Poor Ward Connerly. It must be difficult being colorblind in a society so full of color. Imagine a penguin trapped in a valley full of peacocks; no matter how much the little fella tries to tell himself they're all just a bunch of birds, the evidence is quite to the contrary.
A millionaire businessman and member of the University of California's Board of Regents best known for his efforts to scuttle affirmative action programs, Connerly can't seem to get a handle on the significance of race and diversity in American culture. Rather than put a little more effort into figuring out what most of us black folks figured out quite a while ago -- namely that race still matters down here on the ground where the laws of gravity still apply -- he prefers simply to abolish racial classifications altogether. No muss, no fuss. Now we can all live together in peace and harmony -- on Planet Connerly. Who would have ever suspected that all it takes to eliminate racism and create equality and justice for all is to pass a law effectively erasing race? No race, no racism, right? Life is simple, life is good.
On Planet Connerly.
But let's rewind this discussion a bit for some background: You might be interested to know that Ward Connerly's full first name is Wardell. For that matter, Connerly himself might be interested to recall his own name. You see where I'm going with this, Wardell? See, Wardell is one of those names that kind of sends up an advance warning flare that this just might be a black person coming your way. My grandfather's name was Henry Wardell McNamee. The "Henry" was safe enough, and the "McNamee" certainly offered clear sailing through white waters -- at least until my grandfather came through the door -- but that Wardell part? I dunno ... I suspect that moniker triggered the "Negro alert response team" buzzer whenever it appeared on certain applications or important government forms.
Just to update the analogy a tad for you younger readers out there, a "Wardell'" in some ways is like a "Shaquille" or a "Malik" or a "Moesha." Or a "Muhammad." Or "Federico." Some names send out a certain advance warning in this culture, whereas others slip easily beneath the radar, which makes me wonder why Wardell Connerly goes by the name Ward these days.
Remember "Leave it to Beaver"? If you're old enough to remember that ancient television sitcom, or have caught the reruns, then perhaps you know the name of "The Beav's" father? His name was Ward Cleaver. Not Wardell Cleaver. Goodness no! Could you imagine Beaver's mother calling out "Wardell? Wardell! Baby, have you seen the Beav? I swear I don't know where that chile went to!"
Frightening, yes? You have to wonder if maybe Ward isn't running as far and fast as possible from Wardell as he possibly can.
OK, moving right along. It seems Ward was so enraged by the recent Supreme Court decision affirming the University of Michigan's right to continue using racial classifications as a factor in its admissions process that he decided it was time to rush on out here to our state and announce his intention to collect enough signatures to place something known as the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative on the state's November 2004 ballot. If the measure reaches the ballot and gets a majority of votes to make it the law, the Supreme Court's ruling could effectively be nullified here. After all, the ruling apparently doesn't preclude states from taking measures into their own hands if they feel like it.
Of course, since Connerly is a California resident, it seems a little strange that he feels the need to jet all the way up here to save us from ourselves, which I suspect is what he thinks he's doing. Apparently he can't trust the anti-affirmative action residents of Michigan -- of whom there are plenty -- to get mad enough fast enough, so he figures, you know, just to be safe, maybe he'd better lend a helping hand. And Michigan is just the first stop. ...
"We hope we can get a critical mass of states saying 'This isn't right," Connerly is quoted as saying. "Then, hopefully, the president, Supreme Court, and Congress will take the issue up again." Connerly is determined to win this thing by any means necessary, and he's just getting revved up. Still, he would have to collect 317,757 signatures to force a vote on his measure, which would essentially bring California's Proposition 209 to Michigan. Proposition 209, which was passed in 1996, prohibits the state from granting preferential treatment to individuals and groups on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in employment, education and contracting.
Incidentally, just something to think about, but isn't it strange that Connerly's organization that he founded to destroy affirmative action is called the "American Civil Rights Institute"? I mean, doesn't the guy know what ...
Poor Ward Connerly.
Anyway, the current ballot proposal being promoted by Connerly in California, which has already gained enough signatures to be placed on the March 2004 ballot, is essentially Proposition 209 on steroids. In addition to banning affirmative action, it would prevent state and local agencies from collecting statistics on the race, ethnicity, color or national origin of students and employees of public schools and colleges, and of government contractors. The measure would also prohibit other agencies from gathering such statistics, although the state Legislature would be given some leeway to exempt certain racial data from the Big Eraser. Data collected specifically for the purpose of complying with federal law, for law enforcement functions or for purposes related to medical research would also be exempt.
The good news is that even in California, Connerly's Racial Privacy Initiative is running into fairly tough opposition; the initiative is essentially the Big Eraser component of the Michigan proposal. The University of California's Board of Regents, of which Connerly is a member, voted overwhelmingly early this month to repudiate the Racial Privacy Initiative, which has already qualified for the March 2004 ballot in California. This is significant since this same group supported him on Proposition 209. Also, when Connerly spoke last week in Ann Arbor to promote his anti-affirmative action message, he was met by a very vocal, very visible anti-Connerly contingent. Even the Michigan Republican Party bigwigs made it plain they aren't supporting his efforts.
Ward? I'd like you to meet Wardell.
Keith A. Owens is a Detroit-area writer and musician.
When I first heard about this white guy who took pride in calling himself a "race traitor," my instinct was to figure he was crazy, a publicity hound or some sort of shock jock.
How many white guys do you know who say stuff like, "Treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity?" Right. That's what I thought. Meet Noel Ignatiev, a white Marxist who wants to abolish the white race. Yep, that's what I said.
I suspect a major reason for all the attention aside from the fact that Ignatiev is white -- he describes himself as a nonpracticing Jew who is an American -- is that he is a fellow at Harvard's W.E.B. DuBois Institute, perhaps the nation's leading black studies department. That alone makes it highly unlikely that Ignatiev is crazy. Publicity hound? Shock jock? Listen to the man first, then judge.
"In my view this country is divided into masters and slaves," he told me during a telephone interview. "The majority of all people in this country are slaves. Most have no say-so over their lives at all. The problem is that a lot of the slaves think they're masters. ... The poor white is the house slave of this country. Not the middle-class black. The poor white."
Professor Ignatiev has put one hell of a lot of thought into becoming a race traitor. There've been charges of treason, though none so serious as to require special security measures.
"Mostly I get death threats," he said. "'Die, Jew commie dog, die' is pretty much the standard. I don't worry about the ones who send e-mail because they're not the ones who are going to kill me," he added with a laugh.
Given the superficiality of society, where most media-generated information is the intellectual equivalent of Gerber's, it is little surprise that the press coverage of Ignatiev has focused on his conclusions rather than the questions that led to them. Those interested in truly understanding the school of thought to which Ignatiev belongs should check out his Web site, www.racetraitor.org, or his book "How the Irish Became White." Meanwhile, here's a peek into his on-line journal:
"The white race cuts across ethnic and class lines," says one editorial. Furthermore, it is not automatic that European ancestry makes one white "since many of those classified as 'colored' can trace some of their ancestry to Europe, while African, Asian, or American Indian blood flows through the veins of many considered white." Whiteness also does not equal a bank account parked on full, since there are far more poor whites than rich ones, not to mention an increasing number of nonwhites who live in comfort.
"The white race consists of those who partake of the privileges of the white skin in this society. Its most wretched members share a status higher, in certain respects, than that of the most exalted persons excluded from it, in return for which they give their support to the system that degrades them. Race itself is a product of social discrimination; so long as the white race exists, all movements against racism are doomed to fail."
"The key to solving the social problems of our age," he adds, "is to abolish the white race. Until that task is accomplished, even partial reform will prove elusive, because white influence permeates every issue in U.S. society, whether domestic or foreign."
To further clarify that point, Ignatiev told me, "I want for people defined as white to reject the advantages accorded them as white. I want to do away with all the accumulated advantages attached to whiteness -- the job preferences, the better schools, all of it. I am not asking for white people to leave the suburbs and move into the inner cities. I am asking that they fight so hard against the barriers that exist [to nonwhites] that those barriers fall down."
Ignatiev refers to himself as one of the New Abolitionists in the tradition of John Brown, the 19th century white radical who sacrificed his life to lead an uprising against slavery at Harpers Ferry.
Ignatiev thinks about the quality, not the quantity, of potential converts. "We're aiming at winning over a small number of so-called whites that will make life so unbearable for the rest of them that it will force a change to come about," he said. He takes pains to distinguish what he's saying from some "Die, honky, die!" '60s diatribe. This is not, repeat, not, a call to arms to shoot white folks on sight. Ignatiev is hardly suicidal, and the revolution that he is pushing for can never be won with guns or bombs; he is calling for a revolution of the mind.
