Issue #72 March 19th - 25th, 2004
Adventures in Wales (part two)
The beauty in the way that we are living (installment 7)
The long lost diary of Miss S L Gleaden (part 22)
Bring Me Sunshine: A Short History of the Weathermen
A Furious Cycle of Killing
Adventure in Wales (Part 2)
A little map in 'Scenic Cymru' told us that we were looking for the Braich y Pwll (stop scrambling for your Welsh dictionaries, it means headland of the whirlpool). You go through the veil into Aberdaron from a mountainside. You cross over a little stone bridge, which looks like it was built for haywains, and there's two pubs (one of which is the most haunted in Wales, apparently), a shop, no houses and a choice of two extreme Ups to take. The place was deserted and Bowie, halfway through asking us if there's life on Mars, chewed up. Ok... we've all watched films about this and we were two psychic dudes in a buzzing place, we could find the way easily enough, because this was obviously the sort of mystical journey, which only Knights Errant in the Mabinogion usually get to take. Eric fixed Bowie with the aid of a biro and we choose the left-hand Up.
When I say Up, I mean Up. Think vertically and then just bring it down a tad. And it was strangely silent without David singing to us and us helping him sing to us, loudly. But the consensus was that Aberdaron was a silent sort of place and it was probably nothing personal against David. We found the houses! And kept going. We found a DESERTED cottage, which was lovely. It was the sort of cottage you find in old myths, made of huge carved stones, with the ubiquitous hydrangea and lots of herbs. It was so obvious that it had once belonged to a witch and had been left alone out of respect for her ghost after she died. Also obvious was the sodding great bit sign to Abersoch. So I nicked a bit of lavendar from the garden, turned the car around and headed back to Aberdaron. We took the other Up.
Though David was better now, we decided that the Universe wanted quiet, as we headed into stranger and stranger territory and found a signpost to the Braich y Pwll. The lane turned into a very narrow lane, then a cattle grid, then a severe Up lined with white stones. Halfway up this steep Up, it occurred to me that this could well be a footpath rather than a roadpath, because it certainly wasn't a road. But it was windy-windy in the way that the track you walk up Glastonbury Tor is windy and windy. In short, there was no way, short of mass suicide, that I was going to be able to reverse down it. Eric assured me that he trusted me and Michiko was still asleep and therefore had no say in whether the tradition of hari kari was still a favourite amongst her countryfolk. The land fell away so steeply that neither had the option of getting out anyway.
Up we went, and more up, and lots more up, very, very slowly, until... it opened out onto a carpark! Who the sweet *********** had brought a carpark up there, I'll never know, but we were so pleased to see it that we had a cheer. I finished smoking my fag, switched off the engine and figured that we were there. I wasn't quite sure where 'there' was, but it didn't matter. I turned to wake Michiko, who finally burst out laughing and admitted she'd been awake for ages, but hadn't wanted to tell us, because me and Eric were so hilarious to listen to. That was nice to know.
Out of the car and along a track, over a small bank of earth and there it was.
Trying to describe the place to someone who's never been is like trying to put the feeling of the Glastonbury Festival into words. It's easier just to say 'Go there'. Historians, as opposed to ageing hippies and the like of Dion Fortune's friends, have speculated that Bardsey Island is Avalon, not the Tor at all. I believe them, though I also believe that there's a second Avalon of the heart and soul, which is wherever you find it. What is known is that Bardsey once had something to do with druids, because the Romans wrote it down, even while the Celts were still stubbornly into their oral history epoch. The Welsh Annals and the lines in between the written lines of the Mabinogian tell us about druids doing daring things in currachs around Cardigan Bay; and there from the top of what I'm assuming was the Braich y Pwll, was the Irish Sea on three sides swirling into Cardigan Bay behind us and to the left. In the far distance were the lights of Harlech, Abermaw and places like that, looking like the bonfires of ancient warriors.
