Translate

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

ONLY LOVE BREAKS THE ADDICTION OF WAR

Alternet features Sara Ruth van Gelder's interview with Chris Hedges. Hedges is the author of "War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning". Hedges served for 20 years as a war correspondent, and now writes for the New York Times.

These are excerpts from the interview:

van Gelder: "What do well publicized incidents, such as those at Abu Ghraib, contribute to the burden of people returning from war"...?

Hedges: "Abu Ghraib is the natural consequence of war and has happened in every single war that has ever been fought. What you are doing in war is turning human beings into objects either to provide gratification or to be destroyed, or both"...

"In wartime, perversion and hedonism spiral out of control"..."the psychosis of war involves an active effort to destroy feelings of tenderness and compassionate love."

"...the moral order is flipped upside down; prostitution, rape, and abuse all rise as the level of violence rises. That happened in every conflict I was in. In Serbia, for instance, as the violence proliferated you also had a proliferation of pornography and snuff films. It always goes hand in hand, because what you are destroying is the humanity of the other, you are turning the other into an object, which is precisely what torture or pornography does."

"So what we saw in Abu Ghraib was a window into the perversion that is always the case in war. This flies in the face of the image that we are given of war by the entertainment industry, or even quasi-historians like Stephen Ambrose who want to ennoble war."

"War is not a noble enterprise. I'm not a pacifist; I think there are times when war is a sad inevitability. But it is certainly not noble."


van Gelder: "In this fall's election, it seemed to me that we were still fighting over how to interpret the experience of Vietnam."

Hedges: "My problem with the way the election was run is that we pandered to the lie and not the truth."

"If you read what John Kerry said immediately after the war, he understood what Vietnam was about. But the election became about war as a glorious enterprise -- war as reporting for duty, war as noble, war as a test of manhood and courage. And while physical courage is often on very impressive display in war, you almost never see moral courage, which is very different, because it requires standing up to the crowd -- often opposing those around you -- and in that opposition being shunted aside. So I think that the problem in revisiting the Vietnam experience is that we've forgotten all the lessons of Vietnam."


van Gelder: "In your book, you say, "Lurking beneath the surface of every society, including ours, is the passionate yearning for a nationalist cause that exalts us...the kind that war alone is able to deliver." That yearning suggest[s] that we're always going to be either at war or on the brink of war. Do you see any forces [that] can temper that tendency?"

Hedges: "The only force that is powerful enough to subvert the force of war is love. Love is never organized. Love is always individual love. Love is a force that is built between two human beings. In wartime, everything is done to subvert that force."

"I don't know that there's an organized force that can stand up to the allure of war, which gives us a sense of empowerment -- allows us to be part of a cause, to ennoble ourselves, to rise above our small stations in life."

"The need to find meaning like that, I think, is an indication of the huge deficit of our emotional life. In conflict after conflict, those who are able to remain sane, who were never able to hate the perfidious enemy (who, in places like the Balkans, were often their neighbors), were those who had good relationships, those who were in love."

"I think particularly, in the war in Bosnia, of a Serb woman and her husband who took in two Muslim children and cared for them during the conflict, although they were ridiculed for it by everyone else in town."


van Gelder: "...we were out on the streets protesting, trying to persuade our government not to take us to war. I think many of us feel powerless and frustrated, and a great deal of grief about what has happened in Iraq."

Hedges: "...Focus on what you do this day: don't give in to cynicism, because then you are defeated. To get up and carry out an act that may seem not only insignificant but absurd gives you a sense of worth and meaning, and allows you to participate in an act (however small) of resistance."

"I think the cumulative effect of taking a moral stance, over time, is slow and hard and frustrating. If you go back and read Martin Luther King's autobiography, you see what kind of despair he faced in the early years of the Civil Rights movement."

"Sustain yourself through community and try not to become too focused on what you can accomplish, because it may very well be that, by the time we're gone, the world may be a worse place. But we have to validate our own existence, our own morality, our own life. And that comes by taking a stance, by standing up and remaining human. And there are times when remaining human is the only resistance possible."

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

THE PRAYING MANTIS


PHOTOGRAPH: Steven Pinker



"We're the good guys. We are Americans. We are
fighting a gentleman's war here--because we don't
behead people, we don't come down to the same
level of the people we're combating."

--Lieutenant Colonel Willy Buhl
(in advance of the 2nd battle of Fallujah)



The mantis turns to feed. Its bulbous head pivots efficiently, as another torn piece of viscera disappears in its mandibles.

The layers were peeled off America's face on November 2nd, 2004. By three percentage points the voters empowered a president who romanced evil with a twinkle in his eye, who had given consent to the torturer and to the admissibility of evidence derived from torture, and who laid down a path of revenge in Iraq that continued to embrace collective punishment and the death of civilians. What is America now? The euphoria of certain forward-looking Democrats appears as misplaced as the religious glee of their fundamentalist adversaries. November 2nd does not signify a setback; it is a catastrophe. Something is poised to devour this country. And the posture of prayer is strange for an insect that eats other insects.

President Richard Nixon and his advisor Henry Kissinger were directly responsible for the military coup that toppled the elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende. Allende was killed in his presidential palace, defending the office he had legitimately won. The White House used the bank accounts of an American corporation to funnel money into Chile to aid the conspiracy. The coup in 1973 did far worse than destroy that country's democracy, it unleashed a wave of murderous hysteria against Chile's leftists, intellectuals and artists.

It is nothing less than mockery for an American Lt. Colonel to hold forth for a gentleman's war in Iraq. There was no gentleman's war by US troops in the Philippines after the Spanish-American War, when the natives fought for independence. There was no gentleman's war in Vietnam either. No respect for civilian life in Panama when Noriega was grabbed. The revisionists would like to remove such unpleasant memory from our collective consciousness. No one must look at the ditch where trembling elders, children and women lay down in Vietnam. One mustn't see the flailing limbs and spray of blood, as Lt. Calley and his men shoot them all. Fallujah is nothing new, is it?

Time is deceptive. "Even though Americans have repeatedly denied that their strikes have killed civilians, Iraqi employees of the New York Times have gone to the sites of some of the airstrikes"..."and have seen the bodies of women and children pulled from the rubble." (Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt, NYT,10/12/04)

Journalist Naomi Klein points to the underlying criminality:
"Impunity - the perception of being outside the law - has long been the hallmark of the Bush regime"..."US forces and their Iraqi surrogates are no longer bothering to conceal attacks on civilian targets and are openly eliminating anyone - doctors, clerics, journalists - who dares to count the bodies."


Klein reminds her readers that the Americans and their local surrogates really have two wars underway in Iraq: a war that takes an appalling toll of civilians, and yet another war that is waged on the witnesses. (open letter)

Time is deceptive and Americans are no longer welcome in Iraq.

"Are you with me, or are you against me?" This is a significant line from The Praying Mantis, by Chilean playwright, Alejandro Sieveking. It brings to mind that bellicose pronouncement by George W. Bush, "You're either with us or you're with the Terrorists."

The drama concerns three sisters (two of them widows whose husbands have died under mysterious circumstances) living in a house in a small coastal town, with a grizzled and half-deranged father and another sister who is kept in her room, out of sight, a perpetual mystery who screams on occasion, or sings in low seductive tones, beckoning like a siren. A callow young man enters this charged atmosphere, as a suitor to the youngest and most ambitious sister. The audience begins to sense that the poor young guy is never getting out of the house alive; and the only unresolved question is the actual mechanism of his destruction.


A medieval nightmare descended on Chile under General Augusto Pinochet, complete with piety, torture and disappearances. Nixon and Kissinger had served up another kind of 9/11 to Chile: September 11, 1973, when the coup that decapitated a freely-elected government set the stage for 17 years of dictatorship.The playwright disguised his message in the form of allegory, since having open opinions at that time was dangerous to one's health. There is a requiem in it as well, dedicated to those who perished in the predator's grip.

Rob Bosquez, an actor who also staged Sieveking's play in Texas recently, provided his audience with this background in his Director's Notes:
"Thousands of citizens who spoke out against the regime including Chile's finest poets, actors, and intellectuals were rounded up in Santiago's national stadium. Here they were tortured, brutalized and slaughtered. One of Chile's best known singers and guitar players, Victor Jara was kidnapped and brought there. In a bloody display of the new power, in the country that was the homeland of Pablo Neruda, the hands that composed some of Chile's most beautiful melodies, were hacked off with machetes in a symbolic act before a crowd of thousands who were soon executed as well.

Conservative estimates put the initial death toll of the Santiago stadium killings at around 4,000."



The Intermission is over and the audience comes back for the Second Act. The grizzled wreck of a father, unseen until now, comes stumbling down the stairs. He complains about the superficiality of the three daughters: each of them trying to seduce the young man, presently in their clutches. The old man seems somehow repulsed, and reproaches them as having been conceived only in lust, or "sport". The audience learns for the first time that the other daughter, who is treated like an animal in a darkened room, like a deformed creature, is the only child the father considers beautiful. He rages at the other three daughters; he even holds them at bay with a pistol, and he wants nothing more than to leave the claustrophobic house for good.

But these sisters are long-practiced in humoring and delaying the old retrobate. When he comes back downstairs, lugging a suitcase, the clock on the wall says 10. They beguile him into protracted explanations and goodbyes, and before he knows it he turns around and finds 2 hours gone in the blink of an eye. He has missed his boat. The poor old soul is guided toward the stairs and back to his room.

"Time is deceptive", he is told, by his most meticulous and logical child.


"Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, and that his justice cannot sleep forever", said Thomas Jefferson. His personal anguish, his acquiescence over slavery, did not blind him to the tragic incompatibility between that crime and his country's professed liberties.

