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

viernes, septiembre 30, 2011

This Week In The Dream Antilles

Your Bloguero, as you may have already noticed, is a complete optimist. He actually believes along with Dr. King that things bend toward justice. Eventually. And this drives your Bloguero to be extremely persistent. He wants to do some serious bending. You might even think of him as obsessed. And nothing drives your Bloguero more than the plight of those who are always screwed. There are a number of subtopics to this, ways that this happens, but somehow for your Bloguero it always eventually comes down to state killing, the death penalty. State killing is always a huge thorn in your Bloguero.

Your Bloguero has been railing against the death penalty for decades. He’s successfully defended people charged with capital crimes. And he’s been aggravated by and writing about state killing for a while. In 2002, when there were too many recipients to keep track of, he moved the informal anti-death penalty emails he wrote to a list serve, Yahoo groups. Your Bloguero started writing those emails in 1999 or 2000. Maybe it was earlier. The initial response from some recipients, including family members, was instructive. “How,” some wrote, ”Can you get involved in this horror and care about these worthless scum. Don’t send me any more of this [expletive deleted].” OK. Your Bloguero struck their names from the address block and forged on. “You have compassion for these horrible people. You should have more for those around you.” OK. Strike the name and move on. Etc. Repeat and repeat again. The complaints were legion. Your Bloguero, however, knows how to use a delete button, and he did. Frequently.

When your Bloguero started the Dream Antilles more than six years ago, his initial intention was to promote his 2005 novel, The Dream Antilles. That didn’t last long. Your Bloguero does not stay on topic well, especially when the topic is commercial. Your Bloguero doesn’t care very much for commerce. Soon the plight of those who are always screwed became unavoidable. Of course. How could it not? Yes, it was always present in the literature from Latin America your Bloguero loves to write about, but then the Blog swerved headlong into politics. And of course, as soon as it swerved, along came all of your Bloguero’s many arguments about state killing. Does the Dream Antilles now have more politics than literature? Who knows? Your Bloguero is not the best curator if the goal is to maintain balance. Yes, your Bloguero wishes there were more about books. More about Paco Ignacio Taibo II. More about Skarmeta. More about Cortazar. Martin Solares. The list of authors is enormous. And there could be more about that if the states would just moderate the rate at which they were executing people.

When your Bloguero didn’t feel that there was enough readership at The Dream Antilles, he cross posted at other Blogs, especially bigger group ones. There, particularly at the Orange Blog that shall not be named, your Bloguero was surprised. There he encountered more people who wrote to provoke your Bloguero and assert that they had no problem with state killing. Worse, there were some who were actually in favor of it and argued that it was just. These comments, which your Bloguero generally perceived as the menacing handwork of paid trolls or [expletives deleted] agents provocateurs, who needed to get a life, were always annoying. But your Bloguero knows how to ignore them, and ignore them he did. Your Bloguero tries not to feed their anger. Or their wallets.

Fast forward to killing Troy Davis. And this week, the echoes continue at the Dream Antilles, even as they fade to quiet in the Trad Media.

The Banality Of Death takes note of Florida’s killing of Manuel Valle on Wednesday. Valle was killed for a crime more than 30 years ago. He was 61. The execution was barely noticed. It was the fourth execution of the week. Your Bloguero believes this is one of the best pieces he has written in a while.

The Shame Of State Killing tells the story of the 1944 execution in Georgia of 5’1” 95 pound George Stinney, Jr., who was then 14 years old. Stinney is the youngest person executed in the US in recent history. It is a story of state killing at its most barbaric. One wonders whether the US has evolved beyond that.

Banned Books Week noted the ALA’s annual celebration of the First Amendment and provided a list of “challenged” and “banned” books. Your Bloguero wishes he found it hard to believe that book banning continues in the US.

About That Disaster Aid shows the destruction of a roadway in Greene County, New York near where your Bloguero finds himself and inquires what it will take for Congress to get up some money so that there can be repairs and disaster aid.

Please Sign This Petition promoted a badly written, weakly conceived petition on the White House Web site to ban state killing. Yes, it was badly written. Your Bloguero doesn’t care.

The Back B minor Mass showed up at the Dream Antilles. What a great performance. Go ahead, click it. You’ll be happy you did.

This Week In The Dream Antilles is usually a weekly digest. Sometimes, like now, it is actually a digest of essays posted in the past week at The Dream Antilles. Please leave a comment so that your Bloguero will know that you stopped by. Or click the “Encouragement Jar” if there is one. Your Bloguero likes to know you've visited.

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jueves, septiembre 29, 2011

The Banality of Death: Manuel Valle

You may not have noticed this. There were no big demonstrations. There was no widespread Internet campaign. The traditional media didn’t react. In fact, as in most cases, the state killed its prisoner without much notice. And so it was that on Wednesday, after the Supreme Court denied a last minute stay, Florida executed 61-year old Manuel Valle. Valle was killed for the 1978 murder of a police officer, Louis Pena. That is not a typographical error. Valle was facing death for more than thirty years. He was not nearly the oldest person ever executed in the US, nor did he set a record for the time between the crime and the execution. Valle was just another execution. There was nothing remarkable about his execution. He was the fourth inmate killed in the United States in a week, and he was the first killed in Florida with just sodium pentobarbital

Predictably, relatives of the victim, according to a Florida Corrections press release, expressed “great relief that after 33 years, justice has finally been served for Louis and his family.” What else could they possibly be expected say? Put another way, the usual, well developed Kabuki accompanied the execution. The seemingly medical procedure used to kill. The press release stating the time of death. The dubious expressions by prosecutors and law enforcement that “justice was done.” A drama observers are entirely too used to.

