Curtain Raiser

Short-Changing the Earth, Colltalers

Many question having a date to focus on the environment, giving the catastrophic state of the planet, and world leaders’ lack of action on the climate crisis. But a year short of its half-century mark, let’s use the day to demand change, not simply dismiss it.
Specially as we remembered last Saturday, nine years of the worst oil spill in history, the BP-run Gulf of Mexico rig disaster, and the Columbine High School massacre, 20 years before. Sadly, there’s still no real good news about neither of those tragedies.
On that note, Easter started horrifically for Sri Lanka, with multiple terrorist attacks that murdered almost 300 people. Some fear the 3.000-year-old nation, and oldest Asian democracy, may be too vulnerable to politically and religiously-driven bloodshed.
The attacks may be out of some deranged jealousy, others insist, over the global outpouring of support to Catholics, following last Monday’s fire at 800-year-plus Notre Dame Cathedral, in Paris. But terrorism doesn’t have religion, so what’s their point?
In other, seemingly lighter, news, Volodymyr Zelensky, who plays the president of Ukraine on a TV sitcom, just won the election to become the real thing. To supporters, he’s a fresh start, even without expressing his take on any of the country’s hairier issues, such as Russia, and civil liberties. But they sure hope that the comedian is aware that being a president is no laughing matter.
Back in the not so old U.S., Trump, the president who plays a con-artist in real life, seems to have beaten yet another attempt to expose his misdeeds. The Mueller Report, for all its scope and solid investigative approach, has so far not fulfilled its purpose. Even as a fact-full road map to restore truth and dignity to the office of the presidency, a thousand redactions notwithstanding, it didn’t pack enough punch to knock common sense into his political basis, or boost hopes for a new president coming 2020.
Around this time for two decades, we’ve been forced to go back to a terrible Tuesday when two teenagers killed 13 of their mates and school staff, in what was then, history’s worst school mass shooting. Hardly we knew then that Columbine wouldn’t be the worst for long. Not just many more, and deadlier, followed it, but its bottomless grief hasn’t moved congress to pass laws to prevent new ones. Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Tyranny Hates Journalists, Colltalers

The disturbing sight of Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange being dragged out of the Ecuador embassy in London by the British police, last week, sent shock waves through the dwindling democracies around the world. This time, it was him; the next, us?
But democracy isn’t done yet: 800 million Indians vote till May for a new government; 190 million Indonesians choose theirs on Wednesday; and Finland already has a new, leftist, Parliament. Sadly, Democrats in the U.S. Congress haven’t got it together yet.
In 2018, more than 250 journalists were imprisoned, half of them in China, Turkey, and Egypt, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Worse, 53 got murdered, including Saudi Arabia’s Jamal Khashoggi, allegedly killed by his own government.
Like Assange, most of the persecuted is accused of, well, doing their job: uncovering inconvenient facts, cross-referencing them, protecting sources, and reporting about the front lines of the fight between institutional oppression, and those who oppose it.
The arrest, a U.K. gift to the U.S., culminated a truculent campaign to dislodge the Australian activist, and jail him over the 2010 leak of a large but ultimately tame trove of cables exchanged by American officials. Although he may be charged as a hacker, a technicality, the aim is clear: to silence dissent. A shocking difference this time, though, is having the U.S. as leading prosecutor.
To be sure, the British have played a less than dignified role in all this. And so has, arguably, Sweden, set to reopen rape charges against Assange. A shameless, misleading establishment media has also been a factor, as has his own, flawed, moral compass.
Nothing justifies, though, going after a publisher whose revelations showed what a powerful government feels entitled to do, when its people are not looking. The case also produced one conscientious hero, Chelsea Manning, who leaked the cables Continue reading

