Friday, October 28, 2016

The Ghost of the Loans-for Shares Auction by Mikhail Zygar

[In America most businesses were built from the ground up. Folks started something, worked, got a lot of capital, formed big corporations and then used their influence on government to get subsidies, trade protections, tax breaks and suitable regulations to help them expand and grow richer.]

Things are different in Russia. In the nineties the State owned everything then Yeltsin and his cronies came up with the infamous loans-for-shares auctions, which is how the oligarchs became oligarchs in the first place. The plan envisaged that all major state-owned enterprises, including those involved in petroleum and other natural resources, would be privatized by the largest banking groups. The banks lent the government money and received company shares as collateral. Everyone knew the government would never repay the loans, which meant that the enterprises would become the property of the creditor banks.

There were a couple of additional details, including, for instance, the fact that the banks lent the government the government's own money. Before each deal the Russian Ministry of Finance opened an account with each bank and deposited funds there - and that account was the source of the bank's loan to the government.

However, the collusion did not end there. Formally, each auction involved several bidders. But in fact the result of each auction was a forgone conclusion.

The person behind the drive to Russian privatization, Anatoly Chubais, who served as deputy prime minister between 1994 and 1996, later told the Financial Times that the government "did not have a choice between  an 'honest' privatization and a 'dishonest' one, because an honest privatization means clear rules imposed by a strong state that can enforce its laws .  .  . we had no choice. If we did not have the loans-for shares privatization, the communists would have won the 1996 elections and this would have been the last election Russia ever had, because these guys do not give up power easily."

In 2014 Khodorkovsky ( one of the lucky ones) had this to say about the auctions:

"In what way was it a collusion? There was a long list of enterprises to be privatized, around eight hundred, and everyone stated which one of them they'd be able to handle. The problem at the time was not the money to be paid to the government (the government was providing the money), but the availability of personnel. I could have taken a lot more; there were no restrictions. . The government went ahead with the auctions because it somehow had to resolve the situation with the 'red directors' [those who favored a planned economy] who on the eve of the election stopped paying people's salaries, not to mention taxes. They were forever creating stress points. It was a political issue. I knew full well from my bit of managerial experience that my team had enough resources to cope with no more than one enterprise."

The upshot was any subsequent rotten, collusive deal such as the sale of Northern Oil was seen as a small matter compared to the loans-for shares auction when Russia's business leaders had gotten their assets from the state practically as a gift. Khodorkovsky simply did not have the moral right to publically lecture president Putin about the harm of corruption. As a last resort, the proceeds of large resource-extraction companies might be seized. Business leaders understand that some or all of their property could at some point be expropriated in the interests of the state.  They have long since come to terms with that fact. It is often said that Russia's top businesspeople are not billionaires but simply work with billions of dollars in assets. They manage what Vladimir Putin allows them to manage.

No one I interviewed see any prospect of change. Or rather, they see the prospect of change only in one circumstance, which dare not speak its name. Instead, they resort to euphemisms: "when the black swan flies," when the president visits Alpha Centauri," 'when the heavens fall.' They all refer to the time when Putin is no longer, well, Putin. They are wrong, of course. It is a peculiar myth that everything in Russia depends on Putin and that without him everything will change.

This book demonstrates that Putin, as we imagine him, does not actually exist. It was not Putin who brought Russia to its current state. For a long time he resisted the metamorphosis, but then he succumbed, realizing that it was simpler that way.

In the very beginning Putin did not believe that Russia is surrounded by enemies on all sides. He did not have plans to shut down independent TV channels. He had no intention of supporting Viktor Yanukovych. He did not even want to hold the Olympics in Sochi. But in trying to divine the intentions of their leader, his associates effectively materialized their own wishes.

Today's image of Putin as a formidable Russian tsar was constructed by his entourage,  Western partners, and journalists, often without his say. In one of the most famous photographs there is, he has the mein of a haughty ruler, the 'military emperor of the world." But that is not Putin himself, merely Time magazine's 2007 Person of the Year staring out from the cover.

Each of us invented our own Putin. And we may yet create many more.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Death of Mao by Frank Dikotter

Natural catastrophes, according to the imperial tradition, are harbingers of dynastic change. On the early morning of 28 July 1976, a giant earthquake struck Tangshan, a coal city on the Bohai Sea just over 150 kilometers east of Beijing. The scale of the devastation was enormous. At least half a million people died, although some estimates have placed the death toll at 700,000.

In the summer of 1974, seismographic experts had predicted the likelihood of a very large earthquake in the region within the next two years, but owing to the Cultural Revolution, they were hopelessly short of modern equipment and trained personnel.

Few preparations were made. Tangshan itself was a shoddily built city, with pithead structures, hoist towers and conveyor belts looming over ramshackle, one-story houses. Below ground there was a vast network of tunnels and deep shafts. In one terrible instant, a 150 kilometer-long fault line ruptured beneath the earth, inflicting more damage than the atomic bombs dropped on either Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Asphalt streets were torn asunder and rails twisted into knots. The earth moved with such lightning speed that the ides of the trees in the heart of the earthquake zone were singed. Some houses folded inwards, others were swallowed up. Roughly 95 percent of the 11 million square  meters of living space in the city collapsed.

As soon as the tremor subsided, a freezing rain drenched the survivors, blanketing the city in a thick mist mingled with dust of crumbled buildings. For an hour Tangshan remained shrouded in darkness, lit only by flashes of fire in the rubble of the crushed houses. Some survivors burned to death, but many more were asphyxiated. ‘I was breathing the ashes of the dead,’ one victim, then a boy age twelve, remembered.

Death was everywhere. ‘Bodies dangled out the windows, caught as they tried to escape. An old woman lay in the street, her head pulped by flying debris. In the train station, a concrete pillar had impaled a young girl, pinning her to a wall. At the bus depot, a cook had been scalded to death by a cauldron of boiling water.’

The earthquake could not have struck at a worse moment. Beijing was paralyzed by the slow death of the Chairman, surrounded by doctors and nurses in Zhongnanhai. Mao felt the quake, which rattled his bed, and must have understood the message. Many buildings in the capital were shaken violently, overturning pots and vases, rattling pictures on the wall, shattering some glass windows. Many residents refused to return to their homes, sleeping on the pavements under makeshift plastic sheets until the aftershocks subsided. Instead of broadcasting the news, some neighborhood committees turned on the loudspeakers to exhort the population to ‘criticize Deng Xiaoping and carry the Cultural Revolution through to the end.’ The insensitivity of the authorities to the plight of ordinary people caused widespread anger.

It was weeks before the military authorities, hampered by lack of planning, poor communication and the need to receive approval for every decision from their leaders in Beijing, responded effectively. The rescue was strategic. Tangshen was  a mining powerhouse that could not be abandoned, but villagers in the surrounding countryside were left to cope alone. Offers of aid from foreign nations – search teams, helicopters, rescue equipment, blankets and food – were rejected flatly by Hua Guofeng, who used the opportunity to assert his own leadership and suggest national self-confidence. Lacking professional expertise and adequate equipment, the young soldiers relied on muscle power to pull some 16,000 people from the ruins, a fraction of those recovered earlier by the victims themselves. The People’s Liberation Army covered tens of thousands of bodies with bleaching powder and buried them in improvised graveyards outside the city. No national day of mourning was announced. The dead were hardly acknowledged.

