Colorado Springs Independent

Ex-Gay Like Me

When I decided to go undercover and infiltrate an ex-gay ministry I expected to be privy to a lot of prayer, self-loathing and maybe some heavy-handed personality realignment.

I didn't expect to be doing the handjive at sing-along Grease, which is where I sit, clap-and-slap happy in a row of fold out chairs inside a cozy Colorado living room.

Now can you hand-jive, baby,

Oh can you hand-jive, baby?

Surrounding me in giddy spectatorship are 25 men and women who suffer from "unwanted homosexuality."

But no one's suffering at the moment. There are Twinkies to eat, margaritas to drink, and a DVD player set on closed caption so we all get the lyrics right.

Projected on the sort of fold out screen normally reserved for family vacation slideshows, Danny Zuko has dissed his summer love for the last time.

Stumbling into his former flame, the notorious Cha Cha DiGregorio, the two doff their dates and set Rydell High's gym floor ablaze with 1950's dancing as envisioned through the sexed up lens of the disco decade.

About half the guests are decked out in leather jackets, cut off T-shirts, chiffon dresses, even a few satin "Pink Ladies" jackets.

Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah,

Born to hand-jive, oh yeah!

The woman to my right has decided that Cha Cha's having a little too much fun on the dance floor.

"Slut!"

She follows her exhortation with a naughty giggle.

In the middle of "Greased Lightning," with its none-too-coded lyrics (you know that I ain't braggin, she's a real pussy wagon), Scott, a sprightly ministry staffer, stands up, shakes his arm and tells the young Travolta:

"Danny, Stop Being a Potty Mouth!"

Scott has spent the last 13 years in this ministry and tonight's party is his brainchild --a follow up to last year's sing along Sound of Music. Normally, he patiently ministers to those on the frontlines of the "struggle with sexuality and relationships." But tonight he's letting loose, facing the audience while his outstretched arm hovers across the room in lock step with the T-Birds.

Before going undercover to see what ex-gay America was all about, I imagined it might be any number of things: hook up central for closeted Christians, a cracked out revival meeting or merely a cult.

What I found was less sensational and a lot stranger.

Because I couldn't have imagined an experience that revealed less about the divide between straight and gay America, than the deeper chasm of understanding that separates secular and Christian America.

And I could never ever have imagined I'd be singing show tunes with a bunch of people dressed straight outta the malt shop.

The Gayest Summer

I first set foot in the ex-gay ministry Where Grace Abounds at the start of what was to become the gayest summer in American history.

Let's review:

June 26, 2003, the Supreme Court strikes down sodomy laws in 13 states, decriminalizing consensual gay sex and setting the stage for the culture war's ultimate battle royale: gay marriage.

August 5: The Episcopalian Church votes in the Rev. Gene Robinson as its first gay bishop; dissidents talk splits.

And oh, those summer nights where Queer Eye for the Straight Guy's preening power fags teach heterosexual men in the ways of applying product, grilling asparagus, and all things fabulous.

Where Grace Abounds is located where gays abound, in the heart of Denver's Capital Hill neighborhood -- a place where rainbow flags hang proudly from apartment balconies, where King Soopers is better known as "Queen Soopers," and where Diedrich's coffee shop brims with well groomed boys.

But outside a church around the corner, Where Grace Abounds' smiling greeters welcome scared strangers, and hug returning friends. The person I notice first is Scott, the de facto cruise director for Thursday night's meetings and one of five people on the ministry's fulltime staff.

Short and bouncy with big eyes and a buzz cut Scott is invariably dressed in low rider jeans and a neatly tucked in polo shirt. He's the type of person who would set your gaydar into a beeping tizzy from two time zones away.

As my face becomes familiar over the next few weeks, he makes a point of greeting me by name with a smile and squeezing my upper arm. I know better than to mistake it for a come on, but it's a gesture foreign to any straight man I've ever met.

Downstairs, in an unpretentious basement of fluorescent lights, pea green carpet, and dry erase boards the weekly ritual begins.

"Hi, and welcome to Where Grace Abounds. Can anyone tell me why we exist?"

Less ontological than rhetorical, the question is followed by awkward silence before someone breaks it with:

"Where Grace Abounds exists to guide and support men and women who seek to understand sexuality and relationships and to inspire all people to know and personally appropriate God's plan for their sexuality and relationships."

Despite this mouthful of a mission statement, God's plan is rarely spelled out. In small group discussions, members seem painfully aware that such a plan might mean canceling Internet service and its accompanying lure of pornography, or of avoiding certain neighborhoods, certain bars, certain parks and certain people.

But beyond avoidance and celibacy, where God wants them to go is the big honking question that keeps many coming back (and not out) for years.

When and Why

Where Grace Abounds was founded shortly after Mary Heathman's stepson came out of the closet in the mid 1980s. The news forced this Denver rape crisis counselor to study books on psychology and scripture, attend meetings of all sorts, and arrive at two difficult conclusions. Her stepson's sexuality smacked head-on with her understanding of scripture; the two could not be reconciled. And, churches were not a pillar of support.

"Most churches don't know how to deal with these issues, or the way they deal with them is not effective," Heathman tells me and eight other initiates on our first night at WGA. In the months that follow, I'd hear echoes of her statement again and again.

WGA's program consists largely of informal lectures from members and guest speakers followed by small group therapy styled discussions. The ministry is a non-profit so everything's free, but like most religious entities, a donation basket is passed around at the start of each meeting.

Staffers and volunteer ministry leaders tell us that there are many plausible theories on what causes homosexuality. But they say that focusing on the "why" is not as important in our healing process as reconnecting with God.

Nevertheless, there's one "why" theory that gets more play than others and it comes from Dr. Elizabeth Moberly and her book Homosexuality: A New Christian Ethic.

Moberly and WGA make a clear distinction between homosexuality as an orientation and homosexuality as behavior. The former, they claim, is not the least bit sinful. In fact, it's a corrective developmental response to a broken or severed relationship with a same sex parent. The impulse to reestablish this bond, "the reparative drive" as its known, is actually healthy.

The problem, we're told, is when this orientation becomes sexualized in adolescence. Sexual activity with the same gender derails the healing process.

But ... why do boys with caring dads still go gay?

But ... why do girls with Mommy dearests not grow into lesbians?

Such buts are invariably pre-empted by a staffer who admits that, "we just don't know."

Scenes from the Struggle

The folks who find their way into WGA are mostly men between 20 and 40. Almost all come from conservative or fundamentalist Christian backgrounds. Many arrive upon the recommendation of a pastor, or more often, a Christian counselor.

While WGA was established to deal exclusively with homosexuality, it soon found itself welcoming people reeling from other sexually related problems like sex and pornography addiction, problems that were too hot for most churches to handle.

For the first 12 weeks, new initiates are segregated in "Foundations," a mandatory 12-week acclimation program designed to familiarize us with the scriptural and psychological concepts that underpin the program.

"Small group" is where we're encouraged to open up, to take risks, to speak in "I statements," about our struggles with sexuality and relationships.

Group starts with the facilitator, a WGA staffer or volunteer, asking if we brought anything with us to share, or if we just need some "check in" time.

One of WGA's buzzwords is "struggle," but in group I can only think "stilted." It wasn't until my fifth week that I witnessed someone with the guts to put his cards on the table.

Dressed in typical Colorado outdoorsy apparel, T-shirt, shorts and Tevas, Eric complains that "there's guys everywhere." That is, guys he's attracted to. Back in Denver for the summer, unemployed and staying with his parents, he confesses that a few hours earlier he'd "jacked off with two other guys in a bookstore."

Scott asks him what he needs from the group. He thinks for a moment before saying that he just needed to get it off his chest.

I find out later that Eric has since moved to Marin County outside San Francisco to be part of a live-in ex-gay ministry. Before moving, he'd spent several years at WGA. It's been a long struggle; one that he gives no indication that it's anywhere near being over.

I hear a lot of these stories in small group.

Like Peggy, a married woman who fell in love with a woman in her church. They had an affair, they knew it was wrong. Hoping for support and guidance, they confessed to their pastor. They were told, "We don't know how to deal with this" and were asked to leave their church.

I hear about Matt, who phoned his mom after a month of no communication. He recently told her about his struggle with his sexuality. She met his questions with single sentence answers. He says she can't understand "how this could've happened in my family."

I hear the stories of two middle-aged pastors, both fathers. One with a lesbian daughter, the other with a gay son. The former says he's trying to figure out how to deal with "the girlfriend." He's going to be polite, he says, but the girlfriend won't be coming home for dinner.

The other pastor's son came out nine years ago and told him, "If I didn't accept his homosexuality, I didn't accept him."

Now his wife is dying and he's terrified of losing both her and his son.

Scott Baio Anyone?

All meetings kick off with an icebreaker. On my third night, the question was, "In what historical period would you most like to have been alive?" We go around the room, giving first names and our answers.

Scott said he wants to live in the big band era so he could "go to those Ricky Ricardo clubs every night." Christopher chooses Victorian England because, "they had the most amazing furniture. I'm not kidding!"

I say I want to be an adult in the mid 1980s so I could gain a more thorough appreciation for cultural luminaries like Scott Baio and David Hasslehoff, before they become targets of Gen X ridicule.

An hour later, a guy tells me that when he was fourteen he used his sister's name to send away to Tiger Beat magazine for Scott Baio centerfolds.

At moments like this, I want to stand on my seat and scream: YOU ARE ALL SO GAY!

But I never do.

