Magical Realism, Writing, Fiction, Politics, Haiku, Books

lunes, julio 30, 2007

Machu Picchu, Part 3

The Main Street, Aguascalientes, Peru

I am sitting in the plaza in Aguascalientes, Municipalidad de Machu Picchu, 12:30 pm, 7/19/07.

A statue of Pachacutec Inka and a fountain. Music from a live band in a pizzeria. A mix of Peruvian traditional music and rock. Many tourists walk through lugging backpacks. Some sit. There is an ugly, hairless dog wearing a red vest. Shopkeepers lug the propane cannisters that arrived on the train through the square to their restaurants. Many policemen with guns and shields and vests and chevrons. Groups of local people dressed in red panchos and traditional hats, perhaps porters on the Inca trail. Groups of street cleaners in orange and green uniforms with green aprons, face masks, and brooms. Boys play wildly with a broken, plastic car. A child breaks a beer bottle on a step. A woman in a traditional, tall, white hat sits on a bench. All of this, every bit of it, is part of one of the largest, most charming tourist traps on this continent.

But there is also a real Aguascalientes, past the sprawling market the runs from the main street all the way up the hill to the modern train station. It is past the soccer field. Few tourists see it. It is dustier and quieter. And poorer. The real Aguascalientes has something to do with the recent two day, general strike. It has something to do with the policemen and their vests and riot shields and automatic weapons. The real Aguascalientes has graffiti denouncing Imperialism. To see it, you have to want to see it. Otherwise, it is a secret. It is not part of the most charming tourist trap on this continent.

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miércoles, julio 25, 2007

Machu Picchu, Parts 1 and 2

7/19/07, Machu Picchu.


I am sitting high on a wall overlooking dense clouds hiding the mountains. I sit just above the huge arched door. Many swallows. Many tourists. It is 8:30 am. I can feel the sun but mostly it is a damp breath, gentle, not enough to move the clouds or dry last night's rain.

Every so often tourists pass me, talking in many languages. Either they climb up huffing, or they descend talking. This is not a place where silence prevails. Despite its breathtaking vistas, its high altitude, its incomprehensible architecture, despite its mysterious, overwhelming, miraculous, incomprehensible existence, Machu Picchu cannot inspire silence. In fact, with its monumental size and exquisite details, Machu Picchu so dwarfs us, reveals us for all our pretense as underachieving, unimportant, without significance in the long stream of time, that we respond with the trivial, as if to prove the point, perhaps to comfort ourselves in the presence of the awe inspiring.

We respond with a thousand photographs. An avalanche of flashes. Conversations that seem far too loud, far too incessant for such an enormous cathedral, questions about the mundane. I wonder, have we lost our capacity to be struck silent?

Four llamas have arrived. One chases another past me, making wheezing noises. Tourists hug the walls. When the chase has subsided and the larger llama has mounted a terrace below and the smaller one is standing on the descending steps, the tourists resume their chatting and photographing. One calls out, "Llama, Llama," as if the animals spoke English. Then others arrive to discuss the llamas and to speculate further about them. Even these wonders, with their cushioned feet, their long necks, their fleece still wet from the rain, almost wild, inhabiting this place for millenniums, cannot quiet us. A llama releases a cascade of urine and feces on the terrace near me. Tourists gasp and then discuss this.

Two friends arrive from above and call out to me. We chat briefly. We too are too loud. They arrived at 6 am to hike above to the Inka Sun Gate, a hike I took yesterday, and they are now returning. It is now about 9:30 am. They trek away.

A huge tour group with a guide is above me on the path. He explains-- is he speaking in French, Portugese, English?-- pointing and gesturing into the wide void below him. The tourists listen attentively. His left arm waves deep into the void, floats over his head, waves at the distant mountains, toward the clouds.

Below, two women touch the sunburns they received yesterday and discuss them.

A sparrow lands near me on the wall. It hops toward me. Two people nearby speak softly in German. And at last, unbelievably, there is total silence.

Machu Picchu stands wrapped in soft cotton. Sparrows speak. The open roofs of distant buildings jut into the wet sky. And there is a moment, a precious, evanescent moment, of utter silence.


I am in a small room above the Condor Temple, a great view of wide terraces below me. Wispy cotton clouds slowly rise. Voices in Italian fill the Temple below me. My small room is in an out of the way spot. It leads nowhere. But it is now surrounded by voices in Italian and Spanish inquiring where the exit is. At last, the voices wander off.

