Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Apology for An Abrupt Absence

By the time this post gets published, I would have been gone from the blogosphere for over two weeks. Sudden disappearances have been part of my life, not as a matter of personal choice, but largely forced upon by circumstances and events in the type of causes I have pursued. But I have always managed to bring myself around conditions that restrain the need and desire to communicate, and this is no exception. The problem is, it may take a little time.

I apologize to my dearest friends in the blogging community, my buddies, my readers, and those whom I have just recently been in contact with through blogging; for the abrupt and unannounced departure.This is actually the third post on the subject, starting with an announced leave from blogging, to a sorry for the 7 day silence, to this post. The carrier of this post could not leave immediately to get the posts encoded. I hope this one makes it.

Our team has been commissioned to do a rationalization program for relief operations, then a survey of resources and skills in our assigned area to develop a rehabilitation program, then a strategy for the reconstruction and development of sustainable mechanisms for education, health care, livelihood and income generation, and skills training. This is in a country recently ravaged by a cyclone whose government remained unmindful of the suffering and took their time accepting much needed aid. We have been deployed in a province that is so backward and primitive, and thrust immediately into the process of getting our hands and feet wet, as we merrily slush through the waters where decomposing bodies still abound and our arms swelling from injections to prevent disease.

The sad part is, my laptop crashed just before our departure for this country, and my techie son determined that it was a virus (trojan) obtained from one of the sites clicked for Entrecard. He noted that Entrecard hardly screens any application for membership and it's approval is instantaneous. In addition, the spam comments began to appear on the comments box after a day of heavy clicking.

Our departure has also been moved two days earlier, so we rushed to this country on July 9. There is no electricity in the area where we are, it is as primitive as Tarzan's tribal contacts - thanks to the long rule of this Military government who are attempting to legitimize their rule rather shamelessly. We have assigned vehicles with military drivers, our quarters were built by the military, we have only battery power for lights at night and for the electric fans - making computers useless, we were not allowed to bring our batteries and satellite communication equipment so we could at least get to the internet. Typewriters are available but the soldiers will do the typing, thus all reports we have are read before it even gets to the Aid agencies we are connected with. The photos on this post ( if it could be uploaded) were provided by the citizens, some of which are being sold in the black market. We only get to the capital city once every week, but power supply even there is intermittent.

So to my friends and readers, I apologize for the absence. At the rate we are working here, and much needs to be done fast, I could be doing regular posting by the end of August. Until then, I will attempt to smuggle out posts but I am unsure if I can answer comments as much as I used to. Perhaps a week's delay in response if I'm lucky at the Capital City. The truth is I miss blogging a lot and miss all those blogs I greatly admire. I will also not be able to make posts about this country as I may endanger the messenger of the article. The risk for this particular apology post is minimal because they find our team hardworking and dedicated. I hope you keep the faith as I have, and thank you for the concern you have shown and the support you have provided. And for those I have commitments for guest posting, I will meet those commitments even if they are late. If the late posts are `refused, I will understand. In the place where I'm at, there is so much that needs to be understood that my perspective is inclined to be very open and enduring.


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Mama Mia the Movie!

The electrifying element that entices audiences to watch Mama Mia stems from a deftly crafted story built on the musical appeal of Abba's songs. The 22 selected songs of this Swedish pop group, active between 1972 to 1982, have been woven into a simple tale with tremendous potential for awkward circumstances and embarrassing moments that can be mined for hilarity and ridiculous conviviality. But the star is undoubtedly Abba.

The plot is centered around Sophie Sheridan (Amanda Seyfried), an 18 year old teenager about to get married but remains unaware of who her father is. After reading her mother's (Meryl Streep) diary, she invites 3 men from her mother's past back to the Greek island paradise they last visited 20 years ago, to satisfy her quest for the identity of her real father. This puts her mother in a very discomforting dilemma. Surely, a request for blood samples for DNA testing wouldn't be as funny nor eventful; and the romantic rusticity of Abba's songs wouldn't include anything remotely clinical. The film version of this musical, which was first staged in 1999, has become one of the most successful musicals of all time; and the film stars are compelled to perform the songs in the movie. Actors were terrified singing in front of Abba, but were complimented by the band members for their rendition. Meryl Streep, who performed in school musicals, including Oklahoma during her younger days, welcomed the challenge to return to her first love. Being over 50, it would be interesting to hear if age has not caught up with her inactive singing talent that was last heard more than 35 years ago; where even Abba's "Dancing Queen" would be quite formidable to perform.