Battle Plans

Eight weeks into Foundations, I'm sitting on a cushy white couch, staring at a dry erase board with its magic marker outline of the enemy's battle plans.

Donny is tonight's speaker and the enemy is -- who else? -- Satan. A member of the WGA's leadership team, and a WGA vet, Donny calls tonight's talk "The Battle from Within and Without."

Donny tells us he's been married for 19 years, but for much of that time he was active in "the lifestyle," the ministry's buzzword for all things gay. He sites a statistic that 87 percent of Americans claim to believe in God, while only 47 percent claim they believe in Satan. He finds this odd.

"How strong is the enemy?" He asks. "As strong as God lets him be."

Donny relates his struggle with homosexuality and sex addiction to a larger struggle with honesty. During his teen years, deception took the form of secretly compiling "my version of pornography" -- namely, photos of guys clipped from sports magazines.

Donny says he never wanted to be homosexual; he always knew it wasn't what God wanted for him. But after getting married, his sex addiction started getting out of control. "If one wants to understand how powerful the enemy is," he says, "all you need to do is to try and walk away from a sexual addiction."

On the board he sketches a crude house to show us more of the enemy's entry points. Satan comes through the front door with events like 9-11 or Columbine. The backdoor is via humanism, which he describes as "You know, Jesus, Buddha -- it's all good."

His talk is spruced up with a few bullet points which, like many WGA lectures, bounce freely between pop psychology and evangelical fervor.

- Our desire to be liked is in direct conflict with our desire to be known (by God).
- The enemy's biggest weapon is secrecy.
- Addiction cannot coexist with dignity, self-respect and personal freedom.

And, the real kicker:

- Change is never a guarantee; it may or may not occur.

Ex-gay or Gay AA

WGA's approach to reversing that which mainstream psychology has long agreed is irreversible is infuriating. While there's no fire and brimstone sermonizing, no one telling us we're on a highway to hell, there's also a lot of lying by omission and other canards.

At no time did I ever hear anyone acknowledge the possibility that two gay people could have a healthy, loving relationship. It just wasn't in the cards. Similarly, the constant conflation of homosexuality and sex and porn addiction, not to mention one night stand whoring, doesn't jive with any lesbian I've ever known.

Toward the end of a small group session I decided to ask Scott a question that has been on my mind for awhile.

"Is this ministry really ex-gay or more like gay AA? "

I can tell it's something he's been asked before.

"So are we all just bunch of dry drunks?" he asks in response. " Alcoholism, I think is more of a behavior problem, where homosexuality is more of a developmental problem."

Scott says that people often come to WGA with the idea that they can get a quick fix. "Uh yeah, um, can you like make this stop please?"

Scott's point is that "the process" doesn't provide quick fixes. Even after 13 years, he says, he's transitioned from being actively homosexual to his current state of non-practicing bisexuality.

When he's not dealing with Thursday nights, Scott helps coordinate educational outreach programs for churches and Denver-area Christian schools. He knows that most people will probably assume things about him. He's 40 and he's used to it. From time to time he speaks with friends he knew from "the lifestyle" and says they invariably condescend to him with comments like "Well, I guess if it makes you happy, that's good."

Scott's retort: "They want to celebrate diversity, but as long as you think just like they do."

One thing Scott says he loves about Where Grace Abounds is that it doesn't go for the quick fix, or try to get people to pretend to be something they're not. Nowhere could this be more obvious than in Scott's office, whose most striking feature is a life-size cardboard cutout of Buffy from Buffy The Vampire Slayer -- a show famous for its gay following.

He says this sets the group apart from other ex-gay ministries that are not comfortable with the ministry's flamboyance. Activities like Grease singalongs, he says, don't fly in much of ex-gay America.

"I think if I'd gone to any other ministry, I wouldn't have made it."

Goodbye to Sandra Dee

The California sun is setting as Sandy sits alone on an expanse of concrete. In the aquifer below, Danny Zuko has saved Greased Lightning's pink slip from the clutches of The Scorpions.

Graduation is just a scene away and Sandy is mourning her innocence.

Sandy, you must start anew

Don't you know what you must do

Once again, the woman next to me chimes in, "Don't do it, Sandy. Don't do it!"

Hold your head high, take a deep breath and sigh

Goodbye to Sandra Dee

If Grease is about anything besides shooby doo wop doo wop, it's about how a won't-go-to-bed-till-I'm-legally-wed sensibility can't last long in America's oversexed teen culture. This message couldn't be more opposed to everything I've heard during my summer at Where Grace Abounds.

But no one's mining for ironies right now because Danny and Sandy are singing their love in skintight leather.

Grease ends with the class of Rydell High pledging that they "will always be together." If WGA has lasted for 16 years, who's to say it won't last another? Regardless of the cultural and legal strides gay America is bound to make, scripture will still be scripture.

After hearing so many stories of hurt, so many testimonies that are less about viable recovery than successful coping, I'm only convinced how tough the struggle is for people like Scott and Peggy, Matt and Donny.

But when they hold up the evangelical panacea, that all their desires of the flesh and the heart can -- maybe -- be taken away through a relationship with God, well, they might as well be singing: Ramma lamma lamma ka dingity ding da dong.

A Spy in the Ivory Tower

Is your college professor an anti-Semite, a supporter of Islamic terrorists and an enemy of America? Now, you can find out with just a few clicks of the mouse, thanks to a project launched this week, called "Campus Watch."

Campus Watch, at www.campus-watch.org, is the brainchild of Daniel Pipes, a newspaper columnist and author who heads the Middle East Forum, a hard-line, pro-Israeli think tank based in Philadelphia.

Pipes announced his project, whose aim is to monitor and document what he claims is an overwhelming pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli bias among U.S. college professors, during a rally on the Colorado College campus last week, attended by hundreds of people who were protesting a speaking appearance by Palestinian activist Hanan Ashrawi.

Pipes said he is trying to expose how the field of Middle East studies is dominated by academics who apologize for militant Islam and openly propagandize for the Palestinian cause.

On most campuses, "What one finds is an overt engagement in politics; one finds an impatience with alternate points of view, one finds a reading list that is skewed to one side," Pipes said.

This, Pipes said, needs to be made known "to the public, to the alumni, to the state legislators, to the federal government officials who are funding the universities."

"The hope," he said, "is that by waking up these different constituencies to the rot that exists in Middle East studies, there can be improvement."


Rigid Ideological Views

Critics are calling Pipes' project "anti-intellectual," saying it promotes rigid ideological views over free academic discourse.

"McCarthyism does come to mind," commented Amy Newhall, director of the national Middle East Studies Association. "He is calling into question some of the basic tenets of academic freedom."

Professors also challenged Pipes' assertion of bias. David Weddle, a professor of religion who teaches a course on Islam at CC, said most academics avoid taking rigid ideological positions on complex issues such as the Middle East conflict.

"What Daniel Pipes should ask himself is this: Why is it that most scholars who have dedicated themselves to studying this area have ended up with a more balanced view than he has?" said Weddle.

Still, there are signs that Pipes and his supporters might find the current political climate to favor their efforts.

Campus Watch appears to have grown out of a newly strengthened movement to challenge academics perceived as "unpatriotic."

Ashrawi, a former member of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's cabinet, had been invited by Colorado College to give the opening keynote address at a three-day political science symposium that came on the heels of the anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, but was intended as a forum to discuss broader global issues.

The invitation drew vocal protests from critics who labeled Ashrawi an "apologist for terrorism," saying she has justified Palestinian suicide bombings.

While they failed to pressure the college into canceling Ashrawi's speech, the protesters nonetheless proclaimed victory. Their campaign received massive media publicity and was legitimized by several prominent figures who joined the call to cancel Ashrawi's speech ranging from Gov. Bill Owens to former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.


In the Motorcade

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the Rocky Mountain Rabbinical Council sought to pressure Colorado College into inviting Pipes to speak as a "counterbalance" to Ashrawi.

Pipes says he eventually received a formal invitation from college President Richard Celeste to speak -- not as part of the symposium, but at the rally outside.

The college, however, emphatically denies his assertion.

"The college did not extend an official invitation to Daniel Pipes," said Lisa Ellis, a college spokeswoman.

The Rabbinical Council did, however, succeed in enlisting the support of Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar, a Democrat and a member of the college Board of Trustees. Not only did Salazar acquiesce to demands that he help bring Pipes to campus -- in fact, he gave Pipes a ride to the rally in his personal motorcade, along with a state taxpayer-funded police escort.

Salazar, who also introduced Pipes, said he agreed to help bring the columnist to campus because he could "provide a different point of view."

Asked if this meant that he endorsed Pipes' views, Salazar answered, "No."

In fact, he added, "I don't know that much about his points of view."


A New Era

Pipes called the rally a turning point in what he has labeled "the war on campus" over Middle East issues.

"A point has been made that has not been made before," Pipes told protesters. "You are to be congratulated."

Ashrawi's appearance has already earned the college a "dossier" on Campus Watch's fledgling Web site.

The site contains a section titled "dossiers on professors," documenting the supposedly anti-Israeli statements of individual academics across the country, as well as a section titled "dossiers on institutions."

Another section lets users report anti-Israeli activities on local campuses. According to the site, Campus Watch hopes to receive information from a "network of concerned students and faculty members interested in promoting American interests on campus."

While academics characterized Campus Watch as nonconstructive, they said they were not overly concerned about the project.

Pipes has no power to restrict anyone's statements, noted Weddle. If the project is merely about documenting and critiquing scholars' views, Weddle said he has no major problem with it.

