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China’s Ambassador to Burma Meets Aung San Suu Kyi December 16, 2011

A Chinese official has held a rare meeting with Burmese opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. 

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin says Aung San Suu Kyi has asked several times to meet with Chinese officials.

Liu says the Chinese ambassador met her in response to her request, and listened to her opinions.

When asked when the meeting actually took place, the Chinese spokesman said the date is not important.

In Burma, officials with Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy Party said the two met on December 8. They did not release details of the talks, but indicated it was a friendly meeting that did not include much discussion about politics.

China, which has been criticized by Western countries for its own harsh treatment of outspoken Chinese dissidents, has been one of the Burmese government’s closest diplomatic allies. It also strongly backed the military regime that kept Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for a total of nearly 15 years.

On Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu indicated Beijing is ready to talk to people from all levels of Burmese society.

He says China will engage in contact with all sectors of Burmese society, under the principles of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. He adds that for Beijing to talk to people committed to China-Burma friendship would be beneficial to people of both countries.

Since she was released from house arrest more than one year ago, Aung San Suu Kyi has publicly said she does not consider Beijing an enemy.

Meanwhile, the Chinese spokesman says China’s top diplomat, State Councilor Dai Bingguo will travel to Burma next week (December 19) for a meeting of Mekong River countries.

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This is not about Mumia Abu-Jamal but the death penalty | Teresa Wiltz December 8, 2011

It doesn’t matter to me whether Mumia Abu-Jamal is innocent or guilty – though there are those for whom it matters quite a bit, not the least of whom is the widow of the police officer Abu-Jamal was convicted of killing in 1981. And there are those who fought long and hard – celebrities, college students, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Amnesty International – for Abu-Jamal’s release; those who argued that his was a case of racial injustice perpetrated against a black man, a Black Panther party member, accused of killing a white cop.

I’m not here to debate the merits of the case, to hash over whether his trial was corrupted by a racist judicial system – though there have been plenty of cases that fit that description. It doesn’t matter to me that Abu-Jamal, a former radio journalist, became a dreadlocked icon immortalised on countless “Free Mumia” posters, authored books from prison, including Live From Death Row, that he was his own best advocate. Or that the Beastie Boys held a concert to raise money for his defense and rapper KRS-One released a stinging single, “Free Mumia”.

Ultimately, none of that matters to me. I just believe, fervently, that the government shouldn’t be in the business of killing its citizens.

Now that the Philadelphia district attorney has announced that he will no longer seek the execution of Abu-Jamal, that is one less citizen the government will be killing. And for that, I am grateful. (Abu-Jamal, now 58, will spend the rest of his life behind bars, however.)

But it’s not just the celebrity convicts with a compelling case that we should be lobbying for. Troy Davis shouldn’t have been executed – and neither should serial killer Ted Bundy, who once called himself “the most cold-hearted son of a bitch you’ll ever meet”. Even if a killer murdered countless victims in cold blood, admitted it, crowed over it and never felt a single moment of regret afterwards, we should not be killing the killer.

I don’t believe in the death penalty. Not now, not ever. I don’t like that innocent people are often executed. I know that the death penalty is rarely a deterrent. I’m deeply troubled that the single most reliable predictor of whether someone will be sentenced to death in homicide cases is the race of the victim: as in, if the victim is white. But even if all things were equal and each death sentence was perfectly executed with no racial or class bias and only the guilty were put to death, capital punishment should still have no place in our society, any society – “civilised” or otherwise.

I understand the urge for revenge, but we are not the ones who should be deciding who lives or dies, even if the person on death row was someone who took it upon himself or herself to decide who lived or died. I was disappointed when Muammar Gaddafi was, in essence, lynched on the streets of Libya. I would much rather have seen Osama bin Laden tried for war crimes, even though I know the chances of that happening were slim to none.

But then again, I’m the person in the multiplex who isn’t cheering when the bad guy gets blown away by the hero at the end. I’d rather see him rot in jail for all eternity. To my mind, it’s much worse to have to sit for years and think about what you did. And even if it isn’t worse, and sitting in prison is an endless orgy of cable TV and special privileges, I don’t care: the alternative is beyond barbaric.

A few years back, when I was a cub reporter for the Chicago Tribune, I covered a protest rally held by the loved ones of murder victims. They were marching through the streets of Chicago to protest the death penalty. I interviewed many of them that day: mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, spouses. And they all said the same thing: killing the killer won’t bring back my mother, father, brother, sister, wife, husband …

An eye for an eye, they said, and we’ll all be blind.

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Dual Tree Lighting Illuminates Annual Holiday Debate

It’s the Christmas holiday season in the United States, and with it comes an annual argument: Should local, state and federal governments put up Christmas trees, or even call attention to Christmas, in a country that has no official religion?

It’s one of the most recognizable symbols of the season. But in the northeastern state of Rhode Island State House this year, the governor says the seasonal spruce is getting a name change: from Christmas tree to holiday tree.

“Times are changing and that’s just the reality. The world’s getting smaller. People are moving around. Religions are more accepted in our society and that’s just the evolution that’s occurring,” said Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee.

The decision angers some Americans, and the governor’s office has received thousands of calls denouncing the change. A state legislator even decided to hold a Christmas tree lighting in the State House Tuesday at the same time of the governor’s holiday tree lighting.

Janice Crouse is a spokeswoman for Concerned Women for America, the country’s largest public policy organization for Christian women.

“You know when it comes to Christmas time, the people who talk about inclusion and diversity and all those cliches of the left, they’re the first ones to want to shut down Christmas,” said Crouse.

Nearly 80 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians and celebrate Christmas to mark the birth of Jesus.

“We celebrate other faiths, we ought to celebrate Christian faith as well. And there ought to be symbols in our public square. It’s very much a part of who we are as Americans,” said Crouse.

Erika Seamon teaches religion in American public life at Georgetown University. She said the Christmas tree illuminates the debate over separation of church and state – a fundamental concept in American law.

“The importance of this is it’s not taking Christmas or taking religion out of American society. It’s specifically the concern that this tree and this language is associated with government property and government endorsement,” said Seamon.

Christmas is a federal holiday in the United States. The courts have ruled the Christmas tree a secular symbol that represents the season without specific religious meaning. That makes it all right to put up a big tree and decorate it here at the Capitol and at other government properties across the country.

But not everybody sees the Christmas tree as secular.

“All symbols point back to Christ for me, the reason for the season we so often say.”

Seamon said the change just might be the governor’s way of avoiding trying to dictate the meaning of symbols for individuals.

“One could argue that what the government is trying to do in a multiculturally diverse society is just move to the sidelines and not be involved in religious discussion or symbolism or language in the first place,” she said.

As long as there are Christmas trees on public property, the seasonal semantics likely will continue.

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Kate Bolick: why marriage is a declining option for women November 27, 2011

In 2001, when I was 28, I broke up with my boyfriend. Allan and I had been together for three years, and there was no good reason to end things. He was (and remains) an exceptional person, intelligent, good-looking, loyal, kind. My friends, many of whom were married or in marriage-track relationships, were bewildered. I was bewildered. To account for my behaviour, all I had were two intangible yet undeniable convictions: something was missing; I wasn’t ready to settle down.

The period that followed was awful. I barely ate for sobbing all the time. (A friend who suffered my company a lot that summer sent me a birthday text this past July: “A decade ago you and I were reuniting, and you were crying a lot.”) I missed Allan desperately – his calm, sure voice; the sweetly fastidious way he folded his shirts. On good days, I felt secure that I’d done the right thing. Learning to be alone would make me a better person, and eventually a better partner. On bad days, I feared I would be alone forever. Had I made the biggest mistake of my life?

Ten years later, I occasionally ask myself the same question. Today I am 39, with too many ex-boyfriends to count and, I am told, two grim-seeming options to face down: either stay single or settle for a “good enough” mate. At this point, certainly, falling in love and getting married may be less a matter of choice than a stroke of wild great luck. A decade ago, luck didn’t even cross my mind. I’d been in love before, and I’d be in love again. This wasn’t hubris so much as naivety; I’d had serious, long-term boyfriends since my freshman year of high school, and simply couldn’t envision my life any differently.

Well, there was a lot I didn’t know 10 years ago. The decision to end a stable relationship for abstract rather than concrete reasons (“something was missing”), I see now, is in keeping with a post-Boomer ideology that values emotional fulfilment above all else. And the elevation of independence over coupling (“I wasn’t ready to settle down”) is a second-wave feminist idea I’d acquired from my mother, who had embraced it, in part, I suspect, to correct her own choices.

I was her first and only recruit, marching off to third grade in tiny green or blue T-shirts declaring: “A Woman Without A Man Is Like A Fish Without A Bicycle”, or: “A Woman’s Place Is In The House – And The Senate”. Once, in high school, driving home from a family vacation, my mother turned to my boyfriend and me cuddling in the backseat and said, “Isn’t it time you two started seeing other people?” She adored Brian – he was invited on family vacations! But my future was to be one of limitless possibilities, where getting married was something I’d do when I was ready, to a man who was in every way my equal, and she didn’t want me to get tied down just yet.

This unfettered future was the promise of my time and place. I spent many a golden afternoon at my small New England liberal-arts college debating with friends the merits of leg-shaving and whether or not we’d take our husband’s surname. (Even then, our concerns struck me as retro; hadn’t the women’s libbers tackled all this stuff already?) We took for granted that we’d spend our 20s finding ourselves, whatever that meant, and save marriage for after we’d finished graduate school and launched our careers, which of course would happen at the magical age of 30.

