Curtain Raiser

Solidarity Is a Loaded Gun, Colltalers

How to measure a tragedy? by length? global reach? number of casualties? Heading to 70.000 deaths, the U.S. already passed the near 59 thousand American lives lost in Vietnam. The war that left America with PTSD ended 45 years ago last Thursday. Vietnam has reported no COVID-19 deaths.
Calamity also brings up strong feelings for those who’ve experienced it on a personal level. For instance, victims of mass shootings, a preventable social disease. Canada took a step in that direction by banning some assault weapons. Which are mostly purchased in the U.S. and may all return to it.
Let’s leave those heady words ending in Y behind for a moment and take a look at what else is news. Remember the glorious four-time World Cup U.S. Women’s Soccer Team, which had filed a suit against the federation for being paid less than the men’s team? Well, a federal judge dismissed their case.
The ruling found no Equal Pay Act violation, even though they were, in fact, paid less than their less brilliant male counterparts. Hero and all-around awesome person Megan Rapinoe scored another one of her defiant, beautiful goals when she tweeted, ‘We will never stop fighting for EQUALITY.’
Two traditional, community-building, utmost essential American institutions are under threat of being extinguished and that has little to do with the coronavirus crisis: the Postal Service, and restaurants in general. Yes, the tragedy has worsened everything but the former has had long-term foes, eager to privatize it and turn a civil right older than the Constitution into a for-profit cash cow. They’ve been trying for years and this time, they may get it.
Unlike false assumptions capitalized by the president and the Republican Party, the Post Office is not funded by taxpayers; it survives strictly on its own. And despite all bell and whistles advertised for the Internet, that in the future everyone would have access to it, the mail-carrying agency is often the only game in town for citizens to connect. It’d do much better if it could offer banking services too, but heaven forbid if the FDIC would allow it.
It allowed the end of the separation between commercial and investment banking, the root cause of the 2008 catastrophic financial collapse. That, in turn, cost Americans billions Continue reading

Life Inside

Odd Animals & the House
Cats Who Caught a Virus

Now for something completely different. An unknown number of unknown species go extinct every year but there are still plenty to go gaga about the natural world. A 150ft stringlike creature, likely the longest in the ocean? Check. A bug that smells like spring? Check. A ‘nano’ animal that can survive outer space? Check, again.
But I know what you’re thinking: not, ‘what’s with the siphonophore, the springtail, or the tardigrade. No siree, what you wanna know is what the hell is up with those cats? Indeed, many more odd-looking beings sit out there, either to be found or missed, but we’d go to war to keep our Internet Cats Home Improvement Goals.
‘I-ching,’ for short. You know, the science that studies how cats keep us all under their spell, refuse to do a single thing you ask and are known for always landing on their feet. Who would never be on those homecoming videos where humans play god and are welcomed by their slobberingly loving pets. You may’ve won the war but to your cat, it’s, so what?
Or in Cat World we’re all dogs: we sit mesmerized for hours, startled at times, very afraid in others, but ultimately ready to serve and do whatever may appease them. It rarely does. But even as cats seem brutally aware of our flaws and pointless lives, some humans do live to worship them. Just don’t call them ‘chingers.’
Which brings us to those stringlike, buggy, and piggish-looking creatures. There’s no cult dedicated to them nor they set the standard for coolness. But their very existence shows why humans love felines. Who are not above having dopes like Joe Exotic jumping on their bandwagon but let’s not get into all that crap just yet.

The siphonophore lives in deep waters and its relatives have been snaking their way beneath waves for over half a billion years. The specimen captured on camera off Western Australia was a whopping 45m long, which yes, it’s longer (but not as relatable as) the majestic Big Blue. As it turns out, though, neither it needs to be.
For starters, it’s not one but a colony of predators among 175 species. It’s also luminescent and related to one of the oceans’ fiercest, the Portuguese man-of-war. It may look the part but similarities stop there. After all, it’s hard to beat the glamour of a carnivore with a notorious sting and a tentacle stretched back into the Discovery Age.

More U.F.O.-like than medusa, you may bet your goggles nevertheless that the Apulemia uvaria caught on video has its own charms. We just don’t know how do they work, and whether some of its (more)
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Curtain Raiser

Of Failing Leaders & Stardust, Colltalers

Rumors North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, who acts like a king, is dead and will be replaced by his next of kin, sister Kim Yo-jong, haven’t been confirmed yet. But as China, North Korea’s ‘sponsor,’ is expected to handle the situation, no new world order will be established. The future will still be redacted.
Down South America way, turmoil in Brazil reached a feverish pitch, as Minister of Justice Sergio Moro quit, opening a gash on the already porous Jair Bolsonaro administration. The corrupt judge who played a national hero until his illegal deeds were caught, is the latest to jump the sinking ship.
‘Is there a way we can do something like that by injection (of Lysol!) inside?’ It was the most irresponsible and staggeringly ignorant remark uttered by Trump, the world’s most dangerous president. And that on a long, extensive, exhausting list of risky, absolutely non-sensical, self-serving statements. Obviously, calls to poison centers and medical facilities flooded the hotlines with members of his constituency, to whom everything he says is the law, nervously inquiring about the right dosage for their president-prescribed COVID-19 treatment. No, not one has died of it yet, but since when that’s the standard to which we should hold the president accountable for his words? Even Republicans, concerned about their own jobs, acted as if startled.
Don’t believe it for a minute, though. As we approach three million coronavirus cases worldwide, of which almost a third are in the U.S., and over 200 thousand deaths, again, with more than a quarter being Americans, don’t expect there won’t be another outrageous briefing, broadcast live, with some other set of criminally-uninformed statements. Insulated by the GOP and an army of sycophants, our only shot at shutting him down is in November.
If there will be one. Joe Biden, a presidential candidate who believes he can unseat the president from the couch of his basement, fears the elections may be postponed. Gee, who’d have thought Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Racism Is a Deadlier Virus, Colltalers

We’re free but not equal,’ says civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson. He sees the coronavirus as a ‘reality check’ that exposes a disproportionately high rate of COVID-19 infections and death in black and brown communities. That’s not a glitch but a feature of race relations in America, circa 2020.
The world’s largest marine oil spill happened 10 years ago today. The lasting impact of the explosion of Deepwater Horizon’s rig and Trump’s plans to allow drilling in pristine areas will certainly dampen any cheerful mood for the week’s other environmental news, the 50th anniversary of Earth’s Day.
But let’s start by the phony controversy of the week, that of whether to open or not the economy and when. It should be a non-issue whenever there’s no exact account of infections, treatment is not reliable, and no one knows when a vaccine will be available. That is, in the U.S. and most nations. Not to the Trump administration and other far-right regimes around the world, though. They’re set to reopen for business even if kills even more people.
From an initial outrageous statement, that he had the ‘ultimate authority’ to cancel the nationwide lockdown, to a more tactical, constitutional backstep, since it’s up to state governments, not him, to decide, the events are already set in motion. Soon enough we should see some business almost-as-usual along with an inevitable spike in new cases and deaths. Ultimately, no one won the tug of war between Washington and the states, but everybody loses.
The U.S. president, a strict constitutionalist – not really – has already despatched his minions to put up ‘protests’ against the lockdown in the only way he sees fit: by carrying slogans and targeting officials with calls for ‘lock him/her up.’ Plus, by crowding streets that should be traffic-free for first responders, deluded ralliers are in fact endangering even more lives. That’s what ‘state TV’ Fox News won’t show in their round-the-clock coverage.
Don’t bother trying to understand why people whose own lives and those of their loved ones – assuming that they have some – are in mortal risk would willingly support corporate views Continue reading

The Commuter’s Thrill

A Pictorial Travelogue of 
a Fatigued Hand for Hire

Commuting freezes time the same way traveling can extend it. But while staring at fast-moving surroundings can hold the anticipation of wherever one’s is heading to or not, the destination is not really the point of commuting. It’s just getting there and back in time and still in one piece.
So you update your reading, bite your bagel, finish your coffee. Or most likely, fall asleep. Traveling short distances repeatedly has a numbing effect on the mind. Most never get to the sports section. But whether time’s wasted, or enhanced, commuting may offer you a whole lot of things – except the option to abbreviate it.
It’s a way of cutting through a million life stories happening outside your window, that you can’t or won’t care to attend, either because most last just a few seconds, or are simply not that interesting. Commuting is a lesson on indifference about the world around us.

Yet, a lot of us spend an obscene amount of time committed to it, squeezed into it, unmoved by it, back and forth, day in, day out. Like Sisyphus, we keep pushing that hard rock of a day towards the top of the mountain for as long as it’s required. Until someone else takes over and we’re no longer needed. That’s no joyful occasion either.

Being on a set schedule also breeds an odd wish from deep within that still sleepy mind of yours: that nothing ever happens to it. You’d rather not talk, hate if someone sits close and, knock on wood, dread the possibility a maniac lurks on the loose, or a faulty track lays ahead.

