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spacerMy World &Welcome To It

The world we live in leaves a WHOLE LOT to be desired. We, especially the we that owns much of this country and the world as a whole, like to call ourselves "civilized" and "modern". Yet in so many ways, we are still barbarians, willing to tolerate or inflict directly vast waves of misery upon billions of human beings -- and other living creatures.

Rants by Feuerstein

Blah, blah, blah...that is surely what some people think when they see me coming or see my mouth moving. I get sorely pissed off at any number of things in this world and I can rant on and on. Oh well, no one has to read it. But if you do read any of this and want to comment on it, just send me email.

ISRAEL: PLEASE STOP KILLING PALESTINIANS!

October 2000: Israel has launched a virtual all out war on Palestinians with their rocket attack on Ramallah today, following the killing of two Israeli soldiers there. US and world news media is ready to cry out in anguish over the "brutal" "murders" of these two soldiers. They have been far less outspoken in any sort of protest of the Israeli murders of over 80 Palestinians, including an 18 month old baby and many other children. 

I have been very busy on email talking with my friends and family about the situation. I have been very critical of Israel and the response has in some cases been ferocious: "You are an enemy to our people and a disgrace to the Feuerstein name," said Karen. My cousin Michael wrote to me in obvious pain: "This is a Jewish vs. Palestinian issue. Have you converted? Does being Jewish mean anything to you? Have you forgotten your heritage?"

Michael's letter really gave me pause: what does it mean to me to be Jewish? And what, I wonder, does it mean to my family members? This is what I wrote back to Michael:

Ah, Michael...your note makes me sad. On the one hand, it was good to hear from you and am I glad you felt that you could write the above to me -- even if you sure wish you hadn't had to!

On the other hand...it makes me sad because I guess it makes me not understand what it means to be a Jew. What does that mean to you? The beauty of Judaism, to me, lies in its core values, its love of life, its focus on how humans treat each other and not how or whether they pay homage to the Jewish god. And by this I understand Judaism to call for a love of ALL LIFE, of ALL PEOPLE. And surely that must be the most important, perhaps the only, message of the Holocaust life is sacred, humans must not be destroyed, abused, demeaned, humiliated. It's not just Jews who are special; everyone is. And the fact that Jews came so close to annihilation is to me just a stronger argument for Jews to speak out and act against other instances of brutalization and killing.

And the bottom line as I understand the day to day reality in Israel, Michael, is that the Israeli government and with it millions upon millions of Jews (in Israel and around the world, especially in this country) have become OPPRESSORS, like the Pharaohs of Egypt. We have enslaved a people. We control their lives and destiny. And we abuse them. We kill them. We treat them like so much rubbish.

You can talk about self-defense and the restoration of Jerusalem and the amazing feats of the Israeli people, and all I can see are young Israeli men and women strutting around with Uzis and apparently quite eager to kill Palestinians.

Is this the Judaism you want me to support? Sharon is a calculating murderer a real monster (and, just for the record, I believe that Arafat is real monster as well and should be removed from power through democratic elections). The most evil human being can "practice" the rituals of Judaism. That does not make him a Jew.

I believe that the Jewish people are at a critical and defining moment in their history (and boy do we have a sense of our history): we could help usher in an era of world peace by making the right moves in Jerusalem and with Palestinians. Or Israel could continue on its current path of death and destruction, which could well lead to regional and then worldwide war.

There is lots more to say about the situation there, but I am not the best person to say it. If you are an American, and particularly if you are an American Jew, I urge you to listen to the voices of Palestinians who are committed to a just peace through democratic means. One of them is my friend Ali Abunimah, an extremely articulate person who has assembled his ongoing critique of the media on this issue and much much more at:

www.abunimah.org 

Please visit his site, join his distribution list and take some time to hear the other side, a side that is very rarely made available to us in the media. 

25X&NOMORE

What does 25X&NOMORE mean? It is shorthand for the following proposition:

The highest-paid employee of your company shouldn't earn more than 25 times what the lowest-paid employee is paid.

