Paul Simon – ‘Graceland’

 

Revisiting one of the best albums by Paul Simon (the one from duo Simon & Garfunkel), this time with a touch of Cape Town township music, and the vibrancy of South Africans, in particular as the country was moving ahead towards the end of apartheid. The songs are not simply a stronghold for the souls of the oppressed, chants of the suffering men, but also earmark a restless spirit for them to overcome all challenges, and a voice, in catchy tones, for the whole world to capture.

This album was released in 1986, and was awarded Grammy Award for Best Album afterwards. Enjoy.

In Havana

 

When it comes to Cuba, what that comes in the mind of most people are no more than ‘Castro’, ‘Guantanamo’, ‘one of the world’s last socialist, and backward, states’, ‘Bay of Pig crisis’, and simply ‘immigrants who ended up moving to Florida’.

It is true the country still lives under the shadows of socialist regime, having hinged on a derelict Soviet-style system that no longer works in most parts of the world. Some reforms took place, but they didn’t completely transform the lives of Cuban people. It is growing slow, with all its outdated paraphernalia, leaving an impression as though the country were slowly left to die.

But it’s not a completely sad-ending story, somehow. As Ezaram Vambe recorded, through slow-motion pictures and time lapses across Havana, the capital, he sought to break our common misconceptions about how we should perceive the city, the people, and overall, the entire nation. It may be backwards, as you see from derelict buildings, but one thing you can hardly miss, in the end, is the people, their attitude, and their restless energy in making their lives advance forward.

May that spirit endure.

The Crash of EgyptAir 990

egyptair

 

As the world still mourns the devastating Malaysia Airlines’ MH17 shoot-down incident in Ukraine (the second time the country’s national carrier faces its tragedy after the disappearance of MH370), let us take a look at another case of plane crash, as seen from the case of EgyptAir 990, which crashed into the waters surrounding Nantucket Islands, Massachusetts, on a flight scheduled between Los Angeles and Cairo, Egypt’s capital, 15 years ago.

The real cause of the crash, though, remains up to speculation nowadays. Some disputed if it was caused by mechanical failures or a deliberately planned act by the main crew themselves.

Read the full story, written by veteran journalist and aviation enthusiast, William Langewiesche, released in 2001, in The Atlantic.

 

Excerpt:

 

Flight 990 pushed back from the gate and taxied toward the active runway at 1:12 A.M. Because there was little other traffic at the airport, communications with the control tower were noticeably relaxed. At 1:20 Flight 990 lifted off. It topped the clouds at 1,000 feet and turned out over the ocean toward a half moon rising above the horizon. The airplane was identified and tracked by air-traffic-control radar as it climbed through the various New York departure sectors and entered the larger airspace belonging to the en-route controllers of New York Center; its transponder target and data block moved steadily across the controllers’ computer-generated displays, and its radio transmissions sounded perhaps a little awkward, but routine. At 1:44 it leveled off at the assigned 33,000 feet.

The en-route controller working the flight was a woman named Ann Brennan, a private pilot with eight years on the job. She had the swagger of a good controller, a real pro. Later she characterized the air traffic that night as slow, which it was—during the critical hour she had handled only three other flights. The offshore military-exercise zones, known as warning areas, were inactive. The sky was sleeping.

At 1:47 Brennan said, “EgyptAir Nine-ninety, change to my frequency one-two-five-point-niner-two.”

EgyptAir acknowledged the request with a friendly “Good day,” and after a pause checked in on the new frequency: “New York, EgyptAir Nine-nine-zero heavy, good morning.”

Brennan answered, “EgyptAir Nine-ninety, roger.”

That was the last exchange. Brennan noticed that the flight still had about fifteen minutes to go before leaving her sector. Wearing her headset, she stood up and walked six feet away to sort some paperwork. A few minutes later she approved a request by Washington Center to steer an Air France 747 through a corner of her airspace. She chatted for a while with her supervisor, a man named Ray Redhead. In total she spent maybe six minutes away from her station, a reasonable interval on such a night. It was just unlucky that while her back was turned Flight 990 went down.

 

 

Eritrea: the North Korea of Africa

map_of_eritrea

 

Eritrea, as most people have barely heard about, is one of Africa’s fastest growing nations in terms of population number, and at the same time, also one of the world’s poorest. The country, throughout its independence, has been faced with wars with virtually all of its neighbors: Sudan, Ethiopia, Yemen, and a tiny country hosting a huge US military base, Djibouti. Nonetheless, it is the all-out war with Ethiopia that affected this country very severely. All able-bodied men, and even women, were enlisted for military service, leaving the nation completely paralyzed, in terms of economy, social progress, and political dynamism.

As the war ended, with 100,000 casualties on Eritrean-Ethiopian War, the country was completely devastated. Hundred thousands of refugees flooded neighboring countries, and some of them, probably as many as 40,000, even sought refuge in Israel. To stop the migration flows, though, Eritrean government imposed very harsh sentences for the populace, restricted their movements, and even inhibited them from going overseas. The economy was totally put to centralized control by the state, and they now mostly depend on scrap metal to keep the bustle going.

