LIFE DURING WARTIME: From the 2003 diaries of DAVID BYRNE (Arthur, 2003)

Originally published in Arthur No. 5 (July 2003)

Life During Wartime

From the journals of musician-artist-activist David Byrne…

These are excerpts from a journal/diary. Obviously I’ve taken out all the personal stuff and left only the notes referring to the war, or rather, the invasion of Iraq. This makes me seem like a bit of an obsessive-all the rest of my life has been edited out and only the anger and paranoia remains. I’d prefer a life with the anger and paranoia edited out, but it seems that won’t be in the cards this year.

Feb 9 

Dinner at GM’s birthday at Savoy-lots of New York Times, New Yorker and other writers present whom I didn’t know—Don DeLillo at least I knew. A situation where I couldn’t jump up and leave easily, so I guess I wasn’t going to manage to sneak out and see those Icelandic bands downtown. Surprisingly, after some chit-chat with my surrounding diners the topic inevitably turned to the war and soon got very heated. The New Yorker writer next to me, for example—a young, attractive woman-said, “the French are always a problem, they’ve CAUSED this problem; so many of these Arab intellectual problem people studied there, and their philosophers, Derrida etc., are all sympathetic”—this is a paraphrase, but you get the idea. It just went on from there. A surprising number surrounding me were gung-ho for the war. None are dummies, but it’s surprising how they toe the Bush propaganda line and don’t see it as propaganda at all. I actually shouted at one point (saying it wasn’t just the French—if you’re going to slander those who disagree with this policy then you’d better deal with the Russians and Germans too at this point) Their position is that the success of the U.S. intervention in Bosnia justifies the use of military intervention, but that took place after how many years of vacillating, and with at least a few other nations backing, no? Milosevic and co were actually still involved in their ethnic cleansing campaign when NATO began bombing. Korea and Turkey are now additional powder kegs in the conversations, both of them confusing issues and mostly avoided. Yikes, what’s going on here? 

It is amazing that this topic dominates bourgeois dinner conversation–as it should–but still, it’s a strange new world. Again, I don’t feel comfortable here. Yikes. 

Feb 12 

Well, I guess I felt pushed over the edge by last night’s dinner. Decided to see if I can take out a New York Times full-page anti-war ad and recruit other musicians to lend their names and cash, as the thing might cost as much as 80 thousand!! Josh at Luaka Bop has been helpful, thanks to his experience with the Beasties’ Tibet efforts. Danielle and I did a rough layout, and Josh brought in a coordinator, a guy named David Fenton who’s done lots of political ads–and in this case Fenton had just met with Russell Simmons, who guaranteed that he, Jay-Z, Mos Def and Puff Daddy are in. Move On (the organization that has organized some of the marches) has agreed to cover half the cost if need be, which is a relief. 

Osama is using the impending war to his own advantage (despite his undisguised dislike for Saddam) and is calling for more attacks on the U.S. Our government’s response is to suggest that we stock up on water and duct tape.

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DON’T BLAME THE MESSENGER (Editorial, Arthur No. 5, July 2003)

Originally published in Arthur No. 5 (July 2003)


…To rage in sound this valiant despair

Doom and gloom as each a splendid pair

To rage in sound the valiant despair

Play your gloom axe Stephen O’Malley

Sub bass ringing the sides of the valley

Sub bass climbing up each last ditch and combe

Greg Anderson purvey a sonic doom…

Don’t blame the messenger of gloom,

Don’t blame the messenger of doom,

For this be the Ragmarockingest aeion

In stillness O’Malley and Anderson play on… play on… play on…

– text by Julian Cope for “My Wall” by SUNN0)))

When we started working on this issue, the war was still on. (Oh we know it wasn’t a war, it was an invasion. And yes I know the war isn’t over yet, that  it’s only just shifted into a traumatic transition-to-imperial rule period.) We’d just finished the last issue as the USUKFOXMSNBCAOL forces had begun to roll across the desert, embarking on an epic fool’s errand that we‘ll all be paying for the rest of our lives. We decided to do what we could as soon as possible: to publish an issue of Arthur as powerful as we could muster to confront, or at least examine, the United States’ newest, and most dangerous yet, lurches towards imperial power abroad and a weird kind of proto/crypto-fascist rule at home.

