Friday, January 28, 2005


Terry Jones, of Monty Python fame, recently commented:
"An abstract noun [terror] can't surrender; it can't do anything really. How do you know when you've won? When the noun gets kicked out of the Oxford English Dictionary? But that's a very useful tool for politicians, to declare an unwinnable war. They can keep it going as long as they like. They can decide when it's won.".
George W. Bush held up his right hand to take the oath of office. And though the Ohio electors were challenged, he was certified by the House, and stood there in the cold, to begin his second term as President. There was never a mention of the war in Iraq, or terrorism, or the War on Terror. His speech was about freedom, the future freedom of the whole world, the freedom America will help to shape. It's the nation's mission, after all. He made no mention of America's anointment or appointment to this task; but some things are simply understood.

No, what President Bush was articulating, in the most benign language, was a course of war against nation states which aren't, at present, democracies. It was all delivered in a very idealistic way, and in a pleasant tone of voice. He never sounded rash. The President's Inaugural was meant to be upbeat. The United States would hold other nations responsible for their breaches of human rights. Bush's policy has violated the Geneva Conventions, but this was not covered in the speech. But the more that other countries improved their human rights issues, the better their standing in the eyes of America.

Pay no attention to those nations America needs, as bulwarks of policy, which maintain a sound tradition of torture. And on a day recently, when close to 40 American soldiers were killed, the President fielded a number of tough questions, which he resolutely evaded answering. Bush declared then, as he had in his Inaugural, that all life is precious to him. And under close questioning, he shunned all implicit criticism and simply declared how much faith he had in good people like Condoleezza Rice and Alberto Gonzales, who one assumes would never lie, or have anyone tortured.

And no, he didn't mention that nations like Syria and Egypt have tortured some in custody, as a favor to his government. But those who pay close attention will realize that there is absolutely no relationship between the President's rhetoric and what he actually does. The President's language is completely plastic and porous, and the fabric of reality is torn around its edges.

When Seymour Hersh first began speaking about the abuses of Abu Ghraib, before the story broke in the mainstream press, it had become known to him that members of Congress had seen the pictures that were later released. They had also been advised of even more terrible things, of children being tortured, in the presence of their mothers, to gain confessions. There has been a contemptible cover-up of tortures that were (and perhaps still are) an institutional process of the US Government. The Senate recently exempted the CIA from restrictions in how they may deal with foreign nationals. All the high-sounding phrases and posturing of Senators in the recent Gonzales hearing are moot, as far as the intelligence community is concerned.

President Bush is a man who can't seem to understand why people are so focused on all the death. At least that's part of his rhetorical style. His delicate concern for life hasn't prevented him from killing on an industrial scale. Two weeks ago, the BBC reported that of 300,000 people who once lived in Fallujah, only eight-and-half thousand had returned to the ruined city. In the words of an eye-witness, Ali Fadhil, an Iraqi doctor, it is a "city of ghosts". He described it as such a place, where packs of wild dogs gorged themselves on corpses.

Aside from the dead fighters, others the Americans killed are seen in photos from Fallujah: people who had been too impoverished to make a getaway. These pictures show elderly and middle aged people shot to death in their beds, and boys who lay face up in the street, still clutching the white pieces of cloth with which they tried to surrender. It is estimated that a little over a thousand insurgents were killed; and to accomplish this, the Geneva Conventions were violated, and a cruel, collective punishment was inflicted. The city was destroyed. Hundreds of thousands were made homeless. Doctors and patients were deliberately killed. And the frantic, who tried to swim the Euphrates, sank in a hail of bullets. The walls of Fallujah toppled; the sewer mains were broken ; the fire and stench spread over the town.

This history will not be obscured by disingenuous rhetoric, because we are witnesses to a crime. And this is not the War on Terror. This clearly is the Terror.

image via Dahr Jamail

Tuesday, January 25, 2005



The International Court today dismissed all charges against the popular cartoon character, Sponge Bob Squarepants. American right-wing think tank personalities and commentators had leveled accusations against Squarepants, to the effect that he was some kind of secret agent, working to poison the minds of children with liberal ideals like "tolerance and diversity". But the confident Squarepants, appearing at a hastily-called press conference on the courthouse steps, declared that "The political persecution of cartoon characters is a non-starter".

