Ozzie Guillen Was Wronged, Not Wrong!

The 85-year-old man that inspires fear!

File this one under the “Are You Frickin’ Kidding Me?” category: Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen is serving a five-game suspension for having made a remark that he “admired” Fidel Castro. Florida’s Cuban-American community collapsed into paroxysms of affected anger and feigned pain. They even threatened to boycott the club, which is odd as that’s what they’ve always done. (The Marlins have finished in the bottom third in attendance 13 of their 18 years of existence.) But the Marlins want to fill their sparkling new ballpark, so Ozzie has to fall on his knees like a contrite sinner. He’s playing that role, but no one would be the slightest bit surprised if he’s ultimately forced to reign.

The 48-year-old manager held hostage to ancient prejudices!

A rational person would make several observations. First of all, whom did the Marlins think they were hiring? If you want non-controversial you sure as hell don’t hire Ozzie Guillen. He is, simply, addicted to calling attention to himself. If a month goes by without Ozzie offending someone, that would the media story of the year. I have never been a fan of Guillen, whom I think is perhaps the single most overrated skipper in all of baseball. But this time, I’m going to bat for the guy.

Did baseball abolish the first amendment? It’s Guillen’s right to admire anyone he wishes. Shame on the Cuban-American community for denying that right, shame on the media for letting Cuban-Americans get away with it, and shame on the media a second time for its woeful and reflexive use of unexamined language. I’m yet to see a story that doesn’t use the phrase “Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.” Did the media not get the memo that Fidel hasn’t been the leader of Cuba since 2008, when he stepped down and passed head of state duties to his brother Raul? And am I the only to see the irony of tossing out “dictator” labels whilst calling for the head of a person who exercised his right to free speech? Who is really acting like a dictator?

Let’s move on to some history. Who is this Castro guy that stops major league baseball in its tracks? Actually, he’s an 85-year-old sick man toward the end of his life. Will someone kindly tell Cuban-American community to consult a calendar? No one ever accused Fidel Castro of being a Teddy bear, but lest anyone forget, he overthrew a dictator in 1959: a corrupt-to-the-core monster named Fulgencio Batista. Want to guess how Batista came to power? He was a general who overthrew the Cuban government in 1933, set up a military junta with a titular president, and dispensed with him after several months. Batista stepped down in 1944, passed the power to a handpicked successor, lived in the United States for eight years, and returned to Cuba in 1954 to lead a second coup. Batista turned Cuba into a gambling and prostitution paradise, forged ties with organized crime, and looted the country. When Castro ousted Batista in 1959, Cuba was Haiti-like poor. Talk about the 1%; the only Cubans that benefitted from Batista’s rule were elites in Batista's inner circle of cronies. Guess where they ended up? Other than the fact that considerably more Cubans did at least marginally better under Castro, the biggest difference is that Batista was our son of a bitch and Castro wasn’t/isn’t.

But here’s the other thing. All of this was a long time ago–a very long time ago. It’s been 53 years since the Cuban Revolution and 50 since the Soviets planted rockets on island soil and precipitated the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. Cuba has posed no credible (as opposed to imagined) threat to the United States since then, unless you count the Mariel boatlift back in 1980, when Castro suckered Jimmy Carter into accepting refugees that included some hardcore criminals and mental health patients. Even that was a whopping 32 years ago.

Give it up already and move on! What do we fear? It can’t be communism. The United States long ago forgave enemy combatants in Southeast Asia and normalized relations with Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. We’re as snug as bugs in a rug with the commies in Red China. Psst! The Cold War ended in 1991, when the Soviet Union went out of business.

Who is keeping the hatred alive? Few of the Floridians calling for Ozzie Guillen’s head and Castro’s overthrow are actual “victims” of Castro’s tyranny. They are the children and grandchildren of those who fled Castro, and quite a few are the offspring of Batista-era privilege. They remind me of naïve Irish-Americans who give money to the I.R.A. in the mistaken view that they are avenging the 17th century Battle of the Boyne, or my own Scottish-American kindred who feel honor-bound to hate the English because of the 1706 Act of Union that ended Scottish independence.

Yes, there are Cuban refugees in Florida as well, but you tell me–if the Castro regime fell tomorrow, what percentage of Florida’s Cuban-American population would relocate to Cuba? (Answer: Mostly those who thought they could make some sort of reparations claim, and most of them would return to Florida.) Anti-Castro ravings are so far past their sell-by date that they would be laughable, if they weren’t also vitriolic and disruptive. The hatred is palpable, but it is irresponsible to perpetuate it by cooperating with it. It’s time to put the demagogues and pettifoggers to pasture. If Cuban-Americans wish to continue to shout anti-Castro slogan, that–like Guillen’s opinion–is protected under the First Amendment. So too is the right of the rest of us to ignore them. A huge “BOO!” to the Marlins, the media, and Major League Baseball; for once Ozzie Guillen is a wronged man.


Note to Christians--Stop Whinging!

Learn this word and stop doing it!

The British have a wonderful word that I’d like to see become part of the American lexicon: whinging (win’ jing’). To whinge is complain in that special whiny, moaning, woe-is-me way that makes everyone around you want to encase you in cement and send you to visit Mafia dons reposing at the bottom of the East River. It often connotes those who equate some small complaint with an international plot to destroy their personal happiness and undermine Western values. (As if the universe actually cares!)