Beneath our feet were the foundations of something long gone - monastry? House? The hotel for all the druids off on their Sports Day around Cardigan Bay? It was a plateau large enough for a wide, whirling, Celtic jig-cum-running-arms-outstretched-superman-pose dance. I tested it just to make sure. Then below that were rocks, and cliffs, and the Irish sea. I looked to the north-west and I could see the lights of Ireland, though folk since have told me that I'd need bloody good eyesight for that. Luckily I had bloody good eyesight, so I could see the lights of Eire.
But there, right in front of us, was Bardsey and a full moon posing with it for full hippy effect. Ynys Enlli to give it its real name, though I haven't a clue who Enlli is, and that sight will stay with me forever.
Shall we go?
The beauty in the way that we are living, installment seven
I've always believed in the power of words. Or maybe it wasn't words, it was literature: I remember being young and feeling lost, out of place, desolate and thinking that if only I could think of what was happening to me the way it would be described in a book things would be a little bit better. And it always worked, too. Things got that little bit better that makes the difference - the bit that stops you feeling the world is disintegrating around you and you've got nowhere left to stand. As long as I could form sentences that could have belonged to a book in my head I knew I would be allright.
I don't know what it was those descriptions gave me. You could argue it was perspective, and it certainly was that too, but perspective is not all it takes. I suspect it was also the sense of belonging to something bigger than myself and my troubles. That something could be anything from the human state to my life story, but I like to believe it was just the latter. I was little, lost and lonely and my troubles made the world seem grey and pointless but the story that contained us both always held a spark of beauty and magic in it if I managed to tell it well enough. All good stories do.
What I'm trying to say is that you shouldn't think that this is all about counting my blessings. What it mostly is is an excercise in finding poetry in as many places as I can. On a good day, I can every try pointing it out to you.
I don't remember having mentioned feeling tired, and as for the things I want to do, I'm certain I've pretended they don't exist for a while now. I'm not even sure what we're talking about, let alone where this has come from, but it's breathtakingly spot-on nonetheless. I marvel as something slowly falls into place and life's made clearer (and therefore easier), at least for a while. It's so simple, almost obvious - and yet I really don't think it would have crossed my mind had he not said it.
"You're very right" is probably all I say.
9:22 pm: I get off the bus in some obscure northern corner of Athens. George is waiting for me at the bus stop and we walk back to his house, where he plays me his unfinished songs (I say "it's so sweet" about a hundred times), Keith West's 'Excerpt from a teenage opera' (I fall in love again within three hours) and a Hang Ups single I haven't asked about (I am amazed), and I give him the mixtape. Then a friend of his arrives and we start drinking homemade liquor that to me tastes like plums and cinnamon and is responsible for the fact that time starts to blur from this point onwards.
Sometime before 1 am: George tells me he realises he's missed no one and no one's missed him. I'm not very sure about that but all I say is I have missed him. He says he's missed me back and I am touched by how honest something that is the polite thing to say can sound. (You can blame the aforementioned liquor if you like.)
Sometime around 1 am: George is finally convinced to blow some candles if we promise not to make a fuss about it. We're so brilliant at not making a fuss that some of us fail to notice what's going on. The cake tastes rather good, and I even get a strawberry.
3:27 am: (I happen to look at my phone as) I'm half-lying on an armchair with my hands under my head. This makes me imagine I'm lying in a green field staring at the blue sky instead of being in somebody's parents' living room staring at the greyish ceiling. Felt are still playing in my dream even though my half asleep mind informs me there are no stereos in green fields.
Sometime past 4 am: Spring, which has been "almost here" in all my emails, suddenly arrives in the form of post-midnight, half-drunk giddiness that strikes me in the oddest of moments and places. I can't explain it - it's cold and dark and generally rather wintery still and we're standing on a street corner waiting for a taxi, about to say goodbye. I'm sleepy beyond belief (which makes everything look like I'm dreaming it), sad about the imminent goodbyes (I'll take the taxi on my own) and wishing my bed was a lot nearer than it is (the nearer the better); and yet suddenly this seems like a wonderful mixture of things to feel. Life-affirming in a romantic, dreamy way.
