Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Trouble in the Rio Grande


Disinfection processes at the water treatment plant are all that prevent Laredoans from drinking sewage each time they reach for a glass of water.
Gilbert Anaya, El Paso-based acting chief of the International Water and Boundary Commission environmental division, says his agency tests for any contaminants, but specifically for human fecal matter, looking closely for E. coli bacteria because those tests are more specific.
And certain places in the Rio Grande carry more of a health risk than others.
“If you were to swim in the river and ingest some water you could get some bacteria, depending on where you were swimming,” Anaya said by phone. “Overall the river is in good shape, but the bacteria is still at an elevated level.”
Anaya said the IWBC, cities of Laredo and Nuevo Laredo are trying to pinpoint those more dangerous parts of the river.
IWBC testers also look for heavy metal, various bacteria, organisms and examine fish tissue. Anaya says Laredo also runs its own tests, but City Hall declined to comment for this story.
Online, the Rochester, Minnesota-based Mayo Clinic says municipal water systems can fail.
“Although public water systems use chlorine, ultraviolet light or ozone to kill E. coli, some outbreaks have been linked to contaminated municipal water supplies,” Mayo said. “Most E. coli infections aren’t life-threatening, but the bacteria can cause serious and even fatal illness in some people. When it comes to more severe infections such as 0157:H7, however, no current treatments can cure the infection, relieve symptoms or prevent complications.”
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality says the only local facility currently under agency enforcement is Laredo’s waste water treatment plant at Zacate Creek where 29 violations were reported between 2001 and this year.
“The violations, for the most part are minor and regional staff works with the plants, through monitoring strategies, to ensure compliance,” said Lorinda D. Gardner, Harlingen/Laredo TCEQ regional director.
TCEQ reports 20 violations in that period upriver from the Laughlin Air Force Base waste water treatment plant. Ten were reported for the United North Laredo waste water treatment plant and six were counted at Eagle Pass. Four each were noted at the Rio Brave water treatment plant and at the San Felipe Plant in Val Verde County.
Possible links between the aluminum salts used in water purification and Alzheimer’s disease remain unsettled, too.
The international water science Awwa Research Foundation, of Denver, has examined that issue several times.
“Aluminum (Al) is the third-most-common element in the earth's crust and is present in all natural waters. Moreover, Al salts are used extensively as coagulants in drinking water treatment. It is not surprising, then, that measurable Al is present in the distributed water of all drinking water utilities, irrespective of whether Al was used as a coagulant,” Awwa says online. “The possibility of an association between Al concentration in drinking water and the occurrence of Alzheimer's disease (AD) has long been a topic of research, discussion, and considerable debate.”
TCEQ tests between March 1, 1998 and Feb. 28, 2003 point to a 7-mile stretch downstream of International Bridge 2 to a pipeline crossing as the top fecal coliform test offender with 27 standard exceedences in 55 samples.
Fecal coliform standards were exceeded 17 times in that time frame in the nine miles between El Cenizo and the San Isidro pump station in 20 samples. In 24 samples, It was 13 in the 13-mile route from that pump station to a segment boundary. Nine exceedences in 39 samples were noted in the 4.2 miles from the Laredo Water Treatment Plant, downstream to International Bridge 2. Four exceedences in 18 samples were recorded in the five miles between the pipeline crossing and El Cenizo.
Ammonia Nitrogen is listed as a concern through 30 samples for 12 exceedences in that 7 miles from Bridge 2 to a pipeline crossing.
Cleaning up the Rio Grande could require some Rice – Condolezza Rice, head of the State Department, overseer of the 1944 Water Treaty with Mexico – but IWBC spokesperson Sally Spener, in El Paso, says it isn’t as simple as calling her up.
“There’s not a simple answer. It would depend on what the matter is,” she said.
Spener notes that the Environmental Protection Agency and its Border 2012 Program, the Border Environmental Cooperative Commission, North American Development Bank and Committee for Environmental Cooperation all have roles and jurisdiction in Rio Grande matters. Spener also points to the numerous state-to-state efforts between governments at that level on both sides.
But if an act of Congress would help, the more politicized border security issue could be another aid.
Laredo’s U.S. Congressman Henry Cuellar has acted as host to other Capitol Hill colleagues, exhibiting border issues through field trips here.
Cuellar might have indirectly helped to stoke the fires of action in the House toward gaining the State Department’s attention through a borderlands security and awareness tour he held for a handful of colleagues last month. John Doolittle (R-California) was one of the guests and serves as chairman of the Subcommittee on Water and Development and also works on an environmental committee.
Some of Doolittle’s committee work involves overseeing the Environmental Protection Agency.
“I would say you have got to get that river cleaned up,” Doolittle said, learning to his surprise that the Rio Grande is Laredo’s only source of drinking water. “It looks nice from afar, but I wasn’t right up on it.”
But it was the border security issue that got him to consider the Rio Grande’s plight – not the cries of environmentalists.
Doolittle noted that California laws would probably require an environmental impact study each time the Border Patrol cuts away riverside cane and grasses, but he has no problem with that in the effort to secure our borders.
Doolittle says that the Rio Grande won’t get any special attention simply because he has visited the waterway, but if it does cross his desk he will have a feel for it.
“I come from a border state, but haven’t seen much of the border,” Doolittle, of the Sacramento suburb of Roseville, said. “I have a new understanding of the border and its problems and issues.”
Cuellar helped funnel a Nadbank loan of $44.4 million for a water treatment in Nuevo Laredo, which includes a storm sewage network and plenty of that water will into the Rio Grande, but there’s still plenty of water flowing from upriver.
Cuellar also knows supply is a growing issue and feels we need to be open to almost any idea, which could include making Lake Casa Blanca a secondary drinking water source, or finding ways to recycle water as some other cities in the American Southwest do.
“We’ll be open to discussion. We have to plan now,” Cuellar said.
Planning now could help avoid legal battles with other cities and governmental entities.
“Who’s planning?” asks Laredo gastroenterologist Dr. Reynaldo Godines. “The medical community started looking at the water supply and quality 25 years ago.
“I’m more concerned with less water, more stool, pesticides and chemicals in the river.”
Godines notes a recent article in a United Nations magazine in which two rivers in North America are expected to dry up – the Colorado and Rio Grande.
“So, long-term planning for this is certainly what it’s all about. People always wait for a crisis.”
Godines says distribution is the issue as the river gets older with a growing population’s increased demand with a related rise in pollutants adding to the water, too.
“Half of the world’s population doesn’t have access to clean water,” he said. “Especially as global warming worsens, fresh rain is going to create more managing importance on civilization as we know it.”
Godines says Laredo needs to imagine how the city would be if the river dried up.
“The land is drying up. The desert is becoming a major part of our nation,” Godines said.
Upriver in El Paso flashes of that dry future have shown themselves more than once.
“That’s our bread and butter,” Spener said of the Rio Grande. “We have significant reduced water allotments. I’ve seen the river dry here in El Paso. Everyone is taking a bigger look at investing in water projects.”
City Hall is backing a water park project, despite infrastructure woes blamed on considerable water volume losses.
Numerous breaks in aging iron pipes are said to cost Laredo many gallons and plenty of revenue. City Utilities Director Carl Schwing told city council in the Sept. 18 meeting of an average of five breaks per day.
Schwing also said the wastewater plan has not been updated in years and the water plan is equally as bad.
“We’re looking at consulting firms to identify areas of major loss,” he said.
City Manager Larry Dovalina said the old iron ground pipes are replaced with PVC pipe.
Council approved the 2007-2011 Capital Improvement Program in the Sept. 18 meeting, which OKs getting $8.4 million in funding for wastewater woes next year. The South Wastewater Treatment Plant is scheduled to expand with a $7.5 million injection and $1.6 million is aimed at water projects.

