30 March 2008


The hills are burning west of Oaxaca. A band of fire has been aggressively advancing along the mountainside since midday. So far it's on the sparsely populated part, as best I can see. Perhaps there are homes in jeopardy on the other side, the side we can't see and never think about. Farther south, and closer to the city, there are definitely homes that could be in danger if the blaze blows the other way. Flames were visible in the daylight, even. I cannot even venture a guess at the distance between our apartment and the hillside, but I would not be surprised to learn that it is 10-20 miles. Then again, maybe it's only five. How can you tell these things from the porch rail?

My friend Santiago says it's not an accident. There are two villages up there in the mountains that have political differences; this is one of the ways these things get settled. Somebody started the fire with a specific purpose, and probably due to the extreme dryness and steady winds today it has spun out of control. Maybe tomorrow, Santiago says, we'll hear about the gang battles between the village politicians. In the meantime we watch fire consume the night, we stand back, we wonder, and we worry for the desert and the homes that dot the hillside.

29 March 2008

Your Daily Science Brief

Science in the news today:

This is sort of sweet, and seems, by all outward appearances, a pretty good way to get students' imaginations involved in the sciences. Plus Antarctica is involved, and I hear people love that sort of thing.

And this is just strange. We are not worried enough about the unintended consequences of meddling in the name of science, specifically the risk of creating micro black holes which could present the potential to swallow the earth or turn it into a chunk of dead rock. The article is worth a read, if only to consider the possibilities.

27 March 2008

Creative Sentencing

From Yahoo News: "Judge orders Spanish-speaking men to learn English or go to jail."

The headline choice is pretty outrageous, since it smacks of racism and nationalism and anti-immigrationism and all that. Yahoo probably could have done better, but they want us to click on it and follow through, so it's hard to get too worked up over that (though I did recently beg the news industry to please quit over-sensationalizing all things political).

Despite my initial misgivings, however, I'm pretty impressed by the judge and his choice of sentencing.

The men, who faced prison for criminal conspiracy to commit robbery, can remain on parole if they learn to read and write English, earn their GEDs and get full-time jobs, Luzerne County Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. said.

The men, Luis Reyes, Ricardo Dominguez and Rafael Guzman-Mateo, plus a fourth defendant, Kelvin Reyes-Rosario, all needed translators when they pleaded guilty Tuesday.

"Do you think we are going to supply you with a translator all of your life?" the judge asked them.

It's good all around, actually. Get these guys degrees, language skills, and jobs, and (hopefully) they won't be as likely to shake down strangers on the street for drugs and money. They have all served or are serving jail time for their crimes, and then they get a chance to make good. I like that idea a whole lot more than locking them up for 2-5 years, or whatever the sentencing norm is on something like this, especially in a time when our penal system is more overburdened than ever.

Plenty of folks will be up in arms if one of these guys goes on to commit a serious felony in the next 24 months, but let's face it, prison doesn't cure people of wanting to commit crimes. Everybody but the most grievous offenders gets out eventually--unless you're in California, where plenty of non-grievous offenders may never get out, thanks to current, 3-strikes sentencing rules--and as a society we've got to face the fact that our corrections system doesn't have a very good reputation for correcting much of anything.

I say let's see a little more of this creative sentencing, where possible and appropriate, and see how it all pans out.

26 March 2008

"The Tonya Harding Option"

I hadn't heard it put this way before. Jake Tapper at ABC News quotes an unnamed, Democratic Party official as saying that the Clinton campaign, in order to secure the nomination, has only one option.

She will have to "break his back," the official said. She will have to destroy Obama, make Obama completely unacceptable.

"Her securing the nomination is certainly possible - but it will require exercising the 'Tonya Harding option.'" the official said. "Is that really what we Democrats want?"

After reading speculation on whether Camp Clinton is hoping for a McCain presidency, just so the former first lady will still have a shot in 2012 (which I don't buy into but I'm also not prepared to guarantee is not the twisted shape of things), I can actually see the "Tonya Harding option" as being not that far from the mark. Which just makes me wonder how much uglier the Clinton campaign stands to get before this is all over.

25 March 2008

Shaking the (Family) Tree

This is why I love the information age:

This could make for one odd family reunion: Barack Obama is a distant cousin of actor Brad Pitt, and Hillary Rodham Clinton is related to Pitt's girlfriend, Angelina Jolie.

