Friday, December 28, 2007

Let Your Mind Be Free

Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. "Let your mind be free." Doo na na na na na! Doo na na na na na! "Let your mind be free." Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump.

About two hours ago I just bought Bad Boy Bill's "Bangin' The Box, Vol. 3," a collection of bouncy, sparkling, infectious Chicago house hits from the late-1990s. I've been looking for a good compilation of this stuff lately. While perusing the scanty electronica collection at Off the Record, my eyes made out the bright neon text of the packaging and the grandeur of the man on the cover of this curious assortment, which rounds out at a hefty 45 tracks. I'm not sure where Bad Boy Bill and the rest fit into the history of house in Chicago, where DJs gave birth to that repetitive electronic genre in the 1980s. I'm not even sure if all the artists listed here are just Bad Boy Bill's pseudonyms. But I am a sucker for compilations and this was printed on a Chicago label in 1998, so it must be at least kind of legit (no matter that I couldn't tell you what "legit" house is). After a moment of deliberation with myself, I brought the comp to the counter.

I read a sage bit of wisdom in Simon Reynolds' Generation Ecstasy the other day. The gist of the book's introduction is that, to the average ecstasy-addled party boy hoofing it on the dance floor, history is not a concern. That dancer's vision is a timeless affair in a world rocked by oscillating surges of rhapsody and interspersed with planes of unflappable ambiance. When I'm out hunting for new tracks, I may as well be like the beast. Forget "intelligent dance music." Now it's high time I give in to my guiltiest, most electrified of pleasures. For 74 minutes, at least...

Photo: Bad Boy Bill mans the turntables in 2000, by Jewels.

Pardon the faux pas, but I do mean to say "mix" when I refer to this compilation.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Empty Lots

Yesterday, my dad led me to Rancho Bernardo on the same route he took in October after the San Diego Fire Department invited him, his fiancee and her daughters back to the neighborhood. They had to evacuate for a couple days because a wildfire had started eating up the houses and hills just a few blocks away from their new house. Luckily, after the fire was contained, my dad's place turned out fully preserved - except for a few burn marks in the wicker chairs on the patio.

Many San Diegans think of Fall as a time when the dry winds of the Santa Ana desert head westward and create the kind of atmosphere where a simple brush fire can grow into a conflagration that crosses a highway and lays waste to millions of dollars worth of property. Naturally, the 60 mph winds of this season fueled the Witch Creek Fire, which consumed Rancho Bernardo. The wind battered the blaze here and there, sending red-hot embers floating through the air and placing them inside giant plastic garbage cans or on top of front yards' hedges. Their appetites thus whetted, the embers hatched fires themselves, whereupon those grew and grew until they could eat houses whole. And that they did.

Dad gestured to blackened pile of branches creeping alongside someone's preserved house. I looked far into the distance at the miles of blackened rolling hills. When we turned onto Duenda Street, he pointed out empty lot after empty lot. "There's one," he said. "There's one. There's one." The lots used to be houses. They had been cleansed of charred material possessions, dreams and aspirations wolfed down by fire. Now, for the most part, they were squares of flat dirt.

Rancho Bernardo, for all its lush shrubbery, is chiefly a land of concrete sidewalks, asphalt roads and tar highways. In part, all of this sprawl saved the neighborhood from total destruction. Today, winding streets with bright green shrubs and block-wide stretches of huge, million-dollar homes dominate. But they are interspersed with these signs of ruin.

Just around the corner from dad's house, we arrived at one of the first new houses, still under construction and right nearby a few empty lots. A moment after I snapped a picture of the new house, an older woman and her daughter walked up to us. The older woman had lost her house in the blaze. Her daughter, a middle-aged woman who wore sweatshirt that said "Brooklyn," which she had bought at an Old Navy in San Diego, did not lose her house.

The daughter said that this new house's owner was the brother of a trainer for San Diego's football team, the Chargers. Apparently, the family got a lot of help. "They want to get it up before Christmas," she said. The doors of the new house were open, and any curious bystanders were welcome to take a look. The mom and daughter had just taken a tour. Dad and I opted not to check it out - even though the new construction was, for all of Rancho Bernardo's seeming affluence, quite a rare sight.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


As of 11 p.m. tomorrow, if both legs of my airborne adventure keep on track with the time-stamps of my online itinerary, I will be in San Diego. It's been a long haul, this semester. I've discovered a lot of new things about myself - for instance, that I have become a hopeless workaholic. Even now, free from the burden of any school responsibilities, I am making a mental index of all the shit I have to get together, all the ducks I've got to line up, and all the pages I've got to write before May 2008 comes around.

All the same, I've been doing hardcore research on YouTube. So far, I've managed to compile a list of selections that anyone could enjoy:

Michael Jackson's "Thriller" gets the Bollywood touch.

Van Hammersly's brand of edu-tainment.

"The Goofy Movie" from a David Lynch perspective.

Every video on YouTube that features Tom Waits.

Finally, my absolute fave: new developments in the world of gabber.

Now, off to happy hour. Then, to San Diego!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Provost's Vision for 2017: A New College and a Bureaucratic Overhaul

In front of a packed crowd of senior administrators, faculty and students in the Orozco Room on November 29, New School Provost Ben Lee proposed that by 2017, The New School, A University, should undergo a drastic change in curricula, financing and bureaucracy as The New School for Liberal Arts.

These plans have percolated over the past several years inside the Provost's Office. Last semester, Lee formally introduced the academic initiative in a paper titled "The New New School." His presentation was part of a series of town hall meetings this year that dealt with the university's future plans. The current ten-year academic plan is a product of Lee's meetings over the past year with university deans, 6 faculty-led committees, the Faculty Senate, students and a consultant company that led a study of students' use of space last year.

Throughout his presentation, Lee assured the crowd that the ten-year plan is tentative and open to input from the New School community. Lee, along with other administrators interviewed during the event, said that one chief goal is to ensure a high level of open-ended cooperation in the planning itself.

At this newly proposed university, Parsons will operate relatively independently but liberal and performing arts undergraduates will follow a prescribed interdisciplinary track. This will include an undergraduate program that begins with a year-long general studies curriculum with a "unique New School stamp," and then gives the option of attending either Lang, a bachelor's track for adults, a performing arts school like Jazz, or a university-wide, project-based curriculum tentatively dubbed the "Experimental College."

Currently, the university has one model for a program that would exist in the "Experimental College": Environmental Studies. The program, which should be viable by Fall 2009, will offer a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Sciences. Classes will focus on subjects like the ecosystem, sustainability, and spatial design, taking into account both theory and practice.

"These groups are not just saying, 'Oh, you've got the liberal arts tree-huggers and the design tree-huggers.' It's not that at all. You're bringing them together for the first couple years," said Joel Towers, Associate Provost for Environmental Studies. "Bachelor of Arts will take design courses, so that they understand that doctrine."

But the academic plan does not just focus on academics—essentially, it would overhaul the university's entire operational and spatial structure. The ten-year plan, Lee said, would revamp controversial budget rules that have dogged the university for years, build faculty and student governance, develop a system for tenure, and boost enrollment for undergraduate schools.

"The university currently relies on a small number of programs to fund its future growth, which is primarily in the form of new faculty and facilities. This is an inherently dangerous situation. Imagine what would happen if the past repeated itself, and Fashion should go out of fashion," Lee said, reading from a prepared statement. "We need to diversify this risk by having a larger base of creative programs and curricular innovations."

For years, each division's student population determined its budget. For every student a division had, it received that much more money. But the university also relied on a "Parsons-centric model," Lee said, where revenues from Parsons funded the university's graduate programs.

Several administrators have told the Free Press over the past year that this budget structure has led to serious inter-divisional tensions. For instance, Parsons officials resented losing money to fund grad schools, while graduate school officials resented that undergrads took graduate courses.

"It has been said from the standpoint of fiscal stability, the university developed backwards—ass-backwards," Lee said.

With the new model, the Provost's Office will manage the schools' budgets. That way, Lee said, the Provost can allocate budgets for cross-divisional initiatives, and deans will be able to focus on fewer bureaucratic hurdles.

In order to have a comprehensive liberal arts program, he said, the university's deans concluded that the total student population at Lang and "Experimental College" should be as high as 2,500 in ten years. That is nearly twice the size of Lang's current population of 1,290.

Lang administrators told the Free Press in October that they were worried what affect a population boost would have on the student experience and students' decisions to stay here past their freshmen years. For years, faculty and students have also protested Lang's rapid growth. Many have voiced concerns that Lang has not been able to sustain its growing population, since many faculty members have no offices and classroom and study space is scarce.

In his presentation, Lee acknowledged the "cynical responses" of Lang faculty and students, but said that Lang is "undersized."

"Growth in the right areas," he said, will ultimately improve the university, since it will bring in more revenues to fund academic initiatives and construction projects, including the university's project to tear down 65 5th Avenue and, over the next several years, construct an 18-story "signature building." In turn, the new building will provide the university with more space.

Currently, Lee said, officials are establishing Presidential and Vice Presidential positions that will focus on "strategic enrollment," and are hiring a consulting agency, Maguire Associates, to manage the population boom.

