Police Violence

What if cops were Skittles?

According to Vox, police have killed over 2,000 people since Ferguson. Their map of fatal encounters illustrates the point with red dots.

That made me wonder. What if cops were Skittles?
Continue reading

facebook-arrechaga-meme

Examining a cynical, fake-patriotic Facebook meme

Instead of making yourself a tool for those whose agendas run counter to the best interests of the nation that flag represents, how about stepping back and asking  who’s playing you, and why?

This meme came across my Facebook feed earlier today.

facebook-arrechaga-meme

Obviously somebody has an issue with Colin Kaepernick (and other black athletes) protesting injustice in America by refusing to stand during the national anthem. Continue reading

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Did Russia poison Hillary? An inductive argument

clinton-collapse-696x385Dear Hillary,

Get rid of all your stuff. I know I sound like Inconvenient Jesus right now. Just do it. All the pantsuits, all the jewelry, all the hairspray, the mouthwash, everything, especially the sentimental stuff. If you can’t pass through the eye of the needle, the road ends here.

Continue reading

Book-Review

Jose Saramago: Our Doppelgangers, Our Selves…

The Double is, ultimately, a meditation – on who we are and, more importantly, on why we are.

“Chaos is merely order waiting to be deciphered.” ― José Saramago, The Double

The Double by Jose Saramago Image courtesy Goodreads)

The Double by Jose Saramago Image courtesy Goodreads)

The use of doppelgangers in literature is a common enough  device. Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “William Wilson” and Joseph Conrad’s “The Secret Sharer” explore the idea of a double who shares an intimate relationship with the protagonist.  In novel form Dickens treats the idea in A Tale of Two Cities and Dostoevsky explores it in The Double. Of course the device has been given permutations, the most famous of which is likely Robert Louis Stevenson‘s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde wherein the doppelganger idea is blended with an exploration of chemically induced multiple personality disorder.

The Portuguese Nobelist Jose Saramago (whose Baltasar and Blimunda I wrote about last year) offers a postmodern spin on the doppelganger. Saramago’s The Double is both a story of a man who accidentally encounters his human duplicate while watching a video and a meditation on identity, self-hood, and the power of language. Continue reading

Never forget…what, exactly?

Yesterday, Big Think posted an interesting collection of Gallup Poll results, along with some commentary: Obama Actually Made America Great Again. Here’s the Data. To hear the rabidly irrational Obama opposition on today, of all days, I can only say that these are funny numbers to describe how Obama has ruined America in eight years.

What’s truly deplorable is that, of all the ways Bush (with a boost from Dems) ruined America Continue reading

CATEGORY: World

#HopeTuesday: Moving the goalposts faster than the ball – our expectations of humanity’s progress vs reality

We’ve never had it so good. “We,” as in all of humanity, and “good” as in just about every measure of life, liberty and happiness.

by djerrid

Here are a few of the many, many examples. Infant mortality, educational attainment, lifespan, reduction in violence, communication both locally and globally, justice, nutrition, wealth. You name it, we’re better than ever. You are blessed to live in the best time for human beings.

So…why do we feel like the world is falling apart? Why are we so afraid and discontented: with each other, for our future, for our well-being? Of immigrants, of suicide bombers, of the zika virus, of Russia and China flexing their muscles, of the refugee crisis, of the rise of nationalism in Europe and elsewhere, of Trump, Hillary and Congress’s tendency to put party and personal ambition well above the country’s interest, of income and other forms of inequality? Continue reading

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Book Review: Lament for the Fallen by Gavin Chait

“Review a little history and you’ll see that creators seem to find inspiration in adversity.” – Gavin Chait, Lament for the Fallen

Lament for the Fallen by Gavin Chait (Image courtesy Goodreads)

On the surface Gavin Chait’s debut novel Lament for the Fallen seems to have a classic sci-fi plot: an alien comes to Earth, interacts with humans, reveals remarkable super human powers in helping his human hosts/friends, then returns to his home, humans having been taught an important lesson or two. If it seems that this plot line that has been used with remarkable success in the genre, it’s because it has. While it is well known among my friends and critics that I am not a fan of science fiction books (which I noted again very recently), I am a fan of sci-fi films. Besides the ubiquitous and just okay behemoth E.T.: the Extraterrestrial, other films that have explored the genre interestingly include The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Man Who Fell to Earth, and Starman.

