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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Obama’s White Girlfriends

A young Obama and girlfriend
Been reading the stories about the upcoming biography of the president of the United States, Barack Obama.     Authored by Washington Post reporter David Maraniss, most of the early buzz around the book centers so far on the revelations about two of Obama’s girlfriends back in the early 80s, before his years as a Chicago community organizer on the way to become a Harvard-educated lawyer and later the first African-American elected to the White House.
Nothing salacious or scandalous about the revelations as far as it can be said by what’s been published to date
Part of the reason for this interest around the two women mentioned in Barack Obama: The Story is basically the fact that we now know their names. That both shared with Maraniss the letters and/or their private notes and recollections about him makes it, of course, more interesting.
Obama himself had previously mentioned having a white girlfriend when he wrote “Dreams of My Father” and there are many more additional details in Maraniss’ book.
Pick and choose were to go and what to read. You have this Washington Post blog entry about the girlfriends and also this other one with a list of politicians and their women, be it wives or just girlfriends.
One can always choose to read a whole excerpt of the book, as published by Vanity Fair magazine, which’s also publishing this interview with the biographer.
Both in the lead to the excerpt as well as in the introduction to the interview, Vanity Fair includes this invitation to the reader: “To see a picture of Obama and former girlfriend Genevieve Cook, pick up a copy of the June issue.” As you can see in the screenshot above, the magazine thunder has somewhat been stolen by Le Monde, where the blog entry “La girlfriend blanche de l’étudiant Obama” begins with the more or less sensational lead: “Voilà un mystère éclairci.”
The interview with the author in Vanity Fair I found less detailed than the Q&A Maraniss provides in his own website. Worth a read I think before reading the book.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Obama poking fun at himself... and the news

C-SPAN: President Obama at the 2012 White House Correspondents' Dinner
Just in case you missed the news stories about President Obama's piece at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner, here is the full speech.
There is a lot of "local" humor to give it a name — such as the references to celebs and journalists — that may not be familiar to readers from abroad.
There are also puns that one may miss if just listening to the speech. Like his mentioning that a year ago "we finally delivered justice to one of the world's most notorious individuals."
Obama's attendance at the same dinner a year ago coincided with the operation that ended with the killing of Osama bin Laden and much was made at the time of how the president had been able to be at that social event without giving nary a hint that such a commando raid was underway.
No name is given after Obama delivers the punch line but there in the video one can see, on the giant TV screens in the ballroom, the face of Donald Trump, who until a few days before the raid had been busy promoting the so-called birthers conspiracy —namely, that Obama may not be a citizen because he had till then provided no proof that he was born in Hawaii.
Just in case one would still miss it, Obama reinforces the joke, as he continues saying that being in the midst of a heated presidential election he is usually reminded by David Axelrod, his main adviser, that he should always take advantage of the opportunity to reintroduce himself to the people.
So, he says at about 3:30 into the clip: "My name is Barack Obama. My mother was born in Kansas. My father was born in Kenya. And I was born, of course, in Hawaii." Punctuated by an overdone fake wink.   
As for the event and the organizers, here's what they are, as described in the White House website: "The annual event, which has been held since 1920, honors the work of the journalists who report on the Administration and the dinner raises money that is used to grant scholarships to journalism students. The dinner is one of Washington, DC's, most anticipated social events of the year, and the
 President's speech, which pokes fun at himself and the coverage he has received from the reporters in attendance, is the evening's highlight."

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Art's Good When You Like It

A tsunami inspired this painting
A few months have passed since the time I received this invitation from one of my cousins to attend an auction.
A cybernetic one, designed to benefit the Salvadoran chapter of the Red Cross (Cruz Roja Salvadoreña) with 95% of the proceeds destined to support their relief operations.
On sale to the highest bidder (base price for the auction $10 000 USD) was a set of three paints: “A Tear for Haiti,” “Chile, February 2010,” and “Japan, March 2011.
You can see the three paints at this website
The painter is her husband, Joaquín Orellana, which makes him my in-law.
You don’t have to be named Sherlock to figure out why the names.

