Friday, April 30, 2010

Lost in Juarez: Everything America touches turns to death?

Every day when I open my inbox, I get at least one press release from various American armed forces in Iraq,
letting me know that some insurgent there has just been killed or some AQI group has just been captured. Even now, over seven years after the Iraq occupation began, our troops are still out hunting and capturing insurgents and rebel groups there -- and the bombings are still going on. Does that mean that Iraq is still unstable? What else am I supposed to think? That constant stream of e-mails seals the deal.

Then we have Afghanistan, the world's most productive narco-state by far, source of most of the heroin on the market today. Heroin is deadly. Worldwide, how many addicts have died from overdoses or AIDS or violence resulting from their use of heroin that has been supplied by American-occupied Afghanistan? One million? Two million? I can't even begin to guess.

Palestine is another killing field that America finances. "Why are you always running off at the mouth about Palestine," I'm always asked. Why? Because Israel and Palestine would have worked out all their problems in a manner acceptable to both sides decades ago if America hasn't kept pouring gasoline on the fire in the form of weapons, weapons, weapons and more weapons.

And let's not forget to mention Pakistan, America's good ally which is now yet another killing field. And then there's Columbia, home of Latin America's longest-running bloody war on farmers and trade unionists, bought and paid for by America the beautiful.

"I would really like to go back and embed in Iraq," I keep telling my son Joe and my daughter Ashley, "but, frankly, I'm just not up to it physically -- the flight there is just too long for me. 20 hours in the air? Followed by days and days of jet-lag? Forget it. And I'd like to embed in Afghanistan too. And also go and report on the brutal siege of Gaza as well. I'd like to be everywhere in the world that the action is. I want to be able to see for myself -- up front and personal -- all of the places where America's treasury and America's future are all being pounded down into a bunch of bloody rat-holes."

I want to go where the blood flows, to bear witness and to send messages back to America that all this warfare and bloodshed and killing is not necessary, is a waste of time and money, does NOT make us safer, goes against every religion we believe in -- and doesn't even make sense.

But I'm getting less and less willing to face all the hassle of interminable plane rides across the globe and wearisome jet-lag that lingers for weeks.

"Hey, no problem," replied my friend Larry, who lives in Texas. "No need to travel to the other side of the world to see American violence and American weapon sales and American bloodshed in action. You can always just go down to Juarez."

Ah. So now there's also Juarez, bloody Juarez, to consider -- where people die as violently on the streets of Juarez as they die on the streets of Kandahar or Baghdad.

According to one CNN report, "Tim Crockett, head of the security firm Pioneer Consulting and security adviser for CNN, described Ciudad Juarez as 'probably more dangerous for journalists than the Middle East'." Probably more dangerous for journalists than even the Middle East? Yikes!

Remember back in 2007 when I embedded in Iraq and the Army told me that if I left the fortified Green Zone area and walked across the 14th of July Bridge into Baghdad itself, I'd most likely be dead within five minutes? Well, according to several articles that Larry just e-mailed me, there's almost exactly the same situation happening in Juarez right now. Juarez is a war zone. Juarez is a failed-narco-state. Juarez has insurgents, a military build-up of American weapons, American occupation advisers who run a surrogate war from DC and terrified citizens who keep turning up dead.

"But the beautiful thing about Juarez, Jane," continued Larry, "is that Juarez is only five miles from Texas. You could hop a plane in the morning, fly to El Paso without getting jet-lag, be inside a war zone in time for lunch -- and be getting your head blown off by dinnertime." Plus it wouldn't be too hard on my poor knees -- and I wouldn't be required to bring a flak jacket either. Sign me up!

PS: Here's a headline from a Los Angeles Times article that Larry sent me on the subject, just in case you think I might be exaggerating
: "Mexico under siege, the drug war at our doorstep."

The Times then goes on to state that 45,000 troops have been deployed so far and that 10,031 people have been killed. "That's more than the U.S. fatalities in the Iraq war."

And here are some more articles from Larry:

From the Overseas Security Advisory Cou
ncil: The U.S. State Department has issued a warning about Juarez. "Mexican cartels battling for control of drug trafficking routes cause widespread disruption in the city and state."

