Nobody knows the name of Nelva Méndez de Falcone, which is a shame. She was one of the first women to begin protesting the Argentina military junta that ruled from 1976 to 1983 and killed perhaps as many as 30,000 of its own citizens. One of the victims included Falcone's daughter, Maria Claudia Falcone, who was arrested, tortured, and "disappeared" in 1976, due to her perceived "subversive" activities (which, for women in Argentina, could include wearing pants or having their hair cut too shortly). Maria specifically was accused of "plotting" to demand a reduction in public transportation costs. For this, she was killed.
Nelva responded by becoming one of the first Madres de la Plaza de Mayo. The Madres silently protested the dictatorship by wearing white scarves, holding posters and pictures of their lost children, and marching silently in a circle in the center of Buenos Aires. While the dictatorship squashed nearly any form of open protest, for reasons still debated, for the most part they let the mothers protest, although the women were harrassed and some did end up dead. (The reasons most often cited as to why the Madres could protest where so few others could are that they felt the mothers were a joke and that society would perceive them as such, in addition to the possibility that they weren't too eager to kill mourning mothers in the middle of the streets). Over time, the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo picked up support in Argentina, and became a symbol worldwide not just of struggle against Argentina's dictatorship, but of the struggle and plight of families worldwide who had lost loved ones through "disappearances" at the hands of military governments. The Madres spurred similar movements elsewhere, including Chile, and they continued their activities even after the dictatorships, reminding the world that, even as governments came and went, the suffering at the hands of authoritarian regimes never goes away. All of this was due to women like Nelva Méndez de Falcone.
Nelva passed away yesterday at the age of 76. She was a pioneer in human rights struggle, but let us never forget the loss she suffered to become a hero to so many. Godspeed, Nelva. Rest in peace, and may you finally be reunited with Maria.
Friday, December 29, 2006
Nobody knows the name of Nelva Méndez de Falcone, which is a shame. She was one of the first women to begin protesting the Argentina military junta that ruled from 1976 to 1983 and killed perhaps as many as 30,000 of its own citizens. One of the victims included Falcone's daughter, Maria Claudia Falcone, who was arrested, tortured, and "disappeared" in 1976, due to her perceived "subversive" activities (which, for women in Argentina, could include wearing pants or having their hair cut too shortly). Maria specifically was accused of "plotting" to demand a reduction in public transportation costs. For this, she was killed.
Thursday, December 28, 2006
There is nothing like getting in after a long day of travel and finding out that the place you thought you had a reservation had closed. Oh well! What can be done!
On the other hand, there is nothing better than the first meal on travel. Tonight some delicious tacos. Damn.
Seems like a great and beautiful city but I have to wait until tomorrow to really explore it.
Last night/this morning I was on a bus from Brasília (the Brasília posts will be coming soon) back to Rio. As we were driving into the city, my girlfriend pointed out the Avenida do Brasil (Brazil Avenue), one of the largest in the city.
What we couldn't know as she did that was, earlier that very morning, 7 people were burnt to death on a bus in a wave of violence across all parts of the city. Even eerier, the bus that held the victims was the same company as the bus we were on (though different point of origin - it was traveling from Petropolis, an old colonial city about 30 miles away from Rio, back to Rio). And near our apartment, while shooting up a new police stand on the sidewalk, the assailants killed an innocent street vendor.
Much of Rio is rather anxious, tonight and going into the weekend. The New Years Festival in Rio is quite a spectacle, with fireworks and hundreds of thousands gathering on Copacabana beach. This year, it could be even more hectic, given that, in one of the worst examples of cultural imperialism in awhile, the Black Eyed Peas will be playing on Ipanema on New Years Eve. The theories are not really clear as to the reason for the violence. The article claims either economic struggles or gang-related turf wars, though here in Rio, the most popular explanations seem to be a reminder from traffickers in the favelas to the public of who exercises power and can instill fear here, especially given the high number of tourists present. The general paranoia is severe enough that, while riding back on a bus from dinner tonight, my girlfriend and I saw a cop with an MP5 pointed at a guy who was slowly reaching into his handbag on the sidewalk, something she'd never seen before in her 24 years here.
The future of this is (naturally) unclear. It could have been a one-night deal. I wouldn't be surprised if, in the coming days/weeks, the cops and/or the military invade some favela(s) or another and shoot up people in the name of "defense" (while probably not actually getting anybody involved). All I know right now is, this is barely making news in the states (where the Hajj and the Ford death seem to be the main stories), and that things are pretty tense in Rio right now, even for me.
I, unlike Erik, did not fare so well for 2006 (only Ford and Pinochet). However, I've been researching more thoroughly this year. I really have nothing against any of these people, and indeed support some. Still, in the interests of the "game," here are my candidates for 2007's death list.
1. Paul Harvey
2. Bob Feller
3. Claude Levi-Strauss
4. Steven Hawking
5. Zsa-Zsa Gabor
6. John Wooden
7. Oscar Niemeyer
8. Kurt Vonnegut
9. Howard Metzenbaum
10. Ingmar Bergman
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Sonatine is the first of Takeshi Kitano's films that I've seen and it certainly didn't wind up being what I had expected. I haven't seen a huge number of Japanese crime films, but I've seen enough to expect some certain elements. In what begins as a story of a crime boss sent to Okinawa to defuse a turf issue, I got some of these elements: bloody shootings, a smarmy hero, and maybe some Yakuza politics. Kitano is funny as the smarmy hero (he also directed, wrote, and edited the film), the shootings are pretty bloody, and there are enough immediately quirky side characters to keep the audience intrigued and amused. There is a sadistic charm in the nonchalance that these killers display in their jobs. It's the kind of black humor where laughing makes you question your sanity and is a welcome change from what can often be an over-serious genre. This whole first part is very well done and would have been a worthy film even if it had stayed this way. Then, things change.
The second act of Sonatine is where things get going and is almost like nothing I've ever seen. Much of the camerawork throughout the film is handled with increasingly slow, drawn out shots, and the story follows suit. Once Kitano and his men get to Okinawa and set up on the beach, they have to wait for the order to begin their operation. This order may take a while, so good thing it's summertime and the weather's nice, because it's time for gangsters to relax!! Frisbee, dancing, sumo, puppy love, all the trappings of an Okinawa summer are in their hands and they soak it up. Here, the movie becomes pure comedy and almost makes you forget that their job will inevitably be to kill a whole bunch of people. It's comes on pretty strong at times, but Kitano displays the same level of ambivalence to these surreal, funny moments as he did to the violent ones and the good-natured, almost childlike innocence makes the the whole experience pleasantly strange.
All good things must come to an end, however and, finally, the group must return to their violent, if still pretty nonchalant ways. The film closes much as it opened, with a bang. Really, a big one. There are a lot of shockingly violent acts here, almost always played to offset some comedy. Neither undermines the other, though, and both aspects add so much to each character. The movie has no essential plot; these people could be doing anything and it wouldn't really make a difference. As characters, these are complete. Kitano gives these people real humanity, where not everything looks cool, and even the smarmiest of heroes can fall in love. Most importantly, the humanity he gives them makes us forget that they are cold-blooded mass murderers. The execution of this is the most difficult part to understand. How he achieves this smooth transition is obscure, but its effectiveness is clear. The Miami Vice-style soundtrack aside, the film is otherwise fantastic and is one of the best of this genre I've seen
Here is my 2007 Death List. Assuming no last minute additions, er...subtractions. I had 5 go off last year's thanks to the late demise of Gerald Ford. I think that's pretty impressive, as such things go.
1. Michaelangelo Antonioni
2. John Wooden
3. Jane Wyman
4. Floyd Dominy
5. Ariel Sharon
6. Fidel Castro
7. Lady Bird Johnson
8. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
9. Clark Terry
10. Jesse Helms
The thing about this year's list is that so many of the characters that I really wanted to die died last year--Pinochet and Milton Friedman particularly. This year, the only people who I'll be real happy to see go are Helms and Sharon. Dominy was a bastard too but a more obscure one. You could argue that for Castro too but my hatred of the Miami Cubans far exceeds whatever negative feelings I have for Fidel.
Care to try and challenge me!
Reading the Dallas Morning News I find that 2006 is the hottest year ever in north Texas, beating the 1999 record. The average temperature with less than a week to go is 69.3 degrees. The old record was 68.6. I haven't spent much time in Texas in the summer, but the hottest year ever in Texas sounds pretty damn miserable to me. Scientists are predicting changes in vegetation and animal species here within 20 years.
The death of Gerald Ford makes us reconsider one of the nation's least offensive presidents. It was hard to hate or really love Gerald Ford.
I think you have to judge his brief presidency on two major issues.
First, his pardon of Nixon. Was this a good idea? Even Ted Kennedy now says it was. I'm not so sure. The nation did need a break from Nixon and his law-breaking. I think it did allow the nation to get its bearings and move on. Ford was the right man for the time since no one could reasonably question his integrity. But letting the greatest scoundrel to ever hold the office of President of the United States get off scot free still seems dubious. I would have been intensely angry about it at the time and in some ways I am now. He deserved to go to prison, as did Haldeman, Ehrlichmann, Liddy, etc., etc. Lots of Nixon's people needed hard prison. Some did serve some time, but not enough to keep Liddy, Chuck Colson, and others from playing major roles on the Right today. No doubt that Ford's pardon was courageous given that it cost him reelection. But was it right? I just don't know.
