of politics as it has been practiced. Now, let's turn to the recently arrested Agent Hanssen. So far there is no evidence that he helped the Russians build a missile, suppress dissidents, or buy US politicians. Instead, in the FBI's own words, "The affidavit alleges that Hanssen compromised numerous human sources of the US Intelligence Community, dozens of classified U.S. Government documents, including "Top Secret" and "code word" documents, and technical operations of extraordinary importance and value. It also alleges that Hanssen compromised FBI counterintelligence investigative techniques, sources, methods and operations, and disclosed to the KGB the FBI's secret investigation of Felix Bloch, a foreign service officer, for espionage."

Hanssen's major alleged crime, in other words, is not the betrayal of America but of the (note capital letters used in the charge) US Intelligence Community, its personnel, its manuals, and its tricks of the trade. Open up Robert Hanssen and - as with a Russian doll - you just get another spy who is busily betraying another spy, all of whom are keeping secrets not so much from some foreign country as from the citizens of their own.

It is all bizarre, incestuous, of little known purpose, and, in the best postmodern manner, flexible. Just as American politicians and lawyers have redefined bribery so that the official bribee can escape punishment for the same crime for which the citizen briber, so the rules of loyalty to one's country now vary immensely not according to the nature of one's action but according to one's position.

Don't look for it written down anywhere. Except for the basic rule, laid down in 1613 by John Harington: "Treason doth never prosper: what's the reason? Why if it prosper, none dare call it treason."

1994

The gadfly thing

I was recently described in an otherwise kind article in Washington’s City Paper as a "political gadfly." This was neither the first time nor will it be the last. It has happened to me so often that I was able to tell the writer where the word came from (a fly that bites and annoys cattle). In fact, it has happened to me so often that I once had a dinghy called the Gadfly.

Gadflies are only barely further along in the evolutionary chain of things than maggots and slugs. They are frequently found resting placidly on a pile of excrement. As readers well know, I never am at rest sitting on a pile of shit.

Being called a gadfly is a little like being bitten by one. It’s also, notes Jon Rowe, like Ralph Nader being called a "self-styled consumer advocate." Where, Rowe wonders, does one go to get a license to become an properly appointed consumer advocate? To the Washington Post Style Section?

People in Washington who call other people gadflies tend to be either players or people who wish they were. A player is someone trying to be Assistant Secretary of HUD, someone who represents a major polluter and claims to practice environmental law, someone who is paid large sums of money to shout down Eleanor Clift on national TV or who pays large sums of money to get politicians to wrestle with -- and ultimately defeat -- their own conscience. Players are annoyed by gadflies because they won’t play according to the players’ rules. On the other hand, gadflies don’t clutter up the bureaucracy making dull speeches, and they don’t create toxic waste sites or corrupt the political system. They tend to eat Mr. Tyson’s chicken rather than fly on his planes. And at the end of the day, they have less explaining to do to their children.

Players tend to be quite insecure which is why they need such an elaborate support system, including the Washingtonian magazine, the Gridiron Dinner, the Washington Post Style section and the Diane Rehm Show. Players consider themselves serious; gadflies not. Russell Baker, a serious man, addressed this matter best in a column in which he pointed out the difference between being serious and being solemn. Baker observed that children are almost always serious, but that they start to lose the trait in adolescence. Washington is the capital of solemnity and few of its elite are truly serious.

Gadflies, on the other hand, are usually serious. A gadfly tends to be someone with ideas, energy and a modicum of talent but who lacks a PR firm, ghostwriter and a proper flair for networking. A gadfly is someone who actually wants to get something done, but often can’t -- largely because of all the players in the way.

EF Schumacher once said, "We must do what we conceive to be the right thing, and not bother our heads or burden our souls with whether we are going to be successful. Because if we don't do the right thing, we'll be doing the wrong thing, and we will just be part of the disease, and not a part of the cure."

Gadflies would agree. They think for themselves. But in Washington thought is something players purchase, just like they purchase gas, condoms or political access. People who think are considered part of the service industry with commensurate compensation and social regard.

