Thursday, May 31, 2007

"State socialism in defense of Mad Cow"

Via dailyKos, this is just one of the stupidest things I've ever heard (and that's saying a lot, what with the past 7 years).

Apparently, the Bush administration is going to keep meatpacking companies from voluntarily testing all their animals for mad cow disease, because some up-and-coming, small meatpacking company in Kansas wants to test all its animals. Of course, the larger companies don't like this, fearing they'll have to test all their larger herds, too, and that will cut into profit! So the USDA is quashing the small company from voluntarily testing its herds. And free-market competition? Sorry, can't allow that - that will piss off some of the corporate sponsors who pay for us to get elected! So the public won't know if it's meat is free of mad-cow, because the bigger meatpacking companies fear the threat to their profits from a small company that wants to act freely in a "free" market. Awesome.

Man, I Hate Alex Rodriguez

I guess this is the kind of classy ballplaying we should expect from a guy who tried to slap the ball out of a first-baseman's glove in 2004, and then claimed it was all part of his "natural running motion".

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Improving Access to Birth Control in Brazil

In the wake of the Pope's visit to Brazil (though the timing is unintentional), Brazil began to subsidize birth control pills to all of its citizens this week. Scott at LG&M has touched often upon how efforts to undo abortion rights in the U.S. are a direct assault based as much on class-based notions of gender as anything else. Now, certainly, while the issues of abortion in the U.S. and birth control in Brazil are very differnt, one issue that still has similarities is the access, and lack thereof, to reproductive rights among the poor. Just as abolishing Roe in the U.S. would only make abortion illegal to the poor who couldn't afford safe, secret abortions, so in Brazil birth control pills have been available mostly to the minority number of middle- and upper-class women right now. As the article correctly points out, the enactment of this government program is huge - it will make birth control accessible to all, regardless of income. This in itself is vital towards any effort to leveling the social field in Brazil.

Certainly, the program does not do much in the way of making abortion a legal option for women in Brazil (and, as would be the case if Roe were stricken down in the US, abortion is only illegal in Brazil to those who can't afford to have a safe, private procedure. Despite it's illegality in Brazil, thousands of women still die every year in clandestine abortions, reminding us once again that the illegality of abortion does not lead to its disappearance). Still, by making birth control affordable on the state-subsidized program, Brazil has taken a huge step in improving reproductive rights for women and for the poor.

Carrying the Torch for Constantine XI

Mark Krikorian, living in a small, rough lean-to and feeding on roots, berries, and moss out beyond the farthest frontiers of Wingnutistan:

We shouldn't let May 29 pass without noting the anniversary of one of the great tragedies of history, the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. Sure, the Byzantine Empire was already finished at that point, but its final snuffing out by the Turks was an important milestone in the jihad we continue to face.

Wow. Does this mean that we should celebrate our allies', the Mongols', sacking of Baghdad in 1258 as a victory in the war on terror? Or lament the Quraishi defeat at the Battle of Badr in 624 as the moment when 9/11 really became inevitable? Here we have incontrovertible proof that education and knowledge do not necessarily make one smarter; in many cases they just provide a grander framework for one's preexisting resentments and prejudices, a larger stage upon which to rehearse one's stupidity.

Also, I think Krikorian is letting those damn back-stabbing Paulicians off too easy. If only they hadn't weakened Byzantine resolve in the 9th century, we wouldn't all be speaking Turkish now.

How I hate the Paulicians.


Mark Steyn objects to the president's suggestion that those against the immigration bill "don't want to do what's right for America":

I respect the President and I appreciate that his sincerity on this issue has been obvious for his entire political career. But I don't think he should impugn the good faith of those who, equally sincerely, disagree - not on "narrow slices" but on the central proposition: that drive-thru legalization for millions of people subject to desultory background checks by an agency without the resources to conduct them is not "what's right for America".

Uh huh. I'm pretty sure Steyn still considers it okay, though, to impugn the good faith, and patriotism, of those who sincerely disagree (and who have been largely vindicated in their disagreement) on the central proposition: that invading and occupying Iraq will not inspire democratic reforms throughout the region, and will serve as a recruiting poster, boot camp, and proving ground for violent, radical jihadism.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

No Room for Police Support of the Dictatorship in Brazil

In another nice step in the human rights crusade in Brazil, an officer was fired supporting Brazil's military dictatorship in a speech he offered to his troops in April. Tenente-Coronel Antõnio Borges Germano declared before his subordinates on April 17th that torture was a totally acceptable practice and he basically missed the good old days of Brazil's dictatorship (1964-1985), all in an effort to "motivate the troops" (his own words).

Fortunately, the military police (which are more like militarized police than like the MPs of the U.S.) and Rio's governor, Sérgio Cabral, have no such use for authority figures who yearn for the dictatorship for any reason and who support torture, lamenting the fact they have to work "within the law", so after this story broke yesterday, Germano finds himself unemployed today.

Certainly, there are other officers in the police who may share his opinions, and torture of the poor (who have little recourse to legal protection or civil rights) continues in Brazil, but it's good to see the local government taking a stand and saying, "We will not tolerate such attitudes."

Rot in Hell, Michael Vick

I am as much a dog-person as anybody can be. I absolutely love dogs - I have lived a full 4 months of my entire 27+ years of life without dogs.

And all these reports involving Michael Vick's ties to dogfighting leaves me worse than sick and more than furious. I've refrained thus far on this, simply because I figured maybe his cousin was running this under his nose and he really didn't know. But with people now saying he bets a LOT on dogfights, and the ties to his property and dogfighting, and the fact that some of these witnesses have brought down other dog-fighters, makes Vick too close to avoid condemnation. It doesn't even matter now if he's never personally gone to a fight, trained a dog to fight, whatever. It won't matter if they decide there isn't enough charges to bring against Vick himself, just his family members and friends. The fact that he is so closely tied to dogfighting in so many aspects should be more than enough to end his career forever. Those who abuse domestic animals for profits are some of the most vile pieces of shit on this planet. Michale Vick is apparently one of those pieces of absolute, worse-than-human, filth who will probably never see the type of pain he's inflicted on harmless animals, all for his own personal adrenaline rush. Burn in hell, Vick.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Notes on Argentina (III): Random bits

-Meat. Much is made of Argentine meat. They themselves claim their meat is the best in the world. I must say, the meat is that good, as is the wine and alfajors (two thin cake-like cookies held together with dulce de leche and covered in chocolate). However, beyond that, Argentina’s food is not just not good, it’s straight up bad. Almost no vegetable selection, even compared to the U.S. (which, doesn’t have the greatest selection in the world), an extreme reliance on eggs and ham (neither of which taste very good for whatever reason), and generally just items that would almost be tasteless, were it not for the absurd amount of lard you can taste in them. I can't remember a time when I ate things that I generally like (ham, eggs, etc.) and felt like vomiting just from the taste, but that happened in Argentina. So for those who travel there - get the beef.

-Ambience. As great as the 19th-century architecture and the wide avenues in Buenos Aires are, in some ways it’s just not as scenic to me as Rio is. This may be bias, but I absolutely love Rio’s environment – you go from beaches to 3000+foot mountains in no time, giving the city a great natural landscape, even if the buildings are ugly. Buenos Aires has that great Belle Epoque architecture, but it’s all flat, so there’s nothing to see besides buildings after buildings after buildings. Even with all the pollution you find in economically marginal (and even not-so-marginal) areas of the city, I’ll take Rio over Buenos Aires in this regard any day of the week.

-While the dollar has died since I arrived in Brazil (last week, it went to 1.92 reais to the dollar, the first time it had been below 2:1 since 2001), it was great to be in Argentina, where everything is so cheap. They have recovered VERY well from the 2001 fiasco, and things are far more resonably priced there than in Brazil. Thus, I was able to go out to a REALLY nice dinner with my wife (steak, bottle of wine, etc.) for about 40 dollars total, and we picked up 9 tango CDs for about 42 dollars (nothing like less than 5 dollars a CD).

-Sinister hair. Argentina takes awful hair to a new level. If you’ve watched the World Cup, you notice an abundance of mullets on the Argentine team; however, the bad hair in Buenos Aires went WELL beyond mullets; faux-hawks on 30-something businessmen in suits, and all kinds of bizarre formations forged from a heavy use of gel were the norm, and it was, quite simply, awful. And this isn’t any “anti-hipness” on my part – it was clearly a contest within the male machismo to do extremely absurd things in a giant “hey everybody, look at me!” contest. And the women also were fans of bad hair (I have NEVER seen so many she-mullets, not even in rural Ohio). I used to think Santa Fe was the sinister-hair capital of the world, but it’s Buenos Aires, by light years.