For all of the contentions surrounding the university's future plans, Lee's audience was polite, if not jovial. A veritable Who's Who of senior administrators, faculty and students filled the chairs, leaned against walls and sat on the floor, taking notes, listening attentively, munching on cookies, and sipping coffee. People exchanged snickers when Lee described Lang's current curricular structure as a "roll-your-own style."

After the talk and a question and answer session, Lang sophomore Alex Cline expressed some uneasiness about the plans. "It makes it easier for students to get what they want," he said. But he is afraid the university is, "shifting towards what programs make money. It might be getting away from what New School originally stood for."

Executive Vice President Jim Murtha said that students need not worry about a more centralized bureaucracy. "Centralization is always a bad word," he said. "I prefer to characterize it as building a university. Taking the disjointed parts and really drawing them together and making them more effective."

Amelia Granger contributed reporting. A version of this article ran in this week's issue of the New School Free Press. Photo: Ben Lee unveils the university's ten-year plan at the Orozco Room, by Hannah Rappleye.

East Jams With West at Breakneck Speed

Five guys from Palestine and one from Morocco took to the stage at the Jazz Performance Space at 55 West 13th Street in November. In short order, they jumped into an improvisation of Van Morrison's "Moondance."

The jam was a long, freewheeling jaunt, but this time it featured no lackadaisical riffs of an electric guitarist who is, presumably, very high. Rather, John-Robert Handal tapped his fingers energetically against a traditional Arab drum called a darbouka. Moroccan Tarik Hilal plucked a flamenco guitar. Joseph Duqmaq blew into a saxophone. Zafer Tawil drew a bow across a violin. Tarek Abbushi fingered the fretless, stringed buzuk. And, as if in a trance, Wissam Murad played a wild solo on an old brother to the lute, the oud.

The State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, working with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, put the ensemble together. Tawil and Abbushi are both based in New York, but the State Department brought Handal, Hilal, Duqmaq, Murad and vocalist Fatima Abdeldayem here from abroad. The musicians led a series of workshops about Middle Eastern music. "Moondance" was a treat at the end of a day trading percussion techniques, Arab musical traditions and jazz standards with the Jazz program's Middle Eastern Ensemble.

After the improvisation, the Middle Eastern Ensemble got on stage with Abdeldayem and the other visitors. An East-meets-West supergroup, armed with drums, more darbouka, violins, flutes, clarinet, more flamenco guitar and voice, suddenly formed.

Harel Shachal, a saxophone player from Israel who teaches at The New School and plays in a local, nine-piece "multicultural ensemble" called Anistar, led the ensemble. He conducted three ten-minute expressions of Middle Eastern songs arranged with Western instruments. He joined in on a Turkish clarinet with a G tuning, which plays quarter-tones.

These were exercises in worldly ambition. Performing Arabic melodies on Western instruments is no easy feat, Abbushi said after the show, since Arabic music does not use harmony and the timbre of many Western instruments tend to sound bizarre when they merge with traditional Arab instruments.

"It's possible, but it's difficult to bring in Western or modern sounds," he said.

The World Music Ensemble and the visiting musicians still put on a thrilling show. They first played "Lama Bada," written in the 18th century by Syrian composer Salim el-Misri. The supergroup launched into a whirling melody at breakneck speed. Adbeldayem sang one chorus in Arabic, then Mika Hary, a Jazz student from Israel, sang another in Hebrew.

The second piece, "Longa Nahawand," which Shachal described as a "dance number" from the Asia-minor part of Turkey, began with a percussive boom-chuck that grew in intensity. Then the group burst into a wild 16th note melody, led by flute, violin and the two vocalists. A few minutes into the song, the group took up a catchy dance beat with a salsa-esque syncopation. Then Handal started tapping his darbouka with greater intensity, this time accenting the beat with his palms to produce a juicy boom.

26 people sat in the audience, including a cameraman and a photographer—not even double the size of the group on stage.

Martin Mueller, Executive Director of The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, told the Free Press before the show that the school had not publicized the event as much as it could have, to avoid arousing the indignation of Israeli students.

Shachal also wanted to keep the night on the down-low, he said over the phone last week. The concert came at a time when Israelis and Palestinians are "at war," he said, and bringing up political tensions is often unavoidable.

"If I was living [in Israel], I wouldn't have this chance to play with them," he said. "Not even to meet them, ever."

The performance, Mueller and Shachal both said, was about the music. And music, they agreed, is a great way to overcome irreconcilable differences.

"Music is an amazing thing to connect," Shachal said. "If there were performances like that arranged for the cultural department in Israel or something, there would be peace."

This article ran in this week's issue of the New School Free Press. Photo: the visiting musicians embark on their Middle Eastern moondance, courtesy the New School.

Iraq Watch: Enabling Genocide

Even after the British drew up Iraq's borders after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Sunnis, Shias, Jews, Turks, Kurds and others drank chai tea, talked politics and hit up the bustling book markets of Baghdad, one of the most diverse cities in the Middle East. But over the past few years, Baghdad has been systematically cleansed of its diversity.

Nowhere is that more apparent than in Ghaziliya, a neighborhood that was once a flashpoint for Sunni-on-Shia violence. Now America has staved off the sectarian violence, in part by dividing up the neighborhood with twenty miles of concrete blast barriers.

"Everyone in our neighborhood is Sunni, even the birds flying above us are Sunni," resident Mohammed Azzawi told the LA Times in November. "Now that it is pure Sunni, it is better for us."

The U.S. is currently taking a "bottom-up" approach to stoking reconciliation. Part of that involves recruiting "Local Concerned Citizens," security forces aligned with Americans that will increase the peace in local neighborhoods. Already, roughly 60,000 Iraqis have joined the force.

There are plenty of people to kill in Iraq: a kaleidoscope of terrorists, death squads, mafia-style criminal networks and Islamic militias. But intelligence is the key to counterinsurgency, and that is something many Americans—from those on the front lines, to commanders at the Pentagon, to administrators in the White House—don't have. And it is becoming increasingly apparent that hunting, imprisoning and killing more bad guys will not resolve deep-seated tensions that have haunted Iraqis for 35 years under Saddam Hussein.

So the United States' alliance with Sunni sheiks, including those in Ghaziliya, looks like it will only enable a civil war.

"Now the Americans are with the Sunnis and against the Shiites," Azzawi said.

What should the occupier do? Pulling out entirely, by all accounts, would lead to genocidal civil war. Training new security forces without being entirely scrupulous would enable genocidal civil war. Leaving only a handful of advisors or Special Forces there, to train security forces or to hunt Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia for the next decade, would not only starve the military of resources to stave off genocidal civil war, but prolong our violent and unwelcome occupation of Iraq.

One thing is certain: sooner or later, we will leave Iraq to the Iraqis. In October, U.S. military leaders considered declaring victory on Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, since many of those militants have been forced from Baghdad. Starting in late November, the United States began withdrawing a first batch of 5,000 troops from Diyala Province, which will bring the American troop count down to 157,000. The Iraq Study Group, which produced a dire assessment of the occupation's progress in December 2006, recommended that we withdraw our troops by March 2008.

Whatever we do, it appears that genocide is Iraq's destiny. So why not leave now, and resign ourselves to the fact that our nation is, in large part, responsible for Iraq's fate?

At the moment, that is a question I do not care to answer. Even philosophically, I do not want to be complicit in my own country's hideous crimes. But I cannot help but feel that, being an American, I already am a war criminal.

A version of this article ran in this week's issue of the New School Free Press.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Behind the CIA's Black Site Wall, Reporters Discover Another Cockroach

The CIA denied Congress and the 9/11 Commission access to a video of Abu Zubaydah and another unnamed detainee's "enhanced" interrogation - which, for each of them, might have involved a round of water-boarding or time in a tiny wooden crate called the "dog box." Today, the New York Times reported that the CIA destroyed these videos in 2005.

After the Times alerted the CIA that they were running an article on the subject, Gen. Michael Hayden justified erasing this evidence by crying "national security." If the video-tapes had been leaked to the public, he said, CIA officers and their families would've been exposed to "retailiation from Al Qaeda and its sympathizers."

Come on, Hayden, we all know what you really mean. The statement should be re-edited to say "retaliation from Congress, the Supreme Court and their sympathizers."

New School President Bob Kerrey, who served on the 9/11 Commission panel, wrote me a brief but dire assessment over email: "They (CIA) lied to Congress, the Court and the 9-11 Commission. They admit they lied after a journalist uncovered the fact that they had destroyed the evidence. Finally, because they used illegal interrogation techniques, they compromised the legal case against Zubayda and Khalid Sheikh Muhammed. No good news here."

But at the very least, he noted, there is something to be said for the Times coverage. "The story this AM is another terrific example of something that can only happen in (relatively) open democracies."

The "enhanced interrogation" debate is pretty unnerving, if you consider the fact that Ramzi Yousef, who executed the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, told two FBI agents everything they needed to know during a conversation on an airplane flight. I don't think our administration's desire to torture has anything to do with intelligence gathering. If you ask me, using the CIA to do the work of prisoner holding and interrogation (which case officers have never been trained to do in the past), is merely the outgrowth of post-9/11 hatred of Arabs/Muslims, who of course are seen as one and the same, and an insatiable hunger for revenge.

