Saturday, September 22, 2007

Literary Interlude: Potpurri

Our regularly scheduled poem has been pre empted on account of fifo's rising from the dead. Well, that kinda put me in mind of Macbeth. So...

Blood hath been shed ere now, i' the olden time,
Ere humane statute purg'd the gentle weal;
Ay, and since too, murders have been perform'd
Too terrible for the ear: the time has been,
That, when the brains were out, the man would die,
And there an end; but now they rise again,
With twenty mortal murders on their crowns,
And push us from our stools: this is more strange
Than such a murder is.
(Act 3, Scene 4)

A thought...

A man wrestles a tiger. The tiger is a 600lb Bengal, and the issue is never in doubt
to anyone except the man, that is. For the odd moment or two, the man manages to hold
off the beast. He turns his head. "See," he says, "I'm in control here." Then inevitably, inexorably, the beast slips his grasp and the dance continues.

Friday, September 21, 2007

What if?

One of the most intriguing parts of The Boys from Dolores concerns a letter written by the boy Fidel Castro to FDR. According to Symmes, it's still in the national archives. I'd heard about it, but here is most of the text complete with mispellings:

My good friend Roosvelt
I don't know very English, but I know as much as write to you.
I like to hear the radio, and I am very happy because I heard in it that you will
be President for a new [periodo].

I am twelve years old. I am a boy but I think very much but I do not thing that
I am writing to the President of the United States.
[I]f you like, give me a ten dollars bill green american, in the letter, because
never, I have not seen a ten dollars bill green american and I would like to have one of them......

...If you want to make your sheaps, I will show to you the biggest (minas) of iron

of the land. They are in Mayari, Oriente Cuba.

Castro's reaction to whatever response he received:

"Yeah, well....He won the election. But the Americans are assholes. I asked for ten dollars and they didn't send me a cent."

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Deja Vu Update

I gotta share this one. So, I'm in the library, not my usual branch, looking through the new books when I spot...can it be... is it? Yes, it's Fidel Castro on the cover. Wait, there's Chavez, and that's Evo Morales. Intrigued, I pick it up. The book in question is titled Pirates of the Caribbean: An Axis of Hope. I only hope the link works, so you can see first hand the halo over fifo's head. Try it here. I kid you not.

Elian Revisited- Hang onto your seats, boys and girls! Just when the present court case is coming to a close, this Wednesday the Discovery Times Channel is presenting a documentary on the Elian case. With the Times in the moniker, this cannot be good. Some days it just seems like we're trying to bail out the SS Cuban American with a leaky sieve.

The Great Left Wing Conspiracy- In the past, I have used the phrase, the Great Left Wing Conspiracy in jest. But today's news about Ted Stevens being investigated makes me wonder. Frankly, I couldn't care about Stevens, but am I the only one that is noticing a pattern here?Doesn't it seem that invariably during election season these days a scandal concerning a Republican politician hits the airwaves? I want to ask are only Republican pols corrupt? Let's not forget that exit polling in the last election showed that it was corruption, not the war, that fueled the Republican debacle. Remember Foleygate. A hint here, a leak there, it would be easy to do. Of course, the Dems have been caught with cashsicles in the freezer and fugitive fundraisers with no apparent consequences. One can only imagine what it would take to turn off their base.

This Week's Read: The Boys from Dolores

Whenever I pick up a book about Cuba, not written by a Cuban or a CIA operative or someone of that ilk, I approach it with suspicion. So it was that I had my doubts about The Boys from Dolores: Fidel Castro's Classmates from Revolution to Exile by Patrick Symmes. I mean the guy had written a book about Che Guevara, which immediately said something. It was the subtitle that snared me. It was just too novel an approach to pass up. And true to his word, the book treats Fidel obliquely, just a few brushstrokes in the portraits of his classmates, enough however to show the nature of the boy and the man and the wreckage he created.

My fears that Fidel and the Revolution would be glorified proved almost groundless. Yes, as one reviewer on Amazon indicated, he did get some historical fact wrong. For instance, his account of the Bay of Pigs doesn't quite jibe with other accounts, even the PBS version. His tiresome iteration about the boys at the school being children of privilege and the contrasting poverty and illiteracy of the countryside is too close to the revolutionary shibboleth. It is also something he seems to contradict when discussing the size of the middle class.

But the true genius of the book lies in Mr. Symmes ability to elicit the truth from those he interviews and, amazingly, from random Cubans he stumbles upon in his many travels through Cuba. It is no surprise that the only other book I've read that comes close to eliciting how people live and feel is Mi Moto Fidel. In both cases, these American authors avoided minders and took the time to really talk to Cubans. The result of which is that their depiction of Cuba is very different from the usual Snow jobs. All of the doble cara, the contempt, the hand gestures that make up the only free expression of average Cubans is here.

