Thursday, June 29, 2006

Who's the War Party Now? 25 Ingredients for a Republican Disaster


Republicans have been fond of calling the Democratic Party "the war party" because of participation in four wars by Democratic presidents--the Spanish-American War (William McKinley), World War I (Woodrow Wilson), World War II (Franklin D. Roosevelt) and the Korean War (Harry S. Truman). The Vietnam War is a standoff; John F. Kennedy/Lyndon Johnson, who started it, and Richard Nixon, who continued it with an even greater number of casualties, both parties get tagged with that one.

The appellation "war party" dates from a time when the Republican Party was timorous and fearful of international entanglements. But take a look at what recent bumbling Republican presidents have managed to achieve. Had they set out to diminish America's image and stature in the world, and to divide and bamboozle the American people, they could not have been more successful. Here's a list of the doleful ingredients they combined to create the disastrous and indigestible stew that is Iraq:

1. Start by having no knowledge of the long colonial history of the Middle East, its nationalities, languages, cultures, religions, or fierce tribalism.

2. If you are Ronald Reagan, take sides in an eight-year internecine war between two neighboring countries, Iraq and Iran, that will cost a million lives on each side. Actively support, supply and prop up Iraq and its dictator, Saddam Hussein.

3. If you are George Herbert Walker Bush, attack your recent ally and evict Saddam from Kuwait in the Gulf War that follows. The punishment for biting the hand that fed it is to wear down the impoverished country with ten years of sanctions--in essence, starving its children with limited access to food, medicines and health care.

The remaining 22 ingredients in this recipe for disaster were contributed by Chef de Cuisine Dick Cheney and Sous-Chef George W. Bush (who has been allowed to think he is in charge of the kitchen).

4. If you are George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, in response to a surprise aerial strike on the U.S. by a relatively small band of religious zealots, mostly Saudi citizens, do not relentlessly pursue the mastermind behind the disaster. Instead, allow a group of unelected neocon chickenhawks who never served in the military to make a case for a preemptive attack on Iraq based on the unproven presence of weapons of mass destruction. Quondam spiritual leader of the neocons is the Vice President. When asked about his succession of deferments during the Vietnam War and his own failure to serve in the military, Mr. Cheney's patriotic response was, "I had other priorities."

5. Attack Iraq and invade it with a "coalition force" composed mostly of American troops and a much smaller contingent of British troops.

6. Ignore your military experts' advice on the size of forces necessary to achieve military victory and to occupy a vast country. Instead, listen to civilian advisers from academia with no military experience.

7. Upon gaining victory over an inferior army, fail to anticipate inevitable armed resistance. Allow sectarian militias to be recruited and armed. Attempt to fight a guerrilla war with an army designed and equipped to engage Soviet forces in giant set-piece battles on the plains of Central Europe.

8. Neglect to secure critical sites, ranging from ammunition depots to museums. Look the other way when looting of the country's infrastructure takes place.

9. Fail to equip your troops with adequately armored vehicles and the latest improvements in body armor.

10. Upon finding no weapons of mass destruction, create the fiction that the purpose of the war was to democratize Iraq, a fractionated country that has never known true democracy.

11. Foolishly disband the Iraqi Army, whose officers and non-commissioned officers could have formed the core of new Iraqi defense and security forces. Allow Iraqi soldiers to return home with their weapons and join the ranks of the unemployed.

12. Have your military officers and civilian officials occupy Saddam's ostentatious former palaces and use them as luxurious living quarters and offices.

13. Take over Saddam's infamous prison at Abu Graib. Instead of bulldozing it, staff it and operate it as a detention center for suspected terrorists swept up in broad sweeps. Allow enlisted guards to humiliate and torture prisoners. Blame, then court martial and punish selected enlisted personnel for their offenses but not the officers in charge for dereliction of duty.

14. When insurgency flares up, hunker down behind sandbags and barbed wire in fortified bases, creating "Little Americas" that offer the amenities of life back home in sharp contrast to the highly visible poverty surrounding these camps.

15. Install in power wealthy expatriate Iraqis who had chosen to live abroad comfortably during Saddam's rule. Prime example: Ahmad Chalabi, the CIA's favorite source of tainted misinformation.

16. Dawdle on rebuilding the infrastructure you purposely destroyed or carelessly allowed to be looted.

17. Instead of creating jobs for millions of unemployed Iraqis, award lucrative no-bid contracts to American contractors in a process so rife with malfeasance and corruption that billions of dollars in disbursements disappear and are unaccounted for.

18. To guard favored American contractors holding no-bid contracts, underwrite a heavily armed, highly paid private army of soldiers of fortune leased from security companies like Blackwater and allow them to write their own rules.

19. Despite your failure to return basic services in Iraq to pre-war levels and as the number and intensity of hostile incidents increase, release rosy statements claiming that progress is being made and the situation is under control.

20. Direct the activities and decisions of an interim government and insist that it write a constitution satisfactory to the U.S. government.

21. Arbitrarily extend tours of duty and degrade your troops' morale, especially among Reserve and National Guard units.

22. In the face of steadily mounting casualties and the increasing number of grievous attacks on our forces, close your eyes to grim reality and issue upbeat statements about the imminence of victory.

23. Fail to change tactics to fight a growing insurgency and invite attacks with the challenge, "Bring 'em on." Remain unmoved by thousands of American dead and tens of thousands of American wounded or that you have killed and wounded many times that number of innocent Iraqi civilians. Allow no photographs to be made of returning flag-draped coffins. Avoid attending military funerals.

24. Have no exit plan or timetable for disengagement from Iraq.

25. In the face of plummeting approval numbers at home, refuse to concede that the Iraq misadventure was a gross mistake. Divert attention from your failures and attempt to change the subject by proposing constitutional amendments banning gay marriage and flag burning.

Stir well and season the mélange with the bitter crocodile tears shed for the fallen by this administration. Call the resulting inedible stew "Cheney-Bush Ragout à l'Irakien." Serve cold. Send the check for the meal in the billions of dollars to the table of the American people.

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Thursday, June 22, 2006

So You Want to Be a Writer? Frequently Asked Questions


Scratch the average person and there's sure to be a frustrated, would-be writer underneath. If you have wanted to try your hand at writing and didn't know how to begin, here are answers to some common questions would-be writers ask.

How can I get started?
Start thinking like a writer. Ideas for unwritten books, stories, articles, film scripts or poems are everywhere. Consider this true story: A police officer in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., buys a lottery ticket. Lacking small change and unable to leave a tip after breakfasting in a coffee shop, he promises to split his winnings with the waitress if his ticket wins. It does, and he does. Millions read this story in newspapers across the country. Yet it took screenwriter Jane Anderson to see its possibilities and turn it into the script for the 1994 hit film, It Could Happen to You, originally titled Cop Gives Waitress $2 Million Tip. Critics and moviegoers loved the film. We all have had personal experiences, or have some expertise, or are familiar with stories that could be set down on paper and sold successfully. Too many writers roam the world searching for ideas, and ignore the gems and nuggets lying at their feet.
Fiction, nonfiction, poetry?
Not surprisingly, your first decision should be to choose the genre you are most comfortable with. Are you a born storyteller? Then you should think in terms of writing fiction. You must then choose between writing a novel or short stories. If you are curious about the natural world, think about the possibility of writing nonfiction--a broad category that includes everything from magazine articles, essays and book reviews to full-length books, including memoirs and personal experiences. You can hone your nonfiction skills with letters to the editor of your favorite newspaper. Some would say that a novel is nothing more than a group of short stories with a common thread. Similarly, a nonfiction book may be compared to a collection of articles on a common theme. Poetry is perhaps the most demanding area and the least rewarding in terms of chances of publication and amount of payment.

It is not dismissive to say that in the beginning it doesn't matter what you write--it's the habit of writing that you want to cultivate. An oldster writing reminiscences as a contribution for the local historical society or a youngster attempting some avant garde poetry--their efforts all have worth and can find a home.

How should I record my ideas?
Keep a notebook, journal or diary. Inspiration can strike at any time. Memory is undependable and fleeting. Wise writers always keep a small notebook with them for jotting down ideas. Anne Lamott, author of  Bird by Bird, a book of advice for writers, favors index cards. She scatters them around the house and keeps some in the glove compartment of her car. Even when walking her dog, a pen and an index card are in her pocket. Recording the day's events, experiences, observations and ideas in a journal or diary at day's end is a useful practice. Years later, these notes will be there to spark memories. An old-fashioned composition book is excellent for this purpose.

