[freedomtowernight_edited.jpg] 26th Parallel: May 2006

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Coconut Guys

Around 1 PM today, I got a knock on the front door. It was a gentlemen who asked if he and his partner could take down the coconuts from my pair of coconut trees. "Sure", I said. I asked him if he was charging me for it, and he said "no, we take them and sell them".

I don't know exactly how they found my house, but I imagine it was the sight of my 40-foot plus coconut trees visible from the street that caught their eye. Trees filled with nice, big and green fruit. They drove a large van with a logo on the side which said in Spanish and English "El Hombre De Los Cocos" - The Coconut Man.

They carried a tall fruit picker to the backyard and got to work. One guy was wearing a hard hat, understandable because those coconuts can do some serious damage if they fall on someone's head from 40 feet up. The guy with the picker wasn't wearing a hat, interestingly enough he was the brave one while the guy with the hat was a bit more tentative. The picker guy had to urge the hard hat guy along a bit, telling him, "c'mon don't be scared".

I asked them how much they sell the coconuts for. "25 to 30 cents a piece", the picker guy said. "It's something, at least it's honest work", he went on to say in his Cuban accent.

I figured, they took approximately 75 coconuts from the tree, and their van was already filled with other fruit that they had already picked earlier. If they pick about 500 a day, which is probably a conservative estimate, they make $75 a day each, which amounts to about $9 an hour for an 8-hour day. Not bad for picking coconuts, and it provides a sort of community service since those green monsters can become lethal projectiles during a hurricane.

Seeing these guys stick a picker up in the air and yanking large coconuts down, picking them up off the ground and taking them to their van, and hearing the comment about it being "honest work" immediately brought to mind my reaction post to Ana Menendez's weekend column. These guys have probably been in this country for a short time. Based on their accents, they were Cuban. They understand that in order to make it in this country, you have to work hard and show a little ingenuity. These guys were dealt a bad hand by being born and raised in fidel-ravaged Cuba, just like those who are born in poverty-stricken neighborhoods in Miami are born at a disadvantage because of their environment.

I started to do a little yard work of my own, and as I was ready to check back up on them, they took off. I wanted to write down their phone number which was on the side of the van, but never got the chance. I didn't even get the chance to say thanks. They were in a hurry to go to the next house for more coconuts. After all, time is money.

Those who are born into bad situations do have choices, despite what some may think. You can be persistent, work hard and play by the rules, or you can sit back, lament your bad luck and watch opportunity after opportunity slip by. We are blessed in this country in that people are rewarded for hard work, ingenuity and playing by the rules.

Based on what I saw today, the "Coconut Guys" are off to a good start.

Update on Fariñas' Health

Courtesy of Net For Cuba:

151 days on a hunger strike: Fariñas Hernandez' health takes a turn for the worse.

"If God wants me to die, I will die. I will be a Martyr
for the Free information in the World"

Guillermo Fariñas Hernández

(HABANA/CUBA/May 30/Puenteinfocubamiami.org)-
The cuban psychologist and independent journalist Guillermo Fariñas Hernández, in a hunger strike since January 31 in protest, demanding from the Cuban government a free access to the internet, is suffering from pneumothorax, a life threatening condition caused by air within the pleural space, compromising cardiopulmonary function. He also presents high fever, pain on thorax incisions and is very weak.

On May 23rd, Fariñas had to be subjected to a Thoracentesis, a procedure to remove fluid from the space between the lungs and the chest wall called the pleural space. At this time, doctors are evaluating follow up procedures for residual liquid is still present in the independent journalist's left lung.

Guillermo Fariñas Hernández, doctor in psychology and general director of Cubanacán Press, presently in parole due to health reasons began a hunger strike without fluids last January 31st, demanding that the Cuban government install free access to the internet in his home.

Reporting from Havana to The Cuba Miami News Bridge Bureau Vladimiro Roca Antunez, Todos Unidos Spokesperson. Given on the 25th day of May of 2006.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Hunger Strikers Increase in Cuba

Remember Guillermo Fariñas? Yes, he's still on a hunger strike.

Word must be spreading, because it looks like he's been joined by 75 other Cuba "residents".

Interesting how quickly the MSM jumped on this report, even considering that the event is technically occurring on U.S. property.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Don't Blame Us

Another Ana Menendez column which left me scratching my head was published in today's Herald. It's about the tragic death of an 18-month old, Zykarious Cadillon, who was murdered in the front yard of his Little River neighborhood by some unknown thugs. The story has gotten lots of media attention and a lot of indignance from the community at large.

