Curtain Raiser

Dark Days for Democracy, Colltalers

The U.K. will hand over Julian Assange, a news publisher, to be persecuted by the U.S. for publishing news: U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bodies of Dom Phillips, a journalist, and Bruno Pereira, an indigenous specialist, were found shot and buried in Brazil. Who ordered them dead?
Colombia picked a leftist and a Black woman to run the country. The Fed raises its benchmark rate, to 0.75 percentage point, its highest in 28 years, as the economy gets heated up by profits of war, and the unions reawake in America. Another big lie? Trump’s “election defense fund.” So now we know.
We begin in Ukraine where Russian forces have surrounded and stranded thousands of Ukrainian fighters defending Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk. That would get President Putin closer to his stated objective of seizing all of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. That may happen as soon as this week.
In Russia, where bad news has been plenty lately, there’s been a methane leak for six months, releasing into the atmosphere what five coal-fired power stations would. Our gifted leaders are naturally too busy with war to even pretend to care but the leak is from, you guessed it, a coal mine. At its peak in January, it was releasing hourly 90 tons of methane, a greenhouse gas more powerful than carbon dioxide. But as mentioned, war takes precedence.
In Israel, dozens of Palestinian women are being held in prisons in the occupied territories, for political activism or otherwise. According to Addameer, a Palestinian NGO, besides enduring horrible conditions, abuse, and lack of legal or medical assistance, they’re also subjected to something arguably even more sinister: the world’s indifference. While the West fails to hold Israel accountable Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Getting Closer to the Edge, Colltalers

Thousands of Americans rallied against gun violence over the weekend. But given Congress’ feeble response to this repeating tragedy, protesting needs to grow stronger. House hearings on the Jan. 6, 2021, invasion of Capitol Hill by Trump thugs have also been gripping. But will it lead to convictions?
Brazil’s search for a missing journalist and a researcher has taken a grim turn. Amnesty International calls Russia’s pounding Ukrainians with cluster bombs a ‘war crime,’ as Ukraine’s second-largest city, Sievierodonetsk, may fall in a week. And another Summit of Americas ended disappointingly.
We start in China, where a group of men assaulted and beat up women diners, all caught up on video. The footage went viral and shocked the nation, almost as much as the one aired in Feb. of a mother of seven chained by her neck. In a country that abides by secrecy and opacity, such incidents are an embarrassment to the regime, revealing the actual state of feminism there. The restaurant brawl may have been a fluke or an omen of things to come.
In Texas, a powerful explosion at a liquefied natural gas terminal has rattled Freeport residents in what is also a harbinger of things to come. As global demand for fossil fuels spikes with the war – climate change be damned – producers rush to meet quotas and may all but ignore concerns about safety.
In the U.K., the parliament plans to revise post-Brexit trade arrangements for Northern Ireland, which may trigger a trade war, and opposition from the European Union and the U.S. To Sinn Féin’s president Mary Lou McDonald, there should be expected Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

What Bullets Do to Kids, Colltalers

With no peace talks, the war Russia’s waging on Ukraine now has a dramatic twist: it may starve half of the world while millions of tons of grains rot in Ukrainian warehouses. As the U.S. sends in weapons, in a thinly disguised challenge to Russia, the Interpol worries they’d end up in criminal hands.
Phan Thi Kim Phuc was nine in 1972 when Napalm rained over her Vietnamese village. But she’s survived to tell her tale of horror and forgiveness. Guns are ravaging the fabric of American society but a pro-gun Congress refuses to act. Time to publish the devastating photos of the victims’ bodies?
We begin in Nigeria where gunmen killed dozens of Sunday worshippers at a Catholic church in southwest Ondo. Although it’s not clear who led the deadly attack, Africa’s largest economy has been battling an Islamist insurgency, armed gangs, and kidnappings for ransom in the country’s northeast.
In Iran, two military officers and a weapons scientist have died under mysterious circumstances in Tehran in recent days, and fingers point to Israel, which had accused Colonels Ali Esmaelzadeh and Sayad Khodaei of being part of a Revolutionary Guard unit allegedly running killing missions of foreigners abroad, according to the NYTimes. Meanwhile, Ayoob Entezari, a missile and drones aerospace engineer, Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

The World Gets Worse Fast, Colltalers

Everything about the massacre of 19 school children and two teachers in Uvalde, CA, by an 18-year-old with an AR rifle is awful. Including the likely response to it – nothing- and its fast obliviousness when the new one happens. And the next. Now, will anti-vaxxers fight monkeypox vaccines too?
Speaking of diseases, to everyone, the Covid scourge went beyond the estimated millions of deaths and forced lockdowns it’s caused. But not to U.K.’s Johnson: pictures now out show the P.M. partying like it’s 1999. And progressive Gustavo Petro won the first round of Colombia’s presidential race.
In Ukraine, where Russian troops “stormed” Sievierodonetsk and are on their way to capture the Donbas region, accusations of war crimes from both sides now muddle the narrative. That’s also part of the war, of course, especially one with so few independent journalists covering it. The latest so far unverified claim is about children being used in combat. It wouldn’t be a first and producing evidence of it will be hard. But it’s still necessary.
In Sweden, the Stockholm International Peace Institute has published a report about our future, and guess what, it’s not pretty. “Between 2010 and 2020 the number of state-based armed conflicts roughly doubled to 56. (…) The number of refugees and other forcibly displaced people also doubled, to 82.4 million.” To think that just last year, we were spending Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

We Need a Bigger Scream, Colltalers

Russia’s war on Ukraine has added another threat to an already dire campaign: global famine. But not to worry: the U.S.’ $40 billion+ aid package is mainly for military use. Despite nationwide protests, the Supreme Court seems set to outlaw abortion in the U.S. The consequences can already be felt.
While Australia picked a new Prime Minister, Labor’s Anthony Albanese, in a politically seismic change, the Philippines elected Ferdinand Marcos Jr., son of the dictator expelled for corruption in 1986, calling back its ruthless past. And Davos millionaires demand to pay taxes! Now that’s refreshing.
We begin in Mexico, where 100,000 people vanished, mostly since the so-called ‘drug war’ started in 2006. Ignored by the Amlo administration, and haunted by such a grim milestone, relatives of the ‘desaparecidos’ have formed national brigades to search and dig suspicious sites for their remains. Drug wars, politics, femicide, and poverty are cited as causes. In 2016, for instance, 43 students were likely abducted and have never been seen again.
In Qatar, host of the soccer World Cup in November, Amnesty has asked FIFA to earmark $440 million for its workforce. “Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers have not received adequate remedy, including financial compensation, for serious labor abuses,” says the open letter signed by other civil rights groups. Allegations of human rights violations have plagued the rich, authoritarian monarchy even before being awarded the tournament.
In the U.K., over 100 activists signed a letter protesting the killing of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh by Israeli troops. They demand “full accountability for the perpetrators of this crime and everyone involved in authorizing it.” The Al Jazeera reporter had covered human rights abuses in the Occupied Palestinian Territories Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Miseries as Vast as the Sky, Colltalers

‘The Summer of Rage’ got its official kickoff over the weekend when thousands took the streets of 400 American cities for the right to legal abortion. In Ukraine, Russia may suffer its biggest diplomatic defeat yet if Finland and Sweden join NATO. And the Athens Declaration demands peace right now.
The murder of Al Jazeera Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh by Israeli forces has gone much beyond the grim stats on reporters being targeted. After Canada, the U.S. now confronts its despicable past of subjugation and violence against Native Americans via schools of ‘reeducation.’
Let’s start in Buffalo, NY, where an 18-years-old allegedly white supremacist shot and killed 10 people and injured three in a “racially motivated” attack, according to the police. He’d published a 180-page manifesto highly influenced by Fox News conspiracy lies such as a supposed “great replacement” and had already threatened his school. Once again, signs of mental illness and racial hatred were unaddressed with dire consequences.
As it turns out, the Center for Diseases Control and Preventions had just published a study on the rates of gun-related homicides in the U.S. which have soared 35% from 2019 to 2020, Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

No Women, No Peace, Colltalers

Russia’s strike that may have killed dozens at a Ukrainian school has shown how far we still are from the bottom of this grotesque war. But no less terrifying is the prospect of a direct U.S.-Russia confrontation. A matter of time? Perhaps since American intel is already enlisted to help Ukraine.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s tone-deft move to reverse legal abortion has catastrophic social consequences, and one upside: it’s called the women’s movement back to the streets. Such fiery leadership is what’s needed to fight this and other issues, including hunger and a still rising Covid death toll.
Let’s begin in Northern Ireland where Sinn Féin, formerly the IRA’s political army, won a historic election and the right to nominate its leader Michelle O’Neill, the First Minister. It’s the first time a party identified with the unification of Ireland beats the two powerful pro-Britain unionist parties. Since 1921, when the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed and 26 counties out of 32 formed a new Republic, many on the other side long to reunite their nation.
In India and Pakistan, 104°F temperatures have exposed over a billion people to scorching heat even before the hottest time of the year. While richer and way more polluting countries ignore and continue to play their games of war and conquest, climate change-related threats devastate impoverished populations. “This heatwave is likely to kill thousands,” tweeted Robert Rohde, lead scientist at Berkeley Earth, a climate science research non-profit.
In Israel, a high court has ruled that about 1,000 Palestinians from West Bank can be evicted and the land repurposed for military use. It’s one of the biggest land expropriations since Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Dead Bees & Doublethink, Colltalers

