Monday, May 5, 2008

Letting Go: Smoking and non-smoking.

by David Sedaris

When I was in fourth grade, my class took a field trip to the American Tobacco plant in nearby Durham, North Carolina. There we witnessed the making of cigarettes and were given free packs to take home to our parents. I tell people this and they ask me how old I am, thinking, I guess, that I went to the world's first elementary school, one where we wrote on cave walls and hunted our lunch with clubs. Then I mention the smoking lounge at my high school. It was outdoors, but, still, you'd never find anything like that now, not even if the school was in a prison.

I recall seeing ashtrays in movie theatres and grocery stores, but they didn't make me want to smoke. In fact, it was just the opposite. Once, I drove an embroidery needle into my mother's carton of Winstons, over and over, as if it were a voodoo doll. She then beat me for twenty seconds, at which point she ran out of breath and stood there panting, "That's . . . not . . . funny."

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The Income Divide


The gap between rich and poor in the United States has widened exponentially over the past three decades. The Congressional Budget Office reports that since 1979, the average income for the bottom half of American households has grown by 6 percent. In contrast, the top 1 percent of earners have seen their incomes shoot up by a 229 percent during that same period. Under the Bush administration, the average income of most Americans has fallen, but the average income of top wage earners (those above the 95 percentile range) has increased from $324,427 in 2001 to $385,805 in 2006. Only one other year has seen a comparable income gap: 1928, the year before the Great Depression. Inequality has not been confined to one region or sector but has spread all across the country. North Carolina and Indiana, two geographically and economically disparate states whose upcoming presidential primaries have brought them to the forefront of the national media, are no exception. With the average income of the richest 20 percent of families 7.2 and 6.7 times larger than the poorest 20 percent of families, respectively, North Carolina and Indiana are a microcosm of a larger national trend. Both of these states are looking for relief from declining wages, sinking job security, and falling benefits.

WHY THE DIVIDE?: The reasons for this rise in income inequality can be split into three basic components: government policies, tremendous wage inequality, and high investment income. The federal government under Bush, which provides the fundamental rules that guide how economic gains are distributed around the country, has embraced deregulation and an unstructured financial system. Consequently, huge corporations have raked in profits while the economy sags. The administration's tax policies, which lower taxes on the wealthy rather than the middle class, have furthered the problem. As billionaire Warren Buffett explained, "The 400 of us [here] pay a lower part of our income in taxes than our receptionists do, or our cleaning ladies, for that matter. If you're in the luckiest 1 per cent of humanity, you owe it to the rest of humanity to think about the other 99 per cent." CEO pay, which has increased by 20.5 percent over just the past 12 months, dwarfs the mere 3.5 percent salary increase for American workers. To put this in perspective, the top 500 American corporate executives earned a combined total of $6.4 billion in 2007, about $12.8 million each and roughly 10 percent of all company profits. An absence of laws protecting collective bargaining has removed the leverage that unions once had on companies to increase wages quickly. Wage inequality, the shrinking value of the minimum wage, and the all-around decline in manufacturing jobs only intensify the problem. The New York Times' Steven Greenhouse explains, "A little-known secret is that, over the past seven years, the United States has lost one in five manufacturing jobs. ... Those are usually jobs that pay good wages, middle-class wages, usually provide middle-class benefits on health and pensions."

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Codependent Addicts: States and Casinos

by Froma Harrop

Loath to tax the citizenry based on income, many states have increasingly turned to cigarette smokers and gamblers for revenues. Gamblers are often smokers, and both groups tend to be of modest or low income.

So after taxing the daylights out of the working class's cigarettes, states can go for a second helping from the quarters the little people dump into the slot machines. This raises revenues that, in the old days, their better-heeled residents might have had to pay. And the fleeced masses don't know to complain. Bingo, as they say.

