Monday, March 31, 2008

The Damage Caused by Salmon Farming in Chile

Erik has written before on the collapse of salmon populations in the Pacific Northwest, but it isn't limited to there. Salmon in Chile are being devastated by a virus that has already killed millions of salmon in a country whose third-largest export is salmon. The virus has been able to spread in large part due to overproduction of salmon in Chile in what biologists consider unsanitary conditions, a general consequence of industrial-style production of fish (or other animals) for consumption. Not surprisingly, the salmon industry leaders "reject the notion that their practices are unsafe for consumers," despite the fact that they use antibiotics that are prohibited for use on animals in the United States (where 29% of Chile's salmon is sent).

And as has been the case in so many similar instances of environmental damage due to overproduction of resources, the people in the localities where the salmon are raised are the humans who suffer first. Their water is being polluted due to overproduction, damaging the water in ways not unlike monocrop agriculture, and as the companies pick up and relocate to cleaner waters (which they will inevitably pollute with overproduction once again), the Chileans in the south are left without jobs.

Nor are humans the only ones affected. The article points out that "Salmon feces and food pellets are stripping the water of oxygen, killing other marine life and spreading disease, biologists and environmentalists say. Escaped salmon are eating other fish species and have begun invading rivers and lakes as far away as neighboring Argentina, researchers say," and fishers are having a really hard time finding fish in the sea for their own consumption (on a much smaller scale). The overproduction in Chile, as in elsewhere, is causing potentially-irreparable damage to the environment, marine ecosystems, and even the local economies of southern Chile. The story here is nothing new, but it's still depressing, and it sure seems unlikely that companies will ever learn before it is too late.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sunday Deposed Monarch Blogging: House Braganza

This post was written at the invitation of Rob. Cross-posted at Lawyers, Guns & Money.

Brazil’s House of Bragança (also spelled Braganza), which ruled Brazil from 1822 to 1889, was a unique experience in Latin America, as it was the only (non-indigenous) monarchy in the Americas. Formed when Dom Pedro I of Portugal declared independence and the establishment of the Brazilian empire in 1822, it had only two emperors in its 77 years – Pedro I and Pedro II, who was ultimately overthrown by the military in 1889, when the Brazilian republic was finally declared.

The Brazilian House of Bragança is a direct offshoot of the Portuguese house of the same name. The Portuguese Braganças had inherited the throne in 1640, when João II, the Duke of Bragança, successfully led the rebellion against Spain’s control of Portugal (the two crowns had been united under Philip II of Spain in 1580 when the line of succession became muddy), re-establishing the Portuguese monarchy with now-king João IV at its head. The Braganças remained in Portugal until 1808, when Napoleon’s armies invaded the Iberian peninsula. The Bragança court picked up and relocated to Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil, declaring the American colony the capital of the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil, and the Algarve (thereby becoming the first European monarchy to rule its empire from a colony).

The Braganças liked Brazil enough that they remained there well after Napoleon had been defeated; only in 1821, with the Portuguese nobles’ threats of rebellion did João VI return to Portugal from Brazil. Upon his return, he demoted Brazil back to a colony, leaving his son Pedro I as regent in Brazil. However, after 13 years of serving as a political center, Brazilian elites and politicians did not want to return to being a colony, and when Pedro was ordered to return to Portugal, he refused. After several incidences between Brazilians and Portuguese troops in Recife and Bahia (involving bloodshed and guerilla warfare), and on September 7, 1822, after gaining the support of the states of Minas Gerais and São Paulo, Pedro I formally broke with Portugal, creating the Empire of Brazil. (It's most likely he did so after being pressured by Brazilians interested in breaking with Portugal, though some biographers insist he did it of his own free will and his love of freedom - either way, the thought of being emperor of Brazil instead of waiting for his dad to die and Pedro's ascension to the Portuguese thrown must have seemed like a pretty sweet deal to Pedro I).

Pedro I’s honeymoon with his new empire was short-lived. By 1824, he had already closed the Constituent Assembly when the latter drafted a constitution that would limit Pedro I’s powers, making him an equal to the judicial and legislative branches in the way the President of the United States was. With the Assembly dissolved, Pedro established indirect elections and gave himself “moderating powers” over all elections and the right to appoint “senators for life.” Pedro I also made few friends in his effort to abolish slavery. Brazil’s economy, based on coffee and sugar, had become extremely dependent upon slave-labor, and the slavocracy had enough control in the government to prevent any real efforts at abolition. Tensions between Pedro I and Brazilian elites and nativists grew, and when the military and the people turned against him after he dismissed his cabinet in 1831, Pedro I abdicated and returned to Portugal, leaving the throne to his 5-year-old son, Pedro II.

During the 9-year regency of Pedro II, Brazil’s political landscape changed, as the different regions of the country gained more control as the government in Rio de Janeiro decentralized its authority. A number of small revolts broke out sporadically throughout the country over a number of issuese, including secession, slavery, and even the restoration of the monarchy in place of the regency. With this turmoil, elites who hungered for a stonger nation-state, supported Pedro II’s ascension as emperor in 1840, when he was still only 14 years old.

Pedro II would govern Brazil for another 49 years. In this time, he strongly re-centralized his authority, using the 1824 Constitution to act as a “moderating power,” continuing to dismiss the legislature, declare new elections, and appoint senators. On the slave issue, Pedro II was predictably slow to act. Brazil only ended the slave trade in 1850, when the United Kingdom exerted pressure (including authorizing British ships to seize slave ships heading for Brazil), yet slavery continued to be central to the Brazilian economy, and the internal slave market remained strong, especially as slave-owners in the Northeast’s sugar-based-economy began selling slaves to their counterparts in the growing coffee-economy of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.

As time went on, Pedro II’s power gradually diminished, although it wasn’t always obvious at the time. Of particular importance was the War of the Triple Alliance (1864-1870), which saw Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina going to war with Paraguay. Argentina and Uruguay quickly withdrew their troops, leaving Brazil’s unprepared and under-equipped army to face a strong, organized, and much larger Paraguayan army. Both sides villified the other in strong racial terms (Brazil characterizing Paraguay as a bunch of uneducated Guaraní Indians; Paraguay portraying Brazil as a bunch of racially-mixed slaveowners). Brazil eventually won the war, with upwards of 50% of Paraguay’s population dying (much of it from disease). However, the war revealed the Brazilian military’s lack of organization and material, for which they blamed the government. From this point onward, the military in Brazil would be a political actor, and its dissatisfaction with Pedro II only grew in the coming years.

Pedro II’s rule gradually unraveled in the 1870s and 1880s. Brazilian republican sentiment was growing rapidly, stoking anti-monarchical sentiment. The War of the Triple Alliance had left the military brass disenchanted in its perception of the monarchy, and as more and more officers entered politics, they chipped away at the Crown’s power and authority. The Catholic Church also caused problems for Pedro II, whose government entered into conflict with the Church in the wake of the First Vatican Council, where the Church authorities established papal infallibility and the Vatican’s control over the Church worldwide. Pedro II continued to try to exercise his authority over the Church, leading to a crisis between the Church and the State.

The slavery issue was the final nail in the coffin for the Portuguese Crown. Brazil had already been working towards abolition, freeing slaves who served in the military in the War of the Triple Alliance. In 1871, the state established the freedom of any child born to a slave woman, and in 1885, it freed all slaves who were 60 years old or older. Attitudes throughout society had been gradually shifting in favor of abolition, even among landowning elites and planters, who had begun using immigrant labor to replace slave-labor. Slaves were freely abandoning plantations, and in 1888, Princess Isabel abolished slavery. No longer dependent on the emperor to defend their slave-holding interests, plantation owners supported republicans and the military in demonstrations against Pedro II. On November , 1889, Pedro II was overthrown, bringing to an end Brazil’s House of Bragança.

The heir to the throne, Princess Isabel, returned to Portugal with her mother and father. The line of ascendence passed to her son, Dom Pedro Henrique de Orleans de Bragança. Today, Isabel’s grandson, Dom Luís Gastão Maria José Pio Miguel Gabriel Rafael Gonzaga de Orléans e Bragança e Wittelsbach (who turns 70 on June 6 this year) is the heir to Brazil’s throne, having assumed that position upon the death of his father, Dom Pedro Henrique Afonso Filipe Maria Gastão Miguel Gabriel Rafael Gonzaga de Orléans e Bragança e Bourbon, in 1981. Born in France, Dom Luís moved to Brazil in 1945, and currently lives in São Paulo. The likelihood of the House of Bragança’s return to Brazil’s throne seems microscopic, particularly given that the current leader, popularly-elected president Luís Inácio “Lula” da Silva, a former metalworker and union leader, is as far from inherited royalty as one can be. The Brazilian people have seemed to cast their stone, and it is not to the House of Bragança’s favor.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Historical Image of the Day

History's greatest Historical Image. Pure triumph for a Friday evening. GO BRONCOS!!!

