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

miércoles, noviembre 28, 2012

Gifts For The Holiday Season

With Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Solstice and the other many holidays of the Season less than a month away, this is a good time to order soft cover copies of Tulum and The Dream Antilles as gifts. You can get them online at Amazon (soft cover Dream Antilles and soft cover Tulum and Barnes & Noble (Dream Antilles and Tulum. But do it now and avoid the rush!

The author (your faithful Bloguero) will happily dedicate and sign the book. There's enough time so that you can mail him the book with a SASE and he'll sign, dedicate, and return it to you in time for the holiday of your choice. Email address is in the Perfil. Voila!!

Tell me, am I lying? Is that a great deal or what?

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domingo, noviembre 25, 2012

The Life of Pi: Credit To Scliar, Please

Before, there was the novel, Life of Pi. Now there is a movie, Life of Pi. But before them. Before Yann Martel picked up the pencil to write about a tiger in a lifeboat with a boy on the open sea, in the beginning, there was Moacyr Scliar.


Moacyr Scliar, a Brazilian writer who passed away last year, in 2011. According to Wiki:

Scliar is best known outside Brazil for his 1981 novel Max and the Cats (Max e os Felinos), the story of a young Jewish man who flees Berlin after he comes to the attention of the Nazis for having had an affair with a married woman. Making his way to Brazil, his ship sinks, and he finds himself alone in a dinghy with a jaguar who had been travelling in the hold

A shipwreck, alone in a dinghy on the open sea with a ferocious cat, eventual rescue. Sounds familiar. No?

Scliar's novel Max And The Cats is a great read. And has a wonderful, spare plot. Forgive me, if you can, this spoiler (or skip the blockquote entirely):

Max is forced to leave Nazi Germany after he and his friend, Harald, have an affair with Frida, whose husband denounces them to the secret police for inappropriate behaviour. He flees the country on the Germania, a ship bound for Santos, Brazil, with zoo animals in the hold and very few passengers, but the captain is involved in an insurance scam, and the ship is deliberately sunk. Max finds a dinghy on board with some provisions, and manages to lower it into the sea. The next day the sun is beating down on him, and he fears for his life without cover. He reaches out for a large closed box that has fallen from the ship next to him, hoping he can use it for shelter, but when he opens the padlock, something jumps out of the box and into the dinghy, knocking him unconscious. When he opens his eyes, "[t]he howl that he let out resounded in the air." Sitting on the bench in front of him is a jaguar.

Max and the jaguar are stranded on the dinghy together for days, with only some basic provisions stored in the dinghy for emergencies. Max decides to start fishing to make sure the jaguar is not hungry, and briefly wonders whether he could train him. A shark approaches at one point, but the jaguar bats it away, saving them both; Max is so grateful that he hugs the animal, then pulls himself away in horror. At the very moment Max decides he cannot stand being alone with the jaguar anymore—after watching him tear a seagull apart—the jaguar appears to have a similar thought, and they both lunge at each other, colliding in midair. Max loses consciousness, and when he opens his eyes finds he has been rescued by a Brazilian ship. He asks about the jaguar, but the sailors assume he is delirious.

It's a short novel, fewer than 100 pages. It's tightly written and conceived. It is not preaching or teaching anything. It's a metaphor about Nazism. Or totalitarianism generally. It is not filled with philosophical ponderings. I consider it a small, important gem.

Years pass. Max and the Cat is a Brazilian classic, part of the canon. Enter Yann Martel. And his Life of Pi (2001). And the controversy erupts. From whence, from what inspiration did Life of Pi arise, particularly the part about the tiger on the lifeboat? Nobody is debating the first third of the plot, it's coming-of-spiritual-age journey, or the flashback, which tells you that Pi survived the events at sea. Again, Wiki:

In a 2002 interview with PBS, Martel revealed his inspiration for his novel, "I was sort of looking for a story, not only with a small 's' but sort of with a capital 'S' – something that would direct my life." He spoke of being lonely and needing direction in his life. The novel became that direction and purpose for his life.

