30 November 2007

Oaxaca Governor Survies Copter Crash

I'm quite late to this and still muddling along through the Spanish, but Noticias reports today that Governor Ulises Ruiz survived a helicopter crash on Wednesday evening outside San Felipe del Agua, a neighborhood in northern Oaxaca City. As far as I can tell, there were no fatalities and no grave injuries.

It is unclear to me whether these are the men I saw from my window several times last week.

Photos courtesy of Noticias.

More From Puebla

Here's an English language version of events unfolding this week in the case of reporter Lydia Cacho v. The Man. In a nutshell, the governor was recorded in a compromising phone call, but the recording was made without a warrant, so the whole thing is a wash. Headline reads "Cacho's rights not violated enough."

Porous Borders

Via The Mex Files, I had heard about this incident but it sort of passed me by. Now count on Tom Tancredo to use it as more proof of our border's insecurity.

New Development in Puebla Journalist Case

Cancel the hooplah about the Mexico Supreme Court stepping out for reporters' rights and, by extension, human rights. Mexico Reporter tells us there appear to have been some second thoughts.

My question: if the court has concluded that there will not in fact be any investigation into the governor of Puebla:

Reports just breaking say that the Mexican Supreme court has concluded that Puebla governor Mario Marin will in fact NOT be investigated following accusations from investigative journalist Lydia Cacho that he was part of a child pornography ring.

then is is possible there was a misinterpretation regarding the previously announced guilty status of the governor and his associates?

Puebla state authorities have been found guilty by the Supreme Court in Mexico of violating the rights of investigative journalist Lydia Cacho, who was arrested by Puebla police in December 2005 after publishing a book about a pedophile ring in Cancun.


The Supreme court found that Governor Mario Marin and 29 other state officials played a role in the events that took place in December 2005, in which Cacho was arrested by police from Puebla in Cancun, taken to a pier and told to jump and then illegally detained. During that detention she says that she was subjected to torture and attempted rape.

The language is unclear to me. In the first instance, "Puebla state authorities have been found guilty . . . ." That's pretty decisive. In the second, however, the language is less specific. " . . . Marin and 29 other state officials played a role in events. . . ."

Either way, I'm not sure what the penalties involved in this sort of thing could be. Is there really any chance to prosecute corruption in Mexico? Seems slim.

More on this to come, I'm sure.

Shock Factor Zero

In a war that has lacked foresight, accountability and effective planning since invasion day, does is come as a surprise to anyone to read that Iraq lacks a plan to absorb returning refugees? Plan for returning refugees? I think there was never a plan for the outpouring of refugees in the first place, just as there was no plan for political asylum for those who actually worked with the US.

"I jeopardized my life every day to get low-fat yoghurt for Americans. And I was a target," said Ihab Rifaat, who was a supply manager for USAID in Baghdad — but had to flee the country after repeated death threats from militants.

I was thinking more of interpreters and the like, but that's okay, because low-fat yogurt is important too.

I guess the only thing I wonder is whether anybody in the US government actually believes that the Iraqi government operates at a level functional enough to think about tomorrow. I mean, the US government doesn't always even do that.

As Iraqi refugees begin to stream back to Baghdad, American military officials say the Iraqi government has yet to develop a plan to absorb the influx and prevent it from setting off a new round of sectarian violence.

If I read the subtext of today's article correctly, does this actually say "Violence rises as US surge draws down"? Stay tuned.

28 November 2007


Is the Mexican Supreme Court getting serious about protecting human rights? From Mexico Reporter, a story out of Puebla about the illegal detention, torture and attempted rape of reporter Lydia Cacho in 2005 may have state governments feeling a little, well, nervous.

On a side note, I did not know that Reporters Without Borders ranked Mexico the second most dangerous nation for reporters in 2006, behind only Iraq.

NYC Purse Dragnet: Don't Pick Up the Bag

Seriously? This is New York City police work? I know Josh Marshall mentioned homicides are down in the city, but this is something else.

27 November 2007

Quiet Anniversary Weekend

Nancy Davies on anniversary weekend events, and, perhaps more interestingly, the current state of the APPO.

26 November 2007

URO: Tourism Down in Oaxaca

I regularly reveal my ignorance of the Spanish language when I work from Spanish-only sources, so take this with a grain of salt. I may have to publish a correction before the day is up.

If I read this correctly, overall tourism earnings are down in Oaxaca by 23% from last year, but the overall number of visitors is up some 4% as a result of governmental initiatives within Mexico to lure visitors back to the state. Additionally, according to the article, 95% of visitors in 2007 were Mexican and only 5% foreigners. The government claims an estimated 4,285,406 visitors to Oaxaca in the past year but gives no indication how that tally is counted.

These numbers come from the government itself, so I remain skeptical that the tourism industry overall is only down by 23%. Float that number among hotel and restaurant owners and see whether their profits are only down 23% compared to 2005.

Here's the thing, though. Forget for a moment the government numbers and how they are made. The real question, in my mind, is not about tourism in 2007 compared to tourism in 2006, but to pre-conflict tourism. In other words, what does the state say annual tourism earnings looked like from, say, 1995 - 2005? Now contrast with 2007 and let's see the real difference in Oaxaca's economic health.

24 November 2007

Analysis: Ceci Connolly's Dangerous "Oaxaca: One Year Later"

UPDATE: Jill Freidberg of Corrugated Films shares her thoughts on Connolly's article, and they are not kind.

It's a big weekend for Oaxaca in the major newspapers back home. Yesterday I saw the 36-hour Oaxaca tour itinerary in The New York Times travel section, and today I encounter Ceci Connolly's special to The Washington Post.

I've already posted an alternate 36-hour itinerary, so let me move straight ahead to Connolly's piece titled Oaxaca: One Year Later (and lengthily subtitled The Riots Are Over, and the Streets Feel Safe. But Can a Battered City Find Its Lost Soul?).

There are a number of things that Connolly gets right in her article. Chief among these is her characterization of how Oaxaca feels today. There are all the shops, boutiques, galleries, restaurants and bars one hopes to find while traveling, and, for the most part, they are all open for business--tenuously. Through her conversations with local business owners and residents, Connolly captures the tension and uncertainty hanging over the city's historic streets and open squares. Chic restaurants attend to their nightly preparations for the dinner hour, yet a majority of tables sit empty while waitstaff and owners, without enough patronage to keep busy, peer hopefully into the streets.

Connolly also, through her acquaintances here, transmits especially well the feel of the historic center of town, where the zocalo and pedestrian friendly Alcala form the hub of tourist activity.

Officially, Oaxaca is back to normal. And as if to prove it, the government has taken a more active role in some of the city's most beloved festivals, which once had been ad-hoc community affairs.

But a more nuanced truth comes out when you share a coffee or a shot of mezcal with Oaxacans or with those, like my friend John Rexer, who have adopted the city.

"It feels antiseptic," he remarks as we walk through the Zocalo and the adjacent square known as the Alameda.

And he's right, her friend John Rexer. Although another of the author's friends cautions early in the article that Oaxaca "is not Disneyland," these government sponsored cultural festivities, aimed at boosting tourism, generally come off in the same hollow vein one may observe on a stroll through "Mexico" at Disneyworld's Epcot Center. There's much of the sound and color, but an absence of real depth, tradition or joy.

Connolly takes us through Oaxaca's largely empty bars and restaurants, she talks with the owners who still don't know how it's all going to pan out. She interviews artists who fled last year because working in the city had become impossible, and who now struggle to reestablish exhibition spaces and a clientele base.

