Posts tagged with Social Responsibility

Loud Fury

In my experience, when there is a debate going on and one of the sides begins screaming just to try to shut the other side up, it means that the discussion is over. The screaming side has lost, and their reaction is clearly a desperate way to try and turn things around. And this is exactly what the extreme right in the United States (I will not say Republicans, because there are many moderate members of the GOP who abhor this kind of behavior) is doing – they are trying to drown out any form of intelligent discussion on the issue of health care reform.

For those outside the US who are reading this, let me quickly summarize what is going on: President Obama has proposed a major overhaul on health insurance in this country to allow 40 million uninsured Americans to receive affordable coverage. Unlike many other nations, if you need to see a doctor here and you have no insurance, it will cost you a lot. There are no “public” hospitals where you can be taken care inexpensively, because private health providers have the system in a choke hold. The President's proposal will dramatically change that situation, but right-wing conservatives are battling them by spreading lies and false rumors meant to scare the less informed. And surprisingly, those tactics have been working quite well, and as a result Town Hall meetings across America have become shouting matches where right-wing nuts scream at their Congressmen and women with idiotic threats, unrelated statements and things like that.

In the meantime, those who support the initiative have done very little to turn the tide to avoid going down to the wingnuts' level. A recent effort was a page on the President's website that countered the false rumors.

I think that having a bipartisan effort in this matter is nothing but a pipe dream. Members of the GOP in Congress are fearful of going against the party line (they have pretty much opposed all of the President's proposals so far) because they know that this might cost their seat, even if it is for the good of the country. They should look at the example set by Pres. Lyndon Johnson, who signed the Voting Rights Act even though he knew that would cost any support he might have in the racist South. He just did the right thing, and he is remembered fondly for that single act.

You see, unlike what Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) said in Wall Street, greed is not good. Greed keeps us from reasoning, and also blinds us. What I think the President should do is to turn a deaf ear to the GOP in Congress and go at it alone with the support he has today. At this time, a coalition will not work. Bipartisanship will not make a health reform come true.


Goldman Case: The CBS interview

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Many of us were surprised last Tuesday when Sean Goldman's Brazilian family appeared on CBS' early Show to tell their side of the story. I myself was not aware of the interview until someone I know wrote a comment about it on Facebbok, but I quickly logged on to the network's website to check it out. Now, I am not going to talk about supporters' reactions on either side of the debate. My own position about this case is pretty well known by now – I believe the boy belongs with his biological father. But I will give my impression of what I saw. The Brazilian family is well aware that the American public opinion is largely against them, and it was clear that they change that by appealing to viewers' emotions. I noticed that when host Harry Smith mentioned the Hague International Treaty, all stepfather Joao Paulo Lins e Silva and grandmother Silvana Bianchi had to say was that Sean wanted to stay in Brazil with his half-sister and that he was well adjusted to life there. Those words were accompanied by current images of the boy participating in a basketball match and playing with his half-sister (the network had conducted an interview with Sean, but it was scrapped for legal reasons). Now, if they flew for nine hours to get our sympathy, I must say that they failed miserably. Lins e Silva's arrogance was palpable when he said that Sean had spent sixty percent of his life in Brazil and that he felt loved there – you could see that this was an exhausted lawyer who was doing nothing but buying time in order to stall an inevitable verdict. Harry Smith cleverly extracted from Bianchi that her late daughter acted surreptitiously by announcing her desire to divorce her first husband from almost ten thousand miles away. He was also smart when he let family lawyer Sergio Tostes blab on about what happened in the Brazilian courts when Bruna Bianchi was alive – but then cutting him off with the letter of the law. CBS was really aiming for ratings when they aired this interview. But contrary to what most have said, I do not think that the interview damaged the the case for David Goldman – in fact, it might have helped him, for this is a rare opportunity for American viewers to see what kind of people Goldman has been forced to battle with: these are individuals who – because of their economic power – truly believe they are above the law.


On Same-Sex Marriage Rights

Over fifty years ago, the US Supreme Court took the first practical step towards ending Racial Segregation with the landmark Brown VS. Board of Education – a move that was cemented with Pres. Johnson's Voting Rights Act in 1965, which would once and for all put a nail in the coffin of the ways of the Old South (that was not without consequence – the Democratic Party would lose support in the area for years to come).