From Current News: Gunmen murdered 19 people this weekend, including two U.S. citizens associated with the American consulate.

And here the Huffington Post seems to be hinting that America is losing the drug war in Juarez as well. Shades of Afghanistan! I wonder how many drug addicts in the U.S. have died from drugs illegally imported by the Juarez cartels?

"Sinaloa takes over Cuidad Juarez: After a two-year battle that has killed more than 5,000 people, Mexico's most powerful kingpin now controls the coveted trafficking routes through Ciudad Juarez. That conclusion by U.S. intelligence adds to evidence that Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman's Sinaloa cartel is winning Mexico's drug war.... [The] Sinaloa cartel has edged out the rival Juarez gang for control over trafficking routes through Ciudad Juarez, ground zero in the drug war.


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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

McCain's Enemy Belligerent Detention Act: Is SCOTUS keeping Richard Fine in jail for a reason?

Well, the U.S. Supreme Court just reviewed attorney Richard Fine's habeas corpus case and gave it a pass. Poor sweet attorney Fine has been held in the slammer on a bogus contempt-of-court charge for over a year now. Further, he's being held in the Los Angeles County Central Men's Jail, one of the violent and most overcrowded jails in the country. This man is 70 years old, in failing health and has never committed a crime in his life. What's wrong with this picture?

About a year ago, attorney Fine challenged Superior Judge David Yaffe's right to rule in a southern California land-use case -- after Yaffe refused to recuse himself in the matter of Marina Strand Colony II vs County of Los Angeles
. Yaffe, whose salary is being augmented by $46,436 each year by the County, then ruled in favor of L.A. County. Sounds fishy to me. They shoulda automatically given Fine's client a change of venue. But I digress.

Aside from the disgustingly unfairness of attorney Fine's contempt charge and his subsequent brutal incarceration, however, the main problem here seems to be that if attorney Fine actually IS finally released, almost everyone who knows him (including the FBI, the CIA and other persecutorial types that we on the Left are all-too-familiar with), also knows that the number one thing that attorney Fine will do upon his release is to mount a huge campaign to stop Senator John McCain's latest enthusiastic assault against the U.S. Constitution, S.3081 -- the Enemy Belligerent, Interrogation, Detention, and Prosecution Act of 2010.

S.3018 is a nasty Senate bill that hands over even more power to the powers-that-be in Washington who are already far too powerful. And this act of almost dictatorial proportion could easily backfire on the rest of us -- and put ANYONE that Washington power-brokers determine to be "enemy belligerents" in jail, even patriotic Americans such as you and me; perhaps even in a cell next to attorney Fine's.

So getting Richard Fine out of jail is of paramount importance to you and to me as well as to him.

PS: Richard Fine is a respected and well-known 70-year-old California attorney who the U.S. Supreme Court has just sentenced to what will probably prove to be a life sentence (or even death sentence) in one of the worst jails in America -- just for standing up for his belief in American citizens' rights to a fair hearing and a fair trial. But aside from the fact that every American who loves justice should be appalled by this latest SCOTUS decision (why aren't the Teabaggers and Fox News out picketing the streets over this issue?), we also need to consider that bit in the Constitution about such type of cruel and unusual punishment being illegal.

Er, duh.

And also, why isn't attorney Fine simply being released into a house-arrest program? We all watch "The Good Wife" on TV. We all keep up with Paris Hilton. We all know that house arrest is a definite possibility -- especially if you are 70 years old, in ill health and facing a life sentence unless you sell out your principles, cry "uncle" and let Judge Yaffe get away with his apparent conflict of interest.

And what about all those old guys who have been in jail forever for committing horrendous murders and such, but who are released from jail simply because they are old and sick? Attorney Fine is old and sick. Release him too. "Attica! Attica!"

Not only that but in the past year alone, hundreds of prisoners -- and we're talking about hundreds of mean guys, evil-doers and blatant criminals here! -- have been released from the same jail that attorney Fine is now being held in, in order to alleviate overcrowding. So why doesn't Los Angeles release attorney Fine too? The jail would be far less crowded without him hogging up a cell.

