Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Coming down with (and recovering from) COVID-19 in central Taiwan: A longtime American expat's experience

See also this news article at www.taipeitimes.com/News/feat/archives/2020/04/21/2003734995



Coming down with COVID-19 in Taiwan: A longtime American expat's experience  

spent two weeks in a central Taiwan hospital and is fine now.

    • The chills were what first tipped me off that something was wrong. It was an early Thursday evening in late February and I was sitting in my office in central Taiwan where I have lived for many years. I normally hit an energy low this time of the day but this was different, as I suddenly felt chilled, absolutely drained of energy, the lightest of achiness in my muscles and joints and a slight pain behind my eyeballs.
I went home, took a long hot shower and went to bed early. After a full day of rest, I felt normal enough on Saturday to jump on my bike and enjoy a vigorous 50 km ride. Happy that I had defeated perhaps some sort of 24-hour bug, I enjoyed the rest of the weekend.
Nevertheless, in the week that followed, I continued to experience chills, especially in the evenings, sometimes accompanied by night sweats.

He recovered from COVID-19 in a negative pressure isolation room at a hospital in Taiwan. He was released on Thursday last week with a clean bill of health.

It’s noteworthy that during these days, I passed several outside temperature checks with no issues.
The dull pain behind my eyeballs persisted and around midweek I started a sporadic, dry cough. Just as aggravating, my sense of taste seemed to change so that I entirely lost my appetite and almost had to force myself to eat two meals a day. When I started noticing blood in the phlegm I was coughing up, I realized it was time to seek professional medical advice. At the back of my mind was the specter of the coronavirus that was steadily accumulating attention and cases in Taiwan and across Asia.

The room where I was held in isolation while recovering from COVID-19. The only human contact he was allowed to have was daily visits by my doctors and nurses.

I drove to a well-known Taichung hospital and walked into the Emergency Room. Feeling slightly silly, I told the receptionists that I hadn’t been feeling well and wanted a coronavirus test. After registration and a wait, I was given an x-ray, had blood drawn and later was ushered in to see a doctor, who performed a nasal swab and asked me about my symptoms and recent whereabouts (I’d been in Taiwan since returning from a visit to Pennsylvania on Jan. 11).

After all this, I was put in an isolated corner of an almost-empty ER recovery room and hooked up to an IV.

Later, the doctor came in and told me that while my profile didn’t fit that of a coronavirus victim — with Taiwan having little/no community transmission and me having been in Taiwan for almost two months — he saw a bit of cloudiness on a corner of one lung and didn’t like the results of my white/red blood count. Therefore, he recommended that I spend two to three nights at the hospital for observation and treatment, in a private room so that there was no risk of infecting anyone else. Surprised, I reluctantly agreed to stay over and later in the evening was taken up to a spacious private room.

The negative pressure isolation room at a hospital in Taichung features grey views of the city.

The next three days passed in a blur of day and night IV antibiotic drips, combined with oral anti-flu and other medications, plus more blood tests. While my daytime temperatures were mostly normal, I would sometimes run a fever at night, leading the nurse to bring in a chilled “ice pillow.”
Within a few days, my chills and fevers did end with the only remaining symptom being the occasional cough, achiness behind my eyeballs and a complete lack of appetite. My breathing remained normal throughout.
The handful of friends who visited me — wearing masks and keeping a good distance — did helpfully bring outside food but even getting normal favorites down was a tedious, unpleasant task.

At the same time, the doctor assigned to my case kept quizzing me about my symptoms as well as recent activities.
Perhaps this helped to jog a small memory that popped into my head, one that would quickly have a huge impact.
On the Monday before I started feeling ill, I had hosted four visiting friends from Washington State. They were on a three-day stopover in Taiwan on their way to a two-week stay in Thailand and took a day trip down from Taipei so that I could show them around, which I did in my car. Over dinner that evening before they took the High Speed Rail (HSR) back to Taipei, I briefly overheard one of my friends complaining about chills and “coming down with something” but didn’t think much of it.

From my hospital bed, I sent a LINE message to his wife, asking how the rest of their trip had been and she responded that my friend had indeed gotten sick with some unknown ailment and symptoms that seemed to mirror my own. A day or two after arriving in Thailand, she too had gotten sick, followed by a third member of the group. However, all three seemed to mostly recover after a few days.


When I conveyed this to my doctor, she was immediately alarmed and ordered a COVID-19 test. Bans were also put in place against me leaving my room and any visitors, as well as the nursing staff, began wearing full personal protective gear.

The next day, a LINE message from my American friends brought even more dire news — the elderly mother of the friend who hadn’t felt well in in central Taiwan at my apartment  had just tested positive for COVID-19 back in Washington State. My friend had spent a couple hours in close contact with her days before coming to Taiwan.

Nevertheless, my first coronavirus test wasn’t conclusive, leading to a second test. As this was happening, I received a call from the  City Government Health Bureau, asking more questions and notifying me that they had requested that the hospital to move me to a negative-pressure isolation room, which happened immediately.
The much smaller room had its own bathroom and a big window but I was isolated from the world by a sliding glass door, a small atrium and an outer metal door. I soon learned to react like Pavlov’s dog to the swooshing sound whenever that door opened, scrambling to put on my face mask in preparation for arriving hospital staff.
Finally, on March 13, I was informed that two tests had come back as “weak positive” results for COVID-19. That evening, I saw my case announced on national TV as Taiwan’s 50th Wuhan coronavirus infection.

