Play Dough

But Why Didn’t They
Call it The Big Pizza?

The world would laugh, if it’d even care, about the little idiosyncrasies New Yorkers seem to invest themselves with so much passion one would think that the fate of humankind is squarely pinned on them. Case in point: pizza, local fast food extraordinaire.
Now, we know, would it kill us to exercise restrain and abstain from such prosaic subject? We’re not above it, though; yesterday, when we were cold and short of cash, it seemed like a good idea. But fear not, for we approach the beast with utmost respect.
For even for pizza there’s a certain way of eating it, if far from solemn, that denizens of this great cesspool are proud of mastering early on. And then there’re all the wrong ways to be ashamed doing it. Just ask the Mayor, who was caught eating the holy dough with fork and knife.
Anathema, nothing less. After all, the whole combo of flour, cheese and tomato sauce may have been invented in the old country ages ago, but the slice and the ‘fold and eat with your hands’ maneuver have been both trade-marked right here, on the streets of the five boroughs, just like steaming manholes and yellow cabs.
What? You have a problem with that? No one should be surprised if many an argument has flared up or settled down over a steaming pie, and for that dwindling minority with a pocketful of change, nothing is as affordable and substantial than a 4am slice by the curbside.
But alas, not even pizza is that New Yorker, and as with many other city-by-the-river staples, it’s been appropriated by the world, many times over, gritty, warts et al. Perhaps one day we’ll all be talking about pizza like we do today about the old Times Square. But we digress.
We’re living in other times, that’s for sure, even if equally lean. Definitely diminished slant on little localized treats, though, as they plan on printing a pie in space and making a slice last longer than a heat wave. Never mind us old farts, for kids are unlike to mourn the demise of such a 20th century food relic.
Big Apple? Who were they kidding? So, fine, it was supposed to evoke the original sin and all that, besides looking a bit more photogenic in tourism ads. But the likelihood of seeing someone eating apples on the streets of New York was never bigger than spotting a kangaroo at a subway stop, or a beret-wearing mime.
Although we’re sure those have also been spotted somewhere around here. In any case, we thought about getting a quick survey on wonders of this thousand-year snack, that can proudly be a meal on its own right. Just don’t bring pineapples anywhere near one or we’ll scream.

Inevitably, as with many scrumptious foods we’ve been indulging for centuries, the old loaf of bread covered in cheese and herbs (predating even the ascension of tomatoes, around 700 A.C.E.) came from the ancient country. Many trace its earliest reference to Virgil’s Aeneid, written almost 800 years before that.
To some, it was a baker in Pompeii, Publius Paquius Proculus, who invented it some 2,000 years ago, and in fact, a relic of the Vesuvius eruption that destroyed his city and Herculaneum is a fossilized round dough that strongly resembles some of the culinary achievements of ‘The Original Ray,’ in New York.
For the typical Napolitan, for instance, there’s nothing else but Marinara and, Ok, once in a while, Margherita, and we’ll spare you from the origins of these two common pizzas. We said hold the pineapples before but New Yorkers are known not to be above some sausage, (more)
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* Wait a Minute
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Curtain Raiser

Disrupting the Dictators’ Ball, Colltalers

Last week was again dominated by acts, whims, and tweets of a selected, if not unbearable, group of strong rulers, so used to suck out the air of the headlines. Life, never bound by their theatrics, has had a hard time earning a moment of our crowded attention spans these days.
Kim Jong-un talked about nukes? Breaking news. Cuba’s Castro dynasty exiting the world stage? Stop the presses. The president’s lawyer is about to spill the beans? Tells us all about it. But not long ago, not all news were driven by megalomaniacs in power. Allow us, if you would.
Yes, the cruel North Korea ruler saying that he’ll halt the country’s nuclear program is important. If the tiny island that challenged the West is changing hands at the helm, there are global repercussions. And the fact that the U.S. president has been caught again lying to the American people, is definitely worth debating. But we should be weary about two things. One is about the absolutely low credibility of these leaders.
For all those not yet buried, if something is on an all-time supply shortage is what elected, and not so much, politicians have been saying and its gargantuan gap from reality. Even for professionals sharper at deception than magicians, a few records must’ve been broken as of lately.
And yet, even as many seem to have somehow stretched their tolerance to falsehood, that isn’t the visual media’s emphasis when it pretends to inform us about the news. Consequences for being untrue are rarely linked to the liars and although that in itself should be news, it often isn’t.
Something else makes every relatively thinking creature to take pause about ‘facts’ being dictated by a group of individuals usually at odds with them: the power of a leader comes from representation; if he or she speaks out of sync with their constituency, either by ignorance, omission, or, oh, yes, because they did not actually elect them, then what’s being said remains in the fouled realm of their self-aggrandizing.
And then we’re back to the beginning. Either self-centered or self-appointed, or both, autocrats favor the version Continue reading

Earth Day

With the Planet This Hot,
What’s There to Celebrate?