Floating Enigmas


That Time a Ghost Ship, Adrift at
Sea, Carried a Crew of Cannibal Rats

Most eerie accounts of ships lost or found abandoned, without a shadow of life aboard, fuel nightmares and horror tales. Take the Mary Celeste, for instance, whose missing crew left all possessions and jumped out of her in a hurry, on a clear night in 1872.
The Lyubov Orlova cruiser, though, belongs to another category of fright: the life left behind is not human but feral. Rodents with sharp teeth run around breeding and eating each other. As they carry on their blood bath, the ship drifts towards the North Atlantic.
The Russian-made vessel is only the latest to be cast adrift, but unlike memorable cases in the past, the fate of her last crew is well known: unpaid by the owners, they all left her at a Canadian harbor, where she remained until she broke lose during a storm.
Penniless and prosaic, or lucky as some would put it, the fate of the Lyubov Orlova crew diverges from accounts of many a ghost ship, found empty, or lost forever and possibly sunk. At least they lived to hopefully find new employment, or another line of business.
Those who manned other legendary ships, however, were never to be seen again. Besides the Mary Celeste, there’s the Caroll A. Derring, with its 1921 swashbuckling tale of pirates and the Bermuda Triangle, and the Zebrina, found empty in 1917, with likely hints that the war had come on board.
But just before we lose perspective, the worst possible nightmarish scenarios notwithstanding, nothing at sea can be more terrifying than a shipwreck, both for its potential for unredeeming loss and ability to strike fear into the hearts of sailing souls. Neither has any ship disappeared with a large crew so far. Knock on wood.
And no nautical tragedy encapsulates a higher confluence of fears associated with high seas than the wreck of the Essex in 1820, with its horrific tale of a giant whale hitting it twice, and survivors resorting to cannibalism. The episode inspired at least one masterpiece, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, published 30 years later.

THE BLOOD OF EARTH
Giving its primordial existence, though, the vastness of the bodies of water that interconnect and divide our receding lands do instil an inordinate amount of irrational fears and spikes in our fright bones, in diametrically ways that terra firma represents hope and redemption when it’s finally within reach.
Thalassophobia is, in fact, one of the arguably most primeval fears for humans, more intense than even the fear of heights. For our inadequate bodies, not made to soar above the clouds or breathe underwater, can still better avoid the former, whereas to drown, one Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Israel & the Plastic Quagmire, Colltalers

In the 1960s, it seemed like a good idea: plastic bags to carry stuff. And to pack, ship, roll into a straw, and wrap food and drinks. It was hygienic, versatile, and eternal. A brave new world miracle. Now it’s what it’s stuffing to death the stomachs of whales.
The global right wing wave hijacking democracies, and promoting a populism of oppression, has a major date tomorrow, with the Israeli elections. A win by prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu may dash for good the Palestinians’ dream of a homeland.
Reversing the impact of our toxic lifestyle on the environment, and preventing the expansion of authoritarian regimes, are in fact related issues. For it’s unlikely that a government used to annex territories by force, would also protect its people from pollution and climate change. Netanyahu, who’s played masterfully the ‘fear-your-neighbor’ trump card, has no time for such ‘distractions.’
The demise of the long fought-for two-state solution, sabotaged by everyone but the almost two million living in Gaza strip, has opened the doors for an exceptionally bleak time for Israeli-Palestinian relations. If before, peace negotiations stalled on minutia, but were still on, now, bullets aimed at the protesters’ limbs, and the occasional bomb from beyond the walls, are doing the talk.
For a time, a young, urban generation of Israelis, and their stated foes, Iranians, fed up with the fear of terrorism and external aggression, had represented the world’s biggest hope to a less militarized, more commonwealth-like Middle East. That, and the international pressure for peace in the region. After all, citizens of both nations have been equally victimized by the status quo.
Those hopes began to fade by a spectacular string of bad decisions taken in the past 20 years by the U.S. and its allies, starting by the invasion and destruction on false premises of Iraq. Rhetoric by George W. Bush and his war-mongering cabinet have Continue reading