Kudos to the AP for digging up one of the least consequential, yet more interesting, tidbits to come out of this year's historic Democratic primary. More good stuff to come, I hope.

Update From Oaxaca

Things are quiet in Oaxaca, if you don't count the heavily armed police helicopter circling the city, presumably looking for culprits or clues as to the daylight disappearances of two wealthy politico/empresario (politician/businessman) types over the long weekend.

Nancy Davies posts the following:

A helicopter has been circling overhead for three consecutive days with
armed (armed with what? I don't know what weapons but surely either high powered arms or tear-gas launchers) [sic] Abductions took place on both Friday and Saturday, and I assumed that the chopper was trying to locate a car (Is that silly? Yeah.) The kidnapped men were taken by the same m.o., which was that hooded men entered on Friday a restaurant and on Saturday an auto sales place, and simply hauled away their targets, both of whom are men with money (why kidnap a poor person, eh?) but I do not know if they are wealthy by the sweat of their brows or by some other method -the first one was a former PRI legislator and the uncle of former governor Diodoro Carrasco, so that's a clue.

I don't actually know anything about the kidnappings, so I pass all this on without comment.

I will comment on another statement she makes, however:

I truly believe that Oaxaca is ungovernable. My own opinion, for what it is worth --and I think that what has happened, is that the APPO and the
teachers opened the lid on what has been underneath simmering along. It is total corruption, free impunity to break all laws, repression and/or authoritariansim over the distant pueblos, buying votes, etcetera. Once the lid was off, although URO has done all he could to break Section 22, break the PRD, break the social movement --in other words, to regain control, I believe it is a hopeless task. Although he can destroy more, and install more repression, the box is open, the cows are out of the barn, whatever metaphors you choose, violence and agitation are rampant. Some of it is instigated by people who see a chance to improve their situations, and some of it is instigated by "bad guys" who are threatened with loss of control (and hence loss of income).

I generally turn to Nancy's writing first for a clear idea of events that take place in Oaxaca. Her politics are quite left-leaning, as is evidenced by the appearance of her work almost exclusively on the Narco News website, and in her characterizations of the beautiful struggle in her book, The People Decide. Her politics generally figure secondarily, for me as a reader, to the informational content of her writing. As a friend of mine recently said to me about other news outlets, "These newspapers agree with my prejudice." I can let the rest go by because Nancy Davies offers consistent, English language analysis of issues in Oaxaca and, while I am not a leftist and certainly not an anarchist, I can more or less accept the tone of the work that comes out of the Narco News mill.

Today however I have to take issue with Nancy's perspective and ask what, exactly, she means when she says that "Oaxaca is ungovernable." Does this mean there is a failure of governance, law, and order in Oaxaca? Because except for the run of the mill Mexican political corruption in the state, I fail to see this. Certainly, the people who control the city appear to be above the law. And that's about par for the course, since they control, if not how the law is written, then certainly how it is executed and enforced.

I do not share Nancy's view that because the APPO and the teachers' strike of 2006 opened the lid on issues that have been simmering beneath Oaxaca´s surface, then Oaxaca therefore is at present devolving (or evolving, depending on your perspective) to a state of ungovernability. Yes, that lid appears to have been cracked, but by all accounts the unresolved problems are happily stuffed back inside to roil and ripple beneath the surface, likely not to rear their heads forcefully again until the next gubernatorial election in two or three years, when the PRI plots how to retain their hold on the Governor's Palace and the various groups of the broad people´s movement--or of the APPO, if you prefer--unite once more under the banner of hatred for a common enemy.

By the accounts of those I've spoken with (people whom, I must confess, by and large agree with my particular prejudice), the majority of Oaxacans identify neither with the teachers nor the APPO nor the government. This majority simply wants the city to be tranquil enough to attract the tourists who fuel Oaxaca's economy, and thus maintain the availability of work in the city. No work equals no security, and that comes across as the biggest factor on most people's minds.

So will Oaxaca's "ungovernable" nature lead to another round of skirmishes in the streets in 2008? Friends here suspect that when the teachers of Section 22 rally in May to renew their annual list of demands, the demands will not be outrageous and the government will be quick to oblige a much compromised version of whatever list is submitted, which the teachers will in turn be quick to accept. In this way both sides of the unresolved conflict will walk away quietly. APPO remains the wild card, potentially, but I repeat: without a common cause or enemy to unite all the wildly divergent groups represented across the pueblos, there is little to suggest that the leaderless APPO can inspire so many parties to agree upon and rally around any common message.