So you default to this limbo where you hold the alertness of a ninja with the moroseness of a deranged monk, ready to spring into (more)
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Curtain Raisers

Beauty That Still Remains, Colltalers

In February, most people here and abroad suspect it; by March, they were sure this was already a tragedy. Now, COVID-19 has killed near two million worldwide, 22,000 just in record-holder U.S., and it’s evident who else also knew it all along: the president. Many told him about it but he ignored them.
As more black and brown people catch the lethal virus, though, the conversation’s shifted: not so much about how this crisis reflects income inequality but when to reopen the economy. Never mind that it may cause a deadly reoccurrence; the established media will latch on this topic the whole week.
It’s the absolutely wrong thing to focus on right now but when did that stop this administration from going ahead and perpetrating another avoidable blunder? Some 2,000 are dying every day in the U.S., there’s no widespread testing or sign of a vaccine, and we don’t even know when it’ll strike next. But the people who dismissed this threat when they’d a chance to stop it, and kept denying it for over a month, now want to make that fatal decision.
The half-full version of any scourge is how some rise to the occasion, usually followed by a technological leap that lands us on the other side with a better outlook in life. The half-empty one sees an epidemy as an opportunity for leaders to tighten up their grip on power. To hold contradictory visions within one’s mind is Ok but while being half-full is grounds for a cheer, leaders trying to seize even more power is something worth fighting against.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet. The past week, all hopes that the U.S. presidential election would represent a change of pace toward a more humanitarian, progressive even direction were dashed. Bernie Sanders has bowed out and Joe Biden is the Democratic presumptive candidate.
It was a contest that started unusual and promising, with lots of diversity candidates, several women to break the glass ceiling, and great debates on issues crucial to the well being Continue reading

Disposal Economics

When Public Executions
Were the Crowd’s Delight

Immortality is one of those dreams that would turn into a nightmare if it’d ever become reality. Even without the proverbial zombies roaming the earth, we still need desperately to die on a regular basis.
Not pretty, for sure, but a vow of support to all blessed forms of natural death, the economics of crime and punishment, and the ecology of making sure we dispose properly of the bodies of those who passed on.
According to the Annals of Improbable Research, modern forms of execution went through considerable changes until reaching the efficiency and swiftness of contemporary death rows. Or so that was the plan. Such evolution also reflects changes in our footprint on the planet.
Thus, if ancient Hebrews, living in barren lands, executed people by stoning, Arabs in nearby deserts used a sword to decapitate them. Impaling was an ancient and popular method, and the Romanian Prince Vlad III, likely to have inspired the myth of the Dracula, was an avid adopter. Turks preferred metal spears, but in most of Asia and the Tropics, bamboo was the preferred method to exact justice. To each its own horror theater.

Arguably, few could beat crucifixion as a public spectacle, though. It was the Roman way, and Jesus, its cèlebre poster boy. It even had an opening act where the condemned had to drag his own wooden crossbar to the site of the execution to the crowds’ delight. Romans could be cruel but not free of ecological concerns, though.
They saw how wasteful the method was – not of blood and guts, which there were plenty to go around – but of trees. And soon, an alternative was devised. They’d bend and tie with ropes two trees, and have the arms and legs of the doomed attached on each of them. Then the ropes would be cut, for a clean, quick end, with no waste of timber.
In Medieval Europe, the auto-de-fé, i.e., to burn alive at the stake, was the sanctioned method of execution. It killed Joana D’Arca and countless others, accused of heresy, witchcraft, and other peccadillos.

In the 18th century, a new method made people literally lose their heads over it, and became forever associated with the French Revolution: the guillotine. It replaced the sword executioner and it killed thousands but it could not slay two popular beliefs: it was not invented by Joseph Guillotin and it did not kill him either.
It never caught on in North America, where hanging was the preferred way. Still, forest depletion was a constant concern, so with the Civil War, death by firing squad was a more economical alternative.
With the added convenience of serving to execute more than one person at a time. As we mentioned before, (more)
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Curtain Raiser

Adopt a Healthcare Worker, Colltalers

The oil industry ‘moved with breathtaking speed‘ to seize the moment, says respected environmentalist Bill McKibben about the outbreak. And so did the whole fossil-fuel complex and their Congress acolytes. And Big Plastic. And an entire cottage conspiracy net that’s freaking out people to death.
But no matter how billionaires may trivialize it, a million of anything is a lot. This threshold of coronavirus cases in the world was vanquished, with no signs of relenting. And yet, it’s Trump’s knuckle-headed decisions, the breakdowns, and vile profiteers what really is making it all much worse.
Some Americans may think they’ve got the answer for the crisis: to buy another gun. Either incentivized by far-right radio talkshow hosts, or by that insane rationale that they’d be able to go to war with the world’s most powerful army, people are lining up to get ‘ready’ for a dystopic future that could come about exactly as a result of their thoughtless behavior. Wanna bet how many feet of distancing they stand from each other in those lines? Don’t.
COVID-19, the respiratory infection caused by the new coronavirus, has lodged some impressive records, and that’s without counting victims or even cataloging the businesses that may have to fold for good. It’s been hard, for instance, to imagine a rebirth for the restaurant industry, which has been plagued for ages by labor violations, wage theft, waste, and plain, old-fashioned corruption. Servers, cooks, and kitchen help are out of luck.
Since the 1980s, the U.S. has moved from manufacturing hub to a finance and services-driven economy, and by a record of technological invention. The latter is hardly true now as brainpower required for scientific breakthroughs comes from access to higher education and smart immigration.
As a result, most of the 13 million-plus restaurant and bar workers are out of jobs they most likely won’t be able to return to. Part of the relief package passed by Congress last week was supposed to provide immediate help to them, the small-business owners employing them, and to countless little eateries that contribute Continue reading

Museums of Something Else

Looking for Van Gogh
in a Roomful of Clicks

You’re about to fulfill a lifelong dream: getting up close with your favorite masterpiece. This painting’s haunted your memories for years, and it’s now about to make living in this city all the worthier. But when you’re finally ready for its close up, your reverie suffers a low blow.
Between you and the frame, a phone-picture-taking crowd is busy, turning your dream into a blurry background to their selfies. Miffed, you swear never to come back again. Which brings us to today’s offering: museums are important, but don’t have to suck. Here’s why.
As depositories of humanity’s cultural and artistic achievements, museums have been incomparable. Often the sole local well of knowledge, they anchor communities around a shared past. No wonder they’re also useful for tyrants to stake a claim into the future.
Besides displaying disturbing mementos of our brutal heritage, and the vanquished civilizations we’ve helped destroy, these warehouses of memory and fractured narratives also face crushing competition of the present day’s increasing obsession with accessibility.
Round-the-clock knowledge at one’s fingertips is rendering irrelevant the need for an actual physical place to house art and the past. But the Internet has the potential to turn voyeurism into something intimate and personal, in ways that museums seem to be faltering at.
We’re not ready to give up on them just yet, though; just pointing to alternatives that may enhance their mission. Read and click on the illustrations to open up new possibilities. It may soothe your soul and give you a healthy reason to skip that rude crowd this weekend.

For a place displaying death-inspiring art objects in its galleries, and housed next to a cemetery, the possibility of sudden demise should be never too far. But since its 1990 inception, the Museum of Mourning Art has thrived, even if it had to auction some of its artifacts to survive.
It sits next to Arlington Cemetery (no, not that Arlington), Philadelphia, and it did have to close briefly, while it sold some items. But unlike its neighbors, it’s bound to come back to life, and in line with Americans’ peculiar taste for anything related to the departed.
Its art focus is distinct from similarly lugubrious institutions such as New Orleans’ Museum of Death, Houston-based National Museum of Funeral History, and New York’s Morbid Anatomy Museum. Step into these places for a glance of what’s literally coming next.