And what about that time when someone in my neighborhood who committed a white-collar crime, embezzled some money and was sentenced to two years in jail? She got into a work-furlough program and only had to spend weekends in jail. Why can't attorney Fine get released on a work-furlough program too -- so that he can continue working and also not lose his home?

And, better yet, why can't attorney Fine be released on said work-furlough program so that he can help defeat John McCain's horrendous, scary and un-American Senate bill S-3081?

PPS: I'm not the only one that's pissed off on attorney Fine's behalf. Here's what the National Review has to say about this case:

On April 23, 2010, the Supreme Court of the United States denied the petition for “stay of execution” (of coercive confinement for civil contempt of court) by attorney Richard I. Fine in the case of Richard Fine v. Leroy Baca, Sheriff of Los Angeles County (09-1250). In doing so, the highest court of the land has refused to rectify a clear-cut case of judicial corruption in the state of California.

So who’s Richard Fine and how did he run afoul of the law? A distinguished attorney with a doctor of law degree from the University of Chicago Law School and a Ph.D. in international law from the London School of Economics, Mr. Fine has practiced law in government service and private practice for 42 years and achieved considerable distinction in both. He has served in the antitrust division of the Justice Department, founded the Anti-Trust Division in the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office and was awarded the prestigious “Lawyer of the Decades” award in 2006. He has also won numerous cases on behalf of California taxpayers in state courts, including a 2003 California Supreme Court lawsuit that stopped salary payments to the governor and the legislators if they were unable to pass the budget.

Yet this distinguished 70-year-old attorney in poor health has been sitting in solitary confinement in “coercive incarceration” in the notorious Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail without being charged, tried, or convicted of anything since March 4, 2009. In effect, he was thrown in jail for an indefinite period with no bail or hearing set for blowing the whistle on judicial corruption in California.

The chain of events that led to his incarceration was set in motion in 2000, when Richard Fine became aware that L.A. superior court judges were receiving illegal “judicial benefits” payments from Los Angeles County, despite the fact that lawsuits against that county were often adjudicated by these same judges, thus creating clear conflict of interest problems. By 2007 these payments amounted to $46,436 per year on top of their state salary of $172,000, making L.A. superior court judges among the highest paid in the country. Not only was this a blatant conflict of interest but also unconstitutional, insofar as the California constitution states clearly (in Article VI, Section 19) that “the legislature shall prescribe compensation for judges of courts of record.”

In Richard Fine’s opinion, these payments were illegal if not criminal, and in 2000 he began challenging them in various appellate briefs and lawsuits against several judges, thus making himself extremely unpopular with the superior court bench and also with the county supervisors who had authorized the payments. The usual justification the supervisors give for extending these payments to the judges is the ostensible need to attract qualified jurists in a high-cost-of-living area like Los Angeles. Less well publicized is the possibility that by granting the judges such payments, the supervisors may be voting themselves a pay increase as well. Article II, Section 4 of the Los Angeles County Charter states that the supervisors’ compensation “shall be the same as that now or hereafter prescribed by law for a judge of the Superior Court in and for the County of Los Angeles.”

Not surprisingly, since the initiation of these “judicial benefits” in 1988 — at a cost to L.A. taxpayers of some $300 million to date — the county is reported to have seldom lost a lawsuit in superior court. It also appears to be the case that Los Angeles County is not the only California county which provides such payments and, according to one estimate, 1,500 out of a total of 2,000 superior court judges in the state are allegedly implicated in receiving the illegal payments, as are five of the state’s Supreme Court justices.

Mr. Fine’s current misfortunes stem from his demand at a contempt hearing on March 4, 2009, that Judge David P. Yaffe of the Los Angeles Superior Court, a recipient of such illegal payments, recuse himself from the case in front of him, in which L.A. County was a party. Judge Yaffe had Mr. Fine handcuffed and thrown in jail for civil contempt of court for an indefinite period. Judge Yaffe was later to explain that “the intent of the (non-criminal) solitary confinement was to coerce Richard Fine into submission.”

