Ricardo Miranda Zúñiga

Structural Patterns

Reflections on Art, Technology and Society

Archive for the ‘critical_perspectives’ Category

Remembering Enrique Bolaños

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The only decent president of Nicaragua in nearly 25 years, Enrique Bolaños died on Monday, June 14th 2021 at the age of 93. My family has been friends with the Bolaños for generations. A few years ago at my Tio Hernaldo Zuniga’s 90th birthday, I had the opportunity to sit and talk with Enrique for an extended period. He was more interested in hearing about me and what I do than talking about himself. As I told him about my creative work and using the internet/web as a creative medium and the classes that I teach, he got very excited to share his latest endeavor. He had been working with a group of assistants to create an online archive regarding Nicaragua’s history. This is an archive of historical documents and accounts, if I recall correctly a compliment and extension to his book The Struggle for Power (2017) that presents a political history of Nicaragua from 1821 to 2007 – ending with his presidency. Enrique described the effort as an online library and indeed named it as such Enrique Bolaños Bibioteca. This online library reflects Enrique’s dedication and love for his country.

As Vice President to the criminal Arnolod Aleman from 1997 to 2002, it was expected that when Enrique Bolaños took over the presidency in 2002, he would merely be a puppet of Aleman. (In Nicaragua, presidents may not serve consecutive terms.) Instead of being a puppet, President Bolaños launched an anticorruption campaign to investigate criminal acts by state employees. In August of 2002, this investigation lead to the conviction of the former president Arnoldo Aleman for fraud, money laundering and misuse of public funds totaling nearly $100 million. Following only six years of a 20 year sentence and largely served as a house arrest, Aleman was pardoned by the far more corrupt dictator Daniel Ortega.

Enrique Bolaños, an incredibly sincere and transparent individual is a surprising persona in the corrupt politics of Nicaragua. His presidency remains a hopeful moment in the country’s recent history as he was nested between a self-serving, obese thief and a maniacal dictator and lunatic vice dictator wife Rosario Murillo. One hopes that a new leader with some of the same qualities as Bolaños will rise to dethrone the Ortega-Murillo regime this election year. Unfortunately, as I write this, those candidates truly challenging the current dictatorship are being arrested.

Written by ricardo

June 20th, 2021 at 8:51 am

The Deficit Myth 001

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I recently finished Stephanie Kelton’s book The Deficit Myth and I’m going to create a series of blog entries considering the material of the book. In doing so, I will liberally be quoting the book as part of my goal is to consider and digest my highlights from the text.

Kelton’s goal is to have us understand Modern Monetary Theory and how if embraced, it can help us create a better society. Kelton asks “What would it look like if the government overcame the deficit myths [the concept of having to maintain a household budget] and started budgeting like a currency issuer instead of pretending that it needs to pay for its spending just like the rest of us?” (pg. 42)

Although I think that we should all read this book (though it can be a bit repetitive), I’m going to copy the main points of the United States federal deficit myths that need to be debunked. These points are in the introduction and are given a chapter each:

First Myth:
The idea that the United States federal government needs to budget like a household is pernicious… “MMT demonstrates that the federal government is not dependent on revenue form taxes or borrowing to finance its spending and that the most important constraint on government spending is inflation.” pg. 9

Second Myth:
“It is possible for the government to spend too much. Deficits can be too big. But evidence of overspending is inflation, and most of the time deficits are too small, not too big.” pg.9

Third Myth:
Deficits will burden the next generation. Ronald Reagan was one of the wort perpetrators of the myth that we would saddle our children with too much debt, because it’s powerful political rhetoric. “As a share of gross domestic product (GDP), the national debt was at its highest – 120% – in the period immediately following WWII. Yet, this was the same period during which the middle class was built, real media family income soared, and the next generation enjoyed a higher standard of living without the added burden of higher tax rates… Increasing the deficit doesn’t make future generations poorer, and reducing the deficit won’t make them any richer.” pg.9

Fourth Myth:
“…deficits are harmful because the crowd out private investment and undermine long-term investment… government deficits eat up some of the dollars that would otherwise have been invested in private sector endeavors that promote long-term prosperity. We will see why the reverse is true – fiscal deficits actually increase private savings – and can easily crowd-in private investments.” pg. 10

