Sunday, March 25, 2012

March 22. Portugal.


The general strike of March 22 in Portugal was illustrated by several incidents where reporters covering the event were involved. The most widely spread was the aggression of Patricia Melo, a France Press photo reporter covering the demonstration at Chiado plaza in Lisbon. The police officers didn't like to be caught on camera and, possibly right after taking the photo shown below, Patricia Melo was violently hit with a baton - the aggression is depicted in the sequence shown at the top of this post, captured by a fellow photo reporter from Reuters.

Moments before, a photo by Patrícia Melo, AFP

But it wasn't just Patricia Melo who was beaten for the simple reason she was a news agency professional holding a camera. At the same place, José Sena Goulão from the Portuguese Lusa news agency was also hit violently by the police, requiring hospitalization, and this scene repeated itself all over the country, in yet another classic example of how governments deal with freedom of information, fact reinforced by precise instructions to public companies managers to ignore any information request about the general strike by the media.

These suppression, restriction and control of information attempts by those who hold power are a longtime widespread practice, and if today they are made more visible due to the fact that every citizen with a mobile phone is a potential photo reporter with the capability of publishing images across world wide social media platforms, we must remember that these attempts have always existed in more or less violent forms and with more or less serious results, depending on where and when they took place. In Chile, during the 70's, Patricia Melo might have conveniently "disappeared" after being treated at the hospital. In today's Iran, she might have disappeared even before getting to the hospital. Power always deals poorly with public demonstrations of discontent and protest, and time and again reacts with the same displeasure and disappointment of who is trying to do their best for those who, ignorants, react against their policies. After all, you either respect democracy or become anti-democratic.

Call it general strike or spontaneous demonstration or any other public activity that results in the manifestation of discontent, by more or less organized citizens, with the way they are being governed, the democratic playbook always says the same: one must emphasize the citizens' right to express indignation and their right to freedom of speech - corner stones of democracy itself - and right after that reduce those rights to the condition of mere catharsis, in any event impossible of overlapping or, God forbid, change the supreme right to govern bestowed upon the power holders by the same popular base that has every right to demonstrate their discontentment for the ones they elected.
Democracy as we know it gives absolute power and demands absolute submission - with the exception of the occasional public demonstration of discontentment, on the condition that it will extinguish itself within minutes, resigned to the power of its own vote. Always with the same paternalistic look on their faces of who doesn't understand quite well how those who chose to buy pig in a poke are displeased to find cat inside it, the ones in power explain how they were unaware of the real number of pigs before and, most of all, the pressing need to go with cat meat. All in the best interest of the nation.

Patrícia Melo pointing her camera, clearly threatening law enforcement agents.

The baton strike illustrated in this post is the expression of this paternalistic displeasure of who presumes to show to the world the expected image of responsibility and authority, and thinks the way to do it is to pass on to the masses the notion of respect, even resorting to the use of brute force to make sure no other image denies or discredits it. It's a practice out of sync with today's reality but one that stills holds the ability to convey a certain measure of reassurance to those watching from higher above. Nothing new or particularly effective, but still significant.

The second after.

The widespread aggressions of March 22, not just against reporters but against citizens demonstrating all over Portugal that day, demonstrate the discomfort power feels when confronted with public manifestations of popular discontentment and also the mentioned paternalistic displeasure, as if power is acting the part of a severe father that is forced to spank rebel children that know no better and are incapable of understanding the logic imposed for their own good, an attitude reinforced by the fact that in this story the "children" actually chose the "father".
This discomfiting displeasure has been growing in all Western democracies, the same ones that look at China as the coveted and forbidden (for now) fruit, in the hopes of following its steps. Ah, how everything would be so much simpler if citizenship were to be confined in iPad and iPhone factories, paid for by cents on the hour and with no other right but to work until you drop. We will get there. Or not.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Ghost dancing.


More disturbing news from Afghanistan today... A US service man seems to have lost it and allegedly went on a killing rampage, targeting civilians for no apparent reason and killing many of them. In this type of military engagement, also known as conventional warfare, things like this happen all the time. Unfortunate? Yes. Avoidable? Hardly. War is a nasty business, always was and always will be. When you have thousands of kids out there, armed and ready to go, things can turn ugly at any time. And the more the conflict endures, the more likely some incidents like this will happen.

When you look back at the so called "War on Terror", you can clearly see that all the achieved goals are attributed to special ops, the role of conventional forces being one of holding ground and absorbing any punches thrown at them by insurgents, from angry street mobs to suicide bombers. Time and time again, history shows us that the deployment of conventional forces on an unconventional theatre of operations transforms them into little more than punching bags, their successes being reduced to the occasional and temporary space interdiction of limited areas that lasts only as long as they occupy them. And it doesn't take a genius military strategist to see that countering an unconventional foe by this method requires a huge amount of boots on the ground for every unconventional pair of boots on the other side. That is the meaning of unconventional - it can happen anywhere, so you need to be everywhere. The reason why the "surge" partially worked in Iraq was this. And guess what happened when it ended...

