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

viernes, mayo 30, 2008

Leave The Uncontacted People Alone!!

CNN has reported that an "uncontacted tribe" has been sited in the Peruvian-Brazilian Amazon. The story isn't really surprising:

Researchers have produced aerial photos of jungle dwellers who they say are among the few remaining peoples on Earth who have had no contact with the outside world.

Taken from a small airplane, the photos show men outside thatched communal huts, necks craned upward, pointing bows toward the air in a remote corner of the Amazonian rainforest.

The National Indian Foundation, a government agency in Brazil, published the photos Thursday on its Web site. It tracks "uncontacted tribes" -- indigenous groups that are thought to have had no contact with outsiders -- and seeks to protect them from encroachment.

More than 100 uncontacted tribes remain worldwide, and about half live in the remote reaches of the Amazonian rainforest in Peru or Brazil, near the recently photographed tribe, according to Survival International, a nonprofit group that advocates for the rights of indigenous people.

Look at the photo and notice the obvious harmony of the tribe with its environment. Do they need our help? Do they need our influence. Do they need us to be flying over them in our airplanes? Do they need us to be driving them from where they are?
Illegal logging in Peru is threatening several uncontacted groups, pushing them over the border with Brazil and toward potential conflicts with about 500 uncontacted Indians living on the Brazilian side, Survival International said.

Its director, Stephen Cory, said the new photographs highlight the need to protect uncontacted people from intrusion by the outside world.

I know we're all curious about these people, but would it be too much to ask that they be left alone? What, I wonder, is the huge rush to be in "contact" with these people we've "discovered"? Can't we let them continue without our impending, destructive intrusions, including our overflights, and free of our "superior" culture, technology, and diseases. Can't we protect these people from their biggest danger, which is us?

It's all sadly reminiscent of Alejo Carpentier's masterpiece The Lost Steps. As the narrator, a musicologist looking for primitive, indigenous musical instruments, progresses further and further up a South American river into the jungle, he recedes further and further into civilizations and times long past. He ends up with Carpentier's version of "uncontacted" people. But, ultimately, when an airplane arrives in the jungle to "rescue" him, Carpentier's protagonist doesn't choose to remain in paradise. He returns to civilization, leaving behind him his new, simpler, peaceful life for his former, complicated, civilized one. He's far poorer, I think, because of his choice. Why, I wondered about the book, couldn't he say to those on the plane, "Go away. Leave me alone. I like it here. I'm not coming with you?"

The "uncontacted" people here don't have the same choice. Is it to much to ask that we just leave them alone?

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jueves, mayo 29, 2008

The Little Blog That Could

What a riot this is. The Little Engine That Could, the classic 1930's story, reprinted in 1954 with the above cover and new illustrations, is described in a Wiki:
In the tale, a long train must be pulled over a high mountain. Various larger engines, treated anthropomorphically, are asked to pull the train; for various reasons they refuse. The request is sent to a small engine, who agrees to try. The engine succeeds in pulling the train over the mountain while repeating its motto: "I-think-I-can".

To think of hard things and say, "I can't" is sure to mean "Nothing done." To refuse to be daunted and insist on saying, "I think I can," is to make sure of being able to say triumphantly by and by, "I thought I could, I thought I could."
Yes, by and by. Not immediately, but by and by. Which brings me to this, The Dream Antilles, the little blog that could.

Some blogs are big, group, political blogs. They look this this:

They are strong, big, powerful, mechanical, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, capable, brash, industrial, driven. This is what dKos looks like. Robust and headstrong and muscular. If you wanted to receive a box car full of strong, similar opinions in a big hurry, that's where you'd go. There would be a warehouse full of whatever you wanted and it would be delivered with astonishing alacrity.

But over here, here in Literary Blogsylvania, things are much, much smaller. The blog is feminine (even if the bloguero is not a bloguera). And somewhat anonymous and unimportant, unlike the important freight and passenger trains of the story. In fact, the little engine that could didn't even have a name until the 1991 movie version, when it was finally dubbed "Tillie." This blog is like that. It's name is not well known. It tries hard even though it's so much smaller and doesn't get more than a couple dozen hits a day. It savors the rare attention of each of the hits. And it whispers to itself, "I think I can." I think I can say this well. I think I can draw this conclusion. I think I can talk about something you won't find elsewhere. I think I can entertain a new reader or two. And despite that optimistic thinking, this blog is nevertheless privately amazed when it gets to say, "I thought I could, I thought I could." That's why this is the little blog that could. And why I'm happy you're reading this.

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miércoles, mayo 28, 2008

Reason #487 Why Blogs Are Thriving And Print Is Dying

Guess what. The traditional media have discovered the earth shaking news that their op-ed pages are too male and too white. Doh. Like most readers didn't realize that?

Nicholas Kristof today reports that the Washington Post's ombudsperson has written that op-ed pages are too male and too white:
Deborah Howell, the ombudsman of The Washington Post, has an interesting column looking at the diversity — or, rather, lack of diversity — on the op-ed page of the Post. She begins:
The Post’s op-ed page is too male and too white. And there aren’t a lot of youthful opinions, either.

I have nothing against older white men; I’m married to one. And the nation’s power structure, often represented in Post op-eds, is white, male and at least middle-aged. But a 21st-century op-ed page needs more diversity.

The 2008 numbers as of Wednesday: 654 op-ed pieces — 575 by men, 79 by women and about 80 by minorities. The lack of diversity is partly a matter of tradition; The Post’s longtime stable of regular columnists consists overwhelmingly of older white men.
Kristof extends the observation to the punditocracy as a whole:
This lack of diversity is, frankly, a broader problem with American punditry in general, from newspaper columnists to television talking heads to writers of letters to the editor.
Wouldn't I have noticed this from watching traditional television, cable television, reading the Grey Lady? Of course. It's so obvious that you don't need an actuarial analysis of who's saying what to agree that there is little diversity, not just of gender and race and age, but of point of view as well.

That's just another reason why print media are moribund. They're dying because they're predictable. Close your eyes, pick an issue, and see if you cannot imagine what one of the op-ed writers will write about it.

You'll notice that Kristof didn't list blogs as suffering from lack of diversity. And that's because in Blogistan, particularly Left Blogistan, if you want to express your opinions, or be a pundit, or post your chiding of the dullards who are presently in charge, you can. Period. You don't have to get past hiring managing editors, the publisher, the advertisers, the board of directors, the CEO. You don't have to submit a resume or be interviewed. You don't have to feel their inquiring eyes over your shoulder as you type. All you do is sit down at the keyboard and let it rip. If you don't have your own keyboard, you go to the public library, like prize winner Yoanni Sanchez.

Is it necessary to point out that the blogs are democratic and that admission is free? Is it required to point out that in the millions of blogs, there are tons of excellent and also tons of horrible opinions? There are too many opinions for any one person to sift. The idea for readers is to find opinions and points of view they like, and to discard the chaff. Linking helps. And a blog with high quality writing beats one that's sloppily written or researched.

That are some very small blogs I love. Mine only gets about 25 hits on a good day. It doesn't matter. It says what I want it to say. Nobody influences that. Many of its readers return regularly. Group blogs, like this one, get far more hits and have much more material to sift, but again, access to writing the content has few significant barriers. And the sifting is actually done by the readers and their recommendations, not by the ownership.

Put simply, blogs are democratic and the op-ed, well, it's not. People who have access to computers can have their say by blogging. And that in turn brings open access and diversity.

The op-ed can never be as open and diverse. Attempts to make it so have to fail because of the physical limitations on the size of a newsprint page. And that's why, if we really want diversity of opinions, we look to the blogs and not to traditional media. The suggestion that a better selection of op-ed writers will solve the problem is just more tokenism.

