Wednesday, May 30, 2007

May 29:

1953 : Hillary and Tenzing reach Everest summit

At 11:30 a.m. on May 29, 1953, Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and
Tenzing Norgay, a Sherpa of Nepal, become the first explorers to reach
the summit of Mount Everest, which at 29,035 feet above sea level is
the highest point on earth. The two, part of a British expedition,
made their final assault on the summit after spending a fitful night
at 27,900 feet. News of their achievement broke around the world on
June 2, the day of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation, and Britons hailed
it as a good omen for their country's future.

Mount Everest sits on the crest of the Great Himalayas in Asia, lying
on the border between Nepal and Tibet. Called Chomo-Lungma, or "Mother
Goddess of the Land," by the Tibetans, the English named the mountain
after Sir George Everest, a 19th-century British surveyor of South
Asia. The summit of Everest reaches two-thirds of the way through the
air of the earth's atmosphere--at about the cruising altitude of jet
airliners--and oxygen levels there are very low, temperatures are
extremely cold, and weather is unpredictable and dangerous.

The first recorded attempt to climb Everest was made in 1921 by a
British expedition that trekked 400 difficult miles across the Tibetan
plateau to the foot of the great mountain. A raging storm forced them
to abort their ascent, but the mountaineers, among them George Leigh
Mallory, had seen what appeared to be a feasible route up the peak. It
was Mallory who quipped when later asked by a journalist why he wanted
to climb Everest, "Because it's there."

A second British expedition, featuring Mallory, returned in 1922, and
climbers George Finch and Geoffrey Bruce reached an impressive height
of more than 27,000 feet. In another attempt made by Mallory that
year, seven Sherpa porters were killed in an avalanche. (The Sherpas,
native to the Khumbu region, have long played an essential support
role in Himalayan climbs and treks because of their strength and
ability to endure the high altitudes.) In 1924, a third Everest
expedition was launched by the British, and climber Edward Norton
reached an elevation of 28,128 feet, 900 vertical feet short of the
summit, without using artificial oxygen. Four days later, Mallory and
Andrew Irvine launched a summit assault and were never seen alive
again. In 1999, Mallory's largely preserved body was found high on
Everest--he had suffered numerous broken bones in a fall. Whether or
not he or Irvine reached the summit remains a mystery.

Several more unsuccessful summit attempts were made via Tibet's
Northeast Ridge route, and after World War II Tibet was closed to
foreigners. In 1949, Nepal opened its door to the outside world, and
in 1950 and 1951 British expeditions made exploratory climbs up the
Southeast Ridge route. In 1952, a Swiss expedition navigated the
treacherous Khumbu Icefall in the first real summit attempt. Two
climbers, Raymond Lambert and Tenzing Norgay, reached 28,210 feet,
just below the South Summit, but had to turn back for want of

Shocked by the near-success of the Swiss expedition, a large British
expedition was organized for 1953 under the command of Colonel John
Hunt. In addition to the best British climbers and such highly
experienced Sherpas as Tenzing Norgay, the expedition enlisted talent
from the British Commonwealth, such as New Zealanders George Lowe and
Edmund Hillary, the latter of whom worked as a beekeeper when not
climbing mountains. Members of the expedition were equipped with
specially insulated boots and clothing, portable radio equipment, and
open- and closed-circuit oxygen systems.

Setting up a series of camps, the expedition pushed its way up the
mountain in April and May 1953. A new passage was forged through the
Khumbu Icefall, and the climbers made their way up the Western Cwm,
across the Lhotse Face, and to the South Col, at about 26,000 feet. On
May 26, Charles Evans and Tom Bourdillon launched the first assault on
the summit and came within 300 feet of the top of Everest before
having to turn back because one of their oxygen sets was

On May 28, Tenzing and Hillary set out, setting up high camp at 27,900
feet. After a freezing, sleepless night, the pair plodded on, reaching
the South Summit by 9 a.m. and a steep rocky step, some 40 feet high,
about an hour later. Wedging himself in a crack in the face, Hillary
inched himself up what was thereafter known as the Hillary Step.
Hillary threw down a rope, and Norgay followed. At about 11:30 a.m.,
the climbers arrived at the top of the world.

News of the success was rushed by runner from the expedition's base
camp to the radio post at Namche Bazar, and then sent by coded message
to London, where Queen Elizabeth II learned of the achievement on June
1, the eve of her coronation. The next day, the news broke around the
world. Later that year, Hillary and Hunt were knighted by the queen.
Norgay, because he was not a citizen of a Commonwealth nation,
received the lesser British Empire Medal.

Since Hillary and Norgay's historic climb, numerous expeditions have
made their way up to Everest's summit. In 1960, a Chinese expedition
was the first to conquer the mountain from the Tibetan side, and in
1963 James Whittaker became the first American to top Everest. In
1975, Tabei Junko of Japan became the first woman to reach the summit.
Three years later, Reinhold Messner of Italy and Peter Habeler of
Austria achieved what had been previously thought impossible: climbing
to the Everest summit without oxygen. Nearly two hundred climbers have
died attempting to summit the mountain. A major tragedy occurred in
1996 when eight climbers from various nations died after being caught
in a blizzard high on the slopes.

1848 : Wisconsin enters the Union

1914 : The sinking of the Empress of Ireland

1932 : Bonus Marchers arrive in Washington


Tomgram: The Mother Ship Lands in Iraq

a project of the Nation Institute

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Tomgram: The Mother Ship Lands in Iraq

The Colossus of Baghdad

Wonders of the Imperial World
By Tom Engelhardt

Of the seven wonders of the ancient Mediterranean world, including the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Colossus of Rhodes, four were destroyed by earthquakes, two by fire. Only the Great Pyramid of Giza today remains.

We no longer know who built those fabled monuments to the grandiosity of kings, pharaohs, and gods; nowadays, at least, it's easier to identify the various wonders of our world with their architects. Maya Lin, for instance, spun the moving black marble Vietnam Memorial from her remarkable brain for the veterans of that war; Frank Gehry dreamt up his visionary titanium-covered museum in Bilbao, Spain, for the Guggenheim; and the architectural firm of BDY (Berger Devine Yaeger), previously responsible for the Sprint Corporation's world headquarters in Overland Park, Kansas; the Visitation Church in Kansas City, Missouri; and Harrah's Hotel and Casino in North Kansas City, Missouri, turns out to have designed the biggest wonder of all -- an embassy large enough to embody the Bush administration's vision of an American-reordered Middle East. We're talking, of course, about the still-uncompleted American embassy, the largest on the planet, being constructed on a 104-acre stretch of land in the heart of Baghdad's embattled Green Zone, now regularly under mortar fire. As Patrick Lenahan, Senior Architect and Project Manager at BDY, has put it (according to the firm's website): "We understand how to involve the client most effectively as we direct our resources to make our client's vision a reality."

