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

domingo, octubre 31, 2010

Haiti: Yet Another Disaster Lurks

Hasn't Haiti suffered enough? Centuries of grotesque exploitation and purposeful neglect. And most recently, the devastating earthquake. Then an inadequate relief effort that has left thousands and thousands homeless or stuck in makeshift, flimsy camps, without adequate housing, food, medicine or sanitation. An outbreak of Cholera. And now, on top of all of that, the unimaginable: a possible Hurricane this week. And a very big one at that.

The model predicts the storm will make a right turn. In fact, almost all of the models say it will make a right turn. And when it does, it will come ashore in Haiti. This will cause loss of life, flooding, further outbreaks of disease, loss of even temporary shelter, unavailability of food. A nightmare for those living in Haiti.

I've asked before that we contribute to Doctors Without Borders, specifically for Haiti Aid. Now I'm asking again. What else can be done? What else can I or you do?

Money for specialized aid is extremely important. As important, and perhaps more important in the long run, I think is for US citizens to being to know Haiti's history and the story of its relationship to the US, in other words, the story of how it got to be the way it is now. I'm sure we all realize that Haiti didn't get to its present horrendous situation all by its self, without a lot of US and European "help." To ferret how all of this has happened, a great starting point is this dailyKos essay by allie123. It's part of a series. Each piece is important on its own. Please take the time to read them.

For now, though, please consider an immediate, small donation to Doctors Without Borders. It might save some lives in Haiti. It might alleviate some of the suffering.

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viernes, octubre 29, 2010

Two Haiku


Through the naked trees
I listen to distant stars.
Autumn sky twinkles.


Horned owl on high branch
late rising moon her searchlight.
Fallen leaves glisten.


miércoles, octubre 27, 2010


3 am Tuesday.
The full moon and its silence.
I wake up; I listen.


lunes, octubre 25, 2010

Death In The Time Of Cholera

Haiti, ravaged for centuries and suffering long before its enormous, destructive earthquake, now braces for a huge cholera epidemic. The cholera epidemic on Saturday had already killed more than 200 and there are more than 2600 reported cases. Today the news is still bad. The NY Times reports:

Diarrhea, while a common ailment here, is a symptom of cholera. And anxiety has been growing fiercely that the cholera epidemic, which began last week in the northwest of Haiti, will soon strike the earthquake-ravaged Port-au-Prince metropolitan area.

“It travels with the speed of lightning, I’ve heard, and it can kill a person in four hours,” said Jean Michel Maximilien, a camp leader. “So of course we are all on edge.”

For now, the cholera outbreak, with more than 250 deaths and more than 3,100 confirmed cases, has been contained to the central rural regions around the Artibonite River, 60 miles north of the capital. But Port-au-Prince is tensely preparing for its arrival in the densely populated slums and tent camps here, with treatment centers being established, soap and water purification tablets being distributed and public safety announcements stressing hygiene. ...

Since the January earthquake, this devastated country has been bracing for a secondary disaster — a hurricane, an eruption of violence, an outbreak of disease. But nobody anticipated that cholera would make its first appearance in 50 years. It was “the one thing we thought we were relatively safe on,” said Imogen Wall, spokeswoman for the United Nations humanitarian coordination office.

Because so many in Haiti teeter on the brink, and because a cholera epidemic in Port au Prince and the rest of that beleaguered nation can be so horrible, this is a good time to make a small donation to Doctors Without Borders, who are already on the scene and providing treatment.

And then there's Philip Roth's most recent book, Nemesis, that explores a polio epidemic in Newark, New Jersey in 1944. I finished reading it last night; I had read the reviews when it came out earlier this month. If like me you know Newark, and particularly the Weequahic area, the book brings back memories of the 50's and early '60's. And Bucky, the main character, is as familiar to you as any other kid you played stickball with. If you don't know that particular Newark, maybe you don't quite get the book in the same way.

The epidemic in Newark, like the threatening one in Haiti, has its many mysteries. Nobody knows exactly how it is spread. Nobody knows what to do to stop it. Flight seems a good idea, until the disease and death arrive anyway. There is seemingly no escape. There is no way to predict who will become ill and who will be untouched and who will die. And in Haiti the options, because of the grinding poverty are far fewer. Treatment will remain mostly unavailable. There will be many more fatalities even if the outbreak can be isolated in Antibonite. What a horror.

