mercredi, octobre 31, 2007

halloween safety

Please take a few minutes to read these simple rules to help keep everyone safe.
  1. Don't assume the telephone calls are coming from another house.
  2. When it appears that you have killed the monster, NEVER check to see if it's really dead.
  3. Never read a book of demon-summoning aloud.
  4. Don't go into the basement to check the power when the lights go out.
  5. If your children speak to you in Latin or any other language which they should not know, shoot them immediately. It will save you a lot of grief in the long run. However, it will probably take several rounds to kill them, so be prepared. This also applies to kids who speak with somebody else's voice.
  6. When you have the benefit of numbers, NEVER split up and go it alone.
  7. Don't have sex. Especially if you've noticed a few of your friends are missing!
  8. As a general rule, don't solve puzzles that open a portal to Hell.
  9. Never stand in, on, or above a grave, tomb, or crypt. This would apply to any other house of the dead as well.
  10. If you're searching for something which caused a loud noise and find out that it's just the cat, don't stand their sighing with relief, GET THE HELL OUT!
  11. If appliances start operating by themselves, don't check for short circuits; JUST GET OUT!
  12. Do not take ANYTHING from the dead.
  13. If you find a town which looks deserted, there's probably a good reason for it. Don't stop and look around.
  14. If at any time the house or place you're staying in asks you to get out - DON'T argue.
  15. If you're running from the monster, expect to trip or fall down at least twice, more if you are of the female persuasion. Also note that, despit e the fact that you are running and the monster is merely ambling along, it's still moving fast enough to catch up with you.
  16. If your companions suddenly begin to exhibit uncharacteristic behavior such as hissing, fascination for blood, glowing eyes, increasing hairiness, and so on, kill them immediately.
  17. Stay away from certain geographical locations, some of which are listed here: Amityville, Elm Street, Transylvania, Nilbog (you're in trouble if you recognize this one), the Bermuda Triangle, or any small town in Maine.
  18. If your car runs out of gas at night on a lonely road, do not go to the nearby deserted-looking house to phone for help. If you think that it is strange because you thought you had 3/4 of a tank, shoot yourself instead. You are going to die anyway, and will most likely be eaten.
  19. Beware of strangers bearing strange tools. For example: chainsaws, staple guns, hedge trimmers, electric carving knives, combines, lawnmowers, butane torches, soldering irons, band saws, or any devices made from deceased companions.
  20. If you find that your house is built upon a cemetery, now is the time to move in with the in-laws. This also applies to houses that had previous inhabitants who went mad or committed suicide or died in some horrible fashion, or had inhabitants who performed satanic practices in your living room.
Via Cass

jeudi, octobre 25, 2007

wildfires: 1:58 p.m. thursday

Politicians and the spin machine are in full effect, often at the expense of their constituents.

This blurb, about W. holding up traffic for folks trying to get back into their homes, pretty much sums up the situation:
Wildfires 2007: President's visit snarls traffic for RB returnees
Rancho Bernardo residents began their journey back home with a surprise today.

They were stuck in traffic for two to three hours sitting in their cars at a standstill because of President Bush's visit to their community.

Police and the CHP had blocked off Interstate 15 ramps to West Bernardo Drive, which leads to the recovery center that was opened yesterday. Cars lined up for miles on the freeway.

"I'm glad he's coming but it's unfortunate to keep us all waiting," said Joy Fleming, who lives in North Oaks.

Fed up with waiting, Barbara Gandre said she needed to drive her 87-year-old mother home to pick up medication for her 89-year-old husband.

Her mother just recovered from pneumonia in September and the family did not have masks to wear over their faces. They sat in their car with the windows rolled down because they only had a quarter tank of gas left.

"I cannot run the air conditioning or I'll run out of gas," Gandre said. "I am sick of this," she said.

mercredi, octobre 24, 2007


This system has literally made the difference between life and death in San Diego in the past few days.

More than 500,000 San Diegans evacuated from their homes this week. Many got calls in the middle of the night warning them to get out. Several more did not because they do not have landlines.

The fact is, if you live in San Diego, you know someone (or are someone) who got a reverse-911 phone call this week.

If you don't have a landline (I'm a cell phone-only kinda woman), then the City of San Diego has provided a method to register your cell phone number for reverse-911.

If you don't live in San Diego, contact your municipality to find out if this type of early warning system exists in your area.
Registering cell phones for Reverse 911

The city and county of San Diego have been alerting residents via home phones to evacuate in the wake of various fires for several days.

But city of San Diego residents can also register their cell phones to receive emergency alerts, such as an evacuation notice. To register, go to this Web site -- -- and enter the number, account address and personal e-mail. (It only works in IE on a PC.)

The county launched Alert San Diego -- a technologically advanced version of Reverse 911 -- last month and also has the capability to contact residents via cell phone. But county officials said they have yet to set up a Web site where people can register.

-- Craig Gustafson, staff writer

fire update: 10:18 a.m. wednesday

We're still safe.

Nolan's been evacuated as a precautionary measure, but everyone else is staying put.

The air quality is deteriorating. I'm at work (crisis communications team), and my boss handed me a N95 mask because of the ash and smoke in the air.

mardi, octobre 23, 2007

fire update- 10:45 p.m. tuesday

It's amazing that more than 500,000 people have evacuated in the past 36 hours, and done so in a reasonably quick manner. (You'd think that getting out of harm's way is a no-brainer, but many folks died in 2003 because they didn't get out in time - some wanted to save one more thing or just didn't know what was coming their way until it was too late to outrun the flames.) To be fair, the 2003 Cedar Fire taught all San Diegans that fire is unforgiving and completely unpredictable. That time, the wind died down and fire companies were able to beat back the inferno.

This time, several improvements have emerged, namely:
  1. A reverse 911 system that warns folks with landlines to prepare to evacuate. (Those of us with cell phones are still on our own.)
  2. A much better response time for those in affected areas.
Meanwhile, we're all glued to our television sets, computer monitors, and radios. We're doing our best to help each other out, filling our couches and spare rooms with the many folks who've been evacuated. Ahnold, the President, and others are reassuring us that we'll get everything we need to put an end to this, but true to form, the politicians are promising more than they can deliver. (What we really need is lots and lots of rain, no wind, and a dramatic drop in temperatures. Failing that, we'll take engine companies from other states, on-site insurance adjusters to get the re-building process started, and shelter for those displaced by the fires.)

It's devastating to learn that thousands of acres have been burned, that fires are still "0% contained," and that hundreds of homes have burned. And it's a horrible thing to see a friend drive up to your house with a car full of what matters most to her (a dog, a cockatiel, some clothes, and important papers). But it's also a wonderful thing to know that she's out of harm's way for the time being and (36 hours later) to learn that her home is still there, in spite of the devastation all around her neighborhood.

For more details on what our fire crews are up against, visit:

KPBS fire map (Leo and I live near the "o" in San Diego for the out-of-towners.)

fire update

We're still out of harm's way.

I'm staying at Leo's for now. (I've given my place to a colleague who had evacuate.)

Nolan, Diana, Ophira, Tiana, Allison, Daena, and Dana were all still in their homes as of 10 p.m. on Monday night.

Ash has evacuated.

lundi, octobre 22, 2007

wildfire weather

San Diego's on fire, again. For local residents, the smell of smoke, falling ashes, and hazy sky are a reminder of the firestorm of October 2003.

My home is not in any of the danger zones, but a few colleagues and friends evacuated shortly after 4 a.m.

Others have already lost their homes, and I can't imagine how devastating it must be to lose a lifetime of memories. Meanwhile, I'm amazed by this woman's response to the news that her home had burned down:
"The loss is way up in the double-digit millions," Lawrence said, noting the home contained family heirlooms, paintings and Elvis Presley memorabilia bought from his Graceland estate.

She said she was able to gather a few things before the fire engulfed her home, including some jewelry and memorabilia that included Elvis Presley’s Army fatigues.

She didn’t seem too worried about losing most of her belongings in the fire. "My parents taught me not to allow my possessions to posses me," Lilly Lawrence told KABC-TV. "So, that's the story. The house is a house."

dumbledore outed by j.k. rowling

It turns out that there was more than friendship between Dumbledore and Grindelwald.
Dumbledore’s outing gives text new meaning
The Associated Press
Updated: 1:53 p.m. PT Oct 21, 2007

NEW YORK - With author J.K. Rowling’s revelation that master wizard Albus Dumbledore is gay, some passages about the Hogwarts headmaster and rival wizard Gellert Grindelwald have taken on a new and clearer meaning.

The British author stunned her fans at Carnegie Hall on Friday night when she answered one young reader’s question about Dumbledore by saying that he was gay and had been in love with Grindelwald, whom he had defeated years ago in a bitter fight.

’“You cannot imagine how his ideas caught me, Harry, inflamed me,”’ Dumbledore says in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the seventh and final book in Rowling’s record-breaking fantasy series.

The news brought gasps, then applause at Carnegie Hall, the last stop on Rowling’s brief U.S. tour, and set off thousands of e-mails on Potter fan Web sites around the world. Some were dismayed, others indifferent, but most were supportive.

“Jo Rowling calling any Harry Potter character gay would make wonderful strides in tolerance toward homosexuality,” Melissa Anelli, webmaster of the fan site The Leaky Cauldron, told The Associated Press. “By dubbing someone so respected, so talented and so kind, as someone who just happens to be also homosexual, she’s reinforcing the idea that a person’s gayness is not something of which they should be ashamed.”

“‘DUMBLEDORE IS GAY’ is quite a headline to stumble upon on a Friday evening, and it’s certainly not what I expected,” added Potter fan Patrick Ross, of Rutherford, N.J. “(But) a gay character in the most popular series in the world is a big step for Jo Rowling and for gay rights.”

Gellert Grindelwald was a dark wizard of great power, who terrorized people much in the same way Harry’s nemesis, Lord Voldemort, was to do a generation later. Readers hear of him in the first book, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” in a reference to how Dumbledore defeated him. In “Deathly Hallows,” readers learn they once had been best friends.

“Neither Dumbledore nor Grindelwald ever seems to have referred to this brief boyhood friendship in later life,”’ Rowling writes. “However, there can be no doubt that Dumbledore delayed, for some five years of turmoil, fatalities, and disappearances, his attack upon Gellert Grindelwald. Was it lingering affection for the man or fear of exposure as his once best friend that caused Dumbledore to hesitate?”

As a young man, Dumbledore, brilliant and powerful, had been forced to return home to look after his mentally ill younger sister and younger brother. It was a task he admits to Harry that he resented, because it derailed the bright future he had been looking forward to.