And what a vision it was! What a reality it's turned out to be!

Who can forget the grandiose architecture of pre-Bush-administration Baghdad: Saddam Hussein's mighty vision of kitsch Orientalism melting into terror, based on which, in those last years of his rule, he reconstructed parts of the Iraqi capital? He ensured that what was soon to become the Green Zone would be dotted with overheated, Disneyesque, Arabian-Nights palaces by the score, filled with every luxury imaginable in a country whose population was growing increasingly desperate under the weight of UN sanctions. Who can forget those vast, sculpted hands, "The Hands of Victory," supposedly modeled on Saddam's own, holding 12-story-high giant crossed swords (over piles of Iranian helmets) on a vast Baghdad parade ground? Meant to commemorate a triumph over Iran that the despot never actually achieved, they still sit there, partially dismantled and a monument to folly; while, as Jane Arraf has written, Saddam's actual hands,"the hands that wrote the orders for the war against Iran and the destruction of Iraqi villages, the hands handcuffed behind his back as he went to trial and then was led to his execution are moldering under ground."

It is worth remembering that, when the American commanders whose troops had just taken Baghdad, wanted their victory photo snapped, they memorably seated themselves, grinning happily, behind a marble table in one of those captured palaces; that American soldiers and newly arrived officials marveled at the former tyrant's exotic symbols of power; that they swam in Saddam's pools, fed rare antelopes from his son Uday's private zoo to its lions (and elsewhere shot his herd of gazelles and ate them themselves); and, when in need of someplace to set up an American embassy, the newly arrived occupation officials chose -- are you surprised? -- one of his former dream palaces. They found nothing strange in the symbolism of this (though it was carefully noted by Baghdadis), even as they swore they were bringing liberation and democracy to Saddam's benighted land.

And then, as the Iraqi capital's landscape became ever more dangerous, as an insurgency gained traction while the administration's dreams of a redesigned American Middle East remained as strong as ever, its officials evidently concluded that even one of Saddam's palaces, roomy enough for a dictator interested in the control of a single country (or the odd neighboring state), wasn't faintly big enough, or safe enough, or modern enough for the representatives of the planet's New Rome.

Hence, Missouri's BDY. That midwestern firm's designers can now be classified as architects to the wildest imperial dreamers and schemers of our time. And the company seems proud of it. You can go to its website and take a little tour in sketch form, a blast-resistant spin, through its Bush-inspired wonder, its particular colossus of the modern world. Imagine this: At $592 million, its proudest boast is that, unlike almost any other American construction project in that country, it is coming in on budget and on time. Of course, with a 30% increase in staffing size since Congress approved the project two years ago, it is now estimated that being "represented" in Baghdad will cost a staggering $1.2 billion per year. No wonder, with a crew of perhaps 1,000 officials assigned to it and a supporting staff (from food service workers to Marine guards and private security contractors) of several thousand more.

When the BDY-designed embassy opens in September (undoubtedly to the sound of mortar fire), its facilities will lack the gold-plated faucets installed in some of Saddam's palaces and villas (and those of his sons), but they won't lack for the amenities that Americans consider part and parcel of the good life, even in a "hardship" post. Take a look, for instance, at the embassy's "pool house," as imagined by BDY. (There's a lovely sketch of it at their site.) Note the palm trees dotted around it, the expansive lawns, and those tennis courts discretely in the background. For an American official not likely to leave the constricted, heavily fortified, four-mile square Green Zone during a year's tour of duty, practicing his or her serve (on the taxpayer's dollar) is undoubtedly no small thing.

Admittedly, it may be hard to take that refreshing dip or catch a few sets of tennis in Baghdad's heat if the present order for all U.S. personnel in the Green Zone to wear flak jackets and helmets at all times remains in effect -- or if, as in the present palace/embassy, the pool (and ping-pong tables) are declared, thanks to increasing mortar and missile attacks, temporarily "off limits." In that case, more time will probably be spent in the massive, largely windowless-looking Recreation Center, one of over 20 blast-resistant buildings BDY has planned. Perhaps this will house the promised embassy cinema. (Pirates of the Middle East, anyone?) Perhaps hours will be wiled away in the no less massive-looking, low-slung Post Exchange/Community Center, or in the promised commissary, the "retail and shopping areas," the restaurants, or even, so the BDY website assures us, the "schools" (though it's a difficult to imagine the State Department allowing children at this particular post).

And don't forget the "fire station" (mentioned but not shown by BDY), surely so handy once the first rockets hit. Small warning: If you are among the officials about to staff this post, keep in mind that the PX and commissary might be slightly understocked. The Washington Post recently reported that "virtually every bite and sip consumed [in the embassy] is imported from the United States, entering Iraq via Kuwait in huge truck convoys that bring fresh and processed food, including a full range of Baskin-Robbins ice cream flavors, every seven to 10 days." Recently, there has been a "Theater-Wide Delay in Food Deliveries," due to unexplained convoy problems. Even the yogurt supplies have been running low.

But those of you visiting our new embassy via BDY's website have no such worries. So get that container of Baskin-Robbins from the freezer and take another moment to consider this new wonder of our world with its own self-contained electricity-generation, water-purification, and sewage systems in a city lacking most of the above. When you look at the plans for it, you have to wonder: Can it, in any meaningful sense, be considered an embassy? And if so, an embassy to whom?

The Guardian's Jonathan Freedland in the most recent issue of the New York Review of Books terms it a "base" like our other vast, multibillion dollar permanent bases in Iraq. It is also a headquarters. But what a head! What quarters! It is neither town, nor quite city-state, but it could be considered a citadel, with its own anti-missile defenses, inside the increasingly breachable citadel of the Green Zone. It may already be the last piece of ground (excepting those other bases) that the United States, surge or no, can actually claim to fully occupy and control in Iraq -- and yet it already has something of the look of the Alamo (with amenities). Someday, perhaps, it will turn out to be the "White House" (though, in BDY's sketches, its buildings look more like those prison-style schools being built in embattled American urban neighborhoods) for Moqtada al-Sadr, or some future Shiite Party, or a Sunni strongman, or a home for squatters. Who knows?

What we know is that such an embassy is remarkably outsized for Iraq. Even as a headquarters for a vast, secret set of operations in that chaotic land, it doesn't quite add up. After all, our military headquarters in Iraq is already at Camp Victory on the outskirts of Baghdad. We can certainly assume -- though no one in our mainstream media world would think to say such a thing -- that this new embassy will house a rousing set of CIA (and probably Pentagon) intelligence operations for the country and region, and will be a massive hive for American spooks of all sorts. But whatever its specific functions, it might best be described as the imperial Mother Ship dropping into Baghdad.