An earthquake, this other one
Just in case, though, Joaquín explains there.
The inspiration for each work came to him, he says, in the days following the tragedy affecting each country:
The massive earthquake that back in January, 2010 leveled the capital city of one of the most impoverished nations in the world (hence, A Tear for Haiti);
the seismic event that a few weeks after that catastrophe impacted Chile (a nation not strange to earthquakes, as we all know);
and the tsunami of about one year ago that in its wake raised anew the fears of nuclear disaster for the whole world.

I don't know how the auction ended or if in fact did come to any conclusion.
Should the bidding still be open I would certainly encourage anyone to do so. You would not only be supporting a worthy cause, but also acquiring really good art. From my point of view, that is.
I know, because I have seen Joaquín’s works.
As I said from the beginning, he’s my in-law.

That alone of course doesn’t make for a painting to be “good”.
 What I mean by that is the following: I’ve known Joaquín’s artistic endeavours since back in the early 1970s, when he and my cousin where still engaged. Not that I am an art critic or can even paint a lick. But as with happens with any other activity or form of expression that you cannot do anything else but admire, in the end you give thumbs-up to something because of a simple fact: You like it.
Let others debate about techniques and find meanings behind something. Neither technique nor meaning will make it good art for you, if you don't like it.  
Joaquín’s website is actually a sort of cybernetic exhibit for his artwork. It includes photos of some of his other paintings.  
Just one other thing, before finishing this post: you’ll find in the website a list of categories for the paintings. Abstract. Conceptual. Figurative. Nude. And so on.
At a point, I guess, somebody may have suggested to Joaquín that works should be grouped under something. And he obviously agreed.
There is however, this anecdote he’s posted on the website, more specifically related to the painting he has titled The Fisherman (El Pescador).  
 “Painted in blue,” he begins narrating.  
“A friend asked me: Why in blue?”  
Before he could give him a reply, Joaquín adds, the friend listed some interpretations of his own, as his inquiring mind wanted to know whether having the paint made in blue  signaled a new trend or was it a reflection of emotions Joaquín was trying to splash on the canvas.  
It’s blue, Joaquín says he told this anonymous friend, because it was “the only colour I had at the time.” Which kinda makes my point, I think: There may not be a trend. There may not be an emotion behind it. But I like it.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Stupidity at Work: Wanton Destruction - i

Before and after: a cloth as large as the destruction
Couple of scenes (from two different movies) that I'd like to tell you about as both, I believe, apply to the subject matter at hand for this post.
One is from Amadeus (don't have to say, I hope, who's portrayed in the movie). The other, a more recent production, Shakespeare in Love. (Ditto on explaining).
Knowledgeable people about either one of the two principal characters in each movie will tell you, most likely, that each movie abounds in historical inaccuracies. One thing very few will argue with is the manner in which cinematographers have portrayed the period.
The two settings I am thinking of are the theaters: the one where Mozart first stages his Magic Flute and also the one where (if we are to believe the film producers) Romeo and Juliet was first shown.
However inaccurate or imagined the plot for either movie may be, there is nothing wrong with the way their audiences are portrayed in those movies.
Go here and you will read what is known by many and is so precisely illustrated in the movie: “It is recognized that Papageno’s first audience was somewhat proletarian, but the opera was seen by a large cross-section of society.”
The audience at that fictitious first showing of Romeo and Juliet may have been perhaps less proletarian than the one being delighted by Papageno and Papagena. But still pretty much quite different from whom we may have imagined was in assistance: the literati, the wealthy, the nobility were there, of course, but do take a look at the enthralled crowd. Mostly common, ordinary people: merchants, peddlers, and so on.
Transport yourself back a few centuries and think of how the great big stories of humanity were relayed from one generation to another.
The Iliad, the Aeneid, most (if not all) of what now is mankind's cultural heritage was given that status by the people.
However chic the tango is now for thousands all over the world, let's not forget that it was born in the quilombos and not in the sparkling dance halls of South American cities.
They were called something else, but jazz (in which now many intellectual armpits delight) began pretty much in the same type of locales.
Fast-forward a few decades and get away from the squalor surrounding the last two examples.
The recently destroyed mural La Armonía de mi Pueblo (My People's Harmony) at the National Cathedral in San Salvador was certainly not a product of such an environment.
Its wanton destruction was rightly decried.
A few days after the pneumatic hammers did away with the mural, EL DIARIO DE HOY's editorial, La Nota del Día, pointedly condemned it: “Whoever may have ordered the demolition … is lacking a sense of symbols and symbolic actions, of what can be catalogued as elevated cultural expressions.”
For a dwarfish clique (not talking about their size, mind you), the sense of outrage prompted derision and mockery. That the stupidity of the destruction was so celebrated doesn't make it less of an affront to everybody.
It should be of no consolation to anybody to realize that however educated they may be, it would be wrong to think of them snobs because of their derision.
Uncouth might be the better word.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Journalist by Trade - vii

