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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

FT.com / World / Asia-Pacific - Taiwan's president fails to get his priorities right

FT.com / World / Asia-Pacific - Taiwan's president fails to get his priorities rightTaiwan's president fails to get his priorities right
By Kathrin Hille in Taipei
Published: December 28 2005 02:00 | Last updated: December 28 2005 02:00

In just five years President Chen Shui-bian has fallen from being Taiwan's hero of democracy to become its most reviled politician.
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In 2000, Mr Chen swept away a ruling party that had held power for more than 50 years, carried by a wave of hope for political and judicial reform and clean government that was backed by 70 per cent of the population.

Now, according to a recent opinion poll, he is left with 10 per cent of the vote. After a crushing defeat in local elections this month, even his Democratic Progressive party is turning against him.

"We desperately need to reform and the key problem is the president," says Shen Fu-hsiung, an outspoken veteran DPP politician.

Mr Chen appears to be at a loss as to what happened. His staff have contacted scholars asking for advice about what he is doing wrong. Just about everything, is the answer. "The lethal blow has been the growing impression over the past year that this government is corrupt," says Emile Sheng, a professor at Soochow University in Taipei.

The Kuomintang, Taiwan's former ruling party, had long been viewed as corrupt. This year a string of scandals involving DPP-appointed officials has dragged the party into the same trouble.

The financial regulator's chief investigator was found to been in close social contact with suspects in an insider trading scandal. Then, irregularities were uncovered in a public transport project in the southern city of Kaohsiung, and now a long-time associate of Mr Chen is one of the prime suspects in bid rigging and corruption.

The deterioration of the DPP's ethical standards has been the last straw. Critics say the president has lost people's trust because of his erratic leadership style and his failure to formulate and execute reforms.

"I don't believe that clean government is the most important issue on our reform agenda," says Lin Cho-shui, a veteran DPP lawmaker. "A much bigger problem is that Chen Shui-bian's mysterious leadership style and his short-term opportunistic decision-making don't work any more."

Mr Chen's government has frequently changed policy direction, most obviously in relations with China. After pledging more economic exchanges across the Strait early in his first term, he later turned to aggressive anti-China rhetoric and last year played to pro-independence sentiment in a re-election campaign that provoked the mainland.

The president made his about-turns without consulting his cabinet or going through government channels. Mr Chen has changed premiers four times and the administration has become inefficient. The government's erratic course has also exacerbated its problems with the opposition, which controls parliament.

"We are left without proper communication between the party and the president, and relations between the president and his cabinet, as well as between the executive and the legislative, are in disarray," complains Kuan Bi-ling, a DPP lawmaker close to Frank Hsieh, the premier.

Mr Lin adds that the president's authoritarian style has prevented a debate on the party's stance on national identity and relations with China, which should have taken place long ago.

Presidential aides defend Mr Chen. "He needs to respond to different groups in a society which is deeply split in its view towards national identity and its relations with the mainland," says one of his staff.

But with little more than two years until the next presidential election and big city mayoral polls, and legislative elections coming up next year and in 2007, the DPP no longer accepts these arguments.

"We have been in power for almost six years and it's been a complete failure," says Lee Chun-yee, a DPP lawmaker.

Lee Wen-chung, another heavyweight in the DPP's legislative caucus, blames Mr Chen for the DPP government's weak policy record. "Our party's platform says we want economic liberalisation but at the same time we demand fairness and social security. Since the president has failed to set priorities, nothing gets done at all."

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Ghana's Uneasy Embrace of Slavery's Diaspora - New York Times

Ghana's Uneasy Embrace of Slavery's Diaspora - New York TimesDecember 27, 2005
Ghana's Uneasy Embrace of Slavery's Diaspora
By LYDIA POLGREEN

CAPE COAST, Ghana - For centuries, Africans walked through the infamous "door of no return" at Cape Coast castle directly into slave ships, never to set foot in their homelands again. These days, the portal of this massive fort so central to one of history's greatest crimes has a new name, hung on a sign leading back in from the roaring Atlantic Ocean: "The door of return."

Ghana, through whose ports millions of Africans passed on their way to plantations in the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean, wants its descendants to come back.

Taking Israel as its model, Ghana hopes to persuade the descendants of enslaved Africans to think of Africa as their homeland - to visit, invest, send their children to be educated and even retire here.

"We want Africans everywhere, no matter where they live or how they got there, to see Ghana as their gateway home," J. Otanka Obetsebi-Lamptey, the tourism minister, said on a recent day. "We hope we can help bring the African family back together again."

In many ways it is a quixotic goal. Ghana is doing well by West African standards - with steady economic growth, a stable, democratic government and broad support from the West, making it a favored place for wealthy countries to give aid.

But it remains a very poor, struggling country where a third of the population lives on less than a dollar a day, life expectancy tops out at 59 and basic services like electricity and water are sometimes scarce.

Nevertheless, thousands of African-Americans already live here at least part of the year, said Valerie Papaya Mann, president of the African American Association of Ghana.

To encourage still more to come, or at least visit, Ghana plans to offer a special lifetime visa for members of the diaspora and will relax citizenship requirements so that descendants of slaves can receive Ghanaian passports. The government is also starting an advertising campaign to persuade Ghanaians to treat African-Americans more like long-lost relatives than as rich tourists. That is harder than it sounds.

Many African-Americans who visit Africa are unsettled to find that Africans treat them - even refer to them - the same way as white tourists. The term "obruni," or "white foreigner," is applied regardless of skin color.

To African-Americans who come here seeking their roots, the term is a sign of the chasm between Africans and African-Americans. Though they share a legacy, they experience it entirely differently.

"It is a shock for any black person to be called white," said Ms. Mann, who moved here two years ago. "But it is really tough to hear it when you come with your heart to seek your roots in Africa."

The advertising campaign urges Ghanaians to drop "obruni" in favor of "akwaaba anyemi," a slightly awkward phrase fashioned from two tribal languages meaning "welcome, sister or brother." As part of the effort to reconnect with the diaspora, Ghana plans to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., W. E. B. DuBois and others it calls modern-day Josephs, after the biblical figure who rose from slavery to save his people.

The government plans to hold a huge event in 2007 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the end of the trans-Atlantic trade by Britain and the 50th anniversary of Ghana's independence. The ceremonies will include traditional African burial rituals for the millions who died as a result of slavery.