Amazingly, despite complaints from Congress, the present U.S. ambassador is stumped when it comes to cutting down on that planned staff of his -- every one more essential than the last -- and the State Department is actually lobbying Congress for an extra $50 million to construct yet more "blast-resistant housing" on the vast site. Maybe this is what the "build and hold" strategy, pushed by many counterinsurgency types, really means. We'll simply plan in Washington, design in Kansas City, build through a Kuwaiti construction firm using cheap imported labor, and try to keep building out forever from our "embassy" in Baghad.

As an outpost, this vast compound reeks of one thing: imperial impunity. It was never meant to be an embassy from a democracy that had liberated an oppressed land. From the first thought, the first sketch, it was to be the sort of imperial control center suitable for the planet's sole "hyperpower," dropped into the middle of the oil heartlands of the globe. It was to be Washington's dream and Kansas City's idea of a palace fit for an embattled American proconsul -- or a khan.

When completed, it will indeed be the perfect folly, as well as the perfect embassy, for a country that finds it absolutely normal to build vast base-worlds across the planet; that considers it just a regular day's work to send its aircraft carrier "strike forces" and various battleships through the Straits of Hormuz in daylight as a visible warning to a "neighboring" regional power; whose Central Intelligence Agency operatives feel free to organize and launch Baluchi tribal warriors from Pakistan into the Baluchi areas of Iran to commit acts of terror and mayhem; whose commander-in-chief President can sign a "nonlethal presidential finding" that commits our nation to a "soft power" version of the economic destabilization of Iran, involving, according to ABC News, "a coordinated campaign of propaganda, disinformation and manipulation of Iran's currency and international financial transactions"; whose Vice President can appear on the deck of the USS John C. Stennis to address a "rally for the troops," while that aircraft carrier is on station in the Persian Gulf, readying itself to pass through those Straits and can insist to the world: "With two carrier strike groups in the Gulf, we're sending clear messages to friends and adversaries alike. We'll keep the sea lanes open. We'll stand with our friends in opposing extremism and strategic threats. We'll disrupt attacks on our own forces.... And we'll stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating this region"; whose military men can refer to Iraqi insurgents as "anti-Iraqi forces"; members of whose Congressional opposition can offer plans for the dismemberment of Iraq into three or more parts; and all of whose movers and shakers, participating in the Washington Consensus, can agree that one "benchmark" the Iraqi government, also locked inside the Green Zone, must fulfill is signing off on an oil law designed in Washington and meant to turn the energy clock in the Middle East back several decades; but why go on.

To recognize such imperial impunity and its symbols for what they are, all you really need to do is try to reverse any of these examples. In most cases, that's essentially inconceivable. Imagine any country building the equivalent Mother Ship "embassy" on the equivalent of two-thirds of the Washington Mall; or sailing its warships into the Gulf of Mexico and putting its second-in-command aboard the flagship of the fleet to insist on keeping the sea lanes "open"; or sending Caribbean terrorists into Florida to blow up local buses and police stations; or signing a "finding" to economically destabilize the American government; or planning the future shape of our country from a foreign capital. But you get the idea. Most of these actions, if aimed against the United States, would be treated as tantamount to acts of war and dealt with accordingly in this country, with unbelievable hue and cry.

When it's a matter of other countries halfway across the planet, however, Americans largely consider such things, even if revealed in the news, at worst tactical errors or miscalculations. The imperial mindset goes deep. It also thinks unbearably well of itself and so, naturally, wants to memorialize itself, to give itself the surroundings that only the great, the super, the hyper deserves.

Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem "Ozymandias," inspired by the arrival in London in 1816 of an enormous statue of the Pharaoh Ramesses II, comes to mind:

"I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away."

In Baghdad, Saddam's giant hands are already on the road to ruin. Still going up in New York and Baghdad are two half-billion dollar-plus monuments to the Bush imperial moment. A 9/11 memorial so grotesquely expensive that, when completed, it will be a reminder only of a time, already long past, when we could imagine ourselves as the Greatest Victims on the planet; and in Baghdad's Green Zone, a monument to the Bush administration's conviction that we were also destined to be the Greatest Dominators this world, and history, had ever seen.

From both these monuments, someday -- and in the case of the embassy in Baghdad that day may not be so very distant -- those lone and level sands will undoubtedly stretch far, far away.

Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch Interviews with American Iconoclasts and Dissenters (Nation Books), the first collection of Tomdispatch interviews.

Copyright 2007 Tom Engelhardt

Calling All Warriors for Peace

by Olga Bonfiglio

When I first heard someone use the word, warrior, I was surprised, repulsed—but fascinated. An Annapolis-educated, former Navy fighter pilot told me he was a warrior. I had associated warriors with Native Americans and the Japanese Samurai, not the modern U.S. military.

The second time I heard someone use the word, warrior, was in a talk by Ed Tick, a Jungian psychoanalyst who has been working with Vietnam veterans with PTSD since 1978 and is now treating Iraq and Afghanistan War vets. He said one way we can help our veterans heal from their war wounds is to treat them as warriors. The audience, comprised mostly of peace activists gasped. Tick acknowledged the audience’s dismay and apologized, but he insisted on using the term, warrior, because its meaning makes sense to the vets. My subsequent reading of his book, War and the Soul, changed my understanding of the warrior to the point that I am now advocating its use as an approach for peacemaking.

According to Jungian psychology, the warrior is an archetype, which is an idealized role or identity embedded in our cultural narratives that guides our minds and actions. Archetypes have a mythic quality that bid us to act out a particular role for certain situations automatically. The warrior archetype typically stirs men in their adolescence while it comes to women during middle age—as it did for Cindy Sheehan.

The key to Cindy’s power is her warrior instinct to protect her loved ones—which with the loss of her son she extends to all soldiers. She calls herself a “Mother Bear” in her book, Not One More Mother’s Child, and eventually would be referred to as “Peace Mom.” Her warrior instincts, combined with her own sense of allegiance to the nation’s democratic ideals, serve as the motivation behind her actions–including her acts of civil disobedience.

Peace activists who rekindle the warrior’s innate desire to protect and cherish life in our nation and our world are key to fighting back the fascist-like directions this administration is taking us. However, to get there, we need a new vision of the warrior. Internationally-known inspirational speaker and Franciscan priest Richard Rohr describes this warrior as one who:

“…see[s] through and stand[s] against mass illusions of our time, and [is] willing to pay the price of disobedience. It takes warrior energy to see through the soft rhetoric of ‘support our troops’ which cleverly diverts us from the objective evil of war. It takes warrior energy to march to a different drum, disbelieve the patriotic trivia, and re-believe in the tradition of non-violence, civil resistance, and martyrdom.”

