The Power of Imagination

While in the process of completing a post on quite a different topic, I happened across this photo, taken after the recent “closing” of the Lincoln Memorial.  I found the photograph distressing and inexplicably haunting.  Surely I hadn’t written about these events – or had I?

I awoke this morning remembering a post from my earliest days of blogging. Written in 2008, it seems equally relevant today, though not in any way I could have imagined at the time.  I’m reposting it here with only an edit or two for clarity and the addition of these two quotations from an 1859 letter from Abraham Lincoln to Henry Pierce. The first is both relevant and amusing.

I remember once being much amused at seeing two partially intoxicated men engage in a fight with their great-coats on, which fight, after a long, and rather harmless contest, ended in each having fought himself out of his own coat, and into that of the other. If the two leading parties of this day are really identical with the two in the days of Jefferson and Adams, they have perfomed the same feat as the two drunken men.

The second is merely relevant.

Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves.

(Re-posted from June, 2008)  In recent weeks, Cuban policies limiting citizens’ access to certain goods and services have been liberalized.  Farmers no longer are required to purchase materials from state-run stores, and it’s now possible for more individuals to rent cars.

Restrictions on personal cell phone ownership have been eased, and bans lifted on the purchase of electronic or electrical consumer items of all sorts, including computers, televisions, pressure cookers, rice cookers, electric bicycles, microwave ovens and car alarms.

Raul Castro’s reforms have been scrutinized closely for practical as well as political significance.  While apparently desirable, they are filled with a certain irony.  In a nation where most individuals are not allowed to purchase a car, car alarms seem somewhat beside the point.  The scarcity of many basic food items and the prohibitive cost of others make the possibility of possessing an electric rice cooker or microwave seem just slightly amusing.

While the sudden availability of televisions, computers and cell phones has created a bit of a stir in the world outside the Island, Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez and others suggest Raul Castro’s easing of restrictions instituted by his brother Fidel is nothing more than bowing to the inevitable. 

At this point, there is no stopping the influx of technology into the country, so it makes sense to get ahead of the curve and gain political advantage wherever possible.  Even more cynical observers suggest that easy availability of cell phones simply provides one more way for the government to keep track of its citizens.

In any event, the reforms have been noted with cautious approval and general agreement that, while the reforms are lovely, they probably are cost-prohibitive for most Cubans.  Writing in the April 1 Washington Post, Manuel Roig-Franzia notes that “Cuban state workers make an average of $19 a month… (while) car rentals in Cuba – also managed by the military – are among the most expensive in Latin America, with vehicles typically going for as much as $100 a day.”

Because such items and services must be purchased with Cuban convertible pesos, a stronger currency than the national pesos paid state workers, things become even more difficult.  Cubans who receive tips from tourists or have money sent in from abroad have access to convertible pesos, but the existence of a de facto dual monetary system does little to increase purchasing power across the board.

The same issues arise when it comes to a less-publicized but symbolically important March 31 move by the Cuban government to lift restrictions on Cubans’ freedom to enjoy resort beaches, stay at luxury hotels or purchase services provided by the hotels.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and consequent economic difficulties for the Castro regime, the practice of keeping Cubans and tourists apart became so rigid it was known as “tourist apartheid”.  Some of the most beautiful places in the country were off-limits to Cubans, particularly Varadero Beach, Cayo Santa Maria and the Vinales Valley in Pinar del Rio Province.

For most Cubans , being allowed to move beyond that “apartheid” and indulge themselves in the luxury of a hotel stay will be as symbolic as the right to purchase a computer or DVD; it simply is too expensive. A quick look at current rates published by TripAdvisor tells the tale: a night in Havana?  $201 to $369.  A little stroll along Varadero at sunset?  $169 to $305.  Guardalavaca? $255.  Guardala? Coming in high, at $455.  There was a listing at Guama for $3, with a description  that proclaims “twice the charms”.  If not a misprint, it’s either the world’s best bargain or the world’s worst decision: who knows?

In any event, it doesn’t take a genius to do the math.  Quoting Roig-Franzia again, “on [the salary of the typical Cuban], it would take nearly two years to earn enough for one night at the Saratoga.”

Resort living and luxury hotels aren’t for everyone, of course.  Even as an American with every right in the world to head off to the Hilton, I prefer to make other choices.   I suspect there are Cubans who feel the same.  If I were Cuban, I’d be far more interested in regaining my right to travel to places like the Vinales Valley.

One of Cuban’s most remarkable natural attractions, it’s been declared a National Natural Monument and included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List since 1999 as “a cultural landscape enriched by traditional farm and village architecture.”  Surrounded by mogotes with rounded tops and steep slopes, the valley is a luxurious mix of tobacco, taro and bananas, unusual plant life and exquisite vistas.   For decades Cubans showed off their treasure, until access was limited by the government.  In the words of Rafael Ferro Salas,

“The old road was closed.  Now only the rented vehicles of foreign tourists travel the new route, and those carrying visitors invited to the spot by government officials.  For Cubans who live in the island nation, traveling is prohibited on the access road leading to the valley’s vantage point, the site where the view is loveliest and most unforgettable.”

In words of unutterable poignancy, he goes on to add,

“Pinar del Rio is full of natural beauties.  The most beautiful sites are being left like a footprint in the fog of memory.  So far no one knows when the day will come when they can go back to traveling among them.

Writing in Babalu, Val Prieto notes some uncertainty whether areas such as the Vinales Valley are now accessible to Cubans.  It may be the lifting of restrictions applies strictly to tourist beaches, hotels and services.  Whatever the final result, the changes certainly stimulate thought.  Whatever happens in the next months, whether Varadero, the Cays, the Vinales Valley and other prohibited sites become open to all Cubans, it remains a fact that for years Cubans have been barred from their own country, banned from visiting sights celebrated world-wide for their beauty and historical significance.

