Tips

Extra Gulp

Counter to Anti-Obesity Efforts,
New Cup Tops Stomach Capacity

As the damaging effects of overeating and excessive calorie intake become a well established scientific fact, it’s always reassuring to see corporations big and small getting behind healthy nationwide initiatives to address the problem.
Not Starbucks, though. Once identified with Seattle’s grunge culture, alongside Nirvana and those infamous plaid flannel shirts, the company has a new entry in the debate over obesity in the U.S.: Trenta, a super-sized beverage cup with a whooping 31 ounces (916ml) capacity.
Starbucks’s apparently very thirsty consumer base in 14 states across the south will be the first to be able to order sweet drinks in a cup that beats the average capacity of the human stomach, as the diagram shows. It’ll be ready to burst the essential organ of all other state residents in May.
The cup joins a long tradition of corporate insensibility about their products’ adverse effects on customers. Eating and drinking beyond the body’s needs has already brought us the super whooper and the “grande” size of fries. And you thought the world would be safer without cigarettes.
But despite the popularity of TV shows about sorry fellow citizens who can’t avoid that fourth pint of ice cream before noon, and the efforts by the First Lady and notable chefs and talk show hosts to have us give the issue at least a thought or two, before chowing down another cookie, we’re not quite there yet.
It may be because Starbucks seems to be thinking that we’re all, apparently, very thirsty too. Though the cup is designed to deliver iced drinks, which means that you may not be getting its full capacity (or be in any immediate danger of bursting your digestive system), we eat and drink with our eyes, too.
Thus we don’t mind waiting on line to get the biggest possible cup of coffee, one that feels as heavy as a small animal. The weight reference is useful when you’re, for example, in a dark movie theater and can’t really admire how big it is. By the way, would it fit in those round slots for drinks on your seat?
Now, why would you miss any of the endless “coming attractions” to admire the size of your drink cup in the dark is something that may verge on some pathology. As it is our unfounded belief that what’s bigger is better. Apparently, it’s all connected. By the way, would you like a side of fries with that?

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Circus Fired

China Bans Acts
With Wild Animals

Perhaps the announcement was made to coincide with Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to the U.S. Knowing the topic of human rights violations by his country would be on the table, for example, it wouldn’t be too farfetched to imagine some political wrangling over how to divert the pressure, at least for now.
But be it as it may, the recent ban on circuses’ use of wild animals by the Chinese government does represent a step closer to a new attitude in our relationship with wild animals. In fact there’s a growing movement advocating an end for all instances of captivity of great beasts, regardless if it’s for educational or entertainment purposes.
China’s ban on all wild animal shows in some 300 state-owned zoos and countless live acts, which attract millions of visitors every year, can not be taken lightly. Huge economic and political interests had to be trampled in order to enforce rules that lack any apparent beneficiaries among scores of local politicians and entrepreneurs used to leverage support to the regime in exchange for special favors and business opportunities.
However, the industry as a whole had become a sore point of contention between the government and worldwide activists, with an overwhelming record of terrible abuses against the animal performers. The ban also includes the sale of parts in zoo shops and dishes made out of rare animals served at their restaurants.
The practice of pulling the teeth of baby tigers so that tourists can hold them is no longer legal and neither is the popular sale of live chickens, goats, cows and even horses to visitors with the sole purpose of having them publicly being torn apart by big cats.
So, whether China had ulterior motives to make such a decision, or it was moved out of genuine concern about the welfare of the great beasts, most of them also considered endangered species, it’s irrelevant. The ban on such grotesque performances should set a global standard for all zoos or organizations handling wild animals.
And since we’re talking about goodwill, Mr. Hu, following such an admirable and forward-thinking gesture toward wild animals, what about setting similar high standards for China’s human rights record?

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The Breast Cheddar

Would You Like Some Organic Donkey
Milk With That Slice of Human Cheese?

You’ve read about the importance of breastfeeding your baby, as most mammals already do it in nature. You’ve learned about indigenous peoples who breastfeed not just their own infants but small animals too. As you grow up, you’re told that organic donkey milk may be even better than your own as a staple of a healthy diet.
So you’re convinced that you’re hip to all the latest food biotechnology trends, and food sustainability strategies, and the need to support small, local producers instead of being co-opted by the currently available corporate-geared multimillion-dollar unhealthy system of food distribution and consumption.
All nice and dandy until someone asks you whether you’d eat human-milk produced cheese. That’s when long-held assumptions of what’s taboo and what’s acceptable fall into pieces and you’re left to wonder when did talking about food stopped being nice and pleasant and safe.
But it’s here and it’s virtually impossible to ignore: non-conventional ways of producing and consuming the staples of our dietary needs are crossing the human component threshold faster than you can say “Cheese.” And milk, that most basic of such dietary staples, is leading the charge.
But hold your horses, er, cows. It’s not that there’s some authoritarian mandate to start consuming only foods produced out of the human body alone. Not yet, anyway. So, relax, even if you may want to keep your dinner a while longer in the warmer, so you can fully digest first what’s going on at the frontiers of organic and alternative ways of food production.
Talking about the above mentioned food production, what it’s startling to realize is how divorced we all are from the way food is prepared and how far it travels to reach our table. Above all, how little we know about what goes on with the process itself and what goes in what we eat. No wonder we get so unsettled talking about one the cleanest and healthiest products of the human body, milk.
If some of us think it all sounds utterly gross, that’s in part because we really have no idea dairy products and meat and poultry and even fish and most vegetables are all prepared across this great expansion of land of ours. Most of us wouldn’t even last a single tour of a Department of Agriculture-certified food plant, entrusted to make food to feed our children. It’d be the equivalent of putting your finger into your own throat and gag.
But let’s go back to organic donkey milk, for a minute. Today you’ll be hard-pressed sourcing it, even with all research proving that it’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and it has less fat and more protein than cow’s milk. It was in fact widely available until the end of the 19th century, though. But as we said, good luck finding the unpasteurized type, which is the most recommended.
Human milk and cheese are even harder to find, a reason why some of you are throwing your arms up and saying, thank goodness. But if there’s no authoritarian mandate, and it really shouldn’t ever be, forcing you to drink human or organic milk or else, one thing is for sure: you’re no longer the hipster you once thought you were when it comes to organic food. Yup, you lost that badge, buster, which doesn’t mean we’re telling your friends in Brooklyn about it just yet.
But we do need to talk about what we eat and how, as resources dwindle and ethical implications about the quality and food production in this country multiply and affect millions of lives. It’s no wonder we’re known around the world for both the ingenuity of our food industry and its unconscionable wasteful ways of going about it. If we’re aiming for any meaningful changes in our diet, we must keep an open mind.
Even if, in order to achieve that, we may need to educate ourselves and reevaluate why we eat what we eat and how can we set a better, healthier example. And for that, we may as well start with cheddar, even though we’re very sorry if we spoiled your appetite for good.

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Their Very Breast

Brazilian Indians Share Milk
With Their Babies & Animals

For centuries, babies have been breast fed by their mammal mothers as a normal part of their upbringing, and that includes both humans and animals. It’s considered the best food an infant can have and most scientific studies have confirmed the fact.
Except when they don’t, as was the case of the online version of the British Medical Journal, which questioned last week the benefits of the practice on a recent study. Or when, openly or not, the baby food industry sponsors research in support of the use of, ahem, baby formula products.
But unless there’s disease involved, such claims are generally bogus and in nature, no animal hesitates to breastfeed her babies before they’re ready to switch to their species’ adult diet. Also in nature, many primitive tribes don’t discriminate between their own babies and small animals as well.
That’s the case of the endangered Awá-Guajá, probably the last nomad tribe living in Brazil’s Amazon indigenous reserves. A mostly matriarchal society, women seem to be the dominant gender within their society. Most of them have at least two men as consorts.
Perhaps in consequence of that, the Awá-Guajá have a deep connection with the animals of the region. They usually kill and eat their mothers but raise the cubs for life, as they are thought to believe that they owe their care for taking their parents’ lives.
Since being first contacted by Brazilian sertanistas, mostly laymen who explored the Amazon and established the first relations with indigenous people of the forest, the Awá-Guajá have nearly been exterminated by diseases brought about by such contacts.
Anthropologists estimate that there’re now only under 400 left, including whole groups that have remain hidden and avoid contact with Brazilians. Another hazard they survived was the nearby Carajás gold pit, which until closed for good in the 1980s, polluted the waterways of the region and caused the death of thousand of workers by heavy metal poisoning and unsanitary conditions they faced.
The gold that many of them gave their lives to find wound up enriching landowners, government officials and entrepreneurs, most of them who never set foot in the area. The Awá-Guajá are still at risk from poachers, miners, loggers and cattle ranchers who have access to their territories and are ransacking parts of their reserve.
If they disappear, another example of extreme communion with the natural world by humans will be also lost. For there’re several examples of women breastfeeding animals around the globe, either out of circumstantial need or simply for entertainment purposes.
But none equals to the institutionalized habit adopted by the Awá-Guajá and their ancestors thousands of years ago. As they remain locked in the Stone Age, vulnerable to the mores of our powerful and destructive society, so are their habit of treating animals as one of their own.
It’s a small consolation, thus, that with them, there’ll never be the risk of baby formula even be considered as a replacement for the milk and love they share with their infants and all small creatures that live around them.

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Strange Love

Help! My Left Hand
Is Trying to Choke Me

If you think that the man who mistook his wife for a hat was out of his mind, we got news for you. Since 1908, scientists have recorded cases of people whose one of their hands acts as if it has a mind of its own.
Take a 67-year-old man whose identity shall remain unknown, who was reported having a very special left hand that would do whatever it pleased, and often “crept and crawled” to its own amusement.
As a 1997 medical journal article reports, one night the man awoke grasping for air and had to forcefully grab his own hand from his collar, for its was trying to throttle him.
As it goes, way before Dr. Oliver Sachs became known for studying strange behaviors of the human mind, some of them documented in the book about the man and his hat, or rather, his wife, Stanley Kubrick was on to something.
Neurologists nicknamed what’s known as the alien hand disorder, the “Dr. Strangelove syndrome,” after the unforgettable title character portrayed by Peter Sellers in Kubrick’s 1964 film. The character, loosely based on Eric van Stroheim’s role as a German officer in Jean Renoir’s 1937 “Grand Illusion,” was later memorably spoofed by Kenneth Mars in Mel Brooks’s 1974 “Young Frankenstein.”
Such storied fictional role, however rich of meaning in the creation of the three genius of the cinema, has nothing on the real thing, an affliction that results when the ability of the brain’s two hemispheres to communicate is impaired either by mishaps during surgery or strokes.
Usually, it’s the left hand that is thought to be “alien,” because that’s the one controlled by the right hemisphere; the left hemisphere has no control over that hand, but it does control language, which gives the person the words to think, “What is happening to my left hand?”
Documented cases range from the embarrassing, such as the habit of grabbing anything placed in front of you, just like a baby would, to the plain vexing, as in the urge to masturbate anywhere, anytime. We’ll let that one go by without comment. Since there’s no cure for the syndrome, many people cope with it as if it were a disruptive child, perhaps taking their cue from the baby example.
By the way, it’s always an alien hand, never an alien leg or foot. As neuroscientists explain, the brain has more bilateral control over the legs than it does the arms and, if we’re not, say, a soccer star, we usually don’t do a lot with our feet.
Another reported case was about a man who had to referee over a fight between his hands in an apparent fashion dispute over what color of shoes he should wear. Now, if you can picture that scene with a straight face, believe us, friend, the two hemispheres of your brain are communicating just fine, and you’re good to go.

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Wikipedia 10 Years

Growing Pains & Landmark
Date for Free Web Encyclopedia

Once upon a time, people dreamed of having all mankind’s knowledge within their fingertips’ reach. Once that dream became reality, a few information nightmares spoiled its credibility. Now on its second decade, the project has weeded out some bad entries from its massive database and seeks to enroll the help of enlightened minds to help build its future.
Today Wikipedia reaches its 10th year anniversary, and the milestone is hailed as much for its drive toward relevance as for its resilient vulnerability. And its founders hope to add more contributors, data and languages to fulfill its stated aim of becoming the “people’s encyclopedia.”
It’s still far from such lofty goal. To starters, co-founders Jimmy Wales and Sue Gardner are the first to admit that, in its current state, Wikipedia is “missing some people from the table,” in a reference to their analogy of the site being a banquet where guests bring their own food to share.
A few years ago, the comedian Stephen Colbert staged a takeover of sorts of the site, instructing his fans to write what amounted to a great deal of bad information, in an effort to achieve what he then called “truthfulness.” It was all a joke, of course, but the sudden addition of thousands of entries threatened the site’s integrity and effectively proved the need for some kind of gate keeping strategy, to preserve its reliability.
Despite all that, the founders remain admirably Quixotic in their refusal to switch to a for-profit model or to “monetize” in any way its database. “We’re not going to be Facebook. We’re not going to be Myspace or YouTube. We’re an encyclopedia. We’re text and images,” Wales says.
On a related aside, it’s been a while since the name of science fiction author Douglas Adams is mentioned in the same sentence as Wikipedia. But in the early 1980s, the author of the “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” book series wrote extensively about the possibility of making all information concerning our civilization available to anyone at anytime. The Internet was still some months away from becoming itself as widespread and available as it is now.
Coincidentally, Adams died of a heart attack the same year Wikipedia was launched, but it’s very likely he didn’t know anything about it then. He’d already achieved his due share of fame and success for his books and his famous wit, but was also quite busy dealing with his progressively bad health.
Hundreds of events will mark Wikipedia’s anniversary around the world, and in New York City, the Tisch School of the Arts is holding a celebration and mini-conference today. The date has also a bittersweet taste for those of us who still use Wikipedia only as a second reference.
But not unlike the democratic spirit of accessibility it emulates, the site is a work in progress that may some day fulfill its full educational potential. When that happens, mankind’s knowledge and achievements may be indeed within reach of everyone’s fingertips, rich or poor, English or Zulu speaking, at absolutely no charge. And your name may be part of its database.

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Five Fine Stamps

Postal Service Pays Homage
to Latin American Music Titans

To label as “Latin” the music made by Latin American artists is nothing short than an empty generalization. But as the U.S. Postal Service stamp collection of five such legends shows, it’s clear that the endurance of their work went way beyond the limitations of the label and turned irrelevant even the Spanish and Portuguese languages through which they mostly expressed themselves.
Thus if Carlos Gardel is perhaps the most important Argentine musician of all times, and Celia Cruz the most famous of Cuban performers, “Brazilian bombshell” Carmen Miranda was actually born in Portugal, Tito Puente was a New Yorker and Selena was from Texas.
None of these diminishes their importance and global impact, of course. But the point is that there’s very little in common among them, apart from artistic excellence, and that takes precedence over their place of birth.
At the end of the day, to call them Latin American artists is akin to call The Beatles an English group, or Carlos Santana a Mexican-American guitar virtuoso.
Tango is Argentina’s biggest contribution to the world’s music and Charles Romuald Gardes its most important voice almost 70 years after the plane crash that claimed his life. Tito Puente’s mix of Latin and Caribbean percussive music proved vital to both Manhattan dance halls of the 1940s and to then still new recording industry.
Celia Cruz, already well known in the Cuba of Fulgencio Batista, made the crossover to a global performer aboard a muscular style of dance music aided by a high personal magnetism. Carmen Miranda’s greatest achievement, on the other hand, was to turn elements of the emerging Afro-Brazilian culture into an instantly recognizable iconography.
Of them all, the only one who didn’t have time enough to fulfill her potential was Selena. Her 1995 murder by a jealous manager all but interrupted a process that could have turned the insular Tejano music into a multinational mania. Her youthful charisma and drive had all the elements to fuel the rise of a truly star but it wasn’t to be.
The U.S. stamps, to be issued in March, were designed by San Diego-based Rafael López, but Brazil had already issued a Carmen Miranda’s birth centennial stamp in 2009, designed by José Luiz Benicio da Fonseca.
Not to delve too much into, ahem, the issue, we can always think about who’d grace our increasingly rarer personal letters. Or perhaps, one would be almost afraid of suggesting, the U.S. Postal Office is already imagining new ways to ensure the use of postage will remain relevant in this age of emails and instant messaging.
There, we said it. You may bill us later but we may not be too far from being charged for sending electronic messages. Bill Gates would be a natural candidate for the new series. Actually, what about charging him, the dude from Facebook and the geniuses at Google, for example, for the price of each electronic postage we’d be forced to use on emails?
You know, the proceedings could all be for charity, or something. Too far out? We thought so.

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Horny Elders

Chinese Grow Horns
But the World Ignores

Some say it was bound to happen. What, with its 20% of the world’s population, statistically it shouldn’t come to no one’s surprise that some things happen only in China. And New York, of course. But it’s not everyday you see someone spotting a hefty horn say, on 5th Avenue.
Well, in China, no one knows why, it turns out that there are several people growing horns. Some on their foreheads, some in the back of their heads, some just somewhere on the top. One thing they all share: they’re all over 80 years old. What does that prove we have no idea.
Take Huang Yuanfan, 84, of Ziyuan, for example. In the past two years, a small bump on the back of his head has turned into a horn that’s nearly 3 inches long. “I try to hide it beneath a hat, but if it gets much longer it will be sticking out the top,” he says with a wink.
Or Zhang Ruifang, a 101-year-old who already has a 2 1/2 horn and now has a second one emerging from her head, and who’s refused all offers to remove them. She’s just another one in a long list of elderly Chinese with horns, none of them professing any inkling toward Satanism.
Which is kind of a waste, really. How many New Yorkers you know of that would simply die to have one of those to go along with, perhaps, a vampire-inspired dental work, and some mumble-jumble literature to boot? Alas, you can’t always get, etc.
So even if you wonder if it’s their diet, or there’s something in the water, you’ll first need to grow to a certain age, to match one of the conditions to grow horns. It may not hurt also if you learn Chinese, which would probably set you back about 10 years or so. And that’s pretty much it.
No amount of literature will get you there. Neither a certain nonchalance towards life, a je ne sais quois attitude, infused with a devil may care look they all seem to sport, specially when answering questions from clueless hornless people like us. Oh, and you may want to lose the undead look too; not sure you know, but it’s a completely different tradition.

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January 8

Today Belongs
to Elvis & Bowie

Perhaps it’s a good thing that it’s been a while since we last heard about Elvis Presley filling up at some Midwest gas station. But if visitation to his grave at Graceland, in Memphis, hasn’t noticeably increased, he’s still one of the best selling artists of all time, even 33 years after his death.
Elvis would be 76 today and many New York City restaurants will be serving some of the junk food staples associated with his unhealthy appetite. But apart from the now classic Fried Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich, we’re not sure even him would dare to touch some of the fancy offerings. But you’re no Elvis, so you can go ahead and try them.
On the other hand, David Bowie, whose New York apartment sits atop a branch of the Public Library, hasn’t been seen in the city for a long while. Accordingly, his official Web site lists some of the celebrations of his 64th birthday around the world but none in the city.
He once visited the branch with his son, we’re told, but the library has no event scheduled to mark the date. Word has it that he and wife Iman went to Bermuda, to escape the snow and the still uncollected garbage laying on the city streets. After all, he’s David Bowie and you are not.
Neither will you read here an overarching analysis connecting their artistic legacies. Apart their day of birthday, they hardly share any common denominators, and their oeuvres remain as diverse as Tupelo, Mississippi, is from Brixton, South London, in England.
But their music remains powerful and vital and, if for nothing else, today’s a good excuse to play some of it. Actually, back to back, it’ll be enough to fill way more than a single day of uninterrupted playing. May we suggest starting with “That’s All Right, Mama” and “Changes?”

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Freud Bacon

Bacon’s Rare Portrait of Lucien

Freud May Top Art Market Sales

For art lovers and wealthy buyers the world over, the Sotheby’s latest offering, a Francis Bacon‘s portrait of his friend, the also painter Lucien Freud, has all the right reasons for celebration. After all, the small triptych “Three Studies for a Portrait of Lucian Freud,” has been kept hidden from prying eyes for 45 years. Also, it has the potential to be sold at a record price, according to connoisseurs, some $18 million and change. It’s definitely worthy, if you navigate in that kind of cash.
Irish-born Bacon, whose history’s namesake was also an important character of the British Empire during the Enlightenment Era, became friends with the grandson of the famous Sigmund during the 1940s, the heyday of psychoanalysis and a time when artists freely explored the unconscious and dreamy, hallucinatory states as inspiration for their works. Of course, they wound up viciously fighting with each other after a few decades, but their works endure.
For art lovers though not the wealthy kind, there’s something about this news that’s bound to irritate the hell of everybody. Because, unless the new buyer, and it’s almost sure there will be one, decides to generously lend Bacon’s work to some museum, so people can see it, it’ll be returned to the private viewing pleasure of a precious few. And that, in a nutshell, mirrors the state of the current contemporary art market: expensive, exclusive and, did we say, expensive?
When they hold the close-door auction next month, we’ll be the ones with the faces glued to Sotheby’s windows, trying to have a peek at such a treasury of our world we’re not invited to partake. You may argue it’s been like that since thousands of years before the Enlightenment. Works of art were always exclusivity of royalty, aristocracy, clergy, churches, the kind of places one would need to offer something valuable in exchange for being admitted to.
The Nazis openly looted everywhere they went after such works, even if they had to send the entire family who owned them to the gas chambers in order to get them. Or rather, first they’d send people to their death and then would take their property. It’s a common story and quite boring, we know.
At least, now we have the Internet. You still can’t touch anything, as they always used to tell you at the toy store, but you can still glue your face to the windows and look from outside in. Matter of fact, you may want to get in line earlier and charge your seat for your fellow art lovers. It’ll probably be too cold to stay out too long anyway, and you need to get home to get some sleep. You know, someone has to go out tomorrow and earn it and bring it back for the little ones. Except that in your house, no one will tell them they can’t touch the bacon.

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Fall From Heaven

What Is Killing the
Birds of Arkansas?

1,000 and counting. That’s how many dead birds were found in Beebe, Arkansas, over the weekend within a small area. Almost as if they were all hit at the same time by the same catastrophic event, which is freakier to imagine than even the theories presented so far to explain it.
Lightning? High-altitude hail? New Year fireworks celebrations? Please. The last time birds fell out of the sky like that, a few years back, it had something to do with the West Nile virus and some did people die too. So let’s not talk about hot air here just yet.
No need to run for cover either. Specimens have been collected, tests are being performed, Beebe has no known previous history of weird Apocalypse cults killing birds in midnight rituals.
But there’s something deeply unsettling about a winged creature fall to earth, injured, lifeless, almost an insult to the dream of flying that’s denied to humans, so they can soar and touch the sky.
But apart from that, it’s possible that not many people will ever care about all that.

