Our Accidental Universe

From Big Think, theoretical physicist (and prolific author) Alan Lightman explains the theme of his essay collection The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew [the link is to Amazon’s page for the Kindle edition]. The short version: For hundreds of years we have assumed that our universe is a necessary consequence of fundamental physical laws, but in the last 10 – 15 years we have been forced to recognize, instead, that given the fundamental physical laws, our universe is one of many possible universes and so is accidental, not necessary. That’s my synopsis — watch the video!

Cosmological speculations are good prompts, for me, and I enjoy frazzling myself by considering ramifications and consequences of speculations that are more abstract than any philosopher’s metaphysical speculations and equally impossible to verify. So, launching off into meaningless speculation, we can ignore questions about why the world is the way it is because there is no answer. No possible answer. The best we can do is explain how it is, keeping mind that when we try to describe how things hang together the exercise is fundamentally pointless, but revealing of our predispositions and cultural and intellectual heritage and so practically (let’s say pragmatically) potentially very valuable.

Ludlow, 100 Years Later

Mostly, we remain ignorant that not too long ago people died in the United States fighting for the rights of working people. April 20th marks the 100th anniversary of the worst day for labor in those fights, when 20 striking miners and family members people were machine-gunned  in a tent-camp in Ludlow Colorado by the Colorado State Militia at the behest of the mine owners.

Historian Thai Jones, child of two founders of the Weather Underground born while they were fugitives, calls our attention back to this struggle with an article in The Nation:

[T]he factors that defined the conflict in Colorado are with us once again: class warfare, corporate monopoly, environmental ruin, the demand for workers’ justice, the influence of media and public opinion. One hundred years on, the Ludlow Massacre is a starkly contemporary tragedy.

As corporations gather more money and oligarchs more power, we should all exercise our radical muscles a little — who know what struggle might be required to hold on to the rights that our grandfathers and great-grandfathers bled for.

Develop to Destruction

“Around the world ‘development’ is robbing tribal people of their land, self-sufficiency and pride and leaving them with nothing.”

This simple statement introduces a hilarious (at first) 2-minute animated movie that describes how cultures are destroyed in the name of economic development. From Survival International.

The movie is called “There You Go”.

Actual examples abound. The one I know a little about is the Pacific island of Banaba (part of Kiribati) [Wikipedia], which from 1900 to 1979 had 90% of it’s surface removed by phosphate miners and it’s people “relocated”.

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Review: “The Neruda Case”

Cover of The Neruda Cse by Roberto Ampuero.In 1972, or so, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, dying of cancer in Valparaiso while Allende’s government falls apart, hires Cuban exile Cayetano Brulé to find a woman he knew 30 years before, in the hopes that the daughter she bore was his, rather than her husband’s. Because Cayetano, as he’s called throughout, has no detective skills, Neruda gives him, and insists he read, some Inspector Maigret crime novels by the Belgian author George Simenon, for training.

Cayetano travels to Havana, Mexico City, East Berlin, La Paz, and Santiago detecting, before ending up, again, in Valparaiso, unfortunately at the exact time, September 11, 1973, of Pinochet’s coup. Things don’t go well, although he finds out what he was sent to find out.

This story is framed within present-day events, to set up the possibility of a literary future for the now-experienced investigator. At least it seems that way to me, since the framing doesn’t make a lot of literary sense by itself.

Although blurbed as one, this isn’t a detective story in any way North American readers usually understand the genre. Instead, it is a mixture of Chilean history, a fictional reflection on the historical Neruda’s relationships with women, some bits about the protagonists interacting with women, with none of it holding together real well, except, I thought, for the Valparaiso street scenes. I found the character of Cayetano perplexing, getting detective-ish results in his investigation by people doing things for him and providing him information without any justification in his background, training, or demeanor that explains why people, mostly, just tell him what he wants to know.

The book isn’t awful – I did read it all the way through – but I sure can’t see what’s “delightful” about Cayetano Brulé (as one jacket blurb said) nor can I see why Ampuera is such a hit in Latin America. But he is, and not just for this book, so if another book in the series is translated, I’ll give it a shot and hope there’s more detecting and less reflecting.

The Neruda Case by
Riverhead Hardcover
352 pages
(3 / 5 stars)
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Review: “Hat Dance”

Cover of "Hat Dance: An Emilia Cruz Novel"Emilia Cruz Encino, Acapulco’s first, and so far only, female police detective, continues to struggle with corruption, institutional misogyny, class conflict, a slightly crazy mother, and the difficulties of an inter-racial relationship while attempting to stop a series of fire-bombings targeting high-end restaurants and nightclubs around the bay, without access to the technology that has dominated U.S.– based police procedurals for years. The unusual (to those in the U.S.) setting with all its unfamiliar complications and the archaic police work make for a fresh, character-driven approach to crime writing.

This is the second in the series (“Cliff Diver” is the first), and in both the author has mostly avoid genre tropes and stereotypes, though the series contains elements of both romance and mystery. Mostly, she just tells about interesting characters striving to improve their lives in the difficult environment of modern-day Acapulco, rendering a story far richer than the thriller-factories of the big publishing houses.

If she continues writing this series, I’ll keep reading it.

This review was also posted to LibraryThing.

Hat Dance (An Emilia Cruz Novel) by
KDP Select
268 pages
(4 / 5 stars)
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