Friday, March 28, 2003


“Well, says Raven, “I feel vindicated.”

How’s that, Rave?

“Remember the conversation we were having yesterday—about the law of the jungle?”

A little hard to forget it, You raked my species over the coals.

“Yeah, well, I’m not the only one doing the raking. In La Jornada there is a piece about José Saramago receiving an honorary doctorate in Madrid from the Universidad Carlos III. He gave a speech entitled Democracy and the University, and—it says here—after observing a minute of silence for the victims of the war in Iraq, added ‘We are living, THEY are living, an unjust, illegal and disproportionate war, and we, the so-called public opinion—what we are doing is searching for the way to change the luck of the human being and change what we have been throughout history: wolves that kill each other, offending even wolf consciousness—because wolves respect each other, and human beings don’t know how to do that.’ So, another person realizing that these comparisons to the animal kingdom are, in fact, insultingly unfair to us animals.”

What else did he have to say?

“That it’s necessary to ‘reinvent democracy and break it loose from the immobility to which it has been condemned by the routine and the incredulity of different political and economic powers—for whom it’s convenient to maintain the decorative facade of the democratic edifice that is preventing us from verifiying if there is really something behind it.’”

And how does he suggest doing that?

“He appealed to the university, to provide free education—on the basis that the new model needs to come from that before it is too late. He says: ‘The university needs to be—more than an institution that dispenses knowledge—the space for the formation of the person educated in the values of human solidarity and peace; educated also for freedom, critical spirit and responsible debate of ideas.’”

What we struggle to implement here in this educational community on the edge of the sea. Or the edge of the earth. With marginal results.

“Also in Spain there seems to have been cloned the cancelation of cultural events.” Raven continues reading.

Poets against the war again?

“It says, ‘While Saramago showed his preoccupation for the democratic process, the Executive of the Spanish government, right-wing politician José María Aznar, ordered the suspension of the televized gala with which annually has been celebrated World Theater Day, and which according to the actors was due to the fear on the part of the authorities that it would be converted into a new proclamation against the war, critical of the posture of Aznar in regard to the conflict.’”

Bush barring Walt Whitman all over again, Rave.

“The actors made a very articulate statement, though: ‘Theater is a political art, done by way of an assembly—convoking the people and dialoging with them. Only in the meeting of the actors with the citizens—only then theater takes place. It is not possible to do theater without politics, given that it was born to question the gods and unmask the men who disguise themselves as gods. It’s an ancient vice—a government which thinks it’s God.’”

Right, Rave. We´ve got politicians thinking they are God, but behaving like the worst examples of animals. Confusion on a grand scale. I’m glad you feel vindicated, but where does that leave me?

“I think we need to look back at where we were a few days ago: Stuck inside of Mobile, with the Memphis Blues....”


Thursday, March 27, 2003


Raven has been rampantly lyrical on this beautiful spring morning here in the tropics. He was shrieking at 6:30 from the roof, ready to sing along with The Best of Gato Barbieri. I am crawling around with my coffee cup, facing the prospect of reviewing Robert Fisk’s trip to a hospital in Bagdad with my students.

Raven is unruffling his feathers and humming as he reads the morning news.

“The Leo of Your Dreams, Hugo Chávez, was rabble-rousing in Caracas yesterday.”

Fabulous! That’s something he does well. What was he rousing about?

“Business, primarily. It was an assembly of Businessmen for Venezuela. But then here he starts talking about Jimmy Carter—“a man dedicated to finding the solutions to conflicts—looking for political ways, diplomatic ways, peaceful ways.” He goes on to say:

‘I raise my voice, again, which is the voice of Venezuela against the invasion of Iraq; Venezuela has no other option but to say Peace! No other opetion but demand respect for international law, for the sovereignty of countries. Venezuela has no other path but to demand a return to the framework of the United Nations because it is very dangerous for the world that international order is broken, and that we are entering the phase of the law of the jungle--where always the strongest imposes his will. This is very grave, indeed. Lula, our brother President of Brazil, said it well a few days ago—and I repeat: No country, no matter its name--in this case its name is the United States of America—has the legal authority to decide what is good and what is evil in the world. Or to invade countries or bomb cities where there are children, women. For God’s sake! Innocent human beings—this can’t be. Who has given whom that legal authority to drop bombs on cities? From here we ask for peace, and I repeat again the demand that we use the United Nations.’”

Sounds good to me, Rave.

“He goes on to say, and I don’t know if he is being sarcastic or what—that some people there have suggested that after the US destroys Iraq they should come after him....”