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martes, mayo 27, 2008

Free Aung San Suu Kyi!

Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi

Enough is enough. The NY Times reports that the Myanmar government has yet again extended Aung San Suu Kyi's dentention:
Myanmar's military government has renewed the detention of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

A government official said that Suu Kyi's detention was officially extended Tuesday afternoon. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

It was not immediately clear if the extension was for six months or one year. The extension became official when an official drove to her house to inform her of it, he said.

Suu Kyi has been in detention continuously since May 2003, most of the time under house arrest.

She has been confined without trial for more than 12 of the past 18 years.
This Wiki helps with the background:
Aung San Suu Kyi /snip born 19 June 1945 in Rangoon, is a pro-democracy activist and leader of the National League for Democracy in Burma, and a noted prisoner of conscience and advocate of nonviolent resistance. /snip Suu Kyi won the Rafto Prize and the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1990 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. In 1992 she was awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru peace prize by the Government of India for her peaceful and non-violent struggle under a military dictatorship. She is currently under detention, with the Burmese junta repeatedly extending her detention. According to the results of the 1990 general election, Suu Kyi earned the right to be Prime Minister, as leader of the winning National League for Democracy party, but her detention by the military junta prevented her from assuming that role.
Further details Here and Here.

Myanmar showed in the wake of the recent natural disaster that its government and its policies are far beyond the influence of other countries or organizations of countries. And other countries have repeatedly failed either, as individuals or in groups, to speak up for Aung San Suu Kyi:
The Burma Campaign UK today condemned world leaders for failing to speak out about the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi in the run-up to her detention expiring today. It was reported today that her detention had been extended again, with some reports saying the detention is for another six months.

“It is shameful that Ban Ki-Moon went to Burma and failed even to utter her name,” said Mark Farmaner, Director of the Burma Campaign UK. “He is playing into the regime’s hands. The UN is crawling on its knees before the regime, afraid to speak the truth in case it affects aid access deals, which the regime is already breaking in any case.”

The Burma Campaign UK also dismissed suggestions that there is any significance to the regime extending her detention for six months instead of one year. At the start of her current period of house arrest in 2003 her detention was for six months at a time.

The regime is once again breaking its own laws by extending her detention for a total of more than five years. The State Protection Law 1975 under which she is held only allows the regime to detain her for a maximum of five years.
The Burma Campaign UK has a page with links to action steps.

It is unacceptable for Aung San Suu Kyi's detention to continue. She should now be freed. I'm not holding my breath until nations across the globe speak out in her behalf.

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lunes, mayo 26, 2008

U. Utah Phillips, RIP

"The Golden Voice of the Great Southwest" sings no more. Bruce "U. Utah" Phillips who, tongue firmly in cheek, billed himself that way, died peacefully in his sleep at his home in Nevada City, CA, May 23. He was 73.

Phillips was one of the deans of American folk music, a crucial link to the working class movement and history of western North America, and a cheerfully subversive social critic.

A proud, card-carrying Wobbly, Bruce made the songs and stories of the American West his own. As indeed they were. When he returned home from the Korean War, Phillips was broke in purse, body and spirit, riding the rails, until he landed at Joe Hill House in Salt Lake City, a shelter run by anarchist Ammon Hennacy of the Catholic Workers movement. Hennacy's Marxism made sense of Phillip's experience, and from it grew the knowledge and imagination Phillips subsequently put on stage.

Starting in the late 1960s, "U. Utah Phillips, The Golden Voice of the Great Southwest" sang the old, radical songs of the Little Red Song Book, and told the old organizers’ stories, working class yarns, rants and tall tales. He performed them with the skill and panache of Hal Holbrook doing Mark Twain - and thereby rejuvenated them. At hundreds of folk festivals and thousands of concerts, through a dozen recordings, he passed the lore on to two generations of new listeners, including young musicians like Ani De Franco. source
When the the U.S. government finally released Joe Hill's ashes, it was to Phillips that they gave them.

In his own words:
"Listen," Phillips wrote in 1995, when first forced to cancel his extensive touring schedule, "for 25 years now, I have been part of a family which has given me a living – not a killing, but a living – a trade without bosses, in which I could own what I do, make all of the creative decisions, be free to say and sing whatever I chose to... Front porch, kitchen, back yard, drunk and sober, young and old, coast-to-coast folk music, a world in which I discovered that I don't need power, wealth, or fame. I need friends. And that's what I found and still find."

"To hell with the mainstream," Bruce concluded. "It's polluted. What purifies the mainstream? The little tributaries up in the wilderness where the pure water flows. Better to be lost in the tributaries known to a few, than mired in the mainstream, consumed with self-love and the absurdity of greed. Please. Don't give our world up. It needs to grow, yes – but subtly, out, through, under, quietly, like water eroding stone, subversive, alive, happy."

In his own way:

He will be sorely missed.

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sábado, mayo 24, 2008

Bushco Bullies Immigrants In Iowa

The New York Times reports that 270 undocumented workers who were arrested at a meat plant in Iowa in March, instead of being swiftly deported back to Guatemala, have instead been convicted of federal misdemeanors, sentenced to 5 months incarceration, and then will be immediately deported. This marks a lamentable, new, harsher policy toward punishing defenseless undocumented workers who are selected for this special treatment. And, let me say it, it's a show designed to frighten and threaten and disrupt the other almost 15 million undocumented workers now in the US.

In temporary courtrooms at a fairgrounds here, 270 illegal immigrants were sentenced this week to five months in prison for working at a meatpacking plant with false documents.

The prosecutions, which ended Friday, signal a sharp escalation in the Bush administration’s crackdown on illegal workers, with prosecutors bringing tough federal criminal charges against most of the immigrants arrested in a May 12 raid. Until now, unauthorized workers have generally been detained by immigration officials for civil violations and rapidly deported.

The convicted immigrants were among 389 workers detained at the Agriprocessors Inc. plant in nearby Postville in a raid that federal officials called the largest criminal enforcement operation ever carried out by immigration authorities at a workplace.

Isn't that efficient and fast. The poultry workers were arrested on March 12, they pleaded guilty in record time, and they were sentenced in short order. How, you might inquire, did this happen so swiftly? Where was their relentless, publicly funded defense? Where were their trials, their juries, their appeals, the recognition by the defense that these kinds of proceedings need to be fought and fought hard? Answer: none of that happened because the government used threats to cow the accused into pleading guilty.

The unusually swift proceedings, in which 297 immigrants pleaded guilty and were sentenced in four days, were criticized by criminal defense lawyers, who warned of violations of due process. /snip

The illegal immigrants, most from Guatemala, filed into the courtrooms in groups of 10, their hands and feet shackled. One by one, they entered guilty pleas through a Spanish interpreter, admitting they had taken jobs using fraudulent Social Security cards or immigration documents. Moments later, they moved to another courtroom for sentencing.

The pleas were part of a deal worked out with prosecutors to avoid even more serious charges. Most immigrants agreed to immediate deportation after they serve five months in prison.

The hearings took place on the grounds of the National Cattle Congress in Waterloo, in mobile trailers and in a dance hall modified with black curtains, beginning at 8 a.m. and continuing several nights until 10. On Wednesday alone, 94 immigrants pleaded guilty and were sentenced, the most sentences in a single day in this northern Iowa district, according to Robert L. Phelps, the clerk of court.

Mr. Arnold, the immigration agent, said the criticism of the proceedings was “the usual spate of false allegations and baseless rumors.”

