Saturday, August 21, 2004
A Warning from Ancient History in the Middle East
Dio Cassius: History of Rome, Book LIII.xxix.3-8.
For 23 B.C. … While this was going on, another and a new campaign had at once its beginning and its end. It was conducted by Aelius Gallus, the governor of Egypt, against the country called Arabia Felix, of which Sabos was king. At first Aelius encountered no one, yet he did not proceed without difficulty; for the desert, the sun, and the water (which had some peculiar nature), all caused his men great distress, so that the larger part of the army perished. The malady proved to be unlike any of the common complaints, but attacked the head and caused it to become parched, killing forthwith most of those who were attacked, but in the case of those who survived this stage it descended to the legs, skipping all the intervening parts of the body, and caused dire injury to them. There was no remedy for it except a mixture of olive-oil and wine, both taken as a drink and used as an ointment; and this remedy naturally lay within reach of only a few of them, since the country produces neither of these articles and the men had not prepared an abundant supply of them beforehand. In the midst of this trouble the barbarians also fell upon them. For hitherto they had been defeated whenever they joined battle, and had even been losing some places; but now, with the disease as their ally, they not only won back their own possessions, but also drove the survivors of the expedition out of the country. These were the first of the Romans, and, I believe, the only ones, to traverse so much of this part of Arabia for the purpose of making war. . .
The Greek geographer Strabo was a personal friend of Aelius Gallus. He wrote his account of the campaign in 22 AD whilst he was Gallus’ house guest and so presumably relates Gallus’ perspective. Even Strabo considers the campaign a failure. According to Strabo the difficulties Gallus encountered were due in large part to the misdirection of the Chalabi like Syllaeus, king's minister of the Nabataeans:
Strabo: Geography, Book XVI, Chap. iv 22-24
XVI.iv.22. The late expedition of the Romans against the Arabians, under the command of Aelius Gallus, has made us acquainted with many peculiarities of the country. Augustus Caesar despatched this general to explore the nature of these places and their inhabitants, as well as those of Ethiopia, for he observed that Troglodytica, which is contiguous to Egypt, bordered upon Ethiopia; and that the Arabian Gulf was extremely narrow where it separates the Arabians from the Troglodytae. It was his intention either to conciliate or subdue the Arabians. He was also influenced by the report which had prevailed from all time, that this people were very wealthy, and exchanged their aromatics and precious stones for silver and gold, but never expended with foreigners any part of what they received in exchange. He hoped to acquire either opulent friends, or to overcome opulent enemies. He was, moreover, encouraged to undertake this enterprise by the expectation of assistance from the Nabataeans, who promised to cooperate with him in everything.
XVI.iv.23. Upon these inducements Gallus set out on the expedition. But he was deceived by Syllaeus, the king's minister of the Nabataeans, who had promised to be his guide on march, and to assist him in the execution of his design. Syllaeus was, however, treacherous throughout; for he neither guided them by a safe course by sea along the coast, nor by a safe road for the army as he promised, but exposed both fleet and the army to danger by directing them where there was no road, or the road was impracticable, where they were obliged to make long circuits, or to pass through tracts of country destitute of everything; he led the fleet along a rocky coast without harbors, or to places abounding with rocks concealed under water, or with shallows. In places of this description particularly, the flowing and ebbing of the tide did them the most harm.
The first mistake consisted in building long vessels of war at a time when there was no war, nor any likely to occur at sea. For the Arabians, being mostly engaged in traffic and commerce, are not a very warlike people even on land, much less so at sea. Gallus, notwithstanding, built not less than eighty biremes and triremes and galleys at Cleopatris [also called Arsinoë, and near Heroöpolis] near the old canal which leads from the Nile. When he discovered his mistake, he constructed a hundred and thirty vessels of burden, in which he embarked with about ten thousand infantry, collected from Egypt, consisting of Romans and allies, among whom were five hundred Jews and a thousand Nabataeans, under the command of Syllaeus. After enduring great hardships and distress, he arrived on the fifteenth day at Leuce-Come [modern Hanak], a large mart in the territory of the Nabataeans, with the loss of many of his vessels, some with all their crews, in consequence of the difficulty of the navigation, but by no opposition from an enemy. These misfortunes were occasioned by the perfidy of Syllaeus, who insisted that there was no road for an army by land to Leuce-Come, to which and from which place the camel traders travel with ease and in safety from Petra, and back to Petra, with so large a body of men and camels as to differ in no respect from an army.
XVI.iv.24. Another cause of the failure of the expedition was the fact of king Obodas not paying much attention to public affairs, and especially to those relative to war (as is the custom with all Arabian kings), but placed everything in the power of Syllaeus the minister. His whole conduct in command of the army was perfidious, and his object was, as I suppose, to examine as a spy the state of the country and to destroy, in concert with the Romans, certain cities and tribes; and when the Romans should be consumed by famine, fatigue, and disease, and by all the evils which he had treacherously contrived, to declare himself master of the whole country. Gallus, however, arrived at Leuce-Come, with the army laboring under stomacacce and scelotyrbe, diseases of the country, the former affecting the mouth, the other the legs, with a kind of paralysis, caused by the water and the plants (which the soldiers had used in their food). He was therefore compelled to pass the summer and the winter there, for the recovery of the sick.
Merchandise is conveyed from Leuce-Come-to Petra, thence to Rhinocolura [modern Al-Arish] in Phoenicia, near Egypt, and thence to other nations. But at present the greater part is transported by the Nile to Alexandria. It is brought down from Arabia and India to Myus Hormus [modern Bãr Safajah], it is then conveyed on camels to Coptus of the Thebaïs, situated on a canal of the Nile, and Alexandria. Gallus, setting out again from Leuce-Come on his return with his army, and through the treachery of his guide, traversed such tracts of country, that the army was obliged to carry water with them upon camels. After a march of many days, therefore, he came to the territory of Aretas [modern Medina?], who was related to Obodas. Aretas received him in a friendly manner, and offered presents. But by the treachery of Syllaeus, Gallus was conducted by a difficult road through the country; for he occupied thirty days in passing through it. It afforded barley, a few palm trees, and butter instead of oil.
The next country to which he came belonged to the nomads, and was in great part a complete desert [the Debae]. It was called Ararene. The king of the country was Sabos. Gallus spent fifty days in passing through this territory, for want of roads, and came to a city of the Negrani [probably Mecca], and to a fertile country peacefully disposed. The king had fled, and the city was taken at the first onset. After a march of six days from thence, he came to the river [in the land of the Minae]. Here the barbarians attacked the Romans, and lost about ten thousand men; the Romans lost only two men. For the barbarians were entirely inexperienced in war, and used their weapons unskillfully, which were bows, spears, swords, and slings; but the greater part of them wielded a double-edged axe. Immediately afterwards he took the city called Asca [probably modern Al-Lith], which had been abandoned by the king. He thence came to a city Athrula [modern Abha?], and took it without resistance; having placed a garrison there, and collected provisions for the march, consisting of grain and dates he proceeded to a city Marsiaba, belonging to the nation of the Rhammanitae, who were subjects of Ilasarus [in modern Yemen, east of modern San'a]. He assaulted and besieged it for six days, but raised the siege in consequence of a scarcity of water. He was two days' march from the aromatic regions, as he was informed by his prisoners.
