28 March 2003

Eklund on Thomas Struth

Arts | Friday 13:33:33 EST | comments (0)

Paradise 19 (Bavarian Forest new Zweisel, 1999) viewers absorbed in 'Da Ning River (Wuxi China, 1997)'

last evening went to a well attended talk on the Met's Thomas Struth exhibit, hosted jointly by MOMAJA and the Met's Apollo Circle. the speaker was Douglas Eklund who had co-written one of the essays in the Dallas Museum of Art's excellent catalog. he didn't say too much, but he did have a few interesting biographical anecdotes that gave a little historical context and depth to Mr. Struth.

reception in the Met's sculpture garden i didn't realize that there was more than one cast of Rodin's 'Burghers of Calais' other than the one in Paris at the Rodin Museum.  actually i see there are several more.

after his talk, we walked through the exhibit one more time before the reception that followed in the sculpture garden. it almost felt like the good old days of the young uptown social circuit. except that in the old days, there would have probably been about three times as many people there. (as a note and in contrast, this time around, i had a little more sympathy for his Paradise series. for me, they really don't make any sense unless experienced in that as-large-as-life presentation. and having a room with all walls dedicated to those scenes beneficially augments that feeling. also never realized that there was more than one cast of Rodin's Burghers of Calais. so i was surprised to see another multiple apart from the one in Paris. now i see that there are actually several.)

the omnipresent St A's boy - John Dalsheimer friends and the distinguished John D'Urso (seated on the window sill)

afterwards, went down to soho for an unrelated loft party given by friends of friends on Crosby Street. there were alot of wellesley girls and a few ZA girls, which also made it feel like the old days. unfortunately, time stops for no one.

finally, a little tatsuta-age at yakitori taisho was a fitting and 'quiet' end to the evening. and it was only 11pm!

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Rodin's Multiples

Arts | Friday 13:24:52 EST | comments (0)

French artist still stirs controversy decades after his death
By Dorothy Shinn, Beacon Journal art and architecture critic
Posted on Sun, Jan. 19, 2003

When Auguste Rodin's The Gates of Hell was shown at the National Gallery in the 1980s, there appeared, seemingly from nowhere, vehement protests against the works because they weren't "original'' or "authentic.''

Those protests were based upon the fact that the Gates were cast after Rodin's death. This is an interesting controversy. It encompasses much of what we assume, often erroneously, about what constitutes original works of art.

Rodin (pronounced roe-DAN) never made a complete cast of The Gates of Hell into bronze. It was left to B. Gerald Cantor and his wife, Iris, to commission the casting of the Gates in 1981.

They also filmed the entire saga and commissioned a model demonstrating the 10-step lost-wax casting process.

Now comes Rodin: A Magnificent Obsession: Sculpture from the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Collection, opening Saturday at the Akron Art Museum.

The film chronicling the commissioning of The Gates of Hell became an award-winning documentary, and it will be shown continuously throughout the run of the exhibit, which ends May 18, said Kathryn Wat, associate curator of exhibitions.

The exhibit consists of 70 sculptures, drawings and studies by Rodin (1840-1917), the ``father of modern sculpture.''

And right on cue came a diatribe in my e-mail about the authenticity of many of the bronzes in the Cantor collection.

I wasn't the only person to receive the e-mail, said Elizabeth Sheeler, AAM communications officer. ``Everyone at the museum got one, too,'' she said.

Gary Arseneau, a gallery owner in Fernandino Beach, Fla., insists in the e-mail that most of the sculptures in the Cantor collection aren't authentic because they were cast between 1955 and 1975, well after Rodin's death.

Arseneau's argument boils down to his well-worn theme: ``Dead men don't make sculpture.'' He then goes on to label the Rodin sculptures in the Cantor collection that were cast posthumously as ``reproduction/fakes.''

While Cantor collection officials don't address Arseneau's accusations directly, they did warn the AAM that ``a person'' might be contacting them with some interesting views.

But throughout the Magnificent Obsession catalog, there are pieces of information that, taken together, are a reasonable rebuke to Arseneau's charges.

Capturing vitality

At the height of his abilities, Rodin was seen as the greatest sculptor since Michelangelo. His great contribution to art was his ability to liberate both his subject matter and his style from 19th-century academic conventions through a heightened sense of personal artistic expression.

He saw his mission as the revelation of the vitality of the human spirit. Modeling his works first in clay, his technique was subjective and impressionistic, capturing movement and depth of emotion by altering traditional poses and gestures to create new forms of intense energy.

Born to modest means, Rodin attended the Ecole Imperiale de Dessin (the ``Petite Ecole,'' a government school for craft and design), then the Gobelins tapestry manufactory, where he studied drawing.

Although awarded two prizes for drawing and modeling at the age of 17, he was still unable to gain admittance to the prestigious (and conservative) Ecole des Beaux-Arts, which refused him three times.

So Rodin began his career by producing ornamental sculpture for the French master of decorative arts, Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse. It was a lucky break. His time there taught him the practical aspects of running a large commercial studio.

Then in 1875, he went to Italy to study the sculpture of Michelangelo, and was transformed.

Throughout his career, Rodin was both controversial and celebrated. He broke new artistic ground by creating raw, vital sculptures of the human form in its many aspects and moods.

The distinguished British art historian and critic, Arthur Symons, wrote that the art of Rodin ``competes with nature rather than with the art of other sculptors. Other sculptors turn life into sculpture, he turns sculpture into life.''

And to do that Rodin had to enter uncharted territory, a venture not without peril.

Indeed, the creator of The Thinker, The Kiss, The Age of Bronze and The Burghers of Calais found himself embroiled in one controversy after another throughout his career.

Rodin defied traditional academic convention by creating his own personal, uncompromising aesthetic that he said focused on truth to nature.

``When an artist softens the grimace of pain, the shapelessness of age, the hideousness of perversion, when he arranges nature -- then he is creating ugliness because he fears the truth,'' Rodin said.

A year before his death, Rodin donated to the French government his entire estate -- including molds and casts and uncast works -- so France could produce his works for posterity.

In Rodin's will, the French government was given the right to cast his sculpture posthumously. Today, France still licenses the Musee Rodin in Paris to produce these works.

In 1956, French law limited to 12 the number of casts that can be made of any bronze sculpture, each to be numbered. Since 1981, the law has been strictly imposed.

Demand for copies

As far as the use of the term ``original'' in regard to Rodin's bronze sculptures, AAM officials say it refers to the casting of the works from either the original maquettes or molds.

Which then begs the question: if the French government has no problem with the production of Rodin casts, how can contemporary casts approved by the Rodin Museum be fakes?

Actually, it's a matter of keeping up to date in the continually changing art landscape.

Arseneau's argument concerning original and authentic reproductions is somewhat based on a 19th-century convention that established the preference for limited editions.

The painter/printmaker James Abbott McNeill Whistler practically invented the device of limited editions by publishing small, restricted editions of his own prints, which he personally signed and numbered in pencil.

A superb marketing ploy, the limited edition soon became a mark of exclusivity, as it implied the works were not merely churned out, but personally supervised and edited by the artist.

The idea took a while to spread to less easily reproduced art works like sculpture, and came mainly in the reduction of large-scale sculptures into smaller, more marketable sizes.

Sculpture became a big enterprise in the latter part of the 19th century because growing cities, an expanding and wealthy middle class and the Industrial Revolution created an unprecedented demand for multiple copies of popular sculpture.

Rodin was powerful and prolific, and no sculptor was more modern, more controversial nor more sought.

Between 1898 and 1918, Rodin's colleagues at the Barbedienne foundry alone produced 231 bronze casts of The Eternal Spring and 319 of The Kiss, two of Rodin's most popular sculptures, each available in four sizes, according to essays published in the Magnificent Obsession catalog.

Many of Rodin's greatest sculptures were never cast into bronze during his lifetime. He had rather flexible ideas of what was ``finished'' and what was not, and he freely exhibited work that was transitional in one way or another, seeing it as having a perpetual potential for evolution.

And evolve it did, both in his lifetime and beyond. We can see the influence of his expressive figures in the works of Matisse in France, then in America in the works of artists of the Ashcan School and The Eight.

Cantor Collection

The AAM exhibit is drawn almost entirely from the Cantor Foundation Collection, the one exception being The Age of Bronze, loaned by the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Located in Los Angeles and estimated to be the world's largest private collection of works by Rodin, the Cantor Foundation Collection consists of about 750 large- and small-scale sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs and memorabilia.

As an extension of their collecting and patronage, the Cantors began to share their art with the public. More than 450 works from the Cantor collection have been given to more than 70 museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

In addition, the Cantors donated 187 Rodin sculptures to the Stanford University Museum of Art and established the Rodin Research Fund at Stanford.

The collection traces its origins to 1945, when B. Gerald Cantor wandered into the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and was moved by a marble version of The Hand of God. Some time later, Cantor bought a bronze version of the work, the beginning of a lifetime of philanthropy and patronage of the arts.

The Cantors heightened public awareness of Rodin's work through their commission for the casting of Rodin's monumental sculpture, The Gates of Hell.

In 1973, in recognition of Cantor's commitment to the artist, the Musee Rodin gave him an original plaster of The Hand of God.

Dorothy Shinn writes about art and architecture for the Akron Beacon Journal. Send information to her at the Akron Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640.

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helicopters over the east river

Blog | Friday 10:41:32 EST | comments (0)

the two dots in the yellow circles are helicopters hovering over our building looking toward the williamsburg bridge closeup of one of the helicopters

woke up to this this morning. there were what sounded like a half dozen helicopters hovering off the east river around the williamsburg bridge. i could see two from my window, and from the sixth floor stairwell i could see three or four (two hovering in place while another one or two were making sweeps over the river and the bridge). maybe it was just a couple of drunk people. but who knows. police closed the bridge for about 2 hours, and arrested three people who were climbing on the bridge (according to NY1), while they checked everything out.

last weekend they stopped a ship from qatar headed into a new jersey port with two iraqis onboard. rumors or intelligence? scary...

update: 11:10 EST

thankfully, it turns out that it was just a couple of drunk guys that got into a restricted area. updated article follows. also you can watch the NY1 report in realvideo here -- dialup / broadband.

Security Scare Closes New York Bridge
Filed at 10:53 a.m. ET

NEW YORK (AP) -- Police shut down an East River Bridge for about 2 1/2 hours Friday morning after workers spotted men in a restricted area. Turns out they weren't terrorists, the mayor said, just three ``stupid'' men who were ``sitting around drinking.''

Two men from Massachusetts and a third from Rhode Island were being questioned at a nearby stationhouse Friday morning.

The Williamsburg Bridge, one of three that connect Manhattan and Brooklyn, was closed in both directions after 8 a.m., backing up traffic on both sides. It was reopened at about 10:30 a.m.

``What it really was was three guys who apparently got into someplace they shouldn't. They were just sitting around drinking, so there was no threat,'' Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. ``These three guys are in trouble and they certainly inconvenienced a lot of people.''

The mayor said the situation showed that the city's heightened response to potential terrorist attacks is effective.

``In the end, we did what we were supposed to do,'' Bloomberg said. ``Operation Atlas has been implemented. It works. We are on top of things.

``It's also true you shouldn't be going on the Williamsburg Bridge, breaking into someplace you shouldn't be, and drinking. How stupid can you be?''

Police also checked other bridges, but they remained open.

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American Airlines Close to Bankruptcy

Finance | Friday 10:21:47 EST | comments (0)

American Airlines Is Called Close to Seeking Bankruptcy

American Airlines, its business suffering as war fears ground travelers, may seek bankruptcy protection as early as next week, according to two bankers who have been briefed on the carrier's efforts to line up financing ahead of a filing.

Executives at the airline, the world's largest, worry that labor cost cuts under discussion with unions may not be enough to return the carrier to profitability, one of the bankers said yesterday.

Tara Baten, a spokeswoman for American, said that the airline, a unit of AMR, still hoped to avoid a Chapter 11 filing.

"There's been rampant speculation on this for many weeks, and the fact is that our commitment, our plan and our focus is to do everything possible to avoid bankruptcy," she said. "We continue to have face-to-face negotiations working around the clock, and we remain hopeful that we can restructure the company consensually with our labor groups, rather than in the courts."

A bankruptcy filing by American would almost certainly be the largest in aviation history, and it would follow closely on the heels of filings last year by the No. 2 airline, United, and by US Airways, the No. 6 domestic carrier.

Those airlines' schedules, frequent-flier programs and other operations were not immediately affected by their retreats into bankruptcy protection, and experts said travelers could expect the same if American filed. But US Airways eventually cut back on flights and began using smaller jets on some routes, and United is now doing the same.

According to the bankers, American is looking to put together more than $1.5 billion in debtor-in-possession financing, which would allow it to maintain its operations. The potential lenders, the bankers said, are Citibank, a unit of Citigroup; J. P. Morgan Chase; and the CIT Group. Citibank, which issues a credit card tied to American's frequent-flier program, would be the lead lender.

One banker said that the package could be assembled over the weekend. The other said that even if American did not reach an agreement with the lenders by next week, the airline could still file for bankruptcy protection and complete the financing shortly afterward. If its financial situation looked bleak enough, American would want to file for bankruptcy protection as soon as possible to preserve its cash.

"People are being asked by AMR to work as quickly as possible," this banker said. "People are still in analysis mode. People weren't working on a time line for next week. They were working for a little bit beyond that." Previously, he said, bankers had expected that American would not file before late in the spring.

Passenger traffic has declined sharply for all airlines since the United States invaded Iraq last week. American has announced plans to cut 6 percent of its seats, all from international routes; even before the war began, it had planned to cut its capacity by 7 percent in April, from domestic flights.

Last week, Hawaiian Airlines, the nation's No. 12 carrier, sought court protection, even after it had negotiated $15 million in annual contract concessions from its unions.

Shares of AMR closed at $1.79 yesterday, down 18 percent. The stock was over $26 a year ago.

Early last month, American said it was asking its workers for $1.8 billion in annual wage, benefit and work rule concessions, aiming to cut a total of $4 billion from expenses every year. It has requested $660 million from the Allied Pilots Association, whose negotiators are expected to present a cost-cutting package equaling that amount to union leaders by the weekend. The leaders will probably vote on the cuts before Tuesday.

Gregg Overman, a union spokesman, said yesterday that the union presumed that American's accelerated search for bankruptcy financing was "part of the airline's contingency planning."

On Wednesday, the union said American was engaging in "bad-faith negotiations" by saying it might have to lay off 1,000 pilots. The union argued that American had agreed not to seek cost savings beyond the $660 million. American said the layoffs were part of cuts that had already been announced.

Both sides stuck to their positions yesterday.

"We're saying we have kept our word, and we're not changing what we're asking of our employees," said Ms. Baten, the American spokeswoman.

Mr. Overman said that the layoff threat "seems nonsensical." The $660 million cost-savings package will include job cuts, he said, as pilots are required to work more hours.

Still, Mr. Overman added, negotiators were meeting with company officials in Texas until late into the night.

"We agreed that they have a situation that needs to be addressed," he said.

Yesterday, American said that it had reached a tentative agreement for concessions from its 16,300 fleet service workers. The workers are one of eight groups represented by the Transport Workers Union, one of the three big unions at American.

Both the airline and the union declined to give details of the tentative agreement.

United, a unit of UAL, reached a tentative agreement with the Air Line Pilots Association yesterday over wage and benefit cuts, and that could put pressure on the pilots' union at American to accept deeper reductions, one banker said. US Airways, meanwhile, is expected to emerged from bankruptcy protection on Monday.

One bankruptcy lawyer in Fort Worth, where American is based, said that the airline might file in its hometown because it would probably get a favorable reception in the bankruptcy court there.

But the lawyer noted that Weil, Gotshal & Manges, the law firm that American asked in January to look into a bankruptcy filing, is based in New York, so the airline might file there. If so, American's would be one of several huge recent bankruptcy filings in that court, including those of Enron and WorldCom.

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Factories Wrest Land From China's Farmers

China | Friday 10:15:58 EST | comments (0)

Factories Wrest Land From China's Farmers

DAREN, China — Last May, Song Defu's cornstalks were already reaching skyward when the local television station broadcast the news: from that day forward, village officials announced, there would be no more farming in Daren. The village's remaining fields, about 500 acres, were being converted into an economic development park.

At first, stunned farmers like Mr. Song, who had about two acres of land, ignored the order, continuing to tend their fields. "We had to eat," said Mr. Song, a burly man in a worn jacket. But harvest never came.

A few days later, earth-moving equipment and trucks showed up, first to mow down the crops and then to lay down a foundation of impacted earth so that construction could begin. Within a short time, cornfields, rice paddies and orchards with nearly 30,000 trees were gone.

Today, huge factories are rising from dirt still littered with the young corn husks, in a land sale that village officials insist was legal. But many of the farmers say their rights were ignored. Today, for the first time in his life, Song Defu has no income.

"Our farmland is a bottomless honey pot," hundreds of villagers from Daren wrote in a petition recently delivered to officials in Beijing. "Officials and developers have latched on to it and won't let go. They're fighting each other to swallow it up. But this land is the ordinary people's livelihood."

Once heralded as heroes of China's Communist revolution, and later the first beneficiaries of the country's market-driven reforms, many of China's one billion farmers are now in deep trouble, struggling to survive. As city dwellers have prospered, farmers find themselves newly poor and with few legal rights to land they may have farmed for decades.

Particularly near expanding cities, huge swaths of farmland have been seized by officials and sold for commercial use, often with little or no compensation for the farmers, who lease land collectively held by their villages and have only vague property rights.

China's "biggest problem now is its farmers, and the farmer's biggest problem is their land," said Du Runsheng, a retired agricultural official recently told Caijing magazine.

The farmers' plight was a major focus of the recent session of the National People's Congress, with surprisingly frank talk generally overshadowing the official penchant for rosy statistics. "There is now a severe disparity in income between the cities and the villages" said the agriculture minister, Du Qingling. The ratio is probably as high as five to one or six to one, experts said.

Farmers face hardships that reflect both China's changing economy and their own diminishing influence.

As their income falls, thanks to a surplus of crops and decreased demand for farm products from China's growing middle class, farmers — often the sole revenue base in remote areas — have continued to pay heavy taxes to bloated local governments. Also, in regions near expanding cities, like this one between Beijing and Tianjin, the biggest threat to farmers' incomes comes from development of their land.

In theory, most agricultural experts believe that large numbers of farmers must move to the cities because their small plots are unable to compete in a market economy. In practice, farmers say, the transition is being accomplished by selling the farmers' fields against their will, with the benefits of development and urbanization going only to a few.

From 1999 to 2002, 300,000 acres were illegally seized from 1.5 million farmers, according to recent statistics from the Ministry of Land and Resources. At this year's National People's Congress, agriculture officials expressed great hope that a new national land-use law that took effect on March 1, would help solve the problem. But it will not help Daren's farmers because factories have already claimed their land.

In Daren, once a prosperous "model village," many now-landless farmers are in open warfare with local officials, with each group barely speaking to the other. In the fields, farmers have defied local officials who ordered them to stop planting; and they have made countless trips to land offices in Tianjin and Beijing, complaining about the officials' land grab.

Led for 30 years by Song Furen, a Communist Party secretary with a keen entrepreneurial streak, the village was one of the first to set up factories under the economic reforms that began in the late 1970's.

In the 1990's, it used its location on the outskirts of Tianjin to move into a variety of land development projects — selling farm land to build factories, apartment blocks, even a complex of family tombs — in an effort leave behind its agrarian past. But as money poured into Daren it did so unevenly, with those who ran businesses becoming rich and those who remained in farming often left with little, in the end not even their land.