Now, about 80 out of 300 Guantanamo detainees are facing military tribunals at a portable tent city called Camp Justice in Guantanamo Bay. Presumably, this military commissions court is too embarrassing a sight to be located on American soil. None of the detainees have been charged with a crime, but the prosecution is able to deny them access to lawyers inside the courtroom and use hearsay as evidence against them. So in a hi-tech and institutionalized mass-lynching, it looks like most of these "terrorists" will go to jail forever. Or, some Americans hope, they will go to Hell. Finally, America will have its tasty revenge.

George W. Bush will step out of office in January 2009, returning to his Texas ranch and a steaming plate of Huevos Rancheros. He and his cronies will leave the rest of America to rebuild our decimated legal system. Deeply embarassing and tragic discoveries about what happened at Guantanamo and in the CIA's "black sites" will eventually abound, no doubt. And only then will the Bush Administration establish a legacy that will persevere through the ages. I am not one to miss a historic moment, so I will be at the Hague when it happens.

Einstein in Carnegie Hall

Phillip Glass and the Phillip Glass Ensemble's performance of "Einstein on the Beach" last night was a sonic boa constrictor that ate Carnegie Hall whole, demanding that we examine every nuance of its innards.

The opera is composed of fast-paced arpeggios on three electric keyboards, clarinet, saxophone and violin, spoken word sections and a chorus' repeated intonation of "One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight," along with other phrases. For three hours, all of this went through subtle changes in time-signature and syncopation and drastic dynamic shifts. Intermittently, violinist Tim Fain would step out from backstage and tear through an awe-inspiring set of 16th notes. Fain's strings, the opera's serpent tongue, left my mouth agape long after he bowed and returned backstage.

Master Glass wrote the opera in the late 1970s, while he plumbed toilets and drove a taxi for a living. This was an abridged performance--the original lasted about 5 hours.

Like a dream, every last detail of last night's performance is sure to fade from memory--to be replaced, eventually, by some vague recollection. But I'm expecting that this arpeggiating Einstein, full of intoned phrases, will show up in one of my nightmares some day. Or return to me suddenly, like a visceral LSD flashback.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Former C.I.A. Agents Discuss Politics, Disrepute and Torture at the New School

Two former CIA agents joined New School President Bob Kerrey in a panel discussion at 55 West 13th Street earlier today, saying that the Bush Administration disregarded tried-and-true spying techniques to justify the invasion of Iraq, that Congressional oversight is good for the CIA, and that "enhanced interrogation" techniques are ineffective and legally questionable when adopted by the CIA.

The event could not have come at a more appropriate time. Today, the front pages of U.S. newspapers bore articles about a National Intelligence Estimate released the day before, which said Iran had halted its efforts to build nuclear weapons in 2003. The report, an assessment compiled by America's 16 intelligence agencies, stood in marked contrast to George W. Bush's comments in October that Iran is currently working to enrich uranium for nuclear bombs and propelling the United States towards "World War III."

Tyler Drumheller, the former director of covert operations for the CIA's division in Europe, who retired from the CIA in 2005, said that the Bush Administration has shirked the intelligence community's normal methods of "agent work, reporting and data collection."

"Intelligence is a story, a never-ending story," Drumheller said. Agents, analysts and policy experts constantly need to reassess their conclusions, he said, because their subjects of inquiry--for instance, states like Iran--are naturally given to making changes in their interests and policies.

But the Bush administration, Drumheller said, pursues "the magic bullet."

"This is the truth, the way it's gotta be," he said, elaborating.

In the run-up to the Iraq War, Drumheller worked with other agents to investigate whether Iraq was hoarding Weapons of Mass Destruction. He later wrote On the Brink, an insider's account of how the Bush Administration relied on an unreliable Iraqi defector nicknamed "Curveball" to justify the war in Iraq, which hit bookstores in 2006.

He said that another Iraqi source kept "telling us that there were no weapons of mass destruction."

"If they could do it," the source told them, "they would do it."

He said that this source did not find a way into a National Intelligence Estimate released in 2002, which concluded that Iraq was manufacturing chemical and biological weapons and planned to revive its nuclear weapons program. After the United States invaded Iraq, it turned out that the NIE's conclusions were erroneously flawed.

There is a simple message this new intelligence report intends to send, Kerrey said: "We can be nonpartisan. You can trust us again."

A few moments after Drumheller started speaking, Lang sophomore Alex Cline and two students wearing orange jumpsuits and black hoods entered the room.

"We're the people you torture," Cline announced. The mock prisoners posted themselves to the left of the panel speakers, facing the audience, and stood in silence for the rest of the hour-and-fifteen minute long discussion.

Drumheller continued speaking, seemingly unfazed. Eventually the subject turned to the CIA's reputation in America. Margaret Henoch, who worked as an agent in Washington D.C. and across the world for twenty years, and who retired in early 2007, said that ever since the days of George Washington, Americans have felt a sense of "ambivalence, dislike, distrust" for their spy agencies.

"Americans like to know what their government is doing," Drumheller added, gesturing towards the two mock detainees in the room—who held signs saying things like, "Abolish the CIA," "We All Live in a Racist Police State," and "Close Guantanamo."

Kerrey said that, in some ways, the United States has never had a reliable intelligence agency—in part, because Congressional oversight limits the work of intelligence agencies here. Regardless, the two former agents and Kerrey agreed that they would not like to have it any other way.

Congressional oversight can make being a spy a "frightening, terrifying experience," Drumheller said, "but it makes you sharper."

During the question and answer session, asked if he thought the term "enhanced interrogation" justified the use of torture in interrogations, Drumheller said that he did not believe such techniques—which include water-boarding, stripping prisoners, threatening detainees with dogs, and putting them in rooms that are brightly lit or extremely cold for long periods of time—constitute acts of torture.

Using torture during civil and international conflicts violates the Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which bans, "Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture," as well as, "Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment."

Drumheller said "enhanced interrogation" techniques are ineffective, since they usually yield unreliable information. He added that holding prisoners is not the "province of the CIA"—and Henoch nodded emphatically in agreement—since the FBI and the military are trained to interrogate prisoners and maintain prisons.

"The minute you get an intelligence service into prisoner, holding, interrogation, you're in a very murky, dangerous world," he said.

"Who should be held responsible? I don't know," he continued. "I could give you a list of people. But that would just be my personal prejudice."

The audience laughed.

Photo: New School President Bob Kerrey with former CIA agents Margaret Henoch and Tyler Drumheller. By them stand two mock detainees and Lang sophomore Alex Cline. By Sam Lewis.

Baby Eater

Sorting through my email, this is what I find:

On Dec 4, 2007 8:27 PM, Hannah Rappleye wrote:

peter, peter
baby eater
liked to eat baby pie
but one day
he ate too much
and got baby
in his eye!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

No Modest Wisper

For those of you fond of the electronica artist Wisp (I'm guessing there are very few), check out The Wisp Archive, which contains free downloads of most of his releases to date. It is run by a self-described Wisp maniac. Wisp is off-kilter and invigorating, wet and juicy, and until he got a record deal he posted all of his music online for free. I am always excited to see a person who gives their great music away for nothing, and then lets other people do the same. And archives are always special. So that's why I'm shamelessly advertising this...

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Macadamia: A Failure

The macadamia: "It's a complete failure as a nut," says Ryan. "Because it's not delicious..."

"It just tastes like a little shit-nut."

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Excavations-Cum-Military Installations: Iraq's Occupied Historical Sites

The Iraqi Security Forces, aided by the U.S. military, are starting a construction project beside yet another historic site in Iraq.

This week, after seeing a disheartening collection of photos posted by journalist Jeff Emanuel in late September, archaeologists have been scrambling to figure out what has become of an excavation site for an Abbasid city once populated by Turkish princes in Samarra, where the Iraqi Security Forces began constructing new police barracks in September.

"It is a remarkable documentation, action photos of the work, US officers calmly observing, bulldozers in action flattening an Abbasid palace, details of the barracks being put up," wrote Dr. Alastair Northedge, Professor of Islamic art and archeology at the Sorbonne in Paris and an expert on Samarra's Islamic history, on the IraqCrisis email list. "I don't believe that any other destructive action with regard to antiquities in Iraq during the war has ever been documented in such detail."

Northedge told The Art Newspaper that the new barracks are beside the palace of Sur Isa, which experts believe was constructed by Caliph Al-Mutawakkil sometime between 852 and 853 AD. Northedge also said the new, drab, tan barracks were built over Abbasid houses once home to Turkish princes. Aziz Hamid excavated the houses in the 1960s. "They revealed very interesting stucco relief that lined the walls," wrote Lamia Gailani, a staff member of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad, on IraqCrisis.

Northedge lived in a caravan park beside the houses in 1983, doing excavation work for the Iraq State Board of Antiquities. "The event is particularly poignant for me," he wrote.

