Saturday, December 29, 2007

You Can Vent...maybe

But you can't make a difference. I've been holding on to this one for a few days:

Havana, Dec 26 (IANS) Cuba will continue with a single party system with wider scope to accommodate dissent and differences of opinion, acting President Raul Castro has said even as rights groups point out scores of dissidents are still in jail.

'If we have a single party and that represents the interests of all the people, it's good,' Castro was quoted as saying Tuesday by Spain's EFE news agency Wednesday.

You gotta read the thing. I must take virulent exception to one major falsehood in the article.

according to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and Reconciliation, several dozen political prisoners have been freed since Raul stepped in some 16 months ago when his elder brother Fidel was stricken with a serious intestinal illness.

To the best of my knowledge, the political prisoners released had served their terms or were given medical releases because of the precarious state of their health, something which was never mentioned in the article.

It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood


Let's add another to the topsy-turvy society file. This column by Jed Babbin is scary. The gist is this. Rachel Ehrenfeld, a scholar, wrote a book entitled “Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed, and How to Stop it.” Although published in the US, a few copies were sent to the UK.
Khalid Salim bin Mahfouz, a Saudi banker, who is described in the book as having funded terrorism, filed suit, not in the US where the book was published and where he would have had to prove the falsity of the claim, but in the UK where the author is forced to prove the truth of same. He won a symbolic default judgement against Ehrenfeld. She refused to defend herself, standing behind our right to free speech. What's scary is the chilling effect this has had here in the United States. No publisher will touch her new work.

The same banker was mentioned in another book put out by the Cambridge University Press. In that case, the threat of a lawsuit resulted in the book being withdrawn. In both cases, the more stringent UK libel laws were used to stifle free speech. As Babbin writes:

Under assault by Muslims and multiculturalists, free speech and freedom of the press are dead in Britain. The same sorts of people who killed them in Britain are killing them in Canada. They and their allies are using the British and Canadian courts and tribunals to bury our First Amendment rights in America.

Muslims -- individually and in pressure groups -- are using British libel laws and Canadian “human rights” laws to limit what is said about Islam, terrorists and the people in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere who are funding groups such as al-Queda. The cases of Rachel Ehrenfeld and Mark Steyn prove the point.

I don't agree with the use of the term Muslims, as if it were all adherents of the religion. Rather I see it as a segment of the Muslim population. Unfortunately, the continued silence of the mainstream population implies consent and lends credence to Babins' assertions.

Hey, I wonder if us greedy, grasping, hard-line, intransigent, Batistiano, Miami mafia types could do the same? Seems to work for them.

Friday, December 28, 2007

¡Inocente! ¡Inocente!

Today is the Día de los Santos Inocentes, the Spanish equivalent of April Fools. For a more thorough explanation of the custom observed throughout the Spanish-speaking world, click here. The actual day is rooted in religious observance.

Humanitarian Crisis and The Blame Game

The ongoing humanitarian crisis in the waters off Florida and Cuba has been in the news lately:

Forty who fled Cuba from the town of Perico have not been heard from in a month and are feared dead.

Last week, a boat carrying thirteen capsized, killing two who were fleeing Cuba.

This week, word that only three survived out of twenty eight on a boat heading to the United States.

Not surprisingly, the press has parroted the Regime claim that it is US policy which encourages people to flee. Not a single news report that I can find makes mention of conditions on the socialist paradise as the prime motivator for the exodus. Oh, well, you can count on some things not to change.

The single most insensitive comment comes from the Coast Guard, a branch of the military that is slowly sinking in my estimation.

U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Chris O'Neil, public affairs officer for district in Miami, criticized South Florida migrant smuggling operations and what he said was "the tacit or direct protection of the local community." Here for the article.

Would he have the community turn their backs on those pitiable refugees, their brothers, sisters, cousins, who run the gauntlet of the Cuban patrols, the Gulf, and the Coast Guard? This is the community that has half an idea what they are fleeing. What about those who land in other areas? Not too long ago, refugees were put ashore at Boca Grande. They weren't pelted with stones. Members of the anglo community brought them blankets, soup, a translator, etc....

The reason people are fleeing Cuba is not our policies; it is the oppression, political and economic, of their own government. To tighten our policies would do no good. Being illegal has not stopped Mexicans from crossing the border. As long as current conditions exist in Cuba, there will be boatloads of people willing to risk their lives to flee them. So don't blame the US.

If we are to criticize the US, it is to say that our present policy, the infamous Wet foot/Dry foot is immoral. Any policy that results in the Coast Guard firing on unarmed refugees is just plain wrong. I understand that there are political considerations in play here, but another approach is needed. One of the most novel I've read is to turn Guantanamo into a model city, a propaganda tool against the regime. Not a bad idea.

