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

viernes, octubre 31, 2008

Studs Terkel, RIP

The Chicago Tribune reports:
The author-radio host-actor-activist and Chicago symbol has died. "My epitaph? My epitaph will be 'Curiosity did not kill this cat,'" he once said.
He was 96. As the Trib writes, "It's hard to imagine a fuller life." Indeed.

May he rest in peace.

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Vote No On Proposition 8

Look. Proposition 8 is about preventing gay people from marrying each other, and it's about invalidating marriages that have already been conducted. It is an outrageous discrimination reminiscent of miscegenation laws. In a just and fair world this proposition would be easily defeated. But, unfortunately, in California it may pass.

The text of the proposed State Constitutional Amendment:
Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized
in California.

This is simply outrageous.

If you're in California, please vote no on this. And tell your friends and relatives to vote no. If you're anywhere, please send some money, today is the last legal day to donate, to help defeat this proposition. Send funds Here.

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Idiot Wind

The WaPo editorial for today calls out McSame for yet another "vile smear:
WITH THE presidential campaign clock ticking down, Sen. John McCain has suddenly discovered a new boogeyman to link to Sen. Barack Obama: a sometimes controversial but widely respected Middle East scholar named Rashid Khalidi. In the past couple of days, Mr. McCain and his running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin, have likened Mr. Khalidi, the director of a Middle East institute at Columbia University, to neo-Nazis; called him "a PLO spokesman"; and suggested that the Los Angeles Times is hiding something sinister by refusing to release a videotape of a 2003 dinner in honor of Mr. Khalidi at which Mr. Obama spoke. Mr. McCain even threw former Weatherman Bill Ayers into the mix, suggesting that the tape might reveal that Mr. Ayers -- a terrorist-turned-professor who also has been an Obama acquaintance -- was at the dinner.

For the record, Mr. Khalidi is an American born in New York who graduated from Yale a couple of years after George W. Bush. For much of his long academic career, he taught at the University of Chicago, where he and his wife became friends with Barack and Michelle Obama. In the early 1990s, he worked as an adviser to the Palestinian delegation at peace talks in Madrid and Washington sponsored by the first Bush administration. We don't agree with a lot of what Mr. Khalidi has had to say about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the years, and Mr. Obama has made clear that he doesn't, either. But to compare the professor to neo-Nazis -- or even to Mr. Ayers -- is a vile smear.
For his part, Mr. Khalidi, an academic of the first degree, squashes McSame like a bloated cockroach and even throws the clammering, allusion-hungry masses (that would be us) a bone:

Which reminds us: We did ask Mr. Khalidi whether he wanted to respond to the campaign charges against him. He answered, via e-mail, that "I will stick to my policy of letting this idiot wind blow over." That's good advice for anyone still listening to the McCain campaign's increasingly reckless ad hominem attacks. Sadly, that wind is likely to keep blowing for four more days.
"Idiot Wind"? Definitely. That's a 1974 Bob Dylan tune:
Someone's got it in for me, they're planting stories in the press
Whoever it is I wish they'd cut it out but when they will I can only guess.
They say I shot a man named Gray and took his wife to Italy,
She inherited a million bucks and when she died it came to me.
I can't help it if I'm lucky.

People see me all the time and they just can't remember how to act
Their minds are filled with big ideas, images and distorted facts.
Even you, yesterday you had to ask me where it was at,
I couldn't believe after all these years, you didn't know me better than that
Sweet lady.

Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your mouth,
Blowing down the backroads headin' south.
Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth,
You're an idiot, babe.
It's a wonder that you still know how to breathe.

Yes, as the song concludes, it's a wonder we can even feed ourselves. There are 4 audio versions of this wonderful song here (click on left margin), and, of course, a beautiful video from 1976:

And so, on October 31, 2008, with 3 full days before election day, McSame brings us yet another boogeyperson and demonstrates yet again that his campaign is nothing more than "idiot wind." And you thought that he had already emptied his clown car of all of the evil creatures and boogeypersons. Wrong. Doesn't he realize that we're already on fear and loathing overload, and have been for 8 long years, and that we're now averting our eyes from his parade of cardboard horrors, that we're saying, "Sorry, McSame", we're moving on? I guess not.

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miércoles, octubre 29, 2008

Less Than One Week To Go: Yes We Can!!!

martes, octubre 28, 2008

Run For Your Life

Fred Lebow

The NY Times today has a review of "Run For Your Life", a history of the beginning of the New York Marathon. Playing a major part in the tale is Fred Lebow:
Until his death from brain cancer in 1994, Fred Lebow was more than just the director of the race and the president of New York Road Runners. He was a fixture of city life, instantly recognizable for his skinny frame, neat beard and ever-present cycling cap. An immigrant from Romania (where he was born Fischl Lebowitz) with a background in the garment business, Lebow helped turn running from a solitary and eccentric pursuit into a major sport and a staple of American culture.

He did this with a mixture of showmanship, quasi-evangelical zeal and entrepreneurial hustle. Using on-camera interviews with friends and colleagues, and archival film and video clips, “Run for Your Life,” directed by Judd Ehrlich, is mainly an affectionate portrait of the man, whose every foible and virtue is noted with fond tolerance.
I met Fred a couple of times at NYRRC. And I passed him-- I remember this well-- in the Westchester Half Marathon of 1982 or 1983. I couldn't understand why this guy in front of me was generating so much support and yelling from the crowd. It turned out to be Fred, who by then was famous in New York running circles. Anyway, I don't remember what we said to each other as I went past him. I do remember that I ran the half marathon in 1:24 that day, and was thrilled by setting a new PR. I was also thankful that Fred had managed to make the sport so accessible and so much fun. He was the best, most famous 8 minute per mile pace runner in the history of the sport.

