Here are two updates, or rather amplifications, on topics I’ve blogged about here. Both links come courtesy of my brother Mark; I haven’t been able to do much reading in the last two weeks with family visiting (especially a certain hyperactive niece).

ZERO TOLERANCE. Tom Hayden wrote a lengthy article for alternet.org about the war against street children and gang members in Honduras.

In the past five years, over 900 kids, 18 and younger, have turned up dead in the streets, ditches, or dumpsters of Honduras — in terms of the nation’s population, that is roughly equivalent to 45,000 fatalities in the U.S. Honduran officials estimate that 20 percent of the victims were killed by police or private death squads who prowl the streets in station wagons with tinted windows and no license plates. Most of the victims — usually deportees from Los Angeles — were identified as gang members because of their tattoos, although a majority had no criminal history.

The prisons themselves have become the scenes of mass-scale killings. On Apr. 5, 2003, 68 inmates affiliated with the 18th Street gang were killed in a prison massacre near La Ceiba, in northern Honduras. Initially, prison officials blamed the inmates for causing the fatal fire, but a government-appointed commission later concluded that 51 of the dead prisoners had been summarily executed by police officials, who then set the fire to cover up the killings. No one has been charged for these murders.

The latest fire catastrophe on May 17 was in a prison near San Pedro Sula, the center of maqiladora employment in northeast Honduras. Police officials blamed the blaze on faulty wiring, but human rights observers are skeptical — and with good reason. . . .

The government policy . . . is to sweep the trash off the streets, then burn it.

BLUE DEVILS AND THE LEGEND OF ROBERT JOHNSON. From LA Times writer Ellen Barry, via Yahoo! News, a story called Bluesman’s Son Gets His Due:

Pulled out of school every year to work in the fields, Claud dropped out for good in the sixth grade and found satisfaction in work, long hours of it, sometimes at two or three jobs. He sold barbecue from a pit beside his house, worked at gas stations and a car dealership; his wife waited tables at a local diner.

Claud saved enough to buy his own gravel truck — a machine so crotchety that he carried a tangle of cables and four extra batteries in order to start it, Kitchens remembers. Often Claud drove it for 18 hours a day. In this way, he and Ernestine put five children through college.

His grandparents’ stern influence had served him as a rudder, steadying him throughout his life, he said.

“It learned me something about life, growing up that way,” he said.

Then, in his 60s, the heirship case opened a view into a second Mississippi: a place where, in moments of glamour, young people ducked the narrow rules of sharecropping life.

In testimony, Claud’s 79-year-old mother and her friends would describe the dark clubs where the field workers gathered, laughing, in the half-light of evening.

They described his father: a man known for slipping out without saying goodbye, for traveling under aliases, for sleeping in boxcars and emerging with pants that looked like they had just been steam-ironed.

They described performances where Robert Johnson sat alone with a guitar and held them all still. They described what happened when he met up with 17-year-old Virgie Mae Smith on her way to school.

In the end, the crucial testimony came from Virgie Mae’s closest friend, Eula Mae Williams, an 80-year-old midwife with pure white hair, who recalled an evening walk she took with her fiance and Virgie Mae and Robert Johnson.

To the shock of the assembled lawyers, who had to pause during questioning because they were laughing so hard, she described how both couples made love standing up in the pine forest, watching each other the whole time. . . .

“I’ve always known all my life who I was and whose son I was,” [Claud Johnson] said. “Never got angry over it. Like I said, my grandparents they always told me Robert Johnson was my father.”

Already, he was a solitary, careful man.

Claud, a church deacon, has had such a lifelong fear of poisoning he did not eat at his mother-in-law’s house for two years after his wedding.

Even at home, if he gets up from a meal leaving a half-drunk glass of water, he will not touch it on his return.

“I’m just curious that way,” he said, with a slow smile. “It just sticks in the back of my mind what happened to him.”

With all these people talking to him about Robert Johnson’s music, too, he’s had occasion to wonder about a few things.

He remembers the guitar being lifted from his hands that time long ago. He says that he has a nice singing voice.

One after another, people from outside Mississippi have come to Claud to tell him the effect Robert Johnson had on their lives: Magical, haunting, almost godlike.

He wonders what it would have been like if his father had stuck around.

And he wonders, from time to time, if, in that alternate version of his life, he would have played the blues.

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