Curtain Raiser

100 Seconds to Midnight, Colltalers

Back-to-back coverage of a contagious disease, say, the coronavirus, is good to raise awareness about preventive measures and not much else. But it’s terrible for other reasons: unjustified panic, baseless prejudice, racial and cultural biases. Oh, and for kicking other relevant news out of the headlines.
Which, as we know, are not without fault. Take the impeachment of the U.S. President for instance. At its 11th hour, the media has done a poor job separating provable fact, backed up by witnesses, tapes, and testimonies, and what it’s basically denial. We know where this is all going. Or do we?
But that’s for later. Today’s most transcendent news is actually a celebration of history and its gift to teach humanity not to repeat it: the Red Army’s liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp 75 years ago. It’s one of those anniversaries that never lost its urgency, a perennial warning to the living from those who didn’t survive the despicable horrors of white supremacism being run as a government policy. It killed over six million Jews.
It’s heartbreaking to realize that we’re again risking to repeat history, for Jews seem to always be the first to be slaughtered, and with them or right after, minorities and political foes. Some would argue that the killing of a few is different from a mass killing, but they need to shut up right now: no matter how many, they got murdered only when citizens focused on stupid things like that, and did nothing, believing they couldn’t possibly be next.
What’s tragic about the America of the 21st century to begin resembling the 1940s Germany is how vulnerable our democratic institutions are at this moment to prevent it. And how come there’s little rage about it. When the president claims Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

The Two-Minute Warning, Colltalers

‘Surprise: 10 Biggest Oil and Gas Multinationals Switch to Wind and Solar Energy.’ ‘President Trump Is Removed From Office.’ ‘Public Schools Adopt Green New Deal.’ ‘Three Ex-Presidential Candidates to Head Newly-Created Race, Immigration and Labor Reform Bureaus.’ ‘Supreme Court Upholds Removal; Criminal Case to Follow it.’ ‘Pot Is Now Legal.’ ‘Troops Finally Arrive Home From the Middle East.’ ‘Democrats Retake White House.’
We’re not too far from these headlines. Right on cue, millions of women have marched again Saturday in Washington, D.C. and 200 cities around the world. Their lead sets the standards for this crucial election year. Given the right pressure, the impeachment against the U.S. president has the potential of disarticulating his political base, leaving him with his 30 million supporters and not much else. And then there’ll be us, pushing it all over the hump.
We’ll be back to that in a minute, but first Australia, which in past weeks has offered a horrifying glimpse of things to come very fast to everybody else. The dystopian pictures of a continental-size inferno clearly showed that there are not two sides to the climate emergency crisis: there’s one, which is based on facts and is proven by a tragic reality. And then there are corporate interests willing to choke anyone to death to hide their true motivation.
We mourn the dead, including the (correctly) estimated billion animals who may have perished in the fires. We also grieve over what may get even worse if it’s up to the current Australian administration, and the country’s most notorious citizen, Rupert Murdoch, still at his evil self. (And rather pointlessly wonder why Mick Jagger’s former wife Jerry Hall would swear love, seek shelter, and bring her own kids to the household of such an ogre).
Neither Australia’s woes, not Murdoch are ‘local’ phenomena; what’s happening to the world’s 13th-largest economy, Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Time For Survivors Recharge, Colltalers

A handful of issues rose to the top of humanity’s woes at this wrapup of the year and decade. Climate crisis, income inequality, gender, race, and faith persecution, and a few others have all but prevented billions from living free, dignified, and peaceful lives, and life on this earth from having a future.
Still, we greet the new year with some hope and a few wishes, with heavy hearts but much resolve to turn the civilization around. That’s what’s at stake here. A lot to do on our own while street rallies continue until morale improves. But first, let’s vote out all the leaders who stand on our way forward.
Starting by the top: we must do what the Impeachment won’t and choose a new U.S. President in November. It’s clear that for as long as Donald Trump and his enabling sycophants remain in the White House, every one of those issues of concern has the potential of becoming unmanageable nightmares.
In three years, the president and his family grew richer as did the powerful who benefitted from his trillion-dollar tax break, while national poverty levels spiked. Immigrants and sexual and racial minorities were brutalized while white supremacists felt empowered. Environmental protection rules were dismantled as fossil fuel industries rejoiced. Women’s reproductive rights faced a threat and so did the Constitution and entire judicial system.
As a nation, we’re weakened and embarrassed by our overweight, unhinged, diatribe-prone ‘leader’ becoming a giant fatberg clogging global airwaves with the grease of his amorality. Save for misconception or lack of judgment, no decent American believes anything that he says unless their earnings depend Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

