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

miércoles, diciembre 31, 2008

A Proposal For Your Consideration

Marking Half A Century Of Resistance

50 Years Ago, Fidel Castro gives a 4 hour speech on the road to Havana

In a predictable and conflicted article, The New York Times, the newspaper of record, noticed that today the Cuban Revolution is celebrating its 50th Anniversary, its Golden Anniversary.

The Times writes in the fourth paragraph of an article focusing on how four bodies, presumably from Cuba but perhaps from elsewhere, washed onto a Florida beach in August and have not yet been identified:
Fifty years ago today, many Cubans cheered when Fidel Castro seized power in Havana, and even now the revolution attracts many fans — as evidenced by the Canadian tour agencies advertising trips “to celebrate five decades of resilience.”

But the bodies [the unidentified ones in the morgues] speak to a different legacy. Here in South Florida, where roughly 850,000 Cubans have settled over the years, repeated waves of painful exile and family separation define the Castro era. The revolution never met their hopeful expectations, the island they love has slipped into decay, and for many, this week’s golden anniversary provides little more than a flashback to traumas, old and new.
What a wonderful setting for remembering the 50th Anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. In a morgue. With bodies that might come from the US. That's what the Times feels that Cuba deserves.

Of course, the senseless half century US blockade and the economic failure of the USSR and a continual US policy of economic destabilization might have something to do with the revolution's present economic difficulties. But never mind seeing the many causes of Cuba's complicated isolation and problems. It was "the revolution [that] never met their hopeful expectations..." and, according to the Times, not other factors.

The Times continues:
But for many, the revolution’s 50th anniversary has inspired a period of reflection. Cubans across Florida say they are mourning privately, or trying to forget, and formal commemorations are being kept to a minimum. If Miami in the 1980s was a place of militants, where “Havana vanities come to dust,” as Joan Didion famously wrote, today it is also a home to newer arrivals who ask: Must the pain go on?

A poll released this month by Florida International University shows that 55 percent of Cubans in Florida favor lifting the United States embargo against Cuba, up from 42 percent a year ago. It is the first time a clear majority has held that position since the survey began in 1991.

Even among those who support the 46-year-old embargo, like Senator Mel Martinez, a Republican, continued damage to families has become a more prominent concern.
And while we're at it, let's just ignore, in apportioning the causes for "private mourning," the Bush administration's severely restricting the amount of money US people can send to their relatives in Cuba and its clinging to a blockade that causes "continued damage" to families separated by the Florida Straits.

Even the GoldfatherII had a clearer, more nuanced understanding of the Cuban Revolution.

There are many, many reasons to take serious issue with the Cuban government's record on human rights and freedom of expression and lack of democracy. I don't deny that. But it's a mistake, a tragic mistake to overlook the fact that 50 years ago Cuban Dictator Fulgencio Battista was a US puppet and his nation was ripe for a popular Revolution. He was overthrown by a home grown revolution led by Fidel Castro. And it's equally a mistake to overlook that for half a century a mere 90 miles away from Florida, Castro and his government, who nationalized and seized many foreign owned properties, have weathered exploding cigars, the Bay of Pigs, assassination attempts, destablization, fly overs, threats, a blockade, isolation, and persistent attempts to overthrow him from the most powerful nation on earth.

Credit where credit is due.

Nobody could have predicted 50 years ago that in 2008 Cuba would celebrate the Golden Anniversary of its Revolution in continued isolation. And nobody could have predicted that the US's policy would be such a gigantic failure.

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2008 Ends With Snow

Just as it began. With two crows in the tree. And snow. Plenty of snow.

May you have a joyful, prosperous and healthy New Year!

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martes, diciembre 30, 2008

What, No More Office Supplies From Drug Companies?

The New York Times reports:
To Lehman Brothers, Linens ’n Things and the blank VHS tape, add another American institution that expired in 2008: drug company trinkets.

Starting Jan. 1, the pharmaceutical industry has agreed to a voluntary moratorium on the kind of branded goodies — Viagra pens, Zoloft soap dispensers, Lipitor mugs — that were meant to foster good will and, some would say, encourage doctors to prescribe more of the drugs.

No longer will Merck furnish doctors with purplish adhesive bandages advertising Gardasil, a vaccine against the human papillomavirus. Banished, too, are black T-shirts from Allergan adorned with rhinestones that spell out B-O-T-O-X. So are pens advertising the Sepracor sleep drug Lunesta, in whose barrel floats the brand’s mascot, a somnolent moth.

Some skeptics deride the voluntary ban as a superficial measure that does nothing to curb the far larger amounts drug companies spend each year on various other efforts to influence physicians. But proponents welcome it as a step toward ending the barrage of drug brands and logos that surround, and may subliminally influence, doctors and patients.

This means two things to me, personally. First, it means that that dark blue Prozak mug needs to be stolen from the Public Defender's Office tomorrow because it will eventually be an important relic. And I want it. And second, it means that Goldstein, Bernardo and Quinn bail bondsmen extraordinaire (I really do like them) are unchallenged and retain their paramount position as my favorite suppliers of pens for 2009.

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The Last Word For 2008

lunes, diciembre 29, 2008

Freddie Hubbard, RIP

The NY Times reports:
Freddie Hubbard, a jazz trumpeter who dazzled audiences and critics alike with his virtuosity, his melodicism and his infectious energy, died on Monday in Sherman Oaks, Calif. He was 70 and lived in Sherman Oaks.

The cause was complications of a heart attack he had on Nov. 26, said his spokesman, Don Lucoff of DL Media.

Over a career that began in the late 1950s, Mr. Hubbard earned both critical praise and commercial success — although rarely for the same projects.

He attracted attention in the 1960s for his bravura work as a member of the Jazz Messengers, the valuable training ground for young musicians led by the veteran drummer Art Blakey, and on albums by Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and many others. He also recorded several well-regarded albums as a leader. And although he was not an avant-gardist by temperament, he participated in three of the seminal recordings of the 1960s jazz avant-garde: Ornette Coleman’s “Free Jazz” (1960), Eric Dolphy’s “Out to Lunch” (1964) and John Coltrane’s “Ascension” (1965).
I first heard him live in the early '70's during the New Orleans Jazz Festival. It was on a riverboat cruise. I remember thinking that I was hearing something really special. He will be missed.

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New Year 2009: Bring It On Home To Me

"Bring It On Home to Me" is a 1961 soul song written and recorded by R&B singer-songwriter Sam Cooke. The song, about infidelity, was a hit for Cooke and has become a pop standard covered by numerous artists of different genres. It is one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. Cooke's recorded version has Lou Rawls singing responses as an uncredited background singer.

