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

martes, marzo 31, 2009

NY-20: I Voted Today

At about 12:30 today, I walked across Route 203 and cast a ballot in the First District, Town of Austerlitz, Columbia County, New York in the NY-20 congressional election. I'm in the southern part of NY-20, right up against the Massachusetts border, and I've lived here for more than 20 years. I know that Murphy now has one vote.

I live close to the fire department, where the poll is. The polling place was not very busy. The fire trucks were parked outside. This is a small, rural town of 900 people. You can win any town election if you get 300+ votes. The Town voted for Obama, and Gillibrand twice, and Gore and Kerry, and it voted for Hilary Clinton for Senate, but the margins of victory were always quite small. The town supervisor is a Democrat; town board members are from both parties.

Turnout so far today has been brisk. There had been 200+ votes cast when I got there. Apparently, there were about 100 votes as of 9:30 am. The poll workers (why do they always have cakes and cookies?) said they thought there would be a sizeable (their word) turnout today even though there was only one race. They did not think it would be a "heavy" turnout. In other words, my predictions of a slight turnout were, well, wrong. That means that the GOTV effort might be working. Or at least the publicity is getting people to vote.

Most people I talk to, regardless of political persuasion, were amazed at the amount of attention this race has generated in the last few weeks. We all received tons of glossy mailings from both sides. In fact, we received so many that we stopped even looking at them. Had I known there were going to be so many, I would have saved them all so I could do a tally of who sent what. I would have liked to send them back to the originators with a note that they were being profligate, that their campaign was wasteful and not particularly effective. My impression is that we received at least 25 mailings, maybe more.

We also received numerous robo calls. Last night, I got one from Vice President Joe Biden. I also got one from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. And, of course, I also got one from Disco T. I would have liked one from President Obama, but evidently, that was not to happen.

On Northeast Public Radio (WAMC) they are today saying authoritatively (do they say things any other way?) that the race is extremely close, that the turnout is big, and that the win might be determined by just a few votes. Maybe that's so.

Regardless of all of that, it's really unusual for this district to be in the spotlight. You'll recall that for years and years we were represented by Gerry Solomon, a proto-militarist who decided that people convicted of simple marijuana possession should lose their federal financial aid for a year, and then by John Sweeney, Solomon's hand picked successor. When the Republicans ruled this district, its vote was taken for granted and it went unnoticed. It was only recently, very recently, that Kirsten Gillibrand won here. We aren't used to receiving national attention.

I am not surprised that people claim this election is some kind of referendum on the Stimulus. My neighbors all seem to acknowledge that the economy is a mess, and I think they're voting for Murphy because he supports the Stimulus and Disco T doesn't.

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Bernard "Pretty" Purdie

The New York Times woke up this morning and "discovered" Bernard "Pretty" Purdie, the most recorded drummer in. the. world. The article is nice. But this is far, far nicer:

What a great way to start a Tuesday morning!!

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lunes, marzo 30, 2009

Miss Universe Visits Gitmo!

You cannot make this stuff up. I wasn't sure whether I was reading the Onion or the New York Times. Sadly, it was the Times. A very brief excerpt (you need to read the whole thing to understand that the Apocalypse has finally arrived):
... the latest entry on the blog of the reigning Miss Universe, Dayana Mendoza, has a sort of eye-catching dateline: “March 27, 2009, Guantánamo Bay.”

According to the Web site of the U.S.O., which arranged the visit, the Miss Universe Organization made the decision to “deploy Crystle Stewart, Miss U.S.A. 2008, and Dayana Mendoza, Miss Universe 2008, to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to visit troops as part of a U.S.O./Armed Forces Entertainment tour.”

Ms. Mendoza, who competed as Miss Venezuela, has a blog on the pageant’s Web site, and this account of the visit appeared there last Friday, after her deployment:

This week, Guantánamo!!! It was an incredible experience.

We arrived in Gitmo on Friday and stared (sic) going around the town, everybody knew Crystle and I were coming so the first thing we did was attend a big lunch and then we visited one of the bars they have in the base. We talked about Gitmo and what is was like living there. The next days we had a wonderful time, this truly was a memorable trip! We hung out with the guys from the East Coast and they showed us the boat inside and out, how they work and what they do, we took a ride around the land and it was a loooot of fun!

We also met the Military dogs, and they did a very nice demonstration of their skills. All the guys from the Army were amazing with us.

We visited the Detainees camps and we saw the jails, where they shower, how the recreate themselves with movies, classes of art, books. It was very interesting.

"We visited the Detainees camps?" Oh, we didn't get to see waterboarding, or stress positions, and those Military dogs, we didn't get to see them threaten to bite the detainees. No. The dogs showed us how, just by their showing up, grown men quaked in fear.

Yes. Gitmo sure is a loooot of fun!!

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So Now I Have To Defend The American Bar Association?

I'm not a member of the ABA. When I read in the New York Times that there was a challenge to the ABA's neutrality in evaluating judicial nominees, I was surprised. I thought, oh, the right wing is now complaining because Obama is going to appoint liberal judges and they're going to be approved by the ABA. In other words, I thought, the so-called challenge was another rightwing political move. Turns out, I was probably right. But I confess, I've always thought these evaluations were quite fair, competently done, and without significant ideological spin.

My comments:

“Holding all other factors constant,” the study found, “those nominations submitted by a Democratic president were significantly more likely to receive higher A.B.A. ratings than nominations submitted by a Republican president.”

Right. Does that mean there's a bias or that the Republican presidents have been submitting hacks for judgeships? I think it might be the latter, and that that's a tradition ever since Haynesworth and Carswell. Seriously. Can anybody say that a democratic president has ever submitted anyone as lame as those two? And we can also discuss Sandra Day O'Connor and Justice Burger. This isn't about statistics: there are few enough nominations that you can actually examine the merits of each.

The bar association says it does not consider ideology in its ratings, basing them only on professional competence, integrity and judicial temperament. It is the third factor, one the association defines to include compassion, open-mindedness and commitment to equal justice under the law, that critics say leaves room for subjective judgments that may tend to favor liberals.

So when you appoint somebody to the bench who is unalterably opposed to equal rights for a particular group (say, e.g., gay people or women) and who argues that there's no basis in law for that, who argues that certain Supreme Court decisions are utterly wrongly decided and must be reversed, and generally has an unalterable, political agenda about various topics, is it "subjective" to say that they lack "judicial temperament?" I just don't think so. If the judge is out of the mainstream and an ideologue about his/her positions, that's not exactly a demonstration of the proper temperament. Why? Because the cases are going to be decided before any trial is held.

Recent Supreme Court nominees, including Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr., Stephen G. Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg all received the group’s highest rating. Harriet Miers withdrew her nomination before the bar association issued a rating.

But Justice Clarence Thomas was given a split rating of “qualified” and “not qualified.”

I'm sorry to say, based on the decisions I've read and the transcripts of oral arguments in the Supreme Court, the ratings were right. Thomas was not qualified. And he still isn't.

This article reports a phony complaint about the ABA. It's not something to be given any credibility.

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Picking Blueberries In Austerlitz

How interesting. A Mary Oliver poem about the town where I live:
Picking Blueberries, Austerlitz, New York -1957

Once, in summer
in the blueberries,
I fell asleep, and woke
when a deer stumbled against me.

I guess
she was so busy with her own happiness
she had grown careless
and was just wandering along

to the wind as she leaned down
to lip up the sweetness.
So, there we were

with nothing between us
but a few leaves, and wind’s
glossy voice
shouting instructions.

The deer
backed away finally
and flung up her white tail
and went floating off toward the trees -

but the moment she did that
was so wide and so deep
it has lasted to this day;
I have only to think of her -

the flower of her amazement
and the stalled breath of her curiosity,
and even the damp touch of her solicitude
before she took flight -

to be absent again from this world
and alive, again, in another
for thirty years
sleepy and amazed,

rising out of the rough weeds
listening and looking.
Beautiful girl,
where are you?
And now, 52 years later, there is a gigantic herd of deer in the Town of Austerlitz, Columbia County, New York. It has grown enormously since the dairy farm dispersal of the early '80's, which freed up huge grazing areas, and with the slow but steady decrease in the number of fall hunters. And that's where she and her descendants are, grazing in my fields in Spencertown.

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domingo, marzo 29, 2009

A Brief Note On Twittering

Just to let you know, you can follow your humble scribbler on Twitter, where I am @thedavidseth.

I'm not sure what this is all about, but it seems to be, well, au courant and hip.


Lionel Messi Is Great!

Seeing is believing:

Told you so.

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I Got It Wrong

Jozy Altidore, who saved the US from big, bad El Salvador with a 77th minute goal

Yesterday, it wasn't Mexico that had problems in the qualifying round for the 2010 World Cup. Mexico easily won 2-0. No big deal. The US, on the other hand, managed to get behind 2-0, and then had to struggle in San Salvador to a 2-2 draw. The US was dominated by El Salvador for the first hour. The defense was terrible. And this is the part of concern if you care about US fortunes in the World Cup, El Salvador is definitely one of the weakest teams in the 6-nation group.

