Underground, Cuba


I haven't posted more vocab in a while... I'm now at a very, very long list. Here's just the tip of the manatee's nose.

etymon: a simple form inferred as the common basis from which related words in several languages can be derived by linguistic processes; A source word of a given word. For example, the Latin "candidus" (white) is the etymon of the English "candid".

immanentism: the doctrine that God or an abstract mind or spirit is contained within, not transcendent to, the world.

otiose: serving no useful purpose; having no excuse for being; lacking value.

soluble: susceptible of solution or of being solved or explained.

obscurantist: a person who is deliberately vague.

adjudication: the final judgment in a legal proceeding; the act of pronouncing judgment based on the evidence presented.

assay: a procedure where a property or concentration of an analyte is measured; a written report of the results of an analysis of the composition of some substance.

accoutrement: an accessory; apparatus needed for a task or journey; military equipment other than weapons and uniform; trappings; clothing that is worn or carried, but not part of your main clothing.

eristic: from the ancient Greek word Eris meaning wrangle or strife, often refers to a type of dialogue or argument where the participants do not have any reasonable goal. The aim is to win the argument, not to potentially discover a true or probable answer to any specific question or topic.

plaudit: mark or expression of applause; praise bestowed.

concupiscent: lustful; vigorously passionate.

aporetic: from "aporesis": knowing perplexity; knowing the extent of one's wisdom.

descant: talk at great length about something of one's interest.

inculcate: teach and impress by frequent repetitions or admonitions.

ensample: an example; a pattern or model for imitation.

nisus: striving; an effortful attempt to attain a goal.

gamine: a girl of impish appeal; a mischievous, playful, elfish, pert girl or young woman; having a boyish, mischievous charm; tomboyish.

crofter: an owner or tenant of a small farm in Great Britain.

burke: murder without leaving a trace on the body; get rid of, silence, or suppress.

dreg: sediment that has settled at the bottom of a liquid.

sagacity: the mental ability to understand and discriminate between relations; quality of being sage, wise, or able to make good decisions.
Underground, Cuba

Empire Strikes First: Peru

The effects of military interventions and other infringements on individuals' civil rights are often felt immediately, with the outcomes - dead bodies and tear gas-filled riots - streaming into our homes on the evening news for a few brief moments. Yet often the problems arise due to policies enacted months or years before, sometimes unforeseen. One such case is that of free trade agreements, which offer incredible economic opportunities for some, but disaster for others. We will reflect on the newly implemented United States-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement, signed by President Bush just prior to leaving office.

Those who continue to oppose the agreement have a laundry list of concerns: growing child labor and weaker labor rights, unfair competition with subsidized American crops and meat, expansion of factory farming throughout Latin America, and mining that causes deforestation and habitat destruction. Most worrisome of all is the effect on the rain forest: the agreement essentialy provides forty-five million hectares for investors in the lumber, oil and mining businesses. (A hectare is 10,000 meters squared or 2.471 acres.)

The right-wing Peruvian president, Alan Garcia, has little concern for the environmental impact of the agreement or for the lives of the indigenous people who call the forest home. Earlier this year, he sold the rights to explore, log and drill seventy percent of Peru's share of the Amazon to a variety of international oil companies. "There are millions of hectares of timber there lying idle," he said, ignorant of the inherent value of the forest. Worse, some of Garcia's party members have been exposed talking about selling the Amazon to their business associates for reduced cost. This has not benefited the Peruvian people.

Those familiar with Garcia should not be shocked by this: he is the same leader behind a few so-called "massacres" in the 1980s. The Accomarca massacre consisted of forty-seven campesinos (indigenous peasant farmers) shot dead by the Peruvian military in August 1985. More than 200 inmates were executed during prison riots in 1986. One 1987 American report said that Garcia was running a paramilitary group held responsible for the attempted bombing of the El Diario newspaper, and sent its soldiers to train in North Korea. The Cayara massacre of May 1988 claimed thirty casualties and dozens "disappeared" (gone missing and presumed dead). An official inquiry estimated no less than 1,600 forced disappearances took place during García's first presidency. Each incident could easily fill one of my columns.

Garcia is up to his old tricks in his new term as president. On June 5, he ordered police and military forces to stop Amazon Indians from blocking roads in the Bagua Amazon region. The natives had been demonstrating against the passage of the new rules that divide up the forest like pie to hungry orphans. In response to the protesters, Garcia declared a "state of emergency" in the Amazon, suspending many constitutional rights. Helicopters opened fire on the protesters with bullets, tear gas and stun-grenades. As a result of these actions, over fifty Indians have been slaughtered and nearly two hundred disappeared. Witnesses claim to have seen the bodies of the murdered Indians dumped into the rivers.

