Series interrupted, the Millennium Trilogy

Okay, so I finally tackled the Millennium Trilogy. I admit it’s not exactly my cup of tea, that was why I had been putting it off for years, but seeing how crazy the past couple of weeks have been I decided that now would be a good time to give it a shot. Anyway, over all I have to say that I enjoyed the first book. The second one was interesting enough, though at times I felt that my suspension of disbelief was pushed past its breaking point. The third book I found downright annoying.

But let’s take things one book at a time.

As I said, the first one was a pleasant read, the story was reasonably well told, and over all I found myself being drawn into the plot. Oh, there are a couple of plot holes that can be more than a little annoying when the book is considered in the context of the series (without getting into too many details, and keeping things deliberately cryptic to avoid spoilers, Lisbeth’s financial dependence on Bjurman makes no sense whatsoever once concept of the Republic is introduced), but if the book is read on its own those can be reasonably dismissed.

Book two too has an interesting premise, though there were a few too many coincidences for my liking (Sweden comes across  like a tiny village in which everyone knows everyone else, rather than a country of nearly ten million), there were some loose ends I felt could probably have been trimmed, and it also got a little preachy at times. Still, those defects were not serious enough to detract from the main plot line.

Book three, on the other hand, is a bit of a mess (and I apologize for the mild spoilers in what follows).

To begin with there are a couple of subplots that take up a good chunk of the book, but don’t add one lick to the story, such as the whole story of Berger leaving Millennium (and then coming back), and the relationship between Blomkvist and Figerola. In addition to that the dramatic tension depends, to a large extent, on a really absurd plot hole, namely on the fact that, when confronted with a gross miscarriage of justice, the government cannot interfere because the judiciary is supposed to be independent (let me count the way to get around that one without breaking the law), thus leaving the heroine’s fate in the hands of a desperate legal ploy that was cooked up by the valiant hero. Finally there is the fact that the preaching is also amplified to a ridiculous extent… and the fact that a story that begins with the protagonist standing almost alone against the power of a corrupt government agency, ends up with a ringing endorsement of that government, where the bad guys turn out to be just a few bad apples. That last bit was the one I found the most annoying one.

Now,  I realize that the first one of those complaints -the one having to do with the pointless subplots- may have something to do the fact that this trilogy was never meant to be a trilogy in the first place, but rather that these books were supposed to be part of a much longer series, and that the author could reasonably have been laying down the groundwork for a future story, unfortunately the other issues are harder to excuse.

In short, I would recommend book one, as that one can stand alone, but seeing how much of a mess book three is, and how intertwined books two and three happen to be, I am more reluctant to recommend the rest of the series.

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They were wearing their best clothes

Earlier today I witnessed a rather disturbing incident. As I’ve mentioned more than once, I live close to a river, in it there are a number of islets, and the people who live there usually come and go in canoes. Anyway, it was around dawn, I had taken my dogs out for their morning walk, and there were just two canoes in the water. The first one had in it three teenagers, wearing what were probably their best clothes, the second one had one man, rowing alone… and then the man’s canoe began to take in water until it eventually sank. The first canoe reached the bank, and I pointed out that there was a man in serious trouble less than a hundred yards away, their reaction was something along the lines of ‘not my problem’. I was feeling utterly powerless, watching the scene unfold, but luckily someone with a motorboat realized what was going on and got him out.

Now, I realize that considering the number of people that can usually be seen rowing around here these incidents are probably commonplace, but I had never seen one first-hand before, and I have to admit that those kids’ indifference bugged me. A man was in the water, and they had the means to help him, but they were unwilling to do anything. After all, they were wearing their best clothes…

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Exhausted

Okay, so I am utterly exhausted. I have been trying to give my aunt, the one who recently lost her partner of seventy years, a hand as best I can, but at the same time I feel as if I were doing it with my hands tied behind my back. What happened was that my uncle’s youngest sister, who was supposed to be coming to give me a hand, and to help sort things out, has had her flight cancelled not once but twice in the past couple of weeks due to the weather. I realize this is not her fault, but right now I feel like I don’t even have the resources I need to try to tackle this one, and that’s really becoming an issue.

No, I’m not going anywhere, but there has been a bit of a communications breakdown with my uncle’s friends, who treat me almost like an intruder, and I do feel like I have been abandoned by my own family, who should have been here to back me up (there’s one person in particular who won’t even take my calls because she’s so upset that she just can’t deal with this… well, at least she has a choice). I feel used, like I am being taken for granted, and that, I have to admit, is the part that’s bugging me the most.

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When does caring become abuse?

A few days ago my uncle passed away, he was eighty-nine. That left my aunt, who I freely admit is not at a hundred percent, to try to pick up the pieces of her life as best she can. They had been together for more than seventy years, a number I am still trying to wrap my mind around, and I realize she’s going to need help… lots of it. Anyway, some of their life-long friends seem to have effectively taken over her life, making all the choices on her behalf (up to and including burying my uncle, who considered himself Jewish, in a coffin that was decorated with a huge crucifix). I know these people mean well, I know they are doing their best, and I am grateful for everything they are doing, I would be lost without their help, but at the same time that gratitude seems to have become a trap because there have been some instances in which I feel those friends have crossed the line, making my aunt feel both humiliated and disrespected. I tried to point the problem out to one of them, but I was summarily dismissed, I tried to contact other family members to ask for some backup, but most of them are too caught up in their own grief, so here I am, wondering where the line between caring and abuse happens to be, and feeling utterly powerless. It’s not a pleasant feeling.

