By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
I figured I was as appalled as the next guy that Arnold Schwarzenegger is actually the governor of California. But down here in Mexico the next guy — and the next and the next, all along Mazatlan’s closed-for-Carnaval waterfront — is so appalled that on Saturday night Governor Arnold was burned in effigy. After residents here decided Arnold should be, well, fired, Carnaval planners made a larger-than-life-size piñata in his likeness, stuffed it with incendiary devices and adorned it with a beauty-pageant sash that read “El Goberneytor.” They hung Arnold on the hook of a tow truck, then slowly paraded him through town, accompanied by a small marching band and a large dancing troupe of jesters–cum–Grim Reapers. When Arnold finally reached the huge crowd at the Olas Atlas waterfront, somebody lit the fuse and “El Goberneytor” transformed into a spinning pyrotechnic device spraying wide veils of sparks that congealed into a blazing pillar of fire until only the head remained dangling in the smoky breeze.
Somebody is burned in effigy every year in Mazatlán — usually Mexican politicians, businessmen or show-business stars felled by corruption or moral scandal. It’s supposed to be sort of a joke. Locals call it La Quema del Mal Humor— the Fire of Bad Humor — and it is the centerpiece of the city’s massive Carnaval, held on the last Saturday before Lent. In concept, the most-despised person in Mazatlán is burned in effigy so that the souls of everybody else will be purified by the fire. In practice, La Quema del Mal Humor is a combination of ancient sacred metaphor and modern bad-taste street theater — think Jesus-on-Calvary meets puppet-show-at-anti-WTO-demonstration.
There was no missing the light-hearted side of this, from the comical rendering of Schwarzenegger’s block head, buff bod and stunned expression to the kooky accompaniment of his entourage, which danced incessantly to what seemed to be endless banda variations on the themes from the Three Stooges, Laurel and Hardy, and the Little Rascals.
But how the governor of California came to be considered the most-despised person in a laid-back, tourist-dependent, Mexican beach resort like Mazatlán is not a joke. It’s telling that until Schwarzenegger’s effigy got to Olas Altas, the parade route didn’t pass any tourist attractions. It toured the ragged neighborhoods of the Mexicans who work in the hotels and restaurants for the equivalent of $5 or $6 a day — people perhaps familiar with the mixed message of California’s immigration laws, which tend to attract and then reject Mexican workers.
The effigy provoked a surprising reaction, considering that Mexicans have frequently tended to resent those who have left their country to emigrate to the United States, sometimes describing them as traitors. Even so, the crowd that gathered for the climactic incineration roared with indignation as the so-called charges against Schwarzenegger were announced — by an emcee who had been elected Carnaval’s El Rey de Alegria (King of Happiness) and who was adorned with a dorky cowboy hat and a beauty-pageant sash himself.
“El Goberneytor has provoked an attack against the undocumented foreigners who live in our neighboring country to the north — throwing to the four winds any concerns over the bad treatment of the Hispanic community,” intoned El Rey de Alegria, not looking very alegre. “He is a pupil of the anti-immigrant policies of Pete Wilson, even though he is an immigrant himself who arrived in that country posing his body like a model and then posing as an actor. He demonstrates that he does not know the history of the land that he governs — that California was Mexico before it was taken away in an act of aggressive war.” It went on like that for a while.
Fortunately, a drummer had the comic sense to punctuate this rant with a few rim shots, and the King of Happiness got everybody laughing again by punctuating this dire recounting of Schwarzenegger’s offenses with the perfect punch line of a verdict just as the executioner lit his match: “Hasta la vista, baby!”
And as the sparks sprayed and the piñata spun and the crowd and the fire roared, it struck me that a Quema del Mal Humor probably would have solved as many problems as a recall election, especially with better fire-code enforcement.
The Sorrows of Chalmers Johnson
Back when he headed Cal Berkeley’s political science department and the Center for Chinese Studies, Chalmers Johnson published scholarly studies with titles like Peasant Nationalism and Communist Power: The Emergence of Revolutionary China, 1937–1945. For 40 years Johnson’s oeuvre was highly respected in patched-elbow circles, but wasn’t exactly the stuff you’d find pyramided in airport news shops. Things changed in 2000, however, when he published a critique of U.S. foreign policy with the Mickey Spillane–ish title, Blowback. The book, which warned of a coming retribution for America’s imperial bullying antics, languished for a while until 9/11 elevated it to the status of prophecy — and hot best-seller.
Last week Johnson appeared at the Central Library downtown to talk about his newest analysis, The Sorrows of Empire, an even more scalding indictment of the planetary garrison that has been created by the Pentagon and CIA. Severe arthritis limits his touring schedule, and the 72-year-old Johnson made his way to the auditorium stage with the help of a cane. Yet the voice and wit were as clear and acerbic as when he was a regular commentator on KQED-TV’s World Press Review in the 1970s.