Having said all this, I suppose I should make a clarification. Lament for the Fallen is not about an alien visiting Earth. It is about a human who has lived his life in a “space city” (think colony – that’s important to the themes of this work) visiting Earth and doing some of those remarkable things mentioned above. To miss this might cause one to miss important themes and ideas that this book explores.

As I find I must say too often in my role as crusty old professor, read more closely, students. Harrumph…now to this excellent book… Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

Writers of slender acquaintance: Jorge Ferretis

“He would never wish to see his son as he himself had been once, living discontentedly amidst men at the beck and call of masters.” – Jorge Ferretis

Jorge Ferretis (image courtesy Enciclopedia de la Literatura en Mexico)

I’ve finally made my way through the lengthy collection of stories A World of Great Stories, I’ve found a number of the selections rather creaky (likely a fault of older translations) or by authors who are obscure outside their own countries. (I see this as a positive since it introduces American readers to talented authors they might not otherwise encounter.) There is a sincere effort by the various region editors to include representative work from most of the world – the U.S., British Isles, eastern and western Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, and Asia. Africa is not represented, an omission one feels more keenly now than might have been felt when the collection first appeared in 1948. Still, it is a collection that has reminded me about – or introduced me to – writers such as Sherwood Anderson, Rudyard KiplingRhian Roberts, Lauro de Bosis, Karel Capek, and Ryunosuke Akutagawa, writers who represent all the previously mentioned geographic regions except Latin America.

This essay on Jorge Ferretis, A Mexican author you may, like me, not be familiar with, completes the full tour of all the geographic regions covered by the story collection I’ve been blathering on about. He’s a good choice because he allows us to talk about Latin American literary history a bit. Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

Writers of slender acquaintance: Ryunosuke Akutagawa

“Of course, problems in practical morality are different from the production technique pointed out by Strindberg, But there was something in the hint he had received from the passage that was disturbing…. Bushido and its mannerism–” – Ryunosuke Akutagawa

Ryunosuke Akutagawa (image courtesy Wikimedia)

The short stories of Ryunosuke Akutagawa are highly esteemed in Japan, and one of that country’s highest literary awards, the Akutagawa Prize, is named in his honor. Most American readers, however, likely know him through the adaptation of one of his stories, “In a Grove” by the master Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa into the cinema classic Rashomon.

A tormented soul, like so many short story masters, Akutagawa took his own life at 35. He left behind a body of work that is fascinating in its questioning of Japanese cultural and philosophical thought, particularly of philosophies such as the above mentioned Bushido. Highly influenced by his study of Western literature (as a student at Tokyo Imperial University he translated works by both William Butler Yeats and Anatole France), Akutagawa sought to reconcile Eastern and Western thought and culture in his works. The tension in his stories arises, almost always, between the truth that the individual perceives and the facts of any incident. Continue reading

ArtSunday

Writers of slender acquaintance: Karel Capek

Our houses and machines will be in ruins, our systems will collapse, and the names of our great will fall away like dry leaves. Only you, love, will blossom on this rubbish heap and commit the seed of life to the winds.” – Karel Capek

Karel Capek (image courtesy Wikimedia)

The Czech writer Karel Capek, in terms of being a writer of slender acquaintance, falls somewhere between Rudyard Kipling, a Nobelist remembered now only for children’s stories and Rhian Roberts, a Welsh writer of great promise who published a few short stories and then disappeared. While he is often (erroneously) credited with having coined the word for a creation that may haunt the 21st century,  was nominated for the Nobel Prize numerous times, and even has literary awards named for him, Capek is not widely read now.

