Friday, June 6, 2008

Now About Sarasota

There was a most excellent column in Friday's Herald Tribune by Max Ernst who asks whether we're in a budget crunch or not. The subject is the proposal for a new $70 million dollar stadium to lure the Boston Red Sox for Spring training. As he correctly points out, we lost the Cincinnati
Reds when voters rejected $40 million in improvements.

On the one hand, libraries and parks have been cut. Beach improvements were linked to the charging for parking, an idea so unpopular it was removed from consideration. At the same time, we are contemplating new investments, and my favorite:

County government workers just spent $112,000 on role-playing games to explain why they can't afford to provide services we've come to appreciate.

For some reason, the knee jerk reaction when money gets tight is to cut the front line troops, the people who actually provide services to the community, and who cost the county much less. I was once at a meeting of parks and libraries when a county official, who shall remain nameless, in the course of his/her speech happened to mention that employees made an average of 48 thousand dollars a year. Although I was one of the more fortunate, I looked around the room at the vast bulk of parkies and clerks who made nowhere near that amount and whose expressions were less than friendly as they did some basic math, namely calculating how much the people at the top make when they cause the average to rise to 48 thou. Add that to the amounts spent on consultants, and maybe there are economies to be found. For what it's worth.

About Vertientes

Vertientes as a town came into being with the Central or Sugar Refinery established there in the early 20th century. You can buy a stock certificate to the Vertientes - Camaguey Sugar Company of Cuba, originally issued to John Jacob Astor's son here. Although owned by Americans and run by El Americano, some savvy, entrepreneurial Cubans like my great uncle reasoned that the refinery and its workers would need goods and services. Ergo, they packed up their families and settled just outside the boundaries of the refinery. I believe that in the beginning they were essentially squatters. It was this frontierlike outpost to which my grandfather first brought my grandmother, along with her widowed mother, as a new bride.

With time, the town grew and prospered. It boasted a rice processor, a school, and a Catholic church, as well as a rail depot and later, access to the central highway. Paved streets, however, awaited the future. Sometime in the late thirties, the entire town burned down, reputedly the result of a love triangle. Rebuilt, the city has grown over the decades, and the population is now roughly near 60 thousand.

Beny and Vertientes

A while back, Nelson posted a Beny Moré musical tour of Cuban municipalities on Assymetric. At the time I pointed out in a comment that he had missed Beny's "Vertientes, Camaguey," an omission he recently rectified when he discovered it by its actual title.

Beny knew Vertientes well, as he once worked at the rail station there. Mom always loved Beny, and she is fond of telling a story about him. I don't vouch for all of the details, as Mom's stories get more apocryphal the older she gets. Still, she usually builds her confabulations around a nugget of truth. Anyway, after his stint in Vertientes, Beny went off to fame and fortune. He was invited back to play at the Club in town. The club as an institution was a social club/ ballroom/dance hall.

Some of the older, more staid members expressed concern that Beny would be a no show, as he had developed something of a reputation. Of course, the younger generation made sure Beny heard what was being said. "Oh yeah," he is reputed to have said. So on the night in question, he showed up on time and stone, cold sober, whether he stayed that way is not in my purview. That night, he sang song after song, taking requests, and bringing the house down. It was an evening long remembered in Vertientes.

Link established. All's well that ends well.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Maslow's Triangle, Baby

This started out as my response to the survey taken surreptitiously in Cuba. The media have made much of the fact that vast majority of respondents were more concerned about economic than political issues. Well, that's certainly not surprising. People who are hungry care about eating. Wow! What an insight!

So it occurred to me that some might need a refresher course, so here's the Wikipedia take on the triangle. In the course of digging around, I came across this post. It's a bit dated, but the discussion on class in America is fascinating. And to me, it rings somewhat true.