How important is reading?
Every good writer is an inquiring reader. Reading is a way of training for writing. Successful writers are omnivorous readers and will read anything at hand: a dog-eared magazine in a doctor's waiting room, the breakfast food box on the kitchen table, even yesterday's day-old newspaper. If you hope to earn money from writing, read the writings of other writers for clues to the secret of their success.

The works of other writers also can have a positive effect on your style. Joseph Heller, author of "Catch-22," named the writings of Louis Ferdinand Celine and Vladimir Nabokov as the inspirations for his iconoclastic antiwar novel. Stephen King’s simple formula for learning to write well: “Read four hours a day and write four hours a day. If you cannot find the time for that, you can’t expect to become a good writer.”

Careful analytical reading will make you more attuned to what successful writers are selling and what editors are buying. Even though you have subscribed to a magazine you hope to write for, you should study its style carefully. Count the number of sentences in paragraphs. Count the number of words in sentences. Does the magazine use the serial comma (a, b, and c) or omit it in a series of three or more items? You’ll be surprised at how much you can learn from such quantitative research. Learn to use all the tools (i.e., punctuation marks) in the writer's toolbox aside from the period and the comma: for example--the colon, semi-colon, long dash and other marks to give variety to your writing. Most magazines offer style sheets to writers who send a request accompanied by a stamped and addressed return envelope.

How should I do research?
Every writer should know how to use the Internet and traditional reference works as tools for research. Even fiction writers have an obligation to get their facts straight. Anachronisms--representations of someone as existing or something as happening in the wrong historical setting or chronological order--have doomed many a novel.

The late Patrick O'Brian, British cult author of a series of 17 maritime novels set in the Napoleonic era made himself an expert in all aspects of life in that period. These embrace music, poetry, food and science--including astronomy and medicine--not to mention the arcana of shipboard life, sailing and navigation. Similarly, American author E.L. Doctorow does extensive reading in American historical sources before starting to write. His impeccably researched works--Ragtime is perhaps the most famous--recreate their period settings with remarkable truth and vitality. In their artful melding of flawless scholarship with writing of high quality, the books of O'Brian and Doctorow have crossed the line between fiction and history to start an entirely new genre.

What's the best place to do research?
With vast amounts of reference material on databases and CD-ROM disks, home computers and printers make the laborious task of note taking unnecessary. Larger public libraries and regional libraries offer access to research tools such as complete files of back-number newspapers and magazines or subscription databases that may be beyond the reach or the pocketbooks of smaller libraries or individuals. Visit your local public library and ascertain the websites that the library offers access to, and take advantage of the laborsaving possibilities of these new research tools. For older reference works, you may still have to rely on books, note taking and the copying machine.

Don't disdain traditional sources of information. There's still a wealth of useful information locked up in books and off-trail periodicals. Introduce yourself to your local reference librarian; a phone call to a knowledgeable librarian can often save a trip to the library or endless hours of searching for elusive information on the Internet. The reference librarian can arrange to borrow scarce materials for you through the medium of interlibrary loan.

The Internet is a vast storehouse of data. Care must be exercised, however, in tapping into it. Because items can be posted easily, no guarantees can be made about the accuracy of the information. Also, users must exercise caution not to violate copyright; some unscrupulous individuals have posted copyrighted information on the Internet without the permission of the copyright owners.

Should I buy books?
An unabridged desk dictionary is not a purchase--it's an investment. As the cornerstone of your writer's library, it will serve you well for meanings, spellings, word-breaks and word origins. Another equally valuable tool is a thesaurus. Both are available as traditional books or electronically. But don't refer to a thesaurus until you have racked your brain for the right word or phrase; too-frequent use of a thesaurus as a crutch may make you too dependent on it. An encyclopedia can be a useful adjunct to any writer's library. Sets of the "big three"--Britannica, Americana or Collier's--can often be found at bargain prices at second-hand bookstores. I frequently use my 24-volume set of the 14th edition of the Britannica bought at a garage sale for twenty dollars.

How can I learn the basic rules of writing?
Your next purchase should be a style manual. These are of two types: those that review the rules of grammar, and those that set guidelines for the stylization of manuscripts for publication, as well as clarifying grammar, spelling and punctuation. Among the former, Strunk and White's The Elements of Style is a modern classic, despite its compact size. Among the latter, The Chicago Manual of Style, published by the University of Chicago Press, is the style manual used by many publishers and editors. Words Into Type is an especially readable favorite as is The New York Public Library Writer's Guide to Style and Usage.

How can I ncrease my vocabulary?
Words are the fundamental building blocks of writers. You should constantly be on the lookout for new words and meanings to add to your vocabulary. With very little effort, anyone can acquire a larger and more useful vocabulary. When you encounter a new word, jot it down in your notebook. Later, look it up in your dictionary.

More than a half-century ago, Johnson O'Connor, director of the Human Engineering Laboratory at the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology, made a startling discovery: a large vocabulary and an extensive knowledge of word meanings was a characteristic of all successful men and women. Education was not the key; those who had left school before their sixteenth year and worked their way up to executive positions turned out to have one thing in common: they had acquired larger vocabularies through self-instruction than many executives who were college graduates. O'Connor's English Vocabulary Builder often turns up in second-hand bookstores. If you spot a copy, snap it up.

When, where and what should I write with?
These three topics have been covered in depth in an earlier article entitled "The Work Habits of Highly Successful Writers" available here.

Should I discuss my writing ideas with others?
Don't make the common mistake of inexperienced writers by trying out your ideas or writing plans on friends or relatives before setting them down on paper. If you discuss what you intend to write too often before writing it, the important qualities of freshness and originality will soon vanish. Then when you finally get around to writing it, your original idea will seem stale and will have lost its appeal. In fact, your original excitement with the idea will have faded, and you'll be unhappy with it. So keep your ideas and imagination bottled up inside you until the moment of literary creation.

Do I need to make an outline?
Just as you wouldn't embark on a long automobile trip without a road map nor build a house without an architect's plan, don't start any nonfiction-writing project longer than a page without first making an outline. A detailed outline is the blueprint from which your actual writing should be executed. Most beginning writers pay too little attention to outlines. When they attempt one, it is usually too skimpy to reflect the structure of the intended work, with a loose and meandering piece of writing as the inevitable result. To be effective, an outline almost cannot be too detailed.

An outline is akin to a movie director's shooting script, leaving nothing to chance. An outline can also be compared to a sculptor's armature of pipe and wire on which the raw clay is draped. The outline, like the sculptor's armature, is always there under the finished work, lending strength and support to it but never being overtly apparent under the clay or behind the words. The addition of a little more clay here and the taking away of some clay there by the sculptor can be compared to the writer's revision process.

Fiction writers, on the other hand, are of two schools on the subject of outlines. One group insists that an outline is the outstanding fiction. The other is just as vehement in its insistence that fiction should evolve from the writer’s mind and imagination. They claim that a good story will literally tell itself. Stephen King, for example, told an interviewer that he begins with certain ideas and a sense of direction--but no plot outline. "I'm never sure where the story's going or what's going to happen with it. It's a discovery."

How much should I write?
The length of your writing session is up to you. Writing as little as a page a day will yield a good-sized book manuscript in a year. In his book, How To Write, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Rhodes suggests a clever way to induce words to flow: "If writing a book is impossible, write a chapter. If writing a chapter is impossible, write a page. If writing a page is impossible, write a paragraph. If writing a paragraph is impossible, write a sentence. If writing even a sentence is impossible, write a word."

According to Contemporary Authors, Stephen King likes to work on two things simultaneously, beginning his day early with a two- or -three miles walk.... He devotes his afternoon hours to rewriting.... While he is not particular about writing conditions, he is about output. Despite chronic headaches, occasional insomnia, and even a fear of writer's block, he produces six pages daily.’ And that's like engraved in stone,' he says."

Is there a key element in good writing?
Yes, revision, revision, revision. Real estate agents maintain that three elements make a house salable: location, location and location. Similarly, repeated revision is the key to a successful manuscript. As a teacher of writing and literary agent, I can say without exaggeration that I have never seen a manuscript (including my own) that could not profit from one more revision.

How can I discipline myself?
Organized work habits are the hallmark of every successful writer. Set a rigorous writing schedule for yourself, and stick to it. That second cup of coffee and the morning newspaper may be enticing--but are taboo. If you cannot discipline yourself, forget about writing. No successful writer ever said writing came easy. "Easy writing makes hard reading," was how Hemingway put it. If you are not exhausted at the end of each writing stint, you are not giving writing your all.

