Posts Tagged ‘politics’

pop goes the world: you can dish it out, but you can’t take it

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  14 March 2013, Thursday

You can dish it out, but you can’t take it

Roman Catholic Church bigwigs in Bacolod City who started a campaign against pro-Reproductive Health bill senatorial candidates were red-faced when a text message circulated naming five priests of the Diocese of Bacolod who sired offspring.

The Church in that city hung huge tarpaulins marked “Team Patay” (Team Dead) identifying the candidates they were exhorting people not to vote for, but the tables were turned when the “Team Tatay” (Team Father) messages spread.

Seems the embarrassment could have been avoided if certain people had used contraceptives, hey?

Clergy having children are nothing new; one of my first cousins is the daughter of a monk. It was a scandal in the town where they lived, but not among the unconventional Ortuoste family, a tolerant and liberal bunch. They understood and accepted the situation especially because the monk in question was my uncle. (He left his order, married his partner, and they set up as a family in the United States.)

This problem is so old that no less than the nation’s superhero Jose Rizal wrote about father “fathers,” making the muddle-headed heroine of his iconic 19th century novels the daughter of a priest.

While those randy priests in Bacolod might justify their actions by saying they at least brought their children into the world by not using contraceptives and by not having them aborted, they and like-minded others always fail to take into consideration the welfare of the children. My cousin told us that she had to bear taunts like “anak ng pari!” (child of a priest) from her playmates, and this took a heavy mental toll on her. This was one of the reasons my uncle decided to make their home in the US.

What makes this incident of the Team Tatay – Team Patay appalling is that when the tables are turned on those holier-than-thou, they harrumph and claim they are being “blackmailed,” as Father Melvin Castro, executive secretary of the Commission on Family and Life, alleged.

He said, “We do not deny that there are instances (of priests fathering children) but that is not the issue now,” adding that Team Tatay were “changing the topic.”

“Do not throw stones because we all live in houses of glass,” he also said.

Look, if you can’t take the heat, then get out of the kitchen.

Why are they meddling when separation of Church and State is embodied in the law? If they insist on poking their noses into the things that are of Caesar then they had better get used to having the skeletons in their closets brought out into the light.

* * * * *

Good news for fans of poetry-in-Filipino enthusiasts in general and of poet-activist

Axel Pinpin in particular – his latest collection “Lover’s Lane” is finally in print in a limited-edition version.

The poems are on fire with erotic need, longing, and unrequited love – the stuff of much other writing, stemming as these emotions do from the natural human condition. Yet Axel’s work adds a revolutionary twist that makes these works different from the mainstream, and thus fresh and interesting.

Says writer and activist Ericson Acosta, “In “Lover’s Lane” continues our discovery of the extraordinary range of topic, style, and revolutionary possibilities of the poetry of Axel Pinpin. And here too, in “Pinpin Lane,” in truth, are our own voice – feelings, desires, dreams…”

“My poems are non-fiction,” says Axel, “they are not imagined narratives. They come from my own experiences and the stories of others.”

Here’s “Pusod” in its entirety:

“Ang lalim ba ng iyong pusod / ay siya ring lalim ng iyong puso? / Hayaan mong sukatin ko ito / ng aking daliri at salita / at nang ako’y malunod / at maglunoy sa iyong katubigan, / at mahulog din sa iyong bangin.” (Is the deepness of your navel / The same as your heart’s? / Let me measure this depth / With my fingers and words / That I may submerge, wade in your pools / And tumble into your clefts.”

The poems in “Lover’s Lane” are stories from real life, a curious look into and taking apart of the myriad emotions that war in the heart and soul of each person. In each phrase masterfully crafted by Axel Pinpin are the heat of love and desire and the chill of loss and leaving.

