Thursday, June 30, 2016

Apparently These People Think It's a Good Idea to Bring Dolphins to Arizona for Entertainment Purposes

Posted By on Thu, Jun 30, 2016 at 5:00 PM

Humans, keep us the hell away from the desert and your cruel aquatic parks. - PHOTOSPIN
  • Photospin
  • Humans, keep us the hell away from the desert and your cruel aquatic parks.

The Mexico-based Dolphinaris is bringing a "swim with the dolphins!" park to the Arizona desert.

Here's the company's mission statement on the upcoming Dolphinaris Arizona, set to open this summer next door to the OdySea Aquarium, which is also currently under construction, near the 101 and Vía de Ventura in Scottsdale:
Dolphinaris is developing the “next generation” of dolphin experiences in Arizona, providing an opportunity for visitors to interact with dolphins, learn about this amazing species, and be part of ocean conservation efforts.

The mission of Dolphinaris Arizona is to amaze, inspire, and empower guests, encouraging them to become stewards of the oceans and its inhabitants. We hope to deepen respect for dolphins and our natural world, and encourage visitors to take actions, large and small, that can make a difference.
So, they want to promote the conservation of the sea and ocean species by placing 12 dolphins in captivity and forcing them into fake bodies of water in the desert?

PETA refers to marine-mammal theme parks like Dolphinaris as "part of a billion-dollar industry built on the suffering of intelligent, social beings who are denied everything that is natural and important to them."
Wild orcas and dolphins live in large, complex social groups and swim vast distances every day in the open ocean. In captivity, these animals can only swim in endless circles in tanks that are the equivalent of bathtubs, and they are denied the opportunity to engage in almost any natural behavior. They are forced to perform meaningless tricks and often torn away from family members when they’re shuffled between parks. Most die far short of their natural life span.
These aquatic parks are unnecessary, antiquated and cruel. And I am still unsure of the life-changing effects swimming with dolphins in captivity brings to a human's existence. Better get a dose of Blackfish.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

In Defense of Marijuana: #FreeKyleCatlin

Posted By on Wed, Jun 29, 2016 at 2:53 PM

Kyle and his mom Suson. - KYLE CATLIN FACEBOOK
  • Kyle Catlin Facebook
  • Kyle and his mom Suson.

Suson Catlin has been writing letters to the Governor's Office hoping someone out there will help get her 27-year-old son, Kyle, out of prison—where he's been since mid-January over nonviolent marijuana felony charges. Unsurprisingly, she hasn't received a response. But as I imagine most mothers would, Suson is willing to exhaust all options. Hope dies last.

The night of June 23, Suson got a phone call from Kyle, saying he had been charged with assault after anotherp inmate in the Marana Community Correctional Facility jumped him and split his lip open. In response to the altercation, which Kyle repeatedly told his parents he didn't do anything but take the punches, Kyle was placed in "protective custody," also known as "the hole," or solitary. The inmate who assaulted Kyle was placed in solitary first, so he and friends threatened to kill Kyle for being "a snitch." 

After Suson made several frantic phone calls to the correctional facility, guards moved Kyle to the hole, where he remained for about a week.

To make matters worse, Kyle got transferred back to the first correctional facility he stepped foot in—the Arizona Department of Corrections' Whetstone Unit off of South Wilmont Road and East Old Vail Road. While there the first time, an inmate jumped Kyle and hurt his head. One hopes the correctional system would have enough common sense to not send a nonviolent inmate back to a place where his safety was jeopardized. But, really, they could give a shit. It is not their son. It is not their brother. It is not their friend.

"I'm not giving up, I am going to fight even more to get my son out of that hell hole," Suson wrote on Kyle's Facebook after her son told her he'd be transferred again.

Continue reading »

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Navigating Priorities in the Wake of the Shooting at Pulse in Orlando

Posted By on Wed, Jun 22, 2016 at 4:00 PM

A small group of attendees gathered at the Water of Life Sanctuary last Saturday to honor the lives of those lost on June 12 in Orlando, one of multiple prayer vigils held in Tucson last week.