The execution was opposed by the Danish drugmaker Lundbeck, the producer of Nembutal, the brand name of pentobarbital. Nembutal is intended for treatment of epilepsy. In July Lundbeck restricted distribution of the drug after learning that it was being used in executions. And on Monday a neurologist submitted a petition to the Florida Supreme Court requesting a halt to Valle’s execution, claiming that use of the drug in executions is illegal because the controlled substances act prohibits using it for non-medical purposes. An execution, no matter how it is made to appear to be a medical procedure, is not one. The court dismissed that suit on Tuesday.

The execution was also opposed internationally. Spain intervened at the last minute, asking the United States to stop the execution on humanitarian grounds and suggesting that Valle might be eligible for Spanish nationality. The US and Cuba do not have full diplomatic ties.
“We took up this case because under our constitution we are a country that opposes the death penalty,” Spain’s Consul General in Miami, Cristina Barrios said. But all that was to no avail. Nothing could stop the execution.

The death penalty is like that. Sometimes there is something special that galvanizes public opinion about state killing. Maybe it’s possible innocence or age or mental condition or racism or sexism or some other factor. But in general, state killing is banal. It’s ordinary. It continues unchecked. It fades into the background. It persists. It remains generally unnoticed. Until the next “special” execution.

State killing is carried out with such frequency that it is utterly exhausting to try to chronicle each and every execution and to explore the many facets of each that civilized people find shocking. The death penalty is like that. As it kills, it desensitizes. It exhausts. It’s like mercury, it is absolutely lethal and it runs away from our grasp.

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martes, septiembre 27, 2011

The Shame Of State Killing.

This is George J. Stinney, Jr. This is his mug shot. He was born on October 21, 1929, and he was executed by the State of South Carolina on June 16, 1944. He was then fourteen years old. He was just 5'1" tall and weighed 95 pounds. He was the youngest person executed in the United States.

The Murders. Two white girls, Betty June Binnicker, age 11, and Mary Emma Thames, age 8, disappeared while out riding their bicycles. They were looking for flowers to put on their bicycles. As they passed where Stinney lived, they asked George Stinney and his sister, Katherine, if they knew where to find some "maypops", a kind of flower. When the girls did not return, hundreds of people joined search parties. The bodies of the girls were found the next morning in a ditch filled with muddy water. Both had suffered severe head wounds.
Stinney was arrested a few hours later and was interrogated alone by several officers in a locked room. Within an hour a deputy announced that Stinney had confessed to the crime.

The Confession. Stinney wanted to "have sex with" 11-year old Betty June Binnicker and could not do so unless her friend, Mary Emma Thames was removed from the scene. So he decided to kill Mary Emma. When he went to kill Mary Emma, both girls "fought back." So he decided to kill Betty June, too. He used a 15 inch railroad spike that was later found in the same ditch as the bodies. According to deputies, Stinney had somehow been successful in killing both at once. Somehow one of them did not escape. He inflicted major blunt trauma to their heads, shattering their skulls into at least 4-5 pieces. The confession was never recorded in any police files. There were even rumors that he was offered ice cream by the police if he cooperated by providing a confession.

The Town exploded. The next day, Stinney was charged with first degree murder. The town's grief grew rapidly into seething anger. People threatened to storm the local jail to lynch Stinney, but he had already been moved to Charleston. Stinney's father was fired from his job at the local lumber mill and the Stinney family fled during the night in fear for their lives.

The Trial. Because his family had fled, the fourteen year old faced the death penalty jury trial by himself. Jury selection took just two hours. It began at 10 am and ended just after noon, when a lunch recess was taken. The evidence began at 2:30 pm. Stinney's court appointed lawyer was 30-year-old Charles Plowden, a tax commissioner. Plowden was no Atticus Finch. He did not cross-examine a single witness. His defense apparently was that Stinney was too young to be held criminally responsible for the crimes. No such luck. South Carolina law was that anyone over the age of 14 as an adult. Summations ended at 4:30 pm, and after jury instructions, the jury retired just before 5 pm. The jury deliberated for all of 10 minutes. Stinney was found guilty with no recommendation for mercy and was sentenced to death in the electric chair.

There was no appeal. When asked about appeals, Plowden replied that there would be no appeal, as the Stinney family had no money to pay for a continuation.

The Execution. George Stinney was electrocuted at the South Carolina State Penitentiary on June 16, 1944. At 7:30 p.m., Stinney walked to the execution chamber with a Bible under his arm. Standing 5'1" and weighing just over 90 pounds, he was small for his age, which presented difficulties in securing him to the frame holding the electrodes. The state's adult-sized face-mask didn’t fit him. His convulsing exposed his tear streaked face to witnesses as the mask slipped free. Stinney was declared dead within four minutes of the initial electrocution.

From the time of the murders until Stinney's execution a total of eighty one days elapsed.

I doubt that this shameful case received much public attention. In June, 1944, the newspapers were filled with the events of D-Day and news from Europe. And it's hard to re-construct what happened in the trial now. There are apparently no transcripts of the testimony. What remains is just the horror and revulsion of this repellant execution.

The Supreme Court finally ruled in 2005 (Roper v. Simmons) that juveniles who had committed crimes under the age of 18 could not be executed for them. Even before the Court's ruling 19 states did not allow the execution of juveniles. But 22 juveniles were executed in the modern era for crimes committed before they were 18, including Stinney. That is the part of the shameful, disgraceful legacy of state killing.

