Paper Planes

404 Pages, Old Hoaxers
& Staying Dry in the Rain

This being Summer Solstice time, it seems appropriate to bring you these stories, each with a temporal slant. One would not be possible a few decades ago; another no longer makes much sense; and yet the other one is ageless. So, no sweat, we’ve got you covered.
On the Internet, no one knows you got lost; or that you landed on a ‘Not Found’ page. The Society Against Quackery would not tolerate such nonsense 130 years ago. And yet, since time immemorial, there’s been Virga, a special kind of rain: the type that doesn’t make you wet.
What? Didn’t they use to count paper planes on New York City streets? Or holes in Blackburn Lancashire? Indeed they did, so it shouldn’t shock you if we pick the odd or the unusual for a summer read, rather than the bloody or the bombastic. For there’ll be plenty of that too.
There’s a new Pride Flag with a welcome element of racial tolerance. And, yes, the season’s proverbial love stories already abound, along those from the 1967 Summer of Love. And the breeze, and that girl from Ipanema, and all cliches about heat and hurricanes.
Since warm days go by faster in the north, they’ll still be filled with talk about ice cream and beaches, parties and drought. Just as Earth will keep on getting warmer, and this sort of conversation feels like sand inside one’s swimming suits. Blame us for wanting you to take it easy.
THIS CALL CANNOT BE COMPLETED
So what’s wrong with searching and not finding? Not acceptable these days. See, even when one lands on uncharted territory, it’s no longer an excuse to avoid making assumptions. Or post your cluelessness on Facebook. No opinion should be spared. Thus the 404 pages.
Which is now as entertaining as if you’d reached a site about scientific curiosities. Museums, institutions, companies, and individuals, all jockey to come up with clever ways to cushion your crushing results. It’s Ok, the image and wording seem to say. Here, see how funny this is.
As for the code number, like a lot of what still compounds our journeys online, it had a nerdy origin, such as some room number in a building once fully occupied by an electronic brain, as it was know. Or it was by chance, depending of who you find still wondering in the space formerly known as cyber.
THE OLD FLIM-FLAM DEBUNKERS
Way before Tim Berners-Lee was born – the World Wide Web inventor just turned 62 last week – or there was need for Snopes, a group of Dutch skeptics recognized the potential harm hidden behind human gullibility. And decided to mount a defense against those who’d gladly take advantage of it.
If the Internet metastasized the power of deceivers, in 1881, snake oil salesmen, mystics, end-of-the-world profiteers, and an entire array of their ilk, were already doing irreparable damage out of others’ (more)
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Curtain Raiser

AIDS & the Callous Commander, Colltalers

The president ‘does not care.’ That’s the reason given by six members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS to resign, last week. The news, buried by the loud Trump sideshow, as it’s been the norm lately, sheds light on two issues: public indifference and, well, Trump.
The Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome had a devastating effect when it broke out in the 1980s. It’s still incurable, despite effective therapies to control it, and remains a stealth leading killer in the U.S. And Trump’s attitude is akin that of the president then, Ronald Reagan.
AIDS joins now the roster of issues that the current administration seems bent on walking back in time. To decades of progress in foreign relations, immigration, human and reproductive rights, the environment, and so many other issues, add yet another scourge bound to metastasize again due to mismanagement and neglect. Not that AIDS needed help growing back in the U.S., where statistics are astonishing.
One in two African-American gay and bisexual men will be infected, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Preventions study. Such high figure would outnumber the whole population of an African country such as Swaziland, as a recent NYTimes story put it. The paper also compared that with the risk for Americans in general, which is one in 99, and for white gay and bisexual men, one in 11.
Of the 36.7 million people living with HIV globally, 1.1 million are Americans. And while rates of infection have been declining overall, with some countries actually radically reducing their numbers, new cases are not declining as fast in the world’s wealthiest nation.
Experts have been struggling to explain this situation, since after its explosion, AIDS had understandably become more prevalent in poor countries, where public health and education are low government priorities. Some believe that people have become overconfident on the treatments, without realizing that, first, they are not a cure, and second, they’re not even an option for a segment of the affected.
That obliviousness, prominent among one the top groups of newly infected – ages 13 to 21 years old – may be a consequence of years of declining budgets for public health policy and lowering education levels in the U.S., which begin to mirror that of some African countries.
One in seven of that over a million Americans doesn’t even know they’re infected, according to the CDC. And those who’re in school are not getting much of an education about AIDS, a direct result of increasing religious influence on public school policies across the nation.
If that side of the equation is tragic, and can be credited for many of the new cases reported, the part about ‘does not care’ is even worse. It’s one thing a president to align the priorities Continue reading

