Baby Steps Toward Freedom in Cuba

A few days ago the big news out of Cuba was that Raul Castro–brother of Fidel and the new benevolent dictator in town–had taken the magnanimous step of decreeing that ordinary Cubans were now free to own and use cell phones. Up until then, only Cuba’s communist party elite were granted that privilege.

Today we hear that Raul will be allowing Cuba’s long-suffering citizens to actually set foot on Havana’s luxury hotel properties that have long been a favorite vacation spot of Canadians and Europeans with no qualms about having their tourist monies prop up a repressive dictator. They can now even stay in those hotels if they want, not that one regular Cuban in ten thousand could afford to do so.

These truly are hopeful and positive signs of change in Cuba. The next thing you know we’ll be hearing that evangelical pastors are no longer having their houses bulldozed by the government just for preaching the Gospel. We can certainly hope and pray.

As encouraging as these signs are, it’s important to note this truth: Freedoms granted on one man’s whim can be withdrawn on one as well. 

But the fact that it’s big news that Cubans now have the freedom to make a mobile phone call should be at least a little embarrassing for all the Castro-philes from Hollywood that have made the pilgramage to Havana for an audience with Fidel over the last decade or so. And they are legion.

Steven Spielberg visited Cuba in 2002, dining and hanging out with Castro into the wee hours of the morning. In the cigar-smoke tinged afterglow, Spielberg proclaimed his dinner with Castro to be “the eight most important hours of my life.”  After a 1998 meeting with the Bearded One, Jack Nicholson told a Hollywood newspaper that “He [Castro] is a genius. We spoke about everything.”

Part-time rocket scientist Naomi Campbell proclaimed Castro “a source of inspiration to the world.”

After a 1999 pilgrimage to Cuba with fellow intellectual Kate Moss, Campbell said, “I’m so nervous and flustered because I can’t believe I have met him. He said that seeing us in person was very spiritual,”  Right. I’m guessing Castro is not the first fellow to try the old “spiritual connection” line on a couple of super-models. But he may be the first creepy 80-year-old to actually pull it off.

Other Hollywood celebrities who have private-jetted to Havana to hang with El Presidente are Woody Harrelson, Oliver Stone, Robert Redford, Sidney Pollack, Danny Glover, Ed Asner, Shirley MacLaine, Alanis Morissette, Spike Lee, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Kevin Costner.

I betting that not a single one of them has read Armando Valladares’ memoir of his life as a prisoner of conscience in Castro’s gulag. They won’t. But you should. . . if only to truly understand how truly deep the darkness was that now displays some glimmers of freedom’s light.

Some Random Weekend Links

I got a kick out of this picture over on Shorpy.com. It’s someone’s radiator cap back in 1938. Even in the 30s, some people apparently enjoyed pimping out their rides with aftermarket parts.Larger image here.

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Here is an online collection of cereal box fronts and backs. Remember the days when a breakfast cereal could proudly display the word “Sugar” in its name? Though I’m not sure what enhancement or breakthrough propelled “Sugar Crisp” to “Super” Sugar Crisp status.sugar-crisp-a.jpgsugar-crisp-b.jpg

We didn’t see much in the way of sugar-y cereals around our house when I was growing up. My Mom ran a no-nonesense Corn Flakes, Raisin Bran, Shredded Wheat, Grape Nuts kind of operation. When me and my friends all went away to college, some exercised their new-found freedom from accountiblity by drinking heavily and taking drugs. I went wild with Captain Crunch and Cocoa Puffs. (And gained 15 pounds my first year.)

By the way, I remember that cut-out Archies single offered on that second image. A friend had hacked it out of a box. Shockingly, we found it exceedingly difficult to play a record pressed onto thin cardboard.

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The Ten Most Prophetic Science Fiction Movies Ever, courtesy of the awesome folks at Popular Mechanics.

Re: The Obama's Charitable Giving

I know I promised to get off of this theme (and by the grace of God I will soon!), but commenter Darren expressed some mild vexation about my post which pointed out the Obama’s charitable giving trends, and I think a few words of clarification might be in order.

