Tuesday, November 29

Republican Representative from San Diego Resigns Amid Scandal

Mr. Cunningham, an eight-term Republican representative from San Diego, pleaded guilty on Monday to charges that he took at least $2.4 million in bribes to steer Pentagon contracts to two friends. He announced his resignation from Congress hours after entering his plea...

The case intensified attention to charges of ethical and legal violations by members of Congress, including such influential leaders as Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Republican leader in the Senate, and Representative Tom DeLay, the Texas Republican who was forced to step down as majority leader after he was indicted in Texas in September...

According to his plea agreement with federal prosecutors, Mr. Cunningham, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, took hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash from two military contractors while helping them win Pentagon contracts.

Lawyers involved in the case identified the contractors as Mitchell J. Wade, founder of MZM Inc., a company he has since sold that provides intelligence services to the Pentagon and other government agencies, and Brent Wilkes, founder of a data processing company that did business with the Defense Department.

Prosecutors said the contractors also gave Mr. Cunningham hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of gifts, including a Rolls-Royce, two 19th-century French commodes, four armoires, a wooden sideboard with turned wooden spindles, three nightstands, a necklace, a laser shooting simulator and $15,000 worth of Oriental carpets (described in court documents as "one Indo Herati, one Karaja, one Indo Keshan and two Cino Kerman rugs").

The contractors also paid for tens of thousands of dollars' worth of repairs to the Rolls-Royce and to Mr. Cunningham's boat, the Kelly C, and essentially bought the former congressman a $2.55 million home in the exclusive San Diego County community of Rancho Santa Fe.

Under the plea deal, Mr. Cunningham has to forfeit the house, $1.8 million in cash, and all the rugs and antiques. Carol C. Lam, the United States attorney for the Southern District of California, called Mr. Cunningham's actions "a crime of unprecedented magnitude and extraordinary audacity." Ms. Lam said the investigation was continuing.

A Risky Gamble With Google


Wouldn't it be cool if we didn't have to tell students that a Web search is insufficient for serious scholarly research? Wouldn't it be great if we could use a single, simple portal to find the most-significant Web pages, images, scholarly articles, and books dealing with a particular subject or keyword? Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could do full-text searches of millions of books?

The dream of a perfect research machine seems almost within our reach. Google, the Mountain View, Calif., company flying high off a huge initial public offering of stock and astounding quarterly revenues, announced late last year that it would digitize millions of bound books from five major English-language libraries. It plans to make available online the full text of public-domain books (generally those published before 1923, plus government works and others never under copyright) and excerpts from works still in copyright.

Harvard University will allow Google to scan 40,000 books during the pilot phase of the project, and the number may grow. The library has more than 15 million volumes. The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor has agreed to let Google scan its entire collection — some 7.8 million works — and Stanford University says it is keeping open the possibility of including "potentially millions" of its more than eight million volumes. The Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford will allow Google to scan public-domain books, which it says are principally those published before 1920. The main library alone holds 6.5 million books in its collection. And the New York Public Library will put in from 10,000 to 100,000 public-domain volumes. It holds 20 million volumes. Even if the project only included Michigan's collection, it would be astounding.

Google is doing all the scanning and optical-character recognition with a secret proprietary machine and promises not to damage the pages or bindings. According to Google's contract with Michigan (the only contract released to the public), the university will be offered a digital copy as well.

I have to confess, I am thrilled and dazzled by the potential of such a machine and the research and distribution opportunities it presents. I sincerely wish every Internet user had access to a full-text search of every book in the Google libraries.

But, as we all know, we should be careful what we wish for. This particular project, I fear, opens up more problems than it solves. It will certainly fail to live up to its utopian promise. And it dangerously elevates Google's role and responsibility as the steward — with no accountability — of our information ecosystem. That's why I, an avowed open-source, open-access advocate, have serious reservations about it.

It pains me to declare this: Google's Library Project is a risky deal for libraries, researchers, academics, and the public in general. However, it's actually not a bad deal for publishers and authors, despite their protestations.

On one side, we have the opponents. In recent lawsuits, the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers, which is representing five of its members, have charged Google with copyright infringement for scanning works still under copyright. Less well publicized are the questions that some librarians have about whether the five participating libraries are acting in the best interest of libraries and users in general.

On the other side, the "copyfight" community (or the "Free Culture Movement," as it is increasingly known), has generally cheered on Google, as it seems to be the champion of more flexible and open copyright principles and is aggressively confronting big media companies like Viacom, AOL Time Warner, Disney, and the News Corporation, all of which own major publishing houses. For the copyfighters, this is David versus Goliath.

As it became clear that Google was not going to placate its critics easily, the company announced last summer that it would cease scanning works under copyright until at least November 1. It has now begun digitizing them again. I can't help but envision this fight as one between Godzilla and Megalon. Whoever the bad guy turns out to be, a whole lot of good things are going to get crushed in the melee.

The fear that we are traveling down the road to Googlizing just about everything lurks behind this controversy. Google plays a peculiar and powerful role in our information ecosystem. It is a ubiquitous brand, used as a noun and a verb everywhere from adolescent conversations to scripts for Sex and the City. Its initial public offering in 2004 generated $1.67-billion in cash. Its stock price has soared in value since, and its revenue has more than doubled to $3-billion per year.

Yet the core service of Google.com — its search engine — handles less than 50 percent of the Web-search business in the United States. While Google is clearly the leader, Yahoo also handles a significant chunk, Microsoft's MSN a smaller but still sizable portion. Microsoft — by virtue of being the default search engine built into the default Web browser available right out of the computer box — is gaining on both of them all over the world.

Microsoft already controls most of the desktops in the world. It also controls an increasing number of operating systems for mobile data devices. Thus many of the world's files are potentially indexible and searchable by Microsoft itself. And the company has ways of locking other firms out of essential services in the desktop environment. In addition, the chief advantage Google has had in the Web-search areaits algorithm, PageRankis no longer the only effective search engine on the market. Sex and the City's Carrie Bradshaw might use Google now, but there is no reason to believe she would next year.

To preserve its status as the elite, venerated, and fast-moving technology company that does good as well as well, Google must therefore do two things. It must continue to convince the world that it is the anti-Microsoft. And it must find more things to index and expose to the world.

So far Google has protected its brand as the good guy on the block. The damage Google has done to the world is minimal. It seems to provide users a service at no cost (beyond buying a computer and paying for Internet use) and with little annoyance. Getting big by keeping advertisements small, it has carefully avoided pinching our marketing-saturated nervous systems and offered illusions of objectivity, precision, comprehensiveness, and democracy. We are led to believe that Google search results are determined by peer review — by creating our own links on the Web and having Google count them — not by an editorial team of geeks or, worse, marketing consultants. So far, that strategy has worked well: Google has the balance sheets to prove it.

To maintain them, however, Google must get bigger. It must go new places and send its spiders crawling through unindexed corners of human knowledge. Google's corporate mission statement includes the rather optimistic and humanistic phrase, "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." When the company's executives present their products to the public, they often start with that statement, expecting everyone to be grateful that someone is organizing the torrent of sports statistics, UFO stories, poetry, and pornography. But Google co-founder Sergey Brin once offered a more ominous indication of what the enterprise might become: "The perfect search engine would be like the mind of God."

Both quotations should worry us. Is it really proper for one company — no matter how egalitarian it claims to be — to organize all the world's information? Who asked it to? Isn't that the job of universities, libraries, academics, and librarians? Have those institutions and people failed in their mission? Must they outsource everything? Is anyone even watching to see if Google does the job properly?

Let's examine the Google Library Project in depth. First, we must deal with some confusing branding. The undertaking is really a subset of another program, Google Print, which, according to the company, aims to put book content "where you can find it most easily — right in your Google search results." Google Print also has another part, the Publisher Program, which has been online for more than a year now, presenting full-text searches authorized by publishers of many thousands of books. Google spent months negotiating the deals with publishers, allaying fears of hacking and piracy. It demonstrated that users could see only a few pages at a time and could not print them. And it showed publishers that links to online book sites would spur sales with little risk or expense to them.

Google Library, on the other hand, looks and feels much different. For works in the public domain, it will allow users to search and read the entire text. For works still under copyright, it will provide only short snippets of text with search words in context. No one will see even one entire page of a copyrighted book. And, as with Google Print, no one will be able to print or read the entire book — at least via Google. It's unclear whether libraries will allow greater access to their own copies. To make allowances for skittish publishers who take umbrage at the presumptuousness of the wholesale scanning of copyrighted books, Google will also permit publishers to "opt out" if they notify the company which titles they would like withheld.

There's a lot right with this plan. Google may be solving a major research problem. At present researchers rely on keyword searches within text documents. The services that provide such access include some of the most expensive databases around: most notably, LexisNexis and ProQuest. Those index only periodicals, government and legal documents, dissertations, and other specialized materials, not the full texts of books, which are searchable only by author, subject, title, or keywords selected by human catalogers. The current research menu is biased toward those resources that are fully searchable, like academic journals and periodicals. Book authors lose out. It's hard to find a complete list of books that discuss, for instance, the White House adviser Karl Rove. You can find a small pile of books about Rove and another pile about his chief patron, President Bush. But how would you find that Rove played a role in the stem-cell-research controversy or that he is mentioned in a biography of anti-Semitic chess master Bobby Fischer as "the Bobby Fischer of American politics," unless you already knew enough to put such names or issues into one of the current search engines — or could search the actual texts of millions of books? Such associations can spark imaginative scholarship, or at least generate rather eccentric trivia.

