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

lunes, abril 20, 2009

Epistle To the Bloguer@s From A Traveler

Querido Amig@s en la Blogosfera,
In 1999 I was traveling in India when Columbine happened. Everywhere I went, and I went to some pretty remote places, people I met, well at least those who had televisions, wanted to know one thing. That one thing, loosely translated, is WTF is wrong with the US anyway? What kind of crazy batshit country produces these kinds of homicidal maniacs? And why? I didn't have a good answer. If we had a few beers or got to know each other a little, I would might have a chance to begin to try to explain it, but I couldn't. And that's not because I'm inarticulate. It's because there is no satisfactory answer.

And now this. Tuesday I'm traveling to Ireland. And you know what? Everywhere I go, and I will go to some pretty rural places, people I meet will want to know one thing. That one thing, loosely translated, is WTF is wrong with the US anyway? What kind of crazyland country has black sites, extralegal extraditions, Gitmo, Bagram, waterboarding, torture, Abu Ghraib AND, and this is the important AND, AND announces that nothing should be done about those who tortured or ordered torture or wrote bogus "legal" memos to justify torture? And what kind of country that does all of that has the chutzpah (that is a revered Irish word) to lecture other countries about human rights? Isn't that against the law in the US, to torture prisoners? Isn't that against International Law, to torture prisoners, and then also to fail or refuse to prosecute the torturers? Isn't that what the US prosecuted various Japanese soldiers for about 60 years ago? Didn't the US say that the excuse of "just following orders" just wasn't good enough to keep you from hanging? Trust me on this. On Tuesday evening, when I am sitting comfortably in a pub in Dublin, bemused by my good fortune and friendships, slowly working my way out of jet lag and into a reverie about James Joyce and looking greedily at the bottom of a pint, somebody will smile and ask me the question. And, of course, I don't have a good answer. How could I? I'm not inarticulate. I will buy a round from time to time. But for heaven's sake, WTF am I supposed to say about this? There really isn't a satisfactory answer.

Well, Mr. My Friend, I could begin, that's quite a question you're asking me. I'm as enraged and unhappy about this as anyone, well, almost anyone. I'm not nearly as enraged and unhappy as the people who were tortured or their families, but aside from them. I haven't got a f*cking clue why immunity or lack of action this was so prominently announced, and while we're at it, I have no idea WTF you or I or anybody else can do about it at this point other than raise a ruckus. Not at all. And, Mr. My Friend, a first step toward making a ruckus is that you really need to visit the torture petitions and sign them, one and all. And then, and only after yo do that, let's have another pint and see what kind of ruckus we can create.

Your pal,

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domingo, abril 19, 2009

What I Expect At Penn Station, New York

Boca Juniors v. River Plate on TV Today

This is why nothing is getting written. Nothing is getting done. 3 pm. Fox Espanol. This is not to be missed. El duelo de titanes en la Bombonera!

h/t nomoreonionbags

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viernes, abril 17, 2009

Prosecute! Prosecute! Prosecute!

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Torture: The Need To Prosecute

Yesterday, while I was driving to court, I heard on NPR that the "torture memos" had been redacted and released, and to my amazement, that Barack Obama had announced that the actual torturers would not be prosecuted. I thought I misunderstood the radio.

This morning I see that I didn't misunderstand anything. The New York Times reports:
The Justice Department on Thursday made public detailed memos describing brutal interrogation techniques used by the Central Intelligence Agency, as President Obama sought to reassure the agency that the C.I.A. operatives involved would not be prosecuted.

In dozens of pages of dispassionate legal prose, the methods approved by the Bush administration for extracting information from senior operatives of Al Qaeda are spelled out in careful detail — like keeping detainees awake for up to 11 straight days, placing them in a dark, cramped box or putting insects into the box to exploit their fears.
I'm more interested in the "would not be prosecuted part" than the bugs in a box, crazed dogs, waterboarding, sleep deprivation, slamming naked people into walls part. The latter aren't really news, nor are the legal contortions, sophistry, and nonsense that the memos have invoked to define these actions as "not torture" and/or to justify their use. No, the part that didn't register was the announcement of prosecutorial immunity for people who followed what are plainly illegal orders to torture. That is the part that inflames.

