Saturday, February 9, 2008

Some Sunday Goodies

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. Remember a few years ago when a group of states won incredible amounts of money in a lawsuit against the cigarette manufacturers. The premise of the whole thing was that smoker's cost their health systems more. Turns out that in this Dutch study smokers and the obese (they're next) actually cost less. Unfortunately, smokers die young and don't hang around long enough to get Alzheimers and the like.

I'm Too Sexy for my Town. 19 year old Christopher Holder was arrested in Florida for disorderly conduct after a mother complained that he was singing profanities in front of her two young children. Seems he was singing the words to a song by Lil' Boosie. Before you think intolerance, read it and see if you want your 5 year old hearing this on a public street. Think he'll beat the rap?

I Heard it Through the Grapevine. That's what parts of the world may be reduced to for communications. Four undersea internet and phone cables have been cut in one week in the Mediterranean, raising the specter of possible sabotage. Explanations have ranged from a rogue freighter to a wayward anchor. So far the Middle East has been hardest hit. Read it here.

Black Water. Spurned by the courts and spurred on by the declining levels of their reservoirs, Georgia legislators have just remembered that the surveyor who marked their state boundary in 1818 made a boo boo and stopped short of the Tennessee River, an error they'd like remedied like now. The response from the governor of Tennessee, something to the effect of "Good joke, fellas." Read all about it.

Notes: I apologize for missing the weekly poem, but a few things didn't come to fruition. Be back next week. Speaking of next week, I'll be on the road. I'll try to post.

Reality Check

If you would like to know why Cuban Americans often come across as too strident, too passionate and sometimes crazed, it is because of articles like this:

Cuba is showing "unprecedented positive engagement" with the United Nations in the field of human rights, the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said Friday.

in contrast to the reality of these headlines for the past 3 days smuggled out by independent journalists in Cuba:

Opposition Members in Holguin Beaten

Opposition Youth Threatened with Jail

Human Rights Activists Arrested and Processed for Dangerousness

President of FLAMUR [The Association of Rural Women] Arrested and Threatened

Political Police Organize an Act of Repudiation

Opposition Members House Pelted with Eggs

Independent Librarian Intimidated

I only wish that someday Ms Arbour live in a country making just as much "progress" as she ascribes to Cuba.

Friday, February 8, 2008


Every time I hear of a “Cuban art exhibit” somewhere, I cringe because almost invariably it brings out the misguided, the impervious, and the apologists. Jim Lowe of the Barre Montpelier Argus Times probably falls in one of these categories. In this article about “¡Cuba!: Art and History from 1868 to Today” at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, it’s apparent that he may or may not know his art, but he certainly doesn’t know his history.

For a writer, he certainly plays fast and loose with his words. Did you know that Cuba is “anathema” to the United States? As far as I know the Cuban government is a sworn enemy of the United States but has never risen to the level of anathema. However, its obliteration of individual freedoms and the oppression of its people might be anathema to all that Americans hold dear. And then there’s the question of subjugation. According to Lowe, Cuba went from fighting for its independence from Spain to “subjugation” by the US. Again the wording is questionable. You might maintain that the United States interfered in Cuban affairs and wielded undue influence, and was a tad colonialist. But as far as I know the United States never enslaved Cuba. Subjugation is what the people have been living under for the past half century.

But why quibble? The exhibit is divided into five time periods. He discusses all five. Do read it and see what he has to say about the “violence” and “squalor.” More importantly try this:

“Cubanness: Affirming a Cuban Style 1938-1959” is the most artistically exciting period represented in the exhibit. Here are myriad styles, expertly executed – all with unique Cuban flavor.

Contrast that with

The title “Within the Revolution Everything; Against the Revolution, Nothing 1959-1979” is taken from the words of President Fidel Castro, describing his feelings on the legal limitations of art. This segment of the exhibit is more interesting historically than artistically. Excellent photojournalism illustrates the beginning of the Castro years.


The Revolution is represented by a large poster collection, with many of them familiar to Americans. Again, they seem more of historic than artistic interest.

Need I say more?