Further, most of the best search methods are exclusive. If you are not part of a university community, you can't do much good research. Most public-library catalogs are still rather pedestrian. And few public libraries have licenses to vast scholarly electronic resources. So Google would provide nonuniversity users a glimpse of what might be available at the major research libraries in their area. It would provide broad — although far from universal — access to information.

The third issue Google Library purports to resolve is not really a problem. There is a general perception that students won't use a book when they can find a Web site that appears to do the same work. I'm not convinced that is universally true. And I am a firm believer in convincing students of the value of edited and reviewed information over hastily posted text. I grade accordingly. Still, there may be something to the argument. Google can be addictive, no matter one's age. If students are going to use Google first, then it makes sense to let Google offer better information.

But all is not well in this plan. We could solve each of the problems listed above without Google, although it would take a deep commitment from the public and its institutions to make good information more accessible. This hardly seems like the right time or country to call for a massive public commitment of resources to benefit the public good, however. Google is the first to step up to the plate — although Yahoo has now followed with its own plan to scan public-domain books from a consortium of libraries, and Microsoft has just promised to join with a $5-million investment.

Google's is still the most ambitious plan, however, and its much bolder venture into the world of print offers us at least three reasons to worry: privacy, privatization, and property.

Privacy has been a problem for Googleor, more precisely, Google usersfor some time. Scores of newspaper and magazine articles have considered the complications of finding one's personal history or long-lost sappy poems accessible via Google. With the launch of Google's Web-based e-mail service, Gmail, it became clear that the company was reading user mail for hints about how it might target ads. In addition, Google has potential access to all our search histories.

With Google Library, we have a whole new set of privacy concerns. Can we trust Google not to turn over individual reading records of patrons to the FBI or local law-enforcement officials? There is nothing in Google's privacy policy that promises it will resist such abusive practices. In fact, its policy declares that it will give law-enforcement investigators information to "satisfy any applicable law, regulation, legal process or enforceable governmental request." Even a stronger privacy pledge from the company would be hard to take seriously. Plenty of other companies, like airlines, have violated their own privacy policies.

More important, nothing in the recently revealed contract between the University of Michigan and Google seems to bind the company to respect patron confidentiality. Michigan abrogated its responsibility on that issue. It should have demanded a stronger pledge of user confidentiality in return for access to its rich archive of knowledge. I know many librarians who would rather go to jail than reveal my borrowing habits to suspicious snoops. I doubt I can count on Google's employees to be as committed to user confidentiality.

It's important to remember that Google serves its own masters: its stockholders and its partners. It does not serve the people of the state of Michigan or the students and faculty members of Harvard University.

So the five libraries in Google's project are essentially outsourcing the risk and responsibility for digitizing texts and making them searchable online. The process of privatization is particularly troubling. Of course we should not pretend that libraries operate outside market forces or do not depend on outsourcing many of their functions. But we must recognize that some of the thorniest problems facing libraries today — paying for and maintaining commercial electronic databases and cataloging services — are a direct result of rapid privatization and onerous contract terms. There are too many devils in too many details.

The long-term risk of privatization is simple: Companies change and fail. Libraries and universities last. Should we entrust our heritage and collective knowledge to a business that has been around for less time than Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston were together? A hundred years from now, Google may well not exist. Much to the dismay of Ohio State University's football fans, the University of Michigan will. For that reason alone, it's imperative that stable public institutions take the lead in such an ambitious project.

Already this month, the book wars are heating up. Amazon.com and Random House, the world's largest publisher of trade books, have announced plans to allow people to read books online (although not to download or copy them) — for a fee. What happens if the competition ratchets up the price? What if stockholders decide that Google Library is a money loser or too much of a copyright-infringement liability? What if they decide that the infrastructure costs of keeping all those files on all those servers do not justify the expense? What then? Will the proprietary formats through which Google displays its files survive the company's demise? Will they survive other technological changes?

Like all companies, Google protects its proprietary formats and technologies. All software companies use a matrix of nondisclosure contracts, trade secrets, copyrights, and patents to restrict competition and limit public oversight. Like Google's search processes and algorithms, the content of the Print Project is protected by digital-rights-management technologies and not open to public scrutiny. So Google is heavily invested in a strong — perhaps too strong — regime of property rights.

Yet the company has also set itself up as the champion of the public interest in matters of intellectual property and Internet freedom. On its corporate blog, the company announced the hiring of a new Washington, D.C., lobbyist by declaring that part of his portfolio is to defend the public-interest notions of "Net neutrality" (keeping the Internet open and competitive), "copyrights and fair use" (protecting both the principles of exclusive rights and the limits on them like fair use), and limited "intermediary liability" for tech companies (protecting them from suits over what users might do with their technology).

Beware any corporation that pretends to speak for the public interest. That's usually a contingent pledge based on convenience and temporary market conditions. Microsoft used to seem like it was on the public-interest side of copyright battles in the 1990s when it fought Apple's attempts to monopolize the graphical user interface. Many times we have learned the hard way that companies shift their public-policy orientations as their market status changes.

The most serious problem Google Library creates concerns one aspect of intellectual property — copyright. This plan injects more uncertainty and panic into a system that is already out of equilibrium. Since the rise of digital media and networks, content owners have been scrambling to install radical legal and technological controls over content and the machines that play and distribute that content. Meanwhile, users have been inventing and discovering powerful new ways to create, revise, and distribute content — often other people's content. As a result, we now have an absurd copyright system. Almost nothing stops bad actors (like DVD pirates) from infringing copyrights for profit. Yet the system plays havoc with innocent copyright users like librarians, researchers, students, and computer programmers. Much about copyright in the digital age is up for grabs. After a series of high-profile cases, it's still not clear whether the big copyright owners (who tend to win such cases) will triumph in the long run and quash the efforts of millions of people to use their own culture as they see fit. Google's plan to copy books further destabilizes the system, poking at the very core of copyright.

It also invites a collision of norms and rules unlike any we have seen in almost a century. It is certainly the most interesting — and possibly the most disruptive — copyright conflict since battles over copying film and recorded music.

Some months ago, when the major copyright debate was over peer-to-peer file sharing (a simple problem, in comparison), I wrote a supporting brief in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. v. Grokster Ltd., on behalf of media-studies scholars. We argued that the court should avoid the temptation to overregulate technology. I drew parallels between Grokster, a company that produced search engines through which users found copyrighted music files, and Google, a search engine through which users find copyrighted text files.

Of course there is one big difference: Grokster did not actually do any copying. Google does. For years it has been making copies of the copyrighted Web pages it indexes to store in its own cache. It does so because the law grants it some immunity to make cache copies under a provision designed to protect Internet service providers.

It also does so because that's the norm in the Web world: If you don't want your Web page copied and indexed by search engines, you can opt out. You can post a small signal in your page instructing Google's machines not to include your content in its index. But just about everyone wants to be indexed by Google and other search engines; only companies with strong audiences in the analog world like to opt out of search-engine indexes. So the opt-out system has worked well on the Web.

In the real world outside cyberspace, copyright is opt in. Among the various rights that copyright law grants copyright holders, the exclusive right to copy is at the core. It's why copyright is called copyright. Again, that system has worked fairly well in the real world. Courts, Congress, and practice have generated some important exceptions to the exclusive right to copy. The clearest example is fair use for scholarship, education, commentary, and news. Copyright law also provides for some other specific exemptions, like showing a film or making a backup copy of library materials for class.

So the copyright-infringement suits brought by authors and by publishers against Google Library will present the courts with an interesting dilemma: Should they favor the norms of the Web (opt out) over the norms of the real world (opt in)? Google is clearly asserting the right to do what it has always done in the Web world — copied without permission for the purpose of providing an important commercial service that rides free on others' copyrighted work. The courts will have to decide if that is a bit too presumptuous and disruptive in the real world.

Google is confident that legal rulings about fair use on the Web will support its claim. The strongest case in Google's favor comes, like Google, from the West Coast: Kelly v. Arriba Soft Corporation (decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco in 2003). In that case, a photographer named Leslie A. Kelly sued a company that had produced a Web index of "thumbnails" (small, distilled versions of larger digital images) that linked to Kelly's copyrighted photographs. The circuit court ruled that the thumbnails were "transformative" (that they changed material into something new), that the index did not harm Kelly's market, and that the benefits of the service outweighed any fundamental right to exclude the copyrighted photographs.

That was a landmark case based on common sense: The photographer put the photos on the Web knowing that the Web is the sort of place where search engines make cache copies and thumbnails when providing search results. And the index is an essential service. It makes the Web work. Google has based its entire business on the confidence the ruling gives it. Without Kelly, search engines might have to seek a license from every Web-page producer on the Internet. The cost of doing that would be high. We would have no search engines.

Meanwhile, over on the East Coast, things have been different. In the heart of some of the staunchest defenders of copyright, the New York publishing industry, the recording industry won an important suit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in 2000. The case, UMG Recordings, Inc., et al. v. MP3.com, Inc., involved MP3.com, a startup that had offered a "locker" service. Its customers could log into MyMP3.com, insert a compact disc, and the service would read it. Tapping into the company's vast library of CDs, it would place digital copies into users' "lockers," so that they could listen to their collection on any computer connected to the Internet. Users had to verify that they had purchased a copy of the CD, but what they listened to weren't copies of their own CDs. MP3.com thought it had a good case. It had lawfully purchased thousands of CDs. Its customers had lawfully purchased thousands of CDs. No one was "stealing" music. In fact, two copies had been sold. The company was merely offering a virtual service based on a clearly legal activity: making digital backups of a private CD collection.