-Evita. Even without Madonna (pardon the gaggins sound), the Evita cult in Buenos Aires is that big (though slightly smaller than the "Mardona is actually Jesus" cult). I got an awesome magnet, and even saw her grave, which was (of course) a tourist park. But you couldn't escape here. There really is a holy trinity of Argentine figures that dominate t-shirts, posters, books, magnets, cheap street paintings, etc.: Evita, Ché, and Maradona.

Film Review--Chain Camera (2001)

In 2000, filmmaker Kirby Dick had wanted to produce a documentary about teenagers. His approach was to hand out ten video cameras to students at John Marshall High School in Los Angeles and asked them to document their lives for one week, without fear of censorship. Then, after their week was up, they were to give these cameras to ten different students, who would do the same for the entire school year. The final product, 2001’s Chain Camera, is the raw footage of sixteen of these kids, filtered through the editing room. This footage, while a mixed bag most of the time, does however bring up some interesting questions.

Ideally, Chain Camera is a documentary without a subjective voice. This is, however, an impossibly ridiculous notion. The thousands of hours recorded by hundreds of students is shrunk down to approximately eight minutes screen time for sixteen stories, and this forces the issue of subjectivity, if only do get the ninety most interesting minutes. But, given how interminably boring some of the segments are, they couldn’t have been filtered for human interest. The students are fairly diverse in class, race, and gender, but there appears to be an overriding message, that is to say that everything with kids today is a-ok. It seems like there should have been some alternative world views presented and, while there is a lesbian couple, a politically-charged artist from a broken home, and a girl who’s dream is to be a stripper, they all seem to come to the same conclusion: that, with hard work and determination, they’ll be able to make something of themselves. That’s dandy, but I have a hard time believing that this is the viewpoint of most of these hundreds of people, and it appears to have been placed together to give a falsely naïve viewpoint. Are these kids this single-minded? I have a hard time believing it. Are these kids, like most kids, so self-absorbed that they can’t see beyond the walls of their school? This I can buy but, if this is the case, Kirby Dick could have, in the editing room, given viewers a sense of this. There would have been, literally, thousands of hours of footage to compile here; there really could have been some meaty material here. Instead, the most “shocking” thing shown in the film was a high school senior smoking pot. Wow…a true revelation.

Chain Camera is a great idea and a solid theory. Unfortunately, its success ends here. There are some entertaining segments, there are some boring ones. Most importantly, though, there are no connections made between any of them and it feels like each student, behind the camera, is living in a bubble. It would have been interesting, as a special feature on the DVD, to revisit some of these kids a few years later to see if and how their views have changed once they left school, a la the 7 Up series, but it seems they were content to leave these stories in their respective bubbles. Personally, I’ll go back to Paul Almond and Michael Apted for this kind of insight into children and young adults. Even if these productions are solidly dated, they are superior and, if Chain Camera taught me anything, it’s that the mindset of kids doesn’t change that much generation to generation, at least when one asks them about themselves.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Jay Stevens on Brucellosis

Over at Left in the West, Jay Stevens has a thought-provoking post on brucellosis. This is a disease that cattle gave to bison and now bison can give it back to cattle. It has been quite contentious over the past couple of decades near Yellowstone National Park. Jay writes that "brucellosis is the perfect collision between environment, industry, immigration, and history." Absolutely true. Europeans brought it over and infected wildlife. Now we have an industry in the West that is economically struggling and declining. Brucellosis infections can wipe out a ranch.

From a strictly economically or environmentally rational point of view, one might argue that we should force out this marginal industry from the West. But is that so simple? First, and I will go into this in more detail when I write about my grasslands trip, if you simply take the cattle off the land, this leaves ranchers with one reasonable economic option: sell their land for housing developments. Do any of us with an environmental consciousness want this? I don't think so. The damage that housing causes wildlife is far more than ranching. Second, the traditions and way of life of these people have legitimacy. We need to find ways for ranchers to stay on the land and keep their ranches together, with or without cattle. It's better for people and the land to do so. This could happen through tourism, though there is a limited market for that I suppose. Perhaps some organic cattle raising could work too, which would keep the cows healthier and give ranchers a higher price for their beef.

There is no clear answer and we need a more open discussion about these issues.

A Few Things

Over the next week, I'll be posting about some of the amazing things I saw on my tour of grassland ecologies on the US-Mexico border in the last week. But first, let me just mention a few things about things that have happened while I was gone.

1. Good to see the Yankees still sucking. Clemens is not going to push this team over the top. They are finished.

2. Very sad to note the death of the great anthropologist Mary Douglas, whose work, Purity and Danger, I can not recommend highly enough.

3. Thanks to Lyrad for posting my pictures of the day. Hopefully, he can avoid getting into any more fights.

4. I'll get into this in much more detail later, but no one on either side of the immigration issue who hasn't spent time there has no fucking clue what they are talking about. My mind was totally blown.

5. For the first time, the US has suffered over 100 deaths in consecutive months in Iraq. Great to see the surge working so well!

6. Jewel sucks and people need to have a sense of humor. (See comments of linked post for the second half of this)

Historical Image of the Day

Santa Fe Railroad Train, 1900


Andrew Bacevich reflects on the loss of his son, in a war he rightly predicted would be a disaster.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Lyrad's Random 10

A music collection built the way mine has been, which is through a fairly indiscriminate selection of promotional material, can be very diverse but, when when it comes to things like the random 10, can also be difficult to write about. Such is the case with the selection from Greek guitarist/composer Nikos Papakostas, who I have little to no knowledge about. There is scarcely any information on him that I can locate and the CD is no help. So, what little I was able to find tells me that Papakostas is a varied composer who has worked over the last thirty years in just about every musical avenue Greece has to offer. From traditional performance to film and theater soundtracks to Vice Human, Greece's longest running heavy metal act, to board member of the Federation of International Producers and Independant Labels, Papakostas is everywhere in Greek and Balkan music. The album that "Friday Night" comes from is called Terra Humanna, a sometimes traditional album and sometimes pop album, this selection is a mixture of both. It begins with a good dance featuring guitar and bouzouki, and then degenerates into some kind of traditional/heavy metal crossover. It is all acoustic, but the soloing strategies are very much '80s metal. This tone, combined with a 7+ minute track time, makes the song somewhat dull and very self-indulgent. The rest of the album doesn't neccessarily conform to this same feeling, but "Friday Night" displays a lot of what's wrong with European popular music.

1. Nikos Papakostas--Friday Night
2. Marc Ribot--I'm Confessing (that I Love You)
3. Bill Monroe--Ashland Breakdown
4. Handsome Boy Modeling School--Metaphysical
5. The Butthole Surfers--The Annoying Song
6. New York Dolls--Give Her a Great Big Kiss
7. Ennio Morricone--Rag Nuziale [from the Trio Infernale soundtrack]
8. Doc Watson & Clarence Ashley--My Home's Across the Blue Ridge Mountains
9. Bruno Nicolai--Il Mercenario (Reprise) [from the Il Mercenario soundtrack]
10. Motorhead--On Parole

Historical Image of the Day

Members of Independent Finnish Socialist Party of America, 1904

Friday, May 25, 2007

Erik's Random 10

I wonder how the Eels will be seen in a decade. I have never been quite sure what to make about their 2005 album Blinking Lights and Other Revelations. It's too long and some of the songs are kind of lame. Others though are really touching and just make you feel good. I guess I always wonder how bands will age, which probably led me to mostly exclude newer groups on my best rock albums of all time and most underrated rock albums lists. I suppose I should listen to this album more--it's never really been central to my playlists. The more I listen to it, the more I like it.

1. Eels, Marie Floating over the Backyard
2. Beck, Puttin' It Down
3. Dave Alvin, Honky Tonk
4. Hazel Dickens, Here Today and Gone Tomorrow
5. Jessi Colter, I Ain't the One
6. Bonnie Prince Billy, Mrs. William
7. Gary Lucas, Interstellar Low Ways
8. Hank Thompson, I'll Start Believing In You
9. Don Rigsby, These Golden Fields
10. Lester Flatt's Nashville Grass, Drive Time

Today's Minor Epiphany

Victor Davis Hanson is the Andy Rooney of the new American century. But with more exploded limbs, and less complaining about how difficult computers are.

Friday Guitar Blogging

Merle Travis.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Ignatius J. Peretz Has A Posse

Regarding the rather entertaining dustup between Matt Yglesias and a small confederacy of dunces, let me just say, first, that having your views on Palestinian politics recommended by Marty Peretz and Jonah Goldberg is a bit like being hailed as the world's greatest living poet by Jewel and the person who cleans Jewel's pool.

Second, any analysis of the Fatah-Hamas conflict which attempts to ignore or exonerate forty years of Israeli occupation, and the cultivation of Palestinian disunity which has been a central goal of that occupation, is, quite simply, not to be taken seriously. Blaming the factional violence in Gaza on the supposedly inherently violent nature of Palestinian Arab society (which, remember, doesn't really exist, according to Peretz), while turning a blind eye to the myriad ways in which the Israeli occupation has proscribed, manipulated, and handicapped Palestinian political life during the last four decades, is as racist as it is daft.

