Monday, January 30, 2012

The iEconomy: (More) Thoughts on "Steve Jobs" by Walter Isaacson [Updated]

Below (after the jump) you can find my original post from a week ago with a quick review of Walter Isaacson's bio "Steve Jobs."

[For a little back-and-forth in the (digital) pages of the Times on Isaacson's book and on the "biographer's dilemma" go here (Nocera, Maslin, Isaacson, & a Q&A with Isaacson). Here's also a little lagniappe for my Spanish language readers: a friend in Cuba graciously translated it (not the book but my review of it) into Spanish here.]

Now the update: Over the weekend I managed to catch up on some old, yellowing copies of the New York Times from the past few weeks and discovered that the newspaper of record has dug deep and really outdone itself with a hard-hitting, long-form, investigative two-part (so far) series entitled, "The iEconomy," which focuses on the common practice of tech companies outsourcing electronic work to Chinese factories.

The series takes direct aim at Apple and its relationship with the massive Chinese contractor Foxconn, and the effect is powerful.

Part one, published on Sunday, January 22, is entitled: "How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work."

Part two, published on Thursday, January 26, is entitled: "In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad."

Each article also includes some great interactive multimedia video on The iPhone Economy and the related shift away from manufacturing in the U.S. as well as Made in China and Compliance by the Numbers.  There are also a number of other, related stories in the Times including a fascinating section were we can read the (translated) reactions and comments of Chinese readers to the series and the results from a poll in the U.S. that shows consumer confusion over where Apple makes its products.

Finally, starting up again tomorrow, the prankster and searing monologist Mike Daisey will begin his second run (back-by-popular-demand) of his one-man-show, "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," at New York's Public Theater (I've already got tickets for Thursday night! - see here and here for reviews).

A long-time worshiper at the iTemple of Apple, Daisey recently changed his stripes (after a visit to some Chinese Apple/Foxconn factories) and published this op-ed article in the Times the day after Steve Jobs died back in October.

If you can't make it to New York for Daisey's run at the Public, Ira Glass and his friends at This American Life have collaborated with Daisey, engineering a one hour radio version of his monologue for broadcast, called cheekily: "Willy Wonk..., no, I mean, "Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory."  The episode first aired on January 6 and after just one week it became the most downloaded in TAL history. (I guess Daisey and Glass also benefit from the popularity of the iPhone).

For what it's worth, here's what's showing these days on the Apple homepage.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ser un músico independiente en Cuba: Avanza Cuba Hoy, 11 a.m.

¿Es un problema o no, ser músico independiente en Cuba? ¿Reciben apoyo? Estas y muchas otras preguntas se responderán este miércoles 25 a las 11am hora de Miami por Radio, TV Martí y con la participación de destacados músicos como: 

Amaury Gutiérrez, desde Miami
Alejandro Gutiérrez, Habana Abierta, desde Madrid
Gorki Águila & Ciro Diaz, Porno para Ricardo, desde La Habana
Orlando Luis Pardo, bloguero y fotógrafo independiente, desde La Habana
Raudel, Escuadrón Patriota, desde Ecuador
Omert Pardillo, productor y promotor de la música, desde Miami

Participa con tus preguntas y comentarios en 
En Twitter: @avanzacuba
Te esperamos.

Monday, January 23, 2012

AI & HRW issue statements on Cuban prisoners

Human Rights Watch: Cuba Still Muzzling Dissent

Thoughts on "Steve Jobs" by Walter Isaacson

I just finished Walter Isaacson's bio of Steve Jobs.

Here are some of my thoughts (Mira aquí para Español):

It's both a wonderfully sympathetic and human, as well as brutally honest, warts-and-all portrait of the life and career of a complicated, prickly, and revolutionary artist, artisan, and entrepreneur and the amazing company he co-founded and later saved and completely reinvented: Apple.

Jobs was a royal asshole and a magical genius.

He sought to plant deep and bring to harvest beautiful products at the fertile intersection of the humanities and sciences, poetry and technology, refusing to let function (a device's insides) dictate its form (its outsides). However, his products almost always achieved the best of both function and form.

He valued intuition over logic, instinct over focus groups, and lived as if the normal rules didn't apply to him, creating his own arrogant but often quite boundary-bursting "reality distortion feld."

He read "The Autobiography of a Yogi" as a teenager and re-read it again every year afterwards. His favorite artist-musician was Bob Dylan - a master rebel of reinvention himself - and among his favorite lyrics and rules to live by, driving his innovation and perfectionism was:

"If you're not busy being born, you're busy dying."

