Sunday, March 29, 2009

Detainee's Harsh Treatment Foiled No Plots

Yet another case where torture yielded bad information - while undercutting US position abroad.

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Friday, March 27, 2009

UPS Announces It Will Stop Advertising on O'Reilly

This the way to counter hate speech. Insist that corporations stop sponsoring it!

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Drugs, war, and democracy

I've been traveling a lot -and staying in places without good Internet connections. So - I've gotten behind on blogging and other activities requiring good connections.

Things such as making surveys.

So - here is my latest survey. I'll post some of the results from previous surveys a little later.....

GOP Budget Proposal: Massive Tax Cut For Wealthy

House Republican leaders called a press conference Thursday to unveil their "alternative budget." The document is thin, but includes one major policy proposal: a huge tax cut for the wealthy. Hmm. I thought we tried that.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Little notice of the grim news from Azerbaijan

You don’t read much about Azerbaijan in the USA. You don’t read much about many other countries here. Maybe you read about China. Or Venezuela. Occasionally Russia or Mexico. But - the truth is that so much attention of the US media whirls around things that aren’t really that important. Are other Republicans apologizing too much to Rush Limbaugh? Who is getting kicked off “Dancing with the Stars?

And, legitimately, everyone is watching the economic storm clouds. Are things getting better? Will Obama’s plans work? Will the Republicans be successful in their bid to stifle economic recovery and prove Obama to be a failure.

The Christian Science Monitor did write a nice article on the referendum. This is the longest piece I’ve seen in the US news media - not counting a piece by the Voice of America. According to the Central Elections , the turnout for the vote last week was 71 percent, and 92 percent of the voters approved scrapping the term limits on the president.

Effectively, this means that President Ilham Aliyev can stay in power as long as he likes. He is in charge of the New Azerbaijan Party. The media is nearly completely owned or muzzled by the government. The opposition parties are fragmented and weak. At one point, it seemed to me like the president might have over reached, that his opponents were finding new strength and unity in their opposition to the referendum. That hope now seems naive.

Since the vote, I’ve been in touch with friends in Azerbaijan. The climate there seems discouraging for people who seek some democracy in that country. I look closely for signs of hope in their correspondence, but I don’t find it.

Not yet.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The ocean needs no words

My travels continue. After spending a few days on the coast of Maine with my mother, I traveled west yesterday, through New Hampshire & into the Green Mountains of Vermont.

Unlike my travels in Azerbaijan, my travels have yielded no great sociological or political insights. Spending this time with my mother has prompted plenty of personal reflections - but this blog is not the place for those musings.

For those of you who have not visited Maine, I can highly recommend visiting it in March. It's not the depth of winter - but it's far from the tourist season. (I used to live in Maine, so I know a little bit on the subject.) In the July, the two-lane roads are clogged with slow traffic - motor homes or vehicles pulling boats. Off season, however, the restaurants and the roads are uncrowded. It's easy to find a beach where you can roam, with only the raucous gulls for company.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Election results

According to Flying Carpets and Broken Pipelines the results of the referendum on the constitution changes in Azerbaijan have been released already.

Actually, the results could have been released before the voters went to the polls. It was a manifestly anti-democratic vote in every sense of the word. The goal of the constitutional change was to reduce the threat of democratic change. The decision to hold the referendum was rushed through. And the actual conduct of the vote was apparently held without recourse to democratic niceties.

What will the US Embassy say this time? Will the US government acquiesce to yet another move to consolidate an anti-democratic regime?


The smell of the ocean

I'm in Portland Coffee Roasting- low-key coffee shop by the waterfront in Portland. Good coffee - but it's not a polished presentation. Nice - after spending quite a few hours in Boston coffee shops earlier this week. Soft folk music playing. People of all sorts dropping in for lunch. The floor is cracked. The chairs are old and don't match. The ceiling is of pressed tin. Creations of some local artists hang on the walls.

I used to live in this town, before I moved to Russia the first time, 12 years ago. It's a wonderful small city. Large enough to have a cultural life, but small enough to be manageable.

Here are a few shots from the waterfront....

(Yes - that's a piece of the Berlin Wall that rests near one of the wharves.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Stepping back from democracy

Today citizens of Azerbaijan can vote on the proposal to amend the nation's constitution. This change is being done to give the citizens more freedom - the freedom to provide their unlimited support for the current president - Ilham Aliyev. (This is how the president himself has characterized the initiative!)

As I write this in Eastern Massachusetts, the polls should be closed in Azerbaijan. But - knowing the results of the vote does not require detailed analysis. A boycott of the referendum by opposition parties was announced on March 10. (The opposition also boycotted last year's presidential elections.)