As all this was happening, I started fielding a stream of phone calls from health bureau personnel, asking for a thorough review of where I’d been and who I’d interacted with over the past two-plus weeks. Helped by my old-fashioned calendar book, we made good progress although there were gaps of time difficult to recall.
What struck me most, though, was the courtesy, understanding, patience and discretion that these government officers always showed when talking to me, which helped make a challenging time so much easier. With my help, they also established communications with my American visitors to obtain further information about their time in Taipei and flights in/out of Taiwan. Despite big difficulties getting tested back in the USA, it would eventually be established that all four caught COVID-19.

Simultaneously, I was scrambling via mobile phone with the equally difficult task of informing those I had significant contact with — that I could recall — of my diagnosis and to expect government calls and, in many cases, likely home quarantine.

It was easy to feel guilty about sharing this news with them, until I reminded myself that I was also an unwitting victim of this virus. To the huge credit of my colleagues, friends, business contacts and others who fell into this group, the overwhelming majority were understanding and supportive, showing deeper concern for my own condition.

The on-going stress of fielding constant back-and-forth local and international messages from concerned friends and relatives who had been informed led me to request confidentiality among those who knew, partly to prevent an even more overwhelming, emotionally draining flood of inquiries. I am reasonably sure that most fellow COVID-19 victims in Taiwan have appreciated the cover of anonymity, well-guarded by government and other involved personnel.

After things settled down, I was faced with another growing challenge — being locked up in a small room with very little face-to-face human contact. Hidden behind full protective gear, my nurses would deliver three meals a day and check temperatures and blood pressure morning and night, and my doctor would stop by daily to update me.

They often were nice enough to linger a few minutes and engage in lighter conversations about non-medical topics, and I deeply appreciated their helpfulness and friendliness despite the personal risks they took in caring for me.
However, most of my days were spent on my own. Fortunately, a series of deliveries to the hospital by very considerate friends ensured that I had plenty of snacks, books and essentials like extra underwear and clothing. I also had my laptop, hugely important in maintaining contact with the outside world and my sanity. I found it very helpful to establish a daily routine that included regular sleeping/waking times, basic personal upkeep and some exercise.

However, after rotating between my laptop, books and the TV countless times, it was far from easy and I often found myself staring at life in the city outside my window.

Besides a very slight, infrequent cough and some pressure in my lungs, I felt almost normal by my last week of hospitalization, although I never completely overcame the fear that my condition would suddenly, unexpectedly crash, like some of the COVID-19 cases I had read about.
One afternoon about nine days in, my taste buds and appetite suddenly reawakened, leaving me finishing every meal and scrambling for my snack hoard. Not long after, however, another chest x-ray showed that my lungs still hadn’t fully recovered, leading to a new round of medication. Despite this discouraging setback, I was informed 24 hours later that I had gotten my first negative COVID-19 test result, the first in three consecutive negative results required to be released, pending government review and approval.

This was followed by a second negative test, at which point my doctor said it would be extremely unlikely and unlucky for me to get a positive result on my third test. Fortunately, she was right.
This result went to health officials for evaluation and they agreed to my release, although it would be a further two to three days until the hospital received the official document that would allow me to depart as another  of Taiwan’s discharged coronavirus patients.


Friday, March 27, 2020

Jewish Telegram Joke: "Start Worrying. Letter to Follow"


By Dan Bloom, staff writer

 There's an old joke about a Jewish telegram back in the old days when we still communicated with telegrams instead of these new-fangled things call Tweets and Instagrams. It read "Start worrying. Letter to follow." Classic Jewish humor, perhaps from Europe originally, or from the Borscht Belt comics in the summer Catskills resorts but whatever it's actual origins, it mirrors Jewish anxiety over how things in the future -- any future -- could go wrong.

Well, first we had climate change angst, with dozens of cli-fi novels and movies about runaway global warming and all the nightmares that issue evokes. 

Now, cli-fi, of course, is on the back burner, replaced by the current coronavirus global pandemic which is really something to start worrying about. 

I learned about this old telegram joke the other day from a column in a Canadian newspaper (The  Globe and Mail) by a Jewish professor named Arthur Schafer in Winnipeg. He was writing an essay about the COVID-19 pandemic and when I asked him about the old telegram joke he wrote back by email and explained that he had recently heard about it on a BBC radio program from London featuring four Jewish writers there chatting about Jewish identity in the 21st century during which novelist Howard Jacobson mentioned the Jewish telegram joke. 
I asked Dr Schafer in Winnipeg how he first heard of the Jewish Telegram joke. He replied:
''To answer your question: I heard it on a BBC 3 programme about “Jewish identity in 2020”. One of the participants is the Jewish-British novelist Howard Jacobson. He told the joke. I loved it and, a mere three weeks later, found a way of incorporating it into my Op Ed piece for the Globe. Now, where Howard Jacobson got the joke I cannot tell you. Ask him. ''
"BTW," he added: "The BBC show was a good discussion of Jewish identity, and in case you might be interested in listening to the podcast, here is the BBC link.''

