Magical Realism, Writing, Fiction, Politics, Haiku, Books

lunes, septiembre 29, 2008

But, Of Course, We Haven't Read It

It's 2008. A harsh form of literary criticism appears to be firebombing the publisher's home. The New York Times reports:
Early this month, Gibson Square publishers here announced that it would publish “The Jewel of Medina,” a novel about the early life of A’isha, one of the wives of the Prophet Muhammad. It was a bold decision: the book’s United States publisher, Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, had canceled its publication in August amid fears that it would offend and inflame [is this pun intentional? ed.] Muslim extremists. (It has since been bought by another American publisher, Beaufort Books.)

For his part, Martin Rynja, Gibson Square’s publisher, said that it was “imperative” that the book be published [I say that about my work, too. ed] “In an open society there has to be open access to literary works, regardless of fear,” he said. “As an independent publishing company, we feel strongly that we should not be afraid of the consequences of debate.”

Early Saturday morning, Mr. Rynja’s house in North London, which doubles as Gibson Square’s headquarters, was set on fire. Three men were arrested on suspicion “of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism,” the police said.
The book was written by Sherry Jones. The writer has taken down her blog. More about her here in the Dallas Morning News and this excerpt from the book:
Ms. Jones says the book has no sex scenes, though it explores Aisha's relationship with Muhammad in the first person and includes steamy scenes such as this one: "Scandal blew in on the errant wind when I rode into Medina clutching Safwan's waist. My neighbors rushed into the street. What they saw: my wrapper fallen to my shoulders, unheeded. Loose hair lashing my face. The wife of God's Prophet entwined around another man."

So what's the rest of it like? I haven't read it, but I can imagine. I don't know whether I care to read it. Nobody's claiming that it's a great literary novel, at least not yet. Given the brief excerpt that claim is hihgly unlikely.
The book tells the story of the relationship between the Prophet Muhammad and A’isha, who married him as a child and is often described as his favorite wife. Ballantine Books bought the rights to it in a two-book deal for a reported $100,000, Ballantine had planned to publish it in mid-August.

But it scrapped those plans after being warned that the book “could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment,” Thomas Perry, deputy publisher of Random House Publishing Group, was quoted as saying by The Wall Street Journal.

The most alarming warnings apparently emanated from Denise Spellberg, an associate professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin. Sent the book in advance, she determined that it was “an ugly, stupid piece of work” and “soft-core pornography,” she told The Journal.

She passed on her judgment to a colleague who edits a Muslim Web site, and word began to spread on the Internet.

But in the interview, Ms. Jones, 46, disputed Ms. Spellberg’s characterization, saying the book was “an epic love story and a story about women’s empowerment” and was neither overtly sexual nor offensive. The book, she said, “has been inappropriately and inaccurately characterized as a soft-porn book, which is the most inflammatory rhetoric anyone can use when talking about the subject matter, given the sensitivity of any religious group toward their sacred figures. [She didn't claim that the book was neither "ugly" nor "stupid". ed]"
Spellberg's remarks about the book are important:
According to an opinion article by Asra Nomani in The Wall Street Journal, the original publication plans began to unravel when University of Texas Professor Denise Spellberg saw a copy of the galleys and decided to "warn Muslims" of the pending publication of a novel that, in Spellberg's opinion, "made fun of Muslims and their history." ...snip Spellberg also called the novel a "very ugly, stupid piece of work" and added that "I don't have a problem with historical fiction. I do have a problem with the deliberate misinterpretation of history. You can't play with a sacred history and turn it into soft core pornography." Spellberg later stated that the book "only works by taking advantage of people's ignorance" and and amounts to "a mere burlesque."

According to Nomani, Spellberg informed Random House that ...snip Muslims would react with the kind of violence seen in past controversies over the The Satanic Verses and the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons. ...snip

Spellberg asserted that "As an expert on Aisha's life, I felt it was my professional responsibility to counter this novel's fallacious representation of a very real woman's life. The author and the press brought me into a process, and I used my scholarly expertise to assess the novel. It was in that same professional capacity that I felt it my duty to warn the press of the novel's potential to provoke anger among some Muslims." She also stated that "The combination of sex and violence sells novels. When combined with falsification of the Islamic past, it exploits Americans who know nothing about Aisha or her seventh-century world and counts on stirring up controversy to increase sales."
I absolutely defend the free speech rights of everyone. Like almost everyone else I haven't read the book. But there's something about this that has the smell of exploitation for profit. Of course, I might be wrong. The book might actually be a towering work of great literary value. But I doubt it.

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domingo, septiembre 28, 2008

A Letter To The Secretary Of The Treasury

Dear Sir:
This evening while I was reading the proposed "bailout bill," I realized that there was a terrible omission in the document. Specifically, you forgot to try to collect any funds for the bail out from the very people responsible for the mess. I'm not talking about the firms they've looted. I'm talking about the people who have taken money from the firms and made those funds their personal property. And, I see, you are going to require me and my family, who didn't participate at all in the financial feeding frenzy that led to the crash depression problem, to pick up the tab. And that the tab is a whopper.

