Obama to Putin: CUBA Libre

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Here’s the thing.  Castro was a thug, just like any dictator, only he wasn’t OUR dictator.  We never liked his revolutionary spirit and feared it might spread.  Nor did we much like its alliance with the Soviets – what an embarrassment to the States and to the Kennedys and in our backyard.  Gone were the glamorous Havana nights of gambling at the Casino and the sunrises and massages on the beach with a Cuba Libre in one hand and a Cuban cigar in the other. As the cold war intensified it nearly all ended very badly in mutually assured nuclear destruction.  Oh, the U.S. did try to force reform by ousting and by some accounts even “offing” Castro but he never surrendered or lost grip on power and seemed to even gain strength as the U.S. led embargo deepened the suffering of the Cuban people.  The embargo only seemed to make Cuban mechanics all the more creative and the people ever more resourceful without the modern conveniences of life in the 20th and 21st centuries.  The cold war produced no substantial reforms and led to the brave escape of a few, the defection of a handful of baseball players and the exodus of over 100,000 people granted permission to leave Cuba for the U.S. on the Mariel Boatlift which included thousands of criminals, mental patients and others deemed “undesirables” by Castro to give the Cuban exiles a bad name.

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But I’m glad Obama chose to diplomatically pursue the normalization of relations with Cuba thanks to Pope Francis and the Canadians behind the scenes. Obama can now embrace the Cubans as friends not foes and thumb his nose at Putin who took Crimea by force and pushed on to Ukraine at great cost.  Let’s face it though – the embargo was a failure and should have ended long ago, which might have had the effect of ending the Castro stronghold on power.  And while the embargo can’t be lifted by executive action, it does appear that the U.S. will allow folks to import a limited number of Cuban cigars.  Congress would have to end the embargo but won’t likely do so now that the Republicans have control of both the Senate and the House. But I like the fact that Americans can now travel to Cuba even though such travel is restricted to certain humanitarian categories.  No tourists yet.  That’ll have to wait until a friendly dictator comes to power and allows U.S. developers to turn Havana into a Little Las Vegas.  It won’t be long.  Soon Havana will be a trendy honeymoon destination once again.

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Keurig Goggles

IMAG0458You’ve probably heard of the angry and vengeful Keurig coffee machine that sprays scalding water at it’s owners or unsuspecting users at car dealerships.  I’m not sure why all this pent up rage in these precision machines, but it may have to do with the dirty “rumor” that the Keurig harbors a slimy, moldy, substance in its internal resevoir that is not easy to clean.  For more on this controversy, see the the popular article circulating all over the web – Why I Kicked My Keurig to the Curb. While it may be true that the Keurig harbors bacteria, so too do most all coffee machines as this article points out. Let’s face it, we live among germs.  Germs are on practically everything we touch.  But most folks who are reasonably healthy can co-exist with them which probably includes you. I would say we’d all be better off not using germicides and other toxic chemicals to rid our daily environments of germs and such.  Why not just spray a little vinegar here and there when the spirit moves and use the surplus vinegar for a bean salad.

We have a well-behaved and relatively new and clean Keurig in our household.  I have no beef with it yet.  It gurgles and grumbles a bit but makes a good cup of coffee.  Actually, I think I am becoming addicted to k-cups and am salivating at the thought of a Columbian Peeks 8 o’clock pod.  Now the rogue machines in question that misfire are a real hazard and should be taken seriously. To Keurig’s credit, they have voluntarily recalled over 6 million of them with details here on which machines are affected and what to do if you have one. If you chose to ignore the warning, please wear goggles, press the brew button and then run like hell out of the kitchen for 45 seconds.

To be honest, after reviewing the literature, I am more concerned with the plastic k-cups from which the coffee originates.  As you know, the Keurig pierces the plastic K-cup, or pod as it’s called, and as I referenced above, that contains the ground coffee and then shoots steaming hot water through the holes it made. Within 30 seconds, out comes the coffee and with it God only knows what but indubitably some chemical compound used in the manufacturing of the pods – see the article from Mother Jones for details on what it could be and what dangers it may pose. But let’s keep a little perspective here: the residue is likely less dangerous than non-dairy creamer and a piping hot cup of Joe in a styrofoam cup.

New Musical Car Names

DSC_0154I’ve written about this subject before and come back to it today after being on the road this morning and finding myself bored.  While in heavy traffic, I began processing the names of car models.  I saw a Honda Odyssey, a Honda Fit (more on the Fit in a future post), a Dodge Dart, darting in and out of lanes only to be stopped like the rest of us at a traffic light.  Let’s see, there was a Toyota Venza whose name perplexes me – Venza?  Is this short for Venezuela? Or is the meaning a bit deeper?  In Spanish there is a phrase – sin verguenza which essentially means without shame and indeed the driver seemed to have no remorse for tailing me closely and then sharply passing me on a winding road.  I should add that the Venza was nearly impaled by an oncoming Impala.