That's what Connolly gets right. A pretty good sense of the fragile peace that exists in Oaxaca, temerity on the part of residents to get too comfortable, and the possibility, looming just out of view, that everything could go to pot again in a heartbeat and this time people will really be hard up for options.

Now here's where she misses the boat completely. First off, and most glaringly, she uses the term "riots" like George Bush uses the phrase "War on Terror." Rarely, in her piece, do we read about conflict, civil unrest, protests, demonstrations, or civil disobedience. Instead we get:

. . . I have returned to Oaxaca on assignment: Find out if, one year after deadly riots crippled the city, it is again an attractive destination for visitors seeking language schools, colonial history, craft markets and art galleries.

. . . The city (population before the riots: 258,000). . .

. . . Before order was restored in December, the riots claimed the lives of at least nine and as many as 20 people, including American activist/journalist Brad Will.

. . . Before the riots, Oaxaca had a thriving art scene . . .

Fans riot after football games. Los Angelenos rioted after the verdict in the Rodney King case. Oxacans defended themselves with sticks, rocks and slingshots when police resorted to force to break up otherwise peaceful demonstrations. Connolly's use of the word "riots" throughout her article frames this struggle in such a way as to nullify efforts by the people of Oaxaca who peacefully protested for 7 months, from May 22 to November 25, against an oppressive government with a history of human rights violations. This is especially evident where Connolly gives a shoddy explanation of Oaxca's recent, tumultuous history.

Protest is as much a part of Oaxaca's tradition as its black clay pottery and hand-woven tapestries. So when the city's teachers announced their perennial strike in May 2006, it barely caused a stir. But unlike in previous years, the dispute escalated into a broader conflict over social justice.

Let's break this down. Oaxaca, like much of Latin America, is no stranger to incendiary politics and active, anti-government demonstrations. And yes, the teachers' strike is, if not a perennial condition, certainly an annual affair. Every year teachers from all over the state come to the capital to renegotiate the terms of their employment with an eye on better wages, better health benefits, and better conditions--books and supplies, and in some cases meals, uniforms and modern buildings with flush toilets--for impoverished students.

"But unlike in previous years, the dispute escalated into a broader conflict over social justice." Unlike in previous years, when the government responded at least by hearing grievances and offering token gestures, in 2006 Governor Ulisez Ruiz refused to bargain at all.

Anti-government demonstrators stormed local radio stations and occupied Oaxaca's famed Zocalo. The city once known for picturesque cathedrals, graceful laurel trees and colorful marketplaces was coated in graffiti and strewn with the charred remains of vehicles.

Now this is where Connolly--or her editors--leave out extremely pertinent information. It should be noted that anti-government demonstrators did not storm local radio stations until after city and state police raided the teachers' planton at 4 am on June 14, 2006, firing teargas canisters from shoulder launchers directly into the crowds and beating people out of sleep with rifle butts and billy clubs. Police also attempted to destroy the independent FM radio station installed there, Radio Planton, which had become the voice of the resistance broadcast across Oaxaca.

It should be noted that this is when the teachers' strike "escalated into a broader conflict over social justice." After the government refused to even hear the teachers' arguments, after the government attacked men, women and children in their sleep, after the government attempted to seize the people's radio access, and after families and friends across the state heard about the government's reprehensible actions. Then, yes, the dispute escalated from a list of teachers' grievances to a dramatic and widespread call for change on the part of more than 300 different people's organizations across the state of Oaxaca.

Some 4,000 federal police descended, erecting barricades and military-style encampments. Masked protesters countered with guerrilla tactics, hurling burning tires and rocks collected from the cobblestone streets. Before order was restored in December, the riots claimed the lives of at least nine and as many as 20 people, including American activist/journalist Brad Will.

Holy smokes. If I read this right, Connolly collapses seven months' worth of outcry, public despair and extreme police intimidation tactics into 3 short paragraphs before laying blame for the deaths of "at least nine and as many as 20 people, including American activist/journalist Brad Will," on "the riots," and by extension applauds the government effort to "restore order." Police raided the zocalo on June 14 and federal troops didn't reclaim Oaxaca City until November 25. Connolly makes no mention of the city as it lay under siege between these dates. She does not mention the formation of APPO, a coalition dedicated to organizing the myriad voices in Oaxaca in an attempt to create change. The article makes no mention of the roadblocks erected nightly by neighborhood patrols of concerned citizens intent on protecting teachers, activists and families from threats, intimidations, beatings, disappearances and assassinations.

Furthermore, there is no mention of the peaceful protest marches, first 200,000 people in solidarity with the teachers' organizations on June 16, and when that didn't earn an audience with the government another march of 500,000 people took place on June 29. Then there was the 3,000 person march in September of that year, from Oaxaca City to Mexico City, a trek of some 21 days over nearly 500 kilometers, to attract attention to the struggle in Oaxaca, to demand the removal of Governor Ulises Ruiz from power, and to restore justice to the streets of Oaxaca.

Yes, demonstrators engulfed the zocalo. Yes, graffiti covered most every available space. Yes, protesters blockaded the road between the city and the airport in an effort to frustrate the flow of tourism dollars into government coffers. That's exactly what is, to my thinking, so uniquely impressive about the conflict of 2006. When repeated calls for change went unrecognized, unarmed protesters effectively shut down the economy of a city of a quarter million people without resorting to violence and thus captured the attention of the government and the world.

This is just some of what Connolly's piece is missing. And all this missing background is exactly what makes it so hard to tell whether Oaxaca can rebound or not. As of November 25, 2006, when federal police quashed the last of the demonstrations and forcibly "restored order" to the city, not a single compromise has been made regarding any of the original demands made by protesters. That these issues have been silenced by an iron fist makes all the more difficult any assessment of what churns beneath the surface. Oaxacans are still frustrated and oppressed, but now they may simply be more submissive than they were a year ago.

One year later there is still not enough accurate, reliable information circulating about what has happened, and what may yet happen, in Oaxaca. Connolly's piece further serves to frustrate efforts to advance such information about the struggle in Oaxaca to the rest of the world. Oaxaca needs help reaching a point of comprehension and accountability regarding these events, and this will not be achieved through half-representations of recent history.

A Laptop for Every Child (On Earth)?

It could be closer than we think. An article today in The Wall Street Journal about MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte explores the hits and misses of a plan to deliver $100 laptops to schoolchildren in impoverished communities worldwide. The article also addresses how big businesses, including Intel and Microsoft, threatened by the very feasability of Negroponte's nonprofit program, One Laptop Per Child, have rolled out their own lines of basic, affordable, ready-to-connect notebooks targeting developing and underdeveloped school systems.

While the $100 notebook is not yet in production, several inexpensive models (ranging in price from $188 for Negroponte's product to $300 for Intel's Classmate), are ready for delivery. It seems only a matter of time before Negroponte figures out how to reach his goal.

At the same time, corporations such as Intel and Microsoft may have a desire to thwart the plan in order to sustain their own profits, and we'll have to see how all this pans out. As I read the article I am excited and puzzled by these ready-to-connect devices for "emerging markets worldwide" (Intel's language). Having the computer is great. But do connectivity infrastructures exist yet in the places these machines are destined to go. That will be the next step: making information itself available to everybody, regardless of their place on Earth.

23 November 2007

And in Mexico Today . . .

Two items of note in today's news summary, courtesy of Mexico Today. First:

President Felipe Calderón said México has a strong economy and won’t be affected by the problems in the United States.

Wait--there are problems in the United States?