Now back to my oped: We are all already worrying about the virus and we all got letter, too. It's not the end of the world but it's certainly not a pretty picture. Who knew when 2020 started off in January we'd find ourselves in a very scary situation just a few months later.

Forget climate change worries for now. With the COVID-19 pandemic, we are at war with an invisible enemy lurking at every corner. 

Surely a new literary genre perhaps dubbed "corona-lit" will surface soon with novelists and short story writers creating a 21st genre that might not end well. 

I'm worried.  Very worried.




Social resilience is key to emerging from this pandemic stronger and better

Arthur Schafer is founding director of the Center for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba
Telegram: “Start worrying now. Details to follow.”
That classic Jewish joke sums up our current state of knowledge about the COVID-19 pandemic. The list of unknowns is long: Will the virus peak this summer? Will there be a second wave? Will the hoped-for vaccines work? And: For how long will Canadians (and others) accept closed schools and universities, offices and factories, concert halls, sports arenas, restaurants and much else?
To the scientific questions the answer is: We don’t have the data at present to predict whether this novel virus will behave a lot (or only a little) like seasonal flu and common colds. Because there is so little reliable scientific information, advice and predictions keep changing.
Equally difficult to predict is our social response to the public health measures. At present, to protect themselves and their neighbours, most people seem to be following recommended protocols. But the conduct of a heedless minority might require drastic coercive measures.
The loss of close contact with friends and loved ones is an inescapable consequence of the government’s current social isolation strategy. Ironically, at just the time when bonds of community are most needed, we are forbidden to hug or even to shake hands.
Moreover, the preventive measures we have adopted threaten millions of Canadians with loss of their main source of income. Western governments solved the financial meltdown of 2008 by bailing out the banks. Ordinary people were sacrificed and the resulting alienation and anger are still with us, fuelling populist movements. It seems unlikely that such a grossly unfair policy choice will work again. So, if the social fabric is to be preserved, our governments will have to deliver income support to millions of Canadian families for the duration. That will require, in turn, a massive and unprecedented redistribution of economic resources from the few to the many.
Social resilience is going to be sorely tested. If we cannot sustain the spirit that “we’re all in this together,” the crisis may so erode social cohesion that collective action becomes impossible. Without strongly redistributive economic policies, we could experience something like the world described by Yeats in The Second Coming: “things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; anarchy is loosed upon the world”.
Margaret Thatcher famously opined that “there is no such thing as society” and her government duly proceeded to promote the privatization of schools and hospitals, prisons, railways and public utilities and to cut back on vital social services – measures which might be seen as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Nor can we pretend that Canada has been immune to the global movement away from collective provision towards letting individuals fend for themselves. There are already cracks in the social fabric which could, under severe stress, split us apart.
It’s a sign of the times in which we live that some entrepreneurs are able to perceive in the pandemic a silver lining. The media recently carried a story about a couple who mass-purchased Lysol wipes from Costco in Vancouver to sell them online, at inflated prices. It’s a hopeful sign that this kind of opportunism has been met with near-universal public anger. The couple’s Amazon account was eventually blocked by the company, which also stated: “There is no place for price gouging on Amazon.” Those who attempt to exploit the health crisis to enrich themselves will not win any popularity contests.
Canadians are quickly coming to recognize our vulnerability in the face of global warming and novel viruses. So far, most people are responding in pro-social ways. Neighbourhood support groups are being formed to help those who are especially susceptible to the pandemic and to social-isolation. The better angels of our nature, fellow-feeling and compassion, prevail, at least for now, against the pressure to “look out for number one.” But that could change.
In 1968, social psychologists from Columbia University conducted a wallet returning experiment. They dropped wallets on the streets of Manhattan and then monitored the percentage that were returned to their owners. Over a period of months, the average return rate was 45 per cent. Then, on June 5, Robert Kennedy Jr. was mortally wounded. On June 6, not one of the wallets was returned. Only gradually did the rate return to normal. The bullet that killed Robert Kennedy also killed social trust, for a time at least. The experiment suggests that demoralized individuals become socially irresponsible.
If our governments can create and sustain public morale over an indefinitely long period of time then it’s possible we will emerge from the pandemic as a stronger, fairer and more cohesive society. The alternative is frightening to contemplate.

55 thoughts we had while watching the cli-fi movie ''The Day After Tomorrow''

55 thoughts we had while watching the cli-fi movie ''The Day After Tomorrow''


Do not you ever simply really feel like watching a film that makes you are feeling terrified in regards to the state of the world and the long run? One thing that makes you want fiction did not mirror actuality so carefully?

Effectively then, we have got a deal with for you. The Day After Tomorrow is strictly the form of movie that may make you want local weather change was fiction and never a actuality respiratory down on our necks as we refuse to control the businesses which are bringing about ecological destruction. Too actual? Effectively, my bbs, buckle up.
After I pitched this Deja View, I used to be fairly positive I had by no means seen The Day After Tomorrow. However, it seems that is not the case. Because the movie progressed, I remembered the superstorms, the various, many deaths, and my favourite half: the wolves.
It seems this cli-fi film-slash-waking nightmare is one among my associate’s favorites. (I believe it is as a result of they’ve a giant crush on Jake Gyllenhaal and like a dad crush on Dennis Quaid, however that is a complete different article.) So, I put aside my doubts, poured myself a robust drink, and watched the start of the subsequent ice age.