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Design for Living

Doomsday Survival Pods
to Shelter Small Families

In the New Year, we’re not touching any doomsday theory, either with a 111-foot pole (till May 11, 2011) or longer to fit the Mayan calendar, nor anything before, between or beyond that. But we’ll reserve the privilege to take notice of the people that would go to great lengths to prepare to such an event, if it ever happens.

Take Evgeny Ubiyko, for example. A self-appointed Russian genius, he’s designed a survival capsule that would withstand a nuclear hecatomb and, if that doesn’t come up in his lifetime, the place can conveniently be retrofit for other uses. Wouldn’t it be nice? We didn’t think so.

The fact is, it’s small, heavily insulated capsule that can roll down hills and land upside down, it’s earthquake- and lava-proof, and its has its own air purification system.

Pretty standard specs if you’re planning for the long haul. Oh, about that a bit of a bummer: in its current size, it can only shelter four people for just 40 days.
In other words, nothing to write home about it, if yours happen to also survive a civilization-ending event. You’ll always have a better supply of say, toilet paper at home than anywhere else.
And there’s that pesky line of questioning about, if the world has really gone kaput, would you still be interested in coming out and play with, say, nobody? Most likely, every single person you’ve met would never make it, so is there a point in even surviving? Speak for yourself, we’re told. Ok.

Speaking about accommodations, Ubiyko may also consider giving a thorough makeover to his design. It looks a bit, how should we say? drab in its current form. More like Tin Man’s hat than an important scientific experiment designed by a genius.
But he doesn’t strike us as being the quitter type, and it’s a safer bet he’ll come up with something better than to expect the Armageddon. After all, he actually told anyone who’d listen that, with or without the Apocalypse, he’s using the damn thing for other things, we don’t know, something.
May we suggest a doll house for the neighboring children? Or to turn it into some Amusement Park ride, down the hill under a minute for just a nickel? What about a secret gathering place for people to gather and discuss how would they like their End of the World be?

The possibilities are endless. Actually, no, they aren’t.

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Harry Who?

Invisibility Silk Cloak to Be
Used for Defense, Not Magic

For all its fight for justice and the eternal quest from the truth, the superhuman struggle to avenge the violent death of his parents without abdicating his unalienable right to grow up as a healthy human being, for all the evidence that evil is lurking at every dark corner, ready to jump and reign on earth and only him, Harry Porter and his ragtag gang of dedicated friends, stand on the way, what really touched and moved people throughout this multibook, multi-billion series was really the invisibility cloak.
Never mind the wand, the humble origins, the destiny for greatness. What transfixed most readers of the hundreds of languages the series has been translated to so far, is something depicted only for a few pages, worn a handful of times, and completely unrelated to the highly anticipated grand finale when the once boy, now young man wizard will finally prevail over his, and our, enemies.
What really fascinates people is the ability to do things no one else can see, apparently. Chief among them, you guessed, the defense military, who apparently can’t wait to have control over such an invention, so they can conceal whatever it’ll be that defense military are always eager to conceal, regardless of nationality or language. And what they want, they usually get, even before you and I will have a chance to, say, find secret entrances to magical worlds (rarely ever a chance) where it turns out, we were eagerly expected and have a quest to pursue and also greatness to greet. That can and will wait.
Not the cloak. In fact, several experiments already had limited success in emulating some of the properties as depicted by the movies’ million-dollar special effects budget. Just last month, scientists at the University of Saint Andrews, Scotland, led by Dr. Andrea Di Falco, reported the creation of a flexible cloaking material they call “Metaflex”, which may bring commercial and industrial applications significantly closer.
Now the journal Nature has revealed that two separate groups – one based in Singapore and the other at the University of Birmingham and Imperial College London – have made objects each a few centimetres in diameter invisible. They credit the special properties of calcite crystals – and calcite is a cheap and common mineral made of calcium carbonate.
Carpet cloaks” – as scientists called them – render objects invisible by bending light rays as they enter the cloak and then when they exit it. Calcite has special optical properties and, in this instance, light is bent in such a way that the rays seem to have been reflected directly from the ground below the object – as though it was not there, in other words. The team at the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (Smart) has built a calcite carpet cloak that can shield a small steel wedge measuring 38mm by 2mm from red, green and blue visible light. And it is designed to work… under water?

Oh, yes, that’s how the defense hacks want them to be for now (don’t ask, you’re being recorded). From that small magical wedge, they expect one day to hide planes, ships, spacecraft and tanks, even troops invisible to observers. Yes, that’s their grandeur view of the future, all paid for by your tax dollars, but we digress. The theoretical physicist Sir John Pendry-led Birmingham and Imperial team has constructed a calcite cloak that works in the air, so it’s only fair to expect that, say, the Air Force is on their case to build it on an industrial scale ASAP.
Some non-negligible matter of fetishism can also be implied in the most recent efforts to create a high-tech device such as this kind of cloak: the best are made of silk, just like what one’d expect expensive call girls to want for their entrance in the bedrooms of power. Then the low lights, the sax music, the… oh, scratch all that. What we were saying is that, “unlike most materials, which derive optical properties like color from their chemical make up, metamaterials (this type) derive their properties from the physical structure, and the latest prototype was developed by “stenciling” 10,000 gold resonators onto a 1 cm square of silk.
According to scientists, silk is biocompatible, which means it’s more readily accepted by a human body than most other implants. What, wait a minute, who said anything about implants? Well, the bottom line is that this stuff is not being funded by gazillions of dollars just to create a robe for mistresses of all stripes to enchant their high-ranking patrons, even though the thought is not that far off. The applications for an implant of an invisible material, made of silk, into your body is, well, mind boggling and slightly frightening. Just what one’d expect from shadowy military facilities going about their business. Which is no show business, mind you. Sober it up yet?

But what about the fight for justice? The right of all wrongs? The pains of a bright but poor young fella growing into a global billionaire megastar? Oh, grow up you all.

***

xxxx

My Wife Is a Dog

Man Marries His Pet;
Activists Smell a Rat

Honey, a five-year old labrador, is a wonderful dog. She’s beautiful, she’s alert and she’s evidently well tended to. The only thing is, her human companion is a certified nut and decided to marry her.
Just like that. The other day, he took her to a park in Australia and declared his undying but utterly disturbing love to her in front of 30 of his closest friends. They mostly laughed.

But the “ceremony” didn’t amuse animal groups one little bit. And it didn’t help that he assured everyone present that their relationship is not sexual, just a way to celebrate their bond.
It’d really be dandy if she had a saying in the matter, of course. It’s not that some can’t take a joke, but the fact that he felt the need to make that statement gives anyone the creeps.
Worse, some news organizations, thinking that they too had to add their own unease spin to the coverage, came up with this dog pearl of a headline: “Perfectly Normal-Looking Guy Marries His Dog.”
Given that, it’s better that Honey has no idea what’s going on. It’s bad enough that some people did marry the Eiffel Tower, the Berlin Wall or their own body pillow. But please, leave your pet out of it.

***

Guitar Raven

Frank Zappa’s
70th Birthday

The self-taught guitar hero of Baltimore, who left his indelible watermark on rock, jazz and contemporary classical music, is also celebrated today in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the world for his stance on artistic freedom.
An accomplished musician, who recorded over 60 albums in a variety of styles, Zappa was also that rare bread of artist, the truly thinker, with highly articulated ideas about the popular culture’s role in society.
Way before being fully understood in the U.S., Zappa had already become an inspiration for generations of Eastern Europeans, and the Czech Republic’s first president, the poet Václav Havel, was a personal fan.

Zappa’s defense of freedom of speech took him to testify to the Senate, in 1985, against efforts to censure mainly rap lyrics deemed too violent or sexually explicit by a group of wives of politicians, including Al Gore’s former wife, Tipper Gore.
He outlived his famed group, the Mothers of Invention, and went on to produce and direct experimental movies, while still touring regularly. He died in 1993 of inoperable prostate cancer. Great part of his work is still to be remastered and released on the latest digital technology.

Now we know why Don Van Vliet, the Captain Beefheart, was in such a hurry to depart this world, which he did less than a week ago: he certainly didn’t want to miss the jam session up in heavens celebrating his high school buddy’s 70th birthday.

***

QWERTY

A Day for Typewriters & the
Typists Who (Still) Love Them

It was when computers finally conquered desktops at newsrooms of the world, in the early 1980s, that the takeover of the publishing business started. With the blueish glare of their screens, they sent typewriters packing to warehouses, and their users to retraining classes.

Legendary war correspondents, ace reporters, wizards of the print information, all resented the silencing of the roaring clack-clack of Remingtons, Underwoods and Olivettis. It’d been such an integral part of being a journalist, that when they went mute, many chose to retire.
It’s to honor that bygone time, when the word was dueling the sword in effect and pounding noise, that a group of Philadelphian enthusiasts are staging a “type-in” today, with free typing paper, carbons and stamped envelopes.
All you need is your own beat-up typewriter and a few ideas to lay down on paper. If it’s broken, you may be able to have it fixed. Or even buy a new used one. Just don’t bring your laptop.
CLUSTERED KEYS
If for nothing else, go to work out hand tendons and ligaments no longer needed for typing on the soft keys of computers. Of course, there are many other things that changed since typewriters went the way of the subway token.
But curiously, one thing hasn’t: the order of the letters on the keyboard. The QWERTY model has been part of typing for 124 years, even though it’s original reason to be, which had to do with the way the typebars are arranged in the machine, is no longer relevant. But who wants to relearn how to type?
The original design stuck and the manual device still holds the upper hand when it comes to publishing: more books have been written using a typewriter than a computer. It’s a fleeting lead, perhaps bound to disappear faster than the carbon paper that will be available in Philly.
In the meantime, the classical typewriter begins to occupy the realm of specialty, of eccentricity, of other domains of art, as the work of Keira Rathbone shows. In her patient and pointillist way, the storied machine became a paint brush, able to tell meaningful, wordless stories that no emoticon could.
So if your own emotions run high every time you watch “The Front Page” or “Deadline U.S.A.,” this is your chance to hear them “talking” again. Who knows? Maybe your first novel will be about “typebars, furiously hitting some dirty piece of paper, squeezing it against the roll, making it throw away the trees it had to kill to come to be.”
Next thing you know, you’re on your way to your first Pulitzer. Or the Bulwer-Lytton.

***

Head & Shoulders

Henri IV Gets
His Skull Back

After 400 years, Henri IV’s head is finally about to rejoin the rest of his body. But this time around, it’s to rest in peace for good. Long live the French king.
Some people lose their head over anything. As grandma used to say, their blood gets hot and they do something stupid. You know what happens next: they run around like headless chickens.
Others keep them well in place. It’s a good thing if you’re, for example, a king. You make good decisions and then, when you die, your subjects remember you as an good-hearted monarch. That was the case of “Good King Henry,” who died in 1610.
For all accounts, he was a benevolent man and his Bourbon dynasty ruled France for two centuries. So in peace he rested for another two, until the Revolution erupted and the monarchy was overthrown by an angry (and hungry) crowd.
It was the time for that most unsettling motto by an unruly mob, specially if you’re a king: “Off with their heads!” But Henri was already dead, so there was nothing to fear, right? Wrong. In the turmoil of those bloody years, not even death was an excuse.
His body was unearthed and decapitated, and his head went missing for 400 years. So much for being even-natured. Compared to his, Louis XIV, his grandson and the Sun King himself, had a much less eventful fate. But the times, they are a-changing, and for the House of Bourbon, it’s all for the best.
A team of 19 scientists examined a skull that had been kept at a tax collector’s attic (don’t ask) and concluded, positively, that it’s Henri’s head, that lucky old devil, and officially handed it to his noble relatives. It should now join the rest of his body buried at the basilica Saint-Denis, in Paris, where a whole bunch of French monarchs lie.
A last word for those of you in the bleachers: DNA didn’t have anything to do with it. After compiling 30 matching factors pointing to his identity, the researchers decided he’d had enough probing and abusing to endure yet another poke on his tired bones. Perhaps in another 400 years.

***

Warring States

A Pot of Soup Made
Before Jesus’s Birth

It’s 2,400 years old, it’s obviously cold and the bones in it are green. On the upside, it’s still liquified, it may’ve been cooked for a member of the land-owning class and it’s paired with a glass of an odorless concoction believed to be wine.
That’s the latest discovery of a group of Chinese archaeologists excavating an empty tomb in Xi’an, China’s capital for over a thousand years. The ancient bone soup, which has turned green because of the oxidation of the bronze pot where it’s been stored, will help the study of eating habits and culture of the Warring States Period (475-221BCE).
It was in Xi’an, in 1974, that a terracotta army of 114 warriors was unearthed at the burial site of Qin Shihuang, China’s first emperor, who presided over the unification of the country in 221BCE and ruled until 210BCE.
There’s no way of knowing whether the soup and the wine were left in the tomb to assure the deceased had the proper nourishment on his trip to the great beyond. Or they were just leftovers from some hearty meal, shared by an ancient group of thieves, just before they looted the place.

***

Mystery Solved

Impostor Pretending
to Be Obama Is Caught

Breaking news coming from Washington, DC: the FBI’s just arrested Ilham Anas, a Java-based photographer of Kenyan and American descent, who’s been impersonating President Barack Obama for the past few months. Apparently, no one noticed exactly when Anas, who indeed exhibits an uncanny resemblance with Obama, took his place and began acting as an ultra-conservative Republican, but many of his supporters had suspected that the man they enthusiastically campaigned for in 2008 was not the same one who was residing at the White House.

Anas, who up to a few months ago had been making a living as a doppelganger of the president, in politically-correct advertising campaigns for Greenpeace and other progressive institutions, seems to have had a change of heart and decided he could do a better job leading the country than our first black president.
No word yet on how he kept Obama away from the public eye or whether First Lady Michelle and daughters were somehow part of the plot. What’s evident, according to supporters who’d grown discouraged by the president’s recent political decisions, is that he definitely took a right turn and all but abandoned issues he once championed.
President Obama, the real one, is expected to make a historical announcement “anytime now,” according to his press office. That may include a new economic stimulus package, the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, termination of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, end of the so-called Bush tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans, as well as fundamental changes in his cabinet, and other measures.

Earlier today, cheering crowds began to assemble in front of the White House, in a spontaneous show of support to the “new” Obama. The GOP leadership in Congress, who’s reportedly gathered in an undisclosed location, will issue an official statement about this stunning turn of events in Washington, which most likely will include a new threat of a governemnt lockdown.

***

Santa Crawl

And Then, They Were Everywhere

- A sea of Santas, loud, drunk and obnoxious, that’s NOT what you want for Christmas.

***

Eye of Beholder

Eyes of Mona Lisa May Hide
Leonardo’s 500-Year Secret

So it turned out that, while we were being captivated by her smile, the real enigma of the Mona Lisa was hidden in her eyes. It’s just the latest mystery surrounding one of the most famous paintings of all time, Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, of which we know close to nothing.
In fact, our five-century old fascination with La Gioconda, as it’s known in Italy where it was painted in 1503, bears pure obsession. Throughout the years, scientists have engaged in heated contests as to why she didn’t have eyebrows, whether her smile had something to do with high cholesterol, and who on earth was she. Was this the portrait of Lisa Gherardini, the wife of Giocondo, a Florentine merchant, whose remains are said to be buried in a municipal landfill site on the outskirts of Florence? Or it was actually a self-portrait, a theory that somehow could shed light on Leonardo’s rumored homosexuality? There’re some who seem ready to exhume his body to check such theory.
That, of course, would depend on whether his bones are actually buried at the Amboise Castle in the Loire Valley, as it’s believed, but never mind getting permission from his legal heirs to exhume it in the first place.
It’s all a fitting, tumultuous background for a painting that has been stolen, vandalized twice, and now rests behind a bulletproof glass at the Louvre, in Paris.

Now, since Italy’s National Committee for Cultural Heritage President Silvano Vinceti scrutinized it with a magnifying glass, a whole new set of challenges have been poised to art historians and would-be Dan Browns alike. According to Vinceti, there’s an L and a V in Mona Lisa’s left eye, and some other letters or numbers in her right one, too microscopic to be spotted without aid. The race is on to determine what do the symbols mean, whether they’re simply Leonardo’s own initials or one of the many puzzles he loved to encrypt on his paintings.

Vicenti, who’s leading the efforts to be granted authorization for Leonardo’s exhumation and whose own eye and knack to attract worldwide attention are never at loss, cleverly calls it the search for Mona Lisa’s “hidden codes.” He’s the same researcher who claimed earlier this year to have found, in a long forgotten crypt on the Tuscan coast, the bones of another Renaissance master, Michelangelo Merisi, otherwise known as Caravaggio, a painter also known as much for his lifestyle as for his masterpieces.

And so it looks like we’re in for the long haul. While advanced optical technology is bound to provide clearer imagery of the bottom of Mona Lisa’s eyes – or to disprove such theory altogether – to get to desecrate the remains of a grand master to check on their authenticity may have too few takers. And assuming there’re even bones buried in the site, the whole thing still may hit the wall if the bones turned out not to be traced to Leonardo.

Nothing that will ever happens, of course, will cast any shadows on the allure and appeal that a striking small oil painting an artist committed to canvas so long ago can instill on further generations. And no matter what new research brings about it or its author, as long as it remains protected from nutcases and deranged visitors, its mysteries will most likely outlive anyone walking the earth today. Or as someone else has once said, whatever they do, it won’t have anything to do with the beauty of Mona Lisa.

***

Unbelievable

Battle for Your Heart (and
Wallet) Reaches Fever Pitch

It may be the season. It may be the times. It may be that those who don’t care far outnumber those who do. It may be a number of things but one thing it is not: a meaningful fight.
It used to be a factor only for lands laying beyond the Hudson River. Armies of increasingly belligerent believers fighting growing hordes of dismissive rationalists over who should own a stake on that trivial but potentially explosive question: what’s your religion? A quiz that has been fading from pretty much any contemporary social contract, from marriage to employment, since at least the founding of this nation.

They, the Fathers, knew a thing or two about it, when making sure church should be kept apart from state. But their memo is still to reach these battling soldiers. And the Pilgrims lesson hasn’t helped them much either: despite having fled religious intolerance, their own sense of professed faith was far from an open-minded concept.

We should be so lucky not to have to reinvent the wheel by pointing to the mindless of fighting over who’s the best god. Since the demoralizing question (how many more will need to die on this quest?) was already anticipated and cleverly disarmed of any meaning (it’s either, what’s this life comparing to the real one, or that children’s tale of the 72 virgins), we’re forced to do it over and over again.
As for the atheists, who had kept a prudent restrain in the face of the organized religious hierarchy (or simply for fear of dismemberment and bonfires), they seem to have decided for a more upfront approach. Not so much in the business of recruiting, theirs seems to be a strategy of gentle persuasion, which nevertheless, remains effective to instill a least the seeds of a doubt or two in the heart of the meek.
Thus, while religion lost the monopoly of proselytism, openly exercised by both sides now, to rationality was entrusted the burden of proof. It’s all a natural consequence of the human favorite pastime, of course, that of preaching on each one the upside of not being the other. But reason is what’s bound to be severely shortchanged in the process.
For those of us who don’t have a hound in this run, it’s all about bells and whistles and whoever dons the brighter armor generally takes the holiday cake.

Since this is shopping season, and a big one at that, everything is up for grabs, including whether yours is a play or a prayer book. No way of knowing who’s winning this game this time around.
In New York, there’s exactly one billboard about a godless season, against at least one Christmas ad in every block. In Fort Worth, after atheists plastered their message on urban buses, a religious organization hired a van to follow them around. Fine, let vehicles argue and go to battle, for all we care.
Because, really, we don’t.

***

Out on Bail

WikiLeaks’s Julian Assange
Walks Free, With Conditions

About $370 thousand. That’s how much money was posted by a group of supporters for WikiLeaks’s founder Julian Assange’s release in London. City of Westminster Magistrates Court Judge Howard Riddle ordered him to come back to court on Jan. 11 and, until then, to reside at Ellingham Hall, a Georgian mansion in Bungay, eastern England.
He must spend every night there, wear electronic tags and stay under curfew from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. He’s also to report daily to the police from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Additionally, while waiting for a possible extradition to Sweden for questioning on the rape allegations case moved against him by two women, his passport will be held and he’s not permitted to travel abroad. The Swedish government said it would appeal against Assange’s release, but one of this lawyers said he probably would not be released until Wednesday morning.
WE SAY

Despite technically unrelated to the charges of sexual assault, by which Assange’s faces possible jail time in Sweden, most observers believe his legal woes have at least some bearing in the turmoil caused by WikiLeaks’s release of secret documents, the latest trove of them being some 250,000 classified diplomatic cables between the U.S. State Department and American missions abroad.

Despite risking sensitive negotiations and compromising U.S. interests abroad, the documents betray a culture of unnecessary secrecy that surrounds every aspect of the invasion of Iraq and conflict in Afghanistan, the poor state of diplomatic relations with key allies and deplorable mismanagement of resources for the war efforts.

Given the unacceptably high death toll they continue to cause and stratospheric financial costs involved, besides the apparently lack of any clear objectives to be achieved, the leaked documents may represent one of the few true windows of what’s actually going on on the ground, and a powerful tool to inform and educate the American people.

ASSANGE SAYS
- “My convictions are unfaltering. I remain true to the ideals I have always expressed. These circumstances shall not shake them. If anything, this process has increased my determination that they are true and correct.”

***

Bloody Christmas

30 YEARS AGO TODAY

When the World Lost John Lennon

- Where were you when you heard about it?
His family and close ones will always prefer to remember his birthday in October, specially this year, his 70th. But the world will always think about his brutal death, outside the Dakota in New York City, and the crushing end of so many dreams, however unrealistic they may’ve been.
John Lennon’s death, with its profound resonance for millions of fans around the globe, was almost as unexpected as it was deeply unjust. His songs, his music, his art and awareness of his times will, of course, last longer than the grief of all generations who share the admiration for him.
But they’ll never be enough to satisfy those who, despite never having expected to meet the man in flesh and blood, felt a certain comfort in knowing he was around, growing older and happier. That’s also the part that died inside us all in that darkest of all December nights.
Once again, we’ll be thinking about him and the what-ifs of his absence. We’ll read gripping testimonies, hear bits of information we never knew, come across pictures taken from different angles, all in another feeble attempt to shed light on the absurd cruelty of his death.
Once again, it won’t help it either, of course. That voice, those songs will have to do it, instead. But we can always imagine: what would he say now? Would he still be as optimist as he was till the end? Would he be living in Ireland with his wife, as he once envisioned? Would he own an iPod?

