Last Call

When You Eat As if
There’s No Tomorrow

Billions will sleep hungry tonight; many won’t even wake up again. Food waste is rampant globally, and despite a booming ‘dumpster diving’ movement, the brutally unequal distribution of resources seems irreversible. Still, we obsess about death row inmates’ last meals.
It’s fitting, though, as the U.S. leads the world in jail population – although China’s executes the most -, and food and obesity are a national, self-flagellating narrative. Nourishment’s besides the point here; the last supper is arguably a prisoner’s finest hour.
For the record, we didn’t start this fire, er, tradition, which has some noble, some not so much, origins. But we did with that what we do with everything else: we’ve turned into a for-profit, politically charged issue. The piety tinges of its inception are now all but lost, though. And what most of Europe consecrated as a pseudo-humanitarian gesture by the state, warding off the ire of revenants in the process, has become a contentions debate over whether it’s setting the ‘wrong’ example.
Yeah, who wouldn’t commit a gruesome crime and spent years in subhuman conditions, to be finally ‘rewarded’ with a steak and eggs meal? 18th century England had set the puritan tone of the age: the condemned shall have only bread and water until hanged to death.
In 2011, after one Lawrence Russell Brewer didn’t touch his food, Texas, No. 1 in executions and likely the earliest adopter of the last meal custom in the U.S., has graciously abolished it. No such concern for 18 other states, including New York, that don’t have death penalty.
Among so-called Western societies, the U.S. stands alone on the issue, joined only by several African, Asian and, for some types of crime, Latin American nations. Obviously, this sort of stats do not include death by paramilitary groups, secret government squads, or drones.
Still, the following post is neither about the death penalty nor an inmate’s choice of last meal, even if it touches both subjects. Published four years ago, it’s still fresh as everyone’s food should be, and just like it, should be enjoyed a few times a day. Bon Appétit.

Their Last Meal Plus
Your Foods for Survival

Here are two captive groups whose appreciation for food may vary wildly: death row inmates and hostages.
We won’t say that’s the worst of their problems, but in the event you find yourself in either predicament, you may find what you’re about to read useful, perhaps even life saving.
Don’t worry, we’ll be here to collect your gratitude in case you pull through it and live to tell the story.
WHAT’S FOR DINNER?
There are very few certainties, though, once you become a resident of the most heavily guarded antechamber of any U.S. prison. Let’s face it, your chances to walk out are pretty slim. And shopping for food is simply out of the menu.
Luckily, the state provides you with one last wish. What would you have? At that stage, concerns about keeping your ballerina Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Pulling Strings for a Bad Accord, Colltalers

Some 20-plus years ago, the concept of globalization had all the bells and whistles of a new promising era for humankind, one of elimination of political and physical barriers for all nations to congregate and share resources and riches equally.
A flurry of intercontinental trade agreements were soon envisioned, so to guarantee the free flow and access to goods and knowledge, already enjoyed by those living at the center of the developed world, for those living in its outskirts. Or so went the rationale behind these accords. On the surface, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) seems to follow just the same credo.
By now, we all should’ve known better, though. A considerably harsher reality had already settled in, even before the dawn of the new century. Behind such a rosy prospect of a truly global democracy, corporations and governments were busy making sure that their commercial interests would supersede those of developing nations’ regional, ethnic, and cultural needs and differences.
What’s now clear is that much of what globalization’s done is to consolidate an already unbalanced world, where permanently impoverished economies, and their starving masses, enslaved themselves to the benefit of those perennially perched at the top.
There’s no reason to believe that the TPP accord, now being pushed by the Obama administration, will be any different. Red flags went up already about its secrecy, as no full version of the agreement has been officially disclosed so far.
To be sure, the 12 countries engaged on the TPP signature – Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the U.S., and Vietnam – represent a wide swath of diverse interests and social-economic clouts.
But that doesn’t mean that they and their neighbors won’t be affected in unequal ways, which may explain why its architects have kept everyone but a precious few in the dark about its content and implications. Take intellectual property, for instance.
As the always vilified (guess by who) Wikileaks has leaked a draft of provisions on the subject, grassroots organizations are truly alarmed with the prospect of its approval, Continue reading

