Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Indefinite Detention provisions into the Defense Authorization Bill : A Cautionary Tale

Congress voting the Indefinite Detention provisions into the Defense Authorization Bill: Parallels with Argentina’s Dirty War

During the Dirty War in Argentina where I was a student, the military junta under the guise of protecting the citizenry from the attack by anti establishment pro socialist forces - guerrilleros- , and armed with a strong propaganda machine designed to smoke and mirror, enacted crimes against humanity in the form of suspected terrorists being "detained", leading to torture, death and disappearance of about 30,000 people. In reality this was done in order to defend the interests and power structure of a small ruling class, in alliance with anti communist thrust of the US, who trained and funded the dictatorship.

Today in the US it is in the name of defending us from terrorists’ attacks, but if we are to learn from this not so far history, we can infer that it is done to defend those who control our social and economic reality from attacks by occupiers and system critics and to justify the repression of the popular uprising at town centers and universities. The Indefinite Detention provisions is added to the Defense Authorization Bill sending a not so subtle message that if voices are raised to call for the end of social injustice and for a more equal redistribution of wealth, individuals could be singled out and indefinitely detained without recourse.

Once the limits of power are removed by twisting the constitution into new laws, it is hard to say where power would stop in it’s grip for permanency since those abusing power are immune to consequences.

Here is a historic opportunity for President Obama to exercise veto power should this legislation pass both houses, and here is our chance to call attention of this issue and make sure the people do not get trampled further.

I moved to the US back in the early 80's in search of the freedom of expression lost to all in Argentina , and 30 years later I find myself facing the possibility of heading into a similar scenario here.


Argentina 1981 / US 2011

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Year's end musings

As 2010 comes to an end, I find myself thinking =
what is the greatest challenge I face as an architect today?

To come up with creative solutions to promote face-to-face interaction as we move deeper into diminishing resources and digital distractions, while solving the issue of social justice as it pertains to equal access to resources for all.

Are edible gardens for low income communities an answer? Yes, I think so.

This year I joined a very committed group of community volunteers in the creation of the "Micheltorena School & Community Garden". The school is a Title 1 LAUSD elementary, serving 80% low income families. The garden creates the space to grow fruits and vegetable and for face-to-face interaction. More and more people come out to volunteer, looking for the chance to participate.

Connection to nature, outdoor vigorous activity and meeting new friends are some of the activities created so far, and as we move forward and are able to grow food, a solution to a social justice issue: equal access to fresh food for all.

I am a big believer in self reliance and our hoods have demonstrated time and again that getting together and making the effort brings results. 2011 opens the chance of making one of us, Tomas O'grady, part of City Council (he is running for Council District 4 in Mach elections). Working together, he tells us, anything is possible = Let's find the opportunities and commit the muscle to make them happen.

To a 2011 full of face-to-face equal access opportunities!

Monday, May 31, 2010

An Evening celebrating the Apis Mellifera

Chef extraordinaire Andy Windack puts together an evening of wonder and sweets delights with a 10 course dinner paired with honey from around the world and featuring Leonardo's "God Save The Queen" Silver Lake Honey.
To read all about it, visit THE WIND ATTACK BLOG

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A new generation of Urban Beekeepers?

Yesterday I had the privilege of talking about Urban Beekeeping to about 150 12-to-13-year-old students at King Middle School in the Los Feliz/Silver Lake area.

I was invited by the folk at Farm Feliz, who created a beautiful organic vegetable garden & composting facility right in the middle of the campus, which the kids help plant and maintain. Bees seemed a perfect complement for the garden, so the volunteering opportunity presented itself.

The kids were unruly, somewhat defiant and very funny. Some of them had a genuine interest in the topic of bees, how to care for them, pollination, etc, and all of them went crazy about tasting honey in the comb and pollen. The highlight of the day was the demonstration of how to wear the veil and gloves, for which I had a long list of volunteers. We were also able to observe some bees at work on the broccoli in bloom.

As I was leaving one of the girls stopped me and said "Mr. Leonardo, I knew nothing about bees until today."
Earlier I got an e-mail from the science teacher, Miss Ralph: "Thanks so much for yesterday- I've quizzed my students today, and they really learned a lot!"

Mission accomplished.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Whether we believe that the earth resources are finite or not, that global warming is caused by man’s activity or not or that it is even happening at all, there are few very easy and FREE things we can do to save money and energy, and reduce our carbon emissions at the same time.

These easy to perform suggestions are the first line of defense before going to the expense of upgrading building materials and equipment, cars, etc…simply REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE!