The recording industry disagreed, and so did the court, ruling that MP3.com had infringed on the exclusive right to copy. Because it was a commercial service, not a private person or educational institution, and because it did not "transform" the music into anything new, it could not claim fair use as a defense. The fact that the MyMP3.com service did not harm the market for CDs did not seem to matter to the court. Its decision was copyright fundamentalism, the norms of the real world trumping the norms of the Web. Significantly for Google, the case involved a company making harmless copies of works that the copyright holder had not intended for the Internet — much like publishers.

Other important copyright cases in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York have also recently gone in favor of copyright fundamentalism, most notably New York Times Co., Inc., et al. v. Jonathan Tasini et al. In that, the newspaper had argued that its resale of the work of freelancers (without permission or compensation) to electronic databases contributed to user-friendly full-text services. The circuit court, in 1999, and ultimately the Supreme Court, in 2001, disagreed. It's no coincidence that the authors and publishers filed their suits against Google in the Southern District of New York, knowing that there is a general suspicion of newfangled views of copyright on the East Coast.

So this is my concern: Google has not only, in the words of a University of Pittsburgh law professor, Michael J. Madison, "bet the company" on its Print Library. It has "bet the Internet." If a New York court rules clumsily, indelicately, or too broadly in an attempt to express umbrage at Google's audacity, then the principles of Kelly are in danger. So are future similar initiatives, whether they come from libraries or the private sector.

And because libraries and universities are partners in the effort, a fundamentalist ruling could frighten university counsels when they give advice to faculty members and librarians about what we may all do under the fair use of copyrighted material. Frankly, university counsels are already skittish enough. They often advise against doing things that are clearly legal out of fear and misunderstanding. A bad loss in the Google case could blow a massive chilling effect across all sorts of good ideas.

I share another of my concerns with those librarians who haven't been as supportive of Google as the five repositories that joined its project. It goes beyond the intricacies of copyright and fair use to the fear that Google's power to link files to people will displace the library from our lives. Wayne A. Wiegand, a professor of library studies at Florida State University, uses a phrase to describe his scholarly mission, studying "the library in the life of the user." That means getting beyond the functional ways people employ library services and collections. It means making sense of what a library signifies to a community and the individuals in that community. Libraries are more than resources. They are both places and functions. They are people and institutions, budgets and books, conversations and collections. They are greater than the sum of their books.

The presumption that Google's powers of indexing and access come close to working as a library ignores all that libraries mean to the lives of their users. All the proprietary algorithms in the world are not going to replace them. There was a reason why Franklin, Jefferson, Madison, and others of their generation believed the republic could not survive without libraries. They are embodiments of republican ideals. They pump the blood of a democratic culture, information.

So I worry. We need services like that provided by Google Library. But they should be "Library Library" projects. Libraries should not be relinquishing their core duties to private corporations for the sake of expediency. Whichever side wins in court, we as a culture have lost sight of the ways that human beings, archives, indexes, and institutions interact to generate, preserve, revise, and distribute knowledge. We have become obsessed with seeing everything in the universe as "information" to be linked and ranked. We have focused on quantity and convenience at the expense of the richness and serendipity of the full library experience. We are making a tremendous mistake.

Siva Vaidhyanathan is an assistant professor of culture and communication at New York University. He is the author of Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How It Threatens Creativity (New York University Press, 2001) and The Anarchist in the Library: How the Clash Between Freedom and Control Is Hacking the Real World and Crashing the System (Basic Books, 2004).

Section: The Chronicle Review
Volume 52, Issue 15, Page B7

William Kentridge Black Box / Chambre Noire

Deutsche Guggenheim Exhibitions
William Kentridge Black Box / Chambre Noire

In conceiving of a new art work as part of the Deutsche Bank and Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation’s commissioning program for the Deutsche Guggenheim, William Kentridge, a South African artist very much grounded in geographies and histories of place, took as a point of departure the commission’s originating site—broadly speaking, Germany. In addition to his body of work exploring the history of Africa and South Africa, Kentridge has also long exhibited an affinity to German art and culture, creating works inspired by or in response to German visual artists and literary figures.
Within this contextual framework, the artist began to explore the history of German colonialism in Africa through the lens of its colonialera cinema. The process was undertaken while Kentridge was preparing to direct a major production of Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute, creating highly allusive imagery for the set designs and projections using a stage maquette. That work on Mozart’s Enlightenment-themed opera would lead Kentridge to Black Box / Chambre Noire, which explores the darker implications of that era’s philosophical legacy, reflects the key process of reversal that so often takes center stage in the artist’s work.

In 1989 Kentridge began a series of hand-drawn, animated films that focus on apartheid- and post-apartheid-era South Africa’s through the lens of two fictive white characters who can be seen as his alter-egos: the pensive, cautious Felix Teitlebaum and the aggressive industrialist Soho Eckstein. These films launched the artist into international prominence, yet Kentridge had already established himself in South Africa with his work in a range of mediums, including theater, graphic and fine arts, and filmmaking.

Kentridge’s work reflects a deep engagement with issues of history and memory. Using vigorously reworked charcoal and pastel drawings as the primary basis for his films, he leaves traces of erasure and highly visible pentimenti to suggest the work’s process and the ineradicable presence of the past. Kentridge is also known for his collaborations with the Handspring Puppet Company, with whom he has crafted complex, multimedia performances combining puppets, animation, and live performance.
In theatrical productions and video sculptures, he has employed objects and their cast shadows, the puppet and the hand of the puppeteer, as well as his signature traces and erasures, to develop complex, multilayered works which call into question notions of agency.

Black Box / Chambre Noire consists of animated films, kinetic sculptural objects, drawings, and a mechanized theater in miniature. In the work, Kentridge considers the term “black box” in three senses: a “black box” theater, a “chambre noire” as it relates to photography, and the “black box” flight data recorder used to record information in an airline disaster.
Kentridge explores constructions of history and meaning, while examining the processes of grief, guilt, culpability, and expiation, and the shifting vantage points of political engagement and responsibilty. The development of visual technologies and the history of colonialism intersect in Black Box / Chambre Noire through Kentridge’s reflection on the history of the German colonial presence in Africa, in particular the 1904 German massacre of the Hereros in Southwest Africa (now Namibia).

Considered by some historians to be the first genocide of the twentieth century, the German massacre of the Hereros in Southwest Africa resulted in a near annihilation of the tribe. In 1885 Southwest Africa became a German protectorate. German settlers increasingly encroached upon and expropriated the land of the Hereros through fraudulent treaties and usurious practices, causing the Hereros to fall into ever-increasing circles of debt and resulting in the losses of their cattle and land. As the tribes’ frustration rose, Samuel Mahareru, the Herero chief, was pressured by his community to respond to the escalating injustices.

In 1904, he ordered his subchiefs to carry out a directed attack against the ruling Germans, giving explicit instructions to avoid killing women, children, missionaries, English settlers, Boers, and other tribes. Stunned by this development, the German Kaiser appointed General Lothar von Trotha, known for his ruthlessness in suppressing revolts in East Africa and China, to lead a counterstrike. To escape the ensuing massacre, many Hereros fled into the Omaheke desert in an attempt to reach safety. The extreme harshness of the climate led to thousands of deaths, adding to the already significant toll of those killed directly by the troops. Despite objections by Germans in the colony as well as at home to General von Trotha’s extreme measures, it wasn’t until 1905, after seventy-five percent of the Herero population was decimated, that the General was removed from command. South Africa took control of Namibia in 1914 and ruled by force until Namibia gained its independence in 1990.

This historical fact relates to William Kentridge’s South African identity, prompting him to question notions of agency and complicity, atonement and grief.

In engaging issues of trauma and its aftermath, Kentridge explores the Freudian concept of “Trauerarbeit,” or grief work, a labor which is ongoing, and which dovetails with the artist’s unrelenting and selfreflexive examination of the process of making meaning. In creating a work that reveals the motors of representation, Kentridge renders these means transparent, removing the veil of opacity behind which selective, subjective memories are crafted into grand narratives of history. The process-oriented, at times collaborative aspects of Kentridge’s work results in the complex and richly layered nature of Black Box / Chambre Noire. Kentridge created numerous drawings for the Black Box theater and animated film, composing drawings onto and out of numerous period texts, including materials the artist came across in trips to Namibia and its national archive.*

Through the artist’s unique filmic process, these drawings are in turn integrated into the Black Box / Chambre Noire film, combined with the artist’s own footage of Namibia, archival photographs and excerpts from German colonial-era film. Additionally, the music that Kentridge, together with Philip Miller, the composer of the Black Box / Chambre Noire soundtrack, encountered in Namibia has been deftly woven into the piece.**

Black Box / Chambre Noire explores the difficulties inherent in representing historical trauma and in reconstructing events and people through the lens of a particular time, place, and politics, whether through the apparatus of cinema or pseudo-scientific constructions of “race.” Once again, there is no standing “outside” in Kentridge’s work. Black Box / Chambre Noire implicates us in our belief and disbelief, in our wonder and cool knowingness, in darkness and in light. In Kentridge’s metaphorical exploration of the Black Box as theater, camera obscura, and flight-data recorder, flexibility, fixity, and the future come into play in an exploration of the past. Resisting closure, the work problematizes simplistic constructions of history using binaries of past and present, victim and victimizer, spectacle and spectator.

