Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Surprise in the Bowl

To end the year on a note that may give readers a pause to count their own blessings, according to an AP story, residents in Front Royal, Virginia are finding rats in their toilets.

Lyndon Flood described her dilemma: "Could you imagine having a rat in your toilet while you're getting ready to go to the bathroom?"

Be glad, very glad, you’re not in Front Royal as 2003 turns to 2004.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Sex and Scandal Replace Serious Reporting

Joel Connerly decries the media’s penchant for reporting scandal instead of pursuing stories of any real substance.

“CNN used to pride itself on international coverage: On Friday morning, however, I waited in vain to see reporting on the latest American military deaths in Iraq: Instead, viewers were treated to rebroadcasts of ABC's halftime interview with basketball star and rape defendant Kobe Bryant.”

Read the piece in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Ironic Times

“From defying President Bush in the face of a massive military invasion, to living on the run with 200,000 American soldiers pursuing him, to interfering with a foul ball during a crucial Chicago Cubs-Florida Marlins playoff game, to finally being captured hiding in a hole not far from his birthplace in Iraq, it was quite a year for our Man of the Year, Saddam Hussein.”

Laugh at the news with Ironic Times.

Saturday, December 27, 2003

What Is Al Qaeda?

Peter Bergen is the author of "Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden" and a fellow at the New America Foundation. In a piece penned for the Washington Post, Bergen asserts that the best known terrorist outfit in the world has, "successfully turned itself from an organization into a mass movement -- one that has been energized by the war in Iraq."

Bergen's insight into the "dense web" that is known as Al Qaeda seems much more in touch with reality than the various pictures painted by the so-called "experts" employed by the Bush administration. Hopefully some of them read the Post, too.

Friday, December 26, 2003

The Character Myth

Writing for The Nation, Renana Brooks, a clinical psychologist who heads the Sommet Institute for the Study of Power and Persuasion in DeeCee, skillfully examines the use of language and image-making by the Bush administration. And she gives the Democrats some good advice: To counter Bush, they must present a different version of what a safe world should look like.

“Some Americans find a certain comfort in Bush's thoughts, because they feel that dominance implies moral order and establishes God's moral authority in the world. They believe there is a natural hierarchy in which those who enjoy dominance have the right to do so. Just as God has dominion over man and man has dominion over animals, the imagery of the moral order assumes a world in which people dominate those who are below them.”

Read Brooks’ excellent analysis.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Clark Wants Openness in Trial of Saddam

On his way The Hague to testify in the war crimes trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, Democratic presidential hopeful Wesley Clark called for a transparent trial of Saddam Hussein, who on Saturday was captured by U.S. forces in Iraq while literally hiding in a hole.

"[Retired-Gen. Clark] was to appear in closed session before the U.N. tribunal Monday and Tuesday, but at the insistence of the U.S. government publication of his testimony was being delayed until Friday to allow it to be reviewed and edited of comments deemed compromising to U.S. national security. As the former supreme commander of NATO, Clark led a 78-day bombing campaign in 1999 aimed at expelling Milosevic's Yugoslav forces involved in a bloody crackdown on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.”

That Clark bothered to say anything seems interesting. But perhaps he knows more about Saddam than most of us. Clark may have more than an inkling of knowledge about what secrets Iraq's fallen dictator has in his head that would be embarrassing to the USA, were he to reveal them. After all, at one time he was an ally who received all sorts of weapons, and such, from Republican presidents in the past.

Clark may also be remembering another dictator, who was in a similar position in 1989, during the first Bush administration. Not much has been heard from Panama’s former strongman Manuel Noriega since his capture and extremely low profile trial. Isn’t he in jail, somewhere in Florida? Who knows?

Read the AP article.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

The Character Myth

Writing for The Nation, Renana Brooks, a clinical psychologist who heads the Sommet Institute for the Study of Power and Persuasion in DeeCee, skillfully examines the use of language and image-making by the Bush administration. And she gives the Democrats some good advice: To counter Bush, they must present a different version of what a safe world should look like.

“Some Americans find a certain comfort in Bush's thoughts, because they feel that dominance implies moral order and establishes God's moral authority in the world. They believe there is a natural hierarchy in which those who enjoy dominance have the right to do so. Just as God has dominion over man and man has dominion over animals, the imagery of the moral order assumes a world in which people dominate those who are below them.”

Read Brooks’ excellent analysis.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

The Three-State Solution

Writing for the New York Times, Leslie H. Gelb has a solution for the war in Iraq. That’s right, a solution. He says that Iraq is actually three countries that never belonged together, in the first place. They never chose to be married, so let’s give ‘em a divorce.

It makes way too much sense for me to think George Bush will see the wisdom in Gelb’s strategy. The Bushies don’t seem to be much interested in more than using Iraq to make fast money for their friends and holding onto power.

So, if Bush can’t/won’t use Gelb’s advice, I hope a smart Democrat like Wes Clark or Howard Dean will pick up on it: “The Three-State Solution.”

Here’s a sample of Gelb’s essay:
The only viable strategy, then, may be to correct the historical defect and move in stages toward a three-state solution: Kurds in the north, Sunnis in the center and Shiites in the south. Almost immediately, this would allow America to put most of its money and troops where they would do the most good quickly — with the Kurds and Shiites. The United States could extricate most of its forces from the so-called Sunni Triangle, north and west of Baghdad, largely freeing American forces from fighting a costly war they might not win. American officials could then wait for the troublesome and domineering Sunnis, without oil or oil revenues, to moderate their ambitions or suffer the consequences.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Get mad - and get even

In the Guaradian Unlimited writer Gary Younge addresses the "perception gap" the Bushies show, and he has some advice for his fellow Brits that Americans should consider as well.

"The difference between how Bush and his administration perceive the world and almost everybody else experiences it would be comic if the consequences were not so tragic. It is not the product of a misunderstanding but carefully crafted, willful ignorance. Once, when asked how he gets his information, Bush said: 'The best way to get the news is from objective sources. And the most objective sources I have are people on my staff.'"

Read the commentary by clicking here

Monday, November 10, 2003

A Display That Diminishes Us

Tony Horwitz gives us a glimpse of how America might look to those outside of the 9/11-obsessed USA.

"...The 'real America,' I've insisted a thousand or so times -- in Arab souks, in Russian villages, in Australian pubs, in letters to the editors of foreign papers -- isn't the mindless, jingoistic, Humvee caricature of a culture that's frequently presented in the foreign media, or in the crassest exports of Hollywood and Madison Avenue. It's a vibrant, varied, open and warm society. Come visit and you'll see for yourself!

"I still believe this, but few outside America will if we continue to present ourselves, in even the most innocuous settings, as a militarized and self-absorbed people who are in a state of perpetual siege [due to 9/11]."

Read the Washington Post OpEd piece.

Friday, October 17, 2003

All the President's Votes?

(reprinted from, Oct. 14, 2203)
by Andrew Gumbel

Something very odd happened in the mid-term elections in Georgia last
November. On the eve of the vote, opinion polls showed Roy Barnes, the
incumbent Democratic governor, leading by between nine and 11 points.
In a somewhat closer, keenly watched Senate race, polls indicated that
Max Cleland, the popular Democrat up for re-election, was ahead by two
to five points against his Republican challenger, Saxby Chambliss.

Those figures were more or less what political experts would have
expected in state with a long tradition of electing Democrats to
statewide office. But then the results came in, and all of Georgia
appeared to have been turned upside down. Barnes lost the governorship
to the Republican, Sonny Perdue, 46 per cent to 51 per cent, a swing of
as much as 16 percentage points from the last opinion polls. Cleland
lost to Chambliss 46 per cent to 53, a last-minute swing of 9 to 12

Red-faced opinion pollsters suddenly had a lot of explaining to do and
launched internal investigations. Political analysts credited the upset
- part of a pattern of Republican successes around the country - to a
huge campaigning push by President Bush in the final days of the race.
They also said that Roy Barnes had lost because of a surge of "angry
white men" punishing him for eradicating all but a vestige of the old
confederate symbol from the state flag.

But something about these explanations did not make sense, and they
have made even less sense over time. When the Georgia secretary of
state's office published its demographic breakdown of the election
earlier this year, it turned out there was no surge of angry white men;
in fact, the only subgroup showing even a modest increase in turnout
was black women.

There were also big, puzzling swings in partisan loyalties in different
parts of the state. In 58 counties, the vote was broadly in line with
the primary election. In 27 counties in Republican-dominated north
Georgia, however, Max Cleland unaccountably scored 14 percentage points
higher than he had in the primaries. And in 74 counties in the Democrat
south, Saxby Chambliss garnered a whopping 22 points more for the
Republicans than the party as a whole had won less than three months

Now, weird things like this do occasionally occur in elections, and the
figures, on their own, are not proof of anything except statistical
anomalies worthy of further study. But in Georgia there was an extra
reason to be suspicious. Last November, the state became the first in
the country to conduct an election entirely with touchscreen voting
machines, after lavishing $54m (£33m) on a new system that promised to
deliver the securest, most up-to-date, most voter-friendly election in
the history of the republic. The machines, however, turned out to be
anything but reliable. With academic studies showing the Georgia
touchscreens to be poorly programmed, full of security holes and prone
to tampering, and with thousands of similar machines from different
companies being introduced at high speed across the country, computer
voting may, in fact, be US democracy's own 21st-century nightmare.

In many Georgia counties last November, the machines froze up, causing
long delays as technicians tried to reboot them. In heavily Democratic
Fulton County, in downtown Atlanta, 67 memory cards from the voting
machines went missing, delaying certification of the results there for
10 days. In neighboring DeKalb County, 10 memory cards were unaccounted
for; they were later recovered from terminals that had supposedly
broken down and been taken out of service.

It is still unclear exactly how results from these missing cards were
tabulated, or if they were counted at all. And we will probably never
know, for a highly disturbing reason. The vote count was not conducted
by state elections officials, but by the private company that sold
Georgia the voting machines in the first place, under a strict
trade-secrecy contract that made it not only difficult but actually
illegal - on pain of stiff criminal penalties - for the state to touch
the equipment or examine the proprietary software to ensure the
machines worked properly. There was not even a paper trail to follow
up. The machines were fitted with thermal printing devices that could
theoretically provide a written record of voters' choices, but these
were not activated. Consequently, recounts were impossible. Had Diebold
Inc, the manufacturer, been asked to review the votes, all it could
have done was program the computers to spit out the same data as
before, flawed or not.

Astonishingly, these are the terms under which America's top three
computer voting machine manufacturers - Diebold, Sequoia and Election
Systems and Software (ES&S) - have sold their products to election
officials around the country. Far from questioning the need for rigid
trade secrecy and the absence of a paper record, secretaries of state
and their technical advisers - anxious to banish memories of the
hanging chad fiasco and other associated disasters in the 2000
presidential recount in Florida - have, for the most part, welcomed the
touchscreen voting machines as a technological miracle solution.

