Valley Advocate

An Air American Girl

It's 5:18 a.m. in New York City on Wednesday, May 11. In a sound studio on the 41st floor of the high-rise at 3 Park Avenue, Rachel Maddow is working her way into the second segment of her early morning show on Air America Radio. She stands while she talks, leaning against the desk and holding a page that she's reading from in one hand and a pen in the other hand. "Now, every day here at The Rachel Maddow Show," she says,

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Art in the Age of Terror

The movie of The United States v. Steven Kurtz would be film noir. It would begin with an aerial shot of Buffalo photographed in the cool, dystopian, post-industrial blues of that city, and descend past the empty streets and abandoned buildings into the heart of downtown, through the windows of a home in the Allentown neighborhood, the Greenwich Village of Buffalo, where artists, professors and graduate students mingle with the poor and indigent. The camera would rest on a couple in their forties, Steve and Hope Kurtz, lying in bed.

Kurtz would awaken to discover that his wife, Hope Kurtz, wasnt breathing. He would call 9-1-1. The ambulance would rush to the scene but paramedics would be unable to resuscitate her. The camera would track her body to the hospital, where a white-coated doctor, surrounded by pristine nurses and shadowed in the background by men in brown suits, would pronounce her dead, the cause to be determined later. We would follow the men in brown suits – agents of the FBIs Joint Terrorism Task Force – back to the house, where they would consult, out of earshot, with the mustachioed officers of the Buffalo police department.

A voiceover would begin: On the morning of May 11, 2004, Steve Kurtz, a man of peace, an artist and a professor, woke up to find his wife dead. When the police arrived, they found in his home the tools of an unusual trade: laboratory equipment, samples of bacteria, books on biological warfare and bio-terrorism. Steve Kurtz was an artist, you see, but not an artist like you and I know, not a Vincent van Gogh before a blank canvas, a palette of oils cradled in his arm. He was a private dick in artists clothing, a man who haunted the borders of the system, looking for truths in its cracks and trying to expose them to the sunlight. And for that he would pay a price.

Steve Kurtz was indicted yesterday, June 30th, and charged with wire and mail fraud. The Pitt professor who sent him the bacteria the FBI found was also charged. He has not yet had his trial but his life has already been blasted into disarray. "I was detained for 22 hours by the FBI," Kurtz wrote in an e-mail to a sympathetic online writer, his only public communication since his wife's death. "They seized my wife's body, house, cat and car. These items were released a week later. In the house they seized computers, science equipment, chunks of my library, teaching files, ID, and all my research for a new book. The only thing I have gotten back is my wife's birth certificate."

In particular, the FBI seems interested in his work as a member of the Critical Art Ensemble (CAE), an artist collective that explores the intersection of art, technology, politics and the law.

At least 11 other people, most of them affiliated with CAE, were subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury that convened on June 15. A curator at the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington was questioned by FBI agents on the content of a CAE project that was exhibited there in 2002. At Mass MoCA in North Adams, CAEs Free Range Grain, a mobile lab that invited the public to test foods for genetic modification, has been reduced to four posters, two computers and a piece of paper that explains that the rest of the equipment is in the possession of the government.

The subpoenas refer to the Biological Weapons Statute, a law whose scope has broadened over the years as the country becomes ever more concerned with the threat of terrorism. Most recently, in 2001, the USA Patriot Act expanded it to prohibit the possession of any biological agent, toxin, or delivery system of a type or in a quantity that, under the circumstances, is not reasonably justified by a prophylactic, protective, bona fide research, or other peaceful purposes.

Kurtz is a professor in good standing at the University of Buffalo, and his work has been vetted and celebrated for over a decade by the gatekeepers of official culture. In the case of the installation at the Henry Art Gallery, which exposed visitors to a harmless strain of E.coli bacteria spliced with human DNA, he was even given the go-ahead by the universitys Department of Environmental Health and Safety.

CAEs most provocative adventure in biology, Molecular Invasion, was also an installation at the Corcoran in Washington, D.C., one of nations great museums. (In it, CAE attempted to use a chemical compound to make RoundUp Ready plants susceptible to RoundUp, the highly toxic pesticide they were genetically engineered to resist.)

