January 4, 2001  


PP HOMER NEWMAN stepped forward with the Pledge, followed by JACK HARRIS and PP JIM DOWNIE with The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Even for some of us who aren't easily embarrassed, trying to sing next to Carol Collins isn't easy - her standards are not in our league. However, we survived (the key was a bit high), which led us to PP BOB WESSLING. He provided A Prayer for the 21st Century - thoughtful and well done. Next he reminded all PP's that there will be a meeting of this overage but nonetheless distinguished group following our regular meeting on the 25th of January - purpose of which is to memorialize the new by-laws for the disbursement of our 1.3 billion surplus. However, this salutary beginning was somewhat diminished by 'Coach' WESSLING'S reminder of the 8-2 record of his Tigers, now that they have switched to BB. Without naming any names, however, it does seem fair to ask that a bit of Christian Charity be extended to some in the audience who were not fortunate enough to attend one of those athletic powerhouses, and whose record is thus not quite that stellar. However, hope springs eternal, I have heard, and thus there are those of us who continue to harbor the thought that this continual self-promotional trivia will someday be rewarded with a proper fine. While not consulted as to possible penalties during this 'Hump Day'. YOE thinks it only fair to caution Prexy STEVE that Impeachment is still possible for Dereliction of Duty and related crimes. So, be forewarned!

PETER MORE introduced a visiting Rotarian, and former WVRC member, Bruce Blickensderfer. PDG BILL GOODWYN had a Special Guest, Sherry Dewane, who is in private banking with Wells Fargo. SUSAN ALLEN brought along Jin Baek Lee, a new Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar, from Korea, who will be studying accounting at UCLA. Prexy STEVE spoke of Janie Spencer, and PP JIM COLLINS introduced his first wife, Carol - she of the aforementioned lovely singing voice. PP JIM SUMNER brought Doris, and GEORGE DEA again introduced his Special Guest Sharin Klisser. YOE reminded all that GEORGE REED is not feeling too well - cards and calls would be appreciated. DAVID MATSON announced the passing of BILL MAXWELL. BILL hung in there for quite awhile, but it was his time. We will miss his sunny disposition, and his accordion. Services will be this Sunday, January 7th, 1 p.m. at Westwood Hills Christian Church. The good news is that MYRON TAYLOR'S recent angioplasty was entirely successful, and he is doing well.

The Board Meeting will be this Tuesday the 9th, with RUDY ALVAREZ as host. PP JIM COLLINS was threatened with a fine for one of his upcoming trips, but managed to deflect this by offering four tickets for the SC-UCLA BB game next Thursday. These were snapped up by ATHENA JACKSON and GEORGE DEA (with BOB THOM snapping at their heels), all of which helps our General Fund. The District Rotary Breakfast was noted as coming up on the 30th of January, and Prexy STEVE especially thanked the BLOOMFIELDS, MCQUAYS, WESSLINGS and DOWNEYS for putting on another lovely Progressive Scholarship Dinner. Looking further ahead, the Sweetheart Brunch is set for Saturday, February 10th in the Marina.

PETER MORE came forward with a report on the continuing investigation into the performance of Prexy STEVE. Nothing specific was found, but when the audience was polled about his ability in fulfilling the four basic tenets of Rotary, each subject was more roundly booed than the previous. As a result, the 15th annual Hump Day Award was indeed presented to Prexy STEVE, who was suitably impressed by this honor. Two notes here - remember that those who may know the real dirt were not necessarily queried (see first paragraph above) AND a little bird whispered that this 'inquiry' may not yet be final. Stay tuned…

PP RALPH WOODWORTH came forward reluctantly, since his Hump Day program was more or less aborted. He plaintively asked if anyone could help - and who else but PP JIM COLLINS once again came to the rescue? JIM spent a few days recently in Cuba, with a group that began meeting in 1971. Before he began, he asked if we knew why the chicken crossed the road, the answer being, of course, to get away from Colonel Sanders. This brought him to the reason why their group went to Cuba - to buy cigars, of course! He brought some back, and distributed them to 'true' cigar lovers, of which there were several.

The initial problem is that it is illegal for US citizens to go to Cuba. This is part of our Embargo, which has been in effect since early in Castro's regime. However, you can apply for permission, and their group was finally accepted. They learned that Cuba is now dollarized - that is, tourists bring in dollars and this causes some incredible differences in value. 17 pesos - 85 cents U.S. - will buy enough beans and rice for a month. Their guide, a young lady in her twenties with a college degree, earns $12.50 U.S. per month! The sunny side of this is that those in the tourist industry - bartenders, bus and taxi drivers, guides, etc, get tips- REAL money. Their bus driver was a former college professor, who was delighted with his new job (he got a $l50.00 tip from them, as did their guide). Cuba is ranked number ten for heart surgery in the WORLD, and their leading heart surgeon makes the equivalent of $25.00 US per month! Thus, the entire country of eleven million is poor - there is no upper or middle class, they own nothing, and earn almost nothing. The other side of this coin is that no one is without food, and there are no beggars (or homeless). Also, education through college is free.

From 1991 when Russia ceased paying their bills, until 1995, Cuba was indeed in dispair. They then realized that tourist might be their salvation, and today 43% of their GDP is from that source alone. Next largest source is sugar, at 16%, with nickel providing 8%. They have eight airports, five of which can handle instrument landings, and they are building deluxe hotels and golf courses around these centers, in partnership with almost every other country in the world - mainly Europe, with the foreign investors having 49% interest in the projects.

Their group was shown a newly refurbished six-story building, now converted to deluxe office space. The rent is $3.20 per foot - and they have plenty of foreign tenants. If you need to hire a Cuban citizen, they are provided by the government- cost is $250 U.S. per month, which you pay to the government, and this employee is paid 5% of that, with the government keeping the other 95%. Jim visited a cigar factory, employing 700 people, of whom 250 actually make cigars. These cost from $4.00 up to $15.00, and each worker produces between 100 and 150 a day - totaling 300K DAILY. JIM'S group enjoyed a Caladores - that is, a deluxe private dinner in a former mansion, limited to 12 participants. The cost was $10.00, including tip, and it was fabulous, according to JIM, who should know about these food questions.

Q&A -Transportation - you see some 1955 Chevy's, but the tourist busses are all brand new. Many bikes and scooters. They saw no evidence of drugs, and prostitution is also very limited. Housing - foreigners pay, and the further you get outside Havana, the more shabby the structures become. The streets were clean, and there was no graffiti. There appears to be some illicit Internet activity, which is frowned upon. Elian Gonzalez was not mentioned. Mainly tourists come from Spain, Germany, France and Canada. He saw no military presence. Biggest sport, with nothing else close, is baseball. Any reaction to Guantanamo Bay - well, it does provide jobs for locals. JIM, you gave us a great snapshot of a part of the world most of us will never see, and we enjoyed it. Thank You.

Thought for the Day - "Doubt is a thief that often makes us fear to tread where we might have won" - Shakespeare.

YOE, Ernie. Wolfe