The US Supreme Court decided many years ago that threatening the accused with much worse punishment and prosecution of much more severe crimes was a permitted tactic of US federal prosecutors. So there was nothing illegal about telling the workers that if they didn't plead to the misdemeanor and go to jail for 5 months they'd be prosecuted for felonies and go to prison for two years. Either way, the prosecutors said, they'd be deported afterwards.

What's surprising, though, is that apparently not one of the workers elected to tell prosecutors to shove it, to have a jury trial for the threatened felony in an effort to slow down the greased railroad the feds set up for all of those seized in this case. Put simply, no one resisted, no one called the prosecutor's bluff. All of those arrested apparently folded quickly.

Now the feds now have a "success", and you can be sure that they'll try it again, over and over again, across the country. If a chicken plant in Iowa was the first target, who knows what will be next:
Matt M. Dummermuth, the United States attorney for northern Iowa, who oversaw the prosecutions, called the operation an “astonishing success.”

Claude Arnold, a special agent in charge of investigations for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said it showed that federal officials were “committed to enforcing the nation’s immigration laws in the workplace to maintain the integrity of the immigration system.”
How cynical, how frightening this tactic is. The government's beating up on Guatemalan poultry workers in Iowa doesn't show that federal officials are "committed to enforcing the nation's immigration maintain the integrity of the immigration system." It shows that the government has launched a campaign of fear and intimidation against the weakest undocumented workers. So much for long forgotten, "compassionate conservatism," so much for immigration reform. Tell me this draconian policy doesn't have anything to do with the November election.

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viernes, mayo 23, 2008

A New Orleans Story

A now deceased, dear friend of mine lived for a long time on Royal Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans. One night in 1974 when her consciousness was altered in an unusually profound and fuzzy way, she parked her car somewhere, locked it, walked home and fell asleep. The next day she couldn't find the car. She wandered the streets near her house, still couldn't find it, wandered the streets some more and eventually, reported it stolen. She was really sad about the loss of her car. Afterwards, she walked everywhere she couldn't take public trans and always kept an eye out for the stolen car.

About four months later, she and I and another friend went out to dinner. Afterwards, we went for a walk in the neighborhood. Up toward Rampart Street, parked in a legal spot at the curb was a dirty but otherwise ordinary car that looked a lot to all of us like the stolen one. It appeared not to have been driven in some time. Was it her car? To our delight, her key opened the door and it fit in the ignition. But the battery, alas, was dead. The three of us paid strict attention to where the car was. I think my friend even wrote it down. And the next day, we came back. The car hadn't been moved. We jump started it, and she drove it home.

To this day, 34 years later, I have no idea whether the car was stolen and we recovered it, or whether she just forgot where she parked it and we found it.

New Orleans to me is like that. Maybe that's why I love it so much.

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miércoles, mayo 21, 2008

Manchester United Wins. Barely.

Edwin van der Sar

90 minutes of really exceptional soccer in a very few sentences:

Cristiano Ronaldo scored for Manchester United in the 26th minute. Frank Lampard tied it for Chelsea in the 45th minute. That meant penalty kicks:

Petr Cech, maybe the world's greatest Goalkeeper, blocked Cristiano Ronaldo's shot on the third pk. John Terry then missed, hitting the post. Anderson and the ancient Ryan Giggs scored for Manchester; Salomon Kalou scored for Chelsea. Manchester Keeper Edwin van der Sar, the hero of the match, then batted away Nicolas Anelka's shot, giving Manchester United the win, 6-5 on pks.

The penalty kicks came in a pelting rain. Great television. Chelsea fans would like a re-do.

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It Can't Happen Here

It Can't Happen Here is the title of a 1935 novel by Sinclair Lewis. It raises the question whether a rightwing, fascist political party can come to power in the US. It used to be that the very idea was preposterous, unthinkable, impossible. I'm no longer so sure of that, and acknowledging the frightening possibility has changed my reading of stories about events in other countries in frightening, perplexing, alarming ways.

A short synopsis of It Can't Happen Here may help:
It features newspaperman Doremus Jessup struggling against the fascist regime of President Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip, who resembles (to some extent) the flamboyantly dictatorial Huey Long of Louisiana and Gerald B. Winrod, the Kansas evangelist whose far-right views earned him the nickname "The Jayhawk Nazi". It serves as a warning that political movements akin to Nazism can come to power in countries such as the United States when people blindly support their leaders.
Hmmm. This isn't the only novel with this theme. The most recent may be Philip Roth's 2004 novel The Plot Against America:
The novel follows the fortunes of the Roth family during the Lindbergh presidency, as antisemitism becomes more accepted in American life and Jewish-American families like the Roths are persecuted on various levels.
The President Lindbergh of the book is, well, a fascist, a Nazi sympathizer decorated earlier by Nazis. And his presidency fosters nationalism, isolationism, anti-semitism and racism as if those were aspects of US patriotism.

The New York Times review described the book as "a terrific political novel" as well as "sinister, vivid, dreamlike, preposterous and, at the same time, creepily plausible."

Preposterous. Because it couldn't happen here, right? Or could it? I used to believe it couldn't happen here. I don't know what we call the trend of the last 7 years, but we cling desperately to the idea that that couldn't really happen here, not really, why, our country is constructed in a way that prevents that from happening, right? I mean, we have the Constitution and a democracy and checks and balances, don't we? Hah.

But what if you believe it could happen? Just assume for the sake of this discussion, that it could. Let's assume that what is happening now and has been happening for the past seven years (the Patriot Act, the torture, the repression, the throttling of free speech, the lawlessness, the signing statements, the extraditions, the raids on immigrants, the endless, long list of abuse of power) became even more pronounced and even more widespread and even more blatant. Then all of those stories we read about the excesses of nearby, foreign governments but dismissed as not being able to happen in the US, all of those stories might actually be read as cautionary tales, stories about what might happen in the US unless things changed, unless Constitutional government were restored.

Three stories, all from South America in the 1970's illustrate this nicely. They make it clear that horrible injustices that have occurred in other countries aren't so impossible in the US. And we need to think of them differently.

Item 1. Jacobo Timmerman:
In the decade of the 1960s, Timerman established himself as a popular journalist, and, before the decade had come to a close, he was able to found two different weekly news magazines. Later, from 1971 to 1977, Timerman edited and published the left-leaning daily La Opinión. Under his leadership, this paper publicized news and criticisms of the human rights violations of the Argentine government during the early years of the "Dirty War". On 15 April 1977, Timerman was arrested by the military. Thereafter, he was subjected to electric shock torture, beatings, and solitary confinement. These experiences were chronicled in his 1981 book , CellPrisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number, and a 1983 movie by the same name. /snip

After his release from prison in September 1979, Timerman was forced into exile and sent to Tel Aviv, Israel.

Item 2. Juan Carlos Onetti:
He went on to become one of Latin America's most distinguished writers, earning Uruguay's National Prize in literature in 1962. In 1974, he and some of his colleagues were imprisoned by the military dictatorship. Their crime: as members of the jury, they had chosen Nelson Marra's short story El guardaespaldas (i.e. "The bodyguard") as the winner of Marcha's annual literary contest. Due to a series of misunderstandings (and the need to fill some space in the following day's edition), El guardaespaldas was published in Marcha, although it had been widely agreed among them that they shouldn't and wouldn't do so, knowing this would be the perfect excuse for the military to intervene Marcha, considering the subject of the story (the interior monologue of a top-rank military officer who recounts his murders and atrocious behavior, much as it was happening with the functioning regime).