Mr. Obama condemned what he called a “dark and painful chapter in our history” and said that the interrogation techniques would never be used again. But he also repeated his opposition to a lengthy inquiry into the program, saying that “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.”

Mr. Obama said that C.I.A. officers who were acting on the Justice Department’s legal advice would not be prosecuted, but he left open the possibility that anyone who acted without legal authorization could still face criminal penalties. He did not address whether lawyers who authorized the use of the interrogation techniques should face some kind of penalty.

With all due respect to Obama, I don't think we need "a lengthy inquiry" and a "laying of blame" for torture. Not at all. What we need are prosecutions of people who tortured. As the Times points out, "The United States prosecuted some Japanese interrogators at war crimes trials after World War II for waterboarding and other methods detailed in the memos." And we need prosecutions of lawyers who wrote bogus memos authorizing and approving torture. And we need prosecutions of people who, knowing that the memos were nonsense, solicited, importuned, commanded, advised, and ordered others to torture. US officials tortured. If it's true that the US does not torture, there have to be consequences for torturing. Prosecutorial immunity is not a consequence for violating the law and human rights.

Further, as I wrote last night, there was no reason for an announcement that there would be no prosecutions of torturers. The memos had to be released because yesterday was the deadline in the ACLU's suit under the Freedom of Information Law for their release. There was nothing about releasing the documents that required a spontaneous grant of prosecutorial immunity to anybody. In fact, far to the contrary. Why didn't Obama just release the memos, and wait for the low level interrogators to come running to his office to say who ordered what and when? Unless, of course, the reason for the statement was to protect all of those up the chain of command.

I understand full well that the CIA opposed the release of the documents. I understand that "Leon E. Panetta, the C.I.A. director, had argued that revealing such information set a dangerous precedent for future disclosures of intelligence sources and methods." That's all very nice. But the tail doesn't wag the dog. The assertion that CIA morale and esprit d'corps require the shielding of those who torture from prosecution is a chilling one that simply should not be countenanced.

Other than making a ruckus across the Internet, something that has not yet happened yet, I can suggest only that those who find this grant of immunity as disgusting as I do sign the ACLU petition and the one calling for prosecutions.

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lunes, abril 13, 2009

Phil Spector Convicted Of Murder

The New York Times reports:
Phil Spector, the rock music impresario behind such hits such as “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling” and “Be My Baby,” was found guilty of second-degree murder in the death of an actress at his mansion in 2003, after a night of drinking.

Mr. Spector, 69, faces a possible 18 years to life in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for May 29.The jury reached its decision after deliberating whether one of the recording industry’s best-known producers shot the woman in a fit of anger or, as his lawyers argued, merely witnessed the woman’s suicide.

Mr. Spector, who was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, is famous for his “Wall of Sound” lush orchestrations heard on an array of hits in the 1960s and 1970s with groups like the Ronettes. He has worked with the Beatles, Tina Turner, the Rolling Stones and others but had receded from the public stage in recent years and was known as much for eccentric behavior — he has been often photographed wearing a large fright wig — as his talent.

Bummer. And what an macabre footnote to the history of rock. This is the end of a very creative career.

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domingo, abril 12, 2009

In Memoriam: The Hillsborough 96

The BBC remembers:
Twenty years ago 96 Liverpool supporters died at Hillsborough at an FA Cup Semi Final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

The death of 96 Liverpool fans in a crush before the 1989 FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough led to an outpouring of grief on Merseyside and the subsequent introduction of all-seater stadiums following Lord Justice Taylor's inquiry in to the tragedy.

The 1989 FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest was held on 15 April 1989.


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Again, The Problem Of Reality

I'm fascinated and return again to mysterious objects. This time it's an entire city.