This song is considered by many historians of soul music to be the founding, or at least definitive soul song, as it provides the formula that is still popular today


The song itself is simple enough:
If you ever change your mind
About leavin', leavin' me behind
Oh, oh, bring it to me
Bring your sweet lovin'
Bring it on home to me, oh yeah

You know I laughed (ha ha) when you left
But now I know I've only hurt myself
Oh, oh, bring it to me
Bring your sweet lovin'
Bring it on home to me.

Yes, it's simple. And there have been so many different versions. So many variations. So many different ways of playing and singing it. Many people have dug deed into their own understanding, their creativity, their desire to express themselves and have chosen this song. It is a truly remarkable vehicle.

It's remarkable how each of the versions is at once the same. And very, very different.

And so, as an illustration of my 2009 resolution, to continue to explore my own voice, to find my own way of expression, to expand in creativity and inventiveness, I give you for your year end inspiration, Bring It On Home To Me, Ten+ Versions:

Otis Redding and Carla Thomas:

Wilson Pickett (no embed)

Sam Cooke:

Rod Stewart and Faces:

Percy Sledge:

John Lennon:

The Animals:

Eddie Floyd:

Lou Rawls:

Brownie McGee and Sonny Terry:


Mickey Gilley:

Doubtless there are others. Many others. You're welcome to add them. Or invent your own.

May this selection inspire you to even greater clarity and creativity in 2009. Happy New Year. Feliz Ano Nuevo.

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domingo, diciembre 28, 2008

Again, A Non-fiction Book Explodes

Long story short: the NY Times says that Berkley Books, a branch of Penguin, has canceled Herman Rosenblat's book, Angel at the Fence. Alas, it seems the love story part of the book is fiction, the life inside a concentration camp part, not so much.

Rosenblatt's agent says:
“It is with heavy heart that I share what I learned today from my client, Herman Rosenblat, about his book, ‘Angel at the Fence.’ Herman revealed to me that part of his memoir was not true. He’d invented the crux of this amazing love story–about the girl at the fence who threw him an apple–which drew my attention when I read it in a major magazine [Guideposts] two years ago. All of the story about Herman in the concentration camps and the love and survival of him and his brothers, he states is true. I understand why Berkley has chosen to withdraw publication of this book. Like millions of others who read this story or saw Herman and Roma on Oprah, I never for a moment questioned the authenticity of the widely circulated story. I know that everyone who has worked so hard with Herman this past year is as stunned and disappointed as I am that this story of hope has such a sad ending.”
Rosenblat himself says:
“To all who supported and believed in me and this story, I am sorry for all I have caused to you and every one else in the world.”

He added: “Why did I do that and write the story with the girl and the apple, because I wanted to bring happiness to people, to remind them not to hate, but to love and tolerate all people. I brought good feelings to a lot of people and I brought hope to many. My motivation was to make good in this world.”
Berkley books says:
In a statement Saturday evening, Berkley Books, which had earlier defended the book, said it decided to cancel publication “after receiving new information from Herman Rosenblat’s agent, Andrea Hurst.” Craig Burke, director of publicity at Berkley, declined to elaborate. Berkeley said it was demanding that Mr. Rosenblat and Ms. Hurst return all money received so far.
For the life of me I am unable to understand for even a nanosecond why this happens. It has happened before, it will happen again. Cannot writers of fiction admit at the front end that they invented parts or all of their story, and that the other autobiographical, historical parts are accurate?

I suspect this has something to do with the sentimental reading public's desire for uplifting true stories, particularly in bad times, and publishers' thirst for "amazing, uplifting stories," stories too good to be true. I wonder why, apart from ego and greed, writers continue the ruse of claiming that their inventions are non-fiction, and why publishers, ordinarily so mercenary, are so gullible about this particular transgression.

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Peru: In Search Of Arguedas

Jose Maria Aguedas (1911-1969) (photo by Jose Gushkin)

I have to begin with Mariategui, the street in Cuzco, and then the man.

We decided to take a cab to find Don Francisco's new house in Cuzco, Peru. He is a Q'ero Shaman, and we wanted to do a shamanic ceremony with him and his wife and eat lunch with them. We wanted to visit him at his home as he had visited us at ours in the US. He gave us the address. He gave us his cell number. He gave us a land mark. We ended up calling him on the cell phone to say, "We're parked at the church. We don't know where you are." He walked down the hill and found us. Pointing, he said, that street is Mariategui. That's where the bus goes into Centro. That's where you have to walk. That's where the house is.

Did he know who Mariategui was? Probably not. I forgot to ask him. I am quite certain that he never read him.

Juan Carlos Mariategui (1894-1930), was the founder of the Peruvian Communist Party, and is most famous for his essays, "Seven Interpretive Essays on Peruvian Reality," which are still being read today. The shortest Wiki summary:
[In 1928], he published his best-known work, Seven Interpretative Essays on Peruvian Reality, in which he examined Peru's social and economic situation from a Marxist perspective. It was considered one of the first materialist analyses of a Latin American society. Beginning with the country’s economic history, the book proceeds to a discussion of the “Indian problem", which Mariátegui locates firmly within the “land problem”. Other chapters are devoted to public education, religion, regionalism and centralism, and literature.

Also in the same work, Mariátegui blamed the latifundistas, or large land-owners, for the stilted economy of the country and the miserable conditions of the indigenous peoples in the region. He observed that Peru at the time had many characteristics of a feudal society. He argued that a transition to socialism should be based on traditional forms of collectivism as practiced by the Indians. In a famous phrase, Mariátegui stated "the communitarianism of the Incas cannot be denied or disparaged for having evolved under an autocratic regime."

In Peru in 2008 the Indians still practice collectivism. The clearest example is in the assignment of fields on the Andean mountainsides. The higher the field, the more limited the crop. The highest fields, which are far colder in temperature, are good for growing only potatoes or perhaps turnips. The lower fields, which are much warmer, are good for growing maiz, and squash, and beans. The fields are communally owned. And they are communally assigned. It would not be fair always to have a high plot, or a low one. So each year there is a shuffling of the fields. It has been like this for hundreds and hundreds of years.

And, of course, there are terraced Inca ruins in places like Marai, near Urubamba, which are thought to have been for experimentation about what will grow best at what altitude and for germinating new temperature resistant varieties of corn and potatoes. After all, potatoes and choclo, big kernal corn that looks like hominy, are Peruvian staples and they have been for centuries.

