Friday, December 31, 2004

Our Planet, and Our Duty

A Call To Action
Op-Ed Columnist: Our Planet, and Our Duty

December 31, 2004

One moment the kids were laughing and skylarking on the
beach, yelling and chasing one another, sweating in the
warm bright sun. The next moment they were gone.

The world is used to horror stories, but not on the
stupefying scale of the macabre tales coming at us from the
vast and disorienting zone of death in tsunami-stricken
southern Asia. Einstein insisted that God does not play
dice with the world, but that might be a difficult notion
to sell to some of the agonized individuals who have seen
everything they've lived for washed away in a pointless

The death toll now is more than twice the number of
American G.I.'s killed in all the years of the Vietnam War.
Not just entire families, or extended families, but entire
communities were consumed by waters that rose up without
warning to destroy scores of thousands of people who were
doing nothing but going about their ordinary lives.

On Tuesday The Times ran a big front-page picture taken in
a makeshift morgue in southern India. It certainly captured
the horror. It looked for all the world like a sandy
playground covered with dead children.

Imagination pales beside the overwhelming reality of the
tragedy. There were, for example, the grief-stricken
throngs, clawing through mud and rubble, peering into the
faces of the severely injured, wandering through piles of
decaying corpses, in search of loved ones.

The Boston Globe quoted a young man whose college
sweetheart was among the more than 800 people killed when a
train carrying beachgoers in Sri Lanka was slammed by a
30-foot wall of water that lifted it from the tracks and
hurled it into a marsh. "Is this the fate that we had
planned for?" cried the young man. "My darling, you were
the only hope for me."

Perhaps a third of those killed were children. Many were
swept away before the eyes of horrified, helpless parents.
"My children! My children!" screamed a woman in Sri Lanka.
"Why didn't the water take me?"

The killer waves that moved with ferocious speed across an
unprecedented expanse of global landscape flung their
victims about with a randomness that was all but impossible
to comprehend. People in beachfront dwellings ended up in
trees, or entangled in electrical power lines, or embedded
in the mud of hillsides. People died in buses, cars and
trucks that were swept along by the waves like leaves in a
strong wind. Sunbathers were swept out to sea.

In that environment, Einstein must stand aside for
Shakespeare, whose Gloucester said: "As flies to wanton
boys are we to the gods. They kill us for their sport."

Any tragedy is awful for the relatives of those who
perished. But this is a catastrophe of a different
magnitude. "This," as one observer noted, "is like
confronting the apocalypse."

"What makes it especially frightening is that whole
communities have been annihilated," said Dr. John Clizbe, a
psychologist in Alexandria, Va., who, until his retirement
a couple of years ago, had served as vice president for
disaster services at the American Red Cross. He said,
"We've known for years now that the emotional devastation
that survivors feel and experience is often greater than
the physical devastation."

The recovery process is easier, he said, when there is a
supportive community to bolster those in need. But in some
of the most devastated regions of southern Asia, the
regions most in need of support, those communities have

It's a peculiarity of modern technology that people
anywhere in the world can sit back and watch in real time,
like voyeurs, the life-and-death struggles of their fellow
humans. The planet is growing smaller and its residents
more interdependent by the day. We're fully aware that our
planetary neighbors in southern Asia are desperately
drawing upon the deepest reservoirs of fortitude and
resilience that our troubled species has at its disposal.

What this means is that we're the supportive community. All
of us. This catastrophe would at least have a silver lining
if it moved the people of the United States and other
nations toward a wiser, more genuinely cooperative
international posture.

William Faulkner, in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech,
said: "I believe that man will not merely endure: he will
prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among
creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a
soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and

That's what Faulkner believed. We'll see.


Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Fw: Pass it on: How to help with tsunami relief

----- Original Message -----
From: ""

Sent: Thursday, December 30, 2004 12:52 PM
Subject: Pass it on: How to help with tsunami relief

Dear friend,

Thanks for asking Congress and President Bush to lead the tsunami relief
effort. Please take a moment to invite your friends and colleagues to
sign -- it's important that we deliver as many messages as possible to the
President and Congress. You can just forward the sample letter below.

Spreading the word is critical, but please only pass this message along to
those who know you, of course -- spam hurts our campaign.

If you haven't already, please give what you can to Oxfam's relief efforts:

Thanks, for all you do.


--The Team


Subject: How to help with tsunami relief

Dear friend,

The tsunami in southern Asia and Africa may be the worst natural disaster of
our time. More than 116,000 lives were wiped out within hours.

Rising to this challenge is at the heart of global leadership, and the world
is depending on us. The U.S government can lead billions of dollars of aid
into this relief effort, if it chooses. Americans are generous and ready to
step forward, but the U.S. Congress and the Bush administration have made a
weak initial contribution to the effort -- first offering $15 million and
then $35 million when they came under pressure. Clearly, we can do more.

Let Congress and the President know that Americans are supporting strong
leadership on this relief effort, at:



If you've received this email in error, please correct your campaign
subscription information at:

Are We Stingy? Yes

A Call To Action
The New York Times
December 30, 2004

President Bush finally roused himself yesterday from his vacation in Crawford, Tex., to telephone his sympathy to the leaders of India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia, and to speak publicly about the devastation of Sunday's tsunamis in Asia. He also hurried to put as much distance as possible between himself and America's initial measly aid offer of $15 million, and he took issue with an earlier statement by the United Nations' emergency relief coordinator, Jan Egeland, who had called the overall aid efforts by rich Western nations "stingy." "The person who made that statement was very misguided and ill informed," the president said.

We beg to differ. Mr. Egeland was right on target. We hope Secretary of State Colin Powell was privately embarrassed when, two days into a catastrophic disaster that hit 12 of the world's poorer countries and will cost billions of dollars to meliorate, he held a press conference to say that America, the world's richest nation, would contribute $15 million. That's less than half of what Republicans plan to spend on the Bush inaugural festivities.

The American aid figure for the current disaster is now $35 million, and we applaud Mr. Bush's turnaround. But $35 million remains a miserly drop in the bucket, and is in keeping with the pitiful amount of the United States budget that we allocate for nonmilitary foreign aid. According to a poll, most Americans believe the United States spends 24 percent of its budget on aid to poor countries; it actually spends well under a quarter of 1 percent.

Bush administration officials help create that perception gap. Fuming at the charge of stinginess, Mr. Powell pointed to disaster relief and said the United States "has given more aid in the last four years than any other nation or combination of nations in the world." But for development aid, America gave $16.2 billion in 2003; the European Union gave $37.1 billion. In 2002, those numbers were $13.2 billion for America, and $29.9 billion for Europe.

Making things worse, we often pledge more money than we actually deliver. Victims of the earthquake in Bam, Iran, a year ago are still living in tents because aid, including ours, has not materialized in the amounts pledged. And back in 2002, Mr. Bush announced his Millennium Challenge account to give African countries development assistance of up to $5 billion a year, but the account has yet to disperse a single dollar.

Mr. Bush said yesterday that the $35 million we've now pledged "is only the beginning" of the United States' recovery effort. Let's hope that is true, and that this time, our actions will match our promises.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

Diplomacy That Can't Be Delegated

A Call To Action

Op-Ed Contributor: Diplomacy That Can't Be Delegated

December 30, 2004

Los Angeles

WE stand at a moment of rare opportunity for the United
States in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Yasir Arafat's death makes a comprehensive settlement
feasible once again. Mahmoud Abbas, the moderate
Palestinian leader, dominates the field for January's
presidential election. If he wins, he could fulfill the
commitment he made to "peaceful coexistence and
cooperation" with Israel on that sunny day of high promise
on the White House lawn in 1993.

The news this month gives us cause for hope: Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon of Israel energized his plan to pull Israeli
settlers out of the Gaza Strip by bringing the Labor Party
into his government, a move that frees him from being held
hostage to his own Likud Party's right wing. A sudden
warming of the frosty relations between Israel and Egypt
accompanied a signing of a three-way trade agreement among
Egypt, Israel and the United States. And to give wings to
hopes for peace, the European Union, the United States and
Arab donor states met in Oslo to discuss a large increase
in aid to the Palestinians.

What is missing now, and urgently needed, is the active
hands-on involvement of the United States.

America has always been the indispensable party for
progress in the Middle East. The brilliant efforts of
Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 1974 and 1975 brought
about Israel's withdrawal from the Sinai and the
peninsula's return to Egypt. President Jimmy Carter's
legendary endeavors at Camp David in 1978 produced the
Israel-Egypt peace treaty, which was supported by American
financial assistance to both countries. That aid continues
to yield returns today. And when Israel and Jordan
negotiated a peace accord in July 1994, King Hussein, the
present King's father, told me that the negotiations could
not have succeeded without tangible support from the United
States, which was forthcoming in the form of debt
forgiveness and military equipment.

But meaningful American involvement at this critical time
will require more than words and dollars - it must take the
form of action. It will not be enough for President Bush to
make broad policy statements, however eloquent. It will
also require something beyond telephone diplomacy by
Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice. Reliance on
these hands-off methods promises a continuation of the past
four years' failures.

Only two approaches have a chance to produce success.