Abba is an acronym from the first letters of the group's members: A-Agnetha, B-Bjorn, B-Benny, A- Anni-Frid. The group received immense popularity employing catchy song hooks, simple lyrics, and a wall of sound achieved by overdubbing the female singers' voices in multiple harmonies. They have sold over 400 million records and continue to sell 2 to 3 million records a year. Songwriters Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus were initially reluctant about the Musical, but were later convinced by the producers. When they were broached with the idea of a movie, there was no longer any hesitation. Both are surprised at the continued popularity of their songs which they believed ended in the mid 80's.

The story may not fully explain why Sophie's mother never sought the real father, nor if these 3 gentlemen from her past ever married, had children, are divorced, or widowers. Most importantly, why none of them married her - perhaps because she was such a cheat - cavorting with 3 men at the same time. She really duped 3 men out of their pants and into her most powerful ovulating moments. Or, she could have refused to see them again preferring instead to live with the memories of a magnificent period, rather than living through the emotional difficulties of a disintegrating relationship.

Well... this is the real story: two of these men were, and still are, sterile, and she just didn't want to know who they were.


Monday, July 7, 2008

Australian Art Attack

A sense of shameless squeamishness is gripping the Australian government with regard to the substantiation of nudity and childhood as subjects of art. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has shown enormous inflexibility about the depiction of children in artistically executed photographs. Last May 8, he ordered the closure of Bill Henson's photo exhibit after complaints were raised over the e-mail invitation which included the nude image of a 13 year old girl. Several other pieces were seized to determine violations of Australia's obscenity and Child protection laws, but the charges were dropped. Bill Henson, a renowned and accomplished artist, cancelled the exhibit.

This case sparked an inflamed nationwide debate in Australia. International movie star Cate Blanchett defended Henson, citing the risk to Australia's cultural reputation, the wrong signal it sends towards building a creative Australia, and the impact that the closure of the exhibit has on the index of social freedom in the country. She argued that Henson's work is not child pornography and has been affirmed by respected curators and critics worldwide. But PM Rudd expressed being sickened by these creations which he described as "revolting".

The controversy does not stop here. Yesterday, the Art Monthly Australia reignited the debate on pornography and censorship by publishing a nude photo of a 6-year old child on its front cover, to protest the closure of the exhibit and to"restore some dignity to the debate". It seems art supporters and artists are doing what Kevin Rudd has described...revolting.

Depictions of child nudity appear in works of art in different cultures and historical periods. During the Italian Renaissance, nudity was featured in art especially those with Christian themes. Cherubs were also painted nude and were called putto, as with Jesus Christ as a baby. But PM Rudd's counter argument that a little child cannot fully discern being depicted naked , and is therefore abused, is a classic censorship reasoning. It is based on the belief that children have limited rights, child development and cognitive abilities are not mature enough, and that parental rights and responsibilities should be supported by libraries. Arguments against point to the right to learn, the right of parents to raise their kids as they see fit without interference, that parents ought to oversee the child's development - not libraries, and that children are underestimated, and are more capable than adults give them credit for.

The adamant stance of Kevin Rudd, who said he was acting as a parent, is bewildering. The exhibit was by private invitation, from collections by a famous and respected artist who has not been accused of child molestation. Is the Prime Minister afraid that the exhibit might arouse the prurient interests of pedophiles in Australia? Is he cautious about keeping the secret of several education ministers and deputy ministers who have pending child abuse cases in schools, and who are in fact harassing the whistle blowers rather than the predators? How many of these pedophiles have been sentenced? How many more cases pending? How many teacher whistle blowers lives have been ruined by persecution from these higher ups? How many more cases are not being reported?

Prime Minister Rudd is misdirected. The problem is not in the art or the artists' depiction. Neither is the problem with the children used as subjects of art. The problem is that there are those who are blind to art and who can only salivate at the images with their sinister and pernicious minds. Kevin Rudd said " I'm passionate about children having innocence in their childhood". If his words match his passion, then he should prosecute those who willfully take this innocence away wantonly, to the fullest extent of the law. Not the artists who depict the beauty and splendor of innocence, but the pedophiles who ravage and devour the spirit and soul of this essence found only in the purity of childhood.


Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Birth of Beatie's Baby

Should there be other men who wish to become pregnant, carry the baby for the full 9 month term, and make a normal delivery, their role model and trailblazer has completed that journey. Of course, they should have functional reproductive organs too, (aside from their manhood) which would make them genuinely androgynous; but that would also leave doubts about being "men of miracles" in this highly skeptical age. However, Thomas Beatie, 34 years old and married to Nancy is the first husband to become a mother, and he will still be the father to his baby daughter. That, is multi-tasking of the highest order.

Beatie was born as Tracy Lagondino, was a former girl scout, model, and beauty pageant finalist. He lived as a man in his 20's and officially changed his gender. He had taken testosterone treatments to grow his facial hair but kept his reproductive organs intact. He however, had his breasts removed. That would effectively eliminate breast feeding from his motherly duties as a father, or whatever he wants to be and however he wants to be referred to. According to his wife of 5 years who has 2 daughters from a previous marriage, their roles will not change, and Mr. Beatie...errrrr Mrs. Beatie...ahh Thomas, will still be the dad.

He made headlines last March when he announced his miraculous pregnancy, and even appeared on Oprah. The thought that a man could become pregnant and possess strong motherly instincts was an incredible idea, but the process of gender reassignment explains it all logically. It involves several stages. Diagnosis for transsexuals is the first and is done by a psychiatrist. Counselling is done before, during and after treatment. The second stage is real life, where the patients must live their lives in their chosen gender for a significant period; change their name, legal status, clothes, and appearance; among friends, family and at work. They are given hormone treatment during this period.

Stage 3 is hormone treament. Women becoming men are given androgens for a deeper voice, facial and body hair, and the lightening and ceasing of menstrual periods. For men becoming women, oestrogen treatment develops breast tissues and a more feminine figure. But the voice and hair remain, and they will have to learn to speak falsetto. The last stage is surgery, but not everyone will have it. Before a woman's breasts are removed, she will have to live as a man for a year. Her uterus and ovaries will also be removed as the testosterone will increase the risk of cancer. Genital surgery will follow after at least 2 years.

The good news for those married gay men is that creating female genitalia is a highly successful procedure. According to those who've had it, their male partners couldn't tell the difference. Perhaps because they were not interested in it before.and don't really know how it looks. But creating the male genitalia is more complicated because of the rise and fall process of this attached article. The bad news for married lesbians is that only a third of transsexuals want to have a penis constructed. This is understandable because this creation does not have the brains of a man in it. But this low preference would definitely lessen the chances for a real miracle. A woman turned into a man, who actually fertilizes the female egg with a created instrument. That's a bigger story than test tube babies, and it could make men obsolete.


Friday, July 4, 2008

Freedom From Fantasy

On the 232nd Celebration of its Independence, Americans need to re-evaluate the enormous disparity between what they profess as their ideals, and what they actually practice. They need to examine the conditions under which independence was gained, how it has evolved, what it represents realistically, and why it has brought the country to its current state of disarray and divisiveness. Americans need to determine the true extent of the erosion of its economic, political, and military powers as compared to the emerging states of the east; and to breakaway from the state of denial in which they have wrapped themselves so forcefully, that has imprisoned them into a world of fantasy.

Americans are inherently a good and decent law abiding people. They are a patriotic and proud race who built a nation through hard work, ingenuity and perseverance. But over the years, a complacent attitude, borne out of being the mightiest, strongest, and most prosperous country on the planet has crept into the national psyche' which they continue to believe and rely on as constant and unchanging. Yet change has taken place, but there seems to be a refusal to acknowledge this. They cling to the old notions of what the country was and work towards realizing their dreams on the basis of that non-existent notion. And here they find disappointment. Americans are capable of many things, and surely they are capable of overcoming entrenched attitudes that are rooted in hate, fear, insecurity and doubt, to get closer to their ideals. They need to extricate themselves from the fantasy of their existence.

