Archive for the ‘The Forum’ Category

From the Washington Post/The Style Blog: Alex Rivera, Philip Kennicott debate Washington Post review of ‘Our America’

Saturday, November 2nd, 2013

Alex Rivera, Philip Kennicott debate Washington Post review of ‘Our America’
November 1 at 5:58 pm

My October 25 review of a new exhibition at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, “Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art” ignited strong reactions from some Latino artists. Several participants in a conversation on Facebook took particular exception to my claim that the show’s lack of focus was “a telling symptom of an insoluble problem: Latino art, today, is a meaningless category.” I asked the author of the original post, digital artist and filmmaker Alex Rivera, if he would like to have the conversation more publicly. He agreed, and what follows is a transcript of an email exchange over the past two days.

ALEX RIVERA: Can you explain why you used your review of this show to make a pronouncement about the entire concept of “Latino Art”? This is the sentence I’m referring to: “…an insoluble problem: Latino art, today, is a meaningless category.”

It seems to happen over and over again: when a group show like this one is mounted, critics attack the fundamental notion of looking at the work as a group. Why? The problem is that, while critics raise doubts about categories like “Latino Art,” there’s never any discussion of the absence of that work in show after show that keep groups like Latinos on the margins or excluded entirely from the American conversation. For example: the 2012 Whitney Biennial featured exactly zero Latino artists. How can that be a survey of “American Art”? Where is the questioning of that absence in publications like the Post? It seems like the absence of Latino artists is normal, not newsworthy, but the organizing of our presence causes questions about our existence.

PHILIP KENNICOTT: I called Latino Art a meaningless category for two reasons. First, I think it is so broad as to be meaningless. The exhibition I was reviewing includes work by artists of Cuban, Puerto Rican and Mexican descent, but it might just as well include artists who claim heritage in almost all of the countries in South and Central America. And is all of this art in fact linked by some, essential unifying thing? Is the art made by a Cuban exile educated in Paris somehow similar to street art made by a Mexican American in Los Angeles? Maybe, but then tell me what the link is. As a critic, you hear over and over again that artists don’t want to be pegged by their nationality, language, ethnic group or sexual identity.

The second reason I said it was that the curators seem to argue exactly that: They insist that the show isn’t about labeling, isn’t about defining anything essential about the category of Latino art. As a critic, you begin to wonder why bother doing these group shows if the ultimate intent (and a desirable one) is to place the focus back on individual artists, and individual art works, rather than the group identity that everyone seems to resist? Make the show more specific, perhaps more limited, with a more specific argument, and use the best art and artists from this larger show to make a point you can stand by.
I take your point about the absence of Latino artists in many exhibitions, though one of the best shows I’ve seen recently that attempted to negotiate the idea of group identity, the National Portrait Gallery’s “Hide/Seek” devoted to gay artists, had a robust representation of art by Latinos.

AR: I should have mentioned in my first message: I wish you’d had a better time at the museum! Reading your comments, a question comes to mind: do you find “Latino Art” meaningless, or do you find the notion of “Latino” meaningless? I ask because I understand your observation that there’s a lot of diversity within the imagined community of “Latinos.” But what big grouping of people doesn’t embody diversity and conflict within itself? I imagine you regularly review shows in museums of “American Art,” but never spend the review space critiquing the concept of “American” (which is more broad than the category “Latino”).

Why attack categories like “Latino” when they’re used pro-actively to organize a show, while other vague categories are left unquestioned? In terms of what unites Latino artists, well… It might be aesthetics that one way or another trace back to distant Spanish and Indigenous influence. It might be an engagement with questions of assimilation in the U.S. or of migration or exile. It could be none of these. But one strong glue that unites the community of Latino artists I know is awareness that we’re still “outsiders” in spaces which claim to speak for the nation. Isn’t long-standing absence enough ‘glue’ to make this survey of Latino Art at the Smithsonian a worthy endeavor?