Welcome back to reality, Benedict

The pope has apparently woken up from the slumber he was in when he was in Brazil last week. Taking back previous comments about indigenous peoples, he has now said that it is “not possible to forget the suffering and the injustices inflicted by colonizers against the indigenous population, whose fundamental human rights were often trampled.” This comes in the wake of his claims last week that American indigenous peoples had been "silently longing" for Christianity when Europeans arrived, and that nothing was "imposed" on the indigenous populations.

While it's not an open "mea culpa," it's nice to know one of his advisors finally got a hold of a history book and explained to Benedict what actually happened.

...UPDATE - Check out Randy's post for quotations on what the colonizers actually did (and I'd add that, while Bartolome de las Casas' writings were very political, designed to spur outrage, and thus at times embellished, they are still ultimately based on things Casas saw).

Historical Image of the Day

Suffrage activists picketing in front of White House during Wilson administration

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Is it 2009 yet?

Generally, comments on stories like this from the White House almost seem almost futile, aside from the reminder that, as the Onion put it in 2002, "They say people get the government they deserve, but I don't recall knife-raping any retarded nuns".

Yet there are two extremely disturbing things here. The first is, Bush is presently gladly declassifying documents from the last 3 years of our ongoing "war on terror" to say, "look, the terrerrists could attack!", even while historians still can't get access to various documents (the Iran-Contra affair comes to mind) because of "national security". So the administration is giving the message that documents are only to be declassified when they aid the administration in its ongoing, corrupt war, but any actual declassification for historical research is not going to happen. No surprise here, but it's still infuriating.

Secondly, let's pretend that Bush's contention that bin Laden admitted to wanting to set up base in Iraq in 2005 is true (and it very well may not be). That would never have happened had we not still been there in the first place. This isn't a support for Hussein - 2005 was two years after Bush went to war in Iraq. Had we never gone to war, or had we actually had a plan for stability after we got in, then it wouldn't have been so unstable for bin Laden to set up camp in the first place (again, IF we accept this claim as true). But of course, this doesn't matter to Bush - it's just one more in the increasingly awful and baseless attempts to tie bin Laden to Iraq any way the administration can.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Missed Him By That Much

Patrick Cockburn, on the recently revealed U.S. attempt to assassinate Muqtada al-Sadr:

[Mowaffak al-]Rubai'e had gone to Najaf in August 2004 to try to mediate an end to the fighting. He met Mr Sadr who agreed to a set of conditions to end the crisis. "He actually signed the agreement with his own handwriting," said Dr Rubai'e. "He wanted the inner Najaf, the old city, around the shrine to be treated like the Vatican."

Having returned to Baghdad to show the draft document to Iyad Allawi, who was prime minister at the time, Dr Rubai'e went back to Najaf to make a final agreement with Mr Sadr.

It was agreed that the last meeting would take place in the house in Najaf of Muqtada's father Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr who had been murdered by Saddam's gunmen with two of his sons five years before. Dr Rubai'e and other mediators started for the house. As they did so they saw the US Marines open up an intense bombardment of the house and US Special Forces also heading for it. But the attack was a few minutes premature. Mr Sadr was not yet in the house and managed to escape.

Although Dr Rubai'e, as Iraqi National Security Adviser since 2004 and earlier a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, is closely associated with the American authorities in Baghdad, he has no doubt about what happened.

He sees the negotiations as part of a charade to lure Mr Sadr, who is normally very careful about his own security, to a house where he could be eliminated.

The cloddishness on display here, the utter ignorance of history and symbolism, is no less staggering for being unsurprising. Attempting to kill Muqtada as he entered the house of his revered, martyred father Grand Ayatollah Sadeq al-Sadr(assassinated by Saddam in 1999), under a flag of truce, in Shi'ism's holiest city...Like so much else having to do with this war, it seems like it could have been designed in a lab to produce precisely the opposite of the the desired result: Increased distrust of the U.S. Coalition by majority Shi'is, massively enhanced street cred for Muqtada.

Even if the assassination attempt had succeeded, I doubt it would have made things better, and could very likely have made things worse. The success of Muqtada has less to do with his own political acumen, though it's become increasingly apparent that that is a factor, more with the deep resonance among poor Shi'is of his father's populist-nationalist program, which even before 2004 was supported by a large network of clerical activists. At least, in Muqtada, you have a figure who can draw together a substantial majority of the groups identifying as "Sadrist," rather than it devolving into a contest between Sadrist leaders to see who's more hardcore.

Also, the Israelis have been killing "key" Palestinian leaders for decades; if you want to know how well that's worked out, note that they've been doing it for decades.

Notes on Argentina (II) - Political Awareness

"30 years of impunity and repression, of theft and hunger
30,000 reasons to keep fighting"

"More than 30,000 reasons - popular justice. Never again. Looking to the other side" (Stencil of former president Jorge Videla)
Sidewalk painting by the law school, with names of disappeared law students.
Plaque marking the police-murder of Gustavo Benedetto in 2001.
Plaque marking police-murder of Gaston Riva in 2001.

Another thing I noticed while in Argentina was that the political activism was not limited to celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo. Everywhere you went, recent politics were still exteremely present and felt, particularly regarding the dictatorship. There was graffiti everywhere protesting against the continued (relative) impunity of war criminals like Jorge Videla and others (granted, Videla is under house arrest, but such a “punishment” is beyond offensive for a president who, for five of its seven years, led a state that killed upwards of 30,000 of its own citizens). Near the law school, there were sidewalk paintings commemmorating the disappeared from the law school during the dictatorship.

Awareness of recent politics even in the mundane of daily life went well beyond the dictatorship, though. One day, while riding in the cab, my wife asked about the recent shift in cars in Argentina (almost all cars we saw were 2-3 years old). What started as an innocent enough question simply based on curiosity became a fascinating conversation in which the cabbie went on and on (to our pleasure) about the absolutely destructive effects of Carlos Menem’s neo-liberalism in the 1990s, and how those led up to the economic collapse of 2001, and that only with the economic recovery launched under Nestor Kirchner have things improved.

Finally, although not as large as the dictatorship, the events of that economic collapse in 2001 also made themselves very present in the public arena. Along the Avenida de Mayo (which culminates on one end in the Congress, and on the other end with the Plaza de Mayo and the Casa Rosa), there were plaques commemmorating some of the protestors who Argentine police shot and killed during the upheaval that saw President De La Rua have to flee the country after its extreme downward turn (aided in no part by his ineptitude). Plaques like those above were visible along the sidewalk at random points, and one even was even re-done, because the first had been destroyed by police.

If you just went and talked to the average “person on the street”, I’m not sure you would necessarily hear anti-dictatorship or anti-Menem or anti-De La Rua talks – as with any politician or leader, some have their supporters. With the overthrow of the dictatorship and the (generally) anti-neoliberal policies of Kirchner in the wake of Menem, the victors are certainly inscribing the historical narrative in public spaces. Still, the physical presence of the darker aspects of Argentina’s recent history were far more obvious and tangible than anywhere I’ve ever seen in Brazil (although, doubtlessly, the 30,000 dead in Argentina vs. the 700+dead in Brazil probably explains some of this difference).

Monday, May 21, 2007


An Unfortunate End To a Very Nice Day

So, my abilities to post over the last few days and, likely, the next few, have been caused by the theft of my glasses and, difficult as it is to see the moniter, it is a slow chore.

This past Saturday, I went to a show in a parking lot which separates two bars of generally mixed crowds. With all the surrounding walls, I think that the acoustics work right and it's a nice place to see a show. It was a rock show this time (I'd seen a country show there previously, when it was much, much colder) but, even though it was a beautiful day, very few came. Anyway, me and a couple friends of mine, we'll call them C and J, stayed at the bar and had a few more drinks. As we were leaving, a group of apparent frat guys had just been kicked out of the bar. We left right behind them which, I suppose, was our first mistake. In any case, C (who happens to cook at the bar) had walked a little ahead of us and was loudly accused of "following" them out. This was patently false, but they were clearly convinced of it and pushed him down...very hard and sending him to the road. There was some yelling and then we tried to diffuse the situation but, unfortunately, they would have nothing short of beating C, who I could never see hitting anybody. J nor I could stand by to watch our friend get beaten and so, failing all other attempts, after another very hard push on C, we both stepped in. As a result, J is pretty cut up from a suckerpunch to the side of the face and a fall. I am badly bruised from a big straight punch to the eye with a hematoma and some attractive road rash down the right side of my face. C came out unharmed, which was the point. Three cowardly things happened there. First, after they threw their suckerpunches they ran and drove away. Second, my glasses fell to my side after the punch and, whether they were broken or not I never found out, because I have every reason to believe they picked them up while I was on the ground. Third, and worst, one of the guys pulled his girlfriend into the fray to use her as a shield. Truly Shameful.

