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miércoles, setiembre 30, 2009

Inspiration: Activism From Where You Are

Years ago, when I was training for and running marathons, I learned that the best way to perfect form, to have economy of movement, and a smooth, fluid style, was to watch others who ran beautifully and just imitate what they were doing. It was basic, monkey see; monkey do. Similarly, when I see somebody who has seized the moment to make the world better, I wonder about what I could do that would imitate what s/he did. I'm inspired when I see people nourish their activism.

Here's today's example from the New York Times:

Playwrights and producers have used scathing commentary, heartbreaking drama and sharp satire to score political points about war, torture, presidents, AIDS, race relations and women’s rights with New York theater audiences. Now the Broadway musical “Hair” is expanding the concept of stage activism by taking to the streets and urging audiences to follow. The producers canceled a Sunday matinee so that the cast and crew could attend and perform at a march for gay rights in Washington on Oct. 11.

That unusual — and expensive — decision to skip a popular weekend performance at the beginning of the theater season originated with the show’s star, Gavin Creel.

“I said, ‘My God, we have to go, we have to go,’ ” Mr. Creel recalled when he first heard about the rally late last spring.

Although Mr. Creel, 33, stars in a show that is associated with ’60s-style activism and sexual liberation, he personally wasn’t much interested in politics before Barack Obama ran for president. On Election Day last November, he said, he was ecstatic that his candidate won, but was crushed by the victory of Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California. So he decided to help create the activist organization Broadway Impact to mobilize the theater community.

Then in May Mr. Creel met Cleve Jones, creator of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, when he came to see “Hair” with Dustin Lance Black, author of the Oscar-winning screenplay for “Milk.” At a party afterward for the release of the cast recording, they all talked about the Oct. 11 National Equality March that Mr. Jones was helping to organize. The rally’s organizers say they are seeking “equal protection in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states” for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people.


And so, to make a longer, interesting story more concise, Gavin Creel and the tribe, the cast of "Hair", are going to DC for the Equality March. And they're closing a Broadway Sunday matinee to do so. With the full support of the producers of the show. Because, and this is the important part, because Gavin Creel thought it was a good idea and he decided to try to make it happen.

I just love this story. It's inspiring.

It's a reminder, a beautiful reminder that even seemingly impossible ideas can be brought into reality, and that you and I and everybody else who is passionate about something can make a difference. It's surprisingly simple. When we have a good idea, we can decide to try to make it happen.

Here's to Gavin Creel with thanks for being a great example. One I happily will copy. Please join me in that.

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martes, setiembre 29, 2009

1,800 Lose Their Jobs At American Apparel

Does this make any sense? I don't think so. But then again, I'm sympathetic to workers, whether or not they have the right papers.

The New York Times reports:

A clothing maker with a vast garment factory in downtown Los Angeles is firing about 1,800 immigrant employees in the coming days — more than a quarter of its work force — after a federal investigation turned up irregularities in the identity documents the workers presented when they were hired.


Join me in LA.

The firings at the company, American Apparel, have become a showcase for the Obama administration’s effort to reduce illegal immigration by forcing employers to dismiss unauthorized workers rather than by using workplace raids. The firings, however, have divided opinion in California over the effects of the new approach, especially at a time of high joblessness in the state and with a major, well-regarded employer as a target.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a Democrat, called the dismissals “devastating,” and his office has insisted that the federal government should focus on employers that exploit their workers. American Apparel has been lauded by city officials and business leaders for paying well above the garment industry standard, offering health benefits and not long ago giving $18 million in stock to its workers.

But opponents of illegal immigration, including Representative Brian P. Bilbray, a Republican from San Diego who is chairman of a House caucus that opposes efforts to extend legal status to illegal immigrants, back the enforcement effort. They say American Apparel is typical of many companies that, in Mr. Bilbray’s words, have “become addicted to illegal labor.”


If this is the Obama Administration's plan, it's going to devastate thousands of workers and their families. And it's going to devastate an already stuggling economy.