PK: You ask if it’s Latino art I find meaningless, or “the notion of ‘Latino’” art? Emphatically the latter, and if that wasn’t clear in my review, then I should have been more careful. I say that I enjoy much of the art on display, only I wish it was better presented, better contextualized, better focused. What I grappled with is the use of the label—“Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art”—in a show that doesn’t seem to want to define or even accept the validity of that label. You give one possible avenue for finding meaning in the category: the origins of some of the visual material in the “distant Spanish and Indigenous influence.” I think that would be an interesting way to focus an exhibition. And I gave some other possibilities: One would be looking at the wonderfully provocative and visually incisive Chicano art movement of the 1960s and 70s.

But you see, we’re already whittling a big category down to smaller ones. That’s a healthy thing, I’d argue, forcing people to think about real connections, not simply labels. Again, I point out that my problem with the label has a lot to do with how many Latino artists resist it… just as many African-American artists resist being labeled, and so too gay artists. I remember a recent show in Washington called “30 Americans” which looked at three decades of recent African-American art. Again, the catalog writers went through the usual contortions of saying that they didn’t want to imply that these artists had anything in common, stylistically, or in terms of content or approach, simply by virtue of being African American. Very similar to the intellectual contortions surrounding the Smithsonian’s Latino Presence show. The difference, however, is that the content of “30 Americans” at least had a common sensibility, and tone, and often stylistic approach. Whether or not that was because the artists were African American, or because the show was derived from a single private collection, didn’t matter. The important thing was a sense that the show had a focus.

That was what was lacking in the Smithsonian exhibition. Let me ask a question: Do you think it’s enough that a major show of Latino art at the Smithsonian can only be summarized as having included a lot of art by Latinos? Is rectifying the absence you speak of all that matters, or should it have also been a good show in traditional museum terms (ie., with focus, an argument, a scholarly component)?

AR: Apologies for any confusion. To be clearer, you explained that you find “Latino Art” a meaningless category because it is broad (encompassing Chicano, Cuban, Puerto Rican artists, etc.). So, I was curious if it was not “Latino Art” that you had trouble with, but the simpler notion of “Latino” as an identity category at all. That’s what I meant to suggest – that perhaps you don’t find grouping together tens of millions of people in this way helpful. And if you don’t see the commonality of experience in that imagined community, then of course a survey of our artistic output would seem a fruitless exercise.

And so… Do you think “Latino” is a useful category for thinking about people? Does it illuminate anything about history or just confound? If not, what do we call ourselves? If so, why can’t we have something called “Latino Art”? Finally, in answer to your questions about whether this particular show at the Smithsonian need be a “good show” as well as a simple manifestation of presence… Well, of course I’m going to say “yes.” The trouble is that the metric of “good” is always subjective and questions of “quality” are hard to get at when the argument is shifted to whether or not the fundamental organizing concepts have any merit or not. If your review had contrasted the qualities of this survey of Latino art with others, focused on the strengths and weaknesses of particular aspects of the show, and accepted that there needs to be a presence of something called “Latino Art” in a museum like the Smithsonian, I probably wouldn’t have gone nuts on Facebook.

PK: As a demographic category I’m sure Latino is useful, and I don’t want to suggest that the category isn’t meaningful for people who embrace it. As a gay man I find the category “gay” meaningful even though many younger people who might have embraced it a decade ago now reject it. Identity is deeply personal and something we construct. But demographic categories aren’t necessarily useful for explaining habits, preferences and behavior. “Latino shoe preference” or “gay driving habits” don’t really refer to useful ideas, do they?

The question posed here is whether Latino is useful for explaining something interesting about art. Here’s some text from the “Our America” catalog essay by Carmen Ramos: “Latino art is an imperfect composite construct that traditionally refers to the art of Mexican Americans/Chicanos, Puerto Ricans, Cuban Americans, and more recent arrivals such as Dominicans. These demographics, however, are by no means settled or clear-cut. Nor can one term adequately shoulder the divergent histories it seeks to contain. I use the term ‘Latino art’ not as a sign of cultural essence but as an indicator of descent, shared experience, and art historical marginalization.”