There is some question as to whether a village may sell a farmer's land during the lease period without his assent and, if so, what compensation the village must pay him. In Daren, farmers received new 30-year contracts in 1997.

Article 14 of the Rural Land Contract Law that took effect on March 1 says that villages "must not illegally alter or annual contracts" with farmers. Article 26 adds that "during the period of the contract, the issuer" — the village — "may not reclaim the contracted land," unless the villagers agree. But the Tianjin Municipality Village Collective Management Regulations, says only that a village's assets, like land, "must be sold at a market price and in a fair and open way."

Mr. Song, the village leader, who is not related to Song Defu, defends the development as legal and beneficial. "All the proper procedures were carried out," he said. "We left out nothing. An assembly of villagers agreed to the development, but there are always a minority who are unhappy."

He said the villagers had been paid $240 to $300 per acre — for loss of crops when the fields were plowed — and that no more compensation was warranted. "Of course the farmers haven't received compensation for their land," he said. "This is a village collective business and when the development starts turning profits we'll all share."

But many villagers said that in the past the village head had directed the profits from local enterprises to relatives and friends, and had even sold factories at deep discounts. Three years ago, disgruntled villagers complained to the Tianjin Land Use Bureau, which they said found their complaints legitimate.

But now, with the family tombs already sold, even occupied, and huge factories in private hands churning out goods, there is no practical way for the farmers to recover what is theirs. "The local government doesn't pay any attention to the bureau's decisions," said Liu Chunshu, 63, a former village official who has led some of unhappy farmer's in their effort for compensation.

Over all, he and his fellows acknowledge that development has brought a rising living standard to Daren because the now-private factories tend to pay more. Families have prospered as they have come to rely less on the land.

Farmers forced off their land can find low-wage jobs in nearby Tianjin or Beijing, on construction sites and at restaurants, for example. But it rankles that these changes are being forced on them, possibly illegally, and that they are sinking in a generally rising economy.

"The average income is still probably about the same as it's always been, but the differences between the rich and poor are now huge," said Liu Zhiru, a villager who has joined the crusade. "Farmers who have lost their land, yes, they find work, but its often just picking and selling old garbage in Beijing."

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Confusion in China Over Mystery Illness

China | Friday 10:12:53 EST | comments (0)

Confusion in China Over Mystery Illness

GUANGZHOU, China, March 27 — Ward Three on the 16th floor of the Zhongshan No. 2 Hospital here has the feel of a place abandoned in fear and in a hurry. Curtains flap in the breeze, used sheets still hang off of beds. Under a sign advising visitors to wear protective gear, charts lie helter-skelter on a metal table.

In February, Ward Three was home to dozens of patients, this hospital's center for treating SARS, the new pneumonia that probably originated here in southern China. The ward was abandoned two weeks ago, hospital workers said, when most patients were discharged and others had been transferred to complete their recovery to the Guangzhou No. 8 People's Hospital, which specializes in infectious diseases.

But before that happened, the ward probably served as the conduit through which a new virus traveled from the outskirts of this city, through Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province, to Hong Kong — and on to the rest of the world: In early February, a man ravaged by pneumonia from nearby city of Zhongshan was admitted here — setting off an outbreak in the hospital that sickened dozens of doctors and nurses with SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome. In late February, a doctor affiliated with the hospital, who was already falling ill, took a plane to Hong Kong to attend a wedding, infecting nine visitors from various countries at the Metropole Hotel there.

After months in denial, China is acknowledging that an unusual pneumonia epidemic that started here last November is probably the same disease that has recently infected hundreds worldwide, killing dozens.

Just in the last week, China welcomed a team from the World Health Organization to help dissect the origin of the epidemic and to recommend measures to prevent further spread of the illness.

But as other countries provide international health monitors with daily updates of cases, China has still not provided recent statistics about the spread of the disease, even though it claims new cases are waning. The information shortfall is slowing scientists' investigation into an emerging epidemic when time is critical.

On the streets here, rumors abound, and people feel they cannot protect themselves in the absence of information.

Outside the Guangzhou No. 8 People's Hospital today a man who gave only his surname, Lu, was waiting for his wife to be discharged after a three-week bout of SARS. "They told us the danger was passed and the situation was under control, so when my wife got sick we didn't worry," said Mr. Lu, wearing a gauze mask. "They should have kept us better informed. This was a real danger."

His wife contracted SARS late last month, at a time when health officials here were announcing that the epidemic was over. She was infected in a way that scientists, who have said that transmission requires very close contact, did not believe was possible: On Feb. 24, she and eight friends gathered for dinner in a private room at a restaurant. Within 10 days, all were hospitalized with SARS and one, a 40-year-old woman, died this week. That woman had a fever and a cough at the dinner, but no one was overly concerned.

As SARS crises in Hong Kong and Singapore play out day by day on the evening news, China's own epidemic is far less well defined and understood, even though it is clearly the most mature and oldest, potentially offering invaluable information.

In more than a dozen interviews with health care workers here, a picture emerges of a disease that sometimes spreads in bursts, as a single sick patient moves from home to a hospital, or sometimes to a plane, or to a restaurant — infecting many who come into contact with droplets from the patient's coughing and sneezing. On the bright side, those so infected often seem far less efficient at transmitting the disease, so that it does not endlessly propagate. Finally, if the experience of Chinese hospitals holds sway, most patients do recover, although it can take weeks.

One of the most striking phenomena reported by Chinese health workers is the existence of so-called super-spreaders, Typhoid Marys of the epidemic. Experts studying SARS say they have observed this pattern but do not yet understand if it is because such patients carry an unusually large amount of virus in their secretions or because their habits, such as not covering their mouths when coughing, leave those around them vulnerable.

At the Zhongshan No. 2 Hospital in Guangzhou, nurses say they will never forget February, when one sick man from the city of Zhongshan visited various hospitals in the provincial capital in the hopes of finding treatment. He arrived at the No. 2 hospital in the first days of February and, within a week, dozens of doctors and nurses had fallen ill, giving rise to panic.

"From this one case, lots of people at several hospitals got infected," said a nurse who gave her surname, Huang, folding the mask that she still wears at work as she left the hospital's gates. Though she never became ill, she said that for weeks afterward health care workers were quarantined — not allowed to leave the hospital to sleep or even see their children. Movements within the hospital were restricted.

Patients with SARS were housed on the 16th and 17th floors, she said. New cases arriving at the hospital were transferred to the specialty hospital for infectious diseases, said another nurse, named Mo.

But an air of nervousness envelopes these buildings. Asked about the pneumonia, most hospital workers avert their eyes as if avoid the memory of a monster. Although doctors here say there have been no new cases in recent weeks, many still wear masks.

"I think the situation here is good, not nearly as bad as in Hong Kong," said a doctor named Du. "But you can't say for sure so it is still a good idea to wear it, especially when you are inside."

On the leafy grounds of the Guangzhou No. 8 People's Hospital on Dong Feng Street, the nightmare is receding too — but is not over quite yet. There are still three floors of the white-tiled inpatient building that house recovering victims of SARS pneumonia. Floors 2 and 3 are home to ordinary people; floor 10 houses doctors and nurses from Guangzhou's hospitals who have been infected by their patients.

At this hospital, masks are standard for those who pass through the metal gate. Pedestrians passing the elegant stucco facade clasp hands or handkerchiefs over their mouths. At the height of the epidemic here, each floor held dozens of patients, three to a room. But today, those rooms are emptying quickly, doctors said. Men and women in masks, who have been hospitalized for weeks, peer down from balconies, more bored than sick now.

There have been no new cases recently, one doctor said, though a few patients continue to be transferred from other hospitals. It is not clear why new infections have apparently dropped off, although Dr. Rob Breiman, a member of the W.H.O. team, said that both science and better precautions could offer an explanation.

Doctors now believe that the pneumonia is caused by a previously unknown virus in the coronavirus family, and there is evidence that some viruses become less virulent as they pass from person to person. So although the initial patients, especially the super-spreaders, passed the disease to health care workers and family members with remarkable efficiency, the second wave of patients might not.

Of the eight people presumably infected in the restaurant by their sick friend, none has passed on the disease to family members.

Also, after the initial outbreak of aggressive pneumonias here, doctors eventually put new procedures in place. Although doctors and nurses do not normally wear protective gear when treating pneumonia, masks, gowns, gloves and foot covers quickly became standard practice in Guangdong province. At the No. 8 Hospital, rooms housing SARS patients have been fitted with special filters. A separate elevator goes to their floors as well.

Scientists investigating the worldwide epidemic say they are anxiously awaiting China's official disclosure, so they can benefit from its experience. But honesty on medical matters is not part of the Chinese public health tradition, where doctors typically worry more about alarming patients.

In Beijing, after initially denying the presence of SARS, health officials on Wednesday acknowledged nine cases and three deaths. But doctors in Beijing, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that there were at least 10 confirmed cases, one involving a British citizen, and that there were probably dozens more.

When asked when better statistics would be available, an official from the Beijing Disease Prevention Station, named Teng, got testy. "The work is continuing on the numbers. It may take three days or 30 years," he said.

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China Raises Tally of Cases and Deaths in Mystery Illness

China | Friday 10:08:39 EST | comments (0)

China Raises Tally of Cases and Deaths in Mystery Illness

GUANGZHOU, China, Thursday, March 27 — Chinese health officials on Wednesday significantly increased their estimates of the number of cases and deaths in China caused by a new mystery pneumonia that international health officials believe originated here late last year.

Officials in Guangdong Province, the center of China's epidemic, reported an estimated 792 cases and 31 deaths as of the end of February, a rise from the 305 cases and five deaths they had previously reported.

The new tallies mean that China now probably has had more cases and deaths than any other country, although the latest estimates have not been officially approved by China's Ministry of Health or reviewed by international health officials. About 500 cases have been reported elsewhere in the world.

The new figures are being released just days after a World Health Organization team arrived in China to help investigate this country's epidemic of the mystery pneumonia, which goes by the name SARS, for severe acute respiratory syndrome.

For months, Chinese officials tried to hide the problem, health experts said, and in recent weeks world health officials have applied increasing pressure on China to improve its cooperation and statistical reporting on the disease.

While all other countries that have experienced cases of the new pneumonia, including Vietnam, Singapore and Canada, send daily updates of cases and deaths to the World Health Organization, China has been consistently unwilling or unable to provide such information.

Even today's newly revised estimates, which officials of the World Health Organization praised as a "great step forward," cover only cases through the end of February and provide no information about cases in the past four weeks. The previous tallies covered only cases reported up to Feb. 10.

"We want to keep the spotlight on folks here and to encourage them to be part of the solution," said Dr. Rob Breiman, of the International Center of Diarrheal Disease Research Bangladesh, who is a member of the W.H.O. team currently in China. "We want to use the incredible amount of information they have collected here to help solve the problem."

Meanwhile, in one of the few encouraging developments, many of the first wave of patients in Hanoi, Hong Kong and Singapore are recuperating well enough to expect to go home soon, said Dr. Mark W. A. P. Salter, an expert in infectious diseases at the W.H.O.

The precise number of patients who are ready for discharge or who have been discharged was not available, Dr. Salter said. Some SARS patients have been hospitalized for more than a month.

Doctors do not know precisely when SARS patients can no longer transmit the disease to other people. Information so far from reports of people who have recuperated is that they pose no danger to others.

A clearer picture of the course of SARS emerged on Wednesday after 80 doctors who have treated cases in 13 countries held a teleconference moderated by Dr. Salter.

The participants said that SARS usually begins with high fever, chills muscle aches and a dry cough, and the way it progresses appears consistent in all countries.

After about a week, SARS patients tend to fall into either of two groups.

One group — an overwhelming majority of patients — begins to show improvement even without specific therapy.

In a second group, from 10 to 20 percent of patients develop increasing difficulty in breathing. Such patients usually required breathing assistance with a mechanical ventilator, and many have had to stay on ventilators for a long time. Most SARS deaths have involved patients in this group.

Patients 40 and older who have chronic ailments like those affecting the heart, liver, lung and bowel seem to be those who have become sickest. But a vast majority of patients had no known chronic disease before they became ill from SARS.

Officials from the World Health Organization first sat down on Tuesday with their Chinese counterparts to look at the internal data concerning the epidemic and said they were generally impressed with how the Chinese had investigated and sought to control the disease.

But they noted that data was painfully slow in emerging from that system, and W.H.O. officials in Beijing say they have still not been given statistic concerning the disease in other provinces, despite repeated requests.

In China, disease statistics are often regarded as politically troublesome and are not publicly released.

China first began providing information on its epidemic to the World Health Organization only about two weeks ago. Doctors and officials in southern China said that it started in November and peaked in mid-February, and that the number of cases has fallen off significantly in March. But the country has not provided recent data to support these claims.

The new statistics were released by provincial health officials here and have not yet been approved yet by China's Ministry of Health. Some scientists who have been in discussions with the ministry expect that they will be revised upwards over the next few days, especially as reports of more recent cases and of cases from other provinces trickle in.

With little hard information about SARS released by China's government, rumors of new cases have run wild in China's cities. The Chinese press has been banned from reporting on the topic.

Since scientists have not yet identified a reliable test for the disease, doctors caution that it can be difficult to distinguish SARS from other pneumonias that peak this time of year.

On Wednesday, Beijing city officials acknowledged nine cases of the disease and three deaths in the capital. As of last week, senior city health officials were still vehemently denying that Beijing had cases, despite the fact that two patients had died of a suspicious pneumonia at the People's Liberation Army 302 Hospital, and several doctors and nurses had fallen ill.

In Singapore, which has about 70 cases — all of them recent — health officials have quarantined 700 people with flu-like symptoms and ordered all schools closed through April 6. In Hong Kong, where many people have taken to wearing masks in crowded spaces, health officials reported 30 new cases in the last 24 hours, almost all of them hospitalized with pneumonia.

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China Bars W.H.O. Experts From Origin Site of Illness

China | Friday 10:04:53 EST | comments (0)

China Bars W.H.O. Experts From Origin Site of Illness

A team of five experts sent to China by the World Health Organization to investigate a mysterious respiratory illness there has not been allowed to visit the province where the disease is thought to have originated in November, agency officials said yesterday.

It is the second World Health Organization team since early February to be denied access to Guangdong Province, just north of Hong Kong. The group arrived on Sunday in Beijing, where its members are reviewing epidemiologic information about the illness known as SARS, for severe acute respiratory syndrome, and have met with officials from Guangdong and Beijing.

Chinese officials have reported 305 cases in Guangdong from November to Feb. 1, 5 of them fatal. They say the disease died out on its own.

But because outside experts have been stalled in their efforts to go to Guangdong, there has been no independent verification of the number of SARS cases in China, whether cases have occurred elsewhere in the country and whether transmission has stopped. Epidemiologists investigating SARS elsewhere say they suspect the number of cases in China may be much higher than 305.

The team also wants to interview patients who became ill, doctors and other health workers who cared for them and laboratory scientists to find out what they found in specimens from patients with the ailment. The cause of SARS is still unknown, though scientists suspect either or both of two viruses.

The experts also want to be certain that the illness in Guangdong is in fact SARS, which the world organization says has caused at least 487 cases in 13 countries since Feb. 1, including 17 deaths. The symptoms include high fever, cough, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing.

Chinese health officials have said, most recently when a delegation of them visited Hong Kong on Saturday, that they are working on the disease and want to be cooperative with the international community. But they have declined to provide any details other than to say that they believe the problem is under control.

Dr. David L. Heymann, executive director in charge of communicable diseases for the world organization expressed hope yesterday that the team would be invited to visit Guangdong. "Certainly our wish would be that the government will permit us to work with them in all aspects of this outbreak," he said at a news conference.

A major reason for the organization's concern is that "we are looking at a new disease," said Dr. Klaus Stöhr, who is directing the agency's scientific investigation of the SARS outbreak.

Dr. Heymann said the organization was also "very concerned" about the rising number of cases in Hong Kong, because "we have less information and we are less sure that containment activities are being successful" there than in other countries. Hong Kong has reported 286 SARS cases, including 10 deaths.

Although SARS has moved into a third wave of cases in Vietnam, the outbreak there seems to have been contained, Dr. Heymann said.

But a French doctor who flew to Hanoi last month to work in a hospital where several people have died from the illness has been hospitalized in France, and hospital officials said yesterday that SARS was suspected, Reuters reported.

French authorities were contacting passengers who were on the man's flight from Hanoi to Paris on Sunday and a taxi driver who drove him to his home in Lille near the Belgian border.

The danger of a further spread of the disease was underlined yesterday when the Hong Kong Health Department disclosed that 9 of the 35 members of a tour group that traveled to Beijing and back last week had become infected, apparently during the flight from Hong Kong to Beijing. At least two members of the group sat on the flight next to a 73-year-old man who had been visiting his infected brother at a Hong Kong hospital and contracted the disease, a department spokesman said.

Dr. Heymann emphasized that there was an urgent need to contain the disease in the 10 hospitals in Hong Kong that are involved in the outbreak, as well as in schools, where cases have also occurred. Health officials are intensifying their efforts to find out how the disease is contracted in schools.

In Singapore, officials decided on Monday to isolate 740 people in their homes for 10 days because they had been in contact with one or more of the 69 people who have contracted the disease there. But Dr. Leung Pak-yin, Hong Kong's deputy director of health, said officials there had resisted calls for similar isolation measures, in part because Hong Kong, unlike Singapore, does not have a law that allows government ministers to order the isolation of groups of citizens.

Hong Kong officials played down the seriousness of SARS earlier this month. Dr. Yeoh Eng-kiong, Hong Kong's secretary of health, welfare and food, who has managed the SARS outbreak with Dr. William Ho, the chief executive of the Hong Kong Hospital Authority, accused the World Health Organization of being too quick to sound an international alarm.

Dr. Ho, who is one of two doctors overseeing the government's response to SARS, was confirmed as a SARS case yesterday after having been admitted to a hospital late Sunday night.

With Dr. Ho's illness, Hong Kong officials have been taking the problem more seriously.

The death rate from SARS has remained steady at about 4 percent, which Dr. Heymann said was of concern for a disease spreading throughout the world.

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From China to the American Dream

Film | Friday 10:01:10 EST | comments (0)

From China to the American Dream

Bill Moyers is probably the most earnest man, and the most prolific television journalist, on the planet. His documentaries and specials roll off the PBS schedule as if from an assembly line, each stamped with the virtues he embodies: they're thoughtful, upright and high-minded and glow with a kind of secular piety. They're both fortifying and numbing, the television version of eating your spinach. He's television's Al Gore.

Like everyone else who spends a lot of time in front of the camera, Mr. Moyers tends to be as strong as the producers and writers who back him up. In the case of "Becoming American: The Chinese Experience," which will be shown on PBS tonight, tomorrow and Thursday in 90-minute installments, Mr. Moyers (who narrates the program and is credited as a writer) is clearly working with first-rate talent. This is a model documentary that gets almost everything right: it crams nearly two centuries of tangled Chinese-American history into a few engrossing hours while remaining surprisingly light on its feet.

One of the earliest images in "Becoming American" is a startling one: a photograph of a Chinese family that, in the mid-19th century, traveled with a P. T. Barnum sideshow along with Tom Thumb and the Tattooed Man. American audiences had conflicting reactions to Barnum's exotic "living Chinese family." Were the Chinese an ancient and wise people or, as some feared, the "debased and cunning" products of a sick society littered with opium dens? These types of uncertain and often blinkered responses would typify Americans' reactions to the Chinese for a long time to come.