Fifth Myth:
“Deficits make the United States dependent on foreigners [China and Japan as they hold large quantities of U.S. debt]… this is a fiction that politicians wittingly or unwittingly propagate, often as an excuse to ignore social programs desperate need of funding. Sometimes this myth has used the metaphor of irresponsibly taken out a foreign credit card. This misses the fact that the dollars aren’t originating from China. They’re coming from the U.S. We’re not borrowing from China so much as we’re supplying China with dollars and then allowing them to trade those dollars in for a safe, interest-bearing asset called a U.S. treasury. There is absolutely nothing risky or pernicious about this. If we wanted to, we could pay off the debt immediately with a simple keystroke.” pg.10

Sixth Myth:
“Entitlements are propelling us toward a long-term fiscal crisis. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are the supposed culprits… Our government will always be able to meet future obligations because it can never run out of money. The money can always be there. The question is, What will that money buy? Changing demographics and the impacts of climate change are real challenges that could put stress on available resources.” pg.11

Kelton ends the introduction with a call to arms:

“The fact that 21 percent of all children in the United States live in poverty- that’s a crisis. The fact that our infrastructure is graded at a D+ is a crisis. The fact that inequality today stands at levels last seen during America’s Gilded Age is a crisis. The fact that the typical American worker has seen virtually no real wage growth since the 1970s is a crisis. The fact that forty-four million Americans are saddled with $1.7 trillion in student loans debt is a crisis. And the fact that we ultimately won’t be able to ‘afford’ anything at all if we end up exacerbating climate change and destroy the life on this planet is perhaps the biggest crisis of them all.” pg.11

“These are real crises. The national deficit is not a crisis.” pg.12

“THE CRIME OF the tax bill signed by Trump in 2017 is not that it added to the deficit but that it used the deficit to provide help to those who needed it least. It has widened inequality, putting more political and economic power into the hands of the few… We should tax billionaires to rebalance the distribution of wealth and income and to protect the health of our democracy.” pg. 12

As the many citizens of the United States need a financial lifeline from the federal government to help make it through this pandemic, Kelton foresees the stalling of a second stimulus:

“The federal deficit, which was expected to top $1 trillion before the virus became a threat, will likely skyrocket beyond $3 trillion in the months ahead. If history is any lesson, anxiety over rising budget deficits will lead to pressure to reduce fiscal support in order to wrestle deficits lower. That would be an unmitigated disaster. Right now, and in the months ahead, the most fiscally responsible way to manage the crisis is with higher deficit spending.” pg. 13

Internalized Racism

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A week ago, that is the last week of pandemic June 2020, my nearly 12 year old and I biked to Clinton Hill to visit a buddy of his.  The friend’s block in Clinton Hill was having a “stoop day.”  We arrived at the brownstone where his friend lives in Clinton Hill on the edge of Bed-Stuy around 1pm and the next door neighbors had their stoop party rolling.  

The next door neighbors are Black and they were sitting at the bottom of the stoop behind a gate drinking and talking while one man worked the grill.  Parked adjacent to the next door brownstone was a large white SUV with the passenger door open and music playing; it was the sound system for the stoop.  A Brooklyn summer Saturday block party was just getting started. 

My son’s friend and younger brother were outside, and greeted us.  The mom stepped out, we had never met so after brief introductions, I offered to escort the boys to the Christopher “Biggie” Wallace Basketball Courts around the corner.  Between COVID-19 and expected rain, the courts and playground were empty.  The kids threw around a football, kicked a soccer ball and we headed back to their stoop.

The mother invited us to hang out on their stoop.  I took a seat and we chatted as I watched the next door party grow.  With each new arrival, a small explosion of laughter and cheer – a young man with a bottle of Hennessy and plastic cups, a middle-aged woman with beer in hand… it was a multi-generational gathering.  At an apartment building across the street people were setting up tables with food.  I could see that rain was coming, so we didn’t stay long.

On our bike ride back, as my son and I rode next to one another in Prospect Park, he mentioned that his friend (who is White) had said that “those people party all day long.”  He said it in a judgmental manner.  I told him that it’s Saturday and many people work Monday through Friday, so Saturday is a day to party and enjoy family and friends.  I told him that it’s a good thing as I tried to dismiss the judgmental tone.

This immediately made me consider the difference between Black and Latino cultures versus White, particularly WASP culture.  I assume that my son’s judgmental tone was picked up from his friend.  I recalled 15 years back seeing the summer weekend stoop parties along Vanderbilt and reading the stories of the gentrifiers calling the police to shut down those stoop parties as they loudly rolled into the evening.  Now there are no stoop parties along Vanderbilt and nearly no Black people.

