Curtain Raiser

Things We Don’t Understand, Colltalers

The struggle to wrap our minds around multiple, escalating conflicts in the world today can trick us into embracing questionable assumptions, so to cut corners and arrive quickly at a deeply delusional position: that of being the ones dolling out judgement and decisions over the lives of millions.
As unsustainable as such a stand is, is the growing list of things we simply can’t understand. We’re not talking about big themes here, hunger, poverty, even war. Humbly, we’d like to focus today on only three of the many baffling things that we have no grasp of in contemporary America.
We don’t know how can a movement exist for a new armed intervention in Iraq, given not just what’s already happened but what’s actually happening in that scorched region. Second, we have no clue how come polls point to a GOP victory in the November elections, regaining the Senate and keeping the House, when the party’s been in the wrong side of history lately in pretty much every conceivable modern issue.
And, lastly, we confess our ignorance of what made the Obama Administration endorse the use of air guns for seismic exploration of oil and gas in the Atlantic, preparing the way for drilling off the Eastern seaboard, considering the proven damage these blasts cause to marine mammals and, for crying out loud and for the one hundredth million time, our urgent need to stop prospection and use of petroleum-based fuel for energy.
Admittedly, these three, almost randomly selected issues, pale in comparison with what’s going on Gaza, for instance. We’re watching hopelessly killing and destruction verging on genocide, arguably smaller in scale but not unlike what we unfortunately grew used to seeing happening in Africa.
We could be talking about Boko Haram’s relentless campaign of terror in Nigeria and even across the border, specially against women as they’ve just kidnapped the wife of Cameroon’s vice prime minister, which is still horrible but surprising, considering their usual slant towards teenage girls.
Or Ukraine, Russia, Syria, Afghanistan. Never mind war, what about the Ebola outbreak in Serra Leone and surroundings? Under such rationale, whatever our self-delusional fancy strikes, offering our take about every issue known to man, is fair game. But we can’t subscribe to any of that.
Further into this digression, that’s why our choice of themes is as unpredictable as events randomly develop, so not to preach and also to pick our fights as we go. That is, if you can even call it a fight the act of just writing about what goes on around, within the safe confines of one’s secluded cave.
Back to those three puzzles, how can we even discuss another intervention in Iraq, after spending a decade wrecking the country, spilling the blood of over 4,400 Americans, plus hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, besides maiming a combined several hundred thousands, and wasting close to a trillion dollars in costs, by conservative estimates? All to see the ancient conflict between Sunnis and Shiites to be reawaken over and over again.
The invasion of Iraq, based on lies concocted by the Bush administration, its media cronies, and an at least one unquestioning ally, the U.K., was a tragedy not just in terms of human and material costs, but also for squandering the brief world support the U.S. got after the 9/11 attacks, and taking away for good the now discredited perception of us always picking the moral side of human rights and the rule of the law on global issues.
It’s also infuriating when a ghoul such as the previous U.S. vice president, who promoted a criminal, self-serving agenda on behalf of a nation too stunned to act on its own volition, reappears now, unapologetic as ever, craving for the bully pulpit he once occupied with particular cruelty.
Speaking on not being on the human side, how can a number of polls indicate with such conviction that in the midterm elections, the Republican Party is set to regain  Continue reading

Who’s the Ass Now?

But They Blow Up
Donkeys, Don’t They?

When news broke in Gaza that the Israeli army had blown up a donkey, claiming it had been loaded with explosives by Hamas, it’s likely that few thought much of it. After all, way before Jesus got to Jerusalem mounting one, animals have been butchered for the sake of humans.
But for reasons that have little to do with biblical tales, and a lot with the way life cheapens at the sight of a gun barrel, a disturbing poignancy about such a minor casualty refuses to remain unnoticed, at least for those not concerned about their immediate survival.
That’s us, if you wonder. For while some may say that exposure to horror, to too much blood and gory, desensitizes and freezes our empathetic bones, we too refuse to swallow the brutality, however common, if only to vainly assert to ourselves that we haven’t gone completely numb. Not yet, anyway.
Horses, a better regarded member of the family, have had big roles in wars, of course, dutifully used to transport, terrorize, conquer, and run away from whatever human tragic folly is at hand. And so have elephants, camels, dogs, birds, pigs, rats, dolphins, and sea lions. All forced to slave and soldier on even where humans fear to tread. By the way, cats apparently refused to be enlisted.
But jackasses, or mules or burros or jennies or, well, you get the gist, despite their lower ranking, have been used mainly for work, not to be treated as bomb mule, pardon the pun. They have in fact this almost beatific status among impoverished communities around the world, to which they serve and are vital.
Asses are smart too, according to Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Speaking of Known Evils, Colltalers