When gadflies feel like using a bovine analogy, they think of themselves as mavericks -- animals whose only sin has been to wander off from their colleagues. They also, as they say in Texas, drink upstream from the herd, which if you know anything about cattle is not a bad idea.

Take a run-of-the-mill gadfly such as myself and then some average players -- say the editorial board the Washington Post -- and compare their records over a couple of decades. The gadfly approach to freeways, urban policy, Vietnam, the environment and Bill Clinton will, I think, hold up pretty well. The problem gadflies face is not that they are irrelevant or wrong but that their timing is a bit off. The FBI used to categorize members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade as "premature anti-fascists." Similarly, many gadflies are just moderates of an age that has not yet arrived.

1989

A surfeit of prigs

In pre-revolutionary Connecticut, being a common scold was a felony. Despite the currently overcrowded conditions of our prisons there is much to be said for reviving this offense, for few characteristics of our time have been more burdensome than the noisy priggishness that has come over the land.

For some years we had a woman in our neighborhood who had the disconcerting habit of standing on her front porch heaping opprobrium on passing children. It didn't particularly bother the children, because the very young are blissfully immune to priggishness, knowing that anyone who behaves in such a manner properly belongs in an asylum.

The problem for adult America is that we increasingly seem to be taking such people seriously. We have elected a remarkable number to office, with the inevitable result that prigs are now taking over appointive positions as well - most disastrously on the Supreme Court which now has its first prig majority in many decades.

Worse, prigs are in ascendancy in places where they have previously been disqualified. For example, prigs, while long allowed in the editorial offices of newspapers, were largely banned from newsrooms. Prigs in show business were limited to such activities as the Morman Tabernacle Choir, Up With People and the Lawrence Welk Show. Now we even have priggish rock stars, engaged, among other things, in pelvic proselytizing against drugs. Prigs have even infiltrated the left.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. To some readers, the word may seem a bit arcane so a definition is in order. I like that of Webster's Third, in part because the definer clearly doesn't care for prigs, priggishness or priggism, perhaps because some prig is always trying to keep certain words out of dictionaries.

A prig, according to Webster's is, among other things, one who offends or irritates by obvious or rigid observance of the proprieties: one self-sufficient in virtue, culture or propriety often in a pointed manner or to an obnoxious degree.

Being priggish is marked by overvaluing oneself or one's ideas, habits, notions, by precise or inhibited adherence to them.

And priggism is self-conscious propriety of conduct; stilted correctness of behavior; prim adherence to conventionality.

Woodrow Wilson, one of the few politicians who actually dealt with the prig problem, told a crowd in Pittsburgh in October 1914: If you will think about what you ought to do for other people, your character will take care of itself. Character is a byproduct, and any man who devotes himself to its cultivation in his own case will become a selfish prig.

The emphasis on salvation in isolation that is so central to current evangelicalism (not to mention certain strains of psychotherapy and contemporary self-help literature) is an ideal breeding ground for the prig. One can note, hi fact, some correlation between the presumed level of God's direct notice and intervention in personal matters and the level of priggishness a religion encourages.

But whatever the cause, the relative priggishness of a religion becomes a matter of critical importance when theology spills over, as it has with a vengeance, into national politics. For when politicians and Supreme Court Justices talk and think about God they are not talking of the God of the deist, the llth Commandment ecologist, the Unitarian, the Quaker, the liberal Catholic, the low Episcopalian, the Seventh Day Agnostic or even the ancient god of the Jew. It is patently clear from their language that they are describing The Great Prig In the Sky -- lord, master and protector of the unctuous, the self-righteous and the ostentatiously saved.

The prig, having no sense of perspective, is constantly in danger of encouraging results quite contrary to the intent declared by appearances. Thus we find Common Cause, in its priggish approach to election reform, baring no small portion of the blame for the curse of the political action committee. The priggish aspect of Naderism has been blind to the dangers of elevating litigation to the status of a moral act. The flag prigs create flag burners. And the drug prigs, of course, have simply left us with more drug problems.

Creeping propriety has even affected institutions that should, by their nature, be immune, including many of a progressive bent. This is perhaps the inevitable result of a politics which has changed from an emphasis on coalitions to a politics of the most precise special interest. Having moved vigorously in recent decades from such simplistic divisions as labor and capital, farmers and ranchers, and liberal and conservative, we now find ourselves atomized into acronyms. The organizations bearing these acronyms carry out their purported purposes, but they also increasingly define and restrict us.

