Friday, June 27, 2008


Interesting: Did you know that the words 'Listen' and 'Silent' have the same letters?

In this Issue: Exxon only has to pay a half-day's earnings for the biggest oil spill in history! Also, a heartfelt (and scathing) letter to Big Oil from John Conley, 100% Disabled Marine Combat Vet — who sent me his Purple Heart for speaking out against Ann Coulter's "extermination speak."

Music can change your life... Before we get into the crimes of the oil giants, I'd like to express love and adoration for COLDPLAY!! Chris Martin: 'Obama As President Would Change America's Image'

He tells Rolling Stone magazine, "If Obama was to be president; it would immediately change the whole outside world's opinion of America overnight. America's public image at the moment is really bad... but over half of Americans are the coolest people on the planet. But they've been so misrepresented."

Here's a sliver lining to Obama's unpopular and I must say, quite un-Progressive acceptance of Bush's beloved FISA bill, which includes offering Telecom companies immunity for illegal spying on Americans (even prior to 9/11!) — not to mention rolling over our Constitutional rights and civil liberties. Maybe he's thinking ahead: he needs the phone companies in his back pocket when he becomes president -- and needs to catch the REAL crooks like Rove, Cheney and other neos.

Yes, I know, I went through a phase where my youngest son played Clocks too much on the piano — and I wasn't into them that much, but after watching all their hits on YouTube, my passion has been reignited. To all the haters out there, you have to go back and listen. “That’s the great thing about people who hate us,” he said. “We can suck out the energy and make it into something positive. It’s like in ‘Back to the Future,’ where you have this device that can turn garbage into a time traveler.”

Chris Martin, whose generosity is so inspiring, said they are 'giving it away for free!' They just gave free concerts at Madison Square Garden and on The Today Show this morning, playing Viva La Vida and hits like Speed of Sound, The Scientist, Clocks, Death and all his Friends.

My son and I are obsessed with their music (ever since "Yellow" for me, but he's a newcomer.) I love The Scientist and Talk. We sat down and watched Chris Martin on Charlie Rose and he spoke of how his music comes from a higher source and it's always better when he just waits for it to come through him, rather than forcing it or over-intellectualizing it.

Listen to Talk:

Speed of Sound:

Oil: Exxon Chairman's $400 Million Parachute - ABC News
Soaring gas prices are squeezing most Americans at the pump, but at least one man isn't complaining. Last year, Exxon made the biggest profit of any company ever, $36 billion, and its retiring chairman appears to be reaping the benefits. Exxon is giving Lee Raymond one of the most generous retirement packages in history, nearly $400 million, including pension, stock options and other perks, such as a $1 million consulting deal, two years of home security, personal security, a car and driver, and use of a corporate jet for professional purposes.

Last November, when he was still chairman of Exxon, Raymond told Congress that gas prices were high because of global supply and demand.

"We're all in this together, everywhere in the world," he testified.

Raymond, however, was confronted with caustic complaints about his compensation.

"In 2004, Mr. Raymond, your bonus was over $3.6 million," Sen. Barbara Boxer said.

That was before new corporate documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission that revealed Raymond's retirement deal and his $51.1 million paycheck in 2005. That's equivalent to $141,000 a day, nearly $6,000 an hour. It's almost more than five times what the CEO of Chevron made.

"I think it will spark a lot of outrage," said Sarah Anderson, a fellow in the global economy program at the Institute for Policy Studies, an independent think tank. "Clearly much of his high-level pay is due to the high price of gas."

Also below: Charlie Black's honest but horrific statements and the ugly news about BIG OIL.

Letter to the Editor by John Conley - New York Times
April 9, 2008

It’s tragic that Americans still don’t seem to understand what’s going on in Iraq and why the criminals in the White House consistently refuse to draw down our troops in that meat-grinder.

People need to realize that, at least under this Administration, the troops will never be brought home until Exxon-Mobile, Halliburton, and the other fascist-minded oil companies feel secure enough to begin moving the equipment they’ve staged in Kuwait across the border into Iraq to begin stealing Iraqi oil.

