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The Day After
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These penis-shaped passion fruits are the current favorite conversation topic in São José de Ribamar, Brazil. No one can explain how come the fruits of a tree Maria Rodrigues de Aguiar Farias planted two years ago came out so suggestively formatted. But everyone seems eager to taste it.
Dona Maria, as she is locally known, wasn’t even sure whether this was indeed a passion fruit tree, a favorite in the tropics, eaten by cutting a little hole on its top and sucking its juices. But she’s been very busy fielding requests from neighbors who want the seeds to plant in their own land. “It really looks so much like THAT,” said her neighbor Maria Elizabeth da Cruz, who’s credited for having helped water the plant.
Even agronomists with the Maranhão’s agribusiness state agency (AGED) got involved and concluded in their analysis that the tree underwent some rare genetic mutation, that may or may not have been caused by its main pollinator, a type of beetle.
As for its popularity, it’s still growing, fueled by media attention and local artists who have written odes in verse and rhyme, inspired by the penis-shaped fruit. According to the state agronomists’ studies, its unusual shape may also determine it to taste differently from your run-of-the-mill passion fruit.
It’s entirely up to you, of course, to come up with any original or obvious jokes about the name and shape of this honest-to-god, dead-serious funny tree. As for us, our agenda of things to do in São José de Ribamar the next time we visit just got its first obligatory stop: “Get a taste of that fruit.” (Thanks, Jorge Keller)
Before & After?
& Bleeding Hearts
From the Catholic Church saints that named it to the Hallmark cards that oversell it, the holiday dedicated to lovers is a bonanza for restaurants and pubs in big cities around the world. It’s one of the hardest dates to book a table in any restaurant worth its napkins, and it’s very likely the saddest in bars and watery holes across the land.
Many people propose to their sweet hearts on February 14 but no statistics confirm whether this is such a great idea. It’s a high pressure time for lovers trying to impress their loved ones, and disappointment is always a possibility when stakes are so high.
If the police has any data on the number of crimes of passion committed on this date, they are not telling. In the end, there’s just one historical fact associated with it, and sorry, it’s not pretty: on February 14, 1929, Al Capone and his minions gunned down seven members of a rival gang, in what became the most reviled event of the Prohibition Era.
It remains a fact, though, that regardless the commercialism linked to Valentine’s Day, it does mark a tribute to the affection and romantic ideals lovers share and expect from their partners. Which means that, if you’re not impressed with anything mentioned above, you do deserve to spend the most perfect day with your soul mate. Enjoy it.
We don’t want to rain on anyone’s Valentine’s, but in Zagreb there’s a museum about an interesting theme: it’s called the Museum of Broken Relationships. It exhibits a variety of objects that once were beloved mementos of promising relationships, and that now tell the story of their breakup.
You may find a half-smashed gnome, said to have been thrown in fury at some ungrateful soul, for example, or a Teddy Bear that remained when everything else about that particular liaison went into oblivion. Even an ax (careful, now) is part of the collection but it was used to destroy furniture, not what you were thinking, you psycho.
In any case, seeing the objects and reading about their story it’s an entertaining way of visiting somebody else’s misery, with a bit of caution thrown in. After all, just look at the cell phone someone was given to call her lover “more often.” Unlike the relationship itself, it’s still intact.
This is a story that won’t get much mileage for a while, but it’s already covering a lot of road, nevertheless. As car designers try to find more sustainable and less costly ways to outfit their models, they’re looking into some forms of food to replace petroleum-based fuel and car parts.
The trend has already something of a track record. What started with the use of ethanol and cooking oils as fuel, has evolved to incorporate replacement materials in the manufacturing of soft foam seats and dashboards. As much as 10 percent of car parts typically made from petroleum plastics can now be made from soy-based polyurethane foams or “bioplastic.”
For some in the industry, that’s the future knocking on their door. But there’s still a long way to go. The “green” soy-based foam, for example, although takes less energy to make, is not yet biodegradable.
Scientists are also experimenting with mushroom roots and other plant matter, like wheat straw, to put it into a mold shaped like a car part. And with avian feathers, which cooked at just the right temperature, can turn into high-tech hydrogen storage devices.
It’s a promising field within an industry that has seen its ups and downs but it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. But, as with the increasing adoption of grains traditionally used for food diverted for fuel, the recent developments are not without its flaws and critics.
In the case of ethanol, for example, besides its brutal environmental impact, widespread adoption is starting to seriously compromise global supplies of food. Producers are switching vast portions of land for food to the more profitable fuel production.
So if the search for alternatives to the use of petroleum and petroleum-based products for consumer goods is commendable, it also represents risks to the stability of the global production of food commodities. At the end of the day, it does matter whether this soybean or that mushroom will be used to build another car or to feed another mouth.
