July 31 – LETTER FROM DAMASCUS by Paul Chamberlin

(Click here to read previous Letters From Damascus.)

Monday 31 July
We’ve made it to Cairo despite the combined efforts of Egypt Air, the
Department of Homeland Security, and Egyptian Customs. It really has
felt as if the best efforts of Washington, Israel, Damascus, and
finally Cairo have been massed against us. Upon arrival in Cairo we
were stopped by customs officials who discovered three carpets and
numerous tablecloths amongst my companion’s belongings. Still not
savvy enough to bribe our way out of our predicament, we resorted to
arguing with the officials until 1:30 in the morning whereupon we
agreed to leave the carpets in the airport (so that we couldn’t sell
them in Egypt, which we weren’t planning to do in any case) for a fee
of around $10. Upon settling the matter, we broke out smokes and
enjoyed French cigarettes from Syria with the Egyptian customs
officials underneath a No Smoking sign in the Cairo Airport.

Though we’ve left the specter of Israeli bombardment and Hezbollah
demonstrations in Damascus, Cairo has its own demons. Lines of
black-clad riot police encircle the Journalist’s Syndicate and
white-uniformed Tourist Police perch on nearly every street corner,
AK-47’s with attached bayonets hoisted over their backs. The tensions
here come not from Israel but from the deep discontent in Egyptian
society. The ubiquitous pictures of Nasrallah and Hezbollah flags are
replaced with the ramped-up military presence. Cairo exhibits glaring
extremes between the rich and poor, government and Islamists, and
European colonial past and uncertain future.

On Friday we manage to get an invitation to a small get-together
hosted by the daughter of the U.S. Ambassador at his residence inside
the American embassy in Garden City. The embassy itself is a fortress,
surrounded by 12-ft concrete walls and army officers, and cordoned off
from motorized traffic — Egypt is, if memory serves me, the world’s
second largest recipient of U.S. aid, behind Israel. My friend sets
off the metal detector, but the sole guard inside makes no move to
stop us. We cross a spotlessly clean courtyard underneath a large
American flag and make our way inside the residence. Inside, we’re
confronted with an oddly Americanized residence complete with bacon
and Roy Orbison cds. The ambassador’s daughter has turned the
oversized American-flag magnet on the refrigerator upside-down “until
the Lebanese invasion ends,” she jokes, and then turns it right-side
up again. We go swimming later and I enjoy screwdrivers and beer in
the Ambassador’s pool; Egypt really is a lovely place.

Nevertheless, it feels as if things have changed since I was here last
summer. My expat friend (with whom we’re staying) says he’s seen a
growing anger in Egyptian society and mounting resentment of the
United States. While Cairo still lets off a certain exuberance, it
seems as if people are less happy to hear that we’re Americans. Then
again, it could just be my imagination, or nostalgia for my previous
summer at AUC. While I’d like to be able to say that this summer has
left me with a clearer sense of what’s really going on in the “Middle
East,” I find myself less certain than ever, and more cynical in
regards to all the parties involved.

(Click here to read previous Letters From Damascus.)

'Everybody Was Dead Around Me'

July 31, 2006 Los Angeles Times

By Megan K. Stack
Times Staff Writer

QANA, Lebanon — Hour after gruesome hour, the bodies came to light Sunday. Corpses with limbs snapped into unnatural poses. Women with arms frozen upward, as if they died grasping at the sky. Children with blue faces, their mouths packed with dirt.

The two families had moved into a basement of a half-built home because they hoped it would protect them from Israeli attack; but by sunrise, they were dead.

As many as 56 people were suffocated or crushed to death by an Israeli airstrike on the home in this southern Lebanese town. Many of them were children.

The few who survived sat in hospital cots with haunted eyes Sunday. They spoke of the long hours trapped beneath heavy heaps of rubble and recalled the dying groans of their loved ones that faded through the night to silence.