My heart goes out to Haiti. And to those who are there now. May the epidemic be contained. May they all be well.

Please make a donation to Doctors Without Borders. This can help.

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domingo, octubre 24, 2010

While We're Talking About Jaguars

Leaving aside for this post my apparent obsession with Jaguars, the Mayans for over a millennium have been building temples with Jaguar imagery. Here's a brief tour of two wonderful Mayan Jaguar temples. The first is at Tikal, Guatemala.

The second it at Lamanai, Belize.

There are of course many ancient Mayan carvings of jaguars. Like this one of a jaguar said to be devouring a human heart at Chichen Itza in Mexico:

The temples were built without the use of the wheel. The rocks were assembled without the use of steel. The carvings were made using obsidian and other hard materials to cut the limestone. All of which is to say that Mayan devotion to the jaguar overcame technological obstacles to building these sacred objects.

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Curious George

With a huge h/t to CSM Werner Herzog "reads" Curious George.

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sábado, octubre 23, 2010


A full moon jaguar,
concealed, breathing slowly,
waiting, does not move.


viernes, octubre 22, 2010

That Tropical Storm Thing: Richard

Goodness gracious. Yet again. Richard, the storm, not the deformed Shakespearian King, appears to have decided to run over Belize on its way to making a mess of the interior of Quintana Roo and Chiapas and Guatemala. I am relieved that it has decided not to try to come in the east facing door of my house in Bahia Soliman, just north of Tulum. Here's what it looks like (in an analytical, clean sort of way):

In an more earthly, less sanitary way, it looks like a gigantic mess. Tons of rain, lots of wind that makes rain feel like darts on your face. Deep mud. Things that are not tied down, flying around. Things that are tied down breaking and then flying around. Flying around things crashing into each other and stationary things, flying around things getting trapped in corners or against other things. Deep water. No electricity. A sound like a freight train. And so on. Sounds like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

And then the storm will have passed by. A relief. The sky will be blue. The sea will be turquoise. The birds will sing. It will be a beautiful, tropical, lovely day. Except that there's a big mess to be cleaned up.

Let's hope that all that's needed is clean up and that nobody gets hurt.

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All the Asshats Are Voting!


martes, octubre 19, 2010

The Jaguar Again

Oh I have been dreaming about this jaguar. This dream jaguar. So many times. It's a strange experience. When she arrives in my dreams, I am immediately both delighted and terrified. I don't initially recognize her. Is it some other one, a jaguar that doesn't like people? Or me? Am I about to have a problem? Should I run away? Or wake up. But then I hear her deep, loud purring. I recognize her. It's her. And I am so happy that she has returned.


domingo, octubre 17, 2010


Jaguar in a tree.
I look up, but fall off cliff
Like tarot fool card.


jueves, octubre 07, 2010

Vargas Llosa Win Nobel Prize

Mario Vargas Llosa has won the Nobel Prize for literature:

Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa won the 2010 Nobel Prize in literature on Thursday as the academy honored one of the Spanish-speaking world's most acclaimed authors and an outspoken political activist who once came close to being elected president of his tumultuous homeland.
Vargas Llosa, 74, has written more than 30 novels, plays and essays, including "Conversation in the Cathedral" and "The Green House." In 1995, he won the Cervantes Prize, the most distinguished literary honor in Spanish.

"I am very surprised, I did not expect this," Vargas Llosa told Spanish National Radio, adding he thought it was a joke when he received the call.

"It had been years since my name was even mentioned," he added. "It has certainly been a total surprise, a very pleasant surprise, but a surprise nonetheless."

But, of course, there's then the inside baseball:

Vargas Llosa is the first South American winner of the prestigious 10 million kronor ($1.5 million) Nobel Prize in literature since Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez won in 1982.
The two have long been rivals, and after the announcement Garcia Marquez tweeted: "cuentas iguales" — "now we're even" in Spanish.

And, of course, the gossip:

Vargas Llosa has feuded with Venezuela's leftist President Hugo Chavez and often tosses barbs at Cuba's Fidel Castro. He reportedly has not spoken in decades with Garcia Marquez, a former friend who remains close to Castro.