Georgia was not the only state last November to see big last-minute
swings in voting patterns. There were others in Colorado, Minnesota,
Illinois and New Hampshire - all in races that had been flagged as key
partisan battlegrounds, and all won by the Republican Party. Again,
this was widely attributed to the campaigning efforts of President Bush
and the demoralization of a Democratic Party too timid to speak out
against the looming war in Iraq.

Strangely, however, the pollsters made no comparable howlers in
lower-key races whose outcome was not seriously contested. Another
anomaly, perhaps. What, then, is one to make of the fact that the
owners of the three major computer voting machines are all prominent
Republican Party donors? Or of a recent political fund-raising letter
written to Ohio Republicans by Walden O'Dell, Diebold's chief
executive, in which he said he was "committed to helping Ohio to
deliver its electoral votes to the president next year" - even as his
company was bidding for the contract on the state's new voting

Alarmed and suspicious, a group of Georgia citizens began to look into
last November's election to see whether there was any chance the
results might have been deliberately or accidentally manipulated. Their
research proved unexpectedly, and disturbingly, fruitful.

First, they wanted to know if the software had undergone adequate
checking. Under state and federal law, all voting machinery and
component parts must be certified before use in an election. So an
Atlanta graphic designer called Denis Wright wrote to the secretary of
state's office for a copy of the certification letter. Clifford Tatum,
assistant director of legal affairs for the election division, wrote
back: "We have determined that no records exist in the Secretary of
State's office regarding a certification letter from the lab certifying
the version of software used on Election Day." Mr Tatum said it was
possible the relevant documents were with Gary Powell, an official at
the Georgia Technology Authority, so campaigners wrote to him as well.
Mr Powell responded he was "not sure what you mean by the words 'please
provide written certification documents' ".

"If the machines were not certified, then right there the election was
illegal," Mr Wright says. The secretary of state's office has yet to
demonstrate anything to the contrary. The investigating citizens then
considered the nature of the software itself. Shortly after the
election, a Diebold technician called Rob Behler came forward and
reported that, when the machines were about to be shipped to Georgia
polling stations in the summer of 2002, they performed so erratically
that their software had to be amended with a last-minute "patch".
Instead of being transmitted via disk - a potentially time-consuming
process, especially since its author was in Canada, not Georgia - the
patch was posted, along with the entire election software package, on
an open-access FTP, or file transfer protocol site, on the internet.

That, according to computer experts, was a violation of the most basic
of security precautions, opening all sorts of possibilities for the
introduction of rogue or malicious code. At the same time, however, it
gave campaigners a golden opportunity to circumvent Diebold's own
secrecy demands and see exactly how the system worked. Roxanne Jekot, a
computer programmer with 20 years' experience, and an occasional
teacher at Lanier Technical College northeast of Atlanta, did a
line-by-line review and found "enough to stand your hair on end".

"There were security holes all over it," she says, "from the most basic
display of the ballot on the screen all the way through the operating
system." Although the program was designed to be run on the Windows
2000 NT operating system, which has numerous safeguards to keep out
intruders, Ms Jekot found it worked just fine on the much less secure
Windows 98; the 2000 NT security features were, as she put it,

Also embedded in the software were the comments of the programmers
working on it. One described what he and his colleagues had just done
as "a gross hack". Elsewhere was the remark: "This doesn't really
work." "Not a confidence builder, would you say?" Ms Jekot says. "They
were operating in panic mode, cobbling together something that would
work for the moment, knowing that at some point they would have to go
back to figure out how to make it work more permanently." She found
some of the code downright suspect - for example, an overtly
meaningless instruction to divide the number of write-in votes by 1.
"From a logical standpoint there is absolutely no reason to do that,"
she says. "It raises an immediate red flag."

Mostly, though, she was struck by the shoddiness of much of the
programming. "I really expected to have some difficulty reviewing the
source code because it would be at a higher level than I am accustomed
to," she says. "In fact, a lot of this stuff looked like the homework
my first-year students might have turned in." Diebold had no specific
comment on Ms Jekot's interpretations, offering only a blanket caution
about the complexity of election systems "often not well understood by
individuals with little real-world experience".

But Ms Jekot was not the only one to examine the Diebold software and
find it lacking. In July, a group of researchers from the Information
Security Institute at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore discovered
what they called "stunning flaws". These included putting the password
in the source code, a basic security no-no; manipulating the voter
smart-card function so one person could cast more than one vote; and
other loopholes that could theoretically allow voters' ballot choices
to be altered without their knowledge, either on the spot or by remote

Diebold issued a detailed response, saying that the Johns Hopkins
report was riddled with false assumptions, inadequate information and
"a multitude of false conclusions". Substantially similar findings,
however, were made in a follow-up study on behalf of the state of
Maryland, in which a group of computer security experts catalogued 328
software flaws, 26 of them critical, putting the whole system "at high
risk of compromise". "If these vulnerabilities are exploited,
significant impact could occur on the accuracy, integrity, and
availability of election results," their report says.

Ever since the Johns Hopkins study, Diebold has sought to explain away
the open FTP file as an old, incomplete version of its election
package. The claim cannot be independently verified, because of the
trade-secrecy agreement, and not everyone is buying it. "It is
documented throughout the code who changed what and when. We have the
history of this program from 1996 to 2002," Ms Jekot says. "I have no
doubt this is the software used in the elections." Diebold now says it
has upgraded its encryption and password features - but only on its
Maryland machines.

A key security question concerned compatibility with Microsoft Windows,
and Ms Jekot says just three programmers, all of them senior Diebold
executives, were involved in this aspect of the system. One of these,
Diebold's vice-president of research and development, Talbot Iredale,
wrote an e-mail in April 2002 - later obtained by the campaigners -
making it clear that he wanted to shield the operating system from
Wylie Labs, an independent testing agency involved in the early
certification process.

The reason that emerges from the e-mail is that he wanted to make the
software compatible with WinCE 3.0, an operating system used for
handhelds and PDAs; in other words, a system that could be manipulated
from a remote location. "We do not want Wyle [sic] reviewing and
certifying the operating systems," the e-mail reads. "Therefore can we
keep to a minimum the references to the WinCE 3.0 operating system."

In an earlier intercepted e-mail, this one from Ken Clark in Diebold's
research and development department, the company explained upfront to
another independent testing lab that the supposedly secure software
system could be accessed without a password, and its contents easily
changed using the Microsoft Access program Mr Clark says he had
considered putting in a password requirement to stop dealers and
customers doing "stupid things", but that the easy access had often
"got people out of a bind". Astonishingly, the representative from the
independent testing lab did not see anything wrong with this and
granted certification to the part of the software program she was
inspecting - a pattern of lackadaisical oversight that was replicated
all the way to the top of the political chain of command in Georgia,
and in many other parts of the country.

Diebold has not contested the authenticity of the e-mails, now openly
accessible on the internet. However, Diebold did caution that, as the
e-mails were taken from a Diebold Election systems website in March
2003 by an illegal hack, the nature of the information stolen could
have been revised or manipulated.

There are two reasons why the United States is rushing to overhaul its
voting systems. The first is the Florida dÈb‚cle in the Bush-Gore
election; no state wants to be the center of that kind of attention
again. And the second is the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), signed by
President Bush last October, which promises an unprecedented $3.9bn
(£2.3bn) to the states to replace their old punchcard-and-lever
machines. However, enthusiasm for the new technology seems to be
motivated as much by a bureaucratic love of spending as by a love of
democratic accountability. According to Rebecca Mercuri, a research
fellow at Harvard's John F Kennedy School of Government and a
specialist in voting systems, the shockingly high error rate of
punchcard machines (3-5 per cent in Florida in 2000) has been known to
people in the elections business for years. It was only after it became
public knowledge in the last presidential election that anybody felt
moved to do anything about it.

The problem is, computer touchscreen machines and other so-called DRE
(direct recording electronic) systems are significantly less reliable
than punchcards, irrespective of their vulnerability to interference.
In a series of research papers for the Voting Technology Project, a
joint venture of the prestigious Massachusetts and California
Institutes of Technology, DREs were found to be among the worst
performing systems. No method, the MIT/CalTech study conceded, worked
more reliably than hand-counting paper ballots - an option that US
electoral officials seem to consider hopelessly antiquated, or at least
impractical in elections combining multiple local, state and national
races for offices from President down to dogcatcher.

The clear disadvantages and dangers associated with DREs have not
deterred state and county authorities from throwing themselves headlong
into touchscreen technology. More than 40,000 machines made by Diebold
alone are already in use in 37 states, and most are touchscreens.
County after county is poised to spend hundreds of millions of dollars
more on computer voting before next spring's presidential primaries.
"They say this is the direction they have to go in to have fair
elections, but the rush to go towards computerization is very dubious,"
Dr Mercuri says. "One has to wonder why this is going on, because the
way it is set up it takes away the checks and balances we have in a
democratic society. That's the whole point of paper trails and

Anyone who has struggled with an interactive display in a museum knows
how dodgy touchscreens can be. If they don't freeze, they easily become
misaligned, which means they can record the wrong data. In Dallas,
during early voting before last November's election, people found that
no matter how often they tried to press a Democrat button, the
Republican candidate's name would light up. After a court hearing,
Diebold agreed to take down 18 machines with apparent misalignment
problems. "And those were the ones where you could visually spot a
problem," Dr Mercuri says. "What about what you don't see? Just because
your vote shows up on the screen for the Democrats, how do you know it
is registering inside the machine for the Democrats?"

Other problems have shown up periodically: machines that register zero
votes, or machines that indicate voters coming to the polling station
but not voting, even when a single race with just two candidates was on
the ballot. Dr Mercuri was part of a lawsuit in Palm Beach County in
which she and other plaintiffs tried to have a suspect Sequoia machine
examined, only to run up against the brick wall of the trade-secret
agreement. "It makes it really hard to show their product has been
tampered with," she says, "if it's a felony to inspect it."

As for the possibilities of foul play, Dr Mercuri says they are
virtually limitless. "There are literally hundreds of ways to do this,"
she says. "There are hundreds of ways to embed a rogue series of
commands into the code and nobody would ever know because the nature of
programming is so complex. The numbers would all tally perfectly."
Tampering with an election could be something as simple as a
"denial-of-service" attack, in which the machines simply stop working
for an extended period, deterring voters faced with the prospect of
long lines. Or it could be done with invasive computer codes known in
the trade by such nicknames as "Trojan horses" or "Easter eggs".
Detecting one of these, Dr Mercuri says, would be almost impossible
unless the investigator knew in advance it was there and how to trigger
it. Computer researcher Theresa Hommel, who is alarmed by touchscreen
systems, has constructed a simulated voting machine in which the same
candidate always wins, no matter what data you put in. She calls her
model the Fraud-o-matic, and it is available online at

It is not just touchscreens which are at risk from error or malicious
intrusion. Any computer system used to tabulate votes is vulnerable. An
optical scan of ballots in Scurry County, Texas, last November
erroneously declared a landslide victory for the Republican candidate
for county commissioner; a subsequent hand recount showed that the
Democrat had in fact won. In Comal County, Texas, a computerized
optical scan found that three different candidates had won their races
with exactly 18,181 votes. There was no recount or investigation, even
though the coincidence, with those recurring 1s and 8s, looked highly
suspicious. In heavily Democrat Broward County, Florida - which had
switched to touchscreens in the wake of the hanging chad furore - more
than 100,000 votes were found to have gone "missing" on election day.
The votes were reinstated, but the glitch was not adequately explained.
One local official blamed it on a "minor software thing".

