Issue #47 September 12th - 18th, 2003

Sister Janice And The Rays Of Hope
Perhaps the memory of that beauty, the moment of quietness it inspired within, will remain, and though the drabness returns it is always a little different - a slight quality of otherness lingers, or perhaps just a knowledge of potential. A reminder that things can change.
By Sister Janice Slejj

Stay, Hit, Split
I've decided to wait three more hands and then head outside, not only to flee the casino, but also to flee Harold and Al, both of whom, riding their respective waves of probability, are heading toward a painful crash, most likely into each other.
By James Benetiz

Third Time Lucky
"I think I had a dream about you the other night. We were walking through a wood by a stream. Barely even looking at each other. You were telling me about an idea you had for a song about a guy who falls in love with twins..."
By Rachel Queen

Unhappy Second Birthday for the War on Terror
'If you choose to respond to this incomprehensible brutality by perpetrating violence against other innocent human beings you may not do so in the name of my husband'.
By Duncan McFarlane

Sound Turnaround
It spurred the talk of the town, and was the uber-cool topic at diner tables of sociologists and psychologists throughout India. It was an event blessed during that years lighting celebrations.
An event. And common people did not forget the event , but forgot the girl...
By Partha Pratim Majumder


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Sister Janice And The Rays Of Hope

Sister Janice is the Friends Of The Heroes agony aunt. She used to be a nun, but after becoming involved in an accident at her convent involving a papal emissary; the mother superior; the convent dog and a bottle of 'citrus fresh' bleach, she decided it was time to find herself a new career.

These days she travels through the galaxies in a converted garden shed. Write to Sister Janice Slejj care of Friends of the Heroes. She will answer your problems and questions with the insight unique to a disco-loving alternative-gardening defrocked clergy member and cosmic adventurer...

Or she would, if she wasn't currently residing At Her Majesty's Pleasure.

Hello there my little stars of hope,

It is a beautiful evening, at the end of a terrible week.

If I sit on one side of my cell, the evening sunlight floods through the window and I can feel it pouring over my face. With my eyes closed, the warmth becomes more intense, and it reminds me of the beauty of feeling something special, of still being able to recognise the benediction of those evening rays, and to turn it into a glow within. Right now, I need the reminder.

A beautiful evening. I wish I could experience it completely, and yet, in this slight offering of consolation, there is a completeness of sorts. Just to feel the sunlight, to think nothing for a moment and to surrender my mind to the void, to have no place to be rushing, no tasks to be performing, no expectations to meet - in this, there is a quietness, a stillness that those who take their freedom for granted so often overlook.

When I open my eyes, the wall behind me and the uniform they force me to wear are illuminated by the deep orange of the fading sun. For a moment, looking at them is an uplifting experience.

Soon, the sun will fade - the light already slips away from me - and everything will look as it did before. Or perhaps things will be different. Perhaps the memory of that beauty, the moment of quietness it inspired within, will remain, and though the drabness returns it is always a little different - a slight quality of otherness lingers, or perhaps just a knowledge of potential. A reminder that things can change.

As I said, right now, I need the reminder.

Roger is working double-shifts, back in a burger bar, to get me a lawyer. However, even double shifts in one of those places will not pay for the legal genius I had allowed myself to anticipate. The lawyer he could buy wears polyester suits and takes texts on his mobile phone whilst talking to me, but I am grateful for even this help. The Sister Janice Freedom Campaign has so far received a total of two pounds thirty seven pence, a slightly scratched Tina Charles record (thus adding insult to injury) and a small block of Moroccan resin (for which, thank you, but the prison warders pinched it). Roger's plan seems to involve getting the nuns to come to the prison and tell them it was all a horrible mistake but, as they appear to believe I was actually trying to massacre them, the chances of this scenario being successfully enacted are about as strong as the chances of The Big Fella staging his second visit and busting me out of this place.

It is, however, the best chance I have at the moment.

I shall not allow myself to become dejected, even though I detest this place, even though all I feel around me is hatred, even though it would be easy to give myself to the darkness. Even though I have had all my disco records pinched.

Thankfully, I was wise enough to leave some in The Space Shed. I can only hope my former convent-mates have not returned to their old ways and filched them for their own nefarious purposes. I still remember the day I found the Mother Superior using a pile of Sylvester 12 inches to prop up her bookcase. At the time, I saw it as a thinly-veiled comment on my habit of playing music whilst they were having their evening prayer session. There were angry words expressed and, when the next day I accidentally slipped some lemon-fresh into her meal, and that of the visiting cardinals, and that of the convent dog, little Julia Andrea, nobody would believe it was an accident. I left that night. I wish I could do the same here.

