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

miércoles, febrero 29, 2012

Book For Today

Ezra Jack Keats's The Snowy Day. Perfect for today in the Northeast.

We can also contemplate this:

The source for the storyline, Keats noted, came from his memories of snowy days in his Brooklyn childhood. Above all, Keats wanted to capture the wonderment of a child’s first snowfall, a feeling universal to all children, regardless of race. “I wanted to convey the joy of being a little boy alive on a certain kind of day—of being for that moment. The air is cold, you touch the snow, aware of the things to which all children are so open.”[5]

The Snowy Day was immediately welcomed by educators and critics and embraced by the public. The book is noteworthy not only as a benchmark in racial representation in literature, but also for the simplicity and elegance of the writing, which many be attributed to Keats’s love of haiku poetry. The beautiful illustrations also marked the book as a great accomplishment of art in a children’s book. Keats, who was a painter first and foremost, chose to illustrate the book with collage, a medium he had never used before. “The idea of using collage came to me at the same time I was thinking about the story. I used a bit of paper here and there and immediately saw new colors, patterns, and relationships forming.”[6]


As the civil-rights movement entered a new phase of black cultural consciousness in the mid- to late-1960s, The Snowy Day began to meet with some criticism. “After The Snowy Day was published, many, many people thought I was black,” said Keats. “As a matter of fact, many were disappointed that I wasn’t!”[7] A 1965 Saturday Review article, “The All-White World of Children’s Books,” criticized Keats for not addressing Peter’s race in the text. In the 1970s, some critics argued that The Snowy Day was too integrationist, and did not truly represent or celebrate African-American cultural or racial identity. By the 1980s the cultural landscape had shifted again. “How many literary light years separate Little Black Sambo from The Snowy Day?” a critic wrote. “Although we have been led to believe by twenty years of reporting that Keats’s work was special because of his use of collage, it is his vision of the universal human spirit as personified in one pre-school black youngster that marks this book for attention.”[8]

Throughout these debates, The Snowy Day has remained a deeply loved and profoundly influential book.

And now, in 2012, it's worth yet another re-read and another appraisal. I love the book, and I am utterly comfortable with its main character. I don't think this is an argument about the "post racial America" or should be viewed through that lens. It's just that this is what the world I find myself living in now is like this. And this is a beautiful, unassuming presentation of the joy of new snow in a the wide city. I think this book has survived the past half century with grace. Still moving and wonderful.

And now, without further ado, you get to have it read to you:

Etiquetas: , ,

sábado, febrero 25, 2012

Media: Following Knucklehead Smith And Not His Ventriloquist

Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy

Call me naïve. Yesterday, Willard Rmoney demonstrated again to most people’s satisfaction, if not their utter delight that he is a terrible candidate. And that he is evidently running the worst, most incompetent campaign ever. He put a 1200 member, virtually all white, virtually all male, virtually all business suit wearing audience in a 60,000 seat cavern in Detroit, giving visual power to his lack of support, its homogeneity, its really being the 1%. And he concluded that televised disaster with a double whammy: again making idiotic remarks about the size of Michigan’s trees and letting the world know that his wife drives not one, but two Cadillacs. How could anyone think this would help in Michigan or in the nation as a whole?

But wait. I’ve concluded that this kind of analysis is really unfair to Willard Rmoney. And that it misses the point. Why? I think this analysis is a fossil. That it’s outdated. It depends on my clinging to the erroneous idea that the nomination process is still about the candidates and about their policy positions. While that may have been the case before Citizens United, 2012 is proving that’s no longer so.

It appears that this election isn’t really about Willard Rmoney. Or the other potential presidential candidates. Or any of the other rich white men running for the Republican nomination. No. This isn’t about these well dressed dummies, it’s about the few, now unrestrained, billionaire ventriloquists.

Paul Winchell, Knucklehead Smsith and Jerry Mahoney

If I don’t like speeches made by Charlie McCarthy or Knucklehead Smith, I don’t blame them. How could I? I don’t find fault with them. I don’t say they are very bad dummies. Or that they have very bad ideas. In fact, they’re very good dummies. They do their job as dummies reliably and have for years. Willard Rmoney has been doing his job of being a candidate for years. No. When there’s a problem with the show, I look instead to Edgar Bergen or Paul Winchell. I look to the person who is in charge, the person pulling the levers, the person with the voice. If Willard Rmoney is doing things that are idiotic in Detroit, as he did yesterday, I need to look past him and look instead at the Super PAC and its donors. I have to remember where all of this is coming from. Who is in charge. If Edgar Bergin decides to be quiet, Charlie McCarthy is not going to speak. If the SuperPAC becomes disillusioned and sits on its wallet, Willard Rmoney will lapse into silence.

Before this year, before Citizens United it was possible for me to believe that the candidate’s persona was important because it allowed him or her to convey policy positions effectively. And the positions actually belonged to the candidate. The connection between campaign finance and what the candidate was saying was more veiled. Yes, candidates raised funds. Yes, they owed what we called “favors” to big donors, and they owed access to the big supporters. But the candidates and the parties managed to maintain the illusion that they themselves stood for something on their own. They might pander to certain groups for support. Yes. But they were determining the platform. It remained the convention not to look behind the green curtain because there were legal limits, statutory limits to how much policy and how access any one person (or any corporation) could buy. Politics before Citizens United was not conducted so that the richest people and corporations could spend unlimited amounts of money buying an election. There were limits. They were inadequate, but at least there was some limit. No longer. The Trad Media before Citizens United talked about the candidate’s positions, the candidate’s views, the candidate’s ideology. The dollars? The Trad Media talked about totals, how the candidates courted the funds with their positions.

In the post Citizens United world, it seems exactly the opposite: the people with funds can seek and find the candidates to say what they want said. And they do. If you have $10 million you can pretty much get a candidate to say what you tell him or her to say. And you can get the candidate to stay in the race until you lose interest. Or get bored. Or decide to buy access and positions from somebody else.

Let me repeat that for clarity: the Edgar Bergens, the Paul Winchells, the Koch Brothers, the Adelsons, the Friesses, the few billionaires who fund the SuperPacs have the real voice here. They have the controls. They are deciding what is said. They are speaking. If they stop writing checks, the candidates will be completely silenced. The candidates realize this. But the candidates are just dummies. Empty suits if you if will. They have no inherent substance. They are just the dummies, the devices that allow the show to go on.