Anyway, two days later and my face looks worse (although it's better) and I go to the eye doctor to make sure it's ok and to get new glasses, which I was due to get anyway. This doctor, despite the fact that all my signs were normal, my motor skills are sharp, and I am in minimal pain, he was worried about it enough to make me, before he would do anything about the new glasses, go to the ER and get a CT scan. Unneccessary, if you ask me, but I understand. It was my first scan, and my first visit to ER in many years, and it was all a very nice experience, given the circumstances. Unfortunately, the eye doctor cannot see me until wednesday, so I'll be in my (perscription) sunglasses for the next two days, which will at least help me from scaring the neighborhood children. It works, but it's pretty hard to see indoors, and typing gives me a headache.

The Memoirs of a Palestinian Patriot

“Real lasting peace is made between peoples, not governments,” writes Sari Nusseibeh near the end of his excellent memoir, Once Upon a Country. Nusseibeh is a philosopher and some-time Fatah activist who has dedicated himself to making that peace a reality by, among other things, cultivating relationships with like-minded Israelis. In this, he and his allies have been repeatedly undermined by the suspicion, mistrust, and belligerence of extremists on both sides, and in both governments, Israeli and Palestinian.

Nusseibeh comes from a noted Palestinian Arab family, whose ancestors entered Jerusalem along with caliph Omar in the seventh century. Having family roots in Palestine that go back thirteen centuries, Nusseibeh repeatedly confronts and eviscerates the notion that the Palestinians “aren’t a real people,” as well as the frankly preposterous idea that some dude just off the plane from Kiev or Brooklyn should somehow have more of a moral claim than he to the land in which he was born and raised.

One of the central themes of the book, unfortunately little remarked upon in the reviews and interviews which have followed its publication, is the way that the efforts by Palestinian activists to develop democratic institutions, such as trade unions and academic associations, organizations which could support and strengthen a mature Palestinian state, have consistently been frustrated and crushed by Israel. Since the beginning of the occupation in 1967, virtually all efforts by Palestinians to organize around the principle of their own nationhood have been vigorously stamped out by an Israeli government that saw the very existence of Palestinian political consciousness as a national security threat. Israeli support for the pan-Islamic Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood, the precursor of Hamas, as a means of diluting support for the secular nationalist PLO is just one example, one with particularly severe consequences.

Nusseibeh has no illusions about his own side. He recognizes that tragic mistakes have been made, and good opportunities missed, by the Palestinian leadership. He recognizes that the use of terrorist violence has been both morally disastrous and politically counterproductive. But neither is Nusseibeh willing to give any credence to the lazy “equal blame to go around” dodge, a form of rhetorical hand-washing that works decidedly in Israel’s favor, that unfortunately characterizes so much mainstream American liberal thinking on the issue. The root cause of the conflict in Palestine is, and has always been, the attempt by one group to realize its own national aspirations at the expense of another’s, and Nusseibeh is very clear that the Israeli occupation, and the illegal settlement enterprise which it facilitates, is, has been, and continues to be the single biggest obstacle to peace between the two peoples.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Historical Image of the Day

Diaz Family, Fort Madison, Iowa. Early 20th century

Lyrad's Random 10

It's a day late, but so it goes when you don't come home until after you can't see a screen anymore.

Anyway, Roy Budd is a really interesting, if now a virtually unknown figure, in music. A true child prodigy, he made his public debut at age six on the piano at the London Coliseum and developed a vast ouvre in only a few years. He made regular appearances on television and the radio at twelve and left school at sixteen to start his first jazz band. After releasing a few albums, he got heavily involved in film composition, where he spent most of the rest of his days. These soundtracks were performed with small jazz bands instead of the standard orchestra, and he was innovative in using the film's sound effects in his music, which gave a lot of continuity with the films and a cinematic listening quality. The Intercine Project is a British thriller from 1974 starring James Coburn and directed by Ken Hughes. The theme song is a smooth but tense track for piano, guitar, bass and drums.

1. Roy Budd--The Intercine Project: Theme
2. Seks Bomba--Untitled
3. Ludwig van Beethoven--Variations (33) on a Waltz by Diabelli for Piano, Op.120; 22.Allegro molto (Arthur Schnabel, Piano)
4. The Melvins--At a Crawl
5. Ray Colcord--The Amityville Dollhouse (Soundtrack); More Dead Dad
6. Joel Perri--Quanne ta fatte mammeta
7. Tom Waits--Dog Door
8. Erich Kunz--I Dreamed Last Night
9. Muse--Supermassive Black Hole
10. Jesus Lizard--Horse Doctor Man

The Worst Part About Being An Academic

I suppose it will be different once I get a tenure-track position, but I must say that the worst part of being an academic is saying goodbye to friend after friend as they move on. And now I am moving on to and I can see that people are sad about that. After saying goodbye to yet another close friend this evening, I can say that this is the most frustrating thing about this profession. Sure, I have friends that I can visit across the country, but it's not the same. At times, I wish for a normal job. Tonight is one of them.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Mr. Trend's Random 10

This week’s seventh song comes from Buddy Guy’s “Damn Right, I've Got the Blues.” For whatever unfortunate reason, people just don’t pay much attention to the blues anymore. And we’re not just talking music listeners – you really don’t see many new blues acts anymore, either (the rock band the Black Keys are perhaps one of the only exceptions). But how many under-40 blues musician do you know of? It’s not like the blues have nothing left to say, and Guy’s work is a perfect example of that. Although it’s from 1991, “Damn Right, I've Got the Blues” is just a top-notch blues album from top to bottom, drawing from the old Chicago blues tradition, even while making it fresh and giving Guy’s own re-take on it, with just great songs (the tribute "Remembering Stevie" is far better than Vaughan himself ever did). Additionally, he shows how blues lyrics can be adapted to modern times, even while the themes stay the same. “Black Night” is a perfect example of that – while lamenting the loneliness he feels as all have left him, he laments that “My brother’s in Iraq/and I don’t know what to do/Black Night is falling…”. While 16 years old, the lyrics are hauntingly resonant even today, and show how vital and fresh the blues still can be.

1. “The Wait” – The Pretenders
2. “Eu Trago Sereia” – Música Foclórica do Brasil (Disc 4 – Paraíba)
3. “Little Bug” – Big Bill Broonzy
4. Der Zauberflöte – Zweitens Akt: “In diesen heil’gen hallen” – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
5. “Black Snake Moan” – Blind Lemon Jefferson
6. “Gavião” – Música Foclórica dlo Brasil (Disc 2 – Paraíba)
7. “Black Night” – Buddy Guy
8. “Bad” – U2
9. “Leg of Lamb” – Queens of the Stone Age
10. “Saint Simon” – The Shins

Gone, Gone, Gone

I will be out of touch for the next week while participating in an environmental history field camp on the US-Mexico border. I'll be in southern New Mexico, southern Arizona, and northern Sonora. Should be a great time. There will be lots of interesting environmental issues to discuss when I get back and I plan to write extensively about it.

Luckily, having excellent co-bloggers makes this blog more than worthwhile when I am gone. I will, however, be posting a small bit about other issues while I am away.

Historical Image of the Day

Bluegrass creator Bill Monroe

Erik's Random 10

Does anyone under the age of 50 listen to Fats Waller anymore? And if not, why? This post could just repeat what I said about Dizzy Gillespie a couple of weeks ago. Again, for younger people, Waller is not really what they listen to. Not to be fair, Waller's music is something of a period piece. He was very much a man of his time. Some of the things he did probably wouldn't work today. But Waller was an amazing entertainer, a shockingly good piano player, and a first rate lyricist. Not to mention that "You're A Viper" is one of the great drug songs of all time.

1. Fats Waller, The Joint is Jumpin'
2. Butch Hancock, Neon Wind
3. Wilco, Another Man's Done Gone
4. Townes Van Zandt, BW Railroad Blues
5. Dizzy Gillespie, You Stole My Wife, You Horse Thief
6. Pink Floyd, In the Flesh
7. Jello Biafra & Mojo Nixon, Plastic Jesus
8. Dock Walsh, Bulldog Down in Sunny Tennessee
9. Rosalie Sorrels, Lonesome Georgia Brown
10. Johnny Cash, Sweet Betsy from Pike

Why Not To Vote For Bill Richardson

I've been skeptical of the Richardson campaign from the beginning. I see him as a pandering Democrat who stands for little but himself. He has been quite pro-business since becoming governor while doing essentially nothing about poverty in the state. He takes the big, brave stands like wanting stricter supervision of sex offenders.

Kos provides a good summary of reasons not to vote for Richardson.

Not only does he remind us that Richardson said his ideal Supreme Court justice was Whizzer White, a man who voted against Roe, but he also thought Roe was decided in the 1980s! Shouldn't a president have some clue Roe was decided? I sure think so.

