[freedomtowernight_edited.jpg] 26th Parallel: June 2006

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


It's a cliche, but it's what makes a champion. As anyone who lives here knows, the Miami Heat won the NBA title last night. It was a team put together for the sole purpose of winning it all THIS YEAR. A mixture of young and old, up-and-coming and past-their-prime players.

They were doubted all season. I certainly did. But I'm glad that they proved me wrong.

I've been a Heat fan since their inception, going to a handful of games every season (Miami Sports Dudes has a good summary of the early days). They do the best marketing and public relations of any sports franchise in South Florida, in my opinion. Their games are always fun to attend and the fans well-mannered for the most part.

As Conductor noted so eloquently in this post, this victory is for all the current and ex-players and staff who have been with the team since their inception in 1988.

But there's one guy that deserves it the most. Alonzo Mourning. I shed a tear or two after the game last night thinking about what the championship must mean for Zo.

Val stated this here, and I echo his remarks.

This picture pretty much sums up this year's Heat team:

Photo courtesy Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

Two old adversaries turned teammates. Shaquille O'Neal, winner of 3 previous titles. Best player since Michael Jordan retired.

Zo, close but not quite there several times. Kidney problems which almost ended his career. Local philanthropist.

Two different personalities, one goal - achieved together.

Congratulations to the Heat!

Photo courtesy of South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Monday, June 19, 2006

Weaver the Weatherman

Long-time local TV weatherman Bob Weaver passed away on Saturday.

From someone who watched you back in the day when you used to draw the forecasts on a transparent board:

Thank you for your "sunny" personality. May you rest in peace.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

A Reasonable Article on Book Removal

I promised that this post on the Vamos A Cuba book removal (it's NOT a ban, as Alesh correctly states) would be the last on the subject, as I have pretty much had it with the whole mess.

I am happy to report that I was wrong.

Why am I pleased? After reading and hearing comments that Cubans want nothing more than to turn Miami into another castro-like authoritarian hellhole, after reading and hearing that Cuban are hypocrites and trample on freedom of speech, after reading and hearing that Cubans intimidate and pressure people to agree with them, came an column in the Miami Herald regarding the School Board's decision.

Normally, I would be on the verge of having a conniption after reading a typical Miami Herald columnist's handling of a controversial Cuban issue.

Not today. Herald political writer Beth Reinhard managed to perfectly capture the complexities of the issue. Where other journalists and bloggers totally missed or chose to ignore many of the reasons motivating those (parents, not politicians) who supported the removal, Reinhard was able to put aside her personal feelings and wrote an amazingly balanced and unbiased piece.

Additional comments following the column which is included here in its entirety (emphasis mine).
Host of Reasons Behind Banning Children's Book

By Beth Reinhard


It's easy for non-Hispanics to look at the Miami-Dade School Board's decision this week to ban a children's book and say: There go those crazy Cubans again.

Six years ago, they flipped when little Elian Gonzalez was reunited with his father in Cuba. Now they're trampling on the Constitution and censoring library books?

Hold on. There's plenty of room for disagreement about the extreme actions taken by Elian protesters and School Board members. And there's plenty of reason to suspect politicians of exploiting these incidents.

But there's also opportunity here to try to understand the genuine emotions behind the political posturing.

Jeffrey Garcia is not some 60-something Cuban exile who calls Spanish-language radio talk shows to rail about the Bay of Pigs. He's a 34-year-old Democratic political consultant who was born and raised in Miami-Dade.

Yet Garcia recoiled when he saw the cover of Vamos a Cuba, in which smiling children wear the mandatory uniform of the Communist youth and seem oblivious to the hard realities of a repressive regime.

Consider his father's story:

Jose Garcia left behind his parents and siblings in Cuba in 1961, as Fidel Castro began seizing businesses and property. Garcia was 15 years old. He never saw his mother again.

He went to Boston and lived with younger cousins who also had fled the island. He got by with odd jobs, cleaning a gas station, driving an ice cream truck. He also learned English and put himself through school, earning a college degree in mechanical and electrical engineering.

He got married and moved to Miami in 1971. He had three children, started a sprinkler company, served as lay president of St. Brendan Catholic school and coached Little League. He had achieved the American dream.

