14 August 2014

"The Boxer" at the Athenaeum in Chicago

It is rare to presence a play with such strong quality in every corner (concept, writing, casting, directing, acting, choreography, lighting, music, sound effects) that the only word to use is "perfect." That is how I am compelled to describe The Boxer, playing now through the end of the month (August 2014) at the Athenaeum Theater on North Southport in Chicago.

Set in the late 20s or early 30s, the story line revolves around a 135-lb boxer who is scheduled to fight "The Bavarian Beast" (a large and menacing person with mob backing) and is both frightened and inept. One of a group of down-and-out workers agrees to serve as his trainer. What the boxer doesn't know is that the trainer is a woman disguised as a man in order to get work. A romantic farce ensues.

What makes the play highly original is that it is a live, on-stage, silent movie with a live pianist and a few sound effects. A screen above the stage gives occasional dialogue lines, as in the silent movies. The lighting gives a sepia monochrome effect. There are three video segments in the same sepia tones, also silent, projected on the screen as part of the story. The effect is a multimedia presentation which scrambles our expectations in a hilarious romp suitable for all ages.

The acting is spot-on perfect, expressing without words the full range of emotions the characters are feeling. As is typical in farces, there are numerous running gags through the show, and a couple of surprises which I will not reveal, not wanting to spoil your enjoyment. The pace is just right and the energy is breathtaking.

If you like the theater or silent movies or farces or all three, you must not let the month go by without seeing The Boxer at Chicago's Athenaeum. You may thank me later.

The Boxer
Athenaeum Theater, North Southport St., Chicago
Directed by Kacie Smith
Choreographed by Ahmad Simmons

Please check out my Angela Fournier series of books at www.amazon.com/author/bedforddavid

23 July 2014

The Immigration Crisis

Everyone is aware by now of the thousands of children who have crossed the border, turned themselves in to immigration agents, and are seeking asylum in the US. Most of these children come from Guatemala and Honduras, where their very lives are in danger. It is not surprising that this humanitarian tragedy has become politicized. The government can do nothing to help the poor, the orphans, and the persecuted without coming under blistering attack. The House of Representatives has even refused to vote for the money the President requested to deal with the problem.

This is not the first time the US has harbored immigrant children. The governor of Massachusetts says it clearly:

“We have rescued Irish children from famine, Russian and Ukrainian children from religious persecution, Cambodian children from genocide, Haitian children from earthquakes, Sudanese children from civil war, and New Orleans children from Hurricane Katrina,” governor Devon Patrick said. “Once, in 1939, we turned our backs on Jewish children fleeing the Nazis, and it remains a blight on our national reputation. The point is that this good Nation is great when we open our doors and our hearts to needy children, and diminished when we don’t.”

What we must do is simple: give all the children hearings as to why they are seeking asylum, give them safe and clean housing while their case is being processed, and give them all medical examinations and care as needed. It is only basic human kindness. Doing what I have outlined does not guarantee that they will be allowed to stay in the country. If we give them all due process, we will set an example and gain the good will of the nations.

We must, however, do more than process these children humanely. Why are the countries they come from so dangerous? The US has a long history of relationships or intervention (depending on one's take) in these countries. What have we done there? There was a time when these countries were much more peaceful. These matters bear looking into for anyone concerned about these children, regardless of one's political preferences.

One of the subplots of Angela 3: Silver Path of the Moon (forthcoming) is our immigration policy and how people react to it at the local level. The first two books of the three-book series are already available at www.amazon.com/author/bedforddavid.

21 July 2014

The Beautiful Game: Some Thoughts on the 2014 World Football Cup

Football is supposed to be the beautiful game. We saw snippets of it in the World Cup in Brazil this year, but there is still too much that gets in the way of the game as it is supposed to be.

Having grown up in Argentina, I am immensely proud of this year's national team. It displayed the highest level of persistence, teamwork, and maturity, both as a team and in the players and head coach. The final could just as easily have been won by Argentina as by Germany.

Officially, football is a non-contact sport. According to the rulebook, no player may touch another under any circumstances except shoulder-to-shoulder, arms against one's side, when both players are vying for the ball. This means that if a player merely rests a hand on another, a free kick is supposed to be awarded. Any deliberate grabbing of a jersey, pushing another player, sliding at the ball with cleats pointing outward calls for a yellow card. A repeat offense calls for expulsion.

