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

jueves, mayo 28, 2009

An Extremely Beautiful Despacho

In the simplest terms, a despacho is an offering. It contains prayers, prayers for Pachamama, Santa Tierra Madre, Mother Earth. And the prayers are released by burning or by burying the despacho in the earth. In metaphorical terms, a despacho is an entire Universe. It contains the four directions, the sky, the earth, the Apus, everything in our cosmos. And it holds our dreams and our prayers and our intentions for peace, healing, abundance, love, beauty and community.

The making of a despacho is an ancient ceremony from the Andes. Prayers are blown into all of the symbolic objects. And a beautiful universe is slowly constructed from leaves and material and food and all kinds of other materials. In this Universe there is respect and care for Mother Earth, sweetness, and abundance, and wealth, and health, and the mountains, the stars, the forests, the clouds, the sun, the ocean, the entire world, the entire galaxy, and all of us. The completed despacho is sealed and tied and ultimately offered through the fire, releasing the prayers and intentions.

It is a lovely ceremony. These words must trivialize it: a ceremonial despacho is not about words, it's about intention and energy, the unseen, our feelings and intuitions, and spirit. But there is a video, with a beautiful despacho made by Don Mariano, who is a Q'ero from Peru:

I love the video. And the despacho is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. I find myself playing the video over and over and over again. I hope you enjoy it.

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Reality Imitates Art

Huene Island in the Pacific

With their boundless vistas of turquoise water framed by swaying coconut palms, the Carteret Islands northeast of the Papua New Guinea mainland might seem the idyllic spot to be a castaway.

But sea levels have risen so much that during the annual king tide season, November to March, the roiling ocean blocks the view from one island to the next, and residents stash their possessions in fishing nets strung between the palm trees.

“It gives you the scary feeling that you don’t know what is going to happen to you, that any minute you will be floating,” Ursula Rakova, the head of a program to relocate residents, said by telephone. The small chain could well be uninhabitable by 2015, locals believe, but two previous attempts to abandon it ended badly, when residents were chased back after clashing with their new neighbors on larger islands.
There is a question whether desde Desdemona is an intermittent island or a sandbar with trees, or both, or neither. One thing is certain: twice a day at high tide the sea covers everything except the two large rocks that mark the ends of the reef, and the trees, which hold the tree houses and catwalks that make up desde Desdemona's villages. At low tide, the villages are joined by a very broad, very flat white sand beach.

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Gabo's Life

This morning's New York Times gives us Janet Maslin's review of Gerald Martin's biography of of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It's hard to imagine a more favorable review. A brief sample, though the entire review should be read:

This intensive, assured, penetratingly analytical book will be the authoritative English-language study of Mr. García Márquez until Mr. Martin can complete an already 2,000-page, 6,000-footnote version “in a few more years, if life is kind.” He compressed that sprawling magnum opus into 545 pages (plus notes and index), a “brief, relatively compact narrative,” so it could be published “while the subject of this work, now a man past 80, is still alive and in a position to read it.” Both author and subject have been treated for lymphoma, Mr. Martin says.

That kind of bluntness runs throughout “Gabriel García Márquez: A Life,” and it is essential to the book’s success. The last thing this literary lion needed was a fawning, accommodating Boswell. Nor did he need a biographer eager to show off his own flair. When writing about Mr. García Márquez, king of the magical realists, Mr. Martin understands that it is best to stick to the facts and skip the fancy footwork.

Could any biographer have been better suited to this gargantuan undertaking? Absolutely not: Mr. Martin is the ideal man for the job. He has already written studies of 20th-century Latin American fiction; translated the work of another Latin American Nobel laureate, Miguel Ángel Asturias; and written about Latin American history. These are essential prerequisites for unraveling the labyrinthine cultural and political aspects of Mr. García Márquez’s peripatetic life. So are Mr. Martin’s demonstrable patience, wide range of knowledge and keen understanding of his subject’s worldwide literary forebears, from Cervantes to Dostoyevsky to Mark Twain.
Evidently, this is a book not to be missed.

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miércoles, mayo 27, 2009

Barca 2 Man U 0

Lionel Messi Shows Yet Again That A Small Man Can Be A Great Football Star

The New York Times:
ROME — Patience, flair and a brilliant game of keep-away prevailed over force Wednesday night when Barcelona dominated Manchester United, 2-0, to win the European Champions League title, Europe’s most prestigious club soccer tournament.

Barcelona controlled the ball for long stretches with its unhurried and clever passing, attacked incessantly, held tight with a patchwork defense and made a tactical switch at forward, placing Lionel Messi as a central striker and shifting Samuel Eto’o to the right wing. Eventually, Messi drifted into midfield to secure possession. Both he and Eto’o delivered goals as Barcelona won its third European title and second in four years.

It will be left to Barcelona’s supporters to gleefully debate whether this is the Catalans’ greatest team, now that the first-year coach Pep Guardiola has guided his squad to the Spanish League title, the Spanish Cup and now the European Cup with a style that is familiarly elegant and ebullient. For a night, it was enough for Barcelona fans — seemingly the vast majority among 72,000 at Olympic Stadium — to celebrate with cameras that flashed like fireflies as the trophy was held aloft in a shower of confetti.
I couldn't have said this better myself. Bravo! Viva Barca! Viva Messi!