So from the very beginning we have curatorial acknowledgement that the category is “an imperfect composite construct” and isn’t “settled or clear cut” and it can’t “shoulder the divergent histories” it seeks to contain. And the work it is supposedly able to do–indicator of descent, shared experience and art historical marginalization–is in fact so broad that it can’t really focus the exhibition. The last two of these subcategories in the definition Ramos offers–shared experience and art historical marginalization–are more useful than the first–indicator of descent–and they would offer grounds for a better exhibition. But it would have to be much better focused than what is on display at the Smithsonian.
As for your argument that “there needs to be a presence of something called “Latino Art” in a museum like the Smithsonian” I would agree… if we insert one word: “Great.” There absolutely needs to be a better representation of great Latino art in a museum like the Smithsonian. And many of the pieces in the exhibition I reviewed qualify for that inclusion.

AR: Well, for starters, I agree that “Latino shoe preference” is not a meaningful category, so we can at least agree on that!
(But I bet readers involved in marketing shoes would disagree.)
I also agree that how we identify is a personal decision. And that “Latino” is a big, unruly way to categorize people. Like “American.”

But here’s the rub: the review you wrote sparked heated reactions among some Latino artists, in part, because we’re very used to reading reviews like it.
Take this review in The New York Times of “Phantom Sightings,” an exhibition of post-Chicano art, which starts with the line: “Is it time to retire the identity-based group show?”
Or this mention in The Times of a show featuring an American majority – women – whose work somehow rarely makes it into American museums: “Sexism is probably a good enough explanation for inequities in the market. But might it also have something to do with the nature of the art that women tend to make?”
Time and again reviews of shows that feature work of “minority groups” (who are in many instances majorities in cities where the art world thrives, but whatever) become the occasion not to talk about the show at hand, but to attack the fundamental gesture of curating shows featuring our work.

We read these reviews against the backdrop of media silence which has for decades enabled our erasure from spaces like museums and galleries. In your review, you took an angle which attacked not the show at hand – but the entire meaning of “Latino Art” as a category. A good portion was also spent on critiquing the general direction of the institution of the Smithsonian.
I don’t doubt the show is imperfect, and worthy of critique. I don’t doubt that the show is broad in nature. But in the future I hope to read reviews that take me into the show, on the show’s terms. Reviews that help me understand what specifically works and what doesn’t. And reviews that accept as a starting point that presenting the work of people who inhabit big categories like “Latino Artists” is vital and urgent.

Alex Rivera is a digital media artist and filmmaker, best known for his Sundance award-winning feature film “Sleep Dealer.” His film and digital media work has been screened at The Berlin International Film Festival, the Museum of Modern Art, The Guggenheim, The Getty, Museum, Lincoln Center, PBS, and other international venues.
Philip Kennicott is chief art critic of The Washington Post.

Art review: ‘Our America’ at the Smithsonian — From the Washington Post by Philip Kennicott

Saturday, November 2nd, 2013

One begins to wonder if it’s even possible to organize a major art exhibition devoted to an ethnic or minority group. So many try, and so many fail, and so, too, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which opened a rather dutiful show called “Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art” on Friday.

It isn’t a bad show, but surely work made by artists who belong to the more than 50 million people who identify as Hispanic or Latino in the United States is more vibrant, provocative and interesting than what is on display here. Surely there’s a more compelling way to present it, and more interesting things to say about it.

Mostly one feels the strictures placed on the curators, the rules they are following in a leaden, academically proper way. Of course, if it’s a show about Latino art, it must be inclusive and relatively comprehensive, and no major movements or artists must be left out. Of course, if it’s about a population group that has suffered prejudice, it must cut a fine line between accurately presenting the impact of bigotry and reducing Latinos to victims. Of course there isn’t really any universally agreed upon sense of what Latino means, and who belongs to the group, so the label must never be applied in a limiting way. And it mustn’t make any claims that might alienate artists or art lovers, about what Latino art should or shouldn’t be. Add to that a problem particularly acute at the Smithsonian: That the show offend no one, give no heartache to the notoriously timid overseers in the Castle, and prompt no visitor to write so much as a single angry e-mail.

Sample the prose from essays that will eventually be published as a catalogue for the show when it travels to other venues: “The tone and character of much current expression revolves around personal responses to global realities,” writes one author. “These rich examples encourage us to see Latino art not as a bounded category but as a fluid one, open to many dialogues and trajectories,” writes another.

