[freedomtowernight_edited.jpg] 26th Parallel: December 2006

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Another New Year

I've never been big on New Year's Day. Not to say that it's just another day, but to me it's down on the list of significant holidays, probably on par with Labor Day.

Because of this, I don't recall ever making any formal New Year's resolutions. Sure, I've made mental notes of things that I would like to do differently or totally new. But often, I look back at the old year as a series of positive and negative events which occurred rather randomly.

Nevertheless, January 1st is a natural time of reflection and of looking ahead.

Here's what I hope to accomplish in 2007:
  • Spend more fun time with the family.
  • See South Florida like a tourist.
  • Do a better job of understanding those with whom I disagree with (yes Rick this includes you).
  • Continue to stand up for what I believe in (not necessarily contradictory to the previous item).
  • Drink more water.
  • Read more.
  • Stress less.
  • Organize my garage.
  • Get a dog.
  • Stop procrastinating.
And barring an unexpected medical turnaround from you know who, I sincerely hope to write "the post".

Happy New Year!


Begging Lucrative in Cuba

Only in Cuba can something as humiliating as being a beggar be considered profitable.

From a Miami Herald story published Christmas Day written by that ever-present "Miami Herald Staff Report" in Havana:
Daniel Avila's source of income is irregular, subject to weather conditions, and offers no paid holidays or vacations.

But as a full-time beggar on Havana's famed seaside avenue, Avila can make in two days what the rest of his countrymen earn in two weeks: about $8.

Avila, disabled from a bike wreck 10 years ago, waits until the new tourist buses park along the Malecón in Old Havana and drop off dozens of foreign tourists for an afternoon of crafts-shopping, then hobbles up and down the street asking for money, a metal brace in each hand.

''Five years ago, you didn't see as many people doing this,'' he said, lamenting that day's competition: a rail-thin young mother toting an infant baby. ``Five years ago you could get by in Cuba. Now you see a lot of elderly and handicapped out here asking for money. The pension they give us just isn't enough.''

Read the entire story here.

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Friday, December 29, 2006

Bush is a Bad Guy

When I think of villians, you know...really bad guys, there are many that come to mind. Osama Bin Laden, any terrorist, President "Tom" of Iran, fidel castro...OK you get the idea.

Apparently, many more people would have included another name to that list:

George W. Bush

The results of an AP-AOL poll published today indicate that more people think of President Bush as the world's top bad guy than anyone else. Twenty-five...that's 25 percent...of those surveyed picked Dubya as the #1 bad guy. A total of 1,004 people were surveyed.

Don't worry...Osama Bin Laden and President Ahmadinedjad were on the list as well, at 8 and 5 percent respectively.

I'm often skeptical of polls, for obvious reasons. They're not scientific and the questions asked can be quite misleading. But it is shocking to me that three times as many people consider George Bush to be a worse human being than Osama Bin Laden. 43 percent of Democrats thought Bush was #1, as did 27 percent of Republicans.

It's staggering.

I can understand people's beef with Bush. I can even understand if someone doesn't like him. But to think that he's worse than Bin Laden...I don't care how much you dislike a president of the United States, it's incredibly stupid and reflects badly on this country's intelligence level. In addition, it's proof that BDS (Bush Derangement Syndrome) is not only alive and well, but has reached epidemic proportions.

I should add that Bush received the most responses for biggest hero at a whopping 13 percent.

I know, it's just a stupid poll. But this one reflects just how stupid we can be.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Post-Christmas Roundup

Hope everyone reading this had a wonderful Christmas full of presents and good cheer.

I'm still recovering from all the festivities and running around getting things ready for the holiday, and trying to play catch-up at work.

Therefore, here's a roundup from some of my favorite blogs:

- El Gusano at La Contra Revolución thinks that there's something sneaky behind Val's freak Nochebuena accident involving mojo, a horse needle and his hand.

- From Down Under, Luis at Child of the Revolution reminisces about the days when Nochebuena was actually celebrated in Cuba.

- Ziva shows us that there are intelligent people in Spain when it comes to dealing with Cuba.

- Speaking of Cuba, Marc has a story which highlights Cuba dissidents' optimism for big changes in 2007. Of course, a lot depends on whether a Spanish doctor's diagnosis is correct.

- And, in closing:

R.I.P. Gerald Ford.

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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Ros-Lehtinen Unedited Tape Still A Hatchet Job (UPDATE)

I didn't post initially on the Ileana Ros-Lehtinen interview for the documentary 638 Ways to Kill Castro, since it was handled very well by my cohorts and it was extremely obvious that the tape was edited.

