Fidel Castro Is Dead!

noviembre 27, 2016

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Fidel Castro is dead at the age of 90. The brutal communist dictator established a repressive police state in Cuba, failing to honor his promise of free elections for a democratic nation. He executed thousands of Cubans who opposed his totalitarian regime and imprisoned tens of thousands, beating and torturing many of them. He divided tens of thousands of families, destroyed the economy and the culture and established a communist regime with no place for human rights and freedoms, becoming a satellite of the Soviet Union. He put the world on the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

During almost six decades, millions of Cubans have fled the communist island in search of freedom and prosperity because all freedoms were suspended by the tyrant who would lecture the nation via radio and TV saying: “Dentro de la revolución todo, contra de la revolución nada.” (With the revolution, everything, against the revolution, nothing.) He made sure all his opponents were silenced by incarceration and often by torture and death.

Fidel Castro and his communist regime exported and supported terrorism, guerrilla warfare, as well as drug trafficking throughout Latin America and the world.

I’m a living witness that his legacy is one of repression, family separation, suffering, death, and destruction of a once prosperous nation.

Free Cubans all over the world are celebrating the death of a monster who enslaved an entire nation and made the Island of Cuba his private plantation. Donald Trump’s statements about the legacy of Fidel Castro are spot on and historically accurate. I should know, I lived under that repressive regime for more than ten years and experienced firsthand the havoc this brutal dictator has reeked during his more than five decades in power, turning Cuba into a maximum security prison. Trump said, and I agree:

“Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights. While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve.”

The President-elect added, “Though the tragedies, deaths and pain caused by Fidel Castro cannot be erased, our administration will do all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty.”

May Cuba be free at last!

Guido F. Castellanos

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The New Flickr: Success or Failure?

mayo 29, 2013

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On May 20th, 2013, Yahoo’s flickr launched a new User Interface. I was surprised by the unannounced changes, as were the vast majority of my flickr contacts.

For the past week I’ve spent all the time I could spare reading the posts in the Help Forum, every single article and comment I could find online about the new flickr, and talking to my flickr friends, from numerous countries, regarding the changes. Opinions expressed on the articles are divided. However, the overwhelming majority of comments I’ve read from flickr members are against the changes. Most flickr users I’ve talked to don’t like the changes. They don’t think that the new User Interface is an improvement in functionality and aesthetics. I must agree with them. Some, fed up with flickr, have even deleted their accounts with hundreds and even thousands of photos uploaded, tagged and organized in sets and collections through the years. A daunting and time consuming amount of work. It’s no secret that we all have a tendency to reject change, particularly, and rightly so, when it doesn’t work for us.

 During my perusal  online and through flickr, I noticed that throughout the past week photographer Thomas Hawk has become ubiquitous: he keeps appearing anywhere and everywhere where there’s a discussion about the new flickr, only to praise and defend the changes with unquenched zeal, and in almost every occasion I read his posts or comments, he is attempting to vilify the multitudes that are voicing their dissatisfaction, disappointment and frustration with the overreaching changes, not only to the User Interface, but also to flickr’s core business model and strategy.

Evidently, there’s nothing wrong with civil discourse to get one’s point across and defend what is considered right. What makes me suspicious is the vehemence in defending, all over the web, the business decisions of a company he doesn’t work for, the same one that in the past has even, in his own words, blacklisted him from Explore, and excluded him from the Help Forum. I will give him the benefit of the doubt hoping that this is not simply a self-serving tactic, or a self-promoting scheme. I don’t want to lose respect for the photographer I have as a contact, whose photos I frequently admire and fave. That being said, in all honesty, Thomas Hawk is mistaken when he affirms that “much of the criticism is being rallied by a small group of vicious haters in the help forum who shout down and attack anyone who expresses a positive opinion of the changes.” On the contrary, I have found that most of the criticism is coming from serious and decent flickr members (I know many of them) who not only have the right to dissent but also consider it a responsibility to voice their opinions when they aren’t happy with changes or with anything else about flickr they consider negative, unpleasant, offensive or impractical.

There are two basic aspects in any discussion about the recent frickr changes; one is practical, the other aesthetic.

Practical aspect

Currently there’s no reason to pay for a flickr account when you can have the same features and advantages of a Pro account with a free one (except for stats and the absence of ads). New users will sign up with a free account. Having stats available and ads removed from their pages is not sufficient incentive to pay $50 annually for an account. Veteran Pro users, like me, will most likely cancel their paid accounts or not renew them when they expire, particularly when you don’t upload high res images and the need for more space is not an issue. (Anyway, I do not trust any image hosting site with my high res images. In my opinion, it’s really astonishing that any serious photographer does, even though it’s none of my business what anyone does with his images.) With the new design, even the Pro symbol is gone! Now it’s practically impossible to tell who has a paid account and who doesn’t. Of course, the ads on your photostream (more aptly, photo collision) will give you away!

This is precisely what Yahoo wanted. Now they expect from flickr an ever growing number of pages with ads to increase revenues. With a totally ad driven flickr, the rapidly diminishing paying members will eventually disappear or be minuscule, and matter even less. Yahoo expects Flickr to be successful because of ad sales, not as a consequence of its paying customers. This is the result of a new business model and a shift in strategy. After all,  it’s a business, and if you think Yahoo really care about you or what you think regarding the new flickr, I have news for you! They want a new and “hip” crowd to increase quickly. With the availability and proliferation of smart phones, “everyone is a photographer now”, according to LA Times columnist Robert Latchman, just like everyone became a writer with the advent of the blog era just a few years ago! Of course, if you believe that, then the new flickr (and what it will become) is for you.