Through often haunting archival photographs and interviews with Chinese-American historians, writers and descendants, "Becoming American" does an expert job of penciling in the broad outlines of the Chinese experience here. The documentary moves quickly from the late 1840's — when thousands of young Chinese men fled flood, famine and civil war at home to find fortune in California's Gold Rush — to the establishment of the first Chinatowns and the work of Chinese laborers on the transcontinental railroad.

Discrimination against the Chinese in the United States ebbed and flowed during these early years, but labor leaders and politicians would turn them into easy scapegoats during bad economic times. The result was the passage of the federal Exclusion Act of 1882, the first time the United States ever banned a group of people based on nationality or race.

"Becoming American" follows the story through World War II, when the Chinese, who were already at war with Japan, suddenly became the "good Asians," up through the passage of the Immigration Reform Act of 1965, which allowed Asians and other non-Europeans to come to the United States in far greater numbers than ever before.

What you are likely to remember about "Becoming American," however, is less the landmark events than the smaller stories this inquisitive documentary pokes around in. There is the way, for example, that many Chinese men were forced into jobs American men wouldn't accept (running laundries, working as domestic help), which led them to be stereotyped as subservient. Conversely, there is a good deal here about China's patriarchal society and the dated attitudes toward women that many Chinese men brought with them to America.

This documentary also offers incisive miniprofiles of many nearly forgotten players in this long saga. Notable among these is the story of Anna May Wong, a Chinese-American actress who made dozens of films here in the 1920's, 30's and 40's but who was forced to play stock characters — Mongolian slaves, temptresses, doomed lovers — and speak "Chinglish" on screen. She was also forbidden to kiss a Western man in a film. ("I must always die in the movies," Wong once said, "so that the white girl with the yellow hair may get the man.") Although Wong was an advocate for Chinese causes in the United States, when she tried to visit China she was denounced as a "stooge of America" because of her screen persona.

"Becoming American" ends not just with a roll call of famous contemporary Chinese-Americans — Yo-Yo Ma, I. M. Pei, Maya Lin, the Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang among them — but with revealing interviews with younger Chinese-Americans about the joys and difficulties of trying to become, to greater and lesser degrees, assimilated. One young woman, Michelle Ling, is hilarious about the "fog of guilt" that Chinese-American parents unwittingly spread across their children's lives: the pressure to succeed, to be a "model minority," is enormous. It is as if, she says, you were carrying the entire race on your shoulders.

Ms. Ling's generation has developed some slang for other Chinese-Americans in the 21st century. You can be, she says, an F.O.B. (fresh off the boat), an A.B.C. (American-born Chinese) or even a "twinkie" (yellow on the outside, white on the inside). "Becoming American" offers a smart, panoramic assessment of how it came to pass that today's Chinese-Americans can often feel like all of these at once.

The Chinese Experience

On most PBS stations tonight, tomorrow and Thursday nights (Check local listings)
Felice Firestone and Judy Doctoroff O'Neill, executive producers; Bill Moyers and Judith Davidson Moyers, executive editors; Thomas Lennon, series producer; Ruby Yang, series editor; Joseph Angier, Steve Cheng, Mi Ling Tsui, program producers; Mr. Angier, Mr. Lennon, Mr. Moyers and Ms. Tsui, writers; Roger Daniels and Shih-Shan Henry Tsai, senior historical advisers. A production of Public Affairs Television Inc. in association with Thomas Lennon Films.

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Suspicious Activity Closes NYC Bridge

NYC | Friday 09:56:06 EST | comments (0)

Suspicious Activity Closes NYC Bridge
Filed at 9:46 a.m. ET

NEW YORK (AP) -- Police closed one of the bridges linking Manhattan and Brooklyn on Friday morning after reports of suspicious activity. At least three people were in police custody after they were spotted on the Williamsburg Bridge.

Two men from Massachusetts and a third from Rhode Island were being questioned at a nearby stationhouse, police said.

Authorities were investigating whether alcohol was a factor in the incident.

The bridge was closed in both directions around 8:30 a.m. EST, backing up traffic on both sides.

There were initial reports of packages on the bridge, but none have been found, police said.

Police were checking other bridges, but all others remained open.

In the week since U.S.-led military troops invaded Iraq, the NYPD's new counterterror role has been more visible than ever.

Officers are protecting television stations to prevent a terrorist takeover. Armed with high-tech detection equipment, they're sweeping the city for radiological, chemical and biological weapons.

Checkpoints are up at bridges, tunnels and highway exits. Bomb dogs are riding subway cars. Ferry boats have armed escorts to ward off suicide bomb attacks.

Earlier this year, the NYPD successfully petitioned a federal judge to lift an 18-year-old court decree limiting police surveillance of political groups, and police last month cited terrorism worries in denying a permit for an anti-war march in front of the United Nations.

Much of the NYPD's counterterror effort runs out of its command-and-control center. Inside, police tap into local, regional and federal law-enforcement databases, calling up information from criminal histories to detailed overhead shots of any building in New York City.

Cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago have begun copying some of the tactics, said Robert McCrie, of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

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Coast Guard Adjusts to Anti - Terror Duties

NYC | Friday 09:54:35 EST | comments (0)

Coast Guard Adjusts to Anti - Terror Duties
Filed at 2:04 a.m. ET

NEW YORK (AP) -- Attacks at home and war abroad have transformed the U.S. Coast Guard from an agency that once focused primarily on search and rescue to a force shielding Americans from would-be terrorists.

New rapid-response teams now intercept suspicious ships by lowering guardsmen from hovering helicopters. Vessels protect 170 vulnerable sites, from landmarks like the Statue of Liberty to nuclear plants. A national intelligence database now allows officers to identify suspect cargo far from shore.

Last weekend, a rapid-response team intercepted a suspicious vessel flying a Qatar flag and bound for a New Jersey refinery with 100,000 barrels of Nigerian crude oil. The intelligence database identified its captain and chief engineer as Iraqis.

The 36,000 men and women of the Coast Guard -- up 2,000 after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks -- are on their highest alert since World War II. Another 3,000 Guard reservists have been called to active duty.

``Homeland security is our No. 1 mission now,'' said Cmdr. Jim McPherson, a Coast Guard spokesman. ``We have many more patrols on the water, more boardings of vessels, more security zones.''

Many analysts say, however, that such steps are still insufficient.

``If we had to rate the state of our maritime security, on a scale of 1 to 10 -- on Sept. 11, we were a 1 and now we're getting close to a 3,'' said Steven Flynn, a former Coast Guard officer and senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations.

Though it has roots dating to 1790, the modern Coast Guard was formed in 1915 from an amalgam of agencies that enforced maritime and customs laws. Over the years its mission has expanded, taking on responsibilities from drug enforcement to environmental and fisheries protection.

On March 1, the Coast Guard was transferred from the Department of Transportation to the new Department of Homeland Security. While Guard officials insist they have not abandoned other duties, their mission is far more focused now on protecting the nation's 361 commercial seaports and 120,000 miles of coastline and inland waters.

``Before it was all about boater safety, and search and rescue,'' said Senior Chief Petty Officer Mark Cutter, commander of the Portsmouth, N.H., Coast Guard station. ``Now it's all about homeland security.''

Despite a boost in the Guard's budget from $5.6 billion last year to the current $6.2 billion level, some say the investment is still insufficient. Nearly everyone says the task is daunting.

``The volume and velocity of the people and goods that arrive in our ports is so overwhelming that it makes the ability to filter bad from good an enormous challenge,'' Flynn said. ``It's a bit like trying to catch minerals at the base of Niagara Falls.''

For example, government officials acknowledge that only about 2 percent of the more than 7 million cargo containers that come into U.S. ports are inspected by the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection.

As a result, identifying suspicious cargo ahead of time is essential -- the job of the Coast Guard. ``What you have to do is a form of risk management -- identifying a ship or a container as high risk,'' Flynn said.

In each of the nation's ports, the Guard focuses on specific concerns -- in Miami, it means protecting cruise ships; in Houston, it's guarding fuel deliveries to petrochemical plants. In the waters around New York, 210-foot cutters ply the waters 220 days a year, up from 180 days before the terror attacks, Chief David French said. The number of Coast Guard personnel in New York has more than doubled.

``Seaports are especially vulnerable to the smuggling of clandestine weapons,'' said Ralph James, who heads national security research at Long Island's Brookhaven National Laboratories. ``Terrorists can probably afford the $5,000 or so it costs to ship a container, which can carry weapons of mass destruction or explosives.''

Coast Guard officials point to one recent case as an example of the how the new system can be effective.

Last weekend, a rapid-response team intercepted a suspicious vessel flying a Qatar flag and bound for a New Jersey refinery with 100,000 barrels of Nigerian crude oil. The intelligence database identified its captain and chief engineer as Iraqis.

Once aboard, the Coast Guard interviewed the crew and found ``no reason to believe they were terrorists,'' McPherson said. ``But that's how the security system is supposed to work.''

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In New York, a Security Blanket With Holes

NYC | Friday 09:52:14 EST | comments (0)

In New York, a Security Blanket With Holes

As the United States wages war on Iraq, New Yorkers and others across the region are witnessing an extraordinary state of heightened security. Police officers are armed like assault troops outside prominent buildings, police boats are combing the waterfronts and trucks are being inspected at bridges and tunnels.

Some of these unsettling sights and sounds will cease when the war ends. Many will not. In the 18 months since terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center and killed nearly 2,800 people, significant and lasting changes have been made in the region's security landscape. More are in the works.

No one can live or work in the region without having noticed the proliferation of armed security guards, surveillance cameras, handbag searches, metal detectors, electronic access cards and bomb-sniffing dogs, all of which have multiplied from Pennsylvania Station to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Layered atop those are changes hidden from most eyes, like the detectives paying visits to chemical companies that terrorists might contact, the immigration agents demanding credit card numbers from foreign visitors, or the hospital emergency room stockpiles of nerve gas antidotes.

Yet for all the improvements, no assurances have been given, nor would they be believed; Israel offers bloody proof that no degree of vigilance is a guarantee.

Still, this new security blanket has gaping holes. Some come with promised fixes and some do not. Some defy easy repair in an open society and some seem to be waiting for solutions not yet imagined. With the masses of people pouring, unsearched, into subway trains, Times Square and neighborhood multiplexes, it is easy to have thoughts of recent terror attacks in Jerusalem or Moscow.

People and bags arriving at the international airports are much more carefully screened than they were before 9/11, but cargo arriving at the seaports is not.

Power companies have increased security around their plants, but Consolidated Edison rebuffed Police Department recommendations to install vehicle barriers and new fences at a complex in Queens.

Public schools in New York City have been ordered to develop and revise emergency plans, but many have either not done so, or have failed to show the plans to parents, teachers and safety officers.

The Police Department has significantly increased its commitment to counterterrorism work. Yet its force has 4,000 fewer men and women than it did two years ago, and many of the officers and supervisors who would be first to respond to an incident have not yet received any special equipment, like gas masks, or any specialized training for dealing with unconventional weapons.

At the Indian Point nuclear plant in Westchester County, the Entergy Corporation has increased security. But there is no longer an approved plan to evacuate the surrounding communities in an emergency.

And from every sector, public or private, comes the constant lament that security is expensive, but that budgets are very tight in a lagging economy, and that help from Washington has been too limited.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said Washington made a fundamental mistake in approving too little security aid last year, and in distributing it so that New York received less than the national average, per capita. But he said that after meeting with President Bush last Wednesday, he was confident that more aid was on the way.

"I think there's no question that training, equipment, focus, awareness — all of those things are much improved," Mr. Bloomberg said Friday.

There is still considerable room for improvement across the region, he said.

"From a security provider's perspective, there's no downside to having too much," he said. "There's an enormous downside to having too little."

Transportation: Airports and Shipping Apply Stricter Rules

In February, new bomb detection equipment at Kennedy International Airport set off an alarm, sensing nitrates — a common bomb ingredient — in the luggage of a group of Muslims returning from their pilgrimage to Mecca. The culprit turned out to be 15 gallons of harmless holy water that happened to contain traces of nitrates.

"That's how sharp our screeners are now," said William R. Hall, security director at the airport for the federal Transportation Security Administration.

After the Sept. 11 attack, no area of American life was subjected to more intense scrutiny than air travel. The federal government shouldered a far larger role, through the Transportation Security Administration, taking over airport security from a group of widely criticized contractors, and imposing tougher rules for screening employees, passengers and luggage.

It has been an expensive undertaking. The powerful car-size X-ray machines being installed at airports to screen baggage cost about $1 million apiece.

The agency's squat beige building at J.F.K. represents the end product of all the tales of confiscated knitting needles. Two storage rooms overflow with passengers' contraband, from chain saws to perfumes with names like "Time Bomb," whose bottles are shaped like explosives. Officials say the number of guns and knives seized at airport checkpoints nationwide has more than tripled since 9/11.

Before 9/11, fewer than 2 percent of checked bags were inspected; now, all are either X-rayed or swabbed for explosive traces, or both. Before 9/11, there were 37 federal marshals assigned to riding airliners undercover; now, there are thousands, according to airport officials.

But while much has changed in airline security, that is not true of the metropolitan area's seaports in Elizabeth, N.J.; on Staten Island; and in Red Hook in Brooklyn. Experts say that seaports remain one of the region's great vulnerabilities.

Only 2 to 3 percent of the millions of truck-size shipping containers arriving in New York Harbor each year are inspected — just a slight increase from before Sept. 11.

"Over all, if we had to rate this thing from 1 to 10, when we started on Sept. 11, we were at a 1 and today we are at a 2," said Stephen E. Flynn, an international shipping authority at the Council on Foreign Relations.

At a congressional hearing in November, Bethann Rooney, manager of port security for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, complained that security efforts were fragmented, with no one in charge.

Most plans for shipping security are far from fruition, because of limited resources. Ship owners are required to notify the Customs Service of all United States-bound cargo 24 hours before it is loaded, to give officers time to determine which containers should be inspected, and Customs officers are now posted in a few foreign ports. But so far, with its small force, the service has set up shop in only 10 ports in Europe, Canada and Asia.

Customs and the Coast Guard are exploring the idea of inspecting more containers, and interdicting cargo, in certain cases, while it is still more than 100 miles out at sea. But that would require more people, more ships and the agreement of other nations. Despite having some assets called to war in the Middle East, the Coast Guard now has about 8 to 12 more vessels patrolling in the region than it did before or after 9/11.

Some officials advocate technological fixes that in some cases have not been fully developed or put in place, like crane-mounted radiation detectors, and "smart boxes" attached to shipping containers that would detect tampering and weapons. But the federal government has shown little appetite for investing in that area.

Closer to home for most New Yorkers, the region's sprawling web of subways, buses, commuter trains, bridges and tunnels remains an obvious target. There are hundreds more police officers — and, at times, National Guard troops — patrolling places like Grand Central Terminal and the Lincoln Tunnel than before Sept. 11, and they routinely use bomb-sniffing dogs.

But the system is porous by definition, and officials say there is no practical way to change that. Attempts are being made to harden it, with measures like electronic access cards for vulnerable areas, but ambitious steps, like a network of video cameras in subway stations, remain mostly talk.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Port Authority have earmarked $1.1 billion for security improvements, but that has meant taking money from other projects, like new signals for PATH trains.

Before the trade center attack, said Peter S. Kalikow, the M.T.A. chairman, planning dealt with blizzards and pickpockets. In tackling the terrorist threat, he said, "we had to literally turn on a dime."

Preparedness: Plans and Tactics Revised for Response

The New York Fire Department, the Office of Emergency Management and the Police Department all suffered heavy losses in the trade center attack, forcing them to do a great deal of rebuilding and rethinking.

That has meant new facilities, new equipment and new training. More fundamentally, it has forced changes in emergency planning and tactics. Among the basic lessons of 9/11, two stand out: the agencies tended to put too many resources in a single place; and, in a crisis, communications and chains of command were vulnerable to breakdowns.

Despite the advances they have made, there are still problem areas.

Every firefighter is equipped with a new digital radio, replacing the radios that proved so flawed on Sept. 11. The department plans a system of "repeaters" throughout the city to help its radio signals penetrate skyscraper walls. But so far, the police and firefighters still do not have a shared radio frequency, relying on commanders for communication and coordination — a system that has failed before.

The Fire Department has cached emergency supplies, wrapped in plastic, in secret locations throughout the city.

The department lost 343 people at the trade center, including many of its top brass and elite specialists. Since then, it has changed its practices — to keep more of its commanders away from major incidents, and to set up command posts farther from the action.

In the event of major losses in the command structure, 35 top officials have been trained to run the department in rotating shifts, and the department plans to give such training to another 35.

The city's Office of Emergency Management lost its command post at 7 World Trade Center, and while operating out of a temporary center near the Brooklyn Bridge, it is building a new post at Cadman Plaza East in Brooklyn — a much less prominent location. Looking at the city's experience, New York State is building up its backup emergency command posts statewide.

Officials say that while coordination among city agencies is somewhat improved, a major weakness remains: there is no formal "incident command," a uniform system for putting a single agency in charge at an emergency, depending on the type of incident, so that agencies do not fall to squabbling or working at cross purposes. Proposed policies over the years have met with resistance from the Police and Fire Departments, each unwilling to cede control.

At both the Police and Fire Departments, the unions and many of the rank and file say they are inadequately prepared to deal with a new world of threats that includes large explosions, radiation, chemical weapons and biological hazards.

The Fire Department has one highly specialized hazardous materials unit whose members have more than 300 hours of training — a consultant's report after the trade center attack said there should be a second — and a dozen units with hazardous materials technicians, each with more than 80 hours of training.

But firefighters with the remaining ladder and rescue companies have little preparation of that kind. The department has begun giving a 24-hour course on hazardous materials and a 16-hour course on terrorism, but only firefighters hired since Sept. 11 have taken them.

"We have to make sure the rescuers don't need to be rescued," said Philip McArdle, health and safety officer at the Uniformed Firefighters Association.

The police unions note that except for certain elite units, most officers have received no specialized training in dealing with unconventional weapons. To date, less than one-third of the department's officers have received protective gear like gas masks.

A fatalism has taken hold among many firefighters, who say they expect that many of them would die in an unconventional attack. The officers of one Manhattan fire company have drafted their own contingency plan, saying that in a biological or chemical attack in a subway, unless ordered underground by a chief, firefighters would not enter the subway until they first saw live victims emerging.

Officials in both departments acknowledge the training gap, and said the city's money woes were to blame. With the city facing a $4 billion budget gap, police and firefighters are doing more with less — taking on new security duties while the departments are shrinking.

Added training, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said, means pulling officers away from their regular jobs, and paying overtime for someone else to fill in. He has asked for $261 million in federal aid, much of it for training.

Similarly, Chief Frank Cruthers said the Fire Department would like to provide more training, but did not have the money. "This is an overtime issue," he said.

Enforcement: Intelligence Gathering Is a Police Priority

On Sept. 11, 2001, the New York Police Department had about 20 people assigned to counterterrorism. Today, it has almost 1,000.

To an extraordinary degree, the department has transformed itself in just a year and half into a force that works around the globe to thwart people who might be taking aim at New York — a profound change in mission and mind-set.

The department has hired former Central Intelligence Agency and military experts, increased sixfold the number of people assigned to a joint terrorism task force with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and posted detectives overseas to work and train with foreign law enforcement agencies. At home, the routine duties of the Police Department have been expanded to include conducting truck checkpoints, scanning vehicles with hand-held radiation detectors, and visiting businesses like chemical companies that terrorists may have contacted.

