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Gabriel Garcia Marquez: The Farewell He Never Wrote

By Shlomo Maital


One of the world’s greatest writers, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, has died, age 86. He wrote 100 Years of Solitude,   and my favorite, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, an amazingly creative mixture of journalism and fiction. Marquez himself was a journalist, at times, and was born in Colombia in 1928. He set Chronicle in a Colombia village.

After his death, Marquez’ poem The Puppet, written after he was diagnosed with supposedly fatal cancer in 1997, was widely quoted.   However, it turns out that he never wrote it. Instead it was written by a Mexican ventriloquist named Johnny Welch.

   I think Marquez would have loved the irony of the world’s press quoting a poem he never wrote, as a tribute to his writing skill.

   Here is the full poem. Marquez could well have written it, or better, if he so chose. It’s worth reading and heeding.

                                                   The Puppet

“ If for a moment God would forget that I am a rag doll and give me a scrap of life, possibly I would not say everything that I think, but I would definitely think everything that I say. I would value things not for how much they are worth but rather for what they mean. I would sleep little, dream more. I know that for each minute that we close our eyes we lose sixty seconds of light. I would walk when the others loiter; I would awaken when the others sleep.  I would listen when the others speak, and how I would enjoy a good chocolate ice cream. If God would bestow on me a scrap of life, I would dress simply, I would throw myself flat under the sun, exposing not only my body but also my soul.    My God, if I had a heart, I would write my hatred on ice and wait for the sun to come out. With a dream of Van Gogh I would paint on the stars a poem by Benedetti, and a song by Serrat would be my serenade to the moon. 

    With my tears I would water the roses, to feel the pain of their thorns and the incarnated kiss of their petals…My God, if I only had a scrap of life… I wouldn’t let a single day go by without saying to people I love, that I love them.  I would convince each woman or man that they are my favourites and I would live in love with love. I would prove to the men how mistaken they are in thinking that they no longer fall in love when they grow old–not knowing that they grow old when they stop falling in love. To a child I would give wings, but I would let him learn how to fly by himself. To the old I would teach that death comes not with old age but with forgetting. I have learned so much from you men…. I have learned that everybody wants to live at the top of the mountain without realizing that true happiness lies in the way we climb the slope.  I have learned that when a newborn first squeezes his father’s finger in his tiny fist, he has caught him forever. I have learned that a man only has the right to look down on another man when it is to help him to stand up. I have learned so many things from you, but in the end most of it will be no use because when they put me inside that suitcase, unfortunately I will be dying.”


Benchmarking Germany: Job Creation a la Merkel

By Shlomo Maital

job creation

proporiton with jobs

change in proportion of people ages 15-64 with jobs, since 2007

Floyd Norris’ “Off the Charts” feature in the New York Times finds clever ways to present complex data in clear, meaningful visual ways. In his latest effort, today (April 19-20), he charts the “proportion of people with jobs”, by age group, dating from 2007.

This is a much better statistic than the unemployment rate, because when the poll person knocks on your door and asks you, “are you working now?”, if you say “no”, the next question is, “have you been actively seeking work in the past 2 weeks?” If the answer is no again, you are not unemployed, because, you are not even in the labor force. So “proportion of people with jobs” is a good statistic to track.

   Norris’ charts show that both America and the EU (excluding Germany) are abysmal; nearly 5 per cent fewer people aged 15-64 have jobs today than in 2007, and this is after the two biggest economies in the world have ‘recovered’.   Britain is nearly back to what it was in 2007; the Conservative government under Cameron is taking credit for this, giving credit to its austerity program.  I think the job recovery was in spite of austerity, not because of it.  Britain’s pound sterling has dropped a lot, helping its exports, like Germany. 

   But the stellar performer is Germany! Germany has 4 percentage points MORE people working, ages 15-64, than in 2007.    


     I have some explanations. Germany has benefited from the plummeting euro, and boosted its exports. Germany has succeeded in boosting exports to China. Germany maintained wage restraint and restrained social benefits, and its unions have been highly responsible.   Germany avoided shedding excess labor during the downturn and hence preserved the high skills of veteran workers, often the first to be dumped.

     But this is not my point. When job creation is the #1 key issue almost everywhere, and when one country outperforms all the rest by a huge margin, should the decision-makers not be beating a path to its door to find out the secret?   I see no evidence this is happening.

     Obama – Send your civil servants to Berlin. Tell them to stay there until they come home with a strong plan to boost job creation, and reduce the huge numbers of discouraged workers, who do not appear in unemployment stats and hence who are invisible. Tell them to get to the bottom of Germany’s success.   And while they’re there, ask them to discover why Chanceller Angela Merkel is an effective competent leader, while you, Obama, seem unable to organize a paper bag (or a simple website).

Do human beings still evolve?

By Shlomo Maital


   Pick up a 2-week-old copy of TIME magazine, and it’s worse than stale, like week-old fish. Pick up a 4-year-old copy of Scientific American, as I did recently, and it’s still fresh as a daisy. In the October 2010 issue, Jonathan Pritchard writes about human evolution. The question is, are humans still evolving, through survival of the fittest, as plants and animals are? The answer is: Yes, but very very slowly.

   Pritchard cites a gene that exists in Tibetans, that took 3,000 years to entrench itself. This gene adjusts red blood cell production and helps Tibetans survive and thrive in the low oxygen levels of the Tibetan plateau. But this seems to be an example that disproves the rule. “The classic natural selection scenario in which a single beneficial mutation spreads like wildfire through a population has occurred relatively rarely in humans in the past 60,000 years.”

     Want to believe, for instance, that gene implants can give you NBA-tall babies? Studies show that there are over 50 different genes that influence human height. Even if tall people procreated more than short ones, natural selection would take a long time to muster all those genes and spread them.

   The bad news? Viruses, like HIV, evolve far far faster than humans do. We stand no chance of having natural selection evolve HIV-immune humans, before the HIV virus itself evolves to counteract such resistance. Vaccines are the only hope.

     The good news?   There is also ‘social selection’, the competition for survival among different prototypes of social organization. We have America, with its dysfunctional Republican-vs.-Democrat paralyzed government. We have Europe, with its dysfunctional can’t-agree-on-anything ‘unity’; we have Russia, with its corrupt oligarchic dictatorship and a newly born Cold War relic at its head.   And so on… They are all in competition. So, out of all this vast variety of dysfunctional social and political systems, one of them will evolve to endure and prevail, and lead the other systems to imitate it?

     Won’t it???

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
April 2014
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