The two brutal events that have seized worldwide headlines this past week – the newest flareup in the age-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the downing of the Malaysian commercial airline over Ukraine – have visited their victims with the prospect of a lifetime of grief and regret.
To everyone else not directly involved, however, even a qualified analysis of these tragedies can become a minefield of self-important punditry and rancorous radicalism. To navigate such a path with a minimal sense of justice and impartiality is simply no longer an option.
The magnitude of these events have also the ability of covering up, even if only for the duration of a 24h news cycle, all other tragic, ongoing miseries festering around the world, from the street trenches of Aleppo, to raging firefights in Kabul, to the Central American refugee children crisis in the U.S., to widespread hunger, poverty, and environmental woes that won’t fail to exact their grim tolls, just because we aren’t looking.
After all, it is all too human to prioritize our attention, and set sights on a few targets at a time. That doesn’t exempt or redeem anyone from the objectionable crime of dozing off or zooming out of the catastrophes all around us, so to get some sleep, literally or figuratively.
But even invoking the word human seems out of place, when you think about the ferocious shelling of Gaza, incited or provoked as it may have been by the Hamas or the Israeli extreme right, or to count among the victims of Flight MH17, dozens of children and important AIDS activists.
That’s when tragedy crushes our tenuous grip on reality and reaches out to a realm of pure, unjustifiable and hopelessly irredeemable terror, and any attempt to make sense out of ruthless fate or shameless political motivation is not just utterly naive, but also absolutely abhorrent.
We can’t avoid rushing to judgement based on the emotional jolt we all felt upon learning that some 300 travelers may have been blown out of the sky by mistake, at the very least, or because of some downright evil calculation. Nor can we stop ourselves from jumping at possibly the wrong conclusions when picturing people running for shelter in Tel Aviv, or trapped in Gaza, with no way to hide from the raining bombs.
Taken apart, however, these two sources of incredible heartache gracing our thoughts today have little in common, beside their complexity and deep roots. And, obviously, the apparent lack of any short term solution in the horizon, which signals to their long lasting endurance.
To avoid jumping at rushed conclusions about Israel and the Palestinians, one needs to look farther back into the past. It’s hard to pick a breaking point, though, Continue reading

Fallen Boys


Where Children Are
Killed & No One Cares

The original, moving tribute to Ahed Atef Bakr, Zakaria Ahed Bakr, Mohamed Ramez Bakr, and Ismael Mohamed Bakr, ages 8 to 10, killed by Israel’s shells at Gaza, was done by Israeli artist Almir Shiby.
We took the liberty of including the heartbreaking picture of the grief stricken father of one of the boys, taken by Hosam Salem. If nothing is done to stop this carnage, we’re all guilty by association.

Curtain Raiser

Joy & World Woes By the Cup Full, Colltalers

The monthlong 2014 World Cup, which closed in Rio yesterday with Germany’s victory over Argentina, had its fair share of ecstasy, agony, fulfillment and heartbreak. As it goes, it also reflected, with frightening accuracy at times, the troubled and deeply divided world we all live in.
For even before it started on June 12, it’d already collected a number of ominous signs revealing more than its organizers, Fifa and the Brazilian confederation, would like us to see, about brutal realities hidden just behind the exuberance of the game of football in modern times.
Good and bad, the cup will leave lasting impressions, as any event of such magnitude, memories to recollect, lessons we’d better not forget, and an index of sorts for some of the most nefarious and persistent ills of our age.
Displays of racism, homophobia, neo-nazism, evidence of social exclusion in game attendance, ticket fraud, corruption of national confederations, violence in and out of the field, it was all out for anyone to see.
As the host, Brazil led the charge, and last summer, as the warm-up competition Confederations Cup was in progress, Brazilians staged the first massive rallies since the end of the military dictatorship, in the 1980s, in protest against Fifa and the government’s preparations for the cup.
By then, it’d become clear that in the five years since Brazil had been chosen to host both tournaments, huge investments supposed to fund them and flood the economy had already been diverted. On the ground, the only palpable sign of their influx was in the construction or rebuilding of mammoth stadiums, some of them in cities without a team in the Brazilian soccer league, and, it was found later, mainly funded by taxpayer money.
So where was their money? asked thousands of citizens. It’d certainly not gone to Brazil’s decaying infrastructure, hospital facilities, or in the building of much needed schools. Such an explosive realization, which served as the trigger for the rallies that ebbed and flowed up to the World Cup this year, got then a temporarily relief, relatively speaking, as Brazil won the Confederations. Now that it lost the big prize, it’s all up for grabs again.
When a group of German black-faced fans showed up for the game against Ghana, or another one ran into the field with a Nazi SS tattooed on his body, their intentions were clear. And so were chants of ‘monkey, monkey,’ and a homophobic call from Mexican supporters during other games.
Brazil’s social inequality was also exposed during the cup. Critics pointed to high price tickets as one way to keep the poor out of the stadiums, and for the predominance of white Brazilians attending the games, in higher percentages than the social and racial mix of the nation’s demographics.
Such social divide was at display in the ‘silent army‘ of garbage pickers, hired by the organizers to collect and sort the average five ton of garbage generated by every game. As hundreds of thousands of Brazilians already make a living out of ‘mining’ landfills, in a country with few recycling programs, their presence was considered a positive one, even if it doesn’t cover up for the inherent indignity of the have-nots’ lot in life.
Another black eye that may be credited to cup organizers is the alleged elimination of stray dogs from the streets of some host cities in Brazil. Just as it happened in Sochi, Russia, the Humane Society has received reports of the animals being ’rounded up and removed,’ no one knows to where.
But the biggest scandal that broke during the games has been the allegations that a company partner of Fifa, Match Hospitality, was running a giant ticket scalping scheme, worth a few million dollars. Brazilian authorities arrested its CEO, Raymond Whelan, who promptly escaped custody and is now the target of a police manhunt. Despite denials, Fifa is expected to answer to an official investigation into the ring.
Fifa is also involved in two other somewhat revealing matters: the suspension of the Nigerian team from international appearances, until the government reinstates the entire soccer governing staff that it fired for poor performance in Brazil. And a copyright dispute with giant Hispanic broadcast system Univision.
In both instances, lack of sensitivity and the zeal protecting its interests were typical. In the case of Nigeria, despite the expected venal government truculence, it’s hard to find winners in the decision, since the players are the ones ultimately punished by it. As for Univision, well, that’s big enough of a corporation that certainly doesn’t need us to take its side, regardless of who has the most rights over the labor exercised by, again, the players.
It all sounds minor, compared to what Fifa has been accused by community groups, from supporting the displacing of thousands to install its ‘Fan Fests,’ Continue reading