Considering that one of the highest priorities of the US government is the destruction of OPEC, it would not be that far-fetched. They certainly put enough money into the two coup attempts against Chávez last year. But what disturbs me, Rave, is that although folks are talking in the General Assembly of the UN, no concerted proposal for a resolution has yet been made against the US for this completely illegal invasion of another country.

“A bit of activity is happening here in Latin America, though. In Rio Bush was officially declared persona non grata by the city council. There was a protest outside of the US embassy in Quito. The Secretary of State of the Dominican Republic resigned in protest of the government of his country’s backing of the US invasion. And in Managua, Nicaragua, the Vice President declared himself a dissident within his government for the same reason.”

But it isn’t changing the reality of what Chávez says—that the law of the jungle has taken over in world affairs. Colin Powell has even had the nerve to say that neither the UN nor any other country will be involved in Iraq after the US takes control. He’s saying it will be a US colony! The real problem is that until a critical mass of dissent is formed WITHIN the US the law of the jungle will continue to prevail.

Rave looks uncomfortable.

“You know what? I have been running this law of the jungle phrase around in my mind, and I’m just not comfortable with it. We have the jungle pretty much right here, and even though it’s mating season—with all the competition that creates—the jungle is, as always, a relatively peaceful environment.”

So? What’s your point?

“My point,” Raven cocks an eye quickly in my direction, “is that the jungle is peaceful because the human species—Tarzan fantasies aside—is normally not represented there.”

Wednesday, March 26, 2003


“It’s hot!” One of my students shouts this to me as he makes his way, sweating, across the campus here at the university.

It’s nice! At least we’re not in the middle of a sandstorm in Iraq....

Raven looks up as I come in.

“Here’s a guy with his fingers in his eyes.” Raven points at the front page of La Jornada on the computer screen. The headline: SANDSTORM PARALYZES INVASION!

The Three Stooges used to put their fingers in each others’ eyes, Rave.

“Before my time, apparently.” Rave yawns and reaches for a sweet roll, hits a different window with the mouse. “Want to hear about an un-imbedded journalist?”

Robert Fisk, I presume.

“Not Dr. Livingstone. This is an interview with him by the Democracy Now folks, and I will just read some of it:

Amy Goodman, Democracy Now! Host: Set the scene for us in Baghdad right now.

Robert Fisk, The Independent: Well, it’s been a relatively—relatively being the word—quiet night, there’s been quite a lot of explosions about an hour ago. There have obviously been an awful lot of missiles arriving on some target, but I would say it was about 4 or 5 miles away. You can hear the change in air pressure and you can hear this long, low rumble like drums or like someone banging on a drum deep beneath the ground, but quite a ways away. There have only been 2 or 3 explosions near the center of the city, which is where I am, in the last 12 hours. So, I suppose you could say that, comparatively, to anyone living in central Baghdad, it’s been a quiet night. The strange thing is that the intensity of the attacks on Baghdad changes quite extraordinarily; you’ll get one evening when you can actually sleep through it all, and the next evening when you see the explosions red hot around you.

Jeremy Scahill, Democracy Now! Correspondent: Robert Fisk, you wrote in one of your most recent articles, actually, the title of it was "Iraq Will Become a Quagmire for the Americans" and I think many people within the US administration were surprised to find the kinds of resistance they have in places like Nasiriyah. We have the two Apache helicopters that have apparently been shot down and many US casualties so far. Do you think the Americans were caught by surprise, particularly by the resistance in the south where everyone was saying that the people are against Saddam Hussein?

Robert Fisk: Well, they shouldn’t have been caught by surprise; there were plenty of us writing that this was going to be a disaster and a catastrophe and that they were going to take casualties. You know, one thing I think the Bush administration has shown as a characteristic, is that it dreams up moral ideas and then believes that they’re all true, and characterizes this policy by assuming that everyone else will then play their roles. In their attempt to dream up an excuse to invade Iraq, they’ve started out, remember, by saying first of all that there are weapons of mass destruction. We were then told that al Qaeda had links to Iraq, which, there certainly isn’t an al Qaeda link. Then we were told that there were links to September 11th, which was rubbish. And in the end, the best the Bush administration could do was to say, “Well, we’re going to liberate the people of Iraq”. And because it provided this excuse, it obviously then had to believe that these people wanted to be liberated by the Americans. And, as the Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said a few hours ago, I was listening to him in person, the Americans expected to be greeted with roses and music- and they were greeted with bullets. Saddam did not get knocked off his perch straight away, and I think that, to a considerable degree, the American administration allowed that little cabal of advisors around Bush- I’m talking about Perle, Wolfowitz, and these other people—people who have never been to war, never served their country, never put on a uniform- nor, indeed, has Mr. Bush ever served his country- they persuaded themselves of this Hollywood scenario of GIs driving through the streets of Iraqi cities being showered with roses by a relieved populace who desperately want this offer of democracy that Mr. Bush has put on offer-as reality. And the truth of the matter is that Iraq has a very, very strong political tradition of strong anti-colonial struggle.

