Museums of Something Else

Looking for Van Gogh
in a Roomful of Clicks

You’re about to fulfill a lifelong dream: getting up close with your favorite masterpiece. This painting’s haunted your memories for years, and it’s now about to make living in this city all the worthier. But when you’re finally ready for its close up, your reverie suffers a low blow.
Between you and the frame, a phone-picture-taking crowd is busy, turning your dream into a blurry background to their selfies. Miffed, you swear never to come back again. Which brings us to today’s offering: museums are important, but don’t have to suck. Here’s why.
As depositories of humanity’s cultural and artistic achievements, museums have been incomparable. Often the sole local well of knowledge, they anchor communities around a shared past. No wonder they’re also useful for tyrants to stake a claim into the future.
Besides displaying disturbing mementos of our brutal heritage, and the vanquished civilizations we’ve helped destroy, these warehouses of memory and fractured narratives also face crushing competition of the present day’s increasing obsession with accessibility.
Round-the-clock knowledge at one’s fingertips is rendering irrelevant the need for an actual physical place to house art and the past. But the Internet has the potential to turn voyeurism into something intimate and personal, in ways that museums seem to be faltering at.
We’re not ready to give up on them just yet, though; just pointing to alternatives that may enhance their mission. Read and click on the illustrations to open up new possibilities. It may soothe your soul and give you a healthy reason to skip that rude crowd this weekend.

THE MOURNING ART COLLECTION
For a place displaying death-inspiring art objects in its galleries, and housed next to a cemetery, the possibility of sudden demise should be never too far. But since its 1990 inception, the Museum of Mourning Art has thrived, even if it had to auction some of its artifacts to survive.
It sits next to Arlington Cemetery (no, not that Arlington), Philadelphia, and it did have to close briefly, while it sold some items. But unlike its neighbors, it’s bound to come back to life, and in line with Americans’ peculiar taste for anything related to the departed.
Its art focus is distinct from similarly lugubrious institutions such as New Orleans’ Museum of Death, Houston-based National Museum of Funeral History, and New York’s Morbid Anatomy Museum. Step into these places for a glance of what’s literally coming next.

POP-UP FEELINGS & BROKEN HEARTS
For an unfortunately brief time, New York had its throbbing pulse measured by art. The pop-up Museum of Feelings mixed ‘social media and real-time data from local news, weather reports, flight delays’ and even the Stock Exchange, and translated them into colors.
It was the kind of tactile, refreshing experience traditional museums have to avoid these days, lest not give ideas to deranged minds. It’s now limited by the Web, but it still suggests an alternate reality (more)
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Read Also:
* Scary Night
* Broken Hearts

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Curtain Raiser

Don’t Die to Save the Dow, Colltalers

Here’s Trump’s America: the world’s biggest climate-denying nation, with the largest prison population and a stellar healthcare system, of course. Also of note about this paradise are its 3.3 million-strong unemployment claims. Good thing Congress just signed a $500 billion relief bill. To corporations.
The world is in lockdown with more confined people than those alive during WWII. Numbers are staggering and bound to increase. But that sort of stats and its big numbers are mind-boggling: good for shocking headlines and little else. There are more important lessons to be learned from this all.
But first, our usual news roundup even as most seems to be either related to the new plague or to the catastrophic leadership of some top world leaders. Following the nefarious sway of the U.S. president, who called the virus a hoax and is still lying and misinforming the American people, many were caught flat-footed and are now behind the curve. Thus, there’s no global coordinated strategy and each country is doing its own thing. That is crazy.
The world spent 70 years signing agreements, forming alliances, and setting international organizations to protect dialog and peace, the food supply, labor and trade disputes, and the rule of law. Whether it succeeded is beside the point; Trump spent three and a half years cutting ties with allies and singing praises to tyrants. The ‘leader of the free world’ sowed distrust, threatened war, acted as a criminal brat while enriching himself and his family.
Even if Trump doesn’t get reelected in Nov. – which is as improbable almost as there will be an election in Nov., – the consequences of his acts will be felt for years. How will we survive in a world where China, Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Venezuela, Ecuador, the entire African continent, and allies such as Germany, France, Continue reading

