Opening Statement

Monday 26 January 2015

Free Speech + Safety: Do As We Say, Not As We Do?

Recently, Canadians have demonstrated much chest beating in our staunch defence of the "freedom of speech". Especially the right to draw cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad it seems. Also in letting everyone everywhere know that we aren't afraid of terrorists, even if it means joining a war we know nothing about. On the home front, we have also proudly launched an "anti-bullying" offensive guaranteeing our "right to safety". Indeed, in Ontario, laws now exist to protect both teachers and students from assaults, threats and bullying, so our schools can be safe places of learning for all. 

Unfortunately the underlying problems are a usually a lot more deep running and systemic than that. Far too often much of what we are really hearing at school from those in charge in all cases is "do what we say, not what we do". When we consider the behaviour of the very officials and administrators who should be enforcing these rights from on high, one must wonder: how can we lead by example as teachers, school workers, and staff when we are often bullied and afraid to really speak out ourselves? And if we can't then how can we expect the students to learn to speak and stand up for these rights too?

Four news links from my January Teacher Free Speech News + Views blog especially highlight my unease: 

A Canadian survey of student classroom assaults against teachers shows that they are widespread across the country and go largely unreported. Why aren't victims speaking out? Why aren't the laws being enforced?  Why aren't our school boards and unions clearly + forcefully standing up to protect us? More Open Season!

At the OECTA union offices a non elected "Personnel Committee" goes against the decision of a member duly elected provincial executive to renew the contract for a controversial General Secretary. Everyone is reportedly afraid to speak out or discuss the situation when asked about it. Who is really in charge then? What credibility is there that anyone really enjoys freedom of speech or from bullying within the teacher representative association? More @ Sun

In Toronto Ontario, Education Minister Liz Sandals issues a scathing report on TDSB Director and trustee abuse of public money, powers and trust. It highlights the "administrative culture of fear" within the school board to speak out against let alone report abuses to the ministry without fear of job loss or other retribution! If the MOE has passed laws against bullying and intimidation but school board staff are afraid to discuss or report these to the MOE itself, what credibility does the Safe School Act and our Health + Safety Laws have in practice? For admin? Teachers? Students? Parents? More @ TDSB

In Toronto, a TDSB school principal reports that "My students are afraid of getting shot!". One might ask how safe the principal is at the school too? If principals aren't confident that they can protect the students and teachers in their care, than who's really in charge or for that matter safe at the school? More @ Toronto Life

One strongly senses that these huge problems are only the tip of the iceberg! Dollars to donuts they also run deep and rampant throughout many of our educational organizations and institutions here in Ontario and across Canada. These recent cases show that we often don't truly feel free and safe to speak out in either the public or separate Ontario school systems against abuse. Considering the all affiliate teacher discussions on my site of the 2012-13 MOE debacles,dare also say within all of our teacher + school worker unions too, including AEFO, ETFO, OSSTF and CUPE if the truth be known. 

Grass root educators can well worry that our very own "freedom of speech" and the "right to safety" are but empty buzzwords. How can we expect to teach our students by example without our own backs being covered? If we are not safe as teachers, then how can our students be? Moreover, what are they really seeing and learning in practice about safety and free speech in such a hypocritical bind? Regretfully, the real message often being sent out is "do as we say, not as we do". Systemic abuse continues to run deep within the actions if not the words being so proudly and adamantly exercised with abandon in our brave new world of the 21st century. For shame and a poxy on all our schools!

COMMENTS? Use space below ......

Ontario motto?

Sunday 25 January 2015

A Cuba Story 2: Contramaestra!

Read the Complete Story @ On The Road in Cuba!

March 1996

We drive into the town of Contramaestra, a couple of hours later; another old Spanish town forgotten in time. Head for the city centre near the plaza. Circle about in the car looking for a place to stay. Contramestra is an endless vista of old ruins. A mad mix of Spanish colonial, the occasional American deco structure. We drive past an old rundown Soviet flatbed army truck; closest they'll ever get to public transit in this poor place! 

The locals are just standing around -nowhere to go, nothing to do. Look at the despair in their faces! Some seek refuge in the doorways. Under the stark palm trees. In the little park in the centre of the plaza there's a hula hoop contest! Little school girls with skinny stick legs swirl them around and around their impossibly tiny waists. The innocent brown faces squint under the glare of the hot relentless mid- day sun.

Everyone looks up as we pull up front of an old run down building,  "La Cucharacha Motel" as Matilde half jokes. The faded sign promises air-conditioning! Says they accept payment in pesos! Willy slips into the office, returns a few minutes later to explain the situation, "They only have two rooms with air conditioning."

We wearily cart in our bags through the wall of heat. Unpack. Take a cold shower with a hose and a pail in the shared, stained shower stall at the end of the hall. Close our room window shutters. Shut out the sun's glare. 

The rattly room air conditioner in my room slowly kicks into gear. Lucky there's electricity! And a black and white Soviet era t.v. set! That's as good as it gets! Don't drink the water though! Ugh! What's scurrying about in the sink? There's not much spring left in this bed. Boy does it sag!

"Well, it's beeg!", Mati notes, "Willy + Ramon only have two small beds in the other room. Mas pequito!"

"Well, we can figure out the arrangements later. It's dinner time. Let's eat!"

The menu shows spaghetti is served morning, noon and night. An over boiled mess with a runny red sauce. My entourage decides to head to the countryside to see what they can scrounge up for supper instead. I decide to wait. Sit on the rusty, wrought iron balcony. Drinking a thick black espresso. Smoking a cheap Cuban cigarette, a Cuban quick fix, until they get back. 