By implicit consent we have limited ourselves to a maximum of two self-definitions, e.g. we may be an eco-feminist, but if you tell someone, as I occasionally do, that you are a quasi-Green, neo-populist, radical conservative, semi-libertarian, pragmatic progressive, you must expect to get a laugh, and that only at best. Most people will think you're hiding something.

The problem with over-specialized self-definitions is, firstly, that one's politics can become as prissy as the dress of the dandy and, secondly, that eventually it causes one to act on the belief that the explanation is true and complete, making one seem less a real human and more a bumper sticker.

The recent self-conscious effort to upgrade the status of blacks by calling them African-Americans demonstrates well the problems involved in excessive concern with self-definition. One need only think of how black history might have been different if a publisher had been asked to consider a book called African-American Like Me or if Fats Waller had written, "What did I do to be so African- American and blue?" But the determinedly pious don't sing.

I tend to stay away from political prigs even when I am in sympathy with their cause. I can smell piety a mile away and prefer the company of sinners just trying to do better to those who leave the strong impression that you're not really good enough to join them. Besides they might catch me eating a Big Mac.

Fortunately, there is plenty of activism that doesn't ask too many questions or demand that we save ourselves before, together, we try to mitigate the damage that clearly faces all of us. Besides, the prigs never attain the perfection they pretend. They not only irritate others and deceive themselves, they miss that of the mystery of life which lies in its contradictions and inconsistencies. The sinners know, in their hearts, that they have more fun. Furthermore, as the poet William Stafford pointed out, "If you purify the pond, the lilies die

1991

Letter to Moscow

In October 1991, when it was uncertain who was in charge in Russia, the Review published this open letter:

Dear Mike and/or Boris,

Excuse the first names but I understand that you want to become more Americanized and we use first names the way you use comrade, including the subtlety that a comrade is not always a comrade.

This Americanization business is tricky. There is no one American way of doing anything, only an American way of letting things happen. Much of America's success to date can be traced to one simple rule: don't make too many rules. Much of America's failure to date has come from ignoring this rule. Think of America not as a system but as an environment and you'll begin to get the hang of it.

Sadly, Americans aren't taking very good care of their political environment these days. They still talk about political freedom and free enterprise, but those in power increasingly have something else on their minds.

Thus, you should be careful when you go to George Bush for advice about democracy or Harvard for ideas about your economy. Neither has any great interest in freedom and a great deal of interest in getting people to do things just their way.

You've probably figured that out about Bush already. He's shrouded his government with more secrecy than any peacetime president in history and he has seldom met a human right he likes.

If you really want to find out about democracy go to a town meeting in Vermont. Watch a baseball game, the sport that perhaps best blends the democratic ideals of individuality and community. Spend some time in one of those wacky computer software firm's where no idea is considered too wild to examine. Listen to jazz and note how each musician is allowed extreme freedom during a solo and yet how conscientiously they back up the other musicians when it's their turn.

Democracy is not the answer, only an excellent way of finding answers. If you presume to have too many answers, you'll start acting like George Bush and not be very democratic at all.

Of course, since there's no patent on Americanism; anyone can claim it for their own. Remember that your goal should be the American ideal, not American practice. If you copy our current behavior you'll end up in as much trouble as we are. One of our historians has said that early America invented every important new political institution of that time --- and none since.

So if you want to Americanize, there's no better way to start than at the beginning. Read Paine, Thoreau, Emerson and, of course, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Enjoy not only their wisdom, but their idiosyncrasies and their failings. It will give you hope. Mike already has a leg up on Jefferson. Jefferson was a slave-owner, who attempted unsuccessfully to abolish slavery. Mike was a communist, but he got rid of his demon.

You should also jump ahead a hundred years or so and read Mark Twain and H. L. Mencken; it will give you a good feeling for how greed and foolishness corrupted the American ideal over the decades. To show you how perceptive Mencken was, back in 1930 he wrote that communism "will probably disappear altogether when the Russian experiment comes to a climax, and bolshevism either converts itself into a sickly imitation of capitalism or blows up with a bang. The former seems more likely."