The harbor patrol in their boats and the heavily armed "Hercules" teams in their armored sport-utility vehicles constantly roam the city in unpredictable patterns. And both forces can regularly be seen at landmarks considered potential targets.

Tom Ridge, the secretary of homeland security, said last week that New York's efforts have been "a model for other communities to follow."

New Jersey's early efforts to enter the counterterrorism field met with several setbacks. Gov. James E. McGreevey's first choice to head the effort was an Israeli citizen, ineligible for F.B.I. briefings, and he withdrew under criticism.

New Jersey is assembling a terrorism task force, but at a planned strength of 70 people, it will be quite small by New York's standards. The state has provided specialized training to local police departments, and officials say they have quietly developed a program to identify and monitor several dozen immigrants believed to be sympathetic to groups like Al Qaeda and Hamas.

Since 9/11, New York State Police and National Guard forces have helped patrol New York City, and about 500 guard troops remain in the city, but those agencies, too, have been stretched thin.

State troopers have been assigned to checkpoints along the Canadian border, a job that they did not perform before the attack. Superintendent James W. McMahon, commander of the force, said that troopers were available to cover all 12 international crossings where Customs and Border Patrol officers were already posted, and that 120 troopers had been assigned to patrol and periodically check the unmanned crossings.

Other troopers have been shifted to the State Capitol in Albany for security reasons. That has contributed to concern among union leaders that there have been fewer troopers performing duties like patrolling highways in the capital region.

"The front line in the war on terrorism is the road, the officer, his eyes and ears, to say, `What is not right here?' " said Dan De Federicis, president of the Police Benevolent Association of the New York State Troopers.

Through a federal grant, the state is acquiring 113 mobile trailers with equipment to detect hazardous materials, including protective suits. But other technical advances that state officials proposed more than a year ago have been slow in coming. State troopers' radios still cannot communicate with those of New York City officers or federal agents, and a trooper shadowing a suspicious car on a highway still has no way to tap into federal terrorism databases.

In the field of immigration control, law enforcement and intelligence gathering have changed markedly since Sept. 11. Immigration agents, now part of Homeland Security, and the F.B.I., with the help of local law enforcement, are tracking and deporting more than 300,000 aliens who remained in the United States despite deportation orders.

Schools are now being required to report all foreign students to the federal government — some 9,000 just at Columbia University and New York University.

Visitors and immigrants from mostly Muslim nations are being subjected to far greater scrutiny than in the past. Male travelers from 26 nations are now fingerprinted and photographed upon arrival. And men from a long list of Muslim countries who are already in the United States are being required to register with the government — a process that immigration lawyers say means not only supplying an address and fingerprints, but also credit card numbers, video rental subscription numbers, family members' addresses and e-mail addresses.

Health: Hospitals Invest In Being Ready

Outside Bellevue Hospital Center's emergency room, pre-9/11 readiness and its post-9/11 evolution stand a few yards apart.

On one side is an old, portable decontamination shower, exposed to the elements, with room for a handful of people, hooked up to a hose. On the other is an enclosed, permanent, recently completed $500,000 structure with air filters, 56 high-speed water nozzles and the ability to decontaminate as many as 500 people an hour.

At St. Vincent's Manhattan Hospital in Greenwich Village, the pharmacy has a stockpile of 350 injection kits loaded with atropine, an antidote for some nerve gases, and more than 100 with a cyanide antidote. "Before 9/11, we wouldn't even have thought about carrying atropine kits, and we had maybe 5 or 10 for cyanide," said Dr. Richard Westphal, director of emergency medicine.

Hospitals have invested heavily in preparation for an attack, perhaps more than any other business. According to the Greater New York Hospital Association, hospitals across the state have spent more than $200 million on security and emergency response measures that were not contemplated before the trade center attack, and have plans to spend more than that over the next year. Hospitals in the city have spent far more than those in the suburbs or upstate, and the trauma centers have done the most of all.

They have built "negative air pressure" rooms that germs cannot escape, bought body suits and respirators and installed backup computer systems. New York City's Health and Hospitals Corporation bought a radio system linking its 11 hospitals, in case the phones go dead.

And, of course, most hospitals, like the city and state, are taking part in the national effort to vaccinate thousands of health care workers against smallpox.

To compensate for all of this, Washington has sent New York's hospitals an extra $8 million, or a maximum of $40,000 per hospital — less than many hospitals say they will spend on the vaccination program alone.

"We've had to absorb most of the costs," said Dr. Van H. Dunn, senior vice president and chief medical officer of the hospitals corporation. "We had hoped for more."

Readiness varies greatly among the ambulances that answer emergency calls in New York City — a system split between the Fire Department's Emergency Medical Service and private ambulance corps, and run mostly by hospitals.

St. Vincent's ambulances have all been equipped with gas masks and body suits to protect the paramedics, and with antidotes to chemical agents. Emergency Medical Service crews have received masks, but except for 10 ambulances designated to respond to hazardous materials incidents, they do not have body suits or antidotes. Most of the private ambulance crews head into the field with none of that equipment.

Public health agencies have developed systems that they hope will detect outbreaks of disease faster in New York City, whether natural or manufactured. The city this year became the first site of a federal program testing air samples for various pathogens.

The city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has built what it calls a "syndromic surveillance system," collecting information on thousands of 911 calls, emergency room trips and pharmacy visits daily, and analyzing them for patterns.

The city and state health departments are expanding and modernizing their laboratories, which were overwhelmed during the anthrax scare when they were required to test everything from letters to furniture. Each wants to do more, but might be stalled by money. The state's hopes for a new, more sophisticated lab in Rome, N.Y., are contingent on gaining a $150 million federal grant.

Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the city health commissioner, said his department had spent $13 million on upgrading the lab. An additional $45 million in further changes are planned. "But we don't know where the money's going to come from," he said.

When the anthrax-laced letters were mailed in New Jersey, that state found itself ill-equipped, and was widely criticized for its muddled response. Since then, New Jersey has formed a bioterrorism rapid-response team, and Governor McGreevey says his state is seeking $150 million from Washington for a new health lab.

Landmarks: A Need to Guard the Infrastructure

Since 9/11, lunch deliveries inside the New York Stock Exchange have been forbidden. On Wall Street, there is a palpable sense of being a target. And though most securities firms refuse to discuss specifics, changes are visible in the form of legions of guards and thorough checks of people entering buildings.

The financial industry has taken steps not only to deter attacks, but also to make sure that it can continue running in the event of a catastrophe. The New York Stock Exchange now has a backup site in another borough — it will not say where — that it says could be put into operation within a day, and the Nasdaq, the American Stock Exchange and the New York Mercantile Exchange have also developed alternative trading floors.

Many big banks and investment firms have set up relocation offices and backup data centers outside New York City. Morgan Stanley altered its plan to concentrate operations in three Times Square towers, instead moving some offices north of the city. Recently, a Securities Industry Association survey found that 20 of 57 big financial industry companies had relocation offices more than 30 miles from headquarters.

But security preparations have been spotty among the thousands of places where people across the region live, work and study, or that they rely on for daily services.

Utilities have hired more guards and built new fences, but they remain vulnerable, according to some experts and public officials. Federal regulators plan to issue tougher rules for nuclear plant security soon, but there are no federal or state regulations for security at other utility plants.

Last year, Con Edison ruled out as too costly or impractical some security improvements the Police Department recommended for a power complex in western Queens, like barriers that would stop vehicles, and new fences along the East River.

This month, a truck driven by a television news crew drove past the fence at the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station in Forked River, N.J., and pulled up to a loading dock, unchallenged, even as state officials were conducting a public relations campaign to ease public jitters about security. "State and federal officials have promised us that every possible safeguard has been out in place to safeguard against such an attack," said State Senator Leonard T. Connors Jr., a Republican from Forked River. "Then a vehicle gains access to the plant, drives around unhindered, and could have been loaded with explosives."

New York City's Department of Environmental Protection has spent $100 million on enhanced security, with another $100 million planned, for the system of reservoirs and aqueducts, upstate and in Westchester County, that supplies water to the city.

The department says that contamination is not a real threat because the network is vast enough to dilute any chemicals or germs. And though there is increased surveillance upstate, the department admits that it cannot police the entire system. Rather, the department says the danger is of disruption, like terrorists blowing up water tunnels, and the new security has been concentrated in those areas.

The Postal Service, hit hard by the anthrax letters, has begun to use machines that can detect pathogens on letters and packages, and plans to have them in 282 centers nationally within several years. The first 15 such machines are scheduled to be in place by next month in sorting centers across the country, but only one in the New York metropolitan area, in Edison, N.J.

Postal officials said they also had plans for installing new air-filtering systems at postal centers, as well as a new machine at Kennedy Airport to detect radioactive materials arriving in mail from overseas.

Public schools were all supposed to have redrafted their emergency plans since 9/11, but compliance has been uneven. Jamaica High School in Queens posted its new plan on its Web site; Stuyvesant High School, four blocks from where the trade center's twin towers stood, has not finished drafting one.

Teamsters Local 237, representing New York City school safety officers, said it surveyed those officers and found that 68 percent had not been informed of their schools' plans. "As well-intentioned as the emergency plan is, it is not getting down to the people that would execute the plan," said Carl E. Haynes, the union president. The teachers' union has made similar complaints.

Security is far more visible at most government buildings throughout the region, and at structures, public and private, that are internationally known icons.

Access to the Empire State Building is more controlled now, and the building's managers say they have added $6 million a year worth of security measures.

At Yankee Stadium, there are far more police officers and private security guards during games. Bags and backpacks are forbidden, trash cans and parking have been eliminated along the perimeter wall, and there are more security cameras.

At some places, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Statue of Liberty, officials would not discuss security. But at many private commercial and residential buildings, the approach has been, as one security consultant put it, "laughable."

In New Jersey, state officials developed a list of the 110 privately owned sites they considered most likely to become targets, from office buildings to chemical plants, and even allocated $46 million to help pay for security. But they admit it has been slow going, and Sidney J. Caspersen, the state's director of counterterrorism, said more federal aid was needed.

Michael G. Cherkasky, president of Kroll Associates, an international security firm, said tough economic times had meant fewer precautions. "Companies are less willing to spend dollars on virtually everything, and that includes security," he said.

posted by paul | link | Comments (0)

26 March 2003

all about lily chou chou

Film | Wednesday 21:22:11 EST | comments (2)

i'm so excited!! this weekend when i was in chinatown looking for DVDs, i found a store that had the new VCD release of All About Lily Chou Chou. i hadn't even known it was out yet in a HK/western version (the japanese version released last year had no english subtitles).

when i asked, the staff said that they had it on DVD as well, but unfortunately, they had sold out. they told me to try again in a week. (of course i then tried a dozen other DVD stores that i frequent as well, but to no avail. nobody else was even carrying the VCD.)

so today, three days later! and feeling restless on a dark and rainy wednesday evening, i took a little walk down to chinatown to see if any DVD shipments had come in yet. i was in luck! and proceeded to buy the *one* they had just received and placed in the window.

now i am so tempted to watch it instead of the PBS Chinese American special that i'm watching (and taping) as i type!

[btw, as gg notes, you can also get the film from yesasia; they're cheaper than Poker, but not sure if their version tests ok in region1. my guess is that it works, as the one i bought was also from panorama and said region3 but worked.]

update: 02:15 EST Thursday

so just finished watching it (in bed on my 8 foot screen!). and, as expected, it was just beautiful -- all 140 minutes worth!

last july after reading rave reviews (salon, voice), i had gone to see the film alone at the village art theater on west 13th. the screen was tiny and the twenty seat space was perched like an attic above the box office. but the tiny and intimate setting was strangely so fitting for the film.

in july, i had been so blown away by the film's quiet beauty and disturbing portrait of the japanese psyche and the mental pressures of japanese adolescence. i immediately wanted to see it again. but in waiting to see it with a friend, i didn't realize it would only be playing for two weeks, and it was gone a few days before we went back disappointed.

i think what i liked most about the film was that ethereal and quiet beauty, despite its disturbing yet believable portrayals of the many tragedies of cruel and viscious yet "normal" youth in japan. there are beautiful and hypnotic shots of boys on bicycles or standing immersed in lush green fields over debussy and the click-clicking of a mac keyboard. (i am really loving this type of quasi-tone-poem-films lately. and this film's gentle pace --set to debussy's deux arabesques, reverie, solo piano, and cello-- fits perfectly.)

the film documents three years spanning the end of elementary school and the beginning of junior high (13-15yrs old) of a group of young japanese children. there are so many tragedies here -- theft and shoplifting, humiliation, mental and physical bullying, coerced prostitution, rape, suicide, and eventually ... [i don't want to give everything away].

in many ways, i feel the film addresses so many of the issues that i still find most perplexing about the japanese psyche. questions that i felt more aware of, but without full understanding, after my visit to japan in 2001. this film dramatically illustrated a few:

1) how personal identity is primarily defined by the group/social identity and a heightened sense of personal pride/honor -- there is little place for individuality or speaking out, explaining (a) the emphasis on uniformity, (b) academic and sports militarism, and (c) effecting conscientiously subdued and tacit acquiescence.

for example, in early scenes, class president hoshino shrinks from being placed above the other students as their representative or with a reputation as the top student. in addition, when Hasumi is caught shoplifting, his teacher (looking scarcely in her mid 20s) collects him from the CD store, apologizing profusely and buying the CD for him. later when his pregnant mother is brought in, the teacher and another head teacher are almost apologizing to the mother for the incident, to which she starts beating him in a fury of humiliation.

2) how societal controls are extremely tight by definition, effecting severe mental anguish and stress (from holding everything inside, like when Hasumi throws up in class from the stress). individuals are so tightly controlled by the constructs (really the personal identity constructs) of society that when the individual does break out of the mold, they are almost unopposed and can become arbitrarily powerful in their heightened sense of self-autonomy/efficacy. (as manifested with Hoshino as the head male bully, or with some of the characters' eventual resolutions.)

3) how power is respected by default. societal power of course has the most significance. but bully power is just a localized form of societal power, and thus also followed tacitly and perhaps blindly. i think there is less thought to the actual consequences of action, outside of the consequences to the identity and the individual's relationship to the social group at hand. when there is a gross injustice or imbalance of power, the group acts to shift the blame and rebalance the power. (as the female bully does at the end with hoshino.)

on the whole however, i sense that the crux of all of these issues, and others raised in my bootsnall article, is in the entirely different methods and principles with which the japanese construct their personal identity. as one of the last IMs displayed at the close of the film asserts: "i say people all die. . .seeking for a place to belong." true for all people perhaps, but maybe especially true for japanese.

posted by paul | link | Comments (2)

Baghdad Empties, but Fills With Foreboding

PQ+ | Wednesday 03:59:54 EST | comments (0)

Baghdad Empties, but Fills With Foreboding

BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 25 — It was a grim day today in Baghdad, perhaps the grimmest yet since the war began, and with the darkening prospect of worse to come.

Not long past noon, the Iraqi capital was nearly dark, its streets nearly deserted for miles on end. Since Saturday, the city has been shrouded by huge, roiling clouds of black smoke from oil trenches Saddam Hussein's forces have set afire around the outer districts in hopes of foiling guidance systems on American aircraft and bombs. Then, overnight, a storm blew in from the desert, said to be the worst in years, blasting everything with howling winds that bent the date palms along the Tigris River almost flat, and bringing with it a thick screen of yellowish-brown sand.

Away to the southwest, as close to Baghdad as 50 miles in some places, advance units of the United States' Army's Third Infantry Division were probing through the choking dust. Further back, the 101st Airborne Division was moving north on a separate track. With shortwave radios and the word-of-mouth networks that keep Iraqis informed of realities their rulers would deny them, there was a hardly a man or woman in Baghdad, or even a child over 7 or 8 for that matter, who did not know that the Americans were almost at the city's gates.

And that knowledge, in many ways, was the hardest thing of all.

For 30 years, Mr. Hussein has worked to make himself unchallengeable in Iraq. The war with Iran, the occupation of Kuwait, United Nations economic sanctions, the squaring off against America, the relentless purges of all potential challengers and critics, the astonishing hagiography of the monuments, the statues, the biographies, the adoring songs — all have been, as many Iraqis see it, an outgrowth of the drive of an impoverished, fatherless, barefoot boy from a village on the Tigris to become, as official Iraqi publications describe him, Saddam the Great.

But in the days since American forces crossed the border from Kuwait, and especially now that they are in the early stages of mounting a siege of Baghdad, Mr. Hussein has been confronted with the worst nightmare any absolute ruler can confront — a physical force greater than his own.

Even Iraqi loyalists, at least at the level of common men and women, say privately that, this time, the long years may be up. But they, and other Iraqis who do not support Mr. Hussein, have found themselves in something like an accord in recent days over the nightmare than could lie ahead.

In one family today, among professional, middle-class people who have long yearned for a freer Iraq unburdened by sanctions and repression, there was one obsessive concern. It was similar to the one that mesmerized this and similar families after President Bush gave Mr. Hussein and his two sons an ultimatum last week to quit Iraq within 48 hours, or face war.

Then, it was how long Iraqis had to wait for the first American airstrikes and the ground assault from Kuwait. Today, with the invaders more than 300 miles closer to Baghdad, the question was the same: How long would America take to close its account with Mr. Hussein?

The family members, fearful of being described in any way that could make them identifiable, said that they were scared to death by the success that Iraqi irregular troops, among them the most fanatical of his zealots, have had in delaying and harassing the American troops on their drive up the Euphrates River valley.

If similar groups make a fight for Baghdad, as most Iraqis believe they will, the family said, the new freedoms they had hoped to celebrate could come at too high a price in shattered Iraqi lives.

Only a week ago, two of the three grown men in the family were eager for the United States to act against Mr. Hussein. The third, still a university student, hoped for a free Iraq, but leaned toward rejecting the Faustian deal, as he saw it, that Iraqis would be making in taking their liberty from America, with its record elsewhere in the Middle East, especially its tilting toward Israel in the conflict with the Palestinians.

But today, the three were done with their quarreling, in the face of anxieties over the civil war that could break out in Baghdad if the American siege is protracted.

Hearing from the Voice of America and the BBC's shortwave broadcasts of American generals' cautious plans for moving into Baghdad, the family members said they were worried about the possibility of violent retribution against people like themselves, people with Western educations and relatives in America, if the progress toward the American capture of Baghdad was slow.

But much more than that, they said, they feared what might befall Iraqis like themselves if, faced with continued stiff resistance by Mr. Hussein's troops, Mr. Bush did what his father did at the end of the Persian Gulf war in 1991, and decided that a settlement was preferable to a long and grisly campaign to topple Mr. Hussein.

"That is our nightmare," one of the men said, "and we ask, `What will Mr. Bush do to help us then?' "

Even before the war, Iraqis had begun to borrow from an imagined future, speaking out, here and there, as though new freedoms had already arrived. After the conflict started, this continued for a few days, encouraged by the fact that Mr. Hussein had disappeared from view after the American attempt to kill him with the cruise missile attack that began the war before dawn on Thursday. But then, on Monday, he reappeared with a lengthy television speech calling for Iraqi militiamen to "cut the throats" of the Americans, and the old anxieties were back in full measure, all over town.

This, amid the gloom of the sandstorm and the clouds of thick black smoke, was another reason Baghdad's spirits were at a low ebb today.

One striking aspect of the city was how little government Iraq has left, at least in terms of ministries that can deliver the services people need. Mr. Hussein's Iraq has been the nearest thing in the Middle East to a totalitarian state, controlling every aspect of its citizens' lives through a network of overlapping security agencies for which Mr. Hussein found his template in Stalin's Russia.