Most suspect of all was the governor's race in Alabama, where the
incumbent Democrat, Don Siegelman, was initially declared the winner.
Sometime after midnight, when polling station observers and most staff
had gone home, the probate judge responsible for elections in rural
Baldwin County suddenly "discovered" that Mr Siegelman had been awarded
7,000 votes too many. In a tight election, the change was enough to
hand victory to his Republican challenger, Bob Riley. County officials
talked vaguely of a computer tabulation error, or a lightning strike
messing up the machines, but the real reason was never ascertained
because the state's Republican attorney general refused to authorize a
recount or any independent ballot inspection.

According to an analysis by James Gundlach, a sociology professor at
Auburn University in Alabama, the result in Baldwin County was full of
wild deviations from the statistical norms established both by this and
preceding elections. And he adds: "There is simply no way that
electronic vote counting can produce two sets of results without
someone using computer programs in ways that were not intended. In
other words, the fact that two sets of results were reported is
sufficient evidence in and of itself that the vote tabulation process
was compromised." Although talk of voting fraud quickly subsided,
Alabama has now amended its election laws to make recounts mandatory in
close races.

The possibility of flaws in the electoral process is not something that
gets discussed much in the United States. The attitude seems to be: we
are the greatest democracy in the world, so the system must be fair.
That has certainly been the prevailing view in Georgia, where even
leading Democrats - their prestige on the line for introducing
touchscreen voting in the first place - have fought tooth-and-nail to
defend the integrity of the system. In a phone interview, the head of
the Georgia Technology Authority who brought Diebold machines to the
state, Larry Singer, blamed the growing chorus of criticism on "fear of
technology", despite the fact that many prominent critics are
themselves computer scientists. He says: "Are these machines flawless?
No. Would you have more confidence if they were completely flawless?
Yes. Is there such a thing as a flawless system? No." Mr Singer, who
left the GTA straight after the election and took a 50 per cent pay cut
to work for Sun Microsystems, insists that voters are more likely to
have their credit card information stolen by a busboy in a restaurant
than to have their vote compromised by touchscreen technology.

Voting machines are sold in the United States in much the same way as
other government contracts: through intensive lobbying, wining and
dining. At a recent national conference of clerks, election officials
and treasurers in Denver, attendees were treated to black-tie dinners
and other perks, including free expensive briefcases stamped with
Sequoia's company logo alongside the association's own symbol. Nobody
in power seems to find this worrying, any more than they worried when
Sequoia's southern regional sales manager, Phil Foster, was indicted in
Louisiana a couple of years ago for "conspiracy to commit money
laundering and malfeasance". The charges were dropped in exchange for
his testimony against Louisiana's state commissioner of elections.
Similarly, last year, the Arkansas secretary of state, Bill McCuen,
pleaded guilty to taking bribes and kickbacks involving a precursor
company to ES&S; the voting machine company executive who testified
against him in exchange for immunity is now an ES&S vice-president.

If much of the worry about vote-tampering is directed at the
Republicans, it is largely because the big three touchscreen companies
are all big Republican donors, pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars
into party coffers in the past few years. The ownership issue is, of
course, compounded by the lack of transparency. Or, as Dr Mercuri puts
it: "If the machines were independently verifiable, who would give a
crap who owns them?" As it is, fears that US democracy is being
hijacked by corporate interests are being fueled by links between the
big three and broader business interests, as well as extremist
organizations. Two of the early backers of American Information
Systems, a company later merged into ES&S, are also prominent
supporters of the Chalcedon Foundation, an organization that espouses
theocratic governance according to a literal reading of the Bible and
advocates capital punishment for blasphemy and homosexuality.

The chief executive of American Information Systems in the early
Nineties was Chuck Hagel, who went on to run for elective office and
became the first Republican in 24 years to be elected to the Senate
from Nebraska, cheered on by the Omaha World-Herald newspaper which
also happens to be a big investor in ES&S. In yet another clamorous
conflict of interest, 80 per cent of Mr Hagel's winning votes - both in
1996 and again in 2002 - were counted, under the usual terms of
confidentiality, by his own company.

In theory, the federal government should be monitoring the transition
to computer technology and rooting out abuses. Under the Help America
Vote Act, the Bush administration is supposed to establish a sizeable
oversight committee, headed by two Democrats and two Republicans, as
well as a technical panel to determine standards for new voting
machinery. The four commission heads were supposed to have been in
place by last February, but so far just one has been appointed. The
technical panel also remains unconstituted, even though the new
machines it is supposed to vet are already being sold in large
quantities - a state of affairs Dr Mercuri denounces as "an

One of the conditions states have to fulfil to receive federal funding
for the new voting machines, meanwhile, is a consolidation of voter
rolls at state rather than county level. This provision sends a chill
down the spine of anyone who has studied how Florida consolidated its
own voter rolls just before the 2000 election, purging the names of
tens of thousands of eligible voters, most of them African Americans
and most of them Democrats, through misuse of an erroneous list of
convicted felons commissioned by Katherine Harris, the secretary of
state doubling as George Bush's Florida campaign manager. Despite a
volley of lawsuits, the incorrect list was still in operation in last
November's mid-terms, raising all sorts of questions about what other
states might now do with their own voter rolls. It is not that the
Act's consolidation provision is in itself evidence of a conspiracy to
throw elections, but it does leave open that possibility.

Meanwhile, the administration has been pushing new voting technology of
its own to help overseas citizens and military personnel, both natural
Republican Party constituencies, to vote more easily over the internet.
Internet voting is notoriously insecure and open to abuse by just about
anyone with rudimentary hacking skills; just last January, an
experiment in internet voting in Toronto was scuppered by a Slammer
worm attack. Undeterred, the administration has gone ahead with its
so-called SERVE project for overseas voting, via a private consortium
made up of major defense contractors and a Saudi investment group. The
contract for overseeing internet voting in the 2004 presidential
election was recently awarded to Accenture, formerly part of the Arthur
Andersen group (whose accountancy branch, a major campaign contributor
to President Bush, imploded as a result of the Enron bankruptcy

Not everyone in the United States has fallen under the spell of the big
computer voting companies, and there are signs of growing wariness.
Oregon decided even before HAVA to conduct all its voting by mail.
Wisconsin has decided it wants nothing to do with touchscreen machines
without a verifiable paper trail, and New York is considering a similar
injunction, at least for its state assembly races. In California, a
Stanford computer science professor called David Dill is screaming from
the rooftops on the need for a paper trail in his state, so far without
result. And a New Jersey Congressman called Rush Holt has introduced a
bill in the House of Representatives, the Voter Confidence and
Increased Accessibility Act, asking for much the same thing. Not
everyone is heeding the warnings, though. In Ohio, publication of the
letter from Diebold's chief executive promising to deliver the state to
President Bush in 2004 has not deterred the secretary of state - a
Republican - from putting Diebold on a list of preferred voting-machine
vendors. Similarly, in Maryland, officials have not taken the recent
state-sponsored study identifying hundreds of flaws in the Diebold
software as any reason to change their plans to use Diebold machines in
March's presidential primary.

The question is whether the country will come to its senses before
elections start getting distorted or tampered with on such a scale that
the system becomes unmanageable. The sheer volume of money offered
under HAVA is unlikely to be forthcoming again in a hurry, so if things
aren't done right now it is doubtful the system can be fixed again for
a long time. "This is frightening, really frightening," says Dr
Mercuri, and a growing number of reasonable people are starting to
agree with her. One such is John Zogby, arguably the most reliable
pollster in the United States, who has freely admitted he "blew" last
November's elections and does not exclude the possibility that foul
play was one of the factors knocking his calculations off course.
"We're plowing into a brave new world here," he says, "where there are
so many variables aside from out-and-out corruption that can change
elections, especially in situations where the races are close. We have
machines that break down, or are tampered with, or are simply
misunderstood. It's a cause for great concern."

Roxanne Jekot, who has put much of her professional and personal life
on hold to work on the issue full time, puts it even more strongly.
"Corporate America is very close to running this country. The only
thing that is stopping them from taking total control are the pesky
voters. That's why there's such a drive to control the vote. What we're
seeing is the corporatization of the last shred of democracy.

"I feel that unless we stop it here and stop it now," she says, "my
kids won't grow up to have a right to vote at all."

© 2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Bureaucratic Incentives: Soviet Collapse Provides a Clue to Solving Iraq's WMD Puzzle

An OpEd piece by economist James Buchanan provides an interesting twist on the missing WMDs in Iraq:

“…The WMD programs that Saddam thought to exist may have been, in fact, Potemkin-like displays that were produced solely to satisfy the members of the inner circle, with little or no connection to operational workability.”

Read the piece -- perhaps a bit of a reach, yet, maybe a piece of the puzzle -- in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

No Fly Zone for Democrats

Sarita Chourey writes that while GOP senators cite progress on Iraq's reconstruction, their Democrat counterparts vent their frustration, because they can't seem to catch a flight to view that progress.

'"...For whatever reason, Sens. [Chris] Dodd [D-Conn.] and others who requested the opportunity to travel were prohibited from doing so, and I think that requires a better explanation that the one I've been given so far,' Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said. Daschle added: 'We have to assume that what [Republican senators] saw is accurate.'"

Read about it in The Hill, the Newspaper for and about the U.S. Congress.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Hurricane Aftermath

On Sept. 18 Hurricane Isabel knocked 10,000 trees down in Richmond, on city property, alone. 1,200 trees, mostly old oaks, were lost in the city's parks. Read the article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Ink Bites

Today's Oliphant cartoon is priceless! Don't click here unless you enjoy a good laugh at the expense of Dubya, Uncle Dick and Uncle Rummy.

Monday, October 13, 2003

Sunday, October 12, 2003

Which Father Knows Best?

In her New York Times column Dowd draws a bead on Darth Dick:

"…To back up his claim that Saddam was an immediate threat, the vice president had to distort the findings of David Kay, the administration's own weapons hunter, and continue to overdramatize the danger of Saddam. 'Saddam built, possessed and used weapons of mass destruction,' Mr. Cheney said. Yes, but during the first Bush administration.'"

Read Maureen Dowd and laugh.

Saturday, October 11, 2003

Neocon Men

For readers interested in the history of the neoconservative movement in America this piece by Brian Giles may fill in some blanks.

"The term ‘neoconservative’ makes less and less sense the more it is explored. Conservatism is based on preserving the status quo and opposing progressive changes, but the neocons were radicals at heart, defying the very meaning of 'conservative.'"