A few minutes past midnight on 9 September 1976, the line on the monitor went flat. It was  one day after the full moon, when families traditionally gathered to could their blessings at the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Jan Wong, a foreign student who had arrived at Peking University in 18972, was cycling to class when she heard the familiar chords of the state funeral dirge [] on the state broadcasting system. The usually strong voice of Central Broadcasting was now full of sorrow. Other cyclists looked shocked, but not sad. In the classroom, her fellow students were dry-eyed, busy making paper chrysanthemums, black armbands and paper wreaths. ‘There were no gasps or  tears, just a sense of relief.’ It was a stark contrast with the outpouring of grief at the premier’s death nine months earlier.(Zhou Enlai was considered a ‘moderate’, a restraining influence on the worse excesses of the Cultural Revolution though he always obeyed  Mao).

In schools, factories and offices, people assembled to listen to the official announcement. Those who felt relief had to hide their feelings This was the case with Jung Chang, who for a moment was numbed with sheer euphoria.
 All the people around her wept. She had to display the correct emotion or risk being singled out. She buried her head in the shoulder of the woman in front of her, heaving and snivelling.

She was hardly alone in putting on a performance. Traditionally, in China, weeping for dead relatives and even throwing oneself on the ground in front of the coffin was a required demonstration of filial piety. Absence of tears was a disgrace to the family. Sometimes actors were hired to wail loudly at the funeral of an important dignitary, this encouraging other mourners to join in without feeling embarrassed. And much as people had mastered the effort of effortlessly producing proletarian anger at denunciation meetings, some knew how to cry on demand.

People showed less contrition in private. In Kunming, the provincial capital of Yunnan, liquor sold out overnight. One young woman remembered how her father invited his best friend to their homer, locked the door and opened the only bottle of wine they had. The next day, they went to a public memorial service where people cried as if they were heartbroken. ‘As a little girl, I was confused  by the adults’’ expressions – everybody looked so sad in public, while my father was so happy the night before.’

Still, some people felt genuine grief, in particular those who had benefited from the Cultural Revolution. And plenty of true believers remained, especially among young people. Ali Xiaoming, a twenty-two-year-old girl eager to enter the party and contribute to socialism, was so heartbroken that she wept almost to the point of fainting.

But in the countryside, it seems, few people sobbed. As one poor villager in Anhui recalled, ‘not a single person wept at the time.’

The state funeral in Tiananmen Square on 18 September was the last public display of unity among the leaders before the big showdown. Even as the Chairman’s body was being injected with formaldehyde for preservation in a cold chamber beneath the capital, different factions were jockeying for power. The Gang of Four controlled the propaganda machine, and cranked up the campaign against ‘capitalist roaders.’ But they had little clout within the party, an no influence over the army. Their only source of authority was now dead, and public opinion was hardly on their side. With the exception of Jing Qing, their power bas was in Shanghai, a long way from the capital where all the jousting for control took place.

Most of all, they underestimated Hua Guofeng  [pictured above with Mao],. A were two days after Mao’s death, the premier quietly reached out to Marshal Ye Jianying, by now in charge of the Ministry of Defense. He also contacted Wang Dongxing, Mao’s former bodyguard who commanded the troops in charge of the leadership’s  security. On 6 October, less than a month after the Chairman’s death, a Politburo was called to discuss the fifth volume of Mao’s Selected Works. Members of the Gang of Four were arrested one by one as they arrived at the meeting hall;. Madam Mao, sensing a trap, stayed away, but was arrested at her residence.

After the official announcement on 14 October, firecrackers exploded all night. Stores sold out not only of liquor, but  of all kinds of items, including ordinary tinned food, as people splurged to celebrate the downfall of the Gang of Four. ‘Everywhere, I saw people wandering around with broad smiles and big hangovers,’ one resident recalled.

There were official celebrations too, ‘exactly the same kind of rallies as during the Cultural Revolution.’ In beijing, columns of hundreds of thousands of people waved huge banners denouncing the Gang of Four Anti-Party Clique.’ A mass rally was held on Tiananmen on 24 October, as the leaders made their first appearance since the couop. Huas Gufeng, now anointed as chairman of the party, moved back and forth along the rostrum, clapping lightly to acknowledge the cheers and smiling beatifically, very much like his predecessor.

In shanghai, posters were plastered on buildings along the Bund up to a height of several storeys. The streets were choked with people exulting over the fall of the radicals. Nien Cheng was forced to join a parade, carrying a slogan saying ‘Down with Jiang Qing.’ She abhorred it, but many demonstrators relished the opportunity, marching four abreast with banners, drums and gongs.

The political campaigns did not cease. ‘Instead of attacking Deng, we now denounced the Gang of Four. Madame Mao and her three fanatical followers became scapegoats, blamed for all the misfortunes of the past ten years. Some people found it difficulty to separate Mao from his wife, but the strategy had its advantages. As one
erstwhile believer put it, ‘It is more comfortable that way, as it is difficult to part with one’s beliefs and illusions.’

Deng Xiaoping returned to power in the summer of 1977.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Cultural Revolution in China by Frank Dikotter

By the early 70s people throughout China started quietly reconnecting with the past, from local leaders who focused on economic growth to villagers who reconstituted popular markets that had existed long before liberation. Sometimes a farmer merely pushed the boundaries of the planned economy by bringing some corn to market or spending more time on a private plot. In other cases they were bolder, opening underground factories or speculating in commodities normally controlled by the state. But everywhere, in one way or the other, people were emboldened by the failure of the Cultural revolution to take matters in their own hands. As one shrewd observer noted, ‘people decided they did not want to go on living they way they were doing, and they were setting up ways to get themselves out of their predicament.’ It was an uneven, patchy revolution from below, and one that remained largely silent, but eventually it would engulf the entire country.

If a second economy was quietly finding solutions to the widespread misery created by central planning, a second society was appearing amid people disillusioned with the communist creed. As in Eastern Europe  and the Soviet Union, a hidden, underground, largely invisible society lived in the shadow of the formal political system.

The phenomena was not new. Much as the black market appeared the moment the communist party started to clamp down on basic economic freedoms in 1950, social activities condemned by the new regime continued to survive away from the public eye. Christianity, Buddhism, Islam  had great staying power, as their followers dropped all outward signs of allegiance but clung to their faiths. A literary inquisition in the early 50s consigned entire collections to the pulping press but for many years people continued to read forbidden books- some of them rescued by the very Red Guards sent to destroy them.

China  has one of the world’s most complex kinship system, fined tuned over many centuries by a sophisticated lexicon with separate designations for almost every family member according to their gender, relative age, lineage and generation. Filial piety was a linchpin of Confusian ethics, while extended families in the forms of clans and lineages formed the backbone of a millennial empire that collapsed only in 1911. As a result families proved remarkably resilient, and resistant to official ideology. Even outside the family, the old loyalty codes occasionally survived. In its efforts to atomize society and centralize power, the regime took sword and fire to traditional bonds, but it failed to destroy the family.

The Communist Party leadership was all too conscious of the extraordinary resilience of the old ideas and institutions it had tried to destroy wholesale after liberation. At the very heart of the Cultural Revolution lay the acknowledgement that despite seventeen years of communist rule, in the hearts and minds of many people the old society continued to exist. Underneath a surface of ideological uniformity lay a world of subcultures, countercultures and alternative cultures that were perceived as threats to the party. In official parlance, once the socialist transformation of the means of production had been completed, a new revolution was required to liquidate once and for all the last remnants of feudal and bourgeois thought, or else the forces of revisionism might very well prevail and undermine the entire communist enterprise.