Why do I think that 2010 is going to be yet another humiliation for US futbol?

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sábado, marzo 28, 2009

More Powerful Than A Locomotive

Brings me back to Bond Street and my childhood:

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Bracket Update

Well, here it is. It looks like I have 6 teams of the round of 8. I did not have Connecticut or Oklahoma going this far. I did have Syracuse winning everything, so that's over, over, over.

No matter what happens from here out, I'm doing far better than Barack Obama. Just saying.

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El Tri In Meltdown

Suspended Hotshot Rafael Marquez

It's entirely for selfish reasons that I bring this up. When World Cup 2010 is played in South Africa, my plan is to be in Mexico and to watch games from the many cafes in Tulum. And that won't be anywhere near as much fun as it was in 2006 (which was a tremendous amount of fun) if Mexico somehow doesn't make the cup. This should be unthinkable. But it isn't. Right now the team is in meltdown.

According to the LA Times Rafael Marquez, who is out of the next to qualifiers because of a foul on the US keeper, had this to say:
"It's unfair that people are trying to pin the blame on me for the bad results we've been having," Marquez said. "If you ask me, Mexican football has a deep-rooted problem. . . . Our football is stagnating, and with everything that's happened it's time to come right out and say it. If we carry on like this, we're all going to pay for it."

Well, that's really great, isn't it. And far from optimistic. And then there's this remark from Nery Castillo, who is also angry because he couldn't make the grade at Manchester City and had to return to his Ukraine club, lashing out at Mexican journalists:
"Do you know what your problem is?" Castillo said. "It's that I'm in Europe and you're in Mexico. And you're always going to be in Mexico."

Well, that's really great, too, isn't it. He could as well have been speaking about many of his teammates. That builds warmth, support, comeraderie, and victories on the field.

Today Mexico plays Costa Rica in qualifying in Mexico City. If that goes badly, and it might without Marquez, you'll probably see Mexico fire its current coach, Sven-Goren Eriksson, about whom there have been enormous complaints. But by then, it might be too late. Mexico may have played itself out of the cup.

Mexico lost to the US in Ohio last month 2-0. That was its third loss in the past four qualifiers. And, lest we forget for a second, they played terribly against the US.

This is really sad, and some kind of national disgrace. Let's hope El Tri finds a way to get its act together. Their schedule after Costa Rica is not that tough, so maybe, just maybe they can pull it together.

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Mightier Than A Sword

In Jorge Luis Borges's story, "The Mirror And The Mask," a poet is commanded by the king to write a poem about a battle. He responds by reciting his abilities:
For twelve winters I have honed my skills at meter. I know by heart the three hundred sixty fables which are the foundation of all true poety. The Ulster cycle and the Munster cycle lie within my harp strings. I am licensed by law to employ the most archaic words of the language, and its most complex metaphors. I have mastered the secret script which guards our art from the prying eyes of the common folk. I can sing of love, of cattle theft, of sailing ships, of war. I know the mythological lineage of all the royal houses of Ireland. I possess the secret knowledge of herbs, astrology, mathematics, and canon law. I have defeated my rivals in public contest. I have trained myself in satire, which causes diseases of the skin, including leprosy. And I also wield the sword, as I have proven in your battle. There is but one ting that I do not know: how to express my thanks for this gift you make me.
And now, do we think of writers and poets as having developed these kinds of mythic skills, or do we think of them instead as miserable scribblers who churn out commercial pulp in their pursuit of a paycheck? Or is it something in between? All I can say is that to me the former is far more fun to read. And more fun to try to produce. It's another reason for not quitting a day job.

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jueves, marzo 26, 2009

At Last: Drop The Rock

The New York Times reports that there's a deal to "repeal" New York's draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws. The details are still being worked out. There are hints, however, as to what is happening:
The deal would repeal many of the mandatory minimum prison sentences now in place for lower-level drug felons, giving judges the authority to send first-time nonviolent offenders to treatment instead of prison.

The plan would also expand drug treatment programs and widen the reach of drug courts at a cost of at least $50 million. ...

“We’re putting judges in the position to determine sentences based on the facts of a case, and not on mandatory minimum sentences,” said Jeffrion L. Aubry, an assemblyman from Queens who has led the effort for repeal....

The agreement, which requires approval in the Assembly and the Senate, would allow some drug offenders who are currently in prison to apply to have their sentences commuted. It was not clear on Wednesday how many current prisoners would be eligible to apply. Mr. Paterson has pushed to have fewer prisoners than legislative leaders would prefer.

While a few points, like a resentencing provision and the amount the state is willing to spend on the plan, were still being negotiated late Wednesday, lawmakers said they were on track to wipe out the central elements of laws that have been criticized for decades as overly punitive and disproportionately harmful to minorities.
Evidently, the revisions remove mandatory minimum sentences for all but A-felonies (the most serious) and permit judges to send defendants to treatment instead of prison. Judges would also have the ability to send some predicate offenders (those with more than one or more felony convictions) to treatment if they were found to be "drug dependent" in an evaluation. A prerequisite to treatment under the new statutes is a guilty plea to a felony. Failure to complete treatment would bring the case back to court, where the judge could impose a jail or prison sentence.

This seems to be a vast improvement over current law. Even in its "reformed" version, the Rockefeller Drug Laws now on the books are overly harsh, and they do not permit judges, even in cases involving a single, first B-felony $10 "sale" to another user, to avoid imposing a prison term upon conviction. This, of course, serves to fill New York's prisons with those who do not deserve it, and, more importantly, it continues the trend of disproportionately criminalizing minorities and poor people. Ending this cannot happen soon enough. And I applaud the repeal of those provisions.

But the devil, as usual, is in the details. The new legislation is far from perfect, and it has some serious problems.

The new legislation makes a "post plea" change. It seems to require felony convictions as a gateway to court mandated treatment. It is not a "deferral" program. Accordingly, each person convicted will have the same collateral consequences as any other person convicted of a felony. Put another way, criminalization will continue, although actual imprisonment may decrease.

The law also seems to require more admissions to "drug court." But drug court programs vary in their qualifications and quality and outcomes from county to county and are not regulated by any central authority or by any means uniform. Drug courts upstate are far less forgiving and offer far less benefit to participants than those in urban areas. More drug courts upstate are "post plea" programs that require probation to be served as well as "drug court." These drug courts do not offer those charged with felonies an opportunity to avoid a felony conviction, and require criminalization, even upon successful completion of the program. If more people are to be sent to these programs, they require a uniform playbook.

Although it is claimed that "New York already has one of the most extensive drug-treatment networks in the country," that does not mean that adequate levels of service are available in small, upstate counties. In Columbia County, for example, there is only one out-patient provider of drug and alcohol treatment, and that provider is operating at or near capacity. How does the unavailability of sufficient numbers of treatment providers affect the new changes? Does it mean that since there is no treatment available, the offender must be incarcerated?

It is, of course, important to re-sentence those who are serving long sentences for B and C felonies, to complete the re-sentencing process that began in the initial reform law. It has thus far not been decided what this will look like.

It is a huge step in the right direction to repeal mandatory minimum sentences. But I'm wary of half-cooked compromises that continue the trend of criminalizing and imprisoning minorities and so, like all of us, I need to see the actual bill and work out the details. For now, the news is that there's been a step in the right direction.

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miércoles, marzo 25, 2009

Remembering Coleman Hawkins

Billie Holiday (1915-1959) and Coleman Hawkins (1904-1969)

Jazz saxophonist Coleman Hawkins had an absolutely unbelievable gift. Lester Young said, "As far as I'm concerned, I think Coleman Hawkins was the President first, right? As far as myself, I think I'm the second one." Miles: "When I heard Hawk I learned to play ballads." But you don't hear this pre-bebop sound much these days. And there is nothing as smooth, as pensive, as inventive. It sounds incredibly simple. It isn't. Oh what we're missing:

I wish there were more of this. I wish I could hear this on the radio sometime.

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lunes, marzo 23, 2009

Tata Nano, The $2,500 Car

New Delhi, India

Today Tata introduced in India the $2,500 gas powered automobile, the Tata Nano. The car gets 47 miles per gallon. Last time I wrote about this, over a year ago, I generally criticized the idea. Today I am far less sure that this is an altogether bad idea.

Look at the US auto industry. For years, it has been building and selling big, fat, gas guzzling, polluting cars. These cars were, in two words, terribly made. Some people liked and bought these, I never did. That industry unsurprisingly ran itself into the ground with its stupidity and its inability to make a decent product. We haven't heard the last of this by a long shot.

The India situation seems different. It looks like Tata is offering something that people actually want. Maybe the Indian auto industry and India will thrive because of it. At any rate, the last people in the world who should criticize the Nano are the people who have protected and supported the US auto industry. Those people should look at Tata and learn the lesson of what happens when the product meets popular demand.