Surprisingly, in the 1960s, Richmond’s own much-admired Supreme Court Justice, the late Lewis F. Powell, Jr., played a role in the story, according to Giles:

“Powell was, in effect, arguing for the corporate takeover of government as well as the social infrastructure and channels of communication. Although the Chamber of Commerce dismissed his manifesto as being too ambitious and costly, Powell's words carried a loud echo and were soon the catalyst for a resurgence of business interests in political life.”

Read the story on the Weekly Dig: The Best Little Paper in Boston.

Friday, October 10, 2003


This year's High on the Hog party will unfold on Richmond's Libby Hill tomorrow afternoon/early-evening (Oct. 11). The acts that have been booked to appear live on stage are: Johnny Houston, Gayle McGhee & the Nocturnes, Li’l Ronnie & the Grand Dukes and Big City.

As always, admission to HOTH is free -- porkly food and chilly beer are available at moderate prices, while they last.

Thursday, October 09, 2003


Political cartoonist Pat Oliphant is in a class by himself. Click here to see recent examples of his splendid work.

The Arizona Nine

According to the Washington Post: "CNN released a national poll of the Democratic race Thursday showing Clark leading with 21 percent, followed by Dean at 16 percent and Kerry and Lieberman each at 13 percent. All other candidates were in single digits."

Read the Post’s report on CNN's Democratic debate tonight held in Phoenix.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Sherlock Bush?

President Bush says he wants to find out who in his administration is the source of The Leak. But given Bush’s record on finding what he says he’s looking for, don’t hold your breath on this one. So far he hasn’t found Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, or any WMDs in Iraq.

"I have no idea whether we'll find out who the leaker is," Bush told reporters after he met with his Cabinet. "I'd like to. I want to know the truth."

Yeah, sure you do… Read the Reuters story.

Kerry Throws a Curveball at Dean

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) has accused fellow presidential hopeful Howard Dean (former governor of Vermont) of being something that could brand Dean as tantamount to a traitor in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Kerry has charged that Dean is not only disloyal to the Boston Red Sox, but that he is actually a New York Yankees fan.

With the American League Championship Series featuring those two longtime bitter rivals beginning tonight in New York, Dean vigorously denied the charge. Read the AP story.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Revelation Casts Doubt on Newest WMD Claim

Writing for The Guardian Julian Borger reveals that once again claims about WMDs are being exaggerated for effect:

“The test tube of botulinum presented by Washington and London as evidence that Saddam Hussein had been developing and concealing weapons of mass destruction, was found in an Iraqi scientist's home refrigerator, where it had been sitting for 10 years, it emerged yesterday.”

Read the latest on the snipe hunt in Iraq.

Monday, October 06, 2003

Why Are These Men Laughing?

Ron Suskind's view of presidential adviser Karl Rove is eye-opening. No, make that chilling.

“[Karl Rove’s friends and co-workers] heard that I was writing about [him] …and they began calling, some anonymously, some not, saying that they wanted to help and leaving phone numbers. The calls from members of the White House staff were solemn, serious. Their concern was not only about politics, they said, not simply about Karl pulling the president further to the right. It went deeper; it was about this administration’s ability to focus on the substance of governing -- issues like the economy and social security and education and health care -- as opposed to its clear political acumen, its ability to win and enhance power.”

“…Over time, I came to know these sources to be serious people with credible information. And, of course, their fear of discovery is warranted, for this White House has defined itself as a disciplined command center that enforces a unanimity of purpose and has a well-known prohibition of leaks, a well-known distaste for openness.”

"...Sources close to the former president (Bush) say Rove was fired from the 1992 Bush presidential campaign after he planted a negative story with columnist Robert Novak about dissatisfaction with campaign fundraising chief and Bush loyalist Robert Mosbacher Jr. It was smoked out, and he was summarily ousted."

Read the in-depth article in January's Esquire.

The Real Loulou?

David DeGroff, of Alexandria, says a woman wrongly adopted his lost bird
-- Loulou, an 11-year-old African gray parrot. DeGroff says he can prove it if he is allowed to question the parrot in court.

Read the AP story.

Sunday, October 05, 2003

Arnold Unplugged

Writing for The Observer Greg Palast connects the dots between the Bush crony, swindler Ken Lay, and cheap-feel artist Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s a real eye-opener!

“…It turns out that Schwarzenegger knowingly joined the hush-hush encounter as part of a campaign to sabotage a Davis-Bustamante plan to make Enron and other power pirates then ravaging California pay back the $9 billion in illicit profits they carried off.”

On Tuesday, if Schwarzenegger is elected, it's likely to be hasta la vista to that $9 billion. Read "Arnold Unplugged" and weep/laugh.

Saturday, October 04, 2003

Slime and Defend

Paul Krugman weighs in on the snowballing story of the leak.

"...Mr. Bush took no action after the Novak column. Before we get bogged down in the details -- which is what the administration hopes will happen -- let's be clear: we already know what the president knew, and when he knew it. Mr. Bush knew, 11 weeks ago, that some of his senior aides had done something utterly inexcusable."

The rest of Krugman's New York Times piece is worth reading.

Friday, October 03, 2003

Lies, Damn Lies and Bovine Feces

The White House disinformation machine is probably the most effective operation of its ilk we’ve ever seen. But as good as Bush's spinners are they can’t do it alone. Read the results of a study that shows clearly which networks have been in on fixing the game.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

What a Mess! Who Made It?

Newsweek looks behind the curtain at the decisions that led to what seems more and more to be a disaster brewing in Iraq. Who made what mistakes? Why? It’s a fascinating read.

“…six months after their “liberation,” the Iraqis are still short of power (both electrical and electoral) and jobs, and the guerrilla war continues to claim an American soldier or two on almost a daily basis. Inside and outside the U.S. government, knowledgeable experts worry that Iraq is nearing a tipping point—that rising terrorism and resentment of America could bring real chaos or civil war.”

Read the Newsweek story on MSNBC.

Situational Ethics, Run Amuck

How weird can it get in California? Now, according to this AP story, the same sort of Republican bluenoses who were livid over Bill Clinton's womanizing, etc., are cheering Arnold's 11th hour apology.

“Confronted with fresh allegations that he groped women, Arnold Schwarzenegger apologized Thursday for having ‘behaved badly sometimes’ and pleaded with voters just days before California's recall election for the chance to show that he has changed.

‘I have behaved badly sometimes. Yes, it is true that I was on rowdy movie sets and I have done things that were not right, which I thought then was playful but now I recognize that I offended people,’ [Schwarzenegger] said.”

Click here to read the whole bizarre story.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Artful Propaganda

by F. T. Rea

With protests of the war/occupation in Iraq swelling again, it’s certain that more anti-war art will be moving into the public’s view to function as propaganda. That propaganda created by individuals opposed to the war will then do battle with the corporate and government propaganda supporting the war. Today’s outraged artists seeking to tilt public support away from the war owe a good part of their artistic license to weigh in to one man – Francisco Goya (1746-1828).

The shocking images that Goya hurled at viewers of his paintings and etchings, in the early nineteenth century, broke with tradition. Goya, a well-connected artist, took it upon himself to strip away the romantic portrayal of war routinely presented in European art before Napoleon’s troops began to occupy Spain. Instead of glorious combat between hero and villain, Goya offered horrific brutality and pathetic victims – forgotten people whose deaths went for naught.

Because Goya’s work was widely distributed, due to what were recent advances in printing, for the first time many people saw graphic depictions of all-out war. The art world hasn’t been the same since.

Following in Goya’s footsteps artists such as Honore Daumier (1808-1879), Georges Rouault (1871-1959), Frans Masereel (1889-1971), Otto Dix (1892-1969), among many others, created still more haunting images illustrating the less-than-glorious aspects of war, inspired by the bloodiest conflicts of their times.

Later, in the midst of the Spanish Civil War, with the storm clouds of World War II gathering, Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) painted history’s most celebrated piece of anti-war art – “Guernica.” In this time, long before embedded war correspondents, Picasso’s “Guernica” spectacularly documented one afternoon’s mayhem.

On April 27, 1937, to field-test state-of the-art equipment, Germany’s Adolf Hitler loaned a portion of his air force, the Condor Legion, to a fellow fascist dictator, Spain’s Francisco Franco. The mission: to bomb a small town a few miles inland from the Gulf of Biscay; a Basque village that had no strategic value whatsoever.

The result: utter terror. Bombs rained on Guernica for over three hours, as machine gunners systematically mowed down the poor souls that fled into the surrounding fields. Most estimates say that roughly a third of the population of Guernica – over 1,600 people – was killed or seriously injured.

Four days later Picasso saw a million people in the streets of Paris protesting the bombing of Guernica. Grim pictures of corpses appeared in French newspapers. That day Picasso dropped what he had been working on and began sketching studies for what became “Guernica.” As Spain’s government-in-exile had already commissioned him to create a mural for its pavilion in the upcoming Paris World’s Fair, the product of the artist’s labor – with its stark shades-of-gray composition of terrified people and animals – was displayed in a way that it caused quite a stir.

When the fair closed “Guernica” needed a home. Not only was the Spain of Generalissimo Franco out of the question, Picasso decided it couldn’t stay anywhere in Europe. Thus, the huge painting was shipped to the USA and called Manhattan’s Museum of Modern Art its home for over 40 years.

In February of 1981 I saw “Guernica” with my then-11-year-old daughter. When the MOMA elevator opened the sight of the 25-foot wide masterpiece was literally stunning; the doors began to close before the spell was broken. A few months later it was packed up and sent to Madrid, Spain, upon the 100-year anniversary of the artist’s birth.

A large copy of “Guernica” hangs on the second floor of the United Nations building. On the occasion of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s February 5 presentation, underlining the Bush administration’s impatience with U.N. members seeking to avoid, or delay, war in Iraq, said copy was covered by a blue drape. Apparently, someone thought that even a replica of “Guernica” (donated to the U.N. by Nelson Rockefeller’s estate in 1985) had to be avoided as a backdrop behind any photographs of Powell.

Secretary Powell, who crossed his fingers and told his U.N. audience, “We also have satellite photos that indicate that banned materials have recently been moved from a number of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction facilities,” surely knows the history of “Guernica” and exactly what inspired it.

Perhaps Powell was actually ashamed of himself and needed no reminders, perhaps not.

Ten days later ordinary citizens in Europe took to their streets to protest the war in Iraq that was brewing. In London and Madrid the crowds were said to have been over a million strong. It’s worth noting that volunteers in Madrid used a paint-by-numbers system to configure a huge replica of the image that vexed Powell – “Guernica.”

Although Bush's spinners told us that when American troops crossed the border Iraqis would pour into streets to welcome their Yankee liberators, now we know that didn’t happen. While the White House propaganda team said it had a plan for what to do in Iraq once Saddam Hussein was toppled, that has turned out to be as bogus as Powell’s so-called “intelligence” about WMDs.

Now the protests against Bush's policy in Iraq are building again in European cities. In the long run, with all the power the bumbling American pro-war neocons still possess, make no mistake – they fear new art with the mojo of “Guernica” more than they do any of the weapons of mass destruction that mustachioed Saddam didn’t have.