This June, UNESCO declared Samarra's 9th-century site, littered with ruins of racing tracks, hunting grounds, mosques and palaces of the Abbasid empire, and the 52-meter tall spiral minaret of the Great Mosque of Caliph Al-Mutawakkil, a World Heritage site. Now it is on the list of endangered World Heritage sites. But Christina Dahlman, the Program Specialist for the UNESCO Office for Iraq, told the AN that no staff have visited the area yet because of security concerns. She added that UNESCO wasn't consulted on the construction for the police barracks.

"To our knowledge the [Iraq] State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, which manages the site and is UNESCO's main partner in Iraq, was not consulted either," she added.

Dr. John Curtis, director of the Department of Ancient Near East at the British Museum, told me over the phone this summer that the State and Defense Departments have worked with the State Board of Antiquities since the looting of the Iraq Museum in April 2003, mostly to retrieve stolen artifacts and protect archaeological sites. During the days of the Coalition Provisional Authority, John Russell worked through the State Department as Senior Advisor to the Ministry of Culture. In 2004, he helped donate 20 pickup trucks to guards of Iraq's archaeological sites. These days, at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, archaeologist Ismail Hijaraut works as a liaison to the Ministry of Culture.

But Dr. Curtis, who has done extensive work on Middle Eastern history and has worked on preserving Iraq's cultural heritage with the U.S. government and various organizations since 2003, said there is no coordinated program to preserve Iraq's many ancient and Islamic landmarks.

Over the past several years, organizations like the British Museum, the Oriental Institute in Chicago, the British School of Archeology in Iraq, UNESCO, Safe Antiquities for Everyone (SAFE), and Interpol have filled the void with extensive databases documenting looted artifacts, research and consulting on Iraq's heritage and ancient sites, investigations to retrieve artifacts, and more. But since the invasion of 2003, the lack of U.S. support and coordination and Iraq's terrible security concerns have dogged their work.

“We have a very fragmented sort of situation," Curtis said. "What we have to rely on is very, very occasional visits, what we get told by the Iraqi side, or what we can see by satellite photographs."

This summer, Dr. Curtis visited another ancient site-cum-military installation, the Tallil Air Force Base, which surrounds the ancient city of Ur. The air base has a visitors' center built on top of an ancient suburb of the city, called Diqdiqa. On his visit, Curtis did not see much damage to the area, which had never been excavated. But he said the military had dug into the grounds - filled with ancient fragments of pottery and brick - in order to build a foundation and plumbing. Apparently, nobody consulted experts on the construction. “They would certainly have told him, 'Don’t build this,'" Curtis said. "Even the Iraqi guard could’ve told him that.”

His second trip to Iraq since the invasion, this one was short and limited. The day before Dr. Curtis' plane dove from the air safely onto the tarmac, insurgents had blasted 11 mortars onto the base. His security detail refused to take him to the entrance of the base, where the director of the State Board of Antiquities, Abbas al-Hussaini, had been arguing with military personnel for an hour. Hussaini refused to submit to a search, so the military refused his convoy entrance to the base. Without meeting Curtis, Hussaini and his colleagues headed back to Baghdad.

In June, the military sent 40,000 decks of cards to service members in Iraq. They bore images of Iraq's many cultural sites, including Babylon and Ur. "The suits have different themes: diamonds for artefacts, spades for digs, hearts for 'winning hearts and minds' and clubs for heritage preservation," reads a description of the cards by the Assyrian International News Agency. "The seven of clubs carries a picture of the Ctesiphon Arch in Iraq and a caption which asks: 'This site has survived 17 centuries. Will it and others survive you?'"

The cards seem geared as a gesture to raise awareness among troops about Iraqi heritage, in light of the U.S. military's past mistakes - which include the construction of a helicopter pad on the ancient ruins of Babylon and, in 2005, the periodic use of the spiral minaret at the Great Mosque of Caliph Al-Mutawakkil in Samarra as a firing position.

“That’s a gesture, I suppose, to raise the level of awareness of the troops," Curtis said. "But you’d have to ask the troops themselves” about what they think and what they’re doing to preserve Iraqi cultural heritage, he added.

One thing is certain about the state of Iraq's archaeological sites: the Coalition Forces and the Iraq Security Forces will continue to occupy many of them, unimpeded by international law. Northedge, the Paris-based Professor of Islamic art, noted on IraqCrisis that Jeff Emanuel's photos indicate that the U.S. military's Patrol Base Olson sits on the ruins of the Abbasid city in Samarra. Northedge wrote that the military is in the clear: "That point is outside the UNESCO fully protected area."

Photo: Hard at work on the Iraqi police barracks while, in the background, stands the 52-meter tall spiral minaret of the Great Mosque of Caliph Al-Mutawakkil. By Jeff Emanuel.

Special note: a Q & A with Alastair Northedge is forthcoming.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Basket Space...

I assume that Dave Longaberger thinks of his basket-weaving company, the Longaberger Company, as more than just that. "When you purchase a Longaberger basket, you are sharing in the Longaberger story and family tradition," the website says.

"The Company's mission statement — 'To Stimulate A Better Quality Of Life' — reflects Longaberger's commitment to the company's founding philosophy that people are the key to our success," the site goes onto say.

This all seems very "Office Space" to me. This also reminds me of an old maxim: Guns don't kill people, people kill people. Like guns, baskets don't fill themselves. People fill baskets.

Thus, we have human nature in a nutshell. People are always killing, and always filling.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


Excuse me for saying this, but I want to take a huge dump on the faces of the Jonas brothers. I just encountered can I say it...bizarrely excessive music video by this vigorous, youthful trio. Interestingly enough, an interview with the Jonas' is one of the most viewed YouTube videos at the moment.

Being a person that loves electronic instruments, of course I take offense at the band's use of synthesizers. Otherwise my disdain for this band, should you examine the link, are obvious. But I do not feel contempt at them so much as I feel overtaken by disbelief. Tell me, readers, do people really listen to this kind of music?

Come See Ben Lee

New School Provost Ben Lee. This editorial runs in the November 12 issue of The New School Free Press.

If you are even remotely curious about the future of your university's programs and curricula, you should attend Provost Ben Lee's presentation on the university's academic initiatives on November 29.

The New School's Provosts have always been overshadowed by the outsize personality of New School's President, Bob Kerrey, and all of his outrageous controversies. But for the most part it is the Provost, not the President, who takes the lead in initiatives that are absolutely integral to the university's academic operations. Over the past several years, the Provost's Office has risen to a prominent position here, having developed full-time faculty governance rules, introduced a plan to hire full-time faculty at multiple divisions, and narrowly avoided a part-time faculty strike during negotiations over the terms of their union contract.

Lee, who replaced Arjun Appadurai as Provost in Summer 2006, now pilots a plan to revolutionize, for better or worse, our university's curricula. He has worked with the New School's deans to develop a series of university-wide, interdisciplinary and project-based programs that will tackle complex issues like global warming and urban renewal. In his presentation next week, we expect that Provost Lee will discuss the complications administrators have seen so far in bringing Parsons and Lang students together for lecture courses, and the latest developments in creating the Environmental Studies program.

Administrators say that the university-wide programs will be a more efficient and effective use of our university's resources--and we are inclined to believe them. But so far, the project has seen serious challenges. The university plans to hire more faculty that will work at multiple divisions here, and university officials have told the Free Press that scheduling courses for joint faculty can be mind-boggling in its complexity.

And this year, after Lang forced its Social and Historical Inquiry program into the new model by turning two core seminar courses into Social Thought lectures 1 and 2, a lot of Parsons students greeted their new lectures on liberalism, sociology and economic theory with a resounding "So what?" The few Lang students taking these courses, meanwhile, have suffered through dumbed-down discussion sections where their classmates struggle to define terms like "class" and "capitalism."

Last Spring, Provost Lee presented the university-wide plan to a crowd of officials and a few students. By this Fall, he said, the plan should be in a more advanced state. If not, he added, "this process has failed."

The project, indeed, has been coming along--but the progress has given officials more problems to solve. Now, it looks like Lee is walking a tight-rope during a Chicago wind-storm. If you are wondering how he intends to pull off this bold undertaking--which will hugely affect your education, of course--you need to be in the Orozco room on the 29th.

The University-Wide Academic Plan
Thursday, November 29, 2007
66 West 12th Street, 7th floor
Orozco Room

Photo: courtesy the New School

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Pancakes After Mosul

In October 2005, a plane filled with soldiers touched down at McChord Air Force Base in Washington State. Sergeant Carl Westlind stepped onto the tarmac, then hopped onto a bus with his platoon, which headed to Fort Lewis nearby. The soldiers marched over to a gym on the base, where their families were waiting.

“Oh hell yeah,” Westlind recalled thinking, in a phone interview earlier tonight. “Oh hell yeah.”

They arrived at the gym, and a huge shutter door opened. It was a Hollywood moment, he said. Immediately he saw his mom, a housewife who loves gardening, in the crowd of eager parents. His commander gave a brief, congratulatory speech, then dismissed the soldiers for the weekend.

Westlind, 25, a member of the Charlie Company Styker Brigade, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division, had spent the past year in Mosul, a city in Iraq then at the focal point of a U.S. counterinsurgency effort. He described his mission as “police work,” pursuing “bombmakers and guys that chopped off heads.” Now, he was back in the United States.