And when states ban smoking in all entertainment venues but the casino, they end up securing an especially dependable revenue stream. As public policy goes, this means of taxation is highly unattractive. After all, they are funneling their smoker population into another highly taxed and unhealthy activity. As an added anti-social bonus, they discriminate against other businesses in search of the same entertainment dollar.

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Hillary Clinton's Hornswoggling

by P.M. Carpenter

Now come 150 prominent economists from the nation's finest universities to tell John McCain and Hillary Clinton that they are idiots.

In an "open statement" of response to the racketeering swill of a "gas tax holiday" now being foisted on this vast Republic, economists find themselves in uncommon agreement, but only because the proposal is so uncommonly stupid. The academics, in their statement, had a technical term for it: "a bad idea," which, also quite uncommonly, they dispatched with brevity:

First, research shows that waiving the gas tax would generate major profits for oil companies rather than significantly lowering prices for consumers. Second, it would encourage people to keep buying costly imported oil and do nothing to encourage conservation. Third, a tax holiday would provide very little relief to families feeling squeezed. Fourth, the gas tax suspension would threaten to increase the already record deficit in the coming year and reduce the amount of money going into the highway trust fund that maintains our infrastructure.

Signers of this letter are Democrats, Republicans and Independents. This is not a partisan issue. It is a matter of good public policy.

But of course it is a partisan issue -- more notably for Sen. Clinton. McCain's coronation is all but official; he didn't really need to pull this ugliest of demagogic rabbits out of a hat at this time. Plus, this is the sort of fiscal insanity that comes naturally to Republicans, especially leading ones.

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The Origin of Booze

A historical look at the stuff that gets us hammered. Who's ready for the first round?


To quote Homer Simpson, is there anything it can't do? Most likely invented in Persia circa 7,000 B.C.E., beer's gone on to become hugely important in almost every ancient society it's touched. Back in Sumerian culture, the drink was considered positively divine - a fact confirmed when archaeologists dug up the 4,000-year-old "Hymn to Ninkasi." The ode to the goddess of brewing actually doubles as a recipe for a barley-based beverage
guaranteed to make people feel "exhilarated, wonderful and blissful."

The epic of Gilgamesh tells us a similar tale; one of the main characters, Enkidu, is said to have had "seven cups of beer, and his heart soared." After seven rounds we can definitely see why. In ancient Egypt, wages were often paid to the poor in beer, or as they called it, hqt. It was sort of light beer, apparently, and not very intoxicating, which explains how construction workers of the day managed to drink three daily rations of it and still build their masterpiece: the not-at-all-leaning pyramids of Giza.

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by Ted Rall

Bush Confesses to Waterboarding. Call D.C. Cops!

NEW YORK--"Why are we talking about this in the White House?" John Ashcroft nervously asked his fellow members of the National Security Council's Principals Committee. (The Principals were Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General Ashcroft.)

"History will not judge this kindly," Ashcroft predicted.

"This" is torture. Against innocent people. Conducted by CIA agents and American soldiers and marines. Sanctioned by legal opinions issued by Ashcroft's Justice Department. Directly ordered by George W. Bush.

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Welcome to Old book illustrations

This site is designed to provide you with a wide range of illustrations scanned from old books. Most of these pictures are wood engravings or woodcuts, fewer are etchings or copper engravings; Visitors looking for nineteenth century or Victorian clipart might just find it here.

You are welcome to use our pictures in your school or educational projects, as well as in your artwork or in your scrapbook; you can also use them to make CD sleeves, banners or any part of a website.

According to the copyright laws of many countries, all illustrations on this site belong to the public domain and as such, they are free to use for personal or commercial purpose.

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Lawmakers seek probe of Pentagon PR program

An unidentified detainee prays inside a compound at Camp Delta detention center in April 2006 ion this image approved for release by a Pentagon official.


"When the Department of Defense misleads the American people by having them believe that they are listening to the views of objective military analysts when in fact these individuals are simply replaying DoD talking points, the department is clearly betraying the public trust," the lawmakers wrote in a joint letter to Defense Department Inspector General Claude M. Kicklighter on Friday.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who organized the letter, said it was important for the inspector general to find out how high-ranking officials within the Pentagon were allowed to operate a program aimed at deceiving the American people.