Candles were passed at the door and Amazing Grace was sung from the pulpit, while the faces of the 49 victims flashed on a projector at the front of the hall. A few speakers expressed their sadness, confusion, and hope in the face of yet another act of senseless violence on United States soil. After a final prayer, names of victims were read. One man, from Puerto Rico, was in town for a Selena Gomez concert. Another had just bought his first home for his mother. One couple had just opened their own beauty salon.

When the floor opened up to members of the congregation, a man approached the podium to speak not for Republicans or Democrats, but simply for people facing a violent reality where guns have been increasingly falling into the wrong hands.

The NRA has been working overtime in the wake of the Orlando massacre to urge constituencies to oppose legislation which would tighten restrictions on gun acquisitions and ownership. Democrats staged a 15-hour filibuster during an appropriation bill debate to shift focus to gun laws. Republicans cry terrorism, Democrats scream gun access.

Continue reading »

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On Camps, Traffic and Reporting in the Middle East for the First Time

Posted By on Wed, Jun 22, 2016 at 3:00 PM

On a hilltop overlooking informal settlements near El Kaa in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley - FOUAD HIJAZI
  • Fouad Hijazi
  • On a hilltop overlooking informal settlements near El Kaa in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley

I’ve come to believe that drivers in Beirut are all in on a giant game of Chicken that the rest of the world hasn’t really caught onto yet. Just how close can one get to the other drivers on the road before a vehicular accident is inevitable? Or worse, scratch the paint on the Mercedes.

Cars bob-and-weave through uneven lines of traffic at stressful speeds, getting close enough to pudgy delivery drivers to watch their rolls bounce with the tut-tut-tut of their rickety mopeds. Traffic lanes are painted on the asphalt but are entirely invisible to the average Lebanese motorist. My cousin, a true Beiruti to his core, rocks his steering wheel back and forth within centimeters of oncoming drivers if he feels I’m falling asleep in the car. The Lebanese, not unlike the very pulse of the country itself, are determined to keep you on your toes.

I’m in Beirut filming for my master’s project on the Syrian border and have found that, as a student journalist on her own, reporting in the Middle East for the first time entails a similar chaos to be found on Beiruti freeways. Plans and expectations, no matter how many or how well laid out, are often followed through about as well as Beirut’s fading white traffic lines.

A young boy plays around at an old high school now functioning as a refugee camp in Baalbek, Lebanon. - JENNIFER HIJAZI
  • Jennifer Hijazi
  • A young boy plays around at an old high school now functioning as a refugee camp in Baalbek, Lebanon.

My third day in Lebanon I travel to Baalbek, a town in the Bekaa Valley east of Beirut to gather footage from refugee camps in the area. The Lebanese government does not allow for the foundation of formal refugee camps, a paranoia still seething in the wake of Palestinian camps-turned-cities in Beirut and beyond. The valley is dotted with tent villages of all sizes, many set between open agricultural fields.

My fixer, a local videojournalist, agrees to take me to the Syrian border near Arsal, where we surreptitiously set up my virtual reality camera out of range of the military presence at the border gate. Every so often my fixer will take out his own credentials and “film” the street to deflect attention from the blinking Freedom360 rig we’ve set up facing the barbed wire concrete wall from the median a block down. After a few minutes, I hurriedly set up the camera from another angle across the busy street, praying to the journalism gods that I can stow away all of my equipment in the SUV before a guy in uniform shows up.

A ten minute drive from the border takes us to a camp in El Kaa, an informal tent village baking in blazing Bekaa sun, surrounded by Lebanese fields to the west and Syrian mountains to the east. Children, playing barefoot in the dirt, spot my cameras and begin following closely at my heels. One boy in a striped polo and munching on biscuits observes me synchronizing my 360 camera and quickly memorizes the steps, pointing at each GoPro as I turn them on, just in case I miss one. An invaluable camera assistant for the day.