“Imperialist,” “empire,” “fascist”: these are strong words, and I assure you, they are not used lightly here. But what other words describe where we are now? America is simply continuing to expand its military presence across the globe—now we are not just in Germany (100,000 troops, 58 years after the end of World War II), or South Korea (40,000 troops, more than four decades after the Korean War’s conclusion), or Japan, or the Philippines, or Puerto Rico, or Afghanistan, now we are in the heart of the Middle East. We are acting as empires do: expanding outward, identifying pockets of resistance, stamping them out and replacing them with puppetish local governments who operate under the watchful eye of centurions who report back to the seat of Empire.

And at home? I walk out my front door and find that an American flag has been placed on my (rented) front walk by a local realtor, advertising his services. I drive to Vons for some groceries and almost every vehicle has an American flag stickered on it. “United we stand, divided we fall” warbles some mawkish Up With People choir on the Vons PA; when I complain to the store’s manager, she looks at me like I’m a madman, or worse, a Muslim. I come home and there’s a letter from a Dreamworks promosexual about the success of country dipshit singer Darryl Worley’s call to arms, “Have You Forgotten,” an execrable song that advocates the slaughter of innocent Iraqis in revenge for the September 11 attacks they had nothing to do with. (Note: This song was #1 on the country charts for six straight weeks.) In the weeks since, with the exception of wise old Senator Robert Byrd and some brave mainstream media commentators (take a bow, Paul Krugman, James Wolcott and Robert Sheer!), there’s been such a wave of unrelenting propaganda and willful disinformation and just plain misdirection by both the government and the media that many of us who know something has gone terribly wrong are finding ourselves disheartened, isolated and depressed. We return to our various recreational and business and creative pursuits in a (totally understandable!) ostrich-like effort to forget what has happened and what is happening and what is gonna happen next. 

We are in a trance-state. A trance State.

So,  naturally, people started asking, Are you still planning to do that anti-Bush issue of Arthur? We said, Hell fucking yes. You’re in the worst danger when you don’t think you’re even in danger. Better to leave the light on, so you can at least see what is happening. When crazy talk has become accepted common sense, when a powerful elite’s delusion has become the consensus reality, that’s when dissidents have to speak up, or at least speak with each other. An historical example of this, and the primary inspiration for this specific issue of Arthur, is the ferociously satirical work that German collagist/artist John Heartfield did for the AIZ paper in the late ‘20s and ‘30s, warning against Hitler’s ascent from early on. Heartfield was not just right–he didn’t just see something awful coming that way–he did something about it. This is crucial. Heartfield didn’t curse the darkness–he cursed Hitler. 

We want to try and do the same. This issue is a collective curse against the folly of empire, against those who advocate it and those who profit from it. It’s a curse against the Bush Administration and its media mandarins and apologists. It’s a curse against the willful ignorance and docility of so many Americans. And it’s (hopefully) a call, an inspiration, to all righteous free-thinking individuals to simply do what you can to shut this shit down. Do what you’re best at! But do it in such a way that at a minimum, it causes no harm. 

Think about the consequences of all of your actions. 

Re-align your life the best you can. 

And remember that you are NOT alone. 

Because if there’s one thing we’ve learned doing Arthur, it’s how un-alone we are. Know that this whole enterprise is ad-hoc, put together by both friends and strangers on the basis of trust. It’s entirely financed by our loyal, beneficent advertisers, by some unbelievably generous donors and, well, by Laris’ and my personal credit cards. It’s created by a talented, as-yet-salary-less staff and a loose coalition of brilliant, as-yet-unpaid contributors. It’s distributed—by hand!—by a guerrilla network of wonderfully dedicated, as-yet-uncompensated volunteers, spread across North America. Arthur’s success is, in short, a model of a different way of doing things: of people engage in mutual aid and good faith and goodwill, all in the service of freethinking, at-length-if-necessary, full-on free expression. Isn’t that what being human amongst other humans should be about? It doesn’t have to be about endless exploitation and bottomless greed and an unending quest for power/control and the rule of the jungle. This may sound banal, but seriously: if more of us just tried harder, more of the time, this can be a better world.

And if the world doesn’t get better? Well, at least we did our damnedest.

Jay Babcock

Los Angeles

May 29, 2003


June Carter Cash, 1929-2003

by Paige La Grone Babcock

Originally published in Arthur No. 5 (July 2003)

She died on Thursday May 15. Complications from heart valve replacement  surgery were the cause; that, and being without oxygen too long, whereby her loved ones were forced to take her off life support. My adopted hometown went into deep mourning. The following Sunday, I sat beside my new husband on our beat-up sofa in Nashville, watching Channel 5 broadcast the funeral of June Carter Cash from the First Baptist Church in Hendersonville, just up Gallatin Road and through two townships from where we sat holding hands at home. 

