Curtain Raiser

Not Here to Amuse Us, Colltalers

Animal welfare organizations are celebrating this week’s decision by the U.K. to ban the use of wild animals in circuses, effective at the end of next year. England thus officially becomes the 10th country to do it so, following a mixed bag of nations with hardly anything in common.
Some, as the Netherlands, had done it as early as 2008, while others, like Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Paraguay, Slovenia, Greece and Cyprus, only prove that no nation needs to be in the now reduced G7 bloc, or even have a booming economy, to take sensible steps towards animal well being.
The ‘dark horse’ of this list is China, which despite having shown tolerance to widespread animal abuse and cruel practices, surprised the world three years ago by enacting a ban. Critics say that, unlike rules preventing government criticism, for instance, such ban is hardly enforced.
That doesn’t undermine the fact that even within an authoritarian regime, animal welfare is still a cause worth debating even by those who do not consider it to be of the same gravity as human rights violations and free expression, to name but two other serious issues.
In fact, how we treat animals in itself is a not entirely separated issue from what we deem inherent qualities of being human. How we relate not just to other species, but to the natural world and the planet has the potential to inexorably tilt the needle towards the whole range of cruelties we associated with ‘the beast,’ and definitely away from our noble pursuits of equanimity and justice to all living beings. Which, in any case, is just an abstraction.
But we digress. The debate over why we use animals to our own entertainment is as offensive now as it used to be in Roman times, when the Caesars perceived its potential (as in Panis et Circenses) to divert the masses’ attention from their own misery, and thus keeping them content and satisfied.
It was certainly used before for similar purposes, but despite 20 centuries of civilization, the history of the modern circus is one of abject exploitation of the physically handicapped for entertainment, no moral consideration given, and that includes cruelty towards the most vulnerable, wild animals.
There seems to be a growing tide towards considering any kind of imprisonment and bounded conditions towards animals, with its implicit lack of consent, the same way we already view it if it’s being done Continue reading

Racy Meals

Our Next Course May Need to
Add Bugs & Invasive Species

Not to spoil your appetite but with millions threatened to die of starvation — never mind the records amount of food we’ve been producing — and climate change squishing us and one another, away from any bodies of water, you may not like what’s for dinner.
Indeed, the main source of nourishment of tomorrow’s meal may be something you’re used to squash yourself: insects. And if you’re not up to the crunch, and by flies, have the means to turn down that protein, do everyone a big favor and go after some invasive species.
Any way you slice it, our meat and grain industry won’t cut it. Since stomachs are made to be filled, let’s hope that, rather than dirt and junk food, we develop a knack for recycling and regurgitating what we’re so used to toss. Bless our prophets, the dumpster divers.
To be sure, many already survive on a diet rich in crawling critters and hairy creepers, and one can tell by the way we say it, how deluded we still allow ourselves to be. But the time will come when we’ll learn or starve, and for the majority, it may be as simple as that.
It’s one thing, though, eat what dwindling forests still have plenty to offer. It may take guts to pick one up and swallow it whole, but with time, anyone can be a forager. It’s an entirely different affair, though, for those living in the cities, just like most of us.
Again, we hope your stomach is strong, but that disgusting creature that just moved its antennae and scurried up behind your sofa will have to be on the menu. Along with the fat subway rodents and the unsanitary geese that no longer migrate away from that fetid city pond.
That’s when grown men will cry like inmates, to no one’s sympathy, and children will dispute with feral pets the scraps of civilization. Just like the increasing millions of landfill dwellers, we may need to engage into a higher survival gear, so the pickings won’t be slim.