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Saab To Die A Slow, Operatic Death

1993 Saab 900-T Convertible

As if GM's destruction of the brand by filling it with plastic weren't enough, as if GM's deciding it couldn't carry Saab any further weren't enough, now the right leaning Swedish Government has decided to let the brand die in long, tumultuous aria of political posturing and finger wagging. The New York Times reports:
... the Swedish government has responded to Saab’s desperate financial situation by saying, essentially, tough luck. Or, as the enterprise minister, Maud Olofsson, put it recently, “The Swedish state is not prepared to own car factories.”

Such a view might seem jarring, coming as it does from a country with a reputation for a paternalistic view of workers and companies. ...

Sweden has a right-leaning government, elected in 2006 after a long period of Social Democratic rule, that prefers market forces to state intervention and ownership.
Although other car makers across Europe are being bailed out by their Governments, Sweden has apparently decided not to follow suit:
Swedish officials have condemned what they see as protectionism by other European countries that have pledged to prop up their own failing car industries. They have also been scathing about General Motors, Saab’s owner, and the last thing they want is to seem to be bailing out a despised foreign company.

Struggling for its own survival, G.M. has said it will completely pull out of Saab by the end of 2009, a course that Ms. Olofsson, the enterprise minister, described as tantamount to declaring “that they wash their hands of Saab and drop it into the laps of the Swedish taxpayers.”

She said: “We are very disappointed in G.M., but we are not prepared to risk taxpayers’ money. This is not a game of Monopoly.”

Saab lost about $343 million last year. It is now going through a Swedish process known as reorganization, a step short of bankruptcy, as it tries to persuade its creditors to prop it up while it looks for a buyer. Joe Oliver, a spokesman, said in an interview that “around six serious investors,” from Sweden and abroad, had expressed interest.

Put another way, with the Government refusing to step in, depending on what deal private investors can make for it, Saab is going slowly to expire in a sea of political arguments about whether the market's apparent decision on the brand is to be followed despite the dire consequences to the employees. The Swedish Government apparently thinks the market should have the final word. Meanwhile, 750 workers are being laid off next month.

Even the Times notes that GM destroyed the car, causing its quality and its sales to plummet:
Saab was always known for its innovative engineering. But analysts say that in recent years, with General Motors’s emphasis on volume rather than individuality, it has lost its edge.

“Under G.M.’s ownership, they denuded the intellectual content behind the brand,” said Peter Wells, who teaches at Cardiff Business School in Wales and specializes in the automotive industry. “Its products are not exciting enough, and Saab doesn’t have a strong brand identity anymore.”

What follows will be the horrible consequences of GM's management unblunted by Government action. This is disgraceful.

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domingo, marzo 22, 2009

Dreaming: Wild Strawberries

Ingmar Bergmann making Wild Strawberries

Ingmar Bergman's 1957 film, Wild Strawberries, has a remarkable, and iconic dream sequence:

I remember the first time I saw this film and my reaction to it. I just loved this. I found it amazing that both the clock and the watch had no hands, but the eyeglasses below the clock were what held my initial attention. Could I see that again? Was it an optician's shop? Another dream symbol? What was that? What did it mean. Could I just look at that again? After that, it was like a rich, filling, comforting meal: remarkable things to see, to think about, to wonder about. When the dreamer awoke, I thought, "What follows this could never be as profound, as engrossing, as wonderful, as complicated." How wrong.

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sábado, marzo 21, 2009

A Surprise Reason To Vote For Scott Murphy In NY-20

There is a report in the Albany Times Union that Scott Murphy, democratic candidate for my district, NY-20, has stated that he's opposed to the death penalty for all crimes:
Speaking on Talk 1300-AM, WGDJ, Murphy tells host Fred Dicker he opposes the death penalty in all cases, including for the Sept. 11 terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center and Washington, D.C.
Murphy says the evidence may not be conclusive in many cases and guilt can’t be guaranteed. He says the cost of making a mistake in a death penalty case is too high.

Jim Tedisco, the Republican candidate in the March 31 special election in the 20th Congressional District, supports the death penalty.”
The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), which has been flooding the area with extremely negative TV ads, responded with shop warn outrage:
“Scott Murphy’s comments are both dangerously naïve and appalling. Murphy’s opposition to the death penalty even for those terrorists who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center is shocking. As someone who is not native to the state of New York, it is abundantly clear that he is unable or unwilling to empathize with the loss so many families faced on that tragic day.”
So the NRCC, never a fount of reason, would have us believe that empathy with victims mandates state killing. Evidently not believing in this specious equivalence is "dangrously naive and appalling." And so the NRCC response suffers from the same ailment as its TV ads: it's too shocked, too angry, too put off to respond on the merits. This kind of ad, I think, actually turns off voters.

Murphy's statement in opposition to state killing is another reason to support him.

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viernes, marzo 20, 2009

My Brackets

What on earth do I, your scrivener and host, know about basketball? I've been too short and too slow to be a significant player in this game since I was 15. I can't play with the big guys. I think I can jump about 27" off the floor. I don't think I can reach the rim. But I do want to toot my own horn. I have mastered, to some degree, the complicated business of predicting the outcome of all of the games in the NCAA tournament. And so I offer you my bracket, which, I think, will get even better as the rest of Friday unfolds.

Compare me, if you will, to the President's very conservative bracket, which picks North Carolina to win it all. That's just silly. I picked Syracuse to win. I want a number 3 seed to win; I like Syracuse's chances better than Missouri, which has a long, long history of choking in the Sweet 16. To be blunt, so far, I'm doing far better than Barack Obama at this game. Right now, he's had 8 incorrect choices; I've had only 3. And the 3 I had were, well, odd.

I will explain my errors. I thought West Virginia wouldn't choke the way they did. I picked Big-10 Minnesota over Texas, more because I hated Texas, owing to the previous administration, than because I had confidence in Minnesota. That was a bad, emotional choice. And Butler lost to LSU. That game to me was a total toss-up; anybody could have gotten that wrong.

Stay tuned to the tournament. By Sunday night, my picks may be a total shambles, as they were two years ago. But there's a chance, a slight chance, that I'll still have 14 or 16 teams in the running.

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jueves, marzo 19, 2009

Thank you!

Yesterday was a wonderful day for me and for everyone else who hopes that state killing will eventually be abolished in the US:

Gov. Bill Richardson, who has supported capital punishment, signed legislation to repeal New Mexico's death penalty, calling it the "most difficult decision in my political life."

The new law replaces lethal injection with a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. The repeal takes effect on July 1, and applies only to crimes committed after that date.

"Regardless of my personal opinion about the death penalty, I do not have confidence in the criminal justice system as it currently operates to be the final arbiter when it comes to who lives and who dies for their crime," Richardson said.

Europe's human rights watchdog on Thursday hailed the decision as "a victory for civilization." The American Civil Liberties Union called it "a historic step and a clear sign that the United States continues to make significant progress toward eradicating capital punishment once and for all."

I wrote about this on several occasions, and I requested repeatedly in those essays that you call the Governor and urge him to sign the bill. It is especially for all of those phone calls to the Governor and your emails to him that I want to thank you. This is a great victory. And, truthfully, it would not have happened without your support. I applaud you!

I know that one abolitionist friend today is joyfully wearing a t-shirt that says, "Someday happens."

For the record: New Mexico became the second state, after New Jersey, to repeal the death penalty legislatively since 1965, when both Iowa and West Virginia repealed their death penalty laws. New York’s death penalty was struck down as unconstitutional, and it has not been re-enacted. Twelve other states never had the death penalty: they either outlawed it before 1965, or after 1972 after Furman v. Georgia struck down all death penalty laws, they never enacted a new one. Fifteen states, including New Mexico, now do not have the death penalty. Thirty-five states, the military and the U.S. federal government retain it.

Thanks! Let's do this again soon!!

h/t Abe Bonowitz

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lunes, marzo 16, 2009

La Liga And Manners And Psychokinesis

Eduardo Alves sets out the rules for conduct during Spanish La Liga games:
As I was watching the match, I remembered the set of unwritten rules of behaviour I learnt through decades of attending to football matches in Spain: you shall never arrive late at the start of the first or second half; you shall never take pictures standing during the match; you shall not initiate nor participate in The Wave (exception: national team matches, full of fair-weather fans); you shall not leave your seat during the match for any reason (hunger, thirst, severe stomach disorders, etc.); and of course, you shall NEVER leave the stadium until the match is over, even in the event of a humiliating defeat.

Breaking this code always gets you told off by neighbouring fans. You have to be completely focused on the match, from the start until the final whistle, as if the result depended on each fan's concentration. Incidentally, this is probably why any Spaniard watching a baseball game becomes desperate just after the top of the first inning, as one would think those two teams with bats and gloves are just an excuse to eat, drink, take pictures and wander around the stadium.

The key here is to behave "as if the result depended on each fan's concentration."

Even in a 0-0 game, as we all realize, there's still plenty to watch, and most of it is not going to be in any of the highlights shows or on videotape replays. So you have to concentrate on what you're seeing. Because it's only going to happen once, and then it's going to happen quickly. But, of course, because everyone else is doing the same thing, you have to do this in a way that doesn't disturb anyone else's concentration.

Concentration, you will recall, is how Uri Geller, who was Hungarian/Israeli and not Spanish, bent forks with mind control. Singing and yelling don't disturb concentration; only standing in front of someone who's trying to concentrate and blocking the view of the field.

