Curtain Raiser

The Expediency of Tomahawks, Colltalers

It’s easier to bomb than to talk. The Trump administration has tried hard to get to this point, when headlines are about hitting another country. It’s already got North Korea, Venezuela, and Iran, on its crosshairs, but Syria has had the best excuse, so it got struck twice. More to come?
Very likely, indeed. Even that bombing changes nothing, only kills more people, at both times, timing was most convenient. But the strikes we’d rather support are those by teachers. For what they demand, from West Virginia to Arizona, will improve our life without killing anyone.
To this president, who dodged the draft and never had to fire a bullet to save a soul, war is always a handy diversion. Whenever lies, sex and incompetence threaten to derail his week, talk about bombing someone does the trick, playing the compliant media as Nero did with his lyre.
But alas, there are things that even Trump can’t be solely blamed for, even as he’d gladly take credit for them. For war, as a highly profitable business that it is, has always opportunities for all, from the aggressor to the invaded, except of course, the unarmed people on the ground.
It keeps the weapon industries solvent, the multi-billion defense contractor market well oiled, and Pentagon hawks and militaristic zealots quite happy. War is never about saving people, proving a point, or righting some perceived wrongs; it’s a self-feeding engine despots and tyrants can’t live without. Few see it that way but how can a massive loss of innocent lives be justified by some ephemeral ideal of justice?
Both times, the justification to strike Syria has been the alleged use of chemical weapons, with what’s called the ‘international community’ blaming both the regime of Bashar al-Assad and its Russian support for the attack. Pictures of victims, many children, are indeed devastating.
It wasn’t enough in the 1980s however for the U.S. to bomb the Saddam Hussein regime, which used it several times against Kurds, Iranian forces, and his own people, if intel of the time is to be trusted. The reason was pragmatic albeit not less inexcusable: he was then a U.S. ally.
Of course, the U.S. is not alone applying that kind of ‘measured’ hypocrisy as a foreign policy tool. Specially now, Continue reading

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The Thriller Is Gone


Michael Jackson, Who’d
Be 59 Moonwalks Today

When he used to pop and flare up his dance moves and magnetism, no one could touch him. And when he crashed and burned, his ashes spread out quickly, and took with them the legend of a tainted Peter Pan. Still his talents remain unmatched.
He shot to fame during what now looks like tamed times, but just as he ascended, he was taking the unwitting steps that brought him down, like a defective Icarus. Musically, his legacy may have been all but relegated to obsolescence.
As he stretched that Motown sound that could be no longer, the deconstruction of rap was prescribing his irrelevance. But only a spiritual black son of Fred Astaire, breakthrough brother of Prince, and perennial stardust pixie, could reach such heights of divine entertainment.
Today we won’t remember the grotesque caricature he crafted, which ultimately consumed his gifts. Nor his despicable tabloid reign, or the misguided dream of racial reengineering. We’ll believe, for a moment, in that elusive delusion of eternal youth he pursued with abandon.
That he failed is the personal tragedy which he ultimately shared with the humanity that he fought so hard to be free of. He had already passed and gone way before the June, 2009, headlines that finally confirmed. At that point, he just switched coffins.
The moment in time he’s seized so brilliantly, though, has no expiration date. That’s why once, we all wanted to be Michael Jackson, the boy wonder who, despite captive to a nightmare, still managed to create a fairy tale out of pure dreams and sheer magic.

