Curtain Raiser

A Judge Hero No More, Colltalers

Brazil has been rocked by a series of leaked conversations, suggesting a conspiracy of judge Sérgio Moro, law enforcement, and government officials, to prevent front-runner, two-term ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva from winning the 2018 election.
A ‘gut punch.’ That’s how civil rights groups called the Trump administration’s plan to put asylum-seeking children in internment camps, used to detain Japanese-Americans during WWII. Brazilians took to the streets; reaction in the U.S. was more subdued.
To be sure, it’s been a time for political turmoil in both countries, at the forefront of a global struggle that pits progressive forces of society against the assault of a far-right neo-populism, managed behind the scenes by the likes of Steve Bannon and others.
Before probing further these two explosive headlines, let’s quickly review some of last week’s other events of note. Starting with Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange, whose U.K. court hearing to decide on his extradition to the U.S. has been set for next February.
In a case that undermines one of the main tenets of democracy, that of a free press, Assange has been persecuted for publishing in 2010, classified documents on the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, leaked by court-marshaled Army Officer Chelsea Manning.
Between diplomatic cables and footage shot by Air Force pilots, the trove of material shows possible war crimes committed by the Americans, with potential to indict the entire U.S. Continue reading

The Last Leaves

The Day When Forests
Won’t Have Any Trees

Climate emergency, – a man-made executioner we fear so much that we’ve sent our own children to do battle with – has always had a fierce opponent, even before it needed one: trees. Living beings that ushered us to the present, they’ve got all it takes to save our future.
As long as they’re standing, that is. But stood have many, for millennia. As we see forests, we miss what makes them one. Trees may be downed, but nothing kills their gift for being reborn. The history of the world is told by thousand rings inside their girth.
They tower and endure. They come as big as cathedrals, and as old as a religion. Life travels from roots to high up branches, as they hang on to Earth as its own giant limbs. Trees have been blowing oxygen down our lungs for ages; time to fight fire and scarcity to pay back our dues.
Through their rings, they tell a story of damage humans have inflicted on climate and natural resources, going back centuries. For 300 million years, they’ve been withstanding every era – and unlike with dinosaurs, not even catastrophic asteroid collisions did they in.
But now, our predatory drive is catching up with trees too. That’s why the young is so mad, and the old is none the wise preventing them from grabbing the helm out of our incapable hands and saving the planet already. They were unfairly pushed into this, and are better off not counting on us.

Compared to trees’ estimated appearance on the planet, Mathuselah, the thick twisty Pinus Longaeva that’s been in living in California for 4,850 years, doesn’t seem that impressive. But it is indeed older than the Egyptian pyramids, and yes, Christianity itself.
It certainly predates the biblical figure it’s named after too; that Mathuselah supposedly lived a mere 969 years, but we know how the good book often plays loose with facts and numbers. In any case, the tree is real, even if its exact location is secret to prevent vandalism.
In some ways, it’s even more real than other popular California residents: Joshua trees. That’s because, they’re not trees at all (more)
Read Also:
* Amazon Via Acre
* Safe Arbor Clauses
* Passing Trees

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Curtain Raiser

Genocides We Ignore, Colltalers

An enquiry on multiple deaths and disappearances of Canada’s indigenous women has shed light on a brutally common reality around the world. But violence against women, just as genital mutilation and murder of transgenders, still remains on the rise.
Another week, another terrifying report or two on the climate emergency. Out of 7.7 billion, six billion breathe life-threatening air. Worse: besides carbon dioxide, 84 times more toxic methane now accounts to a quarter of human-caused global warming.
Before elaborating on these headlines, let’s talk about what’s tickled the angry bone of those still in possession of a brain lately. What about the visit of that ugly American, and his hopeless self-driven family, to Queen and country across the pond? Needless to hide: it was, well, ugly. Even before taking off, Trump’s insulted a member of the Royals, and Sadiq Khan, well-liked mayor of London. Once there, he praised Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, the notoriously reviled architects of the Brexit disaster.
All the while, he tweeted nasty things about veteran Robert Muller – on D Day, no less -, and Betty Midler, of all people. And to some, he committed his worst offense so far, donning a grotesquely undersized evening wear he seems to have had since the 90s.
Nothing of it amounts to anything his supporters care about, though, or that too-intimidated-to-act Democrats can throw at him.
For all heartbreak and embarrassment the 45th is causing to Americans, he’s still in control of the media narrative and got quickly back on the saddle. An example of vintage Trump? the so-called deal he claims to have struck with Mexico over tariffs.
For anyone light on critical thinking about what they read around, the president threatened to raise tariffs on Mexican imports, if our neighbor didn’t prevent immigrants to entry… the U.S. Looking closely, however, nothing of sorts ever happened. Mexico’s been already doing its part, agreed upon months ago, by trying to streamline the immigration flow. Problem is, it simply can’t.
With the Trump administration doing all in its power to prevent them from gaining lawful entry into this country, no matter how much people warehousing Mexico may afford to arrange, the flow will only engorge further. Those who jump all hurdles to get here will still have no prayer to see a judge in reasonable time, or even get the protection they are due to from international laws.
‘Genocide.’ That’s how Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called what happened to thousands of impoverished indigenous women killed between 1980 and 2012, at the release of a government report that also concerns American native populations.
Most had left their places of origin in search for a better life, only to be murdered while negotiating the underworld of sex trade and drug addiction. The fate of many remains unknown, but overall, the episode fits a despicable pattern rooted in class and race.
Although sobering, the enquiry was greeted with support by representatives of North American tribes, traditionally Continue reading

