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Sunday, December 14, 2014

When Christmas Comes

Two of my father’s three sisters came recently to visit with me and my l’il brother. As all out-of-town visits are bound to be, theirs was a short visit.
With my aunts and my brother at the airport
Saying farewell
Time flies when you are having fun, we all say more than frequently.
You can certainly apply that saying to reuniting with family that you haven’t seen in years.
One day you are at the airport waiting for your visitors to clear the bureaucratic processing for all arrivals and no matter how many days pass since then, it seems as it’s just been a few hours when you are again in the same place, this time saying farewell at the security checkpoint.

That’s how it was with the few days spent over the Thanksgiving holiday with Isolina and Esperanza, my father’s youngest siblings on his mother’s side — my father’s paternal sister, Luz, is also younger than him.
Those familiar with this blog will probably remember The Teacher, the post with remembrances about my mother where I recalled some of my early experiences in learning.
Only a few years older than me, my two visitors are the unnamed aunts that I reminisced about in that post.
Being, as I said, only a few years older than me and my two youngest brothers, it was kind of natural that the three of us became accustomed to think of the two of them more as sisters than aunts.
They probably thought of themselves as mothers, because of the way they fiercely protected us from harm, from the time we were born to our young adulthood.
That protection was more than remarkable. It was amazing.

I owe them, of course, more than that.
Absent the three of us, it was my two aunts that for many years, when the health of both my father and mother started on the downward slope towards demise, cared for them.
When Christmas comes most people expect presents.
My aunts visit — they were accompanied by Isolina's husband, Manuel Ricardo, and their youngest son and wife — was a gift delivered weeks in advance.

Along with the usual goodies you can expect from visitors — that certain snack or some other food you can’t find anywhere else but in a place not far from where you were born, for instance — my aunts also brought with them some of the hundreds of pictures that my mother kept in frames, albums and shoe-boxes.
Seeing two of those pictures —one with my parents and my three daughters and the other with Payito holding aloft the youngest of my three, both taken 31 years ago this December — reminded me of something I wrote before about my father, which you will read below.
Payito, Mayita and my three daughters
My ever-present Christmas: Payito, Mayita & my three daughters

In recalling the ways I was different from my father, I wrote:
While I am a total klutz with manual chores, either for home repairs or at fixing automotive engines, he was dexterous. Ambidextrous, as a matter of fact.
How skilled on using either hand? He would like there was nothing to it start working on an engine, say dislodging a stubborn spark-plug on the driver side by manipulating the wrench with his right hand, and without missing a beat and barely shifting his body transfer the wrench to his left hand and effortlessly start working on the opposing plug on the passenger side.
The dexterity had been forced upon him. Left-handed at birth, he learned the use of his right hand back at the little private school that he had been sent in as a child.
Learned, I said, but read rather he was tormented into. The owner-principal-lone-teacher sat him on a chair, tied the left arm to his side and gave him a pencil. Cruel perhaps even by the standards of the end of the 1920s, which is when all this happened.
He was matter-of-fact whenever he told this story. By the time his schooling ended he had for all practical purposes lost his left-handedness. His calligraphy [because there was such a thing to learn when he was little] was almost impeccable and unless you knew the story nothing on how he handled himself would betray the fact that he was not born right-handed.
None of us his three children inherited the left-handed gene although all my three children did.
That pleased him to no end. It’s not as boastful as it may sound. Just the fact that our children were his grandchildren was good enough for him. On those not frequent enough occasions when the telephone would bring us again together at a distance nothing was more important to him than to know what was happening with each one of them. “How’s ‘Hummingbird,’ still taking dance classes?” he would ask.
Payito with the youngest of my daughters
Holding aloft his 'hummingbird'

Distance for one, as well as my own failings conspired and there was at the end from my children’s side less than the reciprocity I would have liked.
By moving away, I sheltered them from the danger that armed strife represented. In the process, and it does not really matter how hard you try to keep the connections open, the family that nurtured you becomes a stranger to the one you are caring for.
This is neither a recrimination nor a complaint, and certainly not a grievance, just a simple fact of life. In the end is actually nothing to dwell on; unfamiliarity is after all a killer.
Any recriminations after all I would have to direct to myself. Measures, decisions I once thought to be pragmatic, convenient, smart ones, turned out to be wrong.
From Father’s Day-iii], the last in a series of four posts [the first one was posted in 2 June, 2009] remembering my father.

Thanks, again, for the visit, dear aunts. Hope you'll have a very Merry Christmas.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Blame it All on Charlton Heston

Just so you know, there is nowhere in Central America any deadly species of local ants that at any time may have served as inspiration for maras, the name mostly associated nowadays with the violent, criminal gangs that for the last several years have threatened the stability of regional governments.
For that matter, there isn’t either an anthill that devours everything, as proclaimed in that other hyperlinked news story.
Mara — the plural, maras, is used when talking about the gangs — is indeed shortened from marabunta but before the early 1950s, when it appears to have been first used in the movie The Naked Jungle, the term was not widely known in the region.
It was an Austrian-born short-story writer who first came up with the tale about a legion of killer ants swiftly devouring everything on its path.
Esquire issue with the story
Esquire magazine's issue with the story
[The Nostalgia League website]

The writer, Carl Stephenson, never used the term in the English version of the story first published in Esquire magazine back in 1938.
As you will read in The Nostalgia League, “Leiningen versus the Ants” is “one of the most famous short adventure stories ever written” and “a favorite of most radio buffs,” since it was dramatized in more than one occasion in Escape.
Leiningen’s character in the radio show was played by William Conrad, the — ahem, portly — actor whom many will probably remember better as the star of the TV series Cannon.
Conrad, who later in the film starring Eleanor Parker and Charlton Heston would play the government agent, is the man who first uttered the famous word “marabunta.”