You May Cry Now, Argentina

Germany Beats Messi & Co.,
Takes World Cup #4 to Europe

Mario Goetz came out of the bench to score one of the most beautiful goals of the tournament – and certainly the most meaningful – to give Germany a win over stunned Argentina and its thousands of fans, who simply can’t believe how close they’ve got and still lost it all at the end.
It happened at the 113th minute of July 13th, for those keeping track of that sort of thing, and it did establish the Germans as the best football squad in the world. To Argentina, and Messi in particular, the 28 years wait for a third championship just got extended, and new questions will surely arise about his performance with the Albiceleste.
World Cup 2014 LogoIn a typical final, tense, nervous-wrecking, and unpredictable, Germany prevailed at the precise moment when the Argentines seemed to be getting psychologically ready for a penalty shootout. A number of misses throughout the game did corroborate such assumption, which obviously, proved to be tragically misguided.
For everything they’ve done during this World Cup, and for the extensive, ground-up efforts they’ve invested in soccer at home, the Germans more than deserved to win. Such efforts contrast dramatically with the almost chaotic state of the sport in many South American nations, including Argentina and Brazil.
Just so not to wrapped up this quick review with the mention of the hosts, Germany has won everything they’ve set to win in this cup, not just for the sheer discipline and rigor of their style of playing, but also by the sportsmanship they’ve displayed on the field and outside of it, as witnessed by the local press and through social networks.
They were exceedingly dignified and gentle with those they’ve defeated (everyone on their path, by the way, and you know who you are), and one of the teams that committed the least amount of faults too. So much for nice guys finishing last. Good job, Germany, we all have a lot to learn from you.

Continental Divide

Argentina Faces Germany
For World Cup Supremacy

So it comes down to this: two equally storied world class soccer nations will decided on the field of Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro, which one is the best World Cup team, version 2014. They’ve both been there before and either Argentina will add its third title or Germany its fourth.
No matter how many errors referees have made throughout the tournament, or whether this or that result was or wasn’t fair. As it happens, the competition does tend to pick the best teams, and it’s no coincidence that either one of these two has reached the final.
World Cup 2014 LogoThey’ve also met before, splitting decisions in 1986, when Maradona lifted the trophy, and 1990, when Germany got it back, coached by former champion Beckenbauer. Apart from that, the Albiceleste has a chance to equalize the record between Europe and South America wins, now standing at 10X9.
It’s out of the question to pick a favorite. Germany, with its fluid style and a lethal strike line of Muller, Klose, Kroos and Ozil, may hold the numeric edge. But with the world’s best player Messi in top form and seeking his first championship, all bets are off and Argentina may be the one to come on top.
A word of caution to the 3.5 billion expected to watch the final today: these games are not very entertaining and tend to be a context of wills and skills, with the former often prevailing over the latter. Nervous of steel and the methodical search for the opponent’s weak spot are what usually carry the day.
All one should hope for is a couple of goals right at the start, to set the pace to an urgent, feverish pitch. That should get things going fast and ignite the explosive passions we all have come to expect from football. It’s also what turns it into a beautiful game.
If that happens, it’ll be a fitting tribute to the fallen hosts of the tournament, Brazil, who burned their tickets to the final, but so many times before have gone to faraway lands and conquered somebody else’s castle. Just what Argentina and Germany plan on doing today.