Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Diary Of A Rag And Bone Man

by Jack Rafter
No. 7 Desperate Times (Part II)

See below for Part I. Previously: Jack shows up at the charity Hospital with a case of walking pneumonia. Sitting in the waiting room all night with nothing else to do, he watches replays from the 9-11 Commission on TV.

Well, it was the dead middle of the night and Colin Powell was droning on about the planes hitting the towers and how he knew right then we had to go after Al Qaeda and bin Ladin; I couldn’t believe the Commission just sat on their hineys and let it go by without asking the obvious question, “Then what the hell are we doing in Iraq?”

So, it looks like they’re all in on the big lie, and the whole thing's a fraud and a sham. What other conclusion is there? I commenced yelling at the TV, “Why don’t you ask him why we’re in Iraq? Go on! Ask him! Ask him the question! Jesus Christ on a crutch!”

That’s when the nurse suddenly appears and says, “You’re going to have to be quiet, sir. People are trying to sleep.”

“Yes, ma'am,” I mumbled, hanging my head.

She stood there a moment, glaring at me with a severe frown, the kind of look I imagine she would give a child that had just dashed to pieces one of her treasured family heirlooms. Then, she turned and stalked off, shaking her head.

* * * *

Yes, and it’s a whole country of people sound asleep, like babies. Now and then they wake up and whine for some soft sweet food or mother’s milk. Then, it’s back to sleep. Colin Powell was followed by the sinister Paul Wolfowitz, and then Rumsfeld. Watching kindly old Donald tell his lies, it’s easy to see why child stealers are so successful.

I left the waiting room, looking for something to eat. Passing through a double door, suddenly the halls were as quiet as a mausoleum. After wandering around awhile, I found a little snack shop. Abandoned. The food machines lined the walls, bright and sterile in the cool florescent room, like Hal, the computer, waiting for someone to engage them.

A lone table stood at one end of the room. There, a whole sandwich sat uneaten on a clean paper plate. Probably some nurse was called to an emergency and had to leave it. I checked the halls for some sign of life, then, returned to the table, snatched up the sandwich and wolfed it down. I was that hungry, despite walking pneumonia.

I found some more scraps in the waste basket, collected them in a piece of paper, and took them outside to Vincent. He was waiting patiently by the door. He just about peed himself he was so glad to see me. And equally glad to get a few bites of food, which he lapped up in an instant. I had to grab the paper away from him or he would have eaten it, as well. I felt so sorry for him making him stay out there in the cold that I decided to try and smuggle him into the waiting room.

The mouse-haired nurse was nowhere around and the white haired one was still bent over her mountain of papers. The whole time I was there, I don’t think the pile got any shorter. I slipped Vincent through the door on his rope and quickly tucked him under my chair. Then, I put a pillow in front of him and you couldn’t tell he was there unless you looked close. Poor fella dropped right off to sleep, adding his snores to the others in the room.

Meanwhile, the 9-11 hearings were still going on. Now it was Little Miss Condoleezza in the hot seat. Now, there’s a piece of work! What is it about her that gives me chilblains? Watching her, I kept looking around for a blanket. I wanted to cover up, like when I was a kid, to keep the bogey man away. For some reason, she just surpasses all the others for sheer creepiness. Maybe it’s that permanent scowl in the middle of her forehead just between the eyes that her smile can never quite erase. Maybe it’s that odd little bobbed hairdo that never changes, even the tiniest fraction. Someday, I suppose we’ll find out she was a robot. Yes, I can picture her being dismantled piece by piece with fine little calibrated screwdrivers and wrenches, all the parts of her head laid out on a stainless steel table. Not a drop of blood anywhere. Her brain just a pile of computer chips. I can see her dead eyes sitting there on the slick steel.

In fact, maybe all of them are robots--Wolfowitz, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell. Creations of the mad Karl Rove. But not Bush. No, sadly, he’s the most human of them all.

But the one thing they have in common is they’re all programmed to lie. Condi could give them lessons in the lying arts. She spins her lies like a spider spinning its web, all beautiful intricate lacework. By the time she gets done, you have no idea what she’s said, and it could take days to get it all untangled. I hear some press people have nicknamed her “Mushroom Cloud.”

Now, I suppose lying must be among the worst scourges of our times. Perhaps in its own way as bad as the spread of hunger, homelessness, even AIDS. Certainly as much a scourge as war. Where would war be without the big lie? Without lies, we would have had no Viet Nam War, no Korean War, no Philippine War, no Mexican War. We would not be in Iraq today. All that killing, our wealth wasted on these terrible weapons that could end all life on earth, the endless planning and preparation for war, none of it could progress one inch without the lie. Lies are the fuel for wars. Lies are the fuel for all other scourges.

