Issue #56 - Noverber 14th - 20th
Beginning of the End of the Age of Endless Greed and Endless War
Mystic Dick The Barmy Salami : We Found...
Sister Janice and the Guv'nor
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...
Hello there, my little meteors of marvel,
This is how the week started:
A waiting room, on the planet Pluto... well, actually, as it turns out, just off the planet Pluto. An appointment with some mysterious 'guvnor' who runs the place. Pulled out of the middle of an interplanetary rave where I'd accidentally crashed my ship whilst looking for my marooned travelling companion Roger, who had left the SpaceShed without my knowledge, to go looking at dancing girls on a slightly dubious planet somewhere in the middle of the Belt of Orion.
Got all that? Don't worry if you haven't. Things move on from there pretty quickly. They get weirder.
Anyway, back to that day...
I haul myself up the corridor, fumbling for my crucifix, and remembering I swapped it for some Martian Mushrooms - some funny little blue bloke that kept stroking what I assumed to be his chin, around the back of a bar in - well, it doesn't do to reveal the location. Not if I want to go back.
I start to wish I hadn't thrown away my crucifix. It feels like it might be valuable right now. My dealings with authority figures in recent months have been..variable, to say the least.
The door creaks open, I shuffle through it, looking around, and watching my back... (tough trick to manage, but if you're going to get into any serious interplanetary travel, a good one to master)... then turn to face the man in the chair in front of me.............who, stands to greet me, and
Okay, this carries on for a while, so I'll spare you...
Roger smiles at me, asks me to take a seat, and offers me a Plutonian Cigar.
'I know... isn't it strange? They made me boss, Janice. They told me I could run the planet...cigar?'
'No, thank you. You know I don't smoke......
'I expect you're a bit confused. I asked the bouncers to go and get you from the rave. Cigar?'
'I sensed you travelling through this part of the continuum, and used my special power of Space Manipulation to pull your craft into the orbit of this planet. From there, it was a simple matter to get you up to see me.'
'Space manipulation.....' I am starting to feel a little like a parrot.
'Yes, you're aware of those powers, of course. Cigar?' There's a little too much urgency in his voice, so I nod and say yes, I'm aware of his powers.
'No, thank you'
'OH FOR FUCK'S SAKE. OKAY THEN, I'LL HAVE A BLOODY CIGAR!' I reach out towards the tray, but with a swift 'No, let me', he's reaching in the tray, and plucking one out for me.
'I'm afraid I don't have a light, and you can't smoke it here. Take it back to The Space Shed with you.'
What the fuck? 'But...you....... oh, yeah, whatever..'
'Janice, I've asked you here for a special purpose....'
'I wanted you to come to......'
(You will have to forgive me, my little sunbursts of surprise, if I appear a little monosyllabic in the above exchange. If anything, you're probably getting the clean version.)
'That's right. I'm marrying the love of my life. Her name is xffrxrovvv'
'Isn't it a beautiful name? Her father owns this planet, and quite a few others.'
'We will be married tomorrow. I need you to officiate, in your capacity as Planetary Priestess'
'In your capacity as Planetary Priestess'
'but.....I'm....... I haven't.........'
'IN YOUR CAPACITY AS PLANETARY PRIESTESS. Then, I'll be coming back to work here, and you can be on your way.'
I'd like to say I thought of a funny retort for this, but I was too busy gaping at him to answer.
'You can go now, I'll call for you in the morning. Be up bright and early. Really, really early.'
'You know I don't get up -'
'Really, really early, like you always get up, and we'll go for our usual jog. DON'T BE LATE.'
What the fuck is he on?
'Right, then, see you tomorrow'.
Suddenly, the orange-skinned woman (proper orange, not some Victoria Beckham stylee-thing) is behind me, helping me - pulling me, rather, to my feet. Roger offers a curt nod, and turns toward the window. As I leave the room, I can hear him humming, and muttering what sound suspiciously like the words to 'Lady Marmalade' in a deep, sonorous tone.
