Curtain Raiser

Rotten Meat & Sanctimony, Colltalers

If anything, social networks exacerbated the ancient human trait of claiming superiority above others by downplaying their right to exist. When shocking events trigger public outrage, it’s a given that some will blame others for it, often leaving the real culprits off the hook.
Thus, when several meat producers in Brazil, including the country’s two largest, were raided by federal agents last Friday, finding rotten meat packaged and ready to be sold in public schools, and exported to Europe, eating habits were blamed first for it, not a sick industry.
This being Brazil, the grizzly discovery of gross health violations is also linked to a scheme involving bribing inspectors and administration officials. Authorities scrambled to assure global partners that those were isolated incidents, rather than a sample of an multi billion dollar, under-regulated industry, mostly left at its own devices when it comes to health concerns. But common sense indicates that it’s the opposite.
Taking the scandal out of the context of widespread corruption and draft, that seem to pervade the current government, may be an insult to that same common sense, but some insane defense may argue that lax regulation, disregard to basic hygiene practices, and special favoritism by officials are all ingrained to the industry globally. And in Brazil, as in the rest of the world, consumers are not aware of them.
That’s like blaming the industry’s ‘raw material,’ i.e., the animals, of being too messy for continuing to have physiological functions even as they’re squeezed by the hundreds into the place of their own slaughter. For that’s exactly what happens and it’s the underlying cause for chronic contamination of meat plants. Not their bodily functions, of course, but the massive and inhumane system they’re forced to be part of.
Still, the matter is more serious than it’s being addressed in the Brazilian corporate media, and chances are, the scandal will die out within weeks. Given that part of the affected is so vulnerable – the impoverished public school system – and the industry’s lobbying muscle, we may be reading next week or after that the problem is being resolved, low level inspectors got fired, and there’s nothing else left to see here.
Behind the scenes, though, the P.R. battle will be even more intense than the ones waged publicly by the companies. Brazil’s trade balance relies heavily on meat exports, and such a disaster can undermine its powerful agribusiness and overall credibility before its partners.
And that’s the aspect that it’s so common to the very structure of global commercial relations. From a strictly standpoint Continue reading

Waters of March

A Fine Day to Salute
Hurricane Elis Regina

‘If she were still alive, Brazilian music wouldn’t be in such a bad shape.’ That’s guitar player Nathan Marques about Elis Regina, likely Brazil’s greatest singer, who’d be 72 this Friday. She died at 36 of an accidental overdose, and the country’s rich musical tradition still mourns her loss.
Most survivors of Brazil’s golden generation of songwriters and musicians, from the 1960s on, would endorse her guitarist’s stinging comment. Besides being impossibly gifted as an artist, Elis is also missed for her uncanny scouting talents, as many a career was either launched or enhanced by her renditions.
Her rise from anonymity to national stardom was meteoric. At 20, with Vinicius de Moraes and Edu Lobo‘s Arrastão, she won the TV Excelsior Festival de Música, the first of a series of festivals that took the country by storm, and revealed a new batch of interpreters that would dominate Brazilian music for years to come.
She then co-hosted with Jair Rodrigues O Fino da Bossa, and turned it into the most important music program on TV at the time. She seemed born to star in the medium, a crucial part of the young nation’s cultural integration, even as it also served well the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil between 1964 and 85.
In many cases, hers were the first recordings of composers who’d go on to become national treasuries, like Milton Nascimento, Ivan Lins, Beto Guedes, and João Bosco, beside others. Or she added considerable wattage to the work of contemporaries, like Lobo, Chico Buarque, Caetano Veloso, and Gilberto Gil, by recording their songs.

WHEN BRAZILIAN MUSIC MATTERED
Even though they all wrote lyrics, she also helped usher an entire new lineage of lyricists. Fernando Brant, Ronaldo Bastos, Aldir Blanc, and Victor Martins, to name but few, had their urban poetry-infused words first played on the radio and performed on TV by her, in a country whose majority by now were living in big cities.
By the 1970s, Brazilian music, or MPB, had several streams of high quality output, and composers of talent to boot. As Bossa Nova entered its second decade, and Tropicália, its own maturity phase, even artists identified with purer musical idioms, such as samba and Chorinho, were registering on vinyl their arguably best work.
Thus as Tom Jobim, João Gilberto, Baden Powell, and so many others were consolidating the then most famous representative of the country’s music, Veloso, Gil, Tom Zé, and Os Mutantes, plus Buarque, Paulinho da Viola, Nascimento, and Bosco were hard at work rewriting popular music to a younger audience.
MOOD SWINGER & ADVOCATE
One of the most remarkable facts about Elis Regina’s trajectory was that she was developing her sophisticated interpretative touch while at the vanguard of all these currents. Credit must be also given to husband and partner Cesar Camargo Mariano, who contributed (more)
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Curtain Raiser