Near the end, however, if this is indeed the end, the government seems to be disappearing, leaving citizens, at their hour of crisis, to fend for themselves.

After the heavy bombing attacks of Friday night turned much of the government quarter of central Baghdad into an inferno, whole ministries were abandoned. The few that were not abandoned emptied rapidly today after a formal warning the Pentagon gave Western news organizations, saying reporters in the Iraqi capital should "not go near any military assets or buildings that are used by the Iraqi government."

Word of this quickly spread, persuading people working in the Information Ministry, among others, that staying at their posts might expose them to fresh American air attacks.

If it is a conundrum how Mr. Hussein has maintained his power in a capital where the government appears to have just about shut down, the answer lies in the pattern that American troops ran into on their drive north from Kuwait.

Although the Iraqi leader has always had iron control of the government and the army, the heart of his power has lain outside the formal institutions of the state, and especially in the shadowy network of irregular militia units and security agencies that report to members of his family. It is those elements that have now become crucial to sustaining his power.

In the neighborhoods of Baghdad, Iraqis have been observing for weeks the dispersal of those militias with strong personal loyalties to Mr. Hussein. Heavily armed, and often traveling in white pickup trucks, those men — from the militia formations of the ruling Baath Party, from fanatical groups of fedayeen, or martyrs for God, who wear black coveralls and black face masks, and from the private armies of tribal leaders who have sworn fealty to Mr. Hussein — are likely to be among the last groups to desert him, Iraqis say. For similar reasons, they have been the shock troops of the Iraqi leader's resistance, so far, to the American troops advancing from the south.

Mr. Hussein, of course, remains the focal point of much of the government activity that is left. At the Information Ministry, hours after the Pentagon's warning about possible American air attacks on all government buildings, lower-level staff members were busy translating, photocopying and stapling texts of Mr. Hussein's televised address on Monday, and a message he sent today to the fedayeen.

At nightfall, some of the government minders assigned to reporters were still in the huge building, watching Iraqi television's coverage of the war. Some seemed fearful, and one asked an American reporter if he would be safe staying in the building until the end of his shift at 10 p.m.

Outside the ministry, the deserted streets were made more eerie still, after dark, by the squat, brooding shapes of the apartment blocks built to house many government officials. They, too, appeared to be mostly empty, apparently closed up and locked by families who had fled to the suburbs, or to homes in towns and villages outside Baghdad. On a drive through the area, the only face visible for blocks on end was Mr. Hussein's, on the wall posters and billboards that are the ubiquitous adornment of Baghdad.

posted by paul | link | Comments (0)

Heavy Iraqi Losses Seen in Big Battle

PQ+ | Wednesday 03:58:54 EST | comments (0)

Heavy Iraqi Losses Seen in Big Battle

KUWAIT, Wednesday, March 26 — American forces killed at least 150 Iraqi soldiers on Tuesday after being attacked in a swirling sandstorm about 100 miles south of Baghdad in what may be the biggest battle so far of the six-day-old war, senior American military officials said.

Soldiers from the Seventh Cavalry Regiment of the Third Infantry Division had moved to the east bank of the Euphrates River, near Najaf, when fedayeen militiamen and regular Iraqi soldiers attacked with rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire from pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles.

Before the exchange was finished, American forces had killed between 150 and 450 Iraqis, with more than 35 vehicles destroyed, according to various estimates from American officials. There was no word on American casualties.

The encounter appeared to have occurred below the point of the farthest advance of American troops, elements of which had made their way to within 50 miles of the capital before the blinding weather on Tuesday snarled the allied push north.

This morning those sandstorms had eased, and heavy bombardment of Baghdad resumed. Large explosions were heard in the city center, where American military officials said the Iraqi television center had been struck by cruise missiles and knocked out.

Iraqi television, which does not broadcast overnight and had been off the air at the time of the bombing, began broadcasting around 9 a.m. (1 a.m. Eastern time), Reuters reported. Iraq's international satellite channel still appeared to be off the air. It had ceased broadcasting around the time of the explosions in Baghdad. State radio was working.

In the south, where allied forces shifted their attention as they continued to meet strong resistance, British military officers reported the first signs of popular uprising in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, as they fought Iraqi forces on the outskirts on Tuesday.

Maj. Gen. Peter Wall, second in command of British troops, said civilians in Basra had taken to the streets in significant numbers. "We don't know what has spurred them," he said. "We don't know the scale. We don't know the scope of it. We don't know where it will take us."

Saddam Hussein's security forces and other irregular fighters used artillery and mortar fire against crowds who attacked them, military intelligence officials reported. There was no independent means to confirm those accounts.

In response to rapidly deteriorating conditions in the city, including severe shortages of water and medical supplies, British Army units began a new campaign of commando raids and tank and artillery attacks outside Basra.

At the outset of their campaign in the south, the British military authorities had said Basra was not a military objective. But they abruptly changed strategy on Tuesday as allied forces continued to meet determined resistance in cities throughout southern Iraq, leaving supply lines vulnerable for troops farther north.

Securing Basra and its population has become a political and psychological objective for the allies of nearly equal importance with the larger showdown in central Iraq. If the Shiites there can be induced to welcome the invading army and its goal of ousting Mr. Hussein, the grip of the Iraqi leader may be severely weakened, allied officials say.

In London on Tuesday, Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was preparing to fly to Washington today for consultations on Iraq with President Bush, said Britain and the United States had in the past "let down" the predominantly Shiite Muslim population of southern Iraq after they rose against Mr. Hussein's rule in 1991 only to be brutally suppressed at the cost of tens of thousands of lives.

"My message to them today," Mr. Blair said, "is that this time we will not let you down."

Reports of an uprising in the city of 1.5 million people came after British warplanes bombed the Baath Party headquarters in the city.

In an early raid on Tuesday morning at Zubayr, a Basra suburb, British commandos seized the "most senior" official of the governing Baath Party in Basra and killed 20 of his aides and security guards, said a British army spokesman here, Lt. Col. Chris Vernon. He declined to identify the Iraqi official, but said he was under interrogation.

Iraqi defenders stormed out of the city Tuesday morning, attacking to the south with tanks and armored vehicles in a surprise countermove against British forces. But the Royal Marines called in airstrikes that destroyed the attacking column with rocket fire, British officials said.

Amid fears of a relief crisis in Basra, where normal water supplies have been cut by 60 percent, the British Seventh Armored Brigade, known as the Desert Rats, took up positions on the outskirts for a possible dash into the center to destroy Iraqi irregulars estimated to number 1,000. Those forces appear to have been organized by the Baath Party command to keep control of the provincial capital.

Allied planes dropped leaflets with satellite telephone numbers, encouraging the Basra authorities to call to negotiate surrender.

Another British spokesman, at United States Central Command headquarters in Qatar, said the Basra uprising began in the afternoon "against the Baath Party."

"The ruling party responded by firing mortars at the crowd that was advancing towards them," said the spokesman, Alan Lockwood. "Our artillery responded to that with shells and mortars."

In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld sounded a note of caution over encouraging Basra's residents toward rebellion before allied forces were in a position to protect them. "I am very careful about encouraging people to rise up," he said. "We know there are people in those cities ready to shoot them if they try to rise up."

Elsewhere in Iraq, allied bombers on Tuesday flew 1,400 missions across the country, focusing their attack on the Republican Guard division blocking the American approach to Baghdad and on the capital itself, military officials said.

An American F-16 fighter mistakenly attacked a Patriot missile battery protecting American forces near Najaf in central Iraq. But the Patriot crew escaped injury.

A second serviceman was declared dead of wounds suffered in a grenade attack on the 101st Airborne Division in which a member of the unit is accused. Maj. Gregory Stone of the Air Force, was pronounced dead Tuesday in Kuwait, the Idaho Air National Guard in Boise said. The major, 40, was based in Boise.

Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, indicated on Tuesday that air attacks on the Medina Division of the Iraqi Republican Guard would be followed by a full-scale tank assault aimed at destroying the capital's outer ring of defenses.

"We've put helicopters against them, attack helicopters; we've put air against them; we've put some artillery against them; but we haven't engaged them in a classic battle," he said. "Their mettle has not been tested. We're going to have to find out."

The sandstorm that slowed the advance north of American armor toward Baghdad left the air in central Iraq an eerie orange. Only the silhouettes of tanks and other vehicles of war were visible.

Poor visibility and two days of delay caused by fierce Iraqi attacks at Nasiriya raised the question of whether the marines would reach the Iraqi capital from the southeast before the main battle for Baghdad is fully joined.

Parts of the Army's Third Infantry Division were 50 miles from Baghdad, advancing from the southwest along the Euphrates River. They were engaged in preliminary artillery exchanges with the Medina Division, military officials said. But the First Marine Expeditionary Force, also expected to be thrown against Baghdad, was still strewn in an endless convoy on the highway to Al Kut on the Tigris River.

posted by paul | link | Comments (0)

Some of Hussein's Arab Foes Admire His Fight

PQ+ | Wednesday 03:58:03 EST | comments (0)

Some of Hussein's Arab Foes Admire His Fight

DAMASCUS, Syria, March 25 — Normally the appearance of Saddam Hussein on television prompts catcalls, curses and prayers for his demise from a regular gathering of about 20 Saudi businessmen and intellectuals, but Monday night was different. When he appeared, they prayed that God would preserve him for a few more weeks.

"They want Saddam Hussein to go and they expect him to go eventually, but they want him to hold on a little longer because they want to teach the Americans a lesson," said Khalid M. Batarfi, the managing editor of the newspaper Al Madina, describing the scene in a sprawling living room in Jidda, Saudi Arabia.

"Arab pride is at stake here," he added, describing a sentiment sweeping the region from Algeria to Yemen. "American propaganda said it was going to be so quick and easy, meaning we Arabs are weak and unable to fight. Now it is like a Mike Tyson fight against some weak guy. They don't want the weak guy knocked out in the first 40 seconds."

From the outset, there has been a certain ambivalence in the Arab world toward the war in Iraq, an ambivalence tipping toward outright hostility as Baghdad, the fabled capital of "The Arabian Nights," shudders under American bombing.

The region's governments, edgy about the idea of a United States-inspired change of government in Iraq, have been trying to placate Washington and siphon the anger off their streets, although they have permitted larger demonstrations than usual.

The Middle East's educated elite, seeking deliverance from repressive governments, hope Washington wants to create a model for the region in Iraq, but the United States lacks a credible track record. The public recognizes that leaders like Mr. Hussein abuse their people, but the suspicion that the United States is embarking on a modern crusade against Islam tends to overwhelm other considerations.

Since the creation of Israel in 1948, followed by repeated military setbacks, Arabs have felt a certain humiliation in their own neighborhood. The supposed benefits of breaking free of colonialism proved a lie — they could choose neither their neighbors nor their own governments. Fed on rhetoric about lost Arab glory, they have long waited for some kind of savior.

The Iraqi leader sought to fill that role, gaining vast public support in 1990 by contending that the road to Jerusalem led through Kuwait. Nobody believes him any more, but the yearning remains.

This week it seemed that the Iraqi people, or whoever exactly was fighting America, might win that role.

"If Saddam's regime is going to fall, it's better for our future, for our self-confidence and for our image that it falls fighting," said Sadik Jalal al-Azam, a Syrian author and academic. "People are not defending Saddam or his regime, but they are willing to put Saddam aside for a much greater issue."

Arab governments opposed the war in Iraq from the outset. They shared no great love for Mr. Hussein, but replacing him by force seemed a bad precedent.

"If they do not like 100 regimes around the world, are they going to change all 100?" asked Buthaina Shaaban, a spokeswoman for the Syrian Foreign Ministry, reciting a familiar argument used by opponents of the Bush administration's policy.

That prospect is unnerving for Middle Eastern governments for a variety of reasons. In Syria, which is controlled by a rival branch of Iraq's Baath Party, overthrowing the Baathists next door comes uncomfortably close to a scary preview of what might happen there.

"Nobody knows who will be next," said Georges Jabbour, a Syrian law professor and member of Parliament.

Longtime rulers have begun making noises about reform.

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt recently announced a series of minor changes lightening the government's repressive hand, including abolishing the special state security courts for ordinary crimes.

Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia also started publicly addressing the issue of reform, although that seems more inspired by the post-Sept. 11 discovery of widespread sympathy for Osama bin Laden rather than concern that democracy in Iraq might destabilize the kingdom.

"Frankly, we would prefer being attacked by missiles of Jeffersonian democracy to facing Scuds and other missiles," Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, said earlier this month.

Educated elites across the region once cherished the idea that the United States would push governments in the area to become more democratic, but they gradually abandoned hope. Promises for Iraq have rekindled that hope, although the Bush administration's changing justifications for invading Iraq — from concerns about weapons of mass destruction to the need for a new government — have cast doubt on its sincerity.

"The U.S. has always supported the dictators who rule our countries," said Haitham Milhem, the 72-year-old lawyer who is head of the Human Rights Association of Syria. "If they create a real democracy, then any dictatorship will fear its neighbor, but we doubt America will leave a democracy in Iraq."

Much of the doubt comes from the perceived double standard in American foreign policy in the Middle East. Washington pushed the invasion of Iraq on the grounds that Iraq was flouting United Nations resolutions to disarm, Arabs point out repeatedly, while doing nothing tangible about similar resolutions demanding Israeli withdrawal from occupied Palestinian lands.

Given the lack of openness in the Arab world, assessing the broader public mood is difficult. The closest thing to an opinion poll is gauging the random opinions of people encountered.

"I have a question about the war," a Palestinian said in Amman. "Why just Saddam, why not all of them?" He reeled off the decades in power accumulated by Yasir Arafat, King Fahd, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, Mr. Mubarak and on and on.

The surprise question hinted at support for getting rid of Mr. Hussein, but also pointed to the public debate over why the United States is singling out Iraq when the region has so many repressive governments.

Those reservations grew this week as the images of the bombs devastating Baghdad appeared on television and the civilian toll rose. It was not unusual to see Arabs both weeping and seething in front of the television news.

The Arab world started out angry that yet another Arab government was facing destruction, but it was braced for what was promised to be a short campaign. A sea change in that attitude materialized by Sunday morning, following the events at the southern Iraqi port of Umm Qasr.

First, American officials said Umm Qasr had fallen, while resistance clearly persisted; then, a marine briefly raised an American flag over the city, long enough for it to be filmed and shown repeatedly on Iraqi television.

"That electrified Iraqi patriotism," said Walid Khadduri, an Iraqi expatriate and editor of the Middle East Economic Survey. "The mood changed. It has nothing to do with the regime."

The sentiment proved infectious across the region — volunteers even showing up by the score at Iraqi embassies prepared to join the fight. Many Arabs cursed their own governments for doing nothing but issuing empty condemnations.

"The Iraqis are real men, and I am proud of them," said Gasser Fahmi, a 30-year-old computer engineer interviewed on a Cairo street. "At the start of the war, I was very frustrated and did not want to hear the news, but now I watch the news closely to see how many losses the Americans suffer."

The war is too young yet to see where the ripples will lead, and much hinges on its outcome. But it already seems certain that the war will prove to be a powerful watershed in the region.

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4 Top Officers at Air Force Academy Are Replaced

PQ+ | Wednesday 03:57:09 EST | comments (0)

4 Top Officers at Air Force Academy Are Replaced

WASHINGTON, March 25 — The Air Force is replacing the four top officers in charge of its academy in Colorado Springs, officials announced today, after a scandal in which dozens of women attending the academy said they were raped and accused the institution of systematically punishing victims who came forward.

Those who are to leave are the Air Force Academy's superintendent, Gen. John R. Dallager, and its second-in-command, Brig. Gen. S. Taco Gilbert III, along with the vice commandant, Col. Robert D. Eskridge, and the commander of cadet training, Col. Laurie S. Slavec.

Air Force officials also ordered an array of steps intended to change the culture of the academy, which many women who are cadets said was deeply hostile to them.

The dismissals were initially revealed by Air Force Secretary James G. Roche and the Air Force chief of staff, Gen. John P. Jumper, in a closed-door session of the Senate Armed Services Committee at midday. By late this afternoon, as word of the dismissals and the names of senior officers who would replace them leaked out, the Air Force moved up the formal announcement of the changes, which had been scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.

The decision to remove the academy's top officers so publicly surprised even critics of the Air Force, who have been watching as accusations accumulated that the academy failed to protect women from sexual assault and instead investigated the victims for wrongdoing. Three military investigations of the academy are being held, and the response to the women who said they were raped is to come under public scrutiny in Congressional hearings.

Maj. Gen. John W. Rosa Jr., who is serving as the deputy director of current operations on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is to become the new superintendent, subject to Senate confirmation, Air Force officials said.

They named Brig. Gen.-select Johnny A. Weida, a 1978 graduate of the academy, to become the new commandant of cadets and acting superintendent. Col. Debra A. Gray, now serving with the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon and a graduate of the first Air Force Academy class to admit women, is to take over as vice commandant of cadets. Col. Clada A. Monteith, who is serving as deputy director for security forces at the American air base in Ramstein, Germany, is to become commander in charge of training of cadets.

Last weekend, Senator John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Senator Wayne Allard, Republican of Colorado, also a member of the committee, demanded that the academy's leaders be removed. Senator Allard's office has received complaints from 39 women who said they were raped while at the academy.

The announcement today represents a big turnaround by Air Force officials, who had maintained that the problems at the academy were systemic and not the fault of the leadership there.

General Dallager, the top official at the academy, will be permitted to stay in the Air Force until his retirement in June but will leave the academy, officials said. His responsibilities will be handed over to General Weida, who will serve as commandant of cadets and acting superintendent until General Rosa is confirmed by the Senate, Congressional sources said.

General Gilbert is to be reassigned to the Pentagon, where he will be named a special assistant to the Air Force's deputy undersecretary for international affairs.

With the academy's credibility and authority eroding, the El Paso County district attorney's office, which had ceded jurisdiction to the academy in an agreement, announced last weekend that it would break precedent to investigate one cadet's complaint of sexual assault.

The Air Force also revealed changes in practices and policies today, saying it was seeking to change a culture that appeared to accept violence against women and placed a higher premium on protecting friends than on upholding decency.

"We will not tolerate criminals, nor will we tolerate their behavior," the statement said. "We will not tolerate any individual who shuns alleged victims of criminal activity, nor will we tolerate retribution against these victims."

Officials told senators at the closed briefing today that the academy would offer a "blanket amnesty" to encourage women who have been the victims of sexual assault to come forward without fear of punishment. The only people who would be excluded from the amnesty would be sexual assailants, senior cadets who may have witnessed sexual assaults but did nothing and cadets who may have obstructed investigations.

The Air Force also promised to remove immediately the tall metal letters on a wall on the academy grounds, saying "Bring Me Men." The sign has become a symbol of what critics say is the academy's lack of regard for cadet women. Officials promised that the phrase would be replaced by a sign that "more suitably represents the aspirations of the entire cadet wing and the core values of the Air Force."

Air Force officials backed away from proposals they had announced earlier to segregate women in the dormitories, saying they would instead cluster them closer to the women's washrooms in a way that did not compromise squadron cohesion. The women had expressed dismay at the proposal, saying it would isolate them from their units.

Representative Tom Tancredo, Republican of Colorado, who had also called for the removal of the academy's leadership, said he welcomed the changes, but had hoped that General Gilbert would not be reassigned but forced to retire.