What will it take before the horror of executing juveniles, of executing the developmentally disabled, of executing those who did not commit murder, generally applies to all state killing? How long will it take?

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Banned Books Week

Your Bloguero hates hates hates censorship of books. It makes your Bloguero tear his remaining hair out and rent his clothing and gnash his teeth. And bark. Loudly.

The ALA has a list of books that have been challenged and/or banned in the past decade. It's instructive. Harry Potter leads the list. To Kill A Mockingbird weighs in at 21. The Kite Runner is 50. And A Wrinkle of Time is at 90. And, of course, perennial favorite Huckleberry Finn is 14. A lot of the list is YA or teen fiction your Bloguero has no idea about.

This is a very depressing commentary simultaneously on our society's illiteracy and its lack of tolerance for ideas. It makes me want to bang the desk and shout out the window, "You idiots, what in the world is the matter with you?"

Unfortunately, the people who need to hear this particular tirade won't.


lunes, septiembre 26, 2011

About That Disaster Aid....

I'm not following the ins and outs of the disaster aid package. What I read is this:

Friday morning's events promise to push the partisan war into the weekend and could increase the chances that the government's main disaster aid account at the Federal Emergency Management Agency might run dry early next week.

Additionally, unless Congress acts by midnight next Friday, much of the government will shut down. More immediate is the threat that the government's main disaster aid account will run out of money early next week.

And this is what a road looked like in Greene County, New York, following the two hurricanes:

I spare you to photogravure. The one with all of the flooded houses and the piles of debris and the people sitting around stunned and wondering what to do.

I'm not following the debate battle over the disaster aid package. I don't care about the politics at all. I do care that this road and all of the others like it need to be repaired. And people need federal help in rebuilding their homes and businesses. Is it too much to ask of Congress that they work out the details and help?

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domingo, septiembre 25, 2011

Please Sign This Petition And Spread It Widely!!

Amazing. Please go to the Official White House web site (that's right, the one in Washington, DC) and sign the death penalty abolition petition. Right here

Please spread this widely

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viernes, septiembre 23, 2011

Et In Terra Pax!

You cannot make this too loud. And you cannot play it over and over again too much. What an incredibly beautiful performance. Bravo!

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This Week In The Dream Antilles

A week of horrors, death and killing. The death of Troy Davis. The evaporation of the illusion that justice would somehow be served in his case. The negation of hope for mercy and compassion and life for Troy Davis. A killing in our names we were unable to stop. We could not, did not spare Troy Davis. We killed him. And we killed a part of ourselves.

We have lost our way. And we have broken ourselves apart. We believe in the illusion that we are all separate, that we are fragmented. We don’t see ourselves as every bit of the entire phenomenon. But we are all of it. Every single bit of it. We are all of it: we are the failed rescuers, we are the victims (Officer McPhail and Troy Davis and their families and friends the homeless man who was shot), and most importantly we are the executioners (wearing a black hood or shooting Officer McPhail or denying the stay). Inside each of us is all of them. Inside us is the person who killed Officer McPhail. And Officer McPhail. And Troy Davis. And those who killed him. And those who judged him. And those who advocated for him. And all of the families of all of these people. All of them is inside us. A huge loud, bloody cacophony. We truly are Troy Davis. And we also are Officer McPhail. And Justice Scalia. And every single person touched this week by this killing, especially those we most blame for this execution.

But we deny it. We cannot accept it. We cannot allow it to recognized inside us, in our hearts, our minds, our souls (if we have them). It is unacceptable to be all of this. It is denied. We consign all of this ugliness to our Shadow. To the unseen. To the denied. To the disowned. To the unacceptable. We can’t see it in us, but everybody else can.

We are oh so dangerous like this. We are blinded like this. We cannot love anything or anyone like this. In our panic to deny and disown all of this and our dread of our own painful, complicated human ugliness, we are filled with fear. We deny it. And we lash out. And we kill. We kill it outside of us, because we cannot countenance its existence inside each and every one of us. We kill outside because we cannot love what is inside.

This has to stop. We are dreaded Angulimala, with his chain of fingers around his neck, whom the Buddha himself told to stop. But we are also the Buddha. We need to abolish the death penalty, and we need to accept, in fact love the parts of us that are so invisible, so unacceptable, so horrible. These parts and our efforts to ignore them are driving us crazy. And they are making us kill. We need to stop ourselves.

In Troy Davis’s memory, we need to commit once and for all to ending State Killing. For everyone. And part of that commitment, if we are to succeed, has to be to healing this enormous fissure inside us.

This Week In The Dream Antilles is usually a weekly digest. Sometimes, like now, it is not actually a digest of essays posted in the past week at The Dream Antilles. For that you have to visit The Dream Antilles. Please leave a comment so that your Bloguero will know that you stopped by. Or click the “Encouragement Jar” if there is one. Your Bloguero likes to know you've visited.

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miércoles, septiembre 21, 2011

Troy Davis, RIP

As I write this, the Georgia authorities are killing Troy Davis. He was let down by the "justice" system. And the Supreme Court. And by those of us who are horrified when the state kills innocent people. There is nothing more to do or say. He is being killed. Please join me in 24 hours of silence in honor of his memory.

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martes, septiembre 20, 2011

Fasting With Troy Davis on 9/21

The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles denied Troy Davis's request for clemency. It appears that Georgia will kill him by lethal injection at 7 pm ET on September 21, 2011. And it appears that execution cannot be stopped.