Then leap forward and read Martin Luther King and learn how the sturdy American ideal could withstand the worst abuse and still permit dreams again. America's history has always been one of saints and scoundrels and the difficulty of telling them apart, especially when they were the same people.

o

Here's a good American saying: necessity is the mother of invention. Things aren't working out quite like you planned it, but there's at least a chance that you'll be forced to invent some good ideas as a result.

The nation state was never much to brag about. Its major contributions to human history has been incredible death and destruction. After World War II, nation states started to disintegrate as institutions that had some of the characteristics of countries began to take their place. The United Nations, NATO, the World Bank and multinational corporations all helped to weaken the idea of a nation long before the Armenians and the Muscovites got restless. Sure, you and we thought we were the most powerful nations in human history but that's because we only counted the assets and didn't consider what the charade was costing us. I mean, couldn't you use some of that money you sent to Cuba now? And it would be kind of nice to replay Vietnam all over again knowing what we know now.

So, Mike, don't feel too bad over the break-up of the Soviet Union. Nobody really needs it anymore. Besides, the real struggle in the world today has become that between the peoples of the world and their increasingly authoritarian, corrupt and unproductive governments. Your country was one of the first to collapse in the wake of this conflict, but that just gives you a head start into the new frontier.

Unfortunately, most of the people who might advise you on where to go have spent much of their life figuring out how to increase centralized authority. Their expertise won't help you much now. The people who can help are to be found in little noticed corners. For example, have you talked to the Swiss about democratic confederations? They've got over five hundred years of experience. Have you checked out any books on Green philosophy or read the works of E.F.Schumacher or Human Scale by Kirkpatrick Sale?

You're sort of on your own here, but remember: they don't teach devolution at Harvard and they don't practice it in Washington. You'll have to look elsewhere.

Finally, about this economic business. You've got keep a sharp eye on those Harvard types and the Wall Streeters and the Fortune 500 experts. These guys have spent the past decade figuring out how to borrow money to buy corporations rather than making things. As a result, as one of our Democratic presidential candidates said the other day, "The cold war is over and Japan won."

As far as Harvard goes, Jonathan Rowe, in a Washington Monthly article on Poland put it nicely:

"Though any number of Western advisers have had a hand in this program, the one who has gotten the most attention is Jeffrey Sachs, the globe-trotting whiz kid from Harvard. Sachs preaches a kind of macro-economic machismo. Raise prices, hike interest rates, welcome bankruptcies and unemployment as evidence that the fat of the communist years is sweating off the body economic. 'Western observers should not over-dramatize layoffs and bankruptcies,' Sachs wrote in The Economist. 'Poland, like the rest of Eastern Europe, now has too little unemployment, not too much."

This is the sort of Cambridge machismo that got us into years of trouble in Vietnam. Nothing is more dangerous than a Harvard professor proving his virility in national or international policy.

I understand they're trying to get you to buy something called the market system. Back before the Reagan administration they always called it the free market system but increasingly the adjective is being dropped. That makes sense because the only thing free its most ardent advocates want is their own way. And mostly, under Reagan and Bush, they've been getting it. Peter Ustinov said the other day that monetarism invites the money changers into the temple and then sells them the temple.

At its core, the market system is nothing more than what humans have been doing since they first traded a stone axe blade for a hunk of meat. There is nothing mystical, sacred or moral about it. And above all, there's nothing in the US Constitution about it. The idea that capitalism and democracy are inexorably intertwined is one of the worst conceits of our business classes.

It ain't so. For example, most people in this country were self-employed well into the 19th century. Businesses that sprung up didn't flourish on competition because there often wasn't any. You didn't need two banks or two drug stores in the average town. Prices and business ethics were not regulated by the marketplace but by a complicated cultural code and the fact that the banker had to go to church with his depositors. If you wanted to form a corporation you had to get a state charter and prove it was in the public interest, convenience and necessity.

