Curtain Raiser

Everybody Had a Hard Year, Colltalers

Far-right José Antonio Kast won Chile’s first-round presidential election, ahead of student leader Gabriel Boric. That may be reversed next month if Chileans opposing the country’s neoliberal policies decide to vote. Nearby, the deforestation of the Amazon reached its highest rates in 15 years.
Covid? For the first time ever, 100,000 Americans died in a year but of overdose, a tragic statistic with many profiteers as sponsors. Self-medication is a symptom, but the billionaire Sacklers had a big part in it. Meanwhile, the world’s transfixed by the disappearance of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai.
Let’s hit the ground in New York City when a record 200 “ghost guns,” or weapons without serial numbers, assembled from parts ordered online, have been recovered by the NYPD. The total may not sound like much but the prospect of easily possessing a firearm, regardless of your age, legal status, or mental condition is truly frightening. Especially at this age, when a growing number of Americans are walking around fully “packed with heat.”
In Manhattan, Muhammad Aziz and Khalil Islam, who each spent over 20 years in prison for the alleged 1965 assassination of Malcolm X had their convictions thrown out on Thursday. The overdue exoneration comes 12 years after Islam’s death and a lifetime of injustice for both of them, giving solace to no one. But it clears the way for correcting history: a probe found that the FBI and the NYPD had withheld evidence that would clear them.
Confessed killer Mujahid Abdul Halim, then known as Talmadge Hayer, was shot and caught at the scene, and a few days later, Aziz and Islam, then known as Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson respectively. All three Nation of Islam members were charged with murder. In 2010, Halin named late Newark activist Almustafa Shabazz – formerly William Bradley – as the one who killed Malcolm with a shotgun but the case’s still open.
In New Jersey, Gov. Murphy signed a law banning cosmetic products tested on animals, becoming the eighth state to do so, after California, Nevada, Illinois, Virginia, Maryland, Maine, and Hawaii. Animal activists and pet lovers have reason to celebrate, even though it’s a long way between this and the annual slaughter of turkeys, for instance. Given what Americans spend with their non-human companions, 42 remaining states could follow suit.
In Illinois and Michigan, researchers Ting Lu and Stephen Techtmann have created a bio-process that turns plastic waste into edible protein powder. At the risk of also creating an excessive number of Schwarzeneggers, the study is a breakthrough in the fight to recycle plastic into organic byproducts.
In space, astronauts at the International Space Station sought shelter in two docked spacecraft from a wave of satellite debris coming their way. The near-accident revived fears of what’s known as the Kessler Effect predicted in 1978 by scientist Donald Kessler. It accessed the already rising number of manmade objects circling Earth and the inevitability of a collision. Russia admitted that it’d pulverized one of its satellites, provoking the scare.
And in Portugal, bosses cannot text employees outside the normal hours of business, in a victory to privacy advocates and labor rights activists. The “Right to Rest” law would horrify Wall Street and proponents of the so-called gig economy, but it’s a breath of oxygen into the debate about the “Great Resignation,” a phenomenon that seems to baffle employers who pay minimum wages, give no benefits, and require total dedication from their staff.
Chile’s struggle to grow out of the trauma from the “Other 911” and years of murderous dictatorship continues at a slow pace but still forward. That’s why neophyte Boric, who 10 years ago led national student rallies for free education, is now so close to reaching the presidency. Fittingly, his possible victory has been postponed for a month as the wealthy Kast got 27% of the votes for his 25%. Both depend on votes from the other candidates to win.
The Amazon lost an astonishing 22% of its land just in the past year signaling a likely inevitable demise of the world’s largest rainforest within the lifetime of most of the currently living. The National Institute for Space Research showed that the “Lungs of the World” have lost 5,100 sq. mi. of tree cover from August 2020 to July 2021, the highest average loss in 15 years. The upside is that the Amazon seems now to be a priority for Brazilians.
Speaking of Brazil, more people died there in 2020 than ever, according to the IBGE stats institute: 1,5 million have passed on while Covid raged. In the U.S., more Americans have already died this year from the pandemic than in the whole of 2020. Add 385,457 to a total count of over 770,000, the most in the world, with Brazil still following closely with more than 612,000 obits. Worldwide, cases, strains, and anti-lockdown protests are surging.
But the parallel tragedy is the 100,000 overdosed Americans who can’t seem to find an empathetic enough national ear to effectively address their plight. The figure exceeds the toll of car crashes and gun fatalities combined, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. The vast majority of these fatalities were caused by synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, a chemical cousin of heroin that made the wealthy Sacklers multi-billionaires.
Through their control of Purdue Pharma, the family ignored alarming reports about the addictive properties, overdoses, and overuse of OxyContin, and beat the lawsuit whose only charge was paying a meager $225 million to settle. In other words, they walked while thousands of Americans perished.
The former world doubles No. 1 Peng Shuai has not been seen since she alleged on social media that a former vice-premier of China, Zhang Gaoli, had sexually assaulted her. Her post was removed within half an hour and censors tried to erase online references to it, but it went viral anyway.
As the world asks proof that she’s not been harmed – again – now by those in charge of protecting her, Chinese authorities have engaged in a grotesque game of deception, publishing a letter supposedly written by her and photos that only raise more concerns she’s been punished for telling the truth.
A “Freedom of Thought Report” found that humanists are discriminated against in 144 countries, often violently. In 83 of them, blasphemy or apostasy are liable of criminal punishment or capital offense, according to Humanists International. “The non-religious are one of the most persecuted groups across the globe. But they’re also one of the least visible and their persecution is one of the most under-reported,” said HI president Andrew Copson.
It’s Thanksgiving week and this time, most will be able to spend it together, unlike last year. For Beatlemaniacs, Thursday will be sweet indeed with the premiere of Peter Jackson’s three-part Beatles Get Back doc, culled from hours of unused footage of their 1969 Let it Be album. Not their best but still above most of what was produced then. It may be the perfect balm to share with family in these times of trouble. “Everybody had a wet dream.” WC

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