Westlind raced to his mom and gave her a huge hug.

“I’m home,” he told her.

Westlind spent some time in his hometown of Longview, Washington, an industrial and logging town of about 50,000, forty or so miles north of Portland, Oregon. He got a good night’s sleep. He ate at his favorite restaurant, The Pancake House. He had a lot of money saved up, so he considered buying two four-wheel drive ATVs. He decided to save his money.

He also reunited with as many people as he could—his dad, a lineman who lives in Alaska, his girlfriend at the time (the relationship never worked out), old high school friends. Many of them, he said, asked “spectator questions.”

“‘Blow anybody up?’ No,” he said. “‘Did you kill anybody?’ Nope.”

In Mosul, Westlind stayed with his reconnaissance platoon in an air-conditioned metal container at a Forward Operating Base on the edge of the city, next door to a mortar platoon. It was “one big old family,” he said.

On one of their last patrols, Westlind's team was was caught in a vicious firefight and a soldier almost died. But in general, Westlind said his team faced little combat. The resistance came randomly, he said—once in a while, a few “jackasses” would drive by in a car and fire a few shots at the soldiers.

“I hear the word 'war,' I think of WWII. D Day," he said. “Honestly, it didn’t really seem like war."

In a year, he only fired his weapon once. Late one night, he was heading down a road in a convoy back to base. An Improvised Explosive Device erupted, hitting the truck ahead of his. Everyone dismounted from their vehicles and scanned the area. After making out what he thought were two insurgents in the distance, a soldier started firing a 50-caliber machine gun. Westlind followed suit, pumping grenades from his Mark-19 in the same direction.

He got a message on the radio: “Westlind, you’re right on top of him!” He continued firing a barrage of grenades. But after the troops scanned the target area, they found nothing.

Westlind is still not sure if he killed anyone, but since his team never recovered any bodies after the incident, he tells people that he did not.

“If I did,” he said, “they were obliterated.”

Not much had changed in Westlind’s hometown, he said. One friend looked a tad older. There was a new supermarket.

Westlind said he had not changed much, either—he experienced no anxiety attacks, nightmares, or other Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder-related complications.

But he still has memories of his time in Mosul.

Around Christmas time in 2004, a suicide bomber found his way into one platoon’s chow hall. He blew himself up, killing 19 soldiers. Every so often, the image of one victim returns to Westlind’s mind: “A fairly heavy-set soldier staring straight into the sky, starting to turn a little bit blue.”

Westlind loved the men of his own platoon. With them he had spent three years training in California, Louisiana and eastern Washington, and then serving in Iraq.

“I consider every one of them my brother,” he said. “Some of them I would consider my dad.”

“We all came back home alive,” he added.

He regrets not collecting all of their phone numbers after returning from Iraq.

Not long after Westlind redeployed, he was posted as a recruiter at a station in Lynwood, Washington. Most people who entered the office to join the Army were either felons, he said, or “overblown medical cases.” A man once came in who had wires in his hands, pins in his knees and a plate in his head. These types were all summarily rejected.

Westlind also recruited at Lynwood, Meadowdale and Scriber Lake High Schools. He had trouble finding new recruits.

“‘Oh, heck no. I hate Bush. I hate the war.’ Blah blah blah,” he said. “Those are two things I just can’t help.”

Last May, he transferred out of the recruiting job and moved to Fort Hood near Killeen, Texas. By the end of his recruiting tenure, he said, “I put in zero people.”

In a few months, Westlind will leave the United States again. He is now training for a deployment to Afghanistan. He is not sure when he leaves, or where he will go once he gets there. He is happy that he will go there instead of Iraq, he added, since Afghanistan is statistically facing less violence than Iraq.

Westlind will get married before he deploys. He met his 32-year-old fiancée when she worked on ships for the Navy and built tug-boats—“stuff that big boys do,” he said. He hopes that she will be prepared for their separation once he deploys. He is optimistic, since she knows the ways of military family life.

“Luckily for me,” he said, “she’s an Army brat.”

Photo: Sgt. Carl Westlind with the Strykers in Mosul, Iraq

Monday, November 5, 2007

A Senseless Me

At the moment, I want to be like Gary Karp
just a picture on a website or a sticker on a wall
so anyone can do to me what they please
and all I’d do is be.
I wish for a wilderness around me,
but to live as nothing, merely this piece of paper
fodder for imaginations, but nothing still.
Of all my surroundings, I would smell and taste, see and hear
and best of all feel nothing.
For who would I be then, but me
and only me?

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Am I Forever Cursed to Drink the Foul Soup Mac Serves?

I came across an old friend today - a compilation by the band that predated Xiu Xiu, Ten In The Swear Jar. I slipped the CD into my MacBook's narrow mouth.

Needless to say I was excited to hear the classics "San Jose Fight Song" and "Hot Karl." Those are two of my favorite songs. But I felt sick when the machine started coughing and wheezing, the CD struggling to spin smoothly. I felt a deep pain inside of me. Finally I felt that my whole world had flipped upside down.

It all started a few days ago, when one after the other my computer ejected several CDs from its mouth. Now it looks official: iTunes downloads are fine, but my computer no longer accepts CDs.

Tonight is a sad night.

Don't Blame Musharraf, Blame Democracy

Pakistani President/Commander in Chief Pervez Musharraf is the latest to pull off the classic trick of the modern age: invoking democracy to justify the termination of democracy.

Musharraf has announced to his people, in a fog of legal euphemism, that he will run the nation how he pleases and subjugate any critics, in order to quell any further humiliation of he and his supporters and to present a "unified" front against the bands of Islamic fanatics encroaching upon Pakistan's major cities.

"WHEREAS the Government is committed to the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law and holds the superior judiciary in high esteem, it is nonetheless of paramount importance that the Honourable Judges confine the scope of their activity to the judicial function and not assume charge of administration."

"I General Pervez Musharraf, Chief of the Army Staff, proclaim Emergency throughout Pakistan...I hereby order and proclaim that the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan shall remain in abeyance...This Proclamation shall come into force at once."

Check out Musharraf's "Proclamation of Emergency" here. You will find fine examples of totalitarian double-speak.

The reality of the situation - police storming the streets and the Supreme Court, phone lines being jammed and independent television stations being shut down - is of course dire. I tend to think that such acts are as much control as marketing: to grab for power and simultaneously present a new, alternate reality.

What will the terrorists, the enemy here, think? That Musharraf is a brave and fearsome leader who is so bold as to buck the will of the Bush Administration, and who will certainly reunify the military? Has he breathed fear into their hearts?

Or will they see Musharraf as he is seen by the majority of Pakistan's democracy advocates, and now the international community - an out of control flip-flopper, so weak and starved of support that he must declare "emergency" in the country he leads?

Musharraf presumably intends to crush the violent Al-Qaeda and Taliban sympathizers with impunity, no longer hindered by the rule of law. He intends to crush the opposition movement, largely moderate critics who are pushing for the return to democratic law. But surely this newfound "emergency," this pronouncement of chaos, will embolden all of their causes. Surely, in his attempt to enforce a false sense of unity, Musharraf will only birth more and more enemies.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Moving Day

We've been in Bushwick a year already?

I asked the burly man with glasses at the 99 cent store down the street for some boxes. He shook his head.

"Last night was box night around here," he said.

"Fuck," I said.

"Yes, you are," he retorted, with a smile and a giggle.

I managed to grab a big honker from one of those stores that sells used refrigerators and other large electronic appliances. Other than that, this neighborhood is dry.

Time to break out the garbage bags!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Iraq Watch: The Lynching Law

Installment #3 for the New School Free Press runs in tomorrow's issue.

A roving squad of unlawful combatants rampaged through Baghdad's Nisour Square and slaughtered at least 17 people on September 16.

Although the attack kicked off three government investigations, none of the unlawful combatants—militants that are not identified by national insignia or operate under the military chain of command, but engage in offensive activities during war time—were charged with a crime. The U.S. government has not even rounded these killers up and flown them to Guantanamo Bay for the standard series of torturous interrogations.

This time, the United States knows these attackers all too well: decked out in beige vests and toting assault rifles, the killers were operating under a government contract paid for by the State Department, and taking a group of U.S. diplomats along for the ride.

Military law experts are wondering whether these contractors fall under the same legal status as Guantanamo Bay's detainees. "If we hire people and direct them to perform activities that are direct participation in hostilities, then at least by the Guantanamo standard, that is a war crime," Michael N. Schmitt, a former Air Force lawyer and an international law professor at the Naval War College, recently told the Los Angeles Times.

But the contractors are above the law. Paul Bremer III, once the envoy to Iraq, granted all U.S. contractors immunity from Iraqi laws in 2004. Unlike contractors that work for the U.S. military, those that work for the State Department cannot be prosecuted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

When Congress passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006, the Bush Administration ratified the invented term "illegal enemy combatant" to describe anti-American terrorists on which the government intended to implement "enhanced interrogation techniques." That day, I lost my faith in America's rule of law.