With the approval of the president, the secretary of state
could commit to lead - and sustain - United States efforts
toward peace, traveling to the region frequently and
meeting eyeball-to-eyeball with the parties for extended
negotiations. It would be clear that she is speaking for
for the president. None of her aides, however able, would
be received in the same way in the Middle East.

The problem is that this assignment would demand a great
deal of Ms. Rice's energy - at a time when other crises in
the world will demand her attention. Never in recent years
has a secretary of state entered office with more dangerous
problems on her plate. Iraq, North Korea, Iran,
Afghanistan, terrorism - none can be handed off to someone

I know from personal experience that prolonged
concentration on one issue can exact a price in some other
corner of the world. Indeed, critics took me to task, with
some justification, for devoting too much time (25 trips in
four years) to peace negotiations between Israel and its
neighbors. At least twice during my term in office, I
diverted my aircraft toward Israel to personally grapple
with the effects of guerilla-launched Katusha rocket
attacks in Northern Israel on the fragile peace process.
Based on these and similar moments, I both confess and
warn: pursuit of Middle East peace can easily become an
all-consuming endeavor.

The second, preferable, option would be the appointment by
the president of a high-ranking United States emissary to
the Middle East. Ms. Rice's famous closeness to the
President should obviate any risk that the appointment
would diminish her authority. The envoy should be someone
who would immediately be recognized as speaking for the
president - like former Secretary of State James A. Baker
or John C. Danforth, the departing envoy to the United
Nations. It should also be someone who is ready for a
full-time assignment. This person must be prepared to
establish a base of operations in the Middle East and to
stay there for substantial periods of time. Patience and
persistence, not parachute visits or photo ops, should be
the modus operandi.

Under either approach, the president would need to meet
with the parties at the White House or travel to the region
whenever necessary. He would have to master the
negotiations sufficiently to close the deal with the
principals. The experiences of Presidents Carter and Bill
Clinton show the importance of a president with detailed
knowledge of the region, the issues and the proposals on
the table.

Second-term presidents, emancipated from worries over
winning re-election, usually cast an anxious eye toward the
judgment of history. As President Bush reviews his
priorities for the second term in the weeks leading up to
his second inauguration, he would be wise to recognize the
urgent need for United States leadership in the
Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

In the Middle East peace effort, windows of opportunity
close quickly. You've got to seize the moment.

Warren Christopher, co-chairman of the Pacific Council on
International Policy, was secretary of state from 1993 to

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

No Thanks for the Memories

A Call To Action

No Thanks for the Memories

By Dave Barry

LOOKING BACK ON 2004, we have to conclude that it could have been worse.

"How??" you ask, spitting out your coffee.

Well, okay, a giant asteroid could have smashed into the Earth and destroyed all human life except Paris Hilton and William Hung. Or Florida could have been hit by 20 hurricanes, instead of just 17.

Or the Yankees could have won the World Series.

But, no question, 2004 was bad. Consider:

-- We somehow managed to hold a presidential election campaign that for several months was devoted almost entirely to the burning issue of: Vietnam.

-- Our Iraq policy, which was discussed, debated and agreed upon right up to the very highest levels of the White House, did not always seem to be wildly popular over there in Iraq.

-- Osama bin Laden remained at large for yet another year (although we did manage, at long last, to put Martha Stewart behind bars).

-- The federal budget deficit continued to worsen, despite the concerted effort of virtually every elected official in Washington -- Republican or Democrat -- to spend more money.

-- As a nation, we managed somehow to get even fatter, despite the fact that anti-carbohydrate mania worsened to the point where the average American would rather shoot heroin than eat a bagel.

-- The "reality"-show cancer continued to metastasize, so that you couldn't turn on the TV without seeing either Donald Trump or a cavalcade of dimwits emoting dramatically about eating bugs, losing weight, marrying a millionaire or remodeling a bathroom.

-- Perhaps most alarming of all, Cher yet again extended her "farewell" tour, which began during the Carter administration and is now expected to continue until the sun goes out.

So, all things considered, we're happy to be entering a new year, which, according to our calculations, will be 2005 (although the exit polls are predicting it will be 1997). But before we move on, let's swallow our anti-nausea medication and take one last look back at 2004, which began, as so many years seem to, with . . .


. . . a month that opens with all the magic, excitement and glamour conjured up by the words "Iowa caucuses." All the political experts -- having gauged the mood of the state by dining with each other at essentially three Des Moines restaurants -- agree that the Democratic nomination has already been locked up by feisty yet irritable genius former Vermont governor Howard Dean, thanks to his two unbeatable weapons: (a) the Internet and (b) college students wearing orange hats.

But it turns out that the Iowa voters, many of whom apparently do not eat at the right restaurants, are out of the loop regarding the Dean strategic brilliance. Instead they vote for John "I Served In Vietnam" Kerry, who served in Vietnam and also has many policies, although nobody, including him, seems to know for sure what they are. Dean, reacting to his Iowa loss, gives an emotional concession speech that ends with him making a sound like a hog being castrated with a fondue fork. Incredibly, this fails to improve his poll standings.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration, increasingly disturbed by the bad news from Iraq, cancels the White House's lone remaining newspaper subscription (Baseball Weekly).

But the news is much better from Mars, where yet another spunky l'il NASA robot vehicle lands and begins transmitting back photographs of rocks that appear virtually identical to the rock photos beamed back by all the other spunky l'il NASA robots, thus confirming suspicions that the universe has a lot of rocks in it. In other outer-space news, Michael Jackson, clearly concerned about his upcoming trial on charges of child molestation, dances on the roof of an SUV.

In lifestyle news, the hot trend is "metrosexuals" -- young males who are not gay but are seriously into grooming and dressing well. There are only eight documented cases of males like this, all living in two Manhattan blocks, but they are featured in an estimated 17,000 newspaper and magazine articles over the course of about a week, after which this trend, like a minor character vaporized by aliens in a "Star Trek" episode, disappears and is never heard from again.

In sports, Pete Rose publishes a book in which he at last confesses to an allegation that dogged him throughout his baseball career: He's a jerk.

Speaking of shocking revelations, in . . .


. . . the nation -- already troubled by bad news from Iraq, coupled with a resurgence in terrorism and a slow economic recovery -- is traumatized by something that leaves a deep and lasting scar on the fragile national psyche: Janet Jackson's right nipple, which is revealed for a full three ten-thousandths of a second during the Super Bowl halftime show. This event is so traumatic that the two teams are unable to complete the game, with many players simply lying on the field in the fetal position, whimpering.

It is a moment reminiscent of the JFK assassination, in that virtually all Americans can remember exactly where they were when it happened.

"I was on the sofa," they say. Or, "I was in the bathroom and missed the traumatic moment, but fortunately we have TiVo." As the nation reels in shock, the networks ban all programs that feature any kind of nudity, including unclothed fish. Congress also swiftly swings into action: Democrats blame the Bush administration, noting that the nipple was revealed on Bush's watch; while Republicans point out that, during all eight years of the Clinton administration, Janet Jackson clearly possessed nipples, and Bill Clinton was almost certainly aware of this.

Bush himself suggests the possibility that the nipples could have originated in Iraq. John Kerry notes that there were nipples in Vietnam.

Elsewhere in politics, feisty Internet genius Howard Dean drops out of the Democratic race after losing 17 consecutive primaries, despite leading in every single exit poll. Meanwhile, Ralph Nader announces that he will again run for president, a decision that is hailed unanimously by Nader's support base, which consists of Ralph and his imaginary friend, Wendell, the talking space turtle.

In entertainment news, the feel-good hit of the winter is Mel Gibson's wacky film romp "The Passion of the Christ," although critics of product placement object to the scene where Pontius Pilate can be seen holding a Diet Sprite.

On the cultural front, the mayor of San Francisco attempts to legalize same-sex marriage, which outrages those who believe that marriage is a sacred institution that should be entered into only by heterosexual people, such as Britney Spears and Mike Tyson.

Speaking of fighters, in . . .


. . . John Kerry sews up the Democratic nomination with primary victories in California, Florida, Illinois, Canada, France, Germany and Sweden. Kerry's closest rival, John Edwards, drops out of the race, but Dennis Kucinich stays in, saying that he intends to keep his idealistic grass-roots campaign going until either all U.S. troops leave Iraq, or Dennis finds a girlfriend.

In other political news, Russian president and former KGB agent Vladimir Putin easily wins reelection and, in a gesture of reconciliation, orders his opponents released from his limo trunk.

There is finally some positive news from Iraq, where negotiators reach agreement on an interim constitution, which guarantees that, for the first time ever, Iraq will be governed by a duly elected council of nervous men in armored cars going 80 mph.

In domestic news, U.S. gasoline prices reach record levels when, in what economists describe as a freak coincidence, two drivers attempt to refuel their Humvees on the same day.

On the legal front, a federal jury convicts Martha Stewart on four counts of needing to be taken down a peg. In what many experts call an unduly harsh punishment, a federal judge sentences Stewart to be the topic of 17 consecutive weeks of Jay Leno jokes.

Speaking of punishments, in . . .


. . . the Federal Communications Commission levies a $495,000 fine against Clear Channel Communications for a 2003 incident in which Howard Stern, on his nationally broadcast radio show, exposed his right nipple.