Traveling Companions

Birds Down Your Pants
& the Frozen Armadillo

Don’t ask us why, but people have been stuffing all sorts of small animals down their pants for years now. They get caught all the time with hairy spiders, rare scorpions, slithering snakes, even live lobsters moving down their legs. Not even airport screeners want to know why.
Some kind of genetic freak calling the shots on this one, that’s what we say. But when they start beating each other up with frozen armadillos, well, that’s when we step in and draw the line, for crying out loud.
So smugglers do that for a living. Low-lifes. Two-time crooks do it on a dare, or for dope money. So what? Even if these bottom feeders show more nerve than noodles, we’re not about to give them a free pass for making their business to traffic on the defenseless.
It doesn’t matter that these critters fetch a lot of dough in the black market, i.e., people even worse than, well. There’s never shortage of grifters out for a quick buck. What gets to us, though, is when it’s personal and, rather than throwing iPhones, as any past-their-prime supermodels would, they toss a pet at their foes.
FROZEN AND WELL ENDOWED
That really gets our blood boiling. Ok, so it was not a pet, it was an armadillo, and it was frozen, and no one we know raises one of them as a pet, although they might. Still.
So this Texas woman planned to dine on an armadillo’s carcass some guy just happened to be selling out of the back of his car. One should never trust a story that starts with that kind of intro, by the way.
Apparently, she didn’t know or care that you’re not supposed to sell these endangered animals anywhere in the U.S. Actually, to be perfectly truthful, you can sell and buy them, but not live ones or them whole, you got that? Soup, anyone?
Again, as we said, do you really think she cared? Anyway, an argument over the price ensued right there, at the busy parking lot the man had turned into his private marketplace. They disagreed, their voices were raised and, Kaboom!, and then, Kaboom! again.
The police said the man hit the woman twice with the frozen mammal, a species with more about it than meets an untrained eye. Apparently, after all these years, he’s still on the run.

CRACKERS FOR THE TOOTHLESS
In one of those completely unrelated news about the same animal, it turns out that armadillos are very well endowed. How well? The male organ is two thirds its length, that’s how well. But since we’re down this path anyway, they’re nowhere near barnacles.
The hermaphrodite sea creature is so well hung that it doesn’t even need to move to mate: ‘it’ can be 10 times the length of its body. That’s convenient, because they’s spend their entire lives attached to a rock. Unless of course, they’re found wrapping a Citi Bike.
Besides, being hermaphrodites and all, they really can self-reproduce, so we have no idea why nature even bothered giving them such a ‘reach.’ There, now you know more than you ever wanted to about barnacles. How come we’re talking about barnacles now?

DIMWITS OF THE BLACK MARKET
As we were saying, people are used to carry all sorts of scary things in their pants. Take this Alberta man, for example. He was caught trying to cross the U.S. border into Canada with a loaded handgun in his pants and tarantulas, snakes and scorpions in his truck.
Yes, it’s not completely to the point, but still. Want another one? What about Johan Adolfsson, a Swede traveling from Thailand to Australia, who was found to be carrying four king cobras and four (more)
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Read Also:
* New Critters on the Block
* Bugs Dummy
* Crusty Catch

Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Climate Is No Fool’s Errand, Colltalers

Floods have taught us yet another practical lesson on climate change: they’ve drowned Mozambicans and Nebraskans this week, with equally destructive, and deadly force. But whereas big offender U.S. denies the evidence, hard hit Africa is busy fighting it.
Speaking of fighting Americans, women have led the charge for change relevant to the poor and our future, even before another rich white male moved in to the White House. But what the Democratic Party wants to find? a new rich white male to beat him.
These two different situations have twin common denominators though: authoritarianism and ignorance, or some combination of the two. And so do three other issues to skim through before we get to them: measles, nukes for Saudis, and the Brazil of Bolsonaro.
For several millennia, mankind’s pace was marked by advances, both glacially slow and lightning fast; trouble came mostly from the unknown and unpredictable natural world. Periodically, evolution selected an entire species to be extinct, and haven’t you heard? dinosaurs were thriving 65 million years ago. Now, we find ourselves fighting old and revived, man made, woes. Again.
When conspiracy theorists rage against mass vaccination, they’re re-staging battles waged a century ago. Outbreaks of measles and other infectious diseases are flare-ups of the obscurantism of past ages. Except that they can still kill people. Naturally, such outbreaks fester first in close-knit, reactionary communities, such as the ultra-Orthodox Jewish ones, in N.Y. Rockland County.
Nuclear power, of course, can also kill people, even end civilization. Now put this power in the hands of extraordinarily wealthy authoritarian rulers, and the risk for annihilation of mankind, and global scale destruction, just got multiplied a few times more.
That’s arguably what happened, as the Trump administration has unwisely allowed U.S. companies to sell nuclear technology and know-how to Saudi Arabia’s murderous regime. Despite denials, few have any doubts about what all that will be used for.
And the third issue, related to ignorance and authoritarianism, comes from Brazil. Sunday was the sad 55th anniversary of the military coup that overtook the nation for 20-plus years. But while millions of Brazilians wore black to denounce the date, far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, an ex-captain ousted from the Army who routinely praises torturers, wanted to celebrate it.
Even as his plan was shot down by a judge, Continue reading