"So what did you find?" Ho boy! I grow silent. Mystery meat? I wouldn't feed that to my cat, but can't say that. Not here. They try so hard to please! 

"Listen amigos, I don't think so. No. No. I will be fine! Dinner can wait"

It's a good thing too! Next day they've each got a very bad case of diarrhea. Later on, out of desperation I slip out for a stroll. Aha! A dollar store! Its dark and musty inside. The shelves are bare, but for a case of Coca-Cola. And, in a locked glass counter -a Neilsons "Mr. Big" bar! A prized trophy.

"So uh, how much?",  $1 for the "Mr. Big" bar. 75 cents for a Coke. "Well, all right then, I'll take Mr. Big and um .... a can of Coke." 

The handful of locals grow silent. All eyes upon me. The clerk takes out his key. Slowly sticks it into the lock. A low murmur. "Somebody bought the "Mr. Big" bar! Somebody bought the "Mr. Big" bar!" 

How embarrassing! On the wrapper it says it's made in Toronto at a factory I drive by every day. The Canadians have arrived in Contramaestra!  Perhaps a hint the Americans will be returning too? 

I quietly place two crisp US dollar bills on the counter. The clerk desperately fishes about the old, battered cash register for enough change. I quickly slip back onto the street. Beat a mad retreat to our hotel room with my booty.

Willy greets me, quite excited, "Guess what? There's a concert at the Tropicana tonight. A local band knows some Beatle songs! They came to ask you to go see them play! Can you help them learn the lyrics better in English? We'll bring the camcorder. Tape it!"

"Okay! Okay! Willy, get out the ghetto blaster. Where's your Beatle tape?  Put it on. Let's see what we got. We'll go over the lyrics with them beforehand to practice. Willy, you can translate! Matilde and Ramon too!" 

This definitely appeals to the teacher in me. Plus its looking like another end of the world party, as I unravel the electrical cord. Lean over to the wall to plug it in. Then ...


Oh no! The Soviets wired the hotel for 220 volts way back when! We sit, dejectedly staring at the burnt out player. Our last link with the outside world. Ramon later managed to fix it! At home, we'd just toss it out! But here? Once it's gone, quite possibly there's no more ghetto blaster for Beatles tapes. 

"Well, amigos. Amiga.", I sigh, "I think I'll cut my losses. Take a siesta. We can still go to tonight's show! Figure out what to do then. All right . ­Hasta luego! See you later......."

To be continued ......

Monday 19 January 2015

A Cuba Story 1: Palma!

Read the Complete Story @ On The Road in Cuba!

March 1996

My adventures in Cuba continue: There was a long weekend ahead at the Toronto Friendship School. Willy, Ramon and Mati offered to take me on a tour over the mountains to visit the interior of the island. We hired an older gentleman, "Popo" (means papaya...) who owned a beat up old Polski Fiat. There aren't any post 1961 embargo American cars in Cuba. Was an option. Turned into a good adventure. Not your usual tourist tale. Indeed, allow me to share with you my real life Cuba Story

Popo showed up about 6 hours late. No big deal in Cuba, the "land of waiting." A popular joke claims that at first everyone was waiting for the revolution, then for the workers' paradise, now for Castro to leave. Waiting is quintessentially Cuban. Popo had stopped along the way to pick us up at a party. My tour guides were glad for him. Glad he had a good time at the party, even though we'd be left stuck waiting! They thought that was great! Because he stopped at a party? And now we were running late! 

To his credit Popo brought me a bag of fruit from the party. No token gesture in a land where most everyone goes hungry! I'm boiling mad but what do I say? Anything? When in Rome, or in my case Cuba, how does the saying go? Oh well. O.K. Climb aboard! We're off! Up into the foothills of the Sierra Maestra and onwards and upwards into the mountains!

We are soon high up overlooking the 500 year old crumbling city of Santiago de Cuba. The glistening late afternoon Caribbean sea. On the other side of the mountains, we drive down into the valley of "El Cristo", permanently shrouded in cloud. Only moving silhouettes are visible to the eye. Strangely beautiful. Quite unreal! 

We continue puttering along in his car, out onto the plains towards the small old Spanish colonial town of "Palmas".  Tall swaying palms dot banana and sugarcane plantations stretch as far as I can see. We drive past a huge run down sugar mill into the sun bleached ruins of a town where everyone and everything is moving in slow motion, in the sweltering late afternoon heat. I thinking this is all right. Very picturesque. Quite hot, but hey; our trip is indeed looking like an adventure!" 

Sitting in our sweat soaked shirts, dust swirling about, we proceed into the town square .... where the radiator boils over! Psssssssssss! And dies. So much for the Popomobile! The hood's up. A crowd gathers. Everyone peering in as the long late day shadows stretch across the square. What to do? 

Once again we are engaged in the great Cuban past time of waiting! Fortunately, a friendly family invites us to stay overnight in their simple overcrowded quarters. Folks walk through all hours to check the gringo out. Hola! Hello there! It was different. It ended up being quite the party. An End of the World Party! 

The End of the World Party is another great Cuban national past time. What else have they got to do most of the time? We are stuck waiting again too. Well, hooray for the End of the World Party! Tinny salsa music blasts in the back alleys under a Habana moon. Hips sway. Hand rolled cigars are passed out. There's much story swapping and good laughter. Then, an electrical blackout grinds everything to a halt. Damn those Yankees! Ha! We laugh. Call it a night

Next morning Ramon finds another chico with a car! A beat up old baby blue 1956 Chevy with a cracked window shield. A Madonna sticker on the dashboard. The cheap fan barely works. A dumpfy kinda charm! Not unlike Palma. Yes Palma is different than Santiago. Like small town Ontario is different from the big city. Let's drive on further inland to see more of what it's really like.......................

