13 August 2001
I’ve always been curious about Cuba. For
as long as I have been alive, Cuba has been promoted as the enemy of the
United States. With rare exception, citizens of this country are
banned from visiting there, trade is all but non-existent, and our congress
huddles regularly to consider what Cuban-Americans in Florida have to say
about the island.
Somewhere in my education, I caught the notion
that Fidel Castro was an evil dictator, who, through a communist revolution,
overthrew the legitimate government and installed his own version of the
And I believed that for many years.
Then I spent the better part of a decade serving
in the U.S. Navy. And I had a chance to see first hand how the United
States treats the world outside our borders.
In April of 2000, I
went to Cuba. I wanted to see this place, this country that caused
so much concern for the United States.
What I found was so very different from what I had
been told. It was a beautiful place. Yes, it was poor – as
much of the world is. But, with its limited resources, Cuba appeared
to have achieved so much. I wanted to know more.
Returning the United States, I bought every book
and resource on Cuba I could put my hands on. I read all the of speeches
of Fidel Castro, the writings of Che Guevara, the histories published in
the United States and those published abroad. I spent months reading
every bit of information I could find.
And in the end, I arrived at one truth.
Fidel Castro was truly a revolutionary. He believed in putting control
in the hands of the people, and that unchecked corporate greed would destroy
the world and leave it’s people in poverty.
And that made him a dangerous man. So, our
government drew a boundary around his island and attempted to starve his
country to death.
Unfortunately for the United States, it hasn’t
worked. What we are left with is the longest reigning leader in the
world – and growing evidence world wide that his ideas and beliefs are
This is not to say that the Cuban government and
the Cuban revolution are not without fault. Along the way, they have
made their share of mistakes as well. But, having read all that I
have, I have no doubt in what I know. We are not afraid of Cuba;
it poses no danger to us. Our government is afraid of the ideas Cuba
There are many who might argue with this, and
I understand after decades of misinformation why this might be the case.
I can only say, read the books. Read the speeches. Read the
history. And see what you come to believe. But, don’t believe
what you’ve been told without first doing the research.
Today is Fidel Castro’s birthday. Happy
75th Birthday, Dr. Castro. May the universe bless you with many more.
14 August 2001
Today there are two magazines in the waiting room
of my doctor’s office: Carepanion, a catalogue of merchandise for
the homebound and critically injured, and a comedy magazine called Freedom
Initially, you might not think Freedom First is
a comedy piece. The cover logo sports a tattered American flag flying
from the “d” in Freedom like a Marine lifting the standard over a far-flung
Pacific Island. The sullen face on the cover looks sternly at the
viewer and a caption warns that freedom everywhere is in imminent danger,
and you must protect it. Look inside, it says, for politicians we
recommend you vote for. The “we” here is the National Rifle Association
– publisher of this fine piece.
Immediately you must wonder who put this magazine
here – in the waiting room of the surgery department - where people missing
legs and arms wait for visits with their surgeons. Others, like me,
have scars they can hide under shirts or bandages wrapped around their
heads. Gun wounds anyone? We dare not ask.
Perhaps the NRA has a commission deal with the
publisher of Carepanion.
Inside a half-page ad reads “Whether on the front
line defending freedom or the firing line of your local hunting club...”
you need our really big, mean looking semi-automatic rifle.
Front line of freedom? Who, exactly, are
the heavyset men in the photograph, laying prone and staring into the distance
intently, defending freedom from? Given that every person in the
magazine, including the three in this ad, are middle aged and white, we
can only assume that China will be dropping paratroopers into Iowa any
day. And you better have your .223 with rapid-fire option ready!
Of course, immediately across the page from the
Front Line of Freedom ad is another ad titled “Man’s Best Friend”.
Pictured here is a giant (giant!) television sitting in a pet-bed as if
the dog had been replaced by a Japanese picture tube. Ah yes, after
a long day of fighting on the front line of freedom, there is nothing better
than an evening of “American’s Most Wanted: America Fights Back!”
And you can see the criminals real good on this big ol’ television!
Of course, Freedom First (little tattered flag
waving) isn’t just ads, there is news too. Here is a letter from
Florida describing how a man brandishing a shotgun was killed heroically
by two citizens with “freedom to carry permits”. Or, the article
that compares and contrasts the ability to carry concealed weapons with
the high school drop out rate. While not the point of the article,
the statistics quoted also show that states with the highest drop out rates
are also states that enacted laws permitting citizens the ability to concealed
weapons. Are they afraid of the poorly educated dropouts or do the
dropouts just hold more elected offices in these states?
Freedom First ends with a special offer:
be a good NRA member, and you might win a special edition gun, dinner with
Charlton Heston, and the opportunity to hunt brown bears with a guaranteed
kill (the contest rules fail to specify whether this is a member of the
hunting party or the bear). Just renew your subscription or figure
the NRA into your estate planning and you’ll be entered in the contest!
Oh, and you can also buy Freedom Coins – fine
silver minted in the image of the grand leader, Mr. Heston. Shipping
and handling are extra.
