Tuesday, July 13, 2004

"Impact of the Beatles was so strong that it started a religious cult

: "'Russian defence minister Sergei Ivanov, who suggests in all seriousness that the impact of the Beatles was so strong that it started a religious cult and helped bring down the Iron Curtain'

THE Russian defence minister, bought all the Beatles' LPs in 1984. Speaking before Sir Paul's concert in Red Square last year, he said:

'The Beatles had started a whole, huge movement in the Soviet Union which involved not thousands,not even hundreds of thousands, but millions of young people who became, as Communist publicists have said, inner immigrants.

'They still lived in the Soviet Union with their bodies, but mentally and spiritually, they were somewhere else. There was no bloodshed, no civil war, no revolution, no nothing. The country was already ready for the disappearance of Communism.

'One of the main reasons for that was that the Beatles had prepared a huge part of the country's population for these new, free values.'


The real story of the Beatles

Jul 13 2004

by David Charters, Daily Post


Monday, July 12, 2004

Kofigate Gets Going,, By WILLIAM SAFIRE

July 12, 2004 http://www.nytco.com/

Kofigate Gets Going


WASHINGTON — All our July chin-pulling about polls and veeps and C.I.A. missteps has little to do with November's election, which will be decided by unforeseeable events. Instead, let's counter-program, to examine a political corruption story beginning to gain traction that will reach warp speed in hearings and headlines next spring.

At least eight official investigations have begun into the largest financial rip-off in history: preliminary estimates from the G.A.O. point to $10 billion skimmed or kicked back or otherwise stolen in the U.N. dealings with Saddam Hussein.

Seeking to manage the news of the scandal, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan appointed former Fed chairman Paul Volcker to head an internal investigation. That seemed to slam the door on U.N. cooperation with truly independent inquiries, but Volcker last week announced that "appropriate memorandums of understanding with a number of official investigatory bodies are in place or in negotiation."

To overcome criticism like mine of his committee's lack of subpoena power or ability to take testimony under oath, Volcker has hooked up with Robert Morgenthau, the Manhattan district attorney, who has been prosecuting two men in an unrelated distressed debt case at BNP Paribas; that's the French bank the U.N. used for its oil-for-food letters of credit. That grand old prosecutor has a staff skilled at following money and has sitting grand juries available to encourage truth-telling.

Morgenthau's crew, in turn, has a collaborative relationship (pardon the _expression) with the nonpartisan staff of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (P.S.I.). The U.N. has stonewalled three committees of the U.S. Congress, refusing to reveal its 55 internal audits, claiming that our State Department's members on the U.N. "661 committee" had approved all kickback-ridden contracts.

But State has been slow-walking Congressional requests for documents that reveal its own poor oversight and that embarrass the U.N., which it now wants to placate. State could impede the hunt overseas through mutual legal-assistance treaties, and can continue to diddle the House committees of Henry Hyde and Chris Shays, but our diplomats cannot evade chairman's letters from the Senate P.S.I.

Who else is on the trail of the skimmed billions, much of it owed to those Kurdish Iraqis shortchanged by U.N. dispensers of largess? Playing catch-up to Morgenthau, a Justice Department U.S. attorney in New York has subpoenaed records of several American oil companies; our Treasury Department charged a couple of minor players with illegal transactions with Iraq.

Meanwhile, back in Baghdad, where much of the grandest larceny ignored by the U.N. originated, the investigation by the old Governing Council was stopped by Paul Bremer because its leaks alerted the world and upset the U.N. The search for damning documents was re-launched under non-Chalabi auspices, but the chairman of Iraq's Supreme Audit Board, Ihsan Karim, was killed on his way to work two weeks ago. Criminal enterprises have heavy money at stake in this.

Volcker, still in a start-up stage after four months, assures The Wall Street Journal he hired a great senior staff. But one is Richard Murphy, former ambassador to Saudi Arabia and a veteran Arab apologist on TV. Will he prevail on Jordan's king to get the Philadelphia Investment Corporation in Amman to open its files about financing favored "beneficiaries"? Or dare to demand the United Arab Emirates order its Al Wasel and Babel trading company to explain the lucrative electrical projects that had nothing to do with food?

Another is Prof. Mark Pieth of the University of Basel, of high repute in countering money laundering. Key to the transmission of oil-for-food funds is Cotecna Inspections, a Swiss corporation that got the U.N. contract to monitor deliveries and whose "notice of arrival" was pure gold to corrupt sellers. Mr. Annan's son was its consultant just before the fat contract was issued; even after a U.N. audit showed suspicious inspection inadequacies, Cotecna's contract was expanded. Professor Pieth's work will be judged on whether he can crack Swiss government secrecy to reveal the goings-on at Cotecna.

