Curtain Raiser

There Is More to It, Colltalers

The past week was an exciting one for those of us whose important chunks of childhood were spent laying on the backyard, dreaming of stars. NASA announced that it’s discovered another solar system, a mere 40-light-years away, with not one but seven Earth-like planets.
Somehow, though, the announcement failed to produce its due impact, either because other, arguably more urgent news are in need of our undivided attention right now, or we have become too jaded to care about space. But we shouldn’t. Now more than ever, science matters.
It’s yet another instance when the ‘staying power’ of scientific breakthroughs is not enough to dislodge, even momentarily, the onslaught of fake and celebrity news that these days we call, well, news. And another opportunity to start a public debate over our future is lost.
In the prime real estate of broadcast time – which is constitutionally granted by the American people to the media so to serve the public interest – there’s little room for public interest. And learning about even the most distant worlds is to everyone’s benefit, even if not for reasons suggested by the two cute but ultimately shallow questions the media always ask: could we live there? and, will there be aliens?
There’s nothing wrong about asking and trying to answer these questions. That is, if they’d come near the bottom of a long list of way more relevant doubts humankind has to respond in order to survive; not on Mars, the Moon, Pluto or somewhere out there, but here, on Terra.
The 7-planet system, spotted by the Spitzer Space Telescope and called by the acronym Trappist-1, gravitates around a much-smaller-than-the sun, ultra-cool dwarf star. That compensates for their position, closer to their star than our own rock and its companions in the solar system are of ours. For despite the different distances, their location allows for warm weather and liquid water, a tenet in the search for life.
That’s what the scientific community is interested on. Not rushing humans on an technologically impossible trek, but understanding how life spreads, so to better preserve ours. We may Continue reading

The 23rd

When 2 + 3 Is Not 5,
Some Call it an Enigma

Numbers and the Internet. Man-made to gauge and track the world, they’re now endless and will go on long after we’re gone. As matter can always be reduced to its numeric essence, so all manner of human expression may one day reside on the digital realm.
Take 23, for instance, the number assigned by fate to my first breath. Like with other numerals, there are hundreds of Websites about it, on math and numerology to cults and strange coincidences, with everything in between, besides, of course, celebrity birthdays.
Age-wise, few are like 23, and most of anyone would consider it among life’s best years. Perhaps. We tend to appreciated this sort of thing when we’re either heading towards it, or receding from it. But it is a time when choices are wide open and self-fulfillment is still a priority.
A mind-boggling assortment of arcana is related to 23 as a prime number, but even as its complexities keep planets spinning, and the Space Station aloft, few are wise to them. We all have 23 pairs of chromosomes, though, even if they no longer dictate one’s gender.
A curious statistical theory, the Birthday Paradox, says that within a group of 23 people, chances are, two share the same day of birth. That’s the least amount of people to whom such a likelihood is higher than 50 percent. But please, don’t go asking strangers for their day.

THE CHAOS & MYSTERY OF NOT MUCH
Yes, there are at least two weird groups that attribute 23 a special meaning. Discordianism associates it with chaos, with some mumbo-jumbo about inverting the pyramids (you read it right), and the goddess Eris. By the way, the Great Pyramid of Giza was built with 2.300 stones, so there you have it.
As for 23rdians, they see the number as an enigma permeating all spheres of existence, claiming author Robert Anton Wilson as a spiritual mentor of sorts. Wilson, in turn, may have caught the 23 fever from William Burroughs, who once told him about his own obsession with it.
Add to these, well, peculiar people, Nobel Prize winner John Forbes Nash. Despite his work on economics, he was almost better known for having a strange, and tragic, thing about the number (and Pope John XXIII, but if you have to ask, don’t). And of course, (more)
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Read Also:
* On This Day
* You Say It’s Your Birthday