He also created a closed, integrated system and unique, magical user experience with far and away the best products (Apple, Macintosh, iMac, iPod, iPhone, iPad, iCloud, ...), reinventing the music, publishing, animation, and telecom industries in the process (to say nothing of the computer industry itself).

At the same time, his almost pathological need to control every aspect of a product and make the user experience as "perfect" and "zen" as possible put him at risk of becoming the very Orwellian big brother of "1984" vilified in the famous Apple "1984" ad in 1984 because he didn't want other companies to "fuck up" his artistry.

The first computer I ever used was an Apple IIe in 1983/84 in our little computer lab at St. Paul's School in Pensacola Florida. I became an IBM/PC man after that for more than 25 years mostly due to price and the fact that Microsoft came to dominate/monopolize PC operating systems through Windows.

I resisted the iPod craze in the early 2000s thinking (stupidly it turned out) that my trusty Sony Walkman cassette player/AM-FM radio did essentially the same thing. Believe it or not, soon after I moved to NYC in 2003, I bought a new Walkman at Circuit City (remember that store?) and happily used it playing my old tapes from the 80s the few times I actually went jogging. (Thinking back, I'm astounded that they were even still selling Walkmans then).

It now sits in a drawer gathering dust (along with Circuit City itself). It turns out that batteries and cassettes are so last century! Hell, even CDs are even now all but obsolete.

A year-and-a-half ago I bought my first MacBook Pro laptop and Apple (those bastards!) threw in a free iPod Touch (after a $200 mail in rebate). I guess they had to get rid of old inventory with the iPhone cannibalizing the Touch.

Though I had a Blackberry at the time that I really liked (and which had itself already supplanted my Walkman as my listening post), I sensed immediately as I began to fiddle around with the Touch (especially in a wi-fi zone) that the Blackberry's days were numbered and that I'd soon be replacing it with an iPhone.

Long story short: Today both my Blackberry and iPod Touch are in the hands of friends of mine in Cuba and I'm figuring out how I can get someone to bring my old Dell laptop down there too.

Today is also my my iPhone G4's first birthday.

And one more thing...

Full disclosure: I wrote this post on my iPhone and posted it directly on my blog via e-mail.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Human Rights Watch: Dissident’s Death Highlights Repression

For Immediate Release

Cuba: Dissident's Death Highlights Repressive Tactics
Stop Threats against Villar Mendoza Family

(Washington, DC, January 20, 2012) – The death of the 31-year-old dissident Wilman Villar Mendoza on January 19, 2012 following a 50-day hunger strike highlights the ongoing repression in Cuba, Human Rights Watch said today. The Cuban government should immediately put an end to the threats against his wife, Maritza Pelegrino Cabrales, and the group Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White), which supports her, and drop any measures that would prevent her and dissidents from attending Villar Mendoza's funeral. 

Villar Mendoza was detained on November 2, 2011, after participating in a peaceful demonstration in Contramaestre, Cuba calling for greater political freedom and respect for human rights, his wife told Human Rights Watch. He was a member of the Union Patriotica de Cuba, a dissident group the Cuban government considers illegitimate because its members express critical views.

"Villar Mendoza's case shows how the Cuban government punishes dissent," said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. "Arbitrary arrests, sham trials, inhumane imprisonment, and harassment of dissidents' families – these are the tactics used to silence critics."

Villar Mendoza was charged with "contempt" (desacato) and sentenced to four years in prison in a hearing that lasted less than an hour, his wife told Human Rights Watch. While she was allowed to attend the trial, dissidents who tried to enter the courtroom were denied access. Villar Mendoza was not given the opportunity to speak in his defense, nor was he represented by a defense lawyer, she said.

His wife said he initiated his hunger strike to protest his unjust trial and imprisonment.

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, a human rights monitoring group that the government does not recognize, classified Villar Mendoza as a political prisoner in December.

Prison guards placed Villar Mendoza in solitary confinement after he initiated the hunger strike on November 25, his wife said. He told his wife he was stripped naked and placed in solitary confinement in a small, cold cell.  The last time she was allowed to visit her husband was on December 29, she said.

His wife also told Human Rights Watch that government officials had repeatedly harassed her for associating with the Damas de Blanco, a human rights group consisting of wives, mothers, and daughters of political prisoners. She said state security officers explicitly threatened to take away her and Villar Mendoza's daughters, ages 7 and 5, if she continued to work with the Damas.

According to his wife, Villar Mendoza was transferred to a hospital in Santiago de Cuba days before he died. His wife said authorities had not notified her of his death, and that she had been informed by contacts outside of Cuba, who read the story in the international press. She said she has not yet been allowed to see his body, nor has she been informed about funeral arrangements.