Many people besides Cindy Sheehan have adopted such a vision of the warrior including Lt. Ehren Watada, the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, the Iraq Veterans Against War,, A.N.S.W.E.R. and United for Peace & Justice. Active duty soldiers in the Appeal for Redress are calling for a withdrawal of troops with some courageously testifying before Congress to do so. Generals are retiring their commissions in order to speak out. Gold Star Families for Peace, which Cindy founded, seeks not only to support families who have lost loved ones but “to be a positive force in our world to bring our country’s sons and daughters home from Iraq, to minimize the human cost of this war, and to prevent other families from the pain [they] are feeling as the result of our losses.” The Veterans for Peace, Military Families Speak Out Against the War, and Mothers Against the Draft are working to end the war and bring the troops home. Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) is trying to establish a cabinet-level Department of Peace in order to reduce domestic and international violence. And many local peace groups continue to stand out on public street corners—in all kinds of weather, all year long—demonstrating their objections to the war and the Bush policies.

Fighting wars based on deception and lies or without a just cause is not new. In 472 B.C.E. Aeschylus lost a brother in the war between the Persians and Athenians and wrote The Persians to illustrate how a war of choice mounted by the Persian king as “payment for [his] pride and godless arrogance” resulted in the terrible slaughter of common soldiers on both the Athenian and Persian sides. Leaders today, especially leaders of democracies, need to be called to task for any decision to go to war.

In this age where weapons of mass destruction are becoming more and more accessible, where pre-emptive strike is justified and where torture and perpetual war are deemed a legitimate government policy, it’s no longer a matter of just “giving peace a chance”, as the John Lennon song suggests, but for us human beings to find imaginative and practical ways of dealing with our blood lust. Stopping governments from waging wars takes committed and steadfast citizens willing to fight the cause of justice and peace. Don’t wait for someone else to do the job. Do what you can in your own community. Be a warrior for peace!

Olga Bonfiglio is a professor at Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and author of Heroes of a Different Stripe: How One Town Responded to the War in Iraq. She has written for several national magazines on the subjects of social justice and religion. Her website is Contact her at

From a Chinese Oil Refinery To Your Twinkie

Food Makers Don’t Often Know Where The Chemicals In Their Products Come From.

by Steve Ettlinger

When I began researching the ingredients for Twinkies, I naively thought that their raw materials were extracted from nuts, beans, fruit, seeds or leaves, and that they came from the United States. I was looking to link places with foods — along the lines of California wine or Maine lobster, but for thiamine mononitrate. It turned out that I was way off.

Although eight of the ingredients in the beloved little snack cake come from domestic corn and three from soybeans, there are others — including thiamine mononitrate — that come from petroleum. Chinese petroleum. Chinese refineries and Chinese factories. And there are other unexpected ingredients that are much harder to trace. So much for the great “All-American” snack food.

When you bite into a Twinkie, you are chewing on an international nexus of suppliers. Most of our processed foods — salad dressing, ice cream, meal-replacement drinks — are processed with foreign additives: essential ones, like B vitamins for fortifying flour and the preservative sorbic acid, as well as Malaysian or Indonesian palm oil products, European wheat gluten, Peruvian colorants, Chadian gums and Swiss niacin, made from Swiss water, Swiss air (nitrogen) and North Atlantic or Middle Eastern oil. It’s a nice contrast to recall that Champagne comes only from Champagne, France.

Like many other industries, food additives have been off-shored. No major domestic vitamin or sorbic acid manufacturers remain in the U.S. Our last vitamin C plant closed in 2005 — in fact, it closed as I was speaking to an employee about a tour — and most of our artificial colors and flavors come from abroad as well. Our chemical industry is rapidly dismantling its expensive domestic plants and either forming joint ventures with Chinese companies or simply buying chemicals from them. This leads to lower food and pharmaceutical prices, but perhaps at the cost of quality control.

How can you have quality control when you don’t even know where the ingredient is coming from? During my Twinkie research, I was particularly surprised that many American food additive “manufacturers” buy chemicals, especially vitamins, from distributors and do not know, or don’t ask, where they come from. The distributors usually sing the same song, as they often buy from importers, and the importers buy from exporters who — no surprise — are often not able or willing to identify all of their sources.

Now that the tainted pet food scandal has made us more aware that many additives come from overseas, and China in particular — and that some unscrupulous or, at the very least, unprofessional Chinese manufacturers mix cheaper and poisonous adulterants into some food or pharmaceutical products — most of us would like to see some action. What can be done?

First, Chinese and any other foreign manufacturers should fall under both their home country’s and the U.S. government’s regulations and controls. This would take a concerted education effort in China, which has the challenge of teaching small, uneducated and very independent entrepreneurs the market value of meeting American standards.

Second, we need to increase U.S. inspection of imported foods and additives. This means increased personnel and budgets and a serious commitment from the government to a tight, professional program. The Food and Drug Administration should classify additive adulteration the same way the Agriculture Department classifies meat contamination: totally unacceptable. Congress would have to reverse the trend of underfunding the FDA.

Finally, as consumers, we can swallow hard and decide to pay just a little more for well-inspected processed food — or eat more local fruits, vegetables and whole grains and buy minimally processed and sustainably farmed foods.

Smart processed-food and pharmaceutical companies are scrambling to find guaranteed safe alternatives. But consumers must be prepared to pay a higher price for safe food — and to make informed choices about what ingredients go into our food and where they come from.

If you want to have your snack cake and eat it too, you have to remember: You are what you eat.

Steve Ettlinger is the author of, most recently, “Twinkie, Deconstructed.”

© 2007 The Los Angeles Times

Sacrifice, Pain, and Grief

by James Carroll

This article was published on Monday, May 29 - Memorial Day, 2007:

The nation pays its respects today to those who have fallen in America’s wars. The central ritual of our communal bereavement takes place with a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington , Va. Because those remains are anonymous, they are fitting representatives of the entire legion of war dead, who are the focus of affection on Memorial Day.When we send men and women off to battle for the sake of the nation’s greater good, we promise that, should they not return, their sacrifice will always be remembered. It is the minimum such heroes are due. But because the nation is at war today, the observance has special poignancy, and added pain. Like numerous graves at Arlington, the grief of all too many families is fresh. Given the kind of war this is, however, the mourning is for more than departed individuals.

Is it presumptuous to imagine we can know something about those whose lives were lost, perhaps even the “unknowns”? The military women and men who have been killed in war wanted more from life than they got. They began by believing in a higher cause, but ended up, from every frontline report, caring most about the buddies to their right and left. They saw the horrors of combat, but what really frightened them was the threat of moral collapse as feelings of anger, fear, and, perhaps, revenge replaced the stately cohesion of the drill.

Trained in glory, they died in absurdity. On Memorial Day, can we pay tribute to the dead without falsifying what befell them?

“If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted,” the Vietnam novelist Tim O’Brien wrote, “or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie.” O’Brien says that the hallmarks of truth, when it comes to war stories, are obscenity and evil. “You can tell a true war story if it embarrasses you.”

Such dark notes are struck by the chroniclers of every war, going back to Homer, but they seem especially apt when those being mourned have fallen in a war that, even before its end, has already shown itself to have been mistaken from its first trumpet.

