Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Cuban Response to the EU: Updated

Antúnez, converted into a de facto counterrevolutionary hero to the point young people already wear tee-shirts with his image, understood, of course, is that anyone who dares don one is immediately detained.

A few days ago, this fragment made up part of a post on the state of things at the moment. Well, no sooner had the EU lifted sanctions than the next day Antunez was arrested, along with his wife and others, at a sit in on behalf of a political prisoner. There is still no word as to his fate. Marc has posted an article, as well as a recording of the event. The quality is not the best, but if you forward it to about 3:15, you will hear the sound of oppression. God watch over them.

H/T Uncommon Sense

Update: The good news is that they have been released, although charged with infractions.

When is a Librarian not a Librarian?

When the ALA says he or she is not. In Cuba, there are some brave souls who take matters into their own hands at great risk to themselves and open up their homes with collections of pre1959 books, books tourists have given them, and just about any scrap of the printed word they can get their hands on. These little rooms are some of the few places in which Cubans have access to the unfettered word because the regime censors all materials. Consequently, it has independent librarians beaten and harassed and their collections, including such subversive works as Orwell's Animal Farm, burned.

This would seem a natural for the ALA, our national organization of librarians. After all, these are the very people expressing their discontent with the approval of FISA. Think again. Despite the exhortations of some of the notable keynote speakers at their gatherings, authors such as Ray Bradbury and Anthony Lewis, as well the general sentiment of their membership, over the years, the organization has steadfastly refused to condemn the repression of independent librarians. I have heard all sorts of reasons, including the lack of credentials on the part of the intrepid souls and the canard that these folk are mercenaries in the pay of the CIA. I have been unable to find their reports, as well as the latest article. Good luck trying to get them on the ALA website. I will, however, use other channels to get my hands on the latest article in their magazine, entitled "ALA’s Stand on Cuba’s Independent Libraries," the listing of which carries this descriptive note: "The Association opposes both censorship and embargo."

What in the world the embargo has to do with library censorship should be interesting, or rather why they felt the need to include the embargo has some interesting connotations. Anyway to make a long story short, the ALA will be meeting in Anaheim. To wit, read Ziva's post on Babalu which explains much and links to the "Friends of Cuban Libraries." I only wish I were in California.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Words Matter

As we all know, the Europeans have voted to lift the “symbolic” sanctions against Cuba. No surprise there. But when I was reading about it on CNN, I came across a word, a word that opens all sorts of avenues of speculation.

The CNN report by Robin Oakley describes the United States’ stance thus:

The United States' trade blockade on Cuba, imposed almost 50 years ago, is not affected by the decision, but National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe expressed disappointment over the move.

Take a gander here at the word “blockade,” which carries all sorts of interesting connotations, as if a line of American frigates, cannons at the ready, were blocking Havana harbor. Okay, enough associations. How about accuracy? Since Cuba is free to trade with the entire rest of the world, not to mention that the United States is its major food supplier, the use of the word is inaccurate. The rodent in the case, however, is the choice of that particular term when the most widely used word for the United State’s restrictions is “embargo.” In fact, let’s see… who uses the term “blockade”? Oh, yes, the Cuban regime. One might wonder why someone reporting for a major news network would choose to parrot regime propaganda and why this same network would allow one of its reporters to use a term that is not only inaccurate, but which in fact makes up part of the regime’s mythology.

The author is, I believe, British. For me that is almost as scary as the European move. Words matter.

Cross-posted at Babalublog

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The State of the Union

Even as the EU lifts the sanctions imposed after the Black Spring, reading Oswaldo Yañez's latest piece provides a frame of reference:

Paya incommunicado, the Ladies in White spied on and followed from dawn to dusk, the group that goes to the Church of the Carmen is harassed and stopped weekly. Marta Beatriz is intimidated on a daily basis; Guillermo Fariñas they no longer know where to strike to discourage his indiscreet dispatches and Antúnez, converted into a de facto counterrevolutionary hero to the point young people already wear tee-shirts with his image, understood, of course, is that anyone who dares don one is immediately detained.

I'm not a European diplomat, but it seems pretty clear to me. Still according to this report in USA Today there will be some sort of review to gauge progress on human rights. Oh, but by then, Cubans will probably be able to buy toasters. One can only hope.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Question of Honor

Writing about Rambo, I was reminded of something that happened the last few years I was teaching. Every year, my students and I would read "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," not to be confused with "Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady" which is quite another story altogether.

So the story commences with the Green Knight barging into Arthur's court and issuing a challenge. He will let any knight present take a swing at his head with an axe and in return he will reciprocate a year from the date. Well, King Arthur's knights who are not exactly slouches must suspect something because not a one takes up the challenge. Finally, after much taunting on the part of the Green Knight, Arthur accepts in order to uphold the honor of his court. At this point Gawain springs into action and takes his liege lord's place. The now decapitated Green Knight picks up his head and rides off with a reminder of Gawain's pledge.