Its bewildering to most of us, and baffling, says Humberto Ramirez, an artist who has known Kurtz for almost 20 years. The work is not mysterious to anyone who knows anything about contemporary art. He has an immense reputation. Legendary is not an exaggeration for Steve and the Critical Art Ensemble.

There is, however, another story about Steve Kurtz and Critical Art Ensemble. In this story, which seems to have made the FBI curious, CAE is not just a group of artists, but a vanguard of the subversive wing of the anti-globalization movement, people whose mission has been to devise methods to help bring the international system of capitalism down.

To understand The United States v. Kurtz one must begin, really, with a flashback. Back to 1986, in Florida, when Steve Kurtz and Steve Barnes, graduate art students at FSU, collaborated on a few video projects. To acknowledge the many friends who helped, they signed them Critical Art Ensemble, leaving their names off.

By the following year, CAE expanded to six members and began to develop an anarchist theory of cultural production. Over the next few years their theories found expression in a series of practices that have since come to be called Tactical Media.

In general terms, Tactical Media (TM) is the use of various media, mostly electronic and scientific, to engage the public in a dialogue for achieving a variety of specific noncommercial goals and pushing all kinds of potentially subversive political issues. In earthier terms, it's theatrical, mischievous, in-your-face political art.

In the early years of CAE this meant, for instance, publishing plagiarized books of poetry and disingenuously selling them to libraries as unique art books, or collaborating with HIV activists to criticize the government's passivity in fighting the epidemic.

As the group matured, the artists began to conceive of themselves as playing the role of slightly mad scientists in the movement. Their job was to conceptualize, consider and then test out practices that might be used by other activists to produce disturbances or to create molecular interventions and semiotic shocks that contribute to the negation of the rising intensity of authoritarian culture. In less grandiose terms, the art was designed to raise questions about practices, like digital surveillance of identities or genetic modification of foods, that have public consequences but mostly go on beneath public awareness.

The question at a TM event, CAE writes, is not what is to be done (that is an important question, but it should be posed in another context), but how do we produce and under what conditions? How do we produce software, gizmos, robots, wetware, graphics, theater, video, radio, etc.? How do we hack, pick locks, graffiti, build barricades, etc.? The TM event could in part be thought of as a series of small workshops.

The experimentation has taken many forms, with gallery exhibition perhaps the least significant of them. CAE publishes websites, stages happenings, conducts research, teaches classes and publishes books which can be downloaded, easily and for free, on their website, www.critical-art.net.

Some examples from the early and mid-90s include The Therapeutic State, a narrative website that criticizes the inadequacies and the excesses of of the American health care system; Useless Technology, a satirical insert that was slipped inside Sunday newspapers in vending boxes throughout the country; and The International Campaign for Free Alcohol and Tobacco, an action in which cigarettes and booze were given out freely in a public plaza.

CAE's books, all five of which were edited by Hope Kurtz, are theoretical, historical and practical manuals for what the group calls resistance, which is an activity that comes in somewhere short of revolution but somewhere beyond conventional protest. Often it flirts with the laws, looking for pockets of possibility where an actor can insert himself and by various means – hacking, genetic reverse-engineering, remote-controlled vandalism, the use of mutant flies as harmless but paranoia-inducing weapons – slip inertia into networks of authority.

In The Electronic Disturbance, for instance, CAE writes of a new kind of theater that would merge traditional, physical performance with virtual performance done upon a virtual self (i.e. ones credit history, police records, test scores, etc.). They give a hypothetical example of a pre-op transgender hacker who sits upon a stage, in front of an audience, and hacks into the police database to change her gender from female to male.

Throughout its work in many media, CAE offers a dark, paranoid vision. In it, freedom is mostly a delusion. Our souls are constantly invaded and shriveled by overlapping viruses of mass entertainment, management theory, neoliberal economics, genetic engineering and welfare state benevolence.

Anarchist, anti-globalization critiques are standard fare for those who live in the leftward but still mainstream provinces of the Academy and the contemporary art world. What distinguish Steve Kurtz and CAE, and what probably has kept the FBI interested this long, are two things: Their specificity and their non-specificity.

CAE is usually very specific in its proposed responses, and many of these responses, if they were acted upon rather than just described, would be illegal.