This time I lost my records, it too was a thinly veiled attack, but the residents of this establishment are less reticent than those of The Convent Of Perpetual Bitching When Nobody Is Looking And Smiling When They Are. They left one record on my bed, broken into tiny pieces. The rest were taken. It seems they did not share my enthusiasm for late night enjoyment of Retrospective Dance. Some people are so unreasonable.

They laugh, when they see me, and ask if my record plays okay, with its little scratches. It is made pretty clear that certain people will not stop at scracthing vinyl.

Part of me wants to hate them, to attack them. Part of me wants to become hard, sarcastic, un-hurtable so that I can't be affected like this again.

That cannot be allowed to happen. I will not become bitter again. In my head, the records still play. I Feel Love - a whole twelve inches of it. And no, I'm not being pervy. Not this time.

I taught classes in the redemptive power of music. Now I have to learn to believe in it.

Here is this week's letter:

'Dear Sister Janice,

This is my problem. On an intellectual level and from some personal experiences I know that in general people are bastards who need shot in the head. However I find it hard to find specific bastards who I could actually bring myself to kill -all the ones I can think of live too far away and have too many bodyguards.

I also have some kind of qualms about killing which I can't seem to shake - and it's hard to get hold of a gun or a decent sword.

I'm also worried that wrong-headed people might send me to jail for ridding the world of worthless scum - and that perfectly nice people might think I'm some kind of psychopath who wants to kill them too.

Also I've had trouble sleeping for a few nights now and a bit of a sore throat too.

Can you help ?'

There IS a name at the bottom, but its written backwards, in a rather shakey hand, I'm not sure what it says.

Dear Er.... Psycho

Usually, at this point, I'd inform the recipient of my reply that they could be Graced by the Glory of the Groove, if only they'd pop along to a 'Salvation with the Sister' class in The Space Shed.

That isn't really an option right now, as the classes have had to be temporarily halted.

This may surprise you, but I can sense a lot of anger within you - it may seem strange, almost telepathic, but one becomes accustomed to picking up the subtlest of hints in my profession.

I feel there are several options open to you:

1. Get a relaxation tape. A damn good one.
2. Get a job where violent, destructive tendencies and sociopathy are valued highly and channel this anger through your day to day life: mercenary, hunter, daytime-television presenter..
3. Get yourself down to my current place of residence. Direct your anger towards a good cause - such as, purely for the sake of example, liberating a Wrongly Imprisoned Ex-Member Of The Clergy Turned Cosmic Adventurer And Agony Aunt Who Really Isn't Any Threat To Society At All And Deserves A Break Right About Now.
4. Get a girlfriend. Or a boyfriend, if that's your thing. But don't kill them. They don't like that.
5. Get yourself a nice cup of soothing lemon with honey and ginger for that throat.

I particularly recommend numbers 3, 4 and 5

Until next week, my little Rays of Redemption, celebrate...whatever it is you've got to celebrate.

You DO have something, no matter how hard you have to look.

Start Looking


Sister Janice


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Stay, Hit, Split

Harold, wearing his "FUCK REALISM" t-shirt, is enjoying a ridiculously long winning streak at the blackjack table. The shirt, a souvenir from a college lit club Christmas party, is an old, multi-purpose standby of Harold's, functioning as both conversation piece ("Really, isn't the very existence of this shirt a slap in the face to Realism?") and prop for a surprisingly successful pick-up line ("I fuck Realists, but I make sweet love to Postmodernists"). One stool away from Harold sits the only other player: a drunk tourist whose losing streak began on the same hand as did Harold's winning streak. Although blackjack is not a zero-sum game, both Harold and the other player--who, in the halcyon hands of this blackjack game (about two hours ago), introduced himself as Al, an insurance salesman from Pittsburgh here in Niagara Falls on his second honeymoon--seem to have forgotten this, and have begun to treat each other as opponents. With each chip Al loses, his hit/stay gestures become more forceful, and his focus on Harold more intent; while Harold, with each chip he gains, grows louder and more obnoxious ("An example of eternity: the time it would take for a bird, swooping by once a year, to carry away my whole stack of chips"). The dealer is indifferent to all this--once you've seen one drunk tourist, you've seen them all. And the same applies to dirty t-shirts, I presume. I've been standing two feet behind Harold, my pockets empty after a quick session with a video poker machine. I'm eager to head home; tired and sweaty, I can't handle the noise and smoke of the casino much longer. Every few minutes I tap Harold on the shoulder, but he'll only interrupt his running commentary long enough to tell me that he's not yet ready to leave. It seems that Al has a similar problem: his renewed wife--this being their second honey-moon--comes by every fifteen minutes to ask for money. Al presses a few chips into her palm and sends her on her way. The "honey" talk ended an hour ago. I watch a few more hands. The streaks continue, but my appreciation for the mysteries of probability has waned. I've decided to wait three more hands and then head outside, not only to flee the casino, but also to flee Harold and Al, both of whom, riding their respective waves of probability, are heading toward a painful crash, most likely into each other.

