Saturday, November 7, 2015


  After reading Anthony Lawrence’s fascinating book on elephants I wanted to explore the enigmatic life of dolphins.
  In her book “Voices in the Ocean” Susan Casey puts together true stories and scientific information about their highly evolved brains and behaviors.
Human beings cannot fully comprehend the intelligence of dolphins. Lori Marino is a passionate scientist who works to understand these creatures that struggle to survive in the oceans.
 Susan Casey recounts many true stories of dolphins who rescued human beings in dangerous situations.
 Did you know, for example, that dolphins have a sense of humor?
 “Voices in the Ocean” also shares many biological facts about their brain. The Von Economo Neurons are brain cells that exist in both humans and dolphins. They are responsible for high-level functions like judgment, intuition and awareness. Only the creatures with the most elaborate brains such as whales, elephants and great apes are equipped with them.
 VENs are necessary to get along with one another, to empathize, to know if we’ve made a mistake. They play a role in the ability to trust, joke around and love one another.
 Dolphins and whales have three times more of these neurons than human beings. It may be for this reason that dolphins operate with a degree of interconnectedness far deeper than our own. There is a strong sense in them that if something happens to a group, it happens to you.
 Their awareness and survival instincts extend out into the world around them.
 Dolphins are also known to form long-term attachments with others, and they maintain them over time, even when they are separated for extended periods.

  Scientist Jason Bruck from the University of Chicago proved that dolphins recognize their friends’ signature whistles even after twenty years apart, and they react with excitement when they hear them. Their bonds are so strong that when dolphins are in jeopardy they will not leave one another, even if it costs them their lives. When they do lose a loved one, they behave in ways that suggest deep grief.

 Unfortunately, these empathetic creatures are the victims of abuse and torture in marine parks, so educate yourself to make sure you don’t support these unethical places. Susan Casey does not spare the details of this cruel business. 

  We also learn about the plight of dolphins in Japan and in other countries where dolphins are killed to be used as commodities. It is equally disturbing to learn that activists who spoke up to protect these creatures were murdered.

Even if dolphins manage to evade the web of fishing nets, they still contend with relentless pollution, pesticides, oil spills, food depletion and many other ecological disorders caused by human beings. This book is a reminder of how greed and corruption contribute to the destruction of these compassionate beings.

 The BP disaster had devastating effects on the dolphins and the presence of oil in the sea continues to affect them.
 "Between May 2010 and May 2015, 1,199 dolphins have washed up dead. Those are the only ones that we've found. Given that most dead dolphins don't make it to the shore, their bodies sinking in the deep or being eaten by predators, scientists estimate that the real number of dolphin casualties could be fifty times higher. And the bodies keep coming."

   How can we not marvel at the memorable story of Pelorus Jack? Pelorus Jack was a dolphin who spent twenty-four years, from 1888 to 1912 , escorting ships through New Zealand’s Cook Strait. Amid rough waters, rocks and fierce winds Pelorus Jack guided boats to a safe crossing. Captains would often wait for him. His graceful movements and enthusiasm attracted many tourists.
 “He swam alongside in a kind of snuggling-up attitude,” one seaman recalled. Mark Twain and Rudyard Kipling admired him.
 One day the passenger of a local ferry called “The Penguin” shot him with a rifle. For many weeks he was not seen. The New Zealand government passed a law to protect him. After a while Pelorus Jack recovered. This brave dolphin returned to his post and continued to help the ships. Yet he never guided “The Penguin” again.
Every time he saw this specific ferry he would vanish.

You may have noticed that I’ve been blogging less frequently lately. I’ve been busy doing some research for a very complex story I’m working on. The act of learning stokes the fires of creativity, so if  I disappear for a few weeks you will know why: the creative fires are burning me.
Peace and joy to you all.
"The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper."
W.B. Yeats

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Climate change

  "All truth passes through through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident."
 Arthur Schopenhauer, German philosopher(1788-1860)
Source of photo used in this post:

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Silent Spring

In the year 1962 a woman stirred the waters of conformity and ignorance by writing and publishing a book. Her name was Rachel Carson. She wrote about the ecosystems and  about how the misuse of pesticides exacerbates the problems with insects and weeds instead of controlling them. She also delved into the effects of many of these chemicals on human health. Why is this important?   
Fifty three years later her book “Silent Spring” continues to have relevance: the food we eat and the water we drink contain pesticides. The case of Atrazine can be used as an example to illustrate how her words resonate today.
 Atrazine is a pesticide used to kill weeds. Research has shown that Atrazine can cause cancer in mammals and developmental problems in fish. It also changes male frogs into females. The European Union banned the use of Atrazine in 2004. The corporation that manufactures this chemical is in Switzerland (Syngenta). I surmise it has “power” over the decisions made by EPA because in the United States of America Atrazine continues to be used.  90% of the drinking water in the United States of America contains Atrazine.
 We signed a petition to encourage the authorities to ban the use of Atrazine, but so far nothing has changed. (Profits matter more than human health and the environment).

 Reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring motivated me to learn more about pesticides and the current situation.

 The use of glyphosate
The most well-known glyphosate is “Roundup. It is manufactured by Monsanto.
 The use of glyphosate is associated with birth defects, cancer, miscarriages and stillbirths. In the year 2010 Professor Andres Carrasco of Buenos Aries Medical School in Argentina published his findings on the effect of glyphosate (Roundup) on chicken embryo. He decided to work on this kind of research after observing what happened to the people who live close to the farms. However, Monsanto still claimed that its Roundup product was safe.
 There were violent attempts to silence Carrasco and his group. Four representatives of Argentina’s crop protection trade group CASAFE tried to raid his laboratory. He was also the focus of an orchestrated attack in which three people were seriously injured when he was in an agricultural town in Argentina called La Leonesa, where he explained the findings of his research. Carrasco escaped injury by locking himself in a car.
  Glyphosates started to be used in La Leonesa in 2000. Birth defects increased fourfold in the region around the town between 2000 and 2009, and the rate of childhood cancers tripled over the same period.  Glyphosates are still used in Argentina. Again, profits matter more than human health.

 Despite the hazards associated with the use of these chemicals manufactured by Monsanto they are also used widely in the United States of America, not only to grow food but also to control weeds in parks and pavements. On the other hand, countries like the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden have either banned glyphosate or have restricted its use. 
 Roundup is spread on about 12 million acres of American farmland every year. Now the so-called "Superweeds", which are resistant to Roundup, are emerging. Rachel Carson discussed these patterns of resistance and an exacerbation of the original problems as a result of the abuse of pesticides.

 Rachel Carson also explained  that pesticides contained in runoff from farms and forests are being carried to the sea in the waters of many rivers. She pointed out that the funds to research the changes that these chemicals undergo during the transit period are small. She proposed that some of the money invested in the development of toxic sprays should be used on research to use less dangerous materials and keep poisons out of the waterways. Then she asked the following question: when will the public become sufficiently aware of the facts to demand such action? Her question is relevant today.
What can we do?
Educating ourselves and our communities is our duty. 
 Make wise choices. Reduce your chemical imprint.
Support organic farming practices.
Environmentalists are urging farmers to adopt the principles of integrated pest management (IPM), which encourages the use of less toxic products and the use of other methods. Ladybugs, for example, are the natural enemy of many insects.
 The EU encourages the reduced use of pesticides on farms and in homes. It has created a directive on the sustainable application of pesticides.


Wednesday, September 16, 2015


 Patch Adams's father was a soldier. He fought in the Second World War and the Korean war; he died in Germany when Patch was only 16. Patch was raised by his mother.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Moral Disorder

  A few months ago I read “Moral Disorder” by Margaret Atwood. It is a collection of short stories that share the same characters at different stages of their lives.

 The first story starts with the scene of an eight-year -old girl knitting an outfit for her baby sister who is due to be born in a few months. Later in life, you will find this same character (Nell) knitting a quilt. The patches that make up the quilt have different colors and appear to represent the memories or phases of her existence. I believe Atwood uses the quilt as a metaphor, and the act of crafting it may have something to do with Nell's purpose in life, and it alludes to Penelope, the wife of Odysseus.

   By putting together so many stories and experiences Atwood explores a vast array of situations that make us laugh, cry and think.  She brings to light the bittersweet side of life; she sees through the drama and encourages us to ask questions, but in doing so, she takes us back to our own childhood and to examine our life. 

  I enjoyed the narrative of the young girl who is enthralled by her literature teacher. The teenager’s arguments and literary conversations with her boyfriend are hilarious.  I noticed that later in life this assertive teenager who becomes a woman undergoes a transformation. She dates a man who already has a wife and two kids, so her parents ostracize her and then she is not even taken seriously by her new family: she ends up under the control of the man she loves and of his ex-wife.

  I believe Nell is not the person that she was meant to be, but the person that society shaped and molded out of her. There are many situations to illustrate this but I will let the reader explore them. It took me a few months to come to this conclusion.