Unfortunately, that's not enough for Menendez. She thinks we, all of us, should share in the blame for Zykarious' death.

Here's the column in its entirety, with emphasis mine.

We must all share the blame

By Ana Menendez


Even before he was born, Zykarious Cadillon faced a life that promised to be harder than most.

As the developing baby of a teen-aged mother, he was more likely to be born below a healthy weight. The chance that he would die as an infant was 50 percent higher than if his mother had been older than 20.

As the son of poverty, he risked a host of problems as he grew, including poor nutrition, impaired brain development and low achievement in school.

As a black child, his chance of dying before adulthood was twice as high as it is for white children.

And it's this final statistic that ended up defining the short life of Zykarious Cadillon.

On Sunday night, as he was playing in his front yard, someone pulled up to the house and murdered him. He was 18 months old.

Thursday, the house on Northwest 82nd Terrace in the Little River neighborhood seemed abandoned in haste. A single black flip flop lay near the front door. At the curb, candles and flowers were stacked next to a pile of stuffed animals. A teddy bear lay slumped over a tiny walker.

So far, no one has come forward with ideas about who killed Zykarious. The reward is now up to $2,000, but even among people as desperate for cash as they are for justice, the promise of either is not enough to overcome a more powerful constant.


A neighbor I spoke to said he wasn't home when the shooting happened. But even if he had seen anything, he wouldn't go to the police. ''I'm scared,'' said Louis Louissant.

It's possible to live an entire life in South Florida and never go into a neighborhood like the one where Zykarious did not finish growing up.

Out of sight, the poor remain out of heart and mind. The problems they face are assumed to be ones of their own making. And most of those who travel I-95 high above Miami's poverty can assure themselves that they have earned their cars and their suburban houses without considering that the rules of the game are set long before we're born.

In the past week, whispers of blame have extended to the family of the little boy and to neighbors who have not told what they know. The emphasis has been on ''conflicting information'' -- was the boy with his father or not? -- and on police frustration in trying to find the truth.

But blame is an untidy thing. Responsibility for Zykarious' unsolved murder starts with the family that failed to protect him and spreads to a neighborhood that remains silent, but it also eventually falls on us who have become numbed into indifference.

Violent crime among the poor barely qualifies as big news anymore. Even at this paper, his murder was confined to the local pages, the front page often reserved for more rare events such as sumo wrestlers and giant cruise ships.

The unintended message is that the story is so common as to have a limited audience. It's not insensitivity. The Miami Herald has run other crime stories on the front page -- most recently the murder of a young high school graduate, who also was black.

But in the paper's search for a good ''mix'' of stories, it often leaves the impression that crime, especially when it affects the poor, is less important. And that makes it too easy to segregate the outrage.


Black community leaders should not be the only ones demanding justice for Zykarious. The problems faced by the poor, many of whom are black or Hispanic, are not all of their own making and not theirs alone to solve. The racism and economic inequalities that lead to injustice and despair are more than minority concerns.

A little boy is dead before his second birthday. It's natural to ask, ''How did they let this happen?'' A more honest society adds, ``How did we?''

We didn't let this happen, Ana. It's not our fault that little Zykarious was born into such a hostile environment. It's not our fault that many people in impoverished neighborhoods continue to make fatally bad choices in life and choose to blame others for their misfortune. Unfortunately, these people aren't helped one bit by columns such as the one above. For a second there, Menendez started to make sense, but then quickly layed the blame on all of us.

How dare you, Ana, when you sit there in your ivory tower and don't have a clue of what ordinary, law-abiding middle class citizens do or think?

How many of those people who zoom by that neighborhood on I-95 pay taxes which support programs to assist those in need? How many of those same people selflessly give their time and money to those people? Apparently, Ana knows the answer.

No thanks Ana, I absolutely refuse to share in the blame. Many of us do care and have given both time and money to help those who are disadvantaged, for whatever the reason.

Once, just once, I would love to read an article in any MSM publication by a staff columnist which places the blame squarely where it belongs. Actually, it happened just 2 days ago in the Miami Herald by none other than Leonard Pitts. I have disagreed with a ton of Pitts' columns, but on Friday, he was right on the money and he deserves credit for saying what needs to be said.

