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

domingo, marzo 30, 2008

Tears On Opening Day In Condado Del Diablo

The beautiful game

This isn't about America's so-called pastime, major league baseball, which begins tonight with the Braves playing the Nats and Commander Codpiece McFlyboy throwing out the ceremonial first ball. No. This is about something smaller, more intimate, and in many ways, much more a game of the People. It's about futbol, soccer, and how anti-immigrant local legislation in Northern Virginia has destroyed the local leagues.

It's an infuriating story. I'm angered not just because I love to play this game, but because of the important role it plays in the community. I doubt you've heard about this before.

This essay begins in July, 2007. The Christian Science Monitor reported then that local communities, including Prince William County, Virginia, which has about 40,000 undocumented residents, had decided to enforce immigration laws, something formerly thought to be a federal function, because Congress couldn't pass an immigration bill:
In the past, cities that welcomed diversity and new immigrants made a point of refusing to let their police officers help federal agents identify people who might be in the US illegally. Others worried that their departments would be slapped with harassment or racial-profiling lawsuits if they became involved in enforcing US immigration laws.

But when political leaders in Prince William County saw national reform legislation falter last month in the Senate, they approved their own immigration-reform resolution that, among other things, would give local police a shot at enforcement.

To that end, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on July 10 to allow county police officers the authority to check the citizenship status of anyone they've stopped or arrested whom they have "probable cause" to believe is in the US illegally. The county board has yet to define "probable cause," but board chairman Corey Stewart says it may be based on whether a person has a driver's license.

The county "has reached a boiling point," says Mr. Stewart. An influx of illegal immigrants over the past four years has led to overcrowded houses and schools, overstretched public services, and a rising problem with gangs, he says.
The Washington Times reported at the same time in July:
Board Chairman Corey A. Stewart, at-large Republican, commended his colleagues for "stepping up to the plate" and taking action on immigration enforcement when the federal government has failed to do so.

"We're going to do what we can," he said prior to the vote, which came after nearly four hours of impassioned testimony from people for and against the tough policies. "We know this is a federal issue, but I think the citizens have a right to expect that their local government and the state government are going to do whatever they can to address the problem."

The resolution, introduced last month by Supervisor John T. Stirrup Jr., Gainesville Republican, was amended before the meeting yesterday to clarify the circumstances under which county staff — including police — should ask about immigration status.

The resolution calls for the police department to establish standards of probable cause and methods by which officers can determine lawful presence, then report back to the board within 60 days.
There don't appear to be any recent news reports about the standards for probable cause.

And now, let's pick up the story in March, 2008. The law is still on the books. The law is still being enforced. There has been no reported litigation to end local enforcement of this law. And the WaPO reports that the "crackdown on illegal immigration [has] quieted" Prince William County's soccer fields:
As Prince William proceeds with its crackdown on illegal immigrants, one result is a shake-up and shrinking of the area's entrenched Hispanic soccer leagues. The reason is simple, organizers say: Players and fans, among them many illegal immigrants, are so worried about being detained by authorities en route to or at games that they are avoiding local fields. Legal immigrants are also wary, for themselves or their illegal relatives, organizers say.

"I have never felt as good as I felt in Manassas," said Hector Bardales, 26, a Sterling mechanic who plays in four of the region's leagues but most loved the crowds who cheered him on when he donned his Honduras de Manassas uniform. But he is in the country illegally, so Manassas is now no man's land, he said. "I would play in any county except Prince William."

Officials have said the policy is not meant to intimidate but to remove illegal immigrants, particularly those who commit crimes. The imperiled leagues draw little sympathy from backers of the county's enforcement program.

"I would hope that the soccer leagues didn't depend on illegal aliens to make them viable," said Greg Letiecq, president of Help Save Manassas, an anti-illegal-immigration group. "It just doesn't seem like a valid reason for overturning the rule-of-law resolution: because without the illegal aliens, the soccer clubs will all fall apart."
And so ends an important feature of community life in Northern Virginia. Some teams are moving to other, safer counties, and some are not playing. The four main Latino leagues in Prince William County had 80 teams last season; there are fewer than 50 this year. The biggest and oldest league, the Liga de Manassas, is skipping the season entirely because it has fewer than half its teams playing. In other words, the legislation has destroyed the league, and it's destroyed the games.

Games used to be played on weekends from April through October at various fields and they used to attract crowds who could hear bands play, eat ethnic food (pupusas, if you're Honduran), and let their kids play. Security guards curbed rowdiness and crews cleaned the fields after the games. Matches could be heard on Spanish-language radio. You can wave good by to all of that now. Adios.

To try to allay fears, league owners have hosted team meetings at which police have explained the county's policy, which took effect [at the start of March] and requires officers to check the immigration status of crime suspects who they think might be in the country illegally. There are to be no immigration checkpoints, racial profiling or sidelines raids, the teams were told. The meetings have had little impact, league owners said.
That's no surprise that the talks haven't changed anything. With such obvious and outspoken animus against immigrants, only a fool can take the assurances at face value that there will be no raids. You have to be crazy to drive to the game. You have to be nuts to sit in the stands. "This is what they have nicknamed this county: the Devil's County. They call it Condado del Diablo." Because here, a game, in particular a lovely and fun game, futbol, can get you harassed, land you in jail, get you deported, and split up your family. It's just not worth the risk.

Would we see this kind of fear, this kind of jackbooted enforcement if our congresspersons would do their jobs and tend to the immigration issue? Would we see this kind of erosion in the community? Would we see this kind of pervading fear? Would this kind of "enforcement" be permitted? I doubt it. I'd like to think that our congresspersons were busy with other things, so they couldn't quite reach this issue, but to be frank, this is just another example of their fecklessness, their cowardice, and their inability to come to grips with important issues, their being neglectful and their letting our communities rot.

