Genevieve Roja

Here Come the Metrosexuals

My boyfriend is stylish to a fault. He knows what works for him (merino wool sweaters) and what does not. No tones of camel or toffee, please! He is familiar with my Kiehl's skincare regimen and has a penchant for the natural skincare line Zia. He washes his hair with Biolage and carefully combs conditioner through it. He won't settle for anything other than Calvin Klein when it comes to his bed sheets, and shops at the only Banana Republic outlet in California (I didn't even know one existed).

When your man one-ups you in shopping, you know you're in trouble. Yes, I confess. I'm in love with a metrosexual. That's the term for a new generation of hip, urban men who can shotgun their beers and tell the difference between Levi's and Diesel. You can see them in your beauty salon getting their facials and pedicures. They compliment you on your shoes because they actually like your shoes. They're like my brother who says stuff like, "No carbs after 8 PM," and lets me know that tennis skirts are the latest summer rage in New York. These are straight men who appreciate the value of looking good and don't need an army of gay men to help them do it.

What in the hell is going on? Are straight men turning gay?

The most-commonly used label to describe this trend is "metrosexual," a term defined as straight men living in urban, metropolitan settings who are embracing their feminine sides. Once the preserve of urban twenty-something hipsters, it's a term that has gained so much mainstream cred that New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd recently decided to ask none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger if he was that kind of guy. Dowd claims her question was inspired by Arnie's appearance: "In person, he looks a little unreal, like a top-of-the-line Madame Tussaud figure: taut skin, buffed nails, designer shades." And it is a credit to our metrosexual times that the king of macho was not in the least bit insulted, but instead launched into an elaborate description of his shopping skills: "(My wife) always says, 'Why don't you go over in the men's section?' and I say: 'No, no. I want to stay here and I want to help you because you'll find something great.'"

The heterosexual American male is without a doubt making inroads into territory that has long been the preserve of women and gay men. Conde Nast, the magazine publishing powerhouse, has now created a male version of the very popular women's consumer magazine, Lucky, called Cargo, which is reportedly set to launch in 2004. Men are no longer considered an afterthought when it comes to new grooming product lines. But, of course, to preserve the straight male ego, companies make sure they serve up the most feminine of products with a healthy dose of macho. Take, for example, the skincare lines Jack Black and Heavy Duty. Jack Black is a skincare label that dates back to the Civil War, when they provided soldiers with shaving and grooming kits. (Guess a man couldn't shoot a gun with a five o'clock shadow.) Heavy Duty packages some of its products to look like motor oil and then dresses them with a graphic of a woman jacking up her car -- and is reportedly a hit with Aerosmith lead crooner Steven Tyler.

Axe's body deodorant is gaining a new following with its cheeky television campaign, which speaks to the age-old preoccupation of straight men with hooking up with more than one woman at the same time. In one commercial, when a man is caught staring at another woman at the bar, his girlfriend murmurs understandingly, "Beautiful isn't she?" Another features a woman asking a man, "Do you mind if my best friend joins us?" Lest we forget: Men may be getting cleaned up on the outside, but that doesn't mean the primary message about what it means to be a man has changed.

Gay writers such as Mark Simpson also use "metrosexual" to satirize consumerism's toll on men. As Simpson wrote in a now infamous Salon article, capitalism needed a new "It" boy -- not a hetero schlep who didn't spend enough money, but "a new kind of man, one less certain of his identity and much more interested in his image." A man, Simpson writes, "who is an advertiser's walking wet dream." Traditional masculinity meant providing for the wife so she had money to burn. Today, beaten down by Madison Avenue's assault on his ego, men are being pushed to do just as much of the spending themselves. There's nothing better for the corporate bottom line than to have both husband and wife haunting the corridors of the local mall.

The trend may be Madison Avenue's dream, but it also has to do with changing expectations of the 21st century woman. What modern-day woman doesn't appreciate a man who loves his mama, works out, makes a mean rack of lamb, has patience while shopping, can take in a play, exhibit fashion sense and trim his nose hairs? That's nearly a golden ticket to the bedroom and a lottery ticket for a promising future. Didn't everyone see what happened when Kate Hudson fell for Matthew McConaughey's metrosexual shtick in "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days?" She didn't just fall; she crashed into his arms. But at the end, Kate got the very best version of Matthew, the kind she probably envisioned falling for: a pretty boy with the most earnest heart of gold.

It's the reason why a show like Bravo's "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" is such a megahit with women. Despite their affection for ghastly color-blocked polos and polyester pants, these men let the Fab Five make them better not to get the hottie in the bar, but for the wife that wants his eyebrows waxed or the girlfriend who wants him to throw her a nice party. It's clear that these "Queer" candidates genuinely want to impress the women in their life. To do so, these men shed not only their nasty grooming habits and that dastardly pair of high-waist jeans, but also some of their manly pride. The message is not, "I love Prada," but, "I love you, honey."

Not all women are impressed with this new-found feminine side. Salon writer Sheerly Avni wrote about an old boyfriend who made her dinner several nights a week, putting to shame her poor, if any, culinary talents. "At the time I was touched, but little did I realize that intentionally or not, he was refining and perfecting a strategy for future domination by homing in on my neglected domestic sphere." He may be the one who will want to shop till he drops, tag along with your girly gang of Sunday brunchers and book both your hair appointments. By the time he finishes reading this article, he may have already picked out your living room furniture from Pottery Barn. Most women, however, are not as worried as Avni -- perhaps because their men are so far from the metrosexual ideal, any change seems like a god-send.

Besides, the encroachment of men into female territory is an encouraging sign of progress. The greater willingness to accept homosexuality indicates not just a broader definition of sexuality but also of gender roles. The walls of gender identity aren't necessarily being knocked down, but rather rearranged. Let's face it! If women start kicking butt a la Jackie Chan, there's no reason why a man can't have eyebrows that rival Catherine Zeta Jones.

Genevieve Roja is a freelance writer living in the Bay Area.

Take This Jobless Recovery and Shove It

In the larger scheme of President Bush's agenda, it's people like me who don't really matter. And why would I? I'm no CEO of a big monied corporation. I'm neither a fundraiser nor a politico.

It's worse -- I'm unemployed.

While the President is horseback-riding around his Crawford, Texas ranch during his month-long hiatus, my fellow unemployeds and I try to land the job of today, rather than the job of our dreams. That's what happens when you're out of work -- you take the measly scraps and wait for the steak dinner.

Some of us go back to school in the hopes that the economy will recover by the time someone hands us a diploma. Or we move in with our parents, sell our cars and apply for jobs netting half what we used to make. There is no real feeling of optimism -- just desperation. Our anxiety makes others around us crazy. We want jobs not just for the money, but to join the others out there who are contributing something to the world, whether it's shoveling dirt or pushing paper. Take away someone's job and you take away a sliver of that person's self-worth. Sometimes, working, whether we like our jobs or not, validates our sense of presence, of being a valued member of society.

It's too bad television news can't broadcast the life of the jobless like they do soldiers duking it out in lawless Iraq. Joblessness is rarely sexy or scary. What would the cameras capture if they could? How about roads and highways bogged down by traffic, regardless of the time of day? Try going to Whole Foods at two in the afternoon. Nightmare. Bodies abound, jostling for sale-priced baskets of raspberries and freshly cut samples of nectarines.

Ditto the scene at drycleaners, restaurants, pharmacies, coffee shops and department stores. I can't go to the library anymore to job-hunt online because there are too many people camped out at the computer stations. They're like the ghosts of employed days past who refuse to leave their haunting posts. There's the white-bearded hippie professor type with his stacks of Chicano literature by his side. Or the polo shirt-clad man with his weather-beaten briefcase sitting atop the table of his workstation. He looks quietly displaced pounding away at the keyboard; it's as if the library has become his new cubicle.