Appearing in his Sunday Best before the High Court, Squarepants entered a plea of No Contest, throwing himself on the mercy of the presiding Justices. By a unanimous decision, the court declared the charges to be frivolous, and dismissed them. The ruling today set a legal precedent for animated characters, and said in brief that "Although not technically protected by The Rights Of Man or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is the opinion of the court that the reckless defamation of such icons, beloved by children, fails to meet any test of fairness".

Sponge Bob (as he is affectionately known) was quoted as saying that he "enjoyed this day in court" but he "hated that sourpusses in the Heritage Foundation had made a partisan issue of tolerance and diversity". "L'Affaire Squarepants est finie", he said to a correspondent from the French periodical, Paris Match. But turning to the American Press, the natty Squarepants couldn't resist another barb for his accusers: "If I thought it would do any good, I'd tell their mothers".

Wednesday, January 19, 2005



The zombies do not operate quite the same as the rest of us. In a way, they’re somewhat childlike-—tend to believe whatever they’re told, no matter how strange or surreal. You can just lie to them all day and they won’t mind a bit. In fact, the more you lie to them, the better they seem to like it. So, if their king comes on television and tells them there’s a two-headed Cyclops (one eye for each head) walking around some little fiefdom somewhere, they will immediately get excited and begin strutting around, feverishly waving their little flags. Once they start doing that, the king can tell them just about anything and they will go for it. He could throw in a couple dozen fire-breathing dragons for good measure. The zombies will be so keyed up, they will just about bust a spleen wanting to do something about it. At that point, if the king tells them the only way to rid themselves of this menace is to send their children over a cliff, then you may be sure they will send their children over the cliff, no questions asked.

This is somewhat different from the way the rest of us operate. Most of us would at least like to see the Cyclops, a photograph of a dragon, a footprint, anything. But if we find out you’ve been lying to us all along-—if, for example, we discover the Cyclops really isn’t a Cyclops, after all; that, in fact, he’s really pretty weak, and certainly doesn’t possess any fire-breathing dragons; and should we further learn that this minute country we’ve attacked outright actually had nothing to do with an attack on our own country (another whopper the king keeps telling), we tend to get a little upset about that. Our rather reasonable response is to hold in contempt a leader and his followers who would make up lies and distortions, putting our children at risk for no reason, other than, possibly, to enrich himself and all his lords on that country’s resources and riches. Indeed, we would probably not think it unreasonable to demand the resignation, or even begin impeachment proceedings against such an infamous scoundrel. And if the civilian death toll in that minute country began to be estimated at around a hundred-thousand from this unprovoked invasion, we might go a bit further and consider prosecuting said scoundrel as a war criminal.

The body snatchers will make no such demands. For one thing, oddly enough, the zombies only believe in impeachment in the event a king tells a lie in order to cover up a minor sex act with a consenting partner. That’s it. That’s their standard for impeachment. (Sex really seems to unnerve the zombies, for some reason.)

But let that king lie to them in order to bring on a senseless war in which whole cities could be destroyed, thousands of innocents killed, and their own children returned to them in body bags or maimed, and by golly, they will give that rascal their undying loyalty. He may even have deserted his own soldier service years before, and the newspapers and all the town criers in the land could have found him out, furnished up proofs and exposed him beyond all doubt as a liar and a fraud; it will not matter one iota. Oddly enough, it only seems to make the zombies love their king even more.

The fact is, in some way that no one has been able to explain, lies appear to have an almost addictive effect on the zombies, like liquor or a hallucinogenic drug. Falsehoods trigger something in their brains. We’re not sure what the trigger is, exactly--scientists are working on it. But all the king has to do-—and somehow he always knows this-—is just keep telling the same old lies over and over. While the rest of us, having read the papers and seen the proofs, will be saying, “Ah, there goes that sneaky bastard again, telling his old lies,” the effect on the zombies will be dramatically different.

For one thing, they seldom bother to read at all. The zombies are virtually indifferent to science and history. Therefore, proofs or evidence of anything, from global warming to corporate malfeasance to evolution, have about as much effect on them as spitballs thrown at brick walls. When it comes to their king, you may be certain any evidence suggesting a possible link between him and sewage is apt to meet with hostility. For in their leader, the zombies invariably place all their trust and beliefs, as if he were their daddy, say, or God, Himself. Little wonder that those brave few who dare to speak or print the truth will likely find themselves at greater risk than the king will ever be from anyone actually hearing the truth or reading it.

