Magical Realism, Writing, Fiction, Politics, Haiku, Books

jueves, febrero 26, 2009

Truth And Reconciliation Just Won't Do

The New York Times reports that finally Britain, despite five years of denials, now admits that it was involved in illegal renditions extraditions kidnappings. That's not much of a surprise. Britain is fessing up to two of these. Nobody really thinks that is all there were.

Britain's defense minister made an unusual public apology on Thursday, admitting Britain had taken part in the "rendition" of suspects detained in Iraq after denying it for years.

In a lengthy statement to parliament, Defense Secretary John Hutton confirmed that Britain handed over two suspects captured in Iraq in 2004 to U.S. custody and that they were subsequently transferred to Afghanistan, breaching U.S.-British agreements.

The Ministry of Defense has been repeatedly asked over the past five years about its involvement in rendition, the unlawful transfer of suspects to a third country, and consistently denied it played any role in the U.S.-administered program.

"I regret that it is now clear that inaccurate information on this particular issue has been given to the House by my department on a small number of occasions," Hutton said. "I want to apologize to the House for these errors."

"Inaccurate information" is diplomatic speak for lies. "These errors" is diplomatic speak for five years of continuous lies.

According to the Times, the two men were captured by British troops in Iraq in February 2004 and were flown to Afghanistan, where they remain in U.S. custody. And where, parenthetically, the Obama Administration says that they are not permitted to have access to the US Courts to contest the legality of their detention by filing habeas corpus.

Reprieve says about all of this:
"For years now the British government has been tossing us miserable scraps of information about its involvement in illegal renditions in Pakistan, Diego Garcia and now Afghanistan," said Clara Gutteridge, an investigator with Reprieve, a charity that campaigns for the release of detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

"Enough is enough. The British government must come clean and reveal exactly who it has captured, what has been done to them and where they are now," she said. "I'm afraid this is only the tip of the renditions iceberg."

Enough really is enough. The US too needs to come clean. And having a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, in which those who have committed these illegal acts, tell their stories and eventually receive immunity is just unacceptable. It is not how the US should tell the story of its extensive human rights violations. There need to be a criminal investigations. And there need to be prosecutions. And there needs to be an end of secrecy about crimes.

Anything less, after all of the lying and all of the illegal acts, and all of the contorted, disingenuous legal mumbo jumbo, falls far, far short.

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miércoles, febrero 25, 2009

Howard Zieff, RIP

The New York Times reports:
Howard Zieff, the commercial director and ad photographer who stuffed an actor with spicy meatballs in a memorable Alka-Seltzer spot and used an American Indian in print ads to convince people “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s real Jewish Rye,” then went on to direct movie comedies, died Sunday in Los Angeles. He was 81 and lived in Los Angeles.

This wasn't Zieff's only ad, far from it, but I just loved this one:

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martes, febrero 24, 2009

Instead Of A Losar Celebration, A Prayer For Peace In Tibet

AP reports:
XIAHE, China (AP) — Only a handful of pilgrims gathered here last weekend at the historic Labrang monastery, normally bustling before the Tibetan New Year.

"There was a war in Lhasa this year. Lots of Tibetans were killed," one resident murmured, referring to protests last March against Chinese rule that broke out in the Tibetan capital and spread to other cities in western China, including Xiahe. The unrest was the largest and most sustained in decades.

"There is no new year festival for us," the woman said.

The Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, called this week on Tibetans to skip festivities surrounding the new year, which begins Wednesday, saying they would be inappropriate after the Chinese government's heavy-handed crackdown on the protests. Tibetans across the region say they are still in mourning.

The Dalai Lama also denounced Chinese-backed celebration plans as "provocations."

Adding to the tension — and authorities' tightening grip on large swathes of Gansu, Sichuan and Qinghai provinces with sizable Tibetan communities — is the approaching 50th anniversary of a failed Tibetan uprising on March 10.

And so, I offer the following prayer for Losar:

May all beings refrain from killing and prevent others from killing. May all beings be happy. May all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering. May all beings be free from hatred. May all beings have equanimity, so they have neither too much grasping or too much aversion. May all beings have the spiritual bliss that is untouched by suffering. May all beings be safe. May all beings be well. May all beings live in peace in Gaza and Israel. May all beings live in peace in China and Tibet. May all beings live in peace throughout the world. May all beings realize their enlightenment.

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At Last, The Mets Hire A Winner

Baseball is a game about enthusiasm and believing the team can win. It's a game about attitudes. Often, I've said that what the Mets need most is a new team psychiatrist. So I was delighted to see that, at last, the Mets have hired someone who understands baseball and who will spark this team. Someone who will prevent the now usual end of season implosion. And it's not a new psychiatrist. That person is the incredible Razor Shines.

The New York Times reports:
Razor Shines keeps 10 of his championship rings at his home in Austin, Tex. He wears the 11th, from the 2005 World Series champion Chicago White Sox, around the Mets’ complex. He will receive No. 12 in a few months.

He won that last year, as a manager in Philadelphia’s farm system, but no one here will ever see it. He knows that red clashes with orange and blue... snip . "Instead, I’ll wear the Mets ring in here next year.”

Heading into his first season as the Mets’ third-base coach, Shines followed up that prediction with a hearty laugh that has become the soundtrack to their spring training. Whether he is hitting fungoes, throwing batting practice or positioning the outfielders, Shines is injecting enthusiasm and instilling confidence with a vocal, demonstrative style that complements the more measured approach of Manager Jerry Manuel, his friend of nearly 30 years.

Watching Shines interact is like a seeing a game of verbal pepper. Don’t let me down now, David. That’s what I’m talking about, Carlos. Good Lord have mercy, José. He is continually talking, constantly moving. He jogs from station to station, bumping fists and slapping fives. Security guards get them, too.

That's right. Please, Carlos, David, Jose, Luis, Fernando, please don't let me down.

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Murdoch Apologizes For Cartoon

At long last:
As the Chairman of the New York Post, I am ultimately responsible for what is printed in its pages. The buck stops with me.

Last week, we made a mistake. We ran a cartoon that offended many people. Today I want to personally apologize to any reader who felt offended, and even insulted.

Over the past couple of days, I have spoken to a number of people and I now better understand the hurt this cartoon has caused. At the same time, I have had conversations with Post editors about the situation and I can assure you - without a doubt - that the only intent of that cartoon was to mock a badly written piece of legislation. It was not meant to be racist, but unfortunately, it was interpreted by many as such.

We all hold the readers of the New York Post in high regard and I promise you that we will seek to be more attuned to the sensitivities of our community.

All of which proves that New York's governor threw those of us under an oncoming bus far too quickly. Maybe his will be the next apology. It should be. But I'm not holding my breath.

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lunes, febrero 23, 2009

Congratulations, Grampa

So. Diego Maradona is now a grandfather:
Soccer great Diego Maradona says being a grandfather has given him a ''burst of youthfulness.''

Benjamin Aguero Maradona was born Feb. 19 in Madrid to Giannina Maradona and Sergio Aguero, who plays for Atletico Madrid and for Argentina's national team.

''I thought saying the word 'grandfather' was for old men,'' the 48-year-old Argentina coach said, ''but when I saw Benja, I was overcome with a burst of youthfulness.''

Asked which team his grandson will root for, Maradona said: ''He'll choose.''
That's something. Especially because for the past 32 years, the entire world of football can be divided into two parts, depending on one's view of one emblematic event, Maradona's June 22, 1986 goal in Mexico City against England:

Let the shouting begin.

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domingo, febrero 22, 2009

Is This Sexist Enough For You

The Times is confused. Big time. It doesn't know how to handle (I'm giving the benefit of the doubt here) Jane Fonda's Broadway return and so its article contains the following as introductory paragraphs 1, 2 and 3:
JANE FONDA, it’s hard to believe, is 71. While the rest of us have just about managed one life, she’s had half a dozen. She has been a sex kitten, a fashion model, a radical and war protester, an Oscar-winning movie star, an exercise impresario and the consort of a billionaire. Her marital history alone has made her a kind of cultural bellwether. Her first husband, the French director Roger Vadim, introduced her to threesomes; she first made love with her second husband, Tom Hayden, after he showed her some slides of Vietnamese peasants (this was back when people took foreplay seriously); and her third husband, Ted Turner, told her on their first date, “I have friends who are Communists.”