1. The opening credit are simply these sweeping vistas of so many glaciers and all I can take into consideration is gloomy, ravenous polar bears.
2. Aw, f*** whodathunk drilling may result in unexpected circumstances???
3. Dennis Quaid’s character is completely too dedicated to his job. Man, your employer just isn’t gonna handle your loved ones for those who die in a wreck attempting to say some glacial samples.
4. This movie is eerily foreboding, particularly given who’s within the White Home.
5. Bilbo! I like Ian Holm.
6. Bilbo believes in Jack and in international local weather disaster — even when the myopic, puerile, charlatan of a (vice) president would not.
7. For all the various settings of this movie, this can be a preeeeeeetty white essential forged.
9. 17. Sam is 17 and he is lovable.
10. I like this mouthy-father-like-mouthy-son dynamic.
11. Sam’s crush on his pal, Laura, is lovable. However Brian is one of the best nerd of the three of them.
12. Dennis Quaid studying emails in his underwear is me each time I’ve an thought for an article I am writing.
13. Big hail is so terrifying partially as a result of we have already began getting bigger and bigger sizes of hail in Colorado.
14. This dude simply watched his boss get crushed by a bus on stay TV whereas he was on the telephone with him.
15. OMG and a reporter simply obtained taken out by a billboard whereas reporting on the tornadoes in L.A.
16. Ermahgerd and the dude from the telephone simply obtained destroyed by a twister consuming up a part of the excessive rise.
17. I am truly shocked at how effectively the particular results on this maintain up. These tornadoes look actual AF.
18. Janet Tokada (Tamlyn Tomita) is nice. She’s the one useful particular person in a room stuffed with local weather scientists.
19. My associate and I maintain stopping to have a look at one another and be like, LOL this is not actual. LOL. Proper?!
20. I’ve watched so many individuals die in deeply private and horrible methods on this movie and it is solely the 42:05 mark.
21. Who let the wolves out?! They let their selves out of this rattling zoo. (I’m positively rooting for the wolves.)
22. This man simply made his approach onto a bus on this storm and was like, “Oh I like buses. This will likely be enjoyable.” Within the greatest storm anybody has ever seen. With water rising to folks’s waists.
23. A wall of water has simply flooded NYC and oh sh** bus man doesn’t love buses anymore. He additionally doesn’t love something any extra as a result of he’s very a lot useless.
24. There is a man who seems to be homeless who has a canine. In fact, everybody treats him terribly, however he retains saving his canine from catastrophe and I’ve to say that may be essentially the most relatable a part of this entire film. I might positively be carrying my canine above my head in neck deep water.
25. Bilbo and his analysis staff have simply realized there is no survival for them.
26. Sam and Laura’s relationship is lovable. I like that youngsters are sexy regardless of how horrible issues appear to be and there is not a lot I like greater than the huddling for heat trope. “Oh no. We would die if we do not get bare and rub up on one another. What ever lets do?”
27. LOLOLOL this safety guard simply questioned if Brian needs to be fixing the radio and he stated, “Sir, I’m president of the Electronics Membership, the Math Membership, and the Chess Membership. Now, if there is a greater nerd in right here, please… level him out.”
28. Everybody south of Denver is being advised to evacuate south and in the event that they’re north of that, it is too freaking late.
29. Besides Jack. He is donning some arctic gear and heading to Manhattan to get his child.
30. Bilbo and his staff shared a final toast they usually toasted to England, humanity, and Manchester United. I imply, footballers gonna soccer I suppose.
31. For being a reasonably white bro-y film, this movie is surprisingly tender.
32. Jack’s staff goes with him to get his son. D’awwww.
33. Hm. IDK about this reversal of U.S. refugees fleeing into Mexico.
34. They’re deciding what books to burn and the librarians are all freaking out about burning Nietzsche and Brian finds the tax codes.
35. This film is absolutely lengthy.
36. I really feel form of heartless now as a result of Jack’s buddy Frank simply died.
37. I additionally do not feel that heartless although as a result of I’ve seen lots of people die on this movie.
38. They maintain reducing to the astronauts on the house station (that are all males — BOO) and it is cool to see their perspective on the climate programs. By cool I imply completely terrifying.
39. The wolves are again on the town!
40. Ermahgad and simply when the children left the library to search for drugs for Laura who has blood poisoning (from when she helped folks caught in a taxi).
41. The wolves are simply straight up looking these youngsters. I do know I stated I used to be rooting for the wolves, however I do not assume that is going to be as enjoyable as I used to be considering. 42. Oh snap these wolves actually bit the wealthy child, however I imply, additionally, eat the wealthy? I am feeling conflicted.
43. Jake Gyllenhaal goes to combat a pack of wolves with a chef’s knife. I simply do not see how that is going to work out.
44. For the report, the wolves are the worst of the particular results they usually’re nonetheless scary AF.
45. Out of the wolves’ den and into the freezing out of doors temperatures, amirite?
46. On reverse sides of the attention of the storm, Jack helps his injured pal escape the freeze whereas Sam helps his injured pal escape the freeze. Aw!
47. “I made my son a promise. I will maintain it.” Now I believe Jack’s pal has a dad crush on Dennis Quaid.
48. Jack and his buddy snowshoeing throughout the ocean to Manhattan and pausing beneath the Statue of Liberty is simply precisely the second this movie has been constructing to.
49. The New York Public Library seems to be actually cool all coated in frost and ice. I imply, not like reader-friendly, however like tremendous attention-grabbing.
50. “Who’s that?” “My father.” NO, YOU’RE CRYING.
51. Lesson time! The president (the aforementioned douche VP) acknowledges the necessity for people to alter how we devour. He additionally notes that the U.S. and different nations are on the mercy of the nations they used to name the “third world.”
52. There are such a lot of extra survivors than they thought! Aw. Warms my coronary heart.
53. Wait, but when all these folks survived staying of their large buildings in New York… ought to the children by no means have left the wealthy child’s condo?
54. The canine made it!
55. An astronaut seems to be down on Earth and says “Have a look at that. I’ve by no means seen the air so clear.” Roll credits!



