Saturday, December 13, 2008

Meanderings: The Spirit of Christmas Present

This year, I resolved there would be no festive lights, no Christmas tree, no holiday baking, and the minimal amount of cheerful presents. It's not difficult really to essentially cancel Christmas since I'm the only one who decorates, bakes, shops. Now, I could make a case that it is a somber holiday. My dad died on Christmas Eve. I went ahead with Noche Buena anyway. He would have approved. And although illness clouds this approaching eve, that's not it either.

"So, Mom, are you watching your sappy Christmas movies yet?" my daughter asks over the phone.

"No," I reply. "That's for people who celebrate Christmas." She was referring to one of my favorite holiday pastimes, watching a syrupy, soupy Christmas movie a night for the month of December. Truth is, I love it. I come by it honestly. My Dad was crazy about Christmas. For a variety of reasons, he had missed out growing up. My mother used to call him "el niño sin infancia," or the boy without a childhood. Well, he made up for it.

Every year, we would pile in whatever Pontiac he had at the moment and head up to Manhattan to get our tree. It had to be a real one, the kind that smelled and had to be fed aspirin and wound up dropping aromatic needles everywhere. In the dark, we would barter and buy under the old West Side Highway, where trees were chosen the by the glow of light bulbs strung on props of wood. The purchase always entailed great debate as to whether it was too scrawny, too tall for the ceiling, too expensive. Into the night, we would drive with our trophy firmly tied to the roof.

Invariably, when we got home, it would be too tall or crooked or some other condition that necessitated cutting the base. A saw borrowed from some place, as we lived in a Brooklyn tenement, tree firmly in its base, it would begin. Dad's responsibility was stringing the lights. This, he turned into a ritual which required the most careful of placement. First, however, they had to be tried because inevitably one of the little lights would be blown and the string would be out. He would examine each twinkle bulb carefully, as if anyone could tell which one was out. Then he would change bulb after bulb until he hit the right one. His solemn charge accomplished, he would relinquish the tree to the colorful ministrations of my Mom and myself. The toys under the tree Christmas morning, however, had to be wrested away from him so that I could play.

As fate would have it, the hubster was by geography and personal circumstance similarly Christmas-challenged. But where my Dad threw himself into the process, hubby scoffs and scoffs and scoffs. For 30 years now, I have been dragging the man, kvetching, across the Christmas finish line. One year, his daughter gave him the soundtrack to The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Talk about your pointed presents. Let me tell you, there is nothing more depressing in a in a one horse open sleigh than someone complaining all the way. No mas. The man doesn't like Christmas. We won't celebrate it.

And so it was that last night for the first time this year, I was innocently channel surfing and stumbled upon a movie, not just any movie either. The plot was something about an accountant who magically transforms a bunch of homeless men into a choir, etc.... It could have been any one of a hundred made for TV holiday movies. I felt it. I realized the true spirit of Christmas: for one shining moment in time, in the midst of darkness and winter, we recapture the color and light of childhood, the wonder, the magic. The most potent magic, I think, is the possibility of goodness, our own and that of others. That's what Christmas is all about.

And as for me, don't despair. When I couldn't tamp down my desire to decorate. I gift wrapped the paintings in the living room in a somber pewter and gray paper with black ribbon. I did put a white poinsettia on them. I took out Dad's soft and cuddly Santa Doll and put it on my night table. And as I write, maybe I'm wearing red ornament earrings.

Funny thing is that somewhere across the years, that Grinch heart must have started growing ever so slightly, nearly approaching the size of a human one. Many a reference to the lack of decorations around the old homestead and even a joking accusation of laziness have been made. There have been a few false starts to string lights on the house. The other evening, we wound up at a local shopping area to see the lights. For half a minute tonight, going to see the Christmas parade on Main Street was a possibility. Who knows, by the time this season is over, maybe there will be joy in Whoville. Doesn't really matter though, because one thing I've discovered in the year with no tree is that I carry Christmas in my heart. Every thing else is really window dressing.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Celestial Thoughts

Get those telescopes out! Actually, you don't need one. During the month of December, Venus, Jupiter, and the Moon, as well as a dash of Mercury will be the closest to the Earth they'll be in a long time. When you look up at the sky right about now, the brighter higher "star" will be Venus;the less bright, Jupiter. Over the course of the month Venus will get higher in the sky and jupiter lower. I think I've got it correctly. In any case, the Moon is huge because it is so close. The amateur astronomers association explains it here, kinda.

I Blog; Therefore I Am: Yoani's World

Visit Yuca Baby for an enlightening post about Yoani Sanchez, Cuban blogger. I've posted about her difficulties before and her courage. You can watch her question Mariela Castro Espin (her father is Castro II) about extending the tolerance to different ideological and political opinions that Mariela is seeking for sexual preference. The Yuca Baby post also links to Yoani's website in English. Read the one about Christmas trees and you'll understand why she has won international awards. There is also a video, taken at a clandestine and apolitical gathering of Cuban bloggers. It is in Spanish, but there is a translation of the ending, a call to action to all bloggers, a plea for solidarity with the "embryonic" Cuban blogosphere:

I would like, with this message, which I send like a letter in a bottle thrown at sea for all the bloggers of the world, to say that yes, we exist, we need your help, we need technological knowledge, bibliographies, ideas for how to overcome censorship, and above all, support and solidarity. So that we don't feel as if we are alone, so that we may leap over that hoop, that wall of control that moves around us. To open some cracks {in that wall}, and, someday, perhaps one that is not so far away, dynamite it.

