A sad, SAD day for the Mexican arts.
But he was much more than that: Essayist; editorialist; political & social critic. In short, a true intellectual giant.
I had the great fortune of meeting Fuentes once in person in 2010. My sister Angélica invited me to a teachers congress celebrated in one of the hotels facing Paseo de la Reforma, and Fuentes was going to give the final lecture.
It's a doubly memorable anecdote, because that day I was wearing my finest black leather jacket which I took off once we were seated listening to other speakers, and when we stepped outside the hall --my sister and I-- during a brief recess, by the time we came back the jacket was gone! There's something to be said about the honesty of Mexican educators --or their lack thereof.
My sister was totally furious and was screaming and fighting with some of the organizers demanding that the jacket showed up, or else! I admit I was a bit concerned at first, seeing how I had kept the parking ticket I received at the hotel lobby in the inside pocket, yet once the proper measures were taken to ensure my car would not be allowed to exit the hotel without alerting me first, I was surprisingly serene and taking the loss of my jacket very philosophically. "What's done is done" I thought, and since I had gone there to hear Fuentes in the first place, I wasn't going to let the loss of the jacket interfere with my goal.
The organizers were so mortified --or fed up with my sister's rant-- that they even allowed us to sit in the front row of the auditorium, where I was in a great place to enjoy the words of Fuentes. I even worked up the nerve to ask something to him during the Q&A session; since the focus of the congress was the state of education in Mexico, I wanted to know what he felt about the over-saturation of information in the web, and how it was becoming more taxing to discern between reliable data and pure bunk.
Fuentes' reply pleased me greatly. He said that he wasn't too concerned with excessive information; quite the contrary, between an excesss of knowledge and censorship or other ways to restric access to information, he would always choose the former. I agree 100%.
At the end of his lecture I walked up to the stage, shook his hand, and asked him to sign my copy of 'La Región Más Transparente' (The Most Transparent Region). He wrote:
Alas, I don't have a photo which could have immortalized the moment. My sister was still so darn busy giving hell to the organizers about my jacket that she wasted the chance of taking a pic with her cell phone. I swear to God I wasn't bothered about it at all; the way I saw it, meeting such a literary legend was well worth a jacket ;)
Some days later Fuentes was invited to some TV program to talk about his most recent novel, and during the show he mentioned the congress he attended, and that he was pleased that some of the young teachers there kept copies of his oldest books *hint hint*
Oh! and remember how I said that had been a doubly memorable anecdote ? Well, I take that back: it was TRIPLY memorable. Because guess what? I got my jacket back!
Yeah. Believe it or not a week later I received a call from the hotel's administration telling me the 'person' who "had took my jacket by mistake" (yeah right) was willing to take it back so long as I accepted to not pick it up personally (?) but send someone else instead. My sister thinks the thief realized a person the size of the jacket's owner would be a bit intimidating, and presumably in a not too-cordial mood.
I don't know. I think about it as the Universe rewarding me for putting stock in the things that really matter. And meeting Fuentes was a rich experience that I'm happy to share with you know.
Farewell Carlos. The Universe decreed your departure on May 15th., the day in which we Mexicans honor our teachers; I couldn't really think of a more fitting way to underscore the importance of your career and the value of your legacy.
Descanse en Paz.
Sot it turns out that some weeks ago I received an e-mail from Avaaz encouraging me to start a campaign in their site, and after thinking for a while it turns out that there was something I could campaign for: the preservation of Cabo Pulmo.
Cabo Pulmo is a somewhat remote marine reserve located in the Mexican state of Baja California, and enjoys such an incredible biodiversity that it's considered the most robust marine reserve in the world; until recently it was only visited by a few scuba-diving enthusiasts that sought to find a pristine environment far away from five-starred hotels and noisy Spring-breakers; but later I found out through the radio and the Internet that this ecological treasure is threatened to be destroyed by a Spanish real state company planning to build a giant tourist resort and a marina dock.