It's also relatively well-known in New Mexico that Richardson's history with women makes Bill Clinton look like a puritan. He also claimed to have played minor league baseball when he never did. These are the kinds of things that Republicans jump all over and make him a weaker candidate. And anyway, why would you lie about something like playing minor league baseball.

I am very, very skeptical of a Richardson campaign and I hope his support continues to slip. However, I do think he would be an excellent choice for Secretary of State.

Historical Image of the Day

The descendants of Sally Hemings

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Where's the Dinosaur Jr.?

Somehow (I think it was in a petition asking for Gonzales's resignation a few months ago), I got on Hillary Clinton's e-mailing list, and I'm too lazy and apathetic (to this point, at least) to have removed myself from it. So today, I get an e-mail asking me to help her pick her campaign song. My choices range from the somewhat logical (The Temptations, "Get Ready", U2, "Beautiful Day) to the crappy covers (Smash Mouth, "I'm a Believer") to the "I want the red states so I'll pick country music" (Shania Twain, "Rock this Country!" and Dixie Chicks, "Ready to Run") to the illogical (U2, "City of Blinding Lights"). Overall, it's basically at-best mediocre music. Part of me hopes someday in my lifetime, somebody just goes nuts, and picks something that is out of the mainstream. "Teenage Riot" by Sonic Youth is my secret desire, but even if it's just something with a politically awkward title and not that well-known (Dinosaur Jr.'s "Sludgefeast" springs to mind) would be nice. Instead, we get vanilla music for vanilla politicians.

Peretz Droppings

I know that I cannot be the only one who finds Marty Peretz’s smug satisfaction at the escalating violence in Gaza to be reprehensible, even if it isn’t the least bit surprising. There is literally nothing that transpires among the Palestinians that Peretz will not attempt to use as a prop for his rancid bigotry, as he rehearses yet again the utterly discredited, racist hasbarist myth that “there is no such thing as Palestinians.”

Let's face facts. Only if you are "Eyeless in Gaza" can you believe that these people are a "nation."

There were no Palestinians until there were Israelis. And there will be no Palestine until Israel imposes it. Then it will be a nation-state like most of the other non-nation-states in the Middle East. Yes, a fraudulent nation-state.

More :
Why are men wearing ski masks on the streets of Gaza? So that they will all look alike, and people will think that this proves the unity of the Palestinian people.

It gets worse, if you can believe it :
And, as Steve Erlanger reported, the Palestinian death toll from Palestinian killing rose to 17 on Wednesday. Any bets on high it will go on Thursday?

What kind of twisted pervert thinks, let alone expresses, these sorts of things? And what kind of “liberal" journalistic establishment allows him to get away with, virtually without censure, for so many years?

Not Balanced, Perhaps, But Certainly Fair

In light of Lyrad's post marking the Rev. Falwell's doing the mortal coil shuffle, I feel I should say something nice.

I'm playing softball on my brother's office team, I bought a new baseball mitt the other day. I brought it home, oiled it up, and carefully wrapped a ball in it with a strong rubber band, as I was taught. It's amazing the way that smells make you smell other smells, as the leather and neatsfoot oil made me smell the grass and dust of a baseball field. Interestingly, sunshine and cigarettes make me smell neatsfoot oil.

Anyway, we were supposed to play the Reuters team Tuesday night, but the game got cancelled at the last minute because they had to stay late and work the Falwell story. We had practice instead, which is good, we needed it. And that's really the nicest thing I can say.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

RIP?--Jerry Falwell

The sun seemed to shine a little brighter today. I didn't know what it was, but it sure did feel springy this morning. Then I saw: Jerry Falwell, dead at 73. "Oh, no!" I cried, "Now who's going to blame homosexuals for 9/11?!" And then I laughed.

Some may think it's disgusting to speak ill of the dead, but not me. I celebrated when my friend's melanoma was successfully removed, and so I celebrate here. Anathema of human progress, there have lived few others since the Apostle Paul (nee Saul, Persecutor of Christians) who could pervert the teachings of Jesus so successfully for their own ends. Falwell started one of the largest entrepreneurial churches in the country, Thomas Road Baptist Church, in 1956 at 22 years old in his hometown of Lynchburg, VA. From this base, he began an illustrious career of subverting the separation of church and state, using the multi-million dollar lobby of the Moral Majority to voice his support of both segregation in the 50s and 60s and Apartheid in the 80s. If there is a sentient god and Falwell trying to get into some kind of heaven, I hope this is the scenario: God makes a deal with Falwell. If he can beat [the also recently deceased] Diego Corrales in a 15 round fight, he can enter the gates of heaven. Otherwise, sorry, it's hell for Jerry. We could make some money...let's call Don King. On a side note, I think that Falwell's envisionment of Hell would be a pretty cool scene, so maybe he'll have some fun. Anyway, enough laughs. Here are a few choice quotes:

--"If you're not a born-again Christian, you're a failure as a human being."

--"AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals; it is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals."

--"Christians, like slaves and soldiers, ask no questions."

and my personal favorite

--"Textbooks are Soviet propaganda"

This guy was a peach, and the sun shone a little brighter today.

Because forced conversion was such a great idea

While in Brazil, the Popet (who had already gone after abortion, pentecostals, marxists, and others) couldn't just leave quietly into the night. After claiming that he supported neither capitalism nor marxism (apparently, the pope is either a closet socialist or prefers the feudalism of the old days - I'm guessing the latter).

Instead, he had to go after indigenous groups, contradicting pretty much every historical detail we know about indigenous "conversions" to Catholicism in the Americas by claiming that Brazil's indigenous had been "silently longing" for Christianity when the Catholic priests arrived. Thus, claimed the pope, "the Church had not imposed itself on the indigenous peoples of the Americas." And in its missionizing, the church had performed a wonderful duty by "purifying" indigenous peoples, and that any reversion to their ancestral practices must be considered a step backwards.

Not surprisingly, indigenous groups whose ancestors were tortured, enslaved, or just plain killed via war and disease in the efforts to Conversion in the Americas are a little upset over this, and the sheer stupidity of it is something else. John Paul II (not exactly a "liberal" pope, having gone after liberation theology and pushing for the withdrawal of the Catholic church from politics even as the poor used the gospels to mobilize and try to improve their lives) himself apologized to indigenous peoples across the hemisphere for the Church's treatment of them throughout the previous 500 years. Yet Benedict apparently disagrees with his predecessor, and apparently would re-convert and "purify" the indigenous peoples all over again if he had to (forcibly, if necessary).

This was really just the icing on the cake for a trip that saw Benedict go after drug addicts, women seeking control of their own bodies on the abortion issue, any abortion supporters (one headline here read that he threatened a "mass-excommunication", or "excomunhão" to all supporters), and many more. Boz puts the Pope's trip to Brazil the best: "To briefly round up the trip, the Pope attacked (in alphabetical order) abortion, authoritarianism, capitalism, contraception, divorce, "ethical relativism", gay marriage, hedonism, indigenous religions, liberation theology, Marxism and Pentecostalism (along with Catholics who are too much like Pentecostals).

He then encouraged everyone who is left to attend church because attendance seems down recently."

Dorothy Stang sees justice

I'm a little late to this (I had a guest the past two days), but yesterday, Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura was found guilty in the 2005 murder of Dorothy Stang, a major voice and proponent in environmental protection movemnt in Brazil. It is extremely refreshing to see one of the people accused in her murder actually found guilty - for years, landowners have, with impunity, hired people to kill those who try to protect the land. Certainly, things haven't gone perfectly, even in the conviction - Regivaldo Galvão, another suspect with far mroe money than Moura, has yet to be charged with anything, and without question the first conviction in more than a decade in a case like this isn't going to suddenly make wealthy landowners and corporations re-think their efforts towards illegal deforestation and land seizures in a country where more than 50 precent of the land belongs to barely more than 3% of the population. Still, this is really good news overall.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Ten Underrated Rock Albums

Building on the 10 best rock albums, I thought I'd throw together a list of underrated albums. These are just some albums I thought of.

1. Midnight Oil, Blue Sky Mining--generally a greatly underrated band all around. They put out some really solid music in the 80s, a time of a whole lot of shit. Their later albums moved over that ever so fragile line from political to preachy. Blue Sky Mining might be the last of their really strong work.

2. John Cale, Fragments of a Rainy Season--I find a lot of Cale's solo material a bit trying. He overproduces almost everything, from his own work to Alejandro Escovedo's latest album. This live performance though is just him with a piano and guitar. It showcases his great material and strong voice.

3. Julian Schnabel, Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud--I remember the first time I heard about this album. I was more than skeptical that Julian Schnabel had actually put out an album. But it's actually quite strong and continues to grow on me.