Now, the Miami Herald reports that an "unedited" version of the tape has been released by the director, Dollan Cannell. Cannell and the Herald state unequivocally that Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's comment about "welcoming the opportunity" for castro to be assassinated was not taken out of context in the original version, contrary to what the congresswoman alleged last week. Not only that, but Cannell wants a retraction and an apology from Ros-Lehtinen.

OK folks, do yourselves a favor and go to this link and then click on the "Video | See the interview" link. See the whole interview for yourself. Pay close attention to Ros-Lehtinen's body language and cadence of speech. From the 11:04 mark to 11:09 on the tape counter is when the congresswoman makes her "welcoming assassination" comment.

At 11:06, there is a clear and obvious break in Ros-Lehtinen's body language and cadence, along with a split-second freeze-frame right before the assassination comment is made. Nowhere else in the tape is there such an awkward break.

Coincidence? Think what you will, but it only took me one time through the interview to catch the apparent edit job at precisely the right time in what's supposed to be an "unedited" tape. I may be wrong, but I never doubt my first instinct and gut feelings.

Ros-Lehtinen may actually desire that castro be eliminated by any means possible, including assassination. If so, then....so? I would agree with her, and so would many others who have suffered or seen relatives suffer at the hand of that bastard. But that's not the point.

What's wrong here is that a documentary apparently approaching a story from its own angle and perspective, and trying to discredit and paint a U.S. Congresswoman as dishonest and dishonorable, is resorting to dishonest tactics to accomplish this.

God knows we have so many politicians who could fit the bill. However, Dollan Cannell, regardless of how many Emmys won, needs to bark up another tree.

Again, take a good and honest look at the tape.

UPDATE 12/23: Ros-Lehtinen is reported to have admitted to remarking about a fidel assassination. Shame on the congresswoman for trying to be PC about a decidedly un-PC remark she made. Some tact in making the remark in the interview would have obviously helped, but some guts and conviction on her part when this issue first popped up several days ago would have served her better, not to mention made her look honest about something a lot of people feel and agree with her on.

BTW, I still think the tape isn't totally uncut.

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Friday, December 22, 2006

Que Pena!

From the "what a shame" files comes this unfortunate incident last night:

- Marlins Pitcher Dontrelle Willis arrested on South Beach on charges of DUI.

A good guy made some very dumb decisions last night. Let's hope he learns from them. Based on his track record, I think he will.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Aid? Who Needs Aid? (UPDATE)

UPDATE 12/21: Included link to original article and corrected quote attribution. Thanks to Phi Peters for pointing these out.

Val has already posted on the 10-member U.S. delegation which traveled to Cuba to do business with the Cuban regime. It's safe to say that I'm of the same opinion of Val with regards to the delegation's purpose in Cuba.

I can't help but find this quote by Arizona Republican Rep. Jeff Flake New York Democrat Gregory Meeks incredibly ironic but yet fitting at the same time:
"The Cubans are openly asking for trade. They don't want aid, they want trade," he said in an interview on a seaside patio at the Hotel Nacional. "It would be a surplus for us, they want to buy American goods."
That's right Mr. Meeks. Cubans want goods, at least that's what the big wigs told you from the seaside patio where nary a Cuban citizen could be seen.

Aid? Who needs aid? Perhaps if Mr. Flake would have met with some of these people, he would reconsider that statement.

Of course, meeting with a bunch of political prisoners would have been a bummer for the delegation. That big dose of reality would have put a damper on their business plans.

Are we idealistic? You bet. Right now, and in light of our politicians doing deals with the devil, I wear that badge with pride.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Art of Communicating

At a recent week-long training workshop I attended, one of the days was spent discussing communication. Communication of all sorts: with co-workers, media, e-mail, etc.

They forgot to cover blogs. Like any other interactive medium, the blogosphere is full of lessons we can learn regarding communication and getting our point across effectively.

The title of a recent Herald Watch post is: "Yes, Herald, Words Matter". I agree. I'll also take it a step further.

It's not necessarily what words you use, it's how you use them.

That may sound cliché, but as many clichés are, it's spot on.

When speaking to others, we intepret the true meaning of one's words mainly through body language. We don't have the ability to read body language through blogs, but we can pick up someone's true feelings through the words one uses and how they are used. Our feelings pretty much replace our body language when communicating via print or electronic media.

All this may sound obvious enough, but how many of us are conscious of this when we blog? I don't know how many times I've read something that I totally disagree with, yet walk away feeling like perhaps I've learned something useful. Conversely, how many times have I read something that I may not totally disagree with, but the way it's written leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. Of course, a dissenting post written in a foul manner is the worst of all worlds. These last two examples describe my experience with Herald columnist Ana Menendez to a tee.