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Curtain Raiser

Kicking the Nuclear Football, Colltalers

It’s been a month since Donald Trump received the keys to the White House, and we haven’t written about anything else. Which means that, at least in part, we’re all falling for his dangerous histrionics. That’s something not to be proud of, but there’s more to it than a mere cop out.
For after leaving out the reality show skills he uses to direct attention to himself, there’s always an underlying urgency that needs to be reported. From our part, we’d choose the North Korea incident at Mar-a-Lago, last Monday, and the reelection rally Saturday, both in Florida.
They’re but brackets of yet another deranged and utterly concerning assortment of acts taken and statements made by this administration. As it mishandles pretty much everything it touches, from spur-of-the-moment nominations to threats to dissenters to renewed efforts to kick Muslims and Mexicans out, a growing feeling of dread, along a sense of general alarm, starts to take hold of most still sane Americans.
Trump’s plans to give the ban a new push, and the ongoing nationwide raids and deportation of Mexican-Americans and Latinos in general, happen at a particularly ominous time: 75 years ago this past Saturday, up to 120 thousand Japanese Americans were forcibly moved to the infamous wartime internment camps. Most would spend there the next four years, in one of the darkest actions taken by the U.S. in WW2.
Also extremely serious is the administration’s declaration of war on the media, ‘officially’ launched on Wednesday, during a fittingly zany sideshow-like news conference. For over a hour, the president that the majority of Americans did not vote for chastised and berated members of the press, chose what questions to answer, and often preferred to go on unhinged digressions whenever he didn’t like what was asked.
Two moments stood out: one, when a journalist took the now rare instance of challenging Trump on his often repeated, and incredibly blatant, lie about the Electoral College vote; and when another, representing a Jewish organization, was unceremoniously told to ‘sit down.’
In the first case, the reporter did stand his ground, another rarity, and delivered the facts, which frontally contradict the president’s assertions. But while his question hit the target, there was no followup to it, and he seemed deflated amid a room full of frighteningly silent journalists.
The Orthodox questioner was clearly not up Continue reading

Wild in the City

New Backyard Attractions:
El Jefe & the Lion King of L.A.

Behind the string of wild animal sightings roaming major urban centers is our destructive appetite for the land and resources of their natural habitats. Thus when a mountain lion takes residency in a public park, or a jaguar is caught on tape close to a highway, it’s urgent to study them before they disappear.
Seeing bears, coyotes, alligators, tigers, and many others is becoming common in American and world cities. But there’s something new about P-22, a puma who lives in L.A., and El Jefe, of Tucson and possibly the only jaguar living in the U.S.: the much we’ve already learned about their incredibly rich individual sagas.

No offense to the remarkable little tiger that roams your living room, but these magnificent cats’ ability to adapt and survive offers invaluable insights into our efforts to slow down the extinction their species and of so many others face. Even if, as it goes, their close proximity also shames us to no end.
The ongoing massive man-made extermination of wildlife, which took evolution millions of years to perfect, is not just a tragedy on a planetary scale; it may also turn out to be the gateway to our own quick demise. Good riddance, some of them would say if they could or were born for that sort of thing.
For too long, developed nations have blamed poor (our apologies, Africa) continents for being lax about natural resources and their native animals. But what the fate of P-22 and El Jefe brings home is the hypocrisy of such an attitude, as it exposes our own lack of commitment for protecting the planet.

CEO OF THE UNDOCUMENTED
The footage of El Jefe, whose name was chosen by students at a Tucson school, was is a highlight in a decades-long program to restore a clear path for jaguars between North and South America. So there was due credit given when a remote camera captured glances of the elusive cat for the first time.
But it also happens during a particular hard time for U.S. immigrants. As a misguided administration engages in mass deportations, it also plans to build a wall at the border with Mexico, which would be disastrous to that recover strategy. That is sad but fitting, though, as El Jefe is believed to be a Mexican by birth too.
How it’ll play out may determine whether current efforts to prevent the extinction of species is headed to success or failure. That’s because any effective preservation strategy has to allocate, and protect, large swaths of land, where they can thrive without human direct interference. And that’s tough.
By the way, tough is also the jaguar bite: 2000 pounds per square inch, which relative to its weight is the stronger than all other cats, and also bears, gorilas and hippos. It can crush a turtle shell and it’s no wonder the Amerindian word Yaguar means ‘he who kills with one leap.’

THE BOSS OF HOLLYWOOD
The case of P-22 is similar in what the cat’s endurance is also the result of a carefully laid out plan to drive up the numbers of a genetically diverse population in the U.S. That’s another component of a successful recovery strategy, as it increases their odds to survival.
Centuries of hunting, inbreeding, and the perils of navigating diminishing wilderness patches squeezed by miles and miles (more)
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* Farewell to a King
* Pachyderm Skills
* Sleep With the Fishes