For a Cuban to be banned from Vinales is not unlike an American being banned from Yosemite, prevented from traveling to or enjoying its splendor because the government prefers to reserve it for those who will pay well for the privilege.

What others experience can be hard to imagine.  But imagine for a moment being banned from the Everglades, while tour boats filled with foreigners are granted special passes to enjoy the wonders of the River of Grass.

Imagine being banned from Anasazi ruins throughout the Four Corners area because a politician prefers to show off the sites to his cronies.

Imagine being banned from Cape Hatteras because the government intends to restrict contact between you and visitors from other countries.

Imagine being banned from Death Valley for the sole purpose of buttressing your government’s sense of entitlement and control over your life.

Imagine being banned from Niagara Falls only because the government has the power to do so and decides it will do so for the pleasure of exercising power.

Far too many people across the world experience such prohibitions as bitter realities. Far too many people live unnecessarily restricted lives, and far too many leaders seek to reduce the freedom of their people simply for the sake of power and personal aggrandizement. 

Prohibitions like the banning of Cubans from their national treasures generally are preceded by other, smaller restrictions and lead almost inevitably to other constraints. The freedom to travel, to assemble, to speak without fear, the freedom to participate fully in the life of a country or community – all those freedoms begin to erode whenever the state unilaterally declares this or that to be “off limits” and then makes trespassing those limits punishable by law.

We could imagine otherwise, but we would be wrong.

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67 thoughts on “The Power of Imagination

  1. I keep thinking back to our spring trip to the Smokies. It was the only days we had to experience that part of America. If we had been denied access it would have been sad…But not disastrous.

    This weeks denial of access is different. It’s not just a denial of access to the monuments “we” own, but a denial of a right to the government we are promised.

    I just watched a video of a Texas Congressman call shame on a Park Ranger for not allowing access to a Washington Monument that he closed down… Where is their shame?

    1. Gary,

      There’s shame enough to go around – there’s no question about that. I think your observation about the denial of a right to the government we are promised is especially good. It’s said people get the government they deserve, but that’s only a partial truth, and my sense of things is that not many of the Great Unwashed out here in the hinterland think we deserve “all this”.

      I’m glad you got to experience the Smokies. I’ve got a trip of my own scheduled for the relatively near future, and it’s entirely possible I’ll be unable to do all the things I’d hoped. On the other hand, small town America knows how to cope, and unplanned activities can be wonderful fun!


  2. Thank you. You have said so eloquently what I have been fuming about all day.

    The internet is alive with finger-pointing: the Republicans did it! The Democrats refused to negotiate! It’s the Tea Party’s fault! But the real issue here, in reference to the photo, is that the Administration took advantage of a crisis and used it to curtail our freedom. Your comparison to Cuba’s restrictions on its people is spot on.

    1. NumberWise,

      I’ve been more than usually distressed by all this myself, but I didn’t have a clue how to write about it. Finding the photo apparently was key to unlocking memories of that very early post, and being able to use it as a jumping-off point.

      Beating people over the head with arcane points of procedure or engaging in personal attacks isn’t helpful in Congress any more than it is in the boardroom or the home. Anyone who’s been in a he-said-she-said situation recognizes the dynamic, and even the best can be sucked in. Likewise, “I’m going to hold my breath until I turn blue” and other such three-year-old specialties can make us feel pretty good, but they don’t advance anything.

      I was reading some of Yoani Sanchez last night and found this: “Freedom is the possibility of standing on a street corner and shouting “There is no freedom here!”

      Good to see you.


  3. The whole situation is sickening. When these clowns are out of politics they have mighty big bags of money and positions waiting for them. They aren’t fighting for anyone but themselves.

    I’m ready for a one way ticket to Socialist Sweden.

    Excellent post.

    1. Martha,

      It’s a fact that there’s a “revolving door” between government and the various supporting bureaucracies. I’ve been thinking for some years now that the biggest problem in Washington isn’t the cadre of elected politicians, but the unelected who burrow in and aren’t accountable to anyone.

      I’m not buying a ticket out, myself. I love our country, and would like to help in its healing and restoration. I think I may become more active locally in the next election cycle – but just now, this post was the best I could do. ;)


      1. Yes, my ancestors would blanch if I wandered off to another country. Or maybe they’d applaud. What’s recognizable anymore?

        I have had friends who were very active in elections. They felt good about it. And I have a friend who is now done with it. She’s been active and fought so long and since her health has changed she’s stopped all activity and has a hard time even listening to the news. It’s draining enough for a healthy person.

        But I applaud your interest. We can never give up and must step up in another’s place should they fall.

  4. Well done, Linda. I heartily agree, little encroaches on the freedoms our country was founded upon lead to major restrictions, We sent these folks to Washington to represent us, not to bicker and call each other names and point fingers of blame. Sadly, the voting public has a short memory — their outcries of “turn ’em all out” soon dissolve into meek acquiescence, thus making more career politicians. Perhaps we’ve helped create this monster??

    1. Debbie,

      I think we have helped to create the monster, and if that’s true, maybe we can have a hand in disassembling it. If nothing else, maybe we can find a way to get the batteries out! (Hmmm… bad metaphor, perhaps, since the government seems mostly non-functional as it is.)

      I’m not sure how we could get to term limits, but I often think about that as a first step toward some kind of sanity. And speaking of sanity, mine’s much more secure since I stopped reading online comments to political postings. It’s takes a little more effort to get hard information without all the blathering, but it’s often much more accurate – and it comes with far less name-calling!


    1. Lisa,

      What a delight to see you! I just skimmed your latest and see there have been more “issues electronique” for you to deal with. I’m anxious to get caught up and see how things are going.