These investigations were triggered by the press. But why should competitive journalists wait months for official leaks? Bankers, traders and honest U.N. underlings are eager to whis-tleblow; shoe-leather reporting is required to hot-foot the watchmen now that they are finally awake.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company |

Saturday, July 10, 2004

The Closing of the American Book

July 10, 2004
Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

The Closing of the American Book


A survey released on Thursday reports that reading for pleasure is way down in America among every group — old and young, wealthy and poor, educated and uneducated, men and women, Hispanic, black and white. The survey, by the National Endowment for the Arts, also indicates that people who read for pleasure are many times more likely than those who don't to visit museums and attend musical performances, almost three times as likely to perform volunteer and charity work, and almost twice as likely to attend sporting events. Readers, in other words, are active, while nonreaders — more than half the population — have settled into apathy. There is a basic social divide between those for whom life is an accrual of fresh experience and knowledge, and those for whom maturity is a process of mental atrophy. The shift toward the latter category is frightening.

Reading is not an active _expression like writing, but it is not a passive experience either. It requires effort, concentration, attention. In exchange, it offers the stimulus to and the fruit of thought and feeling. Kafka said, "A book must be an ice ax to break the seas frozen inside our soul." The metaphoric quality of writing — the fact that so much can be expressed through the rearrangement of 26 shapes on a piece of paper — is as exciting as the idea of a complete genetic code made up of four bases: man's work on a par with nature's. Discerning the patterns of those arrangements is the essence of civilization.

The electronic media, on the other hand, tend to be torpid. Despite the existence of good television, fine writing on the Internet, and video games that test logic, the electronic media by and large invite inert reception. One selects channels, but then the information comes out preprocessed. Most people use television as a means of turning their minds off, not on. Many readers watch television without peril; but for those for whom television replaces reading, the consequences are far-reaching.

My last book was about depression, and the question I am most frequently asked is why depression is on the rise. I talk about the loneliness that comes of spending the day with a TV or a computer or video screen. Conversely, literary reading is an entry into dialogue; a book can be a friend, talking not at you, but to you. That the rates of depression should be going up as the rates of reading are going down is no happenstance. Meanwhile, there is some persuasive evidence that escalating levels of Alzheimer's disease reflect a lack of active engagement of adult minds. While the disease appears to be determined in large part by heredity and environmental stimulants, it seems that those who continue learning may be less likely to develop Alzheimer's.

So the crisis in reading is a crisis in national health.

I will never forget seeing, as a high school student on my first trip to East Berlin, the plaza where Hitler and Goebbels had burned books from the university library. Those bonfires were predicated on the idea that texts could undermine armies. Soviet repression of literature followed the same principle.

The Nazis were right in believing that one of the most powerful weapons in a war of ideas is books. And for better or worse, the United States is now in such a war. Without books, we cannot succeed in our current struggle against absolutism and terrorism. The retreat from civic to virtual life is a retreat from engaged democracy, from the principles that we say we want to share with the rest of the world. You are what you read. If you read nothing, then your mind withers, and your ideals lose their vitality and sway.

So the crisis in reading is a crisis in national politics.

It is important to acknowledge that the falling-off of reading has to do not only with the incursion of anti-intellectualism, but also with a flawed intellectualism. The ascendancy of poststructuralism in the 1980's coincided with the beginning of the catastrophic downturn in reading; deconstructionism's suggestion that all text is equal in its meanings and the denigration of the canon led to the devaluation of literature. The role of literature is to illuminate, to strengthen, to explain why some aspect of life is moving or beautiful or terrible or sad or important or insignificant for people who might otherwise not understand so much or so well. Reading is experience, but it also enriches other experience.

Even more immediate than the crises in health and politics brought on by the decline of reading is the crisis in national education. We have one of the most literate societies in history. What is the point of having a population that can read, but doesn't? We need to teach people not only how, but also why to read. The struggle is not to make people read more, but to make them want to read more.

While there is much work do be done in the public schools, society at large also has a job. We need to make reading, which is in its essence a solitary endeavor, a social one as well, to encourage that great thrill of finding kinship in shared experiences of books. We must weave reading back into the very fabric of the culture, and make it a mainstay of community.

Reading is harder than watching television or playing video games. I think of the Epicurean mandate to exchange easier for more difficult pleasures, predicated on the understanding that those more difficult pleasures are more rewarding. I think of Walter Pater's declaration: "The service of philosophy, of speculative culture, towards the human spirit is to rouse, to startle it to a life of sharp and eager observation. . . . The poetic passion, the desire of beauty, the love of art for its own sake, has most; for art comes to you professing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass." Surely that is something all Americans would want, if we only understood how readily we might achieve it, how well worth the effort it is.

Andrew Solomon is the author of "The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression."

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

Monday, July 5, 2004

By WILLIAM SAFIRE ; Rights of Terror Suspects

July 5, 2004

Rights of Terror Suspects


HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. — "Misadvised by a frustrated and panic-stricken attorney general, a president of the United States has just assumed what amounts to dictatorial power to jail or execute aliens."

