31 May 2011

Topical Tuesday: Global Awareness

I really didn't have a topic until I went to my daughter's school concert: Sing for Japan! It was positively awesome. They had many performances and even karaoke. The best part was when their foreign exchange student took the podium and spoke in English with a Japanese accent. She recounted her fear during March, of her family possibly being devastated by the earthquake, tremors and tsunami. You could see the relief on her face that her family was safe. However, a tear rolled down her cheek and she told us about her best friend, who had moved to the northern coast of Japan. She told of her friend's tragic fate and the lack of communication with her friend's family. She still has no idea if anyone survived. The young woman's voice wavered and the tears began to spill uncontrollably. We gave her a moment to compose herself and continue her tale. When her speech was done, there was not a dry eye in the concert hall. We gave her a standing ovation. The young lady will return to her home at the end of June. My daughter hopes to visit her one day in Japan.

Last night, my daughter asked me to type her essay (she had handwritten it) because she just pecks at the keyboard and is a horrible typist. I agreed and am so proud of all she has accomplished this school year. I think our insightful youth just may save this world yet. So without further ado, here are the thoughts of promise. . .

CSIHSIS May 29, 2011
Ayanna Rodriguez Advisory
Graduate Profile
College of Staten Island High School for International Studies has helped me become culturally aware, aware of world events and global dynamics, and work as a collaborative team member. In CSI, we learn to understand other people and other countries. In these countries, when they are in need of help to provide what assistance we can.
To be culturally aware, you gain knowledge of individual differences. Some differences include behavior, customs, and physical and learning abilities. Diversity is a key point in cultural awareness. In diversity, traditions, religions, races and ethnicities make up your personality.
In school, we had an exchange student from Japan. For many months, the only time I saw her was on the transit bus. I met her during a practice for a Japan concert to raise money for Japan after the tsunami. I learned of some of her talents like she plays piano and speaks English as well as Japanese her native language. Also, at the end of school she will be leaving the United States for her hometown. Before she leaves, me and a few of her other friends want her to take email addresses and phone numbers so she can stay in contact with us.
In advisory, we have an international current events every Monday, so we know about world events. In the beginning of advisory on Monday we each read aloud our reports of the world. Also, some clubs and concerts try raising money for the world. In the first semester, I was part of the UNICEF club. They worked to raise money for many countries, one being Uganda. Working with the Invisible Children was very important. My group worked on a fashion show, while others worked on movie night, HOV (Hand on a Van), and jewelry sales. In Global History, we learn of culture, religion, and traditions of other countries. Also, their past histories and problems, to make us have global dynamics.
To be a collaborative member, you have to work in a team well and achieve a goal, while learning from the people and their culture. In Earth Science Lab, the teacher pairs us up to match people with different ideas. On the other hand, in Global, every marking period she changes our seat so we can work with people whose weakness is your strength and likewise for you. Each team member has a role to play in the group. For example, when we do book club, we each have roles that come with many questions to choose from. The group roles are discussion director, illuminator, illustration connector and summarizer connector is the most culturally aware. You may connect with any aspect of real life, including news, family, and world events.
Next year, in February, I will visit a part of two different countries. I will venture through Italy and Greece. I will spend three to four days in each country. Over the summer, I will try my best to learn the basics of Italian and their culture, as well as Greek culture. I will work with the teachers and other students going to try to be more culturally aware.
As a result, my high school has culturally changed me in many ways. CSI has made me more aware of the other parts of the world. This school has changed the way I think about the world. The farthest I’ve ever been from the United States was Mexico. I hadn’t even left North America. I want to be a part of the world, to play a role in society when I leave CSI.

30 May 2011

Your Summer Reads

What defines a summer read? Easy, happy, sappy, fun? For me a summer read is just one that is QUICK... that I want to carry around with me and open whenever I have a minute. Well I've read a couple... and anticipate a couple more that ought to make your summer read list...

The Pull of Gravity by Gae Polisner

I looked forward to this one for months, and the reviews amplified my need to read... It caught me a little surprise, mostly because... I guess I was thinking 'critical acclaim' meant... I don't know... that it would read like those lists from high school of 'should reads'. On the contrary though, the voice is young and authentic. Nick Gardener is a teenage boy of normal intelligence and periodic moments of awkwardness. He has a neighbor he calls the Scoot who has a rapid aging disorder, and a 400 pound dad who barely gets off the couch... none of which is great... but when the Scoot seems to really be approaching death and Nick's dad takes off on a trek of 'Fat Man Walking', Nick feels like the world is closing in.

Enter Jaycee—another of the Scoot's friends, in the form of a quirky girl. Jaycee has gotten a bee in her bonnet that she and Nick should fulfill the Scoot's dying wish of getting his first edition signed coy of Of Mice and Men to the Scoot's long time absent dad.

The story is full of laughs and tenderness, and all the pain of being a teen when life is dishing you things teens really shouldn't have to deal with. It is a sweet tale that totally falls into that 'summer read'. I highly recommend it if you like YA books. (came out in May)

Okay, hard to see... but second indented line...
Finger Lickin' Dead by Riley Adams (otherwise known as Elisabeth Spann Craig)

Now THIS ONE I haven't gotten to yet because it just came the end of last week, but it is next. SQUEEEEEE! And look, look, look! (okay, nearly impossible to see) I made an acknowledgment pages!!!! It's hard to read, but this is a first for me—an acknowledgment... This came because I had a dream about a murdered food critic and passed it on to Elizabeth, as I knew I'd not write a restaurant story, and knew she was. I'm very excited to see how this works out, and, as Leanne says, Elizabeth is the QUEEN of little old lady cozies.


And there it is!

I also LOVE this getting a book before it's out thing. I know you book seller types sort of take this for granted, but it is new to me. besides... this picked by the author to GET it is special, too.  I'm just thrilled! Cozies are PERFECT for summer... the perfect dose of zany and 'lets solve this'. This one is coming out June 7th.

And watch, June 14, for Elizabeth to be a guest at Confessions of a Watery Tart. I will include a review right thereabouts, too...


Very Bad Men by Harry Dolan

I am only going to do a brief review here, though it deserves much longer. I interviewed Harry Dolan when Bad Thing Happen came out, and I think my blog was high on his google stats for where people searching for him went looking (in fact that interview is the #3 result when you google Very Bad Men)... he got a fair bit of traffic and so a couple months ago he contacted me and asked me if I wanted an ARC (advanced readers copy) for his next book (BOY HOWDY, DID I!?)

I am 90% done and this one does a couple really amazing things... for starters, it continues with a couple writer inside jokes. David Loogan, the MC is an editor at a literary mystery journal, but the primary writers joke comes in the form of the murderer and how he 'sees things'... Words on a page have colors and motion, and the poor man can't tolerate adverbs *snort * The second rather phenomenal trick Dolan pulls off is having a PoV of the murderer, but managing to have the shock twist as to the murderer... if you know what I mean... which surely you don't. Dolan has a very bendy mind, and this has been a fabulous read. It's no wonder he managed to get Stephen King to swear in his book blurb last time. Now this isn't the light beach read for people who want HAPPY, but it is definitely a carry-it-around pageturner. This one isn't out until July 7th.