In Fuzzy Biological Strategy, the manifesto of the Molecular Invasion project, the group is explicit about this. The fuzzy saboteur, it says, has to stand on that ambiguous line between the legal and the illegal (both criminally and civilly). We do not want to make it easy for capitalist spectacle to label resisters as saboteurs, or worse, as eco-terrorists.

With the possible exception of the intent to harm plants in Molecular Invasion – intent which may breach the peaceful purposes line of the Biological Weapons Statute – there's no evidence that CAE itself has ever committed an illegal act.

In most cases it's legal to advocate illegality, and for advocacy speech to be criminal, it has to transgress the bounds of the Supreme Court's very protective test, something CAE is always assiduously careful not to do.

At the same time, the group is equally careful to imply that, outside the public eye, it wouldn't mind helping out with the sabotage. Similarly, the group is coy about its reasons for choosing between means of resistance. It advocates nonviolent tactics, but goes out of its way to justify nonviolence only on pragmatic grounds. In one passage, for instance, tactical arson is dismissed mostly because it plays right into the hands of the authorities. Violent revolution is dismissed for its impracticality, not its immorality.

For most of its existence, CAE has been playing a game, dancing back and forth between two representations of itself. The first is of a group of artists who use rhetoric that sounds revolutionary but is, in fact, just the language of the contemporary art world, no more dangerous than sports fans talking about how one team is going to destroy another.

The other possibility is that Steve Kurtz and CAE are, in fact, militants in our midst. Theyre true resisters, if not quite revolutionaries, who use their personae as harmless artists as cover to engage in subversive activity.

Tragically, but also ironically, the death of Hope Kurtz has brought the FBI and the resources of the federal government in to resolve the question. Right now, agents are almost certainly reading CAE books, interviewing colleagues, going over phone records, analyzing bank accounts. They are playing the role that CAE has long described for them.

The probable truth is the most mundane, that Steve Kurtz is a fascinating artist with radical but ineffectual politics who has never knowingly broken the law. The Justice Department is overzealous, both for legitimate reasons – the public has an interest in preventing terrorism – and for illegitimate reasons: The John Ashcroft Justice Department is drunk on power.

Although he has been indicted, it's possible Kurtz will serve no jail time. If so, he will return to his life as a free man deep in lawyerly debt, secure in his position at the university, scared to go forward with his art, a hero/martyr of the art world, and bereft from the loss of his wife.

Wonder-Working Power

George W. Bush's January State of the Union address was, for the most part, nothing out of the ordinary. But then my former governor (yes, I'm a Texan) dropped an unusual phrase: "...there's power, wonder-working power, in the goodness and idealism and faith of the American people."

That phrase was not mere wordsmithing. I know it well. I know about polished church pews; I know about dress shoes that blistered my young feet and the smooth heft of the hymnal. As the son of a Baptist minister, I know. I know about the exuberant, saloon-worthy piano, the cat-eye-spectacled old ladies sliding "power" into one syllable, and I know the rest of the phrase: "There is pow'r, pow'r, wonder-working pow'r, in the blood, [men echo] in the blood, of the Lamb, [men echo again] of the Lamb. There is pow'r, pow'r, wonder-working pow'r in the precious blood of the Lamb."

Bush was stealthily passing the message to the flock, to my flock. The issues that have plagued that flock for a quarter century are integral to understanding the second self-professed "born-again" man in the White House, his political tactics and his war in Iraq.

Its fans call it the "conservative resurgence." Its detractors call it the "fundamentalist takeover." The astonishing fact is that many, perhaps most, Southern Baptists are unaware that the foundation of their faith has been officially pulled out from under them through systematic, long-term political manipulation. The people of God trust each other; when someone breaks the rules, they pray, they try to reconcile. But the abandonment of civil behavior always trumps good will.

Two people, Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler (a former appeals court judge), perhaps as far back as the '60s, created the plan to transform a denomination. Like fundamentalists of every breed, they started with a simple premise: We're right. Everyone else is wrong. God is on our side, so what we do to those in our way is irrelevant, if our right triumphs over their wrong. That the central, selfless directive of Christianity is "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is a petty detail, imminently ignorable to God's self-appointed chosen.

