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

miércoles, enero 30, 2008

My Small, Local Stimulus Package

I live in rural Columbia County, New York. Columbia County is about 25 miles SE of Albany, New York, in the Hudson Valley. It abuts Berkshire County, Massachusetts. And it's really beautiful. It's also experiencing the same recession as the rest of the country.

The current recession has already thrown the real estate market into a deep freeze, so that home sales are very, very slow. Fortunately, there have not been a huge number of subprime mortgage foreclosures, though there have been a few. Gasoline is down to $3.21/gallon today. Heating oil is $3.389/gallon. There was an announcement last week that the state was going to close the Hudson Correctional Facility, the second largest employer in the county, within a year. The Correctional Facility employs 277 workers. Local politicians of all stripes are fighting the proposal; I'm not optimistic that those jobs will be spared. Most likely, the jobs will be moved away.

Two decades ago Columbia County used to be filled with dairy farms. Those farms disappeared during Reagan's dairy farm liquidations. There are few dairy farms left. This has resulted in huge herds of deer, which browse land that was formerly pasture, and a large growth of second homes for people from New York City, New Jersey, Long Island, and Boston (all about 2 hours away). Two decades ago Columbia County had factories. Now there are very few. Mostly, the county is filled with rural, second homes, people who provide services, or telecommute, or commute to Albany, or to Hudson. There is no Starbucks in Columbia County. There is a Wal-mart. There is no Home Depot or Lowes. There is no large mall though one is planned. There is a lovely, new food coop in Chatham. There are many restaurants. There is theater, and an excellent film festival, and art and sculpture. There are amazing, organic farms. But I digress.

An important strategy for rural counties like Columbia County is to put land back into production for food. Not for animal corn. Not for soybeans. For food. Why? Because local, organically produced food is healthier. And it tastes better. And it does not need long distance transport, so its price does not depend on oil prices or the cost of transporting it or the cost of chemical fertilizers. But, alas, I'm not really a farmer. I raised sheep for about a decade, but ultimately gave that up: it was impossible for me not to lose serious money. I would have needed a flock of thousands, and to do that I would have had to give up my usual work. Instead, I quit raising them.

I have some lovely fertile land, land that will grow beautiful vegetables and flowers, land that for at least two decades has never had chemical fertilizers on it or pesticides. And I wanted to get it back into production. Know what? I don't care if I make any money from it at all. If I can get an agricultural tax exemption on my land taxes, that will be great, but that's not really the point. If I get the inside price of vegetables that will be enough. The point is to find ways to get local land into production of food that will be sold and consumed locally. That makes ecological and economic sense.

So I scouted around the local natural food store, the local food coop, the local organic, biodynamic farm, and I found an organic farmer who wanted to grow vegetables and flowers and was doing so successfully on other land nearby. A farmer who wanted more land. An organic, skilled farmer. And I made him a deal he couldn't refuse: I'd lease him between 5 and 10 acres for $1.00 a year for 5 years or longer if he'd put it into production, if he'd promise not to use chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and he could keep whatever money he made from the crop he grew. If he made enough that I could get an Ag exemption, great. If not, that's fine also. What I really want is for the land to be productive and to feed people. And I want the land to become more fertile, and better farming land as we go along.

My hope is that by doing this I can inspire other people who own land or who have abutting lots with enough vacant land (5 acres seems to be the minimum) to find farmers to put their land back into production of food. I want them to give the same deal I'm giving.

Is this a stimulus? Absolutely. It's a modest one to be sure. But it's a real stimulus. Unlike the one they're talking about in Congress, it's a real one. It's new production. It's turning fallow land into food. And does the money stay in the local community? Definitely. And does it decrease food prices for organic local vegetables? Sure. And does it provide a farmer with additional income that he will spend in the local community? Yes. In other words, it's a real stimulus. And my hope is that it's an example: we can find ways of making our lives better by being creative. And we can begin to change the way the economy runs for the better when we do that.