He even irritated his centrist friend Octavio Paz, the late Mexican Nobel literature laureate, by playfully describing Mexico's political system — which was dominated at the time by a single party — as "the perfect dictatorship."

In a famous incident in Mexico City in 1976, Vargas Llosa punched out Garcia Marquez, whom he would later ridicule as "Castro's courtesan." It was never clear whether the fight was over politics or a personal dispute.

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miércoles, octubre 06, 2010

Ohio Kills Benge For 1993 Murder

Ohio today killed its eighth prisoner this year, setting a state record. Michael Benge was executed for the brutal January, 1993 murder of his lover, Judith Gabbard, at 10:38 am.

The routine of state killing remains so pervasive that it's unlikely you even noticed this execution, even though it was carried out in your name. Such is desensitization. In fact, there's very little that was unusual about this execution. The execution ended 17 years of Benge's confinement on death row. And yet again, it managed to dehumanized each of us.

The Columbus Dispatch provides details about the crime for which Benge was killed by the state:

Binge was convicted and sentenced to death for beating his girlfriend, Judith Gabbard, 38, with a tire iron, then weighting down her body with concrete and dumping it in the Miami River. The murder happened Jan. 31, 1993....

According to records of his clemency hearing, the relationship between Benge and Gabbard soured when he began smoking crack cocaine. He stole Gabbard's jewelry and other things to pawn to get money to feed his drug habit.

He became violent, with the aftermath of the beatings so obvious that she skipped family gatherings at the holidays in 1992 to avoid embarrassment.

They fought the night of the murder after drinking in a bar for several hours; Benge smoked crack. Eventually, he stole her ATM card and beat her to death. After disposing of the body, he swam across the river and hooked up with friends. They used the card to drain $400 from Gabbard's bank account, records show.

The theft of the ATM card was apparently the aggravating factor that made brutal murder a death penalty offense. All of Benge's appeals were fruitless. It took the state almost 18 years finally to end his life. One wonders what his death accomplished that his continuing confinement in prison would not.

While he was strapped to the gurney, Benge offered an apology to Gabbard's family, several of whom were present to observe the execution:

His last words, as family members of his victim looked on: "I can never apologize enough. ... I hope my death gives you closure. That's all I can ask. Praise God and thanks."

Asked about Benge's apology, the victim's sister made it clear that the reason for the killing was revenge for the death of her sister:

After the execution Kathy Johnson, sister of the victim, said, "It makes us feel there was justice for my sister. That's what this was all about."

When asked about Benge's last words, she said, "I don't feel like Mike Binge was remorseful. He has blamed everyone else but himself."

Is there any other way to read this comment, is there any way to perceive it that does not encompass revenge, an eye for an eye, a life for a life? I don't see it. And I don't agree that this is justice. This is not justice. This is barbarianism. This degrades us to the level of the killer. It has us adopt the killer's lack of regard for the sanctity of human life.

I mention this hear so that the ritual of state killing and as important, the ritual of our silence and our failing to notice when the state kills in our names may be abolished.

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Two Dream Tiger Haikus


Almost invisible
beneath a fog covered moon.
A dream jaguar sits.


I can see her eyes.
I point but I cannot speak.
The fog of silence.


martes, octubre 05, 2010

When I'm 64

Actually, I'll be 64 on Saturday. Believe me, this is a surprise to me. I mean: I do not think of myself as 63 (at this minute). When I look in the mirror, sometimes I think I'm looking at my dad, but, as I said, then I realize it's me. I didn't know what 64 would feel like, so of course, it's a surprise of sorts, how I am, and it's not really what I expected. Truth be told, my coming birthday seems surprisingly normal to me. Surprisingly uneventful.

Knowing that this particular event was arriving shortly, and thinking that things that appear "normal," require a great deal of thought and contemplation, more than other events, I have been thinking about that Beatles tune. The one sung by Ringo. You know what I'm talking about:

When I get older losing my hair,
Many years from now.
Will you still be sending me a valentine
Birthday greetings bottle of wine.

If I'd been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door,
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I'm sixty-four.

You'll be older too,
And if you say the word,
I could stay with you.

I could be handy, mending a fuse
When your lights have gone.
You can knit a sweater by the fireside
Sunday mornings go for a ride.