As the war rages, it’s irrelevant to digress about Ukrainian heroism and Russia’s war crimes. Instead, people need to demand accountability from world leaders and weapons makers. That’s why non-aligned nations are not, well, aligned with this war, even if armed dolphins are patrolling Russian bases.
It’s been 30 years since race-fueled riots in Los Angeles shook the U.S. That is, until another ugly incident of Black people being shot at followed it, likely a few hours later. But it’s a scar in the national soul that refuses to heal. And after a long, dark stretch, May Day has again meaning in America.
We begin in Atlanta where five million bees perished from exposure to the 80°F heat of an airport tarmac. They were on their way to Alaska on a Delta Air Lines plane forced to a stopover in Georgia. The carrier’s apology didn’t mention how they were left baking to death on the runaway. “People don’t grasp just how dependent we as a species are on honeybees for pollination,” said Sarah McElrea who ordered them on behalf of Alaskan beekeepers.
In New Mexico, thousands of villagers have been evacuated on Sunday from the path of Calf Canyon, the largest active U.S. wildfire, which is closing in their drought-ridden land. A dozen climate change-fueled fires are raging in the Southwest, and over a million Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Under War and Plastic Rain, Colltalers

Two full months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and a vital word seem to have been scraped from any efforts to stop it: peace. Outside Orthodox Easter celebrations there and elsewhere, it’s simply vanished from the headlines. That means, never mind conspiracies: this war is in the books to last.
President Emmanuel Macron was re-elected in France, barely defeating far-right Marine Le Pen. He’s expected to use the vote as an endorsement of his pro-business agenda. Meanwhile, it’s raining plastic over America. And another black man was murdered by a police officer. Some things never change.
We start in the U.K. where a judge has ordered the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the U.S., where he faces a 175-year sentence. The final decision will come within the next two months. Assange is being prosecuted for espionage after publishing classified material that exposed war crimes committed by American forces in Iraq. This decision makes journalists now “look over their shoulder,” said Amnesty’s Simon Crowther.
In Brazil, indigenous peoples have gathered for the annual, 10-day Free Land camp, to protest the Bolsonaro administration’s anti-Indigenous policies and plans to open their habitat for mining and oil exploration. The president is also supporting changes in the legislation to thwart the demarcation of their lands. Many ethnicities, Continue reading

Play Dough

But Why Didn’t They
Call it The Big Pizza?

The world would laugh if it’d even care about the little idiosyncrasies New Yorkers take at heart and seem to invest their entire being championing it. As if the fate of humankind lays squarely on the top of their shoulders. Case in point: pizza, local fast food extraordinaire.
Now, would it kill us to exercise restrain and abstain from such prosaic subject? But how could we if only yesterday, when we were hungry and broke, nothing else on the face of Earth would be more satisfying?  Fear not, for we approach the beast with utmost respect.
First off, there are no two ways of eating it. No solemnity lost either. Denizens of this great cesspool are proud of mastering the holy dough early on. And then there’re all the wrong ways to be ashamed doing it. Just ask the Mayor; once caught eating it with fork and knife, it was all downhill from then on.
Anathema, no less. Come on, the whole combo of flour, cheese, and tomato sauce may have been invented in the old country ages ago, but the slice and the ‘fold and eat with your hands’ maneuver have been both trade-marked on the streets of the five boroughs, just like steaming manholes and yellow cabs.
What? You have a problem with that? Many an argument has flared up or settled down over a steaming pie. For the growing crowd with only a pocketful of change, nothing beats a 4 AM slice by the curbside.
But alas, not even pizza can be that ‘New Yorker.’  As with other city-by-the-river staples, it’s been appropriated by the world many times over, grit, warts et al. No chance of pizza going the way of the sleazy Times Square just yet, though. But we digress.
We’re living in odd times, that’s for sure, even if equally lean. Most other local treats, like the Egg Cream and the Knish can’t compete any longer with a pie printed in space, or a slice lasting longer than a heat wave. Never mind old shoes like us, though: by the looks of it, millennials are all for it, thus the future is assured.
Big Apple? Who were they kidding? So, fine, it was supposed to evoke the original sin and all that, besides looking a bit more photogenic in tourism ads. But the likelihood of seeing someone eating apples on the streets of New York was never bigger than spotting a kangaroo at a subway stop, or a beret-wearing mime.
Although we’re sure those have also been spotted somewhere around (more)

Read Also:
* New York Bites
* Wait a Minute

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Curtain Raiser

Excuse Me While I Hit the Road

Curtain Raiser

Remember Your Humanity, Colltalers

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine proceeds as tragic as expected, aggravated now by the illegal use of cluster bombs by Putin’s armies. Since the U.S., the U.K., and others have used these particularly brutal devices on civilian targets to universal condemnation, who has morals to stop the Russians now?
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the torture and 80 times waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah by American agents in a Polish so-called Black Site earlier in the Iraq invasion is a sanctioned “state secret.” Chile’s new president has hit the ground running. And why Brittney Griner is still locked up?
We begin in Saudi Arabia, the murderous regime President Biden is reportedly cozying it up to so to neuter Russia’s oil influence, announced that it has mass executed 81 people. The kingdom’s largest execution included Yemenis, Houthis, and Shiites among the executed. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has ordered the killing of American-Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, told The Atlantic that he’s “the real victim” of Khashoggi’s murder.
In Pakistan, an unarmed Indian missile landed near Mian Channu, luckily with no casualties, after being accidentally let off during maintenance. The incident revived for a moment Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Don’t Cry Out for Blood, Colltalers

As war rains death and destruction over Ukraine, the world holds its breath: will Putin use nuclear power if we try to stop him? It’s a rhetoric question,  we already know the answer. So what, then? WNBA All-Star Phoenix Mercury’s Brittney Griner is being held in Moscow, allegedly on drug charges.
As the conflict rages on, few noticed the alarming U.N. Panel on Climate Change report on that other civilization-ending disaster we should be tending to 24/7. The media continues to underreport the issue and as a result, even fewer people know that their burgers help destroy the Amazon Rainforest.
We begin in Peshawar, Pakistan, where a suicide bomber – yes, they’re still around, but like refugees of color, we tend not to notice them – killed 63 and wounded over 200 in a mosque. A local ISIS group has claimed responsibility for the attack. The killer was an Afghan national, the Pakistani police said.
In Mexico, all first-division soccer games have been canceled after violence broke out at a match between Querétaro and Atlas. The brawl caused many injuries in not exactly an isolated incident: fights, field invasions, and attacks on players by rival supporters are on the rise throughout Latin America.
In Chile, Gabriel Boric takes the Oath of Office Friday, becoming his nation’s youngest president just as a new, likely progressive constitution is being worked on by the legislator. Boric, Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

A Pocketful of Sunflowers, Colltalers

As Russia begins its gruesome cavalcade to occupy Ukraine and seize its nuclear plants, including Chernobyl, nations scramble to find ways to stop Putin. But sanctions will only worsen misery for Russians and Ukrainians. And world billionaires won’t let us go after his – and their – offshore assets.
War is bound to impact everything. Except for FIFA, it seems, as the soccer authority plans to keep Russia competing for the World Cup later on this year. Who will want to play them? Speaking of nukes, talks over a new Iran accord continue. And the U.S. is about to hit its one million Covid deaths.
We begin in the sports world by praising the Women’s U.S. soccer team for achieving equal pay, a historic step in the road to justice. They earned it for doing the same job as their male counterparts – even though they’re the world’s #1 and the men are still struggling to make it to the cup. Praise also to Wladimir Klitschko, Mayor of Kyiv and a former world heavyweight champion, and his brother, also an ex-boxer and prior mayor. They took up arms.
In Iraq, telecom giant Ericsson has secretly worked with Daesh, the terrorist Islamic State, since at least 2011, to smuggle equipment into cities under siege by the group. According to a report obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Ericsson made millions of dollars in suspicious payments just as Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Taming the Beasts of War, Colltalers

