22 September 2007

Honeymooning, Part II

                                  Image stolen from Knitknacks.

I had hoped to have wedding pictures to post by now, but so far this is the only one. I still haven't figured out how to steal photos from people's Kodak galleries, so this'll have to do. At least it's a good one, and the bride, of course, looks incredible.

Hawaii was great. Snorkeling, hiking, kayaking, breakfast in bed, great sushi, rum drinks by the pool, and at least one incredible sunset. Jenna and I couldn't believe it was
our vacation, matched luggage and all. It sort of felt like we won a gameshow.

Tonight we leave for Alaska, said luggage repacked with an extreme change of clothes. It's rainy in Anchorage with temps dipping into the 30s at night, but Janice and Mike have promised plenty of hiking and cookies and milk to stay warm. Jenna's never been, and I'm excited to return, 10 years after my first wonderful, eye opening travel experience to a place that felt truly other.

Blogging will continue to be sporadic, but I do hope you'll check back from time to time. Thanks for reading!

Oaxaca and the EPR

On Thursday the LA Times ran an informative piece about the Mexican rebel group EPR (Popular Revolutionary Army, in English). I've been out of the loop lately, what with honeymooning and all--and we're not done yet; we leave for Alaska tonight--so this article helps me understand a little more about the coordinated oil pipeline bombings that took place in Mexico earlier this month.

One thing I find very interesting is the relationship portrayed between the EPR and the state of Oaxaca, where the group is now reportedly based.

. . . the rebel group has split several times. It now appears to be rooted in the adjacent state of Oaxaca, whose social inequities and heavy-handed governing style have fed several militant movements.

In August the EPR, blamed for a bombing at a Sears store in Oaxaca, was offered up as a reason for much of the militarization of the city in the run-up to the August 5 election. Many people I spoke with at the time, however, suspected the government of staging the bombing, issuing a statement claiming responsibility by the EPR, and focusing attention on the EPR in order to justify a heavy show of force on election day. Total speculation, of course, but the thing to note is that few people in Oaxaca trust the government or what they read in Mexican papers, which are generally perceived as mouthpieces for one brand of propaganda or another.

I don't have the impression that the EPR is viewed favorably, generally, by Oaxacans. But it sure is convenient for a government prone to demonstrate force to have a shadowy terrorist group lurking about in order to justify a heavy police presence in the state.

Rudy Honey? Are You Busy?

I heard this report on NPR this afternoon about Rudy Giuliani taking a phone call from his wife while delivering a speech to the NRA.

One odd moment during Giuliani's presentation came when he took a cell-phone call from his wife, Judith, drawing laughter, applause and some confusion from those watching.

Yeah, it sounds strange to me too. Turns out the staff at TPM's Election Central have more on this--it's not the first time Rudy's taken to the stage with his cell phone in his pocket.

. . . it turns out that this isn't the first time this has happened to Rudy, whose past failed marriages could turn out to be a liability among conservative voters. A rival campaign has sent us some video of Rudy receiving a very similar "surprise" call from Judy at the podium during an event last June. And he did the "I love you" thing then, too.

It's all a little hokey if you ask me. Is it possible that aides to the Republican frontrunner let the candidate go on stage without somebody handling his phone? On the other hand, if you've read Judy Bachrach's unflattering article on Judith Giuliani in the September Vanity Fair, then you might choose to see Rudy as a hen-pecked husband catering to his (sort of) trophy wife.

19 September 2007

Is Google a Threat to Privacy?

I'm just reading around, getting a feel for the Internet again after some good time away. This tick list of potential problems that Google poses to the online community caught my attention at Mostly Water, a site I've only discovered just now.

I don't know enough (a phrase I catch myself repeating with alarming regularity in these posts) about how Google works to evaluate the real risks of the nine items on this list, but the points come across as salient enough to provoke my ever-suspicious imagination to wonder if Google might not be on a track that runs counter to the best privacy interests of Internet users. Especially interesting are points 2, 4 and 9:

2. Google records everything they can:
For all searches they record the cookie ID, your Internet IP address, the time and date, your search terms, and your browser configuration. Increasingly, Google is customizing results based on your IP number. This is referred to in the industry as "IP delivery based on geolocation."

I've long wondered about how search results are compiled specifically for each user, and not based solely on search terms entered but on past search history, results viewed and websites visited. On the surface this sounds like a good way to get the user what he or she most wants or needs. But don't we all also long for new sources we haven't seen before? Don't we need to break out of last month's information cycle to make next month's commentary more interesting? I hate the thought that I'll be forever checking my news analysis against the same half dozen websites I visit most frequently.