'Getcha GETCHA ya ya DA da
The corridor vanishes, as we walk away, into a multicoloured mist. I can hear Roger's voice, building in the distance, rising to a howl
'MOCHA CHOCOLATA YA YA'
What the fuck is he playing at?
'CREOLE LAYYYYYDDDDDDEEEEEEEEEEEEE MMAAARRR----MMMAAAAALLLL- AAAAAAADDDDDDDDDDDDDEEEE'
Now, of course, it all makes perfect sense. In fact, things started taking shape when the note fell out of the cigar
Please, help me. Meet me tomorrow, get me off this planet. Can't explain. Destroy this note.'
Morning jog? Don't be late? Wedding? Planetary Bloody Priestess?
I'd like to say it all came together, but they just resounded around my head, as unconnected words do.
I sat down, with a glass of the Plutonian Punch that I had assured the bouncers was necessary for the religious preparation of such a ceremony. Whatever happened, I had to be there tomorrow morning. No way would I oversleep. Oversleeping was not an option. My friend needed help.
Of course I overslept. Welcome to my world.
So...what happened next? You want to know if he ended up getting hitched?
Take care, my dears, it is a strange universe.
Until next week
Beginning of the End of the Age of Endless Greed and Endless War
" To robbery and butchery they give the lying name of 'government'.
Tacitus 'The Agricola' (speech attributed to Calgacus the Caledonian at the battle of Mons Graupius).
The collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellites in 1989-91 was widely hailed as a triumph. Certainly one party systems were undemocratic and the privileges enjoyed by Communist party officials made these states far less egalitarian in reality than in rhetoric. However growing inequality is damaging democracy world-wide by allowing wealthy plutocrats such as Rupert Murdoch , Silvio Berlusconi and Lakshi Mittal to buy political influence as a means of concentrating even more wealth in their own hands at the expense of the majority.
The end of the 'Communist threat' presented this economic elite and their political collaborators with both an opportunity and a problem. They could take advantage of the end of the only existing alternative to free-market capitalism - but where were they going to find another external threat to point to in order to divert attention from the fact that they were robbing the majority blind ? As George W Bush put it in his 2000 election campaign
''When I was coming up it was a dangerous world , and you knew exactly who they were. It was us versus them and it was clear who them was.Today we are not so sure who they are, but we know they're there.' ( Weisberg 2001 , 48).
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher provided answers which have been adopted by Bush and Blair.
First the collapse of the Soviet Union supposedly showed that socialism had failed. In fact Stalinism had failed. Democratic socialism succeeded in post-war Britain and western Europe and persisted as social democracy till the 1970s. Yet Thatcher claimed, just as Bush and Blair claim now, that 'There is no alternative' to the free market at home and war abroad. Income taxes on high earners and company taxes on multinational firms were slashed while indirect taxes which hit everyone in a way unrelated to income - such as VAT - were raised massively - a pattern continued to the present. Controls on transfers of capital between countries were largely abolished - allowing the wealthiest to largely avoid tax altogether. As a result the vast majority have had to pay higher taxes - though the total level of public spending as a proportion of GDP (national wealth) has fallen to under 40%. This combined with Private Finance Initiatives resulted in the majority paying higher taxes on lower real wages for reduced services.
Private Finance Initiatives (PFIs) were developed under Thatcher and quickly spread worldwide. Tony Blair's 'New Labour' renamed them 'Public Private Partnership Projects' (PPPPs) because it sounds nicer. PFIs supposedly provide private investment in the public sector, provide new hospitals and schools faster, avoid public debt, are more efficient and better value for money. In fact research by academics such as Professor Allyson Pollock and the UK governments' Audit Commission has shown the reverse is true on every point.
