Archive for the 'Commentary' Category

Refrigerator White Board

Bruno’s fierce cat drawing, plus some of my own edits…


Prop 8 Comment

Stupid wordpress wouldn’t let me embed this video. Just watch the link; strong, true words:

Keith Olbermann’s Comments on California Prop 8

The Pessimistic, Coffee-Drinking Environmentalist

Starbucks is very proud of themselves for using 10% post-consumer recycled material in their paper cups. They save 78,000 trees/ year by replacing just 10% of the new paper cup material with recycled material.

Now, just to throw a coffee cup-half-empty wrench in this whole sunshiney picture: this means that 90% of the paper cup material still comes from new trees. Let’s just pretend, for the sake of drama, that they come from primary, old-growth forest. If 10% = 78,000 old-growth trees/year, then 90% = how many old-growth trees/ year?

And you thought you’d never use algebra again!

Let’s break it down:

{ if: .10x = 78,000; and: .90x= y; y = ?

{ x= (78,000)/.10; x= 780,000

{ then substitute 780,000 for x:

{ .90(780,000)= y

{ 702,000= y

So, by using one of those lovely cups, you are still killing 702,000 old-growth trees/year. Well done.

Go buy a reusable mug!! The owls will thank you.

This little exploration stems from two recent encounters I have had in coffee shops which refuse to reuse paper cups (namely: the shop in the student commons at Vanderbilt University, a building that claims to be “green” and is LEEDS-Certified; nor will they allow you to bring your own mug. Apparently it’s a “health hazard.” I also received patronizing glares at the airport Starbucks in Houston when I asked them to refill a Starbucks cup I had– I would have willingly paid full price both times!).

Edit: I just dumped a cup of coffee all over myself. For serious. Serves me right, I suppose.


I’ve been reading the news paper every morning, which is a treat because where I lived before (San Mateo Ixtatán) there was no newspaper delivery. It’s interesting to see what things are reported on, and how they’re discussed. The most “balanced” newspaper seems to be the Prensa Libre, which seems to have ties to the New York Times (based on the translated edition of the Times included on Sundays, as well as a number of smaller translated articles by Times contributors during the week).

Nevertheless, the newspaper tends to be quite sensationalist. It’s not nearly as bad as Nuestro Diario, (website is coming soon) who’s slogan “Noticias como son” (News as it is) reminds me a little of Fox News’s “Fair and Balanced”. The photos on the cover are consistently huge shots of dead people in the capital, with big, bold, tabloid-esq headlines.

I tried to find a copy of the article from Prensa Libre about the protest in Nebaj, but the original article is not online for some reason (the date, if you’d like to look for it, would have been 25 May, Sunday). Here is a follow-up article:

My guide on the hike from Nebaj to Todos Santos read it and commented, “Cómo lo reportaron, cabrones.” Apparently, he did not like the article. Indeed, the author took the side of the police, emphasizing that it had all been over a “supposed” kidnapper, and pointing out the “potential” additional damage that might have been done by the crowd. It should be noted, however, that the crowd stopped of their own volition (or… because of rain). Additional police didn’t show up until the next day, and the police stationed there ran for it on Saturday night. So it’s not like “gee, lucky the police stopped them.”

The newspaper as a whole is a great way to learn an ample crime-related vocabulary. I have picked up such words as fallo (verdict), redada (catch or haul, as of criminals), and disparo (gunshot). I guess it’s not all that different than in the States, eh?

One thing I find very interesting, though, is the coverage of immigration issues in the United States. Recently, la Prensa profiled a group of Guatemalan immigrants arrested in Iowa after their employer turned them in.

I have a really hard time with articles such as this, as well as with casual conversation on the issue, because both forums tend to oversimplify an extremely complicated topic. So I’m going to go ahead and oversimplify it here.

Everyone I’ve talked to about immigration to the US (note: unless otherwise stated, “immigration” refers to the illegal variety) thinks it’s great. Going to the US is easy, they can’t wait to do it themselves. And once there, jobs are abundant, the pay is awesome, and you have access to all sorts of luxury items you can’t get (or can’t afford) here in Guate. Who cares that there’s no healthcare? There isn’t any here, either!

As for deportations, the sliding US economy, and the dangers of actually getting into the US: puh-lease. Scare tactics. Deportations are unfair and a violation of human rights; the US economy is booming (relative to just about anywhere in Central America); “unemployment” is a myth cooked up by greedy capitalists to keep the money and jobs for themselves; and the dangers of getting into the US are overblown– thousands of people do it every day.