Jose Maria Arguedas was born into the world of the conflicts Mariategui described. According to a Wiki,
[A] Peruvian novelist, poet, and anthropologist who wrote mainly in Spanish, although some of his poetry is in Quechua. Arguedas was ethnically Mestizo, being of mixed Spanish and Quechua descent himself... He was brought up in poverty amongst Quechua Indians, and learned Quechua before Spanish. He studied anthropology at the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos and worked as an anthropologist for the rest of his life.

Arguedas began by writing short stories about the indigenous environment in which he was brought up, in a Spanish highly influenced by Quechua syntax and vocabulary. By the time of his first novel, Yawar Fiesta (the name means "Blood Fiesta"), he had begun to explore the theme that would obsess him for the rest of his career: the clash between white "civilization" and the indigenous, "traditional" way of life. In this he was part of the Indigenista movement in South American literature. He continued to explore this theme in his next two books Los Ríos Profundos ("Deep Rivers") (1961) and Todas las Sangres (1964). His work showed the violence and exploitation of race relations in Peru's small rural towns and haciendas, while portraying Indian characters as gentle and childlike.

Arguedas was moderately optimistic about the possibility of a rapprochement between the forces of "tradition" and the forces of "modernity" until the 1960s, when he became more pessimistic. In his last (unfinished) work, El zorro de arriba y el zorro de abajo ("The Fox From Up Above and the Fox From Down Below") (1969),... expressed his despair and conclusion that the 'primitive' ways of the Indians could not survive against the onslaught of modern technology and capitalism. At the same time that Arguedas was becoming more pessimistic about race relations in his country, younger indigenist intellectuals became increasingly militant, often criticizing his work in harsh terms for his poetic, romanticized treatment of indigenous and rural life. In a deep depression, Arguedas committed suicide in 1969.

I got a copy of Deep Rivers from for $1 plus shipping. It's a coming of age novel told by the narrator about his life as a boarding student in a Catholic school in Abancay, Peru, in the Southern Andes. I'm not giving the plot away. Suffice it to say that in the middle of the book, the Indians, led by Dona Felipa, a woman who runs a chicheria (chicha is a fermented corn beer), rise up in an insurrection and seize salt from a warehouse, where it is being held by rich land owners, and they distribute it to poor people in nearby villages who need it. The army later arrives to "restore order."

The conflict between the land owners and the peasants, between the Spanish and Indian cultures, between the rich and the poor, between the capitalists and the communalists, so deeply analyzed by Maritegui stands at the center of the novel. But the novel isn't a polemic. It remains the poetic story of the coming of age of the narrator in an environment in which it is believed that a special, spinning, toy top can carry thoughts across the mountains to loved ones. And in which it's believed that water, too, can carry words. And in which the Church does not appear to conflict with these beliefs any more than the Indiginous Mass, held outside the Cathedral in Cuzco, conflicts with the later one inside the building.

It's easy to see why by the late 1960's Arguedas's description of indigenous people would be criticized. Arguedas describes the Indians as if they were simple children easily manipulated by the Church and accepting of the violence of the landowners. He does not find or describe the seeds of incipient militancy that by the 1980's would spawn Sendero Luminoso and produce in Peruvian fiction works like Mario Vagas Llosa's Death in the Andes. Regardless, the book is a remarkably beautiful work full of Quechua poetry and a memory of a world far, far away:
K'arwarasu is the Apu, the regional god of my native village. It has three snowy peaks towering above a mountain range of black rock. Around it there are many lakes, where pink-plumed cranes live. The kestrel is the symbol of K'arwarasu. The Indians say that during Lent he emerges from the highest peak in the guise of a firebird and pursues the condors, breaking their backs, making them whimper and humiliating them. Flashing like lightning, he flies over the planted fields, across the cattle ranches, and then sinks down into the snow.

The Indians invoke K'arwarasu only in times of great danger. They have only to pronounce his name, and the fear of death vanishes.

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jueves, diciembre 25, 2008

Bush Giveth And Then Taketh Away

How very awkward. And how very typical. On December 24, Preznit Bush suddenly became concerned about appearances and revoked a pardon he gave New York real estate developer Isaac Toussie the day before, after reports surfaced that Toussie’s family gave almost $40,000 to Republicans.

Of course, the White House mouthpiece immediately took the story through a muddy spin cycle:
White House press secretary Dana Perino said neither Bush nor counsel Fred Fielding was aware of the GOP contributions from the father of Isaac Robert Toussie, who had been convicted of mail fraud and of making false statements to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Perino said Bush had also been unaware of other aspects of the Toussie case that were revealed in news reports yesterday.

"Looking at the totality of the case, more could have been described to the president," Perino said. "The political contributions certainly were not known. It raises the appearance of impropriety, so the president prudently decided not to go through with the pardon."

Now that is one gigantic humdinger for those with short memories. "More could have been described to the president." This is the man, you will recall, who as Governor decided to reject Texas death row pleas for clemency on extremely short, incomplete, flawed memos from Alberto Gonzalez that routinely omitted information about possible innocence or rehabilitation while incarcerated. As The Atlantic wrote in 2003,
As the legal counsel to Texas Governor George W. Bush, Alberto R. Gonzales—now the White House counsel, and widely regarded as a likely future Supreme Court nominee—prepared fifty-seven confidential death-penalty memoranda for Bush's review. Never before discussed publicly, the memoranda suggest that Gonzales repeatedly failed to apprise Bush of some of the most salient issues in the cases at hand.
So, yeah, the Preznit could have known more about Toussie. But it didn't matter before that the Preznit (as governor) regularly denied clemency on inaccurate and incomplete information, not when 152 people's actual lives were on the line, and that "more could have been described to the Preznit" when he made those decisions. Those denials of clemency (and the resulting 152 executions) somehow didn't have an "appearance of impropriety." To the contrary, appearances didn't matter at all to George W. Bush. Take Karla Fay Tucker as an example:
In the year following her execution, conservative commentator Tucker Carlson questioned Governor Bush about how the Board of Pardons and Parole had arrived at the determination on her clemency plea. Carlson alleged that Bush, alluding to a televised interview which Karla Faye Tucker had given to talk show host Larry King, smirked and spoke mockingly about her:

In the weeks before the execution, Bush says, "A number of protesters came to Austin to demand clemency for Karla Faye Tucker." "Did you meet with any of them?" I ask. Bush whips around and stares at me. "No, I didn't meet with any of them", he snaps, as though I've just asked the dumbest, most offensive question ever posed. "I didn't meet with Larry King either when he came down for it. I watched his interview with Tucker, though. He asked her real difficult questions like, 'What would you say to Governor Bush?'" "What was her answer?" I wonder. "'Please,'" Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation, "'don't kill me.'" I must have looked shocked — ridiculing the pleas of a condemned prisoner who has since been executed seems odd and cruel — because he immediately stops smirking.
That wasn't an "appearance of impropriety."