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jueves, enero 24, 2008

Doctors Should Not Be Involved In Executions

Today the New England Journal of Medicine has an editorial entitled, "Physicians And Execution." The editorial makes it clear that medical doctors should never be involved in state killing.

This is extremely important and another significant step toward the abolition of state killing. How so? "Lethal injection" was introduced to "medicalize" and lend moral authority to executions when hanging, gassing, and electrocution were finally recognized to be inhumane. That is why those to be executed are required to lie on hospital like gurney (see above). And that is why the gurney has sheets on it. That is why in many cases hospital like curtains are used to surround the dead person after the execution. The "medical" appearance of killing is intended to make it more palatable.

The entire editorial is important and well worth reading. Here are significant excepts:

Lethal injection was introduced in the United States in 1977 explicitly to sanitize executions, since the older methods — hanging, electrocution, and chemical gassing — were considered to be inhumane. The three-drug regimen that is commonly used was proposed by an Oklahoma forensic pathologist, Dr. A. Jay Chapman, and adopted by the state legislature without any scientific or medical testing. Injected drugs, now used in all but 1 of the 37 states in which capital punishment is legal, have been part of the increasing medicalization of executions and the enlistment of medical personnel to lend them apparent moral legitimacy.

Since 1977 the Oklahoma regimen has been used in approximately 900 executions, several dozen of which have been botched because of infiltration of intravenous lines, inadequate anesthesia, drug precipitation when solutions of sodium thiopental and pancuronium bromide are mixed, and other problems. In a vivid example, an inmate in Ohio in 2006 raised his head repeatedly during the execution and said, "It don't work."

As a consequence of botched executions, the assistance of physicians and other health care professionals has increasingly been sought to provide consultation, place intravenous lines, mix and administer drugs, and monitor the results. This fact is not widely appreciated because such physicians often choose to remain anonymous. Still, many physicians and medical societies, including the American Medical Association and the American Society of Anesthesiology, have taken strong stands against the involvement of medical professionals in capital punishment. Although some states have forbidden medical boards to reprimand physicians who participate in executions, few medical professionals have agreed to assist in lethal injection. For example, in response to a federal court order in 2006, the State of California required the presence of qualified medical personnel at the execution of Michael Morales. Prison officials found two anesthesiologists who were willing to participate, but when informed in detail of the role they would play, they withdrew hours before the scheduled lethal injection, which was then halted.

We are concerned that, regardless of its decision in Baze v. Rees, the Court may include language in its opinion that will turn again to the medical profession to legitimize a form of lethal injection that, meeting an appropriate constitutional standard, will not be considered "cruel and unusual punishment." On the surface, lethal injection is a deceptively simple procedure, but its practical application has been fraught with numerous technical difficulties. Without the involvement of physicians and other medical professionals with special training in the use of anesthetic drugs and related agents, it is unlikely that lethal injection will ever meet a constitutional standard of decency. But do we as a society want the nation's physicians to do this? We believe not.

Physicians and other health care providers should not be involved in capital punishment, even in an advisory capacity. A profession dedicated to healing the sick has no place in the process of execution. On January 7 in oral arguments in Baze v. Rees, the justices asked many important and thoughtful questions about a potential role for physicians and other health care professionals in executions. In their fuller examination of Baze v. Rees, the justices should not presume that the medical profession will be available to assist in the taking of human lives. We believe that, like the anesthesiologists in the Morales case, all responsible members of the medical profession, when asked to assist in a state-ordered execution, will remember the Hippocratic Oath and refuse to participate. The future of capital punishment in the United States will be up to the justices, but the involvement of physicians in executions will be up to the medical profession.

These are important words and they lead directly to abolition. h/t to Jeralyn at Talk Left.

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domingo, enero 20, 2008

Remembering Dr. King's Legacy

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King recognized the importance and validity of direct action as a tactic in his Letter from the Birmingham Jail:

You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling, for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent-resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.