He occupied in his marches a period of six months, in consequence of the treachery of his guides. This he discovered when he was returning; and although he was late in discovering the design against him, he had time to take another route back; for he arrived in nine days at Negrana [near modern Sa'dah?], where the battle was fought, and thence in eleven days he came to the "Seven Wells" [modern Al-Qunfudhah], as the place is called from the fact of their existing there. Thence he marched through a desert country, and came to Chaalla a village, and then to another called Malothas [perhaps modern Jeddah], situated on a river. This road then lay through a desert country, which had only a few watering-places, as far as Egra [modern Yanbu] a village. It belongs to the territory of Obodus, and is situated upon the sea. He accomplished on his return the whole distance in sixty days, in which, on his first journey, he had consumed six months. From Negra he conducted his army in eleven days to Myus Hormus; thence across the country to Coptus, and arrived at Alexandria with so much of his army as could be saved. The remainder he lost, not by the enemy, but by disease, fatigue, famine, and marches through bad roads; for seven men only perished in battle. For these reasons this expedition contributed little in extending our knowledge of the country. It was however of some small service. Syllaeus, the author of these disasters, was punished for his treachery at Rome. He affected friendship, but he was convicted of other offences, besides perfidy in this instance and was beheaded.
As Historian Christopher S. Mackay notes, the failed expedition indirectly brought an end to the Romans’ ambitions in other regions too:
…While the Roman garrison of Egypt was thus distracted, forces of the kingdom of Meroe (in the area of modern Ethiopia) attacked the southernmost outposts of Rome on the Nile (to the north of the second cataract). The next praefect, C. Petronius, launched a punitive campaign and captured Nabata the northern capital, though he did not reach Meroe. Tribute was imposed and a garrison left behind, but soon the Meroitic forces attacked again. Though their assault was repelled, an embassy was allowed to be sent to Augustus, who remitted the tribute. In effect, it was decided that it was not worth the bother to extend Roman control south of Egypt.
Friday, August 20, 2004
America's Own Nazi Doctors
Abu Ghraib: its legacy for military medicine
Steven H. Miles
The complicity of US military medical personnel during abuses of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay is of great importance to human rights, medical ethics, and military medicine. Government documents show that the US military medical system failed to protect detainees' human rights, sometimes collaborated with interrogators or abusive guards, and failed to properly report injuries or deaths caused by beatings…
…The medical system collaborated with designing and implementing psychologically and physically coercive interrogations. Army officials stated that a physician and a psychiatrist helped design, approve, and monitor interrogations at Abu Ghraib. This echoes the Secretary of Defense's 2003 memo ordering interrogators to ensure that detainees are "medically and operationally evaluated as suitable" for interrogation plans. In one example of a compromised medically monitored interrogation, a detainee collapsed and was apparently unconscious after a beating, medical staff revived the detainee and left, and the abuse continued. There are isolated reports that medical personnel directly abused detainees. Two detainees' depositions describe an incident where a doctor allowed a medically untrained guard to suture a prisoner's lacertation from being beaten.
The medical system failed to accurately report illnesses and injuries. Abu Ghraib authorities did not notify families of deaths, sicknesses, or transfers to medical facilities as required by the Convention. A medic inserted a intravenous catheter into the corpse of a detainee who died under torture in order to create evidence that he was alive at the hospital. In another case, an Iraqi man, taken into custody by US soldiers was found months later by his family in an Iraqi hospital. He was comatose, had three skull fractures, a severe thumb fracture, and burns on the bottoms of his feet. An accompanying US medical report stated that heat stroke had triggered a heart attack that put him in a coma; it did not mention the injuries.
Death certificates of detainees in Afghanistan and Iraq were falsified or their release or completion was delayed for months. Medical investigators either failed to investigate unexpected deaths of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan or performed cursory evaluations and physicians routinely attributed detainee deaths on death certificates to heart attacks, heat stroke, or natural causes without noting the unnatural aetiology of the death. In one example, soldiers tied a beaten detainee to the top of his cell door and gagged him. The death certificate indicated that he died of "natural causes . . . during his sleep." After news media coverage, the Pentagon revised the certificate to say that the death was a "homicide" caused by "blunt force injuries and asphyxia."
In November, 2003, Iraqi Major General Mowhoush's head was pushed into a sleeping bag while interrogators sat on his chest. He died; medics could not resuscitate him, and a surgeon stated that he died of natural causes. 6 months later, the Pentagon released a death certificate calling the death a homicide by asphyxia. Medical authorities allowed misleading information released by military authorities to go unchallenged for many months. In 2004, the US Secretary of Defense issued a stringent policy for death investigations.
Finally, although knowledge of torture and degrading treatment was widespread at Abu Ghraib and known to medical personnel, there is no report before the January 2004 Army investigation of military health personnel reporting abuse, degradation, or signs of torture.
Full story at The Lancet
The History of Marriage and Other Religious Distortions
August 18, 2004 5:02 pm ET
(Washington) In what is likely to be a major embarrassment for President Bush, his twin daughters have reportedly agreed to attend a gay wedding in nearby Laytonsville, Maryland.
The wedding is that of their beautician Erwin Gomez and his partner James Packard. Although not recognized by law, the two, who also wed in San Francisco when it was legal there, will exchange vows and rings and hold a reception for friends at their Laytonsville home.
Gomez works at the Elizabeth Arden shop in Chevy Chase.
The New York Daily News reports that Gomez gave the First Daughters invitations to next month's affair when the girls came in for their weekly eyebrow waxing and they accepted.
"I gave them the party invitation, and they said, 'That sounds great, we'd love to come - it sounds like a lot of fun,'" Gomez told the News.
"The way they reacted, they were very open-minded."
Whilst it’s reassuring to know that Bush has failed to indoctrinate even his own family with his views, it is unlikely to have any political impact. The relationships of same sex couples must be unique amongst all human relationships in having no access to legal recognition.
In a speech on the subject Bush said:
The union of a man and woman is the most enduring human institution, honored and encouraged in all cultures and by every religious faith. Ages of experience have taught humanity that the commitment of a husband and wife to love and to serve one another promotes the welfare of children and the stability of society.
Marriage cannot be severed from its cultural, religious and natural roots without weakening the good influence of society.
This is entirely spurious. Marriage doesn’t have any “religious roots”. In fact it took Christianity 800 years to impose itself on the civil contract of marriage:
Until the ninth century marriages were not church involved. Up until the twelfth century there were blessings and prayers during the ceremony and the couple would offer their own prayers. Then priests asked that an agreement be made in their presence. Then religion was added to the ceremony.
English weddings in the thirteenth century among the upper class became religious events but the church only blessed the marriage and did not want a legal commitment. In 1563 the Council of Trent required that Catholic marriages be celebrated at a Catholic church by a priest and before two witnesses. By the eighteenth century the wedding was a religious event in all countries of Europe.
The Church encountered equal amounts of resistance in Europe:
In order to assert greater control over its parishioners, the Catholic Reformation Church in the wake of the Council of Trent (1547-1563) attempted to bring relationships, especially those involving sexual relations, under its purview. This process involved the redefinition of marriage rituals, especially in terms of premarital sexual relations and the legitimization of marriage promises by a priest. However, parishioners often proved to have little enthusiasm for such ecclesiastical regulation… the structures of local culture, especially those involving sexuality, proved slow to change…
… The theologians at the Council of Trent significantly transformed the sacrament of marriage through the publication of its famous decree, Tametsi. Through this decree the Church universalized marriage ritual by asserting that marriages were only valid when the promise was publicly announced on three occasions at the parish church, and officially contracted in the presence of a priest. In traditional European culture a consensual marriage promise and sexual intercourse typically guaranteed a legitimate marriage… Further complicating the Church's stand on marriage ritual was the medieval Church's acceptance of "the custom of the place," in which it insisted only that both spouses consent to any marriage in order for it to be considered legitimate…
… Within a decade of the close of the Council, the Catholic Church in Spain, strengthened and unified by the decrees of Trent, began the process of placing itself at the center of the marriage ritual through mechanisms like the Inquisition and regular parish visitations. However, over the long run the Church's ability to impose this conformity on its parishioners was constrained by one significant obstacle: the parishioners themselves. Parish records concerning the contraction of marriage attest to the continued conflict between tradition and reform. A close look reveals that despite the injunctions of the Council of Trent, not all promises of marriage and sexual activity led to marriage, principally because local religious culture tolerated sexual activity between promised partners whether or not the promise was made in the presence of a priest…
…In rural areas like Ourense, marriage traditions which excluded clerical intervention, especially the tradition of legitimizing the relationship through the private or semi-public exchange of marriage promises, continued well into the seventeenth century.