Lyrad's Random 10

The theme to the classic Sergio Leone western, originally written by the great Ennio Morricone, has never been so adequately covered...'80s style. Material was the one really great project of bassist/producer Bill Laswell. His fusion of jazz, rock, and hip-hop was groundbreaking and, sometimes, very strange. This cover of the great western theme was from the sessions for Material's "Memory Serves" from 1981. Probably their best lineup, it included Laswell on bass with co-founder Michael Beinhorn on keys and electronics; Sonny Sharrock, Fred Frith, and Henry Kaiser on guitars; Billy Bang on violin, Henry Threadgill on sax, Daniel Ponce on percussion, and Anton Fier on drums. That's some kind of lineup, and the album itself is fantastic and I wish the song here had actually been included on the album, although I can see how it doesn't really fit on an album. The song is played pretty straight in the melodies, played on the guitars, but it's full of every break beat from '81 you could imagine and sounds plain weird. It's a great novelty next to the original and a fun cover from a legendary band, but I'll stick with Morricone's original.

1. Material--For a Few Dollars More
2. Clifford Hayes' Louisville Stompers--Frog Hop
3. Memphis Minnie--Fish Man Blues
4. Elmer Barton--Bummer's Reel
5. Frank Sinatra--You're Sensational
6. Jane's Addiction--Been Caught Stealing
7. Girls under Glass--Desire Lasts Forever
8. The Meat Purveyors--The Bottle Let Me Down
9. Tool--Undertow
10. North Carolina Ramblers--Pearl Bryant

Mr. Trend's Random 10

There's little more to say about Beethoven, so I'll comment on something different this week. When I got my iPod in 2006, I did so not out of any love of modern technology, but because it was going to be easier to take my 1000+ CDs to Brazil on an iPod than to take all the CDs (or to decide which albums were worthy of going). When I got the thing (or rather, the day after I got it), reports started coming out questioning their durability. I commented to my wife (then girlfriend), "well, I don't care if it doesn't last 20 years - I just need it to last while I'm in Brazil.

I got back from Brazil last Thursday. On Friday, it started freaking out (as did my laptop - must be some technological dengue or something). It's functioning normally now, but only after I had to wipe the whole thing clean. While re-ripping everything and putting it back on the iPod is already tedious, I can't complain - it lasted as it was exactly until I got back from Brazil. Hooray technology.

1. "Corta Jaca" - Abel Ferreira
2. "Last Ap Roach" - Squarepusher
3. "Mutiny, I Promise You" - The New Pornographers
4. "Talkn' Trash" - Betty Davis
5. "Now Now" - St. Vincent
6. "Riot" - Miles Davis
7. "Sonata #8 In C Minor, Op. 13, "Pathetique" - 1. Grave, Allegro Di Molto E Con Brio" - Ludwig van Beethoven
8. "Belo Horizonte" - Noel Rosa
9. "Oriente" - Gilberto Gil
10. "Foundation #2" - William Parker

Stupid, Despicable Tourists

When I first traveled to Brazil, I spent a month living in a hostel in Rio, and this past December, we also had a Finnish friend of my wife stay with us for several days in Rio, so I'm not just makign this up when I say the following: European tourists are not nearly as "enlightened" and innocent as they think they are. From my own experience, they still have a very strong colonialist mentality in which the world is their playground for them to romp on the beaches and stare at the poor people some in order to be more "enlightened" before going to hang out with other tourists at the tourism-based nightclubs, living it up and complaining about the lack of amenities in whatever locality you are in. They are there to gain status in their home countries, buy some stuff as proof they were there, and that's it. (And lest I be charged with being unfair, this isn't random opinionating - I lived in a hostel for over a month the first time I was in Rio, and you constantly had to deal with tourists, generally European, there).

Every time I think maybe I'm too critical, stuff like this happens:

The angry mayor of Easter Island says he wishes the Finnish tourist accused of chipping an earlobe off an ancient statue could have his own ear clipped off as "justice." The 26-year-old Finnish tourist [Marko Kulju] has issued a public apology through a Chilean newspaper. He says he regrets the incident that has caused an uproar on the South Pacific island, a Chilean territory.

What the hell is this idiot thinking? No, wait, I know: "Hey, how cool would it be if I cut a piece of this historical statue off and took it home to show my friends? History shmistory; culture can go to hell. It's the ultimate tourist gift!!!" Honestly - tourism by its very nature is exploitative, but this is just sickening. Cutting off the guy's ear isn't enough - Chile should strip him of his passport and send him home. Words don't describe what a loser this guy is. Honestly...

Erik's Random 10

It's not as if we haven't talked about Bill Frisell on this blog before. What's interesting about "The Gallows" and the Quartet album the song comes off of is the way this particular band handles rhythm. It is made up of Frisell on guitar, Ron Miles on trumpet, Curtis Fowlkes on trombone, and Evyind Kang on violin. No traditional rhythm instruments. But each musician adapted to create very strong rhythms off their instruments. There's just not a lot of music out there with a trombone soloing over a violin rhythm. And this kind of creativity gets to the genius of Frisell.

1. Bill Frisell, The Gallows
2. Townes Van Zandt, Brand New Companion
3. Merle Haggard, Everybody's Had the Blues
4. George Jones, Still Doin' Time
5. Jelly Roll Morton & His Red Hot Peppers, Grandpa's Spells
6. The Gourds, Blood of the Ram
7. Sonny Sharrock & Nicky Skopelitis, The Pyre
8. Matthew Shipp, Patmos
9. Bonnie Prince Billy, I Send My Love To You
10. John Lee Hooker, I Can't Quit You Baby

When Science Fiction Met Socialism

The Times has a bizarre article up today about the Cybersyn project Salvador Allende used during his presidency (1970-1973). Apparently, Cybersyn was a computer in which data was fed in and analyzed in order to try to manage the economy without relying on the Soviet model of planned economy. While successful in confusing the dictatorship of Pinochet that overthrew Allende and giving a generation of computer-geeks who wanted to use their knowledge for socialism a chance, I'm not quite clear from the article what the successes of Cybersyn were beyond that. It is an interesting idea, and may have had some influence on future computer-like ideas, but it doesn't seem to have done much for Allende. The article does mention that

Cybersyn gained stature within the Allende government for helping to outmaneuver striking workers in October 1972. That helped planners realize — as the pioneers of the modern-day Internet did — that the communications network was more important than computing power, which Chile did not have much of, anyway.

I'm not really sure what the success is here, though. I don't know which "striking workers" they are talking about (there were a number of strikes from leftist laborers who thought Allende was not proceeding down the "socialist path" fast enough, and entered strikes to try to egg him on), but I have my doubts that the computer really had that major a role in "outmaneuvering striking workers" (and indeed, I'm not even fully convinced that the government "outmaneuvered" the workers, though again, given how vague "striking workers" is, I have no way of really knowing the details here). And without any further specifics, I'm not quite sure how the planners realized "that the communications network was more important than computing power," nor how such a realization led to change in the lives of anybody but a few computer technicians who went into exile.

Still, I think the article is worth a read, if for no other reason that it shines light on one of the unknown, bizarre-yet-now-mundane aspects of the types of tools governments will try to use to better the lives of their citizens and make governing easier.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Historical Image of the Day

It's a coffee Thursday and an image two-fer.
Juan Valdez: old and new

Do I Want Her Kidney?

Starbucks has angels after all. A woman confides in her local corporate barista that she needs a kidney transplant and the barista elects to have herself tested. Lo and behold, it's a miracle. She's a match and the transplant was a success. Good for them.

The sad irony, of course, is that after years of drinking pot after pot of Starbucks' coffee, the new kidney will fail soon. With the barista's newfound lack of one kidney and a manic caffeine addiction, she'll find herself in need of a transplant soon. My advice is to ask people away from the coffee shop, as well as the bar.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Historical Image of the Day

The single greatest pet-training book ever written by a jazz legend.

Most Direct Song Title Ever

My nomination: Marvin Gaye, "You Sure Love to Ball"


I teach at a school that assigns more than the average amount of reading. That's fine. Each of my 3 courses gets 5 or 6 books that we spend a day discussing in addition to articles and chapters many other days. But once or twice a semester, I have multiple monographs to read the same day that I have not read.

Tomorrow is one of those days. I am enjoying the books very much. One is Ari Kelman's A River and Its City: The Nature of Landscape in New Orleans, for my Hurricane Katrina course. For my labor course, I am reading Kevin Boyle's The UAW and the Heyday of American Liberalism, 1945-1968.

The problem is that I am too shortsighted to make sure I don't do this to myself. I could have brought one or both with me on Spring Break, but of course I didn't look at the syllabus. So now I am forced to finish both tonight. I'm almost done with the Kelman but I've only read the first 2 chapters of the Boyle.

Just in case you all were wondering what my life has been like this semester and why I have continued to not blog. Good times.

Worst. Tattoo. Ever.

In reading up on the regional and city politics in NYC (my home-to-be in about a month), I came upon this, and all I can say is: Ew.