"Viewpoints that I have on the Middle East are publicly available," Weddle said. "I am more than happy to make them public."

American McHistory

When Eric Schlosser set out to write about the all-American meal, on assignment for Rolling Stone magazine, he expected to have some fun analyzing the most kitschy, ubiquitous business success story of our times. Fast food, after all, was burgers and fries, pimpled teenagers at the cash register, relentless good cheer, an escape from home, the ultimate convenience.

What the investigative journalist found, the longer and deeper he dug into his subject, was nothing less than a "revolutionary force in American life," an industry whose influence infiltrates every nook and cranny of contemporary society.

An enterprise that began in post-World War II Southern California in response to the rise of the automobile in America's daily life, fast food has become our leading export abroad, the primary influence on our collective dietary habits, the biggest employer of low-paid, unskilled workers in a boom economy, and the model for franchise and corporate chain businesses from the GAP to Auto Zone. The fast food industry has helped shape America's landscape, buying habits, work ethic and corporate mentality.

At its roots, Schlosser concluded, the food industry serves up anything but a cheap, happy meal.

Schlosser chose Colorado Springs, Colorado as the epicenter of his investigation, "because the changes that have recently swept through the city are those that fast food -- and the fast food industry -- have encouraged throughout the United States." In the book, he heralds the entrepreneurial genius of the industry's beginnings and scrutinizes its business and marketing practices. In his research, asking what forces drive and support the industry, he visited cattle ranches, industrial potato processing plants, slaughterhouses and meatpacking facilities, even a factory on the New Jersey Turnpike where the familiar flavors of our favorite fast foods are manufactured in a test tube.

The result of his research is an American classic that has quickly captured the imagination of the national media. Since its publication in mid-January, Fast Food Nation has been reviewed and featured everywhere from National Public Radio to Entertainment Weekly, from the Wall Street Journal to the New York Times Book Review. A few critics accuse the author of overreaching, of blaming all society's ills on the fast food industry. But most critics agree that Schlosser's unique blend of social commentary and solid investigative journalism raises issues that hover just beneath the daily consciousness of the average American, issues that drive and shape the culture, issues that should not be ignored.

Fast Food Nation contains plenty of dirty-kitchen, cockroaches-in-the-milkshake-machine and "mystery meat" lore. But what's in the food is merely anecdotal compared to the larger, more pervasive cultural and socio-economic issues raised in the book.

"It's not just food they're selling," says Schlosser, referring to the relentless and far-flung marketing techniques employed by the fast food industry.

Utilizing advertising strategies aimed directly at children, the fast food industry has infiltrated the nation's schools with lunchroom franchise and advertising schemes, and has so successfully imprinted trademarks on formative minds that McDonald's golden arches are now more globally recognizable than the Christian cross.

In the 1990s, the fast food and entertainment industries -- most notably Disney and McDonald's -- joined forces in a multibillion dollar alliance to sell movie-themed and trademarked toys in kids' fast food meals. The results were phenomenal -- reinvigorated profits for the corporations and a virtual reinvention of childhood for American kids.

And fast food chains, says Schlosser, drive a huge food-industrial complex that dominates American agriculture. The industry's massive demand for beef and potatoes supports corporate production and directly undermines family farming and ranching.

In Fast Food Nation, Schlosser urges us to consider the real costs of the cheap, convenient, all-American meal -- inhumane and dangerous working conditions in the highly industrialized plants where cattle are slaughtered and meat is processed, a devalued and untrained work force made up mostly of vulnerable youth, questionable and largely unregulated food safety, and a corporate mindset that defies closely held American values.

The Independent interviewed Schlosser recently from his New York home, in anticipation of his visit here on Feb. 22 when he will discuss and sign Fast Food Nation at the Chinook Bookshop.

Eastburn You have said that fast food embodies the best and worst of capitalism at the turn of the 21st century. What's best and what's worst?

Schlosser: Best is the entrepreneurial, innovative spirit of the industry founders. The origins of the industry, its early growth in California in response to a new automobile-driven economy is fascinating. All these mavericks with no credentials, high-school dropouts who couldn't get a loan, came up with brilliant schemes and ideas, and grew one of the nation's most powerful industries.

But like many American stories, once a success like this one reaches a certain size and critical mass, once it achieves a corporate mentality and a ruling bureaucracy, it turns ugly.

The worst part of the fast food industry is the mentality of the corporation, fixated so much on quarterly profit reports that it no longer asks what's best for its workers. There is now in place a deliberate labor strategy that exploits unskilled, uneducated workers, paying low wages and paying little attention to job security, worker safety or training. The fast food industry really brought that to our service economy and perfected it.

Eastburn How did you become interested in the subject?

Schlosser: I had done a piece for the Atlantic Monthly in the mid '90s on the strawberry industry in California ("In the Strawberry Fields," November 1995). At that time there was a lot of bad feeling about illegal immigrants. I had spent a lot of time with immigrant farm workers, picking strawberries, trying to look at where the food we eat actually comes from.

Will Dana of Rolling Stone had the idea that I should take a look at the fast food industry in the same way. The book started as an assignment from Rolling Stone, and I expected it to be kind of a fun look at the industry. Instead, I saw that there were all kinds of ways that fast food and the fast food industry were literally responsible for lots of changes in America. The book, then, became more a history of America in the last 25 years, seen through this one industry.

Eastburn How did industry executives respond to you during your research for the book?

Schlosser: Some of them were very helpful. Jack In the Box invited me to see their hamburger pattie plant. McDonald's executives would never talk to me during the whole course of researching the book -- they would not answer my telephone calls, e-mails or faxes. They have a company archivist whose job is to do nothing but collect the history of McDonald's, but they did not offer me access.

Eastburn In the book, there's a "top secret" memo from McDonald's executives describing in great detail an advertising campaign aimed at "minivan parents" and children. How did you get that? (The memo proposed an ad campaign that would make customers perceive McDonald's as their "trusted friend." Unspoken, the memo says, would be the message to parents that taking their kids to McDonald's is "an easy way to feel like a good parent.")

Schlosser: That was one of the moments when my reporting really took a turn. When McDonald's refused to speak to me, then one day someone gave me these memos ... I found the attitude in those memos was so disturbing, so cynical.

Eastburn You have a lot to say about the fast food industry and the rise of the franchise/chain system with its "emphasis on uniformity, simplicity and the ability to replicate an identical environment anywhere." Can you talk a little about that?

Schlosser: Uniformity and conformity are the two key words. Look at [McDonald's Corporation founder] Ray Kroc's quote at the beginning of the book: "We will not tolerate non-conformists." It's a chilling quote. The organization cannot trust the individual. That, in many ways, still is the McDonald's corporate culture. Uniformity and conformity are crucial to the rise of the industry and it is remarkable how they have achieved that. When I visited McDonald's in Dachau, it could have been Idaho. I could have been in Colorado. And if you closed your eyes and tasted that hamburger, you could have been anywhere on the planet in a McDonald's. The food was exactly the same.

Eastburn How does that guiding principle relate to late 20th century American history?

Schlosser: McDonald's most significant growth occurred in the early '70s when the minimum wage declined. (From 1948 to 1969, they built 1,000 restaurants; now there are 13,000 in the United States). I would argue that you needed a certain social, political climate to embrace this kind of uniformity, conformity, the reassurance that you know exactly what you're gonna get, how it will taste ... This appealed to people at that time, following the social upheaval of the late '60s.

Going from 1,000 to 13,000 in this period tells you a lot. And once every retail business under the sun realized how this worked, they went gung-ho. The basic idea is replicating an identical environment every time. Only a certain mentality and collective consciousness will accept that. And it's no accident that the industry's highest rate of growth occurred during a period when the real value of the U.S. minimum wage declined by about 40 percent.

Eastburn In the book, you talk about the ways the federal government has subsidized the fast food industry with Small Business Administration loans to build franchises, agricultural subsidies for big business, etc. (In '96, the federal government loaned $1 billion to new franchises, most to fast food). Doesn't this contradict the free-market, anti-government intervention ethic that drives so much of this industry and its offshoots?

Schlosser: Yes, those two things just so profoundly contradict one another. That's one of the reasons I wanted to set the book in the American West today, where there's such a disconnect between the economic reality and the dominant political philosophy. Some of the things that are going on -- the expansive growth, for example -- are so dependent on direct infusions of government money.

If you're going to embrace government funding, then you should embrace the public responsibility of the corporation. If you're going to accept public aid for the development of industry, then you should accept the responsibility of providing health care for those workers who drive the economy.

Looking at the fast food industry as an example is just a very good way of looking at this contradiction of what you say politically and what you actually do economically. The West is so in the grips of this free market, non-regulated mentality, so profoundly suspicious of the power of big government. My question is why are they not doubly suspicious of big business?

Eastburn One of the big businesses you scrutinize particularly harshly is the meatpacking industry, most of whose profits and business come from supplying the fast food industry. Can you talk a little about what you witnessed there?

Schlosser: More difficult for me personally than seeing the slaughter of cattle and the incredible carnage in those factories was seeing these workers, how they live. Meatpacking, until the late '70s, was one of the highest paid industrial jobs in the United States. Then the Reagan and Bush administrations allowed the industry to bust unions, to hire strikebreakers, to hire illegal immigrants for these jobs, even to transport them here from Mexico in company buses. Now meatpacking is one of the lowest paying industrial jobs, as well as the most dangerous.