Curtain Raiser

Losing Cats & Whales, Colltalers

‘Scientific.’ That’s how Japan calls its annual slaughtering of minke whales, which it resumed last week, defying public opinion and a 1986 international ban. While it disregards current wild life preservation efforts, it’s not an isolated act.
Just as last summer’s unconscionable killing of Cecil, the beloved African lion, by a prize hunter, didn’t halt the booming bred-for-hunt industry, what follows grief over violence against animals is more often inaction than institutional change.
One of the most disturbing trends, captive breeding of big cats, is actually increasing in Africa and in the U.S., even as their numbers in the wild are quickly receding. It’s not just that the morals of raising such amazing animals for the enjoyment of a few wealthy individuals is utterly questionable. But that such practices result in poor genetic pools due to in-breeding.
It produces disease and physical deformities-prone animals, that could never survive if released. Unfit to replenish the diversity found in nature, they could also represent a high risk of rushing extinction if in contact with wild populations.
There are now more big cats living in the U.S. than anywhere in the world, but the great majority of them has been raised in captivity. Since, thank heavens, they’re not bred for being hunted, there’s also the issue of how to create enough sanctuaries to provide for aging animals whose amateur caretakers are no longer Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Behind the Killing of a Big Cat, Colltalers

It was as swift and definitive as the killing itself was not. And it showed just as effectively how the global media at times accurately reflects the bipolar aspects of our short attention span. And seemingly endless ability for changing the subject.
When news broke that Cecil, a supposedly protected lion in Zimbabwe, felled to an American amateur hunter’s high-powered bow, coverage of the universal grief that followed it immediately interrupted all the other news of the day.
Almost gone from the headlines was ISIL’s murderous campaign, Turkish air raids of Kurds in Iraq and Syria, change in Taliban leadership with Mullah Mohammed Omar’s death, the Palestinian toddler killed by Israeli settlers, and that’s just skimming through the usually bloody but limited and biased coverage of the Middle Eastern cauldron.
In the U.S., outrage provoked by the beloved feline’s killing has also managed to wipe from front covers the extremely rare indictment of a white police officer in the death of yet another unarmed black male. And divert speculation about the suspicions death of Sandra Bland, a black professional who hung herself in jail, following her arrest for a traffic violation.
Cecil’s death sent in fact such a powerful shockwave around the world that many decried it, on the assumption that people care more about animals than the preventable killing of innocent humans singled out for their race or social status.
But even if there’s some truth to that – after all, advocates say, animals would never be accused of a crime against humans -, such misperception is less about a supposed ranking of species with, you guessed it, us on top, than with the seemingly insurmountable precariousness of sustaining momentum for discussing race relations in the U.S. now or ever.
Specially when combined with the leeway law enforcement agents enjoy to make life and death decisions, shortcomings of their psychological training, centuries of racial injustice and, of course, the gun issue, arguably another non starter.
Two other issues, both converged under the general bracket of cruelty against animals, got bonus mileage on the back of Cecil’s headless carcass, and we’re not corroborating threats to the Minnesota dentist by the ever agreeable Internet trolls.
One, the rapid expanding endangered species list, Continue reading

Space Droppings

The High-Speed Junk Our
Dreams Left Above Earth

Look at that sky above you. See how the stars are bright tonight. Think about the immensity of the universe, quasars and nebulae, waiting to awe you, just beyond the reach of your fingers. And be careful with the falling debris of thousands of objects man placed on Earth’s orbit.
That’s right. We can’t seem to live without producing many times as much as we’re capable of consuming. And just like the oceans, all that floating garbage is choking us. Or, in the case of space, either falling often over our heads or racing around the planet at top speed.
So, hail poets and philosophers and astronomers and dreamers. But also, hail the new class of space cleaners that will have to be trained and sent to do what janitors have been doing since time immemorial, besides taking the blame for their bosses’ crimes: cleaning after us.
The U.S., and as a distant second, Russia (as in former Soviet Union), are by far the biggest producers of space junk around. But neophyte China‘s also doing its part, as it launched this week a monitoring center to protect its over 130 space objects in orbit.
Other countries are concerned too. A month ago, Japan announced that it’s studying the possibility of laser-blasting, Star Wars-style, all that junk out of existence, probably from the International Space Station itself. Just imagine George Lucas losing his sleep over this.
But theirs is only a slightly more sophisticated idea that’s been tried before, with disastrous results. We’ve covered that a few years ago. Then as now, there were few reasons 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 of 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 whether we’ll follow that new Twitter trend.
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 haven’t mentioned viruses, so much in the headlines lately with the Ebola outbreak. 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, Continue reading

Greetings

Happy 2014