"If whiteness didn't have a social meaning, if the advantages weren't there, then people wouldn't think of themselves as white," he said.
If you won't accept the obvious fact that the vast majority of power in the most powerful nation on Earth is controlled by whites, there's no way you will accept a single word of what Ignatiev has to say. So you might as well move on.
But for those willing to consider what this power structure has historically inflicted upon the less powerful (here and around the globe), then it might become clearer why Ignatiev feels his crusade is imperative.
Ignatiev asserts in his journal that most whites who benefit from white skin privilege wouldn't mind doing the right thing if it were convenient, but it's so very hard to voluntarily walk away from your goodies -- no matter how you got them. Rather than wrestle with the guilt of how you and yours got to be on top of the pile -- and whose bleached bones are buried below -- it's much easier to rewrite history and concoct fictions about why those on the bottom didn't have the right stuff to make it to the top.
Some might argue this is merely human nature in its purest, albeit most primitive, form. Folks on top want to stay there by any means necessary. But if you're standing on someone else's neck, then others might argue that you're not as tall as you think you are -- and that the person upon whose neck you are standing will fight like hell to rise up. As humanity evolves it will become clear that those standing tall atop the bodies and spirits of others are just as much at risk as those upon whom they are standing.
That's the better side of human nature, and hopefully it will prevail. Otherwise, according to Ignatiev, "Either we win or [the nonwhites are] gonna blow this country up."
Keith A. Owens is a Detroit-area writer and musician.
Native Laotians Guy and Genevieve Vang came to the United States in 1989 to reunite with his family and start a new life. In the 13 years since, the Vangs have been model noncitizens. They've legally worked, followed every immigration rule, paid their taxes, upheld the law, raised a family, purchased a home and opened a restaurant in Dearborn.
And in May, the Vangs are due to be deported.
The children will have to learn a new language. The home the Vangs saved for will be gone. Their business, where Guy and Genevieve work 80 hours a week, will go on the block. Guy will likely never see his aging parents again.
On an evening in September, Genevieve stands at the dining table in the Vangs' brick ranch home near 12 Mile and Schoenherr in Warren. A slight woman of 37, she trembles and tears fill her eyes as she speaks in accented English about the end of her family's life in America.
"It's my fault. My children, I don't want them to be like me. I lost my best time in life," she sobs. "I promise that I'm going to kill myself before I leave this country. Please, someone kill me. I will kill myself. Just so my kids can have this life. I don't care about myself. I don't care about money.
"We worked so hard. Please just don't do this to my kids."
She is too shaken to continue.
But it's not her fault.
The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service held a hearing on the Vangs' appeal for political asylum in 1990. It issued them Social Security numbers so they could work until a full hearing could be held.
And then the INS lost the paperwork.
Escape from Laos
Guy Vang says his father and grandfather worked for the CIA in Laos during the 1960s and 1970s. In 1975, after the United States withdrew from Southeast Asia, the communist Pathet Lao government took over in Laos and began to purge those loyal to the deposed leader, Gen. Vang Pao.
The Vang family was in trouble. At his parents' urging, Guy fled.
"My parents and I followed the leader, Gen. Vang Pao," Guy says. "Those who worked for him had to follow him. I was 14 years old. My parents had 11 children and they could not make it. So I climbed the fence myself and jumped in the plane."
The plane was part of an airlift taking government and military officials and their families to Thailand, where Guy spent the next three years in a refugee camp.
Genevieve, who like Guy is a member of the Laotian Hmong ethnic minority, followed a similar, if less-harrowing route, arriving in another Thai camp at age 11. She was luckier. As the weeks went by, members of her family straggled in.
"My brother, my sister, my mother and my father, they came to the refugee camps." Genevieve says. "They had to swim across the Mekong [River]. Day by day I was just hoping."
Guy was hoping too.
"You heard somebody coming in and you ask, 'Did you see my parents?' Some people heard their family drowned and they cried. Someone would come in and they said, 'We heard 30 or 40 people drowned in the Mekong,'" Guy says.
"My brothers and sisters were age 12 to 2. I couldn't believe my parents could get them across the river swimming like a duck. I never thought I would see them again. I cried."
Life in the camp was hard.
"Too many people and not enough food," Guy says without elaboration.
"I very much wanted to come to the U.S. but they wouldn't take me because of my age and because I had no proof my father worked for the CIA. I had no papers," Guy says. "My aunt came to the camp before me and she went to France."
When United Nations relief workers interviewed Vang, he told them about his aunt's move to France. A French church group arranged for him to join her.
Guy resettled in a small town about 35 miles from Paris in 1978. The village was crowded with refugees, but conditions were better and a social life emerged. It was there in 1980 that Guy met Genevieve, who had been sponsored to relocate to the same town. Guy is shy about the details of their courtship.
"Oh, we were just teenagers," he says wistfully. "And it was France ..."
They were married in 1983. The next year, Genevieve gave birth to their first daughter, Caroline. Four years later, daughter Melanie was born. Guy and Genevieve became French citizens. And shortly thereafter, Guy's aunt received a letter with some stunning news: Guy's entire family had escaped, surviving the jungle and the Pathet Lao to cross into Thailand. There, with the papers to prove that he had worked for the CIA, Guy's father was able to obtain transport for himself and his family to the United States.
Guy was incredulous.
"I was so happy. I sat down and cried."
He was also determined to rejoin his family. He went to the U.S. Embassy and applied for a visa.
This is where Guy made a mistake, although not one of his own doing, according to Jason Peltz, a Southfield immigration attorney who represents the Vangs.
"Guy came in and said, 'I want a visitor visa,'" Peltz says. "And they had this new program. So they said 'Sign here.' He had no idea what he was signing because when he came to our office 10 years later, he did not know that it was different from a regular visitor visa. He did not understand that he was giving up any rights."
The new program was the Visa Waiver Pilot Program, which the United States and its closest allies instituted to reduce paperwork for visitors. It had been in effect in France for less than two weeks when Guy applied. Under the program, visitors give up virtually all rights to appeal their status -- rights they retain with a normal visitor visa.
"His plan was to come here and reunite with his family and he really didn't have a plan beyond that," Peltz says.
The Vangs first visited Guy's parents.
"They lived in Washington state on welfare, but I said, 'I cannot live here; there are no jobs here,'" Guy says.
Peltz says, "Once he got to the United States he learned more about political asylum, he knew his entire family had been granted political asylum, and he decided to apply, which was one thing he could do under the Visa Waiver Pilot Program."
The Vangs were asking for political asylum from Laos. Today, such a claim would be considered frivolous under the Firm Resettlement Law, which renders claims of asylum irrelevant for aliens who resettle in a third country. But when Guy applied in 1990, no such law existed.
"Because he was a citizen of France, he would probably have been denied asylum," Peltz says. "But because there was no Firm Resettlement Law then, he would have had a chance. He figured he would try to do it and if he had to go back [to France], he would. Had he gone back to France, he could have applied for a different kind of visa and one of his brothers or sisters or his parents would have eventually become a citizen and sponsored him [to return]."
Says Guy: "My family asked me to apply so I could stay longer in the United States. I went to an interview and they gave me job papers and I started looking for work."
Move to Motown
He found that work in Detroit, with its large population of Hmong Laotians. He and Genevieve worked in a restaurant, all the while awaiting word from the INS on his asylum hearing. He kept in touch with relatives in Fresno whose address he had given to the INS.
According to Peltz, an applicant usually gets a hearing date within six months.
The Vangs worked hard and saved their money, eventually putting a down payment on a house and, in 1996, scraping together enough to open Bangkok 96, a modest Thai restaurant on Telegraph in Dearborn.
They also had two more children after their arrival in this country, Steven, now 12, and Christine, 6. Born on U.S. soil, they are U.S. citizens.
Vang did not hide from the INS. He regularly went to INS offices to renew his work authorization. The INS continued to grant it.
"He went to attorneys to try to get his case going," Peltz says. "But nothing ever happened."
Then, in 2000, the INS seemingly awoke from its slumber, discovered the paperwork and contacted Vang.
"After we got the letter from immigration, I could not sleep," Guy says. "What am I going to do over there?"
In November 2000, a full 10 years after the normal waiting period had expired, the INS conducted an interview in Chicago. Three weeks after that, the Chicago office decided that the interview was irrelevant.
"The rule is, if you go into this Visa Waiver Program, you're not even supposed to have an interview," says Peltz. "So the INS messed up from the beginning."
The INS instituted removal proceedings against the Vangs in Detroit. They were to be deported.
The Legal Battle
Peltz felt powerless to do much for Vang. Because of the waiver, Vang lacked the avenues of relief that would have been available to him as an 11-year legal resident.
During a series of hearings in Detroit, the government failed to produce the visa waiver that Guy Vang had signed in August 1989.