Estimates of the trade vary widely. The most reliable suggest that between 12 million and 25 million people living in the vast lands between present-day Senegal and Angola were caught up, and as many as half died en route to the Americas.

Some perished on the long march from the inland villages where they were captured to seaports. Others died in the dungeons of slave castles and forts, where they were sometimes kept for months, until enough were gathered to pack the hold of a ship. Still others died in the middle passage, the longest leg of the triangular journey between Europe, Africa and the Americas. Of the estimated 11 million who crossed the sea, most went to South America and the Caribbean. About 500,000 are believed to have ended up in the United States.

The mass deportations and the divisions the slave trade wrought are wounds from which Africa still struggles to recover.

Ghana was the first sub-Saharan African nation to shake off its colonial rulers, winning its independence from Britain in 1957. Its founding father, Kwame Nkrumah, attended Lincoln University, a historically black college in Pennsylvania, and saw in African-Americans a key to developing the new nation.

"Nkrumah saw the American Negro as the vanguard of the African people," said Henry Louis Gates Jr., chairman of the African and African-American studies department at Harvard, who first traveled to Ghana when he was 20 and fresh out of Harvard, afire with Nkrumah's spirit. "He wanted to be able to utilize the services and skills of African-Americans as Ghana made the transition from colonialism to independence."

Many African-Americans, from Maya Angelou to Malcolm X, visited Ghana in the 1950's and 60's, and a handful stayed. To Nkrumah, the struggle for civil rights in the diaspora and the struggles for independence from colonial rule in Africa were inextricably linked, both being expressions of the desire of black people everywhere to regain their freedom.

But Nkrumah was ousted in a coup in 1966, and by then Pan-Africanism had already given way to nationalism and cold war politics, sending much of the continent down a trail of autocracy, civil war and heartbreak.

Still, African-Americans are drawn to Ghana's rich culture, and the history of slavery.

Ghana still has dozens of slave forts, each a chilling reminder of the brutality of the trade. At Elmina Castle, built by the Portuguese in 1482 and taken over by the Dutch 150 years later, visitors are guided through a Christian chapel built adjacent to the hall where slaves were auctioned, and the balcony over the women's dungeons from which the fort's governor would choose a concubine from the chattel below.

The room through which slaves passed into waiting ships is the emotional climax of the tour, a suffocating dungeon dimly lit by sunlight pouring through a narrow portal leading to the churning sea.

"You feel our history here," said Dianne Mark, an administrator at Central Michigan University who visited Elmina Castle, six miles from Cape Coast castle, in early December, tears welling in her eyes as she gazed across the massive, buttressed walls to the ocean. "This is where our people are from. That is a deep, deep experience. I look at everyone and wonder, 'Could he have been my cousin? Could she have been my aunt?' "

Like any family reunion, this one is layered with joy and tears. For African-Americans and others in the African diaspora, there is lingering hostility and confusion about the role Africans played in the slave trade.

"The myth was our African ancestors were out on a walk one day and some bad white dude threw a net over them," Mr. Gates said. "But that wasn't the way it happened. It wouldn't have been possible without the help of Africans."

Many Africans, meanwhile, often fail to see any connection at all between them and African-Americans, or feel African-Americans are better off for having been taken to the United States. Many Africans strive to emigrate; for the past 15 years, the number of Africans moving to the United States has surpassed estimates of the number forced there during any of the peak years of the slave trade. The number of immigrants from Ghana in the United States is larger than that of any other African country except Nigeria, according to the 2000 census.

"So many Africans want to go to America, so they can't understand why Americans would want to come here," said Philip Amoa-Mensah, a guide at Elmina Castle. "Maybe Ghanaians think they are lucky to be from America, even though their ancestors went through so much pain."

The relationship is clearly a work in progress. Ghanaians are still learning of their ancestors' pivotal roles in the slave trade, and slave forts on the coast, long used to thousands of foreign visitors, have in recent years become sites for school field trips.

When the United States and the United Nations gave Ghana money to rehabilitate and restore Cape Coast castle, the government agency responsible for the castle repainted it white. Residents of Cape Coast were thrilled to see the moisture-blackened castle spruced up, but African-Americans living in Ghana were horrified, feeling that the history of their ancestors was being, quite literally, whitewashed.

"It didn't go over too well," said Kohain Nathanyah Halevi, an African-American who lives near Cape Coast.

A recent African-American visitor to Cape Coast castle took the emotionally charged step through the door of no return, only to be greeted by a pair of toddlers playing in a fishing boat on the other side, pointing and shouting, "obruni, obruni!"

William Kwaku Moses, 71, a retired security guard who sells shells to tourists on the other side of the door of no return, shushed the children.

"We are trying," he said, with a shrug.

New York Daily News - News & Views Columnists - Stanley Crouch: Workers confuse civil service with civil rights

New York Daily News - News & Views Columnists - Stanley Crouch: Workers confuse civil service with civil rightsWorkers confuse civil
service with civil rights

New Yorkers always seem to find themselves caught between big money and the visible permanent government of thousands of workers who make it possible for the millions of our citizens to move safely through this maze of a city.

These workers drive the buses and trains, they clean the streets, they pick up the garbage, they enforce the law, they fight the fires, they educate our children, they drive the ambulances, they care for the infirm and they provide every other service necessary to keep the motor of this metropolis running smoothly, cleanly and honestly.

For the second time in 25 years, we learned once again how important the transit workers are to reducing distances with efficiency and smoothness. But we also experienced something as unsettling as the frustrations that came with trying to figure out how one was going to get to work and get home.

I found Transport Workers Union President Roger Toussaint's reference to Rosa Parks - in an attempt to give a salary and benefit dispute the patina of civil rights - an irresponsible distortion of the matter. I also found the Rev. Al Sharpton's comparing our mayor to white segregationist Bull Connor an even more absurd instance of overstatement, especially since Michael Bloomberg has done nothing close to hosing down nonviolent protesters or setting dogs on them.

To the contrary, Bloomberg has done a worthwhile job in overhauling our city's education system, which is comprised of nearly 85% minority students.

Toussaint's rhetoric in leading the overwhelmingly minority union is just part of what has become a norm in our society, where any heated situation involving people who are not white is suddenly thrown into the arena of civil rights or the rights of an ethnic culture. For example, black basketball players cried foul when a dress code was enforced, told by the NBA that its fans do not want to see them looking like hip hop buffoons at league functions.