For an unfortunately brief time, New York had its throbbing pulse measured by art. The pop-up Museum of Feelings mixed ‘social media and real-time data from local news, weather reports, flight delays’ and even the Stock Exchange, and translated them into colors.
It was the kind of tactile, refreshing experience traditional museums have to avoid these days, lest not give ideas to deranged minds. It’s now limited by the Web, but it still suggests an alternate reality (more)
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Curtain Raiser

Don’t Die to Save the Dow, Colltalers

Here’s Trump’s America: the world’s biggest climate-denying nation, with the largest prison population and a stellar healthcare system, of course. Also of note about this paradise are its 3.3 million-strong unemployment claims. Good thing Congress just signed a $500 billion relief bill. To corporations.
The world is in lockdown with more confined people than those alive during WWII. Numbers are staggering and bound to increase. But that sort of stats and its big numbers are mind-boggling: good for shocking headlines and little else. There are more important lessons to be learned from this all.
But first, our usual news roundup even as most seems to be either related to the new plague or to the catastrophic leadership of some top world leaders. Following the nefarious sway of the U.S. president, who called the virus a hoax and is still lying and misinforming the American people, many were caught flat-footed and are now behind the curve. Thus, there’s no global coordinated strategy and each country is doing its own thing. That is crazy.
The world spent 70 years signing agreements, forming alliances, and setting international organizations to protect dialog and peace, the food supply, labor and trade disputes, and the rule of law. Whether it succeeded is beside the point; Trump spent three and a half years cutting ties with allies and singing praises to tyrants. The ‘leader of the free world’ sowed distrust, threatened war, acted as a criminal brat while enriching himself and his family.
Even if Trump doesn’t get reelected in Nov. – which is as improbable almost as there will be an election in Nov., – the consequences of his acts will be felt for years. How will we survive in a world where China, Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Venezuela, Ecuador, the entire African continent, and allies such as Germany, France, Continue reading

Scary Night

A Great Ruckus on
Grand Concourse

I was called again to the precinct. It’s the second time this month. I’ve already told Willem that whenever he puts up that sort of stunt, not just me but everyone is affected. I don’t mind it myself, but after all, it’s 3 am and I’ve got patients to see tomorrow morning. But as usual, once out, he’ll likely walk away without listening to anybody.
I can’t bring myself to call his brother, because I know that he and his wife are going through a rough patch, and I don’t need to tell who’s the culprit for that. Their relationship took a hit from Williem’s behavior, showing up at all times, usually drunk, and asking for another loan.
No marriage can withstand that kind of interference. In our talks, I always try to drive home this point. At the end of the day, Theodorus is his only relative to not just care about him but also support him financially. Not so much for that, but without his brother, Willem would be done, couldn’t last another crisis.
As for crisis, well, there were so many that after all these years, I’d need to go over my notes to find out how many. On the other hand, I feel sympathy – not pity – for his plight, the demons he faces daily, the horrors that frighten him and prevent him from getting any sleep. This nightmare-induced insomnia only aggravates his state.
And then, of course, there’s his creative genius, his fury which cuts him off from everyone. To tell you the truth, he scares people away, especially when brandishing threateningly his brushes against the canvas. It’s his armory, to avoid getting hurt but go tell this to those he insulted and yelled at. They’re quite a bunch.

In the end, few get him. To them, his work is offensive, almost pornographic in its distorted colors and shapes. I understand; it’s not easy to appreciate his paintings for what they are, peasants, flowers, landscapes, and stars, but depicted through fouled traces and exacerbated emotions. They’d rather have romance, reassurance in art. Just between us, folks can be boring, but that’s just my opinion.


When we talk, his solitude always comes up. That’s when I truly feel sorry for him. Compassion, even, for no young gal, on her right mind, would put up with such a caustic personality, without being crushed. That’s why, despite the obvious risks to his health, I pretend I don’t mind his habit of sleeping with prostitutes.

For only angels like them can offer comfort and company to such an afflicted soul. At the same time, he’s always getting into trouble, fistfights and drunken stupors, let alone that he spends what he doesn’t have in those sinful nights. Willem has no sense of restraint and is absolutely oblivious to the concept of saving money to pay rent, or even food the following day.
Anyway, I’m here, waiting for Inspector Rolland, who at this point is an old ally. He’s been extremely patient but every time I come, I’m afraid that it’s the moment of rupture when he’ll finally throw the book at Willem. No wonder. He’s been through so much with his superiors, as he always lets such a ‘rowdy dopey,’ as they call him, walk without bail.
A few moments and Rolland brings him over. Disheveled, bloated, covered with the dirty blanket cops who arrested him had given him. This time, he was naked near the Reservoir, doing heaven knows what. I know he’s harmless, incapable of hurting a fly but would believe it?
That is, as long as you don’t pick a fight with him when he’s under the weather. But usually, he’s the kind that directs his anger against himself, which is sad. I’m always afraid of the worst. Thankfully, coming from him, I’m used to be prepared, sort of, and brought him a change of clothes; this is neither the first nor will be the last time that he strips in public.
To him, it’s not even ‘public,’ as in exposing himself. It’s more like an attempt to get himself rid of the chains he imagines (more)
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Curtain Raiser

Six Feet Apart, Not Under, Colltalers

The U.S. is far behind the coronavirus curve and, yes, the Trump administration is responsible for it. All headlines about COVID-19’s stunning spread are related to these two truths. No large scale testing is scheduled; no extra medical supplies will be provided; Americans are sitting ducks. Discuss.
And yet, elected officials have profiteered from the crisis just as Big Pharma and healthcare insurers surely will too. Keep that in mind as a depression approaches; when social justice is restored in this country, they shall be all accountable. Will American compassion have its own day to shine too?
The U.S. woke up this morning in a virtual shutdown. With unemployment set to break records and fatalities from the disease unfortunately set to skyrocket, Americans are doing their best to stay safe and together. But most don’t know whether they’re infected, or if there’s still time to be saved.
There’s such a gargantuan vacuum at the top leadership of this country that even billionaires with the muscle to move markets and create a path to solutions are confused and unarticulated. The same about the legions of healthcare and customer service workers thrown in the trenches of this battle with little more than a thermometer – don’t bother trying to get one; like face masks and rubbing alcohol, most retailers online or not don’t have them.
We’ll be back to that, but let’s first note China, whose brutal tactics to control the virus have finally reversed the curve. It kicked out the NYTimes, Washington Post, and Wall Street journalists in response to U.S. restrictions to its state-run news outlets. Yeah, bash reporters; that’ll teach them well.
On the other side of the spectrum, Cuba has stepped up to the plate and is offering medical and humanitarian help. Besides having developed a drug, Interferon alfa 2b, proven effective with dengue fever and HIV/AIDS, adopted by the Chinese medical Continue reading


Dirty Little Secrets
About Hand Washing

For at least a century now, it’s common knowledge that one of the essential conditions for good health is to wash your hands often. That’s still true in the age of sanitizers and nothing like the virus du jour to highlight that. It’s also when most people realize that six seconds under running water doesn’t clean anything.
The personal care industry makes billions every year but we still prioritize appearance, voice tone, timing, and a series of other silly parameters to gauge whether the person in front of us is friend or foe. And yet they could kill us with a handshake. No wonder the doctor who became obsessed with cleanliness lost his mind.
What’s curious is that a dweller of any modern metropolis does value showering daily or almost, and depending on education, brushing their teeth a least twice a day. Somehow the initial step, though, and despite the usual comforts of contemporary life, like indoor plumbing, taking the time to wash up is treated as a formality.

It’s hard to understand how come such a crucial habit fell through the cracks of culture. Or that we even survived to this age. The evidence clean hands do save lives is around for so long, just like soap, and in the big scheme of things, time spent washing up is negligible compared to other human activities.
And yet, here we are, with the coronavirus wreaking havoc those very activities on a global scale. The benefits of this simple habit to improve global health cannot be overestimated and neither can the growth of the soap and cosmetics industry during the same period. Human awareness though went the other way.
Hand sanitizers are an ultra-modern invention likely devised to quell germophobic anxieties and up to a few months ago, could be found at every counter of every food and retail places in America. It’s not so available anymore and for a while hoarders and mad-greedy merchants thought their price should be many times higher.
Amazon and other delivery companies – which by the way are making a killing – have stepped in to curb price gouging, but the initial widespread adoption of antibacterial soaps prompted a number of alarming studies about their long-term effects. That’s why the FDA banned Triclosan, despite industry efforts against it.
The current virus outbreak may potentially produce yet another unforeseen economic impact: to boost the moribund corn industry. A perennial recipient of government aid, corn depends on two factors for its commercial viability, subsidies and the fact corn syrup is now added to arguably 90% of American food. Thus the demand for corn-made alcohol is expected to spike.
But dirty habits die hard. Consider the study by late 2003 Ig Nobel Prize in Literature John Trinkaus of CUNY, published at the Annals of Improbable Research. It recorded public use of a hand-sanitizing station in the lobby of a teaching hospital, with heavy traffic of medical professionals, patients, and their relatives.
Of a total of 500 observations made, only three out of 108 healthcare practitioners stopped and used the station, which runs (more)
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Curtain Raiser

Taking Care of Each Other, Colltalers

Over 160,000 cases worldwide; 6,000+ dead; nations in lockdown; doctors, authorities, even celebrities infected; travel restricted, a looming global recession. As Americans wonder how many got the coronavirus or will be tested for it, the leader of the free world says, ‘I do not take responsibility.’
Yet when markets crashed last week, the Fed injected $1.5 trillion into the banking system – and slashed interest rates to near zero. State bailing out a private enterprise is the kind of ‘socialism’ not available for 140 million with no health or labor guarantees: Congress can’t ‘find’ an $8 billion relief.
Despite a heartless Trump, who is indeed responsible for the jitters and misery caused by an unbound virus wreaking havoc wherever it’s coughed on or spat to, it’s on these occasions that humanity excels. Empathy and compassion were all over last week but look no further than Siena, Italy, where rather than cursing (or affluent people knocking on cooking pots for missing privileges), one heard home songs a capella sung by entire neighborhoods.
Such is the way that common people, otherwise known as heroes, cope with adversity: they rise, they sing, they volunteer. Even when facing imminent danger, as in the case of nurses and medical personnel, they still stop to offer help, run towards the fire, hug to comfort a stranger. We won’t forget this.
By the way, boards of elections across America are begging poll workers to show up during this busy voting season. Gerrymandering, draconian rules to keep people of a certain race and class from voting, and millions of dollars flooding campaigns, the exercise of democracy is having yet another tough call to make: how to protect thousands of skilled workers and more, how to assure they’ll get the professional, free medical care they may need.
And the answer is, like most U.S. government agencies and institutions, starting by the top, no one knows. Few have committed to free-of-charge care and/or vaccines when one becomes available, and the healthcare industry has all but said that they’re not on board for it. This crisis has shown why free universal medical coverage is better: everyone is accounted for, so everyone is cared for. Continue reading