Maria-Christina Villaseñor, Associate Curator of Film and Media Arts, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

*Kentridge’s drawings combine charcoal, colored pastel, and colored pencil on paper as well as found texts including the following: lists of mines and shares; Italian ledger book circa 1920; student’s handwritten lecture notes on German law, 1911; vintage Johannesburg street map circa 1940; indexes from French scientific notes; French textbook, La merveille de la science, circa 1868; 1910 edition of the British text Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management; text on the relative value of gold coins; Universale Tariffa, circa 1833; Chamber’s Encyclopedia of 1950; Introduction to Telephony textbook, 1934; Cyclopedia of Drawing, 1924; Photocopies of advertisements featured in the German journal Simplicissimus; share accounts of gold mines; Baedecker travel guide to Italy, circa 1900; Georg Hartmann’s map of German South West Africa, 1904; private correspondence from German South West Africa circa 1911; photocopy of General von Trotha’s 1904 order against the Hereros from the Namibian National Archive; Index and Gazetteer of the World; Stieler’s Handatlas No. 59, 1906; Statistics of Revenues and Debts of the Component States.

**The soundtrack for Black Box / Chambre Noire includes the following musical elements: Herero lament; Herero praise song; traditional Namibian bow music; Philip Miller’s original musical compositions.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute): Sarastro’s Aria, „In diesen heil’gen Hallen“ from the 1937 recording of Sir Thomas Beecham conducting the Berlin Philharmonic; fragments from the Queen of the Night’s Aria “Der Hölle Rache”; Pamina’s Aria „Ach ich fühl’s, es ist verschwunden“; exchange between Papageno + Monastatos; „Marsch der Priester“ (“March of the Priests”) with Alfred Makgalemele singing.

William Kentridge, born 1955, lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Gland Inquisitor

By William Saletan
SLATE, Posted Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2005

The Vatican's new policy on gay priests has been leaked. Officially, it proposes the incorrigibility of deeply rooted gay tendencies. Unofficially, it exposes the deeply rooted, incorrigible antigay tendencies of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, aka Pope Benedict XVI.

For decades, while moderate clerics defended celibate gay priests, Ratzinger pressed for a purge of homosexuality not merely as an act or a lifestyle but as an orientation. Now he's in charge, and he's got ambitions beyond the church. He wants to cleanse us all, inside and out.

To its credit, the Vatican has sought to incorporate modern psychology and biology in its discussions of homosexuality. The first document to do so was the Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics, issued in 1975 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Declaration tentatively accepted that some people were "definitively" gay due to "some kind of innate instinct" for which they weren't "personally responsible." Nevertheless, it maintained that according to scripture, "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." The solution was to separate the involuntary from the voluntary—the inclination from the acts—by helping homosexuals to "overcome" their "condition." Eight years later, the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education, acknowledging the role of "physiological or psychological factors" in homosexuality, drew the same conclusion.

But in 1986, the CDF changed its tune. In its Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, the CDF said liberals had twisted the meaning of the Declaration, applying "an overly benign interpretation … to the homosexual condition itself," as opposed to homosexual acts. The condition was the problem, said the Letter: When people "engage in homosexual activity, they confirm within themselves a disordered sexual inclination which is essentially self-indulgent."

Masquerading as a clarification, the Letter turned the Declaration upside down. On the old view, the inclination was disordered insofar as it tended toward the acts. On the new view, the acts were disordered insofar as they "confirmed" the inclination, and the inclination was "essentially" self-indulgent, regardless of its manifestation in acts.

What had happened to the CDF between 1975 and 1986? Ratzinger had taken charge of it. His name, absent from the Declaration, was on the Letter.

But Ratzinger didn't control the whole Vatican, and other departments continued to distinguish homosexual acts from the inclination. In 1990, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life issued Directives on Formation in Religious Institutes, the first Vatican document on gay priests. It called for the exclusion not of celibate gays but of those who defended a non-celibate life and did "not seem to be able to overcome their homosexual tendencies."

In 1992, Ratzinger upped the ante. In an analysis of Legislative Proposals on the Non-discrimination of Homosexual Persons, the CDF repeated that "the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder" and extended this principle to civil law. " 'Sexual orientation' does not constitute a quality comparable to race, ethnic background, etc. in respect to non-discrimination," said the document. "There are areas in which it is not unjust discrimination to take sexual orientation into account." The obvious areas were adoption and education, but the CDF sought broader precedents for antigay legislation in housing and employment, noting that "the state may restrict the exercise of rights, for example, in the case of contagious or mentally ill persons." If homosexual orientation was sick and infectious, why should purification stop at the priesthood?

Three months later, Pope John Paul II released the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Ratzinger had chaired the Catechism's drafting committee beginning in 1986, the same year he issued the CDF's hard-edged Letter. But the Catechism, unlike the Letter, was a six-year product of "consultation among all Catholic Bishops, their Episcopal Conferences or Synods, and theological and catechetical institutes"—John Paul called it the "symphony of the faith"—and the difference showed. The Catechism dealt with "homosexual acts" and "homosexual tendencies" in separate paragraphs. It framed gay tendencies as a "trial" for their bearers and concluded, "Homosexual persons are called to chastity." This would be hard for them, but it would be morally sufficient. Through "self-mastery" and "prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection," it said.

Other bodies within the hierarchy defended this view against the CDF. In 1995, the Pontifical Council for the Family declared, "A distinction must be made between a tendency that can be innate and acts of homosexuality that 'are intrinsically disordered.' " In 1998, the Congress on Vocations to the Priesthood and to Consecrated Life in Europe said the crucial test for a prospective priest was to be "able to control these weaknesses." The 1998 document, circumventing Ratzinger's 1986 and 1992 pronouncements, invoked the recommendation of the 1990 Directives "to reject not [candidates] who have such tendencies but rather 'those who cannot manage to control such tendencies.' "

Ratzinger never believed such control was possible. Two years ago, under his signature, the CDF examined Proposals To Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons. It urged governments to "contain" gay unions "to avoid exposing young people to erroneous ideas about sexuality and marriage that would deprive them of their necessary defenses and contribute to the spread of the phenomenon." Even in latency, homosexuality, like smallpox, would always be a threat.

Now comes the Instruction Concerning the Criteria of Vocational Discernment Regarding Persons With Homosexual Tendencies, issued by the Congregation for Catholic Education. This is the same Vatican department that said 22 years ago that "homosexuals must be received with understanding and supported in the hope of overcoming their personal difficulties." But the new document, unlike the old one, carries Benedict's imprimatur. And its message couldn't be more different.

The Instruction says the church "may not admit to the seminary and Holy Orders those who practice homosexuality, show profoundly deep-rooted homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called gay culture. The above persons find themselves, in fact, in a situation that gravely obstructs a right way of relating with men and women." It says a would-be priest must be turned away if he "practices homosexuality or presents profoundly deep-rooted homosexual tendencies."

Notice two things. First, deep-rooted "tendencies" are now independent and automatic grounds for dismissal, regardless of whether you "practice" homosexuality or "support" gay culture (whatever that is). Second, even if these tendencies are merely a "situation" in which you "find yourself," they "gravely obstruct" you from relating properly to men and women. Through no fault of your own, you're doomed. The Catechism's paths to perfection—self-mastery, chastity, prayer, and grace—no longer suffice. The church won't settle for your self-restraint, even with God's help.

One part of the Instruction permits ordination of priests whose gay tendencies have been "overcome at least three years before ordination." But this rule applies only to immature candidates passing through a "transitory" phase, not those with "deep-rooted" homosexuality. The policy also says it's "gravely dishonest," and therefore disqualifying, to "hide" your homosexuality to get into the priesthood. You're damned if you show it and damned if you don't.

The facile defense of Ratzinger's campaign against gay inclinations in the clergy is that the Catholic sex-abuse scandal proved these inclinations were too dangerous to tolerate. But even if you buy the argument that the abuse stemmed from homosexuality rather than pedophilia and sexual segregation—I don't—it doesn't explain why he targeted gay inclinations in 1986, long before the scandal exploded. Nor is it comforting that his Instruction applies only to priests. As he made clear 13 years ago, if homosexual tendencies are a contagious disease, the infection—and the purge—will go on.

Monday, November 28

What Derrida Really Meant

Published: October 14, 2004

Along with Ludwig Wittgenstein and Martin Heidegger, Jacques Derrida, who died last week in Paris at the age of 74, will be remembered as one of the three most important philosophers of the 20th century. No thinker in the last 100 years had a greater impact than he did on people in more fields and different disciplines. Philosophers, theologians, literary and art critics, psychologists, historians, writers, artists, legal scholars and even architects have found in his writings resources for insights that have led to an extraordinary revival of the arts and humanities during the past four decades. And no thinker has been more deeply misunderstood.
To people addicted to sound bites and overnight polls, Mr. Derrida's works seem hopelessly obscure. It is undeniable that they cannot be easily summarized or reduced to one-liners. The obscurity of his writing, however, does not conceal a code that can be cracked, but reflects the density and complexity characteristic of all great works of philosophy, literature and art. Like good French wine, his works age well. The more one lingers with them, the more they reveal about our world and ourselves.

What makes Mr. Derrida's work so significant is the way he brought insights of major philosophers, writers, artists and theologians to bear on problems of urgent contemporary interest. Most of his infamously demanding texts consist of careful interpretations of canonical writers in the Western philosophical, literary and artistic traditions -- from Plato to Joyce. By reading familiar works against the grain, he disclosed concealed meanings that created new possibilities for imaginative expression.

Mr. Derrida's name is most closely associated with the often cited but rarely understood term ''deconstruction.'' Initially formulated to define a strategy for interpreting sophisticated written and visual works, deconstruction has entered everyday language. When responsibly understood, the implications of deconstruction are quite different from the misleading clichés often used to describe a process of dismantling or taking things apart. The guiding insight of deconstruction is that every structure -- be it literary, psychological, social, economic, political or religious -- that organizes our experience is constituted and maintained through acts of exclusion. In the process of creating something, something else inevitably gets left out.