Is the idea of the policy to make existence in this country so difficult for immigrants that they leave? Is the idea to have all 15 million immigrants suffer until they pull up roots, if they can, and leave? What a heartless policy.

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lunes, setiembre 28, 2009

Honduras In State Of Siege While US Blathers That Zelaya's "Foolish"

Lest anyone think that the US had suddenly reversed centuries of supporting and/or creating rightwing, military coups all across Latin America and was going to stand firm in support of restoring democracy in Honduras, today the US sent unmistakable signs that it wasn't changing anything. It was sticking with historical tradition. The US today lashed out at Manual Zelaya for returning to the country of which he is the legitimate president.

Join me in Tegucigalpa.

Reuters reports:

The United States blasted ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya for his "irresponsible and foolish" return from exile before a settlement was reached in the Central American country's political crisis.

At an emergency meeting of the Organization of American States to discuss the Honduran face-off, Lewis Anselem, the U.S. ambassador to the OAS, also criticized Honduras' de facto government for its "deplorable" action in barring entry of an OAS mission and declaring a state of siege on Sunday.

Anselem also criticized Zelaya for fueling violence by slipping back into Honduras last week and holing up in the Brazilian Embassy, from where he has called on his supporters to take to the streets.

"The return of Zelaya absent an agreement is irresponsible and foolish ... He should cease and desist from making wild allegations and from acting as though he were starring in an old movie," Anselm said.


What a joke. Oscar Arrias has been trying unsuccessfully to negotiate Zelaya's return to the country of which he is the legitimate president for months. Those attempts to talk have met only with golpista resistance, running out the clock, posturing, and intense repression against those who support democracy in Honduras. There is no "settlement," and there is none in sight. And waiting until there is a settlement might mean waiting forever.

In an effort to appear evenhanded Washington's mouthpiece at the OAS, of course, denounced the golpista's refusal to let an OAS mission enter the country and the golpistas' harassment of the Brazilian embassy, where President Zelaya has found refuge, and the golpistas' declaration of a state of siege.

What? A state of siege? Did you miss that in your local newspaper? Oh yes, a state of siege. The BBC reports:

Two Honduran media organisations that have been critical of the country's interim government have been closed.

Troops raided Radio Globo and Cholusat Sur TV hours after authorities issued a state of emergency suspending key civil liberties for 45 days. ...snip

The raid on Radio Globo early on Monday was the second on the station since Mr Zelaya was ousted in June.

The interim government's decree - broadcast on national television - allows unauthorised public meetings to be banned and news media to be temporarily closed down.

"Troops assaulted the radio (station)... and took it off the air," said Radio Globo director David Romero.

A Radio Globo journalist, Carlos Lopez, said soldiers had "confiscated everything", including cameras and the keys to vehicles.


Al Giordano has the decree declaring the state of siege. It's brief, and it should be printed here in full:

Decree:

Article 1. For a period of 45 days beginning with this decree’s publication, the Constitutional rights of Articles 69, 72, 81 and 84, are suspended.

Article 2. The Armed Forces will support, together or separately with the National Police, when the situation requires, to execute the necessary plans to maintain the order and security of the Republic.

Article 3. The following is prohibited:

First: Freedom of transit, which will be restricted according to the parameters established by press releases broadcast on all radio and TV stations by the President of the Republic, which will be in effect in all national territory and during curfews, with the exception of cargo transport, ambulances, and urban traffic in the cities excluded in said communiqués, and medical personell and nurses that in those cities work during curfew hours.

Second: All public meetings not authorized by police or military authorities.

Third: Publication in any media, spoken, written or televised, of information that offends human dignity, public officials, or criticizes the law and the government resolutions, or any style of attack against the public order and peace. CONATEL (the Honduran communications commission), through the National Police and the Armed Forces, is authorized to suspend any radio station, television channel or cable system that does not adjust its programming to the present decree.

