“My mother reads the Daily Mail and even she thinks that bombing Iraq is a bad idea”
(Placard seen on the London Anti War March Saturday February 15th ).
I am the foe -The symbol of all evil, the one who’s deeds give justice to your cause
I am the foe - The servant of the devil, pitiless I kill without a pause
I am the foe - I rape I burn I plunder, whatever falls within my grasp I steal
I am the foe - The good I tear asunder, the weak and helpless die beneath my heels
I am the foe - I shame the one who nursed me, no human heart
beats love within my breast
I am the foe - I love to hear you curse me, across the barren land that we contest
I am the foe - I fight for no good reason, relentless guiltless numberless I stand
I am the foe - Your quarry when in season, I’ll destroy you for the merest scrap of land
I am the foe - I fight for every nation, for every creed I
speak for every tongue
I am the foe - I am your own creation, so kill me if you can I am the one
I am the foe -The one who's death deserving, the one who falls beneath your fatal blow
I am the foe - I hate the side your serving, and I’ll kill you if I can for you’re my foe.
© Mick Ryan
This is a bumper issue of the ‘Ramblings’.
1. Don’t miss an incredible letter from Tim Broadbent about his trip to Death Row in Texas.
2. A letter from Karl Dallas who is currently in Baghdad as a member of the Human Shield.
3. An long interesting piece from Brian Williams of the RNLI regarding recent government music legislation.
4. And a hoot of a letter via Bill Zorn, but originally written by Jeremy Geffen, Artistic Administrator New York Philharmonic
5. And of course the brilliant song written by Mick Ryan – which you have already seen.
First however – the gig list.
Mar 1st (Joe) The Railway Tavern, Hensall
Mar 6th (Joe) The Arts Centre, Darlington
Mar 7th (KM) General Ludd Folk Club, Wheel Inn, Golcar, Huddersfield.
Mar 19th (Joe) The Wheatsheaf, Bough Beech, Kent
Mar 21st (Joe) The Duke of Wellington, Southampton
Mar 23rd (Joe) The Clifton Arms, Reading
Mar 24th (Joe) The Barge, Gillingham
Apr 1st (Joe) The Napoleon, Boscastle
Apr 3rd (Joe) The Community Hall, Kingsand. RNLI GIG. ‘Valparaiso’
Apr 5th (Joe) The Heart of Oak Music Club, Braunton, Barnstaple
Apr 7th (Joe) The ie Theatre, Axminster. ‘Valparaiso’
Apr 23rd (Joe) The Windsor Hotel, Pontyclun
Apr 25th (Joe) The Ratepayers Arms, Filton, Bristol
June 6th (Joe) Jersey Festival of the Sea
June 7th (KM)Jersey Festival of the Sea
June 8th (KM) Jersey Festival of the Sea
June 15th (KM) The Bulls Head, Oldham Rd,Failsworth, Manchester.
June 20th (KM) The Dog and Partridge, Bollington, Macclesfield, Cheshire
Sep 10th (Joe) The Cross Keys – Uppermill.
Oct 3rd (Joe) The Wellington, Seaford.
Oct 4th (Joe) Tenterden Folk Festival, Kent.
Oct 5th (Joe) Tenterden Folk Festival, Kent.
Oct 10th (Joe) The Grove, Holbeck, Leeds
Nov 27th (Joe) All Saints Church, Bishop Stortford, Hertfordshire.
Dec 1st (Joe) The Three Tuns, Staines, Middlesex
Dec 3rd (Joe) The Gordon Hotel, Rochester
Jan 30th (Joe) Kingswinford Folk Club
May 1st (KM) Sweeps Festival – Rochester. (Agreed awaiting confirmation)
May 2nd (KM) Sweeps Festival – Rochester. (Agreed awaiting confirmation)
May 14th (KM) The Grove, Holbeck, Leeds. (Agreed awaiting confirmation)
I've been in Baghdad since 4.30am on Thursday morning March 20th, but the Human Shields office email has only become functional. You can send me emails here, but make sure my name is in the subject line.
More and more people are arriving every day and we are virtually taking over the city, organising demonstrations, public music performances, etc, all the time. It's like a citywide festival! Today, we invaded the Baghdad press centre in protest at a New York Times story that Iraqi people would welcome war. If that's so, they're not talking to the same people I do. I took along my Martin guitar and we all sang along (irritating the local hacks: "We're trying to work here!" they went). We went up on the roof and had a Beatles-style rooftop concert, singing "Give Peace a Chance". After that we met a crowd of Iraqi guys in a local park and made a circle singing to each other. After we left to find something to eat, they were still chanting "No, no! Not in my name!"
Yesterday we went to the Al-Ameria shelter, where 408 people were killed in a specially targeted direct hit in February 1991. Shadows were burnt on the ground and walls just like Hiroshima. I have written a song about it and hope to send it to you tomorrow.
Meanwhile, here's the Human Shields Song I sang in Bradford and London before coming here:
We will not yield
Hand in hand
Between life and death
It is our will
To save life not to kill
And we proclaim with every breath:
NOT IN OUR NAME (repeat last line as often as will)
Please pass this message on to anyone you think might be interested.
KARL DALLAS c/o TRUTH JUSTICE PEACE HUMAN SHIELDS IRAQ
Tuesday February 25, 2003
The Shields go in
The first Human Shields were deployed to the South Baghdad power station on Sunday night. A huge media presence accompanied the 17 Shields in the Big Red Bus who settled down in a dormitory with 20 beds, a TV, and brand-new bedding.