I'm too old to play effective defense any more. I get tired and winded. My agility has faded. I find myself more and more grabbing onto the shirts of offensive players, slowing them down however I can, evading the referees' eyes, pushing them away from the goal. This in itself is beautiful. It makes me feel ageless. If I didn't love the game, would I still be trying to do this?

I just cannot believe that our politics has found a way to destroy even these leagues, even this game. I shed a tear for the beautiful game that won't be played. And I'm so very sorry and sad that my companeros in Prince William County, to whom these games are so important and so much a passion, are having to stay home this Spring.

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sábado, marzo 29, 2008

Let's Go Dark For Earth Hour, 8-9 pm

Here are the details. Let's turn off the lights, turn off the TV, turn off the computers for an hour.

I'm putting Spencertown, NY, USA and Bahia Soliman, Tulum, QR, Mexico on the map of places turning off the power for an hour. Wherever you are, please join me.

Consider it a moment of peace, a moment to look at the stars, a moment to light a candle, a moment of vacation, a moment of Sabbath, a political gesture, a chance to join a worldwide awareness.

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Globalization: Argentinian Farmers Strike, Food Prices Increase

Argentinian Farmers Protest

Argentinian farmers, whose strike for more than two weeks has crippled the country, have agreed temporarily to break off their strike, to negotiate with the government. Details via the BBC:
Farmers in Argentina have suspended a crippling strike called in protest at rises in export taxes on farm products.

A farmers' spokesman said the 16-day protest - which included roadblocks and caused food shortages - had been halted to allow talks with the government.

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner had refused to negotiate with the until the action was stopped.

She says the taxes will redistribute wealth, but farmers say they and their communities will be hit hard.
Does any of this matter to the US, and if it does, where is the reportage about this strike in the traditional media?

This story is about globalization. Argentina exports food to Europe and the US. So Argentinian domestic disputes about food and taxation of food have immediate repercussions in the global market and shortly after that in your supermarket. Put another way, the policies of the Argentinian government as it attempts to handle its domestic economic crises directly affect the cost of your food.

The strike in Argentina is about excise taxes of up to 45% imposed on food products. According to the NY Times:
Argentina has been one of the world’s main beneficiaries of a global surge in commodities prices. But farmers abhor government measures like export bans and price controls, which are being put into effect to stem inflation and to increase revenue. The farmers say they intend to continue the strike as long as necessary, demanding that the government repeal a new sliding-scale export tax regime that raises levies on soy and sunflower products at current prices.

Ms. Kirchner has said the taxes help redistribute wealth in a country where nearly a quarter of people are poor.
The BBC adds:
Farmers are furious over the government's decision to introduce a new sliding scale of export taxes, raising levies in some cases up to 45%.

President Fernandez - who took office in December last year, succeeding her husband, Nestor - says the taxes are a means to raise badly-needed revenue, curb inflation and guarantee domestic supplies.

Argentina, a leading exporter of beef, corn, soya oil and soybeans, has benefited from the recent global surge in commodity prices.
Apparently, the Argentinian president recognizes that the agricultural sector of her economy is now one of the country's most profitable because of rising global demand for beef, corn, wheat and soybeans. Adding large excise taxes to food products will bring revenue to the government, but the increase in price locally and to global trading partners will also drive demand down. The farmers are, of course, furious:
As well as causing meat and dairy shortages in the shops, the strike has hit exports and triggered clashes in the capital Buenos Aires.

Protesters have stopped lorries carrying farm produce, either turning them back or dumping the goods on the road, while trade at grain and cattle markets was also disrupted.
According to the Times:
Elsewhere in Argentina, farmers blockaded highways to keep trucks from transporting agricultural goods. The government said it would clear the roads by force if necessary to get food to market.

Several suppliers of Argentine soy and soy oil declared force majeure to back off from sending cargoes to China as a result of the protest, following a similar move on soy meal shipments to Europe, traders and industry officials said.

The strike has slashed foreign currency inflows from agricultural exports, sending the local peso currency to its weakest level against the dollar in five months.
As of today, both sides are unable to move expeditiously to solve the problem. The farmers are waiting to resume their strike; the government has proposed talks for Monday. The Guardian notes that the strike is the biggest crisis Fernandez has faced since taking office in December, and says that US ships are caught in the strike waiting to be loaded.

If Argentina does not scrap the excise tax increase, and if it somehow manages to find a way to get farmers to release their goods for sale, the strike will result in further increases in the global price of food.

The strike has already led to shortages of meat and dairy products, paralyzed local grain and livestock trade and forced major exporters of Argentine soy products to renege on some contracts. And this is only the beginning if the matter isn't resolved.

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jueves, marzo 27, 2008

BREAKING: Don Siegelman Released On Bail Pending Appeal

Great news from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals:
ATLANTA, Ga. -- The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has granted former Gov. Don Siegelman's request to be released from prison pending the outcome of his appeal.

Siegelman is currently serving a 7-year sentence in the Oakdale Federal Correctional Complex in Louisiana following his 2006 public corruption conviction.

Acting U.S. Attorney Louis Franklin confirms the 11th Circuit granted Siegelman's release in a fou- page order which states Siegelman had raised a "significant question" about his conviction. source

Let the celebrations begin.

And make sure they keep his cell in Louisiana open, so that Karl Rove can take it over as soon as possible.