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lunes, mayo 25, 2009

Governor Rell Vows To Preserve State Killing

What a disgrace. On Friday, the Connecticut legislature passed a bill abolishing the death penalty. I asked readers of my essay to call or email Governor Rell to ask her please to sign the bill. There was, I pointed out, a strong chance that the Republican Governor, a long time death penalty supporter, would veto the bill.

Today's Hartford Courant says that Governor Rell vows to veto the measure when it gets to her desk. It might take a few weeks to get there:
Just hours after the state Senate gave final legislative approval Friday to a historic measure abolishing the death penalty in Connecticut, Gov. M. Jodi Rell came out with an expected announcement:

She said she was going to veto the measure as soon as it hits her desk.

"I appreciate the passionate beliefs of people on both sides of the death penalty debate. I fully understand the concerns and deeply held convictions of those who would like to see the death penalty abolished in Connecticut," she said in a statement.

"However, I also fully understand the anguish and outrage of the families of victims who believe, as I do, that there are certain crimes so heinous — so fundamentally revolting to our humanity — that the death penalty is warranted."
What nonsense. The families of victims are far from unanimous that the death penalty is warranted. In fact, as the Courant pointed out in its photo caption, Friday "[f]amilies of victims of murder [spoke] at a press conference in support of a bill passed by the legislature Thursday that would abolish the death penalty. Pictured are Gail Canzano, at podium, Elizabeth Brancato of Torrington, State Representative Gary Holder-Winfield of New Haven, Rev. Walter Everett , Cindy Siclari of Monroe and Anne Stone of Farmington." So the Governor's invocation of wishes of the families of victims rings hollow.

We can all easily understand how appealing revenge on killers might be, but the overwhelming majority of civilized societies in the world have now abandoned that barbarian argument. Rell chooses, however, to dress up the old canard in victims' rights clothing. The fact is that she's not doing anything for victims' families by permitting the state to kill killers. And she's certainly not doing anything for the rest of us, in whose names these state killings will be carried out. State killing doesn't deter killing, and it doesn't bring "closure" to the families of victims.

Governor Rell's vowing the veto because she allegedly "believes" in the death penalty. And when Republicans enact policies just because they believe in them-- surely the memory of George W. Bush has not been forgotten-- you know that irrationality has prevailed.

You might want to tell Governor Rell that the death penalty is a bad idea, that we can live without it, and that she's making a mistake if she vetoes this bill.

Please telephone Governor Rell (860.566.4840) or email her ( and let he know that it's time for Connecticut to step into the 21st Century. It's time for her to sign the death penalty abolition bill.

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sábado, mayo 23, 2009

Prolonged Detention: Whipped Cream On Manure Doesn't Make A Dessert

Put in the simplest terms, the proponents of "prolonged detention" think that dressing up preventive detention with post detention procedures will make it constitutional. Procedures= whip cream. Detention= manure. This will not make the prolonged detention policy palatable. It will not preserve the sentiments behind the US Constitution. And a debate about how many dollops of whipped cream are required will completely miss the point. The point imo is that prolonged detention is in a single word unacceptable. It should not be countenanced. The idea should be shelved and abandoned.

The NY Times tell us that the "prolonged detention" plan is still mostly theoretical, that there aren't real details, but there's a frightening, general plan:
Mr. Obama has so far provided few details of his proposed system beyond saying it would be subject to oversight by Congress and the courts. Whether it would be constitutional, several of the legal experts said in interviews, would most likely depend on the fairness of any such review procedures.

Ultimately, they suggested, the question of constitutionality would involve a national look in the mirror: Is this what America does?

“We have these limited exceptions to the principle that we only hold people after conviction,” said Michael C. Dorf, a constitutional law professor at Cornell. “But they are narrow exceptions, and we don’t want to expand them because they make us uncomfortable.”

In his speech on antiterrorism policy Thursday, Mr. Obama, emphasizing that he wanted fair procedures, sought to distance himself from what critics of the Bush administration saw as its system of arbitrary detention.

“In our constitutional system,” Mr. Obama said, “prolonged detention should not be the decision of any one man.”
I want to repeat myself. The proponents of "prolonged detention" think that dressing up detention with post detention procedures will make it constitutional. Procedures= whip cream. Detention= manure. Please recall that what the current Supreme Court says is Constitutional is the final word on a topic. So the practical question the administration faces is just how much seeming fairness in procedure do they have to provide to satisfy a rightwing dominated Supreme Court that defers regularly to assertions of national security and expertise by the executive. The answer? Not so much. Not so much at all. A little bit more than Bush. Maybe half a dollop.

But even aside from that, and the historical willingness of the Supreme Court to endorse totalitarian measures, like detention of Japanese citizens in the face of claims of national security threats, procedural protections are only as good as the person making the decision. Let me explain this: Substantive measures like detention of scary people will always trump procedural protections.