Mr. Stone, who has referred to politics as “performance art,” is a longtime
Republican consultant known for hardball politics and a cloak-and-dagger
sensibility. He started out as a teenager in the campaign of Richard
M. Nixon
, and has a tattoo of the former president’s head on his back.

Bats Are Inexplicably Dying at Rapid Rates, and I'm Terrified

Things like this simply scare the living bejeezus out of me. For reasons that remain totally unclear, bats are dying off in upstate New York in astronomical numbers. Scientists don't even know why - whether it's climate, pesticide, bacteria, fungus, virus, or something else. Species that were already endangered are facing extinction, as are species that were healthy previous to this.

I probably read too much Philip K. Dick (explanation will follow), but it's this kind of thing that really makes me fear for humans. People worry about icecaps melting and things like hurricanes, tornados, colder winters, less water, etc. causing severe harm to humans, and I admit that may be a bit frightening. What terrifies me, though, is the reduction or loss of a species (or multiple species) that throw the living ecosystems so far out of whack that humans have no way or time to recover before catastrophe. I find the fact that the scientists still haven't figured out what the problem is to be very disconcerting, both because species are at risk here, and because the loss of said species could have profound effects we haven't really considered. In some ways, whether the bats are dying because of disease or because of the consequences of human activity (global warming or pesticides) is irrelevant. If this problem doesn't get solved (and it may not - we tend to think we're more capable of things than we sometimes really are), this could be really bad.

(The Philip K. Dick thinking comes in in that a lot of his works deal with time travel and how just one small factor can change everything. While this isn't time travel, thanks to Dick's work, stories like this immediately make me fearful that the seemingly innocuous sickness of bats leads to greater insect numbers, and these insects happen to get some new disease that they transmit to humans, and presto changeo, we're done for. Paranoid? Probably. Dramatic? Certainly. But it's shit like that that terrifiese me about global warming. What delicate balance will be thrown totally out of sync, and what will the results be?).

Monday, March 24, 2008

Historical Image of the Day

Khieu Samphan with Jacques Vergès in Cambodia.

Lots Going on in Latin America

In trying to catch up with what had happened in Latin America in the 5 days I was without internet, I quickly discovered that there was lots going on, and I don't have time to go into each item and comment in detail. Still, these stories from last week are well worth checking out, with a major tip of the hat to the good folks at the Latin Americanist, Boz, and frequent commenter Randy.

-I agree with Boz - while many people ignored and even laughed at Lula's suggestion for a South American Defense Council in February, the Ecuador/Colombia events gave Lula's proposal sudden prescience. The one thing I will add here is that the fact that sucha good idea came from Brazil prior to these events does not surprise me - while he has numerous (and usually irrational) detractors in Brazil, from a purely objective standpoint I find Lula to be one of the most intelligent and downright sensible presidents, particuarly in foreign policy, that I've ever seen or studied, in Brazil and elsewhere. This offers just one more example of that sensibility and leadership.

-In the wake of the imprisonment and probably torture and rape of a 15-year-old girl in Brazil last year, it seems the prisons are at it again, with a 12-year-old girl being kept near male inmates in a prison in Mato Grosso do Sul. As the Latin Americanist points out, this is now the third such incident in fewer than 4 months. There are many areas in which Brazil's prison system is appalling, but this is just a totally new and inexcusable level of abuse.

-Japan wants Peru to give former Peruvian president (and Japanese citizen) Alberto Fujimori a fair trial. The way to guarantee this trial is fair is to see Fujimori jailed for human rights abuses during his administration. I don't care if he fought against the rebel Shining Path successfully and brought "economic success" to Peru (though I'm always leery of those who have nostalgia for the way things were in the 90s in Latin America - the 90s generally tended to be unfair beneficiaries of appalling neo-liberal policies); the fact that he also oversaw military and even paramilitary forces that killed innocent civilians as well as members of the Shining Path should result in jail time and disgrace.

-Rodolfo Eduardo Almiron Sena, a high-ranking member of the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance (AAA), a paramilitary right-wing group that participated in the murder of leftists and "subversives" prior to and during Argentina's Dirty War, was extradited from Spain to Argentina to face trial. Sena fled prior to the Dirty War, but the AAA had already participated in hundreds of random killings prior to 1976, so here's hoping he meets the same fate as various members of the military, the Church, and others who also aided in human rights violations in Argentina.

-And finally, in my absence, Randy was on a roll, with great analysis and comments on cocaine production arriving to Brazil's Amazon (on which I may have further thoughts later), why we should ignore the crocodile tears of Baby Doc Duvalier, in exile in France, and the polyglot nature of Suriname, which is indeed one of the "forgotten 3" of Latin America (along with French Guyana and Guyana - a friend and I always joked that he would be the first "French Guayanist" scholar, and I the first "Surinamist," in Latin American History.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Historical Image of the Day

The Euphonum. Here's to Sator Arepo of Detritus Review, the only Euphonium player I know.

Lyrad's Random 10

Fantomas is one of two supergroups that former Faith No More frontman Mike Patton participates in. Consisting of Patton on vocals, Buzz Osbourne (Melvins) on guitar, Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle) on bass and the great Dave Lombardo (Slayer) on drums. Over the past ten years, this band has put together four widely varied albums, often evoking John Zorn's Naked City projects, but from more of a metal standpoint than Zorn's jazz platform. The album represented here is The Director's Cut, which contains themes from films from The Godfather and Rosemary's Baby to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and this track, the '70s BBC thriller Vendetta. It's a great song that's mostly instrumental, though Patton uses his voice for rhythm and random noises. This is certainly their most conventional album with some honestly pretty songs on it (the themes to Charade and Experiment in Terror, most namely).

1. Fantomas--Vendetta
2. Big Bill Broonzy--Rukus Juice Blues
3. Dillinger Escape Plan--When Acting as a Wave
4. Oscar Benito--El Cumbanchero
5. Piero Piccioni--One More Time (from the soundtrack to Quel caldo maledetto giorno di fuoco)
6. Claude Debussy--Syrinx for Flute (Johannes Walter, Fl)
7. Steve Earle--I Can Wait
8. Masami Nakagawa--Arirang
9. Led Zeppelin--The Rain Song
10. Bill Frisell--Perritos

Friday, March 21, 2008

More Evil Deeds from Banana Companies in Latin America

Following last year's lawsuit in Colombia, in which over 400 people sued Chiquita for supporting paramilitary troops, the families of 5 men in Panama have also sued Chiquita. They maintain that Chiquita paid the FARC to "protect its workers" (if you'll recall, Chiquita also admitted to paying AUC, the largest paramilitary group in Colombia, to "protect its workers"). The families maintain the FARC raided Panama, kidnapping 5 men and killing them. The lawsuit maintains that Chiquita should be held partially responsible, as they paid the FARC (which the United States government has categorized as a terrorist group) and the FARC was responsible for these deeds.

Given the recent ruling in favor of Dole, I find it unlikely Chiquita will be held responsible or have to pay anything. Chiquita already has been ordered to pay a $25 million (with an m) fine for supporting the AUC, but the lawsuit of the 400 families hasn't been settled yet. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if a judge ruled that the evidence tying FARC's murder of these 5 men to the Chiquita payments was not enough or that Chiquita had already paid enough, but I could be wrong. The plaintiff's use of antiterrorism laws to try to prosecute Chiquita in the civil court is definitely an interesting approach that would probably not have existed in a pre-2001 context. Still, I imagine this will get thrown out, and once again, a banana company will not have to suffer the consequences for its unethical support of and payment to groups from both the left and right that commit crimes against the regular populations of multiple countries, all in the name of "protection" of its own interests.


After a decent 12 hour flight that included the strangest reason for a delayed flight I've ever heard (a car caught on fire on the only road to the island where Rio's airport was, trapping the flight's crew in traffic), I'm back in the U.S. Blogging will continue to be relatively light from me for the next few days as I try to get some things in order, but I should resume regularly sometime next week.

Historical Image of the Day

Takasago International Iwata scent and flavor factory expansion in Shizuoka prefecture, Japan. If their products smell as good as this place looks, our 2009 scents will be superb.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Historical Image of the Day

I don't know what "chill tonic" is supposed to be, but thank goodness its tasteless (unlike this ad, of course, which is all class). Whatever it is, this is a counter card ad for it, circa 1880.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Timeout Charged to Erik--He Has An Infitinte Amount Left

Quick note on my blogging absence.

It seems like this happens to me twice a year. I want to be a bigger name blogger but I get burned out from time to time. This despite the significant growth we have seen this year. It was spurred by a conference in Boise and then a week long research/visiting parents trip in Eugene.

But the roots of this also comes from the fact that I am utterly burned out on politics right now. I just don't care. I am so sick of the Obama/Clinton thing that I can't bear seeing either of them. One thing that getting away from the computer does is put the world into perspective. I am interested in so much more than politics--in a lot of ways it is just a small part of the kind of person I am. That doesn't mean I couldn't be writing about other things I guess. But I just don't want to right now. I'd rather watch the behavior of geese and start exploring the history of breweries.