“When I woke up, I started screaming, and I kept screaming for two hours,” Heyam Hasham said. Her fingernails were broken and caked with earth. She couldn’t remember how they got that way. “I thought I’d die because everybody was dead around me.”

Blinking dazedly in her hospital bed, Hasham described the last night in the house: The families tucked into a dinner of potatoes and onions at 4 p.m., then gathered around their portable radio by candlelight and listened to a speech by Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah.

“When we heard him,” Hasham said, “we were praying to stop the war.”

Israel expressed “deep sorrow” for Sunday’s attack but said Hezbollah rockets were being fired from the area. Government officials also pointed out that civilians had been warned to leave southern Lebanon.

“Liars! Liars!” cried Zeinab Ahmed Shalhoub from her hospital bed. “Every time there is a massacre they lie and make up an excuse.”

Across the hospital room, her sister, Hala Ahmed Shalhoub, nodded silently. The woman’s face was wan, her skin papery and eyes hollow. She gripped her bedsheet tight to her chin and told her story in the flat voice of a person shocked beyond emotion.

Bombs had rattled the valleys when she stretched out on a mattress with her two girls. She had to sleep, she decided, missiles or no missiles. As she drifted off, the 24-year-old mother rolled away from 18-month-old Rokaya and 3 1/2 -year-old Fatima. She felt their warm breath on her neck.

When the bomb crashed into the house, she thought it had hit a neighbor’s place. Then she realized her mouth was full of dust, and she couldn’t move under a heavy crush of rubble. Her daughters whimpered in her ear, but she couldn’t reach back to touch them.

Shalhoub doesn’t know how much time went by as she lay facedown in the dirt, listening as death overtook her only children.

“I heard my baby girl moaning in my ear,” she said, holding one listless hand alongside her ear to show where the child had lain.

“They were all covered with the dust, and they died,” Shalhoub said. “I couldn’t scream.”

It was her sister who finally saved her. The younger woman extricated herself from the broken house, hauled herself over to her sister and pulled her to safety.

By that time, Shalhoub had convinced herself that her 18-month-old baby was still alive. The child was still warm; she was sure of it.

“Get my baby,” she urged her sister.

She was hallucinating. The tiny corpse was stone cold.

Shalhoub said that she had been excited — her older daughter would soon begin school. Her eyes filled with tears at the thought. But a few beats later, she insisted that her children were martyrs and said she was glad for their deaths.

“These children, they are going to heaven,” she said. “The people who did this massacre are going to hell.”

Aside from her children, Shalhoub lost both her parents, two brothers and a sister in the attack. Her husband, along with some of the other men in the family, was in a neighboring basement at the time of the attack, she said.

A pale, bespectacled nurse named Chadi Hassan stood listening from the door in his white coat.

“Every day is a disaster here,” he muttered as he turned back to the corridor. “America is sending the best of its bombs to Israel.”

The families had come to live here on the outskirts of Qana because they were afraid to stay in their one-story houses, survivors and neighbors said. Like many families, they did not want to leave, despite the warnings to flee; they thought the war would not last long.

They got by in the basement without electricity. The mattresses were packed so tightly they had to stack them to make room to heat food on their butane cooker.

The house, owned by two grown brothers, was a dream home that hadn’t been finished. Every time one of the brothers earned a little extra money, he would put it toward the house. The pair had been working on it for four years.

Despite the Israeli bombing campaign, the children had been whiling away the summer days playing on the rocky hillsides, neighbors and parents said. They rode bicycles down the slopes and played make-believe with their dolls. They scrambled around playing hide-and-seek and soccer.

“For sure, the drones must have recognized that there were children playing in the area,” said Mohsen Hashem, a 30-year-old relative.

“They couldn’t fight the resistance on the borderline, so they came here to fight civilians with their planes.”

When the bombing let up Sunday morning, Mohammed Ismael was one of the first to arrive. When the 38-year-old scrambled up the hill and saw what remained of the house, the silence filled him with dread. Everybody must have died, he thought.