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U.S. Seeks Contractors To Train Iraqi Military

By Walter Pincus

U.S. commanders in Iraq are for the first time seeking private contractors to form part of the small military teams that train and live with Iraqi military units across the country, according to a notice for prospective bidders published last week.

The solicitation, issued by the Joint Contracting Command in Baghdad, says the individuals that a contractor recruits -- who would include former members of the U.S. Special Forces and ex-Iraqi army officers -- will be trained in the United States with military transition teams (MiTTs) and shipped as a single team to Iraq. The recruits will live on Iraqi military bases "under Iraqi living conditions and participate with MiTT special operations and convoy duties," the solicitation says.

Thus far, the MiTTs have consisted of specially trained teams of about 10 to 12 U.S. soldiers led by a field-grade officer that were embedded with Iraqi army units from the division level down to the battalion level. The MiTTs have included officers and noncommissioned officers from different service branches tasked with teaching and mentoring their Iraqi counterparts to make them self-sufficient.

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Jobs with a future

With the job market in flux, how can colleges prepare students for any career?
Google it, and you'll find the prediction takes various forms: a fifth/a quarter/a third of all jobs that people will be doing in 15/20/25 years have yet to be conceived, or the job you're doing now won't exist in 20 years, or not in the way you do it now. Pinning down percentages and time frames is almost beside the point. We can all name jobs that have become endangered or extinct in the past couple of decades: film projectionist, typesetter, computer programmer. On the other hand, in 1985 who was a Web designer, barista, personal trainer, or blogger?

It's no news that occupations come and go and change. What is new is how fast the job market seems to be changing. Take, for example, the now-you-see-them/now-you-don't phenomenon of thousands of US jobs lost to outsourcing. says nowadays it's not uncommon for someone to have five careers over a lifetime; it doesn't say whether that's voluntarily or not.

Can you educate people to be ready for new jobs and career changes? How many freshmen picking a major will have to retool by the time they finish school, never mind in five or 10 years?

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Silly Political Parties (of the non-elephant-or-donkey variety)

It's only April. That means we have another six months to hear all about the upcoming U.S. presidential election. While it's obviously a very important decision that we all need to be well-informed about, I must admit, I'm getting a little tired of hearing about it. So, for something completely different, let's discuss frivolous political parties (and no, I don't mean Democrats or Republicans).

The Deadly Serious Party

The Deadly Serious Party of Australia was anything but. In the 1980s, the DSP was formed and promised to send a flock of trained, killer penguins to protect the Australian coasts from an invasion from Argentine.

Beer Lovers Party of Belarus

Yes! A party I can get behind. Apparently Beer Lovers political parties weren't that uncommon in post-Soviet states. Their platform was "cleanness and quality of the national beer, state independence and the neutrality of Belarus, freedom of economic relations, personal inviolability and inviolability of the private property".

The chairman of the party, Andrey Romashevsky, was arrested in 1995 for "hooliganism". I had no idea that was a criminal offense. After he was released, he moved out of Belarus and the Beer Lovers Party pretty dissolved. Its mascot is a drunken hedgehog, which is a stereotype from Russian jokes (maybe someone can explain that to me?)

The Rhinoceros Party

The Parti Rhinocéros, AKA the Rhinoceros Party, was registered in Canada for more than 30 years. They issued "A promise to keep none of our promises." Members of the party claimed to be the "spiritual descendants" of Cacareco, a Brazilian rhino that was elected to São Paulo's city council in the 1950s. They claimed that the rhino was the perfect symbol for a political party, because, among other things, they are "slow-moving, dim-witted, can move fast as hell when in danger, and have large, hairy horns growing out the middle of their faces." Promises the party made (which they had already promised not to keep) included repealing the law of gravity, paving Manitoba to make the world's largest parking lot, ending crime by abolishing all laws and that they would enforce higher education by building taller schools.