That recognition compounds American grief on this Memorial Day. In addition to the bright faced young men and women for whom taps has sounded, “a secure sense of the goodness of the social order is irretrievably lost and must be mourned.” The psychiatrist Jonathan Shay, treating veterans, wrote that in response to Vietnam, but the observation applies equally to Iraq.

Even the most diehard of American commanders and politicians show signs of recognizing the strategic and (therefore) moral futility of the war in Iraq, which is why they are tangled in the impossible snares of what-to-do-now. The nation, meanwhile, has a larger problem, which is only apparently less pressing: How to reckon with the strategic and moral damage the United States has done and is still doing to the shared well-being of the human family?

In addition to the lives it has needlessly destroyed, the war has helped ignite the most volatile region on earth; it has polluted US relations with former allies; and it has resuscitated the armed suspicions of former enemies. What of more value has been lost than the golden opportunity at the end of the Cold War to further empty nuclear arsenals, to midwife international structures of law, to heal the planet’s poisoned environment, to address the global crisis of southern poverty?

Memorial Day is a time of social grief. We deliberately call to mind the names and faces of the dead. We attend to their selfless patriotism, and the courage with which they conducted themselves. We insist that, no matter how misbegotten the cause in which they died, they did not die in vain.

In the glorious past, that faith depended on carrying wars forward to the point of victory, which alone redeemed the mortal loss. But now, we eulogize the heroes without approving the war that killed them. Because today’s national desolation must include a larger grief for lost American virtue, the determination that the fallen not have died in vain requires that their sacrifice be taken as a fuller opening to the truths both of what our leaders have wrought, and of the responsibility that belongs to us all.

The proper memorial to the war in Iraq is its immediate end.

James Carroll’s column appears regularly in the Globe.

© Copyright 2007 The Boston Globe

Good Riddance Attention Whore

by Cindy Sheehan

I have endured a lot of smear and hatred since Casey was killed and especially since I became the so-called “Face” of the American anti-war movement. Especially since I renounced any tie I have remaining with the Democratic Party, I have been further trashed on such “liberal blogs” as the Democratic Underground. Being called an “attention whore” and being told “good riddance” are some of the more milder rebukes.

I have come to some heartbreaking conclusions this Memorial Day Morning. These are not spur of the moment reflections, but things I have been meditating on for about a year now. The conclusions that I have slowly and very reluctantly come to are very heartbreaking to me.

The first conclusion is that I was the darling of the so-called left as long as I limited my protests to George Bush and the Republican Party. Of course, I was slandered and libeled by the right as a “tool” of the Democratic Party. This label was to marginalize me and my message. How could a woman have an original thought, or be working outside of our “two-party” system?

However, when I started to hold the Democratic Party to the same standards that I held the Republican Party, support for my cause started to erode and the “left” started labeling me with the same slurs that the right used. I guess no one paid attention to me when I said that the issue of peace and people dying for no reason is not a matter of “right or left”, but “right and wrong.”

I am deemed a radical because I believe that partisan politics should be left to the wayside when hundreds of thousands of people are dying for a war based on lies that is supported by Democrats and Republican alike. It amazes me that people who are sharp on the issues and can zero in like a laser beam on lies, misrepresentations, and political expediency when it comes to one party refuse to recognize it in their own party. Blind party loyalty is dangerous whatever side it occurs on. People of the world look on us Americans as jokes because we allow our political leaders so much murderous latitude and if we don’t find alternatives to this corrupt “two” party system our Representative Republic will die and be replaced with what we are rapidly descending into with nary a check or balance: a fascist corporate wasteland. I am demonized because I don’t see party affiliation or nationality when I look at a person, I see that person’s heart. If someone looks, dresses, acts, talks and votes like a Republican, then why do they deserve support just because he/she calls him/herself a Democrat?

I have also reached the conclusion that if I am doing what I am doing because I am an “attention whore” then I really need to be committed. I have invested everything I have into trying to bring peace with justice to a country that wants neither. If an individual wants both, then normally he/she is not willing to do more than walk in a protest march or sit behind his/her computer criticizing others. I have spent every available cent I got from the money a “grateful” country gave me when they killed my son and every penny that I have received in speaking or book fees since then. I have sacrificed a 29 year marriage and have traveled for extended periods of time away from Casey’s brother and sisters and my health has suffered and my hospital bills from last summer (when I almost died) are in collection because I have used all my energy trying to stop this country from slaughtering innocent human beings. I have been called every despicable name that small minds can think of and have had my life threatened many times.

The most devastating conclusion that I reached this morning, however, was that Casey did indeed die for nothing. His precious lifeblood drained out in a country far away from his family who loves him, killed by his own country which is beholden to and run by a war machine that even controls what we think. I have tried every since he died to make his sacrifice meaningful. Casey died for a country which cares more about who will be the next American Idol than how many people will be killed in the next few months while Democrats and Republicans play politics with human lives. It is so painful to me to know that I bought into this system for so many years and Casey paid the price for that allegiance. I failed my boy and that hurts the most.

I have also tried to work within a peace movement that often puts personal egos above peace and human life. This group won’t work with that group; he won’t attend an event if she is going to be there; and why does Cindy Sheehan get all the attention anyway? It is hard to work for peace when the very movement that is named after it has so many divisions.

Our brave young men and women in Iraq have been abandoned there indefinitely by their cowardly leaders who move them around like pawns on a chessboard of destruction and the people of Iraq have been doomed to death and fates worse than death by people worried more about elections than people. However, in five, ten, or fifteen years, our troops will come limping home in another abject defeat and ten or twenty years from then, our children’s children will be seeing their loved ones die for no reason, because their grandparents also bought into this corrupt system. George Bush will never be impeached because if the Democrats dig too deeply, they may unearth a few skeletons in their own graves and the system will perpetuate itself in perpetuity.

I am going to take whatever I have left and go home. I am going to go home and be a mother to my surviving children and try to regain some of what I have lost. I will try to maintain and nurture some very positive relationships that I have found in the journey that I was forced into when Casey died and try to repair some of the ones that have fallen apart since I began this single-minded crusade to try and change a paradigm that is now, I am afraid, carved in immovable, unbendable and rigidly mendacious marble.

Camp Casey has served its purpose. It’s for sale. Anyone want to buy five beautiful acres in Crawford, Texas? I will consider any reasonable offer. I hear George Bush will be moving out soon, too…which makes the property even more valuable.

This is my resignation letter as the “face” of the American anti-war movement. This is not my “Checkers” moment, because I will never give up trying to help people in the world who are harmed by the empire of the good old US of A, but I am finished working in, or outside of this system. This system forcefully resists being helped and eats up the people who try to help it. I am getting out before it totally consumes me or anymore people that I love and the rest of my resources.

Good-bye America…you are not the country that I love and I finally realized no matter how much I sacrifice, I can’t make you be that country unless you want it.

It’s up to you now.