Run for Cover

Dear Recruiter, in Case You Won’t
Reply, I’m Prepared to Be Ignored

I’m applying for the Jack-of-All-Trades position, as advertised. Please find my resume enclosed. (Apparently you need to be told that it’s attached.) Since you’ve failed to find a fit for this job, and your boss is up your ass about it, consider me your rescue line.
You’ll see than I’m a bargain candidate, whose experience at way more prestigious institutions than yours will have to be checked in at your desk. Such disclosure places me in the insufferable asshole bracket, while also inconveniently aging me above your average employee.
Whoever believes that great advancement and new benefits make men forget old injuries is mistaken,’ wrote Niccolò Machiavelli in The Prince. Even with jobs following on the tail of an economic recovery, those making do without one for a while won’t forget their injuries too soon.
Those hordes are split between those who continue shadowboxing, and those who couldn’t be bothered. Whether redemption is in the works for either of them, they’re passed such concerns, busy sending out resumes, or simply improvising on their way to despair.
It’s not a pretty picture, that of the unemployed, even before he or she’s convinced they’re also unemployable. So it’s downright Machiavellian to put on the spot those whose skills selling themselves are appalling and are even worse at putting it all on writing.
Hence, the feared cover letter, which anyone with a toe in the labor market will tell you, beats building a stellar resume in the difficulty scale. It also heaps undue regard to the corporate recruiter, or a robot acting as such, who’re merely the company’s first line of diversion.

Currently, I’ve been working on a more or less steady but freelance basis for three other organizations, which pay ridiculously low rates and have no intention of hiring me for a full time schedule, despite requiring around the clock on-call availability.
I’ve also been taking classes in subjects completely unrelated to my professional field, as a way of avoiding cobwebs. But that may put me and my florid resume in the toilet, er, category of potentially ‘difficult’ hires, a fact that you’d never ever disclose to me.
It was horrible when JPMorgan, once again, laughed at everyone else’s face, about a letter it’d received from ‘Mark,’ a few years back, asking for a job. As usual, a chorus of the self-entitled Masters of the Universe joined in the collective mockery, as did their media cronies.
I am unequivocally the most unflaggingly hard worker I know, and I love self-improvement. Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Hot Years Are Here to Stay, Colltalers

2014 was Earth’s warmest year since records have been kept. While debate rages over what’s free speech and what’s incitation to racism and xenophobia, here’s one issue whose discussion is beyond words, but what concretely should be done about it.
We’ll get back to the issue of speech later on this post, and probably many times after that, but this fresh piece of staggering news on what was once thought to be a puzzle about global warming has the power to stop all talk on its track, or at the very least, it should.
Still, one wonders how much more evidence is needed to spring governments and corporations into action, after we’ve learned that the 10 warmest years in recorded history have all happened since 1997. As it turns out, that was also the year of the Kyoto Protocol.
Initially adopted by 193 countries (Canada withdrew from it later), it was an agreement to reduce man-made carbon dioxide gas emissions to the atmosphere, a proven factor in rising surface and ocean temperatures, as they trap heat just like a greenhouse does. It was to be implemented by the Doha Amendment, in 2012, but consensus over what to do next all but evaporated.
Some nations dutifully followed through and were assigned targets to reduce their gas emissions, but others, including the U.S., not only did not ratify the Kyoto accord, but also exempted itself from any commitment to be legally bound to reduce emissions.
Such negative leadership did a big disservice to the cause, giving credence to nations around the world, whose heavily carbon and mining-dependent economies can’t afford to transition to cleaner fuel alternatives, specially when the big boys are left off the hook.
In fact, even today, a search through U.S.-based Websites for data on man-made emissions Continue reading

Murder & Unkindness

Nevermore, or When the Corvus
Talked Through Poe & His Poem

Emissaries of rebirth from the great beyond, or omens of bad things to come in ancient traditions, crows have soared over our imaginations for ages. Scientists are baffled by their social skills, cognitive abilities, and use of tools. Old Aesop may have been onto something after all.
As January 19th marks Edgar Allan Poe’s 206th birthday, and The Raven’s first print 170 years ago this month, we review research being done about the black bird that feasts on carrion and whose collective nouns convey the finally of sudden death and the sorrow of lost souls.
Before Claude Lévi-Strauss called the raven a mediator, antiquity took care of inscribing the winged creature into an assortment of narratives and roles, including it in all holy books, from the Talmud to the Bible to the Qur’an, Greek-Roman mythologies and Hindu cosmology.
Old Germanic and English texts also assigned the species a prominent role, and so did Pacific tribes and Native Americans. Which may confer oversized meaning to their annual winter arrival at Waterloo, England, for example, or instances of mass deaths, as it just happened in India.
But before going any further, let’s get the distinction between crows and ravens out of the way. Crows are smaller and live only eight years, to raven’s average 30-year lifespan. Crows, which caw-caw, also live closer to humans; ravens’ croaks are heard mostly in the wild.
A crow’s wing is blunt, and its tail, fan-shaped, while ravens have pointed wings and wedge-shaped tails. All else may not be easily noted because the birds are commonly sighted in parks and cemeteries, where people go to fulfill a function or when they’re, well, dead.