This isn’t just the usual academic blah-blah, but a telling symptom of an insoluble problem: Latino art, today, is a meaningless category. Historically, there are movements and periods when the category is interesting, for example the politicized Chicano and Nuyorican art movements of the 1960s and ’70s, whose artists provide some of the best material on display. There are also subdivisions of “Latino” art that might make sense as a focus for a more targeted exhibition (such as Cuban art dealing with themes of exile). There are also myriad stylistic and formal categories that might narrow the subject enough to see useful detail: abstraction of 1960s, conceptual art, video, poster and mural work.

But throw it all together and try to argue that it’s a virtue rather than a failure of curating to stress the fluidity of definition, the unbounded categories, the many trajectories, and you get a big mess.

That shouldn’t detract from the work, which is often well-made and fascinating. Raphael Montanez Ortiz’s brilliant 1957-58 vivisection of an old cowboy and Indian film, chopped up with a tomahawk and reassembled in frenetic bits and pieces, some of them upside down, is still hypnotically powerful and encompasses so many basic conceptual moves that similar work by other artists since feels derivative. The Puerto Rican artist ADAL embeds a video monitor in an old suitcase, and mashes up scenes from the film “West Side Story” with other kinds of music and voices from a police scanner: The results are strikingly powerful, as the fake sentimentalized emotion of the film’s caricatures takes on a more desperate, authentic sense of trauma.

Manuel Acevedo’s 2004 photographs of a slum in Hartford are altered to include ghostly suggestions of architectural additions, though their lines, rendered in strict perspective, suggest prison fences as much as they might intimate the hope of urban renewal. And Delilah Montoya’s nearly empty photographs of border regions in the Southwest (including her celebrated image “Humane Borders Water Station”) give us a powerful sense of the land as a beautiful, dangerous, eternal constant, unforgiving (to those who confront its arid and torrid expanse) and disinterested in our affairs (especially where we place our borders).

The exhibition also includes work that has become or should be canonical. One of Abelardo Morell’s wonderful camera obscura images rendered inside an empty room (made in 1996) is included, but feels strangely out of place, shy and inward looking, just like the technique that produces it. There is also a faux documentary photograph by the collective Asco, “Decoy Gang War Victim,” made in 1974, and widely seen on the cover of Artforum two years ago. The Asco image, which shows a body lying in the street under dim blue light, was shopped around to television stations with the ridiculous claim that it represented the “last” victim of gang violence in the barrio. The intent was to underscore the sensationalism and credulity of lazy local news programs.

But even strong work doesn’t stand much of a chance if one sees it in isolation, decontextualized or in the company of uninspiring neighbors. Jesse Amado’s “Me, We” reproduces in smooth, beautifully processed granite and marble two wooden shipping palettes, gritty, almost invisible industrial objects. It is a coy and smart gesture, not just to elevate the everyday, but to focus on the mythic power latent in these purely functional objects. One thinks of Atlas, with the world on his shoulders, and all the backbreaking uncelebrated, miserable work it takes to keep a relatively small number of people supplied not just with the necessities of life, but art too.

But why place it in a room with undistinguished abstract paintings? It’s cool, circumspect power would make much more sense in another room, where some of the strongest visual invention — posters that chart the politicization of Latino groups — is displayed.

There is also plenty of work that simply isn’t very good, derivative and dull, adding little to the precedents that inspire it: knock-offs of Claes Oldenburg and Cindy Sherman, second-rate abstraction, and sentimental treacle in regionalist styles.

The exhibition only includes work from the museum’s collection, 92 pieces by 72 artists. Most of it has been acquired since 2011, which is impressive, though one wonders if the museum is getting the strongest pieces by each artist. One also wonders if there is need for some introspection at the American Art Museum. This isn’t the first disappointing show it has mounted in recent seasons (“Art of Video Games,” “Annie Liebowitz: Pilgrimage” and the “Great American Hall of Wonders” were all problematic). The last truly substantial show was the small but rigorous George Ault exhibition in 2011.