And then we have the question whether the Preznit can revoke a pardon once he's actually granted it. I have seen no precedent that a pardon once granted can be revoked:
Under the Constitution, the president's power to issue pardons is absolute and cannot be overruled — meaning he can forgive anyone he wants, at any time.

Perino said she did not know of another instance of a pardon reversal in "recent memory," but that the White House couldn't say for sure it never had happened before.
Source. In other words, once again Bush has taken the executive branch into legal areas it's never blundered into before.

There is, of course a reason why the White House spin cycle waffles around on the topic of revoking the pardon, claiming instead that "the president decided not to go through with the pardon." Perino would have you believe that the pardon was still in process, that it hadn't actually been granted yet. But that apparently is not the case. Counsel for Toussie, who knows the process and was remarkably successful at it, apparently thought the pardon was a done deal:
Berenson said in a statement that Toussie "is deeply grateful that both the Counsel to the President and the President himself found Mr. Toussie's pardon application to have sufficient merit to be granted."
And obviously, the Preznit doesn't have to revoke a pardon if he hasn't granted one. Ooops.

Why does that matter? It's a matter of due process of law. When the government has given somebody something, whether that something is a right or a privilege, if taking it away imposes a grievous loss, there has to be procedural due process involved in the taking. Examples abound. If someone receives certain government benefits, s/he is entitled to a hearing before those benefits can be taken away. If someone is on parole, s/he is entitled to a hearing before parole can be revoked and taken away. The same for probation. Once a conditional liberty has been granted, it requires procedural process of some kind to end it. On the other hand, if the decision to grant parole has not actually been made, and the process of evaluation is continuing, no procedural due process may be required. So, if the Preznit actually issued a pardon, the recipient is entitled to a hearing before it can be taken away. Did the Preznit actually grant the pardon? Apparently he did.

How ugly. This preznit has been an expert at exercising powers he doesn't actually have (examples include torture, signing statements, domestic surveillance, illegal extraditions, etc). Here's a power he actually has, the pardon power, an unreviewable power of the executive, and he cannot exercise it properly. He grants it, he illegally revokes it. He giveth, he taketh away.

Failure, thy name is Bush.

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domingo, diciembre 21, 2008

Joyous Holidays To All From The Dream Antilles

Felices Fiestas! Queremos tomar esta tiempo para ofrecerle nuestros mejores deseos a usted y sus seres queridos. Esperamos que su hogar este lleno de gozo, cordialidad y buena voluntad durante esta temporada de fiestas. Que usted y su familia gozen de paz, felicidad y buena salud durante el nuevo ano.

Seasons Greetings! We'd like to take this time to extend our very best wishes to you and your loved ones. We hope your home will be filled with joy, warmth and goodwill during this holiday season. May you and your family enjoy peace, happiness, and good health throughout the coming year.

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sábado, diciembre 20, 2008

Mississippi Supreme Court Dissenting Opinion Calls For Death Penalty Abolition

Mississippi has long supported the death penalty. So it is remarkable when a Mississippi Supreme Court Justice writes a dissenting opinion in a death penalty case that calls for the abolition of the death penalty. In Doss v. State (pdf), Justice Oliver Diaz, Jr., did just that, he called for the end of the death penalty.

The Sun Herald reports:
Outgoing Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz Jr.'s impassioned call for an end to the death penalty has drawn both criticism and praise.

In what was likely his departing dissent as his tenure on Mississippi's highest court ends, Diaz says society finally must recognize that "even as murderers commit the most cruel and unusual crime, so too do executioners render cruel and unusual punishment."

Jimmy Robertson, a Jackson attorney who served on the state Supreme Court from 1983 to 1992, said Diaz laid out a number of points, including that the death penalty is not a deterrent to murder, that were "pretty close to being irrefutable to anybody that's objective on the question."
The criticism in the Sun Herald article was provided not by Mississippians but instead solely by Kent Scheidegger, legal director for the pro-death penalty Criminal Justice Legal Foundation of Sacramento, a right wing, pro death penalty organization, who provided the usual shop worn generalities.

Justice Diaz's dissent came in the case of Anthony Doss who sought a new trial because the trial court never explored his claims of mental retardation or the adequacy of the representation he received at trial from a court-appointed attorney with no death penalty experience. Doss was sentenced to death fifteen year ago, in 1993, for his role in the armed robbery and killing of a convenience store clerk, Robert C. Bell.

Diaz wrote:
"Just as a cockroach scurrying across a kitchen floor at night invariably proves the presence of thousands unseen, these cases leave little room for doubt that innocent men, at unknown and terrible moments in our history, have gone unexonerated and been sent baselessly to their deaths."

"All that remains to justify our system of capital punishment is the quest for revenge, and I cannot find, as a matter of law, that the thirst for vengeance is a legitimate state interest. Even if it is, capital punishment's benefit over life imprisonment in society's quest for revenge is so minimal that it cannot possibly justify the burden that it imposes in outright heinousness."
The entire dissent is here (pdf) beginning at page 25.

This dissent is incredibly important to me. In 1984 I represented on appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court a man who had been convicted of murder and sentenced to death in Gulfport, Mississippi. I handled this appeal without charge. I volunteered to do it (the story of how that happened is a separate essay for another day). Fortunately, I was successful and the conviction itself in State v. James Moffett, 456 So.2d 714 (1984), was reversed.

Back then, 24 years ago, if I had been appointed by the Mississippi Supreme Court to handle the appeal, I could have received the magnificent sum of $900 for my work. I didn't even get the $900 because the Court denied my motion to be appointed. I spare you the arithmetic of dividing this theoretical, gigantic sum by the number of hours I spent on the case. You don't need to figure out how much I would have made per hour. I wasn't doing the case for money. I did it because of an intense passion against the death penalty. But anybody who does criminal defense work knows that unless people are volunteering to provide free representation, which is an incredible gift and makes me extremely proud of those who do so, the accused gets a defense that's probably worth about what the state pays for it. Pleases note: this is not a slap at my extremely persistent and dedicated brothers and sisters in the defense bar who are the exception that prove the rule. They do incredible work because of their passion, not because of what they're paid. But they aren't the only ones handling these cases. On another day, as an illustration of this point, we can review all of the decisions courts have written about sleeping lawyers in death penalty trials.