Surely Goya would be pleased to know that artists are still breaking with the establishment to protest war. Daumier, an incurable French wiseacre who went to jail for six months for drawing a political cartoon that mocked his ruler, Louis-Philippe, would no doubt relish humorous art mocking failed rulers George W. Bush and Tony Blair.

So, art-wise, as Bush himself once said, "bring it on."

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Loose Lips (Leaks) Sink Ships (Presidents)

Writing for MSNBC Michael Moran wonders if George W. Bush is looking at the leak that will eventually sink his presidency.

“They begin, invariably, without much fanfare. The Paula Jones saga began with a story in a London newspaper about Bill Clinton’s 'sexual peccadilloes' written off by the American media for weeks as typical Fleet Street scandal mongering. Iran-Contra, the tangled affair that bedeviled the last two years of Ronald Reagan’s tenure, started with the otherwise unremarkable crash of a small plane over Nicaragua that turned out to be an illegal CIA gunrunning operation. For President Richard Nixon, of course, it all began with a ‘a two-bit burglary’ at a hotel called The Watergate.”

Now, due to a loose end that is suddenly being tugged at hard, by all sorts of people who know how to play the game, Bush -- in total denial -- may well be seeing the first stage of the unraveling of his administration. That is seems to involve such weasels as Karl Rove and Robert Novak is almost too sweet to be believed.

Read the story on MSNBC.

Monday, September 29, 2003

A New Storm Brewing in DeeCee

The story that the White House, itself, leaked the story that outed a C.I.A. undercover operative is gaining momentum. Some seem sure it was none other than Karl Rove who dished out the payback.

“…some of the 10 Democrats seeking to challenge President Bush in 2004 said the disclosure of an ambassador's wife as a C.I.A. officer demonstrated that the Bush administration was intertwining politics and national security and could not be trusted to investigate itself.

‘This administration has played politics with national security for a long time, but this is going too far," one of those Democratic hopefuls, retired Gen. Wesley Clark, told Reuters, suggesting an independent commission look into the accusations. 'I don't think, in this administration, the Department of Justice will have the credibility it needs to reassure American allies abroad, and people around the world, about this matter.’”

Read the New York Times story.

Saturday, September 27, 2003

International Protests Oppose Iraq Occupation

Coordinated protests of the occupation of Iraq occurred in cities across Western Europe, as well as in Turkey and South Korea. Read the story on Reuters.

Iraq Spells Trouble for Bush

Writing for BBC News, Matt Frei wonders if Dubya is on his way to being the second Bush to be a one-term president.

"...The last time [George W. Bush] sat on the high backed chair of the general assembly - more of a throne in fact - on which speakers are placed before and after their speech, he looked like a patriarch who was holding a wayward family to account. This time he came across as a fidgety schoolboy, anxious to leave.

To read the piece click here.

Friday, September 26, 2003

Dems go toe-to-toe in NYC debate

Here's a crisp account of the Democrats' cat-fight debate on Thursday night:

"...Despite preaching the virtues of training their guns on President Bush, the other candidates' rhetoric evolved at times into biting personal attacks and sharp policy disputes with their competitors on stage yesterday."

Sounds like fun! To read the rest of it click here.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003


On the Friday morning (Sept. 19) after Hurricane Isabel blew through town the sky was blue and the air smelled clean. The residents of the Fan District, at the heart of Richmond, Virginia, woke from an uneasy sleep. Day One of the unplugged life was underway.

Before the worst of the storm passed, about midnight, Isabel tossed huge trees around like a handful of Pickup Sticks. Power lines snapped. Cars were crushed. Roofs caved in and basements flooded. As the shocking and unprecedented devastation dealt out by the previous night’s onslaught of wind and rain was revealed to the stunned urbanites, so, too, did the reality of widespread electricity deprivation.

On my block the lights came back on Wednesday afternoon. Other areas of the Fan are still doing without.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Hurricane Isabel

We made it through the storm. Thursday night Isabel rocked Richmond, a city not accustomed to such extremes. The Fan District was hit hard. Power is still out in a good part of the Fan, including my little nook. I'll be posting an account of what happened. No time now.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Remembering Hazel

Ed Note: The smell of the storm and the sound of the wind-driven water were exciting. As a six-year-old, looking out of the bay windows of the dining room, Hurricane Hazel made a big impression on me.

The tall pine trees behind the outbuildings were whipping around in the wind, when suddenly I saw what was both thrilling and sad. The Umbrella Tree (our family name for it, I don’t know what kind it was) was pulled up out of the ground. It was in the air for a moment with its roots torn and exposed – this was a big tree – before it came crashing back down, almost completely upside down, to fall on its side.

In a fickle flash of its gray wrath Hazel killed what was my favorite tree to climb. Never again would it provide shade for the white lawn furniture that rested in the part of the yard we called, The Dell.

In reading about the path that's being predicted for Hurricane Isabel, I see that this new storm is being compared to Hurricane Hazel (1954). Old Hazel left a mark on the East Coast as few storms have. The path brought it through Richmond, up from North Carolina, on its way to Toronto.

Here’s on Hazel:

The strongest storm of 1954 was the legendary Hurricane Hazel, a powerful Category 4 storm that brought estimated winds of 150 mph when it made landfall in the Carolinas on Oct. 15. The storm retained strength fairly far inland, causing 100 mph winds as far north as Pennsylvania and New York. The damage in 2000 dollars was estimated at approximately $4 billion, and when totaling U.S. deaths with those in the Caribbean and Canada, the death toll was more than 600.

Here are some links to read more about Hazel:

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Clark To Run for President

Apparently (retired four-star) General Wesley Clark has heard the call and felt the draft. Reports out of Little Rock say Clark will throw his hat into the ring tomorrow, to become the 10th Democrat in the race for the party’s nomination to face George W. Bush in 2004.

“…Clark's resume is formidable,” reports the New York Times, “Rhodes scholar, first in his 1966 class at West Point, White House fellow, head of the U.S. Southern Command and NATO commander during the 1999 campaign in Kosovo.”

Clark’s entry into the race comes at a time when only one of the other nine candidates’ campaigns seems to have gained any traction, that being Howard Dean. It says here that Clark will immediately pass by most of the other Dems and become a serious challenge to Dean. This, as other better-known candidates such as Sen. Joe Lieberman and Sen. John Kerry seem to being fading from the picture.

To read the Times story click here.

Monday, September 15, 2003


High on the Hog (No. 27) will unfold on Richmond's Libby Hill on October 11. The acts that will appear live on stage are: Johnny Houston, Debra and Pat with Gayle McGhee & the Nocturnes, Li’l Ronnie & the Grand Dukes and Big City. As always, admission is free. Food (get there early to be sure of getting a barbeque plate) and beer are available and moderately priced.

In order to truly appreciate what High on the Hog has become, one must first understand that when it began the odds were stacked against it. In the late '70s, Richmond was anything but an outdoors rock 'n' roll party town -- if you tried to mix amplified music with fresh air, you were likely to attract more cops than guests.

So when HOTH began to reoccur each year on Libby Hill -- with top-notch saloon bands such as Memphis Rockabilly and Good Humor performing on an improvised stage in the alley behind Chuck Wrenn’s house -- it was not backed or sanctioned by anybody beyond the stalwarts who threw it together. Eventually the party outgrew the alley, moved across the street into the park and became a legit tradition in spite of what had been Richmond’s rigid rules.

Money has been raised for good causes and the party, now a classic, has grown to the point that thousands show up every year on the second Saturday of Hogtober.

California Recall Halted by Court

Court-ordered sanity, of a sort, returned to California on Monday:

'"The Secretary of State is enjoined from conducting an election on any issue on October 7, 2003,' a three-member panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in its 66-page opinion that sent immediate shockwaves through the state.

"The court stayed its order for seven days to allow the parties to either appeal its ruling to a full 11-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit or directly to the U.S. Supreme Court."

Read the story on Reuters.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

Disaster in the Making

"If Iraq is another Vietnam, when will we know it?" asks Eleanor Clift, writing for Newsweek.

Then she asserts: "As the architects of the minimalist strategy that has left U.S. forces stretched thin in Iraq, the Darth Vaders of defense will bear the blame if the pace of reconstruction doesn't improve. Firing Rumsfeld would be tantamount to admitting the Iraq war was a mistake, which is why it probably won’t happen."

Click here to read Clift's take on where we are on the roadmap to disaster.

Saturday, September 13, 2003

The Only Way Out Is Forward

Col. Mike Turner, writes: “…The operation was a unilateral, conventional, U.S. military operation against a Third World power which, in the final analysis, posed only an indirect and peripheral threat to U.S. vital interests. The operation lacked formal United Nations backing and broad international support, two factors that eventually sapped U.S. will and drained our resources. Mission success was ill-defined, and administration officials, assuming a quick victory, adopted and stubbornly adhered to a tragically simplistic and naive view of the both the military forces required to achieve military victory and the level of societal change necessary to win and sustain the peace.”

Is Turner referring to Iraq, or Vietnam, or both?

In his piece Turner makes an eloquent case for winning in Iraq. Read the Newsweek story.

Art: What It Is

By F. T. Rea

In a Virginia courtroom about 20 years ago I witnessed an entertaining scene in which an age-old question -- what is art? -- was hashed out in front of a patient judge, who seemed to thoroughly enjoy the parade of exhibits and witnesses the attorneys put before him. The gallery was packed with paint-speckled-blue-jeans-wearing art students, gypsy musicians, film buffs, and various other stripes of weekend anarchists.

At the crucial moment a popular college art professor was testifying, as an expert witness. He was being grilled over where to draw the line between what should be, and what should not be, considered as art. The Commonwealth’s Attorney asked the witness directly if the beat-up piece of paper in his hand was actually art.

“Probably,” shrugged the prof. “Why not?”

The flyer, promoting a midnight show at an area cinema, had been posted on a utility pole near a college campus. Rather than pay the small fine for breaking the city’s law forbidding such posters on poles in the public way, the defense attorneys attacked the statute itself. They asserted that their client had a right to post the handbill and the public had a right to see it.

The stubborn prosecutor grumbled, reasserting that the flyer was no more than “litter.”

Eventually, having grown weary of the high-brow vernacular being slung around by the witnesses supporting the theater manager, the prosecutor tried one more time to trip the clever witness up. As soup cans (Warhol’s) had just been mentioned by the art expert, the lawyer asked, “if you were in an alley and you happened upon a pile of debris spilled out from a tipped-over trashcan, could that be art, too?”

“Well,” said the witness, pausing Jack Benny-like for effect, “that would depend on who tipped the can over.”

The line went over like Gangbusters!

The courtroom erupted into laughter. The obviously amused judge bit his lip, while he allowed the laughing to continue long enough to convince the crestfallen lawyer to drop that line of questioning. The city lost the case.

Although I got a kick out of the crack, too, I’ve always thought the prosecutor missed an opportunity to hit the ball back across the net.