It’s painful to say: Someone, or something, seems to be driving the museum toward exhibitions that feel a bit spineless, or formless, or that overtly pander to the audience. And why is the catalogue not ready for the opening of this show? Don’t Washington audiences deserve better?

Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art

on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum through March 2. For more information visit

PRdream mourns the passing of Tato Laviera, Nuyorican poet, 1951 – 2013

Saturday, November 2nd, 2013

PRdream mourns the passing of Tato Laviera, Nuyorican poet and a major proponent of Afro-Boricua identity in its earliest manifestation in the Latino literature of the U.S.

Tato Laviera is a first generation Nuyorican poet. Born in Puerto Rico, he moved to New York City with his family in 1960.
Laviera’s poetry, which is written sometimes in Spanish, sometimes in English, more often in Spanglish, addresses language, cultural identity, race, and memory, particularly as it affects the transculturated lives of Puerto Ricans in the United States.
Scholar William Luis describes Laviera’s work as follows: “His poetry is full of the music of bomba and plena, and of rap and preaching. However, it is also socially minded and historical in content. Indeed, his poems are a conglomeration of voices, songs, dialects, and cultures producing a unique synthesis which is moving, instructive, and aesthetically appealing”. From wikipedia.

LATINO AMERICANS — A new PBS documentary series in three parts

Saturday, August 31st, 2013

1949: Four years after the end of World War II. My parents had only recently met. Through dances and other socials like the Annual Armistice Ball, war veterans were finding their future wives and husbands and reintegrating into civilian life. People were celebrating all across the American Empire, from the Caribbean to the Pacific, Puerto Ricans among them. Having served in the American armed forces, they were returning to their families in Puerto Rico or New York, where they became part of the Great Migration.

My mother had established a foothold in New York after working to bring her own mother and most of her siblings stateside from Puerto Rico. In 1949 the first democratically elected Puerto Rican governor took office. Operation Bootstrap, aimed at industrializing the island, was only beginning. My mother Maria Antonia Torres was ready for a new life.

My father Mariano Virgilio Escalona had journeyed from the East after his father, an officer in the Philippine Army, was beheaded during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. He sought new opportunities to help support his mother and siblings from afar. Filipinos have a term for those compatriots who go abroad and provide for their families — balikbayan. My father was a balikbayan when he met my mother.

The history of these times is written on the faces of my Puerto Rican family. Eight of us look Eurasian. My mother’s sisters, Titi Celia and Titi Julia (“titi” means “auntie”), also married Filipinos. People imagine we are related through our Asian side because of the way we look.

My mother and her two sisters jointly purchased a three-story row house on Bryant Avenue in the Bronx, each occupying a floor with her husband and children. We spent the first ten years of our lives together in what might be considered an early co-op. Our households exemplified Puerto Rican matriarchal rule, with our Filipino fathers usually away at sea. Uncles Sammy and Andy were lifers in the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard; my dad was in the U.S. Merchant Marines.

The Escalonas occupied the first floor with ready access to the porch and backyard. My brother and I spent a great deal of time playing outdoors. My mother was a strong believer in the health achieved by basking in the sun and breathing fresh air.

The Evangelistas lived on the second-floor. When not in church, my two cousins passed the time on their fire escape and on religious outings. Titi Celia had converted to the Pentecostal faith in the late fifties. My grandmother Uquita, our great matriarch, lived with them.

The Julatons moved into the third floor where the previous owner left an old upright piano. Titi Julia had been married before and brought her four Puerto Rican children to live with her and her four half-Filipino girls. Uncle Andy did not seem to mind. These older cousins sang Doowop and R&B. They played conga, guitar and piano. They taught their younger sisters to sing and dance to the latest Salsa, Soul, and Rock. I still remember the great fiestas Titi Julia threw during the holidays. The entire Torres clan would turn up.

Puerto Ricans thrived in New York. Many moved to the suburbs, others bought homes in Puerto Rico. Six of my aunts and uncles relocated to the island after retiring or saving enough to start a small business. My Uncles Gallardo and Eduardo owned barber shops in the Bronx and returned to Puerto Rico to open shops there.