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Tony Hillerman, RIP

The Times reports:
Tony Hillerman, a former newspaperman whose evocative mystery novels set among the Navajos of the Southwest took the American detective story in new directions and made him a best-selling author, died Sunday in Albuquerque, where he lived. He was 83.

The cause was pulmonary failure, his family said. A daughter, Anne Hillerman, said her father had survived two heart attacks and operations for prostate and bladder cancer, The Associated Press reported.

In the world of mystery fiction, Mr. Hillerman was that rare figure: a best-selling author who was adored by fans, admired by fellow authors and respected by critics. Though the themes of his books were not overtly political, he wrote with an avowed purpose: to instill in his readers a respect for Native American culture.

His stories, while steeped in contemporary crime, often describe people struggling to maintain ancient traditions in the modern world. The books are instructive about ancient tribal beliefs and customs, from purification rituals to incest taboos.
Many years ago, on a family trip, around the Four Corners and Mesa Verde, one of my sons was reading Hillerman books. They seemed to fit perfectly in the hot, flat spaces punctuated by towers of rocks and the smell of sage. It was easy to see why writers and critics loved his work. It just fit perfectly in this wide space.

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lunes, octubre 27, 2008

A Deserved Award To Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo

UEFA reports:
Cristiano Ronaldo's sparkling contribution to Manchester United FC's double conquest of English and European football has been recognised by his peers, with the winger being named FIFPro World Player of the Year for the 2007/08 season.

Ronaldo received his award in Manchester today after winning the vote carried out by the Fédération Internationale des Footballeurs Professionels (FIFPro). The Portuguese international's exploits – including scoring 31 goals in 34 Premier League games for the champions and helping United to the UEFA Champions League title – were overwhelmingly endorsed in a poll of some 57,500 FIFPro members around the world.

The 23-year-old said: "To be recognised by my fellow professional players worldwide, coming from over 50,000 players, is amazing. I would like to thank my team-mates and coaches and everyone involved at Man United and the national team, as well as my family and friends for their support. Thank you also to FIFPro for this award and for your work in protecting the interests and welfare of players around the world." Ronaldo scored a total of 42 goals last term to succeed Kaká as the world's players' player of the year.
This isn't a surprise. He deserves it, much as it pains me to acknowledge that anything at Man U is good.

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Kenya: Vote Obama!

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viernes, octubre 24, 2008


Mrs. Palin: A Weekend Song From The Dream Antilles To You

Yo Apruebo Este Mensaje

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jueves, octubre 23, 2008

One Kind Favor

You know it's one kind favor, I ask to you
You know it's one kind favor, I ask to you
See that my grave is kept clean.
It's a simple enough blues. It was initially sung, I think, by the legendary Blind Lemon Jefferson in 1927 under a pseudonym. It was so popular that he re-recorded and re-released in 1928.

It's been recorded by BB King, Lightnin' Hopkins, Canned Heat, The Grateful Dead, Mike Bloomfield, Keiji Haino, Diamanda Galás, Meindert Talma & the Negroes, Lou Reed, Furry Lewis, Chrome Cranks, the Dream Syndicate, Thelonious Monster. And, of course, by numerous, numerous others.

It's been in my head for two days. I heard BB King's latest version of the song yesterday on NPR while I was driving home. I can't seem to turn it off. "One kind favor I ask of you/one kind favor I ask of you..."

For me there's something extraordinarily important about this lyric. And haunting. What does it mean, "See that my grave is kept clean?" I wonder about this. It's about respect. It's about preserving the memory of someone who's gone on, it's about the spiritual legacy of the departed. It's not about the estate, the wealth, the works, the physical accomplishments of the departed; it's about spiritual legacy.

Spiritual legacy. What is that? And what, I wonder, if I were to be struck by lightning as I sit here right now, would my spiritual legacy be? If I ran out of time right now and my brain or heart exploded, what would it be? How would I be remembered?

I'm healthy and well, but I find myself this evening in a world of imponderables, incomprehensibility. Have I said what I needed to say? Have I listened to what I needed to hear? Have I loved deeply and well enough? Have I done my personal work? Have I learned enough? Have I inspired enough? Have I fought hard enough? Have I made peace enough? Have I done my work? Have I stood for something important? Have I taught my children well? Have I showed up enough? Have I given enough? Have I prayed enough? Have I had enough gratitude? Have I served well enough? Have I been an adequate steward of things given to me? These and other questions arise. As many questions as there are stars in the Milky Way.

All I can do is invite you, dear reader, to join me in this with your own inquiry. And, if you survive me, to see that my grave is kept clean. Music for your inquiry follows:

Blind Lemon Jefferson:

Bob Dylan:

Mavis Staples:

Lou Reed:

Be well, be safe, be happy, be alive.

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Pat Kavanagh, RIP

The New York Times reports:

Pat Kavanagh, a British literary agent whose hauteur, business acumen and abiding aura of mystery kept her distinguished string of writers and publishers fascinated, died on Monday at her home in London. She was 68.
In many ways, she was a prototype for Miss Snark, a blog that's been dark since 2007:
“She was glamorous, gorgeous and brilliant, but cutting if she thought you were less than the best,” said Robert Weil, the executive editor of W. W. Norton.

“She didn’t make it easy,” said Zoë Pagnamenta, a British agent in New York who has worked with many of Ms. Kavanagh’s writers. “You had to earn her respect and trust and friendship, which, when you did, made it all the more valuable. You couldn’t get away with anything, like pretending you liked something — she’d see right through it.”
Her ability was as legendary as her style:
She developed a reputation for good taste, sound judgment, few words and careful management of her clients’ careers, as well as a stylishly intimidating manner.