Of course, we all know the limitations of concentration and futbol from the same Uri Geller:
After in 1997 trying to help Coca Cola League 2 football club Exeter City win a crucial end of season game by placing energy-infused crystals behind the goals at Exeter's ground (Exeter would eventually lose the game 5–1) he was appointed co-chairman of the club in 2002. The club would be relegated to the Nationwide Conference in May 2003, where they were to remain for five years.

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At Last, A Corrido For Joe Arpaio

The NY Times gives us the words of Saul Linares's corrido for Joe Arpaio:
Voy a cantarles un corrido a los presentes,
que le compuse a Joe Arpaio de Arizona,
un sinverguenza, desgraciado, anti-inmigrante,
que se ha ganado el repudio de toda la gente.

Es un sheriff que está gastando mucha plata,
mucho dinero que paga el contribuyente,
Arpaio mete preso al inmigrante
porque el dice que son unos delicuentes,
pero tan sólo buscan un trabajo decente
que en su pais ellos no lo han encontrado
y sin sentido y sin razón aparente
por una calle encandenados los paseaba

Ya los latinos de Arpaio están cansados,
Ya los latinos están muy organizados
no tienen miedo ni al sheriff, ni policía,
a Joe Arpaio le dicen y le repiten
sos criminal deberías estar preso.

I will sing a corrido to all those present
that I wrote for Joe Arpaio from Arizona,
a shameless, disgraceful immigrant hater
who has earned the repudiation of the people.

Arpaio puts the immigrants in jail
because he says that they are crooks
but they are only looking for a decent job
that they haven’t found in their own country
And without any apparent sense or reason
he paraded them in chains down the street

Latinos are tired
Immigrants, who are very organized,
don’t fear the sheriff or the police.
They say to Joe Arpaio and they say it again:
You’re a criminal and should be in jail.

— Translated by Eduardo Porter.

Saul Linares, according to The Times is a factor worker from Hempstead, who comes not from Mexico but from El Salvador. Doesn't matter. He knew what to do:
“In the left hand I was eating, and with my right hand I was writing it down,” he said. He was done in 20 minutes.

Mr. Linares was on a weekend retreat for immigrant-rights organizers in Rye, N.Y. After work on Saturday they took a break for a “cultural night” of poems, songs and stories.

Mr. Linares, 30, had never written a corrido before.

No, the corrido isn't on youtube. Not yet. But keep a sharp eye out for it. It's gonna be viral.

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Last Chance To Ask Bill Richardson To Sign For Death Penalty Abolition

Today, Monday, is the last chance to call Governor Richardson at (505)476-2225 and ask him to sign the NM Death Penalty Abolition Bill that passed the legislature this past Friday.

Details about all of this is here.

No time for details? The shortest version: please call Governor Richardson at (505) 476-2225 and ask him please to sign the Death Penalty Abolition Bill. This will take only seconds, and it's terribly important to the cause of abolishing state killing.

Thanks for making the call.

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An FMLN Victory Two Decades In The Making

The New York Times reports:
El Salvador’s F.M.L.N., the leftist party of the country’s former guerrillas, won the presidential election Sunday after a bruising election campaign, marking a turning point after two decades of rule by the right.

Mauricio Funes, a former television reporter, declared himself the winner before F.M.L.N. campaign workers chanting “yes, we could” at the Sheraton Hotel as supporters on the street waved flags and honked car horns in celebration. ...

Two hours later, Mr. Funes’s conservative opponent, Rodrigo Ávila, conceded defeat. ... His party, the Nationalist Republican Alliance, known as Arena, had won the presidency four times since 1989.

The victory marked the culmination of nearly two decades of political efforts by the F.M.L.N., the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front, to defeat Arena, which was on the opposite side during this nation’s 12-year civil war through the 1980s.

In the conflict, tens of thousands died as Marxist F.M.L.N. guerrillas fought the American-backed military and right-wing death squads. Arena had argued for a free hand in defeating the guerrillas. To this day, the party anthem vows that the nation will be “the tomb where the Reds meet their end.”

Please notice the last paragraph, which is in some was has important historically as the FMLN victory. The adjective "American-backed" modifies "military," and it also appears to modify "right-wing death squads." That's been a bone of contention for more than 20 years, but this construction is correct.

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domingo, marzo 15, 2009

The Berkshire Twitter Debate

So. Clarence Fanto writes in the Berkshire Beagle that he doesn't like Twitter apparently because it's trivial and unedited:
So I'm deleting my Twitter account — during my brief trial I couldn't figure out how to use it anyway. Besides, there have been security breaches and the company shares information with "third parties," which could include spammers.

For me, it's time for a device-free walk in the woods — the best route for mind-cleansing decompression. And anyone who cares to become one of my followers can, well, take a hike.
And The Rogovoy Report defends Twitter:
While I agree with Clarence Fanto that Twitter and personal blogs are no substitute for professionally edited journalism ["Tweets need edits, substance ," March 15], my experience of Twitter has been the polar opposite of Fanto's. Whereas Clarence found a universe of vapid, self-obsessed inanities, I have found Twitter to be a useful tool and, yes, a genuine builder of community.

To wit, in the short time I've been on Twitter (a few months): A writer found me through Twitter and now writes for Berkshire Living magazine. I've gotten several story leads through Twitter. A neighbor I'd never met who lives two blocks away from me is now a close friend -- both on Twitter and in the real world. I was referred to a fellow Twitterer in Kansas who is now a source for my upcoming book about Bob Dylan. My acquaintance with a fellow journalist in the region has actually grown into a deep friendship largely through Twitter, where we've discovered previously unknown depths of common experience. And finally, I recently enjoyed a dinner at a local restaurant where about a dozen Tweeters -- almost none of whom I'd ever met in person -- got together in real life for the first time. There was almost no talk of Twitter at the dinner; rather, we enjoyed a great meal and learned more about each other. Many connections, professional and otherwise, were made; in other words, real community grew out of that dinner, which was an immediate product of our ad hoc Twitter community.
And how is it that I came to know of this debate? Well, I got a tweet from someone I follow on twitter who commented on the above controversy. And I thought I'd have a read. And that led to this posting.

Twitter and blogs and writing with pencils on yellow pads all have various kinds of challenges. So too, typewriters, Wordperfect, Blackberries, iPods, and cocktail napkins. And if you're really retro, matchbooks. In Mexico the challenge is often that a fountain pen bleeds through the crappy paper they sell there. There is no news in seeing the challenges in every kind of communication device. Mail sometimes gets lost and doesn't get delivered for 27 years. Sometimes your FedEx package gets diverted to Tom Hanks's island and is used for dentistry. This is not news.

All of these kinds of devices are in their infancy. Many won't be around in 5 years. They will go the way of cassette tape, 8-tracks, VCRs, blu-ray, cd's, long playing records, .45's (the gun and the record and the Houston team). The things that are good will be kept. The things that don't work, they'll be gone.

This isn't about devices we use, or our typing, or our lack of editing and spelling help. It's not about punctuation. It's not really about the quality of the content. What it's about is experimenting with various kinds of connectivity and seeing what good (and what bad) things we can do.

Rogovoy's dinner is a step in the right direction. Fanto's unwillingness to play takes him out of the next game and deprives him of input.

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Please Ask Gov. Richardson To Sign The Death Penalty Abolition Bill

This morning, I re-wrote my dailyKos diary from yesterday, put it up, and again asked people please to call New Mexico Governor Richardson and to ask him to sign the Death Penalty Abolition Bill. Here's what I wrote:

I posted this diary yesterday. I'm posting it again today because Governor Richardson is taking comments on the New Mexico Death Penalty Abolition Bill until Monday evening.

Friday, I wrote that the New Mexico legislature passed a bill calling for the abolition of that state's death penalty. The bill (pdf) has been sent to Governor Richardson for his signature. That's where you, my fellow Kossacks, come in. We all need to call the Governor and ask him to sign the bill.

Governor Richardson has formerly supported the death penalty, but he says he has not made up his mind about this bill:

Richardson, a second-term Democrat, has opposed repeal in the past but now says he would consider signing it.

"I haven't made a final decision," the governor said this week.

I want you, fellow Kossacks, to help him make his final decision, a decision to sign the abolition bill.

You can make a lasting contribution to the abolition of the death penalty in New Mexico and ultimately in the entire US, by making a single telephone call to New Mexico Governor Richardson and asking him courteously to sign the death penalty abolition bill. Just ask that he sign the bill. Here's the number: (505) 476-2225. The number will record your request. There is no human being on the phone, just a recorder.

Please spend 30 seconds making this call and make this request.

The logic for this is clear. The more calls the Governor receives, the more he understands that there is enormous support for him and for abolition and for his signing the bill. Huge support for signing makes it more likely that the Governor will sign the bill.

It's unbelievably simple what is needed. But it requires you, dear Kossacks, to take action, to make the call, to spend 30 seconds.

Please make this call. Please bring abolition of the death penalty to New Mexico.