The place was packed with fans, friends and the famous–from Sheryl Crow to Jane Seymour to Larry Gatlin, all of whom spoke or performed during the sometimes moving, sometimes bizarre open mic portions of the service. A mad crush of flowers dressed the altars, the backdrop to the speaker’s podium, and flanked the blue coffin wherein lay the 73-year-old body of June Carter Cash. After the funeral, I read that her children asked that flowers be sent in lieu of donations, for their mother had loved them so. I wondered if the coffin color was what the family knew as “June-blue,” self named for her favorite shade. 

Johnny sat in the front row, in a wheelchair, not walking the line, but kinda broke-down, untethered; an American icon wholly human before us. Seeing him so made me squeeze my own husband’s hand harder. June and Johnny, married to one another for 35 years, found each in the other a soul mate in mid-life. Theirs is neither fable nor fiction, but fated love story for the ages. And that love first fettered then unfurled, became June’s greatest art, midwifing her most enduring and exponentially regenerative acts of faith; faith in God, faith in man, faith in big beautiful bittersweet Life, and in the salvation that comes from belonging. 

Well practiced in the womanly art of community building,  June Carter Cash was one of the faces of radical feminism in my book. Not unlike choices made by women the world over–from my mother to my best girlfriend, to Patti Smith post-Mapelthorpe and prior to her husband’s untimely departure from this world– June mindfully feathered her nest, made welcome what came, and enlarged the circle by choosing home and family, (both blood and chosen) as the focus for her spotlight. Not the choice for all, but a valid and deeply beautiful choice for her, June Carter Cash lived in a way that inspires women to follow their hearts, making choices that suit them and their get, rather than buying into received opinion of shoulds and should nots. June had the strength and the intelligence, the warmth and the gumption to go on ahead and embrace her greatest gift–that of being the glue, that of being the magic. 

She was a female familial icon of continually shifting status: born into the First Family of Country Music as daughter of Maybelle, sister of Anita and Helen; married into Legend as wife of Johnny and mother to seven children, a family of both fame and of infamy. (That next generation is smattering of yours, mine and ours, including musicians Carlene Carter, John Carter Cash and Rosanne Cash, the latter of whom told all in her elegantly gracious eulogy for June, that while the elder Cash–who refused to preface daughter with “step”–hadn’t given her physical birth, she’d nonetheless helped to birth her future). None of these is the lead role; all are defined by their interrelationships. In this web of interdependence that revolved and spun near and around her, June played an integral supporting role. The sum of the parts she played are enough to populate that proverbial village we hear so much about–the one it takes to raise a child, or a rock star (same difference…), or anchor a Family Fold.  She played each role with gusto, with grace, with joy.

None of which is to deny her individuality; it is in fact to her credit that she found her own voice and self at all–surrounded as she was, June could easily have gotten by standing on the shoulders of giants. She was always a unique figure, an attention-getter. If one Carter Sister had the looks and one had the voice, June had the personality. She was the fun one. She threw off enough sparks to catch the attention of Elvis–never at a loss for female attentions–in their tent-show days. She was a good actress, a protege of Elia Kazan; her talent flowed from her strong sense of self, her confidence. Latter day appearances in fare like Robert Duvall’s The Apostle more than testify to this. Her comic timing was flawless— from her first bit as a kid walking on stage with a plank (looking for her room; she had her board) to her send up of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” with Homer and Jethro, to her deliciously kooky warble and pointed delivery of “Tiffany Anastasia Lowe” on the Grammy-winning solo album Press On

A critical success in 1999, Press On is the musical autobiography of a remarkable woman spanning a remarkable set of circumstances for the better part of the last century, a remarkable time in and of itself. Reissued only last month by Dualtone, setting the stage for a September follow-up, Press On bookends itself with Carter tunes and carries within its grooves June’s take on her very own “Ring Of Fire.” One of the most enduring and affecting country songs ever (even if it was most likely the afterthought conqueso horns that boosted it up the charts for the Man In Black), “Ring of Fire” is a nugget of gut-wrenching poetry on the allure of dangerous love. The fact that Johnny was its inspiration, and that the songwriter not only married him but saved him from himself in the process, is a twist of sweet justice.

