Monthly Archives: January 2013

In Remembrance – Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Today marks the 83rd anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the most important political and social figures of the 20th century.  King was born Michael Luther King, Jr., in Atlanta, Georgia.  He later changed his name to Martin and started a successful career as a pastor with Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.

King is most closely associated with the modern civil rights movement, but that was a task with no easy beginning and a blatantly violent end.  In 1957, as Southern Negroes began to clamor for more freedom and equality, King was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization formed primarily to provide leadership for fledgling civil rights activities.  King adapted Christian ideals to the structure of the SCLC and followed the mantra of India’s Mahatma Gandhi who preached non-violent and peaceful resistance to achieve equality.

Before King could convince White Americans that entrenched racism was morally and constitutionally wrong, however, he had to convince Black Americans – especially Black Southerners – to brave uncharted territory.  It seems almost ludicrous now, but King had to rally Black Americans to rise up and protest against the institutional bigotry that ruled their lives.  They had maintained a tremulous existence for decades; one they obviously didn’t like, but a life they generally felt powerless to do anything about.  There were no anti-discrimination laws to protect someone against the White male aristocracy that ruled America with an iron fist.  Women and non-White men had to be prompted to risk everything to demand the nation hold true to its constitutional values of freedom and justice.

From 1957 until his death, King traveled over 6 million miles and spoke over 2,500 times against social injustices towards Black Americans.  Other groups, such as Hispanics and Native Americans, took their queues for action from King.  His 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech was seminal to the Black civil rights movement.  It won him the Nobel Peace Prize; making him the youngest man ever to be awarded that honor.

I guess it was destiny that he would not live to see much of his dreams come to fruition.  He was gunned down on the balcony of a motel in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968, while doing what he did best – speaking out against discrimination and oppression.

His memory still lives, though – vibrant and strong.  The battle for justice and human dignity continues.

Image courtesy W. James Taylor.

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Father Wolf Turns 80

My father and I, Easter Sunday 1967.

My father and I, Easter Sunday 1967.

Today my father, George, marks his 80th birthday.  As I stated last month when my mother turned 80, that’s still a remarkable accomplishment.  My father was born and raised in Dallas; the middle of seven children.  On his father’s side, our ancestry dates back to late 16th century Texas; something we’d known about for years, but which he’s confirmed through his extensive genealogical research.

As you might expect, my father is kind of old school.  He comes from an era when family was sacred and hard work was revered.  People took care of themselves and their loved ones in his day, and they didn’t play the victim when things didn’t work out just right.  He worked hard – too hard – all his life and, along with my mother, built a comfortable middle class lifestyle.  He also a typical dad; doing things that only a father would do.  When I was about three months old, my parents ran out of baby formula just as a major ice storm hit Northeast Texas.  My father simply got dressed and walked a couple of blocks to a nearby convenience store.  He thought nothing of it; what else was he supposed to do?  He also thought nothing of standing on his feet several hours a day, slaving over hot printing presses in a dingy shop in downtown Dallas for more than 40 years.  He’s paid for it with bad knees and gnarled toes.  But, that’s what men of his generation did.  They worked hard and took care of their own without question.  Society doesn’t seem to produce men like my father anymore – at least not in great numbers.

Like most Hispanics growing up in old East Dallas, he had it tough.  Classified as “other,” he was occasionally complimented with comments about his fair skin and good looks, as if that made him different, or better.  He told me he once actually got into a fight with a dog in the neighborhood – and won; returning home with a tiny piece of the dog’s ear hanging from the corner of his mouth.  I didn’t know whether or not to believe him – as if I had any reason to doubt him, knowing how mean he could be – until his mother and oldest sister confirmed the story several years ago.  That’s one of those ‘only-my-dad’ type of stories.

So, here’s to my father!  Happy Birthday!  You mean old Mexican!

My father on his 16th birthday, in a picture he gave to his mother.

My father on his 16th birthday, in a picture he gave to his mother.

 

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Old Wood and a Bottle of Booze

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I just thought this was funny.  Fellow blogger Travel Spirit (Sherry) took this picture in a gift shop in Tarpon Springs, Florida.  The figure reminds me of a close friend who has a moustache, loves Jack Daniels and used to smoke Camel cigarettes.  He also practically grew up in the Florida panhandle, visiting the area often as a kid.  He said – with the exception of the cigarette – the image is true to him: hard as wood and loving Jack Daniels.  That’s all the visual I’m sure any of us needs!  Thanks, Sherry!