I inhale Machu Picchu, its magic, its endurance, its incredible strength, its genius. I feel that it is sacred. I inhale all of this and I exhale gratitude. There is a moment of peace.

No one has any real information about Machu Picchu. The guides always being with, "They say..." What they say is a blend of fact and fiction so thoroughly mixed and so often repeated that provable facts cannot be distilled from it.

Tourists have arrived to take photos of my small, private room and speak in Spanish. The guide says that they know 25% about this place and that the remaining 75% will have to be revealed by modern technology. Not likely. And then, they too are gone, as are their speculations, and the peace returns.

I inhale Machu Picchu and I exhale peace. I am content.

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jueves, julio 05, 2007

Spare Troy Davis

crossposted at dailyKos

Sometimes a death penalty case comes along that is much more upsetting than the usual one. Of course, this depends on what upsets you. Personally, I think all executions are barbaric and they should be banned. And I find each one extremely upsetting. But even those who aren't absolutists like me find particular executions upsetting. Some executions, for example, of retarded people, of people under 18 at the time of their crime, upset even a majority of the Supreme Court so much that they prohibited such killings. But a majority of the Supreme Court isn't often upset by judicial killing and it often enables it. State killing continues, approved by the Supreme Court and the governments in more than 30 states.

Sometimes, a death penalty case comes along in which it looks for all the world like an innocent person is about to be executed. Sometimes the Supreme Court washes its hands of that case, turns its back, and diddles while somebody is fastened to the gurney.

Which brings me to Troy Anthony Davis and the efforts of Georgia to execute him on July 17, 2007, even though there are substantial doubts about his guilt of the crime.

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Troy Anthony Davis

Amnesty International provides the following brief synopsis (which I have edited; my comments are inserted in brackets)
On 28 August 1991 Troy Davis [who is an African American] was convicted of the
murder of 27-year-old Officer Mark Allen McPhail,
white, who was shot and killed in the parking lot of a
Burger King in Savannah, Georgia,
in the early hours of 19 August 1989. Troy Davis was
also convicted of assaulting Larry Young, a homeless
man, who was accosted and struck across the face with
a pistol immediately before Officer McPhail was shot.
At the trial, Troy Davis admitted that he had been at
the scene of the shooting, but claimed that he had
neither assaulted Larry Young nor shot Officer

There was no physical evidence against Troy Davis and
the weapon used in the crime was never found. The case
against him consisted entirely of witness testimony.
In affidavits signed over the years since the trial,
all but three of the state's non-police witnesses have
recanted their testimony. One of the three
non-recanting witnesses is a man who has not been
located for interview by Davis' appeal lawyers.
Another, while not recanting, has contradicted her
trial testimony. The third non-police witness who has
not recanted his testimony is Sylvester Coles, who was
the principle alternative suspect, according to the
defense at the trial, and against whom there is new
witness testimony implicating him as the gunman.

All of the others have recanted their testimony against Troy
Davis. In 1989, Kevin McQueen was detained in the same
jail as Davis. McQueen told the police that during
this time Troy Davis had confessed to shooting Officer
McPhail. [This is classic jailhouse snitch testimony
and it is notoriously unreliable.] In a 1996 affidavit,
McQueen retracted this
statement, saying that he had given it because he
wanted to "get even" with Davis following a
confrontation he said the two of them had had. Monty
Holmes testified against Troy Davis in a pre-trial
hearing, but did not testify at the trial because,
according to a 2001 affidavit, he did not want to
repeat his false testimony. Jeffrey Sapp testified
that Troy Davis had told him that he had shot the
officer. Recanting his testimony in a 2003 affidavit,
he stated that under "a lot of pressure" from police,
he had testified against Troy Davis. [These recantations
occurred years after the jury trial that led to Davis's
death penalty.]

