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The New Abolitionists

In 1999, the hell-raising conservative Christian populist Linda Smith left Congress and disappeared from public life. It was like a whirlwind suddenly stopping in midstorm. Hailing from Vancouver, Wash., Smith had improbably made it to the House of Representatives two terms before as a write-in candidate. Once there, she became nationally known as one of a new breed of Republican women leaders crusading for traditional values and helping Newt Gingrich put a female face on his tax-cutting, welfare-reforming agenda. The New Republic once profiled her in a story titled "Invasion of the Church Ladies." But Smith was more interesting than that. Much to her own party's chagrin, she was also an early and strident champion of campaign finance reform, a role that gave her some crossover appeal in her 1998 bid for Patty Murray's Senate seat, which she nonetheless lost.

Last year, Smith resurfaced. She was now, of all things, working with young girls and women who had been forced, or "trafficked," into prostitution in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. She had founded a nonprofit organization that was setting up homes for these women, called Shared Hope International. And she was a leading organizer of an international conference on trafficking held last February under the auspices of the State Department in Washington, D.C. She brought several previously trafficked girls from India with her for press interviews then, and took one of them to Disney World.

From shaking up congressional politics to providing social services, from campaign finance reform to Asian prostitution, it seemed a puzzling, if virtuous, transformation. In her Vancouver office one day in June, surrounded by a few old brassy political posters and many more tranquil pictures of her wearing saris and surrounded by girls in India, the 54-year-old Smith explains what happened this way: During her last year in Congress, she got a call from a man who had visited missions in India affiliated with the Assembly of God Church, to which Smith belonged for many years. Through the missions' work with prostitutes, he had seen "little girls in cages," and he wanted Smith to know about it.

"I thought it was a bit much," Smith recalls, "but I couldn't sleep. So I called my staff and told them, 'I have to see it.'" Within days, she flew to India, where a representative from the Assembly of God organization Teen Challenge took her into the red-light district. "It was one girl, one day," who changed her life, she says. The girl was about 11 years old, and for some reason, she hugged Smith. "She felt so frail in my arms. I can feel her today." She reminded Smith of the girls she knew from Sunday school, of her own granddaughter. She felt an unaccustomed wave of emotion. "It was so different for me. I'm pretty cut-and-dry." As she looked down at the girl, she asked herself, "What do I believe?" and answered, "I believe you are made by God." Right there and then, she made a resolution: "Today I'm going to act on my faith." She returned to her hotel and immediately started fund-raising for homes she wanted to build for these girls.

There's a mythic quality to her story, the way she dropped everything and found revelation in a single moment. It's easier to understand, though, if you take into account the changing currents around her. Smith's redirection reflects that of the religious right as a whole. Looking past the divisive social issues that ignited the movement for much of the '80s and '90s, conservative evangelicals have turned their attention to international human rights, forging new and unlikely allies along the way. One of the biggest issues to seize their imagination is that of human trafficking.

The archetypal case – a young girl, tricked into leaving her impoverished homeland by the promise of a respectable job, then brutally held captive, raped, and forced into prostitution – strikes deep moral chords. Making common cause with feminists also fired up about the issue, evangelicals are largely responsible for turning the issue into a top priority of the U.S. government.

Leading the government's charge is former three-term Republican Congressman John Miller of Seattle. Although Jewish, Miller's convictions and record on human rights – he opposed granting most-favored-nation status to China despite Boeing's ardent lobbying for it and labored against Soviet control of Eastern European countries – helped to make him the pick of evangelicals working on the issue to take over the State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. President George W. Bush appointed him to the post in December 2002 and this June empowered him with the title ambassador at large. Miller has used his authority to make sure the issue is a top priority of governments around the world as well. His energy and bipartisanship have generated enormous goodwill among groups on both the right and the left. An inspiring spokesperson for the cause, Miller brands human trafficking "modern-day slavery" and calls it "the emerging human rights issue of the 21st century."

It is being treated as such by the press as well as nonprofit groups and government agencies. Thousands of stories have been written on the subject in the last year, including a cover story in The New York Times Magazine under the headline "The Girls Next Door," stressing that trafficking is all around us, even in the "normal, middle-class surroundings" of Main Street, U.S.A.

There's only one catch. There's widespread confusion about what exactly trafficking is and how big a problem it might be. Consider this: Washington state has its own anti-trafficking task force – the first in the country – charged by the Legislature to study the scope of the problem locally. In June, the task force, run out of the Office of Crime Victims Advocacy in the Department of Community, Trade, and Economic Development, released a 92-page report. Congratulating the state for "leading the country in taking collaborative action against human trafficking," the report asserts that "Washington possesses many of the underlying conditions that support trafficking of persons," such as its border status. Midway through the report, however, it notes the number of cases brought under a year-and-a-half-old state trafficking law: zero.

The Christian Right: The Next Generation

"It just jumped off the pages of the newspaper." Richard Cizik, the influential vice president for government affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals, is talking about how human trafficking became a cause for crusade. He remembers reading a piece about the trafficking of women in Eastern Europe, where the harsh economic realities following the collapse of Communism made many vulnerable to false promises. "If we truly stood for human rights for all, surely the trafficking of young girls and boys for the purposes of human slavery could not go unchallenged." Cizik helped put together a coalition of groups across the religious and political spectrum to work the issue. Gloria Steinem sent a representative to meetings. So did the B'nai B'rith. The coalition succeeded in passing federal anti-trafficking legislation in 2000 that created Miller's office.

The coalition did not come about by accident. It was part of a deliberate strategy to move away from the unyielding methods of formative leaders like Jerry Falwell. "Second-generation leaders – people my age – saw the initiatives of the 1980s crash and burn and decided we had to do things differently," the 52-year-old Cizik explains. If evangelicals wanted to accomplish anything, they would have to build coalitions with people they previously considered opponents, on issues they could agree on. Not only did they form alliances with feminists on human trafficking, Cizik says, evangelicals worked with Jews, Catholics, and Buddhists on passing the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, monitoring religious persecution around the world; with the Congressional Black Caucus on bringing about the Sudan Peace Act of 2002; with the American Civil Liberties Union on pushing through last year's Prison Rape Elimination Act; and with gay people on securing more international AIDS funding.

Speaking by phone from Washington, D.C., Cizik sounds practically giddy as he considers the victories won. He notes that some evangelicals take issue with the notice they are getting for their global activism, insisting that it is nothing new. "The difference is this," he tells them. "We have been internationally involved for 100 years, but we have never been successful before on Capitol Hill." Cizik recognizes that having a born-again Christian in the presidential office hasn't hurt.

If leaders like Cizik set a new alliance-building course for the evangelical movement, the topics that rose to the top of the agenda came more from the grass roots, according to Allen Hertzke, director of religious studies at the University of Oklahoma and author of the forthcoming book Freeing God's Children: The Unlikely Alliance for Global Human Rights. Hertzke maintains that the dramatic growth of evangelical churches around the world has led "American evangelicals to an awareness of the plight of their brothers and sisters" in impoverished, often repressive societies.

The religious viewpoint of evangelicals has not been irrelevant in the way they have perceived that plight. It is a reason that human trafficking, more than almost any issue they have worked on, has stood out as an urgent matter. "In some ways, I think having a moral view has actually helped the community see the issue more clearly," Hertzke ruminates. "Trafficking was in a kind of netherworld," he says. It wasn't the kind of human rights issue traditionally addressed by secular groups like Amnesty International, which focused on government abuses of citizens. Hertzke believes that evangelicals saw past that because they came with the understanding that "this is not the way children of God were meant to live."

Out of all the ungodly miseries of the world, though, why did evangelicals pick human trafficking as their clarion call? For one, the notion of modern-day slavery resounded with them, reminding them of the leading role evangelicals like the British parliamentarian William Wilberforce played in the abolitionist movement of the 18th and 19th centuries. Then there is the sexual side of the issue. "It certainly fits with an evangelical concern for sexual integrity," says Ron Sider, founder of the Pennsylvania-based Evangelicals for Social Action, which challenges his peers to work for economic and racial justice. By sexual integrity, he means that "sex is to be reserved for a marriage relationship where there is a lifelong covenant between a man and a woman" – a tenet clearly abridged by prostitution.

The fact that prostitution was being forced upon people, that even children were being held as "sex slaves," seemed all the more horrible but also fit into their world view. "This is just another example of depraved moral behavior," says Clyde Wilcox, a Georgetown University government professor who writes about the Christian right. "The world is a sinful place." Human trafficking resonates with many Christians in the same way that recovered memories of satanic sex rings did in the '80s and '90s, and the way white slavery did at the turn of the century – phenomena, incidentally, that were hailed as endemic until they were scrutinized more closely.

In some respects, the evangelical worldview is similar to that of certain strains of feminism, which also see the world as full of evil – perpetrated by men on women, with sex a primary means of exploitation and abuse. Hence, Equality Now, a New York organization that works on international women's rights and has Gloria Steinem on its advisory board, is enthusiastically working with religious groups on trafficking. The famous feminist University of Michigan law professor Catharine MacKinnon, also affiliated with Equality Now, and whose fervent antipornography views have put her in alignment with the Christian right before, is deeply involved with the cause.

Sex, however, is only one side of human trafficking, which encompasses all forms of coerced labor. The biggest case brought by the U.S. Justice Department, revealed in 2001, concerns a garment factory in American Samoa, where, according to the department, more than 250 Vietnamese and Chinese nationals were forced to work in a guarded compound "through extreme food deprivation, beatings, and physical restraint." When one victim objected, she had her eye gouged out with a jagged pipe. Trafficking victims are also forced to work as domestic servants, on fishing boats, on cocoa plantations, and elsewhere.

There has developed a thinly veiled fault line in the anti-trafficking world, with the evangelical-feminist alliance on one side and, on the other, the kind of liberal, do-gooding groups that traditionally toil in international causes like famine relief and family planning. To the liberal groups, it seems as if the evangelical- feminist bloc, which has the Bush administration's ear, has placed an undue emphasis on sex trafficking. While defenders respond that such is the most common form of trafficking, statistics that back that up are controversial, and critics argue that the emphasis on prostitution is for ideological reasons. "The general public gets confused," says Christina Arnold, founder of an organization called Project Hope International (no relation to Linda Smith's group), which is starting the first shelter on the East Coast for trafficking victims. "All they hear about is prostitution. ... It's gotten to the point where other organizations are having to mount re-education campaigns."

Good Deeds and a Brand-New Power Base

Certainly, Linda Smith has focused on the sexual side of trafficking. The $1.8 million State Department conference she lobbied for and helped host last year went by the heading "Pathbreaking Strategies in the Global Fight Against Sex Trafficking." Similar to other like-minded activists, she has harnessed the trafficking issue to fight against prostitution in general, even where it's legal. "I encourage the administration to consider countries with legalized or tolerated prostitution as having laws that are insufficient to eliminate trafficking," she said in testimony at a congressional subcommittee hearing on trafficking in 2002. "Tolerated prostitution," she argued, "provides cover for the traffickers," a line of reasoning that has become the official position of the Bush administration. It does not penalize countries for maintaining legalized prostitution, as it might through its new policy of sanctioning nations considered to be inadequately fighting trafficking. It does, however, withhold funding from nongovernmental groups that are judged to "promote" prostitution.

The fact that Smith (along with three other groups, two of them faith-based, that make up the War Against Trafficking Alliance) co-hosted the State Department conference and testified before Congress is a testament to how religious groups have finally made it on Capitol Hill. There is a nexus of connections surrounding the Bush administration of which Smith is a part. She and Attorney General John Ashcroft have had a friendly relationship since her days in Congress. They both belonged to Assembly of God congregations and would see each other at functions for visiting church leaders. "I saw him right after he was sworn in," Smith recalls. She used the moment to talk about trafficking. Smith also counts John Miller as a friend. The two met years ago after Miller wrote an op-ed piece praising Smith's stance on campaign finance reform. They socialize. "We're both single in D.C.," Smith says, "so we have dinner." (Both have spouses living in Washington state.)

Smith's access and standing as a former congresswoman have undoubtedly helped her build her organization. She received $930,000 in federal funding over the last two fiscal years. Shared Hope's total annual revenue last year was almost $1.7 million, including private donations and foundation grants. The former congresswoman didn't exactly run off to become a humble, self-sacrificing Mother Teresa (if that's how you see the soon-to-be saint). Worthy as her work may be, Smith has discovered in it a new power base: a sprawling, well-funded, influential organization riding one of the hottest issues in the world.

Not that you'd be able to tell that from her office. It lies in a modest, nondescript building in a leafy neighborhood of Vancouver. Past a small reception area are winding corridors that lead farther than you might imagine. Smith, who travels almost constantly, meets me on a rare day that she is there. She has stayed in town a few days longer than expected because she picked up a bug the week before during a fact-finding mission to the Czech Republic. The next day, she plans to fly to Washington, D.C., for the release of the annual Trafficking in Persons Report, which comes out of Miller's office. The report is to incorporate Smith's documentation of trafficking cases in Australia, where she worked with a local women's group that has been challenging the government's contention that it doesn't have a problem. A few days after that, she's on to Johannesburg, where the War Against Trafficking Alliance is joining with the South African government in putting on a follow-up conference to the one held in D.C. last year. The alliance has received federal funding to put on six such conferences around the world.

Despite the bug, Smith looks cool and collected in a black jumper and sandals, her short brown hair streaked with highlights. She has an aloof manner, accentuated by a somewhat regal timbre to her voice. But she's intense. She begins talking about subjects as if she were in the middle of a conversation, seeming to pick up threads of thought that come into her head, and which she would like me to know. Within minutes, she mentions a "partner" who's a Muslim. She's referring to Mohamed Mattar, co-director of the Protection Project, a research institute based at Johns Hopkins University that is the only secular group in the War Against Trafficking Alliance. She also repeatedly alludes to the personal financial commitment she and her husband, Vern, have made to the cause, adding a money-conscious note to her generosity. They threw a lavish wedding in January for a woman named Ganga, the same one she took to Disney World, now living in a Shared Hope facility in India. "I don't know if Ganga even realizes . . . ," she says of the expense. "We gave her a full Indian wedding for 500 people."

In Nepal, they're also raising another young girl, named Mannisha, whose mother was a prostitute. Although they have not adopted her, they're paying for her education and living expenses. "That's our baby," she says, pointing to a picture on the back wall of a girl about 8 or 9 years old in a pink dress, smiling broadly, holding what Smith says is the first doll she ever had.

Smith seems genuinely wrapped up in her mission. She talks for hours about trafficking routes and destination points and which group of organized crime is doing what to which nationality of girls. Moldovan girls brought to the Dominican Republic, Thai girls to South Africa, Nepalese girls to India. India, the place she got into this work, is her touchstone. She relates how she met young women who were forced into prostitution in order to repay money that had been given their parents, a classic tale. "They were trying to preserve their dignity even though they were given no more than a day off for the birth of a baby," she says. She bemoans the plight in general of girls in India. "A nonperson is a nonperson," she says of the prevailing attitude. Her response: "These girls can do anything they want."

Her greatest contribution is the way she is trying to help them do so. A number of anti-trafficking groups "rescue" women into the void, with no home for them to go to other than nasty government facilities and no plan for what they might do next. In Mother Jones late last year, Maggie Jones wrote about one rescue in Thailand orchestrated by the International Justice Mission, a religious-based group aligned with Smith in the War Against Trafficking Alliance. Feeding information to police, IJM succeeded in shutting a brothel down, but many of the girls had in one month's time "run away from being saved," according to Jones.

Smith, in contrast, is building homes for trafficking victims, offering them educational and vocational options and sticking with them for the long haul. Michele Clark, the other co-director of the Protection Project, says that Smith understands that "you can't just say, 'Here's a bed for 30 days; go back into the same world from which you were trafficked.' She understands that it can take years for a woman to recover."

Outside Mumbai in India, Smith partnered with Teen Challenge to develop a 72-acre facility known as the Village of Hope. There's a mango orchard on it, and Smith says she's looking at putting a mango processing plant there to make the facility self-sustaining. Smith funded the facility's start-up, while Teen Challenge runs it day to day, a partnership model that she uses on all her projects. In Fiji, she and a local group have established another facility with a bakery. In South Africa this summer, Smith dedicated a renovated farmhouse where she wants to put another bakery as well as a toilet paper factory. While residents would have an opportunity to learn job skills from such enterprises, Smith says she also makes sure they get a basic education and, in some cases, pays for them to go to college. She appears to spend atypically large amounts on individual cases. "We have $10,000 on one girl," she says.

Yet it's curiously hard to pin Smith down on details of her operations. Asked how many people live in the Village of Hope outside Mumbai, she shrugs dismissively and says, "I don't know." It has a capacity for 300 to 500, she had told me, but is not at capacity. She never quite comes up with a figure for how many homes she has opened in all, despite being asked repeatedly, finally saying it's hard to calculate because some have closed while others have opened. Going through them one by one, it emerges that there are at least 10 facilities in six countries. "We intend to not have press coverage," she says at one point, indicating that the dangerous, illicit nature of what she is up against mandates a need for secrecy. So, in some cases, do her methods. "If we identify a child" in a brothel, she says, "we will have her physically removed." Asked how, she responds, "I'm not going to go there."

Obviously savvy to sensitivities around proselytizing, she is wary of talking too much about the religious aspect of her work. Smith's spiritual life has evolved. About 18 months ago, she left her Assembly of God congregation to attend a multi-denominational church that ministers to those coming off the streets and out of prison. But religion is still a central part of her life. In a promotional video about her homes that she plays for me, she says to the camera about those she is helping, "When they find there's a God, one God, that loves them – it changes them." When I ask her about it, she says that workers at the homes "are not trying to convert somebody to a religion," though they are open about the fact that "they're there because of what they believe."

Donald Wilkerson, the executive director of Global Teen Challenge, based in Virginia, is more up-front about the religious nature of the Village of Hope, which his organization oversees on a daily basis. "It's clearly a Christian program," he says, one that entails a regimen of religious instruction and daily prayers. Many of the women that come to the village learn about the facility through a church Teen Challenge has set up near Mumbai's red-light district.

While there might be some specific reasons for Smith to be vague, there's an amorphousness that lingers over the entire trafficking field.

Is All Prostitution 'Sex Slavery'?

Leigh Winchell, head of the regional office of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, sits in his high-up downtown Seattle office overlooking Puget Sound. ICE, as it is known, is charged with conducting trafficking investigations domestically. Winchell recently popped up in newspaper coverage of a June prostitution bust in Bellevue. Two of the alleged prostitutes were illegal immigrants from China. Winchell told the Seattle Times reporter writing about the case: "Human trafficking in the sex trade is alive and vibrant, particularly in the Northwest." Yet the Bellevue police, who helped conduct the raid, say they do not believe the women were being held against their will. When I ask Winchell about that, he tells me that he did not intend to suggest that this was a trafficking case. "Any comments I made in regard to the Bellevue case were more global in nature."

A tall, burly former cop, Winchell affirms that he has made trafficking a top priority, both because of directives from top brass and because of his judgment of the local landscape. "My agents tell me that about half of the women smuggled across the Pacific Northwest border are going into the sex trade." I wonder aloud whether they're being trafficked or going willingly. He acknowledges that some may be willing, but says: "All they have to do is be brought into the U.S. for purposes of the sex trade, as I currently understand it."

"But doesn't trafficking require some measure of force or deceit?" I ask.

He falters and reaches for some papers on the subject from a senior official at the Department of Homeland Security. "I have to research it. I believe just the fact that they are being smuggled alone falls into the area of fraud."

A few minutes later, he returns to the subject. "Where do you draw the line between smuggling and human trafficking? A person is smuggled in and put to work in the orchards. Are they being held against their will? They may have come here with a debt to pay and knowingly did that. So were they forced or coerced? I don't know."

It says something about the non-intuitive nature of what this crime is that the man responsible for investigating it here has to check his papers in order to grasp it. His confusion is understandable. There are varying definitions. The United Nations definition has three essential elements: some kind of transportation of an individual, some form of coercion or deception, and the ultimate result of one person "having control over another person for the purpose of exploitation." As this year's federal trafficking report notes, "many nations misunderstand this definition, overlooking internal trafficking or characterizing any irregular migration as trafficking." The differing U.S. definition "does not require that a trafficking victim be physically transported from one location to another," as the report states. But it does require "force, fraud, or coercion," unless the victim is a minor. To complicate things further, Washington state has its own definition, which is so loose as to include exploitative mail-order bride situations as a form of trafficking.

In fact, a number of evangelicals and feminists fighting trafficking consider virtually all prostitution, whether forced or not, a form of trafficking. "In reality, there is no distinction between them," says feminist scholar MacKinnon of prostitution and trafficking. She refers to the "inherent exploitation of the buying and selling of people for sex, which is what prostitution is – paying for sexual abuse, typically paying a third party [a pimp] to sexually abuse someone else."

It's an argument that Miller is sympathetic to. "Yes, people can be voluntarily in prostitution," says the trafficking czar. But, he says, "the more usual situation is that there is coercion or force or threats or psychological pressure." He points to research published this January in the Journal of Trauma Practice, worked on by University of Washington psychologist Ann Cotton among others, who interviewed current and former prostitutes around the world. Many had been raped or abused in their past. Eighty-nine percent said they wanted to leave prostitution. "I don't know of any other occupation where 89 percent of people want to escape," Miller says.

There is an argument to make that people who go into prostitution do not truly do so of their own free will but have been driven by economic desperation and abusive circumstances. But does that make them, literally, slaves? What about sweatshop workers? Poorly paid janitors? They're not as demeaned as prostitutes, but surely they're dying to leave their profession, too. One gets the impression when Miller talks about the "emerging human rights issue of the 21st century" that we are dealing with a new, shocking crime. It seems an odd label for prostitution, the oldest crime in the book.

Part of the problem in understanding trafficking is that there are a lot of assumptions made from afar about the ostensible victims, argues Joanna Busza, a lecturer at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. "Nobody's bothered to ask them how they got there and if they're exploited," she says. She and two fellow researchers spent time in Mali and Cambodia interviewing people that had been identified by local nongovernmental organizations as trafficking victims. They published their findings this June in the British Medical Journal. Of 1,000 young people identified in Mali, many of whom had returned from working on cocoa plantations in the Ivory Coast, "only four could be classified as having been deceived, exploited, or not paid at all for their labor." Talking to Vietnamese prostitutes in Cambodia, just six of 100 women "reported having been 'tricked' into sex work or betrayed by an intermediary." Many of the women, however, were working under a "debt bondage" system, paying back loans made to them or their families, and were unhappy with their sometimes violent working conditions.

Busza's study has tapped into a reassessment some are making within the anti-trafficking movement about the scope of the problem. "The situation has been exaggerated; that seems to be the reality we're learning," says Ann Jordan, the director of a trafficking program run by the International Human Rights Law Group in Washington, D.C., who has worked on the issue since living in China 15 years ago. Jordan, who works with a network of service providers nationwide, notes that the feds keep changing the statistics regarding the number of people trafficked into the U.S. At one time, they said there were 50,000 trafficking victims here, then 18,000 to 20,000 and now, according to the latest State Department report, 14,500 to 17,500.

"I only know that all our partner NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] are busy with clients all the time," Jordan says. "But they have nowhere near that number. Either we have tens of thousands of people in the U.S. sitting in slavery or their numbers are off. I don't know." According to Ashcroft's report on trafficking to Congress this May, the federal government had identified just 450 trafficking victims domestically in the 2003 fiscal year who were eligible to receive certain benefits, including the newly created "T" visa. In King County, the Refugee Women's Alliance received a grant of approximately a quarter million dollars to lead a "trafficking response team" that would provide services to victims. It has handled only about 10 cases in more than a year.

"A lot of the stats are, if not made up, then certainly the basis for which they are derived is never given," says David Feingold, who coordinates regional trafficking projects for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Bangkok. Speaking by phone from there, he says that a lot of the estimates come from nongovernmental organizations that have no training in research. His agency has put together an illuminating database of the many and wildly varying trafficking statistics, cited along with their sources (accessible online at www.unescobkk.org). The worldwide trafficking estimates vary from 700,000 victims (in the range of the current State Department figure) to 200 million.

"It's very embarrassing," Miller admits of the statistical fluctuations. Within the federal government, he says, the varying numbers reflect the increasingly intensive research effort.

The Victims Are Real, But How Many Are There?

Like Jimmy Carter and George Mitchell, Miller has achieved new renown in his post-political life. "I've been around government for 25, 30 years, and I've never seen a guy as admired by people on both sides of the aisle," says Michael Horowitz, a prominent neoconservative affiliated with the Hudson Institute. Having left Congress in 1993 to spend more time with his then 4-year-old son, the 66-year-old Miller was chairing the Discovery Institute, a conservative Seattle think tank, and teaching English literature at the Northwest Yeshiva High School on Mercer Island when the president tapped him to take charge of the national trafficking office. Since doing so, he has brought a new level of forcefulness to an office that previously kept beneath the radar.

"My role has been to elevate the issue," he says, speaking by phone during a vacation trip to Lake Chelan, "to make sure that our embassies and the State Department and other agencies take this very seriously, that they know that this is not just some throwaway part of American policy." Miller has been willing to put pressure even on allies of the U.S., including Japan, which in this June's trafficking report was put on a "watch list" of problem countries. If those countries fall to Tier 3, the lowest grading of countries evaluated in the report according to their anti-trafficking efforts, then they risk losing American aid and funding for cultural exchanges. Last year, a Tier 3 rating so spooked Kazakhstan that its foreign minister went on national television and gave a 30-minute address railing against the scourge of trafficking.

Miller has met victims himself. He says one of the first was a woman in the Netherlands. She had been living in the Czech Republic in a failing marriage when a friend suggested she could make money waiting tables in Amsterdam. Leaving a 2-year-old daughter behind, she crossed the border with someone who turned out to be a trafficker, who handed her over to another in Amsterdam who took her to the red-light district. "You will work here," Miller says the trafficker told her. When she said she wouldn't, the trafficker replied, "Yes you will, if you want your 2-year-old daughter to live."

There are enough stories like hers, some far more brutal, to serve as a reminder that trafficking is not a chimera. But as for how pervasive it is, Miller maintains that it's impossible to know. "Victims don't stand in line and raise their hands to be counted," he likes to say in his booming, jovial voice. He minimizes the importance of exact quantification. "All of us involved in the issue know enough firsthand to know that the problem is huge." Pressed on the point, he points to 8,000 trafficking prosecutions worldwide in 2003. "The typical trafficker is involved with 20, 100, 500 victims," he says. "If you just take those into account, you're clearly in the hundreds of thousands."