More related readings online at:;;;;;;;;

Note: The print version of this story can be found in Laredo, Texas at various locations and it will become visible online at

Foresight to offer

"And people will then say, ah, If only we had had the foresight to do something."
-- Emilio Martinez

Emilio's comment is related to local water issues here in Laredo, but strongly reflects something I noticed when overseas about the U.S.

It seems too many here think that simply putting on a uniform and taking whatever orders they receive is all needed to preserve this country and its strengths in the world. No!!! Not even close. It requires some thinking, insight and foresight, but there are tons of seemingly little things that are needed that aren't given a high priority, or visibility in the media.

It goes down to that small town, or big city, lawyer, business person, educator, etc. that still hasn't gotten off his/her butt to run for office, help fight poverty, battle hunger, kick AIDS and other fatal diseases in the teeth, and so on and so on. Just wearing a uniform and carrying a gun falls way short of what the U.S. needs. I'll get back to that when I've got a clearer, longer list.

You can do your own, if you wish, or have some foresight to offer.

Calling about that double-dip


Americans are called to pay a two-sided bill like it was a privilege, but it’s one that might have the less fortunate smashing their cell phones in disgust.
That angry phone smasher, hurling a cell into the hard pavement would enjoy an instant of the most control its owner had in a caller pays system: such as we have here. United States cell phone owners saving some time on their units for an important call, suddenly hit by meaningless calls from friends or family, wiping out that phone’s ability to call, know the frustration and understand that lack of control.
People in the U.S. are among what appears to be a global minority double-dipped in cell phone use – paying for both incoming and outgoing calls. Canadians and some Chinese appear to be the only members of this exclusive club.
“No, we don't pay to receive calls on our cell phones at St. Lucia in the Caribbean. You still do in the U.S., don't you? You poor, poor things,” says teacher Linda Ambrose by e-mail.
“In all of the Middle East, surely for Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, you do not pay for receiving phone calls on your cell except in one case: when you are roaming. That is, if you have a Lebanese number with roaming service, if you are in Jordan and you receive a phone call on your Lebanese number, you will pay for receiving that call,” writes Lebanese businessman Rabih El Khoury from the Middle East.
In China it depends on which company you do business with. Receiving calls is said to be free there on CNC, but the two other companies will charge you for receiving a call – just like you were in the U.S., says a source where anonymity is often a good idea. CNC is a local network and only available within a contracted area, however.
Closer to home, Mexico enjoys the spirit of the larger world and only pay for outgoing cell calls. But get close to the border and your charges can jump several times, making it a good idea to have a doctor ready when the bill arrives.
Border businessman Rebiere Rodriguez is one of thousands who have been stung with roaming charges for making calls from Mexico – without crossing into Mexico.
“On Cingular downtown, it’s impossible with the Mexican signals,” he said. “Once close to the border they hit you for roaming charges. At the border it starts to go crazy.”
Rodriguez says his bills have doubled and tripled thanks to roaming charges. Rodriguez says he used to have service with Nextel in Mexico and Telcel, but doesn’t anymore. He has switched to Cingular, but it’s not perfect there, either.
“I try not to get near the border and don’t answer near the border because I know it’ll be roaming,” he said.
Geraldo Lopez at Bound USA Custom Brokerage says he has gone the opposite direction and found relief from roaming charges.
“I used to have Cingular and had problems with that, but not now,” Lopez said. “Not with Sprint and Nextel. No problems.”
That cell phone problem on the border in California has been alleviated, but somebody had to hire some legal help to get it done.
“As to the border roaming calls -- yes, this is a problem largely attributable to antenna placement. We have successfully sued Cingular for this practice along the Mexico/San Diego border. They readjusted their antenna and fixed the problem,” said Michael Shames, executive director of the San Diego-based Utilities Consumer’s Action Network. “Caller pays versus callee pays is a long-standing issue that has been debated in Congress but has gotten nowhere. It is fairly complex.”
Dallas-based Cingular spokesman Frank Merriman says his company was already working on a billing solution for San Diego when the lawsuit was filed, but he acknowledged a South Texas similarity to that other border situation.
“We don’t want customers billed inaccurately,” he said.
Merriman noted that some of Cingular’s problems stem from consolidation with AT&T, taking in 15 additional cell sites, or towers. Merriman added that those antennae can be relocated almost anywhere onto buildings, roadside signs, schools, fire stations, but there is usually a fee associated with site locations.
A large telecommunications lobby in state capitols and in Washington, D.C. could be at the heart of the caller pay vs. receiver pay debate, outspending almost every other lobby. It proved its strength in California in recent years, gunning down a state law which would have made it illegal to talk on cells when driving.
Washington D.C.’s Center for Public Integrity says the amount of money used in federal telecommunications lobbying, alone, is staggering.
“The way we breakdown industries, telecom could really involve a few industries: telephone utilities, $367,407,583.00; TV, movies and music $278,684,955.00; telecom $176,701,962.00 and communications $47,407,156.00,” reports CPI interim press secretary Bradley Glanzrock. He added that all numbers are from the beginning of 1998 and the end of 2004.
Small parts of that type of money could easily control some foreign countries.
Laredo’s Congress Representative Henry Cuellar saw the Telecommunications lobby in action in previous work on the state level where it fought a tax. He did not see telecommunications lobby resistance take place on the national level when they were told they needed to contribute to the schools and might have helped in some small way with funds in the $5.9 million dollar telecommunications award given to the Laredo school district earlier this month.
Cuellar serves on agriculture and business committees, leaving him out of much direct contact with the telecommunications lobby, but feels he could deal with them, despite the trappings of the U.S. electoral system, which almost forces candidates to solicit corporate funds.
“I have received money from AT&T, Verizon and some PACs and we need money to run our campaigns, but we genuinely have to be with the voters. The voter gets you in,” Cuellar said.
Cuellar’s Congressional cell phone is from Cingular, but goes with Sprint for his personal cell, noting only a few occasional delays. He also has two blackberries.
While Americans, Canadians and several Chinese lack control in their cell phone billing, there is a bright side in generally paying less than callers in Europe. Experts credit better competition and intense use in the United States for that positive note.
“Some analysts have also explicitly compared the United States and Western Europe with regard to mobile competition. These analysts agree that the U.S. mobile market is more competitive than most mobile markets in Europe, and that this is one of the primary reasons for lower revenue per minute in the United States,” said the Federal Communications Commission in one it its recent annual studies of the wireless industry. “European mobile subscribers are more likely to opt for text messaging because it is cheaper than placing a call on their mobile phones. In contrast, most U.S. mobile subscribers are on calling plans that include large buckets of minutes and are more likely to make a phone call because the incremental cost of a call is close to zero.”
For convenience, many U.S. companies have added a pay-for-minutes by credit card option to their phones, and many have outlets in many, many small places, which should handle most situations.
Linda K. Moore, a telecommunications policy analyst for the Library of Congress’ Congressional Research Service, says cell phone service in the U.S. and Europe evolved differently and Europe’s Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) was sold to many other countries, helping to spread the caller pays system around the world.
Moore noted that most phone companies in Europe were state-owned monopolies when GSM was introduced there and the U.S. had already experienced the AT&T breakup., leading to our more competitive cell phone market.
“To help cover the cost of placing a call to a wireless phone, the European companies added a surcharge paid by the caller; that is, the caller paid the regular cost of the call plus a surcharge when the call went to a cell phone,” said Moore. “In the United States – where many companies were competing both in wireless and the traditional wireline – the surcharge, so to speak, was charged to the cell phone owner. Thus, the caller paid the same amount to call a local number whether it went to a regular phone or a cell phone. The costs of building the wireless infrastructure were borne exclusively by wireless callers.
“Although the markets and technologies have evolved, these billing practices have remained generally in place.”