Scary Night

A Great Ruckus on
Grand Concourse

I was called again to the precinct. It’s the second time this month. I’ve already told Willem that whenever he puts up that sort of stunt, not just me but everyone is affected. I don’t mind it myself, but after all, it’s 3 am and I’ve got patients to see tomorrow morning. But as usual, once out, he’ll likely walk away without listening to anybody.
I can’t bring myself to call his brother, because I know that he and his wife are going through a rough patch, and I don’t need to tell who’s the culprit for that. Their relationship took a hit from Williem’s behavior, showing up at all times, usually drunk, and asking for another loan.
No marriage can withstand that kind of interference. In our talks, I always try to drive home this point. At the end of the day, Theodorus is his only relative to not just care about him but also support him financially. Not so much for that, but without his brother, Willem would be done, couldn’t last another crisis.
As for crisis, well, there were so many that after all these years, I’d need to go over my notes to find out how many. On the other hand, I feel sympathy – not pity – for his plight, the demons he faces daily, the horrors that frighten him and prevent him from getting any sleep. This nightmare-induced insomnia only aggravates his state.
And then, of course, there’s his creative genius, his fury which cuts him off from everyone. To tell you the truth, he scares people away, especially when brandishing threateningly his brushes against the canvas. It’s his armory, to avoid getting hurt but go tell this to those he insulted and yelled at. They’re quite a bunch.

In the end, few get him. To them, his work is offensive, almost pornographic in its distorted colors and shapes. I understand; it’s not easy to appreciate his paintings for what they are, peasants, flowers, landscapes, and stars, but depicted through fouled traces and exacerbated emotions. They’d rather have romance, reassurance in art. Just between us, folks can be boring, but that’s just my opinion.

II

When we talk, his solitude always comes up. That’s when I truly feel sorry for him. Compassion, even, for no young gal, on her right mind, would put up with such a caustic personality, without being crushed. That’s why, despite the obvious risks to his health, I pretend I don’t mind his habit of sleeping with prostitutes.

For only angels like them can offer comfort and company to such an afflicted soul. At the same time, he’s always getting into trouble, fistfights and drunken stupors, let alone that he spends what he doesn’t have in those sinful nights. Willem has no sense of restraint and is absolutely oblivious to the concept of saving money to pay rent, or even food the following day.
Anyway, I’m here, waiting for Inspector Rolland, who at this point is an old ally. He’s been extremely patient but every time I come, I’m afraid that it’s the moment of rupture when he’ll finally throw the book at Willem. No wonder. He’s been through so much with his superiors, as he always lets such a ‘rowdy dopey,’ as they call him, walk without bail.
A few moments and Rolland brings him over. Disheveled, bloated, covered with the dirty blanket cops who arrested him had given him. This time, he was naked near the Reservoir, doing heaven knows what. I know he’s harmless, incapable of hurting a fly but would believe it?
That is, as long as you don’t pick a fight with him when he’s under the weather. But usually, he’s the kind that directs his anger against himself, which is sad. I’m always afraid of the worst. Thankfully, coming from him, I’m used to be prepared, sort of, and brought him a change of clothes; this is neither the first nor will be the last time that he strips in public.
To him, it’s not even ‘public,’ as in exposing himself. It’s more like an attempt to get himself rid of the chains he imagines (more)
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Read Also:
* Museums of Something Else
* F For Fading
* Vanishing Memories
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Curtain Raiser

