War Lord

Women May Lead Our
First Mission to Mars

For some three billion years, Mars looked all but dead, despite misplaced expectations astrophysics had about it all along. Now, as if acting on cue, it seems to be having a renaissance of sorts. Even a comet has paid a close visit to it last week.
Besides the two rovers still soldiering on its inhospitable surface and atmosphere, NASA plans to thoroughly explore it, with a possible human landing sometime in the next two decades. A number of international satellites are also on its orbit.
But despite its allure and beauty on our Zenith, Mars has had a problematic and somewhat disappointing history all along. It closely tracked Earth’s own development for at least a billion years, until something went terribly wrong and, by the time we showed up, it’d gone completely astray. A kind of recovery may be in the works, however, as some believe that life may have come from there.
Lucky us, disaster struck the red planet and not to the blue one. While a climatic inferno wrecked havoc on Mars, it didn’t take long, in astronomical terms, for Earth to bloom and become simply the most beautiful and friendly place in the whole wide universe.
That we act uncaring and downright abusive to this paradise is a matter for another time. The fact is that Mars has attracted so much attention that one wonders whether ancient people were up to something when they nominated it as God of War. Or hasn’t anyone heard the words ‘permanent’ and ‘war’ uttered so often together lately?
There was once a famous German astrologer that was so dedicated to find links between the influence of the Zodiac’s heavenly bodies and the human psyche that whenever a planet would be in evidence, she’d point to a corresponding ‘impact’ it’d have on us.
Thus, when the Pioneers and, later, the Voyager probes sent back those stunning images of Saturn, in the 1970s, she immediately related the event to the era’s economic recession, lines at gas stations in major Western cities, and so on. For her, it all had to do with the celestial Lord of the Rings’ particular charm.
Whether she too was on to something still depends on what one believes, but there’s no question that she was very much in synch with the Greek Pythagorean concepts of Astrology, once considered a science, to which Ptolemy formulated additional precepts. Egyptians and Romans concurred to that school too.

VOLUNTEERS FOR A ONE-WAY TRIP
NASA has been preparing a potential crew to make the trip to the Martian steppes, and even if we still lack the proper transportation to do it, a number of endurance experiments have been conducted with small groups of people. Another team has just started a six-month period of isolation in Hawaii, for instance.
Many ideas have been floated about what such a hazardous trip would consist of, including the possibility that it’d be a one-way ticket journey, meaning that the pioneering astronauts would not necessarily come back ever to Earth. A daunting prospect, indeed, but one that may have its takers.
Experiments in dieting, self-renewed sustenance, revolutionary farming techniques, even rigorous psychological training to prevent the crew from becoming overwhelmed with boredom, or worse, have followed. A variety of styles in new spacesuits are also in the works, from Barbarella to Buzz Lightyear, with all the bells and whistles that not even Ray Bradbury had dreamed of.
The latest of a long series of hypothesis and proposals to maximize a trip to Mars represents a novel idea and has a particular appeal to at least 50 percent of humankind: the possibility of sending a crew of mostly, if not solely, women to Mars. One assumes, on a round-trip basis, though.
The proposal is surprisingly not new, as NASA did consider sending a woman as the first human in space, an idea whose time was then still to come, but that now may be just ripe. The rationale has little to do with gender politics and a lot with caloric intake and preservation.

WOMEN ACTUALLY BELONG IN MARS
For such a long, perilous, and expensive journey – a price tag has been conservatively estimated to be about $450 billion – weight becomes a serious consideration. And a woman’s body does weight less in average than a man’s, consumes Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Misappropriating the News, Colltalers

If you want to be remotely informed about what’s going on in the world, do yourself a favor and do not watch any of the major 24-hour news channels this week or ever. For a truly educated view about our times, you may have to do a little research of your own.
In fact, a half hour of what passes as news these days is enough to completely misinform you. Most of what you see is not news and what’s going on around us remains as under reported as it used to be before modern communications became so prevalent.
These two pieces of gratuitous, and mostly unsolicited, advice may run counter all you’ve heard about the need to stay current of global affairs, pay attention to the issues that affect you life, and be able to hold a coherent conversation about your place in this world.
It’s particularly regrettable, and even dangerous, to the young, assigned to be news cognizant by their well-meaning teachers. So much hearsay and opinion disguised as facts can pose a risky proposition when handed to minds still lacking a fully developed critical vein.
In the long run, however, it’s our own collective loss, as such a massive mix of hysteria, conjecture, assumptions, and celebrity gossip, has quite a deleterious effect on society’s psyche, to the point of saturation, or worse, feelings of complete impotence before reality.
But mind you, there’s more to it than a pure drive to raise ratings and advertising dollars, which is the business model of all contemporary mainstream media outlets. Beyond that, there’s also a Machiavellian manipulation of people’s expectations and attitudes.
Joseph Goebbels comes to mind, as even the choice of headlines, concocted for maximum efficiency either at pulling heartstrings or emptying pockets, has the built-in ulterior motive of forcing your eye to the effects and diverting your attention from the causes.
It’s all designed to maintain control over people’s impulses and to clamp down on their arguably innate willingness to seek the truth. Along the sheer monetary value of turning masses into herd, there’s the allure of power, of being atop the heap, dictating what’s next.
Before we get too preachy, though, let’s do some housekeeping and admit, right upfront, that Colltales and million bloggers alike, also have a shared responsibility in blurring the frontiers between fact and opinion. And if anything, Continue reading