You see, every President in Mexico has the unwritten mandate to promote a new tourist resort during their term. Years ago it was Ixtapa Zihuatanejo, then came the time for Puerto Vallarta, Cancún and so on. The idea is to attract as many dollar-spending tourists as possible, at the cost of the local population and the natural ecosystem. F*#ck the coral reefs and the natural balance and bring in the yachts and the golf courses! "Hey mister, you wanna go take a ride in the parachute?"
The end result is that over time the tourist resorts get eventually depleted of their natural beauty, and then turn into ecological wastelands that need to be maintained at the expense of other less-popular regions, like the beaches of Cancun that need periodic replenishments of sand from nearby areas (Cozumel) because the mangrove that protected them from the seasonal storms and hurricanes were wiped out with the construction of all those fancy all-inclusive resorts. But eventually the tourists get bored and the real-state investors move on to the next virgin site to be exploited --with so many coastal areas in the Republic, there's plenty of places to pick from, right?
And now it seems to be the turn of Cabo Pulmo. But I say there has to be another way in which the locals can sustainibly exploit the vast natural resources of the region and attract tourists in a responsible manner, while preserving the beauty and incredible biodiversity of the site for future generations to enjoy.
If you think this doesn't sound like an all-too unreasonable idea, you might want to add your signature tot he campaign, and click here :)
PS: Many thanks to Rick, who seems to have been the culprit for my little campaign's early success. I admit that I kind of forgot about it but now I have more than 100 signatures! Let's see if we can collect a few more.
[UPDATE May 18th]: Orale!! Almost 1200 signatures by now.
Faith in humanity, fully restored :3
Went to see The Avengers this afternoon.
For real :)
Q: If a baseball and bat cost $110, and the bat costs $100 more than the ball, how much does the ball cost?
If you answered $10 then you are a religious person. If you answer $5, then you probably are an agnostic, or an atheist.
That is, according to a new research published in tomorrow's edition of Science, which seeks to prove that religious persons are usually more intuitive --hence, they would have rushed to answer $10-- whereas people who are more analytical in their thinking --and would have answered $5-- tend to steer away from religion.
The problem with this argument, aside from being heavily biased, is that it's ultimately stupid. Just look at all the comments posted on Boing Boing, a very popular website among the geek blogosphere, who usually are pretty critical --even aversive-- to any concept pertaining to religion or speculation regarding fringe subjects outside the predominant materialistic paradigm. Many of the comments from people who claim to be anti-religious admit they didn't get the correct answer, whereas some religious folks did get it right.
The bat would cost $105, BTW.
Back in High School I used to be very good at Math. I mean exceedingly good, to the point that many of my friends would always want to sit next to me during tests, not because they wanted me to give them the answers --ours was the kind of teacher that cared more about HOW you solved the problem, and cheaters were easy to spot-- but because we used to corraborate our answers with each other.
I still remember fondly how my best friend Pepe was having trouble with one of the problems, so he raised his hand and asked "Professor, can I go to your desk? I have a doubt regarding one of the questions."
—"Mister Pérez, you know very weel that I don't clarify things during tests."
—"Ok so, can I ask Miguel then?"
(Don't worry, the teacher was more amused than angry; he knew we were both good students.)
But the point is that I've always had what some would call a religious mindset —for lack of a better term— when dealing with the 'bigger questions'; at the same time, I've considered myself to be a right-brained kind of individual, and I'm aware that my intuition is a great tool when it comes to face many problems in my life and professional career.
...But not ALL of them! Just the same as trying to apply an analytical methodology would probably get you nowhere during some critical situations, specially if you don't have enough data --that's where intuition excels: to fill in the gaps and leap from A to D while skipping C & D entirely.
So, if you got the answer to the baseball bat wrong, don't sweat about it: you don't have to go burn your copy of The God Delusion and join a convent. It just means that, like many religious or non-religious folks at there, despite your über-skeptic nature and rationality you're still a fallible human being —and you suck at Math ;)
Move over, Chapo! Starting this week, yours truly is going to distribute a regular dosis of red pills at Mysterious Universe, one of the greatest podcasts on the web, and host to many talented writers like Nick Redfern, Micah Hanks, Rob Murphy & Jason Offutt --and then there's me.