It's Al's wife who brings about the crash. She comes, asks for money, gets what she came for, and leaves. Harold, wearing his dumb shirt, turns to Al and says: "Always keep a bitch broke, right?" Looking for a way to ease the tension, I was about to tell Harold that after spending the afternoon at a strip club he wasn't the best person to be flying the flag of feminism (which, had I had the chance to say it, would have elicited some crude comment about flagpoles), but Al, giving life to the cliche, beat me to the punch.

Harold and I are at an all-night donut shop; I'm drinking coffee while Harold dabs at his blood-crusted nose with a napkin he'd dipped in ice-water. There are bloodstains on his shirt and I tell him that bloodstains lose their glamour once they dry--what was once a vibrant, life-affirming red is now a dull brown; the weight of the word moves from blood to stain. He doesn't appear happy about the stained shirt; it's unique, considering that most department stores don't carry "FUCK REALISM" shirts. I point to the bloodstains on the shirt. There are two small brownish splotches--really, each is a perfect example of a splotch--above the U of "FUCK," forming a bloodstained umlaut. I ask, out of genuine curiosity, how one would pronounce "fuck" with an umlaut. Harold responds, calmly, with a napkin to his nose: "Foock you."

James Benetiz   


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Third Time Lucky

"Hi, is Pete there?"
She scratched her head thinking. She was sure she recognised that voice.
"Umm.. no. sorry. You've go the wrong number I think"
"Urgh. Sorry. Bye."
"No wait! Is that Martin?"
He laughed slightly taken aback.
"No its Alan. Sorry to trouble you. Bye then."

They hung up the phone. Thoughts dwelling on the 30 minute conversation slightly more than they should before returning to normality.

Almost an hour later she was stood in the kitchen staring at a frozen ready meal for one when the phone rang again.

"Hi, is Pete..."
"Alan? Sorry you've got the number again I'm afraid." She cut in before he had finished.
"Oh god sorry!" he blushed
"Before you go I want to ask you something. This is going to sound stupid but do I know you?"
He paused thinking hard before answering.
"I don't think so. What's your name?"
She wondered whether she should tell him then quickly answered "Nicola"
"Not Nicola Edge?!"
She laughed shook her head and then told him no.
"Ah well. I don't think I do, you do sound familiar though. Sorry for bothering you, I'll let you get on."
"Yes I better go. I have a chicken dinner waiting for me. Very exciting you know?"

Her fingers were shaking as she dialled 1471. Her heart caught in her mouth as she pressed 3. She bit the skin around her thumbs and tried hard to control her breathing. This wasn't normal.

"Hi is Alan there?"
"Speaking. Is that Nicola?"
"Oh. I was just thinking about you. I think you might be right. We must know each other."
She momentarily forgot herself in the excitment.
"That's what I was ringing to tell you! I know where I recognise you from!"
"Really? Where?"
The question brought her down to earth with a bump. This wasn't normal. He was going to think she was mad. She continued anyway.
"I think I had a dream about you the other night. We were walking through a wood by a stream Barely even looking at each other. You were telling me about an idea you had for a song about a guy who falls in love with twins..."
She stopped abrubtly and self consciously, counting her heart beats in the silence that followed.
"Sorry. You must think I'm mad. I should go."
At last he spoke, his voice was unsteady but his words were definite.
"No. Please. Wait. This is weird. I did write a song about that. Sort of. Really its about my ex girlfriend and her crazy mood swings but I didn't think she'd be too pleased if I sang about her split personality in public. And that place you described. I go walking in a wood every day. Just 5 minutes from my house. It has a stream and everything. But anyway go on. What happens in the dream?"
"hmm... let me think. We stopped at a gate and I turned to you. Except I couldn't see you. The sun was really low and it was right in my eyes. But for ages I was staring at your shadow trying so hard to see your face, and then I think I just woke up."
"This is so bizarre. Wonder what it means."
"No idea.. oh door. Can I ring you back?"
"Yes of course. Speak to you soon"

She shakily hung up and went to speak to her neighbour who was collecting for some charity or other. After the polite length of conversation was reached she shut the door and raced back to the phone stopping dead in her tracks as it rang. "alan?" she wondered

"hi love mum here"
Her brain screamed out "no!" she felt heavy and lost and her words came out slowly. Unable to concentrate on the conversation instead she repeated to herself "please, please let him have my number, please, please..."