I travel across the city to my bed in silence, realising I've never seen Athens so late at night, and when I get there I play a 7" just so that I can watch it spin around in the near darkness and I wish there was someone I could say "I love you" to around, without it being a big deal, because it's just that sort of moment.
The Long Lost Diary Of Miss S L Gleaden
The diary of Miss S L Gleaden had peacefully travelled the world with the dippy but loveable adventurer. Its life had been interesting and slightly unpredictable, but no matter where it was S L Gleaden provided a safe corner in her rucksack. Until that is insisted that the pair should part company catapulting the diary into a whirlwind of bizarre and slightly random situations and as a which placed it into the hands of the young New Zealander Rebecca Phillips.
It wasn't often that the Diary of Miss S L Gleaden was pleasantly surprised but on this occasion it was. It had survived the plane ride to Florida without getting put on the wrong plane. It had survived a short train ride without blowing out of the window. And it had survived the taxi ride to Great aunt Jennifer's house without the taxi driver turning out to be a criminal who decided to steal all of the Phillip's luggage including Rebecca's blue back before driving to Mexico.
To its even greater surprise Rebecca was right and the diary found itself very happy in its new home. It was hard not to. Great Aunt Jennifer was one of those women who smile from every pore of their body. Her smile was so intoxicating that the whole house seemed to smile too. The diary quickly grew to love the shady green room where it sat. It enjoyed the long hot days sat on a new bookcase listening to the many stories that the house had to tell.
You may be surprised to learn that Great Aunt Jennifer's house told stories. After all I'm sure you've heard someone say, "If these walls could talk" about a million times, if not said it yourself, but I bet you have never heard a book say it. This is mainly because to a book saying "If these walls could talk" would be like a human saying "if the grass was green". Books hear walls talking day and night. On the whole you would be very glad that you can't hear walls talking as most of the conversations go something like this:
"why oh why did they paint me this colour? The person who invented home redecoration programs needs to be shot. Don't they know that walls have feelings too?"
The walls in Great Jennifer's house, however, were painted a very nice colour and on the whole were pretty happy with their lot. Instead they told magnificent stories filled with colour and life. They told stories that sparkled and jumped and shone like the coloured glass in the upper rooms of the house.
The other reason that you'll never hear a book say, "if these walls could talk", is of course that most people can not hear books talking either. Which is why when the Phillip's sat on the porch listen to Great Aunt Jennifer read from the diary each evening they only heard half of the story of the diary's life. The children gasped as Great Aunt Jennifer read. Even the cicadas seemed to grow quiet as if concentrated on the story of Miss S L Gleaden.
It was on an evening such as this that Great Aunt Jennifer put down the diary half way through reading a sentence and said:
"This is a very special book. We are very lucky to have found it. But diary's belong with the person who writes the. We are going to have to find miss S L Gleaden"
Rebecca felt sad that they would lose the book but the thrill of the detective work that lay ahead excited her.
It was Great Aunt Jennifer who spotted the phone number jotted down on the corner of a page marked with the initials J T. A brief phone call later, to a young man who was very eager to help her return the diary to its rightful owner, and before the diary was on its way to India.
The diary, who knew all to well what the initials J T stood for was not particularly happy about this turn of events…
But as is life even things that seem like catastrophes can actually lead us one step closer to the things we desire. And many weeks later through no help of J T the diary washed up on the shores of a small town in the long forgotten county of Cumbria. Locals were impressed by the story contained within, not to mention the book's ability to wash up on the shores of a landlocked town, and after many hours were able to track down the explorer herself and made sure that the book returned to her but not before they had read it from cover to cover of course…
to be continued...
Bring Me Sunshine: A Short History of the Weathermen
We here at the Friends of the Heroes are, or can be, on occasion, a pretty serious, and, dare I say, politicized group of young(ish) adults. Fortunately (some would say, unfortunately) we stop short of planting bombs in Government buildings. For a time in the late sixties and early seventies, however, a bunch of affluent, young, middle-class Americans called themselves the Weathermen and did precisely this.