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Whatever happened to Maria?

Today, as I was reading about the Greek elections, I came across a picture in the ‘related news’ section. It was a familiar face, that of Maria, the blonde little girl with the angelic face who had allegedly been kidnapped by the Roma, and then was inconveniently revealed to be a Roma girl suffering from albinism whose desperate poor parents had handed over to another family in something that can probably be described as an unofficial adoption (I blogged about that one, and you can find that one here). Of course, as soon as the bigoted narrative of the ‘child abducted by gypsies’ crumbled the story vanished from the headlines, and a little girl, whose only crime was to have suffer a genetic defect that made her resemble a different (and favored) ethnicity, found herself torn from everything that was familiar to her and tossed into an institution. So the question I am asking myself, a question I’ll probably never be able to answer because no one seems to have bothered to do any sort of follow up once her origins were revealed is what happened to Maria? Where is that little girl, and what became of her?

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A blessing in disguise

As you may remember, a couple of weeks ago I was having some pretty serious issues with my cover designer, who up until then had been one of my best friends. I freely admit that the whole ordeal left me feeling utterly miserable (and I still miss her, after all, a friendship of more than a decade is not built overnight, though it can certainly be torpedoed in an instant). The thing is that as I was wondering what to do, and how I could possibly re-imagine one of the covers she was supposed to do, I hit upon an idea. It was completely different from the one I had originally envisioned, but there was something about it that got to me… and before I knew it I had the beginnings of a brand new book. Will that story bloom? I don’t know, it’s too early to tell, but for the time being it seems to have taken root between my ears. Funny how these things tend to work out in the end

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On the recent events

Okay, I admit that I am still trying to wrap my mind about last week’s events. I am also wondering what can I do… the problem is that I can’t think of anything that doesn’t feel trite in light of the magnitude of what happened. So here go my thanks to cartoonists everywhere for making us laugh, and maybe look at the world from a different perspective. Yours shouldn’t have be deemed a high risk job.

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When a book is poisoned

Okay, as you may have noticed there have been a few delays when it comes to the third book of Citlalli. The truth is that the book itself is done and even formatted, but I’ve been having some issues with its cover. Without going into details, I got into a pretty big argument with my (former) cover artist a couple of days ago, and to make matters worse that cover artist was also one of my closest friends. The problem is that this situation hasn’t just left me in the lurch when to comes to this book’s cover (that’s not such a big deal), but also left me feeling like the whole series has been poisoned. Right now I can’t even think of this project without remembering the fight we had, and I think I need some time to regroup. So where does that leave me? Well, I’ll probably wait a few weeks and then I’ll try to find  a new cover artist. After that I will probably finish the first draft of a different book that is more that half-way done anyway, and then I’ll turn my attention to the fourth and final book. In other words, while there are going to be some additional delays, I am not abandoning the project. I have too much effort invested into it for that, but for the time being I do feel the need to take a step back.

Anyway, I just wanted to let you know just where things stood.

No, I don’t like the idea of missing a deadline, not even if it is a self-imposed one, but unfortunately under the circumstance I honestly believe that this is the lesser evil.

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Greenpeace crosses the line

In a move that is emblematic of our self-centered culture we have one of the world’s best known environmentalist groups carelessly trampling over one of our world’s most fragile monuments to take a selfie, and post it on Facebook (along with an accompanying video that was dutifully uploaded to YouTube). I am referring, of course, to the idiotic ‘protest’ (their word) by Greenpeace in Peru on December 8, a ‘protest’ that caused serious, and probably irreparable damage to area surrounding the Hummingbird,  one of the best known figures among the Nazca lines.

The thing is that this whole incident has been interesting in a number of ways.

First of all we have the image of those claiming to be fighting for a better future trampling on the past for the sake of a selfie. That is bad enough, but then there are some other aspects this incident has exposed that I find equally disturbing… okay, so maybe not equally.

Among those one that is particularly telling is the kind of leeway the English speaking press is willing to give to  these clowns.

Most of the headlines I have seen fall in one of two categories. On the one hand we have things like “Greenpeace in hot water after Nazca Lines escapade” (The Week), “Greenpeace Offends Peru With Nazca Stunt” (that one comes from the Huffington Post) and “Peru Is Indignant After Makes Its Mark on Ancient Site” (that one is taken from the New York Times), on the other we have headlines that totally dismiss the damage and move straight to Greenpeace’s so-called apology. In this category we have gems such as “Greenpeace apologizes for Nazca lines stunt” (Herald Sun) and “Greenpeace Apologizes for Stunt at Peru’s Sacred Nazca Lines” (NPR).