Alberto Pizango, the leader of a national indigenous organization, had harsh words for the president, "We are going to put the responsibility on Alan Garcia’s government for ordering this genocide." He also wishes to make clear that the Indians do not view themselves as obstructionists, but merely citizens standing up for their rights. "They’ve said that we indigenous peoples are against the system, but, no, we want development... development that adheres to legal conventions, such as the United Nations International Labour Organization’s Convention 169, that says we, the indigenous peoples, have to be consulted. The government has not consulted us."

Not only is the money of American corporations pushing these dreadful actions through, but the tax dollars of average Americans like yourself, your hard work indirectly supporting the butchering of defenseless people and priceless natural resources. Between 2002 and 2007, the United States spent over $79 million on the Peruvian National Police (PNP). What were these funds for? The purchase of additional vehicles, communications equipment, field gear, advanced road interdiction, riot control, "reaction" gear and more tools used in these very assaults.

The helicopters used were Russian Mi-17s, and their upkeep is financed by money allocated for the perpetually failing "war on drugs". In 2004, for example, the United States provided funding for fourteen Peruvian Mi-17 helicopters, likely the very same aircraft used in Bagua. The State Department budgets of 2007 and 2008 again allocated funds for Peruvian fuel, hangars and warehouses. The United States has also donated twenty-four Huey II (UH-II) helicopters to the PNP, armed with M6 machine guns and two MK-40 rocket launchers. Regardless of your opinion on the drug war, killing people in their homes to clear cut forests is not drug-related, and well-intentioned funding has had unnecessarily violent consequences.

For the time being, the indigenous people have won, with great cost to their families. Despite having only wooden spears to defend themselves, they drove out the police and succeeded in getting the government to suspend any drilling. Garcia apologized for his "serious errors and exaggerations". But suspending is not canceling, and the fight is not over: this is not a war of Indians against the government, but a struggle for resources that will effect all humanity.

The side effects of oil drilling are well known. For example, Occidental Petroleum is facing charges in American courts for dumping an estimated nine billion barrels of toxic waste in the Amazon's watersheds between 1972 and 2000. The locals claim the surrounding water is not longer potable or good for bathing, and the fish and animals have become inedible. In the nearby Ecuadorian Amazon, toxic waste dumped after Chevron-Texaco's drilling has been blamed for 1,401 deaths, mostly of children from cancer. Chevron's lawyer has shrugged off the claims, saying it is impossible to make the direct link between cancer and their oil.

The environmental impact may be even more catastrophic. The rainforests, when intact, filter large quantities of warming gases and keep them from building up in the atmosphere. Cutting them down is foolish, and cutting them to reach pollution-belching fossil fuels is doubly foolish. The Hadley Centre, a scientific center studying the impacts of global warming, has warned that producing greenhouse gases at our current rate will cause the Amazon to dry up and burn down. A study they released in early 2009 has dire predictions: "The Amazonian rainforest is likely to suffer catastrophic damage even with the lowest temperature rises forecast under climate change. Up to 40 per cent of the rainforest will be lost if temperature rises are restricted to ... the least that can be expected by 2050." A 75-85 percent reduction in forest is even more likely. Such a defoliation would pump unthinkable amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, speeding up melting of ice caps and changing the very nature of the Earth.

In contrast to Peru, nearby Ecuador approaches the rainforests differently. While being a poor country with large oil resources underneath its forests, its president, left-leaning Rafael Correa, has offered to leave his country's largest oil reserve under the soil if other nations will help cover the funds that would have been generated by such oil. Rather than selling fuel, they have decided to sell environmental security. With renewable alternatives on the horizon, this plan seems not only reasonable but canny common sense.

As illustrated, free trade agreements remove tariffs and government regulations to benefit big business, but do little good for the average citizen. Instead, we must push for more of what is called "fair trade". This incorporates policies and standards that include a fair living wage for all factory employees, adequate breaks, overtime with compensation, and a safe work environment with emergency protocols in place. Utilizing labor in other countries may be cheaper, but this "cheapness" is provided because of inhumane working conditions. Why purchase goods and resources from those forced into dangerous servitude when we ourselves would never submit to such treatment? Global economic fairness isn't just a good idea, it's a fundamental human right.
Mandy, Moore, Movies


The Billy Mays letter was in the paper yesterday... and the Scene should be out today if it isn't already. Still working hard on my property rights book... I have 5 library books due back by midnight.

Reviews: Lone Wolf McQuade (revised), Sea Beast.

Soon: Children of the Corn, Tunnel Rats, Knowing, Backwoods, some film with the NPH (Stranger in the Family?), Prom Night.
Underground, Cuba

Empire Strikes First: Bad Religion

During the school year, Greg Graffin is a mild-mannered professor at UCLA, where he teaches biology. But once class goes into recess, Graffin dons his other hat as the co-lyricist and lead singer of near-legendary punk band Bad Religion. Having toured for over twenty-five years, Bad Religion has a staying power one does not often find in the ephemeral music scene littered with one hit wonders and pop tarts. They also have a message.