It is all rather strange, indeed. Apparently, what the body snatchers have in common is a deep distrust of reality. The king could be standing before them just inches from the bloody corpse, holding the pistol whose barrel is still smoking and hot, with twenty witnesses lined up ready to testify they saw him do it; the zombies will say, “What pistol? What corpse? What witnesses?”

And whenever they see this fraud out in public, they will be drawn to him like cattle to a salt-lick. As the crowd gathers and grows, the real drug effect kicks in. Then the zombies may become agitated or giddy, their hearts will tend to palpitate at an accelerated rate, they may start to hyperventilate, their eyes may even roll up in their heads. If the leader is particularly effective or charismatic, if he assumes a somewhat military air, say, if he dons a uniform and swaggers or struts about, the masses of zombies gathered around him could become so fervid and euphoric that they may spontaneously begin chanting in unison some phrase or word, perhaps the king’s name or title, over and over, increasing in loudness and intensity until the sound becomes almost deafening; this may be accompanied by other signs or demonstrations of their outward affection and loyalty to the leader, some sort of salute, perhaps, like an upraised extended arm. . . .


The zombies believe in Santa Claus, they believe in angels, the tooth fairy, they believe the earth was created in six days, they believe Adam and Eve rose from the mud to young adulthood in a single day, less than four-thousand years ago, as tanned, perfect, and witless as the specimens in a Calvin Klein blue jean ad.

They will fume and rail against abortion, they may even shoot abortion doctors on sight, but give them half a chance to send their first-born to war, and I’ll wager my farm against your Hummer you won’t be able to hold them back. The body snatchers love the Bible and they love war. War is their drink of choice; it’s the best booze on the planet. No other drug or elixir can get them half so intoxicated.


Unfortunately, in the hands of the zombies, this benighted book is no longer an instrument of peace and spirituality. Instead, it is the instrument they use to justify their love of war, inasmuch as the only parts of it that seem to interest them these days are the parts pertaining to the so-called “End Time,” of Zechariah, Armageddon and the Rapture. Whatever will get them there, even if it’s nuclear war, so much the better.
Whatever this is, it is not religion. It is a monstrosity of religion.

The zombies seem to have an outright antagonism toward anything that smacks of real knowledge about the world. They appear to have little or no curiosity about people (other than themselves), human history, science, or even their own religion. They will steadfastly maintain that every word of the Bible is true, but this seems only to apply to the parts of the Book that interest them or support their agenda.

Take Jesus, for instance. The zombies tend to fixate mostly on the baby Jesus—-the soft, cuddly thing in the manger; and the other one, Mel Gibson’s favorite—-the flayed-alive victim nailed to the cross.

But between this beginning and tragic end, appear to be mostly blank pages. Yet, I know the Bible isn’t blank on the rest of Jesus’ interesting life, a life of activism, a life in service to the poor, a life dedicated to challenging the established order.

The Rev. Dr. Giles Fraser, vicar of Putney and lecturer in philosophy at Wadham College, Oxford, writing in The Guardian, Christmas Eve, 2004, raises some interesting questions: What happened to the Jesus between his birth and death? Where is the Jesus who described his mission as being to “preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and to set at liberty those who are oppressed.”? Where is the Jesus who insisted that the social outcast be loved and cared for? Where’s the one who said it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter heaven? And how come we never hear of the Jesus who spoke of forgiveness and the redistribution of wealth, the one who was accused of blasphemy for attacking the religious authorities as self-serving hypocrits? Indeed, where is He who spoke these words:

“. . .Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. . .
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. . .
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. . .
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”?
Dr. Fraser reminds us that the Nicene religion of the baby and the cross gives us Christianity without the politics. Thus--