Funny how things are sometimes found.
Over the past few years I searched exhaustively on the web for graphic materials that would help me illustrate my recollections around the life of Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero and my personal acquaintance with him (from my middle and high school years in Eastern El Salvador starting in 1960, to the time of his murder in late March, 1980.)
Some of the photos I found I used for the series posted under the headlined continued with this one: Journalist by Trade.
Very much respectful of intellectual property rights, there was at least one case where I refrained from posting the picture itself, opting instead for working a screenshot of the webpage where the photo was found.
Even in those cases where some kind of public ownership could be attributed to the work, I also made sure of crediting the website where the work is originally published.
Had I been trying to "prove" to anybody that I was there when the violence erupted during the funerals for the murdered archbishop, I would have had a difficult time.
Other than the copies of my dispatches included in the initial posts for the series, the only other "evidence" that I was there was a wide open shot of the National Cathedral, where I circled myself in the picture.
It was just a few hours ago, while looking for materials to illustrate my previous post about the destruction of the mural created by Fernando Llort (See Stupidity at Work: Wanton Destruction) that I stumbled onto a youtube video. A rather long one, to boot. Somehow, I replayed the video in its entirety. And there, almost at the end, between the 08:28 and 08:32 marks, I am, in rolled long-sleeved white shirt and khakis, in the middle of the caption, just behind the armed guerrillas marching into the cathedral for shelter.

Stupidity at Work: Wanton Destruction

Among the recent news from my country is the wanton, stupid, and senseless destruction of La Armonía de mi Pueblo (My People's Harmony), the mural created by Salvadoran artist Fernando Llort that up until 30th December, 2011, graced the National Cathedral's frontispiece in downtown San Salvador — what many nowadays call the Centro Histórico.
Llort is a contemporary of mine (or I one of his, if you'd rather prefer it that way) but as far as my recollection goes we have never been personally acquainted. We did at one time (late '60s, early '70s) have many common acquaintances, as both his art and my work had us in touch with many of the same people in the Salvadoran cultural scene.
What Llort started back in the early '70s in La Palma (at the time some dismissed it as just another hippy experiment, I kid you not) grew over the years, both domestically and abroad, into one of the better known Salvadoran artistic expressions — if not the most and for some the only known one.
Even if they have never heard of Nando Llort (his website is here) millions of Salvadorans (and hundreds of thousands of foreigners, I am sure) know his work. If you have ever bought a wooden key or a t-shirt decorated with naïf Salvadoran images, chances are that you have a Llort-inspired work in hand.
Whether you approve or disapprove of the mural — La Toallona (The Beach Towel), is how many still nickname the now destroyed artwork — there is no question that it was the maximum expression of Llort's lifework. A national artistic treasure. (Plenty of information, in Spanish, about the mural's obliteration and the lies and justifications around it can be found on
Indignados por El Mural here). Both pictures above are taken from the Indignados page: the mural as it was, with the heaps of recognition by the Roman Catholic hierarchy below.
The mural's name itself, the fact that it was created in celebration of the Peace Accords that in 1992 put an end to an armed conflict that wreaked havoc in the country, that (as the artist himself declared at one time) it was also in remembrance and homage to the murdered Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, would probably make you think that somebody with an ounce of decency would have taken pains to make sure that it would be treated with the respect it rightfully deserved.
Think again.