For the previous Don Siegelman essay, click here

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miércoles, marzo 26, 2008

Plastic People, Oh Baby, You're Such A Drag

The Midway Islands

Recently, I wrote about Si'an Kaan in Mexico and the utter disgrace that its beaches were full of plastic. Today, it's the Midway Islands and a BBC story that plastic in these islands in the very middle of the Pacific Ocean is killing birds. That's right. In the middle of nowhere, plastic is killing the birds. And turtles. And fish. Plastic is everywhere. It's destroying wildlife. It's destroying the planet.

The BBC article is stark:
On the coral atoll of Midway in the central Pacific - famous for America's first victory over the Japanese fleet in World War Two - wildlife experts are facing a new battle against a rising tide of plastic waste.

The Midway Islands are home to some of the world's most valuable and endangered species and they all are at risk from choking, starving or drowning in the plastic drifting in the ocean.

Nearly two million Laysan albatrosses live here and researchers have come to the staggering conclusion that every single one contains some quantity of plastic.

About one-third of all albatross chicks die on Midway, many as the result of being mistakenly fed plastic by their parents.
It seems that some chicks never can fly because they have so much plastic in their stomachs. "The deputy manager of the wildlife refuge ... opened the corpse of one albatross and found inside it the handle of a toothbrush, a bottle top and a piece of fishing net." And then there's this:
Many albatrosses are found to have swallowed disposable cigarette lighters - which look remarkably similar to their staple food of squid.

Others become ensnared in plastic. We were alerted to one albatross chick with a large green hook fixed inside its beak. The beak itself had become deformed.
The particular chick grew up with this plastic hook in its mouth:

The point is remarkably simple. Plastic must be kept out of the oceans. Period. Failure to do so endangers wildlife and destroys this planet. Do we understand that plastic is befouling and destroying our planet?

I would like something to be done about this. Can we make the destruction of our planet an important topic in our political dialog? Can we solicit effective proposals designed not only to prevent plastic from being discharged into the oceans, but also to remove existing plastic from our oceans? Can we start to have a politics that takes our stewardship of this planet seriously?

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lunes, marzo 24, 2008

Why I'm Finally Endorsing Obama (With A Minor Reservation)

OK. I've been inspired. And I thought the speech about race in America was the best political speech by a candidate I had ever heard. But today Obama secured my endorsement, albeit it with a minor reseveration.

I see that Obama has taken 3 days to hang out in the Caribe, specifically in St. Thomas. There 's even a 50 second video of him doing just that (turn off the audio). I like that he's taken time off for a few days and headed for the Caribe to hang out and relax.

But I have a minor reservation about this. To get my unequivocal endorsement without any reservation of any kind, Mr. O has to lose the cell phones, both of them, he has to lose the shirt, he has to lose the watch, he has to get out of the shade and into the sun lit sea. That's right. He has to sit down in chest deep turquoise water and float on his back and show me that he knows how to stop, stop everything, stop every single thing. Stop the campaign, stop thinking, stop planning, stop working, stop everything except breathing and relaxing and dreaming. Those are the only 3 activities I want to see. Everything else has to be on stop or on indefinite hold.

As soon as I see that he knows how to do that-- do not email to tell me you think he can do it, I don't want opinions, I want evidence-- I will know that I have found the perfect candidate and I will give my unreserved endorsement.

What the United States truly needs as a leader is somebody who knows how to take care of him/herself.

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domingo, marzo 23, 2008

US Kakistocracy In The Caribbean: Haiti

Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti

This morning's NY Times has an extremely strange story about Haiti. The premise is that things are now so bad in Haiti, that some Haitians wish they still had Papa Doc or Baby Doc Duvalier back as their military despot:
But Victor Planess, who works at the National Cemetery here, has a soft spot for Mr. Duvalier, the man known as Papa Doc. Standing graveside the other day, Mr. Planess reminisced about what he considered the good old days of Mr. Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude, who together ruled Haiti from 1957 to 1986.

“I’d rather have Papa Doc here than all those guys,” Mr. Planess said, gesturing toward the presidential palace down the street. “I would have had a better life if they were still around.”

Mr. Planess, 53, who complains that hunger has become so much a part of his life that his stomach does not even growl anymore, is not alone in his nostalgia for Haiti’s dictatorial past. Other Haitians speak longingly of the security that existed then as well as the lack of garbage in the streets, the lower food prices and the scholarships for overseas study.

Haiti may have made significant strides since President René Préval, elected in 2006, became the latest leader to pass through the revolving door of Haitian politics. But the changes he has pushed have been incremental, not fast enough for many down-and-out Haitians.
The article is worth reading in its entirety, primarily because of its conceit that Haiti, seething on one end of the island of Hispaniola in the midst of the US sphere of influence in the Caribbean, has developed its present dystopia all by its lonesome self, without any assistance worth mentioning from its gigantic hemispheric neighbor, the United States.

The United States has always stirred the pot in Haiti. The first United States occupation of Haiti began on July 28, 1915 and ended almost two decades later in mid-August, 1934. Other US occupations began in 1994 and in 2004, and were conducted under the auspices of the United Nations.

Memory for events in this hemisphere is unbelievably short. Some may recall that four years ago, in 2004, the elected-- the 2000 election in Haiti, like the one in the US was disputed-- Haitian president Bertrand Aristide left the country in circumstances that are still debated:
On March 1, 2004, US Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), along with Aristide family friend Randall Robinson, reported that Aristide had told them (using a smuggled cellular phone), that he had been forced to resign and abducted from the country by the United States. He claimed to be held hostage by an armed military guard.

Aristide later repeated similar claims, as in an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! on March 16. He was pressured to resign from office by U.S. soldiers and James B. Foley, U.S. Ambassador to Haïti, on February 29. An aircraft provided by the U.S. carried Aristide and his wife, Mildred Trouillot Aristide, into exile to the Central African Republic. Goodman asked Aristide if he resigned, and President Aristide replied: "No, I didn't resign. What some people call 'resignation' is a 'new coup d'etat,' or 'modern kidnapping.'"