Founded by former members of the US based Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the Weathermen organization was formed as a vanguard to promote armed struggle in the United States. The group, alternatively referred to as "Weatherman" or simply "Weather," saw its purpose as attacking U.S. imperialism and supporting black liberation by, in the words of Weathermen leader Bernardine Dohrn, "building a fucking white revolutionary movement."
Published in the 18 June 1969 edition of the SDS's newspaper New Left Notes, "You Don't Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way the Wind Blows..." (a lyric borrowed from Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues") was the founding statement of the Weathermen organization. In the position piece, the Weathermen emphasized the primary importance of attacking U.S. imperialism by supporting black liberation in the United States; recognized the black community as an oppressed "colony" within the United States; stated that socialism would necessarily replace capitalism once the current U.S. system was overthrown; held that working with reform movements in a united front was counterrevolutionary; and pledged support to all struggles for self- determination in colonial environs. Three days after publication, at the 1969 Students for a Democratic Society National Convention, the SDS split apart as the Weathermen faction expelled the Maoist Progressive Labor bloc and allied with another faction, the Revolutionary Youth Movement II (RYM II).
In October 1969, vowing to "bring the war home," the Weathermen took to the streets of Chicago to demonstrate against the war in Vietnam, show support for the Black Panther Party, and to evidence solidarity with all political prisoners, especially Black Panther leader Huey P. Newton and the Chicago 8 (later 7), who were on trial for conspiracy to incite riots during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The Weathermen had hoped that tens of thousands of youths would descend upon the Windy City and "tear the motherfucker apart." However, from 8 to 12 October, the "Days of Rage," only several hundred revolutionaries, donning helmets and carrying clubs, rampaged through the streets, vandalizing property and clashing with police. When the actions, which began with the Weathermen's bombing of the Haymarket police statue, had ended, there were a total of 284 arrests (40 felonies) with bail charges in excess of $1.5 million. In addition, fifty-seven police officers had been hospitalized and over 1 million in damages had resulted.
In December 1969, the Weathermen convened a "War Council" in Flint, Michigan. In the wake of the low turnout during the "Days of Rage," the council came to a decision that attempting to build a large-scale white revolutionary force was fruitless and that street-fighting tactics were too costly for the organization. Instead, the Weathermen decided to go underground and engage in a clandestine, armed struggle in support of black militants and national liberation movements. By February 1970, all remaining members (several hundred at this point) of the Weathermen had gone underground and formed small cells of three to five people that were committed to armed action. On 7 March 1970, one of these cells, operating in Greenwich Village, New York City, was building bombs when an accidental explosion occurred. Three members of the Weathermen were killed in the blast. Just ten days later, indictments were handed down in connection with the October 1969 "Days of Rage." Twelve Weathermen members, most of the group's leaders, were charged with conspiracy to cross state lines with intent to incite a riot.
On 9 June 1970, the Weathermen bombed New York City police headquarters, and on 26 July a military-police guard post in San Francisco's Presidio Army base and a Manhattan Bank of America branch were similarly struck. On 13 September 1970, the Weathermen orchestrated the prison escape of Harvard psychologist-turned- LSD guru Timothy Leary, followed by the bombing of the police statue in Chicago's Haymarket Square (the second time in one year that the group had done this) on 5 October, a blast at the Marin County, California, courthouse on 8 October, and the 9 October bombing of a Long Island, New York, court building.
On 10 December 1970, the organization publicly changed its name, signing its latest communique, titled "New Morning, Changing Weather," as the "Weather Underground." In the statement, a stronger role for women within the Weathermen was evidenced, a critique of the group's past actions and ideology was made, and philosophical changes taking place within the organization were outlined. Throughout 1971, the Weather Underground continued its bombing campaign with attacks on the U.S. Capitol, prison offices in San Francisco, Sacramento, and San Mateo, California, the New York commissioner of corrections' offices, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology offices of former presidential advisor and Vietnam War escalation advocate McGeorge Bundy.