When Heston and Donna Reed, as his wife, played a new radio dramatization of the Stephenson short story — apparently as part of the promotion for the release of The Naked Jungle — on the Lux Radio Theater, marabunta was also used as the name for the rampaging ants — you can hear the actor playing the government agent [not Conrad, by the way] at about 20:40 in the youtube recording.
It was movie-lovers and broadcast radio buffs in the United States who first got familiar with the name marabunta. You can even find comments online about then-young aficionados to the radio dramas of the 50s scaring their peers with the threat of “marabunta!” on camping trips.
Marabunta: Charlton Heston on the radio

The Naked Jungle was not initially a success but with Heston’s stature as an actor enhanced after his roles both in The Ten Commandments (1956) and Ben-Hur (1959), the movie — released in Spanish as either “Marabunta!” or “Cuando ruge la marabunta” (When the Marabunta Roars) — became better known and appreciated by movie fans in Spanish-speaking countries.
It was in the early 60s then that marabunta became part of colloquial Spanish — by that I mean not sanctioned by the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE) — in eastern El Salvador.
“They are a plague of 'chapulines' (locusts)!,” was — and still is — how people in my country would refer to any group of young people raiding the food and drinks at a social gathering.
“No, chapulines no! We are marabunta!,” the members of the raiding party would then say, with no amount of contrition or shame in their reply.
The shortening to mara — as a synonym for gang or posse — would come later, though it would take years of internal armed conflict for the term to be associated with extorsion, rapes, murder and plenty other criminal behavior.

None of that can be blamed on Charlton Heston, of course, though you may certainly charge him with the popularity that the term acquired.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Prescriptive to Descriptive, Sea-Change at the RAE

Other than Spanish not being one of your languages or your simply not caring at all about dictionaries, there could be several reasons why you may not have noticed the sea-change lately at the Real Academia Española.
Since its foundation 300 years ago, the RAE, as the Royal Spanish Academy is better known after its Spanish acronym, has been tasked with guarding the purity of the language.
As you will read in the Wikipedia hyperlink, “The RAE dedicates itself to language planning by applying linguistic prescription aimed at promoting linguistic unity within and between the various territories” where Spanish is spoken.
Sea-change at the RAE
The newest DRAE: Prescriptive to descriptive
[Photo from RAE's website]

There is no such official entity in English and the other widely known equivalent of the RAE is the Académie Française, whose foundation in 1635 under Cardinal Richelieu makes the Spanish entity 78 years younger.
[While the Spanish and French academies are the better known and also probably the two oldest, those are not the only two language regulator bodies in the world.]
Back however to that bit about the sea-change at the RAE.
Late last week, Spanish media the world over were abuzz with news about the RAE’s long-awaited release of the 23rd edition of the Diccionario de la lengua española [Dictionary of the Spanish Language.]
It was frontpage news in newspapers such as Barcelona’s La Vanguardia. Also, on the day following the availability of the new dictionary at bookstores, the lead story in the cultural sections of dailies such as Madrid’s ABC.
Were you to visit the RAE’s own website you’d read a list of some of the news articles about the publication and also find a Press Dossier, in Spanish, about what’s in the new publication.
It was also a story that the BBC included in its Spanish coverage, though it apparently was not important enough to make it on their skedded news in English.
The scarcity of news in English about the DRAE’s release it’s more than likely the main reason for English-speakers being unaware of the story — not taking into account of course the probability that the latest news about the ebola virus outbreak or the more recent un-doings of Justin Bieber or the Kardashians may grab your attention better.
Even for Spanish-speakers, the magnitude of the change that the 23rd edition’s release signals has been lost in the retelling of figures.
What the new DRAE has done, in fact, is consolidate the process that the Academia started a few decades back, when just about everybody decried the increasing amount of inclusions from other languages.
Tasked with safeguarding the purity of the Spanish language, for example, until the release of the now outdated 22nd edition the Academia prescribed that “soporte lógico” [literally, logical support] was to be the appropriate translation for software — and “soporte físico” [physical support] the right way to refer to hardware.
While the definitions for both “~ lógico” and “~ físico” can still be found under “soporte,” software and hardware have been included in the DRAE since the 22nd edition and continue to be listed in the newly released one.
That, explains Álvarez de Miranda in the ABC interview hyperlinked above, is because:

“... the Dictionary must be more descriptive than prescriptive, even though many people consult it trusting its normative. There are some people that visualize the Dictionary as something magical, in the sense that whatever is not listed there does not exist. That is not the case. The Academy has a very clear prescriptive role in terms of the orthographic realm, because orthography is the more conventional facet of the language. In both the lexical and grammatical sense, however, things are completely different, those who speak the language are the ones that have the last word...”

How about that for sea-change?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Dropping the Ball: The [Not So] Good News on Ebola

And now, the not-so-good news about ebola.
Just about two days ago I posted this recap of some of the news around the latest ebola outbreak.
My post centered mostly on three things: One, the fact that people infected can be cured; two, the rather thoughtful-and-not-at-all-panicky public reaction to the issue; and three, the hope that this reaction might lead to avoiding the shameful way people reacted to the AIDS scare in the 80s.
I wrote that barely a couple of days after a previous one, in another blog of mine, deploring the overtly emotional reaction among some people to the news about the death of Excalibur, the mascot of Spanish health worker Teresa Romero.
The dog, euthanized in Madrid by the government shortly after the reports that Romero had become the first case of contagion with ebola outside of Africa, became something of a cause in the social networks.
Screenshot of live TV news report
Breaking news, at the local and national level
So much so that after official confirmation of the first case of transmission of the virus in the United States, lots of emphasis was placed on the fact that unlike Excalibur, the pet belonging to nurse Nina Pham would not be destroyed in Dallas.
It is not a matter, I said at the end of last week, of pretending to keep anybody quiet or of trying to control people’s emotions.

