Thinking With Tentacles

Mad Penguins & Whale Accents
in the Court of the Octopus King

Research into the natural world has been a reliable way of gauging our walk on this planet, and where we’re probably heading to. But a new approach, devoid of any rancid anthropomorphism, has offered fresh insights into animal intelligence. The results are remarkable.
Heard the one about whales with a Caribbean accent? Or penguins having sex parties wilder than drunken priests? But no one was ready to witness an octopus opening a jar from inside, or sneaking out at night to feed on crabs nearby, before returning to its tank. Who’s observing whom here?
What these and other animals prove is that cognitive ability is not a human monopoly. In fact, whenever the need to compare them with us is subtracted from the equation, crows, cephalopods, and pigeons, to name a few, can outsmart a thinking bloke often in a radical way.
Evolution has proposed alternatives to some species so far from our own, that they could be almost E.T.s raised in Pluto for all we know. Since we no longer equate physiology with identity, it’d be better get acquainted with mental prowess that owes nothing to rationality.
Not that we’re even that rational, or have the natural gift of logic. Far from it. But elephants have always cried of sadness, and chickens do side up with individuals in danger. We were just too busy turning animals into slaves that we oftentimes eat too to pay any attention.

ADÉLIES JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN
Let’s get this out of the way: penguins are not humans, thus morality is not an issue, even if a colony, in the distance, looks like a black-tie cocktail party. And for belting out loud, the Adélies have nothing on the singing lady Adele. But when it comes to parties, theirs do get wild.
During Capt. Scott‘s second, and doomed, trip to Antarctica, between 1910-13, George Murray Levick wrote of widespread necrophilia, males sexually coercing young chicks, before killing them, and shock, having sex with other males. To him, it was “depravity,” and his notes (in Ancient Greek, to harden access to them) went missing.
Till now: they’ve been uncovered and bad “science” journalism have ensued, of course. But five years ago, the biggest Adélie news had nothing to do with sex. In Feb 2016, it was reported that 150,000 penguins had died, landlocked by the fracture of a giant iceberg.
But that was a hoax, better researched stories confirmed. Neither sex fiends nor massacred by climate change, yet, penguins are just, once again, being victims of bad reporting. Why we care has nothing to do with humanity either: they just look like us. We’re already changing their history. Time to tell their stories way better, too.

DEEP SONGS & ACCENTED CLICKS
Since at least the 1970s, news about whales is always surprising, even as their numbers keeping receding towards extinction. The size of their brains, rich social lives, their songs, complex and uniquely identified with their pods. And then there’s the loneliest of them all.
The fact that research into these massive but elusive species has reached such a level of sophistication is, in itself, (more)
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* Beneath the Waves
* Eerie Impersonation
* The Saddest Song
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Curtain Raiser

Satellites Crash, Ideals Don’t, Colltalers

A police massacre in Rio, political unrest in Bogotá and Jerusalem, and a blast in Kabul; some capitals had a hell of a weekend. Speaking of it, as rich countries walk to full Covid immunization, impoverished ones still suffer from lack of vaccines, even if drug patterns may be temporality lifted.
An assassination attempt against the Maldives’ former president and environmentalist Mohamed Nasheed rocked the tiny archipelago. Which made a  surprising second appearance in the week headlines: as it turned out, the out-of-control 10-store Long March 5B Chinese rocket crashed off its waters.
In the U.S. there’s a growing concern that, unless Congress axes the filibuster, much of the Democratic agenda won’t be even voted on, or it will but after being washed out. The party that controls the presidency, the House, and the Senate hasn’t yet passed any of the badly needed plans outlined in Biden’s campaign and first 100 days in office. Thus a word of advice: stop harassing progressives and do what only you can do, end the filibuster.
In fact, some of those proposals have already been criticized for being too timid, too vague, or not fresh enough, but it’d be definitely worst if they’d be buried before hitting the Senate floor like its ex-leader used to do with bills he didn’t like. Wise up, Lib warriors, the GOPtrumpt is coming to roost.
At this moment, a lot of well-established elected Democrats have been disliked not for being too rich or for lacking cohesion, but for being in the pocket of big corporations. Consider the pharma slash healthcare industries, for instance. Ask, is there something more abject Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Save the Whistleblowers, Colltalers

President Biden has received deserving high marks for his first 100 days in office, mainly for his infrastructure and recovery spending proposals. As for Afghanistan, Iran, and Latin America, though, not so much. That’s why critics are now placing his actions in the context of his own political trajectory.
But for most Americans, relief for not having the ex-president at the White House is still, well, a relief. Trouble is brewing, though as it wont to do. Covid is killing over 600,000 people a day in India and Brazil, there’s a faulty Census to be dealt with, and climate is still an emergency. But we’re Ok.
Certainly way better than the still over a billion with no chance of being inoculated before being killed simply because rich nations won’t do enough to relax patterns that overly-profitable pharmaceutical firms own. Regardless of the surplus doses donated by the U.S., humanitarian initiatives by Cuba and others, and heroic but isolated actions, there’s something very wrong about the global healthcare establishment for such cruelty to even stand.
“Crimes against humanity.” That’s the scathing finding of a report by the U.S.-based National Conference of Black Lawyers, the National Lawyers Guild, and the International Association of Democratic Lawyers on police deadly force against unarmed Black people. The group stepped in after the U.S. pressured the U.N. Continue reading

Grace Ushers

They Care When You Cease
To, After Your Last Breath

In matters of death, we’re pretty much inexperienced. That’s good; we want to keep it that way. And when it strikes, it’s always breaking news, at least to those close by. We all get there and being distracted is no excuse. While some ponder, others keep on walking.
The business of death, though, demands timing and compassion. Just ask Peter Stefan, who’s been burying the undesired for ages. Or the Thompson sisters, whose funeral home doubles as a black history vault. And Isaiah Owen, cosmetologist for the deceased.
What they do takes precedence over your latest tweet and holds more meaning than your life-coaching lessons. So, bid your time before your autopsy but pay respects to those who move in when others avert their eyes. For they do so with the dignity death rarely grants anyone.
Who plans to expire amid a crime scene? Or dictates their own obituary? But we’re always a few degrees away from each other’s last breath. Even as we won’t care one way or another, our loved ones have the right to first pick over our final picture. May they choose wisely.
To many, it’s an unsavory topic, unworthy talking about. Too morbid, or pointless, they say. But to those left standing, making sure those laying on their backs still got their good looks may be a debt paid forward. And that’s when Peter, Lynda and Vicki, and Isaiah work their magic.

THE UNDERTAKER OF THE REJECTED
Peter Stefan went to work, eight years ago this April, as always: ready for anything. For over four decades, he hosts mourners at his Worcester funeral home and prepares bodies to be buried. On that particular day, the corpse had a name: Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
It was the eldest of the brothers who bombed the Boston Marathon, the one who died in a rain of police bullets. A tragic and hated young man, perpetrator of a despicable act, his body was torn into pieces. And yet, Stefan made sure he was well put back together before interment.
Why? Because that’s what he does. Because everyone is equal at birth and death. Because he’d do the same for much worse and much better people, with the same dedication. Not for being a musician, which he is, but to serve an undervalued human sentiment: compassion.

BROOKLYN’S SISTERS OF MERCY
Lynda Thompson-Lindsay and Vicki Thompson-Simmons‘ funeral parlor (why this term sounds like an oxymoron?) does everything that most are supposed to, including the combo embalming-the-deceased-and-producing-their family-wake. But it also does something that few can: serve as vault to black history.
For the almost century old home has borne witness to a heartbreaking chapter of American memory which would be, well, forgotten, hadn’t been for its carefully kept records of burials. Many (more)
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* Before Afterlife
* Kicking Ash
* Wake Up
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Curtain Raiser

Bear Ears Is Listening, Colltalers

There’s a lot of goodwill for U.S. President Biden as we approach his 100th day in office. The economic relief package, rejoining global treaties on Iran nukes and the climate, calling genocide the massacre of over a million Armenians by Ottoman Turks. But do we want more? Let us count the ways.
As Covid-19’s overwhelms India, calls intensify for rich nations to share their vaccine excedent. But they may need to be forced to do it. Elsewhere, FIFA got a rare challenge, and soccer fans, a beef with social media, the FBI needs clues, and it’s the 35th anniversary of Chernobyl’s nuke explosion.
Speaking of radioactivity, there’s a startling new report about American honey, the bee product not the sweetheart of yore. As it turns out, the more than 500 nuclear detonations the world’s superpowers conducted since the late 1940s impacted the sweet nectar loved since ancient times. According to a Nature Communications study, honey in the U.S. has still alarming levels of cesium, the longest-lasting fission product generated by a nuke explosion.
While respected environmental groups cite nuclear power as an unredeemed threat to our civilization, Earth Day celebrations this year were correctly focused on the still weak response by world leaders to the climate emergency threat. But regrettably, all awash in corporate memes and propaganda.
Now, it’s bad enough notorious environment-depleting corporations such as Apple and Google go on capitalizing on concerns about ‘Mother Earth,’ as twisted as the rationale behind it may be. But it’s an outrage that say, gas-burning Florida Power & Light is also welcomed to this free goodness ride.
Reporters Without Borders identified 132 countries where journalists have been routinely attacked or prevented from reporting on the coronavirus. The 2021 World Press Freedom Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Guns, Hate Will Kill America, Colltalers

Would that be possible, America’s longest war will be canceled on Sept. 11 of all days? The president said it so, repeating what Obama and Trump had promised before. Will it happen? it should. Did it work? no, but now it’s done. What it did was what every conflict does: it killed people, lots of them.
Not that we don’t do plenty of that in the U.S. too; there have been new gun massacres we’ll do little or nothing about it. Just as we manage hunger: the media glows over billionaires but food banks are overwhelmed across the nation. Tomorrow is Pot Day, though, and Thursday, Earth Day, so light up.
Let’s begin our weekly world tour in Taiwan, which is nervous about the buildup of Chinese war vessels off its waters. After pulverizing Hong Kong’s drive for democracy, Beijing’s now eager to re-litigate an old imperialistic folly: to rule the democratic-run “Republic of China,” which lost control over the mainland in 1949. The military “drills” seem designed to rattle the pro-West nation, already shaken Sunday by two non-damaging earthquakes.
Questions abound in Russia as it builds up combat troops near Ukraine’s eastern border – the largest since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, according to The Guardian. After being publicly chastised by President Biden, who ordered more sanctions against his country, critics are unsure about Putin’s strategy at this time, since an invasion would not be cost-effective, and he may soon have another problem in his hands: Alexei Nalvany’s death.
But analysts such as Anatol Lieven, senior fellow for Russia and Europe at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, also warn Ukrainians that “they may be a kind of partner of the U.S. but they’re not an ally.” In a DemocracyNow interview, he calls up the example of Georgia and how the U.S. did not, and will not again this time, engage in a war with Russia. And how Putin is unlikely to have plans to wage war with the U.S. over them either.
In France, Kobili Traoré beat Sarah Halimi, 65, before throwing her out the window of her Paris apartment in 2017 to cries of “Allahu akbar,” or god is great, and “I killed the devil.” Now, the country’s highest court has ruled that he cannot stand trial because he was Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Bring Your Whole Crew, Colltalers