Yet, we put up with it. Why is that? Why is everyone asleep? Is it because our brains are so fogged by the great Praying Mantis of TV that no one can think clearly anymore? When Bush and those other characters enter a room, the odor must be abysmal. How can anyone stand it? Poor, stinking homeless people don’t give off as bad as that. I suppose the only reason the members of the sham Commission are able to tolerate it at all must be because so many of them are tainted themselves with corporate bribes. Maybe if you allow your integrity to be compromised enough over time, your sense of smell diminishes, dries up. They say if you stay around scum long enough, you get used to it. Humans can adjust to anything, they say.

* * * *

Around five a.m., I must have dozed off. When my eyes popped open again, sunlight filled the room and there was a flurry of renewed activity. Doctors, orderlies, nurses swishing by. Janitors mopping floors, emptying waste baskets. The mouse-haired nurse and her white-haired counterpart had gone home, replaced by a fresh out of college red haired nurse with freckles handing out clipboards and forms; behind the window, a black male nurse with white hair and a white mustache. The sheaf of papers in front of him was as thick as ever. I had the feeling whoever drew that duty was destined to experience premature white hair.

A lot of chairs were vacant in the waiting room. But numerous familiar faces remained—maybe twenty of us, all told, looking stale and frazzled, as if we’d just staggered off a bus we’d been riding all night.

Meanwhile, the somber mood of the 9-11 Commission was now replaced with Katie Couric’s flashy morning makeup face. A chef in starched white chef’s hat was showing her how to make crepe suzettes. He talked a mile a minute, knowing he had maybe that much time or less to show her how it was done. Katie kept inserting little chirpy remarks, like a chipmunk, and everyone was laughing and cutting up. The whole thing was kind of pointless, like all those morning shows that millions of people supposedly watch as they ready themselves for work or wherever they’re going.

Checking under my chair, I found Vincent awake and more or less alert. I gave him some pats on the head and whispered to him to be patient and stay put awhile longer. Food was uppermost in my mind, though I was feeling shot and weak. But I was afraid to leave the waiting room for fear I’d miss my turn with the doctor.

Just as I had that thought, I heard my name called. I looked around. Maybe I just imagined it. Then, I heard it again. A nurse I hadn’t seen before was standing there looking around the waiting room. “That’s me,” I said, raising my hand.

“Come on.” She turned and started off. I leaned over and told Vincent to stay put. Then, I got up and followed her out. She lead me through a doorway and down a narrow hall. She stopped at an examining room. “Come on in here and have a seat.” I had a seat on the—what-do-you-call-it—raised bed kind of thing you sit on when they examine you. She proceeded to take my blood pressure and temperature.

She was pretty. She smiled at me. Her badge said her name was Esther. Unlike the bleary eyed night staff, she looked all bright and morning fresh. There was the faint smell of coffee on her breath as she spoke. “So, you’re down with a bad cold, huh?” she said.

“Well, I think it’s pneumonia, actually.” I said.

“Pneumonia?” She frowned a little.

“Yes, ma’am. That’s what the nurse said last night.”

“Who said that?”

“I don’t know her name. She had her hair up in a bun. She carried a lot of clipboards.”

“Oh, that’s Margaret. She’s a bit of an alarmist. I don’t think you have pneumonia.”


“Well, you’re not running a fever. Let’s have a listen.”

She listened to me through her stethoscope, telling me to breathe in and out. She put it on my back and listened there, too. “Well, you’ve got some congestion, but I don’t think you have pneumonia.” She smiled and patted me on the arm. Wait here. The doctor’ll be here in a minute.

Pretty soon, the doc came in. Another young one, fresh out of medical school. Perfect hair and teeth. He looked like Clark Kent. He listened to me and pronounced me sick as a dog, “but you don’t have pneumonia,” he said, grinning. He started to write out a scrip for some meds, then he looked at me a moment. Sizing me up, he rifled through a drawer and gave me a handful of pills and a bottle of Robitussin. "Get some rest," he said, and sent me on my way.

As I was heading back to the waiting room, Esther met me at the door. “Are you hungry?” she smiled.


She handed me a ticket. “Take this down to the cafeteria and get some breakfast. That’ll do you more good than all that stuff he gave you. And whatever you do, stay warm for a few days.” I nodded.