At the same time he conveys the present reality in Cuba, he tells the story of a very special Jesuit school in a unique time and place through the stories of those who would soon see their lives overthrown and the history of their nation changed. It is a story that he tracks back from the present, starting with a reunion in Miami. These early chapters are a lyrical, haunting portrayal of loss, as he visits with the survivors of the school in the waning years of their lives. It's an emotional punch in the gut.

The lyricism and the shuffling back and forth in time account for some slow going in the middle chapters. His descriptions of the school, the boys, the Jesuits exhibit a wealth of imagination, a gift for placing himself in their shoes, their world. Suddenly, however, the reader is hurled to the present, only to be sent back to the rituals of the school day. So, at times, reading this book feels like slogging through mud. Yet for those truly interested, it is worth the patience. It is an incredibly dense, incredibly rich book. It is perhaps too ambitious, but it does convey much- from the human face of political consequence, the lost world, the new world, the exile experience, and finally the character of the boy who would be king.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

My Fantasy Poll

Made the mistake of stopping by The Havana Note. I can't get over this gal. You've got to read her complaints about John Stossel's assessment of Sicko! Not to be believed. Poll above.

The "Historic" Exiles

People who use the term dislike Cubans, would like to render them mute. They use it to immure our fathers and mothers in stone, freeze them into position, so that they are no more relevant than the Elgin Marbles. The term implies that the exile, the angst is over and that it has no relevance today. How easily they dismiss the pain and loss. Yes, perhaps the historic exiles and their offspring are a tad intransigent, perhaps we could be more flexible in the face of newer realities, more understanding of newer waves of Cubans. But maybe those who so facilely decry them should walk in their moccasins for a bit.

Historic exiles arrived in the United States when there were very few Hispanics. There were no Spanish language forms. In fact, no one spoke Spanish. One friend of my father's was lost in the NYC subway system for a day. Finally, he spotted an Oriental. "Chinito, Chinito!" He was sure the Chinito would speak Spanish. "What?" the poor Oriental asked.

Another of the friends called she was lost. "Where are you? Look up that the corner," her husband instructed her. "What does it say?"
"It says ohnah waiy," she answered. These are cute anecdotes but they mask what was a harsh reality.

They went to work in factories and restaurants because they were the only ones who would hire them. One very prominent Park Avenue physician my parents knew literally washed dishes for years while trying to get his American license. They did what they had to. Men in those days wore suits, and you bought them at a second hand store since that was what you could afford. Very few had a car. If you had one, it was a clunker, like the one my father had that dropped the gas tank on some street. Macys was a store you had never seen the inside of. You did your shopping at Woolworths and Korvettes. If you were really strapped you had to buy at John's Bargain Stores, where they just threw cheesy merchandise haphazardly in bins.

If someone died, you would make a collection from the handful of Cubans you knew. No one actually had the money to bury the deceased. In coming, you gave up the possibility of ever seeing your family again, unless you were fortunate enough to have them come later. It was only much, much later when Fidel needed money that the possibility of family visits arose. My father left Cuba in his twenties. It would be decades before he laid eyes on the father who had single-handedly raised him. His brothers, he never saw again.

And the shame. I wish I could convey the corrosive nature of the discrimination we faced. From the time that I could walk through the front door to go out and play for fifteen minutes (my father worked in a factory overnight and needed his sleep), I was taught that I must be perfect. Any failing on my part, any misbehaviour or disrespect, would immediately result in my being labeled a "Spic." The reputation of whole peoples rested on my fragile, four year old shoulders. If my mother spoke Spanish to me in a store, it would result in looks of disdain nowadays reserved for smokers.

Our three room apartment in a working class neighborhood in Brooklyn, where I slept on the couch, had been rented to us in error. They had mistaken my fair-skinned father for an Italian. No one wanted to rent to Hispanics, even in Miami, which was a sleepy, decaying town, the glory days of tourism having left. In the summer, it was basically closed down, except the little hotels with two ghostly retirees rocking on the front porch. I know, I was there in '65. And there was nothing as gray, as dead, as depressing as Union City, perhaps that's why the first Cubans were allowed to settle there.

The worst was having to go to government agencies. Since I was the only one who spoke "good" English, and they were all afraid of the American world, I was the interpreter for the extended network of Cubans my parents knew. Immigration, department of motor vehicles, the phone company, and, worst of all the unemployment office, where the contempt was barely disguised, were the venues to which my seven year old tush was dragged. I am still traumatized.