Last Call

When You Eat As if
There’s No Tomorrow

Billions will sleep hungry tonight; many won’t even wake up again. Food waste is rampant globally, and despite a booming ‘dumpster diving’ movement, the brutally unequal distribution of resources seems irreversible. Still, we obsess about death row inmates’ last meals.
It’s fitting, though, as the U.S. leads the world in jail population – although China’s executes the most -, and food and obesity are a national, self-flagellating narrative. Nourishment’s beside the point here; the last supper is arguably a prisoner’s finest hour.
For the record, we didn’t start this fire, er, tradition, which has some noble, some not so much, origins. But we did with that what we do with everything else: we’ve turned into a for-profit, politically charged issue. The piety tinges of its inception are now all but lost, though. And what most of Europe consecrated as a pseudo-humanitarian gesture by the state, warding off the ire of revenants in the process, has become a contentious debate over whether it’s setting the ‘wrong’ example.
Yeah, who wouldn’t commit a gruesome crime and spent years in subhuman conditions, just so to be ‘rewarded’ with a steak and eggs meal? 18th century England had set the puritan tone of the age: the condemned shall have only bread and water until hanged to death.
In 2011, after one Lawrence Russell Brewer didn’t touch his food, Texas, the U.S. top executioner and likely earliest adopter of the last meal custom, has graciously abolished it. No such concern for 20 other states, including New York, that don’t have a death penalty.
Among so-called Western societies, the U.S. stands alone on the issue, joined only by several African, Asian and, for some types of crime, Latin American nations. Obviously, this sort of stats does not include death by paramilitary groups, secret government squads, or drones.
Still, the following post is neither about the death penalty nor an inmate’s choice of last meal, even if it touches both subjects. Published nine years ago, it’s still fresh as everyone’s food should be, and just like it, to be enjoyed a few times a day. Bon Appétit.

Their Last Meal Plus
Your Food for Survival

Here are two captive groups whose appreciation for food may vary wildly: death row inmates and hostages. Relax, we would never say that that’s the worst of anyone’s problems.
But if you find yourself in such a predicament, what you’re about to read may be useful, even life-saving. No sweat, we’ll be here to collect your gratitude in case you pull through it.
There are though a few certainties, once you become a resident of the most feared antechamber in the U.S. It’s been ages since you last believed you could make it out of here alive. Mostly, you’ve been preparing for what comes next. But first, let’s eat.
Since shopping for food is out of the menu, the state provides your last one at no charge. What would you have? At that stage, concerns about keeping your ballerina silhouette are, of course, all behind you.
So you do have the choice to enjoy a lard-laden dinner with no (more)
Read Also:
* Out to Get You
* Late Supper
* Ketchup With That?
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Curtain Raiser

Watch Out For Viral Excuses, Colltalers

Over 100,000 cases worldwide; 15 million Italians quarantined; no contingency plans in the U.S. The Coronavirus is doing what viruses do, including exposing authoritarian regimes’ ineptitude: good at self-preservation, ugly at saving lives. It’ll keep spreading and you’re on your own. Don’t catch it.
Torture, (cruelty), outrages upon personal dignity, rape, and sexual violence.’ The International Criminal Court is probing possible U.S.’s war crimes in Afghanistan. But peace talks won’t bar the Taliban from oppressing women. For this and other reasons, they’ve marched around the world yesterday.
Speaking of women’s independence, Elizabeth Warren became the last to drop out of the presidential race leaving us with, brace for the unexpected, two old white males who’ll slaughter each other for a while, big bucks vs youth enthusiasm, while Trump shadowboxes and weights a cancellation.
Wait a minute? Does that mean that if the virus explodes in the heart of America, against everything the White House had said about this health crisis, the president may actually cancel the Nov. elections? Yes and the 50 million or so Americans who have seen this coming are not enough to prevent it.
Going back to Senator Warren, democrats of a certain understanding, and gender, are mourning her departure because she had actual ideas on how to change the national conversation. More than the other five women who’d already left and have now promptly endorsed Joe Biden, Warren was fearless and yet enthusiastic about the future. And she’s held steady her support to front-runner Bernie Sanders, a fact his campaign must consider carefully.
Most Americans grew up with the notion that, despite the First Amendment, to display Nazi symbols or to propagate supremacist ideas was illegal. So it was a shock to see someone Continue reading

Run for Cover

Dear Recruiter, in Case You Won’t
Reply, I’m Prepared to Be Ignored

I’m applying for the Jack-of-All-Trades position, as advertised. Please find my resume enclosed. (Apparently, you need to be told that it’s attached). Since you’ve failed to find a fit for this job, and your boss is up to your ass about it, consider me your rescue line.
You’ll see that I’m a bargain candidate, whose experience at way more prestigious institutions than yours will have to be checked in at your desk. Such disclosure places me in the insufferable asshole bracket, while also inconveniently aging me above your average employee.
Whoever believes that great advancement and new benefits make men forget old injuries is mistaken,’ wrote Niccolò Machiavelli in The Prince. Even as the economy has been rigged for those who don’t need them, there are lots of jobs around. Underpaid, temporary, benefit-less, but plenty of them. Which means that those without one for a while won’t forget their injuries any time soon.
Those hordes are split between those who continue shadowboxing and those who couldn’t be bothered. Whether a redemption is in the works for either of them, they’re passed such concerns, busy sending out resumes, killing time, or improvising new ways to despair.
It’s not a pretty picture, that of the unemployed, even before he or she’s convinced they’re also unemployable. So it’s downright Machiavellian to put on the spot those whose skills selling themselves are appalling and are even worse at putting it all on writing.
Hence, the feared cover letter, which anyone with a toe in the labor market will tell you, beats building a stellar resume in the difficulty scale. It also heaps undue regard to the corporate recruiter, or a robot acting as such, who’re merely the company’s first line of diversion.

Currently, I’ve been working on a more or less steady but freelance basis for three other organizations, which pay ridiculously low rates and have no intention of hiring me for a full-time schedule, despite requiring around the clock on-call availability.
I’ve also been taking classes in subjects completely unrelated to my professional field, as a way of avoiding cobwebs. But that may put me and my florid resume in the toilet, er, category of potentially ‘difficult’ hires, a fact that you’d never ever disclose to me.
It was horrible when JPMorgan, once again, laughed at everyone else’s face, about a letter it’d received from ‘Mark,’ a few years back, asking for a job. As usual, a chorus of the self-entitled Masters of the Universe joined in the collective mockery, as did their media cronies.
I am unequivocally the most unflaggingly hard worker I know, and I love self-improvement.I have always felt that my time should be spent wisely, so I continuously challenge myself,’ wrote the poor guy, hardly expecting his epistolary plea to be dragged through the mud.
The hahahas cruelly proceeded and his choice of words is now part of a corollary of pseudo-rules about what not to include in cover letters, even though they are as alien to what the position is about, as the recruiter is clueless about the candidates’ professional qualifications.
We grant it, some are indeed funny, (more)
Read Also:
* The Far-Out Job Report
* Medieval Crafts
* Help Unwanted

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Curtain Raiser

They Like the World As It Is, Colltalers

It’s spreading, it shows no mercy, and it may kill thousands. Not the coronavirus, though, but the bombing of Syria’s Idlib by Russian-backed Syrian forces against Turkey-aided rebels. Thousands more are caught between fire and freezing weather, but world headlines had little room to report them.
Instead, coverage has focused on the virus scare and not much else. Far-right governments in China, the U.S., Brazil, and others first tried to dismiss the crisis and then named hacks and climate-change deniers to manage it. It won’t work. That’s why so many believe that it’s time to vote them all out.
Speaking of elections, Israelis are back at the polls today for the third time this year. But as before, no major changes are expected regardless of who wins. Benjamin Netanyahu, the country’s longest acting Prime Minister, and his challenger Benny Gantz think alike about Israel’s major issue: neither is interested in treating the Palestinians as equals. Thus what seems obvious to the world isn’t to Israelis; there’ll be no peace without good-faith talks.
Americans, on the other hand, are thrilled about what may happen tomorrow. Super Tuesday means 14 state primaries and American Samoa caucuses may grant to the overall winner over 30% of delegates required for nomination. Front-runner Democratic Party’s Bernie Sanders is being challenged by moderate competitors – plus arguably his own party, Vladimir Putin, the GOP, some billionaires, and most likely Steve Bannon. It hasn’t been pretty.
Let’s take a moment to wonder how his foes envision a government under their stewardship. Remaining moderates and the only billionaire left of a field once diverse believe they can bridge Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Let Tomorrow Begin Today, Colltalers