I try to remind myself of the art of communicating effectively every time I post something. Sometimes, bad feelings get the better of me and I end up writing something which reflects my bad mood. Still, we need to fess up to the fact that most people who read blogs react not necessarily to the content, but to the way it's presented. Therefore, if you're going to post something while in a bad mood or upset about something/someone...be careful how you express yourself. If you're careless, you may not get your point across the way you intended.

At least that's what I say to the bathroom mirror every morning.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

We're Not Worthy! (UPDATE)

When I saw this post at Babalu last week about the 2006 Weblog Awards, I didn't have much time so I sort of skipped it over.

Too bad, because if I would have followed through, I would have realized that this humble blog is a finalist in the Best Latino, Carribean or South American Blog. I stumbled onto this while doing a Technorati search.

It came as a bit of a surprise, to say the least. I am honored, but feel undeserving...especially when there are many other blogs out there in that category that are heads and shoulders above mine. That was before I saw the other finalists.

Anyway, the voting ends tomorrow...so go here and vote for 26th Parallel. We're dead last, so we need your help! Seriously, just vote for your favorite blog.

UPDATED 12/18: It's official! Babalu wins! Congratulations to Val...and I guess I should take part in that celebration as well. 26th Parallel finished dead last with a whopping 0.85% of the vote. Rumors of me asking for a recount are just that...rumors.

Who do they think we are...Al Gore?


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Feel Good South Florida Holiday Story

Click here for a story that, outside of the local media, you'll likely only find on this blog.


Because we're not afraid to post stories about the good side of people in South Florida.


The Children of Cuba - Another View

Thanks to Armando Valladares, Miami-Dade County school students will be able to read about the other side of life in Cuba, the side that makes thousands of people risk their lives to arrive at our shores and start a new life.

The book "Los Niños de Cuba" (The Children of Cuba), should have come out right after the Vamos A Cuba stink last spring and summer. It would have likely prevented the posturing by the School Board through its vote to ban the controversial book.

This does not discount the valid and honest feelings many had against the Vamos A Cuba publication, which is something that vehement critics of the School Board decision failed to recognize.

I for one am happy that the concerns of parents such as Juan Amador Rodriguez, who himself suffered in castro's jails, have been listened to, not by the School Board, but by others in the community. Valladares' book is a prime example of this.

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Tancredo Not Coming Back

The Miami Herald reports that Rep. Tom Tancredo's talk to the Rotary Club of Miami has been cancelled by the host, the Rusty Pelican restaurant, due to pressures dealing with lack of space and the anticipated media crunch.

Local TV media are reporting, however, that the congressman's visit was cancelled due to a threat e-mailed to the Miami Herald.

Here's a comment by Tancredo spokesman Carlos Espinosa (a fine American name if I ever heard one):
''We knew that it would be dangerous to speak your mind in a third world country like Cuba. Apparently there isn't much difference in Miami.''
Looks like the Rusty Pelican management is giving somewhat conflicting information on their reasons for cancelling Tancredo's appearance.

Unfortunately, the apparent threat received by the Miami Herald doesn't help to disprove Tancredo's view of Miami. However, even if we were to take that threat seriously - my feeling is that it's a prank by a bored agent provocateur - does one person's threat truly represent an entire city or region? Would the lack of a threat, and a local discussion on the issue change Tancredo's opinion on Miami and its immigrants? My answer to both is no, which I believe is the logical conclusion to draw out of this.

Part of me hoped that Tancredo showed up and got blasted by at least part of the community. Another part of me, however, wishes that he just stay as far away as possible from South Florida. We can talk about and resolve our problems without a Colorado politician whose contempt for immigrants is matched only by his political posturing.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Let's Sit Down And Chat, Shall We?

And some people actually want the U.S. to negotiate with this nut job?

Iran President: Israel Will Be Wiped Out

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Monday, December 11, 2006

On Pinochet, castro, and Other Dictators

I don't have a strong reaction to Pinochet's death, other than I will not try to defend a person who was responsible for the deaths of thousands. What's the use in comparing Pinochet to castro to Hitler to Stalin? A murdering dictator is a murdering dictator is a murdering dictator.

What I DID find interesting was the reaction by A Grand Illusion to this piece by fellow Babalu collaborator Ziva, which Rick picked up on in what appears to be a failed attempt to cause a blog-ruckus.

Rick stir the pot? NAAAAH!.

Andy's case is that Ziva should feel heartbroken for Pinochet's victims, and not use the occasion to blame the MSM for an unbalanced treatment of castro vs Pinochet. That's fine, I can see his point.

