Sunday, January 02, 2005

Volume 1, no. 5
edited by Victor Cuvo


2004: The Good News

Thursday, December 30, 2004

By Radley Balko

Every year as we approach the end of December, major media outlets compile lists of the year’s top stories.

Television news stations compile poignant montages of the past 12 months. Inevitably, these images are tragic—images of war, crime and natural disaster set to pensive music, only occasionally interrupted by shots of the team that won the Super Bowl, the World Series, or every four years, pictures from the Olympics.

That’s to be expected, of course. No news, as they say, is good news. Good news also tends to happen gradually, which makes it less conspicuous. Bad news happens in clumps. It makes itself known. In just a few hours, a hurricane or an earthquake can wipe out thousands of homes and businesses. The prosperity, wealth and rise in standard of living that created those homes and businesses took place over decades, if not hundreds of years.

No one reports a new subdivision going up. Everyone’s on the scene when a tornado takes one down.

At the end of the year, it’s easy to get so caught up with what’s going on in Fallujah, the calamitous tsunamis that hit South Asia, or the threat of terrorism, that we overlook the overwhelmingly positive but subtler, more gradual trends lurking beneath the headlines.

Here then, is the good news

—America’s kids are all right. Juvenile violent crime (search) has fallen every year – and nearly halved – since 1995. The percentage of high school students who carry weapons to school is at a 10-year low. There were 14 homicides on school campuses in 2002-03, down from 34 10 years earlier. Teen birthrates (search) are at a 20-year low, and high school dropout rates are at a 35-year low.

—America is healthier. Life expectancy in the U.S. (search) is at an all-time high among men and women, black and white. People at every age can expect to live longer than anyone at their age in U.S. history. Heart disease, cardiovascular disease and stroke have fallen dramatically in the last 15 years. Incidence of, and deaths from, cancer have dropped every year since 1990.

—America is cleaner. Concentration levels of every major air pollutant have dropped dramatically since 1970, even as we drive more, consume more, and produce more. According to data analyzed by the Pacific Research Institute (search), U.S. water has been getting steadily cleaner for the last 20 years.

—The world is less violent. In his book, "A History of Force," the historian James L. Payne (search) argues that when you adjust for population increases, over the course of history, the average citizen of the world has grown less likely to die a violent death caused by government, war or his fellow man. War, murder, genocide, sacrificial killing, rioting – all have tapered off over time.

The trend continues even into recent years. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (search), there were just 19 major armed conflicts in 2003, down from 44 in 1995. Existing wars seem to be less violent, too. According to the Human Security Report (search), published by the University of British Columbia, 700,000 people died in battle in 1951. By the 1990s, the number had fallen to 40,000-100,000. In 2002, it was just 15,000. This, as the world’s population increased.

—The world is freer. According to the United Nations, as of 2002, 70 percent of the world’s nations were holding multi-party elections. Fifty-eight percent of the world’s population lived under a fully democratic system of governance. Both of these figures are at their highest points in human history.

The Freedom House (search) think tank gave 89 countries containing 46 percent of the world’s population a ranking of “free” in the 2003 edition of its annual Freedom of the World report (search). Both figures are at their highest in the 30-year history of the survey. Freedom House also reports that countries moving toward more freedom have outpaced countries moving away from freedom by three to one.

—The world is less poor. Yale University’s David Dollar has pointed out that since 1980, the total number of people living on less than $1 per day has actually fallen by 200 million, despite the fact that the world’s population increased by 1.8 billion. It’s the first time in recorded history that that has happened. The UN’s 2004 Human Development Report (search) notes that real per capita incomes in the developing world have more than doubled since 1975. In some provinces in China, incomes are doubling every few months.

—The world is healthier. Between 1960 and 2000, life expectancy in developing countries increased from 46 to 63 years. Mortality rates of children under five are half of what they were forty years ago.

—The world is getting cleaner. Most economists now endorse the concept of a “green ceiling,” (search) which means that although the transition from a developing economy to a developed one requires some environmental exploitation, there is a point at which a country becomes wealthy enough that its citizens will begin to demand environmental protection.