Yaffe’s unusually confrontational behavior was preceded by events that must have given him and his colleagues assurance that they had nothing to fear on account of these illegal payments. The first such event, paradoxically, was a decision by the California Court of Appeals for the Fourth Appelate District in Sturgeon v. County of Los Angeles (BC351286, filed 10/10/2008) that payments to the judges were not permissible and that the legislation’s responsibility to prescribe compensation “is not delegable.” Alarmed by this decision’s implication of potential criminal liability for judges and politicians alike, California’s political and judicial powers that be moved quickly and quietly to rectify the situation legislatively. As California grappled with the huge budget-deficit crisis afflicting the state in early 2009, the Judicial Council of California, chaired by the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, quietly drafted, the legislature approved, and the governor signed a senate bill (SBX2-11, enacted February 20, 2009) giving retroactive immunity from criminal prosecution, civil liability, and disciplinary action to “judges that had received payments from a governmental entity prior to the bill’s effective date.” In doing so, the legislature and the governor essentially admitted that the payments had indeed been illegal and very likely criminal.

Emboldened by the granted immunity, the judicial machine moved to get rid of Fine once and for all by having the California State Bar disbar him for “moral turpitude,” a course of action reminiscent of the Soviet Communist regime’s practice of declaring political dissidents criminally insane and locking them up in psychiatric wards.

In the meantime, Mr. Fine’s jailer, L.A. county sheriff Lee Baca, has started releasing hundreds of convicted criminals from Men’s Central Jail because of overcrowding. Overcrowding is evidently not an issue for Richard I. Fine, now serving his second year of an indefinite solitary confinement term as an American prisoner of conscience.

Alex Alexiev is a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. The views expressed here are his own.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Oswald's miracle marksmanship: Dallas 47 years after

Almost everyone in America today remembers exactly where they were at the moment when they first heard about 9-11. I was at the dentist. And almost everyone from the baby-boomer generation also remembers exactly where they were at the moment when they first heard that President Kennedy was shot. For the baby-boomer generation, Kennedy's assassination was like what 9-11 is to Americans today -- in the sense that things have never been the same since either event.

In 1963 I was a junior in college, sitting in the front row of Professor James Pratt's political science class and listening to his lecture on Eisenhower's warning about the military-industrial complex. And who would have guessed back then that 47 years later I would finally actually get a chance to actually go visit Dallas, to actually go inside the Texas Book Depository and to actually stand right there on the Grassy Knoll, looking down on the exact spot where Kennedy was shot. Not me!

Here's how it happened: I was down in Belize City and about to catch a plane home after having visited almost every Mayan ruin in a four-country radius (see for details), when it was announced over the loudspeaker that my flight was delayed. Rats. "Now I'll never make my connection at DFW!"

"Not to worry," said the gate person. "We'll put you up at a hotel in Dallas and you can fly out to SFO the next day." And American Airlines did just that, bless its heart. And that is how I actually got to spend a whole day in Dallas.

And what does one do when one goes to Dallas? Go to a Cowboys game? No! One visits the Grassy Knoll!

And gets to be amazed.

First I was amazed that, 47 years after Kennedy's tragic death, the place where he was brutally assassinated was still a major tourist attraction. There were still tourists coming to that spot. And the sixth floor room where Oswald allegedly shot Kennedy is now a museum.

The second thing that amazed me was that I actually got to stand on the exact spot where Kennedy received his tragically-fatal shot to the head.

But the thing that amazed me most was that, after all this huge hype that's been shoved down our throats for the past 47 years that Oswald, acting alone, killed Kennedy by firing just three shots, is really actually sort of hard to believe when you are actually there at the actual spot. Even the greenest kindergartner, standing where I stood 47 long years after the fatal event, could immediately see that, despite all the hype and the commission reports to the contrary, that it would have taken a miracle of marksmanship and accuracy for Oswald to have made those three direct hits. A freaking miracle!

Was Oswald that good of a marksman? Hardly. But if he was, then he must have been intensively well-trained by the best.

If, however, someone had made the shot that killed Kennedy from the Grassy Knoll, where eye-witnesses originally said that the shots came from, it would have been a relatively easy shot.