He sat on the sofa flicking through the channels, giving the phone agitated looks.
"why had he called his brother straight after her? Why hadn't realised that having her number to use on redial was going to be so important?"
He stood up. A man with a purpose thinking "I did it twice before. I can do it once again."
He dialled, uncarefully.
"Hi is Pete there?
"Oh hi Alan, I'll just get him for you"

Rachel Queen

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Unhappy Second Birthday for the War on Terror

'In the Middle East..we see what no process means: bloodshed, grief, daily funerals, bitterness and hatred, a furious cycle of attack and counter-attack... the only aims that ever should, or indeed really ever can, succeed are those pursued by democratic and peaceful debate.' Tony Blair , on Northern Ireland , 24th October 2001 , after ordering British participation in attacks on Afghanistan

September 11th was used to launch 'Operation Enduring Freedom' to secure oil and gas pipeline routes through Afghanistan. The second anniversary of September 11th, like the first, is being used to give spurious justification to 'The War on Terror'.

On September 11th itself US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld phoned Pentagon staff within hours of the attacks exhorting them to ' Go massive . Sweep it all up - related and unrelated'. Iraq was unrelated, but the propaganda machine was so effective that today 65% of Americans believe Saddam Hussein was allied to Al Qaeda and involved in September 11th and many US troops in Iraq see the occupation as 'payback' for the attacks.

We are exhorted to remember the victims of September 11th by supporting the good fight - despite the fact that most relatives of the victims reject the war entirely. Dismiss Phyllis and Orlando Rodriguez, whose son Gregory died in the World Trade Centre, when they say

'Your response to the attack does not make us feel better about our son's death… It makes us feel our government is using our son's memory as justification to cause suffering for other sons and parents in other lands.' .

Forget Amber Amundson , whose husband was killed in the attack on the Pentagon and her injunction that

'If you choose to respond to this incomprehensible brutality by perpetrating violence against other innocent human beings you may not do so in the name of my husband'.

Forget that, as Professor Paul Rogers has pointed out, the war on terror has strengthened rather than weakened Al Qa'ida as the civilian death toll provides them with new recruits daily

The war has added over 3,000 dead Afghan civilians and at least 7,000 Iraqis to the 2,500 plus killed in New York. Amnesty International reports that 12 year old Iraqi Mohammad al-Kubasi was shot by US troops on June 26th while carrying bedding to the roof of his house. They prevented his family from taking him to hospital - he died. Farah Fadhil , an 18 year old girl , was killed on September 1st by an American hand grenade thrown through her window in a raid on Mahmudiya near Baghdad this month. These types of killings are so common that the US military neither record not investigate them. Then there are the thousands killed by disruption of food aid, lack of clean water and disruption of electricity supplies , along with hundreds of dead coalition soldiers.

Supposedly we are bringing democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet US Governor Paul Bremer retains all real power. No date has been set for elections. While making a great show of 'de-ba'athification' by sacking ordinary members of the Ba'ath party the Pentagon is hiring members of the Mukhabarat - Saddam's torturers and secret police - and employing the Iranian terrorists of the Mujahedin e-Khalq who were also Saddam's allies. This was always the plan. In 1991 US National Security Council director of Near Eastern affairs Richard Haas said 'Our policy is to get rid of Saddam not his regime'. A former ally of Saddam who boasted of murdering Shi'ite muslims was installed as governor of Mosul - when riots broke out US troops shot 17 people.

When Governor Bremer sacked thousands of Iraqis they formed the Iraqi Union of the Unemployed. Bremer promptly banned the trade union and had its leaders jailed without charges or trial along with the leader of the Iraqi Free Society Party. Amnesty International reports hundreds of Iraqis detained by the US suffer inhuman conditions and torture. Nor is there the right to demonstrate without risking being shot by occupying troops - as a Human Rights Watch investigation into the shooting of demonstrators by US troops at Falluja discovered .

In Afghanistan a many sided war still rages and heroin production - which Blair told us we were going to war to end - is up by 1000%. Forget that Bush is allied with the torturers, murderers and warlords of the Afghan 'United Front'.Afghan civilians continue to be killed by Taliban , US and various United Front warlord forces. Coalition troops continue to die too. A new constitution and elections are continually postponed by the US's puppet ruler Hamid Karzai , whose pleas to the US air force to stop bombing Afghan civilians have fallen on deaf ears.