Graffin tells me that one must always question authority's legitimacy. "The irony of a bad political administration is that they can feign authority by misleading the public through carefully thought-out public relations or propaganda. In an era of bad administration authority is maintained by deception of the public." So what does constitute legitimate authority? "The only kind of meaningful authority is that which is granted by the public," he says.

Perhaps some irony or contradiction might be detected in the fact that Graffin himself is a professor -- an authority in science. How can his students take his words seriously? "The goal of an educator is to get the audience to believe in his/her authority." Unlike politics, scientific authority is based on something real rather than a mere social construction. "The great thing about science is that it is not totalitarian... All claims in science have to be falsifiable [or] they are considered useless as scientific claims... There is no room for a totalitarian style of authority in science." Contradiction averted.

Surprisingly, I am informed that politics is not his "bag", and he is first and foremost a scientist. Any doubt I have on this is quashed once Graffin reveals his favorite reading material: the publications from the union of concerned scientists (UCSUSA.org). Recent articles cover such topics as climate change, genetically engineered food, nuclear weaponry and "clean jobs". Books he recommends include "The Demon Haunted World" by Carl Sagan and Nick Lane's "Oxygen, The Molecule That Made The World". Even his political passion is strongest when biology is involved. He claims the American way of life is "corporate profits at the expense of family welfare" and has been this way since the early 1980s. In particular, Graffin is concerned with agriculture.

"Certainly a lot of American farms were failing in the 1980s due to numerous factors [including] the increase in corporate farming fueled by federal policies that benefited large corporations but did nothing for family farms." Family farms have been declining in general for decades. A century ago as much as eighty percent of the population worked on a farm in some capacity. Today, that number is a mere two percent. When one considers how many mouths must be fed by this two percent, it becomes clear that these are largely megafarms, with all the glorious side effects that come with them.

The effect of federal policies on farming is clearly illustrated in the example of corn. "Today we are a nation of corn eaters. Corn is used for most sweeteners (not sugar), shortenings (not butter), feed for livestock (not alfalfa), and is subsidized by the government to the extent that to grow another crop could mean zero profits for a small-scale producer," he laments. "It never escapes my attention when I drive across this country and see mile after mile of monoculture fields without a single family residence in sight." The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations tracks crops in America and other countries. According to them, more corn is grown each year than the next twelve crops -- soybeans, wheat, sugar beets, potatoes, tomatoes, oranges, sorghum, rice, cotton, grapes, apples and lettuce -- combined. We need not even mention the connection between corn and ethanol.

What can we do as citizens beyond pulling the lever every four years? "Write an essay, paint a picture, sing a song," but most importantly "talk to others about your beliefs." He suggests, "They are the best ways to raise awareness and hammer out the differences between people's ideologies." In the end, this is the path to political success -- finding common ground and building from there. But also, we must push harder for what we believe in to actualize the will of the people. While it is good that "our president is an intellectual with a background in liberal arts", Graffin stresses that this alone will not ensure the policies we want and need.

Graffin leaves us with one final piece of Santayanaesque wisdom. "If we ignore past events then we can't understand the circumstances that led to our present and we are left feeling bewildered." Remember that we are always entering an event in the middle of its history, so we must appreciate its origins to fully understand where it is heading. Of course, depending on your perspective, this could open your eyes to a world on the edge of destruction, or the beginning of a new era of hope.

On July 30, Bad Religion will take the stage at the Warped Tour on the Summerfest grounds in Milwaukee. They are currently touring in promotion of their most recent album, "New Maps of Hell". If you're interested in power-driven rock with a biting political commentary, do not wait until the last minute to purchase tickets.
Underground, Cuba

Empire Strikes First: Iran

Nothing new here if you've read my other Iran rants...

June saw the Iranian people take part in a historic election, with massive turnouts from all segments of the population. What essentially started as a referendum on President Ahmadinejad quickly became a display to the world of what happens when the populace grows weary of their despotic, corrupt leadership. Millions marched in the streets of Tehran, protesting what was most likely a rigged election. On June 19, the Ayatollah publicly declared the elections fair and legitimate. Saying so does not make a thing true, but sadly in Iran, there is not much recourse.

Regardless of how everything pans out, one thing is sure to remain constant: Iran will continue to be the primary perceived adversary of the United States, whether we call them part of the "axis of evil" or not. This has been the case for decades, and President Obama's calls for talks will not change this.