The Cultural Revolution aimed to transform every aspect of an individual’s life, including their innermost thoughts and feelings. Certainly there were millions of true believers or pure opportunists who enthusiastically followed every twist and turn in official ideology, and others simply crushed by the relentless pressure to conform. Thanks to the endless campaigns of thought reform, however, many learned to parrot every party line in public but keep their thoughts to themselves. People fought deceptions with deceptions, lies with lies and empty rhetoric with empty slogans. Some developed two minds or two souls, one for public view, the other private, to be shared with trusted friends and family only. Despite the house raids, the book burnings, the public humiliations and all the purges, not to mention the endless campaigns of re-education, from study classes in Mao Zedong Thought to May Seventh Cadre Schools, old habits died hard.

Local Gods were stubborn, subverting attempts by the state to replace them with the cult of Mao. In some villages, local festivals and public rituals were discontinued, temples closed down, but many villagers continued to worship at a small shrine or in their homes. They burned incense, offered vows, invoked the ancestral spirits, patron deities, rain and fertility gods. Folk culture  also remained resilient, even at the height of the Cultural evolution. Jiang Qiing (Madame Mao) had made her first appearances at the Peking Opera festival in the summer of 1964, determined to reform traditional opera, one of the most popular art forms in the countryside. Soon enough she banned all opera with the exception of eight revolutionary dramas which glorified the People’s Liberation Army and Mao Zedong Thought. These shows were presented to factory workers and commune peasants on crude stages and open fields. The audiences were usually large but the applause sparse. The operas were never really welcomed anywhere except at Yan’an University (‘the cradle of the revolution’). Some local communities then went ahead and stuck to their own traditions, organizing huge gathers around a performance of the old operas, with cigarettes and wine laid out on hundreds of tables for honorary quests and local families. In parts of the countryside commune members routinely celebrated traditional festivities and prayed to local gods and spirits. Some villages had common funds to allow dragon-boat competitions where pigs were slaughtered and food was piled on tables in conspicuous displays of consumption. By the early 1970s, besides opera performers, a whole range of traditional specialists, including folk musicians, geomancers, spirit mediums and fortune tellers, were making a living in the countryside.

When the Cultural Revolution devastated public schools and universities, many families took up the burden themselves, drawing on ancient and rich traditions. Traditional family craft skills- paper umbrellas, cloth shoes, hats, rattan chairs, wicker creels and twig baskets, protective charms, almanacs , even martial arts- were preserved or revived. The puritanical sex morals of the cadres of the Cultural Revolution never caught  big in the countryside.

[The Cultural Revolution was prosecuted with a ruthlessness that today is hard to imagine. Millions of people were beaten, imprisoned, crippled for life and executed. Competing factions often fought each other with machine guns, artillery and dynamite. In Wuxuan there was a hierarchy in the ritual consumption of class enemies. Leaders feasted on the heart and liver, mixed with pork and a sprinkling of local spices, while ordinary villagers were allowed to peck at the victims arms and legs. After several teachers had been sliced up in a middle school, a crowd carried away chunks of flesh in bags dripping with blood. Students cooked the meat in casseroles sitting on top of small,, improvised brick barbecues. The deputy director of the schools revolutionary committee, wjo oversaw the butchery, was later expelled from the party, but was proud of his actions: “Cannibalism? It was the landlord’s flesh! The spy’s flesh!” One subsequent investigation listed all the ways in which people had been killed in Wuxuan, including ‘beating, drowning, shooting, stabbing, chopping, dragging, cutting up alive, crushing and hanging to death.” All  subsequently blamed by Mao on  class enemies and counterrevolutionaries.

Still, there must have been some Chinese who felt something other than a huge relief when he finally died. Perhaps the biggest miracle in all of this was not that so much of traditional Chinese culture survived but that the Communist Party still rules China]

Friday, October 7, 2016

Control and Overreaction to Conflict by Sara Schulman

Human life, being mortal, is inherently filled with risk, and one of the greatest dangers to it is other people’s escalation of conflict. It can hasten the inevitable end before we’ve had a chance to really begin. It can be a terrible waste of life and potential. Being the object of overreaction means being treated in a way that one does not deserve, which is the centerpiece of injustice. Yet, protesting that overreaction is often an excuse for even more injustice. There is a continuum of pathology in blame, cold-shouldering, shunning, scapegoating, group bullying, incarcerating, occupying, assaulting, and killing. These action substitute for our better selves, and avoid the work of self-acknowledgment required for resolution and positive change. Refusing to resolve conflict is a negative action, yet many families, cliques, communities, religions, governments and nations choose this option all the time.

We know that people get killed over nothing, and by extension people get scapegoated, shunned, demeaned, excluded, threatened with the police, locked up and assaulted without justification every day. The mere fact that someone has been the recipient of group cruelty has no relationship to whether or not they have done anything to merit it. Without talking to them in person and fully understanding what has occurred from their point of view, being punished is no measure of anyone’s innocence or guilt. But the person being shunned by being excluded, silenced, or incarcerated will not be listened to by others, so the terms of their punishment cannot be contested. In this way, shunning is a trap. Escalation can take many forms:

Escalation can be a smokescreen, a way to deflect attention from the real problem at hand because the person acting out doesn’t know how to approach conflict and doesn’t have support to do the work to make that possible. The only support they have is to blame and assume the role of “Abused.”

Escalation can be an expression of distorted thinking or mental illness, and can be rooted in earlier experience, some of which may have a biological consequence. These projections from the past onto the present can be expressions of anxiety. They can also be a compulsion, a hyper-vigilant automatic action with no room for thought or consideration of motive, justification, or consequence.

Escalation is almost always exacerbated  when parties are members of shallow communities like dysfunctional families, and bad friends. Religious/racial/national Supremacy concepts are at the basis of destructive groups, bound together by negative values.

Escalation can be a tactic of the state.

In the case of this book’s subject, overreaction to conflict, the patterns are often familiar. Someone says or does or is something that the reacting individual doesn’t like. Perhaps the offending person objects to a negative situation, they respond to an unjust structure, or just by being themselves they illustrate difference. In other words, they say of do something that requires an individual or a community to examine itself, something they don’t want to do, or are not supported to do.

Again I turn to Beth Richie’s illuminating book Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, and America’s Prison Nation. She offers a definition of “control” in relationships that is very pertinent to this discussion. She describes scenarios in which one partner “creates a hostile social environment in a shared intimate sphere of their lives.” She describes this as “power exercised by one person’s extreme and persistent tension, dominance of their needs over others, chronic irritability and irrational agitation.” They don’t say this is what I need, what do you need? Negotiation or adjustment are deemed unreasonable. Subjects become unapproachable. Interestingly, this behavior, describing intimate relationships, is also an accurate description of how the US state treats poor women, showing again how intimate constructions become social dynamics. The dominance of white, wealthy, and male “needs” over the needs of poor, immigrant, and non-white women is a pervasive quality of the state. irrational agitation is certainly another, as the renewed focus on police violence reveals.

