Archive - Jul 2005

Charles Bowden and Joey O'Shay on the Radio

By amazing luck, I happened to have the radio on, tuned to NPR, and heard an interview with none other than the mysterious, pseudonymous Joey O'Shay, the undercover DEA agent who's the subject of Charles Bowden's new book that I just blogged about the other day. I went online and found the archived show, and found out it's the second part in a series. In the first part, they interview Bowden. He sounds exactly the same as he sounds when I interviewed him in February, the same as in the dozens of clips that I am needing to watch over and over and over on my computer as I edit my Juarez documentary.

It's really quite amazing how Bowden does what he does. He's managed to get so deep inside this drug agent's head that he can tell his story like Joey was a character he invented in a novel. And the agent, when he speaks on the radio, sounds like a made up character. His voice is like everyone's fantasy stereotype of the classic Texas redneck, sort of like Nick Cage in "Wild at Heart." It's incredible how sometimes the real is so real that you think it might be artifice, that it resembles illusion. Or maybe my perception of that reality is warped by my conception of the ideal that I've received from viewing so many fictions. Just as Baudrillard said.

CAFTA vote coming soon!!! Act Now!

The U.S. Senate has already voted on and passed the Domnican Republic and Central American Free Trade Agreement, and the House is set to vote on it next week. This is the time to make your voice heard, that approving CAFTA will be disasterous for everyone, from Costa Rica to Connecticut, Guatemala to Idaho. Here's what you can do:

Take Action During the July 5-10 Recess to Pressure Representatives and
call attention to the Hunger Strike in El Salvador
Call your Representatives Today! Capitol switchboard # is (202)
224-3121 (see below for toll free option)


1. Contact your Representative and tell them to vote NO on
DR-CAFTA! Also, call their attention to the Hunger Strike taking place
in El Salvador and tell them that a vote for DR-CAFTA is a vote against
human and labor rights.

To contact your Representative call the Capitol switchboard at (202)
224-3121 or visit or
for the local contact information for your Rep.
The United Steelworkers have also provided this toll-free number for
general use to call Congress about CAFTA: 866-340-9281. It will connect
you to the Capitol Switchboard, and at that point you simply ask the
operator to be connected to the Congressional office of your choice.

When you talk with your Rep:
1. Ask to speak to the trade staffer, chief of staff or legislative
2. Tell them you are a constituent and want to know your Rep's
position on CAFTA.
3. If the Rep is opposed to the agreement and will vote against it,
thank him/her. Ask if your Rep has made his/her opposition public and
encourage him/her to do so. Always ask for a letter to you stating
his/her position.
4. If the Rep is undecided, ask your Rep (or staffer) why and when
they are planning on taking a position. Let them know that you oppose
CAFTA (any personal stories related to how NAFTA hurt your region are
helpful) and urge them to vote no when CAFTA comes up.
5. If the Rep is planning to vote for CAFTA, urge them to reconsider.
Inform the office that you intend to spread the word that the Rep is
voting against their constituents' interests.
For sample call scripts and suggestions on concerns to raise, please
visit .

** When phone calls and meetings aren't enough, staging a direct
action is a powerful tool. For ideas on local actions and assistance in
organizing in your community please visit the Stop-CAFTA website at **

Starving Children Really Do Sell Records

As an update to my entry a few days ago about Live 8, today I see that in the wake of the concerts Saturday, sales of the albums of artists who performed at Live have skyrocketed. Commendably, David Gilmour of Pink Floyd has pledged to give the increased profits to the cause, and with good reason since his latest album has increased sales by 1343%. Now let's see what Floyd's record company does. Yup, What a cash cow global charity concerts can be.

Various Juarez Items

I've been working away on editing my Juarez doc, and when I take a break I've been reading one or the other of 2 books, both of which are related to Juarez: either the brand new book by Charles Bowden, "A Shadow in the City: Confessions of an Undercover Drug Warrior", or "Cosecha de Mujeres," by Diana Washington Valdez.

The first is a difficult yet tantalizing read. a sort of impressionistic biography of a real DEA agent, all names and places changed to protect the innocent/guilty, describing his long career in the depths of the underworld of narcotrafficking. Bowden's prose has inspired and enthralled me before, and this is no exception, yet I'm not sure what to make of this book - it's written perhaps like if Faulkner wrote crime thrillers, extremely nonlinear, but gritty and noir-ish, dreamy or nightmarish, vague and disturbing, and yet we are told that it is all true. I find myself wishing for the interludes filled with raw statistics that alternated with the real life stories in his earlier book, "Down by the River."

The second book, which I blogged about before when I first found out about it, is a detailed and disturbing account of the Juarez femicides. It's written in Spanish and published in Mexico just a month ago. I bought it in Mexico City and have been gradually working my way through it. I've found it easier to read than, for example, most articles in La Jornada, but harder than, say, the emails I've been getting lately from Peruvian and Bolivian and Mexican activist companer@s. The grammar is fairly straightforward, but I still find myself needing to look up unknown words quite often. There are still so many words to learn... suspira... However, many times I'm only looking something up to confirm my guess that I've made based on context, and I've realized that I'm expanding my Spanish vocabulary in the same way that I accumulated, starting from a very young age, such a prodigious (in all modesty) English vocabulary - by reading, and picking a lot up from context.

