Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Castro & Cuba

With the recent death of Fidel Castro, the news is filled with analysis of what he was and conjecture about what comes now for Cuba. You can tune into any of the news programs or channels to get the experts' opinions. This is my blog, so you get my recollections and opinions. I am not a highly paid news talking head expert, but I was around when Castro came to power and it had direct effects on me.

Fidel Castro and his rebel army overthrew Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in early 1959. At that time I was an elementary school student in Jacksonville, Florida. I was in the 6th grade, so although not politically astute, I was old enough to know what was going on. Shortly thereafter I was even more aware what was going on. There was a direct impact on Florida, the Jacksonville area, our Catholic diocese and my elementary school.

Not long after Batista's regime fell, the rich and powerful began fleeing Cuba. Many of the middle class also fled. So, if you are in Cuba, an island, under stress and in danger where do you go? Maybe Florida, 90 miles away, might be your choice. Boats and planes carried thousands of Cubans to Florida. Although many of these were the wealthy and upper middle class, who could afford to escape, they were not able to bring much with them, including money. Most refugees settled in far South Florida but some migrated north by choice or because of charitable agencies relocation. One of the main charitable organizations was the Catholic church. As South Florida and the Miami diocese became overwhelmed, the other Florida dioceses pitched in. The St. Augustine Diocese (Northeast Florida) included Jacksonville and my parish school. We got some of the overflow. 

There was a camp/retreat that the diocese owned called Camp St. John, ironically on the St Johns River, in an unincorporated area well south of Jacksonville called Switzerland. It was a rustic camp, but it did have some dorm-like structures and kitchen facilities. Some of the Cuban refugees wound up at Camp St. John pending permanent relocation. Unfortunately for the kids, there were not many Catholic schools in the area and the closest one was almost a one-room school. The alternative was to bus the kids into Jacksonville. My school was one of the closer ones but was still about 20 miles away. We got a few of the refugee kids. 

One of them was in my class. That one was a boy because everyone in my 6th grade class was a boy. All the girls were in a different classroom. I don't think any of these kids spoke English. I know the one in my class didn't. I seem to remember his name was Juan. He was slender, actually skinny, tanned and a little taller than me. OK, everyone was taller than me. Back then I usually rode my bike to school or took the city bus. I was in no rush to get home. Juan had to wait for the Camp St. John bus which had to stop at a couple of the other Catholic schools to pick up kids before making the 20 mile trip back to the camp.

Turns out Juan and I were both baseball rats. I always had my glove and a ball with me. One day while he was waiting for his bus and I was just hanging out, we struck up a sorta conversation. He couldn't speak English and I didn't speak Spanish. He saw my glove and said some of the few English words he knew. Those words are stuck in my brain. He said "I pitch, you catch" with a thick accent. I nodded yes and we went to the school ball field. He got on the pitching rubber and I got behind the plate and we played catch until either his bus came or I had to head home. We did that most every day for a few weeks until one day Juan didn't come to school. He never returned. He had been relocated. That was the end of our relationship. He learned a little English and I learned a little Spanish. Mostly it was just an afternoon catch between two young baseball players. I missed Juan when he disappeared. 

That was phase one of Castro's Cuba. A couple of years later, those of us in Florida had another event. That would be the Cuban Missile Crisis in late 1962. By then I was in high school. There was a definite tension in the air during the crisis which was at its height for about two weeks. Jacksonville was thought to be a primary target if the missiles began flying. At the time there were three major naval installations in the area, two Naval Air Stations and a Naval Base (port). There are still two. Jacksonville is about 500 miles from Cuba, well within the range of the missiles that Russia deployed in Cuba. That too passed.

After the missile crisis, Casto's Cuba became less of a day to day concern but it was a constant issue, especially in Florida. The influx of refugees forever changed the makeup and politics of the Miami area. To a lesser degree, Tampa Bay was affected as was the rest of Florida. Plus, the influx of Cubans continued through the decades. Luckily for us, they brought their food and culture with them.

Now for the opinion section. The dictator Batista needed to go in Cuba and Castro brought that to fruition. Unfortunately, Castro was also a dictator, a communist/socialist dictator. The people of Cuba went from one oppression to another. What I witnessed is that Cuba lost a whole generation, maybe two generations, of the professional and middle class. This exodus was not only devastating to Cuba, but to the individuals.There were Cuban college professors who were lucky to get an elementary or high school job, even those with Ph.D's. Medical doctors and dentists could not practice, engineers could not engineer. Some completely abandoned their former professions, others took lesser positions in their old field and a few were able to go back to school or pass certification tests and regain their former positions.

I think the Bay of Pigs was a stupid and sloppy adventure by ill-prepared Cuban expatriates and a naive US administration. The embargo after the missile crisis was well founded, but not for 60 years. The wet-feet, dry-feet immigration policies for Cubans are ridiculous. I agree with Obama that we should try to normalize relations with Cuba. Exposure to our culture and economy are far more powerful weapons than the isolation of the past several decades. Expose the Cubans to what could be a new standard of living. Let's let them upgrade that 1957 Chevy to a new 2016 vehicle. It won't be as pretty but it will be more reliable and fuel efficient. It's a version of the old honey and vinegar parable.