I would certainly also agree that in expressions of narcissism, an entitled and arrogant person can create that environment in a relationship, community, family, or household. They can bring the ideology of Supremacy, especially White Supremacy or Male Supremacy, into other peoples’ lives through the integrated conviction that they should not have to be aware of others, take other people into consideration. This is an ideology that men often bring to their relationships with whomever is serving them, whether it is a mother, a female or male partner or child, or another female adult. The objective is that a woman’s independent needs, or the subordinate man’s actual experience, should be subservient to keeping the supremacists male on track with his goals, whether those goals are dependency or self-aggrandizement. That this is common in sexual relationships is so well known it doesn’t even need to be illustrated. As well, it is common for adult men to expect women in their circle, including the workplace, to drop everything in order to perform favors for them that usually involve compensating for some task they didn’t bother to take care of or complete themselves. Certainly I have seen adult males feel confident and secure in living off their mothers, controlling their mother’s sexual and emotional lives, and having their mothers cook, clean, and earn money for them. That daughters and sisters absurdly have to serve their male relatives is beyond the everyday, at least in America.

But Richie’s definition helped me to expand my own thinking by recognizing that these control elements of Male Supremacy, White Supremacy, and government apparatus also can describe the behavior of women and others who were violated in their youth by fathers and others. Just as supremacists may control what their partners say and do, people traumatized in childhood may consequently live with a fragile self as well as insecure boundaries with their partners that also produce control. Many discourses, both popular and clinical, exist to address how those who have survived violence, sexual abuse, and psychological assault during their childhood may behave, depending where they are in their developmental process of awareness, in order to “feel safe.”

Feeling “safe” of course is already a problematic endeavor since there is little guarantee of safety in our world, and the promise of it is a false one, as the effort to enforce this is often at the expense of other people. Both Supremacists and the Traumatized may conceptualize themselves as “weak” or “endangered” unless others around them are controlled, repressed, punished or destroyed. The concept of “safe space” can also be a projection in the present based on dangers that occurred in the past. It may have been once used for those living in illegality, like gay people, Jews, immigrants, or adults who now have agency but were oppressed as children. But now those of us who have become dominant continue to use this trope to repress otherness. It is used by the dominant to defend against the discomfort of hearing other peoples’ realities, to repress nuance, ignore multiple experiences, and reject the inherent human right to be heard. Instead, it may even be considered victimizing by the supremacist/traumatized person to not simply follow their orders when they “feel” or say they “feel” endangered, even if that feeling is retrospective.

As Christina B Hanhardt illustrates in her book Safe Space: Gay Neighborhood History and the Politics of Violence, safety is an acquisition of power, often dependent on unjust structure of subjugation to satisfy the threatened person or group’s need for control. Normativity itself is dependent on the diminishment of others. We know that determining punishment by the feeling of one party is the essence of injustice. Philosopher Sara Ahmed made a similar point earlier in her book The Promise of Happiness, showing that happiness is something that may be predicated on the oppression of others, and may in fact only be obtainable by controlling others, to their detriment. In my book The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination, I expanded  on Ahmed’s theme by discussing “gentrified happiness” in which people exploit others to avoid feeling uncomfortable. .  .

If someone is upset but thinks that it is Abuse, the focus could be placed on understanding what it is about them that creates their overreaction or drives them to escalation; it could be Supremacy, or it could be unprocessed Trauma. For this reason Conflict must be discussable. Accusations of Abuse should not be substitutions for talking things through. Very little in human relationships is automatically clear. As  actually dealing with the substance of Conflict may initially feel more upsetting than repressing it, the appropriate response to high levels of distress may often require even higher levels of distress. In this way, internal and external domination systems are revealed.

My conclusion from this experience of noticing the similarity of behavior between the projecting traumatized person and the entitled self-aggrandized supremacist person is that both need and want dominance in order to feel comfortable. And yet the sources of this need are so different. Underlying all of this is that traumatized behavior is most often caused by Supremacy. Most sexual and physical abuse in a family is caused by Male Supremacy. Oppression from the state is often rooted in both Male and White Supremacy, or in the case of Israel, Jewish Supremacy. Racism, colonialism, and occupation are all Supremacy-based systems. These are two entirely different systems, Trauma and Supremacy, but they operate with resonance and similarity under the same system. And, of course, these two impulses can co-exist in one body.

There are two conclusions about which classic psychoanalysis, modern psychiatry and its stepsister pop psychology, Al-Anon and the mindfulness movement agree. The sudden triggered reaction a) without consideration of choices; b) without looking at the order of events, motives, justifications, context, or outcomes; c) without taking responsibility for consequences on others and the escalation of Conflict; and d) without self-criticism, is the source of social and personal cruelty and the cause of great pain. Lashing out by overreaction deepens the problem. All these systems recommend the same tactic: delay.

And in order to delay, they all agree, one needs to be in a community, friendship circle, family, identity group, nation or people who encourage us to be self-critical and look for alternatives to blame, punishment, and attack. We need to be in groups that are willing to be uncomfortable and take the time to fully talk through the order of events, take all the parties into a account, and facilitate repair.

[To engage in socially beneficial work]

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Invasion of Morotai by James P. Duffy

The occupation of the Mar-Sansapor area marked the end of MacArthur’s offensive operations in New Guinea, a campaign that had spanned nearly three years and fifteen hundred miles. From Milne Bay at the east end of New Guinea to Sansapor at the west end, the Allies killed an estimated fifty thousand Japanese, and left nearly two hundred thousand more isolated and starving in their fortified defensive positions. MacArthur’s “hit them where they ain’t” policy resulted in fewer Americans being killed throughout the New Guinea campaign than died during the battle for tiny Iwo Jima in the central Pacific. Yet he had one more stop to make before heading to the Philippines: the island of Morotai.

Halfway between Sansapor and the southernmost territory of the Philippines are a group of several hundred islands named  Maluku. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Dutch, Spanish, and Portuguese traders had called them the Spice Islands because they produced large quantities of nutmeg, mace, clove, and other spices. The larges of these islands was Halmahera, while the most northern, and closest to the Philippines, was Morotai. General MacArthur required one more island from which his aircraft could reach the Philippines and provide land-based air support for his planned invasion of Mindanao which he had tentatively scheduled for November 15.

Halmahera was MacArthur’s first selection, based on its location and the nine airfields the enemy had constructed there. That changed when intelligence reports estimated that a least thirty thousand Japanese  combat troops of the 32nd Infantry Division, supported by large numbers of service troops, defended the seven- thousand- square-mile island. Another drawback was that reconnaissance indicated that there were only a few beaches to serve as landing zones, and all appeared to be well defended by strong enemy fortifications. . . MacArthur had been shocked at the cost of lives in taking the stronghold of Buna at the end of 1943 and determined never again to make a direct assault on an enemy position. He had implemented a new policy of by-passing enemy strongholds and using the Air Force to help isolate them so that they could not be resupplied.

Just six miles northeast of Morotai, a much more attractive target that intelligence analysts believed contained fewer than a thousand enemy soldiers. The actual number turned out to be closer to five hundred. Less than seven hundred square miles in area, Morotai, like most Islands in the New Guinea area, was blanketed in heavy forests and had a rugged mountainous interior. A special attraction to the commander-in-chief was the single airfield the Japanese had built of the island’s southeast coast. Japanese engineers had abandoned the airfield because they found the soil throughout the area too soft to support aircraft operations.