In honor of Dr. King and in light of the past 7 years and the horrendous list of illegal, unconstitutional acts by the Government, a list that I will not bother to recount here, I think it's time for us to reconsider the role that direct action can play in restoring America to its most Democratic, humane, and decent principles.

Creating of constructive, nonviolent tension even in the face of threats of extremist violence is Dr. King's true legacy. My hope is that in honor of his birth we will find the courage to do as he would have.

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Mario Vargas Llosa Briefly Hospitalized

Mario Vargas Llosa

AFP reports that Vargas Llosa was discharged from the hospital yesterday:
Peruvian author and one-time presidential candidate Mario Vargas Llosa was discharged from hospital Saturday a day after he was admitted with heart problems, local news media reported.

Vargas Llosa, 71, was rushed to the San Pablo clinic Friday and, after undergoing a series of tests, is now out of danger, radio RPP reported. Officials at the clinic refused to confirm or deny the report to AFP.

Upon hearing the news during a cabinet meeting President Alan Garcia asked Prime Minister Jorge del Castillo to visit the writer, the president's office announced.

By then Vargas Llosa had already left the hospital in company of his family, so Garcia's office said that del Castillo would instead visit the author at home or call him by phone.

While I've always loved Vargas Llosa's books, his neo-liberal politics has always been distasteful to me. In 1990 he ran for president of Peru, the candidate of conservative parties, but lost the election to Alberto Fujimori, who is now on trial for human rights abuses. In the campaign for president, according to James Cockroft, "Fujimori seemed less extremist in his economic neo-liberalism than Vargas Llosa and also spoke demagogically about helping Peru's poor. Sympathizers of the left voted for [Fujimori] as 'the lesser evil.'" But after the election Fujimori carried out IMF-type austerity policies even more extreme than those advanced by Vargas Llosa.

In 1990 Vargas Llosa described his unsuccessful campaign to the New York Times:
Alive and apparently unscathed after three years of crisscrossing his impoverished and terrorist-wracked country in pursuit of the presidency, Mr. Vargas Llosa says he is disappointed but also "a bit relieved" that the electorate rejected him in June in favor of Alberto Fujimori, a Japanese-Peruvian agronomist. The author's campaign was born of a sense of responsibility in the face of the tragedy of Peru and a conviction that the country could change and prosper with a free-market economy. But, switching from his excellent English to his perfect French, this urbane and elegant man with the swift and piercing amber eyes of a cat confesses that "le coeur n'y etait pas," that his "heart was not in it."

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viernes, enero 18, 2008

And Now Galeras Erupts!

Galeras and the city

According to AP:
A volcano erupted violently in southwestern Colombia Thursday, spewing ash miles into the sky and prompting the evacuation of several thousand people living nearby.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or serious property damage after the 14,110-foot Galeras volcano began erupting about 8 p.m. and cascading lava lit up the night sky.

About 8,000 people live in areas near the volcano where Pasto's mayor ordered an evacuation but "most of the city is not in danger," Fernando Gil, director of Colombia's Seismological Network, told The Associated Press by phone.
Just in case you're not keeping count, that's the third South American eruption in the past month. First was Llaima, then Tungurahua. Does this have any special significance? All three volcanoes are volatile and have been for some time.

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domingo, enero 13, 2008

Tungurahua: Erupting?

Turgurahua in 2006

Is Tungurahua in Ecuador about to erupt? The Independent seems to think so:
Mount Tungurahua in Ecuador could erupt at any moment, spewing red hot lava down its slopes and hurling volcanic rocks on to the small town of Baños below. But, far from fearing for their lives, the town's inhabitants are angry about what they see as a media hype that is seriously damaging their livelihoods.

Tungurahua is a grumpy old soul. Lying about 100 miles south-east of Quito, the volcano normally blows smoke and ash into the sky several times an hour. Every now and then, a rumbling sound can be heard and the ground shakes a little. It sounds as if Mother Fire Throat, as the Incas called the volcano, is flexing her vocal cords.