Then Grindelwald, described by Rowling as “golden-haired, merry-faced,” arrived after having been expelled from his own school. Grindelwald’s aunt, Bathilda Bagshot, says of their meeting: “The boys took to each other at once.” In a letter to Grindelwald, Dumbledore discusses their plans for gaining wizard dominance: “‘(I)f you had not been expelled we would never have met.”’

Potter readers had speculated about Dumbledore, noting that he has no close relationship with women and a mysterious, troubled past.

“Falling in love can blind us to an extent,” Rowling said Friday of Dumbledore’s feelings about Grindelwald, adding that Dumbledore was “horribly, terribly let down.”

Dumbledore’s love, she observed, was his “great tragedy.”

dimanche, octobre 21, 2007

comment dit-on turns three

I started this blog for several reasons.

2077 posts later, I'm still here documenting recipes; pushing quotes; re-posting stories that inspire, outrage, and astound me; and sharing the best, worst, and truest parts of myself with the world.

Thanks for sticking with me.

muhammad yunus at ucsd

Today was a good day.

Leo and I went to see Muhammad Yunus speak at UCSD. Yunus, a Bangladeshi who was an economics professor in the US and returned home in the 1970s, won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for founding the microcredit movement. He was honored for a revolutionary idea: peace is inextricably linked to poverty. Poverty is a threat to peace. Eliminate poverty and you eliminate many of the obstacles to peace.

The microcredit movement and Grameen Bank were born with a simple gift of $27 that literally freed 42 people from moneylenders in a small village in Bangladesh. Today, Yunus talked about breaking all the rules of banking and how it is critical to unlearn what our formal education tells us is "the right way" or "the only way" to do things. He encouraged us to question our assumptions and see things in new ways.
I believe that we can create a poverty-free world because poverty is not created by poor people. It has been created and sustained by the economic and social system that we have designed for ourselves; the institutions and concepts that make up that system; the policies that we pursue.

Poverty is created because we built our theoretical framework on assumptions which under-estimates human capacity, by designing concepts, which are too narrow (such as concept of business, credit-worthiness, entrepreneurship, employment) or developing institutions, which remain half-done (such as financial institutions, where poor are left out). Poverty is caused by the failure at the conceptual level, rather than any lack of capability on the part of people.
His story, of turning banking on its head and lending to the poor, to women, and to those deemed the biggest risks, is compelling. But more than that, today he used his story to remind me (and several hundred other people) that we must recognize the potential in all people and give every human being a fair chance to unleash their energy and creativity.

I can't begin to capture the energy and quiet power of Dr. Yunus. But I hope that you'll find his ideas as transformational and inspiring as I did. Next step: finishing my MBA and putting my education to work in a "social business."
Nobel Lecture, Oslo, December 10, 2006.

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Honorable Members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Grameen Bank and I are deeply honoured to receive this most prestigious of awards. We are thrilled and overwhelmed by this honour. Since the Nobel Peace Prize was announced, I have received endless messages from around the world, but what moves me most are the calls I get almost daily, from the borrowers of Grameen Bank in remote Bangladeshi villages, who just want to say how proud they are to have received this recognition.

Nine elected representatives of the 7 million borrowers-cum-owners of Grameen Bank have accompanied me all the way to Oslo to receive the prize. I express thanks on their behalf to the Norwegian Nobel Committee for choosing Grameen Bank for this year's Nobel Peace Prize. By giving their institution the most prestigious prize in the world, you give them unparalleled honour. Thanks to your prize, nine proud women from the villages of Bangladesh are at the ceremony today as Nobel laureates, giving an altogether new meaning to the Nobel Peace Prize.

All borrowers of Grameen Bank are celebrating this day as the greatest day of their lives. They are gathering around the nearest television set in their villages all over Bangladesh, along with other villagers, to watch the proceedings of this ceremony.

This years' prize gives highest honour and dignity to the hundreds of millions of women all around the world who struggle every day to make a living and bring hope for a better life for their children. This is a historic moment for them.

Poverty is a Threat to Peace

Ladies and Gentlemen:

By giving us this prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has given important support to the proposition that peace is inextricably linked to poverty. Poverty is a threat to peace.

World's income distribution gives a very telling story. Ninety four percent of the world income goes to 40 percent of the population while sixty percent of people live on only 6 per cent of world income. Half of the world population lives on two dollars a day. Over one billion people live on less than a dollar a day. This is no formula for peace.

The new millennium began with a great global dream. World leaders gathered at the United Nations in 2000 and adopted, among others, a historic goal to reduce poverty by half by 2015. Never in human history had such a bold goal been adopted by the entire world in one voice, one that specified time and size. But then came September 11 and the Iraq war, and suddenly the world became derailed from the pursuit of this dream, with the attention of world leaders shifting from the war on poverty to the war on terrorism. Till now over $ 530 billion has been spent on the war in Iraq by the USA alone.

I believe terrorism cannot be won over by military action. Terrorism must be condemned in the strongest language. We must stand solidly against it, and find all the means to end it. We must address the root causes of terrorism to end it for all time to come. I believe that putting resources into improving the lives of the poor people is a better strategy than spending it on guns.

Poverty is Denial of All Human Rights
Peace should be understood in a human way − in a broad social, political and economic way. Peace is threatened by unjust economic, social and political order, absence of democracy, environmental degradation and absence of human rights.

Poverty is the absence of all human rights. The frustrations, hostility and anger generated by abject poverty cannot sustain peace in any society. For building stable peace we must find ways to provide opportunities for people to live decent lives.

The creation of opportunities for the majority of people − the poor − is at the heart of the work that we have dedicated ourselves to during the past 30 years.

Grameen Bank
I became involved in the poverty issue not as a policymaker or a researcher. I became involved because poverty was all around me, and I could not turn away from it. In 1974, I found it difficult to teach elegant theories of economics in the university classroom, in the backdrop of a terrible famine in Bangladesh. Suddenly, I felt the emptiness of those theories in the face of crushing hunger and poverty. I wanted to do something immediate to help people around me, even if it was just one human being, to get through another day with a little more ease. That brought me face to face with poor people's struggle to find the tiniest amounts of money to support their efforts to eke out a living. I was shocked to discover a woman in the village, borrowing less than a dollar from the money-lender, on the condition that he would have the exclusive right to buy all she produces at the price he decides. This, to me, was a way of recruiting slave labor.

I decided to make a list of the victims of this money-lending "business" in the village next door to our campus.

When my list was done, it had the names of 42 victims who borrowed a total amount of US $27. I offered US $27 from my own pocket to get these victims out of the clutches of those money-lenders. The excitement that was created among the people by this small action got me further involved in it. If I could make so many people so happy with such a tiny amount of money, why not do more of it?

That is what I have been trying to do ever since. The first thing I did was to try to persuade the bank located in the campus to lend money to the poor. But that did not work. The bank said that the poor were not creditworthy. After all my efforts, over several months, failed I offered to become a guarantor for the loans to the poor. I was stunned by the result. The poor paid back their loans, on time, every time! But still I kept confronting difficulties in expanding the program through the existing banks. That was when I decided to create a separate bank for the poor, and in 1983, I finally succeeded in doing that. I named it Grameen Bank or Village bank.

Today, Grameen Bank gives loans to nearly 7.0 million poor people, 97 per cent of whom are women, in 73,000 villages in Bangladesh. Grameen Bank gives collateral-free income generating, housing, student and micro-enterprise loans to the poor families and offers a host of attractive savings, pension funds and insurance products for its members. Since it introduced them in 1984, housing loans have been used to construct 640,000 houses. The legal ownership of these houses belongs to the women themselves. We focused on women because we found giving loans to women always brought more benefits to the family.

In a cumulative way the bank has given out loans totaling about US $6.0 billion. The repayment rate is 99%. Grameen Bank routinely makes profit. Financially, it is self-reliant and has not taken donor money since 1995. Deposits and own resources of Grameen Bank today amount to 143 per cent of all outstanding loans. According to Grameen Bank's internal survey, 58 per cent of our borrowers have crossed the poverty line.

Grameen Bank was born as a tiny homegrown project run with the help of several of my students, all local girls and boys. Three of these students are still with me in Grameen Bank, after all these years, as its topmost executives. They are here today to receive this honour you give us.

This idea, which began in Jobra, a small village in Bangladesh, has spread around the world and there are now Grameen type programs in almost every country.

Second Generation
It is 30 years now since we began. We keep looking at the children of our borrowers to see what has been the impact of our work on their lives. The women who are our borrowers always gave topmost priority to the children. One of the Sixteen Decisions developed and followed by them was to send children to school. Grameen Bank encouraged them, and before long all the children were going to school. Many of these children made it to the top of their class. We wanted to celebrate that, so we introduced scholarships for talented students. Grameen Bank now gives 30,000 scholarships every year.

Many of the children went on to higher education to become doctors, engineers, college teachers and other professionals. We introduced student loans to make it easy for Grameen students to complete higher education. Now some of them have PhD's. There are 13,000 students on student loans. Over 7,000 students are now added to this number annually.

We are creating a completely new generation that will be well equipped to take their families way out of the reach of poverty. We want to make a break in the historical continuation of poverty.

Beggars Can Turn to Business
In Bangladesh 80 percent of the poor families have already been reached with microcredit. We are hoping that by 2010, 100 per cent of the poor families will be reached.

Three years ago we started an exclusive programme focusing on the beggars. None of Grameen Bank's rules apply to them. Loans are interest-free; they can pay whatever amount they wish, whenever they wish. We gave them the idea to carry small merchandise such as snacks, toys or household items, when they went from house to house for begging. The idea worked. There are now 85,000 beggars in the program. About 5,000 of them have already stopped begging completely. Typical loan to a beggar is $12.

We encourage and support every conceivable intervention to help the poor fight out of poverty. We always advocate microcredit in addition to all other interventions, arguing that microcredit makes those interventions work better.

Information Technology for the Poor
Information and communication technology (ICT) is quickly changing the world, creating distanceless, borderless world of instantaneous communications. Increasingly, it is becoming less and less costly. I saw an opportunity for the poor people to change their lives if this technology could be brought to them to meet their needs.

As a first step to bring ICT to the poor we created a mobile phone company, Grameen Phone. We gave loans from Grameen Bank to the poor women to buy mobile phones to sell phone services in the villages. We saw the synergy between microcredit and ICT.

The phone business was a success and became a coveted enterprise for Grameen borrowers. Telephone-ladies quickly learned and innovated the ropes of the telephone business, and it has become the quickest way to get out of poverty and to earn social respectability. Today there are nearly 300,000 telephone ladies providing telephone service in all the villages of Bangladesh . Grameen Phone has more than 10 million subscribers, and is the largest mobile phone company in the country. Although the number of telephone-ladies is only a small fraction of the total number of subscribers, they generate 19 per cent of the revenue of the company. Out of the nine board members who are attending this grand ceremony today 4 are telephone-ladies.

