30 October 2007

Notes on Oaxaca

Tapetas de arenas. Carpets of sand. That's what a friend told me today. In reference to the sand images photographed for my previous post. And el Dia de Muertos is this week, Friday (Thursday too, but less so), not "next weekend" as the post casually mentioned. When I was writing Monday night the holiday still seemed a little ways away, but not anymore. The streets are busy as vendors near the mercado 20 de Noviembre, several blocks from our house, crowd the sidewalks with stalls selling marigolds and a deep red velvety flower which name I do not know (perhaps somebody will tell me tomorrow) and skulls made of sugar, pan dulces (sweet breads) with faces of sugar baked into the crusts, and all manner of garish plastic trinket or toy featuring skeletons or ghouls practicing their arts.


If the city is in turmoil--and I don't presume that quiet is the same as resolution--it is less obvious to me now than it was this summer. While there are military patrols there is not the same presence of force observed during the Guelaguetza or the August 5 election. While there is still the tug of war between political graffiti artists and the city crews whose job it is to follow with whitewash and rollers, especially in the zocalo and other central points, there does not appear to be, in the past two weeks since our return, the protests, demonstrations, ad hoc public kiosks demanding the release of political prisoners or the further investigation of human rights abuses or the removal from power of Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz. I'm not saying these things aren't happening, I'm just saying that, for me, they are not as visible as they were in the peak of the summer.

The tone right now to the casual eye is much more neutral, except for all the empty tables in all the restaurants that rely on tourism for so much of their business, which is very nearly all the restaurants in the centro historico. For these owners and employees I can only wonder how much the emptiness is costing in lost profits and wages. I wondered out loud the other day how many empresarios have gone or are going deep into debt in order to keep their businesses running throughout the tourist drought of the past 18 months. And who are the few creditors bankrolling much of the city as the lull endures? The way things work in Oaxaca, I think, there will be three or four very powerful people with their thumbs on all the commerce of the city. Of course when I read about Mexico in general I get the sense it is the same ten families who, when you cut through the smoke and paperwork, appear to run everything, so maybe nothing is so unusual after all.

I haven't been keeping up with the papers since we returned but intend to start reading again soon, now that we're settled. This week marks the year anniversary of the murder of American independent journalist Brad Will, and that's generated its own bit of attention, though moreso outside Oaxaca and Mexico, as far as I can tell, than here in the city where he died (see here to scroll through various posts on the subject). Outwardly things are calm. I am not informed enough at present to suggest what may be going on under the surface.

El Dia de Muertos: Images

The streets flow over with excitement as Oaxaca prepares for el Dia de Muertos next weekend. Fireworks go off nightly, though that's hardly limited to the holidays in Oaxaca. Brass bands and throngs of dancers fill the zocalo while religious ceremonies overflow the sanctuary of the great cathedral at Santo Domingo and into the front courtyard, illuminating the night. Colorful altars, populated with images or likenesses of deceased loved ones and adorned with offerings of chocolate, candies, cigarettes, mescal, sweet breads, flowers, fruits, toys, trinkets and more are installed in homes, restaurants, bars, galleries, souvenir shops.

Here two men in the zocalo labor over one of the many sand illustrations that have cropped up before the holiday.

And here are some striking images from the Alcala, one of the wide stone avenues in the historic center of town. These displays are made almost entirely with sand, though some incorporate maize, flower petals and more. Enjoy!

28 October 2007

Self Portrait

Blogger says I may only update my profile photo from an online source, not from my hard drive or other storage device like my camera. So here's a photo of me, online. Soon to be seen in my profile, as well. At least it turned out better than my passport photo.

Z Magazine Online

Here's a little more print media hype (of the electronic variety . . . which maybe means it's not print media, but that sort of feels like an existentialist dialogue coming on, and we've got football and baseball to watch): I haven't read a single article yet, which makes this one of my more openly shallow posts, but the contents page of Z Magazine Online looks pretty damn compelling. Unfortunately (but understandably, sort of; I waver on whether I think politico-socio-cultural websites are better served selling or giving away their online product) the bulk of the site content is available only to subscribers. A handful of taster articles are available, however, to lure us in. And they look alluring indeed:

GAY & LESBIAN COMMUNITY NOTES: Sex and the Single Issue Movement
Michael Bronski
The lesbian, gay, and transgender (LGBT) movement has been fighting for 50-plus years to challenge the oppression of queer people and make the world a better, less hostile, and safer place for everyone. Fifty years is not a particularly long time and given the entrenched cultural homophobia in the United States, the LGBT movement has done a pretty good job so far—except when it comes to dealing with sexuality.; (More)