This act permits the government to detain anyone for as long it deems necessary, so interrogators can interrogate the detainee without issuing a charge or granting the detainee access to a lawyer. In other words, "illegal enemy combatant" is denied the rights of any "prisoner of war" under any kind of national or international law.

Unlike our combatant contractors in Iraq, then, America promises "illegal enemy combatants" the punishment of institutionalized lynching.

Recently, the House approved a bill to place U.S. contractors under the legal purview of American criminal law. But the law would not work retroactively, and it still has to face passage by the Senate. Thus, the killers in Nisour Square are free to return home after their contracting tenure and go on with their lives in peace.

In America, rule by law has become the freedom of choice. Some enemy combatants are guilty of murder but legally innocent. Others are guilty of terrorism until proven innocent. As judge, jury and executioner, American officials get to pick the combatant's fate.

As Student Population Skyrockets, More Freshmen Are Leaving Lang

This article runs in the October 29 issue of The New School Free Press.

Sophomore Geoff Kim has a year to go at Eugene Lang College before he transfers, he hopes, to the San Francisco Art Institute.

Kim, a 19-year-old from the Bay Area in California with an interest in conceptual art, decided to attend Lang "to be as far away from California as possible," and to pursue the seminar experience of a small liberal arts college. But he cannot afford Lang's $30,660 a year in tuition. Also, he said he was "surprised" by the classroom experience.

"People were not up to par with their writing skills," he said in a phone interview about his classes last year. During class discussions, he added, "A lot of people just talked a lot of bullshit."

Kim's misgivings point to one of Lang's most persistent problems: the high proportion of freshman who leave after their first year. According to Amos Himmelstein, an Assistant Dean at Lang, a staggering average of 32 per cent, or one out of three students, left after their first year over the past two school years. Between Fall 2006 and Fall 2007, he said, referring to a statistical analysis, 75 out of 283 incoming freshmen left after their first year.

"There were certainly more than we expected," Jon White, the Director of Academic Advising at Lang, said. "We aren't in a position of making gains any longer."

At 1,291 heads, the Lang student population is now more than double the size it was in 2001, and The New School plans to boost the college's population even further. Administrators worry that Lang's attrition rates may grow if the college cannot sustain the population size with more faculty, classrooms and student space.

In September, Lang officials formed the Retention and Attrition Task Force, a fact-finding committee composed of 10 faculty members and officials from the advising, admissions and dean's offices, to get a grip on the phenomenon of freshmen departures and offer some remedies.

Actually finding those statistics is difficult, administrators said, because students can leave for a variety of reasons, including family, health or financial emergencies.

But anecdotal evidence has given the task force members some idea of drop-outs' woes.

Mark Larrimore, a task force member and the Director of First Year Studies, another initiative set up to address the freshmen exodus—and who encouraged freshmen to email him at—said some students leave because they were not prepared for the seminar-style classes.

"They say, 'Wait a minute, I don't like this,'" Larrimore said.

Even if the student knows what they are getting into at Lang, he added, they might leave because they are overwhelmed by the city.

"They come to New York and get freaked out," he added.

In these cases, he said, there is not much an advisor can do—students are better off finding the college that suits their needs, or take some time off trying to figure out what they want to do with their life.

"We don't want to force people to stay here," he added.

Already the administration is working on this issue. At open houses to recruit students, according to Nicole Curvin, the Director of Admissions at Lang, the school has begun to put on mock seminar classes so candidates know what is expected of them.

But freshmen also leave, Larrimore said, because Lang "is not living up to its end of the bargain." Advisors and administrators said that students can find the college too disorganized, other students too unprepared, roommates too difficult to live with, class sizes too large, or classes fill up too quickly.

Kim decided to transfer out this semester in large part because the college is too expensive, and his peers did not seem academically qualified enough to attend the school.

Last year—"by chance," he said—Kim took a number of religious studies courses. He also took a post-modern poetry class and the first-year writing seminar. Since Lang is well known for its writing department, which covers fiction, poetry, nonfiction and journalism, he expected students to have good writing skills.

"That was not the case," he said.

Lang advisors said that some students also feel that the Lang community is not diverse enough.

"Freshmen and sophomores have expressed the feeling of being uncomfortable in what they've referred to as a 'vanilla institution,'" Brandon Graham, an academic advisor, wrote over email. Some students, he said, are concerned that over half of the students at the college are white.

Over the past few years White has worked with Lang's Diversity Committee, composed of faculty and administrators, to recruit more faculty and students of color, and to develop programs and curricula that more adequately address issues of ethnic diversity.

Nicole Curvin, the director of admissions at Lang and a member of the task force, said that the admissions office is focused on recruiting students from a variety of ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. Five admissions officers, she said, have traveled to public schools and community colleges in the New York City area, around the country, and even to Asia and Africa, to diversify the student population.

Another reason for the attrition spike could be that Lang is becoming too overcrowded, since the student population has more than doubled over the past five years. In 2001, according to that year's New School Fact Book, the student population was 588.

The population surge appears not to have affected the number of senior and junior year students who leave the college. From Spring 2003 to Fall 2007, Himmelstein said, the school's average attrition rate for all of its students has been an average of 12.5 per cent. This is an improvement from Spring 2002 to Fall 2002, when attrition was at 17 per cent.

"So we're doing better," Himmelstein said.

The attrition rate for freshmen has also improved. Between 2002 and 2004, average attrition rates hovered around the mid-twenty percentile. But between Fall 2005 and Fall 2007, the average freshmen class attrition grew to 32 per cent, two points shy of its level in 1998-2001.

"We just got a little worse," Himmelstein added.

Over the past five years, the university administration has focused on building the university's undergraduate class. Tuition, health insurance and dorm costs bring in 84% of the university's revenues, according to a presentation last semester by Nancy Steir, Vice President for Budget and Planning.

Administrators said that bringing in more undergrads will help fund a number of construction projects and academic initiatives, like hiring more full-time faculty and developing university-wide programs, which have been championed by the New School President Bob Kerrey and Provost Ben Lee, who oversees the academic initiatives at the university.

Securing financing for these projects is contingent on increased revenues.

"The [university] administration has got this business model," Larrimore, the task force member, said. "They want the revenue."

Himmelstein said that Provost Ben Lee has tossed around the idea of boosting Lang's population to 2,000 by 2014.

Curvin, the Lang admissions director, said the college has not lowered its admissions standards to bring in more students. The college, she said, is gaining national recognition. Over the past two years, she said, Lang received 50 per cent more applications than the year before. Two admissions officers read every application and professors often offer their own expertise. So the admissions office has been able to accommodate the demand for a larger student body.

"We're trying to maintain the soul of Eugene Lang College," Curvin said, "while also working with university requirements and things that they're planning at the university level."

Despite these plans, Lang lacks enough real estate to provide offices for all of its faculty members and enough community space for Lang students to mill around, study, or hold club meetings.

The administration intends to tear down 65 5th Ave. this summer and begin construction on a new, 18-story building. This will lead to even greater space crunch over the next several years.

Members of the Retention and Attrition Task Force worry that students will suffer if student population increases while the construction begins.

"There's no room to grow, unless they manage to somehow pull classes out of the air," Larrimore said. "I think the next two years are going to be hairy."

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Hellfire and Providence

My dad, his fiancee, her daughters and their pets all had to evacuate Rancho Bernardo early Monday morning and escape to a Holiday Inn near the infamous Qualcomm Stadium part-time emergency camp in San Diego. The fire is under control in their area and they returned home yesterday. Destruction is rife, but their house was largely untouched. There were some hot embers and a lot of soot. And the winds blew a tree on their front lawn over. "The tree fell the only way it could so as not to block the street and not allow fire trucks through and not land on our house," Lori Moncayo, my dad's fiancee, wrote over email. "Amazing."

Here are some pictures Lori took. The first picture is the fallen tree. The second is a devastated cul de sac. The third is a half-eaten trash can. The fourth is a very unhappy family.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

To Kill a Child

SPOILER WARNING! Don't read this if you want to read John Crawford's "The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell."

When a line of Humvees headed for the Tallil Air Force Base, which surrounds the ancient city of Ur in Iraq, specialist John Crawford made a mistake.

Three little boys, probably 8 or 9 years old, stood knee-deep in some crops as the military convoy passed. Before Crawford could offer a polite wave, he made out the telltale, triangle-shaped sight post of an AK-47 in one of the boy’s hands. The boy pointed the gun at the commander’s vehicle.

“Fuck!” Crawford yelled, according to his nonfiction account of his service in Iraq, The Last True Story I’ll Ever Tell. “He’s got a fucking AK!”

The Humvee skidded to a stop. While two of Crawford’s squad-mates struggled to get their guns ready, Crawford slipped out of the doorless vehicle, propped his Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) against the hood, put the boy in his sights and pulled the trigger. The gun fires about 850 rounds a minute.

Crawford discovered later that the boy’s gun lacked a trigger, buttstock and bolt—it was the damaged weapon of an insurgent who soldiers had killed the day prior.

“The kid couldn’t have shot spitballs through it even if he had wanted to,” Crawford wrote.