Anyway, in addition to being good spanish practice the book is a really good work, and a great source of statistics and reference data about the murders. It's also frequently the source of really disturbing, even horrifying, information. For instance (Warning: the rest of this paragraph is not for the squeamish!): At one point in the book Washington describes how several of the women murdered in 2003 were found with their necks broken, all in the same particular way. Unless I'm getting the translation wrong, forensic experts told her the theory that the killer or killers were purposely breaking the victims' necks in that certain way because it causes convulsions in the victim that increases the sexual pleasure of the killer, who is raping the victim at the moment of death. How sickening. I find it hard to imagine how anyone could be that evil and sick.

Also of interest, I've just seen in the El Paso Times that:

  • The Mexican government recently requested that the U.S. government conduct an inquiry into "Cosecha de Mujeres" because it contains information that is considered confidential by both governments.

  • The request came from the office of Carlos Borunda Zaragoza, Mexico's liaison to the U.S. government in Washington, D.C. The office also has lobbied Congress against resolutions that call for a binational commission to investigate the border murders.
  • That's pretty sick, too.

    In other somewhat related news, I just read that the Mexican government claims they've caught the leader of the Juarez drug cartel, Vincente Carillo. Carillo is the brother of Amado Carillo, who was discussed extensively in Bowden's "Down by the River" that I mention above. Amado supposedly died during plastic surgery, but there are rumors, according to Bowden, that he actually faked his death so he could retire and that he's actually living safely in Chile now with his family.
    This is fascinating stuff. Is it any wonder that there's a whole subgenre of music, the narcocorrido, about the drug lords?

    Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records

    David Stubbs, reviews editor of The Wire music magazine weighs in on the BBC News site with a sharply critical editorial about the upcoming Live 8 fame-famine-fest coming up next week.

    Absolutely right, David, thank you, and thank you BBC for publishing this. Just before I found Stubbs' editorial I was reading a BBC article about Live 8, and thinking back to Live Aid (I was 15 at the time - just think, a lot of young activists and music fans today weren't even born yet), and I was also thinking of the first album of one of my favorite bands, Chumbawamba. The album came out in 1986 , shortly after Live Aid, and was called Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records. It was a concept album criticising Live Aid, Bob Geldof's first global guilt gala that featured dozens of pop stars from around the global north singing "We are the world" and was the predecessor of Live 8. (Of course back then I was nowhere near "aware" enough to offer an analysis of culture and geopolitics like that of Chumbawamba - I had still 5 years or so to go in 1986 before I even found out about them. At the time I did have contempt for most of the bands playing at Live Aid, but only on aesthetic grounds, though I cheered for Peter Gabriel and wept as I watched him on TV sing his song about murdered, black, South African activist Stephen Biko. Admitedly I still have great artistic and political respect for Gabriel, but that doesn't change the point that I'm trying to make here.)

    Because it's still so true and so relevant today, I've uploaded an mp3 of the first song on that Chumbawamba album, "How To Get Your Band On Television". Some of the excellent lyrics:

    David Bowie - The Price Is Right!
    A suitful of compassion and a gobful of shite
    Still the voices of those who doubt
    Coca-Cola for the peasants to end this drought

    Jagger and Richards - Game For A Laugh!
    Dancing us down the garden path
    To a place where money grows on trees
    Where cocaine habits are financed by hunger & disease

    (Ask the puppet-masters who pull the strings
    "Who makes the money when the puppets sing?"
    Ask the corporations "Where does the money go?"
    Ask the empty bellied children "What are we singing for?")


    ...Ladies and Gentlemen, just imagine it - Someone comes along, takes everything you own, your space, your house; separates you from your family: and then hits you in the face if you say anything different. Well, that's what we've been doing to the Third World for the past 400 years. That's YOU and ME. You and the viewers at home, me in the studio, the pop stars, everyone. That's how we make the Third World, today and every day. [emphasis added]

    These charity concerts get guilty Northern white folks together for a brief moment, give them the illusion that they're helping, get them excited, but then ultimately do nothing. They ultimately do not challenge the status quo, or even educate the crowds of adoring fans about the orgins of the status quo, or question how it is that all these blonde rich kids can afford to pay 50 pounds for a ticket to the concert when billions in the global south don't earn 50 pounds in a month, don't earn even what it costs to provide enough calories for their families. As Stubbs says of the pop icons assembled for Live 8, at the end of his article, "These people will not solve the problem. They are the problem."

    I know there must be more
    Than giving just a little bit more
    When half of this world is so helplessly poor
    Starved of a real solution -
    Only charity and tradition
    And the cycle of hungry children
    Will keep on going round...


    This morning I woke up to the smell of fresh air and the sound of birds and breeze, coming in the open windows. This is rare here, Iowa summers are such that if folks have air conditioning, they keep it on and the house sealed up, June through August or so. But last night it was wonderfully cool and we opened up the house. It's great to have that impermeable membrane with the outdoors become permeable.

    Lago de Atitlan - 15Anyway I woke up and was thinking a little bit, a little sadly, about all the great bicycle culture I have been missing in Portland. Perhaps the cool, dry breeze reminded me of Portland and riding its streets at dusk. Suddenly I was then reminded of the glimpse of Mexico City bike culture that I got, the night I gave my talk at the H4TCH gallery. After my presentation we were sitting out on the front steps, me and about a dozen of the people who'd attended, talking about art and politics and things, and I saw out the front gate about 100 bicyclists ride by on the street, followed shortly but patiently by a police car. It was like a critical mass! But it wasn't friday and it wasn't the end of the month, either. I asked what it was and it was explained to me that they are a group called the 'bicitekas,' and they ride every 2 weeks or so, very similar to Critical Mass, though it sounded like they were a little less confrontational. I was told that a Mexico City CM was tried before and was supressed, but somehow, this biciteka thing keeps going. 100 riders every 2 weeks?! Si, mas o menos. Wow! Cool! Chido!