At the worst end, Jesse Jackson, Louis Farrakhan and Sharpton joined Snoop Dogg and other celebrities with brains no larger than mustard seeds in mourning at the funeral of executed murderer and Crips founder Stanley (Tookie) Williams.

Given the rhetoric and the crocodile tears, one would have thought Williams was one of the four little girls blown to bits in 1963 at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.

Since Sharpton, along with Vernon Mason and Alton Maddox, diminished the meaning of the word "racism" in an attempt to defend the Tawana Brawley fraud against criticism, this is not an innocent blunder for our local rabble-rouser.

But from Toussaint, who has the honor of an important union to uphold, we should expect and get much more. As Duke Ellington once said, certain situations are not about the haves and the have-nots, they are about the haves and the want-mores. Toussaint represents people in the second category, not an oppressed ethnic minority. He, better than anyone else, should know that.

You can e-mail the Daily News editors at voicers@edit.nydailynews.com. Please include your full name, address and phone number. The Daily News reserves the right to edit letters. The shorter the letter, the better the chance it will be used.

Originally published on December 25, 2005

Monday, December 26, 2005

A New Civil Rights Movement - New York Times

A New Civil Rights Movement - New York TimesOp-Ed Columnist
A New Civil Rights Movement
By BOB HERBERT

One of the cruelest aspects of slavery was the way it wrenched apart black families, separating husbands from wives and children from their parents.

It is ironic, to say the least, that now, nearly a century and a half after the Emancipation Proclamation, much of the most devastating damage to black families, and especially black children, is self-inflicted.

You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to know that some of the most serious problems facing blacks in the United States - from poverty to incarceration rates to death at an early age - are linked in varying degrees to behavioral issues and the corrosion of black family life, especially the absence of fathers.

Another devastating aspect of slavery was the numbing ignorance that often resulted from the prohibition against the education of slaves. It was against the law in most instances for slaves to even learn to read. Now, with education widely (though imperfectly) available, we have entire legions of black youngsters turning their backs on school, choosing instead to wallow in a self-imposed ignorance that in the long run is as destructive as a bullet to the brain.

I remember interviewing a 17-year-old dropout in Brooklyn who had already fathered two children by two different girls. He wasn't working and he wasn't helping to support either child. I asked if he had considered going back to school. He looked at me, puzzled. "For what?" he said.

Most black people are not poor. Most are not criminals. Most are leading productive lives. The black middle class is larger and more successful than ever. But there are millions who are still out in the cold, caught in a cycle of poverty, ignorance, illness and violence that is taking a horrendous toll.

Nearly a third of black men in their 20's have criminal records, and 8 percent of all black men between the ages of 25 and 29 are behind bars.

H.I.V. and AIDS have literally become the black plague. Although blacks are just 13 percent of the overall population, they account for more than half of all new H.I.V. infections. Black women account for an astonishing 72 percent of all new cases among women.

This is frightening.

Black children routinely get a rough start in life. Two-thirds of them are born out of wedlock, and nearly half of all black children brought up in a single-parent household are poor. Those kids are much more likely to drop out of school, struggle economically, be initiators or victims of violence, and endure a variety of serious health problems.

We can pretend that these terrible things are not happening, but they are. There's a crisis in the black community, and it won't do to place all of the blame on society and government.

I've spent years writing about unfairness and appalling injustices. Society is unfair and racism is still a rampant evil. But much of the suffering in black America could be alleviated by changes in behavior. What's more, those behavioral changes would empower the community in ways that would make it easier to successfully confront opponents in government and push the society in a more equitable direction.

The problems facing black people today are comparable in magnitude to those of the Jim Crow era of the 20th century. There were leaders in those days who were equal to the challenge.

I believe that nothing short of a new movement, comparable in scope and dedication to that of the civil rights era, is required to bring about the changes in values and behavior needed to halt the self-destruction that is consuming so many black lives. The crucial question is whether the leadership exists to mount such an effort.

A good first step would be a summit meeting of wise and dedicated men and women willing to think about creative new ways to approach such problems as crime and violence, out-of-wedlock births, drug and alcohol abuse, irresponsible sexual behavior, misogyny, and so on.

Addressing issues of values and behavior within the black community should not in any way imply a lessening of the pressure on the broader society to meet its legal and ethical obligations. It should be seen as an essential counterpoint to that pressure.

Most important, it should be seen as a crucial component of the obligation that black adults have to create a broadly nurturing environment in which succeeding generations of black children can survive and thrive.

Despite the sometimes valiant efforts of individuals and organizations across the country, we are not meeting that obligation now. And that's because there's a vacuum where our leadership should be.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Blowing the Whistle on Gangsta Culture - New York Times


Blowing the Whistle on Gangsta Culture - New York Times:

December 22, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist
Blowing the Whistle on Gangsta Culture
By BOB HERBERT

BOSTON

Edwin "E. J." Duncan was a young man from a decent family who spent a great deal of time with his friends in an amateur recording studio his parents had set up for him in the basement of their home in the Dorchester neighborhood.

It was in that studio that Duncan, along with three of his closest friends, was murdered last week, shot to death by a killer or killers who have yet to be found. Whoever carried out the executions, it seems clear enough to me that young Duncan and his friends were among the latest victims of the profoundly self-destructive cultural influences that have spread like a cancer through much of the black community and beyond.

I keep wondering when leaders of eminence will step forward and declare, unambiguously, that enough is enough, as they did in the heyday of the civil rights movement, when the enemy was white racism.

It is time to blow the whistle on the nitwits who have so successfully promoted a values system that embraces murder, drug-dealing, gang membership, misogyny, child abandonment and a sense of self so diseased that it teaches children to view the men in their orbit as niggaz and the women as hoes.

However this madness developed, it's time to bring it to an end.

I noticed that Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Louis Farrakhan, Snoop Dogg and other "leaders" and celebrities turned out in South Central Los Angeles on Tuesday for the funeral of Stanley "Tookie" Williams, the convicted killer and co-founder of the Crips street gang who was executed in California last week.

I remember talking over the years to parents in Los Angeles and elsewhere who were petrified that their children would be killed in cold blood - summarily executed, without any possibility of a defense or an appeal - by the Crips or some other gang because they just happened to be wearing the wrong color cap or jacket or whatever.