If you look at my 1040's for the past decade, you'll see that I haven't participated at all in "investment banking" or derivatives or bundled mortgages or other shaky but previously, highly profitable, unregulated transactions. Unfortunately for me, it's obvious that the people you are bailing out did very, very well for themselves with their "investments" before the "crash", making huge, personal profits, buying themselves beach houses, and Rolexes, and Escalades, and having champagne and caviar dinners and traveling around the world and staying in 5-star hotels. Not to mention their off shore slush funds. But you don't even try to get these people to chip in and buy these worthless assets with their own money, with their own money from the profits they made selling and manipulating these very assets.

The legislation you've proposed allows these "investors" to keep all their ill gotten assets, the Grand Cayman bank accounts, the jewelry, the private airplanes. All of it. I don't see anything in the legislation that requires those who benefited to disgorge any of their assets or to pay any portion of their income, income it should be pointed out that was generated from manipulation of these worthless investments. I don't see anything in the legislation that requires them in the first instance personally to do anything to set matters right. No. What I see in the legislation is that instead of these rapacious looters, I and my family are supposed to pay for these paper assets while the Wall Street Masters of the Universe keep their houses, their cars, their second homes, and their wine cellars. You've got a lot of nerve to think that's acceptable to me and my family.

That's your plan. Really, I'm honored to be one of the philanthropists suckers you've selected to pick up the tab for such a lavish, such an extravagant party, one to which I was not invited, by the way, really I am. But I have to decline. No thanks. I don't think I or my family should have to contribute a single cent until you've re-couped as much as you can from the personal assets and income of those who are responsible for the current situation. I'm sure with your background, you know exactly who I'm talking about.

In a fair world (there's a laugh) the first thing that should happen is that the assets and income of those who screwed up would be seized so that they could make good on their debts. What was left after that might be a "bad debt" and would have to be carried by whoever was owed the money (which is not me). It's only in crazy world, the one we're in now, where they get to keep the Rolex and the Escalade and the beach house, and I have to pay the tab as if it were mine, as if they bounced a rubber check to me that they don't have to have funds to cover, so I get stuck with the loss.

I really must to decline your request that I pay for this party. I heard it was a lovely party while it lasted. I think those who partied should be first to pay the tab. It would be best if they did it with the funds they looted from the "banks" as their bonuses, pay, commissions, stock options, and salaries, if they had to sell their toys to pay back. After you try to collect that money, you can try me again about taking up the slack. I don't think I'll be any more interested then than I am now, but you never know.

Your most humble servant,

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A New World Record

The New York Times reports:
Haile Gebrselassie broke his own marathon world record on Sunday, becoming the first runner to finish under 2 hours, 4 minutes.

The Ethiopian clocked 2:03:59 to win his third straight Berlin Marathon, beating the mark of 2:04:26 he set last year over the same flat course. He also became the first runner to win the race three times.
The Berlin Marathon is a flat, fast course, but this is really a blistering time. Take it from somebody (me) who plodded to a PR of 3:18:26 14 years ago and thought he was flying, this was an incredible time in a very long race.

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sábado, septiembre 27, 2008

The New Very Big Prime Number

I've talked before about prime numbers. I love prime numbers. They make me crazy. And today, AP is reporting that at UCLA a team has found a 13 million digit prime number. This is absolutely mind boggling and crazy making. It is truly a gigantic number.

AP reports:
Mathematicians at UCLA have discovered a 13-million-digit prime number, a long-sought milestone that makes them eligible for a $100,000 prize.

The group found the 46th known Mersenne prime last month on a network of 75 computers running Windows XP. The number was verified by a different computer system running a different algorithm.

"We're delighted," said UCLA's Edson Smith, the leader of the effort. "Now we're looking for the next one, despite the odds"....

Mersenne primes — named for their discoverer, 17th century French mathematician Marin Mersenne — are expressed as 2P-1, or two to the power of "P" minus one. P is itself a prime number. For the new prime, P is 43,112,609.

Got that? 243,112,609 - 1 is a 13 million digit prime. And of all things 43,112,609 is a prime. And that's all been confirmed. One assumes that the computers are now fiddling with 43,112,611 and 43,112,613 and so on. Who knows how far out they have to go before they find another prime that works, which will be the 47th Mersenne Prime.

And to think that you only need 75 computers to duplicate this.

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viernes, septiembre 26, 2008

Step Right Up And Beat The Mets

Arrrrgh. I think the pennant race is over, over, over.

The Metsies lost to the Fish 6 to 1 tonight. Their offense was non-existent. And Pelfrey's pitching was not so great (to be kind, though I'm not sure why I want to be kind about this). In fact, tonight's disaster was his fourth loss to the Fish this season. In 6 magnificent innings he allowed 3 runs and 8 hits. And then the star studded bullpen took over. There were four relievers in the seventh. The results: three walks, a wild pitch, a hit batter and Florida scored twice to make it 5-1. The rest wasn't so hot either.