Unless the Trad Media are simply tools of the same rich, powerful people, this means to me that the Trad Media need to change their election coverage. Radically. The scrutiny, the investigations, the reportage, the analysis needs to focus far less on the candidates and far, far more on the ventriloquists. There’s no reason for hundreds of reporters to follow around Knucklehead Smith on buses and airplanes and make the same report from the empty Ford Field. That’s a job that could be done by 4 reporters with cameras, or fewer. We’d be far better served if a few of the reporters traveling with the candidates got off the bus and the gravy train and pursued the ventriloquists.

Is that going to happen? I'm not betting on it.

Etiquetas: , , , , ,

viernes, febrero 24, 2012

This Just In From El Sub

A Scholarship In My Dad's Memory

Melvin L. Michaels (left), May, 2011

My dad, who passed away on February 17, 2012, was a lifetime musician and music lover. He played piano for more than 80 years. And he loved going to concerts and hearing live performances. He was also a gifted teacher and educator.

We've decided to honor himby creating a scholarship in his memory at North Penn High School, in Lansdale, Pennsylvania. My dad served as Director of Secondary Education and later as Assistant Superintendent in North Penn and retired from North Penn in 1987. He lived in Lansdale for many years. The scholarship is called "The Melvin L. Michaels, Ed.D Memorial Music Scholarship". We hope it will be awarded annually. We hope there will be enough financial support that it can continue for a long time and have many beneficiaries.

If you would like to help fund this scholarship so that the initial award may be made in Spring, 2012, please send a donation before March 2, 2012, to:

North Penn High School Senior Awards Fund
attn: Amy Schwartz
1340 S. Valley Forge Road
Landsdale, PA 19446

I am happy my cousins came up with this idea. And I hope my Dad's many colleagues, friends, and students will provide support for it.

Etiquetas: , ,

jueves, febrero 23, 2012

This Week In The Dream Antilles: Borodin Edition

Alexander Borodin (1833-1857)

Last week, there was no This Week In The Dream Antilles. And no explanation for why. Your Bloguero spent the week in hospital with his Dad, and then on Friday, February 17, his Dad passed away. He would have been 93 on March 10. He did not suffer, and he was not in pain. He had a remarkable, productive life. And your Bloguero, who is filled with gratitude for having such a wonderful father and teacher and friend, deeply grieves his departure.

So there was no This Week last week. And there’s not going to be much of a This Week this week either. Your Bloguero finds himself feeling untethered, inarticulate. Unable to write an honest sentence. Much less a paragraph. And he’s not sure what might be next.

There are just two things quickly to tell. First, your Bloguero’s dad was a life long pianist and music lover. He’d forgotten more classical music than your Bloguero ever learned. Just before his passing, your Bloguero asked his current top 10 in classical music. His answer: Borodin, firmly in first place for the string quartets; Sibelius in second for his symphonies; and all of Rachmaninoff in third. After that, your Bloguero learned, it gets complicated. Very complicated. Supposedly great composers get dissed for all kinds of failings. Never mind what.

Your Bloguero suggests that you listen to Borodin, and see whether you can discern how Borodin, rather than the many others whose names start with the same letter, got into first place. Here you go, just a taste of the Second String Quartet:

Failing to find words to describe precisely what about the Borodin String Quartets makes them so extremely great, for which your Bloguero craves your forgiveness, your Bloguero can offer you only this remarkable poem by Charles Bukowski (1920-1994), “the life of Borodin”:

the next time you listen to Borodin
remember he was just a chemist
who wrote music to relax;
his house was jammed with people:
students, artists, drunkards, bums,
and he never knew how to say: no.
the next time you listen to Borodin
remember his wife used his compositions
to line the cat boxes with
or to cover jars of sour milk;
she had asthma and insomnia
and fed him soft-boiled eggs
and when he wanted to cover his head
to shut out the sounds of the house
she only allowed him to use the sheet;
besides there was usually somebody
in his bed
(they slept separately when they slept
at all)
and since all the chairs
were usually taken
he often slept on the stairway
wrapped in an old shawl;
she told him when to cut his nails,
not to sing or whistle
or put too much lemon in his tea
or press it with a spoon;
Symphony #2, in B Minor
Prince Igor
On the Steppes of Central Asia
he could sleep only by putting a piece
of dark cloth over his eyes
in 1887 he attended a dance
at the Medical Academy
dressed in a merrymaking national costume;
at last he seemed exceptionally gay
and when he fell to the floor,
they thought he was clowning.
the next time you listen to Borodin,

This seems oddly fitting for This Week this week.

This Week In The Dream Antilles is usually a weekly digest of essays in The Dream Antilles. Usually it appears on Friday. Sometimes, like now, it's something else entirely. To see what essays were in The Dream Antilles in the past two week you have visit The Dream Antilles.

Etiquetas: , , ,

martes, febrero 21, 2012

What Is All Of That?

This is a photo of part of James Joyce's bedroom. It's at the James Joyce Center in Dublin. It makes me wonder about Joyce's dreams. How does this bedroom affect him while he is sleeping? No, I have no answers to the question. It's just a wondering. A curiosity. The question itself doesn't strike me as unusual.

And, of course, wondering brings it it back to me. In my bedroom there is a bookcase and on top of the bookcase is this stack of books:

How does having this affect my dreams? Specifically, what is this pile of books doing while I'm asleep? Nothing, you say? I find that extremely hard to accept. Yes, I could do an experiment. I could move the books out and see what happened. But I won't do that. I'm not that kind of scientific person. And doing that would interrupt something important that's already happening. No, I don't want confirmation. I'd prefer just to recognize that something good is happening.