Every year, we would read the story, and my students would realize that Gawain was honor bound to find the Green Knight at the end of the year. He had given his word. That is until the last few years. One of my less intellectually inclined students raised his hand and said, "Mrs. N, what was this guy stupid or somethin'. Why's he going to let this guy chop off his head?" At first I thought it was just this young man, but as I looked around there were nods of agreement. They could not understand the concept of honor, of living up to your word. So I went home to complain to my daughter, who said, "tell you the truth, I never understood that."

For the last few years, I would have to teach the quaint notion of honor the way I would have to introduce the legendary world of Arthur. Scary, that.

Clueless in McKinney

I've gotten to the point where I just register the uniformed idiots who go down to Cuba, get the dog and pony show, and then come back spewing sweetness and light about the place. This one, though, got to me. First of all, I was peeved when this Texas deputation went down. Texas, the last bastion of individualism, one would think would be sympathetic to Cubans deprived of even the most basic of liberties. Can it be that these Texans are so ignorant or willfully blind that they don't know the score? I think it was the tourist picture, posing with the statue of Hemingway, that set me off.

Frank Walker, Sr, president of a food manufacturer, went down to sell the Cubans food. He's back home trying to put a deal together for desserts and sausages. Sausages, he says. Ordinary Cubans have not seen a sausage in years, despite having at least one substantial factory. Why? Doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure it out. And, come on, dessert is what you have after a meal, a bit difficult if you don't have enough to scrounge a decent meal. So who is this stuff for?

But the best is yet to be. Here's the kicker:

If America were to open up trade in Cuba, the population of the country would probably have a middle class, Walker said.

“We are the only civilized, modern country not openly engaging in free trade with Cuba, which is our policy, not theirs as all other countries that so desire, enjoy their business. Just who is our embargo affecting negatively? Think about it,”

How do you counter such utter ignorance and ethnocentrism? Oh, yeah, the entire rest of the world trades with Cuba and hasn't caused a seismic shift in the class structure: party apparatchiks on top, the mass of Cuban citizenry below. But he and his fellow cohorts are going to go down in their ostrich cowboy boots and Stetsons and wave their magic cheesecake and, shazaam, a middle class will appear. Of course, the crux of the matter is at the end of the quote. Just think of all the money we're missing out on. I think he might want to ask the Mexicans, the Japanese, the Russians, et al, how much money there is to be made by extending credit to Cuba. The faux embargo, however, will save those like Mr. Walker from themselves.

Comebola. Story here. Some days you just want to pull your hair out.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Raul's Latest Initiative

Big crackdown on illegal factories in Cuba reported today. Apparently the unauthorized manufacture of hair combs, plates, and the like is subversive. The sweep was conducted by the "Fight Against Social Indiscipline Task Force." I suspect the social indiscipline was the regime not getting its skim. What was that about the Chinese Model? Guess not, or not yet. By the way, as the article indicates, dumpster diving is also verboten.

Olbermann as Uberman

There's plenty in this week's New Yorker. In addition to Jon Lee Anderson's "Fidel's Heir" about Chavez, there is an admiring piece on Keith Olbermann and how he has transformed the news. As the teaser, something we are supposed to find laudable, is "Mr. Bush: Shut the hell up!" Apparently, Peter J. Boyer who wrote the piece sees nothing wrong with the tenor of this statement and instead dwells on the wonders he has performed for third place MSNBC. I wonder how those who absolutely adore Olberman would feel if the statement were "Mr. Obama: Shut the hell up!" But then, we'd never hear that, would we?

As to the Chavez piece, despite Anderson's Che bio, I made a noble effort to read it, but as I came across something like-when I was on the plane with Chavez the other day- you can guess what I did. You're on your own there.

Finally, as a former Staten Islander, I'm always on the lookout for island stories. Why in the world, the New Yorker would find a story about a guy hanging out at Duffy's who's already been defeated for the Libertarian line worthy of ink, I don't know. Well, maybe, seems Dad is running on the Republican line for Fosella's old seat.

Here's a link to the table of contents

Monday, June 16, 2008

No Metrosexuals Here: Movie Night

A few nights ago, we had "man-movie" night at the old homestead. Man-movies almost always tend to involve gratuitous violence, hot babes, lots of blood, and some incarnation of Arnold Schwarzenegger. And I must confess, they're usually fun.

First up was the latest Rambo, which franchise seems awfully dated. Was there ever a time that John Rambo's interminable silences, punctuated by the occasional grunt, were entertaining? The beginning of this one was reminiscent of Ahnold in Conan: the Barbarian. Remember, that's the one where he doesn't speak the whole first half of the movie, and when you spent the rest of the movie begging him not to. Well, he and his movies got better, and this one does too.

Anyway, it does perk up. First of all, the formula has been updated. The villains are now the Burmese generals. In a sign of the times, Rambo grows in self-understanding. But don't let that stop you: there's violence and gore aplenty with clots of unidentified body tissue galore at points, including an evisceration we had to watch twice. And by the end of the movie, a chord is struck. By the way, no babes here, just an earnest missionary.

In an age of moral relativism, there is something pure and noble in Rambo's simplistic adherence to his code: rescue the good, the oppressed and kill the evildoers, even if it means facing unrealistic odds and dying in the process. I'm not suggesting that killing is good in any fashion, but I'd like to posit that Rambo was so successful in its day because it appealed to that part of us that wanted to believe that Americans were good and noble people. Watching him now evokes nostalgia.

