Friday, October 16, 2009

Letter to Zimbabwe's Ambassador

October 16, 2009

Machivenyika Mapuranga
Zimbabwe Ambassador to the U.S.
1608 New Hampshire Ave NW
Washington, DC 20009-2512

Mr. Ambassador.

I urge your government to release Roy Bennett from prison and drop the ridiculous charges of "terrorism" leveled by the government against him.

Anyone can see what is going on here. "Terrorism" is the new "communism" and whenever a government wants to get rid of somebody making life uncomfortable, it characterizes the opposition activity as "terrorist" and is done with that person.

Let's be blunt here: No party or person has the right to govern a modern, and purportedly, democratic country forever.

Mr. Mugabe is an embarrassment to Zimbabwe and his horrific campaign against those who oppose him deserves naught but disdain from the international community.

He is 85. He should take himself and his party out of the equation and let a new generation determine the direction of Zimbabwe.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Book Report: "The Madonna of 115th Street," by Robert Orsi

Like the many penitents he renders, Robert Orsi sees all things in "The Madonna of 115th Street."\

A scholar of things religious, and connoisseur of matters Italian-American, Orsi combines these two interests so that one defines and explains the other.

To the uninitiated, the Madonna of Mount Carmel is just a statue like countless others throughout Europe and the Americas that interprets the Virgin Mary in plaster relief.

But in Orsi's erudite hands La Madonna (and the faith she engenders) becomes an analytical tool that unlocks doors to discussion on Italian-American family life, the role of work, the trials of immigration, the history of colonization in the old country, and, of course, food.

His base of scholarly operations is the now-vanished Italian East Harlem, but those raised in the culture will recognize themselves, their families, and neighborhood networks in its residents.

The author did years of in-depth research, but found most of his truths on the streets of Little Italy. The resulting interviews may have informed the text, but don't make many actual appearances.

Much of "Madonna" is given over to Orsi's ornate reasoning, and even speculation, about the meanings of the religious icon, and how they can be discerned in the behaviors of mid-century Italian-Americans in urban New York.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. Somebody had to do it and his thoughts mostly ring true. Where they don't, the opportunity for debate and discussion naturally arise, and that is a second service the author rendered.

Don't give this book to your Aunt Rosina in Coney Island unless she's got a college degree and a sociological bent. "Madonna" is a scholarly text that can be dense as a zeppole with academic jargon or leavened as a sfogliatelle with deeply meditative conclusions.

But it is a delightful trove of considerations on the Italian-American and immigrant experience; a beautiful piece of history that might have otherwise been lost to those who care them.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Congratulations Mr. President?

Remember, "Congratulations to my worthy opponent?"

Now, you lose the Olympics, you lose. You win the Nobel Prize for Peace, you lose.

Today's rarified, fast-paced news environment means you can wake up on the West Coast to commentary -- from Glenn Greenwald on the left to the choir of crass on the right -- insulting their own president for winning the Nobel before you can read that he actually won the Nobel.

The "fallout" from an issue for which there should be no fallout, overwhelms the original news itself.

Everybody from Joan Walsh to Joe Gergen get to weigh-in on whether the award was deserved, conveniently shunting aside the group which does painstaking, year-round work to make the designation and, mind you, pony-up the accompanying prize money.

They work in media, you see. Don't think until they interpret it for you.

If any proof were needed (and none was) that nothing President Barack Obama does will ever placate the conservative hate machine, this latest wrinkle (and our marvelous president delivers them quickly) ought to do the trick.

Obama had the chestnuts to speak on behalf of his hometown's bid for the Olympics and the fortitude to take the hit, such as it was. The choir was loud and sour in jeering those efforts.

It was disjointed coming from guys who wear American flag ties and whistle George M. Cohan tunes in the shower.

After all, Hannity and cohorts are always lamenting Obama's failure to highlight "American exceptionalism" in his forays abroad. But what could be more "exceptional" than winning the Nobel Prize for Peace?

In other, smaller, countries, when a native citizen wins such a prize, it is naturally an occasion for universal celebration.

As a matter of fact, in other smaller countries, Obama's winning seems to have ushered in just such an occasion.

Only in his own country, where a television network and millions of dollars in conservative funding have turned the president into a big-eared, socialist, Kenyan-born object of loathing, is the party dampened.

The Nobel gift became a really great chance to criticize.

Once the party of blue-haired dowagers and genteel country clubbers, the current GOPers can't summon up the simple gentleman's grace of wishing one of their own countryman a terse congratulations.

Tell you what, with the kind of noise heard yesterday, highwayscribery will have to reject the Nobel Prize for Literature, when it comes, for his family's sake.