It's not about racism or indifference, despite what Menendez thinks. Those issues have been properly and rightfully addressed. If you want people to care more than they already do, they need to start seeing results. It's time to stop blaming society, move on, stand on your own two feet and make right decisions.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Democrats Stick Foot in Mouth Again

I'm a big fan of Bernard Goldberg. For those of you who don't know who he is, he's an ex-CBS reporter who wrote an editorial in the Wall Street Journal back in 1996 which pointed out the liberal bias in the media. Earth-shattering revelation, right? Well, it was earth-shattering enough to the big wigs in Manhattan to reduce Goldberg's role, and he eventually ended up retiring in the late 90s. Since then, he's written 3 books: Bias, Arrogance, and 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America. Liberals go into a tizzy when they read his books because a frequent target of Goldberg's is, well, liberals.

Interestingly enough, and this is what REALLY bothers liberals, he doesn't criticize them for their politics, as Goldberg himself is a lifelong liberal. He criticizes them for their actions and their statements.

Anyway, I bring Mr. Goldberg up because of an column in today's Herald which talks about how Florida Democrats are playing the "Republicans are bad" card in this year's campaigns. In other words, the Republicans have a "culture of corruption".

Let's hear it directly from 2 prominent Democratic U.S. Representatives from South Florida:

- Kendrick Meek: "The GOP culture of corruption has created an energy crisis".

- Debbie Wasserman Schultz: "Republican-controlled Washington has become infected with a culture of corruption, and the American people are . . . footing the bill.''

There you have it. The Republicans are responsible for all that is bad in this country. As a registered Republican, I am the first to admit the mistakes made with the current administration. I have absolutely no problem acknowledging mistakes, and neither do many of my like-minded friends. If Randi Rhodes or Al Franken or even Michael Moore had made those statements, we would just brush it off as big talk, just like when liberals complain about Rush Limbaugh.

However, when two respected politicians make those statements, we have a problem. It's no longer about which candidate offers the best plans and policies for the citizens, it's no longer about one-on-one debate of the issues. It's about smearing an entire party because of the actions of a few.

Speaking of which, and I was very pleased that Beth Reinhard brought it up in the column, the Democrats have their own bad guys. William Jefferson, Mandy Dawson and Gary Siplin were mentioned as Democratic examples of unethical behavior.

The moment a Republican politician makes a sweeping comment about Democrats, I will make sure to point it out as another example of awful partisan politics. I may have my opinions, but I'm fair.

If there are people on the left who still wonder why the Democrats haven't been able to win a major election in several years, all they have to do is look at Reinhard's piece as a hint.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Rainy Season in Cuba (Continued)

More sobering news courtesy of Net For Cuba and translated by yours truly from the floods in Havana, which as of last report have killed at least seven people.

The Cuban regime may get people out of harms way before hurricanes strike, but good luck with anything else that requires quick action and care for their own people.
Terror and neglect by torrential flood.

By Dr Darsi Ferrer Ramirez

Torrential rains that whipped Havana yesterday afternoon affected hundreds of families, leaving behind several deaths as well as total and partial losses to property and resources.
In some places the flood waters reached more than two meters in depth, as was the case for several blocks of Durege Street, in the municipality of Santos Suarez. Several houses were completely flooded and the water demolished walls among other effects.

Throughout the rain and flood event which lasted approximately four hours, the neighbors of that district called government organizations in search of aid, but according to several testimonies, at no moment did help arrive.

The neighbors themselves had to rescue dozens of children, women and elderly people who were trapped inside their homes and in serious danger. The level of the water covered clocks and electrical cables and, even then, the government failed to turn off power to the area which could have resulted in even more deaths. Also, neither civil defense nor other state organizations were present to aid the victims.

Hours after the event, two fire trucks arrived and a indignant group of 100 people gathered at the scene tried to attack them as they angrily shouted: "down to Fidel", "down to Communism", "Immediate aid was sent to Pakistan but they leave us to our own luck", etc.

Up to now, it is rumored that the rain and floods resulted in three deaths in the Zamora neighborhood, two children and an elderly man in the Lisa area of Marianao, another elderly man in Havana Center, one electrocution in the district known as Cuatro Caminos, and a death from an accident on Ayestaran Street.

An article appeared today in state newspaper Granma (official organ of the Communist Party) mentioning the floods but did not offer other details.

South Florida Real Estate Market

Much has been said (and predicted) about the real estate market these days. Some people think we're due for a big crash, while others think we're headed back to the days of more reasonable property appreciation (10% a year as opposed to 100%).