That night was a nightmare, but he’s a dream now. He actually wrote a song about it, and it had his favorite number, 9, on its title. He was born on the 9 and it was already the 9th in Liverpool, when he died. His life had this magical arch to it. And, heavens know we work hard to believe it, it was complete.
Here’s to you John. We now resume our own, still to be completed lives, but we’ll be thinking about you.

***

The Saddest Ride

Ireland’s Economic Woes Kill
Thousands of Neglected Horses

Another short-lived dream has crossed the Irish. After two years of agonizing economical decline, the nation is about to receive a massive loan package that’s likely to be insufficient to save it from bankruptcy.
Banks have already been bailed out by the government, despite being the ones that precipitated the crisis in the first place. And working stiffs like you and me already have their employment days counted, despite footing the bill. Does it all sound familiar?
It may be so, except for one cruel twist: in the peak of their country’s doomed confidence, horses, a symbol of the Irish mythical love of freedom, have been reduced to another symbol, way more mundane: status.

For a little while, it was emblematic to the upward mobile-oriented not just to own a race horse but also to add them to their investment portfolios, hoping a thoroughbred champion or two could materialize out of their backyard.

When such pipe dreams collided with reality, and even the backyard had to be sold at a discount, there was not much thought given about the animals. They were just left behind, to graze somebody else’s pastures and, ultimately, starve to death.

Now, there’re an estimated 20,000 abandoned horses, roaming the back roads of Ireland. Neither they can be bought, for people can’t afford them, nor they can be sold as meat, for lacking of proper information on their provenance. Most will likely wind up being shot, as 49 already have only this year.

It’s the saddest thing that such a magnificent animal, a companion of humankind for millennia, deeply identified with our ideals of independence and nobility of spirit, is being once more crushed by our folly.
Working stiffs like you and me still have a choice. Not so much the horses of Dublin’s Smithfield Market, for example, whose indignity has reached new lows: besides being traded at a bargain prices, they’re now being swapped in exchange for a cell phone.

***

Trick or Gift?

Doubts Abound Over Trove
of Unknown Picasso Works

It’s not uncommon for a member of a traditional family to find a forgotten work of art behind some cupboard or at the attic of a farm house. What’s very unusual is when the finder claims that the author himself, one of the greatest of the 20th century, gave him not one or two but a trove of 271 drawings and sketches.

That’s exactly what happened, according to retired Frenchman Pierre Le Guennec, who swears Spanish great Pablo Picasso (or his second wife Jaqueline Roque) gave him the collection in exchange for odd jobs he did at the artist’s Côte d’Azur home, 40 years ago.

Suspicious, Picasso’s son Claude, who if the tale would prove to be true, wouldn’t get a cent out of the $79 million the works are estimated to be worth, thinks he stole them. And asked the police to arrest him on the spot.

Among the pieces dating from 1900 to 1932, there’re portraits of Picasso’s first wife, Olga, Cubist collages worth $62 million, a watercolor from his “blue” period, studies of his hand on canvas, gouaches, lithographs and drawings.
They’ve been all said to be authentic, as art experts concluded that not even the greatest counterfeiter could have copied such a wealth of different styles, or faked the classification numbers on some of them.
But Claude and five other heirs filed suit, arguing that Picasso would never give away any of his work without dating it, signing it and dedicating it specifically to the recipient. The police seized the collection and it’s now being held in a vault in Nanterre, at France’s Central Office for the Fight against Traffic in Cultural Goods.

***

Three to Wonder

Rainbow Coffins, TSA-Proof
Underwear And Sticky Gums

“A warm and fantastical departure for same-sex couples.” That’s how Thomas Brandl and his partner Michael Koenigsfeld, a couple of German undertakers, consider their business: coffins and urns designed for the gay community of Cologne.
You may choose among a variety of colors (mostly pink) and motifs (mostly naked men) to adorn the final resting bed of your loved ones. Or yourself. As with any enterprise involving the dead, business is booming.
That’s also what Jeff Buske, of Larkspur, Colorado, hopes for his own business. He developed a tungsten-lined underwear which, he claims, repels X-rays from the airport TSA-deployed full-body scanning machines, and makes invasive pat-downs unnecessary.

It’s all to protect your “junk,” you see. Customers, who’re afraid of the scanners’ radiation – and the Web’s peeping powers – seem to agree: sales are up and Buske’s already shopping for a bigger place to manufacture the undergarments.
Neither tungsten nor X-rays but a chemical is what’s making some Spaniards afraid. They’re against a government’s decision to employ a copolymer of vinyl acetate and vinyl laurate as the basis for Spanish gum. According to them, the acetate is bad for you.
As it goes, everybody seems to take their chewing seriously over there, and it took no less than a full cabinet to decide to change the formula, so it’ll be easier to get rid of gum in public places, shoe soles and the undersides of school desks.
So there you have it: as long as you’ve already chosen the color of your coffin, and assuming you’re wearing some underwear, it’s time to go ahead and enjoy a nice, juicy Spanish gum.

***

Syrup Junkies

Red Bees Mystery
In Brooklyn Is Solved

Over the summer, beekeepers in Brooklyn noticed a scary, disturbing trend, one that wouldn’t look out of place in a nightmarish sci-fi novel: their bees were turning red. Worst, instead of honey, they began producing an overly sweet, metallic tasting red concoction. Keepers were at loss to explain the new phenomenon, but then again, their world is no stranger to weird occurrences.
A few years back, for example, bees started vanishing. As it does for at least a century, the U.S. food industry use them to pollinate crops all over the country. Beekeepers take them to faraway farms and they usually return on their own to their colonies.

Until they didn’t, and were presumed to have died somewhere along the way. The cumbersomely-named Colony Collapse Disorder astonished everyone and seriously threatened food production in North America.
Many possible causes were considered, including bad diet and radiation from cellphone towers, but scientists have zeroed in a more plausible combination of factors, such as viruses, bacteria and environmental issues. Now the industry is expected to recover, thank you very much.
But this new mystery was even more bizarre, and it apparently was confined to, you guessed, the Red Hook area. The small-scale and mostly not-for-profit community of Brooklyn keepers stood to lose years of well-crafted practices and high-quality honey production, absorbed by equally small local businesses and a loyal customer base.
Long story short: after a brief investigation, it turned out the bees were making, well, a beeline to a maraschino cherries factory in the area, and gorging in the high-fructose corn syrup used on their preparation. Even Red Dye No. 40 (no, not the proto-punk band), which is used in the maraschino cherry juice, was found in the bees’ inedible concoction.
Mystery solved, case closed, right? Not so fast. Apiarists may have a hard time weaning the bees off the stuff. Just like so many of their fellow working bees in the neighborhood, after getting used on their way home to stop by the friendly spot daily for a little dip, new fences and more screens may just not be enough to keep them out.

Who could’ve imagined that bees, such a symbol of organic lifestyle, so vital to food production, so highly intelligent, would fall prey to the same trappings of an easy and nauseating sweet fix we’re so used to indulge ourselves? Try the crackheads next door. And their bodies do change colors too.

Really, who said bees are supposed to fulfill the idealized vision we’ve assigned to them, an ideal so unattainable we ourselves can only achieve it when we are, well, high?
Red bees become translucent and glow in the early evenings. That’s beautiful, man. Remember the song? Birds do it, bees do it… Oh, that’s right, that has nothing to do with it…

Anyway, we feel for those beekeepers, we really do. But let’s not turn this into a “war on drugs.” Because, we all know what’s next: raids, deportations (most honeybees are immigrants, after all), TSA-scannings, another rally for tax cuts to the wealthy.
Just like the real thing, life imitates life. Perhaps there’s even potential for other businesses to be developed, grow and be nurtured by the bees’ new addiction. Medicinal syrup dispensaries for card-carrying red bees, anyone?

***

Wish List

Gifts to Make You a Star
(and Your Friends Jealous)

‘Tis the season and all that, so it’s time to put together a couple of one-of-a-kind items that are sure to make you the most popular member of your clan, this side of the $900 tree (on sale in SoHo, while supplies last).
Today, we chose the oldest single and the newest bachelor of your family: ultra solitary Uncle Bob and über discriminative Howie, your ex-brother-in-law. We’re sure our picks will wow them silly and drive your guests to carolling afterwards.
Take these awfully decorative Bloody Puddle Pillows pictured above. Now, uncle Bob won’t complain anymore about his sleepless nights, spent working on those exquisite scrap books of first graders from the school around the corner he enjoys putting together.
Oh, he’s such an eccentric old fool. Rest in peace, uncle Bob.

And what to give to that superhero-inclined ex-brother-in-law who has everything? Poor guy, his hedge-fund bonus check never comes in time, so he’s always broke during Christmas. Light up his heart with this Replica of the Batmobile, version 1960s TV series. For a little over $180 thousand, it’s a steal, guaranteed to ride the entire family to joy. Or crime fighting.

There, happy holidays. Now, what did you do with those spiked eggnogs?

***

What on Earth?

Jesus’s Surprising Return to Japan
May’ve Jeopardized Plans by Faithful

Clearly, Tokyo has a big problem with umbrellas being left behind in the subway system. City officials have tried everything to remind riders to collect their belongings before leaving the trains, apparently to no avail.
All else having failed, they went for broke. By some undisclosed grace granted upon their land from above, they recruited none other than Jesus Christ, who brought along three of his closest disciples to help him out with the task.
Now do you realize the seriousness of the situation? By anticipating his second coming, Jesus ruined big plans by every earthly Christian promoter worth his or hers fishes, never mind screwing up all prophecies written in the past two millennia in the process, just so the issue could be quickly addressed.

No word yet on the progress of such a transcendental job bestowed upon the Chief Spiritual Officer of billions of faithful. Most likely, they make up the majority of those forgetful Japanese commuters anyway. But by the looks of the poster, J.C. seems to be on top of it.
And it won’t be done a moment too soon. After all, many remain blissfully unaware of this premature visit of his, and who wants to spoil and steal the thunder of that other event, the one they’re all counting on, when he’s supposed to return to earth with a completely different agenda?

***

Lax Protection

Despite Threat of Extinction,
Vietnam Plans Tiger Paste Sale

You’ve read here about a summit of 13 nations in Russia last month to discuss their commitment and strategies to protect the wild tiger, said to be facing a serious threat of extinction. Vietnam is among those nations.

But old, misguided cultural habits die much harder than these magnificent animals, it seems. Word just came out that Vietnamese authorities are planning a public auction of approximately six pounds of tiger paste – ground bones and marrow – seized from traffickers.
Local and international conservation groups are, naturally, up in arms against such a bad idea, which undermines the country’s official ban on hunting or trade of wild animals and their products.
But Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture considers the auction perfectly legal and even allows the use of the paste for what it calls medicinal purposes. Conservationists dispute such characterization as unscientific and demand the closing of loopholes in the legislation.
They’re also calling for the seized paste, worth possibly $5,000 a pound, to be destroyed. Vietnam’s food industry has also been the target of conservationist efforts to curb illegal wildlife trade. Recent raids found that many restaurants routinely store meat from bamboo rats, bear paws and porcupines.

***

Vanishing Goddess

Fight to Save Wild Tiger Pits the Shoeless Against the 4-Wheel Drive

Several nations are gathering this week in St. Petersburg, Russia, in a last ditch effort to prevent the imminent extinction of tigers. Big cats face threats to their natural habitats, which shrink as the human presence increases, are hunted relentlessly for the black market value of their skin and body parts, and are down to an ever-diminishing genetic pool. Captives living in private reserves, which outnumbered those in the wild, don’t have the necessary biological diversity to guarantee the species’ survival.

Without a global, effective and consistent strategy to preserve them as they’ve lived for millennia, neither their mythological charisma nor the powerful allure they’ve always exerted over our civilization will be enough to save them for future generations. And it’ll be, of course, to everybody’s loss to let that happens.

The 13 mostly poor nations that still hold tiger populations struggle to maintain the expansive lands they require to thrive, and are in the losing end of the battle against a well organized illegal trade. Such black market is driven by wealthy unscrupulous collectors and by high demand from Asia, where tigers are associated with magical powers and their parts are thought as having medicinal and sexual properties.

Ministers of Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand, Vietnam and Russia, are joined at the summit by members of respected preservationist organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund, Wildlife Conservation Society and the Global Tiger Recovery Program, among others.

THE NEED AND THE POLITICS

Russia, as host, has assured itself a prominent position in the efforts to preserve the survival of the tigers within its borders, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, himself a cat lover, is personally committed to the issue. The fact that his support may also help to advance his political ambitions is a point of contention among his critics. But the threat of extinction is so serious that even some political grandstanding may serve a useful purpose.

Incidentally, Putin’s affinity with tigers, on public display recently when he was given a cub on his 56th birthday, shares a common thread with political leaders of all eras. There’s a long history connecting them with big cats, and a few theories to explain it. Personal vanity, display of strength, the use of atavist symbols to convey an idea of power, pure megalomania, the list is copious but wildlife experts, historians and anthropologists are not prepared to settle on one single explanation.

More than any other species, though, felines seem to be the beast of choice. From ancient Egypt (where several cat-shaped deities were worshipped) and the sphinx, to African tribes, Middle East kingdoms, to England’s coat of arms and the Jerusalem’s Lion of Judah, history books are rife with examples of leaders great and small, just and tyrannical appropriating the cat imagery to instill respect and fear in the heart of their subjects.

THE LUCK OF THE DOG

On the other hand, preservationists are troubled that, while any effort to help preserving feline predators is not just noble but necessary and worthwhile, similar attempts to protect canines are not as popular. In fact, in certain countries, including the U.S., home of the biggest population of captive big cats in the world, wolves, coyotes, foxes, jackals and wild canines can be plainly despised and hunted mercilessly.

That’s when cats and dogs, the top two favorite pets adopted by humans for centuries, radically diverge in the way they’re treated from their wild cousins: while cats and all other felines are respected and admired, domestic dogs may be loved but their relatives are usually feared and perceived as beasts out to get us.

Again, scientists have many theories to explain the phenomenon, but none is conclusive. And out among preservationists invested in the fate of both feline and canine predators, there’s some bewilderment about the vagaries of human behavior toward animals. Which, at the end of the day, winds up hurting both species.

YEAR OF THE TIGER

Back at the St. Petersburg summit, it has already approved a program to double the estimated number of 3,200 tigers currently in the wild. It’s a laudable but sobering proposal, given the 100,000 believed to have roamed the earth a century ago. An even more dramatic projection points to a possible extinction of the species, if nothing is done to prevent it, by 2022, the next Chinese calendar year of the tiger.

Money, as always, will be crucial to accomplish the summit goals. Countries involved will need at least $350 million each in outside funding, according to estimates, to be able to ward off well organized poachers, driving four-wheel all-terrain vehicles and sporting automatic high-gauge rifles.

On the local law enforcement side, guards often are out in the field wearing no shoes and armed only with wood sticks and spears. Worse, some of them are known to also subscribe to the myth of the feline power, and carry a few tiger bones in their own pocket. How do we know that? They were found in guards shot dead while on duty.

***

Torture 101

Less Protesters at the Gates of
School That Trained Dictators

In the 1960s and 1970s, no South or Central American military dictator worth his boots lacked a diploma from the School of the Americas, a U.S. Department of Defense center that, human rights activists say, provided training for military leaders who went on to become infamous tyrants, led regimes of terror and indiscriminately ordered abductions, torture and killings of political enemies to achieve their goals.
Among the school’s alumni, there were scores of uniformed officers who sat and learned their illegal craft on its benches and went on to help stage violent coups all over the continent, provide the muscle to subjugate and crush millions of frightened and impoverished populations of their own compatriots. Hundreds more of their associates primed their merciless interrogation chops at the institution.

That class of students may be gone for good, but the school, at Fort Benning, in Columbus, Georgia, is still standing. No one is certain who still graduates there and in what, but those walls are still up and heavily guarded 24/7. What doesn’t seem likely to last much longer is the group of aging protesters who, for the past 20 years, has shown up at its gates every November to reaffirm their disapproval to what the place represents. Their numbers dwindling, even the city, which used to count on their business, wonders what if they don’t show up at all next year?
Maybe the times did change, as the half-full glass crowd would be eager to point it out. After all, the majority of south-of-the-U.S.-border nations live now under budding democracies and coups are much less common these days. Lately, some of such nations have even elected leaders who rather identify themselves with the left side of the political spectrum, if such an expression is still in use. It’s been some time also that military institutions returned to their barracks to fulfill their proper constitutional role, as they should, and mostly wouldn’t think in engaging again in another bloody adventure of the dictator du jour.
As for them dictators, most are now old and sick and unlikely to face punishment for their crimes. Some already died, wealthy and beloved by family and friends, who shared both the authoritarian credo and the spoils of the usurpation. They died in impunity because those democracies and their court systems were still being rebuilt from scratch, and their society at large was not yet ready to revisit their barbarian past. Or so the half-full like to believe.
But to their victims and their own family and friends, those who either were summarily killed or “disappeared,” to use a term common in those times, by para-military death squads who ruled the era, such peace to rest and start anew has been much more elusive. That’s the measure of poignancy on those dwindling numbers of November protesters: their presence serves to make the voices of the former alumni’s victims to be heard one more time. If they stop coming, will we still hear their lament?
The annual protest began after six Jesuit priests were killed in El Salvador in November 1989 by a group that a U.S. Congressional task force connected to School of the Americas graduates. No one was ever convicted of that crime, but the international outcry over it represented a turning point in that country’s struggle for democracy. It became the rule of the land a few years after, although it still faces enormous challenges.
As for Fort Benning, people still show up at the protest. Many still get arrested. And they and the local enforcement all know too well why they’re all there. It’s certainly not for the barbecues or the seemingly parochial gathering of old lefties and their not-so interested kin. It’d be utterly distraught if they too would lose confidence on the relevance of what they’ve been doing, year after year.
It’d also be too easy for the half-empty cup crowd to proclaim that these days no one really cares about what’s really important. Because it wouldn’t be fair for those who really do, like those folks in Columbus, Georgia.

***

No Thanks to You

Pardoned Turkey Won’t
Go to Disneyland This Year

Pardon if we may say so, but if you’re a turkey, this is the best time of the year to skip town. Chances are, though, you won’t even know it’s coming and the next thing you’ll see, will also be your last: the butcher’s knife. After all, you are a turkey.

This is the week that you should consider anyone as your mortal enemy. Unless, of course, they’re vegetarians and love their tofurkey. But you can’t tell that friendly minority from the hordes of history-soaked, famish-motivated, family tradition-disposed folks who’ll be roaming the streets, looking for that perfect bird. And that could be as well you.
But we don’t mean to be blunt or try to hurt your feelings, although if you were not a turkey, you’d know very well that people who start their sentences with that, absolutely mean to be iron-hammer blunt and, for one reason or another, stand to gain a lot from hurting your feelings.
Still, there’s at least one turkey that’s always lucky this time of the year. The one that’s pardoned by the president (although, as all turkeys, it hasn’t committed any crime to begin with, to be pardoned, but who’s keeping record?). That is a lucky bastard, wouldn’t you agree?

In fact, such a moon-assed creature is so lucky that it not only has its life spared personally by the Commander in Chief, but goes on to be honored as the Grand Marshall of the official Thanksgiving Parade and, since 2005, to live comfortably the rest of its days at a Disney park. Can you imagine? Of course not, you’re just a silly bird who probably thinks that the extra portions they’ve been serving you the last couple of weeks is just some kind of reward purely for your good looks.
Well, you shouldn’t feel so bad after all. It turns out that Disney won’t host those free-loaders anymore. But don’t get any ideas, they’ll still be given the best there is. As for you, better get yourself some brochures full of color pictures because that’s pretty much as close you’ll ever be from the land of Donald.
Not to rub it in, but in case you’re curious, the whole presidential pardon thing started in 1947. In recent years, besides the official turkey, he also pardons his understudy which, as we speak, must be learning his lines in case the First Bird has a stroke or something.

Five years ago, Disney stepped in and enrolled the bird for their 50th year anniversary celebration. They called it the Happiest Turkey on Earth, then, and for a while, it really seemed so. A motorcade after the ceremony would take both birds on first-class flights to Disney parks. This year, instead, their flight is booked to George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estates and Gardens in Virginia. But who are we kidding? you, of all birds, couldn’t care less about all that, anyway.
What you should be thinking about, and seriously, is your own current situation. We hate to say it (another one of those intros that, whoever is saying, really means exactly the opposite), but maybe it’s time to come up with a Plan B, perhaps a way out, to feign illness, whatever. Because the butcher, my friend, is right around the corner.

The way we see it, if you’re healthy, of a certain age, not too old and no spring chicken either (sorry, we couldn’t help it), good looking, you know, a catch, you are, dearest avian, a strong candidate for dinner. We’ll spare you the gory details but let’s just say that you wouldn’t want to pay much attention to Disney’s new campaign, “Let the Memories Begin.” Yeah, right. We agree, those folks have no heart.

But like Disney, this is when we leave you on your own, pal. Really, there’s nothing else we can tell you but wish you the best of luck. We should feel guilty about all that but we don’t. As a matter of fact, we too plan on attending a big Thanksgiving dinner and, although we don’t personally like turkey meat, and thanks but no thanks for the tofurkey either, we know a lot of people who can’t have enough of it.
We hope it won’t happen to you, of course. We just can’t promise you that we’ll be saying anything out loud against the tradition on fear we may lose our own seat at the table. But inside, we’ll be thinking about you. Really. Honest to god. Let the memories begin.

***

Members Only

Berlusconi’s Gift to Mars, King
Tut’s Loss & Iran’s Penis Cemetery

Italian billionaire Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is not the only politician, or rich person, who believes the world is his playground. But you’ve got to give it to him: he’s astonishingly oblivious to the horror that usually greets his decisions, mostly guided by the pursuit of fun, candy and more power. As for us, we just happen to be camping around, mostly annoying the hell out of him.

So when the 1800-year old classical Roman statue of Venus and Mars was loaned to his office, Berlusconi immediately made plans to fix it.

As it turned out, the likeness of the ruler of war had his penis chipped off circa 175 C.E., and the goddess of love was missing a hand too. Never mind that it’s been exhibited that way at the Palazzo Chigi in Rome for years.

The other day, the work was completed and delivered to his door, and Berlusconi was beside himself. After all, a man known for boasting his sexual proclivities, for infuriatingly sexual tirades and for a whole catalog of public improprieties, is used to go the extra mile to be atop the subjects he cares deeply about.
Last month, another sample of his taste for remaining salient at all times erupted, after a teenager girl said she had sex with and was paid for by him. The case is still going through Italy’s judicial system but, as with previous examples, it may rattle a few pedestals but it won’t scratch his position.