But the difference between 20 victims per trafficker and 500 is the difference between 160,000 and 4 million victims – sizably different levels of magnitude. The difference is not academic. It's essential to determining what should be done about the problem – if you can pin down exactly what the problem is – and how many resources should be put into it. The federal government spent $91 million fighting trafficking in the last fiscal year, much of that money going to nonprofit groups and government agencies around the world that accordingly have a vested interest in trumpeting the problem and are refocusing their energies around it. "Trafficking is big business not just for traffickers but also for the international development community," write Busza and her co-authors in their piece scrutinizing the prevailing wisdom on Malian and Cambodian trafficking. The trafficking task force in our own cash-strapped state recommends that a new funding pool be set up to tackle the issue. Miller's office uses current trafficking estimates, broken down according to country, to pressure governments around the world to pass new anti-trafficking laws and spend money on the problem – or risk facing sanctions.

The disconnect between the rhetoric on trafficking and the actual number of documented cases, nowhere more evident than in Washington state, does more than raise questions about the resources spent. It presents a credibility problem that takes away from the horror of the real cases out there.

Some in the anti-trafficking field consider it heresy to suggest that the issue has been hyped. But the Human Rights Law Group's Ann Jordan takes a more sanguine view. If the numbers are smaller, she reasons, we probably can have more success in solving the problem.

Mental Marijuana

Smoking marijuana, the federal government constantly reminds us, is dangerous in every way. It impairs cognitive functioning, makes you high, and, because it's smoked, is a demon in a bong hit – and so on.

A counterargument is that pot has helped thousands of cancer and AIDS patients, for example, contend with side effects of their illnesses and treatments. There is also evidence that marijuana works for some psychiatric disorders as well, principally depression and bipolar disorder. Among some people, pot is jokingly referred to as "green Prozac."

The problem is you can't legally take a toke for psychiatric diagnoses.

"I think cannabis has a lot of potential in the treatment of mental illness," says Lester Grinspoon, emeritus professor of psychiatry at the Harvard School of Medicine. He says that it can be an effective treatment for bipolar disorder and depression. Like any medicine, he cautions, it won't work for everyone. Grinspoon has, over the last three decades, been one of the few psychiatrists willing to speak publicly on mental marijuana.

Most of the evidence to support use of pot as medicine is anecdotal; i.e., it seems to help AIDS and cancer patients contend with their diseases and handle the nausea they often experience from treatment, so there must be something to it. Many people also report that it provides a quick lift from the bowels of depression.

My own anecdotal, ahem, experience is that pot does indeed boost my mood from the badlands of depression and lower me from the Mount Everests of mania. I have no idea why or how, nor do I especially care – I'm one of those people who find Prozac and its progeny to be barely effective and with enough nasty side effects to outweigh the benefits. But I'll never tell that to the Drug Enforcement Administration or drug czar John Walters.

Instead, I'll let the Israeli army speak for me. Two weeks ago, it announced that it would provide, on an experimental basis, medical marijuana to troops suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, another mental illness. Good enough for an army, good enough for me.

But in states with medical marijuana laws, each attempt to get depression or bipolar disorder added to the list of ailments for which the kine can be oh-so-kind has been shot down.

For example, four years ago, the Washington Medical Quality Assurance Commission was petitioned to add mental illness to its list of approved uses of medical marijuana. The commission denied the request. It argued that there was no lock-solid scientific evidence that weed worked for mental illness. The odd thing is that it had approved pot for treatment of Alzheimer's, Krohn's disease, chronic pain, and wasting syndrome based upon – you guessed it – anecdotal evidence.

The feds would like to keep any evidence that reefer is an Rx anecdotal – no peer-reviewed, double-blind studies here – as it bolsters their case that there's no scientific proof that pot works for anything except getting people high. It's the evil weed.

As proof, the DEA touts the following from a 1999 scientific report: It states that " . . . there is little future in smoked marijuana as a medically approved medication."

The report was prepared by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), part of the independent National Academies of Science. Interestingly, the feds lifted that quote from deep in the report. But perhaps more telling is that only one sentence later, the report says: "The personal medical use of smoked marijuana – regardless of whether or not it is approved – to treat certain symptoms is reason enough to advocate clinical trials to assess the degree to which the symptoms or course of diseases are affected."

The IOM backed that up with several strong recommendations that medical marijuana should be thoroughly studied – you know, like scientists study every other treatment under the sun.

To date, that hasn't happened.

"Who is going to get approval from an institutional review board to break the law?" asks Grinspoon. Researchers must have their studies cleared by such boards before they can do experiments with humans. He likens the situation to that of lithium. Its efficacy for treating mental illness was found by accident in the 1940s by an Australian scientist. The evidence was anecdotal. It wasn't until the late 1950s that the feds allowed it to be used in this country, despite the fact that it was saving lives on the other side of the globe.

That's not to say that marijuana is the new lithium or an all-conquering antidepressant. This is not an argument for 40 grams to freedom. Most psych meds work quite well for an estimated 60 percent to 70 percent of patients. It's the remaining 30 percent to 40 percent who are in a sketchier situation. If the approved meds don't work at all or barely work their alleged magic, where are you supposed to turn?

Psychiatrists usually prescribe another med such as Lexapro, a new antidepressant that's all the rage these days. Personally, I found that marijuana had a positive effect quite by accident, especially when dealing with short-lived psychoses. Medications for that typically take hours or days to work – and when you are in that state, you aren't interested in anything but relief by any means necessary, stat.

So let's assume that weed works for a minority of the mentally ill. Doctors usually come back with the assertion that pot has too many side effects, such as respiratory ailments, to even consider its use. I wonder what universe they live in. Long-term use of psych meds themselves carries a host of side effects, which have been poorly evaluated in long-term studies – kidney and liver damage chief among them, along with nausea, weight gain, sexual dysfunction, sleep interference, and hair loss. And they talk about the side effects of marijuana? By comparison, pot's side effects are almost minimal. So, I'll take that medical marijuana any day – I'd simply like to do it legally.

A Spoiler on the Right?

It's weird to hear people describe your politics, especially if you're at all difficult to categorize. Over the years, I've had people introduce me as conservative, liberal, and libertarian. They're all partly right. In my midteens in the late 1960s, I looked around for a political movement to join, something more sustaining than anti-Vietnam War marches. I was raised a Dan Evans Republican, supported Bobby Kennedy for president, shook hands with both Richard Nixon and Henning Blomen, the Socialist Labor Party candidate for president in 1968. I searched vainly for a home with both the Republicans and Democrats.

In the early 1970s, I read an article in The New York Times Magazine about the "New Right," student activists who rejected the socialism of the New Left and embraced the principles of civil liberties and the free market. I was intrigued, especially since they were adamantly opposed to the draft. It was around that time the Libertarian Party was formed, and I soon had a chance to check them out. In 1972, as a student newspaper reporter, I attended a Libertarian meeting in a back room at Ozzie's on Lower Queen Anne. The few attendees sat in a small dark cave at a big round table talking endlessly about Ayn Rand and the virtues of selfishness. They seemed obsessed with the joys of the Darwinian jungle, though none of them looked like winning specimens in that race to self- reliance. The men were like Lenny in Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men"; the women like Dr. Evil's mistress, Frau Farbissina. If this were an Agatha Christie novel, I'd have been rooting for the killer.

I decided that day that this was a party I would never join.

A lot of libertarians feel that way. They're not exactly the joining type, most being focused on leave-me-alone-ism. Millions of votes are cast for Libertarian candidates, but there are only some 25,000 card- carrying, dues-paying party members. One is Michael Badnarik, 50, a former computer programmer from Austin, Texas, who is the party's 2004 candidate for president. He came by the Seattle Weekly offices to chat on Monday, Aug. 16.

Badnarik describes organizing Libertarians as herding cats or nailing Jell-O. He says there are approximately 150,000 self-identified Libertarians in the country. In 2000, Libertarian Party candidates garnered more than 3 million votes nationwide. He was quoted in one newspaper saying about his core constituency, "It's not being a Libertarian that makes them independent and cantankerous. It's being independent and cantankerous that makes them libertarian." He should know. He didn't get his party's nomination until the third ballot, and even then, Badnarik admits, he won because he was everyone's second choice.

But he's an articulate standard-bearer with a mission: to convince voters that they don't have to pick the lesser of two evils every time out. His goal isn't to win the election, obviously, but to steer the party on a course to become a factor in the election. In polarized Red-Blue America, the tiny percentages that third-party candidates command can be crucial. In short, Badnarik wants to prove that two can play Ralph Nader's game.

He argues that he's neither left nor right but a "second dimension" that adds something new to the political mix. Libertarians believe in the free market, slashing taxes, cutting government spending and regulation, and defending civil liberties. This plays to both the right and left, depending on where you focus. Badnarik can emphasize parts of the party's platform that will be music to both Red and Blue ears. In North Carolina, he can emphasize law and order and gun rights (Libertarians are strong Second Amendment supporters). When asked about the death penalty by the Wilmington, N.C., Star News, he sounded like a promoter of vigilante justice when he replied, "In my opinion, the best place to initiate the death penalty is at 2 a.m. at the ATM when someone comes up to take your money." In San Francisco or Seattle, he can emphasize his opposition to the drug war, rail against banning gay marriage, promise to bring the troops home from Iraq immediately, and pledge to rescind the Patriot Act. In our discussion, he bashed Bush more than Kerry. It's not that he's inconsistent or pandering – it's just that the Libertarian philosophy cuts the pie in a wholly different way.

How do the Libertarians become a factor? By affecting the outcome of the election. While Nader is widely blamed for tipping the 2000 election to Bush (or the Supreme Court that appointed him), the Libertarian impact might also have been felt closer to home. Former Republican Sen. Slade Gorton blames Libertarian candidate Jeff Jared for his defeat that year by Democrat Maria Cantwell, saying he siphoned off critical conservative votes in an election that was settled by about 2,500 votes. (Ironically, Nader has also tried to claim credit for getting Cantwell elected.) Polls have indicated that both Republicans and Democrats vote for Libertarians, but the party seems to draw more from the GOP. Badnarik says he's polling at 5 percent in New Mexico, a key swing state, and 1 percent to 1.5 percent in four key upper Midwestern states, pulling enough Republican and independent voters from Bush to make a tiny – but possibly critical – difference.

If he can be blamed for the outcome either way, it will be a successful year for the Libertarians and Badnarik – especially since polls also show that 80 percent of the American people have never heard of the Libertarian Party (see their booth at Hempfest). They might live to be reviled by Republicans – as Nader is by many Democrats. That will be a sign that at last, they matter.

Your Brain on Frappuccino

The U.S. government allocates many billions of dollars a year to the "War on Drugs," but it spends hardly a penny on the most insidious, most omnipresent psychoactive drug of all. I refer, of course, to caffeine (C8H10N4O2), the little alkaloid that made Starbucks' Howard Schultz a billionaire.

Drug? Indubitably: Even before it became endemic in the human diet through use in candy bars and soft drinks, doctors prescribed caffeine as a decongestant and mild painkiller; users discovered its efficacy as an appetite suppressant on their own. But it would be just another minor entry in the pharmacopeia were it not for another aspect: its powerful impact as a stimulant.

That's where the psychoactive aspect of caffeine kicks in. Unlike most small organic molecules, caffeine slips through cell walls as if they weren't there. An hour after your cuppa, caffeine can be found in every cell in your body, including those of the nervous system; even the famed "blood-brain barrier" is impotent against its stealth attacks.

After more than a century of concentrated study, scientists are still not entirely sure what happens when caffeine hits the brain. The current best guess is that it plugs into receptors in cells that modulate "excitability," the propensity of neurons to fire, sending messages to other nerve circuits in the brain. Caffeine fits these receptors well enough to prevent their proper trigger (adenosine) from plugging in, but not well enough to mimic the downstream calming effect of adenosine. Result: The brain remains in a state of higher excitability, alertness, and clarity, not to mention irritability, than it would maintain without caffeine's intrusion.

So far, so good; everybody recognizes the energizing jolt a good cup of coffee delivers. (The size of the jolt depends on the mode of delivery: An espresso contains about a fifth of a gram of the stuff, drip coffee only half as much.) The trouble is that most of us users don't stop with one cup, and the spread of fancied-up ways of absorbing your jolt – lattes, Frappuccinos, and the like – has made it perilously easy to saturate the system with a drug that, its agreeable stimulation apart, is pretty hard on the nervous system.

Some people can't even handle that one espresso without experiencing feelings of anxiety. When the dosage rises above 600 milligrams (only about three shots' worth), a majority of imbibers experience side effects like nervousness and irritability; many also experience higher blood pressure without realizing it.

Even if your system is highly tolerant to caffeine, a gram a day can cause irregular heartbeat and ringing in the ears, not to mention insomnia, outbursts of temper, and heightened distractibility. Ten grams of it and you're dead. Granted, it's almost impossible to absorb 10 grams of caffeine by the usual methods, but it's still a little worrisome that the difference between a useful dose and a deadly one is a mere matter of 50 to one.

Another worrisome aspect of caffeine is that many of its users develop a tolerance to its effects – in others words, you start with a single short and eventually only a triple grande will do. This happens with most drugs that interfere with normal neurotransmitter pathways, which are linked in intricate loops of potentiation and feedback.

When we block adenosine from its target receptors, the nervous system tries to restore its balance by producing more adenosine to compete with the caffeine that's blocking it, so over time it takes more caffeine to overcome the additional adenosine's calming, soporific effect. No two people exhibit exactly the same pattern of tolerances, so there's no way to establish a "safe" dose except through trial and error, leaving plenty of room for the insomnia, heart flutters, and sour stomach that result from an "overdose."

Is caffeine a drug of abuse? Americans think of themselves as mighty coffee drinkers, but in fact they swallow less than half as much per capita (around one espresso's worth) as the Swedes or the Brits, who, counting tea and chocolate consumption along with coffee, are the current world champions, putting away nearly half a gram of caffeine a day on average.

On average – that's the problem with stats like these. There are a lot of people who don't drink coffee or tea at all, and averages don't help to discern how caffeine use differs by age, class, and income group. The most upsetting fact about caffeine is that there is virtually no good information about the impact of caffeine use on children and adolescents, who, thanks to soft drinks and chocolate-packed candies have become a major segment of the caffeine market. Kids' nervous systems are not completely developed until late adolescence, and nobody knows what effect on the final product a dozen-plus years of steady infusion of a powerful alkaloid stimulant may have.

On balance, Howard Schultz may be America's biggest pusher for adults, but one of these days it may turn out that Coke and Pepsi have a lot more to answer for.

The Tarantino Britannica

What a difference five months don’t make. Cineastes were all waiting to see what would become of the Gordian gamble Miramax took by splitting Quentin Tarantino’s chopsocky epic into two parts. Sure, the first was a self-indulgent film-geek letdown, but the second, we were led to believe, would provide the payoff. Chat-room buzz had it that the final showdown between Uma Thurman and David Carradine would take place on this side of the ocean, a little closer to QT’s Pulp Fiction vernacular, a lot farther from subtitled samurai screams. Vol. 2 was supposed to be less foreign, less coded to the director’s pot-hazed, screening-room Proustian riffing, less driven by action, and more sustained by dialogue.

Well, now we can call Harvey Weinstein’s bluff (and understand why he was bluffing and stalling). There is no payoff to Kill Bill Vol. 2. It’s more of the same, only more so: Tarantino the pedant drones on, drowning out Tarantino the writer of ace dialogue. The entire movie seems composed from a blackboard—like Jack Black’s manic music-history lesson in School of Rock. Given carte blanche by studio, stars, and his adoring public, the reclusive writer-director has pulled a Wachowski on us and, after a somewhat audacious start in Vol. 1, has proceeded directly to the familiar “What was that all about?” sensation of The Matrix Revolutions. Where’s the Architect when you need him?

Vol. 2 begins with a funny B-movie prelude in which Thurman—still known as the Bride, though her true name is later revealed— reiterates her vow of revenge. Like we’d forgotten. (If you have: She’s pledged to exact a mortal penalty from her former boyfriend, who shot her in the head, sending her into a four-year coma.) It’s cheesy in a way that’s outside the usual Tarantino pantheon of cheese. With cheapo black-and-white rear-screen projection, Thurman is like some Lana Turner figure in a Charles Busch send-up. (There’s always been something rangy and mannish about Thurman, but that’s a different subject.) Then the movie begins properly, in color, as marked-for-death brothers Budd (Michael Madson) and Bill (Carradine) commiserate in Barstow, Calif., where Budd makes like a trailer-park Camus: “I don’t dodge guilt, and I don’t Jew out of paying my comeuppance. We deserve to die.”

From there, Vol. 2 offers no drama, just execution. And references—more film and TV entries from the Tarantino Britannica. With Carradine, you’ve got Kung Fu (complete with flute, God help us). With eyepatched-assassin Daryl Hannah, you’ve got They Call Her One Eye. With the final showdown down Mexico way, you’ve got late-career Peckinpah, with straight tequila, scarred whores, and sage pimps.

Vol. 2 ultimately becomes trivial by sheer weight of its trivia. Vol. 1 established that Tarantino wanted to craft a genre-hopping homage to all his childhood obsessions—on screens large and small. (I’m giving nothing away to say that the happy end here includes a kid watching TV.) On the DVD for Vol. 1 (also released this week in a synergistic frenzy of hype), Tarantino explains, “That’s what the whole movie is about—it’s fusion.” Cold fusion is more like it. Ennio Morricone and ’70s funk, yakuza and cowboys, the Shaw Brothers and Brian De Palma . . . where does this hybrid chain of references end? At a kind of chopsocky melodrama finale, with swords crossed between parents, both demanding sole custody of their child. (QT, let’s recall, was raised by his mother.) Vol. 1 established that the Bride gave birth in a coma after she was shot—four years later, there’s got to be an adorable little girl, right? Here, it’s like Tarantino has switched channels from Sonny Chiba’s Shadow Warriors to a daytime soap. And all that winking won’t get the sap out of your eye.

There is no unifying artistic vision or Pulp Fiction moral to this collage; it creates nothing more than a succession of pointillist nodes and nods. Tarantino’s like the guy who keeps you up all night playing forgotten B-sides from his endless collection of 45s. He’s a serial thinker who’s lost all sight of structure (which at least Elmore Leonard supplied for him in Jackie Brown). He can only recapitulate all his old faves and influences, with no means of tying them together other than to say, “Look what these things mean to me!” In a sweet shut-in’s way, he means to be generous with us, but the results in Vol. 2 are long-winded, lax, and tediously digressive.

Vol. 1 at least offered some stylish action and music, but Vol. 2’s dominant impressions are of Hannah prattling on about milligrams of snake venom; Carradine opining about Superman; plus an overlong flashback to the Bride’s exhaustive training at a martial-arts temple run by a beard-stroking super-geezer with eyebrows like two albino sparrows.

As a rule, I don’t like to review the audience, but in this case it was pretty telling. At the preview I attended two weeks ago, there was full-on sweaty, smelly, fan-boy excitement before the curtain. Once the lights dimmed, however, I couldn’t believe how few laughs I heard over 135 minutes, how little oohing and aahing. Even the geeks seemed as bored as I was. If Tarantino can’t please these guys, he needs to reconsider his whole record-skipping aesthetic. Maybe he should choose just one genre to goof on (like Mel Brooks or Charles Busch), or treat all his bent homages with less respect and more irreverence (like the Zucker brothers).

The mood at the preview wasn’t, “This is great!” It was more like, “I think I understood that reference correctly.”

Whose Doom? Mydoom

By late Tuesday, Jan. 27, experts estimated that 20 percent of the world's e-mail traffic was attributable to the virulent worm known as Mydoom, or Norvag -- the latest Internet scourge to send panicked corporate tech managers to the Symantec and McAfee Web sites for virus-protection updates. This monster virus is spam on steroids. Attached to a seemingly innocent e-mail, Mydoom copies itself to the computer of whoever happens to be curious enough to open its attached file, e-mails itself all over again, then awaits instructions -- perhaps, like SoBig and other previous worms, to use the invaded PC as a conduit for future spam. Computer-security experts say this is a battlefield-changing tactic in the spam war. "I'm really starting to believe that as much as 75 percent of spam is coming from our own machines," says Lawrence Baldwin, a computer-security expert who runs MyNetWatchman.com. That's right, most spam is actually being circulated by us through our innocent-looking home PCs.

"A lot of Microsoft software is so unsecure that spammers are now writing viruses that infect home computers and turn them into spam sources," says Laura Atkins, president of the Spamcon Foundation. "That's probably the biggest source of spam on the Net right now." The new marriage of computer viruses and spam is the most dangerous threat to the Internet in the coming year, contends MessageLabs, a leading anti-spam outfit based in Minneapolis.

The means by which spammers commandeer home PCs is complicated and continues to evolve, but essentially a piece of "malware," like Mydoom, is delivered to your machine, either by e-mail or more directly, which then enables the spammer to relay masses of spam through your living room and suck up your bandwidth, hiding behind your computer's unique Internet Protocol (IP) address. "You'll see [the same] e-mail coming from a hundred computers all at once all over the Internet," says Julian Haight, founder of Spamcop.net, which monitors Net traffic. Meanwhile, the unwitting computer owner might not notice anything besides a sluggish Internet connection. Joe Stewart, of computer security firm LURHQ, puts the number of PCs "hijacked for spam" at "probably well into the millions by now."

And what accounts for the ease with which wily spammers prey on PCs?

Of course, it's the many cracks in Windows software. "Unfortunately, Microsoft has had literally hundreds of security vulnerabilities in the last few years," says Baldwin. "If you haven't applied all your security patches and you put a Microsoft system directly onto the Internet," without a firewall, "you can be pretty much guaranteed it will be infected, probably in under five minutes."

Late last year, users of Microsoft's Hotmail service awoke to something they'd never experienced: no spam. Microsoft's free, Web-based e-mail service has long been an infamous hotbed of spam. Thanks to such spammer strategies as "dictionary attacks" -- in which the spammer sends out thousands of messages using random combinations of letters in front of the @hotmail.com address -- new Hotmail users could see spam landing in their inboxes even before they'd sent out their first message. People who used Hotmail only sparingly might still receive a couple dozen pieces of spam each day. But all that changed when Microsoft introduced SmartScreen Spam Filtering Technology. Some users have found that incoming spam, for the moment at least, has shrunk to near zero. "Anecdotally, Microsoft has been consistently hearing from customers and testers that SmartScreen tools are blocking upwards of 80 to 95 percent of their spam," according to the company.

Microsoft's filter employs methods similar to those of other anti-spam systems currently in use: The software scans incoming messages for keywords and other characteristics that the system "learns" are typical of spam and segregates them. Microsoft says its proprietary system is better than those of competitors because it "learns" from such a huge inventory of Hotmail spam and because it combines a bunch of spam-targeting technologies. (Personally, I've never had a single spam at my two-year-old Yahoo! account.)

The introduction of SmartScreen is recognition by the company of how serious an inconvenience spam has become, because with spam, as with so many other things, Microsoft has lagged behind competitors, allowing them to make the first moves before the company finally decided to weigh in with massive resources and a high-profile campaign (often prescribing, of course, a software upgrade). Where EarthLink and America Online started suing spammers in the late 1990s, says Atkins of the Spamcon Foundation, Microsoft only recently began going after them aggressively, filing several suits last summer and then, last fall, teaming up with New York's dogged attorney general, Eliot Spitzer, to sue a bunch of big guns.

Without doubt, the gloves are off and the microphones are on. Bill Gates used his closely watched annual address at the industry confab known as Comdex to declare war on spam and has recently written guest columns, such as "Why I Hate Spam" in The Wall Street Journal and "A Spam Free Future" in the The Washington Post.

Microsoft is trying to integrate anti-spam technology into its core products, adding the SmartScreen filter, for instance, to the 2003 version of Outlook, the widely used e-mail and calendar program that's part of Microsoft's Office suite. Of course, "innovations" aren't always welcomed when they come from a monopoly: After Microsoft announced it was integrating the spam filter into its own software, some in the industry fretted that the Redmond giant was going to put all the other companies that make spam filters out of business. Microsoft says its system is designed to work in tandem with third-party systems, not replace them.

But while Microsoft has been taking some strong, visible steps to prosecute spammers and shoot down spam before it soils the inboxes of its customers, it has been quieter and, some contend, less responsive on the issue that many spam watchers believe is now central to the problem: the role of virus-infected, Microsoft-run desktop computers as the primary conduit for spam.

Perhaps it's no surprise that the role of Microsoft software in the spam infrastructure has gone unmentioned in the spam speeches and guest columns by Gates. Typically, he promotes the federal CAN-SPAM legislation (now passed by Congress and signed by President Bush), lauds Microsoft's new filter technology, and advises e-mail users not to reply to spam or click on those unknown file attachments. But he has avoided mentioning the security flaws in his company's products and the spam epidemic in the same breath. Microsoft's voluminous Web site, while addressing both spam and computer infections at length, never links the two problems.

In a speech last spring, Microsoft exec Ryan Hamlin, who oversees the company's anti-spam group, acknowledged, "We feel like solving the inbound problem," diverting spam from customer inboxes, "is a much greater issue right now than solving the outbound problem" of preventing spam from being sent in the first place. The one could lead to the other, according to Gates, who, writing recently in The Washington Post, said, "Our goal is to develop filters that are so effective that spamming becomes increasingly futile and ultimately unprofitable." But spam experts aren't so sanguine. "Filtering is a losing proposition," argues Spamcon's Atkins. "We can never make filters faster than the spammers can come up with ways to best them."

Spam fighters acknowledge that as the dominant operating system, Microsoft Windows is a big, fat target for unrelenting adversaries. Says Atkins: "We can argue about whether Microsoft is responsible for the fact that its users have not kept their security up to date or installed a hardware firewall that costs $59 at CompUSA." (Indeed, Microsoft recently launched a "Protect Your PC" campaign directed at home users.) But, Atkins notes, "Shipping secure software would help."

"On the bright side," says Joe Stewart of LURHQ, "it looks like Microsoft is making an effort to solve some of the core problems that make Windows so easy to infect. It may, however, be already too late."

Stewart, it should be noted, was speaking before last week's Mydoom outbreak. Meaning "too late" is right now.

Acid Evangelist

One night in the 1950s, Malcolm Cowley, the Stanford writing teacher who made William Faulkner, Jack Kerouac, and Ken Kesey famous, declined his student Kesey's offer of a cup of green hallucinogenic Kool-Aid from a punch bowl billowing sinister clouds of dry-ice smoke. "It looks like the sort of punch that Satan would serve," observed Cowley, who drank Kesey's grandma's Arkansas bootleg whiskey instead. In Robert Stone's novel Dog Soldiers, the character based on Kesey is "Doctor Dope," a self-sacrificing guru whose followers think he is God.

So what was Kesey, devil or deity? Conservatives decry his flabbergastingly irresponsible acid evangelism; when he died two years ago, eulogists stressed his saintly side. Now that his celebrated bus, Further, has long since literally conveyed him to the grave, it's a better time to put Kesey to the moral acid test: He belongs to the ages, not his mourners, and this winter marks his literary last stand.

Two new books are almost certainly the final volumes to whip up the patchouli twister of his prose: Kesey's Jail Journal, composed during his six-month 1967 pot-bust hitch in San Mateo County Jail, and Spit in the Ocean: All About Kesey, distinguished writer and old Kesey chum Ed McClanahan's collection of the Prankster Pope's own witty encyclicals, touching letters to friends, and rare interviews and essays from 1968 to 2001, plus reminiscences from Tom Wolfe, Hunter Thompson, Gus Van Sant, Bill Walton, Paul Krassner, Robert Stone, and Larry McMurtry.

