For a long time now, many of us have written about the green movement, and I don’t mean democratic protests in Iran: I mean the environmentalist movement here in the United States. Is it a sane, realistic, and admirable response to genuine environmental problems? Or is it a foolish, often bullying cult, which will one day be regarded as a bizarre chapter in our history?A reader in Cleveland sent me something that dismayed her. She is an operagoer, and a big supporter of the local company: Opera Cleveland. And the company has now “gone green.” I’ll quote from a piece of PR, forwarded to me by the reader:
Everyone has a carbon footprint, and Opera Cleveland is no exception. In the last year, we began to consider our impact on the environment and how we could reduce it, which we formalized as the Green Opera Initiative. It applies to the whole of the company but will be highlighted with our May 2010 production of Lucia di Lammermoor.
This sort of thing sends a shiver down my spine. Then again, it may be perfectly harmless. I just hope that the company concentrates on singers, orchestra players, conductors, and directors, in addition to its “footprint” and “offsets.” And, by the way, if you think that opera and Cleveland don’t go together — recall that, for many years, the city had arguably the best orchestra in all the world. That was when George Szell reigned.
In a column last week, I spoke of the Cuban prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo. He was on a hunger strike. On Tuesday, he died. I quote from a notice at Cuba Archive: “Orlando Zapata Tamayo died today in Havana at age 42 after a hunger strike of over 80 days. He had chosen this extreme method of protest to demand respect for his personal safety after enduring numerous beatings and tortures at the hands of Cuban prison authorities.” To read more, go here.
In the next issue of National Review, I will examine hunger strikes as a method of protest. I can tell you, now, that democratic Cubans are mourning Zapata heavily: with acute pain and anger.
Do you recall that, in Tuesday’s column, I discussed Khandaniha, which is a website run by Manuchehr Honarmand, an Iranian exile journalist? Earlier this week, the Iranian regime — there is proof — hacked the website to the point of crippling it. (They have hacked the website several times.) But there is good news: Khandaniha is up and running. Further good news is that the green movement in Iran appears not to stay crippled for long either.
With your permission, I’ll continue with my scribbles on Internet freedom — which I started a few columns ago. I have touched on China, the Arab world, and Iran. Today, Cuba.
How bad is it? Freedom House has a survey called “Freedom on the Net” (here). It compares 15 countries, and finds Cuba the worst of them — worse than China, worse than Iran. From the start (that is, January 1959), the Castro dictatorship has taken care to keep tools out of the hands of democrats. I know that I have mentioned Raúl Rivero here in Impromptus. He is a Cuban poet and journalist who now, exiled, lives in Spain. Back home, foreign journalists would sometimes visit him. They would ask, “Anything I can do for you?” He would answer, “Yes. Leave me your pen.”
Cellphones and laptops were illegal until 2008. And even today, two years later, very few people have them: The cost of those items is out of reach. An American tried to alleviate this situation. He is Alan P. Gross, and he is now in a Cuban prison. Gross works for a subcontractor of the U.S. Agency for International Development. He went to Cuba to distribute cellphones and laptops to civil-society groups and to individuals. On December 4, he was at the airport, about to leave the country. And the regime arrested him as a spy.
How serious is his predicament? At a December 14 briefing, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly declined to comment on the case. He said, “We don’t want to cause any harm, frankly.”
Here is an excerpt from an Associated Press report published on February 19:
[Gross] has been held since early December at Havana’s high-security Villa Marista jail. The little-known USAID program in Cuba was begun under President George W. Bush and devotes millions of dollars to the promotion of democracy on the island.
Gross’s company, DAI of Bethesda, Maryland, says he was distributing communications equipment to Cuba’s tiny Jewish community, not to dissidents. Nonetheless, such equipment is tightly controlled by the communist government.
U.S. officials questioned the timing of Gross’ arrest, saying he had been to Havana before on the same program and never had a problem. Gross’ wife, Judy, issued a video statement saying he was a humanitarian, not a spy.
May I just say that I’m not surprised that this program started under George W. Bush? You?
Let me recommend an article by Christopher Sabatini, published by Foreign Policy, here. An excerpt:
The very fact that Cuba arrested the USAID contractor for doing nothing more than handing out laptops says more about Cuban paranoia than U.S. policy. In what other country in the hemisphere would it be considered a crime for a foreigner to give out a cell phone, laptop, or any other modern tool of communication? Brazil? Argentina? Mexico? Venezuela? Of course not. In fact, Americans passing out free cell phones and computers in those countries are called, appropriately, humanitarians. Let’s be clear: The Castro regime is isolating its citizens from not just news and information, but from modernity. It is one of a handful of governments on Earth still attempting such a comprehensive level of repression. Sadly, though journalists do report this simple fact, the surreal level of Cuban repression often takes a back seat to criticism of U.S. policy.