Peltz and co-counsel John Boudia asked the government to produce the waiver prior to the first hearing, in February 2001. At that hearing, Peltz and Boudia moved to terminate the proceedings based on the government's failure to produce the waiver within the time limits set by the court. Immigration Judge Robert Newberry gave the government more time.
"The rules state that the judge, in that case, should treat the motion as unopposed," Peltz says. "The judge does have the right, if he finds exceptional reason, to grant the other side more time. The INS did not respond to our motion. The judge said the government must have never received it.
"He sets up another hearing and before that hearing comes about, INS admits that they did receive it. The judge asked the INS officer why they didn't respond and he said 'I don't know.' They did receive it, they acknowledged that they received it and the judge still gave them additional time."
At the second hearing Newberry again refused to rule on the motion to terminate.
Now convinced that the INS had lost the waiver, Peltz and Boudia pressed Newberry to send the Vangs' case into regular deportation/removal proceedings. If that were to happen, Peltz was confident that he would prevail.
"In normal proceedings it would be judged on the hardship of the U.S. citizens involved. In his case, the two younger children," Peltz says.
Newberry advised Peltz that he would consider the motion to terminate in a Nov. 27, 2001, hearing. At that hearing, Newberry set a May 2003 trial date to rule on the asylum case. The INS still failed to produce the waiver.
"How one could contractually waive their rights without a contract is beyond me," Peltz says. "If you contract out to waive your rights, and they can't show that you waived your rights, you didn't waive your rights. That's our legal position. And I think it's a pretty sound one. The judge still didn't really agree with it, but he said he would give the government 30 days to respond."
On the 30th day, more than a year after they were first ordered to produce the document, INS officials came up with a microfiche copy of the waiver. The news stunned the Vangs and their attorneys.
"At this point we were all pretty crushed, because we thought they had lost it," Peltz says. "Guy never alleged that he never signed it. He just didn't remember if he signed it. He didn't know what he signed."
In a telephone conversation, Detroit INS attorney Mark Jebson, whom Peltz has most recently dealt with on the Vang case, says he could not recall the case. Jebson referred questions to INS public affairs officer Greg Palmore, who says that INS attorneys would not comment on ongoing cases.
It would be high understatement to say that Peltz is not optimistic about keeping the Vangs in America. He has filed "a laundry list of legal arguments" hoping that something sticks.
These include "estoppel," asking the judge to stop the government's actions based on the time elapsed, court error in giving the government so many chances to produce the waiver, and deception or negligence on the part of the government in not producing the waiver in a timely fashion.
"In virtually every court in every kind of law you go into, you have a certain number of days to respond and if you can't respond, you'd better damn well have a reason. And they had no reason," Peltz says.
But he expects Newberry to deem the motion frivolous at the hearing in May.
"At this point, all we can do is play losing cards," Peltz says. "Every legal remedy is pretty much cut off from us. The Vangs are out of options."
The events leave Peltz angry and frustrated over an INS system which he says lacks any accountability.
"This is definitely a pattern," Peltz says. "If the government makes a mistake, you have absolutely no recourse in an immigration case. If a private attorney messes up, it comes down against you. If the immigrant himself messes up -- if he inadvertently misses his deadline for reapplying for a visa by one day -- that's it. You have to go home. Over and over again we've seen it. INS makes big mistakes."
And in this case, Peltz says, the mistakes mean an end to a way of life for the Vangs. If deported, the Vangs will be unable to return to the United States for at least 10 years.
"Our main focus is that these people came here to be reunited with his family," Peltz says. "He was more than happy to do things in the legal way. If they had to go home and come back, they would have done so. But he waited 10 years legally in the United States to try and get something done. If the government hadn't messed up, it would be an entirely different story.
"It's definitely the fault of the system. You send things out to one place. Then it goes out to Chicago. Then Chicago either approves it or not. Then they send it to Detroit. It goes so many places in so many different hands. And plus they're overworked. But they're also failing to recognize their mistakes. They're not really very good at looking at the facts behind the law."
According to Peltz, the only real chance the Vangs have is that the INS will consider the fact that deporting them will do more harm than good.
"The only option I can see is prosecutorial leniency, where the prosecutor says, 'We at the INS are going to drop the allegations.' Are they going to do it? In 99 out of 100 cases they don't unless they get pressured to do so."
It is a warm Tuesday evening and the parking lot at the Bangkok 96 restaurant is nearly full. A bright yellow sign distinguishes the eatery from a host of rivals. Inside the restaurant, faux-Oriental knickknacks dominate. Elephants are everywhere. So are customers.
There are 22 booths and four tables; most are in use. Takeout customers come and go. Most entrées cost less than $10, although you can splurge on pla jien -- fried fish topped with shredded pork, shrimp, mushrooms, ginger and green onions for $15.95.
In the kitchen, Guy Vang flings onions, mushrooms and shrimp with the adroitness of a circus juggler. Occasionally he emerges, stopping at this table and that to greet regulars as if they are old friends.
Genevieve Vang bounces around, seating a customer here, wiping a table there, checking for an order in the kitchen. She and Guy arrive here six days a week by 9 a.m. They leave at around midnight. Sometimes Guy goes home for a couple of hours in the afternoon, but usually he uses the lull between lunch and dinner to shop for food for the restaurant. They have done this for seven years.
Genevieve steps outside for a moment into the evening air. She talks about how Bangkok 96 has co-sponsored events with Henry Ford Hospital, about how it has helped promote the works of a neighborhood church, about the people who are employed at the restaurant. She wonders what will happen to them.
It hangs heavily over her that she herself was forced to leave her homeland at a young age and learn a new language and culture. She knows and dreads what is ahead for her children. And so the tears come again.
"It's for my children. They don't speak the language, French. They will fall behind in their education and they will never catch up. How could they catch up?" she says.
"We worked so hard here. I don't know what to do. Everything I do is for my children. Everything. I would do anything for my children. Why did this happen? How could this happen? ..."
Things are running a bit late at In Perpetual Motion.
The Internet radio program, dubbed IPM, is scheduled to begin at 8:30 p.m. sharp, but Red Wings fever has taken over. The shows creator and director, 28-year-old Bob Perye, pads barefoot around his Madison Heights, Mich. living room, which has been converted into a broadcast studio.
Stationed between two computers, a mix table sits directly behind the television, where the crew of guest DJs is transfixed by the Red Wings Stanley Cup finals game against Carolina. Mic cables are draped over shabby chic couches and coffee tables, and the walls are plastered with autographed promo photos of independent artists whove been featured on the show. The DJs crack dirty jokes and debate the taste of a new blueberry-flavored malt beverage they are sampling, which is henceforth referred to as "the blueberry shit."
Perye -- aka "Director Mac" -- is counting down the seconds until the show goes live. He leans over to turn down the volume on the TV, and a roar of dissension erupts from the couches. He picks up his mic and mumbles "30 seconds" through a mouthful of tabbouleh.
"You are In Perpetual Motion," he announces over a dreamy track with swirling female vocals. The peanut gallery picks up mics and commences with the wisecracks, as Perye ticks off the artists to be featured on tonights show.
Like many Internet radio shows, IPM focuses on the niche market of independent and underground music. The format is a melting pot of electronica, industrial, synthpop, darkwave and gothabilly.
After the six-hour show is recorded, it goes up on the IPM Web site, www.ipmradio.com. Listeners -- about 2,000 per week, Perye estimates -- can download the show and play it anytime.
Suddenly expletives spew forth. DJ Saint has just spilled "the blueberry shit" all over his computer console, and the Wings nearly scored a goal.
Chaos ensues. Its a typical night at IPM.
The show has a rotating staff of guest DJs, as well as voyeurs who just like to hang out while the shows are created. IPM isnt like a traditional radio program; its more of a live party broadcast, with hour-long blocks of music interspersed with wacky commentary from the staff.
Perye, a networking contractor, has run IPM live from his home for almost four years. Recently, he and his band of merry misfits have felt the pressure of government proposals that would charge Webcasters royalty fees for each piece of music played.
The Royalty Shaft
The Webcasting controversy is complex, heavily debated and mired in acronyms. In October 1998, Congress passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which states that royalties must be paid to artists when their copyrighted material is played over the Internet or on satellite radio. Specifically, the fees would go to the Recording Industry Association of American (RIAA), which would then distribute them to artists and labels.
Traditional radio stations pay royalties to composers and music publishers, but not to performers. Its always been assumed that those artists reap huge promotional benefits from radio play. Apparently, Congress decided that this concept doesnt apply to Internet radio, even though Webcasts are capable of reaching a global audience. Hence, the creation of the DMCA.