So I ate a huge breakfast and took some out to Vincent. Outside, the sun was coming on bright and strong and everything was warming up. Steam was wafting off the grass and shrubs, looking almost like thin smoke in the air. I stood there a long moment letting the warmth melt over my face and get into my bones. It’s amazing how much better you feel when you find out you haven’t got pneumonia.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004



"What in our lives is burnt

In the fire of this?
The heart's dear granary?
The much we shall miss?

Three lives hath one life--
Iron, honey, gold.
The gold, the honey gone--
Left is the hard and cold.

Iron are our lives
Molten right through our youth.
A burnt space through ripe fields,
A fair mouth's broken tooth."

--Isaac Rosenberg, August 1914

"The cherry trees bend over and are shedding

On the old road where all who passed are dead,
Their petals, strewing the grass as for a wedding
This early May morn when there is none to wed."

--Edward Thomas, The Cherry Trees

"In twos and threes they have not far to roam

Crowds that thread eastward, gay of eyes;
Those seek no further than their quiet home,
Wives, walking westward, slow and wise.

Neither should I go fooling over clouds,
Following gleams unsafe, untrue,
And tiring after beauty through star-crowds,
Dared I go side by side with you;

Or be you in the gutter where you stand,
Pale rain-flawed phantom of the place,
With news of all the nations in your hand,
And all their sorrows in your face."

--Wilfred Owen, Six o'clock in Princes Street

image via Sisyphus Shrugged and Seattle Times

UPDATE: Read Hal Bernton's article in The Seattle Times, that reports how Tami Silicio and her husband were fired in reprisal for this photograph of flag-draped coffins. Link via Orcinus.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Diary Of A Rag And Bone Man

by Jack Rafter
No. 6. Desperate Times, Part I.

Dear Mr. Mowgli,
Well, we had Spring for awhile, then we had a cold snap, and now we're back to Spring again. I'd forgotten how hard this time of year can be on the sinuses, especially if you happen to find yourself living out-of-doors. This is my first Spring since losing my home, by the way. But at least I survived the winter.

Vincent and I spent the last three days in Red Dunkel's tent by the freight yards. I've been recuperating from a spell of sickness. Red has a brother in Tucson he goes to see every Spring without fail. He hopped a freight train three days ago, and left me in charge of the tent. So that was lucky. I don't know when--or if--he'll be back, but I expect the dog and I will have the tent to ourselves for a couple of weeks, if not longer.

Anyway, it's been nothing but rain for two days--that slow, misty, drowsy kind of rain that makes a day seem longer than it is. There's a crop of woods here along the south side of the Southern Pacific tracks and you can just look out through the shinnery and see the box cars, flats and tank cars pushed or pulled along by the big yellow-orange switch engines rattling back and forth all day and all night.

There's the beginnings of a little Hooverville in these woods. Or maybe I should say a Bushville: an assortment of crude shacks made of cardboard boxes, discarded pallets, packing crates, sheet metal scraps and tents. I don't know where Red got his tent. It's a nice one, practically brand new, big enough for three people, and you can stand up in it. Red says he doesn't dare walk off and leave it with all the sticky fingers lurking around. So he breaks it down every day. He showed me where he hides it in a fallen tree about twenty yards from here, hollow at one end, where it was uprooted. So I stash the tent in there when I go off to town on a forage.

* * * *

Back during the first warm spell, Vincent and I were walking by this house one day and saw these funny looking contraptions standing in the yard--five or six of them, different sizes, all for sale, from small to large and in between. It's not the first time I've seen these things. It seems to be a little cottage industry in this part of the world, what I call The Wishing Well Fetish.

A hundred years ago, back in the days when things were actually what they were and not just what they seem to be, you'd see these things close to peoples' homes built over water-wells. That was before the utility companies got hold of the water and everything else we need to live and started robbing us blind for them. Anyway, these well-houses had little roofs on them, and a spindle with a bucket that you could lower down into the well and crank back up, and the bucket would be full of delicious cool water. The ones Vincent and I saw were fakes made out of cedar board. They have no function, other than to stand in somebody's yard and look "cute" to passersby. They might have a sign tacked up on them that says, "Wishing Well," or "The Smiths Live Here," or some other nonsense. But there's no actual well underneath. There's no water there, except what runs under the ground through a pipe up to your sink, or to your toilet. The bucket hanging on the spindle wouldn't hold an ounce of water because it's not a real bucket. And the spindle doesn't turn and the crank doesn't crank anything.

