Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Cardinal's Mass for the Pharisees

I was born and raised a Catholic, inculcated in the faith by the old style Sisters of Charity with their bonnets and pendulous rosaries and intransigent adherence to the faith. The result of which has been that I have carried around a load of Catholic guilt most of my life. But throughout it all, the Church stood before me holding up an ideal.

It didn’t matter when they themselves fell short of it. I would tell myself, the institution is human; the faith, divine. Even the sexual scandal could not shake my faith. I felt in part that they got their just desserts and in the other I thought the excessive hype was part of a liberal left agenda to effectively silence the church as a moral force on issues where the Church’s stance was inconvenient.

But the behavior of Cardinal Bertone in Cuba crystallized for me in one instant just how far it has strayed from the faith inspired by a poor Nazarene carpenter. I am indebted to Leonard Doyle for his description of the proceedings. See it was the Mass, the Mass for the invited. Left off the guest list for some reason were the Damas de Blanco, or Ladies in White- the wives, the mothers, the relatives of the political prisoners the regime says do not exist. These women attend Mass weekly. The murderers and thieves that make up Cuba’s Mafia were invited, however; they had front row seats.

The ladies were initially denied entry. Then they were forced to stand in the back, a position the Cardinal’s procession somehow avoided. At a point in the Mass when the Cardinal was asking for Cuban reconciliation, they broke into religious song, causing a near fracas with the security people. Did the Cardinal avail himself of that moment to ask even in the gentlest of terms that the government, those very men sitting in front of him in their Italian suits with their trophy wives/dates/whatever, reconsider their treatment of their fellow man? No, after a moment he continued. Bestowing an embrace and a churchly cloak over one of the worst remaining band of cutthroats running a country. Did he stop and say, “I cannot continue, because this sacrifice would not be acceptable to my Lord in these circumstances?” Or did he come off the altar, walk to the back and extend his hand saying, “Come my children. The Lord said that the last will be first.” Did he seat them before the altar, as Jesus would have done?

He did none of these and in his omission rendered a mockery of the most solemn of Catholic rites. I have never been so ashamed of my church.

Read Leonard Doyle’s article here. It is a seldom seen in the media perspicacious view of Cuba as it truly is.

H/T Gusano at Babalublog

Between the Stirrup and the Ground Revisited

Okay, as I recall Graham Greene's character didn't do too well with the repentance part either. El Comandante Caggado has fired back at the world, particularly the United States. So much for my theory. But maybe not. As I see it there are three options. He is an unrepentant SOB. Since he has been just that for most of his life, this is a pretty good probability. The second is that his "reflections" are being penned for him, also a distinct possibility. The stupid humor of "change in the United States," though, sounds very much like the man of old, so I'm less likely to opt for that one. There is, however, there is a third possibillity. For this one, we need another literary parallel. How about Shakespeare?

O, my offence is rank, it smells to heaven;
It hath the primal eldest curse upon't,--
A brother's murder!--Pray can I not,
Though inclination be as sharp as will:
My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent;
And, like a man to double business bound,
I stand in pause where I shall first begin,
And both neglect. What if this cursed hand
Were thicker than itself with brother's blood,--
Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens
To wash it white as snow? Whereto serves mercy
But to confront the visage of offence?
And what's in prayer but this twofold force,--
To be forestalled ere we come to fall,
Or pardon'd being down? Then I'll look up;
My fault is past. But, O, what form of prayer
Can serve my turn? Forgive me my foul murder!--
That cannot be; since I am still possess'd
Of those effects for which I did the murder,--
My crown, mine own ambition, and my queen.
May one be pardon'd and retain the offence?
In the corrupted currents of this world
Offence's gilded hand may shove by justice;
And oft 'tis seen the wicked prize itself
Buys out the law; but 'tis not so above;
There is no shuffling;--there the action lies
In his true nature; and we ourselves compell'd,
Even to the teeth and forehead of our faults,
To give in evidence. What then? what rests?
Try what repentance can: what can it not?
Yet what can it when one cannot repent?
O wretched state! O bosom black as death!
O limed soul, that, struggling to be free,
Art more engag'd! Help, angels! Make assay:
Bow, stubborn knees; and, heart, with strings of steel,
Be soft as sinews of the new-born babe!
All may be well.