I take a moment of hesitation to consider my next few shots, long enough for a young man to come bounding up the dirt road from the entrance to the camp. He gestures to my cameras and begins speaking to my companions in Arabic. My translator turns to me and says “Let’s go.”

Frustrated and slightly concerned, I shove both of my tripods in the car, cameras still on from the last shot. I am told as we exit that the informal camp “chief,” or shaweesh as they are called here, has been watching us from his perch on a nearby hill and has requested the pleasure of our presence. We declined.

Going through footage back in Beirut a day later, away from shaweesh threats, border guards, and impatient fixers, I take a moment and decompress. Some of my interviews are just a hair too dark, some b-roll just a little shaky, and I’m pretty sure you can see my feet in at least one 360 shot. I resist the urge to hurl myself into the Mediterranean while I peruse my photos and replay the long tape of expectations and shortcomings I had in my head before heading to the Bekaa.
Three boys living in an informal refugee settlement near Baalbek in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. - JENNIFER HIJAZI
  • Jennifer Hijazi
  • Three boys living in an informal refugee settlement near Baalbek in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.

A few more scrolls and deep breaths later, relief sets in.
From the last camp, three boys pose for a picture, full of pent up energy and curiosity. In another frame, a group of women sit beside each other outside a small market, lined up to be mic'ed and interviewed. Still one more shows a string of drying laundry and a playful kid at the end of the hall, his gleeful grin obvious even out of focus.

Despite all the missteps, close calls, and missed opportunities, my latest trip to the Middle East proved invaluable in ways that I'm still rediscovering miles away back in my own desert. Perhaps the most profound of which is the trust given to me by the many people I met along the way to tell their stories. I am eternally grateful for their time and patience.

For young international journalists, I would advise constant preparedness without the burden of well-laid plans. Be ready and open for anything to the best of your ability, but don't rely heavily on expectations. Give yourself plenty of time, always say "yes" within reason, and always check your equipment before heading out. Most importantly, make sure the people and their stories remain your constant guide and purpose, that above all will keep your work moving forward.     

And Beirut driving does not translate well back home in the States. Trust me. 

A group of Syrian children at an informal settlement near Baalbek in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. - JENNIFER HIJAZI
  • Jennifer Hijazi
  • A group of Syrian children at an informal settlement near Baalbek in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Caterpillar Concerns: You Should Also Look into the Manufacturer's Unwelcomed Presence in Gaza Strip, West Bank

Posted By on Mon, Jun 20, 2016 at 12:00 PM


I recently wrote about a Menlo Park Neighborhood Association meeting I attended a couple of weeks ago, where Menlo residents and Rio Nuevo Board representatives discussed mining equipment manufacturer Caterpillar's regional headquarter's upcoming move to West Side Tucson.

Much of the city is celebrating the fact that Caterpillar chose the Old Pueblo over others like Phoenix and Denver to bring what could mean $600 million in economic impact and 600 well-paying jobs—many of which will already be taken by existing Caterpillar employees, who will begin relocating to Tucson this summer.

My focus of the article revolved around a handful of residents who are concerned about what this will mean to the historic Menlo Park: everything from hikes in property tax and rent costs that will push old-time residents out to environmental and gentrification concerns. (Is this part of the trend to kill as much of Tucson's Native American and Mexican American cultural heritage as possible?)

Abby Okrent with the Jewish Voice for Peace-Tucson pointed out another huge issue of much global scale regarding Caterpillar and whether or not a city like Tucson should be rejoicing over their move here: there is a global campaign against Caterpillar for "its complicity in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip."

Continue reading »

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Friday, June 17, 2016

In Defense of Marijuana: Parents of Medical Weed Patient in Prison Fear for His Life

Posted By on Fri, Jun 17, 2016 at 9:00 AM

I met Kyle Catlin almost one year ago. As I'm writing this, he sits in protective custody at the Marana Community Correctional Facility, afraid for his life after an inmate recently jumped him and then threatened to kill him for being "a snitch."

