"Immersion in the life of the world, a willingness to be inhabited by and to speak for others, including those beyond the realm of the human, these are the practices not just of the bodhisattva but of the writer." --Jane Hirshfield

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Short Story Month

I know I haven't been posting about it, but I have been reading short stories this month, and my favorite so far has been Scarlet Ibis, from Bluebeard's Egg, by Margaret Atwood.

"Religious people of any serious kind made her nervous: they were like men in raincoats who might or might not be flashers. You would be going along with them in the ordinary way, and then there could be a swift movement and you would look down to find the coat wide open and nothing on under it but some pant legs held up by rubber bands."

It's her wit, to compare the deep embarrassment of unwanted religious proselytizing with flashing the sex organs. There's also a wide-bottomed missionary who puts her fundament to good use.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Pet Foods, Organic Produce and a Death Sentence

Are we supposed to feel better now that the former director of the Chinese State Food and Drug Administration has been sentenced to death for taking bribes?
Chinese Produce Not What It Claims To Be from Business Week:
China's record with food imports isn't reassuring. Just last month, 107 food imports from China were detained by the Food & Drug Administration at U.S. ports, according to The Washington Post. Among them were dried apples preserved with a cancer-causing chemical and mushrooms laced with illegal pesticides.

Another scary article about Chinese food imports. China is quickly becoming the world's largest exporter of fresh produce. Much of what is sold in Wal-Mart is imported from China. Further, produce sold as "organic" has not been.

Now that my own dog has taken ill, although not with kidney failure, I'm even more curious about where all this will lead. I think it's disgraceful to try to limit pet owners' damages to the "replacement" cost of an irreplaceable animal. At the very least, the cost of all the defective dog food should be refunded. People were not getting what they paid for. As well as the cost of veterinary care, special foods, etc. That is what the class action is seeking.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Author's Guild Responds to Simon and Schuster

Simon and Schuster accuses the Author's Guild of perpetrating misinformation, but then, doesn't manage to contradict anything they said.

Thanks to Nathan Bransford for the link. If you haven't been to his blog yet, it's worth adding to your list.

Monday, May 21, 2007

And About Time It Is

From The New York Times: In “The Assault on Reason” Al Gore excoriates George W. Bush, asserting that the president is “out of touch with reality,” that his administration is so incompetent that it “can’t manage its own way out of a horse show,” that it ignored “clear warnings” about the terrorist threat before 9/11 and that it has made Americans less safe by “stirring up a hornets’ nest in Iraq,” while using “the language and politics of fear” to try to “drive the public agenda without regard to the evidence, the facts or the public interest.”

Finally, a Democrat telling the plain truth about this incompetent, corrupt administration. And who is better qualified than Al Gore?

Mr. Bransford

Covers the Simon and Schuster plan to take over the rights to the WORLD. Or at least the world of words.

I really enjoy Nathan Bransford's blog. A literary agent in SF, he credits the now sadly retired Miss Snark with his blogging success. Why he chose to cover her retirement in a post about ennui...well, we may never know. But I did enjoy his take on the "ennui novel."

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Surprise Ending

Miss Snark announces her retirement from blogging. The good news is that her very amusing and helpful blog will remain up for browsing.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Two Articles About Publishing

That really make publishing sound pathetic. The Greatest Mystery: Making a Bestseller in the New York Times, and How Not to Write a Bestseller in the New York Sun.

That Times article does make the publishing industry sound pathetic. It's what you get when you combine bean counters with liberal arts majors who can't speak a business lingo. I mean I think publishing has two heads, pulling in opposite directions, and it's the small presses who, thank God, are picking up the slack. The worst aspect of it is that editors are forced to consider "great literature that will sell," and they have no idea what will sell, just as those in charge of finance have no idea of literature. The result is at best literature from proven authors, and commercial books with proven track records, mysteries, e.g., instead of groundbreaking work from brilliant new authors who perhaps do not sound mainstream enough. At worst, we are given the gossipy celebrity memoir with an advance of millions. (Read Anna Nicole Smith's "Personall" (sic) diary!)