And second:

In other news, former president Vicente Fox said in an interview broadcast in Spain, that U.S. president George W. Bush and former secretary of State, Colin Powell, could testify in his favor to prove that he did not accrue illicit wealth during his term…

According to Fox, Bush and Powell could testify that the San Cristóbal ranch has undergone no change since 2001, when they visited…

And George Bush's word is good enough for me, so it ought to be good enough for the Mexican people, dammit.

36 Hours in Oaxaca

For those of you planning to visit this year, Beth Greenfield offers her suggestions on how to spend 36 hours in Oaxaca.

We hope you'll stay longer than a day and a half, and we've assembled this alternative itinerary, tailored to those earning pesos instead of dollars.

For a taste of authentic Mexico right out of the gate, we'll head up to our old neighborhood, Colonia Reforma, for tacos al pastor (4 pesos each, or roughly 40 cents) at a streetside table in front of Tacomiendo on Manuel Ruiz. A stroll on the Alcala will certainly be in order afterward, to take in all the street activity and vibrant culture regularly on display in front of Santo Domingo or down in the zocalo. A nightcap perhaps on the quiet rooftop of Tapas y Pisto overlooking the city? Sounds great, especially because they almost always have a 2 for 1 running on some variety of cocktail or beer.

While the rough and raucous Abastos market is certainly the place to find whatever you're looking for at bargain rates, we prefer to stay a little closer to home, shopping at our neighborhood mercado Juarez at the corner of Aldama and Flores Magdon. Here you'll find crafts, flowers, vegetables, raw meats and fresh fish, not to mention some of the best quesillo we've tried since we got to Oaxaca.

Many nights of the week there's music for free in the city center, or try a free show at cineclub el Pochote. Some nights they show movies in English, but we've recently had the opportunity to see films in Chinese and Hindi, respectively, with subtitles en espanol. A must-do for the immersion thirsty traveler.

Pochote is also the site of a small, organic farmers' market every Friday and Saturday during the day. A favorite lunch stop, you may never know for sure what you end up with on your plate but you can bet it will be delicious. Afterwards, try a cup of the cafe oscura, rich and dark, from one of two local highlands coffee farms, before sampling (and buying--these make great housewarming gifts!) hand crafted mescals available in cups of bored-out sugarcane, conveniently located along the aquaduct on your way out of the garden.

Thus fortified, the galleries and museums of Oaxaca open themselves as elaborate treasure troves, complete with unexpected alcoves, hidden gardens and sweeping staircases in the colonial fashion. Just don't forget that Oaxaca's artwork also comes alive in some of the most cluttered, crowded, and out of the way boutiques and craft stands.

It's true that you have to taste the moles while you're here in Oaxaca, and this is one area not to skimp. We heartily recommend dinner at La Olla, on Reforma, or La Biznaga, on Garcia Vigil. If it's La Olla, make sure someone at the table orders the chile relleno; if you should find yourself at La Biznaga, don't miss the house michelada, a cold beer (Victoria or Indio, please) served over salsa pica, limon, and ice in a salt-and-chile rimmed glass. And don't forget dessert at either location; the fruit and chocolate plates are not to be missed.

Well, that's a rough guide to the first 36 hours of your trip. Thus acclimated, the city will only begin to feel more comfortable, inviting, and, dare I say, familiar. We look forward to your visit!

A Day Late and a Thank You Short?

Sarcastic and informative, Jon Swift on Thanksgiving.

What Would Jesus Buy?

Via The Washington Post: What would Jesus buy? Ask Reverend Billy.

Buy Nothing Day

If living in Mexico through the holidays this year has its downsides (missing the family, missing the great food and festive time together, missing the annual Detroit Lions Thanksgiving Day loss), then it also comes with some great perks, number one on my list this year being that we won't see a whole lot of this in stores here today.

In an effort to ask our fellow humans to step back, consider our collective values, and return respectability, thoughtfulness and good will to the holiday season, our household is celebrating Buy Nothing Day today. For the following 24 hours we join a worldwide campaign to create awareness of just how toxic our consumerist frenzy has become to our social, spiritual and environmental health.

22 November 2007

Sosa Brother Freed

UPDATE: Horacio Sosa calls his imprisonment "psychologically torturing."

I'm still looking for an accurate tally of Oaxacan political prisoners currently held in Mexican prisons, but today the Sosa family can be thankful there's one less. Horacio Sosa, brother of prominent APPO figurehead Flavio Sosa, was released from police custody this week after nearly a year in prison.

The Sosa brothers were arrested along with two others on December 4, 2006. According to Noticias, the group was accused of carrying out crimes of sedition, attacking communications channels, and inciting violence, resulting in their detention in a maximum security facility in Altiplano, Mexico.*

Flavio Sosa remains in prison.

*My translation.

21 November 2007

Specifically Vague

Over at Slate John Dickerson observes that despite the immediate sensation created on news tickers across the country yesterday, Scott McClellan's big bombshell announcement really amounts to . . . nothing we didn't know already.

It's not that his frankness in copping to passing along incorrect information isn't a big deal. It's that McClellan, by apparent design, has done so rather innocuously. To wit:

. . . McClellan said the five administration officials had been "involved" in putting out the bogus information. The word was too vague. It could have meant many different things. With respect to Rove and Libby, McClellan was already on the record saying that they'd mislead him. But was he now saying the same thing about Bush, Cheney and Card? If so, why didn't McClellan just say so? I had unknowingly passed along false information. And five of the highest ranking officials in the administration knew it. That would be big news, indeed.

Indeed. Emphasis John's. There you have it. The nickel version of what didn't happen yesterday.

Whirlybirds: A Correction

CORRECTION: A line in an earlier post, Whirlybirds, reads, "Explanations might include narcotrafficking . . . ." This should in fact read "Explanations might include counter-narcotrafficking . . . ."

Apologies for any confusion.

Plan Mexico and the "Arm Everybody" Agenda

There's been a whole lot written in the past couple of weeks about the Merida Initiative, aka Plan Mexico. The basic premise of the plan is for the US to pump a whole lot of money, some $550 million, into Mexican coffers--and some Central American countries as well--to combat narcotrafficking and improve security (more TSA agents?) throughout Latin America.

I am not very educated about all this, so I'll leave the serious policy discussion to those who are. This caught my attention, though, and I wanted to share it here.

On the subject of arming and training Mexican law enforcement to bust drug dealers, patrol the border and increase surveillance throughout Mexico (have I mentioned the cute helicopter that checks in my windows several times every day?), Congressman Tom Lantos appears underwhelmed by the Bush/Calderon plan.

. . . Congressman Tom Lantos, the Democratic chairman of the [House Foreign Affairs] Committee, says the Merida Initiative is flawed. While calling increased security cooperation between the United States and Mexico “long overdue”, Lantos says the Bush administration’s emphasis on targeting the supply of drugs in Mexico may simply push the drug trade to somewhere else in the region.

He also questions the wisdom of a cornerstone of the proposal — counter-drug training for Mexican security personnel — without addressing Mexico’s longstanding battle with corruption. “Training can be dangerous because it can make corrupt forces more effective,” he said.

Emphasis mine. This is one of the more important issues we'll need to assess over the next several years. A key component of the Bush administration's foreign policy agenda appears to be "Arm Everybody." We see this mindset today in Iraq, we see it in Pakistan, and now we see it in Mexico. I haven't decided yet whether I think Lantos is being reflexively pessimistic, but he's definitely got a good point. I'm willing to wager, based on what I see here in Oaxaca, that if we strengthen and increase the police presence in Mexico then we will see a corollary rise in ruthlessness and intimidation acted out against political dissidents, not simply by uniformed police but by paramilitary patrols (party loyalists, off-duty police, corrupt politicos) acting with the blessings of the state and federal governments of Mexico. Look at the history of human rights abuses in Colombia and Guatemala concurrent with US military aid to those nations to combat narcotrafficking.