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How Fraud Fueled the Mortgage Crisis

Brokers Pushed Borrowers to Lie, Lenders Misled and Ratings Agencies Looked the Other Way

by Mary Kane

The debate over what caused the mortgage mess and how best to fix it is now taking a sharp turn, as new problems surrounding liar's loans and payment-option mortgages reveal the pervasive fraud, lying and deceit that permeated the market at its height.

As loans made to borrowers with decent credit begin to fail at a surprisingly rapid rate, it's becoming clear that widespread fraud helped support the entire mortgage system -- from borrowers who lied on their loans, to brokers who encouraged it, to lenders who misled some low income borrowers, to the many lenders, investors and ratings agencies that conveniently and deliberately looked the other way as profits rolled in.

Despite its widespread role, fraud hasn't yet been at the forefront of proposed rescue plans, which center on refinancing people out of loans now resetting to higher rates. That may begin to change as the mortgage market continues a meltdown that seems to have no end. As fraud becomes a focus, the question of who did most of the lying and cheating will be crucial in deciding who deserves help in any housing rescue plan.

And the search for causes of the crisis may challenge long-held but erroneous beliefs about what homeowners did and why. Many people think borrowers got in trouble by buying bigger houses than they could afford, but the numbers show the majority were refinancing their homes.

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Folks, we have a new "OFFICAL" Moran!!!

by Tesha

Excellent point: In Houston, a Texan protesting amnesty for illegal
immigrants argues that anyone who can't master English doesn't
deserve to live in America.
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Robot Band

Photo by Toru Hanai

Toyota Motor Corp's partner robots play instruments at the company's showroom in Tokyo May 4, 2008.

The Bush Family's Bad Latin Real Estate Investment

by Dave Lindorff

Back in late 2006, it was widely reported in the Latin American media that President Bush, or perhaps his old man, had bought a 100,000-acre farm in a remote area of Paraguay.

What struck people at the time was the choice of country. Paraguay, of course, has gained a certain Club Med status among the world's villains and criminal elements as the place to go when the law's on your tail. The country, ruled for six decades by the dictatorial and fascist Colorado Party of Gen. Alfredo Stroesser, an almost cartoon caricature of a Latin American dictator, has no extradition treaty with any nation.

That's why it has long harbored aging Nazis, bank robbers, and a string of ousted or retired Latin American dictators and their assistants over the years.

Given that President Bush, once he leaves office on January 20, 2009, will no longer have the diplomatic immunity conferred upon heads of state, or the Constitutional protection against indictment by domestic prosecutors, it makes sense that he would be looking for a safe haven from the long arm of the law.

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John McCain Embraces John Hagee Religious Extremism

Putting the Con in Economics - Look How Well It Worked Under Bush

by Andrew Tobias

Yesterday, I ended with this overview . . .

We all honor McCain's service. Or certainly should. But what of the rest?

The fact that he's likeable (like George W. Bush) and got mediocre grades (like George W. Bush) and comes from wealth (like George W. Bush) . . . and thinks invading Iraq was the right move (like George W. Bush) and wants to appoint clones (his words) of the Justices George W. Bush appointed . . . and cant keep straight whether Iran is Shiia or Sunni (as Bush couldn't name the president of Pakistan) . . . and wants to make the tax cuts for the wealthy permanent, like George W. Bush (Dems want to keep them for your first couple hundred thousand in income, but go back to the Clinton/Gore rates for the rest) does not necessarily make him the best choice to shoulder more responsibility than anyone else on the planet. Unless that is, you want a third Bush term. (May Day! May Day!)

But what of his economics?