I will do a longer and more satisfying review on this closer to his release, but I just wanted you all to have a heads up on what to watch for.

So enjoy your summer reading!!!

27 May 2011

Who'm I Friday - Some Perspectives on Probability

So... what were the odds that I'd write another blog about probability? In retrospect, 1.0 (that's a math-y way of saying 100%), and given that blog content is not represented by an agreed-upon categorical model, that's about as close as we can get to an accurate answer.

But fear not, this one will be very light on the math. But fear, because it will be heavy on pedantic philosophizing.

Sports Predictions
Brian Burke has created a website that combines highly intelligent mathematics with the mass appeal of professional football (American football, for my global friends). That, in itself, is an improbable (tee hee) accomplishment. Burke evaluates tons of historical data to build various statistical models of player value and game outcome. These outcome predictions are presented, naturally, as probabilities.

One question Burke is frequently asked (and one that he asks of himself) is this: How is it that "luck" seems to play such a big role in what ought to be a game of pure skill?

Intelligently, Burke is quick to point out that the statistical model cannot account for all of the factors in a game like football. Brilliantly, he then goes on to analyze his own analysis to determine the limits of the model.

Now, I can't match Burke's skill with probability math, but I can give an epistemological explanation for the phenomenon we call "luck" in regard to sports predictions. Here it is:

First-- and this is something that Burke himself has described quite well-- an accurate prediction of performance doesn't necessarily produce an accurate prediction of outcome. This can be easily demonstrated by imagining a baseball game where each team gets nine singles over the course of nine innings. But the Davistown Dawgs got exactly one single per inning, and thus scored no runs; whereas the Haverford Hawgs got nine hits in a single inning, scoring seven runs. The batting, pitching and fielding performances were identical, but the Hawgs came away with a big win. This sort of thing makes analysts chuckle, and causes sports writers to rip out their hair in search of a plausible story to appease the limited imagination of their readers (and themselves). They usually come up with a bunch of nonsense about "superior clutch hitting", which they promptly ignore the following day when the tables are turned and the Dawgs blow out the Hawgs 13-1.

Second is perhaps a corollary to the first. Imagine, if you will, that Dirk Nowitzki has made his last seven free throws and then-- inexplicably-- missed. How is this possible? Shooting free throws is obviously a matter of skill, and individual differences are predictable. The answer is that Dirk himself is a microcosm of performance & outcome variability: Each time he shoots a basket, he must judge the distance to the hoop, select an angle of entry, determine the necessary force and therefore how much to contract his arm muscles, predict the necessary release timing and decide how severely to contract his wrist muscles, etc. etc. etc. Because Dirk is a living organism, his mind and body are in a constant state of change, so that not even two consecutive free throws are truly identical. If he makes several small errors in judgment, or if the errors cancel out (e.g., too much arm and not enough wrist), he can make the basket; but if one error is large, or several errors align (e.g., not enough arc and a late release) the shot will miss. Simple, right?

Third: Players and coaches employ deliberate random factors. Your team might perform best passing the ball, but if you pass on every play you will be at a disadvantage. Ergo, the better strategy is to pass often, occasionally run left, and occasionally run right. So if you run left and the opposing defense happens to blitz left (playing their own randomization strategy), that's just bad luck. Those sports writers will say otherwise, but they're probably wrong.

Fourth-- and here's the tricky one-- we have to realize that the concept of "luck" applies to the predictor, not the predictee. In other words, if I say that the Colts will beat the Saints based on my statistical model, but then the Saints beat the Colts, the Saints did not have good luck-- I had bad luck. Some would call this an inaccuracy or flaw in the statistical model, but I couldn't disagree more. If a statistical model claims to predict winners with 75% accuracy and is correct three times out of four, it is statistically perfect, just like my prediction that heads will come up 50% of the time on a fair coin flip. And similarly, if the coin comes up tails several times in a row, it is not the coin that was lucky or unlucky-- it was me. New Orleans fans should take comfort in knowing that their Saints won based on skill.

State Lotteries
Once upon a time, a person could use drugs like cocaine and heroin without becoming a social pariah, whilst gamblers were considered the heathen scourge that we cheered for superpowered movie cops to beat up on [citation needed].

Alas, for those days.

I've nothing against a friendly game of poker, mind you, but gambling against the house (or state) for a superjackpot is sheer lunacy.

Let me put it this way: Would you gamble $3,875.97 of your own money on a 258:1 shot at winning $1,000,000? No? Then quit buying lottery tickets.

Those numbers come from the Washington state lotto, which uses a 6 of 49 ticket (two tickets per $1) and offers the following prizes for picking the correct numbers:
3 / 6 = $3
4 / 6 = $30
5 / 6 = $1000
6 / 6 = $1,000,000+

There are 13,983,816 combinations possible, so for every $6,991,908 (again, two sets per $1) collected they pay out an aggregate of $749,133 to 3-number winners, $406,320 to 4-number winners, $258,000 to 5-number winners, and about $1,000,000 to 6-number winners (it's incremented when there is no winner).

Ergo, if they eliminated the super jackpot and split that $1,000,000 amongst the 258 5-number winners, they would each get $3,875.97. The current format does not do this. The current format, paying the same amount, takes away 258 chances (out of every 13,983,816) to win $3,875.97 for that one chance (out of the same 13,983,816) at a million. If you play the lottery, you are therefore accepting a gamble of $3,875.97 at 258:1 to win a million.

My proposal is that they eliminate the cognitive barriers, keep the exact same net payout ratio, and allow players to really decide what sort of stakes they want to play for. The normal drawing would therefore pay everything out to anyone who got at least 3 numbers (56:1 per 50-cent ticket) -- hence that would be $9.66 each.
Then a second drawing would be held, for an entry of $6.66 (the 3/6 winnings less the original $3 prize), that pays $122.90 at 18.44:1 odds.
Then a third drawing would charge $92.90 (the previous winnings less the original $30 prize) and pay $4,877.37 at 52.5:1 odds.
Finally, a fourth drawing would charge $3,877.37 to win $1,000,000 at 258:1 odds.

If you make the initial bet and just let it ride, your chance of winning the jackpot is the same. Some legislator might argue that $3,877.37 is too much for people to be gambling, but that's the point, dunderhead. If you like, we can limit the fourth drawing to those who are replaying previous winners, but then the legislator would sulk and whine about people not wanting to risk that kind of money once they've got it, and it takes all the fun out of having a chance to win a super jackpot right off the bat-- which is to say, the chance to fantasize about winning a super jackpot without actually considering the probabilities involved.

And that's the point.

The worst damage from these state lotteries is not the $1-$5 a week that people waste gambling, but the mental and emotional investment given to a future that is both extremely unlikely and completely beyond their control. This investment is stolen directly from financial dreams that are actionable-- like applying for a better job, improving one's education, starting a business on the side, etc. Some would argue that the amount of lost emotional investment per person is negligible. If so, I find you guilty of the continuum fallacy and sentence you to shut the hell up until your brain starts working (possibly never). One in three people in the U.S. now believe that winning a lottery jackpot is the only way to become financially secure.