There are only two games left. The Philadelphia Philatelists wrap it all up if they win or if the Metsies lose.

The Metsies got into first place last Friday. Since then they have won 2 games and lost 5.

And the wild card? The Mets trail the streaking Milwaukee Beer Muscles by a full game.

Folks, I'm sorry to state the obvious, but it is over, really over for this year.

I Want Jet Wings! I Want Jet Wings!

Jet Man over Dover

The story of Yves Rossy's flight across the English Channel is just so wonderful! And I can see that Jet Wings would be the perfect gift for my upcoming birthday. In fact, there should be a set in every garage. I don't particularly care for the way you start to fly, jumping out of an airplane at 8200 feet with the wings, but otherwise, what a completely wonderful, exciting invention. And what an incredible flight!

The New York Times reports:
Yves Rossy, a Swiss pilot and inventor who began his quest to be Buzz by building contraptions in his garage, flew across the English Channel today wearing eight-foot wings powered by four tiny jet engines.

Mr. Rossy, who’s known as FusionMan or Jet Man, jumped out of a plane at 8,200 feet above Calais, France, extended his wings and jetted across the channel at 125 miles per hour. He took 10 minutes to complete the 26-mile crossing, and parachuted to a landing on English soil not far from the famous white cliffs of Dover.
There's video of the flight if the still photographs aren't enough to inspire you.

The world needs more of this. And all of us who once dreamed of being Astronauts? We need this badly.

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jueves, septiembre 25, 2008

Dreaming The World Into Being

Q'ero Shamans Don Francisco (l) and Don Humberto (r)

A Q'ero shaman from high in the Peruvian Andes will visit my home in early October to share the wisdom that the Inka Elders have kept alive for thousands of years. I'm really excited again to welcome to my home my Q'ero spiritual brother, Don Francisco, and Shaman friends from across the US.

Until 1949 the Q'ero remained largely isolated in villages high up on Ausangate Mountain above 16,000 feet. Since that time they have come down from the mountain to share their knowledge with the West. Their mission is to prepare people in their country and in the world for this time that they consider a time of great change and potential peace, which they call a pachacuti (a turning over).

I just returned from 8 days with two Q'ero Shamans, Don Francisco and Don Humberto in Oregon, where with my spouse and about 30 of our Shaman friends we spent the time just before the Autumn Solstice making prayers and offerings, and immersing ourselves in the path of the heart. How did this look?

The Sand Painting

We made a giant sand painting on the beach in Yachats, much like a mandala, putting into it our dreams, prayers and symbolism. We made the sand painting at low tide. The prayers and objects and offerings were taken into the world by the Pacific Ocean (the Mamaqocha) and spread out when the tide returned. The center of the sand painting was a circle of flowers and items from nature. Around it were sand drawings, constructions of items from nature, and other symbolic representations of the universe, the stars, the sun, and animals.

The Vigil Fire

And, of course, we held a 3-day vigil fire. A group of more than 30 people joined together to tend the fire, to feed it and make offerings to it, to dream a New Global Tapestry of cooperation and sufficiency and self sustainability, to dream into being a new world of peace and justice. We brought together all our hearts' desires and visions of what the world can be. We joined each other at the fire and we made our offerings to Universe to invite it to inspire us and to create with us a new world.

It is a prophecy of the Hopi that when there are vigil fires across the entire world, when there are millions of vigil fires, there will be peace. In 2007 at the Autumn Equinox we were aware of about 50 fires; this year, 100. And next year, we hope for many, many more.

And of course we made despachos. A despacho is a traditional prayer bundle that gathers together individual and community prayers as an offering to bring us into AYNI - right relation - with Mother Earth, the Mountains, the Stars, the Animals, the Oceans, all living things. The prayer bundle often includes herbs, flowers, llama wool, foods, each with prayers blown in. In addition, people can blow their dreams and prayers and wishes into the leaves of a kintu (three leaves representing the alignment of heart and mind in action) and place it into the despacho. The despacho is a Q'ero ceremony to honor community and the interconnection of all things. The prayers in the despacho are sent to spirit, are released by burning it, or by burying it.

In early October, at my home, we will repeat some of these rituals. The main public event, “Weaving a New Global Tapestry,” will be a despacho done on behalf of the world, especially powerful at this moment of transition on our planet. The despacho ceremony will take place on October 1st at the Hawthorne Valley School on Route 21C in Ghent, Columbia County, New York from 7-10 pm.

Everyone is welcome at this despacho ceremony. This is an opportunity for everyone to put in their heartfelt prayers and to receive a blessing from the Q'ero.