Italo Calvino tells us of this invisible city:
When you have forded the river, when you have crossed the mountain pass, you suddenly find before you the city of Moriana, its alabaster gates transparent in the sunlight, its coral columns supporting pediments encrusted with serpentine, its villas all of glass like aquariums where the shadows of dancing girls with silvery scales swim beneath the Medusa-shaped chandeliers. If this is not your first journey, you already know that cities like this have an obverse: you have only to walk a semi-circle and you will come into view of Moriana's hidden face, an expanse of rusting sheet metal, sack cloths, planks bristling with spikes, pipes black with soot, piles of tins, behind walls with fading signs, frames of staved-in straw chairs, ropes good only for hanging oneself from a rotten beam.

From one part to the other, the city seems to continue, in perspective, multiplying its repertory of images: but instead it has no thickness, it consists only of a face and an obverse, like a sheet of paper, with a figure on either side, which can neither be separated nor look at each other.
Alas, the city is a two dimensional solid, another escapee from the chasm between waking and dreaming.

This might remind you, as it does me, of Jorge Luis Borges' "The Disk," a story from The Book of Sand (El Libro de Arena)(1975), in which we find the "Disk of Odin":
"It is the disk of Odin," the old man said in a patient voice, as though he were speaking to a child. "It has but one side. There is not another thing on earh that has but one side. So long as I hold it in my hand I shall be king."

In the moments between sleep and wakefulness these objects seem tangible to me The city is flat, but it's a city. The disk glimmers. I know I'm dreaming, but I try to remember to hold onto the dream so that I will be able to examine it more fully when I am awake. But as I awake, as my sleep falls away, the fallacy arises, and the object I am clenching so tightly in my fist, disappears. What was it? I wonder, how could that be? What was that? But it's gone.

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La Cumbre Erupts

Satellite image of La Cumbre

The New York Times reports:
QUITO, Ecuador (AP) -- Ecuador officials say a volcano is erupting in the Galapagos Islands and could harm unique wildlife.

The Galapagos National Park says La Cumbre volcano began spewing lava, gas and smoke on uninhabited Fernandina Island on Saturday after four years of inactivity.

The park says in a statement the eruption is not a threat to people living on nearby Isabela Island.

But it says lava flowing to the sea will likely affect marine and terrestrial iguanas, sea lions and other fauna.... La Cumbre last erupted in May 2005.

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viernes, abril 10, 2009

Sin Nombre

What a film! Cary Fukunaga's Sin Nombre ("Nameless") is the best movie I've seen in a very long time. It mixes the story of Sayra, a Honduran who is trying to immigrate to the US with her uncle and cousin to find a better future with the story of gang members Smiley (who seems to be 12 years old) and El Casper, members Mara Salvatrucha, for whom the gang is everything. I'm not revealing the plot; there is no spoiler here.

The film is beautifully photographed. The journey from Chiapas to the Rio Grande atop boxcars would be harrowing enough if the only obstacles were the danger of the ride and the police, corrupt and otherwise. But the gangs also prey unmercifully on the migrants during the journey. And the final crossing into the US does not provide sanctuary. The film is a wonderful blend of road film, love story, and chase film.

Don't miss this film.

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lunes, abril 06, 2009

The Goal Of The Year

Saturday, in Wolfsburg's blow out victory over Bayern Munich, Grafite scored what has to be the best goal of this year. Watch:

Reuters UK reports the raves about this goal:
German media have already decided that Grafite’s brilliant 77th-minute solo goal in Wolfsburg’s 5-1 win over Bayern Munich on Saturday is the goal of the year.

He somehow managed to elude five Bayern players before scoring with a cheeky backheel.

It may seem a bit early to be choosing the “Tor des Jahres” with nine months left in 2009 but even the normally reserved public TV broadcast “Das Aktuelle Sportstudio” proclaimed it “the most spectacular goal in Bundesliga history”.

The electrifying goal has featured in German newscasts all weekend.

The goal was Grafite's second in the match.

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domingo, abril 05, 2009

He's Back!

Apparently, Mexico has decided to go with somebody who previously did well as Mexico's coach, to save El Tri from elimination from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa:
Javier Aguirre was reappointed as Mexico's soccer coach yesterday, a day after Sven-Goran Eriksson was fired.