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Suspect in Picasso Vandalism Arrested

I reported last June about a man who inexplicably vandalized a painting by Pablo Picasso at a museum in Houston.  Another visitor used a cell phone to capture video of the man later identified as 22-year-old Uriel Landeros.  He spray-painted an image of a bullfighter and the word “conquista” (conquered) over Picasso’s 1929 “Woman in Red,” before fleeing.

Landeros turned himself in to authorities at the international bridge near McAllen, Texas last week and now has confessed to the crime.  He is charged him with criminal mischief and felony graffiti.  His attorney, Emily Detoto, admits that his confession will make it difficult to defend him.  She added that Landeros is an accomplished graffiti artist, which I’m sure doesn’t make museum officials feel any better about the desecration to the painting.  It was part of the Menil Collection and is valued at several million dollars.

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England Didn’t Get the Memo – the Sun Set on Your Empire Years Ago!

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Tensions have risen again between Argentina and the United Kingdom over the Falkland Islands, a tiny cluster of barely-habitable rocks in the far Southwestern Atlantic, about 300 miles east of the South American mainland.  Those of us who are old enough to remember the ill-fated 1982 battle between the nations over these islands probably also remember it was the first time we’d ever heard of them.  At the time I was surprised to realize that England still had a colonial outpost that far away; some 8,000 miles from London and therefore, closer to Antarctica than Buckingham Palace is to 10 Downing Street.  I knew the U.K. still held Northern Ireland in its grasp, but the Falklands?  And, it’s not like they’re “across the pond,” as the British are fond of saying about the U.S. in their infinitely arrogant demeanor.  The Falklands are clear over on the other side of the globe!  In another hemisphere!

The Falklands are comprised of two large islands (West and East) and more than 700 hundred islets.  They are to the Southern Atlantic what the ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao) are to the Caribbean: clumps of rock jutting above the water.  If you sit on an Aruban beach, staring into the sunset, you could be blasted with sandy pebbles carried by powerful breezes.  It’s probably why people often visit the ABC Islands to scuba dive and get drunk.  If you sit on a Falkland beach (taking for granted that you can actually find a spot there that qualifies as a beach), you could have a similar experience, except the winds are much colder.  While tropical storms don’t terrorize the Falklands, arctic ones pose a similar threat, as they creep up from the south and assault the archipelago with frigid gusts and heavy precipitation.  They’re not exactly the Galapagos or the Seychelles.  Penguins and seals have populated them for thousands of years, but humans have only been there for the better part of the past four centuries.

Gentoo penguins on the Falklands.

Gentoo penguins on the Falklands.

Argentina refers to the Falklands as Las Islas Malvinas (The Malvinas) and has laid claim to them for the last two hundred years.  I think it’s just a matter of pride and proximity – and animosity towards Great Britain.  What else could it be?

English navigator John Davis may have been the first European to sight the islands, while cruising through the area in 1592.  But, Dutchman Sebald de Weerdt made the first definite and recorded sighting in 1600.  Another Englishman, John Strong, made the first recorded landing, however, in 1690.  He named the sound between the two main islands after Viscount Falkland, a British naval officer.  In 1764, French navigator Louis Antoine de Bougainville established the islands’ first settlement, on East Falkland, and named the islands Les Malovines.  A year later the British established a settlement on what is now West Falkland.  In 1767, the Spanish bought the French settlement and, in 1770, drove out the British.

The British returned to West Falkland a year later, but left again, for economic reasons, in 1774.  Although the British never renounced their claim to the rocky outcroppings, Spain maintained their settlement on East Falkland until 1811.

In 1816, Argentina declared its independence from Spain and, in 1820, proclaimed sovereignty over the Malvinas and began occupying them.  But, in 1833, Britain returned and forcibly expelled the handful of Argentine military officers who remained.  By the end of the 19th century, the Malvinas had a self-supporting colony of Britons who swore allegiance to the British crown.  They ignored frequent Argentine protests over U.K.’s occupation of the islands.

