Saturday, August 9, 2008

Sunday Soils

*I'll be away and probably incommunicado for a few days, so here's a Sunday early edition. There was just too much good stuff to miss it.

Reaping the Whirlwind. Don't miss the cover story in the Weekly Standard. David Zucker, director of Naked Gun and Airplane, takes on the left in his new project. A contemporary political interpretation of A Christmas Carol, the shambling, overweight filmmaker, the Scrooge equivalent, might seem rather familiar. Read it before it disappears and enjoy.

Harvest of Shame. Here's another in the what-have-we-wrought vein of social criticism. Sowell's piece is most notable for two absolutely marvelous thoughts: does anyone remember Mickey Mantle's haircut and doesn't anyone name their kid "Mary" anymore?

An Inconvenient Truth. Alice Thomson informs us that being "green" is no longer cool. Seems economics has led to green fatigue. Best line of all. A Whole Foods in London is so quite "you can hear the cheese breathe." Article here.

On Rocky Ground. NASA scientists have discovered that Martian soil is perhaps not conducive to life. Of course, it could just be contamination. I love science. Read a brief report here.

Sting Like a Bee. A beekeeper removed 3 million bees from a home in Miami. The offending critters had stung a few people, not surprising if there were three million of them. Apparently they were Italian bees, known to be a tad more aggressive. Don't ask me. Article here.

Update: Hunger Strike Ended

Perhaps fearing yet another martyr, authorities ended Cuban political prisoner Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta's hunger strike. He was whisked to a hospital where the stitches he had used to sew his mouth shut were also removed. Undaunted, he vows to take it up once again. Ziva has more information at Babalu here.

The Curse of the Godfather II Returns

As if it's not enough that one of the current crop of books is Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba and Lost It to the Revolution, Electronic Arts is bringing out a Godfather II video game which will be "set against the backdrops of New York, Florida, Cuba." Care to guess how Cuba Bc is going to come across?

We all know the harm that the movie did in totally skewing the perception of the American public. Yet another generation will confuse artistic license with reality. About the only bright spot is that the exposure will be limited to those who play. On the other hand, the game will be available for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. Article here.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Just a Spoonful of Sugar and a Soupcon of Propaganda

Stop the presses! Cuba "hopes," Cuba "expects" to cover domestic sugar needs. Yes, folks, the country that was once described as a "sugar bowl" has been importing the sweet substance, perhaps because their production levels have been akin to those of the Great Depression.

But just to demonstrate how completely the organs of the press have been co-opted, according to AP the production levels were down because of a restructuring six years ago, and the glory years are described in the 1980's. Former sugar growing areas were devoted to farming or forests. Yeah, the capos in Havana consciously missed the opportunity to amass more wealth in order to create more forests. Really. No mention of the true heyday of Cuban sugar, pre1959. No mention of the mismanagement of half a century of communist rule. Nope. And don't give me the shibboleth about the Americans. In 1959, fully half of the sugar refineries were owned by Cubans, up from zero.

And in concert with this earth shattering development comes the announcement that Cuba is to scale back on it plans to produce ethanol. Of course by the time the news makes it to Reuters, it's a question of following comrade fidel's lead. Some cynics might be more likely to suggest that they will not produce it, just as they have not met housing quotas, because they can't; even more likely, given the recent raulian austerity speech, because they cannot afford to divert production from the sweet stuff.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Words and a Letter

Respetuosamente, en nombre de nuestra nación y sus derechos, les solicitamos desestimen este nombramiento, no entreguen el sitial de honor a quien debería tener reservado solamente el banquillo de los acusados.

Bad translation:

Respectfully, in the name of our nation and its rights, we ask you to repudiate this appointment. Do not seat in a place of honor he who should have reserved the bench of the accused.

From a letter by independent Cuban lawyers in exile to the United Nations upon naming a regime law professor Chairman of the UN Human Rights Council. More about it here.

Slice of Cuban Life

The Sun Sentinel's Ray Sanchez can often be counted on to provide telling details of life in Cuba. The tale of his fruitless hunt for a band aid sadly reflects the constant and arbitrary nature of shortages. If he, a foreigner with real money, encounters such difficulties, where does that leave average citizens? To wit:

One day you stumble on a product unseen in months - say, mouthwash. The next day, it vanishes for half a year. Cat litter is like that. I learned from Cubans to improvise with beach sand carted from Playas del Este.