Onetti left his native country (and his much-loved city of Montevideo) after being imprisoned for 6 months in Colonia Etchepare, a mental institution. A long list of world-famous writers-including Gabriel García Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa and Mario Benedetti-signed open letters addressed to the military government of Uruguay, which was unaware of the talented (and completely harmless) writer it had imprisoned and humiliated.

As soon as he was released, Onetti fled to Spain with his wife, violin player Dorotea Mühr.
Item 3. Charles Horman:
In 1972, he settled temporarily in Chile to work as a freelance writer. On September 17, 1973, six days after the US-backed military takeover, Horman was seized by Chilean soldiers and taken to the National Stadium in Santiago, which had been turned by the military into an ad hoc concentration camp, where prisoners were interrogated, tortured and executed. The whereabouts of Horman's body were presumably undetermined, at least according to the Americans, for about a month following his death, although it was later determined that, after his execution, Horman's body was buried inside a wall in the national stadium. It later turned up in a morgue in the Chilean capital.
If you read these three items with the idea that Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile aren't the US and these things just couldn't happen here, they are far away, exotic but commonplace examples of banana republic injustice. They feel like scary fiction, but fiction nonetheless.

But if you assume instead that '70's South America isn't really all that very much different from the present US, or, if you insist, from where the US is headed, the stories become chilling, frightening, and worrisome in a new way. They smell like oppression, abuse, repression, and loss of human rights. Are we protected from these things or not? Are we safe? Are we free?

This is just another reason why we simply cannot afford to continue the current trend in this country. And it's a reason why we have to take the present threats from Bushco and its allies seriously. And it's a reason why we need jealously and vigorously to protect our civil rights.

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martes, mayo 20, 2008

Tomorrow In Moscow

Ashley Cole

It's Chelsea versus Manchester United for the UEFA Champions League title at 8:45 pm CET Luzniki Stadium in Moscow. That's 2:45 pm EDT (New York Time). Details here.

At the moment I'm physically in the US. With the exception of various ex-pats from other corners of the world (read: Brits and those they colonized) and immigrants (most of whom prefer to speak Spanish), there is not much conversation about this event. The game, however, is on TV on ESPN2 at 2:30 pm, after the 2 pm pre-game show.

Is this going to stop the workday? Doubtful. Is this going to stop traffic? Cause the streets to be deserted? Quite unlikely. Is it going to make Sportcenter for more than 3 minutes? Doubtful. Know what? I don't care. I'm going to enjoy the game and feel happy that I got to watch it. Almost everybody around here has no clue what they're missing.

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domingo, mayo 18, 2008

Roberto Arlt

Roberto Arlt (1900-1942)

There is no real road map for US readers to search out and discover the gems in the canon of Argentine writing. I wandered from Ricardo Piglia-- I'm not clear how I found him-- via a story in his novel, Assumed Name, Piglia wrote but attributed to Roberto Arlt, slowly to Roberto Arlt. Of course, my local library had never heard of Arlt or his first novel. But no matter, last week my favorite used book dealer,, delivered El juguete rabioso (1926)("Mad Toy" in English). What a treat this is!

The copy I received formerly resided in the Berkeley Public Library. It was taken out 6 times and then, poof! sold off the shelves. I don't know why this happened, but it's a partial explanation of why my local library's never heard of this book. But I digress.
Arlt was born in poverty /snip After being expelled from school at the age of eight, he learned what he could about literature and life on the streets. He worked at various times as a bookstore clerk, an apprentice to a tinsmith, a painter, a mechanic, a vulcanizer, a brick factory manager and a port worker before managing to get a job on a local newspaper. Arlt's talents for polemical journalism quickly revealed themselves, and he was soon writing a controversial daily column for a national newspaper. Given his background it was natural for Arlt to become attracted to left-wing causes, and the vague (but exciting) rumours coming from the Soviet Union led him to take an interest in Marxism.

His first novel, El juguete rabioso /snip was the semi-autobiographical story of Silvio, a school dropout who goes through a series of adventures trying to "be somebody." Narrated by Silvio's older self, the novel reflects the energy and chaos of early-20th-century Buenos Aires. The narrator's literary and sometimes poetic language contrasts sharply with the street-level slang of Mad Toy's many colorful characters.

According to the Notes in this volume (written by the translator, Michele McKay Aynesworth), Jorge Luis Borges in 1929 praised Arlt, "For prose, Roberto Arlt stands out." Julio Cortzar (1914-1984) read Arlt "passionately" in his youth. On re-reading him 40 years later to write an introduction for a book, Cortazar found that his reaction to Arlt hadn't changed, "I find with a surprise that approaches the miraculous [that] Arlt is still the same [great] writer." And Juan Carlos Onetti wrote, "If ever anyone from these shores could be called a literary genius, his name was Roberto Arlt..." Ricardo Piglia calls Arlt "the greatest Argentinian writer of the twentieth century."

I'm not going to spoil this book. That would be extremely unfair. The writing, even in translation, is beyond wonderful. A very brief example (page 122):
And the more the heavenly dome enchanted me, the more sordid were the streets where I did business. I remember...

Those grocery stores, those butcher shops on the edge of town!

In the darkness a sunbeam would highlight the black-red flesh of animals hung on hoods and ropes hear the tin counters. The floor would be covered with sawdust, with the smell of suet in the air and black swarms of flies boiling on pieces of yellow fat, while the impressive butcher sawed away on the bones or hacked at the chops with the back of his knife...and outside... outside was the morning sky, quiet and exquisite, letting the infinite sweetness of spring fall from its bluenesss.

As I walked I was concerned only with the space, smooth as a piece of sky-blue china in its azure bounds, deep as a gulf at the zenith, a prodigious sea, high and still as could be, where my eyes seemed to see islands, seaports, marble cities surrounded by green woods, and ships with flowered masts slipping past sirens' songs toward the fairytale cities of joy.

And so I walked, shivering with delicious violence.
In this small, 1926 book (158 pages), a combination of memoir, pulp fiction, and detective story, Arlt produces gem after gem after gem. I cannot believe this book was written in 1926. I am so very happy to have found it. To me, the book resembles a small box of four exquisite chocolate truffles, something to be savored slowly, something rare, the richness increased by awareness of impermanence.

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sábado, mayo 17, 2008

Authentic American Literary Experience Available

My fence needs painting. Badly. It's a long, white picket fence, shorter than the famous one and about as long. I remember the story:
"Like it? Well, I don't see why I oughtn't to like it. Does a boy get a chance to whitewash a fence every day?"

That put the thing in a new light. Ben stopped nibbling his apple. Tom swept his brush daintily back and forth -- stepped back to note the effect -- added a touch here and there -- criticised the effect again -- Ben watching every move and getting more and more interested, more and more absorbed. Presently he said:

"Say, Tom, let me whitewash a little."
Tom Sawyer, Chapter 2

Unfortunately, savoring the story doesn't get the fence painted. And, guess what? I don't want to paint it. I really don't. So today, after I weed the peas, I'm thinking about making a flier to hang at the local high school. Or the elementary school. Or in town. It'll say something grandiose, something like, "Authentic American Literary Experience Available" at the top. It'll have the photo above. It'll have the quote. And it'll then say, "The more the merrier." I'll contemplate whether the "experience" is devalued by offering to pay. Probably. Maybe it's preserved by grotesque underpayment. I will think about this.

Next week, I'll probably have to begin to paint it myself.

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martes, mayo 13, 2008

Remembering Juan Carlos Onetti

Juan Carlos Onetti (1909-1994)

Onetti's Wikipedia entry contains the best micro fiction, except that, well, it's completely true.