“She was never one to undersell anything, and she was always on your case, but there was always the velvet glove,” said Sonny Mehta, the chairman and chief executive of Alfred A. Knopf.
I wish I had been one of her writers.

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miércoles, octubre 22, 2008

A New Gateway Drug

The New York Times isn't sure that "urban fiction" is such great stuff:
In one book, the hero spirals toward a violent death dealing drugs on the streets of Laurelton, Queens, witnessing, along the way, a baby ripped apart by bullets. In another, a convict plots the seduction of his prison psychotherapist.

And then there’s Angel, a Versace-clad seductress who shoots her boyfriend in the head during sex, stuffs money from his safe into her Louis Vuitton bags and, as she fondles the cash, experiences a sexual frisson narrated in terms too graphic to reproduce here.

All these characters, and the novels they populate, are favorites of Shonda Miller, 35, a devoted library-goer who devours a book a day, enforces a daily hour reading time for her entire family and scours street stands and the Internet for new titles. She also acts as an unofficial guide and field scout for the Queens Library as it builds its collection of a fast-growing genre, written mainly by black authors about black characters and variously known as urban fiction, street lit or gangsta lit.

It’s not the kind of literary fare usually associated with the prim image of librarians. But public libraries from Queens, the highest-circulation library system in the country, to York County in central Pennsylvania, are embracing urban fiction as an exciting, if sometimes controversial, way to draw new people into reading rooms, spread literacy and reflect and explore the interests and concerns of the public they serve.
So what. Once the reader finds something electrifying, exciting in a library, the chances for lifelong pursuit of reading and writing greatly increases. And that, I think, is good. After all, today's reader of Gangsta Fiction about drugs is about 2 yards away from reading Coleridge, Burroughs, and Hunter Thompson.

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martes, octubre 21, 2008


Parwiz Kambakhsh

Literally. You may recall my February 5, 2008 essay about the bizarre death penalty verdict imposed on a student, Perwiz Kambakhsh, in Afghanistan. This is an update.

The New York Times is reporting that Perwiz Kambakhsh, a reporter, has been re-sentenced to twenty years' imprisonment in Afghanistan for blasphemy by an appeals Court. His previous sentence was death. This is an improvement, yes, but the outcome is still beyond comprehension.

Afghanistan's appeal court sentenced an Afghan journalist to 20 years in jail, commuting an earlier death sentence, for distributing an Internet article that said the Prophet Mohammad had ignored the rights of women.

Perwiz Kambakhsh, 23, a reporter with the Jahan-e Now daily, was sentenced to death in January by a court in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

The arrest and sentencing of Kambakhsh, also a university student, drew criticism from a number of Western nations, the Afghan media and rights groups. Kambakhsh downloaded an Iranian article from the Internet and distributed it to friends.

"The court has sentenced Mr. Perwiz Kambakhsh to 20 years jail for the crime he has committed. But this is not the final hearing, he has the right to appeal," judge Abdul Salaam Qazizada told the court.

Under Islamic law -- stipulated in Afghanistan's constitution -- blasphemy is punishable by death.
The offense was distributing an internet article to others. As my previous essay, quoting the Independent, explained:
A young man, a student of journalism, [was] sentenced to death by an Islamic court for downloading a report from the internet. /snip

He was accused of blasphemy after he downloaded a report from a Farsi website [i.e. an Iranian one] which stated that Muslim fundamentalists who claimed the Koran justified the oppression of women had misrepresented the views of the prophet Mohamed.

Mr Kambaksh, 23, distributed the tract to fellow students and teachers at Balkh University with the aim, he said, of provoking a debate on the matter. But a complaint was made against him.

Is this blasphemous, namely
1. a. A contemptuous or profane act, utterance, or writing concerning God or a sacred entity.
b. The act of claiming for oneself the attributes and rights of God.
2. An irreverent or impious act, attitude, or utterance in regard to something considered inviolable or sacrosanct?

Well, no. It doesn't appear to fulfill this definition. Or mine. Or yours, probably.

What kind of justice first gives a death sentence and then modifies it to be 20 years of imprisonment for this ill defined an offense?

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lunes, octubre 20, 2008

Family Guy Disses McSame

domingo, octubre 19, 2008

Gratitude For The Biblioburros

A heartening story from LaGloria, Colombia, in today's New York Times:
In a ritual repeated nearly every weekend for the past decade here in Colombia’s war-weary Caribbean hinterlands, Luis Soriano gathered his two donkeys, Alfa and Beto, in front of his home on a recent Saturday afternoon.

Sweating already under the unforgiving sun, he strapped pouches with the word “Biblioburro” painted in blue letters to the donkeys’ backs and loaded them with an eclectic cargo of books destined for people living in the small villages beyond.

His choices included “Anaconda,” the animal fable by the Uruguayan writer Horacio Quiroga that evokes Kipling’s “Jungle Book”; some Time-Life picture books (on Scandinavia, Japan and the Antilles); and the “Dictionary of the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language.”

“I started out with 70 books, and now I have a collection of more than 4,800,” said Mr. Soriano, 36, a primary school teacher who lives in a small house here with his wife and three children, with books piled to the ceilings.

“This began as a necessity; then it became an obligation; and after that a custom,” he explained, squinting at the hills undulating into the horizon. “Now,” he said, “it is an institution.”
This is truly wonderful. The burros are not named for the Argentinian writer Adolfo Bioys Casares. No, this is about a different kind of labor of love. This is about bringing books and literacy to those in the interior of a war torn country.

How did Sr. Soriano get this idea?
By the time he was in his 20s, Colombia’s long internal war had drawn paramilitary bands to the lawless marshlands and hills surrounding La Gloria, leading to clashes with guerrillas and intimidation of the local population by both groups.