I will not go so far as to make my own predictions. The one thing everybody here will bet on is that you can't bet on anything. I imagine it a flight of fancy, however, to suggest that Oaxaca is out and out ungovernable. That, to me, suggests Oaxaca is also unpoliceable, and anyone here to witness the state's aggressive police patrols would likely argue the opposite. I simply find myself saying, again as many times before, "Vamos a ver." We will see.

Accidental Cockpit Shooting

Was it Chekhov who said if there's a gun on the wall in Act 1 it must go off by Act 3?

This was bound to happen eventually, and you can bet we'll never know the exact circumstances of the discharge.

19 March 2008

Semana Santa

I should mention that Semana Santa, the holy week before Easter, is a hopping good time in Oaxaca and is generally regarded as the spring holiday (read spring break) in Mexico. I'm off work, Jenna submitted a draft of her thesis, and today we're headed to the mountains. Blogging will be light (even lighter, one could reasonably point out) as I enjoy my vacation to the fullest.

It's a little early, perhaps, for many, but happy spring all around.

14 March 2008

Sweet Mama J´s Great Alaskan Cakery

UPDATE: 1 pecan pie delivered, 9 photos to put smiles on countless faces.


More good work from the genius of Janice Kidd:

I am launching a new Facebook application called “Drive Thru Sweet Mama J’s Cakery.” To use this application, post a request on my wall, indicating any type of dessert you would like me to bake. I will bake the dessert and deliver it to any organization in Anchorage that serves people in need. You will receive a photograph of the dessert plus a photograph of me giving the dessert away. All desserts will be presented with a card that reads “From the Lusty, Inspired, Generous Heart of P.J. Bojangles [or whatever your name is]. Eat up.”

Here is a suggested list of organizations that do good up here:

Please note that your requests may take a week or more to fulfill. I bake from scratch, people.

Janice is doing great community service in a time of great need. I am, frankly, more excited about the overall benefits of this pecan pie for the folks at the animal shelter then I am the prospects of another Democratic debate. Here´s a preview of how lives will be touched:

Hi, everyone. Corey has launched Sweet Mama J's Cakery by requesting a pecan pie to be made for an Anchorage animal shelter. Please see the creation of this pie by following this link.

The pie is baking right now, filling the house with sweet rummy goodness.

Stay tuned for the next installments: The pie comes out of the oven. The pie is delivered. Ecstasy of the mouth. Anchorage animal workers drop to their knees, gazing heavenward.

Seriously. Can Clinton and Obama really match that? Good work, Sweet Mama J. Keep the good-karma dessert wagon rolling.

13 March 2008

Could There Be a Trend?

A quick run down of the headlines, courtesy of Google News:

Can Sen. Hillary Clinton stem eroding support from black voters in the wake of racially controversial remarks by former congresswoman and Clinton fundraiser, Geraldine Ferraro?

If people are looking to find flaws in Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, perhaps they need to look no further than the man who married Obama, and his wife, Michelle, in 1992.

Could Ashley Alexandra Dupre, the aspiring singer embroiled in the prostitution scandal that toppled New York governor Eliot Spitzer, have a music career?

Could the sensationalist, news-infotainment industry please stop pandering to and promoting rhetorical speculation?

10 March 2008

Section 59 Hunger Strike

A couple days ago I posted an update from Nancy Davies on the efforts of Section 59 of the teachers' union to recoup backpay promised by the government since 2006 when the teachers of Section 22 went on strike. The irony, as Nancy pointed out, is that the strike-breakers are now every bit as disillusioned with the governor as the original Section 22 strikers were back in '06.

Today Section 59 is at it once more. I've just come from the zocalo, where two dozen or so teachers from Section 59 are encamped on the stone plaza, lying on sleeping bags, blankets, and cardboard boxes amid a raft of signage announcing their hunger strike in the face of a lying and unjust government.