Martel also stated that his inspiration for the book's premise came from reading a book review of Brazilian author Moacyr Scliar's 1981 novella Max and the Cats, about a Jewish-German refugee who crossed the Atlantic Ocean while sharing his boat with a jaguar. Scliar said that he was perplexed that Martel "used the idea without consulting or even informing me," and indicated that he was reviewing the situation before deciding whether to take any action in response. After talking with Martel, Scliar elected not to pursue the matter. A dedication to Scliar "for the spark of life" appears in the author's note of Life of Pi.

Hmmm. When he was initially confronted with the obvious similarities of the two books, Martel lashed out:
In an essay published on the Web site of Powell's City of Books, an independent bookstore (, Mr. Martel wrote that even though the review he recalled ''oozed indifference,'' Dr. Scliar's concept had ''the effect on my imagination of electric caffeine'' because of its ''perfect unity of time, action and place.'' But because he also felt a ''mix of envy and frustration'' that he had not thought of the idea himself, he decided initially to stay away from ''Max and the Cats.''

''I didn't really want to read the book,'' Mr. Martel wrote. ''Why put up with the gall? Why put up with a brilliant premise ruined by a lesser writer. Worse, what if Updike had been wrong? What if not only the premise but also its rendition were perfect? Best to move on.''

It turned out later that Updike had not written a review of the Scliar book. No matter. Martel won the Mann Booker prize and he will now benefit hugely from the movie.

There is probably nothing wrong with deriving inspiration from someone else's work. The idea of a fierce cat alone in a lifeboat with a boy is unusual, but let's try to remember that sampling of music (with or without permission), paraphrasing, borrowing (with or without permission), making derivative works, making works that are comments on other works, and so on is entirely common. And has been for centuries. The point here isn't something about (hidden) theft of intellectual property. It's about being forgotten.

It would be nice if instead of being forgotten, Moacyr Scliar, could be remembered. If his novel could be read. If it's crispness could be contrasted with some of the credulous nonsense in Ang Lee's movie. But most of all, it would be wonderful if Moacyr Scliar's novel could be appreciated for being the small gem that it is.

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viernes, noviembre 23, 2012

Resisting The "Black Friday" Frenzy

Not A Juke Box

Garrison Keillor has this:

It was on this day in 1889 the jukebox made its debut at the Palais Royale Saloon in San Francisco. It was called a "nickel-in-the-slot player" and was built by the Pacific Phonograph Co. and installed by entrepreneur Louis Glass and his business associate William S. Arnold.

The jukebox consisted of an Edison Class M Electric Phonograph inside a free-standing oak cabinet to which were attached four stethoscope-like tubes. Each tube could be activated by depositing a coin so that four people could listen to a single recording at one time — the sound equivalent of the peep-show nickelodeon. Towels were supplied so that Palais Royale patrons could wipe off the listening tubes between uses. Despite competition from player pianos, this primitive jukebox was a big hit across the country. In its first six months of service, the nickel-in-the-slot earned more than $1,000.

Significantly, no explanation of what a jukebox is, is now required, but soon, all too soon, there will have to be a definition. Will the definition have the words "record player" or "78's" or "45's" in it? In fact, a jukebox is just another of those things that we thought we needed to have at some point, but now see that we no longer need it. It's obsolete, along with several generations of improvements on it. Just ask Or Pandora. Or cassettes. Or 8-tracks.

Today is also the crazy shopping day. No, I am not shopping. It's not because I have no confidence as a consumer. Or because I'm concerned about the financial abyss. Not at all. It's just amazing how quickly the nation is expected to shift from piously giving thanks for all manner of things to glee at its voracious, uncontrolled consumption. And I'm not ready to change the channel just yet. I'm staying on gratitude for today, too. There's plenty of time to acquire more things later on, no matter what panic, no matter what frenzy those Christmas songs provoke.