Even before crashing the White House President Trump disliked the U.S.’s top law enforcement agencies. And once there, it became clear he had their number. But few expected that the FBI for one would willingly become such a tool for this administration. Or that it’d be still doing it three years later.
Meanwhile, 12 women are murdered every day in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to a U.N. report. But while rampant feminicide is part of a larger issue of oppression against women, society has been all but indifferent. Some say, so has the chief of 1.2 billion Catholics: Pope Francisco.
But let’s get going with Bernie Sanders, the front-runner Democratic presidential candidate who’s causing severe heartburn within his party leadership. Even if he holds his pole-position till July, he still may be challenged at the Convention. Not by voters but superdelegates and other regimental tricks aimed at crowning the party’s favorite, not necessarily its most popular one. Brace for griding discussions about party politics minutiae. And a possible ‘consensus’ candidate.
The big question then may be, will the most popular support the party’s pick, assuming it’s someone else, or give it all to Trump?
January’s temperature was 2.5°F above the 20th-century average, or the hottest since records have been kept. It was also the 44th consecutive January with heat being above the century’s average. Yet the climate emergency keeps falling off from headlines and the national conversation. A tweet from the president is enough to change the media coverage and set up a roundtable about his latest whim. Meanwhile, the Earth burns to a crisp everywhere.
‘We’re done playing by the rules,’ said an 18-year-old Sunrise Movement member, before being arrested at a protest in DC last week. The activist group supports the Green New Deal, so far the only proposed roadmap for survival from climate devastation. No other ideas but plenty of opposition though.
Other developments of note: Wikileaks founder Julian Assange appears at a U.K. court today to fight deportation Continue reading

Partial Recall

Memories of the Future, or    
What We Forget to Recollect

Guess what? It may be a good thing that you can’t remember what they’ve told you about your memories. As it turns out, you don’t have to be a savant or try to associate facts with objects, or colors, or smells. It won’t hurt if you do, but either way, it won’t make much of a difference to most, in the big scheme.
Some exercise their recalling skills like a muscle. Others picture things as if in a photograph. People either struggle to remember or choose to forget. And yes, there are those geniuses. But if you’re none of the above, no reason to despair; it’s been quite a while since we too gave up all hope of ever finding that extra set of keys anyway.
We could save some time and say that science has no clue, but that would be an over-simplification. The more researchers dig, the more distractions they find, affecting how we remember things, produce memories, and even adopt somebody else’s recollections. One thing is for sure: some people are really prodigies recalling details of the past.
How we deal with our memories is, of course, highly personal. We strive to portray our private history as an accurate and favorable reflection of who we think we are. But much conspires against such a seamless narrative, the first thing being exactly that: the narrative.
To tell the story, we need to make sense and fill in the blanks, the details that reality, or memory, not always provided. It’s also disturbing to come across someone who has a different take on the same events. But that’s exactly what siblings and spouses often do. Not to go overboard here, but that’s why we sometimes hate them so much.

How do you call someone who didn’t walk until he was four, couldn’t button up his own shirt, had trouble with even the most basic motor skills, had an average 87 I.Q. and, nevertheless, could recall every single weather report going back over 40 years? a Rain Man, or his birth name, Kim Peek, to whom the term savant was defined.
When he died in 2009, he’d become worldwide known, thanks to his portrayal by Dustin Hoffman in the 1988 movie. And yet, even with such a gifted actor at the helm, the film barely scratched the mystery of what it means to be someone with such an astonishing mental ability and yet living inside a mind of a tween.
Many others with similar uncontrollable talents have been known by science. But there’s a new breed of ‘recallers,’ as we’d call them, who’re functional human beings, unlike Peek and other savants, according to NPR reports. University of California at Irvine memory researcher James McGaugh, for example, has been studying 11 of such individuals. Many are in the autistic spectrum of Asperger’s Syndrome.
They’re no better than anyone else at performing standard memory tests, such as repeating back lists, though. What they excel at is recalling, in piecing detail, events of their own lives. A person in the group could recall, for instance, an assortment of things that happened on a particular day more than 30 years ago, just because that’s when his football team lost. Is that also why you remember ‘that’ so vividly?

The research itself, which involves brain scans and a thorough psychological evaluation of the participants, breaks new ground into the study of how we remember some things, and completely forget others. In a recent Ted Conference, Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman discussed yet another approach to tackle the complex subject.
The founder of behavioral economics finds a distinction between our ‘experiencing selves’ and our ‘remembering selves,’ and how we often fail to fully appreciate either of them. (more)
Read Also:
* Vessels of Tears
* Two Thursday Tales
* Cursed Gifts

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Curtain Raiser

Unsung Heroes to the Rescue, Colltalers

We can’t change the world while ignoring Earth defenders in mortal danger for doing our bidding. The Wet’suwet’en nation blocking a gas pipeline, or Amazon warriors, or Mexican butterfly protectors faced police and hit squads but the media’s top week headline was the misleading ‘Trump Acquited.’
The coronavirus is spreading and so are China’s draconian containment measures, but coverage is about death tolls. Climate change-triggered fires and floods abound, the U.S. boosted its brutal immigration raids, racist chants disrupted two major soccer games. But little about the news-related activism.
One promising news this newsletter did miss last week: Ireland. So it goes that Brexit has unwittingly opened the gates to a potential revolution – and likely its sole good news – with the surprising win by Sinn Fein, the political arm of the Irish Revolutionary Army. Suddenly, Ireland’s reunification has re-entered the political lexicon. With Scotland also hot for independence, it’s the U.K. Commonwealth’s own future which is now hanging by a thread.
The possibility has revived old dreams of a stronger Ireland, while also soothing mourners of the Remain movement. They didn’t want any of this but now it actually sounds like a great way to get rid of the corrupted class that cheated and lied on its way to power, so to rebuild England for a new age.
The COVD-19 coronavirus ‘has a stronger ability to spread than the World Health Organization has estimated so far,’ according to researchers at Umeå University in Sweden. Their study considers its transmissibility at least equivalent to SARS, even as its lethality can’t be determined without reliable estimates of infection. There are officially 60,000 cases worldwide but their real number is likely higher than that. Oh, by the way, masks don’t work.
About that: as with any disease, misinformation and unproven methods of cure spread faster than contagion. There are types Continue reading

The Love You Make

For a new hiphood, today belongs to the past just as no-kissing on first dates, or asking parental permission to go out. Some may consider that too cynical but there’s now a big qualitative difference in results between Hallmark cards of yesteryear and their contemporary counterparts, dating apps. That is, at least in the short run.
Love is still as old as time and the fastest access to our best selves. But its meaning is secondary to all other reasons we seek each other’s company. Rather, it’s even arguable whether setting up a perfect Valentine’s Day will lead to passion, romance, or at least a pleasant night afterward. But please don’t call fools those who try.

Chocolate, Roses
& Bleeding Hearts

From the Catholic Church saints that named it to the Hallmark cards that oversell it, the holiday dedicated to lovers is a bonanza for restaurants and pubs in big cities around the world. It’s one of the hardest dates to book a table in any restaurant worth its napkins, and it’s very likely the saddest in bars and watering holes across the land.
Many people propose to their sweethearts on February 14 but no statistics confirm whether this is such a great idea. It’s a high-pressure time for lovers trying to impress their loved ones, and disappointment is always a possibility when stakes are so high.
Read Also:
* Valentine Sway
* Valentine Way
* Bad Valentiming
* Foolings Hearts

If the police have any data on the number of crimes of passion committed on this date, they are not telling. In the end, there’s just one historical fact associated with it, and sorry, it’s not pretty: on February 14, 1929, Al Capone and his minions gunned down seven members of a rival gang, in what became the most reviled event of the Prohibition Era. And the now infamous Parkland, Florida’s Douglas High School massacre two years ago today.
It remains a fact, though, that regardless of the commercialism linked to Valentine’s Day, it does mark a tribute to the affection and romantic ideals lovers share and expect from their partners. Which means that, if you’re not impressed with anything mentioned above, you do deserve to spend the most perfect day with your soul mate. Enjoy it.