Into that violence, which has since ebbed, Mr. Soriano ventured with his donkeys, taking with him a few reading textbooks, encyclopedia volumes and novels from his small personal library. At stops along the way, children still await the teacher in groups, to hear him read from the books he brings before they can borrow them.
A radio show led to Sr. Soriano's receiving hundreds and hundreds of books, which he now distributes. It is, as he says, an Institution.

What a wonderful idea it is to put into the hands of people who have no real access to books, wonderful books of all kinds. And then to continue to pick them up and to provide others over time. I imagine that this very much brightens readers' lives. I imagine people sitting in the jungle interior of Colombia with candles and kerosene lamps reading the books brought by the Biblioburros. I imagine myself waiting in the sun for the arrival of the burros, wondering whether Sr. Soriano has brought me Cesar Aira, or Juan Carlos Onetti, or Ricardo Piglia, or some other wonder, wondering what treasures he has for me.

I have nothing but gratitude for Sr. Soriano. If there were a way for me to get books to him, or even money for books, I would. But alas, there's no information about that in the Times article. I wish there were.

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viernes, octubre 17, 2008

Baby Beluga

A Beluga Whale

Some great news, and a slap in the face to Sarah Palin. The New York Times reports:
The federal government on Friday placed beluga whales that live in Alaska’s Cook Inlet on the endangered species list, rejecting efforts by Gov. Sarah Palin to keep the whales from coming under the increased protections.

The relatively small, whitish whales, sometimes visible from downtown Anchorage in the inlet’s silvery water, declined by almost 50 percent during the late 1990’s, and federal scientists say they have not rebounded despite protections that included limiting subsistence hunting by Native Alaskans. About 375 whales have been counted in Cook Inlet each of the last two years, according to scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"In spite of protections already in place, Cook Inlet beluga whales are not recovering," James Balsiger, an acting assistant administrator in charge of the agency’s fisheries programs, said in a written statement announcing that the whales were in danger of extinction.

The announcement, whose timing was tied to a predetermined schedule under the Endangered Species Act, drew attention once again to Ms. Palin’s positions on environmental issues. The governor, the Republican nominee for vice president, has come under scrutiny for her ambiguous statements about climate change and her administration’s effort to prevent another species, the polar bear, from being declared a threatened species.
And why is Governor Palin opposed to Belugas? Wanna guess?
As with the polar bear, Ms. Palin’s administration had fought the beluga listing because of its potential to restrict coastal and offshore oil and gas development. The beluga listing also could affect a proposed bridge over Knik Arm that would connect Anchorage to the Matanuska-Valley and Ms. Palin’s hometown of Wasilla.

And here's an appropriate way to celebrate:

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Alton Ellis, RIP

Alton Ellis, the smooth Jamaican singer and songwriter known as the Godfather of Rock Steady, died early Saturday morning in London. He was 70.

He will be missed.

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jueves, octubre 16, 2008

Trance Politics, Part Deux: Joe The Republican Entrepreneur

Pink might be the new Black, Thursday might be the new Friday, and Joe The Plumber (JTP) might be the new Sarah Palin. In other words, yet another gigantic distraction. One with little political or economic substance. Exactly the kind of distraction that diverts us from the economy, Iraq, Afghanistan, universal health care, AIG, the DJIA, Gitmo (remember Gitmo?), renditions and torture and empire and the gaping hole in your 401k. In other words, yet another gift from the sinister mind of Rove and the Traditional MediaTM. Put simply, who gives a damn about anything important when we can play around with bald headed JTP?

Do we need a 12 step program for addiction to political distraction? for addiction to trance politics? for watching the repeated re-re-runs of McSame jumping the shark over and over again? I'm beginning to think we I (it's more therapeutic to remain in the first person) might have a problem that requires some serious, time consuming, expensive shrinkage, the kind that's uncovered by my health insurance. And I think the electorate should line up behind me and take a number. I'm not the only addict in the nation. Far from it.

A brief, but petulant review of my most obvious symptom: researching fallacies and writing about them. I learned the following: JTP is not a plumber. He has no plumbing license. He's never been an apprentice. He doesn't belong to the union. So, the NY Times concludes, ta da!, he's not a plumber. Yes, he runs a plumbing and heating business. Put another way, he is yet another, 34 year-old Republican entrepreneur with serious issues and an axe to grind. And, of course, I care, I really do about his "issues." Not. I bet you do also.

What are Joe's issues? Well, it turns out his name isn't "Joe." It's "Sam". And, he says, Obama "can tap dance - almost as good as Sammy Davis Jr." Source. I said he has issues. Like not using his real name and being a racist pig and not paying his f*cking taxes. But I digress. Digression and distraction go hand in hand.

And what about the alleged business that he was so "interested in buying?" Who knows about that? Nobody's got the details of this possible deal. The Times says he wasn't thinking about buying a brand new business for himself. Or starting one. No. He was "thinking about how to expand his plumbing business." So it turns out that the big fat question he asked Obama was actually nothing more than a hypothetical, nothing more than some more Republican talking point, AM radio BS. And his big question was really vague. So vague, in fact, that you still don't know and can't tell from the reporting whether he was going to draw a $250,000 salary (which would increase his taxes the munificent sum of $300 under the Obama Tax plan from what they would be today if he made that much, which he doesn't) or increase his gross revenues by $250,000, which might result in wages to him of far, far less than $250,000, a circumstance under the Obama plan which would actually decrease his taxes. What kind of moron argues against his own tax benefit in this Republican fueled economic crash?