It is unbelievable to me that in America, in 2001, people work under these dangerous, dehumanizing conditions. Take, for instance, Kenny Dobbins, the worker up in Greeley I talk about in the book ("The Most Dangerous Job," p. 187). This is a great guy who has been repeatedly injured and permanently disabled giving his life to this company. Lesser men would be dead already. He's 45 years old. He has no pension after 16 years of hard labor. Monfort (Dobbins' Greeley meatpacking employer) challenged his worker's comp claim and, three years later, paid him a lump sum settlement of $35,000. That money is all gone. He's a proud man. His health insurance was just cut off. I have been writing the company to see if they can't intervene and continue his insurance, but I don't know what is going to happen.

It's simply mind-blowing that people are treated this way.

Eastburn In the book you say: "Congress should ban advertising that preys upon children. It should stop subsidizing dead-end jobs. It should pass tougher food safety laws, it should protect American workers from serious harm. It should fight against dangerous concentrations of economic power." Is any of this likely to happen?

Schlosser: Ideally, this kind of consumer protection would come from Congress, from government. That's why they should be there - to do these kinds of things for us. But if you look at the most conservative wing of the Republican Party, you will find a close link with meat packers and with the restaurant industry.

George W. Bush is new in office, and who knows, he could pull a Teddy Roosevelt and take on these vested interests. I think that's highly unlikely.

Eastburn What can be done?

Schlosser: We all need to be aware of the social costs of industrial agriculture. The burden needs to be imposed on the firms practicing it. Short of that kind of regulation and government protection -- forcing the industrial meatpackers to take care of their workers, ensuring a safe food supply -- this kind of industrial agriculture might collapse under its own weight if they don't change their practices.

Our accepted form of cattle production and processing doesn't treat the animals we eventually eat as sentient beings but as production tools. Things may have to change because of the built-in contradiction in how those industries are treating the animal-to-food cycle. Look at how England got mad cow disease, and look at how the European consumer reacted.

Mad cow disease is a terrible thing in Europe, but maybe good things will come from it. Right now, in Germany, the government's policy supports a complete deindustrialization of agriculture. But just as it shouldn't take an outbreak of E. coli to get enforced testing of meat in place in the United States, it shouldn't take a mad cow disease outbreak to change how we raise cattle.

I lived in England for three years in the 1980s, so I can't give blood in the United States. That's a good thing, a reasonable safety measure. But right up the road from Colorado Springs, in Greeley, cattle are being fed cattle blood, tallow, the ground up remains of pigs and horses, all because those are cheap protein supplements, just a little cheaper than soybeans. That practice is now banned in Europe. We know that back in 1987 scientists said there should be a total ban against feeding cattle products to cattle. Maybe we'll never have mad cow disease, but if we do, we can't say we didn't know better.

The bottom line is we cannot afford to leave our health in the hands of corporate agriculture and industry who operate on a strict standard of low costs, high profitability and growth at any cost. Really, the book is, in many ways, about not trusting these businesses or, unfortunately, the government to be looking out for you.

Eastburn What can individual consumers do to force change?

Schlosser: The purchasing power of consumers is vast. The vulnerability of the market is also vast. McDonald's stock is down. They have enormous power over their suppliers.

Consumers should hold McDonald's responsible for the behavior of their suppliers. Tell them you won't buy their products until they demand reasonable reform.

Last year, they took a big step when they decided not to buy any genetically engineered potatoes. This had a huge impact on Monsanto's GE potato market. McDonald's did it because of huge protests in Europe, where their market continues to expand. They probably did some market research and concluded that people here would [also protest] if they were sold genetically engineered foods.

Recently, McDonald's has issued very strict rules for how livestock are to be ethically raised and slaughtered. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has commended them for it. I'd like to see them take steps to assure the ethical treatment of humans in these plants as well.

Eastburn Do you really see hope for change?

Schlosser: I'm genuinely optimistic. The act of writing this book is an act of optimism. There's nothing inevitable about the way things are or how they will be in the future.






Did you know?

* The golden arches of McDonald's are now more widely recognized than the Christian cross.

* This year, Americans will spend over $110 billion on fast food, more than they'll spend on movies, books, magazines, newspapers, videos and recorded music combined.

* Americans spend more on fast food than on higher education, personal computers, computer software or new cars.

* Fast food restaurants, usually staffed by teenagers, are now more likely to be robbed than gas stations, convenience stores or banks.

* Children often recognize the McDonald's logo before they recognize their own name.

* Every day in the United States, roughly 200,000 people are sickened by food-borne pathogens (often in ground beef), 900 are hospitalized and 14 die.

* For years, some of the most questionable ground beef in the United States was purchased by the Department of Agriculture -- and then distributed to school cafeterias throughout the country. Some of the dirtiest ground beef is still being served in American schools.

* Today, with the fast food chains' high demand for meat, injury rates in slaughterhouses are three times higher than those in typical American factories.

Seeds of the Future

We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives, so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption that what is good for the world will be goodfor us. And that requires that we make the effort to know the world and to learn what is good for it.
-- Wendell Berry, Recollected Essays

When Kenny Ausubel, founder of the Santa Fe-based Bioneers, talks about the future, he's optimistic in spite of all he knows about the environmental degradation of the Earth.

"Being immersed as I am in this world of solutions," said Ausubel in a recent interview, "it's not hard to be an optimist."

An author, filmmaker and social entrepreneur specializing in health and the environment, Ausubel traveled to San Juan Pueblo in New Mexico in 1984, ostensibly to make a film. But when he arrived, as he peered through the camera, he was struck by a handful of bright red corn in the hands of a Native American farmer.

The seeds, remembered by a few elders of the pueblo as sacred red corn, had been kept in a clay pot in the wall of the man's adobe home and had not been grown in 40 years.

"In these seeds," said Ausubel, in an article published in the September 1998 Yoga Journal, "lived not only the genetic legacy of countless generations of Pueblo farmers, but also the imprint of their hands. I thought I was at San Juan Pueblo to make a film, but it turned out I was there to start a seed company. I went on to found Seeds of Change, a company devoted to working with backyard gardeners to market -- and so conserve -- the world's ark of ancient seeds."

With his business partner, organic gardener Gabriel Howarth, Ausubel started Seeds of Change in 1989 and a year later, with his wife Nina Simons, started the Bioneers conference, a forum for like-minded biological pioneers to exchange ideas and to network. (Ausubel broke away from Seeds of Change in 1994, citing a "difference of vision" just before the company was acquired by M&M Mars.)

The Bioneers' first year, some 200 people attended the conference in a hotel ballroom in Santa Fe. In October of 2000, in Marin County, Calif., the conference was attended by 2,700 teachers, scientists, entrepreneurs, activists, farmers, business owners, journalists and interested observers.

To hear Ausubel tell it, the evolution of the Bioneers has been a natural outgrowth of the constant spawning and exchange of innovative ideas and environmental vision. And as the Bioneers conference has grown, so has the organization's range of interest expanded. Themes addressed by the Bioneers, in addition to organic food, farming and seeds, now run the gamut from green entrepreneurship to natural design to alternative medicine to environmental education -- all related parts of a holistic approach to restoring the Earth.

"After starting the Bioneers conference in 1990," said Ausubel, "I had begun to meet all these people, one by one, who seemed to have real practical solutions to the kinds of problems I was concerned with. "The purpose of the organization and the conference then became to bring together these innovators and to focus on environmental solutions."

The Food We Eat

Joel Salatin, a presenter at this year's conference, is a Virginia farmer who has developed a rotational grazing system that produces healthy herds of organic beef while building as much as an inch of topsoil a year. Ausubel sees Salatin's work and the work of other visionary agriculturalists as just one sign of progress -- pointing to the inevitability of change in farming techniques and, ultimately, in improving the food supply of the planet.

"Joel has a six-month waiting list for his organic beef," said Ausubel. "A couple months ago he was named Hero of the Week on an ABC News broadcast. He's one of the innovators who has shown that organic farming is not only ecologically sound but, at the same time, economically robust. Some people drive as far as 200 miles to get the food he produces."

A healthy food supply has become one of Ausubel's central focuses in recent years as he has researched the link between the environment, the food we eat and threats to public health. Much of his personal attention has been focused on the proliferation of cancer, especially in the industrialized world.

"Cancer is now epidemic in this country," he said. "And research shows that 70 to 90 percent of all cancers are directly environmentally related."

Ausubel believes that a growing focus on public health and environmental issues will ultimately determine the shape of the future -- economically, ecologically, spiritually, publicly and personally.

"Our whole food system is coming into focus," he said. "I think in the next 10 years the world is going to become almost unrecognizable and that change will be driven by public health issues. We can no longer ignore that the environment and our bodies are inseparable; we're one and the same thing."

Change is incremental and, naturally, will be slow coming. But far more is happening, says Ausubel, than we may be aware of if we pay attention only to the news presented by the mainstream media where there is a "cognitive dissonance" between what's really happening in public health and agriculture, and the general perception.

"There's lots more grass roots work going on than we tend to get told," he said. The innovators, he insists, are making significant progress. "Organic foods are growing by 20 percent a year," he said, "while other food industries are working hard to grow 1 percent a year. The question becomes how do we promote organic farming and food production to meet the increasing demand for healthy food?"

The Bioneers Take on the Evils of Globalization

One of the most rousing sessions of the 2000 Bioneers conference was a panel of speakers addressing "Globalization, Corporations and the Environment." In a packed auditorium, the focus came down to the essential element of the world's food supply -- the seed -- illuminating perfectly the Bioneers multifaceted, networking appoach and demonstrating their commitment to complex social and environmental issues.