And when I look at what's happening in the country lately, for some reason, I seem to think of those wishing wells.

Then we had the cold snap and the very first night nailed me. By the time I got to the shelter, it was full up. I went out to the Bushville looking for Red Dunkel, but he and his tent were nowhere around. Somebody said he might have moved further down the track, but nobody was certain, and I didn't feel like traipsing around looking for him. So Vincent and I headed back to town.

Well, it was a pretty dismal night. We just couldn't find a warm spot. We walked clear over to the Bizzy Bee Grill, but the place was dark. A sign on the door said:

Death in the family.
Come back in two days.
Johnny Blair.

He had glued black crepe paper around the edges. I hoped Johnny was all right. Later, I learned it was his father that had died.

I ended up huddled in the doorway of a bank, of all places. But it was tucked in the building and sheltered from the sleet that was starting to fall. By morning, I was down with a cold. I had a few coins and caught a city bus to the library, hoping to spend the day there and get myself warmed up for the coming night. But when I got there, it was closed. Then, I remembered it was Sunday, and the library's closed Sundays. I could have kicked myself for wasting the coin, but I was feeling too poorly to do it.

At that point, we weren't far from the bookstore, so Vincent and I slogged up there and hung out in the coffee bar till they closed, around nine p.m. At least I got the chill off, but I was starting to feel pretty weak.

It was too late to go back to the shelter. I knew I couldn't stay out in the cold another night. So I headed over to the Mercy Hospital, a good four or five mile walk from where I was. By the time I got there, it was around eleven and I could hardly stand up. I hate that place, but I had no choice. So I left poor Vincent in the bushes and walked in.

First thing that hit me were the lights--bright fluorescents everywhere. Once my eyes adjusted, I could see the place was jammed. Every form of pitiful humanity lined the walls; every chair taken, people sitting on the floor and even lying down, sicker than dogs. Still others were being wheeled in with stab wounds or gaping gunshot wounds. I stood there dizzy and bleary eyed. Then a nurse with mouse colored hair rolled in a bun shoved a clipboard in my hand. "Fill it out," she barked, and kept walking. I found a place on the floor and sat down with my back to the wall to fill it out. The form was seven pages long, and took about an hour to complete.

When I finished, I took the clipboard to the window and started to hand it to another nurse. This one was bent over a sheaf of papers two inches thick. "Don't give me that," she said without looking up. She was about fifty, white hair rolled in a bun; black framed glasses with wings on the ends. A shiny chain hung from the stems.

"Who do I give it to?" I said.

"Give it to the one who gave it to you," she said.

"I don't know who that was," I said.

She looked up, frowning, stabbed the air with her index finger. I looked in that direction and saw the mouse haired nurse wandering around, handing clipboards to the walking wounded. So I turned and went over to her.

"Wait over there," she said after handing her the clipboard. The waiting room was packed like a sardine can. Some folded chairs were set up down the hall to handle the spillover. I spotted an empty and made for it. A few minutes later, I saw the mouse-haired nurse handing my clipboard to the same white-haired nurse behind the window where I'd just come from.

Well, the whole place was pretty surreal. I noticed a number of gurneys parked up and down the halls like taxis waiting in line at an airport terminal. I thought about lying down on one, but they all had people sprawled on them, either passed out or moaning softly. On one gurney near where I was sitting, a bare arm had fallen out from under the sheet; it hung there, as still as the pendulum on a stopped clock. Nobody seemed to notice or care.

Every so often the mouse-haired nurse would bark orders at people, calling out names, sending them this way or the other. She sounded like the foreman on an assembly line. Now and then, she'd remember she was a nurse and would stop to take the pulse of some poor wretch or do a blood pressure check or shove a thermometer in some germ-ridden gob. She performed these acts almost gratuitously. I had the feeling it wouldn't have made the slightest difference to her if someone just keeled over while she stood there counting their feeble heartbeats. On the other hand, she almost seemed put out with some of the strays that staggered through the doors, even some that to me looked almost frighteningly sick, as if it was all she could do to bring herself to wait on them. And I think she included me in that bunch. So she made a great show of her contempt, to let us know, I suppose, that we were siphoning off precious minutes from the truly sick and wounded and dying.