Since Bush took his cubicle, about 3.4 million Americans have lost their jobs. Last month, 470,000 Americans became discouraged and stopped looking for work. We have a 6.2 unemployment rate and the highest level of unemployment in nine years. And how does Bush respond? He signed a tax cut bill he claimed would create a million more new jobs but in actuality, did not. He recently sent three Cabinet members by bus to Wisconsin and Minnesota who reported "a positive feeling in America about our economy."

Well, what about the sentiment of the other 48 states? As a Californian, I can tell you a lot about the daily struggle of an unemployed. It is a constant period of personal re-evaulation and daily affirmation. It's learning to forgive myself, telling myself it wasn't my fault I was let go, that I'm good enough and smart enough, and by golly, someone will hire me someday. It's difficult hanging onto hope when you've been out of work for almost a year. Unemployment means readjusting to job hunting too, maybe lowering your standards in the process. I now click on part-time job postings and submit my name for marketing studies that pay $20 for my cooperation. I explore volunteer opportunities because that's always good for the soul and there's virtually no rejection -- everyone loves an employee who doesn't have to be paid.

But it's still not a job. Nothing can replace that feeling of making a important contribution toward the greater good. Also irreplaceable is the feeling of waking up in the morning not in a state of panic, but in a state of employed serenity.

There is much to be done about this Bush-termed "jobless recovery." It may start with a bus ride survey, but it certainly doesn't end there. Sure, the rest of America wants to have positive feelings about the economy. But first of all they want to believe that the creation of jobs is high on the agenda, not just an empty promise on the eve of a presidential respite. Our leaders need to work hard to find real solutions the way Americans work to find jobs and retain those jobs -- with integrity, intensity and with stubborn determination.

Genevieve Roja is a freelance writer living in San Francisco.

A 9/11 Timeline

Sept. 11, 2001: 8:45 a.m.: A hijacked passenger jet, American Airlines Flight 11 from Logan International Airport in Boston, crashes into the north tower of the World Trade Center.

9:03 a.m.: A second hijacked airliner, United Airlines Flight 175 from Boston, crashes into the south tower of the WTC and explodes.

9:40 a.m.: The FAA halts all flight operations at U.S. airports -- the first time in U.S. history air traffic has been halted.

9:43 a.m.: American Airlines Flight 77, departing Washington Dulles International Airport and bound for Los Angeles, crashes into the Pentagon.

10:10 a.m.: In Sommerset County, Pa., a hijacked jet, United Airlines Flight 93, crashes.

Sept. 12, 2001: NATO members invoke Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, declaring an attack against one to be an attack against all.

Sept. 13, 2001: Powell names Osama bin Laden a suspect in the 9/11 attacks.

-- Giuliani announces that 4,763 people are missing in New York.

-- Pentagon announces that 188 people are missing or dead in the Washington attack.

-- The Federal Aviation Administration reopens U.S. airports except Logan International in Boston and Reagan National in Washington, D.C.

-- Evangelical Christian leader, Rev. Jerry Falwell, says that "the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians" were to blame for the terrorist attacks. He also says that groups like the ACLU and People for the American Way "helped this happen" by angering God.

Sept. 14, 2001: The U.S. Treasury Department announces it is setting up a new agency to probe terrorist funds with the Foreign Terrorist Asset Tracking Center, which would include CIA and FBI investigators.

-- Europe observes three minutes of silence in a day of mourning. Some 200,000 people gather at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. In England, newspapers print U.S. flags for people to display.

-- Bush calls up 50,000 reservists for "homeland defense."

-- Congress approves $40 billion in emergency funding for increased public safety, anti-terrorism activities, disaster recovery efforts, and assistance for the victims of 9/11.

-- Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, votes to oppose military action against those responsible for the 9/11 attacks. The Senate approved the resolution 98-0, while the House voted 420-1.

-- A Bush spokesperson calls Falwell's remarks Sept. 13 "inappropriate." Falwell issues a statement that his remarks were taken out of context and that he held only terrorists responsible for the attacks.

Sept. 15, 2001: Egyptian Adel Karas, 48, is shot to death in his import shop, the International Market, in San Gabriel, Calif.

-- In Mesa, Ariz., Balbir Singh Sodhi, a 49-year-old Sikh, is shot to death outside his gas station. The man accused of killing him, Frank Roque, shot at a convenience store owned by a Lebanese man and at a house he had sold to a family from Afghanistan. He was quoted in police reports saying "all Arabs had to be shot."

-- In Dallas, Tex., Waqar Hasan, 46, is shot to death in his store, Mom's Grocery.

-- The Council on American-Islamic Relations says it has collected reports of more than 700 possible hate crimes across the U.S. since 9/11.

-- Bush names bin Laden the "prime suspect" and tells the military to ready themselves.

-- Pentagon activates "Operation Noble Eagle."

Sept. 16, 2001: Vice President Dick Cheney announces that as the terrorist attack unfolded Sept. 11, Bush had ordered the military to shoot down any other passenger jets believed to have been hijacked for use in the attack.

Sept. 17, 2001: The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) cancel their annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

-- Falwell apologizes for his remarks made Sept. 13.

Sept. 18, 2001: Anthrax-tainted letters dated Sept. 11 and postmarked Sept. 18 are sent to NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw and the New York Post.

-- Attorney General John Ashcroft announces new rules allowing the INS to detain immigrants suspected of terrorism for a maximum of 48 hours before charging them.

-- The Defense Department reveals that after the first plane crashed into the WTC, two Air Force F-15 fighters were dispatched to New York from Otis Air National Guard base in Falmouth, Mass. At the time of the second crash, they were 71 miles away, about eight minutes' traveling time at the fighters' maximum speed.

Sept. 19, 2001: U.S. Defense Department orders the deployment of dozens of combat aircraft to the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean and the former Soviet republics of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, which border Afghanistan. The Pentagon dubs the campaign against terrorism, "Operation Infinite Justice."

Sept. 20, 2001: In a nationally televised joint session to Congress, Bush demands that the Taliban hand over Osama bin Laden and shut down every terrorist camp in Afghanistan or face military attack. Bush announces the creation of an Office of Homeland Security and names Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge to the post.

-- Amtrak says it plans to request $3 billion in emergency funding from the federal government to help it cope with the spike in passenger traffic following 9/11.

Sept. 21, 2001: Congress approves a $15 billion package to bail out the airline industry and compensate it for losses incurred after the terrorist attacks.

-- The Dow Jones industrial Average is down 14.26 percent during the first week of trading after the U.S. stock markets reopen following the 9/11 attacks. It's the worst-ever weekly point loss and the second-largest weekly percentage decline ever, the biggest being a 15.55 percent drop in July 1933 during the Great Depression.

-- The Taliban rejects Bush's ultimatum that it hand over bin Laden until the U.S. can present evidence implicating him in the attacks. Bush administration officials say that is out of the question.

-- Four television networks and dozens of cable channels broadcast the live two-hour program, "America: A Tribute to Heroes." The event raises $150 million in donations.

Sept. 22, 2001: Thousands flee Afghanistan in anticipation of U.S. military action.

Sept. 23, 2001: The member nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council -- Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emigrates (UAE), Kuwait, Oman and Qatar -- pledge to cooperate with the war against terrorism.

Sept. 23-24, 2001: The FAA for two days grounds all crop-dusting planes after authorities express concern that the planes could be used in an airborne chemical or biological attack.

Sept. 24, 2001: Bush issues an executive order instructing U.S. financial institutions to freeze the assets of 27 groups and individuals suspected of supporting terrorists.

-- In a CNN/USA Today Gallup poll, Bush's approval rating is 90 percent; the highest presidential rating ever measured by Gallup.

Sept. 25, 2001: Rumsfeld announces that the name "Operation Infinite Justice" is being replaced with "Operation Enduring Freedom" after Muslims complain that according to the Islamic faith, only God can dispense infinite justice.

