Don’t let your ghosts out (a new year’s eve composition)

Somewhere in my mid forties, I received the best present ever: an engraved plate meant to print an ex-libris, mine. I was astonished for the motives in the bookplate followed very closely the confidences (some of them pillow talk, you know) I exchanged for years with the woman who got me the engraving. I eventually got out of her life. She was one of these who doesn’t just turn the page; she tore the full chapter away !
I never used the plate. Until now
I recently wrote, just as an school exercise, a little tale. The subject was “What would you save from fire ?”. I fear I turned upside-down the question. And so, I gave the books and the traces we usually let into them play an outstanding role in the plot. On the other hand, I never returned the present to my dear friend the way she most appreciated: writing something for her eyes only. Maybe it’s time to recognize my debt with such a extraordinary woman although, most likely, she will never read my composition. Anyway…

Ex-libris3

The full moon, the books, the cat and the tuba. A rather close definition of me

For Emma, who is probably running right now.

In the fall of 2007, eight years before he set fire to it, my old friend Yegros invited me to his house. Some people believe that the paradise is in the shape of a garden, while others think it looks like a library. Yegros had had both presents. Soon after his father had passed away, he had received the property: a three stories brownstone house surrounded by a forest that spread until a quiet, almost lazy stream. The news come as no surprise: Yegros had always been such a lucky man !.
On the main floor was a very large room, the largest one of the house. A wing chair, a nearby floor lamp and a desk were the only furniture. The walls were invisible, as they remained hidden behind several layers of books lining from top to bottom, along wooden shelves. I broke the silence:
Borges ?
Maybe – Yegros answered and, pointing to the furniture, added- but I’d rather think just about a lonely, selfish old man in this… shelter. See ? Not a couch, not even an extra chair, no place for another people to share the reading. Just him. Like he was still in prison or couldn’t stand the shame on us and himself. This is a jail.

Then, as he picked up and handed me one of the books, a scholarly edition of Poe as I remember, a tiny piece of paper fell down to the floor. I recognized it as a Madrid subway ticket and restored it between the pages.
I kept visiting my friend’s house for a while. Sometimes, we met other friends, but we used to be alone and take long walks in the countryside or maintain prolonged silences by the stream and long conversations while playing any of our never ending chess games. Once and again, our chats headed toward his old man. I was well aware that Yegros never got along with his father, not even before the stormy divorce that tore apart the family. As far as I knew, dad and son remained perfect strangers for over thirty years. And yet, after all that silence, a so long absence, however maintaining a better relationship with some other children, the father had given Yegros, not his eldest nor his youngest child, such a special present.
Every now and then, I spent some time in the evenings at the library. I never found any antique o rare editions in my wanderings along the shelves. Neither a signed or dedicated copy; rather, I eventually came across some books with the signature of their owner and a date (I guessed that of their purchase) on the front page. Other books, that seemed more recent, didn’t  have any mark. For some reason,this custom of mine seemed to bother my friend; thus, I shifted to other activities. As time went by, Yegros calls were less and less frequent and so were my stays. The last time I visited him, the outer frost seemed to have invaded the house. The library door was locked. Next time I heard from Yegros and saw the books was on the breaking news of a TV station.
The sight of the flames on the TV screen was not as devastating as the ruins on the house, which I visited some days after the disaster. As for Yegros, the self-confessed arsonist, he needed either a lawyer or a psychiatrist. Or both.
Several weeks later, the fire had been completely forgotten and the media were looking in another direction. Then, I received the message. Was this the right word ?. I suppose so, because it was the postal service who called to notice me about a packet in their offices addressed to me. But what I found in there was a chess piece, a king, whose crown could be lifted up to discover a USB connection. The only file it contained was a spreadsheet with several thousand rows. As I started to read the file, I recognized that the first cell in every row had the title of one of the burned books. Then, followed a number (of a page, I guessed) a date and on the last cell, an event that took place at that particular day or month or year or the description of some object from that time. On page 56 of an English edition of John Irving’s “A widow for a year” was found a dinner ticket from the Spring of 1995. In the last pages of the third volume of Asimov’s “Foundation” was a lawyer calling card. Some photos were found in Russell’s “Why I’m not a christian”. Other books had contained also some bills and Yegros found even a record in an art book. Every item was carefully dated and I didn’t take long to discover the truth, although a truth made of sadness and calling for the greatest anger. The books, the cheap, the ordinary, the vulgar books had been a pretext, a poor excuse. What the fire had razed was not a library, it was a time capsule. Or several thousand.
It had been no Borges or Poe. It had been Wells.
People usually keep records, items, signs of a pleasant past, of significant events  in stone containers or in a biscuit box as lovers carve their names on the trees’ barks. All against time and oblivion.
But as people used to jotted down the name of their newborn in the family bibles so they noted as well their dead ones and so, Yegros’ father confided to his library all his sorrow and little or not happiness at all.
The right motives of his divorce beyond the trial and imprisonment that led him to serve first some years in jail, then in his own house; every occasion my friend was anonymously favored by him; the proof of his innocence; the proofs of the involvement of some family members in the plot; his trips; the purchase of several buildings where his children would find some surprising low fare rents in foreign cities; calendar sheets of every relevant date of their lives, and overall, silence, absence.
As I walked through the asylum gates, I wondered if I would meet either a man blaming himself for his insensitivity or feeling proud and grateful. If it was penance or pride what lighted not the books but the record of such a huge mistake.
Sometimes, the question can be not what to save but what let burn in a fire.