Many supporters of the Fanmi Lavalas party and Aristide, as well as some foreign supporters, denounced the rebellion as a foreign controlled coup d'etat orchestrated by Canada, France and the United States (Goodman, et al., 2004) to remove a publicly elected President. A new book on the subject, Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide and the Politics of Containment by Peter Hallward, scrupulously documents the events leading up to February 29, 2004, and concludes that what occurred during the "rebellion" was in fact a modern coup d'etat, financed and orchestrated by forces allied with the US government. /snip

Some have come forward to support his claim saying they witnessed him being escorted out by American soldiers at gunpoint.

Sources close to Aritistide also claim the Bush administration blocked attempts to reinforce his bodyguards. /snip

According to a Washington Times, article of April, 2004
Mr. Aristide, who accuses the United States and France of conspiring to force him out of power, filed a lawsuit in Paris last week accusing unnamed French officials of 'death threats, kidnapping and sequestration' in connection with his flight to Africa.

The Bush administration insists that Mr. Aristide had personally asked for help and voluntarily boarded a U.S. plane. 'He drafted and signed his letter of resignation all by himself and then voluntarily departed with his wife and his own security team,' Mr. Powell said.
The US have denied the accusations. "He was not kidnapped," Secretary of State Colin Powell said. "We did not force him onto the airplane. He went on the airplane willingly and that's the truth." The kidnapping claim is "absolutely false," concurred Parfait Mbaye, the communications minister for the Central African Republic, where Aristide's party was taken. The minister told CNN that Aristide had been granted permission to land in the country after Aristide himself – as well as the U.S. and French governments – requested it.

According the US, as the rebels approached the capital, James B. Foley, U.S. ambassador to Haiti, got a phone call from a high-level aide to Aristide, asking if the U.S. could protect Aristide and help facilitate his departure if he resigned. The call prompted a series of events that included a middle-of-the-night phone call to President Bush and a scramble to find a plane to carry Aristide into exile. He traveled voluntarily via motorcade to the airport with his own retinue of security guards, including some contracted Americans. Before takeoff, Aristide gave a copy of his resignation letter to Foley's aide."
Following Aristide's departure, the first elections were held two years later, on February 8, 2006 to elect a new President. Rene Preval was declared to have won:
Partial election results, released on February 9, indicated that he had won with about sixty percent of the vote, but as further results were released, his share of the vote slipped to 48.7% – thus making a run-off necessary. Several days of popular demonstrations in favour of Préval followed in Port-au-Prince and other cities in Haiti. On February 14, Préval claimed that there had been fraud among the vote counts, and demanded that he be declared the winner outright of the first round. Protesters paralyzed the capital with burning barricades and stormed a luxury hotel to demand results from Haiti's nearly week-old election as ex-President Rene Preval fell further below the 50 per cent needed to win the presidency. On February 16, 2006, Préval was declared the winner of the Presidential Election by the Provisional Electoral Council with 51.15 percent of the vote, after the exclusion of "blank" ballots from the count.
And what did Preval do right after being declared the winner? Upon his taking office he immediately signed an oil deal with Venezuela and traveled to the United States, Cuba, and France. But it's the economic connection of impoverished Haiti with Venezuela that may be upsetting to the present United States government:
Haiti under Preval has been cooperating diplomatically and fraternally with its fellow countries of Latin America. The slowly-stabilizing country has seemingly benefited in a rather solid economic partnership with Venezuela. This recently-forged friendship between Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez and the Haitian president has resulted in various economic agreements. 4 power plants (a 40 megawatt, a 30 megawatt, and two 15 megawatts) are set to be constructed in Haiti. An oil refinery is also scheduled to be installed in the country, with a production capacity of 10,000 barrels of oil per day. Venezuela's assistance to Haiti is founded upon a historic act where the newly-independent Haiti welcomed and tended to Simón Bolívar and provided military power to aid Bolivar's cause in liberating much of South America. Haiti's Latin American alliance provides the country with much of its needed aid. Fidel as well as Raul Castro and other Cuban diplomats such as Vice President Esteban Lazo Hernandez have thanked Haiti for consistently voting in the United Nations General Assembly against the United States embargo against Cuba.
And so, despite long term United States occupation and repeated military involvement, Haiti has begun to reach out to its wealthy southern neighbor and forge bonds with Venezuela. And just as the United States is upset by Chavez's alliances with Bolivia, and Chile, and Nicaragua, and Cuba, so too an alliance of Haiti with Chavez marks a loss of US influence in its own backyard.

Is that why the New York Times is today talking to its readers about the potential return of Duvalier? Is that why the Times claims that changes in Haiti aren't proceeding quick enough for the poorest of the poor and implying that a rightwing military despot might be a better choice?

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sábado, marzo 22, 2008

Tangled Webs: Book Peripherals And Dinosaurs

There is a world of book peripherals. Two interesting examples from the past week:

*The New York Times blog raises the "question" of "bookshelf etiquette":
So I felt a little guilty when I stumbled on this stern edict from the Time blogger Matt Selman: “It is unacceptable to display any book in a public space of your home if you have not read it.” The statement touched off an ongoing debate, furthered on Scott McLemee’s Intellectual Affairs blog (and spilling over passionately into the comments section). Some debating points:

“Bookshelves are not for displaying books you’ve read…. Rather, the books on your shelves are there to convey the type of person you would like to be.” —Ezra Klein

“My experience is that some books end up accumulating out of a misguided attempt to win the approval of authors already well-entrenched on my shelves.” —McLemee

“I borrow books from the library and read them. If they pass the audition, then I buy them for my bookshelf.” —”Reluctant Librarian”

“Books represent the overriding point of conflict in my marriage.” —Richard LeComte

And then this: “That anyone would take the time to establish rules or ‘bookshelf etiquette’ means that s/he doesn’t have enough to do.” —”Adrian”
What an odd discussion. I don't think I have a "public" area in my home, and I don't have many people over who scan my shelves for significance. Maybe I live in a very bizarre, isolated world. Maybe I don't have enough strangers over.