Sept. 26, 2001: The abandoned U.S. embassy in Kabul is torched by pro-Taliban protesters.

Sept. 27, 2001: Bush announces plan to bolster airline security, including expanded use of federal marshals on planes.

Sept. 29, 2001: Abdo Ali Ahmed, a 51-year-old convenience store owner, is shot to death in Reedley, Calif. Police say he had received threats a week before he was shot.

Oct. 5, 2001: Robert Stevens, 63, a photo editor at American Media, Inc. in Florida, dies from inhalation anthrax.

Oct. 7, 2001: U.S. and Britain launch military strikes in Afghanistan.

Oct. 9, 2001: Letters postmarked in Trenton, N.J., are sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and Sen. Patrick Leahy. The letters later test positive for anthrax.

Oct. 10, 2001: Bush unveils list of 22 most-wanted terrorists, including Osama bin Laden.

Oct. 13, 2001: In south Los Angeles, Abdullah Nimer, 53, a Palestinian American, is murdered while selling clothing door to door.

Oct. 16, 2001: Twelve Senate offices closed; hundreds of staffers are tested for anthrax exposure.

Oct. 20, 2001: Anthrax discovered in House of Representatives office building. The letter to the New York Post tests positive for anthrax.

Oct. 21, 2001: A Washington, D.C. postal worker dies of inhalation anthrax. Officials begin testing thousands of postal workers.

Oct. 24, 2001: House passes $100 billion economic stimulus package.

-- Bush authorizes $175 million to help the cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service deal with the anthrax threat.

-- House approves Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism, or the USA-PATRIOT Act, in a 357-66 vote.

Oct. 25, 2001: The Senate approves 98-1 (Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis. dissenting) the USA-Patriot Act.

Oct. 26, 2001: Bush signs the USA-Patriot Act into law. Members of Congress establis an expiration date -- Dec. 31, 2005, for the new wiretapping and surveillance powers.

Oct. 31, 2001: New York hospital worker Kathy Nguyen, 61, dies from inhalation anthrax. In all, five people die from anthrax.

Nov. 3, 2001: Eleven firefighters are arrested and five police officers injured after a clash at Ground Zero. The groups had gathered to protest Mayor Rudy Giuliani's action to limit the number of firefighters and police officers at Ground Zero.

Nov. 8, 2001: United Airlines announces a plan to put Taser stun guns in the cockpits of each of its 500 planes.

Nov. 11, 2001: The American Red Cross, which received nearly $850 million in donations and thousands of extra units of blood after the attacks, announces it had to destroy blood because it did not have the resources to freeze it before its shelf life of 42 days had passed.

Nov. 16, 2001: Congress approves the Airport Security Federalization Act of 2001, a law intended to improve security at America's airports. Under the law, all airport security screening personnel must be American citizens -- a provision which immediately draws fire from current immigrant airport personnel. The law also requires that more Air Marshals be present on flights, cockpit doors be fortified and video monitors used to alert pilots of suspicious activity in the cabin.

Nov. 25, 2001: A bloody Taliban prison uprising erupts at the Qala-i-Jangi prison in northern Afghanistan. CIA operative Johnny Micheal Spann interrogates John Walker Lindh, the "American Taliban." Spann is later shot and killed in the uprising.

Dec. 1, 2001: John Walker Lindh is taken into U.S. custody in Afghanistan.

Dec. 3, 2001: Israel restricts Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's movements. He is grounded in the West Bank town of Ramallah when his helicopters are destroyed in air strikes.

Dec. 13, 2001: The Pentagon releases an amateur videotape of bin Laden meeting a Saudi radical in a house near Kandahar, in which Bin Laden boasts about his role in planning the Sept. 11 attacks.

Dec. 17, 2001: After nearly a month of fighting, the Battle of Tora Bora ends. Bin Laden reportedly escapes the region with the help of local sympathizers.

Dec. 22, 2001: Richard Reid, 28, allegedly tries to ignite an explosive in his sneaker while on an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami. Two flight attendants and a half-dozen passengers restrain him, while two doctors sedate him with drugs from a medical kit. The plane carrying 197 people was diverted to Boston and escorted by two fighter jets.

Dec. 25, 2001: Bush's Arab-American Secret Service agent is removed from an American Airlines flight. Airline chief executive Don Carty says the agent was "not behaving appropriately." Bush says of the incident, "If he was mistreated because of his ethnicity, I'm going to be plenty hot."

Jan. 10, 2002: American troops are deployed to the Philippines in preparation for a counterterrorism training program for the country's armed forces. The U.S.-led training program is part of a large package in which the U.S. provides warplanes, debt relief and trade assistance.

Jan. 11, 2002: The first 20 Taliban and al-Qaeda prisoners of war in Afghanistan arrive at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. naval base in Cuba. The facility, named Camp X-Ray, holds more than 2,000 inmates.

Jan. 23, 2002: John Walker Lindh is returned to the U.S.

-- Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl is kidnapped in Karachi, Pakistan, while researching links between militant groups in Pakistan and British citizen Richard Reid.

Jan. 29, 2002: Bush delivers State of the Union address.

Feb. 17, 2002: Bin Laden's second-in-command, Egyptian militant Ayman al-Zawahiri, is captured and jailed in Tehran, Iran.

Feb. 21, 2002: Daniel Pearl's captors deliver a videotaped recording of the reporter's decapitation to the U.S. consulate.

March 6, 2002: Ashcroft announces the new Justice Department program, Operation TIPS or Terrorism Information and Prevention System, which asks Americans to report suspicious activity as part of homeland security.

March 12, 2002: Ridge unveils a new color-coded national threat alert system to better prepare Americans for potential terrorist attacks. The Homeland Security Advisory System uses five colors to signify the level of threat: severe (red), high (orange), elevated (yellow), guarded (blue) and low (green).

March 29, 2002: Israeli military offensive begins in the West Bank.

March 31, 2002: About 100 European and American peace activists enter Arafat's compound in Ramallah. Sixty of them visit Arafat, the other 40 say they will act as human shields.

April 1, 2002: U.S. officials announce the capture of Osama bin Laden's top deputy, Abu Zubaydah, the highest-ranking al-Qaeda leader taken into custody since the Bush administration launches the war on terrorism.

April 8, 2002: Secretary of State Colin Powell begins his 10-day Middle East mission. He departs Jerusalem without the cease-fire he had sought and is unable to secure a withdrawal of Israeli occupation of West Bank cities and refugee camps. President Bush says Powell "made progress toward peace."

May 1, 2002: After 34 days of confinement in his West Bank headquarters, Arafat is released in a U.S.-brokered deal that includes the transfer of six wanted men in his compound to a West Bank prison.

May 15, 2002: The New York Times reports that a memo by an FBI agent in Arizona last summer urged bureau headquarters to investigate Middle Eastern men enrolled in American flight schools. Bureau Chief Mueller acknowledges that the bureau gave the memo little attention.

-- Senior Bush administration officials say that Bush's daily intelligence briefings in the weeks leading up to the 9/11 attacks included a warning of the possibility that the al-Qaeda network would attempt to hijack a U.S.-based airliner. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer refuses to discuss the specifics of the briefings, saying only that in the summer of 2001 Bush had "a general awareness" that bin Laden's network was considering attacks "around the world, including the United States."

May 17, 2002: A dismembered head and torso is found in a shallow grave on the outskirts of Karachi. The remains are believed to be that of Daniel Pearl.

May 21, 2002: FBI lawyer Colleen Rowley writes a 13-page letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller and flies to Washington to hand-deliver copies of it to two members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The letter accuses the bureau of deliberately standing in the way of thwarting the Sept. 11 attacks.

May 23, 2002: FBI Director Robert Mueller announces an investigation by the Justice Department inspector general into what went wrong in Minneapolis.