Cindy Sheehan is the mother of Spc. Casey Austin Sheehan who was KIA in Iraq on 04/04/04. She is a co-founder and President of Gold Star Families for Peace and the author of two books: Not One More Mother’s Child and Dear President Bush.

The Republican Plan For 2008 Begins Today

by Thom Hartmann

It’s difficult to watch Democrats play checkers while Republicans play chess with Iraq. It’s particularly difficult on Memorial Day as more Americans and Iraqis die. But the Republican Party has been playing politics with Iraq since the day after the Supreme Court installed George W. Bush in office in 2001, and they have no intention of stopping now. They may have borrowed some techniques from Richard Nixon, but they have no intention of repeating his mistakes.

The political calculus being pursued by Karl Rove and the Republican Party with regard to Iraq and the 2008 elections is a simple four-step process:

1. Shift “ownership” of the downside of the “war” and occupation of Iraq to the Democrats.

2. Begin to wind down American involvement in the occupation of Iraq no later than mid-2008.

3. “Claim victory and get out” of direct combat in Iraq by the early fall of 2008.

4. Win big in the 2008 elections by having “won” a “war.”

Step one was accomplished last week, when Republicans - particularly those most visible in our corporate “mainstream” media - played up hugely how “Democrats” in the House and Senate had “caved in” to George W. Bush’s demand for a “free hand” in Iraq. Bush, of course, is not up for re-election, so it’s no problem for him to take the short-term heat for the ongoing death and destruction in Iraq. With $500 million budgeted to re-write history after he leaves office (the so-called “Bush Library” and “think tank” associated with it), Bush has plenty of time to rehabilitate his legacy, much as Reagan’s handlers have so deftly done.

With the Democrats “giving the President what he wanted” on Iraq, the average person in our nation now thinks Democrats and Bush are jointly responsible for the current “mess” in Iraq.

Step two was initiated a few weeks ago with diplomatic initiatives by Condoleezza Rice to Iran and Syria. At Bush’s news conference about the passage of the Iraq funding bill, he all but laid out this strategy, in citing the Baker/Hamilton Commission, which recommended pulling Iran and Syria (and other nations in the region) into the process of stabilizing Iraq, and redeploying American forces to “safe” places like the Green Zone, the huge military cities (”bases”) we’re building there, and to nearby countries like Kuwait. A day later, the Bush Administration quietly announced that they were dropping funding for covert destabilization programs against Iran and Syria, and initiating talks with Iran “about Iraq.”

Bush will now follow nearly exactly the script the Democrats wrote in the bill Bush vetoed, reducing and redeploying out troops over the next 15 months, all in anticipation of the 2008 elections. Except that the Democrats, having failed to override his veto and having “caved in” to him, can no longer claim any ownership whatever to the successes that will come from it - Republicans in Congress and Bush will claim all of that.

This is the end-game of a political equation that was begun the day after Bush was sworn into office.

We know that Bush wanted to massively cut taxes on his corporate sponsors and people, like himself, with substantial inherited fortunes. He wanted to weaken government protections of the environment, children, the poor, the elderly, the ozone layer, and our nation’s forests. He wanted his oil-rig and mining-interest friends to have more access to public lands.

We know he wanted to undo Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal by stripping the American workplace (particularly government and schools) of unions, rolling back “socialist” unemployment and Social Security programs, and eliminating SEC and tort restraints on predatory corporate behavior. He’d even campaigned on this platform - particularly Social Security privatization - back in 1978 when he unsuccessfully ran for Congress from Texas.

We know he wanted to increase the police power of the federal government, gut the First and Fourth Amendments, and thus create a “safe and orderly nation” of people under constant surveillance, who never question those in power.

We know he wanted to give billions of our tax dollars to churches he approved of, and bring their leaders into the halls of government. He wanted to pass laws incorporating religious dogma about when human life begins, what is appropriate sexuality, and free churches to use tax-exempt dollars to influence politics.

It was an ambitious agenda. In order to bring about this neoconservative paradise, Bush knew he’d need considerable political capital. And that kind of capital didn’t come from his being selected as President by the Supreme Court.

Such political capital - such raw political power - would only come, he believed, by his becoming a “war president.”

Bush wasn’t the first to realize how war strengthened a president in power, although the Founders saw it as a danger rather than an opportunity.

On April 20, 1795, James Madison wrote, “Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes. And armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.

Reflecting on war’s impact on the Executive Branch of government, Madison continued his letter about the dangerous and intoxicating power of war for a president.

In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive [President] is extended,” he wrote. “Its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war…and in the degeneracy of manners and morals, engendered by both.

No nation,” he concluded, “could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.

But freedom wasn’t the goal of George W. Bush or his neoconservative Republican colleagues. It was political power. And they were willing to lie us into a war to achieve it.

Writer Russ Baker noted in October, 2004, that Mickey Herskowitz, the man Bush had originally hired to write his autobiography (”A Charge To Keep: My Journey To The White House“), told Baker that George Bush was planning his Iraq invasion - to seize and hold political power for himself and the Republican Party - during his first presidential election campaign.

“He was thinking about invading Iraq in 1999,” Herskowitz told Baker. “It was on his mind. He [Bush] said to me: ‘One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief.’ And he said, ‘My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it.’ He said, ‘If I have a chance to invade, if I had that much capital, I’m not going to waste it. I’m going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I’m going to have a successful presidency.”

The Senate Intelligence committee released, just in time for the Memorial Day Weekend, the “Part Two” of their report that Republican Senator Pat Roberts had kept from release until after the elections, showing clearly that Bush lied about the intelligence he had in 2002, both to Congress, to the American people, and to the world. Bush lied and people died - and continue to die. But politically - at least so far - it has worked out well for Bush.

It was a lie of political expediency, with the war resolution carefully timed just before the 2002 elections to help the Republicans take back the Senate.

It was echoed and amplified and repeated over and over again to help him and other Republicans get elected in 2004.

It wasn’t just a war for oil - cheap oil was just a useful secondary benefit.

It wasn’t just a war against terrorism - that was just a convenient excuse.

It wasn’t just a war to enrich Bush’s and Cheney’s cronies - those were just pleasant by-products.

It wasn’t just a war to show Poppy Bush that Junior was more of a man than him - that was just a personal bonus for Dubya.

It was, pure and simple, well planned years in advance, a war to solidify Bush and the Republican Party’s political capital.

It was a war for political power. That had to be first. Everything else - oil, profits, ongoing PATRIOT Act powers, easy manipulation of the media - all could only come if political power was seized and held through at least two decisive election cycles.

The Bush administration lied us into an invasion to get and keep political power. It’s that simple. It’s the same reason Richard Nixon authorized Watergate and then lied about the cover-up. The same reason Nixon lied about his “secret plan” to get out of Vietnam.