*NPR ran a story about web sites that allow book people to share books. I heard this in the car; I have now signed up at two of the mentioned sites, and LibraryThing. Of these, by far the more intriquing to me is LibraryThing, because it can be used as a tool and not just as another, book oriented social networking site. If you enter books from your library in LibraryThing, the site lets you know others who have the same books in their lists. These lists are a great way to find other, similar books I might enjoy. You can see my library on both sites: my user name is "davidseth."

Am I alone in finding it odd that the NY Times blog, a web site, is telling me about etiquette involving actual, physical books on shelves when I might have visitors in my home, and that my local NPR radio station is now directing me to interesting web sites? This cross-pollination of media strikes me as unusual, probably because I think that newspapers and radio are dinosaurs from the last century that won't be around as we presently know them in another decade. They fuel their own demise, I think, by directing us to the more satisfying Internet. Without them telling us, how, I want to know, would we find these interesting sites?

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viernes, marzo 21, 2008

Magical Realism: A Group

The Algonquin Roundtable (a group you'd like)

Wouldn't it be great to be part of a group to discuss literature, in this case particularly magical realism and Latin American literature? I thought so, so I started a group at Anyone can join. And then anyone can post recommendations of books, reviews, material about authors, you name it. This is a good way to find great books you never heard of before and probably don't have anyone else to tell you about. Want to join? Click this.

A group like this isn't as much fun as sitting in a cafe in Madrid to discuss these books with expats, including the ghost of Roberto Bolano, or even sitting with the usual subjects at nearby Ralph's Pretty Good Cafe with a latte, but for now, it'll have to do. Sorry to say, I'm not expecting a better offer than this group, at least not with this subject.

Join up. Maybe it'll be fun. And if it isn't, well, we can always delete and/or ignore it.

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miércoles, marzo 19, 2008

Volcanic News: Kilauea Explodes

Kilauea Exploding

This from AP:
VOLCANO, Hawaii - An explosion atop the long-erupting Kilauea volcano rained gravel-size rocks onto a tourist lookout, road and trail before dawn Wednesday, injuring no one but forcing parts of a national park to close.

It was the first explosion in Kilauea's main Halemaumau Crater since 1924, scattering debris over about 75 acres, said Jim Kauahikaua, scientist-in-charge at Hawaiian Volcano Observatory on the Big Island.

The 4,190-foot volcano has been erupting from fissures along its side steadily for more than a quarter-century. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park draws thousands of people daily, with a visitors center and lodge near the crater rim.

No lava erupted as part of the 3 a.m. explosion. That suggests it was caused by hydrothermal or gas buildup, Kauahikaua said.
Is it just the Dream Antilles, or have there been a lot of volcanic events in the past few months??

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martes, marzo 18, 2008

Shopping For Buddhas In New York

The Buddha Purchased Today

Wow. Simply wow. The New York Times reports that today Christie's auctioned a 12th century Japanese wooden Buddha for more than $14 million US Dollars:
A newly discovered wood sculpture of a Buddha has sold for $14.3 million, a price the auctioneer calls a world record for any Japanese work of art.

Christie's said the seated figure of Dainichi Nyorai, or the supreme Buddha, is attributed to 13th-century sculptor Unkei, considered one of the greatest carvers of the early Kamakura period (1190s).

The work was sold in New York on Tuesday to Mitsukoshi Ltd., one of Japan's major department stores. Its presale estimate was $1.5 million to $2 million.

This positively dwarfs Jeff Greenwald's efforts to buy the perfect Buddha in Kathmandu, recorded in his 1990 book Shopping For Buddhas. It makes my $400 expenditure for a beautiful Buddha in Kathmandu, which I then lugged all over India in a backpack, seem a mere pittance. Regardless, I still do love that Buddha, and it still occupies a proud spot in my collection of more than 2 dozen Buddhas. The Buddha purchased today, however, is in another league entirely.

The details, according to AFP:
The seated figure of the supreme Buddha of the esoteric pantheon is made out of Cypress wood and was described by Christie's as being in fine condition.

The artist, believed to be Unkei, was one of the greatest carvers of the early Kamakura period and received the title of "hoin," the highest rank an artist could achieve.

The statue is believed to have come from a temple, later becoming part of a prominent family collection. However, its existence was unknown to wider circles until it was later sold to a Buddhist dealer and bought by the seller.

The figure contains three dedicatory objects sealed inside the torso including two five-stage pagodas, one in wood and one in crystal, as well as a crystal ball supported by a bronze stand.
Later I may meditate on my obviously materialistic cravings for possession of this Buddha and how such cravings cause suffering. Right now, though, I have to admit that it would be the crowning piece in almost any collection, especially mine. The only collection, however, worthy of containing it, in my opinion, is one I saw more than a decade ago in the Sydney. That collection started my own buying and collecting frenzy.

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domingo, marzo 16, 2008

Was Spitzer Like Siegelman The Target Of A Political Prosecution?

Don Siegelman, a former, Democratic governor of Alabama and a good guy, was railroaded to a federal prison where he's now serving a 7-year sentence, in a case that has Karl Rove's fingerprints all over it. The case is a travesty and proof positive not only that there are political prisoners in the US but that Siegelman is one of them.