Today, we are faced with yet another controversial Civil Rights issue – same sex-marriage. As of this writing, only a handful of U.S. states (Iowa, Vermont, Maine, Connecticut and Massachusetts) have laws that allow the matrimony of individuals of the same gender. California was once part of that group, but a recent voter-backed initiative put the kibosh on that, to the dismay of pro-gay activists around the country – something that creates jurisprudence for similar bans elsewhere.

One misconception that those who oppose same-sex marriage have is that gay couples might have the right to force their local ministers to officiate at their weddings. That is definitely not true (in spite of what the California ads said). Because of Church-State separation, churches that do not support same-sex unions would be able to continue to do so, in the same way that they condemn reproductive rights. The case here is a simple civil marriage recognized by the state, not a religious ceremony – so the “sanctity” of marriage remains unchanged as far as that goes.

Now, many states have what they call “civil unions,” which gives couples some of the protections that conventional couples take for granted. But that fact is that the status does not always give them the right to claim joint taxes or to enjoy shared health benefits. Worse, in many cases they do not get inheritance rights – meaning that if one party happens to pass away, the other person might be thrown out in the cold by the deceased's family.

Since the majority of US states fiercely opposes same-sex marriage rights, I believe it is due time for the Supreme Court to step in to push towards equal rights - maybe if California activists appeal, there will be an opportunity here. After all, this is a nation whose Declaration of Independence states that all were created equal. The existence of a second class citizenship doesn't make any sense – which is, by the way, the reason why “separate but equal” was an absurdity in the first place.


On The Nature of Comments

When I started this blog a few weeks ago, I saw it as an opportunity to try out the whole blogosphere thing in a low-key kind of way - I had already contributed pieces for different publications around the country - mostly the Miami New Times and The Houston Press, which both have daily blogs on music and the arts.

I was surprised when I got numerous comments on two pieces I wrote here - the first being a note on the arrest of a relative in Lawrence for gun posession, and the second an account of my last trip there in order to attend my grandfather's funeral - that one got a whopping 58 comments (there were more, but I flagged them) in just a few days.

I have since posted other pieces, but those didn't get much of a reaction - maybe because they had little or nothing to do with the city of Lawrence.

Now, I welcome any kind of commentary - especially critical ones. But what I got in some cases was nasty and borderline threat-like. One person went to great lenghts to go through my entire published history - and also my Facebook profile. I had no choice but to flag those posts and have them removed - I felt like I'd been stalked online.

On the other hand, there were also some comments that made me reflect on my own writing - for instance, one individual opposed a remark I'd made - I immediately realized it was inappropriate, and edited the original text in order to make it more palatable. I did more revisions on the same text every time someone pointed out something was unclear or too vague.

Looking at other articles published on the site, I noticed that some comments were completely thoughtless - almost as if the reader had been doing tequila shots before posting - for instance, I saw several posts on a piece on LJWorld that simply made fun of a reader who'd mispelled a couple of words - I mean, what exactly is someone trying to accomplish with that kind of thing?

When I leave a comment somewhere, I try to do something that is worthwhile, that people will react to (agreeing or not) in a positive manner in order to create a dialogue. Apparently, some use the Internet's anonimity shield to create bar brawls - even though they would never do that in real life...



It was a Tuesday night when my phone rang. It was my father, with whom I had not spoken for more than three years. When I heard his somber tone over the line, I knew exactly what it was.

My grandfather had died.

I couldn't say that he went too soon. At 39, I was one of few people my age who still had a living grandparent. He had been suffering from dementia for quite some time (a condition accelerated by my grandmother's death four years before), and was being looked after at an assisted-living facility in Lawrence, a Kansas state town just an hour west of Kansas City.

I felt that it was my duty as a grandson to fly to out to Kansas to pay my last respects to my paternal grandfather – even if that meant having to be in the same physical space occupied by my estranged father.

Things had never been good between my father and I. As somebody born right before the boomers came into the picture, he was raised by strict parents and was expected to do as he was told. He rebelled and became a rocker in the late fifties, but in the end he at heart a small-town boy unable to deal with the changes that swept society in the sixties. By then, he was pursuing a degree and looking to settle down as far away as possible from his folks.

