Issue #59 - December 5th - 11th
A song for the Friends of the Heroes
Sister Janice and the Virgin
A dying horse
Enjoying Freedom - At Home and Abroad
A Song for the Friends of the Heroes
I am the sort of girl who walks around in the world wit a song constantly in her head. I collect them: the tunes, the words, the feeling about them. The stories of how I got to love them. The moments when each one of them seemed like the most wonderful thing ever. I keep them carefully. I arrange them in lists, take ink polaroids of the moments, tell myself the stories. And sometimes I take them out: I spread them on the floor on my imaginary carpet, I sit among them and dream away.
After one of these sessions the world always seems to make a bit more sense. And since you happened to be around today, I think I might show you a couple of them. This one, for example. It was taken last February in the town where I come from. See that church in the background? It's near where I used to live. It's dark, and the falling snow is making the town centre look quite like a wilderness. I'm standing on the pavement getting wet, staring at the snow and looking quite star struck. The reason behind this is the fact that I'm listening to Gordon ballboy on my walkman promising that 'one day we'll be millionaires'.
'It's time to start a new world order, bit by bit, maybe we could sort it out. And all it takes is hope and love and confidence, and a good idea from one of us tonight.'
And I could have burst with the thrill of it all because it's snowing, and I had all of these things: hope and love and confidence and a good idea. And the good idea was Friends of the Heroes. I swooned at the thought that one day we would be milionaires after all. Or rather at the thought that someone out there was thinking quite like us and maybe we weren't that crazy or wrong after all.
Nine months after that or twelve days before today, depending on how you look at it, I stood by the side of the stage of the Strange Fruit festival watching Gordon sing an acoustic version of the song to an audience that was holding its breath, holding my breath too.
'We can avoid the years of vague unhappiness, and bitterness, and regret...'
And I looked at all these people who had made something of their dreams - the band, the festival organisers - in awe, and I swore I'll do the same too. I have to, I kept thinking. We have to.
The moment has hardly left my mind in the last two weeks and it's making me want to tell you something about the Friends of the Heroes: it's not just about the things we love and how much we love then. It is also a protest against the years of vague unhappiness; a fight against what someone named the lack of dignity in every day living. An attempt to make our lives what we want them to be. And you know something? I think it's working, too.
And it means so much to me, I wonder how I would have been able to sleep at nights if we hadn't made it.
Sister Janice and the Virgin
Sister Janice is Friends Of The Heroes' Cosmic-Adventuring Advice-Dispenser. We used to call her an agony aunt, but these days she's too grand for that sort of thing.. 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 starlets of stupendousness,
So...where did I leave you? Oh yes....Pluto, in the middle of a marriage ceremony, one which I'm supposed to be conducting. Look, I'm not going to go back over the story again - you've either got the picture by now or you haven't. Suffice to say that its all bloody strange and that right about now I'm wishing I'd stayed at the convent.
Roger, my space-travelling companion, is in front of me. His bride to be, xffrvoaoav (or something similar, I do have problems remembering...) stands to one side, naked, clutching a huge egg to her four enormous breasts. We are surrounded by what appears to be xfoefeoveoroev's extended family. All I have to do is wed them, according to some ancient ceremonial process of which I'm not yet aware, and make the sun move across the solar system, closer to the planet we're on, for the pleasure of its inhabitants.
If I don't do this, they're going to eat Roger's brain. And I am beginning to suspect that he won't be the only one who comes out of this rather badly. The large pink yeti to my right is leering laviscously at my breasts and, whilst I usually wouldn't mind this, on this occasion I'm rather nervously wondering if he's going to fondle them or fricasee them.
Anyway, so I'm conducting the ceremony in a hundred foot-long church with a rather odd shape, and I'm surrounded by people who are expecting me to perform a miracle.
And I've just taken what I assume to be magic mushrooms, did I mention that bit?
I can't pinpoint when things started to change. I'd been stood there for a while, intoning whatever words came into my head, and gyrating on the spot (thank heavens for all those Redemption Through Retrospective Dance classes, you can join them too, if you send me a cheque and a stamped addressed envelope), and wondering how long I could do this for before they realise that I was blagging the whole thing when suddenly, everything started to slip.
The faces before me grew longer, thinner, more luminous, the ground beneath me felt warmer, inviting... I fell to it, embracing it and willing it to hide me, when I heard them speaking....
'VIRGIN.....no.....she's....she can't be....THE VIRGIN!'
Oh, what now?
What I was not expecting, when I looked up, was a divine manifestation floating about ten feet off the ground, above all our heads, and smiling, smiling down at me.
But then, these things often do take you by surprise.
I watched, as her lips moved, as if she had some sort of message, but all I could hear were snatches of speech from around me:
'she said she...'