The enthusiastic turnout at Tookie Williams's funeral tells you much of what you need to know about the current state of black leadership in the U.S.

The slaughter of E. J. Duncan, who was 21, and his friends - Jason Bachiller, 21; Jihad Chankhour, 22; and Christopher Vieira, 19 - was all but literally accompanied by a hip-hop soundtrack. Duncan, Bachiller and Vieira were members of a rap group called Graveside, which favored the rough language and violent imagery that has enthralled so many youngsters and bolstered the bottom lines of major entertainment companies.

This mindless celebration of violence, the essence of gangsta rap, is a reflection of the nihilism that has taken root in one neighborhood after another over the past few decades, destroying many, many lives. The authorities here have not suggested that Duncan or his friends were involved in any criminal behavior. But the appeal of the hip-hop environment is strong, and a lot of good kids are striving to conform to images established by clowns like 50 Cent and Snoop Dogg.

The members of Graveside wanted badly to make it as rappers. Said one police officer, "They probably didn't even know they were playing with fire."

The Rev. Eugene Rivers, who has been fighting for years to reduce youth violence in Boston and elsewhere, was a neighbor of E. J. Duncan's. "My son Malcolm knew E. J. well," he told me.

He described the murders as a massacre and said he has long been worried about the glorification of violence and antisocial behavior. "Thug life," he said, "is now being globalized," thanks to the powerful marketing influence of international corporations.

This problem is not limited to the black community. E. J. Duncan and his friends came from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. But it is primarily a black problem, and it is impossible to overstate its dimensions.

I understand that jobs are hard to come by for many people, and that many schools are substandard, and that racial discrimination is still widespread. But those are not good reasons for committing cultural suicide.

I'll paraphrase Sam Cooke: A change has got to come. Reasonable standards of behavior that include real respect for life, learning and the law have to be re-established in those segments of the black community where chaos now reigns.

This has to start with a commitment to protect and nurture all of the community's children. That may seem at the moment like a task worthy of Sisyphus because it will require overcoming what the Rev. Rivers has described as "the sins of the fathers who have cursed their sons by their abandonment and neglect."

Sisyphean or not, it's a job that has to be done.
"o"

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Taipei Times - archives

Taipei Times - archivesTaiwan deserves a seat at the EAS table
By Darson Chiu and Alex Hsu 邱達生、許峻賓

Monday, Dec 19, 2005,Page 8

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If free trade is all about playing the game of comparative advantage, then regional integration is all about playing the power game, while wearing the mask of trade liberalization.

The first East Asian Summit (EAS) was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, last week. As predicted, Taiwan -- one of the Asian Tigers -- was not invited. The EAS included ASEAN, joined by China, Japan, South Korea and other countries. The ultimate goal of the EAS is regional integration. However, the integration process is a long way from being all-inclusive. How can the summit's goal be achieved without involving key players such as Taiwan?

The idea of East Asian integration is not a new concept. It actually arose out of the increased self-awareness of East Asians some 40 years ago, when the most developed country in the region, Japan, started to interact with developing countries in the region. Japan imported raw materials and exported manufactured goods, and initiated low-end technological cooperation. Afraid of being sidelined due to its World War II aggression, interested in East Asian markets and suffering from a lack of natural resources, Japan gave East Asian self-consciousness a wake-up call by economic means.

The "interactions" between Japan and East Asian developing countries generated an interdependent relationship. Through the fundamental rules of supply and demand, existing East Asian frameworks have been serving as the foundation supporting the global value chain. When it comes to the global economic system, regional phenomena can easily trigger a chain reaction. In order to prevent events like the 1997-1998 East Asian financial crisis from happening again, countries in this region have realized the significance of economic and financial cooperation.

The concept of East Asian integration should advance economic and political stability in the region. In addition, the concept should promote the competitiveness of regional enterprises through the development of efficient production networks and financial markets.

It is true that the concept is fragile without sufficient economic incentives. In response to the trends of globalization and regionalism, East Asian integration is anticipated. According to a report from the World Bank, "ASEAN plus three [including China, Japan and South Korea]" will be able to give a boost to the real GDP growth of all contracting parties. Given the fact that strong economic ties exist between Taiwan and other East Asian countries, the benefits could be further optimized if Taiwan was included in the arrangement.

From a trade and economic standpoint, there is no reason to exclude Taiwan. However, lacking common roots, the idea of East Asian integration can only emerge if East Asians come to share a common vision of the future and are happy with their roles in such a vision. But the current reality is that East Asia is still far from fulfilling that vision.

Political conflicts can be alleviated through economic incentives. No matter what style of regional integration is currently taking place, we cannot ignore its potential benefits for contracting parties and the likely impact on non-members. In the spirit of fair trade, no one should be left out of integration initiatives, especially when these initiatives serve the function of community-building to optimize the benefits of globalization. Given that its total trade with other Asian countries amounts to more than US$203 billion, Taiwan deserves to participate.

If opportunities for participation don't exist, Taiwan should create them. By taking advantage of its location, Taiwan could serve as the hub between northeast Asian and southeast Asian business networks.

Darson Chiu and Alex Hsu are assistant research fellows at the Taiwan Institute of Economic Research.

An Unnecessary Transit Strike - New York Times

An Unnecessary Transit Strike - New York TimesDecember 21, 2005
Editorial
An Unnecessary Transit Strike

The bar for job actions by New York City transit workers is set, legally, out of reach for good reason. A strike that halts buses and subways that daily carry seven million riders can devastate New York's economy and countless lives. The New Yorkers who took to the streets yesterday, some walking miles to work or other appointments, deserved better than the explanation they got from leaders of Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union - who said they had no choice but to tell their 33,000 members to begin an illegal walkout. That's ridiculous.

Negotiations did not have to end when they did. There was no impasse. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the state entity that runs the system, had compromised on several major points at the negotiating table. When Roger Toussaint, the union chief, walked away, his members were being offered a chance to continue to retire with full pensions at age 55. New hires would have to pay into that pension, but workers would continue to pay nothing toward their health benefits. That's a deal that many riders, including those who struggle to pay the $2 fare, would gladly take.

The authority also made other concessions, including a better wage offer, that could be seen as generous, considering that its finances will be awash in red ink for foreseeable years and it cannot just let fares skyrocket to pay for any deal it cuts for its workers.