The Morotai defenses were the responsibility of the 2nd Raiding Unit, a commando force composed mostly of Formosan soldiers under Japanese officers. The unit’s commander was Major Takenobu Kawashima, who along with most of his officers had been trained at the Imperial Army’s Nakano School, which was used to develop intelligence and guerilla war specialists. Since arriving on Morotai in late July, Kawashima, who suspected the Allies might invade his little island along with the larger target, Halmahera, had constructed a series of dummy gun positions and empty campsites at which he kept fires lit at night, as if Japanese soldiers.

MacArthur informed General Krueger that his next target was Morotai, and set September 15 as the D-Day. Krueger selected Major General Charles P. Hall, then at Aitape, to head up what he called the Tradewind Task Force. Nearly sixty-one thousand troops were assembled for the task force. Approximately forty thousand were combat troops from the 31st Infantry Division (Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi National Guard Units) and the 126th Regimental Combat Team from the 32nd Division (Wisconsin and Michigan National Guard Units, “the “Red Arrow” Division). Supporting these were American and Australian air force personnel assigned to quickly build an airfield on the island as combat units moved forward. The 6th Infantry Division, stationed at Sansapor, was designated as a reserve in case additional troops were needed.

Admiral Barbey’s Seventh Amphibious Force picked up most of the 31st , less the 124th Regiment, at Maffin Bay. The 124th loaded aboard the ships at Aitape and headed to Wakde Island, where it rehearsed the planned landings of September 6. Once the training was completed, the ships of Task Force 77 assembled and headed to Morotai. This fleet numbered over one hundred ships. Escorting the troop-carrying convoy was a support group of eight Australian and America cruisers and ten destroyers. Escort carriers and destroyer escorts searching enemy submarines offered an outer ring of protection, aircraft overhead flew wide-ranging patrols. The entire trip went off without a hitch.

To reduce enemy air action against the landings, Allied aircraft bombed and strafed Japanese airfields on Halmahera and other nearby islands, reportedly destroying several hundred aircraft while most were still on the ground. No bombing raids wwere made on Morotai. In fact, Morotai suffered no attacks until the morning of the landings, when destroyers bombarded the Gil Peninsula, a long finger of land sticking out of the south coast a short distance from the abandoned airfield. Several of General Kenney’s bombers joined in, including some that dumped DDT behind the beaches to eliminate mosquitoes and other insects carrying malaria and scrub typhus, diseases that had cause a high casualty rate in the Sansapor- Mar landing.

Aside from some accidents caused by large areas of dead coral covered in slime, beginning the morning of September 15, the landings at two beach sites went off with only a few major problems. Engineers found the beaches too muddy for heavy equipment, and coral ridges just below the surface made it difficult for many landing craft to even approach the beaches. The coral reef grew clogged with vehicles and craft whose engines had been drowned in the four feet of surf or simply could not climb over the ridge. Asa result, soldiers discharged at the reef had to wade through chest-high water to reach the muddy beaches. A survey party found a more acceptable beach less than a miler away, and it became the primary unloading site the next day.

The men struggling to get ashore were fortunate that no Japanese snipers were lying in wait. In fact, the few enemy troops stationed near the landing beaches fled as soon as they saw the size of the invading force.

Sporadic small-unit fighting continued on Morotai for some time, but the Japanese on Halmahera were never able to reinforce the island’s small garrison as Allied aircraft and PT boats blocked the strait between the two islands. American and Australian engineers ignored the partially built Japanese airfield and, as soon as combat troops established a defensive perimeter around the Doroeba Plain, began construction on what would eventually become three airfields. The Wawama Airfield received fighters on October 4, and heavy bombers on October 19. Soon after, a flying boat anchorage and a PT boat base were operating.

The invasion of Morotai cost thirty-five American lives, along with eighty-five wounded. Enemy dead, those who could be found and counted, were 117, and another 200 are believed to have perished when the barge they were using to evacuate the island was attacked and sunk by PT boats.

When MacArthur’s troops landed on the Philippine Island of Leyte on October 25, 1944, the airfields on Morotai would be the closest in Allied hands and able to contribute land-based bombers and fighter escorts to the invading forces. . .

 On October 16, more than seven hundred vessels of all sizes sailed from the New Guinea coast and headed northwest. A dozen battleships, nearly two dozen aircraft carriers, and almost one hundred cruisers and destroyers surrounded and protected a huge array of assault vessels carrying more than 150,000- men whose assignment was to liberate the Philippines. Overhead, nearly one thousand aircraft flew in wide-ranging patrols, watching for enemy ships and submarines. One historian contrasts the fleet to the cross- channel invasion of Normandy the previous June, calling the latter a ferry operation by comparison.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Kidnapping by Maria Venegas

The have been watching his moves, keeping tabs on the road that runs in front of his house, and earlier in the day they saw him and Rosario climb into his red truck and drive clear out of town. When he returns in the afternoon, he pulls into the dusty lot where the mercado is held on Sundays. Rosario waits in the passenger seat, while he goes to the cell phone store. He's in the store for a mere ten minutes, but by the time he steps back out into the slanted rays of the afternoon sun, everything has shifted. Blinds have been drawn in the nearby stores, sidewalks have emptied, doors have been locked, and most of the cars that were parked near his truck vacated the scene when the black SUV's rolled up.

He makes his way across the lot, scrolling through his phone when the sound of grave crunching under his boots stops him in his tracks. It's not the rhythm of the gravel that is off but rather the absence of familiar sounds. Missing is the laughter - the shrieking and yelling of kids play a makeshift soccer game in the lot. Gone is the rustling of bags, of people rushing along, running afternoon errands. Even the incessant bell of the paletero has been silenced. Nothing but the echo of a dog barking in the distance fills the space around him. He looks up and notices the SUVs stationed on either side of his vehicle. Though its the sight of the man sitting next to Rosario and grinning at him from behind the steering wheel of his truck that sends the gold caps vibrating against his teeth so that he can practically taste the metal. He's standing still but hears the gravel shifting, footsteps approaching from behind, as if his own shadow had sprung to life.

"Vamos, viejo." There are two men with machine guns standing on either side of him.

They escort him into the backseat of one of the SUV's, where a woman is waiting for him.

"Hola, mi gallinita de oro," she says, her chapped lips parting in a grin and revealing her rust-colored teeth. The sour stench of alcohol exudes from her. He recognizes the rifle she's holding between her knees. It's the same rifle that has hung over his bed for years, the same rifle with which he had blown the head off a rattlesnake when he was ten years old.  The woman snatches his cell from his hand and searches his pockets, pulling out his red handkerchief and his worn leather wallet.  A man climbs into the seat on the other side of him and the convoy starts moving. The SUV he's riding in follows his truck into the main road and by the time they clear the last speed bump on the edge of town, they have already removed his boots and tied his ankles and wrists together.  Who's Norma Venegas? the woman asks as she scrolls through his phone.

"She's my niece," he says.

"She's not your daughter?"

"No, she's a niece." They fly past the slaughterhouse where two other SUV's are sitting in the shade under the mesquite.

"A niece?" She narrows here eyes on him. She's not a bad-looking woman. Early forties, most likely, though a scar across her cheek-bone, circles under her eyes, and her rotting teeth seem to age her beyond her years. " What's the name of your daughter, the one who owns a gas station in Jalisco?"

"I don't have any daughters in Jalisco."