On February 23, 2010, another Cuban political prisoner, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, died after an 85-day hunger strike, which he initiated to protest the inhumane conditions in which he was being held and to demand medical treatment.

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Cuba, please visit:

For more information, please contact:
In Washington, DC, Jose Miguel Vivanco (English, Spanish): +1-917-379-1180 (mobile);
In New York, Daniel Wilkinson (English, Spanish): + 1-212-216-1284 (office); +1-646-552-8063 (mobile);

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Graham Sowa: Our Man @ Havana (Times)

Here's an interesting, nuanced article on the Internet in Cuba by Graham Sowa entitled, "My First Interview in Cuba," to get you thinking published at the increasingly rich and penetrating Havana Times. (You can read more from Sowa about technology and connectivity here, here, and here.)

Sowa is a "good ole' boy" from Grapevine, Texas who is enrolled in the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) in Havana. (More on that here.)

In the article, he relates the experience being interviewed about Cuban Internet access by a team of somewhat ill-informed (in his estimation) visiting students from SUNY Stony Brook. The article also touches on the debate in the U.S. over net neutrality and what Sowa sees as a tendency toward American arrogance, ignorance, decontextualization, and hypocrisy when covering Cuba.

Sowa sums up his argument with these words:

"The limited Internet access in Cuba is not a moral anomaly nor does it occur in a vacuum."

Friday, January 13, 2012

News Alert: U.S. Restores Diplomatic Relations With Cuba in Response to Reforms


But I got your attention didn't I. 

I simply replaced the word "Myanmar" with the word "Cuba" in the NYT news flash. 

Let's hope Cuba takes Myanmar's hint and begins to include civil and political reforms along with its long-awaited economic ones. 

Legalizing opposition groups and parties would be a good start. 

Let's also hope that the Obama administration is willing to encourage more and deeper reforms in Cuba by meeting Raul half-way.  

But, alas, we've got a presidential election coming up and a lot of electoral votes in my home-state of Florida. 

See the story on Myanmar below. 

Begin forwarded message:

News Alert: U.S. Restores Diplomatic Relations With Myanmar in Response to Reforms

The United States restored diplomatic relations with Myanmar on Friday, responding to the new civilian government's rapid campaign of political and economic changes that most recently included a cease-fire with ethnic Karen rebels and the release of prominent political prisoners.

Read More:

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Bien dicho Arturo: "La terquedad ajena no justifica la ineptitud propia"

Politólogo cubano Arturo López-Levy publica un análisis profunda y un llamado de conciencia al gobierno cubano sobre la visita (hoy) de Ahmadinejad a Cuba.

Cuban political scientist Arturo López-Levy publishes a profound analysis and call of conscience to the Cuban government regarding (tomorrow's) visit of Ahmadinejad to Cuba.


"Pero la terquedad ajena no justifica la ineptitud propia. Irán no es cualquier país. No está en el interés nacional cubano ignorar que Teherán ha violado continuadamente las normas internacionales contra la proliferación nuclear, el terrorismo y de defensa de los derechos humanos, ganando el repudio tanto de la comunidad internacional como de sus vecinos (no solo Israel sino también los gobiernos y las poblaciones árabes de mayoría sunita). Cuba, como país bloqueado por la nación más poderosa del planeta, no puede darse el lujo de rechazar acercamientos de la potencia media persa, pero debería balancear esa necesidad contra los costos de generar agravios en la opinión pública norteamericana e internacional con una relación cuyos dividendos son muy modestos."

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Give Gitmo back to Cuba

It's a sad history, and all true.

I agree with Hansen, let's give Guantánamo back to Cuba.

Just imagine, as Hansen says, how all this might have looked "from Cuba's perspective":

"Well, imagine that at the end of the American Revolution the French had decided to remain here.

"Imagine that the French had refused to allow Washington and his army to attend the armistice at Yorktown.

"Imagine that they had denied the Continental Congress a seat at the Treaty of Paris, prohibited expropriation of Tory property, occupied New York Harbor, dispatched troops to quash Shays' and other rebellions and then immigrated to the colonies in droves, snatching up the most valuable land.

"Such is the context in which the United States came to occupy Guantánamo. It is a history excluded from American textbooks..."

Go here to read the full op-ed:

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Guess who's #10: The 45 Places to Go in 2012, NYT

London, Havana, Lhasa and, yes, even the final frontier. A year's worth of reasons to pack your bags and take off.

