40 Years Ago Today

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Curtain Raiser

Mourning & Fear in America, Colltalers

Unrealistic optimists and believers on a universal ‘fair and balanced’ order have been seriously challenged this past week. For how to respond to the president’s North Korean-style bombastic rhetoric towards North Korea, and to the deadly white supremacist Charlottesville rally?
Will we see the feared Atomic Clock needle move closer to midnight, as Kim Jong un has already answered in kind, threatening over 150 thousand Guamanians? Will the already critical U.S. racial relations take yet another turn to the worst? Should we all give it up already?
The short answer is obviously no, even without asking that receding group, bless their soul. At the same time, Americans are evidently doing a poor job showing the world that we’ve got it together. And that is as much a global threat as the escalation of the two egomaniacs’ diatribes.
One thing we all share with the Pollyanna subscribers, though: we’re afraid, very afraid indeed. Even those keeping their minds above the water – our salute to thee -, know that when their fears begin to coincide with those of doom proselytizers, something may really hit the fan.
It’s not that anything is possible, only that there are way too many realistic possibilities that things may go south, and we’re resisting having to list them here. Plus all the implicit unpredictability, since this is a battle of (evil?) wills between two powerful but deeply unsound leaders.
The president may not see this, but the Pentagon is in state of alert. If something happens, even and specially an ill-advised exchange between the two, we may all be dragged to the inevitable. Worse, some are already counting (hoping?) on that scenario, and preparing accordingly.
If we were to ask world citizens whether they trust either Trump or Kim Jong un to be aware of the implications of a first nuclear strike, the answer would probably be too distraught to be guessed. Let’s just say that it’d likely not to be one to be cheered upon, and leave it at that.
Domestically, many Americans are wondering if we’re following to the letter a recipe to disaster and what the hell can be done to derail it.
For the White House’s first six months have been an uncanny confirmation of every prediction – yes, offered by so-called pessimists – made even before the Oath of Office. With no governing accomplishment but a constant turmoil of inconsistencies, a brewing collusion and treason scandal, and approval ratings down the toilet, the administration, they said, would be likely to invoke a war of distraction just about now.
The Korean peninsula may be teeming with warships and fear, but it’s Guam, where the U.S. has military bases, that was mentioned by name by Kim, to be the first in the crosshairs of its ballistic nukes. The island at the centre of hate is supposed to be busy preparing for an attack.
But then again, how one ‘prepares’ for a nuclear explosion, other than fleeing to the other end of the world? If that’s even an option, that is. Besides, before even hitting Guam’s territorial waters, the retaliation will surely be already annihilating the vessel from which the rocket departed from. That means, war will have its first Continue reading

Amazon Via Acre

I Know Why the
Vultures Laughed

We were all set, strapped onto metal seats, when the captain announced: everybody out, we got stuck. After two days flying, and two flawless landings, only the Guajará Mirim ‘runaway’ mud to stop our fearless DC-3 on its tracks. Everyone got dirty pushing the plane.
On the sideways, Native Brazilian Indians laughed out loud. It was not their first time having a blast with visitors, but I never went back for seconds. Once we took off, my mind was racing towards the Acre State, where I’d spend three months with my friend Tonho and his family.
We got to know a stretch of the majestic Amazon Rainforest, three times as big then as it is now. I flew for free as a military officer’s son, aboard a Douglas from the National Air Mail. Tonho left Rio three days later, on a commercial flight, but we got to Rio Branco together.
My place was next to piles of letters and parcels, as DC-3s were still being used on regular post routes within Brazil. No complaints; I didn’t know then, but it turned out to be one of the greatest trips of my life, a real miracle, as I hadn’t a cent to my name but was treated like a king.
On the way, I’ve spent a night in Porto Velho, whose downtown area on that rainy winter of 1973, was occupied by a huge gypsy camp. I had already realized that I was visiting another country, but I felt even more foreigner having a hard time understanding them. Pure prejudice made me weary of the Roma and not to ask for directions.