Marriage is not the only area in which Christianity seeks to rewrite its own history. In a similar vein the Catholic Church has distorted the development of, and reasons behind its insistence that Priests be celibate as well as the fact that many pastors of the early church were women. The real reasons for celibacy have nothing to do with spirituality and everything to do with money and politics.
As Father John Shuster explains:
History fully supports a married priesthood. For the first 1200 years of the Church’s existence, priests, bishops and 39 popes were married. Celibacy existed in the first century among hermits and monks, but it was considered an optional, alternative lifestyle. Medieval politics brought about the discipline of mandatory celibacy for priests…
…Married priests and their spouses were the first pastors, the first bishops, the first missionaries. They carried the message of Jesus across cultures and protected it through many hardships. They guided the fragile young Church through its early growth and helped it survive numerous persecutions…
..Sacred Scripture documents that priests and bishops of the early Church were married. In the New Testament, in his first letter to Timothy, chapter 3, verses 1 through 7, St. Paul discusses the qualities necessary for a bishop. He describes a "kind and peaceable" father, a man with a family. As part of his description, St. Paul even asks the question, "...how can any man who does not understand how to manage his own family have responsibility for the church of God?" St. Paul established many small communities and left them in the hands of married priests and bishops.
Church leadership was based in service and was accountable to the people. Each member of the church had a voice in the community … group decisions were made in agreement with the whole assembly. The early Church is portrayed as democratic, where leadership listened to the community and responded to its needs.
The politicization of the church began in AD 313, when Constantine legalized Christianity:
Constantine’s intentions in adopting Christianity were not entirely spiritual. His position was being challenged by political groups; he needed to display his power. Forcing other politicians to become Christians was a test of their loyalty.
Constantine used the new religion as an effective tool to weed out his enemies. It strengthened his political power. Constantine also was faced with unifying the many peoples his armies had vanquished. Christianity was the key to establishing a new Roman identity in the conquered peoples. On the surface he made them Christians to save their souls, but this new religion was his final act of conquest over them...
...With Christianity now the official religion of the Roman Empire, many things changed very quickly in the Church. Priests from the small communities were given special social rank among their new Roman friends. …Romans, who were members of the local ruling elite, quickly converted to Christianity as ordered by the Emperor. These were men trained in public life and skilled in city politics. They became priests and rapidly moved into positions of leadership in the Church.
These Roman politicians, with their newly acquired priesthood, brought the impersonal and legalistic attitudes of government to the Church. The celebration of the Eucharist moved from small home gatherings to what we now call "mass" involving huge numbers of people in large buildings. The celebration of the Eucharist became a highly structured ritual that imitated the ceremonies of Rome’s imperial court. This Roman influence is the source of our vestments, genuflection, kneeling, and the strict formality of Mass..
An institutional Church structure emerged mirroring that of the Roman government. Large buildings, church tribunal courts, rulers and subjects began to replace the family-based small communities that were served by a local married priesthood. The new Roman priests worked to shift authority away from the married priests in the small communities and consolidate political power around themselves. With the assistance of the Roman Empire, Church leadership became a hierarchy that moved away from its family origins and into the Roman mindset of a ruling class that was above the people in the street.
Other changes occurred that shifted emphasis away from the people and towards the preferences of the Roman politicians. The Church adopted the Roman practice of men alone holding institutional authority. There is solid historical evidence that women served as priests and pastors prior to this time…
…In 494 women’s participation in the leadership of small communities came to an end when Pope Gelasius decreed that women could no longer be ordained to the priesthood. This legislation is perhaps the strongest proof we have of women serving as spiritual leaders in the early Church. Women’s roles in the church diminished as popes and bishops marched in lockstep with the Roman authorities…
…The hierarchy viewed married priests as an obstacle to their quest for total control of the church and focused a two pronged attack against them. They used mandatory celibacy to attack and dissolve the influential priestly families throughout Europe and the Mediterranean world. At the same time they claimed ownership of the churches and the lands owned by married priests. As landowners the medieval hierarchy knew that they would gain the political power they sought in every country in Europe. An additional benefit of land ownership was money. They now had the ability to collect taxes from the faithful and charge money for indulgences and other sacramental ministry. This practice contributed to the Protestant reformation and the splintering of the Roman Catholic church community in the sixteenth century.
In the eleventh century, the attacks against the married priesthood grew in intensity. In 1074, Pope Gregory VII legislated that anyone to be ordained must first pledge celibacy. Continuing his attack against women, he publicly stated that "...the Church cannot escape from the clutches of the laity unless priests first escape the clutches of their wives". Within twenty years, things took a turn for the worse.
In the year 1095, there was an escalation of brutal force against married priests and their families. Pope Urban II ordered that married priests who ignored the celibacy laws be imprisoned for the good of their souls. He had the wives and children of those married priests sold into slavery, and the money went to church coffers.
The effort to consolidate church power in the medieval hierarchy and to seize the land assets the married priest families saw its victory in 1139. The legislation that effectively ended optional celibacy for priests came from the Second Lateran Council under Pope Innocent II. The true motivation for these laws was the desire to acquire land throughout Europe and strengthen the papal power base. The laws demanding mandatory celibacy for priests used the language of purity and holiness, but their true intent was to solidify control over the lower clergy and eliminate any challenge to the political objectives of the medieval hierarchy.
Thursday, August 19, 2004
Holier than thou Boykin reprimanded
A United States army general violated Pentagon rules with speeches in which he described the war on terror as a Christian battle against Satan, and he should be punished, according to an inspector-general's report revealed today.
The Department of Defense's watchdog agency said Lieutenant General William Boykin, a top-ranking intelligence officer, used official data in some of the 23 religious-oriented speeches he gave after January 2002 which should have been cleared by the Pentagon.
Boykin sparked a firestorm last October after giving speeches while in uniform in which he referred to the war on terror as a battle with Satan and said America had been targeted "because we're a Christian nation".
Boykin was obliged to clear the speeches, given "the sensitive nature of his remarks concerning US policy and the likelihood that he would be perceived by his audiences as a DOD spokesman based on his official position and his appearance in uniform", the report said.
Boykin, an evangelical Christian, also violated rules by failing to issue a required disclaimer at the speeches that he was not representing official Pentagon policy, it said.
Full Story at The Sydney Morning Herald
There were demands for Boykin’s resignation as deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence when his extreme religious views came to light in October 2003.
MSNBC reported a remark Boykin made to a Muslim Somali Warlord:
“I knew that my God was bigger than his God. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol.”
Boykin had been on a speaking tour of Evangelical groups:
Boykin routinely told audiences that God elevated George W. Bush to the presidency. “Why is this man in the White House? The majority of Americans did not vote for him,” he would say. “I tell you this morning that he’s in the White House because God put him there.”
According to CBS
Boykin has shown church groups photos he took of Mogadishu with black slashes in the sky which he says did not come from any defect in the camera or film.
"Whether you understand it or not, it is a demonic spirit over the city of Mogadishu. Ladies and gentlemen, that's not a fake, that's not a farce," Boykin said.
Rather than removing this dangerous liability from office Rumsfeld had already rewarded him with a special new assignment.
May 20th 2004, Sidney Blumenthal in The Guardian:
Boykin was not removed or transferred. At that moment, he was at the heart of a secret operation to "Gitmoize" (Guantánamo is known in the US as Gitmo) the Abu Ghraib prison. He had flown to Guantánamo, where he met Major General Geoffrey Miller, in charge of Camp X-Ray. Boykin ordered Miller to fly to Iraq and extend X-Ray methods to the prison system there, on Rumsfeld's orders.