"If in fact he's the problem, as both he and Dallager are, you aren't solving anything by putting him in another place," Representative Tancredo said. "Retirement would also be a testament of how serious the Air Force is about dealing with this issue."

Perhaps because the promises of change came only after intense pressure, some women cadets said they were unconvinced, because the disdain for women ran deeper than any specific policies or people.

"It's the entire place," said Andrea Prasse, a cadet who said she became a target of General Gilbert, after accusing a fellow cadet of sexual harassment. `It's the entire belief system, that women are inferior, and that's not so easy to change.`

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25 March 2003

sex and lucia

Film | Tuesday 01:41:40 EST | comments (0)

saw Sex and Lucia tonight on DVD. i had meant to see it during its theater run, but never got around to it. despite the normal sensuality of european films, the title was really a misnomer. but the music by alberto iglesias, and the long gentle camera shots of the spanish and southern mediterranean scenery made the film so ethereal and beautiful in parts. [there were also a lot of overexposed outdoor mediterrean scenes that made me wonder if it was intentional or a huge mistake!]

i was thinking that the music and ethereal and sensual lushness of the film reminded me a little of Talk to Her. (i especially enjoyed the gentle piano tracks and light tangos and waltzes.) and no wonder. after a little checking on the IMDB, i saw that alberto iglesias had done the music on both films. [as a note, two other films that also come to mind as film as beautiful marriages of images and music -- The Mystery of Rampo and The Loss of Sexual Innocence.]

unfortunately the film was not as good as Almodovar's Talk To Her. but it was just what i had been craving for -- a little mediterranean escape. and after this film, Talk to Her, and Y Tu Mama Tambien, i am really falling in love with the casual sensuality of the Spanish and latin aesthetic. often i find the french have too much angst, and the italians too much forcefulness, with their sensuality. so i'm beginning to wonder if the spanish have it just right.

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Far and Away

Living | Tuesday 01:24:20 EST | comments (0)

[another example of the risks of travelling and falling victim to illnesses that might be an afterthought in the west...]

Far and Away
By Elisabeth Franck, New York Magazine

Designing shoes was her dream job—even if it meant spending so much time in provincial China that she felt cut off from her New York life and love. She had told friends she was thinking about making this trip her last and giving up her job at Kenneth Cole. What Laura Southwick couldn’t imagine was that she’d never return to the home she missed so much.

In the morning of January 21, 2002, a Monday, Laura Southwick, a 33-year-old shoe designer for Kenneth Cole Productions, was in her room at the Haiyatt Garden Hotel in Dongguan, China, getting ready to go to work. A stylish, lithe brunette with adventurous taste and sharp, retro bangs, Laura was one of the two women’s-shoe designers for the company’s younger, hipper Reaction line, and as such often traveled to Dongguan, a sprawling industrial town between Hong Kong and Guangzhou.

Around 11:30 a.m., she got a call from her boyfriend, Chad Pearson, who worked for an architecture firm in New York and whom she had dated for almost four years. It was still Sunday night in New York, and Chad was calling from the Chelsea loft they’d renovated together. When Laura traveled, they spoke every day, despite the thirteen-hour time difference.

“I’m going to work really late—I have to call you back,” she said breathlessly.

“Make sure you call me. Please, please, please call me,” Chad said. “See you Friday. I love you.”

Laura had been in Dongguan for two weeks and had five more days to go, overseeing production of the fall 2002 collection. For a mass-market shoe designer, or “line builder,” this was standard procedure; Laura had made dozens of similar trips, four in the past year—sometimes, as in this case—alone.
This one, however, was to be different.

Exhausted from commuting between continents and from the endless bouts of jet lag, she had made up her mind to quit her job. She had even started considering other prospects, including a position with Christian Dior in Paris, and had drafted a letter of resignation that she brought with her to Dongguan. “I’m leaving on Friday and this is it, this is the last time,” she e-mailed a close friend later that Monday.

That was the last anyone back home ever heard from her. Two days later, at around 6 a.m., she was found dead in her room at the Chang-An Hospital in Dongguan. She had been admitted the evening before with what appeared to be the flu. Neither Kenneth Cole Productions nor her family was notified that she was ill. She didn’t travel with an international cell phone—as her family agonized over later. Records show that she had been given an EKG; she was treated for dehydration and given Valium for anxiety. After spending the night in a semi-delirious state, she died alone.

The autopsy report would blame Laura’s death on viral myocarditis, an infection that can develop, in rare cases, into heart failure, though with proper diagnosis and the right treatment, it can be cured. In Laura’s case, however, the EKG apparently was not seen by a doctor until after her death.

Laura never seemed frightened by traveling and working abroad. An independent, outgoing woman with a knack for befriending strangers, she resented the trips to China only because of their impact on her life at home. She took copious travel notes, describing the rice paddies she saw from her hotel windows, the American businessman returning to the hotel with a hooker, a mountain slowly disappearing from view in Dongguan as it was harvested for rock to build factories and hotels. Yet it’s hard not to see as prophetic—as her boyfriend Chad did when he saw it—the entry Laura had made on October 9, 2001, in the diary they shared. “Honestly I’m not sure I’m any safer traveling than sitting in New York City,” she wrote, reflecting on the events of 9/11. “I know if something does happen, I can move more easily and get to my family. That is what I am afraid of. If I die I want to be with my family.”

But the ability to manage production in remote outposts was critical to success in her chosen field. And it was one of the things that had prompted Kenneth Cole Productions to hire her, a company spokesperson says. “Laura was a very knowledgeable and talented line builder,” the spokesperson told New York. “She had valuable international experience and expertise, particularly in China.”

Howard Davis, a veteran shoe designer and member of the faculty of Parsons School of Design, can still remember the days when New York supported 36 shoe factories. Today, because the industry follows the path of inexpensive labor, there is virtually no shoe production in New York, which explains why so few independent shoe stores dot the streets of Nolita at a time when independent clothing boutiques have become ubiquitous.

To fill the manufacturing void, cities like Novo Hamburgo in Brazil and Dongguan in China sprouted virtually out of nowhere in recent years. Consumer demand for shoes has skyrocketed, too. Peter Mangione, president of the Washington, D.C.–based Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America, estimates that shoe sales have grown 25 percent over the past two decades. Designers push more and more shoes out to consumers, and more often; there can be as many as six “seasons” in the industry each year.

Guangdong Province, where Laura worked, produced some 3 billion pairs of shoes in 2001—a third of the world total. Factory towns have mushroomed all over the area, and the fishing villages along the Pearl River delta now bristle with mini-malls, second-rate business hotels, and American fast-food joints among the rice paddies, bamboo scaffoldings, and bicycle rickshaws. It’s a decidedly unfashionable setting.

“The flights are incredibly long; you arrive at 6 a.m. and get to the hotel, shower, get to work by 9 a.m.,” says the head of production for an American denim company who didn’t wish to be named. “You work until midnight most nights, and a lot of it is sitting in a dirty factory with poor lighting, and you question the water, and you don’t want to go to the bathroom there.”

When Laura started out as a shoe designer, she probably couldn’t have placed Dongguan on a map. After graduating from Chicago’s Columbia College, she had worked in interior design and then gone into publishing, editing high-school textbooks at Houghton Mifflin. Shoe design was her third career. Still, her father, Bill, a Presbyterian minister, and her mother, Judy, remember that Laura, growing up outside Chicago, scoured local flea markets for vintage and rare shoes, belts, and clothes. When former boyfriend Tommy Blacha visited her apartment for the first time, he was stunned to find an extra bedroom turned into a closet.

“I called her the hamster,” Tommy says. “She’d have piles and piles of clothes. I put up shelves, and they fell down because there was so much stuff. She’d look at it and giggle. She was naturally adorable and funny.”

The second child (and first daughter) of service-oriented, liberal-minded parents, Laura inherited their passion for words and books. When she moved to New York in 1995 with Tommy, who’d landed a job as a writer on Late Night With Conan O’Brien, she set up shop as a freelance editor. Their circle of friends included a lot of comedians and writers, people like Andy Richter and his wife, Sarah, writer David Rakoff, and comedian Amy Sedaris. At her memorial service in New York, Conan O’Brien told Bill Southwick that his daughter could walk into a room packed with millions of dollars of comedy talent and crack them all up.

“Laura really held her own against all these comedy writers and comedians,” O’Brien told New York, “and she had an artistic soul.” Funny and ballsy are some of the adjectives most frequently used to describe her. Tommy says she had a habit of speaking her mind, adding, “But she wasn’t sinister. She was a sincere, mischievous person, and she was generous to a fault.”

But Tommy also says Laura was frustrated and wanted to find a more fulfilling job. It took a toll on their relationship. “She had a lot of energy that needed to go somewhere,” he says. Walking home one day, Laura noticed a flyer for a design course at Parsons. She enrolled in “Shoe Design Through the Science of Shoe Making,” and was soon spreading out her drawings all over the apartment. Within weeks she had bench-made her first shoe, and after finishing the course, which Howard Davis taught, she started looking for work. The high-end market, which might have been more suited to Laura’s taste, was difficult to penetrate, and she broke into the business with a series of small jobs at places like Doctor Scholl’s.

With Davis’s help, Laura eventually went to work for Nine West, commuting to White Plains. It was around this time, in April 1998—she and Tommy had split up—that a shoe-designer friend, John McGrath, introduced her to Chad. He had never met anyone that funny, or who teased him so much and got away with it. “She could disarm and insult anyone and keep them laughing,” Chad says. “And she was always up for anything. She was kind of a wild child—she had that minister’s-daughter’s streak running through her.”

After their first date, the two never spent a night apart, except when Laura was traveling. In January 2001, they moved into a raw space in the West Twenties and converted it into a handsome loft. Laura would cook for friends, often wearing a gingham apron her mother had given her. She’d stay up after dinner and sketch for two or three hours, often on the floor, a glass of red wine at her side. She’d spend $70 at the newsstand on foreign magazines, ripping out pages for trend ideas. She would stuff them into little “inspiration kits,” along with swatches of materials and sketches, which would help her come up with designs. She planned the merchandising of the shoes, too, as well as presentations for buyers. She spent hours talking shoes with John. Chad remembers that they would snatch a rubber band off a package and wonder if they could use it as a strap, or ponder beer cozies as inspiration for a sandal line.

Franco Ciciola, a colleague at Nine West and later her boss at Kenneth Cole, remembers her designs as very avant-garde—“I always had to tone her down,” he says—but adds that she did her research well and came up with original ideas. By the end of 1998, she was on an intense traveling schedule, jetting to the West Coast or Europe for inspirational shopping trips and to Asia for production.

At first, she enjoyed the trips. She would write letters home describing the all-night flea market in Taipei, the massages she got on full-moon nights, and the food she bought from stands in the streets. One scene she never tired of watching in Dongguan was the crowds during the changing of the shifts, when an ocean of blue windbreakers would be going to work at the factory and a sea of orange windbreakers from another factory would head back to the dorms.

When Laura joined Kenneth Cole, in early 2000, the company was in full expansion mode. In 1999, the business had grossed an estimated $300 million; its politically minded ad campaigns had defined the brand and made it instantly recognizable, even if the shoes themselves were not.

She started spending even more of her life in the nondescript hotel rooms of Dongguan and the sample rooms of factories, examining prototypes, making sure they corresponded to the original designs. It’s a way of life for American line builders—in 2001, 97 percent of the footwear sold in the United States was manufactured abroad, at least 80 percent of it in China.

Gwen Pehrson, a co-worker on the women’s Reaction line who recently left Kenneth Cole Productions, says that for each shoe season, they’d have to go to China or Brazil maybe two or three times, which might make for as many as ten trips a year. A standard trip would involve flying the roughly thirteen hours to Hong Kong, then taking either a ferry or a shuttle bus, followed by a limousine for the hourlong drive to Dongguan.

When she started working for Kenneth Cole, Laura complained to friends about her new traveling arrangements; there was no one to help carry her cumbersome luggage onto the ferry, as there had been at Nine West, and on her first flight to China, the company sent her coach. She threatened to quit, according to several friends and colleagues—and traveled business-class from then on.

For some time, Laura traveled to both Brazil and China, often with Gwen and other Kenneth Cole employees. But in early 2001, Laura’s boss made a practical decision: Since production in China and Brazil followed the same schedule, Laura and Gwen would divide the territory instead of traveling together. Laura was very unhappy about the change, Chad says. The company spokesperson insists that solo foreign travel was not a company decision: “In those instances when Laura decided to travel alone, it was her choice,” she said. But Franco Ciciola confirmed that the company had split them up; Gwen chose Brazil because the trips to Asia had given her insomnia, while Laura continued going to China.

In the meantime, the Reaction line was performing well in stores, according to Gwen. The company declines to disclose sales numbers from Laura’s tenure, but Gwen estimates that they grew some 20 to 30 percent in the six months after she came onboard. Laura told Chad that sales rose from $13 million when she started to $40 million after two years. At the time, she was earning between $80,000 and $90,000 a year.

It became increasingly difficult for Laura to leave Chad in New York. Like so many New York professionals, she told friends she often felt she was sacrificing her life for the job, and she sometimes joked with others in the industry about all the unmarried female vice-presidents in the shoe business.

“We worried about her being so thin and so stress-heavy on the job,” says her father. “We would tell her it wasn’t worth it. And she’d agree, but she wanted to stay in the industry.”

“We were concerned about her traveling alone,” her mother adds. “It was quite a trek to get there. The process sometimes happened at night, on back roads with drivers who didn’t speak the language. She tried to protect us from some of that.”

In 2001, Laura traveled two weeks in January, one week in February, three weeks in March, two weeks in April, three weeks in May, none in June, three weeks in July, and one in August. That May, she jotted down her thoughts. “After all these years, I sit here wondering where the fuck I am,” she wrote. “I’m in Hong Kong, alone, looking at a complimentary basket of fruit. It’s Mother’s Day and my mother is not even waiting for a gift because she knows I won’t be there. If she’s lucky today she will get a call. It’s not fair.”

In the wake of 9/11, she briefly stopped traveling. But after Thanksgiving, Laura went to Europe with other designers and Kenneth Cole himself to buy samples. A week before Christmas, Chad and Laura threw an ornament-making party and invited about ten friends to their house. Laura had dragged Chad to craft stores, where they had bought a hot-glue gun, different types of paper, pipe cleaners—“bags and bags of stuff,” Chad says. And with several bottles of wine, a ten-foot-tall Christmas tree, and their friends, they stayed up until three o’clock in the morning, making pipe-cleaner Santas. Chad admits to having been skeptical. “It was all her idea,” he says, “but it turned out to be really, really fun; it was a fantastic party.”

On New Year’s Eve, they went to a party thrown by a close friend. Early on the morning of January 3, 2002, Laura was headed to the Stella shoe factories in Dongguan, by now familiar territory. She liked working with Stella, often saying that it was the best manufacturer in China—the only one with standards similar to those in Europe—and had become friendly with the owner, Stephen Chi, who had been educated in the United States and spoke fluent English.

A major player in Dongguan, Stella employs about 26,000 workers in four factories and makes shoes for a number of American companies. For Laura, an added bonus was that the place closed on Sundays, which offered her precious breaks.

In Dongguan that week, she saw Franco, who now worked for InterShoe. They shared several lunches; he thought she seemed in fine form. That Sunday, she took advantage of a delay in the production to go to Beijing—her first nonbusiness excursion on the mainland in the more than three years she’d been traveling to Dongguan. She told Chad she thought she should go, since this would be her last trip.

In Beijing, Laura visited the antique flea markets and the Forbidden City, and made the demanding hourlong climb to the walkway of the Great Wall, cutting a stylish figure in her long coat and tall rabbit-fur hat. On the way, she befriended a couple from Chicago, and they vowed to stay in touch; when they stopped at a jade factory on the way to the Great Wall, Laura told them that one of the bracelets she was buying was for her mother.

“She was in great spirits and seemed in great health,” says Beth Moeri, who made the climb with her. “My gosh, we all walked up that wall together, and she didn’t seem to have any problems.”

When she came back from Beijing, however, Laura started to feel ill. On Thursday, January 17, she complained of a headache to the factory staff, and she woke up the next day feeling sick and achy. Over the weekend, when she spoke with Chad maybe four times a day, she joked she’d caught the Chinese flu. She still felt bad and now had diarrhea. On Monday morning, after her last conversation with Chad, she arrived at Stella later than usual. She felt even worse. That evening, at dinner with people from the factory, she fainted.

When asked what systems Kenneth Cole Productions has in place for dealing with emergencies, the spokesperson replied that the company has a worldwide program that provides medical and personal assistance for traveling employees, including a toll-free 24-hour number for help.

Laura’s travel-policy handbook from the time, however, makes no mention of such a program, and her itinerary only instructed travelers to call Harry Kubetz, a company vice-president, on his cell phone for emergency travel assistance. Neither Franco nor Gwen was aware of a worldwide program. And both say Laura had never traveled with an international cell phone, although she had requested one after a trip to Germany when Gwen and Laura had had to stay in a guesthouse with no phone.

The Kenneth Cole spokesperson says the company does provide phones on request. “Throughout Laura’s tenure and to this day,” the spokesperson said, “the company has made international cell phones available to all employees.”

While the company insists that none of its travel policies has changed, Gwen says that it’s only since Laura’s death that all line builders travel with international cell phones, and that they are no longer allowed to travel alone.
On that Monday evening, in any case, the only treatment Laura received after she fainted was an injection—of what, her family was never able to find out—from a nurse that Stella keeps on staff.

On Tuesday morning, according to reports given to the family, Laura went back to work, late again. The factory doctor, who took her blood pressure, reported it was low and that her heartbeat was irregular. That afternoon, Stephen Chi’s assistant and a Stella nurse took Laura to the Chang-An hospital, some fifteen miles away from the factory. In the evening, Chi visited, bringing her soup and bread, later telling Laura’s family that she’d asked him for someone to stay the night with her, since she was scared. Still, he told them, she made jokes and smiled. By all accounts, both Laura and Chi thought she had the flu, which, along with gastritis, was what the hospital listed as the reason for admitting her. No effort was made to communicate with the Southwicks, Chad, or the company that evening.

Laura’s family was told later that a Stella nurse stayed with her during the night. Noticeably anxious, she was given Valium orally at 9 p.m., according to a hospital report, then by injection at midnight. On the EKG that had been done that afternoon, which her family later showed to American doctors, it is clear that Laura’s heart was already damaged. The EKG, however, wasn’t signed until the following morning, suggesting that no doctor saw it until it was too late. Laura wasn’t breathing at 6 a.m. and resuscitation was unsuccessful.

It was still nighttime in New York when Chi finally reached Chad with the news. Chad, in turn, called the Southwicks. “I told them what I knew and that Kenneth Cole would be calling in about a half-hour,” he recalls. “It was the most horrible call I have ever made.”

“People who have heart failure from viral myocarditis, if they’re put on a ventricular-assist device, frequently get better,” says Dr. Leslie Cooper, a Mayo Clinic cardiologist who specializes in myocarditis. Cooper says an EKG and a chest X-ray would reveal an enlarged heart and fluid in the lungs, and that in about 80 percent of cases, treatment with a powerful diuretic resolves the problem. Though rural hospitals are unlikely to have a VAD, a hospital in Hong Kong, just an hour away, would definitely have the machine. “The majority of people get better if you support them.”

Chang-An hospital properly diagnosed Laura Southwick’s illness, according to documents her parents received after an arduous negotiation—but almost certainly not until after she was dead.

Kenneth Cole sent Harry Kubetz to Dongguan to investigate and arrange for the body to be returned to her parents. Cole called the Southwicks to express his condolences, and the company offered to fly them to Dongguan; they declined.