The Prensa article certainly favors this interpretation. They emphasize the helpless situation of the immigrants in question, and the poor treatment they received at the hands of authorities. No mention is made that they were, in fact, violating a federal law by working with falsified documentation. One woman is cited as saying “my only crime is that I didn’t have a paper,” implying that she doesn’t quite grasp how seriously the US government takes those papers.

I really don’t blame them for this interpretation: I don’t agree with current immigration policies in the US. I have little doubt that these workers’ human rights were violated. They likely were not provided with adequate representation, based on the speed of the incident (the time from arrest to verdict was about 24 hours).

Furthermore, they are being forced to pay for their “accommodations” while they serve a 2-year jail term before being deported. They have no savings (most are thousands of dollars in debt) and can’t work. How are they supposed to pay?? A handful of women were released conditionally to care for their children; they can’t work either, and the government won’t deport them before they serve their sentence.

They have no means of financial support and no family networks in the US. Adding insult to injury, their family members in Guatemala are now left high and dry. The largest sector of the Guatemalan economy is not bananas, not coffee, not tourism. It is remittance money sent from family members working in the US. Without that money, the Guatemalan economy is sent into a tailspin.

Nevertheless, these people were breaking the US law. They knew that going in, and should have been prepared for the consequences. If the consequences are unjust, that suggests to me that there is a serious problem with the law.

I don’t believe that undocumented workers should be treated as federal criminals. I think, instead, the corporations that hire workers either without documentation or with falsified papers should be the ones fined, arrested, or closed down. Regardless of whether they plead ignorant of the situation. Eliminate the demand for cheap labor, and you’ll eliminate the supply of cheap (undocumented) labor.

Furthermore, the consequences for workers breaking said law should not be in violation of human rights. The US could benefit by taking a cue from the European Union on a lot of issues (ahem: agriculture, trade, environmental regulations), not least of which is immigration.

In a parallel article in la Prensa, certain aspects of EU immigration policy were laid out. It should be noted that the EU faces a challenge similar to that of the USA’s in regards to undocumented workers. However, in the EU an undocumented worker cannot be detained for more than 18 months before deportation. The undocumented worker is provided with translation services and “adequate” representation. They’re not forced to pay for food and shelter (deemed basic necessities for survival, go figure).

Gosh, that must cost a lot for the governments, eh? Here’s an idea: don’t detain them. Send them home to their families, if you don’t want them in your country.

I’m quite guilty of over-simplifying things myself. You could pull out all sorts of things on this issue, like how nation-states become defined in the first place, what processes form the need to police something as arbitrary as borders and the concept of “national sovereignty”, how certain policies get labeled “capitalist” and “socialist” in the public sphere, how issues like “immigration” get co-opted by various interest groups, blah blah blah.

I mean… I come from a very conservative- capitalist family, and am a bit of a black sheep, politically speaking. If you stop to think about it, though, the current US immigration policy is quite socialistic– controlling the labor force and whatnot. If you really want capitalism to reign supreme, folks, open up the borders. Put your free-trade policies to the test in regards to labor. While you’re at it, get rid of the subsidies for your domestic products and your taxes on imports. How’d ya like them apples?

Edit: This post started out as a commentary on the newspaper I’ve been reading every morning. I really intended it to be something of a rundown of headlines I found interesting. I guess I’m just frustrated by the (near constant) discussion about immigration to the US. I should have gone in to more of the reasons Guatemalans might risk going to the US to work, but that’s another post. This one is way too long already.

Ann Arbor Film Festival, Take One

I went for the chocolate, I stayed for the coffee. Or something like that.

Actually, I went for the films, I swear. Tonight was the opening night of the 46th annual Ann Arbor Film Festival. This is the first year (in the five years that I’ve lived here) that I’ve gone, and I went all-out and bought a week-long pass. After adding up the cost of all the screenings I wanted to see, plus the cost of the “Opening Gala”, I decided that the pass was worth it. Plus, since we’re on strike today and tomorrow, and I only have one class to attend (the lecture I teach for) on Thursday, I’ll be able to peruse the film screenings that didn’t immediately catch my eye, too!