Aesthetic aspect

The cosmetic overhaul has been partial. It will probably be comprehensive in the near future. That being said, it seems to me that the artistically challenged designers at flickr have never attended well curated art galleries or photography exhibitions. Most photos don’t look good with a black background. You don’t frame most photographs, if any, with black mats or lump them together (as flickr has done with the photostream page) as if they were a collage! It’s unpleasant, claustrophobic, distracting and it detracts from the art work, unless that is the effect you set out to achieve in the first place! I’ve framed many works of art and photographs; nevertheless I don’t remember putting a black mat on any of them, or hanging them on black walls. With the new flickr, photos with black backgrounds don’t end where you wanted them to end!

 Space, white breathing space, is of the essence! The black background should be a viewing choice, like before, not a fixed feature imposed on members. The operative word here is choice! Flickr needs to be flexible and provide more options, not less. Yes, innovate and modernize, but stay away from imitating or emulating others at the risk of alienating a significant portion of its users.

Whether we like it or not, flickr’s recent changes are here to stay. Flickr will ultimately fix all the bugs and persevere in making the changes work for them to accomplish their objectives, according to their new business model and strategy. In the end, if we still dislike the look, feel and functionality, we will need to either adapt of move our tent someplace else.

However, calling everyone who disagrees with the changes “haters of change”, as photographer Thomas Hawk keeps doing, is not only ridiculous and unwarranted, but also disrespectful; it diminishes the credibility of the accuser and puts him on the same level with the vitriolic minority that he so fervently is trying to discredit.

Finally, only time will tell if the new flickr business strategy (which can also be considered a business gamble) will succeed. If it backfires, it could be the end of flickr.

Guido F. Castellanos

This article may not be reproduced in its entirety or in part without the written permission of the author.


Newtown Massacre and Gun Control

diciembre 27, 2012

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Stricter gun control laws or even the banning of all guns wouldn’t have stopped the Newtown Massacre or prevent other tragic events like it from happening. Why? Because guns are not the problem. You don’t ban cars just because people are killed in car accidents or by drunk drivers. The 911 al Qaeda terrorists used small box cutter knives instead of guns to hijack the airplanes they boarded, and later used the aircrafts as weapons to kill three thousand people, without firing a single shot. You don’t ban knives and airplanes just because criminals decide to use them as mass murder weapons. Unfortunately, criminals will always find a way to get guns, even if responsible and law abiding citizens are denied the right to own them.

Gun control doesn’t translate into safer states and cities and it doesn’t prevent mass murders. Economist John Lott cited a sobering statistic: “With just one single exception, the attack on congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson in 2011, every public shooting since at least 1950 in the U.S. in which more than three people have been killed has taken place where citizens are not allowed to carry guns.” The facts do not lie: Mass shootings in the U.S. today are no more common than they have been in past decades. Furthermore, mass murders declined from 42 in the 1990s to 26 in the first decade of the 21st century. Statistics show that guns were responsible for only 52 percent of the 25 deadliest mass murders in the 20th century. Fires ranked first as murder weapons and knives a close third to fire arms.

Remember the “Batman Murders” in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater on July 20th, 2012? Did you know that law abiding citizens (even with permits) were not allowed to carry their weapons into the theater? The Cinemark Theater was the only one that banned concealed handguns carried by law abiding citizens. That was the theater the killer chose. The shooter knew he didn’t have to worry about encountering others with guns to resist him. Everyone knew that guns weren’t allowed in that theater. Do you really believe that if the shooter knew that others in the theater had guns he would have done what he did without encountering any resistance? Things would probably have turned out differently if just one citizen carrying a gun would have been in that theater. Once again, the law abiding citizens obeyed the law and the criminal did not. The result: 12 people died and 58 were injured. No gun control legislation would have prevented this tragedy from happening.

These cowards almost invariably go after people who cannot defend themselves, like school children, in “gun free zones”. You don’t see them going face to face against police officers or armed guards. They go for the easy prey in places where they know they will encounter little or no resistance. Richard Mack, a former Arizona sheriff says that “preventing any adult at a school from having access to a firearm eliminates any chance the killer can be stopped in time to prevent a rampage.” If criminals know you have no weapons for self defense, it’s much easier for them to decide to break into your home or work place, rob you, hurt you and even kill you. We cannot allow our government to take away our Second Amendment right to own and carry arms. The right to “keep and bear arms” is as important as our right to free speech and of religion. However, that is exactly what left wing politicians intend to do if we let them, including our present administration. Barack Obama and Michael Bloomberg are gun control advocates; however, they have armed guards protecting them round the clock. So, gun protection for the political elite and not for the people?

Finally, because criminals will always manage to get guns, we should not be defenseless against them. That is why we need to send them a strong message that we have guns, know how to use them, and will use them to protect ourselves and our families from them. Gun control would only make it easier for criminals and cowards like Adam Lanza to hurt and kill innocent people. We need to identify these criminals and deal with them before they are able to commit these atrocities, because gun control will never stop them.

Guido F. Castellanos

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