Why would I suggest something like this? Because we have a serious problem in this country:

"The pay disparity between CEOs and U.S. workers is increasing to alarming levels. In 1965, CEOs made 44 times the average factory worker's salary. Today, CEOs make 326 times the average factory worker's pay." Executive PayWatch site

25X&NOMORE Update!

I interrupt this important message to give you an update: I originally wrote this section way back in 1999. I am now writing this update on Labor Day 2000 (Sept 4). Al Gore and Joe Lieberman criss-cross the country expressing their admiration for the "working man" (and woman, I am sure) of the United States. At the same time, two new reports have been issued that show (my phrasing here) how people of wealth in this country have pretty much systematically robbed working poor and lower-middle class of their deserved income over the past twenty years.

One report, Executive Excess 2000 (Insitute for Policy Studies and United for a Fair Economy), shows that "CEO pay now stands at 475 times the pay of the average worker." From 1990 to 1999, CEO pay rose 535%, while corporate profits rose only 116%. Even more dramatic, disheartening and outrageous, average worker pay rose only 32% in this same period. Given that inflaion rose 27% at the same time, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that at a time of explosive economic growth, workers generally saw their pay stagnate while the rich of our country lined their pockets with billions of dollars of excess wealth.

Now, why do I say that wealthy people ROBBED poor people in this country? Because these same people who benefited from their 500%+ increase in pay also lobbied hard and bribed hard (c'mon, let's just call all those soft money donations what they actually ARE) the legislators who write and pass the laws that govern the distribution of wealth. Now, in large part, what the CEOs of GE, GM, Nike, etc. have done is not illegal. Heck no! They take care of that by writing the laws. But is still stealing and it is still wrong.

For more information on excess executive pay and a bunch of really positive stories about companies that are taking the "high road" in paying their employees more equitably, please visit:

http://www.ufenet.org/

and

http://www.responsiblewealth.org/living_wage/Choosing.html

and now back to the regularly scheduled 25X&NOMORE rant...

Over ten million children in our rich nation go hungry on a regular basis. How would you feel if your child cried herself or himself to sleep at night because he was hungry and you couldn't feed her or him? How would you feel if you worked a full time for minimum wage and your children were hungry at the same time that:

  • From the Chicago Tribune Business section, March 31, 1999: page 1 article "Verdict out on Bank One job cuts". Turns out that Bank One, which swallowed up the enormous First Chicago NBD Corporation last year, is going to shed up to 4,700 jobs. This "pleased but did not overwhelm" bank analysts. On page 3 of the same section in an article a 1/3 the size of the job cuts article, we discover that in 1998, Bank One's president and CEO, John McCoy, "earned" $11.9 million, up 34% from 1997. And Verne Istock, Bank One's chairman and former head of First Chicago, "earned" $21.9 million in 1998. In any sane world, we would string both of these men up (oh, just figuratively. You know I mean put them in prison) for literally robbing thousands of people -- of their jobs and their salaries, their dignity and their families' well being. Instead they are heroes.

  • American Express Company announced layoffs of 3,300 workers in 1997. CEO Harvey Golub earned an incredible 229% increase in take-home pay over 1996, including $27 million in options gains. His annual compensation of $33.2 million equals the total annual pay of 1,500 employees earning the average 1997 weekly wage of $424.

  • Eastman Kodak led the lay-off pack with announcements of over 20,100 workers in 1997. They have made additional lay-off announcements in 1998. CEO George Fisher didn't get a bonus in 1997, but he exercised stock option gains worth $8.7 million, increasing his total 1997 compensation by 96%. Fisher's total compensation of $10.7 million is equal to the pay of 487 average US workers.

     

  • International Paper Company announced plans to lay-off 9,215 workers in 1997. They rewarded their CEO, John T. Dillon, with a 140% increase in salary and bonuses.

  • Whirlpool Corporation announced 4,700 layoffs and gave CEO David Whitwam a 47% pay hike. Adding in long-term compensation and exercised stock options, Whitwam walked away with a whopping 133% pay hike.

  • Barbie-maker Mattel announced over 3,174 job cuts, with 2,700 workers in Mount Laurel, PA taking the biggest hit. Chairwoman Jill Barad got a 29% increase in salary and bonuses from 1996. But her $9.1 million in long term compensation gave her a hefty 126% total pay hike.