And what's that? Well. The books are slowly and gently implanting in my imagination and my dream world what will eventually become my new stories. Right now, some of the stories are infinitesimally small, fragmentary, discrete, embryonic. These are just tiny seeds that will eventually grow into bigger stories. But others are already more developed, larger, structured, nuanced, self contained. Some have internal logic. Some have surprises. Right now, all of the stories, big and small, may seem to be unrelated to each other. But eventually many of them will grow larger and more complex and more detailed, and they will reach out to each other and be linked to each other in surprising ways I can't currently anticipate. In other words, these stories will grow magically and densely, much as a small village grows into a large city surrounded by a galaxy of suburbs, all being connected by wires and pipes and roads and highways and various, more subtle, more ethereal connections. By media, thoughts and beliefs. And, of course, by their stories.

I am happy to be the incubator for these invisible seeds. I have chosen the books, I have read many of them, and I am anticipating their alchemy. If they weren't there, piled up on the bookcase, if they stopped sending out their spores, my nights would become dreamless. And I might be in danger of running out of stories. With them there, constantly changing them for other books, constantly replacing ones that I want to move, I'm assured of having all the stories I could ever want. And some time in the future, when they are ripe, I will sit at my laptop and download them.

Etiquetas: , , ,

David Foster Wallace

We're reminded by Garrison Keillor that today is David Foster Wallace's birthday. DFW said:

"Postmodern irony and cynicism's become an end in itself, a measure of hip sophistication and literary savvy. Few artists dare to try to talk about ways of working toward redeeming what's wrong, because they'll look sentimental and naive to all the weary ironists. Irony's gone from liberating to enslaving. ... The postmodern founders' patricidal work was great, but patricide produces orphans, and no amount of revelry can make up for the fact that writers my age have been literary orphans throughout our formative years."

Etiquetas: ,

domingo, febrero 19, 2012

An Appreciation

Your Bloguero's father passed away on on Friday, February 17, 2012. He was 92 years old. Today he was buried in New Jersey, where he was born, next to his wife. The following is an appreciation of him.

When my brother, Arthur, and I were small boys, my father, Melvin, used to take us to Weequahic Park in Newark, New Jersey, on a sunny weekend morning, rent a row boat, and row us around the lake. We did some fishing, but mostly he rowed us for an hour or so. He was strong, and he rowed as you who knew him would expect him to row. Carefully, with economy of motion, gently, patiently, talking softly was he went, never out of breath. I don’t remember the fish particularly, I do remember his rowing. I awoke this morning thinking about it.

He rowed the way he did everything else in life. Patiently, gradually, never out of breath. Simply. His whole life he did that. It didn’t matter what it was, this was how he approached all problems. As it would turn out, this was his greatest gift to us.

The most important thing to Melvin was learning. He learned German in the army from scratch. He learned to play the piano. He learned to teach. He mastered learning, and he showed us how he did it. His doctoral thesis was about learning to read, which to him was the essential skill. He taught in the classroom and later he guided entire schools and then school systems. More important, he taught, always by example, at home. He taught being patient, working step by step, never getting out of breath. Being simple. He was humble about this. This was how he did things, and we imitated him.

When he was offered his first teaching job in Westfield, New Jersey, they needed a history and English teacher, but they also badly wanted a track coach. Maybe they wanted the coach more than the teacher. Asked if he could also coach track and field, he said, sure, it was no problem. No problem at all. He got the job. Fact is, he didn’t know anything about track or coaching. So he spent the rest of the summer and some of the fall reading all of the books about track and coaching. Being patient, working step by step, never getting out of breath, being humble. He learned to coach by reading. In 1951 his team won championships.

I think one of my dad’s greatest gifts was that he understood the connection between learning and patience. He showed us we could amass a huge vocabulary if we learned a few words each day, if we looked words up that we didn’t know. He and my mom had a dictionary in their car, just in case. He told us we could learn all kinds of wonderful ideas if we read constantly. He told us that the use of the f-word as an adjective was a sign of ignorance. He told us there had to be more descriptive, clearer, sharper words than the usual expletives. He told us that the verbs were more important than the adjectives. On and on. He and Winnie, my mother, taught us. They did what would later be called “team teaching.”

He loved us, and he loved learning. It makes sense that his life was about conferring on those who would receive it, the gift of knowing how to learn, learning how to learn. Being patient, working step by step, never getting out of breath. Being humble. Keeping it simple. Knowing when something needed to be looked up. Looking it up. A tremendous, loving gift, for which I am filled with gratitude.

May his memory be a blessing.

Etiquetas: ,

sábado, febrero 18, 2012

Melvin Michaels, RIP

Your Bloguero's father (on the right) passed away on the morning of February 17, 2012. His obituary:

Melvin L. Michaels, a long time public school teacher and administrator, passed away on February 17, 2012. He was 92 years old.

Born in Newark, New Jersey, he initially taught history and English and coached track before becoming Assistant Principal at Westfield Sr. High School (New Jersey). He also served as principal at Teaneck High School (New Jersey) and Highland Park High School (New Jersey) and was Director of Secondary Education and Assistant Superintendent of Schools at North Penn School District (Pennsylvania). He retired in 1986.

He earned a BA from Montclair State Teachers College, an MA from New York University, and an Ed.D from Teachers’ College, Columbia University. Before he was a teacher, he earned tuition money as a piano player and as a tool and die maker. He was the first member of his family to graduate from high school.

During World War II he served in Military Intelligence with the 76th Infantry Division in Germany. He was honorably discharged as a Master Sergeant.

He met his wife, Winifred, who predeceased him, at Montclair State College. They were married for 62 years.

He was a lifelong music lover and a skilled pianist and a dedicated angler.

He leaves a brother, Herbert Michaels, a sister, Claire Greenberg, both of Florida, two sons, Arthur J Michaels formerly of Harrisburg, and David Seth Michaels, of Spencertown, New York, and five grandchildren.

Graveside services will be held on Sunday, February 19th, 2012 at 2 pm at Mt. Lebanon Cemetery, Iselin, NJ. Rabbi Akiva Males will be officiating.

To share online condolences please visit

Althouhg this obituary conveys very little about him and who he was and the joy he brought to those who knew him, I am unable at the moment to tell more. This blog will now be on hiatus for a bit. Please join us when we return.