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Fake and fun in writing research papers

The IMRaD (you know, Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion) as many other stereotypical structures, presents some disadvantages. The main one is that just by replicating its sequence you can endorse your content. Any content.
This is the basis of SCIgen, a program first developed in 2005 by some students at the Parallel and Distributed Operating Systems Group of MIT, that generates nonsense in the form of computer science research papers. Hard to believe ?.  Maybe, but the authors got a paper accepted at that year World Multiconference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics. And ever since, some 120 fake, computer generated papers have been withdraw from Springer and IEEE published conference proceedings.
The Spanish botanist José Angel Lemus (Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Madrid, Spain) and the solid-state circuits expert Adrian Maxim ( Silicon Labs., Austin, Texas) have falsified experimental data in addition to fabricating co-authors. Alirio Meléndez (Department of Physiology, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore, Singapore) followed in their steps and has seen 14 of his papers retracted.
But we don’t want to refer to the fake or nonsense papers either. Today, December 28th is our “Día de los Santos Inocentes”, an equivalent to your April first “Fools’ Day” or “la Fete des Fous” that French people celebrate every January 6th,at least in Victor Hugo work. Why not play a prank in the form of a top list of crazy or just imaginative research papers ?.
Stop reading if you’re an irreproachable, quite serious researcher with no time to waste. If you are not, here you are some suggestions:

A laconic abstract

One of the briefer abstracts reads just “Probably not” answering the question posed in the title of the corresponding original:  Can apparent superluminal neutrino speeds be explained as a quantum weak measurement? . We will not remind (and bore) you about the experiment by Adam et al. with the OPERA detector. But we must recognize that as a surrogate of the article content, this laconic abstract doesn’t encourage to proceed to the full text, does it ?.

The double phagocytosis
Researchers from FUCK (Felixe University of Chemistry and Kinetics) described in 2006 a double phagocytosis process under the title “Lobo feroz induce a Caperucita por la vía larga, mientras éste se transporta a través de la vía corta, produciendo fagocitosis de abuelita y caperucita, las cuales son rescatadas de este destino por cazador”. As you can guess, the classic tale by Charles Perrault is here turned into a nicely structured (if descriptive) research paper.

Fighting style

The British Medical Journal (BMJ) usually publishes very interesting and original papers in one of its December issues every year. In “Debunking the curse of the rainbow jersey” Thomas Perneger MD tries to understand the lack of wins that affects the current cycling world champion. For their part, ten authors published a randomized controlled trial on the “Effect of monthly vitamin D3 supplementation in healthy adults on adverse effects of earthquakes” (the results were negative). This year, however, a brief publication overcomes those and other imaginative attempts to master the deepest mysteries of Nature. Cath Chapman and Tim Slade (aussies, we fear) proposes a template for a rejection of rejection letter. The following fragment enlightens its content:
As you are probably aware we receive many rejections each year and are simply not able to accept them all. In fact, with increasing pressure on citation rates and fiercely competitive funding structures we typically accept fewer than 30% of the rejections we receive.” Anyhow, it is very difficult to reach the quality standard that the same journal offered with “Parachute use to prevent death and major trauma related to gravitational challenge: systematic review of randomised controlled trials”.

The shortest article

Finally, we turn back to the mid seventies to find “The unsuccessful self-treatment of a case of “writer’s block”, another very sad account of a failure published in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis by Dennis Upper. Please, don’t miss the comments from the (true) reviewer of the paper that, on the other hand, got its own entry in the English edition of Wikipedia, notwithstanding the fact that “portions of this paper were not presented at the 81st Annual American Psychological Association Convention, Montreal, Canada, August 30, 1973”.

December 28: have fun !!!!

With comments and suggestions from P Abad and N. Rodriguez.

Thank you both.

Nada de campanillas: sed felices y ya.

