Monday, March 28, 2005
DIARY OF A RAG AND BONE MAN
No. 10. HERE COMES SPRING, by Jack Rafter.
Rough winter. Down with flu for two weeks, but I’m back on my feet again. For the most part, Vincent (my dog) and I spent the winter in Red Dunkel’s tent in the woods by the freight yards. Red hopped a freight train to Phoenix before the cold weather hit. Said he had a sister living out there and was going to look her up. And while he was there, said he was going to see about getting a checkup at the V.A. hospital. Hope he made it all right. His drinking was getting pretty bad before he left; maybe they can get him off the sauce. He thought he might be back in a month or so, but now it’s the middle of March, he’s still gone, and I haven’t heard anything about him. I figure maybe his sister took him in, if he found her.
Around Christmas, I caught a nasty cold-—this was before I caught the flu. Sleeping out was only aggravating the situation, and I couldn’t seem to get over it. Then, I had a little bit of luck. I was snooping in the dumpster out back of the YMCA one afternoon, when I noticed somebody had left a door open at the back. There’s a kitchen in the Y, and since there’s more yuppies going to the Y than ever before, I’ve observed an increase in the amount of food they throw away there. (It seems like it’s mostly your A-fluent people who can afford to throw away copious amounts of food.) Anyway, it was close to sundown when I noticed a certain door was ajar. The door was located down a flight of steps that lead into the basement. I glanced around, went down the steps, pulled open the door and went in.
First there was a hallway with lots of pipes running overhead. The hall lead to a big room lit with light bulbs in little cages. Half the room was caged off with a big boiler sitting inside the cage. The whole place was heated with steam heat, so the pipes overhead were hissing and pinging. It was like a conversation going on all around. On the other side of the room were two closed doors, one marked, “Storage”—-it was locked-—and the other, a few feet away, said, “Janitor” on it. I knocked, but no one answered. In fact, no one seemed to be around. I tried the door and found it unlocked, so I pushed it open and stepped inside.
It was pitch dark. I felt along the wall and found the light switch, and had a look around. Whoever the guy was, he had set it up pretty nice. Even had a cot in there—nice regulation army, with blankets and everything. There was a utility closet, a desk, an entire pegboard wall with tools hanging on it, each one had an outline of itself in black magic marker. The desk was made of steel, painted gray. Except for two items, the top of the desk was spotless. One of the items was a set of about a hundred keys on a brass ring; the other was a picture of the janitor’s wife in a fine little gold standup frame—a black lady, looked about sixty-years-old. She wasn’t smiling exactly, but there was a definite warmth in her eyes.
A file cabinet sat next to the desk, on top of which I found the janitor’s time card; the name, Washburn, John C., typed across the top. He worked regular hours—eight to five. I figured he was probably some old guy who had been there half his life, and had the routine down so good he could take catnaps now and then. Most of the time, the management probably didn’t even know he was there.
I took the keys and tried them on the storage room till I found the right one. I was surprised to find it vacant. Or almost. There was an old suitcase banked against one wall. I opened it and found it empty. But a search of the old ratty nylon pockets turned up a dollar bill. I started to take it, but something told me to leave it alone, so I left the dollar and closed up the suitcase.
The temperature that night was supposed to dip into the twenties. I took the key to the storage room, found the one that fit the lock on the outside door, then I was off to the hardware to made copies. After that, Vincent and I hoofed it over to our little camp by the tracks. I broke the tent down, rolled up my bedroll, and loaded the whole works in my wagon (an old Radio Flyer I found at a resale shop for five bucks.)
It was after eight o’clock by the time we got back to the Y, and it was pretty cold. I was wiped. Sneezing, runny nose, coughing, hacking, the works. I wished I had some of that NIQUIL, or whatever that is that helps you sleep when you're sick as a dog, but I was a little short of funds that night. We also did without dinner. I didn't feel like going out again, anyway. I returned the original keys to the ring, then rolled my wagon with my bedroll and other gear into the “Storage” room.
Well, the first night I spent there was a little spooky. In the first place, once the light was off, it was like being in a mineshaft. Pitch-perfect darkness. Then there was all that cacophony in the pipes running overhead. Most of the time the noise just hummed and pinged and whistled along, but every so often, there came a sound like someone banging a hammer against one of the pipes, and I would wake with a start. Vincent didn’t sleep at all, but whimpered and paced the room till dawn. Thus, added to all the rest were the sound of his whimpering and the click-click-click of his toenails as he paced. It all took some getting used to. But at least we were warm.