Yesterday, I wrote a diary about this disgraceful travesty because I wanted to keep the story alive. I don't want us to forget that this conviction is an example of why there was a US Attorney scandal and why investigation of that scandal must continue.

The best sources of information on Siegelman, if you're not yet familiar with this mockery of justice, is OPOL's Friday diary on the case, a diary with lots of video and background, and Siegelman's web site.

What's any of this got to do with Eliot Spitzer, who has been forced to resign as Governor of New York because of his hiring prostitutes? Plenty.

In an video interview with 60 Minutes about Don Siegelman's case, former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods, a republican, one of 52 other former state attorney general's decrying Siegelman's conviction, explained that in Siegelman's case the travesty began when at the behest of Karl Rove and others law enforcement officials began to investigate Siegelman for entirely political reasons. They were not investigating a crime that had occurred; they were instead investigating a person, their political adversary.

At the start of the investigation of Siegelman, there was no reason whatsoever to believe that any crime had been committed. Quite to the contrary, from its inception the investigation was a political prosecution by appointed officials (the US Attorneys, the FBI, DoJ employees) to damage or remove an elected official, in effect, to nullify an election. This meant, in the simplest terms, committing large amounts of resources to their quarry until, presto chango!, something that could be turned into at the least a scandal or at best, an indictment mysteriously arose. You'll recall Judge Sol Wachtler's truism that a prosecutor could convince a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich.

The dangers of having unelected officials remove elected ones should be obvious.

Now, what about Eliot Spitzer? You'll recall Troopergate, the enormous dustup between Spitzer and Senate Republican Leader Joseph Bruno arising from Spitzer's causing a state police investigation of Bruno for alleged use of state aircraft for personal reasons. That was just last summer and fall. In this kind of political lucha libre, there is always tit for tat.

Notice the similarities between the Siegelman and Spitzer cases. Scott Horton writes in TNR:
The story emerging around the fall of Eliot Spitzer suggests that the case did not start with the report of a crime. Rather it started with a decision to look into Spitzer and his financial dealings. snip

Specifically, the official narrative suggests that a Long Island bank noticed an odd pattern of payments made by Spitzer between different accounts. The payments were not enormous sums... snip
The Los Angeles Times reports that Spitzer asked that his name be taken off the money wires, which reportedly aroused suspicion. The bank submitted a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) to the IRS. The payments which totaled up to $80,000, looked suspicious, we are told, and were examined on the basis that they might be an effort to money-launder bribes. This was reported to the IRS in Hauppauge, Long Island, which in turn involved the Public Integrity Section in the Department of Justice.

The Public Integrity Section sought an obtained approval to continue the investigation from the US Attorney General. The Section, which is highly politicized, prosecutes 5.6 democrats for every republican. Of course, approval to investigate further was granted.

According to Horton:
Considering that the official account shows this was a "routine" examination of bank records, the level of resources allocated to it, including investigators and prosecutors, was lavish. This again suggests a political prosecution. Political direction is rarely overt. It usually takes the form of generous allocation of resources for political targets, and constriction of resources for persons who are politically protected. Clearly, moving the case against Spitzer had become a priority.

Two more questions should be asked about the prosecution. The first is whether a selective attitude is taken in prosecution--that is, whether the Justice Department is treating Spitzer in a manner consistent with other (notably Republican) figures caught in a similarly compromised position. The second is how the matter was broken to the press.

On each of these points, the information now available raises unsettling issues about the conduct of the Justice Department. One close parallel involving a prostitution investigation is the case of the "D.C. Madam." In that case, federal prosecutors have proceeded against the prostitution ring and have shown little interest in the customer list, which is said to include a former high-ranking Bush Administration official (Randall Tobias, director of the U.S. Agency for International Development) and a U.S. Senator (David Vitter, Republican of Louisiana). The prosecutors' conduct in the "D.C. Madam" case has been remarkably deferential to the public figures involved. That case cannot be squared with the investigation into Governor Spitzer--it points to a double standard.

Politically abusive prosecutions are almost always marked by media-friendly prosecutors. The essence of political prosecution is less to bag the political prey than to make partisan propaganda by marking the target as "corrupt." And the accounts published in The New York Times, ABC News, and other media outlets reveal investigators and prosecutors eager to get the details out and on to the public record. (On Friday, a Times reporter received a tip that "Client 9" was "a New York official.") Indeed, there is an extremely revealing penchant for salacious detail in the complaint--insinuations about the sexual proclivities of "Client 9," for instance. This may have been included gratuitously to humiliate Spitzer and destroy any prospects for his future political career. If there is a legitimate prosecutorial purpose served, I can't fathom it.

Horton concludes that it's too early to decide with certainty whether the investigation of Spitzer was a political one. That may be so, but I don't believe it. The stench emanating from Siegelman's conviction and from the investigation of Spitzer is the same.

Is there going to be in inquiry into the investigation of Spitzer? One can only hope so.

It is vitally important to the preservation of our democracy that political uses of law enforcement, like the one in Siegelmans' case, like the one in Spitzer's case, be controlled. If they are not, elected officials will constantly risk subversion by appointed officials of the opposing party.

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sábado, marzo 15, 2008

Free Don Siegelman!

photo and above text by OPOL

Today I spent several hours reading about a travesty of justice. Sometimes travesties of justice aren't based in significant part on race or national origin or poverty or bad lawyering. No. Sometimes, powerful and good people, people who are well defended but have even more powerful and devious enemies, get railroaded to prison. And so it is that Don Siegelman, a former governor of Alabama finds himself in a federal prison camp in Louisiana in a case redolent of chicanery and political hanky panky and judicial irregularity. A case, in my opinion, that has Karl Rove's despicable fingerprints all over it and is a farce and mockery of justice that cannot be permitted to stand.