But the big entertainment news comes at the end of the two-hour season finale of the megahit reality show "The Apprentice," when Donald Trump, in the most-anticipated event of the year -- and quite possibly all of human history -- fires that one guy, whatshisname, and keeps that other guy. You remember. It was huge.

Meanwhile, in another blow to the U.S.-led coalition effort in Iraq, Spain withdraws its troop, Sgt. Juan Hernandez. As violence in Iraq escalates, critics of the Bush administration charge that there are not enough U.S. troops over there. Administration officials heatedly deny this, arguing that the real problem is that there are too many Iraqis over there. In the words of one high-level official (who is not identified in press reports because of the difficulties involved in spelling "Condoleezza"), the administration "may have to relocate the Iraqis to a safer area, such as Ecuador." John Kerry calls this "a ridiculous idea," adding, "I wholeheartedly endorse it."

In economic news, the price of a gallon of gasoline at the pump reaches $236.97, prompting widespread concern that there is something wrong with this particular pump.

Congress vows to hold hearings.

Speaking of things gone wrong, in . . .


. . . world outrage grows in reaction to photos taken inside Iraq's notorious Abu Ghraib prison, showing U.S. soldiers repeatedly forcing prisoners to look at the video of Janet Jackson's right nipple. As human rights organizations voice outrage, President Bush vows to "punish whoever is responsible for this, no matter who it is, unless, of course, it is Donald Rumsfeld." Congress vows to hear holdings.

The nation's mood does not improve when the Department of Making Everybody in the Homeland Nervous raises the Official National Terror Index Level to "Stark," based on having received credible information indicating that al Qaeda terrorist cells are "probably up to something" and "could be in your attic right now."

John Kerry, looking to improve his image with red state voters, shoots a duck.

On the health front, medical researchers announce that if you feed one aspirin per day to laboratory rats, eventually you are going to get bitten.

In sports, popular spunky horse Smarty Jones wins the Kentucky Derby, confounding exit pollsters who had unanimously picked Seabiscuit. Congress vows to call its bookie.

The big entertainment news in May is the much-anticipated final episode of "Friends," in which Joey, Chandler, Ross, Rachel, Monica and Phoebe suddenly realize that they are, like, 53 years old.

Speaking of final episodes, in . . .


. . . former president Ronald Reagan dies and embarks on a weeklong national tour. Also hitting the road for the last time is Ray Charles.

Another former president, Bill Clinton, travels around the nation bringing comfort to large crowds of Americans who injured themselves attempting to lift Clinton's 1,000-page memoir, titled Some Day I Might Read This Myself.

The news from Iraq continues to worsen as the interim governing council, in a move that alarms the Bush administration, chooses, by unanimous vote, its new acting president: Al Gore. He immediately demands a recount.

In a related development, CIA Director George Tenet -- the man who told President Bush that the case for proving there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was a "slam dunk" -- resigns to accept a job advising the New York Yankees.

President Bush meets with the pope and, in impromptu remarks afterward, describes him as "a great American." John Kerry, campaigning in Michigan, strangles a deer.

On the economic front, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that the U.S. economy has generated 250,000 new jobs. The bad news is that 80 percent of these openings are for legal experts needed by cable television to speculate pointlessly 24/7 about Kobe Bryant and Scott Peterson. Speaking of job seekers, in . . .


. . . John Kerry is formally nominated at the Democratic convention in Boston and in his acceptance speech tells the wildly cheering delegates that, if he is elected president, his highest priority will be "to develop facial expressions."

Also well-received at the convention is Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz-Ketchup Kerry, who gives a moving account of being an immigrant in America with little more than hopes, dreams, a personal staff, a large fortune and a Gulfstream jet. Vice presidential nominee John Edwards also makes a well-received speech, after which he is never heard from again.

In Washington, President Bush, reacting to news of a projected sharp increase in the federal budget deficit, vows to find out if this is a good thing or a bad thing, or what.

On the terrorism front, the federal commission charged with investigating the September 11 attacks, having spent more than a year questioning hundreds of witnesses and reviewing thousands of pages of classified documents, concludes that the attacks were "very bad" and "better not happen again." Congress vows to hold hearings.

Meanwhile, in another blow to the U.S.-led effort in Iraq, Uruguay announces that it intends to pull its troops out of the coalition. Informed that it has no troops in the coalition, Uruguay asks if it can borrow some.

In Baghdad, former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein appears in a courtroom to hear the charges against him, which include torture, murder, genocide and more than 175,000 zoning violations. Hussein declares that he is innocent and offers to take a urine test. The judge rules that further proceedings will be postponed "until the Scott Peterson trial is over."

The big movie hit of the summer is "Fahrenheit 9/11," a shocking documentary that shows how Bush administration policies were directly responsible for making director Michael Moore more than $100,000,000.

In sports, Lance Armstrong wins his sixth consecutive Tour de France, overcoming the hardship of having to pedal hundreds of kilometers with hostile French people clinging to his legs.

Speaking of sporting triumphs, in . . .


. . . Greece hosts a highly successful Olympics, with the United States winning all the gold medals, at least the ones shown on TV. Fears of terrorist attacks prove unjustified, most likely because the terrorists, like everybody else, are watching women's beach volleyball. The only major controversy involves the men's gymnastics gold medal, which is won by American Paul Hamm, despite exit polls showing it should have gone to a South Korean.

On the political front, the Republicans gather for their national convention in New York City, which welcomes them with open armpits. But the hot political story is the allegation by a group of Swift Boat veterans that John Kerry exaggerated his Vietnam accomplishments, and that, in fact, his boat was "not particularly swift." This story produces a media frenzy of charges and countercharges that soon has the entire nation riveted to reruns of "America's Funniest Home Videos."

In other political news, New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey resigns after confirming persistent rumors that he has nipples.

In weather news, an unprecedented series of hurricanes -- Arnie, Barb, Chuck, Deb, Ernie, Francine, Gus and Harlotta -- all head directly for Florida, causing millions of Sunshine State residents, by long-standing tradition, to throng to home-supply stores in an effort to purchase the two available pieces of plywood. Damage is extensive, although experts say it would have been much worse if not for a dense protective barrier of TV news people standing on the beaches and excitedly informing the viewing audience that the wind is blowing.

In other bad news, the Department of Homeland Fear, acting on credible information, raises the National Terror Index Level to "EEEEEEEE," which is a level so high that only dogs can detect it.

Speaking of alarming, in . . .


. . . Florida's weather woes worsen as the Sunshine State is battered on consecutive days by hurricanes Irving, Jonetta, Karl, Louanne, Myron, Naomi, Orville, Peg, Quentin and Regina. When it is finally all over, many Florida residents are completely hairless, and shards of Walt Disney World are coming down as far away as Montana. The federal government, reacting quickly, sends a third sheet of plywood to Florida and promises that a fourth will be on the way "soon."

In politics, the month begins with the Republican Convention and Mass Arrest still going on in New York City. The GOP delegates, confounding exit pollsters, nominate George W. Bush, who promises that, if reelected, he will "continue doing whatever it says here on the teleprompter."

With more bad news coming from Iraq, and Americans citing terrorism and health care as their major concerns, the news media continue their laser-beam focus on the early 1970s. Dan Rather leads the charge with a report on CBS's "60 Minutes," citing a memo, allegedly written in 1972, suggesting that Bush shirked his National Guard duty. Critics charge that the memo is a fake, pointing out that at one point it specifically mentions the 2003 Outkast hit "Hey Ya." Rather refuses to back down, arguing that the reference could be to "an early version of the song."

Just when the public is about to abandon hope in the presidential election, the candidates get together for an actual debate at the University of Miami Convocation Center, which is the only building left standing in Florida. In summary:

Bush states that being president is really, really hard for him, anyway. Kerry states that he is really, really smart and has, like, 185 specific plans. It is agreed there will be two more debates, although nobody can explain why.

In aviation news, US Airways files for bankruptcy for a second time, only to have a federal judge rule that the airline can't possibly get any more bankrupt than it already is. Meanwhile, the Transportation Security Administration, acting on credible information, announces that it will be requiring additional airport screening for commercial airline passengers who are "wearing clothes."

On the legal front, a judge drops rape charges against Kobe Bryant on the grounds that "the Scott Peterson trial is hogging all the cable TV celebrity legal analysts."

In medical news, the popular anti-arthritis drug Vioxx is pulled from the market after clinical trials show that it may contain carbohydrates. On a more positive note, former president Bill Clinton experiences chest pains and is rushed to New York-Presbyterian Hospital, where, in a five-hour operation, surgeons successfully remove a glazed doughnut the size of a catcher's mitt.

Speaking of the national pastime, in . . .


. . . the Boston Red Sox, ending an 86-year drought, defeat the St. Louis Cardinals to win the World Series, defying exit polls that had overwhelmingly picked the Green Bay Packers. The Red Sox get into the Series thanks to the fact that the New York Yankees -- who were leading the American League championships three games to none and have all-stars at every position, not to mention a payroll larger than the gross national product of Sweden -- choose that particular time to execute the most spectacular choke in all of sports history, an unbelievable Gag-o-Rama, a noxious nosedive, a pathetic gut-check failure of such epic dimensions that every thinking human outside of the New York metropolitan area experiences a near-orgasmic level of happiness. But there is no need to rub it in.