The first two, arguably most important things anyone needs to know about eating bugs is, one, that it’s good for the planet. And two, that you may be already eating them, without knowing it. That’s not the case, of course, of indigenous peoples in pretty much all continents, who’ve been eating them from time immemorial.
Ants, locusts, beetles, worms, crickets, water… boatmen (we’re not quite there yet), flies and even stinkbugs, are central to all the protein
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Curtain Raiser

A Markdown Democracy, Colltalers

Two major events, apparently unrelated but whose timing reeks of surprise and irony, have framed the past week: a U.S. Supreme Court rule, which struck down crucial restrictions to the role of money in politics, and a presidential election in Afghanistan, which has come to a peaceful close.
It’s indeed surprising that the first-ever democratic transfer of power, in a country where the American-led 13-year long ‘war on terror’ has turned into one of the most violent places on Earth, has concluded with virtually no incidents of violence, despite a seven-million-voter turnout.
And there’s no shortage of irony either, considering that the court’s ruling, which effectively eliminates limits to the total amount of dollars donors can give to candidates, parties and political groups, happens in the land that aims at being a bastion of democracy and of the will of the common people.
We’re, of course, paraphrasing with abandon constitutional notions about representative power and a self-attributed role of guardian of democratic principles, which have both served us well when it comes to reprimand and discipline countries that, in our view, are threatening to stray from them.
That’s our new, self-inflicted moral vulnerability, though, acquired as recently as a decade or so ago, when we engaged in the unjustified Iraq war. And it’s been only the most visible tip of the iceberg, as critics and U.S. haters, most of them of our own manufacturing, won’t stop pointing it out.
But there was one thing America used to do well, despite all contradictions of its foreign policy, racial divisiveness, obsession with power, and the ingrained self-assurance that some rules didn’t apply to itself: its nurturing of a political process that did work as an equalizer for over a century. Among great U.S. presidents and political leaders, there were also many ‘John Does,’ who rose to power by the sheer power of the popular vote. And guess what? while many faded to obscurity, some actually remained relevant, and others became actual standard bearers of citizen excellence. We take exception here to name at least one, still living and still increasing his stature as a world class statesman: James Earl Carter, Jr.
Mentioning Jimmy Carter is never out of context, given the role the U.S. now seems unsure how to play, for he’s the only president not to deploy American troops anywhere, and whose Nobel Peace Prize years after leaving office is as relevant now as President Obama’s was far too premature.
What the McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission rule, which some have called a Citizen United 2, has just determined is that the wealthier
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Grace Under Rain

The World Cup starts in June in Brazil, the country that has won it five times, the most of any other. Three of such conquests are fully owned by Edson Arantes do Nascimento, Pelé, the game’s top scorer and, arguably, the greatest player who’s ever played it.
Back in the 1960s, as a wee fan I got a taste of his magic and seized that memory as one of my most precious. Four years ago, I’ve committed that virtually indescribable experience to words and now, I’m sharing it with you as a personal tribute to Pelé. Enjoy it.

As he walked off the field, head down, oblivious, the crowd jeers turned into cheers. He waited until they grew louder and finally acknowledged us like the king he already was. It took him a second and we were all his forever.

Pelé, football’s greatest player, had come to my hometown to play against my team. The rough first half had just ended, with no fancy plays or memorable greatness. Just another mid-week league game, in a cold and unforgiving winter. No other redeeming memory to speak of.
But no ordinary knight was among us that night. And he acted the part with style.
Sport fans are rude, raw, irrational the world over. Crude emotions always trace them, but civility is left out at the turnstiles. Just like at the Parthenon: Christians and pagans crowd the pit but to the beasts belongs the hour.
The land of the “jogo bonito” is no exception in this world of unbounded brutality. The exquisite touch of skills, the artistry with the ball have their own bizarro mirror reflected at the bleaches, all screams and cursing and obscene gestures to match.
Let’s not get into the urine-bag throwing at random, the foul smelling bathrooms, the fights that break at chance between rivaling factions. And the slurs throw at women, let’s just not go there.
In such a cold and raining Wednesday, as only a place too close to Antarctica can be, 30 thousand or so of us were braving elements and
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Curtain Raiser