"But, Jane," you might say, "if the shots had been fired from the Grassy Knoll, wouldn't they have entered Kennedy's body from a different angle and even injured Jackie as well?" Hmmm...

So I did some research. And according to autopsy photos at, we can clearly see that one bullet entered Kennedy's head from the right -- and one entered at the middle of his back. And a third one entered his neck from the FRONT. What's with that? Oswald really did fire a miracle shot! Or else Kennedy was shot as he approached the Grassy Knoll, passed in front of it and was driven away from the shooter(s)?

I haven't read all the voluminous literature regarding JFK and Oswald, but it seems to me from the perspective of a naive tourist just visiting the Grassy Knoll for a few minutes that If Oswald actually was the sole shooter, then he would have had to have started shooting Kennedy at least a half-football-field sooner than he did -- if he was going to get in both his front and side shot.

And where was the Secret Service after the first shot was fired? Aren't they spozed to throw themselves in front of the President at the first sign of trouble and protect him with their lives? Which brings up that old question of why weren't Secret Service agents riding on the Cadillac's rear bumper? Which they clearly were not. No wonder poor sweet Jackie got blood all over her pink suit and Caroline and John-John had to go fatherless!

"But, Jane," you might remind me rather forcibly at this point, "all these are just conspiracy theories." Yeah, well, tell that to the kindergartners -- and us tourists at the Grassy Knoll.

Here's a video I made of the scene of the crime:

PS: It also seems to me that lurking behind the scenes during every major war and disaster in America since 1930 (
or even actually on the scene), there has always been a member of the Bush family -- with the possible exception of Korea. Prescott Bush was there egging on Hitler. George H.W. Bush was a high-ranking CIA official when Kennedy was murdered, thus paving the way for Vietnam. Then there was the Gulf War, invented almost singlehandedly by George Senior. And 9-11? According to George W. Bush's terrorism adviser, Richard Clarke, GWB was warned about the possibility of that tragic attack at least a month before it happened -- and yet Bush did nothing.

And how about Iraq and Afghanistan? Was a Bush behind those wars too? Yep.

And just think for a moment about how all these past 80 years of American "wars" have been very, very good for the Bush family -- causing their stock in the weapons trade to zoom up. Which leaves me wondering which Bush will get us into America's next war -- in order to give the next generation of young Bushes a leg up in the family business?

Professor Pratt and President Eisenhower were right back in the day. "Beware of the military-industrial complex." And nothing's changed since -- except for the worse. And while misguided Teabaggers are currently fretting their little hearts out over our government's relatively minor healthcare expenditures, munitions manufacturers like the Bush family are still happily hijacking what is left of our treasury -- and our souls.

PPS: Oh crap. I'm so tired of hearing about how Teabaggers, the NRA and "Christian" militias are out buying deadly weapons, arming themselves and then complaining that they need even MORE assess to weapons. If those people all want unlimited access to guns and warfare so badly, then they need to move to the Democratic Republic of Congo ASAP. They'd be much, much happier in the DRC. There's no gun control there. You can shoot at people indiscriminately and nobody can stop you. Teabaggers could even own their own tanks!

PPPS: The bastards who killed Kennedy may still be feeling all smug with themselves that they got clean away with it and that they will never be caught. But all too many Americans know what really happened back then. You think not? Just go to YouTube, enter a search for "Kennedy Assassination" and watch how many VIDEOS come up.
7,880 videos come up. That's videos, not hits (one video alone had 3,157,243 hits). Type in "Kennedy assassination conspiracy" and over TEN THOUSAND more videos will pop up.

Now take a few hours and watch some of those videos yourself. "You can fool some of the people all of the time...." Despite the fact that the perps outwardly seem to be getting away with their cover-up, they are not. Not really. Even 47 years after this tragic event, people are still not letting this issue fade.

Perhaps there is hope for America yet.


Here's a home video taken in 2009, showing how tourists are still swarming the Grassy Knoll even now. According to this video, there was also a tree in the way of Oswald's shot back in 1963.