Because the RIAA and Webcasters could not reach an agreement on royalty fees, Congress created the Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel (CARP) to determine a reasonable rate. Webcasters hoped they would be charged only a small percentage of their total revenue, but in February, CARP proposed Webcasters pay a rate of one-fourteenth of a cent per song, per listener. The rate was slightly reduced for terrestrial radio stations that simulcast on the Web.
The royalties would be split 50/50 -- half to artists credited for songs, and half to the copyright holders (usually, the musicians label).
Webcasters were outraged and claimed the fees could shut them down completely. Although a fourteenth of a cent sounds paltry, it adds up quickly. Commercial Webcasters -- even those without many listeners -- could easily rack up $500 in fees over the course of a few hours.
The Internet radio community rallied in protest, creating Web sites such as www.saveinternetradio.org and encouraging listeners to write Congress.
Webcasters experienced a tentative victory on May 21 when the Library of Congress -- in whose hands the final decision rests -- rejected CARPs proposal without explanation. The Library's final determination was announced June 21. [See sidebar. -Ed.]
A Costly Hobby
IPM is a nonprofit venture, a labor of love for Perye. He estimates there are anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 independent radio stations like IPM across the nation.
Its these "hobbyists" and smaller commercial Webcasters who will be hit hardest by the June 21 decision. For hobbyists, the potential ramifications of the final ruling range from something as mild as increased headaches due to draconian record-keeping requirements, to facing a shutdown of the station.
Internet radio heavyweights such as beethoven.com and live365.com use advertising to garner income; fees for college radio stations will most likely be paid by the schools; public radio stations such as Detroits WDET-FM 101.9 -- which simulcasts on the Web -- have cut a deal to get help from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).
WDET-FMs general manager, Caryn Mathes, said that because the station is a National Public Radio affiliate, any Webcast fees will be subsidized by CPB "for the foreseeable future."
However, no deal has been cut for the little guys, many of whom portray the RIAA as the big bad wolf. Small Webcasters complain that they were never represented in discussions with CARP, but were shut out in favor of the big, commercial Webcasters.
The RIAA contends this is not the case and has even hinted that it may reduce rates for independent Webcasters.
"We recognize and appreciate that noncommercial Webcasters are different," says RIAA spokesman Jonathan Lamy. "We would be happy to sit down and discuss with them the issue of royalty rates."
Perye doesnt buy it.
"One of the things we see with the RIAA is a desire to absolutely control every aspect of the consumers experience, and extract money from that experience at every step of the way," he says. "The RIAA sees independent labels, musicians and media outlets like Internet radio as a threat to their overall market share."
Since the shows humble beginnings in December 1998, Perye estimates he has sunk more than $12,000 into the show -- that includes everything from new mixers and equipment to Internet providers, domain names and electricity bills.
Although he could use those expenses as a tax write-off, Perye does not want to turn IPM into a business.
"Im allergic to business," he says, as one of the DJs flings a Teletubby doll at his head. "I dont want to make a profit. This is a hobby. This is fun."
Because IPM plays only underground music, Perye doesnt think the RIAA will come knocking at his door anytime soon. He will still be affected by the June 21 decision, however, in the form of added time and expenses, and strict record-keeping requirements.
"I may have to hire a lawyer to go through all the paperwork, create documents and fend off the RIAA," he says.
The Artists Voice
The original intent of the royalty fees was to give artists their due compensation. But many independent musicians who cant crack into the world of commercial radio feel it would be a tremendous disservice if the fees caused Internet radio shows such as IPM to go under.
Robin Wylie of Warren, Mich. is in the band China Doll, which is frequently featured on IPM. Tonight, Wylie is also guest DJing, and using his mic time to gleefully and unabashedly plug his band. When pressed for a choice between free promotional play on IPM and collecting per-play royalty fees, he quickly chooses the former.
"I would rather see the money [from the proposed royalty fees] go into Bob buying new equipment for the show," he says. "If theres a radio station playing my music and making money, then, yeah, give me a cut. But if its something like this," he gestures to the fray of action behind the mix tables, "where theyre not making money and sometimes losing money, then, yeah, play it for free."
Robert Vandergriff of d:konstruct, another Detroit-based band that receives frequent attention from IPM, concurs.
"Internet radio stations have been tremendously helpful in promoting local and independent musicians around the world," says Vandergriff. "Its free advertising, and advertising is expensive. The bigger you get, the more expensive advertising gets. But with stations like IPM, you can get your music out to a very large group of people. They hear it on IPM, they like it, and they buy it."
One major concern of musicians is that listeners will record songs as they are Webcast, and then wont feel the need to go out and buy the music. But clean, crisp recordings of a Webcast are an impossibility.
"IPMs sound quality is far below CD quality," says Perye. "The sound quality will be good enough to enjoy privately as part of a radio show, but it makes for a lousy bootleg. The end result is you get to preview the music, and then go out and buy it if youre so inclined.
"Thirty or so years of people using cassette tape to record music off of their home stereos didnt bankrupt the music industry. Doing the same thing with an Internet transmission isnt going to bankrupt the recording industry either."
Perye, a bull-headed, dedicated and loyal music fan, says IPM exists to support, promote and further independent musicians.
"If I was making a profit by way of advertising or any other means, I would absolutely pay a fair license fee to the artists. I have no problem with that. But," he adds, "the fee must be realistic, and 100 percent of the fees must go to artists. Not the labels, not the RIAA, not the politicians, not the lawyers, not to charities -- all to the artists."
Perye adds that the majority of music thats played on IPM is submitted by the artists themselves.
"They ask me to play their music and give them exposure around the world. I dont charge them for the use of my equipment, my time or anything else. So, I think theyre getting a pretty fair deal. An album a year for an eternity of airplay -- or at least as long as IPM is broadcasting."
Perye doesnt plan to throw in the towel anytime soon, despite the Library's decision.
"No matter what happens, IPM will still be around," says Perye.
"At least I hope so," he adds with a nervous laugh.
Sarah Klein is a Metro Times staff writer. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bill McMaster is not the kind of guy youd expect to be raising hell over a pair of gay hippies killed by police.
The 63-year-old public relations man and anti-tax activist is about as far from patchouli oil and tie-dyed T-shirts as a person can get. Short and stout, with a ruddy complexion and comb-over hairdo, McMaster is strictly a suit-and-tie kind of guy, with the tie always held neatly in place by a clip featuring a 1913 gold piece. His clients include chemical, automotive and logging companies. He lives in a spacious, light-filled home tucked away on 4 1/2 acres in Birmingham. And its a good bet theres not a single Grateful Dead or Phish album in his record collection.
But when McMaster heard on the radio last year that authorities had surrounded an alternative campground called Rainbow Farms in southwest Michigan, and that tax issues played into the confrontation, the head of a grassroots group called Taxpayers United didnt hesitate.
I jumped in my car and went straight there, recalls McMaster. He drove the three-and-a-half hours from Birmingham to Vandalia on Labor Day, four days into a siege involving a small army of FBI agents, Michigan State Police and Cass County sheriffs deputies.
Since the late 1970s, when he played a key role in the successful campaign to gain voter approval of the Headlee tax-limitation measure, McMaster has had a high profile in many tax policy debates. In the past few years, he teamed up with environmentalists to help defeat a controversial revision to the states drain code; critics said it would have given drain commissioners more power to authorize projects and extract fees while decreasing their accountability. Then he helped defeat an assessment to support the arts in southeast Michigan.
Nothing hes been involved with, however, is quite like Rainbow Farms. The campground gained notoriety during the 1990s as a haven for pot smokers. Its owner, Grover Tom Crosslin, and his longtime companion Roland Rohm staged several pro-marijuana music festivals there each year, including one called Hemp Aid to support pot legalization efforts. Not surprisingly, police had been investigating the place for years.
But the siege that began Friday, Aug. 31, had its roots in the tax code, not drug laws.
In the spring of 2000 authorities raided the campground looking for evidence that Crosslin was failing to withhold taxes from employee wages. Instead they found about 300 small marijuana plants growing in Crosslins basement. Crosslin, who was on probation stemming from a 1995 bar fight, and Rohm were arrested on drug and weapon charges. Civil proceedings were then begun to seize the property using asset-forfeiture laws.
The Labor Day confrontation began when Crosslin and Rohm, who were out on bond, allegedly began torching buildings on the property. The speculation is that they would rather have seen the place burn than let the government officials get their hands on it.
In a 1999 letter to County Prosecutor Scott Teter, who was already warning that the property could be seized, Crosslin declared: I have discussed this with my family, and we are all prepared to die on this land before we allow it to be stolen from us. How should we be prepared to die? Are you planning to burn us out like they did in Waco, or will you have snipers shoot us through our windows like the Weavers at Ruby Ridge?