He also needs to be judged on his foreign policy. Here Ford comes off a bit less well. He kept Kissinger as Secretary of State, fully supported the Latin American dictatorships, did nothing worthwhile in Southeast Asia, and continued US support for failing dictators like the Shah in Iran. This doesn't separate him from other Republican presidents. Certainly his foreign policy toward Latin America and Asia was less damaging than Eisenhower, Johnson, or Nixon. But he hardly improved our reputation around the world. True, he wasn't president for a real long time, but even if he had won reelection, I have difficulty seeing any kind of real leadership here and certainly not even the limited work for human rights that Carter accomplished.
I should also say that his death gives me 5 down on my Death List. I'm not sure if I'm proud of this exactly, but it should give next year's selections pause.
Update--Others have noted that Ford presided over the East Timor disaster. That is an unquestioned black mark on his foreign policy, though I'm not sure that other presidents of the period would have acted any differently.
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
It's hard to know what to make of recent developments in Ethiopia and Somalia. I'm hardly sad that the Islamists are going down to defeat in Somalia. Perhaps when Ethiopia takes Mogadishu it will lead to a bloodbath, but perhaps not. People hardly predicted that the Islamists would crumble like a hard cheese when faced with real fighting forces. Somalia is a great disaster. The transitional government there doesn't really have any authority or power, but with the backing of the Ethiopian army, that changes significantly. Certainly Ethiopia was well within its rights by striking after the Somali Islamists called for jihad against them. On the other hand, the Islamists could continue a low-level conflict for a very long time that would continue to undermine security and stability within Somalia.
One thing we can perhaps all agree on is dismay over the tiny amount of press this war is getting in the US. This could be a key moment in US security, as Somalia had become a center for Islamist fighters over the past years, and their defeat would strike a blow for the US. But it's Africa and no one cares.
Sometimes Forgotten American Blogging discusses people truly forgotten by history. Sometimes, I talk about people who are somewhat known but deserve more prominence. Today, I want to do something different. In his time, Daniel Webster was one of the nation's 2 or 3 most famous people. He was considered one of the 3 great senators of the antebellum era, along with Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun. But whereas Clay is more or less remembered today by educated people for his role in the Missouri Compromise and Compromise of 1850 and Calhoun is remembered for his pro-slavery rhetoric, virtually no one knows anything about Daniel Webster. During the post-World War II era, historians focused a great deal of attention on the antebellum period, giving great attention to all sorts of figures, including Jackson, Clay, Benton, Webster, Calhoun and Van Buren, but also more obscure figures like Nicholas Biddle and Frank Blair. Today, the Jacksonian Era is virtually ignored by both popular and academic historians, and the stars of people like Webster have dimmed. What I intend on doing today is make an attempt to resurrect the reputation of a famous historical figure before it has fully fallen. Daniel Webster is on the verge of being forgotten by most Americans, and this is a shame because few people did more to shape early nineteenth-century America than him.
In his gigantic biography of Webster, Robert Remini writes, 'He was a statesmen, one of the five greatest senators in the history of the United States Congress, a magnificent orator (arguably the best the nation ever produced), an excellent secretary of state, an outstanding lawyer, and an important contributor to the constitutional development of the United States." Indeed, and Webster also played a very significant role in transitioning the United States to a capitalist nation. Any real discussion of Webster's life would take a very long time and more space than I have here, but I will point to a few key issues that I hope will spur some reconsideration of this very important man.
Born in New Hampshire in 1782, Webster came to regional prominence by criticizing the War of 1812. Many in New England despised the war, which exposed deep divisions within the early republic between pro-English and pro-French factions. Many in New England supported the English and did not want war with them; Webster gave a speech that both said the war was an attack on New England's trading rights while criticizing radicals who wanted to seceded from the union, radicals that would eventually kill the Federalist party by the end of the war. He was quickly elected to the House of Representatives in 1812 where he served two terms. Here he stood up for the Federalist principles that remained his core values long after that party had faded from view--support for a national bank and support for internal improvements and a strong central government, although early in his career, he opposed tariffs that favored one region of the nation over another.
In 1817, Webster returned to private life and it is here that he really began making a national name for himself. Moving back to New Hampshire to practice law, Webster was hired by Dartmouth College to represent them in the case that became Dartmouth College v. Woodward. The legislature, attacking Dartmouth for its elitist ways, moved to turn the college into a public institution. Dartmouth fought back, arguing that they had taken over sovereignty from the King of England after the Revolution and thus only they had the right to change the charter. The Supreme Court under John Marshall ruled in favor of Webster and Dartmouth in 1819, arguing that corporations were independent of the states. He was involved in other massively important cases such as McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) and Gibbons v. Ogden (1824), arguing for business and corporate rights in the early republic and being upheld by the Marshall Court.
Gaining fame for his constitutional law cases, Webster returned to politics in 1822, going back to the House where he served with distinction until 1827, when he was elected to the Senate from Massachusetts. Webster switched to supporting protective tariffs, which helped out New England at the expense of farmers in the South and West. What made Webster nationally famous though was his role in the 1830 Webster-Hayne Debate. What was on the surface about land policy was really a battle over nullification. Like everything during the Early Republic, slavery dominated the discussion. South Carolina Senator Robert Young Hayne at first argued that Webster and New England politicians had undermined the ability of American farmers to gain access to land in the West because of restrictive tariffs. The two senators went back and forth, with Hayne celebrating nullification. This was more than Webster could stand. In his second reply to Hayne, on January 26, 1830, Webster turned his considerable rhetorical skills against this perfidious doctrine, arguing that:
"When my eyes shall be turned to behold for the last time the sun in heaven, may I not see him shining on the broken and dishonored fragments of a once glorious Union; on States dissevered, discordant, belligerent; on a land rent with civil feuds, or drenched, it may be, in fraternal blood! Let their last feeble and lingering glance rather behold the gorgeous ensign of the republic... not a stripe erased or polluted, nor a single star obscured, bearing for its motto, no such miserable interrogatory as "What is all this worth?" nor those other words of delusion and folly, "Liberty first and Union afterwards"; but everywhere, spread all over in characters of living light, blazing on all its ample folds, as they float over the sea and over the land, and in every wind under the whole heavens, that other sentiment, dear to every true American heart,— Liberty and Union, now and for ever, one and inseparable!"
This made Webster a regional leader, hated by the South and loved by New England. It also only increased his ambition. Webster decided he wanted to be president. He ran for the Whig nomination in both 1836 and 1840 but failed both times. In 1840, he was offered the Vice-President position under William Henry Harrison. He declined and John Tyler took the offer. Webster soon realized his mistake when Harrison died 30 days after taking office and the incompetent Tyler took over. How would a Webster presidency have changed American history? It is hard to say. He would have been the first real Whig to have the position. The Whigs only won with generals whose political positions were unknown; everyone knew Webster's positions and he would have pushed hard to pass higher tariffs, internal improvements, etc. Likely we would have seen a Third National Bank. He would have moved against the slave power hard, particularly if they continued to push ideas of nullification. But ultimately he remained thwarted in his highest ambitions.
Webster did however take the Secretary of State job under Harrison, which at that time was still seen as an avenue to the presidency. He put together the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, which finally settled the border between Maine and New Brunswick and helped the US and Britain become closer allies, or at least not abject enemies. He left the post in 1842, after the Whig party turned their back on Tyler and returned to the Senate in 1845. He opposed the Mexican War and Texas Annexation, and supported the Compromise of 1850 after the war threatened to tear the United States apart. This ended his Senate career when abolitionists and others outraged by the Fugitive Slave Act were shocked that Webster supported it. Webster left the Senate for the last time in 1850, when he became Millard Fillmore's Secretary of State. He ran again for president in 1852, failing of course. He then died soon after, the result of a fall from a horse combined with cirrhosis of the liver; early Americans could drink us all under the table and this eventually took its toll on many men, famous and obscure.
This is only a brief overview of Webster's accomplishments. I think his most important contributions are the court cases promoting the US as a nascent capitalist society. Others think his Senate years defined his career. Without a doubt though, Daniel Webster is a vital figure for understanding antebellum America and the decline of his reputation and his disappearance from the national narrative are completely unjustified.
Much of the information in this post comes from 2 giant books that are very much of their time. Robert Remini's Daniel Webster: The Man and His Time and Merrill Peterson's The Great Triumvirate: Webster, Clay, and Calhoun are both final books in the long careers of historians who came of age during the renewal of scholarship on the Jacksonian period after World War II. To my knowledge, no recent biographies of interest on Webster or any of the other figures of that era have come out in recent years. If they have, they have not received a whole lot of publicity.
Monday, December 25, 2006
I received a Happy Holidays e-mail from the Seattle Mariners the other day.
What kind of Christmas present do I receive this year? Jose Vidro!!!!