Doing the garden, digging the weeds,
Who could ask for more.
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I'm sixty-four.

Every summer we can rent a cottage,
In the Isle of Wight, if it's not too dear
We shall scrimp and save
Grandchildren on your knee
Vera, Chuck & Dave

Send me a postcard, drop me a line,
Stating point of view
Indicate precisely what you mean to say
Yours sincerely, wasting away

Give me your answer, fill in a form
Mine for evermore
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I'm sixty-four.

When I was initially enjoying that song, back when it was released on Sgt. Pepper, way back in 1967, I didn't really contemplate that the time would arrive when I myself would actually reach 64. That seemed very far away in the invisible, distant future, far beyond the horizon. And then there was a shark and squid and stinging jelly fish infested ocean of circumstance and chance and uncertainty between where I was then standing and there. Mortality, mine and everyone else's, was out there, just beyond the shore. And it was that enormous, unforeseeable distance that made the song so very romantic. Who could imagine anything or anyone lasting so long? Who could continue to stand in the face of all powerful impermanence? Who would actually make it that far into the future and somehow arrive at the other shore and contemplate the voyage?

And then, seemingly all of a sudden, now, here I am. What a long strange trip it's been. Yes, I have far, far less hair. Staying out till a quarter to 3 is infrequent. But enjoyable. And the rest of it? The rest of it? Yes. It's there, or something approximating it. The surprise, if there really is one, is that I didn't really expect to get here, and I had no idea that once being here I would feel as I do now. I still feel remarkably like me. I guess I expected that somehow I wouldn't. Please don't ask me who I would feel like if I didn't feel like me.

So on Saturday I'm 64. Will you be sending me a Valentine, birthday greeting, bottle of wine? Will you lock the door? Will you still need me, will you still read me, when I'm 64.

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domingo, octubre 03, 2010

Banks Spin Illegal Foreclosures, Media Act As Stenographers

Talk about journalists being stenographers to powerful, banking interests. Banks which are foreclosing home mortgages are getting a walk in the traditional press because the press insists on reporting that the banks "didn't read the documents" filed in court, rather than that the banks swore to documents that were palpably false and filed in courts, all in the service of taking title to homes in foreclosure so they could be re-sold and their present occupants could be evicted.

Look. Today's New York Times tells us that a major title company won't insure the titles of homes taken in foreclosure by JP Morgan Chase and GMAC. And last week, BankAmerica said it would halt foreclosures, too, because its paperwork "wasn't right." Why is that that the title company won't insure these titles? Because if the foreclosure proceedings are defective, the judgment of foreclosure might be set aside in later proceedings. Meaning that whoever purchased the property at the foreclosure sale at the courthouse might lose the home they just paid for. Simply, the title company doesn't want to be holding the bag if the paperwork was defective. Title companies, strangely, don't want to pay claims for total losses. And if the title company won't issue insurance, no mortgage lender is going to loan money on the property.

It's against this background that the traditional media persist in dropping the ball.

Look at this from The Boston Herald:

A document obtained Friday by the Associated Press showed a Bank of America official acknowledging in a legal proceeding that she signed up to 8,000 foreclosure documents a month and typically didn’t read them.

The official, Renee Hertzler, said in a February deposition that she signed 7,000 to 8,000 foreclosure documents a month.

"I typically don’t read them because of the volume that we sign," Hertzler said.

She also acknowledged identifying herself as a representative of a different bank, Bank of New York Mellon, that she didn’t work for. Bank of New York Mellon served as a trustee for the investors holding the homeowner’s loan.

The problem here isn't that this woman didn't read the documents she signed. That's not the real problem at all. It's that she apparently signed thousands of documents under oath, and that a sizable number of these were just plain false. For example, she identified herself, presumably in sworn foreclosure documents, as working for Bank A when in fact she didn't work for Bank A at all, she worked for Bank B. Is this important? Well, yes. The bank bringing the foreclosure action is supposed to be the holder of the mortgage. Evidently, it didn't matter in these circumstances what bank may have actually been the holder of the mortgage. So the paperwork, submitted to a court, was sworn to under oath and guess what? It was false. If that were the only problem, it could be fixed. But evidently the documents are absolutely riddled with errors and the errors are of many different kinds. So there are all kinds of sworn, false statements that have been submitted to the Courts in these foreclosure proceedings.