At the trial, eyewitness Dorothy Ferrell identified
Troy Davis as the person who had shot Officer McPhail.
In a 2000 affidavit, she stated that she had not seen
who the gunman was, but testified against Davis out of
fear that if she did not, because she was on parole at
the time, she would be sent back to jail. In a 2002
affidavit, Darrell Collins, 16 years old at the time
of the crime, said that the day after the shooting, 15
or 20 police officers came to his house, and
"a lot of
them had their guns drawn". They took him in for
questioning, and "after a couple of hours of the
detectives yelling at me and threatening me, I finally
broke down and told them what they wanted to hear.
They would tell me things that they said had happened
and I would repeat whatever they said - I testified
against Troy at his trial - because I was still scared
that the police would throw me in jail for being an
accessory to murder if I told the truth about what

Larry Young, the homeless man who was accosted on the
night of the murder, implicated Troy Davis as the man
who had assaulted him. His affidavit, signed in 2002,
offers further evidence of a coercive police
investigation into the murder of their fellow officer:
"After I was assaulted that night - some police
officers grabbed me and threw me down on the hood of
the police car and handcuffed me. They treated me like
a criminal; like I was the one who killed the officer
- They made it clear that we weren't leaving until I
told them what they wanted to hear. They suggested
answers and I would give them what they wanted. They
put typed papers in my face and told me to sign them.
I did sign them without reading them."
In his 2002
affidavit he said that he "couldn't honestly remember
what anyone looked like or what different people were

Antoine Williams, a Burger King employee, had just
driven into the restaurant's parking lot at the time the
shooting occurred. At the trial, he identified Troy
Davis as the person who had shot Officer McPhail. In
2002 he stated that this was false, and that he had
signed a statement for the police which he could not
and did not read:
"Even today, I know that I could not
honestly identify with any certainty who shot the
officer that night. I couldn't then either. After the
officers talked to me, they gave me a statement and
told me to sign it. I signed it. I did not read it
because I cannot read. At Troy Davis's trial, I
identified him as the person who shot the officer.
Even when I said that, I was totally unsure whether he
was the person who shot the officer. I felt pressured
to point at him because he was the one who was sitting
in the courtroom. I have no idea what the person who
shot the officer looks like."

Due to the procedural obstacles facing a death row
inmate seeking a hearing on post-conviction evidence,
Troy Davis has had no such hearing on the current
state of the witness testimony.
At oral arguments in
front of a three-judge panel of the federal 11th
Circuit Court of Appeals in September 2005, one of the
judges expressed concern that Troy Davis had not been
granted a federal hearing to present the
post-conviction evidence. She asked, "If these people
say, "I was coerced by the police - how could [the
lower federal judge] reject that without a hearing?"
She reportedly suggested that without the testimony of
the various trial witnesses who had now recanted, the
state appeared to have no case. However, in September
2006, the 11th Circuit Court upheld the federal
judge's ruling, and on 25 June 2007 the US Supreme
court refused to intervene
. For a full report on this
case, see USA: "Where is the justice for me?"

I'm not at all convinced that Troy Anthony Davis committed the murder for which Georgia plans to execute him on July 17, 2007. And I'm not alone in this. See this NY Daily News column, this from the Hill, and statements from others who have examined the case. Bishop Desmond Tutu and Sr. Helen Prejean agree. Given the state of the record, I doubt rational humans could argue that they are at all convinced-- forget about being convinced beyond a reasonable doubt-- that Troy Anthony Davis is guilty. No matter, according to the Hill
Georgia officials, however, consistently have said courts have looked at Davis’s arguments, and the state’s attorney general’s office has indicated it is comfortable with the decision to carry out the death sentence.

What is to be done? Time is extremely short. Amnesty suggests the following:
Please send appeals to arrive as
quickly as possible, in your own words:

- explaining that you are not seeking to condone the
murder of Officer Mark Allen McPhail, or to downplay
the seriousness of the crime or the suffering caused;

- noting that many of the witnesses who testimony was
used against Troy Davis at his trial have since
recanted their trial testimony, and that there is new
evidence against an alternative suspect in the case;

- noting the large number of wrongful convictions in
capital cases in the USA since 1976, and noting that
unreliability of witness testimony has been a
contributing factor in many of these cases;

- noting that the power of clemency in capital cases
exists as a failsafe against irreversible error that
the courts have been unable or unwilling to remedy;

- calling on the Board to commute the death sentence
of Troy Davis.


State Board of Pardons and Paroles
2 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, SE, Suite 458
Balcony Level, East Tower
Atlanta, Georgia 30334-4909
Fax: 1 404 651 8502
Salutation: Dear Board members


It is extremely important that each of us make it clear that this execution is not being carried out in our names. Please take a moment to email or write the George Board of Pardons and Paroles.

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