So the time passed. Somehow amidst the cacophony of moans and coughs and wheezes, the rubber-soled shoes of nurses and doctors and orderlies that squeaked as they walked briskly by, the gurneys bumping against doors and the doors constantly flapping as people shoved in and out, somehow I must have nodded off, I was so beat down and tired. Then, in the middle of a dream, I felt the shock of cold metal against my bare chest, and jerked awake. It was the mouse-haired nurse standing there listening to me through a stethoscope. Up close, I noticed she had very red lips, and her perfume--if that's what it was--gave off the scent of strawberries. Her breasts also looked rather nice and full even under the starched white of her uniform. Still, she was all business. "Good, you're awake," she said. "Give us a deep breath and blow it out."

I gave her one. She frowned. She moved the cold steel an inch or two to the right. "Again," she said. I did it again. Then, with a great, tired sigh, she muttered, "You have pneumonia." And walked away.

I sat there blinking, looking around. I was hungry, but I lacked the motivation to try to ferret anything out. There were a few empty chairs along the walls. It seemed the place had cleared out a little. I got up, kind of wobbly, and staggered to the waiting room. Some seats were open there, too. The remaining refugees all looked like they'd been there a long time, hours or days; some just sat blinking stupidly, others were collapsed over onto each other, passed out. A TV blared, mounted on an arm up on the wall. It was a hockey game in progress, taped earlier in the day, I supposed. It was all charge and counter-charge, the sound of manic, cheering fans rising and falling like the rush of a blast furnace. Nobody was paying it any attention, so I sidled up and changed the channel. Jay Leno popped on, asking Ben Afleck something about his breakup with J-Lo. It was maybe the hundred-thousandth time someone had raised this question over a period of months, on whose answer the fate of the entire world seemed to hang in the balance. Ben made some off-hand remark which roused Jay and the whole audience to hysterical laughter.

I switched it again, and there was the 9-11 Commission. Apparently, they were just playing excerpts from a week of testimony. So, I sat down and watched awhile.

Right now, it was Colin Powell sitting there giving his version of things in his reasonable, measured way. At one point, he said, "The moment those planes hit the towers, right then I knew we had to go after Al Qaeda and Osama bin Ladin. I just knew it."

"Then why are we in Iraq?" I hollered at the screen. Woops. It had popped out before I knew what I was doing. I glanced around. A few people were staring at me. I looked back at the screen. There was silence as Powell droned on. I couldn't believe it. Here was this elephant in the room and no one on the commission was looking at it. No one was asking the obvious question. "Ask him! Go on! Ask him the question--why are we in Iraq! Ask him, ask him, goddamnit!" I'd worked myself up so much now I was hacking and coughing. "Jesus Christ! What's the matter with you people? I don't believe this! Lies! Lies! Ah, to hell with it! You're not looking for the truth! It's all a sham! A side-show!"

Suddenly, the mouse-haired nurse was standing there, hovering over me like a police helicopter. You're going to have to be quiet, she snapped. "Can't you see people are trying to sleep?"

"Sorry," I mumbled.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

A Little One-Man Activism--An Exercise In Futility?

Mr. Lee R. Raymond
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Exxon Mobil Corporation
5959 Las Colinas Blvd.
Irving, TX 75039-2298

Dear Sir,

I notice in your current Public Relations statement concerning the 1989 Valdez oil spill, you make a claim for a “fully recovered Prince William Sound ecosystem.” Later in that same statement, you claim that the ecosystem of Prince William Sound is “healthy, robust and thriving.”

If those statements are true, how do you explain the severely depressed economy of the region in the years since the 11-million gallon spill covered 1,500 miles of coastline? Why hasn’t there been a herring season in ten years? Why are a third of fishers in the Port of Cordova experiencing clinical depression? Why do sixty percent of Cordova commercial fishers have to take second jobs to make ends meet? Before the spill there were fishers in Cordova whose permits were worth almost a million dollars. Today, those permits have depreciated by 90 percent. Don’t you find that just a little strange, given that the ecosystem of Prince William Sound is, as you say, “healthy, robust and thriving”?

It has been ten years since a federal jury awarded the people of the region $5.2 billion in damages. But your company has hired hundreds of lawyers and fought this ruling every step of the way. And you have hired your own scientists to negate or deny the damage that Exxon did there, just as they deny the science on global climate change.

Furthermore, in some court arguments, Exxon claims that under the Federal Clean Water Act, crude oil is not a pollutant. Crude oil is not a pollutant? Do you really believe that, Mr. Raymond?

I doubt that Prince William Sound is “robust and thriving.” But it seems that lies, corporate greed and corruption, are, indeed, robust and thriving. And what’s sad is that a company as rich as yours somehow believes it has to conduct business this way. Indeed, thinks it’s normal.