First, I think I understand why a fair-minded reader might view a post such as that as petty or holier-then-thou. But those readers who know what I do for a day job, are aware that charitable giving trends and behavior are of particular interest to me. I help non-profit organizations connect with donors to raise the scarce funds they need to do the great work they do. Now that this blog is reaching a readership wider than just friends, family and colleagues, I need to be more diligent to present context and orientation.

I actually engaged in a brief wrestling match with myself before I published that post. “Log in your own eye first. . .”; “judge not lest ye be judged. . .” and all that.

In all honesty, over 20 years of marriage, the reality of our charitable giving hasn’t always lived up to our values and intentions. But the fact is, the wife and I strove to make 10% the starting point of our giving back in the day when our combined income was $25k/yr and we had to save for months just to purchase a vacuum cleaner. And it remains our baseline minimum goal now. We’re not special in that regard–it’s the value of almost every Christian I know. Their giving starts at 10% an climbs upward from there.

Thus, I don’t think it’s out of bounds to take note of the giving behavior of a presidential candidate that has made his faith a central focus in two autobiographical books and throughout the campaign on the stump.

Furthermore, liberals (or Democrats) who frequently castigate conservatives (or Republicans) for greed, heartlessness and a lack of compassion for the poor shouldn’t be exempt from evaluation of how their walk matches up with their talk (just as politicians who advocate traditional family values and decency are routinely and rightly scorned if they are caught dealing in porn or hanging out with hookers.)

Finally, I think there is fundamental value in asking American voters (particularly voters of faith) to think through the difference between actively helping the poor and oppressed and outsourcing our compassion to the government on (mostly) someone else’s dime.

Nevertheless, I’m grateful for Darren’s feedback and hope to hear more from him and many of the other regular readers who never or rarely comment. My blog stats show a much higher readership than the number of comments suggests. I attribute that to the fact that most of my blog posts leave people dazed, stunned, or mortified.

A Blather Birthday

blatherbirthday.jpg Self-indulgence alert! This happy little corner of the blogosphere was launched one year ago today. In the middle of a typically frenetic day, I launched this venture by dashing off a quick post titled, “The Blather Begins,” and wrote:

A day is coming in which this will be a place characterized by incisive cultural commentary, startling wit, and gratifying prose. This is not that day.

Hopefully there have been a few days since that one that have come close to living up to that brassy promise. Though blogging by definition and by nature results mostly in what James Lileks calls “dashed off tripe,” there have been a few posts over the last solar orbit of which I am fond. I now see they are the ones that I typed with gritted teeth, moistening eyes or as I laughed at my own oddball sense of humor.These, such as they are, are my favorites Blather moments so far. Maybe you missed one or more:

Honor, Gratitude & Remembrance

Leaked—John McCain’s Monday “To Do” List

Before He Slips Away

UncleRoss Passed Away Today

Leaked—Rosie O’Donnell’s Monday “To Do” List

Different Car. Same Girl.

She Said Yes

Of Dads and Baby Girls

Life on Mars? The Theological Implications

Milestones

The Future That Never Happened

The Future That Never Happened, Pt. 2

The Future That Never Happened; Part 3

Books That Changed My Life, Pt. 1

Some Thoughts on Gratitude

Post-Christmas Thoughts and Blather

Our New Age of Slavery

Altared States: Give Me Some of What He Was Having

Finally, on this auspicious anniversary, it would be bad form if I didn’t point out how consistently amazed I that friends like you stop by here on a regular basis to see what I’m going on about.

Amazed… and deeply grateful.

Okay. One More.

The Obama’s released their tax returns yesterday.  (FYI: 2005 was the year the Obama’s income jumped significantly due to book advances and royalties.)

Year

Adjusted Gross Inc.