Despite American intelligence’s strident warnings about Russia’s imminent invasion of Ukraine, peace still holds even with skirmishes here and there. Against the wall, Putin either backs up his threats or risks embarrassment. Many fear they already know the answer; we’ll surely regret it either way.
As the U.S. lifts its temporary ban on Mexican avocados, Honduras’ ex-President Hernandez has been extradited on drug traffic charges just days after finishing his term. Victim relatives of the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre’s won a settlement with a gunmaker. And Qanon‘s identity may’ve been revealed.
Let’s begin in Petrópolis, Brazil, where torrential rains triggered fatal floods and landslides that have already killed 117 people. This tragedy seems to visit the region periodically but climate change has increased the misery. “All my friends are gone, they are all dead, all buried,” said resident Maria José de Araujo. It was the heaviest rainfall since 1932 in the “Imperial City,” as it was known in the 19th century by the vacationing Brazilian royalty.
In Israel, P.M. Naftali Bennett has already put a negative spin on a potential agreement between Iran and the world over its nuclear capability. As the talks resumed in Vienna, Iran seeks guarantees that the U.S. won’t unilaterally quit the deal as it did before and that some sanctions will be lifted. The Israelis oppose an Iranian nuclear state, though, and Bennett’s said that proceeds from a possible break from penalties “will eventually go to terrorism.”
In Argentina, as the government readies a new agreement with the International Monetary Fund, wildfires have destroyed Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Time to Make Love, Not War, Colltalers

As the world watches in horror as if a conflict in Ukraine is inevitable, and Biden screams at Russia’s Putin as if he’s a naughty schoolboy, we should be clear about what we’re getting into here: another forever war. Which makes the U.S.’ $19 billion arms sales to Saudi Arabia and others just peachy.
Canada has finally stamped down on a nearly-week-long anti-vax bridge blockade ostensively supported by global far-right groups. France’s starting to do the same with their own copycat ralliers. And Elsy, a Salvadorean woman who spent 10 years in jail for having suffered a miscarriage, is now free.
We begin in Washington, DC, where the Biden administration has decided to use half of the $7 billion in frozen Afghanistan’s assets to pay off legal claims by families who lost members in 9/11, a decision that provoked outrage even by those affected by the 2001 attacks. “I can’t think of a worse betrayal of the people of Afghanistan,” Barry Amundson, a relative and member of 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, told the NYTimes. Indeed.
In California, billionaire Elon Musk-owned brain-chip firm Neuralink is being sued by an animal rights group, for inflicting “extreme suffering” to monkeys for years. To fulfill Musk’s promise to restore mobility to paralyzed people and make humans “hyper-intelligent,” the company has been subjecting the animals to gruesome experiments, graphically detailed in a complaint filed at the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture by Physicians for Responsible Medicine.
In Switzerland, however, a ban on animal experiments didn’t pass in Sunday’s referendum, after heavy lobbying against it by big laboratories. It’d have made the exclusive nation Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Outside Rational Discourse, Colltalers

A Russian troop buildup at Ukraine’s border and a U.S.-led rush to war are our newest global nightmares. But concerns about such a tragedy foretold are still to reach the White House. And old foes Covid, climate change have not let out yet, and neither has the national debt, now topping $30 trillion.
But America’s biggest woe now is ignorance: as in a butterfly preservation center forced to close by thugs who believe it’s a sex trafficking facility! And in Israel, an Amnesty report on its “apartheid state” shocked, shocked authorities just as its army killed a Palestinian man holding a U.S. passport.
We hit the ground running in New York where the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists presented its newest issue of the so-called Doomsday Clock. We’re now at the short distance of 100 seconds to midnight, which marks the end of civilization as we know it. The clock, created by Mary Langsdorf in 1947 marked its 75th. anniversary this January, and the Bulletin’s report urges world leaders to mind the “extremely dangerous” time we’re facing. Will they?
In Siberia, there’s growing concern about the impact of global warming on its millennia permafrost. As it turns out, the frozen ground under Russia and the Arctic Circle has kept locked up thousands of years of organic material deposits. Until now. As soil microbes awake and begin to feast on biomass, their digestion releases greenhouse gases methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, in amounts several times what the planet currently holds.
In the Gulf of Mexico, a federal sale of leases for oil and gas exploration was canceled by a judge, citing the climate emergency Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

The Year We Lost the Future, Colltalers

A month away from its Jan. 22, 1973, anniversary, the legislation that made abortion legal in the U.S., Roe v Wade, may be overruled, a Supreme Court’s Xmas gift to religious zealots all over. Since the failed U.N. summit in Glasgow, the world asks: who’s responsible for the climate disaster?
Despite only one in 10 Africans having had at least one dose against Covid, and the new Omicron variant continuing to spread, Pfizer, Modena, e other pharma companies refuse to share the know-how to make vaccines. Now a 2.5 million-strong global nurses union is calling for a probe of rich nations.
Let’s start in Alabama where online retailer Amazon’s employees will have another chance to vote to unionize. Workers at a Bessemer warehouse had voted in April but the National Labor Relations found that the company had illicitly interfered and pressured voters during the process and nullified the results. Amazon “made a free and fair election impossible,” the board ruled. Workers in New York and elsewhere are considering following suit.
The second-biggest U.S. company on the Forbes list, which posted a $21.3 billion profit just as Covid closed down the world economy, is also being accused of overcharging seller fees and of “creative” accounting to mask profits. Amazon is among 39 U.S. companies that paid zero taxes in 2020.
In Mexico, you may remain in life-threatening conditions, according to the Biden administration. Never mind the inefficacy of such a cruel policy first enacted by the 45th. If after traveling thousands of miles often on foot, fleeing prosecution and murder at home, you want a shot at saving your life in America, you’ll be taken somewhere across the border and wait indefinitely for a chance to speak Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Drowning Refugees & Hope, Colltalers

Omicron entered Covid’s lexicon of despair this week as a new variant potentially capable of undermining current vaccines. Its timing couldn’t have been worse as the world still fights 263 million cases. Off the coast of France, 27 refugees drowned as Europe continues to mishandle its borders.
Honduras may change if progressive front-runner Xiomara Castro beats Nasry Asfura, picked by President Juan Orlando Hernández,  who the U.S. accuses of being funded by drug money. And Sharbat Gula’s on the run again, having fled Afghanistan. You do know who she is: Google it and weep.
But let’s start in Oklahoma where 21-year-old Native American Brittney Poolaw was convicted of manslaughter for a second-trimester miscarriage. A medical examiner attested that she’d methamphetamine in her system during pregnancy. As she began a four-year sentence last month, groups such as the Indigenous Women Rising are trying to thwart a growing national trend of criminalizing people of color for the outcomes of their pregnancies.
In Vienna, Iran and Russia, China, the U.K., France, Germany, and the European Union will talk about reviving the 2015 nuclear agreement that the U.S.’ former president destroyed. That’s right, the Biden administration was not invited, but can you blame them? The world, of course, is grateful that the Iranians are having another go at it even if they’ve got no choice: sanctions are strangling the country. But the U.S. still has a lot to catch up with.
In Peru, which just got hit by a 7.5 magnitude earthquake, the opposition has called for President Castillo’s impeachment and hordes took the streets to protest corruption. The ex-rural teacher has suffered a relentless push from wealthy conservative Continue reading

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 Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Get Ready For a Bumpy Ride, Colltalers

If COP26, the U.N. Climate Conference that’s just wrapped up in Scotland proves anything is that there’s no need for a COP27. Or 28, for that matter. What it failed to adequately address in the past 26 editions won’t be addressed in the next. The conference is now fossil-fuel friendly. So why have it?
Canada’s Mohawk Institute has started digging for thousands of Indigenous children buried in unmarked graves between 1831 and 1970. Congress has indicted Steve Bannon, mastermind of coups and right-wing rampages. And the Myanmar junta’s sent journalist Danny Fenster to 11 years in prison.
Let’s start in the Arctic, where a European Space Agency’s satellite study found that millennia-old permafrost is melting at an accelerated rate, at times exposing bubbling methane, a greenhouse gas whose emissions are more powerful than carbon dioxide. There are also concerns about the structural integrity of buildings and roads, which now rest on unstable ground and future northern trade routes that may bring even more pollution to the pole.
In Austria, millions of the unvaccinated are forced to reenter lockdown today, as Covid cases have spiked and vaccination rates remain low. It’s the most radical decision by a European country but others have also imposed lockdowns. Expensive or unavailable vaccines and the anti-vax conspiracy have assured that obits will Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Climate Is No Commodity, Colltalers

As Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi survives a drone attack, the world gets a new glimpse of the tragic chaos left behind from the 2003 U.S. invasion. A few hours later, rockets hit Turkey’s Zihan military base in Iraq’s Nineveh but so far no link between the two attacks has been established.
The U.N. climate conference made it clear that real environment leaders were out, protesting, not in, blabbing. It’ll drag on till Friday but few expected breakthroughs. The House committee probing the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill invasion has issued dozens of subpoenas but some won’t abide by it. Then what?
Let’s start with a study that shows that ten publishers are responsible for 69% of Facebook’s climate-change denial content. The Center for Countering Digital Hate’s “Toxic Ten” list is dominated by U.S.-based conservative sites but it also includes Russian state media outlets. It’s called on Google to stop profiting from hate – a tall order nowadays. FB said it’s expanding its monitoring to more than 100 countries such as Belgium, Brazil, and India.
In Siera Leone’s capital Freetown, almost 100 people were killed in a fuel tanker explosion. People had rushed to collect the oil leaking from the collision of two trucks when it ignited into a fireball. Similar incidents with high casualties had also happened Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Done With the Double Talk, Colltalers