Today's articles in the Herald and Sun-Sentinel address the cooling real estate market. The Sentinel article does a better job of explaining the current situation and offers some good examples.

In my own neighborhood, there are several homes which have had For Sale signs up for several months now. This is a big change from last year when those homes would have been scooped up in days, not months. I think this is a good thing (of course, my house isn't on the market so this is easy for me to say), as an out-of-control housing market is bad in the long term. Gone are the days when sellers could come up with whatever price they felt like, and get away with it. Buyers are more selective and are beginning to drive prices down to reality.

When I say reality, I don't mean a crash. I mean back to the days of modest but steady appreciation. The condo market, that might be another story, especially downtown and on the Beach, but for regular single-family homes, no crash is in sight.

I just drove by a house about 2 blocks from mine which recently went on the market. It's a nice home in a safe, shady suburban neighborhood in Kendall. Four bedrooms/2 baths, garage, pool, big backyard, updated kitchen and floors. Very similar to the others in our neighborhood. Exactly one year ago, the house sold for $320,000, which at the time was very close to the median home price in Miami-Dade County.

It's now selling for $550,000, which is about $175,000 higher than the current median price.

This is the dilemma the market is currently in. Sellers who are still stuck on previous years' markets, and buyers who have caught on and are much more selective. I think the buyers will win, but it will take some time for sellers to get their heads out of the clouds.

I really feel bad for new homeowners these days when they have to deal with these kind of prices. The home described here is by all means a nice home, one that you could raise a family in. But does the seller (and the real estate agent) really think that the home has appreciated 80% percent in a year? Even with improvements and updated to the home, it's way too much.

If you think this is just a South Florida phenomenon, think again. I have talked to many of my work colleagues from other places, and the same thing is occurring in practically every medium and big-sized city in the US, especially in the South. We couldn't afford our own homes if we had to buy them now. This doesn't even factor in taxes and insurance, which is another story.

To all you sellers and buyers out there, good luck.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Rain, Rain and More Rain

OK, looks like my wish for the start of the rainy season came true today.

For us in South Florida, the start of rainy season signals the beginning of the sticky weather we'll see on a daily basis until October. It's nothing more than a change in the weather patterns, and is really of minimal concern for most of us. This year, however, with many roofs still under repair (like mine) or yet to be repaired, the threat of damage to buildings is much more significant than usual here in South Florida.

Nevertheless, the damage to roofs and homes here pales in comparison with what they are starting to deal with in Cuba as the rainy season begins there as well. Seven people have died in Havana alone as a result of flash floods and shoddy buildings. Check out some pictures of the damage here and especially here.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Mid-Week Quick Hits

Some quick hits on this Wednesday:

- No Shaq and no Wade for much of the second half against the defending conference champs?
No problem.

- The Marlins string together 2 in a row, and finally walk off with a win in the 9th inning.

- Speaking of the Marlins, whatever happened to their "threat" to leave South Florida for San Antonio? Hint: the deadline for a deal over there was 9 days ago.

- Ana Menendez takes on Cuba Nostalgia, and totally misses the point.

- Speaking of Ana Menendez, God help us if the Herald makes her start her own blog! Imagine all the wonderful fodder she would provide for us right-leaning Cuban American hacks.

- When the heck is rainy season going to start? I recently layed down some sod and I'm getting tired of watering it daily.

Monday, May 22, 2006

English as Official Language?

The debate as to whether English should be adopted as our official language has reared its ugly head once again. The U.S. Senate recently voted in favor of making English the national language. In Miami-Dade County, an English-only ordinance was passed in 1980, only to be repealed 13 years later.

Every time this comes up I ask myself, "what's the point"? Is it to remind foreigners and immigrants that English is the main language in this country, or is it a reminder of who's boss? Is it an attempt to have everyone assimilate, or is it used to ridicule and denigrate?

I personally believe that it is a measure taken by those who feel that their culture and their way of life are being threatened by those of a different race or ethnicity. It has no practical basis. Anyone with even one live brain cell realizes that in this country to get ahead you have to speak English. No one in their right mind would deny learning English if they had any reasonable opportunity to do so.

"But wait a second, what about in Miami where no one speaks English"?

