Category Archives: Politics

Time to Speak Up Without Fear by Monica M. Brinkman

It has become quite baffling and confusing to me, as the years’ tick on, how people within the world find it necessary to maintain continued conflict.

It has become evident to me that many governments purpose is one of power and greed. I reluctantly state this, but Russia and the US are right there at the top. Tell me truthfully, how many wars were necessary to ensure the safety of the US citizens and/or our foreign friends? How many young people sacrificed their lives for naught? Examples are Vietnam and now, the Middle East conflicts that continues to this very day.

I’ve had the opportunity to speak with CIA agents as well as government officials, who entered into their fields fully confident they were acting as peacekeepers of the country and world. What they found was a government intent upon control of other nations. What they also found was a government who placed monetary gain above all else. If a country did not do as the US wished, they would simply take the leader out, often under false pretense.

Know what you, the reader is thinking. Yes, we did need to intervene, and should have done so sooner, when Hitler began his horrific rein. Shockingly, it took so long because many powerful and wealthy individuals such as Ford, ITT, and American Standard Oil had invested their money and products within Germany and did not believe or looked the other way at the rumors coming out of Hitler’s true intentions.

Liken the greed and power to something simpler. The laws on marijuana. Hemp, marijuana, pot, call it what you wish, was an accepted part of many countries and used to manufacture numerous products. It was not illegal. Then came the prohibition of alcohol, backed for the most part by Conservative Christians. We all saw what occurred. The Mafia took it into their own hands to take over he alcohol control within the country and bootlegging prevailed. The government and local police stations within cities could not control the Mafia’s hold, and they eventually gave in to the legalization of alcohol.

In 1930, a new division in the Treasury Department was established — the Federal Bureau of Narcotics — and Harry J. Anslinger was named director. This, if anything, marked the beginning of the all-out war against marijuana. He realized, without the prohibition of alcohol, drugs such as cocaine, codeine, morphine were not prevalent enough to maintain the Department. Thus, he added marijuana to the list of illegal drugs. One of the largest campaigns began, supported by the News Media and even Hollywood, with their release of such movies a ‘Reefer Madness’. Slanted and untruthful headlines filled the papers and air waves, until, eventually and as planned, the citizens believed the words.

Does any of this sound familiar? If not, it should and it should also scare the hell out of you.

Instead of drugs, the US government along with the wealthy and powerful are centering on using peoples’ religion and fear of terrorists to control the masses. It is no secret why the politicians focused on issues such as abortion, immigrants, and gun control to deceivingly brainwash a huge part of the population. They used hate, racism, moral choices, climate change and fear as their weapons of choice. From preachers in churches, radio talk shows and news stations, whom they controlled, it was easy enough to reel in those who trusted these organizations. As sheep to the slaughter, they followed, unaware of the devastation their actions would ultimately create.

My questions are these:

When will people realize we are all humans on this planet?

If you do believe in a great Creator of all. When will you understand, then, that we are all part of that creation; brothers and sisters within the world?

When will people stand up for life instead of death?

When will differences in appearance and religion be accepted, rather than used as weapons to maim and kill?

And, the biggee, when will we, as a nation and world, understand war, greed, hostility creates the same, while peace, love and understanding creates harmony within the country and world?

Yes, I am tired; I am weary of it all, so many well-meaning individuals caught up in the propaganda the rich, greedy and powerful continue to push upon them. I am sick of heart that instead of defending life, we defend death.

In ending, remember, remaining silent and compliant equals acceptance and conformation of the acts and deeds spent against people within our country and our world. Time we, to put it bluntly, grew some balls, and took back decency, care, concern, and most of all love, within our lives.

You have a choice. I know which mine is. Do you?

Monica M. Brinkman,
Author, Radio Personality

Death of a Nation By Delinda McCann

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island

Woody Guthrie

Our country is our home. We are rightfully proud of the many things we as a people have accomplished together. Our great experiment with a democratic representative form of government is something to be proud of. Our statements of equality among all people and our struggles to attain that ideal are worthy of praise.

Like any great experiment we need to be asking ourselves where are we in the process? Is the experiment over? Did we succeed or did we fail? We’ve had some glorious moments. Have we fallen short of the goal? Is there any way we can get the experiment back on track?

Note: I’m not touting any great success story here. We’ve become a nation perpetually at war, not as the world’s police force enforcing justice and defending freedom, but at war to support the profits of a few.

We are no longer either a democracy or a republic. We are an oligarchy, quickly sliding toward fascism. The United States of America has become the world’s greatest threat to peace and prosperity. Within our own country, we send men and women to fight in wars to protect the economic interest of the few. When those men and women return home broken in body, mind and spirit, we send them to live in the streets among the elderly, and disabled.

We made some progress in cleaning up air and waterways, but our drinking water has become compromised and except for the efforts of the poor, nothing is done to protect our drinking water.

We aren’t doing too well in many respects as a nation. Our economy is dedicated to the greed of a few, yet the poor get the blame for the conditions in this country. Racism is blatant and growing. The notion of caring for the sick, disabled and elderly, has almost disappeared from public policy.

War, bigotry, corruption and pollution all exist to enrich the oligarchy. Nobody is safe from the oligarchs in the US. Where will this lead. Can we as a people unite and turn our backs on the corrupt power elite? Are we too fragmented to do so?

What have we become and what is the moral answer to our dilemma? Some people are waiting for a hero to raise up out of the oligarch class and lead us to freedom. Heroes do not come from among the rich and powerful. Hoping for one of the oligarchs to solve our problems is futile.

From around the fringes of society, we hear people asking should we dissolve this union. Is dissolution the only moral option? By breaking into three to five smaller nations, we can dissipate resources in such a manner as to make it more challenging for the oligarchs to go to war.

Is it time for a constitutional amendment that expels certain states from the union because they refuse to live by the morally bankrupt standards embraced by more fearful regions? Should we dissolve into regions that have common issues and values and let other regions go their own way?

It is time to ask the questions and hold the discussions. With dissolution as the stick driving us forward can we unite for the common good? Maybe this country has reached the point where the common good cannot be served without a final amendment to the constitution stating that due to irreconcilable differences geopolitical regions with common interests may go their separate ways.

Delinda McCann is a mostly-retired social psychologist. During her professional career she worked with at risk youth and individuals with disabilities. Her research in the field of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome led her to become an advisor to several governments. To ease the stress created by working in the disabilities field, she took up gardening. Never one to do things in a small way, Delinda now runs a small farm and sells cut flowers. She writes general fiction based on her experience as a social psychologist. She has published five novels. She expresses her sense of humor in many of her short stories. She’s also published numerous professional articles on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Youth At-Risk. The professional articles are rather academic and dry, but Delinda pulls what she knows about human behavior, disabilities and youth into her fiction.

You may purchase her books at: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Delinda+McCann

You may view her flowers, gardens and personal blog at: http://delindalmccann.weebly.com/index.html

The Oscars Been Awarded but There Are Dark Shadows on the Silver Screen by Kenneth Weene

Just over a century after the release of D.W. Griffith’s film “The Birth of a Nation,” Nate Parker’s film of the same name came to the silver screen. While the Griffith film justified the Ku Klux Klan and portrayed white racism as the salvation of America, the Parker film traces the life of Nat Turner and the slave revolt which he led in pre-Civil War Virginia. From totally opposing perspectives, both films spoke to the fear and anger that has poisoned American race relations since before the Revolution.

It should certainly not surprise us that films speak to our national consciousness and help us define who we are and what we believe. If there is one art form that is quintessentially American, it is movies, and what greater purpose has art than to explore the human condition.

While the two “Birth of a Nation” films explore the darkest sides of American race relations, three other films released at the end of 2016 try to raise an entirely different set of issues.

“Fences,” based on the August Wilson stage play, presents a Black America that is separate and if not equal one that has its own unique culture. The protagonist Troy Maxson is a Black man who is painfully aware of the limitations that have been placed on his life because of his race. Fearful of what the world will do to them, he tries to protect his sons by forcing them to see the world through his own bitter eyes. Set in the 1950’s, “Fences” references both the fact that Black Americans were fenced in by segregation and prejudice and the career of Jackie Robinson, whose success as a baseball player gave hope for an avenue towards equality.

“Loving” is based not on a play or story but real lives. Richard and Mildred Loving were a working-class couple who loved one another. Because he was White and she Black, the state of Virginia forbad their marriage. Going out of state to marry, they returned to Virginia and found themselves jailed and only released if they promised to leave the state. Featured in a Life Magazine story which I remember reading, the Lovings eventually won not only the right to have their marriage recognized in the home state but also the legal end of miscegenation laws in America. Loving v. Virginia was decided by the Supreme Court Dec 12, 1967. The movie asks a simple but poignant question: are Blacks less human than Whites; are we not all more nearly human than otherwise?

During the years between 1958, when the Lovings married, and 1967 another story was also playing out in Virginia. NASA was established in 1958 with the goal of taking America into space. “Hidden Figures” focuses on three Black women who worked at NASA’s Virginia facilities. Dorothy Vaughan eventually became NASA’s first Black-American supervisor. Mary Jackson became an aeronautical engineer. And, mathematics whiz Katherine Johnson played a pivotal role in figuring out how to bring the astronauts home. These three women entered NASA when it was a segregated and misogynistic organization and managed to find the recognition they deserved. This multiple-biopic subconsciously takes us back to Jackie Robinson as it challenges us to judge people not on race but on competence. Should the best mathematician, engineer, or supervisor not get the job regardless of the color of their skin. The message is clear: we are all the same under our skins. Or, to use one of the most self-conscious lines of the script, “At NASA we all pee the same color.” Presumably, that is the color of rocket fuel.

Why this sudden spurt of films about the Black experience in the fifties and sixties? It would be easy to point out the diversity has become an issue in Hollywood and particularly when it comes to awards. That may be one part of the answer.

Another, and in my opinion a more important answer is represented by that centennial of the release of that abhorrent film “The Birth of a Nation.” The release of that film in 1915 began a portrayal of Black America that has often been offensive and assuredly requires redress. As distasteful as the representations of Blacks has overall been in film, that issue pales in comparison to the actuality of Black life. And, on the other side, as horrific as slavery, segregation, and bigotry have been, there has been real movement towards civil rights. Without doubt, the possibilities for Black Americans are far greater and better today than they were at the beginning of the fifties and sixties.

The question that these three films asks is what has made things better. During those years, powerful voices were raised, marches held, and riots occurred. Were those the catalyst for change, or did change come because White America came to see Blacks, like all of us, were more nearly human than otherwise? These new films would have us ignore the marchers, the rioters, and the conflicts. They would have us learn a new mythology of American race relations, one in which aspirations change the world and the system can be altered from within.

These three movies are trying to rewrite the history of race in America. They are trying to say, “Let us forget about racism and segregation. Let us forget about the struggle that brought Civil Rights. Let us instead recognize that the right prevails, that ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,’ and that the basic American character is one of decency.”

Is this revision realistic? Can we rewrite American history and bury slavery, segregation, the Klan, and discrimination? The rage of both “Birth of a Nation” films is seared into the soul of America. It cannot be so easily papered over. Elimination of America’s racial divide will require not simply the creation of a new set of “happier” myths but real reconciliation.

The great Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung spoke of the shadow, that part of each person that they cannot accept in themselves. It is the part of the person that they keep hidden. Reconciliation cannot take place until those shadowy parts on all sides are exposed in the light of recognition. As much as I enjoyed the three films, “Fences,” “Loving,” and “Hidden Figures,” I see them not as sanguine harbingers of a just and equal society but as signs that once again America will try to bury that which is dark in our history. If the “American Dilemma” is to be resolved, it cannot be by the application of whitewash but only by the piercing sting of real discussion.