The Posh and Becks nativity scene is the perfect tableau into which to place this baby, for like the much-lauded celebrity, this Christ is there to be gazed upon and adored—-but not to be heard or heeded. In a similar vein, modern evangelical choruses offer wave upon wave of praise to the name of Jesus, but offer little political or economic content to trouble his adoring fans.
In the constant retelling of the Crucifixion story, when are we ever treated to a factual account of what brought Jesus to his execution at Golgotha by the Roman state? As Dr. Giles points out, “it should be obvious to anyone who has actually read the Christmas stories that the gospel regards the incarnation as challenging the existing order.” He goes on to say that even the pregnant Mary anticipates Christ’s birth with some fiery political theology of her own: God, she says, “has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly, he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.” These are not the words of the sweetly haloed Hallmark card image. In fact, they seem more closely allied to the likes of Rosa Parks or Mother Jones. Yet, the only Mary most people seem remotely aware of is just the decorative painted image, surrounded in a golden light, always beautiful, but mute: no words issue from her lips.

Born among farm labourers, yet worshipped by kings, Christ announces an astonishing reversal of political authority. The local imperial stooge, King Herod, is so threatened by rumours of (Jesus’) birth that he sends troops to Bethlehem to find the child and kill him. Herod recognized that to claim Jesus is lord and king is to say that Caesar isn’t. Christ’s birth is not a silent night-—it’s the beginning of a revolution that threatened to undermine the whole basis of Roman power.
But the zombies are not interested in the real flesh and blood Jesus (unless his blood happens to be spilling out on the ground). They will not and cannot claim this grownup activist man for their own, and still maintain their fixation on sin and punishment, heaven and hell, their worship of power, wealth and war, their blind obedience to the authority of the church and the state. To really know and accept the true history of their own religion might mean the zombies would have to quit it altogether, or else begin to practice what it preaches.

The Reverend Dr. Fraser moves us to a discussion of that history: “Christianity,” he says, “became the official religion of the Roman empire with the conversion of the emperor Constantine in 312, after which the church began to backpedal on the more radical demands of the adult Christ.” Dr. Fraser reminds us that it was the Roman emperor who invented Christmas-—a festival completely unknown to the early church:

It was Constantine who decided that December 25 was to be the date on which Christians were to celebrate the birth of Christ, and it was Constantine who ordered the building of the Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem. . .And from Constantine onwards, the radical Christ worshipped by the early church would be pushed to the margins of Christian history to be replaced with the infinitely more accommodating religion of the baby and the cross.
Constantine, Dr. Fraser tells us, was converted to Christianity by a vision that came to him on the eve of the battle of Milvian Bridge: “He saw with his own eyes, up in the sky and resting over the sun, a cross-shaped trophy formed from light, and a text attached to it which said, “By this sign, conquer.’”

Soon the cross would morph from being a hated symbol of Roman brutality into the universally recognizable logo of the Holy Roman Empire. Within a century, St. Augustine would develop the novel idea of just war, trimming the church’s originally pacifist message to the needs of the imperial war machine. Like Constantine, George Bush has borrowed the language of Christianity to support and justify his military ambition. And just like that of Constantine, the Christianity of this new Rome offers another carefully edited version of the Bible. Once again, the religion that speaks of forgiving enemies and turning the other cheek is pressed into military service.
But as I've said, the zombies have no real interest in this history, which is curious, given that it so enriches and opens up the life story of the central heroic figure of their own religion. Is there any hope the prevailing winds will ever change? Certainly not in the short term, not now, when the body snatchers, under the leadership of their chief zombie, George Bush, have gotten their first real taste of power. Power, after all, is what it is all about-—ironically, the very thing against which Jesus (who had none of it) posed the greatest threat, and paid for it with his life.

There have been a few shining examples of men and women who did bother to learn the history of Jesus, the Christ, and, having learned it, took it to heart, and followed his example: the abolitionist, John Brown, comes to mind. And Harriet Tubman, and Ghandi, and Mother Theresa, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

And there was Father Philip Berrigan, and his brother, Daniel, who, along with seven others, went to prison for burning draft records on the steps of the Catonsville, Maryland draft board office during the Vietnam War. Father Dan penned this “Meditation” at the time of the Catonsville incident:

Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children, the angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house. We could not, so help us God, do otherwise. . . . We say: killing is disorder, life and gentleness and community and unselfishness is the only order we recognize. For the sake of that order, we risk our liberty, our good name. The time is past when good men can remain silent, when obedience can segregate men from public risk, when the poor can die without defense.

Perhaps it is not too late to learn. . . .