The world is about to hit three million obits by Covid-19, with a fifth in the U.S. and Brazil as a steady No. 2 with over 350.000 deaths. Yup, little has improved: rates are still rising in the West, poor nations have had little access to vaccines, and big labs are still unaccountably in control of all patterns.
Elsewhere, the explosion of split-up families and their lost children at the chaotic U.S.-Mexico border is becoming the Biden administration’s greatest challenge. Also, Peru and Ecuador choose a new president, Northern Ireland is in turmoil over Brexit, and somehow related, Prince Philip had died.
Let’s get busy first with Iran, where a suspicious ‘accident‘ disabled the Natanz nuclear facility’s electrical grid just a day after it’d started to enrich uranium. Iran said that it won’t turn off its centrifuges till sanctions that have crippled the country’s economy are fully lifted. Israel, a strong opponent of the nuke agreement that the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from and that now may be revived, is suspected to have a part in the ‘terrorist‘ incident.
Poland, with over 2.6 million coronavirus cases, may be using the pandemic to crackdown on civil rights. The government, which wants ‘repolonize‘ the media, is being accused of picking winners, cutting down on ads for independent newspapers, and Continue reading

We’re Not Alone

The Secret, Trillion Lives
Crawling In & On Your Body

The late Carl Sagan may have said, we’re all made of starstuff. But deep down, what we really are is a multitude of microorganisms, 100 trillion of them, some part of our natural physiology, but most totally foreign. We wouldn’t have lasted this long on Earth without them.
While cells are the bricks that form our bodies, even before birth, an ever growing, self-renewing, array of microscopic creatures call us their home and, gasp, may also call the shots about everything we think we are, from how healthy or moody, to when we’ll finally expire.
So much for freewill. This invisible trillionaire community, living off our so well washed and fed bodies, shelters charitable organisms which allow us to survive what would’ve killed us in the past, and downright lethal pathogens for which there’s no defense. And yet others are content to just control whoever we follow on Twitter.
To learn about these entities, simple but formidable enough to erase a city’s population, is to find multiple new questions to every doubt we may clarify. It’s also to wonder how come a brainless, single-cell being can play such a complex role in the evolutionary ladder.
Notice that we hadn’t mentioned viruses till now; we figure too few would that eager to hear about them once more. But if bacteria can be foreign to us, viruses are totally aliens as they have no cell or internal structure. All killing’s done with the thinnest protein layer and a string of nucleic acid. We’d let those dogs lie for now, if we could.
Bacteria, however, can actually be our allies, and our guts hold enough of them to actually defeat an alien invasion, as H.G. Wells‘ illustrated so well in War of the Worlds. Not for long, though, as we overuse antibiotics, which kill both good and bad ones, and give rise to a new breed of superbugs. Watch out.

MAFIA BUGS & ZOMBIE SPIDERS
Speaking of evolution, a step above, more complex and considerably larger, are parasites, which are tiny insects, still invisible to our poor eye sights, but very capable all the same. Nature is full of them, and now we’re also learning that some can be pretty clever, controlling bigger creatures. Including us.
There’s one, for instance, that once inside a bumblebee, can force it to become food for its larvae, not before digging its own grave, though. They called it a Mafia Bug, but you haven’t heard it from us. Curiously, such approach to domination is emulated by other, larger creatures, such as some kind of wasps.
The Pompiliadae, a.k.a. Spider Wasp, is so called for a reason: it poisons and paralyzes without killing a spider, drags it to its burrow, bury it, and lay eggs on top of it, so it will be eaten still alive by its larvae. Pretty horrific. Another wasp does something similar: it turns the spider into a zombie construction worker.
Well, you may say, at least it teaches it a marketable skill. Except that it also paralyzes the spider and lays its eggs, etc. Not a fate one would think dignified enough for anyone, but, gasp again, it may be already happening. And your favorite pet may have something to do with some of your dark thoughts.

IT COMES FROM INSIDE YOUR CAT
Research is not new, but it goes along with the same M.O. displayed by the parasites we’ve mentioned, except that this time, the joke, er, the zombies may be us. The Toxoplasma gondii infects domestic cats via their food, and can manipulate certain cells to gain access to the central nervous system of a human.
Since the protozoan can live in many environments but survives only in the guts of cats, evolution may have given it a surprising edge. It’s been proven, for instance, that once it’s present (more)

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* Play Dough
* Outing the Innies
* Navel Lint

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Curtain Raiser

Kids Are Getting Frustrated, Colltalers

A new Capitol Hill attack showed that the U.S. Congress still hasn’t got the memo. Since the attempted Jan. 6 coup, members who supported it are still in, there’s no attack weapons ban or action on the filibuster. Don’t take for granted what it took to get us a Democratic majority or next year you’ll lose.
The week’s sore points: Biden’s immigration mess and the GOP’s shameful vote suppression efforts. Great news as Iran agrees to revive nuclear talks. But there’s also a new global push for a U.N. treaty banning all nukes and/or any kind of fuel that can kill us and destroy the planet. It makes sense.
We start in Mexico where femicide – women being murdered by former or current partners only for being women – is now rampant, aggravated by lockdowns and a weak judicial system. President Andrés López Obrador, still popular despite coronavirus mismanagements and the poor economy, hasn’t done much about it, as rape and child pregnancy increase. Ten women are killed every day and last year, near two thousand were also murdered.
In Ethiopia, an investigation by BBC Africa Eye found evidence of a massacre of at least 15 men slaughtered by the military. The attack had not been disclosed by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who finally admitted it’s been a ‘difficult and tiresome‘ fight against that Tigray People’s Liberation Front. There are increased concerns about Ahmed, who despite winning the 2019 Peace Nobel, is fully invested in crushing the guerrilla group.
As the U.S. reaches four million Covid-19 doses per day, Brazil had 300,000 deaths on Saturday. It’s Ok to compare the two topping the grimmest list of fatalities and most cases. It shows leadership – and money, surely – can change a nation’s dire straits. But someone with a brain has to be the leader.
Former president Lula da Silva’s return to political life has certainly driven the latest cabinet shake-up by President Continue reading

A Life, Abridged

Having the Final Word
About What We’ve Done

Remarkable sendoffs. Or virtual tombstones. And like the graveyard kind, not everyone will have one. To wrap the experience of living with a sharp focus, few things are more revealing that an obituary. That’s why many are now writing their own.
A well-composed death notice makes even those who knew the person feel special. And jealous if they hadn’t. A favorite of newspaper readers, is not for the feeble neophyte or the phony-flowery scriber. But two of the most remarkable here were self penned.
An obituary is designed to outlive the deceased, but many have beaten it at its own game, and survived it to tell the story. (Somehow, Monty Python comes to mind.) Or Mark Twain, even though that ‘reports of my death were greatly exaggerated‘ quote is, well, a misquote.
He was victim of one of the earliest mistakes about somebody’s passing, and had a chance to have a laugh about it. It still happens: in what became known as the ‘CNN Incident,’ a bunch of celebrities were all declared ‘dead‘ in April 2003.
Fidel Castro, Nelson Mandela, and even Dick Cheney, which was called the ‘U.K.’s favorite grandmother,’ was among them. Parts of a 2002 demise notice of England’s Queen Mother were used for their pre-obituaries, and prematurely leaked online.

THE PREFAB & THE QUIRKY
It was an accident, but quite possible: newspapers keep a database of celebrity obituaries ready for when they pass on. Nine years before her death, Queen Mum herself had already had her own untimely death aired by the Australian media.
From the man who said ‘god is dead,’ William Hamilton (whose notice was greeted by a few devilish ‘thank gods‘), to the woman who had more titles than anyone, according to the Guinness, (and 25 names), La Duquesa de Alba, the afterword is often all we’ll ever hear of them.
King of Cat BurglarsPeter Scott, or Madeline Gins, an architect who had ‘decided not to die,’ are two gems of lives we wouldn’t know about it hadn’t been for a few sentences published when they died.

THE RIGHT TO FINAL EDIT
It’s no mystery that writing your own obituary is becoming popular; everything in this era seems to be about promoting a social idea of oneself. It’s just the latest way to control the narrative, and prevent a silly act, or a crime, from seizing a lifetime of trying to look good.
It’s a selfie made up of words, a bit more elaborated than the ancient epitaph (Colltales has a ton here). But its aim is the (more)
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* Final Cut
* The Hypothesis
* Before Afterlife
* Ways to Go
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Curtain Raiser

A Fire From Another March, Colltalers

Mexico, pop. 131 million, beat Brazil, 190 million, and India, 1.4 billion to reach the unofficial highest number of Covid-19 deaths behind numero uno U.S.A. Patent monopoly has hampered equitable global distribution, and allowed fully-inoculated Israel for instance, to deny vaccines to Palestinians.
President Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief bill has triggered promising, and not so much legislation, but the latest gun massacres again challenge Congress to enact gun control. It doesn’t look good. Plus, the U.S.’ stuck in its longest war; genocide may come to Myanmar; and a humongous ship clogged Suez.
But let’s begin in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh, the world’s largest refugee camp, where a devastating fire killed scores of the Rohuynga, who’d fled the blood-thirst Myanmar military that staged a coup in 2017. Their plans to return during the brief social stability that followed were dashed with the new Feb. 1 coup. Many lost again everything in the fire while over 100 Burmese were killed by the army this past weekend. Tragically, the world is asleep.
In Yemen, the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis shows no sign of letting it up, despite a new peace proposal by Saudi Arabia, whose daily, seven-year U.S.-backed strikes have reduced the country to rubble. The Saudi aim at exterminating the Houthi, a 100K-strong group of fighters supported by Iran. Like Syria, Yemen is hosting a conflict between proxies of political enemies, Continue reading

Hell Holds No Pets

Meet Some of My
New York Friends

Paraphrasing Mario Puzo, keep your friends close, and the friends of your friends, closer. He may’ve known a thing or two about family sagas, but as far as animals are concerned, not so much. In fact, most of us wouldn’t flinch about harming a pet, even if Hollywood had an offer we couldn’t refuse.
Gentle beasts, they earn from us more than we could ever give friends, lovers, and relatives. So let me introduce you to a few of my acquaintances’ cats, and one tender dog, in the company of whom I satisfy my fix, and sense of loss since mine left me long ago and I’ve run out of time to outlast new ones.
Life gives us no choice: once the time comes, we leave it all behind. Which is fine. But unlike sons and daughters, there’s no telling them, now, go get your own place and pets to tend to. Once you’re together, you’re down for the long, or short, run, or whenever one of you checks out. Try not to be the first.
For the accidental petsitter like me, it’s always clear which one of us is the needier, and who’s actually providing existential relief. Just like it was when they adopted us. So I tackle my duties like a priest sets up the altar for a mass: everything has to be carefully arranged to assure a safe trip to heaven for all involved.
Things usually follow a natural path, from wearily sizing each other’s out to lending a tad of trust to the proceedings, to the time when it gets to be all fun and games. Such a progression may seem casual to the untrained eye, but let’s not let looks deceive us. For in the end, we may all feel better for having shared those moments together.