Apparently, evacuations of people on the west side of the volcano and cattle are underway, but people in the 20,000 person town Banos who work in tourism are afraid that the threat of eruption will destroy their businesses for 6 months to a year. Already many tourists are avoiding the town.

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sábado, enero 12, 2008

NAFTA and Corn: Destroying Mexico

Mexican Corn Field

Yesterday, both the US and Mexico publicly praised NAFTA while Mexican farmers begged for help.

According to Reuters:
U.S. officials trumpeted an end to farm trade restrictions under NAFTA, the controversial North American trade deal, on Friday, while Mexican farmers vowed to take to the streets to protest liberalization they fear will run them into the ground. /snip

Mark Keenum, U.S. undersecretary for farm and foreign agriculture, said the agreement had been a win for farmers in both countries, "creating not only dramatic growth in two-way agricultural trade, but providing our farmers, ranchers and processors with the potential (for) new export opportunities."

This is some kind of a malicious joke. NAFTA is no "win win". It's really a disaster for Mexican subsistence farmers, US immigration policy, and bio diversity. The only winner is US agribusiness.

Mexican Farmers And Immigration
Mexican farmers cannot see NAFTA as a win. Not by a long shot. They recognize it as a disaster.

[T]he changes [brought by NAFTA] are deeply unpopular in Mexico, where farmers fear unrestricted imports will depress prices and stir competition in producing white corn, which has been grown since the Aztec times.

Most of Mexico's three million corn producers and half a million bean producers make a living on small farms that are a far cry from the sweeping, industrialized operations that characterize U.S. agriculture.

Corn tariffs have gradually been phased out since the trade deal was implemented, and imports of U.S. yellow corn to Mexico, mostly used in animal feed, have skyrocketed. They now account for close to 35 percent of Mexican consumption.

Some background:
*At the start of the year Mexico lifted 14 years of protection for corn, beans, milk and sugar under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that took effect in 1994. The regional trade pact groups Mexico, the United States and Canada.

*Mexican lawmakers demanded [on 1/4/08 that] President Felipe Calderon consider renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement and meet with farmers, who fear a flood of cheap U.S. imports.

*``This is a national security issue,'' said Samuel Aguilar, of the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party, in a speech before the Congress. ``The agricultural chapter of NAFTA could generate a social conflict.'' /snip

Mexico may lose as many as 350,000 farm jobs this year because of competition from the U.S.

*Some Mexican farmers say competing against highly subsidized U.S. goods could put thousands out of work on top of about 2 million Mexican farm jobs lost over the last decade.

NAFTA is a recipe for complete disaster in Mexico:
Timothy Wise, a professor at Tufts University in Massachusetts, calls unblunted liberalization in those sensitive goods a "recipe for disaster" for those who depend on Mexico's vulnerable farm sector.

"Just as the U.S. became the largest supplier of animal feed, it has the capacity to become a dominant supplier of dry beans and white corn, undermining markets in Mexico and creating a dependence on external sources for the two very clear main staple foods," he said.

Of course, this economic disaster will lead directly to the displacement of small, Mexican farmers, and act as an incentive to those farmers' forced migration to the US. In short: NAFTA's destroying Mexican subsistence farmers and forcing them through economic pressure to leave failing, subsistence farms and enter the US. I've discussed this before here and here.

A Bio-diversity Disaster
But there are additional, heavy costs. NAFTA will have a gigantic, negative biodiversity impact. There are two primary kinds of corn grown in the US, white and yellow. Yellow is mostly animal food. And in the US, unlike Mexico, corn is a genetically modified crop. "In the US, by 2006 89% of the planted area of soybeans, 83 percent of cotton, and 61 percent maize was genetically modified varieties." source. Even before the end of NAFTA, genetically modified corn presented a problem in Mexico:
Rural and urban activists throughout the Americas are calling on grain exporters, the biotech industry, and the US and Canadian governments to stop dumping untested and unlabeled genetically engineered corn on Mexico and other nations, where irreplaceable corn varieties are being damaged by "genetic pollution." In Mexico researchers have detected widespread contamination of traditional varieties of corn, caused by surreptitious imports of genetically engineered corn into Mexico by grain export giants such as Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill

And now, there is even greater reason to be concerned:
Those who want to introduce bioengineered corn in Mexico appear to be gaining an upper hand.