Quote for Today

"I stand against any library or any librarian anywhere in the world being imprisoned or punished in any way for the books they circulate," Bradbury said. "I plead with Castro and his government to immediately take their hands off the independent librarians and release all those librarians in prison, and to send them back into Cuban culture to inform the people."
Ray Bradbury in 2005

Thursday, February 7, 2008

More Smoke Than Mirrors

The apologists for the dictatorship like to point to Cuba's claims of free universal health care and near total literacy. Well, after Sicko, the truth about the Cuban health care system got some attention. But we never much hear about the Cuban educational system. I mean, besides the daily recitation by school children of "I will be like Che" and the free medical school education the regime provides to American students who live like potentates compared to the average Cuban, we never hear much.

So tonight, I'm minding my own business, surfing along, when I come across this article by independent journalist Jaime Leygonier about a teacher in Havana who killed a student. 12 year old Daniel Castañeda Alayo was killed by his teacher, Rolando, age 17, who broke a chair over his head. Stop. What was that? Age 17? Well, it wouldn't be the first time I came across a typo. So I read the article. Yup, the "teacher" was 17 years old. Apparently, to make up for teacher shortages, the government has improvised with "emerging teachers," read that adolescents.

Apparently the schools are fraught with major disciplinary problems and violence. Read about it in Spanish here. As a former teacher, I've taught seventeen year old boys. In my experience, they were not notable for their patience, their wisdom, or more importantly their common sense. It is an action of a desperate regime to place them in front of a classroom. Kinda reminds you of Hitler in the last days of WWII.

Side note for those who don't read Spanish: The article ends on a note of dark humor. Seems that on February 1, the British Ambassador gave the Cuban authorities an award for their care of the young ones. As the article's author points out, Daniel could not read about the event in the newspaper so that he could later recite it during one of the numerous political exercises at school While the ambassador and the thugs were exchanging chit chat, Daniel was dying because his teacher broke a chair over his head.

Until We Meet Again

Two observations on Mitt Romney's speech today. First, why the hell didn't he speak like that during his campaign? Recently, reading some of his positions, I've started to realize that I had misjudged Mr. Romney. It was hard not to. In any case, his basic decency was lost on an angry electorate in an angry country, a country which has less cause for anger than any other nation in the history of the world. The poorest among us live better than the bulk of humanity. At any other time in any other circumstances, Mitt could have had my vote. But not this climate, not this election.

My second observation goes to the pride I feel as a Republican. He could have continued; he might even have pulled it out. There was that possibility, especially with the uber right lining up behind him. But he didn't. In a small gesture of respect, I'll let him tell you why:

I disagree with Senator McCain on a number of issues, as you know. But I agree with him on doing whatever it takes to be successful in Iraq, on finding and executing Osama bin Laden, and on eliminating Al Qaeda and terror. If I fight on in my campaign, all the way to the convention, I would forestall the launch of a national campaign and make it more likely that Senator Clinton or Obama would win. And in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign, be a part of aiding a surrender to terror.

This is not an easy decision for me. I hate to lose. My family, my friends and our supporters... many of you right here in this room... have given a great deal to get me where I have a shot at becoming President. If this were only about me, I would go on. But I entered this race because I love America, and because I love America, I feel I must now stand aside, for our party and for our country.

I will continue to stand for conservative principles; I will fight alongside you for all the things we believe in. And one of those things is that we cannot allow the next President of the United States to retreat in the face evil extremism!!

It is the common task of each generation-and the burden of liberty-to preserve this country, expand its freedoms and renew its spirit so that its noble past is prologue to its glorious future.To this task... accepting this burden... we are all dedicated, and I firmly believe, by the providence of the Almighty, that we will succeed beyond our fondest hope. America must remain, as it has always been, the hope of the earth.

Thank you, and God bless America.

Can you picture any Democrat doing that? Oh yeah, Al Gore after he nearly rent the fabric of our country and pursued his options all the way to the Supreme Court demanding that every vote- the same votes the party now refuses to honor- be counted, as if they hadn't already been counted twice, made a similar speech. By contrast, when the dead in Chicago and Texas voted for JFK, that bogeyman, Richard Nixon, Republican, spared the country the strain.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

"Adventurer" Dies

In today's Miami Herald, the news that Gerald Patrick Hemming has died. Who was Gerald Patrick Hemming? Good question, and one that maybe no one can answer. He claimed to have fought alongside the castro rebels; made all sorts of accusations against the CIA; hinted dark conspiracies in the death of JFK. MLK; instructed a group of Cuban exile paratroopers, the International Penetration Force; and was himself at least once accused of being a Castro spy.