As June always told it, and was oft recorded saying, for her there were only two kinds of people in the world: the ones she knew and loved, and the ones she didn’t know. And loved.

When at the funeral, Rosanne stood to read her beautiful words, she spoke what everyone had on their minds— that her father, Johnny Cash, had lost his anchor, his dearest companion. To my mind, had we never known June’s radio shows, films, records or books, we’d have known of the love she’d shared with this man, and that in and of itself would have been more than enough. It’d been salvation, in some small way, to all who witnessed it. What greater gift, than to be the glue, to be the magic?

Thank you, Valerie June Carter Cash. Thank you for giving us artful aspiration of kith and kin. We should all be so blessed,  to be somebody’s glue, somebody’s magic. 

You will be remembered fondly and often, as we all press on. 

Paige La Grone Babcock lives in Nashville, Tennessee with her husband Eric.

THE REDS & THE WHITES & THE BLUES by Michael Moorcock (Arthur, 2003)


Waving the flags of empire in the 21st century

by Michael Moorcock

Originally published in Arthur No. 5 (July 2003)

“It’s not easy to get everyone against you.”

                           Imran Khan, Pakistani cricketer, April 2002

“What God hates most is arrogance. And what I see in the United States is sheer arrogance.”

                          Mullah Anar M. Anif, Peshawar, Pakistan, April 2002

“Chap in a dishdash coming through.”

                          British officer in Iraq, March 2003

BLOOD RUNS DOWN  the camera lens. The American plane has shot up a column of Kurds, US Special Forces and a BBC TV crew. “A scene from hell,” says journalist John Simpson, whose interpreter has just been killed. Some of the footage, sans the blood, is shown on American network TV for a few seconds. Most of these scenes from hell, of course, are not filmed. They are happening to people who don’t own video cameras. 

Sitting here in Texas watching BBC TV on my computer reminds me that there is no film from Amritsar except the fictional reconstruction offered in Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi. That hypocritical piece of imperial self-serving posed as an authentic account. The massacre was portrayed as an aberration rather than the norm. I also start thinking of Lawrence of Arabia, David Lean’s powerful piece of romanticized imperial history. I recall how disgusted I was by Attenborough’s other essay into whitewashing middle-class liberal sensibilities, Cry, Freedom, about the murder of Steve Bitko in South Africa. The British are good at this kind of misleading sentimentality. They’re subtler than Americans who crudely rewrite history to show themselves or versions of themselves as simple heroes, whether it’s Errol Flynn single-handedly ‘liberating’ Burma in WW2, Mel Gibson defeating the British in The Patriot, Mel Gibson pretending to be a Norman baron gone native in Braveheart, the falsifications of Blackhawk Down, or Americans (rather than British) discovering how to beat the Germans with the Enigma machine. The British are ultimately more persuasive, I suspect. They’ve had more practice at this kind of patriotic propaganda than the Americans, by and large. Everyone’s learned from Goebbels, whether they know it or not, of course.

“Chap in a dishdash…”


Those of us still alert to the language of Empire remember the teenage soldiers coming home to Britain to tell stories of the tricks they played on brown civilians across the globe in the 1940s and 50s as the British slowly gave ground to angry freedom fighters in, for instance, Burma, Malaya, Kenya, Palestine and Cyprus.


I’d forgotten about dishdash, which in the language of British imperialism is used as a generic for almost any Middle Eastern garment, though I hadn’t forgotten about ‘imshi’, for instance. I’ve written a bit about British colonial occupations in, my book Breakfast in the Ruins (available free on the net at RevolutionSF off the SF Site, if you’re interested). My book A Nomad of the Time Streams also dealt with the idealism of Empire and how it gets decent people to do its dirty work (that isn’t free, but it’s pretty cheap, second hand). All my writing life, in fact, I’ve been addressing the matter of Empire and I’d rather hoped I was seeing the end of that particular aggressive folly…

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“Consumer Imperialism” by Charles Potts (Arthur, 2003)

Originally published in Arthur No. 5 (July 2003)

Consumer Imperialism
by Charles Potts


While our attention is distracted by Iraq
Take time to object to some of the other wars
The American empire is fighting concurrently as well, such as
The war in The Philippines, the war in Columbia,
The war in Korea, the war in Afghanistan,
The war in Israel, the war in Pakistan,
The war in Yemen, the war on Terror,
The war on poverty, the war on drugs,
The war on The Bill of Rights,
The war on common sense itself.

The war of America against the world
Can’t be about anything grander than
The president’s pathology and popularity.