Curtain Raiser

A Triple Threat Stalks Us, Colltalers

Trump’s crossed another line last week, to eyes-rolling everywhere: he went from firing not-loyal-enough staffers to purge dissenters. Being a decorated war hero means little to a draft dodger. Stalin comes to mind. So does Don Corleone. But his spiked ratings owe a lot to the Democratic leadership.
64.9°F was also a crossed-line of sorts; Antarctica’s temperature last week was its highest ever. Will sea level be next in climate emergency immediate threats? Or will viruses like the coronavirus, now deadlier than SARS? Not if drama, not factual implications, it’s all one hears about in the media.
But let’s start with something less topic: the Catholic Church. It’s been accused of hoarding charity donations to fill up holes on Santa See’s budget. It reminds us of a certain president who’s also been accused, again, of misusing donations to his inauguration for personal gain. Corruption is contagious. On related news, investigative journalism ProPublica has compiled a searchable, 900-page database of priests accused of sexual child abuse. Finally.
This has been such an upsidedown era. Remember Gandhi? India’s arguably greatest global figure, whose non-violent resistance movement inspired Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., has fallen from grace in his own country. Even more depressing, it’s his assassin who’s not being named here the one now celebrated. This travesty may be attributed to rising Hindu nationalism, but blame must be placed at the doorsteps of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Since ascending to power in 2014, he’s presided over a lethal spiral of poverty and religious hatred against 200 million of its increasing 1.339 billion population: Muslims. Why Gandhi? misinformation Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Bad for the Constitution, Colltalers

If the bad comes in threes, get ready for another punch. The first two that hit us in 2016 are out toasting their luck. In synch too: as the U.K. left the European Union, the GOP was done defanging Trump’s impeachment. He’ll make tomorrow’s State of the Union his victory lap. But there are ‘buts.’
Democrats begin today in Iowa a gruesome marathon for the party’s presidential ticket. And as fears of the coronavirus subside, concern grows about its impact on China, now a global economic power. Ah, and the president’s son-in-law came up with a plan to give Israel land that’s not his to give.
Still about China, it’s had its share of being underestimated both by foes and at times, its own citizens. But it’s adapted at each new millennium to find ways to out trade everyone else. It was unfortunate that a fire at a New York’s museum last week has destroyed a still unknown amount of records of the Chinese American experience, essential for clarity about their history. Challenging times indeed for the Chinese, here, in Hong Kong, and all over.
‘We do not accept mining, agribusiness, and the renting of our lands, nor logging, illegal fishing, hydroelectric dams or other projects that will impact us directly and irreversibly.’ The Piaraçú Manifesto was signed by indigenous leaders of 45 nations, gathered by the Xingu river in northern Brazil.
Called by Kayapó Chief Raoni Metuktire, it was an act of defiance to far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who on Friday Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

100 Seconds to Midnight, Colltalers

Back-to-back coverage of a contagious disease, say, the coronavirus, is good to raise awareness about preventive measures and not much else. But it’s terrible for other reasons: unjustified panic, baseless prejudice, racial and cultural biases. Oh, and for kicking other relevant news out of the headlines.
Which, as we know, are not without fault. Take the impeachment of the U.S. President for instance. At its 11th hour, the media has done a poor job separating provable fact, backed up by witnesses, tapes, and testimonies, and what it’s basically denial. We know where this is all going. Or do we?
But that’s for later. Today’s most transcendent news is actually a celebration of history and its gift to teach humanity not to repeat it: the Red Army’s liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp 75 years ago. It’s one of those anniversaries that never lost its urgency, a perennial warning to the living from those who didn’t survive the despicable horrors of white supremacism being run as a government policy. It killed over six million Jews.
It’s heartbreaking to realize that we’re again risking to repeat history, for Jews seem to always be the first to be slaughtered, and with them or right after, minorities and political foes. Some would argue that the killing of a few is different from a mass killing, but they need to shut up right now: no matter how many, they got murdered only when citizens focused on stupid things like that, and did nothing, believing they couldn’t possibly be next.
What’s tragic about the America of the 21st century to begin resembling the 1940s Germany is how vulnerable our democratic institutions are at this moment to prevent it. And how come there’s little rage about it. When the president claims Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

The Two-Minute Warning, Colltalers

‘Surprise: 10 Biggest Oil and Gas Multinationals Switch to Wind and Solar Energy.’ ‘President Trump Is Removed From Office.’ ‘Public Schools Adopt Green New Deal.’ ‘Three Ex-Presidential Candidates to Head Newly-Created Race, Immigration and Labor Reform Bureaus.’ ‘Supreme Court Upholds Removal; Criminal Case to Follow it.’ ‘Pot Is Now Legal.’ ‘Troops Finally Arrive Home From the Middle East.’ ‘Democrats Retake White House.’
We’re not too far from these headlines. Right on cue, millions of women have marched again Saturday in Washington, D.C. and 200 cities around the world. Their lead sets the standards for this crucial election year. Given the right pressure, the impeachment against the U.S. president has the potential of disarticulating his political base, leaving him with his 30 million supporters and not much else. And then there’ll be us, pushing it all over the hump.
We’ll be back to that in a minute, but first Australia, which in past weeks has offered a horrifying glimpse of things to come very fast to everybody else. The dystopian pictures of a continental-size inferno clearly showed that there are not two sides to the climate emergency crisis: there’s one, which is based on facts and is proven by a tragic reality. And then there are corporate interests willing to choke anyone to death to hide their true motivation.
We mourn the dead, including the (correctly) estimated billion animals who may have perished in the fires. We also grieve over what may get even worse if it’s up to the current Australian administration, and the country’s most notorious citizen, Rupert Murdoch, still at his evil self. (And rather pointlessly wonder why Mick Jagger’s former wife Jerry Hall would swear love, seek shelter, and bring her own kids to the household of such an ogre).
Neither Australia’s woes, not Murdoch are ‘local’ phenomena; what’s happening to the world’s 13th-largest economy, Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Time For Survivors Recharge, Colltalers

A handful of issues rose to the top of humanity’s woes at this wrapup of the year and decade. Climate crisis, income inequality, gender, race, and faith persecution, and a few others have all but prevented billions from living free, dignified, and peaceful lives, and life on this earth from having a future.
Still, we greet the new year with some hope and a few wishes, with heavy hearts but much resolve to turn the civilization around. That’s what’s at stake here. A lot to do on our own while street rallies continue until morale improves. But first, let’s vote out all the leaders who stand on our way forward.
Starting by the top: we must do what the Impeachment won’t and choose a new U.S. President in November. It’s clear that for as long as Donald Trump and his enabling sycophants remain in the White House, every one of those issues of concern has the potential of becoming unmanageable nightmares.
In three years, the president and his family grew richer as did the powerful who benefitted from his trillion-dollar tax break, while national poverty levels spiked. Immigrants and sexual and racial minorities were brutalized while white supremacists felt empowered. Environmental protection rules were dismantled as fossil fuel industries rejoiced. Women’s reproductive rights faced a threat and so did the Constitution and entire judicial system.
As a nation, we’re weakened and embarrassed by our overweight, unhinged, diatribe-prone ‘leader’ becoming a giant fatberg clogging global airwaves with the grease of his amorality. Save for misconception or lack of judgment, no decent American believes anything that he says unless their earnings depend Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

In Need of a Better Year, Colltalers

‘Marshall Islands’ contribution to climate change is only 0.00001% of the world’s emissions,’ says youth activist Carlon Zackhras. Yet it may become the first nation to evacuate its homeland due to it. It’ll get worse as the U.N. conference’s failed to broker a global agreement on carbon emissions.
Two articles of impeachment of the U.S. President will go to a full vote in the House, and then to die an undignified death at the Senate. Even to many under-rock inhabitants, the testimonies did prove Trump’s guilt. But that apparently means nothing, according to GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell.
But let’s start off with the world’s two most populous countries, China and India, home of almost 40% of mankind. One is known for dominating world trade and soon for overtaking the U.S. as its largest economy. And the other, for being the biggest nominal democracy, but with emphasis on nominal. They share another scary fact though, besides their colossal stats: they’re ruled by authoritarian leaders who’ve had their unchallenged ways for years.
They’re also twins on their hatred of Muslins. Under P.M. Narendra Modi’s direct sway, India’s just passed a law that all but cancels citizenship to 200 million of them, in a betrayal of so many of its own citizens, and a rebuff to next-door nemesis Pakistan. The law throws the region into turmoil and brings up India’s post-war years when Pakistan was founded as home to Islam followers, in 1947, and 1948, when Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated.
Modern China, of ‘Paramount’ leader Xi Junping, was founded a year later, but Islam has been a factor in Chinese society for at least 1,400 years. That hasn’t helped ethnic Turkic minority Uyghurs: reports about detention camps, persecution, and death have only confirmed the regime’s authoritarian bent. But with China more engaged than ever in world trade, the U.S. and most nations have shamefully ignored the many claims of rights abuse.
Arsenal’s Turkish-German soccer star Mesut Özil, who follows Islam and Tweeted about it, – ‘Despite all this, Muslims stay quiet?’ – faced criticism even by his own club: when it comes to China, it seems, business opportunities fare better than human rights. It’s an unwritten rule that Hong Kong protesters have learned the hard way. Granted, Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Protect Mothers & the Climate, Colltalers

So this is it. The U.N. Climate Change Conference is not yet done in Madrid but it’s clear that no breakthrough is about to be announced. We’re on our own, and as Greta Thunberg put it, ‘we have achieved nothing.’ Not to give anything up just yet, there’s the alternative Cumbre Social por el Clima.
Tyrants share a common trait of hating women. But only Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro was caught on camera telling a congresswoman that she was ‘too ugly to be raped.’ Since he’s president, rape and femicide rates have spiked: four girls are raped every hour and over 1,200 have been killed this year so far.
We’ll touch these headlines later but first, let’s start at a Texas Border Patrol facility’s unsanitary cell where a sick Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez spent his last minutes on this earth. A ProPublica report includes a harrowing 5/20/19 video of the 16-year-old Guatemalan asylum-seeker agonizing and dying as his also sick cellmate slept. He found Carlos’ body in the morning. The footage debunks the agency’s claims that his death was inevitable.
It also, once again, exposes the Trump administration’s sheer cruelty and staggering lack of empathy by which it’s been rewriting immigration laws and universal human rights. It’s another image in a gallery of horrors that top each other every few months: the grotesque separation of families, many to remain as such for an unpredictable time; kids in cages; toddlers testifying in court; and the brutal, and often secret, deaths of children in custody.
But the issue is unlikely to be on the articles of impeachment against the U.S. president the House of Representatives will compile this week. If laws were based on morality, he would’ve been already removed from office; as it is, a technicality could do it. 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.