Note: The print version of this story can be seen in the Sept. 2006 issue of LareDOS, out in various sites now. It will also become available online at

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Dwight Yoakam heads toward Laredo

Dwight Yoakam brings his "Watch Out" Tour to the Laredo Entertainment Center on Monday, Oct. 16.

The LEC seats up to 10,000 people and whatever many thousands will see the very animated Yoakam perform. His face will probably be becoming more familiar as the date nears. Yoakam has appeared in several movies and late night talk shows. He could be the most movie-active Country music singer.

Yoakam first hit the big scene in 1984 and hasn't slowed down since, just shifting gears a little here and there. And he's had plenty of theres.

Dwight Yoakam is Laredo-bound


Dwight Yoakam is a Country music star and his star rises high above any single genre.
The “Honky Tonk Man,” and singer of “A Thousand Miles From Nowhere,” “Gone” and a string of other hits brings his “Watch Out” Tour to the Laredo Entertainment Center on Oct. 16, a Monday night, and he could be the cornerstone for a new wave of entertainment here in Laredo.
“Support is important because he is the first of many to come,” Belinda Guerra, president of Guerra Communications, said.
LEC boss Jalinna Jones explains that the arena and Guerra bought the show from promoters as an investment, seeking to bring in other big Country stars. Jones added that Yoakam is represented by the William Morris Agency, which carries a long list of major stars. Guerra and the LEC see that a good showing in the 10,000-seat facility will bring many of those stars here.
“Brad Paisley, Toby Keith, Gretchen Wilson have called,” Guerra said. “So this market needs to prove its strength.”
“We’ve got to be there for the first one,” Jones added. “They know Laredo is here.”
Jones said that the LEC has also talked with George Strait representatives.
Local ownership of the show put guarantee money in Yoakam and William Morris’s hands. This is an investment.
“We’ve been working on this since June,” Jones said. “They get their money whether we sell one ticket or all of them, but they don’t want to go to a market that would fail them.
“This is probably the fifth date we worked on with him.”
Guerra Communications said in its February press conference at the LEC when KRRG, 98.1 FM, dropped its Hip Hop format for Country music, on the same location in the LEC main entrance, and a hope to bring in stars from that genre was expressed by both.
Yoakam has crossed a number of barriers in his diverse career. His music is described as a mix of traditional Country with 1950s Rock and Roll with pinches of punk and Los Angeles-based alternative.
“The cowpunks, as they were called, that attended Yoakam’s shows provided an invaluable support for his fledgling career,” says his online biography.
Yoakam has been visible on the nation music level since 1984 when his release “A Town South of Bakersfield.” His first full-length album two years later, “Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.” eventually went platinum. Yoakam’s “Streets of Bakersfield,” recorded with idol Buck Owens, was his first No. 1 hit in 1988. “Blame the Vain” and “Live From Austin, Tx” are his latest albums.
Songs, albums and honors piled up for Kentucky-born and Ohio-raised Yoakam whose voice carries tunes with a controlling resonance. Eventually he moved into acting and has numerous credits. His recent movies include “Wedding Crashers,” “The Three Burials of Melciades Estrada,” “Bandidas” and “Crank.” Yoakam is no stranger to the small screen, appearing on numerous talk shows, exhibiting a strong, animated ability to express himself.
Yoakam’s credits include writing, songwriting and movie producing work.
Yoakam’s performance here is a week before his 50th birthday.
More information available about Yoakam online at; and
Note: More stories on LareDOS can be read online at in pdf. This is a similar version of the print story in the Sept. edition.

Juggler enjoys moment at home

Juggler Kaj Fjelstad has seen much of the world since he decided to turn an "I can't" into an "I can."

The product of a family of educators, Kaj was born in Switzerland and traveled far and wide since. The hat he wears here is a souvenir from Africa when his father was teaching there for a year. Kaj's older brother Per taught speech at Laredo's Texas A&M International University before moving onto Rhode Island College in Providence.

Fjelstad, a school teacher and single dad to son Solyan, is interested in many cultures has a strong affection for Mexico, having lived there, too.

