“America” instead of “Landscape With Snow”

 

“America”

You might be thinking what this is that I am writing about. Well, a little perspective will probably help.

Both “America” and “Landscape With Snow” are works of art by different artists kept at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Often referred to as The Guggenheim, it is the permanent home of a continuously expanding collection of impressionist, post-impressionist, early modern and contemporary art and also features special exhibitions throughout the year.

The Guggenheim, as well as other art museums, is the customary place where the White House (WH) occupants borrow major works of art during their time office to adorn the Oval Office, their private living quarters and the other rooms.

The Smithsonian museum for instance loaned the Kennedys a Eugène Delacroix painting, “The Smoker”. The Obamas preferred abstract art, choosing works by Mark Rothko and Jasper Johns.

“Landscape With Snow”

President Donald Trump’s WH, however, is said to have requested from the Guggenheim’s chief curator Van Gogh’s “Landscape With Snow” painting depicting a man in a black hat walking along a path in Arles, France, with his dog, to be placed inside the couple’s room.

Nancy Spector, the chief curator, reportedly denied the request, in her email to the WH, saying, the 19th century painting was “prohibited from travel except for the rarest of occasions”. She further explained that the painting was on its way to be exhibited at the Guggenheim’s museum in Bilbao, Spain, and then would return to New York “for the foreseeable future.”

Spector instead offered an alternative that is “America”, an 18-karat, fully functioning, solid gold toilet which is a creation of contemporary artist Maurizio Cattelan. She even enclosed a photo of it – for their reference.

Cattelan’s “America” caused something of a sensation after the Guggenheim unveiled it in 2016, drawing more than a few headlines of amazement and amusement.

For a year, Cattelan’s gleaming gold toilet was on display at the Guggenheim restroom for the private use of members of the public with a guard posted outside and where a crew would arrive every 15 minutes or so with specially chosen wipes to clean the gold.

Now that the exhibition was over, the artist would “like to offer it to the White House for a long-term loan”, Spector said in her email.

Asked to explain the meaning of the installation and why he offered it to the Trumps, 57-year-old Cattelan answered: “What’s the point of our life? Everything seems absurd until we die and then it makes sense.”

Spector called the toilet “a cipher for the excesses of affluence” and said more than 100,000 people had queued “for the opportunity to commune with art and with nature”.

Though crafted from millions of dollars’ worth of gold, the sculpture is actually a great leveler. As Cattelan has said, “Whatever you eat, a US$200 lunch or a US$2 hot dog, the results are the same, toilet-wise.”

But there is no doubt that the offer for “America” to be installed at Trump’s WH is a dig at Trump himself, given the latter’s well-documented history of installing gold-plated fixtures in his residences, his properties and even his airplane.

 

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Dealing with loneliness issues

 

This may sound odd indeed, but it has been reported that U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May has created a government agency, to be headed by a Minister, that will be dealing with loneliness issues.

A study conducted found that one in 10 people in the U.K. face isolation, a condition that can trigger a range of physical and mental health issues.

“I want to confront this challenge for our society and for all of us to take action to address the loneliness endured by the elderly, by carers, by those who have lost loved ones ― people who have no one to talk to or share their thoughts and experiences with,” May said in a statement.

Statistics have shown that more than 9 million adults in the U.K. report feeling often or always lonely. For 3.6 million people aged 65 or older, it found, television is considered the main form of company.

According to Brigham Young University Psychology Professor Julianne Holt Lunstad, the harmful impact of loneliness is more than psychological. Having weak social connections is considered to be as damaging to one’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

“There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality and the magnitude of the risks exceeds that of many leading health indicators,” Lunstad  is quoted as saying in the Jo Cox Commission’s on Loneliness, an organization that works to combat social isolation and loneliness.

More than half of all disabled people in the U.K. experience loneliness, with it being more prominent among younger individuals. Eight out of 10 caregivers have also felt lonely or isolated as a result of looking after a loved one, according to the Jo Cox Commission’s report.

The commission is named after Labor Party lawmaker Jo Cox, who was a prominent advocate for addressing the issue of loneliness in Britain before her 2016 shooting death by a right-wing extremist.

As loneliness is universal that comes in different manner, shape and form, it may be beneficial for other countries to take notice of what the U.K. is doing in raising understanding and awareness of loneliness issues if only for the afflicted to know that there are organizations and people out there who support and care for them.

 

Robredo’s bleak picture of the country

Vice President Leni Robredo

I had high hopes when Leni Robredo won the vice presidency in 2016 against her closest rival, the dictator’s namesake, Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

Had even higher expectations when Robredo, despite her being an opposition, was given a Cabinet portfolio in the early part of the Duterte administration.

Was thinking that she would be an exemplary model of a non-traditional politician, following her late husband’s political approach, who could work with an unconventional politician like President Rodrigo Duterte.