"We can still draw inspiration and sustenance from the old, old stories--not forgetting that they are old, and that they are stories, and that we made them up." David Boulton, Writer, New Internationalist (Aug. 2004).

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Earl R. Lewis, My Longtime Friend, Has Died

To the very last moment of my life I will be thankful for a friend as fine as Earl. I saw him for the last time in hospital, only a few days ago. He was sedated, in a coma, suffering from complications of ARDS. He was on a ventilator and hooked up to other machines. I was not sure if he could hear me, but I told him he was my best friend and the best friend I could ever hope to have.

I read the e-mail from his wife, Jenna, which said, "The Man Is Gone"..."He died this evening"...

I met Earl in 1962. We worked a job together for Ashburn Ice Cream, behind the counter, when we were still in high school. We went to university together and shared an apartment. He helped me through hard times. For all the years after he was married, I still saw him often. Many times we would go to a restaurant or cafe for a meal, drink beers, and talk. Talking to Earl was one of the greatest pleasures in my life. This man of marvelous wit and humor would have a person's side bursting with laughter, with both cultured and outrageous jibes. This soft-spoken, tender, compassionate man was the most reliable confidante and counselor anyone could wish for. I miss him deeply, I remember him, and I feel sorrow for my loss and for the loss felt by his wife, his son, his grandson, his sister,as well as all the friends who loved, deeply loved, this incomparable fellow.

He and I would always call each other "Old Man". Goodbye, Old Man.

Thursday, January 13, 2005


"I have been known to say that the real passion of the twentieth century was slavery. That was a bitter remark which did an injustice to all those men"..."whose sacrifice and example every day help us to live. But I merely wanted to express that anguish I feel every day when faced with the decrease of liberal energies, the prostituting of words, the slandered victims, the smug justification of oppression, the insane admiration of force."
"We see a multiplication of those minds of whom it has been said that they seemed to count an inclination toward slavery as an ingredient of virtue. We see the intelligence seeking justification for its fears, and finding them readily, for every cowardice has its own philosophy. Indignation is measured, silences take counsel from one another, and history has ceased to be anything but Noah's cloak that is spread over the victims' obscenity. In short, all flee real responsibility, the effort of being consistent or of having an opinion of one's own, in order to take refuge in the parties or groups that will think for them, express their anger for them, and make their plans for them."
"Thenceforth everything is good that justifies the slaughter of freedom, whether it be the nation, the people, or the grandeur of the State."
"The welfare of the people in particular has always been the alibi of tyrants, and it provides the further advantage of giving the servants of tyranny a good conscience. It would be easy, however, to destroy that good conscience by shouting at them: if you want the happiness of the people, let them speak out and tell what kind of happiness they want and what kind they don't want! But, in truth, the very ones who make use of such alibis know that they are lies; they leave to their intellectuals on duty the chore of believing in them and of proving that religion, patriotism, and justice need for their survival the sacrifice of freedom."
"As if freedom, when it leaves a certain place, were not the last to go, after all that constituted our reasons for living. No, freedom does not die alone. At the same time justice is forever exiled, the nation begins to agonize, and innocence is crucified anew every day."
--Albert Camus, "Resistance, Rebellion, and Death", pp 100-1

The photograph is of Senator Barbara Boxer weeping, as she hears the impassioned speech of Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones. Senator Boxer was the only member of the US Senate to co-sign a petition of protest, joined by 31 Members of the House, on January 6, 2005. This protest challenged the slate of electors from Ohio, who tipped the balance in the presidential election in favor of George W. Bush. Specific charges of voting irregularities and fraud were brought to the attention of a joint session of Congress. An overwhelming vote defeated the measure after three hours of debate.