Then I thought about my own family in Nicaragua.  On Sundays (or Saturdays), my cousins regularly head over to their parent’s homes with their families and their drink of choice – one cousin adopted Titos a few years ago, others stick to Flor de Caña and uncles tend to elect whiskey or vodka.  The weekend is commonly to gather and enjoy family.  The kids play while the adults talk, drink and listen to music and everyone feasts on carne asada or pollo asado, tortilla, chicharron, tostones…  At the larger family gatherings, it doesn’t always end well, occasionally simmering disagreements explode, words are said, but soon enough everyone will gather again.

When I was very young, my own parents would sometimes throw weekend parties.  It wasn’t every weekend as we did not have much family around, but every few weeks and it was more friends than family.  As I grew older, those parties ended.  My dad worked whenever he could.  If someone called in sick, he’d cover.  He was a BART maintenance employee for 27 years.  There were periods when he’d take a second job or try to run his own janitorial company or even drive to the airport and try to pick up passengers.  It seems to me that when he was younger he enjoyed life a lot more and as he grew older he became more obsessed with amassing money.  Perhaps it was having a family or making sure that all bills were paid off or being comfortable when he retired or he just had a lot of energy and with a family – why not use that energy for financial security…  Whichever it was, my parents were immigrants that adapted to US life and culture, one in which work, not having debt and amassing money is central.  (At least for poor immigrants, commonly, not living with debt is a goal.) However, in the US there are many cultures and amongst them Black and Latino cultures are more likely to maintain the importance of weekend socializing, drinking, music and partying.  Whereas WASP culture is more likely to embrace isolation, the Weekend Edition of the New York Times, reading a novel, exercising in the park, silence and contemplation. And mixed in this is a bit of work – checking emails, checking bank accounts, perhaps moving a bit of money… They are not likely to tolerate loud music and regular weekend parties.

All this said, the reason behind this reflection is my disconcert at my son’s judgmental tone at the idea of people partying all day long and underlying that judgmental tone is a trace of racism. I present two radically different measures of the value of life. One is based on productivity whereas the other on joy. One may find joy through accomplishment, the other finds joy in joy itself. One has a puritanical and protestant root with a moral basis whereas the other has “savage” root with a hedonistic basis. However, the savage hedonism has been tamed or civilized, because it is only after a week of hard work that the pursuit of pleasure for the sake of pleasure is enjoyed. And in writing this, I display my own implicit racism.

Written by ricardo

July 3rd, 2020 at 7:23 am

The Golden Age of FinTech

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FinTech for the Precariat (working title) is a net art work that speculates on the false promises of income distribution in the Age of Bezos. COVID-19 has compounded existential insecurity; the pandemic of stress has been inseminated by the novel flu virus to birth a new reality – a chasm of uncertainty. As unemployment soars, speculative futures drive a stock market that has largely rebounded from the initial shock, but on what basis? The basis that this moment will soon pass and the age of plutocrats, technocrats and authoritarianism will continue thriving a year from now; the slight disruption soon forgotten. The agenda of economic growth must be embraced at the cost of human health. After all, those who enjoy the economic growth will remain safely at home in their condo or rural cabin or yacht.

It has been projected that the 2020s will be the decade of the FinTech Revolution. This marketing hyperbole is on the heels of many such revolutions – the Green Revolution, the Personal Computing Revolution, the dot.com, web2.0 and Social Network Revolution… These revolutions are sold on the promises of democratization and wealth. And they always leave a toll from cancer and the privatization of agriculture to unparalleled surveillance. Today financial technologies present the promise of democratizing complicated transactions, facilitating personal banking, mass speculation in stocks… Whether budgeting or gambling, these tools are relatively harmless. However, entirely new finance mechanisms or rather schemes are being developed as part of FinTech including autonomous finance, bitcoin and ultimately the financialization of human existence. A sector of FinTech will compound income inequality nationally and globally to insurmountable levels. As made abundantly clear by world leaders, finance no longer serves humanity, humanity serves finance.