“Sir, let me get this right,” he might have said, “are you saying the difference between art and randomly-strewn garbage is simply a matter of whose hand touched it; that the actual appearance of the objects, taken as a whole, is not the true test? Furthermore, are you telling us that without credentials, such as yours, one is ill-equipped to determine the difference between the contents of a trashcan and fine art?”

Yes, the prosecutor gave up too soon because, whether the wise-guy professor admitted it, or not, that is where he was coming from. A smart lawyer could have exploited that angle.

Still, the prosecutor’s premise/strategy that an expert witness could be compelled to rise up to brand a green piece of paper, with black ink on it, as “un-art” was absurd. So, maybe the wily artist would have one-upped the buttoned-down lawyer, no matter what.

Perhaps the fundamental question really shouldn’t be – what is art? After all, any town is full of bad art, and good art, and all shades of in-between art. Name your poison. Rather, it’s probably better to ask – what is worthwhile or useful art?

Then you become the expert witness.

Friday, September 12, 2003

Johnny Cash Dies in Nashville Hospital

Recording artist Johnny Cash, known to his fans as the Man in Black, died today (Friday) from diabetes-related complications. He was 71. Only four months ago his wife, June Carter Cash, died of complications from heart surgery at age 73.

Other than Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash is the only person to have been inducted into both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. To read the New York Times obituary, click here.

Here's the link to an NPR page that has its obituary for Cash and other audio files.

By the way, Cash’s 1971 song, “Man in Black,” underlined his anti-war (Vietnam) stance. Whatever worries he had then, as a country music artist from the South, didn’t keep him from speaking his piece. Today, we must suppose, Clear Channel would banish him from its 1,200 radio stations’ play lists for being unpatriotic.

Here’s a slice of Cash’s explanation for why he chose to wear black onstage:

“…Well, we're doin' mighty fine, I do suppose,
In our streak of lightnin' cars and fancy clothes,
But just so we're reminded of the ones who are held back,
Up front there ought 'a be a Man In Black.

I wear it for the sick and lonely old,
For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold,
I wear the black in mournin' for the lives that could have been,
Each week we lose a hundred fine young men.

And, I wear it for the thousands who have died,
Believen' that the Lord was on their side,
I wear it for another hundred thousand who have died,
Believen' that we all were on their side.”

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Downtown Richmond's Direction

According to its web site, Save Richmond is a group of "artists, musicians, painters, sculptors, writers, dancers, poets, DJs, promoters, composers, dramatists, web designers and arts-related small business owners living and working in Richmond, Virginia."

The group is working in opposition to some of the measures that have been, and are being, put in place to revitalize Downtown Richmond. Here's a short list of what the group is calling for:

"Respect for the city's street-level arts and music scenes; less emphasis on costly and artificial downtown projects, more emphasis on historic preservation and organic culture; an open environment of city government where new ideas and opportunities can plug in; tolerance toward gays and other alternative lifestyles."

The group also opposes the new increases in the City's meals tax and admissions tax. To read its open letter to the City of Richmond click here.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

For the Next SLANT

Ed. Note: The email posted below was sent out to our list of likely suspects. It is being posted in this space in hope that it will inspire a SLANT Blog reader to participate.

Avant-Garde, a late-60s magazine that I admired in those days, used to run features that offered the reader a collection of short answers to a question, culled from a group of well-known people. Usually the group of know-it-alls ran heavy on artists, writers, musicians, filmmakers, and so forth. The editors once asked 25 “noted Americans” to say who they thought was the most hated man in America.

The answers, taken as a group, were quite interesting.

Another time the magazine's editors asked a panel of 35 to name the machine they hate the most, and why. Then another panel was asked to predict what ordinary thing, in their time, would be transformed into a classic, 20 years into the future.

That last one was fun. I remember someone said something like -- Converse's (Chuck Taylor) canvas basketball shoes will be rediscovered and seen as cool by a whole new generation.

That one has turned out to be a screaming bulls-eye; take a look around.

For the next issue of SLANT, I want to run a collection of answers to that same basic question -- predictions on what thing, in the midst of our everyday life, will become classic, or perhaps much-collected ultra-kitsch, 20 years in the future.

Like Avant-Garde, I’m leaning the panel toward artsy folks (as far as who I've sent this email to). Because of space limitations, please keep your prediction, with whatever accompanying explanation, under 100 words. I’ll print as many responses as space permits. The deadline for copy to be emailed ( to me is September 22 (but sooner is better).

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Activists Moving On

At they don't pull any punches and they have become quite active in matters political during the last year: "Impeachment. The 2000 Election. The California Recall. The pattern is becoming clear: there's a group of men in power who will do anything to consolidate that power, including undermining our democratic institutions. We've got to fight back."

To visit to this organization's web site click here.

Monday, September 08, 2003

"... His hair was perfect."

Iconoclastic singer/songwriter Warren Zevon died on Sunday (Sept. 7). He was 56 years old. Click here for MSNBC’s obituary.

On Aug. 30 NPR did an excellent piece on Zevon’s recently released album, “The Wind.” Fans of the old excitable boy should click on this link that takes them to the NPR site. Once there click on “Listen to Weekend Edition - Saturday audio” to hear Scott Simon’s interview with Warren’s son, Jordan Zevon, who helped to produce his father’s last project.

The days slide by
Should have done, should have done, we all sigh
Never thought I'd ever be so lonely
After such a long, long time
Time out of mind

-- from "Accidentally Like a Martyr" (1978) by Warren Zevon

Sunday, September 07, 2003

Fancy Melons

Fiction by F. T. Rea

“Com’ere Bustah,” the old coot barked gruffly. Slouched on a bench of stone and wood, he wore an oversized pea coat and a dark blue knit cap. Most noticeable were his pale swollen ankles, showing between high-water plaid trousers and scuffed brown brogans with twine for shoelaces.

Roscoe Swift was content to ignore the rumpled stranger until he made his purpose clear: “Gotta match?” Out in the bay, Alcatraz was partially visible in the chilly fog. The thick gray sky was speckled with noisy white seagulls.

Roscoe approached the weather-beaten character cautiously and handed him a matchbook. The old salt lit his crooked, hand-rolled cigarette. Then the man coughed, cleared his throat, and spat triumphantly on the heavy support of the nearby tourist telescope. Roscoe watched the oyster slime its way off the heavy base to collect on the pavement.

After a couple of greedy pulls on his smoke, the ungrateful man threw the matchbook into the bay and said, “Look’ere kid, yer no prodigy.

Annoyed, Roscoe looked in the water for the matchbook. It floated up so he could still read the type on the cover. It said Fancy Melons.
“No sir, heh, heh, yer just another thin-skinned boy -- ha! maybe a skinless boy -- trying to bluff his way into heaven,” said the old timer, as his pale blue eyes twinkled in a maze of wrinkles and broken capillaries.

The sea breeze gusted. When Swift rolled over, he woke up startled and confused. Reality at the moment was no less weird than his dream had been. He found that he had been sleeping on a stack of inflated rafts on the sand. Suddenly, it was a beautiful morning in Virginia Beach and Roscoe was very thirsty.

Slowly, he began to remember climbing the lifeguard stand on the beach to the top of a pile of rental rafts lashed to it. Strangely, in the moonlight, it had made sense to sleep on an open-air perch, 15 feet up. He shuddered as he thought of the old man in the dream that was already beginning to fade away.

Then he realized he was still dreaming.


April 9, 1980: Roscoe Swift woke up already aware of the warm, moist air wafting through the slightly open bedroom window. Contrary to the weather forecast, it was still raining. Selena Cross, asleep on her back, didn’t stir as he deftly climbed over her and down from his loft.

The dream-within-a-dream he had just endured was a familiar haunt. It went all the way back to when he was 16, shortly after he actually did wake up on top of a stack of rafts on the beach. Roscoe shut off the alarm clock, so it wouldn't ring, and he gathered up last night’s clothes -- a black “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” T-shirt, khaki shorts, white socks, and high-top Converse All-Stars -- on his way to the bathroom.

Dressed and finished with the bathroom, Roscoe passed the shoulder-level bed. Selena looked too good to be true. Indeed, their six-week-old secret affair -- out of context from all else -- seemed dream-like much of the time to him.

Leggy and graceful, bright-eyed Selena had a feline quality that Roscoe told her was reminiscent of a young Brigitte Bardot, in “And God Created Woman.” While such a comparison was obviously meant to flatter, it also recognized her natural talent for mimicry and disguising her thoughts. To him Selena always seemed to be working from a script.

Roscoe and Selena had a big day planned -- a stolen day, removed from time. As he headed for the kitchen to scavenge up some breakfast, she opened her eyes, unbeknownst to him.

Selena Cross waitressed three nights a week at Soble’s on Floyd Avenue. To protect her image as one who never partied after hours, or strayed from her main squeeze, Selena invented a system to facilitate her “sessions” with Roscoe. On the nights she worked, he would swing by the bar on his way home from work at the Fan City Cinema, where he was the manager. Her fiancé -- a 30-year-old antique dealer, with money to burn -- traveled frequently, usually for a couple or three days, on short notice. If she was free and feeling amorous Selena would wear her honey-colored hair in a ponytail, to signal Roscoe she would be showing up at his place later. That way they could confine their conversation in the restaurant to small talk and leave at different times without huddled discussions.

In spite of the obvious chemistry between the two of them, Selena had convinced herself this subterfuge kept her coworkers and the bar’s regulars from suspecting anything.

In the summer between high school and college Selena had learned a lesson about being caught with her pants down, literally. Her outraged boyfriend, a judge’s son, beat her up. When the bruises faded she left her hometown for good. Sometimes, Roscoe didn’t know whether to believe Selena. Nor was he sure the ponytail really had everybody fooled. Still, with the bangs, it was a great look for her. Just the sight of that ponytail, bobbing and swaying as she walked, had a hypnotic effect on him.

Until this particular occasion it had been her custom to leave Roscoe’s carriage house apartment, in the alley behind the 1200 block of Franklin Street, before the first light of day. This time her fiancé was scheduled to be away longer than usual. Thus, this was their first morning together.

Roscoe Swift, 32, was a divorced wannabe filmmaker, who was too existential for his own good. Having had the same job for nine years, he could coast most of the time. Selena was a 23-year-old art history graduate. She led a disciplined, goal-oriented life and was ready to make her mark on a world of unlimited opportunity. Aside from a shared taste for Rockabilly music and a similar appreciation for black humor, they really didn’t have much in common. Generally, Selena didn’t talk about the past and Roscoe didn’t talk about the future.

Roscoe switched on the radio and opened the refrigerator. Then he remembered that Selena had wolfed down his leftover pizza. He was out of eggs, too.

What he had to work with was: a half-loaf of wheat bread, an almost new stick of butter, jars of mayonnaise, mustard and strawberry jam, a box of fig bars, a tired-looking head of lettuce, a bottle of extra dry domestic champagne, two cans of ginger ale, seven cans of beer and an empty pizza box.

Roscoe took out the champagne and sat it on the counter next to a small watermelon Selena had brought with her from the restaurant. As he carved up the melon, he whistled along with the radio to the classic Everly Brothers’ not-so-thinly-disguised ode to masturbation: “All I Have to Do is Dream.”