Here are a dozen tips in not particular order:

1) Turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth and washing dishes.

2) Put a brick or a rock inside your toilet tank to reduce the amount of water per flush.

3) Collect rain water in buckets for later reuse in landscaping irrigation.

4) Plug computer, TV and other appliance’s into a surge protector and turn it off when not in use.

5) Dry clothes on line, weather permitting.

6) Set thermostat lower that you usually do in the winter and higher in summer (every 1ยบ difference will save about 5% energy cost a year).

7) Turn off the light when leaving a room.

8) Walk and/or bike as much as possible.

9) Cook at home with fresh produce from your local farmer’s market.

10) Plant vegetables and fruits.

11) Compost kitchen and garden refuse.

12) Bring your own reusable shopping bags.

Perhaps the biggest challenge to adopting any of these practices is the status quo and an ego-centric entitlement to unlimited and cheap energy and resources. Today’s reality tells us something different, and calls for a reevaluation of our ways. Investing a little extra thought and work will go a long way towards adjusting the bottom line and helping the environment.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


From the LATimes 8/14/09

“The price of sugar on world markets has soared this year, prompting a coalition of the nation's largest food manufacturers to warn of a pending shortage and to ask the Agriculture Department to ease quotas on imports.”

Most of us know by now that health care in the US is a for-profit business, and for-obscene-profit at that. There are many industries that are invested in keeping us sick, and during the last few month many of them have been discussed repeatedly in the media and blogs, namely pharma, insurance, hospitals and doctors.

Not much has been said about the food industry in connection with the health care debate, although books like “In defense of food“ and movies like “Food Inc” have helped uncover and broadcast the inner workings and perils of America's industrialized food system.

Despite the claim that growing and producing food at such scale has made it more readily available to the masses at more affordable prices, 36 million people in the US alone do not have secure access to food. In the process Big-Agro-Business pollutes our fields and waterways, inhumanely treats billions of animals, and nearly ends the family farm, while contributing to the serious rate of sick, depressed and overweight people in America.

The FOOD INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX is a major partner in crime to the HEALTH INDUSTRY by manufacturing, advertising and selling foods full of flavor but devoid of nourishment, made of genetically engineered crops treated with pesticides and factory farmed animals, and loaded with salt, hydrogenated oils, colorants, flavoring and SUGAR.

According to Dr. Nancy Appleton in her book “Lick the sugar habit”,

“Sugar appears to be inoffensive but it is one of the substances that most attacks our immune system. Sugar creates allergy, and our immune system deals with that allergy instead of blocking or destroying toxins, viruses and bacteria…every time we eat sugar, even as little as a teaspoon, the minerals in our system get imbalanced. Your body will break down over time if minerals and other nutrients are not in balance (this is homeostasis a word coined by Walter B. Cannon). The digestive and immune systems are usually the first to feel the effects of this imbalance rendering your body unable to process food or fight off foreign invaders. More allergies and disease follow.”

WE CAN TAKE ACTION by listening to our bodies, getting an education on what’s good for each one of us. A healthy lifestyle, like consuming Fresh-Local-Organic-Seasonal foods, leads to preventing future illnesses, which leads to less visits to the doctor, less use of meds, less stays in hospitals... ending the business as usual for the INDUSTRIAL HEALTH COMPLEX and redirecting the insane profit dollars to extend MEANINGFUL HEALTH COVERAGE FOR THE WHOLE NATION including education and prevention.

Some useful links

Find local sustainable organic food

Food Born illnesses

Environmental impact of food choices

Factory Farming

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Iranians are protesting the elections and the opposition candidate, Mousavi, is calling for a re-vote. Their SUPREME leader is saying no, but they are not backing down.
8 years ago we did not speak up when our candidate, Mr. Gore, quickly conceded and we accepted our SUPREME court decision to side with Bush. All the protesting we did afterwards was to no avail, our SUPREME president did what he wanted anyway.

In the US we have the right to assemble, march and protest. Our politicians know we seldom do these days, so they go on with their plans as if. Are we too busy living our lives and staying above water? Compared with other countries we still have a very high standard of living and in general the basic needs covered. Still. Are those of us who have more than the basic too busy maintaining to care about the less fortunate?. Perhaps the race to provide for ourselves and our loved ones has turned us too complacent, lazy and spineless. I am myself guilty as charged.