4. New York Dolls, Too Much Too Soon--This one is a little complicated. For years, the Dolls were almost totally forgotten about. That was utterly ridiculous. They produced something new and real in a period (the early to mid 70s) when rock was at a real low point. Now though, their renaissance may move them clear into the overrated category considering the music itself really isn't all that amazing. But still, for now, it deserves more attention from rock fans than it gets.

5. PJ Harvey, Four Track Demos--This is extremely raw music and it works for that reason. An angry woman, loud guitars, low production. In this case, it's a recipe for utter success.

6. Pink Floyd, The Final Cut--Normally I would never say a Pink Floyd album is underrated. Quite the opposite. But this 1983 album, the last the band did before Waters left, is really quite good. No, it doesn't have the loud (and I think annoying) David Gilmour guitar solos. But it packs a lot of bitter emotion, history, and politics into a fine album. Certainly different than anything else in the Floyd canon, it remains significantly underappreciated by the band's fans and rock lovers in general.

7. Frank Zappa, We're Only In It For The Money--At this point, Zappa albums are hard to judge. Most combine great and crappy moments. I really think that with the exception of Hot Rats and The Yellow Shark, both instrumental albums, he never truly achieved a great album. His often juvenile lyrics, even if he was really making fun of juvenile lyrics as a whole, detract from the great music. As I've gotten older, I've come to appreciate his earlier work more because he managed to say some pretty interesting things while also producing interesting music. Nowhere does he do this more than on his 1967 album We're Only In It For The Money, where he savages both hippies and conformist mid 60s society. Great stuff.

8. Palace Music, Viva Last Blues--The most recent inclusion on this list, even though it is from the mid 90s. The various incarnations of Will Oldham usually produce really interesting music but he's never caught on much with a broader public. I like this album a lot because it rocks more than anything else he's ever done. He's always had that ability and it comes not too infrequently, but not as often as I wished. His I See A Darkness or Superwolf albums could also make this list, both while performing as Bonnie Prince Billy.

9. Warren Zevon, Excitable Boy--Zevon's best work. It's popular among big music fans but I think remains largely unknown for someone without a pretty deep appreciation of rock's history.

10. Mandrill, Composite Truth--Mandrill is the most forgotten band on this list. They were pioneers in the funk/rock/soul music of the 1970s. This multiracial band combined all the elements that more popular acts such as George Clinton, War, and Earth, Wind & Fire, but they did it first and better. They made some absolutely awesome music. Probably Composite Truth is their best album, with such tracks as "Fencewalk" and "Hagalo." Kick ass.

Historical Image of the Day

Thomas Jefferson's design for the rotunda, University of Virginia

Al Nakba Day

Today, May 15, is the day in which Palestinians remember al-Nakba ("the catastrophe"), the events surrounding the expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinian Arabs from their homes and lands by the paramilitary forces of the Zionist Yishuv, the subsequent war between the newly declared state of Israel and surrounding Arab countries, and the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem which continues to this day.

As an American of Ukrainian descent, I approach the remembrance of this event in several ways. The year 2007 represents the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown settlement, and the founding of the colony of Virginia. Amid all the articles, celebrations, and visits by the Queen, I recognize that my own country, indeed, my own newly adopted state, was founded on the lands and destroyed villages and homes of indigenous peoples, whose diverse cultures and societies were disregarded and crushed by European colonists.

My father's family were themselves refugees, forced to flee their homes by war. My grandparents were able to make a great life for themselves, their children, and for me, here in the U.S., but my grandmother always spoke of her homeland with a longing and an aching that never went away. I can only imagine how much more painful it would have been for her had she regularly been confronted with people insisting that the Ukrainians never existed, or that the events which caused her and her family to flee never took place, or, most ludicrously, that the Ostapenkos and a few hundred thousand of their neighbors had simply picked up and fled of their own accord. This is the sort of deeply offensive propaganda, the attempted erasing of an entire people and society from history, with which the Palestinians have had to contend since 1948.

By recognizing the tragic events of al-Nakba, and accepting the Palestinian narrative of dispossession, a narrative which has largely been vindicated by a majority of historians, both within Israel and without, my intention is not to delegitimize the state of Israel, nor to justify acts of terrorist violence against its citizens, any more than recognizing the destruction of Native American societies delegitimizes the existence of the United States. I'm very much aware that there are many who use anti-Zionism and a false solidarity with the Palestinians as cover for their anti-semitism, and I reject this, as I reject all forms of bigotry, including that which denies the existence and national aspirations of the Palestinian people.

The fact remains, unfortunately, that the government of the state of Israel is still very much in the process of dismembering Palestine, with the virtually unquestioning support of my own government. In addition to the obvious, ongoing nightmare that this has been for the Palestinians, it has had disastrous consequences both for Israel and for the U.S. It's long past time that my government used appropriate measures to stop it, and to facilitate a just resolution to the conflict.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Historical Image of the Day

John Tyler

All Dub's Children

Good Daily Star profile of the Cairo-based experimental music label 100Copies. Be sure to check out some of the great music available on the site.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Border Patrol Intimidation at Phronesisical

This is extremely disturbing.

In October 2005, Barba da Chiva at Phronesisaical wrote a post critical of the Border Patrol. Barba teaches in south Texas. Said post was just discovered by an anonymous Border Patrol agent, who threatens him in comments, which include:

"Myself, I have spoken to you on several occasions, as you drive North to Encinal. In the red VW; as a passenger in a silver VW; in a small black convertible; an old Ford; and, and older tan Chevy, as well. I have a fantastic memory and recall to boot..."

This is frightening and I think should be seen as intimidation. Frankly, this agent should be found out and fired.

Barba writes about his reactions to this here.

Historical Image of the Day

Fire, Cripple Creek, Colorado, 1896

Nothing To See Here, Move Along

You’d never know from reading this article on Jewish and Arab growth rates in Jerusalem that Israel’s attempts to de-Arabize the Holy City represent a gross human rights violation.

Israel is facing a challenge it never expected when it captured East Jerusalem and reunited the city in the 1967 war: each year, Jerusalem’s population is becoming more Arab and less Jewish.

For four decades, Israel has pushed to build and expand Jewish neighborhoods, while trying to restrict the growth in Arab parts of the city. Yet two trends are unchanged: Jews moving out of Jerusalem have outnumbered those moving in for 27 of the last 29 years. And the Palestinian growth rate has been high.


While it is virtually impossible for Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza to move to Jerusalem if they were not born there, natural population growth and restrictions on building in Arab parts of the city mean large families often share very small apartments.

An estimated 18,000 apartments and homes, or a third of all the Arab residences in East Jerusalem, were built illegally because permits are so hard to obtain, Mr. Nasrallah said, adding that Israel has not approved the development of a new Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem since 1967.

“Israel sees Jerusalem as a demographic problem,” he said, “and sees the solution as getting rid of Palestinians.”
In contrast, Israel has established many Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, and more than 200,000 Jews now live in the eastern part of the city.

Since conquering and occupying East Jerusalem in 1967, successive Israeli governments have used a combination of security and bureaucratic measures, as well as violent invasions and takeovers of Arab homes and neighborhoods by government-sanctioned Jewish settler militias, to increase the Jewish population in East Jerusalem while simultaneously limiting the increase of Arabs. I tend to think that if this were an article about similar efforts to change the ethnic character of Hong Kong, Istanbul, or Detroit, we might see some indication that such efforts are, you know, objectionable.

In Israel, this policy of ethnic cleansing (which right-wing Israelis naturally refer to as the “liberation” of Jerusalem, and which Ehud Olmert strongly supported as mayor of Jerusalem, and continues to as PM) is controversial. Less so in the U.S., where pointing out that Israel’s policy toward its Arab subjects is morally reprehensible, deeply inhumane and illegal, as well as disastrously counterproductive in terms of Israel’s security, is likely to get you labeled an anti-Semite. That Israel is apparently failing in its attempt to de-Arabize the Holy City is gratifying, but it doesn’t make the policy any less racist or provocative.

From a 2002 Christian Science Monitor article on the Israeli policy:
Benny Elon, an ultra-nationalist member of the Knesset who is spearheading the settlement effort, puts it this way: "If you don't create facts on the ground, everything blows in the wind. We saw that during Barak's time – Jerusalem was on the negotiating table."

Mr. Elon says the new sites are links in a map of Jewish territorial contiguity in East Jerusalem. His plan is to ring the old city with 17 settlement points, some just a few houses, but one, with 130 planned units. Many of the points already exist, the houses or land purchased privately but the security, roads, and infrastructure paid for by the government.

In Sheikh Jarrah, at the traditional burial site of the Judean sage Simeon the Just, authorities last month paved a road for three closely guarded settler houses. The left fork, which accesses Palestinian homes, remains a dirt path.


Sprawling Jewish settlements, considered suburbs by Israelis, have also been built in East Jerusalem territory on land expropriated from Palestinians.