Where does America's history resonate in 2004? Are we back in the polarized 60s, with an immoral war and the FBI and CIA engaged in domestic spying? Are we back in the early 1950s?--looking for a new "Joe McCarthy" with fear-mongering and guilt by association, complete with blacklists? --no-flee lists?--seizures of passports? Or will we go all the way back to the Palmer Raids?--the Red Scare?--to Woodrow Wilson and the Espionage Act?--to a time when the Justice Department imprisoned thousands for political reasons and even put a great man like Eugene Debs in jail?

And it is impossible to dismiss these fears. That which is most dear to civilization is coming close to house arrest. What is most beautiful is being pushed behind the door. We have seen this happening in America since 2000. Creativity, with all its untidy energy, and dissent have been pushed behind the door. Tolerance and science are being treated like deformed creatures and are increasingly reviled in the name of religious bigotry. Who is next on Bush's no-fly list? Who will be stripped of their citizenship under Patriot Act II? Authenticity, intellect , empathy will soon be behind the door, described as loathsome creatures. We needn't bother looking around for the clock, either.

Time, after all, is deceptive. And the praying mantis is hungry.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

A LIBERAL ONCE AND ALWAYS

"I am a liberal and liberalism is the politics of kindness. Liberals stand for tolerance, magnanimity, community spirit, the defense of the weak against the powerful, love of learning, freedom of belief, art and poetry, city life, the very things that make America worth dying for. The people who call themselves conservatives stand for tax cuts, and further tax cuts, annual tax cuts, the only policy they know. Cut taxes. Use the refund to buy a gun and an attack dog to take with you when you drive your all-terrain vehicle through the barricades of Republicanville to make a foray into enemy territory to purchase supplies.

They are leading this great land toward a Lost New World where Social Security and Medicare will be dim memories and America will be a series of malls connected by interstates, and people will live in walled compounds with moats, like the Middle Ages."

--Garrison Keillor, Homegrown Democrat, p. 20-1

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

U.S. Disease Warning

From the Center For Disease Control:

The US Center for Disease Control has issued a warning about a new virulent strain of sexually transmitted disease. This disease is contracted through dangerous and high risk behavior. The disease is called Gonorrhea lecthim (pronounced "gonna re-elect him").

Many victims have contracted it after having been screwed for the past 4 years, and in spite of having taken measures to protect themselves from this especially virulent disease.

Cognitive sequellae of individuals infected with Gonorrhea lecthim include, but are not limited to: Anti-social personality disorder traits; delusions of grandeur with a distinct messianic flavor; chronic mangling of the English language; extreme cognitive dissonance; inability to incorporate new information (pronounced xenophobia); inability to accept responsibility for actions; desire to pick fights and inflict violence; exceptional cowardice masked by acts of misplaced bravado; ignorance of geography and history; tendencies toward creating evangelical theocracies; and a strong propensity for categorical, all-or nothing behavior.

After gathering wisdom and experience for many years, we are now confused at a very high level.

There appears to be no immediate cure, at least not for the foreseeable future. We are doing our utmost to educate the public, but those who have succumbed to the illness apparently believe it is the handwork of God, and thus are staying away from doctors, or, for that matter, anyone in the scientific community.

Thus far, the disease seems to be confined mostly to Republicans, but we have noted some of the above symptoms among a number of prominent Democrats. We strongly urge the public, and especially our Senators and Congressmen to be mindful of the following precautions:

1) As much as possible, avoid intimate contact with those already infected.

2) We have also discovered a close link between the disease and money! Apparently, the disease is carried on money--especially bills of high denomination, and even checks!
Money from corporations appears to be the most contaminated at this time. We have seen complete changes in personality occur when large amounts of money change hands.

So just be careful who you take money from and who you lie in bed with.


Monday, November 15, 2004

BUSH LAYS WASTE TO FALLUJAH





"And Death fell with me, like a deepening moan.
And He, picking the manner of a worm, which half had hid
Its bruises in the earth, but crawled no further,
Showed me its feet, the feet of many men,
And the fresh-severed head of it, my head."

--Wilfred Owen, The Show







"They left this dead with the older dead,
Stretched at the cross roads.
Burnt black by strange decay,
Their sinister faces lie;
The lid over each eye,
The grass and coloured clay
More motions have than they,
Joined to the great sunk silences.

Here is one not long dead;

His dark hearing caught our far wheels,
And the choked soul stretched weak hands
To reach the living word the far wheels said,
The blood-dazed intelligence beating for light,
Crying through the suspense of the far torturing wheels
Swift for the end to break,
Or the wheels to break,
Cried as the tide of the world broke over his sight.

Will they come? Will they ever come?
Even as the mixed hooves of the mules,
The quivering-bellied mules,
And the rushing wheels all mixed
With his tortured upturned sight,
So we crashed round the bend,
We heard his weak scream,
We heard his very last sound,
And our wheels grazed his dead face."

--Isaac Rosenberg, Dead Man's Dump






"All of the night was quite barred out except
An owl's cry, a most melancholy cry

Shaken out long and clear upon the hill,
No merry note, nor cause of merriment
But one telling me plain what I escaped,
And others could not, that night, as in I went.

And salted was my food, and my repose,
Salted and sobered, too, by the bird's voice
Speaking for all who lay under the stars,
Soldiers and poor, unable to rejoice."

--Edward Thomas, The Owl






Source: Fallujah In Pictures

Thursday, November 11, 2004

"YOU CAN'T BE NEUTRAL ON A MOVING TRAIN"





EXCERPT OF ARUNDHATI ROY'S SYDNEY PEACE PRIZE LECTURE


"Today, it is not merely justice itself, but the idea of justice that is under attack. The assault on vulnerable, fragile sections of society is at once so complete, so cruel and so clever - all encompassing and yet specifically targeted, blatantly brutal and yet unbelievably insidious; that its sheer audacity has eroded our definition of justice. It has forced us to lower our sights, and curtail our expectations. Even among the well-intentioned, the expansive, magnificent concept of justice is gradually being substituted with the reduced, far more fragile discourse of "human rights".

"If you think about it, this is an alarming shift of paradigm. The difference is that notions of equality, of parity have been pried loose and eased out of the equation. It's a process of attrition. Almost unconsciously, we begin to think of justice for the rich and human rights for the poor. Justice for the corporate world, human rights for its victims. Justice for Americans, human rights for Afghans and Iraqis."

It is becoming more than clear that violating human rights is an inherent and necessary part of the process of implementing a coercive and unjust political and economic structure on the world. Without the violation of human rights on an enormous scale, the neo-liberal project would remain in the dreamy realm of policy. But increasingly Human Rights violations are being portrayed as the unfortunate, almost accidental fallout of an otherwise acceptable political and economic system. As though they're a small problem that can be mopped up with a little extra attention from some NGOs."

"This is why in areas of heightened conflict (in Kashmir and in Iraq for example) Human Rights Professionals are regarded with a degree of suspicion. Many resistance movements in poor countries which are fighting huge injustice and questioning the underlying principles of what constitutes "liberation and development", view Human Rights NGOs as modern day missionaries who've come to take the ugly edge off Imperialism. To defuse political anger and to maintain the status quo."

"It has been only a few weeks since a majority of Australians voted to re-elect Prime Minister John Howard who, among other things, led Australia to participate in the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq. The invasion of Iraq will surely go down in history as one of the most cowardly wars ever fought."

"It was a war in which a band of rich nations, armed with enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world several times over, rounded on a poor nation, falsely accused it of having nuclear weapons, used the United Nations to force it to disarm, then invaded it, occupied it and are now in the process of selling it. I speak of Iraq, not because everybody is talking about it" ..."but because it is a sign of things to come. Iraq marks the beginning of a new cycle. It offers us an opportunity to watch the Corporate-Military cabal that has come to be known as "Empire" at work. In the new Iraq the gloves are off."

"As the battle to control the world's resources intensifies, economic colonialism through formal military aggression is staging a comeback. Iraq is the logical culmination of the process of corporate globalization in which neo-colonialism and neo-liberalism have fused. If we can find it in ourselves to peep behind the curtain of blood, we would glimpse the pitiless transactions taking place backstage."

"But first, briefly, the stage itself."

In 1991 US President George Bush senior mounted Operation Desert Storm. Tens of thousands of Iraqis were killed in the war. Iraq's fields were bombed with more than 300 tonnes of depleted uranium, causing a fourfold increase in cancer among children. For more than 13 years, twenty four million Iraqi people have lived in a war zone and been denied food and medicine and clean water. In the frenzy around the US elections, let's remember that the levels of cruelty did not fluctuate whether the Democrats or the Republicans were in the White House. Half a million Iraqi children died because of the regime of economic sanctions in the run up to Operation Shock and Awe. Until recently, while there was a careful record of how many US soldiers had lost their lives, we had no idea of how many Iraqis had been killed. US General Tommy Franks said "We don't do body counts" (meaning Iraqi body counts). He could have added "We don't do the Geneva Convention either."

"A new, detailed study, fast-tracked by the Lancet medical journal, and extensively peer reviewed, estimates that 100,000 Iraqis have lost their lives since the 2003 invasion."

"Let's not forget Iraq's children. Technically that bloodbath is called precision bombing. In ordinary language, its called butchering. Most of this is common knowledge now. Those who support the invasion and vote for the invaders cannot take refuge in ignorance. They must truly believe that this epic brutality is right and just or, at the very least, acceptable because it's in their interest."

"So the "civilized, modern world" built painstakingly on a legacy of genocide, slavery and colonialism, now controls most of the world's oil. And most of the world's weapons, most of the world's money, and most of the world's media. The embedded, corporate media in which the doctrine of Free Speech has been substituted by the doctrine of Free If You Agree Speech."

"The UN's Chief Weapons Inspector, Hans Blix, said he found no evidence of nuclear weapons in Iraq. Every scrap of evidence produced by the US and British governments was found to be false; whether it was reports of Saddam Hussein buying uranium from Niger, or the report produced by British Intelligence which was discovered to have been plagiarized from an old student dissertation."