I want to put on your radar an award-winning YA author with a background in biology, who is using her writing to spark conversations among young people regarding climate leadership.
Inspired by current events, Tracy Richardson’s new YA sci-fi novel, “Catalyst,” (Brown Books, June 2, 2020) poses the question, What is our responsibility to Earth, especially when it comes to climate change?  Richardson’s book continues the conversation started by Greta Thunberg through the Fridays for our Future movement. Marcie, the novel’s teenage protagonist, and her friends become ‘catalysts’ for an environmentalist movement, inspiring those in their community to wake up to the depletion of Earth’s resources.
A little more about the book: Marcie, a junior in high school, is spending her summer working at Angel Mounds, the archeological dig her mother heads, along with her brother, Eric, and his girlfriend, Renee. Things immediately shift into the paranormal when Marcie and her teammates meet Lorraine and Zeke, two mysterious dig assistants who claim to access the Universal Energy Field with their minds. After the two confess to Marcie that they know something she doesn't -- that the earth and its resources are in grave danger, Marcie must decide if she's brave enough to save the planet with them.
For more information, check out Tracy’s press kit here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1bI5-am8hUMsxVuI8MecqlYGfB75mgpQi/view?usp=sharing 
6. What impact would you like Catalyst to have on readers?
I would love it if readers would see that the Earth is our one and only home and that we have a responsibility to take care
of her. To recognize that we are all connected and that what happens on the other side of the world can impact them
and is affected by the things they do. To understand that what they do matters and that they can have an impact. We can
make the world a better place. We don’t have to go with the status quo. Each and every one of us can be a catalyst for
positive change.

7. What was your inspiration for including alternate dimensions in the book?
As part of my science geekiness, I am fascinated by the idea scientists propose that there are multiple universes out there.
It’s hard enough to conceptualize the immensity of one universe let alone the idea that there could be an infinite number
of additional universes!! I also believe that we are here on Earth to grow and learn and develop both as individuals
and as a species. The idea that there are other dimensions within this universe where we can advance in the process of
our personal development is intriguing as well. What’s the next stage of human development? Telepathy? Telekinesis?
Instant manifestation? Who can say?

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

A British sense of humor is entertaining, engaging at this time in history

A British sense of humor is entertaining, engaging at this time in history

by Dan Bloom
special to the San Diego Jewish World newspaper

The more I work at this column-writing gig, the more I realize how true the motto of the San Diego Jewish World is that "there's a Jewish story everywhere."

Case in point: I was writing a draft about a hilarious new cli-fi novel from a Canadian humorist named David Millar when during one of our casual online chats about his book “The Ministry For Ignoring Climate Change” he told me a great little anecdote about his connection to Jewish people and Jewish culture.

Millar was born in Britain and now lives in Canada. He was kind enough to send me a preview copy of his comic novel, and I will tell you more about it later in this column.

But first the anecdote.

"You asked if I had a Jewish connection, and although I'm not Jewish I did remember after we spoke that I do have a connection," Millar told me in a recent email. "When I was a student at the University of Bristol in the UK as a young man, I was a member (and eventually the club treasurer) of the Jewish & Israeli Society there. The reason for my interest in joining was that my mother had grown up next door to a Jewish family and was always very sympathetic to Jewish culture and encouraged me to learn more about it. So for a couple of years a lot of my university friends were Jewish. I remember being quite useful at Oneg Shabbat meals as I learned to turn lights off at the end, which my Orthodox hosts were unable to do because of certain rules they had to follow during Sabbath."

You see? There is indeed a Jewish story everywhere, if you keep your eyes and ears open, and thanks to David Millar for telling me his story. It's a keeper.

There is a growing group of cli-fi novels that are comic satires meant to tickle the reader's funny bone. That was the mission behind Millar’s humorous cli-fi debut. As I was reading it the other day, I felt that there was a nice echo in the political humor he used that was also seen (and heard) in the 1980s BBC TV comedy series titled “Yes Minister.”
When  I told David that I loved his novel and the way he used to humor to drive home his theme, and that many of the dialogues between the characters reminded me that BBC show, he replied: “Great to hear you are a ‘Yes Minister’ fan. I could never live up to its humor but of course I was definitely inspired by it. My characters of Eddington and Hawthorne are actually the names of the actors who played Jim Hacker and Sir Humphrey in the original British comedy series.”