Monday, January 10, 2005


Excerpts from Howard Zinn's article in The Progressive (Jan. 2005) Harness That Anger:

"...Yes, Bush was reelected President, and whether there was fraud in the voting process or not, John Kerry quickly threw in the towel. The minnow called for reconciliation with the crocodile."
"The reelected Bush triumphantly announced that he had the approval of the nation to carry out his agenda. There came no sign of opposition from what was supposed to be the opposition party. In short, the members of the club, after a brief skirmish on the campaign trail (costing a total of a billion dollars or so) were back having drinks at the same bar. When, in mid-November, the Presidential library of Bill Clinton opened, former Presidents, Democratic and Republican, along with the current President, sat side by side and declared their fervent desire for unity."
"But someone was left out of the celebration, this insistence that we were all one happy family, accepting the President for another four years. The American people were not quite in agreement."
"The President may insist he has "a mandate," but it is up to the rest of us to declare firmly that he doesn't. Sure, he had more votes than his Democratic opponent, but to most of the electorate [counting the 40% who stayed home], that candidate did not represent a real choice. More than half the public, in opinion polls over the past six months, had declared their opposition to the war. Neither major party candidate represented their view, so they were effectively disenfranchised."
"What to do now? Harness those fierce emotions reacting to the election. In that anger, disappointment, grieving frustration there is enormous combustible energy, which, if mobilized, could reinvigorate an anti-war movement that had been slowed by the all-consuming election campaign."
"It is in the nature of election campaigns to siphon off the vitality of people imbued with a heartfelt cause, dilute that cause, and pour it into the dubious endeavor to propel one somewhat better candidate into office. But with the election over, there is no more need to hold back, to do as too many well-meaning people did, which was to follow uncritically in the footsteps of a candidate who dodged and squirmed on almost every major issue."
"Freed from the sordid confines of our undemocratic political process, we can now turn all our energies to do what is discouraged by the voting system--to speak boldly and clearly about what must be done to turn our country around."
"And let's not worry about offending [those, the 22% or so] who are religious and political fundamentalists, who invoke God in the service of mass murder and imperial conquest, who ignore the Biblical injunctions to love one's neighbor, to beat swords into plowshares, to care for the poor and downtrodden."
"Most Americans do not want war."
"The reality of what is going on in Iraq is more and more coming through the smoke of government propaganda and media timidity. It cannot help but touch the hearts of the people of this country, as they see our soldiers going innocently into Iraq, but becoming brutalized by the war, practicing torture on helpless prisoners, shooting the wounded, bombing houses and mosques, turning cities into rubble, and driving families out of their homes into the countryside."
"Do we want to be reviled by the rest of the world?"
"Do we have a right to invade and bomb other countries, pretending we are saving them from tyranny and in the process killing them in huge numbers? (What is the death toll so far in Iraq? 30,000? 100,000?)"
"Do we have a right to occupy a country when the people of that country obviously do not want us there?"
"The Bush administration, riding high and arrogant, adhering to the rule of the fanatic, which is to double your speed when you are going in the wrong direction, will find itself going over a cliff, too late to stop."
"If the leaders of the Democratic Party do not understand this reality, do not squarely address the desires of people in every part of the country (forget the red, the blue, the nonsensical generalizations that ignore the complexities of human thought), they will find themselves tailgating the Bush vehicle as it heads for disaster."
"Will the Democratic Party, so craven and unreliable, face a revolt from below which will transform it?"
"Or will it give way (four years from now? eight years from now?) to a new political movement that honestly declares its adherence to peace and justice?"
"Sooner or later, profound change will come to this nation tired of war, tired of seeing its wealth squandered, while the basic needs of families are not met. These needs are not hard to describe. Some are very practical, some are requirements of the soul: health care, work, living wages, a sense of dignity, a feeling of being at one with our fellow human beings on this Earth."
"The people of this country have their own mandate."

SOURCE: PublicDomainProgress

Monday, January 03, 2005

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

Okay, there’s no doubting it, now. The body snatchers have landed and they are walking among us. At least half the voting population has been taken over by the ghouls from outer space, and their minions appear to be multiplying exponentially. It’s an alarming prospect and thinking people everywhere should be on full alert—“walking backward,” as my friend Benny, the firecracker salesman, likes to say, the better to watch your back, I suppose. Although, come to think of it, I’m not sure how that works.

At first glance, it’s difficult to distinguish the ghouls from the rest of us, though there are a few characteristics that stand out. The first thing you look for is simply the expression on the face. The ghoul will often look at you initially with a friendly smile and kindly chirp, “Hello. How are you, today?” which is okay in itself, but before you get taken in, notice the eyes. Usually devoid of any real feeling—rather vacant. It’s like they’re looking at you, but not really seeing you. The safest thing to do is simply respond in kind—a quick, “Fine, how are you?”—and move on. Just keep it as shallow as possible. Engaging them in any deeper conversation can be risky. As Benny recently discovered.