With all the pomp of a country club outing, the world’s 20 richest economies won’t fund some new coal projects and may get to net-zero emissions “by or around mid-century.” Keep your shirts on yet for the thrilling COP26 climate meeting. Big Oil is not worried though, and the Supreme may help it.
The murderous big white thug rampage of Jan 6 at Capitol Hill also had help but from members of Congress and White House? Shocking. Minnesota may dissolve its police department? Tantalizing. But Brazil Senate’s call to indict President Bolsonaro for crimes against humanity? A bit unsurprising.
We open in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with the devastating testimony of Majid Khan about the torture and sexual abuse he endured since the 2003 Iraq and Afghanistan invasions. It’s the first time an al-Qaeda operative speaks out about what went on in the many U.S.-run “black sites” around the world and his testimony shows how far goes the divide between what Americans like to think of themselves and what those they delegate do in their behalf.
The graphic descriptions of torture by Khan led some military officers in the sentencing team to ask the war court to grant him clemency, and call the treatment of the ex-Baltimore high school teen “a stain in the moral fiber of America.” With that being said, they sentenced him to 26 years in prison.
In Saudi Arabia, there’s jubilation for the newest $500 million military contract with the Biden administration. As the president boarded Air Force One to Rome and Glasgow he took a step that Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Last Call For Earthlings, Colltalers

The U.N. Climate Conference in Glasgow and the G20 meeting in Roma. Two major global gatherings this week could mean humanity’s last-ditch effort to demand its leaders to act against climate emergency, vaccine monopoly, wealth inequality, attacks on democracy. But few believe it’ll happen.
According to WHO, up to 180,000 healthcare workers have succumbed to Covid even as less than 10% in 50 countries have been vaccinated. A Public Citizen’s exposé of Pfizer shows its corporate bullying of poor nations. And the infamous Steve Bannon, the scourge of free elections, is on the lam.
Let’s begin with some graphic, horrific videos of Russian security forces sexually torturing detainees. Videos posted by Sergei Savelyev, then serving a drug sentence, went viral and landed him in the Kremlin’s most wanted list. As he seeks asylum from France it’s useful to consider that, while 330 Russians out of every 100,000 are incarcerated, it’s the U.S. that sends more people to jail than anyone else: 2.3 million currently languish behind bars.
In Hoffman, North Carolina, whose majority of 588 residents is black, life hasn’t been the same since a paramilitary group moved there. Oak Grove Tech offers “tactical and cultural training” for defense, enforcement, and crowd-control but to locals, its unholy noise of gunfires, explosions, and doors being blown out “for forced entry,” plus a multistory shoot house shows it’s in fact a training facility for tomorrow’s minority-shooting vigilantes.
An unrelated BuzzFeed News analysis found that 28 current elected officials are part or support the Fascist organization Oath Keepers, whose at least two dozen members are being charged with the Jan. 6 invasion and looting of Capitol Hill. These Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

I Am Because We All Are, Colltalers

The fatal stabbing of Conservative parliamentary Sir David Amess reawakens fears of terrorism in the U.K. And throws an inconvenient light over the British government’s insistence in prosecuting Wikileaks’ Julian Assange, especially in light of the revelations that the CIA planned to assassinate him.
Alabama coal miners, Nabisco, Kellogg’s, and John Deer workers, nurses in California, healthcare staff in Buffalo, Hollywood crews; could we be entering another age of labor strikes? And despite global shortages, since March the U.S. has tossed millions of doses of Covid vaccines.
Let’s begin in Haiti where 17 members of an American Christian group were kidnapped on Saturday by the 400 Mawozo, a well-known gang linked to previous kidnappings. It’s not clear how positive is the presence of thousands of foreign religious missionaries in a nation that’s experienced in quick succession the murder of its president, an earthquake, and a hurricane, and already struggles with foreign pressure.
Their fate contrasts with that of 15 Nigerian women and children who last week fled their infamous captors, the Boko Haram which also resorts to abduction as a standard M.O. In the past six years, it kidnapped over 1,000 women and girls, and only a few have ever returned.
In Brazil, President Bolsonaro faces yet another challenge, this time from Austrian legal organization AllRise. The group is urging the International Court in the Hague to probe the former Army-expelled Captain for “crimes against humanity” over his tragic missteps in the Amazon and its Indigenous peoples. Under his watch, Continue reading

Curtain Raisers

Hail the Earth Protectors, Colltalers

China’s push for what it calls “reunification” is keeping Taiwan up at night, but whatever happens there has the potential to drag the U.S. and the world into an unthinkable conflict. To avert it, only some high-level diplomacy, the kind an underfunded and overpowered U.N. sadly can no longer handle.
Low-turnout parliamentary elections in Iraq and the Czech Republic, where far-right P.M. Andrej Babiš lost his re-election bid, brought no surprises. The Supreme Court’s hearing the first Guantanamo case brought to U.S. soil: Abu Zubaydah, who spent 19 years in the infamous jail without a charge.
We start in Lebanon, where power was finally restored after a 24-hour nationwide blackout. After weeks of providing only a few hours of electricity each day, the power grid was shut down Saturday, as the country’s two main power plants ran out of fuel. Army reserves were used to restart the grid.
In Afghanistan, an Islamic State suicide bomber killed 46 Shiite Muslims in a mosque. Daesh accuses the Taliban of abiding by a request by China to expel Uyghers out of the country. But to Afghans caught in the crosshairs, what comes out of these attacks is always death and heartbreaking despair.
In Gaza, farmers and traders held a rally at Karm Abu Salem crossing, the only one for import and export, as Israel’s constant shutdowns threaten the economy. Palestinians depend on Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Keep the Pressure On, Colltalers

Thousands in the U.S. took the streets to defend women’s reproductive rights. Crowds were also loud in Milan, Italy, where youth activists marched ahead of the U.N. Climate Change summit starting on Oct. 31, and massive across Brazil, protesting President Bolsonaro’s anti-environment policies.
The week’s heartbreak was the totally predictable delisting of 23 species from the endangered status because they’re all but extinct. And of course, the devastation of Covid as 700,000 Americans perished from the virus, and much of the world still remains unvaccinated. But tiny Mercury is rising.
Let’s start with Venezuela which has cut six zeroes of the bolivar so to fight the year-on-year inflation of 1,743%. OPEC’s only Latin American nation member has been battling severe economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. in the past that the Biden administration doesn’t seem too keen on lifting.
Texas, not known for sensible environmental regulations, is now halting new permits for wastewater injection wells, a destructive procedure used in fracking. The relatively surprising decision by the state’s regulator comes after a wave of earthquakes were linked to the practice. Colorado, Oklahoma, and Delaware have also reported fracking-caused quakes recently. By the way, banning fracking was once one of President Biden’s campaign promises.
In Australia, the Eastern Kuku Yalanji people will take ownership of the world heritage-listed Daintree tropical rainforest, Continue reading

Curtain Raisers

The World as We Object it, Colltalers

Angela Merkel ends her 16-year term as German Chancellor just as Europe is left out of a U.S.-U.K.-Australia alliance to build nuclear submarines. But she did restore Germany to the top of the global heap, successfully navigated Brexit, and outclassed France as an interlocutor for western nations.
As the Taliban revives its barbaric repression of women and sexual minorities and hangs alleged wrongdoers in public, the world slowly forgets and U.S. drones prolong the agony of those who can’t escape their fate. And with 70 million refusing vaccines, dead Americans are still leading Covid. Yay.
Let’s start with Del Rio, Texas, where disturbing pictures of mounted U.S. border patrol agents whipping Haitian men, women, and children have shocked the entire world. But not the president, apparently. In fact, the Biden administration actually increased and expedited the deportation of over 2,000 asylum seekers back to their nightmare at home, in frontal contradiction to his campaign promises to lead a more “humane” immigration policy.
Watching Black people again being corralled by armed guards was a painful reminder of a brutal time in America. The area, including the under-the-bridge space that up to last week had “sheltered” thousands of starving asylum seekers, is now clear. Perhaps it attracted too much attention of the wrong kind. But the moral stain of Continue reading