Despite their directness, neither diary/essay generated a large response. Today's had about 20 recommendations; yesterday's, about 40. I have no idea how many people actually called Governor Richardson's number (505) 476-2225 and left a recorded message asking the Governor to sign the bill. I know that I did, and I trust that those who said they called in the comments actually called. Of course, I have no idea how many people just made the call after they saw the essay and didn't bother to click anything on dailyKos.

I also sent the first request for calls essay to a number of well known, large, leftwing blogs to ask them to help out with this, to ask them to ask their readership to call the Governor. This morning I awoke to see that none had responded to the request.

I don't really claim to understand how something that seems to me to be so important and so easy to carry out can have so lame a response. I'm not whining about this. I'm just saying that I don't understand it. I have no intention of spending additional time or energy trying to figure this out. I need to devote myself to trying to bring about results and not shunt myself onto some abandoned siding to analyze the meta.

So, dear readers, I am asking you to call Gov. Richardson and ask him to do the right thing, sign the bill, end the death penalty in New Mexico. It's easy. And it's the right thing to do.

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sábado, marzo 14, 2009

Seven Years Of Writing About State Killing

To be completely honest, when I began, I never expected that over the course of the next seven years I would write more than 200 essays about ending state killing in America. But today I noticed-- I usually miss the date-- that March 18, 2009, is the seventh Anniversary of my starting a listserv about ending the death penalty. And I see that I've written more than 200 essays about the topic.

When I started the listserv I described it like this:
The views and opinions of an experienced criminal defense lawyer who is also a buddhist. About pending executions, legal developments, the media, the abolition movement, contemplation, prayer, and engaged, nonviolent activism. Sent sporadically. Only for those who value all lives and are opposed to the death penalty. Not for debate.
I have pretty much stayed on point for the whole way. And I've written virtually every month for the whole way. And now, what was "cutting edge" technology, the listserv, is the poor step cousin of blogs and flogs and tweets. But I persist using the now antique machinery.

There is something bittersweet about commemorating seven years of writing advocacy. It's a nice milestone, but I wish state killing had been abolished so that I couldn't get to this point. I do want, however, to mark the date, and wonder, openly and aloud, how many more essays it will take before state killing actually ends.

What better way of commemorating this milestone, especially in light of Friday's historic and optimistic vote in New Mexico to abolish state killing (now awaiting Governor Richardson's signature) than to republish one of the early posts from March, 2002, noting the 100th Death Row Exoneration:
100th Death Row Inmate Exonerated

I bet you didn't read much about this news item in your local newspaper or hear about it on the TV news. And the odds are pretty good that the requisite editorial calling for abolition or a moratorium wasn't there either. You should have seen something at the top of the editorial page that said, "Now that 100 innocent people have been released from death row, maybe it's been adequately demonstrated that innocent people might be executed and might have already been killed. It's time for a moratorium, and it's time to end the death penalty." At least the New York Times had it correct.

Think about this: these 100 people haven't been released on the "technicalities." They weren't released because their trials were unfair, or they suffered from prosecutorial misconduct. They weren't released because they were discriminated against because of race or the region of the country where they were charged, or because they were retarded or the mentally ill. These weren't cases in which courts ruled that constitutional principles were offended by a judge's jury charge or evidence that should not have been admitted or other trial or appeal defects. This is nothing like that. This is about being released because the convicted person is proven actually to be innocent.

It's mind boggling. The 100th case is as good an example as any. After being in prison for a decade, and spending part of the time on death row, a DNA test comes back and says to someone whose conviction has been consistently upheld by the courts, "You're innocent. This other guy did the crime. Go home and be free." The DA apologizes. Surprisingly, this does not set off a national riot. It does not trigger a legislative convulsion and a sudden moratorium on killing people. Congress does not rise up in indignation an enact the Innocence Protection Act. Nobody jams a screwdriver into the gears of the machinery of death. Instead we shake our heads and scratch our heads and read the following article:

Former death row inmate Ray Krone was released from prison on Monday in Arizona after DNA testing showed that he did not commit the murder for which he was convicted 10 years ago. Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley and Phoenix Police Chief Harold Hurtt announced at a news conference on Monday that new DNA tests vindicated Krone and that they would seek his release pending a hearing next month to vacate the murder conviction. Romley stated, "[Krone] deserves an apology from us, that's for sure. A mistake was made here. . . . What do you say to him? An injustice was done and we will try to do better. And we're sorry."

Krone was first convicted in 1992, based largely on circumstantial evidence and testimony that bite marks on the victim matched Krone's teeth. He was sentenced to death. Three years later he received a new trial, but was again found guilty and sentenced to life in prison in 1996.

Krone's post-conviction defense attorney, Alan Simpson, obtained a court order for DNA tests. The results not only exculpated Krone, but they pointed to another man, Kenneth Phillips, as the assailant. Prosecutor William Culbertson told Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Alfred Fenzel that the chances are 1.3 quadrillion to one that DNA found in saliva on the victim's tank top came from Phillips. (The Arizona Republic, 4/9/02)

Krone is the 100th inmate freed from death row since 1973 and the 12th in which DNA testing played a substantial factor. In all, the 100 inmates freed from death row due to actual innocence spent a combined total of approximately 800 years on death row.

The state of Florida leads the nation in wrongful convictions, with
22 innocent people released from death row since 1973. Illinois
is second with 13; Oklahoma and Texas are tied for third with 7,
followed by Arizona and Georgia, with six each.

(sources: DPIC, NCADP, Rick Halperin, Arizona Republic)

How do we understand this? Right this minute the 101st person to be exonerated is sitting somewhere on death row. S/he didn't commit the crime, and the courts have determined over the past 10 or 12 or 15 years of appeals and motions that s/he had a fair trial, and reasonable assistance from counsel, and a complete appeal, and full access to the courts. And the courts are all saying that it is OK to execute him/her. There's just one small problem. Sometime in the next weeks we're going to discover that, guess what!, this person who was convicted by a jury and whose appeals have been denied is actually innocent. We might discover this because of DNA. We might discover it several other ways. Rest assured: it will be discovered. Then the 101st person will be released. And the 101st person will receive an apology and go home and maybe eat steak and maybe drink margaritas and maybe swim in a swimming pool for the first time in a decade (see, Arizona Republic, 4/10/02).

But wait a minute. What happens if we don't discover this proof of innocence in time? What if the 101st person is actually executed before anyone proves that this person is actually innocent? What then? What if the person who should have been the 100th person, or the 23rd, or the 73rd wasn't able to be released because he was killed instead?

Meanwhile, what is happening to the 101st and the 102nd and the 103rd persons, who are surely on death row awaiting their release as I write this? They are floating and nearly drowning in a vast sea of great suffering. As Ray Krone told the Arizona Republic about how guards reacted as he was taken to death row 10 years ago: "I was something they looked at on the bottom of their shoes, that they were trying to scrape off," he said. And they are not suffering alone. Those thought to be their victims, their victims' families, those who guard them, those who prosecute them, those who are their judges and juries, those who defend them and their families, those who report their stories, those who read their stories, all of these, and those they talk to, and those who think about any of these, and those who try to prove them innocent, on and on and on, all find themselves immersed in this ocean of unnecessary suffering.

I pray that all on death row will be spared. May all beings affirm the preciousness of every single life. May all beings refrain from killing and prevent others from killing. May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness. May all beings be free from danger. May all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering. May all beings have equanimity, so they have neither too much grasping nor too much aversion, so they may dwell in the perfection of each successive moment. May all beings have abundant love, prosperity, comfort, healing, delight. May all beings have peace. May all beings realize their enlightenment. May all beings have the spiritual bliss that is beyond sorrow. Om tara tuttare ture svaha! peace, david

Things have changed in the past 7 years. There have been even more death row exonerations. States have voted to abolish the death penalty. Other states have abolition statutes before their legislatures. Public approval for state killing is down. Economic concerns may lead to a view that the death penalty is a wanton luxury: states cannot afford it because it gives them nothing valuable. But sadly, state killing persists in all its barbarousness.

Meanwhile, I hope that I don't have to commemorate the tenth anniversary of my listserv because state killing will have come to an end. I hope that in my lifetime it ends. My plan then is to have an enormous party and invite everyone I know to celebrate. I'm optimistic that I will actually have this party, and I hope you, dear reader, can come to it.

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The Times Discovers Argentina. And The Internet. All At Once.

Wow! I'm breathless. Today the Times takes an excursion into pop culture, in Argentina no less, and doesn't quite notice that it's. all. about. the. marketing. How could this happen to the usually streetwise, perceptive Grey Lady?

Let's begin with today's New York Times article about world famous flogger Cumbio a/k/a Augstina Vivero, who is famous in Argentina (and probably Chile) because of her flog, that would be a foto blog, and imo because she sells stuff. Lots of stuff.

Says the Times:
She has catapulted herself to stardom and unexpected affluence by transforming Internet fame as Argentina’s most popular “flogger” into marketing muscle, signing modeling contracts, promoting dance clubs and writing a book about her life.

And she is all of 17.