Long ago, when other eight-year-olds were dreaming about being pirates or whatever, I was wondering what it would be like to meet myself.

Specifically, an exact copy of myself.

More precisely, I imagined an exact copy of myself who'd been flipped through a fourth dimension so that his left- and right-hand sides were now switched up (or perhaps mine were, neither of us would be able to tell) and how was now standing facing me on some road or path.

Most explicitly, I wondered how the heck we'd get around each other. "Let's both go left--" wouldn't work, because my left would be his right. Perhaps I'd try to climb over him while he stooped down, but then he'd do exactly the same thing; so then I'd switch-- but so would he.

Maybe we could talk things over and sort it out-- or maybe not. Whatever I decide to say, my mirror-duplicate is going to be saying the exact same thing at the exact same time. The cool thing here would be that we understood each other perfectly, but the obvious drawback is that there would be no actual conversation, and if I couldn't work it out in my head all by myself there wouldn't be any point in talking, would there?

Could I/we flip a coin? My duplicate will try the same thing (with his own coin) of course, but we'd both agree that "heads goes that way" (I point left, he points to his right, which is the same direction) and keep flipping until only one of us got heads. However... if the road is as perfectly symmetrical as us, our identical muscles are going to produce a series of identical flips.

I never resolved that, but it came back to me recently while I was mulling over the Surprise Quiz Paradox (which is a variant of the unexpected hanging paradox). The paradox involves a professor who wants to give a surprise quiz and some students who don't want to study. I decided to approach the scenario as something of a "game" with the following rules:

Each Friday, Professor X has the option of giving a quiz.
Each Thursday night, his students have the option of studying.

If there is a surprise quiz (quiz but no studying), the Professor scores three points of satisfaction. If he gives a quiz that is not a surprise, he loses one point (because he worked for nothing-- he only likes surprise quizzes). The students, on the other hand, gain three points of satisfaction if there is no quiz and no studying; if they study when there is no quiz, they lose a point (because they worked for nothing).

Superficially, it would seem that the best strategy for the students is to never study. Regardless of what the Professor does, studying will never give them more satisfaction. But with that strategy, they will be taking a quiz every week, and never get a chance at the big payoff (no study + no quiz).

The Professor might be secure in always giving quizzes, but if the students are clever they will respond by always studying (after all, studying with a quiz gives them the same satisfaction-- zero points-- as having to take a surprise quiz without studying).

When I sat back to consider this little game, I imagined the possibility of a single iteration (i.e., this only happens once). And given that the Professor and students are perfectly clever and have mutual knowledge of rationality, I concluded that there was no certain conclusion as to how either party should behave. In other words, they were in a similar boat (on a similar path) to that of me and my duplicate self. And it struck me that the only rational solution in either scenario was for at least one party to engage in random behavior. If the Professor decides on a 50-50 chance of giving a quiz, the students won't have to study, no effort will be wasted, and both parties will get pretty much the best they could get out of the deal.

And then it struck me that maybe this is why electrons and quarks and stuff have wave functions. You know, quantum physics and stuff-- reality, as far as science can observe, is not deterministic. Perhaps, given that one electron is pretty much identical to another, and those sorts of things have to interact, randomization is a precondition of existence. And no, I can't back that up with good science or even a decent theory. This is a blog. I'm allowed to speculate based on intuition. But maybe, just maybe, someone with a little more knowledge of particle physics will see a useful idea in that.

I give it 3 to 1 odds.


26 May 2011

Water Facts - Delusional Reality

Fact, they say, is stranger than fiction. So for my Delusional Thursday post, let me list out 5 things that I encountered last week, which I would say were the ramblings of a delusional mind, if I did not actually know they happened.

05. Spam in the middle of nowhere- it was a remote hamlet perched high on top of a hill. The road leading to the place could, at best, be called a trail, and on the 40 minute journey, I had barely 5 minutes of very spotty mobile connectivity. Guess what happened when I was standing at the edge of a rock, looking down on the traces of waterfalls of monsoons past? My mobile phone's beep made itself heard over the roar of the wind. There in the middle of nowhere, my phone had somehow managed to pull in a text message - "Flat 15% off on all books till May 31" it read. All I could do was smile.
The precise spot where I got the message
04. Man and beast sharing a water source - same hamlet. The only source of water is a small trickle from a gap in the sheer rock which fills a shallow basin carved by centuries of erosion. "Sometimes, when we come to fill water, we find a tiger here", the villagers told us casually. If they do, they wait for the tiger to drink its fill, before filling water themselve. And what if they are there before the tiger? Well, the tiger waits of course!
Carrying home the water that the Tigers left behind
03. Opposition to water mangement comes from the people themselves- when the technology is proven and easily available, why are there so few water management projects even in areas that face an acute shortage of water every year? Simple. The projects cannot be successful without the buy-in of the local population, and that's where the maximum opposition comes from. Landowners do not want water tables to be replenished, because improved access to water will mean greater prosperity in the area, and prosperity means non-availability of cheap labour. And what the landowners do not want doesn't get implemented!
Who knows where the opposition comes from?

02. Tomato is the most popular cash crop in areas where the water table is newly recharged- tomato is a water intensive crop. You would not expect to see fields of tomato in an area which till a few years back faced droughts every year. And yet, that is exactly what you do see. Why tomato and no other crop, you ask the villagers. "All those years when we didn't have water to drink, we dreamt of growing tomatos. Now that we get water in our wells, we are living out our dreams", was the answer. Who knew calling yourself a tomato farmer was as aspirational as owning a pair of Manolo Blahniks?
The new Manolo Blahnik

01. Wars over water will be more fiercely fought than wars over oil- myth! Though we think it is necessity, oil is actually a luxury that few can afford, and all can do without. Water is essential for survival. When the Wars over Water begin, the Oil Wars will become mere skirmishes. Let's hope the world wakes up before that happens, and starts conserving water.
How much longer can their thirst be met?
And on that note, Happy Delusioning!

25 May 2011

Writer. Not.

I'm always a little edgy when it's my turn to write for our infamous "Writing Wednesday". The reason is simple enough - I feel inadequate. Sure, I believe anyone can give writing tips - you don't have to be Stephen King to have an opinion on what writing is. But... I do think it is an advantage if you actually do write. And you see, I don't.

This isn't true. I write all the time. Today, I've written two reports - one on the Japanese government's reaction to the crisis, and one on a potential new energy policy in Japan. I've also written ten-ish emails, a couple of notes-to-self, and a Facebook update or two. And it's only been a few days since I wrote a blog post for my giraffabilitable blog.

But fiction writing - my true passion? Haven't touched upon it in ages. The last time I remember trying I was in limbo in Norway, not knowing whether I should go back to Japan or not. I thought spending my time writing might be an idea. I was wrong. I didn't have it in me at the time.

Before that, I think I tried writing something in a Tokyo Starbucks way before earthquakes had started messing with my mind. I ended up reorganizing my hard-drive instead.

And before that..? I can't even remember. I'm terrifically good at not writing, actually.