Place orders for the volume on Facebook – search for the open group page “Lover’s Lane ni Axel Pinpin” and leave a message there.   *** 

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pop goes the world: open mouth, insert foot

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  7 March 2013, Thursday

Open Mouth, Insert Foot

A senatorial candidate succeeded in offending Filipino nurses all over the world when she disparaged them in a recent debate.

Thanks to social media and the indignation of people in behalf of one of the hardest-working sectors of the nation, Las Piñas representative Cynthia Villar’s remarks on nurses went viral, something she probably didn’t anticipate when she aired her brains on national television.

She said that nurses don’t need to finish a nursing degree because all they want to be are “room nurses” (sic) and that in America all they want to be are caregivers, and as such they don’t need to be that good.

As expected, these utterly misguided views aroused the ire of right-thinking people, nurses included, who made the following remarks on Facebook:

California-based nurse Ivy: “WTH is she talking about? To be able to work here in the US legally, RN’s need to pass NCLEX, IELTS, or TOEFL to be considered for employment…[nursing] is a regulated profession that has standards to uphold. We use our brains to act in life-threatening situations to save lives.”

Misha: “It’s like saying I can become a doctor, lawyer, or accountant without going to school!”

Harwin: “Akala niya ata eh meaning ng ‘RN’ eh ‘room nurse’.”

Dr. Bob: “I am a dentist-nurse….and have had three US nurse licenses. Let me tell you, it is easier to be a senator in the Philippines than to be a nurse in the US. You will never pass the US licensure exam if you have no knowledge and competence. You can be a senator in the Philippines even if you are a certified idiot.”

If the public had a positive or neutral opinion of Villar prior to this, her stupid remarks have tipped the balance over to the negative side.

Will this faux pas be fatal for her chances in the elections?

It depends on how strong the nurses’ bloc is, many of whom are now actively clamoring against her, and how well her campaign handlers can fix this mess.

Nurses are considered heroes of the country. Many of us have nurses in the family working abroad, sending money home to help ill parents and send younger siblings to school. Any remark against them is like setting a match to tinder, as this incident has shown.

No less than United States President Barack Obama praised a Filipina nurse in his recent State of the Union address, saying, “We should follow the example of a New York City nurse named Menchu Sanchez. When Hurricane Sandy plunged her hospital into darkness, she wasn’t thinking about how her own home was faring…Her mind was on the 20 precious newborns in her care and the rescue plan she devised that kept them all safe.”

Online sources say Sanchez was born and grew up in Catanauan, Quezon, and obtained her nursing degree at Mary Chiles Hospital in Sampaloc, Manila, before immigrating to the US in the 1980s.

How unfortunate that a Philippine politician should be the one to put down the country’s own nurses, rather than lifting them up.

And to be so ignorant of the facts as to confuse nursing as a profession to merely comprise being “room nurse” and that caregivers don’t need to be all that good is to show the world the quality, or lack thereof, of her mind.

In terms of political communication, specifically with regard to a candidate’s electoral campaign, Villar’s statement makes damage control necessary, before the information spreads and turns off potential voters.

However, that’s too late. Social media has ensured that this has gone viral. In any case, any information that is disseminated over mass media is impossible to take back; all that can be done it to mitigate its potentially negative effects.

This was done by campaign handlers when Villar apologized on her Facebook Page (her statement since taken down) and to the Philippine Nurses Association. It is customary, in order to regain goodwill, to humbly beg for forgiveness – something few, if any, politicians do once already in power.

Political communication is all about symbols – their construction and manipulation. Political aspects are equated with the people running for office – one is “green”, another “incorruptible,” a third “belonging to a family that has served the people for decades.”

Villar and her handlers must now find out what people think she symbolizes. The nouveau riche standing up for her fellow rich and advancing their agenda? The wife of the builder of homes that shelter Filipinos? (Those homes aren’t given away, by the way. People pay for them and enrich the Villar coffers.)

Who is Villar – just another person with money who wants to extend her empire into national level politics? Is she a person with a genuine desire to serve? Both?