But he grew up to become his own worst nightmare. He had become his own parents with the wrong expectations for kids growing up and coming of age in the 80s.

As for my parents' relationship, I must say that they were a mismatch from the start. My mother was a beauty queen brought up among the socialites of her northeastern Brazilian town of Fortaleza, with a large circle of friends that included journalists, doctors, writers and other faces that would often graced their local papers' society columns.

My father, on the other hand, was a small-town guy who favored hanging out with his high school buddies, drinking beer and watching ball games on TV . He wanted a wife that would look after him, cook and take care of the house – a woman he could control, but instead he married a free spirit who was not at all easy to get along with.

When they finally split after two bitter and quite unexplainable decades together, my father quickly married another Brazilian woman – a shy, small-town lady almost twenty years his junior with little or no personal ambition except getting a rich man to take care of her financial needs. Unlike my mother, who went on to get a masters degree in literature, this woman wanted nothing more than shop at Wal-Mart and clean up after my dad while having three kids in rapid succession.

It was little surprise when – without previous notice - he left for Kansas (a place he said he hated) a few years later, cutting off most communication with myself and my kid sister. That didn't affect me much, as I was already a grown man with little attachment to him, but it really disturbed my sister, who was instantly transformed from daddy's little diamond to a piece of trash for falling out of his favor after she'd gotten into some personal trouble.

In the winter of 1999, I was living in Brazil working as an ESL teacher while also studying for a bachelor's degree in literature. In January of that year, I had a month's vacation (those were the good old days) and went with my Brazilian girlfriend on a trip to New York City, where years later I would reside.

During that vacation – the first we'd taken together - we received an unexpected invitation via a late-night phone call to our New York City hotel to fly to Lawrence, KS to visit my grandparents (who I hadn't seen in more than a decade due to escalating family feuds). So it was that halfway through our visit, we took a plane to Kansas, where we met my grandparents – who were pushing 80 but were still healthy and active - at Kansas City airport.

It was a pleasant trip. During our four-day stay, we saw all the places I had no memory of having seen my whole life , since my parents had moved out of the area when I was still a toddler. We reluctantly spent a day with my father's new family, which consisted of his two kids and very pregnant wife, all parties doing their best not to step on each others' toes during those few hours. Paying close attention to the old adage that said that visitors and fish both start to smell after three days, we returned to New York after four, and while we were in Kansas we stayed in a hotel in the outskirts of town.

During the next few years (especially after relocating to NY), I talked to my grandparents over the phone whenever I could, and lamented the fact that they were moving from their longtime home to an assisted-living facility – I knew the inevitable end was coming. In May 2004 as I took a lunch break from my job at a Queens ESL school, I turned on the phone and noticed that there was a voice message. To my surprise, it was my father's voice – I hadn't spoken to him in four years. In a very casual tone, he let me know that my grandmother was gone. Just like that. Over a voice message. I couldn't believe it.

Sitting in the lounge at the school, I just blurted out, “my grandmother died.” Clearly, everyone thought I was joking. I just felt paralyzed. Just two days earlier, I had a nice conversation with her over the phone. Now she was gone.

Back then I was unable to fly to Kansas for financial reasons – I was going through a divorce - but this time around I was doing well enough to fly out there, book a hotel for a night and fly back the next day.

I called my father to let him know I was coming and to ask for details on the arrangements. He was actually surprised to hear that I was coming, but didn't sound happy to hear the news.

“You don't have to do, this you know,” he said in a very sarcastic tone.

“I missed my grandma's funeral, I feel like I should not miss this one,” I replied, trying to sound as natural as possible.”

“Well, suit yourself,” he said, almost disturbed by the notion of actually having to meet me. “I'll give you a call with the details later.”

That night I was supposed to attend a concert at the Blue Note jazz club in Manhattan, but I just was unable to do so, even though I thought that I would be honoring my grandfather's memory in doing so – he loved jazz. Instead, I called the club to inform them that I was not going to make it (I had reservations) and instead stopped at The Cargo Cafe – a small jazz joint a block away from my Staten Island apartment – and listened to a small combo as I slowly sipped a double scotch and lost myself in memories.

On Friday morning, there was a message on my phone – it was my father, letting me know details about the services and giving me instructions on how to get to Lawrence from Kansas City airport. The funeral would be on the following Wednesday, so I quickly booked an early morning ticket and also a room at an inexpensive hotel in town – something not hard to find there.