When Kesey forsook literature in 1964 to become a man of letters -- LSD -- did he blow it? Or did he ignite a refining fire that still burns bright at the heart of every rave in America? Did drugs make him, or undo him? Was Cowley right to believe it would've been better had Kesey just said no to the Bus, shackled himself to his typewriter, batted out more books, and steered clear of public acts of shameless shaman magic?

The Humiliation of Creation

"Being shackled to anything, even a typewriter, just wasn't in Ken's nature," McClanahan opines. "The stage and magic, on the other hand, were very much in his nature."

The Jail Journal proves McClanahan's point. Even in actual shackles, Kesey defiantly kept conducting symphonies of trouble with his magic wand. Originally titled Cut the Motherfuckers Loose, the book portrays one cut-loose motherfucker. The psychedelectable Day-Glo pen drawings of convicts and fantasias, idylls and race riots showcase his little-known visual imagination, a style that recalls by turns Peter Max, William Blake, Fillmore rock posters' unruly wraparound lettering, the transgressive collages of Kenneth Halliwell and Joe Orton, and Steve Ditko's Dr. Strange.

The very possession of pens and paper was forbidden Kesey -- he was sure to use them to stab back at authority. So he was unwise to scribble this book on the sly and smuggle it out as contraband concealed in porn mags whose pages he stuck together to discourage guards from inspecting them. He let visitors prankishly slip him "four STP tabs couple of psilocybin pills and five good old Owsley purples!" Under the guards' noses, he took a mind-blown skinny-dip in the prison pool -- "without taking the mandatory shower." Crazily, he stashed this diary of crimes in progress inside a hollowed-out book in a fellow inmate's cell. One day a deputy asked him point-blank if he was loaded. Pin-pupilled on opium, Kesey said, "Allow me to make one thing clear before we continue our conversation... I'll lie to you."

The Jail Journal may not be strictly factual, but it's an authentically exuberant, sardonic slice of the Summer of Love behind bars; Spit in the Ocean is more poignant and retrospective, a fond, funerary Festschrift of Stony Age scholarship. Both show that Kesey wasn't about partying in the modern, mindless sense. He believed his kind of questing partying might save the world, one soul at a time -- or hey! Maybe everyone at once, if he could only get his magic act together. Like the Acid Test, the Journal is an attempt to fuse all sensations and artistic means into one ecstatic new form of expression in which (as the Kesey character says in Dog Soldiers) "there was absolutely no difference between thought and action."

In the Spit book, Robert Stone (who is penning his own memoir about "Doctor Dope") says that Kesey was out to transcend the whole business of making books: "I think he believed that he could somehow invent a spiritual technology, somewhere between Silva mind control and the transistor, that would spare all the humiliating labor that went into the creating of art."

Cannibalized By the Merry Prankster

Like virtually every literary experiment, Kesey's was largely a failure. The Journal succeeds in seizing a moment or three, but it's utterly inferior to his first forbidden text, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, done during his 1950s stint working at the VA hospital near Stanford. As he notes in the Journal, the jail scene was very like the VA hospital; he composed under similar circumstances, sketching patients on his employer's time, "jumping every time I heard a lock rattle and stuffing the pages out of sight in the wastepaper basket."

Despite being frightened by the military nurse who ran the place, he defied authority and inevitably got fired. He transmogrified her into Big Nurse, the personification of tyranny, and the VA patients into the novel's vivid characters.

By trying to fuse thought and action and bypass traditional art, he accomplishes nothing comparable in the Journal. Cuckoo attained greatness thanks to a lucky combination of inspiration and perspiration -- visions and many, many revisions paring the experience down to a pure parable as simple as a pop tune or a nursery rhyme. In the Journal, and too often after, Kesey tried to get by on visions alone. Though he wrote some lovely pieces later in life -- his elegy for John Lennon, his tribute to the Pendleton Roundup with co-writer Ken Babbs -- the sustained masterpieces that sprang from his LSD days were written by others: Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and Stone's National Book Award winner Dog Soldiers, which is in part a debate about Kesey's legacy. In Stone's book, the Kesey character's apostate apostle calls his ambitious acid crusade "a flash" -- the slang term for an LSD trip, which he considers a meaningless cultural flash in the pan. "It was our responsibility," retorts the Kesey character. "We should've stayed with that flash forever."

Why didn't Kesey nab that award with his own work? He stayed with that flash forever -- lived the high life. "He let the Merry Prankster persona swallow everything else, let it take over and cannibalize his role as a writer," says David O. Weddle, who covered Kesey for Rolling Stone. "His life is a cautionary, perhaps even tragic, tale of the cost of celebrity and catastrophe of success for American artists. But in classic tragedy, the fall from grace throws into relief the magnificence of the hero's achievements." Kesey might argue that taking the plunge was his achievement. "Ken had a little joke," writes Stone, "a little jingle on himself. He said, 'Of offering more than what I can deliver, I have a bad habit, it's true./But I have to offer more than what I can deliver, to be able to deliver what I do.'"

Kesey had bad drug habits, but they were complicatedly and not entirely bad -- in some ways inspiring his creativity, but ultimately stifling it. He began as about the most abstemious major American writer this side of Pearl S. Buck. "He drank on his wedding night when he was a sophomore in college," says Kesey scholar and friend Bennett Huffman, "and then he hadn't had a drink [until] he moved to California [as a grad student]."

Eight peyote buttons gave Kesey the skeleton key to Cuckoo. The novel hadn't been jelling when written in the third person, but that fateful cacti encounter supplied him with the hallucinatory opening-scene reverie of the novel's half-mad first-person narrator. Cowley convinced Kesey to trim back the overwritten passages, helping to save him from the "first thought, best thought" folly that ruined Kerouac, whom Cowley thought "was corrupted by the notion that every word that fell from his lips was more or less sacred." Kesey was always more skeptical and self-critical than peers like Allen Ginsberg and the jaunty fraud and admanlike hack Tim Leary. At least Kesey never OD'd on ego.

He wrote his second masterpiece under the overwhelming influence of Faulkner and amphetamines. "Ken was taking speed for 30 hours a block when he wrote Notion," says Huffman. "He'd stay up for a day and a half just doing nothing but writing nonstop and then sleep for 12 hours and then do it again." Just as Absalom, Absalom! is both powered and muddled by Faulkner's end-stage alcoholism, Sometimes a Great Notion shrieks and grinds with speedy confusion. When Kesey writes, "Come look: the hysterical crashing of the Wakonda Agua River," the hysterical river in question is his own stream of consciousness. Then came the Bus and the Acid Tests, which swept away his concentration with a hysteria theretofore unprecedented.

Kesey complained in later years that getting older deprived him of the mental powers to write another book as complex as Notion. "He always attributed it to aging, but that wasn't it, because a lot of people write great stuff late in life," says Jeff Forester, a co-author of Caverns, the 1990 novel Kesey composed with his University of Oregon writing students, and a forthcoming memoir of that experience, Writing Under the Influence. "It was a lifestyle thing. A novel is such a long, complicated thing that you can't smoke pot and keep it all sitting in your head." On speed, writing Notion, says Huffman, "When Kesey woke up 12 hours later he could remember the work that he'd done before, so he could carry on, where if you're writing on pot, you can't remember."

Mounting An Insurrection

"You wished that he would get serious," says Huffman. "We knew that if he could just, um, break a leg or something, throw his back out, something that could keep him indoors alone at his desk, he would write another great novel, but he never broke his leg. He had a stroke in '97, and by '99 he's touring with the Bus in Great Britain. Back at the same old Kesey moving carnival show rather than sitting down and writing the next serious novel."

Forester says writing a novel with Kesey was serious fun, anyhow. "I mean, the class was a party. Being around Kesey was a constant party." The first day of class, Kesey assigned Forester to roll joints for the seminar; one student sparked up and passed out. "Fell to the ground -- out cold. One student says, 'Omigosh, is he OK? We should call someone!' Ken just stepped over the body and handed me the joint and just kept talking. Ken said, 'Aw, he'll be OK.'" A couple of minutes later, he was. "The first class, you pass out -- how cool was that?" says Forester.

The Caverns pot party both was and wasn't cool for Kesey's career. It generated scant literary buzz, but did get him back in the habit of sitting down and writing, twice a week. Sailor Song and the other autumnal books that Caverns freed him up to write can't match his first two, but they have their fans. "There are those fleeting moments of startling imagery, or well-observed events that gleam like the shards of a once-great but now shattered talent," says Weddle. "Unfortunately, too much of the book is dominated by that glib, self-consciously clever, alliteration-happy voice of Kesey's later years. He was aware of the problem."

Literary vice wasn't his main problem. Ominously, Caverns made Kesey revert to old notions of composing. "At the end when we were kinda getting to crunch time," says Forester, "it seemed like Ken was in the office 24/7, and there was this little vial that was stashed in a corner cabinet that had some, I think it was like grain alcohol or something that had some speed in it. Just a couple of drops of that in your drink or your coffee, and it was days, you know, and we just kinda churned through this thing and it really affected his health. By the end of the class he ended up in the Mayo Clinic."

In the end, acid had nothing to do with Kesey's fate. His liver failed, thanks to cancer following hepatitis C, which also killed Kesey's pals Ginsberg and Steve "Zonker" Lambrecht, who inspired Doonesbury's Zonker. Most people get hepatitis C from promiscuous sex (not Kesey's thing) or needles. Kesey's Jail Journal talks about his injections of speed. But his ultimate enemy was alcohol. "That's the horrible truth, that Ken drank himself to death," says Forester. "Even after he found out he had hepatitis C, he kept drinking. He had diabetes but he kept drinking, and he just wasn't gonna stop. Weddle once asked him, 'Did drugs ruin you?' He said, 'No, I know what's done me harm, and it's not LSD or marijuana, it's too many vodka martinis.' So he was self-aware, unlike most addicts." Like Carrie Fisher, he sought mind expansion and pain reduction only to wind up with pain expansion and mind reduction. Weddle, the biographer of Sam Peckinpah, compares Kesey to that cinematic genius that also self-destructed on drugs and booze. "At his funeral, Peckinpah's close friend Robert Culp said, 'Let's not obsess over all the movies he never got to make. Let's instead rejoice over the fact that there is a Wild Bunch at all. That he managed to get it made is a miracle, given the odds against it.'" McClanahan insists that Kesey smuggled plenty of miracles past his demons. "I mean, 11 books, including two indisputably great ones, ain't bad -- for the record, I think the jail book ranks a close third."

In the end, it's crucial to consider Kesey's work in terms of its influence on people, because he was essentially social, a performer who could not long endure the solitary writer's life. No doubt the reality-scrambling potations he touted did harm to some, but his imagination could also rescramble reality for the better. One Oregon mental patient reportedly lost his Billy Bibbit-like crippling stutter as a result of the inspirational effect of working on the Cuckoo's Nest film. Paul McCartney says Magical Mystery Tour was inspired by Kesey. His entire life can be seen as the most influential bus ride since Rosa Parks'.

In Spit in the Ocean, Krassner relates how he and Kesey very nearly died by falling in the ocean in 1971: They climbed into a tunnel carved into a cliff during World War II (so lookouts could scan the ocean for enemy ships), found a "meek little mouse" in the tunnel, and blew hashish smoke into its face until the mouse reared up and squeaked in protest. "This display of mouse assertiveness startled us, and we almost fell off the cliff." What a perfect death! Better than John Lennon's near death during Sgt. Pepper, when he took a handful of aspirin that turned out to be acid and came within inches of walking off Abbey Road's rooftop, exclaiming, "Look at the stars!" Kesey looked at the people instead; he inhaled in order to exhale insurrectionary orders, rallying the suburban mice of the Earth to rise up and roar in rebellion.

Tim Appelo writes for the Seattle Weekly.

Cops Against the Drug War

They were two white guys cruising through the black part of Patterson, N.J., back in the 1970s. One was an undercover police officer named Jack Cole, the other an informant known as Fast Eddy. Posing as heroin buyers, they ran into trouble with three thugs who tried to rip them off and who slashed Fast Eddy's hand with a knife before being chased off.

Luckily, Cole recalls, a Good Samaritan came out into the road. He was a young black man who was going to college to get out of the ghetto. He said he didn't approve of drugs but felt bad about the white guys getting roughed up in the neighborhood. He went into his house to get bandages for Fast Eddy and then, since Cole continued to pretend like he needed a fix, brought them to a supplier who wouldn't take advantage of them.

Back at the precinct, Cole felt he had no choice but to include the Good Samaritan's name in his report. The Good Samaritan was duly charged with conspiracy to distribute heroin, a charge that carried the same penalty as distribution: up to seven years in jail. Cole was at the station when the Good Samaritan was brought in. He looked Cole in the eye and said, "Man, I was trying to be your friend."

"So yeah, that got to me," Cole says now, his voice seeming to break and going quiet. Speaking by phone from Boston, the 64-year-old Cole is explaining why he ultimately turned against the war on drugs. He says he came to realize that he liked many of the people he was turning in -- liked them better than some of the people he was working for -- and that his betrayal of them, rather than drugs, was what destroyed their lives.

"You can get over an addiction, but you can never get over a conviction," he likes to say.

Now retired after a 26-year career with the New Jersey State Police, Cole is leading a new group of current and former law-enforcement officials who are similarly disillusioned with the war on drugs. Called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, or LEAP, this nationwide organization takes as its premise that the war on drugs is, as Cole puts it, "a total and abject failure."

"After three decades of fueling the U.S. war on drugs with half a trillion tax dollars and increasingly punitive policies, illicit drugs are easier to get, cheaper, and more potent than they were 30 years ago," reads a LEAP statement. More heretical still, considering the source, the group advocates legalization of all drugs. That, it says, is the only way drugs can really become "controlled substances," subject to the kind of age and safety regulations that are imposed on alcohol and tobacco.

Cole, LEAP's executive director, says the year-old organization has between 400 and 500 members. Modeled on Vietnam Veterans Against the War, with what it hopes is the same kind of credibility, the group includes not just police officers but judges, federal agents, and prosecutors and parole, probation, and corrections officers. Because of the possible professional sanctions posed by coming out against the drug war, LEAP takes care to say that membership can be kept confidential.

The emergence of LEAP seems like confirmation of a profound cultural shift away from the zero-tolerance, throw-the-book-at-them drug policy that has long been at the center of our criminal justice system. Roger Goodman, director of a Seattle-based bar association project studying drug policy, puts it this way: "The news story is not that the war on drugs has failed, it's who's saying it now." When cops are joining in, you know that the movement for drug-law reform is becoming mainstream. Says Goodman, "It's not like it's a front for fringy, pony-tailed pot smokers."

The bar association project, done in conjunction with other professional organizations including the state medical and pharmaceutical associations, has generated a huge amount of involvement and served as a model for similar studies around the country. It issued a report in 2001 that portrayed the war on drugs as misguided -- saying we need to shift from a focus on criminal justice to one on public health -- and is now discussing how to do that. With the bar behind it, the state Legislature last year shortened prison terms for drug users and low-level dealers and prescribed mandatory treatment for them.

Cole is a particularly persuasive spokesperson. He worked in narcotics enforcement for 14 of his 26 years on the force. While he rose to a level that enabled him to direct a three-year investigation of a Colombia cocaine-trafficking ring, his revelations about his work on the street are the most damning. Joining the drug war at its inception in the early '70s, Cole says his bosses were clear about how they wanted cops to generate the arrests that would justify massive new funding in law enforcement: "lie a lot."

Drugs actually weren't much of a problem in the early days, Cole says, but he and his colleagues made it look like they were by claiming that users were dealers, a label applied, say, to a young person collecting drugs for a group of friends. Cole and other cops also lied about the quantity of drugs they found in someone's house. "What we did is we looked around for what we could call a cutting agent -- lactose, quinine, baby powder, almost anything," Cole says. Then the cops mixed together the drugs and the "cutting agent" and turned the mixture into state labs, which called a substance a drug no matter the proportion of that drug that was in it. Voilà: One ounce of cocaine became 4 pounds.

Eventually, Cole says, cops didn't have to exaggerate the drug problem anymore; it was bad enough on its own. Yet he and others in LEAP argue that the prohibition on drugs, like the one on alcohol decades ago, has made matters worse by creating an underground industry ruled by organized criminals.

"Eighty-five percent of the crime associated with drugs is not associated with people using drugs. It has to do with the marketplace," says Peter Christ, a former police officer in New York state who originated the idea of LEAP. Turf wars, smuggling, violent bill collection -- all are typical drug-related crimes that are not the result of being high. Moreover, LEAP argues, the illegality of drugs has inflated their value to a point where addicts have to steal to get their fix. "If we put 50-gallon drums out on every street corner in America filled with drugs, we wouldn't have the problems we have today," Christ says.

At the same time, LEAP argues that the prohibition has kept society from regulating drugs in a way that keeps them out of the hands of children, for whom it's easier to buy cocaine than it is to buy beer. As in the alcohol industry, LEAP says, legalization would also allow the government to license and monitor businesses that sell drugs and to set product standards that would prevent most overdoses. Says Christ, "When you go to buy a bottle of Jack Daniels, you don't have to wonder if there's a quart of antifreeze in it or rat poison." Legalization would further allow the government to tax this billion-dollar industry and use the proceeds for drug treatment programs.

Cole goes one step further and suggests that the government ought to distribute free maintenance doses of drugs to those who want them, thereby taking the profit motive out of the business.

"Would greater availability lead to more addiction?" wonders Washington state Sen. Adam Kline, a sponsor of the drug-law reform bill that reduced local sentences. That's the big question around LEAP's proposals. LEAP and others point to Switzerland, where government-run clinics distribute free heroin to addicts while offering treatment -- and addiction appears to have gone down.

But whatever the alternative to the current system, it's noteworthy enough that many of those who are supposed to be upholding it have had enough. Says LEAP member and police officer Jonathan Wender, "I'm tired of putting myself in harm's way for a losing cause."

Nina Shapiro is a senior editor at Seattle Weekly.

Can the Rich Be Good?

At a Westin Hotel banquet table a few weeks ago in downtown Seattle, Portland millionaire JoAnn Wiser leans over her steak dinner and recalls getting steamed at Charles Schwab, the brokerage titan. She had read an article about how he had used his influence with President George W. Bush to win support for the idea of eliminating taxes on corporate dividends. "I have investments with Charles Schwab, and I totally disagree with that!" Wiser exclaims in her effusive manner.

With inherited wealth from her father, a family farmer who struck it big in year-round agriculture in Southern California, Wiser figured out that she could save $17,000 a year on the dividend scheme. Big deal, she thought. "It wouldn't stimulate the economy at all, because I buy what I want already, right?"

Anyway, it doesn't make sense to her that, in the middle of a serious budget crisis, the federal government would talk about easing the tax burden of people who aren't even working for their money, at least not the money that comes from dividends. "If anything," she says, "we should be raising taxes on dividends."

A lone voice in the conservative, self-interested wilderness of the rich? Not entirely. On this Friday evening, Wiser is surrounded by wealthy folks who think similarly. The occasion is the annual meeting of a Boston-based group called Responsible Wealth, whose 700 members belong in the top 5 percent of wealth nationally and whose mission is to close the economic divide that it says has created a "second Gilded Age." After a round of applause for the waitstaff and an MC's mention of how the Westin was picked because it's a union hotel, Bill Gates Sr. delivers a keynote address on the subject about which he has been stumping across the country: his opposition to repealing the estate tax.

Listening to Gates are a number of millionaires who have been spending their time trying to figure out how, to put it simply, to be good. Some, like those in Responsible Wealth, are challenging the conventional notion of what their political line should be. Others have carved a new identity around giving away money, making Seattle in particular one hub of a movement that has been dubbed "New Philanthropy." Paul Schervish, a Boston College sociologist who is perhaps the nation's pre-eminent researcher on wealth, calls these new philanthropists "hyperagents" or "initiating entrepreneurs." Unmoved by the prospect of simply writing a check, they are people who take a hands-on approach with their giving and sometimes use it to establish whole new directions or causes.

As the concept of class war once again rears its head, with liberals saying Bushites are waging war on the poor and conservatives saying liberals are demonizing the rich, this current crop of do-gooders is mixing it all up. To some extent, they rail against the rich and powerful while being the rich and powerful. It is an irony not lost on them.

They are, in fact, a self-conscious lot. It's hard to imagine the Gilded Age's robber barons in the middle of an earnest conference on how to use their wealth responsibly. As the age of affluence meets the New Age, doing good is not just a value, it is a means toward self-actualization.

Gates Joins the Rabble-Rousers

Responsible Wealth grew out of a broader group in Boston working on the economic divide called United for Fair Economy. In the mid-'90s, that group's co-founder, Chuck Collins, was holding what he calls "economic literacy" workshops on the growing disparity between the rich and the poor when he noticed an odd phenomenon. "We had people coming to us afterwards saying, 'I'm a retired CEO of a division of Kodak,' or, 'I'm in the top 5 percent of income, and -- don't tell anyone -- I support your view.'"

"That's interesting," thought Collins, a descendant of the Oscar Mayer family who gave away a $300,000 trust fund 17 years ago when he was 26. "What would it be like to organize some of these individuals to speak out?"

Since he helped form Responsible Wealth in 1997, it has attracted a range of people, from the superwealthy like multibillionaires George Soros and Ted Turner to the run-of-the-mill affluent. It doesn't take as much as you might think to break into the top 5 percent -- just $164,000 a year in income or $650,000 in assets.

The group has chugged along promoting the meat-and-potatoes issues of economic justice: tax reform that asks the rich to step up to the plate, corporate responsibility that includes livable wages and an end to excessive executive compensation, and exposure of the influence of money on politics.

In 2000, adopting the organization's practice of filing shareholder resolutions to embarrass corporations and generate debate, local organizer Lois Canright filed one with Microsoft requesting a report on its political contributions. The resolution failed, which was expected.

What wasn't expected was that the father of Microsoft's chieftain would find common cause with these rabble-rousers. Collins likes to recall that when he got a message saying that Bill Gates had contacted the office wanting to help in the campaign for preserving the estate tax, he thought it was a joke. He soon found it really was Bill Gates -- Senior. And that jaw-dropping name, combined with the 78-year-old Gates' willingness to work the advocacy circuit at a breakneck pace, has of late given a lot more visibility to Responsible Wealth and momentum to its campaign on the estate tax. (In 2001, Congress passed an odd bill that reduces the tax to zero by 2010 but reinstates it the following year in its original form, making its future still very much an open question. Last month as the nation prepared for war, senators slipped an amendment into the yet-to-be-approved federal budget that would accelerate the temporary repeal by one year, which would make it effective in 2009.)

First, Gates brought some of his power-player friends to the table, like Paul Newman and Warren Buffet, to speak out in favor of the estate tax. Then he co-authored a book with Collins, released a few months ago, called "Wealth and Our Commonwealth: Why America Should Tax Accumulated Fortunes." He downplays his role, saying Collins did most of the work, but his co-author insists Gates is being gracious. They sent drafts back and forth to each other by e-mail, and Gates wrote at least one chapter himself, according to Collins. After the book came out, Gates and Collins hit the road for a book tour of a most unusual sort: Rather than concentrating on bookstores, they spoke everywhere from Rotary Clubs to universities to churches.

What's it Worth to be an American?

If all of this seems like a turn in direction for a man who has followed mostly traditional career and civic paths -- practicing law as a partner at Preston Gates & Ellis, serving as a University of Washington Regent and a national board member of the United Way -- he betrays no hint of it. Asked if he is comfortable in this new circle of activists, he replies flatly: "I'm comfortable being identified with people who agree with me."

The towering, bespectacled Gates is a no-bullshit kind of guy. You can imagine him as the tough law professor played by John Houseman in The Paper Chase. With the manner of someone who doesn't need to be liked, he tersely says what he thinks and smiles when he feels like it, which isn't necessarily that often. "Are you about done? Because I'm about done," he says 45 minutes or so into an interview. The setting is the Eastlake offices of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a place of gorgeous hardwoods and geometric designs that Gates presides over as co-chair, concentrating his efforts on local giving.

But he is warm and downright inspiring at a recent talk for law students. There Gates addresses a fascinating theme of his book on the estate tax, one that takes it from an esoteric subject to one central to the philosophy behind the founding of this country. While the tax in 2001 was an astoundingly steep 55 percent for the portions of estates worth more than $3 million (the new law reduces the top rate to 45 percent by 2009), Gates and Collins argue that it arises out of a very American opposition to European-style aristocracies. If wealth is transferred unobstructed from one generation to the next, it stays in the hands of select families.

Anti-estate-tax champions argue that inherited wealth preserves family businesses as well as family money. They say that to meet the steep tax, calculated according to estates' assets as well as cash, heirs sometimes have to liquidate their parents' businesses.

Gates and his allies, however, are unmoved. They counter that such liquidation is rare and, regardless, there is nothing sacrosanct about family businesses, some of which are worth millions or billions.

Standing before the law-school students, Gates relates that he feels large-scale inherited wealth to be simply undemocratic, though it exists in this country even with the estate tax on the books. "We have done a very good job of creating a society that has political equality," he says. "But we have utterly failed, in my judgment, at creating a society in which we have equal economic opportunity.

"You're not going to get to the point where everybody starts off exactly equal," he continues, "but it seems to me, we should strive for that."

Yet his is essentially a patriotic message. The United States, he believes, has enabled people to become astonishingly rich through huge investments in the public realm through schools, libraries, scientific research, and the like. No doubt because of his son, he pointedly mentions the Internet as one of the government's creations. He calls it "immoral" for the wealthy not to recognize the contributions of society. And comparing such investments in wealth creation to those in a place like Ethiopia, he ends his talk by asking: "The question is, what is it worth to be an American?"

Except perhaps for the explicit patriotism, it's a message similar to what lefty activists have been saying for years. So why does it somehow seem more remarkable, more moving when Gates says it? Is it, one can't help but wonder, because he's such a rich and powerful guy? And if so, isn't that just what he and his political allies are fighting?

Mike Lapham, co-director of Responsible Wealth, doesn't deny it. "Right or wrong, in this country, when wealthy people speak, people tend to listen. We're aware we're taking advantage of that."

They are also grabbing attention by playing off stereotypes about rich people's politics -- stereotypes that some argue are incorrect. While conventional wisdom holds that the rich lust after more and more tax cuts, state Republican Party leader Chris Vance asserts that they are often the folks who are least interested in their tax bill. "People that rich don't need a tax cut," he says. "The people who support tax cuts are those living paycheck to paycheck."

Paul Gigot, The Wall Street Journal's editorial page editor, echoed the sentiment in a column a couple of years ago where he mocked what he called the "plutocrat cavalry" riding in on "private Gulfstream jets" to defend the estate tax.