Unless we want to be stuck with major reforms that will shape our lives for years to come -or with pseudo reforms that will not really change the status quo- it behooves us to get out there and peacefully express our opinions. Short of joining a demonstration, letters and e-mails, even a phone call to the white house (202-456-1111) will do to make sure we express our opposition - or support- of the different policies being considered right now = Health Reform, Wars, Energy, Economy, Equality.

Whether we voted for Obama or not, we have the duty to voice our opinions. These are very important times in domestic and foreign policy. We are again in a position of exporting American values to the world, a world much more receptive to us, as we have regained their respect by electing Obama. What are American values, you may ask? Equality under the law, access to quality health prevention and care not connected to employment, free education and peace for all are the basic ones in my book. But only by having those guaranteed at home, can we expect anybody else to follow our example. Do as I do, not as I say I do.

We paid a high price for not raising our voices against past injustices; perhaps we can learn from the people of Iran. They seem ready to die for the right to express themselves. As more and more people fall through the cracks loosing their jobs and not being able to afford health care, our silence may equal death.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


As the US goes around the world promoting democracy and equality for all as the basis for a world in which ideas and ideals flow freely, it harbors within it's borders a group of second class citizens.

Obama took a big stand in the case of torture, declaring it amoral in the face of the US exporting fairness as a policy... how can we be credible if we torture? Well, I say, how can we be credible if we oppress?
Campaign promises apart, Mr. Obama, I may be disappointed at you , but I'm not dropping the ball and I call for equal rights under equal taxation. We do pay for the paper on which the marriage licenses denied to us are printed, for the schools where the kids we can't adopt go to learn, for the pensions and health benefits that our spouses are unable to enjoy, and some of us fight in the military for our country's freedom but are not free to express who we are. No more I say!

I am very sorry to discover that the candidate of Hope and Change is becoming more and more the politico of the Status Quo. People say that to govern is very different than to campaign, but I am not buying it as a rationale for the current state of affairs. It is too early in the process to judge, some others offer as yet another justification. But the tone is being set, and trying to be all things to all people ends up being not enough for anybody.
As I watch the president on the news, being followed every minute of the day, taking every opportunity for the proverbial photo op, I can't avoid meditating upon the traps of power. As it propels you to the higher echelons of society (money and domination), does it make you forget of your days as a representative of the marginalized and left behind? (community organizer)
Obama caved in during the campaign when he abandoned the church he favored, for the possibility to bring change to society as a whole. We did accept it back then because we agreed that what he did showed that the greater good was bigger than his private believes. Why give the foes standing in the way of a revolution the fodder to cut it off before it could happen?. And happen it did; Obama was elected president, and the historical moment resounded around the world. But is the first "black" president of the US turning into yet another crusty, status quo upholding, standing in the way of social progress "white" politician? Do we accept his caving to the forces that want to keep things from changing as also necessary for the greater good? (War, healthcare, banking anyone?)
The march of time can't be stopped, and the ideals that brought him to power are still in play; mainly the believe that all people are equal and deserve the same treatment under the law.

Compared to other countries and regimes around the world, people say, US homosexuals have it really good. It is true we are not persecuted, jailed nor killed for our sexual orientation. However, and because of that, it is our responsibility to erase the dividing lines and make it clear to all that we will not stand anymore for being thought as equal but separate.
All great changes in the world were the result of struggles against the accepted official version, the way things have always been. To continue to accept marriage and all it's social and economic benefits as the province of the heterosexual, because it's been like that for hundreds of years, does not cut it anymore. Having time on it's side does not make something right. (the world is flat, slavery, women's voting rights anyone?)
Like Mr. Churchill famously said "You can always count on americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else".
For a long time I've tried everything to convince myself to buy into the accepted view of things; but the time has come for me to take responsibility for being the change I want to see happen. I will not stop myself short by accepting "olive branches". It's not charity I'm asking for, but it begins at home.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


On a recent trip to Washington DC I became re-acquainted with architectural symbolism ... symbols are everywhere, in all the buildings, plaques, monuments, walking surfaces ... representing justice, power, equality, knowledge, wisdom, faith ... they are embedded in the town layout, in the axes that connect the branches of government. 
There they are, everywhere you look, speaking to the people and for the people, reminding us of the values this country was founded on. Justice is strong, represented by a lion's head; and slow, depicted by a turtle; the capitol is crowned by a lady looking into the future, standing for freedom; industry by a wreath of oak; the dead by stars , water is maritime power, flowers are beauty. 