Beneath the Waves

High Noon at Big Blue: Menopausal
Whales & Jellyfish-Murdering Robots

They stand far apart in the immense liquid yonder enveloping the planet. One massive and rare, the other transparent and quasi immaterial. Whales and jellyfish have been around for millions of years, but as one’s likely to outlive us, we miss the other already.
They’re both beautiful, no mistake about it. But while the Medusa and the Man of War are growing strong around the oceans, the majestic blue and the singing humpback, harmless as they are, are swimming to oblivion, and may not get to meet your great-grandchildren.

It doesn’t help that we know so little of either one, and that the very world they inhabit, from which we all draw our sustenance, is on the verge of collapse, victimized by pollution, climate change and overfishing. While we multiply, marine life dwindles, and it’s the fragile among us that’s going first.
For when it comes to survival, size may be a liability. Ours is in the numbers; the whales’ is in the scope of their physicality. Aliens on earth and sea stand a better chance: viruses, bacteria, bugs and jellyfish have proven way more adaptable to beat even a formidable foe as all species have found in us.
The ocean is in fact so broken that a new study found out that an annual ‘dead zone’ in the Gulf of Mexico, which last year was the size of New Jersey, will continue for several decades.
These areas, which occur when there isn’t enough oxygen in the water to support marine life, are spreading out throughout the oceans and their cause is attributed to nutrient runoff, from agricultural fields which are heavily fertilized during spring.
As these areas grow, marine life recedes, and the natural diversity of the seas becomes severely depleted, even if eventually reasonable levels of oxygen return. Like a change of guard from hell, living creatures, turtles, dolphins, sharks, whales, and their accompanying flurries of feeding birds, are being quickly replaced by plastic, garbage, synthetic rope, and polystyrene foam: the new fruits of the sea.

Blackfish is a documentary about the late Tilikum, an orca whale who spent her 25-plus years in captivity at SeaWorld, which ‘accused’ her of having killed or being involved in the deaths of three of its trainers. The documentary, which in the U.S. became a public television hit, was an indictment on the brutal conditions such wondrous animals are kept in this class of for-profit enterprises.
Forced to a gruesome routine of non-stop training and performing, the 12,000 pound bull, who lived most of her life in a tank the size of bus, had the typical signs of physical and mental deterioration that plague captive animals. The documentary fought SeaWorld to free Tilikum, but she died last year without ever returning to the open sea.
A powerful reason that should’ve ended enslaving whales as toys is the fact that they do share common traits with much smaller-brained humans. They live in highly complex societies, and now researchers found that they also can reach menopause, just like grandma, as one of the few species that live longer than their reproductive years.
A team at the universities of Exeter and of York is undertaking a long-term study to find out exactly how orcas organize themselves (more)
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* Close Encounters
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Curtain Raiser

The Expediency of Tomahawks, Colltalers

It’s easier to bomb than to talk. The Trump administration has tried hard to get to this point, when headlines are about hitting another country. It’s already got North Korea, Venezuela, and Iran, on its crosshairs, but Syria has had the best excuse, so it got struck twice. More to come?
Very likely, indeed. Even that bombing changes nothing, only kills more people, at both times, timing was most convenient. But the strikes we’d rather support are those by teachers. For what they demand, from West Virginia to Arizona, will improve our life without killing anyone.
To this president, who dodged the draft and never had to fire a bullet to save a soul, war is always a handy diversion. Whenever lies, sex and incompetence threaten to derail his week, talk about bombing someone does the trick, playing the compliant media as Nero did with his lyre.
But alas, there are things that even Trump can’t be solely blamed for, even as he’d gladly take credit for them. For war, as a highly profitable business that it is, has always opportunities for all, from the aggressor to the invaded, except of course, the unarmed people on the ground.
It keeps the weapon industries solvent, the multi-billion defense contractor market well oiled, and Pentagon hawks and militaristic zealots quite happy. War is never about saving people, proving a point, or righting some perceived wrongs; it’s a self-feeding engine despots and tyrants can’t live without. Few see it that way but how can a massive loss of innocent lives be justified by some ephemeral ideal of justice?
Both times, the justification to strike Syria has been the alleged use of chemical weapons, with what’s called the ‘international community’ blaming both the regime of Bashar al-Assad and its Russian support for the attack. Pictures of victims, many children, are indeed devastating.
It wasn’t enough in the 1980s however for the U.S. to bomb the Saddam Hussein regime, which used it several times against Kurds, Iranian forces, and his own people, if intel of the time is to be trusted. The reason was pragmatic albeit not less inexcusable: he was then a U.S. ally.
Of course, the U.S. is not alone applying that kind of ‘measured’ hypocrisy as a foreign policy tool. Specially now, Continue reading

