Tag: surveillance

The Perils of Writing

What are the perils of writings? For a storyteller, it’s when reality is more frightening and bizarre than anything you could ever invent. Or is it that historical violence has become no longer historical in that it is just around the corner, down one block, behind the garden gate, driving slowly by the building on whose roof you do yoga and wish all mankind peace of mind? Once, it was interesting living in a country where the rule of law was not something you could take for granted, was not a concept widely understood. You had to rely on your fellow citizen to protect you, to offer you cordiality, advice and warnings regarding where it was not safe to go at night, or even during the day.

Violence and lawlessness are less interesting now. It is just a matter of time before it touches you. Or hits you, as the case may be. It will come again after a long period of civic calm. It will be a policeman, or three, with dark glasses. A troubled young man, or three, twisted with resentment at those who have an education, a job, and, most important of all, respect. It will be Hannah Arendt’s banality of evil—no longer just limited to this beautiful old land of forgotten mines and ancient trails, of hidden springs and clumps of shade-giving trees, of great painters and gifted musicians. It will not come from a hungry man walking a distant trail, carrying a frayed knapsack, moving over a non-Sierra Club trail between two small towns whose streets are dirt and whose pickups are old. Evil will come in a brand new pickup that has never had a shovel thrown in its bed, or in a black limousine followed by black SUV chase cars.

Or it will come at the end of an instructive index finger, ordering you to step out of the line at Customs, because the computer has shown you to be man critical of two, maybe several, governments. You know what it’s like to be singled out. You have already had a passport application “lost” in the time of Reagan, or what it Bush? Your privileged education and therefore your expectation of just treatment as a citizen allowed you raise a hue and cry with your Senator and Congresspersons. Through its obedient Kafka-esq Intermediaries, the State claimed that someone with your exact name and paper trail owed the Foreign Office, the State Department or some other governmental Auslandsamt, a sum of money. Your elective representatives intervened, raised questions and parted curtains. Grudgingly, the anonymous they’s gave you a passport, not for ten years, but for eight months. But what would have happened to you if the Representatives could not part curtains, since they themselves languished on lists?

But now the they’s have gotten a lot smarter. Their machines hear more, pluck it out of the ether, record it and compile it for future reference. The people in power are renewing the old game of looking for political enemies. This was always the case in most of the countries in the world. East Germany comes to mind. There, one chose one’s friends carefully, you laughed together over food, but quietly. Important information was exchanged in lowered voices in a modest greenhouse, while you admired the host’s crop of English cucumbers, a luxury in his gray country. And yet, it did not matter. There were always ways to coerce one friend against another. Inform, they would murmur, or your daughter cannot attend the university. A harmless bargain, citizen.

And yet writers kept writing, books were banned, and the few contraband copies, hidden from the censors, traveled from hand to hand, until they grew stiff from Scotch Tape and were held together by rubber bands.

You write a letter on behalf of a writer held in solitary confinement in Azerbaijan. He was critical of his government, and so they arrested him and gave him nine years. He is not allowed to see his wife and children. He has tuberculosis. You hope your letter will help stone-faced men decide to let him go. You argue that a government wins more respect by not imprisoning writers. But governments have trouble hearing this. That is because its ministers are also afraid. You wonder whether this writer, if he survives, will one day have to write a letter for you. To a camp in Cuba or a salt flat in Utah.

And so the question is can a writer write when he is afraid, when he knows they’re listening? Can a storyteller tell stories? Stories that warm the heart, or give hope, or speak of love? How brave they must have been, the writers in the time of dictatorship, who have written at the peril of ending up in a cold, small cell without light, cut off from those they love and who love them.

I know this is dark. I am sorry, but the banality of evil seems to be on the upswing, and storytellers must write about it.

In Latin America, Mexico Ranks Among Most Dangerous Countries for Journalists

The 2017 World Press Freedom Index warns that in Latin America, journalists are persecuted and murdered for investigating issues that affect political leaders.