He related his experience to me today over lunch at Luby’s, a local cafeteria. We were talking about the body snatchers and how they seemed to have taken over the government, and the whole country, when Benny nodded at a nearby table and said, “There’s three of ‘em right there.” He was referring to a man and two women. I’d seen them before, often in company with three or four others. I was pretty sure they ate lunch in Luby’s every day. At least I see them every time I eat there. One of the women works there. She’s the one at the end of the serving line who tallies up your items and hands you your ticket. She’s middle-aged, soft and round, always a kindly smile.

I studied them closely, looking for some clue. Then, I turned back to Benny. "How do you know they’ve been taken over?" I said.

He smiled. “Well, I was in here the other day. And when I got to the end of the line and that one handed me my ticket, she smiled, like always, and said, ‘Hello, how are you, today?’ I usually just say, fine, how are you, and she usually says whatever she says, and then I go on. But this time, somethin’ came over me. A little bird spoke in my ear.

"So I says, ‘Oh, hit some, miss some, how are you?’ Then I stood there smiling back at her. Well, her face just kind of lit up, and she said—‘Oh, it’s just a lovely day to be alive.’

‘Is it?’ I said.

‘Oh, yes,’ she said. ‘Another chance to serve the Lord.’

‘Hm,’ I said. ‘You don’t say.’

‘Oh, yes.’

‘Well,’ I says, ‘and what do you think about this little war we’re engaged in, now? Are you liking that, too? I notice we just blew up a bunch more people over there--men, women, children—just blew them to smithereens. I wonder what the Lord thinks about that? You got any idea?’

“Well, I have to hand it to her. She kept that smile going right along. I might as well have said, ‘Aw shucks, I just dropped my pudding on the floor.’ She says, ‘Well, some things can’t be helped, you know.’

'Can’t be helped?’ I said.

‘We have to protect ourselves.’

‘From what? Unarmed civilians? Women and children?’

‘I know—it’s sad, isn’t it?’ And the smile stayed right there. It wasn’t moving. I could almost feel her patting me on the head as if I were a snot-nosed kid and she was my old granny.

"I says to her, ‘Well, what about your good book? What about the Ten Commandments everybody’s so fired up about, trying to get ‘em posted in every schoolroom and courthouse in the land, and pasted on everybody’s foreheads? I recall—tell me if I’m wrong, Miss—but isn’t there a commandment in there that says, Thou shalt not kill? What about that, now? I’ve always taken that very seriously, since I was just a sprout. I don’t know why. Just the way I was raised, I guess. But you’re obviously someone who follows the Good Book and understands the ways of the Lord. So, maybe you can explain it to me why so many good religious people—people like yourself—seem to be all for this war business over there in Iraq. How does that jibe with your Thou shalt not kill statement? Can you explain that to me? Just in a few words?’

“I waited a moment for her to answer, but she just stood there—still smiling, mind you, but silent. And now I begin to notice something different about her. I wasn’t sure what it was at first, but then I saw it. Two little red pin-pricks of light had come on, deep inside, one in each eye. I wasn’t sure if I ought to go on or not, but I see she wasn’t answering, so I pressed a little harder. I says to her: ‘Well? What about it? How seriously do you think we oughta be taking these commandments? After all, we're talking holy law, aren't we --Inscribed in granite by the hand of God Almighty, passed on to us by his second in command at the time—Moses Almighty? What do you say? You think we can just let that slide, for the sake of homeland security and lower prices at the gas pump?’

‘Well, it’s complicated,’ she mumbled, her smile beginning to fade a little.

And I says to her, ‘No, it’s not.’

And then, her smile vanished, altogether, replaced by something else. Something like a scowl. And the little red lights throbbed in her eyes. ‘But, but, it’s not that simple, she stammered.’

‘Yes, it is,’ I said, looking at her, square. And she wasn’t smiling, and she looked as if she might like to turn me over to John Ashcroft or Alberto Gonzales or somebody.”

At that point, Benny’s eyes crinkled, the smile broke over his face, he reached up, tipping his hat, and said, “Good day, Miss,” picked up his tray and moved on.