      I know your communities have had your own problems with the government. I didn’t have anything to add re: the oil issues, but I read your posts and those of your friends with interest. Finding ways to hold governments accountable is a problem, particularly when they’re primarily invested in themselves. But it can be done. The women in Liberia were a huge part of bringing the civil war to an end – just as the women in white have been so important in Cuba, Chile, etc. Persistence is key – just as it is with art!


  5. Beautifully written and expressed, Linda. I have very strong feelings (positive) toward Obamacare and healthcare for all and I’m angry it is being held hostage. Agree or not, I’m sure at some point that there will be changes or compromises in it, but that should be at another time. Not now. I get particularly irritated because people are being furloughed and Congressional reps/senators are being paid. But don’t start me.

    Your connection to Cuba is extremely interesting and well done. Bravo.

    1. jeanie,

      My greatest concern is that (theoretically) universal health insurance will not equate to universal health care, let alone better health care. The degradation of care already has begun, with people I know experiencing much longer waits to see a doctor, the substitution of nurse practitioners for physicians and refusal of procedures. The best insurance in the world is useless if there’s no one in the office. Those who are feeling the pinch already include Medicare patients who are finding it increasingly difficult to find a doctor who’ll accept them. I have some personal stories about that.

      I noticed this morning that Congress and their staffs are being required to register for the “Gold” plans. With their 75% subsidies, that means they’ll be getting a better plan for less out-of-pocket money than those signing up for the basic plans. It seems to me that a driving force in all this is official DC’s desire to hold on to their goodies at the expense of the taxpayer. But, as you say, don’t start me!

      Thanks for the kind words on the post. It’s hard to find a way to talk about these things without all of us “getting started”, but we need to do it – and persuade those in Washington to do it, too.


  6. It would be poetic justice if all the Congress, and President included were also denied their salaries during this period. This is no longer a government “of the people, and for the people”. Why did WE have no vote in this matter? Shame on all of them! (And may the voting public have long memories when it is time to re-elect them.)

    1. Kayti,

      And, if we wanted to extend the poetic justice just a bit, we could institute this simple policy: every law passed by Congress applies to every citizen equally. It’s been a long, long time, but I seem to recall “equality under the law” being a cherished national principle, along with “of the people and for the people”. I could be wrong, of course. Old, you know, with a foggy memory. ;)

      I was talking about all this with someone down on the docks yesterday. He’s so furious he’s actually thinking about running for state representative. As he says, he doesn’t have a chance in the world of winning, but he might have an opportunity to elevate the conversation a bit. I think on that basis alone I might be willing to join his campaign!


  7. Thank you for the thought provoking post. The images are beautiful. I can’t imaging being forbidden from seeing my nation’s wonders simply because I am poor and powerless. Those are the ones who deserve it the most.

    About the shutdown, I have a lot of opinions. I have followed politics most of my life. I am an active participant. I am well-versed on history and motives. What is going on is inexcusable and not good for any but a small number. And, for the wrong reasons.

    Innocent and hard working people are paying the price of stubborn and inflexible attitudes. My son just started his career in the Air Force this summer so he could both fly and serve his country. My nephew is a national historical site superintendent dedicated to educating the visitors of that presidential library. My son-in-law works for the agency responsible for launching our essential weather satellites. All three are impacted by this shutdown in very direct and unfair ways.

    Contact your representatives. Urge them to act. Demand that they work to solve problems and reach compromise. Tell them to work as hard as we all do as we settle the differences in opinions in our marriages, families, neighborhoods, and towns. We can do it. They can, too.

    Sorry to take up so much space with my rant. I will get off the stump.

    1. Jim,

      No need to worry about your stump time. I had a feeling people might have things to say when I posted this. ;-)

      My first thought is that your own involvement in politics, your interest in history and your willingness to pay attention to the motives of the “movers and shakers” should be a model for us all.

      As for your son, nephew and son-in-law, it would be nice if the media could spend a little more time reporting on the effects of recent decisions on people like them rather than acting like play-by-play or color commentators at some perverse national game.

      I must admit, I’ve not thought of Congress as a dysfunctional family, but your observation about most of us learning how to settle differences in our own families, neighborhoods and towns did give me pause. One of the biggest differences – and the thing that may make compromise in Washington more difficult – is that when we’re not able to sort out life, there are consequences which we can’t escape. In D.C.? Not so true. The only consequence many seem to consider is being re-elected, or not, and a fixation on that leads to pandering.

      What to do? What you said. We need to make our views known in a rational and coherent manner. If everyone on every side of these issues demanded an end to name-calling and vile rhetoric, that might at least help to refocus lawmakers’ attention on the issues.


      1. Right you are. My remarks about settling issues in our lives was more fleshed out in my letter to the editor of our paper. It appeared today.

        I would like to be king or dictator. Turn OFF ALL corporate and large secret financing to politics. Give every tax payer a voucher of $50 from the tax revenues to apply to the candidates of choice. Stop covering politics as if it is a reality tv show like Survivor or Say Yes to the Dress.

        I appreciate your comments. Have an interesting day. :-)

        1. Here’s the only point where I disagree – even though I get your drift and know you made the statement slightly tongue in cheek, I don’t want anyone to be king or dictator. I’m sure you’d be benevolent, but still…!

          Interesting thought about a new financing plan. Now, I have to find out what “Say Yes to the Dress” is all about. (Or not…)

  8. More people guarding the WWII monument than guarded Benghazi?

    Telling historical places that have no federal employees/park rangers – only volunteers – they must close anyway?

    I remember being in Spain under Franco. You had to be very careful about what you said. The Black Guard was everywhere with their weapons. (You never talked to them, they could kill without any question) and there were barricades everywhere. I look at what’s going on in the US and it’s very disturbing. No longer is this a place where the people decide things. It is a place where you now are careful what you say to whom – even on the phone, email, in quiet private conversations in public. Vicious ridicule, derision,and inflammatory language control people.