Perhaps that's why the Herald chose the angle of "Adventurer's life offers look at a bygone Miami" for its report. Read it here.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Wetfoot/Dryfoot: The Interface of Politics, Morality, and Fantasy

NPR enters the lists with a report about increased human smuggling from Cuba. As usual, the bad guys are not the mafiosi in Havana or the misbegotten Wet Foot/Dry Foot policy, but Cuban exiles and families in Miami. Blame the victim. Since they didn't see fit to tackle a major part of the problem, thought I take a stab at it.

Any policy that results in members of the United States military firing on unarmed civilians and/or repatriating others to almost certain imprisonment has to be a bad policy and, I would argue, an immoral one. Christ once said of false prophets that by their fruit shall we know them. Well if the same can be said of a false policy, the fruit of this tree is rotten. Fleeing Cubans have been known to douse themselves with gasoline, hold knives to their throats, and even impotently attack members of the Coast Guard to avoid being sent back. Whatever might have made them take to the Gulf in the first place, the moment they left, they became political refugees. That is to say, once repatriated they will face all sorts of repercussions for the audacity of wanting to leave. Yet here is an institutionally enforced policy that does just that, send 'em back, in direct contravention to US law, I might add.

At the same time, what is the United States to do? As a fellow blogger wrote, the economy of the United States could handle the entire population of Cuba if it showed up on our doorstep, that number being very close to the estimate of illegal immigrants in the US. But imagine in the current xenophobic climate, the uproar at thousands of Spanish-speaking and racially diverse people on our shores. Mariel X’s God-knows-how-many.

Much as we may dismiss these political considerations, they are real, as are the interests of the United States. Over the decades, the US has served as a pressure release valve for the Cuban regime. One has to wonder what would have happened if this country had never allowed a single Cuban exile to alight on its soil, wet or dry foot. Since that is a moot point, let’s carry on with the pressure cooker theorem which holds that if unhappy Cubans are forced to stay in Cuba, the whole pot will explode. I’m sure there are valid reasons why this is not necessarily so, but there is one which takes precedence over all, that is we are dealing with human beings here, not peas. Would you place a human being in an oversized pressure cooker? Of course not.

This is the problem that dogs Cuba policy. How to separate the Cuban people from the State, given that the State has falsely assumed the rights and prerogatives of the same? How do you help the people while holding the line against a sworn enemy of the Republic? A while back, I came across one suggestion on another blog that made my cynical heart go pitter patter. I took the suggestion and ran all the way to Disney.

The suggestion was simply to send those who fall in American hands to Guantanamo. That’s been done before, you say. Yeah, but this idea goes far beyond tent cities. Why not establish not a camp but a town? Make it a model hamlet. Heck, pretty soon that detention camp is going to be closed. Call in the imagineers to create Calle Central, Cuba, down to the wrought iron balconies. Let those who don’t make it to the United States at least know that they will be sent to somewhere where they can earn their keep, have a say in their town government, and go to bed with three squares. Sure, the US government will have to subsidize it, but there’s plenty of money to be had in other anti-regime programs. What better pressure is there than to demonstrate what a free and capitalist Cuba could be?

Come to think of it, alone among all the candidates, John McCain has called Wet Foot/Dry Foot a flawed policy. He doesn't know how to fix it he tells us. Hmm. Maybe I'll email him.

(Although I have CRS, I think I first came across the idea at Killcastro. If not, I apologize to wherever I came across it.)

The Butcher and the Icon

Not two people, just one. Finally had the chance to read Humberto Fontova's most excellent Exposing the Real Che Guevara: And the Useful Idiots Who Idolize Him, the first few pages of which reduced me to tears. In these, he tells the story of his family's flight from Cuba, how his father was forcibly taken away from the airport to an unknown fate. The petty tyranny of the officials, the family's fright, the harsh conditions of their new lives are echoes of many, many more, a million more stories. I was overwhelmed.

So powerful was the experience that it took me days to return to reading. But return I did. For me, it was not about discovering Che's evil. I knew what he was, although I understand why David Horowitz wrote "Every American should read this book." It's obvious that millions don't know why he was called the "Butcher of the Cabaña," or even that he earned that epithet. Fontova skillfully juxtaposes Che's murders and machinations with the celebrity and praise he garnered as a selfless champion of the downtrodden. It is particularly ironic to see Che being feted at a chi-chi party in NYC even as he is plotting to blow up portions of the city.