[above information taken from Executive Excess '98]

I believe that there is something fundamentally wrong with -- something evil about -- people like Jill Barad, David Whitwam, John T. Dillon, George Fisher, and Harvey Golub. I imagine they give away lots of money to charities to make themselves look good and assauge their guilty feelings, but the fact is that there actions simultaneously:

Make them enormously rich.

Make thousands of other people extremely miserable and unhealthy and even dead.

I realize that it is not politically viable to suggest a maximum cap on salary in this country (ie, you cannot earn more than $5 million in one year). Many people would say it is "un-American", removes everyone's incentive to work hard, be creative and entrepreneurial, and so on. I think that is ludicrous propaganda, but fine. Fine.

How about instead we simply say: "Get as rich as you want, extract as much money as you want from your company, but don't leave behind everyone else who worked so hard to make that money available. You want to earn $10 million in 1999? Fine, just make sure that your janitors are paid at least $400,000 that same year. Everybody contributes, everybody should be compensated fairly."

Lots of times when I raise this idea with friends and acquaintances, the response is: "That's a good idea, but it would be very difficult to make it work. Rich people would find loopholes, it would be an accounting nightmare." and so on.

To which I reply: why is it that when we are talking about changing the law to affect rich people it is always too complicated to even try it, but when we are experimenting with new policies for poor people, everybody says "Full Steam Ahead!"?

Sure, it would be complicated, but if we can build a National Missile Defense system (formerly known as "Star Wars"), we can do this. Of course, we cannot build a National Missile Defense system; the Pentagon knows this but wants to suck up more of our tax dollars. We can, on the other hand, construct the Internet. If we can do that, we can figure out how to track compensation and hold it accountable to this new rule.

So...25X&NOMORE! What do you think of this idea? Let me know!

Here are a number of useful links concerning this idea of a maximum wage, pay equity, excessive executive pay and so on:

United For a Fair Economy
United for a Fair Economy is a national, independent, nonpartisan organization that puts a spotlight on the dangers of growing income, wage and wealth inequality in the United States and coordinates action to reduce the gap.

The Income Equity Act Home Page
A Message from Congressman Sabo, author of the Income Equity Act, plus speeches and articles on the income gap.

Executive Excess: CEOs Gain From Massive Downsizing
1997 Study Documents Extravagant CEO Pay at Top Job-Cutting Firms

Executive Excess '98
Forthcoming April 10 1998 Study Documents Current Relationship between CEO Pay and Top Job-Cutting Firms

The Axeman Cometh
An interesting look at CEO salaries for six big corporations before and after their company layoffs.

Corporate Welfare Information Center
This is a clearinghouse of information about corporate wealth-fare in its many ugly forms and heaps of resources and information.

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The Banality of Evil - American Style

The term "banality of evil" has been used to describe the way that many Germans during the Second World War supported the Nazis. Lots of citizens of the Third Reich might have expressed horror and indignation at the acts taken in their name - if directly confronted with them. Instead, they chose (or claimed) to remain ignorant of the Holocaust, among other Nazi atrocities. They lived out their lives as quietly as possible. They "got by".

I think there is a somewhat similar banality of evil at work in the United States and it can be described in a single word: bargains.

So much of our economic mindset is driven by the desire to get the best bargain, i.e., the lowest price. I know that I have this disease. I will go to the grocery store or the department store and avoid buying items unless they are on sale. I further benefit from the competitive process that brings the price of humongously powerful computers down to a level that certainly does not reflect their actual value.

And this urge to find the lowest, "best" price also drives me nuts. It brings out many of the contradictions and hypocrisies in my own life. Why? Because I know that whenever I get a bargain, someone else is getting the shaft. Whether it is a Haitian paid $.12 to sew together a Disney-brand shirt sold for a "bargain price" of $19.99, or the woman cleaning my discount-priced hotel room for a wage of $5 an hour, there is, as they say, "no free lunch". Somebody is paying for our lust for bargains - and it's not the CEOs. It's not the shareholders. It's not Alan Greenspan.