The people who can best answer as to her capacity to serve and effectivity as a leader are her present constituency, from whom we have yet to hear.

Is she worthy to become a senator?

From the viewpoint of a communications scholar, it will be interesting to see how Villar’s campaign people handle this in the months to come.

As a voter, for the good of the country, I’m picking people with good brains and kind hearts. Let us select candidates based not on name recognition, but on their principles, platforms, intelligence, integrity, and compassion.

Choose wisely, Pilipinas. *** 

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pop goes the world: the corona-vela

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  15 December 2011, Thursday

The Corona-vela

The past two weeks we were talking about KC breaking up with Papa Piolo, in tears on television, and Mo spilling the beans about himself and Rhian, in tears on Youtube.

All this seems the stuff of telenovela – so dramatic and exaggerated. But a new narrative now bursts upon the Filipino consciousness – the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato C. Corona by 188 members of Congress last December 12.

The 63-year-old Corona was appointed by former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to the Supreme Court on 9 April 2002. On 12 May 2010, two days after the 2010 elections and only one month before the expiry of Arroyo’s term in office, she appointed him Chief Justice of the SC.

The Constitution of the Philippines bans appointments by a president two months before a presidential election and until the term expires on June 30.

Father Joaquin Bernas, one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, in a January 2010 newspaper interview opined that it would be the next president after Arroyo who should appoint the next chief justice. Even with the constitutional provision requiring the President to appoint a new chief justice within 90 days after a vacancy, he said the new president would still have 45 days to decide after taking office on June 30.

Corona has recently come under fire for siding with Arroyo in various ways and frustrating the ends of justice in the cases the government has filed against her. Therefore his impeachment by 188 lawmakers, when only 95 would have sufficed.

The vast majority of Filipinos, like myself, are not lawyers. We do not know nor understand the ramifications of the law on this issue. So we require the guidance of those who are learned in the matter, scholars and practitioners of the law. But they, like the ordinary folk, differ in their interpretations.

Most public opinion goes either of two ways: one, that the government is morphing into a dictatorship, that they are undermining one of the three branches of government, that checks and balances are being eroded, that the Constitution itself is being threatened.

The other view is that no one is above the law, not even the judiciary. For it is illogical to maintain, as many of them do, that because they are judges they hold the final interpretation of the law, and can therefore do no wrong. No one is above the law, not even the law.

It seems to me that the latter perspective is the more logical and fair, as expressed in the statement of the University of the Philippines Law Student Government 2011-2012 (the whole text was posted on Facebook yesterday): “From the point-of-view of the Honorable Chief Justice, the efforts of the current administration, allegedly in concert with its allies in Congress, threaten the independence of the judiciary, and ultimately threaten our country’s democracy itself.

“We submit that it was the former President Arroyo who was in fact the greatest threat to the Judiciary’s independence in the past decade. It was the former President who was responsible for politicizing the High Court in the first place by her many appointments, his elevation to the Chief Justiceship being the most questionable.

“The fact also remains that there is a steady stream of recent decisions by the High Court has continuously blocked major attempts by the current government to pursue its platform of holding the past administration to account for its sins against the Filipino people.”

Yesterday, Corona hogged public attention with a speech, attended by court employees and officials who declared a court holiday to rally behind him. It’s a cultural trait, the drama and the hyperbole, the carefully studied move or action executed in public, accompanied by exaggerated emotion (to elicit pity) or a lack of it (to show grace under pressure).

Corona said, “Ako raw po ay isang midnight appointee. Dapat raw po, hindi ko tinanggap ang paghirang sa akin. Bakit po ba, para si Ginoong Aquino ang makapagtalaga ng kanyang sariling chief justice na hawak niya sa leeg? Mapapa-iling ka talaga.”