Juggler extends his positive thinking to others


Because he couldn’t he can, and now he teaches others.
“At first, I thought I couldn’t learn it and after I learned it I knew that you can learn things even if you don’t think you can,” juggler Kaj Fjelstad said.
Fjelstad has entertained crowds in Laredo gatherings, the Kerrville Folk Festival and traveled in Europe and Latin America as a juggler, but couldn’t twirl a stick well enough to scare off a fly when he first took up the activity in Northfield, Minnesota 26 years ago. He and friend Jon Wee played all the various sports young boys typically do, but that tricky, difficult, eye-catching, flashy, athletic juggling captured his eye and competitive spirit, largely because all that was beyond his junior high-level abilities at the time.
Fjelstad likes to use the word empowerment when detailing the benefits of picking up juggling, which helped boost him through those awkward teenage years and beyond.
“It was a gift from a friend. It’s about learning by accepting mistakes, drops and working with others and laughing at yourself,” Fjelstad said. “It’s good to have a sense of humor, so you allow yourself to have a playful nature and see what you can do, not just what you want to do.”
Fjelstad’s fascination at first sight for juggling took him to church where he and a couple of friends practiced frequently after school.
“Juggling is like a universal language,” he said. “It’s like a smile or laugh. Juggling can evoke similar feelings with all people.”
Fjelstad hopes to hand his learned gift of self-empowerment over to a group of future jugglers in classes open to all comers near Texas A&M International’s Killam Library on the second and fourth Fridays of each month between 4:30 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Fjelstad knows the campus well, having received his master’s there this year in special education with an emphasis in reading. He juggled master’s classes, being a dad to an 8-year-old son, and handled classes of his own as a resource teacher in South Laredo where he is beginning a new school year.
The teacher probably wouldn’t be surprised if his new juggling students made friends among themselves as he and friends Wee and Joel Erickson practiced well enough to call themselves the Three of Clubs. Wee, Kaj’s first teacher, and Fjelstad began their juggling connection when Jon sent him a Christmas card promising to teach him how to juggle. They continued their juggling together when time permitted during their college years in the early 1980s before they went their separate ways.
Wee has had a largely visible juggling career as half of The Passing Zone, seen occasionally on television and in various live shows. Wee and The Passing Zone were in “The Addams Family” and “The Aristocrats” and seen more recently on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.” They take up a large share of space on the Internet, too.
Wee and Fjelstad’s first major experience was at the 1982 Twin Cities Renaissance Fair.
“It was fun. We did a lot of stuff like the Colorado Renaissance Fair,” Fjelstad said, noting that Wee had been a friend since he was 2 years old as all of their parents were professors.
Fjelstad was born in Switzerland and traveled widely before juggling became his frequent copilot. Fjelstad’s father was a Fulbright Scholar and worked in Liberia for a year. Fjelstad still wears a souvenir Liberian hat when juggling and sometimes uses drums he picked up there, too. Fjelstad was already juggling when he and the family were in Liberia. He found himself fighting boredom at a Liberian political by juggling and stole part of the show, but gained the experience of performing before thousands of onlookers.
Back in the U.S., Wee and Fjelstad worked several conventions and traveled to Santa Barbara, California while finding inspiration from the juggling Carmota brothers.
“We got to know them and they told us where to get the equipment and there was just one place then,” Fjelstad said. “We spent several hundred dollars, and our parents wondered what we were doing, but then I made my own props, and we did fire juggling.”
Fjelstad and Wee stayed together for seven years, but Kaj went to college at Pacific Lutheran in Tacoma, Wash. and semesters abroad in the Far East and Mexico led him into other adventures.
Fjelstad took off for four months in Europe after graduating from Pacific Lutheran, but Mexico had left a deep impression from that first visit and he had to return to that end of the world, eventually entertaining in Jugglers for Peace, which took him to Cuba where the 12-member show performed in each province, allowing him to see “more of Cuba than most Cubans.”
That troupe was a mixture of Cubans, Nicaraguans, Russians, “probably Polish” and none of them knew each other prior to the tour. Brazilians have seen Fjelstad work his wonders and he toured Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Mexico in La Caravana Arcoiris por la Paz before eventually finding himself in Laredo and in the teaching field.
The Nicaragua tour was held to honor Benjamin Lender, a U.S. engineer killed by Contras there in the 1980s and there’s a circus named after him.
“We were there two nights and I did a short show on the second night. The circus was closing because Daniel Ortega lost the election, so I let them in for free and I put on a two hour show,” Fjelstad said. “I used the unicycle, stilts and rola bola. It was like a dream come true.
“It was to give solidarity with them and I hope to go back.”
Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos was in Fjelstad’s audience when touring southern Mexico at La Realidad, Chiapas and he performed at Northfield, Minnesota’s sister city of San Rafael de Heredia in Costa Rica. He enjoyed performing for indigenous crowds in Guatemala for “neat people.”
Fjelstad said the caravan is still on the road, farther along in South America, and has a Web site.
“For me, it was a growing experience,” Fjelstad said. “Juggling is a great way to travel and I put it all together into an ‘I can’ attitude.
“It’s hard when learning, but you can take that empowerment into any activity. Take reading – it’s similar. You have to break it down into steps.
“I like seeing students get empowered, especially when they didn’t think they could learn and they keep learning.”
Notes: Fjelstad can be contacted by e-mail at He trains jugglers each Thursday evening between 5 and 7 on the TAMIU campus by the fountain between the CH and PH buildings.
A print version of this story, and others in many editions of LareDOS can be seen online at

Actress at the movies

Julia Vera, originally from Laredo, poses next to a poster this summer at the Latino Film Festival in New York City where her movie "Virgin of Juarez" was shown.

Vera has been in many, many movies, television shows and commercials since beginning acting professionally at 46. She sees plenty of potential in the blooming independent film industry and would like to develop a Laredo-based movie.

She currently resides in Los Angeles -- when not back in Texas or at other film festivals. She has attended some overseas, too.

Vera sees very much in indie movies


Julia Vera has achieved that enviable point of not being able to remember all of the movies, commercials and television shows she’s been in.
But she has been writing a possible series of stories set around a young girl growing up in a very different Laredo some 55 years ago when only some 35,000 lived in a much smaller, more innocent, dustier and much more personal borderland town.
“La Metiche” is only a creation traveling between Vera’s mind and typing fingers – when time allows and free time isn’t plentiful with a full schedule. In a few days she begins playing the adopting mother in the independent movie “Juan Franzic,” (pronounced like Juan Francis) adding another note to her busy filmography on IMDb – probably the best way to try and keep up with Vera’s growing cinematic career.
She has five credits this year, up one from last year and up three from two years ago.
Vera didn’t start acting until she was 46, but wanted to since childhood days back in that much smaller Laredo, and the thriving independent film industry could eventually bring that world to life.
Vera made a brief stop in Laredo after attending New York City’s Latino Film Festival where her “The Virgin of Juarez” was among those showing. That potential in independent movies might not let Vera rest long anywhere as she sees plenty of potential for captivating, sharp, attention-grabbing, streamlined scripts and finished products in indys that their much bulkier major studio counterparts might not deliver as readily.
Big studio films are expensive and weighed down in formula -- forced to follow too many already familiar plots, scenes and lines.
“Like with Mission Impossible III they had a lot of explosions because they think that’s what the public wants.
The much freer independent film can be put together for less than $100 and shot with a rented camera and someone willing to act. Sometimes, nothing more is necessary.
“They rent that equipment in Dallas, Houston and I’m pretty sure in Austin and San Antonio,” Vera said.
A minimal expense indy needs very little to qualify for screening consideration at any of the numerous film festivals around the world, but Vera believes in following the tried and true paper trail to produce something the public would want to see.
“If it’s not down on paper you can lose your way,” she said.
A movie made without its principals holding Screen Actors Guild cards can get lost, too, missing any chance for major recognition. In New York, Vera saw “Quinceañera,” which she liked very much and is gaining critical backing, but cannot be nominated for Academy Award consideration because it is a non-union production.
And that sad note doesn’t have to be repeated.
“The SAG has in place ways of using union actors to make ultra-low budget, paying them $100 a day,” she said. “Most love to act and a lot would do it for free. It’s an amazing experience to be part of a creative force.”
Vera notes the success of “Monster,” “TransAmerica” and “Frida,” which all operated under ultra-low budget financing and brought in big box office and rental returns.
”In ‘Frida,’ a lot worked for free just to help,” Vera said.
“Quinceañera” will probably make money, despite going non-union because it was picked up by Fox and could already be in rental stores.
Up front checks between $35,000 and $45,000 and a public that likes to rent stacks of movies ensure that moviemakers make money when their projects go video.
Awards won at those numerous film festivals like $5,000, a trophy and extra film help independent film making grow, but Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival held each January in Utah remains the leader. Vera says Sundance’s Spectrum 2000, in which the top new films are selected is helping speed recognition of the top indy filmmakers.
“When you’re picked, that’s a biggie,” Vera said.

Note: Online versions of many LareDOS editions can be seen at This story is very similar to one printed in the Sept. 2006 edition.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Good academic year start

The new movie "Accepted," which seems destined to make something of lead Justin Long, as Bartleby Gaines, hit theaters right before the start of the 2006-2007 academic year and hit it well.

Long, who has appeared in "The Break Up," "Dodgeball" and a nationallly aired television commercial, is the catalyst in this misfits to geniuses movie, which puts the eye on traditional American-style higher education. There's no shame in self-examination, so this is one today's college and university administrators should catch if they haven't already.

It's a good one -- one with meaning beyond the current curriculums, lessons and assignments of this academic year.