Many other issues remain to be hammered out, but none justify a strike, especially in the frigid days before the holidays. While New Yorkers fought the freezing cold, the transit union leaders seemed to be steamed about the enormous number of disciplinary actions against their members. The issue deserves study, but even the transit workers' parent union did not see it as sufficient reason to strike.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg's strike contingency plan appeared to help move people who car-pooled. Beyond that, he can offer only a bully pulpit and the kind of moral support he displayed when he took a page from Ed Koch and walked - hatless - across the windswept Brooklyn Bridge with others who hoofed it to their jobs yesterday. Clearly angry, the mayor demanded an end to the strike before talks resume, but that is not his call, and the sequence is less important than ending the strike fast.

Mr. Toussaint should not have the ability to hold the city hostage. That he can do so says little about the leadership on the other side of the table. The executives of the M.T.A. answer to Gov. George Pataki. We understand that Mr. Pataki has higher aspirations, but it was a bad call to visit New Hampshire as the first strike deadline approached and the city was increasingly anxious. The governor is in a position to impose some reason. If Mr. Pataki wants any chance to fulfill his ambitions, he should do all he can to help get a settlement, and quickly.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

New York Daily News - News & Views Columnists - Stanley Crouch: A beastly clich�dies


New York Daily News - News & Views Columnists - Stanley Crouch: A beastly cliche dies

A beastly cliché dies

One of the burdens of ethnicity in our culture is the idea that one is supposed to become defensive about one's genetic line outside of the United States. By the 1960s, ethnic ideologues began to tell black Americans that Africa was a sacred paradise lost and that it was supposedly distorted and demeaned in every Hollywood film, where Africans in the bush were depicted as drum-beating savages. Actually, it depended on the film, but Hollywood reflected demeaning images of black people that were common currency long before the contemporary minstrelsy of gangster rap arrived.

In that period of race theories, one could hear that the 1933 film "King Kong" was actually about something other than what it seemed. It was a fanciful tale about the boxer Jack Johnson who was brought down from the top of the world because of his love affairs with white women, or it was a metaphor for the way that Negro men were supposed to go crazy over white women, especially blonds.

It would be hard to read a movie that way today because, especially among young people, the old taboos about race and interracial dating mean very little. Certain things have had their day. One could not imagine a major studio today releasing something like the 1914 "Birth of a Nation," a masterpiece fundamentally flawed by the racism of its director, D.W. Griffith. Griffith, for all of his gifts, created a putrid fairy tale about the gallant old South and how the darkies got beside themselves when the North won the war. One was shown foaming at the mouth as he chased an innocent white woman off of a cliff. That one of the most revolting scenes, showing post-Civil War black legislators acting much like lower creatures, would fit in many a rap video today is another issue.

The upshot of the film seemed to be that the Ku Klux Klan was an understandable reaction to brutality that would not be checked until the Negro was put back in his place, or lynched whenever necessary. President Woodrow Wilson, who had been the president of Princeton, had the film shown at the White House and said of it that it taught history with lightning. I guess men with red necks festering in their souls always appreciate each other.

Given such a history in Hollywood, one might look at the new "King Kong" as an update of racist images in the way that too many rap videos continue to be, regardless of intent. But I don't think that was the intent, even in 1933. What I do know is that when I was growing up in Los Angeles, I met men who were picked up on Central Ave. before dawn to play extras in jungle movies - and were glad for the jobs whenever they got them, which might explain the buffoon tradition maintained by black actors in film and TV comedies today.

But what made the original "Kong" such an enduring cinematic fairy tale was that, like all good fairy tales, it was rooted in our fears and our realities. When Kong looks at the blood on his finger that has come from a wound delivered by the machine guns mounted on airplanes he has never seen before and does not understand, the giant ape realizes that he is not safe on the tallest building and that his life is threatened by an unknown and unexplainable force. Whatever greatness "King Kong" has is rooted not in special effects but in the universal recognition of vulnerability and imminent destruction. Neither of those things is lost in the spectacular remake, but they are absent far too often from anything set in our simpleminded world of ethnic reduction, where dull fantasies and clichés continue to dominate.

Originally published on December 14, 2005

Monday, December 12, 2005

New York Daily News - Home - Stanley Crouch: Pryor's flawed legacy

New York Daily News - Home - Stanley Crouch: Pryor's flawed legacyPryor's flawed legacy

Richard Pryor's world was filled with prostitutes, pimps, winos and those others of undesirable ilk.
This past Saturday Richard Pryor left this life and bequeathed to our culture as much darkness as he did the light his extraordinary talent made possible.

When we look at the remarkable descent this culture has made into smut, contempt, vulgarity and the pornagraphic, those of us who are not willing to drink the Kool-Aid marked "all's well," will have to address the fact that it was the combination of confusion and comic genius that made Pryor a much more negative influence than a positive one.

I do not mean positive in the way Bill Cosby was when his television show redefined situation comedy by turning away from all of the stereotypes of disorder and incompetence that were then and still are the basic renditions of black American life in our mass media.

Richard Pryor was not that kind of a man. His was a different story.

Pryor was troubled and he had seen things that so haunted him that the comedian found it impossible to perform and ignore the lower-class shadow worlds he had known so well, filled with pimps, prostitutes, winos and abrasive types of one sort or another.

The vulgarity of his material, and the idea a "real" black person was a foul-mouthed type was his greatest influence. It was the result of seeing the breaking of "white" convention as a form of "authentic" definition.

Pryor reached for anything that would make white America uncomfortable and would prop up a smug belief among black Americans that they were always "more cool" and more ready to "face life" than the members of majority culture.

Along the way, Pryor made too many people feel that the N word was open currency and was more accurate than any other word used to describe or address a black person.

In the dung piles of pimp and gangster rap we hear from slime meisters like Snoop Dogg and 50 Cent, the worst of Pryor's influence has been turned into an aspect of the new minstrelsy in which millions of dollars are made by "normalizing" demeaning imagery and misogyny.

What is so unfortunate is that the heaviest of Pryor's gifts was largely ignored by so many of those who praised the man when he was alive and are now in the middle of deifying him.

The pathos and the frailty of the human soul alone in the world or insecure or looking for something of meaning in a chaotic environment was a bit too deep for all of the simpleminded clowns like Andrew Dice Clay or those who thought that mere ethnicity was enough to define one as funny, like the painfully square work of Paul Rodriguez.