 The early morning heat builds quickly. Sometimes I don't feel alive until it hits 30 degrees Celsius. Even in far less than ideal conditions like these. Am I a stickler for pain? It's a case of quality verses quantity.There's a trade off. In the First World we've got most of the wealth. Yet we often seem to forget how to enjoy the simpler things in life. Not so the Cubans, whatever else they lack. Everyone is out on the street to see us off -the whole community! There's old folks. Young amigos y amigas. Toddlers too! The End of the World Party isn't over. All of them are like family now, so sorry to see us go! 

Fortunately, I suppose, there's no electricity still. So no salsa music. Or they'd all be dancing. Cuba's like that: it doesn't matter where you are or what you're doing. Any time's a good time to dance. I kid you not. We'd have never gotten out of Palmas! So we toss whats left of Popo's bag of fruit in the back seat. Mucho kisses. Warm embraces! With a wave we rumble down the street. Off on day two of our Cuba trip!

From the holy to the profane: The Sierra Maestra mountains recede behind us, along with El Cristo valley. We drive down the streets of Palmas past the towering palms back out onto the plains. The banana and sugarcane groves stretch outward past the horizon. Sitting with the windows rolled down. Drinking it all in. Still quite enchanted. However, soon there are warning signs that's about to change. The once lush vegetation grows increasingly sparse. Half starved cattle, matted hides hanging on boney frames, stand placidly along the roadside, nosing about in the sun dried grass, occasionally swishing away the hordes of flies with their tails. Is that a buzzard circling around and around overhead? We motor across a swaying bridge hanging precariously over a very deep river valley. A great divide of sorts for what lies ahead.

To be continued .......

Thursday 15 January 2015

Santiago School Diary: Rumours of War!

March 1996

Let's take a break. This story isn't about "Cuba and the Night". It's from my daytime diary while I was at the Toronto Friendship School. The donations are delivered. Whew! Was glad to get that out of the way. Scary stuff. The police, customs, everything. Maybe nothing for me to worry about. Worse case scenario? They could've been confiscated. I sent packing back to Canada. But my Cuban amigos y amigas? Can you imagine living with such fear and necessity? Over something so seemingly innocuous. I'll be damned if I pay taxes on donations. Nor could they. Well anyway, the school supplies, clothes, toiletries, and medicine are job done!

I settled down into a room at Josef + Luisa's house near the city centre. Walking distance from the school. Spent my days there. Talking Cuban School Project business with Willy. Monitor the construction. Usually teach a class. Reading or Conversational English. Everybody liked to practice. Most staff and students hadn't actually met a foreigner before. Until recently it was illegal to even talk to us on the street. Often I'd just end up sitting in class talking with the students and staff about the lesson and everyday stuff. Let them practice. Get a better understanding of their needs. They want to know everything about life in Canada. Even simple things you or I take for granted.

I remember one exercise in particular. The students were using a Spectrum English workbook. The new vocabulary introduced using a fairly simple even banal narrative. A man is looking to rent a one bedroom apartment. He is unhappy with the price. For $600 he gets a small one bedroom place. But the landlord points out it has a large living room, with a nice kitchen, and new bathroom. The students are pondering this among themselves working at their desks, quite amazed. Most are out of work. A first since the revolution. It's after the collapse of the Soviet block. No future prospects. No more aid. Anybody with a job is lucky if they earn $5 a month. Everyone's living crammed in one or two small decrepit rooms with two or three generations of family. Often the kitchen is a fire pit out in the courtyard. They are very lucky if they have proper washroom facilities with running water, toilet paper and a toilet seat. They are rereading the lesson in our rooftop classroom shack. Surrounded by shacks on top of more shacks. By towering palms. In a world far removed from our own reality, or that of the man in the story. The students are rather bemused by his plight. No doubt somewhat envious too.

Willy's mom brings my morning espresso upstairs. The sharp brew tingles my senses as I take a sip. One of the adult students offers me a cigarette. It's okay to smoke in class. The acrid smoke crawls between my fingertips. Joins the cloud of tobacco smoke in the air. Small pencil stubs scratch down today's vocabulary words in the thin yellowed notebooks Matilde stapled together for the students. Otherwise? They'd have nada. 

An old battered fan puffs out more hot air, a futile attempt to deal with the stifling heat. Our mid morning idyll is punctured by the sudden swoosh of a jet fighter screeching low across the city roof tops. A poignant reminder of the latest international crisis Cuba is now in.

"Eeeets the Americano's!" a young girl blurts out. She blushes. Looks back down at her work. Embarrassed by her fledgling English. The class chuckles. A few guffaws. Then, an awkward silence. 

In the weekly newspaper the Ministry of Defence has bravely boasted "The fighting and victorious spirit of our people is invariable in the face of any threat. We are ready to fight. Everybody knows that."

But today most thoughts in the school room are of less heroic concerns. I can hear the quiet whispers in Spanish. When are the food rations arriving? Did you line up overnight? Who has seen any eggs? There aren't tourists in Santiago! Little work. No tips. So and so helped a tourista last year -got $2! A cousin swam across the bay to the American naval base in Guantanamo! Now he's in Miami! Ooooh! Miami! I hate America! He goes there but doesn't send us any money. How soon he forgets! No. No. He can't send it to you. It's not allowed. I'd love to go to America anyway. Si! I'd get a one bedroom apartment with a large living room, a kitchen and a bath. Si! Si! Me too! Then a garbled, heated debate.