I was supposed to meet a friend there, but didn’t see him (later got a voicemessage apologizing for not being able to make it– the earlier lecture he went to ran long. No worries, there are four more days of films!). I did see several classmates, but did not socialize.  The “Gala” was a bit of a madhouse, what with the free food and free alcohol. Unfortunately, I was feeling a little nauseous and claustrophobic in the crowd, and mostly sat and people-watched off to the side for two hours after I ate my mini-plate of food (tasty though it was). I heard a rumor that there were chocolates (and chocolate fondue!) somewhere in the party, but I did not see them. Sadness. I did, however, find the free coffee.

The proprietor of RoosRoast was standing by the table when I went back for seconds, and I said “You’ve got some good coffee here.” He said, “Oh really? What do you like about it?” So of course I blurted out the first thing that popped into my head: “It’s not burned.”

Seriously, though. It wasn’t burned. This seems to be a novelty in this town. The coffee at ERC is indeed only a dollar when you bring your own mug, but you get what you pay for. Wow, do you get what you pay for.

Mental note-to-self: bring $$ for a “donation” to RoosRoast tomorrow. They will provide me with a free bag of coffee beans and a t-shirt. His reply to my “it’s not burned” comment? “Diggit.”

Oh yeah, the films!

There were some really cool films– all of the openers were shorts, between 2 and 13 minutes long. Four stick in my head:

1) “Doxology“- A film starring the filmmaker as protagonist! And he was cute! Weird as all hell, but awesome. Can’t really be described… kind of an introspective piece on God? Bouncing tennis balls, God sitting in a swimsuit and sipping a piña colada in the middle of a snow storm, protagonist tangos with a car.

2) “Yours Truly“- I want to know how they did this. It was like a montage, but moving. Bits and pieces of old films spliced together with animation and live film footage…. really cool.

3) “Safari“- Bug’s eye view of… bugs. Really amazing shots… up-close and personal with insects. Kinda creepy, but really cool. The filmmaker was present, too!

4) “Portrait #2: Trojan“- Destruction of the Trojan nuclear power plant in the PNW. Beautiful photographic composition. Bravo.

Come to think of it, “Frog Jesus” and “My Olympic Summer” were also really cool. “Frog Jesus” was so short (2 min) but hilarious in its brevity. Kid decides that the frogs he captures need their ‘own’ Jesus. So he gathers them around and crucifies one of them. The end.

Yeah, I’m going to Hell for laughing at that one.

I still really want chocolate, though.

On Mass-Mentality (and my Absent-Mindedness)

El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!

2-4-6-8 C’mon now negotiate! 3-5-7-9 Michigan, it’s contract time!

What do we want?! [A CONTRACT!!!!/ JUSTICE!!!/ EQUALITY!!!] When do we want it?! [NOW!!!!!]


I feel uncomfortable in crowds. I like crowds, as long as I can stand on the edge and observe, or remain otherwise anonymous.

I feel uncomfortable when asked to chant/ sing/ march along like a sheep. Or a lemming. Even if I more or less agree with what they’re chanting for.

I went to the Graduate Employees Organization rally this afternoon, in the honest hope that my presence would add to the crowd and actually do something to prevent a work stoppage next week (although secretly I also want two days off in the middle of the week!). I spent the first five minutes looking around for people I knew: ran into a cohort-mate on his way to class, saw my old boss (a militant socialist, and generally cool guy), saw my friend’s girlfriend (the same one I’ve been seeing everywhere lately). She smiled and waved at me.

I stood on the edge of the crowd and read over the chant list while people waved their signs angrily. I chuckled. I don’t have any problem with chants like “What do we want? A contract!” That’s a pretty concrete request. I want to be protected by a contract while I work, thanks. I’d like that contract now. (And I’d like it to meet X criteria.)

I feel funny (ie: it makes me laugh, literally) hearing chants like “What do we want? Justice!” I mean, c’mon! We’re mostly humanities or social science students in this crowd. Maybe a few physicists. Part of our job is to study just what this abstract concept of “justice” actually is.

I want to hear some chants that unpack “justice” and situate it in its socio-historical/ -political/ -economic/ -cultural context. Perhaps we could problematize it a bit? Justice for whom? By whom? By what criteria will we determine “justice”, and how will we grapple with the “injustice” we wreak on those in opposition to our construction of “justice”?

What do we want?







When do we want it?


The funny thing is, the more you hear it said, and the more you are asked to defend it to others in the name of “collectivity,” the more reasonable it sounds.

What do I want?

A living wage!