Mexico City: Mexican journalist Cecilio Pineda Brito covered drug trafficking issues in a region of the southern state of Guerrero where criminal groups are extremely powerful.

In September 2015 he survived an attempt on his life and because he was deemed at “very high risk” he became a beneficiary of the federal mechanism for protection for human right defenders and journalists created in December 2012.

The protection measures he was assigned consisted basically of police patrols. They offered him a place in a shelter in Mexico City, but he refused.

In October 2016, the protection measures were cancelled; five months later, Pineda Brito became the first journalist murdered in 2017 in the most dangerous country for reporters in Latin America.

Pineda Brito’s March 2 murder was followed by six weeks of terror in which three more journalists were killed and two others survived after being shot, in different parts of this country of 127 million people.

The highest-profile murder was that of Miroslava Breach, on March 26, a veteran journalist who covered political news for the La Jornada newspaper in the northern state of Chihuahua along the US border.

But Pineda Brito’s killing reflected the inefficacy of institutional mechanisms for protecting journalists in the region.

“Last year it became clear that the state’s protection model exported from Colombia to Mexico and recently to Honduras had failed,” said Ricardo González, security and protection officer of the London-based international organisation Article 19, which defends freedom of expression.

“The cases of journalists murdered in Mexico, who were under the protection of different state mechanisms, as well as the Freedom of the Press Foundation’s refusal to take part in the assessment of cases under the Colombian mechanism are things that should be of concern,” he told IPS.

For González, the lack of a functioning justice system and redress makes the model “ineffective, apart from financially unsustainable.”

The numbers in Mexico prove him right: according to Article 19’s latest report, of the 427 assaults on the media and journalists registered in 2016, 99.7% went unpunished.

Meanwhile, the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes Against Freedom of Expression has only managed to secure a conviction in three cases.

Most of the attacks were against journalists who work for small media outlets outside the country’s capital and at least half of them were committed by state agents.

The federal protection mechanism currently protects 509 people – 244 journalists and 265 human right defenders.

But even though the dangers are growing rather than decreasing, the government and the legislature cancelled the funds available for protection and since January the mechanism has been operating with the remnants of a trust fund whose 9.5 million dollars in reserves will run out in September.

According to Article 19, violence against the press is still one of the main challenges faced in Latin America and something to be reflected on when World Press Freedom Day is celebrated on May 3.

“In addition to Mexico, Honduras, Brazil and Colombia, the situation in Paraguay and Venezuela, in particular, reflects the deterioration of freedom of expression in the region,” said González.

In the same vein, the 2017 World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders on Wednesday, April 26, warns about the political and economic instability seen in several countries of Latin America, where journalists who investigate questions that affect the interests of political leaders or organised crime are attacked, persecuted and murdered.

“RWB regrets the pernicious and continuous deterioration of the situation of freedom of expression in Latin America,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of the RWB Latin America desk, presenting the index.

“In the face of a multifaceted threat, journalists often have to practice self-censorship and even go into exile, to survive. This is absolutely unacceptable in democratic countries,” he added.

The RWB report underscores the case of Nicaragua, the country that experienced the largest drop in the index because since the controversial re-election of President Daniel Ortega, the independent and opposition press has suffered numerous cases of censorship, intimidation, harassment and arbitrary arrests. The country fell 17 spots, to 92nd among the 180 countries studied.

The report also describes Mexico as another worrisome case: in 15 years it dropped from 75th to 147th on the index, putting it next to Syria and Afghanistan. Mexico is still torn apart by corruption and the violence of organised crime, says RWB.

In fact, it is the second worst ranked Latin American country, after Cuba, which is 173rd, after dropping two spots.

At a regional level, the countries best-positioned in the ranking are Uruguay (25th, after falling five), Chile (33rd, after dropping two) and Argentina (50th, after going up four).

Increasingly sophisticated means of control

Despite the threats and risks, independent journalism is making progress in the region. In 2016, the organisation Sembramedia created the first directory of native digital media in Latin America which has listed more than 500 independent platforms.