4. Google won't say why they need this data:
Inquiries to Google about their privacy policies are ignored. When the New York Times (2002-11-28) asked Sergey Brin about whether Google ever gets subpoenaed for this information, he had no comment

Posted without comment, except to say that I wish the author had provided a link to the article. (Here's one. The comment referenced is on page 2 of the article.)

9. Google is a privacy time bomb:
With 200 million searches per day, most from outside the U.S., Google amounts to a privacy disaster waiting to happen. Those newly-commissioned data-mining bureaucrats in Washington can only dream about the sort of slick efficiency that Google has already achieved.

Emphasis mine. This seems about right. Isn't it only a matter of time until Google's user information database and archives get hacked and published for full public consumption like some Washington Madame's little black book? Or, worse yet, subpoenaed by our government?

The complete list is concise, thoughtful and clearly presented. I have no idea if all the statements check out, but they seem to be in keeping with past concerns I've heard about Google. Food for thought, certainly, and points to watch in the future.

10 September 2007


The Morning After

It will come as no surprise that as soon as the high and the exhaustion began to wear off, Jenna and I have fallen straight into debriefing the whole wedding weekend. By the rings on our fingers and the unparalleled afterglow in our hearts, the verdict is that the whole experience was a smashing success. Undoubtedly, the highlight for both of us was to see so many of our close friends and loved ones in such close proximity to one another, with many opportunities to meet each other and learn what we love about you all.

We leave tomorrow for Hawaii, and so we are busy repacking our bags to leave the mountains. On behalf of us both, thank you for your love, your support and your presence this weekend (and all the sweet loot!). We literally could not have had this wedding without all of you.

It will be some days before we see pictures from the photographer, so we hope those of you who brought your cameras this weekend will forward pictures to us at our emails (jennafarley@hotmail.com; mattplav@gmail.com ). We'll get a selection of them up on this blog as soon as possible for everybody to share.

Here, finally, is the poem Jenna commissioned for the wedding. It was all I could do not to publish it last week. Please enjoy, and, once again, thank you.

04 September 2007

Iranian American Journalist Freed

Okay. I've already broken my no blogging during the wedding rule. But it's only Tuesday. Just because we leave tomorrow and I still haven't packed shouldn't mean anything. Besides, I just learned that Parnaz Azima has been allowed to leave Iran. That's reason for taking some time out, right?


I've been far too absorbed in wedding details to get my brain around the full spectrum of commentary coming out in advance of the much awaited surge report, to be delivered by Gen. Petraeus next week. The thing that worries, me, though, is that the White House--as usual--appears to be painting a pretty rosy picture about the current state of disarray in Iraq. According to the President, deaths among Iraqi civilians are down, deaths among US soldiers are down (compared to what?), and the surge, as expected, of course, is a success.

There's much I'd like to write on the subject, but tomorrow I leave town to get married. My attention to global politics is, to put it mildly, not very keen at the moment. I'll leave it to the talented folks at Talking Points Memo to give you their take on the current bamboozlement being perpetrated by the White House, the RNC, and pretty much every conservative think tank in the country right now.

I'm off for the next couple weeks (okay, maybe a post or two in the next couple days if I have the inclination, but probably nothing after that until late this month). Jenna and I will be honeymooning in Hawaii, and then in Alaska, and then we return to Oaxaca in October to pick up where we left off there in August. Lots to see, lots to do.

03 September 2007

Dead Certain

"Six years from now, you're not going to see me hanging out in the lobby of the U.N."
No, I suppose not. That and other gems from a new book on the Bush Presidency.

Haleh Esfandiari Leaves Iran

Haleh Esfandiari, an Iranian American scholar held since December by the Iranian government on charges of crimes against the nation and intending to foment a "velvet revolution," has been freed after 8 months of detention and imprisonment and is now in Austria. The Washington Post has the story here.

According to the Post, Tehran is still holding at least three known Iranian Americans and--possibly--an American ex-FBI agent:

There is still no news, however, on the status of four other Americans either detained or missing in Iran. New York-based social scientist Kian Tajbakhsh and California businessman Ali Sharkeri are in solitary confinement in Evin Prison. Both were picked up in the same three-day period in early May when Esfandiari was arrested.

Parnaz Azima, a correspondent for U.S.-funded Radio Farda, is out on bail of more than $600,000. As in Esfandiari's case, Azima was in Iran visiting her ailing mother when her passport was confiscated, and the bail was guaranteed by handing over the deed to her mother's home.

. . . Former FBI agent Robert A. Levinson has been missing since March when he made a business trip to Iran's Kish Island, where visas are not required. Unlike in the other cases, the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denies knowledge of Levinson's whereabouts, despite repeated diplomatic requests by the United States through other countries.

The most curious part of the story? That Esfandiari's release was secured as the result of a letter from her colleague Lee Hamilton directly to Ayatollah Ali Khomenei, Supreme Leader of Iran.

