Marla Ruzicka, Rachel Corrie and "Credibility"; Censored: How an NRA man found the Long Lost Ivory Billed Woodpecker; Fatal Connexion: Roy Orbison and Laura Bush; Pickett’s Failed Charge

New Orleans, Louisiana

Whatever sour emotions I entertained while reading accounts of the funeral of Marla Ruzicka had nothing really to do with the death on April 16 of a brave young woman in Baghdad. On many accounts ­ and I have had a detailed conversation with a close friend of Marla’s whose judgment I respect ­ she was an idealistic person whose prime political flaw seems to have been the very forgivable one of naivety.

Both in Afghanistan and Iraq, in furtherance of her humanitarian schemes, Marla Ruzicka elected a stance of studious neutrality in ascribing responsibility for the victims of US bombings and ground fire. This pursuit of “credibility” certainly yielded its ironic reward in the political range of those who publicly mourned her.

A US senator ­ Barbara Boxer ­ attended Ruzicka’s funeral in Lakeport, northern California. Bob Herbert of the New York Times poured out an emotional column honoring Ruzicka. So did Robert L. Pollock, a writer for the Wall Street Journal editorial page. ” America has lost a peerless and unique ambassador,” Pollock wrote on April 19. “[S]he stood out from the crowd of journalists and self-proclaimed humanitarians–far too many of whom believed their mission was to bear witness to an American misadventure in Iraq that would, and should, fail.”

The sourness in my soul stemmed from a contrast. Almost exactly two years earlier, on March 16, 2003, another brave young woman in a foreign land lost her life, not to a suicide bomber, but under the blade of a 47-ton bulldozer made in America by the Caterpillar company specifically for house demolitions and driven by an Israeli soldier. Maybe, in the last seconds of his life, that suicide bomber in Baghdad never even saw Ruzicka. The soldier in Gaza surely saw Corrie, clearly visible in her fluorescent orange jacket, and rolled the bulldozer blade right over her.

No US senator attended Rachel’s funeral after her parents brought her home to the state of Washington. Both US senators ran in the opposite direction. Later the Corries disclosed that after their return to the US with their daughter’s body, they contacted their US Senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both Democrats, and told them how their daughter had been deliberately murdered while peacefully demonstrating against house demolitions, which are violations of international law. Murray and Cantwell, the Corries recall, were quick with expressions of outrage and promises of investigations. The Corries never heard from Murray or Cantwell again.
Cindy Corrie’s mailbox filled with disgusting letters abusing her for being a bad mother, and the Israel-right-or-wrong crowd began an unrelenting campaign of abuse of Rachel, to the overall effect that she had it coming to her, that “She was defending terrorists who smuggle weapons across the border to kill Israelis”, that the International Solidarity Movement of which she was a member, was a terrorist symp group.

As Professor Steve Niva of Evergreen State College in Olympia wrote on this site shortly after Corrie’s death, “There is no evidence that Dr. Samir Nasrallah, whose house Rachel was defending, or anyone in this neighborhood were concealing any tunnels or were engaged in any attacks on Israelis. The Israeli army doesn’t even make this insupportable claim. His house was being demolished because, like dozens of others that have been bulldozed in Hay Salaam, his home was near the ‘Apartheid Wall’ Israel was building. Moreover, the ISM has a policy of only protecting homes that are not suspected to be involved in tunnel activities.”

Niva duly received a torrent of e-mailed abuse.

And how did the Israel-right-or-wrong crowd on the Evergreen campus react? Did Corrie’s murder prompt them to any serious reflection on Applied Zionism in Gaza? No. Niva tells me that after some initial heartfelt expressions of sadness for Corrie, the small Zionist groups began complaining that they felt uncomfortable as Jews to be on campus, and a few started raising concerns about alleged anti-Israel and possibly anti-Semitic sentiments getting a free pass at Evergreen. They started to peddle charges about the Middle East Studies faculty–and rumors began to circulate at the local synagogue that there was a “crisis” regarding Jews at Evergreen. Slurs against Niva continue to this day, as they do against Corrie.

Mother Jones ran a 7,000 word attack on Corrie and ISM, later convincingly demonstrated by Olympia’s Phan Nguyen to have been plagiarized from extreme right sites and sources. Nor was there measured lamentation from the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page which surpassed itself in foam-flecked savagery in a piece by Ruhama Shattan, which managed to blame Corrie for the bombing death of the State Department officials that occurred in Gaza in October, 2004! Shattan’s piece had already run in the Jerusalem Post and actually prompted the press attache in the US embassy in Tel Aviv, Paul Patin, to write a letter to the Post denouncing it as “hateful incitement” and “disgusting abuse of the anniversary of the death of this American citizen”. Maybe this letter is what prompted the WSJ’s editorial page editor, Paul Gigot to see Shattan’s diatribe as suitable material for his pages.