But never f*cking mind. None of the facts matters. Why? Because we're not talking about facts. We're talking about generalizations and garbage. We're talking memes and talking points and BS. Look. Any half-assed accountant, in fact, anybody with a desire to do so and a pencil could figure out to the penny what the difference in tax consequences would be for this guy. Except for one thing. I bet we all almost forgot what it was: there are no details because the supposed "deal" was entirely, completely, utterly hypothetical. There is nothing to figure out. You don't know, precisely, even now, exactly what he was planning on doing, so you can't figure out what the taxes would be under McSame's regressive, voodoo economics plan or Obama's plan or any other plan including the present one.

That, of course, is incredibly helpful to the doleful McSame (does he remind you of Bob Dole, even a little?). Because, folks, we're talking about talking points. We're arguing about the significance of hypothetical circumstances. And most important, we are not discussing what a douchenozzle McSame is. No, and we're not talking about the economy, Iraq, Afghanistan, health care, AIG, the DJIA, Gitmo, or renditions. Did I mention torture? We're not talking about anything that matters. We're talking about some rightwing crank plumbing entrepreneur, about whom, frankly, I could give a rat's ass, and the vague, hypothetical question he asked Obama, which McSame turned into florid flatulence in a debate and made this the new, reigning distraction for this Thursday.

The best part of this wonderful exchange between Obama and JTP, who is really JTRE:
"Your new tax plan is going to tax me more, isn't it?" [JTRE] asked. Mr. Obama told him, "It's not that I want to punish your success. I just want to make sure that everybody who is behind you - that they've got a chance at success, too."

"Because you're successful, you have to pay more than everybody else?" Mr. Wurzelbacher said on Thursday. "That's a socialist view and it's incredibly wrong."

But he also acknowledged he earns substantially less than $250,000, which would make him eligible under Mr. Obama's plan for a tax cut.

And if Mr. Wurzelbacher bought his plumbing business and began earning more than $250,000, Mr. Obama's campaign said he would get a 50% tax credit to pay for his employees' health care and have a zero per cent capital gains rate.

During Wednesday's debate, the Republican candidate John McCain lashed out at Mr. Obama for fomenting "class warfare" against Joe the Plumber.
That would be "class warfare" against this Republican Entrepreneur. That's rich. That is cut from the very same cloth as criticism of Clarence Thomas is a "high tech lynching." And crticism of Sarah Palin is "sexist." And now, it's JTRE's turn to play Republican victimhood to the fullest, and claim that alas, that rabid socialist Barack Obama is waging the class war against poor, old him, and all the other, rich Republican Entrepreneurs.

Would that it were so.

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Remember Iraq?

domingo, octubre 12, 2008

Not Columbus Day: Baracoa, The Beginning

cross-posted and updated from NION

The Church In Baracoa, Cuba

Across the Caribbean from desde Desdemona is Baracoa, a small town inaccessible by land from before 1500 (when Columbus first landed there in 1492) until the 1960's. In 1512 Baracoa was the first Spanish settlement in Cuba. It's like Macondo. The lush forest of the Sierra Maestre and El Yunque, the tallest peak in Cuba, tower over the town. The town is nestled against the warm ocean. North of town is Maguana, a beautiful, white beach, shared by tourists and occasional foraging pigs.

Join me in Baracoa. We can celebrate Not Columbus Day together.

In the church in Baracoa is a part of one of the original crosses that Columbus planted in Cuba when he first landed there. It's not under guard. To see it, you knock on the back door of the church. Nobody there? Go across the street, as Bardo did, to find someone in the Parochio to let you in. Bardo goes and asks to see El Cruz. The woman behind a counter says ok, let us find the key. She takes Bardo across the street, opens the back door, enters the silent, dark church, and in the nave there it is, in a glass case with no security at all, El Cruz de la Parra . The cross's 500 year old wood (it's been carbon dated) is held up by a metal holder (which is from much later on).

In many ways this is the most important relic, and maybe the most important marker in the history of the Western Hemisphere. It represents the beginning, the zero mile marker on the highway from then to now. If Columbus, instead of planting a cross and taking on the conquest and/or conversion of indigenous people, had said, "This place is really great so let's hang out here and enjoy it with the locals," the last 500 years would have been significantly, inconceivably different. And maybe, Bardo reminds us, a whole lot better. Bardo cannot believe what he's looking at. He makes a small donation to the church, and wanders off into the heat of the day. The woman closes up the church. Nobody else is waiting to see the cross.

If the Cruz were in New York or Madrid, it would have laser Mission Impossible security, armed guards, and lots of publicity around it. Lines of buses of tourists. Souvenir shops. Air conditioning. T-shirt sales. But there's none of that in Baracoa. Just the cross and the empty church in the middle of Baracoa.

Bardo buys a bottle of Habana Club rum ($3.25), sits on the roof of the Casa Particular where he's staying, and wonders if Macondo could be any more beautiful. He decides Baracoa is perfect and beautiful. He loves the way the mountainous jungle cascades to the town at the edge of the ocean. Columbus, he thinks, was right about one thing: Baracoa is one of the most beautiful places Bardo has ever seen. About everything else, he decides, he's with Alejo Carpentier, Columbus was dead wrong.

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sábado, octubre 11, 2008

Yes, Yes, Yes.

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Copa do Mundo de Futsal 2008

A highlight video of goals, this time in the 2008 Futsal World Cup match of Brazil (21 scores) against the Solomon Islands (0 scores), that makes me begin to feel bored and sorry for the underdogs. Almost.

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Clean Coal?

h/t to the Rude Pundit and Shoot The Messnger

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Where Is My Tinfoil Wardrobe?

Hmmm. In Rensselaer County, just minutes north of here, we have an absentee ballot that lists Barack "Osama." The local newspaper dismisses the event as a "typo" (the "b" and the "s" are not near each other on a qwerty keyboard?) because "both sides" say it was a "mistake." Hmmm. The DA says there won't be any charges or an investigation. Hmmm. But "Rensselaer County is the only county in the state that prints ballots in-house." Have we talked to the printers about what happened after everybody proof read the ballot? The article doesn't say.

