Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Book banning in Arizona

Box allegedly containing books prohibited by Arizona's ban against ethnic studies. Witnesses claim the books were confiscated from schools and placed in storage in boxes labeled as the one in the photograph above.

Remember that old curse: "may you live in interesting times."
Well, the First Amendment is certainly going through interesting times in Arizona.
Today I learned that one of my favorite authors has had five books banned from Arizona schools.
His name is Luis Alberto Urrea, author of the "The Hummingbird's Daughter." His books are often based on Mexican characters. They offer a fascinating insight into the history of the Indians of Mexico, their customs and culture, relationship with the land and with nature. For those of us who see books as bridges into other worlds - Luis Alberto Urrea gives you a first class ticket to a land you've never seen or imagined...and it's beautiful. The soaring landscapes, the dark-eyed people, and their stoic philosophy toward the hardships of life draw you in. "The Hummingbird's Daughter" hypnotizes you with a story about a mysterious girl born to a rancher in Mexico and her rise to sainthood. "The Beautiful North" charms readers with its depictions of villagers in Mexico who connect to American culture via the village's only Internet cafe. To read Urrea's tale about Goth girls, Youtube and emo music in rural Mexico makes the world feel small but preserves that sense of the exotic. The story centers on a teen girl trying to bring Mexican men back to Mexico from the United States, so it's puzzling that immigrant haters are so incensed by it. There's no obscenity, no strings of vulgar language in these books, yet a new Arizona state law has forced schools to pull Urrea's books from Tucson classrooms. There is no hate preached in these books. Their sole crime is to be about Mexicans. Mexican American Studies departments were banned and dismantled because of that most peculiar law, HB2281. Books about Mexicans in the United States that foster prohibited ideas ( thought crime) were placed on a list, and at least seven, possibly more were purged from classrooms in Tucson. The state official who pushed for that law is now trying to do the same ban Mexican American studies in state universities.

How can this happen in the United States. Because we were not paying attention to the extreme right wing. They are as dangerous as the Taliban in Afghanistan. We do not take them seriously and they are rewriting our laws and eroding our constitutional rights, starting with the First Amendment.

HB2281 literally banned ethnic studies in public schools. There really is a list of "inappropriate" books -- which bloggers now call the list of banned books, because those books were no longer permitted in the classrooms. You can see the list for yourself on pages 37 and 38 of the Cambium Report, the result of an audit to ensure that Tucson could comply with Arizona's ethnic studies ban.

Arizona's new state law banning ethnic studies prohibits the use of texts that could foster "ethnic resentment." (I guess Huckleberry Finn is out of the question. So is Gone with the Wind. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Most literature, in fact, fosters ethnic resentment. Check out Irish novels about life under English rule. Yikes. But they are also exquisite literature.)

[Please note, in a press release issued Jan. 12, 2012, Tucson school officials claim they did not BAN the books, they merely boxed the books and put the books in a storage facility. Ummm...sure. The boxes in photographs show the words "banned books." School workers took the books away from classes. School workers, trying to conform to the new state law against ethnic studies, cannot allow the students to read them in class. The press release says the books were placed in storage but students can get the books at the library, therefore it is not book banning. I guess you can argue it's not book banning if you change the definition of book banning, but it would not be a sincere argument. Arizona banned these books from classrooms to silence discussions and ideas. If a teacher assigned students to read the banned books from the library, the teacher would be breaking the law. Ergo, the books are banned.]

According to a book publicist, the banned books were packed up in front students and carted out of the schools. "Students were crying," she said. It's strange to hear that high school students cried over books, but it's not surprising either. Those students know that the Constitution was trampled by that law.

In response, the book proponents started giving books away to share the messages and ideas. They drove a "taco truck" into Tucson on Saint Patrick's Day, but delivered books instead of tacos. There's an entire Tumblr blog dedicated to Arizona's ban on ethnic studies books called hb2281.

The auditor that reviewed Tuscon's ethnic studies program searched for evidence that the classes fostered ethnic resentment, but arrived at the opposite conclusion. The audit summary states wituout qualification that the Tucson ethnic studies program promoted tolerance instead.