Ok buddy, here's what I think:

The above also applies in Miami. Sure, there are many who live in Miami who never learn to speak English and live quite full lives. However, they would likely be more successful if they spoke English. Even in Miami, where most residents and visitors speak Spanish, there's no doubt that if you want a good job and get ahead, you must speak English. Accent, no accent, doesn't matter. Yes, there are those few who have hit it big with only a few English words in their dictionary, but they are the exception. I realize that there are many sections of Miami where English is barely spoken. That's because of the sheer number of newly-arrived immigrants we have in this city. Most of these folks struggle by with several jobs, and have no time to learn English. I saw this in my own family growing up. We have to be realistic and accept this if we want to be content living in Miami.

There's no need to make English the national language, in practice it already is. Making it law would only open a can of worms. What happens to governmental information and services which needs to be offered in other languages to reach our newly arrived? Do we just forget about them or rely on neighbors to translate critical information to those folks?

In some ways, Miami is ahead of the rest of the nation when it comes to the social aspects of immigration. Miami-Dade repealed the English-only ordinance in 1993 after realizing that it was futile and unrealistic to think that thousands of recently-arrived immigrants would suddenly learn to speak English in a city where 70% of the people speak Spanish or Creole. What are these people going to do, give up their part-time jobs to learn English?

It's not going to happen.

What does invariably happen is that their sons and daughters learn to speak fluent English, and in most cases, it ends up becoming their dominant language. Yes, even in Miami this happens. I can't tell you how many sons and daughters of second (and even first) generation Miami Hispanics struggle to speak even passable Spanish. Local community colleges and high schools are jam-packed with students taking English classes at night.

English is a force which dominates all aspects of cultural life. It's in TV, music, art, movies, schools, etc. It's not going away, even in the most immigrant-heavy communities. Instead of passing a silly and unnecessary law, let's make sure that we foster a healthy and inviting community for all of us to thrive in, regardless of what language we speak.

Cuba Nostalgia Recap

I was going to post this over at Babalu this morning, but time and lack of free access to a PC for much of the day means I won't be able to cross-post until this afternoon.

Anyway, I just wanted to pass along what a great experience Cuba Nostalgia was this year. The exhibits, music, food, atmosphere, etc. I'm also talking about the comraderie and fellowship at the Babalu booth (or pavilion as Conductor called it). We had people from at least 12 states visit and/or join us at the booth. Everyone from fellow bloggers to commenters to lurkers, it was great.

Blogging and the internet experience in general is both weird and extremely cool at the same time. Where else can you get to know someone without ever seeing them or hearing their voice? The first face-to-face meeting with those people is always a little awkward but definitely very nice because you finally get to match a face with the words.

This is how I met Ventanita, Marc and Albert this weekend. I also met Babalu (and occassional 26th Parallel) readers Scott G and Nurian.

All this is a testament to the power of the internet. It's also a testament to the great job that Val has done with Babalu Blog and the booth the past 2 years. Our message is getting out there, and the fact that it's just not people from Miami or South Florida who are joining in. It's not just Cuban-Americans or other Hispanics, either. People from all backgrounds and several states (and countries) have joined us in trying to get the word out about Cuba. Something other than what you see (or don't see) in the MSM and on TV or in films.

Most importantly, we're giving people a different perception of who Cuban-Americans are and what we stand for. Something other than the rhetoric and lies which fidel and his cronies spread about us.

It was great meeting and seeing everyone this weekend. Let's do this a bit more frequently!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

More Cuba Nostalgia

Just a quick post to let everyone know that Cuba Nostalgia is rolling along. The Babalu pavilion is full of activity with bloggers blogging, books for sale and live music which I unfortunately had to miss. In short, a great time.

I will post some thoughts about this year's event tomorrow both here and over at Babalu. For now, let's just say it's been nothing short of wonderful.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Cuba Nostalgia 2006

Here I'm am blogging live from Cuba Nostalgia, and it looks like another outstanding job done by the organizers of the event. Vintage late 50s cars (in mint condition unlike the ones in Havana)are on display at the entrance to the exhibit hall, traditional Cuban music being played live, and plenty of memorabilia.

Of course, I'm at the Babalu Blog booth, and although it's in a slightly different location from last year, the booth looks great. Also, we're not far from the chow line and that means faster access to food and adult beverages.

It's very cool to be in the same space with fellow bloggers, especially those with whom you share a common bond with. Val's here supervising the bloggers and making sure we're pounding the keys. Amanda and Ziva are also here blogging away, and Pitbull just made his grand entrance.