That’s the only reason we invaded Iraq, folks: oil. Anyone who thinks differently is fooling themselves. I remember neoconservatives absolutely ecstatic the day they staged their bogus ‘Mission Accomplished’ in 2003. In fact, some were so beside themselves with delusion they revealed their true intentions with: “Now, on to Iran and Syria!” Huh? Iran and Syria? Osama Bin Laden’s not in either of these countries, either.

Of course, that was hundreds of thousands of American and Iraqi lives ago, but no matter. Our delusional vice president is still trying to concoct a way to attack Iran with the nuclear bunker-buster bombs he’s been so excited about using, ignoring the fact that our military is already stretched to the breaking point, even with Bush’s recruiting waivers that now accept men and women with extensive rap sheets into our military. All we need is another unprovoked, preemptive war started by these psychopaths using Alice-in-Wonderland intelligence.

There’s little doubt in my mind that directing a war from a safe distance is probably the only thing these invertebrates have to make them feel manly and it’s a crime that America’s real men and women have to die as a result of the unbounded greed and insatiable lust for power these chicken hawks and their corporate sponsors are famous for.

If there is any justice in this world at all, then Bush, Cheney, and their criminal lackeys will eventually be tried, convicted, and spend the remainder of their lives in a federal prison pondering their bloody hands.

John M. Conley, US Marine veteran, recipient of two Purple Hearts

Here is the article that sparked Conley's outrage:

New York Times: A Peculiar Deal for Some of Iraq’s Oil

BAGHDAD — Four Western oil companies are in the final stages of negotiations this month on contracts that will return them to Iraq, 36 years after losing their oil concession to nationalization as Saddam Hussein rose to power.

Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP — the original partners in the Iraq Petroleum Company — along with Chevron and a number of smaller oil companies, are in talks with Iraq’s Oil Ministry for no-bid contracts to service Iraq’s largest fields, according to ministry officials, oil company officials and an American diplomat.

The deals, expected to be announced on June 30, will lay the foundation for the first commercial work for the major companies in Iraq since the American invasion, and open a new and potentially lucrative country for their operations.

The no-bid contracts are unusual for the industry, and the offers prevailed over others by more than 40 companies, including companies in Russia, China and India. The contracts, which would run for one to two years and are relatively small by industry standards, would nonetheless give the companies an advantage in bidding on future contracts in a country that many experts consider to be the best hope for a large-scale increase in oil production.

There was suspicion among many in the Arab world and among parts of the American public that the United States had gone to war in Iraq precisely to secure the oil wealth these contracts seek to extract. The Bush administration has said that the war was necessary to combat terrorism. It is not clear what role the United States played in awarding the contracts; there are still American advisers to Iraq’s Oil Ministry.

Sensitive to the appearance that they were profiting from the war and already under pressure because of record high oil prices, senior officials of two of the companies, speaking only on the condition that they not be identified, said they were helping Iraq rebuild its decrepit oil industry.

For an industry being frozen out of new ventures in the world’s dominant oil-producing countries, from Russia to Venezuela, Iraq offers a rare and prized opportunity.

While enriched by $140 per barrel oil, the oil majors are also struggling to replace their reserves as ever more of the world’s oil patch becomes off limits. Governments in countries like Bolivia and Venezuela are nationalizing their oil industries or seeking a larger share of the record profits for their national budgets. Russia and Kazakhstan have forced the major companies to renegotiate contracts.

The Iraqi government’s stated goal in inviting back the major companies is to increase oil production by half a million barrels per day by attracting modern technology and expertise to oil fields now desperately short of both. The revenue would be used for reconstruction, although the Iraqi government has had trouble spending the oil revenues it now has, in part because of bureaucratic inefficiency.

For the American government, increasing output in Iraq, as elsewhere, serves the foreign policy goal of increasing oil production globally to alleviate the exceptionally tight supply that is a cause of soaring prices.

The Iraqi Oil Ministry, through a spokesman, said the no-bid contracts were a stop-gap measure to bring modern skills into the fields while the oil law was pending in Parliament.