I'll be back. But I'm real glad Lyrad is picking up the historical images.

Now, back to isolation.

Historical Image of the Day

Silent screen star, and one of my favorite actresses of all time, Clara Bow. She's a hell of a lot better than her reputation wound up making her look.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Historical Image of the Day

In Erik's brief absence, I miss the Historical Images, so am posting them myself until his return.

A panopticon-style prison. I'm unsure of if this is real or a conception. Originally designed by Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th Century, the structure is designed to watch prisoners without them knowing they are being watched. Often conceived with one-way glass.

DVD Reviews and the Jesus-Derek Jeter Connection

Every week, either on Tuesday or Wednesday, I receive my list of movies that are available for me to review on Two weeks ago was a strong week, featuring No Country for Old Men and Darjeeling Limited among some others so, of my list of eight releases, I received my fourth choice, a short film series called Crave. A lot of the movies available to me are complete unknowns, so I have to judge things off of sight and recommendation. This case was a black cover with a red fingerprint on it and no real indication of its content. The links on Amazon pointed to horror films, so I assumed it was a series of horror shorts. This would have been fantastic, but how wrong I was.

I got horror of a non-traditional kind, with a DVD of Bible study material featuring three ten minute shorts and discussion questions before and after the film presented by the church founder, Edwin McManus. To be fair, this name is on the cover but I took this as the director's name. If you recognize the name, it would turn you on or scare you off. Anyway, it was dumb and pandering, but at least it was short. I wrote the most fair review I could, negative for sure, but fair. It was no problem, at least two-thirds of my reviews are negative, but nobody ever really cared until now (actually, there were a bunch of people who didn't like my review of Masada, but that's mostly because people are blinded by Peter O'Toole's shoddy, drunken acting).

Part of the site is a feedback function where people wanting to write to me directly comes straight into my email box, seemingly unfiltered. All tolled, I had previously received four email: two from my mom, one from an old friend of mine who found me through the site, and somebody who was compelled to agree with me that Masada sucked (he was totally right). The review of Crave posted last Tuesday, its street date and, since then, have received four pieces of "feedback," or spam more appropriately, in regard to this review. All of a sudden, as soon as I review a piece of religious material (something I masochistically like to do and did a lot of on an old job), people come out of the woodwork to tell me the most bizarre things. They seem to be form letters, but I've deleted them in my rage, so can't reference them to be sure. I guess this came about because of the mild negativity, but it's amazing the things I've been told this week.

Apparently, Jesus is a reader of the website, as my review is sending me to Hell. I'm not surprised at this, a lot of things are sending me there. More troubling is information given to me about Satan's conspiracy to take over the World Bank and his continued attempts to resurface Communism and his fostering of radical Islam to destroy the Christian way of life. All this because I thought some crappy film series pandered to its audience. I guess that kind of libel is now punishable by an eternity of hellfire and brimstone. Either that, or it's my ticket to the head of the World Bank if I formally align myself with Satan. Not a bad deal, really.... My real trouble, though, is the frequency I hear about America's attempts to squelch the voice of Christianity. In every way, it's obviously a ridiculous thing to assert, yet I hear it more often than I can believe. If I wrote a review slamming a series of Atheist short films, a bunch of Christ-hating jerks wouldn't be writing me telling me how stupid I am, but the Christ-loving jerks do at will. Anti-Christian conspiracy my ass. Jesus is like the Derek Jeter of religious figures: defended to the point of suspicious doubt, and a lot more aggravation than he's worth.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Cold Turkey

As I've mentioned recently, after 18 months in Rio, I'm returning to the U.S. on Thursday, after what will no doubt be a delightful 12 hour flight (seriously, I don't know how people can fly to Asia, even with drugs). As part of the process of moving back to the U.S., I'm having my internet cut off tomorrow morning, so I will be internet-free (for better or worse) for four days. Posting will thus obviously be non-existent from me until at least Friday, Monday at the latest.

For those who stop by for the Brazil blogging, I will continue to do all I can upon my return to the U.S. Fortunately, I get most of my news from the internet, and so while obvious cultural and daily observations will be diminished (as I'm no longer daily in Brazil), I will still be writing frequently on Brazil and Latin America. Also, "Get to Know A Brazilian" will be returning soon, greatly facilitated by the fact that I'll actually have a lot more books at my disposal in the U.S. So stay tuned.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Mister Trend's Random 10

You don't need much imagination to figure out what "Banana in Your Fruit Basket," an old blues song, is about, but if you haven't figured it out yet, it's from the excellent album Raunchy Business - Hot Nuts & Lollypops . The album does a great job of chronicling one of the most forgotten-about and lost aspects of the blues - sheer playful vulgarity. Few of the artists on this album are well known today (Lonnie Johnson is the most "famous"), but their performances are all top-notch. Some of the songs use metaphors, like this week's seventh song or Lil Johnson's "Get'Em from the Peanut Man," while others, such as "Shave'Em Dry" by Lucille Bogan, "Wipe It Off" by Lonnie Johnson, or "If It Don't Fit (Don't Force It)" by Barrel House Annie, are....less than subtle. However vulgar the titles seem, though, the songs are always incredibly clever with wordplay, and have a playfulness about them that, while not the norm, wasn't uncommon to blues in the 1920s and 1930s.

1. "Birds of Paradise" - The Pretenders
2. "PDA" - Interpol
3. Requiem, KV 626 - "Sanctus" - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
4. "Dollars and Cents" - Radiohead
5. "Thrills" - LCD Soundsystem
6. "Kissing the Lipless" - The Shins
7. "Banana In Your Fruit Basket" - Bo Carter
8. "Butter" - A Tribe Called Quest
9. "Swordsmen" - Genius/GZA
10. "My Melody" - Eric B & Rakim

Friday, March 14, 2008

Lyrad's Random 10

While Deep Throat is a pretty important movie in the history of cinema, the soundtrack to the movie is not as much. It is so unimportant that the artists performing on the album are completely unknown as far as I can find. The record was originally given out as a promotion for select theaters, and then was forgotten about for years and years. This song sounds more like a police chase cue than "pussy cola," though I can't say I'm sure how that's supposed to sound.

1. Artist Unknown--Pussy Cola (from the soundtrack to Deep Throat)
2. David Lynch--Go Get Some (from the soundtrack to Mulholland Drive)
3. Rasputina--State Fair
4. Ludwig van Beethoven--Sonata No.7 in D for Piano, Op.10, No.3; 3.Minuetto (Allegro) & Trio (Edwin Fischer, Pn.)
5. New York Dolls--Trash
6. Khevrisa--Ahavo Babbo Shteyger (Yiddish Traditional)
7. Al Hopkins & the Bucklebusters--Mississippi Sawyer
8. Marty Robbins--The Little Green Valley
9. Lemmy--Cut Across Shorty
10. Bill Frisell--Shenandoah

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Finally, Some Hometown Pride

A urology clinic in Springfield, OR has developed possibly history's finest promotion. Since the NCAA Tournament has started, they suggest that men "lower their seed for the tournament." They have to sit around a few days with frozen peas on their junk anyway, so why not pluck the fruit when it's ripe? Go Hometown Urology Team!

Mr. Trend vs. Rio's Power Company

I've been sitting on this story for awhile, but Venha Futuro's recent post on people and companies trying to screw over the average person in Brazil has motivated me to tell it. It's a long story involving how things sometimes work (or don't work) in Brazil's companies and courts, but the absurdities and insanities are worth it.

When I first moved in to my apartment, I was surprised at the light bills I was getting. It's not that they were high - for the first two and a half months, I was paying roughly 2 dollars a month for my electric bill. I figured this was probably because the power had been turned off in the apartment for awhile prior to my moving in (the previous resident had already moved out some time before), and that eventually, things would correct themselves. My belief in this was confirmed when, in February 2007, my January light bill came to 68 reais (roughly 34 dollars at the time), which seemed reasonable to me. All was right in the universe.

So I was extremely shocked when the February light bill total came to 765 reais (or 380+ dollars). The bill claimed that the high amount was due to the fact that my wife and I had used an astonishing 1500 kilowatts for the month of February (and this in a one-bedroom apartment!) The impossibility of this was not limited to the fact that our apartment is only one bedroom; we also had spent 10 out of the 28 days of February traveling, and thus were using virtually no power (save for letting the refrigerator run).

Naturally, we called the Light company, and they said it may be a problem with the meter, so they would have a guy come and check it. Which he did. Two weeks later. Meanwhile, we were left wondering what happened, and if the light bill would be "normal" for March. After two tests, the Light company said there was nothing wrong with the meter, and we must have used the power, so we had better just pay up.