Indeed, claims Vance, "The superwealthy are almost culturally inclined to be liberals." Removed from the concerns of day-to-day survival, they focus on "abstract" issues, like the environment, that liberals champion, according to Vance. The movement leftward by the rich, he believes, is the "biggest change in American politics that no one has noticed."

Back at the Westin Hotel banquet, Gates draws attention to his wealth and deflects from it at the same time by riffing off a quote from J. Paul Getty. The oil billionaire is said to have once supplied three ways to become fabulously rich: One, get up early; two, work hard all day; three, find oil. "Try this," Gates tells the crowd: "One, get up early; two, work hard all day; three, have a stupendously successful son."

Geeks for Good

There's a similar point that Andy Himes is trying to make when he says he doesn't feel responsible for becoming a millionaire. "There are lots of people smarter than me or better looking than me, but they don't have money," says the former Web team manager for Microsoft.

His story is at once familiar and unique. Like many of today's unexpected millionaires, he essentially won the lottery by virtue of where he happened to work. But he comes from a background that most of his ilk don't share. He grew up in the backwoods of Tennessee, the scion of a fire-breathing, evangelical, and deeply conservative family. His grandfather was John R. Rice, one of the founders of modern Christian fundamentalism who started the newspaper Sword of the Lord. At his funeral, the Rev. Jerry Falwell gave the featured address.

"My granddaddy had six daughters," says Himes. "They all grew up and married six preachers. Most of their children became preachers." Himes diverged.

Now a youthful-looking 52, Himes is of the generation that directly confronted the Vietnam War. He turned against it, and when he went off to the University of Wisconsin, became so influenced by left-wing circles that he dropped out to go back to the South as a full-time activist. In Alabama, he worked for the Selma Project, an organization that provided assistance to civil rights groups.

Eventually he moved to Seattle and got into the field of technical writing and editing. But he still was far from rich. In 1992, when he had $500 in the bank and a kid looking toward college, he decided to accept a job at Microsoft, a place he previously thought of as "a big nasty company." He left six years later. "It was the first time in my life I felt I had any resources," he says.

Harking back to his activist past, he wanted to use his newfound wealth for social change. He began by writing checks to organizations he admired, like the homeless advocacy organization Real Change. Soon, he turned toward a more systematic approach by starting a nonprofit called Project Alchemy, which provides highly discounted technological assistance to grassroots groups. Besides Real Change, some of his clients have included the immigrant-rights group Hate Free Zone, the North Idaho AIDS Coalition, and the Spanish-language Radio Cadena in Eastern Washington.

You could say he belongs to a phalanx of folks who sometimes call themselves "geeks for good," rich techies who now ply their trade for altruistic reasons, though he shies away from the term. It sounds too narrow to him. Yet, indicative of the way new philanthropists think about what they do, he looks to his former job at Microsoft as a model for his new pursuit.

"At Microsoft, my job was to make huge things happen with small resources," he says. Though it sounds strange to talk about small resources at one of the world's richest companies, Himes says such was the case in his role of helping to start the Microsoft Developer Network, an international bevy of people who build products using Microsoft platforms like Windows. There were maybe 50 people on his Microsoft team, Himes says. "And yet our job was to make millions of people successful." Part of his team's big-bang-for-the-buck solution was to create Microsoft's first Web site to communicate with developers.

For how to translate this lesson into philanthropy, Himes looks to his former boss at Microsoft. "I would argue that Bill Gates' philosophy as a philanthropist is very similar to his philosophy as a capitalist. He's spending a little bit of money to focus the world's attention on key systemic problems." The $25.6 billion Gates has pumped into his foundation isn't exactly a little bit of money, but Himes says it is a drop in the bucket relative to the global health problems that are its central mission. "He's not just giving money to help sick people get well. He's giving money to wipe out disease." Himes argues it's the kind of transformative philanthropy that Andrew Carnegie practiced when he helped build libraries across America.

Helping the 'Bedroom' NonProfits

In much the same way, Paul Brainerd, whom you might call one of the founding fathers of New Philanthropy, talks about striving for the "biggest impact" with the money he gives away. That's why, says the 55-year-old, he largely avoided traditional boards and mainstream organizations after making about $120 million by merging his desktop publishing company, Aldus, with Adobe Systems in 1995. The symphony, the university, even the Sierra Club -- they were doing just fine without him, he felt. "The small groups, often with two or three people working out of a bedroom, those were the ones that always appealed to me," he says. He gives grants to such groups through the Brainerd Foundation, which he founded in 1995 to focus on environmental causes.

Even more interesting is an organization he helped launch to draw his techno-rich peers into philanthropy. "It seemed to me there was a vacuum of leadership," Brainerd says. Social Venture Partners's novel approach is to give not only money but time and expertise. Its 265 members, who donate at least $5,500 apiece, do for schools and nonprofits what they have always done in the business world, things like financial management, marketing, strategic planning, and, of course, technology assessment.

The idea has had tremendous appeal. Since it started in 1997, Social Venture Partners has spawned 20 copycat groups throughout the U.S. and a handful of others internationally. And yet, as executive director Paul Shoemaker acknowledges, the approach runs the risk of hubris, premised as it is on the assumption that wealthy folks have crucial contributions to make beyond their money. Indeed, Shoemaker says that not that long ago, some people with "big mouths" damaged the reputation of groups like his by "going around talking about how they were going to save the nonprofit world."

"Not every group has a place for guys who used to work at Microsoft," allows Alan Rabinowitz, a longtime philanthropist and retired economist who is one of the nontechie members of SVP.

Some organizations, however, welcome such help eagerly. Greg Tuke, strategic advisor and former executive director of Powerful Schools, says that he has hosted two dozen SVP volunteers over the last five years. "Almost to a person, they have come with the philosophy of, 'Yes, I have some skills, but I want to learn from the organization, too.'" He has used them to tutor kids as well as to look at the big picture of how the organization works.

Worthy work, it would seem. So, for that matter, is the work done by Himes, who is also an SVP member but reserves the bulk of his hands-on activities for his nonprofit Project Alchemy. Tim Harris of Real Change says that before Himes came along, the homeless advocacy organization didn't have networked computers or even networked phones.

Thinking about the details of what these philanthropists do, though, you might question whether it is as revolutionary as they sometimes make it out to be. Writing in Philanthropy magazine, author Martin Morse Wooster calls the roster of schools, tutoring programs, and early education organizations supported by Social Venture Partners "strikingly conventional causes." The Seattle Displacement Coalition's John Fox adds that he wishes that groups like SVP nurtured more radical organizations like his, ones that in his words are fighting for "structural change."

That, of course, is precisely the goal of Himes and his Project Alchemy, which does fund edgier groups. But does his work for Real Change, for example, truly qualify as transformative? Or has SVP's effort at Powerful Schools produced dramatic new directions or results? One would have to say no, not yet. SVP's Shoemaker concedes as much about his organization generally when he says that its work to date has largely been "good, not great," which is the conclusion of a just-completed internal assessment. Shoemaker is now hoping to take the organization to the next level, in part by looking harder at what its beneficiaries truly need.

The benefactors, though, seem satisfied with what they're getting from it. The payoffs for this generation of philanthropists are different. Uninterested in advertising their wealth, the new philanthropists are less interested in getting their names on buildings than in a kind of self-fulfillment they didn't get by making money.

"What I think is that this is a huge opportunity," says Himes, explaining why his philanthropy is motivated by excitement rather than guilt. "If you give out of a sense of guilt and obligation, then you're relieved when it's over," he says. Now that he thinks of himself as a philanthropist, he doesn't want his giving to come to an end, even if he currently has to give away smaller amounts because of the stock market plunge. "If you think about my ability to contribute -- that's what makes me fully human."

Political do-gooders have a similar perspective. "I realized this had given me an opportunity," echoes Responsible Wealth organizer Lois Canright, talking about the sudden wealth that came to her when she inherited her family's valuable real estate. "I could pay myself to do this important economic justice work and not have to worry about whether people could pay me or not."

As with so much else in life, then, it's actually easier to be good when you're rich. If only every millionaire saw it that way.

Nina Shapiro is a senior editor of Seattle Weekly.

A Crippled Home Front

The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation.
-- George Washington

War was his best moment and his worst. Visions of whistling bullets, airborne body parts, screams of the wounded -- and that was a good day for Joe Hooper. The Medal of Honor winner and most decorated soldier in Vietnam would bolt upward in his Seattle bed, sweating booze from the night before. Those earlier appearances on national TV, the possibility of a Hollywood biopic, hanging out with Bob Hope and several presidents -- that just churned him up more inside. The catlike, strawberry-haired 6-footer and former Washington state football scoring champ at Moses Lake High School had enlisted at age 19 because he admired the military.

Then came Vietnam. Staff Sgt. Joe Hooper, 29, of the 501st Airborne Infantry, killed at least 115 of the enemy -- 24 of them in a six-hour firefight, lobbing grenades into Viet Cong bunkers and wading through withering machine-gun fire to repeatedly rescue wounded American soldiers. Fourteen out of 189 survived. After treatment for his wounds, Hooper broke out of the hospital to return to his unit. Part American Indian, he said he could "smell out" the enemy, and thought he was born to go to Vietnam. His 37 medals were more than those earned by World War II's Audie Murphy and World War I's Alvin York -- names that, unlike Hooper's, still ring familiar today. Like others of his era, he arrived home to accusations of being a baby killer. But that's not what eventually soured him on Vietnam. "At high schools, when I speak, the question kids most often asked me was, 'Would you do it again?'" he told me once. "I would, the reason being I thought my abilities helped save lives. But I would tell my children, if [we] were to do this over, 'Go to Canada. Don't fight a war you can't win.'"

In the end, it was Joe Hooper who needed to be rescued. From the day he left the service in 1974 with a $12,000 retirement check carried around in his shoe, his war was with himself and the bottle. Not all soldiers, including the many who were transported from the killing fields to home just a few days out of combat, had his agonizing psychological problems. Overwhelmingly, the average war veteran makes it through decompression to live a normal life. But Hooper wasn't average, nor was his war. ("Vietnam," says vet and psychologist Jim Goodwin, was uniquely "a private war of survival" by individual soldiers.) Hooper, with two children and a caring wife, was painfully arthritic and 60 percent disabled from his wounds. He sometimes toted around a gun when he boozed. "He drank hard, there's no denying that," Hooper's friend Larry Frank recalled. "But the VA couldn't deal with him drinking and running around, and that's exactly what the VA is there for, people with problems like Joe's." His binges lasted days, and sometimes he was carried out of Seattle bars by military buddies the way he carried the wounded over his shoulders in Vietnam. "When he'd get on a tear," remembered Medal of Honor historian Don Ross of Kitsap County, "Bob Bush [another Medal of Honor winner from Olympia] and I would go after him. It was a constant battle." In between bouts, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) gave him a desk job counseling vets on benefits and then let him go due to "problems adapting to the bureaucratic environment." In 1979, five years out of his army boots, Joe Hooper was dead from a cerebral hemorrhage. He was 40. The VA eventually was reluctantly persuaded to name a wing of its medical center on Beacon Hill after him, and the Army's reserve center in Bothell now bears his name.

His death was said to be from natural causes. And that's what scares everyone to this day.

"He was a casualty of war, and you can expect more of the same after Iraq," says David Willson, a retired Green River Community College librarian, editor of Vietnam War Generation Journal, and a Vietnam vet who worked with Hooper on a collection of war literature. "Look at the history -- this is a country made by war on the backs of vets who have never, ever been treated as promised." Hooper's story is a lesson on that failure, Willson says. "If we can't save our heroes, who can we save?"

More Patients, Less Money

For the country's ex-warriors, many of them aged and ailing -- and thousands of them homeless -- medical and psychological treatment is being rationed at home as meals and bullets sometimes were in battle. Last year, the VA, the second-largest government agency (behind the Defense Department) which operates the nation's largest hospital system, treated 1.4 million more veterans than in 1996, with 20,000 fewer employees. Since 1995, its hospital enrollments have shot up from 2.9 million to more than 4.5 million annually. At least another 600,000 of America's 25 million surviving male and female veterans will enroll this year. Some will have to stand in line, others will be refused, and still others may face new $250 enrollment fees. Though hospital and outpatient care are readily available, outreach programs are being downsized, and a lack of funding will force a quarter-million vets to wait up to 10 months for specialized treatment and surgery. Some clinics and hospitals have shut their doors to new patients, and the VA has just closed enrollment to about 164,000 vets who have no service-connected health complications and rank in the VA's "highest income" bracket (about $35,000 for a vet with no dependents, for example). More than 450,000 disability claims are pending, and vets who are denied face another long wait for appeals decisions.

The future looks even worse: A House Budget Committee is now proposing to cut VA spending by $15 billion over 10 years, starting with $463 million slashed from next year's budget. Legislators claim they're cutting fraud, waste, and abuse. But Joe Fox Sr., head of Paralyzed Veterans of America, who calls the cuts "an in-your-face insult to the veterans of this country," says the reduction will slam the poorest disabled veterans and cut GI Bill benefits for soldiers who are currently serving in Iraq. The plan could also mean the loss of 9,000 VA physicians in a short-handed VA system, he says.

For decades, vets say, they've watched their benefits fade in tandem with the diminishing national consciousness of their earlier sacrifices. "Pressures on the VA health care system," warns Joe Violante, legislative director for the Disabled American Veterans, "have escalated to a critical point that can no longer be ignored by our government." He and others recently told the House Veterans Affairs Committee that the VA is underfunded by almost $2 billion. But, in the midst of a stagnant economy, the proposed Bush tax cut, and the Bush war, where would more money come from? Apparently not from George W. Bush.

A week ago, the president summoned leaders from veterans groups to attend his live-TV speech urging on the troops in Iraq. "People serving in the military are giving their best for this country," Bush said earnestly, "and we have the responsibility to give them our full support. . . . " But while the president's $62.6 billion supplemental funding would provide fuel and supplies for the troops and benefits for the people of Iraq, Bush didn't mention that his agenda includes a $150 million aid cut to schools attended by military dependents, and support for billions in VA reductions.

Is anyone surprised? Slashing the VA budget is almost a presidential ritual. Ronald Reagan, the celluloid warrior, proposed firing 20,000 VA medical personnel and scrapping part of the VA counseling program -- in the midst of a suicidal epidemic among Vietnam vets in the 1980s. Even decorated ex-trooper George Bush pared $600 million from the VA and revoked the lousy $237 once given to families to help bury veterans. (Ironically, one of the vets' best friends was the undrafted Bill Clinton, who increased benefits and pay with the Veterans Programs Enhancement Act of 1998.)

"My father," says Vietnam vet Willson, "a U.S. Marine, came back from Iwo Jima with spots on his lungs from being buried in the volcanic sand there. He never got diddly out of the VA in compensation. They treated him like shit. He was of that generation where you didn't push things much and died in his middle 60s from brain tumors. My great-grandfather was a Civil War vet and spent his postwar years battling to get his $15 pension. I fought with the VA for two years over my son, who was born with spina bifida. I made a claim related to Agent Orange, which they denied -- only open-spine condition is covered, not the type he has. My Uncle Frank, a Spanish-American War veteran, used to say, 'I cudgel my cerebellum trying to figure out how Washington is going to screw the veteran next.'"

Past Wars, Future Patients

With the first wars came the first mystery illnesses -- the "irritable heart" of the Civil War veterans, later found to be a psychological disturbance not unlike shell shock in WWI, battle fatigue in WWII, and post-traumatic stress disorder in Vietnam. With new ways to fight wars came new ways to die from them -- the ever-growing Agent Orange division of medicine. It took 30 years of Vietnam veteran complaints about toxic defoliants ruining their personal and family health and shortening their life spans before the VA accepted the disorders as treatable diseases. More discoveries continue: Only last year did scientists find a new Agent Orange link to a form of leukemia. Desert Storm vets -- about 150,000 returned disabled from the "100-hour war" -- are the latest to try to prove their many illnesses are related to the effects of chemicals, radiation, and biological weapons. But the VA says evidence does not support claims that depleted uranium and sarin gas, among others, are culpable. (Storm vets are, however, twice as likely as the general population to develop ALS -- Lou Gehrig's Disease -- and treatment for that is now covered.)

Other generations of vets are trying to resurrect their own lost causes. In Florida, for example, ex-POW and Medal of Honor winner George Day has taken a class-action benefits lawsuit to the U.S. Supreme Court. The old warhorse calls it "the crusade of my life, and I won't rest until the last round is fired," as he seeks to hold the Navy to its 1914 promise that "during your life, you receive free medicine, medical attendance, and hospital service whenever required." Day contends the Pentagon breached its contract to continue to provide hospital care for military retirees over 65, forcing them to buy Medicare and other supplemental insurance costing thousands of dollars annually -- a prohibitive price for many elderly military or surviving spouses. Retired Army Col. David Hackworth, the columnist and frequent guest on TV's war channels, describes the government's history of handing out veterans' benefits as "shameful double-talk, backpedaling, and welshing." American vets, he says, "from our Civil War to Desert Storm have been consistently treated like orphans." Hackworth, not unlike Joe Hooper, worries most that troops may be politically sacrificed. Hooper's friend Willson says, "Joe would be mighty upset by the politics of this war." Hackworth is. A member of Soldiers for the Truth (www.sftt.org), which includes citizens and congressional members concerned about troop readiness, Hackworth recently told me: "If you're not a member and inclined to volunteer for SFTT duty, please do. We still need a few more good men and women. It's only with numbers that we can make the bastards listen."

Based on his reading of government studies, Hackworth says more than 161,000 Desert Storm vets have been disabled, and almost 10,000 have died from Gulf War-related illness that may have been caused by chemical munitions, oil-fire fumes, untested inoculations, local bugs, or all of the above. Officially, in a January report, the VA said 8,500 direct and indirect combat vets from Desert Storm have since died, but warns in a military voice: "The use of these data to draw conclusions regarding mortality rates will result in inaccurate conclusions." (There were 148 killed in combat and 467 wounded during Desert Storm.) "Now Bush," Hackworth wrote in a recent column, "and his war hawks -- who almost to a man dodged service in the Vietnam War, just like the majority of our members of Congress -- are again sending warriors to employ the military solution in the Gulf at even greater risk, since the Pentagon has just admitted the bio/chem suits our attacking troops will wear are good only for bunker duty."

Clearly, war casualties aren't the making of just our enemies. Like U.S. defoliants in Vietnam, the radioactive residue from U.S. munitions fired at Saddam's tanks are thought to have contributed to cancer and birth defects among Desert Storm vets -- U.S. forces used weapons containing 640,000 pounds of depleted uranium during Desert Storm -- all in violation of the Geneva accords, according to a United Nations report. Ralph Nader and others are seeking congressional hearings on the likelihood that troops in Iraq today are traveling through a "zone of death" contaminated by the 1991 war. Last month, U.S. and U.K. officials were reassuring the world that there was little threat from depleted uranium weapons today, even though more than 10,000 allied bombs and missiles, some tipped with depleted uranium, have rained down since Operation Iraqi Freedom began. Other earlier Born-in-the-U.S.A. miseries are still being uncovered, some of them intentionally inflicted on our own troops. The Institute of Medicine last month opened a study to determine the possible long-term effects of biological and chemical agents secretly sprayed during the Cold War on 5,000 servicemen aboard U.S. ships. Including sarin and VX nerve gas, the sprayings were intended to test the effects of another chemical used to decontaminate the ships. That chemical, too, was hazardous.

Politicians' Memories

Many war vets say their complaints aren't about the working folks at the VA or those who staff their hospitals, as I found out during unauthorized strolls through the Seattle VA medical center a few days back (reporters must have clearance, I was later admonished). "My doctor's great! And the people here are the sweetest," said a woman who gave her name as Emma and said she was in the Army during WWII. Others echoed that sentiment. The VA Puget Sound Health Care System, which includes the updated 1950s Seattle hospital on Beacon Hill, American Lake hospital south of Tacoma, and specialty care services to vets in four states, ranks high in the VA system. But it, too, is under pressure from new vets -- 3,000 more (a total of about 54,000) vets used hospital services here last year than the previous year, and 17,000 new outpatient visits were recorded. "Obviously, we can only work within the parameters of the funding we receive," says Seattle VA hospital spokesperson Ellen Flores. "But we have a staff that truly cares and an administration dedicated to patient care -- the deputy director and chief of staff are veterans themselves." The state has 670,000 vets, and hospital public affairs director Jeri Rowe says care for some of them is evolving almost daily. "We'll have more women vets than ever before, and though fewer WWII vets will be here, we'll have aging Vietnam and Gulf War vets." The regional system is serving more vets with fewer dollars, she says, "but we're among the most cost-efficient in the VA system."

Washington's congressional delegation, whose districts encompass almost a dozen military bases and 60,000 troops (a third of which are in Iraq), has been sensitive to veterans' causes, however political their motives may be. Dovish Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, much maligned by the right for his prewar trip to Iraq, is pushing a bill to study the true effects of depleted uranium. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, criticized by conservatives for voting against the Gulf War II resolution, was subsequently given the American Ex-Prisoners of War's Barbed Wire Award for her campaign to help vets (she's the first woman to sit on the Senate Veteran Affairs Committee, and her father was a wounded WWII vet). Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Spokane, who may be planning a run against Murray, recently began handing out medals to survivors of the WWII invasion of Normandy (the medals are made in France, by the way). The eight other state delegates all say they're fighting for vet rights, too. But why do veterans have to keep reminding us not to forget them?

VA Secretary Anthony J. Principi promises better days, and veterans' groups are pressuring legislators to vote down Republican funding cuts. The VA and Defense Department are now collecting medical data during fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq that could be used to determine causes of future mystery illnesses. Most everyone hopes a nation that supports its troops in battle won't forget them again when the smoke clears.

During my visit to the VA hospital, I went looking for Joe Hooper's plaque, which I had seen unveiled when a wing was named in his honor a dozen years back. "Joe who?" said a man at the information desk. Others were stumped, too. I couldn't recall the plaque's exact location and rode elevators and roamed a mile of hallways unsuccessfully. Last week, public affairs director Rowe told me she had found the plaque in the Addictions Services building, but the area was off-limits to me. She wanted me to know that, if the VA system failed Hooper, it learned from those mistakes. "People back then didn't give much credence to understanding [post-traumatic stress disorder] and addiction as they should have. I think we know a lot more and have moved forward with a greater understanding." In that sense, you can say Joe Hooper, even if forgotten, continues to help rescue his fellow soldiers. He is buried, by the way, in Arlington National Cemetery. Near the Tomb of the Unknowns.

A Port of No Call

"Very nice, this city," says Capt. Marin Ivanovic, surveying the skyline as the freighter he skippers bobs beside the grain terminal at Seattle's Pier 86. "But we can't go there. We suffer too much at sea, and now we suffer at the dock. We want to get off the ship. Instead, we sit here."

Ivanovic speaks for thousands of other foreign seamen who haul America's freight and now find themselves monkeys in the middle of its war on terrorism. Many have been sailing to the States for years or decades, and as long as their records were clean, they had enjoyed relatively easy access to shore, whether to have a beer, see a doctor, go to church, buy presents for the kids, or -- first priority for most of them -- buy a phone card and call home. Now they're caught in a web of tightening security rules and narrowing visa options that may keep America safe from drunken sailors but won't likely keep any terrorists out.

Getting ashore can be a matter of health and safety, not just morale and cabin fever. The issue came to light earlier this month when Lila Smith -- who, as Seattle representative of the London-based International Transport Workers' Federation, monitors conditions for seamen docking here -- visited Capt. Ivanovic's ship, the Greek-owned, Cyprus-registered bulk carrier Miltiadis, which had just made a run from Mexico to Japan and arrived here to pick up a load of China-bound wheat. Smith asked the usual question: Anything I can do to help the crew? Yes, came the answer: Can you get medical attention for these two men? One, the chief engineer, had lost some fillings and had exposed broken teeth. The other, engine oiler Kenneth Serrano, had a painfully swollen jaw, apparently from an abscessed tooth -- an infection that can cause severe complications.

But getting help isn't as easy as it used to be. U.S. immigration rules offer seamen three ways to get ashore; all have gotten more costly or difficult since 9/11, and at least one will soon vanish. The high road is to obtain an individual visa at a U.S. embassy before sailing, just as a tourist or business traveler does. But the price -- $65 following an increase last year -- puts such visas out of reach for many seamen, who work for as little as $300 a month. And the logistics are often impossible, anyway; a tramp steamer like the Miltiadis -- the maritime equivalent of a cruising taxi -- may not get its next assignment until it's at sea. Turnaround time for visas, which varies widely among embassies, has gotten longer as consular officials check security agencies' databases (as ordained by the Patriot Act) and delve more deeply into applicants' records. "In Japan, you need at least six weeks in advance," says Capt. Ivanovic; Blace Nemeth, a ship's agent with Portland's Bluewater Marine, the Miltiadis' on-shore agent, says he's seen a letter from the Tokyo embassy warning visa applicants to wait four to six weeks.

Even if they have time, "third-party nationals" -- say, Filipinos or Yugoslavs trying to get a U.S. visa in Japan -- have an uphill fight. The State Department "encourages" them to apply in their home countries, where, in the words of spokesperson Kelly Shannon, "they are better able to prove ties to home" and prove they're not trying to emigrate. The word from Japan, says Smith, is that the embassy there is only issuing visas to Japanese nationals.

Seafarers have traditionally had another, easier recourse; shipping companies could obtain blanket "crew-list visas" by providing documents on all crew members. These were quick and cheap (about $45 for an entire crew) and especially handy for sailors who came repeatedly to U.S. ports over many years and established good track records. But several years ago, the United States began charging for each crew member. Last year, it raised that charge to $100; a visa for the Miltiadis' 21 crewmen would cost $2,100. Shipping companies, famously tight-fisted, are reluctant to pay such sums; the Miltiadis' operator had not.

Soon the shippers won't have to decide whether to pay. Although it doesn't appear that terrorists or other bad guys have used crew-list visas to get into the country, the State Department last month announced it intended to abolish such visas in the interest of national security. "The idea," say Remy Valenzuela, seaport operations director for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, "is to look at every visa individually, rather than a group." The upshot: Even fewer seafarers will have visas to get off their ships.

Even without visas, however, they could often get ashore legally in the past. Ship's captains could request waivers from the INS if they could show good reason for not having the visas. INS inspectors, who board each ship as soon as it arrives and examine everyone aboard, exercised considerable discretion -- and, contrary to the agency's hard-ass image, often showed considerable sympathy for sailors who needed to see a doctor, call home, or even just buy presents for the family. Some have taken the view that the ship's boundaries extend to the phone booth on the dock, so seamen stuck on ship could call home. As Valenzuela says, "You use common sense."

Maybe, but inspectors now have less discretion to exercise that sense. Only one INS assistant district director can now issue waivers. "It's all on the level now," says Valenzuela. "Certain criteria must be met." Out with common sense, in with rules. Still, Valenzuela declares, "If it's a medical situation, paroles will be granted." On the ships and docks, however, the word is that they'll be granted only in life-threatening emergencies.