That we would marry, and that there would always be men we wanted to marry, we took on faith. How could we not? One of the many ways in which our lives differed from our mothers’ was in the variety of our interactions with the opposite sex. Men were our classmates and colleagues, our bosses and professors, as well as, in time, our students and employees and subordinates – an entire universe of prospective friends, boyfriends, friends with benefits, and even ex-boyfriends-turned-friends. In this brave new world, boundaries were fluid, and roles constantly changing.

In 1969, when my 25-year-old mother, a college-educated high-school teacher, married a handsome lawyer-to-be, most women her age were doing more or less the same thing. By the time she was in her mid-30s, she was raising two small children and struggling to find a satisfying career. What she’d envisioned for me was a future in which I made my own choices. I don’t think either of us could have predicted what happens when you multiply that sense of agency by an entire generation.

But what transpired next lay well beyond the powers of everybody’s imagination: as women have climbed ever higher, men have been falling behind. We’ve arrived at the top of the staircase, finally ready to start our lives, only to discover a cavernous room at the tail end of a party, most of the men gone already, some having never shown up – and those who remain are leering by the cheese table, or are, you know, the ones you don’t want to go out with.

In the 1990s, Stephanie Coontz, a social historian at Evergreen State College in Washington, noticed an uptick in questions from reporters and audiences asking if the institution of marriage was falling apart. She didn’t think it was, and was struck by how everyone believed in some mythical Golden Age of Marriage and saw mounting divorce rates as evidence of the dissolution of this halcyon past. She decided to write a book discrediting the notion and proving that the ways in which we think about and construct the legal union between a man and a woman have always been in flux.

What Coontz found was even more interesting than she’d originally expected. In her fascinating Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage, she surveys 5,000 years of human habits, from our days as hunters and gatherers up until the present, showing our social arrangements to be more complex and varied than could ever seem possible. She’d long known that the Leave It To Beaver-style family model popular in the 1950s and 60s had been a flash in the pan, and like a lot of historians, she couldn’t understand how people had become so attached to an idea that had developed so late and been so short-lived.

For thousands of years, marriage had been a primarily economic and political contract between two people, negotiated and policed by their families, church and community. It took more than one person to make a farm or business thrive, and so a potential mate’s skills, resources, thrift and industriousness were valued as highly as personality and attractiveness. This held true for all classes. In the American colonies, wealthy merchants entrusted business matters to their landlocked wives while off at sea, just as sailors, vulnerable to the unpredictability of seasonal employment, relied on their wives’ steady income as domestics in elite households. Two-income families were the norm.

Not until the 18th century did labour begin to be divided along a sharp line: wage-earning for the men and unpaid maintenance of household and children for the women. Coontz notes that as recently as the late 17th century, women’s contributions to the family economy were openly recognised, and advice books urged husbands and wives to share domestic tasks. But as labour became separated, so did our spheres of experience – the marketplace versus the home – one founded on reason and action, the other on compassion and comfort. Not until the postwar gains of the 1950s, however, were a majority of American families able to actually afford living off a single breadwinner.

All of this was intriguing, for sure – but even more surprising to Coontz was the realisation that those alarmed reporters and audiences might be on to something. Coontz still didn’t think that marriage was falling apart, but she came to see that it was undergoing a transformation far more radical than anyone could have predicted, and that our current attitudes and arrangements are without precedent. “Today we are experiencing a historical revolution every bit as wrenching, far-reaching, and irreversible as the Industrial Revolution,” she wrote.

Last summer I called Coontz to talk to her about this revolution. “We are without a doubt in the midst of an extraordinary sea change,” she told me. “The transformation is momentous – immensely liberating and immensely scary. When it comes to what people actually want and expect from marriage and relationships, and how they organise their sexual and romantic lives, all the old ways have broken down.”

For starters, we keep putting marriage off. In 1960, the median age of first marriage in the US was 23 for men and 20 for women; today it is 28 and 26. Today, a smaller proportion of American women in their early 30s are married than at any other point since the 1950s, if not earlier. We’re also marrying less – with a significant degree of change taking place in just the past decade and a half. In 1997, 29% of my Generation X cohort was married; among today’s Millennials (those born in the late-70s to 90s) that figure has dropped to 22%. Compare that with 1960, when more than half of those aged 18 to 29 had already tied the knot. These numbers reflect major attitudinal shifts. According to the Pew Research Centre, a full 44% of Millennials and 43% of Gen Xers think that marriage is becoming obsolete.

Even more momentously, we no longer need husbands to have children, nor do we have to have children if we don’t want to. For those who want their own biological child, and haven’t found the right man, now is a good time to be alive. Biological parenthood in a nuclear family need not be the be-all and end-all of womanhood – and in fact it increasingly is not. Today 40% of children are born to single mothers. This isn’t to say all of these women preferred that route, but the fact that so many upper-middle-class women are choosing to travel it – and that gays and lesbians (married or single) and older women are also having children, via adoption or in vitro fertilisation – has helped shrink the stigma against single motherhood. Even as single motherhood is no longer a disgrace, motherhood itself is no longer compulsory. Since 1976, the percentage of women in their early 40s who have not given birth has nearly doubled. A childless single woman of a certain age is no longer automatically perceived as a barren spinster.

Of course, between the diminishing external pressure to have children and the common misperception that our biology is ours to control, some of us don’t deal with the matter in a timely fashion. Like me, for instance. Do I want children? My answer is: I don’t know. But somewhere along the way, I decided to not let my biology dictate my romantic life. If I find someone I really like being with, and if he and I decide we want a child together, and it’s too late for me to conceive naturally, I’ll consider whatever technological aid is currently available, or adopt (and if he’s not open to adoption, he’s not the kind of man I want to be with).

Foremost among the reasons for all these changes in family structure are the gains of the women’s movement. Over the past half century, women have steadily gained on – and are in some ways surpassing – men in education and employment. From 1970 (seven years after the Equal Pay Act was passed) to 2007, women’s earnings grew by 44%, compared with 6% for men. In 2008, women still earned just 77 cents to the male dollar – but that figure doesn’t account for the difference in hours worked, or the fact that women tend to choose lower-paying fields like nursing or education. A 2010 study of single, childless urban workers between the ages of 22 and 30 found that the women actually earned 8% more than the men. Women are also more likely than men to go to college: in 2010, 55% of all college graduates aged 25 to 29 were female.

By themselves, the cultural and technological advances that have made my stance on childbearing plausible would be enough to reshape our understanding of the modern family – but, unfortunately, they happen to be dovetailing with another set of developments that can be summed up as: the deterioration of the male condition. Of late, men have been rapidly declining – in income, in educational attainment, and in future employment prospects – relative to women. As of last year, women held 51.4% of all managerial and professional positions, up from 26% in 1980. Today women outnumber men not only in college but in graduate school; they earned 60% of all bachelor’s and master’s degrees awarded in 2010, and men are now more likely than women to hold only a high-school diploma.

No one has been hurt more by the arrival of the post-industrial economy than the stubbornly large pool of men without higher education. An analysis by Michael Greenstone, an economist at MIT, reveals that, after accounting for inflation, male median wages have fallen by 32% since their peak in 1973, once you account for the men who have stopped working altogether. The Great Recession accelerated this imbalance. Nearly three-quarters of the 7.5 million jobs lost in the depths of the recession were lost by men, making 2010 the first time in American history that women made up the majority of the workforce. Men have since then regained a small portion of the positions they’d lost – but they remain in a deep hole, and most of the jobs that are least likely ever to come back are in traditionally male-dominated sectors, like manufacturing and construction.

The implications are extraordinary. If, in all sectors of society, women are on the ascent, and if gender parity is actually within reach, this means that a marriage regime based on men’s overwhelming economic dominance may be passing into extinction. As long as women were denied the financial and educational opportunities of men, it encouraged them to “marry up” – how else would they improve their lot? Now that we can pursue our own status and security, and are therefore liberated from needing men the way we once did, we are free to like them more, or at least more idiosyncratically, which is how love ought to be, isn’t it? When Gloria Steinem said, in the 1970s, “We’re becoming the men we wanted to marry,” I doubt even she realised the prescience of her words.

But while the rise of women has been good for everyone, the decline of males has obviously been bad news for men – and bad news for marriage. For all the changes the institution has undergone, American women as a whole have never been confronted with such a radically shrinking pool of what are traditionally considered to be “marriageable” men – those who are better educated and earn more than they do. So women are now contending with what we might call the new scarcity. Even as women have seen their range of options broaden in recent years – for instance, expanding the kind of men it’s culturally acceptable to be with, and making it OK not to marry at all – the new scarcity disrupts what economists call the “marriage market” in a way that in fact narrows the available choices. This shrinking pool of traditionally “marriageable” men is dramatically changing our social landscape, and producing startling dynamics in the marriage market, in ways that aren’t immediately apparent.

In their 1983 book, Too Many Women? The Sex Ratio Question, two psychologists developed what has become known as the Guttentag-Secord theory, which holds that members of the gender in shorter supply are less dependent on their partners, because they have a greater number of alternative relationships available to them; that is, they have greater “dyadic power” than members of the sex in oversupply. How this plays out, however, varies drastically between genders.

