Saturday, March 15, 2008

Literary Interlude: Constantly Risking Absurdity

I was excited to learn that there's going to be a 50th anniversary edition of Coney Island of the Mind by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. It boggles the mind to think he published the volume before I was born and it still speaks to us. When I went hunting for one of my favorite poems.... I lost my copy of the book when I lent it to one of my students. That'll learn me. Anyway, it's solidly in the middle of the top 500 poems requested on the poetry website. I know that this is not the originial structure, which is a shame, because it is more important here than most. Guess I'll be buying another copy.

Constantly Risking Absurdity

Constantly risking absurdity

and death

whenever he performs

above the heads

of his audience

the poet like an acrobat

climbs on rime

to a high wire of his own making

and balancing on eyebeams

above a sea of faces

paces his way

to the other side of the day

performing entrachats

and sleight-of-foot tricks

and other high theatrics

and all without mistaking

any thing

for what it may not be

For he's the super realist

who must perforce perceive

taut truth

before the taking of each stance or step

in his supposed advance

toward that still higher perch

where Beauty stands and waits

with gravity

to start her death-defying leap

And he

a little charleychaplin man

who may or may not catch

her fair eternal form

spreadeagled in the empty air

of existence

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of ... Toilet Paper

Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa, is trying to push through a bill through the Florida legislature requiring that rest rooms have toilet paper in the stalls. Now, I am as fond of toilet paper as the next person, having endured the medicated wax paper of London and the wrinkly crepe paper of Italy, but I have my doubts as to whether this is an arena into which the government should be intruding. Was a time, Florida was the last frontier. But I shouldn't be surprised. Nowadays, we are the only state with a constitutional amendment concerning the treatment of pregnant pigs. I kid you not.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Show me the Money!

I'm assailed today by headlines in the MSM. In the New York Times, it's "Cuba: Finally, Something to Buy." AFP's reads "Cuba eyes reforms; due to free up computer sales." I don't mean to be a party pooper or anything, or an aguafiesta, but the celebratory tone of the reports is a bit premature. The cost of a computer in a state store, the only legal place to buy it, is the equivalent of paying $350,000 here. So, finally, there may be something to buy, but alas, there is nothing to buy it with....

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Last Place on Earth

I think it was Mastercard that had that commercial with "the last place on Earth." I was surprised that there is a Cuban restaurant on James Island in Charleston, although I'll have to reserve judgement until I pass through again. For all I know they serve Che burgers. My friend from Mississippi informs me that in the South the ethnicity of the restaurant doesn't necessarily reflect the ethnicity of the the restaurateur. In his town the Chinese restaurant is run by a Vietnamese family, and the Japanese by a Chinese one.

Anyway, the information called to mind some unlikely places I've seen Cubiches practicing their culinary arts. In the heart of the Everglades, and I don't even mean Everglades city, even beyond there, in a little place called Chokoloskee, amidst a thicket of rusting and spiffy RV's, there is a little building on the road. About a quarter of it is a 70's wood-paneled post office; the other portion.... You guessed it a Cuban restaurant. Oh, and they don't take Master Card. In fact they don't take any cards, so you have to go back to Everglades City where the only cash machine is in the local convenience store. And if you don't feel like driving back, there's a great buffet at Captains Table in the old railroad station.

Side note: This area serves as the setting for Peter Matthiesson's Killing Mr. Watson, one of a trilogy of novels. My absolute favorite is Lost Man's River, although it's not a universal reaction to the book. I'll console myself with what the author told me as I importuned him to sign a copy for the ingrate who spurned my book, "I'm pleasantly surprised. It's my favorite, but it's the least accessible of the three." See, I have taste. The books are loosely based on historical events. That's all I'll say because I don't want to give anything away.

The Culture Follies

An art exhibition and a film festival add to the innumerable cultural venues that reflect the unfortunate fascination with all things Cuban. It is a misfortune for ordinary Cubans, because the interest never seems to extend to the oppression which colors their lives. It gets to be a dance, vetting events, sponsors, content, etc…

The Havana Film Festival New York runs from April 11-17, 2008. The name is something of a misnomer, since it “celebrates” Latin American cinema. So question, why the Havana? Why can’t it be the Quito Film Festival New York? Kvetching aside, it is a “project” of the American Friends of the Ludwig Foundation of Cuba, one of those “building cultural bridges” organizations, giving me more than a few reservations. The opening night film is La Noche de los Inocentes / The Innocent’s Night, a film by Cuban filmmaker Arturo Soto. The festival is also bestowing tribute on a variety of island film types- the director of Strawberry and Chocolate, the greatest actor in all of Cuba, yada yada yada. Go at your own risk. More details here.