OLD SCHOOL & THE INTERLOPER
Ziggy was once the new kid on the block but was never as big as his elder brother, who’s left us. When he finally got his shot at the top, KittyKat showed up and won everybody’s heart. Soon, he grew bigger and is now the dominant dude. Ziggy is right to be bitter.
Two beautiful Coons, they’ve got ways to go to get along, if they’ll ever. Most likely, Ziggy will keep on being cranky, despite such a Reggae name, while Kitty gets away with mayhem. And some dare to say that cats have it easy. Life has no patience for fairness. I love these two.

THE MAJESTIC QUEEN GRACIE
There are not enough superlatives to describe this lady, and to keep it simple doesn’t do her justice either. Trying to strike a feline-like balance when writing about a cat risks exposing the inadequacy of our own sense of balance. We pinch a nerve while Gracie sails on.
I’m always ready to be entirely at her service. Not that she ever demanded. When she vocalizes her state of mind I understand it perfectly. Many a silent sunset we’ve enjoyed together, as I dabbled in her generous name-sake mood. Everything about her speaks of harmony. I look forward to indulging her light again soon.

BIRDIE & SQUIRT, TWIN SHADOWS
These two could be spies, and I swear they like to play doubles. Just when I thought I knew which is which, they’ve proved me wrong. Twice. I’m sure at least one of them flies when no one is looking. Then again, to wonder what cats do when we’re not around is like trying to build walls of shade. I think they can read my mind too.
Once I dozed off and just before I came to, I had this vivid impression they were staring at my reverie. But when I’ve opened my eyes, neither Birdie nor Squirt was anywhere to be seen. I’m sure they know something about me I don’t dare to imagine what. Next time, I’ll try an alias.

LULU TRAPEZIST & PRINCESS FURBALL
Lulu is the girl next door, who flirts with the string I flicker in front of her paws, and then disappears in the back. Princess came after, her beautiful fur covering up her round body. While she hardly moves, Lulu entertains dogs of all sizes. They both live in a pet store, you see.
Lulu‘s the one I seek when I need a quick cat fix. She won’t let (more)
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* Head Tails
* Ailurophile Caturally
* Suddenly, Last Caturday
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Curtain Raiser

We All Come From Elsewhere, Colltalers

The Atlanta massage parlor massacre has a clear provenance. It began by the ex-president calling Covid-19 the ‘China virus.’ It escalated unimpeded through attacks on Asian-Americans as police looked into the debunked ‘lone wolf’ theory. Thus who’s ever doubted it all would end up with bullets?
As the U.S. hits the 100-million-dose mark, there’s growing pressure for President Biden and other Western leaders to force a suspension of patterns owned by big labs, so everyone can get a shot. AstraZeneca has some explaining to do. Plus floods and rats in Australia, and the unwavering Burmese.
We start in Russia where President Putin congratulated himself on the anniversary of his unilateral annexation of Crimea in 2014. He’s got away with it so far, except for his complicated relationship with Ukraine and its president, former actor Volodymyr Zelensky – yes, that Zelensky of the first Trump impeachment. See, he may be against it, but millions of Russians, Ukrainians, and even Crimeans may be just fine with it. Thus Putin wins again.
In Brazil, 1,290 people lost their lives to what President Bolsonaro once called it ‘a little flu‘ in just 24 hours last week while adding near 48,000 new cases. Brazil seconds only the U.S. with near 300 thousand Covid deaths, but they’re almost twice those in India, which has 6,5 times its population.
As for Myanmar, the Burmese people are offering the world a tremendous lesson on resilience and dignity, fighting the truculent army that took power on Feb. 1. The military has conducted night raids resulting in thousands of civilians ‘disappeared’ besides enforcing a policy of summary extermination, shooting street protesters at will. As refugees reportedly seek asylum in India, Continue reading

Waters of March

A Fine Day to Salute
Hurricane Elis Regina

‘If she were still alive, Brazilian music wouldn’t be in such a bad shape.’ That’s guitar player Nathan Marques about Elis Regina, likely Brazil’s greatest singer, who’d be 76 today. She died of an accidental overdose in 1982, and the country’s rich musical tradition still mourns her loss.
Most survivors of Brazil’s golden generation of songwriters and musicians, from the 1960s on, would endorse her guitarist’s stinging comment. Besides being impossibly gifted as an artist, Elis is also missed for her uncanny talent scouting skills, as many a career was either launched or enhanced by her renditions.
Her rise from anonymity to national stardom was meteoric. At 20, with Vinicius de Moraes and Edu Lobo‘s Arrastão, she won the TV Excelsior Festival de Música, the first of a series of festivals that took the country by storm, and revealed a new batch of interpreters that would dominate Brazilian music for years to come.
She then co-hosted with Jair Rodrigues O Fino da Bossa and turned it into the most important music program on TV at the time. She seemed born to star in the medium, a crucial part of the young nation’s cultural integration, even as it also served well the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil between 1964 and 85.
In many cases, hers were the first recordings of composers who’d go on to become national treasuries, like Milton Nascimento, Ivan Lins, Beto Guedes, and João Bosco, among others. Or she added considerable wattage to the work of contemporaries, like Lobo, Chico Buarque, Caetano Veloso, and Gilberto Gil, by recording their songs.

WHEN BRAZILIAN MUSIC MATTERED
Even though they all wrote lyrics, she also helped usher an entirely new lineage of lyricists. Fernando Brant, Ronaldo Bastos, Aldir Blanc, and Victor Martins, to name but few, had their urban poetry-infused words first played on the radio and performed on TV by her, in a country whose majority by now were living in big cities.
By the 1970s, Brazilian music, or MPB, had several streams of high-quality output, and composers of talent to boot. As Bossa Nova entered its second decade, and Tropicália, its own maturity phase, even artists identified with purer musical idioms, such as samba and Chorinho, were registering on vinyl their arguably best work.
Thus as Tom Jobim, João Gilberto, Baden Powell, and so many others were consolidating the then most famous representative of the country’s music, Veloso, Gil, Tom Zé, and Os Mutantes, plus Buarque, Paulinho da Viola, Nascimento, and Bosco were hard at work rewriting popular music to a younger audience.
MOOD SWINGER & ADVOCATE
One of the most remarkable facts about Elis Regina’s trajectory was that she was developing her sophisticated interpretative touch while at the vanguard of all these currents. Credit must be also given to husband and partner Cesar Camargo Mariano, who contributed (more)
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Read Also:
* Lil’ Pepper
* 50 Summers

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Curtain Raiser

What Legacies Are Made of, Colltalers

Daylight Time Savings is on, a sight spring is not too far. Covid-19, though, is yet to receive the memo; global cases have beat the 120 million mark, and the U.S. has a quarter of them. Good and bad news about vaccines: many got their shots in the global north but billions worldwide remain uninoculated.
Brazil, second on that grim list of virus casualties, experienced an earthquake of sorts with the return of former President Lula da Silva to politics. And there’s also a string of sad anniversaries to mark: Breonna Taylor, Marielle Franco, the Syrian civil war, and the Fukushima nuke disaster and tsunami.
Let’s start with Bolivia, where far-right Jeanine Añez was arrested on terrorism and sedition charges. She instigated the 2019 military coup that ousted the country’s first indigenous president, Evo Morales, and led a brutal regime that persecuted and killed countless pro-democracy activists. Morales has since returned and in Oct. his ally Luis Arce won a closely-watched special election. Bolivia, population of 11 million, has 260,000 coronavirus cases.
In Poland, as around the world, massive marches marked Women’s Day on Sat but the focus this year was the draconian anti-abortion law that went into effect on Jan. With increasingly restrictive measures against sex minorities – the country has now what it calls ‘LGBTQ-Free Zones!‘ –  religious zealotry seems to have been inscribed into law. Poland may be ready for a gifted leader to take it out of a past of coal, war, and prejudice and back to the future.
And Scotland, whose efforts to become independent from the United Kingdom have increased since Brexit, was told by the U.K. Prime Minister that he’s against another referendum. The first one, in 2014, failed to grant autonomy to Scots, but F.M. Nicola Sturgeon has since pushed for a new vote.
A few other issues of note include Myanmar, where the now indiscriminate killings of civilians by the military Continue reading

Spinning Wheels

Baby, You Can’t Drive
My Car. Nor Should You

Well, it was a good run. From its late 1600s invention to its 20th-century mass production, the car enjoyed a fast, risky, and racy love affair with people. But alas, it may be over. And the signs of a probable popularity crash are coming from some quite unexpected places.
Mainly, its evolution. See, once we begin traveling in driverless, accident-proof, shape-shifting vehicles, what can possibly come next? The quicksand of moral considerations, of course. Or, rather bluntly, will your model choose to save your life or those in the school bus?

At the very least, that’s what we get when we aim at convenience: we’re so willing to trade our hands-on approach to driving with the exactitude of machines, that they may as well make decisions against our best interests. Meaning, save the kids, dump you down the ravine.
With the vexing plus of such artificial intelligence, now capable of safely handling a one-tone speeding vehicle among hundreds of others, not being even that intelligent. The technology that allows a car to go from point A to point B is as old as that which built the pyramids. Just like pushing blocks onto a prefab grid.
We’re not knocking the brave new world of computer research, and the wonders of such a complex piece of engineering that gets us there faster. An evolutionary leap that, in less than a century, rendered the human factor nearly obsolete, as far as its moving parts are concerned.
And yes, thanks to those who came before, to Ferdinand Verbiest, to Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot, to Gustave Trouvé, and to Karl Benz, as well as to the man many Americans erroneously believe has invented the automobile: Henry Ford. We’ll give you a minute to check these names out.
Ford did leave an indelible imprint on this evolutionary arch, but perhaps much more relevant may have been his contribution in the context of the U.S.’s technological expanse during his lifetime. And, of course, for having resisted the public clamor for what seemed more needed then: a faster horse.