But in 1980, when Castro briefly opened up Cuba's borders and launched the Mariel boatlift, Garcia risked everything. He paid $30,000 to two shrimp boaters to take him to the island and retrieve his father.

Jose Garcia's father lived in Miami until his death in 1995. Jose died in 2004.

''My father's life experience played the largest role in shaping who I am,'' Jeffrey Garcia said. ``There are a lot of people living in South Florida with this kind of story. Maybe I wouldn't ban that book, but the School Board's decision needs to be put in context.''

Were board members pandering to the politically influential Cuban exile community? Maybe. The School Board overruled recommendations from two review committees comprised of Cuban Americans as well as Superintendent Rudy Crew. Three of the six board members who voted against the book are up for reelection -- Perla Tabares Hantman, Agustin Barrera and Marta Perez -- and a fourth, Frank Bolaños, is campaigning for the state Senate.

Earlier this month, Bolaños said of his colleagues' upcoming decision: ``They will have a choice to either define themselves on the side of truth and with the Cuban community or on the side of lies and against the Cuban community.''

Such inflammatory remarks and votes should be carefully dissected by the public. But is it possible to debate the matter without dismissing ``those crazy Cubans?''

Think of the experience of Garcia's father and so many others.

''We never do,'' Garcia said. 'Nobody ever stops and says, `Hold on, there's a whole other side of this. Let me try to see how regular people arrive at these conclusions.' Nobody does that.'

Garcia is right, no one gives a crap about looking at both sides. I understand it's not easy for non-Cubans to understand how some Cubans feel about the book, but instead of trying to understand before passing judgement, it appears to me that many in South Florida immediately see this as another opportunity to trash Cuban-Americans. Sadly enough, there's plenty of that going around in the local blogosphere. Let's face it, Cuban-Americans, perceived to be the top dogs in Miami, are fair game in this town.

I won't even mention that many Cuban-Americans disagree with the book removal. I won't mention that I am quite bothered by the removal myself. I definitely won't bother mentioning that several Cuban-American bloggers have been involved in a passionate but very intelligent e-mail debate on whether the book should have removed or not.

That's OK. I don't want to disrupt the perception that many have already drawn of us intolerant Cuban-Americans.

Where's the perspective? Where's the understanding by those who think they're intellectually and morally superior because they felt the book should have remained on the shelves of a school library? Why are their feelings more rational than those of the people who felt strongly about removing the book?

It's impressive that Reinhard, a non-Cuban who by the tone of the article seems to disagree with the removal of the book, was able to comprehend the situation so well while still having an opinion of her own.

Of course, that's what smart, reasonable and fair people do.

Reinhard has won a ton of respect from me.

And folks, that's it. NO MORE POSTS ON THIS TOPIC from yours truly!

I promise.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Vamos a Cuba Banned (UPDATED)

The Miami-Dade County School Board voted 6-3 to ban the controversial book Vamos a Cuba, as well as the other 23 in the series which includes descriptions of life in other countries.

As this Miami Herald article points out, lawsuits by the ACLU are already being planned.

I have a very uneasy feeling about this. As I've alluded to in the past few days, I have mixed feelings about this issue. Now, the ACLU and the School Board are getting into a big stink over this, and the focus will be on the battle between the two entities, instead on where it should be which is of course what our children are exposed to in our schools.

For all their good intentions, Juan Amador Rodriguez and the others who fought for the ban will now have another fight on their hands, this one with high-powered lawyers against them. I wonder if a middle ground could have been reached here.

I know, we need to stand by our principles. But sometimes, we have to pick our battles, and pick them wisely. The book was definitely worth discussing, but was a total ban necessary in order to drive the point home? I don't know, but I have some doubts.

Before I finish blogging this topic once and for all, I would like to point out one exchange in the meeting yesterday between Board members which really pissed me off.

Board member Robert Ingram voted for the ban, but only to invite the ACLU's lawsuit so the issue could be resolved by the courts, he said. In an impassioned speech, he said threats from the exile community left him thinking board members ''might find a bomb under their automobiles'' if they voted to keep the book.