-- From Berlin, Bush says he opposes establishing a special commission to probe how the government dealt with terror warnings before 9/11.

May 29, 2002: Mueller acknowledges that his agency missed warning signals on terrorism. He announces in the next week that his department will reorganize by hiring more analysts, officers and terrorism experts.

June 2, 2002: FBI Director Robert Mueller and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a member of the Select Committee on Intelligence, confirmed a report in Newsweek that the CIA waited a year and a half after two al-Qaeda terrorist suspects entered the U.S. before sharing their names with agencies.

June 10, 2002: Abdulla al Mujahir, 31, born in Brooklyn as Jose Padilla, is arrested on suspicion of plotting to build and detonate a radiocative "dirty" bomb in a U.S. attack. Bush calls Mujahir an "enemy combatant."

July 10, 2002: House votes to allow airline pilots to carry guns in cockpits to prevent hijackings, ordering the Transportation Security Administration to train any pilot who volunteers to be armed. The White House opposes the idea.

July 15, 2002: In an Alexandria, Va. courtroom, John Walker Lindh, 21, pleads guilty to two criminal counts admitting that he illegally provided services to the Taliban. In exchange for his 20-year term in federal prison, government prosecutors drop terrorism and conspiracy charges that could have brought him three life terms plus 90 years.

July 20, 2002: DNA tests confirm that the dismembered body dug up May 17 is that of Daniel Pearl.

July 25, 2002: Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th 9/11 hijacker, changes his plea from guilty to four counts of conspiring to commit terror, mayhem and murder with hijacked airliners, to not guilty.

July 26, 2002: The House votes to create a $38 billion Department of Homeland Security. The new department would consolidate the work of existing federal agencies such as the Coast Guard and the Custom Service under one umbrella, led by a cabinet secretary.

July 31, 2002: U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly rules that the 600 suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay have no right to bring their cases to U.S. courts. The decision allows the government to continue holding the detainees indefinitely. Lawyers for the plaintiffs say they will appeal the decision.

-- The Senate Foreign Relations Committee begins hearings on the possibility of invading Iraq. Countless experts, such as former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, are not invited to participate in the discussion.

Aug. 2, 2002: U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler rules that the government must release the names of the nearly 1,200 people the U.S. government detained after the 9/11 attacks. Civil liberties groups hail it as a major victory. As of June 13, the most recent date for which information was provided, 74 people were still being held on immigration violations by the INS; 73 others were in federal custody on criminal charges.

Aug. 5, 2002: The White House rejects an Iraqi offer to let members of Congress tour suspected biological, chemical and nuclear weapons sites.

Aug. 11, 2002: U.S. Airways files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection; it becomes the first airline to declare bankruptcy since 9/11.

-- Daniel Pearl is buried in a private ceremony in Los Angeles.

Aug. 13, 2002: American Airlines announces it will cut 7,000 jobs.

Aug. 14, 2002: Dr. Steven Hatfill announces he has never been to Princeton, N.J., where many of last fall's anthrax-tainted letters were believed to have originated from. The FBI calls Hatfill, 48, "a person of interest," reportedly a milder version of suspect.

Aug. 19, 2002: Israeli troops begin withdrawing from Bethlehem under an agreement with Palestinian officials that they will be responsible for reducing tensions in Bethleham and the Gaza Strip.

-- The New York City medical examiner releases the first comprehensive account of 2,819 victims killed at the WTC on Sept. 11, a list to be read at the one-year observance.

If Snuffleupagus Had HIV

"Sesame Street" has always been that sacred piece of television. Sweet, not saccharine, educational but never preachy, it was a gem of children's programming. It was also a universe that was completely relatable to small children -- a place where humans, Grouches, Counts, Cookie Monsters and Big Birds learned about the little things in life. Like tying shoelaces, finding out how lollipops are made, or how a car wash operates. Not that we children understood it all, but we appreciated Sesame Street's desire to always be our teacher.

And now Sesame Street is trying hard to teach another valuable lesson, this time by taking the radical step of introducing an HIV-positive Muppet character to "Takalani Sesame," the South African version of the American television program.

Joel Schneider, president of Sesame Street Workshop, announced to delegates attending the recent 14th International AIDS Conference that the new character will "be lively, alert, friendly, outgoing and HIV-positive."

"She'll be healthy, not sickly," Schneider said. "We want to show children that it's okay to touch [an HIV-positive person], okay to hug, that a person can still be a constructive part of the community."

How the character contracts the virus has not been resolved, although it is reported that IV drug use and unsafe sexual practices will not be among the causes. In addition, government officials in South Africa will disperse educational materials to parents who request them, thus opening up a dialogue for parents and children who otherwise would not have a forum for such discussion.

The HIV-positive Muppet -- developed with the South African Department of Education and the state-controlled South African Broadcasting Corp. -- makes its apearance at a devastating juncture in South Africa. South Africa's HIV epidemic is among the world's largest: 100,000 people die of AIDS each year; 10 percent of its 43 million people are infected with the AIDS virus and 2.4 million children under the age of 15 are HIV-positive. The number of AIDS victims has increased 30-fold since 1990. A United Nations study estimates that more than 6 million will be infected by 2005.

Without a significant AIDS program in place, the U.N. estimates that one in five adults there will die over the next decade.

Compounding the problem is South African president Thabo Mbeki's view that AIDS may not even be caused by HIV. Furthermore, financial aid to South Africa has been minimal, if any. President Bush's AIDS plan, the International Mother and Child HIV Prevention Initiative, earmarks $500 million in aid for two years, but $300 million of that will not become available until 2004 -- a lengthy wait considering the growing global rate of infection.

So it makes sense, within this context, to raise awareness about the South African AIDS crisis. That the specter of AIDS has made inroads into the once-innocent realm of children's television is a frightening symptom of the enormity of the problem in South Africa. The thought of using a muppet to deal with HIV would be unthinkable in the United States. (There are no plans at this time to incorporate the character into the American Sesame Street.)

Since its debut in 1969, Sesame Street has proved itself an effective forum for the kinds of things that 3- to 7-year olds naturally ask about: death, divorce and race. But HIV and AIDS goes beyond the realm of comprehension of most American kids. In this country, young children are occupied with more simplistic notions, like the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, Play-Doh and dolls, music and naps.

The introduction of the HIV-positive Muppet rudely brings home the sad fact that AIDS is very much a part of everyday life for the average South African kid -- who probably knows more about death and loss than any 5-year-old should; not to mention about social isolation and fear. The transmission rate of the AIDS virus from mother to child is around 20 percent without drug cocktails such as AZT. Activists say AIDS patients are treated as social pariahs by South Africans, who reject them out of fear and ignorance.

Hopefully the Muppet may help destigmatize the disease or at the very least, yield a lesson of compassion. And Sesame Street executives say they will treat the character with sensitivity and care.

"One of the scripts that's in testing right now is the character is sad because some children whom we don't see won't play with her," says Robert Knezevic, head of the company's international division. "The characters on the set rally around her and deliver some information such as 'Don't these kids know that you can't catch HIV just by playing with you?' and 'We'll play with you,' etc., and then they go off and play together."

Though conservative commentators in the U.S. are shaking a finger at "Takalani Sesame" for exposing young children to an issue linked to sexuality, they should be more realistic. The HIV-positive Muppet should remind everyone of the deadly toll that international negligence imposes on the lives of African children, who have lost parents, siblings, friends and in some cases entire families to this deadly disease. It's a valuable Sesame Street lesson for us all, regardless of our age.

Genevieve Roja is an associate editor at AlterNet.

Documenting the Massacre in Mazar

A documentary film by Scottish filmmaker Jamie Doran titled "Massacre at Mazar" offers eyewitness testimony and film footage of human remains and mass graves of what may be damning evidence of mass killings at Sherberghan and Mazar-I-Sharif in Northern Afghanistan.