She rams the butt of the rifle into his kneecap with so much force that it sends a shock through his injured hipbone.

"Don't play smart with me, viejo." She tells them they are well aware he has five daughters, and word around town is that one of them lives in Jalisco and owns a gas station, so what is her number?

"I don't know where you're getting your information from," he says, though perhaps they've gotten it from him, because even though businesses have started closing early and everyone goes home before dark, locks their doors, and stays put until morning, the taverns are still open. And though they have lost a few regulars, he has carried on as he always has. He's not one to hide from the SUVs or anyone for that matter, especially not in his own town. He has continued frequenting the taverns, and after having a few drinks, it's inevitable - he will start boasting about his five girls and how successful they are, how each one has made a small fortune, and with no help from a man at that. "I don't have any daughters in Jalisco," he says

"What about your daughter who live in Nuevo York, what is her number?" Again she's scrolling through his phone.

"I don't have any daughters living in Nueva York."

"Who's the girl who was just down here visiting you?"

"She's just a niece," he says, bracing himself to keep the weight of his body from barreling into the woman as they fly around the only curve on the road between town and his home.

"Another niece?" The woman smirks at him before  ramming the butt of the rifle into his other kneecap. "What is her name?"

"Maria de Jesus," he says, and again she's scrolling through his phone , though he knows she will never find that name, or any of their names for that matter. He has all five numbers saved under their nicknames: Chuyita, La Flaca, Chela, La Vickie, Sonita.

Up ahead his truck slows and turns left onto the dirt road that leads up to La Pena. He watches the woman go through his wallet as the SUV he's riding in also turns left, and then they are bouncing along the dirt road, over the river, up the incline, and through the entrance where the dilapidated limestone pillars still stand. She pulls out a piece of paper and a few loose bills. There's a name and a phone number scribbled on the paper.

"Sonia salon." she reads out loud, as she places the bills in her breast pocket. "Who's Sonia?"

"That's my daughter," he says.

"Your daughter?" she says, grinning so big he catches a glimpse of the gold caps on her upper molars. "What does she do?"

"She works in a beauty salon in Chicago."

"Isn't she the owner?"

"No, she just works there, he says, though he can tell she's not buying it.

Even before they pull up in front of his house, he notices that the minivan he picked up two weeks before is gone, and that his house has been broken into. His bedroom is scraped, bent , and slightly ajar. Two men help Rosario out of the truck and into her wheelchair. The woman gets out of the SUV, lights a cigarette, and walks a full circle around Rosario before stopping in front of her and asking what is the name of the viejo's daughter, the one who owns a gas station in Jalisco?

"I don't really know anything about his daughters," Rosario says.

The woman takes a long drag, narrowing her gaze on Rosario before slapping her clear across the face.

"Call his daughters," she says, throwing his phone on Rosario's lap. "Tell them we have their father and if they ever want to see him again, they can reach us at this number." She scribbles the digits down on a scrap of paper and hands it to Rosario.  .  .  . 

It's Monday night, and I'm out having dinner with a friend in my neighborhood.

"I'm running to the bathroom," my friend says, pushing her chair away from the table. The waiter comes by and drops off the check. I reach for my bag and notice my cell is vibrating. I have missed two calls from Sonia and a text from her: Call me 911. This can't be good, I think as I stare at the flame in the votive, watch how it sways each time someone opens the door. What happened now? What if he's dead? What if he killed someone? What if he shot Rosario? It had been only two days since I told him where his gun is hidden. The reflection of the flame makes the smooth groves in the wooden table look dark and warm, and there's a part of me that wants to crawl; into one of those small nooks and stay there for a very long time.

"What's the damage? There's a bounce in her platinum blonde hair, and she's wearing a fresh coat of pink lipstick" my friend asks when she returns.

"I just got a text from my sister," I say, clearing my throat. "And she wants me to call her 911.

"That can't be good," she says.

"I know."  I  tap my phone twice on the table The bartender pours wine for a couple  sitting at the bar. All the polished glass bottles are gleaming on the wall behind him.

"Well, you should probably call her back," my friend says.

"Right."  I reach for my glass of red wine and down what's left before calling  Sonia. When she picks up, she informs me that she just got off the phone with Mary, who received a call from Rosario, saying that my father has been kidnapped.

"Kidnapped?" I say. "How? By who?"

She doesn't know all the details, but according to Rosario, they had ransacked the whole house. The wardrobes and storage trunks had all been rifled, and they had left shattered dishes, pillows, and clothing strewn in their wake. They had given Rosario a number where they could be reached

"And?" I say. "Did Mary call them?"

"She thinks we should stay out of it," Sonia says. When Rosario had called Mary and told her what happened, Mary had taken a few moments to let the news sink in before responding with a single knee-jerk reaction. "You know what, Rosario? For all I know, he did something to provoke this, and I'm not getting involved, " she said. "You can call them and tell them they're not going to get a penny out of me, or any of his kids, because he abandoned us when we were young." Mary had refused to even take down the number. "Did you notice anything suspicious while you were down there? Sonia asks.

I tell her how stories of people being kidnapped were surfacing all over town and about the SUV I had seen while jogging, but other than that, I hadn't noticed anything out of the ordinary.

"How much money are they asking for? I ask, aware of how my fried is stating at me from across the table. She's British, a fashion designer, and probably can't comprehend the words coming out of my mouth.

"They want five hundred thousand pesos, or dollars, or something like that." She's not really certain of the amount, as Mary wouldn't even hear of it.

"Did he have his gun on him?" I ask, already feeling guilty for hiding it.

Sonia doesn't know whether or not he had his gun. We decide that until we figure out what we are going to do, it's best not to answer any calls from Rosario or any unknown numbers. She says that a woman keeps calling one of her salons and asking for her, but she's already told employees to say she no longer works there.

My friend and I settled the tab and I go home, spend the next hour pacing around my apartment and feeling utterly useless. The first thing we do is erase our voices. We change all our greetings so that if anyone alls, they hear the automated response repeating the number they just dialed back to them. If the kidnappers call, they can't be sure who they've reached, , and if they can't get hold of us, they can't threaten us.

Rosario calls me that evening and leaves several messages pleading with me to call her back, and though she sounds genuinely upset, I don't return her call. There are too many unknowns: What if we send the money and they ask for more money? What if we send the money and then they go after our mother? What if we send the money and they kill him anyway? What if Rosario is in cahoots with the kidnappers? Why had they left her as the middleman? Or worse, what if he had something to do with it?  What if he somehow provoked this - messed with the wrong herd or owed someone money? Why had he practically insisted on knowing when Mary would be returning to Mexico?

Later that night I lay in bed, tossing and turning and wondering where he may be at that very moment. Imagining they probably have him blindfolded and tied to a wooden chair somewhere in an abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of town, and that they must be taunting him. Walking circles around the chair and asking, where arte your daughters now? Pues, no que te procuraban tanto? By then, the only message Mary had sent the kidnappers must have already reached them: They're not going to get a penny out of me, or any of his kids, because he abandoned us when we were young.

If he was in earshot of that conversation, it must have been then that he realized his past might be catching up with him- even though we had all gone back and reestablished a relationship with him - our past was still a dark line drawn between us. I assume that wherever he may be, he must already be calculating, plotting - coming up with a plan to save his hide - because by the time the sun went down that day and none of us had called the kidnappers back, the one thing that must have crystallized for him was that he may have to fend for himself.

