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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.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Wishing Well

What a wonderful web we wish!  
We all do, I guess, but in this particular case I am talking about Mark Zuckerberg’s most recent initiative: making Internet access widely available. As in: anywhere, everywhere. To put it simply: make the world wide web watchable in the whole wide world.
Late Tuesday night, facebook and several other partners listed in this article announced the foundation of Internet.org, with the goal of making Internet access available to everybody on the planet.
The knowledge economy: not a zero sum
The knowledge economy: not a zero sum
 
As Zuckerberg and partners noted, some 2.7 billion people —most of them in the developed world— already have access to the Internet.    
That means, of course, the ability to share —or decry— the ideas of people like Glenn Beck or Al Sharpton, as well as the freedom to soothe your spirit with readings of the Bible or pursue some other kind of thought.
As explained in the press release, "There are huge barriers in developing countries to connecting and joining the knowledge economy. Internet.org brings together a global partnership that will work to overcome these challenges, including making internet access available to those who cannot currently afford it."    
Whether you call it the web or the Internet [they are different things, though in common usage they have become interchangeable], what Zuckerberg and partners are in fact talking about is what’s called “digital connectivity.”  
Somewhat hyperbolically, in a separate document posted on his facebook wall Zuckerberg asked, “Is connectivity a human right?” [A rhetorical question, in my opinion, whose answer is more likely, no.]  
He answers himself as follows:  
“There is no guarantee that most people will ever have access to the internet. It isn’t going to happen by itself. But I believe connectivity is a human right, and that if we work together we can make it a reality.”
Except for making connectivity a human right, for all the other parts of the quote he’s right.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The cicada ain’t [just] a bug

My contemporaries, am sure, will have made the association right away.  
So will all those familiar with Argentine filmmaking.
Released 50 years ago, the feature film La cigarra no es un bicho was at the time a bold production.  
Is not necessarily a great movie. The film director, Daniel Tinayre, is quoted in this blog ranking it as, “My worst movie, and the most imitated one.”    
La Cigale
Not a bug either
Sex, of course, is the main ingredient.    
This short with the cast and a longer part two available in youtube will give you a chance to appreciate the film. Little can be gained from reading the mistranslated title: The Dragonfly Is Not An Insect or the one given to the U.S. release, The Games Men Play.        
More memorable in terms of Argentine filmmaking — per the above hyperlink and also this other blog — appears to be this: La cigarra no es un bicho is credited as being the first domestic production ever where a “bad word” was said on the big screen by an Argentine actor. The term is “pelotudo”, roughly translated as “a _ _ hole.”
Go figure.    
As It happened around springtime both 34 and 17 years ago, cicadas [or chicharras, as we call them in my native country] are again very much in the news here in the USA.  
Cicadas 2013! Whatever number you pick in one of the hyperlinks below, we are talking about a humongous invasion: they'll either outnumber humans 600 to 1 or total anywhere from 30 billion to a trillion. How about that?        

You may have read newspaper stories like this one in the Washington Post or this online article which also leads you to a National Geographic video about how it all sounds.    
You can also read this story if you want numbers about the invasion or this other one, case you are wondering whether to have one of the critters as a snack.  
The attention is well deserved.  
Those of us more familiar with cicadas as an annual happening couldn’t be more thrilled at the hullaballoo around the humble, often maligned insect.  
For us cicadas are more than just an odd-looking, chirpy, strident bug.  
They are memories of childhood fables read by our mothers or older siblings.    
In English, Aesop’s  fable stars the ant and the grasshopper. In France, says wikipedia, the cicada "became the proverbial example of improvidence ... so much so that  Jules-Joseph Lefebvre (1836–1911) could paint a picture of a female nude biting one of her nails among the falling leaves and be sure viewers would understand the point by giving it the title  La Cigale".    
Children stories, we all know, don’t actually have to make sense.    
The 17-year cycle now in the news makes it clear why the grasshopper has preempted the cicada in the English fable.  
Kinda hard, don’t you think, to talk about an insect that only comes around every 17 years.  

