Farewell to a King

Cecil, the Lion, Who Wore
His Mane & GPS With Pride

He couldn’t have cared less how he’d live or die; just did it both the best way he could. The slaughter of Cecil the Lion, an iconic Zimbabwean big cat who’d been studied for most of his 13 short years, continues to generate waves of grief and anger throughout the Web.
His death, however, is more of a despicable routine than a surprising casualty. His killer, a dentist who’s now candidate to world’s worst person according to a dubious online consensus, spent a small fortune for the right to maim first, and then execute, the majestic feline.
Cecil left behind his brother Jericho and the extended pride they both commanded, along with a bloodline which will most likely be exterminated too. He also leaves years of research for the Oxford University team that outfitted him with a GPS collar to track his whereabouts.
It was a brutal death after an equally brutal life, but of the two, the first one could’ve been avoided. Cecil spent his last agonizing 40 hours with an arrow wound, before being found by his heartless hunter and his over-equipped posse, who then proceeded to shoot, skin, and behead him.
But for as much as this was a senseless act, that tears to shreds the arguable view of humans as innately inclined to compassion, as it stands, it’s far from being unique, final, or even solely attributable to the low member of the species who perpetrated it.

After all, our ambiguity towards animal killing is not about to be dissipated by the martyrdom of one lion in the jungles of Africa. Neither a spike in collective adherence to Veganism is about to trend on Twitter; we’ll keep on eating burgers as if they have nothing to do with anything.
In a way, it was also a devilish twist on the David vs Goliath legend: the only way a hunter can win is by deception and Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Twin Scourges Stalk Us, Colltalers

​We’re at the middle point between the anniversaries of two historical milestones: the U.S. horrific atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, and the Russell-Einstein Manifest, ten years later, which decried the scarier world that emerged from its wake.
It was an early warning shot against a pervading fear that would transfix the world for half a century. But as it turned out, it soon found a companion fear, equally threatening to our very existence: the radical climate change that’s wreaking havoc with our ability to survive.
Albeit different in relevance and global impact, the two events being highlighted accurately illustrated both the atomic age’s newly revealed power to destroy mankind with unprecedented expediency, and our own ability of growing a conscience to fight against it.
The destruction of the Japanese cities 70 years ago Aug. 6 and 9, which killed about 240,000 people on impact and from the radiation that followed the bombs, is generally credited with ending WWII and thus preventing more deaths from that conflict.
But it was perhaps the single most tragic incident of instant mass murder ever perpetrated by a state, even if against a nation then bent in supporting Hitler’s cavalcade to world domination. Never before, or since, one country had the ability to deliver sheer destruction to its enemy in such a deranged practical way and with such a potential to cause even greater harm on a global scale.
The Call for Sanity document, drafted 60 years ago last July 9, by Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein, and signed by a roster of scientists and Nobel Prize winners, became an important step stone to mark the global reaction against the escalation of a state of permanent war in the world, signified by the ever increasing, Continue reading

The Far Out Report

For These Gut-Churning News,
Laugh Only When You Breathe

So busy digressing about things too serious to skip, those worries and concerns transfixing our age, we often forget that life finds a way all around, and mostly despite, us. One more disgraceful news and we risk losing the ability of flexing the muscles of our smile.
So let’s pretend summer is really easy, fish are a-jumping, and if not cotton, then someone is high. Anyone would, coming across F.W. Murnau’s head, or a performance corpse, or an one-line obituary. In fact, reality often threatens to drive even comedians out of business.
Heard the one about Zimbabwean money? The currency is so devalued that someone can have, say, Z$35 quadrillion in his or her banking account, and still starve. A hot dog may cost a little beyond that. In the U.S., it does: all this money is worth only one dollar.
What about ‘dick pics?’ Even NSA whistleblower Eduard Snowden was surprised when told that what really scares Americans was not the fear of an all too powerful government, but having their nude pictures watched over by spies, who should be busy with something else, anyway.
But that sort of iconography is indeed dear to our fellow citizens. Take 1934 public enemy No.1, for instance. A photo of a dead John Dillinger may have created the biggest hoax about him: it looks as if he’s having a post-mortis erection right under the blanket.
Unlikely, of course. It was probably a fluke. But does it matter? His notoriety is now forever melded to his supposedly endowment, regardless if it has anything to do with guns or not. Go figure. And don’t forget to check the Skip Showers for Beef‘ campaign. You may thank me later.