The book is chock a block full of facts and statistics about preCastro Cuba, as well as the crimes of Che Guevara, which were legion. I'd go further than Horowitz and suggest it might be fruitful for college history departments to use it in a case study on methods. Because what emerges most here is the disconnect between the authoritative biographies and what we Cubans know as reality. Fontova serves up the facts with a good dollop of incisive humor, as he demonstrates the fallacy of their methodology, relying on the regime for access to documents, the equivalent, as he points out, of writing a biography of Hitler using materials provided by his co-conspirators. This myopia is particularly highlighted in their praise of Che's guerilla skills, an almost laughable assertion, if anything about a mass murderer can be said to be comic.

The single biggest impression I took away from the book was the absolute carnage which took place in Cuba. I remember as a child seeing pictures of firing squads, and I learned the word paredon early on, but I confess I did not know the extent. Fontova lends immediacy to events. In addition to the numbers, he puts names and faces on the victims, recounts telling stories of the regime's treatment of the families. Pubescent boys, pregnant women, and countless men are taken to the wall where Che can observe the executions from his window with a view. A miliciano asks whether a woman is the wife of so and so and, hearing the affirmative, dumps a body at her feet, saying "There's your husband." And these are just some of the incidents he recounts.

I think that it was Churchill who said "history is written by the victors." Well, in this book Fontova argues for the truth and makes it that much harder for the elite establishment to ignore the reality of Che. Read it.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Invasion 2008

The 1957 or so "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" has spawned whole generations of imitators, among them my favorite series, cancelled, wail, wail, rent clothing. I never, however, expected to see it happening among the ranks of my favorite bloggers. At least two people, whom I respect, have recently heaped encomiums on Obama. I have two choices here: I can assume they've become pod people, Obamasans, or I can think about their words. Okay, so I try to be rational...

won't work.

I am a child of the sixties, whether I like it or not, that means I am a late boomer by birth and a cynic by avocation. I cannot help but look behind the sweetness and light of this Kennedyesque phenomenon and ask where's the rub. First, I think to myself, look what happened with Kennedy, who to my mind is the person most responsible for the combined misery of the Cuban people for the past five decades, after fifo, of course. But that's not fair. Obama is Obama. At this point, he doesn't even have much of a record I can judge. Given the record of some, that's not a bad thing. Although there is that clip showing him decrying the embargo. He is now for it. I can find it in myself to be charitable and figure now that he's running for president, he's learned more about the situation; I can put aside the suspicion that he's pandering for Cuban American votes.

Okay, debate performances.....that's where he lost me. There was an incredible naiveté in his response that he would sit down with some of the worst oppressors in the world, as if they were going to see the light, and we would all end up singing kumbaya. Okay, okay, maybe I half think it wouldn't hurt to make nice noises as long as we hold fast to our principles. And what does he want to do about Iraq? We say "Oops! shouldn'ta done that. We invaded your country, caused huge bloodshed, promised to establish democracy, lost countless beautiful American lives, and now we're going home because we can better use the money to fund healthcare for the children of people who make $81,000 dollars a year. Besides, when we leave the terrorists will be so grateful to us for leaving that they won't turn their attention to killing us in the homeland. So Sayonara, better luck next time. Iran, hope you appreciate our leaving the spoils for you."

I can reach out to my brethren, this much, Obama in a Reaganesque way reaches out, transcends the nitty gritty of policy differences. In short, he has the personality and charisma of a leader But is this really a time and place when we want to take a chance? On the job training doesn't seem to work too well in the White House. I may be wrong; I've been known to be before. I hope I am. I just can't get past the feeling that in Obama you're buying a pig in a poke. And I'd kinda like to know what's in there.

Assimilation and the Super Bowl

As a child, there were many things that made me feel different from my neighbors and friends. We didn't really celebrate Thanksgiving. No turkey at my house. We celebrated Christmas Eve; everyone else celebrated Christmas Day. St. Patricks Day was irrelevant in my home, marked only by the foul smell of boiling cabbage in the apartment building hallways. How I wanted to be Irish on that day, so I could wear a "Kiss me, I'm Irish" button.

As I grew up, we became more Americanized. We went to turkey with rice and beans and then to the more traditional menu. And I was thrilled about ten years ago to be invited to a St. Patty's Day party. It was pretty disappointing. Funny thing was that in the interim I had grown up and the impetus to be like everyone else was no longer there.