Pump Up the Volume

I've added a sidebar notice in Spanish until January 8. It is a call to protest. This time to avoid the massive repression that results whenever Cubans get out of line, the protest is a more anonymous one. Organizers are asking ordinary Cubans on the island to raise the volume of TV's, radios, parties, etc... at 8:00 on the 8th of January, ringing in the sound of protest. If the public will get the message, if they will dare to "signal" themselves is a question. But as always, the sentiment is there.

Here's the translation:

Secretos de Cuba is asking all websites related to Cuba and who are in favor of freedom to publish this message on the front page. In Cuba, on January 8 at 8PM raise the volume on your music, the TV, the radio. It doesn't matter what you are putting on, nor what type of music it is, the news, even if it's Mesa Redonda, whatever, raise the volume. If you have a party that day, so much the better.

If you are afraid, be quiet and listen at your window at how others will do it.

The only thing we ask of those who have blogs, forums, etc... is to publish this message prominently until January 8 at 8PM.

Be heard. Join up. We want changes to benefit the people. Better salaries, more rights than the tourists, Freedom.

It is we, the people, who have to take back our rights.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Tales from the Dark Side: Press Coverage of Cuba

I can't decide whether it's sheer imbecility or part of a more sinister undertaking, but lately, the MSM media seems even more moronic than usual in its coverage of Cuba. During the Petrocaribe summit, it seemed that every day there was a a headline about deepening ties between Venezuela and Cuba, the same story cloaked in different guises, written and published daily.

Then over the holidays, there was the coverage of that intellectual giant and all around philanthropist, Naomi Campbell. The headline that stopped me short was "Naomi Campbell turns Mrs. Claus in Cuba." Where do you start on that one? Based on her past history, it would seem Ms. Campbell would be more accurately compared to Cruella DeVille. And just what did she do, hand the keys to one of the 100 humble houses, built with Venezuelan money to house workers at the site of the plant just refurbished to process their heavy crude, to a young couple? Was there any mention in the coverage of the dire straits of Cuban housing, any acknowledgement that this little spit in the bucket is meaningless in terms of the numbers of people whose homes are crumbling around and on top of them? Of course not, that wouldn't be in the regime talking points.

I've saved the best for last, though. Try this introductory snippet from the AP article about Max Lesnick making the rounds of press outlets.

No longer an exile, Castro's friend is at home in Cuba and Florida

HAVANA - He fled Cuba in 1961, but still calls Fidel Castro his friend. He can't stand communism, but bitterly opposes the U.S. embargo. He lives in Miami, but travels regularly to Havana, even appearing on state-run television.

Anyone with even the tiniest bit of understanding knows that this is impossible. Ask any of fifo's former "friends" in Miami, the ones who have survived his friendship, as that seems to have been a singularly perilous position, if they can return with impunity. That it is possible for Lesnick raises a whole line of possibilities. The writer here, however, buys the whole spiel- hook, line and sinker- and parrots it around the globe. If its propaganda arm is the regime’s only success, it is because the media has been there to collude with them every step of the way for nearly half a century. For the article.

For an excellent post on the same subject and a great cartoon, go here.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

"Tis the Season

In Sarasota, that means a lot of things. It’s when our population more than doubles for the winter, when our roads get congested, our coffers fill, and cultural venues go into high gear. And for the past four years, the entire town gets treated to a first class sculpture exhibition. Substantial pieces adorn the side of highway 41 where it adjoins our Bayfront Park, perhaps one of the most beautiful spots on the West coast of Florida. So if you happen to be in town, don’t miss it. You can always head to O’Learys and indulge in some libations while you take in the scenery.

About a third of this year’s “Season of Sculpture” exhibit consists of new works from returning artists. They are artists whose work I enjoyed last year, but which seem reminiscent this year: The white box has mirrored silver slivers instead of red pieces dangling, the Venetian-like figures are in different groupings and poses. And as is usual with me, if I need to read an explanation to understand the piece, it is lost on me. The most interesting work had to be “La Devine Proportion” by Jean-Francois Buisson, which resembled a cross between a futurist and a post apocalyptic version of Leornardo’s study of the human body, only the warmth of sepia has been replaced by harsh black metal, draped in an intricate fretwork, which looks like puzzle pieces, tattered lace, and mechanistic moss at the same time. The elegance of the figures themselves is interrupted by the occasional bolt, or old piece of metal, an interruption in the organic flow of the human form.

I’ve included a picture of local sculptor Jack Dowd’s installation, “Happy Birthday, Andy” because of its sheer fun. Here Dowd subjects Warhol’s figure to the same treatment the late artist applied to others. I didn’t like or appreciate every piece, but I am grateful I had the opportunity to see an exhibit of such quality. It is there, open and free to the public. Oh, and did I mention the giant tooth or the dancing cars?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Christmas Dinner from Dickens

I've always loved this scene from Dickens' Great Expectations. Makes my relatives look tame. Read it and notice Pip's brother-in-law with the gravy.