Accepted certainly is


“Accepted” leaves a ringing effect long after the last of many laughs and the unusual applause and cheers die from the last local theater showing.
Made with few familiar faces to moviegoers, “Accepted” doesn’t seem like an academic version to 1981’s “Stripes” with Bill Murray, Harold Ramis and John Candy until thinking is clearer after the stimulation from this one finally fades. Anthony Heald is the most familiar face and he’s no household name, either, but works well in the mix as the middle aged, stuffy, snidely and nasty Dean Van Horne at nearby Harmon College.
Heald is a good, but still somehow an almost loveable villain who could have fit in “Stripes” or “Animal House” roles, too.
“Rejection. That's what makes a college great. The exclusivity of any university is judged primarily by the amount of students it rejects,” Heald as Van Horne says, anchoring his character as the traditional, modernday college administrator.
Bartleby Gaines, played by Justin Long, is rejected by all previous colleges he applies to, so in desperation he augments smarter buddy Sherman Shrader’s letter of acceptance to have him accepted at the South Harmon Institute of Technology. South Harmon doesn’t really exist, however, so the school’s founding friends, mostly other rejects, spend the summer making an abandoned psychiatric hospital look like a college.
“Let's start this fake college. Then, we'll go start a meth lab somewhere. It's a gateway crime. That's how these things start,” Shrader says, mocking Bartleby’s request to make South Harmon somewhat of a reality.
Shrader, played by Jonah Hill -- helps bring in his Uncle Ben, played by Lewis Black, whose face is fairly familiar to moviegoers -- to front as a school official. Crusty old Uncle Ben proves to have the gift of gab and punch line strength to pull it off.
The lovely Blake Lively is Bartleby’s heart throb and eventual girlfriend, edging toward the relationship in a move away from Harmon College and her traditional, athletic-looking fraternity officer hunkish boyfriend. Shrader eventually leaves Harmon, too, once his involvement in South Harmon is too deep and his disdain for abusive fraternity hazing.
Harmon and South Harmon meet in an Ohio college board meeting after the evil Dean Van Horne has exposed the upstart institution, seeking its land for expansion and a grand entranceway. This is the battle of the old-style traditional institution against new innovative student-led and designed courses. Bartleby’s key defense speech questions the gray-headed board’s real intentions and desires back when they entered college.
The speech helps hand South Harmon a one-year accreditation, resulting in pandemonium and triumph for the new school over the old. Some scriptwriting sincerity and forethought raises above the laughs when the board president tells Bartleby not to judge too quickly as he had more artistic intentions when younger.
“It’s never too late,” Gaines says in brief heartfelt reply before joining the celebration.
Adam Cooper, Bill Collage and Mark Perez have worked together before on a few other lesser movies and wrote the screenplay. Perez wrote the initial story intended for movie adaptation.
“Accepted” rates a solid 9 ½ habaneros out of 10 and 10s just aren’t handed out. This one was too short. Too many other movies are too long.
Anyone who ever took a college course, or decided against it, should see this one. Anyone involved in higher education and concerned about that inner battle of the traditional college education against new ideas and formats could find themselves seeing it several times.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Governmental transparency is a very good idea

Perhaps some of that transparency would actually serve to free up our state lawmakers who seem to have become much more reclusive recently? They should be able to feel free to speak from their educated minds.

Efforts by Texans for Public Justice to get more transparency could help.

The following TPJ press release tells more:

For Immediate Release
September 21, 2006

For More Information Contact
Common Cause, 512-474-2374
League of Women Voters, 512-231-8536
Texans for Public Justice, 512-472-9770
Citizen Groups Outline Five Political Reforms
To “Make Democracy Work” in Texas

Austin, TX - Texas citizen and government reform organizations today unveiled a five-point reform agenda designed to ‘Make Democracy Work’ in Texas. The citizen groups say the reforms are needed to strengthen Texas’ campaign finance laws and ensure open and independent government free from the influence and dominance of special interests.

“The integrity of Texas’ political institutions has taken a beating lately. Our leaders need to make political reform a priority. Reforming Democracy isn’t a Republican issue and it isn’t a Democratic issue; it is an issue that affects all Texans regardless of any political affiliations they might hold,” said Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice. “Democracy can’t work if citizens have no faith in the integrity of its political institutions.”

The list of non-partisan reforms presented by the groups included:

Place a $100,000 Aggregate Limit on Individual Contributions;
Close the Revolving Door between the Legislature and the Lobby;
Keep Judges Independent by Appointment and Retention Elections;
Record All Non-Ceremonial Legislative Votes; and,
Create an Independent Redistricting Commission.
"The people of Texas have a right to demand transparency and accountability in their government," said Mario X. Perez, State Chair of Common Cause Texas. "These proposals represent an important step forward to reform our institutions and maintain trust between the people and State government. Open, clean, government is not a partisan issue. It is a Texas issue."

“Political reform is not a partisan issue,” said Julia Marsden, President Pro Tem of the League of Women Voters of Texas, one of the organizations promoting the five-point reform package. “Our reforms don’t favor or penalize any political party. These reforms benefit all the citizens of Texas regardless of their political persuasion.”

“When there is no accountability, democracy fails. Democracy sometimes fails in Texas because legislators are unwilling to make themselves accountable for their votes on significant issues,” said Weston Ware, retired Public Policy Director of the Christian Life Commission and Volunteer Legislative Director of Texans Against Gambling. “Efforts to secure more straightforward reporting of votes made in the 79th session should now be further strengthened and brought to the people in the form of a constitutional resolution. Citizens have a right to know how their elected representatives voted on bills brought before the legislature.”

“There has been bi-partisan support in the legislature on nearly all of these reform issues. Regretfully, support for political reform has not been shared by our government’s leaders. We applaud those legislators working for reform and pledge to help them get their reform bills written into law,” said Alison Dieter, Legislative Coordinator of the Gray Panthers of Texas. “Reform needs to be a priority of our top political leaders.”

The organizations plan to promote the Making Democracy Work Reform platform among their members and urge officeholders and candidates to endorse the five reforms.

Organizations promoting the Making Democracy Work reform plan include Common Cause Texas, Gray Panthers of Texas, League of Women Voters of Texas, Public Citizen Texas, Texans for Public Justice and the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

His hair is blonder

CNN Reporter Anthony (AKA Antony) Mills, a bud from grad school days in London is looking a bit like that network's fair haired boy with considerably more air time since the 34-day Israeli-Hezbollah War this summer.

He had been seen, but mostly heard, in various reports on bombings and other stories from Beirut where he lives with his Lebanese wife and sometimes NFL lineman-sized brother-in-law. Hopefully, Millsy will have more days in the sun, making his hair more blond than it's already gotten.

His on-air work is improving each time out and I assume it will continue to do so.

Mills played tennis at Brown University in Providence, R.I. before going to City U. in London and it looks like he might have gotten back out on the court, sliming down some for the camera. He's not a network anchor pretty boy, but probably a lot more interesting than most of those guys and he's proven he certainly knows his turf.

Hooligan story

(Mostly for my own records and access. You'll notice that the English differs a bit from standard American English -- For June 2003 edition of Beirut-based UniverCity magazine: distributed to American universities in Beirut and on some Persian Gulf campuses)

By Mike McIlvain

Get there late.

