Monday, December 25, 2006

A Christmas Sermon on Peace

Giovanni di Paolo - Madonna of Humility, 1435.

This morning, I re-read Martin
Luther King's "A Christmas Sermon for Peace," and was moved once again by its beauty and intelligence. It was the last Christmas sermon he delivered, on Christmas Eve, 1967, only a few months before his death.

Peace, everyone, and have a beautiful Holy-Day.

A Christmas Sermon on Peace

Dr. King first delivered this sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he served as co-pastor. On Christmas Eve, 1967, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation aired this sermon as part of the seventh annual Massey Lectures.

Peace on Earth. . .

This Christmas season finds us a rather bewildered human race. We have neither peace within nor peace without. Everywhere paralyzing fears harrow people by day and haunt them by night. Our world is sick with war; everywhere we turn we see its ominous possibilities. And yet, my friends, the Christmas hope for peace and good will toward all men can no longer be dismissed as a kind of pious dream of some utopian. If we don't have good will toward men in this world, we will destroy ourselves by the misuse of our own instruments and our own power. Wisdom born of experience should tell us that war is obsolete. There may have been a time when war served as a negative good by preventing the spread and growth of an evil force, but the very destructive power of modern weapons of warfare eliminates even the possibility that war may any longer serve as a negative good. And so, if we assume that life is worth living, if we assume that mankind has a right to survive, then we must find an alternative to war—and so let us this morning explore the conditions for peace. Let us this morning think anew on the meaning of that Christmas hope: “Peace on Earth, Good Will toward Men.” And as we explore these conditions, I would like to suggest that modern man really go all out to study the meaning of nonviolence, its philosophy and its strategy.

We have experimented with the meaning of nonviolence in our struggle for racial justice in the United States, but now the time has come for man to experiment with nonviolence in all areas of human conflict, and that means nonviolence on an international scale.

Now let me suggest first that if we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective. No individual can live alone; no nation can live alone, and as long as we try, the more we are going to have war in this world. Now the judgment of God is upon us, and we must either learn to live together as brothers or we are all going to perish together as fools.

Yes, as nations and individuals, we are interdependent. I have spoken to you before of our visit to India some years ago. It was a marvelous experience; but I say to you this morning that there were those depressing moments. How can one avoid being depressed when one sees with one's own eyes evidences of millions of people going to bed hungry at night? How can one avoid being depressed when one sees with ones own eyes thousands of people sleeping on the sidewalks at night? More than a million people sleep on the sidewalks of Bombay every night; more than half a million sleep on the sidewalks of Calcutta every night. They have no houses to go into. They have no beds to sleep in. As I beheld these conditions, something within me cried out: “Can we in America stand idly by and not be concerned?” And an answer came: “Oh, no!” And I started thinking about the fact that right here in our country we spend millions of dollars every day to store surplus food; and I said to myself: “I know where we can store that food free of charge—in the wrinkled stomachs of the millions of God's children in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and even in our own nation, who go to bed hungry at night.”

It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality. Did you ever stop to think that you can't leave for your job in the morning without being dependent on most of the world? You get up in the morning and go to the bathroom and reach over for the sponge, and that's handed to you by a Pacific islander. You reach for a bar of soap, and that's given to you at the hands of a Frenchman. And then you go into the kitchen to drink your coffee for the morning, and that's poured into your cup by a South American. And maybe you want tea: that's poured into your cup by a Chinese. Or maybe you're desirous of having cocoa for breakfast, and that's poured into your cup by a West African. And then you reach over for your toast, and that's given to you at the hands of an English-speaking farmer, not to mention the baker. And before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you've depended on more than half of the world. This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren't going to have peace on earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.

Now let me say, secondly, that if we are to have peace in the world, men and nations must embrace the nonviolent affirmation that ends and means must cohere. One of the great philosophical debates of history has been over the whole question of means and ends. And there have always been those who argued that the end justifies the means, that the means really aren't important. The important thing is to get to the end, you see.

So, if you're seeking to develop a just society, they say, the important thing is to get there, and the means are really unimportant; any means will do so long as they get you there? they may be violent, they may be untruthful means; they may even be unjust means to a just end. There have been those who have argued this throughout history. But we will never have peace in the world until men everywhere recognize that ends are not cut off from means, because the means represent the ideal in the making, and the end in process, and ultimately you can't reach good ends through evil means, because the means represent the seed and the end represents the tree.

It's one of the strangest things that all the great military geniuses of the world have talked about peace. The conquerors of old who came killing in pursuit of peace, Alexander, Julius Caesar, Charlemagne, and Napoleon, were akin in seeking a peaceful world order. If you will read Mein Kampf closely enough, you will discover that Hitler contended that everything he did in Germany was for peace. And the leaders of the world today talk eloquently about peace. Every time we drop our bombs in North Vietnam, President Johnson talks eloquently about peace. What is the problem? They are talking about peace as a distant goal, as an end we seek, but one day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means. All of this is saying that, in the final analysis, means and ends must cohere because the end is preexistent in the means, and ultimately destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends.

Now let me say that the next thing we must be concerned about if we are to have peace on earth and good will toward men is the nonviolent affirmation of the sacredness of all human life. Every man is somebody because he is a child of God. And so when we say “Thou shalt not kill,” we're really saying that human life is too sacred to be taken on the battlefields of the world. Man is more than a tiny vagary of whirling electrons or a wisp of smoke from a limitless smoldering. Man is a child of God, made in His image, and therefore must be respected as such. Until men see this everywhere, until nations see this everywhere, we will be fighting wars. One day somebody should remind us that, even though there may be political and ideological differences between us, the Vietnamese are our brothers, the Russians are our brothers, the Chinese are our brothers; and one day we've got to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. But in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile. In Christ there is neither male nor female. In Christ there is neither Communist nor capitalist. In Christ, somehow, there is neither bound nor free. We are all one in Christ Jesus. And when we truly believe in the sacredness of human personality, we won't exploit people, we won't trample over people with the iron feet of oppression, we won't kill anybody.

There are three words for “love” in the Greek New Testament; one is the word “eros.” Eros is a sort of esthetic, romantic love. Plato used to talk about it a great deal in his dialogues, the yearning of the soul for the realm of the divine. And there is and can always be something beautiful about eros, even in its expressions of romance. Some of the most beautiful love in all of the world has been expressed this way.

Then the Greek language talks about “philia,” which is another word for love, and philia is a kind of intimate love between personal friends. This is the kind of love you have for those people that you get along with well, and those whom you like on this level you love because you are loved.

Then the Greek language has another word for love, and that is the word “agape.” Agape is more than romantic love, it is more than friendship. Agape is understanding, creative, redemptive good will toward all men. Agape is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. Theologians would say that it is the love of God operating in the human heart. When you rise to love on this level, you love all men not because you like them, not because their ways appeal to you, but you love them because God loves them. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “Love your enemies.” And I'm happy that he didn't say, “Like your enemies,” because there are some people that I find it pretty difficult to like. Liking is an affectionate emotion, and I can't like anybody who would bomb my home. I can't like anybody who would exploit me. I can't like anybody who would trample over me with injustices. I can't like them. I can't like anybody who threatens to kill me day in and day out. But Jesus reminds us that love is greater than liking. Love is understanding, creative, redemptive good will toward all men. And I think this is where we are, as a people, in our struggle for racial justice. We can't ever give up. We must work passionately and unrelentingly for first-class citizenship. We must never let up in our determination to remove every vestige of segregation and discrimination from our nation, but we shall not in the process relinquish our privilege to love.