In societies where men heavily outnumber women – in what’s known as a “high-sex-ratio society” – women are valued and treated with deference and respect and use their high dyadic power to create loving, committed bonds with their partners and raise families. Rates of illegitimacy and divorce are low. Women’s traditional roles as mothers and homemakers are held in high esteem. In such situations, however, men also use the power of their greater numbers to limit women’s economic and political strength, and female literacy and labour-force participation drop.

One might hope that in low-sex-ratio societies – where women outnumber men – women would have the social and sexual advantage. (After all, didn’t the mythical all-female nation of the Amazons capture men and keep them as their sex slaves?) But that’s not what happens: instead, when confronted with a surplus of women, men become promiscuous and unwilling to commit to a monogamous relationship. (Which, I suppose, might explain the Amazons’ need to keep men in slave quarters.) In societies with too many women, the theory holds, fewer people marry, and those who do marry do so later in life. Because men take advantage of the variety of potential partners available to them, women’s traditional roles are not valued, and because these women can’t rely on their partners to stick around, more turn to extrafamilial ambitions like education and career.

As a woman who spent her early 30s actively putting off marriage, I have had ample time to investigate, if you will, the prevailing attitudes of the high-status American urban male. (Granted, given my taste for brainy, creatively ambitious men – or “scrawny nerds,” as a high-school friend describes them – my sample is skewed.) My spotty anecdotal findings have revealed that, yes, in many cases, the more successful a man is (or thinks he is), the less interested he is in commitment.

Take the high-powered magazine editor who declared on our first date that he was going to spend his 30s playing the field. Or the prominent academic who announced on our fifth date that he couldn’t maintain a committed emotional relationship but was very interested in a physical one. Or the novelist who, after a month of hanging out, said he had to get back out there and tomcat around, but asked if we could keep having sex anyhow, or at least just one last time. Or the writer (yes, another one) who announced after six months together that he had to end things because he “couldn’t continue fending off all the sexual offers”. And those are just the honest ones.

To be sure, these men were the outliers – most of my personal experience has been with commitment-minded men with whom things just didn’t work out, for one reason or another. But the non-committers are out there in growing force. If dating and mating is in fact a marketplace – and of course it is – today we’re contending with a new “dating gap”, where marriage-minded women are increasingly confronted with either deadbeats or players.

When I turned 36, I’d been in the dating game for longer than I’d ever thought possible, and I wanted out. (Is there an expiry date on the fun, running-around period of being single captured so well by movies and television?) My escape came to me in the form of a revelation: all this time, I realised, I’d been regarding my single life as a temporary interlude, one I had to make the most of – or swiftly terminate, depending on my mood. Without intending to, by actively rejecting our pop-culture depictions of the single woman – you know the ones – I’d been terrorising myself with their spectres. But now that 35 had come and gone, all bets were off. It might never happen. Or maybe not until 42. Or 70, for that matter. Was that so bad? If I stopped seeing my present life as provisional, perhaps I’d be a little… happier. Perhaps I could actually get down to the business of what it means to be a real single woman.

It’s something a lot of people might want to consider, given that now, by choice or by circumstance, more and more of us (women and men), across the economic spectrum, are spending more years of our adult lives unmarried than ever before. The numbers are striking: The Census Bureau has reported that in 2010, the proportion of married households in America dropped to a record low of 48%; 50% of the adult population is single (compared with 33% in 1950) – and that portion is very likely to keep growing, given the variety of factors that contribute to it. The median age for getting married has been rising, and for those who are affluent and educated, that number climbs even higher. (Indeed, Stephanie Coontz told me that an educated white woman of 40 is more than twice as likely to marry in the next decade as a less educated woman of the same age.) Last year, nearly twice as many single women bought homes as did single men. And yet, what are our ideas about single people? Perverted misanthropes, crazy cat ladies, dating-obsessed shoe shoppers, etc – all of them some form of terribly lonely. The single woman is very rarely seen for who she is – whatever that might be – by others, or even by the single woman herself, so thoroughly do most of us internalise the stigmas that surround our status.

In 2005, social psychologist Bella DePaulo coined the word singlism, in an article she published in Psychological Inquiry. Intending a parallel with terms like racism and sexism, DePaulo says singlism is “the stigmatising of adults who are single [and] includes negative stereotyping of singles and discrimination against singles”. In her 2006 book, Singled Out, she argues that the complexities of modern life, and the fragility of the institution of marriage, have inspired an unprecedented glorification of coupling. (Laura Kipnis, the author of Against Love, has called this “the tyranny of two.”) This marriage myth – “matrimania”, DePaulo calls it – proclaims that the only route to happiness is finding and keeping one all-purpose, all-important partner who can meet our every emotional and social need. Those who don’t have this are pitied. Those who don’t want it are seen as threatening. Singlism, therefore, “serves to maintain cultural beliefs about marriage by derogating those whose lives challenge those beliefs”.

The cultural fixation on the couple blinds us to the full web of relationships that sustain us on a daily basis. We are far more than whom we are (or aren’t) married to: we are also friends, grandparents, colleagues, cousins, and so on. To ignore the depth and complexities of these networks is to limit the full range of our emotional experiences.

Personally, I’ve been wondering if we might be witnessing the rise of the aunt, based on the simple fact that my brother’s two small daughters have brought me emotional rewards I never could have anticipated. I have always been very close with my family, but welcoming my nieces into the world has reminded me anew of what a gift it is to care deeply, even helplessly, about another. There are many ways to know love in this world.

This is not to question romantic love itself. Rather, we could stand to examine the ways in which we think about love; and the changing face of marriage is giving us a chance to do this. “Love comes from the motor of the mind, the wanting part that craves that piece of chocolate, or a work promotion,” Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist and perhaps this country’s leading scholar of love, told me. That we want is enduring; what we want changes as culture does.

Our cultural fixation on the couple is actually a relatively recent development. Though “pair-bonding” has been around for 3.5 million years, according to Helen Fisher, the hunters and gatherers evolved in egalitarian groups, with men and women sharing the labour equally. Both left the camp in the morning; both returned at day’s end with their bounty. Children were raised collaboratively. As a result, women and men were sexually and socially more or less equals; divorce (or its institution-of-marriage-preceding equivalent) was common. Indeed, Fisher sees the contemporary trend for marriage between equals as us “moving forward into deep history” – back to the social and sexual relationships of millions of years ago.

It wasn’t until we moved to farms, and became an agrarian economy centred on property, that the married couple became the central unit of production. As Stephanie Coontz explains, by the middle ages, the combination of the couple’s economic interdependence and the Catholic church’s success in limiting divorce had created the tradition of getting married to one person and staying that way until death do us part. It was in our personal and collective best interest that the marriage remain intact if we wanted to keep the farm afloat.

That said, being too emotionally attached to one’s spouse was discouraged; neighbours, family, and friends were valued just as highly in terms of practical and emotional support. But as the 19th century progressed, and especially with the sexualisation of marriage in the early 20th century, these older social ties were drastically devalued in order to strengthen the bond between the husband and wife – with contradictory results. As Coontz told me: “When a couple’s relationship is strong, a marriage can be more fulfilling than ever. But by overloading marriage with more demands than any one individual can possibly meet, we unduly strain it, and have fewer emotional systems to fall back on if the marriage falters.”

Some even believe that the pair bond, far from strengthening communities (which is both the prevailing view of social science and a central tenet of social conservatism), weakens them, the idea being that a married couple becomes too consumed with its own tiny nation of two to pay much heed to anyone else. In 2006, the sociologists Naomi Gerstel and Natalia Sarkisian published a paper concluding that unlike singles, married couples spend less time keeping in touch with and visiting their friends and extended family, and are less likely to provide them with emotional and practical support. They call these “greedy marriages”. I can see how couples today might be driven to form such isolated nations – it’s not easy in this age of dual-career families and hyper-parenting to keep the wheels turning, never mind having to maintain outside relationships as well. And yet we continue to rank this arrangement above all else!

Now that women are financially independent, and marriage is an option rather than a necessity, we are free to pursue what the British sociologist Anthony Giddens termed the “pure relationship”, in which intimacy is sought in and of itself and not solely for reproduction. (If I may quote the eminently quotable Gloria Steinem again: “I can’t mate in captivity.”) Certainly, in a world where women can create their own social standing, concepts like “marrying up” and “marrying down” evaporate – to the point where the importance of conventional criteria such as age and height, Coontz says, has fallen to an all-time low (no pun intended) in the United States.

Everywhere I turn, I see couples upending existing norms and power structures, whether it’s women choosing to be with much younger men, or men choosing to be with women more financially successful than they are (or both at once). My friend M, a successful film-maker, fell in love with her dog walker, a man 12 years her junior; they stayed together for three years, and are best friends today. As with many such relationships, I didn’t even know about their age difference until I became a member of their not-so-secret society. At a rooftop party last September, a man 11 years my junior asked me out for dinner; I didn’t take him seriously for one second – and then the next thing I knew, we were driving to his parents’ house for Christmas.

In the months leading to my breakup with Allan, my problem, as I saw it, lay in wanting two incompatible states of being – autonomy and intimacy – and this struck me as selfish and juvenile; part of growing up, I knew, was making trade-offs. I was too ashamed to confide in anyone, and as far as I could tell, mine was an alien predicament anyhow; apparently women everywhere wanted exactly what I possessed: a good man; a marriage-in-the-making; a “we”.

