Amazing Cuban Art

I never knew about Cuban art until we visited Cernuda Arte gallery in Coral Gables, Florida.


They treated us like royalty and gave us a personal guided tour of two buildings filled with works by Cuban artists still at home in Cuba and here in exile. 


This was better than many museums that I’ve been too. 


I just want to thank the gallery owners and our guide for a wonderful showing and tell them how impressed we were with the art there. 

Even while the Cuban people are repressed by their dictatorial leaders, there is so much of interest in Cuba: from their colorful colonial architecture to their cool “oldie cars”, renown cigar smokes, some pretty talented artists, and I’m sure much more. 


Cuba is only 485 miles from the USA!


I pray for the freedom of the Cuban people. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

At The Border: Immigration Or War

So it’s interesting how this whole immigration crisis is playing out in real life and simultaneously on TV. 


In real life, we have a caravan of thousands of people marching from Central America (Honduras and Guatemala) to the U.S. border seeking asylum, mostly for economic reasons. 


On TV, we have the Last Ship Season 5, where South and Central America are at war with the U.S., “no longer willing to sit at the children’s table of international politics,” and they are coming to the U.S. to fight.


In the U.S. today, there are over 40 million people that were born in another country.  Of these, there are over 12 million immigrants living illegally in the U.S. (55% from Mexico), and we know that we need immigration reform.  


In the truest sense, we are almost all of us immigrants to this country, with ourselves or our families coming over at one time or another, and we are grateful for the generosity and open doors that allowed us to come here and make a good life.


Of course, we want to pay it forward and give others the same asylum and opportunity that we had and which they as human beings deserve. 


Yet, the country continues to debate the mix of compassion and giving to the oppressed and needy versus the merit principles for bringing in needed skills, talents, and investment, and how many is the “right” number to allow in at any one time.


In real life, we are beefing up border agents, building a wall, and calling in the military to halt the illegal flow of immigrants, so that we can channel immigrates through a process and vetting that leads to legal and safe immigration to this country


On TV, we are fighting in the air, on land, and at sea an alliance of countries from the south and central that want to take over the U.S., and we are also holding our own and holding them back.


In both cases, we need to have and maintain borders to be a sovereign country, to protect our country, and to ensure that caravans of illegal immigrants or foreign troops are not crossing the border and doing harm. 


It’s high time for true immigration reform that is compassionate yet principled, but overrunning the border isn’t an option that is practical or fair.  😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Social Media Totalitarianism

The Chinese government has the most brilliant as well as frightening use and control of social media. 


I am not just talking about blocking Internet sites and free information flow. 


They actually have mastered the use of social media for tracking and rewarding or punishing citizen behavior.


Their social credit system rates people’s behavior online for everything they do!


Similar to likes and dislikes, you are either labeled a “model citizen” sought after for jobs and good housing or you can be an “enemy of the state” treated as a social outcast who can’t even leave the country anymore. 


Everything about you is now based on what you are rated (whether true or not)!


Now in China the government has added a snitching tool/app where people are encouraged through a points system that offers rewards like store discounts, coupons for coffee, taxis, and music streaming, in order to get them to report covertly on their neighbors–are their fellow citizens fighting, is there mental illness, are people cheating on their taxes, etc. 


You’re being surveilled not just by the grid system, where every 300 households are watched and checked-in on by a “grid manager,” but you are subject to daily intrusion by anyone that wants to report on you. 


Communication to “Big Brother” is way overvalued, while privacy and respect of the people are no longer important values or concerns. 


Instead of a Security Operations Center to monitor and command response to life-threatening catastrophes and emergencies, now there is a “Social Governance Integrated Command Center” to display video and biometric surveillance from throughout the country as well as to show what are the “moods” and which “issues” are trending. 


Talking about having a finger on the pulse of what’s going on…


I say this is all brilliant and malign, because social media which can be a tool for connecting people and for the free flow of information and progress is instead used for near ultimate control and enslavement of the masses–both their minds and their behaviors. 


People should not be treated as servants of the state and subjected to ever-encroaching social media surveillance and control that is not carefully balanced directly to absolutely necessary national security. 


Rather the state and its levers of people’s supreme power should be subject to the wants and needs of its people who must freely decide on their collective futures and maintaining human rights. 


Totalitarianism by police state, imprisonment, torture and “re-education” is now unfortunately facilitated by social media monitoring,  and credits system where truly you are watched by Big Brother in the flesh and in the bytes. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Ending Up As A Rock

fidel-castro-jpeg

So some people would say ending up as a rock is not a bad thing. 


A rock symbolizes strength and something that weathers time itself. 


However, it’s one thing being alive and a rock and another being dead as one. 


Fidel Castro, the authoritarian Cuban President of 50 years, the revolutionary who defied the United State and brought us and the Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear war, the dictator who violated the human rights of millions of the Cuban people…and where does he end up?


Dead at age 90, cremated, with his ashed placed inside a 15-foot tall rock. 


That’s what’s left of the man. 


Of course, there is his legacy in Cuba that includes high literacy, universal health care, environmentalism, and competitive sport’s teams. But there is also mass poverty and economic dysfunction, gross repression and human rights abuses, and Island isolationism. 


So perhaps with Fidel gone, over time, Cuba will find itself on a path of greater moderation and reform. 


In the meantime, Fidel is gone–like every other living thing comes and goes–no matter how strong he acted or how repressive he ruled, what is he now but a big useless rock with a nameplate affixed.