I've seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and I've seen hate on the faces of too many sheriffs, too many white citizens' councilors, and too many Klansmen of the South to want to hate, myself; and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow we must be able to stand up before our most bitter opponents and say: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws and abide by the unjust system, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good, and so throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and drag us out on some wayside road and leave us half-dead as you beat us, and we will still love you. Send your propaganda agents around the country, and make it appear that we are not fit, culturally and otherwise, for integration, and we'll still love you. But be assured that we'll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”

If there is to be peace on earth and good will toward men, we must finally believe in the ultimate morality of the universe, and believe that all reality hinges on moral foundations. Something must remind us of this as we once again stand in the Christmas season and think of the Easter season simultaneously, for the two somehow go together. Christ came to show us the way. Men love darkness rather than the light, and they crucified him, and there on Good Friday on the cross it was still dark, but then Easter came, and Easter is an eternal reminder of the fact that the truth-crushed earth will rise again. Easter justifies Carlyle in saying, “No lie can live forever.” And so this is our faith, as we continue to hope for peace on earth and good will toward men: let us know that in the process we have cosmic companionship.

In 1963, on a sweltering August afternoon, we stood in Washington, D.C., and talked to the nation about many things. Toward the end of that afternoon, I tried to talk to the nation about a dream that I had had, and I must confess to you today that not long after talking about that dream I started seeing it turn into a nightmare. I remember the first time I saw that dream turn into a nightmare, just a few weeks after I had talked about it. It was when four beautiful, unoffending, innocent Negro girls were murdered in a church in Birmingham, Alabama. I watched that dream turn into a nightmare as I moved through the ghettos of the nation and saw my black brothers and sisters perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity, and saw the nation doing nothing to grapple with the Negroes' problem of poverty. I saw that dream turn into a nightmare as I watched my black brothers and sisters in the midst of anger and understandable outrage, in the midst of their hurt, in the midst of their disappointment, turn to misguided riots to try to solve that problem. I saw that dream turn into a nightmare as I watched the war in Vietnam escalating, and as I saw so-called military advisors, sixteen thousand strong, turn into fighting soldiers until today over five hundred thousand American boys are fighting on Asian soil. Yes, I am personally the victim of deferred dreams, of blasted hopes, but in spite of that I close today by saying I still have a dream, because, you know, you can't give up in life. If you lose hope, somehow you lose that vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of all. And so today I still have a dream.

I have a dream that one day men will rise up and come to see that they are made to live together as brothers. I still have a dream this morning that one day every Negro in this country, every colored person in the world, will be judged on the basis of the content of his character rather than the color of his skin, and every man will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. I still have a dream that one day the idle industries of Appalachia will be revitalized, and the empty stomachs of Mississippi will be filled, and brotherhood will be more than a few words at the end of a prayer, but rather the first order of business on every legislative agenda. I still have a dream today that one day justice will roll down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream. I still have a dream today that in all of our state houses and city halls men will be elected to go there who will do justly and love mercy and walk humbly with their God. I still have a dream today that one day war will come to an end, that men will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, that nations will no longer rise up against nations, neither will they study war any more. I still have a dream today that one day the lamb and the lion will lie down together and every man will sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid. I still have a dream today that one day every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill will be made low, the rough places will be made smooth and the crooked places straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. I still have a dream that with this faith we will be able to adjourn the councils of despair and bring new light into the dark chambers of pessimism. With this faith we will be able to speed up the day when there will be peace on earth and good will toward men. It will be a glorious day, the morning stars will sing together, and the sons of God will shout for joy.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

A Christmas Meme

I've been tagged to do a Christmas "meme." (Thanks, Jeff.) I'm still not sure how I feel about "memes," or even what "meme" really means. But I guess I do enjoy playing around with these questions. I've added some of my own as well. See other Christmas Memes by Jeff and Crystal.

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate?

Jeff has a good point - why isn't Hot Mulled Cider offered as a choice? That's the main holiday drink in some regions of the country. And we're in the 21st century, for goodness sakes. In the United States of America. We have access to the internet. We can order practically anything online. We have 117 kinds of breakfast cereals, over a hundred channels of bad television, access to thousands of newspapers from around the world. Why must we settle for two kinds of drinks at Christmas? Who's trying to force these two limited choices on us? I sense the invisible hand of the National Egg Nog Association behind this meme.

NENA Exec 1: "Well, it's incredibly high in saturated fat, cholesterol and sugar, so how are we going to market it to people?"
NENA Marketing VP: "I know, we'll create a Christmas Meme and grapeshot the internet with it."
NENA Exec's Lackey: "Right - What's your favorite Christmas drink? Egg nog or turpentine?"
NENA Marketing VP: "No, that might be too obvious, and we might not like the responses. . . . As long as we only mention
one other beverage, then at least half of the audience will say 'EGG NOG for me, buddy!!!' They'll go away from the blog thinking that they actually like egg nog, forgetting that they only drink it once a year, usually after they've had too much alcohol and aren't thinking clearly. They'll believe that they decided egg nog was their choice."

Have you ever seen those tall cans of egg nog that sit around on grocery store shelves all year long? With a film of dust on them? You realize, of course, that someone will buy those and serve it to their friends at some point. Do you want to risk being one of those friends?

No, thank you. I like anis for Christmas. Preferably
Anis de Chinchón "seco." Unfortunately that's hard to find in the States, so I usually have to settle for Anis del Mono's "dulce" or Marie Brizzard. Sambuca can do in a pinch, but it's just not the same.

One must also consider
atole and champurrado.

Since I live with a chocoholic, hot chocolate is a YEAR-ROUND beverage.

And I love hot-mulled cider.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree?

In a global economy, Santa sub-contracts gift wrapping to unregulated companies in the Far East. (Why do you think Bush was pushing for that "Free Trade Agreement" with Vietnam so late in the year?) Basically, crippled 6-year old children are slaving away in Indonesian sweatshops under inhumane conditions so Santa can deliver nice, neatly wrapped presents to your child here in the United States. (Sort of like Barnes & Noble uses those 87-year old "volunteers" to gift-wrap that new Noam Chomsky book you had to buy.)

And what about the toy-makers themselves? Well, let's just say that nobody is monitoring labor relations at the North Pole. Sure, when you watch Rudolph or Frosty on TV, the North Pole looks like one big, happy family. But doesn't it seem striking similar to a company town? Do you really think the elves are unionized or able to organize themselves if they have a grievance? How do you think Santa, Inc. makes all those toys year after year and still turns a profit? Do you think the little Mexican elf who crossed the Yukon River for a better life in "El Muy Norte" has health coverage? Especially now that his lungs are scarred from breathing in toxic fumes while making that pretty sweater you wanted? You think Santa's gonna keep little Manuelito on the payroll now that he can't work 18 hours a day? Yeah, fat chance. I think even a cursory investigation would reveal that the North Pole operation makes Wal-Mart look like Catholic Charities.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white?

I'm a big fan of Martin Luther King, Jr. I believe that a Christmas tree should be judged on the content of its character, not on the color of its lights.

And I'm not sure that "colored" is the preferred term in 2006. I believe it should be "Lights of color."

Personally, I like blinky, multi-colored lights, so when I listen to Magical Mystery Tour and I'm . . . uh . . . drinking some tea . . . uh, that is, hot mulled cider . . . I can see all of creation in a single strand of $3.99 Christmas lights.

We have non-blinking lights of color.

4. Do you hang mistletoe?

I wouldn't even know where to buy mistletoe!