No, no estoy de acuerdo con Laura Barton. En un reciente artículo, esta columnista (por dios, que no sea una pelirroja irlandesa) de The Guardian declara que los componentes clave de una canción navideña son las campanillas de un trineo, coros de todo tipo (desde voces blancas a grandes de gospel) y, en la base, el sonido de los metales, cálidos como un trago de brandy. Ocasionalmente, admite finalmente Laura, se permiten instrumentos de cuerda.
No. Yo prefiero pensar que cualquier canción navideña está hecha de nostalgia y anhelo, de pasado y esperanza, de desvalimiento e ingenuidad. La proximidad del final de año, la convencional conmemoración de hechos que acaso existieron nos inclinan hacia el recuerdo. El desaliento, los episodios tristes, los abandonos nos impulsan hacia una ilusión infantiloide y, así, nos arrojamos en los brazos de una magia pueril, en la creencia de un futuro de auspicios generosos.
Pero ¿ a qué viene tanta idiotez ?. Vaya, lo único que pretendo es transformar mi deseo de bienestar para el fin de semana y desearos unos días felices o, al menos, satisfechos. Sin acordaos de los malos rollos; con la esperanza de buenos momentos.
Este villancico, esta canción navideña, no tiene trineos ni campanillas ni metales ni… Pero tiene el anhelo de un mundo que no nos limite, y un crescendo desde la voz arcillosa de P!nk, luego la potencia de Seal y después los maravillosos ritmos africanos que introducen el mbira, el “piano para pulgares” e India Arie.

El martes, en el Flamant de Barcelona, asistí otra vez a uno de esos chispazos de telepatía a propóito del Imagine de Lennon. Algo antes, en el restaurante del Museo de Bellas Artes de Valencia, a otro chispazo sobre los temas que te hacen mover los pies aunque no quieras.
Venga, que empecéis a pasarlo bien en estas fiestas y, más importante, que sigáis disfrutando el año nuevo. A pesar de los abandonos y los malos rollos: que les den !

La música y los croissants…

Que los alumnos de la escuela de música más antigua de Estados Unidos monten una orquesta de jazz está muy bien. Que además se marquen un homenaje para celebrar el 100 aniversario del nacimiento de Frank Sinatra en una sala de conciertos de 1903 (por diosssss, si hasta tiene órgano) no sólo está bien: además resulta emocionante.Me encanta que me rompan los esquemas así.

He seleccionado un buen corte, aunque no he seguido todo el recital. La vocalista es (literalmente) grande, el tema de Cole Porter, un verdadero clásico. La cuerda de metales y saxos se sale y, de postre, un magnífico adorno de un violín solista, cachondo él.
Todo eso se grabó en Boston (Sala Jordan del New England Conservatory) hace apenas dos meses y se incorporó a la cuenta del NEC hace 10 días.
La música y los croissants… en caliente. Buen finde !

¿ Puedo ser malo por esta vez ?

Es muy posible que malinterpretéis esta vez mis buenos deseos para vuestros fines de semana. Por aquello de no encasillarme y ofreceros más de los mismo, es decir, de música y sus aledaños, he recurrido a mis queridos alemanes, a quienes aprecio cada vez más, y ofreceros sí, otra sugerencia musical, pero pasada por la antropología.
Que tribus y tribus de gente de aspecto variopinto (ma non troppo) se reúnan en el norte de Alemania para disfrutar de la exhibición de heavy music más cañera tiene cierto mérito. Es verdad que el Wacken Open Air se celebra cada año a primeros de agosto pero, caramba, que se junten 80.000 personas y 6.000 más de la organización yo creo que es notable. En todo caso, si se compara con el poder de convocatoria de los grandes premios de motociclismo, la cosa se queda en casi nada: además de la afluencia al Circuit Ricardo Tormo, la última carrera de la pasada temporada de moto GP la siguieron más de cinco millones de personas. Aún así, sólo el Wacken ofrece a alguien como yo la oportunidad de: engordar hasta los 90 y tantos, anillarme uno o los dos lóbulos de las orejas, raparme la cabeza, mantener un bigote con significado germánico, tatuarme urbi et orbe y practicar determinada danza de inspiración medio africana medio química,  haciendo ostentoso alarde de mis nalgas, una vez desprovistas del pantalón de cuero pero arropadas (es un decir) por un tanga azul cielo. Ya os he advertido: antropología en estado puro.
Como excusa a tanta maldad y al festival que a costa vuestra se están regalando mis instintos más bajos, os informo de que el reportaje en cuestión (una locura) está producido y emitido por la cadena arte, una iniciativa francoalemana que ahora ha liberado y ampliado sus emisiones e incluye, cuanto menos, subtítulos en español e inglés.
Disfrutad de Judas Priest y la fauna circundante. Y haced como yo: daos a la maldad. Es algo liberador.