These days Ms. Fonda is revisiting an earlier incarnation, Broadway actress, and next month she will star in “33 Variations,” written and directed by Moisés Kaufman, almost 50 years (46 if you want to be fussy) after she last appeared on Broadway, in “Strange Interlude” with Geraldine Page.

She looks great, not that you were the least bit curious. She has had a new hip installed, and a few years ago she had her breast implants removed. But she is still willowy and glamorous; she still has that smoky, velvety voice; and age has brought out her bone structure — something that the director Joshua Logan used to fret about. When she was 21, she resisted his suggestion that she have her jaw broken and her back teeth pulled so that her face would have more definition. No longer the chubby-cheeked vixen of “Barbarella” and “Klute,” Ms. Fonda has at last achieved a sort of Hepburnian elegance. She even looks a little like her father now.

Maybe I'm just sensitive to the apparent objectification of women, but exactly how far do we have to travel into the details of Jane's personal life and her body before we hear anything about her acting? Is it just me, or is this attempt at a titillating tell-all version of her life some kind of bizarre payback?

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Thank You, Pachamama, Thank You

A Ceremony Of Thanks

Moray, Peru, is in the sacred valley near Urubamba. It is high in the mountains, above where trees can grow. Some people think that these round terraces were for ancient Inca experimentation with crops: finding the species of potatoes and squash and root vegetables and maiz that would thrive at various altitudes. Others, including me, are less certain. To me, it is an architectural prayer of gratitude to Pachamama. Of course, it contained plants. The prayer says:

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Pachamama, for your fertility, for your fruit, for your nutrition. Thank you for sheltering and feeding us, for growing crops and animals, and giving us pure water to drink. Thank you for mulching everything that we leave behind so that it can be used anew. Thank you for continually restoring yourself and never being so exhausted that you give up on us, who walk on your belly. Thank you for reminding us to take good care of you. And thank you especially for sustaining the deep, dark feminine mystery inside you. Gracias, gracias, gracias.

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Petite Petit

Michael David Petite Petit 2006

While perusing the stock at Chatham Wine and Liquor, my favorite wine store, in Chatham, New York, I came across a bottle with my name all over it. I don't mean metaphorically. I mean it was on the label, on the cork, the wrapper around the neck, on the top. OK. So my name was backwards. Big deal. Neverthless, Michael David Petite Petit 2006 is just wonderful. A quick review:
Petite Sirah was originally known as Durif, named after Dr. François Durif who first crossed French Syrah and Peloursin in 1880. Acreage of this misunderstood grape has been on a roller coaster ever since, but is on an upswing once again.

Michael David Lodi Petite Petit 2006 is the perfect wine for the election season. Circus elephants grace the label, and a couple of glasses will make you believe Sarah Palin has foreign policy experience.

Like elephants whose size is imposing, Petite Petit is large. But also like the elephant, the personality is sweet, and the only risk posed is that of being stepped on. Michael-David's signature "smokehouse" aromas waft past the very ample aromas of ripe plummy fruit. On the tongue, the fruit is sweet, and the texture is smooth.

Petite Petit gets its name from the fact that a minor (15%) portion of Petit Verdot is blended in. All the fruit is sourced from Lodi, and the aging is 14 months in French oak.

In fact, it appears that there are lots of wines with my name on them. And a really loud video of the bottling of 2007 Petite Petit.


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In a New York Times review of David Denby's book, Snark, we find this humdinger of a paragraph by Walter Kirn:

The humor that stirs this wrongful laughter is “snark,” named for a fictional creature from the poem “The Hunting of the Snark,” by Lewis Carroll. As a species of vicious contemporary humor, it is defined by Denby in many ways — so many, in fact, that the creature never materializes as anything more than a shadow on a wall that Denby keeps shooting at yet never hits. In his opening pages he defines snark negatively — as a practice that certain famed comics are often charged with, but undeservedly and inaccurately because they actually trade in “irony” and also, one can’t help but gather from Denby’s remarks, because they’re politically virtuous in their japery, even when their words seem cruel and harsh. Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart are two of these unfairly maligned non-snarkers. Sarah Silverman escapes unscathed, while Penn Jillette, an avowed libertarian who entertains mostly in Las Vegas nowadays, and Sarah Palin, an avowed big-game hunter who’s safely tucked away up north somewhere, are portrayed as snarkers par excellence. So is John McCain, coincidentally, and pretty much everyone who ever tweaked Barack Obama for any reason — especially if they did so on the Internet and indulged in prejudice. But “hate speech” isn’t snark either, Denby writes, because it aims to “incite,” not get chuckles, and because it’s “directed at groups,” not individuals. Denby finds such discourse loathsome, presumably, but he states early on that it’s no concern of his, first because it’s a constitutional right, and second, because he feels sorry for nuts who use it: “the legions of anguished, lost people on Web sites and the social networking site Facebook” who are “looking for a way to release fear.” In other words, vengeful morons can’t be snarky, only parties to bigoted violence now and then, which may be horrific and tragic but isn’t annoying. No, what really bugs Denby’s mandarin side is a much subtler species of expression: humor that celebrates “the power to ridicule” and is indulged in by semi-sophisticates who seek to sound clued-in and hip so as to soothe their feelings of “dispossession” and elevate their wounded self-esteem by sneering at folks like — get ready to be outraged! — the convicted insider trader Ivan Boesky, whose notorious taste in gaudy baubles was once satirized in the late Spy magazine.

Kirn deserves some kind of an award, maybe a Golden Skewer, for this paragraph. Bravo.

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Sunday Morning

Let it be recorded: there was a red wing blackbird the feeder this morning. Spring cannot be far behind her. But now, again, it is snowing. Has she made some kind of serious mistake? Perhaps she knows something the forecasters and I don't.

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sábado, febrero 21, 2009

Remembering Sleepy John Estes

Sleepy John Estes (1899-1977)

On Sunday afternoons in the early-70s, Sleepy John Estes used to play in Memphis, and I used to go and see him. He played in a store near Burkle's Bakery on Overton Square. I can't remember whether it was a bar. He was already old, but his music was remarkable, but there weren't that many people who came out to see him. Maybe Steve Lavere booked these small gatherings. Maybe there were only hippies and blues fans in the audience. I'm not sure.

Estes had a remarkable and venerable mumble when he spoke and when he sang. It's evident in one of my favorite Estes tunes, Mailman Blues (sorry, no embed). But it didn't matter. Even as an old man, even near the end, even though he was quite feeble, but he knew how to rock. And he did.

Like this:

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I Will Miss The New York Post And Governor Paterson

I will miss the Post because I am finished. I will never buy it again. Never. I confess that the New York Post was my favorite reading material after I had tried a case and the jury was out deliberating. It was perfect for that. It was perfect for long term waiting. And I will miss Governor Paterson, because he's demonstrated again that he's just another glad handing political hack.

I wasn't alone in being offended by the recent cartoon showing policemen shooting the Chimpanzee author of the stimulus bill. Far from it. I thought Al Sharpton was particularly on point about it:
Al Sharpton, the Baptist minister and civil rights activist, called the cartoon "troubling at best, given the historic racist attacks [on] African-Americans as being synonymous with monkeys".

He added: "Being that the stimulus bill has been the first legislative victory of President Barack Obama ... and has become synonymous with him, it is not a reach to wonder: are they inferring that a monkey wrote the last bill?... The Post should at best clarify what point they were trying to make, or in fact reprimand their cartoonist."
In fact, Governor Paterson himself told a local television station that it was "very important for the New York Post to explain what the cartoon was intended to portray".

And I wasn't alone in thinking that the Post's bizarre non-apology apology was inadequate and that its reaching out even in its "apology" to take another poke at Al Sharpton showed a serious lack of sensitivity to the issue at hand. What kind of apology concludes with this?
there are some in the media and in public life who have had differences with The Post in the past - and they see the incident as an opportunity for payback.

To them, no apology is due.

Sometimes a cartoon is just a cartoon - even as the opportunists seek to make it something else.

Today, I read that Governor Paterson accepts the Post's non-apology apology, and that he's called for
a discussion about satire of public officials.

"It might be a time to open up a dialogue on just where that line is, where good clean fun and degradation are," Paterson told reporters in Manhattan.