The Have Nothings

Ten Bullets in the
Chamber of Inequality

Thousands of bloggers worldwide are posting stories about inequality today. Oxfam International has partnered with the annual Blog Action Day to boost a global discussion on glaring social contrasts affecting 7-billion plus of your fellow beings. Wherever you are on Earth, you know exactly what that’s all about.
We’ve chosen a popular format, the Top Ten List, and the world’s most powerful country for context. Far from comprehensive, however, no number of bullet points can explain why the haves have accumulated so much more than the have nots. Here’s what we’ve come up with so far.
BUDGET CUTS – Americans have yet another reason to be startled lately: the Ebola virus which, even if not quite the epidemic the media has been painting it, it’s still enough to worry. National Institute of Health’s Dr. Francis Collins offered a sound theory for why we’re having such a hard time controlling its spread, and treating the infected. Development of an Ebola vaccine has been hampered by years of budget cuts for scientific research. If it’s happening with the health scare du jour, picture what’s going on with more basic research, on illnesses affecting many more people. Funding for war, on the other hand, has continued to grow. That’s inequality.
FEDERAL JOBS – When politicians want to sound competent, they talk about balancing the budget. But it’s never implied what that really means: firing teachers, cops, firefighters, postal workers, i.e., those who serve the majority in this country, their families and children. With less of them having a decent paycheck to live on and provide to their own, more of us have to do their jobs ourselves, in a vicious cycle that only affects the middle to low classes. Since the rich can afford to hire private help, that’s inequality.
CONGRESS SALARIES – Last time the government was shut down, most of its activities were kept to a minimum, if not in a temporary freeze. Except salaries taxpayers pay their representatives – an average of $174,000 a year, never mind housing, living expenses, and the best health care available. Since the median American household income is $50,000, that is, my friends, inequality.
WEALTH RATIO – Speaking of it, a widely accepted way to measure it is the wealth to household income ratio. Now, according to a Credit Suisse report, it’s the highest it’s been since, wouldn’t you know it?, the Great Depression was about to crush America. Even the bank thinks that can’t be good. In ‘other’ news, the richest 1 percent now owns 48 percent of all the world’s wealth. We know, we were only focusing on the U.S. but just couldn’t help it. Mainly because, you guessed it, it’s inequality too.
WALL STREET EARNINGS – Which brings us ‘home,’ to the gilded realm of financial institutions, the same ones that brought the world to the brink of collapse with their 2008 excesses. As it turns out, they’re all doing quite well, thanks for not asking. In fact, the earnings season that’s just started may be one for the books, but it’s OK if you see, say, JPMorgan Chase, the biggest one, posting a $5.6 billion net income, and feel a little queasy. They literally broke the bank, got a taxpayer bailout, no CEO went to jail, and now are posting quarterly earnings in the billions; those folks sure know how to party in Lower Manhattan, and that, you working stiffs, is inequality.
CORPORATE TAXES - As one of the 243 million U.S. taxpayers, you know that the probability of being audited is not negligible: the currently understaffed IRS has called back only about two million Americans to explain their taxes, in 2011, one of its lowest numbers in years. But if you were one of what the Supreme Court considers people too, a big corporation, chances are, you wouldn’t be called at all. That’s because many of them don’t pay taxes. Even those that do, like Boeing, DuPont, Wells Fargo, Verizon, GE, and Dow Chemicals, of their combined profit realized between 2008 and 2010, each American got back the grand total of a penny in taxes.
WOMEN’S EQUAL PAY & RACIAL GAP – One can argue that structural and systemic flaws can often be a bigger factor in denying every citizen his or her due in society than race and class. But the fact that a woman still earns 77 cents for every dollar a man makes, doing the same work, and unemployment, imprisonment, and illiteracy, are higher for African-Americans is simply too overwhelming to ignore. While the wealth gap between white and black families nearly tripled from $85,000 in 1984 to $236,500 in 2009, according to the not-too-trusted Wikipedia, if you’re black AND a woman, things are even bleaker. A recent report cites bigger barriers to accessing care and healthy lifestyles, higher infant mortality, and fewer insured among both black and Hispanic women compared to whites. That’s a double yummy of race and class conspiring against the new majority of Americans. And that’s inequality. Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