I hadn't seen my father for about six years, but I hoped that the grief we were both sharing would at least thaw things between us for the few hours we'd be in the same physical space, but the few contacts we had on the phone hinted that things would not be that way. It would be a rough ride, but – what the hell – I was ready to face it for Grandpa.

My Polish-born wife asked me if I wanted her to accompany me to the services, but I chose to go it alone – I expected that things would be bad there, and the last thing I wanted was to have her see how dysfunctional my family was – we had only been together for a short time, the last thing you want is to cause a bad impression on a new bride.

Specially when she has an accent and you know that your father will pick on her.

I woke up early that Wednesday morning, heading to LaGuardia airport in Queens. I made it to Kansas City in a few hours, and just in time for the funeral services in Lawrence. It was a freezing January day – around 18 degrees or so, but since there was very little humidity, it was somehow bearable to be outside.

There I met with distant cousins I had not seen in a long time – a few for the very first time, which made for an awkward experience - “nice to meet you” and smiles at a funeral were a bit too much for me, but I politely shook my father's hand, and his wife and kids received me like an estranged friend coming in a mission of peace - which made me feel somewhat welcome.

After some small talk we all headed to the cemetery, where some chairs were set under a canopy. A minister said a few words, and an elderly WW2 Veteran presented my dad with a US flag in recognition to my grandfather's service (he was in the Navy during that conflict). I felt bad for him, since he looked like the temperature was causing him some suffering. A few moments later, it was all over – no reception was planned, which I thought was rude – some relatives had traveled from Colorado, Miami, Texas and (me) New York, and all we had to do was head back home after some considerable expense.

I hitched a ride with my cousin to downtown Lawrence, where I was supposed to meet with the editor of the local paper (a writer is always hustling!) for a quick interview, which was pretty much uneventful. Across the street was this Mexican restaurant, and it was then I realized that I'd had nothing to eat. I grabbed a bite and returned to my hotel, where I briefly rested and talked on the phone both with my current and ex-wives, who were both curious about how things had gone down. Shortly after that, my father called inviting me to dinner – something he'd been pressed to do by his cousins and brother, who were all pissed at him for not holding a reception after the services.

My uncle picked me up in one of his many sports cars and we drove to the local Applebees, where I proceeded to order a margarita. I was in no mood for eating, because I knew what was coming. And I had better have a few in my head before that came around. At the table were my father, his wife (who by now looked like a sucked lemon) and his three kids – one of them who I had never met. We chewed the fat for a brief period, and then my father came out with one of his infallible gestures:

“It's very considerate of you to come all this way for the funeral, and I am sure that your grandfather would have appreciated that,” he said with no irony in his voice. He then paused for a second, and blurted: “but don't come back – it's not like we like having you around.”

He had apparently drunk a few by the time I reached the restaurant. My uncle quickly intervened, and diplomatically stated that he was more than happy to have me around.

“And oh, about your expenses coming here...”

I immediately cut him off. “It's all right, I'm OK – it's the least I could have done.”

He looked around uncomfortably, unprepared to have his magnanimous moment taken away from him. His wife bravely changed the subject, and asked about my sister, who was at the time starting a dog-walking business in New York. But soon the mood turned somber again.

Without much to say, my father turned to me and said, coldly: “I don't like you, you know?”

“Why is that,” I asked.

“Because you wrote a negative review of my book.”

About ten years ago, my father – ever the frustrated writer - self-published (under a pseudonym) a trashy, bitter book about life in Brazil where he described all women as whores, all businessmen as corrupt while singing the praises of beer and cachaca. I got a hold of it and wrote a very negative review that was picked up by – apparently, I hurt his sales badly, and now the tome is only available on demand.

Had he written a critical book about Brazil that was any good, I would have published a positive review, but the fact was that his book was garbage, and that was exactly what I told him to his face at the table, almost a decade later.

He just turned and said, “You go to hell”

I smiled and said, with all the sarcasm I could: “Guess I will meet you there then.”

And that was that.

I ended the night watching a TV show the hotel's TV while eating a pre-prepared salad and drinking some wine that I'd purchased from a nearby store. The next day, I woke up early and headed to the airport, where I resumed my normal life.