Yes, $5.2 billion is “punitive damages,” and you have the right to fight it, I suppose. On the other hand, I sometimes wonder if there isn’t still some room in the human heart for what’s right and decent. Do you suppose there still exists a place where people behave ethically toward one another now and then, and not just at the behest of lawyers and judges?

You see, I so want to believe that we’re not all of us lost, Mr. Raymond. I can’t help but think how easy it would be for you to reach out to the people of the Sound whose lives and livelihoods have been shattered.

What do you suppose it would actually cost in the whole scheme of things for you to make that kind of choice? What would it mean in this cynical world of ours, were a company like Exxon to seize the initiative in that way? Imagine your company transforming itself under your leadership—becoming an example for the rest, thereby perhaps signaling a real change in the way business is conducted, and how corporations treat ordinary human beings? I’m no expert, but I should imagine the impact of such an act would reverberate around the world. And what do you suppose that might be worth?

Am I an idealist? Yes. A “bleeding heart”? Probably. But I must tell you, Mr. Raymond: By not doing this thing that I believe is right, but instead turning your back on it—turning your back on these good people—there must be a cost for that. In dollars? No, not in dollars.

What then? What would be the cost? Perhaps only you know the answer.

God bless you, Mr. Raymond. And God bless the people of Cordova.

Grayson Harper

Ring Any Bells?

"We have pacified some thousands of the islanders and buried them; destroyed their fields; burned their villages, and turned their widows and orphans out-of-doors; furnished heartbreak by exile to some dozens of disagreeable patriots; subjugated the remaining ten millions by Benevolent Assimilation, which is the pious new name of the musket; we have acquired property in the three hundred concubines and other slaves of our business partner, the Sultan of Sulu, and hoisted our protecting flag over that swag.

"And so, by these Providences of God--and the phrase is the government's, not mine--we are a World Power."

--Mark Twain, commenting on the Philippine War, 1901.

"I bring you the stately matron named Christendom, returning bedraggled, besmirched, and dishonored from pirate raids in Kiao-Chou, Manchuria, South Africa, and the Philippines, with her soul full of meanness, her pocket full of boodle, and her mouth full of pious hypocrisies."

--Mark Twain, writing in the New York Herald, 1900.

Saturday, April 17, 2004



"In a testy news conference [Easter] Sunday, [Brig General] Kimmitt said that the widespread Iraqi perception that civilians were being killed indiscriminately in Fallujah by U.S. forces was based on irresponsible and inaccurate reporting by the two most popular Arab-language channels, Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya."

"To Iraqis who were angered by the American actions, he said: "Change the channel,...The stations that are showing Americans killing women and children are not legitimate news sources"."

--Nicholas Riccardi and Tony Perry, The LA Times (registration required)

Riccardi in Baghdad and Perry in Fallujah reported eyewitness accounts from survivors fleeing besieged Fallujah; and these confirmed earlier reports of civilian deaths at the hands of American soldiers. Marine snipers had been shooting anyone who ventured out into the open. Ambulances were targeted, people waving white flags, burial parties, and people trying to flee the scene. Even after the first lulls in heavy bombardment and strafing, which were characterized as cease-fires, it was clear that American sharpshooters carried on with their work. They continued to shoot civilians, as well as armed men. The latest estimate of Iraqi losses in Fallujah is put at 600 dead and well over a thousand wounded. Iraqi doctors, working at clinics in the city, provided these statistics.

At the scene, Reuters reported, "There were too many dead and wounded for hospital workers in the besieged city to deal with. Outside a hastily erected field hospital, Reuter's television footage shows corpses lying in the street, wrapped in bloodstained white sheets."

"The dead include small children, women and old men, and a new born baby. Beside the corpses there is a pile of body parts which no one has had time to deal with."

As the US military continued to discount the reports from Arabic media, concerning the targeted civilians, there were still a few western sources which could validate the stories, during the week that ended on Easter Sunday. On April 11th, a report from Jo Wilding, a British activist, supplied some pertinent information. Ms. Wilding tells the story of how a journalist alerted her, late at night, about the desperate situation in Fallujah. The journalist convinced her to help bring medical supplies into the embattled city, telling her that it was crucial to have westerners along who spoke English, in order to get the medical supplies through American checkpoints. With courage, Jo Wilding committed herself to this, and began a harrowing journey toward Fallujah, where she also helped bring wounded into the clinics. She writes compellingly about her experience serving with an ambulance crew, which came under sniper fire:

"We stop, turn off the siren, keep the blue light flashing, wait, eyes on the silhouettes of men in US Marine uniforms on the corners of the buildings. Several shots come. We duck, get as low as possible and I can see tiny red lights whipping past the window, past my head. Some, it's hard to tell, are hitting the ambulance. I start singing. What else do you do when someone's shooting at you? A tire bursts with an enormous noise and a jerking of the vehicle."