As to the other key aspect of Lantos's observation, that training corrupt forces makes for really effective corrupt forces, I have to wholly agree. And this is one of the unknowns that gets at a bigger picture we'll struggle to sort out over the next couple years (decades): has the Bush administration chosen wisely in supporting unlikely allies in some of the most geopolitically unstable environments in the world in order to get quick results?

20 November 2007

Insult to Injury

This is appalling. Via Steve Bennen via Andrew Sullivan
via, well, just about everybody:

The U.S. Military is demanding that thousands of wounded service personnel give back signing bonuses because they are unable to serve out their commitments.

To get people to sign up, the military gives enlistment bonuses up to $30,000 in some cases.

Now men and women who have lost arms, legs, eyesight, hearing and can no longer serve are being ordered to pay some of that money back.


“I tried to do my best and serve my country. I was unfortunately hurt in the process. Now they’re telling me they want their money back,” Fox said.

If this isn't a shameful day for the Pentagon and those to whom they answer, than there clearly never will be.

Read the original here.

More Monkey Business

UPDATE 2: Arrrrggghhhh. I'm going to bed.

For example, I'm messing around with the html for my block quotes, to get them to do this automatically.

UPDATE: Ah, not quite, I see. Bear with me.

With the blog, that is. I'm hoping to fine tune some of the adjustments I've made over the past week, to make them easier for me to use and keep up the growing charm of Plavwriter.

For example, I'm messing around with the html for my block quotes, to get them to do this automatically.

Now I hit publish to see how it looks.

Tengo Gripe

That's hard G, roll the R, I like an E, P-ah! Greep-ah! Tengo gripe. It feels like a scratchy throat, stuffy head, runny nose, occasional sweats and chills, general aches, cruddiness, and an overall malaise.

My answer: hot noodle soup with an egg boiled in, hearty leaves of kale (with stalks), four cloves of garlic, half a jalapeño pepper, and copious amounts of green habanero salsa and black pepper, all served too hot to eat and then slurped down fast enough to make me sweat. The idea is to make the internal environment so unaccommodating to other life forms that I wake feeling much better tomorrow.

I'll let you know how it goes. Tomorrow is my first day teaching at the university, 7 a.m. class. If anyone wants to Skype me at 5:30, I'll be up.

McClellan on Plamegate

UPDATE: It's not clear to me what all this amounts to. The guy says he passed along false information. From what little I've found online, the general reaction is "Yeah, who hasn't?" The prevailing idea is that McClellan wants to sell his book, so he says something grand to get people's attention.

What strikes me is how few words have been exchanged on this topic today. I haven't seen any political fallout type discussions going on. So here I go betraying my political naivety once more: Is there something I just don't get? Is this actually a non-issue?

Holy Political Whiplash, Batman!

Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan blames President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for efforts to mislead the public about the role of White House aides in leaking the identity of a CIA operative.

In an excerpt from his forthcoming book, McClellan recounts the 2003 news conference in which he told reporters that aides Karl Rove and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby were "not involved" in the leak involving operative Valerie Plame.

"There was one problem. It was not true," McClellan writes, according to a brief excerpt released Tuesday. "I had unknowingly passed along false information. And five of the highest-ranking officials in the administration were involved in my doing so: Rove, Libby, the vice president, the president's chief of staff and the president himself."


White House press secretary Dana Perino said it wasn't clear what McClellan meant in the excerpt and she had no immediate comment.

Unlike Dana Perino, I think it's exactly clear what McClellan meant. I am, however, still trying to get my head around what it might mean in the immediate future. Count on hearing a lot of people ask a lot of questions.

"Un poquito de tanta verdad"

Al Giordano on "A Little Bit of So Much Truth":

The new documentary brings the viewer on a 93-minute rollercoaster ride alongside the dramatic six-month occupation of the state capital and other cities and towns. The focus of “Un poquito de tanta verdad” turns the lights on, what this reviewer agrees is, the most significant advance to come out of the popular assembly movement in Oaxaca: the citizenry’s reclaiming of the broadcast airwaves from those that have monopolized and abused them.

I'm still waiting to see this one, and I've heard only good things. And it's subtitled in English, so there's no reason for non-Spanish speakers not to see it.

Giordano's review goes so far as to establish much of the context of 2006 conflict in Oaxaca so that the viewer may have a greater understanding of events chronicled in the film.

We hear the frightened but continuing voices of Radio Plantón hosts in the predawn hours of June 14, as state police come storming into their studios, destroying the equipment as the station goes off the air. The station was the first target of the police raid. We watch the teargas bombs shot from helicopters above the city, and the wounded testify from hospital beds of how direct hits from the canisters ripped off human skin, now in bandages.


The documentary also brings us to the terrible events of November 25, 2006 when the boot came down and hundreds of social leaders and citizens were beaten and imprisoned by the federal government. The national TV screamed, “there is no repression” as the governor’s own pirate radio station broadcasted home addresses of APPO participants urging assassination and violence against them, as well as against members of the press including, by name, Nancy Davies, who has chronicled the movement from the start with her commentaries on Narco News and the book, The People Decide.

It all sounds very dramatic, but then again events in Oaxaca in 2006 were very dramatic. Read Giordano's article for a greater sense of what has happened in Oaxaca, and then, if you can, see the movie. I'll be looking for my opportunity presently.

Whirlybirds: Update

UPDATE, 11:07 am: I see and hear the helo for the fourth time this morning. When it goes over our house all the windows rattle in their sills. Each time it circles twice and then goes away again for a little while, presumably to spy on another part of the city.

I could do this all day, furtively watch the sky from my front door like a character out of "Good Fellas", but really I've got to go to work.

UPDATE, 10:15 am: Make that three passes.

It's 9:19 am, and the police helicopter has overflown the city center twice. There are three armed men standing on the landing skids, surveying the streets.

Incidentally, November 25 is the one year anniversary of the federal army's forcible eviction of demonstrators from the city center.

19 November 2007


Can anybody tell me why there's been a police helicopter circling central Oaxaca the past several days with armed gunmen standing strapped to the outside of it?

My three guesses all boil down to the same thing: increased military presence. Explanations might include narcotrafficking, which is government-speak for increased military presence; intimidation, surveillance, and apprehension of political opposition figures, which is repugnant yet a slightly less dissembling way of acknowledging an increased military presence; and increased military presence, for its own sake, plain and simple.



From the AP:

The presidents of Venezuela and Iran boasted Monday that they will defeat U.S. imperialism together, saying the fall of the dollar is a prelude to the end of Washington's global dominance.

Posted without comment.

Calling Crap Crap: Part 2, Pakistan

From the folks who brought you the Iraq War:

We do not intend to be fear mongers. Pakistan’s officer corps and ruling elites remain largely moderate and more interested in building a strong, modern state than in exporting terrorism or nuclear weapons to the highest bidder. But then again, Americans felt similarly about the shah’s regime in Iran until it was too late.

Moreover, Pakistan’s intelligence services contain enough sympathizers and supporters of the Afghan Taliban, and enough nationalists bent on seizing the disputed province of Kashmir from India, that there are grounds for real worries.

The most likely possible dangers are these: a complete collapse of Pakistani government rule that allows an extreme Islamist movement to fill the vacuum; a total loss of federal control over outlying provinces, which splinter along ethnic and tribal lines; or a struggle within the Pakistani military in which the minority sympathetic to the Taliban and Al Qaeda try to establish Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Now I would be way, way out of my league to suggest that I know anything about Pakistan, but I do believe I can responsibly point to what sounds like crap to me and share that with my (small but loyal) band of readers.