"And yet, in the prelude to the war, day after day the most "respectable" newspapers and TV channels in the US , headlined the "evidence" of Iraq's arsenal of weapons of nuclear weapons. It now turns out that the source of the manufactured "evidence" of Iraq's arsenal of nuclear weapons was Ahmed Chalabi who, (like General Suharto of Indonesia, General Pinochet of Chile, the Shah of Iran, the Taliban and of course, Saddam Hussein himself) - was bankrolled with millions of dollars from the good old CIA."

And so, a country was bombed into oblivion. It's true there have been some murmurs of apology. Sorry 'bout that folks, but we have really have to move on. Fresh rumours are coming in about nuclear weapons in Eye-ran and Syria. And guess who is reporting on these fresh rumours? The same reporters who ran the bogus "scoops" on Iraq. The seriously embedded A Team."

"The head of Britain's BBC had to step down and one man committed suicide because a BBC reporter accused the Blair administration of "sexing up" intelligence reports about Iraq's WMD programme. But the head of Britain retains his job even though his government did much more than "sex up" intelligence reports. It is responsible for the illegal invasion of a country and the mass murder of its people."

"Even though no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq, stunning new evidence has revealed that Saddam Hussein was planning a weapons programme. (Like I was planning to win an Olympic Gold in synchronized swimming.) Thank goodness for the doctrine of pre-emptive strike. God knows what other evil thoughts he harbored - sending Tampax in the mail to American senators, or releasing female rabbits in burqas into the London underground. No doubt all will be revealed in the free and fair trial of Saddam Hussein that's coming up soon in the New Iraq.
All except the chapter in which we would learn of how the US and Britain plied him with money and material assistance at the time he was carrying out murderous attacks on Iraqi Kurds and Shias. All except the chapter in which we would learn that a 12,000 page report submitted by the Saddam Hussein government to the UN, was censored by the United States because it lists twenty-four US corporations that participated in Iraq's pre-Gulf War nuclear and conventional weapons programme. (They include Bechtel, DuPont, , Eastman Kodak, Hewlett Packard, International Computer Systems and Unisys.)"

"So Iraq has been "liberated". Its people have been subjugated and its markets have been "freed". That's the anthem of neo-liberalism. Free the markets. Screw the people."

The US government has privatized and sold entire sectors of Iraq's economy. Economic policies and tax laws have been re-written. Foreign companies can now buy 100% of Iraqi firms and expatriate the profits. This is an outright violation of international laws that govern an occupying force, and is among the main reasons for the stealthy, hurried charade in which power was "handed over" to an "interim Iraqi government". Once handing over of Iraq to the Multi-nationals is complete, a mild dose of genuine democracy won't do any harm. In fact it might be good PR for the Corporate version of Liberation Theology, otherwise known as New Democracy."

Not surprisingly, the auctioning of Iraq caused a stampede at the feeding trough. Corporations like Bechtel and Halliburton, the company that US Vice-president Dick Cheney once headed, have won huge contracts for "reconstruction" work. [Let's pick] Bechtel [as an example] only because poor little Halliburton is under investigation on charges of overpricing fuel deliveries to Iraq and for its contracts to "restore" Iraq's oil industry which came with a pretty serious price-tag - 2.5 billion dollars."

"The Bechtel Group and Saddam Hussein are old business acquaintances. Many of their dealings were negotiated by none other than Donald Rumsfeld. In 1988, after Saddam Hussein gassed thousands of Kurds, Bechtel signed contracts with his government to build a dual-use chemical plant in Baghdad. Historically, the Bechtel Group has had and continues to have inextricably close links to the Republican establishment. You could call Bechtel and the Reagan Bush administration a team."

"Former Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger was a Bechtel general counsel. Former Deputy Secretary of Energy, W. Kenneth Davis was Bechtel's vice president. Riley Bechtel, the company chairman, is on the President's Export Council. Jack Sheehan, a retired marine corps general, is a senior vice president at Bechtel and a member of the US Defense Policy Board. Former Secretary of State George Shultz, who is on the Board of Directors of the Bechtel Group, was the chairman of the advisory board of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq."

"When he was asked by the New York Times whether he was concerned about the appearance of a conflict of interest between his two "jobs", [Shultz] said, "I don't know that Bechtel would particularly benefit from it [The invasion of Iraq]. But if there's work to be done, Bechtel is the type of company that could do it." Bechtel has been awarded reconstruction contracts in Iraq worth over a billion dollars, which include contracts to re-build power generation plants, electrical grids, water supply, sewage systems, and airport facilities. Never mind revolving doors, this -if it weren't so drenched in blood- would be a bedroom farce."

"Between 2001 and 2002, nine out of thirty members of the US Defense Policy Group were connected to companies that were awarded Defense contracts worth 76 billion dollars. Time was when weapons were manufactured in order to fight wars. Now wars are manufactured in order to sell weapons."

Between 1990 and 2002 the Bechtel group has contributed $3.3 million to campaign funds, both Republican and Democrat. Since 1990 it has won more than 2000 government contracts worth more than 11 billion dollars. That's an incredible return on investment, wouldn't you say?"

"And Bechtel has footprints around the world. That's what being a multi-national means."

"The Bechtel Group first attracted international attention when it signed a contract with Hugo Banzer, the former Bolivian dictator, to privatize the water supply in the city of Cochabamba. The first thing Bechtel did was to raise the price of water. Hundreds of thousands of people who simply couldn't afford to pay Bechtel's bills came out onto the streets. A huge strike paralyzed the city. Martial law was declared. Although eventually Bechtel was forced to flee its offices, it is currently negotiating an exit payment of millions of dollars from the Bolivian government for the loss of potential profits. Which, as we'll see, is growing into a popular corporate sport."

"In India, Bechtel along with General Electric are the new owners of the notorious and currently defunct Enron power project. The Enron contract, which legally binds the Government of the State of Maharashtra to pay Enron a sum of 30 billion dollars, was the largest contract ever signed in India. Enron was not shy to boast about the millions of dollars it had spent to "educate" Indian politicians and bureaucrats. The Enron contract in Maharashtra, which was India's first "fast-track" private power project, has come to be known as the most massive fraud in the country's history. (Enron was another of the Republican Party's major campaign contributors). The electricity that Enron produced was so exorbitant that the government decided it was cheaper not to buy electricity and pay Enron the mandatory fixed charges specified in the contract."

"This means that the government of one of the poorest countries in the world was paying Enron 220 million US dollars a year not to produce electricity!"

"Now that Enron has ceased to exist, Bechtel and GE are suing the Indian Government for 5.6 billion US dollars. This is not even a minute fraction of the sum of money that they (or Enron) actually invested in the project. Once more, it's a projection of profit they would have made had the project materialized."

"To give you an idea of scale, 5.6 billion dollars [is] a little more than the amount that the Government of India would need annually, for a rural employment guarantee scheme that would provide a subsistence wage to millions of people currently living in abject poverty, crushed by debt, displacement, chronic malnutrition and the WTO. This in a country where farmers steeped in debt are being driven to suicide, not in their hundreds, but in their thousands."

"The proposal for a Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme is being mocked by India's corporate class as an unreasonable, utopian demand being floated by the "lunatic" and newly powerful left. Where will the money come from? they ask derisively. And yet, any talk of reneging on a bad contract with a notoriously corrupt corporation like Enron, has the same cynics hyperventilating about capital flight and the terrible risks of "creating a bad investment climate". The arbitration between Bechtel, GE and the Government of India is taking place right now in London. Bechtel and GE have reason for hope. The Indian Finance Secretary who was instrumental in approving the disastrous Enron contract has come home after a few years with the IMF. Not just home, home with a promotion. He is now Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission."

"Think about it: The notional profits of a single corporate project would be enough to provide a hundred days of employment a year at minimum wages (calculated at a weighted average across different states) for 25 million people. That's five million more than the population of Australia. That is the scale of the horror of neo-liberalism."

"The Bechtel story gets worse. In what can only be called unconscionable, Naomi Klein writes that Bechtel has successfully sued war-torn Iraq for "war reparations" and "lost profits". It has been awarded 7 million dollars."

"So, all you young management graduates don't bother with Harvard and Wharton."

"[H]ere's the Lazy Manager's Guide to Corporate Success: First, stock your Board with senior government servants. Next, stock the government with members of your board. Add oil and stir. When no one can tell where the government ends and your company begins, collude with your government to equip and arm a cold-blooded dictator in an oil-rich country. Look away while he kills his own people. Simmer gently. Use the time collect to collect a few billion dollars in government contracts. Then collude with your government once again while it topples the dictator and bombs his subjects, taking [pains] to specifically target essential infrastructure, killing a hundred thousand people on the side. Pick up another billion dollars or so worth of contracts to "reconstruct" the infrastructure. To cover travel and incidentals, sue for reparations for lost profits from the devastated country. Finally, diversify. Buy a TV station, so that next war around you can showcase your hardware and weapons technology masquerading as coverage of the war. And finally finally, institute a Human Rights Prize in your company's name. You could give the first one posthumously to Mother Teresa. She won't be able to turn it down or argue back."

"Invaded and occupied Iraq has been made to pay out 200 million dollars in "reparations" for lost profits to corporations like Halliburton, Shell, Mobil, Nestle, Pepsi, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Toys R Us. That's apart from its 125 billion dollar sovereign debt forcing it to turn to the IMF, waiting in the wings like the angel of death, with its Structural Adjustment program. (Though in Iraq there don't seem to be many structures left to adjust. Except the shadowy Al Qaeda.)"

"In New Iraq, privatization has broken new ground. The US Army is increasingly recruiting private mercenaries to help in the occupation. The advantage with mercenaries is that when they're killed they're not included in the US soldiers' body count. It helps to manage public opinion, which is particularly important in an election year. Prisons have been privatized. Torture has been privatized. We have seen what that leads to."