The key is to get each country to that point as quickly as possible. And as noted earlier, that’s exactly what’s happening. The good news is, the “green ceiling” is getting lower every day. Right now, it stands at about $5,000 per capita GDP, but the World Bank (search) reported in 1997 that poor countries begin turning the corner on water pollution, for example, at as low as $500 per capita.

So take heart. As we head into a new year, both the U.S. and the world are growing safer, healthier, and less violent. Most of the world is getting freer. It may not seem like it, given the images we’re seeing on the news, but man on the whole is making himself better.

Radley Balko maintains a Weblog at: www.TheAgitator.com.


2004: Highlights And Lowlifes
By Ann Coulter

December 29, 2004

The single biggest event of 2004 was the Election Day exit poll, which, like John Steinbeck's "The Short Reign of Pippin IV," made John Kerry the president for a few moments. But in a move that stunned the experts, American voters chose "moral values" over an America-bashing trophy husband and his blow-dried, ambulance-chasing sidekick.

The second biggest event in 2004 came on Sunday, Dec. 26, when The New York Times referred to an organization as a "liberal research group." (I think it may have been the Communist Party USA, Trotskyite wing, but, still, it's progress.)

CBS eminence Dan Rather was driven off the air in disgrace after he tried to take down a sitting president by brandishing Microsoft Word documents he claimed were authentic Texas Air National Guard memos from the '70s. By liberals' own account, the pompous blowhard was exposed by people sitting around their living rooms in pajamas.

John Kerry's meal ticket, Teresa Heinz, continuously made remarks that were wildly inappropriate, such as when she strangely referred to the "seven-year itch" in relation to herself and John Kerry, creating at least three images I didn't want in my head. On the other hand, for any voters who considered the most important campaign issue to be whether the first lady was an earthy, condescending foreigner who had traveled extensively and spoke several languages, Teresa was a huge asset.

Surprisingly, Teresa never became a major campaign issue. It turned out that supporters of a phony war hero who preyed on rich widows were also OK with the notion of a first lady who might use the F-word during Rose Garden press conferences. By the same token, anyone who was put off by the not-so-affable Eva Peron of American politics already didn't like John Kerry -- thanks largely to John O'Neill and the Swiftboat Veterans.

Like the archers of Agincourt, John O'Neill and the 254 Swiftboat Veterans took down their own haughty Frenchman.

Meanwhile, San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom is nipping at O'Neill's heels as the man second-most responsible for Bush's re-election. Thanks largely to Newsom's hard work, gay marriage was big news all year.

In retrospect, the Democrats would have been better off if they had found every gay guy in America who actually wanted to get married and offered each one a million dollars in exchange for the Democrats not having to talk about gay marriage. (Finally -- a problem that could have been solved by throwing money at it!)

On the basis solely of media coverage, Abu Ghraib was the biggest story of 2004, maybe the biggest story ever. And for good reason: An American soldier was caught on film not only humiliating Iraqi prisoners -- but smoking!

The New York Times even had to drop its coverage of Augusta National Golf Course to give Abu Ghraib due prominence. Only the Rumsfeld autopen scandal was big enough to knock Abu Ghraib off the front page.

I personally haven't been so singularly disturbed by an atrocity since I had to sit through all of "The Matrix: Reloaded."

By contrast, the least important story -- again, judging by media coverage -- was the peculiar development of a Clintonite caught trying to get into his own pants. Sandy Berger was spotted by National Archives staff repeatedly stuffing top-secret documents into his undergarments in preparation for defending the Clinton administration's record on fighting terrorism before the 9/11 Commission. If you happened to take a long nap the day the Berger story broke, you would have missed it entirely.

On the bright side, The New York Times has adopted an all-new standard for covering the extramarital affairs of public figures. With no fanfare, the Times quickly abandoned its earlier position that a U.S. president molesting White House staff -- including while on the phone discussing sending troops into battle -- is not news. The new rule rolled out for Bernie Kerik makes extramarital affairs major front-page news deserving of nonstop coverage, even after the public figure has withdrawn his name from consideration for any government office.