If I was more flexible, I'd kick myself. But then I'd probably stretch a muscle.

Everyone who knows something about writing - including Stephen King - will tell you that you need to write, regularly, to be a writer. You have to overcome whatever reasons - be they real or made-up - you have for not writing. And then do it. Just... eh. Nike would sue me. Simply do it.

Had I been a real writer, I would have thought of this blog post as a plot. I've introduced conflict. I've made it gradually worse. And now I should bridge it back into a solution, and ideally a happy ending. I should tell you how I have a plan, a resolve, a resolution. How I will start writing a given number of words, daily, from tomorrow. And then report back in within a couple of months, describing my success.

But I just told you I'm not a writer.

I will not start writing a given number of words tomorrow. Or rather, I will, but again - these words will be about the economic recovery of Japan post-crisis or whether solar power will replace nuclear power in this country. It might sound like science-fiction, but it reality it is neither science nor fiction. Well, ideally, it should be closer to the first than the second...

I will, however, continue to assemble impressions that - had I been a writer - might one day be useful for a book. I will continue to work hard in attempt of earning another job that I like (though one in a more seismically stable zone this time), which some day could have been the job I took time off from to write. If I were a writer. I will continue to every now and then write smaller stuff in a vague hope that I might make it into a longer story sometime. And I will most likely write blog posts akin to this - but with the hopeful twist at the end - once every year or so. Many of them will have resolutions I won't keep.

If I were a writer I would end this by saying that I am not a writer - yet. But instead, I will end it with something completely different:

There are many ways of writing

Writing with light - photography.

Beauty-writing - calligraphy.

Form writing - typography.

Shake-writing - seismography.

Writing from afar - telegraphy.

Writing the history of history - historiography.

Writing comedy - komoidiagraphy?

"Oh, heavens, no, I'm not a comedy writer. I'm a komoidiagraphist."

24 May 2011

Topically Me

Hmm, Topical Tuesday. Topical. Tuesday. Topical, topical, topical. Tuesday.  <  That's what was buzzing through my head a couple of minutes ago as I was contemplating what to write for today's post. Then I logged on to Facebook and decided to ponder via a status update:

Needs something 'topical' for my Topical Tuesday post. Hmm... Icelandic volcano? RaptureFAIL? Obama in Britain? 

As I was typing this, I had a brainwave, so I added '*lightbulb* Ooh, I have an idea...' before I entered my status. I'm like that, you see. I type as I think of things. Not a planner at all. Plus typing as I think is kind of funny, like when you speak your thoughts out loud by mistake and end up insulting someone (or is that just me?).


So. Rapture. One big fail, right? Or is it? It's Monday evening and I'm tapping away on my laptop, so I'm pretty sure the world didn't end. Now I don't know about you, but having the world not end doesn't seem like a fail to me. So while it was a fail in one sense of the word, I'd personally call it a *wipes brow* moment.

Then there's that Icelandic volcano thingie. Now, this isn't the first time I've blogged about an Icelandic volcano believe it or not. Just because I know diddly squat about volcanoes (and a whole bunch of other stuff too), doesn't mean I can't blog about them. I mean, let's be honest, if I stopped blogging about things I didn't know about or understand, then today you would be viewing a blank page. But I digress (which is a great way to fill a blog, by the way, if you are ever stuck).

Anyway, anyway...

Volcanoes. Nope, still don't know anything about them. The latest eruption is spewing forth a huge cloud of ash even thicker than the cloud that came from Eyjamawhatsit last year and threatening, amongst other things, a stop on British air traffic.

But you don't want to hear about that, right? What about Obama's visit to Britain? I figure most of our visitors come from America or Britain, so this might interest a lot of people. But (there's always a 'but' when it comes to me), to be honest, I don't really find it interesting at all. I dutifully turned on the news to see if anything interesting was being said, but apart from Mr. Obama standing on a podium stating 'Yes, we can!' in his best Bob The Builder impersonation, I can't say that he caught my attention. I actually have no idea what he was 'Yes, we canning' about, I was too busy picturing him in a yellow hard hat and fiddling with his hammer. *cough*

That last bit sounds smutty, and while I usually advocate smut, I strongly deny that any smut was intended here. Seriously. Obama The Builder was a snort-worthy image for lots of reasons, but none of them are smut-related. 

Anyway, anyway, anyway...

The idea that I had when I posted my status update (see, I hadn't forgotten where I was going!) was what if, what if, all three topical subjects that I thought of randomly were actually linked?

*dramatic pause*

 I personally believe that Mr. Obama had a very good reason for flying to Britain. Obviously he didn't believe for one moment that the world was going to end, but just in case the apocalypse was in the pipeline, then he wanted to fulfil his life-long dream of seeing his idol, a certain Bob The Builder, live on stage. *nods*

Of course, in the event of Rapture being a non-event, he needed an excuse reason to delay his departure from British soil. Hence the superb timing of being away from home during a time of probable airline shutdowns. *nods again* Now Mr. Obama (and his reluctant wife) will be able to see Bob The Builder in all his glory, and perhaps Mr. Obama can personally thank Mr. Builder for giving him his catchy 'Yes, we can!' slogan at the same time. *nods for third time*

It was obviously all planned.

Oh, and I know, this isn't Delusional Thursday, but seeing as I'm pretty delusional most of the time, this post is typically me, and thus topical (the link is a bit of a stretch, but when reading delusional, I advise you to go with the flow).

So, Mr. Obama, when you see Bob, say 'hello' from me, will you?

 Obama and Pooh image borrowed from here.
Fly Into Europe image borrowed from here.
Bob The Builder image borrowed from here. 

23 May 2011

Caffeine, Cats & Cozies

So I like alliteration, so sue me. Oh, and coffee. REALLY like coffee. A lot. Very much so. Yeah. Hang on, I need a cup before I get going here... Right, okay, got my coffee, got a large feline parked on my arm, so I think I'm ready to go on with this list.

Coffeehouse Mysteries - Cleo Coyle

A lovely series with copious caffeine and the usual high corpse count. Claire Cosi (okay, I'll stop with the Cs now, but that really is her name) takes over the management of the Village Blend, her former mother-in-law's coffeehouse, as well as the apartment above the premises, and starts serving up fabulous drinks and solving strange murders in her spare time. A great cast of recurring characters, including her ex-husband, their daughter, an eclectic crowd of baristas and oh yeah, the obligatory hot cop, keep things moving and are thoroughly entertaining to boot.

Black Coffee - Agatha Christie

I might be stretching things a little bit with this one, but oh well. In any case, this is one of the Christies that has been rewritten into novel form (it was originally a play and was adapted by Charles Osborne). Poirot is on the case when a noted physicist calls to report a possible breach of security on important information - but lo and behold, poisoned coffee takes him out before the famed Belgian even arrives, and the secrets have vanished as well. There's a reason Dame Agatha outsells everyone but the bible and Shakespeare... and since this was only issued in this format in 2000, even longtime fans might possibly have missed it.