Years ago I was involved in representing prisoners (in prisons and mental institutions) who were punished by their holders for violating institutional rules. At the time, the big, national push was to require that prisoners receive a hearing before they were thrown in solitary confinement or lost good time or had to endure other serious punishments. We got federal courts to order that the accused prisoners would have a prior hearing unless it was an emergency. If it was an emergency, they could be locked up first and then be given a "due process" hearing with significant but not unlimited procedural safeguards. The prisons were enjoined to follow these rules. Great. An apparent victory for the prisoners, right? Wrong. Did any fewer prisoners end up in solitary? No. Did any fewer prisoners argue that they had been unfairly punished? No. Whoever held the hearing made whatever decision s/he thought should be made. The result was that the hearings slowly became recognized kangaroo courts. The procedural protections were there in theory only.

How could this happen with all of court ordered "due process" protections the inmates had? Hah. As a colleague of mine said about this very issue, "You can put whip cream on dung, but it doesn't make it a dessert." The prisons wanted to put prisoners in special housing units for long periods of time. Guess what? They did that. The procedures were there so they could argue later on, "But you had a fair, due process hearing in full compliance with what the federal court ordered." In some ways, and this is frightening, it made confinement easier.

The next question is who. What lucky people, who will be initially chosen to experience "prolonged detention" in all its wonderful procedural glory? The Times says:
Mr. Obama’s proposal was a sign of the sobering difficulties posed by the president’s plan to close the Guantánamo prison by January. The prolonged detention option is necessary, he said, because there may be some detainees who cannot be tried but who pose a security threat.

These, he said, are prisoners who in effect remain at war with the United States, even after some seven years at Guantánamo. He listed as examples detainees who received extensive explosives training from Al Qaeda, have sworn allegiance to Osama bin Laden or have otherwise made it clear that they want to kill Americans.

Did you get that? There are prisoners we have now who we cannot try because we have no admissible evidence (maybe they were tortured, maybe there was no evidence in the first place that they committed a crime, who knows why they've been locked up for 7 years or more?) but, and this is the big but, even though there's no proof they did anything, and there's nothing they could be tried for, they still are claimed to "pose a security threat," one that requires them to be locked up forever.

Take a look at the nearby precedents for detention without proof of crime: sexual predators who have finished their prison terms, psychiatric inmates who are an imminent danger to themselves and others, people who represent a risk to the community who have been charged but not yet convicted of serious crimes. In other words, the scary people. So, of course, the scary people from Gitmo might become a fourth category. Put another way, people come up to those who defend such people at cocktail parties and ask, wide eyed, "How can you defend such a person?"

The legal question might be parsed as how many dollops of whip cream procedure are required to turn detention into a seeming dessert. The current proposals, as general as they are, give cold comfort: the decision shouldn't be made by one person, there should be oversight from congress and the courts. Congress, of course, has provided such masterful oversight in the past 8 years that it's rational to rely on that. Not. And the Courts? You've got to be kidding. Show me a single court when faced with a claim of national security that has denied the claim outright.

My point on this? The people, yes, Virginia, they are people, presently held in Gitmo need to be tried or released. There should be no third category, there should be no "prolonged detention." The correct approach to this issue is to stop trying to make "new regimes," new categories, new inventions. The correct approach is to stop making believe that what the US is doing in the GWOT is a "war." And that the alleged participants in terror are some kind of special "enemy combatants." They're not. They're more criminals than they are soldiers. And we should imo be trying them as criminals if we possibly can. And if we cannot try them, the required step in the US for the past two hundred years is this: release them.

I am alarmed, but not surprised that so many people are ready to make excuses for the Government on this issue. To me, this is one proposal that needs for the sake of our country to be shelved and abandoned.

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viernes, mayo 22, 2009

Please Ask Connecticut Governor Rell To Sign The Death Penalty Abolition Bill

Early this morning the Connecticut Senate voted to abolish Connecticut's death penalty. The vote was 19-17. The bill now goes to Governor Jodi Rell (R). She sounds like she will veto the bill. So, if you care about the value of human life and making Connecticut and America more just and ending the barbarism that is the death penalty, this is an important time to spend a few moments to call or email Governor Rell to ask her to sign the bill. The phone is 860.566.4840. The email:

Connecticut is not in the "death belt." Never has been. Connecticut has had one execution in the past 48 years. Michael Ross was executed in 2005 only after he withdrew his appeals and "volunteered" for execution, and that decision was fought as far as it could go in the Courts. Regardless, there seems to be strong support for retaining the death penalty in the Connecticut Senate among its Republican members, some Democrats in the Senate crossed over to vote against the abolition measure, and and Governor Rell has repeatedly said that she supports retention of the death penalty.

The Day reports:
The Connecticut Senate voted to abolish the death penalty early Friday morning after a marathon debate, narrowly approving a bill that would make life imprisonment without possibility of release the state’s highest criminal punishment.

The Senate approved the death penalty bill, 19-17, shortly after 4 a.m., after nearly 11 hours of debate. The same measure had previously passed in the House of Representatives, and proceeds to Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who has appeared likely to veto the bill.

If signed into law, the bill would make Connecticut the 16th American state without an active death penalty statute.

The bill almost died in the Senate. "Partisan acrimony virtually derailed the workings of the chamber, as the death penalty bill ran head-on into a deliberate slow-down effort by the Senate’s 12-member Republican minority, prompted by the minority party’s anger at the management of business in the Senate." Put another way, Republicans, even Connecticut Republicans, and some Democrats, even Connecticut Democrats, cling to the barbarism and caprice that is the death penalty. "Republicans filed 26 amendments on the bill, eventually calling five, and finally withdrew their remaining amendments from consideration after securing an agreement from Williams not to force a debate on reform of the state probate courts even later into Friday morning." The final vote was 17 against abolition. That means that 5 Democrats voted against abolition. You might ask what probate reform has to do with state killing.

