Curtain Raiser

No Vote for the Unraveling, Colltalers

The despondency and sense of hopelessness pervading our age haven’t discouraged at least one group of people: doomsday hopefuls. On the contrary, they’re actually thriving. Which is not new, except that now, they have a good source of inspiration residing in the White House.
That should come as no surprise given the floods, raging fires, starving refugees, and widespread war mongering. Humanists and advocates for hope are not too popular these days. And the many who’re convinced that the human race is unworthy saving don’t help matters either.
Hordes of survivalists, Apocalypse whisperers, ‘preppers,’ however one calls then, have always spiked in times of crisis, despite different agendas. Religion, social unrest, fears of a nuclear Armageddon, all make strange bedfellows out of phony prophets and conspiracy nuts.
Those who would rather take what comes unfiltered and prepare without being preachy, are feeling the pressure to ‘make a stand,’ or ‘get down from the fence, already.’ Apparently, Lao Tzu’s ‘the best way to carve is not split,’ is falling out of fashion, arguably out of impatience.
They may want to hold on to their perch, though, at least for now; we’ll get to that in a moment. But first, why so many subscribe to the cliche, the more things change, the more they remain the same? That is, without comparing now with, well, all else that may’ve come before.
It’s certainly not mere disillusionment about disenfranchisement and alienation, for that is old news. And so is blaming obliviousness and apathy, a fair charge Americans get all the time. That it’s now a widespread malaise may be explained by the U.S.’s diminished stature in the world, but that tells only part of the story. The same about access to higher education, or the proverbial lack of confidence in political leaders.
Technology, veiled economic interests, income disparities, always, we could go on lining up reasons why the increasingly more privileged few (and fewer) have been gathering greater control over the destiny of everyone else, and the planet, seemingly with little reaction from the oppressed, and often with their very acquiescence. It’s baffling. To some, the very system, like Humpty Dumpty, is broken beyond repair.
That’s where unbalanced minds, who see foes all around; end-of-the-world apologists, rooting for a final conflict to fulfill archaic prophecies; and, hold on to your amulets, perfectly rational citizens, to whom we’re already a lost cause, gather and find a bewildering common ground.
What’s left then, one wonders, to those who still heed to the merits of living a decent life, of remaining open to the joy Continue reading

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Curtain Raiser

When Peace Comes to Town, Colltalers

Friday’s announcement that the International Coalition to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, ICAN, is this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, is the kind of good news we haven’t had much lately. It helps refocus attention on the threat of nukes, and may boost the global peace movement.
It helps that ICAN, a 10-year old coalition of non-governmental groups, is also a worthy recipient. It’s been praised on its efforts by other peace organizations and, in July, played an important role getting 122 nations to sign a United Nations Treaty for banning nuclear weapons.
The news are timely, given the Trump administration’s confrontation stance towards North Korea, and reported intention to decertify the Iran Agreement. ICAN deserves the honor, even as the nine U.S.-led, non-signing countries are exactly the ones that own such weapons.
Times have been such that even a mostly symbolic award, as prestigious as the Nobel may be, can bring us some measured relief. It’s been the year when climate change has rendered all excuses not to act into just that, excuses, even as mostly the poor and the dispossessed are the ones charged with the bill. Apart from staggering hurricane-related destruction, Americans have also to contend with the fruits of their own sins.
For the land where the archaic myths of the gunslinger and the hunter are alive, despite their senselessness, is bound to periodically produce an exterminator, a mad vulture with an automatic gun. So often it happens, we’re used to be momentarily jolted, and then to forget it all.
The Las Vegas tragedy is as much about the massacre Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Three Shouts for Autonomy, Colltalers