"Que pasa?", I ask, "Whats happening?"

Willy explains, "There is a rumour in the streets. A big secreto. It's taken on a life of its own. Everybody is getting caught up. Wondering if they should go."

"Go where?"

"The word is that the Americans are going to open the gates to the naval base at Guantanamo on Saturday. Anybody who wants to flee to America can go! They will let you in! Protect you. Take you to the United States where everything will be different. So much better. No more problems. The students will visit each other in their one bedroom apartments."

"Si!", one girl boasts. She flashes me a smile, "If you come to visit, I can cook you something to eat!"

Willy adds a word of caution. "Don't believe everything you read or that you hear in the street! Right, Mr. Chiarelli?"

"Er ... Um ... It certainly would be different for you in America all right. But the rumours? I don't know. Somehow I can't see it. I'm sorry to say but I don't think they want you all over there. Not really ..."

"No? But then why would they open the gates?" 

There is a nervous pause. The students excitedly join in our discussion, "Si! It would be madness! So many people would want to go!"

"Fidel would never allow it. He will try to do something." 

"No. No. The Americano's know."

"They will protect us! If we try to go they will shoot to stop the soldiers' Cubano!"

"Oh? Our soldiers will shoot back!"

"And then we will never get as far as the gate because ....."

A horrible silence. A few quiet breathes. The sinister reality slowly starts to sink in. Boxing in and tainting the now impossible dream. Heads quietly bow back down to laborious study. Pencils feverishly scratching away.

How much does the apartment cost? The apartment costs $600 a month.

How many rooms are there in the apartment? The apartment has a .....

Nothing more is said. The week passes without incident. The gates at Guantanamo remain shut. A lone jet fighter flies overhead each and every day. Very unnerving. Flags wave in the town square and from every rooftop. There do seem to be a lot of soldiers in town.

As much as I wish their dream could come true, I am damned glad that nobody tried to tempt fate, and nothing happened ......

[Some revisions/ footnotes to follow]

Monday 12 January 2015

Cuba + the Night Part 2: Toronto Friendship School!

March 1996

We arrive at the school under the cover of night: a makeshift, concrete block and sheet metal roof top shack on a dark, narrow, winding street in the barrios. Surrounded by towering palms. Sprawling Ferns. Everything is so still and quiet in the dark, tropical Santiago de Cuba night.

The Toronto Friendship School: An orphan of the night. Born of quiet desperation. I open the door to find everybody waiting in the dark classroom. Quiet whispers. Hushed anticipation. For much needed supplies: used clothing, old textbooks, medicine, simple toiletries. First world cast offs worth -a kings ransom here. They sit on the floor in two bulging black suitcases from Canada, a world far removed.

Nothing illegal. Nothing is being sold here. But the Santiago night has half million pair of eyes and everybody wants a share. Born of economic necessity. Broken dreams. Quick! Let's get rid of this stuff quick! We will divide it among the students and staff. Drat blackout! Fortunately somebody resourceful has rigged some flickering lights. I look about at the familiar faces peering from the classroom shadows. Smiling brightly. Like little children on Christmas Day!

Willy the principal. Matilde, a teacher. Ramon. The other helpers. "Como estas tu/ How are you? Si! Si! I see! I'm so sorry, si! ...."

Much hugs and kisses. Warm embraces. Teary smiles. Tinny salsa music pulsates from an old battered radio for a few hours washing the nightmares away. Hips sway. Everybody laughs, in the face of such adversity as I hope to never suffer.

Willy compulsively counts the school supplies. Meticulously adding everything up with the new calculator I brought him. Once the supplies are gone? Maybe nada/ nothing. The school and his family depend upon simple donations for their very survival. He eyes everyone with suspicion. A good hombre. His noble aspirations perhaps twisted through desperation into a great distrust that eats away at him from within. "Nothing must be wasted!!!"

"Si, Willy! Relax and have a beer!"

Ramon sits skinny arm around his fiance's tiny shoulders. Two sunken faces. A strained smile. Tomorrow they line up for extra food rations which never arrive. She will go to far away Holguin province. A deathwatch over her dying grandmother; for grandma, for the house. If nobody is living there when she dies the government will take it. Someday her and Ramon hope to live there. Raise a big Cuban family. Help each other out. Their only hope. Only chance. Already a broken dream?

Matilde leafs through my Time magazine. Ohhhh! The new cars! The pretty clothes! Someday she will come to Canada. A broken dream? Her family says no. Good communistas. They say no more working at the English school. You don't need to learn English to live in Cuba. Stay here. Marry a good Cuban man. Raise a good Cuban family. Live your life with us in Cuba. But she suffers severe headaches. Stomach pains. No medicine is available. She's still young. Wants so much more. Like food to eat. Decent quarters. So they sent her to Habana to teach mathematics. The few dollars in her pocket, she spent on a cheap pair of Chinese shoes. A pretty cotton dress. A ticket back to the Toronto Friendship School. For how long? She tosses back her long black hair. A look of quiet desperation on her face. Nobody knows what tomorrow will bring.

I hand out the clothing, toiletries and supplies. Ask Ramon to go get the car to head back out into Cuba and the night. Mission accomplished for tonight. Still, it breaks my heart. I feel like a first world Faustus. Look into my eyes, a window to another world, where all your wildest dreams can come true. A brief glance. A little much needed help. But maybe it will cost you your soul. You can never go back to accepting the old ways without question again. Really, your only choice?