I stayed there several nights till I could get over being sick. After that, we went back to the train yards. I made up my mind to stay at the Y only if the weather turned really bad or if I were just too sick to sleep out. It became my safety-net over the winter.
* * * *
With the weather turning warmer, Vincent and I took to the neighborhoods to try and snare a little work. My plan was to try to get in ahead of the usual yard guys and offer to do some weeding and turn some beds for spring flower planting. Of course, I don’t have any tools, but I figured most people who still own their houses have shovels and hoes and what-not, and I pulled my wagon along to use for moving dirt.
Well, as they say at the racetrack, things just didn’t quite work out the way I envisioned. Naturally, I went through the wealthier neighborhoods, with the biggest houses and the finest yards. The first house I picked was a plantation style home with columns and a statue of a Negro holding a lantern next to the porch. There were lots of flowerbeds and they were looking kind of unkempt after the winter. So I rang the bell. In a minute or so, I heard the bolt turn and the door swung open. A black lady in a white uniform stood in the entrance.
I says, "Good morning, Miss. I'm a landscape professional. By any chance, would you be the person in charge of the grounds hereabouts?"
She smiled as if she'd just heard the best joke she was apt to hear all day, and said, "Wait here. I'll fetch the lady of the house."
"Thank you, ma'am."
She smiled again and went off. About a minute later, an old white haired lady walked up. "What can I do for you, young man?" she smiled.
I introduced myself and pointed out that her flowerbeds could use some tending to.
“Well," she says, "I have a landscape man who works on my place. I’m expecting him to start in a week or so.”
I says, “Well, ma’am, I could go ahead and be turning those beds for you, getting them ready, you see, and probably do it cheaper than he’ll do it for you. But then they’ll be ready, and then all he has to do is come along and put in the plants. See what I mean?”
She says, “Hmm, well, that sounds like it might be a good idea.”
She seemed like she might go for it, when she looks past me, kind of frowning a little, and says, “Where’s your truck?”
I smiled and said, “Well, ma’am, my truck is actually in the shop right at the moment, but I just figured I could use your shovel and your hoe, if you wouldn't mind.”
She says, “Well, I guess that would be all right.” But I could see the gears starting to turn and hear the doubt creeping into her voice. Her eyes focused past me again, and I knew she was scoping out my beat up old wagon and the somewhat disheveled dog tied to it.
“What is that?” she says, pointing with a bony finger.
“Oh, that? That’s my wagon and my dog.”
“What are they doing there?”
“Well, I use the wagon to move dirt and rocks and such. I like it better than a wheelbarrow for garden work.”
“Oh, I see. And what about the dog?” she says.
“Well, that’s Vincent. He’s just my dog. He goes with me.”
“Vincent? What kind of a name is that for a dog?” she wanted to know.
I managed a smile. “Well, I named him after Vincent Van Gogh, the artist.”
“Oh.” She paused, and seemed to study on that a little. Then she says,
Well. . . I just don’t know about that.”
“I assure you ma’am, I can do you a real good job on those beds.”
“I’m sure you can,” she said, smiling with great forbearance. “But, well, perhaps I better wait till my man comes at the end of March. I don’t really know what he plans to do out there, and, you know, he might be upset if I were to use someone else. Maybe I better just stick with him. Thank you anyway, young man.” Then, smiling, she closed the door.
And that’s pretty much how it went with every house I went to, with slight variations. Almost without exception, the one thing they all wanted to know was, “Where’s your truck?”
* * * *
I had some money, so I went to a convenience store and bought a sandwich for lunch. Then I decided to try my luck in a more middle-class neighborhood. I thought maybe those folks wouldn’t be quite as hung up over the idea of my not having a truck.
Sure enough, fewer people asked me that question. And they seemed less concerned with the idea that my dog was trailing me around. I actually scored a job mowing a lawn, using their mower. Made twenty bucks. Not bad.
A FEW WORDS FROM GORE VIDAL
Here is just one of many observations Vidal makes in that interview:
". . . What is the Republican party? Well, it used to be the party of the small-town businessman, generally in the Middle West, generally sort of out of the mainstream. Very conservative. It now represents nothing but the gas and oil business. They own it. And the people who go to Congress are simply bought. They are lawyers who are paid to represent Halliburton, big oil, big banking. So the very rich corporate America has a party for itself, the Republican Party. The Democrats don't have much of anything but a kind of wistful style. They just want everyone to be happy, and politically correct at all times. Do not hurt other people's feelings. They spend so much time on political correctness that they
haven't thought of what to do politically about anything. Like say "no" to these preemptive wars, which are against not only the whole world's take on war and peace, but against United States history.