Put in the vernacular, the case really reeks. But nevertheless, Don Siegelman, a good and progressive man, because of a confluence of being a democrat in the Republican state of Alabama, a hostile, politically motivated US Attorney, an even more hostile district court judge in Montgomery, the death of the court reporter who transcribed his trial, a corrupt, politically motivated prosecution, jury misconduct, and dilly dallying by the ever cautious 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, remains in jail almost 9 months since he was initially and surprisingly remanded without bail upon his conviction of 2 of 34 counts in an politically induced indictment. A previous prosecution of him was summarily dismissed as meritless; the current case is the second attempt by his political enemies to convict him to remove him from office.

Have you heard about this case? I did, during initial reportage about the US Attorney scandal, which seems to have faded into oblivion and forgetfulness, but I didn't penetrate how thoroughly this case stinks until today, thanks to a must read essay by my friend, OPOL. If you can, please read this essay in its entirety. If you can't, please instead watch this video. It will bring you up to speed in fifteen minutes. It will stun, shock and astonish you, as it did 52 state attorneys general, all of whom believe the conviction is garbage.

The spectacle of Siegelman, whom I briefly met about 40 years ago in Huntsville, Alabama, being in federal prison on this bogus case is nothing short of overwhelming. And the obtuseness, if not hostility with which the district judge and the Eleventh Circuit have met his requests for bail pending appeal sets some kind of high water mark for politically motivated vindictiveness. This is the kind of judicial hostility I encountered all too often during the civil rights era. It is utterly shocking to see that kind of callousness resurrected for Siegelman. All too ironical and upsetting is that the conviction was in the Middle District of Alabama, a court formerly presided over by Hon. Frank M. Johnson, one of America's great jurists of the mid-twentieth century. The political and intentional degradation of this particular, historically important district court, a district court that made courageous rulings in favor of civil rights throughout the sixties and seventies, is exemplified by Siegelman's conviction, his immediate, summary remand to prison, and his present inability to be bailed pending appeal. The rulings in Siegelman's case, especially those since his conviction, are simply disgraceful.

I have no doubt that there are reversible errors in Siegelman's case. These include everything from the failure to prove that a crime was ever committed (there was no quid pro quo in connection with the alleged bribery count) to juror misconduct (jurors, despite the court's instructions, emailed each other during the trial and deliberations to plot for a conviction) to the failure of the prosecution to provide the notes written by their star witness (a violation of 18 USC 3500). Doubtless there are other, equally important problems. And keeping Siegelman locked up-- he is no risk of flight-- because of the alleged lack of merit of his appeal is the kind of preposterous, willful vindictiveness that should never be tolerated. Simply put, his appeal has merit sufficient for him to be released. I have seen others who committed far worse crimes and had far weaker merits on appeal released for the duration of their appeals. Siegelman is getting "special treatment" because of who he is and his party affiliation.

What can you do about all of this?

First, watch the video and read OPOL's essay.

Second, visit Don's web site for updates, analysis, documents, links to press coverage, and more, very persuasive video produced by independent news agencies. Take a long, hard look at this ridiculous conviction.

Third, make a small Pay Pal donation to Don's defense. If enough people give just small amounts ($10, $20, $50), Don's defense will not find itself working for free.

Fourth, please send this essay or OPOL's essay to others. It's important that this travesty not be swept under the rug.

And fifth, go to Don's web site, which has links, so that you can contact the appropriate Congresspersons and urge them not only to deal with Don's plight but also to stop delaying and to pursue the contempt citations in the US Attorney scandals to which this case is so directly connected.

Travesties like this conviction and the horrendous treatment Don has received since his conviction need to be exposed. They simply cannot be tolerated, not if we value the rule of law and the necessity for it to be administrated fairly and impartially. Not if we believe in a fair and independent judiciary. Not if we believe we live in a democracy.

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At Long Last, Spring!

cross posted to docuDharma

This morning I went for a long walk with my faithful dog friend. We live in Columbia County, in eastern New York in the foothills of the Massachusetts Berkshires. The ground in the fields was wet but not frozen, the grass is still brown, and it was about 35 degrees and overcast. We were looking for signs that Spring really was coming.

I know that the Solstice is on March 20, 2008 at 1:48 am EDT. We should be able to find some sign of the impending change of season, if we look for it, right?

Yes! This morning for the first time this year I heard the referee's whistle song of the red wing blackbird.

A Redwing Blackbird

If you've never heard the Redwing Blackbird, try this. The sound I'm hearing is called the "okalee call." It's about setting out a new territory for the year.

In this corner of the world, the redwing blackbird is the very first sign of Spring. Before crocuses. Before paperwhites. Before anything. In fact, its basketball referee whistle call usually coincides with the beginning of March Madness. The selections for the NCAA tournament aren't until tomorrow. The birds are a little early this year.

And so, in celebration of the fact there is a sign that at long, long last spring is about to emerge, and as important, that the northeastern winter is on its last legs, I offer you ee cummings:

in Just-
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little lame baloonman

whistles far and wee

and eddyandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it's

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old baloonman whistles
far and wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and


baloonMan whistles

Join me in gratitude far and wee for the coming of Springtime.

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jueves, marzo 13, 2008

Cetli: Alta Cocina Mexicana in Tulum

Cetli, a gourmet restaurant specializing in Mexican Haute Cuisine, has re-opened in Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico. For a while it was in El Hotelito, on the main drag, and then out on the Tulum Beach Road, and then for about a year or so, nowhere, and now it's back. It's a reminder of what diners in Tulum have so greatly been missing.