I remember feeling a little awestruck being here at last year's event, and the butterflies are still flying around a little this year. It's because of being in the presence of people whom you respect and have been inspired by.

Make sure you stop by Tamiami Park this weekend if you get the chance.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Cuba Nostalgia

I've come up for air just long enough to remind everyone, especially the South Florida readers, that Cuba Nostalgia is this weekend at Tamiami Park. If you haven't gone, you should check it out. If you've already gone but it's been a few years, you should check it out again.

If you're still not convinced you should go, here's the best reason of all: Babalu Blog will have a exhibit display for the second year in a row! Think about it...what would be better than spending an afternoon or evening with the guys and gals of Babalu? Val has been busting his behind to get things ready for this weekend, and I'm sure it will be another success. You might even run into yours truly there!

Seriously, the Cuba Nostalgia folks do a great job of mixing all different kinds of vendors with Cuban art, food and music. It's worth a trip to West Miami-Dade. Lots of free parking too.

I hope to see you all there.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Moral High Ground

An editorial in today's Miami Herald focuses on a Senate bipartisan resolution filed by Joe Lieberman (D) of Connecticut, and cosponsored by Florida Sens. Bill Nelson and Mel Martinez, John McCain, R-Ariz., Joe Biden, D-Del., and Robert Menendez, D-N.J.

The resolution "condemns the brutality of the regime of Fidel Castro toward Martha Beatriz Roque". Roque is one of Cuba's leading dissidents who was recently the target of physical attacks at the hands of castro's goon squads.

The editorial goes on to mention the dissidents' "moral high ground", which the senators are supporting with their resolution.

That's all fine and well, and I applaud the senators for doing this.

You can read the editorial here.

If only the international community followed suit. As we all too well know, not only does the international community NOT back us up, but the premier international organization actually
rewards Cuba for their crimes.

It's a constant battle folks, one that I'm sure the dissidents will one day win. But it won't be because of their "friends" in the international community, that's for sure.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Still Here

For those of you who are wondering where the heck I've been, here I am!

I've been extremely busy at work and have been out of the office all day since last week. Getting home after 6 PM hasn't helped matters either.

I plan to resume my near-daily musings Friday.

Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, May 05, 2006

This Naughty Blog

Just found out that 26th Parallel has joined the ranks of "irreverent blogs".

You can say a lot of things about this blog, some good and some bad. But I never would have thought that "irreverent" and 26th Parallel would ever be used in the same sentence. Not necessarily patting myself on the back here, just making a statement.

Then again, if it's possible to display irreverence towards fidel castro and his goons, then I will honestly say that 26th Parallel is 100% irreverent. One can wonder whether that's considered true irreverence since the term implies that the some kind of respect is warranted or deserved. I won't get into that here, but it's food for thought.

In any case, for new readers to this blog, please "revel in the irreverence" and "enter at your own risk"!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Commie Chic

I've had this column in my inbox for a few days now, but it is so right-on that it needs to be read.

At the very least it offers some interesting and thought-provoking rationale for the strange and frustrating dichotomy in the treatment given to fascists and communists.

H/T NetforCuba.

Communist chic

IN JANUARY 2005, Britain's Prince Harry attended a birthday party dressed as a Nazi. When the London Sun published a picture of the prince in his German desert uniform and swastika armband, it triggered widespread outrage and disgust. In scathing editorials, Harry was condemned as an ignorant and insensitive clod; months later, he was still apologizing for his tasteless costume. ''It was a very stupid thing to do," he said in September. ''I've learnt my lesson."

For a more recent example of totalitarian fashion, consider Tim Vincent, the New York correspondent for NBC's entertainment newsmagazine, ''Access Hollywood." Twice in the last few weeks, Vincent has introduced stories about upcoming movies while sporting an open jacket over a bright red T-shirt -- on which, clearly outlined in gold, was a large red star and a hammer-and-sickle: the international emblems of totalitarian communism.

And what was the public reaction to seeing those icons of cruelty and death turned into the latest yuppie style? Was there a furor? Moral outrage? Blistering editorials?

None of the above.

Enter ''hammer and sickle" into a shopping search engine, and up pop dozens of products adorned with the Marxist brand -- T-shirts and ski caps, bracelet charms and keychains, posters of Lenin and ''Soviet Kremlin Stainless Steel Flasks."