Vice to Meat Ya

Eating Animals May
Be Coming To a Boil

The short-comings of public campaigns about bad health habits are well known.  One the best selling foods ever is not even food – cheerios. But despite knowing that full well, those who eat it, eat it. Period.
That may illustrate without explaining why chastising people only makes them double down on their ways. Rightly so. After all, healthy eaters don’t necessarily preach about it. They just, well, eat.
In 2017, Brazil got embroiled in a stinky scandal of rotten meat, which was already packaged to be shipped to schools, and exported to its trading partners. Major plants were raided and low management was paraded like criminals straight to jail. Of course, they’re all out now.
The affair is particularly putrid because involves government corruption, and wouldn’t you know it?, and because it exposes once again a multibillion industry which consistently cares little about public health.
But, like the billions spent shaming people about cigarette smoking, with little impact on global tobacco sales, scandals don’t usually dismantle a malodorous industry. Education and awareness do.
Graphic depictions of terminal diseases caused by some nasty habit, tough rhetoric, and draconian laws restricting its practice, do little to curb social habits. A turnaround in public sentiment is all it takes.

NOTHING TO SEE HERE, SAYS THE FOX
In Brazil, social networks reacted to the ‘Carne Fraca’ (weak flesh, as the scandal was called, for some reason) in typical fashion: blame meat eaters. Meat eaters replied in kind. Nastiness ensued, trolls jubilated.
Meanwhile, then pseudo-president Michel Temer (just released on a five-day jail stint) went to a churrascaria to show buyers of Brazilian steak that all was fine. He would’ve gotten away with it, if he wasn’t dumb enough to eat meat imported from Argentina.
Trade partners pressured on, and prices of the commodity collapsed, which is the least that should happen. But will the crisis lead to tighten regulations and stiffen penalties and jail terms and, shock, the closing of some plants? Not likely, of course.
No one was cast out from society for smoking; they just had to take their business to the curb and open air. And restaurant and service workers thanked it all, very much; finally their underwear stopped smelling like an ashtray at the end of the night.
But in major economies, the tobacco industry did take a hit when smoke was stripped of its glamour, and the price tag of the public health damage it causes came finally into light. That happened only after stricter laws went into effect and were dutifully enforced.
Government officials and politicians who lied and hid they were sponsored by big tobacco, were also exposed and put out of business. As for smokers, it’s their business what they take a drag on. No one else needs to follow suit, or berate them.
At the end of the day, scary tactics notwithstanding, to quit smoking remains a deeply personal decision, akin of choosing a particular diet regime, or becoming a vegetarian.
ARE YOU GOING TO FINISH THAT?
Which brings us to the age-old discussion over whether we should or are we even supposed to have the flesh of dead animals as so central a staple of our food consumption.
Growing criticism of the meat industry has reached strident levels. Beyond the usual health-minded professionals, the anti-meat activist movement, and the slow build-up of awareness about animal rights, the industry now is facing a new, formidable foe: climate change.
Scientists are already compiling comprehensive lists of all other contributing factors to climate change, besides our still all-too-encompassing reliance on carbon fuels for energy.
Topping such lists is usually the cycle of raising cattle for human consumption. All over the planet, millions of herds (more)
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Read Also:
* The Beef Of Going Meatless
* Meatless Time
Continue reading