A Debate of Little Substance, Colltalers

Poor old Chris: since the 1960s, he never seems to catch a break. Every year a new spark adds flame to the bonfire and demotion of the Columbus legacy lore. From intrepid conquistador, ‘first global man,’ to the greatest agent of ethnic cleansing in modern history.
In truth, debate over the discovery of America (actually, what’s now Bahamas, but never mind), 522 years ago yesterday, is now more nuanced, and his legacy, a bit better understood. Seattle, though, couldn’t wait: Oct. 12 is now Indigenous People’s Day.
That it rarely falls on that particular day (as a movable holiday, it’s marked on the second Monday of the month) is not the point. The movement to turn it into a celebration of the millions of natives who perished when the Genovese landed in the Caribbean island has gained momentum worldwide and other places are expected to redefine the day according to a new understanding of that.
Revisionism aside, though, political correctness not always work on hindsight and often tends to turn a well worn tradition into an incoherent travesty, with no bearing either to the historical record or justice to the figure itself. In the case of Columbus, however, it makes sense reassessing the myth, add context, and reestablish a narrative that may serve a higher purpose.
Despite Seattle’s early move, though, today will likely proceed as planned, following a familiar pattern of most American holidays: parades, political grandstanding, shopping, and B-B-Qs. And time off, of course, which for many won’t even be part of the bargain.
This year, the official story was assailed from the left field, by a respected discipline, unrelated to the controversy: underwater archeology. Last May, a team of ocean explorers thought they had found the shipwreck of Columbus’s flagship, the Santa Maria, off the coast of Haiti. If further studies would confirm it, this could revive the dog-eared holiday with a fresh paint of wonder.
But it wasn’t to be. U.N. investigators have proven that the carcass was of much more recent vessel. Copper nails, found at the site, were exactly the ones sinking the theory for good, since at the Italian mariner’s time, shipbuilding would use iron nails, not copper.
More: at least one historian, American-Portuguese Manuel Rosa, is now questioning even the belief that the Santa Maria ever sank. To him, the ship was hauled onto the Haitian shore, used to house sailors left behind by Columbus, and later, burned down.
Even if neither of these findings relates to the ongoing cultural and political revaluation of the sailor – who supposedly lost his way to ‘the Indias,’ and the lucrative spice markets of Asia, but found a spanking new world – globalization and its woes certainly has.
What was expected to be the end of border wars and the creation of a global market of all goods produced by mankind to benefit all corners of the world, with free trade and exchange of knowledge and riches among all, became another nightmare of even greater contrasting realities between the mega rich and the miserably poor. Worse: it’s accentuated a hundredfold racial and ethnic hatred.
The arrival of Christopher Columbus to a new continent – strangely not named after him, Continue reading

Dear John,

You Are Me &
We’re All Together

The other day, when 400,000 people marched in front of your New York City home, I couldn’t help it but think how much you would’ve enjoyed seen so many taking the streets for a cause – this time to fight Climate Change – just like you, marching against the war.
It also helped that it was the International Peace Day, but what was particularly poignant about Sept. 21st was to realize that many in the crowd had probably been there before, on a cold December night of 1980, to mourn your assassination on the steps of the Dakota building.
You would’ve been 74 today, and almost certainly, equally as engaged in progressive causes as you were some forty years ago. And that’s what makes us so sad, that we can no longer hear your voice, and how much the crowd misses the guidance of people like you, and Pete Seeger, to name a like-minded artist.
The fact is, even at that time, such head-first dive into political activism and explicit protesting was not what many musicians considered the best way to go about seeking change. Bob Dylan comes to mind as one the other, influential stars who were weary of carrying slogans and parading for peace.
But while they may have been concerned about the impact that an anti-establishment attitude would have on their careers, you were simply not in the same level of showbiz calculation. To you, it seemed only natural to be part of what the people in the streets were protesting about, warts and criticism notwithstanding.