And what a present! Vidro, 32, sucks. He was pretty good once. A second baseman who hit for a good average with decent power, he would have been a good grab 7 years ago. Mariners General Manager Bill Bavasi, desperate to hold on to his job, decided to trade Chris Snelling and Emiliano Fruto to the Nationals for Vidro to improve the team at DH. Jose Vidro is no DH. The DH he most compares to is Jay Gibbons of the Orioles, who also sucks. On the other hand, his #2 most similar batter through age 31 is Jeff Cirillo, Mariner Legend. Or maybe not.
To make this Christmas present even more special, the Mariners bought out his no-trade clause with a 2009 option! I can't wait for Jose Vidro in 2009. Will he hit .220?
The people at USS Mariner overrate Snelling. He's an injury-prone outfielder who if healthy, should be decent. He was certainly tradable. But the problem here is the problem with old-style general managers like Bavasi. They think past quality equals present value. Snelling would be at least as good a DH as Vidro. The difference. Whereas Vidro costs about $6 million a year, Snelling costs $400,000. They could have spent that $6 million improving the pitching staff or working to acquire a bat that is worth the money.
The best post on the trade comes from Dave at USS Mariner, who simply argues that Bavasi and Mariner management are incompetent. That sums it up. Last year, they signed Jarrod Washburn rather than pay a few extra million for Kevin Millwood. They traded Carlos Guillen for nothing because of a DWI arrest and his supposed bad influence on Freddy Garcia, who they later also traded. They've signed such luminaries as Carl Everett, Matt Lawton, and Pokey Reese over the past few years, none of which have done anything. Anyone could do this good, including me. Get rid of Bavasi now.
In case this Christmas wasn't good enough, the Mariners have also traded Rafael Soriano for Horacio Ramirez and signed Miguel Batista to a 3 year deal.
Merry Christmas indeed. Merry Fucking Christmas.
Sunday, December 24, 2006
Four days later, I am no longer stranded!!! The first two days weren't too shabby, spending more time with my family. These second two, though? Not so great. 20 hours straight in LAX trying to find a standby seat on the weekend before Christmas isn't all it's cracked up to be. Plus, I haven't actually flown since 2000, so I didn't even have any conception of what all the security lines were about. Still, sitting around in airports gives somebody a lot to look at.
--LAX is the worst airport I've ever seen. Worse even than the SLC airport. I saw four different airports over this trip and, in the current security situation with airports, having to change airlines should not force you to go through security multiple time. I had to go through checkpoints three times before I ever actually got on a plane there...ridiculous. Plus, since I had been Selected for Secondary Screening, this took even longer. Still, I got patted down a bunch, so I guess that's a plus.
--Speaking of this "SSS" classification that I was chosen for, I have to say that it doesn't seem like the TSA officers are taking their jobs very seriously. In these scans, they were joking that I'd won the prize and chuckling while unpacking my bag. All this joviality when I was just told over the loudspeaker that the threat level has been raised to orange! For shame.
--On a different note, two odd things I noticed. First, a kid of about ten reading some book written by Richard Belzer. I'm not sure if there's a children's book author named Richard Belzer, and I don't think this person had the Webster syndrome, so I'm not sure what this would have to offer a ten year old. Second, and I'm just going to lay it out there: a woman of what seemed like 65-70 nursing a newborn baby.
I never thought I'd say this, but I sure am glad I'm back in Texas. Now, I get to watch Erik as he clambors for time to get copies of my music, just so he can claim his music is better than everyone else's.
Saturday, December 23, 2006
I'm off tomorrow for a few days in Texas to investigate why Lyrad hasn't done his retrospective on the work of Joel Schumacher. Then, I head to Mexico City for 2 weeks to eat tacos, drink pulque, and see what real air pollution is like. Blogging should continue more or less throughout.
Book Review--Ira Katznelson, When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America
I'm hardly the first person to review Ira Katznelson's superb When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twenieth-Century America. It was the first book on my vacation reading list and I am glad of it.
Katznelson's thesis is basic: The New Deal and the GI Bill were vast affirmative action programs for white people. He complies a tremendous amount of evidence to show the truth of these statements. He does not criticize Franklin D. Roosevelt or the New Deal per se. In fact, some African-Americans did receive real benefits from these programs. But the combination of a lack of interest in racial equality by Roosevelt with the power of Southern politicians made these programs deeply racist at their core. Southern politicians insisted that New Deal programs be administered at the local level. This kept control over the money in the hands of white southerners and put African-Americans at a tremendous disadvantage for relief. Not only did this reinforce inequality but it expanded it significantly, leading to Lyndon Johnson wondering why inequality between whites and blacks had increased so much in the prosperous postwar period. There was a clear answer, but it was hard for Johnson to admit it, particularly since he played a key role in setting up these programs as a senator from Texas.
The GI Bill was more of the same. Facing a more conservative nation than in the early 1930s, Roosevelt and then Truman had to capitulate to southerners on issues of local control in order to get these programs passed. Most money for colleges went to already advantaged white institutions, while struggling black colleges continue to suffer. Home loans went almost exclusively to whites in the South, as local administrators refused to lend to blacks. In short, powerful Southern politicians such as John Rankin, Theodore Bilbo, Bennett Clark, and Howard Smith wanted federal money without federal control. Because of their power within the Democratic Party and within the halls of Congress, they managed to accomplish this, cracking down on unions and, more importantly, keeping the federal government from ensuring that blacks would have an even shot for money. While the South wanted federal money, they did not want it at the cost of undermining segregation. And they won.
These inequalities led Lyndon Johnson to introduce affirmative action programs to help make up this difference. Unwilling to accept ideas of white privilege and especially that beloved programs like Social Security and the GI Bill had helped white people at a far greater rate than blacks, American whites rose up in revolt, undermining the potential for affirmative action to cause change. Katznelson approves of the moderate and strict application of affirmative action promoted by Lewis Powell in his opinion on the Bakke case, and suggests that one generation of true affirmative action policies would both go a long way to undermine inequalities in today's America and would make the need for further affirmative action unlikely. I have trouble agreeing with him here; I think the differences between whites and blacks are too great for 20 years of government action to erase, particularly because resistance to this by many, and especially still powerful Southern, whites would make any meaningful change difficult at best. Moreover, I have trouble believing that such a program would make future affirmative action unnecessary. Continued and inherent racism within the United States will likely make government involvement in setting an equal playing field necessary as long as the nation exists.
Overall, Katznelson's book is one of the best I have read this year. I would have liked to see him look at Hispanics and Native Americans. Did they too face discrimination from the federal government? Did western politicians ally with southern politicians to benefit white people in both regions? He doesn't discuss this at all. Other than that, I have no real criticism of the book. He has an excellent command of the literature, employs more than enough statistics to back up his points, and writes incredibly well. I only hope that this book becomes standard reading for progressives as we work to shape debates over race, affirmative action and public policy.
Friday, December 22, 2006
Stranded in Eugene, here's a random sampling of a much smaller total.
1. Alix Combelle--Gare du Nord
2. Fantomas w/Melvins--Night Goat (live in Oakland 12/31/99)
3. Lou Reed--Set the Twilight Reeling
4. Roberto Nicolosi--Il Volto Della Paura (from the Black Sabbath soundtrack)
5. Neurosis--Bury What's Dead
6. Controlled Bleeding--Our Journey's End; Pt.9
7. Bob Log III--Claps
8. Jon Spencer Blues Explosion--Dynamite Lover
9. Mark Lanegan--Woe
10. Big Bill Broonzy--Out with the Wrong Woman
Now that the semester is over, I can catch up on my reading and get through some books that I have wanted to read for some time. So there will be a lot of posts in the next 4 weeks or so that start with something like, "I was finally reading blank and I found it really interesting."
Anyway, I was reading Jill Lepore's article on Noah Webster in the November 6 issue of The New Yorker. Webster was an interesting guy--a real democrat on language and a hardcore Federalist on every political issue of the day.
Lepore quotes Webster:
"The man who undertakes to censure others for the use of certain words and to decide what is or is not correct in language seems to arrogate to himself a dictatorial authority, the legitimacy of which will always be denied."
Webster is profoundly right here. Is there anything worse than a spelling/grammar/language snob? I have known many people in my life, some in the academy but more outside of it, who believe language is a thing to be preserved. I have known southerners who claim they speak the King's English. Who gives a shit? I have an aunt who corrects anyone's grammar as they speak. Please stop! There are people who believe ebonics or other ethnic/racial variations of standard English are destroying the language. Whatever! Those who fight against split infinitives? Wasting their time!
And why shouldn't you or I be able to use "fuck" or any number of words in a variety of different ways? There is no good reason except for snobbery.
Language is a constantly changing process. There is no such thing as "English" per se. That language is spoken dozens of ways around the world, each as legitimate as the next. If language doesn't change, it dies. But of course it always changes because no amount of whining from self-proclaimed defenders of language has any meaning at all. People are going to say whatever they want, coming up with new words to describe new things and discarding words that no longer have salient meaning to them. We should embrace and celebrate the constantly changing language.
I have to repeat this reworking on "Johnny B. Goode" by Thers at Whiskey Fire:
Deep down in Franklin County up in 'ol Virginny
Lives a Congresscritter cracker, kinda wingnutty.
Lovin' all Americans, 'cept those of mixed blood,
He's an anti-Muslim meathead known as Virgil B. Goode.
He never ever learned to read or write so well
But he was pretty damn sure that fags are going to hell.
