<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
 English | Español November 19, 2017 | Issue #34


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Herding Cats at the School of Authentic Journalism

An Ethnography of a Strange and Lost Art in the Era of Globalization


By José Mirtenbaum
2004 Narco News Authentic Journalism Professor

August 13, 2004

Being an academic and anthropologist, I never would have believed that cats could be subjected to the primordial practice of herding. The shepherd normally works with goats, cows and sheep. What’s more, herding is such an ancient practice, one that corresponds to the times of hunting and gathering that our pre-agricultural ancestors used as a style of pre-communal production. Well then, who in our anthropological discipline could have imagined that cats could also be herded in the urban spaces of Cochabamba, the biodiversity of the Chapare, and the world of cyber-globalization?


Al Giordano
Photo: Jeremy Bigwood D.R. 2004
To my surprise, there are places on and offline on this planet where cats are herded once a year. The humble shepherd of these cats is a nervous man named Al Giordano, bearing a strange resemblance to the biblical David before the giants of disinformation. Originally born in the Bronx of the Big Apple, Giordano herded his first group of cats in Mexico, then decided to practice his art of shepherding in Bolivia. The proposition of this herding is aimed at all those who feel they are felines of information, when in reality they are only domesticated cats wandering out of their epistemological homes, where freedom of the press is confused at times with accumulation of facts, and is even confused with absolute truth. Al Giordano bathes them with a good dose of multiple angles of “the truth” to later give them a permanent with the combs of hardship in the field of investigative reporting.


Jennifer Whitney
Photo: Jeremy Bigwood D.R. 2004
However, the shepherd Giordano hopes that his cats of the School of Authentic Journalism – class of 2004 in Bolivia – develop their best qualities as male and female felines to be able to hunt the real essence of truth in the facts and, by extension, report the truth and nothing but the truth. It’s obvious that these are beautiful, genius and multi-colored cats that have been taken out of their absolutely urban environment and brought to places like the “dramatic and creative” Bolivia, as one red-haired cat named Jennifer Whitney reported.

The spirit of the cats is readjusted to hunt the imperial rats of deception that work under orders of the dozens of Goliaths of information. We will clearly understand that the rats of deception are those mercenaries that tell stories only to gain a dollar or so to satisfy the version of truth told by the grand Goliath.

The Country Home of the Cats

On Saturday, July 31, I arrived at this strange and beautiful place. It is a country hotel a man from Munich has constructed outside of Cochabamba with the flavor of Southern Germany. A bit confused and tired from my university activities, I arrived by taxi from the airport. Standing outside the reception area of the Country House I was surprised by one of the assistants of shepherd Giordano, named Lucho Gómez, who with his customary kindness and sweetness offered to escort me into a breakfast buffet. Entering the dining room of the cats, many of them tourist cats – nothing to do with the cats of the school – I sat down at a table. The assistant pastor pointed out the shepherd Giordano who was preparing, on his laptop, the program that the cats would have to hunt on this Saturday. Lucho Gómez introduced me to the shepherd Giordano, who with his attentive gaze, semi-lost, resulting from the inaugural activities from the night before, gave me a warm welcome, thanking me for being present at the School.


Luis “Lucho” Gómez
Photo: Jeremy Bigwood D.R. 2004
Next I sat down to breakfast with the elder cats, those felines with a lot of hunting experience: I am referring to the felines Charlie Hardy and Jeremy Bigwood who asked me very direct questions about the state of Bolivian politics. Of course I tried to be as direct as possible since I felt I was taking a test about whether I could enter the School. I think I passed the test.

Turning my eyes, I saw the familiar sombrero of a feline with gravitas, whose strange custom is to chew coca leaves beginning at two p.m. each day, instead of Cat Chow. Her name is Silvia Rivera, who I already knew from other times in the fight for democracy and truth. In her essence she is a magic-religious feline that sometimes becomes a shepherd and sometimes a feline with her claws finely sharpened.


Silvia Rivera
Photo: Jeremy Bigwood D.R. 2004
Leaving the breakfast table I drew close to the assistant pastor Alex Contreras, who I had not seen since we met with James Petras and the inhabitants of the Chapare town of Lauka Ñ. Of course we greeted each other warmly.

Once I received my room assignment, I learned that I was going to share a room with the grand shepherd Wálter Maierovitch, a Brazilian with a Polish chin and a brilliant judge made of iron: Straight and sensible as a sheet of pure silk, but with feet planted firmly on the ground. It was a true pleasure to share a room with this great feline, a theorist of drug policy, who was placed between a rock and a hard place by none other than President Fernando Enrique Cardoso.

Once the first plenary session of the cats, felines, and shepherds was convoked, I was welcomed once more to the group and I had to say something. There, I gave them all a welcome to dramatic and creative Bolivia and the fact that I could only share with them knowledge but not information: Well, that is the prerogative of an anthropologist over a journalist.


José Mirtenbaum with George Sanchez
Photo: Noah Friedsky D.R. 2004
They formed four workgroups in the different means of communication: Written, spoken, configured in images and transmitted for computers. I enlisted in the workshop of the written word, essencially because it was about an issue in which I thought I was well versed: the infamous policy of the “War on Drugs.” But later I found out that I was to be the moderator of a nocturnal debate that would tackle the delicate relation between free speech and a free press. The debaters would be Wálter the Judge and George Sanchez, the cat of all cats in the field of editing. I also learned that apart from being moderator I had to be a translator. That’s when I realized that this was not just one more school, but, rather, it really was a shepherding of cats through the complex world of globalization of ideas that sometimes are taken as universal and sometimes as local and relative to the geopolitical context.


Amy Casada-Alaniz
Photo: Jeremy Bigwood D.R. 2004
The debate made me realize that although “freedom of speech” is a fundamental and sacred right, it has to be realized in the context of what each culture understands as “freedom of the press,” and ad infinitum: a true Foucalt’s pendulum that very much frustrated the sensitive cat Amy Casada.

Of course, in this debate, the figure of the evil inquisitor-editor-censor cats that work for Goliath emerged. The conflict between license and self-determination of what to read and write to define the truth of the facts became a kind of Rubric’s cube, not only for the journalist, but also for the reader. A dialectic battle between the cognitive consciousness of the individual reader, the conscience of the journalist, the public consciousness of the State and the role of the responsible and sometimes mercenary journalist evolved.

Finally I was baptized in the world of the shepherds, cats, and felines of Authentic Journalism that had occurred in the great hall of the Country House in just one day. I understood at once what shepherd Giordano meant when he talked about “the art of herding cats.”

After this, my first day, during the subsequent days I became a shepherd-cat getting to know many cats, kittens, felines, and shepherds all at once, who I learned to respect, to love, and to protect. But that is another story…

What I did learn, though, is to fall in love again with those cats, kittens and felines who seek the truth, whether through simple curiosity or through basic human ethics.

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America