So I started searching out stories about those who had gone off-script with unconventional arrangements. In August, I flew to Amsterdam to visit an iconic medieval bastion of single-sex living. The Begijnhof was founded in the mid-12th century as a religious all-female collective devoted to taking care of the sick. The women were not nuns, but nor were they married, and they were free to cancel their vows and leave at any time. Over the ensuing centuries, very little has changed. Today the religious trappings are gone (though there is an active chapel on site), and to be accepted, an applicant must be female and between the ages of 30 and 65, and commit to living alone. The institution is beloved by the Dutch, and gaining entry isn’t easy. The waiting list is as long as the turnover is low.

I’d heard about the Begijnhof through a friend, who once knew an American woman who lived there, named Ellen. I contacted an old boyfriend who now lives in Amsterdam to see if he knew anything about it, and he put me in touch with an American friend who has lived there for 12 years: the very same Ellen.

The Begijnhof is big – 106 apartments in all – but even so, I nearly pedalled right past it on my rented bicycle, hidden as it is in plain sight: a walled enclosure in the middle of the city, set a metre lower than its surroundings. Throngs of tourists sped past toward the adjacent shopping district. In the wall is a heavy, rounded wooden door. I pulled it open and walked through.

Inside was an enchanted garden: a modest courtyard surrounded by classic Dutch houses of all different widths and heights. Roses and hydrangea lined walkways and peeked through gates. The sounds of the city were indiscernible. As I climbed the narrow, twisting stairs to Ellen’s sun-filled garret, she leaned over the railing in welcome – white hair cut in a bob, smiling red-painted lips. A writer and producer of avant-garde radio programmes, Ellen, 60, has a chic, minimal style that carries over into her little two-floor apartment. Neat and efficient in the way of a ship, the place has large windows overlooking the courtyard and rooftops below. To be there is like being held in a nest.

When an American woman gives you a tour of her house, she leads you through all the rooms. Instead, this expat showed me her favourite window views: from her desk, from her (single) bed, from her reading chair. As I perched for a moment in each spot, trying her life on for size, I thought about the years I’d spent struggling against the four walls of my apartment, and I wondered what my mother’s life would have been like had she lived and divorced my father. A room of one’s own, for each of us. A place where single women can live and thrive as themselves.

© 2011 The Atlantic Media Co. A longer version of this article first appeared in the Atlantic Magazine. Read the full version here. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services

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Kennedy death reporter dies at 85 November 26, 2011

Tom Wicker was born in a small town in North Carolina and became a legend of US journalism

A New York Times journalist who witnessed and chronicled the death of US President John F Kennedy has died of a heart attack at the age of 85.

Tom Wicker was the only Times reporter in the Kennedy motorcade when the president was shot in the head in Dallas in November 1963.

His reporting won him wide acclaim and led to roles as Washington bureau chief and a long-serving political columnist.

Wicker died at home in Rochester, Vermont, on Friday, his wife said.

“He’d been ill with things that come from being 85,” Pamela Wicker said.

“He died in his bedroom looking out at the countryside that he loved.”

Detailed account

Tom Wicker was a well-regarded Washington reporter for the New York Times, but not a household name, before his journey shadowing President Kennedy in Dallas.

His lengthy report to Times readers the next day filled more than two pages of the newspaper.

He used precise, fact-heavy sentences to relay the news of the president’s death to a nation in shock

Despite television coverage of the events the previous night, Wicker’s reporting was the most detailed account many Americans were to receive of the events.

“President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was shot and killed by an assassin today,” he wrote.

“He died of a wound in the brain caused by a rifle bullet that was fired at him as he was riding through downtown Dallas in a motorcade.”

Changing society

Gay Telese, author of a history of the New York Times, told the Associated Press: “It was a remarkable achievement in reporting and writing, in collecting facts out of confusion, in reconstructing the most deranged day in his life, the despair and bitterness and disbelief, and then getting on a telephone to New York and dictating the story in a voice that only rarely cracked with emotion.”

In the years after the Kennedy assassination Wicker served as Washington bureau chief, succeeding the legendary James Reston in that post.

In 1966 he began writing a political column, In The Nation, which ran continuously until his retirement in 1991.

His move into the opinion pages coincided with major shifts in US society and upheaval in American foreign policy. He was regularly critical of US policy in Vietnam.

He also published 20 books, from novels about life in the South to reflections on the presidents he knew.

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Here’s the risk: Occupy ends up doing the bidding of the global elite | Patrick Henningsen November 15, 2011

A 21st-century grassroots movement faces many pitfalls. This was as true back in 1968 as it is today. It could be infiltrated by law enforcement and intelligence agencies, or co-opted by a major party. As the state continues to creep further into our lives, activists can expect that it will use all its resources – not just the violent reaction seen in New York overnight, but also its agents, informants and surveillance packages – in its effort to monitor both sides of any serious social debate. Even bleaker, however, is the possibility that the movement was actually planned and launched by the very establishment activists thought they were waging a battle against in the first place. The larger the movement, the more interested a major party becomes in absorbing it into either the left or the right side of the current two-party paradigm.

The sudden emergence of America’s Tea Party movement in 2007 is a good example. Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, its inventor, used it as a springboard to highlight libertarian and constitutional issues during his 2008 campaign. Soon after, it was co-opted by key political and media influencers from the US right wing, associating itself less with a libertarian manifesto, and more with emerging figures within the Republican establishment. Now it is has morphed into nothing more than a block of voters whom the Republican party can rely to strike a deal with during an election cycle.

Arguably, the Occupy Wall Street movement has already drifted into the shadow of the Democratic party – with a number of Democratic establishment figures from the top down endorsing it. The Democrats’ own media fundraising and media machine, Move On, has visibly adopted the cause. Like the Tea Party before it, the Occupy block would swing a close election during a national two-party race, functioning as a pressure-release valve for any issue too radical for the traditional platform.

Alongside this is the threat of being infiltrated. Scores of declassified documents, along with accounts from veteran activists, will reveal many stories of members who were actually undercover police, FBI or M15. In the worst cases of infiltration, undercover agents have acted as provocateurs. Such incidents normally serve to radicalise a movement, thus demonising it in the eyes of society and effectively lessening its wider political appeal.

Although the global Occupy movement has branched out in an open-source way, many of its participants and spectators might be completely unaware of who actually launched it. Upon investigation, what one finds is a daisy chain of non-profit foundations, all tied together by hundreds of millions per year in operational funding. The original call for Occupy Wall Street came from non-profit international media foundation Adbusters. Like many non-profits, Adbusters receives its funding and operating capital from other behind-the-scenes organisations. According to research conducted by watchdog Activistcash, Adbusters takes a significant portion of its money from the Tides Foundation, an organisation partnered with one of Wall Street billionaire oligarch George Soros’s foundations, the Open Society Institute.

Although mostly hidden from the public eye, all major foundations and professional thinktanks undertake research and host training seminars, which are used to influence certain public and foreign policies, and thus, must have a political agenda. Theirs is the venue of choice for activities that cannot officially be conducted on the government clock.

Freedom House is another of Soros’s Open Society partners. It supports the Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (Canvas), an organisation started by Serbians Ivan Marovic and Srdja Popovic. After playing a pivotal role in the CIA-backed deposing of Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic, the western media hailed Marovic as a democratic genius, but it came out later that his programme came out of an elite Boston thinktank’s “regime change” manual, From Dictatorship to Democracy, written by Harvard professor Gene Sharp. Sharp’s book is a bible of the colour revolutions – a “regime change for dummies”. His Albert Einstein Institute is funded by the National Endowment for Democracy and Soros foundations, and his work serves as a template for western-backed opposition leaders in soft coups all around the world.

There are also reports of Canvas activity during the early days of Occupy Wall Street, including a video of Marovic himself addressing the general assembly. Currently, Canvas are touting their recent role in working with Egyptian and Tunisian protesters from as early as 2009, teaching skills that helped bring down their presidents and spark regional revolt.

When the dust settles and it’s all said and done, millions of Occupy participants may very well be given a sober lesson under the heading of “controlled opposition”. In the end, the Occupy movement could easily end up doing the bidding of the very elite globalist powers that they were demonstrating against to begin with. To avoid such an outcome, it’s important for a movement to have a good knowledge of history and the levers of power in the 21st century.

• Patrick Henningsen is speaking on Deep Politics and the Revolutions Business at Tent City University at St Paul’s on Sunday, 20 November at 4pm

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We need Occupy to help deliver equality | Kate Pickett

When Richard Wilkinson and I sat down towards the end of 2007 to start writing The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone, which was published in March 2009, we had a clear objective. After years of research, and having published a large number of papers in academic journals, we were frustrated that what we and other researchers had learned about the damage caused by income inequality was so little known.

We had shown that bigger income differences lead to worse physical and mental health, more drug use, violent crime and higher rates of imprisonment, less trust and worse child wellbeing, more children doing poorly in school and low social mobility. Yet when any of these problems were discussed in the media, there was absolutely no discussion of the role of inequality. Politicians and policymakers were happy to talk about poverty, but almost always failed to make the necessary distinction between absolute poverty and relative poverty. In the rich, developed countries, it is relative poverty and inequality that really matter and, because inequality wreaks its damage through status competition and status anxiety. Almost all of us are touched by the impact of inequality, not just the poor, the unemployed or the disenfranchised.

In the UK, as in so many other western countries, inequality began to rise dramatically and inexorably in the 1980s, because neoliberal economics became the dominant ideology, leading to reductions in top tax rates, anti-union legislation, deregulation of financial markets and an unhealthy emphasis on individual aspirations and materialism. We lost sight of the importance of a cohesive society and began to flatter and hero-worship the money-makers and financial “wizards” who were rewarding themselves so richly. Surveys showed that most British people felt that high salaries and bonuses must be deserved, because the people who earned them worked harder, or have superior abilities, and a large majority still feel that big income differences are “inevitable”.

