Archive for February, 2006

Octavia Butler

Octavia Butler
Photo from Nikolasco/Flickr

It seems like every morning, there’s some really bad news to wake up to. Most often, it’s the “oh my god, this world is going to hell in a handbasket,” fucked-up sort of news. But this morning, it’s the “oh my god, we’ve lost a really, really good one” sort of news.

Octavia Butler, the brilliant Black sci-fi author, died this weekend at the age of 58.

I’ve only read one of her books, The Parable of the Sower, but between reading that and hearing & knowing so much about her – about how inspirational and important and insightful her work is to so many people whose taste and opinion I deeply respect – I know that, yes, we have lost a really good one, a really important one. Reading the news this morning made me profoundly sad and shaken, a little nauseous, even.

She was on Democracy Now! back in November. I never got a chance to listen to her interview, but I think I will today.

Goodbye, Octavia Butler. And thank you.

Supporting unions while you travel

My current job has me travelling for work more than I ever have before, and that involves frequent stays at hotels. One thing I never thought about before now is respecting hotel workers unions and their struggles with various hotels – avoiding hotels that are being boycotted or where workers are on strike or lockout. My girlfriend clued me in to the Hotel Labor Advisor, on a website maintained by UNITE Here. I’m going to make sure to check this before making my reservations in the future; hope y’all do, too.

“Deserving” the death penalty

When I was sitting in the airport on Tuesday, waiting for my delayed flight to Atlanta to board, there was a piece on CNN about the delayed execution of Michael Morales, a man in California convicted of the murder of high school student Terri Winchell in 1981. The execution was delayed because of questions over the ethicality of the method of execution, legal injection. Because of concerns about the possibility that the combination of the three drugs administered in the execution could cause undue pain and suffering, a federal district judge in San Jose ruled that medical professionals must be present to ensure a painless death. The two anesthesiologists hired to do so refused to participate because participating in the non-consensual death of another person is in violation of the core ethics of the medical profession. The execution is now delayed indefinitely.

The CNN piece that I watched consisted of the CNN anchor (I forget her name) interviewing a legal expert on the specifics of the situation. The anchor kept talking about how horrible it must be for the victim’s family, to see such consideration being given to the man convicted of their loved one’s murder when no such consideration was given to her when she was so horribly killed. The anchor also kept saying, over and over, that no one was disputing that he did it, that he in fact deserved to die.

However, at the bottom of the screen, the little news ticker kept reading that the judge who originally sentenced Morales to death was requesting clemency due to doubts about the validity of the evidence used in the case. This continued to run across the screen as the anchor continued to assert that no one questioned that Morales deserved to die. Had she not heard about this apparently crucial doubt shed on whether he deserved to die by the very man who had sentenced him to death in the first place? Or was it just deemed unimportant to highlight that piece of information?

Apparently, most of the mainstream media shares that anchor’s attitude, since the vast majority of the media coverage of this case has neglected to mention Ventura County Superior Court Judge Charles R. McGrath’s request for clemency for Morales, since he believes that the sentence was based on false testimony provided by an informant. From the L.A. Times article (emphasis added):

Bruce Samuelson testified that Morales had callously boasted during a jailhouse conversation that he had planned to rape and kill the teenager. The confession supposedly took place in a crowded cellblock that Morales knew was full of informants.

Samuelson explained away Morales’ willingness to talk by saying the two men spoke in Spanish. A later investigation by the state attorney general, however, showed that Morales, a fourth-generation Californian, doesn’t speak Spanish, McGrath said.

The false testimony not only persuaded judge and jury that the killing was egregious, but effectively canceled out Morales’ claim that he felt deep remorse for the crime, McGrath said.

… Samuelson’s claim of Morales’ “confession was the only evidence to support the single special circumstance — lying in wait — that made Mr. Morales eligible for the death penalty,” the judge added.