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Curtain Raiser

Beware Unsolicited Gifts, Colltalers

Somebody must deliver an urgent message to Edward Snowden, the ex-NSA contractor, whose asylum in Russia has just been extended: don’t fall into a trap. Those floating the idea of returning you to the U.S., ‘as a gift,’ don’t have your best interests at heart. Also, they’re crazy.
In fact, now is possibly the worst time to play pawn in the hands of the Trump-Putin regime. Given what’s happening, ‘president’ Steve Bannon may be hedging his bets with a Pentagon overture, in case things go south, and he needs a war of diversion to remain in power.
Snowden, who’s still considered a traitor by large segments of the armed forces, would fit nicely in this equation. Having him trialled and sentenced to prison – for revealing the staggering extent by which U.S. intelligence spies on ordinary citizens here and abroad – would not just avenge the enraged community, but also place this administration on the good side of those who ultimately control the U.S. war machine.
Snowden, who is also a former CIA employee, has so far displayed exemplary restrain and self-sacrifice. He did not voluntarily choose to be stranded in Russia, it’s always useful to mention, but was forced to seek asylum there in 2013, after the U.S. threatened to throw him in jail.
Whether his was a act of civil disobedience, as rights organizations consider it, or treason, as the Pentagon declared it, is a matter to be decided in the court of civil, not military, law. After all, his revelations ignited an important conversation about the right of individuals to be protected from prying eyes of shadowy intel agencies, operating mostly above the law. And they did not cause harm to agents in the field.
Passing confidential information to the press, however, was a violation of at least the terms and conditions of his employment, and as such, a matter that deserves to be taken to court. Even though he wisely chose a team of reputed journalists to vet and decide what part of the large trove of documents he copied should be published, and did not profit from his actions in any way, it’s still a serious legal issue.
Just so happens that the U.S. Judiciary has had one of the most meaningful weeks in recent times, perfectly exercising its constitutional role to serve as a checks and balances to acts Continue reading

Time Off

When Calls Drop
& Streets Go Quiet

People who never turn anything off, including themselves, may not understand, but there is such thing as doing nothing. In fact, if so-called power naps reset the brain, then dropping everything and just staring at a wall could do wonders to anyone. Not us, though; no time. Check back tomorrow, say after 5:30pm?
It’d help if we could freeze the city over and walk the empty streets as if survivors of a cataclysmic event. Such moments of eerie stillness, with not a soul on sight and the hum of urban machines quieted down, are still possible. Just don’t be long or you may turn into a slaughtered lamb on the nightly news. You know, evil loves shadows.
We suspect that even authors of best sellers about the virtues of dropping out have a hard time turning off their own phones. For when computer cameras and mikes are covered up, we may still carry on, afraid we’re missing out on something on Facebook. Thus our every second is filled with white noise.
Yet, there’s so much poetry in catching the automated world existing by itself, while its switch can still be turned off. Like when lights turn green and there’s no car in a hurry to go anywhere. Being sleepy and bored used to be equated to being lazy and spoiled, but new research changed all that. They are now deemed essential to genius.

TURN ON, DROP OUT, TUNE IN
Dreams are often a source for original ideas, popping up right after we open up our eyes from a minutes-long slumber. And the restlessness of having nothing to do has launched many a revolutionary take on the very concept of creating something out of thin air. Or we may always choose to just roll over and, well, nap.
Sides have argued over this since forever, and the likely reason we’re now convinced that we need to be on 24/7 may be because one of them hasn’t slept a wink in centuries. Then again, the very idea of having a non-stop society, to optimize productivity and increase efficiencies, was likely dreamed of by someone who’d just woken up.

STRANGER IN A STRANGER LAND
I once went back to a city I’d lived before, without telling anyone I was there. I’ve checked into a cheap motel and wandered about like a tourist. It was exhilarating. I walked and walked, (more)
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Read Also:
* Field of Dreams
* Counting Electric Sockets
* Spinning Wheels

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Curtain Raiser

What May Lie Beyond the Lies, Colltalers

Amid the growing chaos, outrage, and despondency the Trump presidency has sowed all around in just weeks, few things are easy to predict where they’ll lead us to; others are impossible to guess; and many may go either way. And yet, they all offer hints to enlighten anyone.
If what has happened in less than a month will be the norm, brace yourself for a lot more of the same: the president will continue to amass a staggering collection of mistakes, rallies will continue to resist and try to push them back, and not much else is likely to be accomplished.
Among last week’s deranged highlights reel, was his promise to ‘destroy’ the 1954 Johnson Amendment, pillar of church and state separation; rollback of regulations put in place to prevent another 2008-style financial meltdown; and the blatant invention of a political massacre that never happened, to justify the refugee ban. At this point, however, to simply recap the lunacy is futile; we’d rather add elements of analysis.
Because, for the around-the-block crowd, as unpredictable as it all seems to be, there are actual ways to gauge part of what’s happening, and its outlook, with some accuracy, given the appropriate pondering and sense of perspective. History, for instance, is always a good friend.
Thus, as Trump seems far from exhausting his arsenal of misfires, insults, and misrepresentations, public disgust and opposition toward them continue to increase. And this dynamics has already shown that it won’t be contained by U.S. borders, or diplomatic filters. Beyond the foregone conclusion that this collision course may only bring about disastrous consequences, though, all else is really up for grabs.
Will his non-sensical, and ultimate dangerous, course of action hit a wall and be curbed by circumstantial limitations? Will he be stopped by his own party, in an extremely rare display of cojones? Will he choke on his own intoxicating rhetoric and be forced Continue reading