The Southern Baptist Convention (currently around 16 million strong) is a bottom-up institution, with autonomous congregations and a democratically elected leadership whose proclamations have not, historically, been binding. One crack in the democracy was evident: The president appoints members to committees which hold sway over organizations like the Baptist press, Baptist seminaries and the missionary organization. The fundies (the decidedly non-affectionate term applied to them by detractors) calculated that winning the convention presidency 10 years in a row could gain them majorities on all committees and de facto control of all the national-level bodies.

The tactic was simple: Recruit like-minded pastors to scare people about the evil of liberalism which, they assured their flocks, was quietly taking over their institutions and diluting their theology. Those who did not endorse the literal truth of every word of the Bible -- "Biblical inerrancy" -- were on the slippery slope to unbelief. You're with us or you're against us.

They gained the presidency of the convention in 1979 with a pastor named Adrian Rogers, bussing in supporters to the annual convention to vote for their presidential candidate; the buses left just after the vote. The fundamentalists have retained the Southern Baptist presidency ever since. Their activities once they gained power were and are embarrassing to Christians who believe that ends can't justify means.

As soon as they could, the fundamentalists issued an ultimatum to the heads of the Baptist Press, who, they claimed, were unfair in their representations. When the two men refused to cease their supposed criticism, they were unceremoniously fired.

My father was a professor (a job considered somewhere in the neighborhood of heretic by the fundamentalists) at Southwestern Baptist Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas when one of the most brazen moves took place there in 1994. The enormously popular, longtime president of the seminary, Russell Dilday, the day after receiving the highest possible job evaluation from the fundamentalist Board of Trustees, was fired, locked out of his office by those same fundamentalists: He was too "moderate." The faculty was outraged. But the fundies weren't interested in the will of a bunch of liberal academics too far down the slippery slope to be saved. They were right, so the fate of the wrong was of no interest. Not long after, my father (and many others) left.

My father was invited back to the seminary two years ago, but in order to be considered, he had to go through a little formality, the signing of a document. The pillar of Baptist belief is called the "Baptist Faith and Message." In 1963, it was full of theological freedoms, and not a binding creed. It established belief in a direct connection between God and believer, the right of individuals to interpret scripture, and the primacy of Christ in the church.

The fundamentalists have so changed the statement that many say it abandons Baptist belief. The committee who rewrote it claim, in the preamble, that it is now one of "doctrinal accountability." In a denomination that exalts the individuality of belief, this raises the question of who Baptists are now accountable to. Many say it establishes the primacy of the Bible itself, rather than Christ-centered biblical interpretation. It adds, as a central premise of the faith, that women should "graciously submit" to their husbands, and cannot become ministers.

My father is in good company in refusing to endorse this document. The enormity of the change it establishes was made clear in 2000: Jerry Falwell, long to the right of Southern Baptists (and pretty much the rest of the world), joined the convention, and the other born-again President, Jimmy Carter, publicly renounced his 65-year membership.

The Bush administration's tactics and policies marry religious and patriotic fundamentalism. It's an unholy union.

Bush is in the White House despite losing the popular vote; that has not stopped him from pursuing a black-and-white vision of the world that ignores those who did not elect him. The administration's reasoning is classic fundamentalism: They know best. Those who dare to question their vision are "irrelevant."

The "with us or with the terrorists" political fundamentalism has now expanded to include those who critique Bush's war in Iraq. When Tom Daschle decried Bush's "miserable failure" at diplomacy, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert quickly responded that Daschle's words "may not undermine the President as he leads us into war, and they may not give comfort to our adversaries, but they come mighty close." Patriotism is now a matter of total agreement with the White House or treasonous disagreement. This in a land founded on the ultimate act of dissent: revolution.

Rather than considering himself the servant of the people, Bush, it seems, considers himself God's chosen to make over the world. The dropping of references for the ears of the Christian right is a regular occurrence; the term "evildoers," derided by some as not a real word, is quite real to the biblically informed, because it comes straight from the Book of Psalms.