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Bio: Novelist, poet, and retired psychologist Ken Weene has long been a movie buff. Currenly, he is co-writing a script based on his novel Times to Try the Soul of Mani. You can find more of his writing at www.kennethweene.com

 

Writing in The Time of Trump by Kenneth Weene

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For the past year, I’ve been co-writing the memoir of one of the “Lost Boys” of South Sudan. Fleeing from Arab marauders at only seven years of age, Deng found his way to the refugee camps in Ethiopia. Later, fleeing again—this time from the revolution which had taken place in Ethiopia—he returned to Sudan for a brief stint before, again in flight, he found his way to Kenya. Finally, under the auspices of Catholic Charities, he came to the United States where he finished high school and college and obtained a master’s degree. Now holding dual citizenship in his homeland of South Sudan and the United States, Deng hopes to help build bridges between his two countries.

With the recent election, Deng asked me to assist him with a new writing project. “Just a short paper to help the leadership in Juba and in the South Sudanese diaspora around the world to understand how to work with this new administration,” was his request. He followed this with an additional recognition of what might make this such a difficult task. “But Trump’s so unpredictable, I don’t know what to say.”

We met to work on this “short paper,” something my friend and writing colleague could publish in Juba and share on the social media.

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Before that meeting, I spent some time thinking about Mr. Trump and his unpredictability. Of course, I was also focusing on what I knew of South Sudan. As I thought, I reached a few conclusions. I share them here.

First, unpredictability is in the eye of the beholder. I learned that a long time ago working with the mentally ill. The behavior of even the most erratic seeming patient in the asylum could be predicted a good portion of the time if one merely started with the assumption that behavior makes sense to the individual. I might not see the reason why the severely schizophrenic youngster stuffed crepe paper in his mouth, but knowing that it made sense to him to do so immediately implied that he might stuff other bright things in as well. “Put coloring in his food and he’ll be more willing to eat,” was one obvious suggestion.

I do not suggest here that Mr. Trump is mentally ill. I’ve seen many posts and articles offering diagnoses of him. Some have even been well argued. However, I don’t necessarily think diagnoses of public figures help much. Were I to assign one to the President-Elect, it would be oppositional defiant personality. By the way, that tendency to reject anyone telling him what to do was found in another American leader, a fellow named Teddy Roosevelt, who was incredibly successful in the job.

That diagnoses leads to my first bit of advice to Deng and to the other South Sudanese who want to improve relations with the U.S. under this new regime: Don’t try to tell Mr. Trump what he has to do. Don’t try to appeal to higher principles and notions of good. That will only antagonize this new POTUS.

So, what will work? Appealing to the motivations that he exhibits as being important to him. Back to that bright colored food. What does Mr. Trump attend to? Certainly, not to advice. Certainly, not to reasoned arguments and position papers.

I came up with a list of things that appear to interest this new POTUS.

Top of my list is business and making money. Can South Sudan offer him and American business, which he sees himself as part and head of, ways to make money, significant amounts of money?

Second, what does he want to seem in the eyes of the world and especially his followers? This is a man who takes offense at Saturday Night Live. He’s thin-skinned. He needs to feel that others see him as the tough guy, the hero, fighting off the enemy. Who is that enemy? Perhaps sadly, he and the Republican party have defined the enemy as radical Islam and Sharia law. Can South Sudan help him look tough on those two branches of the Muslim tree?

Third, underneath, of whom is he most afraid? Under such bluster has to be a core of inadequacy and fear of failure. To feel safer is something we all crave, but especially this new President. As a businessman—which is his main self-identification—Mr. Trump has had many failures. In the end, the biggest threat to that identity comes from the burgeoning economy of China. To make China even more of a threat in his eyes, Trump has been forced to turn to China for both products and financing for his various businesses. This is a man who hates those to whom he feels beholden. That’s one reason why—to keep his own head from exploding with the ambivalence he feels towards his father—he understates the degree to which his success has depended on family assistance. Can South Sudan help him diminish China in a meaningful way? Can that fledgling nation help him to feel that he has done successful battle with the dragon and protected himself? That he has made the world safe for Donald Trump?

There it is, my three-pronged approach for the South Sudanese government to follow in communicating with this new American President: Offer business opportunities to make him and his peers richer; Offer a stand against radical Islam to make him appear tough; Offer a way to act against China to make him feel safer, like he is more in control. Three prongs are enough. More and the resulting approach would be too long, too complex, and require too much reading to affect a man who has little use for complexities and academia.

Were we able to put together that action plan, something that Deng could offer to the government in Juba and to South Sudanese leaders throughout the world? Yes, in just over 600 words. Deng and I put together a position paper that may well allow South Sudan’s diplomats to make a major breakthrough. That plan says nothing about the genocidal civil war that has been tearing their country apart. It says nothing about the need for American assistance to help their people.

Just three things: Make money; Stop radical Islam and Sharia; Push back China.

Now, of course, the big question: Will the leaders in Juba take time to read those carefully chosen words? That I can’t say, but what I can say with some certitude is that crafted documents such as that paper can make a difference in the world. That’s just one more reason why I will keep writing in The Time of Trump.

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In addition to the recently completed and not yet published memoir, A Journey Between Worlds, which he co-authored with Deng M. Atem, Ken Weene has published a number of books, stories, poems, and essays. To buy a book.

An Evening in 1964 Havana by Eduardo Cervino

 

Cuba

WITH the Cuban revolution in full bloom, and the deposed General Batista living in luxurious splendor amid European dictators of the time, the Castro brothers and their guerrillas force engaged in ridding the Island of all opposition. They did it in the name of the people. In time, Cubans will come to understand the code implicit in the rhetoric of the guerrilla force.

Traditionally many Native American tribe’s names meant The People, Us, Human Beings and the like. This inclusionary designation of their society indicated a subconscious acceptance of the value of human cooperation.  It was masterfully expressed in the motto Un pour tous, tous pour un (one for all, all for one) in the meeting between Catholics and Protestants in the 1618 Kingdom of Bohemia. Then, just as today, such noble ideals tend to foment disastrous consequences.

For the Castro guerrillas in the 1960’s and until today, the term The People had a narrow, less sublime interpretation. For them, THE PEOPLE referred to their supporters, their militias, and that part of the populace committed to serving the regime in exchange for privileges.

This earthbound, self-serving interpretation breeds resentment, division, and envy. It lowers the peoples’ essence until they become the masses, and a large portion of them devolves into a mob, and the mob turns into a sounder of swine wallowing in the mud.