Elon says he looks forward to a time when there will be no Palestinians living around the tomb of Simeon the Just and in Simeon's Heritage, the names he prefers to Sheikh Jarrah. "It was a Jewish neighborhood and it will be a Jewish neighborhood."

At a Jerusalem Day party organized by Elon, many among the thousands of young revelers draped themselves in Israeli flags. Some sported stickers reading: "The solution: Expel the Arab enemy."

Remember: When Palestinian politicians employ eliminationist rhetoric, they are to be condemned as terrorists, and deemed unacceptable to negotiate with. When Israeli politicians do the same, they are to be hailed as evidence of Israel’s “vibrant democracy.” No partner for peace, indeed,

New Name, New Attitude

In what I think is a very significant move, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) has changed its name to the Iraqi Islamic Supreme Council , and has indicated that it will now look to Ayatollah Sistani, rather than Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei, as a main source of guidance. As Juan Cole notes, just as important as the move away from Iran is the move away from Khomeinism, the rule by the jurist, in which a supreme jurisprudent can effectively overrule any government decision which he holds is not appropriately Islamic. Sistani has declared his support for a more limited, though of course still significant, role for clerics in an Iraqi Islamic republic.

President Bush received SCIRI’s leader, Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, in the White House a few months ago. It seemed odd to me that Bush was cuddling up with Hakim while continuing to try, and failing, to marginalize Muqtada al-Sadr, Hakim’s main rival. I think it’s been apparent for a while now that Sadr is the key figure in the new Iraq, representing both Shi’i ascendancy, with a social activist program modeled on Hezbollah’s, and strong Arab-Iraqi nationalism, which always made charges of his being a pawn of Iran hard to believe. Muqtada has stridently opposed the U.S. presence in Iraq since the beginning, which, in the harsh light of Abu Ghraib, Fallujah, and Haditha, make him look prophetic to many Iraqis, even those who don’t particularly sympathize with his harshly conservative agenda.

The struggle for political power among Shi’i parties has, to a great extent, been a struggle between Shi’i scholarly families, most notably the Sadrs and Hakims. While Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim represents a clerical line as prominent and revered as the Sadrs, Muqtada has nationalist credentials that Hakim can’t touch. Muqtada’s uncle, Grand Ayatollah Baqr al-Sadr, is considered by many to be the most significant Shi’i scholar of the 20th century, and many Iraqi Shi’is had hoped that he would lead their own revolution after the success of Khomeini in Iran. Fearing this exact thing, Saddam did the unthinkable: He had Sadr executed in 1980, the first execution of a Grand Ayatollah in modern history.

Muqtada's father, Sadiq al-Sadr, assassinated by Saddam in 1999 along with two of Muqtada’s brothers, while not regarded as an intellectual equal of his cousin, nevertheless actualized Baqr’s theories about clerical activism, building a ministry and broad base of support among Iraq’s poor Shi’is. It was Sadeq after whom Baghdad’s Shi’i slum neighborhood Saddam City (originally built by Qassem as “Revolution City”) was renamed “Sadr City” after the fall of Saddam’s government and the neighborhood’s immediate takeover by activists and militants loyal to Sadeq al-Sadr, now represented by his son, Muqtada.

In the wake of Baqr al-Sadr’s death in 1980, scores of Iraqi Shi’i clerics, the Hakims among them, sought refuge in Iran. It was there that the Hakims helped to found SCIRI, with Iran’s support. Around the time of the U.S. invasion, Abd al-Aziz reentered Iraq as commander of the Badr Brigade, the militia wing of SCIRI, armed and trained by the Iranian Republican Guard. He took over as leader of SCIRI after his elder brother, Grand Ayatollah Baqr al Hakim, was murdered by a truck bomb in Najaf in 2003

Though both families suffered greatly from Saddam’s tyranny, the fact that the Sadrs stayed and struggled, while the Hakims fled, has been relentlessly hammered at by Muqtada’s adherents. That the Sadrists have been able to compete so well against the far better organized and funded SCIRI indicates just how effective this line of argument has been among Iraqis, and SCIRI's new name and redirection away from Iran and Khamenei indicate that they are trying to fix this.

The Pope on Poverty

This story really hits on the complexities of the religious treatment of poverty in Brazil. The pope is right in condemning the failure to address the extreme divisions between rich and poor (and even middle class) in Brazil. Many people do either ignore the poverty issue or dehumanize it, putting the blame on favelados, a race- and class-based quest that the media also greatly aids.

At the same time, it's not clear if the church itself is going to try to do anything about this, such as give greater aid to the priests who work in favelas, or fund programs that seek to help combat racism and classism or to help Brazil's poor receive better payment or treatment in the workplace. Benedict can talk all he wants, but the fact remains that he was a major warrior against liberation theology in the 1980s, and while some (but not all) liberation theologians were influenced by Marxism, that does not stop the fact that liberation theology was one of the strongest efforts within the Catholic church to try to actively address these economic issues, even while the hierarchy itself was trying to put a stop to such efforts. I'm rather skeptical that the hierarchy will try to address these issues in any way beyond rhetoric. Although she was talking more about divorce and pre-marital sex (issues which are a part of most Brazilians' lives), Elisangela do Nascimento hit it on the head - "The pope is a little too rigid".

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Film Review--Eyes Without a Face (1960)

Traditionally, it’s pretty difficult for me to be moved by horror films, at least in the traditional way. I recognize and appreciate, above all other genres, the artistic sensibilities that horror brings, but I am very rarely scared or shocked by them anymore. That said, there are a few mundane subjects in real life that can still disturb me in film, no matter how many times I see them. Two of these things are doctors and dolls (china dolls, specifically). Why the dolls? I don’t really know, but facts are facts, they are disturbing. This brings us to Eyes Without a Face, the masterpiece of poetic horror from George Franju.

The scenario, another lurid tale imagined by the team of Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac (who combined on the screenplays for Diabolique and Vertigo), is about Professor Genessier (Pierre Brasseur), a highly respected and innovative plastic surgeon, who caused an accident that left his daughter Christiane (Edith Scob) faceless (how one suffers no ill-effects except the loss of a face is anyone’s guess, but this is not the issue here). Through his guilt turned obsession, Genessier’s only goal is to restore his daughter’s beauty by any means necessary. This means kidnapping pretty young girls and removing their faces off for transplant. Christiane, watching it all go by faceless in an expressionless white mask and a china doll dress, lilts through her father’s mansion like a ghost, hoping that his disgusting operations will one day restore her beauty. She has become jaded to the procedure and the victims have become little more than meat for her to gaze upon.

We are thrust into the middle of the action, with Genessier’s nurse (Alida Valli, in a wonderfully cold performance) dragging a body and throwing it in a river. With no backstory, we are immediately taken off guard as she then goes to town to pick up another victim. Using the ruse of a room for rent, she brings this college student back to the mansion where she is drugged and prepped for surgery. Watching from above, we witness the removal of the face in an extraordinarily slow and cold sequence which starts with penciling the incision lines and finishing with the unplugging of the skin from the muscles to lift the face off the victim. It is a horrifically realistic scene executed with a nonchalance that only makes it darker and more maniacal. It is almost a relief when, after the face comes off, we see a fairly poor, definitely dated, makeup job; I was close to becoming nauseous, a feeling from a movie I have not felt in maybe 15 years. I was so stressed by the situation that it was all I could do that night to fall asleep.

But, more than just a lurid subject that gets to me personally, Eyes Without a Face is one of the most atmospheric and poetic horror movies I’ve ever seen. Every shot is set up to maximize the dread without resorting to scare tactics. There are no capture and escape sequences, this is horror of a father’s obsessive love for his child, love turned perverse through vanity and pride. What he once was, doting father and respected doctor, is long gone, replaced by cold-blooded kidnapping, murder, and psychosis. It is a simple, beautifully told story that is effective on all levels. Eugene Schuftan’s cinematography, in its muted shades of black and white, looks like a fairy tale and reminds me more of the films of Cocteau and Renoir than anything in the horror realm. In fact, the only movie that really approximates the poetry of this film is Dreyer’s Vampyr, although Eyes Without a Face is significantly more exciting than its predecessor. Maurice Jarre’s oddly ironic score, in combination with a full palette of sound effects gives a claustrophobic feeling of dread. Hearing a chorus of howling dogs every time the doors open seems, at first, menacing because of the implication that they guard something, but becomes utterly horrifying when we find out that the poor animals are the surgeon’s trial-and-error process. This makes the ending, which I will not spoil, all the more satisfying, especially the beautifully ambiguous and ultimately effective final shot.

Unfortunately, Eyes Without a Face was utterly disregarded upon its release, both in its native France and worldwide. There were some critics who lauded its artistic merit, but most dismissed it as shock for shock’s sake which, today, seems laughable (even though I’ve just said how much it horrified me, this is a personal thing and, given that we can watch surgery footage on cable television 24 hours a day, I don’t think everybody would have the same reaction as me). In the states, to build up its shocking nature, it was retitled The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus, but failed miserably when it could not live up to the expectations of the grindhouse audiences it played for. It rightfully gained a following after it was remastered and reissued a few years ago, and I would hope serve as a model for young horror filmmakers that the discomfort and oppression of horror can be more effective than the thrills that are too easy.

