Curtain Raiser

They Always Come for the Kids First, Colltalers

There’s been a growing lament coming from what the media calls ‘well-to-do’ Western families: why my well-educated, comfortably living son or daughter, who seemed perfectly content with his or her life so far, has suddenly joined a terror organization.
Pulled to the forefront of the exploitative coverage – to give ‘a human face’ to the stories news agency are ghoulishly profiting from – these mothers and fathers look genuinely perplexed by the likely sorrowful and tragic fate awaiting their babies in some distant land.
What made them do it? What could we’ve done to prevent it?, they ask the cameras, and the world, blindsided by the glare of spotlights and their own grief, absolutely at lost to understand what blood and carnage can possibly hold as appealing to their sweet kids.
But there’s familiarity in their pain and puzzlement, and without even digging too deep into the relationship between parents and their children, we realize that we’re all very much used to such an inter-generational widening gap. Continue reading

Marvelous City

At 450, Rio de Janeiro Does
Not Look a Day Older Than Me

According to family records, Maria and Heitor were watching the Carnival parade on a Rio de Janeiro street, an early Ash Wednesday, when she went into labor. A rush to the military hospital was all it took for her third and last son to be born, a couple of hours later.
That’s probably why I never really liked Carnival. As for Rio, whose 450th anniversary is Sunday March 1, is not just Brazil’s premier party town – even when Cariocas decide to have fun with you – but where physical beauty and pleasure are steeped into its DNA.
The Saturnian nature of that night, and the subconscious background of music, rhythm and drums, was all I took from the city by the sea when we left it five years down the road. Oh, yes, I took something else too: in 1960, it ceased to be Brazil’s capital, a title transferred to Brasília.
Still one never really leaves Rio. I went back a few times – as if some insatiable thirst could only be quenched at that source -, lived there again for a few years, but since then, the city and I went our separated ways. One side misses the other more but there’s no bitterness.
My place of birth is no longer, anyway. From its then 2.5 million, it’s metastasized into a megalopolis of over 6 million people, pollution, urban violence, extreme income disparity, guns, drugs, corruption, you know, the full range of ills most South American cities know so well.

NATIVE FOREIGNER AT THE FAVELA REALM
But there are mysteries worth probing, hiding in its plain, 100 degrees average heat. The name, for instance: River of January? That’s got to be an inside joke: it’s not a river, but miles of seashore just a walking distance from downtown businesses. How do they mix? Don’t ask.
Also, it was officially founded on the third month of the year, not the first. Again, someone must have had a laugh about that. And for all the good vibes it inspires on people all over the world, reality on the ground in Rio is often more brutal than in New York. Now, go figure.
On a day in February I’ve left the 50s for the second time in my life, just like I’d done with Rio. As a dragged my own private Rio around the globe, mostly being a heavy-accented foreigner wherever I went, when I settled in the only city I’ve consciously chosen, New York, I finally knew where I’d come from.

TWO FEET IN THE 50S, TWICE LIVING IN THE CITY
Guanabara Bay will always inform everything feel about this life, even if now we speak different languages, and natives admire my perfect pronunciation of Portuguese, better than many a legal alien. But this transitional state is the ground I’ve made of by now, and will probably be laid to rest onto it too, someday.
I was born to the syncopated sway of Bossa Nova, Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