Article 4. It is ordered:

First: Detain all persons who are found outside of the established orders of circulation, or that in any manner are suspected by police and military authorities of damaging people or property, those that associate with the goal of committing criminal acts or that place their own lives in danger. All detainees will be read their rights, and at the same time must be brought to be booked in a police station of the country, identifying all persons detained, their motives, the hour of arrest and release from the police station, recording the physical condition of the detainee, to avoid future accusations of supposed crimes of torture.

Second: All persons detained must remain confined in the legally established detention centers.

Third: All public offices, national, state and municipal, that have been occupied by demonstrators or have persons inside of them engaging in illegal activities will be cleared.

Fourth: All Secretaries of State, decentralized institutions, municipalities and other state organisms must place themselves at the orders of the National Police and Armed Forces without any equivocation, along with all means at their disposal, for the development of these operations.

Article 5. The present Decree becomes law immediately, being duly published in the Official Daily “La Gaceta” and will be sent to the National Congress to be made law.

Ordered from the Presidential Palace in the City of Tegucigalpa, municipality of the Central District, on the 22nd of September of 2009.

ROBERTO MICHELETTI BAIN

CONSTITUTIONAL PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC


Four articles of the Hondruan Constitution, those providing the most basic liberties, have been suspended by the Order. Al Giordano quotes them.

And so the other foot has now dropped in Honduras. The golpistas have declared a second, more forceful coup, one that suspends democracy for 45 days. And what's the magic of 45 days? Well, the election in November is in 45 days. And the golpistas evidently are going to argue that Honduras can have a "fair" election while there's a state of siege in effect, or that no election can be held because of civil unrest.

This makes the situation in Honduras all the more dangerous and unstable. And it makes the US's criticism of Zelaya all the more disgraceful. There is no earthly reason why Zelaya should help the coup run out the clock on his presidency. And there is no reason why he and Hondurans and Latin Americans in general should be satisfied with the half-hearted diplomatic process that was Zelaya's only alternative to returning and confronting the golpistas.

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domingo, setiembre 27, 2009

Honduras: A Stand Off

You will recall that the legitimate president of Honduras Manual Zelaya evaded the golpistas who wanted to arrest him and secretly returned to Honduras, where he found refuge in the Brazilian embassy. First, there was this essay; then this. Zelaya's still there. And this is an update on the present stand off.

Usurper and golpista Roberto Micheletti has apparently, international law be damned, given the Brazilians an ultimatum. According to CNN:

Honduras is accusing Brazil's government of instigating an insurrection within its borders, and gave the Brazilian Embassy 10 days to decide the status of ousted Honduran President Jose Manuel Zelaya, who has taken refuge there.

"Since the clandestine arrival to Honduras by ex-president Zelaya, the Brazil embassy has been used to instigate violence and insurrection against the Honduran people and the constitutional government," the secretary of foreign affairs for Honduras' de facto government said in a statement late Saturday night.

The statement said Honduras would be forced to take measures against Brazil if Brazil did not define its position on Zelaya. It did not specify what those measures would be.

"No country is able to tolerate that a foreign embassy is used as a command base to generate violence and break tranquility like Mr. Zelaya has been doing in our country since his arrival," the statement said.
It's not clear what the golpistas mean when they give ten days "to decide" Zelaya's fate." Does that mean to turn him over to the golpistas? To render him for arrest? To remove him from the country? It's a threat, but the "or else" is clear, but the action demanded is opaque.

Brazil has now responded to the golpistas with a raised middle digit:

Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said on Sunday his nation would not comply with a demand from Honduras' de facto government to decide the status of ousted President Manuel Zelaya in 10 days.

Lula, speaking to reporters during a summit in Venezuela, said international law protects Brazil's embassy, where Zelaya has been staying since returning to Honduras earlier this month. He demanded an apology from Honduras' de facto leader, Roberto Micheletti.
These threatening exchanges come on the heals of charges by Zelaya that the Golpistas have attacked the Brazilian embassy with "neurotoxins:"
Ousted Honduran President Jose Manuel Zelaya said he and supporters holed up at the Brazilian Embassy were victims of a "neurotoxic" gas attack Friday morning that caused many people to have nose bleeds and breathing difficulties.