The Julatons were the first to leave our co-op, returning to Puerto Rico in the late sixties as part of the reverse migration. I was too young to remember their sorrowful farewell, but old enough a decade later to suffer the departure of the Evangelistas. My mother bought her sisters’ shares and eventually lost the property to urban blight. We lived in what came to be known as Fort Apache. It almost cost my parents their lives.

Our neighborhood had been a mix of Jews, Italians, West Indians, African Americans, and ever-increasing Puerto Ricans. My best friend Fishy, Raymond Alvarez, was Puerto Rican and Cuban. He lived across the street from us. Fishy’s father emigrated from Cuba because of growing political unrest there. Most of the homes on our block were privately owned and our street was paved with red brick. Our family doctor made house calls and had his office in a beautifully appointed apartment building at the corner. This was our world before the city’s economic crisis devastated the Bronx.

How different we may have seemed to our neighbors is unclear because the neighborhood was diverse and our family formed its own little society or enclave. We seemed more Puerto Rican than Filipino though we looked Asian. We seemed more American than Puerto Rican because our education and most of our cultural references were American. We enjoyed hamburgers, hot dogs, and French fries. We savored meals with platanos maduros, bistec encebollado and arroz con habichuelas. We relished pork adobo, pansit, and ginger chicken soup. When our fathers were home, we feasted on foods from both sides of the empire and some American dishes too. Like New York cut steak, medium rare, with a dash of ketchup, accompanied by slices of buttered French bread, and washed down with ice-cold Seven-Up. A favorite dish of my dad’s and mine too—though today I rarely eat steak or drink soda.

Some of us still live in the Bronx, but all the Puerto Rican-Filipinos are gone. My parents eventually moved to Long Island. I wound up on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, going to college. My brother joined the service.

Many who first arrived from Puerto Rico have passed away but not before seeing an increasingly diverse generation of Puerto Rican-Filipinos. My niece and five nephews are Puerto Rican-Filipino and Polish. Most are married and have their own children, adding Mexican and Chinese to the Puerto Rican mix. The history of these times is written on their faces too.


PRdream mourns the passing of Steve Berrios, February 24, 1945 – July 26, 2013

Sunday, July 28th, 2013

A Latin Jazz great, master of Jazz and Salsa. Born and raised in NYC of Puerto Rican parents. From the NY Times: “Mr. Berrios was a fixture of the New York Latin jazz scene for 40 years, playing in groups led by Max Roach, Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, Tito Puente and Grover Washington Jr.” Berrios is a founding member of the Fort Apache Band, the cutting-edge Latin jazz fusion ensemble led by Jerry Gonzalez.

Mr. Berrios grew up in Upper Manhattan with neighbors like Mr. Puente, Willie Bobo and Mongo Santamaria, all icons of Latin music and friends of his father, Steven Berrios, who was a professional drummer in dance bands.

In Berrios’ own words: “Most people look at the drummer as an ignorant timekeeper that doesn’t know anything about music or forms,” he said in the 2007 interview. “But a drummer has to be as intelligent as the horn players. He has to know the vernacular, the history of the music.” A horn player can take a break. A drummer never leaves. “We’re like royalty.”

Former Mars Czar Tapped To Lead NASA’s Mars Reboot

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

By Dan Leone | Mar. 5, 2012

Orlando Figueroa. Credit: NASA photo

HERNDON, Va. — NASA’s former director of solar system exploration, Orlando Figueroa, will lead a group tasked with planning the scaled-back robotic Mars mission the agency is pursuing after its withdrawal from an international campaign to return a Mars sample to Earth.

Figueroa, a one-time NASA Mars czar who left the agency in 2010 to become a consultant, will head the Mars Program Planning Group. In late March, the group will present NASA science chief John Grunsfeld with a concept for a $700 million Mars mission that melds science, technology and human spaceflight goals and launches in either 2018 or 2020.

Figueroa’s appointment was announced by Grunsfeld at a Feb. 27 meeting here of the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG), a community forum for Mars scientists.