One of my favorite car names on the road is the Hyundai Sonata, although I don’t particularly like the car.  I think automakers should turn more to classical music forms to name new models or rename tired and boring old ones.  Here are just a few I would recommend: The Mitsubishi Mazurka, and it’s mid-size companion the Mitsubishi Rhapsody; the venerable Hyundai Scherzo; the Ford Fugue and a hybrid version, the Ford Fantasie; the Chevrolet Concerto, (Chevy should bring back the Caprice Classic); the full-sized Pontiac Polonaise and the sporty Pontiac Poco Adagio (Do they even still make the Pontiac?) Dodge flopped with the Neon so why not repackage it as the Nocturne? I could go on for days with Italian names, but let’s just go with the Fiat Finale and the Fiat Tutti micro car, to replace the monotonous Fiat 500.  I never much liked the Lincoln model names, so let me suggest The Lincoln Largo (to replace the Navigator) and a new compact and fuel efficient Lincoln Lento; I could have fun with the German makes, but let’s keep it simple – the VW Waltz, and the concept car, the VW Variation on a Theme.  BMW just numbers their cars, so they need a refined BMW Bagatelle.  Here’s one make I forgot about and so have most Americans – Buick.  They are definitely on the right track with the Buick Encore, but they steered off course with the Buick Enclave so how about renaming it the Buick Berceuse, which in musical terms means lullaby and would be the perfect auto for a family with a crying baby suffering from colic and insomnia.  And I know the theme here is classical music, but I am going to deviate a bit and rename the Buick LaCrosse the Buick Jai-Alai.  And last on the list, Volvo, the old Swedish make needs a makeover for its infamous station wagon box.  I’d suggest the Volvo Vocalise.

Coda: For good measure, I’d rename the Nissan Leaf, the Nissan Conductor and the Toyota Prius, the Toyota Impromptus.  By the way, cudos to Nissan for the Versa Note, and the Nissan March, but whatever happened to the Stanza? And Honda, what did you do with the Prelude?

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Uruguay and the U.S.

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You may have never considered the connection between Uruguay and the U.S. before or maybe I’m wrong and it’s all you think about.  The smartypants would say, “I know, both countries start with a U.” True, and a good connection, I’ll give you that.  Anything else?  Another wiseguy might say, “they speak Spanish and so do people in the U.S.”  And that would be true, although the brand of Spanish you hear in the States is nothing at all like what you hear on the streets of Montevideo.  As to other connections, if you’ve been following the news a little bit, you’d know that President Obama negotiated a deal with President Mujica of Uruguay to resettle 6 prisoners released from Guantanamo Bay.  And do you know why the Uruguayans agreed to resettle them?  One of the reasons is that President Mujica was once a political prisoner and felt an obligation to provide humanitarian assistance to the men.  Granting the prisoners refugee status, they are free in Uruguay to do what they please, even leave the country if they so wish. And though they seem grateful to be there, there are very few immigrants from Arabic speaking countries living in Uruguay – one estimate put the number at 300 –  and the country has no mosques.  The cultural transition may be difficult for the men, but the people of Uruguay on the balance seem to welcome their presence.

Now we don’t know the terms of the deal.  It is not known if the Uruguayans received anything in return for accepting the detainees or whether they would agree to resettle some of the other prisoners still left at Guantanamo Bay in the future. But if I were on the negotiating team for Uruguay, I would ask for two things, no three in exchange for cooperation.  1) Clean buses.  Buses spewing dirty diesel are everywhere.  The boulevards of the downtown area are caked in soot and the air is anything but bueno despite the fact that Buenos Aires is a short distance from Montevideo.  2) Better Internet for the people.  Did you know that Uruguayans have free Internet?  Sounds good, right? But there’s a catch.  It’s just 2GB of data a month.  That’s like a few google searches, browsing a couple of websites, 2 YouTube videos, 1 minute on Facebook, 10 photos uploaded and 5 minutes of a Netflix movie.  I know, I’ve been there.  3) Most Favored Wine Nation status.  Did you know that Uruguay produces some of the most interesting wines in the world grown from the tannant grape, indigenous to the country? The stuff is absolutely sublimely delicious and not easily found in the States.  Do try a bottle if you have the chance.

DSC_0369One last connection.  I didn’t know this until recently, but one of America’s greatest composers, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, who I would venture that most Americans have never heard of, grew up in New Orleans, moved to Paris, came back to the U.S., traveled extensively abroad, relocated to South America under very strange circumstances, and died in Rio. His Symphony #2 is dedicated to the great city of Montevideo.

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Air Bags on Board your Flight?

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Who knew airlines had air bags?  I didn’t.  I guess it makes sense.  A bag for the air, to accompany your travel bag and the omnipresent barf bag.  Did you know that on Frontier flights long ago, a barf bag had the word Occupied printed on it so that when you left to go to the restroom, you would put it in on your seat so nobody would take it? This was back in the day of festival seating.  But where was I?  Oh, air bags.  I was actually surprised to know that planes had them.  And maybe they don’t all yet, but Boeing has been working on them and not without complications. At a Boeing plant, there has been at least one fatality and several accidents to technicians working with the air bag systems.  In the Reuters article published just a few hours ago, the bags are called seat-belt bags and it referenced a seat air bag inflator.  Work was being done on a 777, a plane widely flown the world over.

I’m all for increased air safety, but I don’t see what purpose an in-flight air bag would serve.  Imagine the things activating when a plane hits a pocket of turbulence. What if a kid full of sugar kicks the seat back too hard and one goes off? There’d be screaming and widespread panic.  Or what if the things are actually in the seats and one goes off and sends an unsuspecting, unseat-belted passenger through the cabin roof. On the other hand, I suppose an air bag would protect passengers from rough landings, but would do very little to cushion the blow of a crash.  Not to make light of the practical aspects of an air bag, whatever they may be, but I do seem to remember back from my days as a high school debater that the airbag propellent, sodium azide, is a known carcinogen.  If you add this potentially toxic gas to the mix of cabin air which is not exactly rocky mountain fresh, you may find the need to reach for the barf bag, and then the oxygen bag and finally a gas mask.

Don’t get me wrong.  I like my car air bag, I think, unless it’s one of those suspect ones that Takata made that spews shards of metal once deployed, and it may very well be one as I own a Honda.  Wouldn’t it be awful to be saved by an airbag from the impact of a crash only to be killed by the bag’s shrapnel or toxic gas?

Air travel is pretty safe so I say we leave things the way they are.  Let’s stick with seat belts and barf bags.