As readers of the San Diego Jewish World can guess from the title of his book, Millar wrote some funny dialogues about climate change issues in Canada and political shenanigans going on behind the scenes among the characters he created. If you need a break from the sad news of the global pandemic we are all now experiencing, this comic romp is a good (and entertaining) escape.

When I asked Millar where his wicked sense of humor comes from, he told me that a large part of it came from his upbringing in England.

 ''I don't have any comedians in my family tree, but being English I was brought up on a national diet of dry humor," he said. "'Yes Minster' and 'Fawlty Towers' were particular favorites of mine. So when I decided to write a story that explored the reasons governments are clearly so reluctant to take the action needed to combat climate change, the techniques of obfuscation, delay and diversion made famous by 'Yes Minister' was an obvious plot choice.''

He added: "I believe that climate change is going to be the dominant issue that societies face for the rest of my life and I think more needs to be done if we are to avoid its worst effects. I happen to understand the science quite well because I studied atmospheric chemistry and polar climate for my PhD (a long time ago), and I think the process of cutting carbon emissions is not as straightforward as most people realize. The response by all governments has also been slow and bureaucratic and we are clearly not going to meet the reduction targets that countries have signed up to. So I wanted to write about the contradictions and pitfalls that clearly exist yet which don't get talked about much -- but to do so in an accessible way that people will actually read it also has to be done with humor. Hence my attempt to write a satire with a bureaucratic government department which ends up in conflict with a community which is actually doing something constructive.''  

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

An interview with British-Cypriot autistic author N.E. McMorran

This blog is under construction.

ABOVE: a map illustration from the book

Dan Bloom posts an interview here with British-Cypriot autistic
author N.E. Mcmorran on her upcoming debut
cli-fi novel
What is the title of your novel?

''MOOJAG and the Auticode Secret''

Who is your target audience in terms of ages?

It’s a neurodivergent cli-fi adventure for readers 10 years and up. Anyone who has ever identified as different or cares about the world will relate to MOOJAG.

What is the theme?

Set in post-catastrophe Britain, MOOJAG is a quirky story about three neurodivergent friends
discovering a hidden society that threatens their perfect world. It’s ultimately about identity and finding the strength to be your true self.

It is cli-fi in its setting and underlying message. A utopia meets dystopia with autism themes, about sustainability and the consequences of greed on society and the environment.

MOOJAG is my personal vision of how the world could be, a new social model in which we live in harmony with nature and technology. I invented a wearable sensory computer for my utopian citizens, based on existing science. A protective suit that allows you to live outdoors, and senses your
health and emotions to keep you safe. Imagine a world with no homeless or sick people, no schools or offices.

Neurodivergents are highly sensitive. We care deeply about each other, the world and its animals. It’s not uncommon to hear autistics express they prefer animals to people. People have seriously lost
touch with nature; it’s having a detrimental effect on us. Many species are fast going extinct, food is harder to grow, homelessness is rising, and pollution and needless waste are literally killing us. We
have the heart and tech to solve these problems, we just need people to accept our changing world and prepare for a different one. I’m a positive pessimist

What was your motivation to write it?

I grew up listening in awe to my parents’ made-up stories, about giant animated rock candy and
greedy fairies who magic-up sweet treats. Sixteen years ago, when I moved to Cyprus, I started
writing a story featuring my father’s ‘Gajoomstiks’. I wrote one page and put it away when someone introduced a TV to my empty apartment. Soon after, I became a mum and started telling my own made-up stories. But when my boy was around 7, I experienced ‘burnout’. After years of unknowingly suffering from anxiety and masking to fit in, I was taking on too much. I was running my own company single handed while trying to transition to an eco lifestyle, sustaining a relationship and supporting my son, who was struggling too. I stopped working and focused on recovery while finding us both help. Then when my relationship ended, I instinctively picked up the
story again. I was about five chapters in when I experienced a transient ischemic attack. We moved to London to get the support we needed, while home educating. Whenever my boy was in a class, I would write a little more and my life and our experiences began to feed the story. And as we went through his assessment, I realised I fit the criteria for Autism and sought a diagnosis, too. Four years later we returned to Cyprus and, with my son back in school, I hyper-focused on the book. I wrote
ten hours every day for the next year, and spent the last year revising and honing the manuscript until I found a publisher who loved it as much as I do. Writing MOOJAG was my catharsis.

In three sentences, give me a short synopsis.

When outsider Moojag introduces Nema to a hidden sugar-hooked society holding lost kids, she discovers her perfect world is in danger. Only she and her friends can decipher a code to stop a rock candy robot invasion and solve the mystery of her long lost brother. But they must also persuade the captives to escape their cruel leader; fail and none of them will make it back to the Real World.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Although the publishing industry insists on classifying many of these books as "nature writing" or "cli-fi", its viewpoint -- biocentric rather than anthropocentric, geological and even cosmic -- is spreading to all genres and trends. In our age of selfies and auto-fiction, they are still minority narratives. But at the same time: they have the transformative power of the authentic avant-garde.


The literature of the new human scale
COVID-19 has reminded us that the human being is not the centre of the world. Several recent novels and essays have begun to represent us in more appropriate and more ethical proportions, in line with the challenge of not finishing destroying the planet.

