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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 kinda 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.