New York, New York
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, already under fire for his tough stance against anti-GOP protest groups, Monday suggested that First Amendment rights of free speech and free assembly are "privileges" that could be lost if abused…
"People who avail themselves of the opportunity to express themselves ... they will not abuse that privilege," he said at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. "Because if we start to abuse our privileges, then we lose them, and nobody wants that."
The mayor's comments drew immediate criticism from protest groups and came amid reports that federal agents and city police have been questioning activists, monitoring Web sites and dropping in unannounced on organizational meetings."The right to protest is not nor has it ever been a privilege -- it is a constitutionally protected right that everybody in this country enjoys," said Leslie Cagan, head of United for Peace and Justice, which has locked horns with the city over its attempt to stage a 250,000-person protest in Central Park. "I have no idea what he's talking about. I'm completely flabbergasted."
Two days later Bloomberg's attitude appears to have softened considerably:
NEW YORK Aug. 18, 2004 — Mayor Michael Bloomberg turned down requests to allow an anti-war demonstration in Central Park on the eve of the Republican National Convention, but he offered protesters something else: cheap tickets to a Broadway show.
All they have to do to get discounted tickets, reduced hotel rates and other perks is play nice when they come to town.
"There is no reason we shouldn't welcome them in the same way we are welcoming the delegates and the press," Bloomberg said Tuesday. "The right to protest is a basic American right ... and New York City is a place where you can come and get your message out."
Buttons showing the Statue of Liberty welcoming "peaceful political activists" will be given to protesters who obey the law and groups that have permits to demonstrate. Participating restaurants, museums and others will provide the treats.
"It's no fun to protest on an empty stomach," Bloomberg said.
What could have happened to inspire Bloomberg’s newly conciliatory attitude towards protestors? Perhaps he read the New York Times on the 17th August:
City officials have promoted the Republican National Convention as a $265 million wave on the becalmed sea of New York City's summer economy, but now that the convention is two weeks away, signs point to a modest economic boost for a handful of businesses rather than a tide that lifts all boats.
Rooms at some of the city's hottest hotels and tables at some of its most exclusive restaurants are still available, and seats are still there for the taking at hit Broadway shows like "Hairspray" and "Movin' Out." The producer of "I Am My Own Wife," a Pulitzer- and Tony-winning critical hit about a German transvestite, is closing for a week during the convention rather than face many empty seats. Other shows are closing for good.
With the prospect of large political protests, extra security and skittish residents planning to leave town, many businesses, far from banking on a boom, are simply hoping that the four-day convention, which starts Aug. 30, will not make what is always a tough week worse.
Boston, which played host to the Democratic National Convention last month, set a grim example - its streets were deserted and its delegates spent little. A research institute there said the convention provided a tenth of the economic boost city officials had promised.
Add to this Shut it Down ‘s call for all New Yorkers to down tools on September the 1st and ongoing discontent in the ranks of the New York police and firefighters who are considering picketing the Republican Party Convention themselves, and one can see why Bloomberg might wish to resort to bribery. This is about as likely to work as his previous attempts at intimidation. A couple of cheap Broadway Show tickets are not much compensation when murder is being committed in your name.
Wednesday, August 18, 2004
Democrats Abroad Australia "House Party for Kerry" a winner!
Last weekend's house party in Sydney, hosted by Doris and Michael Hobbs, raised more than US$1000 for Democrats Abroad and the Kerry campaign! Your contributions will directly help us get the word out to other Americans living here in Australia. Thanks again for your generous support!
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Though Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 has grabbed the headlines, another documentary is at the center of this debate. In August, Robert Greenwald will release an updated version of his award-winning film, Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War. Greenwald has added a clip of President George W. Bush's February interview with Tim Russert on Meet the Press, NBC's Sunday morning talk show. In the clip, the president defends his decision to go to war - astonishingly unconvincingly.
Greenwald asked NBC for permission to run the one-minute clip - offering to pay for the right, as he had done for every other clip that appears in the film. NBC said no. The network explained to his agent that the clip is "not very flattering to the president." Greenwald included it anyway.
Copyright law gives NBC the power to deny anyone the use of its content, at least presumptively. If you want to rebroadcast Meet the Press or sell copies on the Internet, you need NBC's permission. There are exceptions, at least in theory. The law, for example, exempts "fair uses" of copyrighted material from the control of its owner. If a clip is short enough, or if its use is sufficiently transformative or critical, then the law allows its use, whether permission is granted or not.
In practice, however, the matter isn't that simple. Because copyright law is so uncertain, and because insurance companies that indemnify films don't much like risk, the practice among auteurs seeking major distribution is to cut any clip for which permission isn't granted - fair use notwithstanding. The costs of defending a fair use right in court - and, more important, the costs if any such defense should fail - make the risk prohibitive for most filmmakers. Defense of fair use could run hundreds of thousands of dollars - several times the budget of a typical documentary. And losing this type of claim could expose the filmmaker to $150,000 in damages for each copyright infringed. In a world in which Fox News sues comedian and author Al Franken for parodying "fair and balanced," a cautious director can't be too careful.
... NBC insists it is remaining "neutral" by denying others use of the interview. But there's nothing neutral about restricting either critics or supporters from repeating the president's words. But the issue here isn't really NBC's motive. It is the president's. Why would any president allow a network to copyright his message? No self-respecting president would speak at a club that excluded women: Whatever rights a private organization may enjoy, a president stands for equality. So why did the current leader of the free world, who rarely holds press conferences, agree to speak on a talk show that refuses to license on a neutral basis the content he contributed? Is vigorous debate over matters as important as going to war less important than protecting his image?
Full Story at Wired Magazine
Tuesday, August 17, 2004
Kissing the Whip: What is wrong with the Neocon Voters?
..and in Business Week, July 30, 2001, "A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there's no question about it."
"God told me to strike at al Qaida and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me I will act, and if not, the elections will come and I will have to focus on them."
Bush Supporter "I'm 60 years old and I've voted Republican from the very first time I could vote. And I also want to say this is the very first time that I have felt that God was in the White House.''
What is wrong with these people? Their unquestioning loyalty to Bush in the face of all evidence bespeaks a sycophancy bordering on the delusional, more co-dependency than a reasoned analysis of Bush policy, or even self-interest. The relationship is reminiscent of the Woody Allen joke:
"Doc, uh, my brother's crazy. He thinks he's a chicken." And, uh, the doctor says, "Well, why don't you turn him in?" And the guy says, "I would, but I need the eggs."
There is widespread incredulity and frustration on the left at the willingness of some sectors of American society to seemingly vote against their own interests. But the real motivation behind this choice may lie at a deeper level of the neocon psyche.
Witnessing this phenomenon occur in Germany in the second world war, Erich Fromm, an ex-patriot German Jew, was inspired to write Escape from Freedom (published in the U.K. as The Fear of Freedom) in which he sought to address the psychological motivations behind this tendency.
Dr. C. George Boeree sums up Fromm’s view on the development and characteristics of this mindset:
Fromm's theory is a rather unique blend of Freud and Marx. Freud, of course, emphasized the unconscious, biological drives, repression, and so on. In other words, Freud postulated that our characters were determined by biology. Marx, on the other hand, saw people as determined by their society, and most especially by their economic systems.
He added to this mix of two deterministic systems something quite foreign to them: The idea of freedom. He allows people to transcend the determinisms that Freud and Marx attribute to them. In fact, Fromm makes freedom the central characteristic of human nature!
There are, Fromm points out, examples where determinism alone operates. A good example of nearly pure biological determinism, ala Freud, is animals (at least simple ones). Animals don't worry about freedom -- their instincts take care of everything. Woodchucks, for example, don't need career counseling to decide what they are going to be when they grow up: They are going to be woodchucks!