Significantly, the topic of compensation and its relationship to the quality of defense arises in footnote 1 in Justice Diaz's dissent:
It must be noted that the unworkability of our capital punishment
system is due in no small part to the State’s utter inattention to publicly funded defense. The Mississippi indigent defense system is wholly inadequate to provide meaningful representation to the poorest criminal defendants. As Justice Graves has stated, “the State of Mississippi has failed to establish or fund a system of indigent defense that is equipped to provide all defendants with the tools of an adequate defense, and has therefore fallen short of its constitutional obligation.” Quitman County v. State, 910 So. 2d 1032, 1052 (Miss. 2005) (Graves, J., dissenting). Amazingly, in all criminal cases, court-appointed attorneys are entitled to no more than $1,000 compensation. Miss. Code Ann. § 99-15-17 (Rev. 2007). This problem is hardly a new one; in 1994, Justice Blackmun noted that Mississippi’s capital defense attorneys were compensated at an average rate of $11.75 per hour. McFarland v. Scott, 512 U.S. 1256, 1258, 114 S. Ct. 2785, 129 L. Ed. 2d 896 (1994) (Blackmun, J., dissenting from denial of certiorari).

Put another way, a death penalty trial isn't really a fair fight. It's not meant to be. The defense is almost always over matched by the state's endless resources. And that, I am sorry to report, is exactly the state's intention. The result is a flawed system that for this reason alone should be ended.

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viernes, diciembre 19, 2008

Doing Time

As the holidays approach, I turn as I do every year to focus on those who are incarcerated. This isn't the result of the religious injunction in Matthew 25:44 about visiting those in prison. It's because my business is to defend people charged with serious crimes, and I'm painfully aware that when the defense doesn't work, and it often doesn't, the client pays with with what the Thirteenth Amendment blandly calls "involuntary servitude." That means being a slave of the state. For a long time. A time measured in years. And it's as bad as it sounds.

The 12/31/2007 figures from the Department of Justice reveal the size of the US prison complex and the huge number of people confined in it:

– 2,293,157 prisoners were held in federal or state prisons or in local jails – an increase of 1.5% from yearend 2006, less than the average annual growth of 2.6% from 2000-2006.
– 1,532,817 sentenced prisoners were under state or federal jurisdiction.
– there were an estimated 506 sentenced prisoners per 100,000 U.S. residents – up from 501 at yearend 2006.
– the number of women under the jurisdiction of state or federal prison authorities increased 1.7% from yearend 2006, reaching 114,420, and the number of men rose 1.8%, totaling 1,483,896.

That means that there are more than 3.7 million people who are in prison or jail or under supervision at this minute. So that you can visualize just what these people look like, there's this:

At yearend 2007 there were 3,138 black male sentenced prisoners per 100,000 black males in the United States, compared to 1,259 Hispanic male sentenced prisoners per 100,000 Hispanic males and 481 white male sentenced prisoners per 100,000 white males.

Put another way, the prison population is disproportionately male, black and hispanic. We don't need a long discourse to explain this and the obvious racial injustice in the disparity.

But my concerns here are more human than statistical. The walls keep us out. They keep us from thinking about the prisoners. From noticing them. But to be truly human, and to be truly responsible as citizens, we need to be aware of the human side of the imprisonment factory.

How can we conceive of the vast ocean of human misery behind these figures? Is it even possible to describe what long term incarceration is like?

There's a wonderful book by Jarvis Jay Masters, who remains on Death Row at San Quentin, Finding Freedom: Writings From Death Row, that conveys the heartbreaking reality of long term prison in short stories. These stories break my heart.

In one story, a prisoner is finally released after serving decades. His sentence has finally expired. He gives other prisoners all of his belongings, which is a kind of tradition, a statement of solidarity with those who remain behind. A way of saying, "Stay strong." He leaves behind a wrist watch. The person whom he gives the watch thinks it is broken because it does not tick. He cannot hear it ticking. He takes it out on the yard to find somebody who knows how to fix watches, hoping that the watch might be repaired. Only thing is, it doesn't need fixing. He's been locked up for so long that he's missed the change from analog, ticking watches to those with electric clockworks.

Can we feel the isolation and distance and pain of this? Can we understand as well that the job of constantly guarding those the state incarcerates is also frustrating, boring, mind sapping, dangerous work? The prisoners are not alone in suffering in this penal world; everyone in it suffers and aches.

Unfortunately, upon release things aren't always that much better for prisoners. Can we imagine what it's like when someone who endures and survives long term imprisonment is finally released? Can we imagine how strange the world looks? And how frightening? And how dangerous?

Recently, I met a man who was seriously mentally ill. He had served every single day of a 27-year sentence. When he was mandatorily released, his sentence had expired. There was no supervision of any kind. No counselors, no parole officers. Nothing. They gave him a suit, $40, 2 weeks' supply of his psych medications, and they put him on a Greyhound bus to an upstate, New York city. When he arrived, his sister ultimately relented and agreed to take him in. If he behaved. If he took his meds. If he went to look for work. If he behaved himself. Long story short: he didn't refill his prescription. Maybe he didn't want to. Maybe he didn't have money for it. Maybe his Medicaid application was delayed. Nobody's really clear what happened.

One night he finally broke down and in a fit of anger destroyed his sister's kitchen table. She called the cops not to have him arrested but to get him out of the apartment, to get him some help, to get him to a hospital, to calm him down. When the police arrived, he refused to move. They ordered him to put his hands behind his back. He refused. He wouldn't move. At all. They didn't call for a mental health assist, or an ambulance, or a shrink. No. They decided to subdue him because he was not following their verbal commands. A month after his release, a release that came after 27 years, he found himself in jail again, charged with the assaulting officers his sister called to help him. Can we imagine how painful this is?

The stories could go on and on. You cannot see what prison is like in those old grainy movies where the prisoners bang their tin cups on the bars, make license plates, break rocks with a sledge hammer, and steal shards of metal from the mattress factory to make shivs. Or where they cut the grass at the side of the highway. Or where they chop cotton. Modern incarceration isn't like that. It isolates the confined far more thoroughly. It deprives them of all human touch. It deprives of company. It puts cold steel and glass where bars once were.