Marla Ruzicka decided to work within the system, as they say. Maybe, given the aims of her organization, CIVIC, that was an appropriate choice. I’m not inclined to pass judgment on that. The “system” duly mourned and honored her. Rachel Corrie saw that the “system”, with all its innumerable and fraudulent roadmaps, negotiated solutions, Oslo frameworks, processes of peace and so forth had no stopped, nay, was encouraging the daily outrages of demolitions of Palestinian homes and kindred barbarities. Corrie stood in the path of that system and died, and her murder was covered up by Israel and by the government of her own country.

Across the thirty years that I have written about the vast injustice done to Palestinians by successive Israeli governments, condoned and paid for by the US, I have read a thousand admonitions to support what peace plan was in train, to espouse solutions with “credibility”. And here we are now, when all the peace plans and roadmaps stand definitively revealed as the frauds they always were. Any imagined evacuation of Israeli settlements from Gaza is pure distraction. The story lies in the new settlements stretching out from East Jerusalem, amputating any conceivably viable Palestinian state. In this enterprise, there’s no “case for Israel” beyond violent, illegal occupation and eviction. Two years after her murder I honor Rachel Corrie and enquire of those supposedly reasonable voices on the Zionist side of the aisle here in the United States, What have you got to say for yourselves now?


That Ivory-Billed Woodpecker and the National Rifle Association

The big news in the bird world is of course the sighting of an ivory-billed woodpecker in southeastern Arkansas. The last official date ­ and I stress “official” ­ was back in 1944. Other than that, the stylish bird, with its black body, white wingtips, ivory bill and crown of red feathers, lived on mostly in endless reproductions of Audubon’s print.

Reading the New York Times or the story from Associated Press, you’d think that Big Woody’s first convincingly reported sighting in sixty years came on February 11, 2004, when Gene Sparling, on a river trip in his kayak, reported he’d seen the ivory-billed woodpecker in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge, in southeastern Arkansas.

Not so, as was made clear in an excellent story by Bob Marshall, outdoors editor of the New Orleans Times-Picayune and published April 29, the same day as the NYT got it all wrong. In fact there had been numerous unconfirmed sightings of the ivory-bill since 1944. Then five years ago a student from at Louisiana State University, David Kulivan by name, from Tarrytown, across the Mississippi from New Orelans, went turkey hunting in Louisiana’s Pearl River Basin. He saw the ivory-billed woodpecker and his report provoked large-scale efforts to ratify his sighting.

Kulivan’s credibility took some dents when no confirmation followed, but among those who believed him was Van Remsen, curator of birds at LSU’s natural science museum. He knew that Kulivan had been into the swamp, not on the edge of the forest, like most birders. “That’s one reason I found David Kulivan credible. He was hunting turkeys deep in a swamp, far away from the spots birders normally go. That’s why I helped organize that search.”

Then in 2004 Gene Sparlings went canoing in the Refuge in southerneastern Arkansas, in the same sort of habitat, and saw a large woodpecker fly towards him and land in a tree nearby. Two weeks later Tim Gallagher of Living Bird magazine and Bobby Harrison, an associate prof at Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama, went back to the Cache River Refuge and espied the ivory bill. As the Times Picayune’s Marshall writes it, Gallagher told him, “Bobby sat down on a log, put his face in his hands and began to sob, saying ‘I saw an ivory bill. I saw an ivory bill’.” (In the New York Times’s constipated prose, offered in this instance by James Gorman, this comes out as, “Mr Gallagher said Mr Harrison was struck by the reality of the discovery and began sobbing, repeating, ‘I saw an ivory bill.'”)

Now, why has Kulivan disappeared from the offical story as told by the NYT and AP? First of all, young Kulivan was hunting, gun in hand, and thus does not belong in the official environmentalist narrative, as the story will be promulgated down the years as a fundraiser for the big environmental groups. Secondly, these days David Kulivan works in Washington DC as youth programs coordinator for the NRA. He pronounces himself delighted that his sighting has been confirmed and told the Times Picayune, “I don’t feel any personal vindication because I don’t have any need for that. What I’m thinking is that this is a powerful statement about the resilience of nature.”

That kind of talk would never fly at the big environmental groups, whose fundraising thrives on prospective extinction, not on nature bouncing back. Incidentally, Kulivan added that part of the lesson has been to “underscore the importance of conserving bottomland hardwoods.” The reason why the fortunes of the ivory-billed woodpecker plummeted down the centuries since the white settlers came to the bottomland forests of the lower Mississippi is that it depends on large beetle larvae from species of beetles that attack recently dead trees. From the Civil War on there were plenty of dead trees in the lower Mississippi Valley but they went out on carts and later trucks as lumber. Fewer beetle larvae, fewer birds.