In May 1972 the Weather Underground exploded a bomb in the air force wing of the Pentagon and, in the face of new government indictments of conspiracy to bomb police departments handed down in December 1972, continued its terrorist campaign throughout 1973. In the summer of 1974, the Weather Underground issued Prairie Fire: The Politics of Revolutionary Anti-Imperialism. The first detailed statement of the group's politics since June 1969, Prairie Fire included self-criticism, aims for the future, and a history of the organization. The document also revealed the group's new understanding that a U.S. revolution was not imminent and that such an event would be "complicated and protracted." Prairie Fire also issued a challenge to the anti-imperialist movement to continue its rebellion. Finally, the text provided detailed analysis of feminism and the role of women in the revolutionary movement.
The Weathermen's bombing campaign continued in 1975, with attacks on the Washington, D.C., offices of the Agency for International Development and the Oakland, California, offices of the Department of Defense on 23 January, and the bombings of the Banco de Ponce offices in New York City's Rockefeller Center and the Salt Lake City, Utah, headquarters of the Kennecott Corporation on 16 )une. In 1976, the Weather Underground split into two factions, due to philosophical differences over issues of race, gender, and organizational approaches. By the end of the year, however, one of the factionsthe Central Committee-saw its members leave or be expelled from the group while the other, the Bay Area Revolutionary Committee (BARC), assumed the mantle of the Weather Underground.
In 1977 and 1978, six members of the Weather Underground surfaced and surrendered to authorities, leaving fifteen Weather fugitives still living underground. Weather Underground members continued to surface voluntarily or to be captured by law enforcement during the 1980s, with the final Weather fugitive wanted under federal charges arrested in 1987.
Many former Weathermen have since reintegrated into society, without necessarily repudiating their original intent. Bill Ayers, now a Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Illinois, said in a September 11, 2001 New York Times profile "I don't regret setting bombs,...I believe we didn't do enough."
A Furious Cycle of Killing
In claiming responsibility for the Madrid bombings the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades - a North African Islamic fundamentalist group linked to Al Qa'ida asked 'Is it OK for you to kill our [civilians]? And is it forbidden to us to kill yours?'. In asking this question they showed why both Al Qa'ida's terrorist attacks and coalition military 'solutions' to them are pointless and unjustifiable. Both lead to - 'a furious cycle of attack and counter-attack...[more] dead bodies and [more intense] hatred' - as Blair put it on Northern Ireland.
Al Qa'ida admit targeting civilians. The British and American governments claim to do everything possible to avoid civilian casualties and uphold human rights. Yet the use of cluster bombs , depleted uranium and napalm - not to mention bombing and shelling of towns and cities - contributed to killing around 10,000 Iraqi civilians during the invasion. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch report that coalition forces continue to kill Iraqi civilians and torture them by beatings which in some cases last for days and nights on end and result in death. After Al Qa'ida killed 3,000 civilians on September 11th US forces went on to kill over 3,000 Afghan civilians directly by bombing - and more by preventing aid convoys getting through by bombing and closing the border with Pakistan . A recent report by Human Rights Watch on the US 'Operation Enduring Freedom' in Afghanistan details random shootings and torture of Afghans.
As Tony Blair put it on Northern Ireland " the only aims that ever should [or] can succeed are those pursued by democratic and peaceful debate" . Unfortunately he fails to realise that what is true of a regional conflict is just as true of a globalised one - so while talking of peaceful debate he was schizophrenically bombing Afghanistan. We cannot win the 'war on terror' by military means any more than the Israeli-Palestinian or Northern-Ireland conflicts could ever be solved by such stupidity. One atrocity cannot justify another - no matter which side carries it out. We may be unable to negotiate with Al Qa'ida - but we can at least stop acting as their recruiting sergeants by killing civilians in un-necessary wars and occupations. For every terrorist killed in the 'war on terror' huge numbers of civilians are killed - and every time a civilian is killed terrorist groups gain new supporters, recruits and funding.
The new Prime Minister Elect Zapatero of Spain realises this. For Bush and Blair to claim that this is 'a new kind of conflict' while employing the same old failed military responses just shows how incapable they are of learning lessons from experience - or else how little they actually want a conflict which they have relied on electorally in the past to be wound down rather than ratcheted up. The defeated former Prime Minister Aznar of Spain paid the electoral price for lying to his people. He repeatedly blamed the Basque separatist terrorist group ETA for the Madrid bombings against all the evidence that Al Qa'ida were behind them. He backed the US invasion of Iraq against the wishes of 90% of Spaniards.