"Other attractions in New Iraq include newspapers being shut down. Television stations bombed. Reporters killed. US soldiers have opened fire on crowds of unarmed protestors killing scores of people. The only kind of resistance that has managed to survive is as crazed and brutal as the occupation itself. Is there space for a secular, democratic, feminist, non-violent resistance in Iraq? There isn't really."

"That is why it falls to those of us living outside Iraq to create that mass-based, secular and non-violent resistance to the US occupation. If we fail to do that, then we run the risk of allowing the idea of resistance to be hi-jacked and conflated with terrorism and that will be a pity because they are not the same thing."

"So what does peace mean in this savage, corporatized, militarized world? What does it mean in a world where an entrenched system of appropriation has created a situation in which poor countries which have been plundered by colonizing regimes for centuries are steeped in debt to the very same countries that plundered them, and have to repay that debt at the rate of 382 billion dollars a year? What does peace mean in a world in which the combined wealth of the world's 587 billionaires exceeds the combined gross domestic product of the world's 135 poorest countries? Or when rich countries that pay farm subsidies of a billion dollars a day, try and force poor countries to drop their subsidies? What does peace mean to people in occupied Iraq, Palestine, Kashmir, Tibet and Chechnya? Or to the aboriginal people of Australia? Or the Ogoni of Nigeria? Or the Kurds in Turkey? Or the Dalits and Adivasis of India? What does peace mean to non-muslims in Islamic countries, or to women in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan? What does it mean to the millions who are being uprooted from their lands by dams and development projects? What does peace mean to the poor who are being actively robbed of their resources and for whom everyday life is a grim battle for water, shelter, survival and, above all, some semblance of dignity? For them, peace is war."

"We know very well who benefits from war in the age of Empire. But we must also ask ourselves honestly who benefits from peace in the age of Empire? War mongering is criminal. But talking of peace without talking of justice could easily become advocacy for a kind of capitulation. And talking of justice without unmasking the institutions and the systems that perpetrate injustice, is beyond hypocritical."

"It's easy to blame the poor for being poor. It's easy to believe that the world is being caught up in an escalating spiral of terrorism and war. That's what allows the American President to say "You're either with us or with the terrorists". But we know that that's a spurious choice. We know that terrorism is only the privatization of war. That terrorists are the free marketers of war. They believe that the legitimate use of violence is not the sole prerogative of the State."

"It is mendacious to make moral distinction between the unspeakable brutality of terrorism and the indiscriminate carnage of war and occupation. Both kinds of violence are unacceptable. We cannot support one and condemn the other.
The real tragedy is that most people in the world are trapped between the horror of a putative peace and the terror of war. Those are the two sheer cliffs we're hemmed in by. The question is: How do we climb out of this crevasse?"

"For those who are materially well-off, but morally uncomfortable, the first question you must ask yourself is do you really want to climb out of it? How far are you prepared to go? Has the crevasse become too comfortable?"

"If you really want to climb out, there's good news and bad news."

"The good news is that the advance party began the climb some time ago. They're already half way up. Thousands of activists across the world have been hard at work preparing footholds and securing the ropes to make it easier for the rest of us. There isn't only one path up. There are hundreds of ways of doing it. There are hundreds of battles being fought around the world that need your skills, your minds, your resources. No battle is irrelevant. No victory is too small."

"The bad news is that colorful demonstrations, weekend marches and annual trips to the World Social Forum are not enough. There have to be targeted acts of real civil disobedience with real consequences. Maybe we can't flip a switch and conjure up a revolution. But there are several things we could do. For example, you could make a list of those corporations who have profited from the invasion of Iraq. You could name them, boycott them, occupy their offices and force them out of business. If it can happen in Bolivia, it can happen in India. It can happen in Australia. Why not?"

"That's only a small suggestion. But remember that if the struggle were to resort to violence, it will lose vision, beauty and imagination. Most dangerous of all, it will marginalize and eventually victimize women. And a political struggle that does not have women at the heart of it, above it, below it and within it is no struggle at all."

"The point is that the battle must be joined. As the wonderful American historian Howard Zinn put it: "You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train"."

--ARUNDHATI ROY


Wednesday, November 03, 2004

POST ELECTION BLUES

Well, it’s done. Another election is behind us, and Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, Rice, and especially Karl Rove, are triumphant. On top of the world, you might say.

And my condolences to the rest of the world, by the way. Whoever reads this—wherever you may be out there, please know: we did everything we could to try and prevent this from happening. I earnestly believe we did. Please remember that a large percentage of Americans are with you today, and in the weeks and months, and—I suppose—years to come, in spirit and solidarity, against this rising tide. Some will say that Kerry did not run a strong enough campaign, that perhaps he wasn’t “liberal” enough, or he wasn’t this or that. But, to be honest, I don’t think it would have made any difference. The people that voted for Bush did so with their eyes open. They lined up in droves and voted for him. Their votes represent a full-throated acceptance of all this administration stands for.

Thus, lying to Congress, the UN, the American people, and the world and proceeding with needless preemptive wars, is perfectly acceptable. The people have spoken and they have said “Yes” to these things. They have said “Yes” to the incarceration of hundreds of innocent people without benefit of legal counsel or due process.

They have said “Yes” to the torture of prisoners, the outing of CIA agents, the muzzling and firing of anyone the administration disagrees with.

They have voted and said “Yes” to the goon tactics of Karl Rove.

And to the overthrow of the rule of law, the Bill of Rights, and church-state separation, they have voted with their hearts and minds, and the answer is a resounding “Yes.”

As I write this, thousands of American troops are massing on the outskirts of Fallujah, to be supported with tanks and air strikes. I begin to think our wars are less about what is real than what is unreal. Of course, we know—at least some of us do—that the war in Iraq was never about weapons of mass destruction; but in truth, I don’t think it really ever mattered to the American people whether weapons existed or didn’t exist, just as some years ago, it didn’t matter that there was no Gulf of Tonkin incident. Those items are just what in movie parlance would be called the “mcguffin,” the money, the jewels, the microfilm, whatever happens to be in the box that sets the whole plot in motion. As Hitchcock said, it really doesn’t matter what the mcguffin is. It’s immaterial. And the proof that the mcguffin doesn’t matter in Iraq, just as it didn’t matter in Vietnam, is that the war goes on and people are still dying, while the so-called reason for being there in the first place—the mcguffin—has long since gone up in smoke. And that, sir, is War. Just a big catastrophe, a big nothing, that sucks up human life, that is always looking for an excuse and usually finding it among weak-minded people. And in a country that loves war as much as this one, the mcguffin can be about as flimsy as you wish, and the people will wave their flags and shout themselves into exhaustion.

As for the election, it, too, had its mcguffin. And the mcguffin was fear. Fear of gay people, fear of diversity. Fear that God is so weak in the world that He must be backed up by amendments, mandates and armies. We have seen this before. And we have seen what superstition can do.

At least half the people in this strange country actually believe the earth was created in seven days. A high percentage believe in angels. They believe the fables and proverbs of the Bible are literally true. And they believe there are weapons of mass destruction sitting in Iraq, just as their president told them there was.

And they believe that whatever their country chooses to do or not do is right and righteous. End of story.

So, it is not just Bush and his cohorts that are triumphant here. They are just the symptom, the nuts and bolts of what is broken in my country, for it is really the triumph of lies, the complete unquestioning embrace of superstition and fantasy over reality.

And that, I guess, is why I’m in mourning today. Because it feels like somebody I care about is in dire trouble, maybe losing their mind, or worse. The country that I knew, the country of Jefferson and Ben Franklin and Lincoln, but also of Frederick Douglas and Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King, Jr. . . .

It’s like the day my grandmother died. It’s as if I were awakened this morning and told that someone very close to me was killed during the night. Murdered. And now they want me to get dressed and come down and identify the body. Yeah, okay, that’s a little melodramatic, I suppose. Maybe so. And when I get down there, maybe it won’t be her, after all. Maybe she’s just gone missing awhile. Wandering around somewhere, homeless, living out of garbage cans. And if I happen to run into her again, I’ll let you know.

But I just hope I’ll be able to recognize the old girl.

Peace, brothers and sisters.

Monday, November 01, 2004

WHY WE BELIEVE


PHOTOGRAPH: Sharon Farmer


This is the moment of truth. Americans are going to the polls to choose their President. Tomorrow we decide; and the whole world is holding its breath, and wondering if America can get back in touch with its "better angels". The disgrace of Abu Ghraib stabs at our hearts. The President's lying, scheming, sick adventure in Iraq is a failure. The jig is up for George W. Bush. Abraham Lincoln said, "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time; but you can't fool all of the people all of the time." No, not in a democracy. Not in our country.

Dr. Hunter S. Thompson nails it, in the most recent issue of RollingStone Magazine:
"The question this year is not whether President Bush is acting more and more like the head of a fascist government but if the American people want it that way."


The most obscene thing about the Bush Government is that they just continue telling lies that have been publicly discredited by authoritative sources. They continue to spit out the Big Lie that connects the 9/11 destruction in New York to Iraq. They have continuously justified the bloodletting in Iraq in those terms. And they smear their political opponents with indiscreet, ruthless enthusiasm. Calumny and hypocrisy present no barrier to them. Karl Rove, the Regime's hatchet man, specializes in poisoning the well, twisting an adversary's actual virtues and slurring and mangling them so that they seem like vices. Malicious rumors and whisper campaigns are the specialty. This administration is one that has shamelessly appropriated public anxiety over terrorism for its own partisan purposes. They have clearly damaged America's reputation and have lowered this nation's effective prestige. Bush is a dangerous leader who is addicted to risks and is apparently indifferent to the tragic consequences of his actions.