Suddenly, she reached toward me, a bolt of light streaming from her palms, and, for a second, hovvering around me, then becoming part of me. One word, in my head
I didn't need telling twice. As she faded into the air, I grabbed Roger, ran straight out of the church and into....
Well, the next thing I remember is lying on the floor of The Space Shed. Roger, and what's-her-name looking down at me. My head is sore, like it has someone living in it. Someone that isn't me. And my skin is wet, and my clothes? I don't even want to THINK about what all those stains might be.
'.......she's back! Janice? Janice!?!'
He stops for a minute 'I don't know. We're heading...anywhere. This is xffrxrovvv. I don't think you've met, properly.'
She is looking down at me with an expression I can't place, but am not sure I like.
Its swollen, distended. And I'm sure...no...
Until next week, my little, whatever-you-are....Be...whatever-you-are.
The Dying Horse
In my dream the horse is dying - he doesnít know it yet. It is a he, a strong white stallion thoroughbred, though not an albino, because one can see the skin shining through blackly on the short-haired head when he tosses it, angrily, confused. He is running and wheeling in circles, all around the field, trying to shake off his tormentors. Swarming all around him is a mega-squadron of bees, a polymorphous haze of unreasoning hate, though scattered like a thin fog, not the shifting black mass I saw once against a washed-out autumn sky. They settle on him in little patches, drive the pain in, and then fall to the ground, spent and dying themselves. Already the field is shimmering darkly with the manes of their gold-striped black bodies.
On and on it goes like this, everything darkening, and the white horse - hopeless - wheeling and wheeling. There should be a thick mesh of sound, I know, the angry buzz of the swarm, the horse snorting and blowing and screaming, but thereís nothing, a complete and disturbing silence which is more horrible than any scream could have been. The colours are all wrong too, too dark, like an old oil painting that hasnít been cleaned in years. The sky is a twilight mix of dirty-white and margarine yellow, unhealthy.
The horse is dying - he must be, the unadulterated poison flooding in through a thousand tiny needles to slowly ruin and then displace the blood coursing ever slower through his failing muscles - but still he refuses to recognize it, just runs and wheels and paws, swatting at the tiny bodies with hooves and tail and head as if he could yet triumph by beating each cell of the angry hive from the sky individually. It is far too late for that already, and there are far too many. The horse will die.
We can see all this from where we are standing in a muddled clump on the edge of the field, and we know this - weíve known it from the beginning. We desperately try to wish the thought into his head: accept, capitulate, end this, please end this... I donít know who we are - I canít see myself, nevermind the others, but I know itís me thatís watching this, powerless to help, and I know too that itís ďweĒ, not just ďIĒ. No-one moves, no-one is brave - or foolish - enough to venture onto the field and try to lead the horse away, into shelter where he would be safe, where he could be treated, cared for and saved. The horse must die - we donít want it, but it is inevitable. We are powerless to help.
Someone hits on the idea of sending some cattle onto the field to calm him, and somehow - this being a dream - they appear immediately, already on the field, neatly arranged in a pied white rectangle, gently chewing the cud, boxing in the horse as in an exercise ring. The bees do not attack the cows, but neither does the stallion pay them any mind. He keeps racing, tossing, screaming. Strangely though, it is the bees that slowly start to settle down, except where newly-incensed by the thrashing hooves.
The dream ends there, abruptly, somehow in the future tense. Because although weíre thus granted clemency from seeing it, we all know that soon the proud white horse will fail, will sink down and roll over, hooves still kicking vigorously at first as they swarm onto his belly, then more listlessly, spasmodically - against the pain, and then slowly overcome by it. Large white eyes will roll and bulge and stare wildly, and the thick red welts will rise and spread across his skin, and then...
But fortunately - this being a dream - we are spared the sight of his actual death.
A guide to being aloneÖ
From a very early age I came to realise that my girl would not always be with me, and that there were going to be times that I would be alone. On some occasions she would leave the house without me and be away for hours on end. Its quite lonely when I'm on my own and there is a temptation to sit around moping and feeling sorry for myself but that would get me nowhere fast! Besides being alone has its own rewards and if I try hard enough I can find loads of different ways to entertain myself while the girl is out.
When the girl goes out she makes me stay in the kitchen. I've never been able to understand why she does this. When I stubbornly refused to move from the front room unitl she explained why I wasn't allowed in the rest of the house on my own all she would say was:
Whatever the reason, my confinement to this room offers my first source of entertainment whenever she is outÖand that is to try to escape. I spend at least 10 minutes every day checking that there is not a way out into the other rooms of the house. I'm not usually very successful with this task but one day much to my surprise I found a door that was open. To my even greater surprise it didn't lead to the rest of the house but to a small dark menacing looking room. I stood gingerly looking into the room which was guarded by the by the dreaded hoover. I peered into the darkness until my curiosity got the better of me and I took a big run up and quickly avoided the hoover before it attacked me. Once I was safely in the dark room I had a good look around. Do you know what? There were loads of interesting looking things in there!