YOU MAY SLEEP AT THE WHEEL

When Google successfully completed tests of its driverless car almost a decade ago, the driver’s license began its final move towards oblivion, along with birth certificates and notary signatures. A scannable eye, voice, or barcode is all that’s needed; everything else about you is already on file.
So will some familiar rites of passage, such as learning how to drive with a relative, or being the designated driver to your friends. It may not happen next month, or after Covid-19, but we’ve been down this road a few times already to know what comes around the corner.
In itself, the concept of being driven (more)
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Read Also:
* Get Moving
* Mushroom Car

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Curtain Raiser

Raise Girls as World Leaders, Colltalers

Once again Brazil shocks the world and not in a good way. As President Bolsonaro told Brazilians to ‘stop whining,’ it hit 10 million Covid-19 cases, almost two thousand a day last week. They could use some of the $1.9 trillion relief bill Republicans fought tooth and nail not to give to Americans.
The far-reaching bill seems well poised to boost the U.S. recovery but it also shows the limitations of President Biden’s ‘mandate‘ as it failed to raise the minimum wage. The Pope’s in Iraq and, in Minneapolis, the trial of the police officer who brutally killed George Floyd last May gets started today.
More on that in a moment but let’s start with Myanmar where the military is shooting to kill protesters of the Feb 1 coup and the junta seems unfazed by the international uproar. Not that it’s been particularly strident. While the army reportedly conducts overnight raids, the casualty count rises, and China takes its sweet time before stepping in. Since the European Union is not acting, the U.S. should put its diplomacy corp in a state of high alert.
Serious violations of international law, possibly amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity.‘ Amnesty International’s assessment matches United Nations’ fears that invading Eritrean troops in Ethiopia’s Tigray region may bring about more deaths, violence, and potentially mass starvation.  Eritrea’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who was awarded the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, now is accused of ordering illegal troop raids across the border.
Pope Francis may be arguably presiding over the Catholic church’s biggest decline but no one is crazy to count the Vatican out just yet. Argentina-born Francisco, who leads 1.2 billion devouts, has then been entrusted with revitalizing the church’s dwindling attendance using a favorite from the Dark Ages playbook: playing kingmaker. It’s not clear whether the U.S. has offered him pointers for his meeting with Iran’s Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
$45 billion. That’s the combined amount that Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca are expected to make with vaccine sales in 2021. Which has its upside: after all, these and other companies are offering a safe cure and treatment to an illness that in one year, killed almost three million people, safely developed at a fast clip, and that’s already benefitted some of us. Other companies Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

By All Means Necessary, Colltalers

Lacking strong world censure, the Myanmar military has moved to phase 2 of its power grab: shooting civilians. President Biden, who bombed Syria instead, has also been criticized for ignoring an intelligence report that accuses Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince of murdering journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
But the week in America may be dominated by two arresting issues: the battle to include in the government’s Covid relief package raising the minimum wage to $15h, the first such rise since 2009; and a bombshell revelation about the murder of Black leader Malcolm X, 56 years ago this February.
We begin with a disturbing Guardian report about the more than 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, who died since 2010 while building stadiums and infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The data highlights the failure of the secretive ‘absolute monarchy‘ ruled by the Al Thani family to protect its over two million migrant workers, as it blames the average 12 deaths a week on ‘natural causes.’
As it becomes almost a dark tradition, 317 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped at gunpoint on Friday. What started in 2014 with the abduction of 276 girls by the armed group Boko Haram, which opposes Western education, has become a cottage industry in Nigeria. Different groups have been staging kidnappings for money in Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Percy & Us Will Persevere, Colltalers

There’s no shortage of ‘I told you so’ being thrown at those facing jail for their murderous Capitol Hill rampage last month, and at Texas officials. After all, only the rioters didn’t expect their leader’s cowardice at that key moment. Or only a fossil-fuel-based state economy would deny climate change.
500,000 Americans dead of Covid-19 also means that the U.S.’s less than 4% of the world population has a fifth of all deaths reported. As President Biden reenrolls the country into the Paris Agreement, the WHO, and Iran’s nuclear treaty, still unfulfilled campaign promises are back to pressure him.
We start our roundabout this week celebrating NASA and its nothing-short-of-epic landing of the rover Perseverance on Mars. In usual fashion, the arguably most popular U.S. government agency reliably achieved yet another technological feat. It sent the artifact through seven months and millions of miles to skydive amid toxic fumes and land safely on the Red Planet. All so mankind knows it enough to exercise bragging rights. Well done, Percy.
The Nov. 3 elections will be forever marked as the day a U.S. president was stopped from proclaiming himself a king. The Democratic Party gained control over the Senate, we’re closer than ever to decriminalize pot, and a number of other good things were made into law too. But in ‘liberal’ California, the so-called gig economy scored a major and deeply demoralizing boost: the passing of Prop 22 allows some employers not to comply with labor laws.
Uber and Lyft, the U.S.’s two biggest car-services companies, can keep calling employees ‘independent contractors,’ that is, no benefits, no paid time off, and no health insurance, and it’s all for minimum wages. Oh, and you may be fired too, no questions asked. Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

They’ll Come Back For More, Colltalers

It’ll be long before we fully take in the implications of the second Trump impeachment acquittal. The unpunished Fascistic rampage at Capitol Hill though has sure pried opened a back door to power. Senate may prevent the ex-president from ever running again but not someone else, likely smarter.
While few are paying attention, femicide continues to wretch the lives of countless women throughout the world. In times of deception, it’s often what we don’t see that hurts us the most. Thus unseen until detected was the serious cyberattack into the water supply of an entire community in Florida.
But before anything, let’s take a moment to carve the half a million mark, as in, 500,000 Covid-19 deaths in America. And the even more staggering fact that despite all celebrated technological breakthroughs, the reality is that not enough vaccines have been produced so far to go around. Globally. Not yet anyway, and part of the glacial path of immunization is due to unaddressed inequalities and the focus of Big Pharma on their own bottom line.
Americans have mourned and grieved for those gone and those being hit by it but still stings to bear witness once again to privilege and influence buying a ticket out of any trouble. It’s not just rich countries purchasing and storing way more shots than they currently need, to detriment of poorer ones. But even within states and cities, wealthier citizens are managing to get spots in suburban lines, originally set to locals. And getting away with it.
That’s why it’s so important for the U.S. and other nations to let the World Health Organizations manage all global health Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

To Impeach a Wrongdoer, Colltalers

5.077 Covid-19 American deaths. That’s the audited total registered Thursday. We’re speeding toward the half-a-million cases before the month is out. The virus spreads by jets while vaccines are hand-delivered; guess which is faster? New variants may arrive even faster but immunization will prevail.
The Burmese are out in the streets trying to undo Myanmar’s military coup before it grows roots. They’ll need help. ‘Incitement of insurrection.’ That’s the charge on the second Trump impeachment starting tomorrow as the FBI rounds up members of the deadly mob that stormed Capitol Hill on Jan. 6.
We start on a related note as Canada has just declared the Proud Boys, which took part in the tragic events in DC, a terrorist organization. Court filings charge that the group spouses political violence, Fascism, misogyny, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-immigrant, and white supremacist ideologies. As many face criminal penalties in the U.S., they may forget delusions of freedom that many a Wild West gunslinger has shared: to run away North.
In Brazil, an investigation on over 230 thousand coronavirus casualties concluded that President Bolsonaro is personally responsible for allowing the pandemic to run amok through an ‘institutional strategy to spread the virus.’ The Conectas Derechos Humanos and São Paulo University study also has exposed the administration’s lack of a national plan or provision for vaccine availability and still blames the media and others for the pandemic.
Meanwhile, indigenous leaders and human rights groups asked the International Criminal Court at The Hague to charge Bolsonaro with ‘ecocide,’ the dismantling of environmental policies and violation of native rights. Since 2018, Amazon deforestation Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

People Own These Vaccines, Colltalers

The expectation, chaos, and general anxiety over a vaccine that’d start defanging Covid-19 are holding for ransom the world’s breath. Over 100 million cases and 2.3 million casualties justify public concerns. But why no one is holding the big labs accountable for such appalling distribution failures?
Also, why terrorists arrested by the FBI for their Jan. 6 Capital Hill murderous rampage have been freed by local judges? And an irrelevant bruhaha, staged by small investors against Wall Street, had predictable results. Hint: they lost. And even without the virus, 2020 was deadly to asylum seekers.
We start the new month near a town across the Rio Grande from Texas, where 19 burned bodies were found a week from last Friday. Believed to be migrants, at least two of them from Guatemala, they’d been shot first, and their full identification may take months. A year and a week before, 21 had been burned to death in nearby Ciudad Mier, which prompted the Mexican army to kill 11 alleged gunmen, which all but doomed the investigation.
In India, tens of thousands of landowning farmers have been protesting new agricultural laws they see as unfairly stacked against them. On Saturday, the government blocked the Internet in areas surrounding Delhi as some started one-day hunger strikes to mark the 48th anniversary of Mohandas Gandhi’s assassination. Clashes with the police left at least one farmer dead last week but it’s unlikely that the Modi administration will back down.
The European Union, however, did back down on sending vaccines to the Republic of Ireland while skipping Northern Ireland and that was perceived as a relief. The open-borders issue that almost derailed Brexit – with many hoping that it would – just proved again how it can still crush some sensitive toes. The real issue, of course, lies elsewhere: the U.K.’s exit from the E.U. was never driven by people’s best interests but by those of its architects.
As for the bumbling handling of the virus, it’s run roughshod of any common sense in the U.K., throughout the E.U., the U.S., and in many countries. For all vaccines now reaching the market and making billions to Big Pharma are mostly funded by taxpayer money and should be labeled as such, say healthcare activists, rather than advertising their maker. Please follow the #ThisIsOurShot hashtag for further actions promoting a ‘People’s Vaccine.’
Concerns about gargantuan inequalities in vaccine access and distribution have grown steadily as the epidemic starts its second year of terror. While rich nations can afford to buy and store extra doses, a global forecast group’s new report has found that 84 of the world’s poorest countries will not get enough for their populations, and some may not get anything before 2024. That’s alarming: Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

A Work Cut Out For Us, Colltalers

There’s a potential new U.S.A. ahead of us. But we may still get stuck with our nation of yore or with what it’s been in the past years. Only a new dawn is worth pursuing, though, and yes, that may include the second impeachment. In any event, Americans must wisely choose before the 2022 elections.
The future we pick may be in response to the Doomsday Clock, which is been closer than ever to midnight, i.e., global annihilation. That may change Wednesday when atomic scientists unveil the new time. But with 25 million COVID cases, the U.S. still has ways before regaining the world’s respect.
Hold those thoughts while we do our abridged version of a news round-up. Starting by Russia where thousands took the streets in support of Aleksei Navalny, the opposition leader Putin tried to kill by poison and who was arrested as soon as he arrived home. As the Kremlin sets up a court hearing in Feb. that may send him to prison on trumped-up charges, most Western nations accused of supporting him have no idea what he actually stands for.
In Portugal, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa won in a landslide five years more in office, while far-right and progressives had mediocre showings. It was likely a vote for continuity as Portugal has now over 600 thousand coronavirus cases and more than 10,000 have already died from the virus.
In a surprising row over media regulations, Australia may face a future without Google, as it presses the search behemoth to pay for the news it quotes from media organizations. It’s unlikely that the trillion-dollar-valued Alphabet Inc., owner of Google, will back down but after recent moves by the European Union to curb its privacy infringements, along with Facebook and other social media Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

The Year We Cannot Forget, Colltalers

If you’re neither a billionaire nor had a lucky break in 2020, chances are you’re happy this year is finally (almost) over. Also, because it’s not hard to feel grateful for having pulled through while so many did not. For it’s Ok to be thankful amid tragedy but it feels better knowing we did make a difference.
Yes, there’s been Covid and the 1.6 million-plus lives it took with it, including over 300,000 Americans. There’s the brutal reality of millions going to bed hungry every day. The scourge of climate emergency and injustice of racism and rising femicide. There was Trump. And yet, we’re still breathing.
Naturally, most of us would like this moment to be a celebration of what humanity has done so well, but we’re at loss for words; so many of us stepped up to the plate and saved lives, showed compassion, risked life and limb, stood on bullets’ way to speak and protect those whose voices were silenced.
Their sacrifice has countered the horror of having a president who lied, mocked, denied, chastised, and ultimately, ignored the pleas of his own citizens at their most vulnerable time. In the end, it didn’t matter whether Trump’s deceived his own supporters or tried to disenfranchise dissenting Americans; everything he’s done in office was to advance his own cause and at times, that of his family and friends. For that, there must be no redemption possible.
We also didn’t want the year to end so badly to Black people, killed mercilessly by a truculent police establishment. We wished for better things to happen to people of color, asylum Continue reading

Downtown Trains

To Rod Stewart, His Trains
& the Holidays in New York

When ‘Maggie Mae’ burst through my mini transistor radio in 1971 its circuits coughed and fried a bit. The dawn of the singer-songwriter era and yet, here’s this punch of a voice drawing blood from the heart of teen lovers. It wasn’t to last but still.
Now Rod Stewart has introduced the world to another hit of his: an epic, 23-year in the making, scale model of a U.S.-like metropolis and its trains. It’s enormous and it’s a beauty. It’s also related to the subject of this letter for some mushy reasons.