Bush's extremism has led America to a frightening new state, one where the highly praised term "leadership" means defying the will of the people, not representing it. The administration creates majorities to support its policies rather than creating policies to reflect majorities. The administration's international "backing" for the war in Iraq is, in reality, a coalition of leaders who are "willing" indeed: willing to defy the anti-war sentiment of, in some cases, 80 or 90 percent of their countrymen. Still, it's comforting to know that we wade into the quagmire of the Middle East with the full support of Latvia and Eritrea.

The confidence to ignore public opinion is easily acquired from Bush's belief in a higher endorsement. Bush's autobiography is called A Charge to Keep, a title borrowed from a hymn:

A charge to keep I have, a God to glorify,

A never-dying soul to save, and fit it for the sky.

To serve the present age, my calling to fulfill;

Oh may it all my pow'rs engage, to do my Master's will!

The Southern Baptist fundamentalists conquered their denomination; they have every reason to hope the Bush administration will make over the world in their image.

Bush speaks to them -- often directly to them. He has surrounded himself with Christian conservatives, relied on them politically since early on in Texas. Combining their fervor with that of extremists of different stripe, his administration has fashioned policies of evangelistic zeal, ignoring cautionary advice from abroad and at home. And now that zeal has engaged America in a war that quickly proved more complicated and costly than Bush and people like Defense Policy Board chairman (until recently) Richard Perle, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz ever planned. But Bush the believer forges ahead, convinced that all costs, economic and human, are justified. Threats to Syria point to the next step.

Richard Land (president since 1988 of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Capitol Hill lobbyist, friend of Presidential advisor Karl Rove, and now Bush appointee to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom) told the Christian Science Monitor before his nomination, "In the Reagan administration, they took our calls," but with Bush, "sometimes they call us."

The separation of church and state, long central to Baptists, is of little interest to the fundamentalists: In 1998, Richard Land, at a strategy meeting with Republicans and members of the religious right, told the Republicans, "No more engagement. We want a wedding ring, we want a ceremony, we want a consummation of the marriage."

George W. Bush, former heavy drinker and alleged cocaine user, claims to have been brought to God in 1986 by Southern Baptist evangelist Billy Graham. His 1993 pronouncement to an Austin-American Statesman reporter that non-believers will go to hell infuriated a lot of non-believers, but cemented his now nearly infallible reputation among Southern Baptist fundamentalists -- a group that, perhaps more than any other, helped Bush rise to power in Texas.

In the '80s, Karl Rove advised nearly every Republican campaign in Texas, before then a Democratic stronghold. A large factor in Republicanizing Texas politics was the courting of the religious right, a specialty of Rove. He is a Christian of some sort, but he refuses to discuss much of anything with reporters, especially the specifics of his faith. Those specifics would clearly reveal much about the man often dubbed "Bush's brain."

The religious beliefs and affiliations of some of the other main players in the Bush administration are not often discussed. A recent Newsweek article chronicles the centrality of religion at the current White House, including the ever-present phenomenon of Bible studies. Attorney General John Ashcroft is a Pentecostal Christian, an extremely conservative, sometimes fundamentalist brand of faith, as evidenced by his covering of nude statues in the Justice Department.

Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense, is Jewish; he appears to be more cerebral neoconservative than religious fundamentalist. Rove's office neighbor is Elliot Abrams, convicted of lying to Congress in Iran-Contra days. He now handles Middle East policy for the National Security Council, and he holds strong views: Not only has he written in praise of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's hard-right policies, he's also written about the danger of dilution of the Jewish people by assimilation.

For many extremists, the heavily represented pro-Likud faction has occasioned cries of "Jewish cabal." But current policy is not so easily pinned down; it is a convergence of fundamentalisms, regardless of the faiths involved.

Rove is a talented matchmaker among the main powerbases of Republican thought. The East Coast, mainly Jewish, neoconservatives and southern Christian fundamentalists are easily reconciled. Many in the Jewish community are wary of the proselytizing Christian contingent, but the strong pro-Israeli bent of the fundamentalists (who nonetheless are often, remarkably, anti-Semitic) has allowed an alliance between the most extreme elements of both religions.