Just so everybody understands: Section 59 teachers were recruited by the state government--promised money, school improvements, and what have you--to report to work and to denounce Section 22, in 2006, when Section 22 protested against the government's tactics of first ignoring teachers' complaints and then committing human rights violations amid the escalating, state sanctioned violence as the government attempted, repeatedly, to break the strike over a period of five and a half months. (See here and here for background.) As the situation in the capital deteriorated, Governor Ruiz needed some friends from the teachers' union on his side; thus Section 59 was given plenty of incentive and public visibility. And now they don't feel they've been dealt with squarely.

Their demands include immediate payment of all promised salaries, an opportunity to buy lands on which to develop schools (I have no idea where this comes from; perhaps it was mentioned at one point as an incentive to get them to work when their brethren were striking), and, if I understand correctly, which is never a guarantee, immediate action by the government to resolve the current condition of a government "held hostage" by the political maneuverings of Section 22. I mentioned all this to Jenna today, and her response was "They're gonna starve!"

It's true, too. There's something preposterous and beautifully ironical to Section 59 teachers camping out in the zocalo to demand their due. This is exactly how the conflict of 2006 began. First the teachers camped out and were ignored. Then the government laid the early morning bum-rush on the encampment, and the teachers fought back. Then* the governor called up Section 59 to help save a little public face and maybe put a good spin on things, which didn't really happen. And now Section 59 is crying foul?

Seriously. You couldn't make this up any better. If the two dozen or so teachers of Section 59 who are in the zocalo tonight are serious, then they better get ready for the long haul. All this reeks of a publicity stunt, but who knows. Maybe they've finally seen how Ruiz treats his people, and they're determined to protest the abuse. I'm not saying that's how it is. Just maybe one explanation.

*A dramatically stream-lined version of events

Gulf War Vets & Chemical Illness

This was bound to be corroborated eventually.

A third of veterans of the 1991 war experienced fatigue, muscle or joint pain, sleeping problems, rashes and breathing troubles, the research found.

. . . "Convergent evidence now strongly links a class of chemicals - acetyl cholinesterase inhibitors - to illness in Gulf War veterans," Dr Golomb told Reuters.

. . . "Psychological stressors are inadequate to account for the excess illness seen," said Dr Golomb, of the University of California, San Diego.

As Dr. Golomb points out, ground conflict during the Gulf War was measured in days. U.S. troops have now been on the ground in Iraq for six years. You do the math.

Journalist Penalized for Protecting Sources

I do not understand enough of the politics or the reasoning behind the recent cases of journalists being penalized for protecting their sources, a la Judith Miller, but I find this news pretty alarming.

A former reporter for USA Today was ordered to personally pay daily fines that could run into the thousands of dollars because she refuses to disclose certain sources of information she used in reporting on the anthrax attacks in the U.S. in 2001, media reports say.


The judge ordered that starting at midnight Tuesday, Locy must pay $500 a day for a week, $1,000 a day in the second week, and $5,000 a day after that until she names a number of her sources. A few of them have already agreed to be identified.

And the judge required her to pay the fines herself, without help from USA Today parent Gannett Co., (GCI) because she is the only person who can comply with the order to disclose her sources.

The article states that attorneys for Stephen Hatfill, named as a person of interest in a 2001 anthrax case, have asked that the journalist identify her sources. Hatfill is suing the government, claiming his reputation has been damaged and his privacy violated as a result of Justice Department conversations with reporters.

The judge overseeing the case, incidentally, is Reggie B. Walton, the same judge who heard the Scooter Libby perjury case and ordered former New York Times reporter Judith Miller to serve jail time in 2005.

Is this a case where the judge is looking to protect the citizenry from erroneous slander? An opportunity to expose poor practices at the Justice Department? A side door reprisal against a reporter or a newspaper for past reporting unrelated to the case? Or does Judge Walton really just have something against the idea that reporters may protect sources even against the wishes of the law?

I'd be interested to hear from anybody who has a sense how this all plays out.

09 March 2008

Clearly Overmedicated

This explains so much about the personality of our nation. From the AP:

A vast array of pharmaceuticals — including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones — have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans, an Associated Press investigation shows.

All joking aside, the article is pretty exhaustive, looking specifically at what substances have been found where, and presenting potential answers to the question "Why?"

How do the drugs get into the water?

People take pills. Their bodies absorb some of the medication, but the rest of it passes through and is flushed down the toilet. The wastewater is treated before it is discharged into reservoirs, rivers or lakes. Then, some of the water is cleansed again at drinking water treatment plants and piped to consumers. But most treatments do not remove all drug residue.