You'll recall that just recently New Mexico abolished its death penalty when the bill was signed by Governor Richardson. Richardson took the matter seriously, requested input, and ultimately made the correct decision. What about Governor Rell?

Well, yesterday, Governor Rell had this to say:
Meanwhile, Rell reiterated her support for the death penalty Thursday, increasing the likelihood of a veto, which supporters do not have the votes to override.

“You know how I feel about the death penalty,” the governor said. “I’ve always believed there are some crimes that are so heinous it deserves the death penalty.”

And before that she repeatedly supported of state killing. In other words, this doesn't sound good.

Please lend a hand. Please take a moment to email Governor Rell at or call her office at 860.566.4840 and ask her please to sign the death penalty abolition bill. Do it because it's the right thing to do. Do it because we need to join virtually all of the rest of the world and stop state killing.

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jueves, mayo 21, 2009

Pattabhi Jois, RIP

The New York Times reports:

Krishna Pattabhi Jois, a prominent and influential yoga teacher who drew a global following that included Western celebrities like Madonna and Sting, died on Monday in his home in the southern Indian city of Mysore, his family said. He was 93.
He was the originator of Ashtanga Yoga:
Mr. Jois popularized the school of yoga known as Ashtanga, which literally means eight limbs and is characterized by fast-paced exercises that involve pronounced, but controlled, breathing while holding varying postures. Unlike some other forms of yoga, Ashtanga is meant to induce profuse sweating, which Mr. Jois said was necessary to cleanse the body.
May he find peace.

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martes, mayo 19, 2009

Myanmar: Release Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi

Evidently, the military junta running Myanmar (Burma) has decided to make life for Aung San Suu Kyi even worse. Today was the second day of her trial. The New York Times reports:
As protests grew around the world, the trial of Myanmar’s pro-democracy leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, entered its second day Tuesday as the government pursued its charges that could transform her years of house arrest into the harsher conditions of a prison term.

Hundreds of police, some in full riot gear, blocked roads leading to Insein Prison, where the trial is being held, and a small number of protesters gathered in the street outside a ring of barbed wire, according to reports from the scene by news agencies and exile groups.

Analysts say the case against Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi, 63, is intended as a legal pretext for extending her house arrest, which was to expire later this month. Myanmar plans to hold a general election early next year to cement the control of the military under a nominally civilian administration.

Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi is charged with receiving an unauthorized visitor following an intrusion by an American, John Yettaw, who swam across a lake earlier this month and entered the compound where she has been held under house arrest for 13 of the past 19 years. Her lawyers say she had no role in his intrusion and asked him to leave, but let him stay the night when he complained of exhaustion and leg cramps. Her two housekeepers are on trial with her on similar charges, which could bring prison terms of up to five years.
Apparently, Yettaw "had made a similar intrusion last November, swimming across the lake and giving her a copy of The Book of Mormon, a testament of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi is a devout Buddhist." Evidently, Yettaw's attempts to "save" Aung San Suu Kyi don't include keeping her safe.

If Yettaw had arrived at most of the back doors in America seeking to proselytize the residents, he would have been firmly told to get lost. Perhaps not in polite terms. I am thinking of how many Sunday afternoon callers have seen my screen door firmly slammed in their faces. Aung San Suu Kyi, however, isn't like me. She allowed him to stay over until he was able to leave. And so, her compassion toward this unexpected, probably unwanted visitor (is "religious fanatic" too strong?) is a crime that might imprison her.

What a disgraceful, sham trial. It's no wonder that so many have protested this trial:
In Washington, a State Department spokesman, Ian Kelly, said the charges against her were unjustified and demanded her release, along with an estimated 2,100 other political prisoners. Last week, in response to her arrest, the United States extended a regime of harsh economic sanctions against the ruling military junta although it had earlier said it was reviewing the effectiveness of this policy.

Other condemnation came from around the world, including the United Nations and the European Union. Breaching a low-key policy of “constructive engagement,” Myanmar’s Southeast Asian neighbors issued a statement late Monday expressing “grave concern” over her arrest and saying “the honor and credibility” of the Myanmar government were at stake.

The statement, issued by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean, read: "The Government of the Union of Myanmar, as a responsible member of Asean, has the responsibility to protect and promote human rights. It is therefore called upon to provide timely and adequate medical care to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as well as to accord her humane treatment with dignity."

The members of Asean are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Nine Nobel Peace Prize laureates on Monday condemned the arrest of Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the prize in 1991. “We are outraged by the deplorable actions of the military junta against Suu Kyi and strongly encourage challenging this obvious harassment of our fellow Nobel laureate,” the prize winners said in a statement.
You can follow this at Aung San Suu Kyi's page as it develops.

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Step Right Up And Beat The Mets

Last night's game with the Dodgers was simply horrible. Even the New York Times noted how awful it was:
The Mets arrived at Dodger Stadium in first place in the National League East. They left, after a 3-2 loss to the Manny Ramirez-less Dodgers in 11 innings, leaving Manuel wondering if he was managing a team sponsored by Chico’s Bail Bonds. The carnage included a season-high five errors — including two in the 11th, which led to the Dodgers’ winning run — one decisive base-running blunder by Ryan Church and countless slack jaws, head shakes and dumbfounded looks in a solemn clubhouse.