The military refers to these mistakes as collateral damage. War experts and Iraq War critics describe this as “losing the war of hearts and minds.” In some cases, such snafus are considered a violation of an article in the Geneva Conventions, which demands that the occupying power protect “persons taking no active part in the hostilities.” Therefore, in some cases such activity is legally a war crime.

But according to a July 2007 article on civilian deaths by Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian, the product of interviews with 50 soldiers, marines and sailors that faced combat in Iraq, holding troops accountable to the brutal mistakes of war is nearly impossible, mainly because noncombatants are killed quite often.

In many cases a soldier or marine will forgo the rules of engagement and shoot down the perceived enemy, rather than wait to confirm whether said enemy is real or imagined. The fear of death trumps the fear of court-martial.

“Since the number of troops tried for killing civilians is so scant, interviewees said, they would risk court-martial over the possibility of injury or death,” the article reads.

Those who end up killing innocent civilians in Iraq will not face a judge and jury, but are often destined to experience a personal journey of reflection, depression, anxiety, shame and guilt.

For Crawford, that journey began with the promise of college tuition.

Crawford grew up in a small town in Florida and spent his young days playing war in the swamps behind his house. After high school, he served in the 101st Army Airborne Division, one of the most tactically sophisticated and mobile air assault outfits in the world, for three years. Then he joined the Florida National Guard, which he thought was a “joke of an organization,” to pay for his education at Florida State University.

At 24, two-credits shy from graduation, lounging on a cruise ship during his honeymoon, Crawford received a notice from his father that the National Guard had called him up to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Promised a three-to-six month run, Crawford ended up staying for 18 months. As he neared his redeployment, he became jaded and hateful.

“You know I’d kill every man, woman, and child in Baghdad if it got me home twenty minutes earlier,” he told a member of his squad during a patrol a few months before heading back to the United States, presumably in jest.

Crawford shot down the child with his SAW early in his deployment, but he did not begin to think about it until after he left Iraq.

“It wasn’t until I got back that truth engulfed me like a storm cloud,” he wrote. He suggested that, for the rest of his life, he has little intention of being honest with his readers, perhaps even with himself.

“This is a true story. You can tell because it makes your stomach turn,” he wrote. “I am home now, and I will never again write a true story.”

Photo: John Crawford, by Christian Parenti

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Mr. Nice Guy - The Saga of Norman Hsu

Photo: The San Mateo County Sherrif mugshot of former New School trustee Norman Hsu. A shorter version of this article appears in the Oct. 15 issue of The New School Free Press. By Amelia Granger and Peter Holslin, additional reporting by Pamela Di Francesco.

By all accounts, former New School trustee Norman Hsu was a nice guy. He donated $80,000 to the university, endowed a Eugene Lang College scholarship, and raised over $1 million for Hillary Clinton's campaign. He even took the concierge at his $8,000 a month condo out to drinks.

"Everybody liked him," said the concierge, who spoke to Free Press reporters on the condition that he remains anonymous, due to the current federal investigation into Hsu's suspicious business practices.

Between late August and early September the Wall Street Journal ran a series of increasingly revelatory articles about this millionaire Chinese national and prominent "Hillraiser." It turned out that the 56-year-old Hsu (pronounced "shoe") was a fugitive and an alleged con artist who piloted a multi-million dollar criminal enterprise. He apparently took advantage of campaign donors and countless personal investors, and duped an investment firm led by the promoter of the original Woodstock music festival out of more than $40 million. He is currently facing charges in federal court of wire and mail fraud and illegal campaign contributions.

The concierge voiced a common refrain. "We were all bugged out," he said.

In an interview in his office last Friday, New School President Bob Kerrey downplayed the impact of the Hsu scandal on the university.

"It's an unpleasant experience," Kerrey said. "A big hit? No. Not even a small hit."

Kerrey said that university trustees had discussed the matter but decided not to change any procedures to recruit donors and trustees. The New School University still possesses the $80,000 Hsu has donated since 2006, Kerrey said, but is waiting to see how the trial unfolds before making any decisions regarding the money.


Hsu's problems with the law date back to 1992, when he was convicted of defrauding investors in a million dollar import scheme but never showed up for his sentencing. Last month, after the Journal articles attracted the attention of California authorities, Hsu turned himself in only to flee again, at which point a more complete picture of his financial dealings emerged.

Hsu is charged with running a Ponzi scheme—named after 1920s Boston conman Charles Ponzi—that took in $60 million. In a Ponzi scheme, the perpetrator finds a small number of initial investors who invest in a bogus business venture that offers a huge return in a very short time, then pays them with money gathered from a second wave of investors. Hsu's front companies were menswear import firms based in New York and called Components Ltd. and Next Components Ltd.

Two of Hsu's targets were Yau Cheng, who worked for Hsu while he was a real estate investor in San Francisco, and Joel Rosenman, who organized the Woodstock festival. Cheng began investing in Hsu's projects in 2001, and Rosenman in 2003, according records in their civil suit against Hsu. They both made handsome profits from their initial investments. Characteristically, the Ponzi scheme snowballed when their family members and associates joined the enterprise in August of 2003.

Hsu paid out returns to Rosenman and Cheng reliably for years, gaining their trust. In 2005 they created Source Financing Investors LLC (SFI) to continue investing in Hsu's deals.

To scam Source Financing Investors LLC, Hsu told investors that he had a simple and legal process to purchase orders of men's apparel from factories in China, selling them to an American financial company called Heller Financial, which sold the products to American fashion outlets like Nordstrom, L.L. Bean, Macy's and Hugo Boss. Hsu told SFI that he needed their money to finance the transaction. According to court records, he gave SFI post-dated checks for 22% returns, and signed contractual agreements for each deal.

The investors never bothered to verify Hsu's connections with businesses and factories in China or high-end fashion labels in the United States, court records note.

All the while, Hsu recruited other investors across the country to cover SFI's returns. Some of these investors, according to federal court records, were instructed to form investment groups in their communities with investors they recruited. This scheme spanned the country, with investor-victims from New York, New Jersey, and California.

One of the heads of these funds told the FBI that Hsu told him he had to make specific campaign contributions in order to be involved in Hsu's future investment opportunities.

SFI usually reinvested the proceeds from one deal into the next. In doing so, the investment firm fell for the classic Ponzi scheme: if investors had tried to cash their returns or stopped investing, their checks would have bounced and the scheme would have collapsed.

Eventually, of course, that is exactly what happened.


After Hsu fled his sentencing hearing in 1992, federal authorities say he moved to Hong Kong, where he ran a series of apparel companies that eventually dissolved. He filed for bankruptcy in 1998, then moved to San Francisco and began investing in real estate. By 2006, Hsu had begun to make a name for himself as a top Democratic party fundraiser and had become a regular, if still somewhat unknown, figure in New York political circles.

Hsu lived in a condo on the third floor of a new, six story building at the corner of West Houston and Wooster streets. The concierge said that Hsu lived in one of the smaller units, but still paid about $8,000 a month.

On the same day Free Press reporters visited his building, FBI agents seized and removed the contents of Hsu's apartment. The contents, according to court documents, included a extremely valuable wine collection and a saxophone autographed by Bill Clinton.

Hsu often threw lavish parties for Democratic politicians and candidates. In 2006, according to the Wall Street Journal, he hosted a party for leading Democrats to celebrate the party's return to power in Congress. The venue was Buddakan, an exclusive spot in New York City where a private event costs $100,000, according to an event planner who spoke to the Free Press last week. According to guests, Hsu got on the D.J.'s microphone and yelled, "If you are supporters of Hillary for president in 2008, you can stay. Otherwise, get out."

The concierge told the Free Press that Hsu gushed about his political causes, the New School, Bob Kerrey, and his new position on the Board of Trustees. Hsu also loved talking about the Democrats he was raising money for.

"He wanted them to win," the concierge said.


In August, when Rosenman and Cheng first read in the Wall Street Journal about Hsu's suspicious campaign contributions, Hsu assured them that there was nothing to worry about. But by early September, the Journal had delivered fourteen days of damning coverage about Hsu's mysterious past. Meanwhile, Hsu had returned to California to face trial for skipping his sentencing hearing in the 1992 fraud case.

On September 5, 2007, Hsu posted $2 million in bail and skipped town a second time, heading east on an Amtrak train called the California Zephyr. Authorities say Hsu ingested a handful of pills in a botched suicide attempt. The next day, police arrested the dazed and shirtless apparel executive near Grand Junction, Colorado. In his locked suitcase FBI agents discovered $7,000 in cash and the paper trail linking Hsu to his investors, including a handwritten ledger of campaign contributions he had instructed them to make.

Over the next few days, SFI investors discovered the extent to which they had been duped. On September 7, two deals with Hsu matured—meaning payment was due. But according to court records, when SFI associates tried to deposit the checks from Hsu, each for over $1 million and post-dated for September 5, they bounced. On September 12, SFI associates tried to deposit two more checks, both for over $1 million and post-dated September 12. Again, the checks bounced.

At the time, according to records for a $40 million civil suit recently filed by SFI against Hsu, Rosenman and Cheng's company had invested in 33 other deals with Hsu that had not yet matured, at a cost amounting to more than $35 million. When they investigated Hsu's claimed connections to the fashion industry, Rosenman and Cheng discovered that Hsu never had any, or at least none they could identify.