Grameen Phone is a joint-venture company owned by Telenor of Norway and Grameen Telecom of Bangladesh. Telenor owns 62 per cent share of the company, Grameen Telecom owns 38 per cent. Our vision was to ultimately convert this company into a social business by giving majority ownership to the poor women of Grameen Bank. We are working towards that goal. Someday Grameen Phone will become another example of a big enterprise owned by the poor.

Free Market Economy
Capitalism centers on the free market. It is claimed that the freer the market, the better is the result of capitalism in solving the questions of what, how, and for whom. It is also claimed that the individual search for personal gains brings collective optimal result.

I am in favor of strengthening the freedom of the market. At the same time, I am very unhappy about the conceptual restrictions imposed on the players in the market. This originates from the assumption that entrepreneurs are one-dimensional human beings, who are dedicated to one mission in their business lives − to maximize profit. This interpretation of capitalism insulates the entrepreneurs from all political, emotional, social, spiritual, environmental dimensions of their lives. This was done perhaps as a reasonable simplification, but it stripped away the very essentials of human life.

Human beings are a wonderful creation embodied with limitless human qualities and capabilities. Our theoretical constructs should make room for the blossoming of those qualities, not assume them away.

Many of the world's problems exist because of this restriction on the players of free-market. The world has not resolved the problem of crushing poverty that half of its population suffers. Healthcare remains out of the reach of the majority of the world population. The country with the richest and freest market fails to provide healthcare for one-fifth of its population.

We have remained so impressed by the success of the free-market that we never dared to express any doubt about our basic assumption. To make it worse, we worked extra hard to transform ourselves, as closely as possible, into the one-dimensional human beings as conceptualized in the theory, to allow smooth functioning of free market mechanism.

By defining "entrepreneur" in a broader way we can change the character of capitalism radically, and solve many of the unresolved social and economic problems within the scope of the free market. Let us suppose an entrepreneur, instead of having a single source of motivation (such as, maximizing profit), now has two sources of motivation, which are mutually exclusive, but equally compelling − a) maximization of profit and b) doing good to people and the world.

Each type of motivation will lead to a separate kind of business. Let us call the first type of business a profit-maximizing business, and the second type of business as social business.

Social business will be a new kind of business introduced in the market place with the objective of making a difference in the world. Investors in the social business could get back their investment, but will not take any dividend from the company. Profit would be ploughed back into the company to expand its outreach and improve the quality of its product or service. A social business will be a non-loss, non-dividend company.

Once social business is recognized in law, many existing companies will come forward to create social businesses in addition to their foundation activities. Many activists from the non-profit sector will also find this an attractive option. Unlike the non-profit sector where one needs to collect donations to keep activities going, a social business will be self-sustaining and create surplus for expansion since it is a non-loss enterprise. Social business will go into a new type of capital market of its own, to raise capital.

Young people all around the world, particularly in rich countries, will find the concept of social business very appealing since it will give them a challenge to make a difference by using their creative talent. Many young people today feel frustrated because they cannot see any worthy challenge, which excites them, within the present capitalist world. Socialism gave them a dream to fight for. Young people dream about creating a perfect world of their own.

Almost all social and economic problems of the world will be addressed through social businesses. The challenge is to innovate business models and apply them to produce desired social results cost-effectively and efficiently. Healthcare for the poor, financial services for the poor, information technology for the poor, education and training for the poor, marketing for the poor, renewable energy − these are all exciting areas for social businesses.

Social business is important because it addresses very vital concerns of mankind. It can change the lives of the bottom 60 per cent of world population and help them to get out of poverty.

Grameen's Social Business
Even profit maximizing companies can be designed as social businesses by giving full or majority ownership to the poor. This constitutes a second type of social business. Grameen Bank falls under this category of social business.

The poor could get the shares of these companies as gifts by donors, or they could buy the shares with their own money. The borrowers with their own money buy Grameen Bank shares, which cannot be transferred to non-borrowers. A committed professional team does the day-to-day running of the bank.

Bilateral and multi-lateral donors could easily create this type of social business. When a donor gives a loan or a grant to build a bridge in the recipient country, it could create a "bridge company" owned by the local poor. A committed management company could be given the responsibility of running the company. Profit of the company will go to the local poor as dividend, and towards building more bridges. Many infrastructure projects, like roads, highways, airports, seaports, utility companies could all be built in this manner.

Grameen has created two social businesses of the first type. One is a yogurt factory, to produce fortified yogurt to bring nutrition to malnourished children, in a joint venture with Danone. It will continue to expand until all malnourished children of Bangladesh are reached with this yogurt. Another is a chain of eye-care hospitals. Each hospital will undertake 10,000 cataract surgeries per year at differentiated prices to the rich and the poor.

Social Stock Market
To connect investors with social businesses, we need to create social stock market where only the shares of social businesses will be traded. An investor will come to this stock-exchange with a clear intention of finding a social business, which has a mission of his liking. Anyone who wants to make money will go to the existing stock-market.

To enable a social stock-exchange to perform properly, we will need to create rating agencies, standardization of terminology, definitions, impact measurement tools, reporting formats, and new financial publications, such as, The Social Wall Street Journal. Business schools will offer courses and business management degrees on social businesses to train young managers how to manage social business enterprises in the most efficient manner, and, most of all, to inspire them to become social business entrepreneurs themselves.

Role of Social Businesses in Globalization
I support globalization and believe it can bring more benefits to the poor than its alternative. But it must be the right kind of globalization. To me, globalization is like a hundred-lane highway criss-crossing the world. If it is a free-for-all highway, its lanes will be taken over by the giant trucks from powerful economies. Bangladeshi rickshaw will be thrown off the highway. In order to have a win-win globalization we must have traffic rules, traffic police, and traffic authority for this global highway. Rule of "strongest takes it all" must be replaced by rules that ensure that the poorest have a place and piece of the action, without being elbowed out by the strong. Globalization must not become financial imperialism.

Powerful multi-national social businesses can be created to retain the benefit of globalization for the poor people and poor countries. Social businesses will either bring ownership to the poor people, or keep the profit within the poor countries, since taking dividends will not be their objective. Direct foreign investment by foreign social businesses will be exciting news for recipient countries. Building strong economies in the poor countries by protecting their national interest from plundering companies will be a major area of interest for the social businesses.

We Create What We Want
We get what we want, or what we don't refuse. We accept the fact that we will always have poor people around us, and that poverty is part of human destiny. This is precisely why we continue to have poor people around us. If we firmly believe that poverty is unacceptable to us, and that it should not belong to a civilized society, we would have built appropriate institutions and policies to create a poverty-free world.

We wanted to go to the moon, so we went there. We achieve what we want to achieve. If we are not achieving something, it is because we have not put our minds to it. We create what we want.

What we want and how we get to it depends on our mindsets. It is extremely difficult to change mindsets once they are formed. We create the world in accordance with our mindset. We need to invent ways to change our perspective continually and reconfigure our mindset quickly as new knowledge emerges. We can reconfigure our world if we can reconfigure our mindset.

We Can Put Poverty in the Museums
I believe that we can create a poverty-free world because poverty is not created by poor people. It has been created and sustained by the economic and social system that we have designed for ourselves; the institutions and concepts that make up that system; the policies that we pursue.

Poverty is created because we built our theoretical framework on assumptions which under-estimates human capacity, by designing concepts, which are too narrow (such as concept of business, credit-worthiness, entrepreneurship, employment) or developing institutions, which remain half-done (such as financial institutions, where poor are left out). Poverty is caused by the failure at the conceptual level, rather than any lack of capability on the part of people.

I firmly believe that we can create a poverty-free world if we collectively believe in it. In a poverty-free world, the only place you would be able to see poverty is in the poverty museums. When school children take a tour of the poverty museums, they would be horrified to see the misery and indignity that some human beings had to go through. They would blame their forefathers for tolerating this inhuman condition, which existed for so long, for so many people.

A human being is born into this world fully equipped not only to take care of him or herself, but also to contribute to enlarging the well being of the world as a whole. Some get the chance to explore their potential to some degree, but many others never get any opportunity, during their lifetime, to unwrap the wonderful gift they were born with. They die unexplored and the world remains deprived of their creativity, and their contribution.

Grameen has given me an unshakeable faith in the creativity of human beings. This has led me to believe that human beings are not born to suffer the misery of hunger and poverty.

To me poor people are like bonsai trees. When you plant the best seed of the tallest tree in a flower-pot, you get a replica of the tallest tree, only inches tall. There is nothing wrong with the seed you planted, only the soil-base that is too inadequate. Poor people are bonsai people. There is nothing wrong in their seeds. Simply, society never gave them the base to grow on. All it needs to get the poor people out of poverty for us to create an enabling environment for them. Once the poor can unleash their energy and creativity, poverty will disappear very quickly.

Let us join hands to give every human being a fair chance to unleash their energy and creativity.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me conclude by expressing my deep gratitude to the Norwegian Nobel Committee for recognizing that poor people, and especially poor women, have both the potential and the right to live a decent life, and that microcredit helps to unleash that potential.

I believe this honor that you give us will inspire many more bold initiatives around the world to make a historical breakthrough in ending global poverty.

Thank you very much.


"We see the poor people as human 'bonsai'. If a healthy seed of a giant tree is planted in a flower-pot, the tree that will grow will be a miniature version of the giant tree. It is not because of any fault in the seed, because there is no fault in the seed. It is only because the seed has been denied of the real base to grow on.

People are poor because society has denied them the real social and economic base to grow on. They are given only the 'flower-pots' to grow on. Grameen's effort is to move them from the 'flower-pot' to the real soil of the society. If we can succeed in doing that there will be no human 'bonsai' in the world."
Muhammad Yunus, Bangladeshi man who won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize and founded the Grameen Bank and the microcredit movement.

vendredi, octobre 19, 2007

drinking for two

Conventional wisdom is often hooey. Take, for example, the range in differences across cultures for what is considered bad for pregnant women to consume ... what's completely verboten in one culture is encouraged in others (witness the French concern about raw salads and the advice women get in the US to eat as many fruits and vegetables as possible).

My pregnant friends have opened my eyes to the dangers of chocolate, sushi, raw cheeses, and deli meats while they've got little ones in utero. Lucky for me, by the time I have a child, I'll be abroad and my doctors will no doubt encourage me to enjoy all things in moderation, including the occasional glass of wine with dinner.
The Weighty Responsibility of Drinking for Two

Published: November 29, 2006
IT happens at coffee bars. It happens at cheese counters. But most of all, it happens at bars and restaurants. Pregnant women are slow-moving targets for strangers who judge what we eat — and, especially, drink.