They were truly strangers in a strange land who learned very quickly they were here on sufferance but did not truly belong. In short, they got the kind of welcome here that others had gotten in the past. But they never forgot they were Cuban. In their isolated homes, Spanish was spoken. The children were taught the mother tongue. There was the outside world where they insisted the children assimilate and excel and the inside circle of family. In this safe, insular world, they passed down their love of Cuba and their hatred of its oppression.

So I would propose to those who want to silence those very children that if the world we grew up in as second class citizens could not beat the Cubiche out of us, now that we are adults, no one else will. Yes, I am an American and proud of it. But to deny my Cuban heritage or bury it would be to turn my back on my father and all those "historic" exiles" whose faces I can still see: El Cabezon (my father); Andres; Tio Mario; Miguelito, el Polaco; Oscar who had a perfectly round hole between his front teeth that fascinated me as a child, Nena, Jacobo, Camilo, the grandparents, all of whom lie under gray skies in the unfamiliar cold soils of the North. They paid their dues. So by all means, you may differ with them and their progeny, but please treat them with respect. They earned it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Tourism in Havana: A Slice

I'm in the middle of The Boys from Dolores by Patrick Symmes and came across this snippet. So here's to the notion that freedom will "ruin" Cuba. About Havana....

The parks were full of prostitutes, the houses full of liquor, and in this capital inmoral of the Revolution, even cocaine. I'd see colonels eating lobster with teenage girls at 3:00 A.M. English rock stars expounding on socialism from the lawn of the Nacional, Russian real estate mobsters on three-girls-a-day benders, Mexican guerrillas turned Marxtrepreneurs, Chilean assassins making a killing in fruit juice, and the astounding perverts of all nations, wallowing in it.

When I Became a Republican

I've always worked in schools and libraries where my political leanings differed markedly from those of most of my colleagues. I found that if I didn't discuss my beliefs, they would assume that I was- like any right-thinking pseudo intellectual- a liberal. I will, however, tell anyone who asks the truth. One coworker was so shocked that she called me an anomaly. "Anomaly?" I asked. "Yeah," she replied, "an intelligent Republican." "Actually," I informed her, "I like to think of myself as an enlightened Republican."

As a teenager, my daughter once asked, "Mom, when did you become a Republican?"
Facetiously, I replied, "when I started paying taxes."

She asked because the joke around here is that when I turned eighteen, I turned around and used my newly granted right to vote to cast a ballot for McGovern. I also voted for.... I'm going to say it...confession is good for the soul...I also voted for Jimmy Carter. Now, I'm a card carrying Republican.

It was Ronald Reagan who brought me back to my senses, back to the good learnin' my parents had given me. It's not that I liked Reagan. When he was elected President, I thought it showed that if you ran for the office often enough, you'd eventually make it.

But Reagan had one incredible gift. He was a true believer. He believed in this marvelous ideal of the United States of America. I have this theory that God watches over us and gives us exactly the President that we need at the time. Here, he was, after the stomach turning glee with which they went after Nixon, the despretigio of Vietnam, the enthusiasm for trashing those institutions we held dear, saying it was okay to believe. I could literally feel the morale of the emotionally bankrupt nation rise again.

So I am a Republican. I don't subscribe to all the party positions. But then, I don't agree with most of the Democrat positions. I am not a small-minded, mean person. But, I've seen the other side, and I want no part in a world where political expediency dictates policy, where there is no respect for the authority of office, the sanctity of marriage, the right of self-determination, where national morality is determined by what new fad is in vogue with the majority, and smoking is pursued with more zeal than terrorism. A world where scurrilous and unproved accusations are leveled at my President nightly, but the propaganda of a murderous regime is accepted verbatim.

Monday, September 17, 2007

I Was So Much Older Then...

...I'm younger than that now. The Dylan lyrics came to me as I read the first entry on Yahoo's Cuba news roundup today. It was from The University of Miami newspaper, entitled "To free or not to free." As I read, I was reminded of my brief, inglorious stint on my college paper. So full of myself, ready to make sweeping pronouncements on the basis of my eighteen years of experience. The days when I thought I knew everything and believed everything my professors said. And when above all, I wanted to be cool. So enveloped in the warm glow of yesteryear, I began to read.

Given to the occasional Shakespearean allusion myself, I could overlook the stretch here. And I was so mellowed by my stroll down memory lane that my blood pressure remained relatively stable as I read

I'm not going to give you monotonous and overstated examples of how Cuba has had some relevant improvements under Fidel Castro, like the "best education in Latin America" argument or even the innovative and environmentally-friendly agricultural system (which happens to be not only sustainable but also an example to follow for many nations).