A Fly in the Ointment

In a case of you're gonna bully me; I'm gonna get my boyz; Cuba is standing in the way of agreement at the UN food summit in Rome. At issue is Cuba's demand that embargoes be condemned. As a member of the Spanish delegation explains in this AP article:

``We are looking for an agreement to solve the dramatic situation'' of widening hunger in the world, Lopez told The Associated Press. ``We cannot have political declarations coming at the advantage of a single nation.''

Since there is no embargo on food, it would seem that what Cuba wants is credit that they are not likely to repay, as in witness their dismal record. As my Mom would say, limosna con escopeta. Or maybe access to US markets. That's it. Trading with the US is magically going to erase the economic mismanagement of half a century. And all those unemployed young men in Havana are going to race out to get a job because now they will make $30 dollars a month instead of $20. Oh and by the way, the sound you hear is the rustling of that olive leaf.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Raul of 100 Days

Yesterday marked two milestones or is that two more millstones? Not only did Raul Castro turn 77, but his reign reached the 100 day mark. In a positively gushing Reuters article, the septuagenarian is celebrated the "embodiment" of change to the Cuban people. Included is the requisite quote from Phil Peters, as well as this doozy from Julia Sweig from the Council on Foreign Relations:

"a year from now we're going to look back and track even more changes, more substantive changes, than we've seen to date."

Toasters aside, lest they get too carried away with the great white hope, I thought I'd share just what it is that Raul embodies. Here are just some headlines from the island for the last two days or so:

Suffering the Oppression and Maltreatment of These Monsters: Letter from Kilo 7 Provincial Prison.

Repression Against Participants in the Carmen [Mass offered weekly for political prisoners] Does not Cease

Sanatoriums for Aids Patients Closed

President of Gay Organization Goes on Hunger Strike

Raul Castro Consolidates his Power; Repressing the People

Accused and Threatened Activists from the Opposition Movement for a New Republic

Attack Against the Home of Oswaldo Paya Sardinas

Opposition Members Provoked and Threatened at the Conclusion of Activity

Opposition Members Threatened in Santa Clara

Christian Pastor and Family Beaten in Holguin

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


"There is some thought that there might be a very big shoe dropping on Michelle Obama tomorrow."
-Democratic Strategist Bob Beckel on Fox News today. What it is, he wouldn't say.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Putting Sunday to Bed

There is nothing new under the sun. Given all the moralistic hoopla lately about how we should soften our policy towards Cuba, I thought I might share this little 2002 release about a Jimmy Carter directive. Click on the link. It sounds familiar.

Good things come in small packages? Before I decided to tune in, drop out, and run away to FL, I was a teacher, studying for my certification in administration. So I was shocked to find that Sarasota was building brand new, very large schools, virtually student warehouses, when all the literature was pointing to small schools as the best environment for learning. This Newsweek article examines the theory and results of the small schools movement in one Bronx High School. Upshot: mixed.

My, Grandma, what big eyes you have. This next one is no joke for many seniors who are either being overmedicated or prescribed drugs with unfavorable interactions. If you have an elderly parent, do yourself a favor and read the CNN report here.

Better late than never. Seems the government has been investigating oil markets for the past six months. Speculation, anyone? As one strategist in this AP report via MSNBC puts it, if you eliminated the excess money.... Gee, where have I heard that before? I know, I know, there are other factors.

It's that time of year again. Summer and shark attacks. The latest spate has occurred in Mexico where 2 have been killed. Read it here.

Those were the days, my friend. To end on an up note, here's a list of the top 50 classic rock songs. How's it compare to yours? Link is working at the moment. It comes and goes.

Of Cars and Other Mishaps

In the midst of our national obsession with the automobile, it seems unreal that those of us who are middle-aged can remember a time when most people didn't own one- at least if you grew up in a Brooklyn tenement like I did.

Few people on our block could lay claim to their own set of wheels. There was the reclusive old gent in our building who rented one of the three garages across the street in which to keep his two-tone, meticulously maintained Chevy. I think it was a Belair. There was the kid next store who actually had a powder blue 1963 Sting Ray when it truly merited the name. There were a few others, enough to line both sides of the street, but there was no problem getting a spot in the daily ritual of alternate side of the street parking. Most in the neighborhood just hoofed it or used mass transit. Please note, the price of ride was a dime.