These exclusive structures can become repressive -- and that repression comes with consequences. In a manner reminiscent of Freud, Mr. Derrida insists that what is repressed does not disappear but always returns to unsettle every construction, no matter how secure it seems. As an Algerian Jew writing in France during the postwar years in the wake of totalitarianism on the right (fascism) as well as the left (Stalinism), Mr. Derrida understood all too well the danger of beliefs and ideologies that divide the world into diametrical opposites: right or left, red or blue, good or evil, for us or against us. He showed how these repressive structures, which grew directly out of the Western intellectual and cultural tradition, threatened to return with devastating consequences. By struggling to find ways to overcome patterns that exclude the differences that make life worth living, he developed a vision that is consistently ethical.

And yet, supporters on the left and critics on the right have misunderstood this vision. Many of Mr. Derrida's most influential followers appropriated his analyses of marginal writers, works and cultures as well as his emphasis on the importance of preserving differences and respecting others to forge an identity politics that divides the world between the very oppositions that it was Mr. Derrida's mission to undo: black and white, men and women, gay and straight. Betraying Mr. Derrida's insights by creating a culture of political correctness, his self-styled supporters fueled the culture wars that have been raging for more than two decades and continue to frame political debate.

To his critics, Mr. Derrida appeared to be a pernicious nihilist who threatened the very foundation of Western society and culture. By insisting that truth and absolute value cannot be known with certainty, his detractors argue, he undercut the very possibility of moral judgment. To follow Mr. Derrida, they maintain, is to start down the slippery slope of skepticism and relativism that inevitably leaves us powerless to act responsibly.

This is an important criticism that requires a careful response. Like Kant, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, Mr. Derrida does argue that transparent truth and absolute values elude our grasp. This does not mean, however, that we must forsake the cognitive categories and moral principles without which we cannot live: equality and justice, generosity and friendship. Rather, it is necessary to recognize the unavoidable limitations and inherent contradictions in the ideas and norms that guide our actions, and do so in a way that keeps them open to constant questioning and continual revision. There can be no ethical action without critical reflection.

During the last decade of his life, Mr. Derrida became preoccupied with religion and it is in this area that his contribution might well be most significant for our time. He understood that religion is impossible without uncertainty. Whether conceived of as Yahweh, as the father of Jesus Christ, or as Allah, God can never be fully known or adequately represented by imperfect human beings.

And yet, we live in an age when major conflicts are shaped by people who claim to know, for certain, that God is on their side. Mr. Derrida reminded us that religion does not always give clear meaning, purpose and certainty by providing secure foundations. To the contrary, the great religious traditions are profoundly disturbing because they all call certainty and security into question. Belief not tempered by doubt poses a mortal danger.

As the process of globalization draws us ever closer in networks of communication and exchange, there is an understandable longing for simplicity, clarity and certainty. This desire is responsible, in large measure, for the rise of cultural conservatism and religious fundamentalism -- in this country and around the world. True believers of every stripe -- Muslim, Jewish and Christian -- cling to beliefs that, Mr. Derrida warns, threaten to tear apart our world.

Fortunately, he also taught us that the alternative to blind belief is not simply unbelief but a different kind of belief -- one that embraces uncertainty and enables us to respect others whom we do not understand. In a complex world, wisdom is knowing what we don't know so that we can keep the future open.

In the two decades I knew Mr. Derrida, we had many meetings and exchanges. In conversation, he listened carefully and responded helpfully to questions whether posed by undergraduates or colleagues. As a teacher, he gave freely of his time to several generations of students.

But small things are the measure of the man. In 1986, my family and I were in Paris and Mr. Derrida invited us to dinner at his house in the suburbs 20 miles away. He insisted on picking us up at our hotel, and when we arrived at his home he presented our children with carnival masks. At 2 a.m., he drove us back to the city. In later years, when my son and daughter were writing college papers on his work, he sent them letters and postcards of encouragement as well as signed copies of several of his books. Jacques Derrida wrote eloquently about the gift of friendship but in these quiet gestures -- gestures that served to forge connections among individuals across their differences -- we see deconstruction in action.

Saturday, November 26

Pardon Me, but the Art Is Mouthing Off

November 27, 2005

IT was late in the day, rain was streaking the windows of a converted warehouse in San Francisco and the robot was not behaving. Represented by a talking head on a flat-screen monitor, and equipped with voice-recognition software, the artificial intelligence computer - known as DiNA - was designed to chat with visitors about current affairs. She is supposed to be a political animal, or more precisely, machine. But at this point in early November, just a few weeks before making her New York debut, she sounded rather clueless. When asked her opinion of the war in Iraq, she called it a "silly question." When asked whether she supported President Bush, she didn't recognize his name.

The robot's programmer, Colin Klingman, was taken aback. "She has a lot to say on Bush, believe me," he said. "I'll have to check the code."

The robot's creator, on the other hand, seemed unfazed. "She still has a lot to learn," said Lynn Hershman Leeson, the 64-year-old digital-media artist. "And she's not yet connected to the Internet, where she can gather information on anything from the mayor of Pasadena to the capital of Pakistan."

An animated exchange with the programmer followed: could that Internet integration happen in time for DiNA's New York debut at Bitforms gallery? Ms. Hershman Leeson calmly insisted it was important. The programmer relented: "Well, then, that's it. Whatever Lynn says will happen, will happen."

The next day, relaxing on a brown couch in her studio, Ms. Hershman Leeson talked about what it was like to be an artist forever bumping up against the limits of technology. "I'm always trying to do something that doesn't exist yet," she said. "Voice recognition for DiNA, for example - everyone said that we couldn't do it, that the technology wasn't far enough along. But I've learned over the years that you can never stop at the first no."

Steve Dietz, who showed her work at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis when he was curator of new media there, said: "Like most great artists, Lynn is amazingly tenacious. Anyone can have a sci-fi imagination and daydream about what is possible, but not everyone has the doggedness and determination to make it happen."

For more than 30 years, she has made artwork across many platforms - from painting, photography and performance art to video, laserdisc, DVD, Web-based work and interactive sculpture. She has also made two feature-length films: "Conceiving Ada," in 1997, and "Teknolust," in 2002. Like the rest of her work, they explore mind-bending questions about reality and identity. How can we tell in an age of digital and genetic sampling what is real? Can another mode of existence become more real or powerful than ours? Does a robot have its own personality? Does a clone have its own identity?

Such interests anticipated popular Hollywood themes, not to mention the obsessions of the video game industry, and art historians have begun to credit her as a pioneer. But until recently the technology has been recalcitrant. And so has the art world.

"Lynn should be much better known than she is," Mr. Dietz said. "Part of the problem is that she started in the 70's, when so many women artists were fighting an uphill battle for recognition. And since then she's been working with technology, which has more support from museums in Europe than the U.S." He pointed out that her biggest awards have come from Germany.

Ms. Hershman Leeson said: "When I started making interactive art during the 1980's, it didn't really exist as a genre. There were no grants, no collectors, no audience and no language for describing it. But now, more and more, it's considered a valid art form."

And now it appears that she is finally receiving her due. The University of California Press has just published an anthology, 10 years in the making, that documents her various projects in critical essays and samples them on a DVD. "Hershmanlandia," her first American museum retrospective, opened earlier this month at the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle, covering work from the 1970's to today. A survey of recent photographs opened on Nov. 23 at her longtime San Francisco gallery, Paule Anglim. And "Selected Works: 1976 - 2005" opens at Bitforms on Dec. 10, with an appearance by DiNA and prints from her series "Phantom Limbs" (1986-94), among others.

DiNA first arrived on the scene in September 2004 as part of a group show in Paris, where visitors could communicate with her only through a keyboard. Now, she has evolved to speech recognition, as has her predecessor, Ruby, an older robot in the Seattle retrospective who originated as a character in "Teknolust."

The two robots look alike: they both have the face of the actress Tilda Swinton, who starred in the film. But they don't think alike. Ms. Hershman Leeson says DiNA is smarter than Ruby, containing twice as much programming code; Ruby is more likely to make wild leaps in logic.

"Men seem to like Ruby more," she added. "She's funnier and quirkier, and they are put off by DiNA's intelligence."

The artist has been exploring artificial intelligence and virtual reality of one sort or another since she was a student. While completing her master's in art at San Francisco State in the early 1970's, Ms. Hershman Leeson was frustrated by her lack of recognition. So she began writing reviews of her own work and publishing them, under pseudonyms in local newspapers. Another early project involved taking a room at the Dante Hotel in San Francisco and spreading out personal items - books, cosmetics, clothes - to create portraits of imaginary inhabitants.

Then she conjured up Roberta Breitmore, her most sustained character study. From 1974 to 1978, while Ms. Hershman Leeson was a wife and mother trying to make it in San Francisco as an artist, Roberta was a divorced woman new to town, trying to make it on her own. The artist brought her to life by wearing a blond wig, applying heavy makeup and adopting a set of rather depressive tendencies.

Other performance artists in the 1970's were also creating characters to untangle the knots of identity and gender, but Roberta was no one-act wonder. She had her own slumped posture, slow gait, colorful outfit, loopy handwriting, odd jobs and romantic encounters. In time, Roberta acquired a driver's license, two credit cards and her own apartment.

"Everyone thought I was crazy," the artist said. "But I rented Roberta an apartment across the street from my house. I just didn't feel her life would be complete without her own space."