Co-sponsored by the International Forum on Globalization, the session was hosted by Jerry Mander, IGF president and author of The Case Against the Global Economy and In the Absence of the Sacred. Mander and his co-panelists, including Body Shop CEO Anita Roddick, engaged in a heated critique of the new corporate world order and its "antidemocratic institutions, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund," decrying the transnationals' attempts to control local and regional food production in the Third World.

But the discussion was most poignantly driven home by Food First's Anuradha Mittal, a tireless activist currently organizing People's Caravan: Citizen's on the Move for Land and Food without Poisons, a series of food festivals and organizing meetings across Bangladesh, India and the Philippines.

A native of India, Mittal condemned mainstream media coverage of "free trade as panacea," passionately explaining how, though it was reported that the United States had recently sent $4.15 million for food aid to Orissa in East India, in fact U.S. corporations had dumped tons of genetically engineered seeds on India during this initiative, threatening to wipe out a thousands-of-years-old culture of biological diversity and sound agricultural practices.

"The food security of the third world is being stolen by the IMF and the World Bank," said Mittal. "They are stealing people's ability to feed themselves."

Much was said about the efforts of multinational corporations to dominate the world's seed market, profiting exhorbitantly, while falsely advertising their intent to feed the poor.

Natural Capitalism and the Future of the Earth

Ausubel sees these issues and many diverse others -- creating living systems modeled on nature to turn septic waste into food for fish and plants; building factories that produce their own power by recycling waste -- all as part of a collective consciousness which will inevitably change how we live and how we do business in the post-industrial world.

He is a strong proponent of the recent collaborative work of businessman Paul Hawken and Rocky Mountain Institute researchers Amory and Hunter Lovins, embracing the notion of "natural capitalism."

Their book, Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution, is being heralded as the first substantial exploration of opportunities for businesses to profit and prosper in an era of known environmental limits.

The authors posit a new industrial revolution in which "business and environmental interests increasingly overlap" and in which "businesses can better satisfy their customers' needs, increase profits, and help solve environmental problems all at the same time."

Ausubel points out that 75 percent of the American people now indicate that they are "very committed to the environment and to restoration," and that most are willing to put their money where their concerns are.

"There has clearly been a system set up a certain way that we now know is highly toxic, is unsustainable, and there is also a resistance to alternative approaches," he said. "But in my view there are many things changing right now. There is a growing view that both here and abroad, the environment is going to dominate our attention in the future.

"The work that Hawken and Hunter and Amory Lovins are doing is working with corporations, showing them that they can profit from picking up environmentally sound, restorative technologies. I'm convinced we'll see more and more large corporations changing their practices not just because it's ecologically correct, but because it's economically smart as well."

Preserving the Family Farm

As conference attendees hustled back and forth from seminars on "Re-Wilding North America" to "Antibiotic Herbs," a buzz developed over the three days about the Bioneers' recent agricultural project supporting efforts of black farmers in the Southeastern United States through the Federation of Southern Cooperatives.

Finally, on Sunday, the main auditorium was treated to a spirited accounting by Selma, Ala., attorney J.L. Chestnut of his successful litigation against the U.S. Department of Agriculture on behalf of black farmers who had systematically lost their lands and their livelihood over most of the last century.

That afternoon, in a quiet corner of the conference center, a group of 20 or so attendees listened as Mississippi farmers Ben Burkett and Virgil Smith talked about the challenges of sustaining their family farms, and their hopes for developing "value-added" agricultural practices with the assistance of the Bioneers economic development arm, the Restorative Development Institute.

Burkett, director of the Misissippi Association of Cooperatives and manager of the Indian Springs Farming Coop, shook his head and laughed at the idea of being at a conference on farming in California when California mega-farms, shipping their vegetables to Kroger's in Nashville, are a constant threat to his livelihood.

Burkett characterized himself as a typical black Mississippi farmer, routinely denied loans and emergency assistance from the state throughout the tenure of three Mississippi governors. Making a living off the land, he pointed out, continued to be a struggle in spite of progress made by Chestnut and others.

But he echoed the Bioneers' approach to agriculture, honoring the abundance of the earth and the importance of a healthy, diverse food supply. "If you take care of a piece of land, it'll take care of you," he said. "You might not get rich or have the biggest house, but you'll always have something good to eat."

Ausubel sees the Bioneers' work in Mississippi and across the rural South as a way to link family farmers to more profitable markets and to agricultural practices that will ultimately prove to be sustainable.

"It's a situation," he said, "of how do farmers stay on the land and make a living? It's a real issue." A few years back, the Bioneers launched an initiative to reintroduce the traditional white corn of Iroquois farmers in upstate New York, enlisting chefs across the country to incorporate recipes for Iroquois white corn into their menus and to create an ongoing demand for the product.

Working with family farmers in the rural South, the Bioneers hope to stop the dramatic decline in the black farming population. In the 1920s there were about a million black farmers across the Southern states, most of whom had kept their land since the end of the Civil War. Now there are barely 18,000 black family farmers in the region, and, as Ausubel points out, fewer than 175 of them are under the age of 60.

"This rich cultural commitment to the land will be extinct in a generation if something doesn't change," he said.

"We've helped to initiate a linkage with a national medicinal herb company -- the Eclectic Institute out of Oregon. Ed Alstat, the CEO there, has made a long-term commitment to this project. The herb company went down there and told the farmers what kind of herbs they need, and now [those who participate] will learn organic growing practices that meet [the company's] standards.

"Anita Roddick of The Body Shop is going down there in January to see if her company can use their products."

The point, says Ausubel, is not to go down South and tell these farmers how to farm, but to introduce them to new markets, to offer information and support and, hopefully, to get the youth interested in staying on the farm. "Without them, there's no future," he said. "We want to help create a positive role model of economic viability. Kids have to know they can make a living -- a good living -- in order to stay."

At the conference, Smith echoed Ausubel's concern. "Most young black Americans don't want to be farmers," he said. "They are scared to fail. There is a legacy of shame, poverty and failure to overcome."

The Next Generation

Teaching kids the value of growing their own food, and educating them about what they can do to directly affect the restoration of the environment is an important, ongoing part of the Bioneers' work. In Berkeley, the Center for Ecoliteracy has developed an environmental curriculum to be used in California public schools. And a popular experimental program called The Edible Schoolyard partners famed Berkeley chef Alice Waters with school teachers and children, developing gardens on school grounds which produce healthy, organically grown vegetables that, in turn, are served in the school lunch program.

"They have found," said Ausubel," that once children are exposed to nature, particularly with the growth of food, their behavior changes dramatically." Giving hope to kids about what they can do to contribute to the healthy future of the earth, and to adults who have become fatalistic over what they see as looming environmental disaster is essential to the Bioneers' mission, said Ausubel.

He points to the public radio series produced last year by Michael and Justine Toms of New Dimensions Radio, The Bioneers: Revolution From the Heart of Nature, as an example of the organization's focus on getting the word out about their work.

"Part of the solution is telling these stories," he said, "giving them more exposure. We get hundreds of calls every time one of these radio shows airs, from people who say they have been hiding out, living in fear and despair over what they see and hear every day about the environment. They are thrilled to know that this work is going on and they want to get involved."

It's a large gap to bridge -- between fatalism and hope, between the ongoing devastation of the planet under the current industrial model and innovative technologies and ecologically sound agricultural and business practices which could determine the shape of the future.

Does there have to be a cataclysmic disaster before we all wake up to what's happening and change our lives accordingly?

"That's a perception issue," said Ausubel. "If you know enough, things are already disastrous. But that's a kind of numbing scenario. What are you going to do with that?

"This is not New Age nonsense we're talking about but real solutions to real problems."

Take Action!

To learn more about the Bioneers and their many activities, visit: www.bioneers.org; or write them c/o The Collective Heritage Institute, 826 Camino de Monte Rey, #A6, Santa Fe, NM 87505.

To learn more about natural capitalism and to read excerpts from the book, Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution, visit: www.naturalcapitalism.org.

For a catalogue and instruction on saving seeds and supporting plant diversity, contact Seed Savers Exchange, 1076 North Winn Rd., Decorah, IA 52101; 319/382-5990.

For more information on the activities of Food First, contact: Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy, 398 60th Street, Oakland, CA 94618; by phone, 510/654-4400; by Fax, 510/654-4551; or visit: www.foodfirst.org.

To learn more about education initiatives for school age children, contact The Center for Ecoliteracy, 2522 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94702; e-mail them at: info@ecoliteracy.org; or visit them at www.ecoliteracy.org.

Ring of Fire

With wildfires burning throughout much of the western Untied States, it is unfortunate and disturbing that the timber industry and some of their supporters have decided to use the wildfires as an excuse to advance their political agenda of increased logging and roadbuilding in America's national forests.

The timber industry and their allies are quickly blaming decreased timber sales in National Forests for the wildfires, with the hope of whipping the public into a hysteria to reverse attitudes and trends about national forest protection.

The past week has witnessed a number of western congressional representatives falling victim to such politically self-serving pleas. For example, Montana's Congressman Rick Hill recently called for the Clinton administration "to put forth new measures for the emergency recovery of vulnerable and affected timber to help prevent further devastation."

In other words, Congressman Hill's proposed solution is to "recover" -- or cut down -- any forests that are "vulnerable" to wildfire or "affected" by the current wildfires. At last count, that is all the forestland in the western United States.