May Greece Save the Euro, Colltalers

There’s been measured enthusiasm with the election of Alexis Tsipras as Greece’s Prime Minister last month, and the rise of Pablo Iglesias-led year-old Podemos party in Spain, which has quickly become a contender for the December general elections.
But as their ascendancy is a sign that there’s finally resistance to the European Central Bank’s ineffective and poverty-boosting austerity policies, they actually run counter the overall tendency within the remainder 18 countries sharing the euro and beyond.
Europe is in fact experiencing a resurgence of hatred towards immigrants, anti-Semitism, and religious obscurantism, rapidly manipulated by the continent’s right-wing parties, that no populism seems capable, at least at the moment, to reverse.
More, there’s already been a well-articulated backlash against these two courageous but still timid counterpoints to the dominant ideology. In the past weeks, for instance, tax fraud allegations against Juan Carlos Monedero, a political scientist and co-founder of Podemos (We Can, just in case), have been swirling around in Spain, placing the party’s probity image under scrutiny.
As for Tsipras, he’s facing criticism within his own Syriza party, over the latest round of negotiations between Greece and the other euro countries over debt agreements signed in exchange for loans, now all but unlikely to be timely paid.
Even as Greece was granted a four-month loan payments extension Friday, supporters have accused Tsipras of capitulating on campaign promises of refusing any unfair agreement. And that very 11th-hour small reprieve can come undone today, if policy measures to be adopted in exchange for the extension are not to the creditors’ liking. A pickle, indeed.
While it’s only fair that Monedero clarifies the consultancy fees he’s received from four Latin American countries, there’s no question that even if he does, PM Mariano Rajoy, and his center-right Partido Popular, have caught a precious break.
But although some have been quick to call off the movement against austerity – the NYTimes said that European leaders don’t want to ‘finance the Greek-led revolt’ -, what’s been left out is the wreck such policies have visited throughout Europe. That is, except in rich Northern countries, Germany in special, whose banks, Continue reading

Western Omelet

Freeze Eggs, Pick the Time &
Get Pregnant. Any Questions?

There are many reasons why a woman would choose to freeze her eggs. Career is often invoked, albeit it’s also overrated. Beyond the pros and cons of such decision – and they are indeed many -, getting there has its own hefty share of potential risky turns.
Health, emotional state, peer pressure or economic status, it all may affect a woman’s drive to maternity. But whereas social bullshit, or technology shortcomings, may be unavoidable bumps, there should be no other role for her mate, if she’d happen to have one: to shut up and pay close attention.
There’s a rush, among Western societies’ elites, to plan life as if following a receipt, with measured servings of duty, pleasure, adventure, and comfort, healthy assumptions, and invested decisions, all supposed to offer a well balanced meal of experiences and zest.
But life hardly follows such prescription. Rather, its messy development assaults even the most pampered among us, pushing most of everyone to engage on an endless chase after what’s next. Along the way, sense of purpose and grasp of reality may get lost.
To a woman it’s also entrusted a double-weight task, as her body is claimed by all sides as support to their own survival. Thus, all festering assumptions and expectations, both onerous and false, about what ‘nature’ expects from a female. Needless to repeat, nature has nothing to do with it.
As women wrestle control over their right to procreate whenever they find it fit, technology has kept apace, offering an array of valuable tools. Despite society’s self-serving obscurantism, the women’s struggle for self determination has become template to a whole range of human rights issues.

PLANNING FOR AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE
Choice is still denied to the majority of women living outside the bubble of industrialized societies. But even for the privileged few, such tools don’t come cheap. And the decision is as wrenching and grief-prone as any responsible parenthood step can be. Maybe more.
In statistical terms, most women in the world live in squalor conditions, with no running water or power, and are in charge of kids, lovers, and relatives. Many are enslaved or paid a fraction Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Fixing Our Moral Compass, Colltalers

Money and war, inevitable twins supporting our deliciously wasteful way of life, were at it again this past week: revelations that HSBC has helped clients evade taxes, and President Obama’s request to Congress to authorize use of military force against ISIL.
Both were big news that may experience limited endurance at the top of the headlines. While the president has been rightfully battered for his request, but will ultimately probably get his wish granted, it’s already hard to find the bank’s name mentioned anywhere.
Congress could exercise an admirable role in restraining the U.S. from getting openly involved in yet another endless war. But we sincerely doubt it. And the irony of having a big bank being caught red handed may be lost only to those living under a rock.
There’s a common link between ISIL, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, their assorted extremist allies and enemies, and the Pentagon hawks: they all have no qualms about sending innocent people to their deaths, and profess a firm belief on the state of permanent war.
Oh, yes, they also have a common defender in a former presidential candidate, who used to rally against just such two instances of ideology running amok, but who since moving in to the White House, has been just a bit short of a full-time military cheerleader.
As for the U.K.-based bank, it’s been accused of money laundry and tax evasion activities since at least 2009, barely a year after the Wall Street-induced global financial crisis, and resulting taxpayer bailout, the TARP program, rescued delinquent institutions.
HSBC wasn’t part of the bailout, but it did funnel over $3 billion from the program through then disgraced AEG. All rescued banks and insurers are doing fine, by the way. Their rescuers, however, i.e., regular stiffs like us and your unemployed spouse, not so much.
President Obama’s supporters would like to point at the requests to use military force against terrorists, of Sept. 2001, Continue reading