Capt. Ivanovic desisted from trying to get his sore-jawed sailors to a dentist. ("It would be difficult," he explains.) Instead, he dispensed antibiotics from the ship's stores, which reduced crewman Serrano's swelling and pain. "We don't make any trouble," says Ivanovic with a shrug, putting the best face on the situation. "We don't complain. These are the rules. What can we do?"

And then they start complaining. Serrano waves wistfully toward the Seattle skyline: "Now this is all we get. This is our happiness." Before, says Ivanovic, Saudi Arabia was the only country where he couldn't disembark. "Even in Russia when it was Cold War, you could go on shore." But the current lukewarm war is a different story. "Don't blame us" for the terror, he says plaintively. "We didn't cause these problems."

Don't blame immigration inspectors, either, argues transport workers rep Smith: "INS is stuck between a rock and a hard place" -- and would get pilloried if the next Mohammed Atta snuck in on a seaman's visa. She lays some blame on shipping companies that, she claims, are glad to exploit the situation and let their crews molder on board; they must cover medical treatment, but if seamen can't get ashore to get treatment . . .

Onshore helpers try to mitigate the isolation. The Catholic Seafarers' Club takes phones aboard, so detained crew members can call home, and dispatches priests and ministers to conduct services. But conditions are getting tougher, "not just in Seattle but all along the coast," says Seafarers' Club worker Carol Waud.

"It's not a good time to be a seaman coming to the United States," laments ship's agent Nemeth. "These guys are just working shmucks. One of the reasons to sail is to see the world, and they're fascinated with the United States. Unfortunately, a lot of them don't get to see beyond the rail of the ship. It's demoralizing."

But international goodwill isn't high on the federal priorities list right now. Keeping terrorists out is, and the stepped-up vigilance and souped-up databases that INS inspectors now bring to their initial examinations should help. But it's hard to see the payoff from detaining whole crews. Valenzuela concedes that it would be impossible to station guards at every dock and gangplank and stop someone determined to sneak ashore. You need a pass code to get into the Seattle grain terminal's electronic gate, but a ship-jumper would merely push a button to exit.

"It's like keeping a thief out of your home," says the Rev. Everett Savage, a Lutheran pastor who conducts ship visits with the Seafarers' Club. "If someone wants to jump ship, there's no need for a shore pass."

Eric Scigliano is a staff writer for Seattle Weekly.

Chainsaw Politics

One thing you gotta say for the Great Satan: He really loves his work.

In his cluttered command post at the Department of Agriculture, overlooking the Capitol Mall in Washington, D.C., Mark Rey -- Old Scratch himself, in the minds of many tree huggers -- is reviewing his first 13 months as steward of America's forests.

He's been incredibly busy.

"Every time there's a change in administrations, you're going to see a change in policy," says Rey, explaining a slew of regulatory actions that have the greens breaking out bells, books, and candles -- and fighting among themselves. "That's what elections, after all, are about."

At 50, this bespectacled former Eagle Scout and Cub Scout den leader is as reviled as any man in the enviros' pantheon of demons since the troubled reign of James Gaius Watt, Ronald Reagan's secretary of the interior.

Not surprisingly, Rey, a consummate inside-the-Beltway player, is among the most respected officials in Republican-dominated Washington.

"Mark is one of the most intelligent, articulate, and experienced people I have ever had a chance to work with," Rey's former boss, Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, has said.

"He is without question . . . the most knowledgeable person I have ever met on the U.S. Forest Service," concurs Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho.

"Mark is the high priest of stump worship. He never met a tree he wouldn't cut," counters Bill Arthur, director of the Sierra Club's Northwest office in Seattle. "The timber executives ponied up a million dollars for Bush's election campaign, and Mark Rey intends to make sure their investment is richly rewarded."

The nation's pre-eminent timber lobbyist in the 1980s and early 1990s, Rey received the grudging admiration of his opponents -- the kind of deference accorded a worthy, if wily, adversary. As a Senate Republican staffer and putative author of the infamous Salvage Logging Rider of 1995, which rekindled the Northwest's bitter timber wars, he became despised.

Now, as U.S. undersecretary of agriculture for natural resources and environment, responsible for 45,000 government employees and 191 million acres of public forests and grasslands, Rey is truly feared. So feared, in fact, that some Northwest environmentalists, as we'll see later, have been cutting their losses by trying to cut a deal with the devil. By agreeing to support thinning of younger trees, they hope to preserve the little remaining old growth -- the ancient forests the Northwest is famous for. Not everyone in the green community thinks the swap is a good idea, and the debate has become acrimonious.

ARMISTICE OVER

From a green perspective, the terror over the rule of Rey is not without foundation. On Inauguration Day 2001, the administration of President George W. Bush embarked on a methodical, far-reaching agenda of policy changes and out-of-court settlements, attempting to roll back or rewrite conservation measures dating to the Nixon administration.

"Clearly this administration has a pro-business, anti-environment point of view, from the chief executive on down. And they set the tone. It's unfortunate," says Mike Dombeck, U.S. Forest Service chief under President Bill Clinton.

"Every acre of old-growth forest we lose is one that we're not going to see again for several generations. The question is, is this worth it over the long haul, when we look at forests not in election cycles but in decades and even centuries? I just think we're stepping back to the 1970s."

In fairness to Rey, much of this "anti- environment" stuff started months before he joined Team Bush, and much is officially outside his portfolio. But even more than his colleagues, Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton and Attorney General John Ashcroft, Rey has become a lightning rod for green disdain.

On their short list of great wrongs, conservationists say the administration:

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The New Faces of AIDS

Jeff Henderson remembers the day he finally went to get tested for acquired immune deficiency syndrome. He was living in Washington, D.C., in the mid-1980s and was experiencing classic symptoms of AIDS: swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, and acute body aches. As it happened, Henderson, then a young man working for a federally funded housing program, lived near a well-known provider of AIDS services called the Whitman-Walker Clinic. But Henderson had a hard time getting himself through the door. He walked around and around the block, nervous -- not only about the results.

Henderson is African American. So, largely, was the neighborhood around the clinic, the neighborhood where he lived. Yet the clinic's clientele was mostly white, gay men. Henderson worried: If his neighbors saw him walking in, what would they think?

He eventually did get tested and found out he was infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS. But it has taken him a long time to get where he is today, sitting in his Seattle living room -- cluttered comfortably with potted plants, African fabrics, and books by African Americans such as Bell Hooks -- talking openly about his disease.

Henderson's longtime reluctance to talk about his illness is shared by many in the African-American community, where AIDS often is thought of both as a white, gay disease and as God's punishment. Consequently, many have failed to notice a remarkable demographic shift in the AIDS epidemic: If it once made sense in this country to talk about AIDS as a white, gay disease, it does no longer. Today, if anything, AIDS is turning into a black disease.

Since 1996, African Americans have accounted for a greater share of new AIDS cases nationwide than any other racial group. In 2000, the latest year for which data are available from the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC), African Americans represented 49 percent of reported cases, although they make up only 12 percent of the population. Whites accounted for just 30 percent of cases.

African Americans account for an even greater proportion -- a majority -- of new HIV diagnoses: an estimated 54 percent, according to the CDC.

Neither black nor white communities generally recognize the new demographics, says Phill Wilson, executive director of the African American AIDS Policy and Training Institute in Los Angeles. "Every time I tell people that, they're absolutely shocked," he says.

Locally, the number of African Americans with AIDS is not as high, given that less than 4 percent of the state's population is black. Even so, African Americans account for 17 percent of both AIDS and HIV cases reported in the state between 1998 and the present, a figure representing more than four times their share of the population.

The numbers come as no surprise to public-health professionals. Dr. Helene Gayle is a former head of the CDC's AIDS program who now directs AIDS-related giving at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: "The first time we wrote about it in a report was 1985. Even at that time, there was a disproportionate impact -- 25 percent of AIDS cases were among African Americans."

The epidemic was simply going where epidemics usually go, she explains: into "communities of the disenfranchised" -- those with poor access to health care, high rates of drug use, and other social burdens that fuel disease.

Yet at the highest political levels, there sometimes have been reasons for turning a blind eye to this phenomenon. Al Jonsen, a retired chair of the University of Washington's department of medical history and ethics, headed a National Academy of Sciences committee that in 1993 produced a report predicting the rise of AIDS in communities of color. In an e-mail, Jonsen remembers that the report "was severely criticized by Dr. David Rogers," then vice chair of the National Commission on AIDS, "who feared that our message would jeopardize the current political approach to getting AIDS funding, namely that the epidemic was a threat to all citizens equally."

At a Seattle conference recently, Jonsen elaborates that Rogers felt "he was only able to get funding from Congress if congressmen from Iowa or wherever felt that the kids from his district were going to get AIDS." In other words, AIDS couldn't be seen as too black, just as it couldn't be depicted as exclusively gay. Jonsen says that the report was denied any impact on social policy, and "of course, what we predicted ended up happening."

Even with the numbers as bad as they are now in the African-American community, though, those concerned with the issue are still fighting for attention. "It's just not a major issue in our community," says Kiande Jikada, an outreach worker at the People of Color Against AIDS Network (POCAAN), which is the major organization in town catering to African Americans with the disease.

Quinten Welch, executive director of another AIDS organization, the Seattle Treatment Education Project, agrees, even as he plans an African-American summit next month, the second put on by his organization. "You know, there are a lot of issues in the African-American community," he explains. It's hard to add one to the already crowded agenda, particularly one that might make some people say, in the words of Welch, "This is yet another thing that is linked to your community."

Yet linked to the community it is, and African Americans had better come to terms with it, warns Doug Austin, a local black AIDS activist who has the disease himself. "We're in a state of emergency."

The link between epidemics and demographics is a tricky matter, and not just politically. Bringing something like AIDS into the spotlight can prompt those at risk to take precautions, but it can also dissuade others from doing so. One reason AIDS has gotten as far as it has in the African-American community, health workers say, is because of the previous labeling of AIDS as a white, gay disease. Many African Americans have thought they didn't need to pay attention to prevention, even when their risks of infection were high.

If anyone should have been practicing safe sex, for example, it should have been Jeff Henderson. Now 44, Henderson is a well-kempt, well-spoken man who radiates the kind of eagerness for human warmth often shared by those who have been on the verge of death. Five years ago, he underwent chemotherapy for AIDS-related cancer and was in a wheelchair. Anti-retroviral drugs have now filled out his body and given him enough vigor to get around the city by bicycle.

But in the mid-1980s, back in Washington, D.C., Henderson was a high-living young man. Bisexual and on a quest to "bring together the perfect man and the perfect woman" in a three-way relationship, Henderson was living with a woman and openly having affairs with men. On top of that, Henderson was taking speed intravenously as part of a hardworking, hard-partying crowd of D.C. do-gooders.

It was a double whammy of risk: having sex with men and I.V. drug use. But Henderson continued to have unprotected sex, never considering that he might infect his girlfriend as well as himself. "Our understanding back then was that it was kind of a gay thing," he says of AIDS. And even if he were to become infected by having sex with men, he didn't think he could pass the virus through heterosexual contact. "We didn't think it was a problem," he says.

It wasn't until his girlfriend got pregnant that they realized that not only they, but their unborn child, were at risk. Their baby was not infected, but both Henderson and his girlfriend were.

It might have been looking at AIDS as a "gay thing," rather than a white thing, that helped trip up Henderson. But among many African Americans, gay is perceived to have a color, and it's white. Henderson recalls getting a hate call during Gay Pride Week a few months ago, when he advertised an event for black gays in The Facts, one of Seattle's African-American newspapers. "You need to take that gay shit and keep it in the white community where it belongs," the caller hissed. Hinted at in the caller's venom was a notion that being black and gay is a kind of assimilation, even selling out.

In large part, too, the stigma of homosexuality derives from the traditional religiousness of the African-American community. One time a few years ago, Henderson was visiting his mother's church in Tacoma when the pastor called him into his office and gave him what he calls the "Adam and Steve" speech: "God didn't create Adam and Steve, he created Adam and Eve."

POCAAN's Jikada says homosexuality is also seen as "a last break in masculinity" for black men, after centuries of being torn down. So, Jikada and others say, many African Americans who have sex with other men don't identify as gay or bisexual (the classic case being men in jail), either to themselves or to the world. Many have wives or girlfriends. Such men are said to be "on the down low," and it is an existence that has implications for the spread of AIDS. The term is used as the name of a newsletter targeting African Americans put out by the Lifelong AIDS Alliance. Men who see AIDS as a gay disease and don't consider themselves gay have tended not to take precautions.

Even those who know they're at risk, if they're in the closet, might not use condoms with their wives or girlfriends because of the questions it would raise. That's how homosexual transmission often leads to heterosexual transmission among African Americans. AIDS activist Austin says that's how unsuspecting black women end up with the disease, "because somebody lied to them," and so they might have an advanced form of the disease when they find out. "The woman has no ordinary reason to feel like she should be tested, so she doesn't until her health is really in jeopardy."

It would be a mistake, however, to assume that gay sex (with its tangential effect on the straight population) is the driving force behind AIDS among African Americans, as it is among whites. About a quarter of blacks with AIDS nationally were infected through homosexual contact. The biggest means of transmission, accounting for 36 percent of cases among blacks, is intravenous drug use. Austin himself is an example. "I always say I had four careers," the bald 51-year-old recounted one day in his South Seattle apartment. Looking drained by his illness but roused by the subject to sharp observations, Austin says, "First, I spent 10 years as a firefighter and paramedic in Bellevue," a pioneer -- only the second black person to graduate from the University of Washington's paramedic training in 1978. "For the next 10 years, I was the program coordinator for all the emergency medical services at the county." It was an excellent job with a lot of responsibilities. But it was also stressful.

Meanwhile, his personal life was turning more stressful as well. His brother and sister were having problems, so he took in their four children, though he already had four of his own. Then his wife had a stroke. She survived, but had to re-learn everything. When his mother died a few years later, he went over the edge and into his third career -- as a drug addict.

"It didn't start out sharing needles," he says. "But when you get to the point where you have an addiction, you don't care whether the needles are dirty or not. You just want the drugs." Of course, he should have known better. "I was a medic, my god," he says plaintively, the bitter irony seeming to strike him anew. "I had helped put together the HIV training program for the state." That program trained paramedics in precautions for handling patients with AIDS.

Two years into shooting up, he found out he had AIDS and lost everything, including his family. He did, however, find a fourth career -- as an AIDS activist. He joined King County's HIV/AIDS Planning Council and became a peer supporter at POCAAN.

"I don't know how much time I have left," Austin says. His body is wracked by an AIDS-related case of hepatitis C. "I want to do as much as I possibly can to see the rates of infection start dropping."

Austin was lucky in one way: He didn't pass the virus on to his former wife of 22 years. Other drug users do, further fueling heterosexual transmission among African Americans.

That might be how Madeline Brooks-Wyatt ended up with AIDS. An extroverted 44-year-old with a cascade of red extensions piled atop her head and a warm, deep voice, Brooks-Wyatt had taken her ex-husband back after a period of separation when she found out she was infected.

Brooks-Wyatt heard that during their separation, while she was living out of state, her now-deceased ex had "gone wild for his drugs," wild with the women, too, for that matter. Deciding to give him another chance anyway, she soon observed him undergo a mysterious transformation. "He was cold all the time and had night sweats. And he was in a lot of pain; he was like, 'Don't touch me, leave me alone.' He would just close himself up in his room" -- sometimes for weeks at a time. "And he had this body odor that turned my stomach."

She pleaded with him to go to the doctor. He refused. Eventually, she went to the doctor, because she was noticing some strange symptoms in herself, including the swelling of lymph nodes on the side of her neck. "To me, I looked like Frankenstein's wife." The doctor gave her every test in the book before she reluctantly asked Brooks-Wyatt to take an HIV test.

When Brooks-Wyatt told her man the results, she says, he accused her of infecting him. It's not an uncommon pattern, AIDS workers say, but it infuriated Brooks-Wyatt. She says she was spending all her time at church, where she served as choir director. "I didn't have no time to mess around."

As sick as he was, why didn't her former husband go to the doctor himself? It could be he didn't want to hear the bad news. But another factor could also have come into play: the wariness with which many African Americans greet the medical profession. There's the financial element, certainly. Because proportionately fewer African Americans are insured, doctor visits can be prohibitively expensive, as would be prescription drugs.

Steve Wakefield, a longtime advocate for African Americans with AIDS, has written about another barrier that sometimes keeps blacks from getting tested and from continuing with treatment once they are. Traditionally, most AIDS services have been oriented toward white, gay men. "And that's probably the hardest part of beginning to deal with HIV as a person of color: being forced to move in a new world on account of your HIV status," Wakefield writes in a publication called "There Is Hope: Learning to Live With HIV."

That's not all, however. Perhaps most damaging for the medical profession's reputation in the African-American community are the infamous Tuskegee experiments, in which, for research purposes, scientists watched poor blacks die from syphilis, even though an effective penicillin treatment had been developed.

That's a legacy Wakefield confronts constantly in his current job as head of community education for the HIV Vaccine Trials Network, the worldwide collaboration of research centers coordinated by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

His office is on a sprawling floor at the Hutch. On the wall is a big map stuck with pins showing the locations of the centers, including Pune in India, Sao Paulo in Brazil, and Soweto in South Africa. Wakefield, a burly African American, shakes his shaved head and laughs when asked if Tuskegee comes up as he talks to African-American communities about the risks and benefits of the trials. "Every time, every city. I've never spoken to a black audience where it didn't come up."

In turn, he says, "When I go to potential research sites in Uganda or Botswana or Malawi, the minute I step down from the podium, someone comes up to ask a question: 'How many black Americans are involved in the trials?' They don't want to do experiments in their country if we're not willing to do it on black Americans."

Researchers, in fact, are very willing to do it on black Americans. You might even say they're desperate to, for one simple reason: As Wakefield explains, the trials need to reflect the epidemic. Because so many African Americans are infected, scientists need to make sure that any vaccine developed will work just as effectively on them as on anybody else. For instance, Wakefield says, "African Americans have a propensity for sickle-cell anemia." Could that possibly be a factor in how a vaccine will affect their immune system?

You need to appreciate, however, just how tough Wakefield's job is. Not only is there the Tuskegee legacy, but these particular clinical trials are different than most. Most trials ask people who are already sick to come in. But these, as vaccine trials, are about prevention. Scientists ask participants who are perfectly fine to have something shot into them repeatedly.

No, subjects aren't then infected with HIV to see if the vaccine works, to answer a question frequently asked of Wakefield. In early trials, scientists just want to gauge the safety of the vaccines and their effect on the immune system. Later, researchers will look for high-risk subjects, like I.V. drug users, who are likely to be exposed to the virus themselves. Still, that's quite a hard sell for anyone, not just blacks. It's even harder because of the way vaccines work: The substances tested trick the immune system into thinking the body has the virus, thus creating antibodies. Unfortunately, it also tricks the conventional AIDS test, which measures such antibodies to detect the virus, generating a result that could be frightening.

The participation rate among African Americans isn't bad, considering. Twelve percent of the subjects in the network's largest trial are African Americans, proportional to their representation in the population. Still, when you consider that the majority of new infections are among African Americans, Wakefield says, "we haven't done the job we need to do yet."

Locally, where just 3 percent of vaccine participants since 1988 have been African Americans, researchers are starting to recruit blacks more aggressively. In May, the University of Washington's research center for the first time placed an ad in "The Facts" seeking participants. For maximum impact, though, says Dennis Torres, the local center's community educator, "it's really about getting into the churches."

Again and again, AIDS professionals and activists stress the importance of mobilizing churches, the traditional center of black life, in the fight against AIDS. But persuading black churches hasn't proved easy, in large part because AIDS has long been linked with the taboo of homosexuality. In January, Brooks-Wyatt took a job at POCAAN as a church liaison. Seeking to involve churches in educational work, she sent a letter explaining her mission, inviting pastors to contact her. She heard nothing. Then she phoned pastors and left messages. Not one called her back.

Frustrated, she has a new plan: "I won't be calling anymore. I'll be showing up."

The Multifaith AIDS Project, known as MAPS, has had a similar experience trying to recruit care teams in black churches. Each team acts as a support system for one person with AIDS, doing such things as driving that person to doctor's visits, running errands, and celebrating birthdays. Of the organization's 40 care teams, only two are in African-American churches. "I don't know the best way to get past it, I just don't know," says MAPS program director Trudy James.

Still, there are those teams at two black churches, First African Methodist Episcopal Church and Mount Zion Baptist Church, although they haven't been supported as well as one might hope. Charlotte Ruff, a founding member of First AME's team, says members of the congregation seem glad it's there but aren't necessarily volunteering to help. "I wouldn't say it's in the forefront of activities," Ruff says, adding that she'd like to see the church have more teams. "There's such a big need in the African-American community, and each team can only take care of one person or family."

Similarly, Kenny Joe McMullen bemoans the fact that the care team he heads at Mount Zion has only four members. Parishioners look to their pastor for priorities, McMullen says. "If the pastor does not legitimize or make something an urgent matter, if it's not something he's pushing, parishioners will not rally behind it." And that's what McMullen says has happened at Mount Zion, whose high-profile pastor, the Rev. Dr. Leslie D. Braxton, has put his energies into more conventional civil-rights issues, helping, for instance, to shut down part of Interstate 5 last spring after the fatal police shooting of a black man.

McMullen notes that Braxton has shown more interest in the matter after a trip this summer to South Africa, where, like all of sub-Saharan Africa, the impact of AIDS on blacks is impossible to ignore. At the pulpit on a recent Sunday, he spoke about the need to establish AIDS ministries. (Braxton didn't return phone calls seeking comment.) And, in fact, Carolyn Dukes, the head of Mount Zion's health ministries, is trying to put together a new support group for people with AIDS, which she hopes will be headed by a deacon.

There are other signs that AIDS awareness is growing in the black community. "When you think of HIV and AIDS, I'm not sure people will think, 'That's the Urban League,'" says the organization's Seattle president, James Kelly. Like Braxton, the Urban League has been preoccupied with classic civil-rights concerns. With the civil-rights battle not what it once was, however, and the Urban League looking for relevancy in the 21st century, Kelly says he is watching for ways to get involved in the AIDS fight. "We have to put energy into creating an [AIDS] agenda, just like we put energy into getting the right to vote," he says.

For the Urban League, Kelly says, the trick is finding a unique contribution to make amidst all the other groups working on AIDS, while not eclipsing the organization's "bread and butter" issues. One approach might be concentrating on the lack of access to health care faced by many African Americans.

AIDS groups are stepping up their services to African Americans, too. There's the African-American summit planned for next month by the Seattle Treatment Education Project. There's also a new program run by an offshoot of POCAAN, called Brother to Brother, that takes advantage of barbershops as a mainstay of African-American life by training black barbers to educate their patrons about AIDS.

Meanwhile, POCAAN has been running, for the past three years, a support group and referral service for African Americans with AIDS called KONNECT II. The group meets on Wednesday nights over dinner. On a recent night, a restaurant has donated Cornish hens, wild rice, fruit salad, and thickly frosted chocolate cake. About a dozen people take their plates and settle in around a conference table at POCAAN's Rainier Valley office, ready to listen to a psychologist speak about how her profession can help people with AIDS.

To look around the table is to be reminded that this is the new face of AIDS, not one we're used to seeing. Attending are a former drug user, a bisexual man, and a woman who believes she became infected through her husband, along with Austin, Henderson, and Brooks-Wyatt. Here also are two women with their children.

One of the mothers is making funny faces at her small baby, who is wrapped in a blanket lying in front of her on the table. As the participants go around the table introducing themselves, she informs the group that her little girl is, thankfully, HIV-negative.

As for herself, she says that she just got the results of a blood test that measures the strength of the body's immune system by the number of white CD4 cells. "I'm sorry to say," she says, pausing dramatically before throwing her hands up in the air jubilantly, "my CD4 count is 900." It's a high number, well within the normal range for an adult.

She declares: "I feel like Stella trying to get my groove back."

An Anti-War Movement of One

"Our national myth showed us that we were good, our technology made us strong, and our bureaucracy gave us standard operating procedures. It was not a winning combination."

So judged a wise historian, Loren Baritz, about how we wandered, open-eyed and fuzzy-minded, into Vietnam. Twenty years ago, when I first read his still-undiscovered masterpiece, "Backfire," I cringed. So this is how we do things. This is us. It's going to happen again.

It's happening again. And of late, I've taken to constituting myself as an anti-war movement of one -- a man of impeccable conservative credentials and long experience in the national-security field, a grumpy old Marine, who has grown infuriated with and appalled by both the conservative embrace of disaster and the enormity of the smallness of what passes for the anti-war movement today.

Yes, technology makes us strong, possessed of a military such as the world has never seen. But the myths now come to us less out of our own wishes and experiences than courtesy of an ugly cabal, half-Pentagon, half-media.

The Pentagon half: It's not so much el jefe, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (a good man and an excellent "SECDEF"), as some of the little jefitos running around. You want names? Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and the denizens of the Defense Policy Board, an unpaid in-house think tank headed by Reaganite retread Richard Perle, a.k.a. "The Prince of Darkness," a moniker he earned in the 1980s for his love of confrontation for the sake of confrontation and of all things nuclear.

The media half? Again, not just the Big Guys, the Foxes (I like O'Reilly) and the MSNBCs (Nachman's cool). It's also a couple slick policy rags more notable for their influence than their circulation. The Weekly Standard and its allied P.R. machine, the Project for the New American Century, come to mind -- the Bill Kristols, et al.

Who are these people? Generically, they've been called "American Gaullists," after France's 20th-century all-purpose savior, Charles "France Without Greatness Isn't France" de Gaulle. But greatness without grace isn't greatness. The current D.C. version: America Without Greatness Isn't America. Let's go thump somebody. It'll be quick and easy and cheap and great, great fun and anyway, as a recent New American Century fax addressed to "opinion leaders" assures us, Baghdad won't be like Mogadishu because this time we have "the will to win."

Le Grand Charles, who knew from wars both world and colonial, would have scorned anything so stupid and so glib. These men aren't Gaullists. They're Prussians, a new aristocracy of aggression that combines 19th-century Prussian pigheadedness with a most un-Prussian inability to read a map or a ledger book, and a near total lack of military -- let alone combat -- experience. Ask these people to show you their wounds, and they'll probably wave a Washington Post editorial at you.

As for procedures -- the procedures pertaining to going to war -- the administration's strategy (or lack thereof) can only be described as bizarre. OK, so maybe they're practicing psychological warfare, or even their own brand of taqiya, an Arabic word connoting the right and duty of believers to lie to infidels. (Why not? The Islamic world seems to have adopted a Jewish communications strategy known as kvetching.) But when a president of the United States tells us that -- not to worry -- if he decides to go to war, he'll definitely ask the Congress for "support," and -- again, not to worry -- he'll "explain it" to the American people and we'll "understand," it's enough to make you join the anti-war movement.