A law to allow experimental planting of GMO strains in northern Mexico was passed two years ago but was never signed. Agriculture Minister Alberto Cardenas said this week the law could go into effect in a matter of weeks.

"We don’t want to be behind. We have to start testing now," said Catalino Flores, a geneticist working with Salazar’s organization in San Salvador El Seco.

Corn yields in the United States can be more than three times those in Mexico, according to Mexican growers.

"There will be drought resistant corn in 5 to 10 years. If you don’t plant something like that when everyone else is, you’ll be down the drain," Flores said.

About half of U.S. yellow corn sent to Mexico comes from genetically modified seeds. Mexico’s agriculture minister reckons GMO seeds smuggled in from the United States are already being planted in northern Mexican states.

So what's the big deal? It's fairly simple: GMO corn threatens non-GMO corn species, undermining bio-diversity.
[S]some farmers worry that introducing GMO seeds could contaminate hundreds of wild blue, red and multicolored corn varieties planted for centuries in Mexico.

"The farmers who want to plant transgenic corn are irresponsible, they don’t care if the are putting the genetic heritage of Mexico at risk," said Victor Suarez head of a small farmers’ group that wants keep trade protections for corn and beans.

The ancient Maya, who lived in southern Mexico over 1,000 years ago, believed the gods made men from maize. The plant was adopted over 500 years ago by Spanish conquerors and spread to the rest of the world.

So to make a long story short, not only will NAFTA destroy Mexican subsistence farming and contribute to migration from Mexico to the US for former subsistence farmers, it also will endanger the bio diversity of corn in Mexico (if not the entire hemisphere).

NAFTA is an unmitigated disaster for Mexico. In the US, we don't discuss its impact on Mexico, we only discuss how it opened the market in Mexico for US corn and other products. There will be huge profits to agribusiness in the US from new markets. But hidden from view in the traditional media, there will be economic devastation for small farmers in Mexico, displacement of families from their farms, and ecological destruction.

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jueves, enero 10, 2008

India And the $2500 Tata Nano

Delhi Rush Hour (NY Times photo)

This week Tata, India's largest car manufacturer, unveiled the Nano, a $2500 car, at the biennial Auto Expo in Delhi. Of course, environmentalists are justifiably enraged and distressed by the idea. But anybody who has actually driven in a car in India is probably just shaking his/her head at the prospect of thousands of additional cars in the already insane traffic. Look, for example, at the photo.

The Times alludes briefly to what driving in India is like:
On his first driving lesson this week, Mr. Sharma had more immediate worries in mind. Sharing the roads with him was a bicyclist with three cooking gas cylinders strapped to the back of his bike, a pushcart vendor plying guavas, a cycle rickshaw loaded with a photocopy machine (rickshaws often being the preferred mode of delivery for modern appliances).

There were also a great many pedestrians, either leaping into traffic in the absence of crosswalks or marching in thick rows on the sides of the road in the absence of sidewalks. At one point, a car careened down the wrong side of the road. Then a three-wheeled scooter-rickshaw came straight at him, only to duck swiftly into a side street. At least this morning there was no elephant chewing bamboo in the fast lane, as there sometimes is.
This description is inadequate by far.

Listen to the police and look at the numbers:
“My concern is not with cars. My concern is with drivers,” said Suvashish Choudhary, the deputy commissioner of police. “Every new car will bring new drivers who are not trained for good city driving.”