While it’s clear that, on his mind, his power equates the artistic and historical wherewithal to sponsor whatever revisionism and manipulation of ancient artifacts he sees fit, many embarrassed Italians wonder when will they get to say, “Basta!” and kick his media-empire arse out of elective office.
We, of course, will be somehow on the way, as usual, wondering whether someone at the Metropolitan will ever think along the same lines, and decide to “fix” thousands of historically chipped penises throughout the galleries of New York’s most important museum.
Would the call come from the crowd who complains about the diminutive size of such important appendage on some of the marvelous statues by Michelangelo and Leonardo? Or the side that criticizes the Met for having too many of them around and not enough detailed depictions of the female genitalia?

To be perfect, err, straight, this whole discussion over the “anatomical completeness,” as they called it in Italy, of classical sculptures is a bit, well, graphic. And ignorant too, to be blunt. Right there, you see the problem of carrying on such discussion: the cheap shots keep on coming.
But there could be two alternate ways to divert your sick mind from the subject. One, think about what happened to the Egyptian boy King Tutankhamen, Tut for latecomers to his acquaintance like us. As you may’ve learned by now, his member is missing.

Anatomical conspiracy, some call it. Apparently, he was as under endowed as the NPR is expected to be if it’s up to the GOP, and the disappearance of his penis has something to do with, well, keeping up appearances. What some would do to turn such a minor “bleep” into an orchestrated caper with roots in the 2000s B.C.E. is a point for another discussion.

But as it goes, it did happen before, in 1922. It was soon rediscovered, though, amid the gravel on which his mummy was packed. For those “disappearators” above, thus, it all fits a pattern along the belief that King Tut’s anatomy was even less proportional than some of the Met statues.
Another way to sober up about it is to picture the Khalid Nabi cemetery, in Iran. A kind of under-the-radar tourist attraction, it was established in the very days of the prophet (yes, that one) but it’s named after a well known (to them) Christian poet. Oh, and it has 600 tombstones shaped in the form of phalluses and crosses.
That’s right. Only in such an ultra-conservative religious dictatorship such as Iran, you’d find such a monumental contradiction. And it’s there for hundreds of years. Since no Iranian’s been suicidal enough to publicly try to find out why on earth it has so many erect penises, who knows? Maybe even King Tut’s missing link is in there.

But please, don’t encourage Silvio. If he gets a hold of this story, he may decide he wants a similar monument of his own, if possible erected by hired nubile girls. It’d be redundant to mention what some italiani would do with such a monstrosity, though.
The team that glued the prosthetics to Mars’s statue seems to be better prepared for a possible backlash to their work: they say the replacement parts were attached using a magnetic system and can be removed. It’s very likely they were considering the possibility the PM falls off his horse and a new order is established in the land the Borgias once ruled.
As for us, we’ll always be standing on the way, and all that.

***

Serious Business

A Global Toilet Day
to Raise Awareness

It takes just a quick glance at the toll poor sanitation causes to public health to realize how lucky we all are. What with flushing water, plenty of soft tissue and as much privacy as we think it’s our right to demand, it’s hard to imagine that we still need an annual day like Friday to call attention to such a vital issue. That’s exactly what the World Toilet Organization is trying to accomplish.

According to estimates, in the developing world, diarrheal diseases spread via feces kill more children than HIV/AIDS. In great part of African, Asian and Latin American countries, running water is a luxury, and people use nearby open air sewages is their toilets. And it’s useful to be reminded that, while we as we flush once more, not too far away Haiti is facing a cholera epidemic that can be traced directly to poor sanitation.
Along with access to clean water, proper nutrition and education, the right to have high standards of hygiene and improved sanitation should be inherent to human beings, if we expect to survive as a species. While wealthy nations face a growing threat from superbugs, created in part due to widespread overprescription of antibiotics, the rest of the world suffers for lack of access to even the most basic of them.
So this week, take a moment in your busy schedule of bathroom breaks to think of ways you can contribute for the global fight against fatal diseases caused by poor hygiene and lack of sanitation. Even if this time it’s just about to educate yourself, so we can make better choices for you and those who surround you. Do what you can to help out and don’t forget to wash well your hands.

***

Brand New Day

Military Junta Grants Freedom
to Myanmar’s Opposition Leader

Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who single-handedly personified the struggle of thousands of Myanmar citizens against the country’s military junta, has been released from her seven and a half years of house arrest.

The Oxford-educated daughter of General Aung San, an independence hero assassinated in 1947, she’s been incarcerated for 15 of the past 21 years, since her return to the country that used to be called Burma.
But although as politically articulated as her father was, there’s no easy explanation as to why the military rulers have been so afraid of her. What’s undeniable is that, in trying to silence her, they turned her into a symbol of human rights and the fight for democratic values the world over.
In the end, her release however joyful, will do very little to tackle the serious social problems facing Myanmar today, including extreme poverty, hunger and corruption, while its junta entertains dreams of nuclear prowess, with the help of North Korea and omission of China.

The end of her unjust house arrest ordeal is a great cause for celebration. But one can’t help it but to realize that the country Aung San’s been released to is in even worst shape that it was two decades ago and it may take much more to rescue it from its isolation, obscurantism, and misery.

***

Murder Inc.

Drug War in Mexico Breeds
Murder, Art & Acts of Courage

The Mexican government’s catastrophically misguided efforts to curb drug trafficking has won no battle or shown little progress so far. On the contrary, the indiscriminate body count keeps multiplying, entire cities are being ravaged by impunity and corruption, and a once promising youth is trapped in the middle of its lethal crossfire.
While the Calderon administration, with no small help of the U.S., dump obscene amounts of dollars and human resources into sheer repression, growing demand from both sides of the border and the allure of easily attainable power to its foot soldiers remain untouched and only strengthens the cartels’ de facto control of whole regions of the country.
Segments of the Mexican society, though, remain defiant and show continuous resolve to defend their dignity as citizens and right to lead peaceful lives, despite the widespread terror in border cities, the public assassinations, intimidation of the media, and the open disregard for the rule of law.
Take the increased beheadings of young men, for instance. Its unintended consequence may have fueled the latest baffling trend in the fight that conventional law enforcement is ready to abdicate: young women stepping forward and courageously wearing badges. Such is the case of Olga Herrera Castillo, who’s been appointed police chief in Villa Luz, and Veronica Rios Ontiveros, now in charge of El Vergel. These two housewives are both are as inexperienced as 20-year-old Marisol Valles Garcia, a college student who became the police chief of Práxedis Guadalupe Guerrero last month, but equally as fierce as she is. And the towns they’re willing to do battle in are all in the troubled border region of Ciudad Juarez, where some of the most shocking and despicable acts of barbarism against the population have been recently committed by dueling drug cartels.
As these three fearless women exemplify, even the most unprotected demographics of Mexico’s citizenry, unjustly thrown into the trenches of a lucrative and convenient “drug war,” remains committed to restore and retake their country from the dirty hands of such armies of murder.
That’s why many in California, Arizona and Texas are demanding a comprehensive legislation to decriminalize drugs, and literally pull the fangs of such vampires who prey on the most vulnerable for recruiting, arming them with high-power weaponry and unrealistic promises of instant wealth and respect by fear.
“My concern is that there is no opposition to the barbarity, to the insanity,” says the Argentinean-born Mexican artist Pablo Szmulewicz, author of the painting that illustrates this post. “It can’t be part of our daily landscape.” His sense of despair is understandable and easily spotted in his stunning depiction of the violence that plagues his adopted land. But his work, along with the courage of regular Mexicans, shows that the brutes may break our hearts but not a nation’s spirit. It’s their call to arms, their “!No Pasarán!” vow to resist, as uncompromising and relevant as the fight against fascism in the 1930s once was.

***

Preaching in the Desert

A Lonely Voice Lectures Midtown
Workers on the Evils of an Airline

His disembodied voice hits you whenever you’re near Grand Central. From a distance, it’s hard to make up his words, but it doesn’t sound like a sermon. Rather than a street preacher, it sounds more like voices bouncing out of a union protest; a one-person rally, if you would.
He’s been on that part of Lexington for at least a couple of years, brandishing a home-scribbled poster, repeating his tenor over and over. Something against American Airlines, it appears.

One would be hard pressed to ask him why or whether whatever happened, it happened to him or he’s just a hired hand, doing someone else’s bid. As a matter of fact, his emphatic, firm but slightly singsongy tone can be kind of intimidating. Just like airline counters these days.

With all respect for his efforts, though, what he does week after week can hardly be effective. Otherwise, where’re the hordes of frustrated travelers, full of nightmarish bones to pick with flying companies? Have they all given up on their way back from the airport? Who knows? We haven’t asked.
We just hear his loud voice during business hours – lunch break included – proclaiming to whoever has time to listen, how they tossed some unfortunate flyer, we assume, straight on the tarmac. Or how they disposed of a perfectly fine first-class seat and force someone to stay in the back, by the clogged toilets.
Or was their luggage, which arrived safely and on time at the Papua Guinea International Airport, while they were late for an important meeting in New York, armed only with a bag of peanuts and plenty of apologies? We don’t know, we never asked.
Maybe this gentleman is in this midtown crusade for exactly such a reason: to accumulate the miles and make that dream trip to the Pacific. He won’t need much luggage for that. Flying coach with American would suit him just fine. And he can always make up his own signs, a homemade poster asking for directions, for example, once he’s there.

***

Ghost Ride

Under New York, a Storied
Past Missed its Last Train

Paris has the old Catacombs. Capadocia, in Turkey, exists atop dozens of underground villages. And New York City has its subway tunnels, where abandoned stations are connected by miles of uncompleted tracks.
Recent news about a graffiti show that opened somewhere under Williamsburg renewed interest in the dark recesses of this city, the forbidden vaults carved in the bedrock of Manhattan and its surrounding neighborhoods.

Perhaps unrelated to the latest wave of attention, the MTA now allows commuters of the #6 train a glimpse of what once was the crown jewel of the system: the City Hall station. Just stay on as the train loops after the Brooklyn Bridge station, to go back uptown, and you’ll briefly pass its elegant Art Deco lines and exquisite architectural beauty. You may even take a tour there, if you fancy seeing it up close and in detail, but you probably already saw at least parts of it, or a mock up of it, in the many movies it’s been featured on since it was abandoned in 1945.
Beyond the splendor in the dark, though, which speaks of a glamorous time of cocktail parties by the platforms and Hollywood starlets being introduced to the metropolis by local politicians of the era, there’s always been another world breathing down there. It’s a world of ghosts and shadows, rodents and vermin, of stray pets and missing family members.
A secluded community of the dispossessed and the dejected, the forgotten and the ignored by the society above, that dwells along those non-electrified tracks, known with certain derision as the Mole People. Through the windows of the speeding trains, you may even catch a brief glimpse of their faces, quickly receding to the darkness.

So brief in fact that no one has had the chance to ask them what they think about the new show, and the attention it’s gathering from the police. The latest bunch of daring artists has been busy playing cat and mouse with the MTA and so are the visitors following them, who parachute down below through cracks and sewage tubes, in search for the rare exhibit.
It’s all just another New York you don’t hear often in the news, or see on the tabloid shows on celebrities. Not nearly as ancient as those hidden sites in Europe. No meaningful amount of blood and carnage is associated with its history, and besides being buried, it shares only dirt and big rats with those foreign chambers that once served as refuge to runaways from one ruler or another.
Our tunnels claim their own brand of hide and seek excitement to account for. Mostly hiding actually. The Mole people hide from the MTA, the artists try to avoid the police, the night tourists sometimes get lost, and the rats run away from everyone they don’t yet know. It’s all mostly devoid of human skulls that we know of, of course. But it’s where we live, so we’re running with it. Got that?

***

Leonids

Meteor Showers May Again Be
Obscured by the Raining Kind

This morning, early dawn, the Leonids annual meteor shower arrives again. Although historically known to be the most active of the various of its kind throughout the year, this time around astronomers expect the show to be of the modest kind, because the moon will be almost full. But if you live in New York, you wound’t know it either way.

After a few unusually warm nights, fall in the Eastern Seaboard remains as unpredictable as a meteor count, and a cloud-covered night sky will produce plenty of showers but no view of the ancient phenomenon. Hadn’t been for the rain, it would’ve been the city lights. As Roseanna used to say, there’s always something… (Don’t ask.)
But before you think this whole post was a waste of your stellar time, did you know that the Leonids, and most other meteor showers, happen when Earth plows through a trail of debris left in the wake of a comet orbiting the sun—in this case, comet Tempel-Tuttle?
There you have it: you may not be seeing meteor showers any time soon, but you can take this little piece of information all the way to the bank. Or to a Central Park bench. Just don’t forget the umbrella. As they say, Wednesday things may even improve.

Last edited by colltales on November 16, 2010 at 10:16 pm

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***

Got Milk

How Many Laws It Takes to Explain
a Cat’s Gulp? Let Us Count the PhDs

With due respect to Barbra Streisand, the real zen master is the feline, as research upon research piles up to prove it. This time, it took two MIT scientists, plus one from Princeton and another from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, to show the world what it already knew: when cats drink, they’re actually solving fundamental hydrodynamic problems you didn’t even know existed.
For starters, they lap their drinks four times a second, way too fast for your inferior human eyes to see anything but a blur. And unlike dogs, for example, they hardly make any noise doing it. Oh, and the toothbrush-like raspy hairs on their tongue have nothing to do with it.
In lay terms, the four engineers reported that the cat’s lapping method depends on its “instinctive ability to calculate the balance between opposing gravitational and inertial forces.” Come again?

Elementary, my dear reader. The cat darts its tongue, curving the upper side downward so that the tip lightly touches the surface of the water. The tongue pulls a column of liquid upwards, and quickly traps it inside his month, before it has a chance to give in to gravity and spill. Did we mention that the cat’s chin remains dry during the process?

How did they measure all this? With high tech machines, silly, one of which had been designed for some way less important experiment at the $100 billion International Space Station, before being found in storage. And of course, let’s not forget that the Froude number was indeed calculated in this research, and so was the aspect ratio, just to be in the sure side. We wait here until you look that all up.

It’s also clear that the study was assigned to one of the scientists by his usual mentor in all things scientific, Cutta Cutta, his black cat. His was also the recommendation to test the concept with bigger felines. It turns out they all share the same wisdom when drinking their nourishing fluids, except that in their case, such fluids can be your own blood.

Rumors that Cutta Cutta may have instructed the team to conduct field observations at zoos and wildlife facilities just for the thrill of seen it running for their lives remain unconfirmed at this time. But please consider yourself warned that, should you try to tweak the conclusions of this research, you may face serious, life-threatening risks, not sanctioned by any scientific board.
So there you have it. Besides their other-worldliness ability to always find the best spot, warmer or cooler, to take each one of his many naps a day, and his infinite generosity to even allow us to get close to him, when and if the occasion requires it, now we know that cats are also living encyclopedias – by the way, shouldn’t you be taking notes or something? -, exuberantly spreading knowledge wherever they go.
This is truly their world to roam, rule and, every once in a while, manifest their annoyance with. We, like the latest team of scientists that try to take them to task, merely work here. And now that you mentioned it, cats are indeed known for liking tennis, so they wouldn’t mind Agassi on his prime. But we certainly don’t know anyone who’s fond of Streisand.

***

Runner of Mine

From Chilean   Miner #12
to New York Marathoner

Edison Peña, the miner who used to run underground while still trapped with 32 others in a Chilean mine for 69 days, is one of the attractions of this year’s marathon, along with your usual lot of African fast runners, fitness go-getters and wheel-chair bound devils. And, regardless of when and how he’ll to reach the finish line today, Peña’s sweet 15 minutes in the New York glare already marked at least one zeitgeist moment: his pitch-perfect – pronunciation, not so much – partial rendition of an Elvis Presley song during a talk show.

***

Blue Coyote

Roberta Joan Anderson is 67 today. Millions of friends and admirers around the world are celebrating

her music, poetry and paintings. Her constantly evolving art and highly distinctive style have been an integral part of their growing up. To many, she’s a muse. To others, a personal friend. But all love and know her by her stage name. So, Happy Birthday, Joni Mitchell.

***

Almost Got Away

Asian Refugee and Crab
Share a Common Dream

The elderly man on the right boarded a Vancouver-bound plane in Hong Kong. The young man on the left inhabited the man on the right’s face and neck mask disguise. They both, er, the man on the left got caught after slipping way too soon into something more comfortable, while still on the plane.
Confused yet? Let’s start it over. The Asian man did almost everything right to get to Canada, reasons unknown. Had he waited just a bit longer, he would’ve been successful, what with an American passport and a legit-looking boarding pass in his pocket and all. But maybe it was too hot under that movie-quality rubber mask, so he didn’t. And got caught big time.

Afterwards, the plane crew claimed that it had indeed suspected his “young looking” hands (Haven’t they ever heard about the wonders of Pond’s?), and that he claimed two suitcases too short. When he said he had just one, they instantly produced the other two, one of them with the discarded disguise inside. Which, mind us saying, looks like that of an old sailor man, doesn’t it? Whatever.
Of course, everyone is hyperventilating about the obvious implications to security screening at airports and all. Would those new X-rated HD screeners be able to spot the mask, besides his genitals? Who cares? We’re kind of sympathetic with the poor guy. And, like the terminal staff, impressed with his acting skills; apparently his body language was pitch-perfect with that of an old man (from the sea).
No second chance for the stray crab, though. Spotted Thursday in New York, the doomed sea creature was desperately trying to flee his crowded tank at one of Chinatown’s live seafood stores. It made as far as half a block away, before a fast-thinking (albeit indifferent) man scooped it up with a discarded coffee cup and kept walking. Snack time, perhaps? Truly disgusting. Needless to say, we’re kind of sympathetic with the poor crab, etc, etc.

***

Walk Backwards

Republicans Foreclosure Democrats
& Vow to Go After Obama’s Policies

So the expected happened and the Democrats lost the majority in the House. A red-faced John Boehner, poised to be the next Speaker, celebrated the Republicans’ biggest achievement of the night: to temporarily erase the recent past from the voters’ minds, and win on a message of change in Washington, stolen from candidate Barack Obama.
Also expected is a two-year battle to preserve the tax cuts for the richest Americans, while dismantling Obama’s health care legislation. Since Democrats may be forced to fight for their Senate seats, that won’t be as easy as tonight’s victories, and the government may experience a similar paralysis as the one that happened during President Clinton’s second administration.
It was a brutal defeat to the party in power but for the Tea Party, not so much of a victorious night. It’s biggest one, that of Rand Paul’s, has more to do with the battles his father Ron’s being waging for years against any sort of government regulation, than with the wealthy new radical rich of the right.

The so-called Tea Baggers may in fact bring about deep divisions at the Republican heart, as traditional, well-wheeled former bosses, of the neo-con kind such as Karl Rove, seem set to start their own cavalcade back to power. A confrontation with the new sheriff in town, a doll-faced former governor who likens herself to a beast while flashing an expensive pearly set of sharp teeth, may be all that some scared spineless Democrats need to wake up.
For converts of the bless-in-disguise church, then, the blood spilled Tuesday may taste sweeter than the checks corporations will be writing to the new gang on Capitol Hill for a well done effort. For such positive thinkers, if anyone is hoping to keep the pressure cooker of unemployment and costly and deadly foreign wars under control, while collecting fat checks on their way to cut government spending, they definitely have something coming their way.
More than anything though, the biggest quest is to know which Obama will come to the podium in January to announce a new day in America. But it’d be a futile exercise to place our bets on the legislator, the brilliant orator, the distinguished negotiator, always willing to work with “both aisles.” He tried and, bless his soul, history will judge him well for trying as hard as he did. But enough of health care without public option, of financial reform without penalties for those who profited from the bankruptcy of millions, and no more support to unwinnable wars, period.
Our money would be better spent if the first thing we hear from the President is a big “F*#@ it! followed by, You guys didn’t vote for me, and will do anything to see me dead coming 2012. So, forget it, I’m going to go for broke and get back at the real majority of Americans who elected me and haven’t heard much from me in these past two years. We’re going to rebuild the infrastructure of this country and generate jobs. We’ll divert money from war to education and research. We’re going after corporate profits and Wall Street fat cats, for real.
And if you don’t like it, go and vote for the other guy. We’re going to go from town to town recalling people, helping them find their lost confidence to dream, bringing the cutting edge science to the classroom, so evolution, global warming, solar power, organic food, affordable housing, low-interest loans, social security…

Hello! Hello! It’s 6:30, it’s time to get up, come on, you’re going to be late… Hit the shower and let’s go to work.

***

Time Capsule

Below City Curbs,
A Secret Art Show

What you may experience walking the streets of New York at any given moment may follow you long after. That’s above the ground and no, it’s nothing to do with dogs. But what’s happening below your steps, you can only imagine.
Now here’s something you may be walking on too: a secret art show, hidden within the walls of an abandoned subway station that neither you, nor most of the 8 million people living in this city, will be invited to attend. Ever.
“The Underbelly Project,” the creation of street artists Workhorse and PAC, and 103 other guests from around the world, is just such a show. By the way, they all would rather be referred to only by pseudonymous. Because, first, graffiti art is deemed vandalism in New York and, therefore, illegal, and also because the MTA, which owns the subway tunnels, would never allow such a venture to go on in its property.

It took 18 months of grueling work to put together the project and only a few hours to document it and seal the access to its premises for good. Perhaps some day it’ll be unexpectedly discovered like a time capsule by an urban archaeologist of the future. For art historians of the same period, though, it won’t be hard to realize that it rather memorializes a time prior to its own existence.

Its inaccessibility and likely ephemeral nature is designed to evoke the punk-anarchic spirit of the urban art scene of the 1970s New York. Yet apart its brutal logistics and still real threat of persecution, the show is closer to a rehashing of the long-lost rebellious attitude that marked pioneers of the era, by now, either gone or co-opted for good by the established art world.

A quixotic nihilism pervades PAC’s summation of the project: “Collectors can’t buy the art. The public can’t see it. And the only people with a chance of stumbling across it are the urban explorers who prowl the city’s hidden infrastructure or employees of the MTA.
This being New York and all, though, we wouldn’t be surprised if, as we speak, some fat cat isn’t already planning on bringing the show up to the surface. But it’d probably be equally exclusive – red velvet rope and bouncers galore included -, another A-list-only event neither you nor the rest of those 8 million souls would ever be invited to.