Go, go, go. Virgil B. Goode.
His mother told him "someday you will be a man,
And you'll get to grandstand about the Koran.
Claimin' too many Muslims comin' from miles around
Gonna run the damn country right into the ground.
Cause you know it's just like fallin' off a log--
Acting like a total cheap-ass bigot demagogue."
Go. Go. Go. Virgil B. Goode.
1. Glenn Ohrlin, Shorty's Saloon
2. Merle Haggard, Carolyn
3. Kasey Chambers, Crossfire
4. Eve Beglarian, Landscaping for Privacy
5. Death Cab for Cutie, What Sarah Said
6. Theolonius Monk Quartet with John Coltrane, Bye-Ya
7. Igor Stravinsky, Track 12 of the Firebird Suite (not so specific I know but it's what I have)
8. Sun Ra, Purple Night Blues
9. The Magnetic Fields, My Only Friend
10. Zhou Yu, Pure White Hada Scarf
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Well, the world is certainly a bit less insane today.
There were few rulers on earth worse than Saparmurat Niyazov, dictator of Turkmenistan. He certainly didn't get the publicity of Mugabe, Kim, or Hussein (the right would include Castro but such a comparison is patently absurd), but he was incredibly bad. There is something that I find deeply amusing about cults of personality, particularly because they are such an anachronism in today's world, but as amusing as Niyazov's weirdness was, it was not good for his nation or the world. Most articles have focused on the potential for disorder considering Turkmenistan's role in supplying Europe's energy, but I think this is a bit misplaced. First, even if the military played a part in offing Niyazov, it's not as if this is a nation given to chaos. But in any case, this is an important opportunity to promote more responsible government both in Turkmenistan and throughout Central Asia. I don't know if the US can really do anything, especially given the world's opinion of us, but nothing was going to improve until Niyazov was off the scene. Perhaps the new government will have some kind of accountability to the Turkmen people and perhaps there will be more freedoms.
I do have to quote some of Niyazov's more memorable quotes:
“Let the life of every Turkmen be as beautiful as our melons,”
“I'm personally against seeing my pictures and statues in the streets, ... But it's what the people want.”
“Unfortunately, one can see on television old voiceless singers lip-synching their old songs, ... Don't kill talents by using lip synching... Create our new culture.”
"Anyone who complains about going without sausage or bread for a day is not a Turkmen."
"We shall conduct reforms, but not by copying what you have in America, all that sexual stuff. If I allowed all those sexual shows on TV or the newspapers, the people would stone me."
Birds in Europe have stopped migrating.
"With increasing warmth in winter we suspect that some types of birds won't bother to migrate at all," said Grahame Madge, spokesman of the British Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)
While this might sound pleasant enough, especially if you are a bird lover in northern Europe, it is symptomatic of a very disturbing future.
Gusts of Popular Feeling has an excellent post about the Russo-Japanese War and the beginnings of Japanese colonization of Korea. First rate stuff.
I always like this war because Theodore Roosevelt won the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in mediating the end of it. This was the most absurd winner of the award until Henry Kissinger.
I have long believed that environmental scarcity will be the leading cause of war in the 21st century. Tristan McConnell, writing in the Christian Science Monitor, shows how increased drought in northeastern Uganda has caused tensions between the Ugandan army and the well-armed and nomadic Karimojong herding people. Violence over increasingly scarce resources has risen in this area, including a shootout that left 27 dead in October.
Via American Footprints.
Couple things of note going on in the world today. First, (and I'm absolutely stunned and even impressed), President Bush (apparently) is going to let the automatic declassification of millions of documents happen on December 31. This act was first put into effect under Clinton, a move which both saved taxpayers billions of dollars being stupidly spent and opened up a potential platinum-mine for historians. However, the secretive Bush administration had delayed the declassification twice. However, it looks like it's finally going to go through. Credit where credit's due. Clinton came up with the program, but at least Bush has finally stopped stonewalling it.
Also, there's a fascinating insight (especially for anybody who studies student activism in random countries or at random times in the 19th and 20th centuries) into the revival of the student movement in Iran. It's interesting to note (as someone who studies this stuff) how the mobilization against dictators and what students perceive as a lack of democracy is a common thread throughout time, even given the divergence of country, time, and context. (In the Brazilian case in the 1960s, the complaint about infrastructure of universities is strikingly similar to what it seems like is the case in Iran now). It will be interesting to see what role the Iranian student movement has (or doesn't have) in the coming months, and how the Ahmadinejad government responds. Keep your eyes on this in the coming months - given the past, it could be huge.
And in Bolivia, Mennonites (Bolivian Mennonites? Who knew?) are a bit fearful of Evo Morales's land reform proposals. I kind of sympathize with them, not because I'm anti-land-reform, but because Mennonites aren't exactly your rich-monopoly-holding-landlords (a la fazendeiros in Brazil) or extractive and damging foreign companies (a la banana companies in Latin America).
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
David Neiwert points us to this horrid article at Media Matters by right-winger Debbie Schlussel. Schlussel "argues" that Barack Obama cannot lead this nation during our war against Islam because his loyalties are in question. Why? His name of course. His name is Barack Hussein Obama--he must be an enemy!
An Obama presidential run is going to bring out the worst in the Right. We are going to see all the racism, all the xenophobia, and all the anti-Islam hate you can imagine. I am curious to see how the American public as a whole responds? How many people will accept these arguments and see Obama as un-American (or at least won't vote for him as president)? How many will be turned off by this racism and see Obama as an appealing individual?
I actually feel optimistic about this. I think most Americans are not willing to accept such overt racism in 2006. I am more worried about more subliminal messages being crafted by Rove and his disciples.
In related news, Virginia racist Republican representative Virgil Goode refuses to apologize for sending a letter to his constituents that says in part, "The Muslim representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Quran." I love how he refers to Keith Ellison as, "The Muslim representative from Minnesota," indicating that Ellison does not represent the Democrats or the American people, but Muslims. Disgusting.
It's possible that this will play in rural Virginia. But I can't believe that most Americans are not offended by such statements.
This Asia Times article on the influence of Christian evangelicals on foreign policy toward Iran focuses on the genius of Joel Rosenberg, author of such classics as The Ezekial Option and The Last Jihad. Rosenberg has been speaking at White House bible studies and meeting with leading Pentagon officials, Congressmen, and members of the Department of Homeland Security, promoting his ideas about US foreign policy and biblical prophecy.
I am so relieved that the Bush administration relies on only the most well-informed experts for foreign policy advice. I haven't felt this good about the nation since I found out about Nancy Reagan's astrologer!
Yes, I know it's Wednesday, but I'm off to Brasília for the holiday (hopefully being able to write there, but who knows?). My best-of-2006 will be up when I get back. Until, here's another random 10.
1. "In the Garage" - Weezer
2. "Broken Face" - Pixies
3. "Step Aside" - Sleater-Kinney
4. "Forty Four" - Howlin' Wolf
5. "Ode to L.A." - The Raveonettes
6. "Ascension" - John Coltrane
7. "Baby" - Gal Costa and Caetano Veloso
8. Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute) - "Zweitens Akt: Der Holle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen" - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
9. "Springfield, or Bobby Got a Shadfly Caught in his Hair" - Sufjan Stevens
10. "In My Body" - Smashing Pumpkins
Last weekened, I had the chance to see the Brazilian World War II memorial/museum. Many people don't realize Brazil was even involved in World War II, which is part of the fact that people don't remember it was a WORLD war at all that involved far more nation-states than just England, the U.S., the U.S.S.R., France, Italy, Germany, and Japan. States as varying as Saudi Arabia, Mongolia, Bulgaria, Romania, and others participated through both material and troop support, not to mention all the colonies and conquered nations that fought. This was a truly global event, and Brazil did not sit out.
After displaying some pro-Fascist tastes (and certainly employing Fascist sympathizers), Getúlio Vargas elected to join the Allies after a number of Brazilian ships were torpedoed by German U-Boats. BY November of 1944, Brazil had sent its FEB (Força Expedicionaria Brasileira, or Brazilian Expeditionary Force) to Italy. There, the FEB fought against Germans from November 1944 to April 1945 in the area between Pisa and Milan. The Brazilians successfully forced the Germans back, but their victories in battles like Monte Prano, Montese, and Fornovo cost them the lives of 462 soldiers.
Memorializing these 462 soldiers is part of the Memorial's function. A fountain falls below the structure, and you can walk among markers commemmorating the 462 Brazilian soldiers. Not only this, the mausoleum records on the wall all of the names of those who died on Brazilian ships, in the Brazilian navy, or in the merchant marine. Above, there is a patriotic museum showing newspaper headlines from throughout the war, weapons, materiel (field phones, clothing, medals, etc.), and even a jeep from the war. There is also a giant memorial tracing five "stages" from the Brazilians' departure from Rio to Italy and Back.