By day's end, officials decided to issue new ballots to all 300 voters. They realized some people might cross out the misspelling and write in the correct spelling.

"Election law is quite clear that any corrections done on a ballot will nullify the vote, so to be safe, we re-issued them," McDonough said.

One Sand Lake resident who caught the misspelling, and who asked to be anonymous, was skeptical. "It's a little suspicious and at least grossly incompetent," the voter said.

District Attorney Richard McNally said the incident is unlikely to produce a criminal investigation.
Call me crazy, but the "typo" has a certain smell that remains in my nostrils despite all the bipartisan explaining.

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jueves, octubre 09, 2008

Out Of Touch

This is really funny.

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What Are They Doing About All This?

The answer is Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zippo. Zero. They haven't got a clue. They are going to let it all come down, however it comes.

Permit me some extreme grouchiness. And anger. And despair.

People I know were evicted today from their home in the wake of not being able to pay their mortgage. A long legal battle ended. They lost. The Sheriffs were there. There was the cliche, the spectacle of having the young children sit on the curb while the furniture was deposited on the lawn. I don't have $30,000+ to loan them to stop it. Nor do their friends or family. And I don't see Congress or anybody else stepping in to do anything about this. Maybe later on, when they've moved out and lost their home and are living somewhere else. Maybe then there will be some "relief." For somebody else. I wish they lived in Chicago, but they don't.

And then there's this:

The Dow, which indicates (gross generalization ahead) what's happening to money my retired father has saved throughout his long career as a teacher and principal, is now at a new, extremely low level, and my father has lost, by all accounts, more than $200,000. He stands to lose even more. A whole lot more. Maybe everything. So the money he worked his entire life to save is disappearing in thin air. It's not his fault in any way. To the contrary, he did what people are supposed to do: save your money, invest your money responsibly, don't live on credit, don't borrow.

Nobody has any real idea how to stop the fall of the market. I don't see Congress or anybody else stepping in to do anything about this. Maybe later on, when my dad's lost an insurmountable amount, there will be some "relief." For somebody else.

The candidates say they have "plans." Right. McSame says, my friends, he knows how to fix this problem. That, of course, is total nonsense. If he knew how to fix anything, and putting the Country First, where the f*ck has he been, where's his fantastic plan, and why isn't the problem fixed right now? If he could fix the problem, he wouldn't have to run the negative, horsesh*t campaign he's engaged in.

And Barack Obama, who says he's really, really, really concerned about my friends who were just evicted and my father who's losing money more rapidly than he could ever make it, hasn't really got anything that can solve the problem either. If he did, we'd have it in hand right now. We'd know what he says to do. It's not about short term versus long term. He doesn't know how to fix the problem. Or how to stop it in its tracks. Does anybody? He's got nothing that can help. I don't see him stepping in to do anything about this.

It seems hopeless. It makes me despaire. And it can make you crazy. So you have my nomination for "Song of the 2008 Crash":

At least we can still rock out, while we try to find out what, if anything, can be done.

Is there anything that can be done in the short run? I have only two ideas.

First, like Russia or Indonesia, the Government could suspend trading on the stock exchanges across America. Give the exchanges a holiday until Tuesday. They're closed Saturday, Sunday, and Monday anyway. That would at least stop the precipitous fall for now. Until something could be worked out, maybe this weekend in Washington.

Second, the Government could right now enact a freeze on foreclosures and/or foreclosure evictions for a while, while it gets in place something real, an actual safety net, to help people who are losing or have lost their homes. McSame's plan, which bails out lenders who made crappy loans, is not even a partial answer. But a freeze, a stop gap, at least stops the bleeding while something gets figured out, while legislation is enacted.

Doubtless you, dear reader, might have other, productive ideas. Please share them in the comments. I wish I had better ideas. I wish our leaders did. I wish, I wish, I wish.

I'm painfully aware of how much suffering there is in America tonight. I'm aware of the gigantic number of people who are losing their homes. I'm aware of the huge number of people who don't have work. I'm aware of all of the sick people who cannot get health care for acute problems. I'm aware of a vast ocean of suffering in America. Call me crazy, but I'm looking for the same thing as the Buddha looked for, the cessation of suffering. But I just don't know what can be done. I don't have a clue.

Is this what it feels like when you're heart's going to break?

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miércoles, octubre 08, 2008


Perdon, but how can this be? Nezua over at The Unapolgetic Mexican has a box on the front page with scrolling testimonials about him and his blog. Not just one testimonial or two, but many. It's a great blog, and I read it all the time, so it doesn't surprise me that others read it and like it, too. He has testimonials from famous or at least people well known to me. Fine. But I don't have any testimonials. At least not that I know of. So I'm wondering, asking myself, "Like dude, how can it be that you don't have any testimonials? I mean: does nobody dig your blog? Are there no bloguer@s who appreciate your act? And how come they don't write testimonials. Is it because you didn't ask them?" In my head these thoughts sound like utterances by Strong Bad.

There's only one problem. If I had testimonials, what would I do with them? I know. I'd write essays about how brilliant and perceptive the bloguer@s were who wrote the testimonials. This might appear to be a new genre, except purists would claim it was one of the oldest ones, self indulgence. As you may have noticed, I have no problem with that genre.