5. When do you put your decorations up?

I think anytime after Thanksgiving is fair game. We put our lights up last Sunday, December 9. In an unusual twist this year, we still haven't put anything else on the tree. So putting "decorations up" is "in process." (It's been a really busy end-of-the-semester. And there was a problem with the old lights, so we had to run down to CVS and get some new ones, and then we just lost all momentum.) While at CVS, however, I did spy a lovely green New York Jets ornament, and I managed to get it on the tree, so I guess we do have one decoration up.

5-B. When do you take your decorations down?

Were we supposed to take them down? After all that trouble?

We celebrate El Dia de los Reyes (otherwise known as Epistrophy - no, wait, that's a Thelonious Monk tune - Epiphany), so they have to stay up beyond January 6. Usually we don't get to it until late January or early February. We like the pretty lights.

A couple of years ago, I think the calendar actually may have said March before we finally took down the tree.

5-C. What's your favorite ornament?

You mean besides the New York Jets ornament? Well, I have a handpainted Mexican tin ornament - an armadillo - that I got from my father's mercado in El Paso. That's pretty cool.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)?

My wife's quite a dish!

But food-wise, I don't know. Really it's the whole eco-system of stuffing/turkey/cranberry sauce/mashed potatoes/gravy. If you try to reduce it to just one element, you ruin the whole intricate ecology of flavor.

7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child:

Two years in a row, my mother and I travelled down to Mexico City with a group from our church (San José in Austin, Texas) for La Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe on December 12. We did some shopping in the Christmas mercados, and I bought really wonderful things of all shapes and sizes to put in our nativity set - a turkey, deer, armadillo, etc. I loved setting up our nativity set because almost every piece had come from a different place and had its own story.

And I remember staying up late and lying on the floor by the tree, with all the decorations and lights on it, watching some old black and white movie about places that had snow.

And then there was the time the cat pulled the tree down. That was fun.

7-B. "Créche," "Nativity," "Crib," "Belen," or some other name? What do you call it? Do you have one? What do you have in it besides the usual suspects?

I had never heard the word créche till I came to the Northeast. We always called it a Nativity. We have a lovely ceramic set from Riverside Church in New York that a friend gave us. I haven't gotten my turkey and deer and elephant out of the old set back in Texas. Yet.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?

When I lived in Spain, it just seemed like people knew so much more than I did about politics and socio-economic issues. I mean, we really aren't taught anything here in the U.S. about these things. Well, we are - we're taught that Capitalism is the only thing that matters or exists. We get lessons in it every day through advertising. So, I started reading more on my own. At some point, it dawned on me that those poor elves probably didn't want to make toys all the time without getting paid or getting health-care coverage. I mean, I wouldn't. That's when I started asking the tough questions.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?

"A" gift, singular? That's kind of a loaded question. As if opening multiple gifts is somehow immoral or unethical. You might as well add in parentheses at the end ("Or are you some kind of freak who opens more than one gift on Christmas Eve?") We've been known to open more than one gift the night before, if the occasion demanded it. It's a free country.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree?

This year: V - e -r - y . . . . s - l - o - w - l - y.

Usually, we put on some Christmas music - often Nat King Cole's Christmas album to get us started. Have something warm to drink. Put the Christmas lights on. Smaller balls at the top of the tree, larger ones towards the bottom. Then the ornaments. Then our "angel." Then I move the lights a bit, and my wife says, "You just left a big hole in that other spot." And then she starts putting the really ugly balls up front, and I say, "What in the hell are you doing? Stick those in the back so no one can see them." And then she makes fun of my painted-tin armadillo ornament, and I question her three faded blue angels (or whatever they used to be) that came from her grandmother, and then she makes reference to certain acts of nature I can perform on myself. And by then, I've ditched the Christmas music for Jerry Jeff Walker, but, of course, she wants her damn Girl with a Pearl Earring soundtrack, and then . . . the gloves come off.

No tinsel either.

11. Snow? Love it or Dread it?

I left Texas in large part because I got tired of standing around the yule log at "Santa's Village" in shorts and short sleeves. I moved to the mountains of Colorado, specifically so I could have snow. The more, the better. Unless I'm having to drive somewhere on I-90.

12. Can you ice skate?

I have ice-skated in my life, yes, though we didn't have many frozen ponds in Austin. I even owned a pair of skates for a while in Colorado. But that was a long time ago. A girl was involved.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift?

Whatever it was that my wife bought me last Christmas.

(Oh man, I better remember what it was before she asks about it.)

Actually, I remember an electric football set made of metal, with all the little plastic football men on it. You turned on a switch and the thing vibrated terribly and made a horrible amount of noise. The football was a tiny dust-ball looking thing. I could never get it to work very well - the players went ever which way - but I loved it when I opend it up. I was six.

More painful is the gift I never received: love. No, wait, it was a model train.

I will own a model train before I'm in my grave.

14. What's the most exciting thing about the Holidays for you?

Free booze at the Christmas parties!

Actually I think it's setting up the tree, lighting the fireplace, and snuggling up on the couch to watch a good movie.

It's even better when my wife's with me.

15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert?

I'm not a big dessert guy. I'd rather have an extra dinner roll. I suppose I do like a good pumpkin pie, though.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition?

Being with family on Christmas Day? Is that the right answer?

Midnight mass is a beautiful tradition. Leaving way too late to get a decent seat, and everyone in the car is all stressed out, and people are bickering and accusations fly about why we left so late, and of course there's no parking, and someone's a little tipsy and getting ugly about the whole trip, and someone didn't want to go anyway, and why didn't go to the other church that was closer, and we squeeze in with all the other lazy-assed Catholics who couldn't manage to leave fifteen minutes earlier for the once-a-year celebration of our Saviour's Birth. That's always nice.

17. What tops your tree?

We usually have a postcard of someone we like. The last few years we've had Fred Astaire, George Harrison, Lester Young, Bogart and Bacall. . . always with a little light behind the card. Kind of unusual, but you'd have to see our tree.

18. Which do you prefer - giving or receiving?

I like giving a good gift that a person really likes more than receiving something that I didn't want.

19. What is your favorite Christmas Song?

That's tough. "The Christmas Song," sung by Nat is pretty good. "The Carol of the Bells." "Joy to the World" is great for singing. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." "Happy X-Mas (War Is Over)." "The Holly and the Ivy." I like a lot of Christmas songs.

19-B. What are some favorite Christmas Albums?

Nat King Cole's album, definitely. John Fahey's The New Possibility is a classic solo guitar recording, with the best title ever for a Chsristams album. This year I've been enjoying Willie Nelson's Pretty Paper, which was recorded around the time as his great Stardust album (and also produced by Booker T.)

19-C. What are some favorite Christmas films?

1. The Bishop's Wife, with Cary Grant, Loretta Young and David Niven. It may be the most genuinely spiritual film of the usual Christmas lot. And Cary Grant as an angel was a brilliant idea. If you've never seen it, ort haven't seen it in a long time, I highly recommend it.

2. Christmas in Connecticut, with Barbara Stanwyck, Sydney Greenstreet and S.Z. Sakall. A wonderful comedy, with Barbara at her most charming. She plays a a famous food columnist who often writes about her husband and baby and her beautiful home in Connecticut. Turns out she's actually single, lives in a small apartment in the city and has no idea how to cook. To save her job, she has to find the husband, baby and home in CT, as well as cook, all in a few days.

3. White Christmas, with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Vera-Ellen and Rosemary Clooney. I would argue that this is actually a great film in general - a wonderful musical. Who knew that a Russian Jew from the Lower East Side would wind up writing a Christmas song so famous it got its own movie!