It’s true that no one – neither Morales, his lawyers, or other supporters – is arguing that Morales didn’t commit a horrible crime. However, it seems like many people, especially in the media, are losing sight of the fact that, even though a crime may be horrible, that doesn’t mean that the law proscribes the death penalty for that crime. I, personally, don’t believe in the death penalty at all in any case. But the law itself, even when it allows for the death penalty, has a very strict and specific set of criteria that must be met before the death penalty is even an option. And in this case, that criteria was only met because of false testimony, proven false by the state attorney general and obtained in yet another dubious deal between the prosecution and a jailhouse informant.

So, in fact, in the eyes of the state, Michael Morales does not deserve to die. Yet Governor Schwarzenegger has decided to ignore that fact and deny clemency. It seems that this man has been condemned in the eyes of the governor, the mainstream media, and much of society, and it doesn’t matter that, no, according to those very laws that allow the death penalty in the first place, he should not be condemned.

To me, this points to one of the major problems in the public discourse about the death penalty – it’s an emotional conversation, filled with the desire for revenge and retribution instead of the desire for justice and restitution. What this man did was a horrific thing, and therefore, people want him to die. Some people even want him to die a painful, horrible death, himself. Screw the law, screw the false circumstances under which he was convicted and sentenced, screw remorse, screw the seemingly careful consideration that went into establishing guidelines for when to apply this most absolute and terrible of punishments – just kill him.

In writing this entry, I found an editorial by Joan Ryan in the San Francisco Chronicle – “It’s about the killing, not the pain.” In it, she points out the strange contradiction of worrying so much about whether the method of death is ethical while not looking about the serious ethical implications of the act of killing itself. She focuses specifically on the fact that doctors refuse to be involved in executions because they deem them to be against medical ethics, and asks the questions: “What’s so different about the rest of society? Why is killing a fellow human being not beyond the bounds of our own ethical behavior?” Important questions to ask, especially in this newest context for the ongoing death penalty debate.

Most Beautiful Baby?!?

Daytime TV is dangerous and should generally be avoided. Case in point: for some reason, I was watching Live with Regis and Kelly (as of a few moments ago, when I finally turned it off). Today’s big segment: the final rounds of the Most Beautiful Baby competition. Apparently, people across the country have been looking at baby pictures and voting for who they think is the Most Beautiful Baby of them all.

Does this seem really weird to anyone else? I mean, come on! Going through rounds of elimination to determine which baby is more beautiful than all the other losers? As if our society isn’t lookist enough, we’ve gotta impose oppressive standards of beauty on children from jump?

Unsurprisingly, all of the five finalists (that’s just wrong. babies should not be finalists for anything) are white. Also unsurprisingly, all looked exceedingly grumpy, uninterested, or frightened when they were trotted out on stage. And frankly, I’ve seen MUCH cuter babies.

Ah, well. At least Martha is on soon. Unfortunately, Ellen doesn’t air in Atlanta (where I’m at for work this week) until 5pm. Similarly obscene: Jeopardy! airs at 4:30pm, instead of its appropriate time slot of 7pm. WTF, right?

Not that I don’t have work to be doing here instead of watching TV…

Fuerza Bruta Imperialista: FBI abuse and intimidation in Puerto Rico

FBI agent sprays Puerto Rican reporter in the face with pepper spray

This is slightly old news, but still probably news that far too few have heard. On last Friday, February 10, FBI agents raided six private homes and one business in Puerto Rico in an attack of intimidation and repression against the Ejercito Popular Boricua (Boricua Popular Army). The raids were conducted under the pretense of a “terrorist threat,” though no arrests have been made. People’s homes were ransacked, and files, computers, and other belongings were seized from the homes and office.

When the press attempted to observe and record the raids, the FBI clashed violently with them, spraying many in the face with pepper spray, as in the picture above. The use of excessive force by the FBI has been widely decried, by media and journalism outlets and organizations, Puerto Rican Governor Anibal Acevedo Vila, and US congresspeople, who are demanding a federal investigation into the FBI’s actions.