Claudius' soliloquy from Hamlet.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Today's Words of Wisdom

He does not retire. Fidel Castro is incapable of retiring, incapable of knowing himself incapable. He was retired a year and a half ago in a palace coup, all of them against the sick animal, just like Stalin retired Lenin, so that he would recover from his illness, very far and very hidden away.

Jaime Leygonier, Independent Journalist, Cuba. Read the rest in Spanish here.

Between the Stirrup and the Ground

Graham Greene used this phrase repeatedly in one of his novels, Brighton Rock, as the promise a perfectly vile character makes to himself to repent at the very last minute of his life, as in between falling off the horse and hitting the dirt.

Speaking of contrition and Catholicism, Killcastro has an interesting post today. Much has been made that Cardinal Bertone, now in Cuba, will not meet with the grave one. Well, he may not meet with him, but the word is that the church has consented to give last rites to the now repentant caudillo. Good thing it's the Cardinal, cuz that boy's gonna need an exorcism.

Perhaps the timing of Pinky Castro's purported change of heart is a tad convenient, but I would not be surprised if there were some truth to the info. Not because I know anything, but because I am blessed with a sometimes too vivid imagination. For a little while now, I have maintained that his present situation, regardless of whatever comforts surround him, is an emotional form of the death of a thousand cuts.

Lo esta pagando. He is paying for it. We may not think it, but remember what a narcissitic, vainglorious, control freak he was. He has got to be suffering mightily at how he has been reduced, even ordinary bodily functions are a humiliation. Why not in those long nights, as he prepares to meet the Almighty, would he not go over his life? And if he has, what would he find? Picture the enormity, the weight of what he has done. If he even acknowledged a part of his guilt..... He may have fooled the world; he may even have fooled himself for a time, although I doubt it, he was always a cynic. He knows.

I do not blame the Church if they provide last rites; that is what they do. "Vengeance is mine," sayeth the Lord, or something to that effect. But from a layperson's perspective, if the coma andante is truly remorseful, he could demonstrate it by taking responsibility. At this point, even he lacks the power to destroy the monster he has created. Who knows if he even resigned voluntarily? But someone as wily as he has always proven himself can find some way to leave word, to admit it like a man.

Whatever the media may say about leaving on his own terms, leaving as a doddering old man, evacuating from three orifices, you can be sure, was never on his wish list. I could almost find it in my heart to feel sorry for him, almost. My head, however, offers no absolution. I will dance metaphorically over his grave, if the old buzzard doesn't outlast me.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Hepatitis A ? That's not suprising!

Seems our ever trendy fashionistas (about 800 of them)got a taste of real life Fidelism when they picked up Hepatitis A at Stings favorite hot spot, Socialista.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Lesson on Probabilities

If I wake up one morning and emerge from my bedroom to find the house ransacked, my silver chest (presuming I had one) empty and the back door open, my automatic reaction would be to think my house had been burglarized. Of course, it is within the realm of possibility that the neighbor's pet monkey had escaped, climbed in through my window and was at the moment probably playing spoons in the back yard. But which is more likely?

I offer this little tidbit to illustrate a point. I was reading along in Time, minding my own business, when I came across "The Raul Castro Era Begins." Ah, I thought, grist for the mill. Padgett, the author, sees the much ballyhooed interrogation of Alarcon by Havana students, particularly one Eliecer Avila, as part of some internecine warfare. In a species of Byzantine reasoning, it was a move orchestrated by Raul to weaken hardliners:

What was most surprising about the interrogation was the fact that Avila got away with it. After initial reports that the young man had been detained for his effrontery, he appeared a week later on another video denying that he was jailed and insisting that his confrontation with Alarcon was meant "to build better socialism and not to destroy it." He added: "What needs to be fixed, what needs to be changed and revised, [we want to] do it within the revolution."

All of which indicates that the youthful outburst
may not have been the spontaneous Havana Spring it was widely billed as, but rather a part of something quietly sanctioned by Cuba's interim President, Raul Castro. Since being tapped by his older brother, Fidel Castro, as the country's provisional leader in the summer of 2006 after Fidel underwent major intestinal surgery, Raul, 76, has pushed a more pragmatic, even reform-minded agenda that has encouraged limited public debate — and, just as important, worked to undermine hard-line fidelistas like Alarcon. The Avila episode was yet another sign of how firmly Raul seems to have consolidated his position — and why he's most likely to succeed his brother as full President this weekend in a National Assembly vote after Fidel officially resigned from the post today. "It wouldn't surprise me if people in Raul's faction leaked those [Avila] tapes out," says Brian Latell, a Cuba expert at the University of Miami and author of After Fidel.