Here's a photo of the audit's summary:

Book censorship is flat-out unAmerican.
I'll keep reading Urrea, and I hope you give his books a try as well. Enjoy. (Thank me later.)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

"And someday the harvest", a poem

To live is to work, and the only thing that lasts is the work.
Throw yourself like seed into your work, and into your own field.
Don't turn your face, for that would be to turn it toward death.
Look to your field and do not let the past weigh down your motion.

Learn what is alive in the furrow, what is dead in yourself.
Life does not move in the same way as a group of clouds.
It is a purposeful cycle, a repetition of motion with meaning.
The work itself will teach you how to work.

From your work you will be able,
one day, to gather yourself.
There is a harvest that grows over years and yet,
Every day is springtime, and every night a harvest.

Maria Isabel
March 15, 2012

Monday, December 12, 2011

The end of the fossil fuel economy...a cartoon

This cartoon/ 5 minute documentary captures the challenges we face. The Post Carbon Institute was kind enough (and creative enough) to produce and share this youtube gem: "The Ultimate Roller Coaster Ride: An abbreviated history of fossil fuels."

So many of our economic problems are rooted in environmental problems. Bottom line: we consume faster than nature can replenish. We have an unsustainable economy. The next step?
1) Switch to the habit of just having and using less stuff. 2) Use bicycles instead of cars for short distance commutes. 3) Learn about our choices. We do have choices.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

If Fox News had a chance to rename Disney movies...

In its push to impose a neoconservative ideology on the United States, Fox News often interprets facts in a very colorful way. A study published this year showed that Fox viewers are the least informed of all viewers. Our neighbors to the north are more skeptical of the verbal pyrotechnics at Fox News.

Tabatha Southey, a columnist for Canada's second largest newspaper, the Globe and Mail, has conjured up a list of children's movies as they might be described by Fox News after a Fox News commentator denounced the new Muppet film for being anti-capitalist and ergo anti-American. [The film plot revolves around a greedy developer whose plans threaten the environment] I found the Foxification of Disney list brilliant. Please enjoy and feel free to share (but make sure to credit Ms. Southey).

The List

1. Charlotte's Web of Lies: A rat persuades a pig to take his place in the food chain, after an elitist spider who has far more children than she can reasonably afford tries to talk him into pursuing a liberal education instead.

2. Where the Wild Things Are Hunted to Extinction but Free-Market Capitalism Ensures that Housing is Built.

3. Mrs. Frisby Rats Out the Welfare Queens of Nim.

4. Cars!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

5. Monsters Inc. Busts a Union.

6. Snow White and the Seven – No, Six – Excellent Republican Nominee Hopefuls.

7. 101 Dalmatians Help Employ a Large Number of Furriers.

8. Night at the Creationist Museum: Although exhibits come to life, a man spends a restful night in the museum, because dinosaurs and humans existed together quite peacefully.

9. The Land Before All the Illegal Immigrants Ruined It.

10. Finding Nemo's Birth


11. Harry Potter and the Invisible Hand.

12. The Black Stallion Who Would Not Be There If Not for Affirmative Action.

13. The War on Christmas Story.

14. Robin Hood and His Entitled Men: The brave Prince John promotes stability by fighting unconstitutional wealth-distribution schemes.

15. Kung Fu. Panda Hardly Needs To Be On The Protected Species List, He Knows Kung Fu."

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Occupy Wall Street Needs to Tweak the Soundtrack: The Revolution Needs a Bass Line

Every revolution needs a soundtrack.

Cultural movements often have songs that reflect their tone and spirit, that embody their message and rouse their members. The Civil Rights movement drew music from out of the southern gospel tradition and lifted hearts with its anthem: "We shall overcome". It was sung offkey by the protesters as they marched in front of angry crowds and police dogs, and luminaries such as Mahalia Jackson, Joan Baez and Louis Armstrong all gave that beautiful song their unique imprint.

Does anyone know of Occupy Wall Street songs? Artists seem to be playing it extremely safe with little ditties like Stephan Jenkin's "Meet me at Zuccotti Park." There's a pretty decent rap song "I Occupy Wall Street" but it's more of a monologue set to piano with a drum beat. The lyrics drive home anger at the price of food, unemployment, low wages, foreclosures and government patronage of big business.