The massacre allegedly took place in November 2001, when Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum of the Northern Alliance took control of Kunduz, and accepted the surrender of about 8,000 Taliban fighters that included al-Qaeda, Chechens, Uzbeks and Pakistanis. Almost 500 suspected al-Qaeda members were taken to the Qala Jangi prison fortress (where a revolt would eventually leave one CIA agent dead and make John Walker Lindh a household name), while the remainder of the prisoners -- about 7,500 -- were loaded in containers and transported to the Qala-I-Zeini fortress, almost halfway between Mazar-i-Sharif and Sherberghan Prison. Human rights advocates say that close to 5,000 of the original 8,000 are missing.

Eyewitnesses in Doran's film claim that many of the prisoners may have suffocated in the nearly airless shipping containers en route to their destinations. Others were shot when Northern Alliance soldiers fired into the containers to create air holes. And their bodies may have been buried in mass graves.

Doran -- who has not released his film to the public in order to protect the identities of eyewitnesses -- recently showed 20 minutes of his film to members of the German parliament June 12 and to the members of the European parliament and press on June 13. The screening drew a prompt response from human rights activists, including Andrew McEntee, former Amnesty International UK chair, who demanded an independent investigation. French Euro MP Francis Wurtz said he would address the massacre at a parliament meeting this month, while his other colleagues said they would enlist the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross to conduct an investigation.

Doran, a veteran BBC filmmaker, says "Massacre at Mazar" includes key testimony from various eyewitnesses who offer compelling evidence of a human rights tragedy, including:

-- an Afghan general who explains how he helped unload and load "around 200, maybe up to 300 [prisoners] in each" container.

-- an anonymous Afghan soldier who says he "hit the containers with bullets to make holes for ventilation. Some of them were killed inside the containers and then we sent them on to Sherberghan." When asked who gave the order, he said "the commanders ordered me to hit the containers to make holes for ventilation and because of that some of the prisoners were killed."

-- a local taxi driver who says he "smelled something strange" when he stopped for gas. "I asked the petrol attendant where the smell was coming from. He said 'Look behind you,' and there were trucks with containers fixed on them ... Blood was leaking from the containers -- they were full of dead bodies."

-- two civilian drivers who say they drove trucks of men to Dasht Leili, "where [the prisoners] were shot." A driver tells Doran that there were American soldiers present at Dasht Leili. "How many Americans were with you?" Doran asks. The driver replies, "30 or 40."

-- an Afghan soldier who claims to have been present "when an American soldier broke one prisoner's neck and poured acid on others. The Americans did whatever they wanted. We had no power to stop them."

Doran's film -- and the allegations of mass killings -- has received extensive media coverage in Europe, but is getting little attention in the U.S. The lack of reaction, says Doran, puts the safety of the graves in jeopardy with each passing day.

The U.S. military is denying any knowledge of or involvement in a massacre.

A Pentagon official was quoted by the Guardian (U.K.) as saying that "the U.S. Central Command looked into it a few months ago, when allegations first surfaced when there were graves discovered in the area of Sherberghan prison. They looked into it and did not substantiate any knowledge, presence or participation of U.S. service members." Pentagon spokesman Marin Corps Lt. Col. Dave Lapan told reporters that he considered the allegations of torture to be "highly suspect."

"Our service members don't participate in torture of any type," said Lapan.

Doran is skeptical about the Pentagon's position.

"Military is about chain of command," he says, "and the question is who was running the show? Was it the Afghans or the Americans? If you've ever seen Western forces alongside foreign forces, there's never a question about who's in charge." Doran says even if there is no conclusive evidence of direct American participation, the U.S. troops are still responsible for tragedies that occur under their watch. "[I]f they're going to be involved, they need to answer for this. By law," he says.

While the extent of U.S. participation is still debatable, the evidence pointing to mass-scale executions is piling up.

Boston-based Physicians for Human Rights sent an investigative team in January and a forensics team to Afghanistan the following month. "We spoke to an NGO staff person who was an eyewitness to three large container trucks being backed into Sherberghan, which was being bulldozed," PHR consultant John Heffernan says. "There he saw a number of Northern Alliance soldiers, holding their arms up to their noses, indicating a bad smell."

"There was certainly evidence of skeletal remains and clothing and bulldozer tracks," he says. PHR's forensics experts were later "able to conduct a thorough assessment -- without exhuming the bodies -- that these were fresh remains." The organization compiled a report on their findings from two alleged mass graves and submitted it to the U.S. State Department, the Department of Defense and British government officials. They also sent a letter to President Karzai. "Our main focus was the protection of the sites so that the evidence yielded was not destroyed," says Heffernan. "We didn't get any response from the people in the States or in England."

In May, the U.N. exhumed 15 bodies and performed autopsies on three from a test trench. They concluded that the three had died from suffocation and that the victims were ethnically Pashtun, indicating that they were more than likely Taliban. But the U.N. has not released any statement or announced a course of action.

However, the human rights groups who are committed to taking action may be getting in the way of justice, as well.

"I've noticed in the last week, a rivalry kicking in," says Doran, who has been contacted by several government officials, human rights groups and NGOs. They're each claiming,"'We want to do the grave,' 'No, we want to do the grave.' Yet none of them are ensuring the safety (of the graves)," says an angry and frustrated Doran.

Heffernan agrees there is an urgent need for immediate action, be it exhuming the graves or ensuring their protection.

"PHR thinks it's essential that an accountability mechanism be a truth commission or a tribunal," he says. "Whatever will facilitate reconciliation and recovery so that this stuff doesn't happen again."

Genevieve Roja is an associate editor at AlterNet.

Much Ado About Winona

Poor Winona Ryder. The Hollywood actress can't seem to get a break these days, and when she does, it's a bad one. On June 3, while returning from a court recess for her preliminary hearing on charges of second-degree burglary, grand theft, vandalism and possession of a drug without a prescription, Ryder was whacked in the arm with a television camera, amid a flurry of photographers, TV crews and paparazzi waiting to capture her inevitable fall from glory.

It turned out to be a fracture to her right arm -- the same arm she injured while filming the Adam Sandler vehicle, "Mr. Deeds," due for release June 28. Save for her top billing, Winona is noticeably absent in billboards and print ads promoting the movie.

Sony Pictures, which is distributing Mr. Deeds, may be anticipating the worst for their doe-eyed star, who was arrested Dec. 12, 2001 for allegedly stealing $4,760 worth of merchandise from Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills and possessing painkillers without a prescription.

On Feb. 1, Ryder, 30, was charged with the multiple felonies, including possession of Oxycodone, a morphine derivative. Beverly Hills Superior Court Judge Elden S. Fox has ruled that there is sufficient evidence for Ryder on all four charges. Ryder's arraignment is scheduled for June 14. Fox reiterated that the media stay 10 feet away from Ryder, perhaps to prevent another camera run-in.

In the months leading to her June trial, the events of what actually went down have taken comic -- no, mythic -- turns. Police report that Ryder cut herself removing security tags from items she allegedly stole, leaving bloodstains in a dressing room. In a Mar. 12, 2002 article in the Los Angeles Times, Ann W. O'Neill wrote that she had viewed the 90-minute store surveillance tape of Ryder, and reported that everyone was making much ado about nothing.

"Whatever the camera might have 'seen' didn't end up on the tape. There is, however, plenty of footage of Ryder shopping, schlepping and losing her grip on the bags, which fall to the floor as sales staffers walk by. But the scissors never appear, there's no blood and the rest seems open to interpretation."

It's clear that the media -- American, Aussie, Brit and Canadian -- are savoring every detail of Ryder's trial. Everyone loves Stars Gone Bad articles, but Ryder may have unwittingly and quite preposterously become a poster actress for slapping celebrities hard when they stick their hand in the cookie jar. Blame it on living in the post-O.J. age.