He should be. His central themes – the ability of technology to overwhelm and destroy humanity, the dangers of rampant consumerism, corporatism run amok, the evils of authoritarianism of both left and right political persuasions – will resonate powerfully with contemporary readers. Given that Capek died in 1938, his prescience about the power of these forces in our lives makes him a writer who should be widely read and discussed. Continue reading

CATEGORY: ArtsLiterature

Writers of slender acquaintance: Lauro De Bosis

Award-winning Italian writer lost his life protesting the fascism of Benito Mussolini.

Lauro De Bosis (image courtesy Wikimedia)

“Every regime in the world, even the Afghan and Turk, allows its citizens a certain amount of liberty. Fascism alone, in self-defense, is obliged to annihilate thought.” – Lauro De Bosis

This week’s writer of slender acquaintance is less a mysterious one like Rhian Roberts and more a tragic one like – well, like many artists who oppose and are destroyed by repressive regimes. As I mentioned last week, I am meandering through a massive collection of short stories called A World of Great Stories. As I made my way through the Italian section (and came across one of the worst edited “story” selections I have read so far in this volume – and that’s saying something – an excerpt called “The Travelers” from Ignazio Silone’s The Seed Beneath the Snow), I encountered De Bosis and a piece (it’s not really a story, it’s a heartfelt autobiographical essay about and against Mussolini and Italian Fascism) he wrote before his last flight (De Bosis was an amateur aviator). Continue reading

Donald Trump

New Yorker starts analysis of Trump with, “honestly…”

What have we learned about that?

Well, actually, the headline is just a hair away from that, “Being honest about Trump.” I think it qualifies, though. So would WSJ in this piece, I think.

For all of my complaints about Glopnik’s article, I love his description of the center:

“While the habits of hatred get the better of the right, the habits of self-approval through the fiction of being above it all contaminate the center.”

One has to love this much naive honesty. The problem with their fiction is that they’ve believed their own PR just a bit too much. Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

Writers of slender acquaintance: Rhian Who…?

“It is therefore only right that we should all turn out to make our farewells.” – Rhian Roberts

A World of Great Stories, eds. Hiram Haydn and John Cournos (image courtesy Goodreads)

I haven’t mentioned my reading in the last couple of essays. That isn’t because I haven’t been reading (don’t be silly), but because I’m dividing my time between a couple of works. One of these is a crime fiction novel by an author I have reviewed before, William Mark (my review of his latest, Crossing the Blue Line, will appear sometime next week.

The other, whose cover is pictured at right, is called A World of Great Stories and contains 115 “stories” (more on why the quotation marks used shortly) by authors from around the world. So far I’ve finished the American/British section (which includes not just the U.S. and England but Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) and am into the section on Europe which starts, quite naturally, with the French who are after all right across the Channel.

The Welsh representative is the Rhian of this essay’s title. Her name is Rhian Roberts and if there were ever a writer with whom one’s acquaintance is going to be slender, it would be she.

But more on Ms. Roberts anon. First, a few words about this book. Continue reading

ArtSunday

Writers of slender acquaintance: Rudyard Kipling

Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” – Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Another in the series I began last week about writers who have become neglected. This week’s choice is one whose literary reputation has been as high, as low, and as controversial as any writer in the history of literature. Rudyard Kipling has been revered – and reviled – by authors as diverse as Jorge Luis Borges, R.K. Narayan, and George Orwell – who noted that Kipling:

…sold out to the British governing class, not financially but emotionally. This warped his political judgement, for the British ruling class were not what he imagined, and it led him into abysses of folly and snobbery, but he gained a corresponding advantage from having at least tried to imagine what action and responsibility are like.