The Mexican Football Federation said it trusted 50-year-old Aguirre to get the team to next year's World Cup in South Africa.

Mexico has dropped to fourth in the six-team CONCACAF finals. Only the top three automatically qualify while the fourth-place team must meet South America's fifth-best in playoffs.

Aguirre previously took over as Mexico coach in 2001 and took the team to the Copa America final and last 16 of the 2002 World Cup.

Aguirre will, of course, inherit the same problems that faced his predecessor.

Department of ironies: Both times Aguirre was hired, it was after a 3-1 loss to Honduras. The first was in 2001; the second, 2009. His last job at Atletico Madrid ended after they lost 7 games in a row.

I'm not optimistic.

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sábado, abril 04, 2009

Llaima Again Erupts

The NY Times reports:
Chile's Llaima volcano, one of the most active in South America, spewed out a river of lava more than 1,100 yards long on Saturday in a fresh eruption, prompting officials to order dozens of people to evacuate.

Llaima, which lies in Chile's picturesque lake region about 435 miles south of the capital Santiago, erupted on January 1, 2008, and has belched rock and ash sporadically since then.

The lava and hot gases from the latest eruption are melting snow on the sides of the volcano, and authorities say some towns are in danger of being hit by mudslides.

"We are going to start the evacuation of some people who live in sectors that are particularly vulnerable to the risk of ... avalanches of mud due to melting snow," Johaziel Jamett, head of the early warning center at the National Emergency Office, told Reuters.

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In Memoriam

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929 - April 4, 1968)

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

May he rest in peace.


Big Mama Thornton

How strange. I forgot all about Big Mama Thornton for years and years until today when I heard her on WKZE, the rare, local, musically diverse, eclectic FM station. Big Mama suffered from bad business deals, bad production on records, bad back up bands, and as you'll see in the following 1965 video, bad production values and bad packaging (this is how a diva dresses and is video'd?). But she was the person who first recorded Hound Dog, a song made even more famous by Elvis, and for which she probably didn't receive a dime. And she had an incredible voice. Listen to this:

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jueves, abril 02, 2009

Raul Alfonsin, RIP

Raul Alfonsin (1927-2009)

The New York Times notes the passing of Raul Alfonsin:
Raúl Alfonsín, whose presidency in the 1980s symbolized the return of democracy in Argentina and other Latin American nations after an era of military dictatorships, died Tuesday at his home in Buenos Aires. He was 82....

A passionate voice for human rights, Mr. Alfonsín governed from 1983 to 1989, a time of upheaval that included three failed military coups, hyperinflation and food riots. He won praise for prosecuting the military dictators who had preceded him in office.

His government’s inability to manage a sinking economy led him to step down several months before his term was to end, but he remained a respected and influential political figure. When he handed over power to Carlos Saúl Menem, it was the first time in 61 years that an elected Argentine president had been succeeded by an elected president from a different political party.

“My inspiration comes from an ethic, rather than an ideology,” Mr. Alfonsín once said in an interview, “an ethic that believes in the freedom of man.” He liked to call himself “the most humble Argentine,” and his rumpled suits and shabby trench coat became his trademarks.
He will be remembered.

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miércoles, abril 01, 2009


This is “Survivors,” an installation by the Cuban artist Roberto Fabelo at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Havana. I really like this. It fits perfectly with my frequently saying that after 2012 the only things living in North America will be cockroaches and people like me who were born in Newark.

Today the NY Times reports on the Habana Biennial:
The biennial, which opened on Friday, runs until April 30 and has attracted works from more than 300 artists and 54 countries. It has given the streets of Havana an almost carnivalesque air.

At the Palacio de Bellas Artes, children gathered on Sunday to gawk in disgusted fascination at an outdoor installation by the Cuban artist Roberto Fabelo called “Survivors.” It consists of more than 10 giant cockroach sculptures, with human faces, crawling up the side of the building.
Well, it's nice that the Times can tell us about this. But the bloqueo prevents me from visiting and seeing it in person. That stinks.

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