In entertainment news, Howard Stern signs a $500 million deal to move his show to satellite radio, where a man can still display a nipple.

On the health front, the big story is a nationwide shortage of flu vaccine, caused by the fact that apparently all the flu vaccine in the world is manufactured by some guy with a Bunsen burner in Wales or someplace. Congress, acting with unusual swiftness, calls on young, healthy Americans to forgo getting flu shots this year so that more vaccine will be available for members of Congress. President Bush notes that additional vaccine "could be hidden somewhere in Iraq."

John Kerry, campaigning in North Carolina, kills a raccoon with a hatchet.

In aviation news, SpaceShipOne, the first privately funded manned rocket, breaks free from its mother plane, soars 62 miles above the earth, swoops gracefully back to Earth, rolls to a stop on the Mojave Desert and files for bankruptcy.

Abroad, Yasser Arafat collapses and is taken to a hospital, where his condition rapidly worsens and continues to worsen until nobody thinks it can get any worse, but somehow it does. "It's really bad," says a hospital spokesperson. "We've never seen anybody achieve this degree of worsening without kicking the actual bucket."

Osama bin Laden, who has not been seen or heard from in quite a while, releases a video in which he states that he is "willing to listen to offers from satellite radio."

In other international news, Afghanistan's historic first democratic elections go off without a hitch, except for an unexplained 27,500 votes from residents of Palm Beach County, Fla.

Speaking of elections, in . . .


. . . the 2004 U.S. presidential election campaign, which has been going on since the early stages of the Cher Farewell Tour, finally staggers to the finish line. John Kerry easily sweeps to a 49-state landslide victory in the exit polls and has pretty much picked out his new Cabinet when word begins to leak out that the actual, physical voters have elected George W. Bush. Democrats struggle to understand how this could have happened, and, after undergoing a harsh and unsparing self-examination, conclude that red state residents are morons. Some Democrats threaten to move to Canada; Republicans, in a gracious gesture of reconciliation, offer to help them pack.

The post-election recriminations and name-calling continue for more than a week, until the public, realizing that there are still important issues that affect the entire nation, returns its attention to the Scott Peterson trial, which finally ends with the jury finding Peterson guilty of being just unbelievably irritating. The verdict means sudden unemployment for thousands of cable news legal analysts, who return to their caves to hang upside down by day and suck cows' blood by night until they are called for the next big TV trial.

Meanwhile there are big changes in the Bush Cabinet, the most notable involving Secretary of State Colin Powell, who announces his resignation after returning from a trip to find all his office furniture replaced by Condoleezza Rice's. Attorney General John Ashcroft also announces that he will leave the Cabinet to resume private life as a frozen haddock.

Dan Rather also resigns, on orders received via the secret radio in his teeth.

In other presidential news, thousands attend a festive dedication of the 70,000-square-foot William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, next door to the 90,000-square-foot William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Cafeteria.

As the nation enters the holiday season, the festive mood is dampened by the intrusion of grim reality, as 137 Americans die in vicious predawn aisle-to-aisle combat over deeply discounted post-Thanksgiving Christmas sale items. Congress vows to remain on recess.

Abroad, the big news is the presidential election in Ukraine, where the government, citing exit polls, declares that Viktor Yanukovych has defeated Viktor Yushchenko. Hundreds of thousands of outraged Ukrainians take to the streets, protesting the fact that they cannot remember which Viktor is which. Many threaten to move to Canada.

Meanwhile, the condition of Yasser Arafat, already worse than anybody believed possible, somehow worsens still more, until it becomes so bad that Arafat no longer responds to a medical procedure known technically as the Hatpin Test, at which point he is declared legally deceased. After a funeral service attended by a large and extremely enthusiastic crowd, he is buried in several locations.

In sports, a Pacers-Pistons NBA game in Detroit turns into a riot after Pacers star and rocket scientist Ron Artest, hit by a cup thrown by Fan A, retaliates by charging into the stands and attacking Fans B, C and D.

Explaining his actions later on the "Today" show, Artest says he thought he "saw weapons of mass destruction."

Speaking of sportsmanship, in . . .


. . . the pro baseball world is stunned by the unbelievably shocking and astounding and totally unexpected news that some players may have taken steroids. "Gosh," exclaims baseball commissioner Bud "Bud" Selig, "this could explain why so many players suddenly develop 200 additional pounds of pure muscle and, in some cases, a tail." Seeking to restore fan confidence in the sport, the players union and the team owners, in a rare display of cooperation, agree that it will be necessary to raise ticket prices.

In Washington, the Cabinet shuffle continues as John Hargrove resigns as secretary of interstate affairs upon being informed, after four years in Washington, that there is no such Cabinet position. "Under the circumstances," states President Bush, "he did a heckuva job."

On the military front, the president, in a move that sparks international outrage, announces that he is sending Ron Artest to Iraq.

Meanwhile, the dollar continues to decline abroad, largely because of what U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow describes as "French waiters."

In other international news, Iran continues to heatedly deny that it is developing nuclear weapons but is unable to offer a plausible explanation as to why it purchased 200 pounds of enriched uranium on eBay. The United Nations, reacting to this crisis with unusual swiftness, resolves to do nothing.

In Ukraine, weeks of massive street protests finally lead to a ruling by the Ukrainian Supreme Court that there must be a new election between the two Viktors, only this time, "they have to wear name tags." The protesters attempt to go back indoors, only to discover that their shoes are frozen to the streets.

Meanwhile, Yasser Arafat continues to worsen.

And he is not alone. As we look back on the events of 2004, we sometimes get the feeling that the whole world is worsening. It would be easy to become depressed about the future, and yet . . .

. . . we are not. As we approach the end of the year, we find ourselves feeling hope, optimism and a warm glow of happiness. Why? Because we've been hitting the eggnog. We recommend you do the same. But whatever you do: Have a happy new year.

Dave Barry's farewell column will appear in the next issue of the Magazine.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company

'Ecstasy' Use Studied to Ease Fear in Terminally Ill

A Call To Action

'Ecstasy' Use Studied to Ease Fear in Terminally Ill

By Rick Weiss

For some, the diagnosis comes out of the blue. For others, it arrives after a long battle. Either way, the news that death is just a few months away poses a daunting challenge for both doctor and patient.

Drugs can ease pain and reduce anxiety, but what about the more profound issues that come with impending death? The wish to resolve lingering conflicts with family members. The longing to know, before it's too late, what it means to love, or what it meant to live. There is no medicine to address such dis-ease.

Or is there?

This month, in a little-noted administrative decision, the Food and Drug Administration gave the green light to a Harvard proposal to test the benefits of the illegal street drug known as "ecstasy" in patients diagnosed with severe anxiety related to advanced cancer.

The drug, also known as 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA, has been referred to by psychiatrists as an "empathogen," a drug especially good at putting people in touch with their emotions. Some believe it could help patients come to terms with the biggest emotional challenge of all: the end of life.

The FDA's approval puts the study on track to become the first test of a psychedelic substance since 1963 at Harvard, where drug guru Timothy Leary lost his teaching privileges after using students in experiments with LSD and other hallucinogens.

It also marks a milestone for a small but increasingly effective movement favoring a more open-minded attitude toward the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs, virtually all of which have been criminalized and disparaged for decades as medically useless.

Already, MDMA is being tested for its ability to reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. And two U.S. studies are looking at the usefulness of psilocybin -- the active ingredient in "magic mushrooms" -- in terminally ill cancer patients and in people with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

In the coming year, advocates also hope to submit to the FDA an application to test psilocybin and LSD as treatments for a debilitating syndrome known as cluster headaches.

That would be a fitting birthday present for Albert Hofmann, the chemist who discovered both compounds while working for the Swiss drug company Sandoz and who turns 99 in January, said Rick Doblin, president of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. The Sarasota-based nonprofit has organized and funded much of the new research.

Hofmann, who has expressed support for clinical studies such as the one being planned at Harvard, has referred to LSD as his "problem child" -- a reference to his belief that despite its widespread abuse, the mind-altering drug has the potential to help some people.

Although they vary in their chemical structures and specific effects, many psychedelic drugs work on the parts of the brain that regulate serotonin -- the same brain chemical that is the target of many FDA-approved antidepressants. That does not indicate that the drugs are necessarily safe; indeed, they all carry some medical and psychiatric risk.

Yet even scientists who have been vocal about those risks have expressed at least guarded support for the idea that, in the company of a therapist and with proper medical monitoring, moderate doses might benefit some people.

"When taken under adverse circumstances by ill-prepared individuals, there are substantial psychological risks," said Charles Grob, a psychiatrist at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles. "But when taken in the context of carefully structured and approved research protocols and facilitated by individuals with expertise, adverse effects can be contained to a minimum."

Grob is leading an FDA-approved study in which terminally ill cancer patients are being given psilocybin to see whether it can help them sort through emotional and spiritual issues. He said the patients take a "modest" dose of synthetic psilocybin, equivalent to two or three illicit mushrooms. They spend the next six hours or so in a comfortable setting with a psychiatrist -- talking, thinking and sometimes listening to music with headphones.