An official with Brazil's Foreign Ministry told CNN there was some type of gas used in the area but could not confirm it was a nerve agent. Some embassy employees felt minor symptoms, said the official, who did not want his name used because that is foreign ministry protocol.
The charge of a gas attack was leveled after the United Nations Security Council "condemn[ed] acts of intimidation against the Brazilian Embassy and call[ed] upon the de facto government of Honduras to cease harassing the Brazilian Embassy." This admonition to the golpe de estado came after the golpistas violated the sovereignty of the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, where Zelaya had found refuge:
The Brazilian foreign minister told the Security Council on Friday that "since the day it has sheltered President Zelaya at its premises, the Brazilian Embassy has been virtually under siege."

"It has been submitted to acts of harassment and intimidation by the de facto authorities," the minister said. "Electricity, water supply and phone connections were cut off. Cell phone communications were blocked or interfered with. Disruptive sound equipment was installed in front of the embassy."

"Access to food was severely restricted. The circulation of official vehicles of the Brazilian Embassy was curtailed," the foreign minister added. "The charged affairs of Brazil has been in practice prevented from moving from the Chancellery to the Residence, since the police informed that anyone who would leave the embassy premises would not be allowed back."

Following the Security Council action, US Ambassador Susan Rice stated:

"We condemn acts of intimidation against the Brazilian embassy and call upon the de facto government of Honduras to cease harassing the Brazilian embassy.”

That's unequivocal, and clear enough. But today there appears to be little or no movement toward restoring Manual Zelaya to the presidency of Honduras, or toward removing the golpistas from power. The stand off continues.

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miércoles, setiembre 23, 2009

Honduras: The Crisis Continues


Manual Zelaya In The Brazilian Embassy, Tegucigalpa

The two sides aren't talking to each other in Honduras, even though they are just miles from each other. The golpistas use the military to repress the people on the streets and to continue the curfews. The real president of Honduras has asylum in the Brazilian embassy.

Join me in Tegucigalpa.

The New York Times reports:

the two men who claim to be the president of Honduras passed another day without meeting on Wednesday as residents of this capital city used a break in a curfew to store up supplies and hunker down for what could be an extended political standoff.

“We need to sit down face to face,” Manuel Zelaya, the deposed leader, said in a telephone interview from the Brazilian Embassy, where he has been holed up since slipping back into the country from exile on Monday. He complained of harassment of his supporters by the security forces, a dwindling food supply inside the compound where he and ever fewer backers are staying and the acrid aroma of tear gas from earlier clashes outside.

But the government did restore water, electricity and telephone service to the building, which it had cut off on Tuesday.


Conditions in Tegucigalpa today evidence continuing strife as demonstrators defy the curfew and confront the military, which is trying to push supporters of Zelaya off of the streets:

The streets, littered with rubble and tear gas canisters, summed up the acrimony. Angry demonstrators had uprooted trees, looted stores and burned tires on Tuesday to protest the de facto government’s refusal to reinstate Mr. Zelaya. Security forces in riot gear had fired tear gas to move protesters away from the embassy.

The aggressive tactics of the police and soldiers drew strong condemnation, especially the firing of tear gas on Monday at the headquarters of a Honduran human rights organization. A large group of people were inside, filing complaints about police and army abuses at the time, according to Amnesty International.

On Wednesday, the two sides continued to test each other. At noon, as Zelaya supporters were massing, a police spokesman announced that the government had just banned meetings of more than 20 people.

But the protest, thousands strong, went on.

A line of riot police officers, backed by water cannon, tried to hold a line a few blocks from the embassy. But the protest organizers persuaded the police to move back as the demonstrators moved forward, chanting, “Yes, we did,” in a reference to Mr. Zelaya’s return.