He was responding to a Post editorial cartoon Wednesday that many saw as portraying President Barack Obama as a chimpanzee. The Rev. Al Sharpton, state senators and other African-American leaders have called for boycotting the newspaper.

Paterson disagreed, calling the Post apology "very honorable ... At this time when tensions are running high, with the economy down and also even the media outlets having to lay off people, it is an act of sensitivity."

A discussion of satire and the line between fun and degradation? How about a discussion of insensitivity and racism in the press? Oh no, not that.

So, Governor, we should continue to support a Newscorp paper that at best has zero sensitivity to issues of race in America, and at worst is blatantly racist, because to do otherwise would lead directly and inexorably to the loss of jobs?

What about the 47 other steps that can be taken before a first job is lost, Governor, like asking Rupert Murdoch to save some jobs by issuing a real apology, like asking Rupert Murdoch to save some jobs by disciplining the management people and cartoonist responsible for this cartoon, like directly speaking out about the inadequacy of the non-apology apology rather than giving us this "very honorable" nonsense. And what about taking a position about this that doesn't allude to your own "victimhood" at the hands of comedians and cartoonists?

I note in passing that this is another Paterson reverse of position. First the Post has to explain; then its inadequate non-explanation is just fine. Have we seen this before from the Governor?

One had to wonder, in the wake of the Caroline Kennedy/Kirsten Gillibrand fiasco, whether the Governor could do anything more to hurt himself. And now we have our answer. He's intent on rendering himself unelectable. And he doesn't need my help to do that. I will miss him.

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Reason # 567 To Visit The Caribbean

Really it's simple. When I turned on the computer this morning, there was a red weather alert on the screen. Today is February 21, 2009, so I wasn't surprised to read this:



I think the National Weather Service still uses all caps because it doesn't know that we no longer use teletype machines. And that the Internet isn't an upgrade to a teletype. But I digress. It's already been a cold, bitter winter, and now, just when there is the slightest hint of the scent of spring on the air, this warning. I am not happy with this. There remains a snow cover on the ground; it's been there since December. And now it will again thicken.

Which brings me to reason #567. That would be the combination of the above warning and this:

What are you waiting for?

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viernes, febrero 20, 2009

Snooks Eaglin, RIP

Snooks Eaglin

The New York Times reports the death of New Orleans musician Snooks Eaglin. He was 72.
“He played with a certain finger style that was highly unusual,” said the pianist Allan Toussaint, who was 13 when he formed a band with Mr. Eaglin. “He was unlimited on the guitar. Folks would assume, ‘I can do this or I can do that,’ but Snooks wouldn’t. There was nothing he couldn’t do. It was extraordinary.”

“His death is like losing a Dizzy Gillespie, a Professor Longhair, a Johnny Adams or a Gatemouth Brown,” [Quint] Davis said. “He’s one of those unique giants of New Orleans music.”

Mr. Eaglin was known for picking strings with his thumb nail. He played and recorded with New Orleans musicians including Professor Longhair, the Wild Magnolias and others. Blind from the time he was a young child, Mr. Eaglin was a self-taught musician who learned to play the guitar by listening to the radio. Playing the guitar with his thumb nail allowed him to perform very fast, Mr. Davis said.

He was absolutely a master. Check this out:

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This Isn't Your Grandfather's Argentina

It's about time.
Argentina has thrown out Holocaust-denying British bishop Richard Williamson, saying he must leave the country in 10 days.

The Interior Ministry said last night Williamson had failed to declare his true job as director of a seminary on immigration forms and because his comments on the Holocaust "profoundly insult Argentine society, the Jewish community and all of humanity by denying an historic truth".

Williamson's views created an uproar last month when Pope Benedict XVI lifted his excommunication ... as part of a process meant to heal a rift with ultra-conservatives.

The flap led the Vatican to demand that the clergyman recant before he could be admitted as a bishop in the Roman Catholic Church. ....

The Vatican had no comment on the Argentine action.

Although Williamson has been in Argentina since 2003, the government's secretary for religious affairs, Guillermo Oliveri, said immigration officials only realised he had made an undeclared change of jobs when the controversy hit the press.

But Mr Oliveri made clear the Holocaust uproar played a key part.

"I absolutely agree with the expulsion of a man residing in our country following his statements (denying) one of the greatest human tragedies," he said.
And the Vatican had "no comment"? That's disgraceful.

h/t to AMERICAblog

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Evicting Rent From High Schools

This morning the New York Times reports that various high schools have canceled performances of "Rent", not the original Rent, but "Rent: School Edition," which is a "toned down" version of the original, because of objections about its content.

"Rent", you will recall was a huge, long running success as a Broadway musical:
“Rent,” which ran on Broadway for more than 12 years and in 1996 won the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award, is based loosely on Puccini’s opera “La Bohème.” It centers on a group of artists, straight and gay, living in the East Village. Some are H.I.V. positive; some are drug addicts; some are in recovery.
So what changes have been made?
The main changes are the deletion of some profane dialogue and lyrics as well as a song, “Contact,” that is sexually explicit. In “Rent,” that song accompanies the death of Angel, a gay drag queen with AIDS; in the high school version, his death unfolds in an earlier song.
Omitting "profane dialogue and lyrics" is a sop to the easily shocked. But omitting the song "Contact?" Is this even sexually explicit? And, more important, even if it were, is it objectionable?

I just don't get it. Maybe it's just the longevity of puritanism in America. If my own, unscientific impressions of high schoolers are any test, preventing high school students from hearing "profane dialogue and lyrics" is a complete joke in the age of Rap. And trying to shelter them from the sexually explicit despite the apparent early age of early intimacies in high school is an act of wishful thinking. The Times dutifully reports:
In the short term, however, “Rent: School Edition” appears to be something of a cultural litmus test, with supporters and opponents of the play using its words and themes to battle. In recent years, school productions of “The Vagina Monologues” and the musical “Grease” have led to complaints, the latter for its drinking, smoking and kissing.
How preposterous.

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jueves, febrero 19, 2009

The P Word

This is unbelievably brilliant. Please pass it on.

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The Dow Grovels

The Dow Jones Industrial Average, 2/19/09 Close

Oh boy. This is ugly.
The Dow lost 89.68 points or 1.2 percent to end the day at 7,465.95, dropping below the recent lows it set on Nov. 20, when the broader markets tumbled to their lowest levels in a decade. The Dow last closed below 7,500 during the recession following the Internet bubble, sinking to 7,286 on Oct. 9, 2002.

The broader Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index finished 9.48 points or 1.2 percent lower at 778.94. The S.&P. 500 has fallen below 800 in recent days — which analysts consider an important psychological threshold — but it has not retested its late November lows near 750.

The technology-heavy Nasdaq index was 1.5 percent lower, weighed down by losses at computer companies including Dell and Sun Microsystems.

Today was the first time the Dow closed below 7500 since 2002. Put another way, the Dow has given back seven years' growth and is worth just about half of what it was at its peak last year.

This is ugliness. And the prognosticators are implying that things will get even worse:
While stocks have been trading in a broad range over the last three months, analysts said that the indexes may be carving out a new, deeper trench, where the bottom of the old range becomes the top of the new one. Stocks could linger there for the next few months, analysts said, as Washington tries to resuscitate the shaky financial system and slow the pace of economic declines.
Putting money under the mattress was apparently quite a viable strategy for the past six or seven years. Or low interest savings accounts. Everything else seems to have been a total bust.

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Good bye, Saab, good bye.

A Classic 1993 900-T Convertible

Permit me to fulminate. I loved the Swedish Saabs. I was a "Saab guy." For years. I had a 1984 900, a 1988 900-S, at 1990 900-T convertible, and a 2000 9-3. The 9-3, in comparison with the others, was a plastic coated joke show. It was a constant problem. It had electrical issues. It had temperament issues. It had intermittent wiring. It wasn't a real, Swedish Saab. And it didn't act like one. It didn't maintain Saab's legendary quality, the quality that kept me alive in a serious accident I had in the 1984 Saab. The 9-3 replaced steel with plastic, and every year, the more plastic added, the higher the price. It replaced design with copying American road hogs. There was no way the GM Saab could ever compete with BMW, with Audi, with Volvo, with Infiniti, with Lexus.