Alice Nestleton series - Lydia Adamson

This is an older series that I confess I haven't seen on the shelves in a while (they seem to be out of print, sadly), but I dearly love them and own, if not all the entries, then I'm only missing one or two. They're maybe not the most brilliantly written, but they're lots of fun and there are plenty of kitties to go around. Alice, a chronically-out-of-work actress who makes most of her income as a cat sitter, manages to get into all kinds of tricky situations, whether in barns, backstage, or on buses. I was introduced to them by a friend who bought me (not surprisingly, given the title) A Cat With a Fiddle for Xmas when we were in high school; it does make a bit more sense if you start at the beginning, though, which is the one pictured here.

Joe Grey series - Shirley Rousseau Murphy

Okay, fellow cat-people - hands up if you've ever felt like your cat was trying to talk to you. In these mysteries, the cats actually DO talk - for real, in English and everything. Joe Grey, a big ol' grey (duh) cat, realizes one day that he's starting to understand what his human is saying to him. And then, inexplicably, he can speak as well. Over the course of the series (16 and counting) Joe and his similarly-talkative tabby pal Dulcie (and, eventually, a kitten called Kit) help the hapless humans solve all kinds of crimes, through some feline spying, anonymous phone calls, and general kitty cleverness. There are a few theories floated about how the cats gained their voices (and not ALL the talking cats are good guys...), but I'll let you discover them yourselves.

The Cat Who... - Lillian Jackson Braun

One of the original entries in the genre, most people have probably met Koko and Yum Yum, the crime-busting Siamese team nominally belonging to newspaperman Jim Qwilleran (mind the W!). First appearing on the scene in 1966, there was a nearly 20-year hiatus between the 3rd and 4th entries in the series, but after that more appeared regularly until 2007. Not much is generally known about the reclusive author, other than (at least according to Wikipedia) she's not dead yet! Some of the earlier ones have gone past feeling dated and just seem kind of retro now; and if some of the later ones read like they were perhaps (ahem) "phoned in", well, honestly I don't really care when I'm in the mood for this kind of kitty fun. :-)

Cats & Curios - Rebecca A. Hale

I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about these - there are only two books in this series so far. The cats, they're cool - as described, they sound like flame-points, Himalayans perhaps (though the cover art resembles a Turkish Van), and there are two of 'em, Rupert and Isabella. The action goes down in San Francisco and centres around Uncle Oscar's funky old antique shop, which has roots reaching all the way back to the Gold Rush. The bit that kinda weirds me out is that you don't find out the name of the first-person narrator till the end and it's - well, I guess I can't tell you, due to the whole no-spoilers thing, but it's a little odd. Interesting secondary characters and solid descriptive passages liven things up, and anyone with a mega-digger will giggle when Rupert gets going in the litter box; I'm reserving judgement a bit longer though, hopefully a third entry will shortly be forthcoming.

Magical Cats - Sofie Kelly

And here we have a couple more of the supernatural kitties - Owen and Hercules, this time, who can - no fooling - turn invisible and walk through walls, respectively. This is the first in this series (second one is due out soon), and I quite enjoyed it - I mean, come on, we've got cats, a library, and a murdered conductor! (I have had many, many conductors I wouldn't mind murdering, lemme tell you.) A nice twist to the revelation, small-town Minnesota setting (but with Boston ties, yay!), and a healthy coffee addiction on the part of the main character (you knew I was going to work the coffee back into this post) puts this one - or rather, its sequels - squarely onto my must-buy list.

That'll do it for me for today - I still have coffee to drink and kitties to brush!

20 May 2011

Who Am I?

Today, I am a mother! Honestly though, I've been a mother for over forty-one years. I know, I know - how could that be when I'm only 38 myself? But tout alors! It is true. My second son, who believes himself to be the NEW IMPROVED model, turns 39 years old today.
I adore being Calvin's mother. Calvin is a total trip. He has been since he was born. Really. The nurses brought him to me after they'd cleaned him up a bit - this was in the olden days when you had a room with other new mums and the babies were kept in a nursery - well away from your incompetence, thank you very much! At any rate, they brought him to me, with his sprig of very red hair standing straight up and his humungous cheeks, looking like Baby Huey (check out old cartoons if you don't know this character) and I laughed in delight. The nurses got all huffy but I didn't care. They didn't understand. I did. This guy was going to be his own man right off. And that was and is totally true.
It is a challenge to mother any children - or it is for me. I'm not your classic ma. I forget that you aren't supposed to make fart jokes with your eight year old sons. I'm not consistent. Except for loving them that is. I delighted in all their crazy ways - and Calvin has taken that and run with it. He won't settle down - he lives for awhile somewhere doing something and then he is off. I think - cool dat! Why should he settle? Other than the fact that I would like more grandchildren, I don't need him to settle. He tells me about his adventures in Croatia, in Sweden, in England, in Banff and Quebec and I adore him for it. He is creative - both the boys are - and we love to talk about movies and books and art. He is kind - I've seen him taking care in his own imitiable fashion - no one could pin it on him but I notice. If you can't tell, I adore him to pieces and liked being his mum. Oh we fought! Man, we fought. We drove poor Jesse, his milder brother, crazy. But we liked it. We were engaged, connected. He can be infuriating but so can I.
Once, I came home, tired from work - to see my rose bushes lying in ruins - mowed down. Calvin was running over the hill to hide from me, Jesse was hooting and told me that Cal had rode over them with the ride-on mower. When caught he said "I just gave them a good hard pruning!"
That's my lad and I hope he has a swell day.
me, Jess and Cal making weird faces

19 May 2011

This weekend I had the dubious honour of baby sitting a room.

Actually, it wasn't so much the room, as all the stuff inside the room. You see, we had an event at the embassy, with lots of kids and adults who weren't always entirely sober. Now, the main part of the event took place outside, since the weather was gorgeous, but since we couldn't be sure of that in advance, we had also prepared some indoors activities, in our lovely multipurpose hall.

The problem with this hall is the multipurpose part. There is a rather expensive AV-system there, and the walls are peppered with buttons and touch pads that control the AV-system, the air-conditioner, the lightning, the blinds, and so on. There is even a red button with a sign above it reading it capital letters - DO NOT TOUCH!!!  Obviously, this would be terribly tempting to touch...

Thus the baby sitting.

During my guard duty, two girls of about ten were playing in the hall. They were just that age. A little too young to realize the full consequence of their every action, but definitely old enough to know when they were doing something they were not supposed to. It goes without saying that they pushed the button.

Now, as far as DO NOT TOUCH!!!-buttons go, ours is relatively innocent. The only thing that happens is that it messes with the settings for the system, so it creates extra work for the next person using it. Hardly comparable to what I'm about to compare it with, but bear with me...

You see, these girls, knowing that they shouldn't be doing something, but not being able to resist it anyway, made me think of something else that is never far away from my thoughts these days. All things nuclear.

Mother nature produced radiation. But for the most part, she kept it neatly tucked away, out of our reach. As man grew old enough to realize there was something his mother was holding back, he decided to ignore that he didn't know exactly what consequences pushing the button would have, and just do it, even if he knew he probably shouldn't.

