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Monday, May 30, 2005

Viva Cuba Libre

Here is some straight talk about conditions in Cuba from a Canadian reporter for the Edmonton Sun who has spent some time there recently.

All joking aside, Cuba is a mess
By Patrycja Romanowska

If one didn't find a reason to laugh, especially in Cuba, all one would do is cry.

Prior to my arrival in Cuba, I had much admiration for the tenacity of this small country in defying the dominance of the United States - especially coming from Canada where we constantly struggle to strengthen our (very different) relationship with the U.S. while maintaining our cultural integrity.

Leaving Havana, I could not help having the impression that the price paid for defiance was simply too high. The U.S. trade embargo has combined particularly well with the legendary inefficiencies and bureaucratic bottleneck of a command economy to effectively destroy the Cuban economy. Signs of this are everywhere.

The infrastructure is crumbling. Most buildings are in such a state of disrepair that it is hard to imagine they will stand for much longer and harder yet to imagine how so many people can live inside. Sewage and other household liquids drip onto the streets from cracks, broken pipes and balconies. There is garbage everywhere.

What is worse than seeing how badly these buildings have decomposed is glimpsing what they were before. Spanish colonial architecture was glorious and characterized by ornate detailing and vivid colours and it is possible to imagine, if one squints and tries very hard, what Havana must have looked like in different times.

There are few consumer goods and fewer places to get the ones that are available. The declining morale of the population at large is reflected by a rampant level of street crime. Each week we had at least one camera stolen or one purse snatched. One incident involved a girl from our group taking a snapshot in front of the hotel and having the camera ripped out of her hands by a passerby. (link)

The description of the crumbling architecture reminded me of two photos of a downtown Havana street that I saw a few years ago. Both were taken of the same row of buildings; one in 1959 before the overthrow of the pro-American Battista government and the second taken in the late 1990's.

What was striking about the two was that, when comparing conditions then and now, Havana is, as Ms. Romanowska writes, in a state of stagnation and decay. What were, in 1959, gleaming row houses of Spanish design, became, by the 90's, crumbling structures the likes of which cannot be found anywhere in the USA. It was fascinating to see, also, the nice expensive American Buicks, Chevrolets, and Cadillacs parked along the street in the earlier photo and similar American cars - of the same vintage but in dilapidated condition - still in use 40 years later.

I hope Castro dies soon. His people deserve a better life than the one forced upon them by El Lider and his band of communist thugs.

Viva Cuba Libre! The hour of your liberation is fast approaching.

Drinking Can Be Great Exercise

I think I saw this guy hugging a toilet in a bar in Detroit.
Man 1/2 Way in Quest to Visit 1,000 Bars
By LARRY McSHANE, Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK (AP) -- A bit of barroom philosophy, courtesy of Dan Freeman: The longest journey begins with but a single sip. Freeman should know. The Brooklynite set out Jan. 1 to visit 1,000 bars in a single year, a cocktail lounge quest that began with one scotch and soda in Mike's Pelham Grill.

Barely five months and 499 bars later, the Don Quixote of drink is halfway to completing his boozy impossible dream.

Why 1,000 bars, you ask? Why not? (link)
My answer would have been: "Because they have lots of beer and whiskey?"

I think my record - back when I didn't have to work too hard to set a record - was five bars in one night. It was Kentucky Derby week and the booze was flowing freely (hardly free but freely) in Louisville, where everyone, especially when they are completely inebriated, gets excessively hospitable.

A short story: I and a friend were at some bar there (very) late that night, minding our own business, concentrating on the consumption of great quantities of alcohol and down-home country music. The place was jammed with Derby partiers and local sots.

As sometimes happens when one has been occupying a bar stool for a considerable time, I had to run to the restroom. Once I found it, I walked (staggered) my way over to the urinal where I settled in for a moment of relief and relaxation.

While standing there in this rather vulnerable pose, some young guy comes bursting into the mensroom and says, to nobody in particular, "Hey, you know who's out at the bar?"