But Obama is made of sterner stuff than highwayscribery. Despite what his detractors say, the President works hard and did not win his prize in a vacuum.

What really galls his enemies is that Obama is what we call "a winner" and no sooner was the grave soil on Chicago's Olympian disappointment settling, when the President had provoked them again by bringing honor to their country.

The brayers might say those of us closer to reality on the political spectrum would have done much the same had George W. Bush won the award.

But he did not, which is the greater message in all of this.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Letter to the Honduran Embassy

Roberto Flores Bermudez
Honduran Ambassador to the United States
3007 Tilden St., N.W. #4 M
Washington D.C. 20008

Mr. Ambassador,

I'm absolutely sickened by press notices regarding the treatment, not only of anti-government supporters, but of those who just happened to be in the way of government troops.

As I just wrote to your counterpart from Guinea, military coups do not work. Either they further enrage popular sentiment, which is always on the side of democracy, or they smother it. The latter instance entails nothing more than a country being occupied by its own army.

Unleashing these ill-prepared, and unscrupulous soldiers on middle-aged women, academics, and any poor soul trying to get home from the market speaks volumes as to Micheletti Government's ability to lead. This is not leading, this is repression.

Reports of tanks rolling through the poor parts of the country as a way of intimidating President Zelaya's supporters is unconscionable and hints of oligarchic forces seeking to forestall a true democratic process.

If people didn't want Zelaya to run for a third term, they would have voted down the referendum. "Fixing" things with an army that brutalizes them was probably a distant preference for Hondurans of both the left and right.

Shame on the ruling junta.

the highway scribe

Letter to the Guinean Ambassador

Guinean Embassy to the United States
2112 Leroy Place N.W.
Washington D.C. 20008

Dear Sir or Madame,

I want to express my outrage at the behavior of soldiers in your country. We do not hear much of Guinea here in the United States and it is most unfortunate that we should become familiar with your country thanks to the savage acts of men whose charge, one would suppose, is to protect a country's citizens.

These stories and images of women being raped by military forces in the streets of Conakry are abhorrent. President Moussa Dadis Camara's protestations that he could not foresee this bloodbath are unacceptable. Either he controls his army or doesn't. They should all be stripped of their commissions. These are not soldiers, but thugs.

Perhaps I am naive, but there must be a difference between the two types of person.

This is why military coups don't work. Nobody can stand in the way of those with guns if there is no system of civil law to provide prior restraint. I don't see how the trauma and tragedy can ever be revoked, but the current government might do the whole world a favor and step down so that voters might have a chance to replace them with more responsible human beings. And I emphasize "human."

Shame on your government.

the highway scribe

Monday, October 05, 2009

Free Elliot Madison

Before you get upset about all those Iranian protestors being run through the wringer over there, you might turn your attention to those enduring similar treatment over here.

In "Twitter-Patter Revolutions," highwayscribery drew parallels between what governments do in Iran, and everywhere else, by framing examples of the violent way our own government has treated its dissidents.

highwayscribery reached back to the murder of four students at Kent State University in the 1960s and moved onto some overzealous police enforcement at Democratic and Republican national conventions over the past decade.

Now, we've got a fresh example from the recent G-20 summit and corresponding protests in Pittsburgh.

Similar to the way authorities responded to the Twitter-Patter revolution in Tehran, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents invaded a house in Queens, New York on Oct. 1, and rooted around its entrails for 16 hours.

That's not a misprint: 16 hours.

As part of the FBI effort in overkill, agents arrested a 41-year old social worker named Elliot Madison. It is not clear what Mr. Madison has done other than participated in the coordination of demonstrations around the G-20 confab.

Last we checked, which was just a few minutes ago, that's not a crime, rather a protected civil right.

His attorney, Martin Stolar told "The Times, "There's absolutely nothing that he's done that should subject him to any criminal liability."

highwayscribery agrees.

The article is devoid of evidence this fellow did anything other than occupy an improvised e-communications bureau that helped demonstrators divine the movements of the police details bent knocking the snot out of them.

The attorney said he'll know what the charges are when the affidavit empowering the FBI to disembowel his home is unsealed.

That's another anti-democratic feature of our democracy that drives the highway scribe nuts. The sealed court document. In his real-life job as a reporter, the scribe must comb the PACER system for federal court documents and they are often sealed, which is a way of keeping them from public purview without explanation.

Explanation, we posit here, is the essence of democracy. For a government by and for the people to take an action, it must explain the action to those same people.

The point being we have a ways to go here before pointing the figure at other places.