Cicadas are also love songs, like the mournful huapango belted by Mexican mariachi songstress María de Lourdes in this 1965 movie featuring the better known work of Mexican composer Ray Pérez y Soto — who in the early 60s also composed the Corrido a John F. Kennedy featured in the LP whose cover you can see in this website [my translation for La Cigarra lyrics.]
       
Perez y Soto’s huapango dates from the 1940s and an earlier version was recorded by the Trío Calaveras in the huasteco version of the huapango.
             

It is quite likely that most non-Spanish speaking people in the U.S. and other countries will be more familiar with the widely known hit of Linda Ronstadt from the mid 1980s.      
Humble and often maligned, I said of cicadas before.
But well known.        

They also figure in poems, like in this one from Salvadoran David Escobar Galindo [again, my translation]:

   

EL MADRECACAO                                    THE MADRECACAO


Amaneció vestido de rapsoda         Woke up dressed in rhapsodist garb
—soñando con la Iliada rosada—   — dreaming of the Illiad in pink.
Pero su canto fue tan solo               Its song however was just
un fuego triste de chicharras.           a sorrowful bonfire of cicadas.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

First Movie Date

The Ballet Scene
A Mad Obsession
First time I took a girl out to the movies I was about six going on seven.  
The youngest of my siblings had been born in October of that year [two of his children, the youngest one of those two also bearing his name, would later be born on the same month] and me and my sister, the only one we ever had, took off to the recently inaugurated Cine Gavidia to see The Red Shoes.  
Siblings by mother only [Mayita had been a single mother until meeting Payito, my father], Gloria Marina was 10 years older than me so read that part of my taking a girl out to the movies as more of a ruse of hers to distract me and to make me stop fretting about being unable to enjoy Mayita’s attention because she had just delivered a boy.  
Tall for her generation, my sister was then a slender, busty teenager that had just started working as a secretary.   Not only could she type — fast — and take dictation by stenography but she also had the best Palmer calligraphy that I had known at the time.  Her handwriting was even better than Mayita’s, which for me was telling a lot — nope, while mine was never too shabby, I didn’t get either one’s ability.  
We are talking about 1954.  Movie offerings at the time in hot and steamy San Miguel — way way far in Eastern El Salvador — were mostly Mexican fare.  
Since English-speaking movies had to be subtitled — dubbing was not used as much at the time — it was not very often that you got good quality films at the local movie theaters.  Which is part of the reason why a film as old as me was only then showing.  

Yoyita [that’s how I always called her] was not at all concerned about my ability to read subtitles —those who have read my earlier post on this blog will gather that at the age of six I was reading up a storm — but inquired, after the movie, whether the plot had made any sense. She was not surprised at all that, for me, it had. A real feast to the eyes, the ballet scene in The Red Shoes [you can also see here the part two] was mesmerizing to us both.  
I am not gonna pretend to be a genius and will concede to anybody that at that early age there were some things that clearly made no sense for me.  And it’s not like, for everybody, the intricacies of human relationships are easy to decode.  Those complexities in human behavior are precisely the reason why I concluded that some of the answers in The Red Shoes may have also eluded my sister’s understanding.  
While she was a romantic [two of her favourite songs where Doce Cascabeles and Dos Cruces] there is, if you have seen the movie, things that are not fully made clear on why they happen.  
Fast-forward about two-and-half or three more years to another movie outing with my sister.  
At the time she was a secretary at the newspaper where I would later start my professional adventure and in celebration of her job [and probably, if I remember well, as part of her conversation with my mother about her plans to marry a young poet, public accountant and teacher] she had treated the three of us to see Beneath The 12 Mile Reef.    