    This used to be a place where initiative, self-motivation, and self-reliance were encouraged. Education was free and the best tool for making a better life. To take charity was shameful – and only for those who really really needed it. To expect other hard working people to pay for your stuff would be unthinkable.

    Call, write, email. Demand Congress only approve piece by piece reopening the funding – only by examining all the pieces can we be sure money is being spent appropriately and frugally. Demand the government stop trying to run every aspect from what we want to eat and drink to what doctors and treatments we prefer – and when. It’s none of their business.If this health care plan is so great why isn’t the President, his staff, all of Congress and their staff forced to take it too?

    I’ve already been impacted by the costs of this law – premiums so high now. My sister-in-law’s job cut as her employer reduced staff to stay below limit. She had insurance through the national veterinarian association – but the company notified the group they would no longer be writing policies for them. Maxine Waters is now blaming the Rep as not allowing adjustments to the Biggers-Waters act which affects anyone in flood zones – like the Woodlands, OK, and everywhere. One man in Nassau Bay is now facing insurance costs of $25,000.00 this year (was about $2,000 last year) and it’s going up next year more…Maxine wrote it, passed it, and now says “she didn’t realize what it would do”

    I know plenty of people from Cuba and other places who have immigrated here. I know what they are saying. These are unsettled time and that picture pretty much says it all. Sorry this is so long, but it’s an insane situation. The only way people listen is to cut off the money (and I am not Tea Party or NRA – just mad as hell)

    1. phil,

      Funny you should mention Franco. I was in Madrid during the end of Franco’s rule. When I came into the country and was going through customs, my bag was opened and laid flat on a counter. There were several soldiers there – perhaps three, or maybe four. All of them had weapons, of course, and one used his gun to pick up a nightgown from my bag and dangle it in front of the others. Instinctively, I thought to myself, “Don’t respond don’t respond don’t respond…”

      It was one of three overseas events that changed my simplistic view of government forever – small, but powerful. The others? Once I was held at the Liberia/Sierra Leone border for hours while refusing to pay a bribe. When I returned to Liberia in the 80s, just before the civil war, I was advised to always keep some cash in my purse but secret away most of it on my person, so that I could pay bribes when necessary. I never will forget my taxi being pulled over and being forced into the street. A soldier took my passport, and demanded money to give it back to me. As advised, I handed him my wallet, he looked at the money inside and took half of it. Apparently he’d been through ethics training.

      I’ve been trying to find a way to write about those experiences for some time, but I just can’t. Perhaps I don’t want to acknowledge the truth I see – that those soldiers in Franco’s Spain and in Liberia are far too satisfactory as metaphors for our government’s behavior.

      At any rate, I’ve heard the stories like those you tell, and understand the pain that’s being caused. It’s easy to blame employers for hour cuts and firings, but a business isn’t a social service agency. That’s not meant to be an excuse for unfair labor practices, only an acknowledgement that, if there’s no profit, the business closes and everyone loses. Fact of life.

      Well, on we go. Maybe we’ll all be as lucky as that crew on the catamaran. Grab your life vest!


  9. I was going to comment, but I can’t think of anything to say about our government that doesn’t involve profanity, scatology, and/or blasphemy.

    1. WOL,

      Sometimes, less is more – as with your comment. I helped you out by imagining a few of the things you might have said. It’s just as well you didn’t say them.


  10. I have found just a little humor in the current round of punishment be denying access. The parks are closed, but the National Forests remain open as always, because the sheer immensity of those places defies even the power of the corrupt herd of jackals that we call a “government”.

    1. montucky,

      And now you’ve given me a smile with your phrase “corrupt herd of jackals”. Remarkably descriptive, that. These days, we take our amusement where we can find it.

      Your forest isn’t the only place where nature can face down the bureaucracy and win. I’ve got a trip on the horizon that includes some prairie time in Kansas. The Tallgrass Prairie is a national monument, of course, so when I went to the website to check things out, there was nothing but a “closed” sign.

      So, I called Kansas and talked with someone who lives pretty close to the prairie. As he put it, “The visitor center is closed, but the prairie’s open.” Joking, I said I thought they might have put up barricades on the trails. He said, “Well, they could try, I suppose, but the buffalo would just knock them down.” Then he added, “If you go out there, keep an eye out for the buffalo. They’re not as dangerous as the bureaucrats, but you still want to keep out of their way.”


  11. This post put a fire under my feet but alas, I am as helpless as everyone else re: the situation in Washington. Most everyone has already voiced some strong opinions and I had best keep my fingers still unless I want to make a pure-dee fool of myself.

    I worked for the government for not quite 35 years so my retirement comes from the government. My check acccording to those in the know came through. I’ve not gone to the bank to see if it did or not. I feel our country is in a mell-of-a-hess right now and and the repubs are going to get their way come hell or high water. ;-)

    Linda, this is an excellent post.

    1. Yvonne,

      I think most of us have the same feelings you do – frustration, helplessness, anxiety. I think there may be a certain exhaustion setting in, too. There have been too many issues, for too long – immigration, gun control, health care and so on. We say the legislators are acting like children, but anyone who’s been around children knows that they get cranky when they get tired. Heck, I get cranky when I’m tired. On one level, we’ve got a worn out nation that’s just flat cranky.

      Now that the debt limit is coming up and there’s all of that to deal with, my personal issue – social security – has been thrown into the mix. I have to laugh – I’m one of those “elderly” who may or may not get a check. If I don’t, I’ll take on more jobs. It’s not something I want to do, but I can. Not everyone is so lucky.

      My biggest concern is that the nation not be pulled apart and people not be permanently harmed. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.