What anti-war movement? When you look at what passes for "resistance" nowadays, you cringe in embarrassment that this is what's left of the left. Pompous. Arrogant. Self-righteous. Self-referent. Impotence chic at its finest. Punch up www.notinourname. net and read their "pledge of resistance." Or imagine my feelings -- I almost said, "Feel my pain" -- when I did a local church panel recently. A man in the audience asked if America would die like Rome, Nazi Germany, and the British Empire. One panelist agreed that, yes, America will die. The audience applauded.

And that's why I've come to be an anti-war movement of one, talking to anyone who will listen, not about how evil or how good we are, but about the world as it is and the vortex we're approaching.

On Sept. 10, 2001, the Beltway couldn't decide whether the defense budget should be $310 billion or $312 billion. The Weekly Standard crowd was demanding Rumsfeld's resignation for refusal to spend more money faster. Today, annual defense and homeland-security expenditures have swooshed past $400 billion. At this rate, we will spend more on defense in this decade than we did directly on all of World War II. So where's the world war?

All around us. Today, depending on how you count, there are between 60 and 100 international, transnational, civil, and regional armed conflicts under way. The world is at war. And we're getting ready for combat around the world. Since Sept. 11, we've been building foreign bases in central Asia, the Persian Gulf, and down the east coast of Africa. The Pentagon speaks of being there for "the long haul." We're concluding training and other agreements with dozens of countries and groups (note well: groups), and generally mucking about with a fervor not seen since the 1950s era of "Pactomania."

Alas, then as now and try as we might, we have few reliable or democratic allies. We have maybe half a dozen friends: Britain, Canada, Australia, Israel (sometimes), Turkey (a better friend to us than we've been to them), and, soon enough, Russia. Beyond that, we have relationships and hookups in ever-proliferating quantity and ever more complex and questionable quality.

So what's this new struggle, these hundred conflicts already melding into yet another world war, about? Put simply: Maybe half the countries on this planet -- and many of the poorest and most volatile -- have borders that don't make sense politically, militarily, ethnically, culturally, economically, or ecologically. Before the Soviet collapse, borders were considered sacrosanct, virtually immutable, the sine qua non of national sovereignty. Now sovereignty is breaking down and busting up all over, and borders grow ever more unavailing and unreal. No amount of Western-style "nation building" can hold together nations that never should have been nations in the first place and shouldn't be now. And no amount of American muscle can police a world destined for a century of conflict over resources, religions, identities, and whatever else people care to massacre each other about.

Throughout the Cold War, we failed at Third World nation building, failures we could elide courtesy of local thugs and kleptocrats. During a decade that historians may someday call "The Wasted '90s," we blew it in Haiti, Somalia, and, to some extent, in the Balkans.

We're getting our first hard lesson in Afghanistan, whose continued existence as a collection of feuding tribes and warlords isn't worth the bones of an Arkansas grenadier. If we go into Iraq, if we get our "regime change" and then try to build them a country, the lesson will be harsher still. And as we fail, the chaos -- and our involvement and implication in that chaos -- will spread. It will spread through the Islamic world. It will spread through Africa. And the consequences and the violence will not be confined to those unhappy lands. Not to mention the fact that, from the jihadist point of view -- they who recognize no legitimate borders save those of the Umma, the Islamic world under their brand of Islamic law -- destabilization is exactly the opportunity they want.

So what's Iraq about? In the end, it's not about that nasty man or the nasty things he's collecting. It's about what the policy wonks call "destabilization." It's about taking the next step into a regional and a global chaos that could wreck this planet.

So what do we do when the government's careening toward disaster, the anti-war movement's comatose, and the media keep us on perpetual spin? For starters, we dare to risk unilateral rationality. Which tells us that we've yet to begin to develop an effective strategy for coping with terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, let alone the imminent fracturing of dozens of nations.

Iraq?

Not now.
Philip Gold served as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Marine Corps before joining the faculty of Georgetown University in 1982. Since 1992, he has served as a senior fellow at Seattle's Discovery Institute, specializing in national security. His latest book, Against All Terrors: The People's Next Defense, is available online at www.discovery.org.

Can Forest Thinning Prevent Fires?

It looks something like Sodom and Gomorrah in the Western United States this summer--all that fire, all that ash. First, it was Colorado, then Arizona . . . Now politicians from President Bush on down say it's time that the federal government change its forest management ways, and that's making things very hot indeed.

Timber lobbyists and foresters say thin out some national forests as a means of fireproofing them and preventing more superfires; that means cutting trees -- lots of them.

Although the national debate is nascent, this much is clear: The Bush administration wants the forests thinned. During a stop in east-central Arizona, President Bush said the Forest Service should manage forests "so that they are healthy and viable and not become kindling boxes [sic]."

That may be an easy political imperative to put into action in states like Montana and California, where many of the forests are bombs in search of a spark.

But does the new political mood spell trouble for the relatively damp forests west of the Cascades, where most of the Northwest's remaining old-growth timber lies? Will it hamper efforts to ban old-growth logging altogether?

"We are at a moment of truth," says Norm Johnson, a forestry professor at Oregon State University.

As far as the timber industry is concerned, the truth is, predictably enough, that it's time to log our way out of fire danger.

Tom Parton, president of the American Forest Resource Council, is particularly worried about setting aside old-growth forests.

"We would lose the ability to manage those acres, and they'd be more vulnerable to fires," he says. "If environmentalists are interested in seeing trees preserved into the future, then it's going to take some management of old-growth stands."

Many area environmentalists agree that some thinning would be smart, principally around residences in drier, east-of-the-Cascades forests like those around Leavenworth. West of the Cascades, however, they don't believe that even one tree needs to fall to the saw. The main reason is because major fires are relatively rare on the west side, occurring once every 300 to 500 years in a given area.

Jasmine Minbashian, campaign coordinator for the Northwest Old-Growth Campaign, says that gives environmentalists an overwhelming scientific argument against thinning of old-growth forests.

But environmentalists may not need to lean on science. That's because federal law may take a dramatic and definitive turn toward old-growth protection west of the Cascades. In fact, some Northwest enviros say that they have the juice to pull off an old-growth logging ban before year's end.

"We have the science, the economics, public opinion, and the congressional delegation makeup to get it done right now," says Mitch Friedman, director of the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance.

"It isn't a slam dunk, but we are in the endgame," says Michael Closson, executive director of Biodiversity Northwest.

Although he and other environmentalists sound so confident of victory that their tones are blasé, the move is a tectonic shift. Since the battles of the 1980s, when it comes to protecting old-growth, environmentalists have been forced to rely on tree-sits and court action brought under laws such as the Endangered Species Act. The legislation Friedman is talking about would give environmentalists what they've never had: an outright ban on old-growth logging in the Cascade forests.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, will reportedly introduce the legislation; his office declined comment for this article. But, according to her office, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, will back the measure; aides to Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, did not return a request for comment.

Washington Congressman Jay Inslee's office says he will introduce companion legislation in the House.

Friedman, for one, isn't fazed at the prospect of trying to get a logging ban through Congress when the political zeitgeist may be shifting toward aggressive logging as a means of protecting property in the Western states. But he admits that Wyden's efforts could run into fire being used as a red herring by "congressional or industry obstructionists," as he puts it.

"We are going through a real transformation about how we think of old-growth forests on the west side," says Johnson, the OSU professor. "In the future, you'll need some ecological or human safety reason to consider harvesting trees."

Philip Dawdy is a staff writer at the Seattle Weekly

Perception and Pedophilia

It is hard to see the current sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church clearly. Most people are viewing the scandal through a lens colored by their beliefs about organized religion, celibacy, an all-male priesthood, and the politics of the church.

Wrestling with the issue this week, I came upon the work of Professor Philip Jenkins, who wrote about the mid-1980s "crisis" arising from the conviction of priests for sexual crimes against children in his book Pedophiles and Priests (Oxford University Press, 1996). He argues that many factors, including anti-Catholic prejudice, political interest groups within the church itself, mass media, the internal organization of the church, and the legal environment, resulted in a lack of understanding of the problem of sexual abuse itself and a distortion of how widespread the problem is within the priesthood.

Jenkins is not Catholic and insists he is not a "Catholic apologist." He wrote last month in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "My research of cases over the past 20 years indicates no evidence whatsoever that Catholic or other celibate clergy are any more likely to be involved in misconduct or abuse than clergy of any other denomination--or indeed than nonclergy. However determined news media may be to see this affair as a crisis of celibacy, the charge is just unsupported."

In his book, Jenkins points out that there are a couple of reasons we hear more about abuse within the Catholic Church than in other religions. First, there are a lot of Catholics in the country, some 60 million Americans, almost one-quarter of the population. Secondly, the Catholic Church is organized in a strict hierarchy. Each diocese is required by the Vatican to document all of the complaints against all of its priests and keep the records in a central location. Attorneys can subpoena those records and use them to buttress their clients' claims. "The fact that the church kept such records has probably been the largest single element in inflating the number of Catholic clergy who have come to the attention of the courts," Jenkins says. He goes on to point out that the second largest denomination in the U.S., Baptists--with 30 million members--are organized along strictly congregational lines. Each individual Baptist church organizes itself, so there is no centralized storehouse of accusations of misconduct to subpoena.

The abuse scandal is also inflamed by the very real conflicts within the church, Jenkins argues. Conservative Catholics have used the scandal as an opportunity to push for strictures against gay priests (I find the attempt to link homosexuality and sexual crimes against children highly offensive). Liberal and feminist Catholics have seen the scandal as an opportunity to push for the ordination of women. (There would seem to be a basis for this, because 90 percent of sexual abuse of children is committed by men, according to a survey of research by David Finkelhor, a professor at the University of New Hampshire.) These groups have also used the opportunity to attack celibacy (whatever problems there are with celibacy, I found no academic literature to support a relationship between it and sex crimes). Jenkins believes the media seized upon the resulting political sparks to fan the flames of the crisis.

Jenkins also argues that the best evidence on sexual crimes by priests shows the incidence of misconduct is less than 2 percent. He takes as his source a "bold and thorough self-study" by the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago in the wake of the last "crisis." A commission appointed by Joseph Cardinal Bernardin examined the personnel files of all the priests--some 2,252 individuals--who served in the Chicago dioceses between 1951 and 1991. The commission also reopened every "internal complaint made against these men." Jenkins explains, "The standard of evidence applied was not legal proof that would stand up in a court of law but just the consensus that a particular charge was probably justified. By this low standard, the survey found that about 40 priests, about 1.8 percent of the whole, were probably guilty of misconduct with minors at some point in their careers." Jenkins points out, "Since other organizations dealing with children have not undertaken such comprehensive studies, we have no idea whether the Catholic figure is better or worse than the rate for schoolteachers, residential home counselors, social workers, or scout masters."

George Howland can be emailed at ghowland@seattleweekly.com.

Are Girls Mean?

Best-selling author Rachel Simmons slumps on a couch before giving a talk to a group of girls. "I'm wiped," says the 27-year-old. With her dark hair pulled back in a ponytail and wearing jeans, chunky jewelry and a knee-length black jacket, she looks almost as youthful as the girls she is here to see.

No wonder. The frenzy over so-called mean girls, the subject of Simmons' book, "Odd Girl Out," as well as a spate of other books just out (Rosalind Wiseman's "Queen Bees and Wannabes"; Emily White's "Fast Girls"; Phyllis Chesler's "Women's Inhumanity to Women"), is building. She recently appeared on Oprah -- for the second time. Newsweek just put a mean girls story on the cover. And for the second week in a row, she was listed on the New York Times best seller list. (Last week she climbed to number 6.)

Buoyed by a wave she doesn't entirely understand, Simmons has come to conclude that the interest in her topic is linked to the concern over adolescent bullying provoked by the Columbine high school shootings, whose perpetrators had been ostracized by their peers. While Columbine involved boys, Simmons says, "it was only a matter of time before girls were discussed."

The link may seem tenuous, but it is true that many people, remembering their own tortured adolescence, responded viscerally to the despair and rage felt by the Columbine shooters. Just as many now are responding viscerally to the powerful examples Simmons uses to prove her point that girls engage in aggression that is indirect but at least as damaging as that of boys. A group of girls tormented one poor soul by sending her flowers under the name of a boy she had a crush on, sending him a sexually explicit letter under her name and telling a teacher she was cheating on tests. These examples provide a darkly fascinating portrait of the incredible lengths to which girls will go to humiliate other girls.

Yet there's also a way that Simmons' book and others like it are generating heat by playing into ongoing debates about gender and kids. First came a wave of books in the early to mid '90s, like Carol Gilligan's and Lyn Mikel Brown's "Meeting at the Crossroads" and Peggy Orenstein's "Schoolgirls," that looked at how girls lost confidence during adolescence. The books chronicled how girls started to feel pressure to conform to notions of feminine demureness, how they began to perform less well academically, particularly in subjects of math and science, and how they engaged in destructive behaviors like eating disorders. And they launched a movement to address the problem that sparked a crop of new girls schools around the country.

What about boys?, shouted a subsequent spate of books that seemed to be a reaction to the burgeoning interest in girls. Michael Gurian's "Wonder of Boys" and "Raising Cain" by Daniel Kindlon and others argued that boys' emotional lives were being ignored or misunderstood, and that there was a misguided attempt to turn boys into girls rather than channeling their testosterone in productive ways. While the books didn't necessarily counter the books on girls, they drove home a message: Girls aren't the only ones who have problems, so do boys.

Now comes a new rush of books that fits right into the cultural dialogue created by the previous waves of books. At first hearing, the new books sound like a postscript to the tomes demanding attention for boys: By the way, girls are mean too, not simply virtuous angels deserving of constant concern. At least that's how they could be interpreted and possibly one reason for their appeal.

So it's no surprise that revered feminist scholar Carol Gilligan, who has a new book, "The Birth of Pleasure," worries that a backlash against girls is afoot. Gilligan says she has mixed feelings about the mean girl books. She feels that Simmons' book in particular is an "excellent" attempt to air an undeniable problem. But she is suspicious of the larger uproar Simmons' and other books have created. "At a point when people have started to look at girls and see their strength, suddenly this comes up," Gilligan says.

In fact, though, a closer look at Simmons' message, and at some of her most ardent fans, reveals that an opposite force is also at work. As the author says, "The people who are talking about this are the people who want to help girls. This is an attempt to empower girls."

Simmons bears out her point as she strides into a classroom full of worshipful 6th grade girls, sinks to the floor where they're seated, and begins to draw them out.

"Once I had a friend who dropped me like a fly," says one girl. Another, countering a peer who suggests that boys have it worse because they can end up dead from their kind of fighting, says of girl cruelty: "Maybe you don't die physically, but you can kind of waste away, and to me that's worse than death."

Simmons responds with a heaping dose of positive reinforcement. "Yes, yes, yes, yes! Totally. You guys are so smart and easy to talk to."

She ends the session by stressing a major thesis of her book: "Girls tend to be indirect because in our society they are not given permission to be mad at each other."

Yet while the effort to cast girl aggressors as victims of societal oppression no doubt contributes to its popularity among the female sex, it's a troubling part of the Simmons' phenomenon. Doesn't the impulse to explain away girls' cruelty reinforce rather than challenge the stereotype of sugar and spice that Simmons rails against?

Peggy Orenstein, who laughs at how she's become the "grandmother" of all these books, hasn't read Simmons' book but allows that there is often a perceived subtext to feminist writings that women are morally superior. "I hate that whole morally superior thing. It goes way back, to groups like Mothers Against War."

"That just doesn't get you anywhere," Orenstein continues. "I don't know why we can't accept the idea that everybody, whether oppressed or not, can be nice and everybody can be a big fat jerk."

Orenstein does buy the idea that girls are culturally conditioned to express their meanness in indirect ways. But if they weren't, girls would still be mean, she offers, just in more direct ways like shouting, "I hate you, I hate you, I hate you."

While that's a fair point, it's not exactly the one Rachel Simmons wants to make. She gives the roomful of girls a scenario of an alternative to indirect aggression. Say her roommate Jenny is mad at her for not doing the dishes. "Jenny needs space to say 'I'm upset' and I need to honor that space." Nobody's mean there. Jenny has a valid reason for being upset. All is discussed calmly and productively.

Yet Simmons' book is full of examples of astounding cruelty that have no such rational explanations. Yes, girls can be mean. Why would you expect anything else?

Nina Shapiro writes for the Seattle Weekly, where this article originally appeared.

The Americans of the Middle East

After a long and dreary winter, it is an utterly perfect, sunny spring Thursday. It is April, and I should be out in the garden, or down by the lake, or doing something to soak up the idyllic glory of springtime.

Instead, I am on the phone, talking with a New Yorker (and former co-worker) named Kristen Schurr. Outside my window, kids are playing. Outside Kristen's, it is a war zone, and the children are shot at every day.

It is life in a Palestinian refugee camp. Hers happens to be Al-Azzeh, outside Bethlehem. It's been a bad week.

"The first night I was here, just crossing the alley in front of the apartment, I was shot at," she says matter-of-factly. "They showed me how to duck and run." She's used her new skills regularly in the past few days. "Just today, I went into a little shop inside of camp, we got shot at."

During our conversations last week, Schurr practiced the maneuver, pausing during a sentence as she scurried across some alley; there's a sniper tower in the adjacent Israeli settlement, and the Israeli army has also taken over all of Bethlehem's tallest buildings. At times, as with my other conversations with people in the area, I could hear the gunshots and 18 mm shells over the phone.

Is she brave? Reckless? Stupid? Why on earth would someone choose to go into such a place? Especially now? Is it a martyr complex? An all-time bad vacation story for the grandkids?

Schurr, 33, is working for her doctorate at the New School in Manhattan -- specifically, studying the Middle East. It's the culmination of years of activist interest in the Palestinian tragedy: "The 1987 intifada politicized me in the first place, I started reading about it in high school. That's what I've studied, and now I'm working on my PhD." Why did this, of all the world's issues, stand out to her, even in high school? "I dunno, just the absolute injustice of it, the complete humiliation by the Israelis ... sanctioned and paid for by the U.S., it's just one of the world's great injustices. There's just no two ways about it. It's so cut and dry."

Kristen's mother, Bonnie, lives in Seattle; her daughter's vacation plans surprised her. "I knew that she was a political activist in New York, but I wasn't sure what they did, until I found out she was going to the West Bank." Bonnie Schurr admits that she and her family have mixed feelings due to concerns about Kristen's safety: "I want her to be safe, and then as time goes on [during the last week] and I see that she's so strong, I hear the resolve in her voice, and I admire her greatly ... I'm just absolutely astounded at the courage. They have guns pointed at them, people yelling at them, and they just keep walking, they keep holding up their peace signs. Just about the only thing they have to protect them is their international citizenship ... She's just incredibly strong and brave."

Schurr is in Palestine for two plus weeks as one of a few hundred delegates for the current tour of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). It's the third such tour for the ISM, recently organized by the Center for Rapproachment, a Palestinian NGO based in Bethlehem. Along with other "internationals" from Europe, Asia, and North America, the activists' professed intent was to be foreign, nonviolent witnesses to the occupation -- human cameras, doing the work U.S. media mostly won't, who could show their solidarity with the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian people through their presence, through protests, through house rebuildings and olive tree plantings, and then return home to tell their stories and nurture their new friendships.

This particular delegation knew it was walking into a tense situation. One cannot fly into Palestine; the only airport, in Gaza, has been bombed out by Israel. To get to Bethlehem, and Al-Azzeh, Schurr says, "I had to fly into Israel, and then sneak past a checkpoint." She's talking on the Israeli cell phone she rented at the airport; Palestine doesn't have those, either.

And now, cities like Bethlehem have almost nothing -- their infrastructure and many of their buildings destroyed. Shortly after Schurr's arrival, a Palestinian suicide bomber killed 26 Israelis at Passover, and things got a lot worse. The internationals' desire to agitate for peace became an opportunity to become human shields as war erupted in front of them, a one-sided war on the streets of cities already under military occupation for 35 years.

Schurr does not spend much time worrying about the fears ordinary Israelis have about suicide bombs. "Palestinians are forced to live in unimaginable conditions," Schurr says. "Just to cross the street they have to duck and run, that's life here. There are no schools here, people aren't able to work, we have two or three days' worth of food left inside the camp. Israel has been continually attacking Palestinians and putting them in a humiliating position where they're supposed to beg for the most basic human rights."

"This camp is made of stone buildings with narrow alleyways. There's no room to build out, so they build up, generations of families living on top of one another. The Israeli military comes in sometimes and rounds up men and disappears them. Sometimes some of them come home, sometimes not." Last Saturday, Schurr accompanied home a Bethlehem man who had been playing in his yard with his children; Israeli troops came in, arrested him, and, she says, beat him and denied him his medications while in jail. When he was released, several miles from his home, Schurr went to walk back with him, so that he wouldn't be shot on the way if manatajawol, or curfew, were suddenly declared. It is one of the first Arabic words the internationals learn.

"It's not safe to sleep at night, so we sleep in the early light hours," Schurr explains. "We get shot at in the night, and have to run from one room to another. With the U.S. weapons, they have night vision, they have access to weapons that can ... I don't know how to say it.

"The way the camp is set out is like this maze, and people having to scurry around, scurry scurry scurry, like animal experimentation ... Just passing from the door of the apartment to the stairway, inside the house, we get shot at through the door. All the windows have bags of sand stacked one on top of another inside. This is how they live their life. This is constant."

Schurr was also in an incident last week in which Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers, in their American-made tanks, attacked a group of activists as it tried to deliver food and medical aid; the soldiers then destroyed the aid. (No food or medical supplies were being allowed into the besieged cities and camps.) The bullets fired at the group hit the ground in front of them and ricocheted into the crowd; Schurr is convinced that had the front row been Palestinians, rather than foreigners, the soldiers would not have aimed at the ground.

Jackie Wolf agrees. Wolf, 52, from Lopez Island, Washington, describes herself as "a human rights activist for about 20 years." Unlike Schurr, she was active in a number of issues -- South Africa, Central America, and the like -- in the 1980s, and was then drawn to the Palestinian cause during the first intifada. She traveled to Palestine in 1989, on a two week tour, and wound up staying for seven months. Today, she's back, among the nonviolent activists shot at in a separate incident by the IDF, with eight seriously wounded. Jackie was grazed by a bullet fragment and only slightly injured.

"There's no doubt that the presence of internationals here has made a huge difference,' Wolf says. "It's unbelievable; there's still a lot of brutality going on, but they aren't as willing to be as brutal when we're around, although they did fire on us, when we did the march to Beit Jala ... It was really a walk more than a march; we walked into Beit Jala, which is sort of a small area within Bethlehem, and we walked within about 10 feet of the tanks, which are American -- everything is American -- and they just started rolling at us, and they opened fire.

"They used bullets that are called dumdum bullets, and when they hit, whatever they hit, there are fragments everywhere, and they shot at the cameramen. That's their main tactic is to shoot at the journalists. They shot at the wall next to the cameraman. He got hit with several pretty big fragments. He moved back toward us, a few other people and I went to him to see if he was OK, so they fired at us, I got hit with some fragments ... and then the tanks pushed us back down the road.

"That was our one attempt at a march."

Wolf is, seemingly perversely, glad she's there. "It means so much to the people here to have some of us willing to go through this with them, especially people from America, because America is responsible for so much of this, it's paying for the whole thing. If they have one word to people in the U.S., it's to stop it."

Of her own wound, Wolf says it "hurt like hell." But she's staying put for now.

Some internationals have left -- not expecting to be dropped into the midst of a war zone, not prepared for the terror of it. Some have been expelled, including a large delegation of Americans and other internationals led by Frenchman Jose Bove, best known for taking a bulldozer to a McDonald's and campaigning against genetically modified foods. Other outside activists are now trying to get into the West Bank, with mixed success. Some are long-time advocates for Palestine; some, especially those outside the U.S., are simply responding to the horrors they're seeing on the news; some are seemingly professional left-leaning activists, drawn to whichever crisis and cause is in the news.

While some internationals have left, more have not. San Francisco area college teacher Rich Wood, for example. When I talked with him on Sunday, the ISM delegation was mostly cooling its heels, and he was frustrated: "There's really very little we can do here, that's the problem. People here are scared to go outside the door. The last few days we haven't been able to do anything." He was also here the last time around. "It's extremely different from the last intifada. This is armed. Last time it was mass actions. Now, there are hundreds of armed [Palestinian] fighters in every city, it's a very different feeling."

A Seattle resident, Jake Mundy, has in the past spent a lot of time travelling in North Africa. He also went on the ISM's delegation; it is his first trip to the region, and an abrupt introduction to its realities. Mundy spent much of last week either at the Al-Azzeh camp or the Bethlehem Star Hotel. Along with Kristen and five others, he wrote a statement pointedly declining the U.S. Embassy's offer of evacuation: "The U.S. consulate's offer is an indication to the danger we are in. We hope the United States' commitment to our safety extends to that of the Palestinian people."

As reinforcements join the internationals, their stated purpose, while there, is to witness, to act as human shields, and to tell the world what is happening on the ground, away from the ministerial briefings and White House declarations. "I'm documenting this trip so much," Schurr says, "Just to get reality into peoples' heads. Any time I don't have my recorder going or my camera, there's something I miss. But sometimes if I whip something out of my pocket I'll get shot by an Israeli soldier."

For all of their activities, they are targeted by an Israeli army determined to keep the details of its work quiet; their survival is no assured thing. But their presence, they feel, helps increase the chances of survival for a mostly secular civilian population that largely only wants the violence, and the occupation, to end. But it's also impossible to miss the sense, from all of the activists that I talked with, that both the sense of community and the adrenaline rush of war were also powerful lures.

"I've been befriended by all the little girls in the camp," says Schurr. "They call my name and get me to run around with them. It's kind of amazing that people's life goes on in this way.

"There's so much despair but there's also this laughter that's as prevalent as the despair is. And [there's] this incredible brightness in peoples' eyes. They look at each other when the shelling is over and the eye contact here is amazing, and people start laughing. It's like, what else are you gonna do?"

"It's getting harder to be clear about it the longer I'm here. When I was in New York and Seattle this was a really political situation, but being here now it's becomes very personal. I have a family here now, I have friends here now, I'm called a daughter, a sister. It's harder to face the reality of the situation. People I'm living with, they say this is no life, that their children won't be able to live."

As she says this, I am wondering whether Kristen's "not being clear" any longer, and now taking this "cut and dry" issue personally, has led her to greater insight, or whether it is a symptom of how easy it is to get sucked into the rage that provides seemingly endless fuel for all sides in this conflict.

"She could really have just about anything she wants in life," says Kristen's mother, Bonnie, "and this is what she chooses: to get in there and help people, and change the world for the better."

Near the end of a long conversation, I ask Kristen what she will do when she returns to the United States. She starts into a well-practiced recital of the work that is needed to end U.S. support of the Israeli occupation, but stops:

"I could have answered that question before I left, but now that I'm here ... I don't know. I don't know that I want to come back."

And, softly, on the phone from Bethlehem: "The stars are out tonight."

