Saturday, May 10, 2008

More on the EcoEthanol Follies

Here's a particularly interesting take on the situation by the author of The Really Inconvenient Truths: Seven Environmental Catastrophes Liberals Don’t Want You to Know About — Because They Helped Cause Them, Iain Murray, as well as some interesting commentary.

My favorite quote:

Yet somehow, green is still good. There is a zeitgeist about green environmentalism that has gripped us like some form of mass hysteria so that we cannot see the very real harm it is causing. Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that firms were ceasing to see any benefit from their green advertising and were now counting it as a cost of doing business. The green emperor not only has no clothes, he is oppressing the poor and burning the forests. It’s time for an anti-green revolution.

Of Petty Tyrannies

My preferred method of travel is driving, but yesterday I found myself flying out to LA. Because Sarasota is off the beaten track, so to speak, I no longer fly directly to any destination. Since I was heading out to LA, this was a good thing.

Actually I don't fly anymore if I can avoid it, just as I will never again darken Disney World's doorstep. Many entities in the name of public health and political correctness have made the decision that it is okay to torture and inconvenience nicotine addicts like myself who have very little recourse but to submit. My absolute nightmare is being stuck on the tarmac for eight hours. I literally think I would get myself arrested. I don't wish to hurt or inconvenience others, but some consideration for approximately a quarter of the population- that's more than any minority group- would be nice. How about a sealed off area somewhere? What the greatly virtuous and inordinately "holier-than-thou" crowd miss is the horribly addictive nature of smoking.

So when, it comes to flying, if you add the airport wait time to the five hours it takes to fly out, Atlanta, which has a smokers' lounge, sounds just fine to me. Alas, my first flight was late, leaving me but fifteen minutes to cross the entire length of the airport. As it was, I was literally the last person on the connecting flight to LA. So I get on the airplane after about three hours of abstinence. By the end of the flight five hours later (we got delayed a bit), I was ready to cry or kill someone.

But then that's just the general backdrop of my trip. Being something less than a dinosaur, maybe a mammoth, when it comes to technology, I booked my flight online. I didn't choose seats because I figured I didn't much care. Mistake. I check in at the Delta counter where everyone else is getting boarding passes, and I get a "request for a seat." Okay, so I don't freak, yet. They'll do it at the gate when I check in there. But when I get to the gate, they're starting to board and the guy at the counter waves the unfortunates off with "I'm working on it."

Now I'm a bit annoyed. I book my ticket months ahead of time, and here I am lumped together with the standby supplicants. You know there's going to be no room in the overhead bin by the time I get on. And, as a veteran of Sunjet, I 'm a bit suspicious that they're going to say, "Oops, no more room." So I very mildly explain my concerns to the aforementioned guy, who looks like the actor with the once shaved head on the Las Vegas franchise of CSI. Oh, he tells me "Zone 1 is just for frequent fliers." Well, 1 was followed by Zone 2, and 3 and 4. When I get my boarding pass, I'm magically Zone 9. By the time it was announced, there were three of us left. I did not complain or cause a scene, because when it comes to flying, we do not enjoy many of our rights as American citizens.

So as I sat in the middle between two rather beefy fellows, one of whom had little familiarity with a bar of soap judging from the effluent he was giving off, I had to smile. I'm sure the guy who looks like the actor with the once shaved head really enjoyed that brief momentary exercise of power in what must be a pretty thankless occupation. As for me, my smokeless day was shot anyway. Thank you, Delta Airlines.

Y,Oh, Y!

Here's a brief and entertaining bit on Miscelaneas by José Manuel Caraballo Bravo from down Cuba way, a rumination on the decided aversion to all things y on the part of the Havana "Commission." Let me share the conclusion of his commentary-

Up to [now] the brief comments of a totalitarian government who is allergic to the "Yahoo", "Yankees", "Young people", "Yuletide", and the "Generation Y created by Yoani". If you'd like more information try to ask someone from the government for the reason; but be careful because WHY ends in a "Y".

Read it here. It's in English.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

What They Don't See

What would a week be without at least one "in the know" report about Cuba from some tourist type? Most of them are rich in dramatic irony. Try this one:

Taxis are dirt cheap. You can go anywhere for a few bucks; better still hire a driver who can speak a little English who’ll drive you all over town for the night for $20.

