The Gifter’s Referral

A Few Choice Picks For
Those Who Have Something

Every year we come up empty; as hard as we try, we can’t say bad things about gifts. Thus our humble tradition, a list of the kooky and the odd, regardless of purpose, source, or price. Among this heap of out-there conversation starters, we’re sure you’ll find that special something to make it your own. Share it. Keep it. Give it all away.
Timing is everything so ’tis the season to call them presents. But even if Van Gogh had something else in mind on Christmas eve, 1888, there’s no need to lose an ear, or sleep, over what to give. From blood vials, to wine, to floatation tanks, there’s something for everyone on your list, including you. Except us; we take cash only, please.
It’s all a matter of perspective, of course, and reception, as that man who married his TV set used to say. To retailers, the best holiday season would start in July. And the best way to celebrate it is to compile a list of business that ‘do not honor Jesus’ enough, according to a Christian group.
While Christmas sales will likely start on the 7th month of 2100, based on the Quartz’s Oxford Street Creep Calculator, 2016 marks the 14th annual Naughty & Nice List, prepared by the ultra-right religious group Liberty Counsel. In other words, repent or we send you to hell.
It’s all in the spirit of the season, no doubt, one about forgiving and loving thy neighbor. Except when they’re not devout enough, or something. Complain as you may about even having to shop for other people’s gifts, but you may feel better considering that, at least, you’re not on their list. Not yet, anyway.
The following is not a list, by the way. In fact, it’s more like a selection of mind-twisting things to distract you away from what’s going on, or seriously, to inspire you to be nice and get that special sponge your Uncle Bob mentioned he wanted. Hey, he may cut you some slack and not grill you about Trump. Remember, has has four full years to do it.

THE CLEANSE & WASTE PACKAGE
Speaking of the season, let’s face it: it finds us all in a particularly sour mood. So why not put together a kit of toiletries to comfort body and mind, and getting a bit wasted on the side too? Ideal for the bathroom-geared: bandages, underwear, and toilet paper. And, yes, wine too.
Get ready to be complimented on your thoughtfulness, or just better fit to the after party. With Shakespeare-insults printed on the bandages, a pack of emergency underpants, and some rolls of the president-elect specialty paper, you, and the object of your gifting, are now ready to drink on a bottle-size wine glass. Salut.

THE USEFUL VICES SELECTION
Granted: this is not for the healthcare-cost busted budget, but once you clear that financial hump, the rewards are healing. Star with the Pavlok wristband, to reduce cheap cravings, then add two vials, to store a few ounces of blood, yours and of that lucky one you’ll invite to share a floatation tank bath, and you’re all set. Dream on, baby.
It’s simply luxurious. Don’t argue, you deserve it. Get extra points by going for broke and placing the whole bundle under somebody’s tree. Good for you. You may even top it with Sick Rose, a collection of Victorian illustrations of diseases nobody has anymore. Happy therapy.

THE ULTIMATE GENIUS TOKEN
Now, one the most bizarre links that come up when you Google ‘Hurricane Sandy,’ is a video of someone running in the rain, wearing a horse-head mask. People do those things, as you know. It was all over the news. The mask is also a hit in parties and, as we said, we won’t say anything negative about giving. If that’s your thing, by all means.
But that’s nothing compared to what Vincent did on that Christmas, upon learning of his brother’s engagement: he chopped up his right ear. Or at least that’s what new research seems to indicate as for why he did it. Vincent, of course, is Van Gogh, the Dutch grand master painter, and a certified tortured soul.
He appears here because for years, many believe that his crazy act was a gift to a lover, due to his er intense personality. Which (more)
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Curtain Raiser