"We do not intend to be fear mongers." This is completely disingenuous. Fear is exactly what Kagan and O'Hanlon mean to sow. That's how the architects of the Iraq War cowed a traumatized nation into happily supporting whatever the next thing was after capturing Osama, never mind that that mission is as yet incomplete.

In 2003 it was WMD, vials of white powder and the off-handed idea that, if Saddam didn't go, there'd be no telling what American target might next fall victim to (generally Islamic) terrorism. Now it's a fear of nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands, fear of an "extreme Islamist movement" that would fill the power vacuum in a destabilized Pakistan, fear of Taliban and Al Qaeda sympathizers who would turn the country into a state sponsor of terror (as opposed to being merely a safe haven for terrorists), fear of a resurgent, post-Cold War Cold War, wherein "we are both safer, day to day, and in greater peril than before."

What? Don't worry, we're safe, but worry, because we're in more danger than ever? The American military industrial complex has been looking for a Cold War since the Cold War ended, and it's not enough to have opened up a 30 years' quagmire in Iraq, there's got to be an imminent threat beyond. And what does this mean: "But then again, Americans felt similarly about the shah’s regime in Iran until it was too late." Is this for real? Don't forget, we supported the shah until we didn't, just like we'll support Musharraf until we won't, and then we'll remind everybody how fragile and dangerous we've been saying Pakistan is all along? WTF?

I read this op-ed after reading Kevin Drum's post about the decision by the New York Times to run a story this Saturday on U.S. efforts over the past six years to protect Pakistan's nuclear weapons. The post itself is pretty unremarkable, but this exchange in the comments section between the author and a reader strikes me as extremely relevant:

The question is: why did the White House suddenly decide it wanted this information public? I figure it's because they were taking heat for not helping secure Pakistan's nukes and got tired of it. And as we all know, this administration feels that selectively leaking classified info is perfectly OK if it's politically useful to them.

I'm going to go out on a limb and take Kevin's line of thinking one step farther. I get the feeling, after reading the Kagan and O'Hanlon piece, that we'll hear more in the coming days and weeks about threats to the security of the Pakistani arsenal, and therefore threats to American security at home and abroad. Keep in mind the order of events, as we now know them, from 2003. The government had already decided to invade Iraq and topple Saddam. They just needed an appropriately alarming reason to get the mainstream establishment on board with the idea of going to war: to wit, WMDs. And if Americans thought that Iraq had anything to do with 9/11, so much the better.

As far as I can tell, this op-ed reeks of specifically vague, intentionally confusing, inflammatory rhetoric aimed to soften up the ground, as they say in Washington (they say it on the West Wing, anyway) for whatever decisions about the Middle East and South Asia that have already been cooked up. Now we read that the U.S. plans to arm Pakistani tribesman against Al Qaeda in an effort control the long border with Afghanistan, and it all starts to make sense to me. Well, it doesn't make sense, but I see a pattern emerging.

Let's assume the U.S. government has already been arming Pakistani tribesmen, and pretty soon it's going to be obvious that nobody has any idea where all that U.S. equipment has gone or who's using it against whom. Now we've got a real problem, because not only do a lot of different interests want to get their hands on some real and confirmed weapons of mass destruction, but we also can't say for sure that they won't use American military inventory to gain their objective. The U.S. may have
to do something, militarily, and the public isn't going to like it, seeing what a mess has been made already in Iraq.

I do not want to suggest that instability in Pakistan is not a terrific problem, and one that we have to consider against the backdrop of an increasingly messy Middle East. There are countless splinter groups, jihadists, and, I fear, a growing number of capable guerrilla armies (with great equipment!) drawn along sectarian lines, not to mention sovereign nations, that desperately want to get at what's cached in Pakistan's nuclear bunkers. I just want to encourage extreme care and thoughtfulness as we evaluate our news sources--and op-eds masquerading as news sources--and that as a nation we manage to learn from the lather whipped up in advance of the Iraq invasion in 2003. I do not know what the specific motivation is behind the Kagan/O'Hanlon op-ed, but it requires a healthy skepticism to discern the smoke from the fire, a skepticism I think it is incumbent upon us to read with today.

18 November 2007

Calling Crap Crap

LATE UPDATE: Rereading the entry, I realized the earlier update ought to be punctuated like this: "Glenn Greenwald and I are of like minds, only his boasts a greater historical perspective. Check out his take on today's Friedman."

UPDATE: Glenn Greenwald and I are of like minds. Only his boasts a greater historical perspective, so check out his take on today's Friedman.

Today's Tom Friedman: Barack Obama will be a great diplomat if he takes Dick Cheney with him to meet Tehran.

When negotiating with murderous regimes like Iran’s or Syria’s, you want Tony Soprano by your side, not Big Bird. Mr. Obama’s gift for outreach would be so much more effective with a Dick Cheney standing over his right shoulder, quietly pounding a baseball bat into his palm.

Essentially, Friedman is saying that sticks and carrots should continue to be the modus operandi of American diplomacy, especially in the most delicate situations such as relations in the Middle East. The problem is that the pendulum has already swung in favor of developing nations to stand against the US: Iran, North Korea (we still can't tell where that's going) and Venezuela. Friedman's suggestion that a "bad cop" Dick Cheney lurking in the shadows just over "good cop" Obama's shoulder reveals that the author himself has failed to recognize the larger, world-wide assessment of America's falling star. Though American diplomacy still holds some clout--and it can only improve in 2009, unless we hire Rudy Giuliani--watch for fewer rogue nations to really care what America might offer or threaten.

In the meantime, the notion that Democrats are waiting for a candidate who can "dial up" the appropriate level of Dick Cheney as they assemble their foreign affairs teams is preposterous. One big beef against Hillary among liberal Dems is that she's playing this game of keeping "all options on the table," (one of the more painfully overexposed phrases of our decade). In the meantime, both Jimmy Carter, to whom Friedman specifically points as an example of what Obama does not need to bring to the negotiations table, and Al Gore are enjoying terrific resurgences in popularity for their unapologetic commitment to improving the human experience on earth--a claim few, if any, will ever make about Dick Cheney.

So my response when I read Tom Friedman today is "Why am I still reading Tom Friedman?"

Google Wireless

Tim Wu has a new article in Slate that pretty well sums up what Google's recent bid for wireless access means for the future of mobile communications and information access. Wu, with the erudition of a Columbia legal scholar*, humbly reaches the conclusion that Google's new Android platform could be great, or it could bust.

Referring to "the principles of openness," Wu points out that Google's particular challenge in this venture will be to confront head on one of the most historically controlling companies, Ma Bell (and her offspring Verizon and AT&T) over one of the most closely held communications resources, spectrum. While the airwaves are publicly owned--as a reader recently reminded me--access to the airwaves most definitely is not. And whomsoever controls the access sets the rules by which we all must abide.

So what's the implication for the consumer when Google, which has made a killing by giving away products people want, enters the wireless market with a Google-powered phone? Nobody seems to know. Wu breaks the jargon down here:

Let's start with what, exactly, Google is doing. In Google's words, its recently unveiled "Android" is the "first truly open and comprehensive platform for mobile devices."


Google and its allies are now trying to make the principles of openness—the commanding ideology of the Internet—the conquering principle of the wireless world, and the Android announcement is just the first step.