And now, to no one's particular surprise, General Motors has finally killed Saab dead:
GM has been looking for a buyer for Saab, and said on Wednesday "given the urgency of stemming sizeable cash demands associated with Saab operations" it would need support from the Swedish government prior to any sale.

But the country's Enterprise and Energy Minister Maud Olofsson told Swedish public radio that "voters picked me because they wanted nursery schools, police and nurses, and not to buy loss-making car factories".
So there will be no support from Sweden. And the geniuses at General Motors will have finally succeeded in killing the brand. Saab is the new Rambler, the new Fraser, the new Nash, the new Oldsmobile, the new Edsel. First they devalued the brand, then their stupidity killed it dead.

In practical terms, the news probably means that Saab, which rapacious General Motors gobbled only to devalue and undermine, is going unceremoniously to go bankrupt or die along with the other GM dinosaurs, Saturn and Hummer, two of General Motors' other brilliant ideas.

I know that the US automobile industry needs to be bailed out for macroeconomic reasons. I accept that. But if there were such a thing as free market capitalism, which there obviously isn't, I can't think of a company more deserving than GM to die an ignominious, debt ridden death, one in which its shareholders' stock is worth absolutely nothing. In a just world, there'd be an independent Swedish Saab, and GM would be shredded into tiny shards of the glossy plastic they used to make imitation wood.

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The Ten Funniest Books: UK Division

My favorite online used bookseller,, polled 555 of its UK customers, asking them to name the funniest book they had ever read. The results:
1. Right Ho, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse (1933)
2. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)
3. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (1979)
4. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome (1889)
5. Wilt by Tom Sharpe (1976)
6. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (1980)
7. Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis
8. The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse (1938)
9. Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding (1996)
10. Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall by Spike Milligan (1971)
Note that P.G. Wodehouse has two books in the top ten, Right Ho, Jeeves and The Code of the Woosters. And that both of these were published more than 70 years ago.

Even Wiki succumbs to Wodehouse's charm with this anecdote:
When World War II broke out in 1939 he remained at his seaside home in Le Touquet, France, instead of returning to England, apparently failing to recognise the seriousness of the conflict. He was subsequently taken prisoner by the Germans in 1940 and interned by them for a year, first in Belgium, then at Tost (now Toszek) in Upper Silesia (now in Poland). He is recorded as saying, "If this is Upper Silesia, one wonders what Lower Silesia must be like..."

There is controversy about broadcasts Wodehouse made from Germany at the start of the war.

There's also a list of his books.

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miércoles, febrero 18, 2009

Tite Alonso: What It's All About

Tite Alonso

Sometimes, there's a cross-over from one world to another. The appearance of the unexpected of one culture across a vast gulf in another. An example: today's New York Times article on Tite Alonso. An excerpt:

He never did give up that day job, laboring in the Postal Service in Puerto Rico for more than 30 years, mainly as a clerk. But in the recording studio the biggest names in salsa, from Willie Colón and Héctor Lavoe to Celia Cruz and La Lupe, all deferred to Catalino Curet Alonso, the man — known to all as Tite (pronounced “TEE-tay”) — who seemed to be able to write hits for them at will.

“Tite was El Maestro, the essence of what we call salsa or Antillean or Caribbean music,” said the singer Cheo Feliciano, whose career was revived when his association with Mr. Curet began in 1970 and who went on to record 45 of Mr. Curet’s songs. “He didn’t play piano and only knew a couple of chords on the guitar. But he was a wellspring of expression who knew how to write songs that were made to measure for your style, the way a tailor makes a suit.”

A little over five years after Mr. Curet’s death at age 77, there has been a revival of interest in his music, on a pair of fronts. When Fania Records late last month released “Alma de Poeta” (“A Poet’s Soul”), a two-CD compilation of the original versions of 31 of his most popular compositions, it entered Billboard’s Latin music chart at No. 5 and immediately became the top-selling recording in Puerto Rico.

Also in January, a settlement was announced in a complicated legal dispute over performance rights that since the mid-1990s had not only prevented hundreds of Mr. Curet’s best-known songs from being played by radio stations but also discouraged salsa artists from recording his compositions, or even playing them in concert. As a result, Curet-written standards like “Anacaona” and “Periódico de Ayer” (“Yesterday’s Paper”) are now back on the air and once again animating Caribbean dance floors.
OK. This conveys something important, but it's something you have to hear. It's not necessarily something you get by reading and imagining. What you need (ah the joys of the Internet) to understand how important Tite was, is to see and hear his music performed by a master. Like this:

Now you get it. That's the legendary Hector Lavoe and the tune is Tite Alonso at his best.

Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy.

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martes, febrero 17, 2009

House of Spirits

Today's New York Times reviews a musical production of Isabel Allende's House of Spirits:
As one of the best-known examples of the predominantly Latin American genre called magical realism, it presents some challenges. What to do, for example, about a male character who shrinks as he ages, a dog the size of a horse, objects that levitate and a plague of ants that overrun a country estate but leave when asked?

But the director José Zayas and the playwright Caridad Svich refused to be daunted. The result of their perseverance is the production of “The House of the Spirits” that opens on Wednesday at Repertorio Español’s theater on East 27th Street, where it is scheduled to be performed, in Spanish with a simultaneous English-language translation available, through June.

During the 40 years that it has operated, the Repertorio Español company has commissioned adaptations of novels by some of Latin America’s most celebrated writers, among them Gabriel García Márquez’s “Chronicle of a Death Foretold” and Mario Vargas Llosa’s “Feast of the Goat.” But Mr. Zayas said he found himself wondering, “Where are the women?”
Evidently, the author approves of Caridad Svich's version of the novel:
“The novel is funny and grotesque, dark and caustic, and I thought we should tap into that sharp wit,” [Caridad Svich] said. “I’ve translated some of my own plays into Spanish, but this was a different process. It’s my voice but an altered version of my voice, like me having a conversation with Isabel Allende.”

In the end some subplots were eliminated, as were some of the novel’s ghostly apparitions. Ms. Svich also wrote songs for the show, because, she said, “I love Brecht, and I couldn’t resist.”

The novel’s focus on the violent and often unjust politics of Latin America was retained, however, and in one sense even amplified: the main female character, Alba Trueba, tells her story from the torture chamber where she is held after a military coup that some in her own family support.

Ms. Allende, a Chilean who went into exile after President Salvador Allende, her cousin, was overthrown by Gen. Augusto Pinochet, is sympathetic to the choices Ms. Svich made. “I think magical realism is really difficult to put onstage without it looking like an illusionist’s show, which can be very tacky,” she said in a telephone interview from her home in Northern California.

We'll see. I confess to being frightened by the description of this production.

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lunes, febrero 16, 2009


When I was growing up, there was a game we played of making up words. Words like, "excrase." Here for your didactic delectation are two all star versions of the game:

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Ersatz Corridos. Washington Can't Carry A Tune.

Today Nezua at Unapologetic Mexican reports that the US government, you know, those people in Washington, are producing fake corridos to be played on the radio near the US Mexico border. Why? Because they are supposed to deter border crossings from Mexico to the US by undocumented people.

Why does this make me so angry? Is it because it's just another, dishonest trick, another lie from Washington? Is it because it's a complete waste of taxpayer money? Is it because of the arrogance of the trick and its assumption that the audience for ersatz corridos is just plain stooopid? Is it because its so lame?

Unfortunately, I haven't heard the corridos yet. I'm wondering why I suspect that they suck as badly as the idea behind them. And that the program is another $400 toilet seat.

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domingo, febrero 15, 2009

On Going To The Woodshed

Today at dailyKos and docuDharma, I posted an essay saying that I was taking a break from posting at those two sites. I'm not saying I will never post there again. Hardly. I'm just taking a break from them. I'll still post here. This, I think, will free up some valuable time for me.

Also, I'm going to be very careful of how much time I spend writing for this blog.

I expect to be able to keep on putting up essays. You'll see how this goes, and I'll report about it later on. And maybe, later on, I'll also elaborate about why I'm limiting my blogging activities and what I hope will come of it. Please stay tuned.

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sábado, febrero 14, 2009

An Environmental Success Story

Today's New York Times has this good news about bald eagles in the Hudson Valley of New York:
Bald eagles, among the largest birds of prey in North America, were once plentiful in New York. Before the 1900s, they used as many as 80 nesting sites, primarily in northern and western New York, according to the State Department of Environmental Conservation. But by 1976, only one pair of eaglets remained. Environmentalists blamed pesticides, particularly DDT (which was banned in 1972), for interfering with the raptors’ ability to reproduce.