Notice that the Times thinks that the teenager's famousness grew into marketing muscle, not the other way around, that the marketing muscle made her a star. The Times would make this a story about co-optation of a flogger, not simple exploitation of consumers. But I digress.

And then the Times opines:
Her unlikely popularity is also redefining stereotypes of youth celebrity in Argentina. Ms. Vivero, who is openly gay, describes herself and other floggers as “androgynous” for their unisex clothing. She is comfortable with not being model-thin, eschewing dieting and boasting of her love of junk food and chocolate — a different message in a country where women have high rates of eating disorders.

“We are breaking a lot of barriers,” she said.
I am happy to see barriers break. However, the "we" she's talking about, I suppose, are the other floggers and Cumbio, or it might be her sponsors. Why do I think it's the latter? Nah. That would be too capitalistic. Too cynical.

And the Times even calls an expert witness:
Floggers are not “like hippies or punks, who had ideals of fighting to change the world,” said María José Hooft, who wrote a book, “Tribus Urbanas,” on youth subcultures in Argentina. “Floggers don’t want to change the world. They want to survive, and they want to have the best possible time they can.”

The Cumbio craze really took off after Guillermo Tragant, president of Furia, a marketing company, discovered Ms. Vivero and the floggers last April while scouting for fresh faces for a Nike sportswear campaign. Nike wanted “real people from the streets,” Mr. Tragant said.
That's it. They don't want to change the world. They just want to have the best possible time they can, and consume lots of really neat stuff, and the "Cumbia craze" really took off AFTER the marketing guy got involved. Oy.

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Evo Morales On Coca Leaves

Today's New York Times has an Op-ed by Bolivian President Evo Morales calling for the legalization of coca leaves. Coca leaves are not cocaine; cocaine can be made from coca leaves. People from the Andes have for centuries chewed the leaves and made tea from them and have used them in ceremonies.

In 1961, the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs placed the coca leaf in the same category with cocaine — thus promoting the false notion that the coca leaf is a narcotic — and ordered that “coca leaf chewing must be abolished within 25 years from the coming into force of this convention.” Bolivia signed the convention in 1976, during the brutal dictatorship of Col. Hugo Banzer, and the 25-year deadline expired in 2001.

So for the past eight years, the millions of us who maintain the traditional practice of chewing coca have been, according to the convention, criminals who violate international law. This is an unacceptable and absurd state of affairs for Bolivians and other Andean peoples. ...

Why is Bolivia so concerned with the coca leaf? Because it is an important symbol of the history and identity of the indigenous cultures of the Andes.

The custom of chewing coca leaves has existed in the Andean region of South America since at least 3000 B.C. It helps mitigate the sensation of hunger, offers energy during long days of labor and helps counter altitude sickness. Unlike nicotine or caffeine, it causes no harm to human health nor addiction or altered state, and it is effective in the struggle against obesity, a major problem in many modern societies.

Today, millions of people chew coca in Bolivia, Colombia, Peru and northern Argentina and Chile. The coca leaf continues to have ritual, religious and cultural significance that transcends indigenous cultures and encompasses the mestizo population.
In other words, la hoja de coca no es una droga. The coca leaf is not a drug.

Coca leaves are a vital part of the ritual of Andean Shamans and are used in despacho offerings and in divination and in other ceremonies. When Q'ero Shamans visit us in the US, we're forced to substitute bay leaves for coca leaves when we do ceremonies, because the coca leaves cannot legally be brought into the US. This, of course, makes no sense: we couldn't turn the leaves into cocaine even if we wanted to.

Significantly, the cultivation of poppies, which have no cultural or spiritual uses in Central Asia and Afghanistan, which are used to make heroin and opium, is not forbidden by the UN Convention.

Clearly, the ban on coca leaves needs to be removed.

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viernes, marzo 13, 2009

Breaking: NM Legislature Passes Bill To Abolish Death Penalty

cross posted from dailyKos

Long story short, the NM legislature has passed the bill abolishing capital punishment in New Mexico and has sent it on to the governor for signature.

This happened about 15 minutes ago. Here's a first link to prove it's so.

Governor Richardson hasn't announced his decision on whether to sign it.

Now you can open that bottle of champagne and offer a toast to New Mexico and to the abolitionists who worked so hard and well to bring about this wonderful victory.


The Las Cruces Sun-News tells the story:
The New Mexico Legislature has voted to repeal the death penalty and replace it with a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The state Senate voted 24-18 on Friday for the repeal bill, sending it to Gov. Bill Richardson for his signature.

The House approved the legislation a month ago.

Richardson, a second-term Democrat, has opposed repeal in the past but now says he would consider signing it.

"I haven't made a final decision," the governor said this week.

According to the Sun-News, New Mexico has two men on death row whose sentences would not be affected by repeal.

What wonderful news!!!

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New York Has Statewide DWI Checkpoints This Weekend

This is not a surprise. And they're not even trying to keep it a secret. New York State DMV has announced that from today through Tuesday, St. Patrick's Day, they're conducting DWI checkpoints all across the state:
The second of seven STOP-DWI crackdown periods across New York this year is under way and will continue through St. Patrick’s Day on Tuesday, the state Department of Motor Vehicles has announced.

During the enforcement wave, state, county and local law enforcement agencies will be out in force, using sobriety checkpoints and saturation patrols to deter drunk driving and ensure road safety, according to a news release.

Motorists are reminded that driving with a blood-alcohol content of .08 percent or higher will put them over the limit and under arrest, the release says.

The first STOP-DWI crackdown period of the year was held in conjunction with Super Bowl Sunday. The remaining crackdown periods for this year are tied to Memorial Day, Independence Day, National Over the Limit-Under Arrest enforcement, Halloween and the Christmas holiday season.

So, friends, they're telling us in advance, in the newspapers, and on TV, that they're going to stop us for no reason whatsoever and see whether we smell like "the odor of alcoholic beverage." And if we do, they intend to do the whole nine.

I love having DWI business, and I'm great at defending these cases, and I defend a huge number of them.

But please, even though I would love to have your business, please don't drink and drive. Please take a cab, or have a designated driver, or stay at home, or sleep on the floor. If you're going to drink, just don't get behind the wheel. And, also, please don't get in the passenger seat when the driver's impaired. Please.

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jueves, marzo 12, 2009

Tweeting, Twittering, Twitting

So I am learning how to use this thing called Twitter where I am called "thedavidseth". So far, it brings me some information and some jokes and I write some aphorisms. Really, I am not sure what it's for or how it can be used for something other than wasting time. Maybe I will learn how to use it before I give up.

You, of course, are welcome to "follow me."


Tullio Pinelli, RIP

Tullio Pinelli

The NY Times reports:
Tullio Pinelli, whose prolific screenwriting career included a long partnership with the director Federico Fellini, with whom he wrote many of Fellini’s best-known works, including “I Vitelloni,” “La Strada,” “La Dolce Vita” and “8 ½,” died on Saturday in Rome. He was 100...

Mr. Pinelli, who helped write more than 70 films, had been a lawyer in Turin, his hometown, where he also wrote plays. Not until his late 30s did he devote himself to movies. One day in late 1946 his life changed. He was standing in the Piazza Barberini in Rome, reading a newspaper at a kiosk, when he began a conversation with a young man reading the same paper. It was Fellini, then a young screenwriter, and they immediately fell into a discussion of films, each expressing a desire to infuse poetry and lyricism into the political neo-realism then in vogue in Italian cinema.

“Meeting each other was a creative lightning bolt,” he told a Fellini biographer, Tullio Kezich. “We spoke the same language from the start. We took a walk and ended up at his house on Via Lutezia.” He went on: “We were fantasizing about a screenplay that would be the exact opposite of what was fashionable then: the story of a very shy and modest office worker, who discovers he can fly, so he flaps his arms and escapes out the window.”

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Harsh Sentence For Iraq Shoe Thrower

Reuters reports:
An Iraqi reporter who hurled his shoes at former President George W. Bush was convicted of attempting to assault a foreign leader on Thursday and jailed for three years, dismaying many Iraqis who regard him as a hero.

Muntazer al-Zaidi, 30, who pleaded not guilty to the charge, told the Baghdad court: "What I did was a natural reaction for the crimes committed against the Iraqi people."

Outside the courtroom, wails erupted from Zaidi's family and other supporters when they heard the verdict. One of his brothers fainted and his sister Ruqaiya burst into tears, shouting: "Down with Maliki, the agent of the Americans."

Zaidi earned instant global fame in December when he threw his shoes at the visiting U.S. leader, who spearheaded the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and called him a dog at a news conference.

Dhiaa al-Saadi, the head of Zaidi's defense team, condemned the sentence as harsh and said it would be appealed.

The sentence is harsh. But it's not as harsh as the initial press reports about Zaidi, in which the Iraqi government suggested that they might want to give him fifteen years for his insolence. A fifteen year sentence in this case would have been an obvious travesty and a mockery of justice.

The actual, 3-year sentence, if I may parse it, is an attempt to show that the Iraqi government would like to appear as a moderate, just state, one that, after pressure and on reflection, does not impose extreme punishments. Rather, it gives punishments only slightly harsher than the US itself might give in a similar circumstance. That's what Iraq is trying to say to us.