You can call that lots of things, but "not reading the documents" is the very least of them.

In NY and Massachusetts and 23 other states if you don't pay your mortgage, the mortgage holder has to start a foreclosure action in court to take title of your property. It's not what most people think, that if they don't pay the mortgage the bank is going to show up after a while, unceremoniously throw them and their furniture on the street, and lock them out of their home. The banks might like homeowners to believe that, but it's just not the case in 23 states. No. In those 23 states the bank has to bring a foreclosure action in court to evict the homeowner.

And a foreclosure action in court requires lots and lots of paperwork. And it requires sworn paperwork. It requires among other things that the owner of the mortgage be properly identified, and it requires that the amount of the supposed default be computed, and it requires accurate description of the default. And all of these things at one time or another in the proceeding have to be sworn to by somebody who has checked to make sure that they are swearing to something that is in fact actually correct. Don't know whether it's correct or not? Can't swear to it. Don't read it to know whether it's correct or not, but sign anyway? That's a problem if you're swearing to the truth and veracity of something that is in fact false. That could be a crime. And it could also mean that thousands of home foreclosures that appear to have been complete aren't worth the paper they were written on if the proceedings contained significant, false material.

I spare you an analysis of the reasons why the media are giving the big banks a walk in the park on this. I just point out what is actually going on so that you can ponder it and re-frame it.

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viernes, octubre 01, 2010

US Apologizes For Human STD Experiment In Guatemala

This evening President Obama apologized to Guatemala's President for human STD experiments conducted on Guatemalan prisoners, army trooops and mental hospital inmates. Earlier today, Secretary of State Clinton and Health Secretary Sebelius tendered similar apologies. The news of the experiments, which had been kept secret from the subjects and Guatemala's government, has evoked a firestorm of criticism in Guatemala.

The events in question took place 64 years ago, and they were an egregious, secret series of human rights violations, that were "clearly unethical".

Here is a description of the experiments, discovered by Susan M. Reverby, a medical historian and professor of women’s studies at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Mass., and revealed by her today in a journal article:

Dr. John C. Cutler, a Public Health Service doctor, ran a syphilis inoculation project in Guatemala, co-sponsored by the health service, the National Institutes of Health, the Pan American Health Sanitary Bureau and the Guatemalan government.

The health service, she wrote, “was deeply interested in whether penicillin could be used to prevent, not just cure, early syphilis infection, whether better blood tests for the disease could be established, what dosages of penicillin actually cured infection, and to understand the process of reinfection after cures.”

The service was struggling to grow syphilis, gonorrhea and chancroid in the laboratory and had been having difficulties with tests using rabbits and chimpanzees....

Turning to Guatemala, it ultimately chose nearly 700 subjects — men in the national prison and the army as well as men and women in the national mental health hospital.

“Permission was gained from the authorities, but not from individuals, which was not an uncommon practice at the time,” Professor Reverby wrote.

Prostitutes with syphilis were hired to infect prisoners — Guatemalan prisons allowed such visits. When that failed, in some men the bacteria was poured onto scrapes made on the penis, face or arms, and in some cases it was injected by spinal puncture.

If the subjects contracted the disease, they were given antibiotics — which was not the case in Tuskegee.

“However, whether everyone was then cured is not clear and not everyone received what was even then considered adequate treatment,” Professor Reverby wrote.

Dr. Cutler would later be part of the Tuskegee study in Alabama, which began in 1932 as an observation of how syphilis progressed in black men.

Clearly, conducting medical experiments on subjects who do not consent to the tests and, in fact, are not informed that they are being infected for the sole purpose of experiments is utterly unethical and a clear human rights violation.

A series of apologies is a starting point to bring transparency to this serious human rights violation. But apologies are clearly not enough. Those who suffered from the experiment and if they have not survived, their heirs should be compensated. And in addition, it's now necessary for the US government to investigate how many other, similar experiments may have been conducted by US Government agencies or under US Government auspices.

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Big Rain Haiku


Raining tiny frogs,
freckled brown and green, squirming.
Umbrellas worthless.


A frog filled downpour
leaves squirming mud puddles.
You can't make this up.

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