Most recently, he proposed waiving the federal gasoline tax this summer, which has been greeted by economists almost universally as trivial (it would reduce the cost of gas barely 5%), wrong-headed (cut a tax dedicated to repairing our deteriorating infrastructure?), symbolically inappropriate (what's next? should we start subsidizing gasoline to encourage people to drive bigger cars?), and quite possibly counterproductive (if on the margin people are encouraged to do a bit more discretionary driving than they otherwise would have, that would increase demand for gasoline, and, thus, the price).

Yes, one of McCain's opponents chose not to be outbid for motorists affection. (Its like an arms race unilateral disarmament is risky.) But I console myself with the thought that it wasn't her idea and that she at least signaled the irresponsibility of it all by proposing to pay for it, by shifting the cost to the oil companies.

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Even the Insured Feel the Strain of Health Costs

By Reed Abelson and Milt Freudenheim

The economic slowdown has swelled the ranks of people without health insurance. But now it is also threatening millions of people who have insurance but find that the coverage is too limited or that they cannot afford their own share of medical costs.

Many of the 158 million people covered by employer health insurance are struggling to meet medical expenses that are much higher than they used to be - often because of some combination of higher premiums, less extensive coverage, and bigger out-of-pocket deductibles and co-payments.

With medical costs soaring, the coverage many people have may not adequately protect them from the financial shock of an emergency room visit or a major surgery. For some, even routine doctor visits might now take a back seat to basic expenses like food and gasoline.

"It just keeps eating into people's income," said James Corbin, a former union official who works for the local utility in Tucson.

Mr. Corbin said that under their employer's health plan, he and his co-workers are now obliged to pay up to $4,000 of their families' annual medical bills, on top of about $1,600 a year in premiums. Five years ago, they paid no premiums and were responsible for only about $2,000 of their families' medical bills.

"That's a big jump," Mr. Corbin said. "You've just lost a month's pay."

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Juan Cole: 5 Years after Mission Accomplished

Source: Informed Comment (Blog run by Juan Cole) (5-1-08)

[Mr. Cole is Professor of Modern Middle Eastern and South Asian History at the University of Michigan. His website is]

5 Years after George W. Bush's infamous speech aboard the USS Lincoln, the mission seems incomplete. Bush imagined that he could get rid of Saddam Hussein and install exiled businessman and bank fraudster Ahmad Chalabi in his place. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz told Congress that the US would be out of Iraq, except for a division (20,000 men or so), by October of 2003. Wolfowitz and other Bush officials depicted Iraqis as secular and downplayed the possibility of ethnic violence in the aftermath of the overthrow of the Baath Party.

Here are some memorable phrases from Bush's mendacious speech half a decade ago:

' . . . major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed. . .

And now our coalition is engaged in securing and reconstructing that country. . .

In this battle, we have fought for the cause of liberty and for the peace of the world. . .

Because of you our nation is more secure. . . [Note that he is trying to attribute to the poor enlisted men his policies.] . . .

In the images of fallen statues we have witnessed the arrival of a new era. . . [The statue was pulled down by the US military and the whole thing was staged before a tiny Iraqi crowd, the small size of which media close-ups disguised.] . . .

In defeating Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, Allied forces destroyed entire cities, while enemy leaders who started the conflict were safe until the final days. Military power was used to end a regime by breaking a nation. Today we have the greater power to free a nation by breaking a dangerous and aggressive regime. With new tactics and precision weapons, we can achieve military objectives without directing violence against civilians. . . [The US has probably directly killed about 200,000 Iraqis and destroyed the city of Fallujah as well as damaging and repeatedly bombing others. Bush's fascist attempt to reconfigure warfare as a humanitarian gesture is the biggest lie of all] . . .

Men and women in every culture need liberty like they need food and water and air. [Foreign military occupation is not generally considered 'liberty' by most people.] . . .

We've begun the search for hidden chemical and biological weapons, and already know of hundreds of sites that will be investigated. [The sites were being investigated before the war, and nothing was being found, so Bush pulled out the inspectors and went to war. Nothing ever was found.] . . .

Our coalition will stay until our work is done and then we will leave and we will leave behind a free Iraq. [When will that be exactly?] . . .