One has to wonder what Saks was thinking when it decided to haul in Ryder, who had already purchased $3,700 worth of clothing that included, for inquiring fashionistas, $300 Gucci shoes, a Dolce & Gabbana leather jacket and two sleeveless Yves St. Laurent blouses. Was Saks in such dire need of a public relations boost to revamp their stodgy, old money, society matron image?

As John Powers wrote in his L.A. Weekly column of March 22, " ... why call the police instead of her agent or publicist? I would have thought that an old-school store like Saks, especially in Beverly Hills, would know better how to treat a star. Then again, maybe they think Ryder no longer is one. Would they have turned in Gwyneth Paltrow?"

For goodness sake, Ryder didn't kill anyone, or maim someone during her shopping spree. It was a minor brush with the law -- anyone could see that. It just so happened that she allegedly filched, according to People magazine, the kind of booty we mere mortals can only dream of -- the very thought of pilfering a pair of dreamy Manolo Blahnik $800 stiletto boots gives us palpitations.

In Ryder's alleged cache: a black, beaded Eric Javits hat (which she donned on an elevator ride with the price tag visible; later on the tape, the tag is missing), a plain black Javits hat, a pink Donna Karan top, a white Gucci dress, a black Gucci top, a white Gucci skirt, a cream Gucci top, two Marc Jacobs thermal tops, a white sleeveless Yves St. Laurent shirt and a black Natori handbag.

I mean damn Winona, nice work if you can get it, and she, allegedly, got it.

Perhaps it is Winona's perennial good girl image, beginning with early film roles in "Lucas," "Heathers" and "Edward Scissorhands," and in later roles as a Gen-X slacker in "Reality Bites" and semi-mad hatter in "Girl, Interrupted," that have landed her in this media manifestation. She has been twice-nominated for an Academy Award for "Age of Innocence" and "Little Women," dated good boy actor Matt Damon and became a missing child advocate when a girl from her Petaluma, Calif. hometown, Polly Klaas, was abducted. Had Ryder been afflicted with a resume akin to Courtney Love, or even the perennially kohl-rimmed Tara Reid, this incident might have been reduced to a page 16 whisper in the press.

But the press knows better. Besides being the fairest among dirty Hollywood party girls, Winona Laura Horowitz is the product of hippie parents and the goddaughter of LSD guru Timorthy Leary. For years, Winona the person, not Winona the celluloid image, has always had a thing for dating dirty-jeaned, kinda bad-ish altie crooners like Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum, and more recently, rocker Pete Yorn. Former bad boy fiancee Johnnie Depp professed his infinte affinity for her with the infamous "Winona Forever" tattoo.

The abundance of titles for Ryder -- ingenue, gamine, walking stylie, object of manly affection, beautiful boho -- has made it difficult for the press to categorize her. But now, with all this brouhaha, the press can now succesfully pigenhole her as the newest, hitless (see "Lost Souls" and "Autumn in New York"), illegal pill-popping, shoplifting screen goddess.

Ryder isn't the only one who's been caught stealing. Teen tennis star Jennifer Capriati was arrested a few years ago for stealing a ring; movie critic Rex Reed was charged with lifting CDs, former Miss America Bess Myerson was arrested 15 years ago for stealing $44 in merchandise, and Olympic gold medallist Olga Korbut was charged in February for stealing $19 in groceries.

But such petty transgressions are nothing in comparison to overpaid athletes who routinely beat their wives (Barry Bonds, who has never been charged, but the reputation hasn't eluded him), indulge in drugs (Oakland Raider kicker Sebastian Janikowski reportedly took GHB at a San Francisco club), film sexual escapades (allegedly Darrell Russell, also of the Raiders) and sexually assault or have sex with minors (Mark Chmura of the Green Bay Packers, later acquitted, and allegedly singer R. Kelly, who was recently charged on 21 felony counts of child pornography).

And the fuss about Ryder has yet to compete with the courtroom drama of P. Diddy (formerly Sean "Puffy" Combs), rappers Jay-Z and Snoop Dogg, or even the pending trial of Hamptons publicist-to-the-stars Lizzie Grubman, who was arrested last summer for backing her Mercedes SUV into 16 people while they waited in line to get into Hamptons hot spot Conscience Point Inn.

If anything, the Ryder coverage has been ludicrous. On her courtroom outfit: "yellow and brown dress, a long cream jacket and a cream headband," says the Press Association News. On what she was wearing the day she allegedly sacked Saks: "long, dark skirt, square-toed boots and a long white coat," according to the L.A. Times.

Even Ryder's attorney Mark Geragos needed to clarify what Ryder was wearing that day, during his cross-examination of Saks security manager Kenneth Evans, who says he spotted Ryder but "thought she was a homeless person."

"And she was wearing a three-quarter-length cashmere coat?" asked Geragos.

"Yes," replied Evans.

"And do you get a lot of homeless people wearing three-quarter-length cashmere coats?" Geragos asked.

Wrote the Associated Press, "The question drew an objection and was not answered."

Even the puns slapped on Ryder headlines and sentences invite titters. From People Magazine: "Theft, Interrupted?"; "When Ryder left the store, reality bit."

From Entertainment Weekly's article, "Queasy Ryder": "If convicted, she could face nearly four years in jail. That would end her age of innocence."

From the L.A. Times titled "Reality Has No Bite in Tape of Ryder's Alleged Shoplifting": " ... the buzz isn't about 'Mr. Deeds' .. it's Ryder's misdeeds ... " and "Prosecutors have said the tape is damning evidence of a shoplifter, interrupted." And so on.

Ryder may be having all the fun. She appeared last month on "Saturday Night Live," doing a skit where Chris Kattan's character Mango takes the fall for her and singer Moby's shoplifting spree. In a June 6 telecast, Ryder and Sandler presented an award at MTV's Movie Awards ceremony; both playfully sidestepped the questions everyone wanted to know with Sandler asking Ryder if she had breast implants. Ryder is also this month's W magazine cover girl, sporting the "Free Winona" T-shirt that is flying off the shelves at Y-Que Trading Post in L.A.

Clearly, she is taking it all in stride. Maybe the media might try to do the same, instead of painting her as a troubled starlet with everything to lose.

Genevieve Roja is an associate editor at AlterNet.

Dogtown Fever

Once upon a time, I was a poser, a wannabe. I wanted boys to like me, so naturally, I boned up on their extracurriculars. Skateboarding was huge.

A classmate's father owned a surf/skate clothing shop in town and hosted an open-air exhibition of two hot skaters named Steve Caballero and Tony Hawk. I didn't go, but I heard about it. The following Monday, guys from class were trading stories, showing off their signed copies of Thrasher magazine and attempting Ollies and McTwists at recess -- moves they witnessed at the exhibition. Those were some of the dog days I remember from the 1980s -- crushing on these junior Tony Hawks, reciting the Rosary every day after lunch and surviving Sister "The Stare" Francis.

Skater Stacy Peralta has rekindled that folkloric kind of magic from the original dog days of the 1970s, with the new documentary he co-wrote and directed, "Dogtown and Z-Boys," which opens in theaters nationwide on Friday. Narrated by Sean Penn, "Dogtown" tells the story of boys and a girl (tomboy Peggy Oki) from the rundown neighborhoods of Venice, Ocean Park and Santa Monica, looking for the street equivalent of their collective pastime, surfing. Skateboarding was it.

Everything you ever wanted to know about the early days of skateboarding is portrayed here -- from the first time the Dogtown crowd showed up the clean-cut kids still doing handstands on skateboards, to the historic moment when Tony Alva officially caught air on the lip of a a drought-barren swimming pool.

I caught up with Peralta -- who famously teamed with George Powell to make the popular Powell Peralta skateboards -- recently to talk about making the film, upcoming projects and what it was like living in a skater's paradise.