An excerpt:
In 1974, he and some of his colleagues were imprisoned by the military dictatorship. Their crime: as members of the jury, they had chosen Nelson Marra's short story El guardaespaldas (i.e. "The bodyguard") as the winner of Marcha's [Marcha is a Uruguyan newspaper] annual literary contest. Due to a series of misunderstandings (and the need to fill some space in the following day's edition), El guardaespaldas was published in Marcha, although it had been widely agreed among them that they shouldn't and wouldn't do so, knowing this would be the perfect excuse for the military to intervene [against] Marcha, considering the subject of the story (the interior monologue of a top-rank military officer who recounts his murders and atrocious behavior, much as it was happening with the functioning regime).

Onetti left his native country (and his much-loved city of Montevideo) after being imprisoned for 6 months in Colonia Etchepare, a mental institution. A long list of world-famous writers -including Gabriel García Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa and Mario Benedetti - signed open letters addressed to the military government of Uruguay, which was unaware of the talented (and completely harmless) writer it had imprisoned and humiliated.

As soon as he was released, Onetti fled to Spain with his wife, violin player Dorotea Mühr. There he continued his career as a writer, being awarded the most prestigious literary prize in the Spanish-speaking world, the Premio Cervantes.

Coming in the future, essays about his writing.

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Torture: "The Twentieth Hijacker's" Case

cross posted from docuDharma

AP reports that charges have been dropped against the alleged "Twentieth Hijacker", Mohammed al-Qahtani:
The Pentagon has dropped charges against a Saudi at Guantanamo who was alleged to have been the so-called "20th hijacker" in the Sept. 11 attacks, his U.S. military defense lawyer said Monday.

Mohammed al-Qahtani was one of six men charged by the military in February with murder and war crimes for their alleged roles in the 2001 attacks. Authorities say al-Qahtani missed out on taking part in the attacks because he was denied entry to the U.S. by an immigration agent.

But in reviewing the case, the convening authority for military commissions, Susan Crawford, decided to dismiss the charges against al-Qahtani and proceed with the arraignment for the other five, said Army Lt. Col. Bryan Broyles, the Saudi's military lawyer.
The charges were dropped without prejudice, meaning that they could be reinstated. al-Qahtani was to face the death penalty, along with five others, in trials before Military Commissions at Guantanamo.

Why were the charges dropped? Because al-Qahtani had been tortured. Of course, Crawford did not say. And his lawyer couldn't comment yet.
Officials previously said al-Qahtani had been subjected to a harsh interrogation authorized by former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. /snip

U.S. authorities have acknowledged that Mohammed was subjected to waterboarding by CIA interrogators and that al-Qahtani was treated harshly at Guantanamo.

Al-Qahtani last fall recanted a confession he said he made after he was tortured and humiliated at Guantanamo.

The alleged torture, which he detailed in a written statement, included being beaten, restrained for long periods in uncomfortable positions, threatened with dogs, exposed to loud music and freezing temperatures and stripped nude in front of female personnel.
There's lots of information about exactly how al-Qahtani was tortured. In fact, there's a partial log (pdf format) of his interrogation at Guantanamo in Fall, 2002.

In his book, Torture Team, Philip Sands describes al-Qahtani's treatment in Guantanamo in greater detail:
By the time his interrogators started using "enhanced techniques" to extract information from him, al-Qahtani had been kept in isolation for three months in a cell permanently flooded with light. An official memo shows that he "was talking to nonexistent people, reporting hearing voices, [and] crouching in a corner of the cell covered with a sheet for hours on end". He was abused, exposed to extreme cold and deprived of sleep for a further 54 days of torture and questioning. What useful testimony could be extracted from a man in this state?
And there are the additional details from from this October, 2006 MSNBC story:
Mohammed al-Qahtani, detainee No. 063, was forced to wear a bra. He had a thong placed on his head. He was massaged by a female interrogator who straddled him like a lap dancer. He was told that his mother and sisters were whores. He was told that other detainees knew he was gay. He was forced to dance with a male interrogator. He was strip-searched in front of women. He was led on a leash and forced to perform dog tricks. He was doused with water. He was prevented from praying. He was forced to watch as an interrogator squatted over his Koran.

That much is known. These details were among the findings of the U.S. Army’s investigation of al-Qahtani's aggressive interrogation at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
According to the MSNBC article:
In interviews with — the first time they have spoken publicly — former senior law enforcement agents described their attempts to stop the abusive interrogations. The agents of the Pentagon's Criminal Investigation Task Force, working to build legal cases against suspected terrorists, said they objected to coercive tactics used by a separate team of intelligence interrogators soon after Guantanamo's prison camp opened in early 2002. They ultimately carried their battle up to the office of Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, who approved the more aggressive techniques to be used on al-Qahtani and others.

Although they believed the abusive techniques were probably illegal, the Pentagon cops said their objection was practical. They argued that abusive interrogations were not likely to produce truthful information, either for preventing more al-Qaida attacks or prosecuting terrorists.

And they described their disappointment when military prosecutors told them not to worry about making a criminal case against al-Qahtani, the suspected "20th hijacker" of Sept. 11, because what had been done to him would prevent him from ever being put on trial.
So today's announcement isn't something that's completely new. US authorities have known for quite some time that a trial of al-Qahtani would be a trial in which the details of his torture would have to be established and considered. And now the other foot has dropped. al-Qahtani was tortured, and to prevent complete public disclosure of what was done to him and by whom, to veil what happened, the charges against him have been dropped:
Authorities have said they plan to broadcast the trials to military bases in the United States so relatives of the victims of the attacks can see the proceedings. source
A trial about torture isn't exactly what the Government has in mind. It would prefer something that appeared more just, something that would be better from a public relations standpoint.

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domingo, mayo 11, 2008

On Mothers' Day Protests In Kathmandu

Mothers' Day isn't celebrated in Nepal. Modern Mothers' Day began as Women's Day of Peace. So it's a synchronicity that hundreds of Tibetan women in Kathmandu including Buddhist nuns chose today as an all-woman protest against Chinese occupation of Tibet.

Reuters reports:
Nepali police detained 562 Tibetan women at an anti-China rally in Kathmandu on Sunday, the first all-women protest against Chinese rule in their homeland, officials said.

Some shouted "We want free Tibet" while others wept as they were dragged along the road to police vans and trucks and driven to detention centers. Many were wearing black armbands and had their mouths gagged with cloths.

Nepal considers Tibet part of China, a key donor and trade partner, and has been cracking down on protests by the exiled Tibetans against Beijing.

Police said the protesters would be freed later.
Nepal borders Tibet. More than 20,000 Tibetans have been living in Nepal since fleeing their homeland after the recent failed uprising and China's crack-down.
"We are not against Nepal. Our protests are against China. So why are they arresting us?" asked a 70-year-old protester who gave her name as Chinjhoke, tears rolling down her face.
According to BBC Nepal
cannot allow Tibetans to demonstrate because it recognises Tibet as an integral part of China.

But the UN says the mass arrests are against the spirit of a society governed by the rule of law.
Today's protest in Kathmandu followed yesterday's in which
A group of Tibetan protesters chained themselves together in front of the Chinese Embassy's visa office in Nepal's capital, Kathmandu, on Saturday.

Sixteen protesters secured themselves to each other with chains and padlocks at the Chinese embassy in the heart of Kathmandu, and were joined by dozens of other Tibetans who chanted 'Free Tibet' and 'We want freedom.'

Police official Ramesh Thapa says 120 people were detained for defying a ban on demonstrations against China, Nepal's neighbour to the north.
I don't think it can be argued that arrests for that reason comply with an acknowledgement of human rights. Evidently, it's important to Nepal to mimic Chinese responses to peaceful protest.