“To cry out because a dog has been euthanized without regretting the negligence, missteps and mistakes around this tragedy, that has Madrid on the main stage, while at the same time disregarding — that’s about the only possible conclusion one can derive — that what is happening poses a threat to tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands, if not millions of human beings, is totally preposterous,” I said then.
There is a measure of heroism in the way medical healthcare personnel, both in Spain and the United States, have reacted to the demands placed on them by the ebola outbreak.
In Madrid, as narrated by a Romero spokesperson in this article published Wednesday by the daily ABC, the nurse has been quoted as saying that she’d not hesitate to provide care again for another ebola victim: “Now I have the [ebola] antibodies, nothing to worry about,” Romero told her husband, according to the report.
In Dallas, nurses at the hospital where the two new cases of contagion with ebola have been confirmed, denounced what the New York Daily News called “an astonishing series of failures” around the case.
The press conference subject of that story happened just a few hours after the confirmation of the second case of a nurse testing positive for ebola, and the later reports that she boarded commercial flights from Dallas to Cleveland, and back, despite being one of the at-risk healthcare workers.
Want to worry about something?
Look at what the healthcare authorities are doing to manage the outbreak. They are, to put it mildly, dropping the ball.

Waiting at the Metro Station

Commuters waiting at the Douglas Road Metro Rail bus plaza
Not caring for the light
Mornings in Miami always have some kind of luminosity that somehow escapes us all.
This cropped but otherwise non-retouched pix of commuters waiting to transfer onto a bus at the Douglas Road Metro Rail station probably shows that.
The light above passes unnoticed to most.
All kind of people ride the system.
Some, for apparently no reason at all, use their smartphones to videotape other riders milling around the plaza. You see that and wonder what their motives are. The one thing you don't want to do is get paranoid and  think that they may be following you.
You are after all not that important to have somebody follow you around, you tell yourself.
Still, "God, protect me from zealots and crazy ones," is the one thought that suddenly pops in your mind.
As you can see in the picture, there is inevitably somebody making a a phone call, sometimes advising their contact that they are already waiting for the bus to arrive and that they will be there — wherever that there may be — shortly.
Others just listen to music with their earphones.
The light stays above them.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Good News on Ebola

Good news on the latest ebola virus outbreak.
You read me well. There is good news — I kid you not.
This is not a gimmick, an ill-thought-out stratagem of mine to have you click on my post and read it. As Spanish healthcare worker Teresa Romero has entered a 48-hour decisive period [at the end of which we may find what will happen to her] and as more attention is given to the presence of ebola in the United States, with details of the second confirmed case of transmission of the virus outside of Africa, there is, after all, good news.
It’s not necessarily breaking news.
I also believe that the significance of the developments I am listing here [I am kinda summarizing to account for brevity so it may very well be that there is other good news around the murderous virus] may have been lost in the din generated by the more pressing news.

Good News #1: People afflicted with ebola can be cured.
In fact, as you’ll read in the link provided, there are even more cases of survival to ebola than those of American Christian missionaries Nancy Writebol and Dr. Kent Brantly, both subject of the hyperlinked exclusive NCB News story.
In an update to this post, the latest reports indicate that the Dallas nurse who caught the ebola virus while treating the Liberian tourist who died of the disease has received a plasma transfusion donated by Brantly.
Screenshot from the NBC News exclusive interview
People around the world prayed for him, says Kent Brantly

Good News #2: The public reaction to the news about ebola outside of Africa — that includes the reaction in Spain, where Romero’s case was the first known to the world — has been, so far, more expectant than alarmist.
In the United States, the recent event in Dallas generated widespread fear and concern that may have at times bordered on panic and, perhaps, hysteria. That’s Brantly’s evaluation, as you can read in this report about a forum in which he participated at his alma mater, Abilene Christian University.
Photo from SIM USA: Nancy Writebol and husband
Virus free: Nancy Writebol and husband, David [Photo SIM USA]
The concern remains high, more so especially after Nina Pham, the 26-year-old nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, became over the weekend the first known case of contagion or transmission of ebola in American soil.
Similar to the Romero case, the young nurse’s story in Dallas has generated controversy after health authorities suggested that a “breach in protocol” — code for “her mistake” — may have resulted in her becoming afflicted with the virus.
Whether either healthcare worker was in fact responsible for the mishap, or there is some other type of failure that nobody knows about — are protective garments in use in fact effective and efficient to prevent the contagion? — is yet to be established.
The point that should not be lost is this: As reiterated many times by health authorities, only by direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected people can the ebola virus be transmitted.
 Which brings me to…
Good News #3: If the present public reaction continues, we may be able to avoid a repetition of the AIDS-hysteria of the early 1980s.
Remember Ryan White? A hemophiliac, as you’ll read in the Wikipedia link, he contracted the HIV after getting contaminated blood during a transfusion.
If you don’t remember Ryan’s story or even knew about it, click on the link and get updated.
Even better: Click here to read the letter that British rocker Elton John wrote Ryan in 2010, on the 20th anniversary of Ryan’s death.
“Ryan, I wish you could know how much the world has changed since 1990, and how much you changed it,” says John to his friend in the letter.
The musician is of course talking about the contemporary public reaction to AIDS but in a way, I think, he could be talking about how the news on ebola is being dealt with in the present.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Who The Enemy Is