Zapatero has pledged to withdraw Spanish forces from Iraq unless the US-led occupying forces hand over control to the United Nations to allow free elections by the end of June. Bush and Blair, lacking, as ever, any sense of 'self criticism' as Zapatero put it, have called his pledge 'irresponsible'. They claim that the occupying forces have a 'duty' to the Iraqi people - which is strange given that the Coalition Provisional Authority openly says that it keeps no count of the number of Iraqis killed by its forces - much as now US Secretary of State Colin Powell told journalists he 'wasn't terribly interested' in how many Iraqi civilian casualties there were during the first Gulf War in 1991.
A new poll of Iraqis has been reported as showing that a majority want the occupying forces to stay. If you actually read this poll in full you find out it says something very different - and much more in line with previous polls by the American Zogby International polling firm which show a majority of Iraqis wanting the occupying forces to leave.
A majority of Iraqis- 50.9% oppose the presence of occupying forces in Iraq - a minority - 39.6 % support their presence - the rest are 'don't knows'. (Question 26)
66% of Iraqis have 'not very much' confidence in 'UK or US occupation forces' or 'none at all' 62% feel the same way about the Coalition Provisional Authority established by the US 52% feel the same way about the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council' 51% feel the same way about the United Nations (Question 15)
The top priority among most Iraqis is to restore security - but less than 20% trust the US or any body appointed by it to do this. By contrast over 60% of Iraqis trust the Iraqi government, people, an elected Iraqi President or the Iraqi army to restore security. (Question 9)
The fact that 42.9% of Iraqis believe the immediate withdrawal of occupying forces would improve the security situation suggests strongly that many see the coalition forces not as their protectors but as the main threat to their lives - not irrationally given what we know from human rights groups and journalists about killings, torture and detention without trial of Iraqis by occupying forces. (Question 28)
How you ask a question and what answers you allow affect the results of a poll. As a result there are different answers to basically the same question in the latest poll. For instance on question 26 50.9% oppose the presence of occupying forces in Iraq - but on Question14A only 15% want them to leave immediately and 8.3% within a few months. One explanation here is that among the answers to Question 14A (How Long Do you think US and other coalition forces should remain in Iraq?) was 'until an Iraqi government is in place' - 35.8% chose this option.
Given that over 50% of Iraqis want their priorities - security and jobs - dealt with by an 'Iraqi government' and/or 'the Iraqi people' while only 19% want them dealt with by the US , coalition forces , the Coalition Authorities or the US appointed governing council (Question 9, page 7) it is pretty clear that most of that 35.8% want elections for a new government sooner rather than latter - which means that most of those who want occupying forces to stay 'until an Iraqi government is in place' want that to be very soon indeed.
So why are the Bush administration delaying elections in Iraq and suggesting a government appointed by them , and even US forces remaining for years after elections are held ? General Jay Garner - the former US Governor of Iraq who has since been replace by Paul Bremer- has revealed the reasons for his replacement. He had pushed for early elections and a halt on privatisations so that Iraqis could decide their own economic policy. The Bush administration promptly fired him and went ahead with privatising everything in Iraq - from factories to hospitals and schools - at knock down prices. The buyers were, unsurprisingly, mainly firms linked to the Bush administration who are being allowed to import and export while paying no tariffs and very low taxes. They don't want some pesky elected government interfering with their looting. So they delay elections - and plan to keep their forces in Iraq to prevent any new Iraqi government changing its economic policies.
The majority of Iraqis and Europeans along with many Americans agree - the 'furious cycle' of killing must end. War and occupation are not a cure for terrorism - instead they both strengthen terrorist groups and become forms of terrorism themselves. Only Bush, Blair, Bin Laden and their acolytes - a tiny minority - want to keep the cycle spiralling further and further out of control.