Not since King Lear have speakers of English been mislead
By a leader so completely ‘round the bend.
Power is dangerous enough in the hands of ordinary plodders.
In the hands of the crazy and uneducated
The danger expands exponentially.

The last time Congress declared war was 1941.
62 years later the siege mentality still rules.

The 18th century supposition behind the Separation of Powers, ie
Congress shall have the power to declare war;
The president shall be the commander in chief of the armed forces
Presupposed that a declaration of war would precede
Any armed forces to command

Since we devolved to a permanent military
With the president as the commander
We have perpetual war
With Congress towed along like the tail of a kite.

Someday we’ll lift the siege and see
The pitiful men behind the curtains pulling strings.

Consumer Imperialism

In 1946 the Truman Administration cobbled together policy
That will guide America and the United States into a grave:
Stimulate domestic consumption and search for foreign markets.

World War Two propelled Americans across the world
Destroying their distinguished isolation
And Woodrow Wilson’s doctrine of self determination of nations,
Putting Hershey Bars and atom bombs along with GI Joes
Into the world word bank
Along with the great American coinage, OK.

OK can mean anything from yes to you are on your own.
OK, if that’s the way you want it,
OK with me.

It might have been OK if they’d confined domestic consumption to
The simple facts of warm clothes, adequate housing, and nutritious meals,
The need for which food stamp Americans have in common with everybody else.
“One third of the nation is ill fed, ill clothed, ill housed,” FDR declaimed seventy years ago.
It’s still true for radically different reasons one depression later.

In 1946 the American people were hungry to forget
The Great Depression
With its soup lines, dust bowls and railroaded hobos
As the speculated roaring of the twenties simpered out into
The savage thirties whine.

The exact point in the relationship between
Dying early to save the system money and
Working to consume yourself to death efficiently
Hasn’t quite been worked completely out to policy maker’s actuarial satisfaction.

Americans stood 19th century Maytag frugality on its head:
Build it well and make it last,
Darn your socks, grind your wheat, make your own soap,
Do without until you can afford it,
Into a plastic credit card throw away civilization
Destroying the environment on the side as a
Mildly regrettable cost of doing business
Symbolized by the shopping cart in the trough with
Wal-Mart’s predatory criminal labor and retail practices.

In the old days prior to 1946, except for Mexico, Louisiana, Oregon and the Indians,
The United States government had confined its actual imperialism
To the Roosevelt Doctrine’s annual obligatory invasion of Latin America

With a few cruel Hawaiian exceptions such as when their empire of ironic slaughter
Was taken to the limit in Aguinaldo’s Philippines
Led by Teddy Roosevelt’s “secret” admiration of the British Empire

Who goaded American into building a navy
Sufficiently enormous eventually to make the basket catch
Of the British Empire’s bases and other falling stock in the Atlantic Charter.

Post 1946 when imperialism became the way of life
Colonial wars piled up in the history books alongside Syngman Rhee’s Korea,
Hoh Chi Minh’s Viet Nam, Salvadore Allende’s Chile,
And Saddam Hussein’s broken Babylon.

Some of the secret history rarely gets recited in public
Like General Eisenhower’s perpetual overthrow by his CIA Army of
Governments in Guatemala, Iran, Cuba, The Congo, Indonesia and Vietnam.

“It’s about jobs,” George Bush the 1st gesticulated nervously
When asked to rationalize the Gulf War he’d goaded
The allies into reestablishing the British Empire’s toehold on the oily Emirate of Kuwait.

The United States military has been under siege
Real or imagined,
Sometimes both; never neither,
Since the bombing of Pearl Harbor–
Sixty plus years of the war that never stops.

It’s what these southern kleptocrats desire
Under siege like the Confederates
Where they lost the battles and built the shrines
The basis (es) of their military theocracy preys upon.

Semi-Colon half an asshole Powell used to claim with a straight face that
The exit strategy is the most important aspect of Colonial War.
There is no exit from Consumer Imperialism.

Consumer Imperialism, World War 3.1

World War 3.1 was a knife fight at 20,000 feet.
Have your will up to date.

Never lose sight of the fact that the “faith based initiative”
Which took out the twin towers of the World Trade Center
Was carried out by trainees of the CIA once removed
Unleashing a relentless wave of video military fascism.