This politically-driven "solution" from Congressman Hill comes despite the fact that most of the large wildfires throughout the west are currently burning in areas heavily logged and roaded during the past century -- not to mention the fact that a number of wildfires have been ignited by irresponsible logging operations themselves.

At a time when families and communities are pulling together to cope with the situation, the rhetoric from the timber industry and their supporters to increase logging in national forests to reduce the risk of fire are not only highly unethical, but their calls are also not supported by scientific facts.

The truth of the matter is commercial logging doesn't prevent wildfires, it causes them.

Since 1996, Congress has spent $57 million on scientific assessments that have concluded commercial logging to be the primary activity causing an increase in wildfire intensity and severity.

For example, the Sierra Nevada Ecosystems Project stated in a final report to Congress, "timber harvest, through its effects on forest structure, local microclimate, and fuels accumulation, has increased fire severity more than any other recent human activity."

Government studies have also revealed that no matter what logging system is used -- thinning, salvaging, or clearcutting -- areas that have been logged and roaded experience higher ignition rates, more rapid rates of fire spread, higher fire intensities and greater fire severity than unlogged areas.

The timber industry is fond of using a 1999 General Accounting Office (GAO) report which found 39 million acres of forestland at high risk of fire as their "silver-bullet" to justify more logging in national forests. While the timber industry quotes such numbers, they fail to mention that -- according to the Forest Service -- 87 percent of that acreage is found within heavily logged and roaded portions of our national forests.

Interestingly enough, the same 1999 GAO report determined "most of the trees that need to be removed to reduce accumulated fuels are small in diameter and have little or no commercial value," thereby raising further questions as to the intentions of the timber industry and their supporters.

Truthfully, the timber industry knows that while Forest Service budgets are tied directly to commercial logging -- not forest stewardship -- the Forest Service will continue its long-standing tradition of cutting down our national forests while simply paying lip service to "forest health."

This fact did not go unnoticed in the GAO report either. The GAO found that when addressing projects designed to reduce the risk of fire, Forest Service managers, "tend to (1) focus on areas with high-value commercial timber rather than on areas with high fire hazards or (2) include more large, commercially valuable trees in a timber sale than are necessary to reduce the accumulated fuels."

Clearly the American people need to decide whether national forests should be managed by sound science, or whether management should continue to be commercially driven and controlled by the timber industry and their congressional allies.

In the meantime, out of respect for the communities and families affected by the wildfires, let's request that the timber industry and their congressional supporters at least wait for the wildfires to pass before they start advancing their political agenda of increased logging and roadbuilding in America's national forests.

Free Will Fiction

He made it hip to turn to the horoscope.

Rob Brezsny's Free Will Astrology, formerly Real World Astrology, is often the first (and sometimes the only) stop for readers of many alternative newsweeklies.

Recent, Brezsny tells me and my fellow Taureans that it's time "to summon more high-impact modes of communication. How about squalling a home-made manifesto through a bullhorn or FedExing a half-burnt $20-bill covered with poetic demands? Better yet, put your face right in the faces of your target audience and speak the bald truth without a trace of anger."

Brezsny is also a front man rock musician, a father, and a two-time novelist. When we spoke earlier this spring, he told me that his new novel, The Televisionary Oracle (Frog, Ltd) was already 754th on amazon.com's best seller list (it has since dropped to 8,758th). Brezsny is not one to measure success by sales, however, noting that his first novel never rose higher than 8 millionth.

Citing Tom Robbins, Salmon Rushdie, Robert Anton Wilson and Don Delilo as his literary influences, Brezsny unleashed the pent-up prose that had previously been confined to twelve short paragraphs a week and set out to write a tale of macho-feminism. The Televisionary Oracle chronicles the adventures of an unnamed rock star who encounters Rapunzel Blavatsky, the leader of a cult-like tribe of goddess worshippers who lead the rock star on the path toward male menstruation. Brezsny writes and talks about his belief in the benefit to men and women alike of "honoring the menstrual cycle and dropping out of the frenetic routine for four days out of every month." When I told him that my alma mater Colorado College was ahead of the curve with their four and a half day block breaks each month, Brezsny was intrigued and enthused, asking "You want to picket with me and demand the right to menstrual periods?"

OP: Could you start by explaining the name change for your column?

Brezsny: There's a philosophy that I try too embody in my life which is the principle of "I die daily." What that means to me is periodically shedding the formulas that have worked for me in the past, whether they've become outworn or they just no longer fit in an appropriate way. I felt I wanted something that reflected more my radical commitment to astrology as a language that enhances one's free will and not, as many people seem to believe, something that militates or damages your free will.

OP: Is there any relationship to the time spent working on The Televisionary Oracle and this evolution in your column?

Brezsny: That, I think, is an essential part of the meaning of the book for me. Working on the book forced me to delve deeper into the quality of the voice that I wanted to develop as a writer. It translated directly into how I wrote my column. Being true to the command from my muses to write from a deeper level certainly made me a better writer and, I think, made my column of greater service to other people.

OP: To what degree do you think of the novel as autobiographical?

Brezsny: At one point my muses were flirting with calling it a docu-fiction memoir. It changes from day to day. Today I think of it as about 55 percent direct translation from my life. But everything ultimately comes from some facet of your experience. I had a writing teacher at the University of California Santa Cruz who told me that his approach to writing was to take some element of his life and mutate it so that it he couldn't write about it literally. For instance, if there was a man in his life that he wanted to write about, he would turn that man into a woman. Engaging the imagination to blend with his literal experiences made the writing more interesting.

OP: It's partly debunking the myth of writing what you know. Write what you know, but put it in a context that's different and challenging.

Brezsny: Otherwise it becomes too much of a journal entry. For me, that always feels plodding and overly literalistic and narcissistic. If the imagination gets involved it breathes excitement into it.

OP: Has it been your perception that changes in terms of thinking of the book as either docu-ficiton or pure novel, or have you actually been changing the text itself to reflect those different approaches?

Brezsny: The imagination is an underappreciated faculty. It doesn't have a really great reputation in our culture. Most people think of it as being the province of children and artists. But I regard it as everyone's single greatest asset. It's the faculty we use to make pictures of things that don't exist yet. It's what we use to create the future. In my spiritual training, the imagination is an organ by which you can perceive realities on the astral plane, or on the fourth dimension. So whereas the imagination can show us things that aren't literally true, they can show us things that are metaphorically true or true to the subconscious mind. In that sense, everything in the book is true for me, is a direct translation of my life in some way because it represents the truth of my life in four dimensions. For instance, Rapunzel Blavatsky began speaking very clearly to me on January 1st, 1994. She began speaking in my head. I'm not a person given to hearing voices in my head; I never have. She told me that she lived in 2071, and that she was communicating to me across time because she wanted me to tell her story. Anybody who is addicted to thinking that material reality is the only reality would say, "well, that's absurd. You're deluded." Because I believe that the imagination does convey realities in the fourth dimension, I think there is some aspect of that that's true for me. I don't need to believe it literally. That's an example of how I think.

OP: What do you identify as the sacred?

Brezsny: I'll answer that two different ways. In one sense, everything is sacred to me. The sense that there are things that are not sacred hurts my feelings, because I view God's creation being revealed in the smallest details of the life that I encounter and the biggest details, the grandiose visions, the epiphanies that I have. Sitting with my daughter on the couch trying to decipher the Word Jumbles in the newspaper, that's a sacred moment too. Likewise, even those moments that might be regarded as profane, I aspire to bring a sacred presence or awareness to those so as to infuse them with the presence of the divine. To answer it in a slightly different way, the sacred is most alive to me when it's blended with a sense of playfulness. I think there's a plague on the sacred caused by people taking themselves too seriously, people thinking that spirituality is only real if it's serious, sober, dignified. I resent and protest that sense of the sacred. I think that the more fun it has, the more playfulness it has, then the more authentically sacred it is.

OP: That playfulness shows up in your book with the recurring idea of the trickster.

Brezsny: Although Rapunzel's idea of the trickster is different from what I identify as some of the patriarchal approaches to the trickster, because a lot of the tricksterism in the west is a very mean-spirited tricksterism. It's all about getting revenge on someone. Rapunzel's notion of a prank is as a compassionate act. To trick people into becoming more united with their essential self, to seek some sort of unification that wasn't possible before.

OP: Did you begin the book thinking of it as a novel, or did it have some other form?

Brezsny: To be honest, I sat down to write the book in August of 1989. It was my effort to incorporate the ideas that I had developed as a rock singer in the band World Entertainment War into a really alternative fiction philosophical novel. I worked on that thing for five years and just never found a way into it. In January of '94, through a series of great epiphanies form various sources, I realized that what I thought the book was about, it wasn't about. It was at that point that I met Rapunzel. It was at that point that I realized that the way into the book was for me to write about something that was very shameful for me. Having been a staunch feminist for many years, having devoted a lot of my life energy to helping to regenerate the feminine in our culture, I had come to feel kind of an embarrassment about the fact that my male sexuality, my heterosexual male sexuality, was as powerful and out of control and rich and varied and celebratory as it ever was. I think that I bought into the radical feminist ideas that there was something inherently evil or distorted about male sexuality. So the point at which I began to write the novel was from that shame. I discovered that was a very evocative source to write from. The unfortunate thing was that I wanted to pack all this other stuff in, this philosophy, the poetry, the oracles, the manifestos.

OP: The book has three distinctive voices throughout, Rapunzel's, the rock star's, and the oracle's. Did you have a different approach for writing those different sections and finding those separate voices.