Hours after McMaster arrived at Rainbow Farms on Labor Day, Crosslin was shot in the head after he allegedly pointed a loaded Ruger mini-14 assault rifle at an FBI agent.
McMaster spent that night sleeping in his car, encamped with all these hippies whod gathered to show their support for Crosslin and Rohm. The next day, state police snipers shot and killed Rohm after he allegedly took aim at officers with his assault rifle.
Within weeks of the shootings, McMaster was helping certain relatives of Crosslin and Rohm find out more about the slayings. My heart went out to those people, he explains.
McMaster was particularly interested in obtaining autopsy reports, and began filing Freedom of Information Act requests to get them in mid-September.
From the start, I thought there was a crisis in truth brewing, says McMaster. Family members were telling him that Crosslin had multiple bullet wounds, while the press was reporting official accounts that hed been shot just once. The death certificates of both men indicated each had been killed by one bullet. The family, however, contended that they saw multiple wounds on Crosslins body before it was cremated.
According to a report released Jan. 7 by Teter, Crosslin was indeed shot more than once. The report states that a bullet fired by a second sniper fragmented, hitting Crosslin in the hand and side.
As for Rohm, his family paid for a second autopsy performed by the Oakland County Coroners Office. That autopsy found that hed been shot twice. The bullet that killed him pierced his chest. Another bullet entered his thigh and came out his stomach, indicating that Rohm was on the ground when hit with that shot, according to Janet Frederick Wilson, one of several lawyers representing various family members. Teters January report, which included excerpts from the official autopsy, confirmed Rohm was shot twice, and a diagram shows a bullet entering his thigh and exiting his stomach.
Cass County officials offered a changing litany to explain why the complete, official autopsies were not available. Finally, in November, Teter announced that releasing them would interfere with an ongoing investigation. That reason became moot Jan. 7, when Teeter held a press conference to announce that he found the shootings to be justifiable homicides and that police had acted properly. The Michigan Attorney Generals Office concurred.
McMaster filed his 10th request to obtain the full autopsy files following Teters press conference, which family members were not allowed to attend. When there was no response within the five days proscribed by law, he filed a lawsuit in the Michigan Court of Claims.
Cass County Administrator Terry Proctor said last week that he believed the autopsy reports had been sent to McMaster. A woman who answered the phone at the office of Cass County Medical Examiner Dr. Robert Knox said that if McMaster wasnt such a jackass he would have been given the reports last week when he came to the office to serve notice of the legal action.
County officials arent the only ones taking a dim view of McMasters involvement in the case, which draws in multiple players and competing agendas. Dan Wilson, a spokesperson for the firm representing several members of Crosslins family, says McMaster is only complicating matters.
The aftermath of the killings is nearly as chaotic as the event itself. For starters, the families are considering filing wrongful death lawsuits that challenge Teters account. For example, his official report mentions no attempts to flush Rohm out; he allegedly set fire to the building he was holed up in and stayed inside for nearly half an hour before rushing out to confront police. But lawyer Janet Frederick Wilson told Metro Times that an object labeled barricade penetrating projectile a canister typically containing tear gas or other substances and issued to law enforcement or military personnel was found by a private investigator at the site.
There are other issues to be resolved as well.
In the days before he was killed, Crosslin wrote out a will leaving all his property to Rohm. Rohms will leaves all he owned to his 13-year-old son, Robert. As a result, the 37-acre campground, Crosslins former home, and 20 acres belonging to Rohm, should go to the boy; he was made a ward of the state last summer and is currently the subject of a custody battle putting his mother against Rohms parents.
Prosecutor Teter, meanwhile, is proceeding with plans to seize the property through a civil drug-forfeiture action. That, too, rankles McMaster. It seems like the punishment should have died when they died, he says. Also, if back taxes arent paid on the property by March, the threat of foreclosure by the state looms.
At this point, even if the promised autopsy reports are made available, Bill McMaster doesnt plan on going away.
Were not going to let go of this, he vows. The truth will eventually come out.
Curt Guyette is Metro Times news editor. You can reach him at email@example.com.
Last October, with an air of assured finality, a panel of civic leaders convened by Dow Chemical Co. decreed that the issue of toxic contamination in Midland was, at long last, dead. "There is no evidence of any health consequences in Midland, Mich.," Mayor R. Drummond Black declared after months of study. "We know that it's bad stuff, but what we've got here...is of no risk to the community, so leave it alone." That message was splashed across the front page of the town's daily newspaper; the decree was unwavering, definitive, absolute.
That's why a report released earlier this month by state and federal health officials seemed all the more startling: "The data necessary to determine if dioxin-contaminated soil in the Midland area poses a public health risk are not available; therefore the site poses an indeterminate public health hazard."
Which is exactly what one Midland resident has been saying for the past quarter century.
Diane Hebert (pronounced ay-bear) was still a young woman when she arrived in Midland during the late 1970s, an attractive former stewardess whose husband had just landed a plum job piloting corporate jets for the multinational chemical firm founded by Herbert H. Dow.
Deep beneath the flat farmland of this one-time lumber town lay the ancient brine sea that first brought Dow to the area. He'd devised an inexpensive way to extract bromine from the vast, salty reservoir at the close of the 19th century. Hebert, on the other hand, didn't know a thing about chemistry when she first hit Midland. The daughter of a Flint car dealer, she was content to play the role of wife and mother, finally living the good life in a five-bedroom house in an upscale part of town after years of moving from city to city as her husband gained flying time at low-paying commuter airlines.
Hebert hadn't been in town long when she first heard the word "dioxin." A group of more than 200 similar substances, dioxins and their chemical cousins have no useful properties. They are waste byproducts of chlorine manufacturing and incineration. And Dow's central Michigan plant has been a prime source of the stuff. It was found in the Agent Orange used by America in the Vietnam War, and in the pesticides the company pumped out at a plant that produced everything from Saran Wrap to mustard gas over the years. Dioxin was created by the incinerator burning the company's hazardous waste, and pumped into the Tittabawassee River flowing along the sprawling chemical factory's southern border.
Nursing her second child at the time, Hebert became concerned after seeing media accounts warning that the toxin could be transferred from mother to child through breast milk. So she began to look into the issue.
That was in 1977.
A quarter century later, Hebert is at the forefront of a controversy around the presence of dioxin in Midland. The fight for information has been a long one, and the battle often lonely. This is the quintessential company town, with Dow employing about 6,000 people -- half at the sprawling chemical plant that covers 1,900 acres, and half at the campuslike company headquarters -- in a county that boasts of having more engineers and chemists per capita than any other region in America. The name Dow graces museums, a library and a lush botanical garden. With $28 billion in worldwide sales recorded last year, thereÕs no shortage of cash to spread around. Company philanthropic donations fill the coffers of nonprofit organizations, university science departments reap endowments, and contributions from its political action committee help fuel the campaigns of politicians far and wide.
Given all that clout, stirring up issues that threaten everything from residential property values to the bottom line of the town's leading employer has come with a price.
"It puts you on the outside of society," said Hebert. "There's no question about that. I don't want to say I don't care, because I do. It can get lonely. But when people start telling you stories about their children being born with deformities, it really gets into your gut."
Not that Hebert ever envisioned the issue would consume much of her life.
"When I first started doing this, I thought it was a little problem, that the community would work on it, and we'd get it fixed, and I could get on with my regular life. That's not the way it turned out.
"It used to be that I was a homemaker, a mother, a woman. Now, IÕm a watchdog. ItÕs not even like something you do. It becomes who you are."
For a lot of people in this town, she's viewed more as a menace.
"I tell my wife that if I ever have a stroke, I know exactly who it is that's to blame," said Duane Marsh, president of the Midland Chamber of Commerce. He chuckles as he said this, but judging from the tone of his voice, he was only half joking.
Asked if he's referring to Hebert, Marsh replied, "That's right."
Like Mayor Black, Marsh contends that as much of 95 percent of a person's exposure to dioxin comes through the food chain, which will affect a person no matter where they live. "This," he said, "is a problem that faces the whole industrial world. But Midland gets singled out, and that makes me angry."
Hebert, however, points out that those numbers apply to people living in towns with normal levels of dioxin. Midland, according to the most recent state study, has a mean dioxin level about 12 times greater than that of cities in the rest of the state. Add to that the level of fish contamination, she claimed, and it's easy to make the case that people here are facing a whole different set of circumstances.
Talk like that is exactly what infuriates chamber president Marsh.
"It's unfortunate the harm that's been done to this community in the past by a few overzealous people," he said. "Midland doesn't have a dioxin problem that's a threat to anybody's health. And if someone living in Midland really thinks it's that unsafe, they might want to get out."