Who benefits from the war on terror then ? The senior executives and major shareholders (often the same people) of a few dozen companies - most notably one Dick Cheney , currently Vice President of the USA and former and undoubtedly future Chief Executive of Halliburton Oil. Halliburton and its subsidiaries have received a generous share of the contracts handed out by the Bush administration for the 'reconstruction' of Iraq and Afghanistan. Other beneficiaries include Bechtel , Lockheed Martin , and others - all having made substantial donations to it - which are now being repayed many times over with taxpayers money , at the cost of other peoples' lives. The British firm BAE systems is among those currently trying to sell arms to Syria with the approval of the British government. These arms are likely to end up in the hands of Iraqis fighting British and American forces. People protesting against this trade were arrested by the Metropolitan Police using section 44 of the UK's Anti-terrorism Act 2000. A Baker Institute report , written by BP-Amoco , Shell , Chevron-Texaco and Enron executives and adopted as Bush administration policy in April 2001 demands 'military intervention' to secure Iraq's oil for 'US firms'.

Nor is Iraq the end. A report commissioned by Rumsfeld and Cheney on US foreign policy in September 2000 from the 'Project for A New America' think-tank talks of targeting Iraq then Iran before enforcing 'regime change' in China. Who will fight this Third World War ? Not Bush who dodged service in Vietnam. Not Rumsfeld or Cheney - who dodged World War Two

No-one else wants the war on terror to continue. Iraqis want the occupying forces to go home. The occupying forces want the occupying forces to go home - as one soldier in Baghdad put it 'I don’t give a damn about Rumsfeld - I only give a damn about going home'. Soldiers are flooding relatives with emails about the futility of the occupation - and American public opinion is moving towards bringing the troops home. In Britain over 60% of the public already want a withdrawal of our forces. The British government's response? - Call up the TA and dispatch more soldiers to Iraq. Blair will never resign - it's time someone prepared to take us out of the 'war on terror' challenged him for the leadership of the Labour party.

Duncan McFarlane

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Sound Turnaround

Part One:The Night of Reckoning

A Night Patrol Car of the Burtalla Police Service was returning to Police Station at three a.m after a monotonous and routine night patrol. The drivers eyes were as drowsy as much as his officers' eyes. The wireless set of the car, that could often be most talkative machine the world had ever seen, was dog tired and unusually numb.

The driver saw them...

Three street dogs were looking at a garbage vat with a great interest. When the dogs saw the police patrol car, two of them jumped from behind and chased the car, barking vigorously, as the third one stayed at the spot. The dogs, running, barking, caught the end of the policemen's trousers when they made a bolt for the station door, and began pulling them back from whence they came, back towards the garbage vat. There at the place, the police team discovered two corresponding truths. One, an one day old human baby was wrapped in a rubber cloth inside a garbage vat, almost dead and discoloured by the chill of night. Two, a four footed dog was guarding her with careful eyes and looked as if she was entrusted with a job in which she had years of experience in. But she was just a dog…

Police rescued the baby, took her back to the station, and immediately called doctors to attend. Whilst all of this was happening, the three street dogs remained outside the station until they were happy that the rejected object was alive and in safe hands. Then the three dogs left the station as responsible citizens...

The next morning, it hit the headlines. Television was saturated with coverage of the event. It spurred the talk of the town, and was the uber-cool topic at diner tables of sociologists and psychologists throughout India. It was an event blessed during that years lighting celebrations.

An event. And common people did not forget the event , but forgot the girl…

Part Two: After Five Long Years

Now, she is Bitasta. She is a homeless orphan who has had traumatic move after move in the five years; a shuttlecock between court, government rescue homes, and privately managed institutions. She is always shunned by those looking to adopt a child. She troubled the city's conscience once but nevertheless found no takers. Moreover, she could not see, hear or speak. In the initial stages of her recovery, she could not respond to the smell and feel of food.

She was a challenge beyond the gossip and the publicity of a days front page. Out of the public eye, her case was taken up by few dedicated social workers and doctors of state run hospitals. Tests, tests, and yet more tests have been conducted by them over the years. The latest test was the Baer Test, which enabled the doctors to find out the specifics of her response to the sound stimulus. And still no one knows the extent to which she can really hear, or see, or even speak. Still, Batista strives for the sound turnaround, for colour where there is none, for noise where noise is noiseless.

So, that is the long and troubled way of an infant of innocence, and her fight from the mouth of death on a pavement.

One day, she may even express her eagerness to know all about her story of birth like other children.

Partha Pratim Majumder


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