***

New Continuity Leader

Dilma Rousseff Becomes First

Woman to Preside Over Brazil

There was no spooky surprise and 190 million Brazilians elected President Lula da Silva’s protegee from the Workers’ Party, Dilma Rousseff, as the country’s first female president, in today’s runnoff. She won with an estimated 56% of the votes, beating Social Democrat José Serra without the endorsement of Green Party’s Marina Silva, who came in third place in the first round, a month ago.

A VOTE SEEN AS ENDORSEMENT OF

LULA AND SUPPORT FOR HIS POLICIES

Rousseff, a first generation Brazilian who survived cancer, and a former guerrilla operative who did time imprisoned by the militarydictatorship that ruled the country from 1964 to the early 80s, was Lula’s Energy Minister and Chief of Staff. Despite lacking his charisma, a fact that’s been pointed out to exhaustion by the media, she’s navigated relatively unscathed through several corruption and financial crisis that cost their party some of its most expressive leaderships and no small amount of credibility.

Chief among those left along the way are José Genoíno and José Dirceu, political activists who like her went into hiding and exile during the dictatorship but had to leave the government amid scandals.
BUSY FUTURE AHEAD

The other female presidential candidate, Marina Silva (no relation) came in third place in the first round, but did help her Green Party to increase its national profile. Her leadership is largely expected to present alternatives to the country’s structural problems, along, and sometimes in opposition to, Serra and his party’s ever increasing legislative representation.

Issues such as education, criminality, urban violence, environmental protection, including comprehensive policies to the Amazonas and for state-run oil company Petróleo Brasileiro (Petrobrás), among others not completely addressed by the Lula administration, will surely galvanize the next electoral cycle.
In addition, Brazil is slated to host two major international sports competitions, the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics Games, two years later, which will necessarily forced it to update its aging infrastructure and forge at least temporarily some new alliances between the federal and local governments in order to succeed.

Rousseff, who unlike Lula, is known for a personal style that can easily be characterized as “abrupt,” may have a difficult time negotiating with a notoriously uncooperative legislature, and is expected to even preside over the unravel of some of PT’s most beloved programs such as the Bolsa Familia, a much-reviled social program for low income families, and other populist policies it enforced in this past eight years of rule.
CONTINUITY AND CHANGE

A fundamental issue that may become a huge point of contention is the central bank’s independence and autonomy to formulate monetary policy. Many credit the bank to Brazil’s unprecedented economic stability of the last half dozen years, mainly for the unwavering conduction of its president Henrique Meirelles, who may not last too much longer on his post after the election, beyond his expressed commitment to Rousseff.
Transparence and inclusion of the political process, greater support to alternative energy policies and a much more aggressive approach to eradicate extreme illiteracy and its nefarious consequences – increased urban violence, dispossession of great swaths of the Brazilian society and the unchallenged power of druglords over ever-expanding shantytowns – are daily life irritants for the country’s citizenry and, critics say, issues PT’s failed spectacularly to address.
But even the most vicious critics of the ruling party’s indiscriminate use of its political machine to perpetuate itself in power, will admit that Rousseff’s election is still a step ahead toward Brazil’s grandstand ambitions to become a global power in control of its invaluable natural resources and continental dimensions.
QUESTIONS ABOUT LULA

As the country’s consolidates its still young democracy, and divergent political forces jockey for greater representation, one overall consensus in and outside its borders is that much of its present high global profile is due to its economic stability and pragmatic trade policies.

It remains to be seen how Rousseff will manage to impose her own brand of government, specially when choosing her cabinet and ministry, and whether Lula will fade to the back or remain a kind of looming, haunting shadow, ready to come back to power at a moment’s notice.

But it’ll depend on the ability of Brazilians themselves to organize social and politically throughout the country, to better exercise their grip on their own destiny. For such a perceived sunny constituency, one still attached to the cliché of “samba and soccer” loving populace, there’s much ground to be covered.
As Brazilians reaffirmed today their faith in the democratic process, it’s also ultimately up to them to decide what they want their country to grow into and how to go about getting there, and how soon. For if the U.S. recent experience is of any instruction, the fate of a nation at any given moment goes way beyond the particular skills of its leader, however charismatic he or she turns out to be.

***

What’s Cooking?

This evening, Share Your
Dinner With Your Neighbor

During the (one of many) energy crisis of the 1970s, a U.K. campaign became an instant hit: “Share a bath with your neighbor and save water,” or something to that effect, was a short-lived government-sponsored campaign that found many a quiet flat dweller going beyond the call of duty and having lots of fun in the process. Ah, those tamer times we dare not speak of any longer.

But alas, the world may’ve taken more than its share of frightful turns, but certain basic human needs remain reassuringly constant. For some of us, meal time can be made into an occasion for companionship and sharing of precious resources, all along making a statement about energy preservation and the environment.
That’s the idea behind Luong Lu’s concept of sharing dinner with neighbors. Or rather, he adapted a growing trend towards “cooperative cooking,” that seems to be already percolating for a few years in New York City and other big urban centers, and reoriented it to the single lifestyle.
All it took was to create a system to properly cover the shopping, cooking and, above all, the invitation process involved and voilá, a group of strangers can potentially become a group of friends, sharing meals, estories and much more. A the potential for romance and happy endings is not lost to anyone either.
The Food Tech Connect blog is helping spread the idea and the participation and input from individuals is greatly encouraged. Who knows? Maybe Oprah will pick it up too and next thing you know, an intimate dinner with a few of your neighbors will be the start of a beautiful friendship, bottle of wine optional.

***

Diego de Argentina

Brilliance & Controversy,
Maradona’s Legacy at 50

One of the greatest soccer players of all times, Argentine Diego Armando Maradona, reaches his 50th birthday today, marked by unique achievements on the field and embarrassing mistakes off of it.
His playing ability and skills remain unmatched and it’s his arguably the most beautiful goal ever scored in an official tournament, against England in 1986, Mexico, during the second World Cup won by Argentina.
It’s also his one of his country’s most vexing moments, during the 1994 cup in the U.S., when Maradona failed a drug test and was banned from the competition. Since that quick exit, Argentina’s still to win another trophy.

His volatile personality, a magnet to controversy, threatens at times to obscure his achievements as a player. It also doesn’t help that to most he plays second fiddle to Brazil’s Pelé, who won two more tournaments than

him, and far outscores everyone else in the game, almost 40 years after retiring.

In fact, Maradona’s public feud with Pelé is now part of the lore of the world’s most popular sports and a polarizing issue for its fans. Even his biggest victories seem to be multiplied by those of Pelé, except in what run-ins with the law and fan devotion verging on the bizarre are concerned.

His trials with illegal drugs and personal drama were often played out in public, and yet Argentines of all stripes would gladly light up candles for him anytime. Some went as far as to create the Church of Maradona, founded in 1998 and that counts 2010 as the year 50 D.D., Después de Diego (After Diego).
Still, to soccer lovers the world over, it’s more than simply coincidence that its two greatest idols were born exactly 20 years and a week apart, in two countries known for their petty but intense rivalry.

Thus, Maradona would be the Dionysius to Pelé’s Apollo, the dark, younger, unbound tango god and the sunny, wiser, hedonistic king of samba. Such over the top characterization, though, always gets in the way of a fully appreciation of such a complex and vulnerable public figure represented by the one once known as “Dieguito.”

But it seems appropriate that unlike Pelé’s 70th birthday celebrations last week, Maradona’s will be considerably more subdued because of the national mourning in Argentina for the sudden death of its former President Nestor Kirchner.
Once again, for a freak of destiny, his long anticipated coronation will be somewhat shortchanged, and he won’t be able to completely rule the headlines in his own birthday, sharing them instead, with the commentary and reflective news on the death of another powerful populist figure.

Or it may all be a bit of a payback from that infamous “Hand of God.” Whereas it once graced Maradona with an illegal and crucial goal, now it may be reminding him of its moody, counterbalancing whims. For if anyone’s greatness or disgrace would be close enough to be touched by the powers that be themselves, that would clearly be El Pibe de Oro.

***

Chelsea Hotel

New York Landmark
Seeks a New Owner

Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen slept there. So did Andy Warhol. Robert Mapplethorpe and Quentin Crisp had a few loud arguments. Arthur Miller was once heard screaming on the first floor, while Eugene O’Neill and Charles Bukosvski used to get drunk but kept to themselves. Unlike Sid Vicious, who stabbed his girlfriend to death in his room, and passed out waiting for a drug delivery.
Now the Hotel Chelsea, as those who know little about it call it, is up for sale, squeezed by the new realities of stratospheric real estate values and not many enduring celebrities, naive enough to move in there and entertain us all with stories of excess and debauchery. Which is a shame but also a bless in disguise.
Imagine if Taylor Swift would decide that the settings would be perfect for her new album of country covers? Or Justin Bieber would sign his new signature video game in one of its hallways? Or even if, grasp, Glenn Beck would descend upon it like an avenging cherubim and make a statement against the sins of the city right at the hotel’s lobby?
Coming to think of it, it all sounds very parochial and possessive from our part, this zeal to preserve what, let’s face it, is no longer what this town of blaring Times Square lights and not a single Red Light district, of snobbish billionaire kin and hardly a working stiff to save the day has become. But the place is one of the few left, still in good standing for all its rent delayed customers and urine soaked entrance, so be it and beat it.
But alas, there’s little else anyone can do about it. The controlling families themselves no longer see eye to eye with the few derelict tenants, and the ones who actually pay the rent on time, won’t have anything to do with the storied past of the place. In fact, we hear they’re holding a fashion shoot in there this weekend. And the whole top floor has been rented to an unidentified Saudi sheik.

If the recent history of similar demises, from the Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper complex to the Plaza Hotel are of any value, it’ll most likely be sold to some mega-corporation that will file for bankruptcy right after evicting all the low rent tenants, making a few million in the process and contributing to the general malaise we seem to be getting used to about this town: all “storied past” and no viable fit for the brightly rich and miserably unimaginative future a few bored investors hope it all will become within a few years.
If you, like us, feel a bit steamrolled by the utterly anti-bohemian march of these times in Manhattan, there may still be places to go and recharge yourself, but the Chelsea Hotel is not among them. Too many books and songs have already been written. Too many celebrities are no longer invoking it as the best spot to die. Too many publicists have staked ownership over its faded glare. Let them all have it.

We’ll always have the Jane Hotel. Oh, pardon us, that one is also no longer cheap and seedy and pregnant with the chiaroscuro of scented memories. Oh well, you’ve got to have something else, then. It was nice while it lasted but we know now why some flop houses at the Bowery, also under attack, are starting to look they really belong. At least their bedbugs have some mileage.

***

Triumph of Incoherence

Genome Sequencing of Ozzy
May Explain Why He’s Still Alive

Scientists have just completed the genome sequencing of former Black Sabbath frontman Ozzy Osbourne and the assumption is that it’ll finally explain, once and for all, how come he’s still around – no offense -, even though all he plays these days is a gargantuan ass of himself. This reminds us of that old account that, according to science, bumblebees should not be able to fly.
Exactly like that old, probably apocryphal account, the only conclusive resolution the experiment most likely proves is that something is amiss. And, since we’re talking about the self-appointed Prince of Darkness himself, something has indeed, been terribly missing for far too long.
To be fair, the 61 permanently addled Osbourne is, in fact, a survivor, who walked away from comas, a broken neck, car accidents, and obscene amounts of drugs, and that’s just the part that his wife Sharon, bless her soul, helped him remember.
Stepping a bit deeper on the cruelty pedal, the comedian Denis Leary had a related bit about the basic unfairness of life from a 1960s fan’s point of view. While it wouldn’t give Hendrix a pass for seeking help from prescribed sleeping pills, it allowed many a star (not Ozzy) to spend multi-week benders locked in some hotel room, only to emerge, refreshed and well, with a new collection of songs and plans for a six-month tour.

But we digress. Osbourne’s blood sample was collected in early July and sent to St. Louis, Missouri-based Cofactor Genomics. The DNA sequence results were then sent to Knome, a startup based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that analyzes human genomes. The research will be presented in more detail later this week at the TED Med conference in San Diego.
For those still awake, analysis of his mitochondrial DNA, inherited from his mother, revealed that Osbourne shared a common ancestor with the comedian Stephen Colbert about 1,000 years ago. That was somewhat surprising. What was not is the fact that he has some DNA segments inherited from Neanderthals.
A last word on that well-known myth about bumblebees: if it ever happened, it originated on an over-simplified calculation, made by an aerodynamics expert and scribbled on a napkin during a dinner party in Germany, in the 1930s. After a few cocktails, you may add. Scientists, who naturally don’t appreciate the way their whole category was made to look with the story, are eager to point to its misconceptions. Something to do with the lift of a helicopter. Or something. Unfortunately for them, that part got lost in the translation.
But in the end, it’s Osbourne who comes through and makes more sense than even the time spent in his blood research.

- “I used to drink four bottles of cognac a day. I’m not sure I need a Harvard scientist to get to the bottom of that mystery.” Whatta boy.

***

Paul Is Dead

New Evidence May Point to
Coverup in Octopus Demise

The German news agency DAPD said that Paul, the octopus who successfully predicted the outcome of the World Cup of soccer last July, was found dead Monday evening by what’s is being considered natural causes. According to reports, the cephalopod extraordinaire was in good spirits early on. He had his usual dish of boiled squid and watched his favorite show on German Television, “Sea Us Kaput,” before retiring for the night.
But some groups are expressing doubts about the announcement, which they call a coverup to hide the fact that the octopod who reportedly passed away in Germany is not the same marine creature who predicted the victory of Spain in South Africa. The real Paul, according to these experts, has already died, presumably even before the final.

The unidentified group’s Web site, “PaulIsDeadAgain.com,” is inviting the public to draw conclusions for what they view as discrepancies between what’s known about the mollusk’s life at the SeaLife aquarium in Oberhausen, and the official account of his demise.

Among the allegedly evidence, the group cites a picture of Paul making his fateful choice for a mussel inside a glass tank marked with the Spanish flag over the other mussel in the tank with the Dutch flag. Spain defeated Netherlands 1X0 to win its first World Cup trophy.

They point to a natural discoloration mark above Paul’s right eye, that is not present in pictures taken from the octopus after the cup. They’re also skeptic about the documented size and weight of the famous eight-tentacle sea wonder, which seemed to have both shrunk, as improbable as it’d be in the animal world.

Lastly, they question the timing of Paul’s retirement from predicting world soccer match results, early August, which coincides with the aquarium officials’ decision to restrict public viewing and pictures taking of Paul. That’s the conclusive proof, according to the “PaulIsDeadAgain” group, that the officials feared someone would spot Paul’s look-alike for what he allegedly was, an impostor.

Right before the end of the World Cup, in mid July, the 2 1/2 year old invertebrate received several death threats most likely from those unhappy with his predictions. Argentine fans, for example, promised to cook and eat the devilfish, after he successfully predicted Germany’s sounding victory over their national team. Even Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian leader, called Paul a “symbol of decadence and decay among his enemies,” that is, the U.S., assorted Western countries, and a few of his relatives he doesn’t particularly care for. Rumors that the “psychic” octopod may have died started around the same period.
In the end, there will always remain Paul’s excellent record: besides the World Cup final, he correctly predicted the winner in all of Germany’s matches in the tournament, seven times in a row. That high predictive accuracy rules out pure chance or coincidence, statistically speaking.
Here’s for injecting a healthy dose of unpredictability to an otherwise lackluster World Cup edition, R.I.P. Paul, and thanks for all the fish.
***

Like Cheeses

So This Dolphin
Walks on Water…

For a species who consider themselves top of the food chain, masters of the universe, the most evolved and all that, we also have some pretty consistent hang-ups about animal behavior. Take apes and monkeys, for example. In the 1940s and 50s, we couldn’t get enough of them. They were the stars of cutting edge science research, buddy adventure movies, commercials and, as a plus, were adopted by many a celebrity eager to have a non-human baby.
Of course, such an anthropocentric characterization had unforeseen consequences: as they live as long as we do, once the fad faded away, many a Hollywood dweller no longer had any use for them. Research funding dried up as soon as they started “aping” our worst behaviors and those who became famous in the silver screen, got impossible to handle behind the scenes. After just a couple of years, they were being shipped to live in wild retirement homes for the next 40, 50 years.
And then the attacks began. Bratty, vicious, oftentimes lethal attacks on their human daddies and mommies, with no criminal penalty applicable, of course. With no way back to the wild, where they should have never been plucked from in the first place, their only place to go were those assisted living facilities, no matter how many they’d maimed.
So much for the cute baby monkey, who grows faster and is more intelligent than humans by the time he’s two. At two and half, he’s a murderous monster, they found, and lucky not to be shot by the local sheriff during another rampage. Once wild, always untamed, bless them all. And that was that. Or was it?
Along came the dolphins. When scientists realized the size of their brains, guess what they thought would be great doing about it? To strap bombs to them and let them blow themselves next to enemy vessels, that’s what. Just like radical terrorists do now with willing humans. Go figure. Wait, there’s more. Highly social like us, they actually speak among themselves, scientists say, and all the dolphins could do about such findings was, well, laugh about.

Just like they did when we began to believe they’re some sort of illuminated creatures, with a preternatural friendly nature. So cute too. Until they were caught on tape slaughtering each other. Big ones having fun killing small ones. Sounds familiar? SeaWorld divers and imprudent visitors being dragged under in front of the cameras, it all came as a shock. What, they seemed to enjoy doing it? We’re shocked, indeed.
And now comes the very biblical walk on water routine. We’re told the trend is recent, never before observed in the wild but by now, for obvious reasons, we doubt anyone venturing unarmed into the wild has been able to return with full working marbles to speak of (and all limbs still in place). Scientists, never at loss for anthropocentric comparisons, see a kind of dancing routine in the trend. They do it for fun, really, just for being sociable. Haven’t we heard all that before?
What’s next? Performing baptisms? Available for weddings and Mitzvahs? Who knows? All we’re too aware of is our own gullibility. And pathological need to find a way to accommodate our fascination with animals and their presence in what we consider our own world, with our psycho-savage need to nurture and then smothered to death those we love the most. Sounds familiar?

On one hand, we slaughter them, eat them, hunt them for sport, test them for drugs we’re afraid to use on our own bodies, and abuse them for pure amusement. On the other, we long to communicate with them, share experiences, star in road movies with them. Alas, we can’t have both ways. Either we let them be whatever it is we can’t seem to understand they really are. Or we invite them to play Freddy Klugger with us.
In other words, if you want to believe that J.C. walked on water, is one thing. If you think that’s a dolphin fast approaching with a smile on his face and a chainsaw stuck into his blowhole, you better run, buddy. Or as that ol’ fashioned bumper stick saying, use at the tail end of some fisherman’s tale, honk, if you love cheeses.
But haven’t you heard? It turns out crows may be the most intelligent animals to ever fly over the earth. Who knew? Kind of cute too. And here we go again.

***

Pelé at 70

Once a Soccer King,
Always World’s Royalty

- What some who saw him play have said about Edson Arantes do Nascimento, a.k.a. Pelé, the world’s greatest soccer player:

“In the 1960s and 70s, no one did more for Brazil’s ‘happy’ image than Pelé.” Brazilian songwriter Gilberto Gil

“I told myself before the game, ‘he’s made of skin and bones just like everyone else’. But I was wrong.” Tarcisio Burgnich, Italian defender who marked Pelé in the 1970 World Cup Final

“The greatest player in history was Di Stefano. I refuse to classify Pelé as a player. He was above that.” Hungarian player Ferenc Puskas

“In some countries they wanted to touch him, in some they wanted to kiss him. In others they even kissed the ground he walked on. I thought it was beautiful, just beautiful.” Brazilian player Clodoaldo

“After the fifth goal, even I wanted to cheer for him.” Swedish player Sigge Parling on the 5×2 loss to Brazil at the World Cup Final in Stockholm

“I arrived hoping to stop a great man, but I went away convinced I had been undone by someone who was not born on the same planet as the rest of us.” Portugal’s Benfica player Costa Pereira on 5×2 loss to Santos in the 1962 Intercontinental Cup in Lisbon

“Pelé was the greatest – he was simply flawless. And off the pitch he is always smiling and upbeat. You never see him bad-tempered. He loves being Pelé.” Brazilian player Tostao

“When I saw Pelé play, it made me feel I should hang up my boots.” French player Just Fontaine

“You may be right. But you know nothing about football and I’ve seen Pelé play.” Brazilian coach Vicente Feola to team psychologist who said Pelé was too immature to play at Sweden 1958

“Pelé was the only footballer who surpassed the boundaries of logic.” Dutch player Johan Cruyff

“His great secret was improvisation. Those things he did were in one moment. He had an extraordinary perception of the game.” Brazilian player Carlos Alberto Torres

“I sometimes feel as though football was invented for this magical player.” English player Sir Bobby Charlton

“The difficulty, the extraordinary, is not to score 1,000 goals like Pelé – it’s to score one goal like Pelé.” Brazilian poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade.

“Pelé was so focused on winning the Trophy. It was like he knew it was his destiny. He was like a child waiting for Santa Claus.” 1970 Brazilian masseur Mario Américo

“Pelé was one of the few who contradicted my theory: instead of 15 minutes of fame, he will have 15 centuries.” Andy Warhol

“Pelé played football for 22 years, and in that time he did more to promote world friendship and fraternity than any other ambassador anywhere.” Brazilian Ambassador to U.N. J.B. Pinheiro

“My name is Ronald Reagan, I’m the President of the United States of America. But you don’t need to introduce yourself, because everyone knows who Pelé is.” Ronald Reagan

Malcolm Allison: “How do you spell Pelé?”
Pat Crerand: “Easy: G-O-D.” British TV commentators during Mexico 1970

Dr. Winston O’Boggie

It’s Johnny’s Birthday,
Would You Care to Join Us? (*)

* John Lennon would be 70 today and New York – where his widow Yoko Ono and son Sean live, and where he was assassinated in 1980 – leads the celebrations, along with his birth city Liverpool. Screenings, shows, exhibitions, the relaunching of his and the couple’s albums, and a variety of events will mark the former Beatle’s life and times around the world.
Yoko herself will be in Iceland, as she does every Oct. 9 since his death, for the lighting of the Imagine Peace Tower ceremony. And pretty much every Beatle fan and Lennon’s relative will turn today into a special occasion one way or another.
* Media coverage in almost every tongue known to man has reached saturation levels and, with all the above plus analysis, interviews, articles, critical portrayals and adulatory tributes going on in the past few weeks, there’s no need to add anything else, except to share something short, exclusive and, most likely, obvious.
What were you doing when you heard that John Lennon had been shot?
By now, few doubt that this was one of those events powerful enough to disrupt the fabric of the plausible reality and immediately bend it, wrapping everything else around it.
Some memories turned quickly into oblivion, while others got a hold of all recollections of that moment when, suddenly, there was a world without John Lennon out there.