From Ben Jeanlous at the NAACP an eloquent, moving request that we fast tomorrow evening and mark the time of Troy Davis's execution:

This morning, our worst fears came true. Despite widespread doubt, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles upheld the decision to execute Troy Davis this Wednesday.

Still, Troy has refused to have a “last meal.” He has faith his life will be spared.

In the past, his tremendous faith has been rewarded. The last time Troy faced execution, in 2008, the warden brought in what was to be his last meal. But Troy refused to eat. Looking the prison staff in their eyes, he explained this meal would not be his last. He was vindicated when he received a last minute stay. Guards still remember this as a haunting moment, one rooted in Troy’s deep faith.

Still, there is every sign the state of Georgia intends to execute Troy this time--despite calls for them to stop by everyone from the former head of the FBI, William Sessions, to former US President Jimmy Carter.

Troy has prepared himself, and to the extent anyone can, his family, for either outcome.

As he has said many times "They can take my body but not my spirit, because I have given my spirit to God."

Thus, even as we continue to call on the Board of Pardons and Parole and Savannah District Attorney Larry Chisolm to reconsider, we must be prepared for either outcome too.

Please stand with Troy and his family. Join NAACP activists around the country in an evening of solidarity, prayer and fasting on Wednesday, September 21st.

Ask friends to meet up. Ask your family to fast Wednesday evening in solidarity with Troy's family and use the dinner hour to talk. Ask your faith community, if they already have a Wednesday night fellowship planned, to make time for conversation about Troy’s scheduled execution.

However you do it, please mark the 7 o’clock hour on that evening—the time of Troy’s scheduled execution—as a moment to reflect on Troy’s experience, to offer prayers for his family and that of Officer MacPhail, and to talk about what we can each do to ensure our nation never does this again.

This is a moment to rededicate ourselves to the struggle to end the death penalty and otherwise fix our nation's broken justice system.

To honor Troy’s courage, and rededicate ourselves to the cause of justice in America, NAACP activists are asked to fast Wednesday evening. Will you join us?

I am Troy Davis. I will fast on Wednesday evening. I will stand in solidarity with all of the others who consider the state's killing of Troy Davis a lawless, barbarous, inhumane, unjust and disgraceful act. Please join me.

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An Outrage In Georgia

The Georgia Pardon and Parole Board has DENIED clemency to Troy Davis. The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports:

The state Board of Pardons and Paroles on Monday has denied clemency for Troy Anthony Davis after hearing pleas for mercy from Davis' family and calls for his execution by surviving relatives of a murdered Savannah police officer.

Davis' case has already taken more unexpected turns than just about any death-penalty case in Georgia history and his innocence claims have attracted international attention. Its resolution was postponed once again when the parole board late Monday announced it would not be making an immediate decision as to whether Davis should live or die.

Davis, 42, is scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the state prison in Jackson.

I doubt there are other legal steps that can stop the state from killing Troy Davis.

My heart goes out to Troy Davis and his family, and also to the McPhail family. They all deserve better.

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sábado, septiembre 17, 2011

I Am Troy Davis

Dublin, 2010

On September 21, 2011, the State of Georgia plans to kill Troy Davis by lethal injection. Again. This is the fourth time the State of Georgia has scheduled Davis for death. In 2007 he was spared with less than 24 hours notice. In September 2008, the hearse was waiting at the door and he was less than two hours away from the gurney. A month later the execution was halted three days before execution. And now, the rollercoaster from hope to despair has come to September 21, 2011.

Troy Davis’s conviction stems from the 1989 death of a Savannah police officer, Mark Allen McPhail. The rollercoaster, for Troy Davis and his family and for the family of the officer, has been lurching back and forth for 22 years. And with each year, doubt about the conviction has grown as witnesses have recanted and as jurors spook their unresolved doubts. Lurking in the background is alarming possibility that the wrong man is waiting for the needle and that the real murderer has escaped.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports:

With only days before his scheduled execution, an effort to spare convicted killer Troy Davis is gathering thousands in rallies, vigils and other last-minute events from Atlanta to Peru to Berlin.

Citing doubts about his guilt, national leaders of the NAACP and Amnesty International led hundreds in a protest Friday against executing the man a Georgia jury said killed a Savannah police officer in 1989. Amnesty International declared a Global Day of Solidarity for Troy Davis, with 300 events across the United States and the globe, including in New York, Washington D.C., San Diego, Paris and Oslo.

Former President Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI and Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu are among those calling for his execution to be halted. And this week, Davis supporters presented 663,000 petitions to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles asking for his life to be spared.

Troy Davis has one last chance to ask for leniency. The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, which has the sole authority in Georgia to commute death sentences, will meet Monday to consider Davis’s case.

That means that this weekend is the last opportunity to sign a petition and to stand with more than 600,000 others for sparing Troy Davis.

The petition is here.

Details about the case are here from 2006 and here from 2008.

An excellent first person view is here (h/t OPOL).

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viernes, septiembre 16, 2011

Spare Troy Davis: The Forest And The Trees

On September 21, 2011, the State of Georgia plans to kill Troy Davis by lethal injection. If it happens, this execution will not be an unusual event. In Texas this year there have already been ten executions. In the United States this year there have been thirty-three executions. In fact, there have been some days in 2011 when there were two executions. But in general most, if not all of these killings have gone unnoticed. It’s as if someone had pressed the mute button, so we could not hear the anguish or see the tears, so we could not see what was being done in our names.