1956

Todos los años son memorables, aunque sean pocos los que recuerda todo el mundo. A poco que los profesores de secundaria se esfuercen, conseguirán, por ejemplo, que 1492 resulte familiar a muchos españoles. Lo mismo podría pasar con 1812. En cambio, me parece menos probable que pase con 1808 o 1981 o 2004. La memoria de una fecha precisa- el dos de mayo, el 23 de febrero, el 11 de marzo- hace que el año a que pertenece se desdibuje. Son fechas que llaman a gritos a la efemérides, al aniversario. Y además son tribales, se comparten en grupos nacionales, aunque las del 4 o del 14 de julio se hayan publicitado más.
Todos tenemos fechas confinadas en la memoria estrictamente personal, ni siquiera familiar. Son fechas secretas, íntimas, habitualmente de recuerdo amargo; pocas veces las rememoramos con una sonrisa porque el recuerdo de acontecimientos amables se suele compartir. Pero veamos una excepción.
De los muchos años que podría mencionar, he elegido 1956. Y no lo hago ni por razones biográficas ni por motivos históricos. Lo hago porque una obra que, según he sabido luego, se escribió en tan sólo 13 días de ese año, me sigue tocando el corazón. Y desde luego tiene todos los ingredientes para hacerlo.
En 1973 compré mi primer libro adulto. Hacia 1980 releí la obra de Jules Verne y comencé a interesarme por la ciencia ficción. En 1988, en medio de la lectura del primer volumen de la serie del Mundo del Río, murió mi primer amigo. Un poco antes me topé con una curiosa novelita que estos días releo en su inglés original. Reproduzco su primera frase:

“ONE WINTER shortly before the Six Weeks War my tomcat, Petronius the Arbiter, and I lived in an old farmhouse in Connecticut”

Es el incipit de “The Door Into Summer”, la puerta al verano. Su autor, Robert Anson Heinlein, un buscavidas que pasó por la armada estadounidense, las minas de plata, las inmobiliarias y hasta lo intentó en política, relata peripecias extraordinariamente imaginativas para 1956. La criopreservación y el retroceso en el tiempo se tratan como complementarios. en todo caso, lo que más me interesó la primera vez fue el relato de los sentimientos que hacen progresar la historia. Aún hoy me resulta muy familiar: la lealtad de y hacia un animal contrapuesta al despecho que una doble traición provoca.

51-PEh54zHL
El librito apareció en tres números sucesivos (octubre a diciembre ) de The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction y al año siguiente se editó en tapa dura. Para mí, 1956 es más memorable por esto que por cualquier otra cosa incluida, y mira que lo siento, la primavera de Praga. Tanto me importa la obra que he consignado su aparición en la sección correspondiente de la entrada de la edición española de Wikipedia correspondiente a 1956.
En la imagen, la portada de la edición española de EDHASA (1966). Yo conocí la obra en la edición de Martínez Roca de 1986, que tiene una portada sosísima y sin gato macho.

Que os vaya bonito

El deseo de que tengáis un buen fin de semana es algo diferente este viernes. El título, ya se ve, tiene aroma de despedida y, sí, tomo el resto de mis vacaciones a partir de hoy y no regresaré por aquí hasta enero. Intento por todos los medios que la melancolía de la Navidad y el sentido del paso del tiempo no me sobrecojan, al menos no antes de tiempo. Y para ello recurro a mi truco favorito: entresaco de la semana la mejor experiencia o la mejor sensación, la vengo a asociar con música y la comparto con vosotros. Esta vez es más que obligado que os ponga un video: la danza es un ámbito en que se funden la música y la plástica del movimiento de los cuerpos para generar algo bonito, una experiencia tan visual como sonora. Por discreción, porque no quiero abusar de vuestra atención y vuestro tiempo, he elegido algo breve, con solo unas pinceladas (nunca mejor dicho) de belleza, un anuncio primaveral, como el brote a punto de estallar.
Mirad y decidme si no vale un minuto de vuestro tiempo (vale, y 16 segundos).

 

En los viajes rápidos, elijo los destinos por razones más que peregrinas, aunque para mí siempre estén justificadas. En Nueva York iría al Lincoln Center. Estos días el New York City Ballet baila el Cascanueces, naturalmente y, aunque soy más de danza moderna, asistir a cualquiera de las representaciones (entradas a 29 dólares) sería una magnífica forma de celebrar las fiestas.
He confirmado con dos amigas mexicanas el doble sentido de la expresión “que te vaya bonito”. A vosotros os dedico el sentido cotidiano y directo, el de un deseo positivo. Reconozco que hay a quien le deseo todo lo contrario, como si Chavela Vargas pudiera gritar otra vez el corrido de José Alfredo Jiménez. Afortunadamente, estas páginas no se leen en según qué ámbitos.