Obviously, all is directed towards patriotism, sometimes with a bit of the desire to look like Europe and the U.S. coming through. This is most obvious in the commemmoration to the nurses in the museum, the placard of which talks about how the 67 Brazilian nurses in Europe worked and sacrificed themselves "as selflessly as their American counterparts." The headlines of papers from the time are unabashedly patriotic (for obvious reasons). The other noticeable way in which this builds a sense of patriotism for the nation-state is rather unique. Before entering the Mausoleum, you can read about Brazil's naval exploits throughout history, including their current activities. These signs particularly promote Brazil's importance in peace-keeping efforts (including East Timor in 1999, Haiti from 2004 to the present, and their role in protecting Dakar in World War I). The efforts towards a neutral stance are good, but one can still see (if you can read Portuguese) a "look what we do for the world!!! We are part of the vanguard!" tone, as well. However, the memorial itself is beautiful, with the conjunction of modern architecture and overlooking Guanabara bay, providing excellent (and noise-free, which is no small feat) views of Sugarloaf mountain and the start of the "downtown" area in Rio.
One last intersting note to me is the timing of such memorials. Brazil, riding high on a sense of nationalism and economic growth, embodied by the successful establishment of Brasília, finished its World War II Memorial in 1960, forty-four years before the U.S. completed its memorial. I'm not quite certain why the discrepancy exists. Certainly, Brazil was proud of its involvement and used its participation with what it perceived as the "Great Powers" of the world gave Brazilians confidence in their nation-state, a fact seen in the rhetoric and patriotism in the World War II Memorial. But why it took Americans so long I don't know/understand. Only recently, as World War II veterans are diminishing in number each year, did we become concerned with their story and memorializing them (the Tom Brokaw effect), while Brazil has put WW II at the head of a sense of nation for decades, rhetorically (which the U.S. DID do) and physically (which the U.S. was rather slow to do). It definitely provides for a fascinating comparison of ways of memorializing the armed forces and the nation-state, and for any ever visiting Rio, it's definitely worth checking out.
This story about probation-violations in Texas is just sick.....Hopefully, it can get appealed and overturned in higher levels. Hopefully, this Judge Keith Dean will one day get what's coming to him.
And for all those who insist "racism" isn't a major factor in the legal system (or in society at large), what else can we attribute this to besides a bias towards race AND class?
Officially, this has turned into the most mundane blog series ever...yet, it goes on....
--When I can afford it, I love sushi. More accurately, I'm not sure there's a food style in the world that makes me feel better than sushi. Properly done, I adore it. In Texas, though, the fish must be frozen to arrive fresh and safe to eat. While it is frozen in dry ice and is rarely more than a few hours old, it does not compare to truly fresh. It had been a long time since I'd had direct from ocean sushi, until today. I had almost forgotten just how different it is. The flavors are so much more pronounced--spicy accents in the yellowtail, tuna that simply melts, bold flavors from a nearly unsauced unagi, and the heartiest miso soup I have ever had. Simply the best experience with raw fish (nevermind that unagi's not raw and miso's not fish) since Yoshi's at Jack London Square in Oakland that preceded a magical Dave Douglas concert.
--Sometimes, we all need reminders of things we already know. Since being here, I haven't seen so much television in years. I don't think the programming is worse now than it ever was, but it is certainly a lot more annoying to me than it used to be. Is anything more pointless than a game show? I like trivia as much as the next guy, but I can find a trivia game; I absolutely do not need to watch other people answer questions. It reminds me why I have essentially stopped watching television (save pro wrestling, of course).
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Gotta love this latest story from cnn.com about the rates of pre-marital sex in America. Put simply, the report claims 95% of Americans have had premarital sex.
The mildly disturbing factor is not the rate, but that this is even news. Who cares? People should (and do) do with their bodies whatever the hell they want. It's like another example of the subtle Puritanism that dominates mainstream media's worldview (see also CSI...).
On the far more delightful side, 95% seems like a sufficiently high number to include many of those politicians and key religious figures who condemn the failure to abstain until marriage, which clearly implicates at least some of them in the behavior they themselves condemn (which is nothing new). My favorite fact from the report is that this study goes back to those who would have been sexually active in the 1940s and 1950s, clearly showing what a steaming pile of crap the myth of the "good old pure and chaste days" is just that - a myth. (I remember workign at a living history museum for the 1840s period, and they were very clear that just about every fictional young person we portrayed was probably very sexually active prior to marriage, based on documents our "characters" were based on).
I'd like to think such a report will demolish all the "sex-is-bad!" tomfoolery, but I'm not stupid. Doubtless, religious outrage will ensue, as will some minor sectors of the political right trying to make a name for themselves, and men who are appalled to know women enjoy sex and explore what they like, too. Still, it's nice to see a report out there showing that sex and the exploration of it is not only OK, but about as common as it can get.
Tulsa Race Riot, 1921
Just for the hell of it, I might as well do my bowl picks: Care to join me in comments?
Poinsettia Bowl--TCU d. Northern Illinois
Las Vegas Bowl--BYU d. Oregon (as much as I hate to say it!)
New Orleans Bowl--Troy d. Rice
Papajohns.com Bowl (huh?)--South Florida d. East Carolina
New Mexico Bowl--San Jose St. d. New Mexico--amazingly I am not going to this game!
Armed Forces Bowl--Tulsa d. Utah
Hawaii Bowl--Hawaii d. Arizona St.
Motor City Bowl--Central Michigan d. Middle Tennessee St.
Emerald Bowl--UCLA d. Florida St.
Independence Bowl--Oklahoma St. d. Alabama
Holiday Bowl--Texas A&M d. California
Texas Bowl--Kansas St. d. Rutgers
Music City Bowl--Clemson d. Kentucky
Sun Bowl--Oregon St. d. Missouri
Liberty Bowl--Houston d. South Carolina
Insight Bowl--Texas Tech d. Minnesota
Champs Sports Bowl--Maryland d. Purdue
Meineke Car Care Bowl--Navy d. Boston College
Alamo Bowl--Texas d. Iowa
Chick-Fil-A Bowl--Virginia Tech d. Georgia
MPC Computers Bowl--Nevada d. Miami
Outback Bowl--Tennessee d. Penn St.
Cotton Bowl--Auburn d. Nebraska
Gator Bowl--West Virginia d. Georgia Tech
Capital One Bowl--Arkansas d. Wisconsin
Rose Bowl--USC d. Michigan
Fiesta Bowl--Oklahoma d. Boise St.
Orange Bowl--Louisville d. Wake Forest
Sugar Bowl--LSU d. Notre Dame (crushes more like it)
International Bowl--Western Michigan d. Cincinnati
GMAC Bowl--Ohio d. Southern Mississippi
BCS Championship--Florida d. Ohio St.
Although the feminist movement only became known to the general public 35 years ago, many of its early founders are already lost to obscurity, despite them still living. Key icons of the feminist movement rightly include Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, but as always, the reality was far more complicated and included dozens of people absolutely vital to the movement's success.
Shulamith Firestone is one of these early feminists. Firestone's history is sadly shorter than it should be because of a long history of mental illness. But during the early 1970s, her role in promoting feminism cannot be overstated. She was born in Canada in 1945 and earned a degree from the Art Institute of Chicago in painting. She became involved in feminist causes in the late 1960s while still living in Chicago and in 1967 moved to New York to start New York Radical Women. Like many 60s groups of all movements, NYRW soon split apart as radicals like Firestone rejected the more moderate beliefs of some of their fellow members. This group then started the Redstockings in 1969. In 1970, Firestone published The Dialectic of Sex, one of the most influential second-wave feminist books. She argued that gender inequality resulted from patriarchy forced on women through pregnancy, child-rearing, and other biological functions. She advocated childbirth without men, looking for government-funded laboratories to allow women to escape their biological fate. She even dismissed child-care centers, arguing that these kept the burden of dealing with children on women, and instead demanded that all adults work together taking care of children. More radically, she wanted women to reject femininity. She wanted women, especially white women, to be bad in all its meanings. She turned Marxism on its head, rejecting mainstream radical ideas of the time that argued for the primacy of class, and instead believed that the dialectic of sex, not class, was the great motor of history.
But soon after 1970, Firestone disappeared from public view, dealing with her mental illness. She did publish a book of short stories in 1998 and in 2003 she approved a new printing of The Dialectic of Sex. But that's about it for the last 35 years. However, like many other radical feminists of the late 1960s and 1970s, Firestone paved the way for the real gains that women have made in the subsequent decades and for that deserves much more attention than she usually gets.
Literature on Firestone remains limited. The best thing I know of is Alice Echols, "Totally Ready to Go: Shulamith Firestone and The Dialectic of Sex, republished in her book Shaky Ground. Much of this post is stolen from that essay.
I sympathize with Dave's lack of sympathy for the guys who died climbing Mt. Hood in the winter. Dave calls these sports, "pointless, anti-social, ego-driven gestures." He was criticized in comments for that and while I don't think he meant it quite that harshly, I hear what he is saying. While perhaps the pointless part is subjective, in many ways these are anti-social activities and they are certainly ego-driven.
What has always disturbed me about the people who climb mountains, do extreme running, rock climb, etc., is that they don't seem to care about the nature they are playing in. It's never about the cool view from the top of the rock; rather, it is about the equipment they used to get there, how tough they are, and what extremes they went through. I've always found that offputting. While people may rockclimb or mountain climb together, they often have contempt for the rest of the world who doesn't do what they do. Thus, it becomes a sort of group anti-social behavior.