“I’ve never seen anything like that,” Carlos Beltran said.

And neither had anyone else. To be fair, Manuel said he had seen his former charges, the Chicago White Sox, commit five errors, not that he was boasting of that achievement or anything. But no, he had never seen a player completely miss tagging third base on his way home like Church did in the top of the 11th. That gaffe canceled what would have been the go-ahead run, ended the inning and breathed life into the Dodgers. Not that, on this night, they needed any extra help. The five errors were the Mets’ most since they committed six on Sept. 16, 2007, against Philadelphia.
There's more. A whole lot more. But let's leave it at that. The Mets are now playing as if this were September, when they have their now perennial, expected meltdown caused by inability to hit and missed opportunities and errors. To be sure, having Delgado and Reyes out isn't helping, but when you bring in a guy from Buffalo, that's right AAA Buffalo, 45 minutes before his first start and he then commits two errors, you're in trouble. Real trouble. Big trouble.

The only saving grace is that the game was on the west coast and started at 10:10 pm ET, so virtually nobody, including me, had to watch this fiasco.

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domingo, mayo 17, 2009

How To Increase Suffering

The Times Record Herald reports that the New York Prison Guards Union has managed to kill a performance of an inmate musical production. The prisoners, it seems, wrote a play, a musical to be exact, produced it, directed it, and act, sing and dance in it. They were going to show it to prisoners at another, nearby prison.

Why has the production been canceled? Because the guards' union is mad at the Governor because of closings of work release centers in which union member guards are employed, supposedly for budgetary reasons. Not content to fight the Governor directly, not content to picket the Governor, the Union has stepped in to stop the prisoners' showing their play to other prisoners by threatening to picket the performance:
State prison officials have lowered the curtain on an inmate theatrical performance.

A troupe of 18 convicted murderers, robbers and other felons at Woodbourne Correctional Facility had been scheduled to perform an original play Wednesday at Eastern Correctional Facility in Ellenville.

But the state Department of Correctional Services has canceled the show because union workers threatened to picket.

"The commissioner does not want to jeopardize the program or the people in it by putting them in the middle of a statewide labor issue," said DOCS spokesman Erik Kriss.

Great. The guards are angry, so, of course, the prisoners, who have nothing to do with the dispute whatsoever, have to suffer. Is this the guards' reflex, to increase the prisoners' suffering? And is it the state administration's reflex to cave to this kind of pressure? Why is this all so very unsurprising? And how, you might ask, do the Guards explain this, so that it doesn't appear that they're just being bullies and dashing prisoners' hopes for no obvious reason?

In January 2008, inmates began writing and rehearsing their own Broadway-style show about the difficulty of living behind bars and keeping a family. The play, "Starting Over," was funded and supervised by Rehabilitation Through the Arts, a nonprofit group that seeks to reduce recidivism through arts enrichment programs. The group declined comment on the cancellation, but it forged ahead with a production of Shakespeare's "Macbeth" last week at Sing Sing.

Kevin Walker, regional vice president for the New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association, said prison farms, annexes and print shops have been useful because they teach skills that can be applied toward a job on the outside. The union saw no value in theater work.

"How many of these medium-security convicts do you think will go to Broadway and get a job?" Walker said. "We believe it's a blatant waste of manpower and funding."

Kriss rebutted that, noting that inmates experienced a range of new emotions and kept busy by learning how to act.

What a joke. And what a disgraceful reason to cancel the prisoners' play. Walker may be an ace union guy (not), but he's a terrible economist, a bad psychologist, and an even worse humanitarian. Is it impossible for prisoners' to do anything just to have a small token of happiness in their day? Apparently not. Not if the guards' union has anything to say about it.

The prisoners, of course, are up a creek on this without a paddle. They don't have an alumni association to stand up for them. And they have virtually no community support-- look what they did before being incarcerated. So they are the ideal targets for the bullies in the Guards Union and the weaklings in the administration.

If there were any justice, the show would go on. Citizens like me and you would insist on it. I'm not holding my breath.

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sábado, mayo 16, 2009

A Progress Report

The first draft of my novel in progress now has more than 40,000 words. I am happy that it is moving forward. This evening I am thinking about this:

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viernes, mayo 15, 2009

The Next Great Irish Band

has arrived in the US, and it's Bell X1:

This is so reminiscent of Talkin Heads. This is great stuff.

The details:
Bell X1 released their fourth studio album Blue Lights On The Runway in early 2009. It is scheduled for a U.S. release on March 3 through their American Yep Roc label. This follows a Feb. 20 release in Ireland. Blue Lights on the Runway will include songs such as "Light Catches Your Face", which was played during a recent episode of One Tree Hill in the U.S. (November 2008), "Blow In's", "How Your Heart Is Wired" and "One String Harp" which have all been played at their recent sell out shows in Vicar Street, Dublin. Blue Lights On The Runway was preceded by its lead single, titled "The Great Defector". The Great Defector became the bands most successful single yet peaking at number 3 in the Irish singles chart, dropping 2 spaces to 5th before regaining ground the following week landing in at number 4.