Kidnapped. That word tumbles endlessly in my thoughts as the fan whirs in the window, providing little relief from the oppressive August humidity. What a strange word. What a vast gray space - what a relief. Dead is an infinite black hole from which nothing is retrievable. Kidnapped is good. There is hope.

First thing Tuesday morning, I e-mail my friend in Mexico City, the journalist. He puts me in contact with a friend of his, another journalist who has a direct connection to the head of the kidnapping division in the Mexican federal government.

"So your friend tells me your father isn't exactly and up-standing citizern," the fed says when I all him.

"That's true," I say, "but he's still my father."

The fed tells me that the thing with kidnappers is that they are usually after a monetary reward, and as long as we cooperate, they probably won't hurt my father.

"Have you talked to the kidnappers yet?"


"Have you talked to your father?"


"How do you know he is still alive?" he asks. This is something that has already occurred to me, but I tried not to dwell on it. He explained that the first thing I need to do is call the kidnappers, tell them we will cooperate, but can I please speak with my father first and make sure he's okay. Once we now he is alive and well, we can begin negotiating. "I'll walk you through all the steps," he says. "And if at any point the situation escalates or the kidnappers become threatening, say, then you need to let me know and we'll proceed accordingly."

"Can't you send federal troops to rescue him? I ask, imagining that the feds could somehow locate him and the soldiers would descend on the warehouse in the middle f the night. The place would be surrounded with armored vehicles and helicopters in no time, and the kidnappers wouldn't even know what hit them.

"One step at a time," he says. "You need to call them first, talk to your father, then call me back and we'll go from there."

After getting off the phone I call Mary. Since she lives in Mexico, I think she should be our point person, be the one to speak to the kidnappers.

"You should have never called the feds," she says, and asks if I had given them my name.

"Of course I gave them my name," I say, explaining that I trust my friend, that he would never put me in contact with a crooked fed'

"You can't trust anyone down here, especially not the feds," she says, expressing a sentiment shared by most people n Valparaiso, and probably all Mexico. By then, it seemed pretty obvious  that the feds had been behind the jailbreak - had known about it and allowed it to happen. How else was it possible that fifty-three inmates had escaped within five minutes, and there had been no resistance? Not a single bullet had been fired.

"Maybe you should pack up the kids and get out of there," I say. "Go stay in Chicago until this whole thing blows over."

"I'm not going anywhere," she says, and tells me to stop calling her because the kidnappers are probably listening in on our conversations. She's not being paranoid - everyone knew the cartels had set up surveillance towers and had been tapping into cell phone calls.

On Wednesday morning, we hear the latest threat. Either we send the money by the end of the day or they are going to toss his head over the courtyard wall. News of this threat sparks a frenzy of phone calls, crisscrossing over the border. Roselia calls several contacts she has in Mexico to see if anyone can help. Not only can they not help. they're hesitant to discuss anything over the phone. She calls a few private detective agencies in Chicago, all to no avail. She contacts the FBI, but since my father is not a U.S. citizen, there is nothing they can do. Sonia tells me to call the fed and have him send in troops.

When I talk to Yesenia, who's in Oakland, she says not to have the fed send in the troops because every time the soldiers get involved in these situations, it ends in a massive shoot-out, and what if he gets caught in the crossfire?

"For all we know, Dad is already on the other side, I say, and the minute I say it, I wish I hadn't.

We both fall silent for a long time.

"You really think they may have killed him?" Her voice is barely audible.

"Think about it," I say. "With a reputation Dad has, there's no way they're going to let him walk - even if we send the money. You don't mess with someone like him and then let him go free as if nothing ever happened. I think Mary is right. We need to stay out of it. With the type of life he has lived, he's got to be okay with this. If anyone can negotiate his way out of something like this, it would be him."

Later, as I lie in bed, staring at the ceiling and listening to my neighbors carrying on in their backyard, I wish there were way to send him a message -smoke signals, Morse code - or find him in a dream  and tell him that even though we are not calling the kidnappers, it doesn't mean we aren't trying. Because what if they do kill him? What if he leaves the world thinking we all turned our backs on him - that we don't love him?  The air hangs hot and dense in my bedroom and when I finally doze off, sunlight floods my window. My father steps out of the light and stands before me. He's about the same age he was when he left Chicago - forty-five. He looks tall and strong and is wearing a black cowboy hat, jeans and a black leather vest over a plaid cowboy shirt. He smiles at me, gives me a nod, and then turns an vanishes into the white light. I wake with an immense pressure on my chest, gasping and thinking they must have killed him. That he had come to say goodbye.

In the morning, I check n with my sisters: Noting has come flying over the wall-yet. By noon, sill nothing - not his head nor his hand, not even a finger - nothing. The only message that reaches us later that day is that his bond been lowered to $50,000. Cartels are not ones to negotiate-either you send the mount they ask for or you never see your relative again - it's that simple. Not only has his head not come flying over the courtyard wall, his ransom has been lowered by $450,000, and I can't help but wonder what had been that $450,000 moment. What charm had he mustered? What landscape had he painted for them -what type of deal had he struck -in order to keep his head attached?. That night Mary wakes to loud banging, to what sounds like someone trying to break through the front gate. She makes her two teenage daughters climb the spiral staircase to the roof, telling them to go hide a the neighbors. The noise grows louder and when it stops, there's nothing but the sound of sirens approaching and a woman shrieking. She's yelling a someone to please look after her children. A car door slams shut, swallowing the woman's voice, the care tires are screeching past Mary's front door practically as machine-gun fire rings out. Mary is certain that at any moment they're going to come barreling into her house. But instead the blasts and sirens pass and soon they're diminishing in the distance.

"It was the fright of my life," Mary says, when I talk to her the next day. By then she's heard that a convoy of SUVs had gone to pick up a woman from her neighborhood, but with all the banging someone had called the police and just as the SUVs were driving off with their hostage, the police descended on them and opened fired. They had chased  the SUV for several miles, forcing them to abandon two of their shattered vehicles on the main road - five people had been killed.

"Do you think it was the same guys that have Dad?" I ask.

"I wouldn't doubt it.

"Why don't you go stay in Chicago until things settle down over there?" I say, but she refuses to leave.

 Later that day, we receive another message. His bond has been lowered again. The kidnappers want us to send $10,000 or whatever we can afford. Roselia's partner jokes that if we hold out long enough they might just ask us to send enough money to cover his food expenses so they at least break even.

"I'm calling the kidnappers," Roselia says. "This is ridiculous we're not going to let them kill Dad over $10,000."

She calls Rosario to get the number for the kidnappers, but before she has a chance to say anything, Rosario informs her that she has already come up with the $10,000. She borrowed the money from Raul, Alma's boyfriend, and says that they should be releasing my father as soon as the wire clears their account. Within the next day or two, most likely.

By Friday afternoon, the latest wave of rumors is already sweeping all over town and drifting across the border. People are saying that they saw my father riding around with the kidnappers, hanging out at a gas station in Valparaiso with them - that perhaps he was not kidnapped at all, but rather had joined them. . .

When they dropped him off, he was dehydrated, had lost weight and his knees were swollen and bruised. . .

"You know, when you were kidnapped? I say weeks later, turning to face him. "We were trying. . . what did you think when you heard we weren't calling back? Did you think we had abandoned you?"