CARAVAN FOR PEACE: On the Road with Cindy Sheehan
Paul Bloom
Rather than telling the truth about U.S. actions in other people’s countries, mainstream media present us with a false picture, a patriotized history. In this imaginary world, U.S. actions have the same five characteristics regardless of place or time. (More)

Noam Chomsky
These are exciting days in Washington, as the government directs its energies to the demanding task of “containing Iran” in what Washington Post correspondent Robin Wright, joining others, calls “Cold War II.” (More)

Barbara Ehrenreich
YOU MAY not have noticed, but 50,000 U.S. coal miners were on strike for four months this spring and summer 1989. The 10-state strike featured the unprecedented mass application of nonviolent civil disobedience to a labor struggle: Thousands of miners and family members have been arrested for peacefully blocking mine entrances. Troops have been called in; they have, in some instances, fired on the strikers.(More)

Okay. Gotta go read some Chomsky. Thanks to Mostly Water for putting Z Mag on my radar.

Vanity Fairing

Included on our packing list for travel to Mexico was the October Vanity Fair, a subscription we've enjoyed this year as a gift from our sister-in-law Wendy. So even as the volume of the movie on the 8 hour bus ride from Mexico City to Oaxaca (everybody agrees it only takes 5 1/2 or 6 but we've yet to experience such a short ride) overpowered us I was able to get my fix of glossy fashion ads and haute couture.

One reason I really like Vanity Fair is for the political reporting, and the October issue is no exception. I realize the month is nearly spent and, periodicals existing in the perennial race for readers that they do, Christmas editions will be on newsstands shortly. That aside, let me direct your attention to a pair of articles that are well worth reading.

The first, Todd Purdum's "Inside Bush's Bunker," is a thorough look at what goes into making the White House arguably one of the most secure installations on the planet. The bunker in question, however, is every bit as much mental, emotional and intellectual as it is physical. Purdum, through interviews, accounts and, by necessity, a bit of informed speculation, offers a peek inside what could be characterized as the most media unfriendly and closed-minded administration this side of Iran. For an idea of how the President gets his information and whom he trusts for pushback or outside ideas (nearly no one, and trusting and listening to are two different things) this article is a must read.

I have not yet finished reading "Billions Over Baghdad," but the content is scandalous, or would be if as a citizenry we could just quit caring about whether Paris is in jail or Britney has her kids for the night. Here Donald Bartlett and James Steele investigate how, from start to finish, the Coalition Provisional Authority (I last blogged on the CPA here) arranged for nearly 12 billion dollars in US cash money--literally 363 tons--to be withdrawn from the Federal Reserve and airlifted to Baghdad from 2003-2004. More than $9 billion of that has since "gone missing" with no one to account for it. And not theoretical money, money on paper or electronic funds. We're talking about tangible bills, ones, fives, tens, twenties and hundreds with the likenesses of dead white men on the faces and the seal of the US government on their backsides. The authors point to croneyism from the Pentagon and the White House, confusion as to how the CPA was mandated and to whom it answered*, a compliant and increasingly bamboozled Congress, and a breathtaking lack of concern about what the money actually went for, as reasons why it was so easy for anybody with open hands to capture what may have been the real loot of the Iraq War.

So there you have it, my plug for print media for the month. Check it out online (free) or go to the library for an afternoon of reading (also free) or get your hands on a rumpled and dog-eared copy from the beauty salon or motor vehicle office (we wish!) and don't let it go until you've read these articles about the people in charge of our country today.

*Sidenote: the CPA apparently answered to nobody. The article points out that the Coalition Provisional Authority, in actuality, was neither a US government agency nor a UN body nor an Iraqi entity). In essence the CPA mandated, approved and oversaw the CPA, and in the confusion of post-invasion Iraq that was enough for the world.

25 October 2007

El Dia de Muertos

I often find the Oaxaca Times to be brazenly biased and hopelessly in need of a decent editor (hmmm . . . maybe they're hiring). The paper is chiefly a means of advertising to tourists, dressed up as a newsletter and distributed free throughout el centro. That said, I found this article about el Dia de Muertos to be exciting and enlightening, especially as the event draws near.

The Day of the Dead is a blend of cultural traditions: the pre-Hispanic cult of death, the veneration of ancestors practiced both by the indigenous people and by Spanish pre-Christian pagans, and the commemoration of Catholic Saints on All Saints' Day. Above all, it is a wholly Mexican occasion. The most ostentatious Christian festivity of the year—more exuberant than either Easter or Christmas—it illustrates the special relationship that Mexico has with death, a laughing, mocking familiarity embodied in the portrayal of grinning paper mache skeletons performing life's everyday tasks. Dancing on someone's grave, an action which carries negative connotation in the rest of the Christian world, here represents a reaching out of the living to the dead, a reunion in the most festive spirit.