“Probably what Orlando’s team will come up with is something like the [Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter] experience,” Grunsfeld said. That mission, which launched in 2009 to support NASA’s since-shelved ambitions to return astronauts to the Moon, was designed to map the Moon, take radiation measurements, search for traces of water ice, measure the temperature at and below the lunar surface, and perform a technology demonstration of a mini-radio-frequency instrument.

Figueroa said more details about NASA’s new Mars mission should be available at the 43rd Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, to be held March 23 near Houston. Figueroa’s team will make their final report public around August. NASA will spend about $30 million this year on planning for its revamped Mars mission, which is known in budget documents as Mars Next Generation.

NASA is restructuring its robotic exploration program after the White House’s 2013 budget request, released Feb. 13, proposed cutting the Mars exploration budget 40 percent to about $360 million. The cut, rumors of which surfaced late last year, sealed NASA’s withdrawal from the multimission ExoMars sample-return campaign with Europe and Russia. The first two missions in the international campaign remain scheduled for launch in 2016 and 2018.

Mars sample return was named the U.S. planetary science community’s highest-priority big-ticket mission in a NASA-sponsored 10-year plan, known as a decadal survey, that the National Research Council put out early last year.

According to the decadal survey, Mars exploration that does not further that end should only be conducted in the context of smaller, cheaper missions.

“This is the bottom line: New missions to Mars that lead directly to sample return have very high priority,” Steven Squyres, the Cornell University astronomy professor who chaired the most recent planetary science decadal survey, said Feb. 27 during the MEPAG meeting here.

Conversely, “new Mars missions that do not lead directly to sample return should be openly competed via the Discovery program,” Squyres said. NASA Discovery missions are cost-capped at $425 million.

“With sample return, they didn’t mince the words in the decadal survey,” Figueroa said, acknowledging that his group must design a mission that not only supports Mars sample return but also passes muster with the White House budget hawks who nixed NASA’s involvement in such a campaign because it would tie up too much funding for too long.

Asked whether he thought there was a credible sample-return alternative to the the collaborative, multiphase approach the White House just rejected, Figueroa hedged. “I think so,” he said. “But we’ll see.”

What form NASA’s next robotic mission to Mars takes has yet to be decided. Grunsfeld kept the door open for either an orbiter or a rover. Some scientists here, however, raised doubts that NASA could afford a rover capable of contributing to an eventual sample-return mission for $700 million.

NASA’s flagship Mars Science Laboratory, a car-sized, nuclear-powered rover now on its way to the red planet, is expected to cost $2.5 billion by the time it completes its two-year mission. It cost $1.8 billion to build and launch. The much smaller, solar-powered twin Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity, 174-kilogram crawlers that launched in 2003, cost about $800 million to build and launch. Factoring in the cost of extended operations, the price is closer to $1 billion each. Spirit went dark in May, but Opportunity remains operational.

Delaying a Mars Next Generation launch until 2020 would give Grunsfeld two more years over which to spread the mission’s development cost, but it would also mean a loss of 150 kilograms of payload due to the less-favorable relative positions of the Earth and Mars as they orbit the sun. Optimal Mars launch windows occur about 26 months apart, but not all such windows are created equal.

“The sweet spot is 2018,” Grunsfeld said. “2022 is considerably worse than that, 2024 is sort of back to the 2020 level.”

Meanwhile, after shirking on its commitment to partner with the European Space Agency (ESA) for ExoMars, NASA says it wants international partners to join its Mars Next Generation mission.

An ESA official at the MEPAG meeting said the U.S. agency would have to take the lead if it wanted to bring Europe on board with the project.

“I think this morning I heard that the door was open, but I didn’t hear a real invitation here,” said Rolf de Groot, head of the ESA robotic exploration coordination office. He added that ESA was “open to discuss any possibility on future cooperation.”

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

FULL COMMITEE HEARING on the political status of Puerto Rico – Jun 11, 2013

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

Jun 11 2013

FULL COMMITEE HEARING on the political status of Puerto Rico
SD-366 Senate Dirksen Building 10:00 AM

The purpose of this hearing is to receive testimony on the November 6, 2012 referendum on the political status of Puerto Rico and the Administration’s response.

The hearing will be webcast live on the committee’s website, and an archived video will be available shortly after the hearing is complete. Witness testimony will be available on the website at the start of the hearing.