Win the war on terrorism by training counter terrorists
To terrorize other people in a war on abstract nouns.
Government by sarcasm is an unfit substitute for self rule.
Help wanted: somebody to shovel the horseshit off the information superhighway.
With each side referring to the other side as evil
It makes one wonder if both sides are right.
Evil is that which has power over you.
God doesn’t take sides; that’s what makes God God.
Human beings have no faith in their own story,
So they drag in God as the author of
Their Christian and Moslem shenanigans.

Flying hijacked commercial airliners into the World Trade Center and Pentagon
Was a reckless act of freedom
Rather than an attack on it or democracy as claimed by the unelected
President Bush who obtained office by judicial fraud,
Hardly an unimpeachable spokesman for Democracy.

There was no attack on
The Samuel J. Tilden New York Public Library or
The Statue of Liberty.
That would have been an attack on Freedom and Democracy.

The world trade towers were a symbol all right:
A symbol of the Rockefeller brothers’ capacity
To manipulate the public policy of the
New York and New Jersey Port Authorities into
Rescuing some of their down in the mouth real estate
At the lower end of Manhattan.

The attack was on World Trade and Consumer Imperialism.

The design competition will create a monument to the victims.
How about creating a world trade system that is fair to all participants?
Now that would be an enduring monument.

War is now perpetual when it used to be punctuated by peace.
America is a winner’s tragedy; freedom destroyed in a pitiful exercise to save it.

Et Tu Bruté?

There’s nothing left of Caesar except a salad and a haircut.

Caesar, Julius, who
Killed half the able bodied of France
To bring those reluctant frogs
Into a Roman pond

Who bridged the Rhein near Speyer
In ten short days
Without an environmental impact statement
Or German permission.

Comilitones, he intoned,
I have crossed the Rubicon.
Cut the Gordian Knot
As Alexander did.
Cut the umbilical cord
Across his mother’s belly
Up out from down under her narrow birth canal.
This is the way to the Cesarean section.

Not everybody born by the knife
Can grow up to be both
The Queen of Bithnyia
And the Emperor of Rome.

My fellow toddlers it is still
Government by assassination.
We can’t avoid the history of
The Meiji Restoration and Eisenhower’s CIA.
Brutus honey, is that you?

American presidents elected every twenty years since Lincoln
In zero years to match their accomplishments
Have either been assassinated or the attempt was made:
Garfield, McKinley, Harding, Roosevelt, Kennedy, Reagan.
Among these august dead did the living
Have even half a chance?

What if Bush the younger
Brought into office by black robes
In the year of double zeros
Would take a silver bullet
To match the silver spoon
He’s been porking out in
The public lunch box with.

If some Shakespearean character in a play would say:
“Bush should be assassinated
To meet the rhythm test of history,”
She’d be making an observation
Not a threat.

Pity and terror are the Draino of literature
According to Aristotle and Herb Ruhm.
Therefor, making war on terror is an infringement
On poet’s rights.

Bring me the chicken Caesar
Hold the haircut.

Terror is half our stuff.
What’s next,
A war on pity?

The Rocket’s Red Glare

The empire can be managed to a soft landing
Or it can be kicked apart
By the idiots who rule it and their intended victims.

The second half of the war on Iraq
Suggests the American empire will
Fight colonial wars ad infinitum
Until they exhaust themselves.

Knowing this doesn’t knock me out with happiness
But it would save protesters a lot of time
If they can agree it’s the inevitable
Fate of empires
Who imagine they’re immune to history
While merely being ignorant of it.

“YOU AND WHOSE ARMY?: Is George W. Bush Addicted to Cocaine?” by Paul Cullum (Arthur, 2003)

Originally published in Arthur No. 5 (July 2003)

YOU AND WHOSE ARMY?: Is George W. Bush Addicted to Cocaine?
A “Camera Obscura” column by Paul Cullum

CAMERA OBSCURA is a regular column examining the world and its lesser trafficked tributaries, recesses and psychic fallout through the filters of film, video and DVD.

DVDs/videos discussed in this column:
o Horns and Halos, directed by Suki Hawley and Michael Galinsky
o Journeys with George, directed by Alexandra Pelosi
o Uncle Saddam, directed by Joel Soler
o What I’ve Learned About U.S. Foreign Policy: The War Against the Third World, compiled by Frank Dorrel
o Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election, directed by Richard Ray PÈrez and Joan Sekler

“If George W. Bush has not used cocaine, he ought to say it. If he has, he ought to say it and then say how he overcame it.” —Sen. Orrin Hatch (R.-Utah)

Is George W. Bush a pederast? Neo-fascist? Born-again zealot? Serial rapist? The question itself brooks no compromise; to raise it is tantamount to treason. The exact incidence and degree of oral-genital stimulation tolerated by a standing president may be suitable for the Congressional Record, but try suggesting we have a Crackhead-in-Chief, and see how far it gets you.