And now Democrats think they’ll be able to claim the high ground, but they just lost it all. Even as Harry Reid declared on the day Bush accepted his new Iraq funding that, “Democrats will continue to insist that this administration accept responsibility for its failed conduct of this war…” the Republican media machine was shoving that responsibility down the throats of the Democrats.

Meanwhile, the Bush plan is imminently clear to the Republicans in Congress. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, about the same time Reid was speaking, was telling reporters that “the handwriting is on the wall that we are going in a different direction in the fall, and I expect the president to lead it.” Republican Senator Jeff Sessions openly said that same day that the “war” in Iraq is no longer a “war,” but an occupation, setting the stage for a withdrawal that won’t be perceived as a defeat.

The plan is simple. By November of 2008, the “victories” of the Democrats’ first hundred days in office will be long forgotten, the “war” will be remembered as “difficult, but at least we won it,” and those “anti-war” Democrats will be portrayed as wimps or cravenly anti-American.

The only question now is how placidly the Democrats will continue to play their assigned role in this little drama. And how many more people will die between now and the time Republicans cynically (and finally) execute their strategy in time for the 2008 elections.

Thom Hartmann (thom at is a Project Censored Award-winning New York Times best-selling author, and host of a nationally syndicated daily progressive talk program on the Air America Radio Network. His most recent books are “The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight,” “Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights,” “We The People: A Call To Take Back America,” “What Would Jefferson Do?,” “Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class and What We Can Do About It,” and “Cracking The Code: The Art and Science of Political Persuasion.”

National Women’s Group Fights War With the Color Pink

by Tamara Bartlett

For most, the color pink may be associated with spring flowers or newborn baby girls. But for members of the women’s peace organization Code Pink, the color pink stands as a symbol for ending the war in Iraq.

“(We’re) reclaiming pink as a powerful women’s peace color,” said Zanne Joi, a Code Pink organizer and activist in the San Francisco Bay Area chapter.0529 01

Code Pink, a grassroots women’s peace organization, was started five years ago after the U.S. government issued the Homeland Security Advisory System, which color-coded threat levels within the U.S.

A group of women created their own color code by developing Code Pink as “a call to women all over the world to step forward, take over and to work for peace,” Joi said.

Among the group’s activities, Code Pink’s San Francisco Bay Area chapter is involved in Pelosi Watch, an event held on the weekends in which participants camp out in front of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Ca) San Francisco residence in an effort to urge Pelosi to take a strong stance against the war.

The chapter also puts on the Passionate Hot Pink Rush Hour Bannering in Berkeley where members display banners on the University Avenue footbridge every Friday morning to reach commuters.

The event is called “passionate hot pink,” because members are “passionately working to end war,” Joi said.

While local Code Pink members create unique activities such as bannering, the chapter also joins in a weekly vigil every Wednesday evening with other Code Pink chapters across the nation to stop the war in Iraq and remember those who died in battle.

Code Pink also operates on a national level as the organization has a house in Washington, D.C. which is open to all members.

The two-story, five-bedroom house was given to the activists by an anonymous donor who contributed the rent for a year, Joi said.

Code Pink activists moved into the house March 1 with some activists living in it full-time and others visiting for a short time.

The house, which is less than a mile from the Capitol, is used by the activists as a base from which they speak directly with Congressmembers, the military and other groups visiting Washington, D.C.

“D.C. is such the power center of our country,” Joi said. “Everday, you have the power to influence so many people from so many walks of life.”

While the organization has received a strong show of support through the anonymous donor and individual participation in local chapters, the response to Code Pink activities has not always been positive.

“Code Pink has a bad name because we act up and get in the media,” said group member Kathleen Greene.

A number of Code Pink members were arrested in 2003, for example, when the organization led a march in Washington D.C. against the invasion of Iraq.

Despite the mixed responses, Joi said the group will continue to fight against war, joining other peace organizations in the “summer of protests” where peace organizations will continuously protest for peace.

“Women are much more likely to use words, value collaboration and talk things out,” Joi said. “Those people who think we need war to resolve things, they need to step down and step away.”

Tamara Bartlett is an assistant news editor. Contact her at

© 2007 The Daily Californian

Democrats in Washington Want To Keep Impeachment Off The Table

by Steven Thomma

WASHINGTON - The push to impeach President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney is gaining a hearing in some parts of the country, but not in Washington.

More than 70 cities and 14 state Democratic parties have urged impeachment or investigations that could lead to impeachment. The most common charge is that Bush manipulated intelligence to lead the country into the Iraq war. Other charges include spying on Americans and torturing suspected terrorists in violation of U.S. and international law.

Most recently, the Massachusetts Democratic Party voted to push impeachment of both men. The 2,500 state convention delegates voted almost unanimously against Cheney; the vote against Bush was closer.

Massachusetts’ Democratic Party thus joined 13 others on the investigate-or-impeach bandwagon, including: Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.

0529 06Among the cities and towns, the largest and most recent is Detroit, where the city council voted 7-0 this month to urge Congress to impeach Bush and Cheney for “intentionally misleading Congress and the public regarding the threat from Iraq in order to justify the war.”

“There’s a lot growing in support,” said Tim Carpenter, the director of the liberal group Progressive Democrats of America. “Whether Congress will respond, that’s another question.”

Indeed. The Democrats who run Congress have no interest in impeaching Bush or Cheney, despite pressure from their party’s base outside the Beltway.

It’s noteworthy that impeachment pressure is coming from the home states of the two Democratic leaders in Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

Pelosi said last year that impeachment “is off the table.” Under the Constitution, the House impeaches; the Senate then decides whether to convict and remove from office.

It’s also interesting that one of the resolutions came from Detroit, home to Rep. John Conyers, who as the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee would lead any impeachment hearings.

The Detroit resolution was co-authored by Monica Conyers, the congressman’s wife. But she hasn’t had any noticeable clout at home: Conyers said last year that he wasn’t interested in impeachment - just oversight investigations - and he hasn’t changed his stand.

There are both policy and political reasons that Democratic leaders are risking the anger of their base.

One is that some don’t see an impeachable offense in what Bush has done, what the Constitution calls “high crimes and misdemeanors.” They might find such evidence in any of the many congressional investigations, but they haven’t yet.

Another is that they fear a political backlash from voters similar to the one that punished Republicans after they impeached Bill Clinton. One factor on the side of the pro-impeachment crowd: Clinton was much more popular than Bush.

The third is that they’re eager to keep Bush and Cheney around as punching bags for Democratic candidates in the 2008 campaign.

“The political lens they’re looking through is the 2008 election,” Carpenter said. “They want to see Bush and Cheney dangling so the election is a referendum on them. That is not the correct lens.”

To him, the right lens is the last election, when voters threw the Republicans out of power in Congress. Those people, he said, now want Bush and Cheney out.

“There is a groundswell here,” Carpenter said. “Pelosi says it’s off the table. It’s our role to put it on the table.”