Yet research studies, and a comparative perspective, show these beliefs are simply not true; they are myths that need to be debunked. Many successful market democracies have much smaller income differences than the UK, and perform much better on indicators of health and social wellbeing. Large income differences are no more inevitable than they are beneficial. Nobel prize-winning psychologist, Daniel Kahneman, in his new book Thinking, Fast and Slow discusses the large body of evidence showing that financial traders and investment advisers are not exercising high-level skill or professional expertise; any successes they have are due to luck more than judgment. Two out of three mutual funds perform worse than the market average every year. Yet their firms continue to reward them as if they were exhibiting skill and judgment.

So the truth is that not only are high salaries and bonuses often undeserved, but the inequality they create damages society. Those countries that have a smaller gap in income and wealth between the bottom 99% and the top 1% do not suffer, they flourish.

To some extent, what we hoped for when we wrote The Spirit Level has happened. There is now a much greater awareness of the effects of inequality among public, policy makers and politicians. There is more debate and more of an appetite for change. This is a necessary first step. In part it has also been due to the shock of the global financial crisis and the stock taking that has followed. Few doubt that it was the actions of the rich and the super-rich, the 1%, that created the crisis.

But sadly, debate has not yet been translated into action. Austerity measures hit hardest those who least deserve them. Regulation is resisted by those who have the most vested interests in maintaining their undeserved wealth. The voices and the rights of the 99% are still overwhelmed by the myth-peddling of the 1%, who continue to believe in their own superiority, in trickle-down economics and that the UK is a land where equality of opportunity means that anybody who works hard enough can rise to the top.

One UK survey showed that 80% of us support measures to tackle inequality. In the USA, when asked to choose between three different distributions of wealth, 92% of people said they would prefer to live in the society that, unbeknown to them, matched Swedish levels of equality.

This is why we need the Occupy movement and the staunch actions of the trade unions – why we need protest and demonstrations and activism. We must continue to demand that politics and policy serve the needs of the many, not the selfish demands of the few – the evidence supports this and so does the democratic opinion of the vast majority of the people.

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Womens’ Rights Unclear in Post-Gadhafi Libya November 8, 2011

As Libya heads toward elections, there are Western concerns its new government could move towards conservative Islam and limit the rights of women.

On Libya’s Liberation Day, transitional leader Mustafa Abdul Jibril said in the new Libya he wants men to be allowed to marry up to four wives, without getting permission from their existing wives, as a Gadhafi-era law required.

That raises concerns in the West, and among some Libyans.  But many Libyans take the announcement in stride, including unmarried 19-year-old university student Zakia Hassan who acknowledges that the arrangement of her future husband with multiple wives would not be a problem for her.

But other Libyan women express concerns. One woman stated: “I have no objection to Sharia, but we should not just give men the right to marry additional women and forget about the rights of his other wives.” Another, “I have no objection to men taking multiple wives, but not my husband.  Only if I’m sick and can’t take care of him.  But if I’m OK, no way I could accept that.” Yet another, “A man has the right to marry another woman, but he should get permission from his first wife.”

Libyan lawyer Manal al-Deber, who lived in Britain for 14 years, thinks Westerners are too worried about this aspect of Islam. “Everybody’s scared on this point,” she said. “But when you give man authority to do it, he will run away from it (laughs). “

Several men indicate she might be right. One man stated: “One wife is just enough.  We have many problems, and more than one wife, come on, we can take one and we can say that that’s it.  More than one, it might be a difficult problem.” Another, ““If you ask me for my own opinion, one woman is too enough for me.”

But clothing importer Marukh Dubruk has a different view. “I already have two wives, and I will take a third, God willing,” he said. In Sharia, we can have up to four wives, but a man must be fair with all of them.”

One concern is that allowing multiple wives would go along with limits on women’s rights.  But Libyan psychiatrist Iman Farhad, a mother of two, is not worried about that. “My husband wouldn’t do that.  And if he is going to do that, he doesn’t need my permission,” she stated. “He can do it without that.”

That is not going to convince those who worry about the future of women’s rights in Libya.  

But in fact the revolution inspired some women to get more involved in their society.  One organization that sprung up is Heartfelt Promise, founded by housewife Su’ad al-Feituri and several of her neighbors. “The goal is to raise the standards of Libyan women, for example by teaching them how to operate computers and how to speak English,” she said.”Democracy starts from the smallest units of society, and then it expands.”

All across the country, women joined in the celebrations of Libya’s liberation.  But as Libyans build their new society, one question they will have to answer is to what extent women will truly be involved.

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Tunisia Testing Newfound Freedom of Expression November 1, 2011

Tunisia’s revolution has exploded longstanding curbs to free expression.  Media, civil society groups and political parties are flowering.

Journalist and blogger Haythem el Mekki, 29, earns a living poking fun at politicians for Tunisia’s popular Radio Mosaique. It is the kind of free-wheeling satire that did not exist here a year ago.

During the marathon presidencies of former dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and his predecessor, Habib Bourguiba, Tunisian media was censored, human rights activists were hounded, and many people were afraid to speak their minds. Many who did ended up in prison, including members of the moderate Islamist Ennahdha Party, which emerged as the winner of last week’s election.

El Mekki counts among the young bloggers who drove Tunisia’s January revolution that ousted Ben Ali.

“If somewhere there was a demonstration in my town, I made videos, I uploaded them on the Internet, it is stuff like this,” said El Mekki. “But I did not write a single world about revolution on my blog. The bloggers of the revolution which all the media talks about are just people who reported about the revolution on social media.”

Today, the options for free expression have exploded. Dozens of political parties and civil society groups have formed. Even the state media now criticizes the government.

A survey by Human Rights Watch found all the parties running for the elections were committed to free expression. But as regional deputy director Eric Goldstein notes, with caveats.

“If you press them on issues like defamation of religion,” said Golstein, “if you press them on whether a Christian has the right to stand on the street and urge people to convert to Islam, there is not as much unanimity on that.”

Several incidents this year, including attacks on a synagogue and two movies considered to denigrate Islam, are raising fears of a new religious censorship in this once staunchly secular nation. Earlier this month, a small group of Islamist radicals attacked the private Nessma TV station after it broadcast animated movie Persepolis. They took issue, in particular, with its depiction of God.

Nessma’s head Nabil Karaoui describes the attack as a shock, but cautions against reading to much into it.  Others believe the Western media has hyped up the incident.

“I want to think that it was very special because of the elections and now the situation will be more calm and more normal and I hope that we will continue to find a way with this new constitution protections for media because because [there is] no democracy without free media,” he said.

But the attacks are raising new concerns about political Islam, particularly with Ennahdha’s strong show in the polls. Spokeswoman Yusra Ghannouchi says the party is committed to free expression.

“Freedom of the media as well, and artistic creativity,” she said. “And at the same time, people may express their opinion whether or not they agree with what is shown, as long as it is within the law and using peaceful means.”

El Mekki worries about another kind of censorship. Businesses stop advertising in media that criticize them. Sports fans are outraged when their teams get negative coverage.  He believes Tunisia’s new freedoms have bred intolerance.

“It is just like Ben Ali left and left us with about 10-million Ben Alis,” said El Mekki. “Everyone is trying to set up his rules and make himself command control everything.  Everyone wants to have the authority, everyone wants to be the new dictator.”

El Mekki hopes the new government, and ordinary Tunisians, will stay true to the principles of the January revolution – a demand for dignity and freedom.

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Zurana Horton was a hero – she just didn’t look like one | Teresa Wiltz October 26, 2011

At first blush, it’s the kind of story made for the insta-news cycle of 21st-century media: a mother picking up her kid up from school in Brooklyn spots a rooftop sniper, throws herself into the line of fire to protect a group of schoolkids and, while saving them, is shot and killed herself.

Most likely, if Zurana Horton were white and blonde, she would have been catapulted to the top of the news, her short and tragic story the stuff of People magazine covers and breathless segments on the Today show. After all, we’re a society obsessed with the stories of pretty white women and girls who come up missing or dead. Witness the endless coverage over Natalee Holloway, or Caylee Anthony, or the scary story du jour: missing baby Lisa.

But Horton, who was 34, was neither white nor blonde nor particularly photogenic: the first published picture of her was a blurry shot where large sunglasses obscured most of her smiling face. Nor did she have the kind of squeaky-clean narrative that fits easily into the feel-good story mould. She was poor, unmarried and the mother of 13; she lived in Brownsville, one of Brooklyn’s most notorious neighbourhoods. And she was black. On Monday, police charged three youths with the shooting.

Instead of being heralded for her bravery, Horton’s life is currently being held up for scrutiny and debate in the blogosphere. A typical post – Laurence Scott, a commenter on Global Grind, writes: “13 kids and pregnant and living in public housing. WOW. Rome is burning.” Meanwhile, on the New York Daily News site, commenters attack her – and each other – with ferocity. “I wonder how much of my tax money, both NY and federal, is going to go to supporting those 13 kids for the next several decades,” writes one commenter. “Hero? She would have been a hero if she had stopped at 2, at least to the rest of society that now has to pay for their welfare, education, Medicaid, food stamps.”