Etiquetas: ,

viernes, febrero 17, 2012

A Review Of Tulum

Diane Gee writes in Wild Wild Left:

David Seth Michaels's Tulum is a read that draws you in, grinning to yourself at the sweet honesty of the workings of the author's mind. I found myself reading ever quicker as the story unfolded, not wanting to break the spell, not wanting my own reality to dare interrupt my foray into Tulum's magical hold. Yet, I neared the end, I slowed, savoring, not wanting it to end.

Set in isolated and beautiful Quintana Roo, Mexico's villages, Tulum is a journey of an un-average man in a relatively unspoiled place. It is pure Mexico, from the quirky inhabitants, to the arbitrary rules of the dog-police, to the bribes and communal sharing by its Mayan residents. His seedy past has drawn him to its isolation, a place to dream and write, yet circumstances entwine him, and suddenly his life changes drastically. You learn everything evolves, from the onslaught of touristas, to a "retired" man's new vocation.

The world of Tulum paints beautiful pictures of both the mystical and mundane parts of human existence, through the ever-suprising and imaginative voice of the narrator. Its a journey of utter honesty, from manly desires for a beautiful woman, to the temptation of profits in the seedy underworld of drug traffickers, to a spiritual journey with an unlikely and bemused mentor.

A little bit Hunter S. Thompson, a little reminiscent of Castenada, but entirely unique, Micheal's storytelling found me rapt in his story, and longing for the next installment. The writing was fresh and guileless, totally self-aware to both the glories and follies of the human mind; whether a lizard basking in the sun, or a wizard drinking tequila.

You will be amused. You will be intrigued. Mostly? You will fall in love with Tulum.


Etiquetas: , ,

jueves, febrero 16, 2012

Beauty Salon

Mario Bellatin

I just read in one sitting Mario Bellatin's 2000 novella Salon de belleza (Beauty Salon). It's very short (64 small pages), terse, disquieting. And brilliant.

The short, outline version: a man opens a beauty salon in which he and his friends dress as women and cut women's hair. He collects tropical fish to create a glamorous atmosphere for his customers. At night he dresses up as a woman and cruises the city with his friends. Over time, those who are suffering from the plague (is it HIV? is it something else more mysterious? is it the Black Plague?) transform the beauty parlor into "The Terminal," the place where the "guests," who are afflicted by the disease, live out what remains of their lives. The fish suffer as well. In other words, he creates a surreal hospice. Read the book. There's more; the precis doesn't exhaust it.

Mario Bellatin lives and writes in Mexico. And his work is intriguing, but not widely known in the US. The Wiki is a little too facile:

While he has participated in writing workshops around the United States, his work is very little known in the English-speaking world. Bellatin is celebrated as a leading voice in Spanish fiction for his experimental and fragmented writing, which artfully intertwines reality and creation. As a result of a birth defect that left him missing much of his right arm, a good portion of his fiction concerns characters that are deformed or diseased or with an uncertain sexual identity. Bellatin was quoted in the New York Times as saying, "To me literature is a game, a search for ways to break through borders. But in my work the rules of the game are always obvious, the guts are exposed, and you can see what is being cooked up.”

The guts really are exposed, and you can see what's being cooked up. Excellent writing.

Etiquetas: , ,

Gary Carter, RIP

Hall of Fame Catcher Gary Carter passed away today. He was 57. Tom Verducci gets it right in Sports Illustrated:

Try as I might as a witness to his five years in New York as a catcher for the Mets, I cannot conjure a single image of Gary Carter with anything but a smile on his face. I have no recollection of a gloomy Carter, not even as his knees began to announce a slow surrender, his bat grew slow and weary or as his teammates, renowned masters of the dark arts, chided him for his well-displayed rectitude....

On the field, such will of these barbarians in spikes helped fuel the 1986 Mets into not just one of the most dominating teams of all time, but also one of the toughest. They won four times in that postseason in the last at-bat, including three times when they were down to their last out or two. The Mets were ferocious competitors, and they became world champions.

Carter provided much of that championship fiber, only without the demons and debauchery that came to be associated with many of his teammates. He was "Kid" from Sunny Hills High in Fullerton, Calif., a former star quarterback with a Pepsodent smile, golden curls, a beautiful family and strong faith. Teammates in Montreal and New York would come to resent how overtly he displayed such goodness -- if not, out of their own insecurities, the very goodness itself.

But I can tell you this about the guy known as Teeth or Camera Carter by the insecure: He was as genuine a person and as tough a ballplayer as you would ever want to come across.

He will be missed.

Etiquetas: , ,

martes, febrero 14, 2012

And Now It's Really Cheap!

My goodness. My first novella, The Dream Antilles, was published in 2005 and was not a big seller. It did get some great reviews, though. No problem. That is how it goes in the market place. But today I discovered that it's now for sale, used at Barnes and Noble for 99 cents and at Amazon for 75 cents. That, amig@s, is remarkable, muy barato, very, extra cheap.

I don't pretend to understand how this book can be sold at this price, and I'm pretty sure I'm not getting any royalties from these sales, but even if this is not a great pecuniary moment for me, one that will make me rich, it is nonetheless a great opportunity for you. A great book. Very cheap. Go ahead. Snap them up. At less than a buck. Yes, it's hard to believe this. But you'll be happy you got it.

And maybe you will even write a review of it. I mean: you are getting this book virtually free. Usually, that means you're obligated to write a review.

Etiquetas: ,

domingo, febrero 12, 2012


Rodolfo Fogwill(1941-2010)

Rodolfo Fogwill's 2010 obituary tells the story:

Loud-mouthed, provocative, often downright rude, the writer Rodolfo Fogwill was a legendary figure in recent Argentinian literature. Fogwill, who has died aged 69, from pulmonary emphysema, probably exacerbated by his inveterate chain-smoking, quarrelled with everybody, was intolerant of any writing or behaviour that in his view smacked of political correctness or pretension, and yet wrote some of the most resonant short stories and novels in Argentina of the past 30 years.

The story surrounding the way he wrote one of his most important novels, Los Pichiciegos (1983), is typical. The book was a protest at the horror of the war fought between Britain and Argentina over the Malvinas/Falkland islands in the South Atlantic, and at the stupidity of war in general. Fogwill claimed to have written the book in six days during June 1982, while the war was still going on, keeping himself going with vast amounts of cocaine and whisky.