A TRUTH ON IRAQ reporter accompanied the group on their journey and found the conditions "fairly Spartan" but comfortable. They met with workers at the power station, and in the evening had a sing-song with performances by British and Turkish Shields, and concluding with Christian and Muslim prayers.
The contingent will maintain a 24/7 presence at the power station from now on, but members plan to integrate with the local community, some of them visiting local hospitals and schools, but always leaving some Shields in place on site. They will also come into Baghdad for special actions, like Monday's banner-raising demo on one of the city's bridges.
The Shields' Sites Committee has been working on other locations and reports that they have been given complete liberty to determine where Shields would go, while engaging in dialogue with the local authorities. "A number of Shields want to protect hospitals," said a Committee Member, "but it was pointed out that if we protected a power station or a water treatment plant we would in fact be protecting many hospitals and other facilities, and we saw the logic of this.
"The oil refinery is also important, because so much of Iraqi life depends upon oil, from cooking to the generation of electricity."
During this week other Shield deployments will take place:
America, Are You Ready for This War?
By William Rivers Pitt
[Pitt is a New York Times bestselling author of two books - "War On Iraq" (with Scott Ritter) available now from Context Books, and "The Greatest Sedition is Silence," available in May 2003 from Pluto Press.]
February 4, 2003
For the sake of argument, let's say that Saddam Hussein does indeed have chemical and biological weapons somewhere in Iraq. (Leave off the nukes, as the IEIA has bluntly stated that no such program or weapon exists in Iraq) Hussein is and has always been a weapons junkie, and his jones was amply fed by science, training and materials given freely to him by the Reagan administration and a number of prominent American corporations.
One could argue that the best evidence Colin Powell could show the UN on Wednesday is a pile of shipping manifests from 1986, but that is not likely to happen. After all, the American names on those manifests would bear a striking resemblance to current door plaques along the halls of power in the White House and Defence Department. This could present an uncomfortable situation.
UNSCOM basically razed Hussein's weapons program to the ground from 1991 through 1998, taking care of pretty much everything the Gulf War bombs missed. The inspectors wrecked all the equipment and destroyed every missile, bomb and laboratory they could find. They were tantalisingly close to declaring Iraq fully disarmed when the wheels came off UNSCOM in 1998. In the intervening years, no evidence has been put forth demonstrating Iraq's procurement of new weapons development equipment and material, items that are watched very closely. Our satellite technology can read a watch ticking on an arm in downtown Baghdad, and is more than capable of noting whether or not Hussein's soldiers and scientists have been busy in the deserts outside Basra. No such documentation has ever been presented.
Forget all that. Accept the flawed but widely accepted premise that Saddam has these weapons practically falling out of his ears.
Let's take a walk down a path to the future.
Powell gives his spiel to the UN, which is so dazzling that a resolution for war is immediately granted. The tanks roll and the jets fly. The 'Shock and Awe' plan developed by the Pentagon and reported on last week by CBS is put into effect - 800 cruise missiles are fired into downtown Baghdad, a city of five million people. Those cruise missiles are followed by a fusillade of 'smart bombs' which will be proven to be 100% accurate because all of them will hit Iraq.
Saddam doesn't quit. His army and security services don't turn on him. The people of Iraq do not rise up either, as they will be busy dying, hiding and mourning. Because we have absolutely no intelligence on the day to day location of Hussein, our rain of weaponry does not kill him. He hangs on, waving his middle finger into the cameras of the Al Jazeera network, which will film this alongside the shattered bodies of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians. The necessity of sending in ground troops to finish the job becomes manifest, at which point America will be forced to absorb casualty figures not seen since Vietnam. In the worst case scenario, those troops get bogged down in Baghdad, at which point the newly minted rules for the release of tactical nuclear weapons come vividly into play.
There are two diverging nightmares arising from this entirely possible scenario, both of which arrive at your doorstep. If the worst comes to pass, and our forces use a nuclear weapon to seal the deal and release our troops from the bloodbath of street-to-street combat, it is absolutely certain that Pakistan or Iran, or both, or someone else entirely, will deliver a nuclear weapon into the hands of al Qaeda. When the mushroom cloud goes up in Iraq, all bets are off.
Perhaps more disturbing is the scenario that comes if everything goes completely according to plan. Iraq is a nation that is 97% Muslim, and the civilian casualties that will come from a picture-perfect execution of the American war plan will motivate a shadow army of terrorists who would, under normal conditions, welcome the death of the secular heretic Saddam. This war has nothing to do with dealing with that threat, but it will unleash the fury of that army upon us immediately. They will see the corpses of innocent Muslims, and they will come for us. Here. The front lines of this war will move to your neighbourhood and mine.
That is the best-case scenario, and that is the rub. Whether or not nuclear weapons come into play, our incredibly agile and effective terrorist foes will attack us on the home front, should we kill Iraqi civilians. The best laid plans involve this, whether we like it or not. Meanwhile, George W. Bush has done absolutely nothing to make sure we are safe here at home from the inevitable blow-back.
The Homeland Security Department has been created, but is still tied in knots trying to streamline communication and interaction between dozens and dozens of intelligence agencies. The same CIA, FBI and NSA that allowed the September 11th attacks to bruise the skies above New York and Washington are still responsible for our safety, and there has been no interior reform whatsoever to solve the security holes that allowed the terrorists to attack us in the first place. The independent investigation meant to cure these ills has gone dark and silent. Our ports, borders and airports are still security sieves. Not one city or town is prepared to handle a biological or chemical attack. Hussein may not have those weapons, but it is entirely possible that al Qaeda does.