Humans wanted so bad to use these resources hidden from us. We put our best scientists to the task. They got some great results. Marie Curie's discoveries led to great achievements in medicine, but she eventually gave her life to her research. Like a Mummy's Curse, injuries from long-term radiation came sneaking in on the eminent scientist unexpectedly. Perhaps we should have taken this as a warning, and been content? Use x-rays and avoid developing these substances we did not know how to control further?

But there were more buttons to push. The power contained in the tiniest piece of all - the atom - was too tempting not to explore further. Like the explorers desperate to win the race to the South Pole in 1911, the curiosity - and perhaps the glory? - was too much to resist. In 1911 Robert Scott died in attempt to get back from the pole, after having discovered that he had been beaten by a countryman of mine, Roald Amundsen. Scott took four expedition members with him in death, people who willingly (I presume) had gone with him to try to be the first to go where no man had gone. The nuclear scientists who tried to do what no man had done,  also took others with them in death. Only the numbers are infinitely larger, and the willingness is more than questionable.

Japan knows the effect the enormous powers contained within a minuscule fraction can have. This nation has felt it up close, even if it is a long time ago. Stories of the horrors experienced in Hiroshima and Nagasaki 66 years ago have been a part of what every Japanese child has been taught about their own country ever since. And yet. Japan too had to go nuclear when it came to energy.

I get it, in a way. With the bombs ending World War Two, then the subsequent 45 year standoff between the US and the USSR where both parties held enough nukes to destroy the planet multiple times. It must have felt good to finally be able to put the atomic power to positive use again. Nuclear didn't have to be a synonym to weapons. Power plants! Peaceful use of this wonderful energy!

How clever they must have felt, when the first nuclear power plant opened. It worked! It really did! It generated electricity, it was (relatively) cheap, it was - marvelously so - CLEAN! The nuclear age was upon us, and it was every bit as wonderful as imagined. People didn't even turn into spider-superheroes or other cartoony predictions. We touched the button, and the button had delivered.

Of course there was Chernobyl. Three Mile Island. Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon and Michael Douglas warned us in The China Syndrome. Hippies sold anti-nuclear stickers. But the hippies also sold "save the planet"-stickers, and nuclear power plants was the only way to ensure stable, large-quantity, energy supplies that were also environmentally friendly. You can't have both, hippies.

I must admit I haven't been particularly nuclearly aware in my life. Norway doesn't have nuclear power plants - we don't really need them, due to an abundance of hydropower and then the oil and gas, of course. We have neighbours whose plants we aren't too fond of - an accident at the Russian plants in Murmansk, the British ones in Sellafield, or even the Swedish ones, might prove disastrous to Norway. We actually still have problems after Chernobyl, which due to the direction of the wind those fateful weeks in 1986 ensured that a significant amount of radioactive material ended up in the Norwegian mountains. But it never felt very close.

Here, in Japan, it definitely does. I've stood with you, Japan, through the crisis. I admired your high-held heads, your dignified grief, your determined reconstruction starting from day one. But if there is one thing I find hard to forgive in the midst of this, it is the nukes. Whose delusional idea was it to build a massive amount of nuclear power plants on a seismic fault line? Didn't it occur to you that even your superior technology might not be able to harness the wrath of Mother Earth once she decided that we had gone too far in pushing the buttons she deliberately asked us not to touch?

Those two girls discovered that pushing that particular button had limited effect. I asked them - a little sternly - not to touch anything, and explained why. They agreed not to do it again, and to my knowledge, they kept their promise. The system had to be reset, but nothing was broken.

The same cannot be said for the nuclear button. We pushed too hard, this time. It's time to find something else to play with.

18 May 2011

Pants be Gone!!!

Hart, here... You know how I can't abide pants, right? But for some reason on the latest book I've been trying to write, I keep finding myself pantsing... it's not the PLAN... I will plot a little way out... maybe it is that I got burned on my last Cozy Mystery by having the killer too obvious in the end and having to scramble to rewrite... But you know what?

Pantsless source
Me and Pants cannot successfully coexist. This is taking me longer than any book since... the third in my trilogy where I had a lot of loose ends to tie up... Sure, I am just closing in on month three, but I'm a person who has gotten used to the rapid first draft to be followed by careful reworking... it's been working for me... WHY DID I TRY SOMETHING DIFFERENT?

I'll tell you why... I had vague plans... I had suspects and motives and clues... but the fact of the matter is, this second in a series thing has had me a little bit stumped... I spent too much time on set-up and not enough on character development because... you know... I developed the characters in the LAST book... but this needs to stand alone, so then I dived in to back fill so readers would KNOW the characters, and this or that idea seemed the best way, and then that throws a monkey wrench in the other plans... it's been a MESS. If I get done by the end of May (in time for BuNoWriMo) it will be a miracle... and YES that gives me 4 months to rewrite, but it TAKES me 4 months to rewrite...
designed by the amazing Joris Ammerlaan

Now I know some of you don't object to pants nearly as much as I do, for whatever baffling reason. And I know some writers ADORE series... and on some level I get it—you don't have to keep starting from scratch... But... I sort of LIKE starting from scratch... beginnings really do it for me... if I could write NOTHING BUT beginnings, I would be a happy camper. (oh, I get off on an occasional ending, too, but all that middle crap is for the birds)

But I am not claiming you are WRONG for liking those wacky things you like... Have atter... I figure if we all wrote the same way, our books would end up more similar and THAT would be BAD...

What I DO want to say though (HA! You KNEW there had to be a point, didn't you?) Is this:

Pay attention when you write.

What works?

What creates trouble?

Do you like to write FAST, or more meticulously?
Do you need to write on a schedule, or as the whim hits you? (whim warning whim warning whim warning*)
Do you have rituals that make it flow? What are they?
Strategies for 'blocks' (say it with me POWER WALK, though getting naked and wet is good, too.)

And when you determine what works and what doesn't, STICK WITH IT. You can experiment a little, but preferably, like a good scientist, only with one component at a time. If you mess with too much, you don't know what is messing with YOU.

So do you know your rhythm? What works for you? Are you a pantser or a planner? A plodder or a speed demon? Have you found your writing zen? SHARE!

*If you are a whimmer, make sure you mean stolen moments frequently... like pockets you can steal but still write daily, or at least several times a week—those of you waiting for 'inspiration' are fooling yourself. Not all writing is inspired, and no book gets done if you think it has to be. A writer's best friend, without fail, is perseverance. (a word screaming for another r, don't you think... per SEV erence is like cutting off ance ance... per SER verence like... SERVES you... *sigh*) *cough* Just call that digression my religious devotional...

[Note: I am flying all morning and probably not online all day (conference wireless won't start up until Thursday and Stacy has threatened that I will be drinking tequila and dancing on tables all day Wednesday). I apologize--I am heading to a conference. I will read ALL comments when I can, and hope my other Burrowers might keep an eye...]

17 May 2011

Inspection Time

The Visitor
I work for a big retail chain, whose name I won't mention here. But it's a retail chain and it's very big (hint, hint). My store recently had the "privilege" of hosting a big-shot visitor from corporate headquarters, something that happens only about once every year.

