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One Thing I Learned Today
Thursday
 
Of Sanctions, Contracts, Illegal Captivity and Journalistic Research
The last few years of international relations have left plenty of questions unanswered. One of the smallest and most irritating being: how on earth do the Americans have a naval base in Cuba? In case you'd forgotten, Camp X-ray in Guantanamo Bay is where 260 men are being illegally held on suspicion of being Taliban fighters. America and Cuba have long had poor relations, mostly because Fidel Castro nationalised most, and then all, of the US businesses operating in Cuba (as an aside, it's probably a good thing he did. Michael Manley, prime minister of Jamaica for two terms in the 70s and 80s, failed to do so, and US "enterprise" has swamped the country so that powdered US milk imports are cheaper than locally produced milk. In such an economic climate is it any wonder that gun crime and hard drug abuse are rife?). A comprehensive chronology of the sanctions against Cuba can be found here.

With this in mind, how did the US get permission to operate in Guantanamo Bay? As usual, I found my answer in the Guardian.
Why does the US have a naval base on Cuba?
The base dates back to a treaty, signed in 1903 and renewed in 1934, which leases the Guantanamo Bay site to the US for $4,085 per year.

The treaty requires the consent of both governments to revoke or change it and, unsurprisingly, the US will not agree to that. In protest, Cuba has refused to accept the rent payments.

What do Cubans have to say about the prisoners being held on their island?
Uncharacteristically, the Cuban president, Fidel Castro, has kept his counsel on the matter. Officially, the government has said that it will cooperate with the plan to hold and try suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, and has even offered to improve sanitation and services there.

Source:The Guardian

Now why, in all the column inches written about Guantanamo Bay, has this pertinent little fact been ignored? Could it be that most journalists can't be bothered to research their articles?

Next in my series of articles on obscure naval bases: Who or what is Diego Garcia?
Wednesday
 
Moons Over My Hammy
Just finished a book called Moon Palace, written by a dude called Paul Auster. I never heard of him before, but this Spanish guy I know recommended him to me and lent me the book. Anyone else heard of him? 'Cause homeboy writes some funky shit. His characters are almost cartoonishly ridiculous; it's like every character is presented as someone would see him or herself. They're given a kind of absurd, dillusional importance that's merely accented by the plot, which isn't really necessary and is kind of pointless. It just ends up saying that things are as they are, no matter how you happen to see them, or how you are misinformed about them. I could say a lot more but I'll wind up having a very long conversation with myself that way. We all know the dangers of this, I lose track of time, toast gets burnt, and the like, so I will be merciful and stop here. But if anyone knows this guy, let me know what you think of him...
Tuesday
 
Paint your wagon red, white and blue
The rise of the wifebeater in Bush's America seems unstoppable. According to very-politely-politically-neutral website e-podunk.com more and more Americans are living in trailers. the full report is here. California has the highest number of trailers - something like 12m, with Texas' 9m trailers earning it a comfortable second place. But both these are big states. Leading the fray percentage-wise is lil' ole South Carolina, where so far 20.3% of residents have opted for the comfort and beauty of a home on wheels (and most likely a confederate flag).

South Carolina, home of the wifebeater, we salute you!

Full figures are here.
Monday
 
The Family Legacy
Today in my boredom I decided to research a little into my one illustrious ancestor, Mr. John Henry Belter. I actually have one other "illustrious" ancestor, our 8th president, Martin Van Buren. But we don't talk about him much because he was almost as successful at driving this country into ruin as Dubya has been. John Belter is a direct relation, he's either my great-great or great-great-great grandfather, I can't remember which.

So anyway, John Henry Belter. Who was he, you say? He immigrated to the U.S. from Germany in 1833 and set up shop in New York City as a cabinet maker. He was highly skilled in carving wood into intricate designs, and before long he had become the top furniture manufacturer of his day. Some of his furniture is now on display in the Smithsonian museum, and he's a big name among antique collectors.

Now, I've seen his stuff in the Smithsonian and I can tell you right now it's ugly as hell. It's very swirly and intricate and Victorian, but I guess back in the day it was the hottest in furniture design. So for fun I decided to look up a few of his pieces and see what they go for these days. Would you believe it, his stuff is ridiculously rare and one piece could have paid for my entire college education!

So here I am wondering, my dad's entire family is descended from this guy, yet not a single piece that I know of can be found in the possession of my relatives. What's that about?