Android is, in form, another of Google's giveaway strategies, a Linux-based operating system for mobile phones that comes with a free set of tools that should make it easy for any programmer to write applications for a mobile phone. It's clear that any Android-based Gphone will be far more "open" than any cell phone the world has yet seen. That means any developer, anywhere, will be able to build whatever functions they think make sense for a mobile computer, and users will be able to install whatever they want. In comparison, today's cell phones, smartphones, and the Apple iPhone are closed and controlled platforms. We have no idea what the killer apps for a Gphone might be, and that's what makes Android truly revolutionary.

Emphasis mine. It sounds so dramatic like this, but then again "to Google," a verb that didn't exist a few years ago, is now a mainstay of the daily lexicon. So I think Wu gets it right when he suggests that the "killer apps" could make the Android platform truly revolutionary. From a layman's view, the rate of information exchange over the past 20 years has been exponential. Trying to figure out what effect Google's newest toys will bring to that equation is like trying to predict what physicists might dazzle us with next. If it works--whatever it is, we'll soon quit puzzling over how it works and simply fall into the daily use patterns that characterize the digital age. And if it doesn't, well, something else will, even if we don't yet know what that will be, either. Regardless which way Google's grand plan breaks, the whole article is worth a read.

*Tim Wu is a professor at Columbia Law School.

16 November 2007

Newsweek Getting Fair & Balanced?

This makes me smile, wryly:

Newsweek has hired Karl Rove as a contributor for the 2008 election. On Tuesday, the magazine announced that it had hired Markos Moulitsas, founder of the liberal blog The Daily Kos, in a similar role.

Thanks to mediabistro for the tip.

15 November 2007

More TSA in the News

While the TSA has been busy making life hard for Retired Major General Vernon Lewis, the Washington Post reports today that you can still get a bomb through US airport security.

Agents were able to smuggle aboard a detonator, liquid explosives and liquid incendiary components costing less than $150, even though screening officers in most cases appeared to follow proper procedures and use appropriate screening technology, according to an unclassified version of a report by the Government Accountability Office, Congress's audit arm.

I'm betting they just showed a driver's license and everything was fine.

14 November 2007

Mexico: The Candidates and the Media

From Mexico Reporter:

A new electoral reform goes into effect in Mexico today that aims to redefine the relationship between the country’s major broadcasters and the government, and to level the political playing field.

The changes to the constitution could help improve the quality of media editorial in Mexico, and help it to become more politically independent than it currently is.

In a move which has been labeled an ‘attack on free speech’ by Mexico’s two major television stations, Televisa and Tele Azteca, political parties have been banned from buying ads on television and radio stations.

Protests from the country’s two leading broadcasters are more likely due to the fact that they stand to loose [sic] millions of pesos of advertising income as a result of the reforms, rather than concerns for the right to free speech.

Constitutional amendments mean that television and radio stations are now obliged to broadcast 48 minutes a day of free political advertising, forbidding parties from buying their own airtime. Presidential campaigning will also be limited to within three months before election day, and bans political parties from mud-slinging or insulting other political institutions and candidates.

I'm not even sure what to think about this. It's certainly an improvement in many ways over the current barrage of propaganda that Mexico's reigning political parties pump into the popular media, and thus the entire atmosphere with every election cycle (sound familiar, America?). On the other hand, who's to say in a "free market" that corporations, media outlets, political parties and individual candidates don't get to sell what resources they have, buy what resources they can afford, and let the market decide what it wants? Of course public monies should remain neutral, but should governments legislate how individuals or entities spend their own pesos or dollars?

Here's what I really want to know: will this reform genuinely "level the playing field?" Don't get me wrong. The current system is corrupt, busted, morally bankrupt, and far from democratic. In my increasing skepticism, though, I find it hard to take anything at face value. What's the motivation behind this new amendment, where does it come from, who are the players? I find it hard to imagine that anything ratified by Mexico's politicians is designed to help the little guy.

Your Tax Dollars at Work

Decorated Army General Delayed by TSA's No-Fly List

Retired Major General Vernon Lewis, Jr. has served in two wars, commanded troops and holds a top-secret security clearance. However, 9Wants to Know has learned the Transportation Security Administration keeps confusing him with a terrorist.

"My credentials are impeccable," said Lewis. who has been decorated four times for valor and received the Army's highest medal for service, the Distinguished Service Medal. "It burns me up to be treated like a terrorist."

He is now retired from the U.S. Army after serving more than 30 years during Vietnam and Korea with the 82nd Airborne Division and the 82nd's 319th Field Artillery.

Lewis started getting delayed at airports three years ago because he shares a name with a terrorist on the TSA's No-Fly list.

The frequent flier has been delayed more than 40 times. Each time, he has to stand in line and check in with an airline attendant, who then takes his drivers' license and determines he's not a terrorist.

Wait a minute. Emphasis mine. You mean a gate agent can tell he's not a terrorist by looking at this driver's license? Does the Department of Homeland Security know this?

Breaking Down the Big Time

From Huffington Post via mediabistro:

Newsweek has just announced that Markos Moulitsas, namesake and founder of the Daily Kos website, will be a contributor for the mag's 2008 election coverage.

And my wife says "blogging is fine but when are you gonna get a j-o-b, Plavnick?"

13 November 2007

Test Post: Block Quotes

UPDATE 3: Sorry folks. There's really not a much better way to test this.

Ah. Much better.

Trying to highlight block quotes by installing a different color background behind the quote. Take this clip from the AP via Yahoo News, for example:

Iran has met a key demand of the U.N. nuclear agency, handing over long-sought blueprints showing how to mold uranium metal into the shape of warheads, diplomats said Tuesday.

Didn't work so well, that.

Trying to highlight block quotes by installing a different color background behind the quote. Take this clip from the AP via Yahoo News, for example:

Iran has met a key demand of the U.N. nuclear agency, handing over long-sought blueprints showing how to mold uranium metal into the shape of warheads, diplomats said Tuesday.

Alright, can't wait to see it online.

Oaxaca and the Sheffield Anarchists

This ended up in my inbox today. Not sure yet what I think about it.

The problem is that APPO, as I understand it, was never supposed to be an anarchist organization. APPO was formed as a means to unify the collective might of the 300-some smaller teachers' unions, workers' groups, pueblos' organizations and the like that made their way to Oaxaca City in 2006, in solidarity with the striking teachers, to protest the oppressive regime of the Ulises Ruiz government.

A major complaint against many demonstrations that took place in Oaxaca in 2006 and again in the summer of 2007 is that they attracted anarchists who simply want to throw rocks at police and light buses on fire, thus undermining peaceful attempts to draw attention to human rights violations and oppressive government policies in Oaxaca, and giving police a green light to start busting heads (and they don't appear to need much provocation on this order).

So when the fashionable Sheffield Anarchist Federation, boasting that their fundraising gig got shut down by "the riot squad," donates a little bit of money to the APPO, and the APPO accepts it, how can anyone argue that the APPO functions as a legitimate organization for responsible change?

I need more time to think about it.

12 November 2007

Map: Red State Blue State

UPDATE 3: I can't even tell what the map has to do with the rest of that crazy text. Here's where I got it. WTF?

Okay, I can't seem to get just the map that I was looking for, nor a link to just that post. So here's the whole stinking post, reprinted for your browsing edification. I'm less interested in all the spiritual talky-talky what not. I just thought the map was hilarious.

Spiritual Liberation from Religion. Spirituality for Dummies.