Put simply, there is an uneasy, dangerous tension in Honduras, and there is no significant progress toward restoring Manual Zelaya to the presidency. Although both sides say they want to talk, there have been no talks. Although Costa Rican president Arias has offered to continue to mediate the crisis, there is no mediation.

It will not do to hold elections for the next presidential term, which begins in January, if the golpistas continue to hold the government. And so the deadlock continues.

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martes, setiembre 22, 2009

Honduras: Zelaya Returns; Micheletti Unleashes Repression

Deposed, legitimate president Manual Zelaya of Honduras returned to his country and took shelter in the Brazilian Embassy, where he remains. Thousands of Hondurans rushed into the streets to support his return. And now, the golpistas have unleashed the expected repression.

Please join me on the streets of Tegucigalpa.

The New York Times reports:
Police officers used tear gas in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, early Tuesday to disperse thousands of backers of Manuel Zelaya, the deposed leader, outside the Brazilian Embassy, where he was seeking refuge after sneaking back into the country the day before, according to witnesses and news reports.

The de facto government had declared a curfew Monday after learning that Mr. Zelaya, who was expelled three months ago in a dawn coup, had re-entered surreptitiously to rally his supporters and confront the officials who had arranged his removal. After backers of Mr. Zelaya defied the order to stay off the streets, heavily armed riot police officers and soldiers forced them to scatter and took up positions around the embassy in Tegucigalpa, the capital.

At least two tear-gas canisters landed inside the embassy compound, Reuters reported, and Mr. Zelaya said in a television interview with Telesur, a Venezuelan broadcaster, that he foresaw “bigger acts of aggression and violence” by the de facto government and possibly even an invasion of the Brazilian Embassy. Tegucigalpa’s main hospital treated 20 people injured in the scuffle, some with broken legs and arms and head wounds but none in serious condition, Reuters reported.
The entire country remains under a curfew.

Apparently, Zelaya's fifteen hour trek through the jungle to Tegucigalpa caught the golpista's by surprise:
His return appeared to have caught the de facto government by surprise. Roberto Micheletti, who was appointed president by Congress, at first denied that Mr. Zelaya had returned, calling the reports “media terrorism.”

But on Monday evening, after imposing a nationwide curfew, he acknowledged Mr. Zelaya’s presence but said it “changes nothing of our reality.” He called on Brazil to hand Mr. Zelaya over for arrest and trial.

“We are waiting for him,” Mr. Micheletti said in a news conference earlier in the day. “A court is ready to proceed against him legally, and a jail is also ready.”

Despite the golpistas posturing, Brazil stands firm in its providing asylum. The European Union has called for calm. Oscar Arias has offered to continue to mediate between the sides, although his previous efforts produced no substantial result. And Hilary Clinton

said Monday evening that the two sides must find a way to talk. “It’s imperative that dialogue begin,” she said. “It’s also imperative that the return of President Zelaya does not lead to any conflict or violence, but instead that everyone act in a peaceful way to try to find some common ground.”

This statement by the US is predictably weak tea. The coup has been ongoing since the end of June. There's been talk, but no real support for Zelaya. Funds for Honduras were cut off pending a decision on whether the golpistas action of seizing the president at gun point, putting him on an airplane while he was still in his pajamas, and flying him out of the country might have been a coup. And despite seeming US support for Zelaya, the International Monetary Fund last week gave $164 million to the coup government.

As Robert Naiman argued earlier today, now's the time to restore Zelaya to the presidency. Enough of the footdragging.

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lunes, setiembre 21, 2009

Texecutions: "Skewed Justice"

Here's a trick question. Is there anything wrong with a death penalty jury trial in which the prosecutor trying the case is having an affair while the case is going on with the judge who is trying the case? I know. It looks pretty unfair. It looks pretty sleazy. There really should be something the matter with this, right? Shouldn't the judge recuse herself? Shouldn't the case be assigned to a different prosecutor, all for the sake of the appearance of fairness?