“Iling” is to shake one’s head in disbelief, or incredulity. Opo, CJ Corona, napapa-iling ako talaga. Because according to the Constitution, you are a midnight appointee – of Gloria Arroyo, who has a tight grip upon your neck, and who wanted her very own Chief Justice in the highest court in the land.

I am not a lawyer. I do not know Corona personally. So I look at his pictures to gain some sense of the man. His eyes are like raisins pushed into his doughy, well-fed face as he hogs public attention with his grandstanding speeches. I try to muster empathy and benefit-of-the-doubt. But it’s hard. If this were a telenovela and he was cast as the hero, di ito bebenta. Give me more KC, Mo, and Rhian.

So I focus on the facts. The situation is complex for all its legal and political implications. But it seems simple to me. His appointment was made improperly and in contravention of the highest law of the land. For that alone, Corona does not deserve to hold office. *** 

Image of CJ Corona here. Fr. Bernas here. UP LSG logo from their public Facebook Page.

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pop goes the world: re-solutions

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 6 January 2011, Thursday

Re-solutions

Happy new year! It’s time again to rewrite that list of resolutions that we keep making – and, more often than not, breaking – every year.

The word resolution is defined as being a “course of action determined or decided upon.” In actuality these take the forms of promises-to-self that range from the personal to the professional in connection with life choices – turning over a new leaf, kicking a bad habit, learning something new.

The online Washington Times posted last December 31 their list of ten popular new year’s resolutions: stop smoking, drink less, get more exercise, go on a diet, find a soulmate, spend more time with family and friends, get more organized, find a job, travel more, help others (charity work), relocate, manage stress better, get out of debt, text less, and watch less television.

These resolutions are generic in nature and generally applicable across all cultures; in that respect they are nothing new. We can break down the word into two parts –“re” and “solution” meaning a solution that has been considered before, but not implemented, so it is being considered again. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle, only broken when we actually do whatever we’ve resolved. After that, if it’s a habit or a fresh new way of doing things, we need to sustain the new behavior, something that should be easier once we’ve reaped the benefits.

Let’s say we’ve made our personal resolutions. Onwards now to the fun part – making resolutions for government officials. Let’s hope those concerned take heed:

To cultivate common sense – Remember presidential speechwriter assistant secretary Mai Mislang’s twerpy tweets – “The wine (in Vietnam) sucks”? Her ill-considered use of social media site Twitter resulted in a firestorm of controversy and Malacañang Palace’s temporary suspension of the use of social media, and ended with her being reassigned to another department, which sucks – for her.

To cease plagiarizing and learn to write their own stuff – *cough Supreme Court justices cough*

To have more backbone in standing up for the right – I was very disappointed that the Philippines pandered to China by refusing to send a delegation to the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony honoring imprisoned Chinese human-rights activist Lu Xiabo. Boo, whoever made that cowardly decision.

To obey the law – Quezon City mayor Herbert Bautista’s recent promotion of a strict city traffic enforcer, Sol Botilla, who pulled the mayor over for beating a red light on New Year’s Eve, is impressive for its recognition of a dutiful man. Mayor Bautista honored the law, unlike Ilocos Sur congressman Ronald Singson, who will plead guilty to drug charges in Hong Kong. For shame.

To be considerate of others –Alliance of Volunteer Educators partylist congressman Eulogio Magsaysay reportedly upbraided Philippine Airlines ground attendant Sarah Bonnin Ocampo for not seating him and his sons together on their recent flight to Los Angeles. He allegedly told her to “shut up” and called her a “menopausal bitch”. This is deeply wrong on so many levels. And who doesn’t recall Commission on Human Rights commissioner and former broadcast personality Coco Quisumbing’s arrogant treatment of her fellow ka-industriya? ‘Wag tularan.

To stop plundering the kaban ng bayan – I’m looking at you, officials like disgraced general Carlos Garcia.