There is an alternative. The beautiful photograph taken by Sharon Farmer is a tangible image of our hope. Our candidate for President, John Kerry, is sharing the stage with Caroline Kennedy at a rally during the last days of this campaign. This image represents a continuity of purpose. It represents the promise of public service. It is proof that our history will not be re-written by those who lack moral courage and compassion for their neighbors. Our American history is not a plaything for the small-minded, and it is not a prize to be won by opportunists.
Those of us who remember President Kennedy can see a flicker of something in John Kerry. This is why we believe. Even if Kerry possesses just a flicker from that flame, it will be enough.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

DIARY OF A RAG AND BONE MAN

By Jack Rafter

(The continuing saga of a homeless man and his dog.)

No. 9. Vincent Takes Ill And I Get A Little Work

Dear Mr. Mowgli: Well, it’s been awhile since I put anything in here. And now the election is almost upon us and I hardly know where to begin. First off, I lost my diary for awhile there, but then I got it back. And then, Vincent took sick and almost died. I didn’t know what was wrong with him. He just sank down and wouldn’t eat anything for a whole week. Then, I noticed he was picking up his right front foot when he walked. I was starting to worry.

So, I took him to the vet. His name is Thiu Pampano. He’s Vietnamese, about forty years old. I hadn’t seen Dr. Pampano in a long time, so my being homeless was news to him. Vincent was new to him, too. I used to have a German shepherd named Mike. That was before I lost my home and everything, but my wife took him when we divorced. Dr. Pampano said he was awful sorry to hear about my troubles. He offered me money, which I declined. He told me he had taken up acupuncture and was having some pretty good luck using it on animals.

After examining Vincent’s leg, he said he believed it was paralyzed. I said how could his leg be paralyzed? Dr. Pampano said he thought it was psychological. He asked me if I thought Vincent was worried about anything. I said I didn’t know. He wanted to know where Vincent came from. I told him he was a foundling from the freight yards. “Ah,” said Dr. Pampano, “maybe Vincent is jittery from being around freight trains.”

“Maybe so,” I said.

“Well, it doesn’t matter,” he shrugged.

Dr. Pampano got Vincent to lie down on his side, then he bent over him, stroking him gently on the head, and talked quietly in his ear. Vincent soon closed his eyes and just went right under. It was amazing. Dr. Pampano applied needles to Vincent’s leg for the paralysis, and his lungs, to clear out the congestion. Then, he put on some soothing flute music played by Navajo Indians, and let Vincent sleep for awhile. About an hour later, he removed the needles and woke the dog up. Vincent got up and immediately started walking around on all four legs. He was wagging his tail and he acted hungry for the first time in days. Dr. Pampano put a scoop of dry dog food in a plastic bowl. Vincent commenced to drool. The doctor set the food on the floor, and Vincent lapped it right up.

“I think your dog is better, now, Jack.”

I couldn’t believe it. It was like a miracle or something. All I had on me was five dollars, but I offered it to Dr. Pampano. He just waved his hand and said, “No charge. It was an experiment.”

So now I’m a confirmed believer in acupuncture.

* * * *

Vincent and I spent the whole summer in Red Dunkel’s tent in the woods by the freight yard. Red’s a Vietnam veteran. For about a year, now, he’s been having stomach problems. I think the Boone’s Farm finally caught up with him. So about a month ago, he hopped a freight for Phoenix, headed for the V.A. Hospital, there, thinking maybe they could help him out. I hope he made it all right.

I told him to write me a letter and send it to “General Delivery,” but so far, I haven’t found any letters from him. I think he has a sister living in Phoenix, so maybe he’s moved in with her and got squared away. If so, it’ll be one less homeless veteran. I heard that something like forty-percent of Vietnam veterans are homeless. Forty goddamn percent! Imagine that.

Ran into Phil Brumley the other day, another homeless vet--from the Gulf War days, younger than Red, of course. Phil was just coming out of the library. He spends a lot of time in there surfing the net—says it’s the only way you can find out what’s happening anymore. The newspapers don’t tell you anything, he says. He was spitting mad when he came out of there, almost knocked me over. I asked him what was wrong, and he said that Congress had just voted to cut veterans’ funding by nearly 25 billion dollars over the next ten years.

This was the day after they passed a resolution to “Support Our Troops.” Phil shook his head. “I can’t believe they’d do such a thing,” he said.
He took a handkerchief out of his trousers and wiped his face. Phil’s a huge man, shaped like a bear, and he had broken out in a sweat. Looking at him, I thought he must have been pretty impressive when he was in top condition, decked out in crisp new fatigues with a big ol’ automatic rifle slung over his shoulder. Now, he has nightmares and can’t sleep at night. He’s got a big paunch, his hands tremble all the time, and his voice quavers when he talks, like Johnny Cash.

I told him about Red going off to Phoenix to get checked out. Phil shook his head again. “Well,” he said, “I wouldn’t hold out much hope for ol’ Red. Unless he’s already in the system, the Vet’s hospital is gonna start charging $250 to give treatment. A lot of ‘em are closing their doors. The Bush people have ordered ‘em to stop publicizing the kinds of assistance they offer, so a lot of vets won’t even know what’s available to ‘em, now. And on top of that, a lot of vets are losing their disability pensions.”

Phil growled a little, and actually showed his teeth. But a tear leaked from his eye. “Those fuckers!” he said. “Those motherfuckers! I hate those god damn fuckers!” His anger just spewed out of him, and his voice quivered even more, like a child who’s been punished for something he didn’t do.

“I gotta go, Jack,” he said, trying not to look at me. “See you later.” And off he went, stalking across the clean mowed lawn, head down, staring at the ground as he walked. He just looked like a big old boy.

* * * * *

Later that day, I went down to the Labor Pool and picked up some work cleaning a big vacant lot near down town. It was a construction company that hired me for the job, along with two other guys—Blankenship Construction. They had their representative down at the Labor Pool, a man named Tom Thistlewaite. Middle-aged, overweight. The weather was hot and his sweat smelled of beer. He had on a rumpled suit, tie loose at the neck and his white shirt was actually wet. He had a little flag pin in his lapel. Just looking at him at first, I was pretty sure he was going to be a hard-ass. But he was actually rather soft-spoken and seemingly polite. I figured he was saving his true colors for when we got out on the job. Just doesn’t want to scare us off, I thought. He talked to us a minute, describing the job a little, then told us to come back early in the morning and he would drive us to the job site.

Next morning, it was still dark and cool when I struggled out of my bedroll. I didn’t have anything to eat but a piece of cornbread, so that was breakfast. Blackeyed peas left over from the night before, I put in a pan for Vincent, left him to mind the “house”, and set out walking for downtown. You’d think he’d try to follow me, but he didn’t. He’s good that way. All I have to do is say, “Stay here, Vincent. Guard the house.” And he does it, no questions asked. He’s a good kid. Sometimes, to be honest, I don’t know what I’d do without him.

I followed the tracks downtown and made it to the Labor Pool by six-thirty, the only lighted place in a row of grim, dark, closed up buildings. Even with its lights on, there’s nothing appealing or cheerful about it. Nothing but a way-station for burned out failures. Twenty or so disheveled looking men stood around inside and outside waiting to go off to various jobs. They smoked and jabbered and sipped coffee from little white Styrofoam cups.

I stepped inside, and found the Bunn coffeemaker just burning the dregs. I poured it off and made half a cup, then went outside and found my two associates squatting against the building, talking in low tones over their cups. We introduced ourselves. One was a black fella, called himself Delbert, about twenty years old, big and muscular, very handsome, almost looked out of place there. The other one was a white guy, Greg, tall and lean, with somewhat long, greasy sandy hair.

Greg wore a big gauze bandage on his forehead, still white and clean. I asked him what happened. He said he was standing on the street near the night shelter with some other guys last night, waiting for the doors to open, when some drunk walked up to him and accused him of stealing his picture.

“His what?” I said.

Greg smiled. “That’s exactly what I said. ‘What picture you talkin’ about, fella?’ And the fella says, ‘You know the one. It’s the picture of my wife. You stole my wife’s picture. Now, you give it over right now or I’m gonna box your ears.’ Well, I just laughed when he said that. I mean, he was at least a head shorter than me, and he was soused and bobbin’ all over the place, so I didn’t take him seriously. And so I says, ‘Well, I don’t have your picture, fella, and I don’t know you or your wife, so why don’t you just git your ass away from here and leave me the hell alone.’ And I kinda pushed him a little, I guess, ‘cause he was standin’ there breathin’ on me, and he stank like a shithouse in a barroom. Well, all of a sudden he hauls off and bops me one in the head, and damn if the little rat-fucker didn’t knock me flat to the ground. Shit, I didn’t know what hit me at first, it was so sudden, I was seein’ stars. I thought somethin’ musta fell outta the sky. Once I got my bearings and could see straight again, I noticed he had a big rock in his hand.”

“A rock?” said Delbert.

“Yep, a rock. Then, I felt somethin’ wet in my eye, and reached up to wipe my head and then I saw my hand was covered in blood. Well, I kinda went crazy, I guess, felt steam comin’ out my eyes, and I said, ‘Goddamn, you little bastard--!’ I think he knew I was gonna kill him if I could just get up, ‘cause right then, he let go that rock, and lit out. I got up to chase him, but I was so dizzy I just fell down again. Luckily, some guys lifted me up and carried me into the shelter. And then one of the shelter people gave me a lift over to the Mercy Hospital, and they stitched me up.”

“You got stitches?” I said.

“Yeah, four stitches! You believe that? And it took ‘em all night to get to me. I almost didn’t make it to the job this mornin’.”

“No shit?” Delbert said.

“No shit, man. I just came from there. Practically ran all the way, with my head like this. Jesus! I don’t know if I can last an hour out there, but I need to make some money.”

Delbert shook his head. “Man, that’s rough.”