A Declaration of Independence.
Here below are 2 Bible verses that release people from all Bible verses, all religions, all texts, all names, and even names like "Jesus" or "Lucifer"!
If people can think and feel for themselves, and if the spiritual world is real, and if free will is real, then no one can really force anyone to loosen up, and open themselves to the spiritual. And conversely, no one can forcibly close someone off from the spiritual. People are in prisons of their own making and choosing. Especially the prison of spiritless religion. Many of the world's problems, wars, hate campaigns, and drug wars come from the religious pseudo-spirituality of many fundamentalists, leaders (EVIL dumbasses like Bush), preachers (like Pat Robertson), and hate media (like Fox News, hate radio, etc.). It is due to their simplistic intolerance, and their close-minded belief in the infallibility of religious texts and names. These true believers are closed-off simpletons and dumbstruck beginners who are tied to their religious textbooks. Texts that are often completely changed from the original texts, and/or were edited by many people over many years. Texts that are often chosen for political purposes centuries ago. There are many texts that are more accurate and truthful. But they usually attack the status quo, especially religion. So they are often burned and lost to history. Sometimes they are found. In any case almost no text can be proven to come unedited from the period or person claimed.
Even these 2 famous verses below are too harsh. People can open or close themselves at will to the spiritual worlds. The point is that names, texts, and religions matter little compared to the spiritual worlds (whatever they are).

Matthew 12:32
(from New American Standard version):
"And whoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age, or in the age to come."

A similar version is found in the Gnostic gospel of the apostle Thomas:
"44. Jesus said, 'Whoever blasphemes against the Father will be forgiven, and whoever blasphemes against the son will be forgiven, but whoever blasphemes against the holy spirit will not be forgiven, either on earth or in heaven.' "
http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/gosthom.html ~
-- "The Nag Hammadi Library, a collection of thirteen ancient codices containing over fifty texts, was discovered in upper Egypt in 1945. This immensely important discovery includes a large number of primary Gnostic scriptures -- texts once thought to have been entirely destroyed during the early Christian struggle to define 'orthodoxy' -- scriptures such as the Gospel of Thomas, ..."

http://corporatism.tripod.com/religion.htm and

Okay, not the link location I thought it was. Bear with me as I sort this out.

Wrong in all sorts of ways, but funny as hell . . .

More La Vida Loca, or Just Bad Math?

Is it just me, or does a 7.6 year gain in average life expectancy just in the past 20 years seem improbably high?

From The Mex Files via El Universal (can't find the original article--will link to it when I do):

Jorge Ramon Perez, in El Universal reports (my translation):. Of course, it was published on Dia de los Muertos

Life expectancy in Mexico over the last two decades has lengthened by 7.6 years, according the the National Population Council ( Consejo Nacional de Población, Conapo).

Mortality rates in general for the Mexico Republic augmented the life expectancy from 67 years in 1980 to 74.6 years in 2005.

I am not the guy who will be able to do the arithmetic on this, based on the numbers provided here. Any of you mathematicians have some free time? The whole post is here.

Who knows? Maybe Coke Zero isn't so bad after all.

11 November 2007

Tweaking the Blog

UPDATE: Obviously, this is not a perfect process.
LATE UPDATE: Ah! Got it.

As you can see, I'm in the process or making some minor, mostly cosmetic changes to Plavwriter. This is the great, mostly easy to follow website that makes doing so much clearer for the java/css/html illiterate like me. I'll be experimenting here and there. Please let me know what you like, what you don't like, and what you think just doesn't work at all.

Thanks for input!

10 November 2007

Disconnect? What Disconnect?

John McCain on the campaign trail:

“I was the only one, the only candidate for president of the United States on either side” who fought to change course by providing more troops, he told voters in Iowa this week.

“I did everything in my power to try and change that strategy,” he said, referring to the course originally set by President Bush. “I was severely criticized by other Republicans for being disloyal. I said we had to have the strategy we are using now.”


Six U.S. troops were killed when insurgents ambushed their foot patrol in the high mountains of eastern Afghanistan, officials said Saturday. The attack, the most lethal against American forces this year, made 2007 the deadliest for U.S. troops in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion.


The six deaths brings the total number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan this year to at least 101, according to a count by the AP. That makes this year the deadliest for Americans here since the 2001 invasion, a war initially launched to oust Taliban and al-Qaida fighters after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, but one that has evolved into an increasingly bloody counterinsurgency campaign.

The death toll mirrors the situation in Iraq, where U.S. military deaths this month surpassed 850 [on the year], a record high since the 2003 invasion there.

Emphasis mine. Baghdad may be slightly better off for the increased troop presence, but the rest of Iraq has long since spiraled out of control, the US is arming every side of the conflict, northern Iraq, previously the most stable area of the region, seems poised to deteriorate into instability amid the Turkish/Kurdish conflict, and the Taliban continues to prove resurgent in Afghanistan. Plus the opium trade is back up. McCain sounds as out of it and politically toxic as Joe Lieberman.

Norman Mailer Dead at 84

And not known for being nice, as this article points out:

Mailer built and nurtured an image over the years as pugnacious, streetwise and high-living. He drank, fought, smoked pot, married six times and stabbed his second wife, almost fatally, during a drunken party.

He had nine children, made a quixotic bid to become mayor of New York, produced five forgettable films, dabbled in journalism, flew gliders, challenged professional boxers, was banned from a Manhattan YWHA for reciting obscene poetry, feuded publicly with writer Gore Vidal and crusaded against women's lib.

Enfant terrible
aside, I particularly like these observations. Here's Mailer on:

The '70s: "the decade in which image became preeminent because nothing deeper was going on."

Poetry: A "natural activity ... a poem comes to one," whereas prose required making "an appointment with one's mind to write a few thousand words."

Journalism: irresponsible. "You can't be too certain about what happened."

Technology: "insidious, debilitating and depressing," and nobody in politics had an answer to "its impact on our spiritual well-being.

In the words of another grand, recently departed figure of letters, "So it goes."

09 November 2007

"Justice For Our Dead"

Remember this picture?

I noticed it was missing, painted over pretty much the day after I took that shot.

Check out this score. Kudos to Christopher Stowens for catching that one in action.

Mexico Reporter

Meet my new favorite English language website for Mexican news: Mexico Reporter. The layout is appealing, the writing is great, the site is easy to navigate. And it's actually a Wordpress blog, which, frankly, judging by their results, fills my generic little Blogger template with petty envy.

This post caught my attention, and I went on to read a whole passel of others. In a nutshell, the post summarizes an article from the daily newspaper Milenio, reporting that the government of Oaxaca, after first being accused of not doing enough in response to the murder of American indy journalist Brad Will, is close to successfully closing its investigation. Specifically, "The newspaper report also noted that the Special Prosecutors [sic] Office for Crimes Against Journalists is very close to ‘solving the crime’." Good news, right?

Wait. This, says Mexico Reporter, "will dismay groups lobbying for justice in the case of Brad Will, such as The Friends of Brad Will and the Committee to Protect Journalists."

Here's the disconnect: Even though Will filmed his own murder and that footage is widely available (it's on YouTube; caution, highly disturbing content), and Brad Will and others captured images of his assailants*, word coming out of the Attorney General's office is that Will was killed from a distance of 50 centimeters, not the 30 meters originally supposed. This suggestion is being used, it seems, to support the notion that the journalist was not killed by government strongmen but by a member of the APPO, for reasons as to which we can only speculate (one of the more popular theories I've encountered is that the government means to suggest that APPO operatives, or some fringe element within the group, desperately sought to attract international attention by any means).

