September 2009 Archives

Mon Sep 28 23:41:39 CDT 2009


My friend Delia told me about Pamplamoose -- a Bay area couple who make awesome music and funny videos. Check them out at:

Posted by johan | Permanent link | File under: Music

Sat Sep 26 17:21:53 CDT 2009

U.S. Law Library of Congress Report says Zelaya Removal Legal

A report from the Law Library of the (U.S.) Congress has "escaped" to the Internet. It says two important things about Honduran President Zelaya's removal:
  1. His removal from power was constitutional and legal according to the Honduran Constitution.
  2. His removal from Honduran soil was not legal.

I can't find a copy of the article on the U.S. government website, but apparently it's "normal" that the U.S. Congress doesn't release reports to the public... though we pay for these reports, and despite the fact that Congress is basing policy upon them, we don't get to read them. Grr.

Here's a copy of the report from the Internet.

The New York Times mentions the existence of this (authentic) report, though the NYTimes seems reluctant to summarize the report as simply as i have above. I think they probably read exactly the same report that i did, so peharps this difference of interpretation has more to do with the NYTimes' difficultly in accurately reporting news that reflects poorly on their previous coverage.

Posted by johan | Permanent link | File under: politics

Fri Sep 25 04:52:11 CDT 2009

Honduras and Anarchy

I have a subjective interest in what's going on in Honduras right now because i know someone on vacation there. I don't think the political situation has much increased the normal amount of danger that someone visiting the touristy Honduran islands off the coast would be in, but it's definitely more dangerous on the mainland, and people there are unduly suffering.

For those of you not accustomed to digging 12 pages into the "World" section of the news, Honduras has been in a "political crisis" since the end of June 2009, when President Zelaya was removed from power by the Honduran Supreme Court, Congress, military, and other parts of the Honduran government, including members of his own party, because Zelaya violated constitutional article 239, which expressly forbids President from attempting to change the constitution so the President can serve more than one four-year term, as well as stating that any President who does so should be removed from office. The trouble is that it doesn't seem to have specified how.

A small fraction of the U.S. media coverage has acknowledged that Zelaya violated the constitution, but none seem to recognize that he committed an impeachable offense by proceeding (over the objections of the Supreme Court, the military, and the Honduran Attorney General, and others) to push for a public referendum to change articles related to Presidential succession in the Honduran Constitution that are expressly forbidden from change by the Constitution itself.

According to the Wikipedia entry on the crisis, the Honduran Congress discussed impeaching him, but due to a disagreement, there were not enough votes. So, members of his own party, the Supreme Court, the Attorney General and other aspects of the government had the military arrest him and put him on a plane for Costa Rica.

In hindsight it would have been better had they shot him dead, because this crisis would not be going on now. But the Honduran political establishment knew Zelaya has cultivated some support in the horribly impoverished Honduran population, as well as powerful friends like Hugo Chavez (virtual dictator of Venezuela, having ruled there since 1998), as well as other Central and South American countries, like Nicaragua and Brazil. So fearing rioting and chaos in the streets, and a power play from these other more powerful and much larger nations, and perhaps not wanting to summarily execute a man (even one demonstrating aspirations of becoming a tyrant like Chavez), most of the Honduran government ejected Zelaya from the country.

Sadly, despite their effots, they are now in the situation they most feared. Zelaya is back in the country, there is rioting in the streets, and even reports of Venezuelan soldiers in Nicaragua along the Nicaraguan-Honduran border. All primarily because the "neutral" foreign governments who have sided with Zelaya.

What has surprised and incredibly disappointed me has been the reactions of the governments (and media) of almost all of the world. The UN, EU, OAS, United States, and seemingly all of the EU and OAS member states have condemned Zelaya's removal and demanded he be put back in power. Virtually none of these governments or groups seem to have publicly acknowledged that he committed a crime that expressly requires his removal from office.

And so i must wonder, what the hell? Why are the U.S., UN, EU, and all of these other countries trying to put Chavez's lackey back into power, when most of these countries oppose Chavez's attempts to politically dominate Central and South America? Honduras was a loyal ally to the U.S. during the Cold War ("anti-communist") years, and many if not most people there now feel suddenly abandoned by Obama. They're calling him a "communist" and buddy of Chavez, which i really doubt he is. (I think Obama is much more mainstream than most people acknowledge, but that's a rant for another time.)

So if the U.S. and all of the other governments don't really want to help out Chavez by reinstating Zelaya (who has clearly violated the highest laws of his country), then why are they doing this? Why cut off aid, and ignore Chavez and Brazil announcing they have smuggled Zelaya back into Honduras and put him up in the Brazilian embassy where he can incite violence... all of which violates international treaties and laws?

The best explanation i can come up with for this is that all of these governments are complicit in these crimes because they are more concerned about an abstract threat to their personal survival in power than for the laws that they themselves have written and sworn to uphold and defend. They see Zelaya's sudden and immediate ejection from Honduras like they see the French or American revolutions, where the corrupt, but established oligarchies were overthrown and the world changed virtually overnight. Power was taken by new individuals, and if you believe the stories they taught us in school, these new "democracies" took to heart the concerns and fundamental rights of the common people.

Well, in my opinion, the extraordinary pressure these governments have steadily applied over the last three months to the Honduran government to try to force them to reinstate a power-hungry, dictator-wannabe like Zelaya has show quite clearly that we can just forget all that crap they told us about democracy, just rule, and freedom. The established governments of this world are more worried that the people they rule over will realize that the governments routinely violate their very own constitutions and trample the freedoms of it citizens. And these governments worry that perhaps they too, will be woken up in the middle of the night by a group of soldiers, put on a plane, flown to a foreign country, and told to never return. And this terrifies them, because what they love more than anything, everything, and everyone else can only be power, and dominating other people.