Question of Intelligence

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Before COVID-19 shutdown New York City, I had the opportunity to experience the exhibition “The Question of Intelligence – AI and the Future of Humanity” curated by Christiane Paul at Parson’s Kellen Gallery. I did not enter the exhibition expecting to witness disparate algorithms animating the exhibition space. It took me a few minutes to realize that the empty gallery (populated only by myself and two silent gallery sitters busily working, I suppose, on their school work) was brought to life by artworks forced to listen to one another and respond. I’m talking about artworks sensing via microphones, cameras, the internet; processing through artificial intelligence, machine learning, algorithms; and communicating via speakers, projectors, screens, printers, the internet and miniature swamps.

Christiane Paul has assembled elder artificial intelligence artworks over 40 years old (though still learning) with nascent works just starting to realize themselves. With the popular explosion of catch phrases including “Big Data,” “AI,” “Machine Learning,” “Today, right now, you have more power at your finger tips than entire generations that came before you…” (I used to appreciate Common before the Microsoft commercial, now I cringe when I hear his voice), Paul has curated a learning experience that recognizes the generational history of artificial intelligence as a creative medium.

Upon entering the gallery, one hears female artificial voices generating poetry or relating temperatures and soil humidity and other environmental measures or in the distance an occasional tweet. To the left, I saw a big black microphone and elected to approach it as the first means toward interactivity. I introduced myself and then watched my words projected onto the wall along with Chinese-style landscape paintings. Trails are drawn from word groupings to word groupings along with drawn landscapes and icons forming a word and image map. The projection is a mind map generator based on the words captured by the microphone. Following a few phrases, I decided it wasn’t very interesting and decided to move on. Adjacent to it is Lynn Hershman Leeson’s chatbot Agent Ruby (2001), but having interacted with one of Leeson’s works at Yerba Buena’s “The Body Electric” recently, I only spent a minute with it before moving on, also it didn’t know what to make of what I was telling it.

“image may contain” by Lior Zalmanson

Adjacent to the chatbot, is Lior Zalmanson’s “image may contain” in which the artist feeds historically significant images into FaceBook’s Automatic Alternative Text image recognition algorithm, an accessibility AI to help contextualize images for the blind and sight impaired. The artists uses the uncontextualized and minimal description of the historical images to identify “similar” images and then collapses them onto lenticular prints. Above are the images that appear in the first print as I move from left to right. The work simply and clearly shows that bots such as AAT should not be used to present information and least of all pretend to be a source of knowledge, at least not yet.

“Us Aggregated” by Mimi Onuoha

Similarly, Mimi Onuoha uploaded a photo of her mother “to Google’s reverse image search, which allows one to upload a picture to find online images that the Google algorithms identify as related.” Scaled, printed and framed from the initial image at the center to the algorithmically related images encircling, a seemingly family home portrait wall appears, leading one to question the process of algorithmic categorization based entirely on visual similarity. With such a project, I can’t help but recall eugenics and Sekula’s “The Body and the Archive.”

I then circled back toward the center of the gallery to try and figure out what was going on with “The Giver of Names” by David Rokeby. And it wasn’t until I read the instructions and changed the objects on the pedestal to assemble my own still life that the brilliance of the exhibition really dawned on me!

“The Giver of Names” (naming since 1990) consists of a monitor, speaker, old CCTV camera, pedestal, pile of old toys and a program that tries to understand what it is seeing through the camera to generate poetry. Once I removed the toys left on the pedestal and placed my own selection, I watched the AI go into action by identifying shapes and colors and then trying to make sense of what it was identifying or “seeing.” Those shapes and colors feed a poetry algorithm that speaks and writes to the monitor adjacent to the CCTV camera. Meanwhile, just beyond this installation, the not very interesting mind mapping microphone is also capturing this generated poetry as it echoes across the gallery and starts mind mapping away. AWESOME! The gallery is its own loop of machines churning away at one another’s utterances. This realization helped me refocus my attention and expand my time with each work. I tried to capture this in the video at the top of this entry.

Near the entrance on a wall monitor, hangs AARON which I had merely paused at for a few seconds but now returned to observe. “AARON is the earliest artificial intelligence program for artmaking and one of the longest running ongoing projects in contemporary art. Harold Cohen started creating AARON at UCSD in the late 1960s and developed the software until his death in 2016. In this video AARON produces a new color image every 10 to 15 minutes.” As one tours the gallery, AARON is quietly working away creating shapes and lines of color, artful abstractions.