Among this good company I should have felt myself, even if I hadn't robbed the pantry, in a false position. Not because I was squeezed in at an acute angle of the tablecloth, with the table in my chest, and the Pumblechookian elbow in my eye, nor because I was not allowed to speak (I didn't want to speak), nor because I was regaled with the scaly tips of the drumsticks of the fowls, and with those obscure corners of pork of which the pig, when living, had had the least reason to be vain. No; I should not have minded that, if they would only have left me alone. But they wouldn't leave me alone. They seemed to think the opportunity lost, if they failed to point the conversation at me, every now and then, and stick the point into me. I might have been an unfortunate little bull in a Spanish arena, I got so smartingly touched up by these moral goads.

It began the moment we sat down to dinner. Mr. Wopsle said grace with theatrical declamation,--as it now appears to me, something like a religious cross of the Ghost in Hamlet with Richard the Third,--and ended with the very proper aspiration that we might be truly grateful. Upon which my sister fixed me with her eye, and said, in a low reproachful voice, "Do you hear that? Be grateful."

"Especially," said Mr. Pumblechook, "be grateful, boy, to them which brought you up by hand."

Mrs. Hubble shook her head, and contemplating me with a mournful presentiment that I should come to no good, asked, "Why is it that the young are never grateful?" This moral mystery seemed too much for the company until Mr. Hubble tersely solved it by saying, "Naterally wicious." Everybody then murmured "True!" and looked at me in a particularly unpleasant and personal manner.

Joe's station and influence were something feebler (if possible) when there was company than when there was none. But he always aided and comforted me when he could, in some way of his own, and he always did so at dinner-time by giving me gravy, if there were any. There being plenty of gravy to-day, Joe spooned into my plate, at this point, about half a pint.

A little later on in the dinner, Mr. Wopsle reviewed the sermon with some severity, and intimated--in the usual hypothetical case of the Church being "thrown open"--what kind of sermon he would have given them. After favoring them with some heads of that discourse, he remarked that he considered the subject of the day's homily, ill chosen; which was the less excusable, he added, when there were so many subjects "going about."

"True again," said Uncle Pumblechook. "You've hit it, sir! Plenty of subjects going about, for them that know how to put salt upon their tails. That's what's wanted. A man needn't go far to find a subject, if he's ready with his salt-box." Mr. Pumblechook added, after a short interval of reflection, "Look at Pork alone. There's a subject! If you want a subject, look at Pork!"

"True, sir. Many a moral for the young," returned Mr. Wopsle,--and I knew he was going to lug me in, before he said it; "might be deduced from that text."

("You listen to this," said my sister to me, in a severe parenthesis.)

Joe gave me some more gravy.

"Swine," pursued Mr. Wopsle, in his deepest voice, and pointing his fork at my blushes, as if he were mentioning my Christian name,-- "swine were the companions of the prodigal. The gluttony of Swine is put before us, as an example to the young." (I thought this pretty well in him who had been praising up the pork for being so plump and juicy.) "What is detestable in a pig is more detestable in a boy."

"Or girl," suggested Mr. Hubble.

"Of course, or girl, Mr. Hubble," assented Mr. Wopsle, rather irritably, "but there is no girl present."

"Besides," said Mr. Pumblechook, turning sharp on me, "think what you've got to be grateful for. If you'd been born a Squeaker--"

"He was, if ever a child was," said my sister, most emphatically.

Joe gave me some more gravy.

"Well, but I mean a four-footed Squeaker," said Mr. Pumblechook. "If you had been born such, would you have been here now? Not you--"

"Unless in that form," said Mr. Wopsle, nodding towards the dish.

"But I don't mean in that form, sir," returned Mr. Pumblechook, who had an objection to being interrupted; "I mean, enjoying himself with his elders and betters, and improving himself with their conversation, and rolling in the lap of luxury. Would he have been doing that? No, he wouldn't. And what would have been your destination?" turning on me again. "You would have been disposed of for so many shillings according to the market price of the article, and Dunstable the butcher would have come up to you as you lay in your straw, and he would have whipped you under his left arm, and with his right he would have tucked up his frock to get a penknife from out of his waistcoat-pocket, and he would have shed your blood and had your life. No bringing up by hand then. Not a bit of it!"

Joe offered me more gravy, which I was afraid to take.

"He was a world of trouble to you, ma'am," said Mrs. Hubble, commiserating my sister.

