Swans » From the Martian Desk


Blips #7

by Gilles d'Aymery


November 29, 2004   


"A man can believe a considerable amount of rubbish, and yet go about his daily work in a rational and cheerful manner."
—Norman Douglas, An Almanac, 1945

(Swans - November 29, 2004)   JUST DEAD-CHECKING: According to Evan Wright, in "Dead-Check in Falluja" ( The Village Voice, November 24 - 30, 2004), a US Marines sergeant was told by his priest that "it was all right to kill for his government so long as he didn't enjoy it." Later, after having killed a few Iraqis, the sergeant had second thoughts... "If we did half the shit back home we've done here, we'd be in prison," he said; and thinking about what his priest had told him, he added: "Where the fuck did Jesus say it's OK to kill people for your government? Any priest who tells me that has got no credibility."

QUOTE FOR THE AGES: "What does the American public think happens when they tell us to assault a city? Marines don't shoot rainbows out of our asses. We fucking kill people."
--A US Marine to Evan Wright

ANOTHER QUOTE FOR THE AGES: "Americans celebrate war in their movies. We like to see visions of evil being defeated by good. When the people at home glimpse the reality of war, that it's a bloodbath, they freak out. We are a subculture they created and programmed to fight their wars. You have to become a psycho to kill like we do. To most Marines that guy in the mosque was just someone who didn't get hit in the right place the first time we shot him. I probably would have put a bullet in his brain if I'd been there. If the American public doesn't like the violence of war, maybe before they start the next war they shouldn't rush so much."
--Another US Marine to Evan Wright

WHAT KIND OF A CULTURE can create such a subculture in which these soldiers realize that they "have to become psycho to kill as [they] do"? It reminds me of this young American MP whose picture was on the front page of The New York Times on October 28, 2003...a terrified kid I portrayed in "Innocence Lost" (November 3, 2003), sent overseas to maim and be maimed, and when back home, if he is still alive, will be abandoned by the very culture that created him, left without any mental care in the meat-grinding jungle of American life. Or this Israeli company commander who "confirmed the killing" of a 13-year-old Palestinian girl by shooting two bullets into the girl's already dead body, and then emptied his magazine (see blips #4, "Friendly Fire")...just dead-checking... What kind of a culture, indeed?

AMONG OTHER THINGS, one can turn to Salinas, this Californian agricultural city of 150,000 that's renowned for its famous son, John Steinbeck. The city plans to close the John Steinbeck main library and its two small branches in January 2005 -- that's the entire 112-year-old library system of this working-class city -- for lack of money. The cost of running the library system is $3 million a year, less than 17 military armored Humvees ($180,000 each). Right up the road from the main library is a school whose students who do not have computers at home and access to the Internet and who come flooding to the library each school day afternoon... According to the San Francisco Chronicle, last year, the City Council eliminated 52 jobs, crossing guards, paramedic services, graffiti abatement, most recreation programs and many other services. This year the Council "cut another 71 jobs and $7 million, including the money for all library services, all but one recreation center, 10 unfilled police positions and one firefighter."

"My feeling is that this city is dying," said Greg Meyer, a 25-year city maintenance worker who was given a layoff notice in September and will be unemployed in January. "We are opening the gates to urban blight and increased crime. Taking the libraries out of service is like a trumpet blast heralding the coming of our fall." (Source: "Beleaguered Salinas plans to close its libraries," by Maria Alicia Gaura, SF Chronicle, November 20, 2004.)

As Ray Bradbury, the author of Fahrenheit 451, once said, "You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them." The legend of the Salinas that once was won't even be available to its residents through Steinbeck's novels...

CULTURE YOU SAID? No money for libraries but plenty for other icons of American make-believe exceptionalism: According to an AP dispatch of November 22, 2004, an online casino, GoldenPalace.com, bid $28,000 on eBay to acquire a 10-year-old grilled cheese sandwich bearing the image of the Virgin Mary from its owner, Diana Duyser, "a work-from-home jewelry designer..." The spokesperson for the casino told the Miami Herald, "It's a part of pop culture that's immediately and widely recognizable. We knew right away we wanted to have it."

Let's quote the AP: "[Mrs.] Duyser said she took a bite after making the sandwich 10 years ago and saw a face staring back at her. She put the sandwich in a clear plastic box with cotton balls and kept it on her night stand. She said the sandwich has never sprouted a spore of mold."

"I would like all people to know that I do believe that this is the Virgin Mary Mother of God," said Duyser.

IN A NUTSHELL, FRIENDS (and foes), this is the widening scope of American "culture" in its shining splendor -- killing psychos, library closings (and all other social services), a plethora of casinos and consumerist temples à la Wal*Mart...and the "virgin mary" in a sandwich!