All of this is prelude to my adventures yesterday. My father, like any good Cuban, was a baseball fanatic. For a long time, I was an only child. So, dressed in my stadium wear of tan Wranglers and a striped pullover, I would dutifully tag along with him to games. I loved the sun bearing down on us, the noise, the guys yelling "Throw the bum out!" or "Beah Heah! Get your beah heah!" And then the foam tops of the cups splashing over when they came to give my Dad his. Each type of vendor had his own little song. And we ate one from each. Then even more exciting, I got to watch Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford.

What we never ever did was go to a football game. As he became more successful, companies would give him free tickets to the Giants. We'd have to scramble to give them away. Later I married a European who didn't follow American sports. When my daughter went to BC and became a raving Eagles fan, it was an Alex Keaton moment at my household. Aside from the Olympics and the World Cup, we don't watch it. It's a great source of embarassment when I play Trivial Pursuit, I assure you.

But every year during Super Bowl Week, I secretly envied all those parties. So I was tickled to get a phone call out of the blue inviting me to a one. The conversation went like this.

"Well, I replied, we don't really do football."

"Ah come on, we'll have a talking room,too. My wife only likes the commercials."

These are people whose company I enjoy, so I thought what the heck. My only concern was that I didn't want to sit through a whole football game, which to me has all the interest of a physics lecture. The upshot of all this was that I attended my first Super Bowl Party, watched my first full football game, and got quite an education. Half the fun of these things, I discovered, is watching the reaction of the other party goers. The game, I admit, wasn't half bad. Think I'll do it again, next year.

You Go, Boy!

Good article about the disenssion in the Republican Party at the moment by Fred Barnes. Best quote apropos of what's going on:

Bringing conservatives on board won't be easy for McCain. (Nor would uniting Republicans of all stripes be easy for Mitt Romney, should he upset the McCain bandwagon and win the nomination.) Republicans are in a sour mood, especially the talk-radio mafia that regards McCain as anything but a reliable conservative. (They harbor qualms about Romney, too.)

An Endorsement of Sorts

I ran into an article by Walid Phares. I make it a point to listen to him because he's one of those "experts" on terrorism. Interestingly enough, however, this article was essentially an endorsement. The beginning is a little hard to follow, but I'll grossly oversimplify the whole thing by saying that the Dems have the wrong idea. His view of what awaits us in terms of the expansion and intensification of terrorism is chilling, and he finds their positions short-sighted. The Republicans at least recognize the problem must be addressed.

His endorsement:

Hence, as is, I have recommended Governor Romney for the Republican Primaries as first among equals while considering Senator McCain as a genuine leader. If Romney is selected I believe America may have a chance to try new strategies. If his contender is selected, we will have four or eight more years of the past seven years. On the other side, I have suggested to counter-Terrorism experts to help Democratic candidates restructure their agendas on national security in line with the reality of the enemy: For I would like to see both Parties presenting a united vision of the threat while differing on how to confront it. That would be the ideal situation America can be in and a response to the deepest will of the American public.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Literary Interlude: Ulysees by Tennyson

I know, I know, another classic. It's just that I like them so much, and I don't have to worry about offending anyone. Besides, I love the collision between the spirit and the aging body in this one.

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: all times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vexed the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honoured of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers;
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breath were life. Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this grey spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle —
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and through soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:

There gloom the dark broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me —
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads — you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield

Alfred Lord Tennyson

Super Sunday Morning

Halftime...How about one in keeping with this week's poem? From Reuters, a study that finds middle age is really depressing. Prime time for the midlife doldrums: the forties. Good news is that it gets better. Read it and weep.

Post Game Analysis...We are indebted to the Russians for this analysis of the State of the Union Address. They noted a more realistic and less grandiose tone to the Prez's remarks. Wonder if we'll get a similar entry describing the increasingly militant tone of Putin's commentary?

Field Goal...A fun take on "open-minded" liberals from Larry Elder with the ring of truth. Bet you didn't know Bush orchestrated 9/11 to get black people. Real barber shop analysis here.

The Huddle...Ever wanted to be a fly on the wall at the Clinton household? Confess. Monica Crowley takes us there in her imagined phone conversations between the Clintons. Hilarious.
Maybe, it's a woman thing.

Foul...I always like to enlighten as well as entertain, so I leave you with this article listing the worst things to say at work. They forgot the old stalwart, "ees not my yob, man." I've heard that one many a time.

Disclaimer: despite having studied it in gym class at my all girls high school, I speak football as a second language. I hope I got the terminology right.