Saturday, March 8, 2008

A Bit of Prose for You

"We live in an unhappy period when the government wants to use its legislative powers to tell us how to lead our live. It wants to tell us what to eat and drink, what to smoke and how we cross the road. Children are not allowed to grow fat and if they do they are snatched from their families and put into a home. If you smoke cigarettes, you won't be treated by the doctor.

'There are plans afoot to turn us into a nation of vegans who drink carrot juice and go on hiking tours to the Lake District. This case is an object lesson in the form of tyranny. It's geared to send a man to prison for eating a slice of pie.

-Horace Rumpole in John Mortimer's latest, Rumpole Misbehaves

Friday, March 7, 2008

There's a Book in There Somewhere

"He brought joy to my mother when he was around," .... "Only my grandmother called him the devil."

-Alina Fernandez on her mother's relationship with Fidel Castro, quoted in an article about her recent visit to a local school by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Reading this brief report reminded me of Havana Dreams: The Story of a Cuban Family written by Wendy Gimbel, who if memory serves is half Cuban herself. It's been nearly ten years since I read it, but I remember its haunting quality. Ostensibly the story of the Revuelta family- Alina, her mother, and her grandmother- it is so much more.

It is a story about Cuba, identity, and the ties that bind. A century or so of Cuban history is intertwined in the lives of these women, placed as they were in the center of the storm. From Doña Natica's immigrant roots to Naty's illicit affair with Castro to the birth of the illegitimate Alina to her defection to her elder sister's decision to repudiate her Cuban heritage, each woman's story revolves around the question of identity. The grandmother sits in the ruins of their once fine house like a Cuban Miss Havisham, a fury continually lashing out at the wayward daughter who brought them so low, the daughter who like many rolled the dice on a dashing young revolutionary and lost. The long suffering Naty is perhaps the most pitiable, having risked all for nothing. The younger generation makes their way to the United States where each chooses a different path. Even the author mulls her own identity.

Yet nothing in the book rings as true as the family dynamics here, as there is nothing more Cuban that the tolerance Naty has for the querulous Natica. One could argue it is an unconscious form of expiation, but whatever the motivation it is more than representative of the iron bonds of the Cuban family. If you missed it when it was first published, read it. There's the added bonus of fifo's love letters at the end.

H/T The Real Cuba

Yes, She Will

Got this in the mail from Human Events. It is witty: it is incisive. Monica Crowley has been on fire lately about the Clintons. How about lesson number 2 from Tuesday's results?

In order to win, she has to club the baby seal to death. And she's willing to do it. Now that she's got a bit of momentum, she must bring him low. She must attack him on every front. She must go negative. Expect more "do you really trust him to answer the red phone at 3am" ads. Expect more "Obama in native dress" photos. Expect to hear more about Tony Rezko -- who just went on trial this week in Chicago for corruption and fraud -- and his association with Obama. Expect to hear more of the fact that he's a Syrian immigrant, who made 26 trips between Damascus and Chicago from 2003 to 2006. Expect to hear additional Arab names associated with Rezko in this web of corruption -- and perhaps in the orbit of Obama.

Crowley keeps this up, and I'm starting a fan club. Read it here.

Who's Been Reading the Cubiches?

I belong to that endangered species, the Bushies. I confess, I like the President. I think he has been misunderestimated and misjudged. He has handled the economy well, shepherding us to a soft landing after the tech bubble. Can we say, Tax Cut? After years of promises, it was President Bush who finally helped seniors with prescriptions. It was the conservative Bush who got "No Child Left Behind" passed. And for all those who complain about "teaching to the test," ask yourselves what is on the tests? Basic skills every American child should have. And Iraq. Iraq was a huge gamble. And it is not lost. Every Al Queda in Iraq member who died is one less in the Western world, plotting. That does not mean that he and his government have not proven incompetent in many ways. That he has left in force wet foot/dry foot.

Now in the twilight of his presidency, he has used his bully pulpit to draw attention to the plight of Cubans, to the injustice with which they live. For this, I will be grateful. I also note that someone on the staff has been reading around the blogosphere. I leave you with this quote from an article about his comments after his meeting today:

The president said the global community has largely remained silent in recent months, even as dozens of young Cubans wearing "change" bracelets were arrested, as Cuban authorities raided a Catholic church to spray parishioners with tear-gas and drag them away. Last weekend, activists distributing copies of the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights were pushed and beaten.

"That same week, Cuba signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights," Bush said. "The international community applauded Cuba for signing a piece of paper — but on the abuses that same week, much of the world was silent."

Bush has renewed his focus on Cuba since Fidel Castro officially stepped down last month after decades ruling the island. Fidel's brother, Raul, took over as president in the ailing leader's place. He had been provisional president since his brother, who led the nation for nearly a half a century, underwent emergency surgery in July 2006.