But at the same time, the means of control of the independent press are getting more sophisticated, said González.

Legal, labour and online harassment, as well as indirect censorship through the control of state advertising are tools that governments and political and economic groups use ever more frequently around the region.

In Mexico, the most emblematic case is that of journalist Carmen Aristegui, who was fired together with her investigative journalism team from the MVS radio station after publishing an investigation about corruption implicating President Enrique Peña Nieto.

But there are even more unbelievable cases, such as a judge’s order for psychological tests for political scientist Sergio Aguayo, after he published well-substantiated information about massacres in the Mexican state of Coahuila, connected to former governor Humberto Moreira.

The organisation FUNDAR Centre for Analysis and Research has documented that this country’s central government and 32 state governments spend an average of 800 million dollars a year on official advertising and announcements in the media.

Another Mexican organisation committed to the defence of digital rights, R3D, reported that various regional governments have bought programmes from Hacking Team, an Italian cybersecurity firm that sells intrusion and surveillance capabilities to governments and companies on websites, social networks and email services.

According to R3D, online intimidation and monitoring have increased in Mexico during the Peña Nieto administration.

This pattern repeats itself in other Latin American countries, where attacks are increasing and presenting new challenges.

“In the last year, we have seen how the risks of violence which in the past were limited to questions such as drug trafficking are now faced by those who cover issues related to migration and human trafficking, the environment or community defense of lands against the extractive industries,” said González.

Another flashpoint is the coverage of border issues. “Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States has had quite a negative effect in terms of freedom of the press, both domestically and internationally, in the entire region,” he said.


For Someone Watching Our Cameras from New Hampshire

Regarding the cameras, the one called 1) Jardin (garden) is looking at the green gate on the left. Up a little higher on the left is the door to C’s house. Sometime you may see someone lower a little basket on a string or the just the key, when someone wants to get in. Someday you’ll see a bent white-haired women come out or go into that door. She is B and must have been a great beauty when she was young. I think she’s about 78. We don’t really know the people who come and go from the green gate just below. Right across from C’s door is our garden gate. Higher up, above the green gate is where

Camera 2) “Christina” is located. It looks down the steps from about the level of our garden gate. Our wall on the left stops at some corrugated roof overhang. That is P’s house. She and her son clean, water our plants, and watch over us and our house. They are 110% reliable. On the lower right, you see a white jar cap and the jar beneath it. The bottom has been cut off and it serves to shield a light bulb. The pole next to it is the street lamp. When the latter’s bulb fails, the people behind the green gate turn on the jar light street lamp. On the right a little lower is a vacant lot. At the lower end of the vacant lot is where we were mugged. We are now recovered from that event, although I still carry pepper spray whenever I step out of the house, and we use a bodyguard or taxi to return home at night. The taxi drops us off a S’s store two blocks higher up. Our bodyguard M brings us to our garden gate just above the mugging site.

Camera 3) “Frente” (front) is mounted on the front of our house, upper end, just to the left and above our front door. The door to the left is R’s little tienda (store). During the attack on the police, the latter fled into her tienda, although they were armed. Human rights laws do not permit police firing at attacking youth. To the right of her door, on the left, you see her altar, which is lit up at night. There is a doll-like virgin inside dressed like Marie Antoinette. The blue house on the upper left is where M lives. He is D’s best customer for her children’s books lending enterprise. I pump up soccer balls for him. You will see him hanging out a lot the this area. His parents or parental figures neglect him almost entirely. He is eight or nine. D is like his aunt. You will see some of the gangbangers hanging out here too. They usually wear white baseball caps and white baseball shirts. You may see them selling drugs. When they are high on paint thinner and other stuff, they stagger around with jerky-jivy movements.