I found some of the girl's shoes that she must have worn the day we went to the beach. They smelt of sand and seaweed. Its nice to find smells which remind you of old places and it seemed such a shame that the shoes were locked in the cupboard with the evil hoover. I made it my mission for the day to I rescued them one by one. I brought them to my bed and told them to make themselves at home. I then bravely returned to the small dark room and found a nice big roll of bags that the girl uses to put food in for the big black bag eating truck. "Perfect!" I thought. "Just what I need to decorate the kitchen for the girl!" And I swiftly unravelled the bags and tastefully twisted them around the legs of the chair.
Normally when the girl is at home she'll shout at me to get down if I even stretch up and just look what is on top of the table in the kitchen. When she is out it is a different storyÖ
"I bet you can't stand on me" it seemed to be saying.
And I did show it. It was very easy to climb onto the chair, but not quite so easy to stay on and I found myself wobbling. To steady myself I put my front paws onto the table. Once my front paws were on the table putting my back paws on my table just seemed logical. It was great up there! Not only did the whole kitchen look so much different but I found a rather tasty snack.It was at that moment whilst exploring the new dimension to the kitchen that the girl returned home.
"Belle what are you doing up there?!"
I hope you'll now agree that being on your own isn't all bad. Besides its just brilliant when the girl comes back!
Enjoying Freedom - At Home and Abroad
' Yes, justice is being doneÖI would say freedom is beautifulÖI hope they agree with peace, and freedom, and liberty.'
The 'war on terror' is supposedly about defending our freedom at home and providing freedom and human rights to the victims of tyranny abroad - 'humanitarian intervention' just like the Kosovo war. This is a lovely story and sometimes, by coincidence, it contains a grain of truth. Serb paramilitaries were killing Albanian civilians in Kosovo - Saddam Hussein was a torturing dictator in Iraq and the Taliban were a brutal regime in Afghanistan. However these were not the reasons they were overthrown - nor did the methods used to overthrow them or the governments that replaced them improve matters. In general they made things as bad or worse. What's more some of the methods used to repress dissent and control the media abroad are now being brought home to 'defend freedom' in the US.
In Kosovo the killing of Albanian civilians by Serb forces was partly provoked by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA or UCK) - who were funded by the CIA, infiltrated by Mafia involved in the heroin trade, and targeted Serb civilians. A NATO air campaign of 'humanitarian intervention' managed to kill many of the Albanians it was supposed to save along with Serb civilians (1). Now the killing of Albanians by Serbs has been replaced by killings of Serb civilians by the KLA. Though there is an elected government it has no power - which is retained by the UN appointed governor Paddy Ashdown despite protests by Kosovans suffering mass unemployment and poverty under a free trade regime. The province is littered with NATO cluster bombs and depleted uranium which continue to kill both Kosovans and our own troops as the KLA's heroin trade to the west booms.
Bush and Washington - can you guess who was the better President?
And how does the British government treat refugees from Kosovo? Well they started deporting them as soon as possible despite UN warnings that Kosovo was unsafe for them and no housing was available. The latest touching signal of their concern is a plan to deport thousands of Kosovan orphans back to Kosovo.
The 'war on terror' has taken this protection of 'freedom', 'peace' and 'international law' to new heights. Some people might be wondering about Bush and Blair's definitions of these words now - and they'd be right to. People like us have this 'outdated' belief that freedom involves upholding basic rights like those in the UN's Universal Declaration on Human Rights - say the right to life (article 3) or the right not to be imprisoned without trial (article 9) or not to be tortured (article 5). Or there are the UN's Geneva Conventions on matters like not targeting civilians (article 51). Then there's the right to asylum for those fleeing war or persecution defined by article 14 of the Universal Declaration, and by the Geneva Conventions and also by the European Convention on Human Rights .
Apparently though that's not what freedom, international law or peace mean any more. No - we're so 1940s with our Universal Declaration (or 1990s with our European Convention which Blair only incorporated into UK law a few years back). Freedom has moved on since then to become whatever our heads of government decide it to be from moment to moment. 'Modern' 'freedom' involves a race to see who can negate every article of every international treaty first - and doing what you're told to do or else. See if you can spot which articles of which treaties are being broken in each instance below (it's pretty much all of them!).