“I shouted and screamed,” he said. “I started calling names, ‘Are you all right?’ And nobody answered…. I knew they were all dead.”

He saw a 7-year-old girl sprawled on the wreckage. He thought she was asleep — then he noticed that her eyes were open, and still. He scooped her body up in his arms and carried her out. That was the beginning of a daylong hunt for bodies.

“Let America know,” Ismael said, “that from now on, if a kid is 1 year old, we’ll teach him how to fight America and fight Israel.”

Hours after the explosion, dust clung to Ismael’s mustache and coated his ears. His skinny arms were wrapped across his chest; he looked small and sad.

Rescuers said they believed many of the victims had died slowly through the long night of bombs, their faces pinned to the dirt. The bombs had kept ambulances away until daybreak. Even then, a bomb fell a soccer-field’s length from the first vehicle to arrive.

An empty silence clasped the hills Sunday. The orchards were full of hard green olives. Summer-swollen pomegranates bent the branches of trees. White flowers spangled the tobacco plants, and harvested leaves had been hung to dry on wires around the shattered house.

But everything was broken. It looked as if some enormous beast had taken a swipe out of the hillside, leaving a tumble-down structure leaking chunks of cement and twisted rebar. Rescue workers disappeared into the darkness of the rubble and emerged carrying small bodies. They lined the corpses up on a dirt path and covered them with a sheet.

“This is the most horrible thing I’ve seen,” said Red Cross volunteer Mohammed Zaatar. “It’s small babies.

“You scratch in the earth — nothing, nothing, nothing,” Zaatar added. “You follow your senses. When you feel a body underground, something shakes you. It’s a life, it’s a man, it’s a woman.”

A page torn from a child’s coloring book lay tattered on the ground, scrawled over with strokes of sunny yellow and bright blue. A diaper was discarded. Ambulances were crammed with dead children.

The groan of passing jets echoed over the valley as men dug for bodies. Sometimes the rescuers paused and turned anxious faces to the sky. Most of the time, they paid no attention — too busy or too traumatized to care.

A lieutenant colonel in the Lebanese army huddled over a list of names trying to piece together a tally of the dead. Everybody was doing that — soldiers, neighbors, surviving family members and Red Cross volunteers. He shook his head and pulled slowly on his cigar.

“As a soldier, I know there are laws for war,” he said. “This is a mass execution.”

An old woman with a deeply furrowed face and a head scarf pinned beneath her chin stepped along a rocky path toward the gutted house. The grief came in pulses over her features, and as she neared the house the sorrow erupted.

“I want to see how they were killed,” she said. “I want to see for the memories.”


Times photographer Carolyn Cole contributed to this report.


Fanning the Flames of Resistance: A benefit for those resisting the Green Scare …featuring Derrick Jensen

Green is the new Red…the 1950s had their vast Communist conspiracy, Congressional hearings, blacklists, and red-baiting. Today, we have “Eco-Terrorists…” secret databases, Congressional hearings, indictments, grand juries, raids, surveillance, arrests, convictions, and potential life sentences.

On December 7th, 2005 federal and local law enforcement began the largest roundup of alleged environmental and animal liberation activists in American history. Over the next several months, the number of arrests, indictments, and subpoenas would mount in what the government called “Operation Backfire” and what activists would eventually term THE GREEN SCARE.

In the so-called “War Against Terrorism”…
…the terrorists aren’t the ones behind bars.

Join acclaimed activist and author, Derrick Jensen, for a night of dialogue, debate, controversy, and an exploration of the nature of injustice in a so-called civilized world.

$10 sliding scale donation at the door
(generosity greatly appreciated)

No one turned away for lack of funds.