Yet given our president’s globally mystifying behavior of the past two months, no less than the paragons of the Fourth Estate have at least flirted with the concept in polite company. Following Bush’s televised press conference on March 7t, Maureen Dowd in the New York Times labeled him “the Xanax Cowboy” and observed that, “Determined not to be petulant, he seemed tranquilized.” Tom Shales in the Washington Post put a finer point on it: “It hardly seems out of order to speculate that, given the particularly heavy burden of being president in this new age of terrorism … the president may have been ever so slightly medicated.” Another New York Times editorial, by Paul Krugman, compares Bush’s pre-war behavior to that of Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny, famously fondling marbles and paranoidly raging about missing strawberries.

That national leaders can be addicted to drugs may be less an aberration than the historical norm.

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“Why I am glad George Bush is President” by Daniel Pinchbeck (Arthur, 2003)

Originally published in Arthur No. 5 (June 2003)

Why I am glad George Bush is President
by Daniel Pinchbeck

It is painful to admit it—I flinch away from saying it—but I am glad George Bush is President.
Don’t get me wrong: I consider him the worst and most dangerous leader this country has ever had. He is a smirking abomination, a fascistic fratboy, an avatar of the deepest, darkest murk burbling at the bottom of the American soul. In the 19th Century, Emerson wrote, “The mind of this country, taught to aim at low objects, eats upon itself.” The current administration is the culmination of generations of American minds aiming lower and lower, gnawing upon their own emptiness and projecting it into the void. Attention spans and memories have contracted to the length of one news cycle. ADD and Alzhemier’s are the perfect metaphors for this amnesiac age.

I am glad that George Bush is President because humanity has to make a choice, and our time for making that choice is quickly running out.

In the greater scheme of things, Enron doesn’t matter. Halliburton doesn’t matter. “War on Iraq” doesn’t matter. Israel doesn’t matter. Al Quaeda doesn’t matter. Art doesn’t matter. Film doesn’t matter. TV doesn’t matter. Celebrity doesn’t matter. Ego doesn’t matter. America doesn’t matter.
Only the biosphere matters. Without a radical change in direction, the imminent collapse of the planet’s life support systems is what counts.

The coral reefs are disappearing, the polar ice caps are melting, fresh water is becoming a scarce resource, every ounce of our blood contains a catalogue of industrial chemicals. The fancy gadgets we bought yesterday are leeching toxins into Third World soil today. Around the globe, desperate peasants are fleeing their parched and ruined lands to congregate in the slums of vast “mega-cities.” Within several decades, at the current rate of resource-depletion, there will be no tropical forests left on the Earth. Before that can happen, however, the structures holding together contemporary civilization will have disintegrated along with the environment.

Modern consumer culture is a vast machine of entropy, breaking down the planet’s life support systems and destroying indigenous cultures to continue its unsustainable addictions. The United States-­the worst offender-­consists of less than five percent of the world’s population guzzling 25% of the global production of energy and, by some accounts, more than 40% of the world’s resources. Bush and Cheney are old-fashioned gangsters, but Bill Clinton and Al Gore were smiley faced snake-oil salesmen for the corporate globalization that has unleashed its scorched-earth effects across the planet. Good riddance to them, their lies and their arrogance and their compromises. The changes that need to be made go far beyond what our current political system can enact–even if the system hadn’t been juked by crooked “ATM-style” voting machines and hanging chads.

It is time for the great dehypnotizing of the citizens of Planet Earth.

I agree with Bush’s spiritual advisers: We have entered the Apocalypse in the “Book of Revelation.” But who do they think was being referred to when the prophet wrote: “Destroyed will be the destroyers of the Earth?” And who are the meek who will inherit the planet when the destroyers are done with it? Could it be the indigenous people, who never lost contact with the heartbeat of the planet, who have endured the arrogance of forgotten empires in the past and will continue to endure?