Released about three years before, the film had been selected as the gala opening for the Cine Regis because it was shot in CinemaScope and the movie theater was the one with the new wide screen where all the beauty of the movie could be appreciated.  
One of my greatest goofs
Two things I remember most about the movie.  
While I was [aged eight or nine] still too young to fully be caught up in what one may call a romantic interest, in “Costa Brava” [one of the three titles that the movie was released under in Spanish] red-haired, 5'1" Terry Moore was too much of a little firecracker of a woman not to make me wonder what sexual attraction can be.    
The second is one of my greatest goofs of all time, which earned me a pat on the head from my sister — plus one of her most hearty chuckles — and hollers from the entire audience.  
About 35 minutes into the movie you’ll see this scene where Gilbert Roland, who plays Robert Wagner’s dad in the film, beats Peter Graves in a fistfight.  At a point in the squabble, Roland’s marine captain’s cover falls off, his sidekick picks it up and hangs the hat on a palm tree.  
Once the fight’s over, Roland, Wagner and their companion leave the place.  
“Hey you, guys, you forgot the hat!” I hollered to the three of them, in Spanish, so entranced was I by the whole thing [no, the movie is not as good as The Red Shoes, but’s good enough to follow.]  
The howls of laughter from the entire audience were enough to make me feel like wishing the earth could swallow me.  

There was of course a point to the forgetfulness. Roland’s character dies later and sure enough his son, Wagner, returns to the secluded place where the hat had been left.  
No amount of smugness was enough for me not to stare angrily at the old man who pointed at me when leaving the theater to say to his wife, “See, that’s the kid who sensed there was something going on with the hat!”    
Over the years, Yoyita and I kept close.    
I rejoiced on the birth of each one of her four children, lamented the death of my oldest niece [of which I only knew weeks after it happened, because by then I had already started — unknowingly, I must say — my long journey to expatriation], shared heartbreaks and worries and concerns over many things, separation with children being one of them, flew back to be with her after her husband’s sudden death of cardiac arrest, and talked whenever possible, but not as often as either one of us wished and needed.

Meeting Miguel Ángel Asturias, around the time he became a Nobel winner
During all those years Yoyita became a teacher, a short story writer, got a B.A. in Literature & Philosophy and earned more than well-deserved merit for her works, as you can read here [search by Gloria Marina Fernández for a synthesis of her endeavours] and even after being afflicted since the early 2000s with terminal renal failure kept on working, her thirst for life stronger than her fear of death and writing the lyrics for this song, composed by her youngest, also a writer, a teacher, a song composer, a musician, a blogger and the one responsible for this hommage to her memory.    
I was there for the long of her life. I wasn’t for the short part.  
I say this not so much with regret but with sorrow.  
At her death, the last day of October, 2012, it had been years since we had last talked.  

This is an overdue note of condolences to her children and grandchildren, yes.    
But my remembrance of her goes without mourning.  
Someone may think you oughta mourn.  
Me, I will always speak of Yoyita in celebration.


Friday, April 5, 2013

Beyoncé & Jay-Z in Havana

A stroll in Old Havana
Just in case you haven’t had your fill with stories about Beyoncé, today’s newspapers have more than enough about the singer's and hubby's, Jay-Z, tourist visit to Havana, Cuba.
CubaHora, the self-proclaimed first ezine in Cuba, has plenty of photos with reader’s comments, in Spanish, about the event.
“Now I understand why they were doing repairs to the Saratoga a few days ago…” says one of those readers, nicknamed lukaz, referring to the hotel where the couple is staying.
You’ll notice, in those CubaHora pix, the U.S. flag waving just to the right of the Cuban flag at the front of the hotel.
Just a few other Cuban media have published the story, says CubaHora, adding a query to its readers: “Do you think it’s OK that we give coverage to this visit?”
You can also read a full report in the Miami Herald, where there is also a series of pix.
AN UPDATE
Below you'll see the screenshot with picture of the Saratoga hotel facade mentioned above.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Bobby Boucher, Where Art Thou!