I don't mean harm. Don't want your soul. I only want to help. By crossing this impossible divide! To let you know that there are others in our world who care! And yet and yet. I head back out with a heart breaking from under the weight of all the broken dreams into Cuba and the night.

To be Continued .......


More on the history of the Cuban School Project @ Here!

Part 1 of story below, also more info links .....

Wednesday 7 January 2015

Cuba + The Night Part 1: Arrival!

"Cuba and the Night" was originally published on the ENO [Education Network of Ontario] in spring 1996.

"Dos patria tengo yo: Cuba y la noche/ 
Two fatherlands have I: Cuba and the night." 
*Jose Marti*[1]

Flying into Santiago de Cuba through the dark of night; Cuba y la noche/ Cuba and the night. The towering Sierra Maestrae mountains a dark backdrop, highlighting the few sparse city lights lost among the pitch black night. Another blackout? Santiago is a city of 500,0000. Life goes on against all odds. But for how much longer? God only knows! Each time I'm here I think it can't get any worse. But Cuba is plunging deeper and deeper into the dark abyss of the economic boycott. Cuba: dead in the water! Lost in time! A land of ambiguity! Of waiting!

We land between the foothill runway lights at Antonio Maceo airport over looking a black hole where the city should be. Are greeted by a faded mural of Che, 37 years after the revolution, painted on a hanger wall. Faded and peeling. Lit up only by the aircraft lights darting about randomly on the darkened tarmac. Hello third world. We've arrived!

I've got 140 extra pounds of much needed clothing, toiletries and supplies for the Toronto Friendship School. A short line up snakes through customs. Few visitors even though it is March break.

The Custom man wears a home made khaki uniform. Crudely cut red felt stars on his shoulders. A bored look on his face. A pretty sad state of affairs. Cuba, the last battle ground of the now forgotten Cold War. A desperate little island where revolutionary flags still wave and hips sway. He stamps my passport. No problems. So it might seem. 

"Are these for you?" An officer at the exit gate points at my extra big, black suitcases. 

"Er, yup ....."

"Open them please." Soon all my careful packing is sprawled out on the counter.

"School supplies? So many clothes ... what's this? Baby clothes!" Looking up, he pauses. Eyes me queerly,  "And a dress....?" 

"Ummm. Huh. Yes." Oh, for Christ's sake. A dress? Could be tense. I hope not.

Looking me over with bleary eyes, he gives me a devious wink. "Lissen senior .... I can help you out."

"I bet you can."

With a sad nod he explains, "There's a 100% tax on all non personal items entering the country, but for you? $20. That's all. For you, from Canada, its not much..." [2]

"What? Now listen my friend that's...."

"Ah senior, whats this?!?" Pulls out a copy of Time magazine from the side of my carry-on bag. Damned subscription card! Order now and get a free pocket camera? Right. The magazine flips open. Surprise! What luck! We gaze at a cartoon of Cuban President Fidel Castro on the next page. The headline? "Why We Shot Them Down" The picture? Fidel in khaki green. 2 Cessna aircraft buzz around his head. Pesky mosquito's on a hot Caribbean night. He holds up 2 fingers and is smiling. The other officers glance over. Start to gather around. Look at the picture. Look back at me. Their poker faces tell all. Prohibido/ This is not allowed! Shit! [3]

"Amigo, no problem. Canada and Cuba are friends. I am sorry." 

They watch me glumly in stone silence, "My Spanish is not so good. Perhaps there is a misunderstanding. $20 you say?"

"Si. $20." 

"Here. Here is your $20."

"Si. Sign here." 

I try scribbling down my name. Wouldn't you know it. His pen doesn't work. Cheap commie pen. Ha. Fish around in bags. Use a school pen.

A travel rep saunters over, "Sir, which hotel are you staying at?"

"Er ... Yours!"

"Well, we are all waiting outside for you on the hotel bus."

"OK. OK. Here amigo. Please, let me give you my pen. With so many problems in your country, its the least I can do!" 

I hand the pen to the customs officer, "Well then, I better be off." 

Sweating buckets, I close my bags, "Better catch my bus to the hotel. Yup. Can't keep everybody waiting!"

Nonchalantly pick up my magazine slipping it back in my bag too. Hand my new friend of sorts an extra pen, bidding him farewell.

Whew! Outside the arrival gate, my car from the school waits. 

"Quick guys! El pronto! Let's get out of here quick!"

From the rear window I can see the tour rep waving frantically, "Senior! Senior! Your bus! Your bus to the hotel!"

The police lean against the railing. Bored. Listless. Look up. God knows they need something to do! Always another dollar to be made! But we are out of here! Nobody any the wiser. Without pause, calmly driving off into Cuba and the night.... 

So begins another Cuban adventure!


The Cuban School Project Story @ CSP

Santiago de Cuba: Faded Glory Lost in Time @ Here

Christmas in Cuba: The Complete Series [1996] @ Here!


[1] Poemas de Jose Marti: "Dos Patrias" 1:1

[2] I will go to the Ministry of Education in Habana to complain about the tax and duties on donations in a later story, "A La Habana". 

[3] It was a complicated news story that nixed one of a number of earlier efforts to normalize US Cuba relations. The Cessna aircraft had been flying through flight paths over Habana air dropping propaganda flyers. The cartoon seems to have long disappeared from view, but I will see if I can still find it. Time magazine wants $$$$ but you can see links to the article and issue @ Time [March 11 1996]

Tuesday 6 January 2015

Hollow Man Too!



Hollow men
Voices of straw
In Excess
Elegantly Wasted
They say:
This ain’t the good life................