If there is a chance hooligans, or yobs, might be
outside the gates of a football match you are going to
then dodge them by missing the kickoff.

That worked for me last season at London's infamous
Millwall where I voluntarily allowed myself to go late
to a match that I was covering, something I had not
tried to do in almost 30 years as a journalist. By the
time I found my seat in the press section, the
hooligans were either seated, or had left. Those in
their seats faced large guards watching each stadium
vertical aisle from a chair placed at each would-be
entrance to the pitch.

The guards never watched the game, their eyes stayed
on the more potentially violent situation among the
hooligans in the seats. On 2 May of last year,
however, the aisle guards were not enough, or in the
right place, and many police and their horses were
injured in a riot outside Millwall's stadium, The Den.
Some of those jailed from that riot are expected to be
released in time for the 2003-2004 season late this
summer, but several have been banned from The Den for
eight years or more.

Police are still investigating closed circuit video
tapes from the riot to identify more hooligans.
Studying in London, which included its nightlife, I
had learned that a small amount of liquor in some of
that island's inhabitants often sparks a
confrontational mood and people worth avoiding there,
too. When some people drink, they get nasty and
England appears to have more than its share there.

Alcohol serves as the fuel oil for the fights, riots,
clashes and incidents associated with hooligans, but
these ne'er do wells have been studied since they
surfaced in the mid 1960s. Their presence has caused
problems beyond for the United Kingdom, the
Netherlands, Germany and other countries who have the
problem, or disease as some observers call it.

Britain's federal government has noticed and discussed
the sometimes fatal problems linked to hooliganism and
clubs have joined in against the thugs. A 29 December
2000 story in by The Guardian's chief political
correspondent Patrick Wintour, noted the xenophobia,
sexism and threatening manner of the hooligans and the
government's call for joint effort with the clubs to
curb the situation.

"Unchallenged racist or sexist remarks and threatening
behaviour can transform the communal and passionate
experience of watching football into a wholly negative
and intimidating one for minority community and female
supporters," the Home Office report said. "Many seem
to believe seem to believe that racist or xenophobic
chanting is the appropriate way to demonstrate
national pride and support for the English team. They
appear oblivious to how that behaviour is perceived
and then bemused when the host police behave

The Guardian story notes that hooligan behaviour at
football matches equals that frequently seen on high
streets in the weekend, in continental resorts.

"It is hostile, anti-social an dismissive of all
things not stereotypically English," the report

Hooliganism, a culture of rowdyism which clings most
noticeably to the European soccer world, sends shivers
down the spines of average sport fans whose usual
greatest complaints focus on officiating or coaching.
England, the reluctant homeland of hooliganism, has
seen the problem spread to other sport venues, mostly
cricket, but eyes on the Angle Isle are keen for the

Most hooligans are stereotypically white and between
20 and 35. They do not all, however, come entirely
from broken homes: studies link more to upper-middle
class two-parent homes. Not all hooligan trouble is
found at football matches. Hooligans are associated
with the sport, but anyone in their path far from a
pitch can have problems.

"Rowdy groups of young people spill out of a pub, and
then rampage through the streets, roughing up each
other and anyone else unfortunate enough to cross
their drunken path," says an online BBC report. "This
is what is often perceived as 'yob culture'. The words
have now become a rallying cry for politicians in the
law and order debate."

The BBC says restaurant owners note yob culture from
bankers and lawyers, too. Some are seen indulging in
drunken behaviour, making sexist and racist remarks.
It may once have been excused as high spirits, but
yobbish behaviour has become a symbol for a decline in
respect for law and order. Most of the newsworthy
hooliganism happens at a stadium, or nearby, and
non-hooligan English people are raising their voices.

"I feel disgusted and ashamed of my country when I
hear of incidents overseas, caused by England 'fans',"
says one a male fan on the website.
"Football hooligans are one of the many things wrong
with this country's people."

"I have had the unfortunate experience of being caught
up in a bunch of hooligans, when I was in my teens,"
says a female fan on the same site. "It was a
terrifying experience which stopped me attending
matches for many years."

Former Millwall star Eamon Dunphy laments the start of
hooliganism, recalling its start in a road game at
Oxford in the mid 1960s.

"This was Sixties England, the Permissive Age. A small
band of aggressive young men were not intercepted at
Oxford Station and sent back to where they'd come
from, but rather permitted to go about their business:
to seek gratification through the incitement of rage,
disgust and fear in others," Dunphy says on "The Millwall boys found
that by banding together, being uncouth, 'taking over'
a town centre like Oxford, pulling a communications
cord or two on the way home from matches and chanting
a few slogans, they could make national headlines.

"Over the next few seasons, gangs of football
hooligans sprang up all over England. The Millwall
boys had invented a new sport."

Some of the best football in the world is played in
England, but choosing your seat, and path to and from
the stadium is another new sport.

Border control dilemma

That proposed guest worker program Congress has discussed, off and on, probably for 30 years, or more, might be best seen in legislative action soon if word of a labor shortage is true.

Alan Tonelson wrote about the facts facing business and government for the San Diego Union and Tribune's online arm in May of this year. There could be a serious crisis looming ahead, which could make life very uncomfortable and raise prices on many objects. Online research says D.C. lawmakers need to get off the fence and do something.

The essence of what Tonelson wrote follows here.

"Take restaurants. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, illegal immigrants represent 17 percent of the nation's food preparation workers, 20 percent of its cooks and 23 percent of its dishwashers. National Restaurant Association spokesman John Gay recently stated that his industry will need about 1.9 million workers in the near future though he “doesn't know where they will come from.”

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, though, inflation-adjusted wages for the broad Food Services and Drinking Establishments category fell 1.65 percent between 2000 and 2005.

Urging Congress to loosen immigration controls, Marriott International Chairman J.W. Marriott Jr. insists that the hospitality industry “needed a supply of immigrant workers to fill jobs” and condemned those “in Congress [who] want to criminalize the undocumented and their employers.” Ten percent of the nation's hotel workers are illegal immigrants, the Pew Center estimates. But the BLS data show that their inflation-adjusted wages fell nearly 1 percent from 2000-05.

In the booming construction industry, illegal immigrants make up about 12 percent of the work force. But from 1993 – when median home prices began surging at a record pace – through 2005, inflation-adjusted wages in the sector rose only 3.02 percent. And from 2000 to 2005 – the height of the boom – inflation-adjusted construction wages actually fell by 1.59 percent.

Illegal immigrants are even more prominent in food manufacturing, where they represent 14 percent of the work force. From 2000 to 2005, inflation-adjusted wages in this sector dropped by 2.24 percent. And in the “animal processing and slaughtering” sub-category, where Pew research contends illegal immigrants make up fully 27 percent of all workers, inflation-adjusted wages fell 1.41 percent between 2000 and 2005. Similar figures emerge for many other illegal immigrant-heavy sectors as well, ranging from dry cleaning and laundry services, to parking facilities, golf courses, and country clubs.

These wage trends in illegal immigrant-heavy industries make clear that these sectors are not facing shortages of native-born workers. They're facing shortages of native-born workers who can accept poverty-level pay."

It has been suggested that this guest worker program would also save the lives of many crossing through the U.S.-Mexico border's deserts, but that would allow the Border Patrol and Customs to concentrate more on drug smugglers, terrorists and such. Do we want that?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Ample reason to blog

Selena Dehne, of JIST Publishing online for The Career News sums up some good reasons to blog. It's about you and getting it right.

