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

domingo, mayo 27, 2007

Return Of The Turtles

cross posted at dailyKos
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Green Sea Turtle (chelonia mydas)

Some good news for today from the Caribbean Coast of Mexico.

Green sea turtles are again massing in the Caribbean Sea off the coral reef of Quintana Roo, Mexico, and are preparing to come ashore to lay their eggs on the beaches. These are an endangered species. This is an annual event that has repeated itself for millenia.

Every year the turtles come to the beaches between Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico and Belize to lay their eggs. I watch them in the sea just north of the Mayan ruins at Tulum. First, they mass off shore waiting for the right moment to begin their trip to shore. Nobody knows what makes the moment right, but it usually comes at the beginning of June. The turtles are massing now.
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When the time is finally right, the turtles will emerge from the sea, pull themselves onto the beach, and lay their eggs in sand nests.
From The Dream Antilles:
At last a first green turtle emerges from the waves, and slowly begins its ascent up the beach. Everyone leaves the beach and moves further into the trees. All are silent. The turtle pulls hard with its flippers, and the shell gouges the sand. Its mouth is open as it breathes hard. Each push with its flippers is rewarded with only a few inches of forward progress and is impeded by a bow wave of gouged sand which will have to be climbed. Soon other turtles follow. They too struggle intently up the beach to dig holes with their flippers, to lay their hundreds of eggs, and to bury them in the sand.

Eventually, the turtles turn and push and slide and drag their way back to sea. They will not emerge for another year. The sea embraces and enfolds them. As soon as they reach the water, their full mobility is restored and they are swiftly gone. The male turtles remain behind in the sea, just beyond the shore, waiting patiently for their safe return.

The green turtle is threatened and/or endangered primarily because of two human activities: loss of breeding habitat (read: beach development) and plastic. These are factors that weigh heavily against hatchlings' survival, and nature had already made their survival a journey against great odds.

The challenges from humans are obvious. The turtles' navigation devices are often confused by bright lights coming from shore. The lighting makes it hard for the mother turtles to find the beach, and it makes it hard for the hatchlings-- they will hatch out in late August or early September-- to find their way back to the sea. One of my neighbors a few years ago carried more than a hundred hatchlings from his swimming pool back to the real sea. And pollution of all kinds, especially plastic, kills the turtles.

There are also the usual, expected, gigantic challenges from nature: millions of ravenous sea birds, small beach animals, snakes all seek the eggs as their next meal. The eggs used to be a staple of the diet of these animals and the indigenous people who lived here. And once they enter the sea, the small, unprotected hatchlings are food for the bigger fish both inside and outside the protective reef.

Despite all of this, and it is really quite a lot, I can expect to wake early in the morning in the next weeks to find a new turtle nest on the beach. We will mark it and protect it, and we will wait for the day in September when it erupts with teeming life and the hatchlings scurry back to the sea.

The turtles continue their cycle of life and birth. I can only hope that we'll find ways to preserve and protect them. In the meanwhile, this is an opportunity to marvel at the abundance of life on our planet.

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sábado, mayo 19, 2007

Breeding Bolsheviks?

Is this blog breeding Bolsheviks? One can only hope.

Look, it's 2007, and given the miserable state of education, in all likelihood I'm now supposed explain who the Bolsheviks were. Seriously. Not Busheviks. Bolsheviks. I'm just not willing to do that.

The text that goes with the 1920's Scott ad above is
Is your washroom breeding...Bolsheviks?
ScotTissue Towels- really dry!
Employees lose respect for a company that fails to provide decent facilities for their comfort
The idea is that bad conditions inevitably breed festering discontent. And personal discomfort can lead to industrial strife and even revolution. It's better, if you own a factory, to provide toilet paper than to provoke massive work stoppages. The link between experiencing personal oppression and becoming a participant in organized labor upheaval is obvious. And understood. And even feared. The Industrial Workers of the World, the UMW, the CIO, the Communist Party, the Socialist Party all provide heaps of examples from the era of the ad.

Individually being oppressed has never been a requirement for getting involved, supporting economic justice, the struggles of others on various issues, and even revolution. Sympathy for others, their movements to improve their own lives and solidarity with them has always been enough. Often, all that's required is understanding that others are treated unjustly.

That's what Che Guevara must have meant when he said
At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality
Déjenme decirles, a riesgo de parecer ridículo, que el revolucionario verdadero está guiado por grandes sentimientos de amor. Es imposible pensar en un revolucionario auténtico sin esta cualidad.
The genuine revolutionary's compassion and concern and love for others is the guiding principle and the reason for involvement.