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lunes, octubre 06, 2008

Farewell, William, Farewell

On Sunday morning, we lost a beloved friend. William Ward, Waldorf teacher extraordinaire, the author of Traveling Light: Walking The Cancer Path, and a friend and inspiration for many years. He was at home with his wife Andy and their two daughters. William was almost 62, he was 2 weeks younger than I, a fact that never failed to amaze us both. "How could we have come this far? Man, I just don't know." His remarkably funny, sensitive and profound book chronicled his journey after he was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

William was an incredible teacher. He traveled the full path from first grade through eighth grade three times, and he was working on his fourth expedition when he was diagnosed and had to retire. His students loved him. Having him as a teacher was an enormous gift.

William was a wonderful, sympathetic listener, and he had a gift for explaining complex phenomena to groups of people. Whenever something was a problem at the school, which was quite often, he was almost always the first person called. He did not have a special position, and his phone number wasn't in the student handbook. He was called because parents recognized that he would listen and understand, and that he would skillfully and patiently explain to them what he understood. He had a great and generous heart.

In his book, William said goodbye:
As we part, here at the edge of Death Valley, I feel like an old prospector handing over a weather-stained chart. “You take this map, sonny. Where I’m goin’ I won’t be needin’ it no more. But while you’re here on the earthly plane, I want you to know there is water, the water of life, deep down, right here. Yonder, atop Solomon’s knob, is the Mother Lode—pay dirt, pure gold, the sun’s tears. The way up is steep. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Up on top you can see forever. Goodbye, God bless and good luck!”
Indeed. Goodbye, William, God bless and good luck. And thank you for a great, powerful incarnation.

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Take The Pledge. Pass It On.

From Bold Progressives:
This week, Democrats helped George W. Bush and Republicans loot the federal treasury and hand billions over to Wall Street.

For some reason, we can never find money for kids' health care, clean energy, or other progressive priorities. But when it comes to right-wing priorities like war and giveaways to failed Wall Street executives, Republicans always find the money and Democrats go along.

There were progressive solutions to the financial crisis that would have truly held Wall Street accountable and helped the middle class. But instead of fighting for a bold progressive alternative, Democrats caved to the least popular president in history.

ENOUGH. Anyone with common sense will vote for Barack Obama and Democratic congressional candidates this November. But it's time for citizens to fight back and take this pledge -- will you join in signing it?

"In 2009 and beyond, I will be part of the movement that pushes Democrats to be bold progressives -- and that helps pass a bold progressive agenda into law."

Sign the Bold Progressives pledge here.

This pledge is endorsed by top progressive bloggers and activists. When you sign, you can also write a message to top Democrats about what bold progressive leadership means -- BlogPAC will deliver it to top staffers for Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, and Steny Hoyer.

What does taking the pledge mean? It means that when Democratic "leaders" tell Americans we must settle for watered-down solutions while bold back-benchers in the House or Senate are pushing strong progressive alternatives, we will clamor for those bold alternatives together until they are passed into law.

What else does it mean? It means we will turn those bold back-benchers into leaders. Just as grassroots progressives fueled Howard Dean's election as Democratic National Committee chair and pushed aside insiders who wanted more of the same, we will make sure that Democratic "leaders" are the ones who actually show bold progressive leadership.

What else does it mean? It means we will no longer just write checks to the Democratic Party and assume they know how best to spend it. We'll give our money to bold progressive candidates -- bypassing the influence of corporate lobbyists and entrenched Democratic insiders who are used to picking the winners and using their purse strings to make bold progressives in Congress fall in line.

Please sign the pledge and then email this message to every progressive you know.

A question: does it make me a top progressive blogger that I'm endorsing this pledge? Who knows.

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domingo, octubre 05, 2008

Reaching Out en Espanol

The Obama campaign is actively pursuing Latino votes. McSame? Apparently he's in a real double bind about this, caught between his strongly anti immigration base and his previous, more moderate positions, his previous positions and the 2008 Republican Platform.
By now, I'm sure you've seen the Mariachis for Obama video:

This is a riot, in part because the subtitles are, well, they're en Espanol tambien. Not important. Maybe it's an attempt to get the votes of Spanish speakers who cannot hear the lyrics. But you get message even if you don't speak Spanish or Spanglish: Obama is wonderful and has an uplifting story to tell. I play this over and over again sin pretencion, because I love mariachis.

Does this video break any new ground because it's in Spanish? Does an appeal to voters in a US election break new ground because it's in Spanish? No, not at all.

Look at this from 48 years ago. Seems that in the 1960 election, Jackie Kennedy did a strong ad (with terrible production values) in Spanish directed at the Latino community in LA (h/t Damn Mexicans):

In English she's saying this:
“Dear friends, I am the wife of Senator John F. Kennedy candidate for the presidency of the United States. In these times of great danger when world peace is threatened by Communism we need a firm hand in the White House, a leader capable of guiding our destinies. My husband will watch out for the interests of all the sectors of society that need the protection of a humanitarian government. For the future of our children and in order to achieve world peace, please vote for the Democratic Party on November 8th.

“Long Live Kennedy!”
So, as Citizen Orange points out about Obama ads in Spanish, "this is not a new happening because Hispanics want to replace the English language, but instead it's a tradition." Exactly.

Meanwhile, the Obama campaign responded to a long questionnaire from The Sanctuary about immigration policy back in mid-September. The responses seem to have flown in under the traditional media's radar. Surprise. Was that because the McSame campaign refused to answer the questionnaire? As a result, The Sanctuary writes:
Since the deadline for responding to The Sanctuary's questionnaire on immigration reform and other issues of concern to Latino voters has long passed without any word from the McCain campaign, today we are releasing in full the responses graciously provided to us by Senator Obama.