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miércoles, mayo 13, 2009

Walt Whitman Remembered

Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

Just in case we might have forgotten:

I hear and behold God in every object, yet understand God not in the least,
Nor do I understand who there can be more wonderful than myself.

Why should I wish to see God better than this day?
I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and each moment then;
In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass;
I find letters from God dropt in the street—and every one is sign’d by God’s name,
And I leave them where they are, for I know that wheresoe’er I go,
Others will punctually come forever and ever.
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (Verse 48)

I too find letters from God dropped in the street. I find them everywhere. But sometimes I forget what they are. Then they look to me like leaves. Just leaves. Cast off, abandoned, blowing in the breeze. But then after a while of forgetfulness, something always reminds me. There's always something there to remind me. These reminders punctually come forever and ever.

For this reminder, I thank "Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughs, a kosmos, disorderly, fleshly, and sensual, no sentimentalist, no stander above men or women or apart from them, no more modest than immodest."

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martes, mayo 12, 2009

Your Bloguero On Top Of The World

See that rattle in my hand? What a sweet and powerful sound. May it bring into being whatever you dream. May all beings be happy. May all beings be free from suffering. May all beings be free from hatred. May all beings be well. May all beings be safe. May all beings have peace. May all beings realize their enlightenment.

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lunes, mayo 11, 2009

Ireland: The Global Vigil Fire

The End of the Fire (photo by Jón Ágúst Guðjónsson)

A three-day vigil fire by shamans from across the world was held April 24 through 26 in Dunderry Park, Co. Meath, Ireland. Additional fires in support of the vigil-- as many as 100 or more-- were held in other parts of the world. The idea was for about 40 trained shaman of many traditions to gather in Ireland and to dream the world into being, to shift the world into greater peace, abundance, and collaboration, to turn from a personal or community focus to a broader, worldwide one, to put our focus on walking in beauty and gratitude on the earth. We had done this before. We will, I hope, do it again.

When we have such a fire, I am reminded of the Hopi prophecy that when there are a million fires there will be peace on earth, and Pachamama will be healed. I think about this often.

The fire was tended in two-hour shifts. I arrived at about 2 am on Saturday morning in a light but windy rain and fog to find Lisa and Bob and a large, hot, wild fire. My shift with Sinead was to begin at 4 am. All of us stayed until after 8 am to listen to the first birds singing, to watch the sun rise (an important reason for taking the 4-6 am shift), to play, to tend the fire, to talk, to drum, to dance and sing, to offer to the fire and ourselves whiskey and incense and stories and jokes and anecdotes, to send through the fire and out across the planet our desire for peace, abundance, healing and cooperation, our prayers for Mother Earth, Santa Tierra, Pachamama.

Tending the fire might be sacred work, or it might be profane, or it might be a delightful, lovely human mixture of the two. There are no real rules. Except one. It is important to have fun while preventing the fire from being extinguished by rain and wind. The fire must be fed and nurtured. It ought not to go out.

The character of the fire changes, depending on who is tending it. I find that fires I tend are large and wild and quite hot. I like that. Others make the fire peaceful and calm and receptive. Some fires are masculine; others, feminine. Some fires listen, others speak. Some fires bring out singing, others like silence. Some fires bring introspection; others, expression. Fires have qualities reminiscent of personalities, and are both as different and the same, as members of the same species.

In the midst of our tending the fire, a sudden, strong gust of wind managed to rip a tent from the ground and throw it into the pasture. We immediately decided to retrieve it. Bob and Lisa went after it and easily ducked under the electric fence to get the tent. For reasons I do not fully comprehend-- I have an electric fence at my home and have had it for many years-- I thought that the fence must definitely be turned off. And here is the strange part: I decided to check this hypothesis. I have no idea what I may have been thinking, if anything, at the time. Accordingly, I intentionally placed my bare, wet right hand on the already very wet wire. This was not a good idea. In fact, it was a very stupid one. I was immediately treated to a gigantic shock of high amperage and low voltage. I was shocked. Literally. And figuratively. I do not accept that there was a blue spark that jumped from the wire to my hand. I do not perceive that I started to glow. I did immediately growl and roar. And curse. This, I am sure, disturbed the donkeys. I do not think it disturbed my companions, all of whom were surprised by my outburst. There is an irony, of course, that the fence was there to keep jackasses in or out of the pasture. You can draw whatever conclusion you wish from this. I was not, however, mortally wounded. I was ever so embarrassed by the large outpouring of energy I experienced. I consider myself unworthy of such electricity, of such energetic attention. I am now seriously considering becoming a Luddite. I have also reaffirmed my position that electroshock therapy is inhumane and barbaric in all cases.

At the end of the fire, on Sunday morning, we all stopped feeding it, so that it could slowly consume itself. We placed around it all of our prayer bundles, mesas, and malas in blessing, as you see in the photo. When the fire was out, I collected in a small plastic bag some of the ashes. These ashes contained ashes of other sacred fires, fires from Tibet, fires from Africa, fires from North America, fires from Australia, hundreds of fires from sacred sites across the world. I brought the ashes home. They are sitting on my altar. When we have a fire this week, I will add the ashes to my fire circle, and that will add my fire to the web of past and future vigil fires across the world, all asking for peace, abundance and the healing of Pachamama, Santa Tierra.