Outside, in my big American city, it's a warm and sunny day. There's a helicopter overhead. It's a traffic copter. But what if it weren't? What if it were an F-16, or some gunship, hovering over a highway only the occupiers were allowed on, spitting fire or bullets at us? What if it were impossible to step outside without dodging bullets? What if, my health conditions notwithstanding, I could expect to be rounded up, arrested, jailed, and beaten every now and then, just for my age, gender, and race, just so I knew who was boss? What if I couldn't get electricity, or water, or medical care, or food, let alone a job or a future for my children? What if my whole city were in the same situation? For 35 years? And what if the rest of the world was doing nothing about it?

Or what if my country, the size and population of Massachusetts, a country founded in genocide, hated by its neighbors, unique in the world, felt itself under siege, not knowing whether the next trip to a pizza parlor or mall would end in fiery death? And we had the military might to punish all who lived where the attackers did?

Would we be acting any differently from either side?

Geov Parrish writes for numerous publications, including WorkingForChange.com, In These Times, AlterNet.org and the Seattle Weekly, where a version of this article originally appeared.

Hold The Waffles

Get your Hemprella while you can. And your hemp chips, hemp coffee, and hemp waffles, too. After Feb. 6, many of those products will join heroin, cocaine, and ecstasy on the growing list of Schedule I controlled substances -- the group of drugs considered by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to have "a high potential for abuse" and a "lack of accepted safety."

The DEA's decision to effectively ban all products containing detectable amounts of THC, the chemical in pot that gets you high, was announced last October by agency administrator Asa Hutchinson, who declared with apparent horror that "many Americans do not know that ... hemp cannot be produced without producing marijuana." The rule gave retailers four months to get THC-containing hemp products off their shelves. According to DEA spokesperson Rogene Waite in Washington, D.C., "the burden is on retailers" to identify and dispose of THC-containing products come the deadline. Seattle DEA spokesperson Tom O'Brian says, however, that the DEA won't be staging drug raids in the granola aisle. "Is it our responsibility? Yes. Is it our priority? No," he says.

So just how much hemp would a hemp foods "abuser" have to eat to feel even a tiny buzz? According to Eric Steenstra of hemp advocacy group Vote Hemp, you'd have to eat around 440 bags of hemp chips "to feel any effect" at all. "I don't care how good they taste, you just can't eat that much," Steenstra says. Scientific tests solicited by hemp producers consortium Testpledge showed that a person would have to eat more than half a cup of pure hemp oil or nearly a pound of shelled hemp seed a day to produce a positive drug test.

One obvious problem -- how to identify which products contain the chemicals without spending thousands on testing and enforcement -- has been addressed in ways both creative and absurd. At Whole Foods' Seattle store, workers were scrambling to pull the hemp nuts, hemp oil, and hemp bars before the deadline, on the assumption that the DEA would consider all hemp products to be contraband. "We have to stop selling our hemp oil," says Whole Foods nutrition department staffer Jenna Pool. The oil, she adds, "might have like .0000001 percent THC." Whole Foods spokesperson Kate Lowery says the grocery chain expects its suppliers to comply with the directive.

PCC Natural Markets, meanwhile, has taken a different approach. They're assuming that as long as a product says it doesn't contain THC, it doesn't. PCC spokesperson Goldie Caughlin says she thinks the DEA rule borders on absurdity. "It's a very overarching, very strange ruling," Caughlin says. "It's part of this whole administration's way of approaching the war on drugs." As an example of that absurdity, critics of the ruling have pointed to the tortured process by which the DEA determined that personal care products containing hemp -- such as shampoo, lotions, and lip balms -- probably don't cause THC to enter the body and shouldn't be included in the hemp foods ban. "However, if a personal care 'hemp' product is formulated and designed to be used in a way that causes THC to enter the human body, the product is not exempted from control," the ruling says.

IT'S NOT AS IF hemp foods are exactly flying off store shelves. Although organizations like Vote Hemp and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) note that hemp foods are "an almost $5 million industry," a pre-ban visit to the Whole Foods supermarket turned up exactly four hemp products: A $13 bottle of hemp seed oil, a $17 container of a greasy green product called "Hempini hemp butter," some hemp waffles, and a box of hemp granola. The granola and waffles were OK; the "butter," belying its price tag, was bitter and, as one prospective taster who couldn't quite stomach the stuff put it, "gross." PCC's grocery buyer, Stephanie Steiner, says even though the DEA ruling "would not put us in a position where we would turn down or accept items based on it . . . our past experience has been that the hemp items just haven't been moving."

So what's the point of hemp foods, anyway? People who consume hemp products say they provide the fullest possible spectrum of essential fatty acids, the fats that keep your heart healthy, your skin soft, and your hormones balanced. Fish oil and flax oil, two other supplements sold in the same section as hemp oil, don't pack the same nutritious punch, they claim.

Producers of hemp products, a much larger industry that includes body-care products, textiles, bird seed, and rope, worry that the ruling will cripple the entire industry. "We're expecting that they're going to try to shut it off at the [Canadian] border," Vote Hemp's Steenstra says. "If a batch of hemp oil shows up at the border, my guess is that they're not going to distinguish" between oil bound for legal uses and oil meant for human consumption. Echoing that concern, the largest exporter of hemp seed to the U.S., Kenex Ltd. of Canada, announced its intention to sue the U.S. under the North American Free Trade Agreement, seeking at least $20 million in damages stemming from the DEA's decision. Since the ruling, Kenex president Jean Laprise said in a statement, "our U.S. hemp seed and oil sales have virtually ceased. If the DEA is not stopped, we are finished."

Erica Barnett writes for the Seattle Weekly. Contact her at ebarnett@seattleweekly.com.

How Does Pot Work?

Cannabis research "has become a very active field," says pharmacology expert Leslie L. Iversen, who has written a book on the subject. At the University of Washington, for example, anesthesiology professor Dr. Ken Mackie oversees a six-person lab where the biochemical effects of the drug are studied. "There are maybe 50 groups in the country at work on this," he says.

However, before you decide to switch careers, you should know that the actual lab work involves mostly petri dish analysis of minute chemical reactions -- not dudes crashed out on sofas taking firsthand "field notes."

Still, Mackie says, "It's a very attractive field." Unlike most academics laboring in the obscurities of neuroscience, "You can go to parties and tell people what you do, and they're interested," he says. Mackie rarely has trouble locating undergrads to help staff his lab. And he says his clinical patients are always eager to volunteer when they learn his specialty. But, he jokes, "When they find out it involves donating a slice of their brain, they become much less interested."

Nearly 40 years ago, researchers figured out that a compound called THC was the element of cannabis primarily responsible for marijuana's pharmacological effects. THC is most concentrated in the plant's female flowering heads, or buds. But how exactly does THC work? Why does it produce munchies, red-eye, and that unique stoner mind-set known to researchers as "fatuous euphoria"?

Some of these puzzles have begun to be solved. For instance, THC causes a relaxation of the smooth muscles in the arteries, leading to "vasodilatation." This effect is most readily seen in the blood vessels of the eye, which is why workday dope smokers need Visine.

On the other hand, uncontrollable laughter remains largely a mystery. "This effect of the drug is hard to explain," writes Iversen in his book The Science of Marijuana (2000, Oxford University Press), "as we know so little about the brain mechanisms involved." Ordinary laughter is, from the biochemical/neurological point of view, still poorly understood, let alone stoned laughter.

Nonetheless, says Dr. Iversen in an interview, "We know a whole lot more about THC now than we did 10 years ago." The most important discovery was of a special receptor in cells for THC, a kind of ready-made biological slot for exactly what marijuana has to deliver. This finding established that the drug was not just "dissolving in the membranes of brain cells in a nonspecific sort of way," says Iversen. "There's a very specific receptor protein."

The places in the body with THC receptors seem to correspond with the drug's effects, though not always. "One of the key areas in the [brain's] frontal cortex has a high density of [such] receptors," says Iversen, "and that may have something to do with impairment in what brain scientists call 'executive' functions -- short-term memory, learning, the ability to take in information, plan ahead, make complicated future arrangements. That ties in reasonably well with actual experience," he adds dryly.

On the other hand, there are also THC receptors in the white blood cells of our immune system, which do not seem to have anything to do with the experience of intoxication and whose function is "largely obscure," Iversen says.

There are no THC receptors in the brain stem, which controls critical functions like respiration, according to Dr. Mackie. That's partly why you never hear of someone fatally OD'ing on pot. "THC is not wired to be as harmful," Mackie says.

So why does marijuana seem to have such different effects on different users? "THC may not bind as well in some people," says Mackie, "and some people may break it down more quickly than others. That's an area that hasn't been explored much."

As a result of these discoveries, "a lot of interesting things are coming out from which new medical approaches may emerge," says Iversen. One long-standing hope is that the beneficial effects of marijuana can be isolated from the high -- a separation that has so far proved impossible. That might help assuage Republican legislators, as well as make the drug more palatable to some patients. "These are not necessarily nice experiences," notes Iversen. "Inexperienced users can be frightened and anxious."

Dr. Mackie's current research is aimed at understanding how our bodies develop tolerance. He notes that people taking the drug regularly for medicinal purposes often have to smoke increasing amounts for the same benefit, thereby becoming more subject to its intoxicating side effects. "If we understand how tolerance develops, we can develop strategies to get around that," he says.

His research protocol does not involve administering a steadily graduated number of bong hits to journalist volunteers. Instead, he delivers minute quantities of THC to incubated frogs' eggs, then measures the electrical current flowing across the membranes of the cell.

Mackie gets his THC directly from the National Institute of Drug Abuse, which has a program for supplying controlled substances to researchers. The stuff is free, says Mackie, "so that helps the research budget." But it can only be used for basic science in the lab, not in humans. In this country, "all testing of medical benefits is virtually impossible," he says. "It's much easier to do human experimentation in Europe. Most of the really interesting trials are done there."

Scientists do not imagine that the body's THC receptors are simply waiting for their owner to spark up a bowl; the proteins must have some other function. It was recently discovered that the body has its own cannabislike chemicals, analogous to THC, which occur naturally and attach to these same cell receptors.

"What THC is doing is impacting on -- or hijacking, if you like -- a natural system that's there physiologically for some reason that we don't really understand," says Iversen. Opiate drugs like heroin likewise have been found to mimic naturally occurring equivalents. "It's an exactly parallel story," says Iversen. "We start by studying a psychoactive plant-derived drug and discover a whole regulatory system in the brain that we didn't know existed."

The first known of these natural cannabislike compounds is called "anandamide," from the Sanskrit word "ananda," meaning bliss. In animal studies, Iversen says, anandamide "has essentially all of the pharmacological and behavioral actions of THC."

Researchers have shown that anandamide, like THC, seems to prevent the release of certain anxiety-producing chemicals in the brain. In general, Dr. Mackie says, the body's cannabislike compounds -- or "cannabinoids" -- "seem to have a function of keeping brain activity under control when there are a lot of neurons firing." Cannabinoids inhibit the chemical signals between nerve cells, slowing or suppressing certain kinds of transmission.

Other research is looking at ways to subvert this effect. For example, recent studies indicate that blocking the cannabinoid receptors in humans can cause the anti-munchies -- curbing people's appetites and helping them lose weight (a finding that, of course, has the big drug companies salivating). Dr. Mackie says these test subjects show "decreased intake of sugary, fattening foods."

The study perhaps points toward at least one ultimate purpose for the cannabinoid system: to gear us up for pleasurable sensations. As Mackie suggests: "Maybe they serve a role in general hedonic-type responses."

In other words, forget what Momma says; your endogenous cannabinoids want to party.

Mark D. Fefer writes for the Seattle Weekly.

Ditching the Mommy Trap

A light went on while I was sitting at my friend's kitchen table a few years ago. She was pregnant and telling me that she planned to take a four-month maternity leave from her high-tech marketing job, after which her lawyer husband was going to take a six-week paternity leave. I was only thinking about having kids then, but new possibilities started multiplying in my mind. Oh, so you could add a significant paternity leave on top of a maternity leave -- I hadn't thought of that. Later, my friend offered even more inspiration: She and her husband both scaled back to four-day workweeks, cutting day-care time to three days a week.

When our time came, my husband and I came up with our own permutation. Between us, he and I stayed home for the first eight months of our daughter's life -- me for the first six, and my husband for the following two. Then, for the remainder of that year, both of us went on four-day workweeks. My husband, also a journalist, felt he couldn't ask for that schedule indefinitely and eventually went back full time, but I've stayed part time.

And as obvious as it sounds now, here's what surprised me, what contradicted everything I had been led to believe: I love it -- not just working less, not just spending more time with my child, but everything together in combination.

We are surrounded by a barrage of negative information about the choices parents -- in particular mothers -- make between work and home. It's usually presented as an either/or thing -- what can seem to mothers like a Hobson's choice: Either give up your careers or neglect your children. Whatever you do, you're bound to be not only condemned by someone but, in the popular imagination, miserable to boot. Just think of the relentlessly pessimistic story lines that have prevailed in the media: the frazzled mother unsuccessfully trying to juggle work and home, and the "myth" of the superwoman; the purported failure of the women's movement to get men to do their share of child rearing and housework; the "mommy track" that traps even women who do choose to remain at work; the self-esteem problems of stay-at-home moms who are disdained by the working world.

The ideological war between traditionalists and feminists furthers this negativity, with each side casting the gloomiest possible portrait of the other. Strangely, what both sides seems to agree on is that women can't have it all. For traditionalists, the thesis seems natural enough: Women are supposed to stay home, and that should be enough for them. Feminists, though, seem to have fallen into this ironic message due to their habitual critique of a society believed to be sexist. Like the media, a slew of feminist academics, pundits, and authors have urged us to look at the terrible lot of mothers.

Naomi Wolf, for instance, in her new book, Misconceptions, depicts one downtrodden mother after another who married supposedly feminist husbands only to find out, after giving birth, that they were the ones expected to make all the sacrifices in order to raise children. There's a clincher of a scene in which Wolf's brother confesses to what he portrays as the dirty little secret of dads: love their children as they might, they would never, ever compromise their careers because of it.

I'd love for Wolf to meet some of the dads I know -- or, for that matter, some of the moms. All around me, women and men are coming up with creative and untraditional ways of balancing work and family life, whether they be taking long and sequential parental leaves, shortening their workweeks, working at home, or taking turns staying home. Quietly, these families are forging a new lifestyle that expands conventional notions of what is possible.

They're not the norm perhaps, but they're out there. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that last year some 15 percent of employed parents with children under 6 worked part time (mostly women, but also around 3 percent of working men with children that age). According to the bureau's latest statistics, about 30 percent of both men and women with children under 6 have flexible schedules, which could mean working, say, four 10-hour days or varying the time they begin and end work each day.

Granted, a lot still needs to change. As feminist-leaning academics and others keep pointing out, work and society are often appallingly unaccommodating to family life. Many employers remain fixated on rigid schedules. The ostensibly big advance of the Family Leave Act, a mere 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave, is woefully inadequate. The kind of day care that doesn't make your heart sink is mostly unsubsidized, expensive, and hard to find. Yet as Stephanie Coontz, co-chair of the national Council on Contemporary Families, allows, "What's remarkable and encouraging is how much it (the career-family combination) does work."

In a central area craftsman with wood floors and leather furniture, Steven LaRose is spending the afternoon with his 14-month-old daughter, Zaida. While jazz plays in the background, LaRose offers his daughter some post-nap sustenance: first a crumpet, then grapes, then, moving into the kitchen from the living room, a bowl of Cream of Wheat. He's used to the routine.

LaRose has been a stay-at-home dad since Zaida's birth, a role that he says seemed "obvious." He couldn't support a family doing his work as a painter and scenic artist; his wife, a high-tech manager, could.

Though initially he thought he'd be able to paint at night, he found that unrealistic. With only one household income, he had to give up his studio. But he is not resentful. "I got the better end of the deal -- by far," he says. "You don't want to miss this," he says pointing to his blonde toddler playing happily on the living-room floor. "Child development is fascinating. Something about it makes me feel like a researcher."

Nor does his unconventional role make him socially uncomfortable. Among the artsy circle of friends he had before having children, five men have joined him in becoming stay-at-home dads, and he has met three more such dads since.

Yet LaRose and his wife, who also doesn't want to miss out on Zaida's development, have struck a fascinating bargain with each other: He will stay home for a while, and then she will. That may mean moving to a place where he can support his family with his art. His wife, Stacy, says she can't wait to trade places; he's the one who's ambivalent.

In many ways, the arrangement between Colleen and Laird O'Rollins seems ideal: They both work part time and take care of their kids part time. They have two, Cecilia, 3, and Ilsa, 6 months. Colleen teaches earth science at a private school every morning. Laird, an ecologist who works on fishery restoration projects, is currently taking a two-month paternity leave, following Colleen's four months off, and will return to a Monday through Thursday job. At that point, they'll rely on day care -- using both a center and a baby-sitter -- for 20 hours a week.

That they both work did not seem ideal to Colleen at first. With three sisters who stayed home when their children were born, Colleen says she pictured herself doing the same, even though she knew it was financially impossible. Holding red-haired Ilsa while a sleepy Cecilia watches cartoons and an old-fashioned living room stove heats a late-afternoon chill, she recalls going back to work after her oldest was born. "The first day was horrible," she says. "By the third day, it was like, 'Oh, here's something I'm good at, that I get recognition for, and it's stimulating my brain.'"

She's pleased with the arrangement now, and so is Laird. A self-described pessimist who was convinced before having children that "it was going to be the end of the world as I knew it," Laird says as soon as he looked into his first baby's eyes he thought, "Now I get it." He says he can't imagine spending time with his kids only while his wife was around, rather than having time alone with them to bond. Apparently, his friends feel the same way. "Most of the men I know have at least one day off a week," he says.

And what if men don't, or can't, make such accommodations in a working world that still typically gives greater leeway to mothers than fathers? Does that mean that their wives are unhappily stewing over their "sacrifices"? A Portland State University study of 309 dual-earner couples around the country coping with work and family responsibilities found that although women cut their hours and juggled around their schedules more than their husbands, such accommodations gave them high levels of satisfaction. "Traditionally, work/family research focused on conflict," says psychology professor Leslie Hammer, a co-author of the study. "Most recently, it's begun to focus on the positive effects of [combining] work and family."

Sitting in her living room while her 18-month-old son, Owen, frolics with his baby-sitter, Paige Eagle shrugs her shoulders when asked about her husband, a political consultant who sometimes works 70-hour weeks. "He's a busy man," she says matter-of-factly. She admits she feels exasperated sometimes, particularly during what she terms "child-care crashes." But she adds that at least he works flexible hours that allow him to come home when really needed.

For her part, working about half-time from home, she feels lucky -- very lucky. "If I had to choose [between work and Owen], obviously it'd be Owen all the way. But because I've been able to do both, it's been fantastic.

"I would go crazy if I didn't work. I don't think it ever crossed my mind. I mean, I just got my Masters. I feel like I've got work to do -- I don't even necessarily know what it is." Eagle studied songbirds while getting a degree in conservation biology from the University of Michigan. Now she programs Web databases for universities and the federal government, like one that records research on amphibians across North America. It's a problem-solving work that she says makes her feel creative and smart.

Yet she says, "I've never put working above having a child or below having a child. It's just part of the equation. It's what makes me satisfied."

She loves having time to take Owen to a kind of pre-preschool class, where she can watch him make new discoveries. Currently pregnant with her second, she's determined never to work full time while her kids are young. "I'll always be there at 3," she says, meaning when her kids come home from school. "But you know, 9 to 3, that's three-quarters time [working]. That's plenty."

Now pregnant with my second myself, I can't say that I'll always be home at 3, though I'd like to be. Between my husband and myself, there's absolutely no doubt in my mind that I'm the lucky one for being able to work part time.

I was thinking about that a short time ago on a Friday, my day off. My daughter and I were visiting the zoo with a writer friend and her daughter. As we pointed out gorillas and elephants to our mesmerized children, my friend and I discussed everything from world politics to story ideas to toilet-training tips. We then repaired to a little playground tucked into a pocket of the park. I looked at the fall sunshine streaming through the trees and then at my daughter, who had climbed to the top of a little clay mountain and was wearing an expression of pure, unselfconscious joy -- the kind that most of us lose somewhere along the line to adulthood and which is one of the great rediscoveries of parenthood. If this is a sacrifice, I'll make it gladly.

Nina Shapiro writes for the Seattle Weekly, where this article originally appeared.

Fanning the Flames of Terrorism

There's no question that the United States, and the rest of the world, need to take forceful steps -- not just to bring Sept. 11's perpetrators to justice, but to minimize the chances that such a thing, or worse, can ever occur again. But the approach our country is apparently taking is just about guaranteed to be futile at best, and a prescription for World War III at worst.

For starters, "war" -- even "a new kind of war" -- is the wrong analogy for what's needed. It's like declaring war on the Crips writ large: "war" on a collection of self-affiliated, criminally inclined individuals, living anywhere and everywhere, bound by shared ideology and worldview. There seems to be this assumption that the problem is Osama bin Laden and his supporters, all of whom are holed up in a ranch somewhere in Afghanistan, waiting for the bombers to appear.

This, of course, is nonsense. Whoever launched Sept. 11's attacks was smart enough to scatter to the four winds before it was launched. And Osama bin Laden, it cannot be stated often enough, is only a tiny part of the problem, magnified by the seeming American need to put a single name on the enemy (Saddam, Noriega, Qaddafi, Fidel) and by the cachet bin Laden will get from being targetted, and possibly martyred, by the Americans. But he's not a major strategist within his movement; his role has been relatively minor, even as financier. (His much-vaunted riches have been frozen for years.) He simply acts, as do a number of other individuals, as a facilitator among a broad network of violent fringe Sunni groups. Removing him doesn't begin to solve the problem.

Osama bin Laden is CIA gone bad, but he's hardly the only one. There are perhaps 100,000 fringe radical Sunnis in the world (out of 1.2 billion Moslems). Many of them were brought together, trained, and armed by the CIA and Saudi and Pakistani intelligence in 1980s Afghanistan, with the twin goals of fighting the Soviets and causing headaches for the rival Shiite regime in neighboring Iran. This is the granddaddy of all "blowback" -- the term for a covert operation that has unforeseen, disastrous consequences -- and amidst the clamor to lift restrictions on the CIA's ability to hire thugs, nobody seems to have learned the lesson.

The CIA would not have supported these folks if it felt they were inclined to knee-jerk, inherently anti-Western and anti-Christian violence. They weren't, and they still aren't. In their view, they are not launching an all-out war of Islam against the West -- they are responding to a war they perceive the West, vaguely led by the U.S., as waging against Islam. Peaceniks tend to ascribe this to America's various foreign policy sins, but the list of grievances is much broader. It includes wars where Muslims have borne the worst violence in Chechnya, Bosnia, Kosovo, Indonesia, Kashmir, Azerbaijan, Iran, and, of course, Iraq and Palestine; U.S. and Western support for brutal dictatorships in Iran (the Shah), Chad, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Algeria; and perceived desecreation of Islamic holy sites in Saudi Arabia by our military during and since the Gulf War. And, of course, widespread, crushing poverty.

Any of the conflict sites make fertile recruiting ground among the young, poor, devout, and despairing; if the U.S. kills more innocent civilians, recruiting will become that much easier, as it has become for our armed forces. The U.S. has, in one respect, already announced that intent, by demanding that Pakistan cut off supply lines for food and other necessities that are keeping alive Afghan civilians and refugees already victimized by the Taliban. If Pakistan complies, the death toll that could directly result is incalculable, and both the U.S. and Pakistan will pay.

This is the essence of war: wanting vengeance, and claiming that the other guys started it. Even if the Sept. 11 attacks were supported by nation-states, it should be evident to anybody that they did not need the support of nation-states. What, then, will the War on Terrorism become? A worldwide, house-to-house search for those who would kill us, with the resulting loss of the very freedoms we're claiming to defend? Permanently? There's no land to seize, no government to topple, no surrender that will bring closure. Ask Israel. This war cannot be won -- only lost, because we haven't even begun to consider biological, chemical, or nuclear terrorism, and it only takes one to succeed.

Terrorism's strongest asset is the strength of motivation of its practitioners. It's best battled by taking away motivations: the poverty, the dictatorships, the violence. It's best fanned by creating thousands, or millions, more martyrs.

The United States can't be that stupid. Can it?

One of You Must Die

I nearly died.

Several times.

That I am alive to write such words -- any words -- explains my nearly unfathomable loyalty to the women and men of the University of Washington Medical Center's organ transplant program. They saved my life, and have since kept me alive and in (mostly) relatively good health. Their handiwork is close to my heart.

About 10 inches south.

My story is important to me, but it's nearly routine for practitioners of advanced high-tech medicine who perform these procedures that extend lives and often offer a good quality of life to those saved. But: They're frighteningly expensive; they are as seemingly random (in a perverse way) as the death penalty in selecting who gets the chance to live; and they operate independently of the resource needs of simpler, preventive public health programs that, if applied around the world, could save millions of lives each year.

My involvement began just over 10 years ago, when a nephrologist (kidney specialist) with the bedside manner of a gargoyle sat at her desk, eyes fixed absently on some point high on the opposite wall, and casually told me that I was likely to be dead in a year or two or three.

This same reputable but inaccessible doctor proceeded to ignore me over the next two years, damn near ensuring the accuracy of her prediction. All the while, my condition steadily worsened, and my insurance company balked over the necessity and expense of a simultaneous transplant of two organs: a kidney and a pancreas. Due to a congressional oddity, Medicare covers kidney transplants, but at the time it wouldn't cover the pancreas -- and neither would my insurers, because they considered the procedure "experimental." I needed both organs to live.

In September 1993, I lapsed briefly into a coma and then began dialysis treatments for my failed kidneys. For five hours a day, three days a week, a needle the size of a pencil transported my blood through an artificial kidney machine, filtering out the impurities.

Some people's bodies cope well with dialysis; as with most Type I diabetics, mine did not. I wound up with seven or eight surgeries to repair and/or unclot the artificial blood vessel in my right arm used for the dialysis procedure. After a month, increasingly erratic blood sugars put me in the hospital again. I could no longer work at my part-time job as a community activist. On November 12, I started convulsing while dancing at a party and was out of it again for a couple of days. Two weeks later, my then-wife Kiyoko found me passed out in the shower, and she and a group of friends I will never forget (Vivien, Gavin, Carolyn, Ellen, Scott, Lisa, and Lance, among others) stood watch as I lay in a coma for several days.

Once I emerged from the medication-induced hallucinogenic hell that followed, we changed doctors, and UWMC got serious about taking the only course of action likely to work. With better medical care, my condition was poor but more stable. The insurance company finally, reluctantly, agreed to save my life.

In June, I got a pager, for use when compatible organs were found. Every few weeks, someone would call a wrong number, and I'd damn near have a heart attack. Then, on the evening of December 16, 1994, the pager went off for real. In only six months, they'd found a "match," from an 18-year-old man (bless him) killed in an auto accident in Portland. It was four months before my insurance would expire due to Kiyoko's having been laid off. I had just turned 35.