“Nothing makes people more uncomfortable than a pregnant woman sitting at the bar,” said Brianna Walker, a bartender in Los Angeles. “The other customers can’t take their eyes off her.”

Drinking during pregnancy quickly became taboo in the United States after 1981, when the Surgeon General began warning women about the dangers of alcohol. The warnings came after researchers at the University of Washington identified Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, a group of physical and mental birth defects caused by alcohol consumption, in 1973. In its recommendations, the government does not distinguish between heavy drinking and the occasional beer: all alcohol poses an unacceptable risk, it says.

So those of us who drink, even occasionally, during pregnancy face unanswerable questions, like why would anyone risk the health of a child for a passing pleasure like a beer?

“It comes down to this: I just don’t buy it,” said Holly Masur, a mother of two in Deerfield, Ill., who often had half a glass of wine with dinner during her pregnancies, based on advice from both her mother and her obstetrician. “How can a few sips of wine be dangerous when women used to drink martinis and smoke all through their pregnancies?”

Many American obstetricians, skeptical about the need for total abstinence, quietly tell their patients that an occasional beer or glass of wine — no hard liquor — is fine.

“If a patient tells me that she’s drinking two or three glasses of wine a week, I am personally comfortable with that after the first trimester,” said Dr. Austin Chen, an obstetrician in TriBeCa. “But technically I am sticking my neck out by saying so.”

Americans’ complicated relationship with food and drink — in which everything desirable is also potentially dangerous — only becomes magnified in pregnancy.

When I was pregnant with my first child in 2001 there was so much conflicting information that doubt became a reflexive response. Why was tea allowed but not coffee? How could all “soft cheeses” be forbidden if cream cheese was recommended? What were the real risks of having a glass of wine on my birthday?

Pregnant women are told that danger lurks everywhere: listeria in soft cheese, mercury in canned tuna, salmonella in fresh-squeezed orange juice. Our responsibility for minimizing risk through perfect behavior feels vast.

Eventually, instead of automatically following every rule, I began looking for proof.

Proof, it turns out, is hard to come by when it comes to “moderate” or “occasional” drinking during pregnancy. Standard definitions, clinical trials and long-range studies simply do not exist.

“Clinically speaking, there is no such thing as moderate drinking in pregnancy” said Dr. Ernest L. Abel, a professor at Wayne State University Medical School in Detroit, who has led many studies on pregnancy and alcohol. “The studies address only heavy drinking” — defined by the National Institutes of Health as five drinks or more per day — “or no drinking.”

Most pregnant women in America say in surveys that they do not drink at all — although they may not be reporting with total accuracy. But others make a conscious choice not to rule out drinking altogether.

For me, the desire to drink turned out to be all tied up with the ritual of the table — sitting down in a restaurant, reading the menu, taking that first bite of bread and butter. That was the only time, I found, that sparkling water or nonalcoholic beer didn’t quite do it. And so, after examining my conscience and the research available, I concluded that one drink with dinner was an acceptable risk.

My husband, frankly, is uncomfortable with it. But he recognizes that there is no way for him to put himself in my position, or to know what he would do under the same circumstances.

While occasional drinking is not a decision I take lightly, it is also a decision in which I am not (quite) alone. Lisa Felter McKenney, a teacher in Chicago whose first child is due in January, said she feels comfortable at her current level of three drinks a week, having been grudgingly cleared by her obstetrician. “Being able to look forward to a beer with my husband at the end of the day really helps me deal with the horrible parts of being pregnant,” she said. “It makes me feel like myself: not the alcohol, but the ritual. Usually I just take a few sips and that’s enough.”

Ana Sortun, a chef in Cambridge, Mass., who gave birth last year, said that she (and the nurse practitioner who delivered her baby) both drank wine during their pregnancies. “I didn’t do it every day, but I did it often,” she said. “Ultimately I trusted my own instincts, and my doctor’s, more than anything else. Plus, I really believe all that stuff about the European tradition.”

Many women who choose to drink have pointed to the habits of European women who legendarily drink wine, eat raw-milk cheese and quaff Guinness to improve breast milk production, as justification for their own choices in pregnancy.

Of course, those countries have their own taboos. “Just try to buy unpasteurized cheese in England, or to eat salad in France when you’re pregnant,” wrote a friend living in York, England. (Many French obstetricians warn patients that raw vegetables are risky.) However, she said, a drink a day is taken for granted. In those cultures, wine and beer are considered akin to food, part of daily life; in ours, they are treated more like drugs.

But more European countries are adopting the American stance of abstinence. Last month, France passed legislation mandating American-style warning labels on alcohol bottles, beginning in October 2007.

If pregnant Frenchwomen are giving up wine completely (although whether that will happen is debatable — the effects of warning labels are far from proven), where does that leave the rest of us?

“I never thought it would happen,” said Jancis Robinson, a prominent wine critic in Britain, one of the few countries with government guidelines that still allow pregnant women any alcohol — one to two drinks per week. Ms. Robinson, who spent three days tasting wine for her Masters of Wine qualification in 1990 while pregnant with her second child, said that she studied the research then available and while she was inclined to be cautious, she didn’t see proof that total abstinence was the only safe course.

One thing is certain: drinking is a confusing and controversial choice for pregnant women, and among the hardest areas in which to interpret the research.

Numerous long-term studies, including the original one at the University of Washington at Seattle, have established beyond doubt that heavy drinkers are taking tremendous risks with their children’s health.

But for women who want to apply that research to the question of whether they must refuse a single glass of Champagne on New Year’s Eve or a serving of rum-soaked Christmas pudding, there is almost no information at all.

My own decision came down to a stubborn conviction that feels like common sense: a single drink — sipped slowly, with food to slow the absorption — is unlikely to have much effect.

Some clinicians agree with that instinct. Others claim that the threat at any level is real.

“Blood alcohol level is the key,” said Dr. Abel, whose view, after 30 years of research, is that brain damage and other alcohol-related problems most likely result from the spikes in blood alcohol concentration that come from binge drinking — another difficult definition, since according to Dr. Abel a binge can be as few as two drinks, drunk in rapid succession, or as many as 14, depending on a woman’s physiology.

Because of ethical considerations, virtually no clinical trials can be performed on pregnant women.

“Part of the research problem is that we have mostly animal studies to work with,” Dr. Abel said. “And who knows what is two drinks, for a mouse?”

Little attention has been paid to pregnant women at the low end of the consumption spectrum because there isn’t a clear threat to public health there, according to Janet Golden, a history professor at Rutgers who has written about Americans’ changing attitudes toward drinking in pregnancy.

The research — and the public health concern — is focused on getting pregnant women who don’t regulate their intake to stop completely.

And the public seems to seriously doubt whether pregnant women can be trusted to make responsible decisions on their own.

“Strangers, and courts, will intervene with a pregnant woman when they would never dream of touching anyone else,” Ms. Golden said.

Ms. Walker, the bartender, agreed. “I’ve had customers ask me to tell them what the pregnant woman is drinking,” she said. “But I don’t tell them. Like with all customers, unless someone is drunk and difficult it’s no one else’s business — or mine.”

mercredi, octobre 17, 2007

keeping our country safe, one rock star at a time

Does DHS think that it's making us safer by sending (protected) political speech into bureaucratic purgatory? The next thing they're gonna tell me is that by buying the album, I'm helping the terrorists win.
Death Cab For Cutie Guitarist's Homeland Security Surprise
Oct 16 2007 3:01 PM EDT
Death Cab For Cutie Guitarist Baffled By Homeland Security's Seizure Of His Album. Government snatched up master hard drive containing song files for Chris Walla's solo LP, which, coincidentally, is politically charged.
By James Montgomery

When Death Cab for Cutie guitarist/producer Chris Walla woke up on Monday, his "To Do" list probably read something like this:

1. Call MTV News to discuss upcoming, long-delayed solo record.
2. Call U.S. Department of Homeland Security to discuss seizure of hard drive containing said long-delayed solo record.
3. Head into town for weekly tuque fitting.

Yes, it seems that recently, Walla's solo record (which has been scheduled to come out at various points over the past, well, four years) took another step toward oblivion when the master hard drive — containing all song files — was confiscated by Homeland Security at the Canadian border, for reasons not abundantly clear, and sent to the department's computer-forensics division for further inspection.

If it sounds like a huge joke, Walla ensures you it isn't.

"It's a true story. Barsuk [Records, which is putting out the record] had hired a courier — who does international stuff all the time and who they had used before — to bring [the album] back from Canada, where I was working on it. And he got to the border and he had all his paperwork and it was all cool, only they turned him away, and they confiscated the drive and gave it to the computer-forensics division of our Homeland Security-type people," sighed Walla, who has produced nearly all Death Cab's output, as well as records by the Decemberists, Hot Hot Heat, Nada Surf, Tegan and Sara and others. "And now I couldn't even venture a guess as to where it is, or what it's doing there. I mean, I can't just call their customer-service center and ask about my drive. There's nothing I can do. I don't know if we can hire an attorney ... is there a black-hole attorney? You can't take a black hole to court."

And though his song files might have disappeared into a web of government bureaucracy, Walla does still have the tapes containing all his songs, which he's now trying to master and mix on his own in order to have the record out — Lord willin' — in January.

"Luckily, the tapes are Plan B, so while I'm bummed about the whole thing, it could be a whole lot worse," he laughed. "I still get to play music. I mean, I'm not at Guantánamo or anything like that. I mean, my drive might be. They could be water-boarding my drive for all I know."

And though Walla's laughing when he mentions Guantánamo, he's not joking when he adds that his record — which he's calling Field Manual — is "very political," packed with songs about issues both foreign ("The Score" tackles the war in Iraq) and domestic ("Everyone Needs a Home" deals with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina; "Sing Again" is about so-called "morning after" pills and whether they're a form of contraception or abortion). Easy listening, this is not.

"I'm calling it Field Manual because myself and the guy who designed the packaging were looking through all these Army field guides from World War II. And there was one that he found that was really terrifying, actually," Walla explained. "It was basically a manual issued by the Army in the late '30s, early '40s, about how to build what we now call an [improvised explosive device] in Iraq or Afghanistan. Like how to hide a bomb in a bed or in a tube of toothpaste. Just terrible stuff, and I started having this feeling of, like, 'Well, we need a new field manual.'

