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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 Marxist dream.

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. 

Fidel Castro
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 correct.

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 represents.

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 First.

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.

NRA Logo
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 guns. 

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.

Old Telephone
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?


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