Antonio de Benavides was not a Field Marshall. Neither was he a Crusader of the Order of St. James nor an inspector general, secretly sent to Puebla — in what was at the time New Spain, present-day Mexico — in the Spring of 1683.
Mexican historian Lilian Illades Aguiar tells us that, as “general inspector” [visitador general] for Puebla’s judicial system, De Benavides claimed to had been “entrusted to undertake certain extremely secret inquiries to directly notify the king of his findings.”
Hence nicknamed “El Tapado” [The Undercover One], De Benavides was known also as Marquis de San Vicente and apparently well received by the local aristocracy, as the story goes in Illades Aguiar’s “La nobleza criolla angelopolitana durante el gobierno de los Austria” — one of the chapters in “América bajo los Austrias: economía, cultura y sociedad.”
Ford Madox Brown's painting Cromwell, Protector of the Vaudois, depicting Milton (left), Cromwell and Andrew Marvell preparing their response to the massacre
John Milton [left] in the Ford Madox Brown painting

However, Illades Aguiar says, “he was neither a noble nor a royal envoy or anything of the sort; he was a bon-vivant, perhaps a spy or a pirate,” who was promptly apprehended and imprisoned when his ruse was discovered by Puebla’s deputy mayor, don Tomás de Arana González.
One may conclude that De Benavides’ impersonation was bold and daring but the con of the colonial era is not the reason why he has become famous beyond his own merits.
Some 300 years after the scandal rocked the nobility in New Spain, the Mexican poet and writer Octavio Paz highlighted the case in “Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, o Las Trampas de la Fe.” The book — the Nobel Prize winner tells us in the Preface to the 1988 Harvard University Press edition — took him more than 30 years to complete.
“Among the poems dedicated [by Sor Juana] to the Viceroy and Vicereine [of New Spain] are several containing petitions. In one she asks Tomás de la Cerda to spare the life of one Antonio de Benavides, who had impersonated a Field Marshal, the Marquis de San Vicente,” says Paz.
We’ll come back later to “El Tapado” and Sor Juana’s intercession. Promise.
About 30 years before this was happening in New Spain, in 1655 to be precise, another poem — a sonnet — had been written. The link will give you full details on the massacre of the Waldensians, a Protestant denomination persecuted by Roman Catholic forces in Northern Italy, and also summarizes what moved the English poet John Milton — he of Paradise Lost — to denounce the slaughter.
You can click here for a thorough analysis of Milton’s sonnet, with added data on the socio-political, economic, and religious background that will give you the needed information to better understand the poem.
Inspired by the massacre of the Waldensians
Sonnet 18: On the Late Massacre in Piedmont
The paper’s author, John Minot, concludes by saying that, “Milton had strong religious beliefs and political opinions, but he was too thoughtful to be a zealot; his sonnet reflects the contrast between the human desire for problems to solve themselves and the responsibilities we know we truly bear.”
As we know more than well, the “early sectarian cleansing shocking to readers of any age” — as Minot refers to the killing of the Waldensians — is not the only one to have occurred in history.
We also know, more than well, that is the type of behavior undertaken and being advocated and publicized nowadays.
There are many ways to react to massacres in the name of God.
Some keep silent, as is the case of those who are prompt to even kill whenever they feel that their religion has been offended, to refer to just one of the many segments of the global society in play.
And there may even be those who try to rationalize [“That’s about the same as ‘rational lies’ ”, I heard somebody say once] the murderous behavior of the radicals by saying, in a kind a conspiratorial whispering that will make it clear that they definitely don’t share that belief but …, “Look at what happened during the Crusades!”
Not all of us can write in the vigorous way Milton did 350 years ago, to deplore gruesome and barbarous killings such as the ones of late in the Middle East.
But who the enemy is we know.
And we can share and proclaim the truth that, back in 1684, sustained Sor Juana’s appeal for a ruler to spare a life.
“Nobody knows,” says Illades Aguiar, “what prompted the Tenth Muse to implore” the Viceroy to spare El Tapado from the gallows, “but she did it in a subtle, intelligent, and beautiful way.”
In the masterful translation for Las Trampas de la Fe, we read what Sor Juana advised the ruler:

                                                   Any man can take a life
                                                   
but only God can breathe life in;
                                                   thus only thru the gift of life
                                                   may you hope to resemble Him


As much as we know who the enemy is we also know who the enemy is not following.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Fingers Did More Than Just Touching

It’s called International Right to Know Day and compared to other global initiatives of this type is probably one of the lesser known. So much so that wikipedia has only a stub in English and there are only three other listed languages in which the information can be retrieved: Arabic, Russian, and Ukrainian. Those, as you may find should you venture and click onto the hyperlinks, are also stubs.
A more detailed record about the project can be found at the initiative’s own website. I found out about the IRTKD more or less by accident. Sometime last week while surfing online for news about my native country, I came across this story published in Spanish by El Faro, the online Salvadoran newspaper.
The article referenced the upcoming publication of The Yellow Book, a detailed report on the Libro Amarillo, the over 260-pages document from the Salvadoran military intelligence files about some 2 000 people cataloged as “delinquent/terrorists” during the bloody 1980-1992 armed conflict.
From terrorist to top commander
From "delinquent/terrorist" to top Army commander
Framed in the yellow highlight on the Unfinished Sentences report that summarizes the work is Salvador Sánchez Cerén, nowadays President of El Salvador and top commander of the Armed Forces that back then included him in the Libro Amarillo.
“On September 28th, in recognition of International Right to Know Day, the Yellow Book was published in its entirety through a collaboration between the National Security Archive, the University of Washington Center for Human Rights and the Human Rights Data Analysis Group,” says Unfinished Sentences on its website.