The Dangerous Liaisons, Colltalers

Would it be possible that we’re already beyond George Orwell’s nightmarish view of the future? Two recent incidents signal that we may: a Website promoting a watch list of supposedly ‘leftists’ professors, and the verbal assault of a Muslim woman on a New York subway.
Both could be dismissed as product of fringe ideas, rejected by the mainstream of American society. But eerie similitudes with the 1930s Germany, and the fact that so many are choosing not to acknowledge that it’s even happening, may turn out to be the very reason it will.
After all, only in the first 10 days after the Nov. 8 presidential vote, some 900 episodes of hate were reported across the U.S. From black students insulted in classrooms, to swastikas and ‘Whites Only’ spray-painted on schools, churches, and synagogues, to Nazi flag appearances. If anything, Donald Trump election seems to be telling something terrible to a suddenly empowered group: it’s OK again to hate minorities.
Before going any further, though, we don’t yet believe that half a century of civil rights and progressive reforms toward racial and religious equality are in immediate threat to vanish overnight. But just like a thousand-mile trek starts with one step, well, you get the idea.
This is not a conspiracy, or the unfounded belief that a group of individuals are consciously planning our derailing as a nation. But this is a not unintentionally charged political climate, conducive to a witch hunt, in which the hunted is the majority, and the hunters are well armed.
One event, video of which surfaced last week, was particularly chilling, and took place not in some backwater town in the middle of nowhere but in Washington DC: a group of people cheering the president-elected with the Nazi salute. They actually said it: Hail Trump.
For those who have dismissed as sore losers millions of Americans concerned about a white nationalism resurgence, the gathering couldn’t have been more explicit. The historical parallel was unmistakable and the irony is that it could not happen in contemporary Germany either.
Even worse is the the established media’s adoption of the preferred term this group would like to call themselves, at least for now: alt-right. A title fully endorsed by the first openly white supremacist to have an official role in the U.S. federal government: Steve Bannon.
That not even during the arguably darkest times for racism in America – the biggest part of the 20th century until the 1960s -, there was such a blatant ‘Aryan nation’ apologist such as Bannon in the White House, at least not self declared, should be enough to raise the hair in the back of our necks.
But just as the thugs who patrolled the Berlin and Rome of the 1940s called themselves Hitler’s Youth and the Brown Shirts, only later being labeled for what they really were, murder squads in uniforms, the xenophobic of our times would rather be called something hip as ‘alt.’
Speaking of the president to be, as he starts a national ‘thank you tour,’ similar incidents of violent rhetoric and threats, Continue reading

Memberships

Choosing a Special Group
That Won’t Crush Your Soul

‘Accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.’ Groucho Marx had a point, but most of us do long to belong. More so now, when so many feel the world has turned against them. Fear not, anti-heroes of the moot field. There’s hope.
And an affiliation just for you. Not the adventurer type? choose among the Bureaucracy Club, the Cloud Appreciation Society, Dull Men Club or, if still follicle-endowed, the Luxuriant Hair Club, but have your PhD ready. In a wretched mood? the Death Cafe will do you wonders.
Sport aficionados get it. Religiously devout most surely do too. And an assortment of clubs that flourish on Facebook or England, of all places, are equally adept at adding names to a big list of people who like this, or don’t like that. Prefer red, or despise unsuspecting hamsters.
Deep down, most would like to qualify for the Explorer’s Club, but if you haven’t stepped on the moon, or climbed the Everest, forget it. In another life, perhaps. Better sign on for the Apostrophe Appreciation Society. It’ll won’t give vertigo. And you’ll be busy, guaranteed.
And before you disrespect good ol’ Groucho, misquoting him again, we know you’re actually jubilant that Twitter accepted your behind and your trolling galore. You don’t fool us. So go ahead, send out that form for the Mediocre Pun Brigade. They’re running a sale this week.

THE UNCOOL & THE RED-TAPE LOVER
Dull but not boring.’ That’s the main ‘virtue’ required by would-be members of the Dull Men Club. And while ‘optimization of bureaucracies and bureaucrats’ is in the Bureaucracy Club‘s mission statement, both place a premium on a particular personality type: L, as in lukewarm.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Nevertheless, members live fulfilling lives, as long as they don’t involve trying spicy food, taking cold showers, or wearing colorful underwear. They gather periodically to debate mild things. But we hear the coffee is extra strong.

DAREDEVILS & THE MANE-ENDOWED
Bald inexperienced need not to apply.’ Nothing is ever safe when The Explorer’s Club and The Luxuriant Flowing Hair Clubs for Scientists break from their accident-provoking agenda, and sit down for a dinner whose menu often includes fried tarantulas and hissing roach snacks.
Living Explorers Buzz Aldrin and Jane Goodall share (more)
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Curtain Raiser