In 1976, the state began its Bald Eagle Restoration Project in an attempt to re-establish a breeding population. Over 13 years, 198 nesting bald eagles were collected, mostly from Alaska, and taken to New York. They were reared in cages in towers in the mid-Hudson region and released.

Today, roughly 500 bald eagles winter in New York (they migrate here when the waters begin to freeze in Canada and Nova Scotia), and 143 pairs remain in the state during the summer. Dr. Koontz said that eight pairs had stayed year-round in the lower Hudson Valley.
This is good news. And I notice when I take the train from Hudson to New York City that the number of aquatic birds in the river is slowly increasing. You still cannot eat the fish from the Hudson River. And you probably shouldn't swim in it in many areas. There's a long way to go to restore this river to health. But this is a hopeful improvement.

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miércoles, febrero 11, 2009

Two Koans For A Wednesday In February

Case One.
If you build a man a fire he'll be warm for a day. If you set a man on fire he'll be warm for the rest of his life.

Case Two.
A student said to the chief monk, "Help me to pacify my mind!"
The chief monk said, "Bring your mind over here and I will pacify it."
The student said, "But I don't know where my mind is!"
The monk replied, "Then I have already pacified it."

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Orlando Cachaito Lopez, RIP


The New York Times reports:
Orlando Cachaito López, the bassist considered the heartbeat of the Cuban group Buena Vista Social Club, died here Monday. He was 76.... snip

Mr. López was a founding member of the band, a group of older Cuban musicians brought together in the 1990s by the American guitarist and producer Ry Cooder. The group included Compay Segundo, Ibrahim Ferrer, Rubén González and Omara Portuondo.

Later, the filmmaker Wim Wenders showcased their talents, which had been all but forgotten, in the documentary “Buena Vista Social Club.” The band, which plays a mix of traditional Cuban rhythms, saw its renown grew as it toured internationally.

But it has lost many of its members. Mr. González, a pianist; and the vocalists Mr. Segundo (born Máximo Francisco Repilado Muñoz), Mr. Ferrer and Pio Leyva have all died in recent years.
He will be missed.

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martes, febrero 10, 2009

Obama Dishes Up A Cup Of Same Old Same Old

What a colossal disappointment. Remember when Barack Obama was going to severely curtail the use of the "state secrets" doctrine, throw the windows open, and let the sun shine in, dispersing Bushco's unnecessary secrecy? Forget about it. That was just eyewash.

Yesterday in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit the Obama Justice Department astonished the three judge panel by sticking with Bushco's "state secrets" argument in the case of Binyam Mohamed. The New York Times reports:
In a closely watched case involving rendition and torture, a lawyer for the Obama administration seemed to surprise a panel of federal appeals judges on Monday by pressing ahead with an argument for preserving state secrets originally developed by the Bush administration.

In the case, Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian native, and four other detainees filed suit against a subsidiary of Boeing for arranging flights for the Bush administration’s “extraordinary rendition” program, in which terrorism suspects were secretly taken to other countries, where they say they were tortured. The Bush administration argued that the case should be dismissed because even discussing it in court could threaten national security and relations with other nations. ... snip

...a government lawyer, Douglas N. Letter, made the same state-secrets argument [as Bushco made] on Monday, startling several judges on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

“Is there anything material that has happened” that might have caused the Justice Department to shift its views, asked Judge Mary M. Schroeder, an appointee of President Jimmy Carter, coyly referring to the recent election.

“No, your honor,” Mr. Letter replied.

Judge Schroeder asked, “The change in administration has no bearing?”

Once more, he said, “No, Your Honor.” The position he was taking in court on behalf of the government had been “thoroughly vetted with the appropriate officials within the new administration,” and “these are the authorized positions,” he said.

There you go. This is "thoroughly vetted." These are "authorized positions." It's the same old. It's not exactly change you can believe in, at least not in this case.

Said a spokesperson for the Obama Justice Department:
A Justice Department spokesman, Matt Miller, ... seemed to suggest that Mr. Obama would invoke the privilege more sparingly than its predecessor.

“It is the policy of this administration to invoke the state secrets privilege only when necessary and in the most appropriate cases,” he said, adding that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. had asked for a review of pending cases in which the government had previously asserted a state secret privilege.

“The attorney general has directed that senior Justice Department officials review all assertions of the state secrets privilege to ensure that the privilege is being invoked only in legally appropriate situations,” he said. “It is vital that we protect information that, if released, could jeopardize national security.”
That review, folks, isn't worth a cup of warm spit. Evidently, it doesn't matter that the court papers
describe horrific treatment in secret prisons. Mr. Mohamed claimed that during his detention in Morocco, “he was routinely beaten, suffering broken bones and, on occasion, loss of consciousness. His clothes were cut off with a scalpel and the same scalpel was then used to make incisions on his body, including his penis. A hot stinging liquid was then poured into open wounds on his penis where he had been cut. He was frequently threatened with rape, electrocution and death.”
Evidently it doesn't matter that everybody in the world already has access to virtually everything about Binyam Mohamed's illegal extradition, torture, and continuous confinement. Pointing out how widely reported Binyam Mohamed's case has been, Ben Wizner, a lawyer for the A.C.L.U., told the judges that what the government was trying to keep secret by asserting the "state secrets" doctrine isn't secret at all. The details of the administration’s "extraordinary rendition program" (read: illegal extraditions) have already been told, as have how those facts applied directly to the plaintiffs. “The only place in the world where these claims can’t be discussed,” Mr. Wizner said, “is in this courtroom.”

Maybe the moderate/liberal panel of the Ninth Circuit that heard this case will overturn it. I hope so. But my disappointment at the position taken by the Obama Justice Department leaves me shaking my head in sorrow. This isn't change we can believe it. It's not old wine in new bottles. It's just the same old same old. And it still stinks.

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lunes, febrero 09, 2009

The Finger Wags And Moves On

I'm afraid that, when all is said and done, I don't understand blog reactions and what makes something a big story on blogs and in the traditional media. And no, I'm not complaining about the response to my eight pieces about the federal death penalty or how many people signed the petition. This isn't about me. Not at all.

It's about something astonishing. Now appearing on the recommended list of docuDharma is a piece by Valtin, US-UK Torture Cover-up, While Conditions Worsen at Guantanamo (Updated). It's about the rendition and imprisonment and yes, torture, of Binyam Mohamed and the suppression of information in his UK legal case. It's extremely important to read the entire essay.

In the essay, I find alarming items about torture:
The 25 lines edited out of the court papers contained details of how Mr Mohamed's genitals were sliced with a scalpel and other torture methods so extreme that waterboarding, the controversial technique of simulated drowning, "is very far down the list of things they did," the official said.
This statement was in the original essay before it was updated and it remains there. When the essay was cross-posted at at GOS, I wrote as a comment in response to the quote:
How in the world can you have this line in a diary and have the diary receive as of this writing 21 comments and 27 recommendations? I don't get it. Why isn't this story all over dKos? Why isn't there a ruckus about it?

Maybe somebody can enlighten me.

The GOS diary ultimately received a total of 34 comments and 47 recommendations. It should have been on the recommended list and it should have had 1,000 indignant comments and recommendation. But, alas, it didn't.

I cannot understand or accept that.

When the diary was updated here at dd, it contained further information from Reprieve, a UK human rights group, about the torture of Binyam Mohamed:
On 21 July 2002, Binyam was rendered to Morocco on a CIA plane. He was held there for 18 months in appalling conditions. To ensure his confession, his Moroccan captors tortured him, stripping him naked and cutting him with a scalpel on his chest and penis. ...snip

Binyam's ordeal in Morocco continued for about 18 months until January 2004, when he was transferred to the 'Dark Prison' near Kabul, Afghanistan, a secret prison run by the CIA, which resembled a medieval dungeon with the addition of extremely loud 24-hour music and noise.