To not be such total idiots, please – What’s with the official acronym of the Traffic Transport Management Office of the Metro Manila Development Authority – TTMO? Seriously, no one from those agencies bothered to pronounce that acronym out loud? Here’s another colossal blunder – the Department of Tourism’s “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” campaign, obviously nicked from Poland’s. We were caught copying, like naughty schoolchildren. Nakakahiya. Are there any grown-ups running this country?

I’m sure you can add more to this list, but let’s not make this an outpouring of negative energy, rather a collection of constructive points that will help government in general be aware of their failings, rectify their blunders, and not commit these same mistakes again. (They can always make new ones.)

In addition to exercising more, starting a new diet, and spending more time with family (or whatever we have on our personal resolutions lists), let us add societal vigilance, because the public should care about holding government officials accountable and responsible.

But if you don’t get to keep that and the other resolutions you made, there’s always next year. And the next, and the one after that…  ***

Photos, in order of appearance: Exercise (taken by Jenny Ortuoste at the Santa Ana Park in Makati, 2008);  Lu Xiaobo (image here); Eulogio Magsaysay (image here); TTMO officer (image here).

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pop goes the world: election theme song

Welcome to a new interactive reading experience. This column comes with its own background music! Click ‘play’ to begin.

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  13 May 2010, Thursday

election theme song

“I saw the sign, and it opened up my eyes, I saw the sign…” ‘The Sign’, Ace of Base (1994)

The recent elections showed with startling clarity how Filipinos choose their leaders. In the United States, which has a two-party system, people side with one or the other based on the principles each embodies. The Republican Party is seen as traditional, conservative, religious; the Democratic Party, liberal, progressive, secular. Their action plans and policies are in line with these characteristics.

In the Philippines, political parties are merely groups of politicos with the same agendas, not necessarily platforms, loosely cohering because of mutual need and perceived or contrived advantage. That is why jumping ship is done as expediency dictates. Since parties do not stand for a particular set of principles, neither then are voters used to electing leaders based on these criteria, but rather on personalities.

Our elections are, like American Idol, a popularity contest.

Logically, we should select leaders based on what they stand for, what they’ll fight against. Are they pro or anti the Reproductive Health Bill? Divorce? Secularization of the state? How shall they resolve corruption in government? The entrenchment of familial political dynasties? Obtaining justice for the victims of the Ampatuan massacre?

According to one of my professors at the University of the Philippines, an expert on political communication, it’s the masa (masses) vote that is crucial, via their sheer numbers. “There’s no such thing as a ‘middle-class’ vote,” she said. It is the masses that campaign managers woo with their eye-candy ads, celeb endorsements, and earworm jingles. Given that, did we vote based on how candidates will deal with issues?

Our elections were, like cars on weekdays, color-coded.

“I saw the sign…Life is demanding, without understanding…”

In semiotics, signs and symbols are codes that, when interpreted, may connote or convey a certain meaning in a particular context and culture. The French semiotician Roland Barthes further postulated various levels of meaning. For example, on a primary level, a label with a picture of a bottle of wine means ‘wine’. On a secondary level, ‘wine’ may connote ideas such as ‘health’, ‘luxury’, ‘fine dining’.

A young Roland Barthes. In his later years, he probably would have analyzed the signs in this photo – what do the robe and mustache signify?  Why was the shelf of books used as the backdrop?

During these past elections, more so than at any other time except during the 1986 snap elections, we have seen how the candidates were defined by their media machines and tagged with sometimes essentially meaningless ‘motherhood statement’ taglines to effect maximum audience recall.

These ideas as portrayed in ads were then further abstracted by voters into concepts until the realities of the candidates’ personalities dissolved. These were replaced by symbols stemming from people’s understanding of the how the candidates were portrayed in their own ads, and what roles these candidates may play in government and in their individual lives.