Hollow man
Bullet mouth
Mr. Kurt-
He dead!
In Nirvana
he plays:
Smells like..............


New York City
Shot by a fan
Hollow man!
Still John sings:
When I hold you in my arms and I feel my
finger on your trigger I know no one can
do me no harm because happiness is..........


No woe
No cry
Marley shot
the sheriff
missed the
One love?
Get ready
Head jammin'
ganga wiles .........

dead land
death radio
I wake
Is this
what it’s like?
The telephone rings........


Hungry eyes
Sullen look
Sexual charge
Shooting off sparks
Mucho friccion
Half asleep
I reach out.............


to stoned
death radio
and act?
To be a rock
and not to roll?
But mine is
life is.............
A bang?
A whimper?
I reach for the phone.........




Not again!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Damn %$#^&@#$%%^ telemarketers will be the death of me ...........................................


Monday 5 January 2015

Teacher January News + Views!

Welcome to 2015! Here are your latest teacher news links. See the categories below. You know the routine. Updates will later be included in larger type. My Blogsite Acronym Guide is @ Here! 

Slide Show Top Left Screen: Best of 2014! Cuba Pix!

New: Gorillaz Videobar below main blog column!


Welcome to 2015: "My students are afraid of getting shot!" A principal speaks @ Toronto Life

So much for school safety and anti bullying initiatives: student classroom assaults against teachers common across Canada, new study shows. Many continue to go unreported @ Open Season!

Turmoil at OECTA Provincial as the unelected Personnel Committee overturns the elected provincial executive's decision not to renew the contract of controversial General Secretary Marshal Jarvis. Apparently internal sources were afraid to speak on record for this article out of fear of recrimination. President James Ryan denies the situation is diverting attention from the ongoing provincial bargaining talks @ Sun

Here's an interesting OLRB ruling + rationale: OECTA Provincial Secretariat members lose grievance for transfer of sick day bank upon taking office OLRB

For an unofficial list of the OECTA Provincial Executive candidates at this March's AGM see the "Comments" section below this blog!

National Post bares it's neo con fangs with this latest denunciation piece on our provincial teacher unions. The unions are allegedly busily engaged in "fire breathing" statements and posturing about possible strike actions. Perhaps the Post is suffering delusions of being a great Canadian newspaper? Are they confused about what province this story is supposed to be taking place in? Ontario?! Our union leaders!?! Now??? Read @ K. McParland

How many "fire breathing" union types trying to overthrow our economic system and way of life can you fit into one OLRB hearing room??? This Friday 9:30 am at 505 University Ave here in Toronto?!? This is where the action is taking place, all Sun and the Post muck racking aside. OSSTF will follow on April 1st. Follow my indie coverage this month @ Ontario Teacher Winter Contract Guide

Toronto Sun makes sure to quote Premier Wynne on no wage increases for the public service sector, including teachers. Note however, that she refuses to bite at mention of strike votes. Says they are a part of the process, as they should be, and are to be expected @ Sun

TDSB Director Quan agrees to pay freeze. Her salary will be rolled back to $272,000. When asked why she wouldn't do it earlier, claims it was the trustees' decision @ Quan

Hotly contested local school closings on the chopping block now with MOE demands @ People for Education

Definition of ironic: TDSB teachers are to eliminate student bullying while working under an administrative culture of fear! MOE Liz Sandals provides stinging indictment of trustees. Lists reduced powers and task force on structure she directs be adopted by Feb. 13. Unfortunately, no instructions for Director Quan to adhere to pay freeze. Still, the board is shooting itself in the foot as the saying goes. During my albeit informal discussion with staff from the ministry office over Christmas I heard the whole situation embarrasses Liz and puts her on the spot. The MOE apparently wants a TDSB takeover like a whole in the head. Hmmm. Story @ TDSB

For shame! TDSB: Do as we say not as we do! Board votes to approve Director Donna Quans salary increase to $289,000 despite MOE's recommended freeze @ Globe

TDSB trustees are accused of overstepping and misusing their powers and privileges @ Trustees

Director Quan speaks from on high! And  trustees got her back!

Year[s] of Irony at the Catholic TCDSB as the budget is "miscalculated" for the second year in a row, this time resulting in a $23.5 million deficit. Benefits are being blamed. The Treasurer has "retired". Same old tired TCDSB BS! Remember, they have contracts to negotiate. More @ TCDSB 

OPSEU contract talks reach stalemate @ Timmins

Ontario sex ed debate looms ahead in 2015 as MOE overhauls the curriculum to bring it up to date for today's realities. Parents, politicians and religious leaders will all, of course, be actively involved in what promises to be a real firestorm! Hot button issues include same sex families, homosexuality, masturbation, anal and oral sex, and as this author suggests mental illness @ Sex Ed

MOE announces the issue of consent will be included in the new curriculum expected to be in place at school by this fall @ Consent

"We give consent, not the dress"

"We Give Consent!" is a student campaign for curriculum change to the Ontario Health Curriculum. For petition and more info follow @ Student Consent

Ontario PC leadership candidates are taking the moronic view that if elementary students are taught about consent in Sex Ed, the teachers will be telling them to have under aged sex @ Duh

Putting the need for the MOE's Sex Ed curriculum changes into perspective @ Welcome to 2015!

Lots of teacher info and views: Huffington US has published this Top 10 list educators blogs @ Top Bloggers

Here's a thoughtful Varsity piece on Ontario's 770,000 food bank users. Many include the working poor, post secondary grads and students who can't afford to go to school to improve their job prospects @ U of T

OSSTF announces it will become politically involved in this year's federal election. It can't do otherwise considering PM Harper's Neo Con attacks on our countries working families and unions. Bravo OSSTF @ OSSTF

Toronto Crown plant workers enter month 15 of their strike. No to contract stripping @ Crowned!