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domingo, mayo 10, 2009

Sliabh na Caillí

Sliabh na Caillí, or Loughcrew is in Co. Meath, Ireland. It is a sacred site with cairns dedicated to or occupied by the Crone, or the Hag, or Garavogue. It is far more than 4000 years old. There are, of course, many details. But the important part is the personal, the intuitive, the spiritual.

When I visited Sliabh na Caillí with an international band of Shamanic friends-- more about them in a later post-- I made an offering to the Crone in her cairn, and I asked her whether she had anything to tell me. And she did. I am to finish the draft of my novel in process before the end of the coming September. No excuses. No extensions of time. No dogs eating my homework. I take this seriously. I do not wish to run afoul of the Crone's wishes. I do not wish to incite her to anger. I do not wish to taste her wrath.

To make sure I wouldn't let the time slip by, to make sure that my vow to follow this message and to complete the task would be kept, I told my friends what the Crone had to say. They are my witnesses. And today, a couple weeks later, I am writing it down. Forgetfulness, unconsciousness, being busy, lack of mindfulness, other seeming necessities, all forms of practiced sloth, are not to deter me. Nor rain, nor gloom, nor dread of night, stops this courier from the prompt completion of his appointed rounds. And you, dear readers, are witnesses also.

The working title of my book is "Tulum," which is a Mayan town in Quintana Roo, Mexico. I won't tell you about the book, except to say that it is about the friendship of a US expat with a shady background and a Mayan curandero. There are 30,000 +/- words on my key drive as I write this.

And so, I have a task, a quest, an imramma, a journey to perform. I am honored to carry this out.

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viernes, mayo 08, 2009

Judicial Grandstanding

By now, you've read about the arrest of Stephen P. Morgan for the murder of Johann Justin-Jinich, a Wesleyan University junior. Morgan, it seems, turned himself in on Thursday evening after eluding the police for a day. His bail was originally set at the princely sum of $10 Million. A huge, unmakeable bail. Put another way, he wasn't remanded without any bail (which would undoubtedly have been appropriate in this case). Instead he was given a bail, but the amount was set so high that nobody without huge assets and lots of ready cash-- Morgan apparently doesn't fall in that category-- could ever dream of making it. In other words, he's not getting bailed out. Ever. And that was undoubtedly intended: Morgan had fled the scene, didn't have ties to Connecticut, tried to disguise himself when he allegedly committed the crime, escaped detection at the crime scene, and he had every reason to flee prosecution. This is how these kinds of serious cases usually play out: the accused is detained in jail until the trial. You would have thought that the $10 Million bail ended the discussion. Wrong.

Today's NY Times reports:

A judge on Friday raised the bail for the man accused of fatally shooting a Wesleyan University junior in a bookstore near the campus to $15 million from $10 million, citing the seriousness of the crime and the threat posed to the community he had paralyzed for more than 24 hours until he surrendered.

The suspect, Stephan P. Morgan, 29, wearing a dark violet jumpsuit and with his hands cuffed behind his back, stood expressionless during his arraignment on first-degree murder charges before Superior Court Judge Mary-Margaret Burgdorff....snip

On Friday, Judge Burgdorff said she was raising the bail because, beyond his threat to the community, Mr. Morgan does not live in Connecticut and because he was wearing a disguise when he allegedly committed the crime. His next court appearance will be May 19.

This is obvious judicial politicking and grandstanding. The United States Constitution provides in the Eighth Amendment that "[e]xcesive bail shall not be required." Bail, the case law says uniformly, is excessive when a court sets it higher than reasonably necessary to ensure a defendant's appearance at trial." So the question naturally arises about the increase in Morgan's bail. There was no indication that he or anyone else on his behalf could come near to posting $10 Million in cash or bail bonds. Who could actually post that amount? Well, Bernie Madoff at one point posted $10 Million. Nobody is suggesting that Morgan is in Madoff's financial league. The $10 million was assurance that he'd be detained until trial.

So how does one explain at 50% increase in the bail, from $10 Million to $15 Million? You can't. I know he's alleged to be a heinous criminal, an anti semite, and a huge danger to everyone in Connecticut whom he paralyzed with fear, but Judge Burgdorff's ruling today is abusive. It's an example of unnecessary, judicial grandstanding. It's based on her view that Morgan is a very, very bad man, indeed. He's so bad that $10 Million bail isn't enough. He's so bad that $15 Million is better. Put another way, while he's down it's expedient and easy to pile on.

Today's bail decision has nothing to do at all with applying the law. It has everything to do with politics. And it's an abuse that should be vacated.

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jueves, mayo 07, 2009

Take Me Out To The Old Ball Game

Pee Wee Reese

When I was ten I loved the Dodgers. The Brooklyn Dodgers. Especially Pee Wee Reese. And Duke Snyder. And Carl Furillo. I loved baseball. And then one day, to my utter amazement, the newspapers reported that the Dodgers were leaving me for their new love, the kids in Los Angeles. How could they do that? What had I done to be unworthy of them? Had they been cheating on me throughout the season? It felt like a bad break up, a contested divorce. It felt terrible. There was no loyalty to me and to Brooklyn. Only dollars. And betrayal. And leaving and going to LA.