"And while it really is a political record, it's also intensely personal, and it's not like, political in a way where I hope to change anyone's mind, because I've been doing my political-rock homework for a few years now, trying to decode what works and what doesn't," he continued. "Basically, it was my hope that I would be able to write a bunch of songs about the sh-- that I think about pretty much every day. But there aren't any character assassinations or indictments on the record. It's tricky to write a political record. It was tough to get to a place where I felt comfortable with the words coming out of my mouth."

And getting to that place has taken awhile. Walla said that though he's been writing songs for years, it took him a long time to figure out just what he was trying to say. As it turns out, he had plenty to say, and Field Manual is the sound of him coming to that realization (he credits the directness of Ted Leo, Against Me! and the Thermals' Hutch Harris as "touchstones" for that discovery). And while he hustles to finish the record — and continue work on Death Cab for Cutie's new record, which he said is "coming along super heavy ... we've got six songs done. They're really bloody" — he's finally prepared to stand on his own, come hell or high water. Or looming, shadow-like government organizations.

"This is a solo record, which is a little bit scary, because there's a feeling of 'Oh, you're officially making a statement,' and you're either the fist-waving left or the flag-waving right, and there's no in between," he laughed. "But I made this record because it felt irresponsible for me to have a platform for what I'm thinking and not use it. And not just to do political songs. If all I wanted to do was cover Air Supply songs, I could've done that too."

arigona's saga

I can't say as I blame the Zogajs for escaping their war-torn homeland and building a better life elsewhere.
Vienna Journal: An Immigrant Girl’s Plea Draws Austria’s Attention
October 17, 2007

VIENNA, Oct. 16 — Arigona Zogaj returned to her school in an Austrian village on Tuesday morning, hugging classmates, accepting flowers, and ending — if only for the moment — what has become a singular act of resistance against the authorities of her adopted land.

Late last month, Ms. Zogaj, a 15-year-old ethnic Albanian from Kosovo, went into hiding after the police came for her family, which has been living in Austria and seeking asylum since 2002.

After her father and four siblings were deported to Kosovo, Ms. Zogaj recorded a video, broadcast on Austrian TV, in which she threatened to kill herself if her family was kept apart. Her mother, who had remained here to search for her daughter, suffered a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized.

The saga of Arigona — everyone here calls her by her first name — has riveted this country, raising fraught questions about asylum seekers in a Europe no longer shadowed by war, and about the human cost of Austria’s immigration policies, which are among the most restrictive in Europe.

“This girl speaks with a pure Upper Austrian dialect,” said Alexander Van der Bellen, the leader of the Green Party, which has taken up Ms. Zogaj’s cause. “These people are like native, inbred, aboriginal Austrians, and yet they are deported to Kosovo. Many people can’t accept that.”

It is not that simple, of course — as it never is, when Western Europeans confront minorities in their midst.

Ms. Zogaj’s desperate flight has evoked genuine sympathy here. A crowd of 5,000 marched on the Interior Ministry to protest its hard line against her family. Austria’s largest paper, Kronen Zeitung, which champions strict immigration policies, said she should be allowed to stay.

It does not hurt that Ms. Zogaj is a winsome young woman whose anguish was as authentic as her accent.

Yet by all accounts, most Austrians still want to keep out foreigners, whether or not they are asking for asylum. Austria’s tough laws are supported by both the center-right People’s Party and center-left Social Democrats, which govern together in a coalition.

“There is a real schizophrenia in Austria,” said Hans Rauscher, a columnist at the newspaper Der Standard. “A majority of Austrians say, ‘We can’t send poor Arigona away from her family.’ But a majority also says, ‘We can’t let in more people like her family.’”

Even the claim made by her supporters — that Ms. Zogaj was happily integrated in her home village of Frankenburg — goes too far for some Austrians. Residents did rally in support of the family. But after a Catholic priest in a neighboring village, Josef Friedl, took Ms. Zogaj, who is Muslim, under his care, vandals sprayed the words Mullah Friedl on a graveyard wall.

“Obviously, Arigona speaks very good German, but that’s not the case with the other members of her family,” said Günther Platter, the interior minister, who met with her in recent days and told her she did not have to fear deportation.

Mr. Platter, a conservative who used to be a small-town mayor in Tyrol, has taken a pasting in the news media for his handling of the case. He has refused to allow Ms. Zogaj’s father or siblings to return to Austria, pending a ruling on the family’s case by the Austrian Constitutional Court, which is not expected before December.

Speaking over coffee, he is unbowed. “As interior minister, I can’t allow myself to be blackmailed by the media,” Mr. Platter said. “We must fight against the misuse of asylum.”

Ms. Zogaj’s father, he said, settled here in 2001, two years after the end of the war in Kosovo. Even after his initial application for asylum was denied, he arranged for his family to join him. The family then applied for asylum several more times, and was denied repeatedly.

One of Ms. Zogaj’s older brothers, Mr. Platter said, had a run-in with the law, though he said he did not have details.

Austria has granted asylum to thousands of refugees from the war-torn Balkans since the 1990s. In this case, Mr. Platter said, the government consulted United Nations officials who administer Kosovo, and was told there was no reason not to repatriate the Zogaj family. The fact that they would have less economic opportunity in Kosovo was not grounds for asylum, Mr. Platter said.

The problem, critics say, lies with Austria’s asylum system, which has a backlog of more than 30,000 applications. Foreigners can live here for a decade or more before being told that they have to leave. At a protest on Tuesday, students wore placards with the names of other families facing expulsion.

Austria has so many asylum seekers, experts say, largely because it is so difficult to get in any other way. In a European Union-backed study of migration trends released Monday, Austria ranks near the bottom of 25 European countries in its openness to migrants.

A new law, adopted in 2006, raises the hurdles to reuniting immigrants with their family members and makes it harder to gain citizenship. Defenders say the measures are needed in a country in which more than 13 percent of the population is foreign-born and nearly 10 percent hold foreign passports.

Critics say the policy reflects Austria’s refusal to accept that it is an immigration country, whether the immigrants are the young Czech women who work as nurses today, or the Czech refugees of a century ago.

The government has begun a thorough examination of its integration policies, but Bernhard Perchinig, a senior researcher at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, said, “It’s not possible to completely close a country and have, at the same time, a good integration policy.”

In this regard, Arigona Zogaj, with her Austrian-flavored German, may have done this country a service.

“Cynics say this girl should be given Austrian citizenship just for showing Austrians how confused they are about immigration,” said Michael Fleischhacker, the editor in chief of the paper Die Presse.

the 'good germans' among us

I love my country, but I don't respect my government. It's time for good people to stand up and call shenanigans on the Bush administration's fast and loose definitions of torture, enemy combatants, and extraordinary rendition.
The ‘Good Germans’ Among Us
October 14, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist

“BUSH lies” doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s time to confront the darker reality that we are lying to ourselves.

Ten days ago The Times unearthed yet another round of secret Department of Justice memos countenancing torture. President Bush gave his standard response: “This government does not torture people.” Of course, it all depends on what the meaning of “torture” is. The whole point of these memos is to repeatedly recalibrate the definition so Mr. Bush can keep pleading innocent.

By any legal standards except those rubber-stamped by Alberto Gonzales, we are practicing torture, and we have known we are doing so ever since photographic proof emerged from Abu Ghraib more than three years ago. As Andrew Sullivan, once a Bush cheerleader, observed last weekend in The Sunday Times of London, America’s “enhanced interrogation” techniques have a grotesque provenance: “Verschärfte Vernehmung, enhanced or intensified interrogation, was the exact term innovated by the Gestapo to describe what became known as the ‘third degree.’ It left no marks. It included hypothermia, stress positions and long-time sleep deprivation.”

Still, the drill remains the same. The administration gives its alibi (Abu Ghraib was just a few bad apples). A few members of Congress squawk. The debate is labeled “politics.” We turn the page.

There has been scarcely more response to the similarly recurrent story of apparent war crimes committed by our contractors in Iraq. Call me cynical, but when Laura Bush spoke up last week about the human rights atrocities in Burma, it seemed less an act of selfless humanitarianism than another administration maneuver to change the subject from its own abuses.

As Mrs. Bush spoke, two women, both Armenian Christians, were gunned down in Baghdad by contractors underwritten by American taxpayers. On this matter, the White House has been silent. That incident followed the Sept. 16 massacre in Baghdad’s Nisour Square, where 17 Iraqis were killed by security forces from Blackwater USA, which had already been implicated in nearly 200 other shooting incidents since 2005. There has been no accountability. The State Department, Blackwater’s sugar daddy for most of its billion dollars in contracts, won’t even share its investigative findings with the United States military and the Iraqi government, both of which have deemed the killings criminal.

The gunmen who mowed down the two Christian women worked for a Dubai-based company managed by Australians, registered in Singapore and enlisted as a subcontractor by an American contractor headquartered in North Carolina. This is a plot out of “Syriana” by way of “Chinatown.” There will be no trial. We will never find out what happened. A new bill passed by the House to regulate contractor behavior will have little effect, even if it becomes law in its current form.

We can continue to blame the Bush administration for the horrors of Iraq — and should. Paul Bremer, our post-invasion viceroy and the recipient of a Presidential Medal of Freedom for his efforts, issued the order that allows contractors to elude Iraqi law, a folly second only to his disbanding of the Iraqi Army. But we must also examine our own responsibility for the hideous acts committed in our name in a war where we have now fought longer than we did in the one that put Verschärfte Vernehmung on the map.

I have always maintained that the American public was the least culpable of the players during the run-up to Iraq. The war was sold by a brilliant and fear-fueled White House propaganda campaign designed to stampede a nation still shellshocked by 9/11. Both Congress and the press — the powerful institutions that should have provided the checks, balances and due diligence of the administration’s case — failed to do their job. Had they done so, more Americans might have raised more objections. This perfect storm of democratic failure began at the top.

As the war has dragged on, it is hard to give Americans en masse a pass. We are too slow to notice, let alone protest, the calamities that have followed the original sin.

In April 2004, Stars and Stripes first reported that our troops were using makeshift vehicle armor fashioned out of sandbags, yet when a soldier complained to Donald Rumsfeld at a town meeting in Kuwait eight months later, he was successfully pilloried by the right. Proper armor procurement lagged for months more to come. Not until early this year, four years after the war’s first casualties, did a Washington Post investigation finally focus the country’s attention on the shoddy treatment of veterans, many of them victims of inadequate armor, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and other military hospitals.

We first learned of the use of contractors as mercenaries when four Blackwater employees were strung up in Falluja in March 2004, just weeks before the first torture photos emerged from Abu Ghraib. We asked few questions. When reports surfaced early this summer that our contractors in Iraq (180,000, of whom some 48,000 are believed to be security personnel) now outnumber our postsurge troop strength, we yawned. Contractor casualties and contractor-inflicted casualties are kept off the books.