Special thanks and h/t to Bob Aldrich for the photos, to Wake and Kinlen Wheeler for their hospitality and planning for both events, to the Yachats

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miércoles, septiembre 24, 2008

The Yachats Gathering Of Shaman

Don Francisco and Don Umberto

The Second Annual Gathering of Shaman: Global Vigil Fire was held over Autumn Solstice Weekend on the coast of Oregon in Yachats. Co-created by Wake and Kinlen Wheeler and the Global Ayllu of trained Shaman, including Don Francisco, and Don Humberto of the Q’ero, the group of more than 30 people joined together to continue to weave the New Global Tapestry, to dream a world of peace and justice into being. We brought together all our hearts' desires and visions of what the world can be. We joined each other in the fire and offered our weaving of visionary threads to the Universe to invite it to co-create with us a new world.

It was especially enjoyable to meet and participate in ceremonies with Don Humberto and Don Francisco of the Q'ero, the descendants of the Inca. As important, the presence of the Q'ero fulfills their own prophecy, to reach down from the high Andes to bring the rest of the world a message of joyful peace and respect for the earth.

Last year there were over 50 fires connected in this beautiful dream. This year there were more than 100.

Between 4 and 6 am on September 21 I found myself with a group of lovely Shaman from as far away as Ireland at the fire. I was aware of the Hopi prophecy that when there are a million fires all around the world, there will be peace. I also perceive that sitting quietly, or singing, or joking, or talking while tending the fire is a step toward universal peace. How? By focusing ourselves on how we would like the world to be, on how to walk in beauty on the earth.

I offer my gratitude to all of those who made this fire possible.

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sábado, septiembre 13, 2008

David Foster Wallace, RIP

The Times reports that David Foster Wallace has died.
Of his most recent work of fiction, the story collection Oblivion (2004), Wyatt Mason, writing in the London Review of Books, wrote:
The typical mode of narration is digressive; the digressions, in keeping with Wallace's reputation as a humorist of the first rank, are not infrequently very funny. The stories also tend to feature an abundance of neologisms, arcane vocabulary and foreign terms. The settings for the stories include, as well as intimate domesticity, the more public spheres of advertising and publishing, with their own argots, often whipping up blizzards of acronyms. Perhaps more than anything, the defining quality of these fictions is the degree to which they leave the reader unsure about very basic narrative issues: who is telling this story? Where are we? What exactly is happening? In this regard, the title novella of the collection is both representative of what Wallace has been up to, and a test case for the extent to which he has succeeded, according to the demanding terms he has set for himself and for his readers.

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Chile's Gone Wild!

In what has to qualify as a soft core article in the New York Times we are slightly astonished to read in a headline, "In Tangle of Young Lips, a Sex Rebellion in Chile." The article itself seems to make it clear that Michele Bachelet is leading a country that isn't exactly Pinochet's Chile:
It is just after 5 p.m. in what was once one of Latin America’s most sexually conservative countries, and the youth of Chile are bumping and grinding to a reggaetón beat. At the Bar Urbano disco, boys and girls ages 14 to 18 are stripping off their shirts, revealing bras, tattoos and nipple rings.

The place is a tangle of lips and tongues and hands, all groping and exploring. About 800 teenagers sway and bounce to lyrics imploring them to “Poncea! Poncea!”: make out with as many people as they can.

And make out they do — with stranger after stranger, vying for the honor of being known as the “ponceo,” the one who pairs up the most.

Chile, long considered to have among the most traditional social mores in South America, is crashing headlong into that reputation with its precocious teenagers. Chile’s youths are living in a period of sexual exploration that, academics and government officials say, is like nothing the country has witnessed before.

And along with the news, we have a series of photos that show what Chile's children-- these are children by almost anyone's definition-- are up to. And we learn in one of the captions to the photos:
The parents of most adolescents today never received formal sex education, and sex education materials were destroyed during Gen. Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship. A new sex curriculum was introduced in 1993, but sexual educators say they are struggling to keep up with the avalanche of sex information on the Internet.
Maybe it's appropriate to blame it all on Henry Kissinger. I hope the Grey Lady sells some papers on it.

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It's Still The Economy

On Friday the nation's recession, the big, ugly one that so many people feel directly in foreclosure of their homes, at the gas pump, in the cost of health care, in towering credit card debt, in the cost of heating their homes, in job and income insecurity, in lack of consumer confidence, in diminishing retirement funds, paid a personal, uninvited and unwanted visit to the county in the Hudson Valley of New York where I live.

The county's fourth largest employer, Kaz Incorporated, a maker of humidifiers, announced that it was moving its production facilities from Columbia County, New York to Mexico. The announcement that about 350 workers were losing their jobs came on the heals of a similar announcement from LB Furniture earlier this year, that it was closing and that 150 production workers would lose their jobs. That's 500 production jobs lost in 2008 in a small county with a population of about 62,000. That can modestly be described as an economic disaster.

Join me in Columbia County, New York.

Columbia County, New York is absolutely beautiful. And quite rural. It is about 25 miles SE of Albany and abuts the Berkshire and Taconic mountains and the Massachusetts line. About 9% of the families live below the poverty line; about 92% of the people are white. There are many second home owners who do not work here, but infuse the local economy with cash made elsewhere.