Inevitably, when trying to counter an unconventional enemy by deploying conventional forces you end up with an occupation army that is reduced to the role of... Well, occupying. Then, unfortunate incidents like the one on today's news start to happen. The sooner the fact that unconventional forces alone must be used to engage unconventional enemies is recognized, the sooner this recurring nightmare will stop. Expecting the soldiers, sailors and marines to continue to take unnecessary punches and taking casualties for the sake of a few miles of dirt here and there with no lasting impact on the course of events is not just unreasonable, it is pointless and unfair to all of them, with the inevitable downside of having some of those kids going nuts at some point and making matters even worse than they already were.

Time to get those boots off the ground and return to the strategy that actually produces positive results, with maximum impact on the enemy and little to no collateral damage and casualties on the part of the engaging forces. In other words, leave it to the guys who know how to get in and out of a place like they were never there and get the deed done. Enough sacrifice on all sides for nothing. You can only dance with ghosts if you become one. Time to ghost dance again and do the deed.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Jean Giraud (Moebius) . 1938-2012


One of my favorite dream weavers disappeared. Moebius, born Jean Giraud, yielded last night after an extended illness. It was with The Incal that I discovered him, in the distant 80's, and this master piece would leave its imprint in me to this day. And how those 3 years between "Ce qui est en haut" (see my Facebook page - here also) and "La cinquième essence" seemed to never end! Dear God, publish the series finale already! And then to find out with an incredible mix of disappointment and excitement that Jodorowsky and Moebius had divided the last episode of the saga in two, "Galaxie qui Songe" and "La planète Difool". It was only volume one! Aaaargh! What an anger and, at the same time, what a magnificent thrill! The Fifth Essence would have two parts.

The adventures of class R private investigator John Difool, of his inseparable sidekick Deepo, of Animah (the adorable Alma), of Tanatah, of the merciless and tender Metabaron, of the priceless Kill Doghead (in English mistakenly known as Wolfhead) and the fantastic Solune, the perfect androgen, are all carved in my memory and are as much a part of who I am as the literature, painting, sculpture, music, cinema, photography and all the art that live in it. Ah, Art and comic books... Maybe because all those drawings came to life in my head as I absorbed them, because I gave them life and music and dimmension, because a soul had been given to them by the combined geniuses of Alejandro Jodorowsky and Jean "Moebius" Giraud, I integrated them as seemlessly and eagerly into my being as I did any other major art piece I was fortunate to read, to watch or listen to.

Moebius will forever be present in his vast work and, as each time a talent of this magnitude extingueshes itself, the longing remains for all that was left to do and that now stays somewhere beyond our reach, who knows if perhaps in the airtight garage where Jean Giraud is now sketching... I like to believe it is so.

[See this post in A Sombra]

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Whitney E. Houston . 1963-2012


I hope Whitney is in a better place now, but I also hope she can see this I am seeing right now. Her memorial service. Her life, through her songs, touched mine at times and it made a difference. And it did so to so many in so many ways, deep, meaningful ways... Listening to the testimonials in speech and song at her service, witnessing the feelings overflow in a way only possible in the New Hope baptist church where her voice was born to the world, so intense and respectful and solemn... It makes the true extent of this loss dawn on me as it dawns on millions of people all over the world who share the same kind of bond with Whitney, regardless of its form.

I hope Whitney is in a better place now. And over there, wherever it may be, her voice will still sound good enough, like Kevin just said. And it still sounds good enough for me right here, and always will. To those trying to diminish her life, her accomplishments and that voice, even as her body lies on the floor of that church, I just say shut up and show some respect. I promise you when your turn comes to lie on some floor somewhere, waiting to be turn to dust, you won't have to worry about people diminishing you.

Rest in peace, Whitney Elizabeth Houston. You will be missed.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Old news...

Yeah, yeah... One leaves the house unattended for a little while and when you come back lo and behold the landlord came over and redecorated it... (sigh)
So one more time, here we go. And it's not like it didn't need remodelling but, hey; I live here. I will do it.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Monday, May 9, 2011

In a nutshell...

Shadow, shadow on the wall...

Yesterday was Mother's Day - to my mother, in Portugal, it has always been on December 8, now it's any given first Sunday of May and they call it "mothers day" - emphasis on the plural - we had a saying in Portugal that went "Mom there's only one!" but apparently not anymore - and a week ago a SEAL team killed Osama Bin Laden but none of this makes us forget the crisis; here, as in Portugal, the long and slow but relentless march towards social-corporatism goes on. Bye-bye socialism, bye-bye capitalism... I must admit that transforming with a single stroke all of the middle class - liberal or conservative - into ideological orphans is brilliant but anyway... Moving on.
The hummingbirds are back, the ground is ready for one more tomato plantation, the trees regain their spring splendor, the cat is accepting well the old lady dog that will stay with us for a while, the "boat" glides smoothly with a new set of Michelin and, finally, the Sun is shinning and it's hot out - yes because, this year, the snow shovels and salt buckets only returned to the basement in mid April.
In a nutshell, life goes on... As does the fight.