Procrastination is an enemy every writer has to face. Some writers will make it a point to tidy up the writing area before starting to write. Others practice meditation before each writing session. Don't worry about the bugaboo called "writer's block." Writers who write for a living will tell you that this problem simply doesn't exist except as a mysterious malady afflicting beginning writers and conjured up regularly by the editors of the so-called "writer's magazines."

Is there one quality that makes for writing success?
Yes, there is: Perseverance with a capital P. Perseverance is the trait shared by all successful writers. Twenty-two publishers turned down Dubliners, James Joyce's collection of realistic sketches, over a period of nine years. One of its stories, "The Dead," is today regarded as among the greatest short stories of all time. Lust for Life, by Irving Stone, the first book by the "inventor" of the biographical novel, had a difficult birth. Twenty-six publishers refused Stone’s manuscript, based on the life of Vincent Van Gogh, before it finally saw the light of day.

American author J.P. Donleavy's stream-of-consciousness novel The Ginger Man was rejected thirty-five times before being accepted by Maurice Girodias's Paris-based Olympia Press. Because Donleavy's bawdy novel was included in the publisher's series of pornographic paperbacks, the writer sued Girodias. After many years of unsuccessful litigation, Donleavy bought the defunct Olympia Press at a bankruptcy auction. In an ironic twist, he then had to call off his lawsuit: he was suing himself.

Forty-nine different editors refused Cool Hand Luke, a first novel by Donn Pearce, a 36-year-old merchant seaman who had spent two years on a chain gang. But the fiftieth publisher's first reader saw the story of an indomitable prisoner on a Florida chain gang as a book well worth publishing. Hollywood snapped up the film rights, and Pearce shared an Academy award for the screenplay.

The Stephen King Story
The prize for perseverance surely goes to Stephen King, hands down. Encouraged by his working wife, he abandoned menial labor and a low-paying teaching job in Maine, and elected to stay home and write. Upon completing his first book manuscript titled Getting It On, he cast around for a publisher. Impressed with The Parallax View, a 1970 novel by Mamaroneck, N.Y., author Loren Singer, King sent a manuscript to Doubleday, the book's publisher, addressed, "To the Editor of "The Parallax View." That editor happened to be on vacation, so the manuscript was given to William G. Thompson, another Doubleday editor. Although Thompson saw the power in King's writing, he couldn't get editorial support from fellow Doubleday editors, and the King manuscript was eventually rejected. Thompson encouraged King to keep trying.

Three subsequent King submissions met a similar fate and also were declined. Undeterred, King sent Thompson the manuscript of still another novel, his fifth. King had written what he later described as a "parable of women's consciousness," and then threw it away. His wife retrieved it from the trash and urged him to expand it into a novel. Titled Carrie, it was an exciting tale of a young girl with supernatural powers. Thompson liked it and convinced other Doubleday editors that the book could be a winner. The publisher offered King an advance against royalties of $2,500. King accepted and, as the saying has it, the rest is history.

As publishers regularly do with most hardcover books, Doubleday shopped proofs of Carrie around to paperback publishers. Interest was lively and paperback rights to King's first novel went to New American Library for a cool $400,000. Doubleday's contract with King called for income on subsidiary rights to be split 50-50 between publisher and author, making King rich beyond his wildest dreams. In part because of the sale of its paperback rights, Doubleday ordered an initial press run for Carrie of 30,000 copies, a huge number for a first novel. Contemporary Authors noted, "the novel was marketed as horror fiction, and the genre had found its juggernaut."

After the runaway success of Carrie, King followed with two more books, Salem's Lot and The Shining, the latter title King's first hardcover novel to land on the New York Times bestseller list. In 1977, King argued convincingly that the time was ripe for a reconsideration of the first four rejected King manuscripts, but Doubleday had strong reservations about overexposure of its now best-selling author. Accordingly, King persuaded New American Library to publish the four previously rejected manuscripts in hardcover under the pen name of Richard Bachman, a thin disguise that many of King's fans easily saw through.

Getting It On became the first of the so-called "Bachman books." Retitled Rage, it told the story of a gun-loving high school student who takes over his classroom and kills his teacher and carried a dedication to Thompson. The other Bachman titles, The Long Walk, Roadwork, The Running Man and Thinner were published at intervals of a year or two beginning in 1979. All were modest successes. However, shortly after the publication of Thinner in 1985, it was publicly acknowledged that King was Bachman, and the book shot to No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list. A mere four weeks after Thinner fell from the No. 1 spot, the next Stephen King book, Skeleton Crew, reached No. 1--the only book of short stories ever to do so.

When King's ultralong manuscript of more than 1,600 pages titled The Stand reached Doubleday, the publisher had already parted company with editor Thompson, and King acquired a new editor. The publisher told King that he must cut the size of the book by 150 pages in order to keep the cover price down. This infuriated King, but he did what he was told to do. Doubleday's edition of 24,000 copies sold well but never topped the bestseller lists. In 1990, twelve years later, the book about an America in which most of its people have been killed by plague and in which the forces of good and evil compete for the remnant population, was issued as King originally wrote it with the excised pages restored. Retitled The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition, and despite the previous edition, the book entered the New York Times bestseller list at No. 1 and remained there for four weeks. In all, it was on the Times list for 37 weeks, attesting to the pulling power of King's name.

Because Doubleday, one of the few publishing companies to own a printing plant, published King's books as part of press runs for its lower-quality book clubs editions, King soon became unhappy with the quality of the Doubleday-printed books and Doubleday’s chintzy advances. Matters came to a head when King issued an ultimatum: He would sell Doubleday rights to his three next already-written novels for $3.5 million. Thompson, King's editor, urged Doubleday to meet this price, but the company refused and shortsightedly made a final counteroffer of $3.0 million, $500,000 short of King's figure. King took his books elsewhere. New American Library had no such qualms and easily met King's asking price, then sold the hardcover rights to a delighted Viking Press in what publishers call a "backward deal."

King's fifth novel and his first book for Viking, The Dead Zone, published in 1979 is, in King's eyes, his finest work. It became the first King book to make the New York Times bestseller list. The story of a man who comes out of a coma with the ability to foresee the future. Not liking what he sees, he sets out to change it. In 1980, the second of King's book to make that list, Firestarter, is about an eight-year-old girl who can set things afire just by looking at them. It spent 35 weeks on the list. Less than a year later, King again attained No. 1 with Cujo, a story about rabid dog disturbing the peace of a rural Maine town.

Despite bouts of addiction to alcohol and hard drugs in the 1980s and being struck by a vehicle in a near-fatal accident in 1999 while walking along a rural highway, a recovered Stephen King remains a veritable book factory. No other author has come close to the number of Stephen King’s books that have appeared on the New York Times bestseller lists, To this day, he still negotiates multimillion-dollar advances for his books. Demonstrating that dogged perseverance can indeed pay off for a writer, since 1977 there has not been a year without the appearance of one or more books bearing Stephen King's name as author. That's perseverance with a capital P.

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Nobody Asked Me, But . . . (6/15/06)


Text to come


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Monday, June 12, 2006

Almost Famous: The Spelvins, the Plinges and the Smithees


Alert Broadway theatergoers occasionally spot a familiar actor's name in a play's printed program--George Spelvin. Over a span of 100 years, he has shown himself to be a hardy trouper, having appeared in 67 plays and revivals. Before you begin wondering why he has never received a lifetime achievement award, you should know that George Spelvin is a fictitious name adopted by actors for various reasons.

George Spelvin may be the name used by an actor doubling in another role in the play. Or George Spelvin may be an actor who wants to conceal his identity. (For example, an actor playing the part of a corpse in a play might prefer the anonymity of the name George Spelvin.) In five of the 67 plays in which the name has been used, it has been shown as George Spelvin, Jr. The 1929 play Kibitzer uses a father-and-son combination: the names of both George Spelvin and George Spelvin, Jr. appear in small parts. The play was written by journalist (and later lyricist) Jo Swerling and Edward G. Robinson, who also played the principal role. Robinson was yet to be a big name; that would come after he played a sensational Capone-like gangster in the 1931 film, Little Caesar.

The program of the 1932 play They All Come to Moscow, which marked the Broadway debut of Hollywood actor Cornel Wilde, appropriately carries the name George Spelvinsky playing the part of an officer in the Russian secret police. In the program for the play In Any Language that opened in New York’s Cort Theatre on Oct. 7, 1952, and starred Walter Matthau and Eileen Heckart. The play is set in Rome, Italy, and the name George Spelvin appears playfully as Giorgio Spelvino.