The more we insist on driving prices down for the things we purchase, the more likely it is that people around the globe are unable to feed their children and live a life free of poverty and fear. That, my friends, is the evil underpinnings of the global economy.

Another manifestation of this lack of compassion expressed by our buying patterns is the popularity of resale stores among middle-class youth. For decades, thrift stores like the Salvation Army outlets allowed the poor to buy clothing and household goods at prices they could afford. It is hard to realize, but there are millions of people for whom a trip even to a place like Walmart or Target is an impossible dream.

Suddenly, though, it became incredibly "in" and cool to buy old, used clothing from resale shops. A friend of mine recently recounted a trip to one such store where he saw a trio of giggling girls from the suburbs sneaking around the store switching price tags to get really great deals on the used clothing of their choice. They didn't have to shop there. It was just the "in" thing to do. And every time they purchased a pair of pants for $1.50 and a blouse for $2, they made it less likely that someone who could only shop in stores like that would be able to clothe himself or herself.

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Promise Keepers

Of course you want to know what I think of Promise Keepers. All right, then, I will tell you. I have been amazed at the superficial analysis of PK offered by our nation's pundits. They all make fun of the National Organization of Women for taking a principled stand against some of PK's deeply obnoxious and bigoted principles. And they belittle NOW by saying: hey, PK says you should be a responsible father and husband. How can you complain about that? And look at all those nice, peaceful, gosh even crying men. How can they be a threat to you? And why do you keep harping about whether or not PK has a "political agenda"?

I think the media is sometimes very effective at creating "strawmen" which are then easily knocked down. The big issue with PK for me is not whether the individual men joining PK and "finding Jesus" are politically active. Some Promise Keepers will turn out to be awfully nice fellows who do indeed become much better fathers and husbands. Others, no doubt, will discover in those Seven Promises a justification for the subjugation of their wives and children. Rather than focus on the individual members, though, I worry more about the people who created and direct Promise Keepers. I worry about their politics, their long-term strategies, and their fundamental beliefs. I worry, quite frankly, about their (it turns out) not-so-hidden agenda. I did some looking around and here is what I found:

Did you know that there are some people (and, yes, you might be one of them. If so, feel free to respond on Pipetalk) who believe that our society should be ruled by biblical law? Who believe that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights should be scrapped immediately and replaced by parts or all of the New Testament?

Well, it is true. Pat Robertson is one of those people. And Bill McCartney, top dog founder of Promise Keepers, is also one of those people. Bill is a theocrat, rather than a democrat (as in believer in democracy).

I do not believe that Bill M. and the strategists behind PK are really all that interested in trying to get Christian men to be better fathers. Ask Bill. He'll tell you. Here, for example, is what McCartney told Promise Keepers in 1993 in Boulder, Colorado: "We're calling you to war. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we capture every thought to make it obedient to Christ...We have divine power...We have seen immorality corrupting our nation...We have a holy cause."

So you tell me: do you think Bill is only interested in capturing (and making "obedient") his own thoughts? Yeah, right.

These are not people to ignore. They - those who decide PK policy, those who are on the boards of multiple far-right Christian organizations like the Family Research Council and -- could develop into a serious threat against democracy in the United States. We are currently ruled by laws agreed upon by humans, not decreed (theoretically) by God. There are some nasty shortcomings in the current system, but at least it isn't fascist in nature.

I for one want to make very sure that if you believe that the Bible should be used as a strictly enforced guideline for your and your family's behavior, that at least you never have the opportunity to enforce it on me.

So if you are not all that excited about the prospect of seeing our nation transformed into an authoritarian society run by "Christian men" interpreting "God's will" as law, I would if I were you go out of my way to criticize the leaders and objectives of Promise Keepers. I would expose them as the dogmatic, narrow-minded religious extremists they are.

And just so I am clear: I am not talking (I hope) about the vast majority of Promise Keepers members; I am speaking of the leaders of the movement. People like McCartney, Robertson, Tony Evans (a Dallas minister of African-American descent who is being actively promoted by PK as part of their strategy to deny racism and reach out to the black community), Dan Schaffer (national director of field ministry training) and Ray Vialpando (Colorado state director).