More than three bullets were shot? This video says yes:


Here's a video of an eye-witness who heard many shots. "The shots came from the [Grassy Knoll] and I saw a man running."


Here's the famous video of the Secret Service stand-down in Dallas:


And here's a photo of George H.W. Bush at the Texas Book Depository after the shooting:

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Archeology at its best: Mayan ruins & Branson, Missouri

I just went on a trip through the Mayan ruins of Central America -- and all I can say about that is, "Wow!"

First I went to Joya de Ceren, an archeological site in El Salvador consisting of a small 5th-century Mayan town that had been preserved because of a volcanic eruption -- sort of like the Pompeii of Central America. There you could see how every-day Mayans lived 1,320 years ago. And guess what? Every-day Mayans back then lived in adobe homes pretty much like the ones that many Mayans still live in today. Here's the video:

Then I went off to see the Copan temple complex in Honduras. But I already told you about that.

Then I went to Tikal, in Guatemala. It was as big as Yosemite and as impressive as Karnak. And I got lost and had to get rescued by a park ranger. He was cute. Here's the video:

Then I went to the exact same ruin where they filmed "Survivor Guatemala," and stood on the exact same spot where Jeff Probst had stood. It doesn't get more archeological than that! Here's the video:

Then I spent several hours on a small boat, going up a river in the jungle to the Mayan ruin of Lamanai in Belize. It was all very Indiana Jones. Here's the video:

On the way back through the jungle, I passed a Mennonite settlement. How bizarre is that! Out in the middle of the freaking jungle, miles from nowhere, lived a whole colony of old-fashioned Mennonites, wearing old-fashioned dresses and beards and suspenders and
looking for all the world like I had just landed in western Pennsylvania.

And not only that, but it was Sunday and a lot of the Mennonites were strolling down by the riverside after church -- and the young men were courting the young ladies by showing off and diving into the river from high posts, fully clothed. And the young ladies were giggling and blushing and totally attentive. Watching this scene was like witnessing an American-style courtship ritual from 150 years ago. It was fascinating. But was it archeology? Probably not.

When I get back to the U.S., I want to go to Branson, Missouri. I already got a brochure!

"Known as the 'Live Music Show Capital of the World,' Branson, Missouri, is truly a one-of-a-kind family vacation destination — and an incredible value — with more than 50 live performance theaters, three pristine lakes, 12 championship golf courses, an international award-winning theme park, dozens of attractions and museums, an Historic Downtown district, shopping galore, a full range of dining options, and a host of hotels, motels, resorts, RV parks, campgrounds and meeting and conference facilities."

I wonder what archeologists will be saying about Branson, Missouri
1,320 years from now?

"But maybe there won't even BE any archeologists 1,320 years from now," commented my daughter Ashley. "You're forgetting that the Mayan calendar ends in 2012." You mean that the human race could be coming to an end in less than two years? Well, heck. In that case, what we really need to do is to make the most of these two remaining years. Screw buying a new car, working a dead-end job or getting my apartment clean. If the human race is truly going to die out by 2012 (and if you consider the way that we are avoiding the reality of climate change and using mega-bombs like they were Kleenex, this extinction is totally possible), then I need to get ready! We all need to get ready. We all need to run out and do a whole bunch of good deeds ASAP so that we can all make it into Heaven.

PS: Back in the U.S. of A., I hear that Americans are still running around like chickens with their heads cut off, all dazed and confused. There are many serious things wrong with America right now but nobody seems to be trying to fix any of them -- or else are only making use of our confusion to feather their own nests.

Wall Street and bankers are acting like vultures. Teabaggers are acting like ostriches with their heads in the sand. The Pentagon has pretty much gone coo-coo about trying to conquer the world. And most Americans are acting like turkeys. "Gobble gobble gobble," they say as they gobble up everything in sight at the malls and swallow up all that bird poop being force-fed down their throats by commercials -- clearly unaware that they are only fattening themselves up to get stuffed.

At a time when Americans direly needs more eagles and doves, we seem to be mostly stuck with birdbrains, birds of prey and pigeons.