In this entire thought process, right about here is where i decide that perhaps the hot-headed 18 year-old Anarchist version of myself was right: governments cannot help but become corrupt and put their own concerns over the well-being of the people they are supposed to serve. Over the last two decades, i had been come to think that perhaps some governments were better than others; that they could be moral and act within the bounds of their oaths; serve the people they had pledged to defend. But looking at the world's governments reaction to the events in Honduras, i can't help but think that as long as there are rulers or "authorities" of any kind, the masses are guaranteed injustice at the hands of the few who seem to inevitably rationalize that they are above whatever laws or morals we thought we had all agreed to live by.

Posted by johan | Permanent link | File under: politics

Wed Sep 23 00:26:11 CDT 2009

Fall Arrives

Yesterday was the Autumnal Equinox, and the weather changed right on cue. The wind kicked up around midnight, and then it rained and rained. Tonight, biking home from work, i rode as fast as i could into the Northish headwind, and actually felt cold, at least for a little while. The last time i can remember feeling cold was the end of March.

Posted by johan | Permanent link | File under: randomweirdness

Mon Sep 7 18:22:59 CDT 2009

2009 Trip to Hamburg

C and i went for a quick 9-day trip to Hamburg to visit with her family. We lost about a day and a-half to travel, so it was a pretty short trip, and my recollection is sort of a blur of meeting many kind and friendly people, eating and drinking way too much, and a crash course in German.

Pictures Here

Hamburg is a big city -- according to Wikipedia it's "home to 1.8 million," with 4.3 million in its metro area. It's the second largest city in Germany, sixth largest city in the EU, and the second largest port in Europe (after Rotterdam).

Supposedly it gets roughly the same amount of rainful as Austin, but it seemed quite green and lush to C & i, presumably due to the current drought here in Central Texas. It's also closer to the coast, so it seems to get a steadier drizzle of rain.

A bunch of random observations of Germany from my Texan/U.S./Left-wing/bicyclist perspective:

  • Germans are generally better drivers than people in the U.S. For starters, the exam is reportedly much more difficult, and you can't drive alone until you are at least 18. There's a zero-tolerance for alcohol consumption until drivers are 21. I don't recall seeing anyone talking on a cell phone (in German, "Das Handy") while driving (i've read on the 'net that it's illegal). In urban settings, drivers seem to zip along at least as fast as U.S. traffic, but they seem much more aware of what's going on around them. They look for pedestrians and bicyclists.
  • In many parts of Hamburg, any street with significant auto traffic also had bike lanes, but the bike lanes were off the road, on the other side (outside) of the parked cars, along side the sidewalks. It seemed legal for bicyclists to stay on the road, but most cyclists on the paths were just noodling along at a leisurely 8mph or so, and they and the pedestrians seemed OK sort of sharing the adjoining space. (The bike lanes are a different color surface than the sidewalk... in this photo it's the charcoal-colored area to the right of the sidewalk.)
  • The Bush Administration really did a lot of damage. Even relatively conservative Germans still remember Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al.'s arrogance, like the "Old Europe" comments, and also that European airspace and airports were used by CIA "rendition" flights which transported detainees to secret Eastern European CIA prisons, where they were sometimes tortured.
  • My impression from being in Germany this short period of time is that their economy is recovering more quickly than the U.S. Perhaps the recession wasn't as deep.
  • Germans know how to recycle, and reuse. For example, beer bottles have deposits, so you return them to the store rather than throwing away or recycling them. I remember doing this as a kid in the U.S.
  • Dogs are allowed in restaurants and shopping malls. They are well behaved.
  • Germany is big on meat consumption, but they know what vegetarians are, and we ate pretty well.
  • The German people i was around would toast before every round of drinks. "Prost" was most common, but sometimes "Wohlsein." (Or even the occasional "Kampai!" or "Cheers")
  • Some, but far less houseless people than i'm used to seeing in U.S. cities.
  • As expected, awesome public transportation.
  • On the Autobahn, there are suggested (and varying) speed limits design to reduce congestion by slowing down traffic before it catches up to congestion. So you pass under a programmable sign that may say anything from 120 kph to 60kph, dependeding on how fast the traffic ahead is moving. It sort of works. It definitely works better than IH-35 in Austin.
  • I din't see as many crappy or old cars on the road as the U.S. I was told this is because the inspection requirements are tougher, and that gets cars in bad shape off of the roads. (There are some exceptions made for "classic" cars.)
  • Roads and other infrastructure are in better shape than the U.S. This is unsurprising, because of the higher taxes, but it's still an interesting comparison with the U.S. The cost of living is a higher, but overall, society seems better run and organized.
  • The frites are not as good as the Netherlands -- there wasn't as broad of a selection of sauces. (In Hamburg, they are called "Pomme Frites." In the Netherlands, i think they are called "Patat Frites."
  • We picked one of the cheapest flights, so we flew from Austin to Dulles (D.C.), to Frankfurt, to Hamburg. On the way over, there were delays into and out of Dulles because of weather, and it made the trip about 22 hours. The return trip was without delay, and about 19 hours. I think next time i'd be willing to pay $800 instead of $670 and catch a direct flight from the U.S. to Hamburg. It looks like that would drop the travel time to 13 hours.
  • Like most of Northern Europe that i've visited, the Germany is less hung up about sex and nudity than most of the U.S. As in other large German cities, Hamburg has a red light district, around the Reeperbahn (which is incidentally where the Beatles got their start). And they sometimes have pictures of topless ladies in some of the crappier newspapers (equivalents of USA Today). I don't know if it's the historic Puritanical influence, or the modern-day fundies, but after just a little while in Europe, the U.S. again seems strangely prudish and in-denial.

Posted by johan | Permanent link | File under: Traveling