 One of the most touching scenes I remember from this book is that of this woman interacting with her aging parents. Atwood captures the sadness and the tenderness that mingle in their interactions. She unleashes the longings of those moments in which you feel lonely because you are convinced that nobody would understand what you are going through. She does what a brilliant writer is expected to do: she puts into words what you are unable to say yourself when you are overwhelmed by emotions.

 Another case that stayed with me is the one of Lizzie. Unlike her sister, Lizzie was a bit eccentric and did not acquiesce to the rules so well. She suffered from anxiety and when she sought medical help a physician misdiagnosed her with schizophrenia and put her on antipsychotics. Lizzie had all the side effects of it and could not even go to work. To make matters worse she was neglected by this same physician whose dehumanized approach to the art of medicine left me flabbergasted. Thankfully, things improve when when a second physician is consulted. This case reminds me of Janet Frame, a New Zealand writer who was also misdiagnosed with schizophrenia due to her personality. The doctors wanted to do a lobotomy on her. Janet Frame fled from the procedure and later succeeded in her literary career.

   Margaret Atwood will make you laugh, but she will also swim through the gloom of various life situations, navigating the alienation of the main characters with an economy of style that captivates the reader.  She punches your heart and leaves you pondering for months. 

I also recommend her poetry book (Margaret Atwood's selected poetry 1976-1986) because it complements some of the tales that appear in "Moral Disorder"; it will help you to comprehend them better and to broaden your perspective on them.

I will share some quotes from “Moral Disorder”. (As I mentioned on a previous post, Atwood plays with metaphors to describe perceptions and emotions).

“We can’t really travel to the past, no matter how we try. If we do it’s as tourists.”

“But my dreaming self refuses to be consoled. It continues to wander, aimless, homeless, alone. It cannot be convinced of its safety by any evidence drawn from my waking life. I know this because I continue to have the same dream over and over.”

“The best thing to do when running away is not to run. Just walk. Just stroll. A combination of ease and purposefulness is desirable. Then no one will notice you are running. In addition to which, don’t carry heavy suitcases or canvas bags full of money, or pack sacks with body parts in them. Leave everything behind you except what’s in your pockets. Light is best.”

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Anne Frank

“We cannot change what happened anymore. The only thing we can do is to learn from the past and to realize what discrimination and persecution of innocent people means. I believe that it’s everyone's responsibility to fight prejudice.”~ Otto Frank, 1970

 Fighting all kinds of prejudice is and will always be one of the themes of “My Writing Life”. A few weeks ago I heard a statement from a political candidate who bashed the people of a certain nationality, and I wondered about this man’s education.
What did he learn in school?
 A prejudice is nothing but a lie. It is an unfair judgment. What did his supporters learn from the past? They do remind me of those who supported Adolf Hitler when he imposed a segregation system in the thirties and early forties.

 In the year 1942 Anne Frank and her family had to go into hiding. The diary that she’d received as a birthday present went with her. She named it Kitty.

 Why is her diary so important?  In addition to being a source of inspiration, comfort and strength to millions of people all over the world, it is a historical document. Anne cared to record details about the war and about their life in hiding: she mentions the atrocities and horrors to which human beings were subjected as a result of the cruelty of those who believed they were superior to others. She also poured out her heart on it by revealing her intimate thoughts and emotions.

   Anne did not feel understood, so it was only her diary she confided in. I admire Otto Frank for having the courage to publish it in the year 1947. Some parts had to be omitted. (For instance, passages about sexuality had to be left out because it was not customary to discuss sexuality openly in the forties).
  I recently finished reading the latest edition which includes all the parts that had been censored in previous versions. Anne exposes her vulnerabilities, sorrow, joy, dreams and conflicts with the people who lived in The Annexe.

  Of the group of eight people who lived in The Secret Annexe for two years, Otto Frank was the only survivor, and he committed the rest of his life to combating discrimination and prejudice. He died in 1980.
There are historical details  that you may not find in your conventional textbooks:
“Morale among the Dutch can’t be good. Everyone’s hungry; except for the ersatz coffee, a week’s food ration doesn’t last two days. “
“The Children are ill or undernourished, everyone’s wearing worn-out clothes and run-down shoes. A new sole costs 7.50 guilders on the black market. Besides, few shoemakers will do repairs, or if they do, you have to wait four months for your shoes, which might very well have disappeared in the meantime.”
 “People have to queue for vegetables and all kinds of goods; doctors can’t visit their patients, since their cars and bikes are stolen the moment they turn their backs; burglaries and thefts are so common that you ask yourself what’s suddenly got into the Dutch to make them so light-fingered. Little children, eight-and eleven-year-olds, smash the windows of people’s homes and steal whatever they can lay their hands on. People don’t dare leave the house for even five minutes, since they are liable to come back and find all their belongings gone.”
“The electric clocks on street corners are dismantled, public phones are stripped down to the last wire.”