But Hebert has no intention of leaving. Now divorced, the 55-year-old grandmother with spiked gray hair, intense blue-green eyes and a mind that seems in perpetual overdrive is relentless in her dogged Ñ many would say obsessive -- investigation into Dow. Her apartment is overflowing with news clippings, government reports, scientific studies and communications with government and company officials.
Those files, in essence, tell two very different stories. One is that promulgated by Dow, echoed by civic leaders and, at various times in the past, bolstered by government regulatory agencies. It is the message splashed across the front page of the Midland Daily News as far back as 1983, when a headline declared: "EPA soil test shows no dioxin threat."
But like the persistence of dioxin itself, which has a half life of five to 14 years once it lodges in the body's fatty tissues, the issue refuses to disappear. For one thing, as research into dioxin continues, the list of health hazards it is linked to keeps growing. According to a 1998 report by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), "Exposure to low levels of dioxins in study animals has resulted in a wide variety of adverse health effects, such as cancer, liver damage, and disruption of the endocrine system. In many species of animals, dioxins weaken the immune system and cause a decrease in the system's ability to fight infection. In other animal studies, exposure to dioxins has caused reproductive damage and birth defects. Some animal species, including monkeys, exposed to dioxins during pregnancy had miscarriages, and the offspring of animals exposed to dioxins during pregnancy often had birth defects including skeletal deformities, kidney defects, weakened immune responses, and neurodevelopmental effects."
According to a report prepared by the Michigan Department of Community Health: "It is not known whether people exposed to low levels of dioxins will experience the same health effects seen in animal studies. However, based on the available information, dioxins are believed to have the potential to cause a wide range of adverse effects in humans, including cancer."
According to Midland's mayor, who spent more than four months last year studying the issue with a group of other civic leaders, there's no evidence these sorts of health problems are showing up in abnormal numbers in Midland.
"Slight Excesses" of Cancer
Drummond and the others were called together by Dow last summer. A facilitator hired by the company led the group through four three-hour sessions. Environmentalists, who gave a presentation during one of the sessions, asked to sit in on all of them, but were turned away. Jim Sygo, head of the state Department of Environmental Quality waste management division did sit in, but was there only to "answer questions about regulatory issues" and other such matters.
Sygo, it should be noted, did not share the conclusion that it's been proven dioxins pose no threat to the people of Midland. According to a letter written by Art Nash, deputy director of the DEQ, he and Sygo met with Dave Dempsey, policy advisor for the nonprofit Michigan Environmental council in August of last year. Nash, summarizing the meeting, noted that he and Sygo "indicated that the extent to which exposure from the soils in the city of Midland presents a risk remains unknown at this time."
Asked by Metro Times whether he presented that viewpoint and the research that helped form it to the panel, Sygo responded simply, "No." Asked why not, he said that wasn't his role in the process. "I was just there to answer questions," he explained.
What the panel did hear was information from Dow about a series of studies it has done regarding the health of plant workers. According to those studies, said Dow spokesperson Jeff Feerer, "We're not seeing any indication that the health of these employees is being compromised by exposure to dioxin."
And Dow employees are exposed to "much higher" levels of dioxin than the general public, he added.
"We presented all of the information collected for the city of Midland, and for Dow workers for the past 20 years," said Feerer. "Every piece of data that we have or that the Midland County Health Department has shows that the people of Midland are healthy."
Mayor Black also reported that, according to county health records, Midland's rates of cancer and birth defects are normal.
The report prepared by the Michigan Department of Community Health, which was used by the federal government to justify conducting a comprehensive study of the extend of dioxin contamination in Midland, presents a different picture.
For one thing, the report notes that "exposed" Dow workers experienced "slight excesses" of prostate, stomach, lymphatic, blood and other types of cancers when compared to "unexposed" workers. Furthermore, the more workers were exposed, the more likely they were to die from stomach and prostate cancers.
The report also noted that, when Midland's two ZIP codes were analyzed separately, "higher-than-expected numbers of all cancers combined" were found in the ZIP code where Dow's chemical plant is located when compared to the entire state of Michigan for the years 1994 through 1998.
The report noted that for the years 1992 through 1996 there were indeed no consistent patterns of excesses in birth defects. However, the statewide Michigan Birth Defects Registry that was used for comparison was not established until 1992. Given the newness of that database, and the relatively low number of births in Midland County each year, it is "difficult to calculate reliable statistics or detect moderate changes in risk."
Also, according to the report, the registry does not track conditions diagnosed after two years, nor does it track behavior or learning problems Ñ both of which have been identified as effects of prenatal exposure to dioxin.
After years dealing with Dow and local officials she says are all too eager to portray the city in a positive light, Hebert said she is not surprised by the discrepancies between the civic panel's conclusions and the concerns raised by government experts.
"I'd like to hear Dow's definition of transparency," said Hebert. "Will they have a dialogue with me or answer my questions? The answer is yes. Are their answers always truthful or complete? The answer is no."
Now, with government health experts announcing a new round of testing, both sides feel as if they've been through all this before.
Upper-level officials in the Reagan administration's EPA claimed in 1983 that the dioxin found in Midland soil posed no health threat, but that opinion was not held by those closest to the situation, according to documents obtained by Hebert. In an internal EPA memo sent in 1985, health specialist Milt Clark argued for investigating possible negative impacts experienced by people living close to the plant. Because fish in the Tittabawassee were found to have the nation's highest dioxin levels, it was also important to study the people eating those fish.
In a 1988 report, the EPA concluded that, with the exception of the fish problem, "dioxin levels did not present an unacceptable or unmanageable health risk to the Midland community." More environmental and food chain monitoring programs were recommended, but the agency "did not commit to any follow-up human health studies to determine dioxin levels in the Midland population."
The next major event occurred in 1996, when the DEQ Ñ which had taken over the permitting process for facilities such as the Dow plant from the EPA -- took 37 soil samples in Midland. Nearly one-third were found to have levels above the state cleanup standard of 90 parts per trillion. Locations exceeding the limit included two elementary schools, a middle school, a high school and a park.
Instead of implementing cleanups, which would involve digging up the contaminated soil and hauling it away, the state decided to do more testing. And instead of testing in residential areas, it was determined in negotiations with Dow to sample the grounds of its corporate headquarters, which are located in a different part of town than the chemical plant. Those tests were intended to be a "surrogate" for the community. Conducted in 1998, they found levels ranging from 66 to 476 parts per trillion.
No other sampling has taken place since, and no plan to deal with the hot spots has been implemented.
"It was just one excuse-making phase after another," alleged Hebert.
In May 2001, Hebert and two environmental groups Ñ the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor and the Lansing-based Michigan Environmental Council, which represents a coalition of state groups Ñ turned in frustration to the federal government. Hebert said the ATSDR -- a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services -- was contacted at the suggestion of a Michigan state worker, who felt the state was simply stalling. The ATSDR, which has a cooperative agreement with the Michigan Department of Community Health, assigned the agency to conduct a preliminary investigation. The ATSDR, whose mission is to prevent harmful exposures and disease related to toxic substances, will assist the state and review its findings.
On March 4, the results were released: At this point, data does not exist to determine how much of a health threat dioxin poses to the people of Midland. Among other things that report pointed out that residential areas most likely to have high concentrations of dioxin -- those located adjacent to the chemical plant -- have never had their soil tested. Tests at the plant itself have discovered concentrations as high as 17,000 parts per trillion.
The way Mayor Black sees it, the ATSDR decision is a "good news-bad news sort of thing."
"If there's a health hazard," he said, "let's correct it. If not, stop saying there is, because it's scaring people. We want to put this to bed as quickly as possible, because uncertainty is never good for the economic health of the community."
For civic boosters such as the chamber's Marsh, the ATSDR's plans to begin comprehensive testing bring back nightmare visions of investigators in "moon suits" needlessly scaring residents and further tarnishing the city's image. "We're talking about a situation that is not unique to Midland. This is a situation faced by the whole industrialized world, but it's been decided to put the focus on Midland, and that makes me angry. But I have complete confidence that, if it's a fair process, they won't find any problem here."
As for Hebert, she's busy hounding the state and federal agencies involved in the process to make sure that there is heavy citizen involvement in the process.
"I'm not so naive I think the saviors are here," she said. "We're going to have to watch what's done next every step of the way."
Curt Guyette is news editor for Detroit Metro Times, where this article first appeared. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
No, I'm not referring to Sony.com. Or the front page of CNN's Internet edition. Rather, I'm thinking about the lowly personal home page, the Web's first official foray into personal publishing.
Ah, the home page. Back in the Web's formative years, the personal home page was quite the status symbol among early Internet adopters. But more than status, the home page offered convenience. In a time before Palm Pilots and privacy concerns, here was a handy place to store your friends' e-mail addresses. Or your manifesto on death metal. Or your favorite Bauhaus links.