Brezsny: Just as when I write my column I somehow manage to become a Virgo when I write the Virgo column and become a Scorpio when I write the Scorpio hororscope, I entered fully into the characters that were speaking. Even the Telivisionary Oracle, I entered into a very different state of mind.

OP: Is there a process for getting into that state of mind?

Brezsny: You mean a conscious technique? Gosh, it's pretty intuitive for me. I'm not a strategic novel writer. I was writing the middle parts in the beginning and the beginning later on. I was following some inner guide that had its own understanding of what the organization was but didn't reveal to me that organization till the end. [Laughs]

OP: You have some clear restrictions in writing your column, including the limited size. But there's also the level of responsibility of writing a column that people turn to for some level of guidance and advice. To what degree were you able to break from that responsibility as you turned to fiction and a novel? Brezsny: You're right, I have a very heightened sense of responsibility to those who read my column, and I try to be extremely gentle and protect their free will and prevent them from projecting too much guruhood onto me. I think that I was a little more reckless in writing the book. It felt like a gamble. I don't know if people who read my column are going to enjoy the book, because in the column I'm always writing to you, I'm writing love letters to you. In the book, there's a lot of I statements. On the other hand, I do feel like the same moral vision that is at the heart of the column is at the heart of the book. No matter how wild my vision gets, it's always rooted in a sense of serving what's good. I view that as one of my most unusual capacities or tendencies as a writer. There are very few people who are good writers who aspire to have a moral vision. There are a lot of bad writers who have what I consider a sentimental and hackneyed moral vision.

OP: Can you imagine writing without that moral vision?

Brezsny: No. That wouldn't be true to my voice.

Green Party 2000 Chooses Nader



The Green Party and their newfound labor union and Reform pals got together last weekend and decided that Al Gore and George W. Bush make them want to Ralph.

It may not be a sleeper of a presidential election year after all.

In a somewhat peculiar symbiosis, consumer advocate Ralph Nader and a burgeoning Green Party solidified what they hope will become this year's populist rallying cry to reengage disaffected labor union members and environmentalists alike: Turtles and Teamsters Forever!

And in a stunning move, a representative of the 23-state coalition of the Reform Party of America offered a decisive endorsement for Nader at the Greens national convention in Denver on Sunday.

Dismissing the notion that a vote for Nader is a vote thrown away, speaker after speaker attacked Democrats and Republicans as indistinguishable as they satiate their voracious appetites for cash from the same corporate and special interest trough.



"I don't think voting your conscience is throwing your vote away; I think you waste your vote when you vote for someone you don't like," said convention organizer Dean Myerson.

Four years ago, Nader only halfheartedly campaigned on the Green Party ticket. This year he insists he's in it to win.

However, a more realistic goal is to secure that magic 5 percent voting percentage, giving the Greens a massive boost and access to millions in matching federal funds in the 2004 presidential race.

Or, as Jello Biafra, the lead singer of the now-defunct punk band Dead Kennedy's, puts it, "Can you imagine what would happen to American television if people like me get to design the presidential campaign ads?"



Biafra was also drafted to run on the Green Party ticket for president this year, as was Stephen Gaskin, who helped found the Farm in Tennessee in the 1970s -- at the time the largest hippie commune in the world.

Not unexpectedly, Nader easily won the nomination. But both Biafra and Gaskin say they are helping to revive interest in politics among groups that have become disenfranchised and have reeled in disgust away from politics.

Years of Efforts

The Greens Party first organized in Germany as an anti-nuclear, pro-peace movement at the height of the Cold War. United States Greens activists began forming here in 1984, and by 1992 were forming state parties and gaining ballot access.

Now the Green Party USA is formally organized in 38 states, with a high-profile presidential candidate, 78 candidates holding mostly-local public offices, and 118 candidates running this year.

"It's exhilarating for a lot of us; this is a real culmination of many years of efforts," said Oregon delegate Blair Bobier, a longtime U.S. Green Party organizer.

Grassroots organizing and a clean and safe planet are key for Greens, but they are also agitating for universal health care, an end to corporate welfare and legalizing hemp.

Labor unions, angered by Gore's recent support of trade with China, are attracted to the Greens, as are Reform Party activists who have long derided NAFTA. And, the Greens are building on the momentum generated by last year's widespread protests of the World Trade Organization in Seattle and the International Monetary Fund in Washington D.C.

"This is a very long term movement, with people of all ages, stripes and designs totally fed up with a corporate monarchy," said Biafra. "Our constitutional democracy has slowly but surely been overthrown in a sugar coated Disney-crusted coup."

Last weekend, Reform Party spokesman Don Torgersen carefully distinguished his branch of the Reform Party -- which was founded by H. Ross Perot in 1992 – from the Buchanan Brigade of 2000. Perot hasn't personally weighed in, but Torgersen said his group's endorsement represents 23 state party affiliates.

"Most of the traditional Reform members have walked away from Pat Buchanan," Torgersen said, and are offended and disgusted by the so-called Buchanan Brigade's blustery emphasis on a conservative social agenda, including damning abortion.

So what does Ralph Nader have in common with the Greens?

"He has an incredible connection, I can't think of a more natural alliance," Bobier said. "He's impressed by our dedication to civic democracy and we're impressed by his commitment to doing it."

The independent Nader said he has no plans to formally join the party that selected him as their presidential nominee. In exchange, the Greens will benefit by having a high-profile candidate in their camp.

Corporate Paymasters

Kicking off the three-day convention in Denver, Nader and his running mate Winona LaDuke blasted the Democratic and Republican parties for bowing down to "corporate paymasters" like DuPont, Exxon and General Motors.

The arrogance and complacency of the major two party system has resulted in widespread alienation in the political democracy, Nader said. Less than 50 percent of eligible voters -- or 75 million people -- tuned out for the vote four years ago.

Big money has not only forced major parties to their knees, but democracy itself is in peril, Nader warned.

"We've got one corporate party with two heads wearing different make-up," Nader said. "We're one choice short of a [dictatorship]."

Nader issued a challenge to the media to treat third party candidates as seriously as they do the two major parties -- and to insist he and Buchanan not get shut out of the debate. Currently candidates must garner 15 percent support in the polls to be allowed to participate in presidential debates, a system that was devised by the Democratic and Republican parties.

A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll suggested Nader is currently ahead of Buchanan by 7 percent to 4 percent.

Yet, despite assertions that Nader would steal Gore's thunder, he may also capture the vote of people who -- turned off by Bush's candidacy -- would otherwise vote for the Republican. Nader support is growing in the Pacific Northwest, and in the crucial high electoral state of California.

Nader also asked the media to treat third party candidates equitably, allowing them equal access to the masses, instead of working in the mindset that only the two major parties are legitimate.

Sure enough, by the end of the convention, Nader and mainstreams press were cozying up nicely with each other. The day he accepted the nomination, Nader's press handlers insisted that the candidate -- the champion of the little guy -- would only be available for interviews with major daily newspapers.

Which is Worse?

Yet, throwing around such brain-heavy topics as global justice and ecological wisdom, speaker after speaker howled for reform -- both from the media and in politics -- during last weekend's gathering.

Manning Marable, the founding director of the Institute for Research in African Studies at Columbia University, delivered a rousing oration calling for economic and social justice. He urged people to ponder tough moral questions.

"Which is worse, George W. Bush's decision to send an innocent man to his death this week, or Al Gore's failure to denounce him?" Manning thundered over Gore's silence over the execution of Gary Graham in Texas.

Radio commentator and keynote speaker Jim Hightower electrified a packed house, highlighting the weekend's oft-repeated theme: Republicans and Democrats have sold out.

Hightower blamed an exodus of would-be Democratic voters from Al Gore's camp on a major party that has abandoned its core values and is now indistinguishable from Republicans.

The former Texas Agriculture Commissioner commended the Greens for their enthusiasm and for shaking things up.

"Agitation is what America is all about," Hightower said. "If it wasn't for agitation we'd all be sitting here wearing powdered wigs and singing God Save the Queen."

In response to Democrats claims that Nader will steal votes away from Gore, Hightower offered the vice president a little piece of advice: "If you want to get rid of the Nader problem, become a Democrat."

Hightower hooted as he cited a June 23 New York Times story quoting U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, condemning potential spoiler Nader as "a very selfish person" who is on an ego trip.

"You can say a lot of things about Ralph Nader, but selfish?" Hightower asked, noting the celebrated consumer advocate lives in a rental apartment, has not owned a car since 1959 and still watches TV in black and white.