Besides, he writes he's not going to do this, although he does manage to sneak it in, fallacious as it may be. I guess he didn't read the book about how Castro has trashed the environment. No, it seems his argument is basically that a "free" Cuba would fall to the all the economic and social ills of the Caribbean and Latin America. With tongue firmly planted in cheek, he makes statements such as

Just like Jamaica or Haiti, political freedom would prevail and economic advancement would finally be a reality. I can picture La Havana with American-owned casinos, Bentleys and Ferraris parked outside the five-star hotels, nightclubs pumping techno until sunrise and University of Miami students eating McDonalds at 7 a.m. right after a long night of spring break partying.

Now, I ask you, is that such a dire fate? Let me spell it out: E M P L O Y M E N T.
But, no, apparently it is better to keep Cuba as a third world theme park. Oh, that's right. Those little brown natives don't really want to have just a fraction of what the developed world has.

In Cuba, American corporations will not pay menial wages and Chinese companies will not destroy the local industries. Cuba will not be transformed into a dependent and rotten economy under the flags of globalization.

Speaking of employment, how much more menial can the wages of Cubans get than the twenty dollars a month they presently get, especially since their ration books don't begin to cover a minimal diet and the rest must be purchased dearly on the black market. My favorite is the implication that Cuba now has an independent and healthy economy. I must have imagined that they were propped up first by the Russians and now by Venezuelan oil, that the sugar harvest is now at depression era levels. The list of their present successes is endless.

... And if you're one of those leftists who believe Latin America did not prosper from neo-liberalism, let me prove you wrong. Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador, Paraguay and other countries did extremely well in the '90s when neo-liberalism was at its best. Their economies boomed (and then heavily crashed), investments soared (and all the profits left the country), states underwent privatization (only to be bought by foreign companies) and most importantly, poverty was a big concern (but nothing much changed, other than an exponential growth in inequality).

These are real concerns, but they get lost in the hyperbole. And why assume that Cuba would not go the route of say Costa Rica, the United States? And what is the alternative?

So we should all chant "let's free Cuba" and remember that Cuba will be different because no frenetic capitalism will invade the island. More importantly, when advocating its freedom, remember that it will all be done in the name of destroying communism once and for all. As for the ideals of valor, solidarity and the spirit of a once-true social revolution, remember them the most, because soon they will be replaced by our dear consumerist values.

That's a straw man. There is no need to destroy communism; it has destroyed itself. What you have in Cuba is the rotting carcass of a dead beast. This is the sad part, whatever the people might have been led to believe, there was no "once-true revolution," because it's very leaders didn't believe it. It was all a big fat LIE.

I think the writer's heart was in the right place, but it takes getting knocked around a bit to learn that maybe situations are a lot more complex than they would seem to be. Parting questions, how many would trade our dear consumerist values for repression and want? Imagine if you could not publish this editorial because it was not in keeping with the government's interests and that by the very act of writing it, you had signalled yourself as a dissident, opening yourself up to imprisonment under conditions that make Guantanamo look like a sleepaway camp?

I've quoted most of it, but you can read it here

Quote for the Day

Don't argue with them, ever. Cubans are born inherently wise. They don't need to read, they know everything. They don't need to travel, they have seen everything. The Cubans are the chosen people...chosen by the themselves. they pass among lesser peoples like a ghost passing over water.

Cubans are characterized individually by their sympathy and intelligence and as a group by their shouting and passion. Every one of them carries the spark of genius and no geniuses are tolerated. That's why it is easy to reunite Cubans, and impossible to unite them.

from "El Profeta," an article written in 1986, by Lundy Aguilar, retired Georgetown professor and quoted in The Boys from Dolores by Patrick Symmes.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

They're At It Again

I received this email from Packrat, jr tonight.

On Wednesday, August 1st, H.R. 3162 which included at $4.50 per carton federal cigarette exercise tax increase was passed by the US House of Representatives by a vote of 225-204. On Thursday, August 2nd, H.R. 976 which included as $6.10 per carton federal cigarette exercise tax increase was passed by the US Senate by a vote of 68-31. Both bills also included increases in the federal exercise tax on other tobacco products.

Now before you start feeling smug that you might not be a smoker and self-righteous that smokers deserve what they get, remember that this mentality may be aimed at you someday. Now say it: transfat!

As for me, I fail to see that my unfortunate addiction should make me a cash cow for the government. And don't give me the hooey about health costs. Smokers die young. They actually cost society less. Not to mention, the majority of smokers come from low income brackets which makes this a regressive tax. Of course, that didn't seem to bother my Democrat Senator.

Anyway, if you are a smoker, or just a person who believes in fair play, you can click here to let your reps know. Surprise, surprise, Phillip Morris is spearheading the campaign against the legislation.