Post & Postponed

A Few Notes On the Solitary
Art of Independent Blogging

People often ask me, where does the inspiration for Colltales come from? How does its worldwide audience react to its stories, and why do readers come back for more? Or do I have any tips to share? In reality, these are hardly ever asked questions; I just wish they were.
Instead, they want to know, what’s the blog about? Or why it isn’t about something else? Or why do I even blog? To say, ‘a few things,’ ‘it is,’ and ‘I don’t know,’ never seems to please anyone, so I’m done trying it. So how do I do it? boy, am I glad you have finally asked.
Few things are more complicated to explain than the reasons behind publishing a weekly online report in a world already littered with billions of them. Specially when such effort involves hours of research and agonizing about depth and accuracy, and rarely pays a single utility bill.
Then, to make things interesting, to pick subjects like someone shops for a coffin. Should I go for broke and delve into the DeLuxe line, or be humble, or rather, cheap, and choose the pine, with a little varnish on the corners, because, well, it’s late and we all need to get some sleep?
For sure, there are few constants: family and friends are usually non subscribers. In holiday gatherings, to mention online proclivities may actually lead to appalling arguments over better uses of wasted time. An ‘aren’t you searching for a better job?’ may bury you on the spot.
Also, if it the blog’s not about love, or life advice, celebrity quirks, or things to do at 9am, while waiting for the F Train, at West 4th station, it isn’t easy to get anyone to type its name on the address bar. For once they pick, say, the day when L’Origine du Monde was the cover picture, you must prepare to hear about it from years to come.
THE HELL YOU CAN
Which brings us to theme choice, and how escape branding (yes, we hate that too). Colltales has close to 2,000 stories on file, ranging from multicolored herds to menstruation, obituaries to crop circles. Things we like, such as Beatles and futebol, and others that enrage us, like racial profiling.
It used to sport a fresh new post every single day, until it became clear that the world didn’t care one way or another. So, it turned into that something else mentioned above. They all had a similar ignition key, though: a news story. Once we get hooked on a gem, we run with it like robbers on a getaway car.
Speaking of stealing, it’s indeed common online. Mostly text lifting, and none is too small to count, just as the most edifying sermon is downright immoral if made up of words by an unattributed author. And so is placing a picture without credit. Any is worth the same thousand words: theft. (By the way, hovering on the pics tells you their author; clicking, gives you a story.)
SPEAKING IN TONGUES
Go tell the Greek, the Angolan, the Mongolian, about earth, wind, water and fire. It gets through. Now speak of the Palisades to the Palestinian, or Thanksgiving to a Kurd, and the rest of your post will remain as untouched, and deeply misunderstood, as the Mariana Trench.
But gorges can be bridged and canyons reached across. A post about a ciphered message, found a few years ago in pocket of a con man, killed in a Midwest cornfield, found resonance with a reader, who, while struggling with English, did his own probing into the matter. We cherished our newfound common taste for ciphers.
And really, a typical Colltale, if there’s such, is about how we’re more alike than not, closer rather than apart. Yeah, we wrote about (more)
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Curtain Raiser