God help Big Woody now. As Jeffrey St Clair remarked to me yesterday, “Wait until the Ballona-style Visitors Center opens… The Woodies would be better off under Wild Turkey Federation management.”
Fatal Connexion:
Ray Orbison and Laura Bush

The last time I might have seen Big Woody may have been in a little exhibition of Audubon prints in the Museum of the Southwest, in Midland, Texas, the physical and intellectual crucible from whose creative inferno sprang George Bush and the true spiritual leader of the nation, Laura Bush.

As I wrote a few years ago after I drove through Midland, the museum had up on its walls Audubon’s prints of Texas animals from his last book, “Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America,” published between 1845 and 1848. He died three years later. They were marvelous, and some of them, such as the ocelot and jaguar (now extinct in Texas), are so lively looking that you’d swear Audubon had sketched them from life. But, in fact, by that time in his life, Audubon rarely moved from his house on the Hudson, to which specimens arrived in various stages of putrefaction, sometimes pickled in rum.

Next to the Audubon room were dashing exhibits by young artists from the Wirral peninsula, in northwest England. I bought a Wirral beach scene photographed by Geraldine Hughes and went on my way, wondering why Midland and Wirral, of all places, are sister cities. The connexion was probably because Roy Orbison toured with Gerry and the Pacemakers, who sang “Ferry Across the Mersey”. If you take their advice you get to the Wirral peninsula. Orbison had strong connexions with both Midland and adjacent Odessa, hometown of Orbison’s first wife Claudette.

Returning to Texas from Nashville after breaking with Sam Phillips, Orbison began writing with Joe Melson, who led a local group called the Cavaliers in Midland. Roy married Claudette, though the couple was divorced in November, 1964. They remarried the following August. In 1966, Orbison was riding motorcycles with Claudette when a truck driver pulled out in front of her. She died an hour later at the age of twenty-five.

The Curse of Midland. It was three years earlier, in 1963 that Laura Bush then 17, driving along in her ’62 Chevy on the outskirts of Midland, ran a stop sign and killed a young man. The 1963 accident report says that Laura, then 17, ran a stop sign in the Texas crash that struck the Corvair of 17-year old Michael Douglas. He was thrown from the car and broke his neck. Some accounts have claimed Michael and Laura had been dating. Laura was with a 17-year old girl friend at the time. It was a clear night shortly after 8 p.m. on Nov. 6, 1963. The speed limit for the road was 55. The speed of Laura Bush’s car was illegible on the report. A photograph retrieved in 2000 by the National Inquirer showed the sightlines at the crossing of the two county roads to have been not obscured by trees. It was just the flat surface of the Permian basin, from whose oil deposits the wealth of Midland derives.

I write these lines in the Richelieu Hotel in New Orleans, looking out at the thundershowers and hoping the rain will clear off in time for us all to head out to the race track and hear Ike Turner and the Kings of Rhythm. So much goes back to Sam Philipps, for whom Ike was a talent scout. As Michael Neumann wrote to me the other day, “Ike played piano on Rocket-88, often and not foolishly considered the first rock and roll song. It was done by his group, the Kings of Rhythm, whose vocalists included not only Jackie Brenston (on said rocket) but Clayton Love. People sometimes talk about a track being ‘searing’. A couple of his numbers really deserve it. Ike’s band did most of its recording around 1956 and it makes Tina sound like Patti Page.”


Lamenting Pickett’s Failed Charge

Now this reprise on the Civil War and subsequent developments, from Wes Baker in Alabama.

Thank you very much for publishing Werther’s fine article on George Will and the Vietnam War. One must admit, however, that Mr. Will is easy pickings. He has always shilled for the State. The only thing that sets him apart from the rest of the punditry is his penchant for polysyllabic words and, perhaps, his ability to spell out in detail the official, government line on historical events where others simply assume.

Perhaps Werther might want to rethink his comments on official revisionism regarding the statement about Pickett in the last sentence of this paragraph in his essay:

“In truth, the self-described intellectual arm of pseudo-conservatism has for decades fairly seethed with revisionist emotion. If only Ike hadn’t been a befuddled One-Worlder, we could have driven to Berlin and the cold war could have been avoided. If only we’d unleashed Chang Kai-shek, our boys would have been victorious in Korea. No doubt some are still lamenting Pickett’s failed strategy near a small Pennsylvania town.”

That last sentence, as far as I know, is not official revisionism. Indeed, it is diametrically opposed to official U.S. histrionics.

As a Southerner, I will not attempt to defend our historical record in toto. I will, however, put our “human rights” track record up against the Federal government’s record any day of the week. In fact, I’ll put our whole history up against the last two years of Washington’s gentle and humane demeanor.

Yes, there are some of us who are still lamenting Pickett’s failed charge (and a host of other failures in that terrible period). We (unreconstructed Southerners) have a lot to answer for, but, at least, if we had been successful, we, might not have so much to answer for as we have now after a century of warfare under Washington’s guidance.

Very cordially,

Wes Baker
Anniston, Alabama

Footnote: the opening item in this column first appeared in the print edition of The Nation that went to press last Wednesday.











Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.