Join me. And Chuck D. And fight the power. You won't have to drive to the mall. You don't need to find a parking place. You don't have to be pushed or shoved. Instead, keep your internal gratitude generator running for another beautiful day. Just abstain, just say "no" to today's expected shopping frenzy. As they say, "You'll be happy you did."

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miércoles, noviembre 21, 2012

On Gratitude

An annual re-post and by now a Dream Antilles Thanksgiving tradition:

At our house, when we have Thanksgiving dinner, we like to stop eating and talking to go around the table clockwise so that each person present can say what s/he is thankful for. When we first decided to do this, some of our guests felt this was awkward, perhaps embarrassing. But we don't start with the guests, so they can get an impression of what expressing gratitude and hearing others express it feels like. Those in our immediate family understood this and were comfortable enough with it. After all, at birthdays, we like to go around the table to tell the person celebrating the birthday our many appreciations of him/her. So on Thanksgiving, it's a natural enough question, "What are you thankful for this year?" The answers aren't always surprising. We're thankful for being here another year, for our health however it might then be, for family and friends, for the lives of those now departed, for whatever abundance we may have received, for creativity, for our pets, for our relationships, for our businesses, for our politics, for our dreams and aspirations and hopes, and so on. We're thankful for all kinds of things. You get it, you can probably feel it even reading about doing this. It's a Thanksgiving ritual we love. Feel free to try it out.

I always loved Thanksgiving because, however it was intended or begun, it seemed to be about gratitude. For years I've had a practice I've done. Sometimes I do it every day. Sometimes I do it once a month. Sometimes I don't do it for a very long time. It depends. What do I do? I make a list of the things I am thankful for. I number them as I write them down, and I feel my gratitude for each item as I write it before going on to the next. So, I write, "1. my good health, 2. the life of Dr. King, 3. compassion for my seeming enemies, 4. the novels of Cesar Aira." And so on. Until I reach 50. I do this, writing and feeling, until I have a list of 50 items or more that I have enjoyed and felt my thanks for. When I am feeling pinched, stressed, exhausted, depressed, or any other "negative" emotion, it seems to take me a very long time to find items, to write them down and really to feel them. When I am feeling expansive, relaxed, rested, optimistic, or any other "positive" emotion, it takes me virtually no time to write and enjoy the list. Why do this exercise? Because it's almost magical. And it lights me up. Feel free to try it out.

Was it Meister Eckhart who wrote, "If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, 'thank you,' that would suffice?" I agree.

May all of you have a happy Thanksgiving.

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lunes, noviembre 19, 2012

Save The Twinkies!!

The New York Times has potentially good news:

Pushed by a bankruptcy judge eager to save thousands of jobs, Hostess Brands and one of its biggest unions agreed to mediation on Monday, in a last-ditch effort to avoid winding down Hostess, the bankrupt maker of Twinkies and Wonder Bread.

At the behest of the judge, Hostess Brands and the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Union, which represents 5,600 Hostess workers, will meet with a mediator on Tuesday to try to narrow their differences toward a labor agreement.

If the mediation succeeds, it could prevent the liquidation of the company and save 18,500 jobs. Otherwise, Hostess is likely to auction off its well-known brands, leaving the fates of those workers in limbo.

How wonderful. I was having trouble imagining a Twinkie-less world. And I'm happy to see that the hoarding of Twinkies (and other Hostess products) by exploiters of nostalgia and internet selling profiteers may amount to zilch. Serves them right.

I haven't personally eaten a Twinkie in years. But I might eat one if they are saved just to get the inside, cream filled story. The story about whether they are still awful in a very delightful way.

I confess, however, to eating a Tastykake chocolate cupcake (actually 3) during a recent highway journey. And let me tell you this, just so your anticipation of nuevo or redesigned or restored Twinkies remains controlled, it was not anywhere near as good as the product of the same name I devoured as a kid. And there's this bad news: Tastykake is one of the companies who are ogling Hostess's products. Be forewarned.

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lunes, noviembre 12, 2012

Maya the Dog, RIP

My beloved Maya the Dog passed away on November 12, 2012. She was almost eleven. She had kidney failure. She did not suffer. She is now swimming in another stream.