You’ll find there a link to a youtube video about the report, as well as a link to Unfinished Sentences own facebook page.
If you visit the site and depending on how knowledgeable you are about Salvadoran affairs, it’s quite likely that some of the information will probably be known to you. It may all be a discovery, perhaps.
Whatever your knowledge may be, something I am sure won’t escape your attention: the irony of using “yellow book” as the title of something that was meant to be a tool for violence.
Closely associated for years with the call to action message of "Reach Out and Touch Someone" — meaning to try to stay in touch with friends and family via the telephone — the slogan "Let Your Fingers Do The TouchingWalking” was for many years synonymous with the nowadays almost vanished phone company Yellow Book.
Instead of walking or driving, you could get in touch with merchants via the telephone.
With this particular yellow book, fingers did more than just touching.

Looking for the victims names
From the youtube video: Looking for names 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Brazil 2014: The Decay of Commentary at ESPN

A renowned conservative columnist came recently to the defense of the Jerry Springer and Maury Povich shows audiences, decrying the “moral decay” that the increasing popularity of football has inflicted upon the United States.
To be fair, in decrying the allegedly negative influence of soccer on U.S. morals the columnist did not refer specifically to either audience [the pix here is taken from this blog], though a few days after her first column she did reiterate that football lacks the required toughness to make it a sport.
Fighting to prevent moral decay
Fighting against moral decay

“The only risk of death in a soccer game,” says she, “is when some Third World peasant goes on a murderous rampage after a bad call.” An assertion that will undoubtedly bring peace of mind to the families of hundreds of victims of murderous rampages all over the United States: "Don't you worry none, granny! It ain't like they were watching a soccer game, they were killed at the movie theater!"
However unscientific or, well, stupid her “finding” about Third World murderous peasants may be, we can all rest assured that there have been tragedies during football games — not all, however, as a result of bad calls.
Because human nature is the same wherever you are, the tragedies have happened in cities such as Lima, Peru, 50 years ago last May, or in other backward Third World places such as Brussels, Belgium, or Bradford, England — these last two within a span of only 18 days in May 1985.
As for blown calls, they happen in any sport and any place in the world including, yes, horror of horrors, the United States.
At least until the ESPN broadcasts of the 2014 FIFA World Cup from Brazil, there used to be a difference about how sports narrators and commentators in the U.S. tackled bad calls.
While referee mistakes have been always reported and subject to analysis [be it instant or post-facto analysis] seldom have they been portrayed in such a way as to practically blame the officials for whatever happened on the field of play.
Sadly for sports fans and athletes in most Latin American countries — could very well be the case in other regions —, blaming the official is kind of the expected behavior from sports narrators and analysts: you may forgive their lack of technical knowledge or their inability to correctly call the game, but woe to them if no mention is made of misdeeds by referees or linemen.
Advances in technology such as instant replay and practically a myriad of alternate shots of the action have only accentuated that negative quality in sports narration and commentary in Latin America.
That was not the accepted practice in the United States, where players, coaches and managers, as well as administrative staff of professional clubs can be fined for criticizing referees.
The one strong reason why blaming the referee was not the accepted practice by U.S. narrators and commentators was this simple fact: while one may have the leisure of coldly analyzing a replay, the referee has but just one split second to decide.
At the speed with which the action develops nowadays, it may sometimes feel like a nanosecond.
In turn, that makes it unfair to go hellbent on the official’s decision, so as to supposedly magnify your reportorial acumen.
That, in my opinion, has changed for the worse in the ESPN narration and commentary during the Brazil 2014 World Cup games.
Soon after the conclusion of the Mexico-Netherlands game, an irate ESPN narrator went as far as to argue that the penalty call against the Mexican national team was wrong, because the rules estipulate that there has to be the intention of bringing a player down so that a foul will be called. [I have used bold type to avoid the quotation marks, since I don’t have the exact quote with me.]
Because the rule is even harsher [“a direct free kick will be awarded if a player … trips or attempts to trip an opponent”] the distortion by the narrator cannot be more blatant.
You have to notice also that in prefacing the listing of the first seven of ten offences which will result in a penalty kick, the rules also say that the sanction will be imposed if they are committed “in a manner considered by the referee to be careless, reckless or using excessive force.”
In the — again — split second the action developed, the referee had to decide whether an "offence" [to use the British spelling adopted by FIFA] was committed, taking into account all the above mentioned criteria.
The matter goes beyond a simple disagreement with an official's decision or an inadvertent or willful distortion of the rules just to make a point that will reinforce your position.
Not a few days after the controversial penalty call, another of the ESPN commentators went so far as to say, while broadcasting a different game, that the injury suffered by Brazilian star striker Neymar while playing Colombia was due to the lax enforcement of the rules by the referee in turn. [It may have been a willful foul by the Colombian defender but all replays shown by ESPN appear to show that his intent was not, certainly, to disable the Barcelona player.]
The commentator then added, using the tone of voice that will make the audience think that he was being clever and had the right amount of cheek, that he had been remiss in just saying "the referee" and not mentioning him by name, which he then proceeded to do.
Quite clever, indeed.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Brazil 2014: An Expensive and Fruitless Exorcism