Light was beginning to come into the sky and we could all see each other a little better. Just then, the boss pulled up to the curb in his big shiny blue pickup. This morning, he had on a sport coat, no tie, and a brand new straw cowboy hat. “You boys ready to go to work?” he said. We said yes and got up and started for the truck. He handed Greg a bag with a big red “M” on it and said, “What happened to your head?”

“Aw, just a little scrape,” Greg replied. “It’s nothin’.”

“You sure you can work with that?”

“Yes, sir, I can work. I’m fine, really. Never felt better.” Tom Thistlewaite jabbed his thumb toward the back and we hopped in.

On the way to the site, we had two Egg McMuffins apiece, bananas, and fresh coffee, not the labor pool dregs. It was enough to give us a whole new feeling about the day, and about the boss, too.

We drove to the eastern edge of downtown and stopped in front of a big lot on Baxter Street. The lot was hemmed in on three sides by big brown anonymous buildings. The three of us choked when we saw the lot. It was just a pure disaster, full of construction debris and garbage of every description. We climbed down from the back and Tom Thistlewaite got out. There was another truck parked in front of us. A young guy got out, walked around to the back and dropped the gate. It was full of tools—shovels, rakes, three pair of work gloves and three wheelbarrows.

We got all the stuff out and laid it on the sidewalk, then we stood there gawking at the lot. Now, I could see why Tom Thistlewaite was so soft-spoken. He didn’t need to scare us. The work was scary enough. There were piles of dirt and rocks, concrete rubble and rebar, black asphalt, torn tarpaper, roofing and sheetrock, broken bricks, broken glass, broken lumber, paint cans, and just the kind of generic trash you might see in any urban open lot, blown there by the wind or thrown or dumped in the middle of the night by passersby. There were several old aluminum lawn chairs with shredded plastic webbing, a beat up bark lounger, a big red sofa with springs and stuffing popping out of ragged holes.

And huddled in the middle of all this desolation were three lone trees, a little juniper, a deformed scrub oak, and a fair sized elm; they were a ragged and pitiful trio, besieged on all sides by garbage.

Thistlewaite studied our grim faces and smiled. “Now, don’t let this little job throw you,” he said. “You got three days to clean it up. If that’s not enough time, we’ll see what we can do, but we need you to clean it right down to the ground. Just work steady and work together. Fill your wheelbarrows and throw everything in that dumpster, there.” He pointed at a black dumpster parked at the curb.

“Why don’t you just get a bulldozer?” I asked.

He chuckled. “Well, I was gonna do that, but ours is bein’ overhauled. Meanwhile, we need to make some headway on this place, so we hired you. Ain’t you lucky?”

We smiled sheepishly. In the back of Tom’s truck sat a big orange water cooler with a cup dispenser on the side. He dropped the gate and Delbert and I slid it to the edge. “Okay,” he said. “I’m gonna leave this truck here with the water cooler, and I’ll be back at noon with your lunch. Let’s see how far you can get before then. Any questions?”

We shook our heads. He pointed at the cab. “There’s more bananas and apples in yonder, if you need a snack. Make sure you drink plenty of water. I don’t wanna come back here and find somebody passed out on a pile of bricks. Good luck, boys. See you later.”

Then, he and the young guy got in the other pickup and drove off. We stood there a moment. Then, in unison, we each picked up a shovel, a rake and grabbed a wheelbarrow and moved toward the lot. We didn’t have to go far before we hit the first pile, which was mostly brick and rock, five feet wide by three feet high. We all agreed to follow Tom’s advice and work together, so we went to work, filling the wheelbarrows from the same pile, then wheeling them over to the dumpster and emptying them out.

We trudged along for an hour or so, but without any real pep. You might say we were just pacing ourselves to get through the day, but you’d be wrong. Truth is we were intimidated by the work, so we had no enthusiasm. It dawned on me that if we kept working at that pace, we wouldn’t really be saving energy, just letting it all out like the air from an inner tube. It was the same dilemma I saw in a movie one time. The movie was Cool Hand Luke, and it was one of the best pictures I ever saw. Maybe you remember it. Paul Newman, as Luke, gets himself thrown into a state prison somewhere in the South. At least, that’s what it looks like on the surface. But it’s really about a total non-conformist, someone who refuses to recognize the rules of society or take orders from bosses or anyone else. And what the movie says will happen to that person is that society will eventually squash him like a bug.

Anyway, there’s this scene in Cool Hand Luke when he and the other convicts are out on work detail one hot day, shoveling gravel down a long straight road. The pace is set by “No Eyes,” the lead guard, whose face is forever hidden behind mirrored sunglasses—the cold, anonymous face of the State; No Eyes is a crack shot with a deer rifle, who hardly ever utters a word. He walks down the road swinging his cane, ahead of the line of men, who must try to keep up. And, of course, at first, it’s just a steady burn, the road seems to stretch forever, the men are quiet and grim-faced as they trudge along. But then, something happens. Luke instinctively knows the men are intimidated by the work and the guards; he can read the defeat in their faces.

So, at that moment, he turns to them, whispering excitedly, to come on, pick up the pace. “Let’s pass No Eyes,” he says to them, suggesting the quicker they get done, they’ll have the rest of the day to lie in the weeds and relax.

And, of course, it works. Suddenly, the men are galvanized like never before, especially at the thought of passing up the murderous guard, which had never occurred to them. So now the pace picks up, the men march forward, swinging their shovels, furiously throwing gravel down on the road. We see shovels rhythmically stabbing gravel and slinging it down. We see faces lit up, eyes ablaze with new life. Now, in this moment, they’re free, alive, sweeping ever forward, all eyes pinned to the indifferent back of the guard as they begin to close the gap between them. And then comes the moment—almost like magic—when they realize they’ve actually caught him, and as they overtake him and brush on by, we can almost see through the mirrors at the stunned eyes watching the convicts around him all laughing riotously, no longer defeated. And we can see that what really irks him in that moment is the awareness that he is no longer in control, he no longer owns these men.

So as we finished emptying another load in the dumpster, I was thinking about Cool Hand Luke. Then, I got to looking at the three lone trees marking the middle of the lot, and suddenly, I had an idea. Turning to the others, I said, “Let’s make those trees our goal.”

Delbert looked up, sweat dripping from his forehead. “What do you mean?” he said.

“We’ll work in a circle—all the way around ‘em, till they’re free. We’ll liberate those boys. What do you say?”

Both men smiled. “Sounds good to me,” said Greg.

“Count me in,” said Delbert.

So the trees became our goal. And just like in the movie, suddenly, we were energized. It was really strange, but from then on, we worked furiously, as if we were on a mission, a larger reason to do the work than just ridding a non-descript lot of years of debris. We were driven. We went from one pile to the next, working clockwise around the trees. Sometimes when a barrow got too heavy with rock and broken brick, two of us would get on it, one on each handle, and steer it over to the dumpster. It was kind of funny and strange how we three strangers seemed to meld together. We all noticed it, I think, because, every so often, we’d be in the middle of some task, and look at each other, and just grin. Or even break out laughing. We were actually enjoying the work. In fact, it even ceased to be like work. It was Delbert who first spoke of it. We were back at the dumpster, working a mile a minute, all three of us, huffing and puffing, and suddenly Delbert paused, and said, “Hey, you guys, look at us!” We stopped and looked. Delbert smiled, shaking his head. “We just a workin’ machine!”

Greg said, “Yeah, we somethin’, all right. My head’s about to split, and I don’t even give a shit.”

“Those trees are waitin’,” I said.

“Let’s go,” said Delbert. And off we went again.

Still, it was slow going. If you pictured the whole lot with its trees in the middle being a clock face, by noon, we’d only cleared out maybe an hour’s worth of trash and rubble. But that hour that we cleared out was nice and smooth, clean to the ground. When Tom Thistlewaite showed up with our lunch and surveyed the work, he was pleased. He gave a little sharp whistle. “Whew. You boys been humpin’ it, ain’t you?” he said. We smiled and looked at the ground. Thistlewaite whistled again. “Well, gonna take more than three days to do this job, I can see that right now. Gonna take a week, easy. But at least, I got three guys ain’t afraid of a little work.”

He went in his truck and came out with a grocery sack full of food. He handed it to me, then, he looked at his watch. “Okay, I want you to take an hour for lunch, then get going again. I don’t imagine you’ll get as much done as you did this morning, but just do the best you can. I’ll be back at five and take you to the labor pool, so you can sign out.” Then, he got in his truck and turned and looked at us. He actually winked, and said, “Good work, fellas!” And then he drove off.

We crossed the street and sat under the awning of a warehouse to eat our lunch. Mr. Thistlewaite had brought us cold cuts, a loaf of wheat bread, some sharp cheddar cheese, spicy brown mustard, mayonase and red-tipped lettuce. We found a jar of pickles, more bananas and oranges, a big can of V-8 and a big bottle of grape juice. He had brought along an ice chest to keep our fixings fresh. The guy thought of everything. And I was so sure he was going to be an asshole. Well, it just goes to show you can’t always judge a book by its cover.

We finished lunch in about thirty minutes. We all agreed if we sat too long after eating, we might start to get sleepy, so we got up and walked back across the street. As we stood over our wheelbarrows, Greg clicked his tongue and said, “Hmp.”

“What is it?” I said.

“Just thinkin’ about somethin’ Thistlewaite said before he left.”

“What’s that?”

“Said we probably won’t get as much done as we did this morning.”

Delbert smiled. “Yeah, I heard him say that, too.”

“Why do you think he said that?” I said.

“I don’t know,” said Greg, “but I think maybe we need to prove him wrong.”

Delbert and I looked at each other and nodded agreement. Then, we picked up our shovels and got down to business.

That afternoon, we worked with a fury. By five o’clock, we had a whole new section cleaned out—at least an hour on the clock-face, plus a little more. When Thistlewaite showed up, he couldn’t believe his eyes. Just kept shaking his head. “Well, I never,” he said. In fact, must have said it two or three times.