A good example of socioeconomic determinism, ala Marx, is the traditional society of the Middle Ages. Just like woodchucks, few people in the Middle Ages needed career counseling: They had fate, the Great Chain of Being, to tell them what to do. Basically, if your father was a peasant, you'd be a peasant. If your father was a king, that's what you'd become. And if you were a woman, well, there was only one role for women.
Today, we might look at life in the Middle Ages, or life as an animal, and cringe. But the fact is that the lack of freedom represented by biological or social determinism is easy. Your life has structure, meaning, there are no doubts, no cause for soul-searching, you fit in and never suffered an identity crisis.
Historically speaking, this simple, if hard, life began to get shaken up with the Renaissance. In the Renaissance, people started to see humanity as the center of the universe, instead of God. In other words, we didn't just look to the church (and other traditional establishments) for the path we were to take. Then came the Reformation, which introduced the idea of each of us being individually responsible for our own soul's salvation. And then came democratic revolutions such as the American and the French revolutions. Now all of a sudden we were supposed to govern ourselves! And then came the industrial revolution, and instead of tilling the soil or making things with our hands, we had to sell our labor in exchange for money. All of a sudden, we became employees and consumers! Then came socialist revolutions such as the Russian and the Chinese, which introduced the idea of participatory economics. You were no longer responsible only for your own well-being, but for fellow workers as well!
So, over a mere 500 years, the idea of the individual, with individual thoughts, feelings, moral conscience, freedom, and responsibility, came into being. but with individuality came isolation, alienation, and bewilderment. Freedom is a difficult thing to have, and when we can we tend to flee from it.
Fromm describes three ways in which we escape from freedom:
1. Authoritarianism. We seek to avoid freedom by fusing ourselves with others, by becoming a part of an authoritarian system like the society of the Middle Ages. There are two ways to approach this. One is to submit to the power of others, becoming passive and compliant. The other is to become an authority yourself, a person who applies structure to others. Either way, you escape your separate identity.
Fromm referred to the extreme version of authoritarianism as masochism and sadism, and points out that both feel compelled to play their separate roles, so that even the sadist, with all his apparent power over the masochist, is not free to choose his actions. But milder versions of authoritarianism are everywhere. In many classes, for example, there is an implicit contract between students and professors: Students demand structure, and the professor sticks to his notes. It seems innocuous and even natural, but this way the students avoid taking any responsibility for their learning, and the professor can avoid taking on the real issues of his field.
2. Destructiveness. Authoritarians respond to a painful existence by, in a sense, eliminating themselves: If there is no me, how can anything hurt me? But others respond to pain by striking out against the world: If I destroy the world, how can it hurt me? It is this escape from freedom that accounts for much of the indiscriminate nastiness of life -- brutality, vandalism, humiliation, vandalism, crime, terrorism....
Fromm adds that, if a person's desire to destroy is blocked by circumstances, he or she may redirect it inward. The most obvious kind of self-destructiveness is, of course, suicide. But we can also include many illnesses, drug addiction, alcoholism, even the joys of passive entertainment. He turns Freud's death instinct upside down: Self-destructiveness is frustrated destructiveness, not the other way around.
3. Automaton conformity. Authoritarians escape by hiding within an authoritarian hierarchy. But our society emphasizes equality! There is less hierarchy to hide in (though plenty remains for anyone who wants it, and some who don't). When we need to hide, we hide in our mass culture instead. When I get dressed in the morning, there are so many decisions! But I only need to look at what you are wearing, and my frustrations disappear. Or I can look at the television, which, like a horoscope, will tell me quickly and effectively what to do. If I look like, talk like, think like, feel like... everyone else in my society, then I disappear into the crowd, and I don't need to acknowledge my freedom or take responsibility. It is the horizontal counterpart to authoritarianism.
Was America more liable to fall prey to this syndrome than other Western countries? As the world’s superpower America is in a unique position. In terms of global family dynamics, every other Western country had, in America, a benign bigger brother who could intercede with the schoolyard bully. America alone has no larger, richer, better armed sibling to turn to, no security blanket, no safety net. As any eldest sibling can attest, with authority comes vulnerability. Power and insecurity go hand in hand.
With 9/11 the Bush regime was handed the favourite weapon in the Fascist armoury – fear. With fear comes the potential to foster a regressive child-like reaction amongst the susceptible, to send them running for the shelter of the greater parent, for comfort not for reason. The same instinct underlies the religiosity that the neocons exploit. Sectors of the American psyche must have already been at yellow alert before 9/11. The awful event served merely to validate their siege mentality. They will willingly sacrifice freedom for the security of an authoritarian regime, because the latter brings the freedom they really want, freedom from the responsibility and tolerance a democracy demands of its citizens. They want a parent-child relationship with the state. The emotional need for a parent figure outweighs material considerations. When they know their place in the hierarchy the world becomes a safe black and white place again. Overlooking the idiosyncrasies of the parent/president becomes simple – they have to because they need the eggs.
Monday, August 16, 2004
Plus Ca Change, Plus C’est la Même Chose
Many people are all too painfully aware of the parallels between Orwell’s 1984 and the predicament we find ourselves in today, but Orwell’s other works are worth re-examining in our modern context as well. It seems the more things change the more they stay the same.
In Wells, Hitler and the World State Orwell takes H.G. Wells to task for not taking the Nazi threat seriously enough. At this stage of history many people still regarded Hitler as too absurd to pose a real threat. Orwell criticizes what he perceives as Wells’ idealism in the face of Fascism, which Orwell regards as a luxury afforded only to those with no direct experience of Fascism. The essay is prefaced by excerpts of Wells’ writings which Orwell goes on to commentate upon.
Wells, Hitler and the World StateIn the 1945 essay Notes on Nationalism Orwell defines the difference between Nationalism and Patriotism, and it is an important distinction. He outlines the three primary characteristics of nationalism, all of which are in abundant evidence today, but the third category Indifference to Reality strikes a particular chord.
Written in 1941.
“In 1914 the Hohenzollern army was the best in the world. Behind that screaming little defective in Berlin there is nothing of the sort… Yet our military ‘experts’ discuss the waiting phantom. In their imaginations it is perfect in its equipment and invincible in discipline. Sometimes it is to strike a decisive ‘blow’ through Spain and North Africa and so on, or march through the Balkans, march from the Danube to Ankara, to Persia, to India, or ‘crush Russia’ or ‘pour’ over the Brenner into Italy. The weeks pass and the phantom does none of these things – for one excellent reason. It does not exist to that extent. Most of such inadequate guns and munitions as it possessed must have been taken away from it and fooled away in Hitler’s silly feints to invade Britain. And its raw jerry-built discipline is wilting under the creeping realization that the Blitzkreig is spent, and the war is coming home to roost.”
These quotations are not taken from the Cavalry Quarterly but from a series of newspaper articles by Mr. H.G. Wells…Since they were written, the German army has overrun the Balkans and reconquered Cyrenaica, it can march through Turkey or Spain at such time as may suit it, and it has undertaken the invasion of Russia.
…What has Wells to set against the “screaming little defective in Berlin”? The usual rigmarole about a World State, plus the Sankey Declaration, which is an attempted definition of fundamental human rights, or anti-totalitarian tendency…
…All sensible men for decades past have been substantially in agreement with what Mr. Wells says; but the sensible men have no power and, in too many cases, no disposition to sacrifice themselves. Hitler is a criminal lunatic, and Hitler has an army of millions of men, aeroplanes in thousands, tanks in tens of thousands.
…The people who say Hitler is Antichrist, or alternatively Holy Ghost, are nearer an understanding of the truth than the intellectuals who for ten dreadful years have kept it up that he is merely a figure out of comic opera, not worth taking seriously.