American hero Pat Tillman won a Silver Star this year. But unlike Kerry, he did not write his own recommendation or live to throw his medals over the White House fence in an anti-war rally.

Tillman was an American original: virtuous, pure and masculine like only an American male can be. The stunningly handsome athlete walked away from a three-year, $3.6 million NFL contract with the Arizona Cardinals to join the U.S. military and fight in Afghanistan, where he was killed in April.

He wanted no publicity and granted no interviews about his decision to leave pro football in the prime of his career and join the Army Rangers. (Most perplexing to Democrats, he didn't even take a home movie camera to a war zone in order to create fake footage for future political campaigns in which he would constantly palaver about his military service and drag around his "Band of Brothers" for the media.)

Tillman gave only an indirect explanation for his decision on the day after 9/11, when he said: "My great grandfather was at Pearl Harbor, and a lot of my family has gone and fought in wars, and I really haven't done a damn thing as far as laying myself on the line like that." He said he wanted to "pay something back" to America.

He died bringing freedom and democracy to 28 million Afghans -- pretty much confirming Michael Moore's view of America as an imperialist cowboy predator. There is not another country in the world -- certainly not in continental Europe -- that could have produced a Pat Tillman.

On the anniversary of D-Day, as Americans like Pat Tillman risked their lives to liberate 50 million Iraqis and Afghans, in a year when Americans poured into theaters to see a movie about Christ and reaffirmed their support for moral values at the polling booth, America's greatest president died. Ronald Reagan appealed to what is best about America and so transformed the nation that we are now safe to carry on without him.


Biggest Sports losers of 2004
| by The Editors of World Magazine


1. Jason Giambi, Yankees first baseman

Once, Mr. Giambi was the American League MVP with a .342 average. But in 2004, the Yankees first baseman could only manage a .208 average in a half season. An intestinal sickness and a pituitary tumor sidelined his season and possibly his career. Later in the year, a San Francisco Chronicle report revealed Mr. Giambi admitted to a grand jury investigating BALCO that he had used steroids since at least 2001. Now the Yankees, unsure what kind of player Mr. Giambi is off the steroids, may seek to terminate his giant contract.

2. Marion Jones, Olympic sprinter

Like Mr. Giambi, the gold medal sprinter got caught up in sports' emerging steroid scandal. BALCO founder Victor Conte said he provided Ms. Jones with performance-enhancing drugs during the 2000 Summer Olympics where she earned three gold and two bronze medals. She could eventually lose the medals.

3. Kobe Bryant, Lakers guard

First the young guard managed to dissolve the Lakers dynasty, then his formerly squeaky-clean reputation was tarnished by the run-up to a sexual assault trial in Colorado. The charges were eventually dropped, but Mr. Bryant's downward spiral didn't stop. In December, he made bizarre charges, saying former teammate Karl Malone had made passes at his wife. —•



More Drug Worries: Return
Of 'Missing' Prozac Papers

By JOSEPH SCHUMAN
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL ONLINE


Disturbing revelations about side-effects of antidepressant Prozac are likely to prove troublesome for Eli Lilly and provide a boost for advocates of tighter regulation and greater transparency in the drug industry.

The British Medical Journal has obtained documents said to be missing for more than 10 years that show Lilly officials were aware in the 1980s that fluoxetine -- the generic name for Prozac -- could produce so-called "activation," or symptoms such as agitation, panic attacks, insomnia and aggressiveness. Moreover, the reviews and memos indicate company officials sought to minimize the likely negative effect on prescribing, the BMJ says. The documents reportedly went missing in 1994 when Lilly was fighting a lawsuit over a 1989 workplace shooting in which a man shot dead eight people with an AK-47 before turning the gun on himself -- one month after he began taking Prozac to treat depression. Lilly initially won the case, but the judge later changed the verdict after the company acknowledged it secretly reached a deal with the plaintiff, BMJ says. The Food and Drug Administration reviewer who approved fluoxetine tells the BMJ he wasn't given the data.