See, from 1996 to 2008, New York had a third holiday train show, The Station at Citicorp Center. The Botanical Garden’s twig and plant-made trains and railroads, and the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s subway and commuter train show are the other two.
It took gall for that little train show that could to challenge such centenarian institutions. A quarter of that time for the most but it did arrive there and it was on its way to becoming a permanent feature of the holidays in NYC. But it wasn’t to be.
Now for the record: Colltales has nothing to do with that or any of the places mentioned here. I don’t know the creators, artists, associates, or anyone connected to that show. This post is all about the raw sentimentality implied above.

PICTURES IN A GASOLINE ALLEY
Then lack of funding allegedly closed down The Station. I couldn’t put up with that kind of bite on my apple. Broke, as usual, I did the only thing an orphan could: I plead for help on the Website of little-known model train enthusiast, Station Master Rod.
I don’t regret it; the former gravedigger assistant has by now an entire team tending to his site and career so it’s hard to imagine that he never read my appeal. Or that they didn’t check to see whether I was legit, or had ties to the Dunham Studio – again, I don’t.
I was just one of the many eight-to-80-year olds going berserk over those Gulliverian scenes. That includes my own little ‘Thomas,’ who now claims not to remember it. It helps to have a taste for miniatures with a huge serving of wonder to appreciate it.

So, ‘Dear Mr. Stewart

Congrats on the completion of your spectacular model city said to be inspired by New York and Chicago. Your passion is shared by millions and I, for one, used to spend hours watching mesmerizing train shows on TV. They all live on the Web now.
I’ve heard that you’ve spent almost a generation composing your tiny city and that you did most of the work by yourself. Impressive and probably quite rewarding in a Zen kind of a way. Now, about that message on your Website: did you get to read it then?
For this is now beyond that particular train show, as great and popular as it still is. No, now this would be a gift, your holiday gift to the kids of the city to where you’ve come visit so often. In the 1980s, you actually walked into the restaurant I used to work at.

Whoever you’d hire to set it up, where or, grasp, whether it’d be a traveling version of your own display, it’d all be of course entirely up to you. It’d be an awesome gesture to be credited only to you; seriously, I’d put it on writing for your legal council.
Wouldn’t that be great? This city glows during the holidays and memories carved in childhood during this time remain cherished throughout life. Along with your songs, a train show could be yet another touch of magic you’ve been providing the world for decades.
New York also welcomes yet another community that now you belong to: that of cancer survivors. With your gift, by this time next year we’d all be in those lines full of happy faces, eager to ride those tracks with their minds while dreaming of day trips to Manhattan.
Come, let’s see the trains Uncle Rod has set up for us. Thanks.’

(*) Originally published on the oh-so-long-ago Dec. 3, 2019.

Curtain Raiser

Who’s On First, What’s On Colltalers

The Covid-19 vaccination rollout is about to start and with that comes another stage of the pandemic. And questions such as, who will be first? how will the process work itself out? and how much big pharma corporations stand to make? That’s why there’s the ‘People’s Vaccine Alliance‘ on the rise.
Facebook, the social media that’s richer and more powerful than many nations, is facing antitrust lawsuits filed by the Federal Trade Commission and 48 U.S. states, ultimately seeking to break it up for buying out its competition only to crush it. But hang in there, you may not need to quit it just yet.
Let’s start on a sobering note, though (hoping to improve it later): last Tuesday it’s been 1000 days since Rio’s Black councilwoman, rights activist, and LGBTQ firebrand Marielle Franco was executed, on March 14, 2018. There’s no secret who killed her but seemingly no proof of who ordered the hit.
Hated by corrupt police and militia alike, a fierce advocate for the shantytown dwellers of her city, there’s no mystery why she was murdered either. Her still unpunished assassination is a stain on Brazil’s justice system, and as many fingers point to President Bolsonaro and his politician sons, hers is yet another indictment on the impunity of crimes perpetrated against women, Black communities, sex minorities, and the poor, all of which she not just embodied but used her platform as an elected politician to defend. She’s still sorely missed and the silence about her true killers is simply an outrage.
Four years after the U.K. unexpectedly voted to split up from the European Union, the reality that the vote was a fluke and the separation would be in fact a mistake may have Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Dreamers Have the Power, Colltalers

The repulsive spectacle of our non-conceding president seeking to pre-pardon himself, his family, and friends, is not just an admission of guilt. It’s also why those related to 15 million dead and alive Americans with Covid-19 deserve full accountability for the Trump administration’s criminal ineptitude.
When 65 years ago last week Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a segregated bus in Montgomery, AL, hers was neither a first for such a rebellious act nor the most dramatic but a turning point. Her courage still dwarfs our current resolve to set racial equality in the U.S.
More about that later but let’s start with ‘Make Amazon Pay,’ the movement to force the world’s largest online retailer to fulfill its social obligations. Launched on Black Friday by over 50 organizations, it demands better working conditions and full tax transparency (Amazon paid 0 taxes in 2018).
A letter by over 400 lawmakers from 34 countries to founder Jeff Bezos, who became a trillionaire exactly during the pandemic, says the company has ‘dodged and dismissed … debts to workers, societies, and the planet‘ on its way to market domination and to top the $11 billion profit it made last year.
Good news to those who were born in the U.S. but remain in the limbo of draconian immigration laws: a federal judge ordered the ‘Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,’ or DACA, to be restored to protect the so-called ‘Dreamers‘ from deportation while providing a path to their citizenship. Being but a fraction of undocumented immigrants living in the country, the ruling still benefits over a million and their families, currently terrorized by ICE raids.
An outpour of sadness has been expressed by scientists the world over about the destruction of Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Stand For Those Who Can’t, Colltalers

These are uncertain times. Covid-19 is at calamity levels of transmission and no healthcare system seems capable of handling its ravenous expansion. Months from a vaccine, we’re all we’ve got to keep ourselves safe. While Americans die by the thousands, a lame-duck president refuses to concede.
The assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, though, fuels rumors of a desperate attempt to keep Trump in office – with a little help from Israel? Elsewhere, there were massive street protests in France and Thailand, and municipal elections in Brazil brought grief to progressives.
For a change, let’s open with some upbeat news: in Scotland, menstruation products will be free and available to anyone. Let’s turn the idea into a right in the entire world; there’s plenty of exploitation and abuse of the female body but not nearly enough support for being a woman and all that it implies.
Tomorrow is World Aids Day and speaking of epidemics past and present, the news about HIV contagion is again mixed. According to the CDC, fewer people died of H.I.V.-related causes, but survival rates for women and people of color did not improve as much. There are surely lessons to be learned from the Aids outbreak and crisis since the 1980s, the wreck it’s left in its wake, and how it came under control, including the fact that’s still around.
France is having its ‘George Floyd moment,’ as cameras captured the violent beating of Michel Zecler, a Black music producer. Thousands took to the streets to protest racial violence Continue reading

Sky-Bound Arrow

The Woman Who Carried
a Son Who Still Carries Her

Gentle Maria Eva of Sagittarius could be a fitting epitaph gracing her tombstone. A coded message to strangers to be. Yet, her repose is all I need to hold a life that expired long ago – squeezed in my hands like wilted flowers and my own past-expiration heart.
She chose the graveside of an unknown child to speak and weep for her own lost girl. As the boy pretended to pray, her tears dripped ever so tenderly onto the humid grass. At a corner inside me, I now quietly sip the brew of the 14 years since she’s gone.
We’re put to run all over the Earth, bouncing on edges of countries and tongues, yet we all come to dive into a hole on the ground, dug by the few who love us. Mariazinha was the unfinished symphony whose more touching segments were left to be written. Or heard. Or lived.
When she departed, that lifetime well was already open, on the same wall where her love already rested waiting for her. I’ve helped shove her brittle body and mind into that place, at the same desolated gallery we’d walked together just a few years earlier.
There lies the first of the many Marias that ruled my life, where I came from and one day will return. From that deep cave, she still looks after me, trying to honor the justice she longed so hard to shine on her own existence. The very first one, just like Eve, her fitting second name.
I once questioned how much of my mother I carried with me; now I’m not sure where she ends and I start. As my own well approaches, I hope she’ll ease me into the great unknown. To grow old come fast, and so does the end, all while we recede quickly back to the beginning.
I never gave her a Mother’s Day card, never once thought I was going
_______
Read Also:
* Pai Heitor
* Middle Brother
* Unanswerable Prayers

to miss her as I do through the parts of me I no longer control. But here I am, wishing I could ask her, at least once, how come she’s now living inside me. Thus this post, a memento I won’t carry any longer with me.
Make room, mother, prepare my bed as you used to. Soon, I’ll be coming over for my last visit, even without being sure I’ll see you there. It won’t matter, I already have you within me, I already have you anytime. Happy may be your day of all the days that came and went. It won’t take long now, Mom. Love you.

(*) Originally published on May 12, 2018.