She will be missed.

May she rest in peace. And may her memory be a blessing.

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sábado, noviembre 10, 2012

The One World Futbol Project: Let The Games Begin!

Khartoum, Sudan

Every once in a while, your Bloguero stumbles across something that delights him, that brings great joy and excitement to him, that he just has to share with you. It happened again this week. And the joy is still bubbling inside your Bloguero. This time it's the One World Futbol Project.

Your bloguero found this through Facebook, and this article in the Times. And in this New York Times video.

What is it? It is absolutely brilliant. Delightful. Wonderful. Here you go:

Soccer, known in most of the world as “football” or “futbol,” is the world’s most popular sport, with billions of fans and hundreds of millions of amateur players worldwide. Unfortunately, the traditional soccer ball poses some problems — it can be easily punctured or ruptured. It requires frequent inflation with a pump and needle, which are easily broken or lost. As a result, the phenomenon and waste of deflated soccer balls is a common sight in the backyards of families with soccer players at home. The short life‐span of traditional balls, and the expense of replacing them, means young people in disadvantaged communities are often left to play soccer with rocks, cans, or “rag balls” made from trash, plastic bags, and string.

Our mission at the One World Futbol Project is to make a meaningful impact on the lives of youth around the world through the One World Futbol, a virtually-indestructible ball that never goes flat and never needs a pump. Our goal is to bring the joy of soccer and play to youth in disadvantaged communities so that children can be children no matter where they live.

The problem with traditional balls is obvious. If you play outside on cement, or sand, or dirt, or anything but a groomed pitch from the Barclay's Premier League, the balls die a quick death. The panels fall off. They deflate. They get holes in them that can't be repaired. They scuff or scrape right through. A beautiful ball one minute can be a useless carcass the next. Who can replace the ball when it was donated in the first place? When there's no money, no store, there's no replacement. Even balls made of garbage and duct tape are better than that. Because when they get used up and fall apart, there's always more garbage and duct tape to make a replacement.

The other thing is the cost. You can get cheap balls in the US and other places that last about thirty seconds in play, and you can get expensive balls, costing more than $100 each, and everything in between. But if you're not in the US, or you don't have money, or you're living in poor countries or even in richer countries without super sports stores, it's hard to find a ball, let alone an affordable one. ball. And if you're lucky and you find one or are given one, it lasts only a relatively short while. And then, oof, it's used up and useless and cannot really be satisfactorily repaired.

Enter the One World Futbol Project. And the ball:

Virtually-Indestructible. Unlike any inflatable ball on the market, the One World Futbol never needs a pump and never goes flat, even if punctured. The ball is made using state-of-the-art technology that requires no stitching and is designed to have the same rebound characteristics as a traditional soccer ball. It’s the same size and weight as a standard soccer ball, but it can also be used for netball, volleyball, and many other games.

All-terrain. The One World Futbol is ideal for any playing surface, not just grass or regulation soccer fields: indoors, on concrete, on blacktop, on grass, on a beach, on dirt, or even on a rocky field. The ball can withstand the harshest conditions without deflating.

Sustainability. The ultra-durability of the One World Futbol also helps meet a significant environmental challenge by eliminating the waste of discarded, punctured soccer balls. In Africa alone, 20 million deflated balls make their way into trash heaps every year.

Buy One, Give One. For every One World Futbol you buy through our “Buy One, Give One” program, we give a second ball to children and youth in need through organizations working in disadvantaged communities such as refugee camps, war zones, disaster area and inner cities.

No Child Labor. Many traditional soccer balls are still stitched together by hand by children and adults working under deplorable conditions in Pakistan, China, and India. The One World Futbol is manufactured using state-of-the-art technology that does not require stitching.

Your Bloguero read this. It was clear to him. He said, "I gotta have one of these balls. And I gotta have it right now!" Your Bloguero just loves this. It makes him smile. This the solution to something your Bloguero always saw as a problem.