La plume de ma tante
Taunting the exorcist
As exorcisms go, this has been one of the most expensive in history, at the tune of well over 11 billion dollars no less. That cost is now only a very minute part of the bad news.
For well over 64 years now, Brazil has been burdened with the Maracanazo, the 2-1 defeat inflicted by Uruguay in the finals of the 1950 FIFA World Cup.  
The neighboring country, one must remember, was the one responsible for a 6-0 drubbing of Brazil some 30 years before —until then the most lopsided loss ever by a Brazilian national team.
To add, if you wish, insult to injury, because of the format adopted for the 1950 World Cup all the home team needed was a tie to crown themselves world champs.
Just about any account you read of that fatidic date will mention suicides happening in Brazil in the wake of the upset.
This is not, mind you, just Brazilian history or football lore.
Fast forward to 2014.
With Brazil nowadays not only a regional but also a global economic power and having won the trophy on five different occasions, the 2014 World Cup was obviously meant to be the chance to exorcise the demons of 1950.
That it would also highlight Brazil’s status as the preeminent football power in the world with an unprecedented sixth World Cup would only be the icing in the cake.
Germany’s 7-1 thrashing of the Brazilian team at Belo Horizonte on Tuesday did more than just make the expensive exorcism go to waste.
Instead of vanishing, the Maracanazo has now been augmented by the Mineiraoazo.
Whether another 64 or more years will be needed to erase the memories of both failures is something that time will tell.
Because they involve a confrontation that can only admit a winner, sports competitions inevitably invoke comparisons with war and armed conflict.
However judgmental one would wish to be one thing should be quite clear: Only Brazilians know how bad this feels to them.
At the individual level, perhaps, one might want to compare it to the presumptive suitor who’s not only told “Thanks, but no thanks” but also asked, “What if people see us together?”
Multiply that by 200 million and then you might have a rough idea of what Brazilians might be feeling now.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Me and the Speaker

I met Dean Rusk in November 1978.
At the time, Rusk was just a few months shy of becoming a septuagenarian and about ten years removed from the heights of power in U.S. politics [as you will read here, Rusk shares with William Seward the distinction of being the second-longest serving Secretary of  State, with Cordell Hull getting top honors in that regard.]
It was not a chance meeting.

And while I did get to shake hands with the old diplomat, it wasn’t either a one-on-one, the “How-are-you-doing-Mr.-Espinoza?-Very-pleased-to-meet-you-Mr.-Secretary” type of encounter.
For many years after his retirement from government service, Rusk had been a professor of international law at the University of Georgia, in Athens.
On that occasion I met Rusk he was the featured celebrity, not quite a speaker, at a gathering for foreign students in Toccoa Falls, in the north-eastern Georgia mountains.
Family in tow, I was there — at the invitation of the Dean of International Students of Georgia State University in Atlanta — to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, as were many others as well, both from GSU and other colleges and universities in the area.
Ever the diplomat, Rusk exhibited for his audience the charm you expect from a skilled politician.
“Of course you can have our picture taken!,” he told one of his greeters ahead of me.

Quoting somebody as famous as he already was, he further advised the greeter: “I may even let you wag your finger in front of my face, should you at any time in life want to brag about scolding me!”
He was of course being facetious. While not exceedingly tall and already kind of stooped because of his age, he was definitely taller than his interlocutor.
The difference in height would have rendered the claim null.
At the time of this gathering, the turmoil in Iran was full blown and the fall of the shah less than three months ahead in the future. Nobody knew it then but many suspected, as the proverbial phrase goes, that it was just a matter of time for that to happen.

A good number of the guests in this three-day gathering were Iranian exchange students and as it turns out, the person asking Rusk to pose with him had been one of the most vocal critics of the United States role in Iran [basically, why the continued support for the shah?] when the former Secretary had talked about American foreign policy.
It is not a question, Rusk said in reply to the complaints, of whether the shah should abandon power or not but more a matter of who’d replace him and what that means for the U.S. and the world [I wasn't precisely taking notes so not quoting here verbatim.]
Many will remember Rusk as the U.S. government official [one of many, that is] reviled because of his role during the Vietnam war. His obituary will remind you of the price he paid for that.
Tom Foley: An unusually skilled politician
Thomas Foley: an unusually civil politician

My meeting Dean Rusk came to mind over the last 24 hours, as the news came from Washington, D.C., of the death of Democrat Tom Foley, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives whose life [minus the involvement in a conflict such as the one in Vietnam] closely resembles that of Rusk.
Rusk was not a politician [in the elected-official sense of the word] and Foley was not a diplomat [in the working-at-Foggy-Bottom fashion]. Save for that, they were each both diplomat and politician. They were both lawyers by profession, and not necessarily wealthy. And each accounts for many firsts in terms of personal achievements.
There are plenty of articles online to read about Mr. Foley, including this where president Obama mourns his passing as the loss of a “legend of the United States Congress,” where among his many successes as a leader figure his work to help then-president Bill Clinton get Congressional ratification of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, despite the opposition of a majority of his fellow Democrats.
About five years after my meeting Dean Rusk, I met Tom Foley at his offices in Capitol Hill.
A few days after Ronald Reagan ordered the invasion of Grenada, I was part of a group of Washington, D.C.-based foreign correspondents invited to travel to the island in the aftermath of Operation Urgent Fury and Foley, then House Democratic Whip, briefed the group on where the Democrats [Congress, in general] stood on the matter.

Later, the legislator would lead a Congressional delegation sent to assess the situation in the Caribbean island which concluded that the military invasion was “justified,” though the conclusion should not be taken as a signal that, “we [in Congress] believe the United States should go around the world in a military action to invade countries because of their possible foreign policy.”
Meeting politicians [even after receiving an invitation] does not always translate into becoming an acquaintance. I won’t tell you that the meeting in late October 1983 made me recognizable to a man of his importance, even if I would frequently coincide at press events he also attended.
But over my years of work in Washington I was fortunate to be around enough so that on occasions, like at the time I was chatting with Mr. Foley in that picture taken at some reception at the National Press Club, you could sense the fact that this was, as the headline in one of the hyperlinks proclaims, “an unusually civil politician.”