Now led by strongman Isaias Afewerki, Eritrea now solidifies itself as a totalitarian state, whose brutal uniformity, as media would like to refer, matches only that of North Korea.

French photographer Eric Lafforgue visits the country and summarizes what he finds out in his website.

Bonus: a 2010 Foreign Policy article highlights this African nation. Click this link to read more.

 

Excerpt:

 

So though Asmara today looks like a charming Italian hill town circa 1930, that Soviet feel is never far away: shops full of empty shelves, citizens lining up with ration cards, shortages of basic goods, and a government dedicated to sustaining a military machine it cannot afford. With the economy stagnant, there is no hard currency to buy imports. Corner stores stock the same paltry selection of shoddy domestic goods: cleaning detergents, old fruit, a few bottled drinks, perhaps some canned food.

Restaurants are able to serve only a handful of items on their menus, and Coca-Cola halted local production a few years ago for lack of syrup. The bicycles that crowd the streets betray the desperate shortage of fuel; hiring a car to leave Asmara requires at least a day’s notice so that gas can be arranged. Hospitals have reportedly run out of essential supplies; a friend working for the United Nations asked me to smuggle in basic antibiotics no longer available in town. At a popular market that specializes in recycled goods, I watched one metalworker transform castoff artillery shells into coffee urns.

George Takei: Why I love a country that once betrayed me

george takei

 

Let’s say you are a citizen of country A, born, raised, and educated there with all that country’s beliefs and values, but your ancestral origin is from another one, say, country B. Your physical features, your face, your appearance, all of which are precisely those of people living in the latter.

Let’s say that country A and country B are involved in a diplomatic crisis, a conflict, or worse, a war. Your family wants to move, but they can hardly decide what may be a better decision. In case they stay, it is very likely that either the government of country A, or the public majority, will label you as ‘enemies’, ‘aliens’, ‘non-citizens’, and will even resort to all measures, no matter how extreme, to eliminate you, despite your innocence and your having no political connection to the latter. On the other hand, moving back to your ‘ancestral homeland’ is hardly a good notion, though. Citizens, or government there, may very possibly dub you as ‘enemies from country A’, ‘vermin’, ‘national traitors’, or what have you. You can hardly speak their language, despite your exact body features. You are rejected, and being pigeonholed, by the two countries. You don’t know where to move. And you don’t know what to do.

Numberless minorities over this world, for all the eons, have been faced with such dilemma. Chinese in Southeast Asian countries, Asians in the United States, Whites, Asians, and Arabs in some parts of Africa and elsewhere, and even minorities in Europe, they are just a handful of examples that illustrate such phenomenon. Identity crisis oftentimes becomes inevitable. But we know we can barely make a choice. Whatever that happens, we must accept and fight against that label, that prejudice that sticks over us for a lifetime.

George Takei, a Japanese-American actor, and also a proud gay, shares his experiences of being interred during World War II, and the subsequent, long and uneasy, processes that made him eventually love America as it is, despite all the pains it had incurred towards his family. Watch his inspiring talk below. May this talk be an inspiration to all of us.

 

Movie title: Peccatrix

peccatrix

 

It was the worst New York City of the times back in 1970s. Homicides, gang wars, drug smuggling, and abject poverty were visible signs almost everywhere throughout the metropolis. The whole nation had received its double blow from their humiliating defeat in Vietnam and the oil embargo imposed by Arab countries. Poverty stroke millions of people heavily in the United States, and criminal scenes were overwhelmingly commonplace.

And something shocking took place in Bronx. An African-American teenager was apprehended after having robbed and killed an old Jewish store-owner couple. Nonetheless, there was a loophole in his case: his right arm was physically deformed, and it was highly impossible that he could commit the case single-handedly. Critics suspected that the police were physically coercing him to confess a misdeed he had never done before. Divisions within the police became widespread, as there were allegations that some of the personnel were actually manipulating the case by their own.

What’s actually taking place behind the scenes? Was the teenager the sole suspect in the robberies? Or the police were hiding a more mysterious motive?

 

NB: it’s your turn to complete the missing plot. Oh, anyway, as for the movie title, ‘peccatrix’ is Latin word for ‘sinner’.

Movie title: We Need To Talk About Justin

we need to talk about justin

 

This boy (not that bad-ass, almost-fully-tattooed one we’re talking about) was what Hollywood could term as ‘all the children’s living dream’. He starred in numerous children-themed films, earned millions of dollars in every single paycheck, and his presence, everywhere nearly round the globe, was circumnavigated by swarms of reporters anxious to know his latest events every single time. Nonetheless, as time goes by, the boy is increasingly faced with childhood problems, is struggling to cope with the transition towards adulthood, and his fate is exacerbated when his parents divorced, and were engaged in violent confrontations in regard to the management of their son’s assets. His career gradually domino-ed into a mess, entered a vicious underworld, satisfied his lust with numerous women, controversially earning him a new, notorious reputation.

His ex-manager, Iceboat Brown*, shares his secrets about the boy, so-called Justin, to a television journalist. Here, he leaks all his darkest life secrets public outside has barely known before. Will the boy ever rise from his point of nadir and transform himself into a better person?

 

 

*you know who this person I’m referring about