Claudia, the chef, does everything in the kitchen herself, from initial prep to filling the plates. She has a huge amount of training and experience and is a master and a perfectionist. And she's produced a wonderful, varied menu. Featured are tortilla soup, several regional mole dishes with chicken or beef or vegetarian, seafood dishes, including a fantastic fish in a tamarindo salsa, and some incredible desserts. She doesn't have a beer or wine license yet, so for now it's BYO.

The restaurant is in what was a house and garage a block west of the main street in Tulum, on Polar Nte. We ate outside in what used to be the garage. Designers might quibble with the lighting and the lack of white table cloths and with the bareness of the walls, but there is absolutely no quibbling about the food. And the service was great, pleasant and attentive.

The flavors in the food three of us ate were exquisite. These aren't, as my daughter pointed out, the flavors you think you'll have in typical a Mexican meal. Al contrario, the flavors are a rich distillation of various regional Mexican cuisines, and are quite surprising. It's simply a joy to eat this food. For me, it was an experience of eating the Mexican meal I have been searching for for years without being able to describe it.

This restaurant is just wonderful and is not to be missed. Reservations are a really good idea. Especially in high season. Cetli, in Tulum Pueblo, on Polar Nte. (984) 108 0681 or (984) 106 7464.

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miércoles, marzo 12, 2008

A Tear For Si'an Kaan

The Si'an Kaan Bio-reserve is 1.3 million acres of protected land in the State of Quintana Roo, Mexico, about 2 hours south of Cancun, near Tulum. "Sian Ka’an" is translated from Mayan as "where the sky is born" or "gift from the sky". I was there just a few days ago.

Please join me in paradise.

Si'an Kaan is here:

Facts about the Reserve give an idea of how large and important it is to preservation:
* Largest protected area in the Mexican Caribbean (approximately 1.3 million acres)
* Established January 20th 1986 as part of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Program
* UNESCO World Heritage Site
* Unique for its geography and wetlands
* 23 known archeological sites (with relics dating up to 2,300 years old)
* 103 known mammal species
* 336 known bird species
* Nesting ground for many species of wading birds
* Annual rainfall between 44 and 48 inches
* Important nesting site for two endangered sea turtle species
* Believed to be inhabited in the Pre-Classic and Classic Periods in the chieftanships of Cohuah and Uaymil
* Currently home to over 2,000 inhabitants
But even more stunning is how very beautiful and how very wild the reserve is. Just look at these photos:

I was at the reserve just a few days ago. I drove from Tulum down the Tulum-Boca Paila Beach Road all the way to Punta Allen, a small lobster and fishing village on a spit of land where the reserve ends and Asuncion Bay begins. Punta Allen is famous for sport fishing for permit, tarpon and bone fish.

All the way down the difficult, bumpy road, there are beautiful white sand, palm tree lined beaches. All the way down the coral reef shelters the land from direct contact with the ocean. All the way down there is spotless turquoise water reflecting a blue sky. The air is filled with birdsong. The water is filled with creatures.

Except one thing. The water isn't really spotless. And that's why I have a tear. I have a tear because there is too much plastic in paradise. And I cannot help but see it.

Some of the beaches that face the wind and the open sea are littered with plastic. All of the usual civilized species are there: blue plastic jugs, old shoes, plastic bags, bottles, packaging, plastic coke bottles, old nylon ropes, auto parts, light bulbs, sunscreen tubes. How so? Because nobody lives on a particular beach, nobody picks up the plastic on that beach. It's unlike the beach near my home, which gets a plastic pick up every Sunday from residents. It's unlike my beach because nobody takes responsibility for removing the plastic, for picking it up, for returning it to the appropriate stream for garbage. My home beach in Bahia Soliman is spotless. And it's spotless solely because my neighbors make sure it stays plastic free. This has been a decade long preoccupation for us.

In the Reserve, I think a windward beach will be pristine. I get out of the car. It is littered with plastic. Not all beaches are littered, but some are. Some are quite littered. Some have debris deposited by Hurricane Wilma and after that Hurricane Dean in addition to the usual plastic debris.

This means, as well, that the sea just off shore is also littered with floating and sinking plastic. This means that endangered sea turtles are imperiled by the plastic. That the birds and fish are imperiled by plastic. That instead of being pure sea water, the ocean is a really a man made plastic gumbo.

This is not real news. We have befouled our ocean. We continue to soil it. We all know that, right?

I'm reminded that when Oscar Wilde saw the convicts at Redding from a train, he was reported to remark, "Well, if that's how the queen treats her convicts, she doesn't deserve to have any." And so with us and our oceans. And our beaches.

I would like to clean the beaches in the paradise of Si'an Kaan, but I don't have the financial resources or the time to do it or a plan or organization to carry it out. Even if I did find a way to clean these beaches, just once, that wouldn't really be enough. There is still tons of plastic in the sea, and every day, every single day that goes by, even more plastic is deposited in the sea. And every day the sea deposits the plastic it is choking on on the beach. Every day the sea says, "This plastic is making me sick. I vomit it on you. You must remove it. You must look at it on this beach until you remove it."

Of course, we don't all see it. Few of us do. Relatively few of us walk on beaches on a regular basis. And even fewer of us have had a chance to pick up plastic on a regular, weekly basis. Maybe if we did that, just maybe, we'd begin thinking about cleaning our ocean and what that would take. And we'd be thinking about how we use plastic.

That's why I urge everyone who walk on a beach to carry a bag and to pick up some plastic and throw it in the garbage. Yes, I know this doesn't really solve anything permanently. It's just a start and a gesture in the right direction.

Until we begin to think about how we use plastic, we don't really deserve paradise as perfect, as abundant, as wild as Sian Ka'an.

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