WHO IS BIRD-BRAINED NOW?
We should all be weary of studies comparing the intelligence of radically different species, say primates vs. cetacean, for instance. Mainly because for a long time, we’ve considered cognitive intelligence and social skills to be our monopoly and of a few other animals only.
Also, we still don’t know enough Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

The Casualties of Paris, Colltalers

Some news can’t go unreported. Even for those of us, let’s say, not graced with the audience of millions, but still speaking to many people in all continents, it’s virtually impossible to find a subject other than the one glaring on every world headline.
Which doesn’t make it any easier finding an angle that hasn’t already been so thoroughly dissected to be sucked it out dried of any meaning. Or to avoid falling into the trap of taking sides, for that matter, the ultimate capitulation to the ‘us against them’ quagmire.
Consider the events that unfolded in Paris this past week, with the murder of several cartoonists, a Muslim cop (more on that later), a few hostages, and three of the alleged accused of having invaded the Charlie Hebdo magazine with intent to kill.
The particularly bloody attack left us with a few options: either to dutifully line up what’s known from a distant point, as an unqualified but no less involved bystander, taking the ethical precaution of consulting more than a few sources at every step of the way. Or to go on a diatribe against everything we see that’s so blatantly clear about what’s wrong with the times we live in.
Good luck with either one, you may say. Both ways seem utterly irrelevant: neither one more recapitulation of the events that gripped, or rather, grabbed the world by its throat will shed more light on what’s going on, nor will simply complaining about it.
But the three million who marched across France, in solidarity to those massacred, did have something meaningful to say. And so had the many Muslims, Jewish, Catholics, and members of pretty much all walks of the French society, who condemned the brutal killings, and that now have a gargantuan task of toning down their own indignation with necessary calls for temperance.
To the world at large, which includes the mentioned ‘involved bystanders,’ the battle is equally challenging, as the intelligence agencies, which failed to prevent the attack, now go on the offensive, asking for more security, surveillance, and funds for going after their perceived enemies. Never mind that billions of dollars spent spying on common citizens just proved once again useless.
Fear that, no matter how much money governments spend on gathering information Continue reading

Long Live

For Elvis at 80,
Immortality Hits

Surviving is not that hard; outlasting your own life is. Elvis Aaron Presley would’ve been 80 today but everybody please calm down: we’re not about to add to the cacophony of essays and tributes that soon will surely shower the world. No one needs our spoon in this stew.
His legacy, however, is chockfull of durability and strength. After almost four decades from his Memphis death, and twice as many years since his birth in Tupelo, both in the heart of the segregated south, someone’s bound to add a spicy pinch of race to the mix of his legend.
People will certainly talk Hands Up! The Day Elvis Died by Joining the Army (Mar, 24,1958)about his lifelong habit of dying his blond locks, and how his joining the Army in 1958 all but buried the rebellious image of his most brilliant year, 1956, still one of the greatest explosions of raw talent to ever ignite American music and culture, by any standard.
They’ll compare his instinct to step up at the right crossroads of time in the country, combining his boy-next-door looks with the incendiary fuel of black music, to another master of cross references, born across the pond 68 years ago today too: David Bowie.
Gladys and Vernon, and Priscila, and Lisa Marie, may be mentioned too, possibly even Michael Jackson. The Memphis Mafia, his 1968 Comeback Special, and maybe two fine screen performances, as Pacer Burton, in Flaming Star, and Danny Fisher, in King Creole. Just please not a word about a phony colonel.
They will make valid and absurd points to be corrected by those who were there from the start, while those who came after may wonder what’s with old people and their memory manias. It won’t matter: Elvis will only be 80 today and won’t even care one way or another. But there’s still no expiration date for what he means to the world.
_______
Read Also:
* The Man Behind the King
* A Bow to Bowie
* January 8