   The veneration of wars and violence that we hear about on a regular basis reminds me of the mindless slogans that George Orwell describes so well in 1984 and Animal farm, so it is timely to cite Anne Frank’s insights. They still resonate today:
“What’s the point of the war? Why, oh, why can’t people live together peacefully? Why all this destruction?
“The question is understandable, but so far no one has come up with a satisfactory answer.”
“Why do people have to starve when mountains of food are rotting away in other parts of the world?”
“I don’t believe the war is simply the work of politicians and capitalists. Oh, no, the common man is every bit as guilty; otherwise, people and nations would have rebelled long ago! There’s a destructive urge in people, the urge to rage, murder and kill. And until all of humanity, without exception, undergoes a metamorphosis, wars will continue to be waged, and everything that has been carefully built up, cultivated and grown will be cut down and destroyed, only to start all over again!”

   Despite their confinement, Anne found moments of joy.  She read, wrote and studied. Her dream was to become a writer and a journalist. She had a special interest in art and history and crafted short stories Her diary is a lovely tribute to the helpers who risked their lives as they brought the much needed supplies to the two families hiding in The Secret Annexe.
  Anne's fortitude and the energy that kept her active against all odds are inspiring to me. She strove to find the rays of sunshine inside every dark spot while she longed to play outdoors.
 “Every day I feel myself maturing, I feel liberation drawing near, I feel the beauty of nature and the goodness of the people around me. Every day I think what a fascinating and amusing adventure this is. With all that, why should I despair?”

  She disagreed with her mother when she said that they had to feel thankful for not being in the concentration camps.
 “This is where Mother and I differ greatly. Her advice in the face of melancholy is: ‘you’re not part of it’. My advice is ‘Go outside, to the country, enjoy the sun and all nature has to offer. Go outside and try to recapture the beauty within yourself; think of all the beauty in yourself and in everything around you and be happy.
“I don’t think Mother’s advice can be right, because what are you supposed to do if you become part of the suffering? You’d be completely lost. On the contrary, beauty remains, even in misfortune.”
 “A person who has courage and faith will never die in misery.” 

  As she writes about the suffering of others, she expresses her emotions of guilt, sadness and fear.

   Anne becomes infatuated with Peter, and the couple get together in the attic to whisper to each other and contemplate the sky. She reflects on love in her diary:
 “Love, what is love? I don’t think you can really put it into words. Love is understanding someone, caring for him, sharing his joys and sorrows.”

 Their relationship is stunted after her father’s advice:
“Well, you know I understand both of you. But you must be the one to show restraint; don’t go upstairs so often, don’t encourage him more than you can help. In matters like these, it’s always the man who takes the active role, and it’s up to the woman to set the limits. Outside, where you’re free, things are quite different. You see other boys and girls, you can go outdoors, take part in sports and all kinds of activities. But here, if you’re together too much and want to get away, you can’t.”

 Anne Frank’s introspective nature makes the reading compelling. Her honesty leads her to explore her identity:
“As I’ve told you many times, I’m split in two. One side contains my exuberant cheerfulness, my flippancy, my joy in life and, above all, my ability to appreciate the lighter side of things. By that I mean not finding anything wrong with flirtations, a kiss, an embrace, a saucy joke. This side of me is usually lying in wait to ambush the other one, which is much purer, deeper and finer. No one knows Anne’s better side, and that’s why most people can’t stand me. Oh, I can be an amusing clown for an afternoon, but after that everyone’s had enough of me to last a month. Actually, I’m what a romantic film is to a profound thinker—a mere diversion, a comic interlude, something that is soon forgotten: not bad, but not particularly good either. I hate having to tell you this, but why shouldn’t I admit it when I know it’s true?”
 Anne explains that she conceals her deeper self because she fears that she will be ridiculed.

As the diary progresses the people in The Secret Annexe are challenged by starvation. Dangers abound.  Yet she continues writing until August 1 1945.
 After receiving an anonymous tip the German Security Service raids 263 Prinsengracht on August 4 1944. Having been betrayed, the eight people in hiding and two of their helpers are arrested.

 If you are planning to visit Anne Frank House in Amsterdam be prepared to stand in line for a while. Reading her diary, however, does not require a visit to Amsterdam and it is far more powerful.
 Anne Frank’s diary is not only the narration of somebody’s life journey. Her message is the voice of the victims of war anywhere today.