Man Made

We Build Automata So to
Mend Our Broken Dreams

‘We’re not computers, Sebastian, we’re physical,’ says Replicant Roy Batty to the brilliant but emotionally stunted genetic designer J.F., in Blade Runner, after he asked Roy and Priss to ‘do something.’
We’ve been asking these quasi-beings that we create to ever so closely resemble our own likeness, to do things for us since at least the 300s BCE, when mathematician Archytas built his steam powered dove.
From that first artificial bird to today’s wonders of modern animatronics on the screen, and Japanese robots all around, we’ve built a hefty utopian timeline of artificial bodies, made of assorted materials or other body parts. No wonder, they also litter the stuff of our nightmares.
Designed to obey, first, then to go where no human could possibly survived, as Philip K. Dick envisioned, we seemed to have this immemorial angst of beating god at his own game and develop a more faithful companion than our own kind, only to get frustrated, if they’d grow too loyal, or killed, if they’d turn on us.
Fictionally, of course. Even though we should’ve known better by now, we still pursue a variety of traditions of supernatural beings doing things for us or to us, creating and destroying our world at will, acting just like summarized versions of the supreme invisible deity billions believe controls our every move on this planet.
From the Golem to Godzilla, from Adam to Frankenstein, we’re transfixed by the thought of being capable of creating or even conceiving another animated body, made out of mud and plastic, to sooth our desperate loneliness in a vast, totally indifferent universe.
It could as well be that we’re just bored, or no longer can stand any of the other 6,999,999,999 bodies cramped and imprisoned in this tiny rock, swirling steadily but completely out of our control, and dream of one day be on the other side of the puppeteering strings.

Curiously, in our millennial zeal of building the perfect beast, never mind the billions around us we care little about, we got no close to breathe life into any of them. At the most, we may’ve perfected yet another almost obsolete obsession in the process: the clockwork.
Thus the centuries-old automata, marvels of mechanical prowess, and the industry that once thrived manufacturing them, may have reached flights of imagination and promise across time, but are now all but reduced to that wonder of functionality and futility: the Roomba.
About those exquisite androids of yore, The Writer is in a particular time capsule all of its own. Designed by Swiss watchmaker Pierre Jaquet-Droz, his son Henri-Louis, and Jean-Frédéric Leschot, it’s a bundle of 6,000 programmable moving pieces, wrapped within the wooden body of a boy.
It looks like a vintage toy but it’s way more than that. (more)
Read Also:
* Second Variety
* Not Human
* Babies Are Us

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Curtain Raiser

They Were Not Afraid of Tanks, Colltalers

The lives and miserable times of almost a million people living in Bangladesh’s Kutupalong, the world’s largest refugee camp, go on ignored by even the most truly compassionate. But now the U.S. offers a sample of just how miserable such lives really are.
On another front, the massacre of an estimated more than a thousand unarmed civilians in China’s Tiananmen Square, 30 years ago tomorrow, also went on largely ignored. Despite wider awareness of both scourges, they’ve become now painful routines.
We’ll get back to these, but let’s update the news first. Consider the Scott Warren trial, for instance, a humanitarian activist facing up to 20 years in prison for aiding migrants crossing the Arizona desert. His case, as ludicrous and draconian as a Kafkian tale, shows how xenophobia and prejudice can turn any society’s institutions into weapons of oppression against its own citizens.
We’re talking about the U.S. government asking the courts to prosecute a volunteer whose crime was to provide people in dire need with food, water, clean clothes, and beds, even rescuing their bodies for identification, instead of leaving them there to rot.
That’s not too far from prosecuting whistleblower Chelsea Manning, for showing the American people what’s been done on their behalf, or for demanding life in jail for Julian Assange, the journalist who created an online media outlet to publish her findings.
Two more Latin America-related news developments this week were, first, the ever too often heartbreaking prison riots in Brazil, which this time left 55 dead. And the metastatic growth of Trump’s ‘war on tariff,’ still staggeringly out of whack with reality.
Prison overcrowding is obviously not a Brazilian monopoly, as only a dozen or so nations around the world have an effective system for crime and rehabilitation. The majority would rather focus on crime and punishment. But Brazil may be stretching it.
Nothing unusual about its average inmate population, either. The overwhelming majority are, well, minorities, even if the term is not accurate. For in a country where over 50% of the people are of mixed-race, it’s almost an oxymoron to say most Brazilian jailbirds are black. Apart from that, the country shares a common denominator with the U.S. and many others: inmates are poor.
There are many likely reasons for the frequency Continue reading