Okay. You know what? I am making more money right now than I ever have in my life. And if I weren’t in grad school? I’d likely be making about the same amount, sans benefits, because you better be damn sure I am not the Corporate America- type to begin with. $15,000 a year, plus tuition ($30,000/year) and benes?! Not just benefits, mind you– DENTAL. Woo! Yes, please. Sign me up!

And yet, here I am chanting along with my coworkers. Yeah! A living wage! Damn those greedy bastards that only give us $15,000!

There are issues on the platform that I agree whole-heartedly with, and that’s why I’m in favor of the work stoppage. Better childcare allotments. Mental health coverage (I mean, our job directly depends on the health of our minds. That one’s in the U’s best interest, yo.). Hourly wage and health care parity for lower-fractioned employees. Elimination of the ten-term funding rule (you’re only allowed to teach or receive comparable funding for ten semesters).

That last one is enough for me to agree to an open-ended strike.

So I guess I lost my mind a little with the chanting. I wasn’t all gung-ho about it, but I raised my voice. And I marched to bargaining with the crowd.

Maybe it’s the full moon.

Speaking of losing my mind: I lost my wallet today! I realized it when I got to the lecture I GSI for two hours later… my wallet was gone. I ran back to the coffee shop where I had been the last time I was aware that it was in my possession… and I had left it sitting on the counter when I refilled my travel mug.


Writing in Public: Reading

I received a number of emails over the past week (something to the tune of… ten) advertising a conference in honor of the owner of our local indy bookstore, Shaman Drum. I didn’t pay much attention to the emails until I started receiving them via the anthropology listserv, and from one of the faculty who’s work I really admire, no less. And then I started receiving them on the Natural Resources and Environment listserv. Anything that gets sent over both program listservs generally warrants further investigation (because it implies that there is some sort of thematic overlap, which I am constantly searching for these days and which seems to be quite elusive most of the time).

I looked up the author who was giving the opening reading for the conference (and who, in all sheepishness, I had never heard of before). Gary Snyder: I was impressed. It seems that I really should be reading his stuff. With titles like “The Practice of the Wild” and “A Place in Space: Ethics, Aesthetics, and Watersheds,” it seems like he might be tackling some themes that would interest me. And Wikipedia claims that he dropped out of the anthropology graduate program at Indiana University after just one semester. Interesting.

So I went.

How was it? What was it like? … There were a lot of English students there.

How could I tell?

I swear, each graduate program has a certain Vibe to it (no, not the car). English students are a lot like anthropology students… except much hipper, a bit more relaxed, and Marxist without really knowing why. They manage to write much better accounts of fake fieldwork than anthropologists tend to write about real fieldwork. Perhaps we could learn from each other (ie: We’ll teach them why, and they can teach us how to write. Deal?). I feel this comic illustrates the English-Anthro divide* quite nicely (see how I’m resorting to visual aids here? words fail me.).

I also saw four anthropologists.

The reading itself was fine. The ‘opening act’ was fairly terrible, though. The author had the sort of reading style that irked me– her normal speaking voice was fine, but she read with a very affected tone. Her inflections and rhythm had the effect of putting the guy sitting next to me to sleep. He snored.

When he wasn’t asleep, he muttered to himself, so maybe it was just him.

Snyder’s introduction was much better– the speaker had a very dry sense of humor, and a solid stage presence. Snyder himself read nicely, and I enjoyed his poems. He has quite a dark sense of humor! I was entertained for a bit (though I had to sneak out early to catch the last bus home) and definitely motivated to check out some of his publications.  I’d like to read some of his prose, where he elaborates his environmental theories.

I think the venue was simply not conducive to a book/ poetry reading. They used an 800-person lecture hall in the graduate building. It’s pretty, and has comfortable seating, but the acoustics and lighting are horrible! It’s fine for film screenings, and less-personal speeches to a larger audience (especially when they dim the house lights), but for a reading it felt very awkward.

All of that said, however, I’m glad I went– I will definitely have to check out some of Snyder’s other work. And maybe even the other author’s too– her story was good, in spite of her presentation.

*Please note, I like the Humanities. I started out in a major called “Arts and Ideas in the Humanities.” Really. I just suck at literary analysis and clearly, as you can see from this blog, am incapable of writing coherent sentences, much less intelligent ones. And I aknowledge that outsiders (namely, my family members) find Anthropology to be equally as useless as the anthropology character finds Medieval Scandinavian Cultural Philosophy to be. But that comic is soooo true. And therefore hilarious.