19-D. Grinch vs. Charlie Brown vs. Rudolph vs. Frosty (or other TV Special)?

Dr. Seuss is pretty amazing. What an incredibly creative imagination. And we have a video that also includes Horton Hears a Who, so we'll often watch both at Christmas. But Charlie Brown also has to be considered. One, because of Snoopy. Two, because of the music.

La Reina would probably substitute Frosty for Charlie Brown.

20. Candy Canes?

Candy canes? We don't need no stinking candy canes.

Why not just make Egg Nog Canes and get it over with?! Blech!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Some Different Views

At Aun Estamos Vivos, Jeff and I have been exchanging comments about various subjects, including football, anarchism, the Catholic hierarchy, and Spain, especially Toledo and Castille. He included a recent photograph of his son in action as a linebacker. It reminded me of a similar photo of myself when I was young. Unfortunately, after digging around in the basement for an hour, I still couldn't find the picture I wanted. I did find one from the same time period and in the same uniform, though. Here's a young Texas boy who dreams of being the great (and mean) linebacker LeRoy Jordan, #55 on the Dallas Cowboys .

I'm not exactly looking "Texas football tough" in this photo, am I? More like I'm getting ready to go to church. I couldn't even manage a good scowl. Something tells me my grandmother was in the room and I was trying to look like a "nice young boy."

Man, that helmet definitely dates me.

Anyway, while going through photos, I came across a picture from my first trip to Toledo, Spain, in December 1989 or early 1990. It's a photograph of a young American couple that I happened to meet while in Madrid. My girlfriend and I had gone to the Prado Museum, and, exhausted after a full morning of taking in Goya, Velázquez, etc., we wound up in the Museum cafe. It was packed, so we actually sat down on the floor and leaned against a wall. Soon, another young couple came in and sat down on the floor next to us.

I heard them speaking English, so I asked the tall, gawky guy, "Hey, do you know where the Bosch paintings are?"

"Sure," he said.

It was fun to meet another young couple from the U.S., so we ate our lunches together and got to know each other a bit. Then he led us through the museum to Bosch's "Garden of Earthly Delights." By the time we had reached that astounding and disturbing painting, he and I had figured out that we both were poets, we both were named William, and that we both loved the work of Frank O'Hara.

The four of us wound up hanging out a few times in Madrid, and we had a lot of fun, but then my girlfriend and I left for Salamanca to study Spanish. At one point, she and I took a car trip with some other students from the school. It was a wonderful journey through the region of Extramadura, and then over to the towns of Toledo and Segovia. While walking through the streets of Toledo, I noticed a young couple hanging out in a small plaza. I was stunned. It was the same young couple we had met back in Madrid a month or two before!

So, Liam, bet you haven't seen this picture in a while. Hah!

Those are the steps of a building across from the entrance of the cathedral in Toledo. And though it may be hard to see in this version, that wine bottle next to Liam is completely empty.

Anyway, I had a strange feeling that day that the cosmos might have more in store for this other poet and I. It was just a little too bizarre to run into him and his girlfriend the way we did.

Liam stayed in Spain and I went back to Denver. I got engaged to my girlfriend, got dis-engaged, and then esacaped to New York. Six years later, I finally made it back to Spain, and Liam was there to meet me at the airport. I crashed at his place. Before I had even been in the country 24 hours, he mentioned this American poet he gotten to know. She was from New York, he said. She was really good and I had to meet her.

"Does she have dark hair?" I asked.

She did.

When I finally met her, I liked her, but she didn't want anything to do with me. Incredibly, this beautiful poet from Rye, New York had met a guy from Austin, Texas while she was in grad school in Seattle, Washington. They had been pretty serious and had lived together for a couple of years. Now, suddenly, in Madrid, Spain, she meets another guy from Austin, Texas. To make matters worse, her ex and I had even gone to the same high school. And, finally, to top it all off, it turned out that he and I actually knew each other! It was just a little too much deja vu for her.

"I also thought you were kind of arrogant," she tells me later. "With your cowboy hat and your cowboy boots."

For the record, I was wearing hiking boots when I met her. But it was still too much.

Anyway, to make a long story short, I pursued her and she resisted. I pursued more, and she resisted more. She was already dating someone else, she said. Etc, etc. I gave up on her. She finally showed up one morning at the cafe where I used to hang out and write. I was literally writing in my journal about how everything was over with her, when she walked up that Sunday morning. I never even finished my sentence.

I eventually proposed to her in the Gardens behind the Royal Palace in Madrid. Liam had gone there ahead of time with a bottle of champagne and a boom-box so she and I could dance (to Fats Waller and Ben Webster.)

And Liam finally got to see his two friends get married and live happily ever after. . . .

Yeah, right.

The bride's not even sure what's she's doing with this guy!

He, on the other hand, seems enraptured by the whole spiritual nature of the occasion, the great and powerful love he feels for this amazing woman. Who doubts him. Who can't believe he wears cowboy boots. Who can't believe he watches football!

We had a bilingual ceremony, with an American priest performing the mass in English and Spanish, and the choir singing in Spanish. It was held at Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, in the village of Chinchón, Spain. Chinchón is famous for its anis and for its beautiful, circular plaza. The bullfighting scene in the original Around the World in 80 Days was filmed there. Orson Welles lived in Chinchón briefly. And Goya would go there to see his brother, who was the parish priest. One of the few religious pantings by this great Spanish artist hangs over the altar in the church. (That's probably what the groom was staring at while the bride showed her concerns about him.)

Here's the circular plaza, looking up at the church.
La Reina and I actually lived in Chinchón for almost a year. We were in the big house on the right-hand side, with the three green windows. It was a wonderful experience, with a number of tales to tell, but those will have to wait for another day.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Happy Xmas (War Is Over)

Another sad anniversary yesterday . . . Incredibly, it's been 26 years since John Lennon was shot dead. 26 years.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Lady in Blue

On a hot summer day in July 1629, 50 members of the Jumanos tribe from deep West Texas showed up at a Franciscan convent just south of modern-day Albuquerque. They displayed "a rudimentary knowledge of Christianity" and asked for religious teachers for themselves and their neighbors.

So far so good. Only, Europeans had never been to that part of Texas, which is quite isolated.

"So, like, how did you learn about Christ?" the Franciscans asked. [I'm translating loosely from the Spanish.]

"Well, the Lady in Blue, of course," the Jumanos said. "Isn't she here?"

It turns out that a beautiful young woman in a blue cloak, with a brown and white habit, had appeared to the Jumanos several times, like a "light at sunset." She instructed them in Christianity, and then she told them how to find the Franciscan convent, more than 400 miles away.

The Franciscans flipped out. It wasn't just the story they heard from the Jumanos that blew their minds; they had just received a letter from the Archbishop of New Spain about a young nun in some little village in Castille who would go into deep trances and dreamed of visiting strange looking people in a far away land. This happened on "hundreds of occasions," and her confessor got her to describe in detail the places she visited. He relayed the information to someone who told someone else about it, and her story eventually wound up being told to the Archbishop of New Spain, who thought the places she described sounded like the northern frontier. So he wrote to the Franciscan convent to let them know about it.

And then the Jumanos showed up.

Well, the Franciscans got pretty excited. They sent Fathers Juan de Salas and Diego López back with the Jumanos, in what became the first Spanish expedition into that part of Texas. They talked with hundreds of Indians who had claimed to see the "Lady in Blue."