10. HavanaCuba
The Cuban capital is once again within Americans' reach.

The only thing that lies between Americans and the sultry streets of Havana these days is the Florida Straits, since the Obama administration has widened the kind of travel allowed. A growing list of organizations have licenses to operate trips to Cuba, including National Geographic ExpeditionsAustin-Lehman and the Center for Cuban Studies. There are also more flights from more American cities: Fort Lauderdale and Tampa recently joined New York, Miami and Los Angeles on the list, and Chicago will be added this year.

The "people-to-people" rules require Americans to interact with Cubans (sun-and-sand vacations are still prohibited) so tours involve meeting with art historians, organic farmers and others. Conveniently, new restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts, some in gorgeous colonial villas, have sprung up over the past year as the government has allowed more private enterprise. Havana is also gearing up for its 11th Biennial, from May 11 to June 11, which will draw more than 100 Cuban and international artists. VICTORIA BURNETT

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Totalitarianism or Imperialism: Who's to Blame for Cuba's Lack of Open Access to the Internet? (UPDATE)

Or I guess you could blame them both.  After all, blaming one (the Dictator's Dilemma and the Internal Embargo) should not require us to acquit the other (the Digital Divide and the U.S. Embargo).

You can follow these links for some useful background on the related, competing concepts of the Dictator's Dilemma (Larry Press, BoasTechnosociology, BrookingsHillary on China) and the Digital Divide (Wikipedia, DDN, Edutopia, and Pew Rx Center).

In the past 24 hours a new and quite provocative polemic has erupted about who's to blame for Cuba's lack of open access to the Internet between Havana NPR/Global Post foreign correspondent Nick Miroff on one side with his December 14, 2011 NPR story, "In Cuba, Dial Up Internet is a Luxury."

On the other side are Sue Ashdown and Nelson P. Valdés with their Counterpunch article from yesterday, January 5, 2012, "The Ethnocentric Demand Made of Cuba: Cuba, the Embargo and the Digital Divide."

My friend and colleague Arturo Lopez-Levy seems to be acting as unofficial moderator of this debate, making the following point:

Sue Ashdown and Nelson P. Valdés give some context to the discussion about access to Internet in Cuba. I will add that the so-called democracy programs' intent is to provide selective access to the Internet to the opposition with the purpose of regime change. I think that anybody who is really in favor of universal access to the Internet should denounce any restriction imposed by any government. I understand most of the complaints against the Cuban government's restrictions to access to internet. Ted Henken has pointed out some of these problems. At the same time, I believe it is not politically or academically honest to ignore the reasons and arguments pointed out by Ashdown and Valdés in this piece.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Grape and the Grain: 10 drinking rules from a (passed) master

A Short Footnote on the Grape and the Grain
(Excerpted from Hitch-22: A Memoir, pp. 352,
Twelve, 2010, by Christopher Hitchens)

1. Making rules about drinking can be the sign of an alcoholic.

2. Don't drink on an empty stomach: the main point of refreshment is the enhancement of food.

3. Don't drink if you have the blues: it's a junk cure. Drink when you are in a good mood.

4. Cheap booze is a false economy. [My personal favorite, though I follow it too infrequently.]

5. It's not true that you should never drink alone: these can be the happiest glasses you ever drain.

6. Hangovers are another bad sign, and you should not expect to be believed if you take refuge in saying you can't properly remember last night. (If you really don't remember, that's an even worse sign.)

7. Avoid all narcotics: these make you more boring rather than less and are not designed - as are the grape and the grain - to enliven company.

8. Be careful about upgrading too far to single malt Scotch: when you are voyaging in rough countries it won't be easily available.

9. Never even think about driving a car if you have taken a drop.

10. It's much worse to see a woman drunk than a man: I don't know quite why this is true but it just is. Don't ever be responsible for it.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

"It's over, we won!" or mere "lipstick on a corpse"?: Reflections on Cuba's "year of change"

Juan Tamayo, the clear-eyed Cuba-beat reporter at the Miami Herald, chronicles a momentous year of change (en español) in the Cuban economy, while observing that it "remains authoritarian as ever politically."

Tamayo quotes Joe Garcia, a South Florida Democrat who keeps tabs on developments in Cuba and has made two unsuccessful bids for the U.S. Congress, as saying, "Jorge Mas Canosa would immediately say, ‘It’s over. We won!’"

On the other hand, Tamayo points out that "Castro critics would portray the changes as nothing more than lipstick on the rotting corpse of a Soviet-styled economy."

Tamayo adds that Cuban president Raúl Castro has a different interpretation.  He "timidly calls the changes not “reforms” but “updates” and has vowed to keep central planning as the backbone of the island’s economy and prevent any accumulation of private wealth."

Go here for the full article.  Keep reading below for the lead in: