Curtain Raiser

Choices We’re Born to Make, Colltalers

We may be approaching the most pivotal U.S. election of our times, as you may’ve heard. Americans of all ages, notably women, Latinos, and first-time voters, are putting on a remarkable effort to get people to vote. Except, of course, the Democratic Party.
Just as party minions dream of a blue wave, hopes for even a House turnaround got fairly dim. And it’s no wonder: some of the most crucial issues at stake, gun violence, reproductive rights, wages and the climate, have all had little if any Democrat support.
So, last week when an Eugene, Oregon, judge let a climate change lawsuit against the federal government to proceed, staging a rare win against the administration-revived fossil fuel industry, cheers and optimism were in order. Specially for the 21 children and young adults, and their progressive supporters, who for three years, have been pursuing the suit. Absent: elected Democrats.
They’re still missed as the ‘new’ Supreme Court and its Chief Justice John Roberts, halted it before giving it an expected hearing, on Oct. 29. In the move, perceived as a nod to the administration’s merit less objections, some see a sign of bad things to come.
Also, orphan of support from the party that should be leading every single progressive issue of our times, is Newsweek reporter Jeffrey Stein, who since Jan. wages a legal battle for transparency in the Trump administration’s vetting of the president’s closest advisers. He’s suing multiple federal agencies over the opaque and ultimately flawed approval process of 15 Trump’s nominees.
That’s a record the president won’t boast about: average turnover within the most senior level of White House members – a group he once called the best and the brightest, or something to that effect, probably stolen from somewhere else – is an unprecedented 83%. Of this undesirable bunch, Steve Bannon is likely the busiest: he’s now engaging in destroying democracy in Brazil too.
It’s inexplicable that the Democratic Party is not the least engaged in these two, and many other issues affecting Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

The Only News Fit to Print, Colltalers

A journalist was murdered by rulers of his own country. A toddler, separated from relatives by immigration, showed up in court alone. A torture apologist got to lead the presidential race of the world’s fifth-largest nation. These were breaking news last week.
And yet, in the U.S., news was the 10-minute rant-and-praise the president performed at the White House by a mentally unsound superstar. That’s the absolutely unintended truth hidden in Trump’s, and every would-be dictator’s, motto: ‘the press is the enemy.’
It is not, of course, and besides all it means for a healthy democracy, the most consequential role of a free press is to present facts as they actually are, and reality as it unfolds. That requires courage, expedience and trust that the reader doesn’t need help sorting out the content. And yet, if a news organization is driven by ratings and not by its constitutional duty to inform, we’re in trouble.
There are many ways a democracy can and will be undermined: corrupt leaders, an oblivious electorate, massive amounts of money in politics, and most of us are very much used to all three. But a free press restores accountability and transparency, and lends legitimacy to any government. Along the well-informed citizens it serves, it’s a formidable deterrent to abuses of power.
That’s why the likely assassination of Saudi Arabia’s Jamal Kashoggi, a journalist long targeted by the royal family ruling his country, is so disturbing, besides being cruel. He was last seen on Oct. 2, caught by surveillance cameras, walking into the Saudi embassy in Istanbul. Turkey, itself often accused of repressing its press, has released ghastly details about his supposed murder.
Saudi Arabia is a brutal dictatorship, whose oil-generated power and wealth has caused terrible consequences to Middle East stability. But what matters is that its Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman, is also ‘best friends’ and partner in crime with Trump. With the president’s help, the Saudis have been conducting a heart-shattering strangling of Yemen, an ethnic cleansing that’s already killed 50,000 civilians – a grim average of 130 children a day – and caused the biggest modern outbreak of cholera.
The U.S. has been supplying weapons, air power, logistics and, helped by its media, total block of free journalistic coverage.
None of the major American broadcast corporations has reporters on the ground there, or dedicates more than a few soundbites per week to this carnage. All so U.S. weapon makers can keep up the $350 billion, 10-year sales contract Trump signed in May.
Another omission by these entertainment concerns that call themselves news organizations is exactly that: among the president’s Continue reading

Split Ends

A Brush of Fresh Hair or How
Pubic Curls May Save Your Life

Few things resemble more our evolutionary pedigree than body hair. Culturally, having a ‘full head’ of it means being young, beautiful, healthy, even powerful. Until it departs on its own, we spent years combing it, cutting it, shaving it, dying it, and splitting it with aplomb.
It’s another story, though, with hair elsewhere but on top of the head. A reminder of how fast we went from furry animal to naked ape, we’ve set strict, and clearly gender-biased, social codes to dealing with its appearance. For ear and nose strays, though, antipathy is genderless.
The inconvenient truth about hair is that it’s easily matted with sexism, racial intolerance, and political and religious oppression. It can get greasy with prejudice, scorched dry with the dust of old traditions, and offensively malodorous, reeking of staled rites and bad blood.
In other cases, the way we look at hair or lack thereof reveals the huge gap between our general perception of what each gender is supposed to look like, and what evolution has determined was the best way to cope with changing climate and environmental conditions. We adapted and changed to survive, but often still carry the phantom of an obsolete, long discarded psychological association.
Chest hair, for example, long thought to be a symbol of manhood and testosterone dominance, has recently been found to actually be a deterrent for potential female mates. Scientists long knew that women’s preference for hairlessness may have been a way to avoid lice and other tiny mites that would enjoy the comfort of chest hair in unkempt males of yore (read, all males born some 10,000 years ago).
Even though that’s hopefully no longer the case (as hygiene habits have evolved), the pattern is still present: a paper, published on the Archives of Sexual Behavior journal, shows that women still prefer ‘relatively hair-free guys,’ over hirsute types, even in areas where that kind of parasite is not a realistic threat to humans. Would skinny Williamsburg hipsters chuckle at this notion too?

THE BRAZILIAN RAPUNZEL
For a while, Natasha Moraes de Andrade had one of the longest hairs in the world, which caught the skittish eye of international tabloids. But when the shantytown girl from Rio sold her most marketable asset at 12, she felt relieved. Easy to see why: some things can make anyone drunk with big dreams. Like her, there are many whose dreams haven’t yet been crushed, bless her souls.
China’s Xie Qiuping, for instance, whose hair measured at one point 18ft 5in – still far from Guinness Record material –  also sold it. With the proceeds, she got to do things many 12-year-olds take it for granted, like riding a bike, or not having to spend hours (more)
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Curtain Raiser

Time For the Other Half Rule, Colltalers

There are an estimated 2.5 million homeless children living in the streets of America today. Many once belonged to the thousands of families with no place to crash. They may be joined by millions of immigrant kids and babies born each year out of teen moms.
And yet, the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court may add even more, given the two main tasks he was assigned to handle as a Justice. To scratch Roe v Wade, arguably the biggest deterrent against child pregnancy, may be the first one of them.
The other, of course, is to help pardon in the near or far future a possibly indicted, or impeached, president. The GOP and Co. have decided that only an accused rapist and ill-tempered drunk is fit to tackle such dirty work and, by the looks of it, he’s fully up to it.
We can’t say that his being all but shoved down the throat of the American people, to rule on matters great and small of their lives, was a rude awakening about the limitations of the power of protesting and moral indignation. That old gang of angry, rich, white misogynistic men, has shown once and again what they’re mainly after: more power. And now, to look good to the president too.
That they did it, assuring that another one of their very own got endowed with the powers of the country’s highest court to fulfill their agenda. Which includes keeping a tight grip on women’s reproductive organs and insulating Trump from any crime probes.
But for millions of women, rattled by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s courageous and heart-breaking public testimony about her worst private moment, the Kavanaugh confirmation was indeed a nauseating theater of horrors, capped by a big sucker punch in the gut.
The sight of a sprawling tent city growing in some isolated patch of America may not be easily associated with that staged drama broadcast from Capitol Hill though. But such a Draconian approach to immigration is a defining component of the Trump regime.
Morality and reason are certainly not. Because Continue reading

Racy Meals

Our Next Course May Be
Bugs & Invasive Species

Not to spoil your appetite but with almost 800 million starving in the world — despite producing more food than ever  — and climate change squishing us away from the water, you may not care much for what’s for dinner.
Indeed, the main source of nourishment of tomorrow’s meal may be something you’re used to squash: insects. And if you’re not up to the crunch, and by flies, got the means to turn down all that protein, do everyone a big favor and go after some invasive species.
Any way you slice it, our meat and grain industry won’t cut it. Since stomachs are made to be filled, let’s hope that, rather than dirt and junk food, we develop a knack for recycling and regurgitating what we’re so used to toss. Bless our prophets, the Dumpster Divers.
To be sure, many already survive on a diet rich in crawling critters and hairy creepers, and one can tell by the way we say it, how deluded we still allow ourselves to be. But the time will come when we’ll learn or starve, and for the majority, it may be as simple as that.
It’s one thing, though, to eat what dwindling forests still have plenty to offer. It may take guts to pick one up and swallow it whole, but with time, anyone can be a forager. It’s an entirely different affair, though, for those living in the cities, just like most of us.
Again, we hope your stomach is strong, but that disgusting creature that just moved its antennae and scurried up behind your sofa may be on tomorrow’s menu. Along with the fat subway rodents and the unsanitary geese that no longer migrate away from that fetid city pond.
That’s when grown men will cry like inmates, to no one’s sympathy, and children will dispute with feral pets the scraps of civilization. Just like the increasing millions of landfill dwellers, we may need to engage into a higher survival gear, so the pickings won’t be slim.

CRUNCHY DELIGHTS
The first two, arguably most important things anyone needs to know about eating bugs is, one, that it’s good for the planet. And two, that you may be already eating them, without knowing it. That’s not the case, of course, of indigenous peoples in pretty much all continents, who’ve been eating them from time immemorial.
Ants, locusts, beetles, worms, crickets, water… boatmen (we’re not quite there yet), flies and stinkbugs, are central to the protein (more)

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Curtain Raiser

Egomaniacs Hate Laughter, Colltalers

If there’s one thing dictators-to-be hate more than losing is humor. That was on display again the past week: the U.S. president hadn’t even finished the first of the many lies of his address to the United Nations’ General Assembly, when it erupted in laughter.
It was a moment for every American to cringe of shame, but it was also quite revealing. It expressed the contempt the world reserves to Donald Trump, and why sometimes to giggle out loud is such a powerful antidote to a blatant, self-aggrandizing lie.
As it’s been said, what it’s actually surprising (or rather obvious) is why it doesn’t happen more often. Instead of pseudo-serious impartiality, the media should treat the president’s belligerent half-trues for what they mostly are: (dangerous and unfunny) jokes.
Comedians knew it all along. In 2013, talk show host Bill Maher wrote a bit about the then real-estate mogul as an orangutan’s son, and won a $5 million lawsuit by the one person in the entire nation to take it seriously enough to sue him. And who’s lost, as usual.
Tyrants, and would-be ones, dislike those who make fun of their idiosyncrasies or downright bad taste, because it exposes them for what they really are: pretenders, untrustworthy leaders on their insatiable thirst for power, damn whoever may be hurt by it.
Indignation, outrage, even getting down to exchanging insults with a bully, rarely moves them. On the contrary, they feed off pain of others, and there’s nothing that flatters them more than calling them ‘terrible.’ But under that armor of invincibility, hides an insecure, bruised ego, that may withstand a heavy artillery of criticism and rancor, but falters at even a minor antagonizing quip.
Not that it’s easy, and it’s no wonder why comedians can be so effective catching the king without clothes. For there are many things that may come to mind of people who are hurting, before they think of a clever wisecrack to throw at a tan-obsessed despot.
Making fun of the powerful is not safe either. For to mere exercising such a citizen right takes guts and some luck too. One may get away with it in a democratic society, or spend a lifetime in prison in an authoritarian regime. So far, Americans are still lucky.
That could easily change if suddenly dawns on Trump that what actually happened at the U.N. was an embarrassment Continue reading

The Drone, the Bug & the Beat

Bottle-Loving Beetle, a Non-Stop
Beatle & the Beetle’s Real Father

What’s in a name? Much before early rock bands named themselves after insects, or what sounded like it, someone imagined a bug-shaped ‘people’s car,’ and even earlier in Australia, a certain beetle species was already wrongly accused of hitting the beer bottle too often.
But as Volkswagen ended this month production of the beloved ‘Fuca,’ as it was known in Brazil, some thought of crying, while others brought up that it’d outlived even the Nazis (well, at least, those Nazis). Thank goodness then that beetles, and the Beatle, are still going strong.
It’ll be a quick tour through completely different universes, where dreams get crushed by dictators, nature is forced to adapt, and human creativity is bounded only by prejudice. In the end, though, all three stories have something for everyone, for this is, after all, Thursday, and we’re not about to spoil your carefully laid out plans for the weekend.

THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT
For a long time, most people who saw the Julodimorpha saudersii, known as the Buprestid (jewel) beetle infesting empty brown beer bottles, thought it was all about booze, the alcohol, or at least, the sugar left inside. Few noticed then that it wasn’t just any bottle, but only those with an indentation at the bottom that caused the buzz.
But it took Australian entomologists David Rentz and Daryll Gwynne to find out the truth about the misguided love story. It turns out that the males would ‘love long time’ the bottles, thinking they were mating and preserving their species, because the glass resembles the females’ shiny wings.
For that 1983 research, Male Buprestids Mistake Stubbies (the particular kind of beer bottle) For Females, they received the 2011 Ig Noble award for Biology. It made a lot of sense, as it fulfills the Improbable Research premise of entertaining and educate. There was fear that such silly drive would harm the species, but so far, they’re doing just fine.
You may say that love knows no barriers, and all that. But the most appropriate cliche, if there was ever one, would be the old, not everything that shines, etc. They will learn it. At least, be grateful Professors Rentz and Gwynne have cleared the species’ good name, lest not think that just because they’re Australians, well, you know.

THE JEWISH BEETLE
In the early 1930s, Josef Ganz, a Jewish engineer from Frankfurt, changed the history of the automobile by creating the first small family-car, the Maikäfer (May Bug in German). Its design was a triumph of ingenuity and anticipated in years the many Sedans that started getting mass-produced after WWII.
It was, though, a personal disaster for Ganz. He became a target for the Nazis and had to flee Germany, only to see his original concept stolen and given to Ferdinand Porsche to develop into what Hitler called, seven years later, the ‘people’s car,’ an effective piece of propaganda for the mass murderer’s regime.
According to Paul Schilperoord‘s The Extraordinary Life of Josef Ganz – The Jewish Engineer Behind Hitler’s Volkswagen, while Ganz was being hunted down, arrested and almost assassinated by the Gestapo, his (more)
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