Music that embodies a movement or captures the zeitgeist flows out of the anguish of its creators and their vision for the future. The music of change, the music of an era, taps deep into how people feel at their core.
The Tea Party had no such music.
Neither does Occupy Wall Street. But the latter has the potential. Occupy Wall Street's very purpose is to confront the complacency that gave rise to the financial corruption of government. Millions have lost their homes in foreclosures, usury by credit cards impoverishes average Americans, hundreds of billions of dollars have been diverted to the one percent (See Free Lunch and The Wrecking Crew for details), and protests have been met at times with brute force by government. These conditions warrant powerful music.

Music is one of the most potent tools of any social movement, but to have effect, it has to well up from the depths and cut into the hearts of listeners. Most attempts at Occupy Wall Street music borrow music from hippies and Woodstock. The hippies of the 1960s did their part. They gave us Bob Marley and the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the Civil Rights Act, the Clean Air Act, EPA, Head Start and the National Endowment for the Arts. They wanted civil rights, environmental protection, and respect for individual dignity - themes that continue today.
The music that truly taps into spiritual discontent has been put out there - by groups like Rage Against the Machine and Nine Inch Nails in the 1990s. Here are a few songs to get people started (although none of these are really singalong songs). These are weatherbeaten songs, but they have melody, lyric imagery, power, and flow.

Now it's time for the millenial generation to throw down. I don't know what they will come up with -- but every revolution needs a soundstrack. Here's my playlist for #OWS.

1. Wake Up by Rage Against the Machine. RATM = soundtrack of the revolution. The songs may be old but they sound fresh, vivid, right and ripe for today. Their song titles alone (Calm Like a Bomb, Sleep Now in the Fire, Guerilla Radio, Born of a Broken Man, Take the Power Back) must make fascists nervous. RATM frontman Zack de la Rocha has recently dedicated a poem to the Occupy Wall Street movement.
2. [Bite] The Hand that Feeds by NIN (for the insiders who want out).
3. America by Nas (for a lesson in American history).
4. Don't Give Up by Peter Gabriel (a kinder, gentler anthem - a good song after your peaceful protest gets pepper-sprayed, or when you learn a credit card's law firm has just garnished 25 percent of your disposable income, or while packing up the house after the bank forecloses, or when there is no food left in the fridge.)
5. Your Time Has Come by Audioslave.
6. Talkin bout a Revolution by Tracy Chapman (for the romantics).

7.The Fire by the Roots (for everyone who believes).

Honorable Mention:
Promenade by the Street Sweeper Social Club - because of the bass line. Thank you Tom Morello, the sound genius behind RATM, Audioslave, The Nightwatchman, and The Street Sweepers Social Club. He's also been very active in supporting #OWS.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

What I'm listening to now...Gold

Dark Star

Is Occupy Wall Street Over: No, it's just begun

The violent eviction of campers in public parks around the country had many conservative pundits gloating that Occupy Wall Street has been effectively vanquished.

They want you to believe that Occupy Wall Street, and the many encampments nationwide,

have been ignored by average Americans as if they were stepping over homeless people sleeping on the sidewalk.

The Occupy Wall Street protesters are fighting greed and seeking legal and financial reforms that stop 1 percenters (and their trolls) from rigging the system.
They are working on:
1) Ousting corrupt politicians by getting money out of politics
2) Reforming laws that need change
3) Bringing the finance sector back under control

They are organizing marches against the military industrial complex, war profiteers, and irresponsible mass foreclosures by banks. Instead of camping out in public parks, they are occupying government buildings in Washington and Indiana and university offices and even a vacant bank in Santa Cruz, Calif. I call that an upgrade.

But it all started with the movement to reform big finance: Wall Street.

Many financial systems, of all different kinds, can work if operated with transparency and honesty. That stopped happening in the United States. Without rigorous and frequent public examination of financial institutions, they can easily subvert the democratic societies they intended to help prosper.