It said the companies had been chosen because they had been advising the ministry without charge for two years before being awarded the contracts, and because these companies had the needed technology.

A Shell spokeswoman hinted at the kind of work the companies might be engaged in. “We can confirm that we have submitted a conceptual proposal to the Iraqi authorities to minimize current and future gas flaring in the south through gas gathering and utilization,” said the spokeswoman, Marnie Funk. “The contents of the proposal are confidential.”

While small, the deals hold great promise for the companies.

“The bigger prize everybody is waiting for is development of the giant new fields,” Leila Benali, an authority on Middle East oil at Cambridge Energy Research Associates, said in a telephone interview from the firm’s Paris office. The current contracts, she said, are a “foothold” in Iraq for companies striving for these longer-term deals.

James Glanz and Jad Mouawad contributed reporting from New York. Read more at:


Arianna Huffington: FearWatch '08: Keeping an Eye Out for GOP Fear-Mongering

After McCain's chief campaign advisor said that another terrorist attack on U.S. soil "certainly would be a big advantage" for his candidate, McCain claimed: "I cannot imagine why he would say it." Really, Senator, you cannot imagine why your top advisor would follow in the footsteps of Karl Rove, who made scaring the bejesus out of the American people the centerpiece of GOP strategy for the last six years? Let me break it down for you: fear is a frighteningly effective sales pitch -- one that has worked like a charm for Republicans since 9/11. But things are always less scary when the lights are on, so throughout the campaign HuffPost will be conducting a FearWatch, keeping our eyes peeled for attempts to scare the public into voting their fears. And we'd like your help....

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

YAHOO! NEWS Lydia Cornell Interviews World Leaders, Presidential Candidates & Pulitzer Prize Winners for New Radio Show

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YAHOO! NEWS Former star of the hit show Too Close for Comfort Lydia Cornell co-hosts new Las Vegas radio show about politics and celebrity, signs with renowned literary agency for upcoming books

The Basham and Cornell Show broadcasts weekday mornings at 8 am Pacific (11 a.m. Eastern) on KLAV 1230 AM Radio live in Las Vegas. Again, all shows are simulcast worldwide on the Internet (and archived) and can be listened to at Basham and Cornell Radio If you've missed our show, check out the audio archives. We have interviewed John & Elizabeth Edwards, Dennis & Elizabeth Kucinich, John Dean, Pat Buchanan, Bill Press, Vincent Bugliosi, NBC Bureau Chief in Tel Aviv Martin Fletcher, Pulitzer Prize winner Charlie Savage, Attorney David Iglesias, Congressman Charlie Rangel,Valerie Plame, Christine Pelosi, Dahr Jamail, Senator Mike Gravel; Senator Byron Dorgan; and bestselling authors Valerie Bertinelli, Greg Palast, Paul Krugman, etc.
YAHOO NEWS: Lydia Cornell

YAHOO! NEWS Too Close for Comfort Actress Lydia Cornell Interviews World Leaders, Presidential Candidates, And Pulitzer Prize Winners for New Radio Show
Fri May 23, 3:01 AM ET

Former star of the hit show Too Close for Comfort Lydia Cornell co-hosts new Las Vegas radio show about politics and celebrity, signs with renowned literary agency for upcoming books.

Los Angeles (PRWEB) May 23, 2008 -- You may remember her as Sara Rush, the dazzlingly beautiful yet stereotypically dumb blonde on ABC's '80s hit sitcom, Too Close for Comfort. Performing alongside TV icon Ted Knight, Lydia Cornell ( quickly catapulted onto the Hollywood scene, co-starring on a top-rated show while still in her late teens. Since Too Close for Comfort ended with the death of Knight two decades ago, Cornell has become one of the Internet's most witty and outspoken bloggers - as well as being a novelist, a stand-up comedian, and a screenwriter.