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.’

Curtain Raiser

Close to the Edge, Colltalers

Almost all reasons triggering the climate emergency are man-made. But here’s one not usually mentioned with say, fossil-fuels reliance and greed: out short-span attention. It’ll be tested again at Madrid’s U.N. Climate Change Conference. Don’t fall asleep.
Americans proud of their democracy don’t seem to notice the president’s been undermining it. By reversing the demotion of war criminal Navy Seal Edward Gallagher, Trump showed confidence that neither Congress nor the Supreme will challenge him.
Sticking to domestic affairs, a week of heavy-hitting revelations about truly impeachable offenses have done little to his polls. It’s evident he sought the help of a foreign power to probe a political enemy, but supporters continue to cheer him up and the GOP is fine about it. Democrats may have looked on track to win in November, but once billionaires felt ‘hurt,’ all bets are off.
See, the mega-wealthy is very sensitive. It was enough for frontrunner Elizabeth Warren to come up with a clever plan to get them to pay back a share of their stratospheric income for their well-heeled troops to rally and fight back. Besides pathetic and utterly absurd claims that the 0.01% would suffer having to pay up, one was actually caught weeping on national television.
After a far-right push to crush civil and labor rights around the world with coordinated anti-democratic attacks, citizens pushed back and unrest has erupted in several countries of Latin America, Europe, and Asia. Apparently, that has scared powers that be.
So here comes the billionaires, those who have basically nothing to lose – some actually can’t spend or waste their money even if they wanted to – believing their riches are entirely the result of hard work, and not luck to be born on the profitable side of the tracks. They step in as if people should thank them because you know, if they can run a corporation, a nation should be easy.
That’s an incredibly myopic view of how society really works, and ultimately, how human beings will never react Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

No Thanks to Tyranny, Colltalers

Remember in 2016 when powers that be and the media went giddy with a global so-called ‘wave’ of tyrannic, right-wing leaders being voted to high office? Well, it doesn’t look too good now. Something got in their way to total domination: people’s outrage.
Democracy, or the struggle to nurture it and defend it, is still under attack. Thousands of Latin Americans are out on the streets, trying to defend it, and so are citizens in Asia and the Middle East, while some in Eastern Europe wish they could do the same.
Hold that thought as we review key events of the week. To get it out of the way, the impeachment of the U.S. president folded its hearing phase with astonishing testimonies about Trump and its cabinet of infamy by those who had to deal with it. Pardon the name-calling but to separate the revelations from their deleterious impact on the rule of law, one’s better off tuning in to CNN.
Partly because of that right-wing ‘contagion,’ attacks on journalists and activists have increased. Countries such as Egypt, Turkey, China, and Saudi Arabia, for instance, are notorious for their efforts to control information and for going after those who share it.
On that note, Sweden dropping its rape allegations against WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange restores his stature as a persecuted news publisher, not a rapist on the run. Whether the case was built on flimsy evidence, it served the purpose of vilifying him, and divert attention from the 2007 footage of a U.S. aircraft killing Iraqi civilians which WikiLeaks published three years later.
Two journalists were also killed that day. Army Intel Officer Chelsea Manning was court-martialed and sent to prison Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

The World’s Street Fights, Colltalers

Here’s something few of us ever think about if not directly affected by it: in 2019 alone, there are near 70,000 migrant children detained in U.S. facilities. Locked up with strangers, many may never see their parents again.
Other kids of all ages around the world, facing a future of climate catastrophe and social inequality, are fighting back. Anti-government rallies are still going strong in Bolivia, Chile, Hong Kong, Lebanon, Iraq, and now Iran.
An update on those is on its way, but first, let us focus on the week’s climate crisis picture: a flooded Venice, treasury of humanity and likely already doomed even before we started burning fossil fuel for energy. Still, the second-highest tide of its history matches, at least visually, what most of us already fear about what lies ahead.
And yet, what the submerged Piazza di San Marco may not show, besides that’s sinking faster than ever before, is that new global, man-made conditions may also drown other world cities, even if few are as pretty as Venice.
But for all the talk about radical revolution as the only way to reverse disaster and teen heroes at the vanguard of the charge, absolutely nothing has been done by those who count the most: government and big corporations.
We’re not near the pace of change required for anything meaningful, and really big, to be done about the tragedy. Next month’s U.N. Climate Change conference in Madrid – which yes, will feature Greta Thunberg, fresh of yet another hike Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

The Whirlpool Speeds Up, Colltalers

Brazil’s former President Lula is out of jail, and Bolivia’s President Evo Morales was forced to resign. Americans outraged by Trump’s dangerous follies must admit: no one gets more rattled by politics than Latin Americans. And things change faster too.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is officially out of the Paris Agreement on climate change. So if there’s something urgent to be said about deadly wildfires and ravaging floods, here and abroad, the time to take it to the streets is now. Don’t wait for next November.
Elsewhere, none of the ongoing popular uprisings around the world seems likely to abide by curfews, government concessions, or even force. To those who don’t see updates about them on the mainstream media, let’s be clear: they’re still at it. All of them.
Citizens of Chile, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, Hong Kong, Iraq, and Lebanon may lack coverage but not courage, and that’s the kind of news that matters to people: that there are others like them, billions in fact, who can’t help it but demand justice. And leaders engaged in the existential threat to the planet, represented by the climate catastrophe, and to the majority, by income inequality.
Australian may see mass evacuations in New South Wales and Queensland today as expected heat and strong winds may fuel ‘the most dangerous bushfire week this nation has ever seen,’ as fire chiefs see it. Other parts of the country will be also affected.
But to the brilliant, most excellent deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, the out-of-control fires have nothing to do with climate change, which to his abundant wisdom, is nothing but ‘ravings of … inner-city lunatics.’ The Aussies need a new deputy.
Not to dismiss Australia’s woes, its hundreds of fires are still far from the over 6,000 currently burning in California. But as they become a threat to some movie studios, expect some serious cash being poured to put them out. A depressing side of this reality is seeing unpaid inmates risking their lives to save common land, while private brigades focus only on the mansions of the wealthy.
As it goes, central to the U.S. presidential campaign – oh, yeah, it’s at full speed already – isn’t even the likely impeachment of the president. Public hearings about it, televised ‘Watergate-style,’ begin Wednesday, and whether witnesses’ testimonies will inflame Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Of Warriors & Deniers, Colltalers

Guajajara tribe warrior Paulo ‘Lobo’ Paulino, a Forest Guardian, was shot to death last week. It was as coward an act as the 2018 assassination of black, LGBTQ Rio Councilwoman Marielle Franco. But hers may lead to President Bolsonaro’s impeachment.
Billionaire President Sebastián Piñera continues to try crushing Chile’s revolt against his neoliberal policies. After troops killed 20 protesters and injured over 1,000, he’s now retaliated further by giving up on hosting next month’s U.N. climate conference.
In the U.S., California’s devastating fires have multiple fronts and hundreds of evacuees. But their cause, man-made climate change, has been absent from most news coverage. It’s as if suddenly, nature got out of whack, and not because we’ve raped it.
The climate has been also hardly mentioned in the coverage of the Keystone XL pipeline, which just had a 383,000 gallons leak. It was a new spill on a history of hundreds of them which makes this just another day in North Dakota. Guess who else is left out of the coverage: the Lakota people, courageous nature defenders whose efforts to shut it down have come at a stiff cost.
The Trump administration and the fossil-fuels industry have worked hard to get it off the ground, despite public outrage and its poorly run operation. But as the founder Bill McKibben tweeted. ‘It happens over and over and over and over and over.’
It’s been a few months of popular unrest all over the world. Although local and specific circumstances have triggered rallies in Puerto Rico, Hong Kong, Ecuador, Haiti, Lebanon, and Iraq, among others, they endure on common issues affecting the planet: income inequality, the climate, and endless wars. The world’s 0.01 percent superrich, however, doesn’t seem to care about it.
They should. According to the science group Climate Central, more cities will be underwater by 2050 than Continue reading

A Halloween Tale

Her Sister
Had a Dream

Emma and her sister Drudy lived together.
Drudy would cook and Emma would clean.