Camera 4) Tienda” (store) is mounted on R’s store, to the right of her door. It shows our front door on the green-gray wall on the right. On that wall, you can see a French cave horse and an antelope which I drew in chalk, along with M and his friend J, in a demonstration of mural drawing. In a recent confrontation with the gang mothers (molls), one of them pointed to my animals and said, “Look, you make graffiti, too.” Beyond our door, there is a slight overhang separating the wall from the old rock wall below. At the end of that, C and A’s house begins. C and D form the Nr. 2 Women’s Detective Agency. Because they don’t like to walk up the alley in front of their door when the gangbangers and their friends are out drinking and acting out, we have cut a hole between their roof and our terrace. They now have a key to our garden gate across from C’s door visible in camera 2) and can pass through our garden, climb the steps to our terrace, step through the new gap in the wall and reach their azotea (roof), from which stairs lead down into their house.

I hope that helps those of you who are watching from thousands of miles away. We have not heard anything from the police about any of the events. I read a graph recently showing that 25% of crimes are reported and 2% are prosecuted in Mexico. Very, very few result in convictions—the theory being that this kind of impunity has led to a great rise in delinquency.

Flowers and Cameras ~ The Threat Diary ~ January 2, 2013

The cameras are up, six of them, on four different houses, covering sections of four different callejones, alleys. It is like looking into four different aquariums of madness. You turn off the monitor. It is too much to watch. But the cameras go on watching, and the black box goes on recording.

There’s a knock on the door fairly early one morning. S is an attractive, alert young woman, with an intelligent face, probably in her late thirties, maybe a bit more. D opens the door after hesitating a little, first talking to her through the wooden door flap, digesting the woman’s request, the story the woman is telling.

Some young people were throwing rocks down at her house that same morning, she says. Very early. Four-thirty, la madrugada. She and her husband suspected the usual suspects. (I have been instructed not to objectify them by calling them gangbangers; I am not sure I will be able to comply).

Her husband followed one of them in the direction of our house. The husband has some experience in the world of forensics. I am not supposed to say more. The couple knew about the cameras. Would it be possible to check them? the young woman asks. D says, of course.

A few hours later, D calls up C, our direct neighbor. They are the conspiracy of sisters, now about to be joined by this third new one: S. At my computer, in my debris-strewn studio, D and C do the initial research. They play back the black box’s digital tape. We know the rock throwers, if they are the usual suspects (maybe I will call them the Usuals, but that’s more reification), will pass through the alley crossroads in front our house. At least one of them will. We watch the camera screen called “Frente,” front—covering the crossroads in front of our front door.

At 04:38:30 a figure appears at the top of the alley directly in front of us. “There he is!” all of us say at the same time. What we mean is, “Caught in the act!”

It takes the figure about fifteen seconds to pass by the camera, enter another camera’s view, and descend the callejón toward the thieves’ den.

As the figure approaches camera “Frente,” he holds his arm across his forehead, so the camera cannot identify him. The camera is placed too high; the young man is also wearing a white baseball cap. The height of the camera makes him shorter and fatter. We play the tape over and over. From the way he walks and the way he wears his hat, I am quite sure I am seeing M, one of the two Usuals, the less dangerous of the two. He also turns into his own privada, blind alley—which kind of gives it away.

S’s forensics husband confronts M’s aunt later that day. He knows M and his gang of Usuals. M lives with his aunt, next door to his mother’s house. Aunt E denies it is M; he was in his bed all night long, she tells the forensics husband. Denying is a default reflex is this neighborhood, maybe in the whole country. Forensics says his twelve-year old daughter sleeps just below a window. The rocks—thrown wildly—came close to that window. The rocks and the shattering glass could have hurt her badly. Yes, yes, says M’s aunt, but it couldn’t have been M.

We call the camera installers back and lower several of the cameras to make the angle better for identification. I know the correction will provoke a response from the Usuals, because now the cameras are more within reach. I also know any action the Bangers (sorry) take will come at night. I watch them, the Usuals, Q and M, pacing back and forth at the entrance of their privada, glowering up at the closest camera, camera C, on C’s house. Camera C beams its outrageous little red light right back at them, unblinking. A few nights pass. There are posadas in various neighborhood, celebrations, reenactments in the more elaborate ones of Joseph and Mary looking for a place where Jesus can be born. Or there is just punch and beer, sometimes with little bonfires, people sitting around on rickety chairs in the alleys, enjoying the punch and the fire and each other. Sometimes there is singing.