Still, being Roberta was not easy. She went to Weight Watchers and gained weight. She met a man through a personal ad who tried to recruit her into a prostitution ring. Ms. Hershman Leeson also found it hard to sit through psychoanalysis as someone else when "my marriage was ending and I had so much going on that I could have really used the therapy myself."

By the third year, she asked other women to become Roberta to see if they would attract more positive experiences. The first was Kristine Stiles, then a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley and now a professor of art history at Duke University. Going out on the town as Roberta was rather unsettling, Ms. Stiles recalled: "The persona of Roberta was such a part of Lynn's psychological makeup, it felt like I was assuming someone else's pathology."

Still, Ms. Hershman Leeson documented the project like a work of art. She kept letters written to and from Roberta. She had surveillance photographs taken of Roberta in her various escapades, and had the comic-book artist Spain Rodriguez dramatize a few memorable episodes, including the brush with the prostitution ring. Ultimately, after Roberta was "exorcised" in an elaborate ritual, the project was exhibited at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. The show ended with a Roberta lookalike contest that drew a sizable crowd, mainly gay men.

Since then, Roberta has fallen out of the spotlight. "Hardly anybody today knows the richness of this project," said Robin Held, who curated the Henry Art Gallery retrospective. "And it could not be more important in terms of Lynn's practice - from her preoccupation with the dispersal of identity over different bodies to her interest in the shifting boundaries between real and virtual. Roberta was a sketch for everything to come."

Indeed, the artist soon found in computers and new technology other means to "test the edges of reality." In 1984, she completed Lorna, recognized today as the first interactive laserdisc by an artist. "Lorna was originally conceived of as a game," the artist explained. "If you freeze the right frame, you can find an airline ticket hidden inside her body that I was offering as a prize." But like Roberta, Lorna doubled as a portrait of a rather sad woman - "agoraphobic, lonely, alienated" - whose adventures were directed by remote control.

Another pivotal year was 1993, when the Napa Valley winemaker Donald Hess bought the entire Roberta archives, some 300 images and documents. That was also the year the artist went online for the first time. She saw rather quickly the Internet's power for hyperconnectivity and imagined spreading a kind of computer virus that she called an antibody. But the law stood in her way, so the virus notion evolved into plans for a self-replicating automaton.

This idea for the robot inspired her to write and direct "Teknolust." "Not that financing a movie is easy, but it's really hard to get funding to a make a robot that nobody has seen," she explained.

Both of her movies, which won awards on the film festival circuit, are feminist sci-fi adventures. "Conceiving Ada" is a fantasy about bringing Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron's brilliant daughter, back to life through computer programming - the language she helped to invent. "Teknolust" tells the story of a geeky female biogeneticist who uses her own DNA to create three computer-bred clones, rather personable and sexy cyborgs named Marinne, Olive and Ruby. Ms. Swinton, who played all four characters in the movie, said: " 'Teknolust' is either about a sociopath who has a closet full of wigs or about something that Lynn and I both play with all the time - the fact that no one has a stable identity, we are many things at once."

What does she think of the robots who have her face? "They're like sisters to me," she said.

The movies received some withering reviews, but the artist's supporters don't seem to mind. "I'm fascinated by the way Lynn's films and art are coming together," said Ms. Held, the Seattle curator, noting that the film version of Ruby gave birth to a Web portal, which gave birth to the stand-alone robot now in Seattle, which gave birth to the DiNA robot heading to New York. And, of course, Roberta, that early experiment in artificial intelligence and self-replication, could be considered the mother of them all.

Dishonest, Reprehensible, Corrupt ...

November 27, 2005

GEORGE W. BUSH is so desperate for allies that his hapless Asian tour took him to Ulan Bator, a first for an American president, so he could mingle with the yaks and give personal thanks for Mongolia's contribution of some 160 soldiers to "the coalition of the willing." Dick Cheney, whose honest-and-ethical poll number hit 29 percent in Newsweek's latest survey, is so radioactive that he vanished into his bunker for weeks at a time during the storms Katrina and Scootergate.

The whole world can see that both men are on the run. Just how much so became clear in the brace of nasty broadsides each delivered this month about Iraq. Neither man engaged the national debate ignited by John Murtha about how our troops might be best redeployed in a recalibrated battle against Islamic radicalism. Neither offered a plan for "victory." Instead, both impugned their critics' patriotism and retreated into the past to defend the origins of the war. In a seasonally appropriate impersonation of the misanthropic Mr. Potter from "It's a Wonderful Life," the vice president went so far as to label critics of the administration's prewar smoke screen both "dishonest and reprehensible" and "corrupt and shameless." He sounded but one epithet away from a defibrillator.

The Washington line has it that the motivation for the Bush-Cheney rage is the need to push back against opponents who have bloodied the White House in the polls. But, Mr. Murtha notwithstanding, the Democrats are too feeble to merit that strong a response. There is more going on here than politics.

Much more: each day brings slam-dunk evidence that the doomsday threats marshaled by the administration to sell the war weren't, in Cheney-speak, just dishonest and reprehensible but also corrupt and shameless. The more the president and vice president tell us that their mistakes were merely innocent byproducts of the same bad intelligence seen by everyone else in the world, the more we learn that this was not so. The web of half-truths and falsehoods used to sell the war did not happen by accident; it was woven by design and then foisted on the public by a P.R. operation built expressly for that purpose in the White House. The real point of the Bush-Cheney verbal fisticuffs this month, like the earlier campaign to take down Joseph Wilson, is less to smite Democrats than to cover up wrongdoing in the executive branch between 9/11 and shock and awe.

The cover-up is failing, however. No matter how much the president and vice president raise their decibel levels, the truth keeps roaring out. A nearly 7,000-word investigation in last Sunday's Los Angeles Times found that Mr. Bush and his aides had "issued increasingly dire warnings" about Iraq's mobile biological weapons labs long after U.S. intelligence authorities were told by Germany's Federal Intelligence Service that the principal source for these warnings, an Iraqi defector in German custody code-named Curveball, "never claimed to produce germ weapons and never saw anyone else do so." The five senior German intelligence officials who spoke to The Times said they were aghast that such long-discredited misinformation from a suspected fabricator turned up in Colin Powell's presentation to the United Nations and in the president's 2003 State of the Union address (where it shared billing with the equally bogus 16 words about Saddam's fictitious African uranium).

Right after the L.A. Times scoop, Murray Waas filled in another piece of the prewar propaganda puzzle. He reported in the nonpartisan National Journal that 10 days after 9/11, "President Bush was told in a highly classified briefing that the U.S. intelligence community had no evidence linking the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein to the attacks and that there was scant credible evidence that Iraq had any significant collaborative ties with Al Qaeda."

The information was delivered in the President's Daily Brief, a C.I.A. assessment also given to the vice president and other top administration officials. Nonetheless Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney repeatedly pounded in an implicit (and at times specific) link between Saddam and Al Qaeda until Americans even started to believe that the 9/11 attacks had been carried out by Iraqis. More damning still, Mr. Waas finds that the "few credible reports" of Iraq-Al Qaeda contacts actually involved efforts by Saddam to monitor or infiltrate Islamic terrorist groups, which he regarded as adversaries of his secular regime. Thus Saddam's antipathy to Islamic radicals was the same in 2001 as it had been in 1983, when Donald Rumsfeld, then a Reagan administration emissary, embraced the dictator as a secular fascist ally in the American struggle against the theocratic fascist rulers in Iran.

What these revelations also tell us is that Mr. Bush was wrong when he said in his Veterans Day speech that more than 100 Congressional Democrats who voted for the Iraqi war resolution "had access to the same intelligence" he did. They didn't have access to the President's Daily Brief that Mr. Waas uncovered. They didn't have access to the information that German intelligence officials spoke about to The Los Angeles Times. Nor did they have access to material from a Defense Intelligence Agency report, released by Senator Carl Levin of Michigan this month, which as early as February 2002 demolished the reliability of another major source that the administration had persistently used for its false claims about Iraqi-Al Qaeda collaboration.

The more we learn about the road to Iraq, the more we realize that it's a losing game to ask what lies the White House told along the way. A simpler question might be: What was not a lie? The situation recalls Mary McCarthy's explanation to Dick Cavett about why she thought Lillian Hellman was a dishonest writer: "Every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the.' "

If Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney believe they were truthful in the run-up to the war, it's easy for them to make their case. Instead of falsely claiming that they've been exonerated by two commissions that looked into prewar intelligence - neither of which addressed possible White House misuse and mischaracterization of that intelligence - they should just release the rest of the President's Daily Briefs and other prewar documents that are now trickling out. Instead, incriminatingly enough, they are fighting the release of any such information, including unclassified documents found in post-invasion Iraq requested from the Pentagon by the pro-war, neocon Weekly Standard. As Scott Shane reported in The New York Times last month, Vietnam documents are now off limits, too: the National Security Agency won't make public a 2001 historical report on how American officials distorted intelligence in 1964 about the Gulf of Tonkin incident for fear it might "prompt uncomfortable comparisons" between the games White Houses played then and now to gin up wars.

SOONER or later - probably sooner, given the accelerating pace of recent revelations - this embarrassing information will leak out anyway. But the administration's deliberate efforts to suppress or ignore intelligence that contradicted its Iraq crusade are only part of the prewar story. There were other shadowy stations on the disinformation assembly line. Among them were the Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group, a two-man Pentagon operation specifically created to cherry-pick intelligence for Mr. Cheney's apocalyptic Iraqi scenarios, and the White House Iraq Group (WHIG), in which Karl Rove, Karen Hughes and the Cheney hands Lewis Libby and Mary Matalin, among others, plotted to mainline this propaganda into the veins of the press and public. These murky aspects of the narrative - like the role played by a private P.R. contractor, the Rendon Group, examined by James Bamford in the current Rolling Stone - have yet to be recounted in full.