Giving

% of AGI

2001  

$272,759

$1470

0.5% 

2002

$259,394

$1050

0.4%

2005

$1,655,106

$77,315

4.6%

 Either Rev. Wright didn’t teach tithing at TUCC or Senator Obama can actually make a credible case that he really didn’t listen to anything his pastor said over the last 20 years.I am reminded though, of the numerous studies which have shown that we hard-hearted extremist of the Religious Right tend to give much more of our our income to charitable causes than do compassionate liberals.

Some Random Obama Links

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I’m going to get off the Obama topic for a while unless something truly remarkable develops. But first, here are a few items of interest from around the Internets:

Obama a freeloading credit and glory glommer?

Obama’s new pastor, pretty much like the old one.

Was Rev. Wright’s Upbringing Really That Tough?

Is Obama Stealthing an Anti-Israel Bias?

5 Sincere Follow-Up Questions for Barack Obama (And Two Bonus Queries)

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Peggy Noonan, who knows a bit about oratory, thought it was a good speech. So did Charles Murray.

I’m not so sure. One blogger counts me among those who “managed to miss the points” of Obama’s speech and pointed to my playful post over at “Chris Matthews’ Leg.”

What I do know is that Mr. Obama is an extraordinary speech giver. And in all sincerity and candor, I did find it startling and refreshing to hear a liberal Democrat politician (of any color) offer a good-faith articulation of the frustrations a “typical white person” feels about affirmative action and the Black grievance culture. Specifically, Obama said:

Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.          

For a lot of us who have heard nothing but demagogic Jesse Jackson/Al Sharpton victim-speak for 30 years—this was pretty stunning stuff. As was Obama’s frank characterization of his pastor’s now-famous views about “White America”:

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country. . .          

Still, the speech that Chris Matthews described as “worthy of Lincoln” left me itching to ask the candidate some questions. (full text and video here)

I’m not trying to be clever or pedantic. It truly would go a long way toward lowering my skepticism about the Hope and Change Express to hear Senator Obama’s answers to a few queries. Here goes. . .

• In your speech, you movingly explained why people of Rev. Wright’s generation are carrying bitterness, scars and resentments. Since T.U.C.C. worship services were surely filled with impressionable young people week after week, I wonder . . .

1: Have you ever gone to young people in your church and encouraged them to consider an alternative to what you described as Rev. Wright’s “profoundly distorted view of our country.”   

2:  Have you ever gone to the leadership of your church and challenged what you described in your speech as Rev. Wright’s “profound mistake” that our society has made no progress on racism. 

3: Have you ever encouraged your children to disregard something they heard at church? If so, what? If not, why not?   

• It is now widely recognized across the political spectrum that many well-intentioned welfare programs of the 60s and 70s were in fact devastatingly destructive to the Black family unit and actually created the epidemic of fatherlessness that in turn led to an explosion of gangs, crime and swelling prison populations–all contributing to lowering of living standards and prospects for millions of African-Americans. Given this. . .

4:  Why in your speech, and elsewhere, have you called for a return to the kinds of statist, collectivist, top-down programs that have caused so much unintended damage and, yes, hopelessness?   

Many of those now actively supporting your candidacy have denounced and vilified Republican politicians in the past for even the most casual ties to a controversial clergy—ties much looser than those between you and Jeremiah Wright. So  . . .

5: Have you or will you admonish such supporters to view those associations with the charity and understanding you’re asking us to view your 20 year affiliation with Wright and T.U.C.C.?  

And in the spirit of bringing people together, will you denounce demogoguery and bigotry such as this, this, this, this and this? 

And this, this, this, and this. Or this, this, this and this? 

For most of this crazy election cycle, my waves of amusement, disgust, alarm and horror have not been triggered by Senator Obama himself, but rather by his ridiculous, ecstatic, clueless supporters. 

To be sure, Obama will be the most liberal major-party candidate for the White House since George McGovern. And if he wins he will be the least qualified since Jimmy Carter. I’m also convinced he would be as big, or bigger a disaster for this country as Carter. As for the speech? It was a fine one, though the breathless comparisons to MLK’s “I Have a Dream” address are silly and an insult to King’s achievement.  