“I saw the sign…No one’s gonna drag you up to get into the light where you belong…”

In 1986, Corazon Aquino symbolized reform, change, and the overthrow of the dark and oppressive Marcos regime. Though her qualifications were assailed – “Just a housewife” – in the end it was the virtues that people perceived she stood for – “heroism, courage, martyrdom for Inang Bayan” – that carried her to victory in the polls and impelled the People Power movement.

In similar fashion, Noynoy Aquino as a person was reduced to a concept: “The only son of hero parents who will continue their struggle”. We don’t know that he will actually do this, but for many of us this is what he represents. Manny Villar was “The man once poor who will lift us out of poverty and give us houses while swimming through seas of garbage.”

Noynoy Aquino and his mother, the late president Corazon Aquino.

These ideas were further abstracted to symbols and colors. As mnemonics for easy recall, it was a good idea. But the tactic further distanced the person from the sign that connoted him. Aquino was yellow and the “L” sign; Villar, the orange check; Gilbert Teodoro, green. People asked each other, “Who are you voting for? Yellow or orange?” The idea of voting for the principles and platforms of people was mislaid along the way. Tossed, perhaps, into those seas of garbage.

Manny Villar, orange shirt, ‘check’ gesture, tagline…check.

Artifacts also became signs. One strongly identified with the Aquino-Roxas camp was the Collezione Philippine map shirt. I wore such a dress weeks ago – black with a yellow map – but not for political reasons. I simply thought it comfortable. A friend said, “So you’re for Noynoy!” I may or may not have been. But it struck me that my friend assumed whom I was backing in the polls by extracting meaning from the sign he took my dress to be.

Aquino wearing Collezione shirt with yellow Philippine map embroidered logo, fingers flashing ‘L’ (Laban – fight). If the shirt were longer and reached to his knees, you’d have my dress.

With the election results in, one Aquino supporter exclaimed, “Our country is now yellow!” A clueless listener might think this means our land is awash in urine. (True, if you consider those pink MMDA roadside urinals.) But to those aware of the context of the remark, it merely indicates that our new president belongs to the political team symbolized by that color.

Pink MMDA urinal. It has nothing to do really with the column. I just thought you might want to see what one looks like.

In this particular social exercise, signs and symbols played a highly significant part in fixing in voters’ minds characteristics ascribed to the candidates, whether or not these characteristics were actually possessed by that individual. Full spin is deployed in ad campaigns, that’s granted – they say what they want you to know. Yet there were deep levels of abstraction here that further obscured reality.

In the future, seek to discern the symbology and peel off the conceptual layers, from apparent to hidden, until you get to the true meaning at the core. Then you will know if you voted for a color, or for leaders with platforms and principles.

“It opened up my mind, I saw the sign!”   ***

(Photos from all over the Net, collected over time. My apologies for not being able to give individual photo credits.)

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barack obama: the audacity of hope

Some years after the publication of his first book, Dreams from my Father, United States president Barack Obama followed up with Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, written when he was Illinois state senator and published in 2006.

Here are his philosophical thoughts on how United States should be run, which direction it should go for the future, what shape its foreign policy should take, and other musings on politics, faith, and family.

Obama is convinced that, among many other things, America needs to improve its educational programs in science and mathematics, find alternative sources of energy to ease dependence on foreign sources of oil, and inculcate a work-life balance attitude so that stressed families can cope with the pressures of daily life without burning out.

The book is well-researched; Obama’s reflections and recommendations are clear-headed and logical. Though his own personal beliefs may impact his view of American national issues, he acknowledges that his stances may be “misguided” and that other options are possible.

For example, his opposition to gay marriage is faith-based; yet, he declares that “…it is my obligation, not only as an elected official in a pluralistic society but also as a Christian, to remain open to the possibility that my unwillingness to support gay marriage is misguided, just as I cannot claim infallibility in my support of abortion rights.” Fence-sitting? Or a willingness to listed to the other side and seek a compromise acceptable to the majority, if not all?