Of course, Russell Simmons' Def Comedy Jam is the ultimate coon show update of human cesspools, where "cutting edge" has come to mean traveling ever more downward in the sewer.

In essence, Pryor stunned with his timing, his rhythm, his ability to stand alone and fill the stage with three-dimensional characters through his remarkably imaginative gift for an epic sweep of mimicry.

That nuanced mimicry crossed ethnic lines, stretched from young to old, and gave poignancy to the comedian's revelations about the hurts and the terrors of life.

The idea of "laughing to keep from crying" was central to his work and has been diligently avoided by those who claim to owe so much to him.

As he revealed in his last performance films, Pryor understood the prison he had built for himself and the shallow definitions that smothered his audience's understanding of the humanity behind his work.

But, as they say, once the barn door has been opened, you cannot get all of the animals to return by whistling. So we need to understand the terrible mistakes this man of comic genius made and never settle for a standard that is less than what he did at his very best, which was as good as it has ever gotten.

Originally published on December 12, 2005

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Opinion - Stanley Crouch: The big con - sacbee.com

Opinion - Stanley Crouch: The big con - sacbee.com

x - close Recent Stories By Stanley Crouch


Stanley Crouch: The big con
By Stanley Crouch
Published 2:15 am PST Saturday, December 10, 2005
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had a closed meeting Thursday in which those representing the movement to give Stanley "Tookie" Williams clemency were listened to, along with representatives of California law enforcement who want Williams to meet his end Dec. 13 by lethal injection, which he was sentenced to after being found guilty of murdering four people in 1979. The Williams case is interesting because it is the latest example of how far afield the civil-rights establishment has gone since the glory days of the real civil-rights movement, which we were recently reminded of in the various celebrations of Rosa Parks upon her death.

Williams has the dubious honor of being one of the founders of the Crips, perhaps the most vicious street gang to emerge in the past 25 years, beginning in Los Angeles and going on to become a national menace. But Williams is being held up as an example of redemption because he has "turned his life around," which is not hard to do behind bars, and because he has written some children's books that speak out against gangs and gang violence. He has also been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize five times. By the way, almost anyone can nominate a person. A nomination does not prove universal acknowledgement of importance.

Sell It Yourself
What does all of this mean? Little. Since Huey Newton, there have been liberals and radicals who believe that they should come to the defense of murderers because they claim to have a good cause. The late Hugh Pearson's classic study "The Shadow of the Panther" reveals how much of a murderous loon Newton was, and also reveals how easy it was for this dangerous man to pimp what were the either naive or good intentions of those at understandable war with racism, poverty and excessive police force.

When we see the NAACP, Jamie Foxx, Danny Glover and that paragon of public morality, Snoop Dogg, calling for Williams to receive clemency, one is sure that none of those people read Pearson, or, if they did, learned nothing from those pages. This is primarily because the death penalty and race have become so interwoven that some assume that if a black man is on death row it has something to do with bias and an unrepresentative jury pool. That is why one of the men crying for Williams to get clemency cites the fact that he was tried by an all-white jury, none of whom were his peers.

Does that mean that Williams should have had a jury of ruthless gang leaders in order for him to have been tried by his peers? Williams, like all criminals, is a lawbreaker first and has an ethnic identity second, but in the manipulation of public sentiment, ethnicity comes first whenever one of these men is put on trial. This is the big con.

The hard fact is that since 1980, street gangs have killed 10,000 people in Los Angeles, which is three times the number of black people lynched throughout the United States between 1877 and 1900, the highest tide of racial murder in the history of the nation. The actor and writer Joseph C. Phillips discovered on the Internet that the highest-selling children's book written by Williams has sold 330 copies, which means that hardly anyone is reading him, including his two sons, one of whom Phillips reports is in San Quentin and the other is up on charges of aggravated rape.

Williams uses God's name when he speaks of his redemption and of how he and the NAACP are going to work together to fight gang membership and gang activity if he receives clemency. God is very consistent. I've noticed that when Jesus goes on his international rounds, plenty of personal appearances are made on death row, and many convicted murderers have been brought to the light as they stand in the shadow of death.

At the same time, our commitment to redemption is fundamental to our civilization, and should be. In the past 200 years we have made great strides that would not have been possible if the pollution of bigotry were passed on from generation to generation. But in the years since the death of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, we have seen the same games run on the black community and its supporters by political hustlers who almost never met a criminal who was not the real victim of society, and therefore, should be forgiven all crimes. Look to the bright side. Give the brother a break.

I wouldn't touch that kind of thinking with a garbage man's glove.

But since the anniversary of Colin Ferguson's rampage on the Long Island commuter train just passed, he should come out of his mental fog and start writing children's books. Who knows? Hope springs eternal. Ferguson might join Williams in a nomination for the Nobel Prize and watch the chumps line up in support of clemency for his bloody acts.

About the writer:

Stanley Crouch is a columnist for the New York Daily News. His column routinely appears Saturday in The Bee and occasionally on other days. Reach him at scrouch@edit.nydailynews.com. Distributed by King Features Syndicate Inc.

A Republican Tom DeLay Problem - New York Times

A Republican Tom DeLay Problem - New York TimesDecember 10, 2005
A Republican Tom DeLay Problem

It may be dawning on House Republicans that Representative Tom DeLay's time as their majority leader is truly over, despite the bold Texan's resolve to regain his grip on Congress. Whatever the outcome of his trial on felony charges of laundering political money, Mr. DeLay's root problem has been laid bare. It is outsized hubris, which is ever clearer to the public and ever more a G.O.P. millstone.

The question for the Republicans - many of them entangled in Mr. DeLay's bountiful network of fund-raising riches - is how fast they can learn from all this. When, if ever, will they enact believable reforms of Congress's big-money wallow?

Mr. DeLay's downfall came by his own hand, with a successful scheme to bankroll Texas election victories so a Statehouse majority would gerrymander five more G.O.P. seats for him in Congress. The partisan map was faulted as illegal by civil rights staff members at the Justice Department, but they were overruled by Republican appointees. This is political hubris on a national scale, directed at the heart of democracy.

Mr. DeLay's brazenness was clear long before his Texas indictment, as he ignored the normal post-census redistricting schedule and bulldozed the gerrymandering through the Statehouse. His money-raising machine, dubbed DeLay Inc. by his court of donors and lobbyists in Washington, funneled funds through Austin in ways that Mr. DeLay insists will eventually be judged legal. Regardless of what happens in court, the operation was a political scandal.