In Columbia County the six largest employers are
Columbia Memorial Hospital
Hudson, hospital
Employs 1000

Taconic Farms, Inc.
Hudson, breeder of lab rats and mice
Employs 650

Hudson City School District
Hudson, educational programs
Employs 602

Kaz Incorporated
Hudson, electric housewares and fans
Employs 400

Berkshire Farm Center & Services
Canaan, educational programs
Employs 390

Mellenville, human services
Employs 350
For a rural county that's not much of an economic base. Only two businesses in the top six made anything. Four of the top employers are supported by tax revenues or are not-for-profits.

The mayor got it right when he said:
“I know exactly where [Katzman, the owner of Kaz] is coming from. He needs to compete,” said Richard Scalera, mayor of Hudson. “But that doesn’t make it any better for those waking up this morning and not knowing what to do next.”

“That has a devastating, gut-wrenching effect on our economy,” Scalera added. “In the short-term, it’s almost impossible to replace these types of jobs.”

In the long-term, Hudson and Columbia County officials must start defining a new economic development strategy, Scalera said.

“We know we can’t hang our hats on manufacturing jobs anymore, because those are too fragile,” he said. “We have to change our economic ways here.”
Meanwhile, as you'd expect, the closing has an utterly devastating affect on the low wage employees who worked in these production jobs, including many in the county's vibrant immigrant population:
The workforce at Kaz includes people from the local African American, Bangladeshi and Latin American communities. The loss of employment will force many of these employees to move elsewhere for work, disrupting these communities.
County Supervisor Billy Hughes (D-4th Ward) says many of these employees don't have a high school diploma or limited ability to speak English, so opportunities for employment in a worsening economy may prove few and far between.
The result will be displacement of these workers from their homes to other places in a search for work.

There is, of course, no local solution for those who will now lose their jobs. And this is the latest event in a trend in our community:
Mohammed Rony, a student at Columbia Greene Community College, and has lived in Hudson most of his life. Mr. Rony says that this is not the first time his community has faced a major employer closing, but this one could be the worst. "Bangladeshis began immigrating to Hudson because they were able to find work at the Emsig button factory in the early '90s. Until 1998 there was 100 people, 20 families," says Mr. Rony.
"When the button factory closed in 2001 about 80-to-90% of the employees were Bengali. It shook us up, but most people found jobs at LB furniture, Kaz and other factories in the area," he says. "Recently there has been a huge increase in migration. I'd say 50% of the Bengalis in Hudson now have moved in the past five years. They went to work at LB and Kaz. With the closing of LB and now Kaz, people won't be able to stay in Hudson. There aren't any manufacturing jobs in the city anymore, which for many of them is the only work they can do. Many of these people barely speak English, and though some have master's degrees from Bangladesh, those degrees mean nothing here."
Alderman Abdus Miah (D-2nd Ward) says that lack of jobs is the primary problem facing all Columbia County communities, not just the Hudson Bangladeshis. "We need jobs to keep all our communities in place; its bad that people will be moving," he says.
The only current "hope" for the laid off workers seems to be extensive unemployment benefits:
Some short-term help is on the way. Officials from the state Workforce Investment Office met with Kaz officials Wednesday to coordinate assistance for those soon to be out of work.
M.A. Wilse, director of the local office, said the Kaz plant will host a Career Resource Room, where employees can go for help in conducting job searches.
And Kaz is applying for coverage under the Trade Adjustment Act, a federal program that provides tuition assistance and extended unemployment benefits for workers whose jobs are moved out of the country under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
All laid-off workers at Kaz are eligible for 26 weeks of unemployment benefits from New York, plus another 13 weeks from the federal government. Those in certified training programs can receive up to two more years under the Trade Adjustment Act.
This is bleak news. The problem is the economy. The pain from the economy, as you'd expect, is most acute to those who have the lowest wages and the least assets. They lose their jobs, their homes, their communities first. But the losses aren't confined to those people. The losses spread eventually in waves to everyone.

In a rational, undistracted, attentive, focused nation, the connections between our government's economic policies of the past 8 years and the present recession they have created, and the obvious and pervasive pain these policies have caused, should be if not the main issue, an extremely important issue in the coming election.

A continuation of the present policies means that factory closings and losses of jobs like the ones that have struck my home county are going to continue to spread across the nation. Will the present administration be held responsible for its policies? Will voters require the candidates to propose policies that will end the present trend? Or will we continue to distract and entertain ourselves while everything falls apart around us? Will people actually vote for a continuation of the pernicious policies?

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jueves, septiembre 11, 2008

17 Games To Go, Are They Imploding Yet?

Good grief. Everybody remembers last year when the Metsies were 7 games ahead of the Philadelphia Philatelists with 17 games to go and then lost 12 of those games to be knocked out of the playoffs. The season ending string of disasters has followed Metsies fans around for a full year. Like a very old fish wrapped in today's New York Times. If you pay attention you can feel the stench in your nostrils. And now, the Official Metsies Internet site seeks to reassure me and other fans that the implosion is just not going to happen again.