Which brings me to this small, not widely noticed blog. This is just a lit blog. It has writing in it. It isn't overtly political. And it's not really about criticism, though it is about writing and books and literature. But that doesn't matter. Categories and genres don't matter that much. Rather, I hope that woven through the hodgepodge of writing, undergirding it and inspiring it, is a recognition that literature can and must save the world.

How so? I'm sure you already realize this. Writing saves the world a little every time a reader experiences someone else's world, every time a reader cares about a character, every time a reader has feelings about what s/he is reading. This is a small but important thing. It requires skill of the writer, and perhaps attention of the reader. Whenever it happens, it is truly magical. It makes the tiniest of changes. But the change is extremely significant. And this tiny change can be repeated and intensified over and over again. It's amazingly simple. Writing inspires our caring about others. And that, as Che said, is a guiding principle of true change.

Reading good writing is the polar opposite of riding in the back seat of a minivan and watching a DVD. We can only hope it's also the antidote.

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sábado, mayo 12, 2007

Bob Dylan's 66th Birthday

May 24, 2007 is the birthday of the man who in 1963 wrote and sang on The Freewheelin Bob Dylan Masters of War:

Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build the big bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks

You that never done nothin'
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it's your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly

Like Judas of old
You lie and deceive
A world war can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the water
That runs down my drain...

All these years later, 44 to be precise, it still holds up tragically well.

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jueves, mayo 10, 2007

'Tis The Season

From The Dream Antilles

"Oh what questions!" Swamiji snickered. "Why are you asking me these questions, do you think I know the answers to them?"
"Well, actually," Arjuna responded, "Don't you?"
"Of course not, you silly man!" Swamiji exploded in laughter. "I only answer practical questions. You know that by now!" Usually the outburst infected the other disciples and they too would be convulsed.
"I told you many times," Swamiji said, "Just notice and appreciate the perfection in everything and feel your gratitude. When you have learned to do this, I will notice it and I will give you the next step. Meanwhile, eat nothing but watermelon."
"Why watermelon?" Swamiji anticipated. "Because it will help to develop your sense of humor." He found this remark hysterical and was again convulsed with a torrent of laughter which his disciples shared.
Arjuna dutifully wandered off in search of watermelon. "Is that why he laughs like that?" he wondered. None of the other disciples was eating only watermelon. This must be something he needed, a special prescription for his personal enlightenment."

Then there's this Wiki.

And the answer to your question: why now? Why show this now, when in some places Winter is beginning, and in some places it is the hot season, and in some places it is the beginning of the rainy season?

Why indeed. Because today in usually grey Upstate New York it is at last green. And warm. Mid 80's. And yesterday, the first watermelon arrived in the supermarket.

This first watermelon is actually too pale. And it is not sweet enough. And not completely juicy. And it costs too much. But it is a hint, a tease of the abundant sweetness and warmth and humidity and greenness and fireflies and laziness soon to arrive. It is a reminder of the imminence of Eden. And it is truly something to celebrate.

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domingo, mayo 06, 2007

Everybody's A Critic. Not.

HL Mencken

The Sage of Baltimore, H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), knew something about criticism. A brief excerpt from "On Being an American" illustrates this nicely:
Here the business of getting a living ... is enormously easier than it is in any other Christian land—so easy, in fact, that an educated and forehanded man who fails at it must actually make deliberate efforts to that end. Here the general average of intelligence, of knowledge, of competence, of integrity, of self-respect, of honor is so low that any man who knows his trade, does not fear ghosts, has read fifty good books, and practices the common decencies stands out as brilliantly as a wart on a bald head, and is thrown willy-nilly into a meager and exclusive aristocracy. And here, more than anywhere else I know of or have heard of, the daily panorama of human existence, of private and communal folly—the unending procession of governmental extortions and chicaneries, of commercial brigandages and throat-slittings, of theological buffooneries, of aesthetic ribaldries, of legal swindles and harlotries, of miscellaneous rogueries, villainies, imbecilities, grotesqueries and extravagances—is so inordinately gross and preposterous, so perfectly brought up to the highest conceivable amperage, so steadily enriched with an almost fabulous daring and originality, that only the man who was born with a petrified diaphragm can fail to laugh himself to sleep every night, and to awake every morning with all the eager, unflagging expectation of a Sunday-school superintendent touring the Paris peep-shows.

Wow. Now that is what happens when one writes with a sharpened skewer. Mencken is entertained, and so am I. I love his lists. Also, the Sunday-school superintendent crack is just wonderful. Oh how I wish my daily Internet reading had anything written so brilliantly. And forget about that stack of grey newspapers. But I digress.