A brilliant description of life underground during the conflict, Fogwill stressed that the book was above all a "mental experiment". "I knew how cold it was down there from my sailing days," he said. "I knew about youngsters because I had several of my own. I knew about the Argentine army because I did national service. Out of this I constructed a fictional experiment that was much closer to reality than if they had sent me to the islands with a tape recorder and a camera."

The novel (which I [Nick Caistor] translated with Amanda Hopkinson) was his only work published in Britain, by Serpent's Tail in 2007, which gave it the title Malvinas Requiem, rather than its literal translation, The Armadillos. This enraged Fogwill, who saw it as lending a sanctimonious touch to what he wanted to be a condemnation of all ideologies in favour of the dreadful demands made of terrified youngsters on both sides of the war, whose only wish was to survive and get home safely.

Wow. So I got a copy of Los Pichiciegos (Malvinas Requiem aka Armadillos) and today devoured it all. It turned out that it was all good and more. A remarkable, evocative, antiwar novella. It doesn't matter much that the war in question over Las Malvinas/The Falklands was fought between England and Argentina in June, 1982, almost thirty years ago. And it doesn't matter, if you're reading the book in English, that the translation doesn't do very well with the soldiers' cursing, swearing and slang. No. All of that is of no matter at all. It's still a remarkably affecting, brilliant telling of the story of two dozen Argentine soldiers who have deserted and spend the end of the war hiding out, literally underground. It's also a deft indictment of the Argentine military junta that provoked the bloodshed over a symbolic, but horrible island, one with a bleak, freezing landscape, horizontal snow and interminably gray skies. Says one of the deserters about this isla de la guerra, "You'd have to be English to want this." How true. How sad. But perfect.

For reasons only Amazon knows, the book ships in 1 to 3 months. C'mon, man! Meanwhile, our friends at can serve it up used for $10 bucks +/- including shipping from the UK. Get it while you can.

Etiquetas: , , ,

Stalking The Specter Of The Eternal Fund Drive

WAMC began its winter fund drive early this past Monday morning, February 6. Today is Sunday, February 12, and the fund drive continues on day 7. The goal is $1 million; today almost $600,000 has been raised. That means that the drive will in all likelihood stretch out into the middle of the coming week. And that, in turn, means that the main on-air activity is the fund drive (the “Fun Drive” if you insist) and that regular programming is extremely limited. Fine. I’ve contributed. I’m a member. But today as I check in and hear that the drive is continuing, I’m worried. I’m worried by the specter that at some time in the future —it will not happen on this drive— the station will find itself locked into an eternal, fruitless fund drive. The fund drive will be all there is, and it will never end. And the station will eventually run out of funds and go off the air.

How can that happen? I am concerned that WAMC may be yet another dinosaur on its way to the boneyard. I’m worried that community supported, over-the-air public radio is an idea of the past, and that the Internet and personal devices are slowly going to render it irrelevant. And replace it. I expect that as soon as personal devices interface with sound systems in a majority of cars on the road, FM radio slowly will be abandoned by its listeners. This abandonment will mirror what happened decades ago to AM radio; maybe somebody will find another use for FM.

How, I wonder, can FM not end? Isn’t the end of over-the-air media where we’re inevitably headed? I’m not saying that the present fund drive will never end. No.It may seem like that in the dark times, but it’s not the case. That will not happen this fund drive. It won’t. But how many more of these fund drives can there possibly be before the number of listeners to over-the-air radio shrinks to a level where continued support at this multi-million dollar level is no longer possible, and the fund drive, once started, continues eternally, becoming the sole programming, gobbling up everything else?

Northeast Public Radio is now no small operation. It covers a huge geographical area. It has a large engineering infrastructure and many transmitters and repeaters (23 stations heard in 7 states). It has grown enormously and in predictable response to listener demands. And desires. And changing tastes. It began as the dying radio station of the Albany Medical College some three decades ago. That station was saved by the group that would evolve into the present WAMC staff and Board. And over time the station has grown in quality and in scope. And its staff has grown. It transformed from a tiny, local Albany, New York station to a large, regional one. It has followed the FM radio trend from music to talk. It has moved from local news to regional news. It has expanded its listener base. It has preserved the Saturday Opera. It continues to report on New York State Government. And it’s the source of NPR news for this area. In other words, this is a very, very good Public Radio Station. It may be the best of Public Radio in the US. Somehow, though, that doesn’t matter.

It’s nobody’s fault that it takes several $1 million fund drives per year to keep the station on the air. The fund drive is something to endure because right now it’s worth it to have WAMC and to keep the station running.

But at the same time, mobile media are now growing rapidly. And that growth may signal the end of WAMC as it presently exists. WAMC’s function is primarily over-the-air radio. Yes, it’s streaming online as well. But when all those personal Internet devices replace the FM radios in cars, all of the infrastructure for over-the-air transmission will no longer be required. It won’t be necessary to broadcast signals with transmitters from towers. There won’t be a need or a desire for FM radio any more. The Internet will render FM radio extinct, and WAMC, as we currently know it, with it. WAMC may endure in some other form, but it won’t be what it is now, an FM (or HD) public radio station.

I do hope listeners will carry WAMC through its present fund drive. I’m sad it’s taking so long to end it. As it goes on and on and on, I fear that this drive foreshadows the end, the loss of a good and constant companion. To be completely honest, when I listen to the fund drive, with all the usual shtick and the rewards and the thank yous and the repeated stories and the begging and pleading and the traditional yodeling and banjo music, I think I hear the beginning of a death rattle. I didn’t hear it last fund drive. But this time, I hear it. I wish it were otherwise. Really I do. But it's just not true that this drive has the same vitality as the previous ones.

Etiquetas: , , ,

sábado, febrero 11, 2012

The Witness

Juan Jose Saer (1937-2005)

Juan Jose Saer's novella, El entenado (The Witness)(note: "entenado" should literally be translated as "stepson") is disturbing. It's short, but it's not easy. And it raises important questions, which it doesn't really resolve. Strangely, that is not a shortcoming.

