- The Washington Times - Friday, July 28, 2006

With Fidel Castro?s 80th birthday coming up Aug. 13, it seemed only fitting that the New Yorker would send Jon Lee Anderson off to Cuba to take the country’s temperature after nearly half a century of communist rule.

Mr. Anderson wrote a pretty sympathetic biography of the late Ernesto Che Guevara a few years ago and clearly feels a kind of nostalgia for the aging dictator.

He quotes Ricardo Alarcon, president of Cuba?s National Assembly, proudly declaring, “A half century in France passed from the time of the monarchy of Louis XVI, the great revolution, the guillotine, all the counter-revolution that ensued, Bonapartism, the bourgeois republic of the thirties. All the twists and turns that France underwent took place in the same period of time that we have managed to keep the Cuban revolution in power. Not even Robespierre could say that; Napoleon couldn?t say that. Hey, we?ve done a lot.”

As for the future lot of Cuba when the aged, bearded one leaves the scene, Mr. Anderson has no answers, only vague speculations. He ends his piece with a description of Mr. Castro presenting the Cuban national baseball team with new bats before launching into a lengthy, wandering speech in which he reads aloud commentaries from Miami?s El Nuevo Herald, ESPN and the BBC. The faces of the members of the Politburo seated near Mr. Castro, he notes, reveal nothing more than “disciplined and neutral expressions.”

• • •

Summer has always been the big season for blockbusters, but this year, according to Variety of July 24-30, movie companies have discovered cracks in their crystal balls when it comes to predicting which films are going to be the big winners and losers.

Tracking, the data that forecasts what film audiences are likely to see, has gotten out of whack since much of the previously secret information has become public thanks to the Internet and its bloggers.

Traditional tracking depends on phone polls, but is unable to reach younger, tech-savvy types who?ve abandoned land lines.

Demographics are playing a different role now that more movies are depending on niche audiences. Studios are complaining that movies appealing to ethnic minorities don?t track as well as other films.

It also turns out that folks are not paying as much attention to reviews as in times past. Critics slammed “The Da Vinci Code” and “The Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man?s Chest,” but the public has been crowding into theaters, breaking records to see them.

• • •

Hearst has launched a new periodical titled Weekend. Its handsome cover lays out what to expect: “Five frosty drinks. Flip-flop dinner party. Organize your kitchen. Six seaside retreats. Three-day cruises. Island hideaways.” And to top it all off, in bright fuchsia lettering: “Cool It,” followed by “243 ways to enjoy the lazy days of summer.”

• • •

Another relatively new magazine on newsstands is Plum. Don’t ask from whence the title. An overline identifies it as “The complete pregnancy guide for women 35 +.” The magazine boasts seven highly qualified physicians on its Medical Advisory Board.

An exceedingly handsome and thick — 225 pages — publication, Plum covers just about every aspect of the subject any woman age 35 or thereabouts would want to know.

Articles range from “From CEO to Earth Mother” and “Moms in the Media” to “Back to Work or Work to the Back Burner.”

Interestingly, New York in its July 24 issue features “The Mommy Diaries” with a cover asking: “When mothers tell their deepest secrets online, what do they reveal?”

The cover illustration shows a pretty mom holding up a baby while balloons over her head read: “I know my husband is cheating on me,” “I never wanted this baby,” and “Anyone else in a sexless marriage?” The story paints a pretty grim view of how women are feeling about motherhood and their lives when they let it all out on the Internet. It’s some contrast to Plum to say the least — two drastically different views of having children today.

• • •

The National Review, a fairly sober periodical on the whole, gets a touch frisky in the Aug. 7 issue with a cover featuring a photograph of former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani done up in a blond wig and feather boa. The cover line reads: “But Will It Play in Peoria?” And just below: “The Drag on Rudy Giuliani?s Presidential Prospects by Kate O’Beirne.”

• • •

To end on an upbeat note, consider the August Wired that’s offering you a 44-page pullout on how to, well, how to do just about everything from hacking your IPod to boosting your brain to taking great photographs to “Be an Expert at Everything.” Actually, perhaps the most intriguing article of all is “Making the $100 Laptop.” San Francisco designer Yves Behar has been working for the last year to build a rainproof, dustproof, heat-proof, drop-proof, spill-proof machine that would appeal to any child who has never seen modern technology. It’s a bold, ambitious plan, and Mr. Behar wants an opportunity to educate children around the world. Clearly a world-shaking concept if he brings it off.

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