DEPORTATION: In Blips #6, I reported that 79,000 immigrants had been deported in 2003 (compared to 2,000 in 1986) for criminal offenses. Apparently the numbers are much larger. Nina Bernstein reports in "A Mother Deported, and a Child Left Behind" (NY Times, November 24, 2004) that, in 2003, 186,000 non US citizens were expelled and 887,000 others were required to make a "voluntary departure." That's over one million people! Many leave families and children behind. Bernstein writes, "immigration experts say there are tens of thousands of children every year who lose a parent to deportation." This is due to the enforcement of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRAIRA) and the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA -- the precursor of the Patriot Act), passed by the 104th Congress and signed into law by bill Clinton in 1996.

UNTIL VERY RECENTLY, a non US citizen, even a legal resident, could be deported for any minor criminal offense. Hundreds of non US citizens have been deported for Driving Under the Influence (i.e., driving drunk...). Many were deported due to convictions that had preceded the passage of the laws and were therefore at the time of conviction non punishable with deportation. Retroactivity in criminal law is unconstitutional, but eh, who cares about the Constitution -- we now obey the laws of a higher order, right?

FAMILIES ARE torn apart. Legal residents who take a short trip abroad can be arrested upon their return for a minor offense they committed many years ago. Bernstein relates the case of Berly Feliz, 47, who went to the immigration office one and one half years ago to renew her work permit, was snatched, handcuffed and deported to Honduras, without saying goodbye to her husband and young (US citizen) daughter. Says Bernstein: "By all reports Virginia Feliz had been a happy 6-year-old before her mother's expulsion. Two months later, doctors at the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Program of Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center found that she had a major depressive disorder marked by hyperactivity, nightmares, bed-wetting, frequent crying and fights at school. Now, medical records show, she takes antidepressant drugs and sees a therapist, but the problems persist."

JOSUE LEOCAL, a Haitian who came to the U.S. in 1980, got his "Green Card" in 1987 -- thus becoming a legal resident -- was convicted of a DUI causing bodily injury in October 2001. He went to jail. After serving his sentence, he was deported in November 2002, leaving behind his wife and two children, all US citizens. Again, it is the Clinton administration, of humanitarian fame, that argued for such stern actions. Thanks to the help of the Civil Liberties Union's Immigrants Rights Projects, his case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which on November 9, 2004, ruled that drunken driving, even when causing bodily harm could not be construed as a "crime of violence" and could not be subject to deportation. Meanwhile, Mr. Leocal remains in Haiti waiting for the readmission process to begin...

HOW LONG will it take before I get snatched by the FBI for my opinions due to some secret evidence (yes, a legal resident can be arrested and deported on secret evidence) and whatever clause(s) in the IIRAIRA, the AEDPA, the Patriot Act, and its forthcoming little brother? When is the newly appointed Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, going to rule that political opinions and dissent are a criminal offense deserving of deportation (remember Emma Goldman)? After all, it was Mr. Gonzales who made the legal case for Abu Ghraib and other US-made torture chambers... Want to know more? Check what the American Immigration Lawyers Association has to say on this deportation issue. (It's an Adobe Acrobat *.pdf file -- you can see it in HTML on Google.)

THIS TOO is an ominous reflection of American culture. John Steppling notes that "America as a culture makes [him] feel only shame, only disgust..." (See Letters to the Editor.) To me it's quickly becoming a nightmare, as though Halloween had actually become the order of the day...

STRANGE, I've not heard from the infuriated infuriating scavengers any longer. Even the self-described cool observer, you know, the revolutionary rodent that markets his own apparel, like magnets, mugs, baseball caps, T-shirts (you've got the choice of ringer, organic cotton, and fitted, made in the USA -- we want to be PC, no?), boxer shorts and, yes, thongs (classic thongs, no less) has kept his mouth shut. Wonder why...

THONGS with his anonymous name (a new, better, revolutionary brand, undoubtedly) emblazoned... Jan said she would buy me one for Xmas... Ten bucks -- hey, we'll do anything for the revolution! Baby Bush would call it the "ownership revolution" and he surely trembles at the thought of having the rodent marching on Washington with his army of thongs! (Perhaps should I create a new rubric, ONLY IN AMERICA.)

BUT GIVE credit where credit is due: This cool dude recently opined that "most standard tactics [for disobeying] have been rendered impotent...dissent has undergone immense commodifiction [sic]. If we were to believe our TVs, buying a Chevy is a revolutionary act (I'm being serious)." He sure is being serious. That's the crux of the matter, right...being serious... What about thongs for a revolutionary statement, monsieur la souris? Will potence with a zest of Viagra be rejuvenated thanks to the thongs? What's the next step, a tattoo on the petit zizi?