Texting George Kaplan

Highly Successful Habits
of Purely Made Up People

Most of us spend a lifetime struggling to be successful in at least one thing. The writer of this post, for example, after failing in almost everything he’s tried his clumsy hand at, has settled his sights on the promising world of accomplishments only a few dare to pursue.
The last we heard, he’s not doing too well. Apparently, turning off the light switch and landing on a bed before the room goes completely dark has its hazards. It seemed so simple, he told us, when Muhammad Ali revealed to a reporter that it was one of his nightly rituals.
As we talk, our humble scrivener still has at least a few hundred nights to get it done, before every bone of his body is fractured. We’ll keep you posted on that one. Now, where were we? Oh, that’s right, about lifetime achievements, or the lack of them. 
There are those who seem perfectly suited at imprinting their legacy on history books. Others go beyond that, and do it more than once. But none beats the kind of person that, besides all that, also manages to not exist at all. In fact, history records several of these characters.
Take George P. Burdell, for example, after whom the Georgia Institute of Technology named its Student Center after. According to the record, Burdell not just graduated from Georgia Tech, but flew 12 missions over Europe during World War II, served on MAD magazine’s Board of Directors for a dozen years, and in 2001 was almost named TIME magazine’s Person of the Year after garnering 57 percent of online votes. Not even Mozart worked this hard.
Despite his expected old age, he’s kept up with the new world and in touch with his over 4,000 Facebook “friends.” The only thing is, he doesn’t exist. No less distinctive-named William Edgar “Ed” Smith created him in 1927 by enrolling them both at Georgia Tech. For a laugh. In no time, Burdell’s life took off on its own and thrived, as he become one of the institute’s most distinguished legends.

There’s also Nat Tate, a fictional artist whose life existed only in the imagination of Scottish novelist William Boyd. All that it took him was to call Tate “an American artist” on a 1998 “biography” and keep a straight face. His hoax got some mileage from friends Gore Vidal and David Bowie, all in the joke.
Fiction impersonates reality better than life itself. Many lauded the new “artiste” just for the artifice of it. Maybe that was it. Or Boyd was bored and went for, well, a laugh. To cut mankind a break here, few appreciate a hoax when they’re pawns of it. But (more)

Read Also:
* Unanswerable Prayers
* Fools’ Errand
* Spellbound

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Curtain Raiser

Days Last as Long as Nights, Colltalers

It was tragic but not our last mistake in Afghanistan. The Pentagon’s admitted that the Aug. 29 drone strike killed 10 civilians, including seven children, and not an Islamic extremist as first claimed. In Washington, 650,000 white flags mark the now near 700 thousand Americans who have died of Covid.
France’s mad at being left out of a U.S. pact with Australia and the U.K., to build American-technology nuclear-powered submarines to counter China’s growing influence. President Macron’s recalled its ambassadors and will call Biden. And a pro-Kremlin party held its majority in Russia’s Parliament.
More on that later but let’s begin with El Salvador, which is celebrating its 200th anniversary, where protests erupted against far-right President Nayib Bukele after he declared bitcoin as the country’s legal tender. The move has been highly criticized as it’ll leave out millions of poor Salvadoreans who lack bank accounts or smartphones. To prove critics right, the volatile currency often used by criminals for money laundering, has already crashed.
In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterne will face a probe by the International Criminal Court at the Hague, for alleged crimes committed during his brutal anti-drug traffic crackdown. Violent police raids he’s ordered may have killed over 6,000 mostly poor people, often without due process.
In Iran, undercover Israeli agents used a drone to assassinate top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh with a Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Beyond Toppling Statues, Colltalers

Most Americans and the world know by now that the U.S. won’t entirely retire from Afghanistan. New evidence also shows that its latest drone strike, loaded with the Pentagon’s new secret, bladed creepy-named Hellfire missile, may have killed 10 members of a family by an all-too-common mistake.
Led by Indigenous women, thousands have taken to the streets in Brazil to protest President Bolsonaro’s anti-native policies, as the Supreme Court reviews a 1988 landmark land-demarcation law. And it’s been a decade since Occupy Wall Street first posed a challenge to capitalism’s Holy Grail.
Let’s get going in upstate New York, where an uprising at the Attica Correctional Facility 50 years ago led to the killing of 29 inmates and 10 hostages by National Guards and the police sent by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller. The Sept. 9 massacre of American prisoners lasted four days and led to few prison reforms. Half a century later, though, overcrowding, racism, violence, poor health care, and miscarriages of justice still plague the U.S. jail system.
In the unfiltered virtual world, human misery is profitable. Take the uproar over the trading of human bones that now thrives on Instagram, Facebook, eBay, Etsy, TikTok, and other social media. Mapping “the contours of the human remains trade,” History professors Shawn Graham and Damien Huffer see “the powerful collecting the powerless.” Which means, Brown, Black, and Indigenous bodies are the most sought after.
“We shouldn’t need a law explicitly declaring, No one can own dead people,” they write. Yet demand by “collectors” matches that coming from med schools and if private graves or sacred Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

We’ve Got to Make it Better, Colltalers

Over a week since Hurricane Ida wreaked havoc, New Orleans remains in the dark. Help to those stranded by torrential rain and flood may arrive but only after every refinery is back online. It’s the usual special treat granted to a local fossil-fuel industry that is making hurricanes worse, to begin with.
But the week’s biggest storm is over Texas’ decision to ban most abortions, its likely opening salvo to cancel womens’ reproductive rights in America. Women groups and their allies will be marching to prevent it. And two decades since the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, the world’s become a scarier place.
Let’s begin in the U.S. where Covid cases are climbing again after near 700,000 Americans have already died from it, the most in the world. As vaccine rollouts continue to be dictated by the big labs that make them, health justice advocates say that there’s a shortage of two billion doses worldwide, with some nations having none to immunize their people. Wealthy countries are stockpiling doses and plan booster shots while emerging ones are left short.
The U.N.-led efforts to have Western powers engage in the battle to lift pattern restrictions the labs control have been all but ineffective. And then, of course, there are the anti-vaxxers which, despite being driven by conspiracy and paranoia, have now global platforms to spread misinformation. Such combo has been lethal to Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

The Calamities & the Dream, Colltalers

With the precision of well-timed tragedies, Hurricane Ida’s hit New Orleans just about 15 years since Katrina had done the same. Will the levees hold? In Afghanistan, it looks like more U.S. troops than we were told will stay on even as a resurgent ISIS wants to take over the fight against the Taliban.
Covid has become the pandemic that came to stay, as cases rise worldwide, dozens of countries still haven’t got vaccines, and an influential minority continues to scare the unvaccinated. And Brazilians worry President Bolsonaro plans a Trump Jan. 6-style rampage on Sept 7, Brazil’s national day.
Let’s start with a local irony about penalizing 7.5 million Americans who lost their jobs because of the coronavirus: the “Emergency Unemployment Program” is set to expire on Labor Day! Another sign that this business-created fake holiday has nothing to do with the First of May celebrated all over the world but here. The irony is even crueler as the economy is far from firing on all cylinders and, wouldn’t they know it? Covid is getting stronger.
It’s also a sign that U.S. labor policies are fully dictated by corporate needs. And for that, they can always count on the invaluable help of the Supreme Court, which has just overturned a moratorium on evictions. For unless their goal was to increase the number of unhoused people living in the streets, itself a record now, or to make it particularly harder for them to get a new job, it’s a case for asking, what do they mean to accomplish with this ruling?
In Zimbabwe, Mapone, a 12-year-old lion was cowardly ambushed and executed by a “pleasure” hunter. Remember Cecil, killed with an arrow by a wealthy dentist in 2015 and left to agonize for 24 hours? It happened again. Nothing has changed: Zimbabwe Continue reading

Smothering Days

Glad to Miss the Scented
Candles & the Early Bird

Sundays ago, I’ve started but never finished reading an article about a retirement home, whose name I forgot, next to a cemetery in Queens, New York. Wouldn’t know the address even if I were to lay to rest there. Put aside the I article but not because it was numbingly sappy.
In its tightly wounded pinheadedness, it brought up a memory of my Mom to haunt me all over again. And she never spent a night in one of those depositories, or, bless her soul, went through her last years looking out the window facing the Long Island Expressway.
The post-war generation, emperors of the youth who lived lifetimes of celebration and spirited enthusiasm for the new age, is now living in senior facilities. And it’s quite likely that most of them, like me, are still not prepared to leave the world that no longer caters to them.
It takes a person some 30 years to complete the crossing to the other margin, to experience things from the opposite angle they did in their prime. And few enjoy the crash-landing, specially if they arrive there with only a small box of tiny joys, and a huge container of sorrows.
Some turn it into an occasion, expecting the fireworks that sent them off from the other side. But it takes just a few days of looking out that window, or expecting visitors, to strip anyone from vain notions that they still hold anything with any demand in the universe left behind.
They belong now to no guest lists, no attendance calls, no line up of performers warming up backstage. The far away noise of heartbeats is neither of their concern nor brings back the urge to join in the dance. No more nights without getting up to pee, or a full day without a nap.
The world is now a previous address, occupied by new tenants, and all maps leading back to it have been altered to reflect the new ways. An entire armada of desires was sank to make it to the other side, even the most alive among us drowned on the trip across. The crew that finally made it to final port had to be beaten up to disembark.
When you find yourself at that Tuesday Bingo, and most around you can’t remember who they are, is knowing your name really that important? Suddenly, your lifetime wish to be left alone is all you’ve got, and whatever they’re talking about, it’s sure as hell not about you.
People’s expiration date comes before their timely demise, and it’s supposed to be OK to file them in big concrete boxes at the border of city and burbs. Despoiled of their little nothings, deemed (more)
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* Freaky Friday
* Getting There