Of course, there was no way in hell we were going to cough up 380 bucks for power there was no way we could have used. My mother-in-law (who owns the apartment) was discussing the issue with a total stranger one day, and he said he actually used to be an electrician, so he would take a look. We all went to the basement of the building to read our meter, and it turned out, Light hadn't even opened the meter to see if it was working properly - the seal that marked whether it had been opened or not was 3 years old, and clearly had never been touched since it was originally put there. The guy said he could fix it for us, and charged my mother-in-law 100 reais up front, which she paid. I, in the meantime, had asked my mother-in-law about the guy's credentials, and she said she was sure she was legit. A few days later, he came by, saying he would fix it, and we paid him another 80 reais for parts he needed.

And then we never saw him again.

It turns out, she had just taken him at his word that he was an independent electrician, and he very well may have been at one time (I know little about those kinds of things, but he seemed to know a fair amount). It turns out, he saw an opportunity and took my mother-in-law and I on the proverbial ride to the total tune of 180 reais.

In the meantime, March's light bill arrived, and it was another 275 reais. While this was a marked improvement, there was once again no way we had used that amount of power, so on the advice of one of my wife's friend's mother (who is a judge), we formally entered a suit against the Light company, simply asking that the two absurd bills be stricken, and we pay the average amount (60-70 reais) for those two months. While the case worked its way through the bureaucracy, Light was ordered not to turn off our power over failure to pay the bills until the case was resolved. We felt pretty good, and thought things were going to work out, and at the end of April, my wife and I were married, honeymooning in Buenos Aires.

The day we returned from Argentina, tired, we arrived to apartment to have the doorman tell us that, in spite of the court order, Light had turned off our power that very day. He claimed he had tried to call my mother-in-law's apartment 3 times, and nobody answered, and her cell phone once, with no answer. This was a remarkable trick, because my mother-in-law and one of my wife's cousins had been in her apartment the whole day, and the phone never rang. What's more, there was no record of the doorman calling the cellphone. So he had not only let Light do what they weren't allowed to do, he also lied about calling my mother-in-law first. So, on the day of returning from my honeymoon, I got to spend the night at my mother-in-law's apartment. "Honeymoon is over" indeed.

Given the fact that Light had received a court order saying they couldn't shut off our power, and then straight up ignored it and turned it off anyways, we took the gloves off, entering into a full-blown lawsuit against the Light company, now demanding not only a removal of the over 1000 reais ($500) of light bills, but financial compensation, which could arrive to 7000 reais in small-claims court

In the meantime, we tried to get our power turned back on. My mother-in-law, my wife, and I went back to the courthouse to get an order demanding Light turn the power back on and not turn it off again. However, a lowly clerk who felt she had far more power than she actually did said that not only would she not sign another form ordering Light to turn our power back on, she rescinded the previous order (even though that was not within her authority), deciding that we just had to pay the Light bill.

Fortunately, the Brazilian bureaucracy is a slow-moving machine, so my mother-in-law took the previous order straight to the Light company, saying they had violated the order and they had better turn the power back on, which they did. However, from the beginning of May to the end of June (when our case was to be heard), my wife and I lived in constant fear that the rescinded order would go through, and we would be powerless once again.

Fortunately, that didn't happen, and the day of our hearing arrived. The lawyers for Light pulled a total-asshole argument by saying that the 1500 kilowatts represented not only February, but the previous months where we had registered light bills of 3 reais. Unfortunately for them, had that been the case, then the bill for January should have been 1500 reais; yet it had only been 60-some. The judge listened to both arguments (with the idiot clerk who had tried to rescind the previous court order by his side, typing away), and, after 2 weeks of deliberation, ruled in our favor, saying the light company not only had to strike from the record the light bills for February and March, but also awarded us 1500 reais. We were thrilled, and we waited for the bills to disappear and the money to arrive.

And we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Light continued stalling. They claimed that, because the Light bill was still in the name of the previous owner, they couldn't give us the money until the name had been changed (something we had begun in October 2006, but that still hadn't made its way through all the bureaucratic channels as of late-2007). Yet they couldn't/wouldn't change the name on the bill themselves, either. My mother-in-law kept making trips to and from the Light company, trying to get the case resolved, get the name on the bill switched from the old owner's name to hers, and we kept waiting.

Finally, in January of 2008 (only 11 months after the first bill of doom happened), we got not only our money from Light, but a refund for 66 more reais, and the 760 reais were stricken from the record. We were puzzled as to why the refund of 66 reais, and equally puzzled as to why the 250 real bill continued to show up as unpaid.

It turns out, Light had one final "fuck you" left for us. The judge had ruled that the bills for February and March were to be stricken from the record, but Light used a verbal loophole to declare that that meant the bills we PAID in February in March were to be stricken. Thus, they refunded us the 66 reais we had paid in January, and struck the 760 from the record, but still demanded the 250 reais from March. Of course, this was a vulgar and disgusting attempt to get out of the deal - everybody (including the judge) knew that he was referring to the bills received FOR the months of February and March, and not the bills received IN the months of February and March.

We once again returned to the courthouse to fix the issue to pay back light the 66 we had originally paid for January, and to get the 250 reais bill removed once and for all. Yet we were informed what?

That we would have to enter another lawsuit to fix it.

And that's where it stands as of today, March 13, 2008, a year to the date that I received the original 760 reais electric bill of doom. Things will remain stalemated - Light (theoretically, and I don't think they'll do this again) can't turn off our power no matter what, and we aren't going to pay the bill. So next Wednesday night, after 18 months in Brazil, I will be flying back to the United States, leaving an unpaid 255 reais light bill and all these legal issues behind.

I hope.

Remittances to Latin America see Slowdown

The Latin Americanist points towards an interesting article that shows "the rate of remittances sent to Latin America has grown at a slower pace than in previous years."

A significant part of this slowdown, according to the article, is remittances to Brazil. These have slowed down for a number of reasons, including Brazil's strong economy (various aspects of which I have previously discussed), the drop of the dollar, the collapse in the housing market (and the effect that has on construction workers, some of whom are from Brazil), and the simple fact that many Brazilians are returning to Brazil because of the economy and because of anti-immigrant sentiment. I'm not sure any one of these factors is dominant - the Times did a good article late last year about Brazilians returning to Brazil after years in the U.S. And the value of the real to the dollar has radically changed (unfortunately for me), dropping from 2.25 reais to the dollar to 1.65 (and one day a couple weeks ago dropping down to 1.61) in the last 18 months alone.

I'm not an economist, and economy isn't my strong suit, so I don't know if 2007 will mark an unusual aberration, or is the start of a new trend that sees growth slow down or even stop. Simply guessing blindly, I'd suspect it's the latter, given the fact the U.S. economy is doing so poorly compared to others, among other factors. The slowdown in remittances is far from being radical - a record 66.5 billion dollars were still shipped from the U.S. to Latin America last year, but, as the Latin Americanist summarizes, the 7% growth rate is the first time it's dipped below double-digit growth recently. It will be interesting to see how this situation plays out, and what its effects will be both on the U.S. and on Latin American economies.

Brazil's Youngest Lawyer?

For a little bit of lighter news from Brazil, an 8-year-old who passed the entrance exam for law school at the private Universidade Paulista has apparently been blocked from entrance. As the blurb says, the school wants him to finish elementary and high school first, while his dad plans to go to court, and lawmakers try to get the Ministry of Education to put in place measures to prevent future cases. I really don't have any ill-will towards anybody in this case - I wish the 8 year old best of luck in his life, but I don't exactly think the university is making any unreasonable demands. I have heard that entrance exams are not based on any major ability to independently think or reason, but are exams you are "taught to" - i.e., you are told, "this is how they are," and you try to memorize a particular approach to passing them, so the kid may be unprepared for actual independent learning and thinking, and he may be ready. Although it's probably a serious matter for the family, I simply find it amusing.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Slum Tourism

I've railed before against slum tourism, but I guess it's time to do it again.

The best part about this article about slum tourism around the world is the question the Times asks its readers, "Is taking a tour of a slum or other poverty-stricken area voyeurism or tourism? Um, both. Isn't tourism inherently voyeurism, at least when in the developing world? That's not a general slam on tourism, just a seemingly obvious statement.

But very little good comes out of this slum tourism. At the very best, local people will sell tourists a few trinkets. OK, whatever. But most people going on these tours are going to observe poverty on a superficial level. They might go back and tell their friends about it but they aren't really going to do anything. The article argues that poverty isn't going away if we don't talk about it. That's true but exploiting that poverty for profit isn't going to make it go away either. It's really pretty disgusting.

The article ends with this:

Mr. Fennell, the professor of tourism in Ontario, wonders whether the relatively minuscule tourist revenue can make a difference. “If you’re so concerned about helping these people, then write a check,” he said.

Yep. Your first-world banking account has much more potential to help people than buying a trinket from a hawker. If you want to fight poverty, awesome. But this exploitative slum tours are a new low in the dark history of tourism.