Six Feet Apart, Not Under, Colltalers

The U.S. is far behind the coronavirus curve and, yes, the Trump administration is responsible for it. All headlines about COVID-19’s stunning spread are related to these two truths. No large scale testing is scheduled; no extra medical supplies will be provided; Americans are sitting ducks. Discuss.
And yet, elected officials have profiteered from the crisis just as Big Pharma and healthcare insurers surely will too. Keep that in mind as a depression approaches; when social justice is restored in this country, they shall be all accountable. Will American compassion have its own day to shine too?
The U.S. woke up this morning in a virtual shutdown. With unemployment set to break records and fatalities from the disease unfortunately set to skyrocket, Americans are doing their best to stay safe and together. But most don’t know whether they’re infected, or if there’s still time to be saved.
There’s such a gargantuan vacuum at the top leadership of this country that even billionaires with the muscle to move markets and create a path to solutions are confused and unarticulated. The same about the legions of healthcare and customer service workers thrown in the trenches of this battle with little more than a thermometer – don’t bother trying to get one; like face masks and rubbing alcohol, most retailers online or not don’t have them.
We’ll be back to that, but let’s first note China, whose brutal tactics to control the virus have finally reversed the curve. It kicked out the NYTimes, Washington Post, and Wall Street journalists in response to U.S. restrictions to its state-run news outlets. Yeah, bash reporters; that’ll teach them well.
On the other side of the spectrum, Cuba has stepped up to the plate and is offering medical and humanitarian help. Besides having developed a drug, Interferon alfa 2b, proven effective with dengue fever and HIV/AIDS, adopted by the Chinese medical Continue reading

Vis-A-Virus

Dirty Little Secrets
About Hand Washing

For at least a century now, it’s common knowledge that one of the essential conditions for good health is to wash your hands often. That’s still true in the age of sanitizers and nothing like the virus du jour to highlight that. It’s also when most people realize that six seconds under running water doesn’t clean anything.
The personal care industry makes billions every year but we still prioritize appearance, voice tone, timing, and a series of other silly parameters to gauge whether the person in front of us is friend or foe. And yet they could kill us with a handshake. No wonder the doctor who became obsessed with cleanliness lost his mind.
What’s curious is that a dweller of any modern metropolis does value showering daily or almost, and depending on education, brushing their teeth a least twice a day. Somehow the initial step, though, and despite the usual comforts of contemporary life, like indoor plumbing, taking the time to wash up is treated as a formality.

It’s hard to understand how come such a crucial habit fell through the cracks of culture. Or that we even survived to this age. The evidence clean hands do save lives is around for so long, just like soap, and in the big scheme of things, time spent washing up is negligible compared to other human activities.
And yet, here we are, with the coronavirus wreaking havoc those very activities on a global scale. The benefits of this simple habit to improve global health cannot be overestimated and neither can the growth of the soap and cosmetics industry during the same period. Human awareness though went the other way.
FIGHTING GERMS WITH ALCOHOL
Hand sanitizers are an ultra-modern invention likely devised to quell germophobic anxieties and up to a few months ago, could be found at every counter of every food and retail places in America. It’s not so available anymore and for a while hoarders and mad-greedy merchants thought their price should be many times higher.
Amazon and other delivery companies – which by the way are making a killing – have stepped in to curb price gouging, but the initial widespread adoption of antibacterial soaps prompted a number of alarming studies about their long-term effects. That’s why the FDA banned Triclosan, despite industry efforts against it.
The current virus outbreak may potentially produce yet another unforeseen economic impact: to boost the moribund corn industry. A perennial recipient of government aid, corn depends on two factors for its commercial viability, subsidies and the fact corn syrup is now added to arguably 90% of American food. Thus the demand for corn-made alcohol is expected to spike.
AREN’T YOU FORGETTING SOMETHING?
But dirty habits die hard. Consider the study by late 2003 Ig Nobel Prize in Literature John Trinkaus of CUNY, published at the Annals of Improbable Research. It recorded public use of a hand-sanitizing station in the lobby of a teaching hospital, with heavy traffic of medical professionals, patients, and their relatives.
Of a total of 500 observations made, only three out of 108 healthcare practitioners stopped and used the station, which runs (more)
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Read Also:
* We’re Not Alone
* Blowing in the Wind
* Tiny Friends