By Jorge Carrión

The author is a Spanish cultural critic in Barcelona
March 16, 2020
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BARCELONA - To create the Constellation of the Fallen from the Atacama Desert, family members, supporters and Amnesty International plan to name twenty-six stars after the26 people who were executed there in October 1973, during the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. "We will create the first monument in the universe where their stories and lives will be known through their stars," writes writer Nona Fernández in Voyager.
The title already indicates the place of human beings in the scale assumed by the novel. Although the narrator tells us about her mother's old age, her own birth or the life of Mario Argüelles Toro - one of the exterminated - the text opens its diaphragm to the cosmos. The history of the universe, the magnitude of the constellations or the birth and death of the suns insert us into a space and time in which we are practically nothing (the speck of dust from a star that disappeared thousands of years ago, although we can still see it shining).
If in recent decades some of the literature that matters has transcended national or continental borders and dared to narrate the human dimension of the whole world - which has led to an incipient canon of global books - a new R+D narrative is now being born: of research and development of new artistic perspectives.

His first titles not only conceive of his characters as little red dots on Google Earth maps, but even go so far as to reverse the perspective in order to escape biocentrism or codigocentrism: instead of narrating architectural, urban or transnational spaces, they tell of the biosphere, the background of the Earth or cosmic space and time. To make the representation of the real more precise and fairer
It is not by chance that the narrative essays Subterráneo by Will Hunt, Bajotierra by Robert Macfarlane and El subsuelo by David W. Wolfe are for sale in our bookstores at the beginning of this 2020.
Although scientific and technological advances have made it possible in the last two decades to better understand the terrestrial depths, the existence of these books is due both to this new knowledge and to the collective awareness that we live in the Anthropocene. The impact of human activity on the planet over the past two centuries has been devastating. Because each of us believes that we are the centre of the world, we have put it at risk.
The scale of literary and artistic representation of modernity, which is eminently anthropocentric, is no longer valid. The anthropologist Eduardo Kohn has written about our inability to see ourselves as part of a gigantic and extraordinary network of cooperations with the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms. To begin to perceive reality in a whole that includes both the treetop and its roots, both the air and the water table, helps to make us aware that we must assume the damage in order to repair it.
New technologies for drilling into the ground and sterilizing the samples taken have made it possible to confirm the existence - at thousands of meters deep - of complex ecosystems of microscopic beings that live without sunlight or oxygen (some breathe in rust) and that there is more biomass below the surface of the Earth than in direct contact with its atmosphere.
We have therefore forced a vision of reality in which the focus is on our field of vision or that of our drones or satellites, when in reality the seeds of life are to be found under the earth and water. As David W. Wolfe says in The Underground, Darwin never claimed in a book that life was likely to be born in a breeding ground near the shore (he did so in a letter to a friend). Most likely, the first bacteria emerged at great depth.
 "With each new underground discovery," writes the renowned American ecologist, "it becomes more evident that the niche occupied by Homo sapiens is more fragile and much less central than we thought.
It is not only a question of the spatial scale, we have also imposed a perception of time according to generations, animal or human lives and lineages, which is alien to evolution
 "A six-hundred-year-old forest of logs that extends beyond where it can see. The pillars of a reddish cathedral nave Trees older than the moving types," we read in Richard Powers' The Clamor of the Woods. Although the novel features an archipelago of intense human characters, the emphasis is on the world's oldest and most powerful plant beings. Some as old as all the generations of one of the main families or older than modern literature which - through the work of Shakespeare, Cervantes or Montaigne - invented the self.
Deep time, writes Robert Macfarlane in Basse-Terre, "is geological time, the chronology of the subsoil", which is measured "in units that reduce the instant of humanity to nothing: epochs and eons, instead of minutes and years". Some writers - like those mentioned above and many others - are daring to radically broaden the focus to take on these new proportions of the mapping of the real. Proportions that are more appropriate, more ethical and more in line with the enormous challenge facing humanity.
Although the publishing industry insists on classifying many of these books as "nature writing" or "cli-fi", its viewpoint -- biocentric rather than anthropocentric, geological and even cosmic -- is spreading to all genres and trends. In our age of selfies and auto-fiction, they are still minority narratives. But at the same time: they have the transformative power of the authentic avant-garde.
Mr Jorge Carrión (@jorgecarrion21) is a Barcelona writer and cultural critic. He is the author of the fiction trilogy Los muertos, Los huérfanos and Los turistas in SPAIN.
Fuera de Serie