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Curtain Raiser

We Won’t Look Away, Colltalers

Heartbreaking scenes of Afghans desperate to leave with the Americans highlight 20 years of a brutal, wasteful, and ultimately useless war, our longest. As arms dealers revel in their business prospects, Biden hasn’t been quite up to speed but it’s what he decides to do now that may make a difference.
Meanwhile, wildfires continue undeterred in California. Their cause, climate change, also endangers the survival of over a billion children worldwide due to water scarcity and vector-borne diseases, a study found. All in time to rain at Greenland’s highest point of its ice sheet for the first time ever.
Let’s start in Peru where President Pedro Castillo is struggling to form his cabinet, amid relentless opposition from the conservative media and far-right politicians. A political neophyte, Castillo ran into trouble when he named well-known progressive professor Héctor Bejar for Foreign Minister. But Bejar’s old statements criticizing the CIA came to light and the fallout was immediate. Castillo replaced him with Oscar Maurtua, a career diplomat.
In Gaza, the Israeli army opened fire Saturday at Palestinians protesting blockade restrictions and eviction raids in the occupied territories. The Naftali Bennet administration, which had blocked millions of dollars destined to needy families of an agreement with Egypt, Qatar, and the U.N., said it’ll lift some economic restrictions and allow the payments under a new arrangement. Some 24 Palestinians were shot and wounded, including a 13-year-old.
In France, the great Josephine Baker will be the first Black woman whose remains will rest at the Panthéon Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

No Time to Drift Apart, Colltalers

Hearts go out to Haiti where human resilience is being tested to the hilt. The earthquake was another punch in a devastating series of knockouts as the world’s mostly stood by. But now it has to step in big time. Meanwhile, our collective breaths are equally suspended with the impending fall of Kabul.
Rising Covid numbers in the U.S. and worldwide are kicking people out of their homes in record numbers. The Supreme Court will add some more with a ruling banning parts of an eviction moratorium. And the quest to free embattled Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has just suffered a new blow.
Let’s pick it up with the climate emergency which has just set July as the hottest month on Earth ever. Get to the highest temperature ever registered in Europe, 119.85F in Syracuse, Sicily. And on to the Agora Energiewende’s report foreseeing that Germany may hit this year its biggest greenhouse gas emissions since 1990. While you ruminate on what this all means, just notice that we haven’t even mentioned wildfires, floods, or hurricanes just yet.
On the same theme, a Dutch court has ordered Royal Dutch Shell to pay about $111.6 million to communities in Nigeria over crude oil spills in 1970, and once it does, it’ll potentially end a 13-year legal battle. Two claimant farmers have died while Shell spent the bigger part of half a century trying to deny liability for the Niger Delta’s pollution, but now “ran out of tricks and decided to come to terms,” said the communities’ lawyer Lucious Nwosa.
Since the alarming U.N.’s report on the state of climate change was released last week it became clearer how far we’re from achieving any of the goals set in Paris in 2015. Scientific evidence Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

There’s an Alarm Going Off, Colltalers

“Catastrophic.” Alok Sharma, U.K.’s minister for the next climate change conference, used an appropriate word for the U.N. report on raging wildfires going on around the world. But his personal footprint has been criticized. Another study found that the Atlantic’s Gulf Stream current may collapse.
The tragedy of a resurging Covid goes beyond another wave of casualties and continuous inequality in vaccine distribution. Ignorance is its biggest ally now; it’s too bad that the Biden administration continues to use it to refuse asylum to thousands fleeing from it. Speaking of ignorance, there’s Sturgis.
We start in Peru, where the 1-week-old government of Pedro Castillo is already under relentless pressure from conservatives. Media coverage has been mostly unfavorable to the former rural teacher, for either being too humble or too sympathetic to issues dear to the poor. In the week he planned to nominate his cabinet and announce reforms, the news was mostly about his left leanings and supposed plan for an alliance with Cuba and Venezuela.
The opposition has already organized rallies to call for Castillo’s removal and it’s clear that he won’t have many friends in the White House. But it’d be groundbreaking for the U.S., historically askew about Latin American politics, to support the new government and make new friendships in the region.
In Burma, Min Augh Hlaing, head of the military junta that seized power six months ago, is not even near the same kind of pressure to resign that Castillo is. In fact, he’s just named himself Prime Minister. Despite widespread condemnation and global calls Continue reading

The Space in Between

Silica, New York Hacks
& How to Sell Your Soul

Here’s for holding more than one thought at the time. It’s easy to overlook the many worlds one goes through and ignores in the course of a day. Or curses we allow ourselves to be trapped in. But fear not: others have been there and escaped. All it takes is an unbiased focus.
It’s hard to incorporate certain words into conversation, such as silica, let alone to add tips on how to make the best out of it. Or hacks to suggest out-of-towners. And while at it, souls be damned, but why not get the most out of a good, old-fashioned blood pact with the devil?
It’s all in a New York minute, as they used to say when a movie followed news at 11. You needed change to call and a camera to take a picture. In those deceivingly quaint times, time itself seemed to last longer. But if you could get a real-time glimpse of the past as it’s still happening, through some tech whatever device, you’d catch everybody running.
At some point, we all believed that the world got started when we were born. So hold that door behind you. We’ve just met but we still keep track of four or five hundred people whom we care about or can’t get rid of who give us bearings.
Pay a visit, greet the host, life starts once you get it where it comes from. It’s brief: linger much and it’ll land you on the other side. But while fools dwell on counting waves, the quick sells a self-help kit. Hence, the clues, quirks, and multiple slices of living in the big city.

Sometimes one can’t avoid using one of those detestable buzzwords like iconic, or hacking. But if there’s anything that gets very close to both is those little silica bags that come inside a new shoebox or latest gadget. You’d think they’re poisonous but you’d be dead wrong.
What they are is stuff that clogs our landfills. Good thing then that you can use them for drying you phone, after fishing it out of the toilet bowl. Or stick them into your smelly luggage (please, use another little bag for that). Handy for dissipating fog too, but from then on possible uses kind of make themselves scarce, as they say. Maybe.
Silica is also good at preserving old photos. Chances are, though, your favorites are already on the cloud, and the old ones got trashed by your ex. In any case, be creative and use those bags (more)
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* Downtime
* Curb Your God

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Curtain Raiser

The Art of Teaching Change, Colltalers

The U.S. Dept. of Justice said Friday that Congress is entitled to (finally) see Donald Trump’s tax returns. That means hope to many but dread to those who’d rather not write ever again the ex-president’s name, and on the very first line. But for one real, perhaps last shot at justice, it’s definitely worthy.
Daniel Hale is another whistleblower to be sent to jail for exposing the U.S. military, this time its secretive killing drone program. Global heating has reached another critical measure, Big Pharma monopolies make Covid costlier, as if you didn’t know it, and Haiti’s former First Lady Martine speaks.
Let’s begin in Tunisia where concerns mount about President Kais Saied’s decision to seize control, fire Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, and suspend Parliament for 30 days. Opposition leaders have been arrested and public gatherings are banned but there’s been no unrest so far, according to the news. Saied’s told reporters that Tunisia’s still a democracy, the only one sprung out of the so-called Arab Spring, a decade ago. Time and Tunisians will tell.
In Guatemala, a national strike is demanding the resignation of President Alejandro Giammattei and other officials embroiled in corruption allegations. Indigenous communities are denouncing a dire economy and the administration’s mishandling of the pandemic, which has already killed 369.000 or roughly 2% Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