Meanwhile, back at the ranch convent, Father Alonso de Benavides took the report of the expedition to Texas and headed off to Mexico City to deliver the news. Then, he sailed to Spain and hitched a ride to the village of Agreda, between Soria and the borders of Navarra and Aragon. He met the cloistered nun, whose name was María de Jesús, and she said, "Ah, yes, Father Benavides, I recognized you from my journeys to New Mexico."


María de Jesús was experiencing bilocation. Sort of like when you're stuck in an office at work and you want to be at the beach, only she was actually in the office AND at the beach at the same time. Cool, right?

She got a reputation for her mystical travels to Texas. [Yeah, but did she bring back a Don't Mess with Texas t-shirt and a six-pack of Shiner Bock? I don't think so.] King Philip IV met with her in 1643 and they became friends. In fact, they wrote over 600 letters to each other. She was sort of a spiritual adviser to him. She also wrote a couple of books, including Introduction to the History of the Most Blessed Virgin and The Mystical City of God.

So why isn't she a saint? Well, there are theories. You can check them out and read more about her life here.

You can also read an abridged version of The Mystical City of God.

So what about the The Jumanos? Well, a second expedition went back to visit them in 1632, but no mission was ever established. The Jumanos eventually disappear from recorded history. Some believe they dispersed into other tribes. No one really seems to know. They did leave us with one more beautiful story, however:

After the Lady in Blue's last visit, the Jumanos said they woke up the next morning and discovered "the fields covered with flowers of a deep blue color like her cloak." These were the first Texas bluebonnets.

And that seem like a good place to stop for the night.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Five Years into the New Journey

George Harrison sailed away from us five years ago today.

At 22, with all of the money, fame and success of being in the world's most popular band, George traveled to the mountains of India and literally sat at the feet of his elders to study the music and spirituality of an ancient culture. He had been an ordinary teenage bloke from a middle-class family in England who suddenly found himself on top of the world. How many people in that position would have gone off on such a quest? The story has always amazed me.

And his spiritual awakening was no trendy or fashionable phase. The path he began in 1965 was the same one he was on when he embarked on his new journey in 2001.

I've always thought that George's importance to the Beatles is too often overlooked. An Indian journalist who knew him in the 1960s said he was the most naive of the Beatles, but also the most sincere. Perhaps it was that sincerity, along with his spiritual exploration, that gave George's songs a certain resonance that helped create the lasting and unique magic that is the Beatles.

And his sense of joy and fun. He may have been earnest, but he was also friends with - and a producer to - Monty Python. A vegetarian and serious gardener, he was also a Formula One race car driver. In the end, he was a fascinating, complex and loving soul. He is missed.

I was lucky enough to see George perform live in 1992, at Bob Dylan's 30th Anniversary Concert at Madison Square Garden. When he stepped out on the stage, I couldn't help but be awed. Here I was, a Beatles kid from Austin, Texas, seeing George Harrison live on stage. It was a very memorable experience.

As a child, I loved Ringo and Paul. As an angry but idealistic teenager, I idolized John. But when I started listening to the Beatles again a few years ago, it was George who seemed to be a revelation to a tired but still searching adult soul.

A couple of nights ago, La Reina heard this song and said it always made her feel so joyful. Yeah. So I offer George singing "Here Comes the Sun" at the Concert for Bangla Desh.

"When you've seen beyond yourself - then you may find, peace of mind is waiting there - And the time will come when you see we're all one, and life flows on within you, and without you. "

"Everything else can wait, but the search for God cannot wait . . . Love one another."

Saturday, November 25, 2006

News Roundup

Rumsfeld's Growing Troubles

Less than a week after Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld left the Bush administration, he was charged with war crimes in a lawsuit filed in Germany by the U.S.-based Center for Constitutional Rights, on behalf of prisoners from Abu Ghraib. The story received some coverage here in the U.S., mostly about how "ridiculous" or "frivolous" the lawsuit was. Today, however, Madrid's El Pais newspaper published an interview with Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, who was in charge of Abu Ghraib at one time and is the only high-ranking officer to be punished for what happened at the prison. She claims that Rumsfeld authorized the abuses at Abu Ghraib.

Karpinski, who ran the prison until early 2004, said she saw a memorandum signed by Rumsfeld detailing the use of harsh interrogation methods.

"The handwritten signature was above his printed name and in the same handwriting in the margin was written: "Make sure this is accomplished,"" she told Saturday's El Pais.

"The methods consisted of making prisoners stand for long periods, sleep deprivation ... playing music at full volume, having to sit in uncomfortably ... Rumsfeld authorized these specific techniques."
Karpsinski is prepared to testify against Rumsfeld in the war crimes case in Germany. As The Nation and a few other media sources have said, the lawsuit may not be as frivolous as some thought.

Most of the English-language coverage today omits other interesting aspects of the Karpinski interview. If your Spanish is good, I suggest reading the full interview [the link above]. If not, I offer some quickly translated parts.

El Pais: When did the tortures begin at Abu Ghraib?

Karpinski: Everything started with the visit of Geoffrey Miller, commander of the prison at Guantánamo, in September 2003. He was sent by Rumsfedl or Stephen Cambone to teach members of Military Intelligence new harder techniques that they were using at Guantánamo. Before he left, he told me he wanted to take control of Abu Ghraib to convert into an interrogation center for all of Iraq, and that's what he did. From Guantánamo he was giving order and making sure everything worked according to what he wanted. . . .

In all of my jails, the Geneva Convention was followed. Now we know that they weren't followed in the interrogations, but I didn't know that because I wasn't in charge of interrogation.

EP: When did you realize the interrogations were using torture?

Karpinski: When I saw the photos for the first time, at the end of Jan 2004. Today I know that the photos weren't taken during the interrogations, because they would have shown other installations, outside of Block 1A, which is where the photos were taken. The photos were taken to use as a method of persuasion in the interrogations - to convince the detainees to talk. I assure you, if someone had taken photos during the interrogations, they never would have seen the light of day.

Karpinski also says that Sanchez removed her from her position at Abu Ghraib, because he and Thomas Pappas, head of Military Intelligence, and Miller knew that she was following the Geneva convetions and were concerned that she would raise an alarm if she found out what they were doing.

She also relates a case where a detainee wasn't registered, though this goes against Geneva convetions as well. When she found out, she went to the legal asst. of Gen Sanchez and said that if Sanchez didn't take reponsibility to register the prisoner, she would release him. She was assured that Sanchez would register him. A week later, she received a message from Rumsfeld to hold the prisoner without registering him in the databasae.

EP: Why do you think things got worse when the civil intelligence contractors arrived?

Karpinski: Miller sent them . . . . The law didn't matter to them; they operated in a realm without law.

EP: Why do you want to testify against Rumsfeld in this case?

Karpinski: I don't have anything personal against Rumsfeld. I think the people who were ultimately responsible for what happened haven't been held accountable for this responsibility. It's bad to accuse someone of something, but to accuse someone that you know had nothing to do with it, while you yourself haven't taken any responsibility, that to me is a sign of cowardice; and that's what I think of Sanchez, Rumsfeld and all the others are - they're cowards. I'm going to continue telling what I know because the whole world, not just Americans, should know what happened so it doesn't happen again.

EP: Have you received any pressure not to testify?

Karpinski: I received an email from someone at the Dept of Justice that advised me not to testify because I would be seen as anti-American and that this wasn't going to help Rumsfeld. I responded that no one was going to shut me up because I'm protected by the Constitution, and furthermore, Rumsfeld, Sanchez and Miller have never done anything to help me.

Did the CIA Kill Bobby Kennedy?