George Spelvin had a female counterpart, Georgette Spelvin. The female version of the name enjoyed a brief, two-year run of popularity between 1932 and 1934. It appeared in the program of the 1932 play Riddle Me This, starring Thomas Mitchell, and the 1934 production of Dodsworth, based on Sinclair Lewis's novel, in which Walter Huston starred. An actress in hard-core adult films, born Dorothy May in Texas in 1936, used the name Georgina Spelvin from 1957 until she retired in 1982 at age 47.

Another substitute name that has been popular with actors on Broadway is Walter Plinge. The name has been used to identify an actor in 12 plays on Broadway between 1917 (in Colonel Newcome, staring Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, who died shortly after the play closed) and 1936 (in a revival of Cyrano de Bergerac starring Walter Hampden). The name Walter Plinge was also that of the stage manager of the 1965 play, All in Good Time.

Hollywood has used the names George Spelvin and Walter Plinge sparingly to conceal the identity of an actor. The name George Spelvin appeared in the credits of only seven films between 1926 (Just Suppose) and 1999 (Kiss Toledo Goodbye). The most recognizable George Spelvin was probably Robin Williams, billed by that name in the 1996 film The Secret Agent, playing the part of the Professor in the film version of the Joseph Conrad novel.

Williams had used names other than his own on the credits of several films in the past. In 1988, playing the part of the King of the Moon, he was billed as Ray D. Tutto (which Italian speakers will recognize as "king of everything"). As Sudy Nim, Williams supplied the voice of the kiwi in the 1991 TV film, A Wish for Wings That Work. And in the 1992 film Shakes the Clown, Williams, billed as Marty Fromage, played the part of the mime class instructor.

The George Spelvin name also appears on the screen credits of directors, writers, cinematographers, composers, editors, art directors, and production designers. The most popular identity-hiding name used in Hollywood, however, is not George Spelvin. That dubious honor goes to director Allen Smithee, a name that was first employed in 1969 on the film, Death of a Gunfighter, starring Richard Widmark and Lena Horne, and helmed by director Robert Totten.

Partway through the film, Widmark locked himself in his trailer and refused to come out. Totten was replaced as director because of "artistic differences" with Widmark, who had the reputation of sometimes being difficult to work with. Multi-talented Don Siegel, whose fame had been growing since his 1956 classic film Invasion of the Body Snatchers was hired to take over. Siegel had just finished working with Widmark on Madigan, a 1968 film about a maverick detective. However, the new director shot little more than a new opening and new ending for the troubled film.

With filming concluded, Siegel, uneasy because Totten had actually directed more of the film than he had, refused to take screen credit as did Totten. Instead of using his name, Siegel suggested that the director's name be shown as Al Smith. After the Directors Guild of America discovered that there already was a listed director of that name, Siegel suggested an alteration of the name Al Smith--Allen Smithee. A precedent was set for directors who did not want their names on a film. The name has several variants: Alan Smithee, Alan Smythee, Adam Smithee.

"I'm sorry I got involved in the making of the picture," Siegel said later. "I thought Totten made a mistake in taking his name off the credits when I did, as he was truly the director of Death of a Gunfighter." The picture was released on May 9, 1969. To everyone's surprise, it found favor with critics and the public alike. In Chicago, Roger Ebert wrote, "Director Allen Smithee, a name I am not familiar with, allows his story to unfold naturally. He never preaches, and he never lingers on the obvious. His characters do what they have to do." He added an opinion that must have pleased Robert Totten: "This is one of Richard Widmark's best, most fully realized performances." Critic Howard Thompson, reviewing the film in The New York Times, wrote, "the film has been sharply directed by Allen Smithee."

Allen Smithee, with its variant Alan Smithee, turned out to be an all-purpose name. Hollywood is not known for its modesty, but between 1969 and 1997, the Smithee name was also used to conceal the identities of 34 directors, 29 actors, 28 writers, 28 film producers, 22 miscellaneous crew members, 10 second-unit directors and 5 cinematographers. In addition, the name served to hide the identities of assorted production designers and managers, art directors, artists and other specialized crafts.

Death of a Gunfighter lost the doubtful honor of being the first Allen Smithee film when two films that had gone into production in 1968 were credited to him retroactively. One was titled Iron Cowboy (also known as Fade In) that marked the first starring role for actor Burt Reynolds. The other film retroactively ascribed to Allen Smithee was The Omega Imperative.

After 28 years and 33 Smithee-directed films on the record books, director Arthur Hiller's cut of his 1997 biting film about the movie colony was rejected by the production company that had bankrolled it. An unhappy Hiller suggested that his name be removed from the film, which was eventually titled An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn. It was intended to be the last film to bear that all-purpose director's name: The Directors Guild effectively put an end to the name game--at least for directors--simply by delisting the fictitious Allen/Alan Smithee as a director.

The Smithee name proved to be hard to kill. It still turns up on films that have been edited for TV or for showings on airplanes when creative types associated with the film, such as script writers, have wanted to distance themselves from the truncated version.

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Thursday, June 08, 2006

Did They Really Say That? Quotations and Misquotations


"You could look it up." So said colorful Casey Stengel, who led the New York Yankees to ten American League pennants and seven World Series championships. He was explaining how his team could have won 103 games in 1954 and still failed to win the pennant. "We had a splendid season," he was fond of saying afterwards, "but 'The Señor' (Al Lopez, manager of the Cleveland Indians) won 111 games and beat us. You could look it up."

So you could. Familiar quotations are often mangled, misquoted or misattibuted. Here are a few examples:

"Go west, young man, go west!" Everyone knows Horace Greeley, editor of The New York Tribune, was the author of these rousing words. He wasn't. The phrase was first used in an 1851 editorial by John B.L. Soule, in the Terre Haute Express. Greeley was so impressed with the editorial that he printed it in his Tribune and expanded its message to: "Go west, young man, and grow up with the country."

Greeley repeatedly disclaimed credit for originating the expression, yet he continued to be tagged with its authorship. To stem the spreading impression that he had said it, he even reprinted the piece from the Indiana newspaper in the Tribune. Misattributions die hard; despite Greeley's best efforts, the phrase has stuck to him.

"Lafayette, we are here!" This ringing phrase is often credited to General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force, speaking on July 4th, 1917, at ceremonies at the tomb of Lafayette in the little-known Picpus Cemetery in Paris. The cemetery, in the 12th arrondissement, is on the grounds of a convent. Lafayette and his wife share it with victims of the Reign of Terror and their descendants.

The announcement apparently was made by Col. Charles E. Stanton, Pershing's chief disbursing officer and a nephew of Edward M. Stanton, Secretary of War during the Civil War. Colonel Stanton had been deputized by Pershing to speak for him. In My Experiences in the World War, published thirteen years after the Armistice, Pershing wrote that he could not recall having said "anything so splendid."

Despite Pershing's disclaimer, Naboth Hedin, a 33-year-old uniformed American war correspondent, asserted that he heard Pershing pronounce the famous words three weeks earlier on June 14th, the day after the American general arrived in Paris. Hedin said Pershing stepped up to Lafayette's tomb, saluted smartly and said in a loud voice, "Lafayette, we are here." Hedin insisted, "I was about twenty feet away."

Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it. This famous observation is often attributed to Mark Twain, who made frequent references to the weather in his writings. The words first appeared in an unsigned editorial in the Hartford Courant. Charles Dudley Warner, a close friend of Twain's, was the newspaper's editor.

In the editorial, the saying was attributed to "a well-known American writer." But Warner was also a well-known writer, having co-authored the novel The Gilded Age with Twain. Moreover, the expression does not appear in any of Twain's works. The jury is still out; some authorities give Twain the nod, others favor Warner.

As so often happens with quotations, "you pays your money and you takes your choice." This expression, by the way, is from a cartoon by John Leech in the British magazine Punch, January 3, 1846.

Mistaken Identities
It is not uncommon to hear the name Frankenstein applied to the wayward creature crudely put together from the body parts of corpses in the 1818 novel by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Frankenstein was not the monster, but the name of the man who created it: Victor Frankenstein. Even in dictionaries, the name Frankenstein has now taken on a life of its own and has come to mean any monster having the appearance of a man. Thus, in a sense, Frankenstein's nameless monster has destroyed its creator.

Horatio Alger is another example of literary transformation. Alger was not the hero of a series of 19th-century dime novels with a rags-to-riches theme, as many believe; he was their creator. Originally a Unitarian minister on Cape Cod, Alger turned from religion after being accused of sexually molesting young parishioners, traveled to New York and became a crusading author who preached the gospel of success.