A Still Inconvenient Truth, Colltalers

Near 100 climate change-fueled wildfires are burning in the U.S., which means 1.5 million acres already burnt, and the worst national indexes of air pollution in decades. As Covid starts to rise again, it comes the inevitable realization: thanks to conspiracies, most cases now are of the unvaccinated.
Journalists’ smartphones have been routinely hacked by authoritarian regimes using the spyware Pegasus, a report found. A stunning revelation: thugs who rampaged through Capitol Hill on Jan. 6 were close to getting their hands on the U.S. nuclear codes. And N.Y. has banned child marriage. Bravo.
Let’s begin in Madagascar, the island-state where 400,000 may face famine according to the World Food Program, due to its worst drought in four decades. Unlike other places being affected by factors as natural as disasters or crop failures or man-made like local wars or politics, in the world’s second-largest island-country there’s no water, the land is covered by sand, and people have to eat raw cactus, wild leaves, and locusts to survive.
As Canada started uncovering thousands of unmarked graves of indigenous children “re-educated” by the Catholic Church over a century ago, the search got on to find such graves on American soil too. The U.S. ran boarding schools intended to “civilize the savage,” and during the 1920s nearly 83% of Native American school-age children were in attendance, according to the NYTimes. In both nations, many never returned to their families.
Catholic churches have been burned in Canada since the first discovery of the graves. To investigators, arson is the likely culprit for most fires, but to activists and indigenous rights advocates, Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

I Am Because You Are, Colltalers

As Haiti is set to bury assassinated President Jovenel Moïse while First Lady Martine, wounded in the attack, greets Haitians, the first 500K Covid shots arrived in the 11 million-plus nation. In Cuba, the westward island next door, dueling pro and anti-government rallies all call for a lift of U.S. sanctions.
The dream of a post-apartheid South Africa’s at risk for widespread unrest, looting, and killing of civilians, triggered by ex-President Zuma’s refusal to testify at a corruption probe. And in the front of new threats, humanity has just acquired a newer one: the Amazon Rainforest now emits more CO2 than it absorbs.
We begin with the virus that came to dine on us, Covid, and the one crucial reason for Haiti and other developing nations to have had almost no access to vaccines: Big Pharma’s monopoly over drug patents, many acquired after the drugs had been developed with taxpayer money. Activists did manage to sway President Biden to temporarily suspend patents so poor nations could develop their own therapies. But he couldn’t convince Angela Merkel.
The outgoing German Chancellor’s refusal “delivers a punishing blow to efforts to end the pandemic,” said Public Citizen’s Lori Wallach, as just one percent of people in low-income countries have received at least one jab. “Tens of millions of lives and livelihoods worldwide are left in peril.”
Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka, and Jadon Sancho are three exceptional football players who just helped England reach its first major final in years. They were also the target of a disgustingly racist campaign in social media after Italy beat them Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Hard Times to Keep the Faith, Colltalers

The brutal assassination of President Jovenel Moïse at his home jolted Haiti, a nation that has had its unfair share of tragedies in the past decade. The rise of cases in Africa has shown that Covid is very much alive and lethal, but it’s Brazil that’s getting closer to top the world in the number of fatalities.
In Peru, it’s been over a month since former teacher Pedro Castillo won the most votes for president but fraud claims brought up by his opponent, the daughter of a jailed ex-dictator, have prevented him from being sworn in. And the G20 bloc has agreed to take steps to curb low-tax havens. Maybe.
Let’s start in Hungary, whose Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has received the dubious honor of heading the “Press Freedom Predators,” a list compiled by Reporters Without Borders. He joins a notorious who-is-who among reactionary world leaders, from Kim Jong-Un to Rodrigo Duterte to of course Vladimir Putin, all too happy to brainwash citizens, persecute journalists and minorities, while arguably fattening their bellies and banking accounts.
“Thanks to political-economic maneuvers and the purchase of media companies by oligarchs close to ruling party Fidesz,” (the Magyar government) now controls 80% of the country’s media landscape, the organization reports. Surely many an American far-right would-be despot would love to be included in that list. In the meantime, the European Parliament has condemned “in the strongest possible terms” Hungary’s draconian anti-LGBT law.
Tensions are rising in Afghanistan’s borders as U.S. troops pull out and the Taliban steps in. Even though Iran and the Continue reading

Final Blast

Atlantis & the Last 
Flight of the Shuttles

In the end, it happened on schedule almost to the minute: despite the threatening weather, the last mission for the Space Shuttles began at 11:29am 10 years ago today. A record crowd witnessed the launch, aware that their children won’t get to see a show like that.
Four astronauts headed to the Space Station and when they came back 16 days later, it was all over: the Shuttle Program’s 135th mission, its 30-year history, and possibly NASA’s leading role in space exploration. Our hearts skipped a beat when that era drew to a close.
The future then pointed to what’s happening now: space is a mostly private and commercial enterprise, and a new toy for billionaires. Science now takes a backseat and the technology that made possible the reusable space buses is at least 50 years too old.
It’s been a long way since NASA’s glorious days. After getting us to the Moon, it seemed to have lost its plot. Public interest plunged, federal funds dried up, and criticism mounted for running expensive programs with little hard-science research breakthroughs to account for.
Not much more may be expected from corporations whose main goal may be to fly celebrities to sub-orbital hotels to engorge their bottom line. Still, routine maintenance flights to the ISS and the Hubble Space Telescope will be needed and NASA is the go-to for that.
Read Also:
* The Last Detour
* Enterprise
* Welcome Home

In this era of diminishing ambitions, grandstanding, and a general malaise that we are no longer the people who get to accomplish great things, a few sobering realities have already settled in. Among them is that we badly needed that dream then and that we badly need it now.
As the Shuttle Program ended after three decades fueling our collective imagination to fly ever higher, to dare above our limits, to seek what’s out there, we began a new, more humble journey through the far side of our starstruck dreams. It hasn’t been a happy ride.
It’ll take more than our usual drive to discover, reach out, and transcend. To go where no one has gone before we need to put down our smartphones. Otherwise, only the powerful and those they employ will ever blast off from the Earth as the shuttles did so many times.
But even if we decide to send only rich dopes, or robots, or drones, or mini-satellites, we’ll still need to put our heart into it, something a bit rare lately. Someone will need to dream of blasting into the Space Station but who’ll even don a spacesuit if they don’t know how worthwhile it is to take a shot?
To dream is a serious business and it almost never gives returns from the get go. We must find ways to inspire our kids to believe that it’s worth trying. Even if we, as far as reality and the space program are concerned, are officially giving it all up today.
(*) Originally published on July 8, 2011.

Curtain Raiser

Brace for a Season on Fire, Colltalers

The fossil-fuel industry is alive and well and may have swayed the Biden administration to drop climate emergency measures off the infrastructure bill, an investigation found. Dread creeps in throughout a scorched-earth Afghanistan as U.S. troops depart. But don’t count on private contractors for help.
Amidst massive rallies demanding President Bolsonaro’s impeachment, Brazil’s highest court ok’d a criminal probe on his role in a vaccine deal scam. The U.S.’s highest court though took yet another double-step towards destroying the Voting Act, as if there hasn’t been enough push to restrict voting.
But since today is “aphelion,” Earth’s farthest distance from the sun of the year, we begin with fire. As in the burning of the Amazon Rainforest which has reached a 14-year high in June, according to Brazil’s space research agency INPE. Researchers brace for the peak of the dry season, Aug. and Sept.
Fire as in the one that consumed an entire British Columbia town last week. “Our poor little town of Lytton is gone,” Edith Loring-Kuhanga wrote on FB. Fire like “molten lava” on the Gulf of Mexico waters, as an underwater gas pipeline controlled by Mexico’s Pemex burned for hours on Friday.
But despite record-breaking heatwaves and wildfires worldwide, media coverage continues to fail to mention the climate emergency as a cause. Either that or it’s downright not financially er motivated to report what it should. We get the brutal scenes, the body count, and then we cut to a commercial.
There’s another type of burning going on too: that of churches in Canada’s First Nations territories which may be arson. Continue reading

New York Bites

A Bridge For Sale, the Train
Savant & the Island’s Sheep

Self-confidence is the New York currency. That’s why stories about the city and its citizens are borderline hyperbolical, lest no one be accused of being meek. No wonder; with 27,000 people per square mile, one needs all the distinction they can muster. Even if involves tall tales.
At least eight million of them, paraphrasing the 1948 classic Naked City. Then as now, all are outstanding. Heard the one about selling the Brooklyn Bridge? Or the guy who went to prison for stealing the subway dozens of times? But fear not, the sheep are safely back to town.
Big Apple. The city that never sleeps. Top of the heap. New Yorkers are fed up with slogans, sobriquets, and movies about their home being destroyed. Specially since it’s now far from the lawless wasteland some still expect from it. Just don’t try to sell cat hair, of course.
But urban myths about sewer alligators, or rats the size of cats, die hard. And so does the belief that residents are rude – they’re not, ok? gotta a problem with that? – or getting rich just by mining the streets. The thing is, real New York stories are much better than these.
So, yes, you hear this place is the greatest of this and greatest of that, and self aggrandizing is a competitive sport. But you’d better back up what you say or you’ll get your behind kicked before you can say, trump. As for that orange sleazyball, don’t worry: we’re working on it.