“Deep Swamp” by Tega Brian

Back near the center of the gallery, just beyond “The Giver of Names” is another work with a female computer voice speaking at intervals. Tega Brain’s “Deep Swamp” asks “if new ‘wilderness’ is the absence of explicit human intervention, what would it mean to have autonomous computational systems sustain wild places?” The handsome installation has three AIs, Nicholas, Hans and Harrison each “engineer their environment for different goals. Harrison aims for a natural looking wetland, Hans is trying to produce a work of art and Nicholas simply wants attention.”

“Learning to See” by Memo Akten uses machine learning to relate the objects on a pedestal that a camera captures to five different data sets that the system has been fed. The visitor can re-arrange the objects on the pedestal to see new interpretations. Across from the pedestal on a wall is a split screen that shows the image captured by the camera adjacent to the system’s interpretation. “Every 30 seconds the scene changes between different networks trained on five different datasets: ocean and waves, clouds and sky, fire and flowers, and images from the Hubble Space telescope.

Similarly across the gallery, hang a series of prints by Mary Flanagan. The work is [Grace:AI] in which generative algorithms trained on thousands of paintings and drawings by women to create a series of images. “[Grace:AI] was tasked to create her ‘origin story’ by looking at 20,000 online images of Frankenstein’s monster and producing its portrait.”

Both “Learning to See” and “[Grace:AI]” employ generative adversarial networks (GAN), to generate new visualizations. Using GAN anyone can put their own conceptual spin to generate a data set for the machine to learn and see what it spits out. Over the last few years, I’ve seen a few similar projects, my favorite remains an early one – the MEOW Generator trained on a cat dataset.

Perhaps the most darkly monumental project are the large four black machines with spinning fans, exuding steam and ticker tape – the installation component of #BitSoil Tax by LarbitsSisters. The project proposes the fair redistribution of internet wealth to all people through a new taxation system. The installation is utopian, dark and whimsical.

“microBitsoils” by LarbitsSisters

Other projects on exhibit include “Futures of Work” by Brett Wallace, and Ken Goldberg and the AlphaGarden Collective.

Cuban Girlfriend for Rent

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Spouting Bald Fat Man and Beautiful Young Woman

Friday April 26th, 2019, I had arrived in Camaguey, Cuba the previous day for the city’s video art biennial. Earlier this day, I presented a virtual reality piece – “Incertidumbre” outside the biennial’s theater – on the street in a small public square. It was a big hit with unsuspecting pedestrians, not so much because of the content, but rather because no one had tried virtual reality, so people were awed. Throughout the two-hour duration of presenting the work, there was a line, so that evening I decided to treat myself to a nice dinner at a restaurant that I had enjoyed on my last visit to the same biennial. I requested a seat on the rooftop deck as it was not too hot and I could enjoy the view of the city with its rooftop ceramic tiles and many church towers as the sun set.

I had the patio to myself until a couple arrived – a man perhaps near 50 with a young woman, perhaps in her late teens. As I was alone, I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation. He spoke with an Argentinian accent as he told her about his latest travels – business travels around Western Europe and South America. His voice was deep and aggressive, not particularly pleasant to listen to. He was a large bald white man who stood over six feet with a decent belly and skinny legs. His v-neck t-shirt with a pattern of sailboats was a bit too tight. She was a beautiful light-black young woman with an hourglass figure. Her large firm breasts shaped nicely her fitted dark tank top.

The large bald white man talked about flying first class, the delicious champagnes that he was served. He told her that in first class the seats fully recline. He would down three or four champagne glasses, transform his seat into a bed and put himself to sleep. He told her about the sporty BMW that he rented to travel around Spain as he had meetings in Madrid and Seville. He said his business was doing well, described how busy he has been, and that he was glad to be back in Camaguey to relax. He talked on and on while she remarked in awe but with a tinge of boredom. For the most part, she merely listened. Until he paused with a complaint – that he had been telling her all about his life and travels and she had not told him about her life – what she has been up to, details of her life…

At this she replied with a hint of frustration – “you already know all about my life. I get up, go to school, after school, I do sports until it’s time to go home for dinner, and then I study until it’s time to go to bed… That is my life, I don’t go out, because I’m too busy with school and athletics. I’ve already told you all this…”

At this point, I couldn’t help myself but shift my chair a bit and pretend to take a selfie with them in the background. It was a stereotypical reality that one hears about and sees upon visiting Cuba – older men from abroad paying girls for their time and bodies. It was clear that they knew each other and that they are together when he is in Camaguey. Perhaps he maintains her by regularly sending her money and in exchange she is his when he is in town.