For those who know Kipling – and that’s almost everyone – only for “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” or The Jungle Book or Kim – Kipling is a dimly remembered writer of exciting stories for young readers. But he was a complicated figure who produced a wide range of work with interesting themes. Continue reading

Brexit

Brexit: “Leave” voters are stupid

BrexitBrexit will decrease the standard of living and increase the gap between rich and poor.

Okay, let’s dispense with all the “respect the decision of the people” nonsense. Brexit is stupid. It’s a stupid decision that will hurt Britain in both the short and long term.  And the people who voted for it are stupid. Not only ignorant, not only frightened, not uninformed. Stupid. Continue reading

brexit

#Brexit: when the walls started coming up again all over Europe

brexit‘Everything I know about the world has changed. Things are going to get very dark and very ugly. There will be fear and suspicion and it will not end.’

I remember where I was on 11 September 2001. I remember how it felt. I remember what I thought.

There were a group of us gathered in the boardroom at Deloitte in Cape Town. It was the first meeting of the newly-established board that would govern the non-profit organisation I ran, Business Beat.

I remember ANC member of parliament Ben Turok emphatically telling me that I shouldn’t ‘dabble’, but should take things seriously. It was an odd, and oddly uninformed, rebuke considering that even by that date, I’d spent eight years working in South Africa’s townships to help undo the economic damage caused by Apartheid.

A secretary interrupted and had a brief, nervous conversation with our chair. He immediately, softly, said, ‘An airplane has just flown into the World Trade Centre in New York. I think we should cancel today’s meeting.’ Continue reading

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Don’t panic: a #brexplanation

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image courtesy of the guardian

First, remember that the non-binding referendum is non-binding. The United Kingdom, unequaled in terms of global power and influence, unparalleled in her commitment to justice, and unbound to this referendum, which diminishes her majesty in hideous fashion, remains loyal to the European Union. For all the bleach blond rhetoric, for all the false promises to fund the National Health with nonexistent dues paid to the European Union, a non-binding referendum REMAINS non-binding. Continue reading

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What does Brexit mean for the Premier League?

By threatening club finances and limiting player movement, Brexit may inflict serious damage on the world’s best league…

brexit-premier-leagueOn the sports side of things, we have this headline this morning:

Premier League refuses to speculate on effects of UK’s ‘Brexit’ from EU

The world’s most prestigious football league might be unwilling to speculate, but I’m not. England’s vote to leave the European Union has many uncertain about what it means for the Prem, but nobody sees it as a good thing. Lots of uncertainty. Lots of breath-holding. And for some, probably a good bit of prayer.

From where I sit, Brexit looks to be an unmitigated disaster for the Premier League. Continue reading

Book-Review

Guy de Maupassant and the pain of brevity…

How strange and changeful is life! How small a thing is needed to make or ruin us! – Guy de Maupassant, “The Necklace”

There must have been something in the water.

Guy de Maupassant (image courtesy Wikimedia)

If one considers some of the great short story writers of the late 19th-early 20th century – Chekhov, O. Henry, H.H. Munro, better known by his pen name Saki, and Maupassant, one must note two things: they gave us some of the most remarkable short fiction ever written (Maupassant’s “The Necklace,” Saki’s “The Open Window,” O. Henry’s “The Last Leaf,” Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Dog“) and they all died in their forties. If one adds in the brilliant American Stephen Crane, who died at 29 and who gave us “The Open Boat,” the average lifespan for a master of short fiction in this era works out to be roughly 40. That’s the lifespan of a medieval knight.

It’s as if short fiction genius comes with the price of a short life. It’s a literary artist’s version of Achilles’ choice: faced with the prospect of a long but uneventful life and dying forgotten or doing work that would bring them immortality but a brief temporal existence, they all chose option B.

I have long been divided about whether I thought Chekhov or Crane the greatest of short fictioneers, to borrow a term from my friend the gifted short fiction writer Teresa Milbrodt. Having recently finished reading The Tales of Guy de Maupassant, I find myself needing to consider adding a third contender to my deliberations. Continue reading