"This is something new under the sun--that a president, just because he feels like it, can declare war on anybody. And Congress will go along with him, and the courts will support him. The founding fathers would be mortified if they saw what had happened to their handiwork, which wasn't very great to begin with but is now done for. When you have preemptive wars, and you have ambitious companies like Bechtel who will build up what, let us say, General Electric has helped to destroy with its weaponry--these interests are well-represented."
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
Here's a few didies from the April issue of The Progressive:
"Press passes can't be that hard to come by if the White House allows that old Arab Helen Thomas to sit within yards of the President." --Ann Coulter writing in a February 23 column. (Thomas has been reporting on the Presidency for forty-five years.)
"Syria is the problem. Syria is where those weapons of mass destruction are, in my view. You know, I can fly an F-15, put two nukes on 'em, and I'll make one pass. We won't have to worry about Syria anymore." --Republican Representative Sam Johnson of Texas, speaking to a crowd at Suncreek United Methodist Church in Allen, Texas. (Gimme that ol' time religion!)
From the March 28th issue of The Nation:
"The death penalty is no big deal to practicing Christians who believe in an afterlife." --Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Saturday, March 19, 2005
THE GREAT DECEPTION
"Even when it is an accomplished fact evil keeps the character of unreality; this perhaps explains the simplicity of criminals; everything is simple in dreams. This simplicity corresponds to that of the highest virtue." --Simone WeilThe Great Deception has always been about misdirection and sleight of hand. It is a Machiavellian tactic. A storyboard was put up after September 11th; and elements of narrative that didn't belong to one another were pasted together, al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. Hussein and the fundamentalists were conflated, glued, one upon the other over the empty space in South Manhattan, where the fires still smoldered.
Veteran reporter, Seymour Hersh, recounts from one of his many interviews:
"This is a war against terrorism, and Iraq is just one campaign. The Bush Administration is looking at this as a huge war zone," the former high-level intelligence officer told me. "Next, we're going to have the Iranian campaign. We've declared war on the bad guys, wherever they are, are the enemy."
"The former Marine [Ritter] also said that the Jan. 30 elections, which George W. Bush has called "a turning point in the history of Iraq, a milestone in the advance of freedom", were not so free after all. Ritter said that U.S. authorities in Iraq had manipulated the results in order to reduce the percentage of the vote received by the United Iraqi Alliance from 56% to 48%." (Jensen)
"[Answering a journalist's question], Ritter said an official involved in the manipulation was the source." (Jensen)Neoconservative ends justify any means, any unreality. But "evil keeps the character of unreality" and "everything is simple in dreams". And the simplicity of the Bush Juggernaut, a criminal's simplicity, "corresponds to that of the highest virtue".
The vast majority of Europeans are not deceived by George W. Bush. And those who are at the business end of his violence, especially the innocent, are not susceptible to this Great Deception. But the process of deception, in this American context, requires an accommodation on the part of the deceived, a willingness to be seduced by illusions, and a horror of rejecting those same illusions.
"IN AUGUST 2003"..."As Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, the military police commander in Iraq, later recalled it, [Major General Geoffrey] Miller's bottom line was blunt: Abu Ghraib should be "Gitmo-ized" --Iraqi detainees should be exposed to the same aggressive techniques being used to extract information from prisoners in Guantanamo."
" "You have to be in full control," Karpinski quoted Miller as saying. "there can be no mistake about who's in charge. You have to treat these detainees like dogs"."
"The latest Pentagon report on the abuse of captives, delivered to Congress last week by Vice Admiral Albert Church III, doesn't point a finger of blame at Miller or any other high-ranking official."
"But surely, Church was asked at a congressional hearing, someone should be held accountable for the scores of abuses that even the government admits to? "Not in my charter", the admiral replied." (Jeff Jacoby, "Where's the outrage on torture?", Boston Globe, 3/17/05.)Sitting in committee, even the Republican senators looked somewhat thunderstruck and disbelieving, when the navy investigator testified to his findings about prisoner abuse; saying that only one-tenth of one-percent of prisoners in custody were affected.