On to the main course. For fans of gore (and low-standards real life puns), the theft of F.W. Murnau‘s head is a full dish, to be savored with cheap wordplay and poorly concocted theories. But it really happened: the grave of the Nosferatu‘s director in Berlin has been desecrated.
Worse: news reports about it wound up adding further grievances to his family and fans of one of the greatest masters Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Pluto, Iran & Our Future, Colltalers

More than mere date coincidence, there are a few connections between the New Horizons probe that has just visited Pluto, and the nuclear agreement between Iran and a group of six U.S.-led nations, and that’s is beside the fact that both impressed the world.
The very origin of the space program, the satellite’s use of plutonium as a fuel, the fact that congress has a way of picking budget priorities, concerning NASA and the weapons industry, and a basketful of issues related to world domination all come to mind.
The U.S. space program, regardless its noble intent and benefits to humanity, was born at end of WWII and the dawn of the nuclear age, out of the need to build better weapons. Given the A-Bomb’s breathtakingly tragic ‘success,’ it was soon off to the races.
And a race it became, not at all coincidentally, when the Soviet Union forcibly crashed the nuclear club of one, and began making both rockets and warheads, whose technology also served its own space program. Again, for all Cold War’s nefarious by-products, and the inextricably link between space and the weapons programs, going to orbit was clearly the nobler pursuit by both nations.
Seven decades later, a spacecraft traveling too far from the Sun needs to rely on sources of energy other than solar power. In the case of New Horizons, as in others, that was the radioactive isotope plutonium-238, which is created from uranium-238, and after it decays into neptunium-238. It’s used for thermal power for its relative low cost. But you could’ve read this all on Wikipedia.
Two important things to note, though: first, solar cells technology was developed with the space program, and it’s one of its earliest application for energy, even when other sources are available. Second, you probably noticed how the very name of those nuclear-derived elements are based on the name of planets, right? Enough said.
Completely unlike any weapons program on the Defense Department’s menu, NASA is used to fight tooth and nail to get a decent budget. The New Horizons is called the little spacecraft that could, Continue reading

Gatekeeper of Outerspace

Pluto & the Fading Thrill
of the Great Discoveries

Little engine that could. Ugly duckling. Nine-day wonder. Pictures that the New Horizons satellite took of its arrival at Pluto, after a nine-year trek, have stunned the world by their unexpected beauty, and even jaded space buffs have marveled by what’s been revealed to humanity.
The going has been rough for the heavenly body that sits at the edge of our Solar System. Not long after the probe’s departure from Earth, Pluto had already lost its planetary status and been downgraded to a dwarf planet. Other indignities could have followed it as well.
But the striking images still arriving from Pluto may change all that, at least in part, igniting a new found curiosity about the universe in the process. The last time that happened was arguably when the Pioneer twins brought us closer to the wondrous realm of Saturn and its ring system, in the 1970s.
Still, whether newly acquired knowledge radically speeds up our current understanding, Pluto’s planetary arch, from Mythology to joining the brotherhood of the Solar System, and then falling precipitously from grace, is already a rare and impressive saga.
Pluto was eagerly anticipated to be discovered since Antiquity, way before Clyde Tombaugh spotted it in 1930. Venetia Burney, 11 at the time, suggested its name, ‘because it hadn’t been used,’ as if unaware of the Greeks, who called it the God of the Underworld.
Known as the ninth planet orbiting the Sun for 76 years, Pluto‘s ride as such came to a crashing halt when the International Astronomical Union redefined the concept of what it means to be a planet. Despite heated arguments, Pluto failed to pass the new classification.
As for Tombaugh, who died in 1997, one may say that he was spared the embarrassment of seeing Pluto’s status demotion, but is somewhat sharing the glory of its resurgence to the eyes of the world: his ashes are entombed on the New Horizon capsule.
In Brazil, there used to live a German astrologer who believed that every time a planet would be in evidence, Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Brazil’s Torn by Lynchings, Colltalers