With a population of nearly 16.5 million, Delhi now adds 650 new vehicles to its roads each day. At last count, there were 5.4 million vehicles in all, a more than five-fold increase in 20 years; scooters and motorbikes still outnumber cars two-to-one.

Mr. Choudhary was reminded of the remarkable fact that the sharp rise in the number of cars in Delhi had not been accompanied by a sharp rise in traffic accidents. He scoffed, and went on to list his grievances: no one gives way; everyone jostles to be the first to move when the traffic light goes from red to green; a lack of crosswalks prompts pedestrians to frequently jump out into traffic. He called it “a lack of driving culture.”
That doesn't quite capture the issue, either.

The Classic Ambassador

When I was traveling in India about 7 years ago, I traveled by car, an Ambassador with a driver, from Benares to Bodh Gaya and back on the Grand Trunk Road, India's largest highway which runs from Calcutta to the Pakistani border, west of Delhi. The ride was an utterly unbelievable experience and unlike any driving I have done in this Hemisphere. Guidebooks for very good reason uniformly urge foreigners not to drive.

Why? There were gigantic traffic jams that materialized from nowhere and utterly stopped all traffic for hours. And then mysteriously disappeared. Vendors emerged to sell drinks and ice cream to stranded motorists. Tata trucks, beautifully and individually decorated with movie stars and deities and gold and bright colored cloth, blared Hindi rock. It was 115 degrees and the wind was like hot onion breath. Cars drove on the wrong side of the road. Cattle wandered in the road. Lines of traffic drove off the road and through fields to avoid obstructions. Trucks and cars that had broken down were repaired in the stream of traffic, barricaded by rocks. Broken trucks that were in crashes the night before lay empty, on their sides, dead carcasses on the road way.

In India the large vehicles have the right of way; small vehicles yield to large ones. The most important part of a car or truck is the horn. You have to use the horn as a constant means of communicating with other drivers. You have to swerve out of the way of oncoming trucks piled high with objects. The trucks will not stop no matter what because they have the right of way.

When driving a night, it is entirely possible that other vehicles in traffic will have no lights at all. You can drive into them whether or not you are not entirely awake. You can also drive into people who walk in the road without lights, or animals, water buffalo, camels, elephants, cows, that wander into the road.

And now introduce a $2,500 car which is probably made of tin foil and will crush its occupants when it runs into the oncoming truck, or cow, or person. This is not what anybody needs in India. This car will make driving an even more bizarre cultural experience. It will make riding on the Indian roads akin to a very deadly, very real bumper cars event.

But, alas, this new $2,500 car appears to be precisely what people want. When this takes hold, you won't even be able to walk on urban, Indian sidewalks safely.

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lunes, enero 07, 2008

An Offer They Cannot Refuse

Cellophane House by Kieran Timberlake Architects

Today the New York Times has an article about a show of prefab housing the Museum of Modern Art will put on in NYC this summer. In short:
To many people the term “prefab housing” calls to mind trailer parks. Yet lately prefabricated houses — built off site and then delivered largely complete — have become fashionable at architecture schools and among an upscale segment of the housing market. They pose a considerable design challenge.

Seizing the moment the Museum of Modern Art has commissioned five architects to erect their own prefab dwellings in a vacant lot on West 53rd Street, adjacent to the museum. Whittled down from a pool of about 400, the five architects are participating in “Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling,” an exhibition opening in July.

Right. So the houses are going to be erected on a vacant slab on 53rd Street adjacent to the museum and then people are going to walk through them? Nonsense. Bad idea. Stupid. If these houses are supposed to be good, somebody should live in them during the show and the people who view the exhibit should be visitors in the houses. That way, there'd be information about what living in these houses is actually like, and the houses would be given a real test: are they in fact liveable? Are they something you could actually enjoy living in?

So, I've decided that MoMA should call me up and make me an offer I cannot refuse. Invite me to live in one of the houses (hopefully one where I can write and live blog and cook) for a month or two as part of the exhibit. You know where I am. I am ready to negotiate a reasonable deal for this.