Fortunately(?), our gang is well-rehearsed in the preparations for visits from a regional manager, visits that happen every couple of months, and were able to spring (stumble) into action several days before the arrival of Ms. Corporate Executive.

The preparatory technique was most apparent to me as I was stocking shelves a few days after the visit: I would open a new box of merchandise, find the proper shelf location (using my excellent memory), and discover that it was already stuffed with the wrong product (one that was fully stocked in its own proper location); the original label had been yanked, and another (typically incorrect) label had been hastily placed to vaguely match the stuffed product.

This roughly quadrupled my workload. Instead of merely putting the new merchandise in its home, I had to (1) research the situation to discover what was what, (2) remove the bad label and make a new one, and (3) repack the extra merchandise in an improvised container to be stored in the back room. Hundreds of extra labor hours were scheduled, at a cost of thousands of dollars, just for the purpose of creating this mess.

It was all done quite deliberately for the "benefit" of Ms. Corporate Executive. Things like empty shelves and piles of unlogged back room merchandise reveal operational deficiencies. My own naïve thinking is that it would be wonderful for Ms. Executive to see these, because she (allegedly) has the executive wisdom to correct our errors, and (purportedly) the executive power to correct the source of problems if such is beyond our control.

What am I missing? My first hypothesis is that Ms. Executive is a blithering idiot.

My second hypothesis is that Ms. Executive is vaguely responsible for the state of our store and is afraid to look bad to her own superiors. Therefore, she warns us well in advance of her visit. Then, she gives the store exactly the casual appraisal, a wide-view visual inspection, that she knows we expect from her, one that ignores a multitude of costly errors at the level of finer detail. She concludes by sending us a glowing letter of praise, a copy of which is no doubt made for her own performance file. But if this hypothesis is true, then her own superiors must be blithering idiots.

Either way, someone is a blithering idiot.

In the search for intelligence, let us therefore turn our immediate attention to the stars. If no extraterrestrial intelligence exists, the question is moot; or, if they do exist but will never contact us, they may as well not exist at all.

So let's assume, as the only relevant case, that alien intelligence does exist, and they might eventually contact us. What sort of logical conclusions can be drawn?

First, if there are two intelligent species in the universe (us and them), then there ought to be thousands, perhaps millions, within an advanced technology's range of contact. There should also be millions of other planets that are currently developing intelligence, either on their own or as a result of more primitive organisms being seeded. The universe is just sooooo big.

But not all species are advanced enough for interstellar travel and communication (we're not). Therefore, a finite number of species must have divided the task of watching developing civilizations amongst themselves, in addition to the tasks of maintaining ambassadors with one another and keeping watch on life-bearing but pre-intelligent planets.

Ergo, there is some kind of 'Earth Committee' that has been tasked with handling humanity. Such a committee must be concerned with potential long-term threats from Earth, because no species can evolve without an instinct for self-preservation. But they must have some morality of benevolence, or at least tolerance, because they have not destroyed us, as an advanced civilization could have easily done long ago.

Second, there is no need to search for them. In a few decades at most, we will have the technology to detect chemical signs of life on distant planets. These signs (such as free oxygen in the atmosphere) have been detectable on Earth for hundreds of millions of years. Therefore, the Earth Committee has known about us for a very long time, and would have already placed monitoring stations nearby (perhaps in the Kuyper Belt). When they feel the time is right, they will contact us.

Third, they have not openly contacted us. But with nanobots or even microscopic robots, there is no technological barrier that prevents them from influencing events on Earth.

How does that all add up? The Earth Committee is responsible for Earth. And Earth is a mess. If they show up now, it will make them look bad; and even if their superiors/peers are understanding, the Earth Committee will still be looking at a tremendous slate of problems. I think they'd rather not be burdened with all of that.

Still, I'd like a visit. Fixing our problems isn't practical, but there's something else we can do to make dropping in a more palatable proposition for the Committee: We can phoney things up.

Prepping the Planet
Let's focus on the most visible problems first-- like deforestation. What would the Earth Committee think of clear-cutting? Sure, we could explain that timber companies don't cut down their own young trees any more than a hog farmer slaughters piglets, and that rotational clear-cutting is sometimes more efficient in the long run. But not all clear-cutting happens as part of a good management plan. More to the point, the aliens don't want to hear about it. So here's what we do: Everybody needs to haul their plastic Christmas Tree out of the attic and drive it out to the nearest bare patch.

They'll believe because they WANT to believe.

Simple, right? Next environmental problem: Global warming. The temperature is, unfortunately, as plain as the time of day. Now I, for one, would love to hear some advice from an advanced intelligence, just as I would have loved to hear Ms. Executive explain why some of our shelves were empty. Maybe the aliens would tell us to spend ten more years developing infrastructure so we could afford to cut emissions for the next hundred; maybe they'd tell us that we're out of time and have to cut them now; maybe they'd tell us to stop focusing on carbon and research ways to stimulate the growth of plankton. But, again, they don't want to get involved! We simply have to hide it.

As plain as the time of day, did I say? Yes, indeed. And just as easy to obfuscate. My clock currently says 11:21 a.m.; More specifically, that's 11:21 a.m. Pacific Time; Rarely, scientifically, anal-retentively, someone might be ultra-precise and say that it's 11:21 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time, because in reality it's only 10:21 a.m. Pacific Standard Time.

Voila! We create a new temperature scale, which I hearby christen 'Centigreat'. Water freezes at -2 degrees Centigreat and boils at 98 Centigreat. Now everybody set your thermometers back two degrees and get used to the new scale.

War and violence... tricky. Or perhaps not. I recommend that every army and paramilitary organization simply keep a suicide note on file for each of their combat personnel. If they don't write one, forge it, or just claim its existence. The deceased can't contradict you when you say that he died willingly, even eagerly, for the promise of greater rewards. Problem solved. Who says we can't learn from terrorists?

Poverty and starvation? Again, I'd love to hear the alien's take on this. Perhaps they'd tell us to adopt a North Korean-style system of social ownership and central directives. Maybe they'd suggest the Hong Kong economic model, where private property encourages the creation of capital goods and people are free to produce without begging permission from those who produce nothing. Unfortunately, the more obvious the answer, the more embarrassed the Earth Committee will be if confronted by it. Therefore, I recommend we produce several billion of those t-shirts that are silk-screened to look the front of a tuxedo and distribute them to the world's poor. Heck, with lower-grade fabrics and mass production, it should be possible to give them real ones.

'Cause you just can't look poor and starving while wearing a tuxedo.

What about shortages of energy? Food? Health care? For anything else that looks impossible to fix, and difficult to disguise, we should just create a high-level organization. Declining education? How about a Department of Education-- I mean, it's a freakin' Cabinet-level department! Lack of capital? Let's set up a World Bank-- come on, it's totally, like, global. It doesn't matter if any particular institution can't improve things, or even makes them worse. What's important is that we appear to be doing something, so the Earth Committee has something positive to put in its report.