Aside clichés that Brazilians tolerate about themselves – nation of Carnival and football; racial democracy; their supposedly natural indolence and blissful disposition -, there are others that they not just wholeheartedly despise but are also stung by.
The overwhelmingly reality of past decades, however, is that Brazil’s one of the world’s most violent places, and even to the few hardened but pragmatic of its citizens, the rise in public lynchings as a form of popular justice is an absolutely abjection.
The mounting evidence was only enhanced last week when no less than four mob lynchings were reported all over Brazil, most of them resulting in the horrible death of the accused, who was given no chance or right to a fair trial.
The trend has been heatedly argued on Brazil’s press and social media, and a tabloid has published a remarkable cover, displaying side by side the depiction of a black slave’s flogging and the lifeless body of Cleidenilson Pereira da Silva, who was killed by a mob, both tied up to poles and surrounded by a crowd. The staggering fact is that 200 years separate both ‘sentences.’
That was the rhetoric but pertinent point of the Extra story: in over two centuries, ‘have we evolved or regressed?’ And just as on cue, another brutal lynching followed, whose perpetrators will likely remain unaccounted for, just like the ones preceding it.
Even more disturbing, this cycle of vigilantism and impunity, of ‘taking matters into one’s own hands,’ regardless the corollary of likely social causes and context, has a vocal and organized support system, both on social media as in the echelons of power.
In fact, many a politician and religious leader, popular talk show host and ‘expert’ on the press has openly supported the ‘right’ of citizens to act as their own police, when the police itself is too afraid, or corrupted, to act on their behalf. Of course, for such a rationale, whether the accused is guilty or innocent is besides the point. What counts is the brutality of the gesture.
Thus, there have been documented instances when the accused was indeed innocent, which did not prevent them Continue reading

Frozen in Time

A Year Since Its Biggest Lost,
Brazil’s Football Remains Stunted

It wasn’t supposed to be that way. After being thoroughly thrashed by the Germans, at the World Cup held at its home, the Brazilian national team was expected to be, at this time of the year, in full recovery mode, with a few new conquests to boot.
Nothing of sorts has happened. And judging by the once again totally undignified way it got kicked out of the recent Copa America, the beatings will continue until someone can no longer say, ‘Brazil’s the nation of football,’ without sounding deranged.
There’s a growing sense that neither we’ll have the will to fix the very structure of the sport, so it can provide the support and background to nurture a new generation of outstanding players, nor the talent needed to win another World Cup has even been born yet.
Also, there are very few voices still interested in discussing what actually happened on that saddest of all Tuesdays, a year ago today, in Belo Horizonte. Even the Brazilian press has hardly focused on its causes and possible solutions so that could never happen again.
A year ago, we managed to line up a few of just such conditions, lacking or needed, so the future would be rewritten. But there was already the sinking feeling that, despite all the pain and the crying Brazilians on the Internet, that too would be forgotten.
So we’re republishing the post, hoping it makes a bit more sense today. It may be a tad too heavy on the Seleção Brasileira and its woes, and not as fair as it should to the German squad that beat it. But it’s still on the money, as far as we could see then.
Once again, I’m still very sorry, Brazil.

National Tragedy

Germany Humiliates
Brazil at Home: 7X1

To say that this was a loss would be an insult to all teams that have lost during this and previous World Cups, despite fighting their hearts out and carrying their nations’ hopes. To say that it was about Brazil is also unfair to the great German squad. It was their win to celebrate.
But what did happen on this sad afternoon in Brazil was that reality has finally caught up with the Seleção Brasileira. Not just for what it’s shown during the tournament but for past decades of completely lack of preparation from the ground up, to protect its soccer traditions.
World Cup 2014 LogoFor since it has won the World Cup only 12 years ago, not a single Brazilian club has climbed the rankings among the world’s best, despite a few wins in the Intercontinental Cup, and the state of organized sports in Brazil has only got even more appalling, from the foundations of its business model to the very own field of games.
In fact, to watch a regular Brazilian league soccer game has become one of the most unpleasant and dangerous experiences for the fans, as well as a pathetic display of incivility, with so many illegal tackles and ugly bumps, to disgust even the most fervent supporter. And the state of the stadiums only enhances such perception.
So guess what team had the record number of faults in the World Cup? Even though it isn’t alone in allowing its players to fake injury to gain benefits from the referee, Brazil has been a shameful adept of the brutality on the field, and arguably the serious injury Neymar suffered was an involuntary payback by the Colombians.
The league is also one of the unfairest, forcing well supported teams to compete, and play, in under par fields all over the enormous country, for great part of the year. Many a time, a club simply refuses to be downgraded to a lower division, using political influence and the courts in lieu of the lack of quality of its soccer.