Among the novelty gifts one can procure in the UK are signs that say “No Whinging!” I wish I had bought a few when I was there a few weeks ago, as I have a great desire to post them in American churches, the US Congress, and in the corporate headquarters of Fox News. In the name of preserving Christianity, the political right, the conservative blogosphere, and Catholic bishops simply won’t let go of the idea that insurers should be required to offer birth control services and that hospitals operating as public institutions should be required to comply with the law. They continue to whinge despite the fact that no physicians are required to perform procedures they find morally objectionable, and despite the fact that the vast majority of Catholics and Catholic hospitals support both current policy and President Obama’s proposed insurance requirements.

Right-wing whingers have recently upped the ante and incited the Ditto Heads by repackaging public health policy as a wholesale assault on Christianity. In a failed 48-51 bid to overturn the policy, the retiring Olympia Snowe was the only Republican to vote in favor of requiring insurance coverage for contraception. Conservative “journalist” S. E. Cupp­–read Ann Coulter wannabe–made the incredulous claim that the “liberal media” (the what?) is engaged in a plot to “overthrow God and silence Christian America for good.” (Query for Ms. Cupp: If God is omnipotent, does God need humans to implement the Divine plan?) Tom DeLay–now there’s a moral pillar for you!–also believes there is “a war against Christianity” being led by liberals. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council agrees.

For God’s sake–stop whinging! This isn’t 3rd century Rome, though there are certainly a few self-proclaimed moralists I’d gladly nominate to become Purina Lion Chow. 75% of all Americans identify as Christian. Christians are, to use a Congressional term, a super majority, and Christian morality is as close to the default position as anything can be in our politically divided republic. Once again a vociferous small group of erstwhile guardians of public virtue have constructed mountains from molehills. By most objective standards, Christian values are triumphant. Marriage? There are 58.9 million married couples in the United States–just 150,000 are gay. Abortion? There were 4.1 million live births in the US in 2009 and 1.21 million abortions, the latter a slightly higher percentage than the 25% of non-Christians in the country, so there a few backsliders in the mix. 90% of Americans believe in God and 68% of Americans claim they pray daily, the ban on school prayer be damned. (Even Fox News says that fewer than 10% of Americans never pray.) A Gallup Poll shows that 91% of Americans think that adultery is wrong.

I notice that conservatives don’t blame the liberal media for the fact that 69% of Americans believe that divorce is acceptable. That may have something to do with the fact that divorce rates are 50% higher in red states than in liberal blue states! It’s so much easier to whinge over the fact that 60% of Americans think premarital sex is fine, 56% think that homosexuality is a private matter, that around 2/3 of married Americans commit adultery, and that a whopping 99% of American women use birth control at some point in their lives. And isn’t this what started the latest round of whinging in the first place? So here’s my retort to complaining Christians: clean up your own house and stop whinging!


A Better Life Too Lightweight to Highlight Immigrant Plight

A Better Life (2011)

Directed by Chris Weitz

McLaughlin Films, 98 mins. PG-13

* *

Actor Demián Bichir garnered a Best Actor nomination for his lead in A Better Life. He’s decent in the role, but though this film’s heart is in the right place, it should have been made for the Lifetime channel not the multiplex. It’s what I would call a knee-jerk liberal film in that it draws more upon sentimentality than deep analysis.

Bichir plays Carlos Zalinda, an illegal Mexican immigrant in Los Angeles, where there’s always plenty of service work to be done for rich Anglos who ask no questions as long as the price is right. Carlos is a gardener and the sole support for his teenaged son Luis (José Julían). Carlos has lived in the United States for many years and has bought into a version of the American dream that rests on the assumption that a man who works hard, doesn’t rock the boat, and stays invisible can do well enough to provide for his son (who was born in the States and is, therefore, a citizen). Carlos does his best to dissuade his son from joining a gang. What he can’t do is hold a driver’s license, a Social Security card, or expect strong advocacy in the legal system. So he keeps his head down and when an opportunity to go into business for himself occurs, he seizes it, even though he’s aware of the risks,

You can probably write the rest of the movie from here. Of course the business deal won’t go well. Of course Carlos is going to run afoul of immigration. Of course there will be a tearful encounter with Luis and of course there will be a speech that will help Luis get back on track. Along the way some other things occur, but there’s not much depth to any of them. At just 98 minutes the film can’t get into much complexity, hence it seeks to tug on heartstrings instead. At times it feels like a Latin-flavored Terms of Endearment. Fans of weepies will probably be moved, and the film will doubtless become a favorite among advocates of immigration reform.

Alas, from where I sit, A Better Life is simply too lightweight to be a statement film. It reduces the plight of illegal immigrants to platitudes and vague constructs of “fairness.” I don’t wish to sound coldhearted, but this movie felt like a moral dilemma exercise used with junior high school kids to teach values clarification skills. I’m sure that there are thousands of real-life Carlos Zalindas out there who deserve consideration. But can we make it serious consideration? Bichir didn’t deserve a Best Actor nod and A Better Life deserves no more than a video view on a night in which other options are slim.