The inmate split Kyle's lip open. The inmate now sits in solitary because of the fight. Kyle is also in "the hole" for protection. Both of them were issued a complaint even though Kyle didn't do anything, according to his father Marvin.

This wasn't the first time. A couple of months ago, another inmate in a different correctional facility jumped Kyle and split his head open.

"His appeal for the guy punching him in the mouth was denied, he has one more appeal and is working on it now. If he is denied again he will have to be put in a medium security facility," Marvin told me through Facebook a couple of days ago. We've been in touch here and there since Kyle's trial.

"He is being threatened by a group of inmates. He should be moved to protective custody tonight.
I fear for his life," Marvin said last night. 

It was a three-digit-hot August day last year, and the young medical marijuana patient/caregiver and I were supposed to talk about his upcoming two trials for nonviolent marijuana sale, possession and cultivation felony charges over some iced coffee or tea at Cafe Passé on Fourth Avenue. Kyle called me to let me know he couldn't make it because his car had broken down and he'd taken it to a shop in South Tucson. I met him there and we talked in the waiting room for at least three hours.
Kyle and his grandfather.
  • Kyle and his grandfather.

Before we got into the serious talk, he chatted about his upcoming birthday party on Aug. 15. It was his 27th birthday. 

Tall, the blondest of hair, soft spoken, kind eyes, beyond family-oriented and a die-hard fan of car racing—I remember thinking, how can he be facing the possibility of going to prison?

At the time, he had at least 10 felony charges on him. (Read more about the charges, In Defense of Marijuana, September 2015.) He told me he was afraid of going to prison. He was afraid of getting pulled into a gang, being jumped. He, without shame, said he wasn't a fighter. He'd lose a fight. But probably the biggest fear was separating from his family. They were always together.

Continue reading »

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Thank you Anderson Cooper for Telling Off Florida Attorney General and Her Anti-LGBT Politics

Posted By on Tue, Jun 14, 2016 at 6:30 PM

Now, I am not a huge fan of cable news, but I have been catching Anderson Cooper on CNN and his coverage of the Orlando mass shooting. He has been tactful. Most importantly, he has not acted the way we are taught in journalism school—cold and emotionless, no matter how horrific the events we're covering are, for the sake of being "neutral." 

After the events at Pulse nightclub, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has promised to go after anyone who causes any harm to the LGBT community. It's ironic and hypocritical—like Cooper so majestically told her during an interview today—because blocking same-sex marriage in Florida has been at the forefront of Bondi's work as attorney general. 
"Do you really think you're a champion of gay rights?" Cooper asked. "I've never heard you say anything positive about gays before." Cooper told her off and did not let Bondi speak for at least five minutes.

Anti-LGBT laws are the gateway into normalizing and condoning homophobia and transphobia. From there, it is a very fine line to cross into hate crime massacres like the one at Pulse, where 49 LGBT brothers and sisters died early Sunday morning.

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No Republicans, Moments of Silence Are Not Preventing Mass Shootings

Posted By on Tue, Jun 14, 2016 at 10:00 AM

On Monday, there was a moment of silence in Congress to mourn the 49 LGBT young men and women who were killed in the Orlando mass shooting in the early hours of Sunday. At that moment, Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives started to repeatedly chant, "Where's the bill?" 

The protest was against House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Republicans who refuse to support gun control legislation. They are guilty of continuing to allow killers, like the one who broke into Pulse nightclub, to purchase AR-15-style semiautomatic rifles and other weapons meant for a war zone. 

According to Mother Jones, Ryan refused to acknowledge the protesters and instead tried to continue business as usual.
He even dismissed Rep. James Clyburn's attempt to speak about the upcoming anniversary of the Charleston mass shooting, in which nine people were killed inside a historic black church on June 17, 2015.
Republicans and the anti-gun control movement, keep your moments of silence to yourselves, keep your "my thoughts are with the victims" to yourselves, keep your "guns don't kill people" bullshit to yourselves. 

As Mother Jones writes, the protest on Monday will very likely fall on deaf ears. 

Here's the video courtesy of CNN:

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