In Laura’s honor, the company created the Laura Southwick Footwear Design Award for promising young designers, which will be given out for the second time this year.

Sitting in their loft almost a year after Laura’s death, Chad still tears up at the thought of what could have been. On their fourth anniversary, in April 2002, he had planned to ask her to marry him. Some of Laura’s clothes still hang in the closet, boxes of her shoes are piled in the bedroom, and the place feels eerily vast and empty, as if she had left a palpable vacuum when she died. One thing missing is a black leather coat that Kenneth Cole had given Laura not long before her death; in his second call to the Southwicks, they said, Cole asked that it be returned. Bill Southwick declined, saying he felt it was in bad taste.

In the days that followed Laura’s death, the same question haunted Chad and Laura’s family—had everything been done to save her? Chad also felt a personal pang of guilt.

“One of the first things I said to her parents was, ‘My God, I wish I had had a better-paying job,’ ” Chad says. “Maybe she would have quit her job then. And her parents said, ‘No, she wouldn’t have.’ And I don’t really believe she would have, either. She really loved designing shoes.”

posted by paul | link | Comments (0)

24-Hour Air Patrols Resume Over New York

NYC | Tuesday 01:17:30 EST | comments (0)

24-Hour Air Patrols Resume Over New York

WASHINGTON, March 24 — The United States government has resumed 24-hour air patrols over New York City after law enforcement and intelligence agencies warned that the city was in special danger from terrorists during the war with Iraq, senior government officials said today.

The patrols, which are being conducted by Black Hawk helicopters and small, specially outfitted surveillance planes from the fleet of the Department of Homeland Security, began today without announcement, the officials said. The helicopters and surveillance jets are not armed but have radar and can call on fighter jets stationed nearby in an emergency, they said.

The 24-hour patrols will be the first over New York City since early last year, when the Defense Department suspended the continuous air patrols over New York and Washington that had begun in the hours after the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Two months ago, round-the-clock air patrols were resumed in Washington, and officials said at the time that more air patrols could be expected in New York if the United States invaded Iraq.

Officials said the decision to resume the New York air patrols did not reflect a specific intelligence warning of a threat to New York from Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups.

"It is a reflection of the intelligence we have been receiving for some time that Al Qaeda will try to carry out an attack at the time of a military campaign in Iraq and that Al Qaeda continues to see New York as a prime target," said a senior official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "With the war under way in Iraq, that means special danger for New York right now."

The decision to resume air patrols over New York comes a week after the Federal Aviation Administration tightened the restrictions on airspace over the city. Under the new rules, private pilots flying over or near New York are required to file detailed flight plans, to remain in close contact with local air traffic controllers and to use special government-issued codes through their aircraft beacons.

"It's added to our workload," said one air traffic controller at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, noting the increased communication between the tower and small private planes.

Asa Hutchinson, the undersecretary for border and transportation security within the Department of Homeland Security, said in an interview that the air patrols would monitor airspace within 30 miles of each of the major airports serving New York: Kennedy, La Guardia and Newark.

He said the patrols would serve as "early detection" and would force stray aircraft to land. If a plane refused to land, he said, "there would be direct communication with the military," allowing a nearby fighter jet to scramble to intercept the aircraft.

Other officials said it was unclear if the 24-hour New York patrols would continue after the Iraq hostilities end.

"It really depends on what the intelligence is showing us at the time," an official said.

The Department of Homeland Security said 50 of its pilots and other crew members had been assigned to the mission to give 24-hour coverage over New York. The department declined to say how many Black Hawk helicopters and Cessna Citation II jets were assigned to the mission. (In 2001, Kennedy and La Guardia averaged a daily total of 1,800 flights of all types.)

When it formally took control this month of the Customs Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service and several other agencies, the new department also took over a large fleet of planes that had been assigned to the individual agencies.

The UH-60A Black Hawk helicopters assigned to the mission are considered the largest, most powerful helicopters used by federal law enforcement agencies. Each of the 20,000-pound helicopters is outfitted with special infrared detection equipment.

Senior officials said that since the patrols resumed over Washington, several stray planes have been intercepted while flying toward landmarks in the capital; a small plane was intercepted today by an F-16 fighter and was forced to land outside Washington.

Officials said pilots involved in the New York patrols would be supplied with detailed, minute-by-minute readings from the Air and Marine Interdiction Coordination Center in Riverside, Calif., a special government facility that receives live radar data from around the country and can quickly detect unauthorized flights into restricted airspace over New York and Washington.

posted by paul | link | Comments (0)

China Arrests 10 in Baby Selling Scheme

China | Tuesday 01:15:35 EST | comments (0)

China Arrests 10 in Baby Selling Scheme
Filed at 6:08 a.m. ET

BEIJING (AP) -- Police arrested about 10 people in an apparent scheme to smuggle and sell infants reportedly found in nylon gym bags on a bus in southern China, an official said Sunday.

A photo in the Beijing Morning News on Sunday showed some of the bags spread out on the ground in front of the bus in the town of Binyang in Guangxi, one of the nation's poorest areas.

Authorities were trying to find the parents of the 28 infants, said a government official in the Guangxi region who declined to give his full name.

The suspects were arrested after police, acting on a tip, discovered the babies while searching the bus last Monday, the official said.

Local media have reported that the babies were all under 3 months old and that one had died. The Beijing Morning News said the smugglers may have drugged the infants to keep them from crying. The infants have been taken to a local hospital. Officials at the hospital and police did not return phone calls seeking comment.

The babies apparently were being smuggled for sale, though police didn't know where they had come from or where they were being taken, the Beijing Morning News reported. The paper said the bus departed from Yulin, a rural district of Guangxi, for the eastern province of Anhui.

Chinese officials say an unknown number of children are abducted every year for sale to childless families. Older girls are sometimes sold as brides in rural areas with fewer women.

posted by paul | link | Comments (0)

24 March 2003


Blog | Monday 03:28:06 EST | comments (0)

although i usually take loads of pictures, i hardly print any, most end up in dark boxes, and mostly nobody gets to see them.

so tonight, after requests from a friend to email her pictures from her birthday party, i downloaded and installed software from ofoto, and then uploaded a bunch of snapshots to their site. took a little over a half hour to upload the pictures (73Mb over a broadband connection), but now anyone can see them and easily order prints too. pretty cool.

since i've never ordered any myself, i'm not sure about their print quality (as compared to printing at a quality place like Spectra in NYC). and at $0.49/each, you could definitely get them printed cheaper. still it's an easy way to distribute images without making CDs for everyone. and for people without their own websites, its also a way to have your photos on the web for free!

posted by paul | link | Comments (0)

I was a naive fool to be a human shield for Saddam

PQ+ | Monday 03:26:49 EST | comments (0)

[from a comment posted to amabelle's journal]

I was a naive fool to be a human shield for Saddam
By Daniel Pepper
(Filed: 23/03/2003)

I wanted to join the human shields in Baghdad because it was direct action which had a chance of bringing the anti-war movement to the forefront of world attention. It was inspiring: the human shield volunteers were making a sacrifice for their political views - much more of a personal investment than going to a demonstration in Washington or London. It was simple - you get on the bus and you represent yourself.

So that is exactly what I did on the morning of Saturday, January 25. I am a 23-year-old Jewish-American photographer living in Islington, north London. I had travelled in the Middle East before: as a student, I went to the Palestinian West Bank during the intifada. I also went to Afghanistan as a photographer for Newsweek.

The human shields appealed to my anti-war stance, but by the time I had left Baghdad five weeks later my views had changed drastically. I wouldn't say that I was exactly pro-war - no, I am ambivalent - but I have a strong desire to see Saddam removed.

We on the bus felt that we were sympathetic to the views of the Iraqi civilians, even though we didn't actually know any. The group was less interested in standing up for their rights than protesting against the US and UK governments.

I was shocked when I first met a pro-war Iraqi in Baghdad - a taxi driver taking me back to my hotel late at night. I explained that I was American and said, as we shields always did, "Bush bad, war bad, Iraq good". He looked at me with an expression of incredulity.

As he realised I was serious, he slowed down and started to speak in broken English about the evils of Saddam's regime. Until then I had only heard the President spoken of with respect, but now this guy was telling me how all of Iraq's oil money went into Saddam's pocket and that if you opposed him politically he would kill your whole family.

It scared the hell out of me. First I was thinking that maybe it was the secret police trying to trick me but later I got the impression that he wanted me to help him escape. I felt so bad. I told him: "Listen, I am just a schmuck from the United States, I am not with the UN, I'm not with the CIA - I just can't help you."

Of course I had read reports that Iraqis hated Saddam Hussein, but this was the real thing. Someone had explained it to me face to face. I told a few journalists who I knew. They said that this sort of thing often happened - spontaneous, emotional, and secretive outbursts imploring visitors to free them from Saddam's tyrannical Iraq.

I became increasingly concerned about the way the Iraqi regime was restricting the movement of the shields, so a few days later I left Baghdad for Jordan by taxi with five others. Once over the border we felt comfortable enough to ask our driver what he felt about the regime and the threat of an aerial bombardment.

"Don't you listen to Powell on Voice of America radio?" he said. "Of course the Americans don't want to bomb civilians. They want to bomb government and Saddam's palaces. We want America to bomb Saddam."

We just sat, listening, our mouths open wide. Jake, one of the others, just kept saying, "Oh my God" as the driver described the horrors of the regime. Jake was so shocked at how naive he had been. We all were. It hadn't occurred to anyone that the Iraqis might actually be pro-war.

The driver's most emphatic statement was: "All Iraqi people want this war." He seemed convinced that civilian casualties would be small; he had such enormous faith in the American war machine to follow through on its promises. Certainly more faith than any of us had.

Perhaps the most crushing thing we learned was that most ordinary Iraqis thought Saddam Hussein had paid us to come to protest in Iraq. Although we explained that this was categorically not the case, I don't think he believed us. Later he asked me: "Really, how much did Saddam pay you to come?"

It hit me on visceral and emotional levels: this was a real portrayal of Iraq life. After the first conversation, I completely rethought my view of the Iraqi situation. My understanding changed on intellectual, emotional, psychological levels. I remembered the experience of seeing Saddam's egomaniacal portraits everywhere for the past two weeks and tried to place myself in the shoes of someone who had been subjected to seeing them every day for the last 20 or so years.

Last Thursday night I went to photograph the anti-war rally in Parliament Square. Thousands of people were shouting "No war" but without thinking about the implications for Iraqis. Some of them were drinking, dancing to Samba music and sparring with the police. It was as if the protesters were talking about a different country where the ruling government is perfectly acceptable. It really upset me.

Anyone with half a brain must see that Saddam has to be taken out. It is extraordinarily ironic that the anti-war protesters are marching to defend a government which stops its people exercising that freedom.

posted by paul | link | Comments (0)

And the Oscar Does Not Go to . . .

Film | Monday 03:22:27 EST | comments (0)

And the Oscar Does Not Go to . . .

LOS ANGELES -- WHEN Nicole Kidman and Meryl Streep make their appearances at the 75th Academy Awards, Kari Wuhrer will not be watching, and her decision has nothing to do with the chance that news from Iraq could lead to the ceremony's postponement. Ms. Wuhrer, a 35-year-old actress, rarely tunes into the telecast in any year — after appearing in more than 60 B-movies with titles like "The Hitcher II: I've Been Waiting" and "G-Men From Hell," she knows that an Oscar is probably beyond her reach. Still, this year, as in all years, Oscar night will cause her pangs of regret.

"It just depresses me," said the actress, who has perched for so long on the precipice of real fame that she coined her own wry nickname: "the A-list B-girl." A petite brunette, Ms. Wuhrer has worked with Jack Nicholson and Sean Penn in the art-house film "The Crossing Guard." She's been in mainstream fare like the 1997 scary snake picture "Anaconda," and she got second billing in last year's "Eight Legged Freaks," starring David Arquette. She hoped that movie, which was produced by the team that made "Godzilla" and released by Warner Brothers, would be her big break. Instead, it tanked at the box office. So Ms. Wuhrer flew to Romania to make the straight-to-video "Hellraiser: Deader" — the seventh in a series.

"So many opportunities were right there for me," said Ms. Wuhrer, who returned to Romania just 10 days ago to make another movie that won't ever be screened in a theater, "The Prophecy 4." "I thought, `This is the one, this is the one!' over and over. And it doesn't happen."

"I've compromised," she continued. "I might have taken my clothes off one too many times in movies. I never, ever, ever expect to be Gwyneth Paltrow. But still, I've just never understood why more people in the business don't know who I am."

When most people think of Hollywood, they imagine palm trees and swimming pools and movie stars with recognizable names and faces. But there is another, far less glamorous Hollywood — the one inhabited by Ms. Wuhrer and hundreds of actresses like her. This is the world of the B list, and it is meaner — and far more crowded — than the A-list fairy tale described in celebrity magazines.

This year, as Hollywood's elite gather for what some have called Ladies' Night at the Oscars, the largely female stars of two movies in particular — "The Hours" and "Chicago" — are expected to clean up. But what about the many struggling actresses, the ones who, in the words of one casting director, "get scale after Meg takes all the money"? Forget Malibu beach houses and $20 million paydays. In B-list Hollywood, apartments are shared, credit cards are maxed out and actors — both male and female — are thankful to work for scale in low-budget movies made especially for cable, international or straight-to-video markets.

This is a thriving pocket of the film industry. Last month, at the annual American Film Market in Santa Monica, 389 independently financed movies — a majority of them bullets-and-babes or horror pictures — were up for sale, nearly twice the number of films (190) released by major Hollywood studios in 2002. You don't need calculus to figure out that B-movies are where a lot of the acting jobs are. But for women, especially, life on the B list is a daily test of resolve. Here, where the casting couch still gets a workout and actresses often need not apply if they won't appear naked in films, the desire to be famous still keeps hope alive. But to talk to some of the hopefuls is to wonder, Is fame worth it?

That question has resonated more powerfully since February, when a B-movie actress named Lana Clarkson was found fatally shot in the home of Phil Spector, the wealthy music producer, whom she had apparently met just hours before. Mr. Spector, who has worked with groups like the Beatles and the Ramones, was arrested on suspicion of killing Ms. Clarkson but has not been charged. Even as the news media rushed to analyze the erratic behavior of this once influential man, the poignant story of his lesser-known companion captured this city's attention.

Ms. Clarkson, 40, had starred in a number of films made by the king of the B-movies, the producer and director Roger Corman. Her occasionally topless roles in films like "Amazon Women on the Moon" and "Barbarian Queen" had won her a cult following. But she had to work as a hostess at a Sunset Strip club to pay the bills. And it was at that club, the House of Blues, where the police say she met Mr. Spector the night she died.

Just days earlier, the actress had delivered a new set of photos and résumés to her agent, who was lining up auditions for television sitcoms. "We were getting ready for pilot season," said the agent, Ray Cavaleri. "She realized she was no longer the ingénue. But she was fine with it. She said, `Now I can go for the comedy, go for the more character kind of roles.' "

"She had to take the job at the House of Blues because she needed the money," Mr. Cavaleri said. "But she looked at it as a positive. She was working one of the private rooms, so she was networking, meeting the top people." After 20 years in the business, Ms. Clarkson knew that Hollywood is all about relationships. And as a B-movie queen searching for a mainstream job, she also had to know this: She needed all the help she could get.

Just ask Fern Champion, a veteran casting director who for five years cast the television series "Beverly Hills, 90210" but now works frequently on indies with titles like "Scorcher" and "Written in Blood." When Ms. Champion is casting a straight-to-video film, she typically receives more than 1,000 submissions from actors who would walk through fire for even a supporting role. Women over 30 are particularly hungry, Ms. Champion said.

One afternoon recently, Ms. Champion was on the phone trying to book an actress for a cable movie. She told the actress's agent that the producers had some specific demands. "They will not make a deal with her unless there is tasteful nudity in the two shower scenes," she said, adding, "Do you want to have the conversation with her manager about the nudity?"

She hung up, shaking her head. "We've offered the part to another actress with no nudity, but she has a scheduling conflict," she said. So why was this backup actress being required to disrobe? "She appeared in Playboy — they know she'll do it. God knows, there's way too many unemployed ladies who just need to work."

And all of them have movie star idols. For Lana Clarkson, it was Marilyn Monroe. For Ms. Wuhrer, Judy Garland. "When I was a little girl, I used to watch `That's Entertainment!' on my black-and-white TV in my bedroom with the door closed," Ms. Wuhrer said. "I would cry that I wasn't Judy Garland. I wanted to be her so bad. There's this blind confidence of youth. You think you can do it all and you've got all the talent in the world. The older you get, the more you lose that."

To help her get it back, Ms. Wuhrer's boyfriend recently gave her a karaoke machine. "I lock myself in the apartment and pretend again to get that imagination going and have more ambition," she said. It's working, sort of. "When people see you as straight-to-video girl or B-movie girl, there's a stigma attached. It's just not fair."

Jenny McShane loves Anne Bancroft. A striking blonde who won't specify her age other than to acknowledge she's in her 30's, Ms. McShane has been in a string of straight-to-video films, most recently last year's "Shark Attack 3: Megalodon." Since moving to Los Angeles from the Midwest, where she was the oldest of eight children growing up on a 500-acre pig farm, she has had plenty of brushes with stardom. She was a roommate of the actress Emily Lloyd for a while, and once lived next door to Burt Young, who played Sylvester Stallone's brother-in-law in the "Rocky" movies. The other day, she gave a friend who is a hairstylist a ride to Steve Martin's house, and ended up in a bluegrass jam session with him — she on guitar, he on banjo.

Heady as that might sound, Ms. McShane has faced tougher situations. At 20, she was in a limousine on her way to an airport to shoot her first credited role when the movie's producer suddenly insisted that she agree to "undisclosed nudity" (meaning anything the filmmakers wanted), or she would be replaced. Her agent at the time told her to leave the movie. Instead, she said, she agreed, but then talked the producer out of it. Since then, though, she has bared her body more than once on film.

"I've worked with incredible actors," she said, ticking off a list: Michael Madsen, Keanu Reeves, James Spader, Ben Gazzara. "I worked with Don Johnson on `Nash Bridges.' I work with actors who should be at the Oscars." And she no longer has to tend bar to pay the rent.

But it's a constant hustle. She has auditioned for 20 television pilots this season and so far has come up empty. "It's really a name game," she said. "Elisabeth Shue just took a pilot. So it's hard competition."

Ms. McShane, who used her real name, Jennifer Miller, until somebody suggested that her mother's maiden name was catchier, has auditioned for directors like Quentin Tarantino and Cameron Crowe. But she has yet to break through. Right now, she's hoping for a callback on a remake of "The Bionic Woman" as a television movie. Whether or not that happens, she says she won't quit.

"I graduated fifth in my high school class," said Ms. McShane, who noted that she had shot three movies in South Africa, two in Bulgaria, one in India, one in Canada, one in France and only one in this country. "I was National Honor Society. I know I have the intelligence to do whatever job I have to.

"I want to do this till the very end. I want to be like Katharine Hepburn."

Tarri Markel feels the same way. Last year, as the female lead in the coming video "Air Marshal," the 30-something actress for the first time portrayed a character who survived the entire movie. (She had been nibbled to death in "Rats" and shot in the heart in "Death Train.") Ms. Markel, who looks like a cross between her idol, Susan Sarandon, and Sela Ward, has seen agents come and go. (She, like Ms. McShane, is agentless at the moment.) But she is happy to be her own promoter.