First off, could you explain the title of the film?

Dogtown is a nickname for south Santa Monica, Ocean Park, and Venice areas of west Los Angeles. I believe [photojournalist, artist and "Dogtown" co-writer] C.R. Stecyk came up with the name in response to the number of Chicano gangs that lived in the area. The gangs were notorious for naming their barrios various names like Frogtown, Ghostown, Midtown etc. Z-Boys is derived from the word Zephyr. We were all surfer/skaters and we were sponsored by the Jeff Ho and Zephyr surf shop.

How was it, growing up with such a diverse mix of people and skating in that neighborhood?

As opposed to growing up in Newport Beach in the '70s, growing up in Dogtown was an early wake-up call as to what the real world is composed of. There was a certain charged friction because of all of the differing cultures living in such close proximity. I wouldn't change where I grew up for anything.

Any bumps in the road making this film?

Yes. I was given the best director award at the Sundance Film Festival 2001. I should have been given the best diplomat award because of the constant diplomacy needed to keep all of the original members of the team on board this film. Everyone who was associated with the DT experience, who is in the film, wanted to be in the film, but all of them had different agendas which I had to filter and accommodate. It was like being wedged between two impossible points. I'm so glad it's over as I am weary and exhausted.

What was the price tag on the film?

400K.

Were you involved in the financing? Also Vans reportedly pitched in some money -- how did that happen and was it a large contribution?

Agi Orsi, my producer, is the person who went to Vans shoes (Jay Wilson) and presented the project to them. Jay loved it from the get-go and got 100 percent behind it. He was the greatest, most skilled executive producer I've ever worked for. He and Vans never once asked to see a daily, rough cut or anything. They simply said, "Make the film you want to make and finish it in six months."

Where did you collect all the vintage footage and how tough was it obtaining it and then editing it?

Because I'm the director as well as one of the featured players in the film, I remembered what footage had been shot back then so it was a matter of trying to locate all of the many photographers, cinematographers, and kids who had cameras back then -- there were 40 sources who we obtained footage from. A detective I hired became very handy for me as he located quite a few people.

Can you tell me more about the day Tony Alva caught air in that pool? What were you thinking?

I'm in the shallow end of that pool shot. We were all blown away by the way Tony pulled air; his style and his aggression and his committment to the act. He was rather flawless in his approach.

How did you come to assemble your skateboarding company, signing on Tony Hawk and Steve Caballero? How did you find those guys?

I used to attend all of the amateur events all up and down the California coast. I was always on the lookout for hot new young skaters as my original intention of starting a company was to build a "great" skateboard team, the best ever. That was my primary goal.

What accounted for the popularity of skateboarding?

It's fun. And it is an activity that a person can attune to his or her own sensibility. It becomes very personal and your skating style is a reflection of your personality.

Why should we care about your documentary and skateboarding in general?

Because it's an American phenomenon, a sub-culture with no European roots, it's pure American and it is now being shipped all over the world as kids in all countries are welcoming the skateboard virus into their lives. It's also a West Coast thing. Growing up in the '70s in California was to grow up in the shadow of the East Coast where everyone there said California was a cultural wasteland with nothing but beaches, deserts, and air-headed people. Well, they were wrong. California had a very strong petri-dish of culture but no one at the time could see it. Our film documents one important leg of the California dream.

What's your next project?

Agi Orsi, Sean Penn, and myself have a deal with Radar Pictures to do the film "In Search of Capt. Zero." Agi and Sean will produce. Sean will act if he chooses and I'll direct. The screenplay is currently being written by Allan Weisbecker. I'd also like to continue working in the documentary field as I feel it's an untapped field -- specifically about subjects relating to California. Agi and I have been working for over a year now to get a documentary off the ground about the notorious '60s surfer, Miki Dora.

Where is skateboarding headed?

Don't know. I'm not involved with the industry anymore. I will say this though; when we were growing up, skateboarders for the most part were blond, blue-eyed surfers. Today skateboarding has completely left its surfing roots and become a very urban sport. When you go to the inner cities now you see black, Mexican, Vietnamese, and many other ethnic kids doing "Ollies." That to me is the most promising thing about skateboarding's future.

Genevieve Roja is an associate editor at AlterNet.org

Victory for the Arctic

Just four days shy of Earth Day, the United States Senate voted 54-46 against opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas drilling. In a year dominated by President George W. Bush's energy-centric plan, the victory couldn't have been a more timely present for Democrats and an environmental community that has lobbied extensively against pro-oil Republicans and developers.

"The Senate's overwhelming rejection of oil drilling in the Arctic Refuge sends a strong message to President Bush that Americans want clean energy and a clean environment," said League of Conservation Voters president Deb Callahan in a written statement. "When faced with a choice between protecting our natural resources for the public good and giving in to the White House's call to exploit them for private gain, the Senate chose the public good."

Short the 60 votes needed to win and to end the debate on an amendment to give the president drilling privileges, Republicans were decidedly bitter. The measure had been touted by Republicans as a way to establish U.S. oil self-reliance and move away from tapping Middle Eastern sources that included Iraq's Saddam Hussein. With a growing conflict in the Middle East that shows no signs of slowing, domestic drilling, proponents argued, was to become America's solution to its dwindling oil supply.

"What was proved today is we need more Republicans in the United State Senate," said Senator Frank H. Murkowski of Alaska, a proponent of the Arctic drilling measure. Bush expressed his sentiments through his proverbial mouthpiece, spokesman Ari Fleischer. "The Senate missed an opportunity to lead America to greater independence. The president will continue to fight for the tens of thousands of jobs that are created by opening ANWR, as well as, more importantly, for the need for America to be able to achieve more energy independence that would result from opening ANWR."

Nearly one year ago, the 1.5 million-acre refuge -- which President Dwight Eisenhower established in 1960 to protect the caribou, musk-oxen, migratory birds, polar bears and other wildlife -- was working its way up the endangered environment list. The Arctic region certainly had been threatened before. Congress, with a Republican-controlled House and Senate, approved drilling in 1995 as part of a budget bill before Clinton vetoed it. In August last year, the House had approved the measure to begin Arctic drilling, a divisive issue in the Senate from the get-go. The Republicans however, stalled when Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., began pushing for an increase in automobile fuel efficiency. Autos and SUVs drain 70 percent of the 19 million barrels of oil used each day. According to Interior Department estimates, ANWR would only supply about 1.9 million barrels a day at its peak production.

"The solution is not in the Arctic," said Kerry, who said more Republicans should have supported the fuel efficiency measure to avoid the push for drilling.

While the Democratic filibuster deserves its fair share of praise in the victory, environmental groups should also be congratulated. Oil proponents like the Teamsters lobbyists, some Alaskan native groups and especially the state of Alaska -- which would have netted half the royalties from oil development -- were aggressive.

"We have worked harder than anyone else," said Red Cavaney, president of the trade association American Petroleum Institute.

But the environmental community showed its resolve since they suffered defeat last year, demonstrating their persistence and dogged activism.

"Common sense prevailed," said Audubon president John Flicker.

And for that, we are all thankful this Earth Day.

Genevieve Roja is an associate editor at AlterNet.org.

Fat Chance

Jean Renfro Anspaugh and her friends called him Big Mike. At 6-feet-4-inches, Big Mike was a mountain of a man who topped 400 pounds. Big Mike's wife was an active, physically fit woman, and Jean speculates that this may have given him an added incentive to lose weight. So, in the fall of 1995 at Pitt County Memorial Hospital in North Carolina, Big Mike, who had an enlarged heart, underwent a gastric surgery. And then, to the astonishment of his wife and his friends, Big Mike lost consciousness on the operating room table and never woke up. Big Mike, a husband and father of two, was dead at 35 years old.