Brazil’s vast distances and geographical north-south set up has a lot to do with the radical differences among its regions. Getting to the northwest, wild and racially mixed, coming from the south, urban and white European, is like a kick in the ass. You get on all your fours and it’s better to take your time getting up again.
Things seemed so odd, that the first thing the two teenagers got was cough medicine, which used to be unwittingly loaded with codeine. We were not into alcohol, and weed was rarer than snow, so pharma high was our tour guide exploring the sights and city blocks.
By far, the two weathers within a single day were our main source of amusement. The whole city life revolved around things happening before and after the rain. Dawn would break already in the 80s and while the thermometer would rise with the sun, sweat would drench us. Suddenly, all would change.
At just few degrees shy of the 100s, the sky would turn and a monsoon of biblical proportions would come down, all thunder and flood. It’d last less than an hour, though, and then, it’d be gone. Clouds would get quickly driven away and the sun would return to set, at the conclusion of yet another beautiful day.
Many a bottle of syrup we knocked down on our way to the movies – we may have watched the entire Sergio Leone collection, plus every one of the Zapata series – or the ‘boate,’ where a long-haired crooner singing Roberto Carlos‘ Amada Amante, was a nightly hit. What a life.

When we headed to Xapuri, to try Ayahuasca, we had no idea who Chico Mendes was. Deforestation was all around us, piles of downed trees by the side of the road. At one point, our bus stopped: ahead of us, a tractor-trailer was fully submerged in a small lagoon. Only the top of the cabin was out of the water.
We got to Brasiléia late at night, and rented a room in the back of a rest stop. There was no power and we were intrigued when the owner handed us a little fumigator, loaded with kerosene. It didn’t take long to know why: bugs were big as mice, and would fly around. We almost suffocated to death, trying to keep them away.
We woke up early, sweaty and nearly deaf. Heat was expected, but what was that loud noise, as if someone was scratching our zinc rooftop with metal nails. Zeeeep, zeeeep, zeeeep, one after another. (more)
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* Chico Mendes
* Amazing Zone
* Rainforest Rundown

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Curtain Raiser

When Fish Can’t Breathe, Colltalers

An alarming report found that an area in the Gulf of Mexico the size of New Jersey is completely devoid of life. In over 8,700 square miles of so-called dead zone, all marine life that could, left, while plankton died due to lack of oxygen, depleted by agricultural nutrients pollution.
The massive ‘desert in the water’ zone, a now annual phenomenon, comes from the reliance on chemical fertilizers by meat producers, such as Tyson Foods. And since Gulf of Mexico will be forever associated with oil spill, yes, that environmental disaster is also linked to the zone.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the largest dead zone ever measured has a huge algal growth, triggered by agricultural nutrients that consume oxygen, causing loss of fish habitat, decreasing their reproductive abilities, and shrinking shrimp size.
NOAA, an agency in the cross-hairs of the Trump Administration for its groundbreaking research on climate change, cites an increase in ‘nutrient discharges’ from the Mississippi River, caused by the agricultural industry as a whole and also the area’s land development projects.
Practically from the moment it exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, on April 20, 2010, the BP-owned Deepwater Horizon drilling rig has created the conditions for dead zones. Spills usually trigger an oxygen loss in water by feeding microbes that consume oxygen and grow on oil.
It’s exactly this ability that is then channeled in the cleanup process that follows an oil spill. It was no different after the largest in history, which dumped some 4.9 million barrels of oil in the gulf waters. Although declared sealed, a 2012 report showed that the seal is still leaking.
It’s now part of standard procedures of ever increasing cleanup efforts to deploy a type of bacteria that ‘chews’ hydrocarbons, delivered in chemical dispersants, designed to break the oil Continue reading


When the End (of Summer)
Is All But Nigh, Improvise!

The sinking feeling is happening more often now. As soon as August hits, while some press on to finish the prep work for a memorable vacation, the rest of us is left to deal with the possibility, ever more concrete, that we’re not going anywhere. Now, now, cheer up, though.
Think how you’ll be spared of crowded airports, cesspool-suffused hotel rooms, displays of raw rage, from fellow flyers and underpaid airline staff, and those walks by the water’s edge start to feel pretty satisfying. Go ahead, have another sip of your lemon-wedged iced water.
Considering just such a possibility – and we’re not saying that you’re definitely out of luck – we raided our files for some encouraging season-appropriate stories. You know, to go along with the exquisite shots you took at the neighbor’s B-B-Q, or the sunset at the local park.
So here are three posts and a travelogue. They’re chockfull of tips for the weary tripper; unusual (and cheap) destinations; dos and don’ts for a seasonal pro such as yourself; and a few commute shots to help you prove to everyone how overrated vacations really are.
To take time off is a state of mind, a magical space you pry open and occupy free of thoughts, to reach deep relaxation and strength, and renew every fiber of your being. There’s no need to go anywhere. Not really, but we thought it’d be nice to end this post on that kind of note.
* Checking In
* Skim Vacations
* No Way Vacay
* Train of Moths