Selena, naked but for her thick socks, entered the room without making a sound. Amused that Roscoe hadn’t noticed her, she leaned her butt against the damp windowsill and folded her arms.

“Morning!” said Roscoe. “Hot coffee, buttered toast and cold champagne, with a watermelon spear, served in a pewter goblet. Presto! A perfect rainy day breakfast.”

Selena grinned. “I like rainy days. With no shadows, colors look more thick and juicy…”

“Miss Cross,” said Roscoe, “would you please slide the coffee pot onto the burner. It’s already loaded up.”

“You betcha,” said Selena. “Watermelon and champagne, together?”

“Yep,” said Roscoe, watching the gas flame burst into action, “this is an old Southern favorite. They call it a ‘Spring Fling.’ You haven’t heard of it?”

“No, but it’s so appropriate,” she said with a yawn. The gesture fit well with her decadent rich girl act -- sometimes Selena almost seemed to have walked out of a F. Scott Fitzgerald story. Given her blue-collar, small town background, it was a persona he enjoyed watching her affect.

Roscoe popped the cork off the bottle of bubbly and the moment’s perfection promptly fizzled. The bubbly wasn’t!

“Goddamn it!” he growled in a tone she hadn’t heard from him before.

While Selena’s body language had seemed to suggest that something other than breakfast was on her mind, anyway, the suddenly crestfallen Roscoe was focused on the flat champagne.

“I’ll be right back,” Roscoe blurted out, grabbing a hooded sweatshirt. He ran three-and-a-half blocks to a neighborhood wine shop in a steady rain, convinced the owner to open early, and returned with chilly bubbles aplenty.

“When you’re wet, you look fantastic!” Selena said, at first sight of him.

That prompted an impromptu session, with Selena seated on the porcelain kitchen table. Once again, they delighted in their collaborative ability to please one another. If anything, it was still improving. And, that was that.

The rain stopped and the clouds parted as they polished off their perfect breakfast with gusto. During the drive from Richmond to their destination, Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, Selena and Roscoe sang along with a taped compilation of cuts by Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe.

Smitten with the sight of her, Roscoe could hardly keep his eyes on the road. “I’ve smiled at you so much I feel like a Cheshire cat on two hits of acid,” Roscoe deadpanned, as he pulled his pale yellow 1973 Volvo wagon into the parking lot of the quaint Hilltop Hotel.

As soon as they got to their room, Selena went to the bathroom. As he waited, Roscoe lit a joint, took a hit, and asked, “Do you still want to go to the horse races in Charles Town? We’ve still got the rest of the day to go sightseeing, or do whatever…”

“Whatever suits me fine,” said Selena, as she opened the door wearing only the Fan City Cinema T-shirt he had given her. That, and a spectacular smile.

“What the hell,” said Selena, who rarely smoked pot, “Up here I’m as out of town as it gets, give me a damn toke of that.”

After her second hit, as she passed the joint back to him, Selena lifted her right foot to rub the instep along the back of her left calf. Roscoe stepped closer, tossing the joint at the bedside table’s ashtray. Her head tilted slightly to one side. The air between them was charged.

She pulled at his belt buckle as they landed on the bed. His hands cascaded along her rib cage to her bare hips.

Then Roscoe heard a loud explosion; he flinched. “Wha, what the hell was that?”

Selena laughed as Roscoe rolled onto his back, seemingly dazed. “What was what?” she cooed.

“That sound; like a gunshot, or a bomb,” he gasped. “That bang! Didn’t you hear it?”

“Passion!” she said, widening her eyes. “Pure, pure passion!”

Roscoe was disoriented. Hadn’t the noise been real? Hadn’t she heard it, too? He sat up. “Come on Selena, you didn’t hear that sound?

She kissed him with such fury that he had to stop talking.

Soon, thoughts of fiancés, ex-wives, everyday concerns in Richmond, horse races in Charles Town, and especially mysterious explosions in hotel rooms were put aside. Later they slept the sleep known only to earnest lovers, who’ve given their all to the moment.


The next day, in spite of his efforts, Roscoe was unable to determine if Selena had actually heard the explosion he had. They talked about it during the drive back to Richmond, but she never gave him a straight answer. She enjoyed teasing him -- maybe this, maybe that.

Exaggerating her southern accent, Selena would say, “Pah-shun.” Eventually Selena’s evasiveness began to rub Roscoe the wrong way, so he stopped asking.

They finished off the drive with little to say, accompanied by a Kraftwerk tape, turned up loud. He dropped her off at her Volkswagen bug, parked in a lot near his place. She planned to stop by her apartment and then take care of some errands. Selena’s parting words were: “I’ll call you around dinnertime, about getting together later, if you’re up for a encore session.”

At 6 p.m., that same day, when Roscoe got home from playing Frisbee-Golf, he found a message Selena had left on his answering machine. Essentially, it said her fiancé had returned from his business trip, without warning, two days early. Roscoe felt a sense of panic, wondering how much the man knew. There must have been some gossip. Although she said twice that everything was “fine,” the fact she said it at all gave him a bad feeling.

The end was abrupt: Harper’s Ferry proved to be the finale for Selena and Roscoe. Two months later, Selena’s wedding took place in her husband’s hometown, Alexandria, Virginia. After a honeymoon in Ireland, the newlyweds surprised everyone by deciding to set up residence in Annapolis, Maryland, instead of Richmond.

And, that was that, except for this postscript on a chilly rainy day about a year after Harper’s Ferry. Upon returning from a week’s stay in San Francisco, Roscoe found a paper bag on the driver’s seat of his Volvo when he got home. In it was a bottle of Dom Perignon, along with half a small watermelon and an unlabeled tape cassette. He shoved the cassette into the stereo and switched the ignition on. Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” poured out of the speakers.

“Passion,” said Roscoe with chuckle nearly as dry as the bottle of bubbly next to him. He let out the clutch and turned up the volume.

* * *

(Illustration by F. T. Rea)

This Modern World

Cartoonist Tom Tomorrow’s blog is always packed with good stuff. His ‘toons (This Modern World is seen regularly on Salon’s web site) are funny and on-target, politics-wise. To check it out, click here.

From Swagger to Stagger

Anticipating Bush’s address to the nation, on television tonight, Maureen Dowd underlines the snowballing problems for the president. Was he conned into all the bad moves he’s made by those fork-tongued neocons? Now that he’s crawling back to the United Nations, poor Dubya is getting flak from the right, as well as the left.

Meanwhile, Maureen muses: “…Does Mr. Bush ever wonder if the neocons duped him and hijacked his foreign policy? Some Middle East experts think some of the neocons painted a rosy picture for the president of Arab states blossoming with democracy when they really knew this could not be accomplished so easily; they may have cynically suspected that it was far more likely that the Middle East would fall into chaos and end up back in its pre-Ottoman Empire state, Balkanized into a tapestry of rival fiefs -- based on tribal and ethnic identities, with no central government -- so busy fighting each other that they would be no threat to us, or Israel.”

To read the whole piece click here.

Saturday, September 06, 2003

Central Time

Fiction by F. T. ReaAugust 16, 1966: Roscoe Swift sat alone in a day car slowly rattling its way into Central Station. The solitary sailor had spent the last hour turning the glossy pages of Playboy and contemplating infinity. As the train lurched he glanced out of the window at Tuesday morning, Chicago style.

Roscoe had sequestered himself from the marathon poker game in the club car. The stepped up call for wild cards and split pots, by the various dealers, had finally driven him from the table. His resolute grandfather had schooled him to despise such frilly variations on the already-perfect game of poker.

“Gimmicks like that were invented to keep suckers in the game,” was the old man’s admonition.

This was hardly the day Roscoe wanted to invite the sort of jinx that might be set in motion by disregarding absolutes.

In the magazine’s lengthy interview section LSD pioneer Timothy Leary ruminated on his chemically enlarged view of the so-called Youth Movement. Professor Leary called the current crop: “The wisest and holiest generation that the human race has yet seen.”

The subculture forming around psychedelic drugs in that time was opening new dimensions of risk for 19-year-old daredevils. Roscoe wondered if he would ever do acid. His friend Bake had tripped and lived to tell about it.

There was a fresh dimension to the conflict in Vietnam that month, as well. The Cold War’s hottest spot was being infused with its first batch of draftees; some 65,000 were being sent into the fray, like it or not. Until this point it had been the Defense Department’s policy to use volunteers only for combat duty.

Also, on the home-front, quakes of change were abundant: A 25-year-old former Eagle Scout, Charles Whitman, climbed a tower on the University of Texas campus and shot 46 people, at random, killing 16; comedian/first amendment martyr Lenny Bruce was found dead -- overdosed and fat belly up -- on his bathroom floor; news of songwriter/musician John Lennon’s playful crack -- “We’re [the Beatles] more popular than Jesus Christ now” -- inflamed the devoutly humorless; and reigning Heavyweight Champ, Muhammad Ali, bent all sorts of folks out of shape with his widely reported quip -- “I ain't got nothing against them Viet Cong.”

Since leaving Main Street Station in Richmond, Virginia the morning before, Roscoe had traveled - via the Chesapeake and Ohio line - through parts of West Virginia, Ohio, and Indiana, on his way to Illinois.

Taking leave from the airbrushed charms of September’s Playmate of the Month his mind kaleidoscoped to the sound of his girlfriend Julie’s laughter.

As a preamble to Roscoe’s departure for basic training he and Julie had spent the weekend in Virginia Beach, trying their best to savor the bittersweet taste of war-torn romance, black and white movie style. As luck would have it, the stately Cavalier Hotel’s central air conditioning system went on the blink the Friday they arrived.

Since the hotel’s windows couldn't be opened that meant the sea breeze was unavailable for relief from the heat wave. Nonetheless, they stayed on, because the hotel itself, a stylish relic of the Roaring ‘20s, meant something. After two years of catch-as-catch-can back-seat romance, this was where they had chosen to spend their first whole night together.

That evening they stretched out on the bed and sipped chilled champagne. With the hotel-supplied fan blowing on them at full blast, suddenly, a good-sized chunk of the ceiling fell onto a chair across the room.

After Roscoe mischievously reported the strange problem to the front desk -- “I hate to sound like Chicken Little, but perhaps you have a safer room?” -- Julie suggested a barefoot stroll on the beach to cool off.

Walking in the surf, neither of them had much to say. An hour later Julie and Roscoe were happily soaked as they returned to the hotel. With a little snooping around the pair discovered the door to the Cavalier’s indoor pool was unlocked. As it was well past the posted time for the pool to be open and the chlorine-smelling room was nearly dark, they reasoned that the facility was at their disposal for a little skinny-dipping.


Stepping off the train, Roscoe was two hours from another train ride. This one, aboard a local commuter, would finish the job of transporting him from Richmond’s Fan District - with its turn-of-the-century townhouses - to a stark world of colorless buildings and punishing grinders: Great Lakes Naval Training Center was his destination.

