Not the Times and not Vanity Fair, Perhaps
But not bad for a throwaway rag: Wow! All I can say is thank you to Celeste Fraser Delgado for her incredible article about Manolín (The Salsa Doctor Is Out, September 14). It was fantastically researched and written, very much of the caliber I'd expect from the New York Times or Vanity Fair. I am completely blown away by the depth of her knowledge.
I went to Cuba with a guided group for music study in 1998, never having heard of timba. On my first night there, I heard Manolín's band at La Cecilia, and to this day I have not recovered. I have spent every free moment since then deeply obsessed with the music of the various timba bands.
I live in San Francisco but I flew to Miami in December 1999 to hear Manolín at Starfish. I also met and studied with some of his musicians. I also heard him here in San Francisco, as well as hearing his band without him, with his brother Lazaro singing lead earlier this year. On subsequent study trips to Cuba I've seen him many time sitting in with different groups. I actually have been able to procure a bootleg tape of the very performance Celeste wrote about, the one with Paulito's musicians.
So as you can imagine, I read the story in absolute rapture, reliving certain parts and eagerly filling in the gaps in my knowledge during others. Again, my endless thanks to Celeste and New Times.
Editor's note: Owing to a copy-editing error, the date of Manolín's first music job was misstated. He began singing at the Cabaret Capri in 1992.
Earth to Nehanda
Me, me, me vs. we, we, we: Brett Sokol's cover story about Nehanda Abiodun (Exiled in Havana, September 7), a self-styled revolutionary and fugitive from American justice, raises an interesting question: To what extent should political idealism (and the acts associated with it) vitiate criminal intent?
Abiodun's attempt to separate economics from the socialist process is futile and insincere. Futile because economics is inextricably linked to the well-being of a society and hence to the socialist process, and insincere because money is the means by which that socialist process is funded.
Though possibly well intentioned, Abiodun lives in a fantasy world. The truth is that few people are willing to invest in a venture that offers something for all, yet too little for one. People don't want to be treated equally; they want to be treated better. People gamble not to win back what they put in (if that were the case, why even make the effort to put in?) but to win the jackpot. The grand illusion is that the I somehow deserves more than the rest. But it works! (I'm not saying this is right or wrong, just that it is reality.)
Polarity, the scientific force behind economic prosperity, cannot exist if there is too much of something. In Abiodun's case that something is not equality but the thinking that she (or others like her) can render or dispense it.
One Slip of the Tongue
And it's so long, Nehanda: Nehanda Abiodun brought to mind the saying Don't confuse me with the facts, my mind is already made up! This revolutionary could not concede anything wrong with the Cuban system under which she is living. Of course if she were to say anything contrary, she would find herself in downtown Miami's federal detention center in a heartbeat, with the Cuban government counting the reward money and laughing all the way to the (capitalist) bank.
It was also interesting to read Brett Sokol's Kulchur column in the same issue (Out with the Geezers, September 7) and learn that the Cuba-nostalgia movement in the United States is being belittled by the official Cuban media. I would tend to agree with them that Ry Cooder and others like Paul Simon are just recycling their own fading careers by picking up some international musicians and playing along with them. It also plays well into the multicultural thing that is so in today. The moral of the story is that we live in a market society, so we all have to do something to keep the money rolling in.
Here's a thought: The nostalgia movement really is part of the diabolical and sinister conspiracy to soften up U.S. resistance to the trade embargo, like having Arkansas rice and pork producers visiting Cuba to see how they might expand their markets.
Ted's Lesson Plan
Slander and sensationalism each and every day: I read Ted B. Kissell's recent article about the Liberty City Charter School (Schoolhouse Knocks, August 24). Mr. Kissell used the school as a springboard for political posturing and putting forth an anti-charter-school agenda. In an effort to politically denigrate one of the school's primary founders, Gov. Jeb Bush, and the charter-school movement generally, Kissell sensationalized aspects of school management over the past four years by focusing on isolated, one-time incidents. He did this by highlighting the comments of one disgruntled ex-employee and quoting anonymous critics of the school.
Just as a new school year was about to begin, parents, teachers, and administrators at the Liberty City Charter School had to read about gossip and innuendo in an article with headlines like this: Although the Liberty City School Charter School helped make Jeb Bush governor, four years on it's barely passing. They did not get the opportunity to read about the great strides their school has made over the past four years, strides that include doubling the number of students who were able to pass the FCAT reading test in their last fourth-grade class, and increasing the fifth-graders' pass rate of the FCAT math test by 30 percent. Liberty City Charter School has enjoyed a high parent-satisfaction rate and has a high student-retention rate. The school has grown from 50 to 250 in four years based on parental choice -- not bureaucratic student placement. Mr. Kissell failed to include anything that might edify the families and hard-working teachers at this growing community school.
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In other words the article focused on politics and personalities rather than on education and children. So much of what it failed to report is exactly what today's education debate also fails to address: children. As a classroom teacher, I reminded myself every day that the reason I had a job was because of parents' hard-earned tax dollars and because of their children's learning needs. Politics, power, and money were not part of my daily lesson plans or learning objectives.
Jeb Bush and his charter school cofounders, like many others, believe entrepreneurial efforts in public education can help children. Liberty City Charter School is no different from any other new school, new business, or new idea: They are never perfect right out of the box. It takes time for any new venture to gain the right balance of consistency and flexibility to achieve greatness. Few disagree that we must improve Florida's public education system, which has been around long enough to achieve that balance. Public charter schools in Florida have not even had five years to establish themselves.
Liberty City Charter School, and other charter and district-run public schools, all deserve a chance to succeed. Adversarial school boards, opponents of the A+ Plan, teachers unions, political opponents, and slanderous, sensational media serve only to harm those they pretend to protect: the children. I believe our children deserve a future in which their educational communities work together primarily for the good of the learner, not the system. Let's stop using children to fight political and personal battles.
Alex Penn Williams