And we would do well to keep in mind why the Obama speech became a campaign necessity. The revelations that the man who has been Barack Obama’s spiritual mentor and pastor for two decades spews American-loathing, racial bigotry and kooky conspiracy theories raised a legitimate question in millions of minds. Namely:

How can we reconcile Obama’s message of hope and change with his long, close affiliation with hate and pessimism?

“The Speech” was supposed to answer that question. But it really just changed the subject. So who among us really “missed the points”?

No Exit for Senator Obama

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Senator Obama really is in an impossible situation. As I pointed out in this post below, the facts surrounding his choice of church for the last two decades really only leave two explanations to the intellectually honest observer:

  1. Barack Obama actually believes the hateful and dangerous Black Liberation Theology that his pastor espouses.

  2. He has been cynically and dishonestly attending Wright’s large Chicago church for two decades for political advantage.

Today the consummate soulless, political mercenary—Dick Morris—went “all in” on explanation number two. In a RealClearPolitics column Morris wrote:

Wright’s rantings are not reflective of Obama’s views on anything. Why did he stay in the church? Because he’s a black Chicago politician who comes from a mixed marriage and went to Columbia and Harvard. Suspected of not being black enough or sufficiently tied to the minority community, he needed the networking opportunities Wright afforded him in his church to get elected. If he had not risen to the top of Chicago black politics, we would never have heard of him. But obviously, he can’t say that.

Morris declares that Obama has the nomination sewn up and that if the Senator is the crafty, duplicitous, hyper-ambitious politician that one would have to be to be Mr. Explanation Number Two, he will survive this storm.

That is probably true. Obama the candidate will survive. But the mystique will not.

The pre-Wright Obama was the un-politician, the new and different kind of candidate who was above mere ambition. Beyond power seeking. Trans-ideological.

That myth is dying.  Every new Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright hate bomb exposed will strip off another layer of the messianic veneer, leaving nothing but another ambitious, ego-centric climber behind.

And the maddening thing for the Democrats who have hitched their hopes for White House power and glory to Obama’s rising star is that they can’t rush to his defense without looking like the hypocrites of the century.

Why? Because they have spent most of the last eight years throwing a walleyed indignant fit every time a Republican politician got within a hundred yards of a conservative preacher who was even remotely controversial. From those who criticized candidate George Bush for speaking at Bob Jones University back in 2000, to those who got the vapors two weeks ago when John McCain was endorsed by John Hagee.

Between those two examples lie thousands of instances of Dems and liberals wailing and gnashing their teeth about one Republican or another’s association with a “extremist” or “intolerant” minister.

They know they can’t defend Obama’s 20 year attendance at Trinity United Church of Christ without being clubbed about the head and shoulders with numerous reminders of past pronouncements like this one:

 The issue here has to do with the role of extremists in public life. Barack Obama never sought support from Louis Farrakhan, never appeared on stage with Farrakhan, never pronounced himself proud to be backed by Farrakhan, but was nonetheless asked on national television to specifically disavow the man. People don’t want to put a political coalition that includes Farrakhan in office. (Lefty Matt Yglesias, all worked up over Hagee’s endorsement of McCain.)

Bring it. And let the throttling commence. (How about you Andrew?)

Arthur C. Clarke Died Today

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I was in Junior High when I really went after Science Fiction with abandon. In my elementary school  years I had been a Hardy Boys man (boy). But along around 7th grade I read Robert Heinlien’s Have Space Suit Will Travel and I was hooked. From then on it was Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Heinlein’s racy, grown up stuff, and, of course, Arthur C. Clarke.

I had actually seen Clarke and Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey before I read my first Clarke book, Childhood’s End. Then The Fountains of Paradise and Islands in the Sky followed.

Clarke once said:

When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

He was 90 years old and his death was not a sudden one. My hope is that in the final months of his life, he applied that fertile imagination to the question of what lies beyond this life and sought answers from living God whose Creation Clarke so admired.