Americans need to stop acting like dodos, prepare for the harsh winter ahead, work together for the common good as one flock, learn to fly high and stop feathering their nests with all that greed and hate that's gonna come back and bite them in the [tail feathers] REALLY SOON -- whether or not the Mayan calendar is right.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Nature bats last: The grand ruins of Antigua Guatemala

Pretty much everyone knows that America's occupation of Afghanistan has been going on since 2001, that its occupation of Iraq is now over eight years old and that its surrogate occupation of Palestine has been going on since approximately1949. Does that seem like a really long time for one country to be occupying other countries that are located clear over on the other side of the world? Does that seem like a hecka long time for America to be keeping so many over-extended and precarious supply lines open?

Not really.

There have been other occupations that have existed for a lot longer -- and which were dependent on even more precarious supply lines being stretched to the other side of the world. Spain first started occupying Guatemala back in the 16th century and kept its tenuous military supply lines going from Madrid to Central America for hundreds of years. But even after two centuries, even Spain's ongoing and grinding occupation of Guatemala finally came to an end (occupations generally tend to end badly). But I digress.

What I really want to talk about now is my recent trip to visit Antigua Guatemala. This city is lovely! And the major part of its charm derives from all the ancient, gargantuan and awesome ruins of Spanish palaces, mansions, cathedrals and monasteries that you can find here, scattered throughout the city, located on almost every block. The Spanish came here to stay and built here to stay -- just like Americans have built their huge permanent bases in Iraq and Afghanistan and have financed the building of huge permanent settlements in Palestine. "Jane, just get back on topic."

Okay. But you've got the picture here, right? Massive and permanent Spanish structures in Guatemala like you just wouldn't believe! Mega-tons of granite or whatever everywhere you look. You've got all these mammoth monasteries and convents that are five blocks long, three blocks wide and one block tall. You've got these huge skyline-dominating edifices that seem to shout, "We're here to stay!" at the top of their lungs.

Well, we all know what happened there.

The Spanish are gone and their buildings are now all in ruins.

"What happened to cause the Spanish to abandon all this proof of conquest and occupation?" you might ask. "Did the locals mount a counter-insurgency because they were sick and tired of being tortured? Did Spain have an economic recession at home and have to withdraw because it could no longer afford the occupation? Were the supply lines stretched too thin all the way from the other side of the planet? Did the Spanish finally have a change of heart and decide that occupying other countries was not just, fair, right or democratic?" Nope. None of the above.

What happened back then was that, in 1773, Mother Nature spoke up -- and basically flattened Antigua Guatemala. An eight-point-something earthquake destroyed all of Spain's grand colonial structures. Timeless monuments to the glory of the Spanish occupation and empire were flattened within minutes -- and I have the photos and videos to prove it.

There's a moral here somewhere I suppose. Man proposes and nature disposes? Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine had better watch out for earthquakes? Spain no longer had God on its side? Never occupy a foreign country on the other side of the world? The bigger they come, the harder they fall? Those ones are nice, I am sure, but my favorite is still "Nature bats last".

PS: One of the ruins in Antigua Guatemala has been renovated (sort of) and is now a grand gourmet restaurant -- and so on a beautiful warm moonlit night recently I treated myself to dinner among the ruins. For less than half the price of dining at Chez Panisse back home in Berkeley, I got an excellent nouvelle cuisine sea bass dinner plus the priceless experience of dining in history by moonlight -- although the waiter did diplomatically raise one eyebrow when I ordered dessert first. But who could resist? It was flan!

PPS: Meanwhile, back in the US of A, two debates seem to be hogging the headlines on Yahoo News. First there's the debate over the legalization of marijuana. I'm for that. Why? Not only because of the Al Capone types who are now running our current Prohibition and have turned the American southwest, Mexico and Columbia into places resembling Chicago in the 1930s, but also because it's income tax time.

If we legalized marijuana, not only would we get rid of all those Prohibition-style mobsters and gangs, but also a lot more people would be paying income taxes instead of getting all their millions under the table -- and then perhaps the great state of California might not be as bankrupt as it is now. Tobacco companies and their customers have to pay taxes. Let's make pot growers and their customers pay taxes too.