      1. Thanks for the reply Linda., I’ve been reading the coments and replies and just about everyone has had their fill of the idiots in Washington. I believe that unless there are some drastic reforms in the election process (that is for starters) lobbying, and the list goes on, then our country is headed for some serious trouble. Debt is just one factor. The US has got to stop trying to fix all the countries that have been ruled by dictators and such. You can’t fix all that is broken except to fix yourself and that means our country, as in yourself. All our money is going to help countries that will turn around and bite us in the rear. I’ll stop here but could go on and on.

        And yes, the health insuance thing is BAD-BAD-BAD. I can attest to that since i know first hand due to my daughter’s illness. It has been a nightmare from hell and continues in the same vein as now she has no idea if she has insurance or not. Believe me it cost me thousands to get her insured and it did not even last for a year as far as we can tell. Her meds cost 2 K or there about for Humeria and the stuff is not even working. My daughter is not alone. Millions of people are up the creek without a paddle. Politicians do not care about anyone or anthing- just their own agenda of how to remain elected. I’ve gotta stop. So sorry about the rant.


        1. No need to be sorry. You made sense. Some of the ranting I’ve run into isn’t so coherent.

          I think your point about fixing ourselves first is a good one. Clearly, our government is addicted to spending. The question is – who’s going to do the intervention? I’m not certain a country full of people maxing out multiple credit cards are up to the task.

          The uncertainty faced by so many people is painful to watch. On the one hand, there are those who had insurance, lost it, and now can’t seem to find an affordable replacement. On the other, there are the folks who’ve been looking forward to a new system, a new way forward, and who now can’t even get into the system to find out what their options are.

          I certainly hope the programmers are able to work some magic this weekend!

  12. I’m not very familiar with life in Cuba, but your description of the disparities make it sound like a disastrously designed Sim City. I can’t quite fathom what it must be like to live with restrictions from the minute and mundane to the monumental.

    And that first photo — simply distressing.

    1. nikkipolani,

      What a great metaphor – the “disastrously designed Sim City”. One of the most interesting things about Yoani Sanchez is that she began her influential blog not by taking on Fidel Castro or the bureacracy as a whole, but by writing about the restrictions and irritations of daily life in Cuba – the inability to buy milk, the cost of lemons, the difficulties of finding adequate health care and so on.

      We’re so blessed in this country, yet it’s easy to forget that all the blessings we take for granted aren’t guaranteed. Perhaps some good will come out of the current turmoil if more people take a bit of time to appreciate what we have and consider how to preserve it.

      And, yes. That photo nearly brought me to tears.


  13. Just today, I saw a post of a photo by a Welsh poet who has taken a special, long-planned trip to the US to participate “live” in the poetry course he took online last year and is taking again now. He’s come all the way to Philadelphia for this, and of course wanted to take in some of the historic sites, including where the Liberty Bell is housed. Instead, he was greeted by a sign stating that the site was closed today. That he should be greeted by this is a deep irony, not to mention a profound embarrassment. Whatever one may think of the legislation, the fact is that it passed. What is happening now is a hijacking of the democratic process.

    1. Susan,

      I’m wondering – was the poet in your ModPo class, by any chance? I’m sure there are many such courses, but the one you took seemed to have quite a large and broad cross-section of students.

      It is embarassing – and worse – that so many sites should be closed. Political theater is common enough, and partisans of every stripe will resort to it when they think it suits their purposes, but I was especially irked to hear of the closing of cemeteries and memorials. As for closing the national parks – the economic impact of that will be substantial, especially if it drags on through the autumn leaf-peeping season.

      One of the greatest ironies of all is the terrible difficulty people are having getting into the ACA websites. I would hope that they have folks working on those problems 24/7. There isn’t going to be any way to begin judging the program until it begins working properly. Personally, I wish they had slowed down the roll-out when the first alarm bells began ringing about security and functionality. But they didn’t, and now all of the questions about cost, coverage, penalties and such are just hanging in the air, unresolved.

      I do have one friend who’s suggested that the non-functional system may end up being what leads people to put effective pressure on a non-functioning Congress. That would be interesting.


      1. Yes, the ModPo course. As for the roll-out, this is the kind of thing that, no matter how long one waits, it will be a bumpy ride. It’s a patchwork, when what we need is a single payer system, with all of us in the same risk pool. We don’t have to make one up, either, there’s a ready template to build on in Medicare. Of course Medicare is not perfect, but we know how it ticks and we know what needs fixing, and single payer is the only way to get the big economies of scale. But that’s never going to happen in ye ol’ USA. Not in my lifetime, anyway.

        1. Who knows? I have a feeling you’ve got a lot of life in you, yet, and ten years can be long enough for extraordinary things to happen!

          I wish I could re-find a most interesting article I read about the computer side of all this. I almost understood it. The point was that yes, it can be fixed, but it’s not simply a matter of adding more servers. The author was hypothesizing that the system as designed was carrying out a DDOS attack on itself. That’s fixable, too, of course – in time.

  14. So far my only experience of the government shutdown occurred a short while ago, when I went to the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) website to check the distribution of a native plant called pickerelweed. Instead of the usual map of the states, I got a message saying that the website was unavailable because of the government shutdown. Hmmm, I thought to myself, if the USDA computer can serve up that announcement, couldn’t it just as well, and at no additional cost, serve up the page I asked for? Might this be an instance of purposely making the shutdown worse than it needs to be? You and your readers can decide for yourselves.

    1. Steve,

      I found the same thing while trying to access the website for the Tallgrass Prairie and other national sites in Kansas. As luck would have it, I picked up every sort of printed material when I was there last year: maps, brochures, visitors’ guides. Now that the Great Shutdown has shuttered all the websites, I need only go to my Kansas file (two big manila envelopes crammed with “stuff”) and there it is.