Cornell is now the co-host of Basham & Cornell, a daily talk radio show broadcasting live from Las Vegas on KLAV 1230 AM Monday - Friday at 8 A.M. PST and simulcast worldwide on the web at Recent guests have included Valerie Bertinelli, John and Elizabeth Edwards, John Dean, Pat Buchanan, Dennis and Elizabeth Kucinich, Valerie Plame-Wilson, Pulitzer Prize winner Charlie Savage, Ed Asner, Senator Charlie Rangel, Greg Palast, best-selling authors, and more. With a knife-sharp sense of humor, Cornell discusses politics and social issues from a heartfelt spiritual perspective. "This is the most important election of our time," Cornell said. "It's a thrilling time to be changing the world." Basham & Cornell has just been picked up by WXB 102, the No. 1 highest-rated online radio station in the dancepunk/80s/new wave genre at, for its weekend talk programming.

Now signed to Ebeling Literary Agency, Cornell has also become a prolific author. Cornell's writing has been described as a cross between Dave Sedaris and Anne Lamott. In an upcoming book, Lydia chronicles her tragic-comic journey as a female in the 21st century and explores being an American in this bizarre new millennium where 'peace' seems to be a dirty word. A children's advocate and role model for young women, Cornell and her sons volunteer at Hope Gardens Residence for Homeless Women and Children, which is partnered with Union Rescue Mission. Profits from Cornell's ventures go to various children's charities, including Give Kids a Break, Girls Inc., and Feed the Children.

Although probably better known for her comedy work, which has included stand-up gigs at the Riviera and the Sahara in Las Vegas and opening up for Paul Rodriguez, Cornell has gradually developed a buzz for openly writing about her views of world events in her award-winning blog. And controversy as well. Her article, "Death is Sexier than Ann Coulter," expressing outrage at Coulter's 'extermination speak,' caused an uproar when Coulter published Cornell's home phone number and private e-mail on the front page of her website in retaliation. Cornell was slapped with death threats and hate mail, but mainly she received hundreds of love letters in support of her statements. She was even given a Purple Heart, sent to her from disabled Marine combat veteran John Conley. The Cornell-Coulter feud was covered by MSNBC, CNN, Fox, and the Huffington Post. There is an ongoing investigation into Coulter fans hacking into Cornell's website and e-mail.

Best known for Too Close for Comfort, Cornell still hasn't stopped acting. She guest-starred opposite Larry David on a recent episode of HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm, garnered a Best Actress nomination at the Method Fest, and is currently in the new indie film Damage Done.


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Wednesday, June 18, 2008


IN THIS ISSUE: Boy Scout Heroes, Midwest Floods, Gore Backs Obama and Father's Day with Emperor Qin's Terracotta Army...

And if you missed our riveting interview this morning with U.S. Attorney David Iglesias who was fired by Alberto Gonzales' Justice Department (on orders from Karl Rove?) in the 'Attorney-Gate scandal' please go to Basham and Cornell Show and click on Audio Archives.

After seeing the above video, I've changed my mind. I'm voting Republican.

This the most important election of our time. Nobel Laureate, award-winning environmentalist, peacemaker and international statesman Al Gore gives an outstanding speech on the failures of the Bush Administration and shows us what could have been, and what will be. We will change the world with our new President. If McSame wins, it will be a McShame.

"I intend to do whatever I can to make sure Obama is elected." - Al Gore (HuffPo)

Could Justice finally catch up with criminal corruption and treason? House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, issued a subpoena Monday morning to the Attorney General Michael Mukasey demanding he turn over the FBI’s interview transcripts of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney who were questioned in 2004 about the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame.

And don't forget, on June 12, Cheney lied and his own party busted him! In a speech before the Chamber of Commerce yesterday, Vice President Dick Cheney – the former CEO of the oil services company Halliburton — called for a substantial increase in domestic drilling for oil and other natural resources. "Oil is being drilled right now 60 miles off the coast of Florida," the vice president said. "We're not doing it, the Chinese are, in cooperation with the Cuban government. Even the communists have figured out that a good answer to high prices is more supply."

Armed with maps and reports, Sen. Mel Martinez – a Florida Republican who served in Bush’s cabinet – took to the Senate floor to dispute Cheney’s claim: Despite what is cited as fact here in the Senate and in other places, China is not drilling off the coast of Cuba. … Reports to the contrary are simply false. … So any talk of using some fabricated China/Cuba connection as an argument to change U.S. policy, in my view, has no merit.