Throughout the text, there pervades a spirit of tolerance, open-mindedness, understanding, love, and yes, hope and change, those two keywords of his campaign. But these are no mere catchphrases; Obama believes in these virtues, and that through them the United States will overcome its problems and become stronger and better.

He explains where the title of the book comes from. Reflecting upon the life stories of the men and women he met in his work as a community organizer, legislator, and senator, those lives full of struggles and hardship borne with “a relentless optimism”, he says

It brought to mind a phrase that my pastor, Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., had once used in a sermon.

The audacity of hope.

That was the best of the American spirit, I thought – having the audacity to believe despite all the evidence to the contrary that we could restore a sense of community to a nation torn by conflict; the gall to believe that despite personal setbacks, the loss of a job or an illness in the family or a childhood mired in poverty, we had some control – and therefore responsibility – over our own fate.

It was that audacity, I thought, that joined us as one people. It was that pervasive spirit of hope that tied my own family’s story to the larger American story, and my story to those of the voters I sought to represent.

It remains to be seen, now that he is president of the world’s only superpower, whether he will hew to the philosophy he has sketched out here, or deviate to follow party lines, give in to pressure from other interests, or compromise to achieve desired results.

Barack_obama

This is so far my favorite portrait of U.S. President Barack Obama. Taken at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in the White House complex in Washington, 23 March 2009. Reuters/Jason Reed.

The book is a must-have. For here we see the character of the man leading the United States and influencing the policies of a great many other countries. Here is his map for the future. Here we see one man’s vision for his country and his dream for stability, freedom, and, yes – world peace.

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barack obama: dreams from my father

When still a law student in 1995, United States President Barack Obama penned the memoir Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, “in the wake of some modest publicity” he says, as the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review.

Born to a white American mother and black father from Kenya, Obama, while growing up, struggled with  issues stemming from his multi-racial descent and from his father’s absence from his life.

As an adult, he established contact with his Kenyan relatives, who told him somewhat of their family history. But it wasn’t until after Obama visited Kenya, met other family members, and walked upon the soil of his ancestors that he achieved closure and a sense of resolution to his identity crisis.

It’s a wonderful book, written in a sensitive and lyrical manner, glowing in its honesty and simplicity, showcasing Obama’s considerable talents as a writer:

I watched these nimble hands stitch and cut and weave, and listened to the old woman’s voice roll over the sounds of work and barter, and for a moment the world seemed entirely transparent. I began to imagine an unchanging rhythm of days, lived on firm soil where you could wake up each morning and know that all was how it had been yesterday, where you saw how the things that you used had been made and could recite the lives of those who had made them and could believe that it would all hang together without computer terminals or fax machines.

Some years ago, I became interested in memoirs and other forms of biographical narrative  as an aspect of non-fictional creative writing. On my shelves are the life stories of individuals from varied walks of life, from English royalty to Japanese courtiers.

It’s interesting to learn about their different motivations, likes and dislikes, priorities, fears, loves – all the things that shaped and influenced them to become what they are.

Dreams from My Father is not merely a welcome addition to my collection of memoirs, a literary trophy to display on the shelf telling me about one man’s journey to discover himself. Unlike the other biographies I’ve read, it had a profound effect on me: that of forcing me to confront my own issues of identity and my relationship with my parents, especially my father. Even past middle age, I still don’t have the courage to explore the hidden recesses of my mind where childhood memories too painful to examine have been bricked up behind mentally-constructed walls.

Obama’s exploration of these issues in his own life and his decision to reveal them to the world show his strength of character and courage of conviction.

In 2006, when serving as the senator of Illinois, Obama wrote another book, Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, which, like Dreams, topped the New York Times bestseller list.

I look forward to more books by this author, wondering if, as president of the most powerful nation in the world, he will still have the time and opportunity to write. I hope he makes the time to do so. I hope we don’t have to wait until after his presidency to enjoy another book by this man who is now one of the world’s foremost leaders and one of the literary world’s bright new lights.

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