What does independence mean when the country is dependent on foreign oil, and the most "powerful man on earth" has to belittle himself dancing arm-in-arm with the Arabs begging for oil? What is the price of independence when 80% of consumer goods are imported? How can prosperity be proclaimed when it owes other countries trillions of dollars where the major portions are held by its former communist enemy China and its ambivalent Middle Eastern allies; where its budget deficit is 3 trillion, its currency in constant decline, its citizens losing their homes to foreclosures - saddled by debts and without savings; its manufacturing and construction industries experiencing job cuts for 6 straight months; and its infrastructure falling apart? If it is the land of the free, how can a country with 5% of the world's population have 25% of the world's prisoners? If it is the home of the brave, then why is it so scared of a lone African American or a powerful white woman who will work within the framework of a constitution it has proclaimed to trust and believe in? How can a nation be free when its mind is imprisoned by intolerance, bias and prejudice?

The United States ironically, is bitterly divided and polarized by racial discrimination, religious differences, political segmentation, and socio-economic disparities. This is increasingly evident as the election draws near. Yet no concrete steps have been outlined for its resuscitation. It needs to find its voice, the one that echoes the true ideals for which it was founded, and from there remove all the iron bars that have embedded the attitudes which hinder moving in a single direction for the benefit of its people as a nation. Not as a party, not as a political segment, not as a race, not as a quest for unfulfilled glory; but as a country of good and honorable men and women. It must understand that all the freedoms it espouses are equally applied to all people all over the world. And, the first of these that it should achieve today is freedom from fantasy.


Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A Generation in Gathering Gloom

A strong sense of deprivation is eating at the heart of America. The belief that the present generation will always be more fortunate than the previous is being eroded by a pall of gloom that persists within the realities of their current environment. Americans are discovering to their dismay that the promise of a better life through hard work is insufficient, that forces beyond their knowledge and control can, and have, corrupted their dreams, and continues to rob them of their birthright to a prosperous future.

Americans feel a shortness of breath, an emptiness sunk deep into the bottom of their gut - like a nine inch diameter hole at the center of their chest that makes breathing agonizing - when they scan the horizon for a sign of life in the economy. This year alone, two to three million homes are threatened by foreclosure; and this is not confined, as generally believed, to the underprivileged class. The once throbbing communities of scenic porches, lawns, spacious rooms, and chimneys are no longer homes but boarded up properties left to the elements to decay, or for vandals to destroy. The entire community is a reflection of inner city disintegration and economic decline.

A generation of workers who find their lives facing the burden of higher medical costs, plus the certainty of additional taxes to support the social security of the retiring bigger generation, in addition to their own. A generation who has to contend with rising fuel prices that seem to have no ceiling, which affects the price of anything they use. An emerging workforce that is less educated and even less prone to solid work that would cripple its competitiveness in a highly demanding global market. An infrastructure that is collapsing from neglect which has become inadequate to even meet current capacity. And saddest of all, an education system that cannot be trusted to satisfy the learning needed to give a minimum degree of reliance on the next generation - a generation full of itself but too young to know the depth of its flaws.

The economic anguish gripping the country cannot possibly morph into optimism even if there are those who claim that the cycle will correct itself. Many are unconvinced that the recession and slump will roll itself over and return the bounty they so deserve. They cringe at the personal debt they are saddled with and realize there is hardly any relief as the government itself is overburdened by excessive spending. They know China holds the major portion of America's public debt and are aware of the continuing dollar decline that reflects the weakness of the economy. The ability of America to remain a superpower in this century is a growing concern, and its military strength may logically be surpassed by those who benefit from the power shift from West to East. In the back of their minds, as they come to grips with the hardships they face, they know America is a nation in trouble.

In a year that is expected to trigger renewed vigor because of the forthcoming Presidential elections, Americans are reining in their enthusiasm. Both presumptive nominees of the two major parties express hope and change, but disagree on the direction. The politicians and leaders are disunited and sectors of American society are pulling in opposite and conflicting paths. Old wounds on racism are being reopened, and questions about America's ability to unite and forge a common objective are in serious doubt. As the elections draw closer, speeches about hope and change by both candidates cannot seem to take root in the confused mind of the electorate. The messages are incomplete, perhaps change is not enough, and America may be ripe for a revolution.