I, of course, can't comment on the thoroughness of the investigation, the veracity of accounts on either side of the conflict, or even on the reliability, in the end, of information presented in the videotape. All I can say is the government line is hard to swallow. **

The challenge of filtering information and assessing what to believe is no different in Oaxaca than anywhere else in the world. People with vested interests work very hard to ensure that their interests are met (asses are covered) and that's just a fact of life wherever you go. For me it becomes a little harder here because of my mediocre Spanish: I get the gist of what I read in the newspapers and on Spanish language websites, but the finer points are lost on me. So I welcome Mexico Reporter into my life at a time where I need all the help I can get to just understand the events of daily life as they unfold in Oaxaca and in Mexico.

*Photo published by Narco News with credit to El Universal. These men appear to have been shooting in the direction of Brad Will prior to the footage of his actual death. These men are not seen--as far as I can tell--in the actual footage when Brad Will is struck by gunfire. Here is a link to a longer version of the tape that Will shot, which includes images of the men shooting in Will's direction.

**My uncle, after reading this summer's posts from Oaxaca, called me politically naive. I can hear him choking on his Krazy Jim's Blimpy Burger right now: "Jesus Christ! Of course the government is lying!"

Good News for Broken (mp3) Hearts

From The New York Times:

The author of the blog post, Matt Hickey of Seattle, says that using paper as a shim to put pressure on the hard drive has worked on about 70 percent of the failed iPods he has encountered — even though he is not sure why it works.

The whole article is here.

08 November 2007

From the Icy South

From "Bobby the sound engineer":

Where'd all the Ph.D's go? Antarctica

. . . I often wonder what happened to all those people who actually paid attention in college? Where are all those selfless folks who wanted to save the world, not own it?

I only had to travel to the bottom of the earth to find them.

The brain drain went to Antarctica. You can’t swing a drunken celebrity and not hit a Ph.D at McMurdo Station. It is not just the folks who are doing the science that have a pedigree, but people with Master degrees are driving the vans, cooking the food and doing the dishes.

Ann Curry of Today Show celebrity is stranded with her crew at McMurdo pending weather improvements*, and the upside is the rest of us get to read about it.

Thanks to Chalet Cindy for the updates.

*Update: Ann has made it to the South Pole.

07 November 2007

"have u forgotten"

Just read this 2005 post from BubbainGE on a message board at, of all places, DodgeDakotas.com. I haven't decided whether to laugh it off or not.

You sound intelligent, so I assume that you have at least a BA. You're posting on a Dodge Dakota website, so I can also assume that you didn't end up here by chance, thus eliminating the theory that you drive a 1975 Chevy Nova. I see your posts on here quite regularly, so you probably don't have to use the public library computers. You were probably a decent guy at one time, so we'll give you the benefit of the doubt & blame it on some extremist college professors.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that I don't agree with all of the Bush policies. In fact, I don't think that whole area is worth the life of one American. But, I am obligated as a service member to go if the boss said to go, or else there's going to be some form of punishment. It's just like any other employee/employer relationship, but with a bit higher stakes. Now, you've made it pretty clear that you could care less that some of our boys are working on their 3rd time to the sandbox, but why only concern yourself with the ones coming back dead or missing limbs? I'd hate to even think that you're one of the guys sitting behind their computers at work or home with one of the little death toll counters clicking away every time a Marine gets killed because of an IED. Well, I've had my say, & I'm sure you're going to call me some foul names. That's OK. I've been cussed before & know it doesn' hurt.

Be sure to scroll down through the various posts on the subject, or else you'll miss the part where the discussion deteriorates into truckstop men's room graffiti quality rhetoric (look for Big Ed).

On Another Front (The Homefront)

From the AP:

Veterans make up one in four homeless people in the United States, though they are only 11 percent of the general adult population, according to a report to be released Thursday.

And homelessness is not just a problem among middle-age and elderly veterans. Younger veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are trickling into shelters and soup kitchens seeking services, treatment or help with finding a job.


Some advocates say such an early presence of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan at shelters does not bode well for the future.

Emphasis mine. Uh, yeah. That sounds like a tragic understatement. Read the whole article here.

Careless Words: A Clarification

In my last post, "Quien Sabe?", I referred to a peaceful demonstration held last Friday in remembrance of the events of November 2 last year as a "non-episode." In retrospect and with more careful consideration, I have to acknowledge that that was a mischaracterization of the demonstration held here in Oaxaca on this November 2. By some accounts as many as 1,500 Oaxacans came out last Friday to join the demonstration, and as Nancy Davies points out in her article either 16 or 40* demonstrators were arrested, so it's just plain ignorant of me to call that a "non-episode."

Here is an incisive quote regarding the recent demonstration, offered in a press release from the Mexican League for the Defense of Human Rights:

Trying to silence the protest of the citizenry by means of police force and terror reflects no more than the political incapacity to direct life in a state submerged in poverty and desperation that seeks democratic forms of participation.

. . . The repression of this demonstration results from an enormous political stupidity, first because it is a Mexican tradition to create offerings to remember those who have died; second, because the social movement was trying to peacefully commemorate the fact of having resisted stoically an aggression by the Federal Preventative Police against a university space; and finally, it was dealing with an artistic demonstration announced ahead of time.

Emphasis mine. This last seems about right. There appears to be little reason for arrests. I've not read any accounts in any of the major newspapers suggesting the usual anarchista antics, such as stone throwing or lighting buses on fire, occurred last Friday. So what gives? Well, as I said in my earlier post, if Nancy Davies doesn't know then I'm even further at a loss for explanation.

*I found a list of 19 names of individuals detained during the demonstration Friday at 5 Senores, though the APPO website indicates this list is not complete.

06 November 2007

Quien Sabe? (Who Knows?)

When Nancy Davies, whose writing I turn to again and again for insight into the tenor and tone of Oaxaca's muddled politics, doesn't know what's happened or what's going on, then I just don't know where on the Internet to turn anymore for reliable information about Oaxaca. The irony being, of course, that even when you're right here it's pretty difficult to tell what's going on.

Days later I am left wondering what exactly happened. Having shown that the government retains absolute control, did Ruiz let the few brave enough to return in the afternoon have their crumbs of commemoration? Or did Ruiz back down? Did the APPO win again on the anniversary of the battle for Radio Universidad?

Read the whole, confusing non-episode here.

An Imperfect Medium

I am in the process of adding a number of poems to the site (see ORIGINAL POETRY on the sidebar), and in doing so I realize just how imperfect the blog format is as a showcase for these living, interactive works. Perhaps this is the case with poetry in any electronic format; especially those of us who write poetry expect our readers to slow down over some lines, we imagine the reader who may fondly reread a line here or there, the reader who might finish a poem and sit back in their (preferably rocking) chair, pages parsed between fingers, and close their eyes for a moment of reflection as it all settles out, in clarity, in recognition, or at least (we often delude ourselves) in pleasant befuddlement.

The electronic format, specifically designed for quicker clicking through, is hardly conducive to the idyll I just painted. Especially here, where it is all to easy to scroll down the list with the tap of a finger, as opposed to actually turning pages between two hands in a quiet, unplugged reading space. Here the poems fall one after another in list form, in what seems to me an unfortunate removal from the character and tone of individual works making up a whole, where one page turns on the next, a poem horizontally cushions another poem, two poems lay in certain attitude on their respective pages and all this pleases the poet very much. And yet I can think of no better way (certainly not free, courtesy of Blogger) to circulate my poems today and ensure that they are in fact living, that they do interact with as many as possible, even that people I don't know might read them and add something to my own consideration of them.

So here they are, a number of older works, some more recent, a good many sent off to various publications and writing contests (all in good time, all in good time) and most in the hands, at some point already, of good friends and family who have read them, commented on them, occasionally cringed at them and on the whole have offered them back to me in better shape for the testing. As always, thank you for reading.