Another characteristic: the ghouls, the zombies, the living dead, whatever you want to call them, do not like to be challenged on any of their superstitions, beliefs, delusions, or lies. Religion is a prime example, of course. They’ve decided the Book of Revelations is the only way to go. It’s the only part of the Bible they seem to take seriously. So they’ve carved out this weird quasi religion based solely around Armageddon and the Rapture, where in the final days, apparently, Jesus will swoop down from the clouds and whisk all the “saved” people into heaven, leaving the rest to suffer eternal damnation; thus making Jesus a kind of grim executioner. The whole thing has a grotesque cartoon aspect to it, which features people flying up out of their cars, their houses, supermarkets, Walmart, wherever they happen to be at the moment. The rest of us, the liberals, the socialists, and assorted heathen, will suddenly find ourselves having to deal with cars careening down the highways at seventy miles an hour, minus their drivers, along with sundry other bizarre phenomena. Nowadays, when I see those bumper stickers that say, “In case of Rapture, this car will be unmanned,” I just can’t resist the urge to leave a note under their wiper-blade: “In case of rapture, can I have your car?”, “your bassboat?”, “your oldest daughter?”

Believers in this end of the world theology would seem to be relieved of any responsibility to the planet; since the end is coming anyway, why lift a finger to prevent wars, especially nuclear war? In fact, why not help it along a little? After all, wouldn’t a good nuclear conflagration fulfill Biblical prophecy? And as for attempts to protect the natural environment, again, that would seem a waste of time, if it’s all doomed anyway. And why trouble yourself to provide food, shelter, clothing, medical aid, for the poor and homeless? After all, if they haven’t been saved, they don’t deserve our help, and if they have, then they, too, can look forward to the Rapture and better times in the world to come.

What I don’t understand is why anyone would think that Jesus or God Almighty His Own Self, would want to fill His heaven with a people that showed so little regard for His world, and for each other?

More on this later.

Sunday, January 02, 2005


--excerpt from Chris Hedges' "ON WAR" --

We are losing the war in Iraq. There has been a steady increase in the assaults carried out by the insurgents against coalition forces. The attacks over the past year have risen from about twenty a day to approximately 120. We are an isolated and reviled nation. We are tyrants to others weaker than ourselves. We have lost sight of our democratic ideals. Thucydides wrote of Athens' expanding empire and how this empire led it to become a tyrant abroad and then a tyrant at home. The tyranny Athens imposed on others it finally imposed on itself. If we do not confront our hubris and the lies told to justify the killings and mask the destruction carried out in our name in Iraq, if we do not grasp the moral corrosiveness of empire and occupation, if we continue to allow force and violence to be our primary form of communication, we will not so much defeat dictators like Saddam Hussein as become like them."

--and an excerpt from Maureen Dowd's "ADMITTING THE OBVIOUS"
"President Bush has finally acknowledged that the Iraqis can't hack it as far as securing their own country, which means, of course, that America has no exit strategy for its troops, who will soon number 150,000."

"If this fiasco ever made sense to anybody, it doesn't any more."

"The Bushies are betting a lot on the January election, even though a Shiite-dominated government will further alienate the Sunnis -- and even though Iraq may be run by an Iranian-influenced ayatollah. That would mean that Iraq would have a leadership legitimized by us to hate us."

"International election observers say it's too dangerous to actually come in and monitor the vote in person; they're going to "assess" the vote from the safety of Amman, Jordan. Isn't that like refereeing a football game while sitting in a downtown bar?"

"The Los Angeles Times reported last week that a major U.S. contractor, Contrack International Inc., had dropped out of the multibillion-dollar effort to rebuild Iraq."

"The Bush crowd thought it could get in, get out, scare the Iranians and Syrians, and remove the bulk of our forces within several months."

"But now we're in, and it's the allies, contractors and election watchdogs who want out."

"As [Bush] said at his press conference, "the enemies of freedom" know that "a democratic Iraq will be a decisive blow to their ambitions because free people will never choose to live in tyranny"."

"They may choose to live in a theocracy, though. Americans did."

Thanks to Kelsey Shipman for passing along the Hedges' excerpt, which is from his review of two recent war memoirs about Iraq.

Thanks also to Cathy McConnell who sent us the Dowd article.

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...