Mr. DeLay punctuated one day in court this week with another signature fund-raiser, packed with favor-seeking donors, and a guest appearance by Vice President Dick Cheney. Any sense of scandal seemed checked at the door. But the House speaker, Dennis Hastert, propped up in power by the DeLay machine, cannot afford to ignore reality with such impunity. He has every reason, including self-survival, to embrace long-resisted ethics reforms. Meanwhile, Republicans had better begin searching for fresh faces outside the encrusted inner circle of power before their majority fades in tandem with Mr. DeLay.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Senator Clinton, in Pander Mode - New York Times

Senator Clinton, in Pander Mode - New York TimesDecember 7, 2005
Senator Clinton, in Pander Mode

Hillary Clinton is co-sponsoring a bill to criminalize the burning of the American flag. Her supporters would characterize this as an attempt to find a middle way between those who believe that flag-burning is constitutionally protected free speech and those who want to ban it, even if it takes a constitutional amendment. Unfortunately, it looks to us more like a simple attempt to have it both ways.

Senator Clinton says she opposes a constitutional amendment to outlaw flag-burning. In 1989, the Supreme Court ruled that flag-burning was protected by the First Amendment. But her bill, which is sponsored by Senator Robert Bennett, Republican of Utah, is clearly intended to put the issue back before the current, more conservative, Supreme Court in hopes of getting a turnaround.

It's hard to see this as anything but pandering - there certainly isn't any urgent need to resolve the issue. Flag-burning hasn't been in fashion since college students used slide rules in math class and went to pay phones at the student union to call their friends. Even then, it was a rarity that certainly never put the nation's security in peril.

The bill attempts to equate flag-burning with cross-burning, which the Supreme Court, in a sensible and carefully considered 2003 decision, said could be prosecuted under certain circumstances as a violation of civil rights law. It's a ridiculous comparison. Burning a cross is a unique act because of its inextricable connection to the Ku Klux Klan and to anti-black violence and intimidation. A black American who wakes up to see a cross burning on the front lawn has every right to feel personally, and physically, threatened. Flag-burning has no such history. It has, in fact, no history of being directed against any target but the government.

Mrs. Clinton says her current position grew out of conversations with veterans groups in New York, and there's no question that many veterans - and, indeed, most Americans - feel deeply offended by the sight of protesters burning the flag. (These days, that sight mainly comes from videos of the Vietnam War era; the senator's staff did not have any immediate examples of actual New York flag-burnings in the recent past.) But the whole point of the First Amendment is to protect expressions of political opinion that a majority of Americans find disturbing or unacceptable. As a lawyer, the senator presumably already knows that.

New York Daily News - News & Views Columnists - Stanley Crouch: This killing reminds us cops stay when others run

New York Daily News - News & Views Columnists - Stanley Crouch: This killing reminds us cops stay when others runThis killing reminds us cops stay when others run

We should be able to understand the rage of the cops who were gathered in the lobby of the court to make their statement about Allan Cameron, who is accused of murdering Police Officer Dillon Stewart last Monday morning in Brooklyn. Stewart was shot in his police car after he had pulled alongside his killer. Cameron also is accused of wounding an off-duty officer at an earlier date. If it's all true, Cameron has been a very busy man.

One wonders what Stewart was thinking when he rolled up on the man who murdered him. Cops have told me that they often can feel death hiding out in the atmosphere and know that before their shift is over, someone is going to be snatched, pushed, stabbed, choked or shot from the world of the living into the long darkness from which no one returns. Of course, the cold shawl of darkness is never expected to be waiting for the officer who can feel it coming.

But it comes for whoever is available. The sympathetic noise of weeping and wailing will not be heard for long by the officer who usually does not know when the time has come for the last ride or the last walk or the last pursuit of a suspect. It goes down too fast, the cold comes over the body too quickly.

Whether life leaves them immediately or they seem to slowly edge over the cliff and take that far fall to somewhere that our eyes cannot perceive, it always feels as if it is moving at an express tempo and that we might have saved the one who is now a corpse if we had had more time.

Though Cameron pleaded not guilty, was caught with 53 bags of marijuana and says that he smokes marijuana "all day like everybody else in the ghetto," one wonders who will take this man seriously. Yes, he looks the stereotypical part of the purportedly anarchic young black man with the braided hair and the sweatshirt, but we all should know better than what that stereotype is supposed to tell us. If Cameron is proven guilty, it says nothing about braided hair, sweatshirts or young black men of any sort. If the majority of young black men who look like Cameron actually were violent criminals, our cities would have to be put under martial law because the cops wouldn't be able to handle them.

But what it is that the cops have to handle often is the result of the rough business that takes place around the sale of illegal drugs in any form, the natural plants that are bragged about because of their difference from the factory-produced powders and pills we call controlled substances. Such rough business demands a gun to protect one's product or one's turf. So perhaps what we need to think about is legalizing drugs in order to remove the profit, which just might remove the need for guns that harm so many people, in or out of law enforcement. I would rather see a lobby for that than waste money and time trying to get the death penalty back on the books.

The fact is that violent criminals are threats to everyone, even to young black men whose taste in clothes is either as casual or as bad as that of the criminals.

All we can hope for and continue to work toward is a much closer relationship between the cops and the honest people in our most dangerous communities. Even so, we should appreciate the fact that cops can end up facing danger anywhere, just as citizens can. The only big difference is that the citizens can run, but the cops shouldn't and almost never do. Dillon Stewart, like almost everyone on the NYPD, was one of those cops who do their job, no matter what it costs them.

Originally published on December 4, 2005

Saturday, December 03, 2005

South Korea's Cloning Crisis - New York Times

South Korea's Cloning Crisis - New York TimesDecember 4, 2005
Editorial
South Korea's Cloning Crisis

South Korea's high-flying stem cell researchers - reputedly the best in the world at cloning - have stumbled badly in handling the ethical issues of their controversial craft. Worse yet, the research team's leader, a national hero in his homeland, lied in an effort to hide his ethical lapses. We can only hope that he has not also lied about the astonishing scientific achievements of his research team.