I think Blum's point, in the Sun article, that book buyers are "less interested in discourse" is astute. Only critics and writers really care what critics have to say. A good book review is also an introduction to a book, however, and I think book buyers are interested in that, speaking for myself and friends. I belong to book clubs, I check out the "recommended" or Staff Picks sections in book stores. I read blogs and Amazon reviews to get an idea of new books, to discover new books. As much as the industry has supposedly been "dying" for a generation or more, there are still a lot of new words to wade through on one's own.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Fear Ushers In a New Dark Age?

Louis Menand in the New Yorker:
The biggest undergraduate major by far in the United States today is business. Twenty-two per cent of bachelor’s degrees are awarded in that field. Eight per cent are awarded in education, five per cent in the health professions. By contrast, fewer than four per cent of college graduates major in English, and only two per cent major in history. There are more bachelor’s degrees awarded every year in Parks, Recreation, Leisure, and Fitness Studies than in all foreign languages and literatures combined. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, which classifies institutions of higher education, no longer uses the concept “liberal arts” in making its distinctions. This makes the obsession of some critics of American higher education with things like whether Shakespeare is being required of English majors beside the point. The question isn’t what the English majors aren’t taking; the question is what everyone else isn’t taking.

Are we headed for a new Dark Ages, driven by fear (of terrorists, poverty, high prices, not having a new iPod) and causing people to hunker down and make money to the exclusion of all else? What good is/was a "liberal arts" education? What ever happened to the joy of thinking? Or has that question always just been for people who could afford it. Of course it has, the issue is that we can afford it, but not if we allow ourselves to be driven by fear. What ever happened to electing a president who said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself— nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."

What else FDR said.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

What Is Serious Reviewing, Anyway?

Reviews on blogs are often just as "serious," not to mention written by the same people. Calendar Alive article.

Michael Dirda, a Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic, wrote in the Washington Post. "The book review section … remains the forum where new titles are taken seriously as works of art and argument, and not merely as opportunities for shallow grandstanding and overblown ranting."

Lit-blogger Edward Champion fired back, ridiculing the notion that only printed book reviews matter: "It's okay for the lit blogosphere to exist as a version of your Mom's book club — it's okay for us to talk books and authors and compare notes on favorites, as long as we keep our place," snapped the San Francisco writer, who runs the Return of the Reluctant website. "Have you got that? We must not think for a minute that we contribute anything beyond serving as accessories to the real literary discussions…. We should buy books but not dare to offer well thought opinions on them."

The accusations flew back and forth. But now there is a growing sense that enough is enough — and that the friction between old and new book media obscures the fact that the two are in bed together now, for better or worse. Often the same people who churn out literary blogs are reviewing books for mainstream reviews.

Clearly, some mainstream reviewers are threatened by the competition. Well, that's what they get for giving all the reviewing spots to established writers and cronies. I've heard about great books on blogs, that were not reviewed in larger venues, and I'm all for new voices being heard, especially younger voices. The last two books I read that got raves in the mainstream press were total disappointments. I'll take my recommendations from blogs any day.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Amazing Tulips

I had to post these -- never saw tulips like these although admittedly I am no gardening expert. Click on them to see a bigger photo. I love seeing what pops up in the yard the first spring in a new place.

That's ground ivy on the left, a member of the mint family, not to be confused with heal-all, right. You can make a throat-soothing tea from heal-all, if you wish. I wouldn't recommend it with ground ivy, mint or not. The best peppermint tea is from peppermint itself, which grows easily in local gardens, although I don't seem to have any.

Forsythia against a backdrop of pachysandra, which is ubiquitous because deer don't eat it.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

I, Robot

South Korean robotics task force turns to Isaac Asimov for ethics of robots.

Read this amazing article at the Guardian about the influence of his Foundation trilogy on Aum Shinrikyo and Al-Qaeda.
One can't blame Asimov for fuelling the swollen fantasies of the murderous. It is the last thing this committed pacifist ("violence is the last refuge of the incompetent") would have wanted.

In case you missed this link from the rowboat post: I, Rowboat. You had to have read the book, or maybe seen the movie.

I did both. I also wrote to the author with a couple of friends when I was a kid -- I think we sent him some cookies, and got a postcard in return. He was a great favorite.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Time to Boycott All Chinese Products

Not just melamine, but now also cyanuric acid -- Another Chemical Emerges in Pet Food Case -- has been found in pet food, and the combination has been deadly.