Of course, the mainstream media is primarily spitting out the spin they’ve been fed by the FBI, saying that the FBI thwarted a terrorist attack. How, exactly, did they do that? By making no arrests and producing absolutely no evidence of any sort of planned attack? But see, the FBI knows that it doesn’t have to answer those questions. In our current political climate, one only need conjure up the specter of Terrorism to justify any excessive force, any civil rights violations, any complete and utter trampling of that worthless stack of papers called the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

It seems to me like all the FBI has done is to continue their campaign of terror, violence and intimidation against those people and organizations who are trying to rid Puerto Rico of their imperialist, oppressive colonizers. These most recent actions are completely in line with the September assasination of nationalist leader Filiberto Ojeda Rios, comandante of the Ejercito Popular Boricua. The FBI (or Fuerza Bruta Imperialista, as I read on the Indymedia PR website) continues to crack down on the independence and nationalist movements in Puerto Rico with absolutely no regard for the civil rights of the Puerto Rican people, further driving home the US’s attitude towards the Puerto Rican people as second class citizens. Also reflecting that attitude, the FBI neglected to inform any Puerto Rican authorities, such as the governor or the island’s chief of police, of the impending invasions. As reported in the NY Sun article on the call for an investigation from US congresspeople,

“In our democracy, the most fundamental obligation of law enforcement agencies is to uphold the constitutional rights of citizens as well as to protect the freedom of the press,” the congressmen wrote to the director of the FBI, Robert Mueller. “Even in Puerto Rico, where the Bureau and its agents have a reputation for behaving as if they are above the law, the FBI is not exempt from these duties.”

If the US government is going to continue its colonization of Puerto Rico, shouldn’t it at least treat the Puerto Rican people as true US citizens, enjoying all civil rights and liberties therein? Oh, but wait, that respect isn’t even present on the mainland, at least not for people who have ideas or identities that the government doesn’t like, so I suppose I shouldn’t expect it to be present on the island, either.

All of this is frightening, infuriating and disgusting. It makes me really fucking angry. It also makes me reflect more on my own activism, the places where I devote my energy. Right now, I mostly do my work around issues facing queer and trans people of color. Issues that are obviously very important, both in the grand scheme of things and personally in my own life. But, more and more, I think that my struggle – or at least, a larger part of my struggle, my energy, my work – should be for the liberation of my people. Incidents like this only make that feeling stronger.

More info:

One of the most thorough accounts of the FBI invasions that I’ve found so far, from the Monthly Review Zine

Pictures from the FBI raids, from Indymedia Puerto Rico

An article from Prensa Latina about Puerto Rican Association of Journalists President Oscar Serrano’s challenge to the FBI to prove that journalists were breaking the law and that any force against them was justified.

more info from the UrbanGuerrilla blog

An account from Infoshop News

I was happy to see this article in the Swarthmore Phoenix (my alma mater’s newspaper), about the long history of political repression in Puerto Rico, right up to the FBI’s most recent acts.

Holy stupidity, Batman!

There are far more important things to be writing about (and hopefully I’ll get to at least one of those things later on today), but I needed to have a public WTF?!? moment about this, from the San Francisco Chronicle:

Frank Miller, who changed the way people looked at comics with his noirish 1980s Batman graphic novel “The Dark Knight Returns” and his “Sin City” series, says he’s started work on a book where the caped crusader will “kick a lot of al Qaeda butt.”

“Not to put too fine a point on it — it’s a piece of propaganda,” Miller told a group of about a thousand fans this weekend at the WonderCon comic book convention in San Francisco. “Batman kicks al Qaeda’s ass.”

Miller says the book will be called “Holy Terror, Batman.”