A typical PFI hospital replaces existing hospitals rather than being an additional hospital - and has roughly one third less beds and staff than the hospital it replaces due to the massive cost of PFI contracts which involve payments over up to 80 years 1 . PFI buildings have inferior lighting, heating, acoustics and space 2. PFI contracts earn firms involved 3 to 10 times the profits of a standard contract 3. PFI costs dwarf the 3 to 5 % interest costs of taking out a loan but governments fiddle the books by pretending that these costs aren't debt 4. PFIs are massive subsidies of private firms by the taxpayer which involve higher taxes for cut services. The only people to benefit are a handful of senior executives and shareholders of firms in the consortia given the contracts.
However now the idea that inequality doesn’t matter as long as there's economic growth - which supposedly benefits everyone automatically - has been discredited. Supposedly allowing anyone to earn any amount of money would provide an incentive for entrepreneurs who would provide jobs and wealth for all. In fact it has merely allowed a greedy few to enrich themselves at the expense of the many. Under Bush and Blair, just as under Major and Clinton or Reagan and Thatcher, economic growth has led to the majority and the poorest becoming worse off. The reason is simple. As average wages increase so do prices. Yet if only a small minority are seeing their wages increase faster than inflation or prices - and many (e.g the unemployed) are seeing no increase in their wages or an increase of less than the increase in prices (e.g those given below inflation pay rises) then the real income and living standards of the majority falls and that of the poorest falls most. In US cities in 2000 - at the height of an economic boom - there was a 15% rise in homelessness and most homeless people cited the rising cost of housing as the main cause of their becoming homeless 5.
Thatcher second answer was that the Communist 'threat' would be replaced by Muslim Fundamentalists - the very people who the western right had trained, armed and funded as a supposed 'freedom fighters' against Communism in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Osama Bin Laden - a CIA and MI6 protégé - was among them.
With no USSR to prevent it the US had a free hand in the Middle East and the Caucasus. The 1991 Gulf War was the prelude to the 2001 Afghan and 2003 Iraq wars seizing control of oil and gas reserves and pipeline export routes. Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden and Al Qa'ida provided the new bogey men.
The Bush administration's long term plan was developed by the Project for a New American Century - a think-tank whose members include Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State for Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The plan is simple - provide access for American firms to markets and resources (especially oil and gas) by 'regime change' imposed by military force in countries from Iraq to China 6. Iraq, as Bush has told Fox News, is only a battle in the 'war on terror'. Empire is back in fashion and British and American protectorates from Kosovo to Uzbekistan, Iraq, Tajikistan and Afghanistan supposedly show the benevolence of civilising powers in the same vein as Kipling's romantic notions of the 'White Man's burden' of the British Empire or the supposed magnanimity of the Roman empire.
Yet Empires are neither benevolent to the people of their colonies nor capable of co-existing with democracy at home. The Roman Republic collapsed due to it's empire building leading to such inequality and militarisation at home that civil war among the elite ensued. Under the Emperors the 'pax Romana' or 'peace of Rome' actually involved the massacre of dissenters and rebels and repeated civil wars. The British Empire similarly massacred any opposition - whether armed as in Malaya and Kenya or peaceful as in India under Gandhi until most colonies were granted their independence after World War II (Curtis 1995).
In Afghanistan today human rights abuses are worsening, women still suffer repression and abuse, the US air force still bomb civilians and their 'United Front' allies and Taliban opponents still kill and torture with impunity 7, 8, 9, 10. In Iraq around 1,000 Iraqis a week die violent deaths according to estimates by the British journalist Robert Fisk 11. According to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch many of these are civilians killed by US forces - who also imprison Iraqis without trial 12, 13. As a result violent opposition to the US gains new recruits daily. The Israel-Palestine conflict is spiralling out of control as increased US military aid to Israel coincides with increased Islamic fundamentalist involvement there as a reaction to the US 'war on terror' 14. In Tajikistan and Uzbekistan torturing dictatorships just as unpleasant as Saddam's are funded and armed by the British and American governments 15. Nor is the Iraq conflict any more 'winnable' than the Israeli-Palestinian one - or as Rumsfeld himself put it 'Is it the case that the harder we work the more behinder we get' 16. Each Israeli or American killing of civilians provides resistance and terrorist groups with new recruits and supporters - each Palestinian or Iraqi attack on civilians or soldiers provokes new military attacks by Israel or the US in a pointless and ever worsening cycle.
Finally however people have had enough of the 'There is no alternative' line at home and the bogey man abroad. As British and American soldiers and reservists continue to die in wars which are of no benefit to anyone but a tiny handful of corporate executives and shareholders - and taxes and services at home are 'reformed' in a way which harms everyone but that same tiny minority the popularity of governments has collapsed. Polls have shown that a majority of Britons 17, 18 and Americans 19 now reject bush and Blair on both foreign and domestic policy. A growing majority of Iraqis want US forces out of Iraq 20, 21.The popularity of the Bush-Blair axis continues to fall with each revelation that a claim they staked their reputations on was not only false but one which they knew to be false - whether it be on weapons of mass destruction, pensions, taxation, or public services. The vast majority will no longer be fooled into accepting that they must make themselves worse off and risk their lives or those of their friends and family so an already obscenely wealthy minority can indulge their megolamania and psychotic lust for ever more money. Peaceful, determined opposition by the majority can and will bring the age of endless greed and endless war to an end. Next week on Wednesday and Thursday anti-war demonstrations across the UK will underline this 22.
Weisberg, Jacob (2001) George W. Bushisms Fireside, New York & London, 2001
Curtis, Mark (1995) The Ambiguities of Power Zed Books, London, 1995
The Voice from the Past and the White City
I'm surprised to hear from you. It's been a very long time. Thank you for your concern, and yes, I'm fine. Though I have seen better days healthwise, weatherwise and otherwise, I look forward to my last perfect day.
I remember you.
Am I a rebel in love? Not anymore. I married not terribly long after the last time I saw you. The years were good to Meg and I, though she died last year. Since then I've been traveling on road and wing and wave. My travels are coming to an end, though I've convinced myself there are still a few adventures left in me.
I do remember my rebellious days in love with you. Recklessness characterized our passionate transports of love and they were dangerous times indeed. At long last I have survived this phenomenon called love, or it has survived me.
I like to think I've proven myself, like in a battle. I have been certainly tempered by fire. I've emerged from some flame or other with strong resolution wrought into a steel sword, though my heart is softer than that now. The years have been good to me. Only now in the final chapter of life do I understand it was a process like any other.
I am motivated by inertia. It is always easier to keep going when you have the momentum and, of course, the gasoline.
What is important to me now, you ask? People like you are important to me; especially those kinds of people who seem long buried in your past but speak from with startling authority. It comes from way back there, as if from the back of a room, but further, through the windows of hope and memory. It's a sort of sonic boom when they reach back to the future toward you, but it remains our quiet triumph.
Your voice has parted the curtains of time through miles of months, years and light years. Softly, you have rested your hand on my shoulder as if to say, "Hey, dark clouds are never permanent. The sun always shines again." I remember you.
I'm holding fast to faith and hope. I suppose I'm here in this new place for a reason. A hurricane visited me recently. The trees shook to the ground, the branches lay strewn across the lawn. I paused to reflect. Why haven't I fallen yet? After all, the constant of gravity will always conquer. Mother Earth is our final destination.
Over the years I've discovered the blind purpose of life unveiling its quirky yet peaceful self in odd moments; two beats will pass while brushing my teeth and I'll catch my own gaze in the mirror. I can feel I'm still alive, and I suddenly feel the subtle reaffirmation that I'm here for some purpose or other no matter how much time is left. My time remaining is measured by the clock with no hands.
There are other times too. I once glanced back in my rearview mirror for a split second peering back in solemn remembrance from the specter of time. There were places. Many places. A multitude of people. A continuous stream of personality embodied in city and place and person.
And now, I see visions. I see you. I hear your voice. I see friends. I see enemies. Sometimes I just see myself.