In 1965, the United Nations approved a resolution inviting Argentina and Great Britain to discuss a peaceful resolution to the dispute.  Argentina simply wanted the islands turned back over to them.  Great Britain simply balked.  The relentless head-butting culminated in Argentina’s surprise invasion of the Falklands on April 2, 1982.  Within a few weeks, 10,000 Argentine troops occupied the islands.  Falkland residents couldn’t do much to resist.  But, Argentina was in no position to attack England.  Aside from an inferior military, they were just coming out of their infamous “Dirty War;” a frightening period during which the military dictatorship engaged in a brutal campaign against suspected left-wing political opponents.  People accused of treason disappeared; others turned up dead.  Many of those who vanished remain missing to this day.  The Falkland invasion was really just a political move to unite the Argentine people behind a government whose human rights abuses and financial mismanagement were gaining international attention.

The British response to the invasion was swift and deadly.  They launched a cavalry of battle ships, one commandeered by Prince Andrew.  The conflict was brutal, resulting in the loss of more than 900 lives.  After 74 days, Argentina surrendered and admitted defeat.  It was a serious blow to the morale of the Argentine people and their dubious government.  But, it was bound to happen.  And, more importantly, it still doesn’t mean Great Britain is right.

Long before the Falklands debacle, though, England’s empire had begun to disintegrate.  After the United States broke away from the British crown, England then lost such large territories as Canada and Australia.  The 20th century saw Great Britain experience the greatest number of colonial losses, due mainly to fighting two world wars within a generation.  In 1947, a fatigued and embattled U.K. watched as India gain independence.  Then, England’s colonies in Africa began to clamor for their own freedom.  Both Afghanistan and China had managed to thwart British imperialism in the 1800s.  And, in 1997, another British colonial jewel, Hong Kong, fell under Chinese control.

So, I have to wonder why England insists on retaining the Falklands.  Don’t they realize they’re no longer an imperialist superpower?  Other European nations – mainly Spain and France – conceded losing their own overseas territories.  But, Great Britain won’t let go.  I suppose it’s a Napoleonic complex.  Barely the size of the U.S. state of Alabama, England has to assert itself loudly and – sometimes – viciously.

Argentina is no better suited militarily to take on the British now than they were in 1982.  But, they have become democratized and revamped their financial infrastructure.  Its latest move seems to be isolationism.  Argentina President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has politely asked for the Falklands’ return, but British Prime Minister David Cameron scoffed at the likelihood and said he would “fight militarily” to keep the islands.  Such is the air of British self-righteousness: take what’s not theirs and kill anyone who tries to resist.  Their predecessors did that to the native peoples of North America; a sentiment that persists today in their dismissive behavior and attitude.

Falkland residents are scheduled to vote this March whether or not they want to remain as part of the United Kingdom.  I suspect they will choose to stay with Britain.  I also feel that – whatever occurs – the U.S. should stay out of it.  Regardless, England is starting to learn that the world is no longer its open treasure chest.

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Soft Rain

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It’s raining here in the Dallas, Texas area; a soft, gentle rainfall that should last through tomorrow.  We need it badly here, of course, because of the ongoing drought.  But, the sound of rain at night is both passionate and erotic.  Someone cuddle up to me and tell me you love me!

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Still Free

Henry Louis Stephens, untitled watercolor (c. 1863) of a man reading a newspaper with headline “Presidential Proclamation / Slavery.”

Henry Louis Stephens, untitled watercolor (c. 1863) of a man reading a newspaper with headline “Presidential Proclamation / Slavery.”

On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln took a break from greeting guests as part of a New Year’s tradition, and slipped into his office to sign a controversial document that ultimately would become a cornerstone in America’s continuing battle for democracy: the Emancipation Proclamation.  In the midst of the bloody Civil War, where southern states fought hard to protect their right to enslave the Negro people, this lengthy item declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”

It had its limitations.  It applied only to states that had seceded from the Union, but it exempted border states and any part of the Confederacy that had fallen into northern control.  More importantly, it depended upon a Union victory.

The document didn’t actually end slavery in the United States.  No piece of paper – even one signed by the President – can obliterate decades or centuries of cultural tradition.  That only happens over time and through education.  People change and so do the societies in which they live.

But, on the sesquicentennial of this significant declaration, it’s equally critical to remember that human life is valuable.  It can’t be sold and it can’t be bought.  No country really needs a document telling them that.  But sometimes, people have to be reminded how important we all are.

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