Now while Saddam's regime in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan took such rights from their people regularly the invasions of these countries were meant to reduce or end such abuses. Instead the war on Afghanistan killed thousands of civilians, and continues to involve the bombing of civilians. Imprisonment without trial , torture and killings by both American forces and allied 'United Front' Afghan warlords as well as the Taliban are on the increase. The invasion and occupation of Iraq has so far killed around 40,000 civilians (plus 10-45,000 military casualties ) with around 1,000 more Iraqis killed each week. Killings of unarmed civilians by US troops are commonplace according to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International .
Then there's freedom of speech and freedom of association. Freedom in Iraq is such that making 'anti-coalition' statements results in your mouth being taped up before you are dragged off to jail. Iraqi state industries have been sold off to US firms, workers sacked, and leaders of trade unions demanding employment or welfare jailed without trial. Thousands of Iraqis have simply been dragged off by US troops to beatings , sleep deprivation or 'disappeared' with their fate unknown - the kind of thing the invasion was supposedly meant to end (2). In 'liberated' Afghanistan making 'anti-coalition' or ' anti-Afghanistan' statements are crimes which can result in indefinite 'detention' at Bagram airbase - and in some cases being beaten to death .
Freedom of the press ? In Afghanistan journalists are still too scared to criticise the heroin trade , rapes , murders or torture carried out by the 'United Front' - our 'freedom loving' allies (3). Iraqi journalists who don't tow the 'coalition' line are arrested by US troops , their notes and video tapes confiscated and in some cases simply haven't been heard of again. When hundreds of Iraqis approached the coalition to form an independent trade union for journalists they were met by armed troops who informed them that the Ba'ath party journalists' union - the same one established by Saddam - was the only one the coalition recognises.
Womens' rights ? Women in Afghanistan continue to suffer rape , repression and abuse just as under the Taliban - and beatings in the street if they aren't veiled and covered. In Iraq the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the anarchy produced by the occupation mean women suffer more persecution and a higher incidence of rape .
And Iraqis and Afghans seeking the right to asylum as refugees in the UK? - 'Bogus' asylum seekers according to Home Secretary David Blunkett and PM Tony Blair. The Geneva Conventions are apparently not 'new' enough for New Labour and Tony Blair wants rid of them - especially the annoying one - you know that Article 51 that says that governments have a duty to provide a right to asylum, even to people they supposedly went to war on behalf of. It's outdated you see. Britain is also the only country in the EU to spend millions of taxpayers' money each year on paying private firms like Premier Detention Centres to jail asylum seekers in 'detention centres'. Families including children are kept in the same room for up to <22 hours per day .
Similarly with Uzbek asylum seekers. The torturing dictatorship ruling Uzbekistan is for some reason not seen as an affront to democracy or human rights by Bush or Blair. Forget that the Karimov family rule Uzbekistan the way Saddam ruled Iraq, allow no free speech, send human rights activists to mental asylums, and boil dissidents alive. The Karimovs still get our taxes in European Bank for Reconstruction and Development Aid and shipments of BAe Systems arms approved by the Foreign Office.
British Territorial Army members and American reservists are being sent to die on the front lines along with the regulars.
And freedom of speech, association, freedom from imprisonment without trial, and the freedom not to suffer cruel or degrading treatment at home? Anti-terrorist laws (which were passed almost a year before September 11th) are used against people demonstrating against British arms sales to Syria - and 11 year old girls who quite like animals. In Miami, Florida on the 20th of November 2003 there was a demonstration against the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas - an extension of the North American Free Trade Area (which has resulted in a massive increase in pollution and unemployment) to cover the entire Americas - North and South. Peaceful demonstrators and journalists were beaten, shot with rubber bullets , concussed with stun grenades and arrested for 'unlawful assembly' , 'resisting arrest' and 'disobeying" police orders to disperse. Many of the beatings took place in jail after arrest. Meanwhile Bush was in London telling everyone that ' It is a fantastic thing to come to a country where people are able to express their views.' as if he was some great protector of the right to demonstrate in the US or Iraq. What happened in Miami was just a taste of what anti-globalisation protesters in South America have already suffered - with the killing of unarmed protesters by police in countries such as Bolivia - which Bush is trying to browbeat into FTAA membership - being commonplace (4).
Of course there hasn't been much media coverage of this - just as you don't see much film or many photos of dead Iraqi civilians you won't see any of what happened in Miami or Bolivia - or many headlines devoted to them. In Iraq journalists were 'embedded' with British and American units - and those who refused to be were in many cases killed by American troops . Now the Bush administration plans to'embed' journalists with police units . and try 'weird camera angles' to justify the use of excessive force against anyone with the temerity to criticise Bush and Co. , Limited by portraying peaceful demonstrators as violent extremists. The same 'Freedom' now 'enjoyed' by Iraqis is one that Bush now wants to bring home. It's just as George Orwell warned when he said 'When the next fascist regimes are born they will be born with the word 'Freedom' on their lips'.
Sources without internet links -