Smog Standards

The Bush Administration continues its war against the environment. Despite unanimous advice from scientists to create tough new smog standards, the Environmental Protection Agency decided to enact only moderate changes that essentially do nothing. To make it worse, EPA head Stephen Johnson wants Congress to change the law so that the EPA can take into account the costs of smog control. While this is the kind of thing that sounds good, what it means is that any environmental law would be thrown out the window in the face of an administration who doesn't want it. This is despite the fact that almost every study shows that increased environmental stringency ends up saving money in the long run, sometimes through a healthier population, but often through forcing companies to be more efficient, thus increasing profits.

I've heard and read in several places that the rank and file employees at the EPA have been extremely depressed since Bush took over. This is the kind of decision that must feel like a knife in the heart for these good people.

Historical Image of the Day

Ad for Viceroy cigarettes. I don't have a date. I assume somewhere between the late 1940s and very early 1960s.

Militias in Rio's Favelas

BBC News ran a very good report about militias in the favelas this week. I've commented before on how corrupt police are often extorting civilians and using violence against them when the favelados speak out, sometimes in an extremely gruesome fashion, and any arrests against police corruption strike me more as an effort to look like the police are trying to clean up, rather than any real effort at reform. In this light, the BBC article is one of the best I've seen yet in really getting into the details of how militias (which, as the article alludes to, are generally corrupt officers and ex-cops trying to make extra money in the favelas) operate, and the consequences of their presence.

There are several comments I'd like to make on this. First, the people interviewed in the article (and the article itself) make it seem as though it's a question of drug lords vs. militias, but it's not so simple. Often times, these militias end up becoming involved in the drug trade too, unable to deny the lure of the money they can make. They have even gotten in turf wars with drug dealers in other favelas in the past. Likewise, drug gangs also offer health services, internet, and "protection" to the favelados, sometimes (though not always) as extortion. So presuming that it's an "either/or" proposition distorts a much more complex dynamic involving "protection" and the drug trade.

Secondly, you see rhetoric throughout the article, both from those for and against the militias, that the state can't exercise its control in the favelas, and this fact either justifies or explains the presence of the militias, depending on which side of the argument one falls. However, I really don't see how this is the case, and nobody offers a good explanation of why the state can't. Rather, I think the state simply doesn't. Although there have been some changes in administration under Sérgio Cabral, governors in Rio (and it is more their jurisdiction than the federal government's) have tended to offer no social services for the favelas (the only exception to this being Leonel Brizola, who worked heavily on infrastructure such as roads, electricity, plumbing, and schools in the favelas in his two terms as governor from 1983-1987 and 1991-1994). At best, governors pop up in the favelas when it is election season to act like they "care," but afterwards, it's usually a mixture of ignoring the social needs of the favelados and sending in the police to tackle the drug gangs. Neither of these approaches really shows any strong effort of the state to effect change, nor do they explain why the state "can't." As Brizola's administration and recent concerted efforts to follow up police action with social programs in São Paulo demonstrate, it's not that the state can't; it's that the state chooses not to.

Thirdly, given that the militias are already basically extorting favelados, suffice to say that I find politician Jair Bolsonaro's proposal in that the state should suport them...less than satisfactory. For all of the absurdities within the argument (ignoring the extortion, believing militias automatically reduce violence in all situations, the fact that militias don't really bring any significant social changes to the favelas), perhaps the most ridiculous is the argument that the state should support the militias because of the rhetoric above that it can't patrol the favelas itself. If the state has the money to support the militias, why not just fund your own state employees to establish control in the favelas?

Finally, I think the treatment of BOPE is problematic. The article cites residents who live in the Tavares Bastos favela, which is right next to the BOPE elite police headquarters, as speaking highly of what BOPE has done for them. While the proximity of BOPE no doubt has an effect, both the residents of Tavares Bastos and the article more broadly make its eem as though BOPE is a great force of change, not subject to the problems of the regular police, an image further propagated in the recent film Tropa de Elite, and as both Venha Futuro and I have commented, that is far from the case.

Overall, though, the article is one of the first and best I've seen at dealing with the militias in the favelas, an overall underdiscussed subject. I suspect the militias don't come up as much for many reasons (they don't fit neatly within the "drug lords-vs.-noble cops" narrative; they undermine the notion that the problems in the favelas are due only to poverty, race, or the drug gangs; nobody in Brazil knows how to or is willing to deal with the widespread social problems that result in cops going crooked; etc). It's really good to see BBC dealing with it, particularly using the terms they use ("take over;" "kind of dictatorship"), and it's really worth reading.

$2.5 Million Case against Dole Fruit Thrown Out

Yesterday, a Superior Court Judge threw out a decision against Dole fruit company that gave 2.5 million dollars to former Dole employees in Nicaragua. The employees had originally sued Dole for using the pesticide DBCP in the 1970s, leaving the workers sterile and with other health problems. The effects of DBCP were already known in the 1970s, yet Dole continued using it on its bananas without warning its workers. In her decision, Judge Chaney ruled 'that punitive damages cannot be used to punish "a domestic corporation for injuries that occurred only in a foreign country.'"

This is obviously a setback on several fronts. Environmentally, is possibly sets precedent for companies not to have to pay such damages in cases involving pesticides that are bad for both the environment and for workers. Financially, it does nothing to stop companies like Dole from worrying about the consequences of their actions. And, at the most basic level, the ruling is absurd in terms of labor and business. Dole (and all the other fruit companies, past and present) is in no way, and never was, a "domestic" corporation. Are they based in the U.S.? Yes. Do they make all their tax claims and ownership claims in the U.S.? Sure.

But it's not because Dole is some strong domestic company. The amount of land Dole (and other fruit companies) own in Latin America, from Honduras to Colombia, is absurd. They frequently buy up all land they can, pushing the poor off or forcing the poor to become what are virtually peon laborers, just to continue producing bananas. They do this because the pesticides and chemicals they use to grow and preserve bananas are so destructive that, after about 20 years, the lands that currently grow bananas become sterile. Instead of being environmentally responsible by spending a little more to use less damaging products, or instead of waiting for the land to regain its fertility, they just pick up and relocate everything to one of their massive landholdings that they have held fallow, waiting for just such a moment, at which point the production begins anew, with the currently-used land certain to be sterile in another 20 years or so.

And they do this all while having a ridiculous amount of say in the politics and economy of these Central American countries. Sure, it's not quite like it was when Minor Keith of United Fruit Company owned Costa Rica's "national" railroad, ports, and transportation lines, but it's not like Dole has no stakes in the Caribbean. It is absolutely dependent on the region for its land, its production, its labor, and its profits, and its connection to politicians, businessmen, and leaders in the region, while diminished in the last couple of decades, is far from lost. Dole is about as "domestic" as GM with its plants in Mexico and throughout the world.

Chaney's decision is extremely disappointing and even ridiculous. Dole is domestic only in the strictest, most narrow-minded sense of the word ("it's based in the U.S., so it's domestic!"), yet her decision has once again screwed over workers whose lives were already irreparably damaged by Dole's policies in the 1970s. A decision like this does nothing to discourage Dole or other companies in the future. It is extremely infuriating, and it is probably a major setback.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Race still matters in the South. A lot.

Exit polls in Mississippi show that whites went for Clinton 72-27. Blacks went for Obama 91-9.

In a race with 2 pioneering candidates, this is maybe not so surprising. White women are pro-Clinton as a whole. OK. For African-Americans, it is clear that race matters more than gender. As for whites of both genders, well in 3 states, Clinton has received more than 70% of the white vote--Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas. At least some of this is flat out racism. There are lots of whites across the country that are simply not going to vote for a black person. One county in southwestern Virginia, the heart of Appalachia, went for Clinton 91-9 in a state that Obama won. Why? Race.

West Virginia will be a very interesting state to look at race in this election. Obama kept it close in Ohio, in no small part because there is a good sized African American population there. That doesn't exist in West Virginia. Can Obama connect with white working-class voters in a non-Deep South state? We'll soon find out.

A Message to Hillary Clinton: Fire Ferraro

Geraldine Ferraro should be fired from her job as a leading member of the Clinton campaign. The former vice-presidential candidate has embarrassed herself almost as much in 2008 as she did in 1984. She is playing the race card in a way that is completely unacceptable within the Democratic Party.

Her quotes:

Obama’s campaign [is] a kind of campaign that it would be hard for anyone to run against…. For one thing, you have the press, which has been uniquely hard on her. It’s been a very sexist media. Some just don’t like her. The others have gotten caught up in the Obama campaign. If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position…. And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.
Her response to the criticism she faced for that:

Any time anybody does anything that in any way pulls this campaign down and says let's address reality and the problems we're facing in this world, you're accused of being racist, so you have to shut up. Racism works in two different directions. I really think they're attacking me because I'm white. How's that?

Eric Rauchway usefully compares this to what Rush Limbaugh said about Donovan McNabb during his brief stint as an NFL analyst on ESPN in 2003.

I think what we’ve had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well…. There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn’t deserve.

Limbaugh got fired. What Ferraro said is no better. Maybe even worse because Ferraro is using race to destroy a member of her own party. Disgusting.