La literatura de la nueva escala humana

El COVID-19 nos ha recordado que el ser humano no es el centro del mundo. Varias novelas y ensayos recientes han empezado a representarnos en unas proporciones más adecuadas y más éticas, en consonancia con el reto de no acabar de destruir el planeta.
Credit...Aizar Raldes/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
El autor es crítico cultural.
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BARCELONA — Para crear la Constelación de los Caídos desde el desierto de Atacama, los familiares, sus simpatizantes y Amnistía Internacional se proponen bautizar veintiséis estrellas con los nombres de las veintiséis personas que fueron ejecutadas allí en octubre de 1973, durante la dictadura de Augusto Pinochet en Chile. “Crearemos el primer monumento en el universo donde se conocerán sus historias y sus vidas a través de sus estrellas”, escribe la escritora Nona Fernández en Voyager.
El título ya nos señala cuál es el lugar de los seres humanos en la escala que asume la novela. Aunque la narradora nos cuente la vejez de su madre, su propio parto o la vida de Mario Argüelles Toro —uno de los exterminados—, el texto abre su diafragma hacia el cosmos. La historia del universo, la magnitud de las constelaciones o el nacimiento y la muerte de los soles nos insertan en un espacio y un tiempo en los que no somos prácticamente nada (la mota del polvo de una estrella que hace miles de años que desapareció, aunque la veamos brillar todavía).
Si durante las últimas décadas una parte de la literatura que importa ha trascendido las fronteras nacionales o continentales y se ha atrevido a narrar la dimensión humana del mundo entero —lo que ha provocado un incipiente canon de libros globales—, ahora nace una nueva narrativa de I+D: de investigación y desarrollo de nuevas perspectivas artísticas.
Sus primeros títulos no solo conciben a sus personajes como puntitos rojos en mapas de Google Earth, sino que incluso llegan a invertir la perspectiva para escapar del biocentrismo o del códigocentrismo: en vez de narrar espacios arquitectónicos, urbanos o transnacionales, cuentan la biosfera, el fondo de la Tierra o el espacio y el tiempo cósmicos. Para hacer más precisa y más justa la representación de lo real.
No es casual la convivencia en nuestras librerías —a principios de este 2020— de los ensayos narrativos Subterráneo, de Will Hunt, Bajotierra, de Robert Macfarlane, y El subsuelo, de David W. Wolfe. Aunque los avances científicos y tecnológicos hayan permitido en las últimas dos décadas conocer mejor las profundidades terrestres, la existencia de esos libros se debe tanto a ese nuevo conocimiento como a la toma de conciencia colectiva de que vivimos en el Antropoceno. El impacto de la actividad humana en el planeta durante los dos últimos siglos ha sido devastador. Por creernos cada uno de nosotros el centro del mundo, lo hemos puesto en peligro.
La escala de representación literaria y artística de la modernidad, eminentemente antropocéntrica, ya no es válida. El antropólogo Eduardo Kohn ha escrito sobre nuestra incapacidad de vernos como parte de una gigantesca y extraordinaria red de cooperaciones con los reinos animal, vegetal y mineral. Empezar a percibir la realidad en un conjunto que incluye tanto a la copa del árbol como a sus raíces, tanto el aire como las capas freáticas, ayuda a tomar conciencia de que debemos asumir el daño para lograr repararlo.
Las nuevas tecnologías de perforación del suelo y de esterilización de las muestras extraídas han permitido confirmar la existencia —a miles de metros de profundidad— de complejos ecosistemas de seres microscópicos que viven sin luz solar ni oxígeno (algunos respiran óxido) y que hay más biomasa bajo la superficie de la Tierra que en contacto directo con su atmósfera. Hemos forzado, por tanto, una visión de la realidad en que el foco está en nuestro campo visual o en el de nuestros drones o satélites, cuando en realidad las semillas de la vida se encuentran debajo de la tierra y del agua. Como dice David W. Wolfe en El subsuelo, Darwin nunca afirmó en un libro que la vida probablemente naciera en un caldo de cultivo cercano a la orilla (lo hizo en una carta a un amigo). Lo más probable es que las primeras bacterias surgieran a gran profundidad. “Con cada nuevo descubrimiento subterráneo”, escribe el prestigioso ecólogo estadounidense, “se hace más evidente que el nicho ocupado por el Homo sapiens es más frágil y mucho menos central de lo que pensábamos”.
No se trata solamente de la escala espacial, también hemos impuesto una percepción del tiempo según generaciones, vidas animales o humanas y linajes, que es ajena a la evolución de la mayoría de los fenómenos del mundo natural. “Un bosque de troncos de seiscientos años que se extiende más allá de donde alcanza a ver. Los pilares de una nave de una catedral rojiza. Árboles más viejos que los tipos móviles”, leemos en El clamor de los bosques, de Richard Powers. Aunque en la novela encontremos un archipiélago de intensos personajes humanos, el énfasis está puesto en los seres vegetales más viejos y poderosos del mundo. Algunos tan ancianos como todas las generaciones de una de las familias protagonistas o más antiguos que la literatura moderna que —a través de la obra de Shakespeare, Cervantes o Montaigne— inventó el yo.
El tiempo profundo, escribe Robert Macfarlane en Bajotierra, “es el tiempo geológico, la cronología del subsuelo”, que se mide “en unidades que reducen a la nada el instante de la humanidad: épocas y eones, en vez de minutos y años”. Algunas escritoras y escritores —como los mencionados y muchos otros— se están atreviendo a ampliar radicalmente el foco para hacerse cargo de esas nuevas proporciones del cartografía de lo real. Unas proporciones más adecuadas, más éticas y más acordes con el enorme reto al que se enfrenta la humanidad.
Aunque la industria editorial se empeñe en clasificar muchos de estos libros como “nature writing” o “climate fiction”, su punto de vista —biocéntrico en lugar de antropocéntrico, geológico e incluso cósmico— se está contagiando a todos los géneros y tendencias. En nuestra época de selfis y autoficción, todavía constituyen unas narrativas minoritarias. Pero tiempo al tiempo: tienen la fuerza transformadora de la auténtica vanguardia.
Jorge Carrión (@jorgecarrion21) es escritor y crítico cultural. Es autor de la trilogía de ficción Los muertos, Los huérfanos y Los turistas.