It was always the White House’s plan to coax us into a blissful ignorance about the war. Part of this was achieved with the usual Bush-Cheney secretiveness, from the torture memos to the prohibition of photos of military coffins. But the administration also invited our passive complicity by requiring no shared sacrifice. A country that knows there’s no such thing as a free lunch was all too easily persuaded there could be a free war.

Instead of taxing us for Iraq, the White House bought us off with tax cuts. Instead of mobilizing the needed troops, it kept a draft off the table by quietly purchasing its auxiliary army of contractors to finesse the overstretched military’s holes. With the war’s entire weight falling on a small voluntary force, amounting to less than 1 percent of the population, the rest of us were free to look the other way at whatever went down in Iraq.

We ignored the contractor scandal to our own peril. Ever since Falluja this auxiliary army has been a leading indicator of every element of the war’s failure: not only our inadequate troop strength but also our alienation of Iraqi hearts and minds and our rampant outsourcing to contractors rife with Bush-Cheney cronies and campaign contributors. Contractors remain a bellwether of the war’s progress today. When Blackwater was briefly suspended after the Nisour Square catastrophe, American diplomats were flatly forbidden from leaving the fortified Green Zone. So much for the surge’s great “success” in bringing security to Baghdad.

Last week Paul Rieckhoff, an Iraq war combat veteran who directs Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, sketched for me the apocalypse to come. Should Baghdad implode, our contractors, not having to answer to the military chain of command, can simply “drop their guns and go home.” Vulnerable American troops could be deserted by those “who deliver their bullets and beans.”

This potential scenario is just one example of why it’s in our national self-interest to attend to Iraq policy the White House counts on us to ignore. Our national character is on the line too. The extralegal contractors are both a slap at the sovereignty of the self-governing Iraq we supposedly support and an insult to those in uniform receiving as little as one-sixth the pay. Yet it took mass death in Nisour Square to fix even our fleeting attention on this long-metastasizing cancer in our battle plan.

Similarly, it took until December 2005, two and a half years after “Mission Accomplished,” for Mr. Bush to feel sufficient public pressure to acknowledge the large number of Iraqi casualties in the war. Even now, despite his repeated declaration that “America will not abandon the Iraqi people,” he has yet to address or intervene decisively in the tragedy of four million-plus Iraqi refugees, a disproportionate number of them children. He feels no pressure from the American public to do so, but hey, he pays lip service to Darfur.

Our moral trajectory over the Bush years could not be better dramatized than it was by a reunion of an elite group of two dozen World War II veterans in Washington this month. They were participants in a top-secret operation to interrogate some 4,000 Nazi prisoners of war. Until now, they have kept silent, but America’s recent record prompted them to talk to The Washington Post.

“We got more information out of a German general with a game of chess or Ping-Pong than they do today, with their torture,” said Henry Kolm, 90, an M.I.T. physicist whose interrogation of Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy, took place over a chessboard. George Frenkel, 87, recalled that he “never laid hands on anyone” in his many interrogations, adding, “I’m proud to say I never compromised my humanity.”

Our humanity has been compromised by those who use Gestapo tactics in our war. The longer we stand idly by while they do so, the more we resemble those “good Germans” who professed ignorance of their own Gestapo. It’s up to us to wake up our somnambulant Congress to challenge administration policy every day. Let the war’s last supporters filibuster all night if they want to. There is nothing left to lose except whatever remains of our country’s good name.

mardi, octobre 16, 2007

taking cheering to a whole new level

I go to Leo's adult coed soccer league games and sit on the sidelines. I cheer, I clap, I talk trash. I even high-five his teammates and question the calls that the referees make. But I'm feeling a little inadequate after seeing this.

(Be sure to watch until the end, when the tiger images begin.)
South korea: boys cheering for their soccer teams. The most amazing thing is that they do this with their CLOTHES (not holding up cards). They have a jacket that is one color on the back, one on the front, and that they can open or close to show a third color shirt on the inside. One school has also figured out how to use their pants to make shading.
Via Jamie

rembrandt and rubens shed light on global warming

Red sky at night,
Sailor’s delight
Red sky at morning,
It’s global warming...

I love the intersection of art and science, even if this one is cause for alarm.
How old masters are helping study of global warming
Paintings of striking sunsets show effect of huge volcanic eruptions on climate

The English landscape painter JMW Turner said his work was not to be understood but "to show what such a scene was like". Now global warming experts are taking advantage of his prosaic nature to improve their predictions of the consequences of climate change.

The scientists are analysing the striking sunsets painted by Turner and dozens of other artists to work out the cooling effects of huge volcanic eruptions. By working out how the climate varied naturally in the past they hope to improve the computer models used to simulate global warming.

The team, at the National Observatory of Athens, is using the works of old masters to work out the amount of natural pollution spewed into the skies by eruptions such as Mount Krakatoa in 1883. Reports from the time describe stunning sunsets for several years afterwards, as the retreating light was scattered by reflective particles thrown high into the atmosphere. By studying the colour of sunsets painted before and after such eruptions, the researchers say they can calculate the amount of material in the sky at the time.

Christos Zerefos, who led the research, said: "We're taking advantage of the attitudes of famous painters to portray real scenes they were looking at. This is the first attempt to analyse this old art in a scientific way, and tells the story of how our climate has varied naturally in the past."

The results will feed into the scientific study of a phenomenon called global dimming, which is caused by air pollution blocking sunlight. Some experts believe this has acted as a brake on global warming, and that climate change could accelerate as air pollution from industry is reduced.

Professor Zerefos and his team looked at natural global dimming caused by volcanoes, the results of which can be severe. The eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia in 1815 threw out so much material that it triggered the notorious "year without a summer", which caused widespread failure of harvests across Europe, resulting in famine and economic collapse.

The team found 181 artists who had painted sunsets between 1500 and 1900. The 554 pictures included works by Rubens, Rembrandt, Gainsborough and Hogarth. They used a computer to work out the relative amounts of red and green in each picture, along the horizon. Sunlight scattered by airborne particles appears more red than green, so the reddest sunsets indicate the dirtiest skies. The researchers found most pictures with the highest red/green ratios were painted in the three years following a documented eruption. There were 54 of these "volcanic sunset" pictures.

Prof Zerefos said five artists had lived at the right time to paint sunsets before, during and after eruptions. Turner witnessed the effects of three: Tambora in 1815; Babuyan, Philippines in 1831, and Cosiguina, Nicaragua, in 1835. In each case the scientists found a sharp change in the red/green ratio of the sunsets he painted up to three years afterwards.

Writing in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, the scientists say the redder sunsets seen in paintings "can be tentatively attributed to the volcanic events, and not to abnormalities in the colour degradation due to age, or other random factors affecting each painter's colour perception".

The scientists used the red/green ratios to estimate the amount of airborne dust produced by each volcano. The results, they say, are remarkably similar to estimates prepared from historical observations, early measurements and material found in ice cores.

Prof Zerefos's team is now talking to the Tate in London about repeating the study with 40 paintings from the 20th century, to see whether artists have captured the effects of pollution on sunsets since the industrial revolution.

Big bangs
1783 Laki, Iceland Volcanic eruption spread sulphurous haze across western Europe, killing thousands.

1816 Tambora, Indonesia Eruption killed 10,000 people directly and 66,000 due to starvation and disease during "year without a summer" that followed, when temperatures plunged and harvests failed.

1883 Krakatoa, Indonesia Loudest recorded bang in history. At least 36,417 people died. Average global temperatures dropped by 1.2C.

1991 Pinatubo, Philippines Killed 300 people. About 17m tonnes of sulphur dioxide went into atmosphere, reducing sunlight by 5% and global temperatures by 0.4C.


The emotional power of swearing, as well as the fact of linguistic taboos in all cultures, suggests it taps into ancient parts of the brain...
Why we curse: What the F***?
by Steven Pinker
Post date: 10.09.07
Issue date: 10.08.07

Fucking became the subject of congressional debate in 2003, after NBC broadcast the Golden Globe Awards. Bono, lead singer of the mega-band U2, was accepting a prize on behalf of the group and in his euphoria exclaimed, "This is really, really, fucking brilliant" on the air. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which is charged with monitoring the nation's airwaves for indecency, decided somewhat surprisingly not to sanction the network for failing to bleep out the word. Explaining its decision, the FCC noted that its guidelines define "indecency" as "material that describes or depicts sexual or excretory organs or activities" and Bono had used fucking as "an adjective or expletive to emphasize an exclamation."

Cultural conservatives were outraged. California Representative Doug Ose tried to close the loophole in the FCC's regulations with the filthiest piece of legislation ever considered by Congress. Had it passed, the Clean Airwaves Act would have forbade from broadcast

the words "shit", "piss", "fuck", "cunt", "asshole", and the phrases "cock sucker", "mother fucker", and "ass hole", compound use (including hyphenated compounds) of such words and phrases with each other or with other words or phrases, and other grammatical forms of such words and phrases (including verb, adjective, gerund, participle, and infinitive forms).

The episode highlights one of the many paradoxes that surround swearing. When it comes to political speech, we are living in a free-speech utopia. Late-night comedians can say rude things about their nation's leaders that, in previous centuries, would have led to their tongues being cut out or worse. Yet, when it comes to certain words for copulation and excretion, we still allow the might of the government to bear down on what people can say in public. Swearing raises many other puzzles--linguistic, neurobiological, literary, political.

The first is the bone of contention in the Bono brouhaha: the syntactic classification of curse words. Ose's grammatically illiterate bill not only misspelled cocksucker, motherfucker, and asshole, and misidentified them as "phrases," it didn't even close the loophole that it had targeted. The Clean Airwaves Act assumed that fucking is a participial adjective. But this is not correct. With a true adjective like lazy, you can alternate between Drown the lazy cat and Drown the cat which is lazy. But Drown the fucking cat is certainly not interchangeable with Drown the cat which is fucking.

If the fucking in fucking brilliant is to be assigned a traditional part of speech, it would be adverb, because it modifies an adjective and only adverbs can do that, as in truly bad, very nice, and really big. Yet "adverb" is the one grammatical category that Ose forgot to include in his list! As it happens, most expletives aren't genuine adverbs, either. One study notes that, while you can say That's too fucking bad, you can't say That's too very bad. Also, as linguist Geoffrey Nunberg pointed out, while you can imagine the dialogue How brilliant was it? Very, you would never hear the dialogue How brilliant was it? Fucking.