In essence, the King is calling for war while his own castle walls lay in ruin around him. The battlefield will not be in some faraway land, but right here, inside the moat.
This is not some mealy-mouthed appeaser argument. This is fundamental tactical analysis, and it says we are not ready for this war. During the entirety of the 20th century, we could feel relatively safe behind our oceans, because the wars always took place on someone else's ground. After September 11th, that changed, and we were not ready for it, and we are still not.
Bear this in mind when you realize that Saddam Hussein has been in office since 1979 and has never, not once, made an aggressive move against the United States. Bear this in mind when you understand that Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, two very viable foes who have actually attacked us, want nothing to do with Hussein because he is a secular dictator who has been crushing Islamic fundamentalism for thirty years. If we attack, those forces will move against us in the name of Iraq. They are, in fact, just waiting for us to move.
Bear this in mind when you consider the inspectors, whose work will eventually uncover any weapons while simultaneously protecting us against terrorist blow-back from a war. That's right: The United Nations, so denigrated by the Bush administration, is currently working overtime to save your life.
What is this war worth to you? Are you willing to have it come
to your city, to your family? It will. Bank on it. The U.S. military may be
all set to fight. We as a nation are not at all prepared to defend ourselves
against it here at home. Bank on that, as well.
Scott Lowery contributed research to this report.
I am glad that you are in a state of graceful recuperation. I would have become an orthopaedic surgeon but my mother warned me to stay out of low joints.
I am writing in reply to your request for your "right wing pro-war readers" to justify the position taken by your PM. First of all, you are old enough to avoid such sophomoric stereotyping. It is possible to disagree with your position without the onus of brown shirt wearer. I have lived long enough to have a spectrum of opinion that is not so easily taggable.
Secondly, fear of terrorist reprisal is a lousy way to run a country or, for that matter, a life. It doesn't take an Einstein to figure out that blackmail lasts forever, and terrorism is just a form of blackmail. If you have objection to the way that your country and my countries are combating the threat from the Moslem Religious Right, voice the objection in less craven terms. Then, perhaps, you might offer an alternative action to
combat what, even you must admit is a global malignancy. Shalom alenu (May peace come to us, all)
Mike Miller (Philadelphia).
Hey There Joe,
Glad to here the op was a success.
Now then, about that war.... We don't have to invade Iraq, and I am not to pleased to see our gallant lads go off there to secure oil for USA, or score political points for Blair, (It worked for Thatcher) nor for any other capitalist ideal, or personal/political issue. However; some way has to be found to end the threat that Sadman (yup) poses, to his own ethnic minorities, to his political opponents in Iraq, and to the rest of the "free" world. Ask the Kurds in Northern Iraq if they support an invasion, a Sort of Uncle Sam Or Uncle Saddam dilemma, I think you'll agree. Of course, while they are out there rattling sabres (or Tomahawks), good old North Korea will be permitted to carry on as usual, with their own nuclear programme, and now that that nasty Mr Smith and his regime are gone, we will not interfere in the politics of Papa Doc Mugabe, after all, it's not ethnic cleansing, or bigotry, or anything like that, is it? No black man could possibly be a racist, as any Guardianista will tell you. (Hmm, "when oppressed becomes oppressor"...?)
The upshot is, as I see it, Kick Sadman's arse, sanction Zimbabwe, isolate North Korea. I have no better plan than that, and no one else does. I don't want Blair, all Chamberlainesque, waving a bit of paper at me, declaring peace in our time, only to wake up smelling almonds or glowing in the dark. Sadman is a not-to-be-trusted despot dictator, as ruthless as any Taliban, and you can ask the ordinary people of Afghanistan if they were pleased to see the UK & US soldiers there. Ask those women there who are now, with the aid and support of the evil westerners, actually permitted to get a job or drive a car, (and keep their heads) if they prefer the UK/US way, or the previous administration.
Now to the fire strike; damn right, I hoot them as I pass, they are working men, and there is a queue for jobs in the service, but hey, £30,000 a year? They may well be on the front line when terrorists hit, (the HOME front line), and our squaddies will be on the real front line, playing cop-yer-whack, earning about £12,000 a year. Hmmm... a slight disparity there, I think. I would have a lot more respect for those who strike, if they took time to remember people like our lads & lasses in the armed services, and our wonderful brave few, (Nurses) who also earn a damn site less than £30,000.
I believe that in our society, all who "protect and serve" should be guaranteed a decent living wage, over and above that of us mere mortals, and that this should be inflation proof, guaranteed and constitutionalised in stone for ever amen. Oh, and for this, they give up the right to strike.
I am a socialist at heart, a utopian in my mind and a realist in action. The original Ex-squaddie youth working union repping dope smoking song killing uni student, folkie. C'est moi!
Keep on keeping on, and don't panic....don't panic.
Three Texas surgeons were arguing as to which had the greatest skill. The first began: "Three years ago, I reattached seven fingers on a pianist. He went on to give a recital for the Queen of England."
The second replied: "That's nothing. I attended a man in a car accident. Both arms and legs were severed from his body. Two years after I reattached them, he won three gold medals for field events in the Olympics."
The third said: "A few years back, I attended to a cowboy. He was high on cocaine and alcohol when he rode his horse head-on into a Santa Fe freight train travelling at 100 miles per hour. All I had left to work with was the horse's ass and a ten gallon hat. Two years ago he became president of the United States."