I watch all of this with increasing frustration. I am astonished by the courage of the Tibetan protesters, that they risk so much to bring to the world's attention their grievances about the occupation of Tibet. But I don't believe that what they do will result in action that will change things. That belief brings me despair.

All I have to offer is this Metta prayer:
May all beings be well and safe, may they be at ease.

Whatever living beings there may be, whether moving or standing still, without exception, whether large, great, middling, or small, whether tiny or substantial,

Whether seen or unseen, whether living near or far,

Born or unborn; may all beings be happy.

Let none deceive or despise another anywhere. Let none wish harm to another, in anger or in hate.”

Just as a mother would guard her child, her only child, with her own life, even so let me cultivate a boundless mind for all beings in the world.

Let me cultivate a boundless love for all beings in the world, above, below, and across, unhindered, without ill will or enmity.

Standing, walking, seated, or lying down, free from torpor, let me as far as possible fix my attention on this recollection. This, they say, is the divine life right here.

May it be so.

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viernes, mayo 09, 2008

Yoani Sanchez Receives Prize In Absentia

Well, to no one's surprise, Cuba wouldn't relent and permit Yoani Sanchez to travel to Spain to receive the Ortega y Gasset prize, despite my post urging Raul Castro to permit her to go.

AP reports:
A Cuban woman who gained worldwide acclaim for a blog that offers stinging criticism of the Communist regime was honored Wednesday with a Spanish journalism award — in absentia.

Cuban authorities did not approve Yoani Sanchez's request to travel to Madrid for the award ceremony. But the 32-year-old woman was still able to make some points.

"Nothing of what I have written in these 13 months speaks as loudly as my absence from this ceremony," Sanchez said in a tape recording.

She said the fact she had to address the group through a recording was "the clearest evidence of the defenselessness of the Cuban people with respect to the state."

Meanwhile, her blog receives more than 1 million hits a month (the blog you are now reading receives less than 1 thousand). And it continues to voice opposition to repression in Cuba. It's gotten some attention from Andrew Sullivan, but in general, there hasn't been much of an uproar, or support in Blogtopia for her right to travel or for her right to express herself without being penalized or calling for her to be allowed to leave Cuba long enough to visit Spain.

Why is that? What exactly does it take to have bloggers advocate for freedom of expression across the entire Internet? When are we going to understand the connections between all of us in the typing class? When are we going to support freedom of speech, even if we don't agree with the politics or content of what is being written?

I'm asking because I remember Martin Niemoeller.

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jueves, mayo 08, 2008

Raul Castro: Let Yoani Sanchez Go To Spain

Yoani Sanchez

You might find it odd that this blog, with its minuscule readership of less than 50 visitors a day, would think it could send a message to the President of Cuba, but, that's how it is on the Internet. Anybody can talk to anyone else, and Yoani Sanchez can talk to thousands of people in Cuba every day with her blog Generacion Y.

Generacion Y explains itself:
Generatión Y is a Blog inspired by people like me, with names that start or contain a "Y". Born in the Cuba of the 70s and the 80s, marked by the "schools to the countryside", the Russian cartoons, the illegal exits and the frustration. So, an invitation goes especially to Yanisleidi, Yoandri, Yusimí, Yuniesky and others that drag their Ys, to read me and write back.
What's the blog about?
... under the nose of a regime that has never tolerated dissent, Sánchez has practiced what paper-bound journalists in her country cannot: freedom of speech. The pieces she has been clandestinely sending out from Internet cafés—while posing as a tourist—are often funny, elegantly written and poignant. Her subjects have included the shortage of lemons, the turgid proceedings of the Cuban parliament and the slowness of meaningful reforms by Raúl Castro.
The problem isn't the blog. It's more concrete. It's getting her from Cuba to Spain so she can be given the Ortega y Gasset Award. The details:
The Cuban government has set up obstacles for Yoani Sánchez, creator of the blog Generación Y and winner of the EL PAÍS-issued Ortega y Gasset Journalism Prize, in her efforts to reach Spain. On the eve of the ceremony where she should be receiving her prize – at Madrid's Circulo de Bellas Artes - the blogger has still not been given permission by the Cuban government to leave the island.

Via telephone from Havana yesterday, Sánchez said she was "pessimistic" but was still clinging to the thread of hope that she could still technically travel to Madrid if she received permission today. "I haven’t received any answer from the authorities; and the case is being held up," she explained, adding: "Cuban bureaucracy is very cryptic," making it impossible to know what the next step will be. "I had a flight last Saturday, but I missed it because I couldn’t get an answer from the authorities, so I moved the flight to [today]. I have still not been given an answer and I am pessimistic but will keep hoping until the last minute."

Sanchez believes that her case would be the "perfect test" to see if the opening up announced by Raúl Castro is real or just an empty declaration. Despite the fact that her blog has received a lot of attention outside of Cuba, Sanchez has never left the island to promote it or receive a prize. "Now we will see if something is really changing or not," she said.

You can read Generacion Y, which is reporting on whether Yoani will be allowed to leave. The blog hasn't been taken down in part because it's on a German server.

I'd love to see Raul Castro loosen control on the Wonder Island enough for Yoani Sanchez to go to Spain and collect her prize. That would be a signal to Cuba and the rest of the world that restrictions were actually being lifted, that freedom of speech was slowly being granted.

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martes, mayo 06, 2008

State Killing Recommences In Georgia

This disgusting, barbarous event will be overlooked in the news about the primaries in Indiana and North Carolina.

This evening Georgia resumed killing its prisoners by lethal injection. William Earl Lynd has been executed. This is the 1100th execution in the modern era and the first following the Supreme Court's ruling in Baze v. Rees, upholding Kentucky's lethal injection protocol. It has been almost 8 months since a state killed a prisoner. This is longest amount of time between executions since at least the early nineties.
Convicted Georgia prisoner William Earl Lynd was executed Tuesday, the first inmate to be put to death since the U.S. Supreme Court lifted its nationwide ban on executions.

Lynd was pronounced dead at 7:51 pm at the Diagnostic and Classification prison in Jackson, Georgia as anti-death penalty activists stood in quiet protest outside.

According to prison officials, Lynd had been “somber all day,” and had requested a mild sedative before being lead to the death chamber.

Lynd had been convicted for the 1988 kidnapping and murder of live-in girlfriend Ginger Moore.

The crime was an extremely brutal one, and Lynd waited on death row for almost 20 years to be killed while he appealed.

Tonight, almost 2 decades later, Georgia executed him by lethal injection. The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that "he was the 41st man Georgia has executed since 1983, the 19th by lethal injection." He was 53 years old.

Barbarism and revenge killing have returned to the US. I want it to be understood that William Earl Lynd was not killed in my name. I detest killing. I detest Lynd's killing his victim. My heart goes out to the victim, her family, Lynd, Lynd's family, the lawyers who defended and prosecuted him, the jurors who deliberated his case, the judges who ruled at his trial and appeals, those who wrote and those who read the newspaper coverage of the crime and the trial and the execution, in fact, everyone who had knowledge of this case or any contact with it. How can we live with ourselves when to revenge a killing, we permit our government to kill?

Mahatama Gandhi correctly identified the issue. "An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind."

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Going To the UEFA Final In Moscow, I Wish

Chelsea's Didier Drogpa With Manchester United Defenders

Big football/soccer news. Apparently, people with tickets to the UEFA Final on May 21 in Moscow can get into the country without a visa. This just in from UEFA:
All ticket holders attending the UEFA Champions League final in Moscow on 21 May will be able to use their match ticket as a visa entry to the Russian Federation for a 72-hour period.