Change Is Not On Hold, Colltalers

Has former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony triggered a Nixon outcome for Trump? Will the president lie again, this time under oath, and commit perjury, costing him his office? Can impeachment be the next work order for America? Still hard to tell but we’re not waiting.
In fact, we can’t afford placing bets on this series finale, when odds dictated by climate change are staked so high against us. And increasing pressure in the U.S. and abroad show that most people are choosing a more direct, global action rather than such spectator’s game of chance.
Not that we’ll relinquish our careful White House and Congress watch – too afraid of what those in charge are capable of doing, when no one is looking. Or cease cheering up every step towards returning dignity to the presidency. After all, every little win will help us along the way.
But recent developments, first in reaction to and then, as a positive strategy to protect our battered civil rights and democracy notions, have been truly encouraging. Within measure, we’re witnessing a not-too coordinated and yet effective movement that’s already showing results.
It helps having a central point of focus, which is the disturbing rise of fascism in the world. At a time when the prospect of a catastrophic global warming threats, if it’s not already affecting, practically all realms of human activity in the planet, there must be immediate action to protect, you guessed it, the poor, the landless, the destitute, the working class, or as they’re popularly known, the majority of Earth’s citizens.
For a moment, prospects were indeed dire. Suddenly, the worst kind of populism – the type that falsely promises redemption while sowing hate among masses – has experienced a revival, fueled by income inequality and aggravated by long-term human predatory use of natural resources. Such explosive combination produced its own uncontrollable avalanche, and time to prevent it has unfortunately already passed.
Authoritarian leaders, compromised by corporate interests and moved by personal greed, are the least that we all need. But just as they rose, alternatives to the destructive capitalistic model of ‘progress’ started to get surprising traction globally at local and country political levels. That despite an once reliable electoral process being overcome, here and abroad, by the power of capital and Wall Street’s ‘growth ideology.’
Pause here, before going further into cliches thought to be long buried at the turn of the millennium. The use of such code words is intentional to show that, despite undeniable advances in life expectancy, social promotion opportunities, as well as improvement to everyone’s well being, such benefits are now being as denied to the majority as they were during Hitler and Mussolini times, perhaps even more so.
Also, for those keeping score, if at the middle of the 20th century, war seemed to be the ‘natural’ solution, now it’s another thing we must keep as out of the equation as possible. In other words, the rise of phony populism is a disgusting deja vu. But the solutions now are much fresher.
In Chicago, for instance, the People’s Summit gathered several progressive groups to discuss ‘Organizing for Education Justice,’ ‘Time for Single-Payer,’ and ‘Empowering Locals,’ among Continue reading

Punctuation Wars

The Comma World of
Grammar Vigilantes

‘Language is a source of misunderstandings,’ wrote Antoine Saint-Exupéry. He’d surely have elaborated it further to indict the written word too, but probably wanted to keep the sentence short. Knowing the risks helped him avoid mix-ups by a discriminating use of punctuation.
Many a wrong diacritic, though, fell an incautious scribe. Among them, behold the common comma, tricky hook known to trip phrase and auteur alike. Lives and reputations have been ruined by its misuse, and to misjudge the pause literally sucks the air out of the communication.
Isn’t it why they’re often referred to as accidents? Don’t dare tell that to a philologist, who’d be capable of stuffing your pretty face with quotation marks so thick, soon you’d be spitting your own full stops to the matter. And you thought you English teacher was mean.
Speaking of which, native English-speakers tend to look down on accents used in the most languages, as unnecessary pomposity. They don’t know how easy they have it. Those marks are in fact as vital to meaning as words themselves, and you may forget to use them properly at your own risk.
And unless you want to get into a fistfight, it’s also advisable to never, ever, say to a grammarian that punctuation need not to apply to emailing, texting, and/or tweeting. As Michael Skapinker put it, in one of his FT columns, social media and short messages do not protect us from misunderstandings.
SPLICE, YOU COMMA CHAMELEON
He was referring to a recent Maine court case worth thousands of dollars, won due to good comma placement. For often, you may think that being tired, frustrated, slightly drunk and ready to hit the sack, excuse you from adding a fifth comma, just before the ‘and.’ Don’t, we beg you.
Let’s be forgiven only once about this, two full sentences shouldn’t be separated by just a comma, as in this case. There’s simply not enough pause, critics of the Splice comma say. But on the prior graph, you’d be in Oxford comma jurisdiction, as the lack of that fifth messes all up the meaning.
It’s all a tad less than thrilling, you’d say, lacking fun and games quality, until somebody sues, that is. For ages, (more)
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Curtain Raiser