A Horse With a Name
Every Sunday, a pub in Burton, Staffordshire, hosts a special regular: Basil the horse, who’s known to love a pint after a refreshing ride. The nine-year old steed has been coming in for years and never once made a fool of himself.
In fact, he became a hit among the locals, who enjoy his company and admire his restrain. Now, just look around the pub you’re at right now and think about how many of the presents you could say the same.
As for that old saying, you can lead a horse to the water but you can’t make him drink, it’s got it all wrong. Never mind the water; just make sure to invite Basil for an ale that he’ll drink it, no fuss about it.
Hundred of thousands took the streets all over the world this past weekend. No, not just to support the Egyptian people’s right to self determination. Many were just demonstrating against the use of homeopathy, the alternative health system created by Samuel Hahnemann in the 1700s.
They ingested thousands of bottles of homeopathic medicines in front of stores that sell them in the U.S., England, Australia, and South American and Asian countries. Neither anyone died of overdose, nor we heard a word so far from the estimated 500 million worldwide users of homeopathy.
If you wonder whether you’re missing something about this issue, after two hundred years of relatively peaceful coexistence between homeopathy and conventional medicine, you’re excused; you were probably distracted by the events in the Middle East.
For the 10:23 campaigners though, there’s no turning back: homeopathy is a ripoff and a waste of everybody’s time. It’s as effective as a sugar pill or placebo and, they say, there’s no justification to include it any country’s medical program and budget.
In case you’re wondering, the 10:23 figure is a nod to Italian chemist Avogadro‘s number determining the amount of molecules in a given solution (ok, enough of your questions for now). The rallies were coordinated by the Merseyside Skeptics Society, who promises not to let this issue go away.
According to its defenders, homeopathy works on the principle of ‘similia similibus curentur’, or let ‘likes be cured by likes’ which means that what will cause, will cure. Which means, well you got the idea. Just like antidotes work, a detached party would say. We’re not repeating here what its detractors would say of it, though.
But somehow in these times of dwindling budgets for social programs, combined with a resurgence of religious objections to the theory of evolution, not seen since, well, the 1700s, maybe homeopathy is just being singled out as the scapegoat for its lack of affiliation with science.
The medical establishment, apparently absent of this debate, nevertheless has a lot to gain from it, of course. Medical research and drug development pipelines are in the front lines of any scientific research, and a successful drug can make billions to the laboratories that create them.
Since drug research is in the realm and interest of public health, enormous resources are routinely channeled to the big medical conglomerates, which often profit even before their products reach the market. Disease, as dying, will always be a booming business.
So, it’d be just natural that in one way or another, they’d protect their turf with all the determination (and the best lawyers) money can buy. For there are many factors that may threaten their bottom line. A successful, alternative line of healing products, the kind that don’t require costly approval from government agencies, would be definitely a contender. Specially if words such as “natural,” “organic” and “healing powers” grace their labels, regardless how loosely they’re using them.
Another one is the increase in medical malpractice suits. When that involves one of their brands, it can risk the ability of so-called big pharma to meet profitability targets shareholders demand. That explains the countless provisions in their financial reports related to potential lawsuits.
Ultimately, the backlash against homeopathy may be heavy handed in what chooses to attack one of the cheapest industries in the market today, compared to multimillion dollar concerns that commercialize “natural” products and effectively compete against the big laboratories.
But it may be marking a turning point of the public opinion, after the onslaught of faith-based healing and other “magical” recovering systems pitched by snake-oil salesforces with no qualms about milking the economies and trust of impoverished, god-fearing communities.
Only in Rio
Man Makes His Bed
On the Side of a Wall
Housing is not easy to find, no matter where you are on earth. Specially if you’re penniless. Some wind up living under a bridge. Some are forced to a park bench. All are subjected to daily harassment and the indignities typical of street life.
Yet there are those who come up with unusual solutions and, taking a page from the public performance art book, make their beds where no one else would.
Take this Carioca, for example (that is how a Rio de Janeiro dweller is called). He chose one of the city’s busiest arteries, Rua Luis de Camoes, to set up his bedroom. Not on the street itself, mind you, but on a vertical wall.
There’s his bed, his little set of drawers, an old fashioned record player, even a hammock for quiet afternoon readings. He obviously has no problem with heights. Or public exposure.
He seems to have everything he needs, this side of outdoor plumbing and private toilets. Street lights are doing just fine for him and other amenities can be easily arranged.
It’s all for show, of course, and it looks. But it’s pretty, nonetheless. Passers by are known to stop and stare, even if just for a minute, on their way to work or to their own not so special bedroom.