"Trouble?" echoed my sister; "trouble?" and then entered on a fearful catalogue of all the illnesses I had been guilty of, and all the acts of sleeplessness I had committed, and all the high places I had tumbled from, and all the low places I had tumbled into, and all the injuries I had done myself, and all the times she had wished me in my grave, and I had contumaciously refused to go there.

I think the Romans must have aggravated one another very much, with their noses. Perhaps, they became the restless people they were, in consequence. Anyhow, Mr. Wopsle's Roman nose so aggravated me, during the recital of my misdemeanours, that I should have liked to pull it until he howled. But, all I had endured up to this time was nothing in comparison with the awful feelings that took possession of me when the pause was broken which ensued upon my sister's recital, and in which pause everybody had looked at me (as I felt painfully conscious) with indignation and abhorrence.

"Yet," said Mr. Pumblechook, leading the company gently back to the theme from which they had strayed, "Pork--regarded as biled --is rich, too; ain't it?

Monday, December 24, 2007

There is always a Santa Claus

And now for the holiday portion of our program.....
With Noche Buena around the corner- that's Christmas Eve- I thought I'd reprise the 1897 editorial from The New York Sun, written in response to a little girl's question as to whether there is a Santa Claus.

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except (what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! How dreary would the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. It is real and abiding. No Santa Claus! Thank God! He lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The R Word

What is it Dylan once wrote? Something like "You don't need a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows." For me, it didn't start with gasoline prices, although I'm convinced speculators have amplified the increases (Think Enron). These although huge were bearable, and there are ways to cut back on driving. It started with ethanol. The emphasis on green and renewable fuels sent corn prices skyrocketing. They had a ripple effect on all sorts of products. Wheat prices seemed to go up in sympathy with corn, although I'm assured it's just supply and demand. Next thing you know just about everything in the supermarket is up. Seriously, over two dollars for a baguette?

Then in plein Christmas shopping season, the stores were empty. That spooked me. So I got to thinking that the definition of a recession is two straight quarters of decline in the GDP. In other words, it'll take six months for the economic powers that be to announce that we've been in a recession for the past six months. And all of this is occurring against the backdrop of the mortgage and housing debacle with its effects on the markets.

I came home from Christmas shopping that day and announced to Packrat that it would be a lean Christmas, just in case. I hope we don't wind up in a major recession, but it doesn't hurt to be prepared. To this amateur observer, the barometer seems to be falling.

Sunday Morning Rolls Around

Gored Again. Don't miss Pat Sajak's amusing read, "Gore Files Lawsuits Against Time" in which he envisions the perennial also-ran as accusing Time of "voting irregularities" on the word of eyewitness "Chad."

Don't That Beat All. Ran across this article which makes it seem as if 2 million South African tourists visited Cuba in 2007. Closer inspection reveals that the figure was the number of tourists from around the world. In any case, I'm guessing here that the South African vactioners, whatever their number, are not residents of Soweto Township, so I suspect that Apartheid might be something they're used to.

Revolting. I find the concept of revolt and a new society decreed by a few unnerving. Much of the current anti-immigration sentiment is a cover for bigotry and the like. But it's worth reading this column from townhall for its social criticism.

Happy Holidays to all! I'll be posting some old favorites for the next few days!

Updated: Numbers that Make My Head Hurt

Update: According to Carlos Lage in a report dated December 24, the number of healthcare workers is 31,000. Also in the article is the statement that bilateral trade will hit $7 billion. It might more aptly be stated that Venezuelan donations to the regime will total that amount. Oh, yeah, forgot the indentured servants.

Here’s a BBC article about “the oil and politics” at the Petrocaribe summit this week. We already know about the oil-for-bananas deal Chavez offered. But some of the article reminded me of a post this week on Primera Generación this week in which Cuban banker focuses on just how much Chavez is taking away from his own less-than-affluent people, which lead me to wonder about the actual figures involved.

Here is the deal for the 17 nations:

They can defer payment on 40% of their oil bill for up to 25 years, with interest of only 1%.

The terms for Cuba as they are usually described:

Cuba has long received all its Venezuelan oil for free, in exchange for thousands of doctors who help treat the country's poor.

Doesn’t sound like that bad a deal, really, unless you take into account that the doctors and health workers are human beings being treated as a commodity. But take a look at some statistics:

$2.6 million the amount of oil given Cuba in this exchange in 2007.

$184.00 monthly paid to doctors/regime by the Venezuelan government in addition to the 2.6 million in oil paid to the regime (2005 figure).

$25.00 monthly the salary paid to the doctors in Venezuela by the regime and consequently the value they place on the services provided.

20,000 the number of Cuban doctors and health workers in Venezuela.

Do the math, if you have more zeroes in your calculator than I have, and it doesn’t look like that rosy an economic deal for Venezuela. On the other hand, I guess there is a premium to be paid for having an army of chattel who can be forced to work anywhere in the country under any conditions.