"I'm outraged. We're trying to get a woman who's giving birth without any medical attention, without electricity, in a city under siege, in a clearly marked ambulance, and you're shooting at us. How dare you?"

But Wilding and the ambulance crew are unable to reach the house where the woman is giving birth. Azzam, the driver, has to wheel around and lurch over the median. They flee for their lives back to the hospital. The next morning they find the ambulance out of commission, and they head for the streets in a pick-up.

"We go again, Dave, Rana and me"...We shout again to the soldiers, hold up the flag with a red crescent sprayed onto it. Two come down from the building, cover this side and Rana mutters, "Allahu akbar. Please nobody take a shot at them.."

"First we go down the street we were sent to. There's a man, face down, in a white dishdasha, a small round red stain on his back. We run to him. Again the flies have got there first. Dave is at his shoulders, I'm by his knees and as we reach to roll him onto the stretcher Dave's hand goes through his chest, through the cavity left by the bullet that entered so neatly through his back and blew his heart out."

"There's no weapon in his hand. Only when we arrive, his sons come out, crying, shouting. He was unarmed, they scream. He just went out to the gate and they shot him. He was ...55 years old."

Jo Wilding got onboard the same bus that brought her to Fallujah, a bus filled with badly wounded who needed to reach Baghdad.

"We stop in Abu Ghraib and swap seats, foreigners in the front, Iraqis less visible, headscarves off so we look more western. The American soldiers are so happy to see westerners they don't mind too much about the Iraqis with us, search the men and the bus, leave the women unsearched because there are no women soldiers to search us. Mohammed keeps asking me if things are going to be OK."

"Al-melaach wiyana, I tell him. The angels are with us. He laughs."

"And then we're in Baghdad, delivering them to the hospitals, Nuha in tears as they take the burnt man off groaning and whimpering."

"And the satellite news says the cease fire is holding and George Bush says to the troops on Easter Sunday that, "I know what we're doing in Iraq is right"."

"Well George, I know too now. I know what it looks like when you brutalize people so much that they've nothing left to lose. I know what it looks like when an operation is being done without anesthetic because the hospitals are destroyed or under sniper fire and the city's under siege and aid isn't getting in properly. I know what it sounds like too. I know what it looks like when tracer bullets are passing your head, even though you're in an ambulance. I know what it looks like when a man's chest is no longer inside him and what it smells like and I know what it looks like when his wife and children pour out of his house."

"It's a crime and it's a disgrace to us all."

Sources via Jeanne d'Arc and Brooke Biggs

Sunday, April 11, 2004


The testimony of Condoleeza Rice reminded the nation that it was visited with tragedy in 2001, owing to "structural problems" that preceded the catastrophe in New York. The National Security Advisor appeared poised because the staging and time-constraints worked in her favor, as she sat before the 9/11 Commission. The broken skyline of Ground Zero was still represented by the 9/11 families, who made up a segment of her audience.

Dr. Rice, a self-possessed raconteur, demonstrated that the lie, per se, is not important; it is the packaging of the lie that matters most of all. David Corn, writing for The Nation, reported her repetition of this lie before the Commission:

"She also took the occasion to cheerlead for the war in Iraq, claiming that by striking Iraq the administration attacked the threat of terrorism "at its source"."

The interested public understood that the 9/11 Commission was gathering testimony, and other evidence, in order to reconstruct the events that led up to the September 11th attack. The central question pointed to the lack of effectiveness of President George W. Bush and staff, in evaluating and acting upon the al-Qaida threat. The secondary and unspoken questions were conjured up in the minds of the better informed, like a stairway that leads only to a wall of secrecy. But through a crack in the masonry one must examine, for instance, the political and commercial ties between the Saudis and the Bush Family, or the positioning of corporations to leech away Iraqi resources, or the confederation of appointees set aside to govern Iraq, or the labyrinth into which ordinary Iraqis disappear, as they resist occupation and seek legitimacy and sovereignty.

Rice testified that the Administration had no "actionable" evidence prior to 9/11. And she underlined this by saying "I know that, had we thought there was an attack coming in Washington or New York, we would have moved heaven and earth to try and stop it." The Aug. 6 memo (Presidential Daily Briefing), which was a subject of prolonged discussion, was described by Dr. Rice as primarily historical in context, and not outlining any precise threat.