Speaking of his time in the 'Dark Prison', Binyam said:

"It was pitch black, no lights on in the rooms for most of the time. They hung me up for two days. My legs had swollen. My wrists and hands had gone numb. There was loud music, Slim Shady [by Eminem] and Dr. Dre for 20 days. Then they changed the sounds to horrible ghost laughter and Halloween sounds. At one point, I was chained to the rails for a fortnight. The CIA worked on people, including me, day and night. Plenty lost their minds. I could hear people knocking their heads against the walls and the doors, screaming their heads off."

From there he was taken to the US military prison at Bagram airbase, and finally, in September 2004, to Guantánamo Bay, where he remains.

This is a report of horrific, brutal, barbaric, illegal treatment. There cannot be any debate about whether this is or is not torture. It's torture plain and simple.

Yet, I don't see the ruckus about it. I don't see it breaking through in the traditional media. I don't see a serious response of outrage on the blogs. If you google "binyam mohamed," you see that virtually no US media are discussing this case. I simply cannot understand or accept that.

I may be sorely out of step with others on this. So be it. As I've said before, I'd rather be out of formation than off course. I just don't understand how this kind of torture can be exposed, and how the US can suppress information about it in UK courts, and why we, that's you and I, aren't up in arms about this and pushing the story into the sunlight.

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domingo, febrero 08, 2009

Another Sham Trial In Iraq

Oh please. The New York Times says that a trial date has been set for "the Iraqi Shoe-Thrower" for February 19. But this trial is unlikely to resemble anything you'd call fair. Let us parse the news together:

Lawyers for the journalist, Muntader al-Zaidi, 29, had tried to reduce the charges stemming from the incident, which made him a folk hero in much of the Arab world and beyond, but in setting a trial date a higher court let the most serious charges stand. If convicted, he could face as many as 15 years in prison....snip

Security guards quickly subdued him, as he continued to shout about the fate of widows and orphans, and he has remained in detention ever since. His relatives and lawyers say he has been tortured in custody, and complain that they have been allowed minimal opportunities to see him or to discuss his case.

The incident occurred on December 14, so Mr. al-Zaidi has been incarcerated now for almost 2 months without reasonable access to counsel. And he's been tortured. That sounds like a fair trial in the making to me. Not.

The Times ends its brief article with this remarkable zinger:
His trial could become an important — and highly visible — test of Iraq’s still-evolving judicial system. It was not clear how much of his trial, if any, will be open to the public.

"Still-evolving" has to be one of the most remarkable euphemisms of all time. "Still-evolving" in this case means that the accused can be tortured, kept away from family and counsel for almost two months, tried in secret, and then sentenced up to 15 years. I wouldn't exactly call that "still-evolving." Or justice. Truth be told, we should call it what it is, a sham.

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Mr. Magoo

After months of complaints by various family members that I couldn't see properly when I was driving, and that I couldn't read road signs, I finally went to visit local optometrist Dr. Jeffrey Varney, who gave me a new prescription for contact lenses and glasses. That, confirming that I couldn't see adequately, of course, unleashed comparisons between me and Mr. Magoo. You'll recall that the joke in Mr. Magoo, in fact the only joke, is that he can't see.

Yesterday, I went for a walk. I thought that a rock lying on the snow was an fallen, old, large wasps' nest. Nobody ever asked Mr. Magoo to go see Dr. Varney or to get glasses. Why, you might ask, not? I have no idea.

Here's the joke (in a 48 year old version):

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The Kind Of Local Government I Want

After it was destroyed by an earthquake, the town of Salemi in Sicily decided to revitalize the center of the town by doing something daring. According to today's NY Times, the plan required the appointment of a new kind of government, the kind of local government I want to experience in Hudson, New York:
According to the report, an ancient town in western Sicily called Salemi had initiated an unusual renewal project. Founded around the fourth century B.C., the town achieved brief renown as the site where Giuseppe Garibaldi first planted the country’s tricolored flag in 1860 during his quest for a unified Italy.

But Salemi’s moment of glory lasted only a day before the place slipped into oblivion. A devastating earthquake in 1968 proved the final blow, and for decades, the historic center sat abandoned, the town largely forgotten.

Now, an ambitious effort was under way to reverse the damage.

The town had invited prominent artists and intellectuals to assume control of the government. An art critic and onetime anarchist named Vittorio Sgarbi was elected mayor. A prince was put in charge of town planning, and a performance artist was officially declared alderman to nothing. The provocative Italian photographer Oliviero Toscani, whose ad campaigns for Benetton included a series on AIDS patients and inmates on death row, was named alderman of creativity.

Did you see that? "Alderman of Creativity."

And, as if that wasn't enough, the Town sold buildings for 1 Euro provided the purchasers repaired them within 2 years. And, naturally, the Town became the home for the legendary video collection of Kim's on St. Marks in the East Village, the reason why the Time's covered the story in the first place. In other words, Salemi wasn't just talk. It actually embarked on its arts and revitalization project.

So my proposal: Hudson, New York needs to learn from this creative approach to local government. At the very least, we need an "Alderman of Creativity," and it wouldn't hurt to go further and invite prominent artists assume control of the city's government. This would serve twin purposes. It would dispossess Hudson's entrenched, Neanderthal politicians (thank goodness for that), and it might actually provide just the artistic lift the city was seeking when it embarked on its recent misguided, idiotic, and now hopefully forgotten project involving dog sculptures.

Is this too much to contemplate?

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sábado, febrero 07, 2009

Saving 49, strike that, make it 51 Lives (Part 8)

This may be my final, daily essay on this topic. This is my essay for Sunday, February 8, 2009, but I'm putting it up now.

This essay is about reason number 2,781 for signing this petition and for emailing Attorney General Holder at or to ask the Attorney General to reconsider whether prosecutors should seek the death penalty in the pending 49 50 51 federal death penalty cases, and when he determines that these cases are not appropriate for that extremely barbaric, horrific, inhuman penalty (no cases in actuality are ever appropriate for the death penalty), to direct prosecutors not to seek the death penalty.

As you can see, something distressing happened on Friday.

Unfortunately, the November, 2008 election didn't stop Bush and his Attorneys General from making decisions about which federal cases merited the death penalty. They continued to order federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty even as they were on their way out the door. And so on Friday, February 6, 2008, we learned that the United States Attorney for Connecticut had been directed by the former Attorney General to seek the death penalty in the case of Azibo "Dreddy" Aquart and his brother, Azikiwe "Zee" Aquart, and that a notice that the death penalty would be sought was filed in Federal Court in Bridgeport. I have no idea how many other notices will now be hauled out, all asking that the death penalty be imposed in federal cases, the final barbaric legacy of a corrupt Attorney General's office.

The Connecticut Post reports:

BRIDGEPORT -- Federal prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for two brothers accused of ordering and participating in the 2005 triple murders of rival drug gang members.

Acting U.S. Attorney Nora R. Dannehy notified Senior U.S. District Judge Peter C. Dorsey that her office will be seeking the death penalty if Azibo "Dreddy" Aquart, 28, and his brother, Azikiwe "Zee" Aquart, 29, are convicted "for one or more of the intentional killings" of Tina Johnson, 43: her boyfriend, James Reid, 40; and a visiting family friend, Basil Williams, 54.

The trio was found covered with blood after being bludgeoned to death in an apartment at 215 Charles St., where the Aquarts are accused of running a crack cocaine trafficking ring.

The faces of all three victims were covered with duct tape.
The Aquart brothers were indicted this past June. They remain incarcerated.

This isn't the first time the Attorney General ordered Connecticut federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty.
In 2003, federal prosecutors tried Luke "Mega" Jones, the head of a violent drug trafficking ring based in the P.T. Barnum Housing Project, on operating a continuing criminal enterprise that engaged in murder.

It was the first federal death penalty trial in at least 50 years in Connecticut.

After hearing evidence, Senior U.S. District Judge Alan H. Nevas declined to allow the death penalty charge to go to the jury after determining one of the murders was not linked to drug trafficking. Instead Nevas imposed four life sentences and two 10-year terms on Jones.

But apparently, even though Connecticut has a state death penalty statute, in Republican Attorney General land, it's always try, try, try again. Try to spread death. Try to expand state killing. It's always dogged persistence in the service of killing.