What a joke. Here's the front office's ridiculous reassurance:
They don't cross each passing day off their calendars, because the Mets know they don't have to. As long as they produce and as long as they win -- in short, as long as they do everything they didn't do last year -- the Mets will make the playoffs.

They know, of course, because they've been here before. One-hundred forty-five games have now whizzed by the Mets, with precisely 17 left to play. That's the exact split that faced them prior to last September's collapse, when they hit their final high-water mark with 17 games to go. Up seven against the Phillies in the standings, the Mets won only five more games and spoiled their chances for a postseason berth.

"I think it's been a motivating factor the entire year," manager Jerry Manuel said.

Now, though on top by only 3 1/2 games in the standings, the Mets feel every bit as secure as they did last season. They seem less complacent and they're playing accordingly. They talk and act as if they're somehow entitled.
That's awfully metaphysical. And very psychological, albeit of the pop variety. In fact, it's garbage, pure and simple.

I don't want to hear any more of this nonsensical blather. It's simple. I want the Metsies to win. I won't be happy until they have numerically eliminated the Philadelphia Philanderers. And I suspect, most Metsie fans won't be either. Management should spend its time making sure that the team wins, rather than trying to con the fans into believing that all is well. To be frank, all will not be well until the Mets have clinched a playoff birth. No excuses.

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Seven Years

This morning in Columbia County, New York the sky was blue. I took the faithful retriever dog for a walk in the fields. The golden rod is in bloom, and there are wild asters. American milkweed is in its cotton phase. It was September 11.

When I walk I am aware of my breathing. I am aware of my feelings. I am aware of my thoughts. Today I felt sad. I didn't know why. I was aware of my breathing and my feelings and my thoughts. I remembered where I was and what I did seven years ago. It was September 11.

I remembered watching the film of the airplane crashing into the World Trade Center over and over and over and over again. The people who escaped or survived the fire and the collapse of the building probably are still shocked. And all of us who watched the airplane crashing into the World Trade Center over and over and over and over again. We were shocked. Maybe all of us who watched have post traumatic stress disorder. Maybe we're a nation of people suffering from post traumatic stress disorder or shock or whatever you call it when you're filled with inescapable horror and can't do anything about it. After all, it was September 11.

I remembered sitting in the hot tub with all the lights off. Abundant stars. No airplanes. Silence. A tiny person on a tiny planet sitting in a hot tub listening to the crickets. It was September 11.

I'm walking in high golden rod. Thankfully, there are a few bees. There are some monarch butterflies. There are the usual birds who live in bushes. But as I walk I feel like one of the many children whose parents are getting divorced who assume that the reason the divorce happened has something to do with them, something, they don't know what it is, but it had to have something to do with them, didn't it? But, I think, the attack did have something to do with me didn't it? Some people say it did. Some people say it's the chickens of the empire coming home to roost. And I had something to do with the chickens, didn't I? We're all interconnected, the poultry and me. This connection is so remote, so far away, so ungraspable, so unfathomable. I couldn't figure it out. It didn't make sense to me. Sometimes things just don't make sense. After all, it was September 11.

The dog decided to go for a swim. I am aware of my breathing. I am aware of my feelings. I am aware of my thoughts. The dog and I decided to walk home. I gave her a treat. The sky was perfectly blue. It was just like that day seven years ago. Except there were airplanes in the sky today. But my country continues to suffer from its post traumatic stress disorder or shock or whatever you call it when you're filled with inescapable horror and can't do anything about it.

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martes, septiembre 09, 2008

WWYMNHHO: Adolfo Bioys Casares, The Invention of Morel

Wonderful Writers You Might Not Have Heard Of (WWYMNHHO) is an occasional, erratic, idiosyncratic series. It's like an island that floods at high tide and migrates in the turquoise sea. Sometimes it appears. But I digress.

Adolfo Bioys Casares (1914-1999)

Adlofo Bioys Casares' 1940 novel The Invention of Morel is a short gem. Jorge Luis Borges, Bioys' mentor, wrote in the prologue, "To classify it (the novel) as perfect is neither an imprecision nor a hyperbole." And Mexican Nobel Prize winner Octavio Paz wrote, "The Invention of Morel may be described, without exaggeration, as a perfect novel." Given this kind of praise, it seemed imperative to read it.

I have no intention of spoiling this book by revealing the plot. I will tell you this much: Morel is a person and not a mushroom, and the invention is his, it is not that he is invented. This is the kind of thing that happens when better translators than I render La Invencion de Morel as something other than Morel's Invention.

The narrator has escaped from a crime to an island with peculiar tides. He hides. Sometimes there are two suns; sometimes, two moons. Events appear to repeat on the island; perhaps there is some fatal disease there. At some point, Faustine appears and without ever talking with her, watching her carefully from a distance, he falls in love with her. It is a love of the idea of a person, a love for an image of a person, a love of a phantom. It's not quite real, but it's very deeply felt. And Bioys manages to convey this mystification, if it's fair to call it that, beautifully.