To begin with, to dismiss what Greenpeace did as an escapade or a stunt, or to imply that Peru is overreacting, especially considering the way in which its archaeological past has been plundered throughout history, is in itself offensive. Let me be clear about it: what Greenpeace did was not a stunt or an escapade, it was a crime, a serious one that, while not on the same scale as the Taliban blowing up the Buddhas of Bamiyan, is definitely along the same lines (permanent damage to a World Heritage Site).

Next we have the shift of emphasis from Greenpeace’s crime to its apology… let’s talk about that ‘apology’. In it the organization apologizes to the people of Peru for any offense it may have caused by laying what it describes as ‘a message of hope’ at the site of the historic Nazca lines, but it says nothing of the damage done to the glyphs and the surrounding area. It also claims to be willing to cooperate with the authorities, and says they are willing to face ‘fair and reasonable consequences’. That sounds promising, except for the fact that the group has refused to identify those involved, who have since managed to flee the country. So much for cooperating with the authorities (as for the fair and reasonable consequences they claim to be willing to face, that bit sounds an awful lot like they are claiming for themselves the right to determine what those are going to be, rather than let the Peruvian legal system settle that one). Oh yes, and they also agree to stop any further use of the offending images, as if those images hadn’t been splashed across the front pages of the world.

That is one of the things that bother me the most, the fact that in defacing Nazca Greenpeace has succeeded beyond its wildest dreams.

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No need to freak out, a bite of chocolate won’t kill your dog

Yes, I know, chocolate is bad for dogs, very bad, in fact it can be deadly, but that is in relatively large quantities, and while it is good for dog owners to be aware of that fact, the awareness of that toxicity has been driven to some pretty ridiculous extremes. Under those circumstances I think a little perspective is in order so, to begin with, let me say that I have fed my dogs chocolate… and I did it deliberately. For the most part I did this before the internet came along, and before I knew it could even be an issue. No, I never fed my girl a chocolate bar, or anything like that, but when I went for an ice cream I routinely let her finish it off… and more often than not that ice cream included chocolate in one way or another. At home we also allowed her to lick the carton clean, and she even got the occasional square (what can I say, those puppy eyes). For her chocolate was always a very special treat. This, I suspect, is also what most people envision when they think of feeding chocolate to their dogs. Anyway, in case you were wondering, that dog lived to be seventeen. I have another one, who is currently fourteen and still going strong, and up until a few years ago she used to get the exact same treatment.

Of course, that was then. Fast forward a number of years and now I have one of my friends frantically rushing her dog to the vet because -horror upon horror- a child had dropped a chocolate chip cookie and her dog had gotten to it before anyone could stop him. Rather than set her mind at ease by telling her that she had nothing to worry about, that there’s no way a single chocolate chip cookie is going to do serious damage to her dog (which is a large dog), her vet commended her for taking him in. That was what finally got me to write this post.

Yes, I realize that this woman’s reaction was a little extreme, and I can also understand why is it that vets are not exactly trying to talk you out of overreacting. As far as they are concerned getting humans to ‘err on the side of caution’ and ‘take their dogs in just to be on the safe side’ is free money, but the fact that vets don’t seem to be inclined to be the voice of reason doesn’t mean we should let the paranoia run rampant.

So how big a threat is chocolate? Well it depends on two things: the dog, and the chocolate.

One thing you have to keep in mind is that chocolate is packaged in human sized portions, but most dogs are not exactly human sized… in fact their size varies greatly, and so does the degree of caution you should exercise. If your dog is a six pound Chihuahua you have to be fairly vigilant because in that case an errant chocolate bar can pose a serious threat. If your dog is a fully grown mastiff or a St. Bernard, on the other hand, a normal chocolate bar, while not exactly healthy, is unlikely to be an issue.

The second aspect is that not all chocolate is created equal. The toxic agent here is theobromine (a close relative of caffeine), and the darker the chocolate, the higher the content of that particular stimulant. Baker’s chocolate can have up to ten times the theobromine content of milk chocolate, while white chocolate contains at most trace amounts of the blasted thing. In other words, baker’s chocolate can be dangerous even for an average sized dog, while white chocolate is no threat at all.

When it comes to milk chocolate a rule of thumb is that a lethal dose would be around one ounce per pound of body weight (for a St. Bernard that could translate into something 140-260 oz, or more than 15 pounds/6 kilograms, but keep in mind that that would be a lethal dose, toxicity would only take a fraction of that amount).

In other words, while I’m certainly not advocating feeding chocolate to dogs, and I usually try to avoid it, I think it’s important for dog owners to educate themselves beyond a simple chocolate=bad equation. Yes, considering how readily available chocolate happens to be, awareness of the fact that there is a potential problem is a good thing, and owners of mini-toy dogs should be extremely careful, but at the same time I suspect we have now reached a point in which the threat is seriously overblown, and unfortunately there are some vets that are not above exploiting, and even feeding, those fears.

And finally, keep in mind that the fact that something is chocolate flavored doesn’t mean it is chock-full of chocolate. A good example of this fact are Oreos. Those may be chock-full of chemicals that are far from healthy, but the amount of chocolate they actually contain is basically nil.

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