He drove us back to the Labor Pool and told us to be there same time next morning. And so we were.

And so it went, and we ended up working a whole week cleaning the lot on Baxter Street. And we skinned that lot down to the ground. It took three dumpsters to hold what we cleaned up.

On the last day, we actually finished around three o’clock. After we dumped the last pile, we just stood on the sidewalk awhile surveying our handiwork. The lot was clean as a pin, and the trees stood out free and unencumbered. We thought we could hear them thanking us. The breeze seemed to blow through them in a different way. At last, we strolled over and sat down under them. Luckily, one of us thought to bring the snacks, ‘cause once we sat down, I doubt if anybody would have felt like walking back to the truck.

Amazingly, the grass there was still green, and there was yet a layer of grass over the whole lot, even though most of it had been buried for a long time, and there were quite a few dead spots and weeds and stickers and thistles; but minus all the debris, we thought it looked pretty good, and as we sat there quietly looking, it suddenly came to me that we were very proud of our work.

We were sitting there looking pretty relaxed when Tom Thistlewaite drove up at five o’clock. He got out and walked over to us. He just looked amazed. I don’t think he knew what to say. He took off his straw hat as he walked up. “Well,” he said. “Well. Wow. This is--. Wow.” He paused. Then, he said, “Well, your checks are waitin’ for you.”

As we got up, I realized for the first time, how sore I was. We all groaned a little as we climbed up in the truck. I noticed as we drove off, all three of us were watching the little lot disappear in the distance. We were about to get paid. We should have been happy, I guess, but nobody said anything. Funny how you get attached to a place, no matter how homely it is—when you’ve worked on it awhile, when you’ve swept it out and made it your own.

I thought about all the grungy forgotten lots in all the big cities. I thought what if all you had to do to lay claim to them was to go in and clean them up, love them a little—plant trees, flowers; put in a garden, perhaps, some flagstone paths and maybe a bench for folks to sit on. And once you’ve done that, then that lot becomes the peoples’ property, and nobody else can claim it, no developers can come along and build on it.

A few days ago, Vincent and I were walking down Baxter Street on our way to Johnny Blair’s CafĂ©. We walked clear past the place where Delbert, Greg and I had worked so hard for a week, and got to the next corner before I realized where I was. Then we turned around and went back and looked. It was a four-story parking garage. The juniper, the oak and the elm were gone.


Tuesday, October 05, 2004

THE FIRECRACKER MAN

My friend, Benny H— and I had lunch today at Luby’s. Benny sells firecrackers. Has a huge firecracker stand just up the road from a small town northwest of here. It’s not one of those big new steel buildings with air conditioning in it, which are gradually taking over all the firecracker business in the country. Pretty soon, Benny thinks firecrackers will go the way of everything else and end up in the hands of Walmart, and all the little guys like him will be out of business.

But for now, Benny’s stand is the old style wooden structure, with hatches that open in the front, where people walk up, swatting the bugs away from their faces, and pick out their fireworks. Over five or six years, Benny’s fireworks stand has grown from a single-hatch structure roughly eight feet long, to one with six hatches that is probably fifty feet long, festooned with lights and little triangle flags fluttering in the breeze. He has cornered the firecracker business in his little neck of the woods.

Benny’s about sixty years old, his beard is thick and grizzled. He walks around in a squat compact body with a paunch that comes of being addicted to key lime pies and black forest cake. He is not your average firecracker salesman. Not that I know what your average firecracker salesman is like, but, for some reason, I don’t believe they tend to be yellow dog Democrats with the word “Peace” emblazoned on their gimme caps, or sporting buttons on their shirts that say things like, “He Lied They Died,” and “I didn’t vote for his daddy either.” And I seriously doubt very many firecracker salesmen would call themselves agnostics, or be caught red-handed attending services at the Unitarian church.

Before the Iraq war broke out, Benny and I took the train to San Francisco and marched in the big peace parade. A month later, we got in his old car and drove to D.C. and marched in that one. I think I’ve about gone broke marching for peace over the last couple of years, but I just felt like I had to do it.

Benny doesn’t hesitate to offer his opinions about things, especially politics. Once he gets revved up, he transmogrifies into something like three parts stump preacher and one part auctioneer. When he really gets going, his eyes water, his nose runs and flames shoot out of his head. It’s quite a sight, really. At that point, people tend to steer a wide circle around him. Women gather up their children and run the other way.

Nor is Benny afraid to tell certain people in the Republican camp what he thinks of them. Back when the Neocons in the Texas Lege were in the midst of their redistricting fiasco, lead by Governor Perry, Tom Delay, and various other hammerheads, you may remember that fifty-plus Democrats hopped a bus to Ardmore, Oklahoma in an effort to prevent a quorum and obstruct the vote. For four days, the “Killer D’s,” as they became known, hunkered down in a Holiday Inn, subsisting on fast food from the nearby Denny’s. Delay, who is now under investigation for a truckload of criminal shenanigans, called out the state troopers and even tried to shanghais the Department of Homeland Security to help round up the wayward Dems.

When a group of Republican hecklers showed up at the motel, a rag-tag assortment of Democratic supporters, including Benny, drove up to show their solidarity with the Killer D’s. Benny said he was standing with his little group, facing an angry horde of Repubs, some of whom had even brought their children with them to heckle and hurl insults at the Texas lawmakers.

At one point, Benny broke ranks and walked over close to one of the shouters, a guy dressed in a blue blazer, Sanzibelt slacks and Florsheim shoes. He had a scowl on his face. Several kids were standing close to him, Benny said, and even they were dressed in nice little shirts and ties and leather shoes. They, too, had scowls on their faces and stood there shouting, just like the grownups.

“Where you from?” Benny said to the guy in the blue blazer.

Blazer blinked, looking kind of nonplussed. “Dallas,” he responded. “Where you from?”

“Aw, I’m from down around there.” Benny paused, looking from the blazer to the kids, all forming a little chorus line. Suddenly, he said, “Say, where’d you get all these baby bigots?”

Benny said the guy kind of came unglued, huffing and gasping for breath. Couldn’t seem to get a word out. Benny chuckled, turned and walked back to his group.

After we ate at Luby’s, we went driving around in his pickup, an old Chevy Apache with mismatched fenders. As we cruised through some of the wealthier neighborhoods, I said, “Something odd’s going on here.”

“What’s that?” Benny said.

“Well, where are all the yard signs for the Republicans?”

I just wasn’t seeing as many this year—or bumper stickers, either, for that matter. I don’t think it’s my imagination. I’ve really been watching this phenomenon—if that’s the right word. Maybe it doesn’t rate being called a “phenomenon” quite yet. But I do know that in past campaigns, you couldn’t drive through these Taxed-Less neighborhoods without seeing one Republican sign after another.

On the other hand, I pointed to quite a few Kerry/Edwards signs—even in front of some of the wealthiest homes. We both agreed they looked sort of strange there, as if some alien virus had broken out.

“So what do you think it means?” I said, referring to the low number of Republican signs.

Benny said, “Aw, well, don’t get your hopes up. Nothing’s changed. They’re still gonna vote for the bastards. They just don’t necessarily want to advertise it, that’s all.”

“Why not?” I said.

“Well, because by now, I think most people can see what rats Bush and Cheney actually are. At least people with any sense can see it. Especially after the first debate, where Bush finally had to go up against somebody who had all the facts, and could stand up straight and tell the truth about this war, not only because Kerry’s obviously light years smarter than Bush, but because he was actually in a war, while Bush was out running around getting drunk, terrorizing people in his car, and shirking his National Guard duty. So, there he was on national TV, flying without a script, without Rice or Rove or Cheney there holding his hand—and let’s face it, all that preening and prancing around on the deck of an aircraft carrier just comes off hollow as hell when you’re standing alongside a real war veteran—and after all the stumbling and stammering through his memorized sound bytes, well, Bush just looked like a big kid with a cowlick, without a lick of sense. And anybody that tuned into that debate could see that for themselves. Unless they’re as dumb as he is. In which case, you could put a jackass in front of ‘em and they’d still swear it was a cutting horse. So—“ Benny scratched his head. “What was I saying?”

“You were saying they’re gonna vote for Bush, even if they don’t put out yard signs.”

“Oh, sure, of course! All these Republicans around here are gonna vote for their boy—it’s like they’re sayin’, 'Well, he may be a doofus, but he’s our doofus.' See what I mean? But some of ‘em—well, maybe even most of ‘em—still have a tiny smidgen of decency left in 'em, even though it’s buried pretty deep—you know a lot of ‘em probably voted for Eisenhower, and he was a very decent man, a towering war hero. Old Ike would have been appalled at the cretins that are in charge now. So all these folks around here have got just enough sense to be slightly ashamed, but not enough to do what’s right. It’s like masturbation. They’re still gonna do it, they just don’t want everybody knowing they’re gonna do it, see? Heh heh. Hee hee hee.”

“I see,” I said.

What I can’t see is what the payoff is. After all, it seems to me that if anybody oughta be truly scared of this administration, it oughta be rich people. So maybe they don’t give a rat’s ass that Bush lied about WMD’s, that Cheney, Rice, Powell, Rumsfeld, are all liars, who have turned the whole civilized world against us, and maybe they don’t care that young Americans are dying and getting maimed for no good reason. And maybe they think all those Iraqi men, women and children getting slaughtered on the other side, is just fine and dandy.

But that still leaves us with self-interest. What’s happened to that? Rich people still want to make money, don’t they? And I suppose they still want to live in big houses with swimming pools, and have their Hummers and their cell phones and their Hispanic housekeepers; and they still want their sons to grow up to become rich fat cats like Daddy, and they want their daughters to join sororities and marry rich white boys, like Mommy; and I know they’re not ready to stop using up the world’s water supply watering their golf courses and their voracious lawns. Yet, they go right on supporting this Kamikaze President that is leading the country straight into a pit of bankruptcy, whose program of perpetual war will only continue the process of breaking the country, and destabilizing the world. Meanwhile, the death and destruction we’re visiting on Iraq will go on generating more terrorists, not fewer, thereby increasing the chances that we'll be attacked again.