COME ON, come on, you'll say, give those good-minded people a break. They're trying hard to advocate change. Sure enough, and, by the same token, there is nothing intrinsically wrong in merchandising oneself; again, this is America -- all for one and one for one...sure thing. Then again, as old Descartes used to say, "It is not enough to have a good mind. The main thing is to use it..." (Discourse on Method 1637.)

REMINDS ME OF the folks at the Foundation for Global Community (yes, there are people out there vain enough to pick such a conceited name -- they used to be known earlier on as Beyond War and Creative Initiative) -- where I slaved for a few years as a computer professional (actually, they paid me as an outside consultant but I was, according to the law, a full-time employee -- saved them a few bucks over the years, I suppose). These are/were also good-minded people, whose purpose in life it is/was to change the world so long as the world did not change them -- pleasant suburban folks (white & white & white) that congregate all over America in little sectarian churches. Amusingly, they are/were actually rooted into a cultish New Age religion packaged in (what's new?) a non-profit, tax-exempt organization...a neat and profitable family business. If you think I exaggerate, have a look at Saving the Earth: The History of a Middle-Class Millenarian Movement, by Steven M. Gelber & Martin L. Cook (U. Of California Press, Berkeley & Los Angeles, 1990). Hey, I'll make an exception and direct you to amazon.com where you can find a few used copies. They call themselves the "chosen ones," led by one Richard Rathbun, the head of the used car lot, and son of the founders, Harry and Emilia (the High Priestess) Rathbun, with his cure (or apostles) -- one of them, Jim Burch, is currently a Council person in Palo Alto, CA, as his chignon lady's spouse perorates on a "power greater that oneself." (I've alluded to these hypocritical dingbats in "Plaisirs d'Amour: Jesuzzy Lib-Labs Meet Dick Cheney" last July, and will revisit this silly crowd more thoroughly in the future...)

THEY ARE the kind of "liberals" who always encourage quiescent market-driven change -- and I'll bet you a dinner at the local Drive-in, change meant, on Nov. 2, 2004, voting for Kerry. Now, think for a moment: Here are good-minded people, so-called concerned citizens who focused part of their lives on advocating the obsolescence of war and on achieving world peace through a culture of individual transformation entailing such spiritual niceties as the embrace of Jesus and Jesus' admonition in Luke 17:33, "whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it" -- the famous "great paradox of Jesus" (see Saving the Earth, page 8). And these very same people voted for a candidate who admonished Mr. Bush for not having taken care of Falluja last spring (I guess, they must be satisfied now...), wanted to send more troops to Iraq, kill the "terrorists" where ever they are, go after Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, etc., etc., etc. I wonder whether Tom Clewe, a mildly skeptic member of their herd, thought of his lesbian daughter as he was casting his vote for a man who was against gay marriage...

OKAY, to use Kurt Vonnegut's lingua franca, let not these teeny-weeny, tanny-wanny, toney-woney little voices of those hypocritical Twerps and Snarfs spoil our day...

MARKETING TO THE FRENCH (this is not a urban legend): Tom Bihn, a small US company from the Pacific northwest that sells its backpacks and laptop cases in France, came up with a creative label, the French part of which reads (translated back):

     Wash with warm water
     Use mild soap
     Dry flat
     Do not use bleach
     Do not dry in the dryer
     Do not iron
     We are sorry that our president is an idiot
     We did not vote for him

According to the rumor mill, Jacques Chirac, the president of France, has bought several Tom Bihn bags that he intends to give to his grandchildren as Xmas presents (pun intended).

BOONVILLE NEWS: Well, I have not heard back from Mr. Kerrent, the electrician who almost lost his truck on our dirt road, but I sure did receive an invoice from Craig Titus for the repairs and improvements the road required (and a fine job he did)! I paid the bill by return... Now, perhaps I should feel slightly unhappy about the entire affair, but it may well have been a blessing in disguise; for it turns out that Craig, a good Republican (or is it Samaritan?), has a brother-in-law who also happens to be ...a professional electrician! And last Saturday, Craig, and Rick Crabb, drove up for a short visit...and Rick is taking up the job... By the same token, Arlene Hendricks, our neighbor who shares the road with us offered to partake in Craig's bill. See, there's a sunny side to everything!

Actually, it's been a good two-week streak. First, after being away for a long fortnight, leaving me utterly stranded in the hills, Jan came for four days two weeks in a row. We drove all around, to Santa Rosa for another Court appearance, then to Cloverdale where we stopped at Chuck and Darren Sibert's Saw & Mower Center, a local business that had been highly recommended by a Boonville old-timer, Bob Pardini. There, we purchased a Husqvarna 359 chain saw (with a 20" bar), before carrying on to Ukiah where I wanted to investigate about railroad ties (there ain't any for sale in the Valley). We stopped by Rainbow Agricultural Services to get feedstock for our chickens (by the way they also sell chain saws and carry the Husqvarna brand -- more about this in a moment) and drove on to Ukiah Valley Lumber to check on railroad ties. Did not have them, so they directed us to Friedman's, a somewhat upscale replica of the dreaded Home De(s)pots that are so methodically putting the small mom & pop hardware stores out of business all over America. There too, they carry Husqvarna...