But what exactly did Ziva say that can be construed as insensitive, or even totally wrong, for that matter? We can argue about this until the cows come home, but there is validity to Ziva's lament that castro gets off relatively easy quite often in the MSM. It's not hard to find examples of this

"Free education, free healthcare", anyone?.

I say, how about "Free Political Prisoners".

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Suburban Wildlife

Great Egret seen at 26th Parallel HQ this afternoon. Egret had just finished gulping down a poor helpless lizard.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Appreciating What We Have Down Here

I confess to not being a very good blogger since Robert graciously invited me to join him here. And this past week, in particular, I am afraid that I really let my friend Robert down. He asked me to take up some of the blogging slack while he was away. But I was busy and didn't blog. And indeed one of the reasons why I was busy was that I made my own trip to the frigid Midwest on Thursday and Friday.

I'll tell you one thing. Whatever South Florida's flaws, all I need to do to remember why I live here is to spend a day in Chicago during the winter. Miami is a paradise in many ways.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Thawing Out

I've been in Kansas City all week, and I can't tell you how much I look forward to those cool 62 degree temperatures South Florida is seeing today. Right now in KC it's sunny but 34 degrees with a "warm" south breeze at 15-20 mph. It's been like this all week.

The food out here is good, barbeque of course, but after 5 days of gloves and coats, it'll feel nice to be at home and wearing one layer instead of 4.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Moderate Exile Groups Ask For Change

Blogging about Cuba from the frosty heartland...gotta love it!

Perusing through the back-home online fish wrap, I noticed the headline which reads Moderate Exile Groups Join In Urging Easing of Cuba Restrictions, written by none other than Oscar Corral.

This came on the heels of last week's statement by leading Cuba dissidents that pretty much expressed the same desire to ease travel restrictions. As I stated in that post last week, I can understand why many people feel that way.

There are a couple of interesting things which immediately caught my attention after reading the article. One that the article makes clear is the large number of "moderate" Cuban exile groups out there. We're not just talking about unknown groups who came out of the woodwork, but organizations such as the Cuban American National Foundation and Democracy Movement, groups which I consider to be firmly in the Cuban-American mainstream.

So much for the "extremist locos" running the show, eh?

Another much more important thing I noticed was that these moderate groups didn't just stop at demanding that U.S. policy change, they demanded change from Cuba as well. Of the 13 bullet points included in the released document which unfortunately only appears in Spanish, 9 demand changes exclusively from the Cuban government. To quickly summarize, these include:

- Eliminating Cuban government permission for Cuban nationals to freely travel in and out of Cuba.

- Eliminating Cuban government restrictions on Cubans establishing temporary or permanent residency inside or outside of Cuba.

- Elimination of payment in foreign currencies for arrangements to leave Cuba and a revision of taxes and fees in better agreement with regional standards.

- Elimination of the Cuban government's confiscation of property, loss of jobs and other acts of harrassment against emigrants.

- Modification on the part of the Cuban government of long distance telephone rates to agree more with regional standards.

- Open up internet and e-mail access to all Cubans with rates that correspond to regional standards.

- The repeal of all measures that restrict the Cuban people's access to the adquisition of computation and communications devices.

- Elimination of the Cuban government's excessive taxes and restrictions on remittances and aid packages received from foreign countries, using prevailing regional rates as an indicator.

- Allowing Cubans on the island to use money received from remittances and family aid to establish small businesses and other self-employment activities.

These demands are what separate the true moderates who see the Cuban government as a significant obstacle to Cuba's freedom, from those Miami groups who constantly take shots at the "hard-liners" and demand that those folks change instead of the regime in Havana.

You would think these significant demands would have gotten major mention in Oscar Corral's article.


Instead, we get this lonely sentence: "Consenso groups are also asking the Cuban government to lift restrictions on family travel." Period. Basically, if you can't read Spanish, you would have missed a large chunk of the story.

This is a classic case of a one-sided story which focused only on the group's demands for the U.S. government, while virtually ignoring the list of rational demands placed on Cuba itself. My feeling tells me that for Corral to acknowledge that would have put a damper on his biased views.

Maybe I'm wrong, but the way this story, among others, was handled tells me otherwise.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Climate Change

I'll be heading out of town in a few hours for Kansas City, where I'll be all week. Don't worry, faithful readers, Jonathan and I will try to keep things from getting too stale around here.