The 10-hour surgery the next morning proved successful. It also represented a lifelong commitment on my behalf by UWMC's doctors. Like the staff at most transplant programs, they don't like to see their patients die after so much time and effort, and so, even though I can't really afford it, they continue to be aggressive in my care.

In six years, I've had a stroke, a possible rejection episode, two bouts with double pneumonia, a nasty (and potentially life-threatening) cryptococcal fungal infection, and taken over $100,000 in immunosuppressant drugs. That's pretty good; I know K-P patients who've had a much rougher go. Not everyone lives. For the decade, I've resulted in around a million dollars in health care expenses billed to insurance. I am the insurance industry's worst nightmare. I lived.

By acting to save myself, I took advantage of a global health care system that, in the name of profitability, intentionally fails far more people than it saves. How many more people would now be alive if the million dollars spent on one person -- me -- had instead been spent on medical vouchers? Or vaccines in Chad, or water filters in Tanzania, or a health clinic on a Lakota reservation? Dozens? Hundreds? Thousands?

Each year, that question becomes more urgent, as thousands of beneficiaries of new treatments -- transplants, protease inhibitors, fancy new tests -- not only live when we wouldn't have 20 or even five years ago, but proceed to require expensive health care treatments for as long as we remain alive.

Not everybody gets that chance. Money, of course, matters, beginning with whether someone has enough regular access to health care to have been diagnosed in time for procedures like mine to work. It also takes a certain kind of assertiveness to navigate the byzantine, often dehumanizing world of specialized health care.

From the doctors' side, whether someone can take advantage of high-end medicine depends on a number of factors. Dr. Christopher Marsh, associate director of UWMC's Division of Transplantation, ticks off the eligibility requirements for a liver, kidney, or pancreas transplant: "Getting referred by primary care; being medically suitable -- that is, being compliant, not having severe co-morbid conditions; having psychosocial support; not having mental illness -- though it doesn't preclude you if you're under control. We look at a patient's financial status, but in actuality we can get through the transplant and surgery [financially]." Marsh says that insurance companies and HMOs can be more of a financial barrier than the hospital: "They can be a substantial gatekeeper and not refer patients, or refer them too late, or send them to a center that is cheaper but doesn't give the best results, or not refer them back to long-term care."

Candidates must be clean of substance abuse, a particular issue for liver patients who've destroyed their health through years of alcohol abuse; at UWMC, says one administrator, "If there's any kind of substance abuse, they have to go through a formal rehab program. The patient can't just say, well, I quit ... you have to look at it as giving people a chance." And then matching organs have to be found. According to Marsh, the average wait time is now two years for a pancreas or liver.

In 1994, I met all the medical conditions, and my organs showed up in six months. Were I in the same situation now, I would wait much longer for matching organs, which is a severe medical risk, but insurance coverage would not be as critical of an issue. Medicare covers all treatment of kidney disease -- including, as of about three years ago, the costs of kidney-pancreas transplants as well.

Our national health care system is a pyramid of such legislative flukes. Dr. Christopher Blagg, director emeritus of the Northwest Kidney Foundation, the area's oldest and largest dialysis provider, says that over 30 years ago, "The Senate decided, over a weekend almost, to fund dialysis treatment ... they honestly didn't know what it was going to cost." Kidney transplants were subsequently covered, and when joint kidney-pancreas transplants came along, it was discovered that they, too, were cheaper than a lifetime of dialysis.

Dr. Kim Muczynski, my current nephrologist and the director of UWMC's renal clinic, says that 11 of Washington state's insurers now enforce a one-year wait for kidney and kidney-pancreas transplants. The hope is that patients will be forced on to dialysis, in which case Medicare, rather than the insurance company, picks up the cost of the transplant.

The dilemma I faced over coverage for a new, or even relatively new, procedure is common. Hugh Straley, an oncologist who is Group Health Cooperative's associate medical director, helps decide whether Group Health will pay for an experimental procedure. "In most cases," Straley says, "most insurers do not cover experimental treatment."

"We're looking for the grade of evidence: high grade (rigorous randomized controlled trial), or low grade (description of small group of patients), or clinical opinion. What we are really looking for is high-grade evidence. That doesn't mean that there isn't benefit otherwise, just that there isn't evidence; we might approve it anyway. [We also assess the] impact on the system, the cost to the system, and community standards; we seek input from relevant specialists as well. In most cases, the decisions are relatively easy to make. In other cases, the decisions are much more difficult. The evidence is marginal; the benefits are marginal. We really have to weigh whether this is an appropriate benefit for a small group of people. If the evidence is that it is life-saving, we'll cover it."

However, the evidence -- and the definition of "life-saving" -- is in the eye of the beholder. A terminally ill patient is likely to want alternatives, regardless of the rigorousness of the evidence. And so, three years ago, Straley and Group Health found themselves in the middle of a conflict. Teri Lafnitzegger, a 37-year-old housewife suffering from an aggressive, deadly brain tumor, wanted to go to North Carolina to try an experimental therapy offered at Duke University.

Group Health Cooperative physicians gave her a few months to live and would not pay for her care at Duke. Media coverage and a firestorm of public sympathy helped convince Group Health to relent. At an emotional public forum in February 1999, in which Lafnitzegger confronted Straley and Group Health officials, she pointed to her presence at the forum as evidence that the therapy worked and was worth paying for.

Seven months later, Teri passed away. She got to see her youngest child enter kindergarten. Both she and her husband, Eric, thought the Duke therapy gave her several extra months of life. Today, Eric still thinks the Duke treatment was the right thing to do.

And Straley has doubts. He says that the procedure they tried "still hasn't panned out. It's still of marginal value... . From her and her family's point of view, it's worth it ... but for a hundred patients with brain tumors who have a shortened life expectancy, is it worth it to spend $50,000-$100,000 for each patient to get one or several months [of additional] survival for a small percentage of them? That is one of the most difficult things we can do. We generally say that it's not, that the scarce resource can be better applied to the larger population."

While insurance companies, in denying high-cost treatments, can claim that they are trying to ensure lower-cost health care reimbursement for more people, the big transnational corporations that dominate the pharmaceutical industry have no such excuses. Drugs like cyclosporin are lifesavers; the greed of their manufacturers can be a major barrier to equitable health care. For someone in the U.S., it's a struggle; for someone in the Third World with AIDS, cancer, or a transplant, it's a death sentence. It's been well publicized, for example, that some of these companies have fought mightily -- with U.S. government support -- to prevent inexpensive generic anti-AIDS drugs from being distributed in the Third World.

But all forms of health care are maldistributed. Muczynski notes that kidney transplants -- common for decades in this country -- are performed in the Third World only with a living donor, and patients suffering from kidney failure aren't given dialysis unless a transplant is lined up. For patients who can afford it, however, Third World transplants are actually much cheaper. Muczynski knows of a Filipino patient who went back to his country and, for $5,000, had a kidney transplant that would have cost him $33,000 here. The U.S., of course, has better care and monitoring, but of the enormous price gap, she shrugs, "It's just the way we do things." In fact, doctors and hospitals lose money on some types of transplants; the problem lies with the stunning variety of expenses we build in.

Profit is one of those expenses, and at times the impact is immediate. Last winter, the U.S. suffered a shortage of flu vaccines, in large part because a manufacturer chose to redirect two of its factories to produce a more profitable drug. According to one industry observer who didn't want to be named, "Obscene drug company profits cost lives [in the U.S.]. If there's a 10 percent margin for a heart attack drug instead of 50 percent, it won't be made. A couple of companies have stopped making flu vaccine. Others aren't making enough, because their factories switched over to more profitable drugs. Factories making these basic drugs are now making Viagra instead."

The biggest financial problem, for me and for most transplant patients, comes well after the surgery. Jeff Harder, a UWMC social worker who helps patients find financial resources, says, "In eight years I don't remember ever turning down a patient for the transplant itself [because of finances], but there's a big variety in how insurance companies cover prescription drugs." Medicare covers prescription drug costs for only three years post-transplant; after that, most of us are on our own, no matter how disabled.

Six years out from my successful transplants, I go through 42 pills, two oral solutions, and two patches every day. That includes the immunosuppressant drugs that, by preventing organ rejection, keep me alive. Every transplant patient, everywhere in the world, takes these drugs for the rest of their lives. Cyclosporin, which revolutionized transplant surgery in 1984, isn't costly to make and long ago repaid its developmental and marketing costs. Yet because one company holds the international patent, the manufacturer is able to gouge. I'm billed $1,037.73 a month for the form of cyclosporin I take. For me, it means that I'm kept alive by my access to insurance, because uninsured, my drug bill is more than my monthly income. And insurance companies, in Washington state, are desperate to jettison the chronically ill, a right which the state legislature gave them last year. Neither the state nor federal programs like Medicare have comprehensive strategies for addressing the health care costs of the growing population of chronically ill.

As governments cut spending not directly related to making business happy, public health provisions for things like food and water safety lose funding ground. Debbie Ward, a former board chair of Group Health also involved in the Lafnitzegger case, points out, "The things that make the biggest difference to the public's health aren't individual services. They're public health [services] like water safety. Of the things that make a huge difference to public health, first we have these deeply undervalued public health issues. [Then], well, it probably turns out to be things like income, and job safety, and neighborhood safety... . The disproportionate amount of money that's spent on ... surgical interventions that make small differences, medical interventions that make small differences, aren't as important as these things."

My case exemplifies the point about public health. My kidney disease was a complication of Type I diabetes -- which came from pancreatic failure that occurred when I contracted a viral infection from bad drinking water. If the drinking water in Eastland, Texas, hadn't been infected one day in August 1977, I probably wouldn't have racked up a million dollars in health care costs in the 1990s.

One of the more benevolent reasons insurance companies have been reluctant to pay for high-cost treatments, beyond the cost itself, is that it saves more lives to spend the same amount of money on preventive procedures instead. Preventive medicine has historically suffered in America because it's not as profitable in the short term as expensive specialties and high-tech responses to acute illness. Slowly, that's changing; "wellness" as a term didn't exist 20 years ago. Now insurance companies and HMOs emphasize prevention.

Muczynski is optimistic on this front: "We are thinking now about how to prevent original disease. As transplants are evolving, so are newer therapies and measures to promote awareness early on." Straley concurs: "Primary prevention has always been seen just in terms of public health, [but] now we're looking at moving to other means of extending life -- management of risk factors such as smoking, moderation of alcohol use, exercise, management of nutrition. These interventions translate into longer and better lives."

But the money-driven commitment to wellness has a nasty edge. Illness is expensive. Insurance companies and HMOs prefer "well" patients. And they prefer them to the point where the chronically ill cannot afford, or even obtain, insurance or adequate health care. As baby boomers age, cancer rates soar, and the number of uninsured Americans approaches 50 million, that gatekeeping has become a major crisis. Access to fancy treatments is only a small part of the problem. Straley sees the crisis coming: "When there are 45 million people not getting primary care, that's not a wise public health investment for the U.S. to make."

For me, high-tech medicine has had a wonderful payoff. Not only have I had precious extra years with family and friends, but I'm still alive to agitate for more humane political policies and to make Mark Sidran and Paul Schell's lives less comfortable. That, surely, is worth a large public investment.

But what about the liver transplantee who reverts to alcohol abuse? Should his life not have been saved? What about people like Teri Lafnitzegger, who despite a brave and spirited battle, only got an extra six months? Should we all have been passed over in favor of a more equitable allocation of health resources? How many families of people who died at least in part because of inadequate access to basic health care could trade places with my family?

In 10 years of navigating health care facilities, I have met countless health care providers who are agonized because they can't practice medicine appropriately and their patients suffer or even die. The American system is the most technologically advanced, but also by far the most expensive, one of the least efficient, and one of the most economically segregated in the world. Under our current public policies, there's not enough money available to save the lives of everyone whose life could be extended or saved -- even in the wealthy U.S., let alone the rest of the world.

Usually, the choices are not dramatic, and happen over years on the basis of geography and class and lifestyle and quirks like the federal support for kidney patients. But sometimes, the decision-makers have names and desks. Doctors, hospitals, HMOs, drug companies, and especially insurance companies trade in these questions every day. Absent any focused public policy, they're making the calls. Increasingly, in a for-profit health care system, money is driving the decisions.

My original insurance company stalled for three years, claiming that a kidney-pancreas procedure was experimental. Their recalcitrance, while I went through successive comas, nearly killed me. Had I died, they would have saved a lot of money. Had I been wealthy enough to pay for the procedure myself, my life would not have been so endangered.

I'm still not wealthy. It's been nearly a decade since I last worked full time, and while I'm ecstatic to be alive, some days are a lot worse than others. I'm currently self-employed and pay out of my paltry income for my own individual insurance, with additional out-of-pocket medical expenses that leave me with very little to live on and no savings. According to Dr. Muczynski and others, my six-year-old non-native organs have a finite life span of -- under good conditions -- roughly 10 years (pancreas) and 15-20 (kidneys). If they're right, in a few short years I'll be battling the same complications and downward spiral that led to my grave illness and original transplants.

At that point, absent my winning the Lotto, my life will again be in the hands of gatekeepers. This time, they won't be concerned about whether the treatment works -- it's now well established -- but they might be looking at new "experimental" treatments or drugs. If not, they'll wonder whether a second round of transplantation, in a world of scarce organs, should take priority over someone who needs it for the first time. And they'll especially worry about money, and the fact that I've already consumed so much of it.

That, really, is the basic question: Do we, as a society, value the right to make more money over the lives of our neighbors? In the wealthiest society in the history of the world, amidst tax cuts for the wealthy and gazillion-dollar weapon boondoggles, how many lives could we save? Which ones? Do I have a right to demand more? Do I have a right to live?

I think I do. But it's not my decision.

Swords to Pruning Shears

When I walked into the room at 6 AM and saw the answering machine's blinking light, I knew who it was and why she'd phoned. The familiar voice: "Call me before you go to the airport. It's your father. He didn't make it last night."

His death was a blessing, and a curse. A blessing, because he went quickly, and without pain. The cancer was only diagnosed three weeks before his death. By the end, the Other Side sucked him in closer on an almost hourly basis. A curse, because until the end, he stayed, as was typical, firmly in denial to others about his situation. He never had, or took, the chance to -- as the Christians put it -- "get right with the Lord." Or with us.

It fell to me -- because, according to my mother, I was the only one there with public speaking experience -- to both officiate and to eulogize my father at the memorial service. This was, to put it mildly, an interesting exercise -- a challenge to my aspiring (after 25 or so years) faith in the intrinsic goodness of everyone. So here goes: Jack was in many ways extremely intelligent (his most prized attribute), and a talented musician and artist, even through his old age. He was fiercely devoted to those he loved. He was, at a surface level, scrupulously honest. He served his country well and with honor, both in the Navy and Naval Reserve and in civilian posts with the Army and assorted military contractors. He never cheated on his wife (though she says he wanted to, once). He liked to tinker with cars.

Were this a eulogy, those would be the themes. But it is not, and I must further explain. Jack had an extremely high public opinion of himself, and was relentlessly critical of everyone else. (We have a very nice photo of him, which we blew up and framed for his memorial. His wife found it in his wallet.). He was, by his public estimation, generally infallible; privately, he was deeply insecure, virulently opposed to shared introspection. He was ashamed of his working class roots (his father was a farm boy turned career city beat cop), though he also was often unemployed. He was racist. (I spent our four years in desegregation-era South Carolina in a military-style whites-only "academy" he couldn't afford; when I married a Japanese woman, it was three years before he met her.) He was never far away from alcohol. He was also most abusive (emotionally and in other ways) to those he most loved, including himself. I got away from him as far, as fast, and as soon as I could.

Growing up, I witnessed parents who were militaristic, materialistic, harsh, rootless, essentially friendless addicts -- and I had seen that they were deeply unhappy people. I didn't, and don't, want to be like that. Much of my life has been spent unlearning, trying to find other ways of living -- including other ways of relating to people, whether they be friends, lovers, political adversaries, or citizens of whichever country the U.S. is annihilating this week.

Or parents.

I write this in a newspaper, rather than in a letter to a friend, because eulogizing my father has me wondering. When we are able, or unable, to find the humanity in individuals we consider repugnant -- blood relatives or otherwise -- what does it mean for our society? For our politics? For public policy? For war?

Most other cultures place a much higher value on both family and on individual subservience to community good than Americans do. On a global scale we Americans are unique in our narcissism, a product of our surplus of land and obliviousness to history. It's easy to run, to indulge ourselves. This has all sorts of implications, for everything from consumer debt and pop culture hedonism to environmental destruction and our perceived right to rule the world.

Not accidentally, we are both the wealthiest society in human history and the least community-based, the most rootless, the least willing to share with community members in need. These days, Democrats and Republicans alike contend that the poor and powerless, at home and abroad, have only themselves to blame for their plight. Americans of my generation as well as my father's seem unwilling to acknowledge the effects -- personal or institutional -- our self-aggrandizing actions have on others ("We're helping them!"); or, if we do that, unwilling to honor or respect those we dislike or don't know ("They deserve it!"). Or we ignore the impact entirely. We got ours.

American politics, Desmond Tutu once observed, is unique in considering compassion an obscenity. Sadly, that narcissism is becoming a global standard, which doesn't bode well for the bloodiness of the 21st Century. In the last 50 years, the concept of freedom the U.S. has most actively exported is extraordinarily dangerous. It is freedom from responsibility. How will our society learn to embrace, rather than exploit, a global community we find mysterious, threatening, at times repugnant, if we cannot make similar leaps in our own lives?

So, here I am, burying my father. With a great deal of difficulty, I am learning to not only love, but praise him. It's a shame he's not here to see it.

Palm Politeness

Many years ago, in 1997, Miss Manners published a book on etiquette in modern-day communication. In it she briefly addressed e-mail, chat rooms, and the improper art of flaming, before retreating back to her familiar territory of monogrammed notecards.

While the doyenne of correct behavior touches upon matters concerning cell phones, e-mail, and chat rooms now and then, she is hardly equipped to keep up with the constant introduction of newfangled techno-gadgetry into everyday life. Who can blame her? Take personal digital assistants. A year ago they were a luxury only the very avant-garde employed. Thanks to lower prices and extensive marketing, now even children are whipping out their Visors and beaming each other their soccer schedules.

The absence of a technologically with-it Miss Manners leaves us lost and alone when it comes to making these unprecedented objects safe for proper society. When, where, and why to beam? What information should every electronic business card include? Is it in poor taste to whip out one's Palm in the presence of the gadgetry-challenged? What about the guy at the bus stop who, upon seeing your PDA, walks up and says, "Gee, is that a PalmPilot?"

We have witnessed with those ubiquitous, annoying, Beethoven-playing cell phones what happens when technology is allowed to proliferate uninhibited by good taste. Lest this happen with PDAs, a few words of advice on Palm/Visor etiquette:

When and Where to Whip it Out, and Why?

In late April, an investment banker by the name of Seth Goldstein told The New York Times, "Doing your e-mail just because you can, whether you're in a conference room or at a dinner, doesn't mean it's appropriate. But if two people take out their Pilots and are beaming information to each other at a dinner, that's more acceptable to me because it's social."

This excellent piece of advice contains the kernel of all you need to know about the whens, wheres, and whys of using your PDA. In private situations -- riding the bus to work, waiting for your plane to arrive, sitting at the cafe, waiting in line -- it is fine to use your handheld for whatever it is you use it for. I download news onto my Palm each morning, then read it on my commute. That's fine. When waiting in a particularly long line I like to treat myself to a raucous game of Tetris (sound off, of course). Fine, good, great.

Public situations are different. It is rude and crude to check your e-mail on your nifty -- always connected! -- Palm 7 when in the presence of others. Do not laboriously Graffiti in little notes to yourself while everyone at the dinner table looks on with a displeased mix of bafflement and boredom; and please, if you are able, keep your PDA off the table. Stuff it back into your briefcase next to the muted cell phone and dirty pictures, thanks so much.

Now the situation may arise when one person requests information from another -- a business card, for example. As Seth so kindly points out, it is OK at this point to whip out the PDAs and quickly beam-beam the information. But when the beaming's done, put your gadget away, lest all more interesting conversation topics become sucked into the product-demonstration vortex.

Conspicuous Consumption is a Very Nasty Thing

When I first received my Palm VX (it was a gift, I swear), I was blown away by its capabilities. My e-mail, all my addresses, directions, movie times and locations, five different newspapers, games, memos, reminders -- they were all contained in this sleek, compact package. I wanted to show it off as often and to as many people as possible. Resist this urge. You may think that the technological reorganization of your personal data is fascinating stuff, but I can assure you it's not. And do not tell someone who may not be able to afford a $400 organizer that he or she simply must have one or risk being left far behind. This is untrue and small-minded behavior.

Beam You, Beam Me

I have already touched upon when and where to beam, but I have not yet talked about what one should beam. Beaming is an exchange of digital body fluids. With each transfer of data the opportunity for shared delight and personal tragedy exists. Do not send or receive information from an unknown source. If a trusted someone beams you a program that crashes your system, politely let him or her know, but don't launch into accusations; with such complex technology, you can never be certain where the offending system-crasher originated. Prepare in advance a business card and a blurb of personal info to have quickly on hand when someone requests your 411. Don't beam to strangers.

Palm Talk

Countless times I have been minding my own business, engrossed in some Palm-related activity or another, when out of the blue someone walks up and knowingly asks, "Hey is that a Palm?" Yes, Virginia, it's a freakin' Palm! Any idiot can see it's a Palm. And plainly, I am engrossed in a private activity on said Palm, and just because you think my toy is neat does not give you permission to walk up to me, interrupt my train of thought, and force me to politely smile and answer your question or impolitely tell you to stick it up your ass.

But seriously, if you have an interest in these gadgets, a host of Internet forums and magazine articles can instruct you in their capabilities. Don't interrupt me because you're too lazy to check them out. I might be tempted to do something rude.

Slashing Safety?

Is Boeing compromising on safety in order to cut costs? Some workers believe so, pointing to changes in the way the company carries out inspections. A former head of the National Transportation Safety Board, among others, seems to agree.The new inspection procedures are the subject of a labor grievance filed with Boeing by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, according to several sources. Unable to agree in initial talks, the company and the union are setting up arbitration for the summer.At issue is a process known as "self-inspection." That's when parts are inspected by the people who build them, rather than full-time, extensively trained inspectors. Boeing has been using self-inspection for more and more plane parts for a number of years. But, according to veteran tool inspector Bryan DuPaul, who has supplied information to the union for its case, "Now we're beginning to move to aircraft systems that are critical to safety of flight" -- for example, portions of what's known as the wire bundle, which gathers together all of a plane's wiring.The job security of DuPaul and other inspectors is at stake, which is undoubtedly a big reason the machinists union that represents them is complaining. The union itself won't comment publicly, other than to say that it has agreed with Boeing on a panel of six arbitrators for a process that will be binding.DuPaul, however, says that workers are equally concerned about safety. "This is a very emotional issue for people on the floor." He says they have a love of aircraft that makes them want to see things done right. In addition, he says, "We fly on planes too."Because under self-inspection employees are judging their own work, DuPaul says, "people have a vested interest in passing work that could be marginal or questionable. Or they could be under pressure from their supervisor to get [the part] out on time." What's more, he says, using the example of a wire bundle builder, "the person who is building the wire bundle actually has a full-time job. So you're asking him to do more in the same amount of time."A part needs thorough inspection at the time it is built, he continues, because "some of the things that go into an airplane are buried so deep, there is no way they'll ever be inspected again." Furthermore, he adds, "As you know from recent history, there could be problems built into an airplane that could take years to manifest." Consider, for instance, the possible manufacturing problem with a part called the jackscrew assembly on the Alaska Airlines plane that crashed last month. (The MD-83 was built by McDonnell Douglas before its merger with Boeing).Boeing couldn't manage to find someone to talk about the issue for this story, despite repeated requests over a week's time. Company spokesperson Peter Conte says only, "Safety is the number one priority of the company," and "every plane meets FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] requirements."It doesn't take an aerospace engineer, however, to figure out that Boeing is trying to save money by getting rid of its high-priced inspectors and asking other workers to take on more responsibility for the same pay. After a postmerger change in management and a historic financial loss in 1997 that had Wall Street screaming for blood, Boeing has made no bones about its intention to cut costs -- a principle that when applied to employee benefits gave rise to the bitter engineers' strike. Plagued by production delays in recent years, the company is also trying to speed up the manufacturing process. To that end, it would help if builders didn't have to wait around for an inspector to come and approve every part.But as management keeps telling workers that it wants to build planes "faster, cheaper, and better," workers like longtime toolmaker David Clay are saying, "All it's gotten is cheaper."The FAA is well aware of what Boeing is doing. In fact, since January of last year it has been monitoring a self-inspection program in two Boeing shops, the wire and fabrication shops in Everett, according to Seattle FAA spokesperson Kirsti Dunn. She puts the most palatable gloss on the changes. "The point is to promote ownership," she says. "You're building in quality rather than inspecting for quality." If nevertheless the FAA is not satisfied when it evaluates the program in July, Dunn says, it could require Boeing to revert totally back to the traditional inspection method.Yet FAA supervision isn't necessarily reassuring. "Unfortunately, I think the FAA's record has shown that it is a handmaiden of the aerospace industry," says Jim Brunett, a transportation safety consultant in Arkansas and, from 1982 to 1988, chairperson of the National Transportation Safety Board, the federal agency that investigates airplane crashes. One recent example was the FAA's willingness to keep secret information about Boeing's troublesome 737 rudders, as revealed last month by The Seattle Times' Byron Acohido.That Boeing has swallowed its American competitors hasn't helped the situation, Brunett suggests. "The danger we have now with one major aerospace manufacturer in the US, one that finds itself in competition with a foreign firm," he says, referring to the rivalry between America's Boeing and France's Airbus, "is that we've become a bit of a cheerleader. I hope that's not influencing [the FAA's] decision making."Brunett himself, when told of Boeing's use of self-inspection, finds it "very disturbing. The idea of quality control means that there is some independent determination of quality." He says that must be done by staff who have a "completely different reporting channel" than the people who are doing the job to be inspected. For example, he says, when airlines bring their planes in for maintenance, quality-control inspectors who look over the work report to a different vice-president. "Not only is there different personnel, but a whole different administrative unit," he stresses. "In fact, regulations require it, and the failure to do that by some airlines has been identified as a cause of accidents."Perhaps self-inspection has already taken a toll. "Boeing has had a number of production problems over the last few years which have been significant enough to shake the FAA into an audit," notes David Evans, editor of the industry newsletter Air Safety Week. The FAA has finished the unusual production audit but won't make results public for several months.Boeing inspector DuPaul insists that despite his concerns planes are still safe to fly -- for now. "I don't think anybody's life is at stake at this point in time." He says workers are more worried about the future, as Boeing continues to extend self-inspection into critical areas.Still, the consequences are so great that it's hard not to feel uneasy. As DuPaul says, "At 30,000 feet, you don't want things to start to go wrong."

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