In Need of a Better Year, Colltalers

‘Marshall Islands’ contribution to climate change is only 0.00001% of the world’s emissions,’ says youth activist Carlon Zackhras. Yet it may become the first nation to evacuate its homeland due to it. It’ll get worse as the U.N. conference’s failed to broker a global agreement on carbon emissions.
Two articles of impeachment of the U.S. President will go to a full vote in the House, and then to die an undignified death at the Senate. Even to many under-rock inhabitants, the testimonies did prove Trump’s guilt. But that apparently means nothing, according to GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell.
But let’s start off with the world’s two most populous countries, China and India, home of almost 40% of mankind. One is known for dominating world trade and soon for overtaking the U.S. as its largest economy. And the other, for being the biggest nominal democracy, but with emphasis on nominal. They share another scary fact though, besides their colossal stats: they’re ruled by authoritarian leaders who’ve had their unchallenged ways for years.
They’re also twins on their hatred of Muslins. Under P.M. Narendra Modi’s direct sway, India’s just passed a law that all but cancels citizenship to 200 million of them, in a betrayal of so many of its own citizens, and a rebuff to next-door nemesis Pakistan. The law throws the region into turmoil and brings up India’s post-war years when Pakistan was founded as home to Islam followers, in 1947, and 1948, when Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated.
Modern China, of ‘Paramount’ leader Xi Junping, was founded a year later, but Islam has been a factor in Chinese society for at least 1,400 years. That hasn’t helped ethnic Turkic minority Uyghurs: reports about detention camps, persecution, and death have only confirmed the regime’s authoritarian bent. But with China more engaged than ever in world trade, the U.S. and most nations have shamefully ignored the many claims of rights abuse.
Arsenal’s Turkish-German soccer star Mesut Özil, who follows Islam and Tweeted about it, – ‘Despite all this, Muslims stay quiet?’ – faced criticism even by his own club: when it comes to China, it seems, business opportunities fare better than human rights. It’s an unwritten rule that Hong Kong protesters have learned the hard way. Granted, Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Protect Mothers & the Climate, Colltalers

So this is it. The U.N. Climate Change Conference is not yet done in Madrid but it’s clear that no breakthrough is about to be announced. We’re on our own, and as Greta Thunberg put it, ‘we have achieved nothing.’ Not to give anything up just yet, there’s the alternative Cumbre Social por el Clima.
Tyrants share a common trait of hating women. But only Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro was caught on camera telling a congresswoman that she was ‘too ugly to be raped.’ Since he’s president, rape and femicide rates have spiked: four girls are raped every hour and over 1,200 have been killed this year so far.
We’ll touch these headlines later but first, let’s start at a Texas Border Patrol facility’s unsanitary cell where a sick Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez spent his last minutes on this earth. A ProPublica report includes a harrowing 5/20/19 video of the 16-year-old Guatemalan asylum-seeker agonizing and dying as his also sick cellmate slept. He found Carlos’ body in the morning. The footage debunks the agency’s claims that his death was inevitable.
It also, once again, exposes the Trump administration’s sheer cruelty and staggering lack of empathy by which it’s been rewriting immigration laws and universal human rights. It’s another image in a gallery of horrors that top each other every few months: the grotesque separation of families, many to remain as such for an unpredictable time; kids in cages; toddlers testifying in court; and the brutal, and often secret, deaths of children in custody.
But the issue is unlikely to be on the articles of impeachment against the U.S. president the House of Representatives will compile this week. If laws were based on morality, he would’ve been already removed from office; as it is, a technicality could do it. Continue reading

Downtown Trains

To Rod Stewart, His Trains
& the Holidays in New York

When ‘Maggie Mae’ burst through my mini transistor radio in 1971 its circuits coughed and fried a bit. The dawn of the singer-songwriter era and yet, here’s this punch of a voice drawing blood from the heart of teen lovers. It wasn’t to last but still.
Now Rod Stewart has introduced the world to another hit of his: an epic, 23-year in the making, scale model of a U.S.-like metropolis and its trains. It’s enormous and it’s a beauty. It’s also related to the subject of this letter for some mushy reasons.