An Unexpected Coalition, Colltalers

Let’s get this out of the way: Trump withdrawing the U.S. from the 195-country Paris Agreement is not just a backward step in the fight to reverse climate change, and another into irrelevance for America, but also the surrender of its coveted position as leader of the free world.
Whether this represents a promotion to Germany, and a gift to China and Russia, is but one of the many fallout issues from this terrible decision. It prompted a surprising development, though: a possible alliance of states and big corporations to continue just such a fight.
No need to overstate the significance of this development, just as not every storm cloud has a silver lining. But when 30 states are joined by industry giants, including Royal Dutch Shell, Morgan Stanley and Apple, to lower greenhouse gas emissions and continue investing in renewable energy, we are indeed entering a new territory. It’s that rare kind of corporate strategy: one that actually benefits people.
Politically, a group of states rebelling against Washington over a certifiably crucial theme of our time, has enormous repercussions. And represents an ironic twist too, since the Republican Party, one of the biggest foes of any climate change action, has used that same prerogative but to sabotage issues of genuine interest to Americans, such as affordable healthcare, voting rights, and others. Payback time, it seems.
Now, we’re not jumping into the Goldman Sachs bandwagon just yet, even as it’s another sign that Wall Street is already pricing climate change, nor we need corporate endorsements to legitimize what’s been common sense to the majority of humankind for some time now.
But since innovation and new technologies needed to reverse the ongoing disaster cost money, and global environmental organizations struggle with chronic underfunding, we may not have any choice in the matter of who or what is committed to what’s more than a cause.
The sad part of Trump’s first foreign trip, though, was neither the pathetic collection of horrifying decisions he took Continue reading

Twas 50 Years Ago Today


Sgt Pepper Made the
World Incredibly High

It’s just a date, it’s just an album, it’s just music. But boy how important it all seemed then, and how badly the world misses that feeling today, that hope and joy The Beatles put out on Jun 1, 1967, smacked in the middle of the so-called Summer of Love, no less.
Now it all may sound tame, irrelevant, outdated. As if the world has no longer a few generations of the young and the glad still alive, still capable of bringing it again to a moment of pure enlightenment. And indeed they are, while what it’s now a minority reminisces.
And yet, we can all drink from that ageless well of songs because they were never written to be crystalized at one point in amber time. In fact, the universe they were drawn from couldn’t even be called rock and roll, even as none of them would be possible without it.
For they were for the twenty-somethings of the day, yes, but also to the over 60, and the under 10 too. They rocked and they waltzed, they twisted and meditated. And in the end, they won the day, one in everyone’s life, and more. A morning, afternoon, and night where some of the best in us exists.
The Beatles did it, and as far as myths go, they made a mark as deep, healing, and hopeful, as any religion still promises to do. But without the toll of division or the need to prove loyalty to an invisible concept. For at the end of that very special day, there was the music.
Not John, Paul, George, or Ringo. Not a band that rode the crest of counterculture even when it was not aware that it was happening. Not a fake combo, led by a mustachioed band leader. The only thing that was real then as it is now is the music, lyrics and melodies.
And really, that was really all that those four working class boys ever wanted. So much so that when it was not fun anymore, they got rid of everything else that grew attached to their image, and threatened to suck the spontaneity they’d worked so hard to preserve.
They were the rarest example, that of the champion who does walk away from everything. And remains champion forever. Evidently because they could. But so could every other star, even as most of them have faded long ago and refuse to acknowledge they’re no longer needed.
So don’t feel coy today if you play this album one more time. And if you are part of that surprisingly small group who never gave it a try, today’s the day. No need to ‘Like’ it or send links to friends you hardly know. Make it as an intimate experience as others only you have had.
The rest of you may just shake your now proverbial gadgets. For alone or with others, the vow that The Beatles have committed to, half a century ago, remains as truthful as always: a splendid time is indeed guaranteed for all.
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