ADDENDUM: Kos discovers that Ferraro used almost the exact same racist language against Jesse Jackson in 1988. So she's just a flat out racist. Her reputation will never recover. A total disgrace. Clinton must rid herself of Ferraro NOW.

Evangelical Environmentalists

Kate Sheppard has an interesting article about the rise of evangelical environmentalism, a movement that has percolated for several years but over the past 12 months has gained a lot of publicity. Both Sheppard and Dr. Slammy, who she links to, rightfully note that there are significant cultural divides between traditional environmentalists and the new evangelical earth-lovers. For instance, environmentalists likely won't appreciate evangelicals trying to convert them while relatively few Christians will tolerate the marijuana legalization activists that are often attracted to environmentalism as well.

How to overcome this divide? I have mixed feelings about these issues. First, I think that a lot of this work has to be done by the traditional environmentalists. One problem the environmental community has had for many years is talking down to other people. The holier than thou attitude badly hurt them in the spotted owl crisis that dominated the Pacific Northwest in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Environmentalists cared only about saving owls and trees and showed no interest in building coalitions with other parties, compromise, or even talking to loggers with the slightest show of empathy. Mostly, their attitude was to tell loggers to go find jobs at Wal-Mart. That went over about as well as you might expect.

How will the environmental community deal with new environmentalists who hold strong conservative values? To some extent I wonder how much it matters. Alliances of convenience are powerful and I suspect we will see a lot of that, leading to the passage of important legislation in the next presidential term. The sheer numbers of evangelicals could also simply overwhelm traditional environmentalists, leading to the dominant themes of the movement being couched in Christian terms. I don't necessarily have a problem with that as it would probably lead to a lot of good, as much as I find a lot of conservative values personally repulsive. Obviously, some kind of dialogue needs to take place, but I don't think establishing a baseline of understanding and a series of priorities should be that difficult.

Dr. Slammy provides an interesting analysis of language between the two wings of environmentalism. He's right--they often talk past each other. But again, I'm not convinced that this is a crisis. If both sides just agree to work with each other on issues that matter to both, they don't necessarily need to share a common language or common values, other than the need to protect the environment.

Looking at history can help us put this problem into perspective. The high point for environmentalism was the 1960s and 1970s, when a broad-based coalition, including both Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, responded to the pollution crisis by passing a broad swath of legislation, signed by both Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. It was only with the explicit anti-environmentalism of Reagan and the environmental movement's turn to lawsuits that the coalition fractured and environmentalism became a partisan issue. The recent move back toward coalition building bodes well for the future of environmentalism, regardless of whether the different interests have anything else in common.

Historical Image of the Day

Idealized 19th century middle-class family. For further commentary, click here.

Monday, March 10, 2008


Eliot Spitzer clearly had his eyes on the presidency.

He's finished, at least as far as the big job goes. His first year in office had been pretty rough but nothing had happened to dampen his possible presidential candidacy in 2012 and 2016. But being involved in a high-end prostitution ring? That's pretty bad. Particularly when he has showed such moral indignation over prostitution in the past. I don't know that he can't survive this in New York. But one of the Democrats' brightest stars is no more.

Addendum: You know who is probably really happy about this? Andrew Cuomo. He immediately becomes the big star in the NY Democratic Party (well, outside of Hillary I guess). If being a major NY politician automatically makes you a presidential possibility, this just popped Cuomo up a notch.

Addendum #2: A lot of bloggers are complaining that the media is all over Spitzer in a way they never were for Louisiana Senator David Vitter, a Republican who got busted in a prostitution ring last summer. True, but it's not about Spitzer being a Democrat as these blogs are hinting. It's about being the governor of New York as opposed to a fairly obscure senator from a small Southern state with a century-old reputation for corruption.

Historical Image of the Day

Slave branding

Attitudes towards Torture and Homosexuality in Brazil

There is a disturbing, if not altogether surprising, poll this week that shows just how far Brazil has to go in overcoming its prejudices towards alleged criminals, homosexuals, and racism. An IBOPE poll asked a number of questions based on social issues. Among other things, it reports that 26% of the people it interviewed said that they would torture suspects if they were a police officer. I find this rather remarkable, too, given that just 25-30 years ago, significant portions of society (including white-collar and the middle-class sectors) were speaking out against torture during the military dictatorship. The fact that people seem to have forgotten the torture during the dictatorship isn't so surprising to me, particularly given that torture has been used against the poor and criminals for over a century (even if not always called "torture"), but the fact that you still have 26% who say, "sure, I'd torture a suspect" is disturbing, to say the least.

The depressing figures also extend to attitudes towards homosexuals. I commented earlier on the possibility of civil unions becoming legal in Brazil, but pointed out that there probably would be significant social hurdles in overcoming prejudice. The poll seems to support the latter point, as 33% say they would abandon a friend if he or she admitted his/her own homosexuality.

Unfortunately, I was unable to get any more information (including what the reports on racism were), thanks to Globo "offering" me to read the rest of the report by paying only 36 reais for their online service, but the day I knowingly and voluntarily give O GLobo money will be the day I day, so I can't report on the rest. Still, while it does mean 74% said they wouldn't torture, and 67% would remain friends with somebody even if that friend announced her/his homosexuality, the figures 26% and 33% are still significant.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Would it KILL the NY Times to Get a Brazil Correspondent Who Is Professionally Ethical?

I often complained about the job Larry Rohter used to do as the Brazil correpondent for the NY Times, often blatantly showing his anti-Lula partisanship and getting the basic facts of a story wrong. I celebrated when Rohter was replaced, even wishing that "Now, maybe we'll finally get somebody competent to report on Brazil for the Times (even if it is not permanent)."

Well, apparently I was wishing for way too much. Alexei Barrionuevo, the new Brazil correspondent for the Times, has apparently plagiarized from other newspaper sources not once, but twice, with both coming to surface in the last two weeks. First, in late February, he wrote this piece on the paco (smokeable cocaine) crisis in Argentina, all the while sampling freely from articles from 2006 in the Christian Science Monitor and the Miami Herald (for a comparison of Barrionuevo's "work" and the previous reports, see this article here.) Barrionuevo said he must have "accidentally" mixed reports when working on his own material.

However, just this week, it was revealed that Barrionuevo apparently had plagiarized previously, copying a report on mad cow restrictions from Bloomberg news. As the Slate article comments, it's hard to believe you "accidentally" mixed your sources when you've done it more than once, with your reports looking strikingly like somebody else's work. This shouldn't even have to be said, particularly for a correspondent at the Times, but nonetheless, it apparently and unfortunately has to be said again: plagiarism is unacceptable (and Shafer offers 8 reasons why plagiarism is unacceptable, and while some of them are a little professionally self-absorbed, they are still worth remembering, even if few people really care anymore).

Now, would it be so damn difficult for the Times to get a Brazil correspondent who both knows what she/he is doing AND is ethical??? I'm not a journalist, so maybe I missed some valuable lessons in journalism classes I never took, but it strikes me that journalists have two basic obligations that should come before everything else when reporting: get the basic facts right, and don't plagiarize. Now, the Times has replaced a man who couldn't get the basic facts right with one who's plagiarizing. Ridiculous.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Lyrad's Random 10

Frank London is an amazing trumpet player but, more importantly, London helped greatly in revitalizing the klezmer scene in New York (such as it is). His arrangements are fantastic combinations of traditional klezmer melodies with jazz improvisation that will sometimes also include metal guitars and latin rhythms. This album is called Di Shikere Kapelye, which appropriately stands for Band of Drunks, is just about the finest concept for a klezmer album. All brass and drums, they recorded the album at the Knitting Factory in one session after a night of drinking. They play their asses off and Di Shikere Kapelye is pure drunken Jewish fun. Countless glasses must have been smashed during its recording.

1. Frank London's Klezmer Brass All-Stars--Ot Azoy, Dovidl
2. Melvins--Oven
3. Handsome Boy Modeling School--The Hours
4. Bonnie Prince Billy--Another Day Full of Bread
5. Townes Van Zandt--You Are Not Needed Now
6. Ludwig van Beethoven--Sonata No.31 in A-Flat for Piano, Op.110; III. 2.Adagio ma non troppo (Stephen Kovacevich, Pn)
7. Merle Haggard--Sing a Sad Song
8. Old 97's--Por Favor
9. Trevor Dunn's Trio-Convulsant--An Attempt at Jealousy
10. Dead Prez--50 in the Clip

Historical Image of the Day

Shaker dance, mid-19th century

Friday, March 07, 2008

Dusty Baker: Still Working for the Cubs?

I think Dusty is still on the Cubs payroll. Or maybe he's just the crappy manager he's always been. In his first spring training with the Reds, he says this (you might have to scroll down):

"A lot of this on-base percentage is taking away the aggressiveness of some young kids," he said, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. "Most of the time you've got to put handcuffs on a young guy to keep him from swinging. [The young players are] playing good, real good. I'd like to see them more aggressive."

"I really, really hate the called third strike. I hate that. You're guessing and you ain't ready to hit."