"If we have good evidence that we were misled and data were withheld then I would change my mind," Dr. Richard Kapit says. "I do agree now that these stimulatory side-effects, especially in regards to suicidal ideation and homicidal ideation, are worse than I thought at the time that I reviewed the drug." In 1990, FDA Safety official David Graham -- who roiled the industry in November by declaring that regulation of the American pharmaceutical market is "broken" -- concluded that because of Lilly's underreporting, "analysis cannot be considered as proving that fluoxetine and violent behavior are unrelated." But the next year, the BMJ reports, an FDA advisory panel nonetheless called the drug safe. U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D.-N.Y.), who closely follows the FDA, said the case of the missing documents "demonstrates the need for Congress to mandate the complete disclosure of all clinical studies for FDA-approved drugs so that patients and their doctors, not the drug companies, decide whether the benefits of taking a certain medicine outweigh the risks."

ARTIE SHAW | 1910-2004

A Jazz Icon and Iconoclast Who Despised His Fame

By Claudia Luther
Times Staff Writer
Los Angeles Times - latimes.com

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Artie Shaw
Artie Shaw
(Anne Cusack / LAT)


December 31, 2004

Artie Shaw, who rose to fame as one of the swing era's finest bandleaders and most innovative clarinetists before slamming the door on the music business with a Shakespearean flourish, died Thursday. He was 94.

Shaw, whose eight wives included such Hollywood legends as Lana Turner and Ava Gardner, died at his home in Newbury Park. The cause of death was not announced but Shaw had been in failing health for some time.

From the 1930s to the mid-'50s, Shaw formed, disbanded and reorganized bands that made some of the most enduring recordings of the swing era, from his first hit in 1938 with Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine" to his last recordings with the Gramercy Five, made in 1954 and released more than 30 years later.

Benny Goodman, another clarinetist bandleader of the swing era and a rival, was perhaps more famous, which galled Shaw. But Shaw's innovations, musical depth and swinging style placed him firmly in the pantheon of 20th century big band and jazz musicians.

"He was a real master of the clarinet, virtually incomparable in the beauty of his tone and unique in his flawless control," said composer Gunther Schuller, who has written extensively about jazz.

Highest on many music buffs' lists — and Shaw's own — is the so-called 1949 band, one of his last, which expanded its scope well beyond the big band genre and other popular music that had begun to entrap Shaw with their success. The short-lived band recorded " 'S Wonderful," among other tunes.

By then, however, Shaw was so far ahead of his fans musically that he was forced to fire the musicians in order to hire a band that played the sort of popular songs Shaw hated.

That group was to be his last big band.

Shaw continued to record for a short time with the Gramercy Five, which also included guitarist Tal Farlow, vibraphonist Joe Roland, bassist Tommy Potter, pianist Hank Jones and drummer Irv Kluger.

George T. Simon, writing in "The Big Bands," said of this final group: "Make no mistake, these [record] sides represent a personal triumph for Shaw as a clarinetist, perhaps the pinnacle of his work on the instrument."

But record companies were more interested in popular music so the "last recordings," as they came to be known, were not released at the time. In 1954, Shaw made good on an oft-repeated threat to abandon his profession, leaving many fans and critics mystified.

"How many people can you mention who were as definitive in their medium as Artie Shaw was who absolutely quit?" saxophonist and conductor Loren Schoenberg noted in 2003.

Shaw's stock answer to the oft-asked "why?" was that "it was like having a gangrenous arm — I had to cut it off to survive." He never again went before an audience to play the clarinet.

Still, decades after he left the music business, Shaw told friends, he would find himself working out chords on tunes like "All the Things You Are." Or he would wake up ghost-fingering the clarinet.

The intellectual, intensely curious Shaw, a voracious reader, spent well over half his life as a writer without distinction. Besides his 1952 autobiography, "The Trouble With Cinderella," he published two books of novellas and, for 15 years, worked on a lengthy, unpublished novel based on his life as a musician.

Echoing the thoughts of many, jazz writer Gene Lees, a longtime friend who eventually broke with the irascible Shaw, said: "Artie Shaw gave up being one of the most brilliant musicians ever to being a second-rate writer."