(Source Photo: Associated Press Via Wall Street Journal)

Let The Genie Out

Lantern

I thought this was a very cool genie lantern on display at the Magen David Sephardic Synagogue last evening for the lecture on Women Poets of Morocco.  


Of course, people gathered around joking about whether, as legend has it, there was a genie inside. 


They asked, what do you have to do to try and get the genie out to make your three wishes. 


Well of course, they say you have to rub the lantern–where the heck did that come from?


Me being the curious jokster that I am just picked the lantern up off the table and flipped the top open!


Low and behold, it was completely empty–no genie to be found. 


Needless-to-say, I was quite disappointed hoping for an I Dream of Genie lady to magically appear or for a flying Persian magic carpet to whisk me away somewhere exciting.


Then I thought, perhaps someone else got to the lantern first?


And darn, they say you can’t put the genie back in the bottle!


A great notion when it comes to transparency, freedom of ideas and expression, no repression…but when you still are waiting for your three earth-shattering wishes then perhaps you still need to find your magic lantern. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

>Architecture of Freedom

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In the United States, we have been blessed with tremendous freedom, and these freedoms are enshrined in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. However, in many countries around the world, people do not share these basic freedoms and human rights.

Now in many countries, the limitation and subjugation of people has extended from the physical to the virtual world of the Internet. People are prevented through filtering software from freely “surfing” the Internet for information, news, research and so forth. And they are prohibited from freely communicating their thoughts and feelings in email, instant messages, blogs, social networks and other communications media, and if are identified and caught, they are punished often through rehabilitation by hard prison labor or maybe just disappear altogether.

In fact, many countries are now insisting that technology companies build in filtering software so that the government can control or block their citizen’s ability to view information or ideas that are unwanted or undesirable.

Now however, new technology is helping defend human rights around the world—this is the architecture for anonymity and circumvention technologies.

MIT Technology Review (May/June 2009) has an article entitled “Dissent Made Safer—how anonymity technology could save free speech on the Internet.”

An open source non-profit project called TOR has developed a peer to peer technology that enables users to encrypt communications and route data through multiple hops on a network of proxies. “This combination of routing and encryption mask a computer’s actual location and circumvent government filters; to prying eyes, the Internet traffic seems to be coming from the proxies.”

This creates a safe environment for user to browse the Internet and communicate anonymously and safely—“without them, people in these [repressive] countries might be unable to speak or read freely online.”

The OpenNet Initiative in 2006 “discovered some form of filtering in 25 of 46 nations tested. A more current study by OpenNet found “more than 36 countries are filtering one or more kinds of speech to varying degrees…it is a practice growing in scope, scale, and sophistication.”

Generally, filtering is done with some combination of “blocking IP addresses, domain names… and even Web pages containing certain keywords.”

Violations of Internet usage can result in prison or death for treason.

Aside from TOR, there are other tools for “beating surveillance and censorship” such as Psiphon, UltraReach, Anonymizer, and Dynaweb Freegate.

While TOR and these other tools can be used to help free people from repression around the world, these tools can also be used, unfortunately, by criminals and terrorists to hide their online activities—and this is a challenge that law enforcement must now understand and contend with.

The architecture of TOR is fascinating and freeing, and as they say, “the genie is out of the bottle” and we cannot hide our heads in the sand. We must be able to help those around the world who need our help in achieving basic human rights and freedoms, and at the same time, we need to work with the providers of these tools to keep those who would do us harm from taking advantage of a good thing. 

>Homeless Yet Technology Bound

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I could not help being amazed with the article in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal called “On the Street and On Facebook: The Homeless Stay Wired.”

I was very struck by the seeming contradiction between near total poverty and yet being linked to one of the richest sources of information and human connection on earth.

The article is about people who are so poor and wanting that they are literally homeless—living in shelters, cars, under bridges—and yet with virtually no money for anything, they find that having a computer and an Internet connection is a necessity!

What a comment on the impact that information technology has on our lives and how it affects us every moment of every day. Three key points about the Internet and social media that stand out:

  1. They are no longer an option, but an answer to basic human needs.
  2. They provide a sense of basic equality and human dignity, as well as empowerment, even where those are otherwise lacking.
  3. Because they are so vital to people, they are serving to unlock great creativity and innovation by people to get connected.

Computers and the Internet connectivity we get with them is so important to us ALL that even homeless shelters are now rolling out computer stations—almost like an internet café or library. For example, NYC “has 42 computers in five of the nine shelters it operates and plans to wire the other four this year” and this is happening despite the devastating financial environment out there.

So do the homeless really use the computers? You better believe it—computer demand is so great in the shelters that users are limited to 30-minute intervals.

The homeless are finding the computers important for completing everything from housing and job applications to getting loads of inexpensive entertainment whether watching videos, listening to music or just getting the daily news.

The homeless are finding innovative ways to power their computers…some are using generators outside the tent homes, others are hooking up to their car batteries or finding a deserted area with a connection to steal away from for a brief hookup.

But the computer and the connectivity are critical for everyone whether you live in a mansion or in a shelter. Information technology provides for all our basic needs in terms unlimited information and opinion, a broad range of social entertainment, and all sorts of application services, but more importantly it confers basic humanity to all that use it. As one homeless man stated: “It’s frightening to be homeless. When I’m on here [the Internet], I’m equal to everyone else.”

And this is really a global idea, because people across the world—whether in countries that are free and those that are unfortunately still not—are finding that a simple computer and Internet connection can break down the barriers of political, social, or economic repression.

Information technology once feared as the great digital divide is becoming the great human equalizer indeed.