But Bush said any speculation that the leadership shift would affect U.S. policy toward Cuba "is exactly backward."
"So far, all Cuba has done is replace one dictator with another," the president said. "This is the same system, the same faces, and the same policies that led Cuba to its miseries in the first place."

Thursday, March 6, 2008

An Honorable Man

Nothing is inevitable in America. We are the captains of our fate. We're not a country that prefers nostalgia to optimism; a country that would rather go back than forward. We're the world's leader, and leaders don't pine for the past and dread the future. We make the future better than the past. We don't hide from history. We make history. That, my friends, is the essence of hope in America, hope built on courage, and faith in the values and principles that have made us great. I intend to make my stand on those principles and chart a course for our future greatness, and trust in the judgment of the people I have served all my life. So stand up with me, my friends, stand up and fight for America -- for her strength, her ideals, and her future. The contest begins tonight. It will have its ups and downs. But we will fight every minute of every day to make certain we have a government that is as capable, wise, brave and decent as the great people we serve. That is our responsibility and I will not let you down.

-John McCain in Texas after winning enough delegates to cinch the Republican nomination. Full text at here.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Battered Wife Syndrome

Not too long ago, Humberto Fontova jokingly used this term to describe the press’ relationship to the regime. I was reminded of it when I read this article at the Chicago Tribune website today about the “wait and see” attitude many, inside Cuba and out, are taking to the new face of the same old regime. Despite being pretty wide ranging, there were some golden nuggets, one in particular, hit me: (my boldface)

While some citizens have expressed their displeasure at the slow pace of change, including an exchange between university students and Cuban officials that showed up on YouTube, conversations on the street and U.S. analysts indicate that many suffer from a sort of Castro fatigue, the result of five decades of authoritarian rule that stifles aspirations for change.

So to Battered Wife Syndrome we can now add Castro Fatigue, a real phenomenon. What are the contributing factors? There is the very real physical fear. Even as the ink on those two human rights accords the misgovernment recently signed dried, dissidents were being beaten. Political prisoners convicted of “pre-criminal dangerousness” languished in conditions that make a resort spa of the American prison in Guantanamo. There is also the range of more subtle repercussions, like job loss, loss of rations, the inability of your children to get in certain programs, etc….

Then there is the subsistence anxiety. Like the political progeny of Josef Stalin that they are, the regime has figured out that people who spend their lives trying to acquire enough to eat have little time or energy to worry about abstractions like their rights. Remember Maslow’s triangle? To its credit, this preoccupation with the necessities of daily life is one that the report raises, quoting Martha Beatriz Roque:

"The Cuban people are very tired," Roque said. "The Cuban is worried about the problems that fall on him every day: a missing cord for electricity, a missing pipe for the sink. There isn't enough for anything else."

Of course, this could also be a happy accident of the regime’s mismanagement of the economy.

There’s another factor, though, not mentioned in the article. One can only imagine the effect of being bombarded by propaganda that denies your reality. Up is down; down is up. Bad is good; good is bad. Language loses meaning, and the reference posts human beings normally use to measure what is real are upended.

So is Castro fatigue a mass version of battered wife syndrome? It starts slowly; take away rich people’s belongings, the first slap. Close down a few newspapers, the slap that wasn’t going to happen again. Before you know it, you live in a prison. Little by little, you’ve closed door upon door in your mind. You’ve adjusted, learned to resolver. So intent are you just on surviving, you no longer know how the rest of the world lives. Their experience has no bearing on your reality. In the end, you look like Hedda Nussbaum and don’t even know it.

Something about the Internet

Caught a few episodes of “Download: The True Story of the Internet” on the Discovery Science Channel. Last night’s program, ostensibly about the development of its social networking functions, made the point that the advent of YouTube and its ilk have made inroads into the traditional gatekeepers of media. The narrator fairly beamed as he touted the creativity and the vibrancy to be found on the net.

Yeah, I thought, that’s because it hasn’t ossified yet. Soon you’ll have to be related to Bill Gates or someone to put stuff up. ‘Cause it struck me. Think about it. Books used to be hot. Yeah, yeah, TV, video games, etc…. But when was the last time, you read a good book, not a “good” book, the kind you the Times tells you to read? There are maybe twenty authors out there whose work is enjoyable. Of course, those twenty authors have been writing for twenty years, and it shows. Gatekeepers.

Do you realize that some of our greatest writers just sent their work out to publishers? Try doing that today. Oh, no, you need to have an agent. Well, try getting an agent. They won’t read your stuff either. Years ago, in an experiment, the first chapters of some “classics” were sent to publishers. Nada. Gatekeepers.

The other aspect that has depressed book sales is the depression factor. Why is it that so many of the books published today are about the Millicent’s hangnail and its effect on her interpersonal relationships? Forget about books for teens. Just reading the blurbs on the back is enough to send someone into therapy. Aren’t there any happy teens? Doesn’t anyone grow up in a two parent household without alcoholism, violence, and bulimia? But that’s someone’s idea of good young adult lit. Gatekeepers.

I was watching a program on England’s Royals the other night. There was Anne Liebowitz doing a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. I remembered her explanation of how she started in the photo business, hanging around with the guys from Rolling Stone and taking some pictures for them, that is before they became a real magazine and she became a real photographer. And the likes of David Geffen started out hanging around with less than famous musicians. These same musicians could send DJ’s their demos and actually get airtime, if the DJ liked the stuff. Now you only get airtime if you go through a middle man. In the meantime, music sales are down and were on the way down before napster and itunes, etc… Gatekeepers.

I could go on; the same is true of TV, movies, journalism just about all of the arts. You either go the corporate/academic route or the “my father was a big producer” route. Not so on the internet. Yes, there is chaos, and there are regular joes in their underwear, but there is life, there is talent, and there are no gatekeepers.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Academic Freedom

Yup, there goes another field trip to Cuba. When is a foray into the totalitarian state a true academic exercise and when is it an exercise in propaganda? I need to know nothing else about the trip but the bare bones. Let's see... a group of eight students from the Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worker Education...mmm. Oh well, what are they going to study in Cuba? Ah, the health care and educational system, the twin false successes of the regime. You can bet it's not going to be the health care system that lacks the very basics or the educational system which resorts to putting 17 year olds in front of classrooms. Nope.

I'm afraid I'll have to agree with Rep. Vito Fosella from NY:

"This is going to be used as a propaganda tool for Fidel Castro," Rep. Vito Fossella said yesterday in an interview. "If anything is going to be accomplished of significance, the visitors should ask Fidel Castro when he is going to liberalize the economy, release political prisoners and dissidents, and hold fair elections."

For the story, here.

Here's a Thought

Pero existe una lógica histórica inexorable. Un régimen que confiscó ilegítimamente las propiedades norteamericanas en Cuba, y se pasó al bando comunista en la Guerra Fría, y amenazó con misiles nucleares a Estados Unidos, y ejerció de rampa de lanzamiento del imperialismo soviético en el hemisferio, y ha acogido calurosamente a los prófugos de la justicia estadounidense, y ha presidido la retórica antinorteamericana durante medio siglo, no puede pretender que Washington, nada menos que Washington, le dé respiración asistida.

Un régimen que ha obligado a cerca del veinte por ciento de la población cubana a exilarse -calificándola de “mafia”, “escoria”, “vendepatria” y otras lindezas por el estilo-, no debería sorprenderse de que algunos de esos mismos exiliados, convertidos en políticos y funcionarios del gobierno de los Estados Unidos, aboguen por el endurecimiento de las sanciones. Es como clavarse un cuchillo y esperar que no brote la sangre. Se cosecha lo que se siembra. Debería saberlo Pérez Roque.

Translation (rough):
But there is an inexorable historical logic. A regime that illegally confiscated North American properties in Cuba, which enlisted on the Communist side during the Cold War, and threatened with nuclear missiles the United States, which served as a launching ramp for Soviet imperialism in the hemisphere, and has warmly welcomed American fugitives from justice, can not pretend to the assistance of Washington, Washington, no less.

A regime which has forced close to twenty percent of the population into exile- classifying them as "mafia," "scum," "traitors" and others such like- should not be surprised when some of those very same exiles, converted into politicians and functionaries of the government of the United States, advocate for the stiffening of sanctions. It's like stabbing yourself with a knife and not expecting to gush blood. Your reap what you sow. Perez Roque should know that.

- Armando Añel in a column about the parasitic nature of the Castro regime and it's latest anti-embargo campaign. Read the whole thing in Spanish here.

Monday, March 3, 2008

New Voices and the Same Questions

Predictably the "change" that occurred in Cuba over the weekend (which is no change at all because raul has been said to be governing for over a year and a half) has brought the fidelista apologists and anti-embargo blame the U.S. first crowd out of the woodwork.

But something else happened. A bunch of people also spoke out against the regime that don't normally talk about Cuba. The cartoons I posted below are a testament to the latent sentiments about castro that are out there among everyday Americans.

-Henry Gomez from "Am I Wrong" at Babalublog

No, Henry, you're right. Some of the voices emerging in media reports are those of Americans who spent an appreciable amount of time on the island in the preCastro era, cuando Cuba reia, so to speak. Last week I wrote about one woman's memories and impressions of Cuba, having lived there more than a decade. Then yesterday, I came across this one by Bill Gallo of the Daily News. He originally went to Cuba on his honeymoon. His stories of Cuba involving the stories of Jackie Robinson, Ernest Hemingway and others, are pretty interesting. But after the walk down memory lane, he turns to the present where he has a list of suggestions to raul. I have to reprint the whole thing because I got a kick out of some of them, Cuba in need of a paint job, and because of the last one:

I, along with many Cubans living in Florida, are starting to wonder what, if anything, is going to happen to Cuba now that Fidel has gone to milk the cows.

If I could get to see Raul Castro, Fidel's brother, the man who is supposed to run the country, I would sit him down and say this to him:

Raul, take a good look at Cuba and see how it's in dire need of a paint job. Give it back its beauty.

Tear down that veiled anti-American wall which has existed since 1958.

Let Sloppy Joe's reopen.

Polish the tables and chairs of places such as San Suisi and the Tropicana nightclubs.

Open the doors to Major League Baseball again.

Build gyms with all the necessary equipment so boxing can thrive and perhaps discover a hidden talent who can become a champion.

Give us back the Cuba with all its health, happiness and natural beauty. Give it back to us and the world. Give it a shine, Raul, and you can once again be proud of this land that can offer so much to a free people.

Read the whole column here.

Serendipity and a Small Surprise

So there I was last night, lounging around in front of the TV, watching my third night and umpteenth hour of "Build it Bigger" or "National Geographic Predators" or whatever the current incarnation of their animal program is called, and this was after my second viewing of the "Blue Planet" episode on coral, when I decided it was over. He's been watching TV with me these past few nights and has decided to assert himself. So it's been construction, carnivores, construction, carnivores, ad infinitum.

Me, I like documentaries, but they've been pretty boring lately. And he's not particularly fond of crime programs. Won't really watch "Sensing Murder" and absolutely hates "Monk." After wrestling the remote control away, I'm surfing when I discover "Cold Case." It's one of those programs I discover when they sell their reruns to the channels I troll. There's nothing as calming or reassuring as hitting one of those marathons of "Monk," "Law and Order: Criminal Intent," or one of the CSIs. This week I discovered "Mystery Woman" in the wee hours of the night.

So "Cold Case" is a fairly new discovery, but it's still on network TV. That is the episode I caught last night. The lead detective on the series is a toothsome young woman, but one of these detectives is a very cute young man. A woman calls a young man cute at two points in her life. When she is young, cute is synonymous with hot. Much later, cute becomes a motherly apellation, denoting a pleasant and sweet look.

You can imagine my surprise when in an episode about a young Amish man run amok (not one of their more riveting), the young detective tells the young man about being Cuban, about how his father came to this country at age 15 and also faced an unknown world, how you never really belong. Then he goes into the "Next year in Cuba" toast. It was pretty stilted as it always is when they try to inject the quasi political into these things. Still, for the first time there was a TV show on the side of the angels.

Turns out the young actor, Danny Pino, is one of those Miami Cuban boys made good. I shoulda known. And if you're an IMDB member- it's free- you can read the message boards where everybody knows his mother, brother, cousin, son. It's a pip. Small world.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Sunday Storylines

The Andromeda Strain. In keeping with all those stories that catch my eye about insidious diseases, there's this one about a man fighting meningoencephalitis brought on by a brain-eating amoeba in California. The amoeba which lives in the soil can become airborne. Scary. The story sent me off to do some research about the Roman baths in Bath, England, which were closed down due to a deadly amoeba. Seems to be a different organism, though.

Soylent Green. Here's an interesting story about the inaguaration of a seed vault in Norway. The vault will eventually house 4.5 million samples as part of a project to protect plant diversity from man made and natural disasters. Let's not forget that increasingly the types of seeds planted are pretty uniform. It joins another vault in England which preserves the seeds of wildflowers.

Deep Rising. Just when you thought the Kraken was a myth, you run into this old story about scientists in England revealing mysterious recordings of a very large biological life form in the deep, picked up in 1997 by US spy sensors. Some think it an immense squid, although scientists have pretty valid reasons not to think so. Don't ask me how I just stumbled upon it. Has anyone out there read anything else in the intervening years? Read the original story here.

National Treasure. And here's a story about Nazi gold. Well, it's about treasures, possibly including the famed Amber Room from Russia, seized by the Nazis and buried somewhere. Two treasure hunters are digging in Southeastern Germany for the lost goodies.

The Story of O. This one is for adults only. The "Today Show" informs us that men fake it, too. I kid you not. You have to read it to figure out the mechanics. You can do it here.