Rove's real trick was getting the Christian fundamentalists to dance with someone besides the one what brung them. Most dubious business practices are at odds with Judaeo-Christian ethics, but the fundamentalist camp was seduced into trafficking with big business by access to money and political power. The best example is Karl Rove's securing of a $10-20,000 per month Enron consultancy for Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition and senior advisor to the Bush campaign. Reed is the embodiment of Rove's brand of Republicanism: a man who can simultaneously endorse Christian and Jewish fundamentalism and hop in bed with the purely profit-driven, secular business world.

Bush's own conversion seems sincere. He seems to be a true believer, heavily influenced by the Republican powers that surround him; only a man who believes he is ordained by God to lead America into a grandiose struggle of (literally) Biblical proportions could stun reporters with his state of, as a BBC reporter put it, "serenity" as bombs began to fall on innocent Iraqis.

America is without question the best friend Israel has, and Bush is strengthening the ties; on the first day of Bush's war in Iraq, plans surfaced for $10 billion in aid for Israel. This seemingly suicidal timing in terms of already-hostile Arab reaction to the war becomes clearer with some theological education.

Many fundamentalists (and many moderates, too) live in constant expectation: At any moment, maybe the very next, a distant trumpet might sound; the clouds might give way and the unimaginable, shining visage of Jesus descend. Many Southern Baptists believe they are part of the final generation on earth. Opinions differ about the pre- and post-return details, but they often include an Anti-Christ. Many fundamentalists encourage unilateralism because that Anti-Christ is expected, by current interpreters, to lead the European Union or the United Nations.

Another thing is clear to many literal interpreters of the Bible: Israel -- all of Israel, even the bits currently underneath the Palestinians -- must belong to the Israelis before Jesus can return. Obviously, a two-state peace settlement precludes that. Bush has indeed endorsed a Palestinian state, but the day such a settlement is signed, especially with E.U. or U.N. support, Bush's solid backing by many fundamentalists will be in question.

The alliance between Jewish and Christian fundamentalists received a great boost when Bush called Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, convicted in the '80s by his own government for standing by while Lebanese Christians slaughtered hundreds of Palestinians, "a man of peace."

The administration's ties to the current Israeli government run deep. Richard Perle is a major figure in the un-battle-tested royalty of the armchair hawks (his nickname: Prince of Darkness). Perle just resigned the chairmanship of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board because of a conflict of interest. He was retained by Global Crossing to advise them on a deal in need of approval by the Pentagon, for which he would be paid $725,000, $600,000 of which was contingent on the success of the deal. The less reported fact is that he will stay on as a member of the board.

In 1996, Perle advised Sharon's Likud party. His advice: Israel's claim to the Palestinian territories is "legitimate and noble"; Israel should abandon the Oslo Accords and retake the territories, even though, as Perle's co-advisor Douglas Feith, now Underscretary of Defense for Policy, later said, "the cost in blood would be high." Feith called this a necessary "detoxification." More men of peace.

In the early '90s, Paul Wolfowitz authored (with an unknown degree of help from then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney) a security strategy for the elder Bush that was striking in its implications. A global American military presence would engage in pre-emptive wars to keep ambitious rivals in check. Old alliances like NATO would be ignored in favor of temporary coalitions of convenience. Bush Sr. had to publicly back away from its extremity, and Cheney played a major role in revising the document.

The original document evolved into a manifesto of sorts for a Wolfowitz-related group called the Project for the New American Century. In their version, which dates to early 2001, the Project claims that the most receptive climate for their vision of global American power would be in the aftermath of "some catastrophic and catalysing event, like a new Pearl Harbor." When bin Laden unexpectedly provided just that, they were prepared.

The current, freely available National Security Strategy of the United States endorses the exact same ideas. Wolfowitz's call for a permanent military presence in the Middle East explains Bush's insistence on war at any cost better than the clear threat of Hussein's ineffective drones, short-range missiles and supposed relationship with bin Laden, who called Hussein an infidel.

The Pope (not considered a Christian by many Southern Baptists), most mainline Protestants and even some Southern Baptists decry the war as unjust, un-Christian and dangerous. The unsurprising exception is the Southern Baptist Convention leadership. Current president Jack Graham (no relation to Billy) blessed the attack on Iraq as a just war whose purpose is, of course, peace. Nevermind that preemptive (or, in this case, preventive) war seems rather at odds with the peacemaking Jesus blessed in the Bible.