A week of tragedy and heroism. Four young Boy Scouts lost their lives this week in a freak tornado that wrecked their camp. God Bless these poor families who are grieving. And Rest in Peace, Tim Russert. My heart goes out to Russert's widow, Maureen Orth and son Luke.

The Scouts lived up to their motto. “We were prepared.”
“All four of the young men who were killed are Scouts.“ These young men, these Scouts, were the most outstanding leaders in their communities. We’ve very proud of those young men. They responded as quickly as they could. Think lives were saved. They were the real heroes of this story.”

“We knew that shock could happen. We knew to put tourniquets on wounds that were bleeding too much. We knew we needed to apply pressure and gauze... We knew about this. We knew how to do it.”

NBC News and news services
updated 3:09 p.m. PT, Thurs., June. 12, 2008

BLENCOE, Iowa - Boy Scouts who survived a twister that killed four of their friends described the fear followed by the quick action to help the injured that followed the tragedy Wednesday night.

The National Weather Service said it was an EF3 on the 1-to-5 Enhanced Fujita scale of tornado intensity, with an estimated wind speed of 145 mph. Meteorologists said the twister cut a path about 14 miles long.

When the howling winds finally died down, the Boy Scouts — true to their motto, "Be Prepared" — sprang into action.

Putting their first-aid training to use, they applied tourniquets and gauze to the injured. Some began digging victims from the rubble of a collapsed fireplace. And others broke into an equipment shed, seized chainsaws and other tools, and began clearing fallen trees from a road.

Scouts were at leadership training
Dozens of the boys, ages 13 to 18, were hailed for their bravery and resourcefulness Thursday.

"There were some real heroes at this Scout camp," Culver said, adding that he believes the Scouts saved lives while they waited for paramedics to cut through the trees and reach the camp a mile into the woods.

The 93 boys, all elite Scouts attending a weeklong leadership training session, had taken part in a mock emergency drill with 25 staff members just a day before the twister hit.

"They knew what to do, they knew where to go, and they prepared well," said Lloyd Roitstein, an executive with the Mid-America Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

Killed were Aaron Eilerts, 14, of Eagle Grove, Iowa; and Josh Fennen, 13, Sam Thomsen, 13, and Ben Petrzilka, 14, all of Omaha, Neb. Roitstein said the four were in one of three buildings where Scouts sought shelter.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff toured the camp and said it appeared that the Boy Scouts "didn't have a chance" and that the tornado came through the camp "like a bowling ball."
From Wisconsin to Missouri, officials in the flood-ravaged Midwest were frantically sandbagging, watching weakened dams and rescuing residents from water that in some places rose knee-high, while storms threatened more damage in the Upper Plains.


Officials in Wisconsin were monitoring dams and high water in Indiana burst a levee, flooding a vast stretch of farmland. In Minnesota and North Dakota, strong winds closed a highway and even sent a cow into the air, a witness said.

Tornadoes touched down in eastern Nebraska and southwestern Minnesota, but there were no immediate reports of major damage.

Along the Mississippi River in Missouri and Illinois, the National Weather Service was predicting the worst flooding in 15 years. Outlying areas could be inundated, but most of the towns are protected by levees and many low-lying property owners were bought out after massive flooding in 1993, officials said.

On Father's Day we went to see the most amazing exhibition of Emperor Qin's Terracotta Army at the Bowers Museum. The life-size terracotta figures, dating from 210 BC, were discovered in 1974 by several local farmers near Xi'an, Shaanxi province, China near the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor. Here's a photo of me on Sunday - with a "walking statue."

“China’s First Emperor, the boy king who united the country in 221 B.C. and began construction of the first Great Wall, was not only obsessed with building but also a fanatic about death. After experimenting with potions to prolong his life, the megalomaniac king resigned himself to death on his own terms. He would build a standing army of 7,000 soldiers to enforce his rule over the afterlife.”

