Eastern European Upheaval Brings Focus on Castro

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Most politically progressive journals were quick to embrace the changes sweeping Eastern Europe in the age of glasnost and perestroika. Closer to home, though, Cuba has proven more problematic.

Mother Jones may have been the first left-wing publication to suggest that Cuban leader Fidel Castro has overstayed his political welcome. A series of articles in the June Progressive is a bit more equivocal.

A piece by Saul Landau of the Institute for Policy Studies, while making valid points about America's inadvertent complicity in forcing Castro's hand, reads like an apologia for the dictator.

But William Steif's more balanced article, "Grumbling and Graffiti," points out something often overlooked by the U.S. press: Despite his Draconian ways, Castro still has strong support in some areas and it is bolstered each time the United States does something, which to Cubans, smacks of "Yanqui imperialism"--such as last year's invasion of Panama.

As one pro-Castro demonstrator told Steif, "The Yanquis don't approach us as peers, don't approach us as gentlemen."

Other Cubans, he reports, worry about right-wing exiles in Florida, who openly plan to go back when Castro dies or is deposed to reclaim property that Castro nationalized. Those holdings would include "dozens of dilapidated mansions in the once-upscale Miramar district," Steif writes, adding, "The hundreds of families who live crowded in those mansions and hang their laundry to dry from the mansion windows are offended by the idea of the rich returning there."

REQUIRED READING

* At least since Paradise Lost, bad guys have explained their evil deeds by saying "The devil made me do it." Lately, though, some cops also have been laid blame for certain crimes on Lucifer. The Spring issue of The Skeptical Inquirer investigates investigators of alleged Satanic cults and finds that most of these self-styled experts--popular speakers on the law enforcement conference circuit these days--often depend more on fundamentalist Christian dogma and newspaper clippings than rational detective work. A second piece tracks the peculiar phenomenon of "Satanic cult rumor panics," which have swept parts of the country since 1984.

* Things happen fast these days and there's seldom time to step back and ponder world events--not in an economic or geopolitical or artistic sense, but in a more deeply philosophical sense. In a speech reprinted in the June Smart, author Kurt Vonnegut wonders why countries on occasion blast civilian targets into oblivion. Vonnegut, who as a prisoner of war survived the Allied firebombing of Dresden 45 years ago, doesn't offer a satisfactory answer. But his wise observations on bombings from Hiroshima to Libya are worth slowing down long enough to consider.

SHREDDER FODDER

* This spring, Life magazine launches its latest single-advertiser "Special Issue," this one on "The World of Children." The advertiser in this case is McDonald's, but the McAdvertisements and McPhoto-essays run together, creating a gooier mess than a preschool class dribbling McMilkshakes.

* When will the once-great Esquire face truth in advertising laws and change its subtitle to: "How to be a New Age Yuppie, circa 1983?" The current issue dissects "The Secret Life of the American Wife," but this shotgun wedding between a bad idea and a desperate publication should have been annulled.

MAGAZINE VS. MAGAZINE

* As the June WigWag sees things, "People magazine's exclusive coverage of Ryan White's death was inconceivably sad--sad in countless ways." The WigWag editorial recounts People's seven-step coverage. For instance, No. 2: When (Elton John) saw Ryan, lying unconscious, he was taken aback ("At first John is simply overcome, unable to speak.") But he managed to pull himself together and comfort Ryan's mother ("The superstar and the Kokomo factory worker hug and stare. Only the thunk-thunk of the ventilator and the beep-beep of the heart monitor fill the silence" and Ryan, too. Finally, Elton finds the words for this moment. . . . 'Ryan,' he says softly, leaning close to the blank face. 'Michael Jackson called to see how you were.' ")

* In deciding to parody Vanity Fair, the June National Lampoon set its sights on an easy target. But the only bulls-eye in the hit-and-miss skewering that Lampoon delivers is a not-so-subtle "Editor's Letter" from one "Teena Brown": "Not many magazines possess the resources, or the commitment to substance, to run 600,000-word profiles of rich people," this spoof of Brown writes. "But when it comes to the superficial, V.F. digs deeper. The success we've enjoyed demonstrates that we deliver what our readers really want. . . . In truth, today's magazine readers like ads."

NEW ON NEWSSTANDS

There are magazines devoted exclusively to oceans, to rivers, to islands. Summit, The Mountain Journal, premieres this spring, devoted exclusively to "the home of the gods--that elevated world where your eyes see farther, your heart pulses faster, your soul soars higher."

More than just another outlet for mountaineers' braggadocio and mystical mumblings, this well-produced Fleetwood, Pa., publication--at least the first issue--offers enough fine photography and prose to engage even dedicated flat-landers.

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