''There's a passion of hate,'' Ingram said. ``I can't vote my conscience without feeling threatened -- that should never happen in this community any more.''

Perez promptly called those comments ''inappropriate and offensive,'' and Ingram later explained himself further.

''That's just the nature of Miami-Dade County,'' Ingram said. ``If you were offended, come see me, work with me.''

Needless to say, Robert Ingram is a spineless idiot for making those comments. First, he accuses the exile community of threatening to commit terrorist acts. Then, after appropriately challenged by another board member, he backpedals and makes a weak and lame statement basically stating that it's "business as usual" in Miami-Dade County. Based on Ingram's irresponsible comments, we can expect the 3 board members that voted against the ban to have bombs planted in their homes or under their cars at any moment.

It's just unbelievable that someone would go as far as saying something like that about ANY part of our community. Could you imagine the stink if a Cuban-American board member made a remark that they were afraid of Overtown and Liberty City being destroyed by riots if they made a decision that went against the feelings of the black community? I would be similarly upset.

Mr. Ingram, with all due respect, you're a total and complete moron. If I lived in your district, I would make 100% sure to vote your ass out of office. Don't pretend to speak or categorize the entire county and its citizens when you were voted to represent them.

UPDATED 11:04 AM - Conductor shares his views over at Cuban American Pundits.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Herald Weighs In On Book

A meeting this afternoon will likely decide the fate of the controversial book Vamos a Cuba - for now. I say this because there will likely be lawsuits regardless of which side prevails.

The Miami Herald published an editorial in today's paper which strongly recommends that the book not be banned from school libraries. Some good points are made, and I feel that those who are strongly in favor of the ban ought to seriously consider the Herald's view.

I have presented the ban supporters views in previous posts, and in the interest of balance, I present the key points of the editorial.
As it deals today with a parent's request to ban a book from one elementary school, the Miami-Dade County School Board should keep things in perspective -- not always easy in an election year. The majority of parents in Miami-Dade are not concerned with fate of the book, Vamos a Cuba, in Marjory Stoneman Douglas Elementary. They want the public school system to keep on improving the quality of their children's education, period.

The changes are the result of the joint focus of the School Board and Superintendent Rudy Crew on improving all of the county's schools through various means -- innovative teaching techniques, an emphasis on enhancing teaching skills, putting more resources in classrooms. Credit the state's tougher standards for grading schools and testing students, as well. There are more strides to make, but they are achievable if the board and administration remain focused on building education excellence.

That's why the controversy over Vamos a Cuba should not be allowed to distract the board. Everyone agrees that the book, one of a series about youths' lives in other countries, does not depict in all accuracy life in Cuba today. It is a simplified account of Cuban children's daily routines intended to help Miami-Dade students in kindergarten through second grade relate to the island's youth. That it ignores the brutal dictatorship that has ruled Cuba for more than 40 years is not in dispute.

But views among the Cuban-American community about whether it should be removed from schools are hardly one-sided. The results of two committees charged with assessing the book show this clearly. A committee of eight Cuban-American parents and administrators from Marjory Stoneman Douglas voted 7-1 to keep the book on the school's library shelves. Next, a 17-member committee of district and lay personnel voted 15-1 -- one resigned -- to keep the book. There were eight Cuban Americans on that committee, with just one voting for removal.

If the board votes to ban Vamos a Cuba, it would be censorship, a violation of district policy. The ban will no doubt beget lawsuits against the board and force Mr. Crew to engage a lawyer to deal with the awkward position that a ban would impose: juggling between upholding district policy and responding to a board decision.

Mr. Crew has offered satisfactory compromises such as requiring parental permission for a student to check out the book or attaching materials to it that inform readers it is not a complete portrayal of life in Cuba. Either of these is a sensible choice for the board. Censorship is not.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Some Perspective on the Cuba Book Controversy

In the couple of posts I have published on the Vamos a Cuba book controversy in the Miami-Dade Public Schools, I have attempted to present the side of those who have been victims of castro's regime and feel strongly against the book. By bringing their perspective out in the open, my hope is that those who cannot understand why some Cuban-Americans so vehemently want the book to be eliminated will comprehend and perhaps even relate a little to the feelings that many reasonable people are experiencing.