Now, people know that I endeavor to shop in local stores and stay away from the so-called mega-discount-everyday-low-price giant merchandisers. I've only walked in a Wal*Mart once, and it was out of total necessity within dire circumstances in some Colorado boonies. Even when we still lived in the Bay Area and could buy Watco wood finish at Orchard's (a Sears subsidiary) at 10 to 15 percent less than what I'd have to pay at Rossi's (the Boonville hardware store) or Ukiah Valley Limber, I'd buy at Rossi's and UVL... As Brother Frank (Wycoff) keeps saying, "if you don't support your business community, don't whine and cry when they disappear..." So Darren Sibert in Cloverdale got my business...and what did I get from him? First, he prepared the machine and showed me how to use it. Second, he taught me how to start the engine (there're two methods). Third, we walked to a big log outside and he demonstrated the safe position one should keep when using such a powerful, and dangerous -- local loggers will smirk! -- tool (something I knew). Fourth, he recommended the type of oil and gas I should use and how to regularly clean the air filter. Fifth, he strongly recommended I buy a brush shield protector. Sixth, he informed me that should I experience a problem or have a question, I should feel free to call at any time. Seventh, he said that, as Bob Pardini and so many other customers do, I could leave the machine there for maintenance whenever needed.

So, how much did I have to pay for all this?

At Rainbow, also a family business, albeit a much larger one, the price of the chainsaw was $449.95. Friedman's charged the same price, $449.95. With the service I received from Darren Sibert, you'd presume I had to pay around $500, no? Their price: $449.95. And on top of the seven steps Darren went through, and the oil and gas he used to fill the machine, and his time, he threw in a $7.95 file and filing guide, and a plastic cover for the bar...

What's the chance of having your investment taken care of and serviced at Friedman's, or Home Depot, or Wal*Mart? Do I need to make the point here? And, by the way, where would you find a business card that reads "Have a nice day . . . 'Asshole'" but in Cloverdale?

On our way back home, we also stopped by Lampson Tractor & Equipment Co., and looked at a Kubota BX23 22 HP diesel tractor with a backhoe and a loader. Tad Kimbler answered all our questions, and upon our request that he come and look at our conditions, offering to pay him to do so (hard to have anything done in America without Greens in your pocket), he showed up the next day free of charge. Next week he should give us a demonstration by bringing a tractor up here -- no obligation... I guess I'll have more to tell on this in the future "Boonville News."

Gosh, there's even more: The Willits's folks at Earthlab, David and Darius, showed up on November 24. The result: We have a Norwegian Jøtul F3CB wood stove installed in our house. How cozy and warm does it feel, you ask? Put it this way, 40 deg. F. outside (about 5 deg. C.) and 68 deg. (20 C.) inside...that's how it feels!

We've even found time to plant two 5-gallon sycamores purchased from Greg and Wendy Ludwig and cut wood with the help of Natcho.

Last and not least, when Mark Scaramella, the Major(dome) of the legendary Anderson Valley Advertiser, stops mangling the spelling of my name, it will be another happy day in Boont Country! Then, maybe, and only maybe, Publisher & Editor David Severn, once he has digested his turkey and is no longer overwhelmed by the editing of his paper (that could take a while longer!), will find the time and the inclination to sit down with me or answer my e-mails (ya' know, click on "Reply," type a message and press "Send..."); and now that we've sent our financial contribution to the AV volunteer Fire Department to help pay for new equipment (that the County and State can't afford) perhaps Chief Wilson will come and visit...as we kindly asked and he agreed some 13 months ago! But, eh, as Jean de La Fontaine used to say, "Patience et longueur de temps font mieux que force ni que rage." Go translate.

AND WHAT DID MR. BUSH have to proclaim on Thanksgiving Day, 2004? "All across America, we gather this week with the people we love to give thanks to God for the blessings in our lives. We are grateful for our freedom, grateful for our families and friends, and grateful for the many gifts of America. On Thanksgiving Day, we acknowledge that all of these things, and life itself, come from the almighty God." I guess Richard Rathbun genuflected and said Amen! No mention, however, of Berly Feliz, Josue Leocal, et al. As to the Iraqis, tough luck people, they ain't American (only their oil is)!

I HEAR THAT America exercised her god-given rights and blessings by flooding her consumerist temples as early as 2:00 a.m. on Friday, November 26, 2004.

WOW! I breathe better suddenly.

And so it goes...

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America the 'beautiful' on Swans


Gilles d'Aymery is Swans' publisher and co-editor.

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Published November 29, 2004
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