In 1962, a friend gave me a copy of Animal Farm by George Orwell. After that I saw the animated movie. Dejected, I left the theater and rode home. I realized I was already a citizen of Orwell’s imaginary state. It scared me. Two years later, imagination and reality merged.

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The telegram arrived at the house on the second of April. I came home late. When opening the door, the grandfather clock’s gong marked the half hour past twelve. My sister Rita waited for me in the living room, listening to the huge vacuum-tube radio my mother had purchased before I was born.

“A soldier went around the neighborhood today delivering those envelopes,” she said without preamble, pointing to one on the mahogany table. “A small mob chanting political slogans followed him.”

“When was that?”

“This afternoon.”

I reached for and read my name on the manila envelope.

“Grandma and I heard the street noise from the dining room. All she said was, ‘bad news.’ Then we stood up and came to the living room.

“I looked out through the window, and recognized some of them. The soldier knocked at our neighbors’ doors. The mob quieted down and pushed each other to see who opened each door.

“Let’s go to the porch,” Grandma said, and we watched them come closer. The soldier was that red-haired guy you used to be friends with. Most recipients took the envelope and quickly shut the door; some acted nervously, except Rafael, our next-door neighbor.”

“What about Grandma?”

“You know her. She walked to the garden’s iron gate, looking at the soldier’s face like a general.

She said, ‘Good morning, Miguel.’ And smiled.”

Miguel and I had been friends since we were ten-year-old boys playing in the tree house in our mango tree. He dropped out of high school. I went on, but our friendship cooled. Now, at twenty-four, in fatigues and carrying a pistol, he had become a fanatical follower of the new strongman, regardless that he joined the rebel army after they won the war.

Rita continued. “He hesitated, and said, ‘Good morning. Here, take this and give it to him’. He didn’t even mention her name or yours, Ed.”

My sister clung to my arm. Together we ambled through the house in search of Grandma Josefina. colonial_havana

That day, I had worked until five in the afternoon. After that, I walked to the historical district, where four-hundred-year-old colonial plazas, palaces, convents, and military castles erected by the conquistadors, still stood. Massive, weathered wooden doors guarded the entrances to the moss-covered stone buildings. My favorite watering hole resided in the area.

Centuries-old cobblestones had been polished and grooved by horse-drawn carriage wheels. History’s ghosts prowled about me as I walked in shaded galleries supported by rows of stone columns and arches. On the Plaza Cervantes, pigeons refused to yield the road; the coo-cooing little beggars gathered around my feet.

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I plunged into the narrow streets beyond the plaza. Twilight shadows clawed their way up the walls. This evening, as in the yesterdays of my great-great-grandfathers, embracing couples inhabited the wide portals’ shadows.

I raised my eyes toward the still, cloudy sky. A seated, elderly, bronze-colored woman with a red scarf tied around her white curly hair stared at me from an ornate balcony.

She seems old and frail.

For a second, a flying bat distracted me. I looked at the balcony again. The woman was gone.

Old couples strolled the streets. They ignored the contemporary concrete sidewalks in favor of walking on the cobblestones that shared with them the scars of time. The balmy air wafting from the Bay carried the tang of the sea.

I can’t decide if I like that smell or not.

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At the watering hole and restaurant, one could always be sure to find a quorum for a lively interchange of ideas, as well as rumors proliferating around the city like cockroaches in the sewer. Not all members of the group were present each night. I had been coming in for years.

No one knows when these reunions had started. Over the decades, faces changed but the tertulia had continued in the same locale.

Of late, although no one had requested it, the conversation was conducted in low voice. The political atmosphere dictated prudence.

Calvert Casey, the writer, was speaking when I sat. “Today at the paper they brought a new guy. All written material must be approved by him before going to press.”

“No surprise in that,” responded Carlos, a well-known young actor. “Since the beginning of the year, all television and radio programs must have socially meaningful content. ‘Young worker denounces brother for Contra-Revolutionary activities and becomes hero of the people.’ That sort of crap. Where have you been?”

“Not watching television, that’s for sure,” Casey said.

Raul, an abstract painter, interrupted, “They removed some paintings from the National Gallery. Non-figurative works, and…”

Casey interrupted: “All of them? Including the contemporary room?”

“Of course not,” said Raul. “They left the work of the young friend of you-know-who.” He tapped his left shoulder with the index and middle finger of his right hand.

Fearful of mentioning names, the people had developed a sign language. This gesture indicated the shoulder pads of a particular commander in the armed forces. The high-level officer was rumored to be attracted to young males of mixed race.

Irma, a singer-dancer with a contagious laugh and waist-length hair, smoked a cigar out of the corner of her mouth. She was explosive in manner, delicious in appearance, and free of spirit. Her voice had made famous more than one composer on the island. She exuded sexuality, but only the few of us she had invited to her inner sanctum knew her mastery over the world of satin sheets.

She drew on her cigar, blew a smoke wreath toward the high ceiling, and watched the fan blades dispel it. The ritual was meant to gather attention so she could speak uncontested.

“The painter you are talking about lives in my building’s penthouse. It’s being renovated. The officer in question comes around.” She drew on her cigar again. “By the way, both are married.”

Amador, a young musician, changed the subject. “You have noticed that tonight no one is playing. It’s the first time in two years the musicians have missed their show.”

We all looked in the direction of the small stage. With a lonely guitar on the chair by the piano, its silence was a loud call to the customers’ ears. Many came to drink and listen to the house trio—guitar, piano, and drums—whose records sold all over the world and with whom Marlon Brando had shared raucous nights of drinking and bongo playing during his Havana escapades.

“What happened to them? Do you know?” I said.

“They escaped the island during the night after their last performance,” somebody in the group said. I did not see who it was, and did not care about how he knew.

“Lucky bastards,” I said.

Raul looked at me. “Shhh, not so loud; the waitress has been paying attention to our chat.”

I glanced in the direction. “She is young, maybe eighteen.”

“The younger they are, the easier to train as throat-cutters,” Irma said.

Casey continued. “I’ve heard the UMAP is rounding up dissidents and homosexuals. So just in case, it’s been a pleasure to have known you all.”

“I can’t figure out what the State Security department has to fear from homosexuals,” I said.

He lifted his glass; filled with mojito, above his head. He had consumed several of those and his voice was beginning to garble. He kept gazing at the century-old marble table of the venerable bar and restaurant.

“As you can see, I’m practicing to drink my hemlock.”

The marble table had her memories too: I’ve heard thousands of stories. Famous hands, from Errol Flynn to Meyer Lansky and Josephine Baker, have dulled my surface. The poet’s pen, the artist’s pencils, have rested on me. Novels and plays have been written on top of me, but now, all I hear is sorrow—no creative ideas, no passionate prose are discussed around me. The times are changing, and fear is all I hear.

“Time for me to go,” I said. “Goodbye.”

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Cuban Author Eduardo Cerviño Alzugaray was born in Havana, Cuba. His latest novel, Cuba the Crocodile Islandis based on real events in the life of the author, and for that reason this work is published under his real family name.

The characters’ names, except his own, have been changed to protect the identity of those persons still residing in Cuba. Although a few of those persons have passed away, they are still present in the author’s memory, some with enormous, and others as a significant part of his spiritual growth.

The author has traveled extensively throughout the US, Europe, and Latin America. He has lived in several countries, but his principal residence has been in the US since 1968. He resides in Arizona with his wife and writing collaborator, Les Brierfield. The author appreciates with all his heart the time you may dedicate to reading his work.

You are invited to visit: www.ecbrierfield.com

Caribbean Time Capsule By Eduardo Cervino

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Nothing lends a movie historical perspective like vehicles strewn along the street. An elegant horse-drawn carriage, a western stagecoach, or a few iconic American cars traveling across the screen allows our minds to time-travel.

When tourists land in Cuba, they enter a pictorial time capsule, where life has stood still for fifty years.

Havana is a living car museum. A 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air rolls by, followed by a 1957 Cadillac convertible, or a 1950 Mercury. Much older cars still roll the streets of Havana. Any of them might be freshly painted and flashy, like those in American collections. Others can barely hold their own weight. All still faithfully serve their owners’ needs due to inexhaustible Cuban ingenuity.

The streets are almost empty by American standards. Gone are the traffic jams that Cubans like me remember from the pre-Revolutionary 1950s decade.

A time capsule is buried so future generations can peek into the past and gain insight as they admire the official documents, coins, newspapers, and the like preserved inside. Havana is a different type of time capsule, a gigantic one you do not open. Instead, you enter it and observe people moving about you, like actors in a tropical adaptation of the German movie, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligary.

How charming! Tourists might say.

And there they go in one of those classic vehicles now serving as a taxi to visit the Cathedral Plaza, the first one built on the American continent, or eat in restaurants that a majority of Cubans can’t afford.

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They might stay in the mostly European-built new hotels or in old ones from the era of Meyer Lansky and his crime syndicate. Bed-and-breakfasts now flourish around the city, maintained by Cuban families desperate to earn dollars, the only currency with real value on the island. The Cuban peso has become valueless.

If the tourist is a man alone, chances are he is coming to enjoy the darker aspect of Havana. Prostitution is once again rampant for the same reasons that at the end of WWII, women and young men in Italy and Berlin traded sex for chocolates

City streets around the world are movie sets. They reflect the country’s history and folklore, while behind the façades each dweller is the star of their own distinctive play.

In Cuba, as in most countries under dictatorial control, the drama inside each home is the same: constant worry about survival, lack of food, and mistrust of one another. Despair about the future and lack of conveniences we, the Cubans outside the island, take for granted.

Families are stuck in the 1950s. Their refrigerators are falling apart, their furniture is old. Their houses’ interiors are dilapidated, unpainted for years, moldy. What is worse, roofs are in danger of collapsing on their heads.

The exceptions, of course, are those families of politically connected individuals, whose remuneration is not measured in terms of productivity to society but political loyalty. They have been allowed to confiscate the furnished mansions or ranches the old aristocracy left behind.

 Habana Malecon

In recent months, a great portion of the city became inundated. Water rose to waist height. Fourteen hundred buildings were terribly damaged and a few of them collapsed. For the unlucky residents, life took a turn for the worse. Repairing those homes in today’s Cuban workers’ paradise, with its systemic lack of construction materials, would be like a fairytale coming true.

These floods are a relatively new development in Havana; the enormous area in question includes the large neighborhoods of Old Town Havana, El Cerro, and Centro Havana. The residents had never seen this climate-related phenomenon before.

To Cubans, “climate change” is a reality, not a political football.

The city’s infrastructure, mostly abandoned by the government for the last fifty years, is a disaster. To repair it would cost billions of dollars. Until recently, electricity was constantly failing, and blackouts were a normal occurrence. This problem has been alleviated somewhat.

The potable water system is so old that neighborhoods like the one where I used to live receive water for a few hours during the night and people must store it for daytime use. Contamination is a continuous worry. A very small percentage of the people have access to the Internet.

Havana is a shadow of its former glory. The island population has more than doubled since 1959, while the nation’s mismanaged resources have dwindled. The only prosperous institution is the military.

Cubans are resourceful by nature. They make jokes out of tragedy and laugh when others would be crying. However, these survival strategies mask a sad existence tourists do not see, and the taxi driver will not show them. Why spoil a vacation?

Some tourists come to Havana imbued by romantic leftist political beliefs, and they will not submit to the stress of analyzing their cognitive dissonance.

To those I offer the following to consider. One third of the world population lives in extreme poverty, as defined by an income of less that $2 a day for a 20-day work month.

The United States has a monthly average of $3,200. The rest of the industrialized countries’ incomes vary. Some are higher, some are lower but all are at least 100 times the average Cuban income of  $20, yes, twenty dollars per month. A medical doctor in Havana makes $25. I know this firsthand, as some dear relatives of mine are medical doctors.

When I was a student of architecture in 1950s Havana, my salary as a draftsman was $160, at the time a respectable income. So, Cuba has marched backwards to the alluring rhythms of military anthems, noisy workers May First parades, obligatory attendance at public assemblies, and the wooing of platonic political speeches.

America’s newly developing policy toward Cuba is both welcomed and reviled by Cubans in the US and a large portion of American citizens as well.

Since the policy was made public, Cubans’ attempts to cross the shark-infested Florida Strait have increased by over 100%. By chancing the perilous sea voyage, those Cubans express their lack of confidence about future improvements in their daily lives.

They also are fearful of the US revoking the “wet feet dry feet” benefit only Cubans enjoy, thereby sealing the hole in the imaginary sugar cane curtain surrounding the island.

I predict that once the dust settles, nothing will have changed for the islanders, as long as the geriatric ruling class of the Castro brothers and their sycophants breathe under the majestic swaying royal palms.

Under President Obama’s version of the Cuba detente plan, the only beneficiaries on the island would be the political elite able to suck at the teat of the capitalist cow ninety miles to the north.

In the US, American CEO’s would have another money source to keep filling their already overflowing money pits. Caught in the middle as usual, the Cuban people would continue to live in a Caribbean enactment of George Orwell’s dystopian novella, Animal Farm.

 

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Born in Havana, Cuba, Eduardo Cervino (AKA E.C. Brierfield) lived through General Batista’s dictatorship, Fidel Castro’s revolution, and the period after the revolution from 1959 to 1967. Several attempts to leave Cuba during those eight years failed. In 1967, he moved to Europe and eventually came to the US. His last novel, Crocodile Island, is the story of one such effort. Eduardo is also the author of several other novels and numerous short stories. Please visit www.ecbrierfield.com

 

 

 

Lessons from Quebec  By Delinda McCann

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Hubby and I decided to take a few days and visit Quebec City, Canada. The city is beautiful, and to say it is very French is an understatement. Quebec seems to be more French than France. I’d say it is the center out of which all the Frenchness in Canada flows.

Since, I visit Vancouver and Victoria BC fairly often, I thought Quebec might be similar with perhaps a bit more French spoken. I’ve often laughed on my visits through British Columbia about all the signs being in French and English and how redundant they appear to me.

Loren and I have traveled to France and French Polynesia, but nowhere, have I had to rely on my college level, but long forgotten, French as I did in Quebec. I came prepared to chuckle over signs in French and English. I didn’t see much English anywhere.   All day, I translated menus for Hubby and read signs. He may have had a more colorful trip than most tourists because of my inaccurate translations of signs on buildings and shop fronts. I confess, when I got tired, I started making stuff up. “Oh look Honey, shoes made out of mushrooms,”–or whatever.

While it is fun to be amused over my challenges in a forgotten second language, Hubby saw a display in the museum that shocked him. He knew Quebec was French until some treaty gave the territory to England. What he’d never learned before was that the English attacked the city and conquered it. The citizens were not happy. The people of Quebec had no say in their fates, so like many powerless peoples, they rebelled in the only way they could, refusing to speak English and clinging to French architecture and culture.

The rest of Canada seems to tolerate the uniqueness of Quebec. I’ve heard friends from Vancouver or Yukon Territory or Alberta snort and say, “Those people. They really are not like the rest of Canadians.” An eye roll frequently accompanies this statement. However, Canadians in general are pretty nice about most things, except hockey, so this bi-cultural arrangement works for them, most of the time. They’ve had some bumps along the way with threats to secede, but have worked things out.

I guess the significant fact here is that the people of Quebec became part of Canada against their will. While some people recognized the benefits of being part of England—particularly an end to constant bickering with their English neighbors, they saw no reason to change their identity and language.

While Quebec has formed a decent relationship with the rest of Canada, these people have prompted me to ask, “How many other places around the world are like Quebec? Cultural groups may be aligned with a particular nation, but don’t identify with the majority in the country?”

Looking at the sharp language and cultural differences in Quebec City forced me to think about civil unrest around the globe. How many times do we hear of rebel forces here or there, who are no different, really, from the people of Quebec. They just want to speak their own language, eat their own food, and worship in their own way, or to go about their lives without the threat of genocide hanging over them.

As I continued to think about this problem, it occurred to me that the world has a wonderful resource in the people of Quebec and Montreal. Perhaps these people should be our advisors in how to handle a situation where a group with different ethnic ties from their government comes into conflict with their government over those differences.   I’d like to hear their opinions.

 

Delinda McCann writes general fiction based on her experience as a social psychologist and has published five novels. She expresses her sense of humor in many of her short stories. She’s also published numerous professional articles on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Youth At-Risk. The professional articles are rather academic and dry, but Delinda pulls what she knows about human behavior, disabilities and youth into her fiction.

 

Musings And Checkers by Kenneth Weene

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What eight-year-old boy doesn’t want to do things with his dad? When my father told me to hop in our black four-door Ford, I was happy to oblige. That we were going to the general store made it all the better. I loved roaming that store—cram packed with scythes, guns, food, ice cream, clothes, notions, even the local post office. The entire place redolent of Maine. Voices filled with flat “R”s and twang. Local folks stopped in as much to socialize as to shop.

The wood-burning stove would be cold—summer was not a time for roaring fires; but there was sure to be a checkers game in progress, the board sitting atop an upturned pickle barrel similar to the one from which I would, if Dad was in the right mood, fish a crispy dill for a special treat. Checkers was a religion almost as important as the Boston Red Sox. Its devotees were the old men who gathered at Maynard’ store; its practice was simple, red and black.

My father never asked to play, nor was he ever asked; but I loved to watch those geezers huffing and puffing their way through each game as if it were mortal combat.

While Dad and Maynard, the proprietor, worked on our order—much of which would have to come from Portland or even Boston and would arrive in perhaps a week, I wandered through that wonderland, trying as children do to soak-up everything that was being done and said.

Elvira, Maynard’s wife was talking fabrics with Hortense Clark. Usually, I would have skipped the women’s talk, but Hortense mentioned my family name. “How come Maynard lets that kike Weene order things; I wouldn’t do business with a Jew.” She spat the last word out so it hung in the air.

“Hortense,” Elvira answered, “Joe’s a White Jew.”

“What the hell did that mean?” Instinctively, I knew it was not a question to ask aloud. That was well over sixty years ago, and I am finally ready to answer my unspoken question. My answer is not, as some might expect, about anti-Semitism, although anti-Jewish prejudice certainly underlay Hortense Clarks’s comment. Rather, it is about race or at least the American concept of race and how that concept affects our social and political discourse. It is about what has been termed by some the American dilemma, but that dilemma is not about the role of Blacks, African-Americans, Negroes, or whatever term you have learned to use when referring to people who can trace their roots back to Africa. Rather it is about how early Americans came to see themselves, how those first British-Americans came to define their world.

Perhaps a bit of history would be helpful. Well before slavery had become the mainstay of what is now the Southeast United States, it took root in the Caribbean. England had discovered sugar and the insatiable European sweet tooth demanded plantation after plantation of cane. Sugar was a backbreaking crop and labor intensive; what better way to produce it than employing the cheapest possible labor, slaves. But the Africans brought to Jamaica, the Barbados, and other islands were not agreeable to the plan or to their treatment. There were rebellions. Vulnerability to French and Spanish intrusions and to the depredations of pirates and privateers added to the sense of unease in those island colonies. Better to move lock, stock, and slave holdings to the mainland where there was comparative safety. So the Carolinas were settled. If sugarcane did not do as well in the new plantations as they had in the islands, tobacco and rice coupled with fur trade with the Indians made up the difference.

However, the plantation owners still didn’t feel that safe. The slaves were no happier with their conditions in the new setting; they still wanted freedom; and the Spanish in Florida encouraged slave rebellions. The enslaved Black population outnumbered the plantation owners and their hired hands. Then, too, displaced Native Americans brooded in the forests. There was a boding sense of danger. The solution of British troops being garrisoned in the communities was too expensive and was certainly unacceptable to the plantation owners who wanted to be their own royalty. Better to find other, poorer Europeans to share the risk, to settle the lesser lands and provide the services in the towns and villages.

The attraction of the New World to impoverished working class recruits was land. If they had none in Europe, at least in America they would now have some. So they came. Of course there was a selection process that went on. French and Spaniards were not welcome. After all, England was in almost perpetual war with those two Catholic monarchies. While Scots, Welsh, and Scots-Irish were the most welcome, there were too few of these; so other Europeans were welcome: Greeks, Albanians, Germans, and so forth. They came to find themselves an economic underclass, many indentured, often burdened with debt, and seldom able to obtain land worth the farming.

The question was how to keep these poor Europeans from forming a natural affinity with the slaves who often worked beside them all for the landed gentry. How to keep them from seeing themselves as oppressed. It was in that context that the notion of a “White Race” was born.

“Why do they call themselves the human race? Do they think somebody is going to win?” The line from a television sitcom haunts this topic. Just what do we mean by race and how do the word’s two meanings intersect?

Race in the sense of rushing or competing comes from the Norse or perhaps Old English.

Race in the sense of “people of common descent” comes from the Middle French, possibly before that from the Italian. It was originally used to describe people and other things that naturally grouped together, including wines of particular flavor, a generation, a group of people with a common occupation, or people who had a common background as a tribe.

There is no evidence that race referred to people being divided on the basis of physical differences before the late eighteenth century. In other words, those colonists—rich or poor—did not come to the Americas thinking of a “White Race.” They may have thought of Africans as different from themselves, but only in the way they may have thought the same of Russians or Slavs as not being like them or perhaps of Welsh and English being different.

It was essential to the landed gentry of the colonies to alienate the poor Europeans from the Black slaves. The easiest way to do that was to play up the sense of difference and the clearest difference was the color of skin. Hence whiteness became a political tool.

That night in Maine I lay on the grass and looked up at the stars. I could see so many of them—no light pollution to interfere. I did not know even then if I believed in God or Heaven, but I do know I believed in possibilities and the future. I looked up and like many young Americans of that day I saw a world that could be better. It did not occur to me that there were many who could only see the ground beneath them, who lived in desperate fear of things getting worse.

“Keep your eye on the prize.” What a great evocation. But for those who cannot know if their children will have enough to eat, there is no prize. They cannot look to the stars; they are far too busy watching for the pratfalls along the path. For those who are living in quiet desperation there is no possibility. For them it is the simple maxim, “Look back, the Devil may be gaining on you.”

Fear becomes anger, and anger becomes rage. The Devil is coming and has to be defeated. And if that Devil is represented by the descendents of the slaves whom their ancestors were supposed to look down on, by the Black-skinned Americans whom their culture came to call a different race, why it is clear where the rage must be directed.

For a person who sees himself as a member of the White race who lives in a terror of downward social mobility, a terror known only too well by those who are just holding on to their rung of the ladder, the mythical other, the Black, becomes a threat beyond the tolerable.

From the first gleaming of the American character this terror of the not-White was mixed in— added intentionally by those plantation owners looking for allies just in case of a slave rebellion. Once it existed towards the African slaves, it was easily displaced onto other groups, groups that at some psychological level were identified as not-White. As descendents of early French settlers migrated from Eastern Canada down into Maine and New England, they became the non-Whites. The Irish who were carried to the New World by the waves of the potato blight were often labeled “Black Irish.” Obviously, to Hortense my father was not “White,” but Elvira set her straight, albeit about just that one person, not all Jews.

Today, for most Americans, the French, Irish, and Jews have been assimilated into the class of Whiteness. African Americans are still not white. Neither are those of Hispanic background. Consider those wonderful questionnaires one is so often asked to fill out, for instance satisfaction surveys after Internet purchases and services. The classifications offered for self-identification make it clear that Hispanics are not White.

A short time ago I saw a picture of four children on the social media; they were labeled Black, Yellow, Brown, and Normal. Normal, that is the label given to the white child. Perhaps there was no intent; after all the purported message of the picture was “Everybody deserves to be treated equally!” Equally to the normal, to the White.

Another recent event sends the same message. An exit poll of voters in South Carolina asked, “Are Blacks getting too demanding in their push for equal rights?” Too demanding, how can one be too demanding in the expectation of equality?

It is many years since I heard my father referred to as a White Jew. At the time, I suppose a part of me was happy with that distinction; it meant that my dad was accepted, that at least to some small degree we were part of the community. But he was not asked to play a game of checkers.

Years later I am not so happy. I wish I had known then what I know today. I would have spoken up. Voice cracking with youth and emotion I would have said, “My father is a person. He is honest and trustworthy. Beyond that, there should be no labels. We are Americans, and we should know better. We are the children of revolution, of the natural human drive for freedom, a goal that can never be realized while we are willing to classify ourselves as if we were talking about the flavors of wine.” I would have taken a bite of that pickle clutched in my right hand and added, “Besides he’s a great checkers player.” Yes, I would have added that.

At least now I know that it is my responsibility to say such things, to make those comments in the social media, to stand up for that idea in my life; that is the responsibility of a free person. For if we are not equally free, then freedom will no longer have meaning.

If there is a Devil who will gain on us, he will not be in the guise of those with a different shade of skin but in the guise of those who tell us that we must fear others in order to protect ourselves. We can defeat that evil spirit. The place to start? Might I suggest a game of checkers? Might I suggest that we set up that overturned pickle barrel and start to play—making sure that everyone gets a turn.

 

Besides his work organizing The Write Room Blog aand co-hosting It Matters Radio, Ken Weene writes and writes. His latest book Broody New Engander is now available in print and Kindle. http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B002M3EMWU

To care or not to care. Are these the options? by Eduardo Cervino

Jean Valjean

Jean Valjean

Whether it is possible for a fair, reasonable person to remain oblivious to current political trends in the US. Or to abhor the hatred and jingoism vomited by righteous porters of bibles and guns.

If this sentence strikes a chord, make no mistake. It’s meant to provoke you.

Can you pass beyond the cheap literary hook?

Can you share with me the outrage against those forked-tongued politicians, preachers and televangelists poisoning people’s minds?

What can I do to awaken empathy for the millions among us at the margin of society?

Are we becoming a nation of psychopaths?

A nation where puppets of the rich govern for the benefit of the rich.

A nation where legislators criminalize poverty, and police arrest good men who feed the hungry.

A nation so arrogant that it takes pride in bucking the trends of the industrialized world. Refuses free education and affordable health care for all. Reduces child welfare, increases control of women’s reproductive rights, and promotes inequality.

A nation that revives the discredited philosophy of Ayn Rand, thereby raising the pursuit of money to the level of a satanic cult.

A nation that tramples over honest but less fortunate citizens

The majority of Americans refuse to see that abstaining from voting allows the nation’s oligarchy to solidify its control over our system of laws.

We agree that congressmen are for sale to the higher bidder, like whores in a Wild West bordello. But our refusal to vote gets them re-elected by 13% of eligible voters.

How many legislators enter office possessing a moderate net worth and leave as millionaires?

Coolidge, the 30th president of the US, said, “After all, the chief business of the American people is business.” That canon served the interest of the entire people well.

Now, however, the avarice of the 1% has created despicable new sources of revenue. It has converted education of the nation’s youngsters into a business.

Have we forgotten that education is the foundation of the country’s future?

It’s no coincidence that incarcerated citizens in the US exceeds the number in other industrialized countries combined. Sweden has closed four prisons for lack of inmates. But in the US, prison construction is a growth industry more profitable than home building

Greedy CEOs have converted the pharmaceutical industry and health services into businesses dealing with life and death. It’s more accurate to say dealing with preserving the lives of those who can afford the best at the expense of hurting those who cannot.

The war on drugs is another profit center. A large sector of the armed forces pursues smugglers. Those resources could be allocated to rehabilitation of the users. This is crazy, the equivalent of trying to cut the supply and let the demand increase.

Millions of citizens have died of tobacco smoking. When was the last time you heard of anyone dying from smoking marijuana? Yet we subside the tobacco industry while resisting legalization and taxation of marijuana in most states.

Does all this sound to you like a successful, exceptional society or a failed one?

How can we fix the future if we believe things are perfect, contrary to all statistical evidence? In reality, we are number seven in literacy, twenty-seven in math, forty-nine in life expectancy, but number one in defense expending and religious belief.

By now you may say, complaints, complaints. What can we do?

We should start by removing the For Sale sign from the Capitol building. About 150,000 wealthy individuals in the country contributed the great percentage of money spent in the races in an effort to manipulate the uneducated masses. They invest billions of dollars to buy loyalty from senators and representatives.

The average legislator spends thirty to seventy percent of his or her time in office raising money for the next campaign. What do you think they give away in exchange for the money they receive?

Their yearly salary increase, or cutting taxes for the 150,000 donors?

Increasing regulations of the banksters and larcenous Wall Street speculators, or cutting the peoples’ right to heath care and education, children’s’ Head Start programs, and soldiers’ mental health care?

Please, my fellow Americans, teach your children to vote. Better still, take them with you when you vote. Stop the madness before we regress to the times of the pre-industrial revolution, if we are lucky, of those of Genghis Khan if not.

 

Eduardo Cervino was born in Havana, Cuba, where he studied art and architecture. The Castro revolution failed to deliver on its promises of freedom, prosperity, and peace. Eduardo refused the communist regime’s indoctrination. Instead, he voiced his opposition and ended in an agricultural forced labor camp. In time, he moved to Madrid, Spain.

To leave his loved ones hit him like a ton of bricks. The pain seeded his heart with an overwhelming desire to give a hand to the fallen and join any group dedicated to healing the hurting.

After arriving in the USA, he wrote his memoirs. Eduardo found great satisfaction in writing. In New York City, he renewed his painting career. Since then, he has combined painting, architecture, and writing to quench his curiosity and express his awe for life’s wonders.

He has traveled throughout the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe, and Canada. In the USA, Eduardo has resided in Havana, Cuba; Madrid, Spain; New York City, Denver, and Phoenix.

“Life’s ups and downs make it a marvelous experience,” he said. “But only if we cultivate an ever-growing circle of friends to share it with.”

http://tinyurl.com/cultofiona