It doesn’t take an economic guru to figure out what effect all this craziness and instablity is likely to have on the U.S. stock market—perhaps for years to come. In fact, if we continue driving insanely down this road, the whole notion of the market as being a dependable investment strategy over the long-term may be finished. Of course, most of us normal people could give a fuck less about that. The rest of us are too busy dealing with every day reality, like trying to pay the water bill when the car breaks down and the kid gets sick and there’s no health insurance and you’re trying to make ends meet on a paycheck from Walmart.

But I just keep wondering why all these rich people are voting for Republicans, when they have so much more to lose than the rest of us. They’re not all crazy, are they?

Well, there’s plenty of poor people voting the same way, which really is the flip-side of the mystery, almost as mysterious as why the Log Cabin Homos are hanging out in the enemy’s camp, where they’re hated and reviled. What is it with all these folks going around shooting themselves in the foot? What is the payoff?

“I’ll tell you what it is,” says Benny. “The payoff is this. They get to keep their illusions. The illusions are more important than reality. It’s the illusion that they’re winning even when all the facts are telling them they’re losing. It’s the illusion that God, gays and guns matter more than education, health care and a living wage. Most of them have never been winners in their lives. Especially the Evangelicals. Now, for the first time, they’ve got a president who does their bidding, actually panders to them. Imagine that! The leader of the free world actually validating all their craziness! So you’ve got the corporations getting everything they want, the polluters are having a field day; Bush has fired all the scientists, so there’s no global warming to worry about; Halliburton is making a billion a month in Iraq; we can run amok in the world and there’s no World Court that can rein us in; in short, every cross-eyed, gap-toothed lunatic and money-grubbing greedhead in the land has moved to the front of the line. The only ones left out, as far as I know, are believers in Sasquatch, UFOs and Star Trekkies. Well, the only thing they lack that all these other crackpots have are lobbyists. Ah, give ‘em time.”

Benny paused a moment to chuckle and catch his breath. We drove along past manicured lawns and stately homes. Then, I heard Benny chuckling again. “Did you know the Republican National Committee has sent out a mailer to residents of Arkansas and West Virginia telling them that liberals would seek to ban the Bible if elected?”

“No, I hadn’t heard that,” I said.

“You need to keep up Harper. These sharks never sleep. Karl Rove works around the clock. The Evangelicals are telling their minions to vote ‘Christian,’ i.e., vote for Bush. Meanwhile, the Pope has weighed in, ordering all the members of his flock not to vote for any candidate that supports abortion rights. Yessir, they’ve decided that God is a Republican. And Ken Lay is the new Jesus. Only, instead of giving up his own life so that others could be free, Kenny Boy sacrificed all his worker’s lives, so that he and his disciples could grow rich and fat.”

Once again, Benny sighed and shook his head. “I tell you, religion hasn’t been this fucked up since the Salem witch trials.”

By the time we got through driving around worrying about everything, it was time to eat again.

AND WHICH PART OF THE BIBLE IS THIS?

"I've never seen a man in my life I wanted to marry. And I'm gonna be blunt and plain; if one ever looks at me like that, I'm gonna kill him and tell God he died." --Jimmy Swaggart

Friday, October 01, 2004

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A MAN AND A LITTLE BOY

Early in Thursday night’s face-off between President George W. Bush and Candidate John Kerry, Bush stumbled briefly and spoke out of turn. Kerry flashed a warm smile at his rival and said, “I’d be glad to throw out these rules and have a real dialogue.”

Kerry was referring to the rules agreed on by representatives of both the Republican and Democratic Parties, rules which make it impossible for the candidates to actually question and engage each other on the issues, something which Kerry, at least, knows is the hallmark of real debate. But Bush avoided Kerry’s challenge, and the moment quickly passed.

Since Bush has routinely questioned Kerry’s fitness to lead, and even attacked this war hero’s courage, just as in previous campaigns, he maligned the courage of such real men as John McCain and Max Cleland, this brief moment in the so-called debate seems to offer an insight into the President’s character, or lack of it. Of course he doesn’t dare go mano a mano with John Kerry, who, even adhering to the stilted and arbitrary rules, far outclassed the President in this first meeting.

From the opening question, Kerry kept Bush on the defensive, consistently marshalling the facts while Bush repeatedly fell back on his old lies—that Saddam Hussein posed a threat, that everything is going well in Iraq. On the issue of Bush’s failure to pursue Osama bin Laden, the real perpetrator of 9/11, Kerry seized the advantage and drove home what a colossal blunder this was. At that moment, Bush’s defenses collapsed, and he seemed almost lost for any logical reply. Often, all he could do was stumble and repeat his mantra, “It’s hard work,” “We’re working hard,” “We have a lot of hard work to do.”

Similarly, Bush appeared weak and even foolish in his attempts to explain why he has kept the U.S. from joining the World Court, or why he has turned his back on the Kyoto Accords, thus failing to respond in any way to global warming. And when Kerry challenged him on stem cell research, Bush could find nothing to say. What could he say? Virtually every scientist alive knows that this research could hold the key to curing a wide range of diseases and disabilities, such as cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and spinal cord injuries.

Clearly, it’s time for a change in leadership. Or, to put it another way, it’s time we had a real leader for President, not merely a straw man.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

UN SECRETARY GENERAL CONCEEDS ILLEGALITY OF IRAQ WAR

In an article in UK's Guardian, Ewen MacAskill and Julian Borger quote UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, conceeding the illegality of the war against Iraq:

"I have indicated [the war against Iraq] was not in conformity with the UN charter."

The Guardian article goes on to say,

"The UN chief had warned the US and its allies a week before the invasion in March 2003 that military action would violate the UN charter. But he has hitherto refrained from using the damning word "illegal". "

"...last September, Mr. Annan issued a stern critique of the notion of pre-emptive self-defense, saying it would lead to a breakdown in international order. Mr. Annan last night said that there should have been a second UN resolution specifically authorizing war against Iraq."

"Mr Annan said the security council had warned Iraq in resolution 1441 there would be "consequences" if it did not comply with its demands. But he said it should have been up to the council to determine what those consequences were."

Thursday, September 09, 2004

THE FOOL'S BRUSH

By Kelsey Shipman

It begins as innocence, in the shape of a child
As a manifestation of the carelessness of the young and the wild
It enters only with the underdevelopment of the some-day astute senses
Squirming through the bouncing of child’s play
Nestling in dampened intuition and the immature dawn of what is almost today
It finds its pulse beneath knowledge in a way so discreet
That even a spy so experienced kisses its shifting feet

It slowly spreads like a wave of anticipation
Finding no comfort in limitation
It begins to boil in your blood, shooting out bubbles of intense misunderstanding
Tainting every world view that approaches conception
Of intimate connection
With the brightening beat of life, finding no individuality in coats or skins
Dismissing the presumption of lack of correlation
Found in the separate territory of the genius of speciesism and the rest of the breathing world
Which is really one in the same, although the frequency of departure will make your toes curl

It invades the mind, closes off the union with our beginnings
Begins to swirl the world’s listless underpinnings
Turning vast lakes and oceans into masses of currents
Disrupting all tranquility
And organizational equanimity
Bridges become dark masses of metal
Not fallen trees or the beaver’s toil
The ground is uprooted and organisms displaced
As the part of us throbbing with the gods’ own reflection falls into waste

The line between ourselves and the things we produce is blurred
Although nature attempts to thwart us, we continue undeterred
Is it us or an irrefutable force that paves the road of inevitable decline
You see, it has weaved so greatly into every fiber of our perception
That it is now inseparable from us as it cultivates a need for destruction
Now lacking distinction between its foolishness and our own
We indiscriminately obliterate without a consideration of the beauty of the unknown

Skies are left in darkness as mortality rears its ugly head
Soulful creatures searching for a rationalization to reason away the looming dread
As we sit among our ruins, with only more to come, we beg the wisdom of our ancestors
And yet it is they who turn to the very essence of our beginnings
That which we have fought against in some contest of obscured winnings
The wisest of the spirit-filled animals offer lessons of humility
But we as conquerors cannot accept the ineptness of our professed abilities

And what more can a mere human do but screech with endless scope
When they feel their whole being squeezed by an ever-tightening rope
The path of the wicked is no different from those invaded by foolishness
Both dismissing the presence of force and strength of mind
Only to crush the once infinite vivacity of their own kind
It is without these they experience the ferocity of animation
Only to worship illusory gods outside the holy realm of creation

The sound waves streak across the sky like an artist’s careful stroke
Entwining patterns of wisdom and elucidation that we never spoke
There is something honest and unfeigned about the gut’s exposed voice
Something which we shroud in discomfort and civility
But that we long for in our oh-so-many times of insecurity
Dark masses impend the horizon and negate glimpses of hope
And only speak to us in echoes of our attempts to cope

So we are left with only a mangled, distorted world
The obvious causes of which we still beg to be unfurled
We release screams in the night as our temporary acknowledgement of what shall come
But it is only the common cries of misery that paint the dim sky with lights
Each with its own story of sudden missing will and might
The individual’s whimper will not dull the Earth’s grief
But the beckoning of the common god in us all can illuminate the direction of peace.

_________________________

Kelsey is an 18 year old sophomore, history major, attending a university in Texas. She is the daughter of a dear friend of mine, who has been an activist for peace and justice most of her life.

copeland morris ENTWINED SONNET

Her shaded eyes, her necklace black velvet, onyx. Anguish she spoke; and he carried on, obsessed As only a young man could. An odd harm...