Brazilian clubs also fester with mismanagement, corruption, traffic of influence, and behind-the-scenes deals with empresarios, who treat promising players like commodities and reap considerable, and mostly unreported, wealth out of trading them to foreign leagues.
Finally, for a sport that mobilizes obscene amounts of money, club management in Brazil is mostly a cash and carry structure, with no accountability even as it’s supported by taxpayer money. Fans have little saying on the financial decisions of the clubs they support.
So, no wonder that when Brazil was chosen to host the World Cup, the first thing that was done by the Brazilian federation, CBF, was to map where the games would be played, not on the basis of infrastructure or tradition, but according to political favors owned and paid back to local bosses.
No wonder either that some of these extra multimillion dollar stadiums (at least three) that were built for the competition went over budget and will probably slowly decay as they were erected in cities without a single team competing in the country’s main soccer league. Most blatant example: Brasilia, site of the government.

Still, for a while, the Seleção has managed to support the archaic idea that Brazil still plays the best soccer in the world, an idea easy to market, and custom made for Fifa to promote, and profit, from the sport. While most Brazilian clubs wilted under continental and global tournaments, the national team kept scoring.
Last year’s Confederation Cup, a shorter tournament which Brazil won with honors, showed that at times such disconnect between the national squad and the quality level of soccer played within the country is not always as flagrant. It was foolish, however, to believe that the miracle would keep happening over and over again.
And no wonder too that the biggest and most massive rallies since the final days of the military dictatorship irrupted in Brazil’s major cities, driven by the sinking feeling that all the wealth the cup would eventually bring to the country was not about to find its way to its lower classes, or even stay within its borders.
Even though to rally against the World Cup, once it’d been established that it’d take place in Brazil, was misguided, Brazilians on the streets were absolutely right: the great majority was going to be left out of the great party as research has showed that some 60% of the average stadium attendance is white and middle class.

That conflicts with racial percentages of the general population, reflecting also the under-representation of blacks within the top circles of power and political elites of Brazil. The straight reason was, they simply couldn’t afford the price of the tickets.
So, what was defeated today at Mineirão stadium, we surely hope, was not an idea of how soccer should be played – for Brazil hasn’t really been close at proposing one at this time around anyway – but the business of ‘futebol brasileiro’ that has got to change, if we have any hope for such disaster not to be repeated.
You may hear talk about lack of endeavor, exertion, faith from the part of the Brazilian players, and how they ‘didn’t show heart’ on the field. Don’t believe it. Even if some of them weren’t as intensely religious as they are, they gave it as good as they possibly could. Beware of anyone who says otherwise, for they may have ulterior motives.
On the strict account of what went on the field, Brazil was totally outplayed by a superior team that has managed to inflict the worst defeat in its history, even if doesn’t go on to win a fourth World Cup (it did). It’s also poised to seriously challenged other records, even if it won’t break the World Cup one just yet.

This will hurt Brazilian national pride perhaps, and unfortunately, even more than its slums, the poverty of its shantytowns, the indifference of the wealthy and the politically connected, all on plain display for the world to see during the tournament. Maybe now more people will care.
A defeat of such a magnitude will also affect the way poor children see the game as a ticket out of the social miseries, as some of them were out on the field today, wearing the famed yellow jerseys and being thoroughly humiliated in front of billions. At the very least, it’ll give the country pause to think why the World Cup is so important like that?
It may force us, those millions around the world who have been parading the past glories of this team as a tattoo of our own personal achievements, to consider giving it a rest, since this day too shall pass. But in the meantime, it has given the rest of us an excuse, an urge, a compulsion even: to find quickly a place to hide.
We’re really sorry, Brazil.