The story's origins may be in the ill fated 1516 voyage of Juan Dias de Solis up the Parana River, in which Solis and some of his crew were killed and perhaps eaten by Charrua Indians. The cabin boy, so the story goes, was spared. But Saer has taken the event to another level: the narrator, the cabin boy on the expedition, ends up spending a decade with the Indians before finally being sent away. He observes, but does not participate in their annual rite of cannibalism, intoxication and a sex orgy worthy of Hieronymus Bosch. This event seems to kill a lot of Indians and leave others in a stupor for months. The Indians, however, keep the narrator safe. The Indians' kindness for this decade of safekeeping is ultimately repaid by their being killed by the Spaniards to whom the narrator is released. Underlying the entire story is genocide. There will be no further spoiler here.

Yes, the story is "fictional anthropology." Yes, it's also a "fictitious memoir." And yes, the narrator is reliably unreliable. But there are other things going on here that shouldn't be so facilely categorized. I comment only on one disturbing aspect of the story.

The narrator is kept safe by the Indians because he has an important function the Indians want him to carry out. His ultimate purpose is telling about the Indians and remembering them as individuals after he is released. It's as if their entire existence as a people and as individuals is preserved only by their being remembered and specifically told about to people outside their tribe. When the Indians capture other people-- the capture is another part of the annual cannibalism, intoxication and sex orgy-- they don't hold them for very long: they are released after a few months, and these captives seem to understand from the outset that they are to pay attention while they are with the tribe, and that upon their release, they are to narrate what they've seen, and remember to tell about the particular individuals in some particular ways. For example, to take one of the narrator's descriptions, "He was the man who smiled at me and joked about eating me." But the Narrator here doesn't realize he is to fulfill this memorial function until far, far later, even after he has learned the Indians' language and forgotten his own. The book, written by the narrator some 60 years after these events, only partially and even then, ambiguously fulfills the task. Ten years of captivity and observation are somehow shrunk in scope and detail, as if an entire forest were turned into a single, frail bonsai. Don't these Indians deserve a more detailed telling? A more complete recollection? How frustrating and disturbing that the story is never really completed, and that it then wanders on to the narrator's life after his release with the same obscurations.

Others have written that the novel reminds of Conrad's Heart of Darkness or Melville's Typee. But that's not really so. The book is far too full of metaphysical ambiguity to resemble them. It is an elegant, sophisticated treatment of memory, identity, and ultimately, of just not fitting in.

Etiquetas: , , ,

viernes, febrero 10, 2012

This Week In The Dream Antilles

First, Salvador Dali. Then, Willard. It’s the anagrams that keep on giving. And oh what strange things, what strange associations the mind makes.

Your Bloguero is informed that the surrealist leader André Breton coined the anagram "Avida Dollars" for Salvador Dalí, to tarnish his reputation by the implication of commercialism. Very clever. And intentional. But when your last name is Romney, and the letters that spell “money” are obvious and comprise 5/6ths of your family name, you have a big problem. Especially when the US economy is in the gutter, and you’re running for president in 2012, and you want to claim that you can end the depression. And it escapes no one that you have tons and tons of money.

As if that weren’t enough, the problem is exacerbated by the design geniuses who created Willard’s logo. Look at these awful examples:

They made the “R” essentially unreadable by turning it into a flag-thing, leaving you, dear reader, with a 5-letter scramble that can only spell one thing, “money.” Just look at it. Just think about it. Look at this terrible logo. Ask yourself, “What’s the word that comes to mind.” You don’t think, “Oh, he’s the guy to fix the economy.” Nope. You think, “Money. He has tons of money. He’s really, really, really rich.”

This isn’t rocket science. When you think about Romney, because you see his name somewhere, it’s unavoidable. The mind is in control. You have to associate his name and logo with the word “money,” of which Willard has far more than anyone else.

This inevitably feeds the meme that he’s a very, very rich guy and that he’s, therefore, totally protected and completely isolated and thoroughly out of touch with the middle class, the poor, and probably even a lot of people who think of themselves as rich, just not as rich as he is.

How can he ameliorate this? Certainly not by making speeches about the glories of capitalism. Or talking about his success in plundering companies. No. Goodness. The reminder of all of these unfortunate associations dominates his name. Look. Look at his name. You see it. It’s not his fault. He didn’t make up the name. It’s not a nom de guerre. Would that it was. No. It’s right there in his birth name. He has it. His father has it. His kids have it. R+money.

And unfortunately, once you focus on these letters, just one time, dear reader, you cannot miss it. Again. You cannot forget it. You cannot look at his name and not think, “Oh, money. There’s his money again. It's R+money.” Whenever you see his logo, you automatically think, “Oh, money. R+money.” And that involuntarily and automatically associates with the thought "out of touch." With privilege. With not being like your Bloguero and you. With being rich and having the world handed to him on a sterling silver platter by a liveried butler. With Richie Rich.

His handlers and Faux News try to shield him from the devastating anagram by referring to him solely as “Mitt,” a monicker (like Kimberly and Muffy) that reeks of the upper class, prep schools in Connecticut, being a legacy (and not the sharpest tool in the shed) in the Ivy League, and the kind of privilege and seashore homes and yachts and snootiness that you can imagine. He's part of the people that Jay Gatsby aspired but was unable to become because of the source of his funds. You can fill out the entire picture.

But look, it gets worse. “Mitt” isn’t really his first name. His first name is really “Willard”, and that name, which your Bloguero and Al Sharpton prefer, reminds of just one thing, rats.

Yes, your Bloguero can hear you complaining. “Come on, Bloguero. This ‘analysis’ if that’s what it is, is too far fetched for us. We don’t believe in this kind of semiotics.” Hah. Don’t be skeptical. And don't be silly. This is a problem as old as Shakespeare:

'Tis but thy name that is my enemy;

 Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.

 What's Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,

 Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part

Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!

 What's in a name? that which we call a rose

 By any other name would smell as sweet;

So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,

 Retain that dear perfection which he owes

Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,

 And for that name which is no part of thee

 Take all myself.

Oh, be some other name indeed. Don't like the Bard as a source? Fine. How about Marshall McLuhan instead, "Diaper backward spells repaid. Think about it."

Before its too late, and it may already be just that, Willard needs a logo that manages to obscure this name problem. Something simple that makes all the letters the same size and font. But look. Willard’s been running for president for an eternity, and, if you didn't understand this already, he just doesn’t get it.