…Hitler is all the war-lords and witch-doctors in history rolled into one. Therefore, argues Wells, he is an absurdity, a ghost from the past, a creature doomed to disappear almost immediately…The war-lords and the witch-doctors must fail, the common-sense World State, as seen by a nineteenth-century Liberal, whose heart does not leap at the sound of bugles, must triumph. Treachery and defeatism apart, Hitler cannot be a danger. That he should finally win would be an impossible reversal of history, like a Jacobite restoration.
…He [Wells] was, and still is, quite incapable of understanding that nationalism, religious bigotry, and feudal loyalty are far more powerful forces than what he himself would describe as sanity. Creatures out of the Dark Ages have come marching into the present, and if they are ghosts they are at any rate ghosts which need a strong magic to lay them.
Notes on Nationalism
Somewhere or other Byron makes use of the French word longueur, and remarks in passing that though in England we happen not to have the word, we have the thing in considerable profusion. In the same way, there is a habit of mind which is now so widespread that it affects our thinking on nearly every subject, but which has not yet been given a name. As the nearest existing equivalent I have chosen the word “nationalism”, but it will be seen in a moment that I am not using it in quite the ordinary sense, if only because the emotion I am speaking about does not always attach itself to what is called a nation- that is, a single race or a geographical area. It can attach itself to a church or class, or it may work in a merely negative sense, against something or other and without the need for any positive object of loyalty.
By “nationalism” I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labeled “good” or “bad”. But secondly - and this is much more important-I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interests. Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By “patriotism” I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force upon other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.
…A nationalist is one who thinks solely, or mainly in terms of competitive prestige. He may be a positive or a negative nationalist –that is he may use his mental energy either in boosting or in denigrating - but at any rate his thoughts always turn on victories, defeats,triumphs and humiliations. He sees history, especially contemporary history as, as the endless rise and decline of great power units, and every event that happens seems to him a demonstration that his own side is on the up grade and some hated rival on the down grade. But finally, it is important not to confuse nationalism with mere worship of success. The nationalist does not go on the principle of simply ganging up with the strongest side. On the contrary, having picked his side, he persuades himself that it is the strongest, and is able to stick to his belief even when the facts are overwhelmingly against him. Nationalism is power-hunger tempered by self deception. Every nationalist is capable of the most flagrant dishonesty, but he is also-since he is conscious of serving something bigger than himself-unshakably certain of being in the right.
…It would be an over-simplification to say that all forms of nationalism are the same, even in their mental atmosphere, but there are certain rules that hold good in all cases. The following are the principal characteristics of nationalist thought:
Obsession. As nearly as possible, no nationalist ever thinks, talks, or writes about anything except the superiority of his own power unit. It is difficult if not
impossible for any nationalist to conceal his allegiance. The smallest slur upon his own unit, or implied praise of a rival organization, fills him with uneasiness which he can only relieve by making some sharp retort…
Instability. The intensity with which they are held does not prevent nationalist loyalties being transferable.
Indifference to Reality. All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts. A British Tory will defend self-determination in Europe and oppose it in India with no feeling of inconsistency. Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage-torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians- which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by “our” side.
…The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them. For quite six years the English admirers of Hitler contrived not to learn of the existence of Dachau and Buchenwald. And those who were loudest in denouncing the German concentration camps were often quite unaware, or only very dimly aware, that there are also concentration camps in Russia. Huge events like the Ukraine famine of 1933, involving the deaths of millions of people, have actually escaped the attention of the majority of English Russophiles. Many English people heard almost nothing about the extermination of German and Polish Jews during the war. Their own anti-Semitism has caused this vast crime to bounce off their consciousness. In nationalist thought there are facts which are both true and untrue, known and unknown. A known fact may be so unbearable that it is habitually pushed aside and not allowed to enter into logical processes, or on the other hand it may enter into every calculation and yet never be admitted as a fact.
Every nationalist is haunted by the belief that the past can be altered. He spends part of his time in a fantasy world in which things happen as they should-in which, for example, the Spanish Armada was a success or the Russian Revolution was crushed in 1918-and he will transfer fragments of this world to the history books whenever possible. Much of the propagandist writing of our time amounts to plain forgery. Material facts are suppressed, dates altered quotations removed from their context and doctored so as to change their meaning. Events, which it is felt, ought not to have happened are left unmentioned and ultimately denied…The primary aim of propaganda is, of course, to influence contemporary opinion, but those who rewrite history do probably believe with part of their minds that they are actually thrusting facts into the past. When one considers the elaborate forgeries that have been committed in order to show that Trotsky did not play a valuable part in the Russian civil war, it is difficult to feel that the people responsible are merely lying. More probably they feel that their own version was what happened in the sight of God, and that one is justified in re-arranging the records accordingly.
Indifference to objective truth is encouraged by the sealing off of one part of the world from another, which makes it harder and harder to discover what is actually happening. There can often be a genuine doubt about the most enormous events. For example, it is impossible to calculate within millions, perhaps tens of millions, the number of deaths caused by the war. The calamities that were constantly being
reported – battles, massacres, famines, revolutions - tended to inspire in the average person a feeling of unreality. One had no way of verifying the facts, one was not even fully certain that they had happened, and one was always presented with totally different interpretations from different sources. What were the rights and wrongs of the Warsaw rising of 1944? Was it true about the Germans gas ovens in Poland? Who was really to blame for the Bengal famine? Probably the truth is discoverable, but the facts will be so dishonestly set forth in almost any newspaper that the ordinary reader can be forgiven either for swallowing lies or for failing to form an opinion.
The general uncertainty as to what is really happening makes it easier to cling to lunatic beliefs. Since nothing is ever quite proved or disproved, the most unmistakeable fact can be impudently denied. Moreover, although endlessly brooding on power, victory, defeat, revenge, the nationalist is often somewhat uninterested in what happens in the real world. What he wants is to feel that his own unit is getting the better of some other unit, and he can more easily do this by scoring off an adversary than by examining the facts to see whether they support him. All nationalist controversy is at the debating society level. It is always entirely inconclusive, since each contestant invariably believes himself to have won the victory. Some nationalists are not far from schizophrenia, living quite happily amid dreams of power and conquest which have no connection with the physical world..
Letter to Chavez
Caracas, Venezuela. Aug 13, 2004
- U.S. Reverend Jesse Jackson, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, Historian and writer Howard Zinn, activist Naomi Klein, and others sent a letter to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez offering their support ahead of the upcoming recall referendum.
A copy of the letter is below:
August 12, 2004
Dear President Chavez,
We are writing to express our solidarity during this important moment in Venezuela’s history. It is our hope and expectation that, on August 15, you will once again win an electoral mandate from the Venezuelan people to be their president.
The world knows that you are achieving something remarkable in Venezuela: you are investing your country’s vast oil wealth in ways that benefit everyone, not just small minority of well-connected elites. Over the last year your government’s literacy campaign taught one million Venezuelans to read. And today, millions of others are benefiting from the governments investment in job training, small businesses and health care.
We are disturbed by our own government’s interference in your internal affairs. The National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a group funded by the U.S. Congress, has financed radical opposition leaders in their efforts to cut short your term. Some of the individuals funded by the NED participated in the April 2002 coup attempt against you.
Polling done by both the Venezuelan government and its opposition shows that you will defeat the recall referendum on August 15. We have every expectation that on August 16 Venezuelan relations with the U.S. government will begin to improve.
We are committed to doing what we can, as U.S. citizens, to heal those relationships and encourage Congress and the White House to see Venezuela not only as a model democracy but also as a model of how a country’s oil wealth can be used to benefit all of its people.
Dr. Howard Zinn
Robert Jensen explains the nature of the U.S. Interference:
US Supports Anti-Democratic Forces in Venezuela Recall
The vehicle for this meddling in Venezuela is the National Endowment for Democracy, which calls itself "a private, nonprofit organization" but is funded by U.S. taxpayers. Its self-described mission is "to
strengthen democratic institutions around the world through nongovernmental efforts."