Bad Valentiming

What If It’s Better to
Skip Valentine’s Day?

Ever tried adding a few sugar spoons to your ice cream? Or drilled a hole on a can of condensed milk and sucked it right in? Well, we did. And here’s another diabetes-inducing rush happening this year: A Less Er Bleeding Chocolate Heart from Pushin DaisiesValentine’s Day falls on a Saturday. Tomorrow. Now go and check your blood levels.
Don’t get us wrong: we’re all for love and affection and all that. But we must admit it: we were never sold on the idea of trading chocolate and flowers and underwear for sex, if you don’t mind our bluntness. But hey, whatever rocks, right? Or so goes the credo.
Across the land, couples – or triplets or whatever – will go through the ritual (sponsored mostly by Hallmark?) of following a recipe concocted by the marketing gods to induce higher levels of shopping, and maybe, a special moment or two in the sack.
Or perhaps that’s not the point at all. That sack part, we mean. Thing is, we can’t ‘unsee’ the buying spree from the romantic thought of dedicating one day a year to our beating, pulsating, engorged bleeding hearts. (Spoiler alert: lots of lovers break up on this day too.)
Full disclosure: we’re being blasé on purpose. Can’t avoid it. What, with this age of revenge porn, and social media shaming, and hacking galore, it’s a wonder that our twitter accounts have been violated only a few times. Or that privacy has nothing to do with it, wink, wink.
But we’re not brutes. After all, when archeologists uncovered in Leicester, England, a 14-century pair of skeletons, buried together, hand in hand, or at least, arms entangled, we did savor for a minute the sweet thought that it was their choice, to be committed to the ground together.
A few years ago, another couple was found in the same situation, but they lived in Roman times. Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

New York’s New Buccaneers, Colltalers

As headlines top even the goriest fiction, slapping us with the most blood-soaked, brutality-infused news, it’d be an outrage to speak about first world problems, or as it goes, New York real estate for that matter. But that’s exactly what we’re about to do.
Talk about the city is fitting, though: it became New York 351 years ago today, when the British retook it from its founders, the Dutch. Even before that, it’d never lost its international vocation, and appeal to foreigners, from the poorest to the wealthiest of them all.
But unlike the traders, the religious refugees, pirates and adventurers, and the successive waves of immigrants who’ve built it into the colossus that it is today, there’s a fairly distinct class of spoilers taking over New York this time around: global mega-billionaire crooks.
Needing to laundry their ill-earned money, they’re gobbling the city’s skyline by the blockfull, since it’s cheaper to pay its wealth-friendly property taxes, and earn archaic taxpayer incentives to build, than to withstand trial and risk losing it all in their own countries.
There’s a point in walking this rotten-tomato fire line, of discussing wealth and the spending habits of the fabulously criminal, while so many are being driven to frozen parks and street corners, or to the few unsanitary and unsafe city shelters, just to survive the night.
New York has a way of being hit first, and lately, what bad has happened to it, has spread out quickly to the rest of the country.
In fact, one of the unsung unfairness of Sept. 11 is that it hurt the one U.S. city that’s always been the most open and welcoming to ideological diversity, since Giovanni da Verrazzano and Henry Hudson landed on its shores in the 1600s. Again, it sounds flippant to accuse mass murderer Osama Bin Laden of having the discourtesy of not reading first the memo about the city before attacking it.
And it’s really besides the point that Continue reading