On the third night, I am still awake at 11:45. I hear the Usuals’ unique call, a series of same-note whistles followed by a rising then falling final note. It is the signal that something is about to happen. I get up and stand in front of the monitor, flipping from screen to screen. I watch M and C in their dance of madness, M clapping his hands in some dark individual joy related to nothing—acting out being cool to no audience at all. I watch him kick at the metal door to the vacant lot in front of us—not to get in but just to show his defiance of barriers and limits, maybe acting out something he’s seen on television a thousand times. The boys are unsteady on their feet, their judgment flawed. These are the characteristics of people on inhalants.

I watch them pick up something. It is hard to see. There is some kind of shadow in that area a few steps above C’s camera, almost level with it, fifteen feet away from it. The picture on C’s camera wavers, distorts, flashes white and dark, and something explodes around the camera—which I am looking through—like a cloud of white flies or ocean luminescence. They are, I learn later, exploding fragments of brick. The camera jumps again. The Usuals are stoning C’s camera and being recorded by another camera, the one attached to the little store kitty-corner from our front door. That camera is called Tienda, store. It tries to look into the dim area where the stone throwers are jumping about

Eventually the Usuals leave. Apparently undamaged camera C watches them enter M’s privada. The next morning I go outside and inspect camera C. I pick up the pieces of brick lying below it. I place them on a napkin in our kitchen. They represent some kind of evidence, at least to myself. That afternoon, through Camera Tienda, I see C and her husband out in front of their house, the next one below us on the callejón. I carry the handful of brick fragments down to them—mounted on the white napkin.

A, C’s husband, is too upset to speak. He is repairing a front door light, so there will be better illumination in the area. C already knows about the attack on her camera. She too was watching on her own computer while it happened. If you know the site and have the software and the codes, you too can watch the cameras—from anywhere in the world.

As I am speaking to C and A, banger usual M appears at the entrance of his privada. He is chief suspect in the 04:38:30 stoning of S’s house and last night’s attack on C’s camera. He wears more expensive clothes now: clean, oversized white sneakers, a dark earring, and a clean white baseball cap. He is actually a handsome kid, except that his face is twisted a little and hardened by his iron defenses.

Without thinking, I greet him as he passes, walking uphill, toward our house. “Mira,” I say, look, and I hold out my napkin full of brick fragments. “These are for you,” I say.

His expression says, How so?

“So you can throw them at the camera,” I explain tightly, as I sputter out my sarcasm.

He shrugs and continues.

“They cost 3,000 pesos apiece,” I call after him. “Each camera.”

“Congratulations!” he throws back over his shoulder at me, and struts on, climbing the steps.

I immediately think better of several things. The provocation in my voice, my pique, plus the tipoff as to the cameras’ worth. I imagine them all disappearing during the coming night. The next day, in the evening, the doorbell rings. E, M’s aunt is standing in the callejón. I don’t quite catch watch she’s saying through the flap door. I step outside in my slippers. Then I get it.

“M says you said he stoned a camera,” she says—a good citizen trying to clear up a misunderstanding. I have been watching “Bramwell,” an English television series about a young doctor who defies the sexist hurdles placed in her way. I am coming out of a different world, one fraught cognitive dissonance into another one exuding the same phenomenon. I am not sure where to begin. It is the first time I’ve had a conversation with M’s aunt. I mutter something about the crazy energy M and Q display at night when they’re on inhalants. She introduces me to the woman beside her. I put a name to a face for the first time. It is the stone thrower M’s mother, C. A girl of about thirteen stands beside her, perhaps M’s sister. They are returning from a posada and are interested in clearing up the misapprehension I appear to be harboring. As we are speaking, a troop of gangbangers ages twelve to eighteen comes clumping around the corner and down the callejón, flowing past us, assertive as elephants. Maybe ten of them. Some of them I have never seen before.