And there will be meowing and barking!
The sound you may have heard could very well be a relieved “whew!” coming out of the Florida Gulf Coast.
As reported online by The Atlantic Wire, the authorities of Lee County have decided “not pursuing any other charges” against two morning-radio hosts that on April Fool’s Day warned listeners of dihydrogen monoxide coming out of their taps.
As duly noted by wikipedia, dihydrogen monoxide, “shortened to ‘DHMO’, is a name for water that is consistent with basic rules of chemical nomenclature” and used “almost exclusively” in humorous context.
Back on April 2, the local NBC-affiliate in the area reported that the hosts of "Val and Scott In The Morning" had “sent people into a panic, concerned over Lee County's water quality.”    
Such was, apparently, the panic, that Lee County authorities felt themselves compelled to issue a press release [see screenshot below].

You also have this from The Atlantic Wire in its update from Wednesday: “The DJs' joke was totally immature—think grade-school level—and yet remarkably successful. They warned listeners that dihydrogen monoxide was coming out of the taps in the Fort Myers area. Of course, dihydrogen monoxide is water, but people were so freaked that Lee County Utilities had to make a statement saying that their water is safe to drink.”
Make that another relieved “Whew!”
In an era of public safety and security concerns, it’s probably understandable that an April Fool’s joke created such a ruckus among the Lee County commissioners.
But it’s not even new.
As noted in the wikipedia hyperlink above:
 A popular version of the hoax was created by Eric Lechner, Lars Norpchen and Matthew Kaufman, housemates while attending University of California, Santa Cruz in 1990, revised by Craig Jackson (also a UC Santa Cruz student) in 1994 and brought to widespread public attention in 1997 when Nathan Zohner, a 14-year-old student, gathered petitions to ban "DHMO" as the basis of his science project, titled "How Gullible Are We?".
No news yet on whether the “chemically challenged Floridians” [as TAW described them in its initial report] have expressed any concern for those cats and dogs raining over Lee County, as can be seen on the screenshot atop this post.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Fat Man With a Big Cigar

Probably fatter... and even more famous
Last thing I want, believe me, is for anybody to think that the way I have put this together is so that a favorable comparison can be made.
By that I mean, no, I am not in any way suggesting that there is any similarity with the classics. My intention is none other than to remember a joke that Payito [as me and my two younger brothers always called our father] used to narrate to us all when little.
As I have previously reminisced on this blog, the onomatopoeic retelling of the misadventures of a cat that fell into a well would have us bursting at the seams anytime he was in such a good enough disposition to tell jokes [you can go here to read the version in Spanish].

What you have to bear in mind is this: they are just jokes. Nothing more than jokes. Corny jokes at that. And to be truthful, absent some kind of physical humor, they probably won’t make sense to anybody.
There are, of course, details that I leave out. It’s a rather prolonged retelling. Not unlike what a stand-up comedian will do. Meaning, anytime there is a feedback from the audience the comedian is gonna milk it and hold the vibe for as long as it’s possible.
Along the way, details would gradually be made known [it doesn’t matter that we already knew them, what was funny was to let Payito imitate, for example, the acrobatics you go through when you are trying to ‘hold it’].

In brief, the joke of the chubby-cheeked man with the big cigar narrates the troubles the character endures while traveling on a train.
It’s crowded and hot. To top it off, just as the announcement is made that there is an approaching tunnel and will everybody please stay put and above all, don’t you dare looking out the window or you will most likely be decapitated by the craggy walls, he HAS to use the bathroom.
Which he can't.
Resourceful that he is, our character unfasten his belt, lowers his pants, let's his keister protrude out the window and thankfully proceeds to relieve himself.
Just then, as is his duty to make sure that no harm comes to his passengers, the conductor looks out the window and yells: “Will that chubby-cheeked man with the big cigar get his head in!”
That’s the whole joke.
Now, about the not-making-comparisons bit.
Telling jokes is always risky. And it’s even riskier to tell jokes whenever bodily functions are involved. Some call it toilet-humor.
But let's not hold up our noses.
Even the classics, as did Cervantes in this chapter of Don Quixote, use it.
Cervantes sets the stage:

The advice seemed good to Don Quixote, and, he leading Rocinante by the bridle and Sancho the ass by the halter, after he had packed away upon him the remains of the supper, they advanced the meadow feeling their way, for the darkness of the night made it impossible to see anything; but they had not gone two hundred paces when a loud noise of water, as if falling from great rocks, struck their ears. The sound cheered them greatly; but halting to make out by listening from what quarter it came they heard unseasonably another noise which spoiled the satisfaction the sound of the water gave them, especially for Sancho, who was by nature timid and faint-hearted. They heard, I say, strokes falling with a measured beat, and a certain rattling of iron and chains that, together with the furious din of the water, would have struck terror into any heart but Don Quixote's.

Sancho then manages to tie up Rocinante so as to prevent his master from leaving him alone in order to pursue another adventure. And the author continues [click on the pix to read]:



Hilarious, won't you agree?

Friday, March 29, 2013

Well done, Zuck!

By now it’s been just a bit over three weeks since the powers that be at facebook surprised me one evening with the newly redesigned News Feed.
I know I know. It’s a totally random occurrence. Somebody over there in California [or wherever the drawing was done] inputted some code on the keyboard and out together with probably a few thousand other names mine was included.
It doesn't mean I like it!
So as you read this be totally positively absolutely sure that I am not writing this post because I feel special.
Wait, just wait, hold on to that thought! I AM special. Every one of us is. My point is: if I am is not because of having been selected for the evaluation phase.
That clear enough? Good, let’s carry on then.

What do I think about the News Feed? Thought you’d never ask: I like it. As you may have probably gathered already by the title to this post, I believe it’s a hit. So, yes, there it is: Well done, Zuck! [More in a few about the title].
Unlike the dreaded and widely despised Timeline update, the latest facebook improvement is really something that most if not all of us facebookers will certainly enjoy. Not that this is supposed to be a long post but if you wanna save some time and go straight for the summarized version of what the News Feed is, go to this video.
The design for the updated News Feed is, let’s say, cleaner and fuller than the previously sort of cluttered look.
The screenshot above, with a post from one of my nieces and another from my youngest one, shows how big the photos look at present, in contrast with the look that most users still have on their wall. [Out of privacy concerns I have edited their full names and other details on their respective posts, but I am sure you’ll get the idea].
Hover the mouse on the left side of your screen and you’ll get a wider drop-down menu, easier to navigate than in the past. Click on News Feed on the right hand side [not shown on my screenshot] and you’ll also have the box expand with a full list where selections can be made of what you want to see: Close Friends, Photos, All Friends, Groups, Following, and so on.
Anything not to like? Well, yes, there are things that some of us will certainly not be pleased with. As it should be clear to everybody, your answer to that question will be strictly guided by your preferences.
For me, the let’s say worrisome part of the updated look is not necessarily the increased amount of promoted content that all of us users are already getting with the present format. What’s somehow euphemistically called Suggested Page or Suggested Post.
There is no free lunch and facebook is after all a business. All those shareholders do want something in return for their money.
There is however a kind of intrusiveness that I think most people will probably find grating. That’s a result of something called an algorithm, the magic word by which most everybody nowadays thinks one can be defined.
The fact that algorithms work doesn’t necessarily mean that they work all the time.
On occasions, they may lead to what’s called jumping to conclusions.
For a while I kept getting this invitation to visit a site where mature women can be contacted for dates. [Sorry, guys, not dating and if I were you can be sure they wouldn’t be women my age]. I let the Suggested Post ride for a few days, just to test whether it was just a coincidence — like, for example, a company having contracted with facebook to advertise their business much in the way you may contract for a newspaper ad or a TV commercial — or if I was indeed being targeted.
The targeting can happen for a number of reasons. Somewhere somehow you mention something about yourself, as well as your age and likes or dislikes, and there the algorithm gets into gear.
But it can also lead to what this commentator brands here as reaching for straws:


        "For example, I only follow a dozen Pages on Facebook. These include Pages for friends' projects and friends' companies, the company I work for, an obscure band, an online game and a company that makes game development tools. Based on this paltry list, Facebook calculated it should present a post from social humor website Cheezburger. Why? Well, Facebook says, 'Cheezburger is similar to Pages you like.' That's just not true. If there were a 'dislike' button, I'd have used it."
      "Facebook's algorithm is reaching for straws. I suspect this is because I don't bother following enough organizations or people for Facebook to make a relevant suggestion and because Facebook got paid to promote the Cheezburger post."

At times, of course, the algorithm can be fooled by your browsing habits. Even if nowadays I only work on a freelance basis, my being a journalist leads me on a constant search for information on subjects that I feel the need to be informed, whether I am writing about them or not.
Which is why, no doubt at all, I have gotten all these Suggested Pages from people or companies, as well as political parties, on both sides of the current debate about immigration in the United States.
You can also be sure, on the other hand, that when and if I decide to visit one of those webpages that facebook is telling me about, more ads will start appearing on my wall.
Reaching is also what facebook’s algorithm does in surmising that Likes from people on my Contacts list imply most surely that my preferences are the same.
“The company you keep” is the English equivalent of what algorithms basically do. As we say in Spanish: “Dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres.”
Well done, Zuck!, I headlined this post. Using the nickname by which some people refer to facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg it’s neither dissing the man nor boasting of a familiarity that’s non-existent. It's just meant to get you interested in my post. Don’t you be jumping to any conclusion.  

Thursday, March 7, 2013

For All The Women

Not why it was created
Old habits die hard.
And urban legends [or whatever you want to call them] even harder.
I am reminding myself about those truisms after reading again [in more than one place, mind you] the oft repeated stories about how International Women’s Day got started and how there should be nothing to celebrate.
Most of the objections — if not all — center on its supposedly bloody origins.
A year ago, one of the most renowned newspapers in Spain published the story highlighted in the screenshot reminding us all, once again, of how the celebration of International Women’s Day was born out of a horrific event: the fire at the Triangle shirtwaist factory in downtown Manhattan.
Not true.
No matter how bad your math skills may be, this Wikipedia article shows that the tragic event happened well after the movement towards having a day dedicated to women had been started.
Sometime around the middle of the last century, historians have told us since some 30 years ago, another legend got started.
As told by Claire G. Moses, whose credentials can be read here:

“Each March 8, I relate to my women's studies classes the story of International Women's Day. lt's a story I have had recounted to me numerous times and therefore know well. A spontaneous demonstration staged by New York City women garment and textile workers in 1857, protesting low wages, the twelve-hour workday, and increasing work loads, was dispersed by the police, rather brutally. Many women were arrested; some were trampled by the crowds. Fifty years later, on the anniversary of that demonstration, International Women's Day was established in their memory. My students respond to this story with an emotion best described as gratitude. March 8 usually coincides with that moment in the semester when they feel most the weight of women's oppression: they are hungry for knowledge of women's resistance. The women garment workers of New York City fill their needs for heroic foremothers.”

Guess what, again. Didn’t happen.
The quoted text is the introduction by Moses to this research whose author, Temma Kaplan, “demolishes a myth” —as Moses notes further down in her brief remarks. [Kaplan’s work was initiated at the request of Feminist Studies following the publication of this article.]
Which is not to say, of course, that violence, repression, abuses [and whatever you may want to add to the list] against women didn’t happen in the past or are not still happening in our days.
Whatever your reasons for celebrating — or rejecting — International Women’s Day, those alleged bloody origins of the occasion should have no bearing on why you do so. You can go here for more on IWD.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Serendipity

It will soon be four years since I first published that post in May 2009. For reasons that I can't recall the post was deleted. I found the screenshot copies I made and here it is again.