Sound like anyone you know? Well, actually, these and other imperial traits sound like a bunch of people we know. - The OC Weekly, Ted B. Kissell

Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor*
UNESCO World Heritage Site

Thursday, June 12, 2008




JK Rowling's speech at Harvard yesterday is absolutely the most transformative, inspiring speech I've ever read. It's worth the read. We should all sign up to join Amnesty International.

By the way, everyone in my family thinks I'm incredibly childish and immature. But at least I'm never bored; there are too many marvelous adventures to go on. (I don't believe in age anyway.) As a big Harry Potter fan, I am absolutely mesmerized by Hogwarts, and gothic castles in general. I also have a morbid fascination with the ruins of Angkor Wat and anything 12th Century Cambodia. What all this means, I have no idea, but I get a chill whenever I think of these places, both real and imaginary. And this includes the historical majesty of Harvard University.


President Faust, members of the Harvard Corporation and the Board of
Overseers, members of the faculty, proud parents, and, above all,

The first thing I would like to say is ‘thank you.’ Not only has Harvard given me an extraordinary honour, but the weeks of fear and nausea I’ve experienced at the thought of giving this commencement address have made me lose weight. A win-win situation! Now all I have
to do is take deep breaths, squint at the red banners and fool myself into believing I am at the world’s best-educated Harry Potter convention.

Delivering a commencement address is a great responsibility; or so I thought until I cast my mind back to my own graduation. The commencement speaker that day was the distinguished British
philosopher Baroness Mary Warnock. Reflecting on her speech has helped me enormously in writing this one, because it turns out that I can’t remember a single word she said. This liberating discovery enables me to proceed without any fear that I might inadvertently influence you to abandon promising careers in business, law or politics for the giddy delights of becoming a gay wizard.

You see? If all you remember in years to come is the ‘gay wizard’ joke, I’ve still come out ahead of Baroness Mary Warnock. Achievable goals: the first step towards personal improvement.

Actually, I have wracked my mind and heart for what I ought to say to you today. I have asked myself what I wish I had known at my own graduation, and what important lessons I have learned in the 21 years that has expired between that day and this.

I have come up with two answers. On this wonderful day when we are gathered together to celebrate your academic success, I have decided to talk to you about the benefits of failure. And as you stand on the threshold of what is sometimes called ‘real life’, I want to extol the crucial importance of imagination.

These might seem quixotic or paradoxical choices, but please bear with me.

Looking back at the 21-year-old that I was at graduation, is a slightly uncomfortable experience for the 42-year-old that she has become. Half my lifetime ago, I was striking an uneasy balance between the ambition I had for myself, and what those closest to me expected of me.

I was convinced that the only thing I wanted to do, ever, was to write novels. However, my parents, both of whom came from impoverished backgrounds and neither of whom had been to college, took the view that my overactive imagination was an amusing personal quirk that could never pay a mortgage, or secure a pension.

They had hoped that I would take a vocational degree; I wanted to study English Literature. A compromise was reached that in retrospect satisfied nobody, and I went up to study Modern Languages. Hardly had my parents’ car rounded the corner at the end of the road than I ditched German and scuttled off down the Classics corridor.

I cannot remember telling my parents that I was studying Classics; they might well have found out for the first time on graduation day. Of all subjects on this planet, I think they would have been hard put to name one less useful than Greek mythology when it came to securing the keys to an executive bathroom.

I would like to make it clear, in parenthesis, that I do not blame my parents for their point of view. There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you. What is more, I cannot criticise my parents for hoping that I would never experience poverty. They had been poor themselves, and I have since been poor, and I quite agree with them that it is not an ennobling
experience. Poverty entails fear, and stress, and sometimes depression; it means a thousand petty humiliations and hardships. Climbing out of poverty by your own efforts, that is indeed something
on which to pride yourself, but poverty itself is romanticised only by fools.

What I feared most for myself at your age was not poverty, but failure.

At your age, in spite of a distinct lack of motivation at university, where I had spent far too long in the coffee bar writing stories, and far too little time at lectures, I had a knack for passing examinations, and that, for years, had been the measure of success in my life and that of my peers.