That is so very true.
In a previous column, I mentioned a different Gross — David A. Gross, who is one of our country’s foremost experts on international telecommunications. He told me something interesting — contrasting Cuba with China. The ruling Communists in China have their hands full, because so many citizens have access to the Internet, however incompletely. “In Cuba,” said Gross, “the government is clearly attempting to keep people from having access to the Internet, period. That saves them the trouble of censoring.”
Moreover, China wishes to grow economically. This seems not to be a priority of the Cuban dictatorship, which is evidently happy to have people benighted, poor, and boxed.
Despite incredibly daunting odds, there is blogging in Cuba, from Cuba: Daring writers get their work out to contacts abroad, who then post the writings. Readers of this column are well acquainted with Yoani Sánchez, the best-known Cuban blogger. Aramis Perez of the Cuban Democratic Directorate thinks she may be the best-known Cuban in the world, after Castro (the older brother, that is). And her fame acts as a kind of shield, of course.
Nonetheless, she is not entirely free from attack. Last November 6, they beat her to a pulp, did state security. They beat another blogger during the same episode. You may remember what Sánchez wrote afterward: “I managed to see . . . the degree of fright of our assailants, the fear of the new, of what they cannot destroy because they don’t understand, the blustering terror of he who knows that his days are numbered.”
About two weeks after this assault, Sánchez circulated answers from President Obama — answers to questions she had posed to him, through her writing. He said, “It is telling that the Internet has provided you and other courageous Cuban bloggers with an outlet to express [yourselves] so freely, and I applaud your collective efforts to empower fellow Cubans to express themselves through the use of technology.”
Let me push on you one more article, this one from the Committee to Protect Journalists: “Chronicling Cuba, bloggers offer fresh hope.” Take one paragraph:
Despite vast legal and technical obstacles, a growing number of Cuban bloggers have prevailed over the regime’s tight Internet restrictions to disseminate island news and views online. The bloggers, mainly young adults from a variety of professions, have opened a new space for free expression in Cuba, while offering a fresh glimmer of hope for the rebirth of independent ideas in Cuba’s closed system.
Take one more:
. . . Havana-based blogger Iván García Quintero calls accessing the Internet “a Kafkaesque process.” Bloggers can go online at government-owned Internet cafés, at universities, and at diplomatic venues. Hotels became another option in 2008, when the government lifted regulations that forbade citizens from entering tourist venues. But even at these venues, Cuban bloggers face practical and economic impediments. Connections are extremely slow — foreign journalists say that sending two e-mails can take up to an hour — and are very costly.
Do we ever really appreciate the freedom we have? Do we truly appreciate that millions of others do not have this freedom?
I’ll be back one more time, on the subject of Internet freedom, in my next column.
Couple of lil’ items to close. I have been talking, in Impromptus and the Corner, about Bowdlerizing — about justified revision and unjustified revision. Here is something that may get your Irish up just a little — even if you’re Danish, Brazilian, or Kenyan:
Related to your Bowdlerizing topic is political correctness run amok in literature. One of my most frustrating run-ins with PC-ed books was when I purchased a beautifully illustrated copy of “The Night Before Christmas.” The verse “The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth, / And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath” was deleted, edited out, to save my children from the horror of thinking that Santa Claus could have smoked.
Am I right about your Irish?
Just about every homeless person — or beggar, or vagrant, or panhandler, or whatever your word of choice is — claims to be a veteran. A “homeless veteran.” Some of them surely are. But can they all be veterans? You know, I think I would give with great gladness to a beggar who had a sign saying, “Not a Veteran. But Please Give Anyway.”
I am reminded of probably the most charming homeless person I ever encountered. I think it was in D.C., not sure. He said, “Would you like to contribute to the United Negro Pizza Fund?” I did.
This may amuse you: Was on the street yesterday (Manhattan), buying from a vendor. I said, “Where are you from?” He said, “Morocco. Do you know it?” I said, “No, but I expect to some day.” He said, “Oh, come on. It’s famous!”
He meant, “Have you ever heard of my country?” I meant that I had not yet had the opportunity to visit.
Let’s end with a little language. I published a letter from a dad who said that his kids used to refer to the future as “tomorrow” — and to the distant future as “way tomorrow.” My sister wrote me to share some lingo of South Africa, where she once lived.
“Now” means sometime in the next few hours. (“Okay, I’ll do it now.”) “Just now” means pretty soon — probably within the hour. (“I’ll do it just now.”) “Now now” means right away. (“I’ll do it now now.”)
I like the “now now”! And don’t say you can’t learn things from your sister . . .