Curtain Raiser

Beware the Sneaky Visitors, Colltalers

There was some big news this past week, but most of us were not paying any close attention to it. No, it wasn’t the latest Republicans’ defeat in their 7-year effort to deny affordable healthcare to millions of Americans. Or mad-hatter antics of Trump’s White House and his ‘despicables.’
Neither the scary North Korea’s latest ballistic rocket launch, nor the disturbing body count of murdered environmental activists in Brazil. If you were following these or other important issues to you, you’re exonerated. We should all be excused for ignoring news about asteroids.
This one, though, should’ve been big news: a rock three times the size of the one that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in Feb 2013, was detected last Sunday moving away from Earth. Which means that it zipped relatively close by us three days before. And nobody knew.
Sure, we have much more to be concerned about it, and can anyone be blamed for not being particularly keen about threats unknown, literally raining from above? Not likely. Besides, the asteroid, poetically known now as 2017 001, passed some safe 76,448 miles away from home.
How safe? About one-third of the Earth-moon distance. And no, it was not big enough to wipe us all out. So, why equating it to way more likely to happen life-altering events, such as a nuclear strike, or people dying from lack of medical care? What’s with the alarmist streak?
There’s a link, that’s why. Just this Thursday, – and like the asteroid itself, reported only after the fact, – a U.S. Senate committee operated nothing short of a small miracle: it actually did something. It reversed a presidential proposal for severe cuts in NASA’s budget. Despite being still lower than the agency would’ve had it, it may receive almost $20 billion funding in 2018, pending Congress and the WH final approval.
Many important programs may be preserved, but a notable will not: the Asteroid Redirect Mission, that would land Continue reading

The Undreamed World

Forget Exoplanets. Here’s
the Ninth, the X & the Quirky

When things get rough on the ground, we can always look up. Seven and half billion currently trudging along on this big rock can take solace that the universe is vast and beautiful and always available. It’s also uncaring and violent, but we won’t get into that today.
Part of this soothing feeling is because we don’t know what’s up there. Astronomers wonder if there’s an undiscovered giant orbiting the sun. And another Earth-sized one. And a quirky object too. Or none of the above. We learn a lot by simply not knowing much.
But it’s fun to wonder. Or is it? The cosmos is so disproportionally big that no single mind can wrap itself around it. Large but short of infinity, it baffles and ignores us, while we dream on. Or have nightmares about it. It doesn’t care, but to us, it’s the stuff of, well, you know.
Heard about Nemesis, the sun’s evil twin? Or the identical Earth hidden behind the sun? Both are reasonable guesses, but their currency can only be exchanged at an imaginary box office at the end of the galaxy. One of them is actually a sci-fi movie plot. We may find out some day, but math will probably get there first.
The breakthrough era of exoplanet discoveries and look-alike solar systems has nothing on such suspicions. They date back to the 1800s, when hot-as-the-sun disputes drove many an even-tempered scientist to near madness. Math always gets there first. But even after a century, we’re still way too far behind.

Planet 9 has been orbiting the slumber of astrophysicists since they first studied the solar system. Something massive has been disturbing Earth’s siblings practically from the universe’s inception and wild youth, back in 2016 minus 4.6 billion years ago. Maybe we’ll find out what.
Mankind owes Percival Lowell the hunt for this ninth planet. His calculations missed the giant but led to the discovery of Pluto, 15 years after his death, a century ago last year. But Pluto can’t explain the orbital disturbances, and that likely doomed it too.
In 2006, the International Astronomical Union downgraded it to dwarf planet, giving grief to many. That left the spot #9 empty, and astronomers have a hunch that its next occupant resides in the area beyond Neptune, a kind of suburbs of the solar system, if you’d insist.
But we may be still years away from direct detection. After all, those outskirts lay at least 300 times farther from the sun than the Blue Planet, and whatever lurks there it’s simply too hard to spot from our backyard. But we might. Just hold off the welcome B-B-Q for now.

Taking about burbs, the Kuiper Belt, an area fraught with debris possibly left over from a planetary explosion, and from where most comets come out shooting, may be the neighborhood of yet another unknown object. But this time, it’s of a cozy, Earth-sized scale.
Astronomers suspect that it’s the source of disturbance of the Belt’s 600 objects they’ve been monitoring. Considerably closer to us, and much smaller than Planet 9, it’s been nicknamed Planet 10, but not everyone wants to be quoted on that or even is on board about it.
The scientific community has a healthy skeptical attitude about new claims, specially something they may missed for so long. Humans love a thrill, however, and the spectacular discovery of a new planet (more)
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* Gatekeeper of Outerspace
* Heed My Leaps
* Worlds Away

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