Her release followed a letter from Wilson Center President Lee Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman and co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group, to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In an unusual move after other efforts failed, Khamenei responded to the letter and pledged to try to resolve Esfandiari's case.

Is there a rift between the Ayatollah and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? Seems like an echo of the release of 15 British sailors captured in March.

02 September 2007

A Lesson on Silence

“Being silent is a guarantee for the police, military and politicians to continue their tactics with impunity. Surely many [of the disappeared] are dead, but their families want to know where they are buried, to at least place a flower. Our children don’t know us or where we went. Those who were not interested in politics are now raising their voices to overcome their fear. Say no to silence, denounce the torturers. We know who they are and the interminable list of those who must be held responsible. Against illegal arbitrary arrests we must keep on raising our voice."

This is Juan Sosa Maldonado, abducted in 1998, tortured, and imprisoned until 2006, speaking last Friday in Oaxaca at a national forum entitled “Twenty-First Century: Forced Disappearance, A Current Policy in the Nation of Mexico.” NarcoNews has a story on the conference, the practice of forced disappearances in Oaxaca, and the current investigation into the police beating of a protester in July. Read the whole thing here.

Coke Bad, Fertility Good

Via Dave Simmonds at Mexico Premiere, it seems the new Coke Zero has at least one ingredient that may not be very good for a body: sodium cyclamate.

Sodium cyclamate, an artificial sweetener, was banned in the U.S. nearly 40 years ago due to increased cancer risks. But now, after further testing, it is deemed safe enough to be used in 50 countries, including Mexico, which legalized it last year.

Not surprisingly, Coca-Cola jumped at the opportunity and added it to their Coca-Cola Zero brand, raising the ire of various consumer-advocate groups. You may have noticed, Mexican’s [sic] drink a lot of soda, the sweeter the better. Okay, sodium cyclamate is sold in 50 countries, and the U.S. can tend to be rather anal about these things. But the Center for Science in the Public Interest based in D.C., is definitely hitting below the belt when they warn that the ingredient can “increase the potency of other carcinogens and harm the TESTES”. Whoa!!!….if this claim reaches the Mexican male population (or female, for that matter) I’d guess that Zero is soon doomed. Personally, I’m sticking to beer and tequila.

Emphasis Dave's.

According to Wikipedia, the artificial sweetener sodium cyclamate has not been found to cause cancer and is approved for food and beverage use in 50 countries including Canada. There's a suggestion--without corroboration--in the Wiki entry that perhaps sodium cyclamate is still off- limits in the States simply due to effective lobbying. "Another possibility is that makers of aspartame exerted behind-the-scenes pressure to keep the ban in place to block competition."

Coke certainly laid on the advertising blitz in Oaxaca this summer for Coke Zero. All over Oaxaca I saw billboards for the newest Coke variation, and many tiendas in Oaxaca had promotional posters and signs for the same thing. Will Mexicans quit drinking it because they hear it may accelerate the effects of other carcinogens? In my opinion no. As for negative effects to the testes, that's a whole other ball (sorry!) of wax. If word got around that Coke Zero made your sperm weak, then I think, given the culture of machismo that is prevalent in Mexican society, that yes, guys would rag other guys for drinking it and the product would eventually tank. But will a little known warning from a little known public interest group make waves down south? Not likely.

01 September 2007

Fuera Ulises! by Ana Nimo

fuera-ulises.jpg August 26th, 2007 - Ana Nimo writes: This book represents my interpretation of the events in Oaxaca from June thru November of 2006. It is influenced by my perspective as a visitor and an anti-authoritarian. I’m sure there are as many perspectives as there are viewers, and that a government supporter, a Marxist, or a member of the APPO would tell the story differently. Ceratinly, many other visitors did not see things as I did, one tourists blog stated, “I hate the APPO, they destroyed my Burger King!”

Here's a
link (with the artist's blessing) to the whole thing, which comes up as a .pdf file. The handwritten English text is dense in places, so I recommend magnifying the document for easier reading. Plus the drawings get much better too.

The book is pretty incredible. In a short period of space, 12 pages of images and text, it offers both close-up and wide-angle views of Oaxaca from June to November of 2006. Based on what I learned this summer, the timeline and accounting of events ring true. Criticisms presented against both the government and the APPO echo many of the criticisms I encountered in my conversations with Oaxacans. The book captures the tension, escalation and political disarray that took hold of Oaxaca last year and, albeit somewhat less overtly--for the moment--continues today.

If you've been curious about the political climate in Oaxaca, last year's confrontations, and the undercurrent that runs through the city today, take a few minutes and read through this graphic account. It presents one of the freshest takes on Oaxaca's troubles that I've seen yet.