Amy Goodman: Do you think Saddam Hussein is in control?

Robert Fisk: Oh yes, absolutely. There have been a few incidents, I mean there was a little bit of shooting last night and there were the rumors that people had come from Saddam City and there were clashes with security forces or security agents, and rumors of a railway line being blown up, which was denied by the authorities, but there is no doubt Saddam is in control. It’s very funny sitting here, in a strange way, I suppose, if you could listen to some of the things that were said about the United States here, you’d laugh in America, but I’ve been listening to this uproariously funny argument about whether Saddam’s speech was recorded before the war and whether they have look-alikes. So, that in fact, the speech that Saddam made 24 hours ago, less than 24 hours ago, a speech that was very important if you read the text carefully and understand what he was trying to do, it has been totally warped in the United States by a concentration not on what he was saying, but whether it was actually him that was saying it. The American correspondent was saying to me yesterday morning, “This is ridiculous, we simply can’t report the story, because every time we have to deal with something Saddam says, the Pentagon claims it’s not him or it’s his double or it was recorded 2 weeks ago”. So, the story ceases to be about what the man says, the story starts to be this totally mythical, fictional idea that it really isn’t Saddam or it’s his double, etcetera. I watched this recording on television, all his television broadcasts are recordings because he’s not so stupid as to do a live broadcast and get bombed by the Americans while he’s doing it. The one thing you learn if you’re a target is not to do live television broadcasts, or radio for that matter, or, indeed telephone. But if you listen and read the text of what Saddam said, it has clearly been recorded in the previous few hours, and I can tell you, having once actually met the man, it absolutely was Saddam Hussein.

Jeremy Scahill: Robert Fisk, what are you seeing in terms of the preparations for the defense of Baghdad? The people that we’ve been interviewing inside of Iraq- both ordinary Iraqis as well as journalists and others, are saying that there aren’t really visible signs that there are any overt preparations underway. What’s your sense?

Robert Fisk: Well, it doesn’t look like Stalingrad to me, but I guess in Stalingrad there probably weren’t a lot of preparations. I’ve been more than 20 miles outside of Baghdad, and you can certainly see troops building big artillery vetments around the city. I mean, positions for heavy artillery and mortars, army vehicles hidden under overpasses, the big barracks of long ago-as in Serbia before the NATO bombardment have long been abandoned. Most of these cruise missiles that we hear exploding at night are bursting into government buildings, ministries, offices and barracks that have long ago been abandoned. There’s nobody inside them; they are empty. I’ve watched ministries take all their computers out, trays- even the pictures from the walls. That is the degree to which these buildings are empty; they are shells. Inside the city, there have been a lot of trenches dug beside roads, sandbag positions set up. In some cases, holes dug with sandbags around them to make positions on road intersections to make positions for snipers and machine gunners. This is pretty primitive stuff.

Amy Goodman: General Colin Powell said that foreign journalists should leave as the campaign of so-called ‘shock and awe’ is initiated- and it has started. Why have you chosen to remain in Baghdad?

Robert Fisk: Because I don’t work for Colin Powell, I work for a British newspaper called The Independent; if you read it, you’ll find that we are.”

Nice piece, Rave. Glad you just hit the high spots of it, though. It’s definitely not where I want to be now, either.

“Funny. I was all set to run into you in Badgad, and ask that all important question.” Rave has a mad gleam in his eye.

Okay. I’ll bite. What’s the question?

“What’s a sweetheart like you doin’ in a dump like this?”

Well, we know why Robert Fisk is there—he doesn’t work for Colin Powell. Doesn’t Dylan quote something in that song about patriotism being the last refuge of scoundrels? Better you should be asking Tommy Franks for the answer.

“He might get the wrong idea.”

No, he won’t. He’ll just quote a few more lines from the song: “If you steal a little they throw you in jail. If you steal a lot they make you king....”

Tuesday, March 25, 2003


Raven is in fine feather this morning, chortling to himself in front of the computer screen between pecks at his hotcakes.