The Great Deception works as a filter for those Americans who voted their fear, when they cast their lot with Bush. They are not mindful of Simone Weil's words, that "evil keeps the character of unreality" as they watch the President chuckle and shrug off each scandal, when they hear accounts of a Bush spokesman who said that we have sent some prisoners to countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which practice the medieval arts of torture, because it was a cheaper means of dealing with those men. If Bush supporters were forced to part with their illusions, which this deception has so carefully cultivated, they would be forced to see Bush's "criminal simplicity" and that bravado in him that "corresponds to that of the highest virtue" for what it is, in fact.
And nothing else this President has done, no other evil keeps the character of unreality, more than his collective punishments, his series of wars, waged on nation states and whole populations, which he calls "war on terror".
Friday, March 11, 2005
JESUS LOVES YOU.....G. W. DOESN'T
Saturday, March 05, 2005
JAMES GUCKERT AND THE MASK OF FEAR
Gonzo journalist, James Campion, once coined the term celebrity monster (taking the example of Ann Coulter) to describe public figures who are recklessly committed to publicizing themselves. James Guckert, the right-wing cipher, who was waved through normal Secret Service screening and routinely given a reporter's Day Pass at White House briefings, was recently revealed as an imposter. He carried off this ruse for two years, having amateur experience and no training
Any kind of background check would have revealed that he had led another, and rather sordid life, as an escort who hired himself out to other men. He was a figure of a different kind in Washington, inside the Beltway, so to speak. And he was a shameless self-publicist who posted nude photographs of himself on a few websites. But as soon as he could pass security at White House briefings, he would take his seat in the press gallery, under the assumed name of Jeff Gannon.
He attracted attention to himself as a kind of obvious political operative, whenever the President's spokesman, Scott McClellan, needed an accommodating question from the press corps, to escape a grueling line of inquiry.
So Gannon, alias Guckert, would lob sweet confections, so-called "softball questions", in the direction of the constantly inept Press Secretary. The Guckert who would be Gannon was glaringly phony because his questions were invariably biased, and in some cases were extracted from administration pamphlets, that were only slightly amended.
The accounts in our progressive journals focus on the levels of artifice that lie beneath the surface of this fake reporter.
After his first few weeks of winging it, Jeff Gannon had managed just fine on his own. Veteran reporters could only bite their tongues, as Gannon got the nod from McClellan, the Press Secretary. Gannon must have felt redeemed, when an internet site, Talon News, provided him with window dressing, perfunctory credentials, some weeks later.
When inquiring minds looked into who was backing Gannon, or paying him, they got as far as Talon and its founder, Bobby Eberle.
As reported by Media Matters, "Talon News apparently consists of little more than Eberle, Gannon, and a few volunteers." This same report also mentions a companion website, a partisan outfit and brainchild of Eberle, called GOPUSA, and sketches the political history of the Talon staff, describing them primarily as Republican activists. It mentions that Gannon (A.K.A. Guckert) and Eberle are associated with Free Republic, the right-wing website, where they post.
Guckert met his Waterloo on January 26th of this year, when the President gave him the nod for a question. The sudden limelight seems to have overwhelmed the man, and his Gannon mask was seen for the mask that it is. Guckert's question was so fawning and partisan that it tripped off every warning light on the press corps' collective dashboard. Our best bloggers began their own energetic investigations and uncovered this mess.
Certainly, this is not the time to write the Epilogue to the affair, because this scandal is ongoing. Guckert, after all, is something of a loose cannon and an exhibitionist; and since scuttling away in disgrace, he has quickly returned to court the attention he craves. But the sad thing is, that if this were only a scandal about a clumsy administration's transparent effort to manipulate the news, we would be more inclined to hope.
Of course there is danger in the abuse of power; but up till now our press has confronted other administrations, and found the courage to stand its ground. Maureen Dowd is right too, when she describes the "Bushies" as being more sinister. Hating the press was enough for other administrations, she says, but this one wants to "reinvent the media".
The tragic emphasis of this scandal falls squarely on our traditional newspeople, our major newspapers, and the news organizations of our major networks. This administration is striking at them, trivializing and marginalizing them, evading the questions they ask, providing minders at party events to put a chill on their sources, and compromising the necessary work of reporters. This undermining is as effective as a threat, and really, it is a kind of threat.
When Edward R. Murrow was preparing his famous telecast that exposed the tactics of Senator Joe McCarthy in the 1950s, the purging and blacklisting of writers and artists, he suddenly found his own staff chastened and reluctant. But he summoned their courage and snapped them back to reality, when he suddenly exclaimed,
"The fear is right here in this room."
SOURCES: MEDIA MATTERS, AMERICA BLOG