* Our band had a busy week ahead. Before getting back onstage on that Wednesday, we had two days to tour the local radio stations to preview the upcoming concerts. Before going out, though, there were some calls to be made at the bass player’s house. His mom served us some coffee and crackers, before commenting, ever so casually:
- Have you guys heard? Lemon, that guy, was killed in New York.
Somehow, we were not surprised. We were in our diapers when “Some Like It Hot” was out in theaters.
- Oh, Jack, Jack Lemon? What happened? Actually, how old was he?
Again, we were thinking, shouldn’t she know about him, you know, the 1950s and all that. Instead, what she said next demoted our so important week to a crimp of time when nothing else happened thereafter.

- No, no, no, the Beatle…

___________________________                                      (*) A technical glitch is preventing multicolor headlines from being displayed. Our friends at WordPress are working overtime to fix the problem. In the meantime, enjoy the content and sweet melodies performed by Ces Woll & His Coattails de Oro.

***

Lennon’s Hero

Happy 84th,
Chuck Berry

***

Fair Trade

Break a Sweat for a Nice
Meal & Some Quality Time

Now, that’s what we call dancing to save the earth. In London, Bar Surya has outfitted its dance floor with a fancy system of crystals and ceramics that, when pressured by revelers, generates electricity to fuel its lights and the air conditioner. In other words, you dance, the lights go on and if they flicker, it’s Ok too; a wind turbine and some solar panels will keep things moving. And don’t worry: there’s no risk of electrocution.
A similar sweaty idea is in place in Copenhagen. Bicycles connected to an electric generator at Crown Plaza Hotel offer customers the chance to earn their next meal. All you need to do is to pedal long enough to produce 10 watts of charge. In exchange, you get a $30 voucher to use toward a hearty meal. Have the soufflé.
But it’s Maison d’Envie, a brothel in Berlin, that takes er the cake. There, as long as you arrive on a bike or by public transportation, you’re entitled to a $7 discount for a $90, 45-minute visit. A great value, recession and all things considered. Just one caveat: management can refuse admission if you’re too disgustingly sweaty. But there’re showers available, so it’s all good.
There you have it. Who says your noble concerns about the environment won’t get you anywhere? Now you can enjoy being green even if you’re no Travolta, are famished and in dire need to get laid. So go ahead and break a sweat.

***

Little Girl Blue

Janis Joplin, Who
Died 40 Years Ago

The 1960s rock’n’roll produced great songwriters, seminal bands, gifted guitar players and at least one transcendental female singer, and that was Janis Joplin. Her voice and visceral performances, despite an uneven career and not always wise repertoire choices,remain one of the most powerful symbols of the artistic explosion of the period.

It was also a time littered with meteoric careers and unfulfilled promises, and Janis, was, unfortunately, an integral part of that too.

When she died from an overdose, on Oct. 4, 1970, at 27, alone in a Los Angeles motel room, she had no clear idea of where to turn to next. Here and there, her three official albums showed her talent to turn the blues’s rawness and sense of despair into a primeval mix, palatable to her mostly white audience. It’s too bad that the same emotional rawness also pervaded and absorbed her personal life.

It’s a good measure of the enormity of her ability that, to fully appreciate her range and place her legacy within the brackets of contemporary musical standards, one has to line up at least five or six exceptional singers, each one representing a facet of Janis Joplin’s reach.

The scarcity of Janis’s recorded material is, of course, not enough to fully inform and restore her cultural relevance, but it’ll have to suffice for now. Such long overdue process may follow that of another idol of the 60s, Jimi Hendrix, who died a couple of weeks before her and whose œuvre only recently began to be released and appreciated by new generations.

***

Better Late…

The World Prepares to
Celebrate End of WWI

Ok, you can breathe freely now.
After 92 years, and almost 40 million lives lost, World War I will be officially over Sunday. Once Germany pays up the last $94 million installment of war reparations imposed by the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, champagne and cake will be served and thank you notes sent to all involved. Or rather, to their surviving kin.

It could’ve happened much earlier, of course, if it hadn’t been for that nagging Adolf’s objections over the merit of the Allies’ monetary demands. His successful bid to Germany’s Chancellery four years later was built in great part on the reparations’ costs to the economy, and the rest is ugly history.
Still, we should all rejoice. After all, this was the “war to end all wars,” as U.S. President Woodrow Wilson put it. By the same logic, all others that came after should also have their own, very much stretchable expiration dates, right? Well, not exactly. To begin with, the quote is a misquote and it’s not even Wilson’s. And there’re other reasons to embrace some nagging feelings of our own.
For instance, the time these things take to get settled compared to the speed they all get started in the first place. And that we still have troops in Germany and Japan since the time they too became allies, even though few could tell you with a straight face what exactly one thing has to do with the other.
Likewise, it’s quite sobering to imagine how long before troops will return home for good from Iraq and Afghanistan. On the bright side, though, the cake will most likely be moldy but the champagne will certainly be vintage.

***

I Hate Mondays

Italian Artist’s Newest Work
Points Out His Shock Values

This gigantic finger greeted surprised traders arriving for work at the Milan Stock Exchange Monday morning. “Crippled Hand,” the 36 foot tall Maurizio Cattelan sculpture is also known as, of all things, “L.O.V.E.”
It’s part of a retrospective of the artist with a knack for flirting with controversy and free publicity. “La Nona Hora” (The Ninth Hour), for example, depicting the pope being hit by a meteor, was panned by critics and church officials alike. But the public, of course, loved it.

Despite what its imagery obviously suggests to Americans, though, L.O.V.E. is actually a commentary on, again of all things, that infamous Heil Hitler salute. But with Cattelan one never knows. Another one of his sculptures, supposedly decrying the horrors of Holocaust, shows three kids hanging on a tree. It was cut down and defaced by angry protesters.

***

Where Are They Now?

When Miniskirts Could
Land Young Girls in Jail

In the summer of 1967, these two young women decided to take a stroll in Porto Alegre, south Brazil, sporting the latest fashion apparel of the time, the miniskirt. Mary Quant‘s greatest contribution to the world, hardly a year old by then, was all the rage in the Swinging London of the 1960s as it was in New York, Paris, even Rio de Janeiro.
But not in Porto Alegre, apparently. Their pioneering spirit and sense of style got all but lost to the small crowd that began menacingly following them through the streets. So much so that, at one point, someone called the cops.
“For their own protection,” they were taken to the nearest precinct for questioning. After unwittingly causing a small stir among the conservative bastions of the local society, they were paraded in front of prying photographers like two exotic animals, before being released into oblivion.
Now, 43 years later, the same tabloid that put them on its cover the following day, is looking for them. One would hope they’d be issued some kind of acknowledgment, not so much for being ahead of their time, but for being treated as an oddity. One would be very wrong about that, though.

It won’t be easy to locate them either. Despite the half a minute notoriety of their dare, the experience must’ve been quite traumatic. Even if they ever wore miniskirts in public again, their joy will forever be tainted by the memory of facing a fascistic fashion-averse crowd and their badge-carrying vigilantes.

As a matter of fact, if we were them, we wouldn’t give anyone the satisfaction of selling a few more newspapers on their account.

***

Shades of Censorship

Brazilian Artist’s Shocking Work
Criticized as “Apology to Crime”

Brazilian artist Gil Vicente is in the hot seat in his country, just as a collection of his work is being readied for the Bienal that starts in Sao Paulo Tuesday. His charcoal drawing series “Inimigos” (“Enemies”) portrays him killing, in a very graphic, al-Qaeda style, Brazil’s President Lula, his predecessor, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Pope Benedict XVI, even England’s Queen Elizabeth II and other public figures.

The Sao Paulo branch of Brazil’s bar association, known as OAB, for example, issued a statement condemning Vicente’s work for being “an apology to crime,” in free translation from the Portuguese original, that may be liable to penalties prescribed by the Penal Code, and explicitly requesting for it not be shown at the Bienal.
The work has already been provoking negative reactions around the country for a few years now, except from those portrayed, who haven’t said anything either way about it. So far, though, very few came out to defend Vicente’s right to express himself without being compared to a criminal.

In fact, much of the criticism is centered in the old maxim that freedom of expression is great and all that, as long as it doesn’t shock anyone. To claim that a group of elaborated drawings to be displayed within the context of a respected art institution is the equivalent of incitation to violence is a gross and dangerous precedent.

It verges into the authoritarian and paternalistic view that art, to reach the general public, has to be codified first as acceptable by some committee of keepers of good taste, no doubt, because after all, such public can’t or won’t be willing to make up their own mind about it.

We’re almost sure, though, that cooler minds will prevail and Vicente’s series will be judged solely on its artistic merits. It’d be quite disturbing if some sectors of the Brazilian society, even those with a perfect record defending the rule of law such as OAB, would suddenly be entrusted as keepers of supposedly acceptable standards of good taste, with the authority to decide whether a work of self-expression is fit for public exposure.

***

Nut, But Not Just a Nut

Bill Murray Is 60
Years Old Today

The straight-faced comedian from Wilmette, Illinois, who’s now a highly demanded dramatic actor, is the only member of the legendary Saturday Night Live cast of the mid 1970s to have reached cult figure status. He’s managed that – what a premature death prevented fellow SNL alumni John Belushi from achieving – through a string of semi-independent, quirky and idiosincratic movie roles that lent him the respect of his peers and an Oscar nomination.
Revered and admired even for non-credit roles, Bill Murray‘s known for his well cultivated nonchalant public image, a devil may care attitude toward his career, an enigmatic approach for movie role choices, and a fierce sense of privacy, which may have all served him well to deal with the pressures of stardom.

The fifth of a family of eight kids, with six children of his own and a passion for golf, he’s also that rare brand of Hollywood star: the one who doesn’t have an agent. Interested parties need to dial an 800 number and leave a message that may or may not be answered. It usually pays off getting a call back. His few minutes of screen time playing himself on “Zombieland” last year, for example, may have had a lot to do with the almost $200 million in U.S. and worldwide gross the movie made so far, according to “The Numbers” Website.
So, to go along with the lore, let’s just say very few people know where Bill Murray will be today. But it’s highly doubtful it’ll be on the cover of a tabloid tomorrow, tipsy with a funny hat and a bunch of strangers making fools of themselves next to him. You may be in a bar somewhere at some point, though, and he may just step behind the counter and start mixing drinks. It’s known to have happened and with Bill Murray, no one ever knows.

***

Are You Experienced?

Lefty Hendrix
Never Left Us

The world is remembering Jimi Hendrix, who died in London 40 years ago today. To mark the date, there’s a new anthology out and a documentary of his life and music. Bob Smeaton’s “Voodoo Child” uses his own words as a narrative thread and never before seen film footage, recordings, private letters and family pictures to tell his story.

The four-CD “West Coast Seattle Boy” covers his brief but incendiary career through previously unreleased tracks and alternate versions of his classics. It traces his transformation from a sideman to the Isley Brothers, Little Richard and other greats of the era, to a trailblazer whose talent still casts a shadow on new generations.

It’s anyone’s guess what could’ve accomplished so far the arguably greatest ever electric guitar player, had he lived a bit longer. Friends and peers have pointed that at that time, Hendrix and the context of rock music he largely redefined at the end of the 1960s, were already transitioning to a more elaborated and less spontaneous phase of expression.
Many of the gifted, contemporary musicians of the time, had already left their most creative periods behind them. By 1970, it was clear that Hendrix was far ahead of the field and, as an unwanted byproduct of his increasing brilliance, fewer players were on the same level of his artistry, for him to be able to bounce ideas with. When he ran out of time, most were still playing catch up with the scope of his creative genius.
The 40 years gap haven’t been a complete bliss either to understand his talent. A dispute between his family and the various recording companies that owned his artistic output, only recently settled, prevented a continuous exposure of his art to new generations during this time.
And, of course, the lack of an authoritative performer such as the man himself, to be able to present his songs in an optimal way, didn’t help it either. In fact, for a while very few musicians dared to perform and record Hendrix songs and that somewhat hurt his legacy.

Fortunately, though, nothing was enough to rob that same legacy from its transcendency. What’s been said about many an extraordinary artist who died at his or her prime, holds truthful to him too: his early departure immediately imprinted popular culture with the indelible mark of his talent.
Granted, even in death, he had to survive the hollow rhetoric of the “tragedy of drugs” ink, nothing short of a kind of character assassination that also almost obscured the greatness of a Janis Joplin, a Jim Morrison and so many others. He’s not just survived that and other indignities; he also transcended many other phony myths the backlash against the 60s ensued and could’ve tagged him with, given a chance.

So maybe this time around he’ll parachute at the heart of popular culture as a blast of innovation and fresh air, not as the all-consuming tail of a comet that ever so brief zipped across the zenith. It’d certainly be a better metaphor to a southpaw who carved a noisy, distorted, vital path of sound we didn’t even know we needed.

***

A Dream Too Tall

What Do You Mean
My Tree Is Too Big?

Sometimes it’s great to have neighboors. Like when they call the cops and it turns out you’re laying buried under a ton of rubbish unable to reach the phone. Or when they call 911 because you’re having a party and they’re concerned about you having too much fun.

But seriously, sometimes having a good, nosy, vigiliant neighbor can save your life. Other times, they just drive you insane. That’s what David Alvand of Plymouth, Devon, England, must be thinking just about now. When he finally was able to fullfil a lifetime dream of buying a nice suburban house, in a quiet neighborhood, he thought that at last he was, well, home free.
There was nothing he enjoyed more than coming home after a hard day at the office to spend some quality time watching the telly, which is how across the pond they call that screen in a box that’s always showing repeats of “Desperate Wives,” having some after dinner tea and get a nice restful night of sleep to prepare for the next day. Ah, and in the summer, spend sometime on the front lawn.

Nothing fancy, you see. Living life to the fullest sometimes is no more than the enjoying the simple things we like to do over and over again. And, above all, be left alone to do it as you please. It was probably just about then that someone, a neighbor perhaps, suggested an addition to his front yard.

- What about a nice tree, to enhance your property and offer you some much needed shade from the sun?

Alvand may have given the idea a thought or two, before consulting with his wife, but in the end, concluded that yes, it’d be great to have a nice tree to enhance his property with some precious shade from the sun. He came back home that day with a small bush of Leyland Cypress tree, which the man at the store told him, would grow fast, enhance his yard, give plenty of shade, etc, etc.
In fact, he got so excited with his little tree that he decided to get some more, since the price was right and they had a lovely shade of green, ideal to display in front of the house. He wound up going slightly overboard and brought back 15 more little bushes from the store, which he carefully proceed to lay to the ground according to the specifications. Now he had not just one extra reason to come home every evening and enjoy himself, but sixteen of them.

That was 1991 and, had he known, the beginning of a very unpleasant turning point in his nice suburban dream existence. It turned out, the neighbors, you see, who had actually complimented him on his good decision in the beginning, started to feel a bit unconfortable with the pace his beloved trees were growing.
From an initial slight discomfort, they quickly grew frightened by the size and scope of the now giants that completely blocked sunlight from their own yards, and, according to some residents, “make the street look bad.” Ah, neighbors. Can’t please them, can’t crush them with a 35-foot tall and still growing set of trees.

Now, Alvand is facing charges of “antisocial behavior,” possible fines and, sadly, the prospect of seeing his nice little trees – for he grew so fond of them that he’s still refers to each one of them as “little” – chopped up mercilessly. And with it, at least part of his nice suburban dream retirement years, now completely ruined by the bitterness of the argument.

We know we should now end this piece with some uplifting coda, so you wouldn’t feel so bad for Alvand, his family and his happless neighbors. But we can’t think of anything, so we won’t.

***

From Phone to Loo

Recycled Booths May
Help When Nature Calls

Cellphones are so ubiquitous these days, a 10-year old would need to text message his friends for help using a phone booth. If he’d be lucky enough to find one still working, they’d probably ask, “What do you mean by pay phone?”
Times, they are a-changing, Mr. Jones. You rarely see the man in uniform collecting quarters, pockets heavy with change. Or old timers talking about a nickel a call. Or get to dial Butterfield 8 for pizza. Just like in the movies.
Enters John Long (yep, his real name) and a common-sense idea: “phone boxes” recycled into toilets. He’s just finished his own private “cabin in the woods,” all amenities included – running water, frosted glass panes and a heater – and, with its overhead flushing tank, a charming old fashioned look too.
Hey, you’d say, that could work here. Manhattan is notorious around the world for its chronic lack of public toilets. And for that unfriendly and equally ubiquitous sign, “Restrooms for Customers Only.” We’re all for change, but with a few (no smoking) “buts.”
England’s red booths or Brazil’s fiber glass domes known as “big ears,” for example, were once hailed as stylish urban designing statements, whether they held operational or broken down phones inside. But in New York, the only four still working booths left are, with all due respect, plain ugly.

In fact, their brutal, industrial, greyish metallic design would please no one but many a budding cinéaste who’d found them hum, intriguing. Public phones are now reduced to a transparent three-wall open cabin. Whether security or economics dictated their minimalist appearance, no one knows. What’s certain is, few will miss when they’re gone for good.
And whatever happened to those elegant wood-paneled booths of Grand Central Terminal where Cary Grant made a clever call on “North by Northwest?” Maybe they’re stored in some Queens warehouse. Still, they’d require extensive reconstruction work to withstand the elements.
The ideal candidates, of course, would be the ones that did withstand Clark Kent’s metamorphosis into Superman. Granted, he was superfast and superneat, but there was always a crime to solve and no time to spare, so we imagine them sturdy as they come. A few tinted windows and some plumbing and Shazam! (sorry, wrong superhero call), you’d have some much needed relief stations.
But those might as well be stored at the Fortress of Solitude.
To be fair, there’re some new, high-tech public toilets popping up throughout the city. There’s even a toilet paper company that puts some up during certain times of the year. Great, if calls of nature were seasonal. So, as with a lot of other things, something different, and probably not recycled, would have to do it for New York.

Widespread cellphone use is also doing away with architect Chu Ming Silveira’s big ears, known as “orelhao” and used in Brazil since the 1970s. The same decommissioning is going on in India and other places. Except when they’re being recycled into yet something else, like public library outposts, DVD rental places, Internet access cabins, and even Google voice mail stations.
So, more power to Mr. Long, even though he transformed only one phone booth and for his own backyard. His idea is bound to be picked up by some government agency though. Make that sooner rather than later. If for nothing else, at least to prevent the quasi-obsolete booths from being used as, well, toilets.

***

I Was Lovin’ It

Ad of Corpse Holding a McDonald
Gives Heartburn to Fast-Food Chain

The world’s largest restaurant chain – whose logo is an informal, unwittingly universal symbol for junk food – is angrily protesting the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s latest advertising campaing. McDonald enlisted the help of the National Restaurant Association to take issue with an ad portraying an overweight dead man laying on a morgue and still grabbing what looks like a half-eaten hamburger.
The
committee says the ad calls attention to the risks of heart disease in connection with a diet of fried food and no exercising, and that it used McDonald to represent all fast food. The ad also takes its cue from first lady Michelle Obama’s efforts to make nutrition a signature issue and to encourage physical fitness and improved diets – particularly among American children, a third of whom are overweight.
The campaign comes at a time when a global recession has turned healthy eating into an expensive habit while sales of junk food worldwide are driven up. An example is McDonald’s itself: Its global profits for the six months to June were up 12% to $2.3 billion, powered by sales rises both in the U.S. and the U.K.

***

Blood Calls

Your Cell Is Funding
Child Slavery in Congo

You’re certainly already aware of this but it’s always worth repeating it: an essencial composite mineral used in our cellphones, laptops, mp3s and even Sony’s Playstations, is mined by workers as young as 11, laboring in subhuman conditions under the watch of implacable AK47-clad guards, in the African war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo since the middle 1990s.

Sold at top dollar, the extraction and trade of tantalum, a combination of columbite and tantalite known collectively as coltan, has the same nefarious effect the infamous blood diamonds have at the border of Liberia and Sierra Leone. Both are hightly profitable trades carried on by corrupted army and paramilitary forces, with the tacit approval of local governments. It’s hard to understimate the millions they make out of our increasing dependence on mobile communications and sophisticated lifestyle.
The U.S. Congress now is willing to step in the so called “conflict minerals” arena, and public awareness is growing. In fact, the pressure has become so great that this week Congolese President Joseph Kabila ordered a suspension in mining in the Nord Kivu, Sud Kivu, and Maniema provinces, all rich in precious minerals and gold. Experts doubt, though, that the power of his office alone can prevent a number of rag-tagged armed groups, along with Congo’s own and the Rwandan armies, from operating illegal mining operations in the region.

There’re other aggravating factors. Since 1998, 5.4 million war-related deaths have occurred in Congo, where eighty per cent of the world’s coltan comes from, according to a recent International Rescue Committee report. The vast majority of these deaths have been from preventable, non-violent causes such as disease and malnutrition – easily treatable conditions.

The provision in the recent finance reform approved in congress calls on technology companies to disclose when minerals used to create their products come from Congo or neighboring countries. But the companies say it’s not easy to do the kind of supply-chain checks needed to ensure that the minerals they’re using aren’t funding arms groups, and it’s virtually impossible to reliably trace minerals to their mine of origin.
Thus the just released “Blood in the Mobile,” a documentary by Danish filmmaker Frank Piasecki Poulsen, is a welcome addition to the debate over how to effectively tackle this issue. The film focus on the lives of Congolese children forced to toil underground for days at a time in claustrophobically narrow mines digging out minerals which are sold to the multinational telecommunications companies.

Poulsen posits that we, as consumers, all have to take our share of the blame for the ongoing illegal mining and oppressive conditions faced by Congolese slave laborers, for buying phones without demanding that companies do their utmost to make sure all the components were legally obtained. If there is a movement against conflict diamonds, why not against conflict mobiles?
“Every time we communicate through our mobile phone, we are connected with the crimes in Congo,” says the film’s website.

***

Of Birds & Beams

Migratory Birds Get Lost
Within 9/11 Twin Beams

From a distance, it looked like silver confetti. Or shredded paper from a ticker tape parade. But it turned out to be 10,000 trapped birds that momentarily had lost their sense of direction. The “Tribute of Light,” those two beams of light that are lit every Sept. 11 since 2002, are powerful statements and a poetic remembrance of the fallen Twin Towers.
They’re also a threat to migratory birds on their way to Canada or the Caribbean and this year, as it happened in 2004, they had to be turned off five times, to allow the travelers to resume their flight. Sept. 11 and bird migration rarely coincide, but when they do, it’s enough of a reason for New York’s Municipal Art Society to turn off the lights for 20 minutes at a time.
An estimated 90,000 birds die each year after becoming disorientated by lights and crashing into skyscrapers in New York as they migrate south for the winter, according to conservationist groups. Judging by the number of new glass-clad buildings popping up in Manhattan lately, this number may certainly increase.