Tomorrow Never Knows

The World As We Know it
& Those Not Meant to Be

‘The future ain’t what it used to be.’ When Yogi Berra uttered his now often repeated axiom years ago, he was uncannily signaling the age of under-achievement and malaise that followed the great promises of the Atomic Era. Sadly, for a generation geared up to dream big, there would be no flying cars floating around anytime soon.
Nevertheless, many ventured into the risky business of divining what’s coming, some with insight, some spectacularly off, and others with a bit of both. Fortunately Berra, whose outstanding performance at his day job has eclipsed his talent to turn a simple interjection into a treatise of wit and charm, never did anything of the sort.
Back in 1900, when John Elfreth Watkins Jr. imagined ‘rays of invisible light’ allowing us to peek inside the body without having to cut it open, he was making an educated assumption. After all, science had just developed tools that did uncover a miniature world, previously invisible to the naked eye.
In comparison, George Hoyle‘s prediction, made some 70 years later, that everybody would be wearing jumpsuits by 2010, was almost embarrassingly wrong. But in all fairness, he did get lots of things right. And so did Bill Gates in 1995, when he envisioned people carrying computers in their pockets a mere 20 years ahead.

What these no doubt visionaries were doing, though, was engaging in futurology, a rather guessing game, when one’s chances of catching lucky breaks are as likely as piling on a bunch of misses. Not without some irony, science fiction writers by far have always been the group with the better accuracy record than anybody else.
But even though Jules Verne, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick, and so many others got so much stuff right, many of which being already part of our daily lives, they’ve spoiled us all rot. That’s where our startlingly misguided resentment (more)
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* The Illustrated Man
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Curtain Raiser

Lula’s Hit & the Tip of Faceberg, Colltalers

‘Lack of authority and indiscipline seeded and fertilized’ all segments of society, without sparing ‘the exemplary stronghold of order’ and perennial guarantor of institutions: ‘the armed forces.’ So read the ominous Good Friday editorial of March 27, 1964, on Jornal do Brasil.
Five days later, the same paper would greet the military coup that installed a 21-year dictatorship in Brazil as the dawn of ‘true legality’ in the country. After a little over a century, Brazil is again having a cruel April, with Saturday’s prison of former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
More on that in a moment, but let’s get to the newest save face tactics Mark Zuckerberg’s hopes will delete the onslaught of bad news that engulfed Facebook. For starters, it admitted that data of 50 million users was compromised when it struck a deal with Cambridge Analytica. But only after Christopher Wylie, who worked for the poll firm hired by the Trump administration, and claims to have designed the tools used help him get elected, became a whistleblower. FB then revised up that initial figure to a whopping 87 million personal files actually exposed.
Now, the Zuck himself said that ‘most’ of its more than two billion users should ‘assume’ that information about them is out there, being diced and sliced and sold and resold. And just like that, as it happened in the past, he’s tried quickly move on with the usual excuses. That might be no longer an option, as TechCrunch just found out about a gem of villainy, worthy a cartoonish laughter, enjoyed only by FB executives.
Unlike anyone else, they can retrieve their messages from anybody’s boxes, even years after sending them. We won’t be getting on the implications of that here, but for those willing to do just that, words like Orwellian and privilege may be used by the handful. Moving on.
The preppy CEO, who declined to testify to a U.K. parliamentary committee investigating fake news, and spared everyone there from laying eyes on his chino+T-shirt combo, couldn’t avoid Continue reading