"In my previous job," she said, describing the career she junked six years ago to pursue acting, "I sold $50 million of frozen shrimp a year." Back then, she owned a four-bedroom house in the seaside community of Redondo Beach. Now she rents a two-bedroom apartment in the flats of Hollywood. She admitted that when she first began acting, "I had a little bit of that `Wait till you get a load of me' attitude."

"But I never expected anything to come easy," she said. "And God knows, it hasn't."

Once, Ms. Markel said, an A-list movie director took a liking to her at an audition. He began calling her at 4 a.m. and asking her to come see his house. She declined. More recently, a B-movie producer offered her a leading role. "He said, `It's yours,' " she recalled. Then he asked her to perform oral sex. She laughed and tried to make light of it. She didn't want to offend him by saying no; still, she didn't say yes. "But I have to tell you, it flits through your mind," she said. "It's a part. It's $35,000 for six weeks. Well, someone else got the part. She could do it. I couldn't."

Ms. Markel didn't let it get her down. "I'll do whatever it takes — whatever hard work it takes — to succeed," she said, counting off the acting classes and the workshops she attends. "A break could come tomorrow or six months from now or six years from now. I don't have a time limit. Because if I did, I'd think it would happen the day after that limit expired."

Before Sharon Stone was Sharon Stone, after all, she appeared in B-movies. So did Sandra Bullock and Ally Sheedy. Angie Harmon did cheesecake in "Baywatch" before she appeared in the television drama "Law & Order." And just last year, Kristanna Loken, a former Norwegian model who had appeared in videos with one-word titles like "Panic" and "Gangland," got the role of T-X/Terminatrix in the coming film "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines."

"So you just never know," said Shana Landsburg, the casting director who put Ms. Loken in "Panic." "Sure, you can do too many `Panics.' But the bottom line is, I believe, if you're really talented, cream rises to the top."

Or so every B-lister wants to believe. Ms. Wuhrer, for one, has begun to tire of the dream of becoming a household name. Last year she had an epiphany, she said. She had her breast implants removed and began splitting her time between Los Angeles and New York. "I had to get out of L.A. to figure out that the reason I'm in this business is not stardom but because I really love what I do," she said. "You do a certain number of movies, like I have, and, thank God, you'll always be able to get a movie financed. You'll always get at least $100,000 per movie. You'll always make a living.

"I'm proud of the career I have. I have my own section in some video stores. But what I really want is to do a good job — really work hard at something — and have somebody go, `Hey, not only is she good, but we can let her in the club a little bit.' "

posted by paul | link | Comments (0)

The Backlash Grows Against Celebrity Activists

PQ+ | Monday 03:21:27 EST | comments (0)

The Backlash Grows Against Celebrity Activists

FOR a few days after the Dixie Chicks' lead singer, Natalie Maines, told a London audience, "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas," there was not a ripple about the remark. The American ambassador to Britain, William S. Farish, was at the show on March 10, and made it a point to greet the Texas trio at a reception afterward. Though six critics reviewed the concert, only one mentioned the comment in print.

Four days later, all that had changed. Reports of the remark spread to the United States through Web sites — notably the Drudge Report and a conservative site called Freerepublic.com — and in no time, the Dixie Chicks, who had been riding the top of the charts with their album "Home" after winning Grammy Awards in February, found themselves the subject of radio boycotts and public CD burnings. Ms. Maines apologized for the remark, but by week's end, the boycotts had contributed to a 20 percent drop in airplay of the band's music.

For celebrities considering taking a public stance on the Iraq war these days, and in particular using the platform that the Academy Awards presents to address an audience of millions, the Dixie Chicks episode has become a cautionary tale.

While politically active stars have long provoked strong reactions from those who disagree with them — think of Jane Fonda, Edward Asner and Charlton Heston — opposition to celebrity activists has never been more vocal or better organized. Web sites with names like Boycott-hollywood.us and Famousidiot.com are spearheading e-mail and telephone campaigns against stars and, in the case of television performers, the companies that advertise on their shows. Together with talk radio and evening political talk shows, the online organizing has created a formidable gantlet for celebrities who choose to make their politics known.

The movement to take aim at celebrities has some unlikely champions. After watching the actor Martin Sheen, star of "The West Wing," denounce an invasion of Iraq on television last December, Lori Bardsley, 38, a homemaker in Summerfield, N.C., started an online petition, Citizens Against Celebrity "Pundits" at ipetitions.com. The petition now has more than 100,000 signatures.

"That evening I was very angry and I knew I wasn't the only one in the country who would be," Ms. Bardsley said. "Many Americans have felt this for a long time."

Neal Gabler, an author who has written extensively about society's attitude toward celebrity, said that the same public that worships stars as performers can turn against them when they express opinions like ordinary people.

"Entertainers symbolize something about American life that many Americans resent," he said. "They have so much money and they're so conspicuous about it. The idea is that all celebrities are spoiled and naïve and fundamentally not serious. They're dabblers."

Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review, a conservative journal, echoed this view.

"Subliminally it bothers people that these are famous, rich, celebrated people who America has treated extremely well," he said.

Questioning the patriotism of Hollywood activists is a favorite theme of celebrity-bashing Internet sites. Famousidiot.com is a case in point. Under the banner, "They don't speak for US," the site ranks celebrities according to the number of "anti-Americanisms" they've supposedly uttered.

"While America faces monumental challenges at home and abroad," the site declares, "they feel compelled to leave their mansions and attack the country that makes it possible for them to do so."

Janeane Garofalo, an actress who has been outspoken in opposition to the war, argues that the antipatriotism charge is meant to "shut down debate and thwart First Amendment rights."

"We are extremely supportive of the troops," she said. "Anyone who says yes to peace and diplomacy is saying yes to the troops."

Ms. Garofalo said that the news media interest in celebrities who oppose the war has the effect of trivializing the antiwar movement. There are plenty of celebrities who are in favor of the war, she argues, but they rarely come in for abuse.

"If all the voices against the war were scholars and academics and politicians, and all those who were for the war were Ted Nugent and Bruce Willis and country-western singers, then you'd see the polls start to shift," she said.

The larger question might be, Why do celebrity opinions get attention at all? Bill O'Reilly, host of "The O'Reilly Factor" on Fox News and a frequent critic of politically active celebrities, says that while few of his viewers are swayed by celebrities' opinions, they nevertheless are intrigued by them.

"People love emotional conflict," he said. "Once you have a famous person who takes a stand, then you can feel one way or another about that stand. If Barbra Streisand says it, you know her — you get involved."

Most of the celebrity activists singled out for abuse on the Web these days are those opposing the war in Iraq and espousing other liberal causes. Eric Alterman, the author of a new book called "What Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the News" (Basic Books, $25), argues that conservatives are better organized at calling attention to celebrity activists they oppose than liberals are. He says grass-roots conservative Web sites inform talk radio, which in turn feeds the evening political talk-show circuit.

"It's a food chain," Mr. Alterman said. "You start out with a few activist types. It goes through the Internet Web sites, then it gets picked up by the networks and reporters. It becomes a perpetual motion machine."

Simon Renshaw, the manager of the Dixie Chicks, said the backlash against the band was not a spontaneous, widespread outburst, but instead was led by a small group of activists, beginning with Freerepublic.com. Mr. Renshaw said the phenomenon even has a name — getting "freeped," slang for being deluged with angry e-mail messages from users of the site. He said the band's Web site and e-mail server crashed because of the traffic.

"The morning-drive talk-show guys — they get a few e-mails and phone calls, then they jump on it," Mr. Renshaw said. "They get a few people incensed and the whole thing starts to snowball. Snowball it has."

Some celebrity activists say the e-mail and telephone campaigns push the line between merely spirited debate and harassment. David Clennon, an actor on the CBS show "The Agency," about the C.I.A., said that after opposing the war on Sean Hannity's conservative radio show, he became the object of a campaign to get him fired. "I was upset and fearful and angry to be targeted in that way," Mr. Clennon said.

Mike Farrell, the actor who played B. J. Hunnicut on "M*A*S*H" and who is outspoken in support of liberal causes, said such tactics amount to "an orchestrated attempt to undermine free speech and the right to dissent." "If they want to call me a Saddam lover that's their right," he said. "But if they set out to affect me professionally, that's different."

Mr. Lowry of National Review is not sympathetic to that argument. "This is what they always say," he said. "They have a free speech right to criticize America at a time of war, but if anyone criticizes them, then gee whiz, they're being violated. They need to toughen up."

For all the talk of boycotts and damaging careers, though, there's little evidence that the campaigns have significant economic impact. While the Dixie Chicks suffered the drop in airplay, their album is at No. 4 on the Billboard charts. Many shows on their coming tour are sold out, Mr. Renshaw said. Mr. Clennon, the "Agency" actor, still has his job. Ms. Streisand, Robert Redford and Martin Sheen have long been singled out for their political activism, and none can be said to have fallen on hard times.

Mr. Farrell said that the campaigns may even help the careers of some actors. "It's an industry that's sensitive to public expressions of favor and disfavor," he said. "But it's also an industry that traffics in exploitation, so it may make someone more attractive."

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A Movement, Yes, but No Counterculture

PQ+ | Monday 03:20:44 EST | comments (0)

A Movement, Yes, but No Counterculture

IN the fall of 1965, J. Edgar Hoover took stock of the movement against the Vietnam War and described it as a culture apart. The protesters, Hoover said, "represented a minority for the most part composed of halfway citizens who are neither morally, mentally nor emotionally mature."

A generation later, Suzyn Smith marched along Constitution Avenue in Washington last Saturday and announced that at her next demonstration she would wear something dressier than her casual black tank top. "The media tends to focus on the people dressed like hippies," said Ms. Smith, 24, who thought the hippies were getting too much play. As she walked with her aunt in a crowd protesting war with Iraq, Ms. Smith described a vision markedly different from Hoover's. "You have all sorts of regular dorky middle-age people, church groups and old people," she said. "It's not like everybody's part of some big counterculture."

And so it has gone with American protests against war in Iraq, starting sporadically in October and continuing across the country last week. The peace signs were back, and even some of the tie-dye; John Mellencamp and Public Enemy performed protest songs. But in a fundamental way the latest antiwar movement is unlike its socially seismic 1960's predecessor.

Three and a half decades ago, protesters massed with a political goal — to end a war — but also out of a conviction that many of the values undergirding American society were flawed: 1950's conformity, the materialistic rat race, racism, and even monogamy and the nuclear family. The alternative values they expressed through fashion, music, sexual mores and other lifestyle choices seemed to propose an entirely different world. And many historians feel that this counterculture shaped America more profoundly and for years longer than the stop-the-war rallies.

But as protesters came together across the country last week, with a few radical contingents disrupting cities or destroying property, so far there has been little sense that they also shared a common desire to remake the country's values and institutions.

"It's been amazingly diverse," said Paul Buhle, a lecturer in American civilization and history at Brown University and founder of the New Left Journal of Radical America. "Typically, the radicalizing experience in America is that a group of people wake up and say, `Everything I've been told is a lie.' And so you have a movement for change in values about race, sexuality, peace and art, all coming together in periods of stress. So far, we've seen very little of that. The only thing that unites people is fear of the consequences of war."

In part because of the Internet, the antiwar movement has assembled without apparent leaders. Pacifists march with fiscal conservatives, traditional liberals with centrists who favor war but only with support. Fittingly, the signs at demonstrations have told a story not of philosophical uniformity but of sprawl:

"Straight White Anglo-Saxon Males for Peace."

"Capitalist Swing Voter for Peace."

"Pro-Life and Anti-War."

"Queers Against War in Iraq."

Instead of a new counterculture, what the demonstrations have instead is a memory from the 60's that protest alone can change things — and that may make a counterculture unnecessary, said the critic Greil Marcus, the author of "Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century," who demonstrated in the Berkeley Free Speech Movement in the 60's and is active in protests against war in Iraq. "What happened four decades ago is history," Mr. Marcus said. "It's not just a blip in the history of trends. Whoever shows up at a march against war in Iraq, it always takes place with a memory of the efficacy and joy and gratification of similar protests that took place in years before."

Mr. Marcus added, "It doesn't matter that there is no counterculture, because counterculture of the past gives people a sense that their own difference matters."

If the counterculture helped to inspire other movements, from feminism to organic diets, it was also a mixed blessing, said Stephen Zunes, the program coordinator of the peace and justice studies program at the University of San Francisco. "The demonstrations now have more credibility," he said. In the 60's, "a lot of middle Americans were very turned off by the movement because of the high visibility of the counterculture," he said.

Andrew Greenblatt, 34, who runs the Web site for the Internet-based group True Majority, which opposes the war, said that his organization had drawn 260,000 members to the movement precisely "because it's not a counterculture," adding that a counterculture by its nature keeps some people out.

"At the foundation of a counterculture is the idea that the dominant culture and value system need to change," he added. "That's not our view."

On a gray morning in Washington last week, Dr. Allen Schwartz, 50, a physician from New Orleans, took an unfamiliar position. Dr. Schwartz, who was a battalion surgeon in the Persian Gulf war, had never been to a demonstration until a few months ago. Now, he was about to join a civil disobedience in which 54 nonviolent protesters would be arrested. "I'm not a liberal, just a concerned American," he said. "I wouldn't threaten a police officer. I respect police officers. This antiwar sentiment is not anti-American sentiment. This country's done a lot for me."

In both its organization and goals, the movement against war in Iraq is not as ambitious or utopian as the counterculture of the past. "People really could imagine a different way for society to be organized," said Gustin Reichbach, 56, who marched with Students for a Democratic Society at Columbia in 1968 and is now a New York State Supreme Court justice. "Nobody's talking about alternative social systems today."

Justice Reichbach attributed the change in part to the fall of socialism, which once represented an alternative model of society. And to an extent, he said, the very success of the 60's counterculture in making America a more permissive society works against any campaign for another radical change in values or lifestyle. "The counterculture of 30 years ago is the mainstream today," he said. "Our success shifted the parameters of what constitutes a counterculture."

The idea of a counterculture is made trickier by the diversity of 21st-century America. A counterculture, after all, presumes that there is a culture to counter. Howard Rheingold, the author of "Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution," suggested considering the assembled groups not as a counterculture but "an ecology of countercultures," one made possible by the dispersed nature of the Internet. Where the 1960's movement reflected the first generation to grow up with the unifying effects of television, the demonstrations against an Iraq war reflect the endless refractions of the Internet.

And as it reflects a diverse population, it also reflects an aging one, which is less likely to advocate a complete change in values. Marching in Washington last Saturday, Hoagi Koster, 51, who was a member of Students for a Democratic Society in the 1960's, looked around and saw tribes of his peers. "Back then we really felt it was a youth movement," Mr. Koster said. At demonstrations near his home in Rockland County, he added, organizers have been unable to recruit young activists. "It's all us old bags," he said.

Because of its diffuse structure, the movement is nimble, said Jon Western, an assistant professor of international relations at Mount Holyoke College who is writing a book about how antiwar movements become mainstream. Masses have assembled without apparent leaders or ideologies. "If the war goes quickly and the process seems relatively smooth, the antiwar movement goes into abeyance," he projected. "But it is easily reconstituted."

Of course, the protest movement against the Iraq war is only five months old. Is it reasonable to expect a counterculture already to have blossomed alongside it?

The counterculture of the 60's did not fully bloom until later in the decade, after the draft and steady reports of American casualties combined to push young people toward more radical views. However, its template of alternative values surfaced much earlier, in the Beat writings of the 1950's and the folk music revival of the early 60's.

Michael Phillips, who lectures about American countercultures at the University of Texas, said that recent student protests against sweatshops and the World Trade Organization have put forward a comparable template of antimaterialistic values challenging the way Americans spend and trade.

William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, which is credited with providing some of the intellectual framework for the White House's policy of pre-emptive military action, proposed an alternative possibility. He said he detected the makings of a true counterculture — an alternative set of values — in recent criticisms of President Bush that focus on his religion.

If protesters begin seeing the President's foreign and domestic agendas as outgrowths of his conservative Christian values, they might advance a broad alternative world view that would be countercultural, he suggested. "There's also a debate over a view of America, whether it is a force of good in the world," Mr. Kristol added. "All that side of it strikes me as a proto-counterculture. Maybe this is 1964, not 1968."

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Hong Kong scientists devise test for mystery illness

China | Monday 03:18:57 EST | comments (0)

Hong Kong scientists devise test for mystery illness
by Thomas Crampton IHT Monday, March 24, 2003

HONG KONG As the number killed and infected by a mysterious respiratory illness continued to rise over the weekend, Hong Kong scientists said that they had isolated the virus and created a basic but reliable diagnostic test.
The disease, severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, starts with flu-like symptoms and quickly develops into a full-blown and often deadly pneumonia. Medical investigators say the illness spreads by droplets when infected patients sneeze or cough.

By Saturday, more than 380 cases of the disease were reported in 15 countries, with 13 infected patients confirmed to have died, the World Health Organization said.
Hong Kong, the hub of the infection, reported an eighth death from the disease Sunday, while Singapore announced that the Tan Tock Seng hospital will only admit patients suspected of having the disease.
Canada announced that a third patient may have died from the disease, while the United States suspended all official travel to Vietnam and stepped up its warning for U.S. citizens traveling to the country.
The step was taken because of the lack of adequate medical care in the country during the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, the State Department said in a statement.
Hong Kong reported 247 possible infections Sunday, while the World Health Organization said Saturday that the next highest number of infections were in Vietnam with 63; Singapore with 44; the United States with 22, and Canada with 9. Although China is listed as reporting cases of the disease, the government has released no statistics. Despite the secrecy of the Chinese government, medical investigators have linked Hong Kong's outbreak to an earlier one in southern China that killed five and infected more than 300.
In their first major progress in combating the disease, a team of scientists from the University of Hong Kong announced Saturday that they had cultured the disease's viral agent and developed a basic but reliable diagnostic test.
The Hong Kong scientists isolated the virus from the lung tissue of a patient who developed pneumonia following contact with a doctor thought to have brought the disease from Guangdong in southern China. "Isolation of the virus now lays the solid foundation for very rapid development of a diagnostic test," the World Health Organization said.
A basic diagnostic test, which relies on identifying telltale antibodies, was successfully used to identify eight patients infected with the illness, the scientists said. The test must now be refined into a more rapid and reliable diagnostic tool in order to confirm whether reported cases of the illness are genuine.
"Such a test can also help reassure the many 'worried well' who are flooding health facilities," the World Health Organization said. "Many common and usually self-healing illnesses mimic the symptoms of SARS in its early stage."
By isolating the virus, scientists can also now move forward quickly to characterize the agent, determine its relationship with known viruses, and establish a definitive identity.
In Hong Kong, the transportation hub from which the infections spread around the world, the number of cases had continued to rise at a pace of about 20 per day to a total of 247 by Sunday. Seven patients have been discharged since the disease outbreak began this month while eight have died, including one this weekend. The number of patients receiving intensive care rose by one to reach 39 over the weekend.
Even as more patients check into strained hospitals, health authorities said all new infections in the last two days involve family, friends or close contacts of previously infected patients.
Moving to quell public fear that the disease might spread through schools, Hong Kong closed three schools and ordered home 180 children related to infected patients. Five children, all related to infected patients, have been diagnosed with the disease.
"The simplest solution would be to close down all 1,000 schools in Hong Kong," said Arthur Li, secretary for education and manpower. "But we believe these measures are sufficient."
The measures announced require all students related to infection victims to stay home for one week; any school that has had an infected student will be closed for one week and all schools must raise the level of daily disinfection.

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