After the Flood

Katrina or When Climate Change
Collided Against the Racial Divide

They called for help but it never came. As the nation witnessed entire counties drown on TV, the president refused to cut down his vacations. The storm turned the Big Easy into one of the hardest places on Earth to survive. And a compromised recovery would be short and flawed and unequal.
They promised to rebuild but more than lives, personal belongings, and memorabilia got lost in the flood. Gone was also both New Orleans’ patina of a supposedly racial democracy, and yet another national lame excuse to deny climate change.
As it goes, both were currency during the Bush administration in the immediate post 9/11 era, when his government acquired immense powers to avenge, in a phony cowboy way, the open wounds of American society. Katrina, thus, was far from a ‘natural’ disaster.
The government that sent to the U.N. an honored but misguided black Secretary of State, to justify the Iraq invasion with manufactured evidence, had also promoted an energy policy based on fossil fuels that’s now directly linked to the climate deterioration of the planet.
A policy that, while lining government officials’ pockets, from the VIP down to close allies in the industry and oil-producing countries, has been instrumental for an explosive growth in the destructive power of storms such as Karina, and the wild fires now raging in the West Coast.

Despite our first black president‘s usual brand of shinning rhetoric and optimism about the future, the state of race relations in this (more)
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Curtain Raiser

War Translators’ Risky Lives, Colltalers

As war serves its grievous menu, new heartbreaking news streams never cease to pop up. Although it’s supposed to be waged by the willing and the well trained, we all know who ultimately pays for any military adventure: innocent civilians, reporters, history itself.
Add to this list too interpreters who risk their lives in the front lines. Liaisons for and between combating forces, they’re often killed for either facilitating communication or for helping turning it into a weapon cocked at them. In either case, most die ignored by both sides.
Stories of translators being denied visa to countries for which they’ve served, frequently against their own family and country, abound, and having helped a departing occupying force is a fatal skill, most likely rewarded with death by those who have been fighting them.
But while troops enlisting help of multilingual locals is probably as old as warfare itself, contemporary notions of conflict globalization and the state of permanent war have increased, even if far from overexposing, this reality. Linguistic skills can often get you killed.
Much of the tactics adopted by rogue armies such as ISIL and others owe to annihilation traditions that date back to pre-Common Era, but going after translators perceived as collaborators is akin to the Khmer Rouge’ s 1970s strategy of targeting college-educated civilians.
Behind such barbaric approach to power, of course, is the fear that people with academic credentials, or who speak the ‘language of the enemy,’ somehow also share its values, and are fair game, after serving their purpose. Education is always a foe for warmongers.
We don’t hear much about war translators not just because they’re mostly left behind by the troops they help, or killed after those leave, but also because few are eager to reveal what they did Continue reading

Train of Moths

A Pictorial Travelogue
of a Fatigued Wanderer

Commuting freezes time the same way traveling can extend it. But while the starring at fast moving surroundings can hold the anticipation of wherever one’s about to get to, destination is not really the point of commuting, just getting there and coming back.
So you update your reading, or most likely fall asleep. Traveling short distances repeatedly has a numbing effect on the mind. But whether time’s wasted, or enhanced, commuting may offer you a whole lot of things but won’t give you the option to abbreviate it.
It’s a way of cutting through a million life stories happening outside your window, that you can’t or won’t care to attend, either because most last just a few seconds, or are simply not that interesting. Commuting is a lesson on indifference about the world around us.

Yet, a lot of us spend an obscene amount of time committed to it, squeezed into it, indifferent to it, day in, day out, going back and forth, in a Sisyphean task we come back to repeat as often as required, till that blissful day we’ll simply stop doing it. Oh, what a joy that’ll be.

Being on a set schedule also breeds an odd wish from deep inside that still sleepy mind of yours: that nothing ever happens to it. You’d rather not talk, hate if someone sits close and, knock on wood, dread the possibility a maniac lurks on the loose, or a faulty track lays ahead.

So you move to this secret limbo, the kind that combines the alertness of a ninja with the moroseness of an angry monk, ready to spring into (more)
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Curtain Raiser

A Taste of Latin America, Colltalers

The historic, but decades behind, raising of the American flag in Havana was not the only Latin American news dominating the week. Thousands in the streets of Brazil ​and a U.S. presidential candidate’s absurd musings about Mexico have also shared the headlines.
Not that the world would take more than a second to savor news in español or português, before going back to its steady diet of carnage, hatred, and dispossession we’re all so numb about. But suddenly the ‘other’ Americas jumped to relevance even if for a day.
Cuba has been a 5-decade mistake that even the most humble act of diplomacy would have fixed, and decoupled from the Cold War’s menu of terrors. Instead, successive administrations have promoted to this impossibly attainable apex of ill-intent against the U.S.
But even before the fall of its dangerous backer, the Soviet Union, Cuba had already come into its own precarious way by managing sparse resources, and according to Miami Cubans, oppressive regime into a workable, and surprising effective, semi-socialism.
Never the utopia 1960s idealists would attribute to it, Cuba under Fidel Castro was nevertheless capable of forging a political identity that, unlike most dictatorships, did not completely brain-washed its citizens. While many expected it to export its brand of authoritarian rule to neighbors, it became instead known for offering first-class, highly-trained doctors and healthcare personnel to nations in crisis.
So much for the ‘exporting the revolution’ credo embraced by Che Guevara, which got him killed in the jungles of Bolivia less than a decade from Castro’s 1050 takeover of El Capitolio, Continue reading