The American Revolution of 18th century was all about freedom and equality, a new world where all people (white, european, male) were created equal. Washington DC depicts those ideals and reminds us where we came from with the WashingtonJefferson, and Lincoln memorials.
There are also the war memorials, and none more powerful than the Vietnam Memorial by Maya Lin, which brilliantly reminds us why war is such a waste, such a catastrophe, by allowing us to see our reflection against the names of those who died.

Lincoln Memorial                                                        

Vietnam Memorial

And then I thought of our modern and contemporary buildings, in general completely devoid of these types of elements. How do they remind us of the social values that make us tick and why we are in this together?. Perhaps the new symbolism resides in the sustainable buildings and developments that, by featuring the green elements they incorporate, aim to teach us to respect the earth and its resources, keep it alive for future generations and by extension take care of each other.

Sustainability is the new power structure, the new paradigm that shapes our ability to continue creating strong and beautiful human settlements and preserve the ones we have.

Los Angeles has the potential of becoming the America of the 21st century by representing a new ideal of abundance for all while constantly replenishing our resources; making things that go back to enrich the source rather than to pollute it, as  brilliantly put  by McDonough and Braungart in their seminal book "cradle to cradle".

LEED Platinum Environmental Nature Center 
Newport Beach, CA

On April 22nd, Earth Day, a brave group of concerned citizens gathered in a small public park in Silver Lake, a Los Angeles neighborhood, to start a New Revolution - Stop the rape of the earth by eliminating the use of plastic bags. Those few souls rebelling against the way things have been done (a way they see as anathema to freedom and equality) are in my book the Jeffersons, Washingtons and Lincolns of today.
Powerful, simple, deep, brave, visionary. Let us all be part of the New American Revolution.

The Plastic Bag Monster reminds us to stop using plastic bags.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

URBAN BUZZ or how I became an urban beekeeper.

Last summer a colony of bees decided to move into my garage. I did not give it a second thought  until the beehive in the wall got too big to ignore. As an architect with a practice focussed on sustainability, I knew that bees are precious creatures responsible for helping us survive by pollinating our crops and providing honey, and also that lately there have been enough reports in the press about the fact that they were dying in record numbers. All I wanted was to find somebody to safely removed them. Not kill them, for sure, but remove them and find a new home for them.

After a couple of failed attempts at contacting bee removal companies, luck had it that I found Kirk Anderson of Kirk's Urban Bees. When he showed up that afternoon with his assistant Sebastian, he immediately took care of the situation explaining that it would be a process that would require patience, know how, $150, and mostly love and respect for the bees. Kirk came back 3 or 4 times to check on the progress of the enterprise, which included setting up a temporary box for the bees to move into, until the permanent home would be found. 
By then I had fallen under the spell of Kirk's charm, knowledge, and love for bees and people alike. Kirk, a house painter by trade, is a true guru... his boundless energy and  know how about bees and life does not cease to amaze me. He has now decided to make a living as a full time bee person. 
(213-300-7512 to order his delicious honey).

Next for me was deciding to keep the bees in my garden. I started reading about them, joined the Backwards Beekeeping Club, followed the news on the bulletin board, and...become a big bee enthusiast. I even gave a talk on bees at the Urban Livestock seminar organized by Homegrown Evolution

It turns out that the feral urban bee is the best kept secret in the apiary world. Since most of us do not use pesticides in our gardens and mostly leave the bees alone to do what bees do, they make healthy and vibrant colonies. Backwards beekeeping follows the teachings of Charles Martin Simon, which simply put states that the commercial way is all wrong, that "backwards is the new forward"!
Commercial beekeeping breeds a larger worker bee, which on one hand can carry larger amounts of pollen and produce more honey, but also has a lower metabolism and is highly susceptible to mites, their biggest enemy. Also, commercial bees are put to work pollinating large fields treated with heavy doses of pesticides, and transported long distances under harsh conditions in order to do this work. No wander!

In our communities of Silver Lake and Echo Park, in Los Angeles, lots of us keep bees, and our club has grown to over 90 members in the last month alone (when I joined we were about 10).
It seems that lately, wherever I turn is all about bees. KPCC has done a segment on us and the LATimes has published an article, Isabella Rossellini has done short films, the Obamas have beehives at the White House, and now I get my haircut at The Hive, a new salon/art gallery down the street... BEES, BEES, BEES!

Growing one's own food is to me the height of luxury, and the economic slowdown created the time to pursue it. The garden seems more complete with the little fellows buzzing around; trees, vegetables and flowers seem to be thriving, and by summer we'll be able to taste our own honey!
So this is how the bees found me, and through them I found a new passion. Keeping an open mind and trusting the serendipitous universe seems to have worked one more time.