The home page was also great fun at parties. Back in the mid-'90s, I remember having one particularly heady cocktail-party chat about time travel. "Oh, I wrote a term paper about that subject back in college," one friend casually offered at the pretzel bowl. "It's on my home page ... you should read it sometime."
Needless to say, I was impressed.
The personal home page was the Web's first widespread experiment in the democratization of publishing. It was the inaugural response to the Web's rallying call for mass social change. "On the Internet," the pundits claimed, "everyone will be a publisher!" And for a while, everyone published.
But not necessarily very well. Thinking back, these shameless exercises in ego and HTML weren't usually very good. Who can forget the garish magenta backgrounds? The poorly chosen font sizes? The endless photographs of Rex the Dog?
It wasn't all babble and baby pictures, though. Some personal home pages were actually worth visiting. Even if you didn't know the Web master personally.
One example still sticks with me: Back at my old auto-industry job, the bosses wouldn't let you surf the Web. "We can't do that," they explained, "No one will get any work done." (This was 1996. What did they know?) The office computers could only access a small selection of "approved" Web sites. One of these approved sites was netscape.com.
In a few short weeks, I was very familiar with netscape.com. See, Netscape was an enlightened company back then. They encouraged all of their employees to maintain personal home pages. And nearly everyone did.
True to the classic format, most of these pages were filled with bad poetry and pet photography. But not Jamie Zawinski's page. For the uninitiated, Zawinski was one of Netscape's earliest employees -- a regular Internet pioneer. He helped program their first browser. Today, he's a rich post-dot commer who runs a night club in San Francisco.
Noted one visitor to Zawinski's page: "I have yet to come across so much self-righteous bullshit as when I gaze upon the massive heap of crap that is (Zawinski's) Web experience." But actually, Zawinski's page was great. Rather than fill it with Web links and vacation snapshots, he wrote great personal stories about his adventures with fish heads, comic books and California's urban sprawl.
Zawinski's page was more like a journal, really entertaining to read, but still very intimate. I didn't know Zawinski. Still don't. But his page was worth reading, even if it hadn't been approved by one of the Big Three.
Zawinski's home page still exists in a somewhat altered form at www.jwz.org/gruntle/. But most of the earliest home pages have long disappeared, deleted from the Net and gone to server heaven.
So what happened to the personal home page? Did it die?
No, it just changed.
Instead of home pages, today's budding Web publishers create Web logs (or "blogs," as they are often called). Essentially, a blog is a daily journal -- each day, the blogger posts a short thought, comment or Web link. The next day, a new entry appears.
It's a technique borrowed from popular tech destinations like slashdot.com and earlier, more aesthetically successful home pages created by people such as Zawinski. Gone are the crude photo scans and address books. In their place -- a more readable experience that's usually topically focused and organized.
Because Web logs are such a huge improvement over the classic home page style, the format has essentially taken over personal publishing on the Web. Video game sites, celebrity shrines, pages about cooking -- they're almost all blogs now. Want to build your own blog? It's free at blogger.com, the Net's most popular blogging service -- which also provides surfers with links to blogs by the hundreds.
With the emergence of the Web log, the individual has finally become a more sophisticated personal publisher. Web logs are often indistinguishable from more professional content sites. And the big surprise: it's an experience many strangers actually enjoy (one of my favorites, linesandsplines.com, is about the esoteric subject of typography. Yet it's still fun to read).
Still, I miss the personal home pages of yore. Their clunky charm was the prototype for the Web's emerging power to communicate. And now that so many of them are gone (or turned into Web logs), I wish somebody had saved the original models, if only for history's sake.
Like old photo albums from the '80s, the inaugural home pages are a time capsule from a more innocent time. Sure, the haircuts are embarrassing. But aren't you glad you kept the pictures?
Adam Druckman wanders the Web for the Detroit Metro Times.
To quiet her crying 9-month-old daughter, Wissedi Sio Njoh regularly dosed her with a syrup that made her sleep. The damage the sedative may have caused her still haunts Njoh 10 years later, but at the time, she had no choice: A weeping baby meant danger. Government troops, known to brutalize citizens, roamed the streets of Liberia's capital enforcing a nightly curfew as the nation began its descent into seven horrendous years of civil war. Noise of any kind -- even a child's sobs -- might have attracted troops and trouble.
A mother of four, a nurse, the wife of a doctor, Njoh watched her relatively affluent life in Monrovia disintegrate. She says an uncle was tortured and killed; she encountered gun-toting children and watched as insurgents threatened to kill her husband; along with the rest of her family, she often went hungry.
But Njoh says the most painful part of the war came when she had to leave her four daughters with relatives in Africa while she headed to the United States to forge a better life. Eventually the girls were reunited with their mother in the States, but Njoh's family -- and about 10,000 to 15,000 other Liberians who fled to the United States during the war -- may be forced to return to Liberia in September unless Congress overrules the Clinton administration and grants them permanent residency.
Though Liberia's civil war officially ended in 1996, claiming about 200,000 lives, Njoh and others fear that if they return, they may meet a similar fate in a country still plagued with lawlessness, and ruled by the same man who started the civil war.
After the civil war broke out in the West African country, the U.S. government granted Liberians a form of asylum, "temporary protected status." Now, with the civil war over and a new government -- with Taylor as president -- in place, the Clinton administration says it is no longer necessary to allow these international refugees to remain in the United States. "Although conditions remain difficult, the overall situation is not sufficiently adverse to prevent most Liberian nationals in the U.S. from returning to Liberia in safety," according to a State Department memorandum supporting the decision. Liberians' "protected" status ended last September. They have been given until this September to leave the country unless they can convince U.S. authorities "their particular circumstances" make returning unsafe.
Nonetheless, the State Department's most recent human rights report on Liberia contains much that is troubling. The rights record is judged to be "poor": "The security forces committed many extrajudicial killings. ... Security forces tortured, beat, and otherwise abused or humiliated citizens. ... Security forces continues to use arbitrary arrest and detention. ..."
The National Liberian Working Group, which represents refugees in the United States, goes further, saying many Liberians may be killed if repatriated because Taylor may view them as siding with the former ruling party.
The NLWG is pushing lawmakers, particularly U.S. Sen. Spencer Abraham, R-Mich., to grant Liberians permanent residency by passing Senate Bill 656. As chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration, Abraham can determine whether the bill moves forward at all and could help guide it through the Senate. (The politics for Abraham, however, may be complicated by the fact that he is already facing attack ads by the well-heeled Federation for American Immigration Reform. Abraham's support for increased immigration for high-tech workers has raised the ire of the anti-immigration work).
Last April, NLWG members lobbied Congress about the bill. Though they received some support, Abraham has been silent on the issue, says Saa M'Tow, a NLWG member.
"This guy holds the key to heaven, and if we don't get his blessing we will not see what heaven looks like," says M'Tow.
He points out that the Clinton administration advises U.S. citizens that Liberia is too dangerous to visit, yet is ordering Liberians to go home.
Margaret Murphy, director of communications for Abraham's office, says the senator is still waiting on information about the bill before he decides whether or not to support it.
But U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., who is sponsoring the bill, says he has provided Abraham and his staff all the information requested.
Reed says that Congress must act fast.
"We have to resolve this issue," says Reed. "We have had Liberians in the U.S. for a decade now and (they) have established themselves in the community, work and have children. It's time to give them permanent residency."
If the bill is not enacted, Njoh says she is not sure where she and her children will go, but she will not return to Liberia.
She asks: "How can anyone expect me to go back to a country that I ran from for my life, for my life and the lives of my children?"
Ann Mullen can be reached at email@example.com.
Talk about eating disorders -- just think about restaurants like Chi-Chi's, Benihana and Olive Garden. Not that these restaurants are the only examples of this kind of natively authentic phony foreign cuisine, and not that there's anything wrong with the food, necessarily. Because there isn't -- for the most part.
The question is why. Why do Americans want to eat this stuff in the first place? Why eat this faux-ethnic food instead of something else, whether ours or theirs, that would be "better" or else "more authentic"?
Take Chi-Chi's (any Chi-Chi's) for example. A sunny Sunday at noon; plenty of church folks having a meal. So you join them, order a cranberry margarita, then maybe some Mexican spring rolls for a starter. Funk-a-delic elevator music plays on the sound system. You order an enchilada combination.
"The enchilada is the oldest known Mexican food," the glossary on the back of the menu advises.
Maybe the enchilada is the oldest known Mexican food, but what about the stuff on the plate; is it really Mexican? Does anybody think it is?