See my blog report on the strike @ 15 months!?!

2014: The Canadian labour movement's year in review R+F


What a snoozefest! After the Liberal election landslide victory last spring, both the PC and NDP party's remain in disarray. The legislature is still on Christmas break til later next month. Not much to report -yet. MOE issues, especially relating to our teacher contracts is posted under "Teacher - Union". See above!

PC leadership debate heats up with a discussion of Hudak's 100,000 job plan, that lost him the last election, one that by all counts should've been his to win. With enemies like Tim, who needs friends eh? Now some of the candidates are claiming the party has to stop "going to war with labour". Don't get your hopes up too high though, a Tory is a Tory is a Tory, as my old friend Mattawa Ma used to say. More @ Who's 'Tory Now? ;-)

Feb 5 Sudbury provincial by-election antics heat up as Federal NDP MP Glenn Thibeault resigns to run for the OLP. Provincial NDP MPP Joe Cimino resigned after 5 months in office. A time line of developments in this still unfolding story is @ CPC-ML Timeline Story!

Ontario PC's expected to play right wing religious card to oppose Sex Ed curriculum reform in this spring's party leadership race @ 100 Huntley


Welcome to 2015: Canadian dollar crash + burns! Harper government responds by lowering interest rates, sending it down further. Federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, taking flack for the parties opposition to War in Iraq during Harper's "Year of Fear", continues to lay low in wait for this year's federal election, twiddling his thumbs. He's calling into question the government's alleged "steady hand on the til", by accusing Prime Minster of unwisely putting all his economic hopes in our Canuck petro dollar for far too long. It promises to be a interesting year in Canadian politics indeed @ Canadian Dollar 

Is Canada under attack? No. 

US + French intelligence don't believe Paris "terror attacks were directed by "Al Qaeda". Could somebody please advise Canadian PM Steven Harper?!? See below!!! Story @ Ooops!

Time to ramp down the rhetoric: Curbing Islamophobia to battle Jihadism @ Star

Prime Minister Harper, in a speech that has gone largely ignored among the recent hubris, has announced that Canada is under attack by an "internationalist jihadist movement". We are now, in his own words as PM "at war". In the Harper narrative the October Ottawa and Paris Charlie Hebdo criminal acts are acknowledged as "terrorists attacks". The new legal weight his speech gives these terms will allow the Canadian government to increase policing and military powers to deal with the perceived threat. The legislation will be introduced when parliament resumes Jan 26th. Story and video of speech @ War!

According to Harper the "internationalist Jihadist movement" is against "anyone who doesn't think or act like they wish they would think and act". They "declared war" first against "any country like ourselves that values freedom, openness, and tolerance."

Superhero Time: Steven Harper goes to war!

The movement includes "Al Queda", and "ISIS" [Islamic States of Iraq + Syria] the usual foreign policy boogie men as of late. In effect the Harper government has now strongly committed Canada to the US war against the two in Iraq and Syria. Sounds pretty open ended. Also seems to officially confirm that the Ottawa and Paris cases are related and are confirmed terrorist attacks. However, there seems no word yet, on where that "intelligence" came from.

NDP senior statesman Steven Lewis eloquently waxes over the failures of the Harper Conservative government in an early run up to this years federal election @ Lewis

The Toronto Star has series on this year's Federal election with an articles on each of the party leaders during Steven Harpers "Year of Fear". PC PM Steven Harler is @ PC NDP Leader Tom Mulcair is @. NDP Justin Trudeau is @ LP

Seeming terrorist attack on Paris satire mag "Charlie Hebdo" sends France reeling. 12 are dead including 3 political cartoonists. Our hearts are with their family, friends and my readers in France. See coverage @ Terror

BTW: Seems to me that support for freedom of speech in the media runs worldwide in the western nations ...... but is about 1 cm deep. My best bet would be its really only for people, groups and ideas we agree with. How many protesters are marching to support freedom of speech to lampoon Israel or the pope? 

Support for Free Speech: a package deal?

Toronto Star declares the "sophisticated, calculated" attack is connected to the War Against ISIL, seemingly based upon a comment overheard at the time of the shootings, and a rather vague "Al Queda" statement from Yemen. The "terrorist attack" is being widely touted as an attack on "freedom" and "democracy". OK, but please, this is at best an over simplistic theory about the goals of terrorism. More important is the victim countries reaction as it lashes out in quite understandable anger, internationally, and at home, when the attack is used as a reason to over ride civil liberties to protect us from the terrorist threat. Just a thought. Anyway, the Star is sure to include all the gruesome videos while they help manufacture consent @ Charlie Hebdo

Man to Man Magazine helps explain and manufacture consent for US Cuba concerns!

Historic talks to normalize US Cuba relations are off to a choppy start over immigration issues. Expect the US right to make much hoopla over protecting the "Cuba Adjustment Act". Cubans are encouraged to circumvent especially strict US immigration rules through dangerously trying to cross the straits to Florida by whatever means possible, scoring a right wing propaganda win for their much touted, brave "flight to freedom". If that is they are not caught first by the US coast guard along the way. Imagine the same cat and mouse rules in place for Mexican economic refugees seeking entry through Texas! The Cuban government claims it encourages illegal immigration, people trafficking and puts the boat people in great danger. They want a more safe, legal and orderly immigration US Cuban process. Good luck with this one! Going to need it. More @ Cuba

US Republican's are lining up to thwart President Obama's Cuba initiative @ Obama

Obama's overtures to normalize relations with Cuba after over 50 years of a devastating unproductive economic embargo, continue to result in frustration and angst south of our border. George Will grapples more intelligently than most with the US's long standing foreign policy hard on for Cuba @ George Will

Fidel: Mission accomplished?