It wasn't the first time a surgery to correct obesity had taken a toll on Jean's circle of family and friends. In 1987, Jean's overweight aunt, Beverly Grant, told no one except her husband she was planning a gastric bypass operation at a hospital in Kansas City, Mo. She told relatives that she was merely going in for a "procedure," neglecting to mention that surgeons would be removing a portion of her intestine in an attempt to curtail her weight. On the operating room table, Beverly's lungs filled up with liquid and she died. She was 42.

Now Jean, 47, who moved from Sacramento to Durham, N.C., to lose weight on the "Rice Diet" -- a precursor to exclusionary food diets like Atkins -- is contemplating the newest and most popular form of gastric bypass surgery to date: laparoscopic Roux-en-Y. The two deaths and the experience of another friend who had the surgery, fell sick afterward and underwent 11 hernia operations -- hernias being a common side effect of surgery -- are considerations, but not necessarily deterrents.

"Isn't that weird?" Jean says. "I sold everything I owned to come to Durham to lose weight ... [I think] If I came this far, I can take that other step."

Her motivation for wanting a Roux-en-Y (pronounced ROO-en-why), named after the Swiss surgeon Cesar Roux and the Y-shape incision made from bypassing the stomach to the small intestine, is simple.

"Women my age have been dieting and mostly failing at it all of our lives," says Jean, author of the book Fat Like Us, which chronicles the personal stories of perpetual dieters. "We don't want to live the remainder of our lives fat."

The weight-obsessed American public seems to have spoken: 24 percent of women and 17 percent of men say that they would reduce their life span by three years to be thinner, as reported in Archives of Dermatology.

"Life is so much better when you're thinner," Jean says. "Nothing aches, everything fits, doctors aren't yelling at you. The sun is shining on you."

Gut Reactions

According to the American Society of Bariatric Surgery (ASBS), 45,000 chased the sun this year by electing gastric bypass surgery, up from the 25,000 who went for it in 1995. Also known as "stomach stapling," the surgery involves stapling a portion of a patient's stomach, and then rerouting the smaller part, or pouch, to the intestines, so patients cannot overeat. The pouch, about the size of an egg, can hold about half a cup, or one to five ounces of food, compared to the 50 to 80 ounces of an unstapled stomach. But it is not a cure. Because of the limited food intake, those who undergo the surgery must eat tiny portions for the rest of their lives, and are banned forever from favorite foods like red meat, milk or sweets. Should patients cave in to such forbidden indulgences, they may feel faint, nauseous, sweaty and experience instant diarrhea -- all symptoms of a post-bypass condition known as "dumping."

It can get far, far worse. According to the National Institutes of Health, which in 1991 created the criteria for weight loss surgery patients, one-third of gastric surgery patients develop gallstones, or clumps of cholesterol and other matter that form in the gallbladder. Ten to 20 percent of weight-loss operations require follow-up operations to correct serious complications like abdominal hernias, as well as stretched stomachs and staple line breakage. Others suffer from pneumonia, infection, hair loss, blood clots (embolus), frequent vomiting, diarrhea and nutritional deficiencies because food consumption is restricted.

In the worst scenario, patients may regain all their presurgery weight or die, either on the operating room table, or from complications following surgery. The ASBS reports that three to five people out of 1,000 who undergo gastric bypasses die. But Miriam Berg, president of the Council on Size and Weight Discrimination (CSWD) claims that doctors aren't honestly reporting cases where their patients die as a result of the surgery.

"We've run into some situations where the death certificate [was changed] to say someone 'died from obesity,'" Berg says. "Doctors are hush-hush about this. They learn from their mistakes, but also the public never finds out about them."

And that's part of the problem. Most gastric bypass patients don't know that the surgeons performing gastric bypasses do not take any specific "boards" or examinations testing their knowledge and skills of the actual surgery.

"Almost every surgeon does a different operation," noted Paul Ernsberger, an obesity researcher at Case Western Reserve University, in a published commentary in response to a reporter's request for his opinion on weight loss surgeries. "If the surgery was so wonderful, why are all the surgeons experimenting with different techniques?"

Many doctors are acutely aware of the risks to patients and carefully study a patient's profile before performing the operation, like Dr. Pamela Foster, a clinical assistant professor of surgery at Stanford University and director of the Stanford Center for Bariatric Surgery. To ensure that she has the ideal surgical candidate, Foster sticks to a patient's Body Mass Index (BMI), which measures a patient's weight to height ratio and determines their obesity. A surgery candidate must have a BMI of 40 or above. Foster also considers the gravity of their co-morbidities, or conditions resulting from severe obesity, such as diabetes, sleep apnea and high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol. She also requires patients to lose excess weight prior to the surgery so that the surgery is less risky for the patient, and is adamant about monitoring a patient post-surgery. Dr. Foster says she has never had a Roux-en-Y gastric-bypass patient die.

"Most of my patients work and have families and lives and interests," Foster says. "We have to make sure that they make it to the other side. I worry because it's such a difficult operation."

However, there are few long-term studies conducted on the outcome of gastric bypass patients, and some clinics and hospitals provide surgery patients with insufficient or no follow-up care, says Berg of the CSWD.

Star Studded

Because the surgery is so expensive -- it costs anywhere from $25,000 to $30,000 -- and because most insurance providers don't cover the surgery (they classify the operation as cosmetic rather than medically necessary), would-be patients dole out their own cash.

"It's becoming more consumer-driven," says Dr. Greg Adams, a general surgeon at Valley Medical Center in San Jose.

Adams refuses to do gastric bypasses because he "doesn't want to perform psychic surgery." He insists on gastric bypass only as a means to improve someone's health but not self-image.

"I think it's a plan of controlled starvation," he says.

For those trying in vain to lose weight by exhausting food diets and modes of exercise, it's a plan whose perceived benefits outweigh the risks. But much of the marketing campaign is led by the wrong people, Berg says. Current bypass idol, Carnie Wilson, daughter of Beach Boy Brian Wilson and former songbird for the '90s pop trio Wilson Phillips, recently trumpeted her 150-pound weight loss and new size 6 frame on the covers of People and US Weekly. The dangerous message to the yo-yo dieters of the world is this: live or die, risky or not -- if Carnie can, so can I.

But new lives rarely carry with them a 100 percent guarantee. During his homerun derby, San Francisco Giant Barry Bonds dedicated home run no. 68 to Franklin Bradley, 37, a close friend and bodyguard, who died unexpectedly from routine stomach surgery. It turned out to be a gastric bypass operation.

Weighing In

Karrie Colette, a San Jose resident, talks about her life in two eras: pre-gastric bypass surgery and post-gastric bypass surgery. Presurgery Karrie was 353 pounds -- always hungry, never satisfied, tired and overheated. Her once favorite McDonald's lunch menu: quarter-pounder, two Big Macs, SuperSized chocolate shake and large fries. Her genes automatically rubber-stamped her as overweight; her father, mother and older sister were all built that way.

Then Karrie developed a condition known as Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), which induced a gagging reflex, forcing Karrie to vomit all her meals. A friend who had the gastric bypass told her surgery might be the best option. So after researching the details, Karrie began imagining a fat-free life. On Aug. 16, 1999, at Alvarado Hospital Medical Center -- where Carnie Wilson had her surgery only a week before -- she got it. In two years, Karrie has lost 150 pounds.

Jean, on the other hand, is still thinking about her gastric bypass. She has plenty of questions for her potential attending surgeon at Duke University Hospital.

"I don't know if I'll ever go through with it," Jean says. "I'm leaving my options open. Everyone I've talked to [who has had the surgery] said they'd do it in a heartbeat."

Karrie doesn't hesitate. She's slimmer, she survived, and now, she's added years to her life span because she isn't obese anymore.

"Would I do it again?" Karrie asks. "In a heartbeat. In a heartbeat."

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