And if you're still not really sure and think I am sounding kind of extreme, ask Bill McCartney if he thinks women should be able to vote. If that is OK with him, you might continue along this vein: Would you have any objection if it so happens that there are more women than men in this country and all the women outvote all the men and they go about making all sorts of fundamental decisions about our nation and its future? If all this sounds peachy-keen to the Promise Keepers, well, then maybe I should feel foolish and downright mean-spirited.

Hello, Bill McCartney? Other Promise Keepers leadership? Make me feel foolish and downright mean-spirited! Send me an
email to clarify your views on this matter. Oh and by the way, I'd love to hear where you stand on the principle of one person-one vote in the United States.

Just for kicks.

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No Guesses about Guess? Inc

There is an increasingly successful movement in this country to raise awareness about the sweatshop conditions of many of the factories in the U.S. and abroad which produce the goods we consume on a daily basis. And, of course, as public sentiment grows around an issue, corporations jump in as quickly as possible to coopt that sentiment.

Guess? really took the prize this December. This wondrous clothing company took out full pages ads in the New York Times, Los Angelos Times, Washington Post and Newsday this past holiday season boasting that "with the assistance and after review by the state and federal departments of labor during the last 12 months, GUESS? CONTRACTORS ARE 100% GUARANTEED SWEATSHOP FREE and in full compliance with fair labor standard laws."

Lies, all lies. The Labor Department actually had to send a letter to Guess? asking it to "refram from representations that imply that the Department has endorsed your company." In fact, seven Guess? contractors have been sighted over the past 18 months for violations of wage and overtime laws.

My suggestion is you consider skipping Guess? clothing. Try the Gap. They are by no means angels in the industry, but they have agreed to allow independent monitoring of working conditions in one of their factories in El Salvador. They are the only company in the world which has agreed to such independent monitoring!

The above information comes from the January 16, 1998 issue of The Nation, a decidely-left of center weekly newsmagazine publishing continuously since the last century. You can get more information about this great resource of news not found in the New York Times by visiting
www.TheNation.com or sending email to info@TheNation.com.

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Howser-Blastem and World-O-Toys Announce Merger

[I originally published this on the RevealNet PL/SQL Pipeline Diary. The first version had the "real" names in this made-up story: Northrup and Toys-R-Us. The policy at RevealNet is to very explicitly not name names, so I changed it to the ones you find below.]

July 1998: In the latest shocker of a corporate merger, the CEOs of Howser-Blastem, one of the largest military contractors in the world, and World-O-Toys, the largest retailer of youth enhancement devices (YEDs), announced today at a packed press conference that they would be consolidated into a single corporate unit, named Blast-O-Toys.

Covert R. Sneezeman, newly-elected Howser-Blastem CEO, stated that the synergies between the two companies are "absolutely fantastic". Using a truly formidable array of multimedia workstations, he demonstrated that as the military division of the new mega-conglomerate develops plans for new weapons, the YED division will now be able to produce a variety of tie-in products, from action figures to Matchbox vehicles to fully-realistic replicas of the weapons themselves.

"We believe," said Mr. Sneezeman, "that this merger will help bring our families together. In the future, as CNN displays high-resolution graphics of our smart bombs descending into the chimney stacks of suspected terrorist operations, children will be able to share their parent's experience -- and perhaps leapfrog those experiences -- with a combination of virtual reality refractors and good, old-fashioned plastic soldiers."

On May 12, 1998, the government of Kazikraine today announced that it had selected Howser-Blastem's new "Black 6000" F-99 as its advanced fighter aircraft. A representative of the Kazikraine was present at the press conference to announce that it would also purchase immediately sufficient quantities of miniatures of the F-99 from World-O-Toys (exclusive license granted by Howser-Blastem) to allow every child in the country to play "zoom zoom".

"It's a win-win scenario," declared Ruddy Shoshman, World-O-Toys CEO. "At the very same moment that our Marines move into the next jungle hotspot or take on the next threat to world peace, our children will be able to join in the fun. We may even consider marketing retired weapons systems through the very effective World-O-Toys retail venue. We will, of course, apply the same stringent security as that used for our video games."