High-level discussions
UEFA made the announcement on Monday. It said the decision had been made in order to organise the 2007/08 UEFA Champions League final in Moscow in the most efficient and enjoyable way, and following high-level discussions involving the UEFA President, Michel Platini, the Russian Government and UEFA. /snip

Exceptional gesture
"This is great news for football fans travelling to watch this year's UEFA Champions League final in Moscow," said Mr Platini. "Our job is to make sure that they are able to get to and from Moscow as easily as possible. I am therefore extremely pleased that, at my request, all fans travelling with a valid match ticket can use this to enter Russian territory, and for this I must thank wholeheartedly the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, the Russian Government, the City of Moscow and the Football Union of Russia for this exceptional and unprecedented gesture.
Football diplomacy. Meanwhile, I cannot imagine the US saying to people across the world, "We'll be happy to let you into the country without a visa, just show us your Super Bowl ticket." Similarly, I don't think China will open its borders to every Olympic ticket holder who shows up.

The game in Moscow, if you're not paying attention, is between the two most powerful English sides, Chelsea and Manchester United. Chelsea won a match between the two on April 27 2-1. This is going to be a great game between two remarkable teams who are tied at the top of the English Premier League.

Oh how I wish, I wish, I wish I could be at this game. I know. I hear you saying, "Yeah, you say that all the time about River Plate and Boca Juniors, about Barcelona and Madrid, about..." OK, it's true. But that, I remind you, doesn't mean that I don't want to go to all of these games. A lot.

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lunes, mayo 05, 2008

Remembering Clifton Chenier

Clifton Chenier (1925-1987

Today's NY Times has a great story about the last remaining washboard manufacturer in the US, the Columbia Washboard Company in Ohio. But, alas, the story has only one phrase implying the use of the washboard as musical instrument. That phrase:
She reacquainted old clients with this old reliable, began a Web site and established an annual musical washboard festival in Logan, a small city that needed the economic boost. Under the new management, the company’s sales spiked to 70,000 washboards in 2000.
Did the Times miss a major, cultural part of the story?

Have we forgotten Washboard Slim? Have we forgotten the frottoir?
The washboard and frottoir are used as a percussion instrument, employing the ribbed metal surface of the cleaning device as a rhythm instrument.

As traditionally used in jazz, cajun, skiffle, jug band, and old time music, the washboard remained in its wooden frame and is played primarily by tapping, but also scraping the washboard with thimbles. Often the washboard has additional traps, such as a wood block, a cowbell, and even small cymbals.

Conversely, the frottoir dispenses with the frame and consists simply of the metal ribbing hung around the neck. It is played, also with thimbles, but with much more strumming than tapping. The frottoir, also called a Cajun rub-board or Zydeco rub-board, is a mid 20th century invention designed specifically for Zydeco music. It was designed in 1946 by Clifton "King of Zydeco" Chenier, and fashioned by Willie Landry, a friend and metalworker at the Texaco refinery in Port Arthur, Texas. Clifton's brother Cleveland Chenier famously played this newly designed rubboard using bottle openers. Likewise, Willie's son, Tee Don Landry, continues the traditional hand manufacturing of rubboards in his small shop outside of Lafayette, LA.

Alas, have we forgotten Clifton Chenier?
Chenier's career began in 1954, when he signed with Elko Records and released Clifton's Blues, a regional success. His first hit record was soon followed by "Ay 'Tite Fille (Hey, Little Girl)" (a cover of Professor Longhair's song), which received some mainstream success. With the Zydeco Ramblers, Chenier toured extensively and soon signed to Chicago, Illinois' Chess Records, followed by Arhoolie.

Chenier reached a wide audience when he appeared on the premier full season of the PBS music television program Austin City Limits in 1976, and returned for a follow-up episode in 1979 with his Red Hot Louisiana Band.

His popularity peaked in the 1980s, when he won a Grammy Award for his 1982 album, I'm Here, the first ever Grammy for his new label, Alligator Records. Chenier was the second Creole to win a Grammy (after Queen Ida).

Chenier is also credited with redesigning the wood and crimped tin washboard into the frottoir, an instrument that would easily hang from the shoulders. Cleveland Chenier, Clifton's older brother, also played in the Red Hot Louisiana Band and would find equal popularity for his ability to manipulate the distinctive sound of the washboard by rubbing several bottle openers (held in each hand) along its ridges.

Chenier and his band traveled throughout the world during their prime. In his later years, Chenier was beset by health problems. One of his feet had to be amputated because of diabetes, and he frequently required dialysis.

Chenier died of diabetes-related kidney disease in December 1987 in Lafayette. He was buried in All Souls Cemetery in Loreauville, Iberia Parish, Louisiana.

I remember hearing Clifton and Cleveland Chenier both on records and live. I loved this music. Still do. This is music that should not be forgotten.

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domingo, mayo 04, 2008

Chaiten Erupts

This from Reuters:
Covered in thick ash, the Patagonian community of Chaiten was a ghost town on Saturday as a volcano spewed ash a day after its first eruption in thousands of years forced nearly 4,500 people to flee.

Authorities have evacuated most of the southern Chilean town's residents since Friday, sending many by boat to Chiloe Island farther north and to Puerto Montt on the mainland.

Some are staying in guesthouses, while schools have been turned into makeshift shelters packed with stores of bottled water after a blanket of volcanic ash contaminated ground water.

Only a few dozen people remained in Chaiten, whose snow-capped volcano of the same name erupted on Friday, triggering earth tremors and spewing a cloud of ash two miles into the air. There is no record of the volcano erupting in the last 2,000 years, according to Sernageomin, a government mining and geology agency.

Photos here.

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sábado, mayo 03, 2008

El Presidente Repeals Law Of Supply And Demand

This past week we were all treated to a proposed executive repeal of the venerable Law of Supply and Demand by McCain and Clinton. Today, not to be undone, El Presidente made it clear that they were too late, he had already issued an executive order nullifying the Law of Supply and Demand. And by golly, he was going to take credit for that.

According to Bloomberg:
Hillary Clinton and John McCain are both pushing a ``gas-tax holiday'' to give consumers an 18.4- cent-a-gallon price break. Clinton says the plan will take excess profits from oil companies. McCain says it will help families buy school supplies.

Economists have a different take: They say the oil companies may end up the biggest beneficiaries, while the aid to families wouldn't be enough to buy a $35 backpack.

The trouble with the plan, they say, is that oil prices are rising because of low supplies, and companies will continue to charge the average $3.60 a gallon and just pocket the money that would have gone to federal taxes.
And this doesn't even mention that old bugaboo, the Law of Supply and Demand, which holds that decreasing price usually stimulates consumption. This is that Law: If a bottle of beer was $2 and now it's $1, wouldn't you consider having 2 instead of one? So the proposal, supposedly decreasing the price, would lead to greater oil consumption and then, uh oh, higher prices.

Fortunately, Barack Obama called bullshit on the proposal:
Slamming Clinton’s support for the gas tax holiday, [Obama] accused her of pandering to voters instead of offering a real solution to the energy problem.

“In a moment of candor, her advisers actually admitted that it wouldn’t have much of an effect on gas prices. But, they said, it’s a great political issue for Senator Clinton. So this is not about getting you through the summer, it’s about getting elected,” Obama argued. “This is what passes for leadership in Washington, phony ideas, calculated to win elections instead of actually solving problems.”