I despair for my people. Christianity calls for peacemaking and unconditional love for all humankind, not warmongering and furthering the gap between rich and poor. Jesus' only recorded act of anger was directed against the money-changers who set up shop outside the temple; the business-driven Republican Party has likewise set up shop outside the Southern Baptist church. Republicans will continue to profit as long as Southern Baptists are willing to hoodwink themselves, ignoring the disparity between Christian ends and Republican ends.

I despair, too, for my country. The "us or them" administration is sowing the seeds of hatred between America and the rest of the world, and, most terribly, between Americans. Thank goodness Bush is right about one thing: " ... there's power, wonder-working power, in the goodness and idealism and faith of the American people."

The Muslim fundamentalist bin Laden wants a holy war with Jewish and Christian fundamentalists. With George Bush in charge, he's got it.

The issue is not, in the end, religious. It's not racial. It's philosophical: No matter what religion or political view provides a starting point, the end destination of the march toward absolutism is the willingness to cease caring about unbelievers as human beings. That is a danger greater than any weapon of mass destruction.

James Heflin is an arts writer at Massachusetts' Valley Advocate, where a version of this article originally appeared.

Your Cell Phone Is Watching You

Tracking devices were once a staple of old science fiction and action movies. One typical scene: The good guy slaps a tracer on the villain's getaway car and follows him -- at a safe distance -- to his lair for the final showdown. Or a team of leering, white-coated technicians forces a microchip-sized homing device into the hero's brain cavity.

These days, such scenarios aren't so fantastical. For blanketing the United States are 140 million human-tracking devices: cellular phones.

When you place a cellular phone call, your phone seeks out the nearest receiving tower, which serves a discrete area or "cell." The tower routes the call to its destination. If you leave the cell area before your call ends, the call is bumped over to the corresponding cell tower, thereby tracking your rough location.

"Rough" is the operative word: While urban centers, which contain many cell towers, can relay your location with some accuracy, those odds go down in rural areas, where towers are fewer and cell service is often spotty.

But in the coming months, the tracking ability of cell phones will grow exponentially -- not just in its power to monitor users, but also in the way it can be used for commercial gain.

Last year, the Federal Communications Commission ordered cellular companies to equip all new cell phones with Global Positioning Satellite tracking devices that can pinpoint a user's location to within 300 feet, anywhere on the planet. The agency ordered the move at the behest of law enforcement agencies, who have long wished to be able to tell where 911 calls made on cell phones originate.

To a degree, cellular companies have reacted to the FCC's order with distaste. The GPS chips will add about $20 to the cost of each phone, which are often given away free with cellular service plans.

But the companies are also rubbing their hands with glee at the potential profits. As regular Internet users know, marketers believe there's money to be made from information about people's daily activities and habits. Log on to a typical website, and it may plant a "cookie" -- a piece of code that identifies users -- on your hard drive. With that information, websites can track your surfing habits and tailor the content of advertisements accordingly.

Cell phone companies are aware of the potential backlash from consumers; a Verizon Wireless spokesperson told the technology news website CNET.com that it currently has no plans to release information about customers' day-to-day whereabouts to commercial third parties. Still, none of the cell companies are saying they won't try to use the information for their own purposes.

One way cell companies could profit is by selling advertising that would be displayed on cell phone screens. In the near future, your cell phone could turn into a miniature billboard, alerting you, for example, to nearby restaurants at lunchtime or to sales at the local mall.

This won't happen overnight. Cellular companies have lobbied for and received a temporary stay from the FCC's order to install the GPS chips, although that reprieve is set to expire later this year. The FCC ruling also allows companies to ease into compliance, giving them until 2005 to make all cell phones GPS-equipped.

But in the meantime, you're not safe from cell-phone marketing: Some companies, such as marketers PangoNetworks, are already making use of today's more limited location tracking technology.

Pango sets up zones called "hot spots" within businesses or shopping malls. Hidden sensors can detect your phone or Palm Pilot, upon which the system hums into life, sending ads for merchandise you might be standing near and compiling data about your shopping habits: What stores have you visited? Did you linger near the wrinkle-free khakis or by the animatronic Hello Kitty display? Boxers or briefs?