The two-punch tragedy of Puerto Rico – Hurricane Maria’s devastation and Trump administration’s neglect – has unexpectedly resonated with two political events that happened far from the Caribbean Sea over the weekend: the independence referendums held by Kurds and Catalans.
That’s because Puerto Ricans too have sought independence from the U.S. through popular consultation, or at least, to gain the power to vote on matters of their own sovereignty. Their only upside over those other groups, is the small land they own, which is currently underwater.
While the results in Iraq and Spain may seem encouraging, though, they’re unlikely to galvanize enough international support to their cause. On the other hand, the flood in Puerto Rico does have the potential to revive its independence movement, more than previous referendums.
Without getting in too deep about the changing nature of autonomy movements in modern times, or generalizing about what’s essentially diverse situations, is still possible to gather insights about the challenges ahead for the three nations. And for all the political will and genuine desire Kurdish, Catalans and Puerto Ricans may have for self-determination, they’re faced with formidable adversaries on their quest.
By far, the biggest obstacle to old fashioned assumptions of national identity and independence is the globalization of the economy. The world’s means of production and sustainability was never more intricately linked as now. And that conspires against the birth of any new nation. Not just what kind of trading partner it aims to be, based on what it produces, but also, who it’ll trade with and under what conditions.
It’s at this intersection of economic interests and geopolitics that lies the success, and more often, failure of contemporary movements for independence. Unlike the mid 20th century wars for self determination, waged by former European colonies in Africa and Asia, or the turmoil and resistance against military dictatorships in Central and South America, the world circa 2017 is an entirely different animal.
It took a major coalition of nations to end the ethnic cleansing massacres that followed the already bloody breakup of the former Yugoslavia, in the 1990s. And the independence referendum that forged South Sudan has only worked so far to the extent that it halted a brutal civil war. Hostilities and starvation, however, rage on, and the international community seems to have run out of ideas about what to do about them.
To have an idea of the complexities involved in any kind of secession, no matter how legitimate it seems for those longing for independence, consider Quebec and Scotland. Despite a respectable Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Threats to Gay Rights in Brazil, Colltalers

To start a newsletter with a checklist has many pros and at least one con. It makes it easy to track what’s keeping us up at night, and signals that we may return to any of these boiling pots at anytime. But if listing is made into a habit, only mentioning them may as well be pointless.
This time it may be inevitable to do just that, though. For we need to discuss the assault the LGBT community in Brazil is undergoing right now, and the risk its advances may be dialed back by rightwing political forces. More of that in a minute, but first, back to that list of issues.
There’s Trump’s mishandling of North Korea, while also rubbing Iran the wrong way; the hurricane season’s ongoing devastation; another failed Republican stab at Obamacare; and more angst about immigrants, Dreamers or not. These are now part of our routine of afflictions.
Still, since the world does not revolve around the U.S., these may be far from being concerns to millions of people. The plight of Rohyngia Muslims, for instance, being mercilessly chased away by Thailand, and seeking shelter at mostly-flooded Bangladesh, can’t be ignored. In fact, the whole South Asia is drowning in inundation and misery. And let’s not forget those still trapped in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
But that’s the reason why lists are so ineffective as action mechanisms: they trivialize pain and turn despair into mere PowerPoint schematics. The breaking news about American football that came up last week, which seems to confirm that players are being severely brain-damaged in the name of entertainment, and to help a multibillion sport franchise profit from it, is another interesting metaphor for what’s happening.
The realization that the game is irredeemably hazardous to those who practice it may spell its end. Or make us all accomplices, and slaves, to its destructive power. Many knew the risks, but only when players started killing people, and themselves, the issue was finally confronted.
It may sound flippant to insert news about an American sport that attracts little interest around the world. But the $13 billion in annual revenues the league makes – not including Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

High Noon at the Amazon, Colltalers

In theory, natural disasters affect everyone equally. In reality, those with means escape unscathed, at least for now, and may even benefit from nature’s fury, while the majority is left to fend for themselves. Once again, have-nots foot the expensive bill for the whims of those at the top.
Man-made climate change, and its hurricanes, flooding, and wild fires, is a result of lifestyles dictated by so-called masters of the universe. But it’s the poor and indigenous people who’ll pay the price with their lives. In the Amazon, however, there’s a rush to speed up this process.
In fact, life expectation in the jungle hasn’t improved much since colonial times. And while painfully aware that survival in the inner cities of the world is often a matter of luck, in the largest Rainforest, the season for hunting and exterminating natives has never really been out.
Still, the recent, and deeply disturbing, report about an uncontacted tribe that may have been massacred by men working for illegal miners in the Amazon is a big, bloody-red flag. The still unconfirmed attack may signal a new level of brutality in the ongoing war between indigenous peoples and those determined to raze the forest for profit, regardless of consequence. Worse: the Brazilian government is part of the problem.
Apparently, the killing was casually boasted by the perpetrators themselves, during a binge at a local watery hole. It was reported that they had objects that could be tribal, but impunity and accessibility issues may prevent, or at least delay, having any clarity about what happened.
The alleged victims, as many as ten indians, may’ve belonged to a tribe first sighted from above just a few years ago. Photos of them waving threateningly bows, arrows and spears at Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