No debate about the past, of course, can undo the mess that the administration made in Iraq. But the past remains important because it is a road map to both the present and the future. Leaders who dissembled then are still doing so. Indeed, they do so even in the same speeches in which they vehemently deny having misled us then - witness Mr. Bush's false claims about what prewar intelligence was seen by Congress and Mr. Cheney's effort last Monday to again conflate the terrorists of 9/11 with those "making a stand in Iraq." (Maj. Gen. Douglas Lute, director of operations for Centcom, says the Iraqi insurgency is 90 percent homegrown.) These days Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney routinely exaggerate the readiness of Iraqi troops, much as they once inflated Saddam's W.M.D.'s.

"We're not going to sit by and let them rewrite history," the vice president said of his critics. "We're going to continue throwing their own words back at them." But according to a Harris poll released by The Wall Street Journal last Wednesday, 64 percent of Americans now believe that the Bush administration "generally misleads the American public on current issues to achieve its own ends." That's why it's Mr. Cheney's and the president's own words that are being thrown back now - not to rewrite history but to reveal it for the first time to an angry country that has learned the hard way that it can no longer afford to be without the truth.

In Terror Cases, Administration Sets Own Rules

By ADAM LIPTAK, New York Times

When Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales announced last week that Jose Padilla would be transferred to the federal justice system from military detention, he said almost nothing about the standards the administration used in deciding whether to charge terrorism suspects like Mr. Padilla with crimes or to hold them in military facilities as enemy combatants.

"We take each individual, each case, case by case," Mr. Gonzales said.

The upshot of that approach, underscored by the decision in Mr. Padilla's case, is that no one outside the administration knows just how the determination is made whether to handle a terror suspect as an enemy combatant or as a common criminal, to hold him indefinitely without charges in a military facility or to charge him in court.

Indeed, citing the need to combat terrorism, the administration has argued, with varying degrees of success, that judges should have essentially no role in reviewing its decisions. The change in Mr. Padilla's status, just days before the government's legal papers were due in his appeal to the Supreme Court, suggested to many legal observers that the administration wanted to keep the court out of the case.

"The position of the executive branch," said Eric M. Freedman, a law professor at Hofstra University who has consulted with lawyers for several detainees, "is that it can be judge, jury and executioner."

The government says a secret and unilateral decision-making process is necessary because of the nature of the evidence it deals with. Officials described the approach as a practical one that weighs a mix of often-sensitive factors.

"Much thought goes into how and why various tools are used in these often complicated cases," Tasia Scolinos, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said on Friday. "The important thing is for someone not to come away thinking this whole process is arbitrary, which it is not."

Among the factors the government considers, Ms. Scolinos said, are "national security interests, the need to gather intelligence and the best and quickest way to obtain it, the concern about protecting intelligence sources and methods and ongoing information gathering, the ability to use information as evidence in a criminal proceeding, the circumstances of the manner in which the individual was detained, the applicable criminal charges, and classified-evidence issues."

Lawyers for people in terrorism investigations say a list of factors to be considered cannot substitute for bright-line standards announced in advance.

The courts have given the executive branch substantial but not total deference, often holding that the president has the authority to designate enemy combatants but allowing those detained to challenge the factual basis for the administration's determinations. Some courts have suggested that a detainee's citizenship, the place he was captured and whether he was fighting American troops should play a role in how aggressively the courts review enemy-combatant designations.

A look at the half-dozen most prominent terrorism detentions and prosecutions does little to illuminate the standards that have informed the government's decisions.

One American captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan was held in the United States as an enemy combatant. Another was prosecuted as a criminal. One foreigner seized in the United States as a suspected terrorist is being held as an enemy combatant without charges in a Navy brig in Charleston, S.C. Others have been prosecuted for their crimes.

In three high-profile terrorism cases, the government obtained convictions in federal court. Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen, pleaded guilty to taking part in the conspiracy that led to the Sept. 11 attacks and faces the death penalty. Richard C. Reid, who is British, pleaded guilty to trying to blow up an airliner over the Atlantic with bombs in his shoes and is serving a life term. And John Walker Lindh, the California man who pleaded guilty to aiding the Taliban, is serving 20 years.

In three other cases, the administration designated terrorism suspects as enemy combatants who may be detained by the military indefinitely without charge. One, Yaser Esam Hamdi, an American citizen of Saudi descent, was released and sent to Saudi Arabia after the Supreme Court gave him the right to contest the government's claims. A second American, Mr. Padilla, was transferred to the custody of the Justice Department last week.

The only remaining enemy combatant known to be detained in the United States, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, traveled the same road as Mr. Padilla, but in the opposite direction. "Al-Marri is precisely the flipside of Padilla," said Lawrence S. Lustberg, one of Mr. Marri's lawyers.

After 16 months of criminal proceedings on fraud charges, and less than a month before Mr. Marri's trial was to start in July 2003, President Bush designated him an enemy combatant. Mr. Marri, a Qatari who had been working on a master's degree at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., was immediately transferred into military custody and moved to the Navy brig in Charleston.

John Yoo, a former Justice Department official who is now a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said two issues tended to determine how the government proceeded.

"The main factors that will determine how you will be charged," Mr. Yoo said, "are, one, how strong your link to Al Qaeda is and, two, whether you have any actionable intelligence that will prevent an attack on the United States."

Jonathan M. Freiman, one of Mr. Padilla's lawyers, questioned that, saying the administration's decisions had often seemed to be reactions to actual and anticipated court decisions.

"The government continues to be more focused on protecting its strategies than allowing them to be subjected to legal review," Mr. Freiman said.

In the indictment unsealed Tuesday, Mr. Padilla was not charged with some of the most serious accusations against him, including plotting to explode a radioactive device, because the evidence needed to prove the case had been obtained through harsh questioning of two senior members of Al Qaeda, current and former government officials have said. The statements might not have been admissible in court and could have exposed classified information, the officials said.

The Moussaoui case was also complicated by his lawyers' demands that they be given access to potentially exculpatory evidence that the government said had to be kept secret for reasons of national security.

The mere possibility of being named an enemy combatant, coupled with the difficulty of divining the standards the administration uses in choosing whom to call one, can affect the decisions of defendants in criminal plea negotiations.

"In the case of John Walker Lindh," said his lawyer, James J. Brosnahan, "there was a suggestion that even if we got an acquittal that he could be declared an unlawful combatant, that he could be a Padilla."

Indeed, the plea agreement Mr. Lindh signed contains an unusual provision. "For the rest of the defendant's natural life," it says, "should the government determine that the defendant has engaged in" one of more than a score of crimes of terrorism, "the United States may immediately invoke any right it has at that time to capture and detain the defendant as an unlawful enemy combatant."

Mr. Freiman said he, too, had been told that the government reserved the right to detain Mr. Padilla again should he be acquitted.

Arguably, it may sometimes be preferable for a defendant to be held as an enemy combatant rather than being prosecuted. Mr. Lindh's case, for instance, is at least superficially similar to that of Mr. Hamdi, another American captured in Afghanistan. But Mr. Hamdi is free after three years of confinement, though he had to relinquish his American citizenship. Mr. Lindh is in the early part of his 20-year sentence.

The government has not offered an explanation for the disparate treatment of the cases.

Mr. Marri's detention, on the other hand, is potentially lifelong. Though he has not been convicted of a crime, said Jonathan Hafetz, one of his lawyers, the conditions in the Charleston brig are as bad or worse than those in the toughest high-security prisons.

"He has been in solitary confinement for two and a half years," Mr. Hafetz said of Mr. Marri. "He hasn't spoken to or seen his wife and five children since he was designated an enemy combatant" in June 2003. "There's no news, no books, nothing."

This year, the same South Carolina federal judge heard challenges from Mr. Padilla and Mr. Marri. In July, the judge, Henry F. Floyd, ruled that the administration was authorized to detain Mr. Marri. Four months earlier, the judge had reached the opposite conclusion in Mr. Padilla's case.

The difference, he said, was that Mr. Padilla was an American citizen.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va., reversed the ruling in the Padilla case. The administration's decision last week to charge Mr. Padilla and try to moot his appeal of the Fourth Circuit's decision to the Supreme Court may have been driven by its desire to maintain a helpful precedent in the circuit where it brings many of its terrorism cases.

"They are seeking to keep their options open," said David D. Cole, a law professor at Georgetown, "by avoiding Supreme Court review in the Padilla case. It lets them keep standing the Fourth Circuit decision."

In Mr. Hamdi's Supreme Court case last year, the four justices who joined Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's controlling opinion used a narrow definition of "enemy combatant," saying, at least for purposes of that case, that it meant someone "carrying a weapon against American troops on a foreign battlefield."

The government has proposed a much broader definition.

"The term 'enemy combatant,' " according to a Defense Department order last year, includes anyone "part of or supporting Taliban or Al Qaeda forces or associated forces."

In a hearing in December in a case brought by detainees imprisoned in the naval facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, a judge questioned a Justice Department official about the limits of that definition. The official, Brian D. Boyle, said the hostilities in question were global and might continue for generations.

The judge, Joyce Hens Green of the Federal District Court in Washington, asked a series of hypothetical questions about who might be detained as an enemy combatant under the government's definition.