I hope the demise of Fidel Castro opens a new era of US-Cuban relations. I hope it also begins a new era of increased freedoms for the Cuban people. In a better world, Cuba would be more like other Carribean islands and Mexico. Safe and friendly neighbors. An island deeply connected to South Florida. Maybe even a reverse migration back to Cuba. 

Will the new administration continue the detente? 


Wednesday, November 9, 2016


Disappointed. That's probably the best word to sum up my feelings about the presidential election. 

I'm disappointed that the campaign was such a mess. I'm disappointed that the two major parties nominated such flawed candidates. I'm disappointed that negatives rather than real issues were the driving factor. I'm disappointed that Clinton couldn't inspire what should have been her base. 

Where to now? Do the Trumpers and Republicans seek revenge? Do they dismantle everything the Obama administration has implemented over the past eight years? Do they turn back gains in equality by LGBT's, women, Blacks and others? Do they round up the million of illegal immigrants? Do they build the wall? Do they ban all Muslim immigration. Do they profile and spy on the non-whites? Do they impose Christianity into our public and government institutions? Do they tear up our defense and trade treaties with other countries? Do they make it even harder for people to vote? Do they try to indict Hillary Clinton? Or do they extend an olive branch?

On the flip side, will the Democrats now adopt the game plan that Republicans have used since the Obama election? That is to oppose everything Trump proposes and grind government to a halt whenever possible. 

I was not for Trump. I dislike almost everything about him. I dislike his personality. I dislike his lack of experience and preparation for the office. I dislike his platform and policies. I dislike his lack of any details. That being said, I hope he is a successful president and most importantly that the country is successful during his administration. I also hope that his administration is only four years and that Democrats take back Congress in 2018.

It will be interesting to see how the nation reacts to this election. It will also be interesting to see how Trump governs in his first 100 days. Let us all hope that it is peaceful.  

The Trump supporters got their wish for change. Now we can begin to see what that really means. Just remember that even though you won this presidential election, the popular vote was almost evenly split. Do we begin to come together as a nation or become even more divisive? Do we move forward as a country or take a step backward? 



Friday, November 4, 2016

Very Random Thoughts - October 2016

  • As we enter Fall, the sidewalks are covered with acorns, figs, pecans and other things that fall from the trees. Even at my advanced age, it is almost impossible not to kick those objects down the sidewalk. Is that behavior in our DNA? Seems we never outgrow "kick the can".
  • When people greet you with "you look great", it's probably because you are old and they are surprised you can still move or are alive. You may not actually look that great.
  • Do you ever watch a food or restaurant commercial on TV and think "that looks terrible"? Seems like if a company spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on filming the ad and then buying TV time, they would make their crap look better. 
  • In the same vein, how often have you seen a movie trailer or promo for a TV show and thought "these are the good parts"?
  • Every time an app or software package makes "productivity" changes, I become less productive. That feature I always use is now buried about five menus deep or completely gone.
  • I'm pretty sure that "clean coal" is equivalent to "safe cigarettes".  
  • Locally-sourced is a trendy restaurant term these days. Does that mean locally grown, or just bought locally? I see restaurants in my area featuring ingredients that are not grown anywhere near here.
  • Many times I'll get the misspelled red underline and think, spell check is absolutely wrong. Turns out it rarely is unless it's a proper name.
  • The "Pro-Life" label has been hijacked by the anti-abortion crowd. Many of then are also for capital punishment which seems to me to be anti-life.
  • Is there ever a good reason to have three announcers in the booth for a sports event?
  • Same thought, do we really need a cast of thousands for the pre-game, halftime and post-game studio shows?
  • The new sports talk show on FS1 is called Undisputed  with idiots Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharp. In the promos, it looks like every topic is "Disputed".
  • How can any of these old white male Republican politicians say that grabbing a woman by the pussy is not an assault? Maybe somebody ought to grab them by the nuts. Fun, isn't it?
  • When did sports analysts change from explaining what happened to telling us what they would have done?
  • I have no idea how it gets from around 10:30 PM to 4:00 AM in just a few minutes. Could be my circadian clock is completely screwed up.  
  • Realize that when corporations make contributions to charities, they spend way more money advertising that fact than the actual contribution. All that pink stuff on labels during October is a marketing campaign, not a charitable act.
  • Not overly important, but it is hard to write, talk or type when you have the hiccups. 
  • I heard a tease on the news for a story about the nation's largest "Blowout Chain". I don't know what that means or whether it is good or bad.
  • How come every institution or government entity feels the necessity to have their own police force? Universities, school districts, transit authorities, hospitals, etc. Aren't the regular cops good enough?
  • I'm about done with putting an i (I) in front of a word to make a product name. It was OK years ago when Apple named the iPod, iPhone, iPad, etc. It's a little tired now. 
  • Some want to make election day a national holiday. If it happens, retail stores will still open and have "Election Day Sales". 
  • For the past two nights, I have had similar dreams that involved password problems. This seems odd and depressing.
  • Why can't college football use radio receivers in the QB's helmet to transmit plays from the coaches? The current system of hand signals, signs, semaphores, dances and assorted other nonsense seems quite archaic in 2016.
  • It is now assumed that if anyone in government or politics has emails on a server or PC they are criminal.