Obama said that a Clinton has deployed a surrogate, who is also lobbyist for Shell Oil, to pitch the gas tax holiday to voters. “It’s a shell game, literally,” Obama said. Some economists have said that the gas tax holiday may increase profits for the oil companies, as demand may rise with the reduction in price. The campaign said Obama was referring to Steve Elmendorf, a lobbyist for Shell Oil and a Clinton supporter.
2 points for a pun to Obama. And this doesn't even begin to touch the repeated calls on Righwing Talk Radio for a reduction not only of the federal gas tax, but also the state gas taxes. This might add up in New York to the munificent sum of $40 cents per gallon, enough to reduce the price of regular gas from $3.65 to $3.20, reducing the price of a usual 15 gallon fill up from about $54.75 to $48.00, a saving of precisely $6.75 per fill up. Whoop de F*ckin doo. I bet that will buy a lot of stuff. I bet that will really relieve your budget pressure. And let's completely omit that the Treasury needs the money from these taxes to build highways and roads. Where is that going to come from?

Not to be undone by the arrant stupidity of the gas tax proposals, the MBA-in-chief today pointed out in his weekly radio address that the candidates were too late to repeal the Law of Supply and Demand. Way too late. El Presidente had already done it by fiat, and he intended to take full credit for it and its consequences. In his weekly massage El Presidente explained:
U.S. President George W. Bush sought to assure Americans on Saturday that federal checks en route to them as part of a stimulus plan will help spur the ailing economy and pay for soaring gas and food prices.

"These rebates will deliver up to $600 per person, $1,200 per couple, and $300 per child," Bush said in his weekly radio address.

"This package will help American families increase their purchasing power and help offset the high prices that we're seeing at the gas pump and the grocery store," Bush said, adding it would also provide tax incentives for business to invest and create jobs.
First, when a plunderer Rethuglican says "for business to invest and create jobs" you can invariably translate that language as "increase profits." It's only if the shareholders aren't too demanding for cash that there's going to be any investment, and only if there's investment can there be job creation. This is Rethuglican talk, after all. It means the money might trickle down. But not necessarily. Don't hold your breath.

"Offset" is the term El Presidente used that's most intriguing, most worth thinking about. "Offset" is maybe an accounting term, but, alas, it's not an economics term. There is no such thing as "offset." If I receive $600 from El Presidente, and I spend it on gasoline this increases demand for gasoline, and voila! eventually increases prices. If I receive $600 from El Presidente, and I spent it at Wal-mart, that increases revenues to Wal-mart, which will use the increased funds to hoard profits or maybe stimulate production of junky plastic things in China. The money will flow to shareholders' pockets or maybe to China.

How, you might wish to ask, does increasing gas consumption and driving prices higher "offset" anything? Doesn't that, in fact, make things worse? A whole lot worse by fueling and continuing the current spiral?

Now you're getting it. If somebody arrived from another planet and looked at what's going on with these proposals, s/he would think, "Oh, they're just finding ways of putting more dollars in the pockets of the big capitalists. And they're marketing that to the plebians as if it were a balm for their economic woes." That would be about right.

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jueves, mayo 01, 2008

Department Of Irony: Lawlessness On Law Day

Today, May 1, 2008, in addition to everything else is Law Day in the United States:
Fifty years ago President Eisenhower proclaimed the first Law Day a "day of national dedication to the principle of government under law." The ABA [the American Bar Association] invites you to celebrate this enduring principle during the 50th anniversary of Law Day.

Law Day 2008 will explore the meaning of the rule of law, fostering public understanding of the rule of law through discussion of its role in a free society.
The Rule of Law. How interesting that the Bush Administration would today inform us that one of the functions of law is to keep certain laws secret from the public. Don't bang your head on the desk. You read that properly. On Law Day the Bush Administration announced that it could enact laws and keep them a secret from you. That's in your very own best interest, of course.

Join me in the Irony Corner.

Today's New York Times reports that El Presidente doesn't have to tell Congress about its legal arguments about torture, and El Presidente doesn't have to tell the citizenry what Executive Orders, what laws he's enacted:
In a partial concession to Congressional pressure, the Bush administration agreed on Wednesday to show the Senate and House Intelligence Committees secret Justice Department legal opinions justifying harsh interrogation techniques that critics call torture.

The decision, announced at a Senate hearing where Democrats sharply criticized the administration’s secrecy on legal questions, did not satisfy other members of Congress who have pushed for the documents for several years, notably Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

A spokesman for the Justice Department said officials were discussing whether to share part or all the opinions with Mr. Leahy’s panel.
In other words, members of Congress, according to the Administration, might not be shown all of the legal opinions El Presidente relies upon to justify torture, some of them might just have to be kept secret from Congress.

But that's not the ironic part, that the Government thinks the Senate and House cannot be told the legal arguments for its policies even though the Senators and House Members have security clearances. No. Later in the story is the part channeled directly from Bizarro world. Here it is:
At the hearing, a department official, John P. Elwood, disclosed a previously unpublicized method to cloak government activities. Mr. Elwood acknowledged that the administration believed that the president could ignore or modify existing executive orders that he or other presidents have issued without disclosing the new interpretation.

Mr. Elwood, citing a 1980s precedent, said there was nothing new or unusual about such a view.
This is May 1, not April Fool's Day. Elwood is not kidding. In other words, those Executive Orders you can read in the Federal Register that tell you what the law is, well, they might not be the law after all, because El Presidente can ignore or modify existing executive orders and then -- this is the most bizarre part-- not tell you or anybody else outside the Government about it.

That's called "secret laws," laws that are, well, secrets from us.

According to the Times, Senator Russ Feingold accused the administration of a “sinister trend” of promoting “secret law.” Feingold said:
“It is a basic tenet of democracy that the people have a right to know the law,” Mr. Feingold said.

I bet you thought that was how things were supposed to go, that the people have the right to know the law. That people are supposed to know exactly what the law is. What a radical concept. According to Bushco, that would be simply w.r.o.n.g.:
Mr. Elwood, deputy assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel, disputed that declining to make legal opinions public created improper “secret law.” He said some legal opinions had to be kept from public release, at least for a time, because they deal with classified programs or to ensure that government lawyers can give confidential legal advice.
Ditto Executive orders.

According to the Times, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse disagreed, pointing out that the administration’s legal stance would let it secretly operate programs that are at odds with public executive orders that appeared to be in force:
Mr. Whitehouse, who sits on the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, has said the administration’s contention that it can selectively modify executive orders “turns The Federal Register into a screen of falsehoods behind whose phony regulations lawless programs can operate in secret.”

Mr. Elwood said publicly available legal opinions dating from 1987 make clear the Justice Department’s view that the president has the power to change executive orders.

Mr. Whitehouse said, “There’s an important piece missing from that, which is not telling anybody and running a program that’s completely different from the executive order.”
Of course, the "legal opinions" from the 1980's and from 1987 aren't printed in today's Times, nor have they been identified elsewhere, so we cannot read them and marvel at their brilliance. I can hardly imagine what these opinions, written during the tenure of that great Constitutionalist, Sainted Ronald Reagan actually say.

El Presidente's response to these criticisms?
Asked about those remarks, a spokesman for the Justice Department, Brian Roehrkasse, said the president would “generally” publicly modify or revoke an executive order before directing actions that conflicted with it.

“With respect to classified programs, however,” Mr. Roehrkasse added, publicly changing an executive order might “not be in the interest of the country’s national security.” In such cases, he said, the Congressional Intelligence Committees or their leaders would be informed.
Isn't this a wonderful way for El Presidente to mark Law Day, the day that is supposed to "explore the meaning of the rule of law, fostering public understanding of the rule of law through discussion of its role in a free society." Que ironia.

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