All proceeds to benefit non-cooperating victims of the Green Scare

* Government agents subject to a $975 surcharge*

Friday, July 28th… San Diego
7:00pm- 9:30pm

Che Café
At the UC San Diego campus, La Jolla, Calif., 92093
(Building 161 on the UCSD campus map)
Off I-5 / La Jolla Village Dr. / Gilman Dr.

Directions: http://checafe.ucsd.edu/directions.html

Venue: (858) 534-2311

For map, please visit: http://checafe.ucsd.edu/map.html

Saturday, July 29th… Los Angeles
7:00pm- 9:30pm

Sandpaper Books
3706 N. Figueroa Street, Los Angeles, Calif., 90065
(Near Figueroa St. & W. Avenue 37 off the 110 Freeway)


For additional info:
Info [at] EcoPrisoners [dot] org
(323) 304-2211

May a Katrina-scale "act of God" hit Pebble Beach this weekend.

From the July 28, 2006 Los Angeles Times

Media Mogul Summons the Powerful to Expound
By Sallie Hofmeister
Times Staff Writer

When 250 News Corp. executives gather this weekend for a management retreat at a posh California seaside resort, they’ll skip the typical team-building exercises that such confabs are known for. Why role-play when you can pick the brains of actual world leaders and rock stars?

Speakers at the Pebble Beach event will include such political powers as British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former President Clinton and Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres. Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton will opine on remaking complex organizations, former Vice President Al Gore will riff on climate change, and U2’s Bono will deliver a keynote address titled “The Power of One.”

The singer is likely to focus on his poverty- and AIDS-related crusade, called One. But Bono could just as easily be referring to his host, Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of News Corp.

If there’s one man with the power to summon the powerful, mogul watchers agree, it’s Murdoch.

“It’s his unique persona and his global reach that puts him in a special category,” said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld of the Yale School of Management. “He is the fulfillment, although not ideologically, of what Ted Turner aspired to be, in terms of having influence not only culturally but socially. Unlike [Viacom Inc. Chairman] Sumner Redstone, Murdoch is interested in influence as much as affluence.”

Call it the Rupert effect. The 75-year-old media maverick personally invited many of the luminaries who will make the five-day retreat an unusually high-powered blend of politics and business. Not only did they say yes, but at least one — Clinton — waived his usual $100,000 speaking fee.

A five-page agenda obtained by The Times reveals what management experts and company insiders say is a testament to Murdoch’s unusual global vision and a product of his ownership of newspapers in Australia, New York and Britain, broadcast properties and cable channels such as Fox News and satellite TV services that reach every corner of the world.

“Murdoch has created a global media market by successfully operating in very different regulatory and political environments,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. The retreat’s lineup of speakers, she said, “may tell you how he has learned about the broad base of business environments he operates in.”

News Corp. declined to discuss details of the program. According to the agenda, Murdoch will make some opening remarks Sunday evening before turning over the podium to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who in turn will introduce Blair.

Over the next several days, Peres will appear on a panel called “Islam and the West” and News Corp.’s Roger Ailes, who built Fox News, will introduce four high-ranking U.S. military officers who have served in Iraq. Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican and presidential hopeful, will talk about America’s political polarity, and Clinton will conduct a town-hall-style discussion as the gathering wraps up Thursday.

“It’s not your standard cookie-cutter management conference where you only talk about business,” News Corp. spokesman Andrew Butcher said. “The businesses we run give our people unique social responsibilities in their communities. The retreat is meant to provoke and broaden their perspectives so they return home more curious and informed about the world.”

What’s in it for the politicians? That’s simple, Jamieson said: “Media influence and the potential for political contributions.”

Murdoch, a staunch Republican, contributed $41,000 to federal political campaigns during the 2004 elections, and News Corp. President Peter Chernin, a Democrat, donated $53,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. News Corp.’s political action committee gave nearly $360,000 to House and Senate candidates in the 2003-04 elections, according to PoliticalMoneyLine.

News Corp. said politicians who currently hold office would not be paid for their participation. Jamieson said that paying them would have posed a potential conflict of interest given their influence on media regulation.