On its corporate website, Pango says users who don't want to receive these messages will be able to program their phones to remain undetectable by the system.

Of course, at the rate things are going, true anonymity may soon be a thing of the past.

In fact, there's only one foolproof way to beat the system: Turn off your phone. But how likely is that to happen?

Chris Kanaracus can be reached at ckanaracus@newmassmedia.com.

Starbucks Beans Not So Green

By the end of the year, Starbucks will increase its ever-growing empire by opening a coffee shop in Mexico City -- the first Starbucks in Latin America. Ironically, Starbucks will soon be selling gourmet coffee to the very people who are under-paid for harvesting coffee beans.

It's a little bit like dumping leftover pork chops into the pig trough.

News of the Mexico City shop came as Starbucks was presenting its first Corporate Social Responsibility report at its annual shareholders' meeting in Seattle last month. The report emphasized the company's claimed commitment to doing business in socially, economically and environmentally responsible ways, to benefit the communities around the world where it does business.

But according to activists, Starbucks isn't doing enough. They charge that while Starbucks claims to be green, in fact, it has done little to keep genetically engineered ingredients out of its foods and beverages or to promote Fair Trade, shade-grown coffee.

Coffee plants naturally grow in the shade, under the cover of a diverse biosphere. But unless your coffee says "shade grown" on the bag, it was probably grown in a field for easier harvesting and greater profit margins. The clear cutting of land to create these fields eliminates many edible plants that locals live on. "Fair Trade," meanwhile, means that the farmers who grew the beans were paid a living wage for their work. There are several organizations that certify goods as "Fair Trade," including Equal Exchange and Tranfair.

Recently, activists across the world gathered at Starbucks shops to leaflet and protest the company's hypocrisy. The organized action, spearheaded by the Organic Consumers Association, ran from Feb. 23 to March 2 and was timed to coincide with Starbucks' annual meeting.

Early on the brisk morning of March 1, Debbi Shoval and her partner stood outside of a neighborhood Starbucks and handed out leaflets.

Shoval explained that there are several complaints against Starbucks. The first: Most Starbucks still use milk from cows that have been injected with rBGH -- Monsanto's sketchy bovine growth hormone -- which unnaturally forces cows to produce more milk. The resulting milk contains bacteria, antibiotics and pus.

That's right. Pus.

In addition, Starbucks will not guarantee that the beverages and food it sells are free of genetically engineered products, according to the OCA. Although Starbucks now offers the option of organic milk and soy milk, in reality, the offer is pretty pathetic: Starbucks does not publicize these alternatives in its stores, and even if you do request some organic milk in your latte, you'll have to pay a hefty 40 cents extra.

Shoval also worries that if Starbucks uses genetically engineered milk, genetically engineered coffee beans may not be far behind. "The reason coffee is genetically engineered is so the coffee fruits will all ripen at the same time," she said. "Right now, they ripen at different times, so it has to be hand-picked. But if they're sprayed with ethylene, they will all ripen at once." According to the OCA, a move from hand-picking to machine harvesting could put more than 50 percent of coffee farmers and harvesters out of work.

That would only add injury to insult: Most coffee farmers do not receive a living wage for the coffee they produce. Though consumer pressure has encouraged Starbucks to sell Fair Trade coffee in bulk, Starbucks will not brew it as its coffee of the day more than once a month. And of the bulk coffee that Starbucks sells, less than 1 percent will be Fair Trade coffee this year, claims the OCA.

Although in 1995 Starbucks promised to pay a living wage to the workers who produce the coffee it sells, the company has done little or nothing to live up to this pledge, OCA charges. Right now, though Starbucks claims to pay $1.25 per pound of coffee, most of that goes to middlemen. Coffee growers are making less than 40 cents per pound of coffee, about one-fourth what they earned five years ago.

No one from Starbucks' corporate headquarters returned calls for interviews.

The OCA encourages Starbucks coffee drinkers to talk to the managers at their local shops and demand Fair Trade coffee and rBGH-free beverages and foods.

Tell Starbucks -- and while you're at it, tell other eateries you frequent -- that you just don't find pus in your milk as appealing you used to.

Shireen Deen can be reached at sdeen@newmassmedia.com

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