The Radiolab podcast brought to light a very interesting story, which at first glance seemed like a weird but trivial legal dispute between a multinational company & the US government, yet looking deeper it actually tackled the issue of what it means to be human:
Reporter Ike Sriskandarajah tells Jad and Robert a story about two international trade lawyers, Sherry Singer and Indie Singh, who noticed something interesting while looking at a book of tariff classifications. "Dolls," which represent human beings, are taxed at almost twice the rate of "toys," which represent something not human - such as robots, monsters, or demons. As soon as they read that, Sherry and Indie saw dollar signs. it just so happened that one of their clients, Marvel Comics, was importing its action figures as dolls. And one set of action figures really piqued Sherry and Indie's interest: The XMEN, normal humans who, at around puberty, start to change in ways that give them strange powers.
So Sherry and Indie went down to the customs office with a bag of XMEN action figures to convince the US government that these mutants are NOT human. That argument eventually became a court case that went on for years. Joe Liebman, former international trade attorney for the US Department of Justice, helps us understand the government's side. And Ike, with help from director and producer Bryan Singer, reflects on the story of the XMEN, and tells us why this case is so poignant for anyone who’s fought to be different without being cast as an outsider.
Sure, we can all make fun of these tedious legal battles produced by ambiguous legislation over matters as inconsequential as toys. And you might also think that only a fanboy (or a lawyer) would find this particular story of any interest.
But I on the other hand, think that this case is a perfect allegory that exhibits the complete inadequacy of laws to define what being 'human' really means.
Legislation is only comfortable when trying to define things as immutable and static: Unmovable border lines, unbreakable contracts, unavoidable obligations. When a law is passed and integrated in a nation's Constitution, it is expected to be regarded and upheld the same way we're forced to obey the other which govern our world --such as gravity, for instance.
And yet this is a rather deficient way to understand the world. Everything is in a permanent state of flux, and the same goes for humans —'interacting processes' as Robert Anton Wilson liked to say.
A human never IS; we are in a permanent state of BECOMING.
Our laws are meant to assess events as single snapshots, which is as efficient as trying to evaluate the quality of a motion picture by just one single frame. And yet that's what lawyers and judges are paid to do all the time: put a man or a woman's entire life on a scale on account of one particular snapshot.
Which is why lawyers and politicians are always hitting a brick-wall when it comes to tackling terms which are the provenance of Science. When they discuss the theory of evolution for example, they want to be shown a picture of the 'missing link', when a scientist very well knows that there is no such a thing, just as there can't be pinpointed the exact moment when you stopped being a child and became an adolescent, or an adult.
The X-Men saga is an excellent mental experiment that allows us to explore the problems faced by people who, for one reason or another, are considered undesirable or dangerous for causes escaping their control. Mutants are not mutant by choice.
Imagine for a moment that in the years to come it is discovered that some members of the human population have a genetic ascendancy of non-terrestrial origin. In other words, suppose we learn there are human-alien hybrids living among us. What then?
Or maybe a growing number of the population will start showing abilities outside the norm —no pun intended— like clairvoyance, psychokinesis, or even telepathy. Would they be forced to be registered, like the mutants in the Marvel universe?
And suppose mutation does become a matter of choice. What will happen when technologies that are being developed today will allow our children or grandchildren to transcend the physical and mental limitations that are common to us?
I have the suspicion that the quandaries we face today in issues like gay marriage or abortion will be regarded as childish by the legislators of the coming centuries.
In which case I hope they get to include a course in "X-Men 101" in future law curricula.
[H/T Boing Boing]
Writer Alain de Botton has announced plans to build a series of temples for atheists in the UK. The first will be a 46 metre-tall black tower designed by Tom Greenall Architects and constructed in London to represent the idea of perspective:
‘Why should religious people have the most beautiful buildings in the land?’ he asks. ‘It’s time atheists had their own versions of the great churches and cathedrals’.
Alain de Botton has laid out his plans in a new book, Religion for Atheists, which argues that atheists should copy the major religions and put up a network of new architectural masterpieces in the form of temples.
‘As religions have always known, a beautiful building is an indispensable part of getting your message across. Books alone won’t do it.’