Curtain Raiser

Tell Him to Move Out of DC, Colltalers

Georgia’s recounted its votes and certified Joe Biden as the presidential winner. Today Michigan and Pennsylvania will do the same, and by Dec. 1 so will Arizona, Nevada, and Wisconsin. That’s why President Donald Trump may be about to concede his defeat and congratulate his opponent. Not.
Thus, upon careful consideration, we offer that the President-elect should lead a great march to the White House to tell in person our current lame-duck leader that he needs to move out so America may move on. If not by Thursday Thanksgiving then before the 300.000th American dies of coronavirus.
But before dwelling on the disturbing and entirely avoidable constitutional crisis that may make or break the olde U.S. of A., let’s start with the other pandemic which has been unwittingly aggravated by the virus lockdowns: femicide. Even before the global health scare, the number of women being murdered, including transgender and other non-binaries, was already rampant in Latin America, with Brazil and Mexico leading the despicable way.
Now, it’s ever more visible that the sad phenomenon is not restricted to that region only; Australia had 45 women killed this year, according to Destroy the Joint. In the U.K., a Femicide Census found that over a ten-year period, more than 1,400 women have been violently killed by men, foe or friend. Wednesday kicks off a U.N.-sponsored ’16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence,’ which will hold global activities to increase awareness.
Despite significant support from women for the confessed rapist who’s just lost the U.S. presidential race, the trend runs counter wise around the world. Women are having a decisive impact on government and authoritarian regimes, and Turkey, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Canada, South Africa, Israel, France, and many others have seen huge rallies, for not just women’s reproductive rights but also the sacred right to remain alive, being disrupted by the police.
Speaking of Australia, it’s also been shaken by an official report about elite forces that allegedly killed Afghan civilians and prisoners in ‘competition killings.‘ Unlike what happened in the U.S., though where the president granted clemency to war Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Time to Get Those Keys Back, Colltalers

Elections are designed to settle, a period placed at the end of a cycle, a clean slate for the future. Democratic nations rely on such normality. Defeated leaders are to graciously get out of the way, so a new day may rise. But not the president. To Donald Trump, America simply can’t quit Donald Trump.
As the U.S. faces a potential constitutional breakdown, the world shivers. Foes and allies gingerly prepare for what may come but can’t afford to ignore their own political turmoil. Uncertainty spreads like wildfire but ultimately, it’ll be up to Americans to keep it up or stop this whole insanity. Will we?
For while we correctly fret about the presidency, there’s an upsurge – second wave? third wave? does it matter? – of Covid-19 cases. What the president has affirmed at least 38 times it’d ‘disappear, like a miracle,’ has now killed over 250,000 Americans and more than 1.3 million worldwide. Record-breaking spikes threaten to overwhelm healthcare systems and a vaccine is still a long shot, but Trump’s only concerned about remaining in power.
We’ll go back to these issues in a moment but let’s conference the world first. Starting with Bolivia which finds itself in the solitary position of looking forward towards the future. The last Sunday’s inauguration of the socialist Luis Arce government and the return of its first indigenous president, Evo Morales, ousted about a year ago by a coup, has filled the small Andes country with joy and the hope it’ll build this time the nation its majority wants.
But if in the north people are afraid things may go south, in most of the global south, they’re pretty much there already. In Peru, where President Martin Vizcarra was impeached and Continue reading

Space Lighthouse



ISS@20, Life Amid Stars
Enters Its Third Decade

Here she comes. And there she goes. 16 times a day. The International Space Station, which completed 20 years in orbit last week, is humankind’s friendliest eye in the sky, a silent witness watching over us at every turn of our home planet.
It’s been an amazing ride and view. Just the sheer technological mastery necessary to keep it afloat, and the wealth of scientific data it provides daily, are enough to fulfill its lofty dream of being the space outpost of everyone of us, Earthlings.
Built by 16 nations, temporary home to 241 rocket scientists from 19 nationalities, the ISS is almost as long as an American football field. It’s like a six-bedroom hanging aloft, where groups of gifted dwellers extend our own grasp through outer space.

The station is a
scientific research hub, from life to physical sciences, to astronomy to meteorology. Such as the yearlong study that paired and monitored twin astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly for a year. Mark, now a U.S. Senator-elect, remained in Houston, TX, while Scott raced overhead at five miles per second.
Above all, the ISS‘ greatest achievement is being a beacon to our best aspirations, of harmony among nations, working together to build a better future. As such a beautiful dream is far from becoming reality down here, it’s crucial that it survives in space.

A BLUE WORLD, ROUND AS PIE
Watching it sliding soundlessly above high mountains of clouds and vast water mirrors, allows us also into a truly surprising realization: all ground noise we make, tall buildings we erect, and border walls we raise, are invisible and meaningless from the air.
The ISS sees no wars, hate, hunger, tragedy. It does, however, observe the terrible ways we treat Earth as it’s easy to spot air pollution from above, just like the desertification of land and the smoke of wildfires caused by our abandon. And that’s beyond sad.
From up there, lies and climate change denials can’t be heard either, which is probably good. But not seeing rising sea levels or lines dividing people, doesn’t mean that we’re unaffected by them. All it takes is, well, an astronaut, to report their deadly impact.

THE THIRD BRIGHTEST IN THE SKY
Just like the dream behind its conception, the ISS is also vulnerable: a little debris the size of a quarter can disable it and risk the lives of its dwellers. And it’s also susceptible to the whims of near-sighted (more)
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Read Also:
* Space Droppings
* Heavenly Palace
* Meanwhile, Up There

Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

A Battle Won, More to Come, Colltalers 

It’s been a big ‘Aaaahhhhhh,’ an extended, cathartic, long-overdue sigh of relief. Joe Biden has thoroughly beaten Donald Trump, celebrations erupted across timezones, and America has finally caught its breath. Even the world’s sleeping better too. A swell party but this nightmare is not quite over yet.
For Covid-19 is on the offensive again and several countries are now back into lockdown. 10.2 million Americans got the virus, and worldwide over 1.2 million have already missed the new day. The election is done but the presidency ends only on Jan. 20, so a lot may happen between now and then.
Expect a backlash from the president, and Republicans still pretending to like him. Calls for recounting, lawsuits, desperate appeals to put out the fire. But unlike what many feared, there’s really no close-enough race to justify a recounting and no serious questioning of the system’s integrity. Not that this will keep them from trying. In the end, it’ll be the American people who will guarantee the legality of the process. And they have already decided.
Except for Trump of course. The president who has already turned the U.S. into a Banana Republic now threatens to muck up what makes America functional: the peaceful transition of power. It’s been abundantly clear that he’s not equipped Continue reading

Pai Heitor

If You Could See This World
With Eyes of Your Youngest

Happy 107th Birthday, Dad.

Curtain Raiser

There’d Be Days Like These, Colltalers

We’re entering an extraordinary week in American history. Books, theories, films, college disciplines, and brand new laws will be written about what’s happening in the U.S. Billions of people, entire regimes, wildlife, and the planet itself will be impacted by it. Will Americans choose wisely or poorly?
The terrifying global spike of Covid-19 – the U.S.’ still on top with over 9.4 million cases – and a just-retooled Supreme Court on track to reelect Trump will certainly headline the period. That and the U.S. officially leaving the Paris Agreement. Oh, did we mention there’s a major election tomorrow?
We start the news roundup with the brutal murder of three in Nice, France, by a young Tunisian, supposedly in the name of Muhammad. It’s the third of such attacks in two months, but there were other near-miss tragedies averted by law enforcement. The attacker survived and will stand trial. All because the satirical Charlie Hebdo paper – itself targeted in 2015 – decided to republish cartoons of the prophet. 2020 can’t stop breaking our hearts.
In Poland, it’s been the second week of protests against the far-right Andrzej Duda administration, which has enforced a draconian abortion ban. It’s all part of an effort to cancel women’s reproductive rights, despite them being the majority of the population, by its mostly Catholic male demographics. But it won’t work for that’s a fight conservatives can’t win, neither in Poland nor anywhere else. When women rise, they usually get what they need.
Before going any further, let’s correctly identify the source linking both events: religious intolerance, the exact reason invoked by the Pilgrims to flee 16th century England and settle on its brand new colony. The difference is the degree of violence employed, which by no means is negligible. Still, it’s important to relate both incidents as pre-planned and executed to the letter by its perpetrators and not forget their common goal: to shut down dissent.
Let’s also mention yet another migrant tragedy at sea: the 140 people who drowned off the coast of West Africa last week. Continue reading

Hallowed Ground

Poe’s Bronx Cottage &
Houdini’s Queens Grave

Perhaps no other two public figures are more intrinsically connected with Halloween than Harry Houdini and Edgar Allan Poe. Fittingly, there seem to be always fresh new stories about them too.
Houdini, who died 94 years ago tomorrow, famously promised to give us a sign, proving there’s life after death. We’re still waiting.
And Poe, who preceded him to the great beyond by 77 years, will be forever attached to tales of the macabre, even though his claim to literary immortality comes from his detective stories.
Hungarian-born Houdini, escape-artist extraordinaire with a Freudian relationship with his mother, was skeptical about the supernatural but inspired a generation of then-called occultists.
Poe, who was found delirious on the streets of Baltimore was a true believer in the afterlife, but actually became associated with that most rigorous of law-enforcement sciences: forensics.
Lastly, both will be forever connected to New York, by the way of Queens and The Bronx, despite having come from (more)
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Read Also
* A Halloween Tale
* Heard That?
* Happy Halloweeners

Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

A Witching Hour Is Upon Us, Colltalers

Many Americans haven’t been sleeping well lately. Some worry about Nov. 3; others about how early voting is beating records across the land. Those concerned about that were sure their anti-democratic efforts to prevent people from voting had been successful. They may be up to a rude awakening.
Yet it’s Covid-19’s record of 83,000 cases in a day that the majority is rightfully scared about. Or an FBI report confirming foreign interference in the elections. On the other hand, most people support an antitrust lawsuit against Google. And others are celebrating the United Nations’ 75th anniversary.
Other issues worrying folks everywhere are climate change-driven wildfires, rising sea levels-boosted coastal flooding, and pandemic-aggravated hunger. In this particular, there’s Brazil, ironically one of the world’s four-largest food producers. In fact, with the U.S. and India, it also shares the top spot of coronavirus-infected countries. Combined, these countries have less than two billion people but over half of the 43 million cases worldwide.
What’s behind the stats however is the brutality of income inequality and our insatiable war machines. Although food insecurity and starvation are old foes of poor Indians and Brazilians, there are more Americans in similar dire straits now than the 35 million with nothing to eat for most of last year.
Colombia’s indigenous peoples took the streets of Bogotá to protest the methodic extermination of natives and environmental activists that’s reaching a fever pitch in the country. Four years since an agreement with leftist guerillas, it’s now right-wing paramilitary groups that are crushing their dreams of peace and stability. More than 230 civic leaders have been killed this year, often in mass executions, to little or no action by President Iván Duque.
Still in South America, an E.U.’s trade accord with Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay, would boost meat and ethanol imports to Europe, and machinery, chemicals, and drugs to the Mercosur countries. But it’d also be bad news for the Amazon forest, which in case you’re wondering, is still burning. Continue reading

Grace Under Rain


Edson Arantes do Nascimento, a.k.a. Pelé, becomes 80 today. Still considered soccer’s G-O-A-T, his popularity is intact after half a century of retirement. Despite his difficult relationship with Brazil, he helped it win three out of five World Cups, the most of any other.
A wee lad in the 1960s, I’ve experienced his magic and seized the memory as one of my most precious. As his celebrated Santos played my Grêmio, I understood what means to embody the dreams of an entire nation with the grace of a generous king.  

As he walked off the field, crowd jeers turned into cheers. He held his head down until they grew louder to grant us his royal smile. It took him only a second for all of us to become his.