There's also this:

The AP's investigation also indicates that watersheds, the natural sources of most of the nation's water supply, also are contaminated. Tests were conducted in the watersheds of 35 of the 62 major providers surveyed by the AP, and pharmaceuticals were detected in 28.

and this:

In the United States, the problem isn't confined to surface waters. Pharmaceuticals also permeate aquifers deep underground, source of 40 percent of the nation's water supply. Federal scientists who drew water in 24 states from aquifers near contaminant sources such as landfills and animal feed lots found minuscule levels of hormones, antibiotics and other drugs.

and this:

Water sampled downstream of a Nebraska feedlot had steroid levels four times as high as the water taken upstream. Male fathead minnows living in that downstream area had low testosterone levels and small heads.

The fathead minnows with shrinking heads aren't the only example of wildlife getting a raw deal. Male fish in pharmaceutical-tainted waterways appear to be subject to a type of "feminization," creating egg yolk proteins in a process "usually restricted to females." The article suggests there is evidence of contamination among earthworms and plankton as well.

Finally, now that we know there's a problem, there's the question of what to do about it. The outlook isn't good. The article points out that there's not nearly enough money being spent to address the problem, and "The federal government doesn't require any testing and hasn't set safety limits for drugs in water."

This is all pretty disheartening. And it gets worse. To compound the problem,

Some drugs, including widely used cholesterol fighters, tranquilizers and anti-epileptic medications, resist modern drinking water and wastewater treatment processes. Plus, the EPA says there are no sewage treatment systems specifically engineered to remove pharmaceuticals.

And not to totally depress anybody, but there's another tiny, niggling issue:

There's evidence that adding chlorine, a common process in conventional drinking water treatment plants, makes some pharmaceuticals more toxic.

Bleak, bleak, bleak. I don't even know how to comment, really. What is there to say? Bottoms up, America?

(Another) Police Chief Killed in Oaxaca

I'm two days late on this. Ricardo Rodriguez Silva, regional commander of the Oaxaca state police, was gunned down Friday afternoon while having his shoes shined in the popular Llano park.

According to La Jornada, two men stepped out of a truck at the northwest corner of the park and fired on Rodriguez with automatic rifles. The shoeshine was also injured as a result of the attack. A Oaxacan friend told me last night that some 20 bullets were fired, though I cannot confirm this.

Emails from the Oaxaca Study Forum suggest that the killing is drug related. The La Jornada article mentions the discovery, hours before the shooting, of the bodies of three narcotraffickers outside the offices of the Procuradora General of Oaxaca, killed and dumped in some sort of act of reprisal between drug gangs. "Las autoridades presumen que pudo haberse tratado de un ajuste de cuentas entre narcos." I'd be lying if I said I understood the connection between the bodies and the Llano shooting. Perhaps it is merely offered as an aside, falling under the category of drug related violence on Friday afternoon.

The article also mentions--and I again do not understand--the trafficking of Central Americans into Istmo de Tehuantepec, located at the border between Oaxaca and Veracruz. Perhaps somebody can help me with the translation:

Según versiones extraoficiales, el jefe policiaco, quien se desempeñó por varios años como comandante de grupo de la PME en el puerto de Salina Cruz, ofrecía protección a grupos dedicados al tráfico de personas, principalmente centroamericanos, a su paso por el istmo de Tehuantepec.

It would not strike me as unusual at all that the same people running drugs through Mexico are involved in the smuggling of people as well.

Whatever the exact motive, the killing is shocking, as Oaxaca is not a place where people worry about violence on this scale. Parque Llano is a very popular destination for families, couples, students, artists, travelers--pretty much everybody--and is the site of a crowded Friday market. That there were not more injuries is remarkable.

The papers report crimes like this (complete with garish pictures) almost daily from Tijuana, Chihuahua, and Mexico City, but not sleepy little Oaxaca. On the heels of the assassination of another police boss, Alejandro Barrita Ortiz, I can't help but wonder if it's true, as some asserted in posts via the Oaxaca Study Forum and the Oaxaca Study Action Group, that the narco-war has arrived in Oaxaca.

06 March 2008

Selling It

New highs--or maybe new lows--in advertising. Ah, the colors of Mexico.