Although Shaw also dabbled in other things, including farming, for the most part he wrote and watched from the sidelines as new generations of fans discovered his music. Reissues of his recordings continued to sell well and a 2003 retrospective album, the 95-track "Self Portrait," was released by Bluebird/BMG and nominated for a Grammy as the best historical album.

In 1985, an Academy Award-winning documentary, Brigitte Berman's "Time Is All You've Got," was made about him.

In 2003, Shaw finally agreed to give two of his clarinets, including the one he used to record "Begin the Beguine," to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

"The amazing thing is I'm alive to see it," Shaw said of his newfound popularity.

Arthur Jacob Arshawsky was born May 23, 1910, an only child of immigrant dressmakers; his mother was Austrian and his father was Russian. When Arthur was 7, his parents moved from a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in New York City to New Haven, Conn.

His first instrument was a ukulele. But at 13, he sneaked into a vaudeville house and saw a musician playing a "glistening, golden gadget with mother of pearl keys stuck all over it." For Shaw, it was a tantalizing glimpse of a glamorous life.

He worked in a deli to earn the $40 for a beat-up old C melody sax, which he taught himself to play.

Shaw formed his first band in high school: the Peter Pan Novelty Orchestra, which played at local events. That led to an audition with the local dance band led by Johnny Cavallaro, who was impressed with Shaw but told him he had to learn to sight read music.

Shaw was back within a month and was hired at the age of 15. Soon after, he left high school and changed his name to Art Shaw.

When Cavallaro said he needed Shaw to double on the clarinet, Shaw taught himself to play the instrument. He eventually abandoned the sax when he began to "think clarinet."

For several years, Shaw played in Cleveland, Los Angeles and New York.

It was during this time, working in Harlem, that Shaw met Billie Holiday, who would later sing with one of his bands. Shaw was thought by many to be the first white bandleader to break the color barrier by hiring a black singer. (Holiday recorded one song with Shaw: "Any Old Time," which Shaw wrote for her.)

Eventually, Shaw got hired as a staff musician at CBS in New York. His livelihood secured for a while, he started to educate himself and thought he might prefer the life of a writer.

He quit music for the first time about a year later and bought a dilapidated house in Bucks County, Pa. He read everything he could get his hands on and set out to write a book about jazz cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, one of his idols.

But he found himself staring at blank pieces of paper.

"It took a year for me to discover that a typewriter isn't a clarinet," he said.

Discouraged, Shaw returned to music in order to earn "about 25,000 bucks" so that he could quit the business and "make some altogether different kind of life for myself."

Back in New York, where swing music was coming into style, Shaw got the chance to form a group to play at a short intermission between performances at a concert at Manhattan's Imperial Theatre. It would prove to be a major breakthrough.

Under the influence of the classical music by Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Debussy and Ravel that he had been studying, he pulled together an unusual mix of instruments — a string quartet, a rhythm section, himself on clarinet, but no piano — and quickly composed a number, "Interlude in B-Flat," to perform.

The crowd loved it and wanted more, so a stunned Shaw, who had no other material at the time, had the group play "Interlude" again.

This success led to forming his first orchestra, which opened at the Lexington Hotel in 1935. But despite the reaction at the Imperial Theatre, the public wasn't ready for a group formed around a string quartet.

Shaw's second, more traditional dance band was Art Shaw and His New Music, which became Artie Shaw and His Orchestra.

In 1938, the group recorded "Begin the Beguine," a Cole Porter tune that was recorded for Bluebird records as the flip side of a swinging version of "Indian Love Call," which everyone expected to be Shaw's first hit. Instead, "Beguine" would make a celebrity out of Shaw — and haunt him until the day he died.

Shaw never seemed to enjoy his fame. At one point, he was making $30,000 a week and getting tens of thousands of fan letters. But he was also what he called "catnip for all those mobs of overexcited girls."

"I was about as utterly miserable as a fellow can possibly be and still stay on this side of suicide," he said.