The Guardian has an interesting story on the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. Irish Filmmaker Shane O'Sullivan has "uncovered new video and photographic evidence suggesting that three senior CIA operatives were behind the killing." The story also portrays Sirhan Sirhan as a real-life Manchurian Candidate. O'Sullivan's report was done for BBC's Newsnight program and aired last week.

As far as I can tell, there hasn't been any coverage of the story in the U.S., despite obvious tie-ins with Emilio Estevez's new motion picture, Bobby. I know Emilio's production was a low-budget thing, but doesn't he have any PR people?

I'm not sure how much of the Guardian story I believe, but I've always had a gut feeling that we weren't told everything about his death. I grew up in a house where Bobby Kennedy was the big hero, and it just seems unfair that his older brother gets all the conspiracy theories. Heck, now we're told that the FBI was behind the assassination of Martin Luther King. So I think we have to at least consider that Bobby may have been done in by invisible forces from the Dark Side.

Unidentified U.S. Counter-Terrorism Officials

Abbott & Costello and the War on Terror

Is the Bush administration trying to set records for ineptitude? Scotland Yard and MI5 must think so:

A team of suspected terrorists involved in an alleged UK plot to blow up trans-atlantic airliners escaped capture because of interference by the United States, The Independent has been told by counter-terrorism sources.

An investigation by MI5 and Scotland Yard into an alleged plan to smuggle explosive devices on up to 10 passenger jets was jeopardised in August, when the US put pressure on authorities in Pakistan to arrest a suspect allegedly linked to the airliner plot.

As a direct result of the surprise detention of the suspect, British police and MI5 were forced to rush forward plans to arrest an alleged UK gang accused of plotting to destroy the airliners. But a second group of suspected terrorists allegedly linked to the first evaded capture and is still at large, according to security sources.

The escape of the second group is said to be the reason why the UK was kept at its highest level - "critical" - for three days before it was decided that the plotters no longer posed an imminent threat.
Read the full article here.

I wonder if we can get Daniel Craig in a trade for Madonna? Surely, he could tackle the bad guys better than the Bushies.

Senator Barack Obama (D-IL)

Barack Obama's Larger Strategy to Court Hispanic Voters

Rock Star Barack Obama seems surprised that Latinos are upset that he voted for the 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Obama has met privately with Hispanic leaders in an effort to convince them that his vote is part of a larger strategy.

"It's a done deal, he did it. You know, what am I going to say? Well , I know you made a mistake and we were told it was part of a bigger strategy. What strategy?" [Hispanic leader Carmen] Velasquez said.
"We had to destroy the village in order to save it." Oh, wait, wrong war. Wrong story.

I, too, want to know, what Obama's "larger strategy" is, so I wrote him a long letter this week, asking him to fill me in on the details. I'll let you know what he says as soon as he gets back to me.

Perhaps, Obama didn't realize the powerful symbolic nature of the Fence. Hey, what's a symbol anyway? It's not like the Statue of Liberty holds any powerful meaning for immigrants.

Or, perhaps, Obama is simply courting conservative "Hispanics" who've been here a while and don't like those damn Mexican immigrants messing up their image, rather than courting "Latinos," who probably don't donate much money to presidential campaigns.

Or maybe Barack just doesn't like immigrants, period.

Oh, wait, that's right, his father was an immigrant. Well, the fence shouldn't affect any of his relatives from Kenya.

Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY)

Hillary Clinton Surprisingly Disliked

[FYI: This is not an actual photograph of Hillary Clinton. It's simply used to illustrate the accompanying article. It is not meant to reflect in any way my personal feelings about the Senator from New York.]

Speaking of Presidential candidates, this article appeared in the Boston Herald back in August. It re-appeared last week on a political blog, though in all the post-Thanksgiving travelling and tryptophan, I can't remember now which one. I've talked with various people about Hillary as a candidate in 2008, and it's interesting how many Liberals dislike her. I wondered if it wasn't just certain people in New York, but this article and its poll numbers suggest otherwise.

Just for the record, she voted for the Fence as well. But I haven't seen any articles about Latinos being upset at her.

HATIN' ON HILLARY; With friends like these: N.H. DEMS lambaste Clinton. By BRETT ARENDS

MANCHESTER, N.H. - Dick Bennett has been polling New Hampshire voters for 30 years. And he's never seen anything like it.

"Lying b**** . . . shrew . . . Machiavellian . . . evil, power-mad witch . . . the ultimate self-serving politician.''

No prizes for guessing which presidential front-runner drew these remarks in focus groups.

But these weren't Republicans talking about Hillary Clinton. They weren't even independents.

These were ordinary, grass-roots DEMOCRATS. People who identified themselves as "likely'' voters in the pivotal state's Democratic primary. And, behind closed doors, this is what nearly half of them are saying.

"I was amazed,'' says Bennett. "I thought there might be some negatives, but I didn't know it would be as strong as this. It's stunning, the similarities between the Republicans and the Democrats, the comments they have about her.''

Bennett runs American Research Group Inc., a highly regarded, independent polling company based in Manchester, N.H. He's been conducting voter surveys there since 1976. The polls are financed by subscribers and corporate sponsors.

He has so far recruited 410 likely voters in the 2008 Democratic primary, and sat down with them privately in small groups to find out what they really think about the candidates and the issues.

His conclusion? `"Forty-five percent of the Democrats are just as negative about her as Republicans are. More Republicans dislike her, but the Democrats dislike her in the same way.''

Hillary's growing brain trust in the party's upper reaches already knows she has high "negatives'' among ordinary Democrats. They think she can win those voters over with the right strategy and message.

But they should get out of D.C., New York and L.A. more often, and visit grassroots members.

Because we're not talking about "soft'' negatives like, say, "out of touch'' or "arrogant.''

We're talking: "Criminal . . . megalomaniac . . . fraud . . . dangerous . . . devil incarnate . . . satanic . . . power freak.''


And: "Political wh***.''

(Note: I don't usually like reporting such personal remarks, but in this case you can hardly understand the situation without them. I have no strong personal feelings about the senator.)

There are caveats. Any survey can be inaccurate or misleading. And 55 percent of ARG's sample was either neutral or positive about Sen. Clinton. Thirty-two percent currently say they plan to vote for her in the primary.

But Bennett says he's never before seen so many N.H. voters show so much hatred toward a member of their own party. He's never even seen anything close.

He believes top national Democrats are missing this grassroots intensity. Instead, he suspects, they are blinded by poll numbers, which give Hillary a big early lead based on her name recognition.

Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, agrees.

"There is far more anti-Hillary sentiment in the Democratic Party than the pollsters understand,'' he says. In the race for the nomination, "she is ripe for plucking,'' he says.

Sen. Clinton's team could not be reached for comment.

New Hampshire is small, but it's a bellwether state with clout.

Its primary probably holds the key to the Democratic nomination. And New Hampshire, alone, swung from Bush to Kerry in '04.

It's hard to see any Democrat winning the White House without carrying the state in the presidential election. And it's hard, right now, to see Hillary carrying the state.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Gone To Texas

I've journeyed back to mi tierra this week, visiting family out in West Texas. Won't be able to blog again until I return.

Meanwhile, here are some morsels from the Lone Star State . . .

Roy Orbison hailed from nearby Wink, Texas, which is just the other side of Notrees, Texas. (No, there are no trees in Notrees, Texas.) My father and aunt saw Roy play at their high school dances back before he became famous. Here he's doing "Only the Lonely," which goes out to La Reina, who I cry out for like a coyote when she's so far away.

A genuine Texas tumbleweed.