Close, but No Cigar
"Blood, sweat and tears." Who doesn't remember Sir Winston Churchill's famous exhortation during the Second World War? Memory can play tricks. Churchill didn't quite say that. What he said in his first speech to the House of Commons as Prime Minister in 1940 was, "I would say to the House, as I said to those who joined this Government: 'I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.'" Churchill was too canny a politician to end a memorable catch phrase on a defeatist note with a word like tears. The powerful line about blood, toil, tears and sweat was so effective, he used it again in five subsequent speeches.

The title of a traditional Christmas carol is usually rendered as God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen."Those in the know, however, will shift the comma to make it read God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen. In 18th-century England, "God rest ye merry" was a common greeting.

"All power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely."
Lord Acton was a British historian who is often quoted as having made that observation. What he actually said in an 1887 letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton, professor of ecclesiastical history at Cambridge, was, "Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely."

Mining the Bible
As might be expected, the Bible is the source of many a misquotation. For example, the cloud "no bigger than a man's hand" has become a standard allusion to any small, menacing omen. Go to the first book of Kings, however, and you'll find the reference actually reads, "There ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man's hand."

The much-quoted "prophet without honor in his own country" is, to be exact, "not without honor, save in his own country, and in his own house," in the Gospel according to Matthew.

"Money" is today universally condemned as "the root of all evil." But in the first epistle to Timothy, Paul tells us it is "the love of money" that causes all the mischief.

"The voice crying in the wilderness," is really "The voice of one crying in the wilderness, according to Isaiah.

"Pride goeth before a fall"
is widely quoted. It turns out that in Proverbs, we read, "Pride goeth before destruction," and "an haughty spirit" before a fall."

Try to find this in your Bible: "Esau sold his birthright for a mess of potage." You won't; this phrase does not appear in any currently used Bible. It can be found only in the so-called "Geneva Bible," popularly called the "Breeches Bible" for its rendering of a verse in the first chapter of Genesis. First published in 1560 and a favorite with the Pilgrims, it was displaced by the King James version. That the phrase still has wide currency is a testament to the power of folk sayings alone to transmit religious texts.

Similarly, "the good Samaritan" is never called that in the Bible. In the Gospel according to Luke, we read only that "a man from Jerusalem" had been set upon by thieves and was wounded. "A certain Samaritan . . . had compassion on him." The Samaritans and the Jews were traditional enemies; any Samaritan performing a kind deed for a Jew must implicitly have been "good."

Brush up Your Shakespeare
In the final scene in John Huston's 1941 film made from Dashiell Hammett's classic detective novel The Maltese Falcon, Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) holds the worthless replica of the elusive statuette. Detective Sergeant Tom Polhaus (Ward Bond) asks him what it is. Spade laconically lisps, "The stuff dreams are made of." Great ending--but bad Shakespeare. What the Bard of Avon had Prospero tell Ferdinand in The Tempest was, "We are such stuff as dreams are made on."

Many writers think the Bard wrote in "Hamlet" that "the engineer is hoist by his own petard." A petard was a bell-shaped, gunpowder-filled bomb, ancestor of the IEDs, improvised explosive devices so lethal to American troops in Iraq. In siege warfare in Shakespeare's time, specialized troops tunneled under fortifications and exploded the petard--often simultaneously blowing themselves up in the process. Hamlet planned to turn the tables on the fawning courtiers Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. By altering the letters they are carrying, he hoped that they will be killed instead of him. He tells his mother of his plan and admits it would be "knavery," but adds, "'tis the sport to have the engineer hoist with his own petard."

"To gild the lily." On close examination, this vivid Shakespearean phrase, shortened and corrupted in popular use makes no sense at all. In "King John," the Earl of Salisbury deplores as unnecessary the crowning of the king a second time, and says: "To gild refined gold, to paint the lily, to throw perfume on the violet . . . is wasteful and ridiculous excess."

How often have we heard someone declaim, "Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him well"? Unfortunately, Hamlet never says it. When a grave digger identifies a newly unearthed skull as that of Yorick, the king's jester, Hamlet takes it and says to his friend Horatio, "Alas poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy."

Could anything be wrong with the quotation from "The Merchant of Venice" that says, "All that glitters is not gold."? What the Prince of Morocco really says in that play, dating from about 1596, is "All that glisters is not gold." The first use of glitters in this saying did not come until 1687--by John Dryden, English essayist and poet laureate, in his poem, "The Hind and the Panther."

Contrary to popular belief, Shakespeare did not write "a poor thing, but my own" often used to describe a work less than perfect. The exact words can be found in Act 5, Scene 4 of As You Like It. When Touchstone describes Audrey, a sluttish country wench he is introducing to Jacques, he calls her, "a poor virgin, sir, an ill-favoured thing, sir, but mine own."

Phrases that Backfired
Sir Samuel Wotton, a British diplomat, is frequently misquoted as having defined an ambassador as "an honest man sent abroad to lie for the good of his country." What he actually wrote was, "an honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country." The cleverness of the adage depended on his placement of the verb "lie." In the 17th century, "to lie" meant "to stay," so "to lie abroad" meant "to live abroad." Intended as a clever private joke written in the album of a friend, Wotton's little jest was published and caused him to lose favor with King James I.

Quotable quotes occasionally give birth to other quotable quotes. Paraphrasing Wotton's wit a century and a half later, Samuel Johnson defined a journalist as "a man without virtue who lies at home for his own profit."

Even earlier, referring to Julius Caesar, in his Ad Atticum, Marcus Tullius wrote, "He is his own worst enemy." This must have been a tall order, given the number of Caesar's hostile adversaries. When the saying was used in Sir Winston Churchill's presence about someone he disliked intensely, the crusty old prime minister grumped, "Not whilst I live!"

Mangled Phrases
Topsy is a humorous character in Harriet Beecher Stowe's absurdly sentimental antislavery novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin. An eight-year-old slave who has been brought to Miss Ophelia to be educated, Topsy is often quoted when making comparisons with someone or something that "jest growed." But this phrase does not appear in the novel's text. When asked who made her, her artless answer in the book is, "I 'spect I grow'd."

Miguel de Cervantes' knight, Don-Quixote, is an impractical idealist bent on correcting the ills of the world. When he mistakes windmills for giants and attacks them, we've all heard this described as "tilting with windmills." The proper usage, of course, is "tilting at windmills." Cervantes' satirical chivalric novel also has given rise to another persistent misquotation, "if worse comes to worst." What Cervantes wrote was, "Let the worst come to the worst."

Does music have charms "to soothe the savage beast"? Not in the opening lines of William Congreve's play The Mourning Bride, dating from 1697. In it, he claimed that "music has charms to sooth a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak."

No Basis in Fact
Some quotations do not bear close scrutiny. Geoffrey Chaucer wrote in the Prologue to his Canterbury Tales, "His palfrey [horse] was as broun as is a berry." Of course, there are no brown berries. It has been suggested that the reference is to roasted coffee beans--but coffee in any form was unknown to Chaucer.

Also mistaken was the poet, theologian and hymn-writer Isaac Watts, author of more than 600 hymns, including "Joy to the World" and "O, God, Our Help in Ages Past." In his 1715 book "Divine and Moral Songs for Children," Watts wrote, "Birds in their little nests agree; and 'tis a shameful sight when children of one family fall out, and chide, and fight." Animal behaviorists know only too well that--in their nests or out--birds do not agree. They are among the most contentious creatures in the animal kingdom and spend their lives in an atmosphere of violence toward other birds.

Some misquotations are pure fabrications. Millions believe that Voltaire wrote, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." The words were actually invented by British author Evelyn Beatrice Hall, writing under the pseudonym of S.G. Tallentyre.

She enclosed the sentence in quotation marks in her 1906 study titled The Friends of Voltaire. Later she expressed hurt surprise on learning that readers regarded the words as a direct quotation from the French philosopher. Voltaire was many things--a champion of justice, tolerance, and freedom of conscience and speech--but he was not foolish enough to risk his life defending an empty sentiment most often repeated by politicians in the well of the U.S. Senate or by argumentative drunks in neighborhood bars.

In contrast to the pompous promise falsely credited to him, what Voltaire actually said in his Essay on Tolerance was more than enough to comfort today's civil libertarians: "Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege of doing so too."

Cinderella's glass slipper is perhaps the most famous example of what can happen when literary busybodies get to work. In 1697, Charles Perrault told the story of "Cendrillon," a fairy tale in which the heroine escapes from a life of drudgery to marry a handsome prince. The same book also marked the first appearance of such stories as "Little Red Riding Hood," "Tom Thumb" and "Sleeping Beauty."