Etiquetas: ,

miércoles, febrero 08, 2012


The Full Snow Moon’s passed,
But there is no snow this year.
Dog snores near the fire.


Etiquetas: ,

lunes, febrero 06, 2012

Full Moon Haiku

This moon's provoking
all those howling coyotes.
They won't get tired.

Etiquetas: ,

Our Lady Of The Assassins

Fernando Vallejo

Medellin, Colombia has to win the award for being a very persistent dystopia. It makes other dangerous places seem, well, almost peaceful. Here are some facts. Cold, but nevertheless scary:

There were 33% more murders in 2008 than 2007, with an increase from 654 to 871 violent deaths.This increased further by over 200% in 2009 to 2,899 violent deaths, or about 110 deaths per 100,000 people, 2.5 times the average homicide rate in Colombia and 20 times the average homicide rate in the United States for that same year. An average of 9 people were killed every day in 2009. There is a significant disparity in crime rates by neighborhoods, with virtually no homicides in El Poblado to areas with open gunfights in the outskirts. Generally, crime rates increase the further the neighborhood is from the center.

“Open gunfights in the outskirts.” Wait. We’re not talking about movies here. This isn't the wild west or the OK Corral. No. We’re talking about life in the city. In other words, we’re not talking about anything comprehendible. The outskirts are communas, slums. They began with squatters.They are dense. And overpopulated. And lack rudimentary services. And they are dangerous. And hopeless. They cover the sides of the hills that are the northern edge of the Andes.

Enter Fernando Vallejo and his frightening 1994 novella, La Virgen de los Sicarios (Our Lady of the Assassins). It's set in Medellin. Murders abound. Fifteen year-old hitmen kill for any or no reason. For pay or for free. People look away when the shooting starts, because being a witness to a murder is a recipe for being murdered on the spot. Cab drivers get shot for not turning down the radio. A man gets shot for cursing. The reasons for the murders seems disappear. They seem too vague. Or too trivial. A mother and her infant kids get shot because the kids are noisy. A 10-year old gets shot for arguing with a cop. Three policemen get shot. On and on.

What? The reader asks. Just like that? How can this be? Boom. You’re dead. Shot in the head. Blam. Shot in the stomach. Bang. Shot so the killer can look in your eyes. Boom. Are you kidding me? Pow. Where are the cops? Where indeed. The cops, the government, now President Uribe, all are totally corrupt. They’re busy shaking down the country and secondarily the people. In other words, they're elsewhere. And otherwise occupied. Meanwhile, teenagers covet new sneakers and mini-Uzis, so they can fire even more rounds, so they can indiscriminately kill even more people. The Angel of Death resides in Medellin, and its young people indiscriminately carry out the task of depopulating the city. There is, as in all such places, a contest between the murder rate and the birth rate. Here, though, the focus is on death.

Vallejo is brilliant. And funny. And horrified. The novella is brief. And to the point. Says Mario Vargas Llosa about it,

“Vallejo makes good use of this atrocious raw material about the adolescent contract killers in the pay of Colombian violence to construct fiction full of bite, color and confidence that at the same time is rooted in heartbreaking experience and cracking with humor, insolence and diatribes.”

Highly recommended for a brief and completely frightening immersion in American dystopia.

Etiquetas: , , ,

domingo, febrero 05, 2012

Take The Stoopid Out Of The Super Bowl. Please.

Yes, this is too short to be a real post. Yes, you probably don't need me to say this because you already know it. And maybe I don't have to say it. But how much can it hurt?

Please do not drink and drive today. Please make arrangements in advance so that you won't drink and drive. Why in advance?

If you go to the party without having made safe plans in advance, like staying home, walking home, public transportation, taxi, designated driver, not using intoxicants AT ALL, the person who decides how you will get home (you) may be intoxicated. And intoxicated people do not make good decisions. Put another way, you don't want to find yourself asking yourself or somebody else who has been drinking, "Am I ok to drive?" That is a foolproof road to a disaster. If you ask that, it's already too late.

I spare you the parade of horrors of what can happen. Let's just say in passing that I'm professionally well acquainted with all of them. And I know I'm going to hear more of them on Monday.

So I ask only this. It's still early. The parties probably haven't started. Please. Please take just a minute and figure out how you are going to get home safe and sound without driving. Then you can relax and responsibly have a good time.

cross-posted at dailyKos as a public service

Etiquetas: , ,

sábado, febrero 04, 2012

Gimme Shelter

This really rocks. Turn it up. Enjoy.

Etiquetas: ,

This Must Not Be 1Q84

After all. One moon. No greenish second moon. So it's empirically not Haruki Murikama's world (spoiler alert). But note: in this 2012 Internet world, if you don't believe your eyes the first (or second) time you see something, the thing you do is go to Google. And you find things like this:

Empirical proof that a second moon is not riding around the planet. This makes it a lot harder to write into a story a plausible, iconic, literary signifier (a world with two suns, a world with two moons, a world with a nearby visible orange planet) of a fantastic or magical realist earth set in the 21st Century. But if the story is set in a 1984, voila!

Etiquetas: ,

jueves, febrero 02, 2012

This Week In The Dream Antilles

A new window has opened for your Bloguero on the meaning of “insignificance.” Your Bloguero is delighted to be able to tell you about it and to allow you to infer, if you wish to, how he and you may now be the zenith of insignificance (Note: or the nadir of significance, if you prefer).

On Ground Hog Day the “celebrity businessman” who calls himself “The Donald” endorsed Willard for president. (Note and digression: your Bloguero does not refer to this person as “Mitt”. He will never refer to him by that name. “Mitt” is a preppy, friendly, brotherly, harmless sort of name. “Willard,” the candidate’s real moniker, reminds of rats and is, therefore, preferable). It wasn’t much of a surprise. It was an ersatz "surprise." A manufactured event. So, of course, there were front page stories, and videos, and the kind of breathless oohing and ahhhing reserved for contrived, fabricated, apparently meaningless events. (Note and digression: Your Bloguero notes that such oohing and ahhing isn’t required and never accompanies really breathtaking, really surprising events. The Egyptian Soccer Riots for example. Those are accompanied by eye popping incredulity. By gasps. By screams. They don’t need a laugh oohing and ahhing track). But your Bloguero digresses.