We saw one on the road from the airport to the house. Felt like a cosmic, "Welcome Back, Son."

Another West Texas boy, Buddy Holly (from Lubbock), sings "Peggy Sue." (Ah, Buddy, you died too soon.)

And just to show the range of Texas culture, here's a clip of Kilgore boy Van Cliburn playing Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No.12. In 1958, at the heighth of the Cold War, Cliburn won the First International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, a stunning accomplishment at the time. He was welcomed back to the USA with a ticker-tape parade in New York City and made the cover of Time, with the headline: "The Texan Who Conquered Russia." According to Wikipedia, Cliburn's "subsequent recording of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, became the first classical album to sell a million copies. It was the best-selling classical album in the world for more than a decade, eventually going triple-platinum."

Since my own experience is a Tex-Mex one, I thought I'd include some Tejano music, courtesy of Flaco Jimenez, Freddy Fender, Doug Sahm and Augie Meyers, better known as the Texas Tornadoes: "Hey, Baby, Que Paso?"

Gonna go heat up some tamales and open a Shiner Bock. See y'all real soon. . . .

Sunday, November 05, 2006

News Stories I Haven't Seen in the U.S.

One of the greatest aspects of the internet is the ability we have now to read news from all over the world. There are a number of international news web sites that I check regularly. I just wish I could read more than English, Spanish and a touch of French. How interesting, for example, to read Hindi, Chinese, Arabic or Russian, to see what they're saying about global events. One can get English-language news from most of these areas, and it's interesting, but I always wonder how it compares to the native press. When La Reina and I returned from living in Spain for several years, one of the biggest culture shocks we received was to see how soft and incomplete news coverage had become in the U.S. In the lead-up to the war in Iraq, it became even more clear to me how important it was to get news from around the world. American Journalism reached a nadir, I believe, between 2000 and 2003. While it's gotten somewhat better since then, I still find it lacking.

One web site that particularly impressed me in the lead-up to the war was The Guardian, from the UK. I can't remember now how many important stories I saw there that eventually made it across the Atlantic - after 6 months to a year. They still offer interesting stories that don't get covered here - at least right away. Here are some bits and pieces I found recently that I haven't seen over here:

CIA tried to silence EU on torture flights
Richard Norton-Taylor

According to a secret intelligence report, the CIA offered to let Germany have access to one of its citizens, an al-Qaida suspect being held in a Moroccan cell. But the US secret agents demanded that in return, Berlin should cooperate and "avert pressure from EU" over human rights abuses in the north African country. The report describes Morocco as a "valuable partner in the fight against terrorism".

The classified documents prepared for the German parliament last February make clear that Berlin did eventually get to see the detained suspect . . .

After the CIA offered a deal to Germany, EU countries adopted an almost universal policy of downplaying criticism of human rights records in countries where terrorist suspects have been held. They have also sidestepped questions about secret CIA flights partly because of growing evidence of their complicity.

The disclosure is among fresh revelations about how the CIA flew terrorist suspects to locations where they were tortured, and Britain's knowledge of the practice known as "secret rendition". They are contained in Ghost Plane, by Stephen Grey, the journalist who first revealed details of secret CIA flights in the Guardian a year ago. More than 200 CIA flights have passed through Britain, records show.
So the Bush administration is not only trying to silence U.S. critics of its torture and rendition policies, but it's trying to shut up the Europeans as well. And though the CIA may no longer host annual dinners for New York Times reporters, they obviously have other methods of influencing the press here and abroad.

If we miss this last chance, then our soldiers will have died in vain

Timothy Garton Ash
Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has estimated that the total, eventual costs of the Iraq war, "including the budgetary, social and macroeconomic costs, are likely to exceed $2 trillion" - that's $2,000,000,000,000. That would be $2,000 a head for each of the world's poorest billion people, who live (and die) on less than $1 a day.
I thought $400,000,000,000 was bad enough, but I've never seen a figure like this in our media. Ash's column is actually in favor of keeping the U.S. and the U.K. in Iraq, but he doesn't pull any punches on how bad things have been up to this point.

Blair-Bush ties hamper Europe, says Schröder
Jess Smee
Former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder has written a damning critique of Tony Blair's special relationship with the United States, saying it hampered Britain's links with Europe.

In his memoirs, Decisions: My Life in Politics, which were launched yesterday, Mr Schröder examines Mr Blair's relationship with George Bush. . . .

"In the foreseeable future, Britain will not give Europe any momentum," he said. "Quite the opposite, the country will continue to protect its role as a transatlantic mediator, even if that is to the cost of the European decision-making process."

He described how signals from Washington that they were "not amused" by a European bid to hammer out its own security policy prompted Britain to swiftly distance itself from the plans.

Both Bill Clinton and Mr Bush found that their national interests were best served by a fragmented Europe, Mr Schröder commented, which gave way to America's "divide and rule" approach to Europe, especially in relation to military, trade and economic affairs.

"But the United States could always count on its special relationship with Britain," he wrote.
I found this interesting because it's the first time I've seen a major European leader discuss an issue that's only going to become more important in time. The creation of the European Union as an economic and political power must lead eventually, it seems, to the development of their own military and a reconsideration of their relationship with the United States. The invasion of Iraq forced a crisis on the EU as most countries were against the war, while a few became part of the Coalition of the Willing. Imagine if California and Kentucky decided to join the Chinese Coalition of the Willing to invade Country X, while the rest of the U.S. seriously opposed the war. You cannot have a successful "kingdom" if it's divided against itself. And I don't think the Eruopeans have spent several decades and gazillions of dollars establishing the EU to have it split apart so easily. Schröder's right to be concerned. What will England do once Blair is out of office? How long will NATO exist as it does now? How will the EU handle another situation like the invasion of Iraq? Will the significant cultural and historical differences between some of the countries in the EU eventually cause it to fall apart? How far will the U.S. (or China?) go to continue its "divide and rule" approach to the EU? England will be the key battleground in this geopolitical struggle. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next 10-20 years.

La Reina Reads Her Poetry

La Reina reads three of her poems on, a weekly video reading series on the web. She said she was nervous reading for the camera and under the lights, but I thought she did well.

To coincide with the reading, I've updated her web site. There are some new poems available, and one can now order her chapbooks online. Her interview with former Poet Laureate Billy Collins is also available - in the Prose section.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Autumn in Oaxaca

A surreal experience on Thursday afternoon. Stony Brook University was gorgeously autumnal, trees flaming into bright reds or yellows, with fallen leaves crackling underfoot. The day was sunny, and the campus unusually peaceful. All Souls Day. A time for reflection and meditation. I sat in my office, sipping coffee and trying to work as I listened to a live radio broadcast (via the internet) of all-out war in Oaxaca, as Federal forces attacked the State University with tear gas, small tanks and high-powered water cannons laced with pepper gas. The protesters responded with Molotov cocktails, firework rockets, and large stones. It sounded like Paris in May 1968. I learned that Coca-Cola not only functions as a cold, carbonated beverage but also as a remedy for tear-gassed eyes. Students were throwing bags of shit, oil and other material onto the windshields of the tanks so the drivers couldn’t see. Vehicles were burning. People were getting injured. I went downstairs to the quiet Reference Room and worked at the desk for a while, reading English transcriptions of the radio broadcasts now and then to keep up with the action. I stared at the Stony Brook students working so diligently on their papers, as other students were fighting in the streets. One more bizarre juxtaposition in the new global village.