And sometimes I won't see, but I'll smell or feel. I was walking around the house alone a recent weeknight waiting for a pot pie to bake and I stopped in the hallway for no apparent conscious reason, bowed my head and let the calm in around me through my nose. Like sacrificial incense burning a sweet savor into the nostrils of some ancient God, life smelled good. I felt it.
I felt better than I had in a long while, and so I just let the massaging subtlety of peace flow back into my mind. Only once with you a long, long time ago after that storm had passed had I felt that same magnitude of peace, the sort of peace that leaves nothing but angels on the ocean calm.
Moments like these remind me I'm still breathing, still moving, still traveling and headed in a general direction, like a boat in the ocean. Do you remember when we were on the ocean?
My ship, like many others, is just pointed somewhere, though it may not matter where the high prow bobs her nose, as long as she continually cuts through the fog and mists of doubt.
If landfall cannot be everywhere, I know in my heart it must be somewhere.
If I must remain water bound until end of days with a continuously leaking boat, so be it; I suppose I'll keep bailing and treading and rowing until the day mountain peaks rise to fill my view.
My storm-tossed ship will drift peacefully over waves of the deepest blue, past seaweed and coral until it tastes of saltwater licking the shore. I'll sleep, but I'll feel the current quietly tug me through a divine archipelago chaining the islands to the motherland.
Perhaps then I'll reawaken with my face in the sand and my hands clutching starfish. I'll stumble to my feet and wander ashore bewildered at the persistence of breathing, memory and the solidarity of life.
The White City's towers will be there rising above a green canopy where monkey's howl and eagles dive until I find refuge in a cool, fragrant garden. If you see me there please say hello. I promise I'll remember you.
I went swimming without you for the first time yesterday. I set the alarm for five thirty, and, while the virulent air of autumn made me catch my breath as I awoke, I daubed your name in the condensation that collected on the bedroom window.
Sometimes it's hard to carry on.
I meandered my way along the deserted road, watching streetlights flicker off and on, off and on, from clear to amber to clear again, unsure, indecisive, not yet sure if the new day had begun.
Autumn does that to you.
I nipped into the newsagent at the end of the street and surprised both myself and the half-awake assistant by purchasing a bottle of water; she being more used, at five thirty in the morning, to bin men and alcoholics, and me vowing a long time ago, in one of my funny anti-bourgeois tirades, to never purchase something that I can accumulate for free, and I remember telling you that next they will be bottling the air that we breathe, and I wasn't far wrong with that was I?
Across the tiny stab of greenery then, and some half-hearted council initiative at introducing colour into our concrete lives, and three times I thought I saw grey squirrels scampering about the man-made flora and fauna, and three times it turned out to be rats.
This is what happens when I go swimming without you.
Do you remember that outdoor pool on the Normandy coast? It was built deep into the English Channel, and as a result was filled entirely by sea water. It was the first time that I had seen anything like it, and I overheard a learned man, as he burned in the sun, tell his wife that the construction had something to do with the D-Day landings, but I try not to think of the blood and the bullets as I float on my back making sense of the day.
The recreation centre is pretty much deserted. I like it that way. The receptionist watches me like a hawk as I fumble for the correct change, half-expecting me to pull out a cheap imitation uzi. Life goes it's same old sorry way, like the turning of the tides; One day I'm floating on my back along the Normandy coastline, the next I'm picking at my skin in a drab recreation centre.
I undress, change into my swimming trunks, and make my way to the pool. I can feel you everywhere, through the air, thick with bleach and chlorine, and the echoes of the empty pool. After one length of the crawl, my eyes already bloodshot, I can see you chastising me for not wearing my swimming goggles, another length and, out of breath these days, I would have to stop, but you always were a better swimmer than me, and I can hear you as you complete another length, telling me, yelling at me, to go and put my goggles on, but that won't cure these bloodshot eyes, not now, not tomorrow, not ever: All it would do would stop the tears from falling and going drip, drip, drip along my face.