"So far they have had very impressive results in terms of amelioration of anxiety, improvement of mood, improved rapport with close family and friends and, interestingly, significant and lasting reductions in pain," Grob said of the first few patients to enroll. "These are extraordinary compounds that seem to have an uncanny ability to reliably induce spiritual or religious experiences when taken in the right conditions."

Promising results have also been reported at the University of Arizona from a 10-person study of psilocybin for obsessive-compulsive disorder, which locks people into repetitive thoughts and actions. And Charleston, S.C., psychiatrist Michael Mithoefer has seen no complications in any of the five patients who have enrolled in his 20-person study of MDMA for victims of violence struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.

With the FDA's Dec. 17 approval of the Harvard MDMA protocol -- and permission in hand from ethics review boards at Harvard and the nearby Lahey Clinic, where patients will be recruited -- the only remaining hurdle is getting a special license from the Drug Enforcement Administration. A dozen subjects with less than 12 months to live will get either low or moderate doses of MDMA during two sessions a few weeks apart, along with counseling and a variety of psychological tests before and after treatment.

The approach has its doubters.

"Even in antiquity, some groups thought it was especially important to take whatever their local psychedelic was -- including alcohol -- when confronting mortality, whether it's to see into the hereafter, improve spiritual growth or just numb yourself to the reality," said Joanne Lynn, president of the Washington-based Americans for Better Care of the Dying and director of RAND Health, a science and policy research center. But drugs can be disorienting, she said.

"It's sometimes poetic, sometimes majestic, but often mundane work to wrap up one's life," Lynn said. "I think it's unlikely there's a pill that will make that go away."

John Halpern, associate director of substance abuse research in the biological psychiatry lab at Harvard's McLean Hospital, who will lead the MDMA study there, agreed that it is not for everyone. But creating a sense of connection with something greater than oneself "may be helpful" for many facing death, he said.

Halpern emphasized the differences between his study and the freewheeling experiments conducted by Leary in the 1960s.

"This is not about hippy dippy Halpern trying to turn on the world. I'm not looking at this as a magic bullet," he said. "But for a lot of people, the anxiety about death is so tremendous that there is no way to get their arms around the problems that were ongoing in their family. This could be a substantial contribution to the range of palliative care strategies we're trying to develop for people facing their death."

Laura Huxley, widow of the author and metaphysical pioneer Aldous Huxley, said her husband asked for -- and she provided -- a dose of LSD as he lay dying in 1963. "He wanted to be aware," the 93-year-old supporter of the new research said last week. "It's a very important moment."

Leary took a wide array of psychedelics in the weeks leading up to his death from cancer in 1996. Some suspect the drugs clouded rather than sharpened his perceptions, but he died with a positive attitude.

"It's kind of interesting really," he said of dying, talking to a friend in his final days. "You should try it sometime."

© 2004 The Washington Post Company

Monday, December 27, 2004

December 26, 2004

Governors Unite in Fight Against Medicaid Cuts

BOSTON, Dec. 25 - Fearful that President Bush plans to shift more Medicaid
costs to the states, the nation's governors are mounting a bipartisan
effort to stave off new federal limits on the program.

Medicaid, the nation's largest health insurance program, is costing the
states and the federal government more than $300 billion a year. The growth
of the
program, which covers the poor and disabled, has outpaced state revenues,
and Medicaid is now a larger component of total state spending than
and secondary education combined, according to the National Governors

Showing rare bipartisan unity, governors of both parties said in interviews
this week that they would press hard in the coming months to preserve or
increase their current Medicaid allotments.

"I certainly understand the need to balance the federal budget," said Gov.
Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, a Republican and the vice chairman of the
association. "But people need to remember that to balance the federal budget
off the backs of the poorest people in the country is simply unacceptable.
You don't pull feeding tubes from people. You don't pull the wheelchair out
from under the child with muscular dystrophy."

The association's chairman, Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia, a Democrat, said
the governors were "much more in unanimity on this issue than they are on
issues." He added, "We do see on a regular basis that unless the governors
step up, you will see cost-shifting done because it relieves the federal

The governors could find themselves on a collision course with Mr. Bush, who
has pledged to cut the federal budget deficit in half in the next five
A bipartisan lobbying effort would also put pressure on the
Republican-controlled Congress.

The White House has not tipped its hand on its new budget and would not
comment on its plans for Medicaid. Federal officials, however, have said
they are
sending auditors to state capitals to review Medicaid programs and cracking
down on methods that states have been using to try to get as much federal
money as possible.

The governors, who will be forming a committee to press their Medicaid
agenda, say they are determined to avoid repeating their experience the last
they tried to negotiate Medicaid changes with federal officials, in 2003.
Mr. Bush at that time proposed giving each state a fixed amount of federal
each year for 10 years, instead of basing federal payments on actual health
costs and enrollment.

"They tried to cap it the last time around," said Gov. Bob Taft of Ohio, a
Republican. "Then, you're asking the states to take a risk - what if the
grows?" That effort to make major changes in the program collapsed after
lengthy negotiations between federal officials and a bipartisan group of

The governors say Medicaid, which insures a quarter of the nation's children
and two-thirds of its nursing-home patients, has become so expensive that it
now, on average, makes up 22 percent of states' budgets, compared with 10
percent in 1987.

"It's just a huge problem for Ohio and almost every other state that I know
about," said Mr. Taft, adding that he had titled a recent speech "Medicaid:
The Monster in the Middle of the Road."

"We're going to have to do cuts in services, cuts in people on the
caseload," Mr. Taft said. "We're going to have to freeze or possibly even
cut some provider
rates just to restrain the growth. It's squeezing what we can do for
schools, what we can do for higher education. We're constraining and
tightening our
belt in every way, cutting the number of state employees. If we could
control Medicaid we wouldn't have budget problems in Ohio."

Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts is among several governors battling the
Bush administration's efforts to eliminate a practice some states use to get
federal Medicaid money. The federal government says these states' practice
of transferring money to county governments or local hospitals is a way to
more federal Medicaid money by making it appear that they are spending more
on Medicaid than they are.

In Massachusetts, the Bush administration says $580 million in federal
Medicaid money obtained using such a practice was an improper grant. Mr.
Romney disagrees.

"This was a practice approved by the federal government, and it's one of the
ways that we provide health care to the poor and needy," said Eric
Mr. Romney's press secretary. "Discussions are going on now between us and
the federal government so that we can find a way to continue with this

Mr. Romney recently announced plans to change his state's Medicaid system,
and Mr. Fehrnstrom said the governor was counting on the federal government
to slash its Medicaid budget in any way. "Governor Romney is about to embark
on Medicaid reform," Mr. Fehrnstrom said. "We're determined to do that
raising taxes, but it's extremely important that we be allowed to rely on
the money that's already in the system."

Making their case in a letter to the White House and Congressional leaders
this week, the National Governors Association urged federal officials not to
reduce Medicaid financing in an effort to cut the deficit. In their letter,
the governors also said that the Medicare program, which covers health care
for the elderly, should pay the health care costs for those people who are
both elderly and poor, and therefore eligible for coverage by both Medicare
and Medicaid, as a way to reduce the states' Medicaid burden. Medicare,
unlike Medicaid, is fully financed by the federal government.

"Medicaid currently accounts for 50 percent of all long-term-care dollars
and finances the care for 70 percent of all people in nursing homes," the
said. "Furthermore, 42 percent of all Medicaid expenditures are spent on
Medicare beneficiaries, despite the fact that they comprise a small
of the Medicaid caseload and are already fully insured by the Medicare

Both the Bush administration and the governors are examining ways to give
states more flexibility in how they run their Medicaid programs.

Some governors would like, for example, to be able to rein in costs by
restricting the list of drugs covered by Medicaid, by contracting with
providers or by allowing the poorest people to get more benefits than those
who are better off. They would like to be able to make these changes without
applying for federal waivers, which often take months or years to get

In Wisconsin, Gov. James E. Doyle, a Democrat, said his state would like the
ability to put more Medicaid dollars into services that could help elderly
people stay in their homes longer, instead of having to go into nursing

"We really need to sit down at the table and figure out how to better design
a Medicaid system," Mr. Doyle said.

Some governors said they hoped Mr. Bush's selection of Michael O. Leavitt to
be secretary of health and human services was evidence of the
willingness to allow states a greater say in any changes in Medicaid. Mr.
Leavitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, is a
governor of Utah and used federal waivers to save money and expand coverage
in Utah's Medicaid program.

Governor Huckabee of Arkansas, where nearly a quarter of the population is
on Medicaid, said the governors' objective in the coming months would be to
the federal government to "first do no harm."

He said the soaring federal budget deficit had made federal officials
realize "their house is on fire, and they're probably so consumed with the
around them that they're unaware as they look to us for water that our tanks
are empty.

"Folks, our house is on fire too," Mr. Huckabee added, "and asking us to put
out your fire is probably not the solution."

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Sunday News Quiz

A Call To Action
December 26, 2004


My wife constantly regales me about her favorite National Public Radio show, "Wait Wait ...Don't Tell Me." The show features three journalists who have to answer questions about the week's news. Some of the news stories they are quizzed about seem totally unbelievable, while others are straightforward. Well, this is my last column for 2004, so let's play a little "Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me." I'll give you 10 news stories from the past few weeks and you tell me what they all have in common.