Here's a video on the subject of legalizing marijuana that you might enjoy:

The second U.S. debate seems to be all about the new Teabagger movement. "No more government!" the Teabaggers cry. Well. As Markos Moulitsas recently pointed out,
"If they don't like having government, they should move to Somalia."

Didn't Somalia already try that "no government" thing? And how's that working for them?

A lot of Americans seem to miss the main point here -- that only dribs and drabs of government money are being doled out to social programs in America. In actuality, most of America's money -- and its credit-card bills for approximately the next thousand years as well -- is being lavishly vacuumed off into the the deep pockets of "defense" manufacturers, who are aggressively advertising the ultimate disposable consumer product -- war. And, apparently, in America war really sells well.

And if perchance these Teabaggers might also be motivated by secret hopes and dreams that they too can invade the ranks of the elite at the top, fat chance of that ever happening. There is no chance in Hell that any average American -- or even your average Teabagger -- is ever, ever going to be allowed to break into the uber-rich inner circle of weapons manufacturers and lobbyists who REALLY own America.

OMG! This just in! Apparently the phrase "teabagging" has been in common usage among American pimps and prostitutes since forever, and refers to a particular type of sleazy oral sex. So. Now I know where all those typical hypocritical Teabaggers REALLY got their name.

PPPS: Speaking of nature batting last in Guatemala, I'm thinking that Mother Nature might get hecka pissed off at America too -- because of all those Pentagon supply lines that keep stretching and snaking all over the planet, and covering every niche and corner of our world with a not-so-fine coat of radiation and smog.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Semana Santa: The Mayan ritual of Maximon

If little kids had never been taught about religion, would they develop this concept all by themselves? Raised in a vacuum of dogma, would they instinctively discover, invent or reveal the existence of Buddha or Mohammed or Jesus Christ all over again?

I think that, given no outside influences, children who were raised in kindness and love would develop a powerful spirituality -- based on the true essence of religion. "And just what IS the true essence of religion?" you might ask.

Well. It's not that brutal ritualized murder called war. Neither is it child-rape nor "separation" walls nor "Christian" militias nor suicide bombers.

The true essence of religion is LOVE. And love stands for "Looking For Good" -- in oneself and in others. So. Down here in the highlands of Guatemala, there's a spiritual practice among the Mayan that involves the veneration of a Santeria-type folk-saint named Maximon. Maximon is generally represented by a cedar-carved statue that is carried through the streets of Santiago Atitlan during Holy Week. Santiago is a Mayan town most known for having suffered the main brunt of Iran-Contra-financed government death squads in the 1980s. It is also the place where Father Stanley Rother was assassinated in 1981 by government death squads.

I was lucky enough to be invited to a Maximon ritual recently -- and here's the video to prove it:

Is the veneration of Maximon a true and valid religion? I think that it is. Why? Because it fits the criteria that I hold up to any legit religion, ergo, "Does this ideology promote peace and love?" And during the ritual that I attended in Santiago, the shaman prayed fervently for peace and love. You can't get much more religious than that!

PS: Meanwhile back in the US of A, I just got word that Barbara Streisand will be appearing at the 2010 Book Expo in New York City in May, to be interviewed regarding her new book, "My Passion for Design" (Viking, November 2010). And John Gresham (whose new book is tentatively entitled "The Confession"), Sarah Ferguson (the Duchess of York), William Peter Blatty (author of "The Exorcist") and Jon Stewart will also be touting their new books.

I'm there!

Also, here's the URL for a convenient new application form that will help Teabaggers to immediately stop receiving some of those nasty government benefits that they hate so much -- such as Social Security, MediCare and veterans' benefits. Teabaggers! Sign up right now! Then you can stop whining about government interference in your lives. Whew.

Now if we only had a form like this that would get us out of entangling ourselves in government's foreign wars!

Further, I just got an e-mail from my son Joe who is currently working on the set of "The Valley Girl Show" The show is about various movers and shakers in Silicon Valley and last week my son's job involved helping to film interviews with Levar Burton and M.C. Hammer. Here are the photos to prove it.