Via an e-mail from Net For Cuba, I read an impressive write-up by producer/director Agustin Blasquez on the matter. It perfectly expresses the side of those who have been victims of the Cuban regime, and exposes some blatant double standards by the Miami-Dade School Board. This is not an attack only at our local public school district, but unfortunately also a reflection of the indifference Cuban-Americans often encounter when trying to advocating their cause.

It's a long read, but well worth it if you want to understand why many Cubans are up in arms over the book. Click on the title of the piece to link to the article on Net For Cuba.
© ABIP 2006
by Agustin Blazquez with the collaboration of Jaums Sutton

In 1997, Maria Tuma, an art teacher at the Miami-Dade County Public Schools who was nominated as the teacher of the year in 1994, was fired after 22 years of service. Her mortal sin was giving Bibles to six children.

She sighted her “freedom of expression” given by the 1st Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. The County School Board alleged “insubordination.”

She says, “the 1st Amendment supposedly allows freedom of expression, but they cancelled my freedom.”

In 1997 she suffered hearings resembling those in Communist Russia and Nazi Germany in which her sentence like in a totalitarian country “was already predetermined and didn’t even allow my lawyer to defend me,” she says.

The Miami-Dade County Public School Board banned the Bible because someone found it offensive. And nothing offensive to blacks, Jews, and they are very sensitive not to offend other minorities – even illegal immigrants - but when something offensive to Cuban Americans is involved, they stubbornly refuse to bulge.

Meanwhile, this year, a parent found two books in the Miami-Dade School Libraries that have caused uproar in the Cuban American community in Miami. They are A Visit to Cuba and Cuban Kids.

Both books portray Castro’s Cuba as if it is a free country in which everything is fine and dandy, food, clothing, education and health care is no problem, and everybody is very happy. This is of course inaccurate; therefore these books are giving the children misinformation and propaganda.

These books are not contributing to education but to “dis-education,” contrary to the goals of a normal school system. Notice that I say “normal.”

Americans, sadly misinformed by the liberal U.S. media and the Marxist professors very much in control of our learning centers, may swallow these books. But Cuban Americans - with firsthand experience of 47 years living under Castro’s boots - cannot sit idly by while these patently erroneous books are presented as valid by a U.S. school system.

It is not an issue of Cuban American imposing censorship; it is a matter of facts vs. lies and deceptions with the purpose to misinform.

And, by the way, these books are extremely offensive for Castro’s victims – which Dr. Armando Lago has been painstakingly documenting for ten years and which totals over 100,000 deaths including about 32 U.S. citizens whose bodies are exhibited in Castro’s museums in Cuba.

Not yet documented are the deaths that Castro caused all over Central and South America, and all the deaths of blacks his army caused in Angola – Castro used bacteriological arms to exterminate them – as well as in Ethiopia, other places in Africa and the Middle East. Also not yet documented are the deaths he caused in the U.S. due to the drug trafficking which Castro fostered and aided since the early 1960s.

How ironic that in an area heavy with Cuban Americans, the School Board insists on maintaining books that are so utterly known by a major component of the community to be inaccurate, not to mention offensive.

After living in the U.S. for 39 years, I am painfully aware that the liberal Media, the academic professors, elitist intellectuals and Hollywood circles have created a double standard in relation to Cuba and Cuban Americans. It is all right to refer to us with derogatory terms and to malign us in public forums.

It is all right to laugh at us and to censor the tragedy Cuba has been experiencing since Castro hijacked the democratic political change that all Cubans wanted in order to get rid of Batista’s six-year dictatorship.

So with all these powerful enemies around have been very difficult and will continue being difficult to get our message across to the American people. But we will continue and will not rest until democracy, freedom and justice return to Cuba.

On June 14, 2006, at 1 p.m. the final appeal of a Miami-Dade father to the School Board to remove these offensive books from his child school library will take place. So we have to wait and see what will be the response of the School Board this time.

Meanwhile, on June 9 at 2:30 p.m., a Cuban American pro-democracy group, Vigilia Mambisa, held a press conference and introduced Manny Añon, a new candidate to run for the Miami-Dade School Board, for District 6. So that officially is the beginning of the campaign against Agustin J. Barrera, the incumbent president of the Miami-Dade School Board who has been opposed to the removal of these two books. That’s the way Cuban Americans work in a democratic system.