On The Root, an African-American website published by the Washington Post (full disclosure: I am the site’s senior editor), some took the “blame the victim” route. Writes WandaDoesIt: “Where it is OK for unmarred [sic] women to have 13 fatherless children can pretty much expect to have boys and young men shooting up the place … It is so tragic, but we can’t disconnect how she died from how she lived.” Then there’s BLKSeaGoat, who writes: “Her death was sad and the act heroic, but given the demographics of the neighborhood, coupled with the fact that she was working on her 13th [sic] child, can anyone honestly belive [sic] that this outcome wasn’t to be expected?”

Early reports that Horton was pregnant when she was killed didn’t help matters (according to the Daily News, the medical examiner on the case disputed those reports). The image of a black woman living in the projects and working on baby No 14 conjures old, hoary stereotypes of the fecund “welfare queen” vilified by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, who liked to talk about how the welfare queen had 80 names, 30 addresses, 12 social security cards, and collected benefits for “four nonexisting deceased husbands”, scamming the welfare system out of “over $150,000″.

As it turns out, Reagan’s queen didn’t exist; it is believed that he based his story on news reports at the time of a woman with two aliases who bilked the government out of $8,000. But fictional or not, she lives on in the psyche of the American public, her spectre hovering over news stories about a blameless Brooklyn mom who just happened to be at the right – and wrong – place at the right and wrong time.

There’s nothing like the internet to highlight just how far we haven’t come in this allegedly “post-racial” era of ours. Race is such a lightning rod, still, and the relative anonymity of the wild, wild web seems to unleash the worst in many of us. More often than not, our racial anxieties get played out in the comments sections. It’s interesting to note that Horton’s personal history came under attack from commenters of all races – black, white and other. Horton’s story becomes a kind of racial Rorschach blot, with everyone projecting his or her own fears and biases on to her tragedy.

Our willingness to judge Zurana Horton and find her wanting says a lot more about us than it does about this one heroic woman’s life.

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Animal welfare group gives Ohio low score in dealing with wildlife October 20, 2011

October 19, 2011

by legitgov


Animal welfare group gives Ohio low score in dealing with wildlife 19 Oct 2011 Even as officials on Wednesday continued their roundup of wild animals released from an Ohio preserve, animal welfare activists said that the Buckeye State has long ranked near the bottom among states dealing with dangerous wild animals. The Humane Society of the United States put Ohio in the lowest level, along with Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina and Oklahoma, in the agency’s 2009 report on how dangerous animals are treated. “Ohio’s Fatal Attractions,” a report from the Humane Society released earlier this year, focused on facilities within that state specifically.

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Ohio police call off hunt for freed wild animals

Police in the US have called off a big game hunt for more than 50 exotic animals freed from an Ohio game reserve, saying they were confident that the last animal unaccounted for, a snow monkey, had been eaten by one of the freed big cats before they were either shot or captured.

Eighteen rare Bengal tigers, 17 lions, six black bears and three grizzlies were among animals released from cages at the private Muskingum County exotic animal farm in Zanesville by its owner, Terry Thompson, before he shot himself on Tuesday.

Armed police scoured the countryside to catch the animals. It is estimated that 48 creatures were shot dead, some near Thompson’s body, as the search widened and nightfall approached.

Three mountain lions, a baboon and a wolf were also killed and three leopards, a grizzly bear and two monkeys were caught and taken to a zoo in Columbus, 55 miles away.

The Ohio sheriff, Matt Lutz, said on Wednesday that the monkey was thought to have been eaten by one of the big cats.

Thompson’s actions may have been a last act against his neighbours. He had reportedly had many run-ins with some of them, and with police.

Lutz, said his office had received numerous complaints about animals escaping on to neighbours’ property since 2004.

Angie McElfresh, who lives nearby, said Thompson’s death “could have been an ‘F-you’ to everybody around him”.

During the emergency, schools were closed, parents were warned to keep children and pets indoors and flashing signs along highways said: “Caution, exotic animals”, and “Stay in vehicle”.

“What a tragedy,” Barb Wolfe, a vet at the Wilds animal preserve in Ohio, said. “We knew that … there were so many dangerous animals at this place that eventually something bad would happen, but I don’t think anyone really knew it would be this bad.”

Wolfe tried to save a tiger by using a tranquilliser dart, but it charged her then tried to flee. It was shot and killed by sheriff’s deputies.

“I was about 15ft from him and took a shot and he didn’t respond too much and I thought we were OK, but within about 10 seconds he roared and started toward me,” she said.

Deputy Jonathan Merry, among the first to respond on Tuesday, said he had shot several animals including a grey wolf and a black bear that charged at him from 7ft away.

He described himself as an animal lover, but took pride in knowing that his actions were protecting the community. “All these animals have the ability to take a human out in the length of a second,” he said.

Police said they had to shoot to kill because they did not want animals which had been shot by tranquillisers regaining consciousness and escaping in the dark.

As the hunt wound down, a photo showing the remains of tigers, bears and lions in a field went viral online, provoking angry reactions among some viewers on social networking sites.

Locals said they were saddened by the deaths. One, Bill Weiser, said: “It’s breaking my heart, them shooting those animals.”

Will Travers, the chief executive of the California-based Born Free USA wildlife conservation organisation, said police had had no choice.

“It’s a tragedy for these particular animals – for no fault of their own, they’ve been shot, and I can see how difficult that decision was for the police,” he added.

It was a “horrific situation” that should “serve as a brutal reminder that wildlife belong in the wild and that no one should ever put the animals or the public at risk by trying to confine them in a zoo, circus, backyard or home, where serious injury or death can occur at any time.”

His organisation has logged 1,600 attacks and incidents involving such animals across the US.

Because most states did not keep accurate records of exotic animals entering, it was impossible to know exactly how many exotic animals were privately held as pets, he said. But 6,000 to 7,000 tigers are thought to be owned by private individuals.

Jack Hanna, a former director of the Columbus zoo, also defended the decision to kill the animals, but said: “It’s like Noah’s ark wrecking right here in Zanesville, Ohio.”

The Humane Society of the United States criticised the Ohio governor, John Kasich, for allowing a statewide ban on the trade of exotic pets to expire in April, and called for an emergency crackdown.

Wayne Pacelle, the society’s president, said: “Every month brings a new, bizarre, almost surreal incident involving privately-held, dangerous wild animals.

“In recent years, Ohioans have died and suffered injuries … owners of large, exotic animals are a menace to society, and it’s time for the delaying on the rulemaking to end.”

Lutz’s office said that 62-year-old Thompson had been charged over the years with animal cruelty and neglect, and with allowing animals to roam. He had left prison last month after serving a year for possessing unregistered guns.

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Police call off hunt for wild animals released in Ohio

American police have called off their big game hunt involving more than 50 exotic animals freed from an Ohio game reserve, confident that the last fugitive unaccounted for – a snow monkey – had been eaten by one of the big cats before they were shot or captured.

Eighteen rare Bengal tigers, 17 lions, six black bears and three grizzlies were among animals let loose from cages at the private Muskingum County exotic animal farm in Zanesville by owner Terry Thompson before he shot himself on Tuesday.

Armed police then scoured the countryside to catch them. It is estimated that 48 of the animals were shot dead – some near Thompson’s body – as the search widened and nightfall approached.

Three leopards, a grizzly bear and two monkeys were caught and taken to a zoo in Columbus 55 miles away.

Ohio sheriff Matt Lutz said on Wednesday the monkey was thought to have been eaten by one of the big cats.

Three mountain lions, a baboon and a wolf were also killed. Authorities said they would be buried on Thompson’s farm.

His suicide may have been a last act of spite against his neighbours. Thompson had reportedly had repeated run-ins with some of them and with police.

Lutz said the sheriff’s office had received numerous complaints since 2004 about animals escaping on to neighbours’ property.

During the emergency schools closed, parents were warned to keep children and pets indoors and flashing signs along highways announced: “Caution exotic animals” and “Stay in vehicle”.

“What a tragedy,” said veterinarian Barb Wolfe, of the Wilds animal preserve in Ohio.

“We knew that … there were so many dangerous animals at this place that eventually something bad would happen, but I don’t think anybody really knew it would be this bad.”

Wolfe tried to save a tiger by using a tranquilliser dart, but the animal charged her then tried to flee. It had to be shot and killed by sheriff’s deputies.

“I was about 15ft from him and took a shot and it didn’t respond too much and I thought we were OK, but within about 10 seconds he roared and started toward me,” she said.

Deputy Jonathan Merry, among the first to respond on Tuesday, said he shot several animals including a grey wolf and a black bear that charged him from 7ft away.

He described himself as an animal lover but took pride in knowing he was protecting the community.

“All these animals have the ability to take a human out in the length of a second,” he said.

Police say they had to shoot to kill because they did not want animals shot by tranquillisers regaining consciousness and escaping in the dark.

As the hunt wound down, a photo showing the remains of tigers, bears and lions in a field went viral online – provoking angry reactions among some viewers on social networking sites.

Locals were also saddened by the deaths. One, Bill Weiser, said: “It’s breaking my heart, them shooting those animals.”

Will Travers, chief executive of the California-based Born Free USA wildlife conservation organisation, said police had had no choice.

“It’s a tragedy for these particular animals, for no fault of their own they’ve been shot, and I can see how difficult that decision was for the police,” he said.

It was a “horrific situation” that should “serve as a brutal reminder that wildlife belong in the wild and that no one should ever put the animals or the public at risk by trying to confine them in a zoo, circus, backyard or home, where serious injury or death can occur at any time.”