I don't know enough about the holiday to say if the writer gets it right, and I don't have the will to go fact checking it now, but it's a pretty thorough article and offers insights on the customs with which I am unfamiliar. Of course there's a plug for tours run by Oaxaca Times, but that's how it goes. You get what you pay for, as the saying goes. This time it turns out pretty good.

Art and the Resistance

The title of the post manages to sound trite and lofty all at the same time (it's a gift, I swear) but most everybody in Oaxaca seems to agree on this one thing: the street art keeps getting better. I tried to capture some of it this summer but never did it justice. Check out some of these images, though, at Puntos B. You don't have to read Spanish to be struck by the art that rises from the wreckage of last year's unresolved conflict.

20 October 2007

Regresamos a Oaxaca

Jenna and I have returned to Oaxaca, and I´ll be writing from here over the next six months. The city is much as we left it, although traffic seems to be worse as a result of the government´s grand plan to create something like 10 more blocks of pedestrian-only streets in the historic center. From the little I hear, businesses are screaming because there are no tourists coming to the city now--an enduring result of Oaxaca´s political instability the past year and a half--and it´s generally tourists who shop and sight-see in the historic center. So the streets downtown are all torn up and nobody is happy about it.

That´s the quick update. I hope to write more, with more perspective, very soon.

15 October 2007

For What it's Worth

From the New York Times:

With only 15 months left in office, President Bush has left whole agencies of the executive branch to be run largely by acting or interim appointees — jobs that would normally be filled by people whose nominations would have been reviewed and confirmed by the Senate. In many cases, there is no obvious sign of movement at the White House to find permanent nominees, suggesting that many important jobs will not be filled by Senate-confirmed officials for the remainder of the Bush administration. That would effectively circumvent the Senate’s right to review and approve the appointments. It also means that the jobs are filled by people who do not have the clout to make decisions that comes with a permanent appointment endorsed by the Senate, scholars say.

Emphasis mine. A country run by substitute teachers. I find it all unsettling, but not surprising. You could say this is a do-nothing government, but that would be wishful thinking. It's more a do-whatever-we-want kind of government, and when any item, issue or strategy comes up for review, then the answer is to stall and avoid, eg. run out the clock, as witnessed above, or, worse, review the reviewer.

12 October 2007

Cheney Still Likes Rummy


In a new interview with Fox News to be aired this Saturday, Vice President Dick Cheney reveals that he disagreed with President Bush’s decision to fire Donald Rumsfeld as Defense Secretary. Fox News reports:

Cheney said despite Rumsfeld’s controversial handling of the war in Iraq, the secretary of defense was managing the war successfully.

Speaking openly with Bret Baier in the new documentary, “Dick Cheney: No Retreat,” the vice president said he “thought that in terms of the way forward, Don was the right guy to continue to lead the Department of Defense.”

This interview is the first time Cheney has confirmed that he disagreed with Bush’s decision to fire Rumsfeld. In his biography of the Vice President that came out in July, Stephen Hayes revealed that Cheney — when asked by staffers whether he agreed with Bush’s decision — responded “absolutely not.” At Rumsfeld’s farewell ceremony last December, Cheney said that Rumsfeld was the “finest Secretary of Defense this nation has ever had.”

Read the full post from Think Progress here.

10 October 2007

Patrolling the Border

Cut me some slack since I've been a bit preoccupied lately. This is two weeks old but still worth a laugh:

Three Mexican minors detained in California on suspicion of smuggling drugs stole a U.S. Border Patrol car while still wearing handcuffs and drove it back across the border to Mexico.
Emphasis mine.

Your Homeland Security dollars at work. And we think building a better fence is our number one priority? Read the rest here.

Considering Genocide and Columbus Day

I was skimming this article at Mostly Water when something clicked in my head. Maybe it was the word "genocide."

As I read about what a bad man Chris Columbus was, what a good idea it is to celebrate "Indigenous People's Day," and reflected on whether Native Americans might ever make successful a claim of genocide against the U.S. government, it occurred to me that the timing of all this Turkey talk in the U.S. House is really a funny thing. What with Columbus Day being this Friday and all.


Not me, but the blog. The blog has been languishing. The blog has been neglected while the blogger travels and cavorts like it's his honeymoon, or something.

While I don't have much to say at the moment, I can report that regular posts will begin again soon. Thanks for your patience.