By way of comparison -- sort of -- there's the more authentically staged fakery of the Benihana Japanese steak house chain. If Chi-Chi's is conducting a kind of salsa diplomacy, making the NAFTA world south of the border comprehensible as appealingly deracinated food categories, then Benihana is about something else.
In the context of our Yo-Quiero culture (as in "Yo quiero Taco Bell"), this is just another way of skinning the Other's cat, another way of eating the concerns that are eating us.
"Sushi bar or steak house?" the young Asian host asks at the door, and if you pick steak, you end up sitting at a communal table with maybe five or six strangers, arranged in a horseshoe around a central grill. You sip your drink, taking the measure of your tablemates. Then the chef appears, who is going to prepare dinner for all of us, simultaneously.
"Tempanyaki," the guy sitting next to me says, deciding to break the ice, at least I think that's what he says. He's trying to explain what kind of place this is: "It's an imitation of a kind of restaurant that Americans would like in Japan."
Turns out the guy, who's having dinner with his two little boys, has spent several years in Japan, can even speak the language. He says "hello" in Japanese to the chef, who by now is putting on the Samurai-Edward Scissorhands show that maybe you've seen in TV commercials. He slices and dices; he whisks the tails off shrimp, flipping them up into the crown of his chef's toque. The kids are loving this.
"Spaghetti," my native informant says, explaining that the house specialty, which I've ordered, is like "peasant food."
The inscrutable chef now breaks his silence. "Hot dogs," he says, correcting my informant. "Like hot dogs."
What I want to know is why this food, and why this place, when there's food of our own to eat -- burgers and Coney dogs, pizza and barbecue -- not to mention the other kinds of food commonly referred to as "foreign," as in "foreign bodies," of the sort the Heimlich maneuver is meant to save people from, when things get stuck going down the wrong way. (Not all foreigners are equally relevant as food -- Chinese and Poles, Koreans and Indians, for instance. If there's nothing about them, politically, that's eating us, then we needn't bother eating them back.)
So Benihana is a cultural Heimlich in reverse. We're not choking things up, but chugging them down, devouring all that disorderly Japanese stuff that might otherwise confuse us or threaten our sense of well-being: stuff about those people we just can't seem to figure out, with their well-made cars and incredible SAT scores, and their crazy ideas about work and savings accounts. What we're dealing with, in other words, is not so much food as a concept.
And when it comes to concepts, the Olive Garden is the smartest of American "foreign" food purveyors because it is the most fully conscious, although calculated might be a better term. There's no myth of origins here, like there is at Chi-Chi's, no grasping at ethno-authentic straws, like our Japanese chef at Benihana. This is all-American phoniness at its market-researched best.
It took General Mills seven years to come up with Olive Garden. And it worked. By the 1980s, this had become America's fastest growing full-service "concept," which is how corporate management refers to its restaurants. And concept is what this place is selling. Not quantity and price and consistency (about on the level of a Stouffers frozen dinner). Those you could find at other places too.
But those places are not special the way Olive Garden is special. Not just because it's "full service," but because it's "Italian." Just like The Godfather was Italian, which came out in 1972, when General Mills was trying to figure out what "concept" Americans would want to devour next. Then along came that cooking scene. Remember it? When Clemenza gives the impromptu lesson about making tomato sauce. Right there, that's when Italians -- Hollywood Italians -- became the people of family and food, the people of roots.
So naturally we'd want to eat with them, especially when we're feeling a little millennially rootless and homesick ourselves. That's what makes this place a concept more than a restaurant, just like Chi-Chi's and Benihana are concepts.
In the end, it's not food we're eating, but the concept of authenticity itself. That's what's being gobbled like so many breadsticks at Olive Garden. That's what's getting carried home to be microwaved in those little Styrofoam containers.
We allow ourselves to believe in the reality of the fake so we can enjoy the superior feeling of having mastered it. And what better way to do that than by eating. Not food in some funky little mom-and-pop authentic joint, which wouldn't be relevant at all. But our version of what their food would taste like if they ever perfected it conceptually. That's what's on the plate at Olive Garden.
And is it a good idea? Of course it is. Otherwise we wouldn't be here. It's where America comes the most vividly to life, when we're eating the things we aren't.
Split: A Counterculture Childhoodby Lisa MichaelsHoughton Mifflin, $23, 307 pp.I read Split: A Counterculture Childhood because I was looking for tips. It's the memoir of Lisa Michaels, born in 1966 and raised by parents who were a political radical (dad) and an anti-materialist semihippie (mom). For political parents, our greatest fear is that our children will be rebels -- against us, that is. When Michaels was interviewed by Terry Gross on National Public Radio, I got the impression that she wasn't an activist, but agreed with her parents' political convictions. Good enough, I thought. Let's find out how they did it. It seems to me that, in general, radical parents do a pretty good job of passing on their values to their kids. But it seems likely that, in an era such as ours, when exciting movements are few and far between, "politics" could come to be equated, in a child's mind, with "boring meetings" and "Mom not home to tuck me in." Michaels says her father's countless meetings were indeed boring and hard to understand, but at least they were held in her living room. She dragged her feet about going to rallies for affirmative action or farmworkers, and her feelings about being there, logically enough, changed with the circumstances: "I was full of self-congratulatory heroism when it looked like the public mood was in our favor. But when the turnout was slim, or it rained, or the police walked the streets in riot gear, I shrank back. ... We were few and weak. They could crush us under their thumbs." Michaels describes the things she missed, or was embarrassed by, because of her mother's values. In kindergarten, "I soon learned how other families spent their nights. Half the recess chatter involved recounting the previous evening's television shows -- a whole world I knew nothing about." She watches "Tom and Jerry" at the neighbor's whenever she can. She observes the strange dinnertime rituals at her friend's house -- saying grace, asking to be excused at the end of the meal -- and begs her parents to teach her etiquette. Her mother feeds her mostly out of her huge garden, and bakes her own bread ("dark, of course"), while Charlene and Jill next door get white bread and bologna, Lucky Charms and potato chips. Michaels nags her mother to wear blush and mascara. In second grade, the kids make fun of the "hippie girl" because she keeps her paper in a red velvet box made by her mother, instead of in a binder. Here Michaels voices an ambivalence that recurs: "To join in the shrill laughter would betray my mother's thoughtfulness, and yet part of me blamed her for sending me into the world without proper equipment." In high school, she yearns for a suburban tract house.What's more striking than Michaels' perceived deprivations and embarrassments is the guilt she often felt. The way I read it, some of this was because her father was a bit of a jerk. A former Weatherman, he had moved to the Bay Area and joined a Maoist group. At the end of each summer visit -- the two parents split up when Michaels was 4 months old -- Michaels and her father and stepmother would do "criticism/self-criticism" of her stay. How was her relationship with her stepmother progressing? How was the daycare? How was Michaels' own behavior? Michaels says she entered into these reviews enthusiastically. Her father urges her to read a biography of Paul Robeson, for self-improvement. Her stepmother gives her a book on Chinese revolutionary youth, ever noble. Passing a porn theater is one of many opportunities for an earnest moral lesson. Even her mother's customary send-off is "think of the other guy." Dad writes in one of her book-gifts that there are two kinds of people in the world: Those who live for themselves and those who live for others. What kind of trip is that to lay on a child? At one point, Dad scares 12-year-old Michaels by turning the living room stereo up loud (to foil possible bugs) and telling her he may have to move to Kentucky to help the coal miners. It's a "crucial fight," and surely the assistance of an outside agitator from California is just what they need. The effect on Michaels is often, not always, feelings of fear and guilt. "I wanted to slip into the bland flow of passersby; I wanted to live a life that aroused no suspicion or trouble ... I would lie in bed despairing over my lack of courage. I was afraid that if I had lived in Nazi Germany, if I had been a Christian with an empty attic, I would have turned the Jews away." The comforts of her life -- compared to those of migrant farmworkers, living in cardboard boxes -- make her feel afraid, because she's done nothing to deserve them. On the other hand, her father's politics lead him to not waste time yelling or moralizing over certain subjects. When she's caught shoplifting, she writes, "If my father had tried to speak of profit margins or the businessman's right to a fair buck, I would have laughed through my teeth. He had spent his life questioning the rights of big capital; he certainly wasn't going to take their side over a vial of eye drops." Instead his advice is practical: "They're cracking down on this kind of thing. It's not worth it anymore." Despite a certain heavy-handedness, in the end Michaels seems to feel that her parents have sent her into the world with proper equipment. She's a beautiful writer, with many an evocative phrase that makes you know just how it was (and wonder how she can remember so well). At her wedding (planned for a year and catered, in contrast to her parents' and stepparents' casual trips to city hall), she thinks, "I'd become what they had given me, a girl with enough wild days to fill a story, and the faith to think I could tell it."Jane Slaughter can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.