"No, I knew it was a tough situation," he says, glancing away. "It's a good thing you guys stayed out of it. Those people are ruthless."

"We didn't call Rosario back because we thought she might have something to do with it, found it peculiar they had left her as the middleman," I say.

"I wouldn't be surprised if she did have something to do with it," he says. " A lot of those men are from la sierra, from the same area she's from up in the mountains. That's where they grow their crops, la mota, la amapola, all of it. They grow it up there and then bring it down in truckloads." He explains how they have their lookouts stationed on either end of town. Two SUVs sit at the gas station on the north and another two in front of the slaughter house in the south, and all day long they are monitoring the road that runs in front of La Pena as it stretches from the mountains on one end and all the way to the border, practically, on the other.,

He looks across the sun-drenched grass and begins to recount the events of that afternoon. When they pick him up in the lot, they escorted him in one of the SUVs, where there was a woman sitting in the backseat holding his father's rifle between her knees. She went by the nickname of La Mona, they all went by nicknames, but she was the main one, the one giving orders. She blindfolded him with duct t ape and toilet paper and kept calling him her "little golden chicken." "I don't know, I guess she assumed she was going to collect a fortune from you guys," he says.

"There's a campground in the desert where they train their recruits, young boys mostly, some as young as eight or nine," he says. "A lot of those kids are homeless and they pick them up off the streets and offer them jobs, offer them food and money, and then they get them hooked on white powder, until eventually the kids are willing to work for the powder alone.

"Poor kids." I say.

"No, imagine a life like that? Those kids grow up and they don't give a damn about anything," he says. "On the same campground. they have these large cylinders  filled with acid, and that's where they dispose of the bodies. There's a man who goes by the nickname of the Soupmaker, and all day long hers poking and prodding inside the cylinders with a long stick, constantly stirring, and .  .  ."

"You saw that?" I turned to look at him.


"I thought that you were blindfolded."

"They did," he says, his eyes locking with mine. "They kept me in the backseat of a Suburban the whole time and sometimes they'd stop at the camp to drop someone off,  and a lot of the time they left me alone in the truck or sitting under a tree and if I leaned my head  back and lifted the duct tape a bit, I could see what they were doing." He wrinkles his nose as if he can still smell the stench of the acid, as if he can still see the butchered human parts flying through the air like logs. "It's horrible the things that they do. Horrible."

"You know, people in town were saying that they saw you driving around with them," I say. "That you must have joined them."

"People will say whatever they want to believe. Look how many times they've said I was dead, but here we are, right?" He cocks his eyebrow. "In the end, I befriended them, but that's only because I helped them one night." He lifts his hat off his knee and contemplates the inside of it as if he can see that night unfolding right there before him. He speaks in a steady voice recounting the details. How the SUVs had crossed  the state line, gone into Jalisco to pick up a man, and they had made such a racket trying to break through the gate that by the time they got in, the man had escaped or hidden, and because of all the noise, the neighbors had called the police and the sirens were already  approaching.

They didn't bother looking for the man. They took his wife instead, and from the backseat he could hear her screaming. Car doors slammed, the screaming was gone, and soon Mona was back on one side of him and a man on the other, and then they were moving, bouncing along a dirt road. La Mona was shouting to the driver to go faster and all the while the sirens were drawing near. There were a few, scattered blasts in the distance and then they were overtaken by machine-gun fire. He hunched over as  glass shattered all around and he felt the weight of the man who had been sitting on his right slump over him. He thought for sure he would be next, could almost feel the bullet that would crack his skull, and so he did the one thing he had always done in these life-and-death situations. He began to pray. Asking Diosito to have mercy on his soul. And then they must have made it onto a paved road, because suddenly they were moving faster and the blasts and sirens were fading in the distance.

Even through the static of their walkie-talkies he could hear the panic in their voices. Two of the SUVs behind theirs has also been hit. They rolled to a stop, car doors slammed, the door next to him flew open, and then the weight of the man was gone. "Vamos, viejo." Someone gripped his arm and pulled him across the slick seat. Over the wailing of the approaching sirens, he could hear La Mona saying something about just leaving the woman because she had been hit and what good was she going to do them dead, anyway.

They ushered him into a different SUV and again they were moving, flying around curves on an open road, the sirens growing louder and La Mona yelling that they needed to get off that road or they were never going to lose the feds. The driver snapped, what was he to do? This was the only road that led back to Zacatecas. They were in such a state that for a minute he thought they might turn their guns on each other, and that's when he saw his opportunity. He knew that if they were on one of the only roads that ran from Jalisco back to Zacatecas, he could help them, and he told them so.

"If we need your help, viejo, we will ask for it," La Mona said.

"Si, viejo," the driver said, we're near Huejucar. Why? Is there some secret road you know of?" He told them there was no other road, only terrain.

"They all fell silent," he says, describing how no one spoke , though their glances mut have been dancing between them, and all the while the sirens were getting closer, and then he felt the sting of the duct tape practically ripping the flesh off his face. It was pitch-dark out, just before dawn. They killed the lights and he led them off the main road and through the streets of Huejucar, turning left and right while the sirens continued to wail out on the road. Once they had crossed through town, they came to a dirt trail that wound up the mountainside. The path gave way to terrain, they shifted to four-wheel drive, and as they swerved around nopales and magueys, he tried to get his bearings. It had been years since he had ridden through these parts on horseback, and he wasn't exactly sure where he was going, but he trusted his instincts, and by the time the stars had begun to fade, the landscape was already looking familiar.

Once they reached La Laguna, he knew exactly where he was, and by the time the first light of day was illuminating the horizon, they were practically crossing right in front of the gate to is ranch. He even had the urge to say, hey, why don't you let me out here, I've done my part, but he didn't say anything, thought it best to keep his mouth shut. And besides, he didn't want them knowing where is ranch was. He watched the entrance come and go and then they were making their way down and around the boulders near Santana. "How is it you know this terrain so well, viejo? La Mona asked, and he told her that in his younger years, he had crossed that terrain on horseback numerous times, had ridden as far as Monte Escobedo and back.

By early morning, they were clearing the speed bumps on the south end of town. They pulled into the gas station and even let him use the bathroom-unescorted.

"After that day, they were a lot nicer to me," he ays. "Even La Mona was nicer. She was such a harsh woman. But you should have heard her tone change whenever one of her kids called. She sounded like the pure truth, saying she missed them too and asking how they were doing in school, and were they obeying their grandmother, and had they gotten the gifts she had sent, and hee hee hee and ha ha ha. But other than that she was heartless."

He tells me that after they let him go, La Mona and some of the others kept coming around the house, wanting him to go have a beer with them, but he really didn't like hanging around with them and would usually have Rosario say he wasn't home. He says La Mona showed up one day, practically demanding to know who was watching over him, what saint was it that he prayed to? And was it true that he had a pact with the Other One?

" I don't know, I guess she heard stories around town," he says. This is a rumor that has followed him all his whole life - that he has a act with the devil, though I am not certain where it started. "But I told her it was just Diosito that watched over me. She didn't seem convinced. Pero bueno, not long after that day, her corrido ended. I heard that her convoy had gotten into a shootout with the soldiers and she had been killed in the crossfire."

"Poor woman," I say, and can't help but to feel for her kids.

"Poor nothing," he says. "With the way those people live, most of them don't last long."