If owning guns frightens you, more frightening
is that people who read Freedom First (little tattered flag waving) own
Be careful in traffic, when you reach for your
wallet, and never look at someone funny. You might end up reading
Carepanion with interest.
22 August 2001
Inspired by a piece written by David,
I looked around my house at the pieces of old and outdated technology that
still function in my every day life.
I have to confess, I am a gadget junky.
I get Wired magazine solely for the features of the new gadgets that soon-to-be-bankrupt
high tech companies create without pause. Pinky rings that
store up to 400 telephone numbers, Hello Kitty vibrators, always-on-internet
radios (not so good if you have dial-up service), spy cams so tiny you
can strap them to the back of a gnat, computer games derived from nuclear
warfare technology. I marvel at it all. Everything gets smaller,
faster and packed with more features than I could never possibly use even
if I could figure out how to access them.
When it comes down to purchasing any of these
toys, I’m like a heterosexual man with a Playboy magazine. I love
to look at the shapely models with their sleek exteriors, but I rarely
meet in them in real life and even more seldom actually get to play with
one. I’ve learned fantasy is generally better than reality.
New gadgets rarely work with my hardware and I usually fall asleep before
I get through reading the users manual.
Despite my fascination with all things sleek and
new, my true love is two 50-year-old pieces of technology. Two mint-condition
art deco Automatic Electric AE40 Monophones. I love the way they
feel, heavy and solid. Drop one on the floor, it still works.
You can do bicep curls with the handset. The feel of the finger wheel
is magic. No matter what table you put them on, no matter what
you put next to them, they always look sexy. Not bad for something
manufactured in 1941. I doubt in five decades they will say the same
about my Palm Pilot.
Of course, these beautiful creatures aren’t entirely
functional in the modern world. Every now and then I need to call
the telephone company or customer support for one of the few high tech
gadgets I own. Virtually no one still has an option for rotary phones,
and without touch-tone, you are lost. So, as I use the touch tone
phone I keep hidden in the depths of a drawer, I look at my Automatic Electric
AE40 Monophones and think: “No one ever had to call technical support
for a rotary telephone.”
26 August 2001
Fifteen million dollars is being spent in San
Francisco to build a Lesbian and Gay Community Center. Incorporating
a historic Victorian building (first owned by a woman suspected by some
historians of possibly being lesbian), the structure is billed as a new
home for San Francisco’s queer community.
In conversations with people in San Francisco,
I often here the same refrain: “There is no community here.”
The speaker often points to political apathy, a general fixation with physical
attractiveness, and a general sense of distance from one another that leave
us at home eating popcorn and watching old videos.
The word “community” is used so often, we often
become confused by what it means.
We often hear the word community to describe groups
or places. The “gay community”, the “black community”, the “disabled
community”, the “insert name of community” community. When we use
the word in this sense, we are often referring to a group of people who
share a similar characteristic, lifestyle or interest. Sometimes
we might also use the word to describe a geographical area, such as “I
live in this community.”
But what we often forget is the second meaning
of the word. Community also means a connection with those around
us that penetrates the superficial. It is a deep understanding of
the connections and interdependencies we share. Born of this understanding,
community is the conscious choice to step outside ourselves as individuals
and embrace our place as part of the larger whole: to commune with
each other. In this way, we are often required to make efforts for
the good of the whole that require the sacrifice of our individual privileges,
but in return we gain security, connection and satisfaction.
The reality is that being part of a community
in the first sense in no way makes us part of a community in the second.
Being part of a community where we gain a sense of belonging is a conscious
effort, one that requires we step beyond ourselves and reach out to others.
We don’t simply arrive somewhere and instantly become part of the community;
we have to reach out for it.
As much as we might initially recoil from the
idea of a shared responsibility for and to those around us, the number
of times I have heard people concerned over a “lack of community” brings
me to believe that we hunger for community. However, as a group,
we seem unable, or unwilling to take the steps to bring it into fruition.
As I watch the world around me, I become more
and more conscious that we have constructed a world that works to undermine
community. As a culture, we have placed an extreme value on individual
freedom that nearly obliterates our responsibilities to the larger whole.
We have created industries that tell us being human is intrinsically bad:
we smell, our faces have creases, our bodies sag, we lack the attributes
of youth, and that the God of our childhood doesn’t really exist.
In response we create more industries promising products to fill the void
left by our shame and growing disconnection from each other and our spiritual
selves. Despite the failure of these products to achieve this promise,
we return repeatedly to the stores to buy more and more. Addicted
to the hope of a quick cure for what ails us, we seem to move further and
further away from the understanding of our real disease.
As the bulldozers and cranes continue to place
glass and steel beside Market Street, I wonder what this community center
will become. Will it magically create a place where people stop and
embrace each other, realizing the myriad of invisible lines that connect
us? Or, will it become another building where we pass each other
in the halls, afraid to approach someone for fear of rejection, lack of
physical attraction or just plain indifference? Will our fifteen
million dollar structure make us understand that community is born out
of something deep inside ourselves, a longing to connect with the larger
whole? Or will its shiny glass simply reflect back to us the world
as it already is?