Company executives said Clinton waived his fee because of personal ties to the company; News Corp. Executive Vice President Gary Ginsberg was a lawyer in the Clinton White House. Also, despite his conservative leanings, Murdoch, who owns the New York Post, hosted a fundraiser last week for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D.-N.Y.).

World politics will not be the only topic on the agenda. A.G. Lafley, chief executive of Procter & Gamble, will lecture on building brands. A panel called “Meet the MySpace Generation” is billed as a “live focus group” that will explore the attitudes and lifestyles of 20 students. General Manager Billy Beane of the Oakland A’s baseball team will talk about radical approaches to traditional business. And the LAPD’s Bratton will be joined on his panel about reforming institutions by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers.

The retreat will be a family reunion of sorts for Murdoch. His son James, who runs News Corp.’s BSkyB satellite service in Britain, will introduce some speakers. Other Murdoch children also will be on hand, including News Corp. director Lachlan Murdoch, who quit his management position with family-controlled News Corp. last summer amid conflicts with his father.

The retreat in Pebble Beach, just up the road from Murdoch’s Carmel ranch, is modeled after an exclusive annual summit for media, technology and financial moguls hosted by investment banking firm Allen & Co. in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Both events devote mornings to formal presentations and afternoons to hobnobbing outdoors. Allen & Co. shells out an estimated $10 million to treat its guests and their families to white-water rafting, fly fishing, golf, skating, skeet-shooting and yoga. In Pebble Beach, News Corp. executives will be able to choose from 20 activities, including golf, tennis and skydiving.

For News Corp., which is known for being tight-fisted, the retreat’s trappings are lavish. At Pebble Beach, one round of golf can cost $450, including a cart. Executive suites at the Inn at Spanish Bay, where some guests are staying, start at $995 a night.

Although the Allen & Co. conference is held annually, this year’s News Corp. summit is the first since 1998. A get-together planned for 2001 was never held because of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

July 26, 2006 – LETTER FROM DAMASCUS by Paul Chamberlin

(Click here to read previous Letters From Damascus.)

Wednesday 26 July
I ended up hanging out last night with a group of Syrian teenagers on a roof in
the Old City last night smoking sheesha. One of them was sporting a
big t-shirt that had the word “THUG” scrawled across it. In between
your typical adolescent “Ahmed is gay” and “Your mom is my girlfriend”
jokes I talked with them a bit about the situation in Lebanon. Most of
them were Christian but they all had great things to say about
Nasrallah and Hezbollah. They weren’t worried, they said, because they
knew that Russia and Iran were on their side. This business about the
Shi’ite crescent doesn’t seem to make much sense in Damascus, where
Christians and Sunnis join with Shi’ites in professing support and
admiration for Hezbollah. Hezbollah flags and pictures of Nasrallah
are everywhere now. We’re seeing a lot of glossy posters with the
three faces of Hafez al-Assad, Bashar al-Assad, and Hassan Nasrallah
against a Syrian flag. My friend in Cairo suggests that Nasrallah is
becoming the new Nasser, the face of pan-Arab resistance, with
Israel’s help. So far, I haven’t spoken with anyone who has much of
anything bad to say about him.

We had a taxi driver last night who asked if we were Russians; he got
angry when he found out we were Americans and started venting about
President Bush. Apparently Clinton is cool, Powell is okay, but Bush
and this Condoleeza Rice character are no good.

We finally figured out what was going on with our tickets to Cairo.
Apparently, the paper tickets were intercepted by the Department of
Homeland Security, which is stopping most packages coming to Syria.
Thus, while we sit in Damascus amid anti-American demonstrations and
rising support for Hezbollah, the U.S. Government his holding our
tickets out of the country. Luckily, we were able to purchase
replacement tickets from EgyptAir. Now all we have to worry about is
getting a refund from the airline, but the money we paid to have the
tickets shipped to Damascus is gone.