So wrote a purpling libertarian kook on Nov. 15, 2001, the day after President Bush issued an executive order cracking down on suspected terrorist captives. "At a time when even liberals are debating the ethics of torture of suspects," this soft-on-terror wimp went on, "weighing the distaste for barbarism against the need to save innocent lives — it's time for conservative iconoclasts and card-carrying hard-liners to stand up for American values."

They did not, of course; hard-line commentators dismissed the wimp as a "professional hysteric" akin to "antebellum Southern belles suffering the vapors." Attorney General John Ashcroft said such diatribes "aid terrorists."

At the same time, most liberals — supposed advocates of the rights of the accused — did not want to appear to be insufficiently outraged at terrorists. Only two months after the shock of 9/11, with polls showing strong public approval of Bush's harsh measures to protect us, these liberals turned out to be civil liberty's summer soldiers. No senator from Massachusetts rose promptly to challenge Bush's draconian order, thereby to etch a profile in courage.

But one cabinet member reacted curiously. Despite the White House order to give enemy combatants no legal rights in what the vaporing wimp sniffled were "kangaroo courts," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld convened a panel of serious outside lawyers aware of the wartime mistakes of Lincoln, Wilson and F.D.R. They reshaped the Bush order to give accused noncitizens before military tribunals the rights to counsel, public trial, appellate review and other protections in the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Then Ashcroft Justice dug in its heels and the system stalled for years. Military tribunals of aliens captured in Afghanistan were placed in abeyance while Justice claimed in court that the president has the authority to impose open-ended detention on citizens and noncitizens alike. Such wholesale denial of due process is what the soft-on-terror professional hysteric had called "the seizure of dictatorial power."

Last week the Supreme Court that helped put Bush in office intervened to prevent his abuse of it. "The very core of liberty secured by our Anglo-Saxon system of separated powers," wrote Justice Antonin Scalia in agreement with the majority, "has been freedom from indefinite imprisonment at the will of the executive."

The right of a prisoner — even a noncitizen suspected of plotting to blow up a city — to take his case before some sort of judge has been reaffirmed. The panicked Ashcroft and the hapless White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales, clearly misadvised the president; both should depart in a second term. Separation of powers lives, and we should extend habeas corpus to all four corners of the earth.

Though coverage of the Supreme Court's rulings led with "a state of war is not a blank check for the president," its decisions were also deferential. Provided that an accused combatant has a chance to rebut, there should be "a presumption in favor of the government's evidence"; hearsay might be allowed. With military tribunals now tilted toward the prosecution, we should stop delaying and start prosecuting.

Liberals, in the aftermath of Abu Ghraib and now with Supreme Court restraints on executive power, are piling on. It's safe; civil liberty is suddenly in vogue, at least until the next terror strike. That's why the bosoms of Bush critics are now heaving in hypocritical hyperventilation. But where were they on Nov. 15, 2001, when due process needed them? In spider holes all their own.

There's a lesson, too, for conservatives and other hard-liners: Libertarians are not to be despised even when infuriatingly contrarian. Remember our Jeremiah-like presence in your ranks on the privacy issue when you demand a national ID, or when you hamstring embryonic stem-cell research, or when you make a show of festooning the Constitution with a marriage amendment.

Why do I fear no libel suit from that wimpish professional hysteric, that antebellum Southern belle suffering the vapors, that aider of terrorists? Because I'm him. (It's uncool to say I told you so, but I have not had many chances to say it lately.)

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

Knowing Their Politics by the Software They Us

The New York Times
Mon, 5 Jul 2004

Knowing Their Politics by the Software They Use


In a campaign season of polarization, when Republicans and Democrats seem far apart on issues like Iraq, the economy and leadership style, it is perhaps not surprising that the parties find themselves on different sides in the politics of software as well.

The Web sites of Senator John Kerry and the Democratic National Committee run mainly on the technology of the computing counterculture: open-source software that is distributed free, and improved and debugged by far-flung networks of programmers.

In the other corner, the Web sites of President Bush and the Republican National Committee run on software supplied by the corporate embodiment of big business - Microsoft.

The two sides are defined largely by their approach to intellectual property. Fans of open-source computing regard its software as a model for the future of business, saying that its underlying principle of collaboration will eventually be used in pharmaceuticals, entertainment and other industries whose products are tightly protected by patents or copyrights.

Many of them propose rewriting intellectual property laws worldwide to limit their scope and duration. The open-source path, they insist, should accelerate the pace of innovation and promote long-term economic growth. Theirs is an argument of efficiency, but also of a reshuffling of corporate wealth.