Employers turn to blogs to screen job seekers

INDIANAPOLIS, IN -- "Digging up digital dirt is rapidly
becoming one of the most popular and effective ways
for employers to weed through handfuls of job
candidates. According to a survey by ExecuNet, an
executive job search and networking organization, 75%
of recruiters use search engines to uncover
information about job seekers. Additionally, 26% have
admitted to eliminating candidates due to information
they discovered online.

From Facebook profiles featuring racy photos of
candidates to public arrest records, the one thing
standing between a perfectly qualified candidate and
the job of their dreams could be their digital dirt
drifting through cyber space. Therefore, job search
experts are aggressively warning job seekers to be
wary of their online presence.

With corporate recruiters and executive search firms
now using blogs as a prescreening tool for candidates,
you should consider creating an online journal to
demonstrate your skills, share your expertise, and
lend potential employers insight into your
personality. You can write about projects you are
working on, industry events, ongoing research, current
trends, new products, and evaluations. You can also
include articles or papers you have written, a bio,
project histories, a downloadable resume, and even
audio or video presentations."

What do the search engines say about you?

Monday, September 18, 2006

Origin of certain words

The Pope's recent comments, which infuriated many Muslims have a history. They have a lot of history, and a London educator explains them in an article in The Guardian.

Soumaya Ghannoushi is a researcher at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, specialising in medieval Christian literature on Islam.

Part of that article follows below. The Guardian is consistent in finding content well worth the time to find and read.

"It is ironic that the Pope, who stresses the unity of reason and faith, which he uses as proof of Christianity's superiority over Islam, has inherited this formula from Ibn Rushd, or Averroes, the Andalusian Muslim philosopher. It was on the basis of this Rushdian equation that the medieval church could reconcile itself with Benedict's beloved logos.

The Pope speaks much of religious tolerance in his lecture. Unfortunately for him, the church's historical treatment of its religious others has been marked by violence and aggression, against pagans, Jews, heretics and infidels alike.

Not a day goes by without calls to reform Islam being raised-a mission which Pope Benedict XVI has declared impossible. Perhaps it is time to make the same demand of Catholicism and its infallible head. It certainly needs to introduce dramatic reforms to its terrifying conception of Islam, its prophet and followers. Rather than apologising for the church's bloody legacy against Muslims in the dark years of the Crusades and Reconquista, the Pope has chosen to twist the knife in the old wound. He has driven the gulf between the two faiths even wider. He has again pitted the cross against the crescent.

The Pope's statements have done much to convince Muslims from Tangier to Jakarta that an open war is being waged against them on three fronts: political, military and religious. The pontiff should not be surprised that his words generated such strong responses in a Muslim world seething with rage at being dragged back to the age of colonialism and civilising missions. Who is to convince Muslims now that the west is not waging a crusade against them, in an alliance between Bush and Benedict, between the powers of the temporal and the sacred?"

There are people out there who need to get off their butts and run for office, become journalists, or take on other professions and avocations which would lead to some sort of clearer understanding between peoples in these sticky areas.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Threatened historic site

Byblos is still in a fight for its life, despite the ending of the 34-day conflict between Israel and Hezbollah there in Lebanon.

I have a fondness for this ancient site known to have been a fortress, or inhabited by at least 17 different civilizations on this little finger of land extending into the eastern Mediterranean. It's battle is with oil, which appears to be leaving heavy damage with the rocks that the Crusader fortress is built on.

I would gladly lend a helping hand there if in the area.

Whither Byblos?

Byblos, an important military and trade post for 17 civilizations in Lebanon, came under attack during the 34-day conflict between Israel and Hezbollah from the sea -- by way of an oil slick.

Native Beirutian Rabih El Khoury says it's gotten better, but serious concerns remain there.

"Most of the oil has been extracted from Byblos port. Archeologists, however, are conserned that oil spots that stuck to the watchtower base may have affected the stone composition, which would lead to faster deterioration. Last i heard, a team of international--mostly Dutch--experts were taking all necessary measures to minimize any potiential further damage.

But this is not the shocking story. Prior to the oil spill, local officials from the tourist and archeological bureau of Jbeil, the city where the Byblos site is located, have been in a row with the Ministry of Tourism and the United Nations for more than a decade. The argument is over the Byblos Port quay which, according to Jbeil officials, needs to be reinforced and extended to protect the watchtower from the seas. About a year ago, I chatted with the Port's Chief Mariner who explained that the current quay design and structure, which dates as far back as the watchtower and the port it is made to protect, has become ineffective as climate change has altered the intensity of the waves and the tides. "I've been here [at the port] for more than 40 years. I've noticed the changes in the sea myself", the Chief Mariner said. Being a United Nation's Heritage Site, any major sickle, hammer, or shovel directed at Byblos, its port, and its quay is subject to UN approval. The process of getting approval is (suprisingly) neither tedious nor lengthy. So what's keeping the quay from getting the required fix-up? As it turns out, and in true Lebanese politics fashion, several key memebers of the unit at the Ministry of Tourism, in which Byblos is part of its jurisdiction, are at personal odds with Jbeil's chief archeologist and head of the new quay project propsal. Issues of insufficient funds and delays of approval (from the related UN bureau and the ministry's own Projects Unit) have been cited by the Ministry of Tourism. For some ten years. The real sad but true part: Jbeil's chief archeologist who proposed the new design is no longer in office. Still, the project bears his signature. So Byblos waits. In the meantime, according to the Port's Chief Mariner, the watchtower's base stones are slowly disintegrating. A catalyst in the form of an oil spill was really the last thing one could have wished for."

Thursday, September 14, 2006

War damage

One of the other things I hate about war -- what all it messes up besides lives, property...

This reached me late, which is just as well, but it's worth sharing as people need to consider that other things suffer when anger takes over. I really liked Byblos when I visited Lebanon in October 2002.

Reuters tells the rest --

Lebanese oil slick hits ancient Phoenician port
Tue 22 Aug 2006 9:04 PM ET
By Gideon Long

BYBLOS, Lebanon, Aug 23 (Reuters) - The Lebanese port of Byblos has survived the Romans, the Crusades and the armies of Alexander the Great but now it faces a 21st century menace, brought to its shores on a tide of war -- oil pollution.

A slick caused by Israel's bombardment of a power plant last month during its conflict with Hizbollah guerrillas has spewed a black tide along a 140-km (87-mile) stretch of the coastline.

Few places have been hit harder than Byblos, which dates back 7,000 years and lies 35 km (22 miles) north of Beirut.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Capturing the moment


This came in an e-mail from good friend Rabih over in the Middle East. He is Lebanese and proud of it, but very aware of the world around him. He lived in the U.S. during his undergraduate years in New England.

My Dear Friends from America,

    I'm writing to tell you that my thoughts and feelings are with you and the American people on this special day that marks five years since September 11. Today is day of remembrance, of meditation, of emotion. Though the whole world was affected by the events of 9/11, and in many ways a new world order came to be as a result, on this day my thoughts are with the three thousand and more families whose lives were changed. Everything can be rebuilt but the loss of a loved one is forever. On this day I also take a moment to stand up straight and give salute to the oh so brave men and women who against all odds rushed to the scenes that people were fleeing and risked their lives to give a helping hand. I recall the words of our Lord: "Greater love has no one that this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). Theirs is story of courage, of bravery, of unquestionable love. They are real heroes.