There were two executions planned in Texas this week. On September 13, 2011, Texas killed Steven Woods for 2001 a double murder. And on September 15, 2011, it took the US Supreme Court’s last minute stay to stop the planned killing of Duane Buck. Buck got some deserved attention because his death sentence included egregious “expert” testimony that Black people are more dangerous than whites. But in general, state killing goes on largely unnoticed. And without noticeable scrutiny. Or opposition.

Troy Davis is an exception to the silence and what appears to be acquiescence to state killing. Thank goodness. And that may be because Troy Davis is likely innocent. The case against him has disintegrated since his trial. It has fallen apart as witnesses recanted their testimony and explained the police coercion in interrogations that made them perjured themselves at his trial. Troy Davis appears to be innocent, a circumstances that Justice Scalia has opined in this very case is of no constitutional significance. Despite all of this Georgia relentlessly pursues killing him. So Troy Davis has managed to attract attention, which he completely deserves, and has elicited remarkable and justified eloquence in his defense. I wish others who have faced execution had received similar support, but I can understand completely why they have not. And I am pleased that the execution of Troy Davis has evoked such strong opposition.

I have twice before written about Georgia’s desire to kill Troy Davis, on July 7, 2006 and onAugust 9, 2009, and here I am again more than five years later saying the same thing, trying to ask you to ask the State of Georgia to spare the same man, Troy Davis. I won’t repeat all the reasons.

Troy Davis should be spared.

Alll I can do now is urge you, dear reader, to join the 663,000 people who have already signed a petition to go to spare Troy Davis by signing the NAACP petition and by taking the additional recommended steps to spare Troy Davis.

And also, please, whatever may happen to Troy Davis, please recognize that there are going to be more Troy Davises, recognized or not, as long as the United States has the death penalty. The only way to prevent that is abolition of state killing. Let’s spare Troy Davis. And let’s also stop state killing.

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lunes, septiembre 12, 2011

A Final Word (For Now)

Emmanuel Ortiz - Moment Of Silence.mp3
Download at rapidlibrary mp3 music
Rapid Library

Emmanuel Ortiz, Moment of Silence (2002)

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sábado, septiembre 10, 2011


There is very little, if anything remaining to be said. It's been a decade. May all who mourn be comforted.

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viernes, septiembre 09, 2011

I Wish I Had Said That

According to NPR, Steven Soderberg's new movie, "Contagion," has this line in it:

"Blogging is not writing. It's graffiti with punctuation."

When I first heard Eliot Gould say that, I thought, "I said that first." Alas. No proof. I can't find it. So, I may have said that. Or something like it. Or something that made sense the same way. But, alas, I can't find it. Anywhere. It's not on this blog. Did I say it on Facebook or Twitter or some other unsearchable place? I have no idea. I'd like to take credit for it. But can't.

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This Week In The Dream Antilles

Today, September 9, should be a National Holiday. Your Bloguero is well aware that it isn’t. Not yet. And your Bloguero also knows that you, dear reader, don’t yet know why today should be a NH. Your Bloguero will explain. Eventually. Your Bloguero knows that some day justice will be served and today will be celebrated as a NH. After all, today is Otis Redding’s birthday. Had he not died at age 26 (in 1967) there is no question whatsoever that he would have been recognized as the absolute King of Soul Music. The pinnacle. The apex. The zenith. And that his birthday would, of course, have to be a NH. At least among people with ears and souls.

Why all this raving? You need to listen to Otis Redding. And if you listen to only one song all the way through, let it be this one. In your Bloguero’s judgment, this 1968 recording is among Otis Redding’s most remarkable recordings:

No, it doesn’t have an exciting video with it. That’s because it’s pre-MTV, pre-Youtube. It’s a 53 year old recording, though you won’t believe that if you listen to it.

One of the joys of being your Bloguero is playing songs as wonderful as this. In fact, playing it over and over again is rewarding, too. It becomes a kind of mental floss that caresses the heart while it sweeps out all of the contamination and toxicity of the past week. Cataloguing the past week’s bumper crop of awfulness is something your Bloguero will eschew. Suffice it to say that replacing all of that with this song is a step in the right direction, a step toward hope.

This Week In The Dream Antilles is usually a weekly digest. Sometimes, like now, it is not actually a digest of essays posted in the past week at The Dream Antilles. For that you have to visit The Dream Antilles. Please leave a comment so that your Bloguero will know that you stopped by. Your Bloguero likes to know you've visited.

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jueves, septiembre 08, 2011

America Understands Justice

In last night’s GOP debate in California, a horrifying event. The audience loudly applauded Texas Governor Rick Perry when it was stated that during his tenure as Governor of Texas 234 prisoners met their death in that state’s lethal injection chamber. The record for state killing. You need to see and hear this:

The Telegraph summarized the exchanges that followed the applause:

Brian Williams, who was hosting the debate between candidates for next year's Republican nomination, asked Mr Perry whether he felt guilty about possibly sending an innocent person to their death.

The Texas governor said: "No, sir. I've never struggled with that at all. The state of Texas has a very thoughtful, a very clear process in place of which, when someone commits the most heinous of crimes against our citizens, they get a fair hearing."

He also added: "In the state of Texas, if you come into our state and you kill one of our children, you kill a police officer, you're involved with another crime and you kill one of our citizens, you will face the ultimate justice in the state of Texas, and that is, you will be executed."

Mr Williams followed-up with a question about the enthusiastic reaction from the audience over Mr Perry's execution record and whether he was surprised by the rapturous applause.

Mr Perry said: "I think Americans understand justice."

