Tell it to the Shiites and the Sunnis: Make love not war
In case you missed it, here is an expert's opinion on  HOW WILL THE WAR AFFECT ONLINE PORN? According to Jay Servidio, web porn franchiser (actually, it's a "turnkey operation" -- he builds you your own porn site and tells you how to make money): "Inside every Iraqi there is an American waiting to come out" and, presumably, go ape over pictures of naked women on the computer screen. So far, though, the Mahdi army seems more enamored of other kinds of explosions.
"Someone had blundered"
Looking at the disastrous and pointless waste of American lives in Iraq, Senator Robert C. Byrd recalls Tennyson's summary of The Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava, 1864, in his speech on the Senate floor yesterday, here called The Exit Door.


Piri Thomas
I just learned that this film is about to be shown in Detroit:
Every Child Is Born a Poet: The Life and Work of Piri Thomas
In his life and his work, acclaimed Afro-Cuban-Puerto Rican poet Piri Thomas has used creative expression as a means to confront and overcome poverty, racism, violence and isolation. Author of the acclaimed autobiographical novel Down These Mean Streets, Thomas, through poetry, stories and performances, chronicles his journey from Spanish Harlem to prison to life as an author, educator and activist.

Sunday, April 11, 2004
Detroit Public Television
11:00 PM
It's a fine film. I saw it at a special showing by the filmmaker in New York, with Piri, who stayed to shake hands and chat. I hope you get to see it, too. Here's the mini-review I posted right after seeing it: 'Every Child is Born a Poet' - Piri Thomas


Meanwhile, they keep trashing our planet
This recent article by Mark Engler and Nadia Martínez shows what can happen if the new Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) gets passed. Look out, world! The tactics aren't new -- US oil companies were doing the same sorts of things in Mexico at the beginning of the last century. But every time they destroy more of our environment, recovery becomes even chancier. Check out Free trade agreement threatens Costa Rican environmental protections
Living on some other planet
This morning's news brings confirmation that the U.S. occupation has accomplished what Saddam Hussein never could: uniting Iraq's Shiites and Sunnis in a common cause. The blundering Bush-Rumsfeld strategy has allowed the U.S. military to be defined as the enemy in a war of national liberation, and all Hell has broken loose. Hanging on is going to become increasingly costly, not just in dollars but in American lives. Meanwhile, from some other planet in a parallel universe, comes this press release:

Washington, DC -- April 6, 2004 -- As the June 30 deadline for the transfer of power to the new Iraqi government draws near, many American small businesses are seeking information on opportunities in the new Iraq. In an effort to promote small business involvement in the reconstruction of Iraq, New Fields today announced the involvement of the U.S. Small Business Administration in the 5th Rebuilding Iraq Conference on June 9-10 in Washington.

Manuel Rosales, Assistant Administrator and head of the SBAís Office of International Trade, will provide information on SBA support for companies with plans for entering Iraq and be available for questions from small businesses attending the event. Similar to previous conferences in the Rebuilding Iraq series, the two day event will also feature success stories from small businesses on the ground in Iraq.

The 5th Rebuilding Iraq Conference builds on New Fields' track record of emphasizing the small business role in the Iraqi reconstruction process. During New Fields' Small Business Opportunities in Iraq Summit in February, representatives from six prime contractors networked with over 500 attendees and provided crucial advice for companies seeking to enter the Iraqi market.

"American small businesses are already the subjects of remarkable success stories in Iraq," said Samir Farajallah, President and CEO of New Fields. "New Fields is honored to provide a forum on June 9-10 for small businesses to network with each other, officials from the SBA, Iraqi companies, and prime contractors."

The 5th Rebuilding Iraq Conference will be followed on June 23-24 by New Fields' first event in London.

To obtain further information about these events, please contact our Washington DC office at 202.496.4976 and in the Middle East call our Dubai office at +971 (4) 268-6870 or visit http://www.new-fields.com

Samir Farajallah is not the only one residing on some other planet. When the World Court declared a few days ago that the death penalties of Mexican citizens in the U.S. who had been denied access to Mexican consular officials had to be re-examined, the governor of Texas declared, "The World Court doesn't have jurisdiction in Texas."