In the rare games in which the referee calls the game according to the rules, football indeed is the beautiful game. The play moves constantly and winning depends on the skill, speed, and intelligence of the players.

During this World Cup, the refereeing has been awful in every game. The reason is very simple: the referees tolerate a great deal of fouling without stopping play and calling free kicks when they are supposed to be showing a yellow card. This practice goes back many decades to England, the country which invented the game but also introduced "war football." The practice was to mark other players by fouling them so they could not move and then do a lightning counterattack. This is boring football and not beautiful at all. It also violates the rules.

Argentina in the late 60's witnessed the coach of Estudiantes de La Plata introduce this kind play and no amount of protesting to the referees had any effect. All over the world since then, football has declined into a game of fouling the opponents to the full extent the referees allow, thus keeping the other team from putting any sort of plays together. This year we saw a Brazilian player get a vertebra cracked in a vicious foul that was not even awarded a free kick, but ignored by the referee. In the final, there was a clear foul in the penalty box that would have meant a penalty kick for Argentina and likely a different outcome in the game, but the referee ignored it.

The time has come for all fans, players, coaches, and above all the FIFA, to demand better training for referees and to insist that the game be played according to the rules. Doing so will protect players and increase the joy of watching the game, a real win for everyone.

A quick word on football as a term. Among several other sports, the United Kingdom gave the world football and rugby. The players of the latter game are called ruggers, while players of the former are called soccers (from "Association  Football"). The game is called football because it is played with the feet, no hands allowed. American "football" is derived from rugby, not football, modified to allow for the forward pass. Given these facts, we would ask for indulgence in using the word "football" to mean the beautiful game.

I would invite all lovers of good fiction to read the first two of my Angela novels (I am writing the third as we speak). You can look them up, as well as my short stories in Spanish, at www.amazon.com/author/bedforddavid . Thank you.

30 May 2014

Unethical campaigning

This blog is not political and never will be. That is, I will not advocate or suggest in favor of either party over the other nor of any candidate over any other. Notwithstanding, something so despicable has happened in the Texas gubernatorial race that I must call it out.

One of the candidates printed up posters of the other with the latter's face on top of a Barbie doll body carrying a visible fetus in her uterus. Printed across the top are the words "Abortion Barbie." The posters were put up in prominent public places all around Houston. There are so many aspects of this action that are so wrong that it is difficult to know where to start.

If this were not a political campaign, those responsible for the posters would be subject to prosecution for libel. Are we to accept libelous actions as legitimate campaign procedures when we are in such desperate need of debating urgent public matters in an objective, helpful, and healing manner? The perpetrators are ripping apart the fabric of our democracy.

The makers of the posters are using a registered trademark and a patented figure (Barbie) for their own gain. If such action is not illegal, it should be. They are also purposely insulting the majority of women, who consider Barbie a negative self-image builder for girls and young women. It was calculated to offend and is overt in its callous disregard for women.

This procedure must stem from desperation. I must say, though, that we are all complicit. Political advertising has descended from the insulting to the unethical because we let it influence how we vote. We can change all this if we want to. Here's how:

1. Pledge to turn off the TV for the duration of all political ads.
2. Refuse to vote for anyone who allows the campaign or the PACs that support him or her to engage in attack ads againts the opponent.
3. Resolve to vote only for candidates who will discuss issues: what they will advocate for once in office, what they will oppose, and why.

To vote on any other basis is to be manipulated. Marshall McLuhan said, in The Mechanical Bride, that all advertising is both destructive of all traditional cultures and totalitarian in nature. I am advocating against unethical treatment of political opponents and in favor of a civilized discussion of the candidates' respective position on issues.

My character Angela Fournier typifies the longing of many young adults for responsible citizenship and ethical behavior. www.amazon.com/author/bedforddavid to see my Angela series.

20 May 2014

Some Thoughts on Latin American Literature and its Place in the Grand Order of Things


Considerable confusion exists concerning magical realism and fantastic literature, which are often treated as being essentially the same. In fact, they are two different literary movements. Movements should not be confused with genres. Most literature of the first half of the 20th century is a reaction to the end of the Modern Age, which went from the invention of the movable-type printing press (1450s) to World War I. The early modern period placed its faith in commerce, then (18th  century) in human reason, the late modern period in science, technology and “progress.” World War I convinced thinking people that the prevailing world view no longer matched the reality on the ground, just as the medieval world view collapsed in the fifteenth century for the same reason. The major literary responses to the end of the modern age were the English and American “modernists”, the surrealists, magical realism and fantastic literature.