But in Texas, ground zero for state killing, there's no answer to these questions. At least not today Why? Because the majority of the Court of Criminal Appeals, Texas's highest court that considers criminal appeals, is wagging its finger at the defendant's lawyers saying that the affair isn't something that the Court will look at because the defense lawyers waited too long to raise the issue. According to the Court, it's OK to execute Charles D. Hood whether there was an affair or not because the defense waited too long to raise the question. You cannot make this stuff up.

The New York Times reports:

The highest criminal court in Texas ruled Wednesday that a man facing the death penalty for murder could not have a new trial despite a love affair between the prosecutor and the judge who tried his case.

In a 6-to-3 decision, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals said the convicted man, Charles D. Hood, should have raised in earlier appeals the argument that the love affair had tainted his trial.

The affair had been rumored for years in Collin County, just north of Dallas, but was confirmed only a year ago when Mr. Hood’s lawyers compelled the judge, Verla Sue Holland, and the prosecutor, Thomas S. O’Connell Jr., to give depositions under oath. Both officials had since retired.

The case has stirred controversy across the country. Several former judges, prosecutors and experts on legal ethics have said that the affair makes it impossible to know if Mr. Hood received a fair trial and that it should be cause for a new proceeding.


In other words, according to 6 of the judges of the highest criminal appeals court in Texas, the accused should have told an appeals court more than a decade ago, "I can't prove that there was an affair between the judge and the prosecutor during my trial, there's no proof of that yet, but there's a really big rumor that they were having an affair and so this Court should vacate my conviction." That's not a likely sentence in any brief I've ever seen. Prudent counsel just don't write unsubstantiated allegations to appeals courts accusing judges and prosecutors of having affairs.

Wednesday’s decision overturned the findings of a district court judge who had found that Mr. Hood should be allowed a hearing on a new trial. The decision did not discuss whether the affair had prejudiced his first trial; instead, the court rejected Mr. Hood’s claim on the ground that he should have raised it when he first appealed his 1990 conviction.

Mr. Hood’s lawyers responded to that finding by saying they had long tried to substantiate rumors of the affair. They also accused the majority of ignoring confirmation of it in the testimony of Ms. Holland and Mr. O’Connell.


But there's more to the story than just the questionable outcome of this appeal. The stench of unfairness permeates more than the just the trial. It taints the appeal as well. The Times puts it this way:

[The trial judge in the case] went on to serve on the Court of Criminal Appeals with all but one of the current members. “This decision by a court where eight of the nine judges once shared the bench with Judge Holland will only add to the perception that justice is skewed in Texas,” said Andrea Keilen, executive director of the Texas Defender Service, which represents Mr. Hood.


To recap, the judge has an affair with the prosecutor, but that's a secret, leading only to numerous rumors. The judge is then promoted to the top appeals court. And she and the prosecutor then retire. When the appeal about the alleged affair finally reaches the appeals court, the appeals judges, all of whom were on the bench with the former trial judge, decide 6-3 that the defense waited too long to raise the issue even though it couldn't be raised sooner.

According to the Times, the defendant in the case, Charles D. Hood was convicted of the 1989 murder and robbery of a couple with whom he had been living in Plano, a Dallas suburb. Though he maintained his innocence, his bloody fingerprints were found at the scene, and he was arrested the next day in Indiana driving the murdered man’s car. It goes without saying that Hood has been on death row in Texas for 20 years and that the unfavorable decision will in all likelihood not be the last in his case.

Meanwhile, the DA's office has this comment on the case: “We look at it as a significant procedural victory.”

As long as state killing is permitted, and as long as the legislatures and courts try to truncate the appeals process, we're going to see decisions like this one. In fact, this kind of procedural decision is by now typical. It's what one should expect. There was virtually nothing the defense in this case could do to raise the issue before the affair was admitted by the judge and the prosecutor. But that doesn't matter to these appellate judges. They are just cutting off Hood's appeals, they are moving him one step closer to the injection gurney.