Hell or High Water at Standing Rock, Colltalers

Most Americans spent Thanksgiving blissfully, which was great, but oblivious to what’s going on in North Dakota, which isn’t. There, 300 tribes of the sixth-largest Native American reservation, are blocking construction of a pipeline that may poison the entire region’s water.
About 4,000 supporters are congregated in the area, and tensions with law enforcement are rising. Despite freezing temperatures, on Nov. 20th, police doused protesters with water canons, causing injuries, and was accused of throwing a grenade that blew up an activist’s arm.
Making matters worst, on Friday the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has told the Standing Rock Sioux that from Dec. 5 on, it’ll block access to the area north of the Cannonball River, which it claims to be ‘Corps-managed land, so ‘to prevent death, illness, or serious injury to inhabitants,’ due to harsh winter conditions. Which would be nice if it wasn’t the first time ever the agency has shown such concerns.
But not to worry, the cavalry is on its way, says former Army officer Wes Clark Jr. He’s organizing a three-day deployment of U.S. military veterans to the reservation, in support of the resistance movement. It’ll be unusual but much more in character than the Corps’ stance.
While the government agency’s role is defined as of ‘public engineering, design, and construction management,’ normally associated with dams, canals, and flood protection in the U.S. and abroad, in this pipeline issue it has also strangely assumed a role of law enforcement.
The Veterans Stand for Standing Rock, on the other hand, is bringing retired police officers, fire fighters, emergency medical personnel and other volunteers to ‘prevent progress’ of the pipeline, and ‘draw national attention to the human rights warriors of the Sioux tribes.’
We’re all hoping that it’ll also help prevent further escalation, moving the issue to the political realm which is where it can be fought more effectively. Nevertheless, the heroic efforts Native Continue reading

A Nation of Thanks


When William Burroughs
Snarled Thanksgiving Grace

He was in fine form on that purposely grainy video, giving thanks for the Klu Klux Klan and ‘a country where nobody is allowed to mind his own business.’ Bill Burroughs would live another decade before leaving us, but no one said grace in quite the same way.
3o years later, we’re bitter as ever, and he’d surely give us no thanks for the radical rightward turn we’ve allowed our political winds to take. We miss his snarl but he’s the one who would’ve been hurt by the cruel world we’ve been tending to since he’s left.
Today, as we digest millions of murdered birds, down our ‘wholesome American guts,’ and some heil a new white chief of the nation, we’ll borrow Burroughs‘ growl, while sewers burst open, and out come pouring ravenous rats. The many heroes who signed off this year make us moan and grieve.
Few will sharpen knives, check their ammo, thank their good fortune. Hunting season will start earlier this time. But most will avert their kids’ gaze, and try a thousand ways of telling them again that life’s unfairness shouldn’t be the point. But now they know there’s no Santa.
Yet, thanks to those with the steady gait and the flexed calfs, who bend but not break. The ‘indians, who provide a modicum of challenge and danger,’ fighting for water on behalf of all Americans who forgot them, at the Dakota Access Pipeline standoff. They’re are our natural gifts.
Yes, thanks for the grandmothers, the multi-linguals, the mixed races, the black lives that’ll still matter once this all pass, because it must and will. Thanks for the gender fluid, and for the targeted whistleblowers; they’ll deliver our message to the future.
Surely, Bill, ‘thanks for the last and greatest betrayal of the last and greatest of the human dreams.’ But also for the little bloodletting with which we clean our wounds, and all the joy of playing Job when it comes our turn. Light comes only from pitch black.
Thanks for the thanks I’ll be forever indebted to give, to those I have yet to meet. And thanks for partying like it’s 1927, when the first balloon to fly at Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was Felix the Cat. Two years later, many sharks finally had their day of reckoning.
We’ll fall into a turkey stupor for now but we’ll come back as we always do. By the way, something in the pumpkin pie didn’t agree with my stomach. Happy Thanks & Giving Day.
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Curtain Raiser