I understand well the temptation to look for the devious underlayment when dealing with the regime, but if the fix was in, someone forgot to tell the young man's mother, who in near hysteria contacted dissidents. Now I ask you, what is more likely that he was hauled in, threatened, and forced to recant on national television or that it was all part of an elaborate Raulian ploy? I know what I think.

Cuban Response: Nothing New Under the Stun

Word of Cuban response to the announcement of castro's resignation is starting to filter in from the island via independent journalists and communiqués from various organizations available on Misceláneas de Cuba.

In his free flowing dispatch, allusively titled "Nothing New Under the Sun," independent journalist, Oswaldo Yáñez who lately prefaces his reports by dating them "in the year of the imminent freedom of all Cubans" remarks that the hullabaloo surrounding the announcement in the world media was in marked contrast to the silence of Cubans themselves. He points out that the evictions in Holguin did not cease, the preparations for the kangaroo court to try a dissident continued, the CDR's maintained their close vigilance, and the prisoners continued languishing in castroite jails. In essence nothing changed.

The same lack of reaction is highlighted by Kallan Poe from La Agencia de Prensa Avileña in a report about response in Morón. Despite mixed reactions to the news, other than a noon time dash to the radio to hear once again the news, the only other response was in the bars at night, where the consensus was "Esto tiene que cambiar" or "This has to change."

The desire for change is a common thread running through the communications. In an editorial, La Agencia de Prensa Avileña, sees it as a moment for pondering, although it calls for a true republic like that envisioned by Marti. Dr. Darsi Ferrer condemns the succession and once more eloquently describes the conditions of ordinary Cubans. Again he calls for anti-regime elements to speak with one voice. He reiterates the need for a united opposition here. Hector Palacios' rhetoric is a bit more conciliatory, but he demands that those in power should work immediately to reform the law to include free speech, free association, and free elections, as well as liberate political prisoners

In sum, most viewed the abdication as a species of farce. Its lack of significance was a common thread running through the communications, as was a cacophony of cries for freedom and surprisingly the open call for democracy.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Reflections on a Resignation

I awoke this morning to the news that fifo had resigned. I reacted the way most Cubans, here and on the island, did, that is it didn't much matter. I can imagine the chagrin of the media types when they got to the Versailles and not much was going on. Sure, the news was on everyone's lips, and a small demonstration had materialized by afternoon, but none of the mass outpouring of crazy Cubans they had counted on. That's because Cubans know that nothing has changed. Cuba remains in chains. Even if Raul's much vaunted gonnabe reforms turn Havana into Beijing au sud, the people will remain enslaved.

Later, though, I couldn't help it. I am Cuban, given to all the passionate excesses in which we are prone to indulge. I felt elated, had a metaphorical bounce in my step. After all, he's in the can at the curb on his way to the dust heap of history. Sure, there would have been a certain satisfaction in seeing him deposed, reviled, tried for crimes against humanity. Heck, I would have settled for drawing and quartering. But the Lord ever works in mysterious ways. If he isn't dead already, resigning probably killed him, narcissist that he has always been- so much so that rather than voluntarily resigning, I can more easily picture his being resigned by those he thought were his faithful minions. In any case, stick a fork in him. He's done, rendered impotent by the one force no dictator, no potentate can defeat. I guess in the end, he couldn't equivocate with the fiend.

My momentary joy was quickly succeeded by fatigue. It has been a long, hard slog: carrying the pain of family and friends, of my people; constantly defending who and what I am; having to instruct everyone I meet because those institutions I should be able to count on to convey truth- the schools, the media- failed me and every Cuban alive and some dead; and in these last years having to witness castroite propaganda bruited as truth by those very entities. And I am one of the fortunate ones, having been born here, never having experienced hunger, misery, or the fear of that knock in the middle of the night.

Whatever the future may hold for Cuba, I find there is a certain satisfaction after all. The handwriting is on the wall for the regime. History will destroy it. As I remember my Macbeth, about another usurper, the night is long that never finds the day.