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jueves, setiembre 17, 2009

Mary Travers, RIP



The New York Times:

Mary Travers, whose ringing, earnest vocals with the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary made songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “If I Had a Hammer” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” enduring anthems of the 1960s protest movement, died on Wednesday at Danbury Hospital in Connecticut. She was 72 and lived in Redding, Conn.
Hers was music I grew up with. As the Times, says:
Ms. Travers once told the music magazine Goldmine, “People say to us, ‘Oh, I grew up with your music,’ and we often say, sotto voce, ‘So did we.’ ”

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sábado, setiembre 12, 2009

Where Do Stories Come From?


A Social Flycatcher

One possibility is that I make up stories. I dream them up, I fantasize them up, I just make them up. They come from me, from my brain or my mind or my heart. If that's where the come from, that's ok with me. I'm convinced that dreams, fantasies, stories are really important, often more important than physical objects and things you can see, so if they spontaneously arise from somewhere inside me, and I write them down, that's fine with me.

But there's another possibility. One that's more exciting. I like this other possibility a lot better.

I spent two weeks in Mexico, north of Tulum, Quintana Roo, writing every day. I was trying to finish the first draft of my second novel, working title "Tulum." Where did the ideas in that draft come from? Did they come from me? Or did they come from somewhere else?

When I first arrived at Bahia Soliman, where I was going to write, I noticed a particular kind of bird that was very pretty, very unusual for me. It's unusual for me because it only lives in Mexico, Central America, and northern South America. It's called a "social flycatcher." I don't know why it's called that. Its Wiki explains all kinds of things but not its name.

I think it's called "social" because it doesn't immediately fly away when it's near people. Or other birds and animals. That's just what I think. Anyway, I was wondering about this beautiful bird, and whether it might be near me because it was carrying stories for me and wanted to give some of them to me.

Whenever I got to the point in writing when I couldn't sit at the computer any longer, whenever I got stuck, whenever I had to figure something out about what I was writing, whenever I needed new ideas, whenever I needed inspiration or endurance, I'd go out for a walk. And maybe I'd see one of the social flycatchers.

I liked looking at this very pretty bird. Maybe, I thought, it was carrying the information, the story I needed to write down. And sure enough, after I went for my walk, I would find that I was able to continue to write, that I was able to go on with my writing, that I knew what to type.

This process went on for about two weeks. For about 15,000 words (I had a lot of words before I got to Mexico). And then one day, I thought, "Ah hah. That is the finish line, that is the end of this book, that is how it ends. I will finish this up tomorrow or the next day or the day after. I can see the conclusion, the last paragraph. Finally it has appeared. That's where and how this book ends."

After that I didn't see any of these birds again. No more social flycatchers. Not a one.

There are a lot of possibilities here. Maybe it was time for them to move on to another place to feed. Maybe it was time for them to move west or north on their migration. Maybe they ate all of the bugs where I was. Maybe having passed on whatever information they had for me, they decided to go and help somebody else, somebody else who was dreaming something up. Maybe somebody who was writing, or painting, or writing songs, or making something.

I prefer that they went on to help somebody else.

Wherever they might now be, I want to thank them for all of their help. But, I'm sorry to say, I don't know how to thank them except to write about what a wonderful assistance they were to me and to acknowledge their help.

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viernes, setiembre 11, 2009

9/11, The Eighth Anniversary

Let me just repeat what I said a year ago:

This morning in Columbia County, New York the sky was blue. I took the faithful retriever dog for a walk in the fields. The golden rod is in bloom, and there are wild asters. American milkweed is in its cotton phase. It was September 11.

When I walk I am aware of my breathing. I am aware of my feelings. I am aware of my thoughts. Today I felt sad. I didn't know why. I was aware of my breathing and my feelings and my thoughts. I remembered where I was and what I did seven years ago. It was September 11.