My taxi-driver, Claudio, was a doctor moonlighting in his battered Soviet-era Lada. He drove me out to see DJoy play ear-blistering house music at the Jardins de la Tropical (Avenida 41, Playa), another terrific outdoor venue under a cover of giant banyan trees. Back in the day the Jardins was the place for couples dressed in all their finery to dance salsa, but on this night strobe lights were bouncing off the palm trees and trendy young things were happily waving their arms in the air.

How many doctors in any country are forced to moonlight as cabbies? Or is it a taxi fetish on the part of the medical professional? Does this erstwhile traveler even stop to think? No, he is bent on his own pleasure, on demonstrating his "cool" credentials.

There's more here.

Enter the Greek Chorus

More and more is starting to appear in reference to the ethanol boondoggle. Even Mr. Obama has commented. Here's one via Townhall. An inconvenient truth, indeed. The cyclone in Myanmar doesn't help the situation either.

Reaction to Yoani's Absence at the Awards Ceremony

Thanks to El Pais, we have some of the commentary.

Yoani (in a telephone interview): Nothing I have written in my blog is as pointed as my absence from the ceremony.

Sanjuana Martínez, Mexican winner of the prize for investigative reporting: I would like to send out a greeting to Yoani, whose absence is a symbol, no more no less, that there are no changes. In Cuba you can buy electrical appliances and cell phones, but there is no free press.

Gervasio Sánchez, winner of the prize for photography: The prohibition creates a greater media impact and has negative repercussions for the image of Cuba.

There's more, but my powers of translation fail me. Some even questioned Spain's policies toward Cuba.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

No Prize for You!

Not surprisingly the Cuban regime has tacitly denied Yoani Sanchez's application to leave the country by deciding not to decide. Of course, Yoani will not be able to receive the "Ortega y Gasset Prize" in electronic journalism, a prestigious award granted by the Spanish newspaper El Pais being handed out today, in person. Yoani's blog, Generacion Y, has propelled her to well-deserved fame as she posts on her life in Cuba.

This was a no-win situation for the Havana Dons, as allowing her to accept the prize would highlight the conditions in Cuba. Refusing to let her go, on the other hand, emphasizes the repression of speech. 6 of 1, half dozen of the other. True to form, they chose the nastier option.

One consolation is that Ernesto of Penultimos Dias was asked to accept it in her stead. He has posted a moving open letter to Yoani. It's in Spanish. If Yoani can't be there, I can think of no better representative. El año que viene in la Habana.

Stories in English here and here.

Summer Reading

This summer promises books from some of my favorite authors. So my fellow bibliophiles, here are the highlights of the summer reading list:

Legally Dead by Edna Buchanan due out in August.

Swan Peak by James Lee Burke in July. It's a Dave Robicheaux novel, and I love Robicheaux.

The Broken Window by Jeffrey Deaver in June. It's the eighth book featuring Lincoln Rhyme, this time with a cyber twist.

The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston of Relic et al fame in June. This one is a true life story of his hunt for a serial killer in Florence, Italy. It sounds like a strange story.

An Advancement of Learning by Reginald Hill out in April. It's not one of the Pascoe novels, but rather number two in a series where I missed one, but I'll give it a try. There's nothing like a refined British mystery with a glass of vino on a Friday afternoon.

Vineyard Chill by Phillip R Craig due out in June. This is a sad one. It's the final Martha's Vineyard mystery because Mr. Craig died after its completion. These were always light whodunits.

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith out now. This is one of those titles the library purchases two of and then you're on a waiting list forever. Could be because Barnes & Noble highlighted it. Last one was the Davinci Code. Anyway, sounds like a distant cousin of Gorky Park: serial killer in Stalinist Russia, official dissembling, suspense. Speaking of which, if you haven't already read Stalin's Ghost by Martin Cruz Smith you might want to do it. It doesn't disappoint.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

As The Worm Turns

It warms the cockles of my heart to see the list of truth tellers grow. Who'da thunk it? This week, we add The Miami Herald, not known for being particularly fond of their own Miami Cubans. How's this for an editorial?
Cuba's leader tells another whopper
As a practical matter, it is impossible for this or any other newspaper to set the record straight every time the Cuban government tells a whopper. Orchestrating lies is the specialty of police states. Anyone who has ever listened to Radio Havana or watched a Cuban TV ''news'' program knows that Cuban leaders lie to their own people and lie to the outside world. They even lie to each other. But sometimes the lie is so blatant, so malign, so far removed from the painful reality of life in Cuba that it must be refuted, for the sake of common decency if nothing else.

That's the case with Raúl Castro's recent claim that there has not been ''one sole case of torture'' in Cuba. Even by Cuba's standards, this is an astonishing falsehood, a lie of such outsized proportions that even Raúl Castro should have been ashamed to utter it. But since he was speaking before the National Assembly, where slavish agreement is the only acceptable response to the leader's declarations, it doubtless went down like a smooth cafecito.

The truth, of course, is that torture and the humiliation of government opponents is a way of life in Cuba. The abusive legal and institutional mechanisms of the state deprive the people of Cuba of their most basic rights on a daily basis, and that extends to the practice of torture in Cuba's jails for both common criminals and political prisoners
The rest of the editorial here.
H/T Gusano at Babalublog

Oh, No, Not That!

Serbia will be holding parliamentary elections on Sunday. This article casts it as a contest between modernity and nationalism. Interesting to note:

Some Serbian liberal intellectuals fear a nationalist coalition government will turn Serbia into a Balkan Cuba.

"They want to bring back state socialism," said Misa Brkic, a prominent liberal economist. "They will block our joining the European Union and make Serbia a 21st-century Cuba as Cuba was for the Russians in the 1960s in its relations with the United States."

Monday, May 5, 2008

Republican Women for Hillary?

I warned that the C-word would come out of the closet to haunt McCain. Sure enough, it was brought up at a town hall meeting. See Fausta's Blog for the video. I'm telling you, if it's verified, I'm outta that camp.

What a long, strange trip it's been. I started the election cycle with "anybody but Hillary" as my mantra, although I have long admired her strength of character. It's her positions I've always objected to. But compared to Obama who? she is looking decidedly better. Maybe Anne Coulter was on to something, although I thought she was insane at the time. Now I come across this article at the Weekly Standard about how conservatives are coming to grudingly respect her. I tell you the woman is brilliant.

Who knows? If Obama doesn't finish her off quickly, we may yet see Republican Women for Hillary.

Another Perspective on Kosovo: Charles Simic

I was looking for the Mathiessen article I had read in the Digest, when I stumbled upon this by Charles Simic. Now Simic happens to be one of the few contemporary poets I like, and the hubster being originally from the former Yugoslavia meaning I've done my fair share of reading about the situation, particularly West's two volume epic, so I have to read Simic.

As I read the article, I say to myself- Simic has to be from Serbia. Now it's a novel viewpoint for me because between the Slovenski/Croatian orientation of the family and the atrocities Serbs perpetrated in the name of the "Greater Serbia," not to mention a horrible Serb in-law, I don't have a particularly good opinion of the place. Still, Simic presents a fairly complex view of the situation.

Then I go off on a link to a response by a Kosovar which in turn leads to a reply by Simic, and it hits me how similar the give and take to what Cubans go through. The same truths are seen at best through many different lenses. Just thought you'd benefit from seeing some up close info from a part of the world probably even less understood than Cuba.

Random Moments of Grace

I cannot tell you how glorious the weather is here today and has been for a few days. I've got the hot tub warming up. I'm struck by these little moments of grace that crop up unexpectedly.

The other day at work, we were having a discussion on of all things: beans. An older, almost elfin, gentleman who works in the cafe says "I don't like the way you Cubans make red beans." I suspect strongly he's Mexican which of course explains it. But as he continues, "I once spent a year in Cuba with the circus." And I know he's telling the truth, at least I know he once juggled with the circus. He still has that really erect bearing of an acrobat or drill sergeant. "Yes," he says, "in 1953, the best year of my life. I was in my prime then, and the place was a lot of fun."

Or I'm driving home today from Downtown when a man crosses the street in front of me. For a minute, I think he might be the Mexican hobo who frequents the area and makes me crazy because he tarnishes the Anglo impression of Mexicans, all of those I know being hardworking types. The pale blue striped polo co-ordinates with the shorts, but something about him spells "homeless," maybe it's the mochilla over his shoulder. Can his hair have gotten that white, I'm pondering, when I realize it's not him. At that very moment, the gentleman in question stops in midtraverse, looks at me, and winks. Then he turns and proceeds on his way with nary a look behind. Something significant has happened here. Something with no words, no intellect, just grace.

Putting the Sunday Edition to Bed on Monday

No Festival. Seems I'm not the only one lamenting the demise of the festival. It is not often that I agree with an editorial position in the Sarasota Herald Tribune, but this time they're just plain right. There have also been some letter writers. My favorite: this one which recognizes the sad reality of where Sarasota's heading.

No Safety. In a truly sad story, a young woman was raped and beaten while returning a book at the night drop at the Bloomingdale (FL) Regional Library. There is no such thing as safety anymore. Read about the arrest here.

No Shame. Yet another in what has become a tediously long line of articles, this time in the International Herald Tribune, about how younger Cuban Americans are changing voting habits. Again, Joe Garcia pops up like a political rolypoly. If he is correct, it is a case of no harm, no foul. But it occurs to me that if Garcia is soundly trounced, he will have performed a great disservice to Cuban Americans, having fed into that whole mindset about the intransigent elders. Read it here.

Wee Willie. Finally, police, yes, police, in the Congo have arrested thirteen reputed sorcerers for shrinking penises, other people's that is. This is serious stuff as there have been attempted lynchings over the matter. Read all about it here.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Populist Reader

Managed to polish off Anne Perry's Buckingham Palace Gardens and Stuart Wood's Shoot Him if He Runs, as well as a little morsel by Mary Kay Andrews. Seems the theme this week was "how the other half lives." The upshot: Perry's latest entry into the Inspector Pitt series satisfies as usual, although the marked absence of Charlotte Pitt leaves a gap in the proceedings. Set in Buckingham Palace during Victoria's reign, although in her absence, the plot is set in motion with the early morning discovery of a murdered lady of the evening in the Queen's linen closet. Again we have the tensions between the pursuit of justice and the pretensions and snobbery of the upper classes. Perry is always at her finest in conveying the Victorian social milieu. Despite having devolved into being somewhat formulaic, her mysteries have heft, an impression made stronger by comparison to the Stuart Woods novel.

I had forgotten that I had sworn off Stone Barrington novels when I picked this one up. All that slice of upper class life in trendy New York is getting tedious- their hanging out at Elaine's in particular gets my goat. Not that I object to the rich in principle, it's just that there is just the slightest tinge of elitism in there. And then there is the sexual angle. Holly from the Orchard Beach novels reappears in this case and almost spontaneously falls into Barrington's bed. There is no foreplay for the reader. At this point, the most appealing character in the book is the villain. Having highlighted all my objections, I still have to say that it's a fair read for a sunny afternoon, if you were once fond of the Woods' novels, say like my favorite, Chiefs.

Savannah Breeze by Mary Kay Andrews also boasts a wealthy main character, at least initially. In this unabashed piece of fluff, old money Savannah native Bebe Loudermilk-that's pronounced Beh Beh- finds herself fleeced by a smooth talking con man. Left only with a broken-down motel on Tybee, one with a title in question, she sets about picking herself up with the help of an assorted cast of characters. Also with their help, she works her own con and recovers the lost loot. The one thing I found jarring was the switching of perspective in a few chapters. Definitely a girlie beach read.

On a more serious and substantial note, I came across an article in the New York Review of Books on a new/old effort on the part of Peter Matthiessen. I've posted on his Everglades trilogy before, but it seems he has reworked the material into a single 975 page book. I don't know if I'll read it. I still savor the haunting quality of Lost Man's River. Don't want to ruin the taste, if you know what I mean. The article itself by Michael Dirda, as well as the actual history, is fascinating. Read it here.

Finally, a bit of book news. Michael Connelly, a must read if you like crime novels, has edited a book of police stories- The Blue Religion. I actually met him at a reading festival. Here's a link to an interview about the same, courtesy of the National Review Online.