His organisation has logged 1,600 attacks and incidents involving such animals across the US.

Because most states did not keep accurate records of exotic animals entering their state, it was impossible to know exactly how many exotic animals were privately held as pets, he said. But 6,000 to 7,000 tigers are thought to be held by private individuals.

Jack Hanna, former director of the Columbus zoo, also defended the decision to kill the animals, but said: “It’s like Noah’s ark wrecking right here in Zanesville, Ohio.”

The Humane Society of the United States criticised Ohio governor John Kasich for allowing a statewide ban on the trade of exotic pets to expire in April and called for an emergency crackdown.

Wayne Pacelle, president of the society, said: “Every month brings a new, bizarre, almost surreal incident involving privately-held, dangerous wild animals.

“In recent years, Ohioans have died and suffered injuries … owners of large, exotic animals are a menace to society, and it’s time for the delaying on the rulemaking to end.”

His office said Thompson, 62, had been charged over the years with animal cruelty and neglect, and with allowing them to roam.

He had left jail last month after serving a year for possessing unregistered guns.

Angie McElfresh, who lives near the reserve, said his death “could have been an ‘f-you’ to everybody around him”.

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Insurers Review Whether to Still Pay for Routine Screening October 15, 2011

Some insurers said they intended to continue paying for the test, while others said they would revisit their policies.

Both Aetna and Kaiser Permanente said it was unclear whether they would continue paying for the test. “We are currently reviewing the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force’s recent announcement on prostate cancer screening,” Jason Allen, a spokesman for Kaiser Permanente, said in an e-mail. “For our members who may have questions about the Task Force’s announcement, we encourage them to discuss the matter with their physicians.”

Other companies were quick to affirm support for the test — at least for now. United Healthcare said that it planned to continue paying for the test, which typically costs less than $50. WellPoint also said it would continue to pay for the test.

“Our coverage of P.S.A. testing remains unchanged at this time,” said Jill Becher, a spokeswoman for WellPoint. “However, we will be carefully following the American Cancer Society recommendations” in addition to those from the government panel.

The American Cancer Society has recommended against routine screenings since March 2010.

WellPoint and other insurers said that the recommendations would have no effect on payment for prostate biopsies and surgeries, the value of which were not addressed by the task force.

The doctors who must decide whether to continue administering the test may be less swayed by the panel’s recommendations, which will be open to public comments before they are finalized next week.

Those who believe in the P.S.A. test’s value said the task force’s recommendation would do little to shake their faith.

“I think the conclusion is misguided and wrong,” said Dr. Peter Carroll, chairman of urology at the University of California, San Francisco. While the P.S.A test should not be used in isolation, he said, “in conjunction with other risk factors like age, ethnicity and family history, it can help you give a man the best information about his personal risk.”

Indeed, the risk with the P.S.A. test is that it too often leads men to treat otherwise nonlethal prostate problems with aggressive chemotherapy or surgery. But some doctors insisted that the test was an important part of the diagnostic process.

Dr. Eric Klein, head of urology at the Cleveland Clinic, said he remained a believer in P.S.A. tests and would still encourage men without symptoms of prostate cancer to get them.

“Their recommendation won’t change our practice at all,” Dr. Klein said. “We’ll still recommend routine screening.”

In Dr. Klein’s opinion, the panel’s decision was based on an incorrect reading of the available data. “There’s clear data based on randomized trials, primarily from Europe, that shows P.S.A. testing reduced mortality,” he said.

Dr. J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, said men should consult with their doctors.

“But we are on record as having drawn similar conclusions” as the task force, he noted.

At least one clinician saw an upside to the new recommendations.

“Patients should not be lined up and blindly going and getting these blood tests without knowing the limitations of the test, as well as the benefits,” said Dr. Jeff Karnes, a urologist with the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

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America cannot afford such inequality | Michael Shank October 6, 2011

On the heels of the US government’s announcement that personal income of Americans has dropped for the first time in two years, Britain’s Richard Wilkinson – co-author with Kate Pickett of the book Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone – comes to Washington this week to talk with Congress about income inequality and its deleterious impacts on society. 
Whether any of this will be news to an American audience is doubtful, as no one is under the illusion that the US is doing well economically. In fact, last month Americans learned they have the highest poverty rate since the second world war (one in six Americans living below the poverty line) and the highest youth poverty rate (one in five young people, with Hispanic youth suffering most). Last month also concluded multiple “Made in America” tours by the congressional black and progressive caucuses who were responding to the cry of the unemployed, which is only getting louder and more desperate. More recently, the Warren Buffet-inspired tax debate, regarding whether millionaires should pay at least the same tax rate as the common worker, has surfaced fractiously, pitting President Obama and Democrats against most Republicans. Underlying these recent trends, the US still maintains one the highest income inequality rates among all wealthy countries.

How vexing it is to witness America’s inability to push for policies that could ensure more economic equality. Paradoxically enough, many Americans believe that they are already in the middle-upper tier of income earners or will eventually end up there. This inspires a reluctance to enact policies that would more equitably balance economic burden-sharing. America’s increasing poverty rates may finally change this dynamic as a 20 September Gallup poll points out: Those who supported raising taxes on the rich outnumbered opponents by 66% to 32%.

America’s past penchant for income inequality, however, is not financially sustainable, let alone morally excusable or philosophically justifiable by capitalists who claim this to be inherent in the system. This is where Wilkinson and Pickett’s data is useful. It shows that with income inequality comes with a host of health and social problems. The higher a country’s income inequality, the higher its infant mortality rates, obesity rates, homicide rates, illiteracy rates, mental illness rates, teenage births, incarceration rates, drug addiction rates, social immobility and lower life expectancy. In other words, the bigger the gap between a nation’s rich and poor populations, the greater dysfunction in that nation’s society.

It may come as no surprise to some that America has the highest income inequality among the entire rich world. It was developed largely in the last 30 years, exacerbated by tax policies that benefited the rich at the expense of the poor. It became increasingly difficult for Americans to get ahead, get insured, get educated and get a job, all of which helps with getting respect. Consequently, the bulk of America’s economic growth over the last 30 years has gone to the top one-100th of 1%, who make $27m annually per household, leaving 90% of American households to subsist on roughly $30,000 a year.

Name a rich country and our inequality rates beat them by a long shot – though it’s hardly something to brag about. We also have the highest rates of homicide, infant mortality, teenage births, drug addiction, mental illness, incarceration, social immobility and illiteracy. Name the social ill and we excel at it. 

These health and social problems wreak financial havoc on our society – not only in terms of lost productivity and potential, but also in terms of costs associated with containing the violence, healing the sick, and fixing the dysfunction. With each homicide, for example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calculate that the economy loses $1.65m in medical costs, loss of lifelong employment and economic productivity costs. With each prisoner, the US spends on average $35,000 per year for a total of $80bn annually for its correctional system. Add to this the total cost of lost productivity of the incarcerated, which is another $97.7bn. And don’t forget violent crime, which cost America $94bn in 2009.

Given these enormous costs to America’s economy, advocates of income equality must have a seat at conressional budget super-committee’s table, as it continues to convene on cost-cutting, and must push for policies that promote equal opportunity, health, education and poverty alleviation. Reduce income inequality and you reduce the rates of every kind of social malaise that are draining our federal, state and local budgets and services. Eradicate both and you have a certain moneymaker for America – a wise and worthwhile move for a country that just raised its debt ceiling.

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Rising atheism in America puts ‘religious right on the defensive’ October 2, 2011

About 400 people are preparing to gather for a conference in Hartford, Connecticut, to promote the end of religion in the US and their vision of a secular future for the country.

Those travelling to the meeting will pass two huge roadside billboards displaying quotes from two of the country’s most famous non-believers: Katharine Hepburn and Mark Twain. “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so,” reads the one featuring Twain. “I’m an atheist and that’s it,” says the one quoting Hepburn.

At the meeting, members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) will hear speakers celebrate successes they have had in removing religion from US public life and see awards being presented to noted secularist activists.

The US is increasingly portrayed as a hotbed of religious fervour. Yet in the homeland of ostentatiously religious politicians such as Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, agnostics and atheists are actually part of one of the fastest-growing demographics in the US: the godless. Far from being in thrall to its religious leaders, the US is in fact becoming a more secular country, some experts say. “It has never been better to be a free-thinker or an agnostic in America,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the FFRF.

The exact number of faithless is unclear. One study by the Pew Research Centre puts them at about 12% of the population, but another by the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture at Trinity College in Hartford puts that figure at around 20%.

Most experts agree that the number of secular Americans has probably doubled in the past three decades – growing especially fast among the young. It is thought to be the fastest-growing major “religious” demographic in the country.

Professor Barry Kosmin of Trinity College, who conducts the national Religious Identification Survey, believes up to a quarter of young people in the US now have no specific faith, and scoffs at the idea, prevalent in so much US media and culture, that the country is highly religious or becoming more so. “The trending in American history is towards secularisation,” Kosmin said.

He cites the example of the changing face of Sunday in the country. It was not too long ago when many sporting events were banned on Sundays and most shops were closed too. Now the opposite is largely true.

As in Britain, Sunday in the US has become a normal shopping day for many, or a day to watch big football or baseball games. “The great secular holiday in America is Super Bowl Sunday. Even in the deep south, the biggest mega-church changes its schedule to suit the Super Bowl,” Kosmin said.

