Archive - Jun 2006 - Blog entry


Femicide in Guatemala Still Growing

An excellent article details the rise of sexual murders in Guatemala and discusses the simliarity to the Juarez situation, though the numbers are much worse. One interesting thing to note:

In May, the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights brought Batzibal to New York to testify before a committee at the United Nations, which was evaluating Guatemala's compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, or CEDAW.

Widely seen as an international women's bill of rights, CEDAW was adopted in 1979 by the U.N. and ratified by Guatemala in 1982.

I wonder if Mexico, or the US, for that matter, has signed that....

Texas Gov Wants Border Webcams

Rick Perry, governor of Texas, is planning to install surveillance cameras on the border that stream on the internet. They'll be watchable by the public and anyone will be able to call a toll-free number and report an illegal border crossing.

This reminds me of the excellent web comic (one of the best I've ever seen) from a few years ago called Spiders, about an alternate history where Al Gore won the 2000 election, Afghanistan still gets invaded, but the U.S. uses lots of non-lethal technology and little robot webcams wander the battlefields - allowing anyone on the internet to tune in and help spot abuses and ambushes and whatever else.

Bangkok 8

about a month ago i read a novel by John Burdett called Bangkok 8. I really liked it a lot. Before I tell you about it I'll tell you what interests and concerns in my life recently are probably what made me like it, and you can decide if you have enough similar interests to also enjoy the book. Lately I've been thinking a lot about: buddhism, karma, fate, ethics, sex and love. I've also always had an interest in travelling, in other cultures, in the culture of the far east and its interaction with the west, and in sex work, the morality of sex work, and the sex industry of southeast asia. I've also always liked, as a guilty pleasure, the mystery novel, but usually not exceedingly so unless a book really plays with and experiments with that genre.

Bangkok 8 has and does all those things. It's really an unusual story. It follows a detective named Sonchai in Bangkok who is the son of a Thai prostitute and a western man who is unknown to him. He and his partner are devout buddhists who were sent to the city by the head of their monastery who ordered them to become cops to balance their karma. They're the only non-corrupt cops in the whole city. The book starts with an American marine who they're investigating being murdered in a very unusual way, and Sonchai's partner is killed too. With the help of the American Embassy and the FBI, he goes about trying to investigate the crime and seek vengence for his partner.

That sets the stage. But along the way of solving the mystery, the book is full of deeply profound and also cleverly humorous commentary on all the subjects I mentioned above and more. The main character is a deeply wise but also jaded and streetwise and cynical character. He calls his partner an "arhat" which is a buddhist word for someone who is enlightened, but chooses to stay in the material world to help others instead of floating off into nirvana. He has the interesting supernatural power of being able to see someone's past incarnations, which helps him solve the crime at several points and also relate to various people he meets along the way, like the horny female FBI agent Kimberly Jones who is assigned to help him. As the story progresses one learns that Sonchai himself may be just shy of being an arhat, held back by issues from his past and present. Burdett uses the noir murder mystery form to adroitly explore a variety of contemporary and age old topics. Meanwhile the style of the writing is totally entertaining, hard-boiled, noirish, and witty.

A few favorite quotes:

The Lord Buddha taught 2500 years ago that there is no impunity. In more elegant language than I can muster he warned that you always pay for pussy, one way or the other. For example, if we go back to Jones' room at the Hilton, one of 2 things could happen: She could enjoy it more than I or I could enjoy it more than she. The keener one immediately becomes the slave of the other, with disasterous consequences for both.

Understand that I'm not quoting that because I believe it or think it's particularly wise. It just demonstrates the sort of collisions of worlds and ideas that Burdett explores. Sonchai thinks he's so wise, and in a way he is, but as his wisdom smashes against his own feelings and hang-ups we see he's still learning and figuring important stuff out.

and there's this, where a Russian pimp and drug dealer is talking about Buddhism to Sonchai and Kimberly, who answers (in the second paragraph):

Guatama Buddha was the greatest salesman in history... he was selling nothing. That's what nirvana means: nothing. As a cure for the great cosmic disaster most of us call life, he prescribed a riguorous course of meditation and perfect living over any number of lifetimes, with nothing as its final reward. D'you think anyone on Madison Avenue could sell that? But the whole Indian subcontinent bought it at the time. Today there are more than 300 million Buddhists in the world and growing.