I finished my dinner, particularly enjoying the plantains stuffed with shrimp. I had had those before and upon entering the restaurant, they immediately came to mind. I requested the bill from one of the waitresses – two and at times three had been hanging around the patio as the downstairs was empty and the only patrons were myself and the older bald white man with the beautiful girl.

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July 15th, 2019 at 1:16 pm

Nicaraguan LGBTQ Community

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I recently read the essay “Tacit Subjects” by Carlos Ulises Decena in which the author interviews several homosexual individuals from the Dominican Republic. Decena focuses on the coming out or not of gay Dominican men to their families. Amongst the subjects interviewed for the essay, their homosexuality is unspoken but recognized by their family members, hence the title “Tacit Subjects.”

Upon reading the essay, I was immediately transported to the awe that I felt in 1995 upon witnessing my first Torovenado in Masaya, Nicaragua. Throughout my life I had only visited Nicaragua during the summer and I had enjoyed the initial celebrations of the three month festivities for San Jeronimo, the patron saint of my mom’s hometown – Masaya. El Torovenado – a satirical procession occurs at the end of the celebrations – the final Sunday of October. In 1995, I moved to Nicaragua for an extended period and the uncle with whom I was living, invited to take me to El Torovenado. Mi Tio Jorge enjoys a good party and is not particularly religious, so I was a little surprised that he’d want to go to the culmination of a saint’s festivities. However, I noted a mischievous spark in his eye and I agreed to join him on the 20 minute drive to Masaya.

I was dumbfounded upon seeing a giant gay parade in my mom’s hometown. It was as if the San Francisco Castro that I grew up with had transported itself to Masaya. There, before me, was the Lion’s Club (El Club de Leones) Queen – queen of the parade – a proper queen, entirely in beautiful drag. Everywhere I looked the rainbow flag was flying high. I think my uncle truly enjoyed at how speechless I was.

The culmination of this Catholic festivity had been co-opted by the gay community and everyone appeared to be fine with it. Since El Torovenado is a satirical procession in which people are allowed to mock anything and everyone – from historical figures to the most powerful political figures, in retrospect, it makes sense that the gay community took over this particular day of celebration; after all it’s a day of freedom, when social norms are discarded. El Torovenado is alternately called La Parada de los Cochones.

I feel that Nicaragua has always been more accepting of its gay community than other Latin American countries and I think that the 1979 victory of the Sandinistas allowed greater freedom for the LGBTQ communities through the 80s. The Torovenado allows the large numbers of the gay community to gather and party. Here is a 5 minute video documentation of the 2017 Torovenado (before the current Ortegista repression and militarization of the country):

In relation to the gay Dominicans featured in “Tacit Subjects,” these are people (primarily men) who are out and proud and the public persona that they present particularly in a festive procession may be very different than who they are with their family. Perhaps the acceptance of the gay community in Nicaragua allows young people to come out and discuss sexuality more openly than in the DR and it is not such a tacit subject. However, macho culture exists as in the rest of Latin America and I would not be surprised if a large portion of this community is alienated from their birth families and have constructed or adopted new families based on their sexuality.

There is an interesting book that I’ve only read passages from that goes in depth regarding the gay community following the Sandinista revolution – Intimate Activism: The Struggle for Sexual Rights in Postrevolutionary Nicaragua by Cymene Howe. The book discusses El Torovenado:

according to Erick Blandon, the Torovenado is a ‘moment of escape from oppressive heterosexual masculinity and a dialogic engagement between different sexual subjects where homoeroticism becomes the center of attention for both homosexuals and heterosexuals.’ While transvestics are not the quotidian norm in Nicaragua, it is clear that the country has had a public and symbolic space for these kinds of gendered performances.

Howe, Cymene, Intimate Activism: The Struggle for Sexual Rights in Postrevolutionary Nicaragua, Duke University Press, 2013

With the current violence and repression by the Ortega dictatorship, I wonder how the LGBTQ community is doing. Have they become a tacit community? Are they remaining in-doors as does the majority of the population come nightfall? The LGBTQ Nicaraguan population has largely thrived due to the safety and acceptance of the country, but with assassins trolling the streets, freedom and expressiveness may no longer be available. It is so sad that the military leaders will allow a single couple – Ortega and Murillo hold an entire country hostage and have destroyed the legacy of a popular revolution.

