Category Archives: This & that

Goodbye Mr. Spock

Yesterday we lost Leonard Nimoy, I won’t bother repeating here what has been said countless times already. I am a member of my generation, and as such I cut my SF teeth on Star Trek reruns. I make no apologies for that fact, and I admit that I, like countless others, was more drawn to the weird character who was originally meant to be little more than a sidekick than to the valiant hero (sorry, I could never quite warm up to Captain Kirk).

One thing I find fascinating, however, is the shift in Mr. Nimoy’s  relationship with his own character as seen in the titles of his autobiographies (I Am Not Spock in 1977 and I Am Spock in 1995). That he would have a love/hate relationship with the fictional character that had effectively taken over his life is logical enough, and a part of me can’t help but to be relieved by the fact that in the end he chose to embrace him… or maybe it would be more accurate to say that in the end he chose to make it his.

That, I suspect is the key, a key that is hidden in those dates. When I Am Not Spock came out the extent of the Star Trek official corpus was restricted to the three seasons of the original series, which was itself about ten years old by that time. That’s a long time to be held hostage by a figment of someone else’s imagination. The thing is that the Spock we get to see in that series, while memorable, is probably the weakest and most stereotypical incarnation of the character. It was a character that, while featuring some important contributions from the actor, was conceived first and cast later. It was in the motion pictures that Mr. Spock truly came into his own, or at least that is how it seems to me. It was also in those films, especially in the ones he actually got to direct, that he was finally free to take his character in the direction he wanted. That, I suspect, is one of the key elements that enabled him to make his peace with the role Mr. Spock had carved for himself in his life.


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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

Borges said it best…

I just came across this quote from Borges:

Publicamos nuestros libros para librarnos de ellos, para no pasar el resto de nuestras vidas corrigiendo borradores

That translates roughly into:

We publish our books so that we can rid ourselves of them, so that we won’t have to spend the rest of our lives polishing drafts.

Considering how much time I’ve spent going over the same book lately, I can’t help but to agree.

eReading and dyslexia

So about a month ago I finally took the plunge and bought myself a tablet. I had been reading on my phone for a while and I admit that, unlike most people, I didn’t have much trouble with the size of the screen. Still, I was looking forward to having a more reasonably-sized page.

One month later the takeaway lesson is that while the bigger screen is great for watching movies, reading comics and getting some work done, for reading I’ll stick with my phone, thank you very much. Simply put I hadn’t realized how much that little screen was helping me to focus, or what kind of a difference having shorter and fewer lines to contend with at a time  made. Yes, I can read on the tablet’s screen, and I wouldn’t exactly describe it as a struggle, but it is more of a chore and I also finding far more tiring.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but if you are dyslexic, and you enjoy reading, you may want to give that ‘annoyingly little’ screen a chance. You may be surprised by the result.

In defense of Woody Allen… sort of

I have to admit that my first response upon reading Dylan Farrow’s open letter was a rather inappropriate one: I found myself thinking ‘who does she think she is? Bush?‘ As I said, not the most appropriate, or charitable, of responses under the circumstances, but the thing is that while I have no way of knowing whether or not her allegations are true, I found her attitude of ‘if you are not with me you are against me’, and her assumption that the fact that one of the most influential filmmakers of the past half century -a man who is fast approaching eighty, and who was never charged with a crime, let alone convicted- was being presented with a lifetime achievement award was all about her to be more than a little jarring.

No, I’m not denying that her hurt is real, nor am I denying that she is convinced that what she is saying is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. In fact I’m not even denying the possibility that the events may have unfolded just like she says they did. I wasn’t there, so I can do nothing but speculate. What I do know is that our memories are seldom as reliable as we like to think they are, so I can’t help but to feel that her story -a story I personally feel has a few too many holes to be entirely believable- shouldn’t be enough to damn the man… especially not in light of the climate of hatred that is likely to have permeated the Farrow household at the time, a climate of hatred that seven-year old Dylan wouldn’t have had the means to recognize, defend against, or escape. Continue reading In defense of Woody Allen… sort of

Professional… sort of

A couple of days ago a friend pointed out that this blog is getting to be a little too personal, and that I should at least try to keep things professional. In other words, it was a ‘can the dog talk’ kind of advice. In a way I can see where she’s coming from. I realize that this blog is supposed to be about promoting my books, and that some of the things I’ve been writing about lately do little to add to my professional image, but there’s a reason why I called this blog ‘Message in a Bottle’ and the subtitle reads ‘random thoughts cast into a sea of voices’. As I’ve said countless times:

yes, I would love for my books to sell -and I won’t deny that getting the word out about the fact that they actually exist is one of the reasons I started blogging in the first place- but the bottom line is that I write because I love writing, because there’s a story stuck between my ears itching to get out… and because I want to be able to read how that story ends.

In other words, if things seem a little unprofessional to you at times, I’m sorry, but this blog was always meant to inhabit that odd in between space, and I really don’t see that changing any time soon.

Do I really want to take charge?

Er… yes… this blog seems to be going to the dogs, or at least to one dog. A rascal that came into my life a few months ago, and seems to require a lot of attention, to be accurate. I am a long time dog owner, and while up until now all of my dogs have been rescues, this little fellow is different in that he wasn’t born a stray. Oh, we are getting along great, but I will be the first one to admit that he can be a bit of a handful. There are some bad habits I’m trying to break, but I admit that there is a point in which I am hesitant when it comes to discipline, or maybe I should say obedience.

The thing is that I acknowledge that my dog is a living, breathing being with a will of his own, and I don’t want to do anything that would change that.

Sure, I would love to have a well behaved dog and all that -especially when we are out in public- but at the same time I realize that dogs don’t have an on off switch, that the price I would have to pay for a well behaved dog in public is part of the spirit of the dog I fell in love with in private… not to mention that some of the advice seems to make no sense, not to me anyway.  A perfect example of this is the expected walk etiquette. They tell me that my dog should walk sedately by my side, if not behind me… and that he most definitely shouldn’t be on the brink of dislocating my shoulder whenever he catches a glimpse of another dog. Good luck with that!

The thing is that, as far as I am concerned the whole point of taking him out for a walk is to give him a chance to enjoy himself, to sniff around, lift his leg and so on… not to mention that the normal walking speed of most dogs is greater than a human. In other words, getting him to behave like he is supposed to would defeat the whole purpose of taking him for a walk in the first place. It would go from something I do for him so that he can have a chance to act like a dog and interact with others of his kind, to being just another excuse for me to assert my control over him, his own needs be damned.

Oh, I know in the end we’ll work the kinks out of the system, that eventually he will come to understand when he should listen to me, like my other dogs have, but the bottom line is that even though he likes to challenge me, he is playful, full of energy, smart and he enjoys outsmarting me, I wouldn’t trade him for the world.

No, he is not going to be winning any obedience contests any time soon, but even though I’ve been told time and time again that some obedience training will do him a world of good, and make him a better pet, the one thing I can’s stop thinking about is, if at the end of the day I don’t agree with that statement, will there be a way for me to undo the damage? What can I say, I’d rather have him kill the occasional shoe than be responsible for crushing his soul.