I think those of us opposed to state killing also need to be persistent. I've tried to model persistence for the past week. I will no doubt continue in the future. In the battle to end state killing, we repeatedly need to take to heart the wisdom of the Dalai Lama:
Never give up
No matter what is going on
Never give up
Develop the heart
Too much energy in your country is spent
developing the mind instead of the heart
Develop the heart,
Be compassionate
Not just to your friends but to everyone,
be compassionate
Work for peace in your heart and in the world
Work for peace, and I say again
Never give up
No matter what is happening
No matter what is going on around you
Never give up.

And so, I ask you again, dear reader, please don't give up. Not now. Not ever.

Please ask Attorney General Holder to review each of the now 51 cases in which federal prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, and ask him to determine that the death penalty is not appropriate in these cases, that a maximum penalty of life without parole will suffice. As I've said before, that's not asking a lot.

Please join the 115 people who have signed this Petition since February 2, 2009. Please sign the petition.

Please email the Attorney General at or You can use this text or make up your own 500 character text:
Please review all of the determinations made by previous administrations to seek the federal death penalty. There are 49 defendants who presently face the death penalty because of decisions made by former attorneys general. Many of these decisions overruled local US Attorneys' views, were politically motivated, and do not meet the expressed criteria of the present administration for seeking execution. Such a review can save lives and restore confidence in the justice department. Thank you.
Please do all you can to stop state killing.

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Convicting Bush and Cheney, How To

Bluenote: Fading, Fading, Fading Away

I remember when New York's jazz radio station, WRVR, announced in 1980 that it was finished playing jazz and that it would begin to play country music. To me, that was a disaster. No more Roger Dawson, no more Sunday Salsa show. No more Fats Navarro, Kenny Dorham. Never mind that WRVR never would play Eric Dolphy, Albert Ayler, Pharaoh Sanders. Never mind that. It was what we had, it was great, and then it was unceremoniously gone.

Yes, radio jazz in New York continued with WKCR (thank you, Phil Schaap) and WBGO in Newark and sometimes WBAI. And yes, over the years, even those stations' voices became more middle-of-the-road, they played fewer jazz classics, they struggled for audience, they lost their vibrancy, they became, dare I say it, commerical.

And now, word in the New York Times that beloved Bluenote Records, a 70 year old label, the iconic jazz record label has "entered a pivotal moment in its history." To me, it sounds like this label, just like all of the other labels, is fading, fading, fading away. It doesn't matter what they try to sell. It doesn't matter how commercial they become. In the era of downloading and new media, labels can exist only as libraries, they have nothing to sell that anyone will buy. Alas, and sadly, just like the jazz radio stations before it, Bluenote is another revered dinosaurs on its lumbering way to the fossil factory.

Let's give them a nice, warm round of applause, let's give them some love and appreciation, and sadly wave good bye:

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viernes, febrero 06, 2009

Don't Divorce My Friends!

Saving 49 Lives (Part 7)

For most of my life, I've been passionately opposed to state killing. I remember as a child knowing that California's gas chamber execution of Caryl Chessman was unjust. I remember hearing with horror about the federal electric chair executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. And I admit that since I was 10 I have never understood how civilized people could justify state killing. From the beginning state killing has appeared to me to be barbaric and horrific. Yes, there are lots of other barbaric things in the world, you could make a long, annotated list of them, but for one reason or another, despite all of the other terrible things in the world, something about state killing deeply appalled me. And eventually, the fight to end state killing spoke to me, so I took it up. That was a long time ago.

It's probably my feelings about barbarism that are driving me today to try to save the 49 people facing the federal death penalty. I know we are better than this. I know we are not killers. I know we are more compassionate than that. I know we are more just than that. It's my feelings about barbarism that has me writing an essay every day about the same thing. That's what has me asking you over and over again to email Attorney General Eric Holder at or at That's what has me asking you to sign a petition. In short, I'm appalled by state killing, and I want to stop it.

What's necessary now in my opinion is to ask Attorney General Eric Holder please to review all of the decisions made by his predecessors in office that directed federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty in federal cases and to determine whether he agrees with those decisions. If he does not think that the death penalty is entirely appropriate, he should withdraw authority for federal prosecutors to seek death. It's really quite simple. I'm not asking him to dismiss the indictments. I'm not asking him to drop cases. I'm not asking him to perform acts of mercy. I'm just asking him whether the United States can be satisfied asking for a maximum of life without parole and not death in these cases. That's all I'm asking for.

It's not much to ask for. Really it isn't. What, if anything, is the government giving up by not asking for death and asking instead for life without parole? In my view the government gains in stature and it gives up nothing of value. What it does give up are things it should have abandoned decades ago. In my view, by not asking for death, the government gives up some of its inhumanity, it gives up a horrific difference from other civilized nations, it abandons an old harbor for its racism, it leaves behind its most unenlightened, violent, hypocritical aspect. It emerges wiser, more powerful, more human, more compassionate, and more just. It acknowledges that humans are imperfect and that there are weapons that should not be used.

Is it my buddhism that makes me opposed to state killing? It's true that I frequently ask, "May all beings refrain from killing and prevent others from killing." It's true that I try not to swat mosquitoes. It's true that I am captivated by the story of Padmasambhava's reflexively swatting a fly, and unable to stay his hand, assuring its rebirth as a boddhisatva, as his hand crushed it. I love all of that. But I was opposed to state killing long before I was a buddhist.

Is it my being a lawyer that makes me opposed to state killing? It's true that I have handled a pro bono death penalty appeal, that it turned many of my hairs gray, that I have tried to help others defend those facing death. I am honored to have been able to do that. I am thankful that I could do that. But I was opposed to state killing before I was a lawyer.

Is it my being a writer that makes me opposed to state killing? It's true that I have written hundreds of pieces about state killing in the United States, that I consider myself an advocate for life and against state killing, that I gladly took on the project of writing daily about the federal death penalty and Attorney General Eric Holder. But I was opposed to state killing before I was a writer. Maybe these aren't the things that made me oppose state killing.

Is it my being a human being that makes me opposed to state killing?

Is it that I refuse to be desensitized by the pervasive violence in our culture and that I want to live in peace in a just and human society?

Is it more simple, is it just that I feel in my heart that it's wrong for the state ever to kill, that we don't have the right to kill, and that my heart breaks at our callousness?

And because I have these deep feelings, is it because remaining silent is just not an option for me?

Please sign the petition asking Attorney General Eric Holder to review these decisions and to spare these 49 lives. There are now 102 signatures on the petition.

Please send an email to Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to review these decisions and to spare these 49 lives at or at I have not yet received a response to my letter.

Maybe this will help you understand how I feel:

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jueves, febrero 05, 2009

Saving 49 Lives (Part 6)

The voice of him that cryeth in the Wilderness
Isaiah 40:3
Ut oh. Ut oh. Ut oh. I'm wondering whether my little, disorganized, spontaneous, repetitive campaign to require the new Attorney General to review the 49 pending federal death penalty cases and to decide that federal prosecutors shouldn't be seeking the death penalty in these cases, has worn out my readership, my welcome, and any remaining goodwill. That's how it is, sometimes when there's more persistence than creativity. But I soldier on, vox clamatis in deserto.

The petition now has 75 signatures, for which I am incredibly thankful. If you haven't signed it yet, please do so. It is a concrete way to ask Attorney General Holder to review all of the 49 pending federal death penalty cases and to decide that his prosecutors have no business seeking the death penalty in these cases.

And many, many people have sent Attorney General emails at or via, the Justice Department's email address, encouraging him to review these 49 cases and not to seek the death penalty in them. Again, please do so, too.
This is the sixth essay in a weeklong series. You can also read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5 at docuDharma and also at GOS and right here at The Dream Antilles.
Today someone asked me an interesting question about my efforts to have Attorney General Holder review these cases. Said he, "Can the Attorney General actually review these cases and change the previous decision on whether to seek the death penalty?" The answer is, yes, and it's happened before.

Here's a National Law Journal article from December, 2004:
On Nov. 12, Nicholas Garaufis, a federal judge who sits in the Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn and Long Island), criticized Ashcroft's decision to seek the death penalty in the pending murder trial of mob boss Joseph Massino. Convicted in July of seven racketeering murders, Massino already faces a mandatory sentence of life without parole.

"Mr. Ashcroft's choice to make such a sobering and potentially life-ending decision now," Garaufis read from a prepared statement at a court hearing, "after several delays, and only after tendering his resignation to the President and announcing to the country that he no longer wishes to preside over the Department of Justice, is deeply troubling to this court."