A criminal complaint against Madison, in Pennsylvania, said he directed, "others, specifically protestors of the G-20 summit, in order to avoid apprehension after a lawful order to disperse."

Of course, whenever a government issues an order to disperse, it's lawful, so Pennsylvania authorities are belaboring a weak point.

Emerson reminds us, "A good man obeys the law not too well," as in a case like this where your constitutional right to assemble for political reasons is questioned by a bunch of meat-headed, truncheon-wielding yo-yos.

Meant-headed, truncheon-wielding yo-yos, by the way, hate the Constitution because of the way it makes a crime out of venting their most basic and savage urges.

So what we're saying here is the same thing we said in "Twitter Patter Revolutions" and "President Obama and The Venice Drum Circle": Countries in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

If you want to argue that there is no moral equivalent between the enforcers in Iran and those in the United States, ask those who have to breathe the spew from their teargas canisters first.

If you think highwayscribery is getting all bent out of shape over something isolated, keep in mind that on the next page, same newspaper spread, it is reported that New York City will blow $24 million -- useful in forestalling foreclosures or paying furloughed teachers -- to install an "electronic bulwark" against "terrorists" in midtown Manhattan.

Hey, we're all against terrorism right? What's the problem with that?

The problem is that "terrorists" are not the only people the forces of order will be using their new electronic toys to watch.

How do you think they found Madison and his protesting friends in Pittsburgh?

And why is highwayscribery taking potshots at the police?

Because highwayscribery wouldn't trust a policeman farther than he could throw one, and because this article, also in next page of "The Times," regarding the impunity with which officers in that once free and anarchic city operate.

Screw 'em. We're with Madison and his ilk.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Book Report: "Odd Man Out," By Matt McCarthy

Odd Man Out: A Year on the Mound with a Minor League Misfit
makes clear the virtues associated with being good at two things.

Matt McCarthy's is an autobiographical account of a Yale grad with a scientific bent and the good fortune of being a southpaw.

The fact of his left-handed birth limited the competition for pitching slots nationwide. It paved the way for McCarthy to play at Yale and later be drafted by the Los Angeles Angels Baseball Club.

The dynamic here is simple and effective. A young and cerebral son of old Ivy is tossed into the social wilds of the American West and the Angels farm system as a prospect with few prospects.

Most of the players he runs into can only do one thing and their level of education has been limited by the facts that they never went to school or that their schools only required them to play ball very well.

McCarthy is not so much a minor league misfit -- he wants baseball success as much as the others -- as he is a guy who took the time to develop both mind and body.

"Odd Man Out," dissects the system by which baseball separates its winners and losers. And although it is not necessarily seamy, immoral or perverse, the game is certainly tilted in favor of certain prospects and cruel to those with lesser pedigrees.

McCarthy only lasts a year and there is nothing his learned eye beholds along the way to encourage him.

In one episode, he is on the mound tossing pitches in front of Angel manager Mike Scioscia, former general manager Bill Stoneman, and his own pitching coach.

Asked for a little background, the pitching coach, in full-voice and easily within earshot of McCarthy informs the big shots that the kid's "nothing special."

Along the way he learns that all Latino players are grouped as "Dominicans" by their American counterparts and that some of the latter would rather quit the game than room with one.

He learns a good "gay" joke will always lift the players' spirits and that the team's fortunes take a back seat to individual statistics in what the author concludes is a "numbers game."

There is a familiar assortment of desperate types doing steroids to hang in there, the obligatory Bible freak, and meat-headed, beer-guzzling jocks.

The author's brief thumbnail portrait of White Sox reliever Bobby Jenks in his early days makes for great fun if you actually know who Jenks is.

The most complete portrait achieved is that of Provo Angels manager Tom Kotchman, father of the professional Angels' former first baseman, Casey (now with the Red Sox).

It's not a novel portrait, but rather one that confirms our impression of the chaw-chewing hard-ass we expect a guy charged with squiring a bunch of young lugs around the far West to be.

Although some of the insights are grim, there is nothing over-the-top in "Odd Man Out" that marks it for a special place in the annals of baseball literature, but it's an informative, easy read with moments of sly humor.

The most appreciative audience for "Odd Man Out" would have to be among fans of the Angels. It pulls back the curtain to reveals why what was once one of baseball's clunkers is now a well-oiled winning machine.

Similarly, McCarthy's time in the minors coincided with the apprenticeship of the club's present day stars.

Erik Aybar, Ervin Santana, Joe Saunders, Mike Napoli, and Rafael Rodriguez are clearly marked as winners in system that is made up largely of losers and the few anecdotes involving them make for good stuff.