In 1980 I represented one of two young men, members of the Revolutionary Communist Party, who went to the UN Security Council with red paint, and threw the red paint on both the US and USSR ambassadors while they were in the Security Council Chamber. They then shouted slogans and were arrested. Both were charged with conspiracy and a violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 112. That United States statute, a part of which arguably would apply to throwing two shoes at a visiting head of state and missing him twice, permits a 3-year term of imprisonment if someone "assault, strikes, wounds.. or offers violence" to an official guest of the US or a 6-month sentence if someone harasses or attempts to harass a foreign official.

Is throwing a shoe at an official guest, but missing him an attempted assault under the US statute, one that could be given a 3-year sentence? Probably. See, e.g., United States v. Gan, 636 F.2d 28 (2d Cir. 1980).

That's the comparison Iraq appears to be trying to make. But it's not really a fair comparison.

Unfortunately, the beating Zaidi received upon his arrest, his alleged torture after arrest, his being kept from family and friends and his lawyers while he was awaiting trial all don't figure in the belated Iraqi public relations offensive. All of that has been swept under the rug.

Zaidi should be immediately released. He's served enough time.

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miércoles, marzo 11, 2009

Otis Redding

Tonight I was thinking about Otis Redding. I really loved his music. And I was thinking about what I could say that would describe it adequately. Silly me. You can actually see him perform.

Here he is on the Stax tour of Europe in 1967:

About Try A Little Tenderness:
A popular version in an entirely new form was recorded by soul artist Otis Redding in 1966. Redding was backed on his version by Booker T. & the MG's, and Stax staff producer Isaac Hayes worked on the arrangement. [1] Redding's recording features a slow soulful opening that eventually builds into a frenetic R&B conclusion. It has been named on a number of "best songs of all time" lists, including those from Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It is in the 204th position on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.

It is remarkable that 42 years after this performance was recorded, it is still fresh. And nobody who has covered this song (including Chris Brown and Aretha Franklin and Sam Cooke) does it as well.

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What We Do

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The Champions League Final 8

Barcelona's Xavi and Lyon's Benzema

Once again, the English Premier League dominates with 4 teams: Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal. The other 4: Bayern Munich, Porto, Barcelona, and Villareal. There are no Italian teams left. The draw for who plays whom is on 3/20/09 at 4 pm ET.

These are eight fantastic teams. And there's a chance that two of the English teams will meet in the coming round. I'm excited.

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martes, marzo 10, 2009

Desperate Times Call For Desperate Metaphors

h/t David Wade Smith

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Fifty Years Of Exile

The New York Times reports:
The Dalai Lama delivered on Tuesday one of his harshest attacks on the Chinese government in recent times, saying that the Chinese Communist Party had transformed Tibet into a “hell on earth” and that the Chinese authorities regard Tibetans as “criminals deserving to be put to death.”

“Today, the religion, culture, language and identity, which successive generations of Tibetans have considered more precious than their lives, are nearing extinction,” said the Dalai Lama, 73, the spiritual leader of the Tibetans.

Those words came during a blistering speech made Tuesday morning in Dharamsala, India, the Himalayan hill town that is the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile. Tibetans outside of China and their supporters held rallies around the world on Tuesday to mark the 50th anniversary of a failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule. The Chinese military crushed the rebellion, forcing the Dalai Lama to flee across the Himalayas to India.

The furious tone of the Dalai Lama’s speech may have been in reaction to a new clampdown by China on the Tibetan regions. The Dalai Lama might also have adopted an angry approach to placate younger Tibetans who have accused the Dalai Lama of being too conciliatory toward China. The Dalai Lama advocates genuine autonomy for Tibet and not secession, while more radical Tibetans are urging the Dalai Lama to support outright independence.

Sadly, I cannot think of anything that can be done that will bring to Tibet and China peace and reconciliation.

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lunes, marzo 09, 2009

Zobeide, An Invisible City

Italo Calvino tells us in Invisible Cities:
From there, after six days and seven nights, you arrive at Zobeide, the white city, well exposed to the moon, with streets wound about themselves as in a skein. They tell this tale of its foundation: men of various nations had an identical dream. They saw a woman running at night through an unknown city; she was seen from behind, with long hair, and she was naked. They dreamed of pursuing her. As they twisted and turned, each of them lost her. After the dream, they set out in search of that city; they never found it, but they found one another; they decided to build a city like the one in the dream. In laying out the streets, each followed the course of his pursuit; at the spot where they had lost the fugitive's trail, they arranged spaces and walls differently from the dream, so she would be unable to escape again.

This was the city of Zobeide, where they settled, waiting for that scene to be repeated one night. None of them, asleep or awake, ever saw the woman again. The city's streets were streets where they went to work every day, with no link any more to the dreamed chase. Which, for that matter, had long been forgotten.

New men arrived from other lands, having had a dream like theirs, and in the city of Zobeide, they recognized something from the streets of the dream, and they changed the positions of arcades and stairways to resemble more closely the path of the pursued woman and so, at the spot where she had vanished, there would remain no avenue of escape.

The first to arrive could not understand what drew these people to Zobeide, this ugly city, this trap.

And so, because we are chasing something or someone that cannot be caught, we think it's a good idea to build a trap. So she won't escape. And we build ugliness. How much better it would be to see whether we could re-enter the dream at another time and try again to resume the pursuit. Or do we mistakenly believe that we cannot step into the same dream twice. And that we should make our dreams and metaphors out of concrete, so that they can be easily recovered.

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Happy 90th Birthday!!!

Here's my dad. He was born on March 10, 1919, and tomorrow is his 90th birthday. This is a remarkable milestone. In writing about my Dad, I feel that I'm sifting a huge pile of diamonds and what I choose to include in my stories about him turns these stories through their being chosen while others are rejected, into a kind of fiction rather than historical fact. So be it. If it was good enough for Paul Bunyan, it's good enough for me.

My dad's mom, my grandmother, lived to be 96; his father, only 52. He's had a remarkable life of achievements. He's been a teacher, a school principal, an assistant superintendent, a writer, a musician, a composer, a tool and die maker, a father of 2, a loving husband of 61 years, a soldier, a maker of incredible fishing poles, a fisherman, a traveler, a philosopher, a gentleman, a Mensch. The more I add to the list, the more categories arise.

If I spent a minute describing each year of his life, it would take 90 minutes to complete the story. If I spent a second, it would take a minute and a half. That would reduce World War 2 to 4 seconds, and his marriage with my Mom would take just over a minute. But that approach would miss the depth of some of the epic stories: his being the first in his family to go to College, his masters degree, his doctorate; the depression, staying a step ahead of eviction, staying back in 7th grade, his father's working as a milk man, a tailor, in the shipyard; his time with the 76th Infantry Division in Germany; his courtship of my mom (a favorite story of his retold at his birthday party this past Saturday); a life of hard work, saving and investing; his still evolving politics; the family dinners in which it was continually emphasized that it was important to be of help to others, to be compassionate. But that's just the beginning.

That approach misses the ideas he has, his ideals. It misses his wonderful sense of humor, his patience, his ability to explain things, how easy going he is. It also misses his stories, his questions, his thinking, his concerns, his worries, his wishes for peace and prosperity and fairness. It misses his love of music and film and books. It misses his love of Halvah.

On Saturday the family gathered from far and wide to have a birthday meal and to toast my dad on his 90th birthday. His many friends from the Residence came, and so did his grandchildren. We all wished him a Happy 90th Birthday. He invited us to come to his 100th.

Happy Birthday, Dad!

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domingo, marzo 08, 2009

Dr. Doolittle

Borges continues to delight and amaze me. In his story, Shakespeare's Memory (La Memoria de Shakespeare)(1983), we find the following:
"In Punjab," said the major in the course of our conversation, "a fellow once pointed out a beggar to me. Islamic legend apparently has it, you know, that King Solomon owned a ring that allowed him to understand the language of the birds. And this beggar, so everyone believed, had somehow come into possession of that ring. The value of the thing was so beyond all reckoning that the poor bugger could never sell it, and he died in one of the courtyards of the mosque of Wazil Khan, in Lahore."

What happened to the ring? It was lost, it's in some secret hiding place in the mosque, it's on the finger of someone living where there are no birds. The story continues,
It was at that point that Daniel Thorpe spoke up. He spoke, somehow, impersonally, without looking at us. His English had a peculiar accent, which I attributed to a long stay in the East.

"It is not a parable, " he said. "Or if it is, it is nonetheless a true story. There are things that have a price so high they can never be sold.
The story will eventually explain Thorpe's "peculiar accent." And much more. And the ring that allows the wearer to understand the language of the birds will be turned into a metaphor for something equally improbable, but for me, the story kindled the desire for such a wonderful decoder ring.

It is the earliest of Spring here. The birds have returned from their long winter travels. I can hear them singing. Whenever I hear them I wish, beyond all hope, that I had that long, lost ring of King Solomon, that I knew what the birds were saying, that I could hear about their journeys to Central America, that I could hear about their lives.