And there were a lot of put-downs about your over-exposure to the media, your peace and bed-in campaigns, your stunts which, to a small segment of the intelligentsia, were perceived as opportunistic and self-promoting. Never mind that your efforts, as off-the-kilt as they were, became somewhat effective.
In perspective, all that fiery anti-war poster and newspaper ad placing, your tirelessly advocating and support of people such as Angela Davis, John Sinclair, Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, and others, are now an inextricably part of the historical mass movements that finally put an end to the Vietnam War.
You should’ve seen how many young, high-school kids were there too, possibly making that beautiful Sunday Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Brazil’s Quest for Change, Colltalers

Brazilians voted in mass for president yesterday, seeking to accomplish one of at least three things: reelect their first female president, Dilma Rousseff, replace her with a first black president, Marina Silva, or end the Workers’ Party’s 12-year reign over the country’s politics.
Dilma came out on top but still short of preventing a technical tiebreaker on the 26th, against Social Democrat Aécio Neves. There a fourth thing, however, that Brazilians arguably won’t be able to accomplish even when they come back for the second round: real change.
That most of electorally-able citizens of this country of almost 200 million showed up was no surprise: voting is still obligatory in Brazil (more on that later). Also expected was that a second vote would be needed, as Dilma’s majority in the polls was never overwhelming, and Aécio and Marina (note: people refer to each other on a first name basis in Brazil) alternated their positions as second runners throughout the campaign.
In fact, ‘not a surprise’ and ‘expected’ have set the tone of this presidential election, Brazil’s eighth since the end of the military dictatorship in 1985, and its seventh by direct vote. Long gone are the passions that ignited the country with civic fervor in the 1980s, and the PT’s ascension to power through Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a former union leader and still Brazil’s most popular president and politician ever, all constraints abandoned.
On the contrary, since Dilma’s succeeded Lula four years ago, Brazil has hit a brick wall, as an unprecedented cycle of economic growth and global projection gave away to Latin American old foes: graft and political corruption allegations, falling GDP, inflation, unemployment, and general discontent, by a reemergent middle class, about its lot and the country’s fledgling democracy. That has been the tenor of Dilma’s tenure.
To be sure, Lula’s overreaching shadow continues to exert a considerable influence over Brazil’s politics, and even as his rise to power was far from unexpected – he lost three presidential contests before winning in 2002 -, he seems to have carved a permanent niche in the country’s psyche.
While in power, Lula’s managed to inspire, if not completely being responsible for, a widespread feeling of optimism for a nation long mired in the malaise of being considered ‘the country of the future,’ but hardly having ever caught even a sight of what that future could actually be.
He presided over growth amid a global financial crisis, and under his tutelage, a huge swath of the ‘economically challenged,’ i.e., downright dispossessed, was able to experience a timid sense of what the country’s resources could offer them, something that hadn’t happened since at least the 1930s, with dictator-turned-president-elect (in a second coming) Getúlio Vargas, with whom Lula’s brand of populism is often compared.
However, even as his popularity soared within Brazil and abroad, Lula’s was plagued by an ingrained culture of privilege indulged by PT’s political operatives and within his inner circle of advisers. The biggest political scandal in Brazil’s modern age, the Mensalão, has happened under his watch, and even as he’s been cleared so far of any wrongdoing, very close allies of his were sent to prison for their role in the graft scheme.
Somehow, odds may have been stacked too high against Dilma, and her quest to both continue Lula’s legacy, and also, to imprint the country with her own brand of leadership. To many Brazilians, she’s failed at both, which is, oddly, surprising, Continue reading

First Time I Herd

They Do Dream
of Multicolor Sheep

These sheep are real. Well, almost. Photographer Gray Malin dreamed of a full flock standing out and, what else? being counted. So he painted them with a non-toxic, washable pigment. The result? Not since Pink Floyd‘s famed album cover with a cow, a herd looked that psychedelic.
He didn’t have to go back to the 1970s. His inspiration was the ‘work’ of Scottish farmer John Heard (we’re not making this up) who, tired of having his sheep stolen so often, opted for painting them orange, so to be easier to spot. It was an instant knockout and it worked.
There’s some mumbo-jumbo about sheep being shy just like people, or something to that effect, behind the Aussie’s whimsical Dream Series. But the bottom line is that its proceeds will go to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which funds treatment for life-threatening conditions in children, so it’s all good.
Only thing is, parents may not recommend using the series to put kids to snooze. After all, much of what sends the little ones straight to Slumberland is the mesmerizing power sheep have to blend seamlessly into the background. Not with the colors, they will not. In fact it may be all too intense, since, well, you got the idea.
_______
Read Also
* Heard From the Grapevine
* Animal Cues
* Prairie Space