...but there's a play on words here, isn't there? He was only selling nothing if you understand nothing in a certain sense. Nothing to a Buddhist is also everything, since only nothing has any reality.

The other thing that makes me like the book is that I found it totally randomly. it was just sitting in a cafe and i had nothing to read while i sat there so i looked at it and it looked awesome so i took it. Was it fate?


yerbe mate sunrisetoo busy and too RSI'd to blog much lately. briefly:
it's a beautiful morning.
been drinking lots of yerbe mate. can't decide if its better or worse for me than caffeine.
my film tour is shaping up but largely in a waiting mode for various venues and contacts.
swerving wildly between feeling like a fool who hasnt learned a godamn thing since i was 17 to feeling like wisdom actually has accrued somehow...
lots of insecurity about the future, my future... hope and fear...
reading Eduardo Galeano's "Memory of Fire: Genesis" - it totally rocks. little 2 or 3 paragraph stories about the colonisation of the Americas. Sad and horrific and beautiuful. the poetic, narrative version of his "Open Veins of Latin America."

Early Monsoons

Usually in August there are quick, strong storms that sweep up from the Gulf of Mexico and create the most interesting weather of the year for Arizona. We are getting some of this a little early this week, for some reason. It's the strangest thing, the air whips itself into a fine froth of dust and water droplets, rainbows form, clouds of dirt and dark condensing vapor fill the sky, and the world is suffused in an eerie orange light.

Jessica told me that it's generally thought that early monsoons are a bad sign, that it will mean, in the long run, less water overall. It's already been super dry this year so that's not good news. But, I can say that it was really fun standing on my roof letting the sky pelt me with ice cold raindrops. the first real rain I've felt for a few months. It was over in 10 minutes.

Speaking of a little water, I was reading the latest issue of The Tucson Weekly, the most conservative, dysfunctional alternative weekly of any city or town I've ever lived in, and this week's is The Water Issue - The usual, to be expected hand-wringing about the drought. But I thought back to the Williamette Week, one of Portland's weeklies, which every year runs a special feature about the city's top 10 worst water wasters. Now this is in Western Oregon where there really is no shortage of water, but even so they publish this wonderfully pointed and entertaining investigative piece where they look up the county records and find what individuals is using the most water. It's invariably 10 very rich businessmen or politicians or doctors or lawyers, who always have some lame excuse like their lotus collection is very thirsty or something.

But anyway, why in hell doesn't the Tucson Weekly do something like that, here where water really really matters? Maybe it has to do with a difference in regulations which makes it harder to get teh information from teh country and city here. But I'm sure we could see some very embarrassing stats about some very powerful upperclass consumers.

La Opinion

i was just interviewed about Juárez films for tommorrow's issue of:

It's interesting how there's now this whole little sub-topic of "more and more films about the Juarez situation", separate from "the Juarez situation," itself. I guess this is good because it means journalists on the Entertainment beat can and must write about the Femicide.

Also, I've said it before and I'll say it again, I love how spanish-language newspapers and magazines use the word "Espectaculos" for Entertainment. Literally, "spectacles," right? underlining the fact that these things are things for us to view, not participate in, not even to neccesarily enjoy, as the english "entertainment" would tend to imply more of, but just to be held in rapt awe by the flickering light on Plato's cave wall. Hi there, Guy Debord... is it any wonder why you were an alcoholic?

Can't Believe Sometimes

See YouI remember when I first moved to California from the midwest, every day or so I marvelled to myself, "I can't believe I live in California." Gradually I was only saying this to myself once a week, then once a month, till after the first 3 years I'd become used to the idea. I never thought I'd move there, never wanted to, till grad school. Interestingly, when I moved to Portland I never once told myself, "I can't believe I live in Portland, Oregon." Perhaps because Portland is really sort of an extension of California, culturally (though if you live there and love it I'm sure you'll object intensely to that. sorry). Or perhaps it was because I visited there and thought about moving there for years and years.

Now I live in Arizona and still every week or so I say "I can't believe I live in Arizona." I guess because it is pretty damn different here, and also if you asked me 5 years ago I never would have told you I thought I'd be living here. I don't know, as usual with everywhere I've lived, Tucson is not a place I can honestly say I think I'll stay forever, but I like it for now.