There is more, much more to this. But it's just not fair to give it all away. If you're going to read the book, try to avoid the Wiki on the book and the one on Bioys (though I've linked to them).

The book is only 103 pages long. You could gobble it up in an afternoon or evening, or you could read it in small bits over a week, as I did. There is enough going on to ponder that a slow reading can be especially enjoyable.

Adolfo Bioy Casares was born in Buenos Aires, the grandson of a wealthy landowner and dairy processor. His parents were keen alphabet enthusiasts, which explains their choice of his initials "ABC". He wrote his first story ("Iris y Margarita") at the age of 11. He was a friend and frequent collaborator of Jorge Luis Borges and wrote many stories with him under the pseudonym of H. Bustos Domecq. He won the Gran Premio de Honor of SADE (the Argentine Society of Writers, 1975), the French Légion d'honneur (1981), the title of Illustrious Citizen of Buenos Aires (1986), and the Premio Miguel de Cervantes. The novel was the basis for the movie, Last Summer in Marienbad.


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Carlos Delgado

You know it's true. And, by the way, he's got 1o runs batted in, in the last 10 games. And 9runs, and 11 hits. And is batting in those games .297. This called "hot." Very hot.

But for Carlos to be the MVP, the Metsies have to make the playoffs, and they have to win in the playoffs. That's much easier said than done, as last year demonstrated too thoroughly. They are, after the 9/9/08 game with the Natcionalistas, 2.5 games ahead of the Philately Philanthropists.

To win the division and make the playoffs (there's no other way to do that because Milwaukee leads the wild card race by a significant amount), the bullpen and the starting pitchers need to do what they didn't do tonight: turn off the other team's batting. Why is every call to the bullpen with this team a call to warm up the defibrillator? Goodness, the Metsies' pitching allowed the Nacionalistas, a team that has been mathematically eliminated from the pennant race, to score 8 runs on 12 hits tonight. They have to do much, much better in the remaining 18 regular season games, which, of course, include the final games at Shea Stadium.

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domingo, septiembre 07, 2008

Historia de un Letrero

Hoy es un hermoso dia, y puedo verlo.

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sábado, septiembre 06, 2008

Echoes: "Country First" and "America First"

Cartoon By Dr. Seuss

It's been more than 65 years. But the slogan of the RNC and of the McCain Candidacy, "Country First" consciously evokes a slogan from America's recent, right wing, isolationist, antisemitic past, "America First." It's troubling, and it's not an accident. The Republicans might appear at first to be tone deaf. Or maybe they don't recall history. But I doubt it. The phrase "Country First", echoing "America First", is a blatant signal to the far right, the very same people to whom the Republicans offered the Palin nomination, that a McCain candidacy shares their extremist ideological goals.

The history is ugly. The America First Committee (AFC) was formed in 1940 and focused primarily on keeping the US out of the Second World War. A primary spokesperson for AFC was Charles Lindbergh.

You will recall Lindbergh's famous, solo flight across the Atlantic. You might not recall that in 1938 Luftwaffe chief Herman Goering presented Lindbergh with a medal in behalf of Adolf Hitler. Following Kristallnacht, Lindbergh sparked enormous controversy by refusing to return that medal.
Lindbergh declined to return the medal, later writing (according to A. Scott Berg) "It seems to me that the returning of decorations, which were given in times of peace and as a gesture of friendship, can have no constructive effect. If I were to return the German medal, it seems to me that it would be an unnecessary insult. Even if war develops between us, I can see no gain in indulging in a spitting contest before that war begins."
Two years later, Lindbergh, who still had the medal, remained a spokesman for AFC:
On June 20, 1940 Lindbergh spoke to a rally in Los Angeles billed as "Peace and Preparedness Mass Meeting". In his speech of that day, Lindbergh criticized those movements he perceived as leading America into the war. He proclaimed that the United States was in a position that made it virtually impregnable and he pointed out that when interventionists said "the defense of England" they really meant "defeat of Germany." Lindbergh's presence at the Hollywood Bowl rally was overshadowed, however, by the presence of fringe elements in the crowd.

However, nothing did more to escalate the tensions than the speech he delivered to a rally in Des Moines, Iowa on September 11, 1941. In that speech he identified the forces pulling America into the war as the British, the Roosevelt administration, and the Jews. While he expressed sympathy for the plight of the Jews in Germany, he argued that America's entry into the war would serve them little better. He said in part:
It is not difficult to understand why Jewish people desire the overthrow of Nazi Germany. The persecution they suffered in Germany would be sufficient to make bitter enemies of any race. No person with a sense of the dignity of mankind can condone the persecution the Jewish race suffered in Germany. But no person of honesty and vision can look on their pro-war policy here today without seeing the dangers involved in such a policy, both for us and for them.

Instead of agitating for war the Jewish groups in this country should be opposing it in every possible way, for they will be among the first to feel its consequences. Tolerance is a virtue that depends upon peace and strength. History shows that it cannot survive war and devastation. A few farsighted Jewish people realize this and stand opposed to intervention. But the majority still do not. Their greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio, and our government.
For a full text of the Des Moines speech, go here. To hear it, go here.