My colleagues in Azerbaijan held a series of forums on the referendum in three regions and in the capital. My colleagues said that the local authorities interfered with them in some locations - but in general the forums went well. But - how could a few forums address the fundamental problems posed by this change. As in the presidential election, everyone knew the vote that was desired by the president and his ruling party - and it would be really amazing if the electorate did not provide this vote.

One way or another.

Change and continuity

By chance, I took a trip into Boston on St. Patrick's Day. Yes, I saw many people wearing various shades of green. I even saw a couple of people playing bagpipes. And many wobbly people on the train last night.

This was the first time I've been in Boston since the "Big Dig" was completed. I stepped out of North Station - after taking the train from the North Shore - and I was completely disoriented. Where a dirty, noisy overpass had been, green park space stretched. Maybe it wasn't as beautiful as the architectural renderings I'd seen years earlier - but it looked good. Very good.

Once I got my bearings, I made my way to the North End, where I worked as a reporter about 25 years ago. Some of the spots were unchanged. Regina's Pizza - still in business. Modern Pastry. Cafe Vittorio. But the ambience was different, less insular. I bought a card in a shop, paying money to an African-American clerk. This was unthinkable 25 years ago, when you rarely saw any racial minority on the streets of the North End. Around the corner, I happened upon an vegan restaurant! Nearby, a health food store had opened its doors. Amazing.

But - Polcari's was still selling coffee & bulk spices. I stopped in to buy some pesto. And Bobby was still behind the counter. I remembered him from a few decades ago. Bobby said he remembered me - but I sincerely doubt it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Poems from Northampton

Climbing to the Stars

Standing on this corner, below this street sign 
on Route 5 in Easthampton, Massachusetts, 
my eyes are separated from the brilliant blanket
of stars by what looks like inches, the view broken 

only by one additional square of metal posted 
beneath the white-lettered emerald rectangle 
that reads Colonial Avenue:

Not a Thru Way.

© Em Jollie

Celebrating the Day of Mourning

Columbus Day 2008
finds me protesting but not
in the usual fashion:
I begin by reading Winona’s Recovering the Sacred
while sitting on a bench in front of an artificially constructed
waterfall, then decide I need something wilder.
I drive to Skinner State Park on Mount Holyoke,
forgetting for a moment the state-sanctioned holiday
and as my gasoline powered vehicle conquers the summit
I hear a trooper telling ten tourists
The view today is terrible.
My artist’s eyes scan the hazy horizon,
absorbing hues fit for a Fall watercolor
before coming to rest on the land nearest me.
There are 23 other cars, and I can hear
three separate cell phone conversations as I park.
Trash of all shapes and sizes is strewn
about the grounds like confetti. A sign
tells me I must leave the park
by 6 pm. The view today is terrible.
I want to walk up to the trooper & say:
it isn’t the haze that necessitates apology.
My ancestors walked these hills. This Mountain,
she always takes me back and welcomes my prayers.
She belongs only to herself. She misses her solitude
and our songs.

But I will let go of the ancestral grief, the shame, the rage.
I will hold onto the beauty
of being this much closer to the Sun.
This is my favorite genre of protest,
this making poetry of the worst.

Soon I will descend the slope,
meet Renee for dinner,
and we will play our cedar flutes
as the full Moon rises,
her beams whispering
that every minute brings us that much closer
to dawn
and the next world,
a world of light & balance.

© Em Jollie

A liberal oasis in Western Massachusetts

I’ve known some natives of towns like Northampton - and often they are not as impressed with these little oases of liberalism as I am. I do like these little towns & cities - places like Northampton, Massachusetts; Bloomington, Indiana; and Asheville, North Carolina, Yes, they can have an artificial and precious quality - but they also are home to a lively community of dissent. Nice bookstores. Good restaurants. Street musicians.

Northampton is home to a Smith College, which is adjacent to the downtown. I was staying with Erin, a recent graduate of Smith College. Slept on her couch. She’s a friend of Susan, whose poems I posted earlier. I’ll include some poems of Erin in a separate posting here.

From Northampton, I took Route 9 to Worcester. It’s a pretty road - but not a fast road. It runs south of the Quabbin Reservoir. One of the largest man-made public water supplies in the United States, the Quabbin Reservoir covers 39 square miles and has the capacity to hold 412 billion gallons of water, according to the little fact sheet posted at the visitors center. Four towns were completely moved in the 1930s during the creation of the reservoir.

The creation of the reservoir and the protected area around it was a boon for wildlife. Some of the animals have been shot and stuffed, and now adorn the walls of the visitor center.