Baseball back then was a game for kids. There were Sunday afternoon double headers with one admission fee. There were day games. You took a portable radio to school during the world series, because you hoped that Mrs. Powderly would let you hear the game. And you ran home at 3:15 to catch the last innings. Baseball's all star game, which was a dream come true for a kid, was a day game. It was played in the afternoon. So I could see Joe Dimaggio, and Jackie Robinson, and Pee Wee, and Willie Mays. And buying things was cheap: hot dogs, and soda and cracker jacks. These were for kids, except for the beer, which was for the adults.

Players didn't play baseball all year. They had other jobs. In the off season they sold cars or insurance or worked in an office or on the farm. They didn't make big bucks. You could see them doing their jobs.

But now we're in an entirely different era. Today Mannie Ramirez, who might have been one of the greatest right hand hitters, earned a 50 game suspension for using steroids. So now he's got his asterisk, he's the greatest right hand hitter*. And A*Rod. He's got an asterisk. And Mark M*Guire, and Sammy S*sa, and in addition to an asterisk, Jose C*nseco needs money so he's doing ultimate fighting. And we have no idea who the other 103 players were who tested positive for drugs along with A*Rod. And all of them have *s also. It used to be that the asterisk was reserved for Roger Maris whose sin was that he hit 60 home runs in a 162 game season, not in 156 games. Even the asterisk has now been devalued. Now it denotes cheating and drug use.

Now the all star game is at night. The world series is at night. The division series is at night. The first pitch in these games is at about 9 pm ET, so any east coast kid who wants to see his/her heroes is not going to get past the third inning. And beer at the ballpark is more than $6. And hot dogs are more than $4. And there are few day games. And there are no double headers with single admission. And there are new abominations: corporate boxes with glass windows facing the field and air conditioning, and restaurants with table cloths and silverware, and take out, and microbreweries, and there are no really cheap seats. I could argue that the designated hitter was a debasement of the game. But compared to these changes, the DH is nothing.

It used to be a ritual to sneak off from work or school to go to Ebbetts Field for the afternoon game during the week. There is no equivalent now to that spontaneous act of childishness, of playing hookie.

I still follow the Mets. I still love the smells of major league baseball. The green grass of the outfield. The roar of the crowd. The sound of bat on ball. The bright lights. But today's announcement of Mannie Ramirez's 50 game suspension shows the dark shadow of the kids' game I used to love. It used to be about hitting a round ball with a round bat. Now it's about something else entirely. It's about money, and enormous salaries to players, and great profits to owners, and public financing for private stadiums, and name rights. It's about everything except that naive, joyful game of hitting a ball with a round bat and 3 strikes being an out.

There used to be a Ballantine Beer sign in the ball park. It had 3 rings for Purity, Body, And Flavor. Ironically, it's the purity in the game that has gone.

I mourn its loss.

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miércoles, mayo 06, 2009

Barcelona To Final In Rome

Iniesta's Away Goal In Added Time

Depending what brand of English you speak, Barcelona is/are going to the UEFA Cup Final in Rome. I'm delighted. I'm especially pleased because last week's 0-0 game with Chelsea was so frustrating. I hope know that Barca can beat Man U on the 27th.

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martes, mayo 05, 2009

The Mirror And The Mask


I thought I wrote this article before. But when I was in Ireland last week, I wanted to show it to a friend, and I couldn't find it here. I carefully searched this blog; it had to be here, but it was not. How, I wondered, could I be so confused. How could I have such a clear recollection of something I had written, only to find out that, in fact, I hadn't written it at all. Was my memory playing tricks on me? Maybe I thought I would write this piece, but never did it? Hardly. I remember making revisions. I'm disturbed by this. I have no explanations.

In the Book of Sand (El Libro de Arena) (1975), Jorge Luis Borges gives us insight in "The Mirror And The Mask" into what it takes to be a great, wandering poet. The King of Ireland, having won an important battle, wants the poet to write a poem about the victory. Would the poet undertake this task and make both the King and the poet immortal? Does the poet have the necessary gifts? The poet responds:

Yes, great king, I do," answered the poet. "I am Olan. 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 poetry. 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 cannon 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 prove in your battle. There is but one thing that I do not know: how to express my thanks for this gift you make me.
After the poet successfully completes this initial task, the king speaks:
I accept this labor. It is another victory. You have given to each word its true meaning, to each noun the epithet bestowed upon it by the first poets. In all the work there is not an image which the classics did not employ. War is 'the fair cloth wov'n of men' and blood is 'sword-drink.' The seas has its god and the clouds foretell the future. You have marshaled rhyme, alliteration, assonance, scansion, the artifices of erudite rhetoric, the wise alternation of meters, and all with greatest skillfulness. If the whole of the literature of Ireland should-- omen absit-- be lost, well might it all be reconstructed, without loss, from your classic ode. Thirty scribes shall transcribe it, twelve times each."

What competence. What gifts. What language. But of course, of course, of course things take a turn toward the infinite in the story. Borges after all is the writer. I will not spoil it for you. It deserves to be read in full.

My point here is incredibly modest: I loved this story before I ever saw Ireland. And now, having seen Ireland, I love it all the more. Amidst all of the island's antiquity, and its long, oral tradition, a story about the love of language and writing fits surprisingly and beautifully.

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