Now I don't do extreme sports. To me, camping is leaving the window open at night. So maybe I'm not the person to comment on these matters. But I think the increase in extreme sports reflects important changes in society, particularly people turning nature into a consumer product that satisfies personal, individual needs. At least since the rise of the industrial city, urban dwellers have entered nature for these reasons but over last 30-40 years, this has taken on a more extreme consumerist face, privileging extreme accomplishments, life-endangering stunts, and high-end equipment. No doubt part of the appeal for these climbers was that they could tell their friends how they climbed this crazy mountain in winter, awing their Texas and New York friends who could only imagine what it was like.
All of this makes me think back to Thoreau, who understood that a person could gain as much from sitting in his backyard as climbing the highest mountains. These are lessons I have learned. What is the point of hiking 20 miles when you could go 1 mile and just sit and watch what happens. It's only then that you notice the moss growing on trees, the odd little plants covering the ground, the worms and ants. And your chance of seeing a big mammal are usually higher if you are still than if you are moving. The joy of Walden comes through Thoreau's observations of how amazing everyday woodland is. He tried the more conventional ways of experiencing the outdoors when he climbed Maine's Mount Katahdin, chronciled with deep fear in The Maine Woods. Thoreau rightfully feared the world's places that could kill. Today's outdoors enthusiast has forgotten fear, often to his or her peril.
Monday, December 18, 2006
While it's been some time since I've been to Oregon (almost 6 years, I think), it's amazes me both how little things have changed and how much I've been told that things have changed dramatically.
--Maybe it's that I have lived in fairly racially diverse areas since leaving Oregon, but I have to chuckle in bemusement how "I'd be surprised how many Hispanics and African-Americans have moved into the area. Then I went to the mall. I'm not sure, maybe Minnesota can take Oregon, but it's hard for me to imagine a more racially non-diverse area than this. I've become so used to seeing brown all over the place that I'm looking over my shoulder at all these white people lurking around looking at me cock-eyed. Lock your doors and put your wallet in your front pocket, cause these crackers are out to get ya.
--Unfortunately, I went Christmas shopping and, thus, that means I hit the mall. While there is little to me more enfuriating than a mall, I must say that I'm pleasantly surprised by the number of small shops that have survived in the mall through the years. Granted, it's chain-city, but there are enough home-spun shops that it was actually the least enfuriating time in a mall in recent years.
--I am most happy to say that, in contrast to Dallas, the wonderful natural beauty here is preserved even in the middle of towns, even if it's small sections of green area. The philosophy in Texas is, if there are trees, that is room for two or three more parking spaces, the concrete of which it's made being much more beautiful to Texans than stupid ol' trees and junk. It's not perfect here, and the logging industry and general urban growth have done a number on the area, but in comparison to other places, it's fairly surprising.
Recent events in Brazil have offered an unbe-fucking-lievably stupid example of how Americans are not the only ones who are rightfully cynical when it comes to politics.This past weekend, the Brazilian deputados (the equivalent of representatives in the House of Representatives in the U.S.) decided that they deserved a pay raise from roughly 12,000 reais (or about 5,600 dollars) A MONTH in pay to 24,000 (11,200 dollars) A MONTH. This is in a country where the MINIMUM WAGE is 350 reais a month (about 165 dollars a month), or 1,960 dollars a year.
Thus, Brazilian deputies decided they deserved 132,000 dollars a year for their "hard work," thus making 67.3 times more than the minimum wage in Brazil. (Keep in mind, many congressman in the states make 150,000-200,000 a year with a much higher cost of living). Thus, put simply, for somebody who makes minimum wage (and MILLIONS of Brazil's 180 million-plus population makes less than minimum wage, or has to work more than one job just to get minimum wage) would have to work FIVE YEARS AND 11 MONTHS to make what a deputy makes in ONE MONTH.
For obvious reasons, the outrage here has been enormous (and has amazed even this jaded American). For once, the press is acting accordingly. While watching tonight's news, each time before commercial break they showed an interview with the "person on the street" saying how long they would have to work at their present job to make the Deputados's monthly salary (the numbers ranged from one year and 5 months to 5 years).
To be fair to (some) deputados, this measure didn't pass unanimously, and there are already calls for Lula to refuse such measures. However, even if they ultimately make "only" 12,000 reais a month, the deputados have doubtlessly given a new, vulgar, unbelievable face to personal greed in political systems worldwide.
UPDATE: The outrage has gone beyond discourse. Today, in Bahia (one of, if not the, poorest states in Brazil), a woman stabbed one of the deputies who decided he deserved a pay-raise in the back. She was arrested, and he will recover. She will definitely face jailtime (especially since she suffers the double-penalty here of being poor AND black), but thus far, public reaction has been rather subdued (as in, "well, that's a bit extreme, but still....can you blame her?")
So, I watched Apocalypto the other night.
What to say? The first word that comes to mind is, "Why?" Basically, it's like every other Mel Gibson film. It's incredibly violent. All humans are savages or at least capable of degraded savagery. They commit this savagery against other humans. Through suffering, some sort of redemption is reached, though rarely to any good end.
In this case, as many of you know, the main character lives in an idyllic Mayan jungle village when his people are attacked by a group of warriors looking to capture slaves and sacrifice victims. Just as our hero is about to be sacrificed, natural phenomena get in the way. He manages to kill the son of the lead warrior and is thus chased back to his village by the enraged gang.
In some ways, we have to respect Gibson. There are few directors today who have a consistent vision that they manage to get on screen. Gibson has this vision. I just don't know what that vision of violence and brutality does for him. I just don't know why he wanted to make this story except as a template to tell the same story he always tells. In fact, I'm surprised he's never directed a western, which seems particularly suited to this form of storytelling. But Apocalypto just seemed pointless to me. Do we really need people talking with blood literally spurting from their brain wound? Do we need to watch the headless bodies roll down the pyramid? Do we need to see someone brain get pounded on a rock as he dives off a waterfall? According to Mel, the answer is yes.
Particularly interesting was how Gibson used nature. During the chase, just about every animal of the jungle who can kill, kills one of the raiders. Jaguar--check. Poison dart frog--check. Snake--check. Hell, the bad guys even get a wasp's nest thrown at them. I was just waiting for the crocodile--maybe in the director's cut. Nature isn't idyllic for Gibson; rather, it is another savage part of the world waiting to strike out at humans.
Also, the ending is horrendous. While I won't give it away exactly, Gibson squishes 500 years of history into the last frame in a really absurd way. If I wasn't already irritated at the film, that moment would have lost me. While I imagine the general public doesn't care, I do.
I thought I'd offer the 2006 Erik's Holiday CD to readers.
The origin of this came last year when I was going through a really bad time in my life and I offered a CD to my friends who were helping me through. Amazingly, they all liked it. I think that was the first time I experienced that--normally, no matter what I do, at least someone hates it. I was so shocked that I decided to make it an annual tradition.
This year's cast includes America's greatest band (Drive-By Truckers), some old drug songs from the 30s and 40s, an amazing outake from Richard and Linda Thompson, some current songs, and a cool techno-y cover of "Streets of Laredo." So if you're interested, drop me a line. I still have copies of the 2005 version too if anyone wants one.
I look forward to the wingnuts's attempts to explain away the latest example of torture in Iraq in the blogosphere over the next few days (a la Ann Althouse's "defense" of José Padilla's treatment). After all - what's wrong with denying habeas corpus to an American citizen working in Iraq for the U.S.? I mean, if he was in the place he was ratting out for illegal arms sale, he MUST have been involved, right?
Sunday, December 17, 2006
--Ah, frozen fog. This is a term I haven't heard in some time. Likely, since the last time I was up here. I'm not sure how it works, but that's why I'm not a meteorologist.
--There's nothing like waking up on Sunday morning to the Register-Guard, Eugene's stellar news outlet to find on the front page of the sports, not the score of last night's fun Atlanta vs. Dallas football game, no, but a giant picture of an Oregon Duck football player getting a shave in preparation for the bowl game. Hot news, hot news. Secondly, on the front page previews, an article about the existence of Bigfoot with the headline: Whose Bigfoot? Is it my big foot, Erik's big foot, Trend's big foot, Bigfoot's big foot. I think somebody needs a new editor.
--Lastly, and not surprisingly, the airline has lost my luggage. This is the third time it has happened and, honestly, I don't care anymore. If it isn't in Denton when I get back, all I've really lost is a DVD collection of 50 Westerns which, while a nice set, only cost me $12, so I'm not dying over it.
Friday, December 15, 2006
1. Sally Timms--Rock Me To Sleep
2. Buckethead--Onions Unleashed
3. Antonio Carlos Jobim w/Astrid Gilberto--Dindi
4. Mahmoud Fadl--Aghadan Allak, Pt.2
5. Big Bill Broonzy--Knockin' Myself Out
6. Medeski, Martin & Wood--The Lover
7. Ennio Morricone--Once Upon a Time in the West (Theme)
8. Kid Ory--That Sweet Something Dear
10. Rocket from the Crypt--I Drink Blood
1. Old 97s, Drowning in the Days
2. The Allen Brothers, Midnight Mama
3. The Gibson Brothers, That Bluegrass Music
4. The Decemberists, The Sporting Life
5. Hank Snow, I Went To Your Wedding
6. Jethro Tull, Thick as a Brick, Part II (OK, anyone who makes fun of this is making fun of a sick man. Besides, I just had Hank Snow before this and none of you are cool enough to listen to Hank Snow. So bite me!)