Here are some pictures of Smith College, downtown Northampton, Quabbin Reservoir, and some stuffed animals. Oh - and a photo of a diner in Leicester, MA. I liked the Moxie sign. (For those of you who don't know New England, the word "moxie" - which is a little archaic now - comes from this beverage. Moxie was one of those creations of the late 1800s - a mixture of patent medicine and beverage. I lived in New England for years - but I never tried it. It's supposed to be good for ailments ranging from softening of the brain to “loss of manhood,” according to its Wikipedia entry.

Friday, March 13, 2009


As I mentioned earlier, Binghamton is home to Binghamton University. So the community has an above average level of intellectual activity. Here's a recent talk given by Dr. Jullian Shepherd, associate professor of biology at the university.
(Thanks to my friend at Essential Dissent for recording and posting his talk!)

Choice for Drug Czar signals policy shift

The selection of R. Gil Kerlikowske as White House drug czar signaled a shift in emphasis from arrest and prosecution to intervention and treatment. Best news I've read this morning!

read more | digg story

Poems from Binghamton

Despite its post-industrial grimness, Binghamton has a treasure of creative people - artists, musicians & painters. Who knows why? The low rent? One friend once told me that after living in the Southwest, he wanted to move to a place that was shrinking in population. He chose the right place.

I had the idea of augmenting this virtual tour of the area by including some work created by the locals. Here are some poems by my good friend Susan Deer Cloud. Born in the Catskills, Susan has been residing in Binghamton for many years. Here are some of sites where you can read her work.

Above are some photos taken yesterday. The one with the bridge is of the area called the confluence, written about in one of her poems included below.

Rain Walk to Confluence of Chenango & Susquehanna

You never thought you could be so happy at rain galloping

in like a thousand appaloosas, but this late September storm

after three moons of fierce suns, parching heats, has your heart

riding bareback the cooling horse winds, some old freedom

quivering red inside the gusting greys. You leave your house,

dance down to rivers mingling at a beautiful place of

sorrow, where generals once ordered men to burn

Indian crops, starve your ancestors until they begged

to surrender. Yours never did.

Yes, you splash through puddles, rain cries down

like love on long silver mane of hair, on eyes

smiling, remembering girlhood obsession

with stallions, dreams of riding away

to places where no one knew shame, poverty,

what it feels like to choke down words

wanting to speak proud of that blood called

Indian. September – moon of your mother’s birth.

Early fall rain always reminds you of her

Seneca eyes, how their greyness

lit your way to gathering shine in your hurt

hands, even in a bridled

sunset like this.

(c) Susan Deer Cloud

Confluence Anthology


As my father drives our green Chevy

into the dark town, my mother lifts me

above the dashboard to the front window,

where, past my tiny ghost face

reflected in the rushing glass, I see

my first city, upstate

Binghamton, New York, high, grey

rectangles and squares of lighted stores

with bald mannequins staring (nightmare) back at me.

The city is a sea, saloons, restaurants,

hot swing music drifting on the summer air,

and beautiful women

silhouetted against the jump and flash

of blue neon, laughing

at men passing along the long street

my father steers the Chevy through, that

parts this sea. My brothers play Indian

in the back seat, I smell Evening of Paris

on my mother’s skin, she sings to me,

and I don’t know the name for anyone, yet.

We stop, and my mother gives me over

to my father’s arms. He carries me

up a narrow stairwell, as the cracked

ceiling curves closer, the naked bulb

at the top of the stairs, the peeling door

opened by an old woman, my great aunt Grace.

“Grace,” the adults say to me, “say Grace,”

as my small tongue moves against my toothless mouth,

and my father places me, now, in my aunt’s lap,

she, toothless as myself, bird brown crone

bending over me, her hair cascading like moonbeams

silvering my skin blossomed into a secret flower,

and I say it, “Grace,” as she rocks me into dream.

© Susan Deer Cloud

The Broken Hoop

& In the Moon When the Deer Lose Their Horns

Driving Home Tonight

Driving home tonight from the Angela Davis lecture,

I wanted to forget all she said about prisons

and backdoor slavery and how many more

minorities are in prison than whites. Driving home

the lights across the Susquehanna twinkled

like the stars of my mountain childhood –

the road curved like a dream along the curve

of the hill, as it became a trail of taillights,

headlights, and memories shining far back

to Catskills, where I used to be cradled in

my mother’s arms as my father drove Old Route 17

at night between Liberty and Livingston Manor.

The car lights were like stars come down to earth,

and it seemed all I had to do was reach out the old

Chevy window to gather them in my small hands.

Now my hands are growing wrinkled, my eyes

weighed down with 53 years of highways

and the truckstops of knowledge. I thought of you

as I drove by the river, of the time you were in

jail and of the white man who put you there.

He’s dead now and all this beauty of road and water

will never be his. You are alive –

heron blazing up blue in night memory

free as love.