Rolling With the Punches, Colltalers

Spoiler alert: we’re losing. As disheartening as it is to start off on such pessimistic premise, current global social and political conditions warrant our utmost concern. In the U.S., oblivious to all, the regime is still bolting our civil rights to the ground, nail by executive nail.
Don’t get this wrong; everyone is doing their absolute best to show their discontent and resist the Trump administration’s truculence. But all massive rallies and unprecedented community organizing may not be enough. It’s time for another course of action to be also pursued.
May we suggest the Rope-a-Dope? And before we go any further, to those with ‘sport-metaphor fatigue syndrome,’ a quick word: first, they don’t require knowledge or taste for any particular game to shed light on a subject. Also, arguably 90% of those vulnerable to discriminatory social policies and abuse of power do follow sports. So, in the spirit of inclusion, and for the sake of this post, let’s not get fussy, shall we?
In 1974, an aging, past his prime Muhammad Ali went to Zaire to fight heavyweight champion George Foreman, in what many believe was the end of his career. That impression held on for most of the Rumble in the Jungle, until Ali knocked down the champ and the rest is history.
In Leon Gast’s Oscar-winning documentary When We Were Kings, the writer Norman Mailer, hired as a ringside commentator, observes that, after the first round, Ali was back on his corner with ‘fear in his eyes.’ All the punches he had thrown at Foreman had little effect. Across the ring, stood a bigger and stronger opponent than him, one he could not dominate or avoid confronting. It was Ali’s moment of reckoning.
The genius of the late Ali was to play against expectation. He executed a plan – leaning on the ropes, taking Foreman’s body blows, and striking back here and there – despite the advice of his own corner, who grew desperate as the fight went on, and with a measure of humiliation, which in boxing means getting pounded. The entire world press corps thought he’d fail, but he pulled the sport’s greatest upset.
Apart from the African crowd, which he’d captivated the moment he landed on the continent, Ali was mostly hated at that time, specially by Americans who despised his arrogance, and above all, his mouth. He was at least a decade from the beloved pacifist Continue reading

The Flow

Irrational Fears and Myths
About Women’s Body & Blood

The female body has been scaring the bejesus of bigots and zealots since time immemorial. Whole institutions were founded on the losing premise of controlling it, faiths built around the idea that it’s possessed with powers to destroy mankind, when in fact, it actually created it.
Take menses, the monthly cycle that readies a woman to become a mother, and its default switch off mode. Brave men have lost sleep over that river of blood that comes out pouring when pregnancy doesn’t happen. Death, dismemberment? fine, but menstruation? run for cover.
Much of it is a result of centuries of oppression and hostility against the female gender. Women were kept under lock and key, tending to housing and motherhood, while man were out conquering the world, which almost always involved raping other woman.
Ignorance about them was actually a cause for many a celebrated Alpha male to feel proud about himself. Even Casanova, ultimate male predator, skilled in the arts of seduction and shrewd with his charms, reportedly admitted on his deathbead to never really having understood any of the 122 women he bedded during his lifetime.
We’ve came a long way since terrible myths villainized women, even as many places in Asia and Africa are still to join the 21 century. We shouldn’t pat ourselves in the back just yet for some of the most basic reproductive rights are being called into question again.
Suddenly, it’s night in America, and if it’s up to this regime, hangers and back-alley gynecological care would be all that’s available to the poor. But we won’t allow it, and that’s what this International Women’s Day reminds us of: there are no rights without women’s rights.

TIME TO LET MOONLIGHT OFF THE HOOK
From a science standpoint, things are actually looking up, and many myths about a woman’s menstrual cycle are finally being debunked. Starting with the moon’s supposedly pull over female periods. The 28-day lunar cycle around Earth does seem to go along with the time it takes for a woman’s uterus to shed its lining.
Well, that’s as far as it goes, really. For if one believes that heavenly bodies care – or we’re oh so precious to attract their grace – enough to rule our lives and bodily functions, then they have to offer proof that at least one of them actually came forward to apologize for shining their light on some quite appalling humans.
Go with facts, for $247, instead. Genetics, stress and environmental conditions, dramatically alter menses. Knowledge may get your tires slashed at the Bible Belt, but will also spare you from having to pray for rain. Or outrun a bear, for that matter. For let’s not ever forget, once and for all: there’s no evidence that they are attracted by the smell of menstrual blood.