As time went on, Shaw became openly contemptuous of his fans, famously blasting them in the New York Post for being jitterbugging morons. In 1939, he announced he was retiring and left for Mexico.

But this time a disappearance by Shaw was big news — the New York Times referred to "the Shakespearean sweep" of his exodus, "a beautifully incautious burning of all his bridges behind him."

The retirement didn't last long. Unable to dodge success, he recorded something he'd heard in Mexico, a tune named "Frenesi," for a movie being made about him and his band — "Second Chorus," starring Fred Astaire and Paulette Goddard. "Frenesi" turned out to be his second big hit and Shaw was soon back on tour with another band.

Shaw did some of his best work during this time. In 1940, his band recorded "Stardust," Hoagy Carmichael's standard, with a moving solo by Shaw.

Shaw said his real departure from music started in 1941, when he saw servicemen going off to war. He enlisted in the Navy in 1942, and served on a minesweeper before forming a band.

"In the South Pacific, I saw death face to face," Shaw said later. "It was never the same after that." He was honorably discharged in 1944 after being hospitalized for exhaustion.

By the time Shaw returned to popular music in the late '40s, the big band era was in decline. He put together his fine 1949 band and, when that didn't find an audience, formed another one just to please the crowds. In the early 1950s, he again left music to write his autobiography. His last major foray into music was with the Gramercy Five in 1954.

While all this music was being made, however, Shaw, who had already been married twice before he became famous, was busy pursuing beautiful women and marrying many of them.

Before the war, he had married the young Lana Turner. After the war, he divorced his fourth wife, Elizabeth Kern — the daughter of songwriter Jerome Kern, with whom he had a son, Steven — and married Ava Gardner.

His last three marriages were to novelist Kathleen Winsor, author of "Forever Amber"; Doris Dowling, with whom he had a son, Jonathan; and actress Evelyn Keyes, who played Scarlett O'Hara's younger sister in "Gone With the Wind."

Shaw remained friends with some of the women in his life, but he found hateful names for Winsor, whom he blamed for having to appear before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1953. Grilled by the committee about why he joined the World Peace Congress, Shaw coolly said that as a veteran, he supported peace.

Though he escaped danger, he felt his appearance before the committee put a grim punctuation point on his musical career. He also faced tax problems.

Feeling persecuted, Shaw left the country, becoming an expatriate in Spain. He and Keyes, whom he met while living abroad, built a beautiful home outside a small village in Catalonia, but he returned to the United States in the 1960s, eventually settling in California.

After his divorce from Keyes, Shaw lived in Los Angeles for a while, then moved to a modest home in Newbury Park. He lived alone and continued to work daily on his book, which, by the time he turned it over to his publisher, had grown to more than 90 chapters.

Though he often had adversarial feelings about his audiences, Shaw had some great moments on the bandstand.

"I remember a night someplace in Pennsylvania," Shaw told the New Yorker magazine. "Everybody was tired, hungry, beat after a long jump on the road — and suddenly it happened. It was the best jazz night of my life. Don't ask me how. Most nights, I halfway hoped for rain, so nobody'd turn up. That way we could play without interference — the crowd almost always got between me and the music.

"But on this night everything worked. It was a big crowd, too, as I remember. I had a red-hot first trumpet — maybe it was Billy [Butterfield] — and when that first phrase ripped out, I said to myself, 'Oh, boy, this is going to be some night!' … Man, we nearly tore the roof off of that place."

He said the band tried to repeat the experience the next night, but it was gone.


Quote of the Day
"It's been a bad time for movies. Attendance is down in a year marked by the cynicism and ineptitude of the entertainment conglomerates, which seem increasingly devoted to dulling the sensibilities of the mainstream audience, driving discriminating filmgoers out of the multiplexes and relying on foreign sales to turn a profit on shoddy goods. How sweet it is, then, that 'The Incredibles' should be a studio product, of sorts, a computer-generated -- yet intensely human -- feature from Pixar Animation Studios, the mega-atelier that keeps inventing new ways to celebrate excellence," writes Wall Street Journal film critic Joe Morgenstern, in calling the film the best movie of 2004.