I am alarmed. “What’s this?” I say.

“Oh, it’s nothing,” says M’s aunt, whose eyes seem glassier than normal. I wonder if she has been drinking.

M glowers at me as he passes, at the head of the pack. The last to pass is Q’s (the dangerous one’s) younger brother. He used to borrow books from our little lending library—until he discovered inhalants. M’s aunt calls after the younger brother, “You aren’t on inhalants, are you.” A supportive statement. Younger brother turns around. He is four or five long steps lower now. “Y qué le importa!”—“And what’s it to you?” The defiance aimed at me. Then he hits the inside of his elbow with the palm of his hand, his forearm raised in a fist, to say Fuck you, old man. The whole troop has stopped on the steps and turned around, to consider the moment, whether to rush back and trample me to death. But younger brother turns away from us and, taking his signal, the whole herd continues their downward clump.

I know D is waiting for me to rejoin her to continue watching Dr. Eleanor Bramwell’s brave battle with English sexists of all stripes in the safe and well-regulated virtual theater of British television.

M’s aunt is asking me what time M was supposedly throwing pieces of brick at C’s camera, the closest one to their privada. I know the precise time. Eleven-forty-five, I say. Oh, no, it couldn’t have been him. No, not at that hour. He was with me. At home. No, it couldn’t have been him.

I need to get back to the virtual world of 1895 London. We say Buenas Noches. I go back to Bramwell, locking the front door firmly behind me.

The next day, the phone rings. It’s S on the line. She and her forensics husband would like to inspect the digital record of M and Q’s attack on C’s camera. I do not know how she knew about the attack. D is down with the flu. We put S off for a few days. She and her daughter come by anyway with a bowl of fruit for D, to take the edge off her suffering. A heartening gesture.

Another few days pass, then the Neighborhood Ladies’ Detective Agency meets again. This time S is a member, too. I have made an effort to do some vacuuming ahead of time. I go down to my favorite café to write. The Detective Agency works for some three hours. There is now a thumb drive file showing things I hadn’t seen before: M and Q clearly and repeatedly throwing stuff at C’s camera, the camera bouncing in response, the shattering pieces of brick flashing on-screen like an explosion of white flies. M and Q staggering around clapping their hands in dark joy, kicking at the metal door to the vacant lot, as if demanding to be let out of, or into, jail. They are completely unaware that another camera is recording everything they do.

The evidence is direct, clear and damning. S’s husband says he is going to invite M’s aunt to come over to their house and watch the clips. We are told a video recording of a crime is considered prima facie evidence. Also, that attacking a security camera is a crime. We’ve also been told by several people that the cameras mean nothing if misdemeanors, or worse, are not acted upon. At this writing, forensics husband has not confronted M’s aunt and her cognitive dissonance. The Christmas holidays have intervened.

On Christmas Eve day, I am down in my favorite plaza, writing in my favorite café. D’s is still sick with the flu. I decide to take her flowers. Somehow, another idea appears in my head. I’m not sure where it came from. It’s to also take flowers to M’s aunt, M’s mother and, while I’m at it, to the wife of our main nemesis, whose commerce I am not supposed to describe.

I pack my things together and walk across the plaza to the flower lady. There used to be another flower lady, who had gold caps on her two front teeth, took very short steps when she walked and was a beautiful Indian, from what group I never knew. She has disappeared after many years’ presence. Otherwise, I would have gone to her.

I buy four bouquets, each one with four roses. I calculate the meaning of colors. One bouquet will be for the chief neighborhood spy, the wife of Nemesis. I decide her roses should not be red, supposedly the color of passion.