In the English-language version of Perrault's story she wears elegant slippers of glass ("verre," in French) to the masked ball, and loses one on the stairs in her hasty midnight departure. Never mind that slippers of unyielding glass would make for an miserable evening of dancing. Perhaps taking their cue from that prospect, apologists later claimed that Perrault had written "pantoufles en vair" (slippers of white squirrel fur).

In translating this charming escapade to English, the claim is that the translator mistook "vair" (fur) for "verre" (glass). As a result, down through the years the Prince has been searching desperately for a young woman whose foot would fit an inflexible slipper of glass. Go back to Perrault's original, however, and you will find that he indeed described the material as "verre," glass. That was the whole point of his story: a foot of almost any size could be squeezed into a slipper of fur. But a slipper of glass would fit only one female foot: Cinderella's.

You could look it up.

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Monday, June 05, 2006

Of Viruses, Worms and Spyware: The Dangerous World of the Internet


A quarter-century ago I bought my first PC computer for a wallet-busting $6,900. It was a Heathkit, a do-it-yourself marque that regrettably disappeared when cheap Far Eastern labor made mass-produced computers more affordable.

A primitive memory, fragile doughnut-holed 5-1/4-inch floppy disks and a 12-inch monochrome monitor accompanied a Diablo 630 printer--a clattering behemoth cousin to the Teletype machine. The combination, however, was little more than an expensive word processor. Today, a compact computer system with 640 times the speed and 15,000 times the memory of my original computer can be bought for one-tenth of its price.

About 1994, when public access to the Internet became available, a brave new world opened for computer users. Suddenly, intellectual riches and instant communication were available to and from the farthest reaches of the planet. Such benefits were not without attendant hazards. Unscrupulous types quickly turned the Internet into a dangerous neighborhood for the unwary. Today, any computer user who naively ventures into the perilous thicket of the Internet faces mounting challenges. Lurking criminals are poised to filch their pocketbooks, if not their very identities, from the unwary.


Here are some of the steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of disaster:

Backup. Backing up your computer files at regular intervals should be a standard housekeeping computer practice. In the beginning, backup storage was done on disks, then streaming tapes and later CDs. If there is danger of fire or theft, many business computer users store their backup files off the premises. A plug-in external hard drive is another useful device for backup storage.

One practical suggestion is for computer users to buy two external storage drives and do a full backup once a week, say every Sunday. Each week's backed-up drive should be stored at a safe location and swapped for last week's drive with its stored information. In the event of a disaster, at the worst you'll only lose one week's data.

Regardless of the medium used to backup your files, it is imperative that the copied files be stored at a location away from your computer. The type of backup you choose should be dictated by your specific needs. Any backup system, however rudimentary, is better than no backup system at all.

Make your e-mail address harder to find. Sophisticated devices electronically troll the Internet looking for e-mail addresses from which to compile address lists. If you post your Internet address on a Web page, substitute the word “at” in place of the @ sign and the word dot for the period (.) in your address. This will make reading it more difficult to be read by a spammer’s address-mining software.

Avoid easy-to-crack passwords. Don't be lazy or try to be cute and use the eight-letter word "password" as your password. Avoid common words or the name of a family member or pet. Create passwords that are at least eight characters long. Password-cracking software exists and enables unscrupulous types to decipher your password, so be sure to include numerals and symbols (such as # or ^) in yours to defeat the efforts of such programs.

Have more than one e-mail address. Use one e-mail address for personal use and give out the address only to friends and relatives. Use another for everyday use and a third for your business, if you operate one from home. The security of such a tripartite system far outweighs the chore of checking several e-mail addresses regularly. If any of your e-mail addresses attracts too much unwanted traffic, merely abandon it and tell only those who need to know the new e-mail address that replaces it.

Use e-mail judiciously. Curiosity killed the cat, and it can play havoc with your use of e-mail. Do not open an attachment you were not expecting, even from someone you know. Never supply personal information to anyone in response to an e-mail. Never reply to links embedded in strange e-mails, and do not click on a link labeled "unsubscribe." Doing so merely confirms for the spammer that your e-mail address, one of hundreds of thousands on a mailing list of doubtful reliability, is indeed a valid address.

Browse the Internet carefully. Be wary of e-mails announcing that you have won a lottery or online free offers, such as IQ tests, personality analyses, puzzles, games, screen savers, videos, music and movie file-sharing programs. You may get more than you bargained for. The prize announcement or freebie also may conceal unwanted spyware.

Have more than one computer. If your personal computer contains financial records, income tax returns, or confidential information of any kind, get another computer for your children to use, especially if they share and download files. Moreover, separate computers for your children reduce the possibility of accidental destruction of valuable family or business records through misuse.


Here are some of the dangers you face online:

Spam, used as a noun and a verb, is unsolicited, unwanted, irrelevant or inappropriate messages, especially commercial advertising, sent indiscriminately in bulk quantities. It is the electronic equivalent of junk mail. To be considered spam, the recipient must not have verifiably granted explicit and revocable permission for it to be sent. The issue here is about consent not content.

Most e-mail traffic these days is spam and by its very volume, much of it is more an annoyance than a hazard. If your ISP (Internet service provider) offers spam blocking, diverting it to a "bulk mailbox," by all means enable it. Among the ISPs offering this at no extra charge are AOL, Yahoo, Earthlink and MSN. Should the volume of spam getting past this first line of defense be large, you should consider installing an antispam program, either as part of an e-mail program or as an add-on. Cost of the former can range from $90 for Microsoft to $130 for Apple, while add-on programs cost an average of $30.

Viruses, worms and Trojan horses are all malicious programs whose objective is to damage your computer. A virus is a dangerous computer program or piece of computer code whose characteristic feature is the ability to generate copies and replicate itself, thus spreading. The first virus made its appearance in 1987 and infected ARPANET, a large network used by the Defense Department and many universities engaged in research. Life on the Internet hasn't been the same since.

Loaded onto your computer without your knowledge and running without your permission, most computer viruses carry a destructive payload that can be activated under certain conditions. Even a simple virus can be dangerous because it can quickly use all of your computer's available memory and bring your system to a standstill. The most dangerous type of virus is one capable of transmitting itself across networks and bypassing security systems.

Most viruses are attached to an executable file, which means that it cannot infect your computer unless you open or run the malicious program. In short, a virus cannot be spread without human action. The antivirus program I use is Trend Micro's PC-cillin Internet Security ( Norton Antivirus is also popular (

As recently as a few weeks ago, an e-mail purporting to be from the FBI circulated on the Internet. It read: "We have logged your IP-address on more than 30 illegal websites. Please answer our questions. The list of questions are [sic] attached." Opening the attachment launches the w32/sober virus and may affect the user's computer. Given the recent revelations of government eavesdropping on telephone and Internet traffic in the U.S., recipients of this spammed e-mail could hardly be blamed for believing it to be genuine.

One popular fallacy is that you will never get a virus if you limit the e-mails you open to those from people you know. But there are no guarantees that a friend's or relative's computer may not already be infected.

A worm is a special kind of virus that can replicate itself and use memory, but cannot attach itself to other programs. Worms can travel from computer to computer but, unlike a virus, they have the ability to do this without any help from you. The biggest danger from worms is their ability to send out hundreds of thousands of copies of themselves with devastating effect. Viruses and worms spread by e-mailing copies of themselves to addresses listed in your address book.

A Trojan horse performs the same service as the hollow wooden horse the Greeks constructed and parked outside the walls of Troy. After it was trundled into the city by the delighted Trojans, Greeks hidden inside sprang out and threw open the gates of the city to permit entrance of their army.

At first glance, the Trojan horse appears to be useful software, but it will actually do damage if installed on your computer. A Trojan horse's effect can range from annoyance, such as adding silly desktop icons, to serious damage by deleting files and destroying crucial information. Unlike viruses and worms, Trojan horses do not reproduce by infecting other files, nor do they self-replicate.

Antivirus protection is available from several sources, including ISPs like AOL, Yahoo, Earthlink and MSN, from a retail store, or by downloading directly from the software manufacturer's website.

Spyware is any software that covertly gathers information about a computer user through an Internet connection without the user's knowledge. The first recorded use of spyware occurred in 1995. The behaviors of spyware may include tracking the user's Internet browsing by recording and reporting on the websites visited by the user for statistical research purposes.

Spyware may be secretly bundled with so-called freeware--programs available for downloading from the Internet. Once installed, spyware monitors the users' activity on the Internet and transmits that information to a third party. Spyware does not directly spread the way a computer virus, worm or Trojan horse does. Instead, spyware gets on a system through user deception or the exploitation of the vulnerabilities of a piece of software.