    Today is an important day for us, the alive and the capable. An important day for you, especially as Americans. It is a day of judgment and accountability. As we reflect on the memory of the lost ones, as we stand before their graves, we ask ourselves: What have we said and what have we done so that those who died did not do so in vain? Has it been right? Has it been enough? It is a great feeling of inner void to stand before those who have sacrificed their all, willingly or not, and to look into the eyes of the heroes who gave their all, realising that we could have contributed more. September 11 lies two weeks before memorial day of the fallen soldiers of the Lebanese Forces. Every year I stand somberly as I count my overdues. Those of you who have had the chance--or have made it point--to visit Normandy Memorial Site in Northern France, which lies only a few hundred feet from one of the D-Day beaches, would perhaps know what I'm talking about. For two hours, I did not utter a single word. At times I found it hard to stand up as the overwhelming sense of respect kept bringing me to my knees. There is no raised Lebanese flag and no Lebanese soldier in the earth of this site. They fell for a war not fought in my country or for the liberation of my country. They fell in a war that ended almost two generations before I was born. But they laid their lives for principles that define my being: freedom, sovereignty, dignity, justice, human rights, and peace. That is enough for me to hold myself and my conscious accountable before their deeds, as I believe any responsible and aware citizen of the free world should. Those who died in September 11 were not in a war. They were not in battle for a just cause. They did not volunteer to die. Death was wickedly brought upon them by those--independent of race and religion--who chose to revolt against the principles of the free world. They are the victims and the martyrs of those principles, and as such we owe them a lot. Today is a day when we question what have we done? What have our governments done? I am not the person to judge, right or wrong, the results of the American government, the Lebanese government, and the many other nation's governments "war on terror". Only time will tell. But as I reflect on this day, I ask whether we would have accomplished more and given back more, had our governments, motivated by our individual and collective intentions, instead fought for "a commitment for justice and peace". These are my thoughts at least, which I share with you.

The reality is that September 11 happens everyday in many countries of the world. We are all responsible for stopping September 11 and not letting it happen ever again, for the memory of the fallen, for ourselves, and for our children and their children. 

My thoughts and prayers are with you, America.

Rabih El-Khoury 

Friday, September 08, 2006

Profound observation

Note: This was written by City University coursemate Asad Khan, of Delhi, India, who works as an editor there. It is very topical and worth the time to read it.

Why blame Britain?

No provocation is big enough to justify killings and whoever supports the slaying of innocents is a coward. The theory of retribution is humbug, says Asad Amin

Minds are stamped with images of "atrocities against Muslims". Hizb-ul-Tehrir and al-Muhajiroun spend a great deal of their energy and resources denigrating Western culture and instilling hatred of the West; and thus are suicide bombers made.
There are around 1.8 million Muslims in Britain. A large number of them are from Sylhet in Bangladesh, Mirpur in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Punjab in Pakistan. Unlike Indians who migrated to Britain, most of them were uneducated and came to this country as labourers in the 1950s and 1960s to work night shifts in factories and mills.

My first reaction to British Muslims being arrested on August 10 after security forces unravelled their plot to blow up trans-Atlantic airliners was of disbelief. I prayed it would turn out to be another Forest Gate incident in which two British Muslim brothers of Bangladeshi origin, arrested on terrorism charges, had to be released because of wrong intelligence input. But three weeks later, with most of the arrested men charged, I am furious that the dastardly act of a bunch of people has put the Muslim community in the dock.

Why this urge among British-born Muslims to perpetuate violence against their own fellow citizens? What will they gain? Are they propelled merely by frustration over social and economic disadvantages? These and other questions are now being raised to find answers to the radicalisation of an increasing numbers of young Muslims in Britain. During my stay in the UK on a fellowship, I interacted widely with young British Muslims and often asked them these and related questions. Often this would result in unending arguments, with me insisting that violence, as a means of protest, is no solution. Some would agree, many others would not.

Those who advocate violence cite the suffering of Muslims "around the world". For them, the war on terror is a "global war on Islam". The US invasion of Iraq has nothing to do with democracy, but to "steal" Iraqi oil and draw a new map of West Asia. They describe Prime Minister Tony Blair as a "criminal" for supporting the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. The US and the UK are seen as mollycoddling Israel. So these countries are legitimate targets, they argue. No matter how hard you try, you cannot convince them that targeting innocent civilians in markets, the Underground, buses and aircraft is indefensible. But the fact remains that no provocation is big enough to justify senseless killings and whoever supports the slaying of innocents is a coward. The much-vaunted theory of retribution is humbug.

Who are these young British Muslims, mostly of Pakistani origin, that turn to violence? They are discernible by their presence everywhere. Hanging around on the streets in tracksuits with hood pulled on and Nike sneakers in groups of four or five, they indulge in pointless barbershop chatter and revel in conspiracy theories. These whinging Toms have nothing good to say about their Government. They are ungrateful children of the British welfare state. They live in the UK but their heart beats for their parents' birthplace. They decry everything Western, but make full use of freedom and democracy. They comprise the fringe group that has hijacked Muslim society. Some section of the media wants us to believe that they are the majority and represent Islam. Both the assumptions are wrong.

Among the potential terrorists some are school dropouts, born again Muslims and members of extremist Muslim organisations like Hizb-e-Tehrir and al-Muhajiroun. A large number of their members are drawn from families that survive on social security and are forced to live on paltry sums of money in a country of cutthroat competition and flourishing consumerism. With their eyes shut to the real world, they willingly believe propaganda about "atrocities being committed by Christian armies against helpless Muslims", made credible by visuals of "children being killed by the Israel Defence Force" screened regularly at centres of Hizb-ul-Tehrir and al-Muhajiroun

The Guardian recently quoted a disillusioned member of one such group as saying, "I think the answer lies in what I am calling the 'atmosphere' - the bedrock. I call it 'ummaism', corrupting the youth; making them disillusioned with their families; determined to show that the Western civilisation was a lie, that your parents are not living the Quran, that you are a Muslim first and supporting your brothers in arms is what it means to be a Muslim." This is how impressionable were provided with housing in Burnley, Bradford and other places in the north. Over the years, these housing estates became islands of British Muslims of South Asian origin, with the residents reluctant to interact with the Whites, transplanting the social and cultural mores of their country of origin.

When the factories and mills began to shut down, these immigrant, semi-skilled workers were left with no option but to either apply for welfare benefits or open small businesses in retailing, takeaway eateries and halal shops. Those who could not move on live in virtual poverty in dilapidated housing blocks.

The brighter side of the story is about how Bangladeshis have succeeded in private enterprise, opening restaurants. The Curry Club of Great Britain estimates that there are 8,500 Indian restaurants in the UK, of which Bangladeshis own 7,200. More Whites than Asians visit these restaurants in Brick Lane, Southall and Euston. The point that needs to be noted is that Britons helped them succeed by patronising their business ventures. Those who tried to succeed, have little to complain about; those who chose not to try, are today's whining lot who find fault with anything and everything British and, by extension, Western. These are the radicals, the die-hards, the potential bombers.

Where does Islam fit into all this?