I am not so fine of feather. All the war news has been grinding me into chorizo.

Okay, Rave. What’s so funny?

“The Pentagon propaganda has painted the Iraqui soldiers as being ready to throw down their obsolete weapons and cover the US and British troops with flowers. Seems like the reality is different. Listen to this:

‘The captured or deserting soldiers interviewed by western journalists so far clearly do detest the Iraqi dictator but are less than overjoyed to see US and British soldiers rolling across their country. One Iraqi PoW told a New York Times reporter that President Saddam had been such a disaster for his country that he must be an American agent.’”

I think that’s called “gallows humor”. It’s amazing, though—after all the years of war and bombings and blockades the Iraquis clearly still have a sense of dignity.

“Meanwhile, on the US front, it seems people are starting to smell a rat. The CIA is still insisting that Saddam did not buy any uranium in Africa and that he’s never had any ties to Al Quaeda. They say that Bush was informed, but decided to use those lies in his speeches anyway.”

To whip up patriotic fervor, perhaps. Or to see how much obvious pap the public will swallow.

“I was reading an article a few days ago where he told a visitor to the Oval Office at the beginning of his presidency (sic) that if it had not been for the intervention of Jesus he would have been sitting in a bar in Texas instead of greeting visitors in the White House.”

Big mistake, that intervention. If he were sitting in that bar right now we might expect him to bust up a barstool—or fall off of one. He sure as hell wouldn’t be bombing Bagdad.

“Didn’t someone say the Lord works in mysterious ways....?”

Mysterious, maybe. But perverse?

Monday, March 24, 2003


Last night documentary filmmaker Michael Moore received an Oscar for “Bowling for Columbine”, a controversial picture about gun violence in the US:

Wagging his finger from the stage as he was both applauded and booed by the assembled celebrities, Moore said, "We are against this war, Mr. Bush. Shame on you." Moore, who received a standing ovation from the assembled celebrities, invited the other nominees for best documentary film to join him onstage in solidarity against the war against Iraq.

"We like nonfiction and we live in fictitious times. We live in a time where we have fictitious election results, that elect a fictitious president. We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons," Moore said.

Raven clicks his beak in applause. “Nice going. I wish he had said something about the Day of Infamy, though.”

Are we talking Pearl Harbor here, Rave?

“Not exactly. I am reading a piece by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. for the LA Times that’s republished on Common Dreams.”

I remember him. From the Kennedy days. What’s he say?

“The president has adopted a policy of ‘anticipatory self-defense’ that is alarmingly similar to the policy that imperial Japan employed at Pearl Harbor on a date which, as an earlier American president said it would, lives in infamy. Franklin D. Roosevelt was right, but today it is we Americans who live in infamy.”

He’s right, of course. I don’t feel comfortable running around with an infamous passport, either. Even here at the end of the earth.

Raven looks out the window at the pelicans circling the bay.

“Good place to hide out, though. Nice morning, too. Blue skies. Nothing but blue skies. All the way to Bagdad.”

Enough with the lyricism, Rave. What else does Schlesinger say?

“He says that The Bush Doctrine converts us into the world's judge, jury and executioner -- a self-appointed status that, however benign our motives, is bound to corrupt our leadership. As John Quincy Adams warned on July 4, 1821, the fundamental maxims of our policy ‘would insensibly change from liberty to force ... [America] might become the dictatress of the world. She would no longer be the ruler of her own spirit.’ Already the collateral damage to our civil liberties and constitutional rights, carried out by the religious fanatic who is our attorney general, is considerable -- and more is still to come.”

How does he think that has happened?

“He points the figure squarely, saying: ‘The media have played up mass demonstrations at the expense of the reasoned case against the war. According to polls, a near majority of ill-informed Americans believes Hussein had something to do with the attacks on New York and the Pentagon and resulting massacre of nearly 3,000 innocent people. Hussein is a great villain, but he had nothing to do with 9/11.’”

In short, the media are working for the government now. Jesus, Rave, I remember when journalists were the ones exposing government propaganda—not spreading it around like anthrax. And more to the point, why is it incumbent upon the US to remove Hussein from power in his own country?

“According to Schlesinger, it isn’t. He says: ‘Hussein is unquestionably a monster. But does that mean we should forcibly remove him from power? "Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled," Adams said in the same July 4 speech, "there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy." We are now going abroad to destroy a monster.’”

And creating an even greater monster at the same time. Hussein is pretty small potatoes compared to the White House hawks who are trying to take over the world!

“And giving some of us birds a really bad name, too....”