Monday, September 9, 2013

My Heroes Have [Not] Always Been Cowboys - iii

Heard the story several times since my high school years.
Once, a few years past, from a comedian in one of those late-night TV shows.
The latest just a few days ago, as part of the answer in this year’s Jeopardy Teen Tournament.
As most of you are probably aware [Roman Catholics know this very well] the Vatican has a patron saint for just about anything you can think of.
This webpage tells us about Lawrence, one of seven deacons charged with helping the poor and the needy in Rome, sometime around A.D. 258.
Tyndale's English translation of the Bible, from wikipedia commons
To make the Word known to all
As you’ll read there in more detail, Lawrence was martyred following his refusal to turn over to the Roman civilian ruler the fortune he was supposed to be hiding.
He was, the webpage says, condemned “to a slow, cruel death. The saint was tied on top of an iron grill over a slow fire that roasted his flesh little by little, but Lawrence was burning with so much love of God that he almost did not feel the flames. In fact, God gave him so much strength and joy that he even joked. ‘Turn me over,’ he said to the judge. ‘I'm done on this side!’ And just before he died, he said, ‘It's cooked enough now.’ "
Apparently, such stoicism was enough to make him the patron saint for cooks, a fact that the comedian referenced above considered quite jocular [Lawrence is also invoked as patron by archivists, librarians and tanners].
Practically the same information can be found in Wikipedia, where his patronage of “cooks and chefs” is also listed — though archivists, librarians and tanners are omitted — and a cautionary note has been added.
Historians, says the cyberpedia, note that the manner of Lawrence's martyrdom contrasts with the decapitation by which deacons were supposed to be executed.
It also adds this other historian’s theory about how such tradition was created: “He postulates that it was the result of a mistaken transcription, the accidental omission of the letter ‘p’ – ‘by which the customary and solemn formula for announcing the death of a martyr – passus est [‘he suffered,’ that is, was martyred] – was made to read assus est [he was roasted].”
[Incidentally, given that we are talking about patron saints, this would probably be a good time to remember what happened around St. Chad , also a Roman Catholic saint that news stories back in 2000 touted as “patron saint of elections”. There is no such thing, says the webpage: “Due to the somewhat confused nature of Chad's appointment and the continued references to 'chads' — small pieces of ballot papers punched out by voters using voting machines — in the 2000 US Presidential Election it has been jocularly suggested that Chad is the patron saint of botched elections. In fact there is no official patron saint of elections, though Thomas More is the one of politicians.”]
I haven’t mentioned Lawrence of Rome [OK, OK, Saint Lawrence if you insist!] because of any particular interest in making fun of the tradition about the way he was executed. Neither do I consider him hero, even if [without the sainthood bit, since that’s not how my belief goes] I have no problem in believing him a martyr.
You have to admit though that one could do either, depending on whether you are a cynic or count yourself among the Roman Catholic faithful.
Not a cowboy but a hero. That’s how I wanted to title this introductory post about William Tyndale, whose biography will also inform you about how he became a martyr.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Your [Literary] Christmas Gift Arrived

Your Christmas present is here.
Truth is it arrived just about a year ago.
 It is one of the most complete works about the history and current status of literary creation in El Salvador and as far as I know, “Literatura: Análisis de situación de la expresión artística en El Salvador” [Literatura: A situational analysis of artistic expression in El Salvador] — authored by Tania Pleitez Vela under the auspices of Fundación AccesArte —  is only available in Spanish.
The literary fabric diagnosed
The literary fabric diagnosed

Since it’s downloadable at no charge at several URLs, like the one hyperlinked above as well as this other one, it would probably be advisable to get it now. And I mean, right away, before somebody starts thinking about blocking the free access.
A donation or whatever type of support you might want to offer the author [yes, there is a link on her website for that purpose] or the
Fundación would be my suggestion about the way to go, case you feel some kind of unease about the freebie. 
The 400-plus pages book has been available in CD [and online] since about September 2012 and summarizes the research conducted by Pleitez Vela in the 24-plus months lapsed before its publication.
The first part of the book, some 95 pages, summarizes what Pleitez Vela calls an “Outline for a Salvadoran literary historiography.” The rest [excluding, of course, those pages for acknowledgments, etc.] deals with the “status” of the subject of literature in El Salvador, a very detailed and thorough analysis of literary creation in El Salvador from 1980 to 2011.
The dates are important to bear in mind: One of the bloodiest internal wars in Latin American history was fought during the first 12 of those 32 years, with the divisions still raw and quite visible up to the present day.
Violence, not political in origin as during the armed conflict but simply criminal in nature, still permeates the whole nation.
The study’s main purpose, says the author, is to diagnose the interaction between the Salvadoran writers and their environment over the last three decades. Its theoretical base is a “deconstruction” so that a diagnosis of what the author calls the “literary fabric” of El Salvador can be performed.
Perhaps not unexpectedly, Pleitez Vela prefaces the study by quoting one of the most trite expressions ever heard in the Central American country:  “Nobody cares about literature in El Salvador.” Stereotypical, of course, and definitely non-scientifically based, as it is also the case with some of the other frequent sayings one hears or sees around the subject.
At the beginning of her Findings [Pg. 319], Pleitez Vela tells also about the graffiti sprayed on the walls of the cultural center in downtown San Salvador: “Cultura para qué, si el pueblo tiene hambre” [Who the hell needs culture, when people go hungry.]
What’s unexpected [at least by the evidence that I have collected so far] is the apparently scarce repercussion of Pleitez Vela’s outstanding work.
It’s very likely that it may have been already debated or analyzed in public forums in El Salvador and quite probable too that, locally, there may have been news stories about the publication.
Online, the evidence of people talking about the work is pretty thin, at least in Spanish.
Other than the author’s own stories and the Fundación’s announcements on the Internet, there appear to be only three main articles about the work.
One of those was a post that Rafael Francisco Góchez published in his blog in October 2012 [full disclosure here: the writer happens to be my nephew and is also one of the writers interviewed and quoted by Pleitez Vela.]
Two other stories, one by my writer friend Miguel Huezo Mixco and the other by his wife, María Tenorio, figure prominently in the results of a Google search. Miguel, however, also happens to be one of the sources for the study — and quoted at length, we might add — and both him and his companion are part of the Fundación’s team working on the project.
Which is not to say [that goes for the three of them] that their posts or op-ed articles in online media or Salvadoran newspapers are lacking in credibility. If anything, their knowledge should give more weight to their opinion. So I believe.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