And who were the fringe elements in the crowd in Hollywood? Newspaper headlines before the speech announced, "L.A. NAZI'S PREPARE FOR LINDBERGH RALLY." And it has been widely written that in addition to the Nazis, Lindbergh shared many followers with Father Coughlin.

Later, Lindbergh was on the defensive, claiming that he wasn't really an anti-semite. And the bombing of Pearl Harbor forced the end of the AFC and its arguments for "neutrality."

That's the relevant history.

The RNC's use of the phrase "Country First" clearly echoes the phrase "America First." Both are extreme. Both seek to imply that those who disagree are, if not outright traitors, unacceptably less patriotic, and that those who disagree find primacy instead in foreign, alien, liberal values, values that are unpatriotic, instead of American.

This isn't a dog whistle only the right can hear. As buhdy pointed out in a comment recently, this is a bull horn. And it's typical, old time, right wing Republican politics. This isn't about change, it's about atavism.

And then there's this:

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While We're Waiting For Godot.

I mean Hanna to arrive.

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viernes, septiembre 05, 2008

On The Road

Jack Kerouac (1922-1969)

It was on this day in 1957 that Jack Kerouac's book On The Road was published. A lovely description by Garrison Keillor of events leading to its publication is here.

I really loved this book from my first reading of it, back when I was in high school in New Jersey. Jack K was still alive then. I'm hard pressed to explain why the book had such a profound affect on me. And why I carried it around with me. Maybe it was because it was about what was out there in the country, far away from where I was. Maybe it was because I wished that I too had such hipster friends and knew so much and had such wonderful conversations. Maybe it was just because I was an adolescent who wanted to escape from suburbia into the world. I'm not sure.

Anyway, I've wished ever since that I could write something even half as good. I don't think I've done that yet.

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Keep On Truckin

The NY Times informs that there's an R Crumb exhibit at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia. Not be be missed.

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martes, septiembre 02, 2008

Qualifications For Higher Office

So Sarah Palin sure does look like a big city mayor from here. Wow. I mean, just look at the Wasilla City Hall. That is impressive. I bet if my town had an inspiring City Hall like that, we'd have some serious politics and governance going on here. We'd have intrigues. We'd have backroom politics. We don't. Instead, we have to settle for this.

Maybe that's why the locals aren't interested in higher office. Maybe they're just not really opportunists. If they were, they could say they were qualified for national office because our "city hall" is a lot like the municipal government version of Abe Lincoln's log cabin.

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lunes, septiembre 01, 2008

Trance Politics: Are We Completely Distracted Yet?

Maybe the Rethuglicans think that no one in America will think about any serious issues until after November if they continue to provide tons of distraction, both intentional and unintentional. If that's their strategy, it's working unbelievably well in both Left and Right Blogistan and the traditional media.

Two quick, recent, simple examples of the phenomenon:

Example 1. There has been lots of blogging about Sarah Palin's not being the mother of her youngest child, the claim being that her daughter was actually the mother. And now, today, the refutation of the story. Not that photo of an obviously pregnant Palin. Oh no. Nothing like that. Instead, a story that her daughter is pregnant now, that she'll marry the baby's father, and so on. This is worth at least a week more of distraction, during which we're not supposed to look at Iraq, the economy, energy or health care. Instead, we're supposed to debate and/or scream at each other about whether or not Sarah Palin's daughter did or did not have access to contraception and compare Sarah Palin to Hillary Britney's mother.

Example 2. Hurricane Gustav takes aim at New Orleans. Embarrassed about Katrina, the Rethuglican's decide it would be unbecoming to have arch villains Bush and Cheney in public a coronation celebration while a natural disaster strikes America. They say that on this occasion they should act like Americans rather than Rethuglicans. Great. So we turn attention to how that will change their planned convention, and how they're getting briefed in Mississippi and Tejas. But why is it, if it's not ok to celebrate a coronation when there's a natural disaster, that it is ok to celebrate it while there's a continuing man-made disaster in Iraq, which has left thousands of US troops and tens of thousands of Iraqis dead and tens of thousands more maimed or seriously wounded. It's ok to celebrate when thousands of nation's youth are dying, but the mere chance of deaths or injuries or loss of property from a storm makes the celebration inappropriate. Does this make any sense? Only if you care about providing innocuous material to discuss instead of real issues.

Enough, I say. Enough.

Now I'm going to an American barbecue. I'm going to drink lots of globalized beer. I'm going to celebrate what labor in America has brought the nation. Things like the 8 hour day and the weekend. I'm going especially to celebrate the triumphs of the UFW and Cesar Chavez. And the IWW. I'm going to think about Big Bill Haywood and Woody Guthrie. I'm gonna hum labor songs. I'm taking a break.

While I'm gone, I hope folks will start to figure out how to break the trance.

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