Read more here and this unattributed story.


Missed some important markers last week. Babalublog passed the 3 million mark in unique visitors. Penultimos Dias marked its second anniversary and El Cafe Cubano its third. Kudos to all for all they do to advance the cause of truth. Links to each are on the sidebar.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Cuba and the Inevitable

Grim though all this is, Mr. Palacios and Ms. Delgado maintain that freedom for Cuba is near because the failure of the system is by now universally recognized, and Cubans are becoming bolder about breaking the rules. Ms. Delgado, a founder of the independent libraries movement, estimates that some two million Cubans have either visited those libraries or borrowed their books. That so many are taking such risks is impressive, and it jibes with other shifts in behavior. The nation's youth has become irreverent toward authority, and others are becoming less reluctant to complain. There is even a movement demanding that the Cuban peso be convertible to dollars.

This quote from Mary Anastasia O'Grady's article in the The Wall Street Journal about Cuban dissident Hector Palacio's decision to return to his native country echoes much of what has been making its way out of the captive island. There is a sense of expectation in the air, a sense that change is inexorable, and not the vain expectations created by the transfer of power. Despite the recent crackdowns, citizens seem more ready to criticize the regime to foreign journalists, although they do ask that their last names be omitted. Then there are the incrementally growing numbers in the photos sent by the opposition. In one city, citizens banged their pots to show their support for the hunger-striking political prisoners. Another 22 dissidents were hauled away for attempting to show theirs.

More of the truth is emerging in the mainstream press. Harpers does a piece on the opposition movement in Cuba. Conde Nast Traveller features an article entitled "Remains of the Revolution." More and more, there is a valedictory feel. In and of itself, this sense of the inevitability of change becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The jig is up. But do they know it?

Before I start chilling champagne, there is one factor to be considered: The Chinese Model. If the army continues to support the regime, all bets are off. Witness Tianamen Square. Even more discouraging, Raul is and has been the head of the army. Generals are among the prime beneficiaries of the present system. The only hope would be dissension in the ranks. Otherwise, I fear that this will be yet another in a long line of false hopes.

H/T Babalublog

Move Over, Moveon

I was driving somewhere in the Sarasota area when I spotted a billboard that read "Martin Luther King was a Republican." While I personally cannot verify the claim, the NBRA, the National Black Republican Association stands behind it. The head of the group, which is Sarasota-based, was featured in an article at the Sarasota Herald Tribune this week. Not a day later, I received a press release from the same Frances Rice complaining of the way she and the organization had been presented.

Frankly, I thought the article was pretty positive, but the problem seems to lie in some non profit IRS legalistic stuff. You can read her response here.

I really enjoy the truly political stuff, like the speech-in at the House of Representatives, at least when it's on my side. So I thought I might share something of her previous antics:

An issue of the Black Republican magazine sported an image of Ku Klux Klan members burning a cross. Caption: "Every person in this photograph was a Democrat."

Articles accusing Democrats of embracing child molesters and waging war on God.

Handing out pins at a campaign rally, reading "Democratic Party, Poverty Pimps."

Suit and tie Republicans are horrified, fearing a backlash. I don't know how effective it is, but it and Frances Rice bear watching.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Dying for Freedom in Cuba

It is a small action, involving a few prisoners in Castro's gulag. It has not made the international press. But since July 18th, four political prisoners have been staging a protest against the conditions they are forced to endure in the only way they can: a hunger strike. They are by all accounts in critical condition. A heart rending note written by Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta has been smuggled out. Marc Masferrer has translated it on his blog where he has covered the situation extensively. It is in the original Spanish at Miscelaneas. I was particularly struck by his closing. After cataloguing the physical effects of his protest, he concludes:

The world should know, I will take my action to its conclusion.
And so they shall, Juan Carlos, although in my heart, I would beg you not to take it to its conclusion. The new Cuba will have need of men like you. Que Dios te cuide, mi hermano.