See, from 1996 to 2008, New York had a third holiday train show, The Station at Citicorp Center. The Botanical Garden’s twig and plant-made trains and railroads, and the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s subway and commuter train show are the other two.
It took gall for that little train show that could to challenge such centenarian institutions. A quarter of that time for the most but it did arrive there and it was on its way to becoming a permanent feature of the holidays in NYC. But it wasn’t to be.
Now for the record: Colltales has nothing to do with that or any of the places mentioned here. I don’t know the creators, artists, associates, or anyone connected to that show. This post is all about the raw sentimentality implied above.

PICTURES IN A GASOLINE ALLEY
Then lack of funding allegedly closed down The Station. I couldn’t put up with that kind of bite on my apple. Broke, as usual, I did the only thing an orphan could: I plead for help on the Website of little-known model train enthusiast, Station Master Rod.
I don’t regret it; the former gravedigger assistant has by now an entire team tending to his site and career so it’s hard to imagine that he never read my appeal. Or that they didn’t check to see whether I was legit, or had ties to the Dunham Studio – again, I don’t.
I was just one of the many eight-to-80-year olds going berserk over those Gulliverian scenes. That includes my own little ‘Thomas,’ who now claims not to remember it. It helps to have a taste for miniatures with a huge serving of wonder to appreciate it.

So, ‘Dear Mr. Stewart

Congrats on the completion of your spectacular model city said to be inspired by New York and Chicago. Your passion is shared by millions and I, for one, used to spend hours watching mesmerizing train shows on TV. They all live on the Web now.
I’ve heard that you’ve spent almost a generation composing your tiny city and that you did most of the work by yourself. Impressive and probably quite rewarding in a Zen kind of a way. Now, about that message on your Website: did you get to read it then?
For this is now beyond that particular train show, as great and popular as it still is. No, now this would be a gift, your holiday gift to the kids of the city to where you’ve come visit so often. In the 1980s, you actually walked into the restaurant I used to work at.

Whoever you’d hire to set it up, where or, grasp, whether it’d be a traveling version of your own display, it’d all be of course entirely up to you. It’d be an awesome gesture to be credited only to you; seriously, I’d put it on writing for your legal council.
Wouldn’t that be great? This city glows during the holidays and memories carved in childhood during this time remain cherished throughout life. Along with your songs, a train show could be yet another touch of magic you’ve been providing the world for decades.
New York also welcomes yet another community that now you belong to: that of cancer survivors. With your gift, by this time next year we’d all be in those lines full of happy faces, eager to ride those tracks with their minds while dreaming of day trips to Manhattan.
Come, let’s see the trains Uncle Rod has set up for us. Thanks.’

Curtain Raiser

Close to the Edge, Colltalers

Almost all reasons triggering the climate emergency are man-made. But here’s one not usually mentioned with say, fossil-fuels reliance and greed: out short-span attention. It’ll be tested again at Madrid’s U.N. Climate Change Conference. Don’t fall asleep.
Americans proud of their democracy don’t seem to notice the president’s been undermining it. By reversing the demotion of war criminal Navy Seal Edward Gallagher, Trump showed confidence that neither Congress nor the Supreme will challenge him.
Sticking to domestic affairs, a week of heavy-hitting revelations about truly impeachable offenses have done little to his polls. It’s evident he sought the help of a foreign power to probe a political enemy, but supporters continue to cheer him up and the GOP is fine about it. Democrats may have looked on track to win in November, but once billionaires felt ‘hurt,’ all bets are off.
See, the mega-wealthy is very sensitive. It was enough for frontrunner Elizabeth Warren to come up with a clever plan to get them to pay back a share of their stratospheric income for their well-heeled troops to rally and fight back. Besides pathetic and utterly absurd claims that the 0.01% would suffer having to pay up, one was actually caught weeping on national television.
After a far-right push to crush civil and labor rights around the world with coordinated anti-democratic attacks, citizens pushed back and unrest has erupted in several countries of Latin America, Europe, and Asia. Apparently, that has scared powers that be.
So here comes the billionaires, those who have basically nothing to lose – some actually can’t spend or waste their money even if they wanted to – believing their riches are entirely the result of hard work, and not luck to be born on the profitable side of the tracks. They step in as if people should thank them because you know, if they can run a corporation, a nation should be easy.
That’s an incredibly myopic view of how society really works, and ultimately, how human beings will never react Continue reading