© Susan Deer Cloud

The Last Ceremony

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Cafe life

The Cyber Cafe West was one of my haunts when I lived in Binghamton. I walked in this week - and it was almost like I’d never left. Some minor renovations have been made. A security camera now watches the counter. I think some new art has been hung on the wall. But the place still retains its funky tie-dyed ambience. And the people behind the counter still recognized me.

They told me the cafe has been doing pretty well. Its business seems pretty resistant to the economic downturn. It’s a place where people can retreat to drink coffee while they surf the net looking for work.

The office of The Bridge, the newspaper I used to edit, is no longer located in the cafe. We used to have an office upstairs, but it’s since moved. The paper still is published, but not as regularly as when I was editing it. Running a non-profit, low-budget newspaper is very difficult, even in the best of times.

Let's demand good grammar from our leaders!

“Comments attributed to Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele are very troubling, and despite his clarification today the party stands to lose many of its members and a great deal of its support in the trenches of grass-roots politics,” former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-Ark.) said in a posting on his blog. “For Chairman Steele to even infer that taking a life is totally left up to the individual is not only a reversal of Republican policy and principle, but it's a violation of the most basic of human rights — the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

OK - I know that Merriam-Webster's lists as its fourth definition for "infer" as to "suggest." But the dictionary also makes the following note on usage: "At present sense 4 is found in print chiefly in letters to the editor and other informal prose, not in serious intellectual writing. The controversy over sense 4 has apparently reduced the frequency of use of sense 3."

As a teacher and an editor, I would have used my red pen on Gov. Huckabee's words. In my mind, his usage is akin to confusing allusion and illusion or flaunt and flout.

Of course, this quote is from a man who doesn't accept the validity of evolutionary theory.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Home of the Fair Deal

The entrance to Binghamton doesn’t look so grand on Main Street nowadays. The arch proclaiming “The Home of the Fair Deal” was erected in 1920 by the workers of the Endicott-Johnson Shoe Company. This company was unusually progressive for its time, providing healthcare and low-cost housing for workers. The shoe company was one of the engines of the local economy for decades, and left a lasting legacy to the local municipalities - swimming pools, libraries, and free carousels. But the company did not adjust to the changing competitive environment, losing market share to cheaper footwear produced overseas. The family of the the original Johnson and Endicott founders brought in outside management in 1957, but this step couldn’t save the company. In 1998 the closure of the last local shoe manufacturing plant was announced.

IBM was also founded in this region, and still employs 1,000 people here - but it’s a mere shell of what it used to be. Binghamton had roughly 45,000 residents in 2007, a 4.6 percent decline since the 2000 census. To be honest, Binghamton was in rough shape when I left two years ago, and there are even more empty store fronts now. One of the last restaurants on Main Street is now a head shop. Neighboring Johnson City is even worse off. Fat Cat Books has moved from its distinctive triangular building on Main Street to 15 Avenue B. I didn’t do a store census, but the clear impression is that closed store fronts in that town far outnumber operating businesses on Johnson City’s Main Street.

Russian oil sold in USA

Before this week, I'd never seen a Lukoil station in the United States. I haven't lived here in awhile. So, when I saw a Lukoil station advertised from the highway, I was curious to stop in, willing to buy their product.

Really, the station was not appreciably different from any other gas station. No Russians working behind the counter. No signs written in Cyrillic.

Globalization comes to Virginia.

On the road

After about four days of traveling, I am finally getting around to writing here. Too much running around. Too many unpleasant and time-consuming tasks.

Assessing the state of my poor automobile, which has rested in a garage for the better part of a year in a couple of garages.

Reviving the dead battery. Trying to change the flat tire.

Determining that the frame is too rusted to support the car's weight on a jack.

Shopping for a new car.

None of this is fun - nor even that interesting for me. But - I decided to start making the most of the trip - chronicling it as best I can. I'll start posting some some of the photos from the last few days - perhaps interesting for people who have never traveled this stretch. I'll also include some other snippets of creative info that I come across from time to time.

(Here is a shot of the Blue Ridge Mountain Range, looking from North Carolina into Tennessee.)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Michael Steele Caved To Rush Limbaugh in Less Than 48 hrs!

Having Rush as the leader of the Republican Party isn't really good for anyone. But perhaps this will lead some Republicans to seriously examine what they believe in and why.

read more | digg story

By the way, this survey is still open. Please share your thoughts about cars, power and love. . You can see how people responded to the previous survey by clicking here.

Messages from Azerbaijan

A variety of Azerbaijanis share their thoughts on the new administration in Washington, DC.

Obama in Azerbaijan

OK - I know this is old - but I just found it - and one of my friends is interviewed. (Hi, Chuck!)

Monday, March 2, 2009

Can "citizen journalists" really fill the news gap?

We need trained journalists - but who is going to pay for them?

read more | digg story