The FCC's decision raises another mystery about swearing: the bizarre number of different ways in which we swear. There is cathartic swearing, as when we slice our thumb along with the bagel. There are imprecations, as when we offer advice to someone who has cut us off in traffic. There are vulgar terms for everyday things and activities, as when Bess Truman was asked to get the president to say fertilizer instead of manure and she replied, "You have no idea how long it took me to get him to say manure." There are figures of speech that put obscene words to other uses, such as the barnyard epithet for insincerity, the army acronym snafu, and the gynecological-flagellative term for uxorial dominance. And then there are the adjective-like expletives that salt the speech and split the words of soldiers, teenagers, and Irish rock-stars.

But perhaps the greatest mystery is why politicians, editors, and much of the public care so much. Clearly, the fear and loathing are not triggered by the concepts themselves, because the organs and activities they name have hundreds of polite synonyms. Nor are they triggered by the words' sounds, since many of them have respectable homonyms in names for animals, actions, and even people. Many people feel that profanity is self-evidently corrupting, especially to the young. This claim is made despite the fact that everyone is familiar with the words, including most children, and that no one has ever spelled out how the mere hearing of a word could corrupt one's morals.

Progressive writers have pointed to this gap to argue that linguistic taboos are absurd. A true moralist, they say, should hold that violence and inequality are "obscene," not sex and excretion. And yet, since the 1970s, many progressives have imposed linguistic taboos of their own, such as the stigma surrounding the N-word and casual allusions to sexual desire or sexual attractiveness. So even people who revile the usual bluenoses can become gravely offended by their own conception of bad language. The question is, why?

The strange emotional power of swearing--as well as the presence of linguistic taboos in all cultures-- suggests that taboo words tap into deep and ancient parts of the brain. In general, words have not just a denotation but a connotation: an emotional coloring distinct from what the word literally refers to, as in principled versus stubborn and slender versus scrawny. The difference between a taboo word and its genteel synonyms, such as shit and feces, cunt and vagina, or fucking and making love, is an extreme example of the distinction. Curses provoke a different response than their synonyms in part because connotations and denotations are stored in different parts of the brain.

The mammalian brain contains, among other things, the limbic system, an ancient network that regulates motivation and emotion, and the neocortex, the crinkled surface of the brain that ballooned in human evolution and which is the seat of perception, knowledge, reason, and planning. The two systems are interconnected and work together, but it seems likely that words' denotations are concentrated in the neocortex, especially in the left hemisphere, whereas their connotations are spread across connections between the neocortex and the limbic system, especially in the right hemisphere.

A likely suspect within the limbic system is the amygdala, an almond-shaped organ buried at the front of the temporal lobe of the brain (one on each side) that helps invest memories with emotion. A monkey whose amygdalas have been removed can learn to recognize a new shape, like a striped triangle, but has trouble learning that the shape foreshadows an unpleasant event like an electric shock. In humans, the amygdala "lights up"--it shows greater metabolic activity in brain scans--when the person sees an angry face or an unpleasant word, especially a taboo word.

The response is not only emotional but involuntary. It's not just that we don't have earlids to shut out unwanted sounds. Once a word is seen or heard, we are incapable of treating it as a squiggle or noise; we reflexively look it up in memory and respond to its meaning, including its connotation. The classic demonstration is the Stroop effect, found in every introductory psychology textbook and the topic of more than four thousand scientific papers. People are asked to look through a list of letter strings and to say aloud the color of the ink in which each one is printed. Try it with this list, saying "red," "blue," or "green" for each item in turn from left to right:

red blue green blue green red

Easy. But this is much, much, harder:

red blue green blue green red

The reason is that, among literate adults, reading a word is such an over-learned skill that it has become mandatory: You can't will the process "off," even when you don't want to read the words but only pay attention to the ink. That's why you're helped along when the experimenters arrange the ink into a word that also names its color and slowed down when they arrange it into a name for a different color. A similar thing happens with spoken words as well.

Now try naming the color of the ink in each of these words:

cunt shit fuck tits piss asshole

The psychologist Don MacKay has done the experiment and found that people are indeed slowed down by an involuntary boggle as soon as the eyes alight on each word. The upshot is that a speaker or writer can use a taboo word to evoke an emotional response in an audience quite against their wishes. Thanks to the automatic nature of speech perception, an expletive kidnaps our attention and forces us to consider its unpleasant connotations. That makes all of us vulnerable to a mental assault whenever we are in earshot of other speakers, as if we were strapped to a chair and could be given a punch or a shock at any time. And this, in turn, raises the question of what kinds of concepts have the sort of unpleasant emotional charge that can make words for them taboo.

The historical root of swearing in English and many other languages is, oddly enough, religion. We see this in the Third Commandment, in the popularity of hell, damn, God, and Jesus Christ as expletives, and in many of the terms for taboo language itself: profanity (that which is not sacred), blasphemy (literally "evil speech" but, in practice, disrespect toward a deity), and swearing, cursing, and oaths, which originally were secured by the invocation of a deity or one of his symbols.

In English-speaking countries today, religious swearing barely raises an eyebrow. Gone with the wind are the days when people could be titillated by a character in a movie saying "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." If a character today is offended by such language, it's only to depict him as an old-fashioned prude. The defanging of religious taboo words is an obvious consequence of the secularization of Western culture. As G. K. Chesterton remarked, "Blasphemy itself could not survive religion; if anyone doubts that, let him try to blaspheme Odin." To understand religious vulgarity, then, we have to put ourselves in the shoes of our linguistic ancestors, to whom God and Hell were a real presence.

Say you need to make a promise. You may want to borrow money, and so must promise to return it. Why should the promisee believe you, knowing that it may be to your advantage to renege? The answer is that you should submit to a contingency that would impose a penalty on you if you did renege, ideally one so certain and severe that you would always do better to keep the promise than to back out. That way, your partner no longer has to take you at your word; he can rely on your self-interest. Nowadays, we secure our promises with legal contracts that make us liable if we back out. We mortgage our house, giving the bank permission to repossess it if we fail to repay the loan. But, before we could count on a commercial and legal apparatus to enforce our contracts, we had to do our own self-handicapping. Children still bind their oaths by saying, "I hope to die if I tell a lie." Adults used to do the same by invoking the wrath of God, as in May God strike me dead if I'm lying and variations like As God is my witness, Blow me down!, and God blind me!--the source of the British blimey.

Such oaths, of course, would have been more credible in an era in which people thought that God listened to their entreaties and had the power to carry them out. Even today, witnesses in U.S. court proceedings have to swear on the Bible, as if an act of perjury undetected by the legal system would be punished by an eavesdropping and easily offended God. But, even if these oaths aren't seen as literally having the power to bring down divine penalties for noncompliance, they signal a distinction between everyday assurances on minor favors and solemn pledges on weightier matters. Today, the emotional power of religious swearing may have dimmed, but the psychology behind it is still with us. Even a parent without an inkling of superstition would not say "I swear on the life of my child" lightly. The mere thought of murdering one's child for ulterior gain is not just unpleasant; it should be unthinkable if one is a true parent, and every neuron of one's brain should be programmed against it.

This literal unthinkability is the basis of the psychology of taboo in general, and it is the mindset that is tapped in swearing on something sacred, whether it be a religious trapping or a child's life. And, thanks to the automatic nature of speech processing, the same sacred words that consecrate promises--the oath-binding sense of "swearing"--may be used to attract attention, to shock, or to inflict psychic pain on a listener--the dirty-word sense of "swearing."

As secularization has rendered religious swear words less powerful, creative speakers have replaced them with words that have the same degree of affective clout according to the sensibilities of the day. This explains why taboo expressions can have such baffling syntax and semantics. To take just one example, why do people use the ungrammatical Fuck you? And why does no one have a clear sense of what, exactly, Fuck you means? (Some people guess "fuck yourself," others "get fucked," and still others "I will fuck you," but none of these hunches is compelling.) The most likely explanation is that these grammatically baffling curses originated in more intelligible religious curses during the transition from religious to sexual and scatological swearing in English-speaking countries:

Who (in) the hell are you? >> Who the fuck are you?

I don't give a damn >> I don't give a fuck; I don't give a shit.

Holy Mary! >> Holy shit! Holy fuck!

For God's sake >> For fuck's sake; For shit's sake.

Damn you! >> Fuck you!

Of course, this transmutation raises the question of why words for these particular concepts stepped into the breach--why, for example, words for bodily effluvia and their orifices and acts of excretion became taboo. Shit, piss, and asshole, to name but a few, are still unspeakable on network television and unprintable in most newspapers. The New York Times, for example, identified a best-seller by the philosopher Harry Frankfurt as On Bull****.

On the whole, the acceptability of taboo words is only loosely tied to the acceptability of what they refer to, but, in the case of taboo terms for effluvia, the correlation is fairly good. The linguists Keith Allan and Kate Burridge have noted that shit is less acceptable than piss, which in turn is less acceptable than fart, which is less acceptable than snot, which is less acceptable than spit (which is not taboo at all). That's the same order as the acceptability of eliminating these substances from the body in public. Effluvia have such an emotional charge that they figure prominently in voodoo, sorcery, and other kinds of sympathetic magic in many of the world's cultures. The big deal that people ordinarily make out of effluvia--both the words and the substances--has puzzled many observers. After all, we are incarnate beings, and excretion is an inescapable part of human life.

The biologists Valerie Curtis and Adam Biran identify the reason. It can't be a coincidence, they note, that the most disgusting substances are also the most dangerous vectors for disease. Feces is a route of transmission for the viruses, bacteria, and protozoans that cause at least 20 intestinal diseases, as well as ascariasis, hepatitis A and E, polio, ameobiasis, hookworm, pinworm, whipworm, cholera, and tetanus. Blood, vomit, mucus, pus, and sexual fluids are also good vehicles for pathogens to get from one body into another. Although the strongest component of the disgust reaction is a desire not to eat or touch the offending substance, it's also disgusting to think about effluvia, together with the body parts and activities that excrete them. And, because of the involuntariness of speech perception, it's unpleasant to hear the words for them.

Some people have been puzzled about why cunt should be taboo. It is not just an unprintable word for the vagina but the most offensive epithet for a woman in America. One might have thought that, in the male-dominated world of swearing, the vagina would be revered, not reviled. After all, it's been said that no sooner does a boy come out of it than he spends the rest of his life trying to get back in. This becomes less mysterious if one imagines the connotations in an age before tampons, toilet paper, regular bathing, and antifungal drugs.

The other major source of taboo words is sexuality. Since the 1960s, many progressive thinkers have found these taboos to be utterly risible. Sex is a source of mutual pleasure, they reason, and should be cleansed of stigma and shame. Prudery about sexual language could only be a superstition, an anachronism, perhaps a product of spite, as in H. L. Mencken's definition of puritanism as "the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy."