Deaths from false glycerin may be in thousands. This was added to cough medicine that may have killed thousands of adults and children. China's response? Denial, mainly. Followed by foot-dragging.

I've noted before that the contaminated wheat gluten used in pet foods was "human grade" meaning it may have found its way into food for people as well. Wheat gluten is commonly used as an ingredient in bread. Glycerin is used in many products.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Rejection is an Empty Boat

There is a Zen story of a man rowing home from a fishing trip in heavy fog. Suddenly he sees the bow of another rowboat heading for him. He starts yelling, to warn the other fisherman, but the boats collide nonetheless. Angry, he stands up to fight, then realizes the other boat is empty, adrift.

Feeling attacked or rejected, we react with anger or depression or some kind of upset. We try to figure out the other person's motivations, when the other has so many issues that have nothing at all to do with us that our interpretation can have nothing to do with them. Rather, we should act as if the other is an empty boat, banging against ours in the middle of a lake. Then our response would come entirely from our intuitive understanding of what to do next, which would not involve cursing the boat, or analyzing why it doesn't like us, and why us.

A writer friend sent out a story almost 100 times before it was accepted. He just kept trying. Another example of the saying, "Seven times fall down. Eight times get up." It's not always so bleak, however. I just received an acceptance for a story from the first place I sent it. I'll try not to get attached to that, as we say in Zen.

"I, Rowboat" at The Onion.

"Gunism" and Other Views

Here's psychiatrist and Harvard prof Robert Jay Lifton on "Gunism": But while there will always be mentally ill people, a few of whom are violent, it is our gun-centered cultural disease that converts mental illness into massacre.

Ariel Dorfman: Spend time with the literature, the books, the learning, which could not save your tormentor, lost as he was in his ferocious loneliness. Use the wonders of your own intelligence and the rivers of your empathy to become, each of you, the sort of humans who ride into the world determined to create conditions where fewer of your fellows have to face the daily possibility of premature death descending upon them.

At The Chronicle of Higher Education.

It's amazing to many of us that gun control is still received with hostility. No less prominent an idiot than Newt Gingrich has suggested that more guns, not fewer, are the solution. I would add, not just tighter controls, but diminished firepower. A .22 "varmint" rifle, such as I once used to shoot varmints (in my case, rats that were living in the crawl space) would do a whole lot less damage than a 9mm semi-automatic handgun. Perhaps a .22 is the largest caliber weapon one should be allowed without special permits and extensive background checking.

Friday, May 4, 2007

But "Walden" Didn't Have Gregory Peck

No, that's not the reason for choosing Moby Dick as Massachusetts' state book. The fifth-graders at Pittsfield’s Egremont Elementary School like Moby Dick for its sense of adventure. From the Boston Herald.

However, the director of the Thoreau Society argues, "I suppose the big case you could make for ’Walden’ being the book for the Commonwealth is that it’s also emblematic of the intellectual revolution that helped the United States craft its own literary and philosophical tradition."

Okay, that's a good argument, but can you make a movie out of Walden? Incidentally, Ray Bradbury was one of the writers of the movie Moby Dick.

Oswald Morris, Cinematographer.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The Ongoing Pet Food Scandal and Recipe

Now that we have discovered that the Chinese feel that melamine is an acceptable additive for animal food -- recall that our own food laws were passed to eliminate such items as brick dust from prepared foods -- what can we do but avoid processed foods for ourselves and our pets?

Sasha's Beef Stew

2-2 1/2 lbs London broil or other cut of beef,
cut into strips and then into squares
1 1/2 crowns broccoli
1/2 cup brown rice
1/2 cup white rice
1/2 cup baby carrots
Add a half sweet potato or parsnip, as available.

Put brown rice in large stew pot with 4 cups water. Chop up carrots and add. Let cook for 10-15 mins. Add white rice, chopped broccoli, and London broil. Cook until rice is done. Serve with vitamins, including glucosamine and chondroitin supplement as recommended by your vet.

Save 3 days' worth in the fridge and freeze the rest in small freezer bags to be thawed as needed.