Alas, Robredo valued to lead an opposition party, the Liberal Party (LP), and be among a group of traditional politicians – trapos – who had nothing to show and crow about during the preceding Aquino administration except to take care of their own personal and political interests.

What is becoming worse with Robredo is that she is falsely lamenting and maliciously depicting a bleak picture of the country when, during the 72nd anniversary of the LP, she exhorted her dwindling party mates “to remain true to what is right and not lose heart in the face of the “darkness” shrouding the nation.” She was being melodramatic in her black dress.

“Many ask us if there is still hope, where we are headed. Darkness envelops us. But we should not lose hope. Our party history is about fighting,” Robredo said.

I mean what darkness is she talking about and fighting for what?

At least Duterte is keeping true to his promise during the campaign that he will be fighting for the country and its people by going relentless against drugs, corruption and criminality, which were found later to be prevalent during Aquino’s LP administration but nothing forceful was done to curve the plagues.

Thus, I could not agree more with Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque’s statement that Robredo’s remarks were “completely out of touch with the existing realities on the ground.”

“The darkness that Vice President Robredo may be referring to perhaps pertains to the future of those discredited politicians who wish to return to power,” Roque added. It cannot be more nearer to the truth than this.

And it is precisely for this reason that Filipinos, in every poll survey now and then, have always given Duterte high marks in satisfaction, approval and trust ratings because they no longer want the deplorable ways of the traditional politicians that Robredo sadly has embraced, to make a comeback only to forsake the respect and meaningful changes we are gaining now as people and as a country.

 

Cayetano eyeing to succeed Duterte in 2022

 

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano sporting a new haircut.

Perhaps one may find this absurd that I am talking already about a presidential run in 2022 this early on.

But if one has been monitoring closely political personalities and events surrounding their association with President Rodrigo Duterte, before and after his election in 2016, the one that would stand out most is Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano.

Cayetano’s ambition and political astuteness was proven when he positioned himself as vice presidential candidate in 2016 election.

It is still vivid in the minds of the people that he went to Davao City and declared his candidacy there hoping and praying that he could have Duterte as his presidential tandem.

“When I announced my candidacy in Davao, I took a step of faith. I told myself that a good partner is really worth waiting for,” Cayetano said then.

At the time many were already clamoring for Duterte to run for president but he remained unsure, if not coy, about the offer.

But Cayetano never lost hope as he continued convincing the people that Duterte’s kind of leadership is what the country needed in creating genuine change in the lives of Filipino families.

What gave Cayetano the impetus to continue campaigning for the Duterte-Cayetano ticket is the fact that while Duterte repeatedly said that he would not run as president he also intimated that if he does change his mind and decides to run for President, that he would pick Cayetano to be his running mate.

At the time Duterte was already impressed with Cayetano’s “good grasp of practical solutions” for the country’s problems on poverty, poor infrastructure, and lack of inclusive economic growth.

Thus, who can forget the time when, even as Duterte was still uncommitted, Cayetano had already prepared posters of their tandem which he himself was seen nailing on roadway posts for people to see.

But that was the past and here we are faced with more recent events, and the reason why am saying that Cayetano is eyeing to succeed Duterte in 2022.

It was reported that during the January 18th launching of the Overseas Filipino Bank, Duterte addressed Cayetano as “Mr. President”.

“Of course our Foreign Secretary is here. ‘Mr. President, can you stand up? Show them your new haircut.’” Duterte said in his introduction of Cayetano.

Duterte praised Cayetano not only for his performance, but also for being the most qualified, I suppose for the presidency in 2022.

If this is not an endorsement, I don’t know what is.

Still better than endorsing Sen. Manny Pacquiao, who Duterte said was also going to be the next president during the former’s birthday some time ago, God forbids.

 

A drone comes to the rescue

 

Before going to the full text of how and where this drone made a dramatic rescue, let me just conceptualize first what a drone is.

A drone, in a technological context, is an unmanned aircraft. It is more formally known as unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

We are now entering the age of artificial intelligence (AI), also called machine intelligence (MI), as it is mostly found in machines or robots, if you may. MI is in contrast with the natural intelligence (NI) displayed by humans and other animals.

So, basically, a drone is a flying robot. The aircraft may be remotely controlled or can fly autonomously through software-controlled flight plans in their embedded system working in conjunction with on-board sensors and global positioning system (GPS.)

In the recent past, UAVs were most often associated with the military, where they were used initially for anti-aircraft target practice, intelligence gathering and then, more controversially, as weapons platforms. Drones are now also used in a wide range of civilian roles ranging from search and rescue, surveillance, traffic monitoring, weather monitoring and firefighting to personal drones and business drone-based photography, as well as videography, agriculture and even delivery services.

Having said the foregoing, it was reported recently that a pair of Australian swimmers became the first people to be rescued in the ocean by a drone when the aerial lifesaver dropped a safety device to the distressed teens caught in rough seas.