In the case of Venezuela, "strengthening democratic institutions" has
meant financing groups that helped carry out the failed coup attempt against Chavez in April 2002. Coup leaders representing the traditional oligarchy in Venezuela, and their supporters in the U.S. government, saw a "problem": Chavez is genuinely interested in a fairer distribution of wealth and refuses to subordinate his country to U.S. policy. Their "solution" was a coup that lasted for 48 hours, during which an illegal decree installed a businessman as president and dissolved the National Assembly and the Supreme Court.
The United States quickly backed the coup, until loyal officers and civilian groups restored Chavez to office. In the continued quest to promote "democracy," the NED kept funding some of those same opposition figures as they shifted to a strategy of work stoppages and lockouts aimed at crippling the country's vital oil industry. When that failed to dislodge Chavez, they finally took up a legal route, the recall election. (Documents regarding NED funding obtained through the Freedom of Information Act are available online at: http://www.venezuelafoia.info/)
Whatever objections U.S. officials might have to the Venezuelan president's policies, it is clear the attempts to push Chavez from power have nothing to do with the charge that he is an authoritarian president (or "quasi-authoritarian," as one U.S. newspaper described him in an editorial, or perhaps a "quasi-editorial"). Since his 1998 election, Chavez's real "crimes" have been not just consistently speaking out against the unjust distribution of resources in his country but taking tangible steps to help the poor, such as literacy programs and community-based health clinics.
It is of course, no coincidence that Venezuela sits on the fifth largest oil reserves in the world. Voter turn out has been massive; polling station hours have had to be extended twice, with polling stations open until midnight to accomodate all of the people queuing to vote.
As Aljazeera reports, right wing attacks on the democratic process are continuing to the last:
Polling station attacked in Venezuela
One person died and 10 others were wounded after unknown armed assailants opened fire on voters queuing up to vote in a referendum on the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Firefighters said unidentified armed men riding motorbikes on Sunday fired at voters just outside the capital Caracas.
"What we know is that voters were in line and people opened fire from motorbikes and there are 10 people with bullet wounds and one person died," said Caracas fire chief Rodolfo Briceno.
The incident took place in an impoverished area 17km east of the capital as Venezuelans voted in large numbers to decide whether to recall Chavez.
"There has been a massive voter turnout," says Aljazeera's correspondent in Caracas Dima al-Khatib.
In some places there have been long lines as voters wait their turn to determine Chavez's fate, she added.
Held amid a politically charged atmosphere, the referendum has heightened passions and split Venezuela between pro and anti-Chavez forces.
Both the president, who has ruled since 1998, and his opponents claim they will win the referendum.
"This is a historic day for democracy in Venezuela," Chavez told reporters shortly after submitting his vote.
Looting Australian Culture
Putting the boot in
It's the stretch that makes sheepskin so hard to work with, reflects Bronwyn McDougall, who sits with her daughter stitching thousands of pairs of "genuine Australian" ugg boots each year. "Ugg boots are not made on fancy machines. They are virtually a cottage industry. Sheepskin is very variable and needs the human touch," says the 60-year-old. Her husband, Bruce, mans the glue pot to hand-lay soles in an old suburban house-cum-workshop in Kenwick, Western Australia.
Long relegated to somewhere under Australian beds as scruffy suburban slipper wear, the ugg boot will emerge in an entirely new light this winter. Department stores are stocking embroidered, lace-trimmed and pastel versions of the woolly stompers, which are now worn by teenage girls, knee-high. A Myer fashion buyer, Karen Brewster, says: "It will be a key look this winter, worn with mini-skirts and jeans. We have expanded our range dramatically."
The ugg's new cachet is being driven by the the way the boots have been adopted as street fashion overseas. But millions of dollars in sales have brought Australia's "cottage industry" into collision with the hard-headed world of international fashion.
The McDougalls started their family business Uggs-n-Rugs 26 years ago, selling ugg boots at a farmers' market stall. In 1996 they were among the first wave of small businesses to venture online. International sales through their website were steady and mostly to men.
That suddenly changed three years ago, when the ugg began stepping out on celebrity legs. Madonna, Brad Pitt and Oprah Winfrey led the Hollywood charge. By the next northern winter the craze had spread, with British model Kate Moss and Sex in the City's Sarah Jessica Parker among those now sporting Ugg Australia boots made by an American footwear company, Deckers, which was trading on the legend of Australian surf culture.
All of a sudden, young American women were hitting the internet en masse in search of Australian sheepskin ugg boots, and small businesses like the McDougalls' were at the centre of an international fashion boom.
The online demand reached fever pitch three months ago when Deckers ran out. Bidding on auction websites for the then rare Ugg Australia boots (carrying the not-so-ocker titles "Fluff Momma" and "Sundance") topped $US500 (about $650).
From his Sheepskin Factory in Maitland, NSW, Tony Mortel began offering an alternative, "Australian-made ugg boots from Mortels", and sold hundreds on Ebay for up to $US250 before being suddenly kicked off. Ebay said it was barring Mortel - whose father began making ugg boots in 1958 - because Deckers had claimed trademark infringement.
According to the American company, there was only one "ugg boot", and it was theirs.
It was the opening salvo in a legal assault that was soon to see Deckers hire lawyers in Australia to target another 20 small businesses, firing off letters in December demanding they stop any reference to the term "ugg".
The McDougalls were told to give up their Uggs-n-Ruggs business name and trademark. In Dubbo, a charity employing 65 intellectually disabled workers that does not sell ugg boots online but has a factory shop called the "Westhaven Ugg Boot Shop", was ordered by Deckers to hand over all price lists, brochures and labels containing the words "ugg", "ug" or "ugh".
Tony Watson, a partner with Middletons, the law firm acting for Deckers, says the company acquired the Australian trademark to "ugh boot" from Australian Shane Stedman, who had registered the term in 1971. Deckers had purchased the Ugg Australia company in 1995 from another Australian, the California-based surfer Brian Smith. In 1999 it registered Ugg Australia as another Australian trademark.
Ugg mania in the US saw Deckers rake in a record $US37 million last year as sales of its boots leapt 55 per cent. Watson readily admits the Australian legal action has been spurred by Deckers' concern about lost sales.
"It is quite staggering the demand in the US and Europe, and definitely around Christmas-time Americans were having a lot of difficulty getting my client's product," he says. "Americans type 'ugg' into a search engine and are getting hold of Australian retailers who have cottoned on to the idea. American consumers only know the product as my client's, and are disappointed when they don't get my client's product."
To overcome supply problems, Watson says, Deckers are now sourcing boots from China. The fact that Deckers is seeking to shut down use of the term "ugg" in Australia, when its boots are no longer even made here, has outraged the local sheepskin industry, which also points out that it is impossible to buy an Ugg Australia product in this country.
Small ugg boot makers have rallied together, and are fighting back with plans for a class action and political agitation under the banner "Save our Aussie Icon".
Gordon Tindall, manager of the charity group Westhaven, says: "We have said 'bugger this - we own the name'. It is Australian."
Tindall says the term ugg boot is as generic as sausage or beer. Westhaven, which sells about 25,000 pairs each year in Australia and the US, has correspondence showing it has been using the term ugg for 30 years. "We believe the word is a variation of the word ugly," he says.
The McDougalls and Tony Mortel have separately lodged applications with the government trademark regulator, IP Australia, disputing Deckers' right to "ugh" and "ugh-boots". They argue that since Ugg Australia doesn't sell its products in Australia, and has never marketed them here, the trademark is invalid. IP Australia is obliged to consider the applications, and a court-like hearing in which both parties will be required to give evidence will take place later this year.
Theres Something in the Water...
Prozac 'found in drinking water'
Traces of the antidepressant Prozac can be found in the nation's drinking water, it has been revealed.
An Environment Agency report suggests so many people are taking the drug nowadays it is building up in rivers and groundwater.
A report in Sunday's Observer says the government's environment watchdog has discussed the impact for human health.