Ageism undermines an otherwise interesting UK Daily Mail article on what the 88 year old Fidel Castro is up to today and how he might react to the news. Listen folks: Fidel managed to outlast 11 US Presidents. He rooted out all vestiges of US exploitation and control in his post colonial island nation. As hard as it might be for many arm chair critics to understand, he is still widely considered a much beloved and widely respected nationalist founding father figure there. More @ Viva Cuba!

Students watch the announcement at the Cuban Schools. Notice poster of the now released US Cuban political prisoners on wall. They have been folk heroes in Cuba for many years.

We are getting rather blanket superficial reports of Cuban reactions on the street to the announcement. I don't doubt there will be relief but how to actually explain it is something again. Right now, there is a lot of celebrating over the prisoner exchange and a heroes' welcome back home. I'm going back down later this month and will report back. Story @ Cuban Reactions?

For what its worth I have traveled extensively in Cuba and worked at the Cuban Schools for about 32 years now. My report on the CSP [Cuban Schools Project] is @ Here! My latest series on my trips startsThere!

Bottoms up! US Target store chain tanks in Canada. Liquidators moving in. Crappy prices + stocking are often being blamed, but let's face it. Department stores are going the way of the Dodo bird. Ask traditional Canuck department store meisters' Eaton's, Simpson Sears, even the Bay. There's the big box store malls sprouting up everywhere with lots of specialty stores. Pretty tough to compete with while providing something for everyone. Internet shopping also seems to be the wave of the future, but try telling that to Canada Post. It still costs me more in shipping and takes longer to get an order from a Canadian seller than one from the US, the UK, or for that matter friggin' China or Japan. Story @ Bad Target!


Love you, my US readers, truly, but listen: sometimes things down there, from a Canuck perspective, are just plain really weird, to put it nicely. This one was beyond me, so doggonit I had to go see the movie myself. When's some body who shoots a kid a good guy? When he's an American military sniper? Hell, this film's even up for a Grammy. 

My review? To be objective: We get a good war story. Love the final gun fight in Sadhr City! Our new American hero's clarity of reference and purpose is admirable. Too bad it's based upon shallow jingoism. We go from 9/11 to Iraq with nary a mention of WMD [remember those?!].Or that the skyjackers were from Saudi Arabia [Duh!] Each tour of duty between bored, distracted stopovers at home is action packed.The sleeping elephant in the flick, though it's referenced but nothing more, is post stress disorder. [Will need to be addressed in Canada too!]. Also the film's inability to create anything more than strictly two [one?] dimensional Arab terrorist villains for the new millennium. 

Any entertainment involving killing children, innocent or not is pause for concern. It's not a freedom of speech issue here methinks so much as it is one of insensitivity and bad taste. Doubt this flag waver will be winning many hearts and minds outside of the US. A Grammy win? If so, a major cringe!

BTW: I like this review: How much dubious myth making is going on here? See American Sniper!

If Elvis lived?

Jan 8 would've been Elvis' 80th birthday had he not suffocated to death after druggedly falling off the toilet. Now the absolute worst of his albums from the 60's are being re-released to commemorate the occasion ["Pot Luck"?, "Girls, Girls, Girls"?! "Harum Scarum"?!?]. Now that's some pretty strong credentials for our Kulture Kult Hall O' Fame!!! More on the festivities @ Rolling Stone

Final Thoughts: Enough winter! It's getting about time to go diving along the coral reef in Cuba. I also want to see my teacher friends to discuss the project!

More to come ....

Communist Girls ARE More Fun!

Communist Girls ARE More Fun!
See below ...

Communist Girls Are More Fun #1

Communist Girls Are More Fun #1

Communist Grrrls are More Fun #2

Communist Grrrls are More Fun #2

Communist Grrrls Are More Fun #3

Communist Grrrls Are More Fun #3

Communist Girls Are More Fun #4

Communist Girls Are More Fun #4

Art at the Paris Louvre: What does it mean?!?

Art at the Paris Louvre: What does it mean?!?
A careful analytical study!

Help! I Have No Arms!

Help! I Have No Arms!
Please scratch my back.

I can't find my underwear!.

I can't find my underwear!.
Have you seen them!

Weee! I can fly!

Weee! I can fly!
Look! I can crawl thru walls!

I have a headache!

I have a headache!
And a broken nose.

I have a square hole in my bum!

I have a square hole in my bum!

Here try this, it's very good!

Here try this, it's very good!
No. You have a bird face.

I have an ugly baby!

I have an ugly baby!
No I'm not!

Let's save all our money + buy pants!

Let's save all our money + buy pants!
OK but I need a new hand too!

Oh no! I got something in my eye!

Oh no! I got something in my eye!

You don't look well.

You don't look well.
No. My head hurts +I have a sore chest.

Would you like a bun?

Would you like a bun?

Chichen-Itza: Lost Maya City of Ruins!

Chichen-Itza: Lost Maya City of Ruins!
The Temple of Kukulkan!

Gotta love it!

Gotta love it!
Truly amazing!

Under Reconstruction!

Under Reconstruction!

Temples + Snakes!

Temples + Snakes!

The Snake!

The Snake!
It runs the length of the ball field!