1. The report that Colin Powell told President Bush a few weeks ago that we do not have enough troops in Iraq and that we don't control the terrain. 2. The report that the Pentagon's $10 billion-a-year effort to build an antimissile shield, and have a basic ground-based version in place by the end of this year, ran into difficulty two weeks ago when the first test in almost two years failed because the interceptor missile didn't take off. 3. The report that the Bush-Republican budget for 2005 contained a $100 million cut in federal funding to the National Science Foundation. 4. The report that at a time when young Americans are competing head to head with young Chinese, Indians and Eastern Europeans more than ever, the Bush team is trimming support for the Pell grant program, which helps poor and working-class young Americans get a higher education. (The change will save $300 million, while some 1.3 million students will receive smaller Pell grants.)

5. The report this month that children in Asian countries once again surpassed U.S. fourth graders and eighth graders in the latest Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. (U.S. eighth graders did improve their scores from four years ago, but U.S. fourth graders remained stagnant.) A week earlier, the Program for International Student Assessment showed U.S. 15-year-olds scoring below average compared with those in other countries when asked to apply math skills to real-life tasks, the A.P. reported. 6. The report this month that the Bush administration has reduced America's contribution to global food aid programs intended to help the world's hungry feed themselves. (The Bush team said the cut was necessary to keep our deficit under control!) 7. The report that U.S. military spending this year is running at about $450 billion.

Wait, wait, don't go way; there's more: 8. The report that Donald Rumsfeld was confronted by troops in Iraq about the fact that they did not have enough armor on their vehicles and were having to scrounge for makeshift armor to protect themselves. 9. The report that among President Bush's top priorities in his second term is to simplify the tax code and to make the sweeping tax cuts from his first term permanent. (The cost to the Treasury for doing so, the A.P. reported, would be over a trillion.) And finally: 10. The report that the U.S. dollar continued to hover near record lows against the euro.

So what is the common denominator of all these news stories? Wait, wait, don't tell me. I want to tell you. The common denominator is a country with a totally contradictory and messed-up set of priorities.

We face two gigantic national challenges today: One is the challenge to protect America in the wake of the new terrorist threats, which has involved us in three huge military commitments - Afghanistan, Iraq and missile defense. And the other is the challenge to strengthen American competitiveness in the wake of an expanding global economy, where more and more good jobs require higher levels of education, and those good jobs will increasingly migrate to those countries with the brainpower to do them. In the face of these two national challenges, we have an administration committed to radical tax cuts, which, one can already see, are starting to affect everything from the number of troops we can deploy in Iraq to the number of students we can properly educate at our universities. And if we stay on this course, the trade-offs are only going to get worse.

Something has to give. We can't protect America with the grand strategy George Bush has embarked on and strengthen our students with the skills they need and cut taxes, as if we didn't have a care in the world.

If we were actually having a serious national debate, this is what we would be discussing, but alas, 9/11 has been deftly exploited to choke any debate. Which reminds me of my wife's other favorite NPR radio show. It's called "Whad'ya Know?" It always opens the same way. The announcer shouts to the studio audience, "Whad'ya know?" And they shout back. "Not Much. You?"

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

Animals in Translation: The Cow Whisperer

A Call To Action

'Animals in Translation': The Cow Whisperer

December 26, 2004

IN an issue of The New Yorker that appeared in late
December 1993, the neurologist Oliver Sacks profiled an
astonishing woman with autism who not only lived on her own
but earned a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois. Reading
about Temple Grandin, the parents of autistic children must
have felt both wonder and relief. Full disclosure: when I
picked up Sacks's essay, ''An Anthropologist on Mars,'' I
was worried about my 2-year-old son's behavior. After I
finished it, I knew he was autistic. So I've always felt
indebted to Grandin, and not just for letting Sacks observe
her so closely.

For many years, toddlers who, like Grandin, couldn't speak
and raged for no clear reason were usually
institutionalized. Grandin, who is now in her late 50's,
was almost certainly the first such child to grow up to
become a specialist in animal behavior. In 1986, with the
publication of her first book, ''Emergence: Labeled
Autistic,'' written with Margaret M. Scariano, she also
became one of the first ''insiders'' to describe the
sensory and cognitive experiences of being autistic. And
she did so with great rigor and clarity.

When ''Thinking in Pictures,'' Grandin's second book,
appeared in 1995, experts were less shocked by her
accomplishments. By then, they'd learned that autism was a
spectrum disorder; in other words, its triad of
difficulties -- social problems, behavioral problems,
obsessiveness -- hobbled some people more than others. But
the habit of discounting the talents of autistic people

Professionals still judged their excellent memories to be
useless; in similar fashion, their special interests were
invariably seen as narrow. And well into the 1990's,
academic researchers referred to autistic savants as
idiots. (Recent studies show that savants don't always have
low I.Q.'s, that they are indeed capable of creative

Temple Grandin put the lie to many assumptions about
autism. Of course, she wrote, autistic people have to learn
social rules -- in a methodical, structured way -- but
their obsessions may not be handicaps; they may even
provide certain advantages. After all, Grandin herself had
channeled her fixations and sensory differences into a
successful career designing livestock equipment.
Admittedly, this message was more useful for autistic
people with less severe symptoms, but it was inspiring all
the same. It was exactly what normal kids get to hear:
follow your bliss.

And that is precisely what Grandin has done in this new
work, which is crammed with facts and anecdotes about her
favorite subject: the senses, brains, emotions and amazing
talents of animals. Written with Catherine Johnson, who may
have provided its colloquial, informal tone, ''Animals in
Translation'' expands on an idea Grandin first sketched in
''Thinking in Pictures'': that her autistic sensory
perceptions (in particular, her intense focus on visual
details) enable her to take in the world as animals do. In
fact, she argues that autistic people and animals are
essentially alike -- they see, feel and think in remarkably
similar ways.

Although startling, this observation serves mainly as a
segue into Grandin's larger point. Animals -- not just
chimps and dolphins, but dogs, crows, pigs and chickens --
are, she contends, much smarter and more sensitive than we
assume. They deserve ''a good life,'' as she puts it,
''with something useful to do.''

Although Grandin obviously loves all forms of fauna, her
heart belongs to cows. (She's so relaxed with cattle that
she'll lie down in a feedlot and let the Black Angus lick
her. ''Sometimes,'' she confesses, ''I'll kiss them on the
nose.'') The fact that Grandin designs equipment for cattle
bound for slaughter is less contradictory than it first
appears. ''Looking at those animals,'' she explains, ''I
realized that none of them would even exist if human beings
hadn't bred them into being. . . . We brought these animals
here, so we're responsible for them. We owe them a decent
life and a decent death.''

In arguing for an animal-autism connection, Grandin sides
with brain researchers who link many autistic symptoms to
problems with the frontal lobes. In people with autism, she
notes, these areas are either abnormal or they receive
scrambled messages from other parts of the brain -- or
both. In contrast, the frontal lobes of animal brains are
simply undeveloped; normal animals function somewhat like
off-kilter, autistic humans.

Which isn't so terrible, in Grandin's view.
Characteristically, she describes many autistic symptoms as
strengths rather than weaknesses, particularly the tendency
to see details in isolation rather than as parts of a
unified whole. For her, ''hyper-specificity'' -- the act of
focusing on the trees rather than the forest -- is also the
quality that connects what she calls ''animal geniuses''
with autistic savants. Whooping cranes can memorize long
migratory routes they've flown only once for the same
reason some savants can make drawings with perfect
perspective: both accomplishments rely on an extremely fine
perception of details. Tellingly, Grandin sticks with
neutral terms like ''hyper-specific'' and ''particularize''
to describe this trait. In contrast, autism experts
generally call it ''weak central coherence.''

Do animals really think like autistic people? ''There's no
way to know exactly how close an autistic person's sensory
perceptions are to an animal's,'' Grandin allows. And
although she bases her arguments on up-to-date brain
research, theories of autism can change swiftly. Last
August, scientists at Carnegie Mellon University and the
University of Pittsburgh announced amid much fanfare that
the separate parts of the autistic brain actually work well
enough; the problem can be traced to under-connectivity, or
lack of communication, among those structures. At least one
scientist noted elsewhere that this wasn't really news.

You may agree with Grandin's implicit belief that comparing
autistic people to animals is high praise, or you may worry
that the analogy may not help these vulnerable, sometimes
heartbreaking people. The first book I read on the
disorder, a guide my son's doctor recommended, stated that
many autistic children indeed behaved like animals. It was
clear, though, that no compliment -- and no hope -- was
intended. That book still bears scars from being hurled
against the wall, proving, perhaps, that I too am an
animal. Temple Grandin would be able to explain my
behavior, and, I hope, would not disapprove.

Polly Morrice has written for Redbook and Salon. She is
working on a book about autism.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Army Historian Cites Lack of Postwar Plan

A Call To Action
Major Calls Effort in Iraq 'Mediocre'

By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 25, 2004; Page A01

The U.S. military invaded Iraq without a formal plan for occupying and stabilizing the country and this high-level failure continues to undercut what has been a "mediocre" Army effort there, an Army historian and strategist has concluded.