The doorman at 1431 Broadway, the offices of Components Ltd. and Next Components, told the Free Press that he recalled seeing Hsu there only "once or twice."

Theodore Chao was listed as Components Ltd.'s "agent," presumably the company's attorney, on Hsu's contracts with SFI. Chao supposedly occupied 510 8th Ave., Suite 508. But, as the Free Press discovered last week, there does not appear to be any such address.

"While SFI thought that it was investing in a legitimate clothing manufacturing enterprise," SFI's civil lawsuit against Hsu reads, "it was really providing Hsu with millions of dollars in cash to fund Hsu's pet political fundraising projects, and an extravagant international lifestyle."

SFI and Joel Rosenman's lawyers did not respond to phone calls from the Free Press asking for comment about developments in this case. Hsu's lawyers also declined to be interviewed for this article.

On September 14th, Hsu "admitted that the phony deals involved investments in the sale and distribution of items that did not actually exist," F.B.I. Special Agent Patricia O'Connor said in a statement in federal court. "Hsu also admitted that he made implied threats to his investors to pressure them to contribute to political candidates he supported."


Kerrey told the Free Press that he was introduced to Hsu by Paula Levine, a consultant who helps candidates raise money in New York City and who has worked with Kerrey on campaign issues in the past.

"She met Norman and said, 'This is a guy that you really ought to meet,'" Kerrey said. "'He's expressed some interest in being involved [in the New School].'"

Levine did not respond to phone calls from the Free Press asking for comment.

Kerrey said the board typically looks for candidates that are interested in the university, live in New York City and can attend meetings, and are willing to donate $25,000 a year.

Hsu was named to the Eugene Lang College Board of Governors in May 2006, according to Caroline Oyama, the New School communications director. The university's Board of Trustees voted Hsu onto the board on July 1 of this year, Kerrey said. Hsu resigned in late August after the first Journal articles appeared. In all, he served less than sixty days.

Since 2006, Kerrey said that Hsu had donated about $80,000 to the university, money that helped fund two major annual fundraising dinners and a Lang scholarship. Kerrey said the university has not yet decided what to do with the money.

"What we're planning on doing is just watching and seeing what happens in court," he said.

The New School does not run background checks on possible donors. Kerrey said that the Trustees, after reexamining their recruiting and voting procedures, had ultimately decided not to change that policy.

Kerrey insisted that the fallout from the Hsu scandal would not tarnish The New School's reputation. When asked by the Free Press if this incident demonstrates that the university has compromised its values to find rich trustees with political connections, Kerrey bridled.

"For God sakes, I'm a former U.S. Senator!" he said. "I don't need any friggin' help from Norman Hsu or anybody else."

Pakistan Training Camps Gaining in Popularity

Terrorist training in Pakistan is, evidently, now more popular than training in Iraq.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

A Revolutionary Pledges to Take the Horowitz Mob Down

A fanatical battle is brewing.

This week's issue of the Revolutionary Communist Party's paper, Revolution, publishes a call to take down David Horowitz's upcoming “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week,” a wave of fanatical campus consciousness raising that will hit the country October 22-26.

The event's student guide reads that the week purports to expose two "Big Lies" of the political and academic left: "that George Bush created the war on terror and that Global Warming is a greater danger to Americans than the terrorist threat." Of course this is a ham-fisted assertion taking aim at a body of people so large and diverse that logic deems such unity on the two matters far too improbable--which seems to deny the event any intelligent thrust and make it all hard to take seriously. Last week, Revolution seemed to get a lukewarm response from its readership. Some thought to let the wackos have their days in the sun while parts of the world go on getting wrecked by war and famine.

But we can't ignore it, says Toby O'Ryan of the Revolution. After all, there's something Gestapo about the activities: for one, students are encouraged walk around presenting Muslim students and administrators with a "petition denouncing Islamo-Fascist violence against women, gays, Christians, Jews and non-religious people." A refusal to sign, it seems, means being the enemy of America and enabler for the Islamic terrorist movement against women, gays, Christians, Jews and all other rational and free-thinking peoples.

O'Ryan sees a crucial victory for the Horowitzian nutcases if the revolutionaries ignore the events. What to do? "The only way to make people feel compelled to examine those assumptions is by effectively challenging them with the truth—with hard-hitting and documented facts to back it up," he writes. "That means taking on and tearing to shreds Horowitz’s arguments and bringing forward the truth in opposition to that."

Finally, he engages the proverbial Alamo routine, drawing a line in the sand: "There can be no bystanders; the question is whether the right side of this argument will speak up with all the power and sweep that it can muster and not only prevent a worsening polarization on campus, but start to change things for the better."

So, what side are you on--the Right's, or the right's?

Photo: The eminent racist David Horowitz.

Terrorism - Cool Again?

Our adventure in Iraq has started an explosive trend.

The war was supposed to rid the world of Al-Qaida and its alleged state sponsor, Saddam Hussein. But Al-Qaida has not only regrouped, to be stronger than before, according to findings in this summer’s National Intelligence Estimate. The terrorist movement is growing.

Al-Qaida in Mesopotamia, a homegrown Sunni group from Iraq, is slaughtering sheiks and military officers that support reconciliation between Sunnis and Shias.

This summer, Fatah al-Islam, a new terrorist militia supported by Syria, mobilized in a Palestinian refugee camp and waged war on the Lebanese army, in the name of Al-Qaida’s fanatical Wahhabism. Lebanon's National police commander, Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, described the group as “imitation al-Qaida. A ‘Made-in-Syria’ one.”

Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, a group that grew up in Algeria in the 1990s and for many years called itself the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, has changed its name and piloted a new wave of bombings against North Africans over the past year. GSPC’s founder, Hassan Hattab, recently turned himself in to the Algerian police. But he said that the renamed group wanted to make Algeria “a second Iraq.”

On top of that, since the September 11, 2001 attacks, terrorist bombs have erupted across the Middle East, in Indonesia, Spain, Scotland and England. Police have foiled plots in the U.K., Germany and the United States.

Al-Qaida has an American P.R. guy named Adam Gadahn. He grew up listening to death metal, and then he got rid of his collection and converted to Islam. Recently, Osama bin Laden encouraged other Americans to convert to Islam on a propaganda video, presumably so we join the fight. Meanwhile, Al-Qaida media centers in Iraq keep turning up. USA Today recently reported that the U.S. military raided six Al-Qaida media houses in Iraq. The houses were flush with equipment: one house in Samarra was stocked with 12 computers, 65 hard drives and a filming studio. These spots are used to film and distribute videos of suicide bombings, attacks on Americans, interviews of militants for news outlets and recruiting videos for would-be terrorists.

According to a National Intelligence Council report from 2005, Iraq has become even more popular a destination for terrorist recruits than Afghanistan, where the C.I.A. and Pakistan’s intelligence service once funded, armed and trained a volunteer force of Arab mujihadeen to take on the Soviet invasion, only to see these holy warriors form the Taliban and Al-Qaida.

In part, Iraq is so alluring a destination for terrorists because over two million Iraqis have escaped their country. Many of them are middle-class professionals—-doctors, scientists, engineers, and archaeologists, precisely the type of people a country needs to remain stable and democratic.

That means the country, along with 170,000 families who have been internally displaced, is being torn apart by warring Shia militias and Al-Qaida in Mesopotamia, which has assassinated numerous advocates of reconciliation there.

The recent “surge” strategy has staved off attacks, somewhat. The military has fostered an alliance with local Sunni sheiks against the group. But ours is a quixotic fight: to ensure that deserted houses, apartment buildings, neighborhoods and entire towns will not remain safe houses, weapons caches and torture chambers for years to come, we will need a prolonged American presence with hundreds of thousands of troops. Few Americans are so devoted to securing a safe future for Iraq. Others seem to want to institutionalize the ethnic divide.

Hence, Iraq has become a training ground for militants. It is dangerous, but you can travel to Iraq for an education in various techniques: clandestinely raising funds, shooting an AK-47, building a remote-controlled bomb with bags of fertilizer and a cellular telephone. This is on-the-job training, because there is always a time to put your newfound skills into practice.

In the NIC report, intelligence experts expected that foreign terrorists will eventually filter out of the country and return to their own, presumably to take up jihad. “There is even, under the best scenario, over time, the likelihood that some of the jihadists who are not killed there will, in a sense, go home, wherever home is, and will therefore disperse to various other countries,” David B. Low, the national intelligence officer for transnational threats, told the Washington Post on Jan. 14, 2005.

The report, a year’s effort complied from research by over 1,000 foreign and American experts, does not anticipate a slump in the popularity of terrorism. It estimates that by 2020, Al-Qaida will have splintered into a variety of offshoots and local terrorist cells. With the aid of the Internet, they will be infinitely more mobile. “Training materials, targeting guidance, weapons know-how, and fund-raising will become virtual (i.e. online),” the report says.

In a way, the United States has become its own worst enemy. Thanks to the war in Iraq, terrorism is getting more popular every day.