The South Korean team forged ahead of all its rivals by becoming the first to extract stem cells from cloned human embryos and the first to clone a dog, an enormously difficult feat. The team felt so confident in its skills that it even announced plans to open laboratories in the United States and England to create embryonic stem cell lines for researchers unable or reluctant to do so themselves.

Then came the ethics debacle. For the experiments, Dr. Hwang Woo Suk used eggs donated by two of his junior researchers, a practice forbidden by Western standards because there is no way a subordinate's donation can be truly voluntary when her job and her standing with colleagues may depend on her cooperation. One of his collaborators also paid some 20 other Korean women about $1,400 apiece for their eggs. That, too, is deplored by many Western ethicists who fear such payments inevitably exploit poor women desperate for money.

How harshly Dr. Hwang should be judged for such transgressions is a matter of dispute. Supporters claim that he was unaware of these transactions, which were legal at the time and whose ethical status was murky. Some American researchers also pay women for donating eggs, although the National Academy of Sciences has recommended against such payments. But what really torpedoed Dr. Hwang was the cover-up: his repeated lies to the effect that his eggs were donated by unpaid volunteers. These misrepresentations led his most prominent American collaborator to sever ties because his trust had been shaken.

Ten days ago, Dr. Hwang apologized for lying and stepped down as head of his new research center, although he will continue his pioneering work as a researcher. In South Korea, the public has rallied to his defense and women there are signing up in droves to donate eggs. South Korea seems to be emerging from the crisis by imposing even stricter egg donation standards than apply in this country.

The key unresolved issue is whether lying about egg donations suggests that the Korean team may have lied about its scientific results. So far there is no evidence of that. Indeed, American collaborators and observers remain confident that the team's achievements were real. But science is an enterprise that relies heavily on trust. The Koreans should not be surprised if their next scientific breakthrough is greeted with extreme caution.

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: Adults must end abuse

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: Adults must end abuseAdults must end abuse

Civil War historian Bruce Catton once observed that the best years to take males into military service was in their mid- to late teens because they were still unaware of the fundamental frailty of their mortality and were usually not married, which meant that they were not thinking about their wives and children while at war. They were more prepared to follow orders and perform the daring acts that require great courage.

Jimmie Briggs has written a book called "Innocents Lost: When Child Soldiers Go To War," which gives us a contemporary update on the cruelest form of child abuse. That is what we need to realize about the use of children to do the dirtiest of dirty work, the torturing and killing of people. This has become common to tribal wars, rebel units, religious fanatics and totalitarian regimes. It is estimated that 10% of the world's fighting forces are under 18.

The reason that these children work so well is, just below or just entering adolescence, they possess very malleable minds and have not had enough of the life experience necessary to perceive a clear moral relationship to other people. The revolutionary doctrine or the traditional tribal animus or the religious rhetoric will suffice to corrupt them.

On a much larger and more horrific scale, they are used the way our urban drug dealers have used children because of their desire to follow, to get along, to do the right thing, to gain the sort of power that comes, as Mao said, through the barrel of a gun. Through extremes of violence, they enter into a world once reserved for adults and become false grownups while emotionally remaining children. They are toy men with real guns.

In a sense, they are playing three-dimensional versions of our violent video games that are made progressively graphic so that the line between reality and play need no longer be provided by the imagination; the electronic figures take on more and more human qualities and bleed the sort of fountains that became common in the most violent Hollywood films of 35 years ago.

Briggs takes us into these worlds where everything is real. We see these abused children as they become killers and as they tell their stories or try to address the horrors of the things that they were told to do long before they learned any better.

This is an important book because it underlines the universal fact that ours is a time in which our perhaps naive sense of childhood innocence is under assault in both the advanced and developing world. The young are exploited either by the popular entertainment that dehumanizes, fills them with terrible appetites, encourages irresponsible behavior, or promotes, like rap, the hatred of women.

That exploitation, however, is no more than the result of decadence, greed, moral ambiguity and indifference, all propelled by the power of profit.

In "Innocents Lost," Briggs reveals to us the power that is sought through the use of children to dominate or destroy others. Yes, this is the worst form of child abuse. So Briggs makes one unwavering fact clear to those of us who don't know: Humanity is not something you are born with, it is a feeling for life that is passed on to you by your culture and is always the responsibility of adults.

Originally published on November 28, 2005

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: Film sheds light on forgotten load carried in Africa

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: Film sheds light on forgotten load carried in AfricaFilm sheds light on forgotten
load carried in Africa

Modern-day plague rips heart out of the Third World

Today is World AIDS Day so it is fitting that HBO, which always stays in the mix, is rerunning "Yesterday," its Academy Award-nominated foreign film, for its viewers this evening.

"Yesterday" has monsters, but none of them are rendered in comic book style and they neither come from outer space nor are they the result of magic. Oh, but you can see them. They appear in microscopes.

The film is the story of an AIDS-infected African woman that proves the same thing we should all know if we have kept our eyes open out here. The women always get it first and get it worst, no matter what it is, it seems. So it is much harder for a woman in a backward culture to prevail through the troubles wrought by disease, war, superstition and poverty. This is true no matter how charming and lively the people around her might seem.

Things are so bad in Africa and for so many reasons that it is often hard for people to face all of the vestiges of "underdevelopment," which actually means backward. That is because we are still caught in a sentimental attitude toward cultures outside of Western civilization. We believe they have something pure to tell us.

We also sometimes feel so guilty about how Western countries have dealt from the bottom of the deck when dealing with the Third World, that we find it impossible to critically look at what goes on, which is often the result of beliefs that arrived without the benefit of science. Those bellies can crush people down.

"Yesterday" is so powerful because it is set in South Africa and the people have a three-dimensionality that we so rarely see when Africans are depicted. Part of the reason is that the relationship between the AIDS-infected mother and her daughter is so realistic and contains conversations between the two that have a beguiling universality. Another is that we all recognize rural types when we see them and are only so ready to be shocked by how their warmth can be drained away by superstition and brutal customs.

When the main character discovers that she is one of those millions in Africa who carry the worst plague of our time, we do not see some wonderful future for her hiding behind a shack. We see how everyone is failed by superstition and doomed by poverty.

This is an important film and one that makes serious observations about the tragic circumstances in which men, women and children can be caught all over the so-called underdeveloped world. If we expect to get more light cast on the burdens imposed on the Third World by disease, poverty, religion, custom and superstition, "Yesterday" can show us the way.

Originally published on December 1, 2005