Now there is an unwritten rule that men never break that applies to conversation at a urinal. Proper etiquette calls for one to stare straight ahead - no peeking over the side of the urinal next to yours - at the tile wall in front of you, counting the groaty little green algaic formations ... uh, we'll skip that. Anyway, mensroom prescripts call for heterosexual men to not strike up a conversation with strangers in moments like this. Even if the place is on fire, we don't speak. Singing is permissible. Groans are accepted and understood. Babbling incoherently is even tolerated after 3am. But we leave one another in peace and tranquility.

So I turn my attention to this fella with the thought, "If he pokes his head over the side of my urinal with the intention of God-knows-what, I'm going to hit him."

But, rather than approaching me, he stands there in the doorway looking kind of ... drunk, with a non-intrusive glazed-over look on his face. He was, obviously, (drunk and) captivated by the fact that someone was at the bar and he had to pass on the news.

So, being brave and ... drunk, I looked over and said, "No. Who?"

With an excitement that only comes from a quart of Chivas Regal, he replied, "Paul Hornung and Lindsay Nelson!"

"Really?" was my only reply. I went back to concentrating on the cigarette butts in the bottom of my urinal. I didn't want this crazy person to think I was going to be excited by the thought that two famous people, one of whom had, years before, played running back for the greatest NFL football team in history (!), were nearby.

When I was finished doing damage to the urinal, I walked out of the restroom (after carefully washing my hands of course) and immediately strolled over to the bar.

There, as big as life, sat Paul Hornung and Lindsay Nelson. They were, in those days, calling football games together for Notre Dame and were in town to celebrate the Derby.

I can only envision, after these many years, how stupid I must have looked at that moment. Here was this smoke-filled, cacophonous tavern that had to have warehoused at that moment better than a hundred people all shoulder to shoulder, and here I stood in the middle of the floor staring at two (aging) drunkards sitting at the bar.

It was all I could do to keep from walking up to the Green Bay Packers "Golden Boy" and his sidekick who happened to be the best play-by-play announcer in history, offering to shake their hands, and saying something profound like, "Hey, you're Paul Hornung and Lindsay Nelson." Booze will do that kind of thing to you.

Instead, I caught myself and realized that I was not only looking really stupid at that moment, but I was about to embarrass myself for all time if I opened my mouth. So I went back to my reserved seat on the other side of the saloon. When I got there, I turned to my friend and said,

"Hey, you know who's over there at the bar?"

The lesson is: Don't ever strike up a conversation in a men's room. It can have deleterious effects on your self esteem.

Oh, and if you drink, don't drive. Of course.

Like He Cares

If Senator John Warner is having second thoughts this morning, it must have to do with his divorcing babe-alicious Elizabeth Taylor because he certainly doesn't give a second thought to the voters who provided him with his seat in the Senate all these many years.

Sen. Warner takes heat for compromise
But he takes in stride conservative criticism; one calls him 'traitor'
By Peter Hardin, Richmond Times-Dispatch Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON -- Sen. John W. Warner, after helping avert a potential political meltdown of the Senate over confirming federal judges, faced angry criticism from some conservatives yesterday.

Warner, a Virginia Republican who is sixth in seniority in the Senate, was a central player as a group of 14 senators struck a compromise Monday on proceeding with three stalled judge nominees.

The group's action averted a likely vote on changing Senate rules to end judicial filibusters, an approach that some have called the "nuclear option" for its potential effect on Senate business.

"I regard him as a traitor," said Paul Weyrich of Fairfax County, a conservative commentator and activist. Warner "sold out" President Bush, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and the nation, Weyrich said.

Amanda Banks, a spokeswoman for the Colorado-based Focus on the Family Action, said, "It's very unfortunate [Warner] participated in the deal and placed himself on the side of obstruction." If he runs for re-election in 2008, "I think there will be political fallout," Banks added. (link)

I predicted last week that Warner has no intention of running for reelection in 2008. Why else would he be so willing to crap on his loyal constituents?