(Click here to read previous Letters From Damascus.)

How Missionaries Keep Fucking Up the Lives of Indigenous People

July 25, 2006 New York Times

TV Review

‘P.O.V.’ on PBS: How Missionaries Spread the Word, and U.S. Capitalism


Are evangelical missionaries good or bad? That’s the question in tonight’s PBS documentary, “The Tailenders.” The missionaries’ smugness and salesmanship tend to irritate other humanitarian workers, who typically see themselves as more respectful of the people they’re tending to. What’s more, the program implies, silencing the stomping beats of, say, the Solomon Islands in favor of pallid “Jesus Loves Me” singalongs seems just wrong.

But more disturbing than this, the documentary contends, is the psychological and spiritual danger that many progressives believe is wrought by missionaries, who swipe from indigenous people their happy, peaceful ways and stick them instead with the greed, selfishness, jealousy and wrecked natural landscapes known to be the key features of global industrial capitalism.

Despite a century of such complaints, however, Protestant missionaries persist. And they’re dogged. They dress in uncool hiking clothes and pack up uncool backpacks and buses with uncool food and uncool Bibles and venture way the heck into the jungle where they — and this is the subject of “The Tailenders” — learn thorny indigenous languages so they can actually talk with people who have never heard of America, capitalism, jihad, McWorld or Jesus Christ. Missionaries may be the most parochial and audacious avatars of our modern world.

Still, after tonight’s effort to wrestle with this paradox, you will not know for sure whether missionaries are good or bad. But you will talk about it. This gorgeous, inspired and gutsy film, the first feature documentary by Adele Horne, who also produces video art, opens up new ideological vistas on religion, technology and globalization. It dares viewers not to be surprised by it.

The focus of “The Tailenders” is the Global Recordings Network, founded in 1939 in Los Angeles by an evangelical named Joy Ridderhof. She wanted to disseminate Bible stories via phonographs and gramophones. Still photographs bring to life her adventures among those she aimed to convert; there she crouches, pale and delicate, with various less-delicate-looking figures in jungles and on beaches, marveling at a tape recorder. Of the 8,000 languages and dialects believed to exist, Global Recordings has now produced Christian propaganda in more than 5,485 of them. No linguistics department could pull this off.

The idea of releasing disembodied sound on unsuspecting people — like God in the burning bush — clearly fascinates Ms. Horne, who conveys an infectious sense of “this blows my mind.” The ingenious hand-cranked audio devices, engineered to be usable by people without electricity, are presented with the amazement that only a filmmaker pious about audiovisual technology could convey.

“Every physical movement and action reverberates throughout time and space, for good or ill,” says the spacey- and sad-sounding narrator, finding an analogy for the way sound echoes. “The ripple on the ocean’s surface caused by a gentle breeze and the deeper furrow of a ponderous slave ship are equally indelible.”

This airy poetry is anchored by down-to-earth reporting in India, Mexico and the Solomon Islands. At one point, a missionary is translating a message about Christian redemption into dialect. A native speaker finds an error. As he tells the missionary, the message now says, “We will wash away God’s sins.” Something needs to change.

Less effective than the vérité and the impressionistic voice-over are Ms. Horne’s sporadic efforts to jam her material into an interpretive framework. At the end of the film, which has presented disembodied audio as a religion unto itself, Ms. Horne seems to balk at her own originality and retreat into clichés.

The voice-over says: “Where Protestant missionaries go, industrial capitalism follows. To convert to evangelicalism is to replace indigenous collectivity with the pursuit of individual economic gain.”

And then there’s a lament for what’s lost. One of the converts says that new Protestants are shunned by their villages; they’ve forgone the religion of their parents. Only if you’ve been watching closely will you realize that that lost religion is Roman Catholicism. These congregants have not lost tribal practices, they’ve just moved on from the last wave of colonial proselytizing.