God bless.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Post of Two Headlines

An earlier post highlighted the pernicious effects of naive or cynical reporting, to wit- the AP article. Well, the Miami Herald, which newspaper more than any other in the world should be aware of the trampling of human rights in Cuba, picked up the Anita Snow story online... with headline intact:

Foreign Minister: Cuba can be Proud of its Rights Record

Contrast that to the AFP story posted on NASDAQ:

Cuba Defends Rights Records; Opposition Denounces Arrests

Now which of the two is more accurate? It is bad enough that the AP chooses to publish this tripe, but that the Miami Herald should propagate it is beyond all belief. One is left to surmise that A) the Miami Herald believes that the hundreds of thousands of Cuban exiles who came to these shores with only the shirts of their backs are liars, B) the management of the Miami Herald has such an antipathy toward Cubans that it is willing to perpetuate what it knows to be a misleading story, or C) the organization is so slipshod in its journalism that it publishes said story. As far as I can see, their is no alternative.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

On the Harmful Effects of Snow

On this day, when numbers of planned observances of International Human Rights Day were short-circuited by the regime which beat some, threatened more, detained some, corralled others in their homes, a day when 32 Ladies in White managed to march in front the Capitol in Havana, demanding freedom and distributing copies of the Declaration of Human Rights, things in the socialist paradise being so bleak that citizens don't know they have any inherent rights, Anita Snow files an article, which despite mentions of the ladies and the remarks of the Commerce Secretary, is essentially an open platform for Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque to declaim that, despite some "imperfections' Cuba can be "proud" of how it has treated its people. After all, you won't find any children squeeging windshields he maintains.

So what is the problem? The problem is that the unknowing peruse the headlines and are left to think that Cuba treats its people well. After all, if it weren't true, AP wouldn't let it leave uncontested, would they? Must be those nasty robber baron exiles in Miami making up lies. Now, if they are really interested and read the article, they are only a little better off. They are left with the impression that things in Cuba are not that bad. Other than a nice and sanitary reference to "political prisoners," there is no light shed on the most oppressive of States in the Western Hemisphere. No recognition that failing to toe the party line can result in charges of "pre-criminal dangerousness" and imprisonment, no mention of the lack of true due process. No allusion to Oscar Biscet's original 4 by 5 cell where he lived in the darkness with only a hole for his sanitary needs, no description of the conditions that cause the aforementioned political prisoners to go on hunger strikes and sew their mouths shut in desperation. No hat tip to the death sentence by malevolent neglect, the refusal of medical care, ad inifinitum.

There is no acknowledgement of an atmosphere of fear, in which your neighbors in the CDR are encharged with spying on you, dragging you out to vote where the outcome is a foregone conclusion, and rabbles are choreographed to harass, threaten and beat dissidents. Streets where he whose name may not be uttered is indicated with a gesture denoting a beard. It is a place where information is so strictly controlled that citizens may not have internet access and private individuals at great personal peril create impromptu libraries with tourist castoffs and prerevolutionary relics, the only free and unfettered reading material on the island.

This article which presents the pretty words of the regime with no qualifications essentially maintains that his spew is true. It not only does harm to the Cuban people whose plight remains unreported; it also does a disservice to its readers, particularly in the United States; and on this day in particular its business as usual focus is a disgrace.

Contrast that with the article by Sara Miller Llana in the Christian Science Monitor which details the beating of Belinda Salas Tapanes. I was wrong in my earlier post on Babalu: at least one reporter cared.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Light Blogging

Sorry, I haven't been able to devote the time: "pasando la Niagara en bicicleta," as they say. I shall return.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Quote for the Day

This from the Sowell column reminds me so much of those who pontificate about Cuba with little or no thought to the lot of ordinary citizens.

The essence of bigotry is refusing to others the rights that you demand for yourself. Such bigotry is inherently incompatible with freedom, even though many on the Left would be shocked to be considered opposed to freedom.

Sunday Sermons of a Sort

Ask not.... Let's start with this Thomas Sowell piece on the NRO. Sowell is one the true thinkers in the world of commentary. In this, he opposes mandatory "community service" as an erosion of freedom. Made me stop, particularly when he changes the community to "military." He's right, folks, I think.

He who steals money..... Apparently, the sweetness and light of community service does not lend itself to building ethics in the aforesaid population. The buzz this week was about a study which indicated that American teens are liars and cheats, kinda. A veteran catcher of encyclopedic hands and verbally enhanced skirt hems, I didn't need a study to tell me that. Anyway, this article at Breitbart raises a truly scary point: this is the next generation of American workers. Nuclear plants, anyone?

The rumors of my demise.... I'm taking this next Jason Lee Steorts NRO column out of context for its methodical examination of Bush Derangement Syndrome. I think he's got it right. Bush has been vilified and has seemed unwilling or unable to counter the scurrilous attacks. Still can't figure out his reticence now. Is it pique?

What does not destroy me..... In a version of my worst nightmare, a planeload of passengers from El Salvador were diverted to Ontario where they were kept on the tarmac for nine hours, read it, nine. I would sue for mental distress, that is when they released me from jail for inciting a riot. Unconscionable. Read it here.

Most folks are as happy..... Let's finish off on the bright side. Happiness is contagious according to a study published in a British Medical journal. Surrounding yourself with happy people apparently lends to your own contentment. Although I'm familiar with the opposite, having a number of toxic relations, I'd never thought of the converse. Smile.

For an added bonus, complete the quote, identify the author/speaker, and I promise to be impressed. Happy Sunday.