Pelé, football’s greatest player, had come to town to play my team. But by the end of the first half, there was no memorable greatness to report. It was just another league game, after all; rough skirmishes in the mud and a cold and unforgiving winter to boot. That night though there was also a shining knight among us. And he acted the part with aplomb.
Sports fans are rude, raw, and irrational the world over. Crude emotions are always at the ready but civility is usually checked at the turnstiles. Just like at the Colosseum: Christians and pagans crowded the pitch but to the beasts belongs the hour.
The birthplace of  ‘jogo bonito‘ is no haven away from this world of unbounded brutality. The exquisite touch of skills, the artistry with the ball are reflected on the Mondo Cane sensibility at the bleaches, the cursing, the unholy screams, and every obscene gesture to match.
Let’s not get into the urine-bag throwing at random, the foul-smelling bathrooms, the fights that break at chance between rivaling factions. And the slurs throw at women, let’s just not go there.
In such a freezing and wet Wednesday, as only a place that close to Antarctica can be, 30,000 or so of us were braving elements and odds but for a glimpse of a special player, to whom songs, and toasts, and accolades are still being raised.
Chanting our undying commitment to follow our blue team ‘barefoot if necessary,’ as its Anthem promises, that’s where we were at that very night. And for a chance to see how memories are built to last.
Ours was the no-nonsense team, whose physical game had almost no room for finesse. We’d kick the ball and the opponent with gusto, and if we’d sneak an offensive play, it’d usually be like a cannon aimed at the other end of the field. All fancy schmancy and flair had no place in the squad.
It was 1969 and Pelé had already won two world championships with the national team. By then though, he was close to retirement, his great glory days left smashed in the grass of England three years earlier. For all it counted, he had nothing else to prove and a lot of reasons to just fade away.
No one knew then that a year later, he’d rise and enchant the world all over again. Football is a game for the minute. All else (more)
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Read Also:
* Pelé At 70
* National Tragedy
* Don Diego de La Argentina
Continue reading

Marble & Heavenly Bodies


Michelangelo’s Grocery
List & the Finger of Galileo

What if future generations would wind up knowing famous people not for what we celebrate them for, but for something entirely unexpected? What if, in the big scheme, that’s what’s all about, or rather, how would you like to be known a century from now?
Michelangelo Buonarroti and Galileo Galilei, whose mastery of arts and sciences summarizes much of mankind’s greatness, may be safe from such a vexing fate. Nevertheless, recent news about them did make us wonder, over 400 years after their time.
In 2014, Illinois-based weapons maker ArmaLite had an awful idea: to outfit Michelangelo‘s masterpiece David with an assault rifle, committing not just an act of vandalism for profit, but also insulting four centuries of enlightenment to transcend our destructive nature.
Almost as offensive to any human who’s ever contemplated in awe the universe, let alone Galileo‘s memory, was a National Science Foundation study, that found that one in four Americans, or some 80 million of us, simply doesn’t know that the Earth orbits the Sun.

INTERTWINED LEGENDS
It’s very likely that both ArmaLite and those millions of our fellow voters remain unaware that Michelangelo died over 456 years ago, only three days after Galileo was born, both in the same region known today as Italy. Or even what greatness we’re talking about here.
After all, it’s really a coincidence that they were joined by such a happenstance of date and place. But it’s no casual fact that they both defined their age and set the standards to all others that followed it, in ways that still resonate with our world today.
And it’s a bit petty to castigate people for caring little whether Michelangelo‘s art makes us a bit more deserving of the wonders of our own time, or that Galileo‘s telescope introduced us to the stars, from which we inherited the dust that makes up our bodies.
But times, alas, are barely open to wonders, enigmas, or marvels of the physical world. While the Renaissance bred so many geniuses and they, in return, doted us with their indelible foresight and imagination, we got used to ignoring every star above us, as the song goes.
We’re content to juxtapose the sublime with the abhorrent, like David with a gun, and relish on the comfort of long-debunked beliefs, (more)
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Read Also:
* On This Day
* Renaissance Faire
* F For Fade

Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Sixteen Days to Reality, Colltalers

2020 could end now and still be one of the deadliest. Over a million Covid-19 deaths worldwide, a savage rise of hunger and dispossession, wildfires, climate change-driven superstorms, Democracy at risk, we thought we were done. But no, not until a religious zealotry murder had been committed.
Thousands of women marching over the weekend though offered a powerful counternarrative to the criminal negligence, hate incitement, and sheer malfeasance coming out of the White House lately. Paraphrasing Lincoln, another past, way more dignified occupant, they can’t fool us all, all the time.
It’s great to see a mass mobilization of women at such a crucial juncture. Given that the issue of reproductive rights has just landed at the core of the Nov. 3 U.S. presidential election, any progressive change in the status quo has to necessarily go through how mankind treats half of the population.
But to be fair, women are already protesting in Belarus, France, Mexico, Brazil, and elsewhere, and their fight against corruption, domestic violence, for equal pay, racial justice, and yes, the right to safe, legal abortion, is one with the rest of society. For patriarchy can no longer deliver us our future.
Thus the significance of the re-election by a landslide of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Domestically, it was her outstanding leadership that neutralized the pandemic and kept Kiwi casualties to only five. But even before she’d already become Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Tainted As Sick Folk, Colltalers

It’s disturbing how President Trump’s knowingly contaminating supporters and cabinet members with the coronavirus. It’s execrable he’s spreading it to the press corps and White House staffers too. But it’s downright despicable that the GOP and those invested in his reelection remain oblivious to it all.
A domestic far-right terrorist plot caught by the FBI, to kidnap and harm a sitting governor, or 220,000 American lives lost on the president’s watch are not of their concern. Although history is never kind to lack of moral compass, sycophants and enemies of democracy are seldomly bothered about that.
We begin in Guatemala our news roundup with the calls for justice for Laura Daniela Hernández and Litzy Cordón, kidnapped and murdered a week apart from each other. 350 women are estimated to have been victims of femicide so far this year. Defined as ‘a sex-based hate crime,’ the term coined by author Diana E. H. Russell in 1976 identifies one of the most serious consequences of domestic abuse, which is rising throughout Latin America.
Why Do They Want To Kill Us?‘ The Amnesty report published last week is about the murder of activists in Colombia and the lack of action by the government. Some 223 social leaders Continue reading

Dear John

 No need to rewrite this post, published six years ago today. Its outdated references albeit encrusted, don't touch the meaning. New York City was then ignited by mass rallies demanding action against the climate emergency. As it still must be today and in a month. A few weeks before, passing by The Dakota I thought I saw you in the window, looking happy with your family. It could've seen that the revolution you'd dreamed about - even as being always ambivalent about it as anyone - had come to pay its respects. On that eve of Oct. 9, it'd all come into full-circle but like your life, it didn't last. The streets are now empty and our hearts, broken. Where are the ready-to-battle youthful multitudes who wanted so much a few years ago and now when most badly needed, they falter? The pull must be even stronger for all that push forward built up in 2014 didn't make it to the 2016 ballot. In a month, that battle becomes final. Maybe the grace and power of your comeback then, of your final 60 days on this planet, will rub off on us and we get us the reckoning we need, another time to dawn in a half that time. We'll still be devastated at the end of that last leg, something we're fated to feel it happening over and over, between the 10/9 and the 12/8. But we'll have new dreams to pursue together and new reasons to really give peace a chance.

You Are Me &
We’re All Together

The other day, when 400,000 people marched in front of your New York City home, I couldn’t help it but think how much you would’ve enjoyed seeing so many taking the streets for a cause – this time to fight Climate Change – just like you, marching against the war.
It also helped that it was the International Peace Day, but what was particularly poignant about Sept. 21st was to realize that many in the crowd had probably been there before, on a cold December night of 1980, to mourn your assassination on the steps of The Dakota.
You would’ve been 74 today, and almost certainly, equally as engaged in progressive causes as you were some forty years ago. And that’s what makes us so sad, that we can no longer hear your voice, and how much the crowd misses the guidance of people like you, and Pete Seeger, to name a like-minded artist.
The fact is, even at that time, such head-first dive into political activism and explicit protesting was not what many musicians considered the best way to go about seeking change. Bob Dylan comes to mind as another influential star who, like many of your contemporaries, was just not into singing songs, carrying slogans, and parading for peace.
But while they may have been a tad too concerned about the impact that an explicit anti-establishment attitude would’ve had on their careers, you were simply not in the same level of showbiz calculation. To you, it seemed only natural to be part of what the people in the streets were protesting about, warts and criticism notwithstanding.

And there were a lot of put-downs about your over-exposure to the media, your peace and bed-in campaigns, your stunts which, to a small segment of the intelligentsia, were perceived as opportunistic and self-promoting. Never mind that your efforts, as off-the-kilt as they were, became somewhat effective.
In perspective, all that fiery anti-war poster and newspaper ad placing, your tireless advocating and support of people such as Angela Davis, John Sinclair, Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, and others, are now an inextricably part of the historical record about mass movements that helped put an end to the Vietnam War.
You should’ve seen how many young, high-school kids were there too, possibly making that beautiful Sunday (more)

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Read Also
* You Once Belonged
* Newspaper Taxis

Continue reading

John & Poe

October & the City Link
the Walrus & the Raven

Edgar Allan Poe (d. Oct. 7, 1849, Boston) and John Lennon (b. Oct.9, 1940, Liverpool) would’ve likely enjoyed each other’s company. One could even picture them sharing a coffee in Greenwich Village, just a few blocks from where they both lived briefly in New York.
Sharing a certain sensibility, they’ve twisted rules and noses with their talent and non-conformism. While Poe’s genius was acknowledged mostly after death, Lennon’s was still shaping his own times when life was brutally taken away from him. Despite their enormous sway over our era, they’ve both died at 40.
Their status as two of the world’s most recognized pop icons often obscures the depth of their art and endurance of their legacy. And maybe their irresistible appeal owes more to a contemporary deficit of revolutionary artists than to their particular take on human expression.
Or it may be that we’re so desperate to find paradigms upon which to pile our frustration about the world, that a walking wound such as Poe, or a talking head like Lennon, may offer the conduit we seek to connect and placate our own shortcomings. Just like it ever was.
They couldn’t help it but being such tragic heroes, either, with terrible upbringings and disturbing deaths to boot. But that’s when shallow similarities between the two begin to falter, and no longer serve us to rescue their relevance out of the amber it’s been encased.
THE MESMERIC & THE MAUDIT
Poe, who lived in three separate places in Greenwich Village, New York City, before moving to a farmhouse uptown where he wrote The Raven at age 36, is the only American writer routinely mentioned along the French poètes maudits.
The Paul Verlaine-concocted term encapsulated the romantic ideal of the artist as a tragic hero, not suited to this world, who inevitably self-immolates. We won’t get into how flawed and self-indulgent it is such a notion, but the literature the group produced transcended it all.
Perhaps the best known among those poets was Charles Baudelaire, who championed, translated, and wrote essays about Poe, (more)
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Read Also:
* Murder & Unkindness
* Dear John
* Hallowed Ground

Continue reading

Every Man

Nobody Told Us That There
Would Be Days Like These

Some of us will complete Friday the four decades separating us from John Lennon’s last birthday, on Oct. 9, 1980. His life had been so intense up to that day that the same length of time following it seems now warped and emptier in comparison.
In his last two months, the man was full of hope, ready for a comeback that’d be only partially realized. Whether his best work was really behind him there’s no way of knowing, but since then, we’ve been badly missing whatever was that only he could’ve delivered.
And he has indeed given us plenty, enough to keep us busy going over it even now, so many years later. Just like a post we’ve published about a particular moment in 1967, documenting what wouldn’t have had any imprint on all of us hadn’t been for him.
Like another way of marking a date that still holds us under its spell. Even without knowing that the next two months were his final countdown, John lived his life with the intensity that only those who know they’ve got just this one chance to do it, really do it.
He’d have been 76, that time around. Instead, he’ll never age a day older than 40. Amazing to learn that many born since then consider him a friend, and his songs, a guide to living intensely and grow wiser. Happy Birthday, John. Thanks for everything.
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(*) Originally published on Oct. 6, 2016.