The Bush Administration made Iran public enemy number one, at least since the fall of Saddam Hussein. And the American people listened -- the politicians, the media and the general public all knew there was no doubt that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a reincarnation of Adolf Hitler, and his primary goals were the destruction of the Jewish race and the threat of nuclear war with America. There was no mention of his loosening restrictions on women or his policies of distributing oil wealth to the poorest members of his country. How did we come to believe the worst? Where was the evidence? How can the average American be so convinced of something when they were never given a reason? Yes, Ahmadinejad is corrupt and Iran deserves a better government, but he is not the inhuman monster we have made him out to be.

The most ubiquitous misinformation comes from a loose and reckless mistranslation. In 2005, Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying he wanted to "wipe Israel off the map", and a simple news search will reveal this statement has been printed almost every day in one or more newspapers around the world since. Yet those familiar with Farsi, the language spoken in Iran, make it clear that no such statement was ever uttered. There was a call to replace the "Zionist regime" in Jerusalem, which produces an altogether different connotation. He has compared the future of Israel to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Hoping for a new Israeli leadership is not the same as calling for a country's annihilation.

Alongside this is the claim that Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust. There is no record of him denying this horrible event. On the contrary, we must presume that he accepts it, as he has said that Europe has used the Holocaust to justify the creation of Israel. He asks, and I think rightly, how can the near destruction of a race by Europeans justify the displacement of the Palestinians? Two wrongs do not make a right. If we want to find an anti-Israel country, we need look no further than our ally Saudi Arabia, where Jews are referred to as "apes" in one of their school's textbooks.

We have Iran allegedly feeding weaponry to Hamas and Hezbollah. Even if true, does this action have any less validity than America's own arms dealing worldwide? If we desire peace, why do we supply Egypt, Israel and countless other nations with killing devices? If Iran has influence in Iraq, what makes their sway any less legitimate than ours? Does America alone have the right to decide the fate of the Iraqi people, even if the Iraqi leadership favors Iran?

Is Iran a nuclear threat? Not if we tune out the echo chamber of those in power here and listen to more informed voices. America's own National Intelligence Estimate of December 2007 declared that if Iran did have a nuclear weapons program, such a setup was disbanded by 2003, despite the talk of war-mongering neocons. No less a personage than Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei issued a fatwa -- a religious decree -- against nuclear weapons in 2005, all but ruling out the possibility of a weapons program. When Ahmadinejad says the development of nuclear weapons "is illegal and against our religion", he's quite serious.

Even with Bush gone, we're still reading the news that Iran is a "threat" -- while North Korea considers nuclear war, politicians such as Mitt Romney are still fixated on the idea that Iran is the real villain. Why would a country sitting on huge oil deposits want a peaceful nuclear program, he asks. Perhaps because Iran knows something the rest of the world has known for a long time: fossil fuels are not an unlimited resource. If allegations from decorated journalist Seymour Hersh are accurate, America has been sending spies and saboteurs into Iran for several years now, trying to destabilize the country. Allegedly, Vice President Cheney even considered dressing up Navy SEALs as Iranian PT boaters and having them fire upon American ships, in order to initiate a war. Who is the threat in that scenario?

Surely the people of Iran have not forgotten Operation Ajax, the 1953 CIA-organized overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq. The coup included bribing Iranian government officials, reporters, and businessmen, probably not much different than what Hersh is claiming now. There is more than a little irony that America can feign concern about democracy in Iran while at the same time knowingly having opposed it, perhaps even today.

The very idea of Iran being a threat is illogical nonsense. Basic geography shows us that no missile from the Middle East is capable of crossing thousands of miles of land and ocean to hit our shores. While attacking Israel is possible, it would be a foolish and destructive blunder. Israel's superior weaponry, along with their plethora of allies, guarantees that any direct attack on them would result in a retaliation of mass proportions. Iran would be crushed within days. Canadian political commentator Linda McQuaig says it best: "Why would Iran want to provoke a war with Israel and the U.S. — both heavily armed nuclear powers — when it has no nuclear weapons itself?”

What will we see over the next three to seven years from Obama? Although Ahmadinejad's lack of legitimacy complicates things, we will no doubt continue some sort of dialogue. But the message to the American people from above will be the same; rather than focus on the real troubles in Iran -- the corruption and oppression made obvious this past month -- we will inevitably hear more about the threat to Israel and America, the country's nuclear ambitions and other fabrications. When a government thrives on propaganda, the truth is not important. Keeping the people submissive and in fear of something is job number one.
Mandy, Moore, Movies


I'm stuck at home for a while due to yet another grand eye injury -- this being my worst one yet (though, the plus side is that it's not contagious). It hurts to do a lot of anything because of the strain, but maybe I'll get a little typing done.

Here are some reviews from a few days ago. More may be on the way.

Reviews: Garbage Warrior, Sleep Hollow, They Live (revised), and Poltergeist.

Coming soon?: Kiss the Girls, The Gift, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein