Well, Fidel Castro is dead, and good riddance. The only sad thing about this event is that it didn't happen decades ago, and that his brother Raul lives on to continue to torment the people of Cuba. I'm not going to get into all the evil things which this man did to his own people- anyone can look up the jailing of political dissenters, the tortures, the murders, the executions with no trial... the list of his crimes is long and horrible. I'm also not going to address how his life and career reinforce the truth that Communism is an evil scourge on the world. The fact that Castro and his family lived in luxury, multimillionaires, while the average Cuban scrapes by on about $20 a month should speak for itself.
What I am going to talk about is the curious and frankly, disgraceful, habit of leftists to gloss over Castro's crimes. It seems like only yesterday that I was, in my review of Keeper Of The Flame, decrying the cult of personality and sharing my opinion that our Prime Minister was, regrettably, elected because of it and is a rather incompetent ideologue. Well, this weekend he proved it to the world, posting a glowing statement about Fidel Castro's death which would have been more appropriate for Mother Theresa. Frankly, this goes beyond incompetence and enters the realm of cowardly, base dishonesty. Worse, he presumed to speak on behalf of all Canadians. Well, Mr Trudeau, you don't speak for me or for most other Canadians on this matter. Hence the origin of the bitterly sarcastic Twitter hashtag #trudeaueulogieswhich started in Canada and quickly spread around the world (and to which I contributed a few samples). Also, yesterday the Grey Cup game took place in Ottawa. For those of you who don't know (i.e. aren't Canadian), that's Canada's Super Bowl- or it's country cousin, anyway-the Canadian Football League final. The Ottawa Redblacks were playing the Calgary Stampeders (Ottawa won) and before the game, a pre-taped message from Justin Trudeau about how he was looking forward to the Grey Cup aired on the big screen in the arena. His message was roundly booed by the crowd, and shouts of "Castro was a dictator!" were heard. This in Ottawa, Ontario, which voted overwhelmingly Liberal in the last election. So no, Mr. Prime Minister, you don't speak for us.
I find Hollywood's love affair with Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, who played Beelzebub to Castro's Satan, equally detestable. Sean Penn, who never met a Communist creep he didn't like, gushed like a fangirl after interviewing the dictator in 2008. Stephen Spielberg, who should know better, also spoke admiringly of Castro after meeting him. Jack Nicholson said that Castro was "a genius" and "a humanist like President Clinton"(make what you will of that). Harry Belafonte called the dictator "heroic" while Chevy Chase said that Cuba is proof that "socialism sometimes works" (for the dictators, anyway). Oliver Stone described Castro as "very selfless" and "moral" and "one of the world's wisest men." And staggeringly, Kevin Costner not only called meeting him "the experience of a lifetime," he had this to say about Castro's regime: "I think humanity is a great experiment. Who is to say... the United States is right and Cuba is wrong?"
Yes, Kevin, who is to say.
I could go on and on with this list of useful idiots but frankly, why bother. What burns my grits, though, is that it's these Hollywood types who are so fond of referring again and again to the evils of McCarthyism and blacklisting, despite it having been in the 1950's, and none of them ever experiencing it. No doubt they want to feel that Hollywood is stalwart in the face of persecution, and what else do they have, really? Yet they-while proclaiming their love for freedom of ideas- rave about the Cuba that Castro built. So let's have a look at freedom of expression in this Communist utopia which they love so much.
Let's start with freedom of the press. There isn't any; Reporters Without Borders ranks Cuba 169 out of 180 countries on the Press Freedom Index. Newspapers are heavily censored, and reporters are routinely jailed. Cubans also can't read books and magazines unless they've been approved (published) by the government. And it's illegal to receive reading material from outside the country. Some years ago, Spain donated hundreds of books including children's stories and medical text books... they were all burned (see my post on book burning). Cubans are also not allowed to watch any television not regulated by the government, or any foreign broadcasts. The same applies to radio; since the 1960's, Cuba has been jamming radio signals from outside the country. Before Communist rule in Cuba, there were movie theaters galore. Now there are few left, and all films must be- you guessed it- government approved. Even song lyrics have to br examined and O.K.'d by the government. Until 2008, cell phones were completely banned; now, though, Raul Castro allows some usage (what a guy) though strictly controlled, with no internet capabilities allowed. Speaking of internet access, Cuba has some of the strictest controls in the world. A special licence is required to use the internet, and most citizens are only permitted the national internet service which mainly just allows email access- and all emails are monitored by the state.
These restrictions only skim the surface of how repressive the Cuban regime is, and yet apologists like the ones mentioned above persist in singing Castro's praises. Frequently the excuse offered is that, though the government is oppressive, it gives free health care and free education to its citizens. As far as health care is concerned, try Googling images of Cuban hospitals. There are photos of them which people have taken clandestinely, and I wouldn't let a dog be treated in those conditions. There's a reason why Cuba refuses to let the Red Cross into the country to do inspections of its medical facilities. And if people believe that the education received by Cuban kids is as great as the government says it is, they're a lot more credulous than I. In any case, literacy is of limited value if all you are allowed to read is state propaganda. And are they really suggesting that either or both of these things are an equitable exchange for personal freedom and liberty?