Do you know where “Wall Street” got its name? Is it any surprise that Wall Street refers to the original barrier erected by the Dutch to keep out the Indians? Our economic system was founded on that dialectical divide. From the Indian perspective, the history of America is repression, treaty violation, and genocide. Despite our rhetoric, America has never been shy about using brutal force to loot the resources we desire and murder those who get in our way, whether in the “Wild West” or the Middle East today. Perhaps, when imminent environmental collapse brings the current form of civilization to an end, we will finally lose our contempt for indigenous wisdom. Was it the Indians who polluted their waters, destroyed their forests, irradiated their children, stockpiled nuclear and biological weapons, or added every living and nonliving thing into their maniacal calculus of human greed? But of course, when the Hopis marched to the UN to warn of the imminent fulfilment of their ancient prophecies, nobody took them seriously.

The Lakota shaman Black Elk said, “Without a vision, the people perish.” Ask yourself: What vision is our society following? Is our goal simply to continue maximizing profits and the level of comfort for the privileged few as the global environment melts down and brings a quick end to the human experiment on this planet? And for those privileged few, is the sci-fi fantasy of bio-engineered life-extension in gated communities looking out on a degraded world overwhelmed by desperate refugees an inspiring one? The government’s pursuit of “homeland security” through surveillance and force is an obsolete fantasy that will lead to disaster. Real security can only emerge from authenticity, generosity, transparency, and inner calm. In his Empire of Disorder, Alain Joxe writes, “The only benefit for the globalization of finance and military force for humanity is that it obliges us to think of a global means of equitable distribution, which is the only way to avoid the worldwide civil war that threatens to take the form of cold barbaric violence.”

Ultimately, modern society is an artifice held together by the mesh of people’s faith and belief in the system. When that faith collapses, the system will fall. We saw this, most recently, in East Europe in 1989. An alternative vision to the present consumer society is beginning to emerge and clarify itself. To paraphrase cyber-theorist Pierre Levy, the Internet provides a potential model for a global, horizontal democracy, one that would be “immanent and molecular” rather than the “transcendent and molar” structure of the current system. For Levy, the new system would be based on individual responsibility and on humanity’s “collective intelligence” working together in real-time. There are extraordinary scientists and visionaries who have developed models of alternative economies and currencies, methods to bioremediate toxified land and water, ways of producing clean energy, and industries that make almost no waste (for more info on some of these projects, check out The development of modern information technology, the “global brain” of humanity, will facilitate the instant transmission of transformative ideas across the Earth, when it becomes necessary.

What is required is nothing less than the psychic and spiritual regeneration of humanity. To paraphrase the visionary Jose Arguelles, we need a “mass moral revulsion” away from the techno-dystopic direction of our current civilization. Despite current appearances, I suspect this will happen, soon, on a global scale and in a more conscientious and deeply transformative way than it did in “the Sixties.” It can be sensed, now, as an undercurrent, a distant rumbling in the mass subconscious. Humanity’s yearning for liberation and truth is due for an imminent volcanic eruption. And when it happens, I will be glad that George Bush was President, so that I got to watch him fall.

Arthur No. 5

ARTHUR NO. 5 (with David Cross on the cover as crazed jingoist god-blessed S.U.V.-driving soccer mom) IS SOLD OUT. This was the issue we published back in June 2003 when oh 90% of the USA was in favor of invading Iraq. Yep. They’re gone forever, peacenik fanboy. That said, you can download the entire issue in PDF (11mb) here:

Contents: Photographer Lauren Klain captures DAVID CROSS on his way to a Clear Channel war rally… Jonathan Shainin speaks with CHRIS HEDGES about the truths not being told about war…ALAN MOORE comments on what the US and UK governments have been up to lately….The fabulous GLAMericans are spotlit by Steffie Nelson… and DAVID BYRNE writes about his life during wartime.

KRISTINE MCKENNA on the Tower of Protest, a Vietnam-era action on Sunset Blvd by celebrated artists. With photos by CHARLES BRITTIN…


Art and comics by Steve Andersen, Tauno Blisted & Mac McGill, Robbie Conal, John Coulthart, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Bill Griffith, Megan Kelso with Ron Rege, Peter Kuper, David Lasky, Sharon Rudahl, Patti Smith & Jem Cohen, art spiegelman and Carol Swain.

MICHAEL MOORCOCK on the fate of empires; DANIEL PINCHBECK on why he’s glad George Bush is president; and new Arthur film columnist PAUL CULLUM asks “Is George Bush addicted to cocaine?” as he examines “Horns and Halos,” “Journeys with George,” “Uncle Saddam,” “What I’ve Learned About U.S. Foreign Policy: The War Against the Third World” and “Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election.”