David Rosenthal of Vigilia Mambisa says that Barrera “has not understood how to represent those who elected him.”

Although I have never lived in Miami, I join my fellow Cuban Americans in Miami in their objective for a satisfactory resolution of the issue of these two inaccurate books at the Miami-Dade School Libraries.

2006 ABIP

Friday, June 09, 2006

Another Herald Editorial on Fariñas

The Miami Herald is far from perfect. Every one in a while, they deserve a good slap in the face, especially when columnists such as Ana Menendez and others turn on their computers and open their keyboards.

However (yes there IS a however), the Herald deserves to be praised when it comes to advocating for human rights in Cuba. Back in March, they published a solid editorial on the status of Guillermo Fariñas, who has been on a hunger strike since the end of January. When it comes to this story and others relating to dissident rights in Cuba, the Miami Herald stands at the top of the MSM heap.

Today, they follow up with another well-written editorial on Fariñas' situation, which appears to be getting bleaker every day.

Here it is, and drop a note to the Herald thanking them for keeping the public aware of Fariñas and others who are fighting for human rights in Cuba.

Hunger striker's life staked on freedom


The Cuban regime's Internet blockade drew some fire at the recent Organization of American States' meeting in Santo Domingo. The final declaration pointedly noted that ''without political censorship,'' the Internet helps develop democracies. Such truth, however, will offer little comfort to Guillermo Fariñas, a Cuban dissident who appears ready to die protesting the Internet ban.

Mr. Fariñas, 42, began his hunger strike on Jan. 31 after regime authorities shut down his e-mail access. Today, 129 days later, he's sustained by intravenous drips in a hospital in Villa Clara in central Cuba. Doctors operated to remove fluids from his lungs last week. This week his sister said that Mr. Fariñas was "shutting down, bit by bit.''

Why would Internet access be so important that a man would stake his life on it? Mr. Fariñas, a psychologist turned independent journalist, used e-mail to send uncensored dispatches on the regime's attacks on dissidents and other human-rights abuses. Once posted on the Internet, the reports could be read by people all over the world. He wanted his e-mail access restored to continue spotlighting the plight of more than 300 political prisoners in Cuba's jails.

Of course, reporting on such politically incorrect topics is illegal in Cuba for the same reason that the regime has blocked access to the Internet for years. Cuba's dictatorship wants to control all information coming in and going out of the island. That's how it protects its 47-year-old media monopoly -- its tool for manipulating public opinion, both in Cuba and abroad, and staying in power. Unfettered access to the Internet poses a grave threat to the regime. Uncensored news and access to e-mail might give Cubans democratic ideas.

We do not condone Mr. Fariñas' hunger strike, and we hope for his recovery. Yet, despite the pleas of his family and fellow dissidents, Mr. Fariñas insists on continuing his protest. Last month he sent a letter asking the new U.N. Human Rights Council to condemn Cuba's government for its abuses. He also insists on his right to Internet access. The regime's Internet blockade is yet another sign of its indifference to such fundamental freedoms.

Football, Anyone?

The world's most coveted sports championship is about to start.  Billions of people all around the world are placing bets, getting their snacks and favorite beverages lined up, and painting their faces in their teams' colors. 

Wait a second, Robert...aren't you a day late as always?  The NBA Finals started last night! 

Yes, I am aware of that (don't worry fellow Heat fans, the boys will rebound. I guarantee it.)

I'm talking about the World Cup. Soccer.

I can just hear everyone out there go, "phhhhhhhhhhhh".  I also hear the sounds of backclicking to whatever page you visited before you came here.

For the 2 of you who love World Cup soccer as much as I do, thanks for sticking around.  Let's continue, shall we?

In less than 3 hours, Germany kicks off the tournament against Costa Rica.  That's one of the things I love most about the World Cup, it's the unlikely matchups between countries you would never even dream of pairing.  How about Poland vs Ecuador later this afternoon? 