He also pointed to social trends – greater divorce rates, gay marriage and much higher percentages of people having children out of wedlock – as other signs that the religious grip on society has loosened.

There are other indications, too. For a long time studies have shown that about 40% of US adults attend a church service weekly. However, other studies that actually counted those at church – rather than just asking people if they went – have shown the true number to be about half to two-thirds of that figure.

More Americans are now choosing to get married or be buried without any form of religious ceremony. At universities, departments devoted to the study of secularism are starting to appear. Books by atheist authors are bestsellers. National groups, such as the Secular Coalition of America (SCA), have opened branches across the country.

Herb Silverman, president of the Washington-based SCA, lives in Charleston, South Carolina. His local secularist group was founded in 1994 with 10 people, but now has 150 members. “I’ve been living here in the buckle of the Bible belt since 1976 and things are getting a lot better,” Silverman said.

Yet there is little doubt that religious groups still wield enormous influence in US politics and public life, especially through the rightwing of the Republican party. Groups such as Focus on the Family are well-funded and skilful lobbyists.

Kosmin said the attention paid by politicians and the media to religious groups was not necessarily a sign of strength. “When religion was doing well, it did not need to go into politics. Secularity of our population and culture is obviously growing and so religion is on the defensive,” he said.

However, it is still a brave US politician who openly declares a lack of faith. So far just one member of Congress, Californian Democrat Pete Stark, has admitted that he does not believe in God.

“Privately, we know that there are 27 other members of Congress that have no belief in God. But we don’t ‘out’ people,” said Silverman.

Others think that one day it will become politically mainstream to confess to a lack of faith as US political life lags behind the society that it represents. “Politicians have not yet caught up with the changing demographics of our society,” said Gaylor.

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US embassy cables: Americans funded groups that stalled Burma dam project September 30, 2011

The US embassy in Rangoon funded some of the civil society groups in the Burmese region that forced the government to suspend a controversial Chinese dam on the Irrawaddy river, according to a US diplomatic cable.

The January 2010 cable on the $3.6bn (£2.3bn) Myitsone dam project noted that local groups had “voiced strong opposition to the project on economic, environmental and cultural grounds and have organised grassroots campaigns to rally others to their cause”.

The cable, signed by then US charge d’affaires, Larry Dinger, went on to say: “An unusual aspect of this case is the role grassroots organisations have played in opposing the dam, which speaks to the growing strength of civil society groups in Kachin state, including recipients of embassy small grants.”

Dinger said that although Burma had launched a number of hydropower projects to address its acute electricity shortages, the Myitsone dam was widely seen as a Chinese project, with China the principal beneficiary.

“Given past evidence from foreign investments in Burma’s energy sector, it is very likely, as many locals believe, that both construction of the dam and the energy it produces will primarily benefit Chinese companies and consumers, rather than Burmese,” he said.

Presciently, he added: “Dam-related social unrest is a possibility in light of the already-tense political situation in Kachin state and the dislocations the project is expected to cause.”

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Wilson Greatbatch obituary September 29, 2011

The American inventor Wilson Greatbatch, who has died aged 92, devised the first practicable implantable heart pacemakers. They have saved thousands of lives and improved many more, and he continually sought to refine them.

While building a device for recording heart rhythms at the University at Buffalo, New York state, in 1956, Greatbatch inadvertently fitted it with an unsuitable resistor. As a result, it produced intermittent electrical impulses instead of oscillating ones. He had long believed that electrical stimulation could compensate for a failing heart, but felt it would be impossible to build a device small enough to be workable. It now came to him that a device might after all be buildable, and he determined to do so.

In two years he had miniaturised a device down to two cubic inches, and in May 1958 surgeons implanted it into a dog, whose heartbeat it demonstrably controlled. Pacemaker research was going on in other centres in the US and Europe, and the same year Swedish surgeons implanted the first pacemaker into a human. It failed after three hours. A second device lasted two days, and further improvement continued slowly.

Greatbatch left his job at Buffalo to develop his ideas in his garden shed, using his $2,000 savings. He collaborated with William Chardack at the Buffalo veterans hospital, and in 1960 a device was implanted into a 77-year-old man who lived for a further 18 months. In the same year, nine more patients, two of them children, received implants. The devices were built under licence by Medtronic, a leading US manufacturer.

However, Greatbatch was concerned that the zinc-mercury batteries needed to be changed surgically every two years. In the late 1960s he acquired rights to a newly developed lithium-iodine battery, and by 1972 his pacemakers lasted 10 years or more. Variable pacemakers, which allowed near-normal exercise, were developed in Britain in the 1980s. Greatbatch Inc is now a world-leading medical device company, and the most successful producer of pacemakers in the US.  

Greatbatch was born in Buffalo, the son of a builder who had emigrated from Britain. He was an amateur radio enthusiast in childhood. During the second world war, he worked in electronics, telecommunications and radar for the US navy, and as a rear gunner and chief radio operator in the airforce.

He married Eleanor Wright and worked as a telephone repairer for a year, until, with the help of the GI bill, he took a degree in electrical engineering at Cornell University, New York state (1950), supplementing his income by running the university’s radio transmitter and the electronics for their radio telescope. He then gained his MSc at Buffalo, and stayed in the city to teach part-time and work for the Taber Instrument Corporation, which declined to back his pacemaker development.

He held 330 patents, including one for a solar-powered canoe in which he paddled 160 miles when he was 72. The implantable pacemaker was named in 1983 as one of the 10 greatest engineering contributions to society by the US National Society of Professional Engineers.

Greatbatch never stopped “tinkering”, as he called it. He saw invention as an end in itself: “Nine things out of 10 don’t work – the tenth will pay for the other nine.” His Presbyterian upbringing and wartime survival as a rear gunner made him deeply religious, and he saw a divine hand in his work. Any failure was a sign from God contributing to future success.

He experimented with biofuels, and funded work on helium-based fusion as a power source. In a 2007 interview he said: “I’m beginning to think I may not change the world but I’m still trying.”

Eleanor died earlier this year. He is survived by a daughter and three sons. A fourth son predeceased him.

• Wilson Greatbatch, inventor, born 6 September 1919; died 27 September 2011

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Carl Oglesby obituary September 16, 2011

Carl Oglesby, who has died of lung cancer aged 76, was one of the most talented and interesting of the leaders of the 1960s American left. Within a short time of joining Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), in 1965 he became its president. He was passionate in his opposition to the Vietnam war, making a landmark speech at an antiwar rally in Washington, and became convinced that unless profound changes took place in American society, there would be more similar wars.

His honesty and intensely personal search for the truth made him a divisive figure, and he was subsequently attacked both by Marxists and by radical groups such as the Weathermen. Oglesby was invited by the Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver to be his vice-presidential running-mate for the Peace and Freedom party in 1968, but he declined.

Unlike many leaders of the American left, old and new, Oglesby came from an authentic working-class background. His family had migrated from the south, his father from South Carolina and his mother from Alabama. His father worked in a rubber plant in Akron, Ohio. Oglesby himself wore a beard, not as a badge of radicalism, but because he had suffered from acne in adolescence and his friends believed that his family were too poor to have it treated.

Oglesby was several years older than the other leaders of SDS, such as Tom Hayden and Todd Gitlin, and was married with three children by the time he became involved in radical activism. He had earlier studied at Kent State University – where the national guard later killed four students during a demonstration against the Vietnam war – but dropped out and went to live in Greenwich Village, then the bohemian quarter of Manhattan, where he worked as an actor and wrote three plays.

In 1960 he was in Ann Arbor, Michigan, working as a technical writer for the Bendix corporation, a defence contractor, and studying part time at the University of Michigan, where SDS was formed. When he wrote an article in a campus journal criticising US policy in Asia, three SDS members visited his home to recruit him. His intelligence and commitment so impressed his new colleagues that he was soon elected president of the organisation.

Oglesby was involved in a celebrated “teach-in” at Michigan, and he helped to organise the big demonstration in Washington on 17 April 1965, just after President Lyndon Johnson had started bombing North Vietnam. In November that year he spoke at a major demonstration against the war in Washington. His speech became a classic of the antiwar movement. “It was a devastating performance,” said the scholar and author Kirkpatrick Sale, “skilled, moderate, learned and compassionate, but uncompromising, angry, radical, and above all persuasive. It drew the only standing ovation of the afternoon [and] for years afterwards it would continue to be one of the most popular items of SDS literature.”

Oglesby was essentially an autodidact and developed a hybrid political philosophy of his own. He made himself unpopular with some by insisting that the men who led the US into the war were not bad people as individuals, and that the war was the product of systemic faults in American society. He came under the influence of the libertarian thinker Murray Rothbard and even aspired to a kind of fusion between the old right, in which he included such conservative figures as General Douglas MacArthur and Senator Robert Taft, and the new left.

In his 1967 essay Vietnamese Crucible, Oglesby rejected the “socialist radical, the corporatist conservative, and the welfare-state liberal” and challenged the new left to embrace American democratic populism and the American libertarian right. He refused to pay a portion of his taxes in protest at the Vietnam war.

After SDS collapsed in 1969, Oglesby worked as a musician, writing and recording two albums, described as psychedelic folk rock. He taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and settled in New Jersey. He became obsessed with the Kennedy assassination and other conspiracies and wrote several books about them.

His three marriages ended in divorce. He is survived by his partner, Barbara Webster, and by two daughters and a son from his first marriage.

• Carl Oglesby, political activist, writer and academic, born 30 July 1935; died 13 September 2011

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