 

Magical realism responded to André Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto (1924) by showing northern Latin American reality as seen through its people, many of whom take magic in stride. This is especially true in the Caribbean, home of the principal writers in the movement (Miguel Angel Asturias of Guatemala, Arturo Uslar Pietri of Venezuela, Alejo Carpentier of Cuba, and Gabriel García Márquez of Colombia). They especially favored historical novels, highlighting the magical events on which historical events turned. Cien años de soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude) has roots in Soviet socialist realism, but is equally rooted in Colombian culture. It is a history of a family (Soviet style) based on the fictional oral record of it (Latin American thinking with bits of magic thrown in).

 

Fantastic literature is grounded in the River Plate area (Buenos Aires and surroundings) and reflects a strongly European-influenced mentality. It counters the prevailing world view with stories built on a philosophical, rather than scientific, way of explaining the world, thus seeking to undermine faith in commerce, reason, science, and progress. It especially highlights the fact that the world is a construct of our will and imagination. The main writers have been Horacio Quiroga, Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar, Ernesto Sabato (the latter two in part of their work), Leopoldo Marechal, and, among current writers, Alejandro Dolina and Vlady Kociancich. This literature has affinities with the best early science fiction (H.G. Wells) and with detective fiction.

 
Marshall McLuhan said that the medieval people saw themselves as ancient Romans, while the modern age people thought of themselves as medieval. Now we think of ourselves as modern. We would do well to consider the past which has formed us so that we may see the future with some clarity and take control over it.

My Angela series deals with clashing world views which put people at odds with each other. It also shows the difficulty of being ethical. View the first two books in the series at www.amazon.com/author/bedforddavid

29 April 2014

The Importance of Knowing History

My second reading of David Remnick's Lenin's Tomb cleared up a matter that had me puzzled for a number of years. You see, when I was in college during the Cold War, people felt threatened and scared by the Soviet Union. I kept telling them that their fear was misplaced because the Soviet Union would collapse under its own weight. My high school and college studies convinced me that the Soviet economy was unsustainable. The country, moreover, was ringed by US bases and its naval installations were all boxed in by narrow passages out into the ocean. I repeated this opinion often enough that there must be many dozens of people who heard it.

So far, so good. In an economy in which large, valuable fish catches in the Pacific rotted and were lost just because the supervisors had to wait for an order from Moscow to ship them, an order which came too late, and in which steel was produced, not in response to the needs of industry, but to orders from central planners, and in which the mandate for large cotton crops did incredible environmental damage such as drying up the world's largest lake, nothing worked as it should. The people were overworked and very poor. It is a wonder the system lasted as long as it did. Remnick says that people were comfortable with their "equality in poverty."

That said, I never expected to see the Soviet Union to collapse in my lifetime. And yet, here we are, closing in on 25 years after it disappeared. What other factor was at work that was so powerful that I had overlooked? The main theme of Lenin's Tomb is the return of history to the Russian people. Until the election of Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev as General Secretary, the entire Communist apparat kept all the history, especially the Red Terror under Lenin and the Great Terror under Stalin, secret, while instead teaching propaganda: nothing but good and heroism in the Great War against fascist Germany, praise of Stalin, and a rosy socialist future. Gorbachev was determined to improve the socialist model and that meant, in his opinion, opening up the truth of the history of 20th-century Russia: the concentration camps, the disappearances, the killing of some 50,000,000 Soviet citizens by Lenin but mostly by Stalin, the luxurious life of the party officials and KGB, and the brutal repression of independence movements in Eastern Europe. As soon as the public began to learn about the history of their country, the power and purpose of the Communist party began to unravel. The process proved unstoppable and the Communist movement is now history.

Note that the power of the Communist party depended on depriving the citizens of knowing their history. Here was the other factor I had not taken into account. The truth of the past, once known, accelerated the collapse of the Soviet Union and blindsided me with its lighting speed. I just wasn't thinking about that.