Speaking of con men, and dealers who can’t close a deal, there’s a New Yorker who truly may’ve been the greatest of them all, or at least, one of the first of a long line of pretenders and liars: George C. Parker. Yes, he did “sell” the Brooklyn Bridge at the turn of the 19th century.
Not once, but twice a week, for 30 years. He was not the only one to try, but seemed to have beaten the competition. His scheme even inspired the Mae West‘s 1937 vehicle, Every Day’s a Holiday. By then, no fraudsters of that ilk were still alive, only their legacy.
Its present-day version may be the infamous Nigerian Prince Internet scam. But Wall Street has perfected it into an industry. The set up and the bill of goods may vary but some things are never missed: snake oil salesmanship and the gullibility of get-rich-quick believers.

Darius McCollum may be many things: impersonator, trespasser, lawbreaker. He also has Asperger’s syndrome, and his feats flared up New Yorkers’ imagination – hey, his train was always on time. But one place he does’t belong to: Rikers Island.
And yet, he’s spent half of his 56 years in prisons like that. His deed: invading the subway system and conducting the train, without working for MTA. Or missing a stop. He did that many times since he was 15, and also tried his able hands on LIRR trains and a Greyhound bus.
Many believed he should’ve gotten the job that’d have saved him. Instead, every one seems to want to lock him up either in a mental institution or in prison, as the agency with a  spotty record running NYC underground trains would prefer. As with most (more)

Read Also:
* Play Dough
* A Tale of Twin Cities
* Sour Apples
Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

The 3,000 Empty Chairs, Colltalers

It’s 118° degrees in Siberia. There’s a record drought in the U.S. Major Asian cities are actually sinking. But new funds for the climate emergency are not the first priority for the world’s richest, arguably most pollutant nation. Unlike defense: apparently, Iraq and Syria needed to be bombed this week.
Reaction to the sentencing of the murderer of George Floyd was restrained as there’s hope his enablers may also face justice. A government report on UFOs caused little shock. But there was heartbreak in Canada with the discovery of more bodies of indigenous children buried in unmarked graves.
We start with the assassination of Saudi-born Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi three yeast ago this October, likely by agents of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. As it turned out, they’d received paramilitary training in the U.S. in 2017 under a State Department-approved contract. To many, Khashoggi’s grisly murder will remain unpunished for as long as the Biden administration keeps selling weapons to the authoritarian regime.
Speaking of guns, parents of a student killed in the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School put together the prank of the year: they had a former NRA president give a graduation speech in front of 3,044 empty white chairs – one chair for each student who won’t graduate this year because they were killed Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Turn Rebellion Into Law, Colltalers

Juneteenth, now a national holiday, is a step further in the current reckoning of the Black experience in America. After massive street rallies of recent years, it’s the recovery of yet another fragment of memory and history to make us all whole. But pro-racial rights aren’t as easy to pass as jubilee dates.
It’s been two weeks since Pedro Castillo won most presidential votes in Peru but no swear-in ceremony yet. Rival Fujimori, daughter of the jailed ex-dictator, won’t concede. And now, the military is saying something. No surprises in Iran, though: new president Ebrahim Raisi is an Ayatollah favorite.
Let’s start with what it’s been already off most headlines: Israel’s bombing of Gaza, breaking the ceasefire yet again, and the deafening silent reaction from the world. That means, Palestinians either being evicted in occupied territories or rebuilding their destroyed open-prison land, have few friends in high places these days. As President Biden refuses to act, it’d be up to the leadership of U.S. Jewish groups to step up to the plate and do the right thing.
In Yemen, scores were killed as Iran-supported Huthi rebels fight government forces and Saudi Arabia’s U.S.-supplied warplanes for control of Marib and, what else? its surrounding oil fields. As it enters its seventh year of virtual Saudi occupation, and the worst humanitarian crisis of modern times, Yemen is Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

The Truth Is No Safe Haven, Colltalers

After 12 years, Benjamin Netanyahu is no longer Israel’s Prime Minister. Successor Naftali Bennett has a similar mindset about the Palestinians, but there may be an opening for a reset in the region. The G7 just ended another purpose-free meeting by both ignoring Israel and the climate emergency.
Atmospheric carbon dioxide just hit its highest level in four million years as the U.S. braces for a record-setting drought. Don’t count on the Supreme Court though: it’s busy ruling on vote restrictions. Or the rich, having fun with tax-free rockets. But do count on Darnella Frazier to make us humans.
We start with two letters: one, an open “Letter Against Apartheid” signed by 1,600+ international artists, expresses solidarity with Palestinians and their plight for decolonization. The other is by a group of House Democrats to Attorney General Merrick Garland about the role the Justice Department may have played on Brazil’s Lava Jato, or Operation Car Wash, an anti-corruption probe that proved itself corrupted. We will be posting all replies here.
In Peru, almost all votes have been tallied from the presidential election a week ago but no winner has been declared yet. Rural teacher Pedro Castillo seems to have won and there are concerns about whether the delay is being somehow orchestrated by the powerful forces his leftist coalition defeated.
“Do not come,” Vice President Kamala Harris said in Guatemala, making immigration activists cringe and triggering protests in Mexico. In her first foray into foreign policy, the VP has displayed an embarrassing ignorance about international treaties that the U.S. is a signatory, including the right to request asylum. She also made no mention or acknowledged our historical role in the political Continue reading

The Saddest Song

The Loneliest Whale in the
Ocean Can’t Find Her Mate

Her voice was first heard in 1989. Oceanographers have been following her songs for two decades. It all indicates that she’s a baleen whale, a subspecies that includes the great Blue, the Fin and the Humpback whales. But there’s something very sad about this creature.
Unlike any other in the ocean, she (or he, no one knows its gender) sings at a 51.75Hz frequency, way above the 12 to 25Hz range of every other whale. It’s a frequency her kind can’t hear and as she ages, her songs are getting lower and lower in pitch too.
A study in 2004 determined that the sounds come from a single animal whose movements “appear to be unrelated to the presence of other whale species.” In other words, she’s always alone and even the migration paths that she follows year after year are unique.
And yet she sings. Her elaborate songs come in groups of two to six calls, lasting for five to six seconds each. But it’s unlikely that this whale will ever mate, which is tragic since cetaceans have such a rich and complex social life.
Some insist that there must be something wrong with this whale, called 52 Hertz, in the cold, unsentimental jargon spoken by most scientists. Others blame sound pollution of the oceans, for many, the main reason why large groups of marine mammals beach themselves to death.
In our flawed taste for anthropomorphizing animal behavior, we just feel for this creature, however misplaced the sentiment may be. Of course, we imagine ourselves out there, in the vast ocean with no one
Read Also:
* Floating Enigmas
* Great White Cafe
* Beneath the Waves

to love, talk to, play with, and we feel like crying. Really.
Which would be completely silly and self serving. Still we hope, without any basis on reality, that things are not that bad for this individual who, if life runs its course, still has at least some 20 years left of solitude.
We should always be careful when observing non-human species, though. The sheer brain size of whales, for example, may not add any rationality to their world but certainly gives pause to those quick (and shallow) assumptions about animals.
In terms of species, no other is more solitary than ours. We can’t even imagine a different world without using some hard-wired empathy mechanisms to analyze it. So here’s to the sad songs of an unique marine creature and to the even sadder state of the human condition.

* Originally published in March 2011.

Curtain Raiser

Our Desire For Retribution, Colltalers

Presidential and mid-term elections in Peru and Mexico – one a final round with a leftist frontrunner and the other marked by staggering violence – may finally force the Biden administration to come up with new ideas about Latin America. Or it could just tell us everything it knows about UFOs instead.
Gun ownership has grown in the U.S. but a California judge thinks there’re not enough assault rifles out there. Also senseless are China’s efforts to curb Hong Kong again by suppressing its vigils for the Tiananmen Massacre’s anniversary. And a high-school valedictorian schooled Texas’ abortion limits.
Let’s start in Cali, Colombia, where the police killed five people in ongoing protests against President Iván Duque’s neoliberal policies. After over a month of turmoil and violent repression, he’s proposed his “solution” to the crisis on national TV: more police. With more than 90,000 Covid deaths, Colombia saw its oil production volumes sink and inflation rise under Duque. He should be wary: he may be fired in the May 29 presidential elections.
From Minnesota comes a disturbing report on harassment and sexual abuse of women by contractors brought over by the $2.9 billion Line 3 Pipeline project. According to the Violence Intervention Project, there have been charges of sex trafficking and over 40 reports of assaults on mostly indigenous women and girls. If completed, Line 3 will carry 760,000 oil barrels from Alberta, Canada, to Lake Superior, Earth’s largest freshwater lake by surface area.
Better fortune had the Passamaquoddy, a tribe that has lived in what is today Maine, U.S., for 10,000 years: it’s just bought back an island colonialists have stolen from them in 1820. Charities have helped raise the $355,000 for Kuwesuwi Monihq, or Pine Island, where no Passamaquoddy has set foot in 160 years. It’s the latest successful “land back” purchase by indigenous groups Continue reading