When people around the country began protesting against abuses by the largest actors in the financial sector, which they call "Wall Street," the street retaliated. The finance sectors pushed the politicians it owns to use the police to dismantle the protests. The police did what they were told: they donned ridiculous riot gear that made them look like space invaders and some tore into protesters with batons and pepper spray. The police officers who used brute violence may be unhinged individuals, but what was more troubling was that government had deployed police to fight against people who were protesting. Protest is at the heart of what makes democracy a democracy. Protest is self-expression and self-determination for the people of a nation. So when the politicians directed the police to violently suppress protest, they called attention to themselves. (Forbes tech blogger E.D. Kain writes that is more likely that the police themselves are responsible for the sheer brutality of the crackdown, not corporate overlords or political hacks.It's possible)

For clear evidence of how brutal the police repression has been, just watch the two minute video of police pepperspraying students at the University of California - Davis Campus. John Pike sprayed students quietly sitting on the ground three times point blank with military grade pepper spray (classified as a chemical weapon - something US soldiers don't use on the battle field).

Here's another video of an Oakland police officer beating up a protester who served in the US Marines. The soldier, who never retaliated, suffered a ruptured spleen.

But the politicians' willingness to use the domestic police force to quash dissent attracted enormous attention to the fact that politicians are willing and able to use force to suppress protest. That complicates US foreign relationships. How can we be a shining beacon of freedom when it is not permissible to protest in our own country. Police brutality toward protesters underscored the message the protesters had been trying to send. And this message is evident to everyone, including many who have never set foot in the Occupy protests or seen them firsthand.

The disbanded camps are now forced to reorganize around more specific goals. The violent evictions did not merely attract attention to Occupy Wall Street, but forced the protesters to organize and articulate more specific goals.

In a survey of photographs by major media, I see a lot more signs calling for the full reinstatement of Glass-Steagall, for the revocation of corporate personhood (a legal fiction created by the courts for convenience, not by legislation or the constitution), and a call for the revocation of Citizens United, a landmark Supreme Court ruling that allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money in political campaigns. There are further rumblings about increases to the capital gains tax (a move that would have a tremendous impact on the 1 percent).

Violence by police at the direction of politicians following the orders of their corporate leaders has added to the Occupy Wall Street agenda. (This is just my observation from reading OWS postings online). Now there is greater concern about addressing the militarization of the police, worry about standing armies in the United States used to subjugate the US citizens, and growing trepidation over the privatization of prisons. After all, if corporations can make money by sending people to jail, might they not lobby for more arrestable laws.

The American population is learning about the limits of its rights and freedom - and many do not like what they are learning. For that reason - this is not over.

I hope this post does not ruin anyone's day. These are real concerns, but we have to remember that life still consists of love, laughter, friendship, hopes and kindness. These are our foundation and based on them we can rest secure today while working toward a better future.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Why did police destroy computers at Occupy Wall Street?


I read here the grim news that the NYPD had taken the laptops in the media center at Zuccotti Park, lined them up, and smashed them.

Here are photos from

Have you ever tried to bend a metal laptop computer? Do you know how hard it is to inflict this kind of damage? On the's comment section, IT professionals debated over what it would take to inflict that level of damage. Most concluded that getting run over with a car would not damage the laptops that much.

Whoever did this to the laptops of Occupy Wall Street protesters must have been very determined to stop the protesters from using the computers. Perhaps it's time for donations. (Some of destroyed laptops had been donated by the public)

I find it fascinating that the police also treated the info tech specialists at Occupy Wall Street differently.

The NYPD seized Occupy Wall Street's signal corps, a team that provided free wireless Internet for Occupy Wall Street, and sequestered them in a separate part of the jail. A member of that team, Isaac Wilder, reported $5,000 missing from his confiscated items in the media tent - money that belonged to him. Something else was gone: a router tower that the Signal Corps used to provide Occupy Wall Street with free Internet service.

My conclusion: police aren't afraid of the protesters - they are afraid of political speech. They are afraid of people communicating. Whoever wanted the free internet gone and laptops destroyed wanted to destroy the protesters ability to 1) communicate to the outside world 2)organize.

Of course, the police must realize that when laptops are replaced, they will be replaced with more powerful models. This was a learning experience. The protesters are learning how to survive in a violent police state that fears free speech.