© 2007 McClatchy Newspapers

A Quiet Revolution in Algeria: Gains by Women

By Michele Slackman
The New York Times

Saturday 26 May 2007

Algiers - In this tradition-bound nation scarred by a brutal Islamist-led civil war that killed more than 100,000, a quiet revolution is under way: women are emerging as an economic and political force unheard of in the rest of the Arab world.

Women make up 70 percent of Algeria's lawyers and 60 percent of its judges. Women dominate medicine. Increasingly, women contribute more to household income than men. Sixty percent of university students are women, university researchers say.

In a region where women have a decidedly low public profile, Algerian women are visible everywhere. They are starting to drive buses and taxicabs. They pump gas and wait on tables.

Although men still hold all of the formal levers of power and women still make up only 20 percent of the work force, that is more than twice their share a generation ago, and they seem to be taking over the machinery of state as well.

"If such a trend continues," said Daho Djerbal, editor and publisher of Naqd, a magazine of social criticism and analysis, "we will see a new phenomenon where our public administration will also be controlled by women."

The change seems to have sneaked up on Algerians, who for years have focused more on the struggle between a governing party trying to stay in power and Islamists trying to take that power.

Those who study the region say they are taken aback by the data but suggest that an explanation may lie in the educational system and the labor market.

University studies are no longer viewed as a credible route toward a career or economic well-being, and so men may well opt out and try to find work or to simply leave the country, suggested Hugh Roberts, a historian and the North Africa project director of the International Crisis Group.

But for women, he added, university studies get them out of the house and allow them to position themselves better in society. "The dividend may be social rather than in terms of career," he said.

This generation of Algerian women has navigated a path between the secular state and the pull of extremist Islam, the two poles of the national crisis of recent years.

The women are more religious than previous generations, and more modern, sociologists here said. Women cover their heads and drape their bodies with traditional Islamic coverings. They pray. They go to the mosque - and they work, often alongside men, once considered taboo.

Sociologists and many working women say that by adopting religion and wearing the Islamic head covering called the hijab, women here have in effect freed themselves from moral judgments and restrictions imposed by men. Uncovered women are rarely seen on the street late at night, but covered women can be seen strolling the city after attending the evening prayer at a mosque.

"They never criticize me, especially when they see I am wearing the hijab," said Denni Fatiha, 44, the first woman to drive a large city bus through the narrow, winding roads of Algiers.

The impact has been far-reaching and profound.

In some neighborhoods, for example, birthrates appear to have fallen and class sizes in elementary schools have dropped by nearly half. It appears that women are delaying marriage to complete their studies, though delayed marriage is also a function of high unemployment. In the past, women typically married at 17 or 18 but now marry on average at 29, sociologists said.

And when they marry, it is often to men who are far less educated, creating an awkward social reality for many women.

Khalida Rahman is a lawyer. She is 33 and has been married to a night watchman for five months. Her husband was a friend of her brothers who showed up one day and proposed. She immediately said yes, she recalled.

She describes her life now this way: "Whenever I leave him it is just as if I am a man. But when I get home I become a woman."

Fatima Oussedik, a sociologist, said, "We in the '60s, we were progressive, but we did not achieve what is being achieved by this generation today." Ms. Oussedik, who works for the Research Center for Applied Economics and Development in Algiers, does not wear the hijab and prefers to speak in French.

Researchers here say the change is not driven by demographics; women make up only a bit more than half of the population. They said it is driven by desire and opportunity.

Algeria's young men reject school and try to earn money as traders in the informal sector, selling goods on the street, or they focus their efforts on leaving the country or just hanging out. There is a whole class of young men referred to as hittistes - the word is a combination of French and Arabic for people who hold up walls.

Increasingly, the people here have lost faith in their government, which draws its legitimacy from a revolution now more than five decades old, many political and social analysts said. In recent parliamentary elections, turnout was low and there were 970,000 protest votes - cast by people who intentionally destroyed their ballots - nearly as many as the 1.3 million votes cast in support of the governing party.

There are regular protests, and riots, all over the country, with people complaining about corruption, lack of services and economic disparities. There are violent attacks, too: bombings aimed at the police, officials and foreigners. A triple suicide bombing on April 11 against the prime minister's office and the police left more than 30 people dead.

In that context, women may have emerged as Algeria's most potent force for social change, with their presence in the bureaucracy and on the street having a potentially moderating and modernizing influence on society, sociologists said.

"Women, and the women's movement, could be leading us to modernity," said Abdel Nasser Djabi, a professor of sociology at the University of Algiers.

Not everyone is happy with those dynamics. Some political and social analysts say the recent resurgence in radical Islamist activity, including bombings, is driven partly by a desire to slow the social change the country is experiencing, especially regarding women's role in society.

Others complain that the growing participation of women in society is a direct violation of the faith.

"I am against this," said Esmail Ben Ibrahim, an imam at a neighborhood mosque near the center of the city. "It is all wrong from a religious point of view. Society has embarked on the wrong path."

The quest for identity is a constant undercurrent in much of the Middle East. But it is arguably the most complicated question in Algeria, a nation whose borders were drawn by France and whose people speak Berber, Arabic and French.

After a bitter experience with French occupation and a seven-year revolutionary war that brought independence in 1962 at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives, the leaders here chose to adopt Islam and Arab identity as the force to unify the country. Arabic replaced French as the language of education, and the French secular curriculum was replaced with a curriculum heavy on religion.

At the same time, girls were encouraged to go to school.

Now, more than four decades later, Algeria's youth - 70 percent of the population is under 30, researchers said - have grown up with Arabic and an orientation toward Middle Eastern issues. Arabic-language television networks like Al Jazeera have become the popular reference point, more so than French television, observers here said.

In the 1990s radical Islamist ideas gained popular support, and terrorism was widely accepted as a means to win power. More than 100,000 people died in years of civil conflict. Today most people say the experience has forced them to reject the most radical ideas. So although Algerians are more religious now than they were during the bloody 1990s, they are more likely to embrace modernity - a partial explanation for the emergence of women as a societal force, some analysts said.

That is not the case in more rural mountainous areas, where women continue to live by the code of tradition. But for the time being, most people say that for now the community's collective consciousness is simply too raw from the years of civil war for Islamist terrorists or radical Islamic ideas to gain popular support.

There is a sense that the new room given to women may at least partly be a reflection of that general feeling. The population has largely rejected the most radical interpretation of Islam and has begun to return to the more North African, almost mystical, interpretation of the faith, sociologists and religious leaders said.

Whatever the underlying reason, women in the streets of the city are brimming with enthusiasm.

"I don't think any of this contradicts Islam," said Wahiba Nabti, 36, as she walked through the center of the city one day recently. "On the contrary, Islam gives freedom to work. Anyway, it is between you and God."

Ms. Nabti wore a black scarf covering her head and a long black gown that hid the shape of her body. "I hope one day I can drive a crane, so I can really be financially independent," she said. "You cannot always rely on a man."