The evocative beams of light, though, will soon be exonerated of any responsibility for delays and bird fatalities in Ground Zero during the annual migration. This dubious honor will be transfered to several new, shiny skyscrapers, yet to be built soon all over the area.

***

Plato & Pluto

Guinness Book Is Latest
Target of “Lawsuit Zeus”

A Kentucky inmate who’s filed 3,800 lawsuits against an eclectic combination of historical characters, contemporary personalities and even heavenly bodies, may have reached the end of the line. Kerry Harvey, the state’s Attorney General, is seeking to prevent him from filing any more suits if they’re deemed baseless or frivolous.
Lee Riches, who is in a Lexington prison for credit card theft, has filed suits against the Greek philosopher Plato, who lived in the 400s BC, Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist Party, former U.S. President George W. Bush (we know…), some Somali pirates, Bernard Madoff (for defrauding him, his siblings and pets), even Pluto, the celestial body that’s the focus of intense debate as to whether it still can be considered a planet. (Please see Comments.)
But upon learning that the Guinness Book of Records was planning on naming him the most litigious man in America, self-named “Lawsuit Zeus” took offense and filed suit against the good book. That’s when Harvey thought that was one suit too many and it was enough already.
It’s not up to him to decide it, though, but to the Kentucky Bureau of Prisons, and any ruling involves the delicate matter of inmate mail privacy. Will the issue not be processed properly, we should all expect a civil rights organization to step in and, you guess it, file a not-at-all frivolous lawsuit on Riches’s behalf.

***

Zombie 101

Go Back to School Where
Edgar Allan Poe Is Buried

What about taking a course where you get to watch classic horror flicks and read comic books? That’s what part of University of Baltimore’s English 333 is about, a study on zombies and their appeal, being taught by author and museum curator Arnold Blumberg.
No one is quite sure why the lore of the undead holds such a grip on popular imagination, but movies and literature certainly have a lot to do with it. The class in Baltimore is just the latest addition to such a quasi-discipline. Chicago’s Columbia College and Iowa’s Simpson College have been teaching related classes for years.
So if rotten flesh and tales of people coming back “to get you” are your thing, sort of, go ahead and sign up. As a bone, er, bonus, you can take a walk on the same street where Poe collapsed in 1849 and even visit his grave. After all, some do consider “The Fall of the House of Usher” a precursor of this ghoulish sub-genre.

***

Highway to Nowhere

Flooding Drives Pakistanis
To the Middle of the Road

It has killed an estimated 1,600 people and disrupted the lives of about 20 million. It’s ruined an area the size of Italy. And to some, it drove them to camp by the side of a highway, where cars zip by at high speeds but drivers often stop to offer water and scrapes of food.
The floods in Pakistan, the country’s worst natural disaster, may bring even more misery to its impoverish population. Dispossession and disease are expected to increase casualties tenfold, and the world’s slowness to help will only compound the crisis.

Life alongside the Peshawar-Islamabad expressway is not any easier than the one most left behind. Their homes, farms and livelihood taken by the rains, all that’s left is to beg for help and not be killed by the speeding traffic on this muddy 27-mile stretch, with no toilets or running water.

Most resist the government’s plans to transfer them to even crowder camps. In the meantime, as heavy rain alternates with baking heat, a feeling of resignation starts to settle in. They’re now living on the road but most likely, no one will get to go anywhere anytime soon.

***

Burning Man

Nevada Desert Art Festival
Focus on Living in the City

Part communal art festival, part anarchic gathering of like-minded trippers, part celebratory ritual of free expression, the annual “Burning Man” event starts today on the Black Rock Desert, Nevada.
Since 1986, this weeklong party has been increasing its countercultural profile, attracting tens of thousands of people from all over the world, who spend the 100-plus degrees days and chilly desert nights creating sculptures, live theater, performances, music and pretty much every form of artistic expression on the book and outside the box.
It all ends Sept. 6, with the burning of the giant wooden effigy that names the festival. For some of those who attended it, it can be a transformational week, akin to a mystical life-changing experience. For others, it’s an enduring test for mind and body, with its 24/7 routine exposure and cohabitation with thousands of strangers and lack of running water. And yet, for others, it’s all a big party, but not without strict rules of conduct.
Everything is disassembled, destroyed and recycled and a crew of volunteers makes sure the area is wiped clean after everybody’s else is gone. The Burning Man is very likely the biggest event of its kind in the world today, and this year, the overall theme is “Metropolis,” said to be a meditation on the meaning of urban life and the civilization’s life in big cities.

***

Coexisting

A Liberty Street Message
for Peace at Ground Zero

An idea, brainstormed by Russell Simmons, Sean Bonner and Glen E. Friedman, turned Simmons’s home windows into a statement to tolerance and a call for peaceful coexistence among all New York faiths.
It should be obvious to all but we’re glad some would still take the time to come up with fresh ways to remind us. So if you walk on by it, take a picture and send it to your friends, to show that you care too.

***

Illustrated Man

90 Years Learning
With The Bradbury

He’s arguably the last surviving giant of a trio of authors whose work, for quite sometime, defied any labels. Ray Bradbury who’s 90 today, created a brand new genre of literature that defined, enriched and anticipated the 21st century as we know it. He and Isaac Asimov, who died at 72 in 1992, and Arthur C. Clarke, who left us two years ago before making it to 91.
Whether what they did, and he still does, is fantastic literature, literature of anticipation or the almost two hundred years old term science fiction, which seems to have caught everyone’s fancy, is besides the point.
Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles,” of 1950, and the 1953′s “Fahrenheit 451,” to mention two of his most famous works, were not so much about a possible future, but a stern warning about what was happening at the time, which had already happened before and, scarily, could always happen again at any time.
After all, as this sage of Waukegan, Illinois, already put it, “you don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”
His work in fact has so many, deep layers of meaning and significance that it may appear to be at odds with his “sunny disposition,” in the word of an acquaintance, or his customary combativeness, for those unfamiliar with Bradbury, the man. Then again, it’s all part of his allure as an engaging interlocutor, very much aware of current affairs, and far from ready to leave us all to our own precarious devices.
So, here’s to this lover of libraries and ice cream, hoping he’s having a nice cone today and a few more stories to tell us tomorrow. Happy Birthday, Ray Bradbury!

***

High Wire Poet

Happy Birthday
Giant Petit Man

Philippe Petit, the Frenchman who walked on a wire stretched between the Twin Towers 36 years and a week ago tomorrow, is 61 years old today. The highly regarded documentary “Man on Wire” tells the story of his 1974 amazing feat.
Many high wire artists have defied the laws of nature on a dare and proved to the world that man is indeed made of the same stuff as birds. Some accomplished impossible acts of courage. Others died trying.
But Petit’s managed to go even further. More than the physical magic of his spectacular crossing a quarter of a mile up in the sky, it was the spiritual connection he forever established with the Twin Towers.

No one knew then but when those two tragic icons of the Manhattan skyline were destroyed, Petit had already single handedly singed them in our collective psyche as no other act will ever have a chance to do.
His high wire dance on that clear August morning made sure those buildings will never fade away. They’ll be always undistinguishable from the human spirit who built them because, when Petit memorialized the city, he chose them as his canvas.
Long live this artist-in-residence of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, writer and teacher of aspiring tightrope artists. Monsieur Philippe, New York wishes you many happy, flying years ahead.

***

Papa Was a Soccer Star

Brazilian Transsexual
Is Fashion Supermodel

How do you tell your world famous father that you’re a transsexual? And that you’re going to be famous too? What if he, despite fame and fortune as a soccer player, remains private and very much in touch with his poor, illiterate and deeply devout upbringing?
Meet Lea T, who had to go through all of that to become the world’s possible first transsexual supermodel. While her father, Brazilian great Toninho Cerezo, reportedly wishes it all would just go away, there’s not a chance for that. Not now that Lea is about to embark on her first full-fledged fashion campaign for Givenchy.

And absolutely not now that she’s become a symbol for transsexuals the world over. To counter the pull of her family’s Catholic roots, it helped she grew up in Italy. But never doubt for a minute the hardships she may’ve had to endure before her sexual identity, and a body to go with, were finally in synch with her own sense of purpose in life.

It also helps that her face is worlds away from being merely pretty. Tall and thin and wearing the signature aloofness that seems to be required to be a supermodel, Lea’s already attracting the attention of high-fashion publications such as Vogue and Vanity Fair. And the fat checks that come with it. Deservedly so, say transgender organizations, fashionistas of all stripes and her friends in Belo Horizonte, her city of birth.
So what if there’s a certain level of exploitation of her by the fashion industry, always on the lookout for shock value and maximum impact from its high-paid laborers. Critics are already rehashing the discussion that arose when the first African supermodels were prep for mass consumption, a few years back, questioning how come their ascendancy to fame and fortune could be so disassociated from the poverty and social inequity from where most were coming from.
That discussion went nowhere and, as it happens with any profession, some make it to the top, and some don’t, regardless of their port of call. It’s still possible that Lea’s example may bring to the fore important social issues related to sexual identity, social leap-frogging and so many others that would be too unfair to expect her to respond and articulate, since she’s seems already understandably busy with her own life.
So enough of preaching and let’s take a moment to admire this person who, from a very young age, was already waging a few serious battles. And who may be now ready for her close up. She hasn’t won any lottery, mind you; au contraire, she’s worked hard to earn the right to make a living on her own terms. So for that, and for others who feel vindicated just for what she is, all the power to her on the runaways to better times.

***

Moon Shines

We’re Not Going
Back Anytime Soon

What was supposed to be the big bang start of interstellar space travel, is now a wimp, 41 years of casualties for heroes, dreams, ideals and to humans’ misguided longing for one day to be one with the great yonder.

What Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins left behind on the surface of the moon was more than footprints, an unwavering flag and some electronic debris. They also left up there our guts to dare going back again. Tragically, only the greed of some to one day explore that soil for riches can survive such extreme conditions.
So today we mourn the death of what looked like a possible dream but that it was, all along, just an arms race disguised as human greatness. No wonder the first man to step on that white dust was called Armstrong.
He, of the great mankind leap, soon to be 80, today makes a living giving expensive lectures to corporations. Buzz, who went from UFO’s sightings to ingenue paintings, is a regular talk show guest. And Collins, who never touched the ground, doesn’t seem to have anything to add to the sobriquet “the forgotten astronaut.”
So, as the trip never turns a traveler into a pilgrim, unless he chooses otherwise, the biggest one of them all wasn’t enough to straighten mankind’s faulty gait. We’re not revisiting our neighbor anytime soon. Which is just as well, judging by the way we live on this other rocky ball we call home.
So long, silent moon. I’m still very glad to see you every night.

***

Stoning Sentence

Death Threat Against
Woman Shames Iran

The death sentence against Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 43-year old mother of two accused of adultery, is provoking worldwide indignation against Iran.

Although Ashtiani’s sentence to die by stoning has reportedly been suspended, in part because of objections expressed by several nations, the regime hasn’t said whether she will still face another way of execution.

The sentencing to death by stoning is commonly issued by Iran’s justice system, but in some instances, it’s changed to hanging. Woman rights activists say that a disproportionally high number of the executed have been women.

Amnesty International said, in a statement, that “a mere change of the method of execution would not address the injustice faced by Ashtiani.” Human Rights Watch said she was first convicted in May 2006 of having an “illicit relationship” with two men and sentenced to 99 lashes. But later she was also convicted of adultery, despite having retracted a confession made under duress.

World political leaders, artists and celebrities are among the over 37,000 signatures on a petition for Ashtiani’s immediate release from prison. The ultimate decision is up to the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who’s yet to make a statement on the issue.

***

See Ulysses

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Annual Bloomsday Events in NYC

Celebrate Joyce, Ulysses & Homer

June 16, 2010, marks the 106th anniversary of the day that James Joyce’s epic novel,Ulysses, took place. The novel is set in and around Dublin, Ireland and follows the adventures of several characters, including Leopold Bloom, Molly Bloom, and Stephen Dedalus through a single remarkable day. Bloomsday on Broadway“, staged annually at Symphony Space since 1981, has a cabal of actors and writers performing scenes from the novel. This year’s iteration, which will be simulcast on WNYC radio, wnyc.org and symphonyspace.org, explores the parallels between “Ulysses” and Homer’s “Odyssey.” Excerpts from both works will be enacted by a cast that includes Stephen Colbert, Ira Glass, Malachy McCourtTony Roberts and David Margulies. Isaiah Sheffer, artistic director of Symphony Space, will host. The illustration that opens this post is part of Robert Berry and Josh Levitas’s just released “Ulysses Seen,” a graphic adaptation of Joyce’s celebrated work. That particularly plate, though, was one of the reasons Apple App Store banned the Webbook from IPads and IPhones, allegedly because it violates Apple’s policy on nudity depiction on its apps. Apple’s loss, obviously. The high quality of Berry and Levitas’ work is a fitting homage to Joyce, whose own “Ulysses” was greeted in equal parts with praise and controversy from its inception, over a century ago. In other words, never mind the bullocks. There’re plenty of reasons to celebrate Joyce, “Ulysses” and the people that annually honor them both around New York City today. Not to be left out, Colltales also pays its humble homage below to the great Irish. Sláinte!

***

Obama Beat

The Spill Speech
& The Self Sheriff

Last night, President Obama talked extensively to the nation about the current status of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, his administration’s efforts to control the disaster, BP’s responsibility and what’s expected from it, and his commitment to help end our addiction to fossil fuels.
As usual, Loc Lleywes is eager to put his two cents on every issue. In the past, we’ve managed to ignore his self-important opinions, so convinced he always is of his own high moral ground and expertise on a variety of issues that, honestly, we’re sure he knows little about.

But this time, we acquiesced and let him speak. Here’s what he had to say. Please be advise, proceed with caution.

“Thing about that spill is that it’s bounded to be shut some day. Some folk will come up with a way to choke the leak for good. Too late for some, but it’ll be done. What I’m not too sure is whether we’ll ever stop loving oil. That may take more than we’re willing to accept.”

***

Cleaning Guerrilla

Midnight Crew Caught
Doing the Right Thing

The other night, a police cruiser caught up with a group of people gathered inside a tunnel in downtown Porto Alegre, Brazil. As they approached the group, fearing it may be vandalizing the place, they came across a rare act of positive urban guerilla. For instead of paint and brushes, the group was using brooms and soap to clean up the thick layer of soot that accumulated on the walls of the tunnel over the years.
To underscore their effort, they also “carved” on the dirt a sentence in their native Portuguese that reads: “For a clean Porto Alegre.”

The act is a friendly reminder for the hundreds of thousands of drivers who zip through the tunnel every day that the pollution their vehicles produce in a regular basis is left behind, imprinted forever on its walls.
That is, if no one else joins in the effort to help find ways to keep their city clean.

***

Help From Foe

We’re Getting There

A strike by the Teachers Federation of Sao Paulo had a moment of unexpected tenderness last March, besides the usual share of violence common to any rally. Before the confrontation between strikers and armed forces escalated and run over a policewoman laying hurt on the street, a nameless teacher took her quickly to safety. Instead of a lost moment, a picture of solidarity amid the strife.

***

Vintage

Right There!

Right There!

         

* In 1953, photographer

Lawrence Lariar asked:

Have you had much

premarital experience?

***

Strokes

You
Go
Girl

Venus Williams sets the tone at the French Open,

making a statement and

pointing to the right direction.

She’s hot, she’s a champ and she doesn’t give a damn.

I’d say, go for it, woman, you’ve earned it.

***

Venus and Mars
High in Paradise?

Could it be that the fruit a satyr is holding in the bottom of Botticelli’s “Venus and Mars” is the highly poisonous, hallucinogenic Datura stramonium? The plant, known as thornapple and Devil’s trumpet and called in the U.S. “the poor man’s acid,” was first recorded in Ancient Greek texts.

Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi, Sandro Botticelli or Il Botticello (“The Little Barrel”), does use plants symbolically like the laurel [bushes] in the background of this painting, which is a reference to his powerful patrons, the Medicis.
Could it be that the 1483 work that depicts Venus betraying her husband Vulcan, the God of Fire, is also a retelling of the Adam and Eve biblical myth with the Datura as a the forbidden fruit? You tell us.

***

Under Attack
in Afghanistan

“I miss almost all of it,” says a soldier back from Afghanistan, after months at the Korengal Outpost — a cluster of plywood and brick-and-mortar huts in the foothills of the Hindu Kush mountains. Journalist Sebastian Junger wrote a book, “War,” on his experiences at what’s considered one of the most dangerous places on Earth. He says that when soldiers return from duty, most realized that “they get home out of this hell hole” and find that home is less comfortable than where they’d come from. They long for “the dangerous security of the bond that happens in a small outpost that’s under attack almost every day.”

***

Warhol By Warhol

For someone who once said, “In the future, everybody…,” well, you know, a phrase that has since sasheyed into popular culture, Andy Warhol (1928/1987) didn’t do so bad for himself. A 1986 self-portrait just sold for almost a third of a Picasso at a Sotheby’s auction. And nothing indicates other multimillion dollar works of his won’t sell as profitably as well. Designer Tom Ford was the previous owner and secretive Anonymous Bider, an art collector, outbid everyone for the purple Warhol painting.

***

Clutch

Off-Key Note

Writings, pictures, videos, comments & more, edited by a writer, musician and world citizen living in downtown
New York City.
This follows some acting gigs, a few screenplays and endless
clashes with reality.
Brazilian by birth, multilingual
by chance, cash strapped as usual.
Agnostic but partial to
great soccer. Unmoved by sunsets, campaign speeches, the religious pull or another sure bet.
Poor
vision and lower back pain.

A bottomless pit for a navel. Blue, cats, 9, left, heat and outer space.
Common ground need not to apply. Not accepting
advice at this time.

***

The Numbers Are In

Voting stations are closed at this time. The final tally is 13 votes in favor of Coll getting a cellphone today and two against it.

TODAY IS COLL’S 11th BIRTHDAY & HE WINS!

This decision is final. Thank you all for participating. Coll’s most heartfelt gratitute goes for the kind souls who voted in favor. For the two heartless hacks who were against it (you know who you are), a SWAP team graciously volunteered to pay you a visit first thing tomorrow morning. Stop by the front desk to request a waiver to present to your teacher, boss or dominatrix. Call your mother. Enroll in a charitable cause. Volunteer at a Soup Kitchen. Run to raise funds for Aids. This is our last broadcast. Please tune in for future promotions. This tape will self-destroy in five seconds. No further ado will come out of nothing.

***

Man

Is Wolf

to

Man

***

Dream With
Your Eyes Open

“Football Players,” 1909,
by Henri Rousseau, born this day,
in 1844 in the Loire Valley,
France, and dead Dec. 2, 1910.
Happy Birthday, Henri le Naif.

***

Love ‘em, Eat ‘em

What’s for Dinner?

Ant noodle soup, sautéed hippopotamus webbed toes served with salad, kangaroo tail on a lemon Balsamic vinegar sauce and a refreshing glass of deer penis wine, that’s what. It’s all on the Bin Feng Tang restaurant menu at the Beijing Zoo. Or you may choose instead a hearty meal of raw ostrich eggs, a delicious cream of scorpion and garlic or some roasted peacock. Sorry but negative publicity has forced management to eliminate the instructive signs that used to be affixed on animal cages, highlighting their tastiest parts or use in traditional Chinese medicine. Still, after a leisurely walk through the cultivated flower gardens, the lotus pools and the luscious hills dotted with pavilions and halls, stop by for a bowl of shark fin soup. Just, whatever you do, please don’t feed the animals.

***

Mercury Rose

Mercury Was Rising,
Dreams Fast Speeding

Another star of 1955 “Rebel Without a Cause” is about to take stage left. After Dennis Hopper‘s final bow last week, now it’s curtain time for the Ford Mercury ’49 coupe that James Dean drove in the famous drag race ‘refereed’ by Natalie Wood. Time to go for that one and its increasingly irrelevant assembly line sisters. We hate to eulogize such a gas-guzzler that’s going the way of the Dodo (if you have to ask…) at time when tons of crude are being dumped into the Gulf of Mexico. But this particular set of wheels did encapsulate a liberating feeling of being alive that only having an open road ahead could possibly respond to. Jimmy, Dennis, Natalie and Sal all shared the sense of immediacy and brevity this car was named after. Like speed itself, the moment the Messenger of Gods zipped by, it was already way past its time.

***

Finding Hopper

Artist Created Iconic Dinerfor Nighthawks of New York 

 

Many searched for the place in the winding streets of Greenwich Village. Some looked for years for signs of its faded glory. But in the end, as in many works of art, what they were all after existed only in Edward Hopper‘s imagination.
That’s what Jeremiah Moss, the blogger behind the “Vanishing New York” site, has concluded about the painter’s “Nighthawks.” Its iconic, eerie, lonely depiction of a lost night in the big city framed many another dreamers’ imagination.
Some added Elvis, Marilyn, Dean, even Bogart to its roster of customers. But the painting always stood on its own in more ways than one, and now we all learned yet another reason why this was always the case.
Hopper himself once hinted it was but a composite, not a physical spot. It’s meaning had never much to do with the search for its location. Those who love the painting always knew what it was about and are certainly indifferent to its final revelation. But to Moss, the end of his archeological quest always had another meaning worth pursuing.

To the vanishing New York his site memorializes, the quest adds another layer of significance to such an iconic work of art, created by one of this city’s own.
Moss’s quest also informs our own quest for personal relevance within a past that, far from disappearing, reaffirms its permanence, even as the city never stops replacing corner after corner with the blood of new bricks and memories.

***

Bones of Contention

Bones of Caravaggio
Discovered in Tuscany

Michelangelo Merisi, the Italian painter who became known by the name of his birthplace, Caravaggio, had a turbulent life and mysterious death. Now, while some claim that his remains were positively identified in an ossuary in Tuscany, other are expressing doubts about such claims. Which is all so typical of the artists’ own life. Caravaggio, who died at 38 in Rome in 1610, pioneered the chiaroscuro, the painting technique of contrasting light and dark, which in a way, also mirrors his lot in life: now regarded as a master of the Baroque period, he died without much acknowledgment from his contemporaries. (See the painting above, “Bacco,” and others here.) In the 1980s, filmmaker Derek Jarman helped a revival of the artist’s work, with “Caravaggio,” a film that portrayed him as openly gay.