May the Storms Boost Action, Colltalers

While three hurricanes parade destruction and mayhem through the Caribbean and southern parts of the U.S., a pervasive and irresponsible point keeps being highlighted on media coverage: not ‘all’ is caused by climate change. It’s not a relevant point, just an old diversion tactic.
It’s a way to sow doubt to dilute resolve, and focus on effect rather than causes. Climate deniers, just like gun advocates and war enthusiasts, like to weaponize misery to preserve the ignorant status quo. Perhaps it’s time to restate the few reasons climate is changing. Because it is.
Those arguing to the contrary are not trying to have an enlightening discussion, only to fuel millions of gigabytes already wasted on Internet trolling. And the end result is always the same: to rehash debunked talking points floated by interests financially invested into the matter.
For despite being discredited since the 1980s by the scientific community, like zombies, those foolish arguments keep popping up on Google on equal footing to serious research. Even as many now know that they were planted mostly by the fossil fuel industry, many still don’t.
This thing is, science in itself can’t be settled for good, at least not in a way that prevents us from learning more about the natural world. But we wouldn’t be able to navigate life if so much scientific knowledge hadn’t been proven right enough to support it. In other words, there’s a lot still left to learn about evolution, germs, or gravity. But what we already know is enough to save us, mainly by standing clear from them.
Thus, to argue that climate change can’t completely explain why natural disasters have been harsher, and records of seawater levels are being broken year after year, is a discussion better suited to lab research. To use it to distract and, ultimately, sabotage immediate action is, well, immoral. We can’t wait till we know all that there’s to know about gravity, before advising people that jumping off heights will kill them.
So why should we wait until coastal lines and islands become flooded and inhabitable, as it just happened in Central America, before joining global efforts to reverse causes for what is already happening in the first place? The president may’ve not realized that some of his expensive properties were vulnerable to storms, before withdrawing from the Paris Accord. But either way, he can afford to rebuild them. Most can’t.
Somehow though, it’d be naive to think that such small risk were not part of his grand equation, of giving his friends in the oil and gas and coal industries a free ride, in exchange for their financial backing. But in the end, even the U.S. president can’t deny the reality, not for long.
He will, though, be seen by history as part of the problem. And may have to answer the heartbreaking consequences of his Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

The ‘Act of God’ Card, Colltalers

Hurricane Harvey has been a nightmare, and that’s an understatement. With still increasing casualties, record amounts of rainfall, immediate material destruction, and expected long-term economic costs and disruption, there aren’t many ways to overstate its impact and devastation.
It was also somehow predictable, and much of its tragic aftermath could’ve been at least minimized, had a few perfectly rational decisions been made in time. Worse, it’s already possible to foresee what it’s likely to follow it, even before another one just like it hits us again.
The first thing that jumps out of what’s been the first natural disaster faced by the Trump administration, is its staggering level of denial about the evidence of what’s happening. No, Harvey was not caused by climate change; but the unusual length of time it took to cross Texas is.
The southern part of the state has been heating up faster than other U.S. regions, already breaking record high temperatures monthly, just as it’s happening in the whole planet. Warmer air can hold more moisture, that is, rainfall and floods. And that, in turn, heavily taxes any city’s drainage systems. In the case of the U.S.’s fourth-largest, Houston, such factors conspired to cause the current perfect storm conditions.
Such increased hot air is caused in great part by the warming of sea waters, enough to melt millennium-old glaciers all over the world. Water levels along Texas’ coast, for instance, have been rising by almost two inches per decade, according to EPA data (when it used to do its job).
Arctic sea ice has declined steadily in the past 30 years, and it has set another record low for the third consecutive year, said the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center. Just last week, a Russian tanker was able to sail across the pole without an ice breaker for the first time ever.
Let’s not get into the geopolitical underside of that crossing right now, which in itself, should be cause for utmost concern. What seems truly alarming is the potentially catastrophic implications of having a commercial oil route across one of the most pristine regions of the world.
Going back to Texas, two other bad man-made decisions contributed to the tragedy: one, Houston’s lack of zoning Continue reading