Feeling left out of all of these multi ethnic events, Charleston is holding the First Charleston International Arts Festival with a concentration on Cuba starting today. If there’s ever a city that doesn’t bring Cuban to mind, it’s Charleston. Love the city; love the barbecue, but Cuban? So it is with trepidation that I read

"The objective of the exhibition is to present living artists from Cuba and the hardships that they have to overcome on a daily basis in order to create their masterpieces, from making their own paper to preserving traditional values of the nation such as Santeria. Santeria, a Westernized interpretation of ancient Yoruban tribal practices, is reflected in several works that will be presented at the exhibition

Now really Santeria as a “value of the nation”? I don’t mean to be a stickler here, but as far as I now, it was a religion for a few and a quasi avocation for many, many more. This is the best they can do? And then there’s this:

“The second part of the festival will take place April 6 at El Bohio Cuban restaurant… with a movie premiere of "Sipping Jetstreams" and a Cuban fiesta.

Is a fiesta different from a party? Oh yeah, it must be the Mexican hats.

Before I get any sillier, here’s the article. And here is the website for the festival. You gotta go “Beyond the Door” where you’ll not only “enjoy” the gullibility of the curator, but you’ll also find Sandra Levinson. Think I’ll link directly there. Ah, the plot thickens.

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm getting tired of these get to know the natives events.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Rebellious Youth

Not the official government magazine by that same title, but the real young people on the streets of Havana. It's a withering portrait of the failure of the revolution, the support for which seems to be inversely proportional to the distance from the island.

Here's a priceless quote from the article in New American Media by Louis E.V. Nevaer.

But beyond all schemes, Cuban youth seemed adamantly anti-Castro. One would have thought that a million “Young Pioneers,” as school-age Communists are called, would have assembled at the Plaza of the Revolution to thank Fidel for his half a century of service to the fatherland. Yet, there was nothing, and apart from government offices, there were no portraits of Fidel to be seen anywhere. The only one visible for miles, hanging in a window near the intersection of Emperador and Aguacate streets in Old Havana, was derided by a group of teenage boys, dressed in their school uniforms.

“Look! The old man!” one says, and all they broke out in laughter. Then they chanted mockingly, “Fidel! Fidel! Fidel!”

Gloating aside, their lives come across as dismal, unless they belong to the priveleged class. Read the rest here. Don't get too excited, though, because this is yet another generation of disaffected youth. Nothing changes.

H/T Penultimos Días

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Must Read: "Standing Up for a Free Cuba"

Ziva has a great post on Babalublog on a published statement by a variety of Eastern European and European luminaries. Read it, if you haven't. Even under optimum circumstances, their solidarity is moving. But at the present moment... when every institution seems hell bent on getting in bed with the regime, when the media clamors for lifting the embargo, for granting legitimacy to the usurpers who enslave our people, when the Cuban people stand nearly friendless, it is a gift beyond price.

What's That Sound?

Listen carefully. You can almost hear it, that sound of bubbles rising. A European diplomat weeks ago described the mood of the Cuban people as being like a pot about to boil: there's a bubble here and a bubble there 'til it reaches the tipping point. Now I'm not anywhere near celebrating, but just reading through the reports coming from Cuba tonight was eye-opening.

Report after report features a title that begins with "Denunciation from." And the tone is about the harshest I have seen. Oswaldo Yanez, one of my favorite independent journalists- the one who dates his dispatches in the year of the imminent liberation of Cuba- was particularly cutting. In response to the latest desperate ploy on the part of the slavemasters, that the internet is restricted because of the American embargo, he writes-

...the length of the hypocrisy is directly proportional to the thousands of miles of submerged cable that Ramirito has ordered to connect the archipelago with Venezuela, a project that could be left unfinished before the road of no return that the red gorilla has taken since the loss of the referendum.

Not that it would matter anyway, he argues, as they are inagurating a new cable and ordinary Cubans, as usual, will have no access.

He reserves some of his harshest criticism for the international community:

The castristas continue to dupe the international community, maintaining the posture that they respect human rights and that there will shortly be changes; they have already fooled the Vatican and the representative of the European Union. I in my innocence thought that it would take more that a turn around the park to convince the Belgian diplomat, but again I was mistaken. For his emminence, a televised mass and empty promises sufficed.

The poor fellow cannot understand why the peregrinations of the "Bolivarian lunatic" get more media coverage than the farcial hearing and unjust imprisonment of Juan Bermúdez Toranzo. He's heard that we have been disheartened by recent events but urges that now more than ever our voices are needed.

Before the whole world, we should all clamor for the release of the unjustly jailed; we should forcefully declare that it is enough of tyranny, call out with a single voice that the change can no longer be stopped-together and supporting each other in the labor of liberating our patria.

May God watch over him and all the facing down the engines of repression and crying "Basta Ya!"

(The article in Spanish here. There are other articles, equally mordant, some coming from veterans of the "Black Spring" here. Bad translations mine.)

Monday, March 10, 2008

No, Che Was Not a Hero

Today, I came across on Babalublog an email from a mother who was beside herself because her daughter’s head was being turned by a leftist teacher who idolizes Che. Well, mi hijita, I know all about Che, and Che was no hero.

Heroes are warriors, not murderers. They fight for their people; they don’t kill unarmed men, women and children who disagree with them. They kill in battle those who take up arms against them, not systematic execution in cold blood. They glory in victory, not in blood lust. Most importantly, heroes are stand for an ideal.