7. Terry Allen, Figure Ate
8. Willie Nelson, Somebody Pick Up My Pieces
9. Tom Russell, Claude Dallas
10. 764-Hero, Quadrophenia
Nothing like the jump from Beethoven to Pink Floyd...
1. Symphony No. 7 - "I. Poco Sostenuto; Vivace" - Ludwig van Beethoven
2. "Sheep" - Pink Floyd
3. "Evolution" - Cat Power
4. "Pinball Wizard" - The Who
5. "Tribulations" - LCD Soundsystem
6. "Work Me" - The Black Keys
7. "Shadow of a Doubt" - Sonic Youth
8. "Damn Right I've Got the Blues" - Buddy Guy
9. "Reelin' and Rockin'" - Chuck Berry
10. "Bright Blue Tie" - The Fiery Furnaces
Apparently, the U.S. government has (contrary to Bush's hopes) abandoned efforts to track foreign visitors who leave the U.S. I would ask how much hubris the administration has to track every foreign visitor who leaves, but I already know the answer. I definitely would love to hear that conversation:
"Well, Roberts, what do we have?"
"Well, sir, a bunch of French returned to France, some British went back to Britain, a lot of Japanese left for Japan on the West Coast, Canadians crossed into Canada, and by and large, people from Latin America flew south."
The sheer idiocy of this reminds me of a Monty Python's Flying Circus line - "I would put a tax on all foreigners living abroad."
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Is it even remotely possible to take the critics of Jimmy Carter seriously? Carter compares the Israel-Palestine situation to apartheid South Africa. I don't know if this is a perfect comparison, but it is at least a legitimate claim. Carter's critics, including the pro-Israel lobby fall back to their standard cry: "If someone opposes Israel, they are anti-Semitic." Not only is this stupid, but it deflects any actual discussion of how the Israelis treat the Palestianians.
At the very least, can anyone deny the validity of Carter on this quote: A vocal pro-Palestinian viewpoint, he said, is “nonexistent in this country to any detectable degree.” Every story on this situation is told from an Israeli prespective. Palestianians are just terrorists to most Americans so they deserve what they get.
It's all deeply disturbing for many reasons, not the least of which is that the Palestianian situation is great propaganda for terrorist organizations around the world.
Of course, the Reagan right always thought Jimmy Carter was history's greatest monster, so I guess they must feel vindicated...
What the fuck did I do to 2006? Why has it declared war on me and poor body. Just since May, the following has happened to me:
A nasty, deep cough that lasted for a month
Diagnosed for high blood pressure (I'm a non-smoking vegetarian who has very little stress in his life--not caring about your dissertation or whether you get a job makes this possible--with very low family history of high blood pressure. WTF?)
Now, a viral infection
Next year is the Christ Year. Unless I get crucified, I had better have a banner year of health.
On the other hand, I have discovered in the last week that Lutheran food may have some value to the world. At first, my throat was so raw that I couldn't swallow. Now my mouth is trashed up with nastiness that I don't want to get into. Either way, I can't eat crunchy food or anything even remotely spicy. It makes it hard to eat. What am I left with? The shitty food I grew up with. Who knew a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese could be good? And milk? I haven't had a glass of milk in years until this week.
You may be asking, just what is Lutheran food?
I offer you 3 basic examples:
1. Hamburger helper. Anything in a box is always good.
2. Baked hamburgers. Take a hunk of meat. Bake it not only to tastelessness but to the point where its molecules are separating and it literally falls apart upon contact.
3. Cream of mushroom soup. Take a bunch of shit. Mix with a can of cream of mushroom. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes. You have something to take to Hotdish.
Anything flavorless, creamy, soft, and grey. That is Lutheran food. This is all I can eat now. So I guess it does give something to society.
Next, I will find out if the mosquito offers us anything. If Lutheran food does, so must all parasites.
I've talked about it here before, but I've really been enjoying the movies released in the last few years based upon comics and graphic novels. Whether it's because the special effects allow for more faithful adaptations or directors who grew up fans of graphic novels are now old enough and experienced enough to be given substantial projects, the sub-genre has really come into its own. V for Vendetta, based on Alan Moore's work, is no exception and, with quality performers and kinetic action, it has a lot of life, even if it doesn't quite achieve what films like Sin City have.
In his first directorial effort, James McTeague directs Hugo Weaving as V, the Guy Fawkes-masked revolutionary bent on destroying the England that John Hurt has created, and Natalie Portman as Evey, V's muse, enemy, love, and alliterative namesake, through an alternate Earth that comes shockingly close to the reality in which we now live (the original novel was published between 1982 and 1985). V, in creating a cult of personality through extravagently choreographed terrorist acts, is able to rally the thoughtless masses around him to bring down a corrupt, fascist government.
Unfortunately for this production, though, its best aspect is also its worst. The politics of the movie are sound, and consistent in the imagined world but, because it’s an alternate reality, there are definitely moments, especially at the beginning, where the exposition feels entirely too heavy-handed. By the time all the explanations are though, you feel like there’s a hammer dent in your skull, but then it’s over and it gets to the nitty-gritty of the picture: the action and intrigue that really make this a fun film. All the performances, except Portman’s, who plays it all with maybe a little too much dignity, are sufficiently hammy. This is not a character study and the brush strokes are exactly as broad as they should be. The action is well-directed, and produced the film and were the people behind The Matrix) comes throuthe style of the Wachowski Brothers (who prgh here, almost as if McTeague had less of a hand in the production than his directorial credit would imply. The details in this style, even if the final product isn’t masterwork, allow for multiple enjoyable viewings, though, and the performances are fun enough that they won’t get tiring on repeat.
As far as the future of movies adapted from graphic novels, I’m not sure. I do know, however, that Frank Miller’s 300 will be coming out sooner than later, and that is the one that could really take the whole thing over the top. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.
One of the things I've been enjoying here in Brazil is MTV. Yes. MTV. Believe it or not, they actually play music videos. And I don't mean, "here's thirty seconds of a Justin Timberlake video before we cut to screaming teenagers"[and why hasn't that been a band name yet?]. I mean real videos, Brazilian and American. You could actually see GOOD music, and even if not always good (caught the Lemonheads the other day - the reader can decide whether that's good or not), at least it wasn't the mainstream crap we get for 30 minutes in the states. It was just great. Music videos. On MTV.
Until today. The network announced they are slashing their programming for videos by more than 50%. Thus, a world where one could turn on MTV and actually see videos 75% of the time fades away, as the music video will now occupy the least-viewed 7 hours of the day (2 AM to 9 AM). So now, there will be the same shitty programming here as in the states, only with subtitles.
Another country, another shift from "MTV" to just "TV", as they abandon/forget what the "M" stands for (it stood for "music", for all the kids out there who weren't in their MTV-viewing years before 1994).
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Monday, December 11, 2006
I can't see one. This article is total fluff, and does nothing to explain the phenomena, but it does remind me of a conversation I had with Erik a couple of days ago. Christmas music is absolutely abhorant to me, and I avoid it at all costs but, to my nausea, it is nearly impossible to escape. This is because there are those in the other camp who can't get enough of these songs and listen to them from Thanksgiving until New Years. For the life of me, I cannot understand this. They are the same songs all the time, not to mention that they are the same songs that have been heard year after year for half a century, plus, there are only two thematic expressions to these songs. The first, and the one I understand, is the religious theme. Not a believer, however, I find it difficult to gain a lot of spiritual rapture from these songs and, additionally, many of them are lyrically bastardized versions of very fine short classical pieces, something I have a hard time supporting. The second, and most infuriating theme, is how great Christmas is. How trite is this? Do we need to be reminded through song for a full month how cool it is to be with our families, to sit next to a fire roasting crap and, especially, to get presents? If we do, than how great can the holiday be? What does "White Christmas" have to do with Christmas in Texas? The people here may be dreaming of a white Christmas but, if that were actually to happen, it would be a horrible nightmare.
The article specifically mention "Jingle Bell Rock" and "Rockin' around the Christmas Tree" as lasting favorites. These are the most modern songs anybody listens to? Sad, just sad.
At this moment (5:28 PM in Brazil, 2:28, in EST, and 12:28 PM in the oft-ignored MST), cnn.com has as its main headline, "Bush seeks advice on Iraq." (the headline when you click on the story is slightly different, but on the front page, it reads exactly as I wrote).
Didn't he already get advice last week in the form of the Iraq Study Group Report, from none other than James Baker, part of the "Bush recycle bin"? But apparently, since Uncle Jimmy's "advice" didn't fit what Bush wanted to hear (why else would he ignore the main two suggestions?), I guess he's turning elsewhere.
Maybe a better headline would be, "Bush seeks advice that agrees with what he's already determined to do."
This horrible illness I am suffering through has not allowed me to enjoy the death of Pinochet as much as I might had. I didn't even find out about this until late last night. But I will say that he is the 4th person to die from my Death List this year. Not bad.
Of course, if I don't start feeling better soon, I might put myself on the Death List next year.