      Digital’s great, but analog has its place, especially when the government hangs a “Closed” sign on its websites. For example, I was able to look up pickerelweed in my copy of Tveten. Lovely plant, and a really fun explanation of the name, if you haven’t seen it.


      1. There’s no doubt that sometimes things on paper have an advantage over things digital. It’s good timing for you to have those two big envelopes of “stuff.”

        Yes, I’ve read the conflicting explanations that Tveten offers for the name pickerelweed. They’re not all that different, so I tend to think of them as variations on a common theme involving the pickerel fish—with pickerel itself being a diminutive of the name of another fish, the pike. In any case, Tveten notes that pickerelweed is common in the bayous and other bodies of water in your area, so you should have plenty of chances to see some.

  15. Thanks for this excellent and illuminating post – this comment is from a UK citizen, living in Scotland which has its own share of political grandstanding and playground-level name calling, as we move towards the independence referendum vote next autumn 2014, which could have Scotland breaking away from the UK.

    I have read your commenters with interest since they put some citizen flesh on the bones of the appalling political situation in which the USA finds itself at present.

    As humans, we have come unimaginable distances in our intellectual and technological development since our earliest ancestors began to be able to wonder why we are here – and what we should do about it. Unfortunately, our emotional intelligence has demonstrably not progressed very far since those distant days. What will it take, one wonders, for us collectively to move on at that level?

    I am in general despair about politics at present. The only reason I continue to vote at all is because women died to get me the franchise….

    1. Anne,

      I didn’t have a clue about the political stirrings in Scotland – I was interested to see that Alex Salmond just today made the formal announcement about the referendum.

      Of course I knew nothing of the Battle of Brannockburn, either, let alone that it took place in 1314 – but I’m sort of caught up now. I do vaguely remember hearing of Stirling Castle, and Robert the Bruce, and now I’ve even had a read of Burn’s famous poem. I confess it is rather remarkable to see a current event linked to something that took place 500 years ago. Around here, if something took place in 1982, it might as well have been the Pleistocene.

      Well, it seems you’ll have an interesting year, too. I hope the process doesn’t degenerate as ours has, but there’s no question you’re right about the lag between intelligence/technology and our emotional intelligence.

      Recently I was chatting with someone about the truth of life we all tend to forget: just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should. I honestly think some of our problems – like the political battle going on here – are made more difficult by our social media, and the inclination of people to say whatever comes into their head. When the discussion on the floor of the Senate sounds like an internet chatroom flame war, we’ve got some problems.

      Like you, I continue to vote, even in local elections. In the US, women won the right in 1920, two years after my mom was born. At least one of her aunts was a committed suffragette, and mom often told me stories that had been passed on to her. I think if I didn’t show up to vote, Mom would show up to give me the business.


  16. I know so little about Cuba and its landscape. Thank you for the pics!

    I welcome Obamacare with much enthusiasm. Medicare was roundly criticized when it came into law, but we didn’t have asses in Congress who thought it was better to shut down the government in their attempts to deny coverage to people who desperately need it. Yes, employers, unscrupulous employers, will do things to circumvent it – that’s on them, not on Obamacare.

    Write, call your reps and tell them to pass a budget without restrictions on Obamacare. That’s my political speech for the day.

    1. SDS,

      Cuba’s a beautiful country – far more beautiful than I realized until the last decade or so when I began really paying attention to events there. Glad you enjoyed the pics. As tourism’s increased, more and more gorgeous photographic records have become available.

      A combination of Medicare and supplemental insurance worked beautifully for my mom. Her supplemental premiums were picked up by Dad’s company even after his death as part of a pension package. After Whirlpool bought out Maytag, that eventually was stopped, but Mom was gone by that time and wasn’t affected.

      I’ve made almost no use of my Medicare coverage, but I’m glad to have it. When I began my business, I had no coverage for about five years. Then, I found an affordable BC/BS policy that worked. It started out at about $140/month. When it hit $400/month, I dropped it. I had five or six years until Medicare and decided to roll the dice. I put a couple hundred a month into my personal “medical fund”, and took care of everything out of that.

      Which is to say – life is a whole lot better with insurance. I know that, and want to see a system that provides other people with the same sense of relief I felt when I finally was re-insured. On the other hand, it bothers me a great deal to see people losing plans and doctors that have served them perfectly well – not to mention the huge increases in premiums some are facing. How to work all this out is the question. And yes! We need to give our representatives our input, and do it in a form more substantial than a tweet or Facebook posting. We complain about them not representing us, but they need to know who we are and what’s important to us. Or so it seems to me.


  17. “And speaking of sanity, mine’s much more secure since I stopped reading online comments to political postings.” Exactly. This post goes to the very heart of the matter and is so worthwhile reading. Thank you for your voice of reason and your warning of what can happen as corruption (in the form of entitlement) seeps into every corner.

    1. Georgette,

      It pleases me that you would say this post “goes to the heart of the matter”. In the process of editing it, and while deciding whether to post, I re-read several times this quotation from José Marti: “A genuine man goes to the roots. To be a radical is no more than that: to go to the roots. He who does not see things in their depth should not call himself a radical.” I’m less concerned with the specifics of the new health plan (important though they may be) than I am with the deeper currents running through our society.

      Believe it or not, I thought a good bit about your Uncle Jack, too. I went back and read your post, and the comments, and was a little surprised to see that what I said there is perfectly applicable here:

      “I’ve learned, slowly, that politics and partisanship are quite different. It’s partisanship that clutters the airwaves and seeps through cyberspace, seeking to destroy those who are different. Politics? That has to do with power, and we need to pay attention to power – who has it, who doesn’t, who wields it wisely and who uses it against others.”

      That seems to sum up where we are today, at least well enough for me. Being able to go back and find your entry, and the discussion, is one reason I love blogging as I do. Over the years, we learn together.