I got hooked on the World Cup back in 1982 when I saw virtually all the matches on TV.  I don't know what it was, but there was something special about it that captivated me.  Perhaps it was the pageantry, or the intensity of the fans.  The intensity of the games, this is the World Cup after all.  I've been a fan ever since.

I do follow world soccer off and on, so I do have a decent knowledge of the teams and the star players.  My far-from-bold prediction for this year's finals matchup will be Brazil vs Germany.  Easy one, right?  Host vs 5-time champs.

How will the United States do?  We have what I think is the best team we've ever had.  That said, it will be tougher than in 2002, not because of the quality of the opponents, but because they are playing 2 tough European opponents in Europe.  In 2002, the US faced 2 tough European teams, Portugal and Poland, but it was in Asia, which acted as a huge neutralizer.  As a result, the US was able to pull off an upset and advance all the way to the quarterfinals.  This year, they will face Italy and the Czech Republic in what is almost their home turf.  Big difference and I'm afraid we will fall just short of advancing to the second round, but not because of poor effort.

One thing that has irritated me the past few weeks is the heavy advertising and cheering that the US Spanish networks, particularly Univision, have given for their home team, Mexico.  It's so obvious that the advertisers and network folks are rooting hard for them and practically promoting them as the "home team".  It doesn't help that Mexico got placed in an easy draw with Portugal, Iran and Angola, which means that they will likely advance to the second round.  Unfortunately, there will be no USA to face them in the second round and send the "Tri" packing with their tails between their legs as in 2002.

OK, enough talk.  Let's get the ball rolling!

Thursday, June 08, 2006


"Zarqawi felt my son's breath on his hand as held the knife against his throat. Zarqawi had to look in his eyes when he did it," Berg added, pausing to collect himself. "George Bush sits there glassy-eyed in his office with pieces of paper and condemns people to death. That to me is a real terrorist."
That was Michael Berg, father of Nick who was brutally murdered by Al-Zarqawi.

With all due respect to Mr. Berg, I'm at a loss for words.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Final Decision on Cuba Book Soon?

Yesterday, a panel recommended that the Vamos a Cuba book currently in Dade County school library shelves remain. Based on this Herald article, Superintendent Rudy Crew is expected to uphold the panel's recommendation.

I posted my feelings back in April, and I really haven't changed my mind much. I'm not crazy about outright banning of books unless the material is extremely offensive and can cause harm. Based on all accounts I've heard and read, the book is pretty much all fluff and little, if any, substance. It is for young children to read and absorb. I acknowledge that kids at that age don't understand communism, totalitarianism, authoritarianism or any other -ism out there.

So, what's the harm in a stupid book about Cuban kids?

I don't know about the book, but I do know about the stories and the experiences that virtually all Cuban parents have from their childhood in Cuba. It may or may not justify banning the book, but it doesn't make their passionate and just concerns less valid. People need to hear both sides, and those who are dead-set against banning the book, who feel that "those Cubans are at it again acting like castro" really need to open their minds a little and understand exactly what those people have gone through. Having a part of your life misinterpreted is not a good feeling, I don't care who you are.

Val posted some good and thought-provoking stuff today which is worth reading.

As I posted back in April, if they want to keep the book, fine. But let's make sure that kids and parents are forewarned about the crap they are about to read, along with some suggestions on how to counter with factual information that they and their kids can have access to. They are owed at least that much.

A parting thought: what if the book in question was about Nazi Germany or Apartheid-era South Africa? What would be the reaction to those books?

Not a fair comparison, some may say? If so, please feel free to tell me why.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

How Sweet It Is

Photo Courtesy of Miami Herald

Resilience. Teamwork. Fighting through adversity. Eastern Conference Champions.

The words above have been used repeatedly to describe the Detroit Pistons.

Now they can be applied to the new Kings of the East.

Your Miami Heat.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Cool Beans

No, I'm not talking about the ones you eat.  I'm talking about this cool add-on on Firefox called Performancing, which basically enables you to edit and publish a post to any blog straight from the browser.  No need to call up your blog service's URL, no need to keep on typing your username and password. With a click from the taskbar, you can edit and publish in seconds.

I'm sure this is probably old news to most of you, but if you haven't tried it, check it out here.