Holy Terror, Batman?!? This can’t possibly be good. It just seems like these issues are too fraught, to complicated, and too rife with opportunities for racism, ignorance, and oversimplification to be fodder for this sort of comic book.  It’s not even as if he’s going to try to take a nuanced look at the issues; he’s not hesitant to say that it’s going to be propaganda, punto, and we all know how nuanced and balanced propoganda is! As another comic book artist says in the article,

“A standard-issue treatment would show them as another crew of generic swarthy bad guys, and there will, of course, have to be a ‘good Arab’ or two to prove the comic isn’t prejudiced. I’m guessing an Iraqi commando on our side,” Gonick said. “But if Miller gives them the real characteristics of al Qaeda — that is, really depicts the details of their religiosity — he could get into trouble.”

I know next to nothing about Frank Miller, but having much enjoyed Sin City, I’ve got to say, I’m a little disappointed. Not that Sin City is some sort of model of progressive or leftist thought. It’s one of those things that’s fucked up eight ways to Sunday, but that I still enjoy. I think you’ve just got to suspend your principles a wee bit now and then to enjoy much of anything in entertainment these days.

Tagged, I’m it!

I have something of a rule against memes on this blog, but since I was tagged by Brownfemipower over at Woman of Color Blog, I feel obligated to break that rule.  It actually brings up a general internal debate about where I post different stuff.  I’ve got a livejournal for the fluff and the really personal stuff, and a defunct website where I used to have a public, personal blog.  Maybe I’ll wind up consolidating stuff somewhere at somepoint.  But given that I barely blog lately, with the exception of memes… well, anyhow.  Hopefully I’ll get back on track with the blogging here soon, but for now, a meme.
Four Jobs I’ve Had in My Life:

  1. Circuit Rider – my current job.  It means I’m a travelling computer techie, working with non-profits and grassroots organizations.
  2. Shipper at a feminist film distributor
  3. Worker at an arboretum
  4. Manager of one night a week at the most slackerly campus café ever

Four Movies I Could Watch Over and Over, and Have

  1. Immortal Beloved (Gary Oldman as Beethoven?  Can’t get much better than that.)
  2. The Lord of the Rings trilogy
  3. PCU (and I’ve never even watched it while under -any- influence.)
  4. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

Four places I’ve Lived

  1. Hillside, New Jersey
  2. London
  3. Swarthmore, PA
  4. New York City – Manhattan, Bronx and Brooklyn, so far

Four TV Shows I Love To Watch

  1. Arrested Development (big finale marathon riday, folks!)
  2. Jeopardy!
  3. Desparate Housewives
  4. Grey’s Anatomy

Four Places I Have never been but want to go

  1. Puerto Rico.  I actually went with my family for a week when I was around 11 or so, but I think it would be a drastically different experience for me now.
  2. Vienna
  3. Venice
  4. the Pacific Northwest

Four Guilty Pleasure Websites:

  1. (it’s so addictive)
  4. (for all of these, the guilt usually stems from me wasting time on them instead of doing work)

Four Foods I can’t stand and why

  1. Mushrooms.  Something about the texture and the taste combined.  I’m starting to tolerate little ones cooked and mixed in with other food, but the big ones, blech.
  2. Eggplant.  See above, except that I don’t tolerate it at all.
  3. Many types of seafood, especially particularly seafoody tasting stuff.
  4. Tea.  I know it’s not a food, but it really makes me gag.  I’ve tried to like it, to no avail.

Four Places I Would Rather Be Right Now:

  1. Laying out in Prospect Park with my dog and friends, if the temperature was about 30-40 degrees warmer.
  2. Ireland
  3. Amsterdam
  4. The Shire.  Post-War of the Ring, of course.  Alternatively, someplace where I could go roaming through woods and over hills and through streams and generally bask in the glory of nature, preferably accompanied by good people.

Four people whom I tag next:
Maybe I’m no fun, and maybe I just need to get back to work already, but I’m actually not going to tag anyone else.  ¡Lo siento!