  18. It’s always good to realize you wrote something possibly prophetic, and as usual, this is a great piece. However, I have to plead the Fifth along with WOL as far as commenting on current events in the US Fed Govt. Besides, with a full day ahead of cooking and baking and wishing TS Karen far to the east, my hands are tied as well as my tongue!!! BW

    1. Bayou Woman,

      I don’t think it was prophetic, exactly. It’s just that, once I remembered I wrote the post, it seemed so danged relevant. ;)

      I understand the urge to plead the Fifth. Sometimes it seems like there’s nothing more to say than, “Well, we’re all in this together, so let’s make the best of it.”

      Your forecast doesn’t look too bad. We’re going to have some coastal surge, but nothing particular, and the front that’s on its way is going to give both of us a first taste of fall weather – not to mention helping Karen to move along. I hope you’ve got your cooking done and your feet up!


  19. Linda, I loved reading your post for opening my eyes about Cuba — things I didn’t know before. I especially liked your writing the little litany, “Imagine if you were banned, etc.” and the accompanying photos of our great natural spaces.

    I’m disturbed by the comparison of the Cuba situation to our government’s shutdown. Disturbed because bullying is always disturbing. Obamacare became the law of the land through a democratic process, and it should be funded instead of held hostage by a few bullies. That’s my view.

    I do hope that you are able to work through your thoughts and write your contemporary piece on this subject. I can feel/see a maturation in your writing since 2008. I can see you’ve been writing valuable pieces for a long time, and you always have something worthy to say.

    1. Rosemary,

      Your comment about my maturation over five years is so much appreciated. As you’ve noted on your own blog, patience and persistence are keys to the sort of development that I think we both desire.

      It’s interesting that you should mention that little “litany”. I was especially fond of it because it was one of the first times I’d tried to “craft” some words, intentionally using a structure to reinforce a point.
      I was talking with one of my first readers tonight and she mentioned that as soon as she began reading the post, she remembered it – clearly suggesting that how we say something can be as important as what we say.

      I suppose that brings us back around to your point about the behavior of Congress and political partisans. As far as I know, no one has taken a Senator or Congress member out back for “a good whupping”, but the language being used is clearly meant to be hurtful and abusive. I was pleased to see Senator Reid’s remarks about the issue today. I hope it’s a first step toward more civility, not to mention more creative approaches to resolving the issues.


  20. Some of the comments that people have made so far show a leaning toward one pole or other of the main American political continuum (of course there’s more than a linear arrangement, and people who are “conservative” in some matters can be “progressive” in others). Do you worry that your readership could be riven asunder?

    I’m with Georgette in seconding (thirding?) your comment: “And speaking of sanity, mine’s much more secure since I stopped reading online comments to political postings. It takes a little more effort to get hard information without all the blathering, but it’s often much more accurate – and it comes with far less name-calling!” One advantage of my nature photography blog is that I get to deal with something most people enjoy (with only rare tangents into mathematics or language) and I can stay away from politics.

    1. Steve,

      I’ve been pondering several responses to your comment and question. They don’t fit together neatly, so I’ll not force them, but just mention them individually.

      Did I worry that my readership could be riven asunder? Actually, I was working with the assumption they already have been. Families, communities, friendships, the nation – all have been affected by recent debates over a multitude of issues, so there’s no reason to believe any group of blog readers wouldn’t hold a variety of views as well.

      Some people may choose not to comment here on this particular topic, but I had hoped that people with widely disparate views would feel free to respond as they pleased. Clearly, that’s happened. Anne from Scotland, who commented above about appreciating the “fleshing out” of citizens’ viewpoints on the current situation at least got a sample of thinking from across the spectrum.

      Being naturally averse to conflict myself, I did worry about “stirring things up” – giving offense, making people angry, having my primary point misinterpreted and losing readers. Finally, I decided there’s a corollary to a rule I adopted very early in my blogging career – even earlier than the writing of this Cuba post. After being advised by the experts that blogging success required posting every day, no matter what sort of foolishness I had to throw up on the page in order to do so, I decided to live by this rule: “If I don’t have anything to say, I won’t say it”.

      Today, I’ve suddenly realized there’s another useful guideline: “If I have something to say, I’ll say it”. So I did.

      What surprised me most was my own reaction to this post.The very minute I hit the “Publish” button, I felt as though a weight had been lifted, and I went back to working on the piece that had been refusing completion. It’s ready to go up now, and I’m ready to move on and catch up with everything that’s been on hold while I’ve been anguishing over our political system.


      1. “Today, I’ve suddenly realized there’s another useful guideline: ‘If I have something to say, I’ll say it’. So I did.” Your stance reminded me of the refrain from Phil Ochs’s great song “When I’m Gone”:

  21. Having visited Cuba, paid a few bribes in Liberia and watched my “Harper Government” declare anyone who has worries that mixing tar diluted with Benzene into sea water might not simply “create jobs” is an “Eco-Terrorist”, I wanted to at least say Hello.

    Good for you for addressing these thorny topics.

    Meantime, if I look closely at the picture of Ochs’ guitar, I think I can see the harmonics in the strings over the sound hole.

    1. Ken,

      I thought of you when I came across this latest re: the tar sands. The issue’s been pushed off the front pages here for the time being, but I suspect it will be back.

      I’m glad you stopped by. Either you’re home or you’ve found wifi connection. I suspect your mom’s happy as the proverbial clam. A little traveling and a little traveling music’s good for the soul.


  22. Being this side of ‘The Pond’, I find it difficult understanding why they think they can hold their country to ransom.
    It is like David Cameron (Conservative) being in office but working with/for the Labour party! It just doesn’t work!

    Two things are being said over here… ‘America sneezes and we get the cold’ and ‘Long live the NHS’.