Albert Coffman – Pa.
Message text written by "Tim Broadbent"
I've just spent a week in Texas visiting a couple of prisoners on Death Row in Livingston, a rather unspectacular little town about 50 miles north of Houston. I was moved to start writing to inmates following the execution of Odell Barnes in March of 2000 and I'm happy to at last meet up with Michael Toney and Rickey Lynn Lewis, my two friends with whom I've exchanged letters for the past couple of years. During my short stay I've encountered images and experiences which will stay with me for the rest of my life.
December 2002 : My first contact with the prison authorities and the first shivers down the spine. I have to call the Polunsky unit warden to arrange my two 'special' four-hour visits for each inmate. 'Which section do y'all want?' The voice is polite but expressionless. Machine-like. I hesitate, unsure of how to reply. 'Death Row?' Shit, even on the phone they refer to it like that.
Texas, January 2003.
A bit of R&R first because my visits are not planned until next week.
I arrive at the George Bush (Oh! No) Intercontinental Airport at Houston. I have the choice of either heading for a well-earned siesta after the 15-hour trip and thus exacerbating my jet-lag or taking a shower and going off in search of these redoubtable Texans and their even more redoubtable culture. They can't ALL be like that! I choose the latter and end up in League City, south of Houston, for a Bluegrass evening. My internet contact alas isn't there.
Imagine a large, well-attended church hall, several groups following each other on and off stage whilst a mammoth jam session takes place in the entrance hall and several splinter groups rip it up in adjoining rooms. Guitars (the number of Martins in the place must represent the GNP of one of the larger banana republics), banjos, mandolins, fiddles, string basses by the score. Nobody of African-American origin in sight and wall-to-wall bluegrass. Life on the prairie sung through the nose with a three-chord accompaniment. After half an hour I (in the words of the News of the World) make my excuses and leave to join a crowd of fellow smokers on the doorstep. The men-only group in cowboy boots, fancy shirts and Stetsons need only the six-guns and spurs to complete their cartoon-strip image and they're discussing the Civic Centre's extensive grounds and bemoaning the lack of an outside stage.
'It's all their fault,' drawls one, pointing out the mobile home encampment next to the parking lot. 'Every time we start playing outside they damn' call the police.'
A gravelly voice adds, 'As a civil engineering contractor, I reckon I got what it takes to shut 'em up. A stick o' 'D' under every one o' them goddam' caravans and we won' hear another word outa them!'
Nobody laughs. They seem to agree. Could this guy possibly be serious?
I make my way to my pitifully 'compact' hire car hidden amidst a sea of OTT four wheel-drive pick-ups and snazzy saloons, bumper stickers proclaiming their owners 'proud to be American', telling outsiders 'Don't mess with Texas' or simply praying 'God bless America' as stars and stripes flutter proudly on the roofs of some. Welcome to Uncle Sam.
Sunday 19th : I'm invited (courtesy of internet) to a 'picking
party' in a comfortable suburban home in a yuppy part of Katy, part of Houston's
sprawling conurbation. We eat (well) and drink (no alcohol, can these people
really be musicians??!) before getting down to the music. Perfectly anonymous
amidst all these apparently user-friendly Texan pickers and singers I sing two
or three songs before announcing to the assembled company the reasons for my
visit. What have I said? How will they react? Will they break my beloved 00018
over my head? Tear me apart between four quarter horses pour l'exemple? I come
to the end of my little speech about Rickey and Michael. Silence. Our host smiles.
I hear a 'Yeah, good.' Ouf. Saved.
During the break I discuss Death Row with a couple of women - university types - and mine host, a retired petroleum engineer. Yeah, of course they're 'sorta against the death penalty' but they don't know of Livingston and its death row. 'They don't do it often though, do they?' I tell them of the FOURTEEN executions programmed for the month of January alone, of the show trials and bent witnesses, the inept state lawyers and the flagrant irregularities, not to mention the lack of available finance to prove one's innocence (by DNA testing for example). Disbelieving, these good, educated, liberal spirited people are totally unaware of what passes for justice in their home state and what goes on a mere hour's drive north of Houston. Maybe we need to start stirring things up over there!
Monday 20th : A public holiday; Martin Luther King Jnr. Day.
I fly up to Dallas to meet Tena Francis, an investigator working on Michael's
case. Despite the opportunity of a well-earned day off, husband Tom and daughter
Cassie confined to quarters at home and the day is given over to filling me
in on the system in general and Michael's case in particular. The shortcomings
of his state-appointed lawyer, the mind-boggling victimization of the district
attorney, the lack of available funds to lead an enquiry worthy of the name........BUT,
with a new lawyer, paid for by donations originating principally from France
and a totally new defence strategy, they're hopeful. She also explains that
the Cowboy (his nickname - Mike used to be a rodeo rider) is HERE, just up the
road in Fort Worth. He was called to give evidence in another trial and three
weeks later they haven't yet got around to shipping him back!
After lunch in a cathedral-like steak house we head off for Tarrant County jail, a modern, red-brick building in downtown Fort Worth. Without a prearranged visit I'll be allowed 30 minutes with him. Great! After pleading my special case to the head warden this is extended to 45 minutes. In Texas you can't buck the system even if you've come 5000 miles! The lift carries me up to the fifth floor, I step out, turn the corner and..............there he is! Squatting in a miniscule cage behind heavy duty glass, Michael has the appearance of an automaton in a museum. Where do I insert the money to make him work? But no; he moves, he talks and above all he smiles. I unhitch the intercom telephone.
We're uneasy both of us. Me because I've so much to say and so little time to say it and he because he feels terrible that I've come all this way for so little time together. 'Forget it,' I reassure him, 'what could we do? It's the system. Don't worry, I'll come back.' 'Come back if you like,' he replies, 'I ain't gonna be here. I'll be out!' He's positive. Great.
After a few minutes the conversation settles down to something approaching normality. We talk of the case, of his hopes, his fears, of music (he's an ardent Guy Clark fan), of his friends in France that he wants to thank so much, of 'stupid fuckin' Bush', his preference for 'home' on death row to being here amongst strangers and.............'Time's up, Sir'. They don't like you hanging around and so with a final 'see you, Cowboy' it's time to leave. I go back down to rejoin Tena. Stunned by the stupidity of it all and frustrated by our lack of time together. We appear to have said nothing it seems but you can't beat The Machine.
We leave the prison and I have a guided tour of the old part (yes, there is one!) of Fort Worth, including Billy Bob's, the world's biggest honkey tonk where they pack 6000 into the bar on a good night. I try and remember everything that Tena tells me about the apologies for trials, the juridical hushings up, the lies and the state manipulation of witnesses, all of which represents the Texan legal system but there's just too much to take in. A couple of examples stick in my mind though. That of the state-appointed defence lawyer who slept through most of the afternoon sessions of a capital case. In condemning his client to death, the judge justified his decision by pointing out that the attorney 'did not in fact sleep through any of the crucial issues'. Another concerned a suspect condemned to death for murder and incarcerated in Death Row. During the appeals procedure, a second man owned up to the killing, his confession was accepted and he was executed. The first suspect was still in prison, twenty years later, awaiting his release.
I fly back to Houston and fall onto my motel bed exhausted from a soporific mixture of jet-lag and brain overload. On the evening news they show Martin Luther King's 'I have a dream' speech in its entirety. His simple words, passionately and eloquently delivered, extolling the utopic vision of peaceful cohabitation are diametrically opposed to everything that I have already learnt so far about life chez Uncle Sam. His Uncle Sam. Tears well up as I drift into grateful oblivion.
Tuesday 21 and Wednesday 22 : With two unexpected days free
I head south to the seaside town of Galveston, yet another of these nondescript,
sprawling, town centre-less conurbations that somebody had the gall to write
a song about. An uneventful stay apart from discussing the death penalty with
the owners of a cyber café on a pretty little wooden pier. They're horrified;
such things really shouldn't exist in a supposedly civilized society. Encouraging
stuff but then she's from California and he's Dutch. That evening, behind my
cheap and rather down-at-heel beachfront motel I catch sight of a group of youngsters
almost hidden in a dimly lit corner of the car park. Other kids arrive, cars
pull up then leave. The commercial aspect of their presence is barely camouflaged.
Future Death Row inmates? I hope not, but so many of the macabre stories concerning
condemned men are drug-related.
An oasis of calm and good taste the following day at the Houston fine arts museum.
Thursday 23 : Houston. And then Humble, Splendora, Cut and
Shoot, Fostoria, all these crazy names which litter the American countryside
before arriving at Livingston - obviously somebody's sick joke, home to Texas'
Death Row. Slightly ahead of schedule I stop for a coffee in a cosy little English
style café and ask for the road to Huntsville, just off of which is situated
the prison. Hearing my accent the waitress eyes me uncertainly before pointing
me in the right direction.
The Brian Polunsky Unit (how proud he must be, Mr. Polunsky, to have not only a prison but a death row housing around 460 condemned men named after him) is set in open countryside opposite the Knights of Columbus, a rather tawdry looking shack serving as a church which, according to Michael, is closely tied to the activities of the Klu Klux Klan and is happy to count one George W. Bush amongst its brethren. Surrounded by the familiar watchtowers and razor wire, the 'farm', as its inmates call it, is a large, modern, drab, concrete blockhouse, well-manicured lawns and a few 'decorative' cabbages the only attempt at softening the sinistre atmosphere of the place. Access formalities are completed without hindrance and after passing through a couple of electrically operated iron doors which look as though they've been designed to protect the treasures of Fort Knox I arrive in the visiting room. The room has the appearance of a school canteen with a double line of white-painted miniature cages running most of the way through its centre. In fact everything's white, and pristine. A well-oiled machine. The duty gard Miss Williams welcomes me warmly. She's actually charming. A smiling, happy, polite African American who obviously enjoys her work. I get this strange feeling I might actually be in the wrong place. 'Excuse me, Miss, but I'm looking for the place where they mistreat guys for anything up to twenty or thirty years in sub-human conditions before taking them out and sticking a needle in them.' No, of course I didn't say it but at this early hour of the morning, with just a few of us talking in hushed tones as we await the arrival of the prisoners in a relaxed, almost family ambiance, one could easily mistake the place for a school or hospital.
Miss Williams is talking cheerily with one guy in jeans and atee-shirt, evidently a regular; 60-something, with kindly, weatherbeaten features.
'And how are we today, Sir?'
'Oh, you know.....' his only reply.
I introduce myself and I explain my French passport and English accent. His daughter-in-law is here too. She's Swiss and would no doubt be delighted to talk some French. Unaware of the consequences of my innocent question, and knowing that many of the visitors are overseas campaigners against capital punishment I ask if she's a member of a support group.
In the space of several seconds I'm confronted by the overwhelming horror of this barbarous system.
No, she explains calmly, I'm Granville Riddle's wife. You were just talking to his father. It's his last week, our last visits. Unless he gets a stay he's due to be executed next Thursday, the 30th.
Immediate and total comprehension of her statement is an impossibility and with no lucid reply to hand I drift away, paralysed by the feeling of futility with regard to their situation. I try to put myself in the shoes of this very ordinary dad who, in a few days' time will see his son strapped to a padded, cross-shaped gurney in a sterile room of the Walls Unit in Huntsville as they pump him full of a lethal cocktail of chemicals. He's tried everything to save him, in vain. The pitiless machine is unstoppable. With the legalized assassination of his son he knows that his life too will be, to all intents and purposes, over. But he still manages to smile as he chats affably with other visitors. Others arrive, hellos are exchanged, it feels more like a Tuesday night bridge club. Dad keeps a constant eye on cage 26. 'Excuse me,' he says at last, 'Granville's here.' Miss Williams has allotted me number 27 for my visit with Rickey. 'Look,' says Mr. Riddle Sr., as his son is installed in the cage by a couple of huge guards in baseball caps emblazoned with the prison logo and 'DEATH ROW' embroidered in gold thread, 'he don't look like a criminal does he?'
The young-looking Granville is a white guy with a neat haircut, pale features and rimless spectacles. He would look more at home in a bank or an insurance company. He wears a white, short-sleeved boiler suit with DR in black lettering on the back and the right leg. Just in case he should ever forget were he was. I turn away to leave them in as much privacy as this place allows.
Miss Williams goes about her duties with kindly efficiency. Just another routine day on Death Row. I hear Chaplain Wilcox ask her if Alva has any visitors today. Miss Williams says she'll check. 'Cos I'm gonna help him get executed Tuesday,' adds the minister, 'an' I jus' wanna know who's gonna show up.' The world has gone mad.
I ask Miss Williams if Michael is back from Fort Worth. She'll check for me.
After an hour's wait which seemed to me an eternity Rickey Lynn is brought to his cage. He squats on the small metal stool and passes his hands through a trap door behind him for the guards to release his handcuffs. This routine must drive them mad. Handcuffed whenever they're in contact with prison staff and strip-searched each time they leave their cell. Free of his manacles at last we can 'shake' hands against the glass partition which separates us and we unhitch the phones. The line's bad and you have to keep a wretched button pressed down on the handset for it to work at all. It sounds perhaps churlish to complain but four hours in this position perched on a hard chair, elbows resting on the metal sill craning forward to lip-sync ain't gonna be easy. We take a few minutes to adapt to our situation and the rest of the visit goes well, just chatting easily with a good friend. And what does one discuss, you might ask, with a guy who spends his entire day in death's ante-room? Well we discussed children, horses, fishing, cooking (I've got a great recipe involving peanut butter and chocolat milk shake), our families, cars, art, health, money, Rickey's painful upbringing in pretty dire circumstances (constantly abused by his father, his mother an alcoholic, pot-smoking aged ten, aunties and uncles supplying him with the harder stuff in his early teens.....), his three sentences for minor misdemeanours (ten years' probation for nicking some sweets, a 25 YEAR sentence for stealing a telly for his Mum...), and of course his current case. I even get a recipe for pain-relief treatment for arthritis sufferers! Smiling, full of hope, he is however realistic as to the possible outcome of his detention and the difficulties of raising the thousands of dollars necessary to pay for decent lawyers. With the loss of the mother he adored, just a few months ago, he was on the point of giving up hope and it was 'pen-pals' and supporters in France and elsewhere that gave him the will to continue the struggle. Sadly he has very little contact with other members of his family, his visits are therefore rare and these all too brief glimpses of the world beyond the 9' x 6' cell in which he spends 23 hours of every day (the other hour is spent in solitary exercise) are a real godsend.
On the way out, Miss Williams tells me that the Cowboy is back and that I can have a two-hour visit on Saturday evening.
I leave the visitors' room at the same time as the Riddles. We shake hands but words fail me.
After my visit I go to Huntsville to pay some cash into Rickey's trust fund (which pays for daily expenditure, groceries to complement the poor quality prison food, stamps, stationery etc.). I drive past the Walls unit. Yes, that's where they'll kill Granville on Thursday, the event opposed by perhaps no more than a handful of the same activists who peacefully attend each execution in the lee of the red brick walls which house the death chamber. There are three due for the coming week. Three more the following week.
Friday 24th : My second visit with Rickey goes even better than the first - and at an unbelievable speed! I can leave only promises that 'we'll do all we can' with the debris of his snack 'treat'. After leaving a hopelessly inadequate note of encouragement at the Riddles' hotel I head back to Houston Airport to collect my colleague Sandrine Ageorges who is arriving from Paris for 2 weeks of visits. We then have a 200-mile drive north across beautiful, rolling Texan countryside with a church on every corner to reach Tennessee Colony where Sandrine is due to visit a long term, high security prisoner, incarcerated in a carbon copy of Polunsky. We have rooms booked in a nearby 'Hospitality House' run by fervent Christians where the welcome is warm and friendly and where they offer free board and lodging to those unable to pay for hotel accommodation. Tennessee Colony is miles from anywhere even by Texan standards and some visitors come from hundreds of miles away to visit loved ones.
Saturday 25th : Whilst Sandrine visits her friend, we get the
guitars out at the Hospitality House for a musical breakfast! Terry, the Chaplain,
plays and sings and I even manage to swap a few gospels with him. I also throw
in a couple of black protest songs by Leadbelly and Broonzy just to see the
reaction. They laugh, as though that sort of stuff's all in the past now. I
don't know if Terry knows that I'm a non-believer but before leaving he insists
that we 'share' a prayer and my return voyage is duly blessed. And it worked.
I'm back! Praised be the lord.
Back to Livingstone in the evening. There's a queue to get in at weekends and all the cars are searched, a bit half-heartedly it has to be said. 'Any guns, ammunition, alcohol or drugs?' Should I tell them about the Kalaschnikov in the glove compartment? Nah, they'll never look there. What a stupid bloody question. Once inside the visitors' room we wait for ever for the prisoners to be brought down but suddenly the Cowboy's smile lights up his cage. We unhook the phones.
'What in the hell are you doing here?' he asks with a grin.
Unless visitors inform the prisoners of impending visits they have no idea that anyone's coming to see them and poor old Michael was just getting his head down! Both perfectly relaxed by the spontaneity of the unexpected encounter we settle down immediately to two hours of solid chat. As happy as someone in his situation can allow himself to be, talkative, eloquent and, like Rickey, confident but realistic, I'm not talking to a guy who is waiting only to die. No, we're down the pub, a couple of good old friends catching up after years apart; nineteen to the dozen, have you heard the one about.....
The final five minutes turn inevitably sour, counting the seconds before the last, unbearable farewell. We press our palms once more on this wretched glass partition, uneasy in the face of separation. 'See you soon, Cowboy. In France!'
Sunday 26th : My last day and a gargantuan Texan brunch (the food will kill off middle America way before Ben Laden or Saddam) in the company of Lisa Milstein, the investigator working on Rickey's case. She was present at Odell Barnes' execution in March 2000 and like her friend Tena Francis in Dallas she delivers a heartrending litany of just some of the miscarriages of justice she has encountered over the years; barely believable stories of condemned men caught in the vicious circle of the judicial system of the world's greatest democracy.
My friends know that their struggle will be long and arduous. They have no illusions. They know too how much we must maintain our efforts to find the wherewithal to fund their legal defence. Money is their only effective weapon in the United States. Against the machine.
Tim Broadbent. January 2003
Postscript: Granville Riddle was duly put to death by the State
of Texas on Thursday 30th 2003. His wife and his father were amongst those who
watched him die.
Would you please ask people to sign my petition (63,000 signatures now) at www.musiclovers.ukart.com
Graham Dixon - Too old to Rock & Roll - Too Young to Die.
Message text written by "Brian Williams" sent to Editors of Daily Telegraph, Sunday Independent and WMN.
So interest rates have to come down again - no wonder with the country's productivity, and income, at an all time low and the ever- increasing number of those being employed to govern our lives, and so many more working in non-productive service industries! It satisfies one aspect only - keeping the Government's phoney unemployment figures down.
There is little doubt that this is due to the mass of legislation rolling out continually, much of it ill-conceived, badly compiled, and a great amount totally unnecessary!
An example is the Licensing Act 2003, surely one of the worst examples. I suggest that a right to freely perform music, song or dance is an intrinsic part of an individual's right of freedom of expression, protected under Article 10 of The European Convention on Human Rights. I feel this particularly obnoxious proposed Act calls for strong action since, unless enormous protests are made, it will be yet another piece of crazy government legislation coming into effect, which places more and more restrictions on our daily activities. It will also result in a further host of civil servants and administrators to police the regulations, with ever increasing costs to the taxpayer.
The British have a proud record of democracy now sadly diminishing
in our lives today, and it is time for fishermen, farmers, pensioners, hospital
patients, rail and road users, house owners, music lovers and all others, blighted
by more and more rules and regulations, and paying dearly for them, to rise
up and rebel against one of the most incompetent and dictatorial governments
that we have ever experienced. If not, our democracy as we have known it, will
cease to exist.
Brian H. Williams. (RNLI).
Subject: DCMS:GOVT announces license exemption for entertainment – Churches.
Received this from the Lay-clerks notification website via Brian Williams of the RNLI.
DEPARTMENT FOR CULTURE, MEDIA AND SPORT - 3 February 2001
The Government today announced it will amend its Licensing Bill so that places of public worship across the country will not need a licence to put on entertainment performances of any kind.
The announcement follows concerns that the Government's original proposal - to make performance of secular music in places of public worship licensable throughout the country - would threaten the future of church music.
Kim Howells said: "The exemption I am announcing today will enable religious institutions and music societies to flourish. It will bolster the measures already contained in the Bill that are designed to foster live music, by opening up greater opportunities for musicians to perform”. "Concerns were raised about our original proposals for licensing regulated entertainment in places of worship by a range of groups. We have listened to their concerns and taken them on board. I would like to thank them for their input which has helped make this a better Bill."
Kim Howells also announced that the Government intends to exempt
village and community halls from fees associated with the provision of entertainment
or entertainment facilities under the licensing regime.
He said: "I recognise that church and community halls are integral to community life and provide a social hub in a great many rural and urban areas. I am determined to enable them to continue to play this essential role."
Points of Note
1. Under current public entertainment licensing law, outside London, music (only) in "a place of public religious worship or performed as an incident of a religious meeting or service" is exempt from needing a licence. "A place of public worship" means only a place of public religious worship which belongs to the Church of England or to the Church of Wales or which is for the time being certified as required by law as a place of religious worship. Inside Greater London, churches enjoy no exemption.
2. Under current public entertainment licensing law, any premises in a London Borough or the City of London putting on public dancing or music and any other public entertainment of the like kind, needs a licence. There are no exemptions for community or church halls. Outside London, community or church halls need a licence, but are exempted from having to pay for it.
3. The exemptions were announced through Parliamentary statement. The text is as follows: Licensing Bill: Exemption for secular music in places of worship. Following further consideration and consultation with faith groups, the Government has tabled an amendment to the Licensing Bill that would exempt secular entertainment provided in places of public religious worship and the provision of entertainment facilities in such places from the need to obtain a licence under the Bill when it is enacted. Music for the purposes of or incidental to a religious service or meeting is already exempt.
The exemption reflects the current position outside Greater London. Within Greater London, the provision of secular entertainment at places of public worship has for many years been licensable. The amendment the Government has tabled will add further to the deregulatory measures already contained in the Bill.
The Government also wishes to make plain its intention to exempt church halls, chapel halls or other similar buildings occupied in connection with a place of public religious worship, and village halls, parish or community halls or other similar buildings from the fees associated with the provision of entertainment or entertainment facilities under the licensing regime.
Use of such premises to put on entertainment will still require a licence as such provision can and does give rise to issues of nuisance, public safety and crime and disorder. However, the Bill provides for a streamlined and straightforward licensing scheme with minimum bureaucracy. In addition, the Guidance to be issued by my Right Honourable Friend, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, under the Bill will make it clear that conditions attached to any licences for such premises must be proportionate to the risks involved, which are likely to be minimal in most cases.
Where a premises licence authorises the sale of alcohol in premises of this nature, however, the normal licence fee will be payable. This is entirely in line with existing arrangements. In addition, those wishing to use village, church and parish halls, and other community buildings will all be able to take advantage of the simple and easy notification procedure that the Bill provides for temporary events.
The precise details of the fee structure will be the subject of consultation with interested parties.
The Government hopes that religious institutions, music societies and other community groups will derive great benefit from the exemptions and that the initiative will further strengthen our drive to increase the diversity of cultural experience available to people and communities throughout England and Wales. Furthermore, the exemptions will bolster the measures already contained in the Bill that are designed to foster live music by opening up even further the opportunities for musicians to perform.
Public Enquiries: 0207 211 6200
Department for Culture, Media and Sport
2-4 Cockspur Street
London SW1Y 5DH
Meanwhile the Americans are doing it very differently as Bill Zorn explains
Subject: Note cutting initiative from the Bush Administration
PRESIDENT ANNOUNCES PLAN FOR NOTE CUT INITIATIVE
Crawford, TX, August 29 (AP)--In an effort to reach out to constituencies outside his traditional power base, President George W. Bush today announced a new "note cut" initiative, intended to appeal to classical musicians.
Speaking from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, the President prefaced his remarks with some general observations.
"Music is a good thing. I like music because I like good things, and music is good for America. It's fundamentalistic to the American spirit.
Classically-orientated musicians--the ones that play in orchestras, in the churches of this great country of ours, in polka bands, and on the telephone when you're put on hold while calling any one of our Fortune 500 companies--are especially important, because they play a whole lot of notes. And these are good, American notes, that haven't been genetically altered, which Laura and I prize very highly. As I like to say, what you don't know you have can't hurt you if you're not there."
The President went on to explain the reasons for his new initiative.
"For too long these good musical Americans have been playing lots and lots of notes, and haven't been getting anything in return. These notes belong to the American people, and it's time to give some of them back."
The administration's plan calls for a one-time refund of 3,000 notes to tax-paying and note-playing American classical musicians. Chamber musicians who play sonatas together in long-standing legal or church-sanctioned relationships are entitled to a refund of 6,000 notes. String quartets will receive a one-time refund of 10,000 notes, as follows: 5,000 for first violinists, 3,000 for second violinists, 1,500 for cellists, and only 500 for violists. Already this arrangement has generated considerable controversy, since it clearly favours the upper instruments. Pianists are entitled to a 15,000-note refund, because in the words of the President, "they play lots and lots and lots of notes. Their fingers must be really well oiled. Those digits can really add up, musicologistically speaking."
Back in Washington, Democrats are already gearing up for a fight. They point to the plan's inequitable distribution of notes. Citing the latest figures from the music division of the General Accounting Office, they also claim that Bush's initiative is musically irresponsible. Noting recent reports indicating the President's tax refund, in conjunction with the sliding economy, has now effectively erased any budget surplus, they find parallels in Bush's note-cut initiative. They warn ominously that his plan threatens the all-important Musical Security Hemi-, Demi, and Semi-Quaver Reserve.
On Friday. Representative Richard A. Gephardt painted a grim picture of what, in Democrats' eyes, the future holds. "Giving musicians notes back doesn't mean they're going to use them wisely, and it won't help the nation's musical health. We'd run the very real risk of running out of notes."
"Imagine," Gephardt continued, "a Brahms symphony petering out in performance for a lack of notes. First thing you know, musicians will be leaving out all the fast movements because they don't have enough notes to get through them. Mendelssohn will suffer the most, especially the last movement of the octet."
Apprised of Gephardt's remarks on the way to a pig roast at
his ranch, President Bush responded, "Nope. Not gonna happen. I intend
to be the defense, education, and fast-movement president. If Congress minds
its musical matters, we'll have enough left for Brahms and the Mendelssohn Octagon,
via Jeremy Geffen
New York Philharmonic
Keep smiling, keep singing.