One clever spyware device appears on what looks like a standard Windows dialog box. It contains a message saying "Would you like to optimize your Internet access?" Regardless of whether you click on the "yes" or "no" button, a download starts, installing the spyware on your system.

System monitors are an insidious form of spyware. One, called a keylogger, can record and transmit to third parties every keystroke you strike, including names and passwords, enabling eavesdropping and reading of e-mail messages. Equally sneaky types of spyware can capture screen images of your electronically filed income tax returns, and online checkbook and personal records.

Spyware is sometimes called "adware" when it displays commercial advertisements with or without the user's consent. Adware does not operate surreptitiously, but the ads that pop up annoyingly can interfere with your browser. If you notice unusual behavior or degradation of your system's performance, chances are it is already infected with spyware.

Gaining unauthorized access to a computer is illegal under computer crime laws such as the U.S. Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Even when the owners of computers infected with spyware claim they did not authorize the installation of detected spyware, few prosecutions of the authors of spyware have followed.

Three steps you can take to protect your computer from spyware are: Set your Web browser's security configuration at medium or higher configuration to help resist spyware. Install antispyware. And regularly scan your computer with antispyware software.

Free programs are available to counter spyware. These include Microsoft's Windows Defender (Beta 2), offered as a free download for Windows XP 2000 and Windows 2003 users ( Another free download is Lavasoft's Ad-Aware SE Personal ( Because no antispyware program can intercept every piece of spyware, an additional program can be helpful. I use a program called Spy Sweeper offered at $30 by Webroot Software ( Lavasoft's more advanced Ad-Aware SE Plus at $26.95 is also popular. I also installed Webroot Software's Window Washer, which cleans my PC, erases my system's Internet history and optimizes it for better Internet and computer security.

Many users install a Web browser other than Microsoft's Internet Explorer, such as Opera or Mozilla's Firefox, because they exhibit fewer security vulnerabilities. Unfortunately, no single browser is totally safe. Viruses and spyware programs concentrate on Windows-based PC computers simply because they outnumber Macintosh computers by about ten to one. Thus, using a Web browser other than Internet Explorer or using a Macintosh computer can reduce your risk of infection.


These words--the final instructions the referee gives each fighter at the start of a boxing match--are equally pertinent watchwords for computer users. If anything can cause the Internet to implode, it will be the unchecked growth of so-called white-collar Internet crime, and the inability of authorities to prosecute it successfully.

The individual computer user is not the only target of computer attackers. According to the FBI, almost nine out of every ten U.S. companies suffered a security incident last year. Attacks came from 36 different countries, but the U.S. and China accounted for more than half the attempts. Total cost of all attacks was $32 million. Viruses and worms accounted for $12 million of the losses.

Phishing (pronounced "fishing") is the act of tricking a computer user into revealing private or confidential information by sending an e-mail falsely claiming to be a legitimate enterprise. The term is believed to have originated with "phone phreaks," persons whose hobby is studying and exploiting the phone system. The information obtained through phishing is invariably used in the fastest-growing criminal threat to our society: identity theft.

Phishing is now by far the most common means of identity theft. Millions of spam e-mails are distributed indiscriminately. Addressed to "Dear valued (eBay, PayPal, or named bank) customer," they inform recipients that a problem has arisen with their accounts. By spamming large numbers of people in shotgun fashion, the criminals count on the e-mail reaching some who actually have accounts with the purported sender, and who will supply the crucial information.

The e-mail invariably directs recipients to visit a website, where they are asked to update or verify personal information, such as credit card numbers, social security numbers, bank account numbers, pin numbers, and passwords. Despite exhibiting logos, code numbers and other earmarks of a legitimate site, is bogus. Instead of being sent to the purported sender, a legitimate enterprise, the victim's crucial information is transmitted to a criminal network.

One clue to the bogus nature of such e-mails may be obvious errors in spelling or grammar, such as "If you do not respond, you leave us no choise [sic] but to close your account." Another clue is the flood of such e-mails sent on Sundays and holidays, when most businesses are closed. The important point to remember is that banks and responsible businesses do not use the Internet to communicate with customers about accounts.

Among the common scam e-mails purporting to advise recipients of problems with their accounts are those from eBay and PayPal. Banks are also favored targets, including Chase, Wells Fargo, Washington Mutual, and Bank of America. Demonstrating their lack of knowledge of American banking and geography, some scams use shotgun tactics in an attempt to target customers of smaller regional banks, such as the Laredo National Bank in Texas, and credit unions.

Authorities believe that many of these phishing e-mails originate in Eastern Europe. It's not easy for authorities to do much if the personal information you so foolishly send off to what you think is a bank or other legitimate business enterprise shows up on the screen of a laptop computer of a slimy-looking individual sitting at a cafe table in Bucharest, Rumania.

Pharming, a variant of phishing, is a technique used by criminals and unscrupulous companies to obtain personal and financial information without your knowledge. It is similar to phishing, except the desired information is collected without the user having to click on a link in an e-mail. Like phishing, pharming's objective is to separate you from your money.

As in phishimg, pharmers send e-mails to users reporting that account information needs to be updated. It differs from phishing in that the e-mail contains a virus that installs a small software program on the user's computer. When users try to go to their bank's genuine website, the program redirects the user's browser to the pharmer's fake site. It then asks the user to update sensitive information.

Maintaining up-to-date antispyware and firewalls on your computer, thus reducing the likelihood that a virus will redirect you to a malicious website, can stop this virus-based method of pharming. A list of popular sites that use a secure page for logins is maintained at It also displays a surprising list of sites that use an unsecured login page.

Whom can you trust? The answer is no one. Even government agencies are being used as cover. At tax time, spam e-mails flooded the Internet telling recipients that they were eligible for a tax refund of $571.84. The e-mail claimed to be from A link was provided to access a form to complete to receive the refund. The e-mail was a hoax. If you completed the form and supplied the personal information requested, your credit cards and bank accounts evaporated in the blink of an eye.

Another scam e-mail told recipients that they had been selected to receive a grant of 2.6 million British pounds (about $4.5 million) and instructed them to contact the organization, The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund. Some messages asked for personal information and others directed recipients to wire money by Western Union to designated people. Surprisingly, many complied.

If you receive such hoax e-mails, file a complaint with the FBI at

Identity theft is the fastest-growing crime in the United States and is the ultimate goal of e-mail scammers. Facilitating this is our casual--or more properly "careless"--attitude toward the security of our Social Security numbers.

Social Security numbers are more widely used for identification than was ever intended back in 1935 when the Social Security Act was passed. It was not until the end of 2004 that Congress finally passed a law forbidding their use on drivers' licenses. The military services use them in place of serial numbers. At colleges and universities, they are the universal identifiers; some instructors require them to be placed on homework and test papers and display them when posting marks publicly.

Once your Social Security number is in the hands of identity thieves, they can apply for credit cards in your name and make life a veritable financial hell for you. The rules for protecting your Social Security number are simple. Do not carry your card with you in wallet or purse. Instead, memorize your number. Never give you number to anyone except when absolutely necessary. Protect your personal information zealously. Never provide your Social Security number, bank account number or credit card number to anyone who contacts you by e-mail or telephone.

Do not carelessly discard pre-approved credit card applications. These can be used to open an account in your name at a false address. Carefully examine bank statements and credit card bills as soon as they arrive for evidence of unusual activity or charges. Shred all mailed credit card solicitations and credit card purchase receipts. Destroy previous years' bank records, canceled checks and credit card statements. Make sure any online credit card charges are handled through a secure site or in an encrypted mode. You'll know you are on a secure site if the Web page on which you conduct your transaction begins with https instead of the usual http.

Internet frauds. Online Internet sales increased to an all-time high in the year just past. Something else also increased to an all-time high: Internet crime. Most Internet crime involves deceptive or fraudulent activity of some kind. Last year, scammers swindled millions of Americans and their banks and credit card companies out of billions of dollars.

Auction fraud online accounts for three out of each four complaints logged by the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (formerly the Internet Fraud Complaint Center). The most common eBay complaint is the one in which bidders send their money and either receive nothing in return or else the product is nothing like what was described. If you are a regular eBay user and report the scam, the seller--using fake names--may retaliate by posting negative eBay reports about you.

Another fraud is the reshipping scam in which an offshore corporation seeks someone with a U.S. address or bank account to receive funds or goods and reship them overseas. Products are received, but these have been purchased with stolen credit cards--and so you are guilty of receiving stolen goods. Similarly, any money you receive and transfer abroad turns out to have been stolen from victims of identity theft. The final blow comes when you discover that your bank account has been quietly cleaned out.