THE SINKING SYNCHING-CYCLES LORE
And since we’re at it, let’s be clear that women spending time together do not synch their periods. Period. (Sorry, we couldn’t help it.) Skeptics have always mistrusted this notion, that seems to date from the post Industrial Revolution time, as there’s no evolutionary justification for it in nature. And two separate studies, with mandrills and macaques, put the whole fake concept to eternal rest.
It’s the kind of pernicious idea, popularized by 1950s lady magazines, that helped solidify prejudice against working women. Employers would use such unproven code to perpetuate unfair labor practices, (more)
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Curtain Raiser

What Makes Women Strong, Colltalers

The Jan. 21 Women’s March in DC, echoed by its many sister rallies countrywide and around the world, was a breakthrough event that not just upstaged the previous day inauguration, in numbers and significance, but also reinserted the word ‘resistance’ into public conversation.
So why now, with a strike planned for Wednesday, International Women’s Day, there’s a reported schism over the very idea of feminism, and questions about the movement’s leadership and direction? Some fear that A Day Without Women may miss something else too.
In the past two centuries, at least, any time women gathered and organized around a cause, the whole society wound up pushed closer to ideals of equality, civil rights, and freedom of expression. The same spirit seemed to have been behind the march in Washington.
It immediate ignited Americans, and effectively put on notice the Trump administration. Whether it hit the spot, history will tell. After all, the president, his male-dominated cabinet, and Republican enablers, did proceed undisturbed with their utterly discriminatory agenda.
But it’s safe to say that a crucial segment is paying attention: women who support Trump. Their influence on the White House cannot be measured by the so far negligent attendances to their own rallies. They’re on the forefront of a feminism backlash and likely to be called to the trenches of what’s much more than a cultural war. March 8 may be a day to show just how important is unity for the women’s movement.
All popular uprisings have their splits, specially ideologically, or race or gender-driven ones. But political success is defined by how much change may be achieved, and the required pragmatism of choosing well the battles to be fought. Progressive women organizations need to wise up because this round may be lost, despite Continue reading

Call Upon You

Casting Gentle Spells
On a Cursing President

In strange times, people think about strange things. And see them anew. Take human sacrifice: it was about social control, new research shows, not pleasing gods. And witchcraft couldn’t be about Satanism, for that’s a clearly Christian-derived concept. Who knew?
That brings us to Donald Trump. No, he’s not considering reviving ritualistic killings. Or the Colosseum, for that matter. Not yet, anyway. But casting spells are indeed back, and against him. Since that’s at least linked to medieval witchcraft, what now: the Earth’s flat?
Actually, this is pernicious idiocy with surprising adopters. Along your usual conspiracy nuts, it now includes people who travel by plane or boat, and still deny the planet’s curvature they see from above, or the fact that no one ever fell off the ‘edge’ of the ocean.
They’re obviously creating their own facts and should be stopped, immediately. In fact, those who find rationality still reliable, and reality a common experience, fear we’re entering the pre-dawn of a retrograde age, a stop short of murdering the educated by decree.
While they discredit empirical science and equate lies to observable fact, others forget that the Khmer Rouge sent children to patrol the Killing Fields and hunt down those who could read and write. In one generation, they’ve exterminated teachers, doctors and nurses.

IMMORTALITY TICKETS & CARNIVAL FLOATS
There’s more to throwing virgins off a cliff than folklore would allow, of course. Even before blood sacrifices spread out, there was already a sanctioned form of killing human beings, with little legal consequence, and the possible bonus of becoming a hero in the process: war.
Kings and queens, royalty and clergy have all been the target (more)
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Curtain Raiser

There Is More to It, Colltalers

The past week was an exciting one for those of us whose important chunks of childhood were spent laying on the backyard, dreaming of stars. NASA announced that it’s discovered another solar system, a mere 40-light-years away, with not one but seven Earth-like planets.
Somehow, though, the announcement failed to produce its due impact, either because other, arguably more urgent news are in need of our undivided attention right now, or we have become too jaded to care about space. But we shouldn’t. Now more than ever, science matters.
It’s yet another instance when the ‘staying power’ of scientific breakthroughs is not enough to dislodge, even momentarily, the onslaught of fake and celebrity news that these days we call, well, news. And another opportunity to start a public debate over our future is lost.
In the prime real estate of broadcast time – which is constitutionally granted by the American people to the media so to serve the public interest – there’s little room for public interest. And learning about even the most distant worlds is to everyone’s benefit, even if not for reasons suggested by the two cute but ultimately shallow questions the media always ask: could we live there? and, will there be aliens?
There’s nothing wrong about asking and trying to answer these questions. That is, if they’d come near the bottom of a long list of way more relevant doubts humankind has to respond in order to survive; not on Mars, the Moon, Pluto or somewhere out there, but here, on Terra.
The 7-planet system, spotted by the Spitzer Space Telescope and called by the acronym Trappist-1, gravitates around a much-smaller-than-the sun, ultra-cool dwarf star. That compensates for their position, closer to their star than our own rock and its companions in the solar system are of ours. For despite the different distances, their location allows for warm weather and liquid water, a tenet in the search for life.
That’s what the scientific community is interested on. Not rushing humans on an technologically impossible trek, but understanding how life spreads, so to better preserve ours. We may Continue reading