Final news item from another planet, but this a much more benign one: Salvagers have confirmed finding the remains of the P38 flown by Antoine Saint-Éxupéry on his last flight. No word yet from the Little Prince, who we presume has rejoined his planet and his rose.


Those lying, cheating orchids!
This article on the deception practiced by orchids should be of special interest to my friend Luby. She used to be a fearless orchid hunter in the jungles of Venezuela. "Bring 'em back alive," was I believe her slogan. They may be nasty and deceitful, but they sure are beautiful to look at. Check out these lovely specimens. Also on this blog (author unknown, at least to me) are many other comments and images of Venezuela, non-orchid related.
The writing life
Congratulations to all the Pulitzer Prize winners! And special congratz to The Los Angeles Times for its writers sweep, 5 prizes. Check out these prize-winning (and prize-deserving) pieces by: Bill Stall for Editorial Writing, in his series "Reinventing California" (on what's wrong with the state's government, how it got that way and how to fix it -- click on headlines to read each complete editorial); the 3-part series The Wal-Mart Effect, prize for national reporting, by Abigai Goldman, Nancy Cleeland, Evelyn Iritani & Tyler Marshall; Southern California wildfire reporting by a whole crew of reporters, and more. The L.A. Times also has links to the winners (there were a few) who worked for other newspapers, and to a story on Edward P. Jones, debut novelist who won for The Known World. (For a fuller story, see report in the NYT).

The New York Times won the Public Service Pulitzer for its excellent series, When Workers Die by David Barstow and Lowel Bergman. Fortunately, both papers, the L.A. Times and the NYT, are letting you read their prize-winners for free, at least for now.

Elsewhere the NYT, there is this comment on the journalistic life, embedded in an otherwise rather silly and repetitive piece by James Gorman in the science section about how many antidepressants Americans are taking. Gorman notes, "The result does not yet seem to be the epidemic of dull, well-managed emotionless humanity that some forecasters have worried about. For instance, among professionals in journalism and publishing in the New York metropolitan area, who no doubt take as much Zoloft per capita as anyone on the planet, it is no small trick to find someone who is either calm or happy."

Now that's depressing.


"Byzantium" at the Met: better than I thought
Regarding my criticism below, that the beautiful show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Byzantium: Faith and Power 1261-1557 gave too little social and historical context: I wrote that before I had explored the website, which is very rich in background. And because it is an elegantly and intelligently designed site, it lets you move around from theme to theme to find the answers to specific questions. Besides the main link above, there is even more starting at a second home page which includes discussions of my special interest, "The Byzantine Sphere and the Islamic World". The experience of the exhibition isn't really complete until you have both visited the Met to see the objects themselves, and explored the website. If you can't get to New York by July 4 (the last day of the show), then at least look at these links. That is, if you care about the history of the western world and the early phases of our conflict with Islam.
Liberty locked up, and other tales of the city
It's been a busy week in Gotham. A sad note was the death of Richie Pérez, fondly remembered as a Puerto Rican protester against racial injustice, with a generous spirit and an artistic and theatrical imagination. Here is a tribute by Ted Glick, and another, with photo, by Omarr Lee.

A couple of days ago we got over to see the just-opened blockbuster exhibit, Byzantium: Faith and Power (1261-1557. It's a beautiful display, but a disappointing presentation. It covers the final, fragile period of the empire, founded in 324 when the Roman emperor Constantine moved his capital to the shore of the Bosphorus, razing the little port town of Byzantion to build "New Rome" -- which later visitors called Constantinople. The show begins in 1261, the year the Greek-speaking, Orthodox Christians took their city back from the western Catholics who had seized, pillaged and trashed it in 1204. The reborn empire barely extended beyond the walls of its capital, Constantinople, and was extinguished in 1453 when Mehmet the Conqueror battered down those walls with cannon and made it the capital of another empire, the Ottoman. The show goes on to 1557, the date that a German scholar invented the labels "Byzantium" and "Byzantine" -- from the name of the little port that Constantine razed. The exhibit is full of beautiful objects, mostly icons of the Theotokos or "God-bearer" (i.e., the Virgin Mary), Jesus, saints (especially the military saints, Demetrios and Michael and George), and so is a must-see just for the visual splendor. The explanations in the audio guide and the labels, however, explain nothing. They don't mention that the "Byzantine" (he called himself "Roman") emperor Manuel II and his successors were vassals to the Turks, forced to pay tribute, and that Manuel was even required to join the Turkish chief on military campaigns to subdue other Christian cities. The show gives no historical or social context -- all we see are the eternal icons, the highly stylized representations of a faith that was becoming every day more tenuous. Well, you'll just have to read my novel if you want to learn more about the intense social conflicts and the peculiarly intimate relations between Ottoman Turks and "Byzantine" Christians in this period. And I hope you'll have the opportunity to read it soon.