And no, this isn't because I want to live on East 53rd Street. It's because I am the missing link in this exhibit. I will rescue this exhibit from curatorial blundering. In fact, I will transform it into a performance. IN August, you can visit me at 7 am when I am in my pyjamas wandering around, making my morning protein shake in the blender, reading blogs on line and catching up on the news. What could be more normal? What could be more important for these houses?

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sábado, enero 05, 2008

Feliz Dia de Reyes!

"Cuando Jesús nació en Belén de Judea en días del rey Herodes, vinieron del oriente a Jerusalén unos magos diciendo: ¿Dónde está el rey de los judíos, que ha nacido? Porque su estrella hemos visto en el oriente y venimos a adorarle. Oyendo esto, el rey Herodes se turbó, y toda Jerusalén con él. Y convocados todos los principales sacerdotes, y los escribas del pueblo, les preguntó dónde había de nacer el Cristo. Entonces Herodes, llamando en secreto a los magos, indagó de ellos diligentemente el tiempo de la aparición de la estrella; y enviándolos a Belén. Ellos, habiendo oído al rey, se fueron. Y al entrar en la casa, vieron al niño con su madre María, y postrándose lo adoraron; y abriendo sus tesoros, le ofrecieron presentes: oro, incienso y mirra. Pero siendo avisados por revelación en sueños que no volviesen a Herodes, regresaron a su tierra por otro camino." (San Mateo 2, 1-12).

January 6 is Three Kings Day (Tres Reyes Magos or Epiphany). It commemorates the day the Three Kings from the East, after following the star for twelve days, arrived in Bethlehem to find the child in the manger and to give symbolic gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold. Three Kings Day is the day on which gifts are traditionally given throughout Central and South America.

Only relatively recently has globalization and commercialization brought Santa Claus and Christmas trees and gift giving on Christmas Day. Before that, the Three Kings came with the gifts only on January 6, twelve days after Christmas. According to this Wiki:
In Spain, Argentina, and Uruguay, children (and many adults) polish and leave their shoes ready for the Kings' presents before they go to bed on the 5th of January. Sweet wine, nibbles, fruit and milk are left for the Kings and their camels. In Mexico, it is traditional for children to leave their shoes on the eve of January 6 by the family nativity scene or by their beds. Also a letter with toy requests is left and sometimes the shoes are filled with hay for the camels, so that the Kings will be generous with their gifts. In Puerto Rico, it is traditional for children to fill a box with grass or hay and put it underneath their bed, for the same reasons. In some parts of northern Mexico the shoes are left under the Christmas tree with a letter to the Three Kings. This is analogous to children leaving mince pies or cookies and milk out for Father Christmas in Western Europe.

If you consider the Three Kings Story from a mythic, rather than a religious perspective, it's a very important allegory about the wise, eastern Kings' faithfully following their instinct and knowledge across the desert to the place it led them (did they know where they were going?) and when they reached the destination giving their gifts to those they found who should receive them. I really like that. I like to think about the kind of courage and understanding one would need to play the role of the kings (the wise men) in the story. Would I follow my star? Would I persist for 12 days? Would frustration, despair, fear stop my journey? Would I be distracted? Would I keep my focus? Would I realize when I had arrived? Would I know what gifts to give and to whom?

Feliz Dia de Reyes!

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viernes, enero 04, 2008

Huckabee For Executioner

Seldom have we seen a politician who so relished and justified the grisly business of state killing. Mike Huckabee actually brags about his willingness to kill. And justifies it by talking about Jesus.

This from the reactionary conservative Washington Times:
Mike Huckabee has started to cite the 16 executions he oversaw as Arkansas governor in his presidential campaign, pointing to them as a type of experience no other candidate in the Republican race can claim.

It's a grisly claim to make, but Huckabee is trying to counter Mitt Romney's attacks that he is soft on crime.