16 May 2011

More "Indian" Books

A couple of weeks back, when I wrote about my favourite (and not so favourite) Indian books, the response was so positive, I decided to profile three books I am willing to recommend to anyone who wants a decent read. Two are books I have re-read, and the first is a book that I will definitely re-read sooner rather than later.

Tarquin Hall - The Case of the Missing Servant
It was on Margot Kinberg's reccomendation that I picked up Tarquin Hall's book. The blurb describes Vishwas “Vish” Puri, owner and manager of Delhi’s Most Private Investigators, Ltd. as the Indian Hercule Poirot. Whether the comparison is apt or not (and I think not), Vish Puri definitely has almost as many endearing (and enduring) quirks as Dame Christie's most famous protagonist.
I have definitely read better mysteries, but this is one of the better books that I have read which are based in India. Hall captures the flavour of Indian cities perfectly- the rich aunties, the chillie pakodas in scrunched up newspaper, the multitude of servants even in a normal middle class household, the archaic dress code in no longer exclusive clubs, the attitude of the police.
What made the book even nicer for me was the fact that the "Missing Servant" was finally located in a village less than 5 miles away from where I grew up. Almost unbelievably, it was a trip down memory lane, and for once my memory hadn't served me wrong!
Reccomendation - mystery buffs and Indo-piles will like the book for sure.

Jhumpa Lahiri- The Namesake
It has been called 'the definitive novel of Indians settled in the United States'. The first part traces the story of an Indian bride who follows her new husband to the United States and sets up home in Cambridge, MA. Her trials and tribulations with adjusting to live in a new country at a time when letters took three weeks to reach and phone calls were too expensive to make except under exceptional circumstances. Perhaps the best endorsement of the book is the fact that the experiences of the protagonist reminded me of my "best friend" from school too married an Indian student settled in the US in much the same way.
When the book was made into a movie, it was the second part - the story of the American born son- that was highlighted, but it is for the first part that I read the book again and again.
Recommendation - good "book club" book.

Vikas Swaroop - Q and A
This is book that was adapted into the highly popular/ aclaimed movie, "Slumdog Millionaire", and when I hear Indians denouce the depiction of poverty in the movie, I grimace at the thought of what they might have to say if made to read the book.
The book is a work of fiction- it is highly unlikely that anyone would ever have the number and kind of experiences that the protagonist has - and the author doesn't pretend it is not. Read as a continuous story, it doesn't really ring true, but taken as a bunch of short stories, each is powerful in itself.
You need a strong stomach to be able to read the book, but if you want a whistlestop tour of how poor the poor in India really are, look no further. Strangely, despite its subject matter, the stories in the book are actually quite uplifting. Poverty yes, but humanity also.
Recommendation - pick it up knowing it is a work of fiction, and you are unlikely to be disappointed

13 May 2011

Who am I? Fridays: Friday the 13th

Well, it's Friday the 13th and Blogger was buggy all day! Sorry to post so late but here we go. . .

When We Reminisce . . .

Today was the first time, in many years, that I rode the subway. My journey began in Greenwich Village, West 4th Street, where I boarded the D train northbound to the Bronx. I began thinking about the times I rode this same train, but in reverse, to my grandmother's house on 96th Street and Central Park West or to the Museum of Natural History on 81st Street with my 5th grade class. These memories were very positive and brought that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when reminiscing of good times.

The train moved on
from 59th Street and went express to 125th Street in Harlem. I remembered the crowded platforms of yesterday. There were also the blaring radios that crooned smooth R & B music or poetically profound Rap songs. Girls wore "door knocker" earrings in those days with bright red lipstick, stone or acid washed jeans and asymmetrical hairstyles. Those who were into techno, grunge and alternative music were ensconced in black. Some individuals danced on the train platforms to the tunes of Stevie B, Noel, Cynthia and Johnny O. Free-style dance music was all the rage.

The train then by-passed 135th Street. This is where A. Philip Randolph Campus High School is located. I call it "my castle on the hill." Years ago, and I will not mention how many, this was my home. My friends and this school were my safe haven from my hellish home-life. I had stopped getting off at this stop because one had to walk through a very dark park with a never ending staircase. I had my necklace snatched by a crackhead and decided that I would no longer place myself in that type of danger ever again.

The D train pulled into 145th Street. I remember walking ten blocks to my high scho
ol every morning. My friends and I would all meet up, with precise timing, and accompany one another on our long arduous journey through the streets of Harlem. We walked from St. Nicholas to Convent Ave and then on to 135th Street. It didn't matter if it rained or snowed, we trekked through the urban jungle all in the name of education. Okay, maybe not education but definitely for social interactions. I no longer keep in contact with many of my friends. The only regret I have is not keeping in contact with Rodney Robinson. He is that friend that had your back in good times and bad. He moved to California about 18 years ago. I have not heard from him since.

When the D train pulled into 167th Street, my stomach began to knot. This is where my story begins. This is my birthplace, my roots and my "hood." This is where as a child and a teenager I dealt with my father's alcoholism, family drug abuse, child abuse, my mother's schizophrenia, the parental neglect of my siblings and suicide watches. I was the observer, care-taker and the only one with any ambition. There were good times also but these were overshadowed by my family's flaws.

The train moved out of the station and I immediately began to breathe easier. Is it any wonder why I can't go back to the Bronx? To any other person, it's just a train ride. However, for me, it was an emotional roller coaster of memories.

12 May 2011

26 Ways To (Hopefully) Entice An Agent

I'm bang out of ideas for Delusional Thursday, and while this post should have been written and scheduled by last night at the latest, here I am posting late. My lovely co-Burrowers suggested I post the limericks that I wrote for last month's A-Z Challenge.

So the title says '26 Ways', but I won't subject you to all twenty-six (or twenty-seven if you include the one from the reflections post) limericks, but I will instead offer a small selection. It's been suggested by a couple of people (both readers of my blog and fellow Burrowers) that I should compile all twenty-six limericks and try to get them published. I'm not sure how or even if that would be possible, but it's something to think about.

Oh, and in case you're wondering what this has to do with Delusional Thursday, well, I'm pretty sure the limericks themselves will explain that...

So without further rambling ado, here are half a dozen limericks from the April A-Z. See if you can guess the letter of the alphabet that they are supposed to be based on!

To write to set rules can be tricky,
When counting the words I am picky.
I hope it's not babble,
That makes up my drabble,
With words such as 'clicky' and 'jicky'.
Making up words is a must,
When your keyboard decides to go bust.
It's really frustrating
- or make that fwuztwatin
When your 'r' has bitten the dust.
What sets your heart rate to thumping?
And gets your blood really pumping?
I'm sure you can guess,
But will you confess,
To a wish for daily humping?
The Kair of Diff is a big hit,
Wiv those wot likes alirrle 'bit'.
Oi oi, dunt be dense!
Join the clarts and the slags, like innit?
A limerick is quinquefarious,
With themes that are sometimes nefarious.
Add some odd quotes,
And maybe some goats,
The result will be quite hilarious.

Women are oft called inferior
(In spite of their shapely posteriors).
But men have x too
(Though women have two)
Hence women are vastly superior.
I'm guessing you get the delusional vibe now...