I find it a little alarming that we Americans do not care one whit about knowing our history. We find  it boring because it is poorly taught (as a bunch of facts instead of as a story). We may know the episodes of our favorite TV program by heart, or collect trivia about sports statistics, but history? Not on your life. But when you consider what happened to Russia, it becomes evident that not knowing our history allows us to be manipulated. I will mention two examples. In southern states children are often taught that the plantation system was a benevolent institution for the slaves and that the "War Between the States" (never the Civil War) was over states' rights and not over abolition of slavery. This is a highly skewed take on history which does nothing to help us resolve the many lingering effects that horrendous conflict has on our society. The other example is the current "Tea Party" movement. The name, of course, is taken from the famous Boston Tea Party. Because we the people do not know history, we fall in to the idea that all taxation is bad and anti-American and that taxation per se caused the American Revolution. The truth, however, is that the Boston Tea Party was a protest against taxation without representation. The obvious corollary is that taxation by a body we are represented in is legitimate. But since we don't know this, we acquiesce in this mindless, uncivil, propaganda ostensibly offering all of us relief on taxes, but in fact working to undo the progressive taxation which made the 1950's and 60's so prosperous and created a large middle class. If we don't know that about our history, we cannot counter the propaganda of the "Tea Party."

I would suggest that it would be better for us to know our history well rather than become the victims of propaganda. Let the collapse of the Soviet Union be a cautionary tale for us.

In my Angela series, Mr Romano, the history teacher, strives to help his students love their country more than the politicians (or most other people) do by understanding our history and drawing on our many strong and positive points. The books are available at www.amazon.com/author/bedforddavid

15 April 2014

Dellani Oakes' Review of Angela 2

Allow me to indulge today and share with you the review that Dellani Oakes wrote on Angela 2: The Guardian of the Bay.

Angela Fournier is back and better than ever. She and her friends are starting the eleventh grade. On the first day, they meet two new girls, Sonja and Michaela. The group of friends immediately adopts these new girls, delighting in their company.
The year starts out well, despite the annoying, snotty KittyKats, a group of girls who tend to bully and intimidate others. At least, it's going well until Angela and her friends find out that a development group wants to put in an oil pipeline and build a refinery in a wildlife refuge on the beach.
Feeling this would be a terrible mistake, Angela and friends band together to keep the refinery away from their beach and bay.
Although this book is intended for young adults, it's wonderful for older readers. I greatly enjoyed it. The character of Angela is beautifully developed. She is intelligent and caring, though still prone to doubt when the KittyKats sow their discord. Angela is well spoken and strongly believes in the preservation of the bay. She and her friends take their conviction public, gently protesting the refinery. To say that they meed adversity would be an understatement.
One thing I enjoyed about this book, there isn't a single villain at work, there are several. It's full of manipulations, machinations of big business and bullying on different levels. Angela stands up to it all, supported by her friends and family. Support comes from a very unexpected source as well—her Spanish teacher. Mrs. Sepúlvida is a wonderful character and I hope she will return, in a bigger way, in the next book. I also liked the TV reporter who interviews Angela—and the cameraman. Can't forget him.
Angela and he friends stand up for what they believe, face adversity, band together and don't stoop to the dirty tactics of their opposition. They show young people (and older ones) that conviction and commitment to a cause are important. It also shows that, despite everything, nice guys don't always finish last.

Five Golden Acorns

Dellani Oakes is a radio host who interviews new authors and reviews our work.

The Angela trilogy is about the importance of being and ethical and responsible citizen and what it can cost.

You can get Angela 2: The Guardian of the Bay  and my other books at www.amazon.com/author/bedforddavid

27 March 2014

Blinded by the New

I clearly recall a conversation I had during my freshman year in college. I happened to join in with a group of students going somewhere and the conversation turned to cars. At one point I said, "I would love to own a 1929 Duesenberg." A girl I was next to said "Ooooh, that's and old car. I only like new ones."

Over time I found her attitude to be symptomatic of our culture. We are dazzled and fascinated by all the new consumer items, presented to us as technological progress certain to make us happy and more productive. This girl could see cars only as something to amaze her by unsuspected features and as a status symbol. It never occurred to her that an automobile can be an art object, that it can be appreciated for its beauty, that some cars are artistically superior to others.

