Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy Howlidays!

I'm home for Christmas in New Mexico and these guys showed up in my backyard a few days ago. They actually came all the way up to my house. When I was growing up I'd never see coyotes. Once in a while their space alien howls could be heard in the distance, but that was the extent of their presence. Now I see them frequently; the pack basks on the asphalt of the street. One night I was awoken to the group wrestling under my window sill.

Our neighborhood has certainly changed since my family moved up to Cedar Crest 14 years ago. It used to be that when you looked out the living room window all you would see would be the mountains. The view's still good, but now there are four or five houses that have crept into the periphery of the landscape. With the development came the animals. First there were three foot tall jackrabbits and when they inexplicably disappeared the coyotes showed up.

I've heard the megafauna horror stories before. For some reason they usually evolve around mountain lions and joggers. We've had bears swipe up a few of our pets in the dead of night. Our pet sheep and goats now live behind a perimeter of barbed wire and electricity. Our cats don't go too far beyond our deck.

However, coyotes are a little different. They're the wily tricksters of the animal kingdom. They've learned to adapt to their new human neighbors and have actually thrived. While the gray wolf is nearly extinct in the continental United States, the coyote has grown in numbers. The animal used to only reside west of the Mississippi, but over the last 50 years has made it all the way east to Maine. One even ended up in Central Park.

What does the future hold? America's landscape grows increasingly suburban. How close can we safely cohabitate? It all depends on the perception of humans. We're the alpha creatures so we call the shots. Coyotes can be a nuisance when it comes to our pets and livestock. We're quick to set the trap or pull the trigger, but when I watch that pack frolic in the snow, those tendencies cease to carry weight. I get a feeling that is more emotional than rational. It's the mixture of magic and importance of encountering something wild in an ever civilized world.
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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I Waterboarded Myself

The House of Representatives just approved a bill that bans waterboarding this afternoon.
There's been a lot of talk in the news these days about whether or not the technique is considered torture. I thought I would try it out and decide for myself:

What surprised me the most from the experience was how fast my air supply went out. I'm a swimmer and I can hold my breath for quite a while, but I had trouble lasting for even just a few moments. To what should I attribute my lack of endurance? Laying upside down and having my mouth and nostrils quickly fill up with water.

Was it torture? I rigged up the experiment so that I was in full control of the situation, but if it was an actual interrogation, the disorientation, panic, and anxiety would have certainly exasperated the experience. I also think that my captors in a real situation would be more generous with their use of water. History has proved that factor to be fatal.

How do you waterboard? There's not a lot to the technique; you just need some water, a washcloth, and an inclined surface. I found some key points on the advocacy group Waterboard.org:

  • Keep the chest elevated above the head and neck to keep the lungs "above the waterline".

  • Incline the head, both to keep the throat open and to present the nostrils for easier filling.

  • Force the mouth open so that water can be poured into both the nose and mouth. Saran wrap, damp cloth, or any facial covering is not essential, but sometimes used as a bonus multiplier. If someone coughs to try to blow the water out of their throat or mouth the plastic catches the water and keeps it in. The cloth or plastic also acts as a one-way valve, opening to let more air out and then closing again to prevent inhalation. Eventually you end up with collapsed, empty lungs, no ability to inhale more air, a throat, mouth, and nose that's still full of water, and no capacity to get the water out since you're already fully exhaled. "CIA officers who subjected themselves to the water boarding technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in." (In practice, "14 seconds" is roughly the amount of time one can exhale slowly through the upturned nose. This keep the water out, temporarily. When your breath runs out the water starts flowing in.)

Here are some other people who have also experimented with waterboarding:

This video was taken at an anti-war protest. The victim lasts a long time, but notice that he's not on a very steep inclination.

This video was made on a dare by a bunch of suburban kids. It's pretty hardcore. They experiment with Saran wrap first and then move on to a washcloth. The victim actually breaks the board he's on when the washcloth technique is delivered.

The Democracy Now radio program interviewed a French, waterboard victim. He describes feeling a sensation of death.

Waterboarding torture should not be confused with Chinese Water Torture. That's something that usually goes on at teenage slumber parties.
Chinese Water Torture Video #1
Chinese Water Torture Video #2
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Friday, December 7, 2007

A Call to Arms

I'm a big fan of the Economist magazine.  Lately they've had some great stories about text messaging and camera phones that have been used as tools for social activism.   Inexpensive, pay as you go cell phones have become popular in developing countries.  After traditional methods of communication failed, African refugees were able to send requests for food and medical aid to UN humanitarian workers via text messaging.  Phones have been used to mobilize political rallies in the Philippines.  In Pakistan SMS technology was able to infiltrate government firewalls used to control free speech.  Witness, a Brooklyn based media for change organization, has set up a system that allows Rodney King type videos depicting social injustices to be uploaded from camera phones and broadcasted on their website.  This is a great example of technology becoming cheaper and, thus, the media becomes a more accessible tool to build awareness.
Here are the links to the full stories on the Economist.com
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Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Plan B

After waiting months for the Peace Corps to deploy me, I've come up with a plan B.  The point of the Peace Corps was to get out into a developing country, do some humanitarian work, and at the same time try to implement my filmmaking in the field.  The huge plus to this was that the Peace Corps would finance my endeavor and potentially fund a graduate school fellowship when I finished my service.
While I'm waiting, I'm working on a similar, independent plan.  I want to do something in Nepal.  I've been fascinated with Nepali culture for a long time.  My friend Kate just moved out there.  I helped her out with some research before she left so I'm familiar with the political, economic, and environmental climates there.   Here are the Pros and Cons of my adventure:

Reasons to go to Nepal
  1. I have a contact, Kate Kakela, who will be working at a health clinic and with whom I've previously collaborated.
  2. There's a Nepali Research Center at my nearest university.
  3. The culture is accessible; I have read a lot of Eastern Philosophy.
  4. There's a large American expatriate population. 
  5. Himalayan filmmaking has always been receptive to Western audiences.
  6. I could live for as little as $8 a day.
What's Keeping me from Nepal
  1. I don't have a planned project to work on.
  2. I don't have my immunizations for Rabies, Typhoid, Meningococcal A and C, and Japanese Encephalitis.
  3. I don't have health insurance.
  4. I don't have trekking equipment.
  5. Airfare is on the low end $1000 one way.
Just from looking at that second list, it's going to be difficult getting over there without raising funds or attaching myself to an organization.  I've been looking at different organizations that are based in Nepal.  I found Mountain to Mountain and the Dzi Foundation.  These are two Nepali NGOs that are based in Colorado.  The University of New Mexico has a fairly large Nepali Study Center.  Also of note are Liberal Democracy Nepal and  The Film Artistes Association of Nepal  There is also the generosity of private donations.  If I can get all of these groups excited and behind a cause I'd be in good shape. 
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