The comedian Lenny Bruce was puzzled by our most common sexual imprecation. In a monologue reproduced in the biopic Lenny, he riffs:

What's the worst thing you can say to anybody? "Fuck you, Mister." It's really weird, because, if I really wanted to hurt you, I should say "Unfuck you, Mister." Because "Fuck you" is really nice! "Hello, Ma, it's me. Yeah, I just got back. Aw, fuck you, Ma! Sure, I mean it. Is Pop there? Aw, fuck you, Pop!"

Part of the puzzlement comes from the strange syntax of Fuck you (which, as we saw, does not in fact mean "Have sex"). But it also comes from a modern myopia for how incendiary sexuality can be in the full sweep of human experience.

Consider two consenting adults who have just had sex. Has everyone had fun? Not necessarily. One partner might see the act as the beginning of a lifelong relationship, the other as a one-night-stand. One may be infecting the other with a disease. A baby may have been conceived, whose welfare was not planned for in the heat of passion. If the couple is related, the baby may inherit two copies of a deleterious recessive gene and be susceptible to a genetic defect. There may be romantic rivals in the wings who would be enraged with jealousy if they found out, or a cuckolded husband in danger of raising another man's child, or a two-timed wife in danger of losing support for her own children. Parents may have marriage plans for one of the participants, involving large sums of money or an important alliance with another clan. And, on other occasions, the participants may not both be adults, or may not both be consenting.

Sex has high stakes, including exploitation, disease, illegitimacy, incest, jealousy, spousal abuse, cuckoldry, desertion, feuding, child abuse, and rape. These hazards have been around for a long time and have left their mark on our customs and our emotions. Thoughts about sex are likely to be fraught, and not entertained lightly. Words for sex can be even more touchy, because they not only evoke the charged thoughts but implicate a sharing of those thoughts between two people. The thoughts, moreover, are shared "on the record," each party knowing that the other knows that he or she has been thinking about the sex under discussion. This lack of plausible deniability embroils the dialogue in an extra layer of intrigue.

Evolutionary psychology has laid out the conflicts of interest that are inherent to human sexuality, and some of these conflicts play themselves out in the linguistic arena. Plain speaking about sex conveys an attitude that sex is a casual matter, like tennis or philately, and so it may seem to the partners at the time. But the long-term implications may be more keenly felt by a wider circle of interested parties. Parents and other senior kin may be concerned with the thwarting of their own plans for the family lineage, and the community may take an interest in the illegitimate children appearing in their midst and in the posturing and competition, sometimes violent, that can accompany sexual freedom. The ideal of sex as a sacred communion between a monogamous couple may be old-fashioned and even unrealistic, but it sure is convenient for the elders of a family and a society. It's not surprising to find tensions between individuals and guardians of the community over casual talk about sex (accompanied by hypocrisy among the guardians when it comes to their own casual sex).

Another sexual conflict of interest divides men from women. In every act of reproduction, females are committed to long stretches of pregnancy and lactation, while males can get away with a few minutes of copulation. A male can have more progeny if he mates with many females, whereas a female will not have more progeny if she mates with many males--though her offspring will do better if she has chosen a mate who is willing to invest in them or can endow them with good genes. Not surprisingly, in all cultures men pursue sex more eagerly, are more willing to have casual sex, and are more likely to seduce, deceive, or coerce to get sex. All things being equal, casual sex works to the advantage of men, both genetically and emotionally. We might expect casual talk about sex to show the same asymmetry, and so it does. Men swear more, on average, and many taboo sexual terms are felt to be especially demeaning to women-- hence the old prohibition of swearing "in mixed company."

A sex difference in tolerance for sexual language may seem like a throwback to Victorian daintiness. But an unanticipated consequence of the second wave of feminism in the 1970s was a revived sense of offense at swearing, the linguistic companion to the campaign against pornography. As a result, many universities and businesses have published guidelines on sexual harassment that ban telling sexual jokes, and, in 1993, veteran Boston Globe journalist David Nyhan was forced to apologize and donate $1,250 to a women's organization when a female staffer overheard him in the newsroom using the word pussy-whipped with a male colleague who declined his invitation to play basketball after work. The feminist writer Andrea Dworkin explicitly connected coarse sexual language to the oppression of women: "Fucking requires that the male act on one who has less power and this valuation is so deep, so completely implicit in the act, that the one who is fucked is stigmatized."

Though people are seeing, talking about, and having sex more readily today than they did in the past, the topic is still not free of taboo. Most people still don't copulate in public, swap spouses at the end of a dinner party, have sex with their siblings and children, or openly trade favors for sex. Even after the sexual revolution, we have a long way to go before "exploring our sexuality" to the fullest, and that means that people still set up barriers in their minds to block certain trains of thought. The language of sex can tug at those barriers.

Which brings us back to fucking--Bono's fucking, that is. Does a deeper understanding of the history, psychology, and neurobiology of swearing give us any basis for deciding among the prohibitions in the Clean Airwaves Act, the hairsplitting of the FCC, and the libertinism of a Lenny Bruce?

When it comes to policy and law, it seems to me that free speech is the bedrock of democracy and that it is not among the legitimate functions of government to punish people who use certain vocabulary items or allow others to use them. On the other hand, private media have the prerogative of enforcing a house style, driven by standards of taste and the demands of the market, that excludes words their audience doesn't enjoy hearing. In other words, if an entertainer says fucking brilliant, it's none of the government's business; but, if some people would rather not explain to their young children what a blow job is, there should be television channels that don't force them to.

What about decisions in the private sphere? Are there guidelines that can inform our personal and institutional judgments about when to discourage, tolerate, and even welcome profanity? Here are some thoughts.

Language has often been called a weapon, and people should be mindful about where to aim it and when to fire. The common denominator of taboo words is the act of forcing a disagreeable thought on someone, and it's worth considering how often one really wants one's audience to be reminded of excrement, urine, and exploitative sex. Even in its mildest form, intended only to keep the listener's attention, the lazy use of profanity can feel like a series of jabs in the ribs. They are annoying to the listener and a confession by the speaker that he can think of no other way to make his words worth attending to. It's all the more damning for writers, who have the luxury of choosing their words off-line from the half-million-word phantasmagoria of the English language.

Also calling for reflection is whether linguistic taboos are always a bad thing. Why are we offended--why should we be offended--when an outsider refers to an African American as a nigger, or a woman as a cunt, or a Jewish person as a fucking Jew? I suspect that the sense of offense comes from the nature of speech recognition and from what it means to understand the connotation of a word. If you're an English speaker, you can't hear the words nigger or cunt or fucking without calling to mind what they mean to an implicit community of speakers, including the emotions that cling to them. To hear nigger is to try on, however briefly, the thought that there is something contemptible about African Americans and thus to be complicit in a community that standardized that judgment into a word. Just hearing the words feels morally corrosive. None of this means that the words should be banned, only that their effects on listeners should be understood and anticipated.

Also deserving of reflection is why previous generations of speakers bequeathed us a language that treats certain topics with circumspection and restraint. The lexical libertines of the 1960s believed that taboos on sexual language were pointless and even harmful. They argued that removing the stigma from sexuality would eliminate shame and ignorance and thereby reduce venereal disease, illegitimate births, and other hazards of sex. But this turned out to be mistaken. Sexual language has become far more common since the early '60s, but so has illegitimacy, sexually transmitted disease, rape, and the fallout of sexual competition like anorexia in girls and swagger-culture in boys. Though no one can pin down cause and effect, the changes are of a piece with the weakening of the fear and awe that used to surround thoughts about sex and that charged sexual language with taboo.

Those are some of the reasons to think twice about giving carte blanche to swearing. But there is another reason. If an overuse of taboo words, whether by design or laziness, blunts their emotional edge, it will have deprived us of a linguistic instrument that we sometimes sorely need. And this brings me to the arguments on the pro-swearing side.

To begin with, it's a fact of life that people swear. The responsibility of writers is to give a "just and lively image of human nature," as poet John Dryden wrote, and that includes portraying a character's language realistically when their art calls for it. When Norman Mailer wrote his true-to-life novel about World War II, The Naked and the Dead, in 1948, his compromise with the sensibilities of the day was to have soldiers use the pseudo-epithet fug. (When Dorothy Parker met him, she said, "So you're the man who doesn't know how to spell fuck.") Sadly, this prissiness is not a thing of the past: Some public television stations today fear broadcasting Ken Burns' documentary on World War II because of the salty language in his interviews with veterans. The prohibition against swearing in broadcast media makes artists and historians into liars and subverts the responsibility of grown-ups to learn how life is lived in worlds distant from their own.

Even when their characters are not soldiers, writers must sometimes let them swear in order to render human passion compellingly. In the film adaptation of Isaac Bashevis Singer's Enemies: A Love Story, a sweet Polish peasant girl has hidden a Jewish man in a hayloft during the Nazi occupation and becomes his doting wife when the war is over. When she confronts him over an affair he has been having, he loses control and slaps her in the face. Fighting back tears of rage, she looks him in the eye and says slowly, "I saved your life. I took the last bite of food out of my mouth and gave it to you in the hayloft. I carried out your shit!" No other word could convey the depth of her fury at his ingratitude.

For language lovers, the joys of swearing are not confined to the works of famous writers. We should pause to applaud the poetic genius who gave us the soldiers' term for chipped beef on toast, shit on a shingle, and the male-to-male advisory for discretion in sexual matters, Keep your pecker in your pocket. Hats off, too, to the wordsmiths who thought up the indispensable pissing contest, crock of shit, pussy-whipped, and horse's ass. Among those in the historical record, Lyndon Johnson had a certain way with words when it came to summing up the people he distrusted, including a Kennedy aide ("He wouldn't know how to pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were printed on the heel"), Gerald Ford ("He can't fart and chew gum at the same time"), and J. Edgar Hoover ("I'd rather have him inside the tent pissing out than outside pissing in").

When used judiciously, swearing can be hilarious, poignant, and uncannily descriptive. More than any other form of language, it recruits our expressive faculties to the fullest: the combinatorial power of syntax; the evocativeness of metaphor; the pleasure of alliteration, meter, and rhyme; and the emotional charge of our attitudes, both thinkable and unthinkable. It engages the full expanse of the brain: left and right, high and low, ancient and modern. Shakespeare, no stranger to earthy language himself, had Caliban speak for the entire human race when he said, "You taught me language, and my profit on't is, I know how to curse."

Steven Pinker is Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard. His new book, The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window Into Human Nature, was published by Viking in September.