Curtain Raiser

No Karma. Simply Reality, Colltalers

So Trump caught Covid-19, a ‘fake’ virus that’s nevertheless killed over 200 thousand Americans and is nearly lodging 40 million cases worldwide. To say that chickens have come to roost doesn’t do justice to the irony of this cataclysmic event. Now the presidential election is officially up for grabs.
Suddenly all world headlines are locked below yet another stunt by the U.S. President. To the media, the galloping resurgence of coronavirus cases, the Amazon on fire, mass protests in Israel and Mexico, an armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, all pale in comparison. Except that it doesn’t.
Thousands took the Israeli streets over the weekend calling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign. One of Trump’s staunchest supporters, he’s been indicted for bribery, corruption, and breach of trust, but that may not be the rallies’ main reason. Some say there’s anger at surveillance tools used during the virus lockdown, which is being reinstated, that’s made citizens face tough measures long associated with the suppression of Palestinians.
Mexico’s President López Obrador is facing criticism from both civil and women’s rights organizations, for his failure to curb the Covid’s rise, now at almost 800,000, and apathy towards rampant femicides in the country, and by the Chihuahua, the state bordering New Mexico. The president accuses opposition governor Javier Corral of denying by political reasons, to send water to the U.S., as dictated by terms of a little known 1944 bilateral treaty.
And Facebook, which is not a country but has a budget larger than many, has again blocked environmental and social justice groups, this time for an online event against the Coastal GasLink Continue reading

First Ladies

Little-Known Great Women
Who Challenged the World

A Brit who wrote the first book in English and an Italian grandmaster; a sailor disguised as a man and a round-the-world biker; a war photographer and the first female in space. Ground-breaking pioneers, these women beat the odds and inspired mankind.
Julian and Artemísia, Hannah and Annie, Dickie and Valentina, forged a new identity for women everywhere, one that’s often been at odds with male-dominated institutions, and that only modern age could fully embrace. These were no tamed spirits.
Along the way, the mastery of intellect and mysticism, of great art and entrepreneurship, became one with what all that came after. Each generation that followed had more of their independence of thought, the courage to report, and dare to reach for the stars.
These were no followers either. What each carved on the fabric of their own age still stands now, be it as a spiritual path or pictorial record, a skill for subversion or example of non-conformity, the capture of the battlefield or a flight into the future.
But only six, you may ask, and why them, instead of, say, the other few billion? Well, shortlists keep things moving: room only for names, times, and the life that defined their accomplishments. Ultimately, though, it’s our choice and we’re running with it.
That won’t settle the argument, but hope for a first female U.S. president got a boost Tuesday, and next week is International Women’s Day. Both fitting brackets for a possible breakthrough year in equality, a battle these women fought and won, so now we know their names.
Great humans create entire epochs around their existence, not always acknowledged in time. Many would enlist their own mothers on this roll. Shortlists help to leave them out, or yours would be certainly here. It also beats having to rewrite so many well-known bios.

THE MYSTIC WRITER & THE PROTO-FEMINIST PAINTER
On its way to world domination, 14th century England struggled to survive the wreckage of the Dark Ages. The pestilence and ravaging left in its wake were the cause of much soul searching and exacerbated religiosity. Times were ripe for Julian of Norwich.
After surviving illness, she walked out of public life to become a religious recluse, an anchorite, living her remaining years in closed quarters to ‘speak with god’ full time. While others like her burned at a stake, Her Revelations of Divine Love is considered the first female-penned, English-language book.
Two hundred years after, Rome was at the center of the art and religious world, and artists were busy carving their reputations through the glorious Baroque style. Most were male, but Artemisia Gentileschi would defy gender conventions, even as she was long gone when she was recognized as a grandmaster.
Raped by her tutor, who her family successfully sued – not without enormous public shaming of Artemisia, during the trial – she became a rare female working artist whose talent, and tumultuous relationships, equaled that of established painters, such a Caravaggio, with whom she’s often linked.

THE CROSS-DRESSED SAILOR & THE WORLD CYCLIST
There were few options for a woman to sail the world in the 18th century, and to become a soldier of the Royal Marines was hardly one of them. Hanna Snell managed to do both, even as she concealed her gender under the alias James Gray; heaven knows how she survived those long stretches at sea.
Remarkably, her bravery granted her full military pension, and her story, The Female Soldier, made her into a minor celebrity, no small feats for a woman at the time. Till the end, despite three (more)
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Read Also:
* Beautiful Bandit
* Women’s Day
* Sunken Ships
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Curtain Raiser

A High Turnout Beats All Lies, Colltalers

Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s seat at the Supreme Court all but assures two things: the court’s conservative majority for years to come, and the urgent need for its reform. Critics say too that the Obamacare and Roe v Wade rulings now top an endangered list.
It may be worse if the Nov. 3 election is contested and that new majority keeps Trump in power, even if he loses again the popular vote. In these 36 days left, Americans who want to pick a new president must go back to basics: the battle cry now is, break all voting records, win to leave no doubts.
There are indeed few doubts about certain things. Covid-19 will still be rising from the current 33 million-plus cases worldwide, and so will the U.S.’s ‘leadership’ position, after adding a million cases in less than a month, to over seven million. No safe vaccine will be ready before at least six months, no matter how much the administration lies about it, and by then, if there’s no change in Washington, its interest in the cure will be greatly diminished.
Another pattern that emerged early on was that the ranking for most cases and fatalities is headed by nations whose democracy is under siege: the U.S., Brazil, India, and Russia. That is, calling them ‘democracies’ may soon become inappropriate. For obviously, the more economies reopen and public spaces are filled with unconcerned people, the higher will be the contagion rates. Some see the coronavirus becoming endemic just like the annual flu.
But it’s not just that most viruses take time to be studied in-depth and for vaccines and therapies to be safely developed; it’s also for the scandalous U.S. response to the virus, which could’ve inspired the world but rather treated it as a tool for political gain. Continue reading

Getting There

The Dying Art
of Passing Away

There are people who dream about impossible places they’d like to go to when they die. We too imagine someday resting in an improbable place: the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. But just so we’re clear about it, we said ‘someday,’ not now, or tomorrow, well, who knows? In any case, once we cross that threshold, we won’t give a damn.
However, even if you do, you may be still out of luck: some places have the inconvenient rule of forbidding people from dying there. Either because your wasteful body may ruin the environment, or climate won’t decompose it, or perhaps because they just don’t like you. So your choice may be as well to remain alive. Or almost, like the walking dead of Toraja. Good luck keeping your friends close, though.
As for us, we’ll never understand this drive to stay alive at all costs. Doesn’t anyone realize how everything became incredibly expensive? Besides, who wants to last longer than our loved ones? In other words, we’re fine with the expiration date that’s part of the deal of living. Oh, and we don’t need to know the day or the way either.
About those places people imagine will be throwing a red carpet, or rather, a fluffy, white-cloud rug, and a welcoming party, we’re not so sure. It’s kind of taxing to start picturing a whole new set of realities to be faced after however long we’ll spend struggling to make sense of what’s around here. Very distracting.
But so you don’t think we’re knocking anyone’s beliefs, let’s suppose that it’d all be exactly as it is in this presumable afterlife? Why would nature go to such an extent to go after each and every one of us with everything it’s got only to let it all to continue as before just under different circumstances, then what? Oh, never mind.

PLEASE DON’T DIE HERE
In Japan, there’s an island, Itsukushima, that’s considered so sacred that they don’t want no stinking likes of you there. That is, they’ll put up if you’re still talking, and especially, walking. But go drop dead somewhere else. In fact, since 1878, no one was born or has died there, and they may kill you for even trying it.
The enforcers are a group of otherwise pious priests, who spend the days in prayer at the island’s holy shrine. But all hell may break loose at even a sight of a pregnant woman, an elderly person, or someone who’s terminally ill, although it’s not clear how would they know it. It all started with the Battle of Miyajima in 1555, after which all bodies were immediately removed from the island and the spilled blood was either cleaned or disposed of. Yeah, that kind of piety has been going on for over 400 years, just so you know.
Not so strict but still a difficult place to die at is Longyearbyen in Norway. No priests are banning the dead there, though, just the weather, still cold enough to preserve bodies indefinitely. People buried a century ago look like they’ve just fallen asleep. Which, let’s face it, it’s kind of creepy. Yes, that’s changing due to the climate emergency but just in case, get the hell away from there, fast. One never knows.
Two other places prohibit people from dying there by decree. Both (more)
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Read Also:
* Dead Can Dance
* A Life, Abridged
* Ashes & Dirt

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Curtain Raiser

Real Change Comes at a Cost, Colltalers

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg won many women’s rights battles in her life. In the past years, she became a leading dissenter at the Supreme Court and a hero for her progressive stands. She beat cancer too. But not even her could’ve pulled this one off: when the time came, she crossed it like a champion.
Her death may’ve upended the election – and vaporized Joe Biden’s polling numbers. It’s also topped the week’s other staggering news, from revelations that the U.S. immigration agency forced hysterectomies on asylum seekers, to seven million Americans sick of Covid-19, or climate-change wildfires.
The superstition-inclined sees the ongoing mass die-off of migratory birds across the U.S. and Mexico as an omen for what’s coming. Theories abound but there’s no clear scientific answer to what’s going on. Maybe they took off too early, or maybe it was the wildfires. It’s quite a sight to suddenly see a bird drop lifelessly from the sky, but it does happen. On a related plea, can we be done with the weirdness and heartbreak of this year already? Thanks.
As for the coronavirus, it’s still doing its thing: it passed the 30 million worldwide mark, and daily cases are still on the rise in many countries. Worse, there are unfounded expectations that a vaccine will suddenly deliver us from this scourge. As with most things these days, from rallies ‘for freedom’ against lockdowns to mostly American skirmishes of people refusing to wear masks, it’s all pre-fab and its purpose is to instill confusion and fear.
That’s Trump’s strategy to win. So perhaps getting as many people to vote as to take it to the streets and protest may be the perfect counter-strategy. He wants the chaos that may frighten his base into voting for him; but when the unrest is for racial and social equality, for dignity to dissent and freedom to protest, if it’s all to fulfill citizens’ constitutional right to choose their own leaders, then be it. We’ll be out there too, at the pavement and at the polls.
Speaking of it, Italians are choosing regional representatives today, but the biggest draw is a referendum on whether 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 judgment 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 sophisticated 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.
The precision and vivid accuracy of the Dutch grandmaster Johannes Vermeer‘s paintings have astonished and intrigued scientists and art lovers alike for three centuries. But it was only recently that architect Philip Steadman published his findings about the artist’s likely secret (besides his genius): he may have used a mirror device.
Software designer Tim Jenison went further and created the contraption. Not just that, he taught himself to paint (and to speak Dutch) and use it to create an impressive reproduction of Vermeer’s The Music Lesson. The duo of magicians Penn & Teller shot a documentary on it. It all seemed to make sense but many didn’t buy it.

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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Read Also:
* The Way We Look
* Suspended Animation
* Seeing Through

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