Vessels of Tears

Beyond Memory, Three
Wrecks That Still Hurt

The schooner that brought the last 110 Africans to be American slaves, in 1860; a boxcar that carried many of the millions of Jews to Germany’s Auschwitz extermination camp, during WWII; a boat that sunk in the Mediterranean in 2015, killing over a thousand migrants.
For their riders, hope for breaking chains, breathe freedom, or find a future, was yanked out of their reach. But even stripped of their dignity, or forced to renounce name and identity, their lives were not wasted. Now, more than ever, they must be known by all.
It’s an intriguing coincidence. The Clotilda, a slave ship just-found in Alabama; a cattle car used in the Holocaust, being exhibited in Manhattan; and the rescued wreck of the Barca Nostra, on display at the Venice Biennale, are sharing a meaningful moment now.
Slavery. Racism. Xenophobia. Neither vanquished, as believed, nor gone. As their murderous spell threatens the world again, it’s timely that all three vessels have been given a new life as beacons of memory and resistance. History is not made to be repeated.
Some are weary of attributing to objects the significance of the pain and suffering experienced by actual human beings; it risks dehumanizing them further. But it beats forgetting it all. It jolts people out of complacency, and gives them agency over the immovable past.

The story of the Clotilda, the boat that transported kidnapped West Africans to Alabama, is well known. The last slave ship to reach the U.S., at the dawn of the Civil War, it was among other things, breaking the federal ban on ‘importation,’ in effect since 1808.
To avoid being caught, after delivering its heartbreaking cargo, the captain burned and sank the boat. But in a generation, the then former slaves founded Africatown, and helped build this country. They did not forget, though, and now there’s proof for the stories they’ve heard.
The discovery is worth being part of the national conversation about the black African-American experience, just like Reparations for Slavery, and prison and drug reforms. All are about giving people and their stories their due acknowledgement and place in history.

In America, circa 2019, when a white supremacist goes in a rampage, killing Jewish people, or another Latino child dies at an immigration facility, the president gives the first a nod, and ignores the other. No wonder that there’s been quite a few of both lately. People of a certain age know how this winds up.
Auschwitz, at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, a show about Germany’s biggest concentration camp between 1940-1945, features a railcar just like the ones Nazis used to ship thousands of Jews and others to gas chambers. But it teaches more than that.
Hate and murder are the stock and trade of psychopaths in power, but they rely on forgetfulness to come back again. If the murder of six million is no longer (more)
Read Also:
* The Journey
* Floating Enigmas
* Second Variety

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Curtain Raiser

Pardon Whistleblowers, Not War Criminals, Colltalers

Grandstanding about troops and the sacrifices of veterans is a political gimmick, always favored by objectionable officials. But Trump’s Memorial Day plans to pardon soldiers found guilty of war crimes is not just morally outrageous. It’s also dangerous.
And so is the indictment of Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange on Espionage Act charges. What would still be abhorrent in some backwater republic, is gravely scandalous as an assault on the very first constitutional amendment of ‘America the Beautiful.’
More in a second, but first, there’s the U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s resignation, and re-emergency of Boris Johnson set to replace her, which has surprised absolutely no one. As European Parliament elections have just shown, though, support to hacks like him is waning. That is, growth of right-wing, conservative populism continues to be a concern, but it did lose some steam.
Or we’re being over optimistic? After all, perennial far-right ghosts, such as National Rally party’s Marine Le Pen, and Hungary P.M. Viktor Orban, have both increased their profile, and Italy didn’t disappoint Steve Bannon either, by going a bit further right.
Brexit helped bring back Le Pen, a collector of major defeats, rejected many times by the French, to once again appear as if she’s less irrelevant than she’s always been. And regimes such as Hungary and Poland to turn into conservative wells, bubbling up a toxic mix of nationalism, religiosity, sectarianism, and anti-civil rights, while pursuing energy policies lethal to the planet.
As it stands, the bloc won’t be dominated by the far-right. While both Germany and France have some about face to do with their own electorate, even if Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron may somehow leave the picture, the Green Party’s stellar showing in the polls is certainly a better bet in the future than a manipulative revival of the worst of Europe’s tragic past of intolerance.
Navy SEAL’s Edward Gallagher, who shot unarmed Continue reading