I am not dull enough to suppose that because you are young, gifted and well-educated, you have never known hardship or heartbreak. Talent and intelligence never yet inoculated anyone against the caprice of the Fates, and I do not for a moment suppose that everyone here has enjoyed an existence of unruffled privilege and contentment.

However, the fact that you are graduating from Harvard suggests that you are not very well-acquainted with failure. You might be driven by a fear of failure quite as much as a desire for success. Indeed, your conception of failure might not be too far from the average person’s idea of success, so high have you already flown academically.

Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. So I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in
modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.

Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of
fairy tale resolution. I had no idea how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at
all - in which case, you fail by default.

Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above rubies.

The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more to me than any qualification I ever earned.

Given a time machine or a Time Turner, I would tell my 21-year-old self that personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a check-list of acquisition or achievement. Your qualifications, your CV, are not your life, though you will meet many people of my age and older who confuse the two. Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone’s total control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes.

You might think that I chose my second theme, the importance of imagination, because of the part it played in rebuilding my life, but that is not wholly so. Though I will defend the value of bedtime
stories to my last gasp, I have learned to value imagination in a much broader sense. Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory
capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared.

One of the greatest formative experiences of my life preceded Harry Potter, though it informed much of what I subsequently wrote in those books. This revelation came in the form of one of my earliest day jobs. Though I was sloping off to write stories during my lunch hours, I paid the rent in my early 20s by working in the research department at Amnesty International’s headquarters in London.

There in my little office I read hastily scribbled letters smuggled out of totalitarian regimes by men and women who were risking imprisonment to inform the outside world of what was happening to
them. I saw photographs of those who had disappeared without trace, sent to Amnesty by their desperate families and friends. I read the testimony of torture victims and saw pictures of their injuries. I opened handwritten, eye-witness accounts of summary trials and executions, of kidnappings and rapes.

Many of my co-workers were ex-political prisoners, people who had been displaced from their homes, or fled into exile, because they had the temerity to think independently of their government. Visitors to our office included those who had come to give information, or to try and find out what had happened to those they had been forced to leave behind.

I shall never forget the African torture victim, a young man no older than I was at the time, who had become mentally ill after all he had endured in his homeland. He trembled uncontrollably as he spoke into a video camera about the brutality inflicted upon him. He was a foot taller than I was, and seemed as fragile as a child. I was given the job of escorting him to the Underground Station afterwards, and this man whose life had been shattered by cruelty took my hand with exquisite courtesy, and wished me future happiness.

And as long as I live I shall remember walking along an empty corridor and suddenly hearing, from behind a closed door, a scream of pain and horror such as I have never heard since. The door opened, and the researcher poked out her head and told me to run and make a hot drink for the young man sitting with her. She had just given him the news that in retaliation for his own outspokenness against his country’s regime, his mother had been seized and executed.

Every day of my working week in my early 20s I was reminded how incredibly fortunate I was, to live in a country with a democratically elected government, where legal representation and a public trial were the rights of everyone.

Every day, I saw more evidence about the evils humankind will inflict on their fellow humans, to gain or maintain power. I began to have nightmares, literal nightmares, about some of the things I saw, heard and read.

And yet I also learned more about human goodness at Amnesty International than I had ever known before.

Amnesty mobilises thousands of people who have never been tortured or imprisoned for their beliefs to act on behalf of those who have. The power of human empathy, leading to collective action, saves lives, and frees prisoners. Ordinary people, whose personal well-being and security are assured, join together in huge numbers to save people they do not know, and will never meet. My small participation in that process was one of the most humbling and inspiring experiences of my

Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s minds, imagine themselves into other people’s places.

Of course, this is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate, or control, just as much as to understand or sympathise.

And many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages; they can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know.

I might be tempted to envy people who can live that way, except that I do not think they have any fewer nightmares than I do. Choosing to live in narrow spaces can lead to a form of mental agoraphobia, and that brings its own terrors. I think the wilfully unimaginative see more monsters. They are often more afraid.

What is more, those who choose not to empathise may enable real monsters. For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it, through our own apathy.