That’s not much of an explanation. Even if state killing were just, which is it is not, that would not be a reason to applaud. No. Something else was at work. And that is that this audience was already inflamed by the overheated rhetoric of extremist candidates and was doing its very best to goad them on. The audience had become a surly, defiant mob. It was essentially saying, “We’re enraged, so enraged that our anger cannot be staunched, and we will applaud the shedding blood to show how very angry we are.” How barbaric.

If only we hadn’t seen this before. Bill Clinton went to Arkansas during his campaign to preside of the execution of retarded Ricky Ray Rector in 1992. Not to be outdone, George Bush had his Karla Faye Tucker. And now this. More applause for death. More incitement to rage. More provocation to kill. What a pathetic, barbarous display.

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miércoles, septiembre 07, 2011

Flooding. Again.

Didn't we just do this? Didn't we just have torrential rains, flooding streams, flooded basements? I thought we were finished with that for a while. Apparently not.

This morning I awoke to this:

In other words, the Punsit Creek has again come out of its banks and is flooding. So down stream there will once again be flooding (if there isn't already). And once again, there will be closed bridges and roads.

And a quick trip to the basement reveals that in the race between the sump pump and the seeping water, the sump pump is about even. About. It will catch up, one hopes, because it is now no longer raining as hard as it was in the wee hours of the morning.

The forecast is rain the rest of today and tomorrow. The flood watch remains in effect until tomorrow.

Conditions across the Hudson River in Greene County, which was devastated by Irene, are probably a lot like those here. This is going to make the recovery harder by again swelling the streams and rivers.

May all be safe. And may all find shelter.

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martes, septiembre 06, 2011

This Week's Song

This is third track of Bob Dylan's iconic Highway 61 Revisited (1965), "It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry."

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lunes, septiembre 05, 2011

A Joke In Lenox, Massachusetts

Once again, the law is an ass. Especially in small towns. And if by some strange accident, the law itself is not an ass, those interpreting it surely deserve the feed bag to quell their insistent braying.

Lenox, Massachusetts has a sign ordinance (pdf warning), page 20 et seq of which seems to say that a business in historic Lenox, Massachusetts is allowed to have a sign. One sign. Hoorah for capitalism. Hooray for commercial speech. Hoorah for preserving the historical district of an old Massachusetts town. Retail establishments are allowed to tell the public that they are in fact retail establishments and they are allowed to announce this on the front of their store. Once. Yes, there are all kinds of regulations about sizes and kinds of signs, but the idea is that a business gets to have one sign facing the street. You're allowed to put that sign on your plate glass window. So far so good.

Under this ordinance you're probably not allowed to have a sandwich board on the sidewalk telling customers what the latte of the day is or that you have cranberry scones or a lobster special. Fine. Sandwich boards are signs. But, and this is the biggest but, what if you sell dresses in your store and in addition to the sign that says you're running a dress shop, you hang dresses inside your window so that passersby can see how beautiful they are and maybe even be enticed to come into the store and buy one? This is apparently where the wheels come off. And this is where the crash is. Because the Town Fathers think that the dresses are regulated by the sign ordinance. You have to pay attention here or you'll miss this incredible legerdemain.

The Bershire Eagle today gives us this remarkable gem of statutory construction from Selectboard Chairman John McNitch:

"We've seen 60 to 80 signs [he's talking about sandwich boards one might think] in the center of Lenox, all illegal," McNinch said. "Some were dresses in windows at a clothing store, and the way our bylaws read, that's illegal. We're obviously not acting on that. The books in The Bookstore's windows, that's illegal."

They are? Having books in a bookstore window is an illegal sign? You mean to tell me that if The Bookstore in Lenox is fortunately enough to have a copy of The Dream Antilles in its front window the book that I wrote is now no longer a book, no, it's been turned in to a sign? Presto chango. It's like some kind of rabbit the store pulled out of its hat? Pardon my disbelief and an impending, gushing flow of explectives. How is this even possible? How does this make any sense? How did a piece of merchandise, a book, a dress, a pipe wrench get to be a sign? Pray tell.

I can only attempt to reconstruct this magical transformation. Section 5.2.1 of Lenox's sign ordinance says this:

No signs or advertising devices of any kind or nature shall be erected on any premises or affixed to the outside of any structure or be visible from the outside of any structure in the Town except as specifically permitted, except that in a commercial or industrial district permanent professional

There shall be no temporary special promotion signs, banners, streamers, or placards erected, suspended, posted or affixed in any manner outdoors or on the exterior of any building in a Business District except by special permission of the Selectmen.

Did you follow that? Evidently, a piece of pipe in a plumbing supply shop's window is an "advertising device" and because you can see it from outside the store, every visible pipe is a violation of, wait for it, the sign ordinance. So too, a dress. And a book, ditto. And a bottle of whiskey, ditto, which after you think about this you are going to want in the worst way.

You would think that somebody (does Lenox have a town attorney? a legal adviser? a chamber of commerce? a resident vizier?) would suggest that these items just aren't "advertising devices." No, they are merchandise. "Advertising devices" are something else: they are things like flashing signs that say, "Two Barbers, No Waiting" in neon. Or those hideous signs you can change the letters on to make a movie marquee. Or even gnomes carrying postcards of far away places in the window of a travel agent. Or a barber pole. Or the three balls designating a pawn shop. Or a giant chair indicating that furniture is sold. Why cannot Lenox just reject the idea that displays of merchandise in windows are signs. There. Done. No problem.