A spokesman for the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) said the Prozac found was most likely highly diluted.
The newspaper says environmentalists are calling for an urgent investigation into the evidence.
It quotes the Liberal Democrats' environment spokesman, Norman Baker MP, as saying the picture emerging looked like "a case of hidden mass medication upon the unsuspecting public".
He says: "It is alarming that there is no monitoring of levels of Prozac and other pharmacy residues in our drinking water."
Experts say the anti-depression drug gets into the rivers and water system via treated sewage water.
The DWI said the Prozac (known technically as fluoxetine) was unlikely to pose a health risk as it was so "watered down".
The Observer says the revelations raise new fears over how many prescriptions for the drug are given out by doctors.
In the decade leading up to 2001, the number of prescriptions for antidepressants went up from nine million per year to 24 million per year, says the paper.
The Environment Agency report concluded that the Prozac in the water table could be potentially toxic and said the drug was a "potential concern".
The exact amount of Prozac in the nation's drinking water is not known.
The Corporate Games
Olympian struggle Fans face boot for eating or drinking wrong brands at games
In a far cry from the high-minded ideals of humanity and tolerance embodied by the Olympics, the organizers of the Athens games have warned spectators that they could be barred for taking a surreptitious sip of Pepsi or an illicit bite from a Burger King Whopper.
Strict regulations published by Athens 2004 last week dictate that spectators may be refused admission to events if they are carrying food or drinks made by companies that did not see fit to sponsor the games.
Sweltering sports fans who seek refuge from the soaring temperatures with a soft drink other than one made by Coca-Cola will be told to leave the banned refreshment at the gates or be shut out. High on the list of blacklisted beverages is Pepsi, but even the wrong bottle of water could land spectators in trouble.
Fans will be allowed into the Olympic complex if they are drinking Avra, a Greek mineral water owned by Coca-Cola, which paid $60 million US for the privilege of being one of the main sponsors. Officials are under orders not to let in rival brands' bottles unless the labels are removed.
Staff will also be on the lookout for T-shirts, hats and bags displaying the unwelcome logos of non-sponsors. Stewards have been trained to detect people who may be wearing merchandise from the sponsors' rivals in the hope of catching the eyes of television audiences. Those arousing suspicion will be required to wear their T-shirts inside out.
Americans shrinking as junk food takes its toll
Researchers have made a startling discovery: Americans are shrinking. A nation once famed for its strapping, well-nourished youth is gradually diminishing in physical stature.
By contrast, the heights of men and women from Europe are increasing inexorably. The average Dutchman, whose country produces the Continent's loftiest men, is now more than six feet tall - almost two inches above his American counterpart. And he is still growing. Across the Netherlands hotel owners are lengthening beds and raising door mantles to stop the nation's tall youth suffering from irreparable anatomical damage.
According to a New Yorker essay on the subject last week, Dutch ambulances are even having to keep their back doors open on many occasions to allow for the prodigious dimensions of their patients' legs.
New research has shown some unexpected disparities between statures of Americans and Europeans, indicating that recent social changes and diet are major influences on adult height.
For British men, too, are outstripping their transatlantic rivals. At the time of the American Revolution, the average US male was two inches taller than his British counterpart. Today he is almost half an inch shorter.
This surprising reappraisal of American and European physiques is the work of researcher John Komlos of Munich University. 'Much of the difference is due to the great social inequality that now exists in the United States,' Komlos told The Observer last week. 'In Europe, there is - in most countries - good health service provision for most members of society and plenty of protein in most people's diets. As a result, children do not suffer illnesses that would blight their growth or suffer problems of malnutrition. For that reason, we have continued to grow and grow.'
On the other hand, America has eight million people with no job, 40 million individuals with no health insurance, 35 million living below the poverty line, and a population that exists mainly on junk food. There, the rise in average height that marked its progress as a nation through the 19th and 20th centuries has stopped and has actually reversed - albeit very slightly - in recent years. Many Americans are rich and do well anatomically as a result, but there is a large underclass that is starting to drag the country down the stature charts.
This discovery, which has been revealed through research that Komlos has assembled over decades, amounts to an assault on the values of the free market economy espoused by Americans and provides powerful support for those who back European ideas about universal healthcare.
Fluctuations in human stature are not new and have occurred regularly throughout history. Our early hunter-gatherer ancestors were tall and lean. Later, as farming spread across the world, dense populations learnt to live on only a few standard crops and suffered considerable nutritional neglect. The result was a decline in stature.
Similarly, climatic changes have had a profound effect on human height - a physical attribute that is now regarded by historians, scientists and economists as a key indicator of the health of any group of people living at any particular time and place. For example, during the Little Ice Age, in which temperatures plummeted across the world between 1300 and the mid-19th century, there was a noticeable decrease in human stature.
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'There are two possible mechanisms for this observation,' said Professor Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum. 'Firstly, all mammals get shorter and rounder when climates cool. It is a physiological response to cold. Short, round bodies preserve heat better than tall cool ones.
'However, there is an alternative explanation for shrinking stature in bad weather. It means poor crops, and that in turn means malnutrition and, of course, the consequence of that is poor stature.
'Those tiny suits of armour that you see when you visit the Tower of London were worn by people who were badly nourished. During winter they would have only salt meat and a few vegetables to live on. That's not going to help you grow very well.'
Modern society now protects humans from such problems, though in recent years it has become clear that political factors are having some effect on nutrition levels and proper diet and therefore stature. And it is in this arena that Komlos has made his key discoveries.
Through painstaking investigations he has calculated the heights of men at different times over our recent historical past. This shows that, around 1850, Americans - blessed with Western technology that allowed its citizens to spread unstoppably across the United States - lived relatively fine lives that let its menfolk reach an average height of 5ft 9in. By contrast, Dutchmen were only able to reach about 5ft 7in.
By the early 20th century the average American man was still about the same height as his predecessor. But the average Dutchman had nearly caught up and was only about half an inch shorter.
But in the 20th century Americans were overtaken. The average US male is now about 5ft 10in. The average Dutchman is just over 6ft.
More importantly, the latter is continuing his rise in average height. The Americans have long since stopped growing and, according to some measures, may actually be getting smaller. 'In relative terms, Americans are certainly shrinking in comparison with Europeans,' says Komlos.
One possible explanation lies with immigration. As more Mexicans and Chinese enter the US, these individuals may lower the average height, it is argued. But statisticians dismiss this suggestion. During the 19th century the country took in millions of malnourished, and therefore small, people. Yet Americans remained the tallest people in the world at that time.
In fact, the very idea that various peoples are programmed, on average, to be short or tall is thrown into doubt by Komlos's work. Apart from a few rare races, such as African pygmies who are genetically programmed to have low stature, virtually everyone in the world has the potential to reach the same average height as the Dutch, and that includes the Mexicans, Chinese, Inuit, and other peoples who are not usually noted for their stature.
To achieve that status will require some arduous social engineering. The Dutch health service, with its magnificent support services for pregnant woman (quality of life in the womb is a key factor in determining future health and height) and its high-protein diets based on dairy food, will not be easy to emulate in a world whose population is now soaring towards seven billion.
The steady increase in the height of British youngsters which began over a century ago continues to manifest itself today, particularly among girls.
According to figures provided by the Child Growth Foundation, the height of the average British nine-year-old girl rose from 4ft 4in (130.6cm) in 1983 to 4ft 5in (132.7cm) in 2003, while the average British nine-year-old boy increased from 4ft 4in to just under 4ft 5in.
'It would appear that girls are doing slightly better than boys, but that may simply be due to the fact that girls are reaching puberty earlier and earlier, and are beginning their adolescent growth spurt before boys,' said Tam Fry, of the foundation.
The increase is also roughly in line with the general trend observed over the past 100 years that the average child is increasing in height at a rate of between four and five inches a century.