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The Life Of Pi

I heard on the radio recently that Daniel Tammet holds the world's record for reciting from memory the digits in pi:
Tammet holds the European record for reciting pi from memory to 22,514 digits in five hours and nine minutes.
I have no idea whether the world record is different from the European or the Asian or American record. And I have no idea what adjective best describes this kind of achievement. Is there an adjective that combines "gigantic" with "essentially meaningless?"

I have absolutely no idea why anyone would want to recite the values of pi to 22,514 figures, ever, much less why anyone would choose to do this from memory. "Because I can" hardly seems an adequate explanation. However, the idea of a championship tournament of people who were reciters of pi from memory utterly boggles and excites me. Imagine, if you will the pi recitation training camp, the pi recitation workouts, the rehearsals, the endorsements. Imagine, if you will, reporters from the Memory Channel and their interviews with the contestants. The touts: "The champ ain't talkin with the press right now, he's doin his rote work, and then he's gonna take a nap. Come back tomorrow."

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jueves, marzo 05, 2009

Rockefeller Drug Law Reform

New York's legislature might reform the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws (again) this year. New York has been saddled with its harsh drug laws for 36 years, and change has been extraordinarily slow in coming. New York's prisons are still jammed at huge cost both to the state and to the incarcerated and their families with non-violent drug offenders. And the legislature, prompted by fiscal concerns, seems willing to tinker with the statutes, rather than tossing them out and starting over with a different, sensible plan. The legislature's proposed reforms, however, are a beginning of significant change.

What is the present law? An addict who sells $10 worth of crack to support her own habit and who is convicted of a B-felony sale MUST go to prison for at least 1 year and then be on post release supervision (i.e. parole) for at least 1 year. And she might be sentenced to a term of 9 years. Judges cannot sentence her to probation or to treatment even if they believe that's appropriate. She can go through "shock incarceration" or CASAT, programs that will require her to be released before her 1-year term is ended. A 1-year term is ordinarily reduced by 1/7 for good behavior and an additional 1/7 for completing a program, making it essentially a prison term of about 8 months. Prison is presently the benchmark for all B-felony sales, no matter the circumstances. Some DA's will reduce these sales to crimes that do not require prison. But some will not. The definition of the crime does not take into account whether the sale is made solely for profit or whether it is made by an addict to support her habit.

The legislation changes this particular mandatory prison sentence by providing diversion possibilities and additional sentencing options.

The State Assembly has passed a bill to begin to make needed changes in the statutory scheme. The bill states as its Purpose Or General Idea:
To significantly reduce drug-related crime by addressing substance
abuse that often lies at the core of criminal behavior. The bill would
accomplish this goal by returning discretion to judges to tailor the
penalties of the penal law to the facts and circumstances of each drug
offense and authorizing the court to sentence certain non-violent drug
offenders to probation and drug treatment rather than mandatory prison
where appropriate. The bill will also strengthen in-prison drug
treatment and reentry services.
The bill might also pass the State Senate, which now has a Democratic majority.

This legislation is an important first step toward reform, but it's just not enough to solve all of the problems. There remains no cogent state policy about drugs, and long term incarceration of both sellers and users remains a distinct possibility under the new legislation. While the legislation begins to make substantive changes, it doesn't really attempt to solve all of the most obvious problems with the old laws.

Put another way, I agree with the New York Civil Liberties Union that "while the bill represents an important step in overhauling the drug laws, the bill was nevertheless only one step":
The [NYCLU's] analysis found that in certain essential respects, the Assembly proposal does not fully realize the reform principles on which the legislation is based.

The NYCLU noted, for example, that the bill:

* Leaves in place a sentencing scheme that permits unreasonably harsh maximum sentences for low-level, non-violent drug offenses;
* Disqualifies from eligibility for treatment and rehabilitation individuals who may be most in need of such programs; and
* Creates an unnecessarily burdensome procedure for sealing a criminal record after someone has completed a substance abuse program.

The NYCLU also recommended that in order to realize the promise of alternative to incarceration programs, the state must develop evidence-based, best-practice models to ensure good outcomes for the individuals who enter such programs – and for their families and communities.
About this, I agree with the ACLU's Donna Lieberman:
"This is an essential first step, but we encourage Governor Paterson and the State Senate to authorize judicial discretion to divert individuals from prison in all appropriate cases; to expand and improve the quality of alternative to incarceration programs; and to provide long-sought justice to the thousands of families that have been torn apart by the Rockefeller Drug Laws,” Lieberman said.
If New York is really serious about eliminating some of the obvious problems with these statutes, it's going to need to go further than the presently proposed legislation. The present legislation is a start that has been a long, long time in coming. Let's hope it doesn't take another decade to complete the process.

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martes, marzo 03, 2009

Wow! It's Growing!!

The Petition to have Attorney General Holder review all of the pending death penalty cases and to require prosecutors not to seek death in them, a step that would save about 50 lives, has grown to 231 signatures. Hurrah!

I'm leaving it up for the month of March. After that, I'll take it down and send it to the Attorney General. Wouldn't it be excellent to send 700 signatures on March 31, 2009?

To do that, I'm going to need your help. You know what to do. Please do it.

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There's A Spectre Haunting The Blogosfera

My friend Claudia, who is a wonderful writer, has a piece up at her blog and at Huffpuff, in which she asks the eternal, dreaded question for writers, "Am I getting paid for my work?" The answer, as you probably expect, isn't good:

Twice in the past week, I've heard the same bad news: two media outlets for whom I'd written articles informed me that they would not be paying me for the writing I had submitted.

One outlet is a very large and prominent city newspaper. The other is a regional magazine where I used to be paid rather handsomely, as far as freelance assignments go. Neither editor I spoke to was apologetic. Indeed, they both seemed a little surprised when I registered my objection. Somehow, they seemed to imply that I shouldn't need to be paid.
Apparently, the answer to the getting paid question is, "No, you're not. And don't ask again." If you argue, well, maybe nobody will read your work, pay or not, because it won't be put up or published. And so the Crash of 2009 has arrived like an unwanted Kashruth inspector in what Isaac Bashevis Singer called, "The Literary Factory." It's 2009. Now you produce "content," and in return you receive bupkis. OK. Maybe you get some comments. Maybe you receive a few recommends. Maybe you receive the personal warmth of a job well done. None of these is redeemable for goods at the convenience mart.

This is a serious problem. Oddly, as a writer, you own and control some of the means of your production, but, alas, you're probably producing something that can only be given away. That would mean that as far as economics is concerned it has no monetary value. It's simple. If real professionals like Claudia aren't getting checks in the mail for their work, you know that the army of volunteer scribblers and weekend web warriors aren't getting checks either. We're a large, vocal, literate mob of people who are getting nothing for their work. Nothing.

Right after I respond to this situation by writing, "Writers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains," I'm fresh out of material, I don't have the next sentence, the sentence about what we're going to do about this. I could even write, "There's a spectre haunting the blogosfera," but again, I don't have the next sentence, which should contain an answer. Oddly, I'm not sure where the machine is into which I could insert my shoe, or the machine I could throw my body in front of, or the factory I could occupy, or the plant I could strike. Put another way, nobody cares if you withhold from them a service that is worthless.

Nobody, as far as I know, at dd or Huffpuff or a dozen other medium and large size blogs gets paid anything to write. I know I sure don't. I know that I put up pieces just because I can and because I want to. I create "content" and I put it up. And if there are enough hits, maybe there's some money somewhere not to me, but to the blog owners to offset the costs of running the circus. And if there aren't enough hits, well, then maybe somebody will click the "donate" icon (mine at The Dream Antilles has never been clicked I'm sad to report, ever, not even for a single $1.00). And in the worst case, and here the worst case is the most probable, the blog owners might have to write some checks from their own, formerly obtained stash of money, to keep the blog they own from expiring. I doubt they have the moolah to write checks from the income their blogs have generated.

This state of affairs just isn't sustainable, which is a nice way of saying to writers and to blog owners alike, "Don't quit your day job(s)." If you want to write, unless things change, you're stuck. You're going to do it for free.

Claudia writes:
Which brings me back to the point of this poor-me --or better, poor us-- tale. If The New York Times is giving its news product away, doesn't that send a very important message ricocheting through our society: that news has no value? We live in a society that places a very clear value on things: we pay our baseball and movie star celebrities astronomically high salaries. We pay our day care providers and our teachers next to nothing.

Ironically, I am writing this for The Huffington Post, which makes no apologies about the fact that it doesn't pay its bloggers. When I --very politely-- asked an editor about this issue last year, he very nicely explained to me that the many hundred bloggers at the Huff Po are willing to write for free because they know their work is being seen by many millions of eyes.

That's true of course. And yes, I do see the value of having my work appear in the Huff Po. But I guess I am also old-fashioned. I was trained in an era when my work, appearing in The Wall Street Journal, earned me more than just readership. It earned me a salary. Writing, and reporting, took time. And time as we all know, is money.
To which I can add, standing on one leg like Hillel, that the rest is commentary. If news is worthless in the present system, opinion, its poor stepchild, no matter how clever or correct, is worth even less.

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