But no. That would be far too easy. It would undermine the Byzantine complexity the Town Patriarchs confront in dealing with businesses that pay taxes. Oh, no. Nothing that is simple can be permitted. No. Every impossible misreading and every misleading misinterpretation has to be exploited by the authorities, those that enforce the extremely onerous local laws of Lenox. Reject the stupid interpretations? Reject the readings that bring chaos and dystopia? Never. Instead, we have this:

Responding to concerns voiced by some business owners, especially newcomers, and residents that the downtown area is less than business-friendly, the Select Board has voted to urge the Planning Board to review the zoning bylaws that restrict merchants and eateries to one sign apiece.

Earlier this summer, enforcement was stepped up after the downtown Historic District was cluttered with as many as 80 sandwich boards and additional signs that violated the bylaw.

At Wednesday night's meeting, Select Board Chairman John McNinch said, "We have a problem with our regulations, and we're looking at updating them."

He suggested involving the Historic District Commission, the Zoning Board of Appeals and Building Inspector William Thornton in the review.

That's right. You need to summon a commission, a convention of merchants and citizens, and members of at least three town boards to plumb the unfortunate construction the enforcers insisted on imposing on shop owners. You need a massive outpouring of civic involvement to correct the "problem." How silly. But as if that weren't enough, we have this:

Selectman Kenneth Fowler, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, commended building inspector Thornton for stepping up compliance with the existing bylaws by issuing tickets and sending out warning letters.

Lenox, you have got to be kidding. You are making yourselves laughing stocks. I can hear the braying all the way over in Spencertown. And it's ugly.

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Put The Labor Back In Labor Day

It’s the cultural end of the Summer. It’s the beginning of school. It’s a holiday. It’s the last summer barbecue. Maybe it’s a parade. It’s the Columbia County Fair. It’s the start of the football season. It’s the beginning of the Jersey Shore off-season. It’s the tomato harvest. It’s when you’re supposed to stop wearing white or seersucker. It’s called Labor Day, but it doesn’t seem to have a whole lot to do with labor. At least as far as the traditional media are concerned, as far as local celebrations go.

Occasionally, unions manage to make the point that Labor, organized and disorganized, has done a lot for US workers, unionized and not, in the past century. Labor’s struggles made significant improvements including the 8-hour day, overtime pay, the five-day work week, the weekend, vacations, occupational health and safety, the end to child labor, retirement. And on and on. You can easily expand this list. In other words, labor’s struggles led first to the creation and then to the expansion of the American middle class. And labor benefitted even workers who did not organize themselves and just profited from the workplace and cultural changes the unions fought for.

Labor Day shouldn’t be an historical relic in which we recall these seemingly distant struggles and their fruit. No. Workers continued to struggle in 2011 in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and Michigan to safeguard the rights to collective bargaining, to adequate compensation, to civilized fringe benefits like health insurance, to their retirement. To keep their jobs in an age of wanton government dismantling. The battles continue. And not just in the Midwest. You can even find it at Starbucks.

When the last grilled hot dogs and burgers of 2011 roll around on grills across America later this afternoon, when the last plastic glass of beer is filled, it would be nice to pause for just a second to acknowledge both labor’s contributions to our way of life and the necessity to continue to support the struggle. Maybe we could lift our glass in support of continuing the struggle for workers’ dignity.


domingo, septiembre 04, 2011

New Widget

Strange widget. Look at the bottom of the right hand column and you will see something that records visitors to this blog by showing the flag of their country and the number of people who've sotpped by. I put it up today, 9/4/11, so it doesn't have a lot of numbers yet, but it's a bizarre widget worthy of calling your attention to. (Note to Grammarians, Please do not remonstrate about the last sentence).

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sábado, septiembre 03, 2011

Labor Day Weekend: Loud And Quiet

The 2010 Demo D at Columbia County Fair

Every year the Columbia County Fair in Chatham, New York is “over Labor Day.” It began as usual this year on Thursday with the demolition derby. The people’s favorite and last year’s big car, 8-cylinder champion “Bomber” let it be known in advance that he wasn’t going to show up for the event. Saddened that this marked the end of an era, the end of a standing tradition, your Bloguero phoned and sent an electronic message to “Bomber” (yes, he is online) that your Bloguero wanted to know wtf was wrong with him. If he could sit in the car without actually hurting himself, he had an obligation to his fans to compete. Guilt apparently does not work on Bomber. He replied laconically that he had gone out on top. No apologies. No explanation. His non-entry made the Demo D a non-event for your Bloguero. So ended one of your Bloguero’s many country traditions: go to the “Beer Tent” for an hour Thursday afternoon and then proceed in a slightly altered but still somewhat upright condition to the grandstand to witness in person the deafeningly loud, smoking, smashing, squealing Demo D. Breathe the smoke and fumes and burning rubber. Some degree of being anaesthetized is always advisable for admission. It’s that toxic. Your Bloguero didn’t go this year. But not to fear. Just because your Bloguero stayed away, you can be sure that thousands of others were simply unaffected by Bomber’s ignominous defection, if they even knew about it. No. They couldn’t care less. They were carrying out their usual rituals without the slightest concern about who the “drivers” (I use the word advisedly) might be. And they had a great, deafening time. As usual. And today there are many totally smashed cars on trailers or in vacant lots waiting for the crushers.