"There was no Phase IV plan" for occupying Iraq after the combat phase, writes Maj. Isaiah Wilson III, who served as an official historian of the campaign and later as a war planner in Iraq. While a variety of government offices had considered the possible situations that would follow a U.S. victory, Wilson writes, no one produced an actual document laying out a strategy to consolidate the victory after major combat operations ended.

"While there may have been 'plans' at the national level, and even within various agencies within the war zone, none of these 'plans' operationalized the problem beyond regime collapse" -- that is, laid out how U.S. forces would be moved and structured, Wilson writes in an essay that has been delivered at several academic conferences but not published. "There was no adequate operational plan for stability operations and support operations."

Similar criticisms have been made before, but until now they have not been stated so authoritatively and publicly by a military insider positioned to be familiar with top-secret planning. During the period in question, from April to June 2003, Wilson was a researcher for the Army's Operation Iraqi Freedom Study Group. Then, from July 2003 to March 2004, he was the chief war planner for the 101st Airborne Division, which was stationed in northern Iraq.

A copy of Wilson's study as presented at Cornell University in October was obtained by The Washington Post.

As a result of the failure to produce a plan, Wilson asserts, the U.S. military lost the dominant position in Iraq in the summer of 2003 and has been scrambling to recover ever since. "In the two to three months of ambiguous transition, U.S. forces slowly lost the momentum and the initiative . . . gained over an off-balanced enemy," he writes. "The United States, its Army and its coalition of the willing have been playing catch-up ever since."

It was only in November 2003, seven months after the fall of Baghdad, that U.S. occupation authorities produced a formal "Phase IV" plan for stability operations, Wilson reports. Phase I covers preparation for combat, followed by initial operations, Phase II, and combat, Phase III. Post-combat operations are called Phase IV.

Many in the Army have blamed Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other top Pentagon civilians for the unexpectedly difficult occupation of Iraq, but Wilson reserves his toughest criticism for Army commanders who, he concludes, failed to grasp the strategic situation in Iraq and so not did not plan properly for victory. He concludes that those who planned the war suffered from "stunted learning and a reluctance to adapt."

Army commanders still misunderstand the strategic problem they face and therefore are still pursuing a flawed approach, writes Wilson, who is scheduled to teach at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point next year. "Plainly stated, the 'western coalition' failed, and continues to fail, to see Operation Iraqi Freedom in its fullness," he asserts.

"Reluctance in even defining the situation . . . is perhaps the most telling indicator of a collective cognitive dissidence on part of the U.S. Army to recognize a war of rebellion, a people's war, even when they were fighting it," he comments.

Because of this failure, Wilson concludes, the U.S. military remains "perhaps in peril of losing the 'war,' even after supposedly winning it."

Overall, he grades the U.S. military performance in Iraq as "mediocre."

Wilson's essay amounts to an indictment of the education and performance of senior U.S. officials involved in the war. "U.S. war planners, practitioners and the civilian leadership conceived of the war far too narrowly" and tended to think of operations after the invasion "as someone else's mission," he says. In fact, Wilson says, those later operations were critical because they were needed to win the war rather than just decapitate Saddam Hussein's government.

Air Force Capt. Chris Karns, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command, which as the U.S. military headquarters for the Middle East oversaw planning for the war in Iraq, said, "A formal Phase IV plan did exist." He said he could not explain how Wilson came to a different conclusion.

Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks, who as chief of the Central Command led the war planning in 2002 and 2003, states in his recent memoir, "American Soldier," that throughout the planning for the invasion of Iraq, Phase IV stability operations were discussed. Occupation problems "commanded hours and days of discussion and debate among CENTCOM planners and Washington officials," he adds. At another point, he states, "I was confident in the Phase IV plan."

Asked about other officers' reaction to his essay, Wilson said in an e-mail Monday, "What active-duty feedback I have received (from military officers attending the conferences) has been relatively positive," with "general agreement with the premises I offer in the work."

He said he has no plans to publish the essay, in part because he would expect difficulty in getting the Army's approval, but said he did not object to having it written about. "I think this is something that has to get out, so it can be considered," he said in a telephone interview. "There actually is something we can fix here, in terms of operational planning."

In his analysis of U.S. military operations in 2003 in northern Iraq, Wilson also touches on another continuing criticism of the Bush administration's handling of Iraq -- the number of troops there. "The scarcity of available 'combat power' . . . greatly complicated the situation," he states.

Wilson contends that a lack of sufficient troops was a consequence of the earlier, larger problem of failing to understand that prevailing in Iraq involved more than just removing Hussein. "This overly simplistic conception of the 'war' led to a cascading undercutting of the war effort: too few troops, too little coordination with civilian and governmental/non-governmental agencies . . . and too little allotted time to achieve 'success,' " he writes.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company

A Lesson in War and Humanity

A Call To Action

A Lesson in War and Humanity

By Thomas J. Raleigh

Ooh Rahh! Kill them all and let their god sort them out.

This is one of many disturbing comments (in this case from someone who identifies himself as a Marine named Clay) that have appeared in an online petition that will eventually be sent to Congress in support of the Marine involved in last month's shooting of a wounded insurgent in a Fallujah mosque.

Many who signed this petition (more than 340,000) are, I'm sure, reasonable people concerned about a military man in a tough situation. But sadly, there are also those -- like the author of the sentiments above -- who believe that the deviousness of our enemies would justify us in abandoning our values and principles on the battlefield. This is a dangerous view, for both moral and practical reasons.

Clay's comment, and others like it, prompted me to recall the advice I once heard from a battalion commander I served under nearly 20 years ago. Lt. Col. James S. Gribshaw Jr., a highly decorated Vietnam veteran, was known among those in his platoon as "The Magnet" -- a reference to the peculiar attraction his body seemed to hold for shrapnel. One day in 1987, he and I were observing a training exercise at Fort Lewis, Wash.: a platoon setting an ambush. It was a textbook operation, save for one glitch. After the assault, when the prisoner-search team returned to the kill zone, a soldier shot a wounded enemy role-player, calling him an "[expletive] gook."

Gribshaw was to lead the discussion reviewing the lessons learned from the exercise. I expected him to focus on the sound tactics the platoon demonstrated during the operation. He didn't. Instead he said some things that have stuck with me to this day. I'm reconstructing his talk here from memory, but I'd vouch for its being about 95 percent correct:

A soldier in this platoon shot a wounded man today. You cannot do that.

You will find yourself in combat someday. And then you are going to go home, where you will have to live with what you have done -- to accomplish your mission, to stay alive, to keep your buddy alive.

When you assault across a kill zone, you do so violently; if you hesitate, you die. However, later, during the search -- different story. If an enemy soldier is wounded, you can't kill him. If the tactical situation does not permit you to evacuate him, do what you can to relieve his suffering, and continue the mission.

Your enemy is a combatant, a human being. He is not a "gook" or a "slope." If you dehumanize your enemy, you will dehumanize yourself, and you will do things that you will regret. And you won't go home with honor. We made a mistake today. That's why we train. Learn from this. Questions?

Silence. Gribshaw looked the platoon over, nodded and walked away, in a mood I couldn't quite figure out. His loyal command sergeant major later told me that Gribshaw acted this way when something bothered him and he wished -- just for a moment -- that he hadn't given up smoking Lucky Strikes.

Every soldier, at some point in his career, hears similar advice. Sometimes it comes from someone like Jim Gribshaw, who faced an enemy that -- not unlike the insurgents in Iraq -- intimidated civilians, booby-trapped corpses and engaged in other practices that were beyond internationally recognized rules of war.

Abu Ghraib aside, U.S. soldiers in Iraq have consistently demonstrated that they fight with honor and with due restraint. As a nation we can accept nothing less, because an army in the field derives its moral authority as much from the values and principles of the nation that sent it to fight as it does from the conduct of each soldier.

Shortly after the horrific attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, we as a nation channeled a righteous rage into a firm resolve to take the fight to our enemies. Regrettably, rage and resolve now appear to be turning, ever so surely, to blind hate -- in its typically irrational and self-destructive form. This transformation deepens and widens with the death of every U.S. servicemember in battle -- or in a mess tent in Mosul. You can see it in comments on the petition I mentioned ("This Marine deserves a medal, not the boot! Nice head shot!" read one.). You can hear it on talk radio; you likely sense it in fragments of passing conversation as you go through your day. And when we nod our heads in approval, make no mistake, we dehumanize ourselves.

I write as someone who lost an Army comrade on Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988 and a nephew and a cousin in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. That does nothing to alter my belief that should we abandon our values and allow ourselves to be overcome by hatred because of our revulsion against those who kill children, or office workers, or a woman working to alleviate suffering, such as Margaret Hassan, we risk losing our own humanity and undermine the moral authority of our troops overseas. And we risk losing this war.

Don't take my word on this -- ask Jim Gribshaw.

The writer is a retired Army lieutenant colonel. His e-mail address is

© 2004 The Washington Post Company

Friday, December 24, 2004

FBI E-Mail Refers to Presidential Order Authorizing Inhumane Interrogation Techniques

A Call To Action
American Civil Liberties Union Banner

December 20, 2004

NEW YORK -- A document released for the first time today by the American Civil Liberties Union suggests that President Bush issued an Executive Order authorizing the use of inhumane interrogation methods against detainees in Iraq. Also released by the ACLU today are a slew of other records including a December 2003 FBI e-mail that characterizes methods used by the Defense Department as “torture” and a June 2004 “Urgent Report” to the Director of the FBI that raises concerns that abuse of detainees is being covered up.