The two boys is said to have been caught in three-meter (10-foot) swells while swimming off Lennox Head in New South Wales, near the border with Queensland.

Beach goers onshore raised the alarm to the lifeguards who then alerted the drone pilot, and the aerial lifesaver was deployed in moments.

Note that Australia is leading the use of the technology in surf lifesaving, with dozens of drones being tried on beaches around the country.

Along with their ability to spot swimmers in trouble and deliver life saving devices faster than traditional lifesaving techniques, like launching surfboards or rubber dinghies, drones are being used in Australia to spot underwater predators like sharks and jellyfish.

 

Miss Belgium is a Filipina

 

Miss Belgium – Angeline Flor Fua

An astonishing news item got the attention of many around the world lately when Belgium, a country in Western Europe with French, Dutch and German as its official languages, has selected a woman with roots in the Philippines as its candidate for either Miss International or Miss Universe contest.

What makes the selection of Angeline Flor Fua incredibly surprising, and controversial now, is that her parents are Filipinos or Asians, if you may, who worked and met in Belgium and decided to make it their home base.

The world has heard so many times already about Filipinas of mixed race winning beauty crowns and this is what makes Angeline’s case unique because her looks represent her Filipino pedigree.

Angeline’s winning, however, is giving rise to some controversy in her own country with comments of ridiculousness and nasty questions being asked as to why the jury made an Asian win instead of awarding the crown to fair, blue eyed, blonde Belgians.

The 22-year-old beauty queen admitted being hurt with the negative comments. She has done several interviews and was always asked about the issue.

She feels it is totally unfair to be bashed like that.

“It hurts a lot. It touches me very deeply but I was born in Belgium, I was raised in Belgium. I have Belgian nationality. My parents met each other in Belgium even if they are both Filipinos and I don’t see any reason why I can’t be Miss Belgium,” she said.

But it was not really walk in the park for the Filipina when she described what she went through.

“It took me eight months of work to win the title. Before joining the Miss Belgium national pageant, we have to join first the regional pageant. I represented Antwerp and we were 35 candidates. I won Miss Antwerp and People’s Choice award. It’s difficult to collect votes, you know. You have to talk to people even if you don’t know them, you have to make them feel like you deserve to win,” she said.

She believes that growing up in two different cultures is what made her exceptional.

“I am also very proud that I have Filipino roots and that’s make me a unique Miss Belgium 2018,” she exclaimed.

By the way, Angeline is studying flying and is set to finish her course this March and hopes to fly a commercial plane soon.

Congratulations and good luck!

Trump’s ‘shithole’ language

US President Donald Trump

Just to refresh you, the word ‘shithole’, made more infamous by no less than US President Donald Trump, came about during bipartisan talks about immigration reform when he said:  “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”

By shithole countries Trump was alluding to Haiti, El Salvador, Honduras, and apparently most of Africa.

There is no need to ask what a shithole is. We all know it is a hole where one defecates. And so it is how dirty and how vulgar the word is.

I would not have minded if an ordinary person uses it casually. But, when a person of Trump’s stature uses it in making policy statements, man, it is not only preposterous, but simply revolting and condemnable!

What can be more revolting and condemnable than to suggest later on that America should take more people from “countries like Norway.” This is his remark about African countries and Haiti in reverse, explicitly singling out predominantly white nations as favorable.

Thus, when a nation is characterized as a ‘shithole’, it obscenely implies also that its people are filthy, disgusting and contemptible, and therefore, dysfunctional.

Even if Filipinos are not included in the irresponsible and bigoted language of Trump, still it should create outrage in their hearts for the way this racist/supremacist leader has been harshly treating immigrants of which Filipinos number in the millions. And let us not forget that we are still very much a third world country, a shithole in the parlance of this lout of a leader, but what saved us from Trump’s foulmouthed is because the Philippines is useful to the US militarily.

It is simply ironic, as it is inconceivable, that such use of vulgar language can emanate from a country widely known as the bastion of the core values of liberty, self-government, equality, individualism, diversity and unity.

But then Trump is no ordinary American. He is the typical ugly American.

It is said that Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of the Indian independence movement against British rule, who is revered the world over for his nonviolent philosophy of passive resistance, taught the world that a country’s greatness is measured not by its richest, but by how it treats its most vulnerable members. Obviously, by this measure, the U.S. is a certified shithole. If Africa and other ‘shitholes’ are unstable in Trump’s estimation, sadly, so is America now under his pathetic leadership.

Former Mexico President Vicente Fox Quesada went even further and appropriately at that, when he tweeted: “.@realDonaldTrump, your mouth is the foulest shithole in the world. With what authority do you proclaim who’s welcome in America and who’s not. America’s greatness is built on diversity, or have you forgotten your immigrant background, Donald?”

Indeed, how true!