Every year the Spencertown Academy puts on the quiet antidote to the deafening Demo D, the Festival of Books “over Labor Day.” So, of course, your Bloguero arrived on Saturday afternoon to witness it. What your Bloguero wrote about this event in 2006 remains the case:

I was overwhelmed by the number of homeless books and people selecting them to bring home. It wasn’t quite like visiting the morgue, though at first I thought it seemed like rows of dead books, a price tag tied to each of their big toes. No, it was more like an orphanage for the mute or a dog pound. The lucky, cute ones are retrieved, lugged to a new home, and end up on a shelf or under the bed, or God forbid, in the trash. And the unlucky ones, what happens to them? What happens to great ones initially purchased as required reading, ignored for semesters, always resold, eventually tattered, on their last legs, trying to look cute at this sale, trying to avoid the land fill?

I didn’t bring anything home. …

I left the sale sad and confused and depressed. I really don’t have room. If I were a book and could talk like one, maybe I could have consoled some of those great novels, Tolstoy and Dickens, for example, who were left behind, the ones whose time has finally come. “Look,” I would have said. “It’s disgraceful. Readers aren’t what they used to be. They cannot appreciate someone as wonderful, as loving, as well crafted as you. It’s not your fault. And owners aren’t what they used to be either. They won’t keep you. That, too, is not your fault. In the name of feng shui or elimination of clutter or God knows what other golden calf, they’re cleansing you without a thought. It’s a really rotten business. It’s not like the old days when once you found a home they respected you and kept you until an estate sale.”

Your Bloguero told one of the people running the event that he really didn’t need to bring home any more books, that he had enough, thank you. It was a curse, really. She said, “Well, buy some today and you can bring them back by donating them next year.” “Oh,” said your Bloguero, “I should think about this in a different way, as if I were only renting the books.”

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jueves, septiembre 01, 2011

This Week In The Dream Antilles

It’s called the Dream Antilles, emphasis on dream. Here’s one now coming in from left field:

My fellow Americans. And especially those of you who are unemployed. I have called you to come together today, Labor Day 2011, 61,000 strong to Soldier Field in Chicago, so that I, your president, could explain to you how I am going to get you back to work and how I am going to re-start the economy. And to ask humbly for your support in pressuring Congress to enact these essential proposals that I will shortly lay out. I was going to tell all of this to Congress. But I see no reason, in light of Congress’s penchant for obstruction and delay and partisan politics, to talk further with Congress about my plan. No. I want to talk to you. Because you are the people that matter. And you will help me to increase employment.

I’m sure you understand that Congress is obdurate. That Congress plays politics with your lives on a regular basis. And that some of its members are nothing but stooges for the multinational corporations that financed their election. But that doesn’t matter right now. What matters is that you don’t have work. That you are unemployed. That you and your families are suffering hard times. And I want to put you back to work. Immediately. Without further delay.

I have a good plan that will put you back to work. I am going to describe it in detail this evening. But we all need to understand that to pass this bill in this most obstructionist Congress, I will need your active help. I will need you to stand up for this proposal. I will need you to be active, to make calls, to send emails, to write letters, to demonstrate, to picket, to speak out. I am asking you, if you agree with the proposal , to do these things and more to tell Congress clearly and explicitly that you demand that this proposal be enacted. And that the consequences of failure to enact these proposals are quite simple: those who block it will be replaced in Congress by legislators who understand the plight of the unemployed and who will enact measures to create employment. It’s that simple. Vote for the proposal, or go home.

My plan is unspeakably simple. It is a broad stimulus package, far larger than the previous bipartisan stimulus package, that will make America’s economy run again and will without any question greatly increase employment. My detractors in the media, and those who sit across the isle in Congress, and even some of those in my own party, and all those who seem to delight in ignoring your misery, will roll their eyes and rent their clothing because these measures will briefly increase the deficit. These measures will definitely increae the deficit in the short term.

But I tell you, and those who undertand economics will tell you that this increase in the deficit simply does not matter. At all. And those who argue that it is a problem will be enacting their ideology. But they will only demonstrate beyond all question that they do not understand macroeconomics at all and that they are simply pawns of those who would continue to siphon economic wealth from the poor and middle class to the wealthiest 1% of our population, and continue unemployment at ridiculously high levels, and deny you the dignity of earning a respectable living.

I will not allow them to paralyze our economy further with their partisan, ideological nonsense. I will not allow them to increase the suffering of workers further by refusing to enact measures that will spur employment. I will not allow them to block the taking of necessary, short term steps to re-start the economy and provide employment.

America’s problem is not its debt. It is not its deficit. It has never been its problem. America has always paid its debt and it always will. America’s problem is simply this: creating jobs. And there is absolutely no way to create jobs without increasing government spending. We know this because we’ve tried everything else. We’ve tried tax cuts and created more misery and it hasn’t created a single job. The Federal Reserve has already done all it can with monetary policy. It hasn’t been able to spur employment. So. Fiscal policy is the only device left that can spur employment.

When we create jobs, when we get the economy running again, the deficit will heal itself. Because tax revenues will be increased, because more people will be working and more people will be paying taxes.

Most important, this is not a time to contract government spending by cutting programs. The contrary is required: we need to spur employment by increasing government spending. In short, those who insist on balancing the budget, on decreasing the deficit, on cutting spending have a fundamental misunderstanding of macroeconomics. And I am not going to permit their willful ignorance of economics further to destroy the nation’s economy….

This Week In The Dream Antilles is usually a weekly digest. Sometimes, like now, it is not actually a digest of essays posted in the past week at The Dream Antilles. For that you have to visit The Dream Antilles. Please leave a comment so that your Bloguero will know that you stopped by. Your Bloguero likes to know you've visited.

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