Curtain Raiser

Rotten Meat & Sanctimony, Colltalers

If anything, social networks exacerbated the ancient human trait of claiming superiority above others by downplaying their right to exist. When shocking events trigger public outrage, it’s a given that some will blame others for it, often leaving the real culprits off the hook.
Thus, when several meat producers in Brazil, including the country’s two largest, were raided by federal agents last Friday, finding rotten meat packaged and ready to be sold in public schools, and exported to Europe, eating habits were blamed first for it, not a sick industry.
This being Brazil, the grizzly discovery of gross health violations is also linked to a scheme involving bribing inspectors and administration officials. Authorities scrambled to assure global partners that those were isolated incidents, rather than a sample of an multi billion dollar, under-regulated industry, mostly left at its own devices when it comes to health concerns. But common sense indicates that it’s the opposite.
Taking the scandal out of the context of widespread corruption and draft, that seem to pervade the current government, may be an insult to that same common sense, but some insane defense may argue that lax regulation, disregard to basic hygiene practices, and special favoritism by officials are all ingrained to the industry globally. And in Brazil, as in the rest of the world, consumers are not aware of them.
That’s like blaming the industry’s ‘raw material,’ i.e., the animals, of being too messy for continuing to have physiological functions even as they’re squeezed by the hundreds into the place of their own slaughter. For that’s exactly what happens and it’s the underlying cause for chronic contamination of meat plants. Not their bodily functions, of course, but the massive and inhumane system they’re forced to be part of.
Still, the matter is more serious than it’s being addressed in the Brazilian corporate media, and chances are, the scandal will die out within weeks. Given that part of the affected is so vulnerable – the impoverished public school system – and the industry’s lobbying muscle, we may be reading next week or after that the problem is being resolved, low level inspectors got fired, and there’s nothing else left to see here.
Behind the scenes, though, the P.R. battle will be even more intense than the ones waged publicly by the companies. Brazil’s trade balance relies heavily on meat exports, and such a disaster can undermine its powerful agribusiness and overall credibility before its partners.
And that’s the aspect that it’s so common to the very structure of global commercial relations. From a strictly standpoint Continue reading

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Rolling With the Punches, Colltalers

Spoiler alert: we’re losing. As disheartening as it is to start off on such pessimistic premise, current global social and political conditions warrant our utmost concern. In the U.S., oblivious to all, the regime is still bolting our civil rights to the ground, nail by executive nail.
Don’t get this wrong; everyone is doing their absolute best to show their discontent and resist the Trump administration’s truculence. But all massive rallies and unprecedented community organizing may not be enough. It’s time for another course of action to be also pursued.
May we suggest the Rope-a-Dope? And before we go any further, to those with ‘sport-metaphor fatigue syndrome,’ a quick word: first, they don’t require knowledge or taste for any particular game to shed light on a subject. Also, arguably 90% of those vulnerable to discriminatory social policies and abuse of power do follow sports. So, in the spirit of inclusion, and for the sake of this post, let’s not get fussy, shall we?
In 1974, an aging, past his prime Muhammad Ali went to Zaire to fight heavyweight champion George Foreman, in what many believe was the end of his career. That impression held on for most of the Rumble in the Jungle, until Ali knocked down the champ and the rest is history.
In Leon Gast’s Oscar-winning documentary When We Were Kings, the writer Norman Mailer, hired as a ringside commentator, observes that, after the first round, Ali was back on his corner with ‘fear in his eyes.’ All the punches he had thrown at Foreman had little effect. Across the ring, stood a bigger and stronger opponent than him, one he could not dominate or avoid confronting. It was Ali’s moment of reckoning.
The genius of the late Ali was to play against expectation. He executed a plan – leaning on the ropes, taking Foreman’s body blows, and striking back here and there – despite the advice of his own corner, who grew desperate as the fight went on, and with a measure of humiliation, which in boxing means getting pounded. The entire world press corps thought he’d fail, but he pulled the sport’s greatest upset.
Apart from the African crowd, which he’d captivated the moment he landed on the continent, Ali was mostly hated at that time, specially by Americans who despised his arrogance, and above all, his mouth. He was at least a decade from the beloved pacifist Continue reading

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What Makes Women Strong, Colltalers

The Jan. 21 Women’s March in DC, echoed by its many sister rallies countrywide and around the world, was a breakthrough event that not just upstaged the previous day inauguration, in numbers and significance, but also reinserted the word ‘resistance’ into public conversation.
So why now, with a strike planned for Wednesday, International Women’s Day, there’s a reported schism over the very idea of feminism, and questions about the movement’s leadership and direction? Some fear that A Day Without Women may miss something else too.
In the past two centuries, at least, any time women gathered and organized around a cause, the whole society wound up pushed closer to ideals of equality, civil rights, and freedom of expression. The same spirit seemed to have been behind the march in Washington.
It immediate ignited Americans, and effectively put on notice the Trump administration. Whether it hit the spot, history will tell. After all, the president, his male-dominated cabinet, and Republican enablers, did proceed undisturbed with their utterly discriminatory agenda.
But it’s safe to say that a crucial segment is paying attention: women who support Trump. Their influence on the White House cannot be measured by the so far negligent attendances to their own rallies. They’re on the forefront of a feminism backlash and likely to be called to the trenches of what’s much more than a cultural war. March 8 may be a day to show just how important is unity for the women’s movement.
All popular uprisings have their splits, specially ideologically, or race or gender-driven ones. But political success is defined by how much change may be achieved, and the required pragmatism of choosing well the battles to be fought. Progressive women organizations need to wise up because this round may be lost, despite Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

There Is More to It, Colltalers

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

Curtain Raiser

Kicking the Nuclear Football, Colltalers

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

Curtain Raiser

Beware Unsolicited Gifts, Colltalers

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

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What May Lie Beyond the Lies, Colltalers

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