"The 16 people I carried out execution on in Arkansas would hardly say I'm soft on crime," Huckabee told supporters while campaigning in Indianola, Iowa, over the weekend.

Last week he made a similar statement to voters in Pella, telling them, "Ask the 16 people on which I carried out executions."

The implication is this: Huckabee is tough and will kill. Romney is weak. He has not killed as governor.

If this were isolated tough talk it would be disgraceful enough. But, in fact, it's part of Huckabee's long willingness to act as executioner.

In the Youtube debate Huckabee continued the theme and provided some biblical "justification" for it. This from ThinkProgress:
At Wednesday’s CNN/YouTube debate, a questioner asked former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee “what would Jesus do” on the death penalty. He replied:

You know, one of the toughest challenges that I ever faced as a governor was carrying out the death penalty. I did it more than any other governor ever had to do it in my state. As I look on this stage, I’m pretty sure that I’m the only person on this stage that’s ever had to actually do it. […]

Jesus was too smart to ever run for public office, Anderson. That’s what Jesus would do.

So Huckabee dodged the question. But as Think Progress reported:
[I]n 1997, Huckabee claimed that Jesus would have agreed with him on supporting the death penalty. Shortly before a triple execution in Arkansas in Jan. 1997, a caller called into Huckabee’s show on Arkansas Educational Television Network and asked how he squared his Christian teachings with his support for the death penalty. As the Arkansas Times reported on Jan. 22, 1997:

“Interestingly enough,” Huckabee allowed, “if there was ever an occasion for someone to have argued against the death penalty, I think Jesus could have done so on the cross and said, ‘This is an unjust punishment and I deserve clemency’.”

Jesus, though, did not ask for clemency. Therefore, according to Huckabee’s logic, Jesus must have been in favor of capital punishment.

You didn't misread that. It said, "on the eve of triple execution in Arkansas". This is "logic" to Huckabee. And it supports barbarism. But again, this is not just isolated talk from a politician trying to impress a rabid, knuckle dragging, fundamentalist base.

Which brings us to Frankie Jusan Parker. Frankie Parker was convicted of a brutal 1984 murder of his in laws. After about 5 years in prison Parker found buddhism, and the New York Times described his sincerity. This was not a typical "jailhouse conversion." Other inmates referred to him as "SiFu", teacher. No one seems to have disputed the change in him.

Parker was scheduled for execution May 29, 1996, but was granted a stay until July 11, 1996, by the governor at that time, Governor Tucker. On June 17,1996, Governor Tucker announced that the execution date was set for September 17, 1996. Governor Tucker stepped down from his office in July of that year. At that point, the primary hope and efforts for a commutation to life in prison without parole for Parker were placed in the heart of the new Governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee, a Southern Baptist minister.

In a remarkable display of what can only be considered contempt for life, Huckabee chose to move the execution date forward by 6 weeks to August 8, 1996, thereby depriving Parker of 6 additional weeks of life. Why did he do this? According to my friend, Ven. Kobutsu Malone Osho, the zen priest who came forward and was Parker's spiritual adviser, Huckabee's representative said, "We could see no reason for the victim's family to wait any longer." In other words, Huckabee couldn't wait to get his hands bloody.

Is Huckabee pro life? Sure, as long as you're not yet born. If you're convicted, he's ready to strap you to the gurney and kill you.

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martes, enero 01, 2008

Llaima Erupts

On Tuesday the Llaima volcano in southern Chile-- the most active volcano in South America-- erupted, spewing lava and ash, and forcing evacuations. According to IHT:
A column of smoke rose more than 9,300 feet into the sky and television images showed thick smoke and lava emerging from Llaima, one of the most active of the dozens of volcanos in Chile.
The volcano is about 60 miles east of Temuco, in the Araucania region of Chile. Temuco is the childhood home of Pablo Neruda.

It's not clear whether this signals the start of a large eruption, or a smaller event.

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