And in the midst of the simulacrum of excitement, CNN reported deep in its story:

It was unclear whether Trump's decision will have any impact on the Republican race. A Pew survey last month found that 64% of definite and likely GOP voters said an endorsement from the reality television star would make no difference to them.

In the survey, 13% said it would make them more likely to back a candidate, while 20% said it would actually make them less likely.

May your Bloguero translate this paragraph? 84% of “definite and likely GOP voters,” almost 6 in 7, said The Donald’s endorsement didn’t matter or would make them less likely to vote for whoever the Donald chose to endorse. Your Bloguero wonders who “definite and likely GOP voters” might be and whether, having scrutinized the potential nominees, admitting to be a “definite or likely GOP voter” might be tantamount to admitting that one had a diagnosed thought disorder or suffered from delusions (Note: Even if the assertion that these people are mentally ill is problematic, your Bloguero does not retreat from it. If the reader is more comfortable with the venerable assertion that they are “fools,” the reader may so edit the previous sentence). But your Bloguero digresses. A further translation: even among the zealots nobody gives a hoot about The Donald’s endorsement, or they just don’t like it.

Your Bloguero was talking about “insignificance.” If an endorsement actually hurts the candidate, why would the candidate show up to accept it amidst all the oohing and ahhing reserved for such obviously fake events? Wouldn’t the candidate be better served by actually campaigning in Nevada or Maine or making speeches to likely primary voters, the people whose votes he needs to receive to win a primary? Put another way, what kind of loon seeks out and accepts an endorsement in New York City, which is not having a primary this weekend, that will hurt him with voters in states having primaries he is running in? Why would Willard show up to kiss The Donald’s [expletive deleted]? Thereby, as the Bard said, hangs the tale.

How naïve even to ask such a thing. As if this had to do with voters. As if this had to do with directly seeking votes. Tsk. Tsk. No. As everybody by now knows, the candidate is always better served by fellating a ginormous donator like The Donald than by doing the actual campaigning, the shaking hands, the eating corn dogs, the VFW halls, inspiring his GOTV workers. (Note: the adjective "ginormous" refers to The Donald's money, and not to any part of his anatomy). The old school, get out the vote stuff. The old routine of getting votes directly. This, herman@s, is not about The Donald’s appeal to voters. It’s not about old school politicking. That, as your Bloguero and CNN have pointed out, is the definition of “insignificance.” Of no importance. Without importance. Without meaning. With no significance. Meaninglessness. The Donald’s appeal to voters is the very definition of “insignificance.”

No, this is about something else. You know what it is already. Admit it. Ok. If you insist, your Bloguero will tell you. It’s about money. Dinero. Moolah. Cash. Greenbacks. What used to be called “bread.” Surprise! It’s about Citizens United and the spigot of funds The Donald claims to possess and to be willing to turn on in the service of Willard, and the supposed message from The Donald’s explicit endorsement to other fat cats to pony up. To pay up. To buy the votes. To buy the TV attack ads. That's why The Donald is significant, and we, compadres, aren't. We're insignificant. We cannot fund a campaign that is about meeting our desires. Nope. All we can do is vote for whatever candidates others have bought for us. We are that insignificant.

The opposite of “insignificance,” the precise antonym is what Willard expects from The Donald. And what he showed up on Ground Hog’s Day to attain. How many zeroes are in the number?

Etiquetas: ,

Angelo Dundee, RIP

The man who trained Muhammad Ali and was at his side from the beginning through the Thrilla in Manila and the Rumble in the Jungle, has passed away.

Angelo Dundee was 90.

Etiquetas: ,

Ground Hog Day 2012: Revise That Equation

I have the distinct impression that I've written this post before. Several times. You may feel that you've read it before. Over and over again. It's only 8 am ET here, but already (thank you Internet) the results and prognostications are in:

Date Prediction Groundhog Location
2012 Early spring[ Wiarton Willie Wiarton, Ontario
2012 Early spring[23] General Beauregard Lee Lilburn, Georgia
2012 6 more weeks of winter[24] Malverne Mel Malverne, New York
2012 Early spring[25] Holtsville Hal Holtsville, New York
2012 Early spring[26] Buckeye Chuck Marion, Ohio
2012 Early spring[27] Staten Island Chuck Staten Island (New York City)
2012 Early spring[28] Shubenacadie Sam Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia
2012 6 more weeks of winter Punxsutawney Phil Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania

I knew the "rule": if the GH sees its shadow, there are 6 weeks more of winter. I thought incorrectly that if the GH didn't see its shadow, there are 6 more weeks of winter anyway. But I have now been disabused of this idea: if the GH does NOT see its shadow, the equation tells us "Spring will be early". How early? Nobody says. So the current, traditional theorem is this:

f(GH) = sees shadow = 6 more weeks of Winter
f(GH) =does not see shadow = early Spring

The Wiki tells us about these predictions:

Groundhog Day proponents state that the rodents' forecasts are accurate 75% to 90% of the time. A Canadian study for 13 cities in the past 30 to 40 years puts the success rate level at 37%. Also, the National Climatic Data Center reportedly has stated that the overall prediction accuracy rate is around 39%.

Did you see that? According to the Canadian Study and the National Climatic Data Center, we've got it exactly backwards. Completely backwards. Taking a contrarian view of the current theorem,

f(GH) = t, where t = duration of winter

nets you an astonishing 63% or 61% accuracy. Way better than a coin toss. More powerful than a speeding locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings at a single bound. And over time almost (almost is a relative term) accurate 2 out of 3 years.

The question, given all of this, is why we persist in the current formula. The current equation is clearly incorrect. And so a simple proposal from here into the future. Can we change the equation to this:

f(GH) = -t

I'm not expecting a vast cultural uprising about this, I'm not even expecting anyone to notice. We just keep doing it over and over again.

Happy GH day!

Etiquetas: ,

Far Side Of The Moon

This is an incredible video. It has me watching it over and over again, full screen in hd:

h/t Rachel Maddow.

Etiquetas: ,