Beware "the Nigerian letter. " You receive an e-mail written in flowery prose. It describes a situation in a faraway country--usually in Africa--and most often in Nigeria. Someone has died leaving money totaling anywhere between 30 and 50 million dollars reposing in a bank account there. The letter, usually from a government official or bank officer, seeks an overseas accomplice who will assist by transferring the idle millions illegally into his or her bank account for a percentage of the total--typically 30 percent. As a conspirator in this shady deal, you are required to pretend to be a relative of the deceased owner of the millions.

Similar e-mail messages have recently begun to turn up from Russia. One such scam e-mail was received from Mrs. Larisa Sosnitskaya, "personal treasurer to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the richest man in Russia and owner of the Yogos Oil Company, who is presently in jail." It sought help in recovering $46 million.

There's always a small hitch, of course. You must also advance several thousands of dollars to be used for attorney costs, taxes, recording fees and official bribes. Believe it or not, many people fall for this scheme, which dates back to the 16th century, when it was known as "the Spanish prisoner letter." But there are no stashed millions, and the only money that ever changes hands is the money the gullible victim has advanced.

If victims of the Nigerian letter scam complain about the slowness of the millions to materialize, they are invited to come to Nigeria (at their own expense, of course) and are told that no visa is necessary to enter the country. Entry is arranged through a bribed official. At this point the victim is in Nigeria illegally, a crime for which penalties are high. Now virtually a captive, to get out of the country, he must hand over more money after using his credit card. Several victims have been killed or reported missing after going to Nigeria to protect their investment in this swindle. You cannot become a victim of a swindle if you remember the first rule of carnival operators: You can't cheat an honest man.

What the future holds. The number of phishing attacks launched by e-mail doubled in number from 2004 to 2005. This tremendous surge in attacks revealed increased sophistication in strategies as well as more organized efforts by online criminals.

Identity theft remains a big problem, not only on the Internet but everywhere in our society. The recent loss of crucial personal information by banks, insurance companies and agencies of government opens up grave probabilities of the use of such information for in Internet fraud.

Online banking use will likely decline because of concerns about vulnerability. Consumer confidence in the security of online banking has already been shaken. Look for wider use of new authentication systems that assure customers they have indeed reached the desired website and not a fraudulent site. Similarly, such systems must let the bank know that it is dealing with genuine customers and not with criminals. This will require verification devices more secure than the traditional "mother's maiden name."

Gullibility is a very human quality on which showman P.T. Barnum capitalized. In his famous New York City museum of wild animals and "curiosities" at Park Row and Broadway, he posted signs reading "This way to the egress," with arrows leading eager visitors to a door. Eager visitors who passed through it expecting to see another exhibit found they were out on the street and had to pay again to reenter. Gullibility is the human frailty Internet scam artists thrive on.

Con men, liars, cheats, swindlers, and even murderers abound on the Internet. Fortunately, these still make up only a small part of the brave new world spawned by computers. When Shakespeare wrote the phrase "O brave new world" in his play The Tempest, he was writing about a world just beginning to give up its secrets to daring adventurers and explorers. The Bard of Avon inadvertently made the quotation equally fitting for today by adding the words, "that has such people in it!"T

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Thursday, June 01, 2006

Three Words that Shook the World


The title above, of course, has been adapted from the title of John Reed's classic, "Ten Days that Shook the World." No, the three words weren't the famous three little words ("I love you") in the 1930 song titled "Three Little Words," with lyrics by Bert Kalmar and music by Harry Ruby.

Far from it, they were three inflammatory words uttered by President George W. Bush in his 2002 State of the Union address. In this epochal speech he identified Iraq, Iran and North Korea as constituting an "axis of evil." The United States "will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons," he added.

The genesis of the "axis of evil" expression is recounted in speech writer David Frum's book, The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush. It turns out that the phrase grew by accretion. In late December of 2001, chief Bush speech writer Michael Gerson was doling out sections of the forthcoming State of the Union address to White House writers. Frum's assignment: "Can you sum up in a sentence or two our best case for going after Iraq?" Frum rolled up his sleeves and got to work. Pulling books off the shelves, he found what he wanted in the "Berlin-Rome-Tokyo Axis" of World War II.

"No country on Earth more closely resembled one of the old axis powers than present-day Iraq," Frum writes. But National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Stephen J. Hadley, her deputy, insisted that he expand it. "They wanted to take on Iran as well," Frum says, so that nation was added to create an "axis of hatred." A third country, North Korea, which was attempting to develop a a nuclear weapon and had a history of harsh oppression, was added to the list. It was also tacked on because it "needed to feel a strong hand" and to avoid amplifying the suspicion in Muslim countries that the President's "war on terror" was really a war on Islam.

Frum completed his portion of the speech and passed it to his boss. When he next saw a draft of the entire speech, to his surprise, his words were incorporated almost verbatim. "Gerson wanted to use the theological language that President Bush has made his own since September 11th," he writes, "so 'axis of hatred' became 'axis of evil.'"

The glaring flaw in this phrase is that the three nations did not have a formal alliance such as existed between Germany, Italy and Japan during World War II. By lumping them together, the speech obscured the reality that each of the three nations presented special characteristics. In Iraq the regime was secular; in Iran it was fiercely religious. Far from being allies, the two countries were sworn enemies who had fought a bloody mutually destructive war to a standstill between September 1980 and August 1988. (The United States had openly supported Saddam Hussein in that contest.) And, instead of linking itself with other nations, North Korea, an anachronistic Communist dictatorship, was perhaps the most unaligned and isolated country in the world.

President Bush read the draft of the speech and liked what he saw, making a few changes here and there. The day after the delivery of the State of the Union address, the controversial phrase "axis of evil" became the focus of comment. Experts acknowledged that it was a clever piece of speech writing but--as foreign policy--it was incendiary and actually fanned the very fires it was intended to control.

"It was a speech writer's dream and a policy-maker's nightmare," maintained Warren Christopher, Bill Clinton's Secretary of State. Tarring three countries with the same brush "makes it more difficult to deal with them on a different basis," he added. A hodt of academics also weighed in.

"It was harmful both conceptually and operationally," observed Graham Allison, professor of government and former dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. "Conceptually, the 'axis' suggested a relationship that doesn't exist. More important, operationally, the reaction of the world and the North Korean debacle demonstrates that it was a mistake."

Assessing the speech, Dr. Richard K. Betts, director of Columbia University's Institute of War and Peace Studies, noted that the Administration's attention had long been focused on threats by "rogue nations," instead of the danger posed by al-Quaida. The speech "lumped together three countries that the people in the Administration were already thinking about in the same way," Betts said. "Everyone knew before that this was the way they thought but [the speech] did it in a pithy way that made it hard to ignore."

Then there was the use of the word "evil," According to Dr. Joseph Montville, director of the Preventive Diplomacy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, "It's too heavy and radioactive a word. You can't make a deal with evil. You can only kill it." In short, its message to the world was that the United States simply was not interested in negotiating.

Nor did the President improve relations with North Korea with his now-famous intemperate remark to Bob Woodward, "I loathe Kim Jong II." And his ill-considered description of North Korea's ruler as a "pygmy" only poured gasoline on the fire. (Kim Jong II is only an inch taller than five feet.)

Tough talk may play well in Texas, but Dr. Dae-Sook Suh, an expert on Korea and professor of policy studies at the University of Hawaii, criticized Bush for "using this cowboy language in diplomatic circles," noting that in Asia such speech is considered rude, threatening and unseemly.

Domestically, the "axis of evil" speech laid the groundwork for the attack on Iraq the following year. Many believe it also helped to undermine Iran's moderate President Khatami and quashed its burgeoning democracy. A year after the speech, North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. To some, the speech only accelerated the nuclear confrontations we are now facing with that country and North Korea.

Despite the obvious damage that had been done by the phrase "axis of evil," it did not immediately disappear from the Bush administration's vocabulary. In a speech on May 6, 2002, titled "Beyond the Axis of Evil," John R. Bolton, U.S. Undersecretary of State, added three more nations to the list of rogue states: Libya, Syria and Cuba. By the summer of 2002, the phrase had quietly dropped from the lexicon of White House officials.

As recently as January 2005, at the start of re-elected President Bush's second term, incoming Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice came up with a new phrase, "Outposts of Tyranny," to describe six countries the United States deemed dangerous and anti-American. These were Iran and North Korea from the original axis of evil, plus Cuba, Belarus, Zimbabwe and Myanamar (formerly Burma).

Politicians have yet to learn that there can be no winner in an empty war of words. Yet it is frightening to think that this nation may be swaggering toward Armageddon because of some speech writer's casual turn of phrase.

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