What Brazil Can’t Forget About March, Colltalers

There are a few facts both baffling and predictable about Brazil, as it marks today the 50th year anniversary of a military coup that deposed democratically elected president João Goulart and, for over two decades, controlled and terrorized every segment of its society.
One is how little public awareness exist about the dictatorship’s impact on the nation’s psyche, still jolted by irrational fears and an almost bipolar drive to earn the world’s respect, and on its institutions, which went through a forced, across the board and humiliating, overhaul, in order to survive.
Other is how surprisingly ignorant most Brazilian seem to be about the nefarious legacy left by a regime that had no constrains about persecuting its political enemies, destroying in the process the dream of building a free society that the optimism of the late 1950s in Brazil warranted.
That promise was interrupted for 21 years, and some say, remains unfulfilled, despite a number of democratic institutions having been built since the 1980s. One thing about Brazil’s recent economic boom and present turmoil is that it’s exposed the huge vulnerability of such institutions.
Lastly, another startling fact about the military rule in Brazil is the virtual impunity of those accused of having taken part in the widespread torture and murdering of regime opponents. Some of these voices are still present in the national debate and remain adamantly unapologetic.
It’s to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, a former guerrilla and the country’s first woman in high office, the merit of facilitating the creation of the Truth Commission, dedicated to investigate the dictatorship’s crimes, and that’s been the sole organ to do so, despite almost 30 years since the last general headed back to the barracks. It remains in the open whether it’ll gather enough evidence leading to persecution of notorious torturers.
Such complacence and nonchalance towards its recent dark past has hurt Brazilians in more ways they seem willing to admit. In fact, indignation against what such past did to Brazil is the single greatest theme absent in the massive street rallies throughout the country’s biggest cities.
Issues of corruption, self-serving politics, widening income gap, police violence, education and health, are all commonly invoked, and rightly so, in large demonstrations that often turn violent. However, the Military’s public image remain unscathed, and, worse, the fallacy of its alleged benign role as neutral normalizer of society struggles, which is not even constitutionally correct, is often invoked as a solution to end the ‘anarchy.’
Thus a whole generation may have not been taught what really

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Forty Seven

The Legendary Tower of David, in Caracas (Iwan Bann) Click for Video

Twin Baffling Towers &
a Prefab Random Number

The 47What links two unfinished skyscrapers, an unjustified fervor toward a two-digit number, some touches of sci-fi lore, and a whiff of a possible hoax? why, an infamous famine, lots of greed, and gumption to find conspiracy in everything.
Thus, there’s the year 1847 in Ireland, then a tower in Venezuela that became the world’s tallest slum, another in Spain said to have been built without elevators, and a still unexplained drive towards making the number 47 the sum of all values.
In the age of the Internet, anything has the potential to become a ‘proven’ fact, a sinister possibility, a malevolent hoax, and the stuff dreams are made of, all rolled into one big scheme of beliefs, hollow at the center, and devoid of a shred of evidence.
Its face value, though, can at times emulate a deeper meaning, and lend purpose to many an empty life, just like a lie, even without ever adding to the truth, still gathers enough zest of it to shine like a fake diamond and fool just like anyone.
We happened upon the number 47 by chance but were never impressed about it. Even before arching back to the 19th century and the luck of the Irish, its only feeble connection with those buildings was how many stores they both carry up the sky.
But then came the ‘official society,’ the conflicting prefab theories by Trekkies and Douglas Adams buffs, an inordinate amount of mumble-jumble, and the likelihood, always present, that some lunatic fringe group is laughing out loud about it all.
It’s possible. It wouldn’t be the first time we were the butt of an inside joke. But stepping over sleeping beasts is also part of life, and while some cheerfully spend time concocting ways to amuse themselves, many more have to climb up and down 47 floors.
The Intempo Tower, in Spain (Jamie Condliffe)
‘Forty-seven is the most commonly occurring two-digit random number.’ That’s how a Website dedicated to it defines its appeal. Just like that. The ‘proof’ presented is almost as flimsy: ‘the extraordinary number of times the number 47 occurs in factoids.’ We’re done here.
It’s far from the truth, of course. In fact, it’s doubtful that any mathematician would concur to such a bombastic affirmation. Then
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