-First Alfredo Stroessner died in August, and now Pinochet. Nearly all of the oppressive Latin American dictators who rose to power with U.S.-sanctioned support in the 1960s and 1970s (with Stroessner being the sole 1950s example) are gone. Only Jose Videla from Argentina (the most severe of the Junta leaders from 1976-1983) remains.
-While others have also pointed it out, there is no better irony than one of the worst violators fo human rights in the latter half of the twentieth century (outside of the 3000+ deaths, which always get mentioned, let us not forget the tens of thousands of people tortured under his rule) dies on the 58th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights. In Rio yesterday, there were live shows commemorating the human rights struggle, culminating in Gilberto Gil performing for free at last, and giving the evening's commemmoration of human rights a special meaning.
-Pinochet still has his defenders, and probably always will, but it will be nice when nobody living can defend him anymore based on memory, either.
-While we condemn him for what he did, let us not forget what role Nixon's, Kissinger's, and the CIA's support and involvement had, and the effects on America domestically and internationally even today.
-In terms of the degree of his power and the extent to which he knew about what went on under his rule, it is strange that a guy who said that “a leaf doesn’t move in Chile unless I move it” could suddenly declare complete ignorance and unawareness of the detailed, complex structure of torture under his command when he began to be held responsible
-I love how the NY Times claims that Pinochet “gave up” power in 1990, as if it were a selfless move. Another example of journalists having no historical perspective (use my blog on class divisions in Brazil). Pinochet only “gave up” power because he held a plebiscite in 1988 to determine whether he would receive another 8 years of administration, and he seriously underestimated the opposition’s ability to mobilize, which led to the people saying “no” in the plebiscite. However, multiple reports from members of his cabinet and staff reported that he was absolutely furious and wanted to annul the results until the cooler heads on his staff prevailed, and he still considered running for president in 1990. Even in 1990, he didn’t lose power – he remained head of the armed forces (with all the threats of coups that still hung over the democratically based government) and a senator for life with impunity. He didn’t “give up” power – he was dragged away from it kicking and screaming. (For more on this, see Brain Loveman's For La Patria and his text on Chile, as well as Patricia Politzer's Fear in Chile: Lives under Pinochet).
-Finally, it is true he never saw trial, but he never was going to – only if he were in his 50s would he have ever seen the day. But that’s not what matters, ultimately, because he saw the disgrace of his deeds reach international levels, and indeed, he fell from grace quickly in Chile, moving from a serious threat in 1990 to an infirm old man stripped of immunity and eligible to be tried in multiple countries (it started in Spain, with the embarrassment of house arrest in London, and picked up in Chile – suffice to say, nothing ever happened in his role in the assassination of Orlando Letelier in Washington D.C., when the government didn’t seem to care so much about “terrorism” as long as it was for our side), and the increased investigations that revealed his embezzelment of Chilean money, deprived him of all but his staunchest supporters. So yeah, he didn’t receive trial, but the embarrassment and disgrace he suffered must have been as severe as any punishment would have been to him anyways (and, at 91, he was too old to go to jail in Chile, even if he'd been convicted).
(For those interested in a broad, general analysis of the coupt of 1973 firsthand from all points of view within Chile, see Pamela Constable's and Arturo Valenzuela's outstanding study, A Nation of Enemies: Chile under Pinochet.)
Sunday, December 10, 2006
Saturday, December 09, 2006
Even though I am sick with a touch of the flu or some damn thing, I felt all day the world was a little less evil than it was yesterday. I finally get online and, lo and behold, Jeane Kirkpatrick is dead.
Ronald Reagan's UN Ambassador, Kirkpatrick was an architect of his Latin American policy, publically arguing that there were no human rights violations occurring in El Salvador and condemning the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Kirkpatrick came to Grandpa Caligula's attention for her 1979 article, "Dictatorships and Double Standards" that distinguished between authoritarian and totalitarian regimes. She said that authortarian regimes were OK if they were anti-communist. Her examples--Somoza in Nicaragua and the Shah in Iran!!! On the other hand, totalitarian regimes were unacceptable because they sought to maintain complete control over their economies and because they were dedicated to expansion regardless of the means. Later in the article, she went on to say that Jimmy Carter's treaty with Panama returning control of the Canal to the Panamaians would lead to its control by a "swaggering Latin dictator of Castroite bent."
She constantly made connections between the Sandinistas and the Cubans, arguing that the revolution was a "consolidation of power by communists and...incorporation into the Soviet empire." She then said, "Some say Nicaragua's freedom fighters cannot win. I say they cannot lose...if we provide half the assistance Moscow provides the FSLN. Some say it is not consistent to support rebels in Nicaragua and oppose them in El Salvador. But it is consistent to support a democratic government in El Salvador and democratic forces in El Salvador."
Never mind that the Contras were a terrorist organization and that the El Salvador military's death squads rampaged across the nation throughout the 1980s.
Luckily her path to the highest reaches of the Reagan administration was blocked by Secretary of State George Schulz, who thought that Iran-Contra was a terrible idea. In some ways, Schulz was one of the less reprehensible members of the Reagan Administration. Unlike Jeane Kirkpatrick.
Much of the good info here comes from Don Coerver and Linda Hall's Tangled Destinies: Latin America and the United States.
Friday, December 08, 2006
Didn't think I was going to make it today. Spent the first half of the day in bed with too many aches and pains to move. Now at least I can get up. God bless medicine.
1. Charlie Hunter Quartet--Natty Dread
2. Gillian Welch--Rock of Ages
3. The Allman Brothers--Ain't Wastin' Time No More
4. The Music of Islam, Vol. 8 (don't know the actual artist)--Dahouit Ayemek & Ma Indich Zahar
5. Sun Ra--Angel Race/I Wait For You
6. Grateful Dead--Viola Lee Blues
7. Los Lobos--Saint Behind the Glass
8. Milford Graves--Intuitive Transformations
9. John Cage--Forever and Sunsmell
10. Rodney Crowell--I Know Love Is All I Need
What week is complete without a little Symphonic metal?...my thoughts trail off toward Valhalla....
1. Woody Guthrie--Riding in My Car (Car Song)
2. Lou Reed--Trade In
4. Claude Debussy--Estampes; 2. Le soiree dans Grenade [Francios Chaplin, pn.]
5. The Roots--Thought @ Work
6. Alex North--Prince Valient (Suite) [Prague PO, unknown conductor]
7. Bumble Bee Slim--You Can't Take It Baby
8. Peetie Wheatstraw (The Devil's Son-in-Law)--The First Shall Be Last and the Last Shall Be First
9. Mose Allison--Parchman Farm
10. Lana Lane and Erik Norlander--Rainbow's End
For those who remember (or knew at all), a Brazilian plane crashed here in late-September, killing all 150+ people on board. It quickly became a controversial case when it was revealed that a private jet chartered by an American company and flown by two American pilots had clipped the plane when the private jet was flying at the wrong altitude, leading to Gol Flight 1907's crash (nobody in the private jet was hurt). Today, the American pilots were (to me, somewhat surprisingly) charged in the crash, facing up to 12 years in prison each. The case came to a head this week when the federal courts ruled Brazil's police had to come to a decision by today and give the Americans their passports back (police had been detaining the pilots under house arrest with no charges, which the courts ruled had to end by today). This has picked up some interest in the states, simply for the tragically strange nature of the crash (one jet completely destroyed, the other merely losing the top part of a rear wing) and for the fact that it's Americans who may have been responsible.
However, it has been far more controversial here in Brazil. Since about two weeks after the crash, when the military began releasing the transcripts of the crash and information about it (unlike the independent FAA, which is responsible to the public in the states, the Air Force oversees air accidents here, and the process is a bit more veiled and slow-moving), analysts and the press have been claiming effectively that, if any fault is to be borne, it is on the air traffic controllers, who never told the private jet to return to the altitude it should have been at (37,000 feet, instead of the 36,000 feet it was at when it hit flight 1907).
However, the air traffic control has not taken kindly to this. Controllers have complained that they are understaffed and overworked (a claim similar to claims maid in the crash that happened in Kentucky earlier this summer). Their response has been to stage periodic "slowdown strikes" that have effectively crippled transportation in Brazil. For the last 2 and a half months, now, flights have been irregular. Some days, flights go normally, without any trouble at all. Other days, planes are "strangely" slowed down, departing sometimes later than 2 hours late (one day in October, when the issue was initially coming to a head, the slowdown led to 10-hour-late departures and the grounding of all private jets as commercial flights took priority). The issue isn't getting any better, either. Neither the press, analysts, nor the government have stopped saying that (despite the charges of the police today) the onus of the crash still rests pretty heavily on controllers. The controllers have not let up, either. This Tuesday, all flights were cancelled as the communications system strangely lost power after an incident with fiberoptics cables, an incident that now appears to have been sabotage.
Some relief could be coming, as there are supposed to be 60 new controllers added to Brazil's airport system, but this will still take time, as controllers must be trained, and the slowdowns can and probably will still happen (unfortunately, as I plan on flying to Brasília over the holidays). However, it reveals the way in which this particular plane crash goes beyond the loss of life and the arrest of the American pilots (the only component covered in the American press), revealing some major labor issues in Brazil.