Wanted Men

It's official: Bush and Cheney are wanted men in Brattleboro, VT. Get 'em, boys!

Thanks to Ralph H. for the link.

Matthew Frida Kahlo

UPDATE III: After so many troubles getting the drawing to load, now the Frida picture is no longer the original on which the artwork was based. That has, unfortunately, disappeared from the Internet. In it's place I've opted for this candid photo.

UPDATE II: There we go. Hopefully that problem is solved. Please, if you don't see the drawing, send me a note.

UPDATE: I am currently trying to fix a glitch with this post. Bear with me if you don't see the drawing at the bottom.


Matt Plavnick:

Frida Kahlo:

Matthew Frida Kahlo:

From the exceptional genius of Janice Kidd.

Oaxaca Follies

From Tuesday, March 4:

The highways were blocked today in Oaxaca around the government offices by the teachers of Section 59 (PRIistas) who are pissed because they abandoned Section 22 at the behest of URO [Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz] and with the support of Elba Gordillo, SNTE [the teachers union] national president. They were promised salaries for teaching during the Section 22 strike,* and now URO won't pay them that money.

So not only is 22 on strike, [but] so is the governor's strike-breaking breakaway union.

That's Nancy Davies, explaining the current state of the striking teachers'** scab teachers' strike.

*In 2006.

**Teachers are currently on strike, sort of. They refuse to work on Fridays. There are a handful of complaints that, while maybe 10,000 or so teachers spend their Fridays demonstrating in the streets or mobilizing in the nation's capital, the other 60,000 or so Oaxacan teachers organized under SNTE are nowhere to be seen. What gives? Three day weekends for everyone? That's at least part of the current, anti-teacher sentiment in Oaxaca, where a vast population of workers earn between 50-100 pesos a day (5-10 dollars), without benefits, and work 6-7 days a week.

02 March 2008

Smart, Smart, Smart

Kevin Drum has some smart readers. That goes pretty much without saying. But when I read this recent post at Washington Monthly, I really had to step back and think "Smart, smart, smart."

The gist is this: Forget all you've heard about America being vulnerable to acts of terrorism because Congress let the Protect America Act lapse three weeks ago.*

The administration has since said that the sky is falling and terrorists are right now plotting to steal American babies in the night. The telecom companies, however, despite no longer operating under the protection of carte blanche immunity, are still cooperating with FISA as before. So what gives?

According to Kevin Drum's smart reader, "an attorney with considerable experience dealing with wiretapping cases," the telecoms don't need immunity from prosecution because there is no way on earth the companies agreed to do the government's bidding without indemnity agreements. Such agreements would guarantee that if a telecom provider gets sued and is proved liable for damages as a result of work done at the behest of the government, the government would pick up the tab.

So if the telecoms don't need retroactive immunity, who does? For that answer, read Kevin's post, and tell me the whole thing doesn't unravel like a Grisham-esque legal/political potboiler and reach all the way to the top.

*Not incidentally, the Protect America Act, an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, was not held up because of Congress. The House readied a bill for signing and the president said no, because it didn't contain immunity provisions for the telecom industry.

Texas Showdown

I'm a few days behind on this, but thankfully The Mex Files keeps us abreast of immigration policy and the Texas primary as the March 4 Democratic showdown approaches.

The bottom line, according to Joaquin Tijerina of The Brownsville Herald: both Clinton and Obama voted pro-fence in 2006, and, as the delegate race comes down to the wire and candidates scramble for every last vote, both probably wish they could tell Hispanic voters that they hadn't.

Absolutely Scrabulous

For all my co-competitors, with whom, thanks to Scrabulous and NAFTA, I now enjoy games across the whole of the North American continent, from southern Mexico all the way even to the Arctic Circle. From The New York Times:

The latest bane of office productivity is Scrabulous, a virtual knockoff of the Scrabble board game, with over 700,000 players a day and nearly three million registered users.

Fans of the game are obsessive. They play against friends, co-workers, family members and strangers, and many have several games going at once.
New game, anyone?

01 March 2008

In Like a Lion . . .

. . . and out like a lamb. I'm speaking of February, however, not March.

February arrived in Oaxaca in the immediate aftermath of the killing of police chief Alejandro Barrita Ortiz, an assassination that stunned Oaxaca for its bald violence and the unfortunate deaths of two innocent bystanders. One of these was Vicky Galan Rodriguez, a beloved athletic organizer whose work toward healthy lives for youth, families, and the community at large will much be missed.