Who was this Che you so admire? He was an Argentinean adventurer, a child of privilege. He was not even Cuban, but he saw fit to impose his brutality and alien ideology on a foreign country. He was not even particularly brave. His one famed “battle,” the one with the armored train, was a set up, the army having been bribed. Even on his final adventure in Bolivia, what was his response when captured? “I’m Che. I’m worth more to you alive than dead.”

Your Che was bloodthirsty, presiding over the Cabaña prison where he earned the epithet of “Carnicero,” or “butcher.” He did not believe in fair trials, describing them as an outdated middle class notion. He had many, many people executed. Less than two hundred people were killed during the revolution. Afterwards, Che bears the responsibility for the deaths of near four thousand people. The regime he helped put in place, nearly two hundred thousand.

Che was a sadist. He found the deaths he ordered amusing, at times writing “give him an aspirin” as code for “execute him.” Not content to merely order the executions, he had a special window put into his office, so he could watch them. Ask yourself, why? One day, a mother came to plead for her young son’s life. Che’s response while the mother sat in front of him? He picked up the phone and ordered the immediate execution of the young his mother wouldn’t worry anymore. And who were the people being executed? They included two pregnant women and hundreds, if not thousands, of young boys. You have to ask yourself why those young men, facing the fusillade of bullets, screamed out at the last, “Viva, Cristo Rey!” It is because they were staring down the barrel at the face of evil. And the face was that of your idol.

Your Che was a racist and a hypocrite. He whose face adorns the chest of the likes of Mike Tyson considered blacks “lazy;” South American peasants “animals;” and Mexicans “illiterate Indians.” The great “liberator” created the first concentration camp in Cuba. The defender of the poor expropriated for himself and took residency in one of the most luxurious homes in Cuba after the revolution, complete with one of the first large screen TVs. The great equalizer died with a Rolex on his wrist, one which the Cuban exile who witnessed his execution wears to this day.

The regime he helped install has lowered the standard of living for all Cubans, lead the entire nation backward, created of the island a prison where it is illegal to voice opinions contrary to the government’s, for more than three Cubans to gather, for Cubans to go to tourist hotels and beaches, to speak to foreigners. It is a regime which imprisons anyone with the audacity to ask for freedom, convicting, when they bother with any pretense of jurisprudence, people of "precriminal dangerousness." It is a cynical regime that touts its advances in health care and literacy, while ordinary citizens suffer from lack of the very basics, even aspirin; at the same time the country they inherited had the highest literacy rate of Central and South America, where now seventeen year olds “teach” in classrooms and where indoctrination is the main subject.

No, I don’t need anyone to tell me about Che. Heroes are measured in character and deeds. Che qualifies for neither. His philosophy was about shedding blood, taking from others. Can one of his defenders point out his beneficence, some good deeds? An occasion when he gave or created? Good question. And in that answer lies the truth about Che. There are many misguided people who will try to tell you differently, but ask them for the facts, not the old fictions about what Cuba was like, but true facts and figures. Ask what specific actions did Che take that made him heroic? Then you will see that your parents and grandparents, crazy as they may seem on the topic, are the ones telling the truth.

Yet Another Embargo Lifter and A Question

This one a representative from Minnesota, according to this report. Rep. Phyllis Kahn, a Democrat from Minneapolis has written congress, hoping to get "momentum" in the move to lift the embargo. Another Minnesotan politico, Keith Ellison, another Democrat, shares in the anti-embargo sentiment.

Well, I for one, have had it and have been thinking of how to strike back. Personally, if I can in any way identify the products that come from those places with officials whose greed outstrips their ragged morality, I will not buy them. For instance, if growers in Idaho agitate for the lifting of restrictions, I will not buy Idaho potatoes. It becomes difficult with the Dakotas, but I'll find a way.

Now they won't feel it, if I stop buying, but what if our entire population boycotted? Our numbers are small, but we are concentrated in certain areas. Would they feel it?

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Sunday Preps

In the Pink. On the obligatory election front, Star Parker asks why education has not been raised in the current campaign as part of the workers' problems everyone is so concerned about. Well, Star, the current campaign is not about what you can do for yourself but rather what can be done for you. Read it here.

On the Money. Regarding the present political discussion, "media expert" and Hillary supporter cries foul over the coverage bestowed on Obama. And in the TMI department, in the halcyon days of my youth I possessed a very flattering French cut T with "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore" on it. Ah, life. Figure out the connection here.

From the Divine. In the alarmist coverage of natural phenomenon, we have the headline on this press release from the University of Sydney. Yes, folks, the death star could be nigh. Oh, no, gamma rays! Read the whole thing. It's actually quite interesting. And if you want to see the menace, go here.

To the Sublime. Michael McFaul has an incisive analysis of Putin's legacy in Newsweek. And with the added information from news reports that workers were pressured to vote openly in their workplaces, a certain parallel comes to mind.

In the End. Seems Reuters only recently discovered Cuba is no shopper's paradise. I've been holding on to this one for a few weeks. And I'm sure Belka Martinez never said, "we have knickers." I'll bet on it. Read it here.