Written by ricardo

March 22nd, 2019 at 11:42 am

Dictator Cycle

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The series of work titled Dictator Cycle has a specific moment of inception – January 29th, 2014 when I heard that the Nicaraguan National Assembly had elected to do away with presidential term limits, effectively allowing, the current president Daniel Ortega to remain president throughout the remainder of his life.

With each manipulation of the Nicaraguan constitution by Ortega and the Sandinista party, I feel a deep sadness for the impoverished country, the birthplace of my parents and where I spent the best days of my childhood. I am also dumbfounded at the short-sightedness of the ruling party and the ignorant avarice of Daniel Ortega who will not hand over the political reigns of the country to a new generation.

Prosperity has been illusive to this small country that has suffered a long-lasting dictatorship, natural disasters, a popular revolution and seemingly inherent political corruption. If only true leaders would emerge who seeks an end to corruption and the engineering of a society striving for the well-being of all its people. Unfortunately, since the Nicaraguan National Assembly elected to eliminate presidential term limits, an end to poverty and corruption appears as distant as the worst period of the Somoza dynasty. Ortega has effectively become Somoza.

Nearly a year later, I illustrated Stalin/Putin out of anger of the increasingly draconian laws in Russia such as the “bloggers law” and “anti-gay law”. Following Stalin/Putin, I started work on the “Dictator Cycle” as an illustrative series depicting once young and noble leaders who had become corrupt autocrats unwilling to surrender power. Each “Dictator Cycle” pairing is alive today or their reign continues to have very real consequences upon the country. For example, although Gaddafi has been killed, Libya continues in disarray. Although Kim Il-sung died in 1994, his grandson Kim Jong-un is North Korea’s current supreme leader and is shown to perhaps be the most ruthless of the family dictatorship.

A Case for Latinx

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Coined in the early aughts, the term Latinx has slowly gained traction in academe and social media. Spanish is a gendered language, nouns are either female or male – they are binary and immediately evoke a binary gendered meaning and identity and value – female or male. To those who identify outside of the female and male binary, a transformation of language must occur.

Language is a living thing. Languages change over time; new words are established, pronunciations change, languages die and new languages are established; language evolves. In Judeo-Christian religions as well as other religions, language is the root of knowledge and language is power. In our culture, those who dominate a language may more easily cross class and racial boundaries. Language continues to present power.

As language is knowledge and power and language is a living thing, it can be transformed. Language is a culturally transformative vehicle. Language has the power to alter understanding and may present a means to inclusiveness. Perhaps next year the Latinx Grammys will embrace this transformation.

Written by ricardo

November 16th, 2018 at 2:29 pm

Amazon Is Funded, CUNY Is Not – Shame de Blasio

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The hypocrisy of the NYC Mayor: today on WNYC’s “Ask the Mayor” de Blasio states that CUNY 2-year grads will be able to get $50K jobs with Amazon (which he declares is a living wage in NYC, I’d like to see de Blasio get by on $50k). Meanwhile CUNY is severely underfunded and falling apart. CUNY state support has declined for decades. In 2017, City Comptroller Scott Stringer testified that “since 2010, CUNY’s cumulative shortfall in State funding is now over $700 million.” The 2018 $200 million “boost” for CUNY AND SUNY (again – a lousy $200 million for both SUNY and CUNY) for a “quality education”, trickles down to nearly nothing in correlation to the decades of underfunding. The fact that Amazon, an over $130 BILLION corporation, is awarded $3 billion in tax credits, abatements and capital grants from the city and state while CUNY is severely underfunded year after year is SHAMEFUL!

As the mayor stated, a rational for this is the job creation that the Queens’ based Amazon headquarters will present to the city population. However, if CUNY continues to be underfunded, if the vast majority of our faculty are underpaid, if classes are over-stuffed with students and education must be watered-down, these jobs will not be filled by CUNY grads. Amazon jobs will be filled by private university grads and grads from across the country that receive a better education than what CUNY can possibly offer on a short budget. And the disparity between privilege and poor will continue to grow – as sponsored by Cuomo and de Blasio.

It is shameful that adjunct faculty must fight and protest for a lousy $7K salary when Amazon is awarded billions of dollars. We all know that Cuomo does not value public higher education, his record clearly shows this, but it’s shameful that the so-called progressive de Blasio does not do more to fight for CUNY.

Written by ricardo

November 16th, 2018 at 8:59 am