While our original intent was to present a meaningful side-by-side comparison of the policies and positions of all presidential candidates in order to better inform voters, Senator McCain's unwillingness to answer our questions, or to go on the record with his positions on the specific details covered in the questionnaire, has made this impossible. Senator McCain's reluctance is all the more troubling in light of the fact that his previously published positions, available on his website, appear to directly contradict those in the official platform coming out of the Republican National Convention earlier this month. This has left many of us who are concerned about immigration reform at a loss to know exactly where the Senator actually stands on vital issues.

I don't agree with many of Obama's positions on immigration. I think he could do much, much better. But you know what? I think he's educable on this. And McSame's waffling around on the issue and refusing to answer The Sanctuary questionnaire is, frankly, scary: who knows what kind of craziness he would enact at the behest of his rightwing, border patrolling friends.

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American Exceptionalism In Reverse

This would be a laugh if it were fiction. But it's not. It's just moronic.

Horace Engdahl, permanent secretary of the Swedish Acadamy, which will award the Nobel Prize in literature on October 9, has this to say about US literature:
As the Swedish Academy enters final deliberations for this year's literature award, permanent secretary Horace Engdahl said that writers from the country that produced Philip Roth, John Updike, Ernest Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald were "too sensitive to trends in their own mass culture," dragging down the quality of their work.

"Of course there is powerful literature in all big cultures, but you can't get away from the fact that Europe still is the centre of the literary world, not the United States," he said.

"The US is too isolated, too insular. They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature. That ignorance is restraining."

Although [the eurocentric, ed.] Mr Engdahl insisted later he had been misunderstood by the Associated Press, with whom he conducted the interview, the chances of the two American authors, Philip Roth and Joyce Carol Oates, thought to be on this year's secret five-person shortlist now look slim.
Oy. The responses, of course, were brutal:
Harold Augenbraum, executive director of US National Book Foundation said: "Put him in touch with me, and I'll send him a reading list.

"Such a comment makes me think that Mr Engdahl has read little of American literature outside the mainstream and has a very narrow view of what constitutes literature in this age."

But David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker magazine, said they came as little surprise since the 16-member Nobel award jury had historically overlooked some of the world's best authors.

"You would think that the permanent secretary of an academy that pretends to wisdom but has historically overlooked Proust, Joyce, and Nabokov, to name just a few non-Nobelists, would spare us the categorical lectures," he said.

"And if he looked harder at the American scene that he dwells on, he would see the vitality in the generation of Roth, Updike, and DeLillo, as well as in many younger writers, some of them sons and daughters of immigrants writing in their adopted English. None of these poor souls, old or young, seem ravaged by the horrors of Coca-Cola."
The last American to win the prize was Toni Morrison in 1993, before Engdahl got his job.

The list of writers who have won the Nobel is really idiosyncratic. The list omits, in addition to Proust, Joyce and Nabokov, Thomas Hardy, Mark Twain, H.G. Wells, WH Auden, Jorge Luis Borges, Robert Frost, Thomas Pynchon, Wallace Stevens, and Rainer Marie Rilke, to begin a very, very long list. Nobody can deduce the algorithm behind the choices, but if Engdahl is taken at his words, it has more to do with the voters than with the books.

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A Satisfactory Novel

Flann O'Brien (1911-1966), whose birthday is today, wrote:
[A] satisfactory novel should be a self-evident sham to which the reader could regulate at will the degree of his credulity. … Characters should be interchangeable as between one book and another. The entire corpus of existing literature should be regarded as a limbo from which discerning authors could draw their characters as required, creating only when they failed to find a suitable existing puppet.
When I need a character for my novel, maybe I should just take one from Vargas Llosa or Juan Carlos Onetti, plug the character in, and keep on going.

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sábado, octubre 04, 2008

My Computer Speaks To Me

h/t to Edger

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viernes, octubre 03, 2008

Well, Homer Simpson's For Obama....

But what about a paper trail for each vote? What about verification of votes? What about not having another a stolen election?

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jueves, octubre 02, 2008

Better Friends

Recently, I needed some money so I could complete a project I was working on. So I called up my friend, Tom, and I asked him if I could have $10,000. He said he'd have to discuss it with his spouse, but then called by later and said, "Sure. Happy to do it. When can you pay it back?"

It's the last sentence that's the issue here. Can you imagine my outrage that he wanted to be paid back, that he wasn't just going to give me the cash? I need a better set of friends. I need friends who will just give me money when I say I need it. I need friends who make gifts and don't appear to expect anything in return.

Maybe I should have responded to his request for repayment by telling him that very, very bad things would happen not just to him, but also to his family, and that they would all be afflicted for the next seven generations if he didn't just pony up the cash and drop the repayment talk. I wouldn't explain how this would happen, or provide details. I'd just emphasize how very, very bad things would be for him, etc etc. It'd just be a strong threat of very bad things. If I had said that, I think he probably would have thought I was committing a crime, trying to extort funds from him by threatening him and his family.

Maybe if I had been making many big monetary gifts contributions to Tom for the past decade, he would have considered my request for payment a "pay back" of some sort. But I don't have any relationships like that, where it's about me buying a potential, future favor. I just try to be generous when friends ask for something. And I always ask when they will pay it back. And I hope my friends will be generous when I ask for something. And I don't ask if I think that there's any chance that I cannot pay it back.

If I lent my friends money for a business venture, I'd expect them to give me some stock in the company, or a promissory note that paid interest. I'd expect to be protected and to be paid back. Silly me.

So evidently, Wall Street has far better friends in Congress than I have in my life. I hope that's not true, but if the bailout bill passes, it will prove the point.

Maybe I could have the right kind of friends if I started befriending a new class of people, people I presently disdain for being fools and suckers. Who else will make a gigantic gift to people who apparently don't need it and expect nothing in return?

Please tell your Congressperson to vote no. Not one centavo. Not one cent. Not one penny. Please email and FAX and telephone them.

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Don't Vote.

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