The Letter Carrier

Bukowski, the Skid
Row Hero Who Did Try

Charles Bukowski would’ve been 95 today. But it’s doubtful he’d have like it. In fact, the writer who reluctantly embodied the outsider, hardly ever noticed by the literati world, spent his life as if he didn’t give a damn about much. But he actually did.
‘I have met more men in jail with style than men out of jail,’ wrote the on and off postal worker and regular menial job specialist, who had bouts with the FBI and the draft board, and developed a not quite accurate reputation as a drinker.
Heinrich Karl, who was born in Germany and moved to the U.S. in 1923, could’ve fooled anyone as just another destitute drunk, who didn’t belong anywhere or cared about having a career. On the outside, he seemed content with a bottle of cheap wine and a whore or two.
But despite his epitaph – Don’t Try, in a reference to advice he once gave to young writers – and fortunately to us, he did care enough to create a vigorous body of work, existential, visceral and deeply American, just as one of his heroes Henry Miller had done.
50 years ago this Aug. 22, Miller wrote Bukowski, ‘I hope you’re not drinking yourself to death,’ echoing concerns shared by his handful of friends and former lovers. He needn’t to worry that much: Bukowski died of Leukemia in 1994. He’d been sober for several years.

But there’s no misreading about his characters, a sore collection of cynical barflies, dirty hotel room dwellers, despised by anyone who loved them. Consumed by self-loath, they longed for (more)
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Inspecting Gadgets

A Speech Gun, a Phone Tattoo,
the Book Machine & a Laser Ray

Ever want to mute the lout screaming on his cellphone in a crowded train? We can help you. Want to be on call, hate BlueTooth and need your free hands? Let us get back to you. Got fed up with publishers’ rejection to your great American novel? Do we have a machine for you. And if all else fails, and something needs to be done about those killer drones, meet the drone-slaying laser ray.
And you thought that it’d take at least a few years for this kind of news to be reported. But as that sage used to say, the future ain’t what it used to be. These gadgets are hardly breakthroughs and, in a few years, what’s most likely to happen is that you’ll be reading this as if it’d been written circa 1980s, which is when the technology that made them possible was developed.
There’s no way of knowing which of these will find its way into widespread use within a few years, or even whether any of them will even resemble, in appearance and purpose, to what they are now. Inventions have a way to evolve into many different things before (more)
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Curtain Raiser

Fight at the Roof of Earth, Colltalers

There was a collective sigh in Portland, Oregon, a week ago today, when the MSV Fennica crossed St. John’s Bridge. Despite months of skirmishes, environmental activists could not prevent the Royal Dutch Shell’s icebreaker from heading to the Arctic.
Time will tell but the ship’s journey may be the opening salvo of a potentially disastrous era of oil drilling in the North Pole, an effort to which Shell has already spent over $6 billion and several years to make it into reality. Other multinational oil giants may soon follow.
The final straw came last month, when the Obama administration decided to allow the digging in the Chukchi Sea as long as a spill-response equipment is deployed in the area. The Fennica, which was being repaired in Portland, is part of this untested strategy.
To be sure, Shell still has not presented a comprehensive plan, if that’s even possible, for the case of a spill. And its record is far from confidence-boosting as it’s had already a string of relatively minor mishaps drilling in a nearby region.
For environmentalists such as former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, to green light Shell’s plans is nothing less than ‘insane,’ given the Arctic’s harsh conditions and pristine areas. Besides its record, they also point to current melting of ancient North Pole glaciers, due to climate change, and the potential for a drilling race by other oil producers, as reasons to declare the Arctic off limits to oil companies.
Stung by the criticism, President Obama has used public appearances, and even social media, to defend the decision and highlight the restrictions imposed to Shell, including the requirement of having a capping stack, which would minimize damage caused by a well blowout.
In 2010, the cap of a well in a field operated by BP in the Gulf of Mexico blew up, causing the explosion of a rig, 11 deaths, and a record oil spill that still compromises life and the economy of several states in the region. BP’s still fighting a judicial order that condemned it to pay an estimated $20 billion to some of those affected. Massive wild life losses however will never be recovered.
That tragic but preventable accident dwarfed the extension of what was then the largest oil spill in U.S. waters, the 1989 grinding of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker in the Prince William Sound, Alaska. Continue reading