After six or seven hours of battle, the students, aided by professors and residents of Oaxaca, succeeded in driving back the Federal police. But what were the Federales doing there to begin with? It is against the law in Mexico for police or Federal troops to enter a "Universidad Autonoma" without explicit permission from the Rector. The next day, the government claimed that the troops were only trying to clear the barricades from the street outside the university. (The barricades went back up that same evening.) But an unidentified source within the administration said that the troops had been trying to get the University administration to let them in. Instead, the Rector stood on the front lines with the students so the troops could not advance through the gates, making him a hero to the students, at least for the moment. The government went on to say that there were no winners or losers in the battle, which I took as idiot-politician-speak for “We just got our asses kicked.”

The reason the Federal Police Force attacked the university was because many students and protesters had taken refuge on campus after being driven out of the main plaza in Oaxaca the previous weekend, when President Fox finally sent in troops to "bring peace" to Oaxaca. Also, students were doing the unthinkable - actually broadcasting from Radio Universidad in favor of the protest movement. They let people know where to go, what equipment to bring, how to deal with tear gas, etc. And they broadcast to the entire world. The Federal police wanted to shut them down. It’s the only media left to the protesters. But the attack was an enormous mistake, if you ask me. It made the government look as violent and stupid as everyone suspected. It has emboldened the students and the protesters. Now the conflict has started to spread. Thanks to instant communication in the internet age, at the same time that the students were fighting the troops in the streets of Oaxaca, their compañeros in Mexcio City immediately marched to the administration building of the Federal Police and blocked off major traffic arteries in the area. The Zapatistas sent out an emergency call to their supporters, who responded by blocking roadways in Chiapas and in the north of Mexico. And today I read: Leftists from across Mexico flood Oaxaca, as people in “rickety buses and cars” (a nice, neocolonial observation about the restless natives) head to Oaxaca to march with the students tomorrow. I can only imagine that university students in other parts of Mexico and in the U.S. may begin to respond on their own campuses as well. There were 21 cities in the U.S. last weekend that held protests against the Mexican government over Oaxaca, and that was before the bright idea of attacking the university.

Google Video has an 8-minute video summary of the "Battle of Radio Universidad."

Federal Troops. Water cannons. Anarchist with molotov cocktail. Tank on fire. Man on bicycle watching it all. What's he doing there? And with his pant leg clipped up so neatly.

It’s been almost impossible for me to figure out what’s really going on in Oaxaca the last few weeks. The teachers and protesters reached an agreement with the government, only they didn’t, then they did, then the teacher’s union and the APPO were fighting each other, then classes were going to re-open, only they didn’t very much, and the paramilitary kept killing protesters until they slipped up and shot down a New Yorker covering the situation for IndyMedia, along with two other people. Obviously, since it was the paramilitary who killed an American citizen, it made perfect sense – at least in that unique way of corrupt governments everywhere – to attack the people getting killed by the paramilitary. Let’s take it out on the victims, since they’re obviously causing the poor paramilitary to kill them. So President Fox finally sent in the troops, who drove the protesters out of the main plaza in Oaxaca. The corrupt Governor, whose resignation had been demanded by the protesters and even encouraged by many in the government, now felt justified and refused to quit. Only the protesters didn’t give up, if you can imagine such nerve on the part of the troublemakers. I don’t know where things are going to go from here, but it continues to get interesting.

In related news, Subcomandante Marcos, of the Zapatistas, was at the U.S. border on Wednesday as part of the Otra Campaña Tour of Mexico. He spoke to thousands of supporters on the bridge connecting Juarez to El Paso, Texas. The El Paso Times has a video clip and article. The Zapatistas have issued a Call to Action in support of the protesters in Oaxaca. Meanwhile, bad blood continues between the Otra Campaña Left and the Not-So-Left Still-Operating-in-the-Absolutely-Corrupt-Mexican-Political-System PRD. One of the PRD politicians from Chihuahua said that Marcos coming to his city was like Bin Laden being invited to a city in the U.S. No wonder so many leftists in Mexico refused to support Lopez Obrador.

Subcomandante Marcos speaking to supporters on the bridge between Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas.

The U.S. media continues to be a mixed bag in terms of coverage of what’s happening in Oaxaca. Since Bradley Will, the Indy Media reporter from NY, was killed, coverage has increased. Most stories, however, give little or no context to the situation. And many stories really do slant the coverage against the protesters. A good example of this: Many reports in the U.S. said that Will was killed in “crossfire” between protesters and others, implying that the protesters were armed and exchanging gunfire. That’s not true. The video Will was making when he was killed [Warning: it's pretty intense at the end] is now on YouTube, and it clearly shows that only one side was doing all of the shooting. The protesters are armed with rocks. (I've never actually heard of the protesters using armed weapons. Molotov cocktails and fireworks, yes, but never firearms.) Two local officials and two policemen - i.e. typical members of the paramilitary thugs in Mexico - have been arrested for the murder of Bradley Will. In general, the Mexican press focused on the paramilitary involvement from the beginning. U.S. coverage, however, continued to repeat the “crossfire” story for days and days, until it became increasingly clear that they were wrong. Also, stories tend to either downplay the number of people killed – several articles this week have said 5 or 7, when it’s well over a dozen now. Or, they state the number of dead in such a way that it sounds like they may have been killed BY the protesters. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a U.S. news story say clearly: Over a dozen protesters have been killed by paramilitary. No, they usually say the “unrest” is responsible for the death of at least 5 people, or something like that. The “unrest” doesn’t pull the triggers. People pull the triggers. The people who pull the triggers are paramilitary. The people killed are protesters. It’s not that difficult to explain. I’ve only read of one death that was being attributed to the APPO, and even that was never confirmed.

I find it interesting, too, that there’s very little national coverage of the protests now taking place here in the U.S. This is a relatively new development, however, and it IS the week before important mid-term elections. But I think the numbers are only going to increase after the attack on the university, so it will be interesting to see how the coverage goes. There are ongoing protest “camps” in front of the Mexican Consulate in San Diego and in Houston. Twelve people were arrested in the Manhattan protests and five in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Saint Paul! (Been listening too much to that notorious radical who does Prairie Home Companion, I guess.) The few references to the protests I’ve seen say there have been “perhaps” a dozen across the U.S., but I found local news stories for 21 protests. (Do reporters not take the time to do a few Google and Yahoo News searches and count the articles?) Many have been in California, where there are large numbers of Oaxacans. According to one article, there are close to 25,000 living in San Diego. Protests have taken place in Sacramento, San Francisco, San Bernadino, San Deigo, San Jose, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, Tucson, Phoenix, Austin, Houston, Lawrence (Kansas!!!), St. Paul, Chicago, Raleigh (North Carolina!!!), Philadelphia, Boston, Cambridge, and New York.

Ironically, one of my least favorite newspapers, the reactionary New York Daily News, actually had a good story by Juan Gonzalez about Bradley Will and the situation in Oaxaca: Camera his weapon vs. injustice. That’s where I found out about his video being on YouTube. Gonzalez says the Oaxaca story: "is one our own national media somehow managed to ignore for five long months. . . . Not since China's Tiananmen Square demonstrations in 1989 had a Third World nation witnessed such a massive and intractable public protest. But you couldn't tell that by watching network news reports in this country or reading the national press. Here was Mexico, our next-door neighbor and one of the world's most populous nations, in the throes of a huge crisis, and the big American media paid no attention."

Don't know about the Tiananmen Square analogy, but it's the first time I've read a U.S. journalist who mentions the lack of coverage.

The New York Times, after playing the “crossfire” game themselves for several days, did come out with a decent article on Will on Wednesday.

If Fox and Calderon were hoping this would all go away, I’m afraid they’re sorely mistaken.