The Justice Department had no immediate comment on the potential monopolistic impact of this merger. The Wilting Dizzy Corporation, however, announced after the close of Wall Street trading that it was engaging in a hostile takeover of China's People's Liberation Army. "They seem to prefer an alliance with Burgerland, but we are convinced that the PLA, when infused with the creative talents of the Dizzy team, will be able to bring to bear an extraordinary level of 'people power' in the realm of both weaponry and children's entertainment devices."

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Union Lusters

Many of us are all too aware of the strenuous union-busting actions that have been going on in this country for, well, for as long as there have been unions. Many people just think unions are a bunch of thugs and mobsters. But many other people believe and know from personal experience that unions have been and will always be a critical ingredient to a strong democracy in this country, to a workplace where people receive a decent wage and reasonable benefits.

I am one of those, and I hope for, I lust for a time when unions are once again strong, but this time around when unions also team up with community organizations to form a "united front" against the greedy profiteers of this world (currently reigning supreme) who cause the misery of so many millions.

Here are some links to truly progressive, democratic unions and union organizing efforts:

Teamsters for a Democratic Unions Members of the Teamsters who have been organizing for democracy and end to corruption in that enormous union organization.

UNITE (Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees) This union is in the forefront of the fight worldwide against sweatshops.

The United Electrical, Radio &Machine Workers of America (UE) UE has long had a reputation for internal democracy and aggressive organizing. They are also actively pursuing cross-border organizing (primarily through the UE-FAT Strategic Organizing Alliance) to fight the globalization of capital.

Carol*Simpson Cartoons Cartoonists based in Chicago who focus on labor issues. They are hilarious and very talented. Check them out!

Face Intel A website to identify, alert and rally Intel (and other electronic industry) employees so as to educate them as to the unsavory and discriminatory practices described above that have been perpetrated on us and may be perpetrated on them in the days, months and years to come. We also want to educate these individuals on how to survive downsizing and redeployment.

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If Truth Be Told

There's no shortage of information on the Internet about, well, everything. And some of it -- whole lots of it -- is absolute bullshit. And many, many tons of that bullshit is deployed deliberately to manipulate us and keep us powerless.

In addition to that, many of us rely on a very restricted set of sources for our information. Newsweek, Time, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, McUSA Today, ABC, NBC, CNN, etc., etc.I could go on and on -- and that's what they do: they go on and on repeating essentially the same information from essentially the same perspective. It is almost all from a pro-corporate, pro-US Government orientation and it is mostly written, controlled by and offered up by older, white men. And gobs of it is truly enraging and often a pack of lies. But, hey, that's just my opinion!

There are, however, excellent sources of information from very different perspectives. Here are some of my favorite:

The Nation Established in 1865 by a group of abolitionists, The Nation is America's oldest weekly magazine and one of its premier journals of opinion. Throughout 130 years of commentary on politics, culture, books and the arts, The Nation has remained true to its original mandate to be the independent voice in American journalism.

Fairness and Accuracy in Media FAIR is the national media watch group that offers well-documented criticism of media bias and censorship. We seek to invigorate the First Amendment by advocating for greater diversity in the press. We scrutinize media practices that marginalize public interest, minority and dissenting viewpoints.

The Progressive Founded in 1909 by Robert M. La Follette Sr., The Progressive is one of the leading voices for peace and social justice in America.

Webactive WebActive is a weekly publication designed to offer progressive activists an up-to-date resource on the World Wide Web to find other organizations and individuals with similar values and interests. WebActive is a project of RealNetworks, Inc, the makers of RealAudio, RealVideo and RealFlash, a media-on-demand software system for the Internet.

In These Times This outstanding weekly paper provides news and perspectives that kindle an indignant outrage at the problems facing our society--and offer possible and practical solutions.

PR Watch The Center for Media & Democracy is a nonprofit, public interest organization dedicated to investigative reporting on the public relations industry. The Center serves citizens, journalists and researchers seeking to recognize and combat manipulative and misleading PR practices.

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The Millenium Profit Report


Rants by Feuerstein

The Banality of Evil
Promise Keepers
Guess?
Merger Mania

25X&NOMORE

If Truth Be Told

Union Lusters
 

© 1999 Steven Feuerstein. All rights reserved.