The May 2 New York Times ran an article Are Book Reviewers Out of Print?" The Atlanta Constitution, it seems, eliminated the job of its book editor, and the Times bemoans this as part of an extremely dangerous trend. The danger is probably limited to soon to be former book editors, and doesn't seem to reach readers or writers or bloggers:
The decision in Atlanta — in which book reviews will now be overseen by one editor responsible for virtually all arts coverage — comes after a string of changes at book reviews across the country. The Los Angeles Times recently merged its once stand-alone book review into a new section combining the review with the paper’s Sunday opinion pages, effectively cutting the number of pages devoted to books to 10 from 12. Last year The San Francisco Chronicle’s book review went from six pages to four. All across the country, newspapers are cutting book sections or running more reprints of reviews from wire services or larger papers.

To some authors and critics, these moves amount to yet one more nail in the coffin of literary culture. But some publishers and literary bloggers — not surprisingly — see it as an inevitable transition toward a new, more democratic literary landscape where anyone can comment on books.

Another "nail in the coffin of literary culture?" Talk about self importance. The Times article does however come off its high horse to notice various literary blogs (not this one), most of which you can find to the right of this posting, which provide the "new, more democratic literary landscape where anyone can comment on books." Well, thanks, I guess. The fact is that the lit blogs are much more plentiful and much more fun than newspaper book reviews.

The lit blogs are consistently a much better crafted, more interesting read than the daily newspapers, too. Part of that may be the lack of profit motive. Part of that may be that these are labors of love. And part of that might be blog tone. I don't have that "audience confusion" I see so regularly in the papers, nor am I trying to impress you or anybody with my literary erudition.

For erudition, well, you can just click on the right and follow the yellow brick road. And if you want to find out about books you'll like, whether or not they are now in print, and hear intelligent discussion about books, the blogs are providing a daily 12 course repast. Enjoy!

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viernes, mayo 04, 2007

Cinco de Mayo: A Retelling

cross posted at daily Kos

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Cinco de Mayo, May 5, is not Mexican Independence Day (that's 9/16). Cinco de Mayo is a commemoration of the May 5, 1862 Battle of Puebla. So, before you rush off to the fiestas, the food and the drinks, a brief telling of the stories seems an important prerequisite.

What? You didn't hear the story of Cinco de Mayo in high school or college? You thought it was an invention of the beer companies? Wrong. Here's the story (two versions)

First, there's this version of events (which I like best and which I've re-written).
French, Spanish and English troops invaded Mexico in early 1862 allegedly to collect debts from the newly, democratically elected government of Benito Jurarez. The English and Spanish made deals and left; the French under Emperor Napoleon III decided to stay andoccupy the country.

Maximilian, a Hapsburg prince, and his wife, Carlota, were to rule Mexico, and the French army left Veracruz to try to topple Mexico City. The French, we're told, though that if the capital fell, the Mexicans would surrender to French rule.

Under the command of General Zaragoza and with a cavalry commanded by Colonel Porfirio Diaz, who would later become dictator, Mexican army of about 4,000 troops waited at Puebla.

As the French approached with twice as many troops, Zaragosa ordered Diaz to take his cavalry to the flank of the French army. The French made an enormous tactical mistake. They sent their cavalry chase Diaz, who turned with a far superior cavalry, and routed them. The French infantry then charged the Mexican defenders through the mud-- there had been a thunderstorm-- and through hundreds of head of cattle stirred up by Indians who were armed only with machetes. The Mexicans, though greatly outmanned, won a decisive victory.

In 1862 the Civil War was raging in the US. The Mexican victory kept Napoleon III from supplying the confederate rebels for at least another year. The Battle of Gettysburg, essentially ending the Civil War, was 14 months after the battle of Puebla. And thus, the argument that Mexico's Battle of Puebla victory actually won the US Civil War for the North. But I digress.

Then there's this Wiki of the Battle of Puebla. It appears to be more of a military history and claims authenticity. I wasn't there, so I can't say. But, alas, it calls my story "unsubstantiated." No flanking cavalries. No infantry mired in mud and stampeding cattle. No Indians armed only with machetes. I just don't care. I prefer the former. I mean, if you're going to have a really great party, let's get rid of the Wiki's "moral victory" argument and that snark that the story "did not require mythical, romantic screenplay scenarios." Bah! I'm sticking with the mud and stampeding cattle and Indians armed only with machetes.

Viva Mexico! Viva Cinco de Mayo!

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