In a Salon article by Joe Conason, titled The Artful Dodger, the reporter writes:

"The pertinent question is not whether the president would have tried to stop an attack whose details were thoroughly placed under his nose. The real question is whether the Bush administration paid sufficient attention to the stream of warnings it received about al-Qaida, or whether, due to its preoccupation with Iraq, missile defense and other matters, these officials simply failed to act."

Commissioner Bob Kerry resisted Rice's attempts to charm him, and said this to her: "In the spirit of declassification"..."this is what the Aug 6 memo said to the president: that the FBI indicates patterns of suspicious activity in the United States consistent with preparations for hijacking."

And in the conclusion of his article, Conason added, "The true narrative is seeping out, and the hidden facts are leaking out."

A transition from these proceedings to the theatre of Iraq, is not an obscure one, by any means. The ground of desolation moves from South Manhattan to Iraq. This new disaster is unnecessary; and the people of Iraq did nothing to provoke it. People who are still dealing with grief can grasp this solidarity, soldiers killed and broken, civilians dead and wounded, a young Iraqi man weeping in solitude, standing at the bottom of a bomb crater. Whoever we are in this conflict, it is possible to know that desolation surrounds us; and if this keeps up, the bitter tears will even invade our dreams.

Here is a depraved war, a war waged in utter contempt of democracy. And from the point of view of the American system, a corrosive betrayal of democratic process. And here is a corrupt war.

Even dedicated religious adversaries, like the Sunni and Shi'a, are driven into each others arms by the American subjugation of their resources and landscape, their politics and culture. The Bush Administration's denials are finally implausible. The dislodging of Saddam Hussein was not the end; and everyone can see that the proposal for holding elections was rejected in the early stage of the Occupation.

The Iraqi scene is being prepared to accommodate permanent US military bases, without regard to Iraqi opinion. And already the wall of a mosque has been knocked down, to deal with a single insurgent. Reprisals are to be visited on towns and communities, and desolate, broken landscapes will multiply throughout Iraq. This unmitigated monstrosity, this blood-spattered offense to everything we cherish, was an institutional objective of the Bush Administration, preconceived and premeditated. What then will we say, as Americans? What will we say in November, as we vote? What must we do when we have wept and the tears will no longer come?

There should be a consensus among all who mourn.

Sources via Orcinus and Zizka. Image via efflog.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Couldn't Express It Any Better

The following is a letter from the April 5th issue of The Nation, Letters, submitted by one of its readers, Marianne Brown, of South Haven, Michigan. Sometimes you run across something, and you realize the truth that it speaks just can't be expressed any better.

One Woman's War

South Haven, Mich.

I am furious. I knew when the neocons stole the Florida election, things would go sour, and, yes, I marched three times against this cabal. But little did my husband and I know then that the election would effectively take his son, my stepson, over to Iraq. I have followed this barbaric slaughter from the beginning. I watch it with new eyes now. I wonder every time an explosion occurs or a soldier is killed, Is that my loved one?

His name is Michael. He's 21. He's an Army reservist. No, he didn't join the reserves to go halfway around the world to be part of the occupation of another country for a bunch of neocons who have been planning this for years. He went into the reserves for training so he could be a police officer someday. (You see, they think like that at 21. They think that's a good idea, no matter what you tell them.) He was a weekend warrior, a kid who lacked worldly experience and hoped for a college education.

A beautiful young man is somewhere in Iraq right now, sent over with scoliosis (the Army conveniently lost his X-rays) for no damn reason except to prop up short-term profits and giveways to US corporations. We don't know if we will ever see him again. What we do know is that he just walked into a civil war that is erupting daily into unadulterated hell on earth. We know he may come home in a box, or maimed for life, or psychologically damaged beyond comprehension.

You cannot imagine the anger we feel as we watch the laughing, tittering talking heads on corporate TV run puff pieces as news and ignore the horrors of wondering where a child is in Iraq: Will he come home? Is he OK? What's it like for him to endure 120-degree heat? Is he afraid? Will someone be with him if he dies or is wounded? Will someone hold his hand and tell him we love him?

That child is ours. He does not belong to the neocons. They don't care who these kids are. They demand warm bodies to send into this black hole they created. I will spend every breath of my life working to get that lowlife fratboy dragged out of the White House in chains. This is too much to bear. --Marianne Brown.

We reprint this letter in honor of Ms. Brown. . . and all mothers of soldiers everywhere.

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...