Talk About the Bird, Instead, Colltalers

Suddenly, there’s another reason to feel jittery about Thanksgiving. Aside a shift in public perception about Americas’s most beloved holiday and how it reflects both a changing culture and degrading economic conditions, there’s a new fear this time around: the fear of speaking up.
Or rather, of arguing about politics with people you love, at the turkey feast. Americans feel dread that it may all escalate and further the split between the liberal wing and the conservative aisle of those who share DNA or upbringing, or at least used to enjoy each other’s company.
Blame it on one of the most divisive campaign leading an outsider to the White House, and the deep resentment and fear that it awoke among race, gender, and religious minorities. And on frustration and dismay overwhelming a voter majority whose candidate did not win.
Some of these are always present in contested elections. What’s different now is that, with changing demographics of the group arguably most identified with Thanksgiving, working families, one of the few annual occasions to get together and be merry may be ruined for good.
It may be hard for the world to understand how this particular holiday soothes the American soul. But its myth of cooperation and peace among invading foreigners and soon to be conquered natives, even as it’s unlikely to have happened as such, is a recurrent redemptive dream, one etched on the idealized view of the nation by its Founding Fathers, and one that still appeals to every resident of this big land.
As it congealed into a celebration of hard-earned emotional connections, timed to coincide with ancient pagan feats hailing the first harvest, Thanksgiving became a national symbol for overcoming harsh conditions and getting together to prepare for the long winter ahead.
The passage of time, though, has dramatically eroded this sepia-tinted view. The last Thursday of November has come to be known as an excuse for confrontation among angry relatives, thrown to different latitudes of the economic ladder, and their mutual dissatisfaction and distrust about the fairness of the system. Many a carved turkey wound up wasted on the floor at the end of these now common battles.
Still, millions will travel thousands of miles this weekend, spent over $4 billion, and eat about 45 million turkeys, just for a Continue reading

Looking at You, Kid

The Mystery, Half-Truths &
Misperceptions About Mirrors

If you’re not blind, and there’s nothing neurologically odd with you, how do you know how your face looks like? Your best bet would be using a mirror, right? Well, not quite.
In fact, it’s likely that the image you see in front of you is an emotional, highly-subjective composite of what you think you should look like. In that, mirrors are devilishly deceiving.
For what it’s worth, though, your educated guess is still closer to the truth than anyone else’s. Alas, no one is free from emotional biases when looking at somebody else’s likeness.
In other words, truth doesn’t usually belong in the same sentence with the word mirror. That’s because what you see is an interpretation, yours, of what is supposed to be on the other side.
As you scrutinize that reflection, everything seems to reproduce the side of things that’s surrounding you. And yet, crucial details fool and elude you once and again.
THE EERIE COPY
As many mystics have said about the world itself, one may describe and list the inventory of things it contains, and still fail to define it. In the case of mirrors, odds get freaky really fast.
That can be triggered at a first glance by checking one of its supposed qualities: its ability to ‘mirror’ the physical world. For, after your hand suddenly switches to the left, things only unravel even further.
You may understand perfectly how is that so and still be baffled by it. Other oddities, sitting on the outer edge of common perception, may also catch your eye. But nothing compares with the view of your own face.
That’s when we’re more susceptible to inaccuracies of judgement about what we’re seeing, as the brain works overtime to concur pre-determined notions with what’s right ahead.

THE VENUS EFFECT
Scientists now think that what distinguishes animals who are capable of recognizing themselves in a mirror from others, who’re indifferent to it, may be their social lives.
Thus apes, dolphins and Asian elephants, all living within sophisticate social groups and well aware of their own position in them, are able to watch and check their bodies in front of the mirror the way humans do.
But, since we’re way more complicated, albeit not always more intelligent, we often get spooked at the realization that what we’re seeing may not be completely accurate, even when our brains are not addled by anything.
So much for all that eyes are the mirrors of the soul business. More like smoke and mirrors, if you ask psychologists, who keep finding new ways to show how we seem to suspend rationality when looking at ourselves.
Take the so-called Venus effect, for example. Its origin dates back from ancient depictions of the Roman goddess of love, thus Rokeby Venus by Velazquez, who depicted her with a mirror in her hand.
At first, and for countless internalized ‘conclusions’ thereafter, people tend to believe that Venus is looking at herself, which would be virtually impossible given the angle of the mirror.

TALKIN’ TO ME?
Clever movie directors have only preserved this illusion by showing an actor, say, Robert de Niro, in that famous ‘Taxi Driver’ scene, in front of the mirror. In that, as in most cases, he’s either looking at the camera, or to a corner of it, but unlike to be ‘facing’ himself.
Since placing lenses directly behind the scene would ruin the take, cameras with a set of, you guessed, mirrors inside, are used these days, to allow a sideways view of both the actor and his image.
Art of course has long traded on the concept of the mirror as a foreign land, laden with mystery and otherness. In Jean Cocteau’s film version of the myth of Orpheus & Eurydice, the character of Jean Marais actually penetrates one to rescue his lover from the depths of Hades.
Arguably, Rene Magritte‘s most celebrated painting is La Reproduction Interdite, but some forget he actually has a work named (more)
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