Since early February, when pickups full of heavily armed police spent a couple days screaming around the city on high alert, things have definitely calmed down. There have been incidents outside the city, as Nancy Davies chronicles here, and it should be noted that all is not calm now between the teachers and the government. The teachers have undertaken a semi-permanent strike, refusing to work Fridays and instead demonstrating in the streets, staging a weekly march from one end of the centro to the other. Except for traffic congestion and increased idle time for public school kids on Fridays, this has seemed to have little effect on the ongoing, unresolved conflict over teachers' salaries, school conditions, the removal of Governor Ruiz from office, and the release of political prisoners. I list these items in this order because, remember, the unrest of 2006 began with the teachers and snowballed into a greater, statewide political and economic upheaval. But as long as the teachers are making a stronger showing in the streets than the APPO, that's the order I'll continue to rank these demands.

February got busy for me on the teaching front. While I have had my head in English language textbooks and student essays, Nancy Davies writes that the struggle between political parties is being carried out largely in the pueblos but with skirmishes here in the city. I haven't seen any of this, but in a recent informal update posted to the Oaxaca Study Action Group (available at Yahoo! Groups), she remarks on violence at the local Abastos market, an area known for being both colorful and rough:

In my opinion, the situation here is extremely volatile. The daily battles seem to come down to PRI vs PRD, or PRI vs Convergencia, or PRI vs campesino populations. Again, in my opinion, this is because the social movement opened spaces for others: campesinos who won't accept the domination and theft any more, and political parties which scent an opportunity to step in. I'm betting on Convergencia to come out ahead simply becuase there are too many examples of PRD non-aid to the movement and corruption. Convergencia has not yet had a true opportunity to betray anybody, hence is "clean". Events as of today's (print version) *Noticias* include a battle at the Central de Abastos, various student street blockades, a note which makes me very uneasy regarding sale of ejido lands, a note regarding the parents of Brad Will who say they feel "disilusioned" on Mexico's justice system -I feel bad for them, too.
I read the article about Brad Will's family, and I have to say that if their efforts can shed a little light on Oaxaca's particularly corrupt governmental practices then maybe some good can come from the tragedy of Will's death. They'll have to have a mighty torch, however, and some help from either the U.S. State Department or the U.S. mainstream media, to make much progress down here.

Also at the beginning of February I found myself very much alone and with unfettered Internet access for 10 days, so blogging was prolific and substantive. Not so much the past two weeks, during which time Jenna and I have shared a sporadic Internet connection. Connection issues have settled down, but her work has picked up. I am spending significantly less time online while she swims through oceans of information to complement her practicum and support her thesis on the topic of women's health and maternal mortality in Oaxaca and in Mexico. Since we're here for her master's work, I defer Internet priority to her. Meanwhile, I keep begging her for guest posts, because her topic is both interesting and vital, and because her writing on the matter has been great. Perhaps we'll coax a little something from her as she wrangles through the most compelling parts of her work.

One post that didn't make the blog last month--I wrote it, then deleted it by accident yesterday as I hastily ironed out the final paragraph--had to do with the outrageous comment made by Israel's deputy defense minister that, should rocket attacks continue to strike Israel from Gaza, then the Palestinians would bring upon themselves a "holocaust" in the Gaza strip.

I understand that the deputy defense minister was addressing the Israeli army via armed forces radio when he said this, and that his comment may well have been taken out of context. I also get it that "holocaust," in a warfare setting, is a tactical term for total destruction. His goal may have been to convey his seriousness, to rally the troops, and to provoke Palestinian ire. Furthermore, translation is involved, from Hebrew to English, so who knows what gets put into or taken out of a comment between the original utterance and the time it reaches me over the Internet.

All that said, come on. As a Jew raised on the premise that Israel exists as sanctuary for Jews worldwide, and that this sanctuary was born in direct response to the genocide known as the Holocaust, I am completely flabbergasted and appalled that a politician speaking on behalf of the state would not have sense enough to know how badly this sort of thing might be heard around the world.

There's more on that topic, but I don't have the screws right now to hold it all together.

On a final, and quite different note, I recently completed the last of my graduate school applications. Now we wait and see.

Alright then. That catches things up. Let's go and see what March holds, shall we?