Now, I quite agree that the autos coming out now days are far superior in durability and safety, among other characteristics, to cars from the early 20th century. I am also aware that there are plenty of people who, like me, appreciate art over industry, relationships over gadgets. What I am saying is that as a culture, we ignore the past to such an extent that we no longer understand where we come from and therefore do not understand who we really are or how we got here.

It is also clear that marketing depends on this blindness to the past for its very existence. If we were content with what we have, we would not buy nearly so much. Therefore practically nothing in the media sets out to have us value the past or see it as relevant. Our acquiescence in this situation makes us easy prey for those who wish to take our money and for politicians. The latter depend on our ignorance of history to feed us their version of who we are and then convince us it is our interest to vote for them.

We need to study our natural and our written history. Without it we cannot understand who we are. If we don't know where we came from, we cannot see where we are headed. We also need to study geography. If we don't know where the rest of the world is, we don't know where we are.

My character Angela Fournier craves this kind of historical and geopolitical context because she's driven to understand herself and the people around her. We would all be better off if we followed her example.

Find her at www.amazon.com/author/bedforddavid

17 March 2014

The Sixth Extinction

In The Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert makes the case that the appearance of humans coincides with, and is the cause of, the sixth large-scale extinction of species. Everywhere prehistoric humans went, all the animals larger than today's elephants disappeared. These animals continued to survive only up until humans arrived in the area they inhabited. The pattern is unmistakable and unbroken, repeated in Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and the Americas. Humans arrived at very different times, and the extinction of all the megafauna ensued rapidly thereafter. We hunted them and ate them until not a single species of megafauna was left.

The situation in our present day has only become exponentially worse. Rising global atmospheric temperatures, combined with ocean acidification, are making the formation of the hard tissues of foramniferans, corals, and starfish, among other species, impossible. Thus coral reefs are beginning to break up and sea stars are dying off by the uncounted millions on both coasts of the US. Carbon that had been absorbed in the ocean no longer is. Both global warming and ocean acidification are caused by the sharp increase in carbon dioxide spewed by our automobiles, our heating and cooling systems, industrial farming methods, energy generation, and industrial production.

Fungi which ride on ships and in airplanes are responsible for the white nose disease which is killing off bats in New England and is spreading in a growing circle, threatening all bat populations in North America. Another species of fungus has wiped out frogs starting in Central America and moving up in our direction. All amphibians appear to be at risk.

Deforestation and other changes to the landscape caused by farming and the expansion of cities, airports, highways and the like have cut up habitats to the point where species die off because the remaining patches of forest cannot sustain them. The list goes on and on. As Pogo had it, we have met the enemy and he is us.

Kolbert also writes about heroic efforts to save the Panamanian golden tree frog and bats and many other species. She says she would like to end the book on a positive note and not project gloom only. However, she has effectively made a devastating case that humans have carried out the most thorough and rapid mass extinction of plant and animal species in all of earth history already.

Can we do something about it? Maybe, but it is a tall order. The steps we can take are to

1) Eat only organically produced natural food and reduce meat consumption drastically.
2) Trade your car asap for an electric car.
3) Switch to an electricity provider that uses only renewable and non-carbon based power generation.
4) Use an alternative to airplane travel whenever possible.
5) Support electricity-powered public transportation in your city.
6) Pressure oil companies to abandon their business in favor of developing hydrogen fuel cell technology. That is the power of the future and those who are first to provide affordable fuel cell power will win big. Those who continue to pump oil will be left in the dust.
7) Make your next house an all-brick and cement structure.
8) Tell your congressional representatives in Washington and in your state what you are doing. Ask them to withdraw all subsidies from petroleum production and to tax it heavily instead, then to apply subsidies for improving electrical vehicles and for development of fuel cell technology for the home and for transportation.
9) Demand sterilization of all ships and airplanes arriving in and leaving the country.

If everyone goes out and votes in November, we can break the hold of the 1% who not only suck up everyone else's money, but foul the earth with their investments, but who buy our elections. If everyone does all nine suggestions above, we can stop pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and the earth may begin to heal.

I strongly recommend reading The Sixth Extinction. It is written in the beautiful, agile, and fast-moving style characteristic of Kolbert. It will move you to action.

The second book in my Angela series focuses on environmental concerns facing up to the oil interests. You can buy it at www.amazon.com/author/bedforddavid