Dusty would WAY rather see his players strike out swinging than take a walk. That's great. I'm sure that will really turn the fortunes of the Reds right around. Well, that and Homer Bailey's 140 pitch outings that Dusty likes so well. After all, it worked out so well with Kerry Wood and Mark Prior.

Mister Trend's Random 10

Roscoe Mitchell is another one of those jazz greats who should be better known. He excels at improvisation on the sax (and occasionally flute), and, by drawing on modern classical music, his own works have a uniqueness that you don’t find in the improvisations of Ornette Coleman or John Coltrane (not that those two are any worse for it). His work from the late-60s and 70s is wonderful, his material from the 90s and into the 2000s continue to be excellent and exhilarating (the 80s are a little hit or miss), and his debut, Sound, is one of my favorite jazz albums.

1. “Rukrym” – Sigur Rös
2. “Radioactive Eskimo” – Peter LaFarge
3. “Grooveallegiance” – Funkadelic
4. “Machine Gun (Second Take” – Peter Brotzmann
5. “Glory Box” – Portishead
6. “Knowledge God” – Raekwon
7. “Ornette” – Roscoe Mitchell
8. “Saar” – Helena Tulve
9. “My Stove’s In Good Condition” – Lil Johnson
10. “Paris Is Burning” – St. Vincent

Erik's Random 10

I love Fiona Apple's smoky voice and vocal sensibility. Her latest album, Extraordinary Machine, I thought was an excellent rock and roll album. She's actually been around for a pretty long time now--time really flies. If you've read this far, it's clear that I have nothing interesting to say here, except to recommend the album. Also, I particularly like this mix of 10 songs. Unlike most of these, it's actually a good and relatively complete selection of the kind of music I listen to. A little indie rock, the occasional 70s rock or punk album, some good jazz, a good bit of country, and a smattering of world and classical music.

1. Fiona Apple, Window
2. The Clash, Lost in the Supermarket
3. Bill Frisell, Hello Nellie
4. Butch Hancock, Boxcars
5. The Postal Service, The District Sleeps Alone Tonight
6. Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, Mohini (Enchantment)
7. Charles Mingus, Mood Indigo
8. George Jones, He Stopped Loving Her Today
9. Charles Ives, The Unanswered Question, New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein, conductor
10. Glenn Ohrlin, Fair Lady of the Plains

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Edward Abbey Racist Quotes

My long battle against Edward Abbey's influence over the environmental movement continues. See here and here for a couple of examples. Here are a few of Abbey's most choice quotes, taken from Jake Kosek's very interesting book Understories: The Political Life of Forests in Northern New Mexico, published by Duke in 2006. See page 161 for the quotes.

"I certainly do not wish to live in a society dominated by blacks, Mexicans, and Orientals. Look at Africa, Mexico, and Asia."

"Garrett Hardin (writer of Tragedy of the Commons) compares our situation to an over-crowded lifeboat in a sea of drowning bodies. If we take more aboard, the boat will be swamped and we'll go under. [We must] militarize our borders [against illegal immigration]. The lifeboat is listing."

"It might be wise for us, as American citizens, to consider calling a halt to the mass influx of even more millions of hungry, ignorant, unskilled, and culturally-morally-genetically, impoverished people...Why not [support immigration]? Because we prefer democratic government, for one thing; because we still hope for an open, spacious, uncrowded, and beautiful--yes beautiful!--society, for another. The alternative, in the squalor, cruelty and corruption of Latin America, is plain for all to see."

The sooner we purge the influence of Ed Abbey from American environmentalism, the better off the movement will be.

Best TIDOS-Related Image Ever

The state of Florida is proposing "Confederate Heritage" license plates. The more enlightened people of America are horrified, including many in Florida. One of them is the cartoonist for the Florida Times, Jeff Parker. Here is his cartoon. The comments in the original post are pretty fascinating and sum up both the idiots who claim that the Confederacy was not about slavery and the rebuttal to that point quite well.

Via Civil War Memory

Historical Image of the Day

"A Broth is Made from the Intestines," from Theodore de Bry's copper engravings to go along with J. de Léry's Le Voyage au Brézil de Jean de Léry, 1556-1558, published in 1578. This is part of a series of engravings demonstrating the supposedly cannibalistic practices of the Tupi Indians.

The whole series is here.

On This Date in Brazil: Revolução Pernambucana

This year, Rio is celebrating the bicentennial of the Portuguese court's arrival to Brazil upon fleeing from Napoleon. This is a huge to-do in Rio both historically and in terms of commemmoration this year. However, not everybody in Brazil loved the arrival of the Portuguese court, and frequent commentor Venha Futuro has a great post up about the Revolução Pernambucano (Pernambucan Revolution), which began on this date in 1817. It is concise yet excellently summarized, and does a great job of explaining why not everybody (particularly in the Northeast) appreciated the arrival of the court in Rio, and it is well worth checking out.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

See Ya Favre

What will I do now that the overgrown manchild is out of the NFL? Laugh. There's all sorts of shock and surprise about him retiring while fronting an up and coming team, but it makes a lot of sense to me. For the past few years, until last season, Favre's been stinking it up. In spite of him, the Packers have improved their team dramatically and the team, as a whole, did really well in '07. Now with an improved team, the Packers should do pretty well next year, with or without Favre. Except that Favre's been so bad two out of the last three years that he knows, if he's playing, the team is as likely to be 4-12 as 12-4, and his pride is too much to play through a thirty interception season. So, as has become typical of his career, he takes the coward's way out and quits. This reminds me a lot of Plummer's cowardly exit from the league, coincidentally, though I can't be happier than the day Denver traded Plummer so, Favre, you lose again.

A lot of people have been talking about their favorite Brett Favre moment. Mine was seeing the tears stream down his eyes while he watched John Elway lift the Lombardi Trophy high over his victorious head. Sniff...poor Bretty. Is there anything I can do? Do you need another Vicadin? Poor baby....

Primary Fight

Boy, was last night a huge win for Clinton. The race is still on. Some are bemoaning this fact. I don't think it's a bad thing. I have a few general thoughts about all of this:

1. Negative advertising seems to have worked against Obama. I don't necessarily have a huge problem with Hillary going negative. Nothing she says is going to help the Republicans create a campaign against Obama. They are smart enough to come up with extremely negative narratives of their own. It also shows that Obama is vulnerable to this kind of attack. Can he respond effectively? He didn't in Ohio and Texas.

2. Obama is still the presumptive nominee given the delegate counts. One has to wonder what happens if she has the momentum going into the convention but he has a slight delegate lead.

3. The Wyoming and Mississippi contests in the next week are very important. Obama needs to win both to reestablish his momentum going into Pennsylvania. I'm sure he'll win MS in a landslide. He should win WY too. But if he doesn't, this actually hurts him a lot, at least in the overall narrative of the campaign if not the delegate count.

4. It's still pretty simple. If Obama wins PA, this thing is over. If Clinton wins, it's not over. If she wins, then she has to continue winning in states like Oregon, Indiana, and North Carolina, as well as Puerto Rico, which has 55 delegates for some reason. Then, it all comes down to likely do-overs in Michigan and Florida. Am I the only person less than ecstatic that a questionable Florida vote could again decide an election? Can we just give the state to Cuba?

5. The continued battle for the nomination doesn't really hurt the Democrats. Rather, it keeps media attention focused squarely on health care, the economy, and Iraq. This is a really great thing. McCain is in the background, almost forgotten about. Plus, isn't it a great thing that Democrats across the nation are playing a role in choosing the party's nominee? This can only help build infrastructure for state races in the fall. If Rick Noriega beats John Cornyn for the Texas Senate seat, one might look to the huge mobilization of Democrats here as the reason.

6. Can Obama actually win big primaries? This has long been a Clinton talking point. Is it true? I am beginning to wonder. Of course, Clinton came into these races with big leads. But after making Ohio tight and taking a lead in Texas, there was a swing back to Clinton in the last five days. Why? I don't know, but this is becoming an increasingly powerful theme within the Clinton campaign, maybe for good reason.

7. One interesting solution to this fight could be a co-presidency scheme. This was proposed in 1980 with a possible Reagan-Ford ticket that would share power. Ford demanded control over State and Treasury, specifically naming Henry Kissinger and Alan Greenspan to those posts. Reagan rejected this and asked George Bush to be his VP instead. Today, Clinton discussed the idea of a co-presidency but of course claimed that she would have to be on top because voters are choosing her, a dubious assertion. There are two reasons why I don't think this will happen. First, it's really hard to see Hillary sharing power with Obama. Second, if she was the presidential nominee, what exactly would Obama's profile be? This speaks to his lack of experience, but I'm not sure what particular policy areas is his explicitly more qualified to work in. I'd like to say he would have a huge role in foreign policy, but with Hillary, Bill, and Dick Holbrook as an almost certain Secretary of State, I don't see this happening. Of course, he would be the logical VP pick if she wins the nomination outright.

8. Also, how much plastic surgery has Cindy McCain had? Yikes!