What about "a little old lady in Switzerland who writes checks to what she thinks is a charitable organization that helps orphans in Afghanistan but really is a front to finance Al Qaeda activities?" she asked.

And what about a resident of Dublin "who teaches English to the son of a person the C.I.A. knows to be a member of Al Qaeda?"

And "what about a Wall Street Journal reporter, working in Afghanistan, who knows the exact location of Osama bin Laden but does not reveal it to the United States government in order to protect her source?"

Mr. Boyle said the military had the power to detain all three people as enemy combatants.

In January, Judge Green allowed the detainees' court challenges to their confinement to proceed. Another judge on her court reached the opposite conclusion, and an appeal from the two decisions is pending.

Moscow Show Pits Art Against Church and State

November 26, 2005

MOSCOW, Nov. 25 - After last year's terrorist attack on a school in Beslan, Russia, and President Vladimir V. Putin's subsequent steps to strengthen his political power, Marat Guelman formulated a response of sorts. It was an artistic doctrine and a political declaration, a social and cultural challenge to the state of what he called Russia 1.

Mr. Guelman, owner of one of the country's first post-Soviet art galleries, called his project "Russia 2" and opened it with an exhibition of paintings and other works intended to parallel Moscow's first biennial of contemporary art last January and February. The exhibition's tone was irreverent, subversive and piercingly critical of Mr. Putin, the Kremlin and, significantly, the Russian Orthodox Church.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, Russia 1 has struck back.

A group of nine artists unaffiliated with the exhibit has filed a civil suit against Mr. Guelman and the exhibition hall where the works first appeared, the Central House of Artists. They are seeking the equivalent of $175,000 in compensation for the "moral injury" caused by four of the works, by some of Russia's most prominent contemporary artists: Gor Chahal; Marina Kolodobskaya; the comic pair Vyacheslav Mizin and Aleksandr Shaburov, known as the Blue Noses; and the trio of conceptual artists calling themselves A.E.S.

"The openly confrontational, provocative and scandalous nature of the exhibition does not fit in any account to any understanding of art and has nothing in common with it," the artists' complaint reads. A court in Moscow began hearing the case this month, and its next session is scheduled for Dec. 5.

On Dec. 8, a large selection of "Russia 2" is to go on view in New York City at the White Box gallery in Chelsea. Other works from the Moscow show are to appear at Magnan Projects' Annex in Chelsea and at Ethan Cohen Fine Arts in TriBeCa from Dec. 8 to Jan. 11.

The complaint filed in Moscow cited provisions in Russia's Constitution protecting human rights and religious freedom and an article in the criminal code against inciting ethnic and religious hatred. That article was the basis earlier this year for the criminal conviction of the director and a curator at the Andrei Sakharov Museum in Moscow on a charge arising from a 2003 exhibition of paintings and sculptures that many saw as ridiculing the Russian Orthodox Church. The director, Yuri Y. Samodurov, and the curator, Lyudmila V. Vasilovskaya, were fined $3,600 each, although not imprisoned as prosecutors had demanded.

Like the Sakharov case, the dispute over "Russia 2" has thrust into opposition two groups - artists and the religiously observant - that suffered enormously under state-imposed ideology in the Soviet Union but have flourished since the state unraveled in 1991. It also underlines what Mr. Putin's critics argue is the emergence of a new ideology, with the church at its foundation, that rarely tolerates public criticism of the state and its symbols.

Which was Mr. Guelman's point in the first place.

"It is not at all like it was in Soviet times, when art was underground," he said in an interview in his loftlike apartment, which looks out on the newly rebuilt Christ the Savior Cathedral. "It is just that there are two countries that exist today in Russia. 'Russia 2' showed this."

The exhibition drew complaints from the start. A group of nationalists in the Russian Parliament quickly appealed to prosecutors, as did members of the church. It was a group of artists, though, who filed formal charges, in both criminal and civil court. They are all members of the Moscow Union of Artists - a sort of official academy - who are Orthodox believers.

One of them, Dmitri Shmarin, a neorealist painter, said in an interview that he saw no contradiction in artists suing other artists over the content of their work.

"We are not trying to restrict artistic freedom," he said. "Artists, of course, can do whatever they want, but if they insult us, we ask the state to protect us."

He called the works in "Russia 2" blasphemous, adding that they were intended to "destabilize the internal peace of our country."

Mr. Chahal's triptych, "The Sun of Truth, Kindness and Beauty," depicted nearly abstract figures that appeared, crucified, in flames. Ms. Kolodobskaya created an iconlike sculpture into which viewers can peek to watch a video, some of it sexually explicit.

A.E.S. - named for the initials of its artists, Tatiana Arzamasova, Lev Evzovich and Evgeny Svyatsky - displayed several photographic compositions from its long-running "Islamic Project" series, which merge images of the Muslim world with landmarks like the Statue of Liberty. The complaint specifically cites "Moscow 2006," which depicts a futuristic Kremlin with minarets and other architectural features from the Muslim world.

The artists known as the Blue Noses - with "sarcasm and irony," according to the complaint - contributed a photographic composition showing Pushkin, Mr. Putin and an icon of Jesus Christ transposed on a man's naked torso.

That work appeared in Mr. Guelman's catalog but not in the show itself, though it did appear in another exhibition related to the biennial.

A criminal investigation began, but in the spring, prosecutors declined to press charges. The civil case was dismissed on a technicality but was later revived. In addition to the $175,000 in damages, the complaint asks the courts to prohibit any future display of the works in Russia, from galleries to magazines or other printed media.

Mr. Guelman seems an unlikely opponent of Mr. Putin. He worked as a political consultant at the Kremlin for five years and later served two years as director of analytical programs on the state television network, Channel 1. He still has friends in the Kremlin, and that helped him avoid criminal charges, he said.

Yet in the interview, Mr. Guelman said he had come to disagree with many Kremlin policies, including a steady erosion of the freedom of expression that has spread from state television into art and literature. He also pointed to the elimination of direct elections of regional governors, a decision announced by Mr. Putin in response to the Beslan school siege, in which at least 331 hostages died, more than half of them children.

"It became clear that shadowy powers were now at work," Mr. Guelman said of the Kremlin's response.

He described "Russia 2" as not simply an exhibition but a creative agency through which artists, writers and other intellectuals could express themselves, be it in catalogs or in galleries - without heeding official, or accepted, ideology. He said that the movement had about 400 members.

"There is a national atmosphere where contemporary art somehow feels alienated," he said. "Somehow contemporary art cannot be patriotic because it is cosmopolitan. The art world here in Russia may be the only sphere left where people work in a world context."

In New York, the gallery exhibitions next month of work from "Russia 2" are a counterpoint to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum's "Russia!" show, whose opening in September Mr. Putin attended. The exhibition at White Box includes the subversive subtitle "Bad News From Russia," very much in keeping with Mr. Guelman's sensibility.

"Americans want bad news from Russia," Mr. Guelman said. "It means that everything is right in the world."

Monday, November 21

The First Thanksgiving

John Tierney, NY Times

...These stories all suffer from a warped view of Indians as naïfs that afflicted the first settlers and persisted for centuries among historians. It's the fallacy dubbed "Holmberg's Mistake" by Charles Mann in his new book, "1491," an intriguing revisionist history.

Holmberg's Mistake is named after an anthropologist in the 1940's who concluded that the Bolivian Amazon had long been a primeval wilderness inhabited by a few Stone Age tribes. But as later researchers found, that landscape had been transformed by a large, prosperous society that dug canals, raised earthworks and cleared forests to plant crops and build cities.

The Indians who greeted European colonists may have seemed like barbarians - or, in later mythology, like Noble Savages - but that was only because their societies had been decimated by epidemics brought by earlier Europeans. Before then, the Americas may well have been more populous than Europe, and in some ways more advanced.

The Indians on Cape Cod, who had more productive farm fields and ate more calories per capita than the typical person in Europe, were appalled by their unhealthy, scraggly and dirty visitors. The English guns were frightening at first, but the Indians quickly saw that the weapons were inaccurate and could be defeated by bows and arrows.

The Northeastern Indians did covet some of the European goods, like knives and beads, especially since they could get them by exchanging the cheap furs they used as blankets. As Mann writes, "It was like happening upon a dingy kiosk that would swap fancy electronic goods for customers' used socks - almost anyone would be willing to overlook the shopkeeper's peculiarities."

But that didn't mean inviting these foreigners to stick around. Tisquantum (the full name of Squanto) came from the Wampanoag confederation, which had long traded with the Europeans while forcibly preventing them from settling on Cape Cod. Their leader, Massasoit, welcomed the Pilgrims only because so many Wampanoag Indians had died from European diseases that they were in danger of being conquered by other Indians.

This shrewd politician probably sought the alliance not so much for the Pilgrims' guns, Mann writes, but because his enemies would be reluctant to attack a group of whites for fear that it would complicate their own relationships with white traders. And his emissary, Tisquantum, far from a simple, kindly Indian, had his own plan for using the Pilgrims to become leader himself. Shortly after that first Thanksgiving, he tried unsuccessfully to trick the Pilgrims into attacking Massasoit.

"Tisquantum was to the Pilgrims what Ahmad Chalabi was to the Americans in Iraq," Mann said. "At a time when the Pilgrims were really clueless, he introduced them to his society and provided valuable information, but he definitely had his own agenda." Some Pilgrims remained clueless, attributing their survival to God and their guns, but others were more savvy.

"The Pilgrims figured out within a year they were dealing with a complex, fractured society they had to understand in order to survive abroad," Mann said. Some of their descendants in Washington aren't such quick studies.