In the battle of Afghanistan, we destroyed the Taliban . . . [ Maybe not so much; this 'mission accomplished' passage has not been sufficiently criticized] . . .

The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror. We have removed an ally of Al Qaida and cut off a source of terrorist funding. [There was no operational connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda. None. And the US occupation of Iraq gave al-Qaeda a new lease on life ] . . .

We are committed to freedom in Afghanistan, Iraq and in a peaceful Palestine. . . [90% of the world fell down laughing at that point in the speech; only gullible, self-righteous Americans could even think about taking this snow job seriously] . . .

The "mission accomplished" banner was the least of it.

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Why You Shouldn't Spend that 'Stimulus' Check

If we refused to cash our checks, the value of the dollars in our pockets would go up by more than the face value of the stimulus refund.

By Max Keiser

I'll explain two reasons why you should not spend your economic stimulus check: the first applies to people who work regular jobs for wages, the second applies to people who work in investment banks for bonuses.

If you work for wages (or live on a pension), consider this: if every American said, "No thank you" to Bush's stimulus check and refused to cash them, the value of the dollars in your pocket right now, in terms of their purchasing power would go up by a factor greater than the face value ($600) of the stimulus check. In other words, if you didn't spend these checks, you'd be the richer for it.

The reason being that America does not have a hard-money economy, it's a debt-based fiat currency economy. All the money in circulation in America has been borrowed and then re-lent. So borrowing more money ($168 billion for the stimulus package) and then re-lending it to Americans, as Bush is doing, only increases the debt load and debases the value of the currency outstanding (against a backdrop of stagnant wages and minuscule interest rates for savers).

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The Worst Food Crisis in 45 Years

If our government and large food and energy interests don't change direction, the food riots in distant lands will soon be coming to their doors.

By Amy Goodman

Food riots are erupting around the world. Protests have occurred in Egypt, Cameroon, the Philippines, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Mauritania and Senegal. Sarata Guisse, a Senegalese demonstrator, told Reuters: "We are holding this demonstration because we are hungry. We need to eat, we need to work, we are hungry. That's all. We are hungry." United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has convened a task force to confront the problem, which threatens, he said, "the specter of widespread hunger, malnutrition and social unrest on an unprecedented scale." The World Food Program has called the food crisis the worst in 45 years, dubbing it a "silent tsunami" that will plunge 100 million more people into hunger.

Behind the hunger, behind the riots, are so-called free-trade agreements, and the brutal emergency-loan agreements imposed on poor countries by financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund. Food riots in Haiti have killed six, injured hundreds and led to the ousting of Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis. The Rev. Jesse Jackson just returned from Haiti and writes that "hunger is on the march here. Garbage is carefully sifted for whatever food might be left. Young babies wail in frustration, seeking milk from a mother too anemic to produce it." Jackson is calling for debt relief so that Haiti can direct the $70 million per year it spends on interest to the World Bank and other loans into schools, infrastructure and agriculture.

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Standard Operating Procedure

By Roger Ebert

Errol Morris' "Standard Operating Procedure," based on the infamous prison torture photographs from Abu Ghraib, is completely unlike anything I was expecting from such a film -- more disturbing, analytical and morose. This is not a "political" film nor yet another screed about the Bush administration or the war in Iraq. It is driven simply, powerfully, by the desire to understand those photographs.

Lynndie England.

There are thousands of them, mostly taken not from the point of view of photojournalism, but in the spirit of home snapshots. They show young Americans, notably Lynndie England, posing with prisoners of war who are handcuffed in grotesque positions, usually naked, heads often covered with their underpants, sometimes in sexual positions. Miss England, who was about 20 at the time and weighed scarcely 100 pounds, often has a cigarette hanging from her mouth in a show of tough-guy bravado. But the effect is not to draw attention to her as the person who ordered these tableaux, but as a part of them. Some other force, not seen, is sensed as shaping them.

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