The judge acknowledged his responsibility to accept the decision, but added that he hopes Gonzales, upon taking office, will "reach an independent assessment."

"Accordingly," Garaufis said, "at the appropriate time, I shall issue an order directing the Government to resubmit the matter to the new Attorney General for his consideration."

Four days later came the announcement that Ashcroft had rescinded an order he issued in January 2003 demanding that prosecutors seek the death penalty in the murder trial of Jairo Zapata. The earlier decision drew immediate fire because lawyers from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York had already signed a cooperation agreement with Zapata. The attorney general's action was criticized for jeopardizing future agreements.
Ultimately, Massino pleaded guilty and Garaufis sentenced him to life without parole, as required. And the Government didn't seek the death penalty against Zapata.

The point: the Attorney General has previously reviewed decisions to seek the death penalty, and has also reversed the previous decisions. Attorney General Holder clearly can reverse any of the death penalty decisions made by his three Republican predecessors.

Please ask your friends, relatives, colleagues, family members to sign the petition and to write to AG Holder. And please, if you have any ideas that will bring others to making this request to the AG, leave them in the comments.

We can save these lives. Let's do that.

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miércoles, febrero 04, 2009

Saving 49 Lives (Part 5)

Evidently, though I'm all fired up about getting the new Attorney General to review all of the pending federal death penalty cases-- there are 49 of them-- and to forbid prosecutors from seeking the death penalty, not so many others are quite as ignited as I am. I think I know why.

The petition now has 62 signatures. Many people have emailed the Attorney General at or at to request that he review these cases. I appreciate everyone's efforts on this.

Please join me in DC, where things are somewhat "different."

Others, however, have asked me an important question. Why, they ask, am I trying to start a confrontational, net based movement when I haven't formally asked the Attorney General, who was sworn in only yesterday, to do something, and he hasn't ever said that he wouldn't do it? Do I anticipate that he wouldn't listen once he has a chance to focus to the request I'm making? Well, yeah, usually, I confess, I think he wouldn't. Maybe I'm just cynical, or lacking hope, or well, demanding. Maybe I'm used to being on the far fringe and being thrown under any on coming vehicle operated by a common carrier.

Regardless, this argument for calm and reason made a certain kind of deflating sense to me. What if, I wonder, the AG actually did adopt my request? That would be remarkable, stunning, delightful. So why not give it a try? Why not see whether the new administration is listening?

So, I have decided to adopt a brand new, albeit far less fun strategy for today. For today only.

Today I am temporarily suspending my many efforts to start a wide ranging, internet based, popular movement to make demands of the Attorney General. Instead, I am only posting this diary and I am sending the following thoughtful letter to the new Attorney General:

February 5, 2009

The Honorable Eric Holder
Attorney General of the United States
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001

Re: Federal Death Penalty Cases

Your Honor:
I am a criminal defense attorney who has practiced in the state and federal courts for more than thirty years. I am writing to request that you review all of the prior Attorneys Generals’ decisions directing federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty, and that you withdraw permission for seeking the death penalty in all of the appropriate cases.

As I’m sure you are aware, under Attorney General John Ashcroft, the decision to seek the death penalty for federal crimes was “federalized.” United States Attorneys were no longer permitted to decide this question; the decision was made to broaden both the number of cases and geographical area in which death was sought. That regrettable policy, which was continued by Alberto Gonzalez and Michael Mukasey, has resulted in approximately 49 individuals presently facing the federal death penalty.

Previously, in response to requests by federal judges or prosecutors, the Attorney General has reviewed and reconsidered his decision to seek the death penalty. Those requests have sometimes resulted in withdrawal of the request for death.

In light of your previous, reported statements and the reported statements of President Obama, I doubt that the criteria previously used to determine that the death penalty should be sought, continue to have vitality. Accordingly, I am requesting that you now review these determinations, and if they do not meet the currently applicable standards to seek the death penalty, that you direct the United States Attorneys to withdraw their demand for the death penalty in these cases.

Thank you very much for your attention to this matter.

That will be my only activity on this issue other than this diary for Thursday. I will act like a responsible adult. For today. I make no promises about tomorrow. Or the next day.

I am, of course, inviting you, dear reader, to send a similar letter.

If after a reasonable amount of time the request in this letter has not been granted, i.e. by Friday morning at 11 am ET, I will again consider my other alternatives and I will again start beating the pots and pans. And writing essays. And sending emails and creating petitions. And stirring things up.

But for now, for today only, I have decided temporarily to pause and to wait and to see whether the current administration's promises of responsiveness will result in a favorable response to my request.

Will it? What do you think??

I should add this. This is what I call wonderful, beautiful help in reaching out to our fellow net citizens and to the new Attorney General. I am so delighted to see this. And, of course, you know that you can do the same thing. I know you can do it!!

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martes, febrero 03, 2009

Saving 49 Lives (Part 4)

I woke up Sunday thinking that Attorney General Eric Holder could save the lives of the 49 people who are presently facing the federal death penalty. He could save their lives simply by reviewing the determinations made by the Bush Administration AG's directing that federal prosecutors should seek death in these cases, and he could decide that death wasn't an appropriate maximum penalty in these cases. He could decide, for example, that life without parole was enough. More than enough. And this simple decision could save someone's life. This simple decision could also put the United States in the main stream of civilized countries in the world that do not impose the death penalty. Ever. And it could prevent us in the United States from having even more unjustifiable blood on our hands. And it would move us slowly, gradually toward ultimate abolition of the death penalty in the United States. What a great idea!

I made a small miscalculation, however. I initially thought that this was such a splendid idea, it's reasoning was so clear and so compelling that I'd post just a few items on the Internet, and send a few hundred emails, and then, poof! through the magic of the Internet there would arise a movement akin to the Alice's Restaurant Masscre, and wham! the Attorney General would get the message and Pow! 49 lives would be instantly saved. And best of all, I'd receive an email from Attorney General Holder saying, "Davidseth, Basta ya! Enough already! I will review all these cases. Thanks for the reminder." That would have been so very wonderful.

This, however, has not yet happened. There are still 49 people facing the federal death penalty, I have no email, and no review has been promised. By anyone. What was required, I was reminded by smart friends, my own experience, the ghosts of Saul Alinsky and IF Stone and Martin Luther King, was dogged persistence. So I decided to be dogged, to write an essay on the topic every day. Every day until I give up or something good happens. And I decided I wouldn't write about anything else for a while. I'd devote my daily time and essay allocation to only this one topic. I figured I have enough material for the first week. I don't mind repeating myself. This is, after all, Wednesday's essay. After that, who knows.

I'm reminded that the Argentinian writer Cesar Aira likes to write himself into corners from which he deftly extricates himself. I'd like to write an essay about that and how clever he is, but alas, I can't right now. I'm staying on topic, and the topic is the 49 people facing the federal death penalty and how to spare them. I realize that there are risks to this kind of persistence: boredom and ridicule. I will try not to deserve either.

What exactly do I want you to do? I want you to request that Attorney General Holder review each of these 49 cases. This is not very much to ask for. But it is, nevertheless, what needs to be done. I want you, dear reader, to take at least two very immediate, simple action steps:

First, I would like you to send a 500 character email to the White House to request that the Attorney General review the 49 cases in which the federal death penalty is presently being sought. Here is a suggested text (497 characters):
Please review all of the determinations made by previous administrations to seek the federal death penalty. There are 49 defendants who presently face the death penalty because of decisions made by former attorneys general. Many of these decisions overruled local US Attorneys' views, were politically motivated, and do not meet the expressed criteria of the present administration for seeking execution. Such a review can save lives and restore confidence in the justice department. Thank you.

You can of course edit and revise it and make it your own.
Second, I would like you to sign a petition asking Attorney General Holder to review these 49 federal death penalty cases and to tell federal prosecutors to withdraw their intention to seek the death penalty.
Which brings me to the further steps. The further steps have to be invented. They don't exist yet.

Please help me out with this.

You know how to use the Internet to spread this idea far and wide. Please do that. Please request that people write to the Attorney General and sign the Petition.

Please volunteer and spontaneously write an essay about this topic at your own blog or your favorite group blog.

Please think of other, creative steps that we can take so that the Attorney General will hear this request to review these cases and will act on it. And write those creative ideas in the comments.

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