It was only then in his excitement that your Bloguero discovered the best part. The very best part. The part that has him jumping up and down. The part that inspired this post. It's this: When you buy a ball for yourself or as a gift, One World Futbol donates another one. Let your Bloguero say that yet again with a smile:

Buy One, Give One. For every One World Futbol you buy through our “Buy One, Give One” program, we give a second ball to children and youth in need through organizations working in disadvantaged communities such as refugee camps, war zones, disaster area and inner cities.

Want one or a dozen or a case of these balls yet? Here you go! Buy one, give one.

And that's not all. Check this out! This is just wonderful.

Your Bloguero loves all of this. He asks you to please pass it on. After all, it's the world game, and it's just gotten so much better!!

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viernes, noviembre 09, 2012

Philip Roth Stops Writing

According to The New York Times Philip Roth says he's done writing.

That's sad. Nemesis will be his last novel.

The story:

Philip Roth has hinted about retirement before, but he recently said definitively that he’s done writing books. Mr. Roth, 79, the author of 26 novels and a perennial contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature, made the statement in an interview with the French magazine Les InRocks, according to a translation published in Salon.

“To tell you the truth, I’m done,” Mr. Roth told the magazine. “‘Nemesis’ will be my last book.”

“I do not want to read, to write more,” Mr. Roth said in the interview, according to Salon. “I have dedicated my life to the novel: I studied, I taught, I wrote and I read. With the exclusion of almost everything else. Enough is enough! I no longer feel this fanaticism to write that I have experienced in my life.”

And so one of Weequahic's most creative sons fades to silence.

The Times says,

Mr. Roth will now have more time to clear up interpretations about his work (as he did earlier this year in an open letter to Wikipedia) and to cooperate with his recently named biographer, Blake Bailey.

Hah. Did anybody ask him his plans?

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jueves, noviembre 08, 2012

An Update From The Silence

Your Bloguero took a blog hiatus back on October 8, 2012. Why? As your Bloguero stated in his TTFN message:

Well, I'm going to go off and have an adventure or two, and do some different things for a while, and so I probably won't be seen around here for a month or so. Maybe longer. I'm fine. There's nothing wrong. Everything is good. It's just that it's time for a new adventure. Or two. In the material world.

Yes, your Bloguero did break his silent running a few times. For what he thought were things too important or too odd to omit. Things he just had to write. But in general, he's maintained his silence. And he's pursued his adventures.

Your Bloguero is also aware that long silences are often the sure sign that the blog (or its Bloguero) has passed on to other things, that it's finished. Nevertheless, the rumors (are there any yet?) of this blog's death are entirely exaggerated. The blog continues.

With a change. Because of your Bloguero's adventures, which include the changes he is making in his everyday working world, he can no longer write about politics. Other topics, yes. Politics, no. Just not permissible. And he probably shouldn't be commenting about politics either. That too is verboten.

Your Bloguero will doubtless continue here. Other places, particularly where your Bloguero posted only pieces about politics, no. Can't. He will have to say good bye cruel world in each of them. It's a part of the current adventure. A small price to pay.

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sábado, noviembre 03, 2012

Elect Richard Mott To Supreme Court On Tuesday

My friend, Richard Mott, has received the Democratic and Working Families nominations for Supreme Court Judge in this area of upstate New York. The Supreme Court is New York's top trial court. It has trial jurisdiction over many kinds of important civil cases. And the district here covers seven counties: Albany, Rensselaer, Greene, Columbia, Ulster, Sullivan, and Schoharie.

Richard is an experienced trial lawyer and father to five children. He was raised in Ulster County and now lives in Columbia County. This is his first election. I have known him for 25 years or more, and I consider him an honest, fair, impartial, talented candidate for judicial office. I am happy to be able to vote for him and support his candidacy.

A very little bit about him:

A native of Esopus in Ulster County, Richard Mott has resided in Columbia County since 1976 in the Town of Kinderhook. He has been in private practice at his Albany office since 1982. Mott also served in the Columbia County Public Defender’s Office from 1982 to 1987. He was the Kinderhook town attorney from 1984 to 1986 and has extensive experience in all phases of the law. He's also a veteran and a former special education teacher.