Quote of the Day

To my dearest compatriots, who have recently honored me so much by electing me a member of the Parliament where so many agreements should be adopted of utmost importance to the destiny of our Revolution, I am saying that I will neither aspire to nor accept, I repeat, I will neither aspire to nor accept the positions of President of the State Council and Commander in Chief.

Fidel Castro in his latest "Reflection" in an essentially meaningless gesture, released in the wee hours of the morning. More later.

H/T Ziva (Blog for Cuba)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Cites and Sounds

As a teacher, it was a yearly rite to have some student miscreant whine in my ear "but I changed the words" when I pointed out that his research paper was rife with plagiarized material. So it shouldn't be surprising to hear a Presidential candidate caught with his hand in someone else's word hoard say "I really don't think this is too big of a deal."

Now plagiarism is sometimes inadvertant. We read or hear something nifty and over time forget the original source and congratulate ourselves on our marvelous turn of phrase. But anyone who sees the side by side video of Deval Patrick and Barack Obama on Babalu would be hard pressed to describe it as anything other than deliberate intellectual piracy. Why describe such a small thing in such dramatic terms? Because it is dishonest. It involves taking someone else's work and presenting it as your own. Because it insults the reader or the audience. The writer or speaker is getting one over on same. Because in a presidential candidate it implies a willingness to cut corners to achieve one's aim, in this case getting to the presidency. Finally it demonstrates an intellectual shoddiness that might not be the best characteristic in a president.

I once saw an acquaintance give his dog a swift kick when he thought no one was looking. It was not a big thing. The dog was not particularly hurt. It didn't even whimper, just made itself scarce. I wasn't about to call the humane society on his owner. But that small gesture spoke volumes about the owner's character. From that day forward, I developed a distaste for this particular acquaintance.

Obama is right about one thing: words do matter, especially when they're not your own.

Literacy and the Future

Howard Gardner had an interesting article in the Washington Post on Sunday about the future of literacy. He argues against the all or nothing view. Books will survive, he posits, but we will wind up with all sorts of what he calls "literacies," including "graphic language." While I'm encouraged that he doesn't see the end of reading, I am also sure that we will never again achieve the ability and depth to appreciate what past generations took for granted. Instead, we are being ushered into a world whose language is increasingly visual and symbolic. Should be interesting.

O My Prophetic Soul!

Recently, I received an email about how Hillary could still finagle her way to the nomination using the superdelegates. I replied that I was thinking about the Florida and Michigan primaries, myself. I could hear the echoes of "every vote counts" in my ears. Well, I ran across this one in the last few days. Harold Ickes, player and advisor to the Hillary campaign, is making noises about how the issue of those two primaries should be revisited. Do we see the beginning of the end game here? Read it.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Sunday Lit

Sense. Of all of the countries of the world, it is the former Eastern bloc countries who seem to "get it" about Cuba. The Czech's and the Poles in particular have proven themselves friends, perhaps because they know what it is to live under the cleverly disguised jackboot. Here's one I missed writing about but which demonstrates the right attitude if you feel you absolutely must vacation in Cuba. "People in Need" is advocating that Czechs going to Cuba bring Spanish language newspapers, magazines, books, etc to combat the information embargo the regime has in place.

Sensibility. If you need any proof that there is an element of mass hysteria to Obama's support, look no further than Drudge, which has a Breitbart about fainting fits at the O man's rallies. Frank Sinatra, the Beatles, Obama? More on the hysteria part, later.

Pride. Actually, more like hubris. Why is it that people who don't know what they're talking, or in this case writing, about feel perfectly at home making pronouncements about US foreign policy? Yeah, Cuba, again. This opinion piece from the University of Virginia's daily, The Cavalier, is a prime example. If you don't know why the embargo was originally put in place, your entire argument is rendered fallacious, or is that fellatious? (Couldn't resist)

Prejudice. Here's the mandatory smoking article. Not content with having banned smoking in pubs, a Brit health advisory panel is recommending a "License to Smoke" for the sum of 10 pounds yearly. It's apparently going to make more people give up smoking. Uh-huh.

Persuasion. How about a quirky little tidbit about Mao Tse Tung. Apparently he proposed to offer Chinese women in trade. Kissinger, surprisingly no slouch in the women department himself, managed to keep a straight face and replied that we'd keep it under consideration. Gee, why didn't fifo think of that? Oh, yeah, he did.