December 27, 2015

No Peace While He Lives

Recently I took an exploratory journey into the mysterious closet at the end of the long hallway and unearthed a long box of comic books that were neatly bagged and packed with utmost care just before the start of the Clinton Administration.
The box sat in back of the closet with other boxes on top for almost 2.5 decades. Inside that box were issues of the new DC comic book “Star Trek” with stories by the great Peter David.
On issue #2 of the series, the Klingons place a “bounty” on Captain Kirk’s head, and pronounce proudly and loudly that “there can be no peace as long as Kirk is alive.”
Almost no one hates their enemy like a Klingon. 
Suddenly, bounty hunters and killers from all over the galaxy are trying to kill or capture Kirk, and the Enterprise (Kirk’s ship) seems to have a big target sign on it.
Sound familiar? It’s not unheard of in sci-fi-action-adventure boy-stories. And this was 1990, years before the embargo against Cuba was embedded into our constitution by politicians who assured that “this legislation will put an end to the tyrant.” And they did so it repeatedly, passing and breaking laws like in a comic book.
Lots of people in positions of authority and privilege didn’t like Captain Kirk... he got in their way, messed things up. But Kirk found surprising allies even after the most powerful (and well dressed) hit man in the galaxy attacked with an assortment of war ships and the bankrupt ideology of anti-movements that try to kill their way to justice.
The cold-war-type attacks and murder attempts continued for issue after issue until Kirk, ever the self-promoting hero, turned himself over to the Federation for a trial in order to “save innocent lives.”
This may not have been the wisest choice, as many eagerly sought the advantages of peace and were willing to trade Kirk (the tyrant) for the profits of new markets.
Issues 10 thru 12 featured “The Trial of James T. Kirk,” and what a trial it was.  His lawyer from the first season episode “Court Martial” returned, as does his still attractive ex-prosecutor. They teamed up to defend Kirk against the well-funded and deep-seated anti-Kirk establishment.
Just like in the last episode of Seinfeld, his enemies were at the trial. And even after Kirk saved the Klingon politician’s life, and the trial brought to an end, their hate for the captain continued.  
Sounding like a Republican presidential candidate, the Klingon Ambassador, in a Trump-worthy moment, exclaimed that “the life of one Klingon is worth a hundred human lives.”  
Even after Kirk saves the Klingon ambassador’s life and the bounty on his head is removed, the cold-war plotting continues between the Klingon Empire and their spies in The Federation.
Sometimes I think I see Cuban history wherever I look.
Along the way Peter David’s story suggested that many Klingons opposed this official anti-Kirk movement, seeing it as unproductive and actually damaging to the Empire, but their voices were quickly silenced... and their voice of hate persists...
If you can’t find these comic books, you’ll have to settle for the December 15 Republican Presidential debate on CNN, which openly embraced the ideology of the Klingon Empire.
A few books after the trial, Peter David stopped writing the series, but the Kirk-haters remained, dedicated to their singular vision.
As other writers take over the helm of this series (which is completely new to me) I fear what the Klingons will do. Moving towards a time in which the Empire and the Federation have established amicable relations (Next Generation) the hangers-on are more dangerous than ever.

May 19, 2015

One Hundred and Twenty Years of José Martí

One hundred and twenty years ago today, José Martí died in battle for Cuban Independence from the Spanish Empire.
Today, has an author page for Martí, and I was able to find good deals on used versions of books by and about him. I was lucky that they were generally in great condition, though most couldn’t really pass for new.
Some of the books that I’d traditionally counted on the SF Public Library for have recently disappeared, so I picked up a few of these for myself, such as some of the titles by Philip S. Foner; “On Art and Literature, Critical Writings by José Martí” and “Political Parties and Elections in the United States,” and by Lillian Guerra; “The Myth of José Martí.” I also got the one by Jorge Mañach; “Martí, Apostle of Freedom,” which has a “withdrawn” stamp in all caps on the very first page and a “University of Lancaster Library” sticker on the inside cover, and several others. Most were under $10 each, and probably as old or older than most who will read this. A more recently published title by Alfred J. Lopez “José Martí, A Revolutionary Life” explores every excruciating detail of Martí’s life, and this could be a good place to start.
 Over the years Cubans have elevated the memory of Martí to near God-like status (myself included) and there are plenty of reasons… but it’s not just us Cubans…
A few years ago I met a little boy from Costa Rica named Martí. That was his first name. When I asked his parents about the name (they didn’t know who I was) the mother explained that he was named after the “great Cuban Poet.”
“Marti is the liberator of always and forever” wrote Eduardo Abril Amores in the Cuban newspaper El Diario de Cuba of May 19, 1942. “The warrior of every epoch and the eternal thought of Cuba. Nobody has said, since Martí’s death, anything that he had not said. He was the pinnacle of Cuban liberty, of the Cuban ideal, and of Cuba’s political genius. Martí was Cuba’s Infinite. Martí reached a point beyond which there is nothing.”
Opening the door on 2015 finds Martí’s humanism a decaying element of modern culture, and maybe his writings can help us find it, though clearly not everyone will welcome it.
Martí may not solve the puzzle of our diminishing humanity being replaced by the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition, but many will find it rewarding to learn more about the poet, the teacher, and the revolutionist and the man who walks on clouds.

May 10, 2015

Looking Forward to Peace With Cuba

A recent article by Matt Novak (13 Horrifying Ideas America Had for Invading Cuba)  touches on the sad recent history between the two countries that I love. As we finally move towards peace, it’s important to recognize what we leave behind.
Novak’s article doesn’t provide a comprehensive overview of U.S. aggression towards Cuba, but many  may still find it distressing… and rightly so.
I remember how disturbing all this seemed when I was first learning about it… some of it was so utterly mean and ridiculous that it seemed farfetched… but as declassified documents rolled out, the truth of the war on Castro could no longer be kept under wraps, or simply blamed on the few nut-cases steering the various activities.
When I was a kid, most of the anti-Castro activities that took place at the time were never discussed at home. We just assumed that everything that “went wrong” in Cuba was the fault of Castro and his brand of communism.  Our actions, the embargo, the anti-Castro efforts, the terrorism and vandalism and harassment and everything else we did to trip-up the regime was... well, beyond criticism.
Today, as we move towards peace, it’s obvious that the leaders of the anti-movement will never be held accountable for the suffering they’ve caused or the way they’ve made us look to the world.
Thinking about the 50-plus year war on Castro… I wonder how much money it cost us... How many resources did we squander? How many human lives were lost? How many families were kept apart for most of their lifetimes? And how many communists did the war on Castro convert to Democracy?  
Still, one of my favorite Gandhi quotes is about forgiveness; “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” There’s a related quote from Nelson Mandela; “Courageous people do not fear forgiving. For the sake of peace.”
As our streets fill with racial violence, perhaps due to a history barely discussed in public or in schools, making peace with… somebody, anybody, is a good idea.
In order to be strong and courageous for the two countries that I love, I will try to forgive the anti-Castro movement (they were few but powerful) and forgive the many Cubans who disagreed with them in silence and fear (I was one of them) for year after year... and forgive the misguided souls who trained, funded and pardoned these terrorists into our general population... and forgive the millions who simply chose the comfort of not knowing. (We should still turn Posada Carrilles over to Venezuela to face the legal system we’ve helped him avoid. There’s no better way to show our opposition to terrorism than making those who practice it accountable.)
The next step is to return Guantanamo Bay, and to start replacing these old-world-thinkers with more humanist political candidates.
The age of the ORC is over and the age of humanity begins! (I’ve always wanted to say that.) 
I can’t wait for a Cuban-American politician that all American Latinos can embrace, someone who stands for a peaceful future and for telling the truth on Cuba and our sordid history of attempted conquest… one who will truly embrace the concept of truth and justice… most likely he or she will be a Democrat.
The immediate challenge will be in restricting those who’ve acted without impunity for decades, and making sure they don’t poison the well. They’ve done it before.
A more recent article by Jonas Gamso claims a rosier future for Cuba given the changes of healthcare and education. We should be support these positive changes in Cuban society, not just reclaim past conquests.

December 29, 2014

Martí describes an Act of Racial Violence

It still feels distressing to read Marti’s article from 1882; “A Town Sets a Black Manon Fire,” published in Mexico’s “El Partido Liberal.” Reading it today could reveal how much or little has changed, or not, in spite of 125 years of cultural progress and social evolution.
The victim in Martí’s article, identified as Coy, cried for his life; “I offered Mrs. Jewell no offense! You’re going to kill me, but I offered her no offense!” It seems that only Martí was listening.
The men who poured petroleum over his body, and the woman who lit the match, were in no danger of being charged with a crime by the legal system.
Why does José Martí seem so relevant again? Is it the appearance in the news of names like Michael Brown, Eric Greene and Tamir Rice? Or is it the persistent lack of change these names represent?
A different article by Martí depicts an act of mob violence in New Orleans in 1891.  
After chief of police John David Hennessy was shot in front of his home, 11 Italians were arrested and charged with murder, but some were acquitted and others released due to mistrial.
The 11 Italians on the receiving end of the mob violence were broken out of jail and murdered.  The lawyers who instigated and lead the event were carried on the crowd’s shoulders like sports heroes.
A grand jury refused to issue any indictments (surprised?) claiming that there were “too many participants” to know exactly where the guilt should lie.
“The grey-eyed politicians hated the dark-eyed politicians,” wrote Martí, abstracting the nature of racism and, perhaps showing how violence itself merely needs an excuse… a way to ignite… and sometimes any reason or excuse will do.
The lynching brought the word “Mafia” into popular culture, infusing the anti-Italian sentiments that already existed. It also led to a stir with the Italian government, who recalled staff from the embassy in Washington. The after-effects of the lynching are not covered in Martí’s article.
I’ve still not seen the TV movie on the subject (“Vendetta” with Christopher Walken) though I plan to.
“Everything that divides men from each other, everything that separates or limits them, is a sin against humanity,” wrote Martí in 1893. “Racist,” he wrote in My Race, “is a confusing word, and it must be clarified.”