Criterion’s DVD is typically excellent, with one of the clearest picture restorations you will see and perfectly rendered sound. The special features, though sparse, are exceptionally interesting. First is Franju’s 1949 documentary Blood of Beasts on the French meat factories. Every bit as artistic as Eyes Without a Face, and ten times more disturbing, this had much the same impact in its time as Sinclair’s “The Jungle.” The other is a short interview with Franju on some really cheesy French sci-fi show from the ‘70s. Here, he discusses where the power of terror and dread come from and, consequently, what makes horror effective. He says, in paraphrase, that horror’s role is to accentuate the abnormal for the sake of fright. But, what is abnormality? A normal person doing normal things is normal. Also, an abnormal person doing abnormal things is normal. But the combination of the two gets to the heart of horror. Abnormal behavior by normals is bizarre and unsettling. Normal behavior by abnormals is plain surreal, and both are equally effective in carrying the weight of horror. This, such a seemingly simple statement, is the exact reason why movies like The Hills Have Eyes cannot work and Eyes Without a Face ultimately succeeds.

Historical Image of the Day

Image of California Indians, Gleason's Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion, 1856

"It was serious back then"

This story on forced confessions in Japan is rather disturbing. While not as severe, perhaps, as electric shock to the genitals (a common practice in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and elsewhere during their respective dictatorships) or forcing prisoners' heads under water to extract confessions. Nonetheless, incidents like 17 straight days of 10-hour interrogation sessions and forcing the charged to stop on names of their family members (which, if it is indeed an odd twist on forcing Christians to stomp on the cross, is rather unique) clearly have caused mental and physical stress on innocent people in Japan. One hopes the change to a jury-based system in 2009 will fix things for the most part, but one has to wonder if these fforced (false) confessions are just going to go away that easily.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Friday Guitar Blogging

Nori Bucci.

Lyrad's Random 10

No time to write about a song today. Gotta make it to Wane "the Train." Anyway, here's the deal:

1. Karl Amadeus Hoffman--Miserae (Symphonic Poem) for Orchestra [London PO; Leon Botstein, cond.]
2. Elysian Fields--Black Acres
3. Scorn--Lick Forvever Dog
4. Faith No More--Midnight Cowbow (Main Theme)
5. Chris Cutler--Empty House/Coffee Still Warm
6. Duke Ellington & Ivie Anderson--I'm Satisfied
7. Joao Gilberto & Stan Getz--Corcovado
8. Mildred Bailey--Love Is Where You Find It
9. GoodandEvil--Sweetbitter
10. Hank Williams--Tennessee Border

Want your first national saint? Call me!

Today, the pope canonized the first Brazilian saint. When I was in Costa Rica, there was a big deal about the sainthood of a nun who had helped poor children in the city capital in 2002 (I thought she was canonized, and I definitely remember the big hubbub, but I'll be darned if I can find it anywhere online).

So to all you countries seeking your first saint, just call me - I'll be glad to accept my airfare, and as many weeks paid vacation there until your saint is approved.

Mister Trend's Random 10

Not to rip off too much, but I'm going to offer comments on a song/artist from the Random 10 from time to time, too. However, I'm just going to arbitrarily pick one song/artist from the list each week, instead of sticking with the 1st or 7th or 10th track only.

This week, I just want to comment on Aphex Twin, who is possibly one of the most creative, intelligent, and underappreciated musicians out there. He tends to get doubly ignored, because those who don't like "techno" (in their generally false conceptions of what "techno" is) automatically discount it without hearing it. Even those music-lovers who adore experimental music in jazz, no wave, classical, and elsewhere ignore James's work as an aesthetic endeavor because it's "just techno".

Even worse, within the techno community, many put Richard James (aka Aphex Twin) in the "intelligent dance music" category, which is one of the worst titles of all time. There is really no word to describe his work. Yes, it's based on "techno" instruments (i.e., computers and beatboxes), but he pushes that medium all over the place, from Ambient (Selected Ambient Works, Vol. 1 and 2), to bass to acid to house, while never working in the conventions of any of those forms. His use of beats, beeps, reverb, and computer tones to create haunting soundscapes of all tempos is unrivalled. James is certainly a unique character - his remix album is unbelievable (and humorously, and perhaps realistically, calleed "26 Mixes for Cash"), and the mixes go so far from the original versions of the songs, a journalist asked him if he had even listened in depth to a Nine Inch Nails song he'd mixed. His response (and I paraphrase) - "I don't need to. I know my version is better".

Anyhow, check out some James, and listen to more than one of his albums - they are all over the place. My personal favorite is "Selected Ambient Works Vol. 2", but you can't go wrong with any of his works.

1. "It's Raining" - Quasi
2. "Antitech" - Efterklang
3. "Shoes" - Akron/Family
4. "Daddy Sang Bass" - Johnny Cash
5. "Urubu Malandro" - Radamés Gnattali Sexteto
6. "Start As You Mean to Go On" - Aphex Twin
7. "John McLaughlin" - Miles Davis
8. "Eine Alpensymphonie - Elegie" - Richard Strauss
9. "Tangled Up In Blue" - Bob Dylan
10. "Matamoros Banks" - Bruce Spingsteen

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Historical Image of the Day

Statue of Roger Williams

Notes on Argentina (I): The Madres de Plaza de Mayo

"Until Victory, Always dear children!"

Some of the surviving Madres on stage.

Just a handful of photos of the 30,000 disappeared

By pure chance, I happened to time my honeymoon so that I was in Buenos Airs on April 30, 2007, which happened to mark the official 30th anniversary of the first march of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo. As I've mentioned in previous posts, the Madres are one of the more important groups not just in helping Argentina overthrow its own military dictatorship (1976-1983), but also in serving as a model for protest in other parts of Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Since the Plaza de Mayo was just 4 blocks from my hotel, I took advantage of the opportunity and attended the official rally, where many of the surviving madres were present.

The rally itself was remarkable. First and foremost, there's just the impact of what these women have done. The images of the disappeared placed on either side of the stage, the signs reminding us of the loss of 30,000 Argentines in the 7-year "dirty war", the youth who rallied around these small, elderly women who changed so much, the chants, the music (everything from tango to hymns to Che Guevar), was almost too much emotionally. There was a political solidarity and activism there that I've never seen anywhere else in my life. It's cliché, probably, but the emotion was actual palpable - some people hugging and crying, others cheering, others just standing in silence and respect to the madres.

Adding to the emotion, for me, was the simple fact that I, as an American citizen, was present. The Argentine dictatorship is one of the most awful, vulgar, horrific things the United States ever supported, with Henry Kissinger verbally giving acting president Jorge Videla a carte blanche to kill whomever he wanted until the "threat" of "subversives" was gone. Being presnt and knowing that government of my country, like in so many countries in the 20th century, had a direct hand in the propping up of one of the most repressive apparati of state terrorism in the history of the Western hemisphere, gave the rally a particularly upsetting and emotional dynamic to me personally.

Between musicians, various political activists would talk. Additionally, between each "set", they often played taped recordings of what the Madres had said in the past, often taking devastating, emotional soundbites from the dictatorship period itself. This was certainly a celebration of what the Madres have done (not just in terms of the dictatorship but in terms of protests against global oppression since the dicatotrship's end, the founding of their cultural center, and most recently, the establishment of their own college to continue the study of human rights and law), but through it all, the sheer emotion and loss (and emotional depression that creates) were palpable throughout. It may have been 30 years, but the disappeared were as present as they were in the height of the dictatorship.

In a sign of how much has changed in 30 years, while the police were present just outside the plaza, there was no violence this time. Some student ralliers who were about to parade made a clear demonstration against the police in front of their faces, but there was no violence, in itself a sign of hope for the country that saw some of its best minds killed by the state.

Overall, the experience, with all the emotion, the people, the music, the message, the banners, everything, it was just so overwhelming and amazing. Without a doubt this was the best part of being in Buenos Aires when I was.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

RIP--Diego Corrales

Well, I am very sad to say that, at a mere 29 years old, Diego "Chico" Corrales is dead by wounds resulting from a motorcycle accident. He was one of the most exciting fighters of his generation whose spirit in the ring was an inspiration to a generation of boxers and fans alike. His never-say-die attitute toward fighting led to what many considered the most exciting fight in the last two decades against Jose Luis Castillo, a bloodbath comeback win that showed a rare heart and determination. To think that I will never see him in the ring again is something that is hard for me to think about right now, but that is nothing compared to the shock those around him must feel. Rest in peace, Chico. Your heart, your determination, and you will be deeply missed.