We (my partner & I) also saw Tim Robbins' play "Embedded". Great politics, not great theater. Still, it's important at this moment, to remind us all of how grossly distorted has been the news about the Iraq war (Iraq is here called "Gomorrah"). Most of the dialogue is taken from actual speeches and memos from the "Vulcans" (as apparently they call themselves), Cheney-Wolfowitz-Powell-Rice-Rumsfeld & Baby Bush. Jessica Lynch (here renamed "Private Ryan" -- sound familiar?) is portrayed pretty faithfully. The show has no climax -- it just ends after one more disheartening episode of soldiers, men and women, dying for no cause they can understand while reporters have little chance to do more than amplify the phony stories of officialdom.

And the reporters are still sucking up to their White House sources. The Falluja massacre of those four renta-a-Rambos is described as "despicable" and "bestial," and it was horrible. Not really "bestial" -- beasts don't act that way -- but horrible in a specifically human way, the cruelty of vengeance, out of the need to recover lost honor. The explanations by most of the US press have been laughable superficial. Most seems to think that Iraqis should be grateful for having been, as Washington puts it, "liberated." We understand so little of a culture of honor and shame.

And speaking of what we have trouble understanding, mostly -- like most peoples -- it's ourselves. This past week we rented Michael Moore's Bowling in Columbine. It raises the question we ought to be posing to Bush and Tom Ridge and all that crowd: How is it that the world's most powerful country is also the most frightened? Part of the answer is that our leaders want to keep us terrified. It keeps us from noticing that "terror" is not the enemy, it's their weapon. Check out Mike's Department of Homeland Security.

Oh, and a last item: Lady Liberty locked up. Did you see that report in today's NYT by Mike McIntire, Extra Fund-Raising Put Off Statue of Liberty Reopening? The reason we haven't been able to visit the statue is because the private Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation didn't want to spend any of its own abundant funds to patch up the infrastructure (staircases and so forth) and install more security (an extra exit stair from the platform). Instead, it insisted on asking Americans to send in Folgers coffee can lids and charge expenses on American Express cards, and asking for money from WalMart. The foundation is prudently saving its millions so as to pay its chiefs their handsome salaries in perpetuity -- the top man gets $345K a year, a couple of others are getting over $200K, so they can't afford to spend a penny on the statue.


The un-Drudge
A 2-month old website is promoting itself as "The liberal alternative to the Drudge Report." For compilations of current news items with a "progressive" slant and lots of links, check out The Raw Story. On their hard-to-find "about" page, the editors say, "The Raw Story was founded as an alternative news directory to provide interesting and relevant news stories of interest to the left-leaning market. We are not, per se, a slanted news source; rather, we draw upon a panoply of news sources and select those stories we think most intriguing to a progressive audience."

So far, they are not paying contributors (so you won't see my byline there), but John Byrne, Publisher & Editor-in-Chief, says "we absolutely intend to when we can, though it's impossible right now to predict when that will be. At this point, we're trying to provide a platform for people to get national exposure of their work. Currently, the site is read by 3,000 unique visitors a day (60,000 hits/day), from all 50 states and more than 80 foreign countries. We hope to create a community of young journalists/artists/etc. who are in league with the mission of the site: providing a refreshing alternative to Drudge and dull corporate media sites."