With the industrial revolution that all changed. By the end of the 19th century the Supreme Court had declared corporations to be persons and entitled to the same protections as real people. And the myth of the virtue of competition was blooming -- justifying one of the great rapacious eras of American business.

Over the years it's gotten worse, until sometime in the 1980s even the economic hustlers had to admit tacitly that enterprise isn't very free anymore. Not only isn't it free, it's not working well either, a fact that has been neatly obscured by constant and largely irrelevant comparison to communism.

I'll tell you a secret, which maybe you know already. Our system is on the skids, too, another ungainly monster of an economic system based too much on greed, centralization and unfairness. So if you look for salvation in our way of doing business you may only be buying yourself a few years grace.

Perhaps it has dawned on you that to do it right you're going to have to replace both communism and capitalism with something better. Again you'll have to do a lot of looking. The Swedish model has much to offer -- although it, too, as the Swedish voters have suggested -- has its excesses. There is the cooperative system of Mondragon, Spain, and the mini-industries of Bologna. Even in this country, you'll find ideas worth considering. There are big consumer cooperatives like Land of Lakes Butter and the United Services Automobile Association that thrive happily amongst the conventional capitalists. The town of Green Bay, Wisconsin, holds its professional football team in community ownership. As a result, it's about the only professional sports team in America that we know won't be moving to someplace else. And, of course, in any small communities the farmer's coop is taken for granted as a major economic unit. These are, I hasten to say, real consumer-owned coops where real people rather than party bureaucrats make the decisions.

In the matter of money, it may help to know that in the early stages of this country, regional and local currency was common, meeting the needs of communities that had labor and products but lacked the paper by which to evaluate them. America didn't even have a central banking system until 1913.

In more recent times, experiments with local currencies have had surprising success. Let me give you one small example. During our current recession, the lease for a certain restaurant in Great Barrington, Mass., expired and the local bank wouldn't lend restauranteur Frank Tortrello money to move across the street. So Frank decided to print his own. He called them Deli Dollars. Each sold for $9 and could be redeemed for $10 worth of food after six months. Not only did the idea provide Frank with enough money to make his move, but it spread throughout the community. A local farm issued notes with the slogan "In Farms We Trust," featuring the head of a cabbage instead of the head of a president. New restaurants followed with their own currency and the local bills started showing up everywhere, including in church collection plate.

Remember that money is just another way of accounting for the trading of time and goods. American farmers do this trading all the time without ever writing it down or exchanging pieces of paper. One imaginative American, Edgar Cahn, has come up with a system under which people can earn time credits by assisting the elderly, to be redeemed in services when the creditor becomes aged. It's all done on computers. And there are a number of places in America and Canada where they're using 'green dollars' -- no bills or notes are issued, just computer records of services provided and received.

So don't just think of America as a place built with money. In reality it was also built by a lot of people who found some good ways to function without it. One of those ways was to help one another, which is why some Washingtonians still call a suburban volunteer rescure squad before they call 911. They know it will get there faster and do the job better. As Rowe put it: "Free market ideology stresses the impersonal nature of contracts. Life is a succession of deals, all to maximize personal benefits." And despite what you hear, that's not the way a lot Americans view life, nor practice it,

On the other hand, another great American prototype is the snake oil salesman. We spend a lot of time in this country trying to fool each other. We call it marketing. So be careful when you make your deals and listen to your American experts. Keep in mind what a real American expert, a southern farmer, told his son: "Trust everyone but get cash for your cotton."

I wish you luck, guys. If you have it, then maybe in a few years Americans will be coming to Moscow for advice. Because we need help, too.

1986

Psalm for the fast lane

The Lord is my mentor; I shall want it all.

He feedeth me in world-class restaurants and leadeth me beside the sparkling mineral waters.

He restoreth my house and bringeth me in the path of good access.

Yea, though I jog through the valley of the shadow of high rises I shall fear no viable competition; thy clout and thy bottom line shall comfort me.

He shall prepare a game plan against mine enemies, and shall bloweth dry my head and my Volvo shall runneth over to Bloomingdales.

Surely perks and power lunches shall follow me all the days of my life and 1 shall dwell in an upscale neighborhood forever and ever.

For thine is the power and the glory -

But not for long, sucker. I'm right behind you.