In the last month Roscoe had listened to plenty of supposedly useful yarns of what to expect at boot camp. Concerning Chicago, he could recite facts about the White Sox, the Cubs and the Bears; he had seen the movie about Mrs. O’Leary’s cow and the big fire; he thought Bo Diddley was from Chicago. One thing was certain, Seaman Recruit Swift knew he was further from home than he’d ever been.

Outside the train station on the sidewalk, “They’re Coming to Take Me Away” -- a novelty tune on the summer's Top 40 chart -- blared appropriately from the radio of a double-parked Pontiac GTO.

After laughing at the ironic coincidence of the music, Roscoe, Zach, Rusty, and Cliff - comrades-at-arms in the same Navy Reserve unit in Richmond for four months of weekly meetings - considered their options for killing the time between trains, and they spoke of the ordeal ahead of them.

“That’s it, man.” Rusty explained. “The Navy figures everybody eats Jell-o, so that’s where they slip you the dose of saltpeter.”

“Get serious, that’s got to be bullshit,” said Zach. “The old salts tell you that to jerk you around.”

“OK, Zach, you can have all my Jell-o,” Rusty offered.

“Not even a breeze; what do y’all make of the Windy City?” asked Cliff. “It’s just as damn hot up here as it was in Richmond.”

A couple of blocks from the station the team of eastern time-zoners, outfitted in their summer whites, stopped on a busy corner to scan the hazy urban landscape. Finding a worthwhile sightseeing adventure was at the top of their agenda.

Answering the call, a rumpled character slowly approached the quartet from across the street. Moving with a purpose, he was a journeyman wino who knew a soft touch when he could focus on it.

In a vaguely European accent the street-wise operator badgered the four out of a cigarette, a light, two more cigarettes for later, then a contribution of spare change. When the foul-smelling panhandler demanded “folding money” Roscoe turned from the scene and walked away. His pals followed his lead. Then the crew broke into a sprint to escape the sound of the greedy beggar’s shouts.

Rusty, the fastest afoot, darted into a subway entrance with the others at his heels. Cliff was laughing so hard he slipped on the steps and almost fell.

As Roscoe descended the stairway into the netherworld beneath the city, he was reminded of H. G. Wells’ “Time Machine” and observed, “I guess this must be where the Morlocks of the Midway would live; if there are any.”

Zach smiled. No one laughed.

The squad agreed that since they were already there, and only Rusty had ever seen a subway, a little reconnoitering was in order. Thus they bought tokens, planning only to look around, not to ride. Roscoe, the last to go through the turnstile, wandered off on his own to inspect the mysterious tracks that disappeared into darkness.

Standing close to the platform’s edge, Roscoe wondered how tightly the trains fit into the channel. As he listened to his friends’ soft accents ricocheting off the hard surfaces of the deserted subway stop, he recalled a trip by train in 1955’s summer with his grandfather. Roscoe smiled as he thought of his lifelong fascination with trains. Unlike most of his traveling companions, he was glad the airline strike had forced them to make the journey by rail.

Walking aimlessly along the platform, as he reminisced, Roscoe noticed a distant silhouette furtively approaching the edge. It appeared to him to be a small woman. She was less than a hundred yards down the tracks. He watched her carefully sit down on the platform. Seconds later she slid off, disappearing into the dark pit below.

Although Roscoe was intrigued, he felt no sense of alarm. Not yet. He didn’t wonder if it was a common practice for the natives to jump onto the subway tracks. He simply continued to walk toward the scene, slowly taking it in, as if it were a movie. When Zach caught up with him Roscoe pointed to where the enigmatic figure had been.

Roscoe shrugged, “What do you make of it?”

To investigate the two walked closer. Eventually they saw a gray lump on the subway tracks.

Zach asked in a hushed voice, “Could that be her?”

When the unmistakable sound of a train began to report from the tunnel’s void, what had been a puzzle was solved.

Roscoe screamed at the woman, “Get up!”

The scene took on a high-contrast, film noir look when the tunnel was lit up by the oncoming train’s light. The two desperate sailors waved their arms frantically as they ran toward the train to get the driver’s attention. The woman remained clenched into a tight ball, ready to take the big ride. Suddenly the brakes began to screech horrifically, splitting seconds into shards. Metal strained against metal as the train’s momentum carried it forth.

Roscoe's senses were stretched to new limits. Tiny details -- angles of light and fragments of sound -- became magnified. All seemed caught in a spell of slow motion and exaggerated intensity.

The subway train slid to a full stop, about ten feet short of creating a grisly finish. Roscoe and Zach sprang from the platform and gathered the trembling woman from the tracks. They carefully passed her up to Rusty and Cliff, who stood three feet above.

Passengers emptied from the train, as well as the driver. Adrenaline surged through Roscoe’s limbs as he climbed back onto the platform. Brushing off his uniform, he listened to the conversation between the driver and the strange person who had nearly been splattered about the area.

The gray woman, who appeared to be middle-aged, spewed thank-yous and explained her presence on the tracks to having “slipped.”

In short time the subway driver acted as if he believed her useful explanation. Zach pulled the sweaty man aside to point out another angle on the truth. Roscoe began to protest to the buzzing mob’s deaf ears, but stopped when he detected a second feminine voice describing what sounded like a similar incident. He panned the congregation until he found the speaker. She was about his age.

Filing her fingernails with an emery board -- eyes fixed on her work -- she told how another person, a man, had been killed at that same stop last week: “The lady is entitled to die if she wants to. You know she’ll just do it again.”

As she looked up to inspect her audience, such as it was, Roscoe caught Miss Perfect Fingernails’ eye. He shook his head to say, “No!”

The impatient girl looked away and gestured toward the desperate woman who surely had expected to be conning St. Peter at the Pearly Gates that morning, instead of a subway driver. “Now we’re late for our appointments. For what?”

Roscoe watched the forsaken lady -- snatched from the Grim Reaper’s clutches -- vanish into the ether of the moment’s cheerless confusion. Shortly thereafter the train was gone, too.

“Well, I don’t know about you boys,” said Roscoe. “But I’ve had enough of Chicago sights for today.”

On their way back to daylight Roscoe listened to his longtime friend Zach tell the other two, who were relatively new friends, a story about Bake: To win a bet, Bake, a consummate daredevil, had recently jumped from Richmond’s Huguenot Bridge into the Kanawha Canal.

“Sure sounds like this Bake is a piece of work,” said Cliff. “You said he’s going to RPI this fall. What’s he doing about the draft?”

“This is a guy who believes in spontaneity like it’s sacred,” said Zach. “Roscoe, can you imagine Bake in any branch of military service; draft or no draft?”

“If he can hack being told what to do at art school, I’ll be surprised.” observed Roscoe.

“Hey, man, I’m not so sure any of us belong in the service,” Rusty volunteered.”

“I hear you.” Cliff concurred.

Upon rejoining the others from their Virginia contingent at Central Station, the four sightseers found a legion of additional boot camp-bound sailors from all over the country. For the men assembled, a two-year active-duty hitch in the Navy Reserve was preferable to rolling the dice on what the busy Selective Service system might dish out.

Rusty and Zack eagerly rehashed the morning’s bizarre adventure: “One of them told me there’s been three suicides in Chicago’s subways this summer,” reported Zach. “Could it be the heat?”

“I still had no idea what they were doing when I saw these two fools hopping off the platform, right in front of that train,” Rusty chuckled. “Hey, I couldn’t see squat on the tracks.”

“She’s probably standing on the roof of a skyscraper, right now” Zach theorized. “And, I’m sorry, but I’ll let some other hero break her fall.”


Aboard the train from Chicago to Great Lakes Roscoe sat by the window considering the unseen dimensions of his new role - a GI sworn to stand between what is dear to America and its enemies. Only days before, as he walked on the beach with Julie, he had felt so sure of being prepared for the task.

Yet as he sat there, with miles of unfamiliar scenery streaming by, Roscoe felt waves of trepidation washing over his easy confidence. On top of that, he wished he had gotten a little bit of sleep during the trip.

With their destination only minutes away the four Subway Swashbucklers opted to get in a few hands of stud poker; to accommodate Roscoe, wild cards weren’t suggested.

Sitting on an ace in the hole, with a king and ten up, Roscoe called Zach’s fifteen-cent-bet. There were no pairs showing and the bettor had just drawn a jack to his queen.

Cliff mentioned that the Treasury Department had announced it would no longer print two-dollar bills. “And, I heard boot camp pay comes in the form of -- what else? -- two-dollar bills.”

“Where’d you hear that?” Zach challenged. “I bet it’s bullshit.”

“Maybe we’re going to get the last of the deuces,” said Rusty. “And, I’ll take any of them you don’t want.”

Roscoe’s mind wasn’t on payday or the poker game. He was daydreaming about Julie; smiling on the beach, teal-colored eyes glistening, sun-streaked hair livened by a gust of wind.

Roscoe grappled with his thoughts, trying to pull them together: memory, urges, and anticipation all marching to the steady beat provided by the tracks. It occurred to him there was something more than mere distance between his seat on that train and what had been his life in Virginia.

“If time has borders, between one age and the next, it might be thicker at the border?” Roscoe asked no one in particular.

Rusty, the dealer, batted Roscoe’s oblique remark away, “So, are you calling Zach’s bet, or what?”

Expressionless, Roscoe stared at his fourth card, a queen. He pulled out a cigarette. Nodding toward Zach’s hand -- a pair of jacks, showing -- Roscoe flipped his up-cards over, face down. “OK, even if saving the Queen of the Subway from certain death doesn’t count for shit, anymore, there are certain standards that still don’t change; not for me.”

Rusty shrugged, “Meaning?”

“So, this disposable hero won’t pay a cent for a fifth card to fill an inside straight,” said Roscoe, lighting his cigarette. “First hand, or last, it’s still a sucker’s bet. And, I’ll sit the next hand out.”

“Whatever you say, man,” Rusty laughed. “But we’ve probably got time for just one more hand. Sure you want to quit now?”

Roscoe took a big drag of the filter-tipped Kool and drank in the moving picture of Illinois that was streaming past his window. The railroad ties were clicking monotonously. He thought about how movies depict motion by running a series of still pictures through a projector. However, with the memory picture of Julie he’d just conjured up it wasn’t frozen like a still. Nor was it in full motion. The image moved ever so slightly, capturing what amounted to a single gesture.

After receiving their last cards Cliff and Rusty folded, too. Zach smiled broadly and raked in the pot. Cliff gathered the cards and began to shuffle; preparing to deal the next hand.

“You in, Swift?” inquired the dealer. “The game is seven-card stud. The ante is still a quarter.”

“This time let’s make it 50 cents,” suggested Rusty, sliding two quarters into the center of the makeshift card table.

“Last hand? I’m in,” said Zach.

Roscoe blew a perfect smoke ring, which he studied as it began to float out of shape. He promised himself that no matter what happened to him, he would never forget that smoke ring.

Roscoe smiled, “OK. Deal me in.”

* * *

(Illustration by F. T. Rea)