I walk up the side of the canyon with my four modest sprays of roses wrapped at the bottom with tin foil. I have never been down the privada, the dead end alley, toward the dragon’s den, from which seem to flow various mind-altering concoctions, consumed by a parade of mind-altered  clients, and which emits insane teenagers. By daylight, it is empty and innocuous. The idea that seems dangerous is bringing flowers to the Others: M’s aunt, M’s biological mother, and Spy, wife of Nemesis.

My mounting adrenalin takes the pain out of the two hundred some stairs. I turn in to the privada. I pass Nemesis’ door. Everything is quiet. I turn left at A’s door, the porter without education, possibly with some brain damage. His house is a shanty with a metal lamina roof. He lives with his mother. There are rooms like rats’ nests with only gathered rags and newspapers filled to head high, with no room to move about. I know from lingering strong body odors they have no water. I have no idea how they handle human waste.

I turn right and come to an attractive iron gate, the entrance to a kind of outdoor vestibule for M’s aunt’s house, which is bourgeois and colorful. I ring the doorbell on the gate. A woman approaches. It is C, M’s biological mother. I do not know if she lives there too. She greets me with a pleasant smile. I ask if M’s aunt is home. She is, she says, but she’s sick with the flu. I take that at face value. I mention that D, my partner, also has the flu. I say the flowers are for her and her sister, as well as one for A (spy and wife of Nemesis). She opens the gate. I say Feliz Navidad and tell her she has first choice of colors. There is no discussion of why I am giving her flowers. The event seems like the most natural thing in the world. Later, it occurs to me she thinks I’m doing an errand for my D. Either way, she is happy, smiling broadly, appreciative. I not sure how many people ever bring her flowers.

She takes a spray. I tell her to choose a bouquet for her sister, M’s aunt. She chooses another. Then she leads me to A’s door, where Nemesis lives and presides and does business. There is no answer to the doorbell. I ask C if she can give A her roses. She says she can and receives them cordially. I say Feliz Navidad again and find my way back through the alley—not running into anyone I wouldn’t want to run in to.

The whole thing was easier than I thought it would be, entering the lion’s den. What I found instead was a woman happy to be receiving flowers. I decided not to worry about what she thought I or the act represented. I do not think she was faking her friendliness. She had not treated me as the Other, though I am sure in some sense I am. But not in that moment. I also had no idea how the event might be discussed by the three woman, Nemesis and M—who is the next-to saddest rock thrower of them all, with Q taking the absolute first prize for being both dangerous and a lost soul.

I Am Not a Birder

I am not a birder. But birds are very important to me. The Rufous-backed Robin has returned to our large city garden here in the colonial city of Guanajuato, Central Mexico, at about 7,000 feet elevation—desert. I say “the” Robin, but it could be a series of relatives that arrive, or maybe just friends, who know to come here for the birdbath, the avocado trees, and the grapes. I’m assuming the bird has wintered farther north. The book says as far as Arizona. Which must mean it crosses the border. Risky, because of all the hawks and other predators looking for something to eat.

When the Rufous-backed Robin sings, it sounds exactly like the American Robins I grew up with in the U.S. I associate them with New England loneliness–waking up on a warm, drizzly, grey summer morning, lying in bed–thinking about my childhood, adolescence, young adult life. There is a sweet sadness in it. I do not know why. Also hope. Romantic hope, even.

I saw a picture of a nice shiny drone or two in the local Mexican newspaper today. In some big clean hanger, on the other side of the border. Apparently, there are eight or nine drones–maybe they’re called Predators–deployed along the border between Mexico and the U.S. They look like small 747’s with no engines on the wings. I don’t know how many of them are needed in order to cover the whole border with cameras. And what are they likely to see? Desperate Mexicans trying to get through the desert in unbearable heat, looking for the job that does not exist here in Mexico. The cameras probably can’t see the drugs stashed in trains, cars, trucks, cargo planes, and people’s intestines. Nor the capital that flashes back and forth between the two countries electronically. They may see a Robin or two flying along below them, crossing on a very old flight path, in the relative cool and gray of morning. They will not hear them singing, as I do.