The National Puerto Rican Day Parade has little if anything to do with being Puerto Rican

Sunday, May 26th, 2013


Here They Go Again!
Coors and the Puerto Rican Parade
The NiLP Network on Latino Issues (May 25, 2013)

From “EMBORICUATE” to this. I think the target of the PR community’s wrath on this matter should be the Nat PR Day Parade’s board, not Coors or their marketing agent! DEMAND they pull the advertising! Recall the product! Take the board president to task for allowing the selling out our people & culture! Challenge this year ‘s parade theme, which is HEALTH, not getting drunk!
—Ephraim Cruz in May 23, 2013 Facebook posting

A very Americanized Puerto Rican asked me why I was so upset about the parade board of directors making a deal with Coors to place the Puerto Rican flag on its beer can as a promotion. I said that flag symbolizes our nation, our ancestors ,our history, our dignity. No one has the right to grant permission to Coors to place our flag on their promotion. Our parade has become more interested in money than in cultural pride. It’s time to take back our parade . . . now!
—Ramon Jimenez on May 24, 2013 in his Facebook page

It seems like the leadership of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade, to be held on June 9th in NYC, just can’t help themselves! As you can see (—>), they have cut some sort of deal with the MillerCoors company to not only be the official beer of the parade but to display their logo, and the Puerto Rican flag, on cans of their Coors Light beer. As Ephraim Cruz, Ramon Jimenez and others have pointed out, this is unacceptable, but instead of criticizing Coors the cry is going out on the need to hold the Board of Directors of the Parade accountable themselves!

What makes this even more egregious is this year’s parade theme is: Salud — Celebrating Your Health. Among Latinos, Puerto Ricans have the highest rate of alcohol dependence and the highest rate of the need for acohol use treatment, according to the National Institutes of Health. So, in this case, they must be using “salud” as drinkers do,”¡Salud!” and not as a public health message.

You may recall that in 2011, MillerCoors had to discontinue its ‘Emborícuate’ Coors Light Puerto Rican Day Parade advertising campaign after widespread community criticism. This campaign had been running for three years straight until those in social media raised issue as a call by Coors for Puerto Ricans to get drunk on their product. In fact, back in 1984, Coors had signed an unholy agreement with six leading national Latino organizations in which they agreed to getting larger grants from the company if they increased the amount of Coors beer consumed by the Latino community, an agreement that was scrapped after strong criticism by the Institute for Puerto Rican Policy (IPR) (as NiLP was called then) and other community leaders.

So it is surprising to many in the Puerto Rican community that the Parade leadership would allow the Puerto Rican flag to be displayed this year on a beer can. Are they willing to allow the perception that in exchange for money or donated product that they would allow unhealthy messages to their community? The Board and many other volunteers of the Parade work hard every year to pull off this unique and high profile event, why would they want to tarnish their efforts in this way?

Critics have called on the Puerto Rican community to contact the leadership of the Parade to let them know how you feel about this. Besides telling them to junk these beer cans, does the issue of the need for a broader leadership of the Parade need to be raised as well, given this history? According to their website, these are the members of the National Puerto Rican Parade Board of Directors and staff:

Carlos Velazquez, Official Business & Marketing Agent

Madelyn Lugo, Chairperson

Melissa R. Quesada, Vice Chairperson

Trinity A. Padilla, Executive Secretary

Shirley Cox, Treasurer

Luis Rivera, General Coordinator
No Email Available

Rafael E. Dominguez, Director of External Affairs

María Román Dumén, Honorary Member


Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

“Emboricuate”, a word innocuous enough and even flattering: That a major American company would recognize the economic clout of New York’s oldest Latino community. It was Puerto Ricans who shaped the Latino market of the Northeast for close to a century. But “emboricuate” is not as innocuous or as flattering as one might at first think since that major American company is Miller Coors, a beer brewery with a strong market presence in Puerto Rico and among New York Latinos. In fact, the word is targetting all Latinos to become Puerto Rican — for a day, or a week, or ideally for their lives at least in their drinking habits.

Now what might that be?