De Botton argues that you definitely don’t need a god or gods to justify a temple. ‘You can build a temple to anything that’s positive and good. That could mean: a temple to love, friendship, calm or perspective.’
De Botton has begun working on the first Temple for Atheists. Designed by Tom Greenall Architects, this will be a huge black tower nestled among the office buildings in the City of London. Measuring 46 meters in all, the tower represents the age of the earth, with each centimetre equating to 1 million years and with, at the tower’s base, a tiny band of gold a mere millimetre thick standing for mankind’s time on earth. The Temple is dedicated to the idea of perspective, which is something we’re prone to lose in the midst of our busy modern lives.
De Botton suggests that atheists like Richard Dawkins won’t ever convince people that atheism is an attractive way of looking at life until they provide them with the sort of rituals, buildings, communities and works of art and architecture that religions have always used.
‘Even the most convinced atheists tend to speak nicely about religious buildings. They may even feel sad that nothing like them gets built nowadays. But there’s no need to feel nostalgic. Why not just learn from religions and build similarly beautiful and interesting things right now?’
A black tower, eh? Now what does that remind me of...
Well, I'm sure Dawkins would look stunning in white robes ;)
UPDATE: Tom Greenall, one of the architects who designed the temple(?) explains the project:
Temple to Perspective
Standing 46-metres tall and in the heart of the City of London, the temple represents the entire history of life on earth: each centimetre of its height equates to one million years of life. One metre from the ground, a single line of gold – no more than a millimetre thick – represents the entire existence of humankind. A visit to the temple is intended to leave one with a renewed sense of perspective.
OK, so it would seem the obelisk is one big middle finger raised against Creationism, huh? Funny, since I thought that quarrel was mostly contested on the other side of the Atlantic.
As a designer, I feel it kind of odd to put the golden band that represents mankind at the bottom, although obviously by placing it at the top would make it impossible to see. So how about a thin glowing strip illuminated by LEDs at the top?
Frankly it would have been better if they had designed a wall that mimicked Sagan's Cosmic Calendar, but I guess there were space limitations in the project.
Who is the Master that makes the grass green?
~ Zen koan
If you're interested into the (so-called) alien abduction phenomenon, then I *guarantee* you know who Whitley Strieber is. Although there had been previous books that started to publicize claims of other-worldly encounters that surpassed Hynek's original classification, it was Strieber's Communion the one that broke through and brought the subject to the mainstream —alas, unwittingly spurring a deluge of 'anal probe' jokes.
I remember when I finally had the chance to buy a Mexican edition of Communion. I had to sleep with my table lamp on for 6. Whole. Months! I also used to bury it under a pile of magazines, because I could not endure the sight of those hypnotic black eyes while trying to sleep, much to the hilarity of my 2 big sisters. No, I seriously doubt I've been the recipient of the splindy interlopers' visits, but my imagination has always run on overdrive during the wee hours of the night.
My friend Mike Clelland recently had the chance to have a little chat with Whitley, and they discussed his latest book Solving the Communion Enigma. What Strieber seems to suggest is that we stop looking for an easy answer for UFO enigma, which inevitably collapse to a rigid belief system (BS, as Roger Anton Wilson used to call them) and that we dare ourselves to live with the question open.
Not an easy feat, obviously. We humans are often uncomfortable with ambiguity, and demand quick and simple answers to our problems —did I get the job? is he lying to me? does she love me? am I going to die?
But ambiguity does have its benefits sometimes, if we are smart enough to use it. Throughout history many mystic traditions have resorted to several different methods that seek to 'shut down' the analytical part of the human mind in order to expand or shift the normal cognitive perceptions. Practices like meditation have been shown to produce actual physical changes in the brain, and even short exercises in which test subjects are exposed to short novels by Kafka seem to conduce to an improvement in cognitive mechanisms.
So in the end, it might just be that the UFO phenomenon is nothing but an enormous, incredibly complex multi-generational Zen koan, and that It —whatever *It* is— wants us to stop being passive observers and turn instead into active participants of this uncanny contact. Then, and only then, will it become a true Communion.
Click here to find the audio conversation, and enjoy.