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Curtain Raiser

Taking Care of Each Other, Colltalers

Over 160,000 cases worldwide; 6,000+ dead; nations in lockdown; doctors, authorities, even celebrities infected; travel restricted, a looming global recession. As Americans wonder how many got the coronavirus or will be tested for it, the leader of the free world says, ‘I do not take responsibility.’
Yet when markets crashed last week, the Fed injected $1.5 trillion into the banking system – and slashed interest rates to near zero. State bailing out a private enterprise is the kind of ‘socialism’ not available for 140 million with no health or labor guarantees: Congress can’t ‘find’ an $8 billion relief.
Despite a heartless Trump, who is indeed responsible for the jitters and misery caused by an unbound virus wreaking havoc wherever it’s coughed on or spat to, it’s on these occasions that humanity excels. Empathy and compassion were all over last week but look no further than Siena, Italy, where rather than cursing (or affluent people knocking on cooking pots for missing privileges), one heard home songs a capella sung by entire neighborhoods.
Such is the way that common people, otherwise known as heroes, cope with adversity: they rise, they sing, they volunteer. Even when facing imminent danger, as in the case of nurses and medical personnel, they still stop to offer help, run towards the fire, hug to comfort a stranger. We won’t forget this.
By the way, boards of elections across America are begging poll workers to show up during this busy voting season. Gerrymandering, draconian rules to keep people of a certain race and class from voting, and millions of dollars flooding campaigns, the exercise of democracy is having yet another tough call to make: how to protect thousands of skilled workers and more, how to assure they’ll get the professional, free medical care they may need.
And the answer is, like most U.S. government agencies and institutions, starting by the top, no one knows. Few have committed to free-of-charge care and/or vaccines when one becomes available, and the healthcare industry has all but said that they’re not on board for it. This crisis has shown why free universal medical coverage is better: everyone is accounted for, so everyone is cared for. Continue reading

Last Call

When You Eat As if
There’s No Tomorrow

Billions will sleep hungry tonight; many won’t even wake up again. Food waste is rampant globally, and despite a booming ‘dumpster diving’ movement, the brutally unequal distribution of resources seems irreversible. Still, we obsess about death row inmates’ last meals.
It’s fitting, though, as the U.S. leads the world in jail population – although China’s executes the most -, and food and obesity are a national, self-flagellating narrative. Nourishment’s beside the point here; the last supper is arguably a prisoner’s finest hour.
For the record, we didn’t start this fire, er, tradition, which has some noble, some not so much, origins. But we did with that what we do with everything else: we’ve turned into a for-profit, politically charged issue. The piety tinges of its inception are now all but lost, though. And what most of Europe consecrated as a pseudo-humanitarian gesture by the state, warding off the ire of revenants in the process, has become a contentious debate over whether it’s setting the ‘wrong’ example.
Yeah, who wouldn’t commit a gruesome crime and spent years in subhuman conditions, just so to be ‘rewarded’ with a steak and eggs meal? 18th century England had set the puritan tone of the age: the condemned shall have only bread and water until hanged to death.
TIPS FOR PICKY EATERS
In 2011, after one Lawrence Russell Brewer didn’t touch his food, Texas, the U.S. top executioner and likely earliest adopter of the last meal custom, has graciously abolished it. No such concern for 20 other states, including New York, that don’t have a death penalty.
Among so-called Western societies, the U.S. stands alone on the issue, joined only by several African, Asian and, for some types of crime, Latin American nations. Obviously, this sort of stats does not include death by paramilitary groups, secret government squads, or drones.
Still, the following post is neither about the death penalty nor an inmate’s choice of last meal, even if it touches both subjects. Published nine years ago, it’s still fresh as everyone’s food should be, and just like it, to be enjoyed a few times a day. Bon Appétit.

Their Last Meal Plus
Your Food for Survival

Here are two captive groups whose appreciation for food may vary wildly: death row inmates and hostages. Relax, we would never say that that’s the worst of anyone’s problems.
But if you find yourself in such a predicament, what you’re about to read may be useful, even life-saving. No sweat, we’ll be here to collect your gratitude in case you pull through it.
There are though a few certainties, once you become a resident of the most feared antechamber in the U.S. It’s been ages since you last believed you could make it out of here alive. Mostly, you’ve been preparing for what comes next. But first, let’s eat.
Since shopping for food is out of the menu, the state provides your last one at no charge. What would you have? At that stage, concerns about keeping your ballerina silhouette are, of course, all behind you.
So you do have the choice to enjoy a lard-laden dinner with no (more)
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Read Also:
* Out to Get You
* Late Supper
* Ketchup With That?
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