***

Heavenly Bodies

The Cardinal Grand
Cross Is Finally Here

It’s a busy time for astrologers all over and the Internet is abuzz with a rare phenomenon. Jupiter and Uranus in Aries, Pluto in Capricorn, the Moon in Cancer, and Venus, Mars and Saturn in Libra, plus the Sun in Leo, are forming a curious square at the center of the Astrological Map template.
That signals, according to informed sources, the need to “remain calm and balanced to deal with an extraordinarily intense wave of energy.” Old systems are set to “break away and new ones to form,” and “what’s in the shadow will be revealed.”
All in preparation, of course, for the “Triple Crystalline Portal” in 10/10/10. We, honestly, have no idea what this all means but humbly wish to pass along the information. No additional details will be provided.

***

Don’t Do It, Man

Scientists Knock
Five-Second Rule

This one can be filed under the category, “I told you so,” sub-division, “Things someone probably told me about it but I didn’t care.” Salmonella is faster than the fastest hand picking in the west and, if it’s close enough to touch your dropped crumb of cake on the kitchen’s floor, they’ll be best friends before reaching your month.
In other words, if you drop it, forget about it. Clemson University food scientist Paul Dawson and his students say that a lot of bacteria can live up to four weeks on dry surfaces and be immediately transferred to food.
And no, it doesn’t matter that no one was looking; that old wife tale about a tree falling in the forest is probably baloney too. She probably just made it all up, trying to explain to her husband why she was out in the forest at that time of the night.
Then, two Connecticut College student researchers challenged Dawson’s theory. They sprinkled apple slices and Skittles candies in the college dining hall for 5-, 10-, 30- and 60-second intervals. The apple slices picked up bacteria only after one minute and the Skittles took nearly five minutes to attract any takers.
Of course, some rushed to accused them of being somehow related to that couple of loggers who live by the forest, and that they were probably having some explaining to do themselves as to why they were playing with food at the dining hall in the first place.
That was completely unnecessary. Someone had already come up with a Solomonic way to conciliate the conflicting findings: the critical thing is not time but location, location, location, as any New York realtor would put it. So go ahead and brush off the bagel that fell from the stroller onto the sidewalk and give it to your screaming child. No need to wring his neck at this time. Just make sure what you’re brushing off from it, of course.

The pavement, you see, is cleaner than a kitchen or, you guessed it, your bathroom floor in terms of the types of germs that cause illnesses, says microbiologist Harley Rotbart. These two are the top “zero-second” zones anyone can have in their homes.
So let’s revise it from the top. If you drop it, forget it. No, wait. Was it on the library rug? In the sink? The priest’s quarters? Not sure? Don’t ask us. The lesson here is, who knows? Let it go? How hungry are you? It’s Ok as long as you floss afterwards? Really, we’re so confused. Imagine if they decide to check our cellphones next.

***

For Friggatriskaidekaphobes

Monday, Tuesday,

Wednesday, Thursday,

Saturday and Sunday

1, 2, 3, 4,

5, 6, 7, 8,

9, 10, 11,

12, 14, 15,

16, 17, 18…

***

Was (Was) Over

Bring Your Date to
Mark the End of War

65 years ago, Japan capitulated and the end of World War II was officially declared. An iconic picture of a sailor and a nurse kissing in Times Square captured the moment when a crowd said to be in the millions swelled up to celebrate what they hoped was the end of all wars.
Today there’s an open call to couples to come and kiss at the same spot where Edith Shain, the finally identified nurse, and her impromptu Romeo met, kissed but abstained from telling anyone for almost six decades. A 26-foot statue portraying their encounter will also be on display till Tuesday.
So come on over. For those who can’t bring a date, it may be one of the last chances to meet one this summer. Who knows? Maybe next year, you two will be in contention to become an iconic couple too.

***

He Shot the Sheriff

No Pardon for Billy the Kid

From Family of Pat Garrett

Almost 130 years after the Sheriff of Lincoln County killed The Kid, descendants of the iconic figures of the Old West are still battling to protect their legacies. Garrett’s family, along with those related to Sheriff William Brady, who was shot by the outlawed in 1878, invoke his reputation as a cop killer and a thief to fight any attempt to officially pardon him.
For those on the Kid’s side, there are historical documents showing that then Governor Lew Wallace promised him clemency in exchange for his testimony to a grand jury, which he gave. The pardon, though, was never granted, and the impulsive gunslinger escaped once more, only to be hunted down, caught and killed in 1881.
New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is set to review the case before leaving office at the end of the year, and for that, has been getting quite an earful from the families of Garrett, the Kid, who also used the names Henry McCarty and William H. Bonney, and relatives of other victims of his.
The showdown between the sheriff and the gunslinger still stirs passions, so many years later, but it extrapolates the classic framework of law and order battling crime and chaos. If nothing else, historical records of the period are scarce, and many still come out of the woodwork invoking dubious kinship and less than sound oral recollections of the case.

At the end of the day, the benefits of having the spotlight on the state far surpass anything to do with setting those old scores straight. So Garrett will forever play the champion of the law, the badge-wearing avenger, battling the romanticized folk hero, The Kid who died young, betrayed by his one-time act of trust.

***

Yesterday

Beatles Hit Their
Half Century Mark

It was 50 years ago yesterday. The Beatles played their first concert at the Indra Club, Hamburg, West Germany. The scruffy lineup included John, Paul, George, soon-to-be-replaced-by-Ringo Pete Best, and the late Stuart Sutcliffe.
Paraphrasing Lennon, the Beatles were born in Liverpool but grew up in Hamburg. For that first paid gig, and the almost 300 that followed in the city over two years, prostitutes and sailors were their primary audience, and concerts could last up to 12 hours, fueled by their legendary drive to succeed and, yes, lots of uppers.
In that black & white world, they were only one outfit among many, striving to make a mark and escape their working class trappings. Their struggle for success is littered with heartbreak and unfulfilled expectations, despite the joy their music brought to the world.
Even before their fame extrapolated England, at least half of those they captivated in the beginning already despised what they’d become. They couldn’t possibly help it, though.

As the arch of their trajectory was completed, less than 10 years later, it became clear that the sum was way bigger than its component parts. Individually they were extraordinary artists, who achieved more than most. But as The Beatles, they were, of course, unsurpassed.
The Indra was not the beginning per se, not even the Cavern that came before and after. But nothing that followed that first foreign gig would’ve ever happened, if that night somehow had gone astray. As to what would’ve happened to John, Paul, George and Ringo if it hadn’t been for the greatest creation, all bets are forever off.
About the Beatles, two of them are already dead, the other two are aging right in front of our eyes. We’re mostly way pass our prime ourselves. But their music remains as fresh as it probably sounded that August 17, 1960, in divided Germany. And we’re just so glad they did as much.

***

007 Is 80

My Chances of Playing
Romeo Are Now Over

Milkman. Truck driver. Coffin polisher. Bodybuilder. Her Majesty’s secret agent 007. Bond, James Bond.
Sir Sean Connery, the actor who portrayed all the characters above, is 80 years old today, well liked the world over. Not bad for someone who never really acted and whose biggest on screen persona never granted him respect from his peers.
Not even with his arguably most regarded works, in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1964 “Marnie,” John Houston’s 1975 “The Man Who Would Be King,” and Richard Lester’s 1976 “Robin and Marian,” he broke the mold. His mix of suave operator and sophisticated thug, honed in the 007 series, was just too appealing for anyone to tweak it.
The Oscar for Brian De Palma’s 1987 “The Untouchables” was an acknowledgment for his fading stature in the business, not a reward for that particular role. But in the end, he showed he could be a good sport in Steven Spielberg’s 1989 “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”

Not bad for someone who often put his foot in his mouth during interviews, sported a toupee during the whole 007 series, wore a Scottish kilt on occasion but always lived in the Bahamas, and often projected a utterly out-of-step brutish macho image.

But well liked he remains, and his 80th birthday resonates with those who were kicking during the 1960s and now find themselves aging much faster than their favorite acts. As the famous opening chords of John Barry’s soundtrack fade away, we still engage in those now oh-so-tame tales of intrigue and espionage, guided by the debonair persona (Thomas Sean) Connery created.
The “agent of the imperialism,” as the inflamed barricades used to label it, outlived for the most part the posturing and virulent idealism of that decade. And we’re left with the feeling that, this time is for real: we’ll never ever say never again.

***

Scary Ad

New Droid
Gets Poor
Reception

Common Dreams caught this one, arguably the worst ad campaign in recent memory. Perhaps the ‘droids’ who came up with it didn’t know it.

It’s not enough that the picture conjures terrifying memories of those taken at the Abu Ghraib prison, but the last image of the video manages to take it even further.
The ad’s iconography is so tasteless that to call it ‘clueless derison,’ for the sake of a catchy rhyme, sounds equally insensitive.
And so it’d be to hope that Wireless Verizon’s reception is as terrible in Baghdad as it is in certain parts of the city.

In fact, we could send them an outraged text message right now, if only our own reception were not breaking up.

***

Marvelous Night

Moondance Diner Spotted
Alive and Well in Wyoming

Well, it’s not that anyone expected it not to still be there. But since this once SoHo landmark left New York City for good in 2007, after almost 80 years serving greasy burgers and soggy fries 24/7, is not that anyone was ready to doubt anything can happen either.
To the city, the Moondance is now just a fading memory, along with the big lizard that used to sit atop the Texas Roadhouse on 13th Street, the East Village Kiev restaurant, and so many other iconic refuges New Yorkers didn’t care much about then, but now so enjoy reminiscing about.
No one paid much attention when the then no longer cheap eatery was donated to the Rhode Island American Diner Museum, which sold it to a Wyoming couple. A 2400 mile trip on the back of a truck and its first winter in La Barge almost killed the place.

So it’s always nice to learn that it not just survived but it’s also thriving as a destination to truck drivers, coast-to-coast trippers and, well, sentimental New Yorkers. Somehow a similar demographics to Van Morrison‘s today, if we may add. It’s all just like getting an email from a friend who survived the 1970s, cleaned up and moved out West to get a fresh start.

About the Moondance Diner’s old haunts on Sixth Avenue and Grand Street, what would you expect? It’s now luxurious, high-priced condos full of people who couldn’t care less about such a grease spoon. Fuggedaboutit.

***

Saxophone Colossus

Sax Solo Sonny Rollins
Is 80 Years Old Today

Some say he’s one of the last giants still roaming the earth. Here at Colltales, we’re slightly averse to “the last” or “the first” labels, for the same reason we all would loath to call someone “the middle.” But about Sonny Rollins, we do agree, he’s ONE of the giants. And luckily, he’s still around. Even better, today is his birthday.
The fact that this New Yorker is being celebrated nowadays all over the world must be something of a mystery to someone whose early fame was followed by periods of complete absence from the public eye, then resurfacing in Chicago, then Asia, then comeback to New York again, all the while imprinting his highly eclectic fingerprints all over contemporary music.
His unaccompanied solos, though, remain his most encompassing contribution to jazz as an art form. Through them, a vocabulary combining be-bop inflections, atonality, free jazz, calypso and whatever he rubbed off, and on, from Hawkins and Monk and Parker and Davis, he showcases and illustrates his ever-evolving spiritual quest and search for a deeper meaning of expression.
“I used to practice on the bridge, the Williamsburg Bridge,” Theodore Walter Rollins says about his leaner years. Well, Sonny, there’s no joke in saying that today that bridge can be yours to keep, if you want it. In any case, you know that the heart of New York is already yours and there’s no returning it. Happy Birthday, Sonny Rollins!

***

Submerged Art

Underwater Sculptures
Open Mexican Museum

A different kind of museum is about to open off the coast of Cancun, Mexico, but you’ll need goggles and diving equipment to visit it. Museo Subacuático de Arte opens next month with an installation of 350 human-like sculptures created by Jason deCaires Taylor, sitting up to 20 feet underwater.

Made of a special neutral PH cement, the sculptures are expected to gather coral reefs over time. It’ll certainly enhance the solemnity of the figures’ postures, bathed in the eerie, fluorescent light. “It has a lost feel to it,” says the scuba-diving British sculptor.

***

Smoking Chimp

Charlie Outlives Most
Apes, Dies of Old Age

It’s a good thing you’ve stopped smoking a year ago. After all, your doctor told you were adding some 10 extra years to your life and who can’t use an additional time to make sure they’re leaving a positive mark on this world?
In fact it’s great that now you have plenty of opportunities to go more often to the bathroom overnight. You’ve already been using those extra hours to spend some quality time with your respirator at home. Now there’s plenty of time to use your food stamps to buy those delicious coffee, sugar, milk and meat substitutes, along with a pack of your favorite alcohol-free beer, at your local grocery store.
So it was kind of disheartening when you read that 52-year old Charlie, a sneaky smoker chimpanzee who lived in a South African zoo, has just passed away. Mainly because, are you holding on to your walker? he lived at least 10 years more than the average ape.

This was not the first chimp to be known worldwide for having a weak spot for some old Gauloises, mind you. Just the most entertaining one. It seems that long ago he was taught that smoke is not good for you, so he’d hide from his handlers to enjoy the half butts that charitable visitors would throw at him.

In the past few years, Charlie’d been plagued by all sort of ailments but apparently none smoke related. In other words, the healthy nut long-distance jogger may collapse and die in one of his runs and guess who could he be found by? a worker at a nearby factory, having his morning cigarette break.

So you take a moment to scrutinize the chimp’s picture on the paper and compare it with your own image on the mirror. Not a bad looking fella, you think, for a retired circus performer. Heavens rest his soul. And then you say, screw it, where’s that Cuban I hid from the social worker six months ago?

***

Animal Control

Langur Monkeys to
Guard Games in India

The Commonwealth Games, an olympics type international competition to start in New Delhi, India, next week, will have an unusual platoon guarding its grounds: langur monkeys. They’ll help keep other, smaller monkeys, snakes, even out of control cows from disrupting the proceedings, besides of course, adding er a local color to the games, which have already been plagued by countless problems to begin with.
For instance, a couple of weeks ago, a pedestrian traffic bridge supervision for safety. Then a team of inspectors found appalling conditions of hygiene in some of the athlete quarters that were supposed to be ready to host them. Organization officials had to step up a campaign to counter the bad publicity the mishaps generated and the growing wave of public criticism.

And then there’re the monkeys. Rhesus and other small species are known to wreak havoc all around this city of over 18 million. Wild in nature but closer to the definition of a feral existence, they can be aggressive, despite living in urban areas all year around, feeding off scraps and garbage dumps. In the city, their population remains unchecked because they lack predators and are not subject to any official control policy.
Langur monkeys, which are widespread in India, can weight up to 40 pounds and also face the loss of their natural habitat. They’re not particularly hostile or being specifically trained to the job at hand, but the organization hopes their deployment will serve as a deterrent against smaller monkeys, straight dogs and pretty much every other animal expected to roam the grounds of the games. Except perhaps tigers and elephants, but for that, trained handlers and sharpshooters will also be on guard.

As it happens with such games, a huge global audience is expected to attend. And as with the recent World Cup held in South Africa, the locals will hardly notice them. The majority of New Delhians, living in sub-poverty conditions, will probably continue their begging in the streets and search for food in dumpsters, before and after the games. Some will most likely be right outside competition sites, disputing with smaller animals the attention of the world. And langurs won’t be able to contain them.

***

I Hate Mondays

Italian Artist’s Newest Work
Points Out His Shock Values

This gigantic finger greeted surprised traders arriving for work at the Milan Stock Exchange Monday morning. “Crippled Hand,” the 36 foot tall Maurizio Cattelan sculpture is also known as, of all things, “L.O.V.E.”
It’s part of a retrospective of the artist with a knack for flirting with controversy and free publicity. “La Nona Hora” (The Ninth Hour), for example, depicting the pope being hit by a meteor, was panned by critics and church officials alike. But the public, of course, loved it.

Despite what its imagery obviously suggests to Americans, though, L.O.V.E. is actually a commentary on, again of all things, that infamous Heil Hitler salute. But with Cattelan one never knows. Another one of his sculptures, supposedly decrying the horrors of Holocaust, shows three kids hanging on a tree. It was cut down and defaced by angry protesters.

***

NY State of Never Mind

Governor Race Trades Fresh
Ideas for Predictable Outcome

The race for governor of New York may unofficially be between Democrat Andrew Cuomo, the state’s Attorney General, and Buffalo real estate developer Carl Paladino. But for the equally willing five other candidates, the position is a perfect fit to no one but them.

Anti-Prohibition’s Kristin Davis and Rent is Too Damn High’s Jimmy McMillan, in special, really seem to live up to their self-assigned billing. No offense but Green Party’s Howie Hawkins, Libertarian Warren Redlich and Freedom Party’s Charles Barron just lack that certain je nes sais quoi quality these two have plenty of.
Remember Ms. Davis (no, not that Kristin Davis)? This one is the madam convicted for providing “Client #9,”aka former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, with a G-string of sex professionals that ultimately caused his political crash and burn. As a motto, she’d take a pair of handcuffs upstate to teach a thing or two to any nasty lawbreaker – and quite possibly, any naughty lawmaker too. After all, well, you know.
- “Most politicians wait until they get elected to get indicted. I’m saving voters time and money.
And McMillan is the long time serial candidate who’s vowed to employ his lethal Karate skills to deal with the intricacies of Albany politics. At Monday night’s governor race debate, he also sported a pair of menacing black gloves, which he explained had something to do with his exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. Whatever.
- “If you can’t stand the heat, watch out. Jimmy McMillan is stepping into this kitchen.

Before taking this any further, a friendly aside: they’d both benefit from consulting with Paladino, whose vow to use a baseball bat as a corrective for the state legislature malaise almost sank his campaign before his considerable wealth could manage to float it. Apparently upstate politics dislikes with a passion any threat of physical action, be it for signing bills to help New York City or just to appear tough to voters. For more on that see Spitzer, Eliot.
It’s no small measure of the state of our well state politics then that Davis and McMillan are running on issues many a self-appointed progressive won’t touch with a 20ft pole. For can you imagine Cuomo or Paladino vowing to legalize marijuana, prostitution and same-sex marriage (Davis), and to impose rent freezes and reduce property taxes (McMillan)?

***

Suspended Animation

A Sharon Lookalike “Comes
Back” to Haunt Israeli Politics

It’s fair to say that the current state of Israel’s politics is less than optimal. Another round of talks with the Palestinians wound up like all previous ones, in the dustbin of well-intentioned but feeble efforts, and many in the international community point to Israel’s failure to stop construction in the West Bank settlements as one of its primary causes.
An attempt to require all new citizens to pledge allegiance to the “Jewish and democratic state,” the so-called “loyalty bill,” backfired and caused a small riot among Likud Party ministers members of the ruling coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Worse, a suggested solution by Netanyahu himself to also include Jews managed to turn the public opinion against him, and increased visibility of his political rival Avishai Braverman, one of the five Labour party ministers who opposes the new bill. And then there’s the Gaza Strip and then and then.
So guess how Israel-based artist Noam Braslavsky thought about stiring things up just a bit more? By promoting the “symbolic” reintroduction into the public sphere of the controversial former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Just his likeness, of course, since Sharon had a catastrophic stroke in 2006 and has been in coma ever since.

But never mind that. Meet “Ariel Sharon,” a life-size, animatronic-style, hyper-realistic sculpture of the former PM, resting on his hospital bed, eyes half-closed and, grasp, appearing to “breathe,” which is set to debut today at the Kishon Art Gallery in Tel Aviv.
As to what Sharon, the man, would’ve thought of the state of his country’s politics today, is not just anyone’s guess, but also up to the Israeli citinzenry, its somewhat confused allies and its many and dangerous enemies. But there must be some who thought at least once about what if the man himself could pay his likeness a visit.

***

Beyond the Sea

America, the Atlantic,
A Crew of Six & A Cat

100 years ago last Friday, a U.S.-built dirigible attempted to cross the Atlantic Ocean. America, a 228ft long silk balloon filled with hydrogen, left her hangar in, appropriately, Atlantic City but never reached the other side of the pond.
Just three days after departure, a powerful gale forced the crew of six, led by Walter Wellmam and Kiddo, the cat, to be rescued by the Trent, a Royal Mail ship, 400 miles off the coast of North Carolina. The America, still airborne, vanished over the horizon.
Despite failing to complete its mission, the crew was welcomed in New York as heroes. One of them, Murray Simon, a 29-year-old junior officer on leave from the yet-to-be-launched Titanic’s sister ship Oceanic, finally crossed the Atlantic aboard the Hindenburg on her maiden voyage in 1936, seven years after the first successful crossing.

To mark the airship’s eventful trip, Simon’s grandson Anthony will give a presentation at the Zeppelin Museum, in Friedrichshafen, Germany, based on his relative’s expedition log.

Following their return, Kiddo, a stray who was taken along for good luck, held court in a gilded cage at the famous Gimbels department store in Manhattan. He went on to live a quiet existence with Wellman’s daughter, Edith. No confirmed sight of the America was ever found.

***

Chewed Up

Walkman Fast Forwards
to Generational Oblivion

After 30 years, Sony just announced that it’s discontinuing the production of its fable portable players, which served as the power engine behind countless soundtracks for the 80s, whatever that may have been to you.

The previous assassination of the vinyl format had already invoked the full gamut of adjectives for mourning and loss and grief any electronic artifact could possibly muster. Somewhat though such demise was attenuated by the then still ominous presence and versatility of the cassette.

Those little plastic boxes with a skinny tape running inside them, that you use to wind up manually with a pencil, did help at least two generations build their personalized collections, before the obsession with sound purity took the best out of everyone. Granted, there are still those to whom the scratching noise of the needle on the acetate, and the purring of the motor winding the tape are an intrinsic part of the listening experience.

But alas, even those were inevitably showered by the 0s and the 1s of the digital format and its inexorable march obliterating all that came before. A similar shock wave was felt among musicians during the transition from valve-powered amplifiers to transistors to laser beams. Nothing lasted longer than the time it took Side A of a LP to play out, though.
Now, as the Walkman walks into the sunset (sorry, we couldn’t help it), how are we to play those cassettes we have stored somewhere? Out of catalog albums (if you have to ask…), outtakes of a live recording by you-know-who (you’re mad if you thought we were about to date ourselves that easily), and that rushed interview by Chris, done just before you took off for college, what’s next for them?
Like those shiny black vinyl discs displayed at the restrooms of your favorite watering hole, cassettes and the machines that used to play them can be used very creatively. Specially the Walkman which we hear can be awfully decorative. And the headphones may be still useful, after all. We don’t know about you, though, but to us, the whole thing is sad, really.

***

Artistesepian

***

xxxx

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