My Heroes Have [Not] Always Been Cowboys - ii

Not a singing cowboy
Not a singing cowboy
“Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads!”
As you probably remember so says Dr. Emmet L. Brown [the character played by Christopher Lloyd] in the closing scene of Part One of the Back to the Future trilogy.
Brown’s replying to the warning from Marty McFly [Michael J. Fox] that there may not be a road long enough ahead of them for the modified DeLorean to reach the required 88-mph speed that will launch them on a fourth-dimensional leap to the year 2015. [Were all this other than a science-fiction movie, their landing should be just a bit over 24 months away.]
Readying to leap back to the past
Readying to leap back... to the past this time.

Though neither one — McFly or Brown — satisfies the requirements of the traditional or classical version of the hero, I think we all agree that they can be considered good examples of the “modern fictional hero.”
And as far as their own relationship in the fictional world of Hill Valley, it would probably be a safe bet to say that for Marty McFly, the scientist had become somebody to look up to... in other words, a hero-like figure.
That’s descriptive, it does not mean that at any time have I ever regarded them as “heroes” of mine.
Seeing Michael J. Fox all dressed up in “cowboy” attire in the beginning scenes of BTTF III made me immediately remember the family portrait that my parents had taken with me and my two younger brothers back in the mid 50s.
Those of you who have read previous posts will remember that I used the crop for this remembrance of my father — Payito was my hero, I said in that series.
In the BTTF III screenshot McFly is getting ready to leap to 1885, so as to rescue Doc Brown [the 1985 Doc Brown, that is, not the one from 1955 with him at the drive-in movie theater] from a certain death.
I chuckled in seeing McFly's attire because that is exactly how we wanted to dress up. We were responding to what the singing cowboy movies portrayed as reality and donning such colorful getup sent us on our way to fantasy-land — no need for roads, dude!
In time, of course, the majority of us all start doing away with heroes. It doesn’t matter when or how it happens, our admiration vanishes. We no longer wish to be the guy in the white hat or the superhero in the comics.
We begin to discern.
David is no more the heroic slayer of a gigantic warrior with just a sling and a stone for weapons. His words, his faith are still worthy of recognition though he is now a flawed human being, plotting for murder so that his victim’s spouse can become his.
In real, contemporary life, the spiritual advisor lauding marriage from the pulpit does his best to destroy one — it doesn’t have to touch us and one doesn’t have to witness such things in person to know and realize that this is not ancient history, it happens all the time.
Now, let me tell you about a hero.

Friday, August 30, 2013

My Heroes Have [Not] Always Been Cowboys - i

They have not always been my heroes
Video: They have not always been my heroes
Despite the title, this is not a post about country music.
There is however a reason why I have chosen to use the song famously interpreted by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, as it will be clear in subsequent deliveries.
Let me begin by telling you about a chat that I had with a friend of mine well over half a century ago.
At the time, both my childhood friend and I had finished 7th Grade, what’s now called Middle School. Not quite yet teenagers we were both somehow self-aggrandized — thinking of ourselves more as being young men rather than children longing to find out what the end of boyhood would mean to each.
 “So, have you already read the whole Bible?”, my friend inquired. There was a challenge implied in the way he had posed the question, but also a certain amount of cockiness. You [me, that is] kind of sensed that it was not just an idle query. “Because I have. From Genesis to Revelation. Every. Single. Verse.”, my friend added, without waiting for an answer.
That’s indeed quite a feat. For anybody you wanna think of, not just for a 12-year-old. Add his short age to the fact that I knew him to be much more inclined to arithmetic and numbers [in time, he became a civil engineer] than to other academic pursuits and you’ll see how I could not have been anything other than impressed.
“Excellent! Did you read it all at once, non-stop, or did you pause in-between books?”, was my reply.
“Of course not, not read all of it in one sitting! But it didn’t take me more than a few weeks,” my friend added, only to reiterate his original query. “And you? Have you already read the whole Bible? I would find it difficult to understand how you, attending a religious school, have not done the same as me already.”
Classmates for the whole of our elementary school years, we had both returned to the little town of our boyhood to be with family for the vacations.
We had been sent to different cities to undertake our secondary education. While he had been enrolled in a lay school, my parents opted for sending me to a Roman Catholic one — even though neither one was particularly religious and skirting the fact that, through my father’s paternal side, me and my two younger brothers were being raised as Baptists. [I am still a Baptist and, as those who may have read previous posts already know, obviously an Evangelical Christian, struggling more-often-than-not with questions of faith.]
In this retelling and self-evaluation of his reading prowess my friend, a Roman Catholic enrolled in a lay school, was both right and wrong — and yes, I know, you can’t be both, is the normal reaction to such assessment.
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with reading the Bible from beginning to end, whether over a period of days, a few weeks or a whole year, or even a lifetime. It just seems to me [it did then and still does now] that to undertake such an effort, to go from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 as an exercise in reading, just because the verses are there, in a manner of speaking, will not necessarily make you grow in the Word of God.
It may have happened to my friend it may also happen with you. To me, it looks a lot like trekking all the world’s coastlines while wading ankle-deep into the seawater. And once you are done, claiming to know what the oceans are like.
There was, however, one thing where my friend was right — perhaps unknowingly and more than likely mistaken in his reasoning — : the wrong belief that attending a religious school and more specifically, a Roman Catholic one, was synonymous with knowledge of the Bible.