It may be the summer. After all, it’s Rio and Carnival is right around the corner, so one shouldn’t be too surprised. But it certainly beats the below freezing temperature we’ve been having in the North. (Thanks, Norton.)
Keep an Eye
For two hundred years, there was nothing more esthetically acceptable for those who’d lost an eye than to wear one made of glass. Although slightly disturbing to children and small animals, it was a superior alternative to the pirate patch and, depending on the lighting, almost undetectable. Except, of course, to prying eyes.
Jost Haas, a German native based in London, is considered one of the last glass eye makers still active in the market today. His technique manufacturing them goes back two centuries, with a lot of artistry and dedication only someone who’s devoted his whole life to the metier would master. This short, understated video shows it how.
Smuggling is one of the oldest forms of illegal trading. Since immemorial times people have been risking their lives and fortunes to transport from one place to another, precious stones, valuable metals, exotic animals, even humans.
As with any other market, demand is what drives traffic and it’s virtually impossible to list all categories of goods that have ever been apprehended by the customs agencies and border patrols of the world.
One thing remains constant, though: the market thrives wherever there are shortages of such goods. It’s what makes them profitable. But tell that to one Derek Rader (his real name), who was busted trying to smuggle California cockroaches to… Florida.
Now do you know how many roaches scurry per square feet in Florida? Neither do we, but it’s certainly a lot, right? Not enough for discriminating tastes of those who consume them, apparently. Rader and the state’s reptile population know well that.
Dubia roaches – who knows why they call them by a similar name tabloids used to call George Bush? – are two inches in size, have more meat than crickets, and once bred properly, you’ll never buy another one again, if that’s your thing. That’s the upside.
But since they’re non native to Florida and have no natural predators, their breeding with the state’s own species would mean a population explosion. A perfect crawling storm, if you would.
So Florida’s pest control agencies are always on the lookout to prevent what happened, for example, with the giant boa constrictors that began appearing in the Everglades during the 1990s.
Not exactly smuggled, for wild life officials believe that many of them were pets discarded by their inconsiderate owners, they’re now a source of permanent concerns.
They have spread throughout the state and their encounters with native species have been disastrous. A few years ago, an infamous picture made the Internet rounds: a boa which literally exploded after swallowing a huge crocodile.
Who knows what kind of hybrid would be generated by the combination of native and non native species, in the hot and humid climate of Florida. But whatever it’d be, nobody wants it. Except for Rader, who’s only in it to make a (dishonest) buck.
But one does get tickled to come up with a tabloid-style headline to illustrate it all. “Rader Roach Motel?” “Roach Rader Loses License?” or “Illegal Roach Motel Raided.” We could never match those headline editors. But nobody wants another breed of cockroaches crawling in their backyard either.
When Bond & the Beatles
Shared Chords & the 60s
We’re not sure about you, but there was a time we thought we heard echoes of John Barry‘s famous soundtrack for the 007 film series in George Martin’s intro for “Help,” the song that named The Beatles’s second feature film. The thought arose again this past week with Barry’s passing, and it took us only a few strokes of the keyboard to find a link of sorts between the two themes.
The British soundtrack composer, who incidentally was married \to Jane Birkin at some point, created distinctive themes for some of the most successful movies of the past 40 years. But besides “Born Free,” “Midnight Cowboy” and “Body Heat,” all released before most of those reading this note were even born, he’ll be forever remembered, of course, for the James Bond movies.
The signature chord progression that opens the credits for the popular series – whose authorship Barry had to defend in court – became a sonic icon for the era and in many cases, outclassed the films it illustrated.
Just like that other indelible British contribution to popular culture: The Beatles.
In 1965, Barry had already established his credentials with a string of highly visible soundtracks, and so had the boys from Liverpool. In fact, American-born Richard Lester directed both their second feature, which was released later that year, as well as their previous one.
At the same time, he also directed “The Knack – and How to Get It,” which is set to, but completely fails to capture, a certain Swinging London spirit going on at the time. Barry signed the half-forgotten soundtrack for that half-forgotten movie. But his collaboration with Lester somehow became the link that those who simply can not live without that sort of arcana have been longing to find for years.
We’re not members in good standing of that club, but even from the sidelines we can appreciate a good ol’ apocryphal sub-plot, an undiscovered bridge if you would, between two landmarks of a bygone era. And now that we completely sucked all the oxigen from the room, what about helping yourself with the music of John and John and Paul and all the others, and lighten up with a shaken, not stirred Martini?
By the way, does anyone even talk like that?
The picture above depicts A) a still of the creature’s tail for the sequel to the movie franchise “Aliens”; B) a new species of marine worm, photographed for the first time at the bottom of the Hudson River; C) a New York artist’s show about the Continue reading