Ten Key Values of the Greens

Social Justice
Community-Based Economics
Nonviolence
Decentralization
Future Focus/Sustainability
Feminism
Personal and Global Responsibility
Respect for Diversity
Grassroots Democracy
Ecological Wisdom

Bad Neighbors

Days after the Littleton school shooting I saw something in CompUSA that turned my stomach: piles of adult-rated, violent computer games such as Doom, Quake and Redneck Rampage on sale in the kids' section.My defense of the gaming industry's First Amendment right to produce all these killing-is-a-blast video games puddled at my feet. Why the hell were these games stacked in the aisles of CompUSA's colorful little kids' corner, alongside Madeline, the Learn to Read system and Sesame Street software?For a kid's perspective, I pulled up one of those tiny, cute yellow chairs a foot off the floor. Before me sat a PC loaded with dancing education software. But, turning my head to the left, I stared right at Doom III and Redneck Rampage, games with "Violence, Blood and Gore" ratings, less than three feet away. The adult games, starting inches off the floor, were stacked on a huge display literally surrounded by family software titles.I went back a week later: The violent games were in the same spot. I then popped into a nearby Media Play. Same stupidity. Violent games -- including Wargasm, Quake II and Redneck Rampage, "a blood-soaked 3-D killin' spree" -- were piled floor-up in the aisle between "Family Games" and "Kids' Entertainment." I watched a little boy, 7 or 8, pick up one of the M-rated (Mature) games after the other.Then to Target, everyone's favorite family store. More madness: violent, adult-rated games displayed at the bottom of its software aisle. I've been back to each store several times in the last several weeks; no improvement.These mega-retailers are showing their irresponsible, money-grubbing colors -- and we consumers must stop them. No doubt, parents should monitor their kids' games -- but why have a rating system no one enforces? If retailers can't see their way to only displaying violent games in adult sections, we grown-ups ought to take our business, and our kids, elsewhere.President Clinton touched on this problem this month -- although barely fingering mega-stores such as CompUSA -- when he asked movie theater owners to enforce film ratings to help safeguard kids."For rating systems to work, they must also be enforced, not simply by watchful parents, but by retailers at the point of sales, and theater owners at the multiplex," Clinton said.But these retailers aren't enforcing the ratings -- and clearly these store managers don't particularly give a damn about the role their marketing ploys might play in a violent youth culture. If they did, they'd put the games elsewhere. Period.Imagine if a children's bookstore displayed Penthouse and Hustler between Narnia and Light in the Attic. Or perhaps Camels in the candy aisle? We just toiled this road with tobacco companies. Why can't CompUSA et al. -- the smug purveyors of hip, must-have technology -- watch and learn a simple, neighborly lesson? That is: Stop marketing bad crap to kids!Yes, the Entertainment Software Rating Board, a group formed by game makers, has a rating system used on most computer games. But the plan is only so useful if it's not even being applied at the point of purchase.ESRB Associate Director Lisa Schnapp said this week that her group supplies retailers with posters and a brochure (www.esrb.com/parent.html). They do not, however, advise the stores about violent-game placement. "We don't suggest how to place products," she said. "I think most stores have their own policies."The $6.3 billion entertainment software industry should take a hint from the National Association of Theater Owners, which this month agreed to require kids to show IDs for R-rated films. Self-regulation -- a favorite catchword of high-tech producers -- means just that: They must show a little intelligence, artificial or otherwise, when it comes to marketing violence to children.And our local store managers must step out of their profitable virtual reality and start acting like they live in our communities -- and aren't just pillaging us for every last, blood-soaked buck.

Rat Pack Dot-com Industry

My friend and editor, Amy Haimerl, was mortified. "Have you seen the new Red Herring?" she asked over Saturday afternoon mimosas in New York's East Village. I hadn't, but I'd read about it. It's one of the technology business magazines currently enjoying record ad sales. The June issue is 600-plus pages. I figured Amy was just dissing the competition: She's the managing editor of Silicon Alley Reporter, a glossy that is also garnering record ad sales.

Amy had a salient point, as usual. Bundled with the new Red Herring is a glossy supplement, "Going Public." Together, the two featured ads from Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse First Boston, Merrill Lynch, Lucent, the U.S. Postal Service, Oracle, Lotus, Quest, Sprint, Microsoft, eTrade, Mercedes-Benz, American Express and Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, among others.

Inside "Going Public," you can snooze through another round-up of the top 25 IPOs, venture capitalists and investment bankers. But first you have to get past the cover image of a flat-chested cheerleader, complete with pompons and pigtails. Two large pieces of tape cover her mouth. "Hip, Hip, Hush!" reads the headline. Only a couple of forehead crinkles belie the fact that we're supposed to be looking at high-school cheerleader. A gagged high-school cheerleader. This might as well be "Pedophile Today" magazine.

This cover is so 1972. It is patently offensive and in recklessly poor taste. It belongs in a Ms. magazine "No comment" column. It's a poignant reminder of how naive some dot-com titans and editors are. Where were they back in the early 1970s when women were trying to break free of restraints and gags and speak out against discrimination, low pay, domestic violence, rape -- and images that used nubile, young women to sell manly-man stuff like Camaros and guns. Well, they were in elementary school and, later, locked in the basement playing with their Ataris, it seems. Then they grew up to design software, start dot-coms and/or start pseudo-intelligent magazines to hand out at silicon pep rallies.

The dot-com industry mounts self-consciously "hip" television ads that are, as my boyfriend puts it, "devoid of a moral center." They employ lots of 20-somethings and turn out the graying stodgies to pasture. (Economist.com recently ran an ad for "young reporters." Age bias is in, it seems. No wonder these boys tend to forget the women's [and civil] rights' movement.) The dot-com style is to flatten the management structure (inbreeding inefficiency), give everyone "equal," conflated titles, ignore labor rules and work the young guns so hard that they collapse from sheer exhaustion. And yell a lot, then go to parties thumping with bad techno. (So 1987.) Talk about revenge of the nerds.

Back to Red Herring. Granted, the top 11 editors and designers on the masthead are men -- no qualified women have applied, they'd likely say -- but what kind of quick-witted analysis brought the frat broes to this cover concept? (Maybe the four-martini Darren Stephens kind?) When my initial disgust at this cover subsided, I thought perhaps at least the sentiment behind it was decent: I've been saying for years that real journalists must stop cheerleading the sacred tech industry. No illustration needed. Nope, not the point of this cover: "How Webvan's IPO is changing the quiet-period rules" was the actual story. No surprise: Red Herring isn't about to piss on its own rich grave. Maybe a dribble every now and then.

This image is a layer cake of problems: "young" girl as sales tool; silenced woman; gagged cheerleader sexual image. This is the point I'm labeled an uptight, P.C. dyky type who doesn't get the droll wit oozing out of the Red Herring pad. That's when I'm tempted to fly to San Francisco in my black leather halter, platforms and red lipstick and start slashing them with a bull whip. But I won't. (They'd just snap digital shots to promote online used-car sales, anyhow.)

So I'll just respond: Grow the hell up. Try thinking. Be creative and original. Live in the world you sell to. And leave a legacy beyond some cheap male fantasy. And rejoin the year 2000. Dumb cheerleading, indeed, needs to end.

E-mail comments to donna@shutup101.com.

Secret Service Says Teen Profiling Software is Useless

A decade ago, when I edited a paper in New York City, the commander of the Village's 6th Precinct would call me up and tell me to bring a photographer and meet him near Washington Square Park. There many people liked to casually smoke pot, hidden in the crowd. When he gave the signal we'd watch vanloads of police officers swoop into the park, block the exits and arrest anyone caught with a joint.

It was an exercise in futility. Most of the arrestees -- who at one point included aging rocker Deedee Ramone -- were taken to the stationhouse, and usually given desk-appearance tickets, akin to a slap on the wrist. They were often back in the park with a joint by the next weekend.

Everyone involved, especially the police, knew this was a press event to show the community that the police were trying to stem the tide of "drugs," although the real drug activity -- crack, junk, murders -- took place blocks away. Those were harder nuts to crack.

The same thing is now happening in U.S. schools. I complained last November about Mosaic 2000, a student-profiling software program invented by a Hollywood celebrity bodyguard. The software, currently being tested in schools nationwide, asks questions of seemingly "troubled" students and their parents to determine which kids fit the profile of likely criminals. I complained that administrators would use this taxpayer-funded, for-profit operation (assisted by the CIA and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) to violate the privacy and rights of students, based on subjective criteria (black clothing, access to guns, shyness). Yet lots of adults could say they tried should another violent incident occur.

Now entering the fray is the U.S. Secret Service, a group most of us will agree are bona fide security experts. Earlier this month, the group's National Threat Assessment Center released results from an ongoing study of 40 school-violence cases over the last 20 years. The conclusions, reported April 7 by USA Today, are not surprising: Like political assassins, school shooters do not share a single profile. They do not usually make explicit threats. And many of the students had been harassed, and had sought help (fruitfully or not) from school officials.

This Secret Secret study is motivating civil libertarians and children's advocates who condemn blanket profiling such as Mosaic 2000 as a PR effort, not likely to allay many, if any, crimes. Thankfully, these opponents cut across political lines, from the American Civil Liberties Union to the Rutherford Institute (the same group that defended Paula Jones against President Clinton), a group that is vocally fighting for students' rights.

"Mosaic 2000 and its proponents ignore a simple life lesson: You can't judge people by outward appearances," wrote Rutherford head John W. Whitehead on the group's Web site (www.rutherford.org). "Human beings are complex and complicated. They simply cannot be profiled as if they were machines."

Whitehead is rightly concerned about how school officials will use the data. He worries that administrators may share the information with other schools, with police, or even upload it into online databases. This concern has precedent: the gang databases that target youth using subjective and highly inconsistent criteria. In many states, local authorities feed already-subjective information into statewide databases, ensuring these labels follow kids from place to place -- although much of the information may be unfair.

"Once school officials have targeted a specific student, either because he or she dresses differently or appears withdrawn, the door is opened for further intrusion," Whitehead adds. He also worries that parents who dare to speak out against repressive school policies -- already treated as trouble-making pariahs by many school boards -- will be targeted by state intrusion.

"The truth is that people cannot be categorized as if they were digital chips in a machine," he continues. "Each student is a unique individual. Neither the students nor their parents should have their rights threatened by intrusive social science."

I'm with Whitehead on this one.

E-mail comments to donna@shutup101.com.

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