The glamorization of communism is widespread. On West 4th Street in Manhattan, the popular KGB Bar is known for its literary readings and Soviet propaganda posters. In Los Angeles, the La La Ling boutique sells baby clothing emblazoned with the face of Che Guevara, Fidel Castro's notorious henchman. At the House of Mao, a popular eatery in Singapore, waiters in Chinese army uniforms serve Long March Chicken, and a giant picture of Mao Zedong dominates one wall.

What can explain such ''communist chic?" How can people who wouldn't dream of drinking in a pub called Gestapo cheerfully hang out at the KGB Bar? If the swastika is an undisputed symbol of unspeakable evil, can the hammer-and-sickle and other emblems of communism be anything less?

Between 1933 and 1945, Adolf Hitler's Nazis slaughtered some 21 million people, but the communist nightmare has lasted far longer and its death toll is far, far higher. Since 1917, communist regimes have sent more than 100 million victims to their graves -- and in places like North Korea, the deaths continue to this day. The historian R.J. Rummel, an expert on genocide and government mass murder, estimates that the Soviet Union alone annihilated nearly 62 million people: ''Old and young, healthy and sick, men and women, even infants and the infirm, were killed in cold blood. They were not combatants in civil war or rebellions; they were not criminals. Indeed, nearly all were guilty of . . . nothing."

Yet communism rarely evokes the instinctive loathing that Nazism does. Prince Harry's swastika was way over the line, but Tim Vincent's hammer-and-sickle was kitschy and cool. Why?

Several reasons suggest themselves.

One is that in the war to defeat Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union fought with the Allies. World War II eventually gave way to the long-drawn Cold War, but America's alliance with Moscow left in many minds the belief that when it counted most, the communists were on our side.

Moreover, the Nazis didn't camouflage their hatefulness. Their rhetoric made only too clear that they loathed Jews and other ''subhumans" and believed an Aryan master race was destined to rule all others. By contrast, communist movements typically masked their ruthlessness with appealing talk of peace, equality, and an end to exploitation. Partly as a result, the myth persists to this day that communism is really a noble system that has never been properly implemented.

Third, the excesses of Joseph McCarthy hurt honest anticommunism. In the backlash to McCarthyism, many journalists and intellectuals came to dismiss any strong stand against the communists as ''Red baiting," and conscientious liberals found it increasingly difficult to take a vocal anti-Soviet stand.

But perhaps the strongest explanation is the simplest: visibility. Ever since the end of World War II, when photographers entered the death camps and recorded what they found, the world has had indelible images of the Nazi crimes. But no army ever liberated the Soviet Gulag or halted the Maoist massacres. If there are photos or films of those atrocities, few of us have ever seen them. The victims of communism have tended to be invisible -- and suffering that isn't seen is suffering most people don't think about.

''Communist chic?" The blood of 100 million victims cries out from the ground. To wear the symbols of their killers is no fashion statement, but the ultimate in bad taste.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The "Other" Immigrants

On this day, May 1st, A Day Without Immigrants, I thought I'd reflect a bit on the whole controversy.

First of all, I really didn't notice the big impact that the boycott was supposed to make. Yes, AM traffic was lighter, but more reminiscent of a summer weekday than a weekend or holiday. Other than that, it was a normal day. Fedex and USPS made their normal rounds; I picked up lunch at Chicken Kitchen; my wife shopped at Publix; and the cleaning crew arrived at work around 4 PM as usual.

As much as I sympathize with those immigrants who come here for a better life and to bring up their children in a better environment, a big part of me has to wonder what the purpose of today's boycott is. If it's to make a statement, OK fine. They've already gotten the attention of lawmakers.

However, what statement have they made? Well, if we go back to the first protests where an unfortunate minority changed anti-American slogans, flew American flags upside down and wore Che t-shirts; then the VERY bad decision to record a Spanish version of the National Anthem; followed by today's boycott on May Day of all days, I would say they have lost a lot of people who would have otherwise been sympathetic to their cause. They pretty much lost me even though I think a lot of their complaints are valid.

The past few days I couldn't help but think about the group of immigrants that has largely been overlooked in this saga.

No, not the Cubans.

I'm talking about LEGAL immigrants.

How would they feel seeing all these undocumented immigrants (who willingly came to this country illegally) skipping work and protesting for rights when they themselves had to go through the long and arduous process to gain legal status and eventually become citizens? How would they feel about some of these people who basically want a free ride to citizenship when they had to bust their butts?

Go over to Sundries and take a look for yourself.