Newly Obtained FBI Records Call Defense Department’s Methods "Torture," Express Concerns Over "Cover-Up" That May Leave FBI "Holding the Bag" for Abuses

NEW YORK -- A document released for the first time today by the American Civil Liberties Union suggests that President Bush issued an Executive Order authorizing the use of inhumane interrogation methods against detainees in Iraq. Also released by the ACLU today are a slew of other records including a December 2003 FBI e-mail that characterizes methods used by the Defense Department as "torture" and a June 2004 "Urgent Report" to the Director of the FBI that raises concerns that abuse of detainees is being covered up.

"These documents raise grave questions about where the blame for widespread detainee abuse ultimately rests," said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. "Top government officials can no longer hide from public scrutiny by pointing the finger at a few low-ranking soldiers."

The documents were obtained after the ACLU and other public interest organizations filed a lawsuit against the government for failing to respond to a Freedom of Information Act request.

The two-page e-mail that references an Executive Order states that the President directly authorized interrogation techniques including sleep deprivation, stress positions, the use of military dogs, and "sensory deprivation through the use of hoods, etc." The ACLU is urging the White House to confirm or deny the existence of such an order and immediately to release the order if it exists. The FBI e-mail, which was sent in May 2004 from "On Scene Commander--Baghdad" to a handful of senior FBI officials, notes that the FBI has prohibited its agents from employing the techniques that the President is said to have authorized.

Another e-mail, dated December 2003, describes an incident in which Defense Department interrogators at Guantánamo Bay impersonated FBI agents while using "torture techniques" against a detainee. The e-mail concludes "If this detainee is ever released or his story made public in any way, DOD interrogators will not be held accountable because these torture techniques were done [sic] the ‘FBI’ interrogators. The FBI will [sic] left holding the bag before the public."

The document also says that no "intelligence of a threat neutralization nature" was garnered by the "FBI" interrogation, and that the FBI’s Criminal Investigation Task Force (CITF) believes that the Defense Department’s actions have destroyed any chance of prosecuting the detainee. The e-mail’s author writes that he or she is documenting the incident "in order to protect the FBI."

"The methods that the Defense Department has adopted are illegal, immoral, and counterproductive," said ACLU staff attorney Jameel Jaffer. "It is astounding that these methods appear to have been adopted as a matter of policy by the highest levels of government."

The June 2004 "Urgent Report" addressed to the FBI Director is heavily redacted. The legible portions of the document appear to describe an account given to the FBI’s Sacramento Field Office by an FBI agent who had "observed numerous physical abuse incidents of Iraqi civilian detainees," including "strangulation, beatings, [and] placement of lit cigarettes into the detainees ear openings." The document states that "[redacted] was providing this account to the FBI based on his knowledge that [redacted] were engaged in a cover-up of these abuses."

The release of these documents follows a federal court order that directed government agencies to comply with a year-old request under the Freedom of Information Act filed by the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans for Peace. The New York Civil Liberties Union is co-counsel in the case.

Other documents released by the ACLU today include:

* An FBI email regarding DOD personnel impersonating FBI officials during interrogations. The e-mail refers to a "ruse" and notes that "all of those [techniques] used in these scenarios" were approved by the Deputy Secretary of Defense. (Jan. 21, 2004)
* Another FBI agent’s account of interrogations at Guantánamo in which detainees were shackled hand and foot in a fetal position on the floor. The agent states that the detainees were kept in that position for 18 to 24 hours at a time and most had "urinated or defacated [sic]" on themselves. On one occasion, the agent reports having seen a detainee left in an unventilated, non-air conditioned room at a temperature "probably well over a hundred degrees." The agent notes: "The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his own hair out throughout the night." (Aug. 2, 2004)
* An e-mail stating that an Army lawyer "worked hard to cwrite [sic] a legal justification for the type of interrogations they (the Army) want to conduct" at Guantánamo Bay. (Dec. 9, 2002)
* An e-mail noting the initiation of an FBI investigation into the alleged rape of a juvenile male detainee at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. (July 28, 2004)
* An FBI agent’s account of an interrogation at Guantánamo - an interrogation apparently conducted by Defense Department personnel - in which a detainee was wrapped in an Israeli flag and bombarded with loud music and strobe lights. (July 30, 2004)

The ACLU and its allies are scheduled to go to court again this afternoon, where they will seek an order compelling the CIA to turn over records related to an internal investigation into detainee abuse. Although the ACLU has received more than 9,000 documents from other agencies, the CIA refuses to confirm or deny even the existence of many of the records that the ACLU and other plaintiffs have requested. The CIA is reported to have been involved in abusing detainees in Iraq and at secret CIA detention facilities around the globe.

The lawsuit is being handled by Lawrence Lustberg and Megan Lewis of the New Jersey-based law firm Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione, P.C. Other attorneys in the case are Jaffer, Amrit Singh and Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU; Art Eisenberg and Beth Haroules of the NYCLU; and Barbara Olshansky and Jeff Fogel of CCR.

The documents referenced above can be found at:

More on the lawsuit can be found at:

© ACLU, 125 Broad Street, 18th Floor New York, NY 10004 This is the Web site of the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU Foundation.
Learn more about the distinction between these two components of the ACLU.

America, the Indifferent

A Call To Action

It was with great fanfare that the United States and 188 other countries signed the United Nations Millennium Declaration, a manifesto to eradicate extreme poverty, hunger and disease among the one billion people in the world who subsist on barely anything. The project set a deadline of 2015 to achieve its goals. Chief among them was the goal for developed countries, like America, Britain and France, to work toward giving 0.7 percent of their national incomes for development aid for poor countries.

Almost a third of the way into the program, the latest available figures show that the percentage of United States income going to poor countries remains near rock bottom: 0.14 percent. Britain is at 0.34 percent, and France at 0.41 percent. (Norway and Sweden, to no one's surprise, are already exceeding the goal, at 0.92 percent and 0.79 percent.)

And we learned this week that in the last two months, the Bush administration has reduced its contributions to global food aid programs aimed at helping hungry nations become self-sufficient, and it has told charities like Save the Children and Catholic Relief Services that it won't honor earlier promises. Instead, administration officials said that most of the country's emergency food aid would go to places where there were immediate crises.

Something's not right here. The United States is the world's richest nation. Washington is quick to say that it contributes more money to foreign aid than any other country. But no one is impressed when a billionaire writes a $50 check for a needy family. The test is the percentage of national income we give to the poor, and on that basis this country is the stingiest in the Group of Seven industrialized nations.

The administration has cited the federal budget deficit as the reason for its cutback in donations to help the hungry feed themselves. In fact, the amount involved is a pittance within the federal budget when compared with our $412 billion deficit, which has been fueled by war and tax cuts. The administration can conjure up $87 billion for the fighting in Iraq, but can it really not come up with more than $15.6 billion - our overall spending on development assistance in 2002 - to help stop an 8-year-old AIDS orphan in Cameroon from drinking sewer water or to buy a mosquito net for an infant in Sierra Leone?

There is a very real belief abroad that the United States, which gave 2 percent of its national income to rebuild Europe after World War II, now engages with the rest of the world only when it perceives that its own immediate interests are at stake. If that is unfair, it's certainly true that American attention is mainly drawn to international hot spots. After the Sept. 11 bombings, Washington ratcheted up aid to Pakistan to help fight the war on terror. Just last week, it began talks aimed at contributing more aid to the Palestinians to encourage them to stop launching suicide bombers at Israel.

Here's a novel idea: how about giving aid before the explosion, not just after?

At the Monterey summit meeting on poverty in 2002, President Bush announced the Millennium Challenge Account, which was supposed to increase the United States' assistance to poor countries that are committed to policies promoting development. Mr. Bush said his government would donate $1.7 billion the first year, $3.3 billion the second and $5 billion the third. That $5 billion amount would have been just 0.04 percent of America's national income, but the administration still failed to match its promise with action.

Back in Washington and away from the spotlight of the summit meeting, the administration didn't even ask Congress for the full $1.7 billion the first year; it asked for $1.3 billion, which Congress cut to $1 billion. The next year, the administration asked for $2.5 billion and got $1.5 billion.

Worst of all, the account has yet to disperse a single dollar, while every year in Africa, one in 16 pregnant women still die in childbirth, 2.2 million die of AIDS, and 2 million children die from malaria.

Jeffrey Sachs, the economist appointed by Kofi Annan to direct the Millennium Project, puts the gap between what America is capable of doing and what it actually does into stark relief.

The government spends $450 billion annually on the military, and $15 billion on development help for poor countries, a 30-to-1 ratio that, as Mr. Sachs puts it, shows how the nation has become "all war and no peace in our foreign policy." Next month, he will present his report on how America and the world can actually cut global poverty in half by 2015. He says that if the Millennium Project has any chance of success, America must lead the donors.

Washington has to step up to the plate soon. At the risk of mixing metaphors, it is nowhere even near the table now, and the world knows it.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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