The walls keep the prisoners in. But they also keep the world out. Inside there's no real education, training, treatment. Outside we don't know what's happening in our names. And we don't really care. The prisons in upstate New York are the only employment for miles in an economy with nothing else. The cities provide the people to be jailed and watched and fed and clothed. We pay the taxes for all of this, but probably have never been inside a real jail or prison, and probably never will be. We just don't know what it's like. And it's oh so easy to forget about all of this.

Oscar Wilde was right to say, when he saw the convicts at Reading, "Well, if that's how the queen treats her convicts, she doesn't deserve to have any."

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The First Snow

Maybe all of the people who lost power during the ice storm have gotten their power turned back on. I hope they have. Because now we're having a massive snow storm. The prediction for tonight is up to 16 inches of snow.

The New York Times reports:
Airplanes huddled at their gates, schools closed and salt trucks skittered across icy highways on Friday as the winter’s first major storm clawed its way across the country, blasting millions of Americans in the Midwest and Northeast with snow squalls and blistering winds. ...

[A]nd more than 500 flights were canceled at the three airports in the New York area.

Planes bound for John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City were being delayed three hours and 20 minutes while flights into LaGuardia were being delayed two hours, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Flights into Newark International Airport were lagging five hours behind schedule.

Road travel was treacherous from county roads in Iowa to interstates in Massachusetts as the storm shellacked highways with a layer of treacherous black ice and frosted it with several inches of snow. In one corner of northeast Iowa, officials were forced to pull snowplows off the road because of whiteout conditions.
It's snowing very hard as I write this. The flakes are small ones, and, of course, all sound is muffled. All lights in the distance are dimmed. There is no traffic. The dog lies in the snow and rolls on her back. The fire crackles. And, of course, it's pitch dark at 4:45 pm.

Earlier, I drove to Agway in Chatham to buy bird seed. The feeders were empty, and two had fallen down in the ice storm. I put them back up, and I filled them. But there were no birds late this afternoon, and I did not hear them. They were huddled in safe places, waiting, waiting patiently, waiting for the storm to end. The man at Agway said the storm would be a quick one with a very deep snow. Out here we endow feed retailers with special expertise in these outdoor matters.

I can only hope that all who need to find shelter find it. This is not a good night to be stranded on city street. Or in a car.

I also hope that all who are safe and warm can go briefly outside and enjoy without any mediation the profound beauty of this first, big snow storm.

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jueves, diciembre 11, 2008

The Night Of The Ice (With Update And Gratitude)

Chatham, New York, SE of Albany

If I had one of those Weather Channel jackets, right now I could stand in the yard and narrate this essay. Then you'd be able to see me looking into the camera, the rain falling falling falling sideways from the sky, hitting the earth and everything else, and freezing. Immediately. Everything glistens in its coat of ice. Trees. Houses. Grass. The dog has ice chunks on her tail. Wind and rain blow into the microphone making a whooshing sound. It's a special genre: Heavy Weather. Upstate, Eastern New York.

This morning was ridiculous, and the brunt of the storm hadn't even arrived. The car doors were iced shut. When I finally got them open, I had to scrape thick ice off the windows. That took a long time. Then the driving. I had to stop because the windshield was again freezing up. Why, I want to know, does the air conditioner go on in this car when you press defrost? It's a mystery. Why is the car fishtailing down the road, skidding happily along?

And, as if that weren't more than enough, tonight between 7 pm ET and 7 am ET, is supposed to be the heaviest accumulation of ice. The radio says that, ut oh, trees might fall down on power lines, so you, dear listeners, can freeze and sit in the dark. The radio says that you should stay off of the roads no matter what, as if we were some kind of idiots who want to drive around on roads that deserve to have their own Zambonis.

Strangely, this is not a drag. Not at all. It's just like this, Dar Williams's Southern California Wants To Be Western New York:
There's a part of the country could drop off
tomorrow in an earthquake,
Yeah it's out there on
the cutting edge, the people move, the sidewalks
And there's another part of the country
with a land that gently creaks and thuds, Where
the heavy snows make faucets leak in bathrooms
with free-standing tubs.
They're in houses that
are haunted, the with kids who lie awake and think
All the generations past who used to use
that dripping sink.

And sometimes one place wants to slip into the
other just to see
What it's like to trade its
demons for the restless ghost of Mrs. Ogilvey,
She used to pick the mint from her front yard to dress
the Sunday pork,
Sometimes southern California
wants to be western New York.

It wants to have a family business in sheet metal
or power tools,
It wants to have a diner where the
coffee tastes like diesel fuel,
And it wants to find the glory of a town they say has hit the
And it wants to have a snow day that will
turn its parents into kids,
And it's embarrassed,
but it's lusting after a SUNY student with mousy
brown hair who is
Taking out the compost, making
coffee in long underwear.

Sometimes southern California wants to be
western New York.

And they'll have puttering on rainy weekends,
autumn days that make you feel sad,
They'll have hundred year old plumbing and the family you never
And a Hudson River clean-up concert and a
bundle-bearing stork,
And I hear they've got a
menu planned, it's true
It's western New York.

Except it's Eastern New York.

Update: (6:17 pm ET, 12/12). The power went off at about midnight. The ice apparently pulled down branches which in turn pulled down electric wires. Lots of them. I awoke at 6 am in the dark to see that there was no power. And silence in the house. I could hear the wall clock in the bathroom ticking. Otherwise, no furnace sound. No humming from anything. Cold and silent. Outside beautiful and chaotic. A glistening coating of corruscating ice on everything, but ice is heavy, so trees bend, evergreens pull in their elbows, many limbs snap off, you can hear the snapping, lots of trees fall and block roadway, many wires break and fall onto roadways. Out here no electricity means no heat, no pump for water, no lights, no Internet. And most important when there are huge rains, as we had last night, no electricity means no sump pump to drain the basement.

9 am. I walked down the road-- the road itself was fairly clear-- to the Spencertown Volunteer Fire Department. Lots of cars, only one truck still there, many people. Do I want a cup of coffee? No, I just want to get my basement pumped. Talk to him, pointing. A couple hours later, Steve showed up with a pump and sussed it all out. He said it was thousands of gallons of water. Just in time, the water was about 6" deep and slowly climbing toward the vitals of the aging boiler. Said Steve the Fireman, the infrastructure for electricity around here was last updated in 1974, and it needs to be completely overhauled. That's one of the reasons why I have half a foot of water in my basement, fear and dread that my boiler will die, fear and dread of the insurance claim.