To shake up the evening, the next one was a variant of the man-movie in which bathroom humor, farts, and belches are considered hilarious: Witless Protection, the latest Larry the Cable Guy opus. I had really enjoyed his Health Inspector. This one wasn't as hilarious, although it does have its moments. Here, too, there's a message. The clueless, bumbling Deputy turns out to be the hero who outwits the millionaire villain and corrupt FBI types. (Sorry if I gave it away.)

It's interesting really. These unlikely fellows are in fact very much in the tradition of the archetypal hero, called from their conventional lives, journeying to the abyss, battling the darkness, facing themselves and returning transformed. They are also truly American- the quirky everyman, the underdog, taking his life in his hands to fight the evil establishment in the name of truth and justice.

Nothing wrong with that. At least it was a break from the artsy foreign stuff that we usually watch around here.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Shakespeare on Sunday

Get Thee to a Nunnery! Since there was all that hubbub recently about the young woman with the bandage over her booblets who was barred from the prom, this Brent Bozell column seemed timely. It is a subject near and dear to me, as I was horrified when I used to chaperone high school dances. It was all I could do to keep from walking over and yelling over the music, "Leave room for the Holy Ghost!"

O Brave New World! In keeping with the decline of civilization note, in this one Peggy Noonan crystallizes the differences between the Old America and the New. She sees the election as something of a contest between the two. Read the study in contrasts here.

Frailty, thy Name is Woman! In this case, it might be Andrea McMillan, who took off to get married in Cuba during the performance of which she fell in love with the bartender who promptly left his wife to hook up with Andrea who never consummated the marriage. The happy couple intend to wed soon. One might assume that no one is happier than Jose Miguel who will go from Cuban citizen to UK husband. Read the whole sorry, sordid mess here. Follow the link for pictures of both happy couples.

For You and I Are Past Our Dancing Days. This one is for fans of the old PBS series, Que Pasa, USA? A MySpace Page purportedly from Pepe Peña which fills us in on the goings on in the intervening years from the end of the show until today. Not to be missed is Pepe's description of the two Presidential candidates. H/T Babalublog

What's in a Name? If you've ever wondered about the real Mr. Darcy, wonder no more. According to the Bookworm Room, his name was Tom Lefroy, and here's a pretty miniture of a pretty Tom. I've always found it sad that while her heroines all walked away with the matrimonial prize, poor Jane Austen was a lifelong spinster. While you're there, read this interesting post by Don Quixote who sees the America of the 40's through the 70's as the greatest society ever.

There's No One Quite Like a Dad

And a Cuban dad- no offense to anyone else but…. He didn’t change a diaper, wash a dish, or clean any surface in the house until he was fifty. Up until he died, he would infuriate me by pushing his dinner dish in front of me when he was finished- on the assumption that it was my duty to take care of it. He was never handy. Things broke around him and stayed that way. But as a Dad, he was amazing.

I was cursed and blessed that he worked overnight at a textile mill when I was very young. He slept most of the day and wouldn’t let me stay outside with my friends, the rubiecitas, despite their mother’s entreaties and promises to watch over me. Even in those days of innocence, he was terrified something would happen to me.

Instead after lunch, he would wake up and take me along with him in his travels. We might stop at the hardware store (for what I don’t know) or at Dave’s Deli, or about once a week at the comic book store. It was a very dark, dingy candy store in an old Victorian tenement. The comics lined all the walls all the way up to the thirteen foot ceiling, so the owner would stand me on top of the Coke case. He always made a pit stop at the Cuban restaurant that had opened on the corner. Sometimes he made an exception and left me with my friends; others I tagged along. Whatever else, Dad would always order a cafecito. Then he would pour some for Macho in the saucer. It was like a mysterious ritual, known only to Cubans.

He took me all sorts of places- theme parks, beaches, Yankee Stadium, even Miami. Once after a prolonged campaign, I got him to take the subway into Manhattan to see the dinosaurs at the Museum of Natural History. He was ridiculous when it came to school. A stellar report card would result in a speech. Why wasn’t it a hundred? Didn’t he get me everything I wanted? And what was the only thing he asked of me? It was tough, because there was nothing I asked for that I didn’t get.

He was already dying when he would come early on a Saturday morning to take his beloved granddaughter to practices of The Nutcracker because her working mother had refused, when he would pick her up after school and make her BLT’s, when he took us to get a Christmas tree the first holiday after my marriage broke up, and my daughter and I were like refugees from some godforsaken country: broke, alone, disconsolate.

When he did die, I remember thinking, all common sense flown: “Who’s gonna make me homemade hot chocolate when I come in from playing in the snow?” No one was ever again going to have the irritating habit of pushing my hair behind my ears and asking my mother, “Isn’t she beautiful, Rosa?” I would never again feel safe quite the way I had all those years with him behind me.

So Fathers’ Days are sad for me. I find comfort, though, when I see my brother with his daughters- the same tenderness, indulgence, protectiveness. And then I think to myself, “He’s really not dead.” Fathers, too, touch the future.