In the meantime, check out the temperature change I'll be experiencing today:

- South Florida High Temperature Today: 84
- Kansas City High Temperature Today: 27

Don't feel too bad for me, I'll be ready for the cold temperatures. But when you wake up in t-shirt and shorts and go to bed taking off a coat and gloves, that should be a strange feeling.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

castro's Birthday Bash

Without fidel, of course.
''We take this opportunity to once again state that we are willing to resolve at the negotiating table the longstanding dispute between the United States and Cuba, of course, provided they accept ... our condition as a country that will not tolerate any blemishes on its independence, and as long as said resolution is based on the principles of equality, reciprocity, non-interference and mutual respect.
raul castro in his speech today in Havana.

Equality, reciprocity, non-interference and mutual respect. OK. We have a deal.

Just make sure to meet these conditions from us.

Click here for the Sun-Sentinel's coverage.

After reading the Sun-Sentinel article and if you have a few minutes to kill, just for the hell of it make sure to check out the comments left by a few geniuses out there. Sure to make anyone laugh.

Here's a sample:
A mass exodus from Cuba to Miami, I am sure of it and Jeb Bush will be supporting it. Look when a mid western polital stated that Miami is a third world country. The local politicians in Miami-Dade defended Miami saying it was not. Well it seems they all had Cubano accents, and names like Rodriguez, Calzone, Ruiz, Gonzalez, give me a break, Miami is a third world country, the crime rate is high, your language is Spanish, you can't survive if you speak Englinsh.......Get them all the hell out of here...................
Classic. LOL!! What a saramambich!

Now you know why the Miami Herald doesn't have a comment section with their online articles.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Varela No Hero

Now that the dust has settled a bit on Jose Varela's storming of the El Nuevo Herald newsroom, it's a good time to see what impacts his actions have made on the paper and the community.

- First, while one can definitely sympathize with Varela's disgust at his employer, the way he did it was totally wrong. This is something I think most of us can agree on, as Ileana Varela (any relation to Jose? Probably not) points out in this CBS-4 report and video. Let's not confuse "celebrity status" with approval of the methods used to make his point, although I'm not particularly on board with granting Varela celebrity status, and I definitely won't anoint him as a "hero for the cause". I think all this has as much to do with Varela's personal problems as it does with a Herald versus Cuban community issue.

- Second, what has been the impact? Has the Herald modified its stance? I don't know, but if this from Herald Watch is any indication, the answer is obviously no.

This is all very unfortunate since I enjoyed most of Varela's work.

Tancredo Did Us a Favor (UPDATED)

Thank you, Rep. Tancredo.

Thank you very much.

I'm not being sarcastic, folks. Tancredo's Miami-bashing the other day has caused something that I haven't seen here in quite a while.

It has stirred up Miamians to speak out about the positives of our city.

Finally. It took a moronic comment from an outsider, but finally many of us are realizing that not all is "bad in paradise", nor are our many problems unsolveable with a little effort and care.

Normally, it takes one of our local sports teams winning a championship to make us feel good about our city. But that's usually rather superficial and fleeting from a civic pride perspective. The reaction to Tancredo's comments has the potential to be longer-lasting and effective.

For once, people appear to be showing a fair amount of civic pride. We're not ignoring our problems, mind you, but instead pointing out the many positives and acknowledging that if we work together we can go a long way towards solving our problems.

Of course, there are still many locals who see Tancredo's comments as a refreshingly honest and accurate take on Miami, without admitting to the flip-side argument or that Tancredo ignored many positives. That's OK. They have a right to feel that way. But today they appear to be more irrelevant than ever.

Miami's image has taken a hit the last several days. You had Tancredo's comment coupled with an earlier Time Magazine story (link courtesy of Stuck on the Palmetto). Slaps to each side of the face.

It sure woke us up.

It makes this self-admitted and proud homer happy to see articles like the one Herald writer and local blogger James Burnett wrote for today's paper. And this one by Michael Lewis of Miami Today. Even Leonard Pitts, who's no longer a South Florida resident, joined in with a good column. It makes me happy to see people realizing what's good about us, and the potential that exists here. Something that I've always tried to promote despite all the screaming negativity.

UPDATE: Three more spot-on articles:

Gabe from Transit Miami delivers an excellent post well worth reading here.

Boom or Bust: Miami chips in with two posts: one perspective-filled piece from last week and another one from today in response to Tancredo.

UPDATE (2): Jim DeFede joins in with some good comments.

And although many of you know I have been critical of SoTP Rick's often negative tone with regards to South Florida, I will publically state that he has stepped up and posted several pieces rebuking Tancredo's comments and placing proper perspective on the topic. For this, Rick deserves credit as well.

All this proves what I've known for a long time - a positive attitude doesn't mean you overlook or ignore the bad, it means you're better equipped to deal with and offer solutions to the problems we face.

It's a good day to be a homer. Thank you, Tom Tancredo, for making me realize this.