9:30 am. I got a call on the only landline phone in the house that's working (cell phones don't work out here) that the County has declared a county wide state of emergency. That means everything is closed, stay off the roads, and there are shelters if you want/need one. I called the NYSEG hotline number. The animated voice told me that power would be restored by 10 pm on Sunday night. Not good. This, I thought, is going to be extra uncomfortable for a very, very long time. I looked out the window. It was snowing. It was really pretty.

The rest of the day. I spent the day near the fireplace. I hauled and split wood. My dog friend rolled on the ice and snow. The cats went in and out. I read. I fell asleep near the fire for about an hour. I awoke to a cold house and dull sunlight at the horizon. The ice on the weeping crab apple tree glinted.

4:30 pm. I realized I needed bottled water, because the pressure in my house was about gone and the tap was going to stop working. I drove to the supermarket. All the big water bottles were gone. But thank goodness, there was a deal, $3.99 for 24 small bottles of Poland Spring nicely packaged in plastic. Perfect. Only when I checked out, the cashier told me that I don't get that sale price without "the card." I said, "You gotta be kidding, right?" The guy behind me in line shrugged, handed the cashier his card. I thanked him.

5:07 pm. When I drove home, I noticed that various houses I passed now had lights. My house was still dark. I went into the house. I heard a sound. It was the aging boiler chugging along. The lovely sound of the boiler making hot water, making heat, burning expensive oil. How wonderful, what a great system. I turned on all of the lights, I reset the thermostat on the hot tub, I turned up the heat. I fed the animals. They were ravenous.

I am absolutely delighted that I have electricity. I know that there are literally tens of thousands of people who do not have it back yet. I notice the ironies. Moments before I got my electricity back, I was thinking that temperatures were supposed to fall this evening, and I was afraid that my pipes would all freeze tonight, making an even more colossal mess. And now, now that that emergency has vanished, I'm chagrined that the ice maker in the refrigerator hasn't been making ice (doh!) so the cubes are all stuck together. I pour myself a glass of fizzy mandarin orange Poland Spring (a treat I bought along with the 24 pack). This, I think, is wonderful. It has all of the excellent qualities of non alcoholic beer without the beer taste. Salud!

My gratitude goes out to Steve the Fireman, the Spencertown Volunteer Fire Department, the NYSEG lines people who were out all day, and still out now, trying to make a 34 year old system deliver reliable energy. My gratitude also goes out to all of the NY State Transportation workers, the Columbia County DPW workers, and the Town of Austerlitz DPW, all of whom spent the day clearing roads closed by downed trees mixed in with live wires.

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OMG! Bush Isn't A Bible Literalist

Well you sure could have fooled me. And a million Bible Thumpers. And probably most of the Republican Party. And certainly all of the so-called "social conservatives." Raw Story reports (with video in the story):

George W. Bush's recent statement that he believes the Bible is "probably not" literally true has apparently left many Christian conservatives reeling in shock.

David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network told CNN"s John Roberts on Thursday, "I think a lot of social conservative evangelicals were surprised -- probably grabbing the smelling salts as we speak."

Bush made the controversial statement during a Monday interview on ABC's Nightline. When asked whether he thinks the Bible is literally true, he replied, "Probably not. No, I'm not a literalist, but I think you can learn a lot from it." ...snip

Bush further stated in the interview, "I think that God created the Earth ... and I don't think it's incompatible with the scientific proof that there is evolution."

Woah. Just hold on there, Nellie. You have to wonder whether he's drinking. I don't know how you can square Genesis with evolution. Genesis says the world and all of its creatures were created in a week. That's why dinosaurs and cavemen romped together. Evolution takes a little longer. So there's a small problem. Call it a contradiction between the two.

So how, you might ask, can Commander Codpiece tell us the two aren't "incompatible?" I'll tell you. In Bush world, there's no logic. There's just repetition and saying what, you know, his gut tells him, after looking somebody in the eye, tells him to say.

I cannot wait for January 20. What's more, the nation can't either.


domingo, diciembre 07, 2008

Cuba Stifles Blog Freedom. Again.

La Bloguera Yoani Sanchez

Cuban Blogger Yoani Sanchez, the 2008 Gasset y Ortega Prize winner for digital journalism, and her husband, Reynaldo Escobar, have been forbidden by the Cuban government from attending a blogger conference in Cuba.

Join me 90 miles South of Miami.

AP reports:
Police have prohibited Cuba's most prominent blogger from attending an independent cyber-workshop and warned that her activities ran afoul of the law, her husband said Friday.

Yoani Sanchez and husband and fellow blogger Reynaldo Escobar were summoned separately Wednesday to a police station near their apartment in Havana's Vedado district and reprimanded, Escobar said in a telephone interview.

Authorities told the couple they could not travel to the western province of Pinar del Rio for a two-day blogger's workshop scheduled to begin Friday night.

"We aren't attending the inauguration of the workshop, which has not been suspended. We've just changed the dynamic of how we are meeting," said Escobar, without elaborating.
You can read about the "reprimand" at Generacion Y, Sanchez's blog (in Spanish, but there's a rough translation feature), but on Friday the blog was "blocked" from Cuban readers.

Is Cuba loosening up its restraint of free speech? Hardly.
The Communications Ministry put into effect a law this week that instructs the island's Internet providers to "prevent access to sites where the content is contrary to social interests, morals or good custom, as well as the use of applications that affect the integrity or security of the State."

Escobar said the police suggested Cuba was especially sensitive to criticism as it struggles to recover from the effects of three storms that hit in less than two months this hurricane season, causing more than $10 billion in damage.

Asked if Cuba could be in the midst of a cyber-crackdown, he said, "I don't know how far they will go."

"For dissidents who traditionally have been surrounded, things have gotten stricter," Escobar said, referring to a small group of activists who dare criticize the island's single-party system.
This isn't the first time Cuba's cracked down on Yoani Sanchez. As I wrote back in May, 2008, Cuba wouldn't let Sanchez travel to Spain to collect the Ortega y Gasset prize. Back then, I asked questions that are doubly applicable today and which I now repeat:
...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.
Sanchez's blog gets about 1 million hits a month. My little blog gets fewer than 1,000. And Sanchez puts hers up traveling from library to library for Internet access.

Surely there is something we can think of that will show our solidarity with her full right to express herself.

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viernes, diciembre 05, 2008

WTF? 6 Months In Jail For One Word?