The race he is in is a four-way race. There are two Republican incumbents and two Democratic challengers. The top two vote getters are elected. Richard has been found Qualified for the job by the Independent Judicial Screening Committee. But because it's a judicial election, there is very little he can say about his views. Or about his incumbent opponents, who were appointed (and not elected in a contested election) to Supreme Court fourteen years ago.

Obviously, getting the word about this wonderful candidate out in a 7-county area is an enormous, time consuming, expensive undertaking. This is a sprint. The election is on Tuesday, November 6.

Richard deserves and needs your support. It's an undertaking you can help along by sending a donation of any size to:

Committee to Elect Richard Mott to Supreme Court P.O. Box 112 Kinderhook, NY 12106

But far more important than the money at this late stage, is your vote. Please vote for Richard Mott for Supreme Court on Tuesday. There are also good reasons why voting for Richard should NOT be and is not a partisan issue. This is important if you are a Greene or Columbia County voter. As I wrote in a Letter to the Editor to the Hudson Register Star,

On election day voters in Columbia and Greene counties enjoy the rare opportunity of electing their own resident Supreme Court Judge in the seven county Third Judicial District ... Richard Mott of Kinderhook.

Although each county within the district has a Supreme Court, only the three largest, Albany, Rensselaer and Ulster, have their own resident Supreme Court Judges. Albany has 8; Rensselaer and Ulster have 4 each. Columbia and Greene counties have none. In fact, Columbia hasn't had a resident Supreme Court Judge since 2006; Greene, since 2002. These counties have had to depend exclusively upon periodic visits by judges from the three largest counties to resolve their local disputes. This inequitable distribution of judges within the district clearly delays justice to the residents of the smaller counties within the district. But if prominent trial attorney, Richard Mott, is elected to the Supreme Court, the administration of justice in both Columbia and Greene counties will be significantly enhanced and local dispute resolution will be expedited because Richard would sit in Supreme Court in Hudson, and very likely, in Catskill. Richard Mott has been rated qualified for this position by the Independent Judicial Election Qualifications Commission. I urge you to vote for Richard Mott for Supreme Court Justice on November 6.

Please join me in voting for Richard Mott on Tuesday. It doesn't matter what line you use to vote for him. But it does make a world of difference who you vote for in this race.

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viernes, noviembre 02, 2012

Sandy's No Gas Zones

The New York Times is reporting this good news:

For the first time in five days, power will return to a small sliver of Lower Manhattan, including Wall Street, by midnight Friday, Consolidated Edison officials said.

And all of the utility’s customers in Manhattan who lost power when Hurricane Sandy barreled into the city should expect to have electricity on Saturday,

But at the same time, the Times tells us that gasoline has run out, and it's created yet another Thunderdome:

Though Thursday marked the start of the return to routine for many who commute to work or celebrated the resumption of power, the scenes of long lines, fistfights at gas stations and siphoning at parking lots highlighted the difficult, uneven slog to recovery.

On Friday, the Queens district attorney’s office said a St. Albans man had been arrested after he pointed a pistol at a motorist who complained when he tried to cut a line at a gas station. The man, Sean M. Bailey, 35, was charged with second-degree criminal possession of a weapon and second-degree menacing.

May all who are affected by the storm find shelter. May all be happy. May all be well. May all find patience. May all find compassion. And may all find peace.

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jueves, noviembre 01, 2012

Sandy At The Shore

Seaside Heights, New Jersey

This roller coaster used to be on the Funtown Pier in Seaside Heights. Now the pier is gone. And the coaster is in the ocean. It's the end of an era.

Sandy has rearranged the Jersey Shore. I have always loved the Jersey Shore. It's heartbreaking to see the photos of how it is today.

On a better day, there was this:

My heart goes out to all of those who are suffering. May they find shelter. May they be safe. May they be well. May they be consoled. May they rebuild their lives.

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