Now Dad loved his cars, although he never had a truly fancy one, unless you count the few years when he would trade in his Pontiac Catalina every three years for a new one. The last one, a greenish turq almendron we kept well into the 70's. I know because I was driving it, when it burst into flame about a half a block from our new house in the 'burbs. Fortunately Abuelo came running to the rescue, having spotted the trouble from the kitchen window. Seems Dad got tired of taking the cover off the air filter every time he had to shove a screw driver into the choke get it started. Remember carburetors?

Anyway, that was but one of many events that should have made me leery of cars, but it didn't. I'm not referring to events like the time Dad's 1959 Buick with the two-toned paint job just rolled to a stop in the middle of the street. I remember looking in the rear view mirror and seeing what even my 5 year old mind knew was the gas tank.

No, I mean driving along the New Jersey Turnpike at 4 in the morning with the fog rolling in on the way back to Staten Island from South Carolina, when between exits 1 and 2, the transmission went on my relatively new Jeep Woody, not to be confused with the time the Mercedes gave up the same ghost on New Years Eve in the early 80's right outside of Sarasota on the way back from Miami. At least that time, the whole extended family was in the car. In New Jersey, it was a thirty something me and a 7 year old. Talk about scary.

Also catalogued as scary was the night, I was driving the same 7 year old, now turned 17, to her college interview in Tallahassee. Pulling off the 75 for gas, I emerge from the convenience store in the middle of nowhere, to see smoke billowing from the engine of my car. Fortunately, it turned out to guessed it- the transmission. Even more fortunately, it was the one interchange that had a repair shop across the highway, next to the tattoo parlor, next to motel, next to the restaurant. The garage was run by a transplant Indian and his young wannabe homeboy nephew. And so, we spent three days sitting in the bay watching the traffic go by before I called the hubster to come get us.

All of this is prelude to what happened two days ago. On the way home to Sarasota from the Tampa airport with the same child, now a 23 year old grad student, I lost control of the car on the 75 at 70 miles an hour. Somehow, I am still here to tell the tale. In one instant, I looked death in the face, not that I thought about it, being too busy trying to react. A simple, aborted lane change, as in some jerk decided to come into the same lane because he didn't see me, led to the scariest moment in my life. I keep trying to think if I oversteered, but I wasn't panicked. I knew I had enough time to get back in my lane. I just cut the wheel, but not particularly much. It's a gesture I've had to make countless times, only this time to my disbelief the car would not straighten out. Instead, it kept going, making a 270 degree arc then traversing back to the other lane, skidding right and left in a scissor motion until it had crossed another two lanes in the opposite direction.

The only experience I'd ever had to compare it to was one night when I had a blowout on the highway, but that was my front tire, and I quickly gained control. Anyway, by this point, I had wrested some measure of control and attempted to steer into the grass on the side of the road, hoping it would slow us down. There was the little matter of some guard posts, which I actually managed to get the car between. As I hit the grass, I felt safe to floor the brakes, which not only finally stopped the front of the car but also caused it to fishtail, hitting the aforesaid post sideways.

At this point, I am shaken, still not believing that we're still breathing, that no one has whacked into us. I'm afraid to even get out of the car, so I get the car on the road, drive to the next exit, figuring I should check out the damage. Damage? Fine scratches, easily buffed out, and a flat tire. I'm pretty sure the flat was the result of guard post. So I'm left wondering. I'm a cautious, experienced driver, so what the hell happened? I was driving my midlife crisis car, a Hyundai Tiburon with low profile tires. Yeah, I know, they were on there when I bought it.

So here I am, suffering from post-traumatic stress, thoroughly shocked that life can be over in an instant, that you can be driving your beloved child home one instant and fighting for your life the next. And extremely grateful for all the years I spent driving in snow, as well the divine hand that kept the tires on the ground and the other cars away from us