I remembered watching the film of the airplane crashing into the World Trade Center over and over and over and over again. The people who escaped or survived the fire and the collapse of the building probably are still shocked. And all of us who watched the airplane crashing into the World Trade Center over and over and over and over again. We were shocked. Maybe all of us who watched have post traumatic stress disorder. Maybe we're a nation of people suffering from post traumatic stress disorder or shock or whatever you call it when you're filled with inescapable horror and can't do anything about it. After all, it was September 11.

I remembered sitting in the hot tub with all the lights off. Abundant stars. No airplanes. Silence. A tiny person on a tiny planet sitting in a hot tub listening to the crickets. It was September 11.

I'm walking in high golden rod. Thankfully, there are a few bees. There are some monarch butterflies. There are the usual birds who live in bushes. But as I walk I feel like one of the many children whose parents are getting divorced who assume that the reason the divorce happened has something to do with them, something, they don't know what it is, but it had to have something to do with them, didn't it? But, I think, the attack did have something to do with me didn't it? Some people say it did. Some people say it's the chickens of the empire coming home to roost. And I had something to do with the chickens, didn't I? We're all interconnected, the poultry and me. This connection is so remote, so far away, so ungraspable, so unfathomable. I couldn't figure it out. It didn't make sense to me. Sometimes things just don't make sense. After all, it was September 11.

The dog decided to go for a swim. I am aware of my breathing. I am aware of my feelings. I am aware of my thoughts. The dog and I decided to walk home. I gave her a treat. The sky was perfectly blue. It was just like that day seven years ago. Except there were airplanes in the sky today. But my country continues to suffer from its post traumatic stress disorder or shock or whatever you call it when you're filled with inescapable horror and can't do anything about it.


Today it rained. Otherwise, it's still the same for me. Is it true that when you remember something, your brain doesn't know whether it's a memory or something that is actually then happening?

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miércoles, setiembre 09, 2009

09/09/09 And A Bird

Today's an auspicious day. Look first at the date and time. It's all nines.

I've been in Mexico for more than two weeks writing. And, thank you thank you thank you, I have finished the first draft of my novel, Tulum. And I've sent it out to two writer friends to read. I want to be sure that it's worth continuing with. It, of course, will need an agent and/or a publisher and some reworking and editing. All the usual things that turn coal into diamonds. I will get to that after my friends have read it and after I've honed it a little more.

I'm not going to spoil it now: it's about an American expat with a shady past who's been hiding in Tulum, Mexico for a decade and his making friends with a Mayan Curandero who is his neighbor. Their friendship is very playful. The book is set in Tulum, Cuba and the Mayan Riviera of Mexico. That's all I'm telling for now.

When I was in Ireland at the end of April, I received a very strong message from The Hag, The Crone to finish the first draft of this book by mid September. Or else. There would be no excuses, no extensions of time, no dogs eating my homework. The message was that I had to finish this up without further delays. So today, 9/9/09, I have met that deadline. I am relieved. I don't expect I will taste the lash that was implicit in the April message I received. Thank goodness.

I've had a wonderful solitary week of taking very long walks, swimming, and writing. The writing has required me to go on very long walks on the beach in the forest. When things were getting stiff, or sore, or congested, I stopped to walk.

Bahia Soliman, just north of Tulum, where I've been has been virtually deserted. Almost no one else is here. It is extremely quiet, and the weather has been absolutely perfect. Hot and sunny every day. In fact, the area could use some rain. We've had only one brief shower while I've been here. I am delighted to have had this produtive time here.

Throughout the week I've had repeated sightings of a particular kind of bird that keeps showing up to watch me, to hang out with me, to sing. It's called a "social flycatcher." It lives primarily in Mexico and Central America. It's a very beautiful bird:



I assume it's called "social" because it doesn't immediately fly away from people, though it does keep its distance. It has a sweet but simple song. It likes to be near the ocean, but it's also happy in the selva. And it likes to sit on wires and sing.

Since I finished my first draft I haven't seen any of these birds again. I wonder why that is.

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