    I watched a video that Karen posted, showing that many grass-root Americans don’t realise that Affordable Health Care and Obamacare are the self same thing. Somewhere, someone has not done a very good job of explaining what they are trying to do for their people, me thinks.

    1. Sandi,

      I suppose one reason such tactics are used is because they work – in one way or another. There was a time when I thought your system was unutterably confusing and inexplicable. Today, it’s looking far more sane than ours. What I really wish for is a version of your Questions to the Prime Minister. That could be interesting.

      I didn’t see the video, but I heard some interviews on radio yesterday that might have been the audio from the same piece. It was amusing and horrifying all at the same time. How anyone doesn’t understand that ACA and Obamacare refer to the same legislation is beyond me. Well, or not. But you’ve put your finger on something – there are far better explanations of how to use eBay and Flickr than there are for the ACA. And, Amazon’s shopping carts work.


  23. Although not germane to your post (or only tangentially so), Cuban urban agriculture is pretty amazing (at least by comparison to our relative lack of it). Cuba was heavily dependent upon the USSR for agricultural machinery, inputs and food (as a result of the U.S. embargo) and with it’s collapse they had a pretty desperate situation. They’ve responded with an impressive explosion in urban organic gardens, which now supply much of the country’s food. Some are arguing that it is a good model for the rest of the increasingly urbanized and food insecure world.

    1. Bill,

      I’ve bumped up against that old saying about necessity and invention several time in the past week, and this is a perfect example of the relationship between the two. Difficult situations aren’t necessarily impossible situations, even though they may appear so. Inventive solutions are possible, and they certainly seem to be as common (if not moreso) in other parts of the world.

      I went looking for some photos from Chile taken by one of my readers. He had some fabulous photos of urban community gardeners and their produce, but I can’t find the pics since he’s changed his blog format. If I can find them I’ll link them – they’re really wonderful and inspiring photographs of some very happy people and their veggies!


  24. So glad you remembered this and posted it again. It is equally relevant today, and who would have thought it would apply to our country? Even though our situation is temporary, it is frustrating. Sigh.

    1. Bella Rum,

      The list of prohibited activities just keeps growing. The thought that our government is now fining joggers at Valley Forge and prohibiting people from pulling over to gaze at Mt. Rushmore is almost more than I can stand, particularly since those associated with the administration and Congress still are getting their perks.

      In the grand scheme of things, my vacation doesn’t count for much, and I’d be happy to forego visiting the places I intended to go this month if I thought it would help bring a resolution to the issues at hand. But this is simple pettiness. Maybe I should toss some wire cutters into the trunk along with my hiking boots. Maybe the generation of “Hell no, we won’t go” should transform itself into the generation of “Stay away? No way!”


  25. Linda- been far too long since I have enjoyed one of your blog entries. Work seems to ramp up for me instead of slow down. Retirement can’t be too far in my future now!

    We are in a traveling/closed dilemma now. We have planned a 4 day weekend which encompasses a trip through Yosemite. Just today, a week + after the shutdown, I started looking at alternate routes. There is one, but it takes us miles around. Still doable, but the point of driving through Yosemite was to see Yosemite while not in the throes of all the summer crowds. True, there will be less water, but I’ve seen the creeks and waterfalls full before.

    I was watching the Newshour on PBS the other night with a guest who expressed that he thought the government would remain shut down until the final hour – Thursday, Oct. 17th. The next day (or is it the day before??) the government would default on it’s bills. He strongly felt that that would not happen (the default), but we would remain shut down until then. So I guess I’ll have my alternate route input into my GPS…..just in case, and if everything is a go, I’ll just take plan B out of the agenda!

    It’s frustrating to say the least, but I can’t imagine my disappointment if I had traveled all the way from Europe to do the same trip that we will do. I would be downright mad!

    1. Karen,

      How nice of you to stop by. I knew that there was a trip in the offing, but I wasn’t sure when or where. It’s a shame that you may have to change your route. It seems there’s an opinion for every commentator, so I’ve just stopped trying to figure out what’s going to happen. When it happens, it happens.

      My own timing surely is impecable. I’m leaving on my trip to see my aunt on the 16th, and have several stops planned, including one at the Tallgrass Prairie. It’s closed, being a national site, but the good news for me is that the Nature Conservancy owns all the trails, so it’s still possible to do some trekking. I called their office in Topeka, just to be sure, and had a lovely chat with a woman about all things Kansas – as well as her assurance that all parts of the prairie are accessible.

      I did come across this article that helps to explain some of the zealousness of the Park Service. There’s no need to shut down most of these sites, some of which don’t even fall under the authority of the Park Service.

      I read an account somewhere of a tour group that included international visitors. They were held hostage either in Yellowstone or Yosemite – I can’t remember now. But I do remember one of the women on the tour speaking about how embarassed she was for our country, and how many of the visitors from other countries said they’d never come back to the U.S. Who could blame them?

      Anyway, here’s to a resolution in D.C. and safe travels for us all! Good weather, too – we don’t need that snow that South Dakota just got!


    1. Andrew,

      Unfortunately, too many of them don’t fall of their own accord, but have to be shoved – and the shoving can be difficult, chaotic and sometimes bloody. The hunger for power and the power of greed are on full display today, too. Who knows what will happen?


  26. Your list of prohibitions to imagine makes me wonder what was in the mind of those Americans (and others) who were so chummy with Castro. Clearly, not oppressions that range from car alarms to Vinales.

    1. Clearly. I might add that some of the same dynamics are present today, as new leaders and others become chummy with the Castros. There are people who advise “getting into Cuba” now, before the loosened travel restrictions lead to a loss of its so-called charm. Clearly, there are photographic and other opportunities galore, but the charm of continued political repression and economic controls escapes me.

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