Microsoft and other American companies, by contrast, have long argued that intellectual property is responsible for any edge the United States has in an increasingly competitive global economy. Craig Mundie, chief technical officer and a senior strategist at Microsoft, observed, "Whether copyrights, patents or trade secrets, it was this foundation in law that made it possible for companies to raise capital, take risks, focus on the long term and create sustainable business models."

The dispute can take on a political flavor at times. David Brunton, who is a founder of Plus Three, a technology and marketing consulting company that has done much of the work on the Democratic and Kerry Web sites, regards open-source software as a technological _expression of his political beliefs. Mr. Brunton, 28, a Harvard graduate, describes himself as a "very left-leaning Democrat." He met his wife, Lina, through politics; she is a staff member at the Democratic National Committee.

His company's client list includes state Democratic parties in Ohio and Missouri, and union groups including the United Federation of Teachers and the parent A.F.L.-C.I.O. "The ethic of open source has pervaded progressive organizations," Mr. Brunton said.

The corporate proponents of strong intellectual property rights say, in essence, that what is good for Microsoft, Merck and Disney is good for America. But they argue as well that the laws that protect them also protect the ideas of upstart innovators. They have made their case forcefully in Washington and before international groups, notably the World Intellectual Property Organization, a United Nations specialized agency.

"This is a huge ideological debate and it goes way beyond software," said James Love, director of the Consumer Project on Technology, a nonprofit group affiliated with Ralph Nader that advocates less restrictive intellectual property rules.

But the politics surrounding open-source software do not always fit neatly into party categories. The people who work on software like the Linux operating system, the Apache Web server and others are an eclectic bunch of technologists. "You'll find gun nuts along with total lefties," Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, said in an e-mail message.

Still, those who find the cooperative, open-source ethos appealing tend most often to be libertarians, populists and progressives. Not surprisingly, open-source software was well represented in Howard Dean's Democratic presidential primary campaign, which so effectively used the Internet and Web logs in grass-roots organizing.

Those open-source advocates will presumably find Senator Kerry more appealing than President Bush, according to Daniel Weitzner, technology and society director at the World Wide Web Consortium, an Internet standards-setting organization.

"It may be that the populist-versus-establishment dynamic plays out as Democrat versus Republican in this election," Mr. Weitzner said. "But the open-source movement is a populist phenomenon, enabled by the Internet, and not a partisan force in any traditional sense of politics."

The lone trait common to open-source supporters, according to Mr. Torvalds, is individualism. Politically, he said, that can manifest itself as independence from either political party. "But it also shows up as a distrust of big companies," Mr. Torvalds wrote, "so it's not like the individualism is just about politics."

Eric Raymond, a leading open-source advocate, writing in his online "Jargon File," described the politics of the archetypal open-source programmer, whom he calls J. Random Hacker, as "vaguely liberal-moderate, except for the strong libertarian contingent, which rejects conventional left-right politics entirely."

Mr. Raymond, for one, shoots pistols for relaxation (a favorite is "the classic 1911 pattern .45 semiautomatic") and he supported the invasion of Iraq.

So was the software for the Republican and Democratic Web sites selected according to politics?

Microsoft, to be sure, has fared far better under the Bush administration than under the administration of President Bill Clinton. The Clinton Justice Department filed a sweeping antitrust suit against Microsoft, and asked that the big software company be broken up. The Bush administration later settled the case and left Microsoft intact.

Referring to the software selection process, Steve Ellis, director of network and online services for the Republican National Committee, said: "There was no pressure. We were free to use whatever software we thought worked best."

The principal consideration, Mr. Ellis said, was computer security and protecting the privacy of personal data on the Web site. The programming tools, procedures and the larger pool of workers skilled in using Microsoft software, he said, prompted the Republicans to opt for Microsoft's Web server, called Internet Information Services, running on the Windows 2000 operating system.

Both the Microsoft Web site software and the open-source alternative, the Apache server running on Linux, have had security problems, said Richard M. Smith, a computer security expert. But the Microsoft software, he said, "clearly is the least secure of the two Web serving solutions," given its susceptibility to infection by malicious computer worms like Code Red and Nimba.

For technology experts, like Mr. Brunton, software may have a political cast. But there is little evidence that it has become an issue for front-office political operatives. Told that the Democratic National Committee Web site runs on open-source software, Tony Welch, the national committee's press secretary, replied, "Oh, thanks for telling me." Later, after checking with his technical staff, Mr. Welch called back to say that open-source software was "the right technology at the right price."

Both the Democratic and Republican sites have done pretty well. Mr. Kerry has raised more than $56 million over the Internet this year, including $3 million last Wednesday, setting a single-day record for online fund-raising. The Republican Web site won an award in March from George Washington University's Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet for the best online campaign by a political party.

"The Web site is a great grass-roots organizing tool, and we've probably just scratched the surface," said Christine Iverson, press secretary for the Republican National Committee.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company