Another sign of the end of the world. The venerable f-word is not to be uttered in certain courtrooms in Cincinnati in its participle form. Under any circumstances. Those who say it no matter to whom get 6 months. WTF?

The Enquirer reports:
For the second day in a row, Judge Robert Ruehlman threw someone in jail and cited him for contempt for cussing in the courtroom.

It was an accused gang member Wednesday. On Thursday, it was a private attorney in a non-criminal case.
And what, prey tell, were these cusses?
Brautigam, who is an attorney but isn't licensed in Ohio, asked Ruehlman for more time to file documents. Ruehlman gave it to him.

As Koenig and Brautigam turned to walk away from the judge, Brautigam called Koenig "a (bleeping) liar."

"He used the famous F-word," Koenig said. "(Ruehlman) asked Mr. Brautigam if he said that."

Brautigam admitted he had and had directed it at Koenig.

Ruehlman cited Brautigam for contempt and sent him to jail for six months.

The word was not directed at the judge. It was directed at opposing counsel. Apparently it was overheard by the judge. No matter. 6 months.

The judge decided the sentence should be 6 months because he gave somebody else 6 months for cussing. WTF? 6 months in jail for the F-word as an adjective? OK. What was the previous offense that set the bar so high?

Jamel Sechrest was before Ruehlman in a Wednesday hearing with four other accused members of the "Taliband," a gang police say has terrorized Northside and its residents by selling drugs and committing other crimes.

Sechrest, unhappy at having to wait until Feb. 2 for a trial - and sitting in jail until then - muttered "That's (bleeping) bull (bleep)."

"You don't say bull (bleep) in the courtroom," Ruehlman told Sechrest before citing him for contempt, sentencing him to six months in jail.

Sechrest it turns out said this to the judge. He did not say it to his lawyer and that was not overheard. Isn't that different from the lawyer's remark to opposing counsel? Evidently not.

If you're trying to understand this, here's the apparent rule of law in this particular Cincinnati Courtroom: say the F-word participle as an adjective in any context to anyone, 6 months. If the modified noun is a bad word, you apparently don't get extra time for the noun. I have no idea what you get if you invoke the F-word as a verb or an imperative.

I doubt the lawyer will spend the time in jail. He'll appeal and manage to be bailed pending a decision on his appeal. The alleged Taliband member is, I think, just plain stuck.

This is all very interesting in light of the old US Supreme Court decision in Cohen v. California, 403 US 15 (1971). Young Mr. Cohen had a jacket on his lap while he was in a courtroom in the LA County courthouse. When he left the courtroom but was still in the halls of justice, he put the jacket on. The problem was that it said, "Fuck the Draft" on the back. He was arrested and charged with a crime. Said the US Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision striking down the conviction
"[A]bsent a more particularized and compelling reason for its actions the State may not, consistently with the First and Fourteenth Amendments, make the simple public display of this single four-letter expletive a criminal offense."

Likewise, its utterance? In his majority decision, Justice Harlan wrote, "One man's vulgarity is another's lyric." (A lyrical aside: Ah for that Supreme Court, alack, alack, alack, how they are missed.)

Meanwhile back in Cincinnati, we're all treated to another sign of the end of the world. The F participle has become so powerful, that you can be incarcerated simply for saying it. George Carlin and Lenny Bruce were apparently right. Some words, in particularly the F-word used in its participle form, keep their power because we nonsensically both censure and censor their use.

And then we have the learned judge. When he discovered that his initial sentence to the alleged gang banger was too harsh, he doesn't amend the first sentence to make it fair. No. That would show weakness? Or rationality? Instead, he just goes ahead and gives the too stringent sentence to somebody else. He makes the crime fit the punishment. Does that solve the problem with the first sentence? No, it does not. It replicates and magnifies it. It's the end of the world.

A coda: This essay was a recommended diary at daily Kos on 12/6/08. Thanks for all of the recommendations.

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Fidel, Fidel, Fidel

Bet you didn't know that El Lider Supremo spoke such an idiomatic Ingles. Well, he does. And you know what? Cuban beers, Cervesas Bucanero and Cristal are really fantastica!!

h/t The Latin Americanist

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jueves, diciembre 04, 2008

The Year End Lists

The New York Times says that it knows what the 10 best books of 2008 were. That's good. The list is a refinement of a year end list of 100 notable books for 2008. The top 10 includes Roberto Bolano's 2666, about which the Times says:
Bolaño, the prodigious Chilean writer who died at age 50 in 2003, has posthumously risen, like a figure in one of his own splendid creations, to the summit of modern fiction. This latest work, first published in Spanish in 2004, is a mega- and meta-detective novel with strong hints of apocalyptic foreboding. It contains five separate narratives, each pursuing a different story with a cast of beguiling characters — European literary scholars, an African-American journalist and more — whose lives converge in a Mexican border town where hundreds of young women have been brutally murdered.
There's also an excerpt, the first chapter.

I am delighted that Bolano is now receiving deserved attention. But, because he passed on in 2003, it seems too little, and too late. I know that the world of translated fiction moves at an erratic, sometimes glacial rate. But it is nevertheless sad for Bolano only now to have found a large, adoring readership in English.

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lunes, diciembre 01, 2008

Venice Is Flooded

How sad. The New York Times reports that Venice is flooding:
Residents and tourists waded through knee-deep water Monday as they navigated the city's narrow streets and alleys, and its historic St. Mark's Square was inundated. Boxes of tourist merchandise floated inside the flooded shops around the square and even the city's famed pigeons sought refuge on rooftops and windowsills.

One of the highest tides in its history brought Venice to a virtual halt, rekindling a debate over a plan to build moveable flood barriers in an effort to save the lagoon city from high tides.

City officials said the tide peaked at 61 inches (156 centimeters), well past the 40-inch (110-centimeter) flood mark, as strong winds pushed the sea into the city.

Alarms went off at 6:37 a.m. to alert citizens, but many residents were taken by surprise because authorities had initially not forecast such a high water level.

In St. Mark's Square, one of the city's lowest points, tourists tried to stay dry by hopping on cafe tables and chairs sticking out of the water. The water was so high that someone rowed a small speedboat across the wide square.
Tell me again about global warming and climate change and the rising level of the seas. I only remember these things when I'm standing on a cafe table with an espresso in one hand and an umbrella in the other.

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The Bronx? Yes, Thonx.

Ray Mortenson exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York.

You mean the Bronx doesn't look like this now?

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