One of the many things I learned at the end of that Classics corridor down which I ventured at the age of 18, in search of something I could not then define, was this, written by the Greek author Plutarch: What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.

That is an astonishing statement and yet proven a thousand times every day of our lives. It expresses, in part, our inescapable connection with the outside world, the fact that we touch other people’s lives simply by existing.

But how much more are you, Harvard graduates of 2008, likely to touch other people’s lives? Your intelligence, your capacity for hard work, the education you have earned and received, give you unique status, and unique responsibilities. Even your nationality sets you apart. The great majority of you belong to the world’s only remaining superpower. The way you vote, the way you live, the way you protest, the pressure you bring to bear on your government, has an impact way beyond your borders. That is your privilege, and your burden.

If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped transform for the better. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.

I am nearly finished. I have one last hope for you, which is something that I already had at 21. The friends with whom I sat on graduation day have been my friends for life. They are my children’s godparents, the people to whom I’ve been able to turn in times of trouble, friends who have been kind enough not to sue me when I’ve used their names for Death Eaters. At our graduation we were bound by enormous affection, by our shared experience of a time that could never come again, and, of course, by the knowledge that we held certain photographic evidence that would be exceptionally valuable if any of us ran for Prime Minister.

So today, I can wish you nothing better than similar friendships. And tomorrow, I hope that even if you remember not a single word of mine, you remember those of Seneca, another of those old Romans I met when I fled down the Classics corridor, in retreat from career ladders, in search of ancient wisdom: As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is
what matters.

I wish you all very good lives.
Thank you very much.


Let's get this party started. The Democratic Party, that is...

The House sent articles of impeachment against President Bush to the Judiciary Committee Wednesday on a mostly party-line vote: 251-166. Speaking to Veteran Activists, after today's historic vote, Kucinich said that if the Judiciary Committee does not act within 30 days, he intends to introduce another, longer version of the articles of impeachment, with 60 counts instead of 35.

“I am not going to let this go. I am not going to let it go. I’ll just keep coming back and they can pile these things up in committee but I’ll keep coming back,” Kucinich said. “I’ll bring it up again, and there will be more. There will be more.”

We need more lawmakers like Kucinich — who has the highest integrity of anyone in Congress. We've had him and his beautiful wife Elizabeth on our show several times.

On June 11, Veterans in DC delivered 23,000 petition signatures in support of Congressman Dennis Kucinich's 35 Articles of Impeachment. Impeachment Champion Mike Ferner, another of the U.S. Vets presented John Conyers with even more petitions demanding that Congress respect our Oath to Protect & Defend our Constitution v. Domestic Enemy, George Bush.

"While most of the 20 some Veterans were conciliatory and pleased to hand our 23,000 pro-IMPEACH petition signatures to Chairman Conyers, both Iraq Veterans Against the War Board of Directors Co-Chair, Adam Kokesh, and Delaware Valley Veterans Executive Director, Bill Perry, made it clear to Judiciary Chair Conyers that we felt betrayed by Conyers failure to advocate for Impeachment, as he had done earlier, ever since the Downing Street Memos, in April, 2005."

On our radio show The Basham and Cornell Show I have had the honor of interviewing some of the greatest minds in the world (including some conservatives) and what rises to the top is one main point: we have to take our country out of the hands of very misguided — if not sinister men. McCain's irrational war lust will signal the end of America as we know it. Despite his tepid response to the troops, make no mistake, McCain has secretly vowed to continue the Bush agenda, which is to keep America in perpetual war. To continue the "war on an abstract noun." To enrich his cronies in the oil industry. To draft our young sons. We must not allow this flip-flopping, brain-addled, self-serving, manipulative unstable neocon to ever steal the presidency. Even Pat Buchanan — the traditional conservative's conservative says that McCain makes Cheney look like Gandhi.

We are in Yahoo News as WXB102 adds our Vegas radio show to their lineup, the award-winning Basham and Cornell Show. Check last week's post below for podcasts and Mp3 links to a few of our recent interviews with John Edwards, Bill Press, Pulitzer Prize winner Charlie Savage, Pat Buchanan, Valerie Bertinelli...