O.K., I'm going to stop here. I didn't mean to rant on for so long... in fact, I didn't mean to write anything about Fidel Castro at all. I was just so frustrated by P.M. Trudeau's sycophancy to a dead dictator that I needed to blow off some steam. Plus, as someone who loves books and films- and speaking my mind- I always want to call out governments and individuals who try to censor or ban any of those things. My hope for Cuba and its people is that they too, one day, will be able to enjoy these rights freely.
"Communism is the death of the soul. It is the organization of total conformity- in short, of tyranny- and it is committed to making tyranny universal." -Adlai E. Stevenson
The Maltese Falcon is a novel written by Dashiell Hammett in 1929. His is the first name one generally thinks of when discussing the genre of "hard-boiled" detective fiction. The protagonist of The Maltese Falcon, Sam Spade, is boiled good and hard, and appears in a few short stories as well as the novel, but T.M.F. is really what made him a famous fictional character. Incidentally, Hammett also gifted us with the memorable characters of Nick and Nora Charles in The Thin Man. The Maltese Falcon takes place in San Francisco, and starts out in the office of private detectives Spade and Archer. A Miss Wonderly arrives, announced by loyal secretary Effie Perrine. She wants to engage their agency to find her sister, whom she says has run off with a man named Floyd Thursby. Wonderly tells Sam Spade and Miles Archer that she has arranged a meeting with Thursby for that night at 8 pm. She gives them $200 in advance, wanting them to tail Thursby and warns them that he is a violent criminal. Miss Wonderly leaves and Miles goes out soon afterwards to tail Thursby.
That night, Sam Spade is awakened by his telephone ringing. It's the police, telling him that his partner, Miles Archer, has been found murdered. Spade goes to the scene of the crime the sergeant who called Spade, Tom Polhaus, tells him that Miles was shot at close range with a .38 revolver. Tom asks Sam what Miles was working on, and Spade tells him about Thursby but doesn't reveal who hired their firm. After leaving the scene, Sam calls Effie, tells her what has happened and asks her to break the news to Miles' wife, Iva. After this, Spade goes home where, at 4:30 in the morning, Sergeant Polhaus shows up with a hostile Lieutenant Dundy. They tell him that they've found Thursby; he too has been killed, and Dundy implies that Sam may have done it. They have no evidence, of course, so they leave after unsuccessfully questioning the uncooperative Spade. Later in the morning, Sam goes to the office and finds Iva Archer waiting for him. She asks him if he killed Miles, then cries and apologizes. Sam kisses her, and it becomes obvious that he has been having an affair with Miles' wife. After getting Iva out of the office as quickly as possible, Sam tells Effie to get rid of all of Archer's stuff. Effie tells him that when she went to tell Iva about Miles' death, Iva pretended to have been asleep, but that she had actually been out and returned only a few minutes before Effie got there. Sam goes to Miss Wonderly's hotel to talk to her, but she has checked out. Returning to his office, he is informed by Effie that Wonderly called; she's now at a different hotel under an assumed name: Miss Leblanc.
Spade goes to see Miss Wonderly/Leblanc and she admits to him that the story she told him and Miles the day before was a big lie... her real name is Bridget O'Shaughnessy, and she doesn't have a sister. Sam says that's all right; they hadn't actually believed her... they just believed her $200. She now tells him that Floyd Thursby was an acquaintance who had double crossed her. Sam presses her for more information, but she won't tell him anything except that someone's trying to kill her, too. Though frustrated, Spade agrees to help her if possible. Later that day, back at the office again, Spade is called upon by a rather effeminate man named Joe Cairo. He offers Sam $5000 for a figurine of a black bird which he seems to assume Spade has, or knows where to get. When Spade is not forthcoming, Cairo pulls a gun on him and says that he is going to search the office for the bird. He attempts to check Spade for a concealed weapon, but this ends badly when Sam seizes the opportunity to overpower Cairo and knock him out. Spade then searches Cairo's pockets, finding among other things, a ticket to the Geary theater for that night, a newspaper clipping about the two murders, and Sam's address written on a piece of note paper from the Hotel Belvedere. When Cairo wakes up, Spade questions him, but he refuses to say who he's working for. He does, however, renew his offer of $5000 for the bird. For that price, Sam agrees to look into the matter.
"I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder." - G.K. Chesterton
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This meme made me laugh today. We never had a cat go after our turkey, but once when I was over at my brother's place for dinner, my sister-in-law turned her back for a moment and their cat leaped upon the table, grabbed the pot roast and took off down the hall with it. I'm not sure who was more unhappy: my sister-in-law or the cat, when she wrested the somewhat mangled roast away from him.
In Keeper Of The Flame, the deceased- Robert Forrest- was, before his death, working toward ending the constitutional republic and instituting totalitarian rule in America. But how did he intend to upset the U.S.A.'s democratic apple cart? Most of Forrest's plans revolved around weakening the republic by setting interest groups, classes, and the races against each other. Then, of course, Robert Forrest, trusted American hero, would be there to step in to unite and save the country by assuming control of it. The film clip below is Catherine outlining his schemes for a shocked Stephen O'Malley. (BTW, there's something wrong with the image in the clip, but the sound is fine).
So what does this have to say about society today? Well, it should be a warning to us about a few things, one of them being the danger of a cult of personality. This is when people unite behind a leader whom they've idealized in their minds as being great, heroic, and infallible. They become blind to the faults of the object of their worship and unquestioning in their devotion. This is an extraordinarily bad idea, for a number of reasons. Using the example of our election (the Canadian one) a little over a year ago, let's look at the rise of Justin Trudeau. Trudeau is the son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, darling of the left in the '60's and '70's. He was, unlike, admittedly, any other Canadian politician, a celebrity both at home and abroad; there was even a term coined for his wild popularity: "Trudeaumania". When his son Justin entered politics, the old hippies who had swooned over Pierre flocked to him, hoping for a return to the heady days of their youth. The older members of the Liberal Party saw in him the possibility of a return to the popularity of the Trudeau era. The mainstream media, left-leaning at the best of times, jettisoned even the pretense of objectivity and published pieces on J.T. that were almost mash notes. The Liberal leadership convention was more of a coronation than a competition; the one candidate who dared to point that Justin Trudeau had no experience, either at politics or, you know, actual employment- his one regular job before entering the political arena was a short time spent as a substitute drama teacher- was booed off the stage by her own party.
None of these people in the run up to the election seemed bothered by the fact that Trudeau had no stated platform for the longest time. Except, of course, legalizing marijuana; for a good deal of the campaign, this was his only coherent promise, which won over the millennials, and made the old hippies happy. Everywhere he went, people fawned on him, and few seemed concerned that they had no idea who he actually was, or what he would do. And now he's the Prime Minister. Don't mistake me... I'm not suggesting that Trudeau is like Robert Forrest, just that he's an incompetent ideologue who was put in power by a lot of people who for various reasons never examined him or his platform critically. Why is this a problem? Well, when a politician is treated as though he is above being criticized or questioned, he or she will have no reason not to think that they can push any agenda they want. With a compliant media which won't ask the tough questions, and an adoring or inattentive public which thinks their hero is more or less infallible, there is little accountability. And it is this sort of environment in which a leader can become arrogant, and begin to believe in his own greatness and flawlessness. This, no matter how good their intentions were to begin with, will always end badly.
This is why I always hate to hear politicians talked or written about as though they were somehow above and beyond regular people. It's unhealthy for any country for its leaders to be held in reverence. Read this article about President Obama and ask yourself if the writer is capable of being objective and critical of the "enlightened being". Or this article about Hillary Clinton in which the author starts out by writing, "I love Hilllary Clinton. I am in awe of her. I am set free by her." This is not healthy on either a personal or societal level. Frankly, one reason why I don't particularly worry about the upcoming Trump presidency is that no one, from the press upward, thinks that he is infallible and above criticism or push back.
The other political danger discussed in Keeper Of The Flame is that of special interest groups being played off against each other. Robert Forrest's plan for seizing control over the nation includes encouraging resentment and conflict between races and other groups. And this is something that is a huge problem in our western societies today: identity politics. It's as though politicians- egged on by some segments of these groups- think that all people of a certain race, sex, religion, etc., are a monolith, their political affiliations decided for them because of who or what they are. A lot of this is the cynical calculation that, if they can convince enough of certain interest groups that they are threatened by other groups, and then present themselves as the solution to the problem, they can ride that fear and resentment right into office. As I watched the American election and its aftermath with interest, I heard several commentators- all women- suggest that women who didn't vote for Hillary Clinton were self-loathing. As a woman, I can't tell you how frustrating I find this; the idea that my political opinions must be defined for me by my gender, that because I'm female, I am incapable of examining the issues and candidates and making a decision which may differ from that of other women without there being something wrong with me, is beyond insulting. Nor should it be assumed that all black people, or Jews, or um, Mormons- you get the idea- will all think and vote the same way. If you ask me, this attitude really is sexist and racist, and those are terms which I don't throw around lightly. So those are my thoughts on Keeper Of The Flame; it's a little heavy-handed at times, but is also thought-provoking, and examines several issues which still plague politics today... probably even more so than then.
So... my choir needs 50 white scarves made for the ladies before our Christmas concert, and somehow I ended up responsible for them. Guess who's got a date with the serger tonight? Fifteen down, thirty five to go.
"Methinks it is a token of healthy and gentle characteristics, when women of high thoughts and accomplishments love to sew; especially as they are never more at home with their own hearts than while so occupied." - Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Marble Faun