One Sarasota Smoker's Vote

Despite living just about up the block from one of the top ten beaches in the US, I can't seem to get there very often. So it is that yesterday was the first time since the Sarasota County Commission banned smoking on all our beaches that I made it out there. Of course, I didn't go to Siesta Key Beach, because the "smoking areas" the county so kindly decreed consist of the parking lot and the pavilion, both of which are so far removed from the water that having a cigarette involves a Gobisque trek across acres and acres of sand, no exagerration, or maybe not much of one.

Instead, I was reduced to circling beach accesses , the ones with four or five perenially filled parking spots, in other areas where the swath of sand is much narrower. I wound up at a beach that may be private, although the houses are across the road, much less used because of the rocks, and concrete debris. To this I have been reduced.

And frankly, I am livid at the powers that be. I am as much a citizen of this benighted county as anyone else. Okay, I can see why I can't smoke in an enclosed room in public. I can tolerate dinner out, because that is a question of an hour or so. Beach going involves hours and hours of being out on the sand. Smoking is an addictive, legal, heavily taxed activity. There are few social smokers. So don't tell me I don't have the right to smoke out in the open air, where if you don't like the smell wafting across an appreciable distance you are perfectly free to move. I often don't like the music that makes its way from other people's blankets, so do we ban music?

Smoking was banned ostensibly because cigarette butts were a major nuisance, that is to say they made up 10 percent of the litter. What about the other 90 percent? To see that the rationale is a sham, one need only look at the "decree," notable in its schoolmarmish orientation. You can read it here. The reasoning behind the ban is on page 3. I can't smoke so others can enjoy the beach, because people go to the beach for "fitness" reasons, and because it sets a bad example for youth. In short, because they don't like it. I suggest we ban drinking on the beach for the same reasons. Further, recently the beach was closed for a few days because of e. coli. Does they intend to ban pooping?

So I am feeling singled out and victimized. Well, I was born a Hispanic and female in the good old days of rampant discrimination. I am a Cuban American in these days when some minority groups are more equal than others. I am a somewhat bohemian citizen of an increasingly conformist and upscale Sarasota. So I am used to being on the outside. I am also, however, a voter. The county commissioners might want to ask themselves whether it is wise to alienate a quarter of their population. I, for one, have already helped vote out of office one of the earliest proponents of the ban. When given the opportunity, I intend to vote against each and every one of those who imposed it. I would vote for Nikita Kruschev in drag if I had to...wait, he would be right at home limiting personal freedom. Oh, anyone else. I have to wonder how many people out there feel the same way.

Remember today it is my smoking, but there is no end to it when the passing of law is the result of preference and prejudice and not principle.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Words of the Day

From the George Will column. Couldn't resist.

Does Obama have the sort of adviser a candidate most needs -- someone sufficiently unenthralled to tell him when he has worked one pedal on the organ too much? If so, Obama should be told: Enough, already, with the we-are-who-we-have-been-waiting-for rhetorical cotton candy that elevates narcissism to a political philosophy.

Sunday Sports

It ain't beanbag. In a withering column George Will points out what I've been at pains to describe: Obama Oratory Overload. The columnist, if not the candidate, is at his rhetorical finest.

Because it's there. In Pakistan a group of 22 climbers who had reached the summit of K2 were hit by an ice avalanche. 9 are feared dead and 2 are missing. The privations, danger, and endurance involved in climbing were highlighted in that awful season on Everest. You can read about the latest incident here and about the deadly season in Into Thin Air.

Where the boys are. First it was the atom, and now it's chromosomes. Apparently XX does not a woman make, possibly. The Chinese have stumbled into this minefield trying to make sure girls are girls, in order to ensure fairness in competition. This is a problem that has arisen in the past, particularly with "female" competitors from the old Soviet Union. Apparently some women are "intersexual" as opposed to "transsexual." The latter is not a problem after a two year waiting period. I remember something about XXY or something of the sort. Anyway, article here.

It's war... ball. If you want to know what's wrong with our society, just glance at Rolling Stone's recommendations in our list this week. The first few are pretty unexceptional but the "Pimp Juice" tag, the "Makeout Movie" rec. aargh!

And a bit of Gatorade... to clean the palate so to speak. I've been searching for a particular section in Thoreau's Walden and stumbled across this. Sounds pretty cool to me. Anyway, if anyone out there knows what chapter encompasses his throwing out his rocks, let me know. I really don't want to reread the whole thing.