One day Drudy decided to go to Ohio on vacation.
The day after she got there, she got sick and died.
Gloomy Emma checked her mailbox. It had one letter. Emma opened it. It said:

‘Dear Emma, how’s everything going?
The strangest thing happened. I woke up and I was in a coffin.
And now everyone is running away from me. It’s like I died.
Well, I’m sure it’s nothing. Love, Drudy.’

(*) Coll Dennis, NYC, 2007.

Curtain Raiser

A Season For Fire & Turmoil, Colltalers

They are back! Surprising no one with a frontal lobe, wildfires are again ravaging California, in an opening salvo of sorts for bad weather to come. Will current Kincade Fire – yes, they have nicknames now – dwarf last year’s Camp Fire, the deadliest so far?
Political stability, a South American old foe, is also rearing its ugly head again. Either new presidents in Argentina and Uruguay, and a reelected Evo Morales in Bolivia last week ease the continent’s institutional turmoil or they may as well extend it further.
Elsewhere, Chilean students and worlds-away Hong Kong democracy fighters are not about to fold their demands and go home quietly. To top it all, a giant oil spill of origin still unknown has coated 2,000 miles of coastal areas of Brazil, in one of its worst environmental disasters. As with the Amazon Rainforest, which is still burning, little is expected from President Bolsonaro.
Don’t count Catalans out of contention either. Massive protests over the weekend, demanding freedom for separatist leaders sent to prison with harsh sentences, and for an independent Catalonia state, continue to dominate the national conversation in Spain.
This being the ‘season of the dead,’ Thursday’s timing of the exhumation of dictator Francisco Franco’s body Continue reading

’16, How I Still Loathe Thee

To Scare Witches? For Sure.
Worst Year Ever? Not Even Close

The thing about reruns is that they rewind our enthusiasm. That is, if there’s any left. We’re about to hit the homestretch of 2019 with no winners in the fastest lane. It’s looking pretty grim from the inside and the toxic dust may choke us all before the finishing line.
Now, for those about to call this a terrible year, since it’s really been the worst so far in many areas (See Emergency, Climate et al), we must invoke another, one that got ‘all this’ started in the first place. It’s been a tight race but our money is still in 2016.
And that’s that fib about rewinding, that it makes it all look rosier. ‘Hogwash,’ as Robert Hughes once told me about authorship challenges on Goya‘s final works. It’s been three years since and it’s been a hell of a nightmare. All over. World out of whack and all that.
It did get worse with few redeeming qualities. But the funny thing is, it feels perversely better if compared to the year that spawned the Rotten Orange and killed heroes by the dozen. Remember? Yes, there was that, as a radioactive cherry on top of the crapcake.
Read Also:
* Heard That?
* Call Upon You?
* Gone With Goya

So for no reason at all, except a few implied above, it’s as good a time to repost as any. As if reaching back into Hades to gain strength for the year’s final push. It goes fast now, and the once fun holiday season is about to hammer us into submission with its sales pitch.
So grab a beverage and enjoy the syndication.

Guilty As Charged

World Indicts 2016 For
Crimes Against Humanity

We found it. For a while, it was as if another year would’ve gone by and we’d be still at lost finding the source of the world’s ills. Not this time. 2016 has been universally named the evilest on record. Now we can all go back to our business of turning it all worst that it ever was.
It started deceivingly like any other year, but not for long. Looking back, by March it was clear that there wouldn’t be a contest, but some were still hesitant to make such an early call. Now there’s hardly anyone disagreeing about the choice. Well done everybody.
Here are, in no particular order, the Top 10 Counts brought forth against 2016, whose powerful punch has managed to beat to a pulp some of history’s most notoriously perverse, and blood-thirsty, years:
1. Failure to interrupt and/or reverse rising global temperatures, and resulting increased glacier melting, wildfires, and extreme weather.
2. Neglect to interrupt, minimize, or do away with the harrowing intensity of the era’s ever more numerous wars, carnage, and mayhem.
3. Criminal extermination of countless animal and plant species, some of which we may never have even known they existed.
4. Inability to promote a healthy, all-inclusive, comprehensive worldwide discussion of ways to improve the well being of humankind.
5. Incompetence to prioritize the fight against inequality, boosting instead the prospect of a parasitic minority to grow even wealthier.
6. All-time record for excessive casualties of well known, excellent human beings, who made the world a better place.
7. Creating conditions that conspired and befell female world leaders from positions of power, replacing them with corrupted males.
8. Relentless persecution of races, social strata, Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Make or Break Democracy, Colltalers

‘Violent clashes,’ an expression being increasingly applied to describe the unrest in Hong Kong, may now be also used to protests in Catalonia and Chile. Despite their own particulars, what’s driving thousands to the streets is essentially a fight for democracy.
Which is also the motivation behind Saturday’s massive anti-Brexit rally in London. Demanding a new referendum, protesters have disrupted Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s power consolidation, which’s dependent on the U.K. exiting the European Union.
It may sound presumptuous to see the pursuit of true democracy as the ultimate goal for crowds marching for self-determination, from China and Spain, or against high costs of living, in Chile. But just as climate change, income inequality, fair immigration and asylum laws, and women’s and minorities’ rights, only a healthy democratic process assures that the people’s voice is heard.
Let’s break here for other news of the past week, even if not exactly good news for all involved. Syria-based Kurds, for instance, who the U.S. President’s thrown under the mortal artillery of Turkish’s warplanes, in a historic act of betrayal, are now being backed by two leaders notorious for their own betrayals: Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad. Two foxes guarding the henhouse.
In fact, the Kurds must know by now that they continue in peril since this is not the first time that they’ve been betrayed by the U.S. and others, or served as proxies for settling other nations’ scores. In Kurdish, the word ‘luck’ probably has another meaning.
Meanwhile, guess what? the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest is still burning, and summer may spell tragedy by finishing it off. President Bolsonaro is so entangled with petty vendettas against enemies, Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Betrayal & the Excuses for War, Colltalers
At first, I thought it was thunder, but soon bombs were raining everywhere. We ran while our home and everything we’ve ever owned was being leveled. But I didn’t cry.‘ (N.S., Syrian-born Christian Kurd, and her family, survived Turkey’s aerial strike).
The Trump-sanctioned Turkey attack on Kurds immediately made the world a more dangerous place. And it showed how a self-deluded president who believes that he has ‘great and unmatched wisdom,’ can actually trigger a global, unpredictable conflict.
Let’s that sink in, while catching up with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed who was awarded the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize. The Swedish Academy mentioned his efforts to end a bloody 20-year war and reestablish relations with neighbor Eritrea as the main reason for the award. But Ahmed’s also been praised for freeing political prisoners and promoting women to his cabinet.
It’s as if it just happened but it was 20 years ago this past Saturday when we reached six billion people. 11 years later another billion had been added, plus the 700 million who showed up since. With Earth’s resources dwindling and the climate spiraling out of control, these newcomers are already aware of what we’ve done with the place and are very angry about it, rightfully so.
These man-made challenges require nothing short of a revolution if we’re to have a shot fighting them. But little has been done, and now there’s another war to stop, income inequality to fight, plus faltering democracies to defend. Thus, yes, let the kids lead.

It’ll be blood, sweat, and tears all over again, that’s for sure. Consider the new research by the Climate Accountability Institute, on the 20 biggest fossil fuel – oil, natural gas, and coal – corporations, that combined have issued since the 1960s 480 billion tons 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 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.
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)
Read Also:
* Murder & Unkindness
* Hallowed Ground
* Life W/O Lennon
Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

The Rot Leaks From the Top, Colltalers

Even non-conspiracists have noticed that the current global attack on democracy has at least one commonality: the creation of an appearance of chaos. It links institutional crises in the U.S., Europe, South America, and the Middle East, and it’s not random.
It’s central to the U.S. turmoil, promoted by the president and his sycophants, and essential for Brexit opportunists to get what they want. It’s behind the unrest in Brazil, Ecuador, and Iraq, and it’s been crucial to sending the world back to Cold War fears.
But the biggest and most immediate damage such a corroding strategy has been causing is to distract and sabotage efforts to reverse the existential climate emergency upon us. For now, as the Amazon Rainforest burns, this machine keeps soldiering on.
What could be traced back to deranged dreams of power of the likes of Stephen Bannon and others like him, now it’s a self-reliant, well-funded agenda proceeding with its demolition plan. And that includes bringing into positions of global leadership a class of unscrupulous would-be tyrants, walking time-bombs ready to trade their souls for a shot at becoming the main bananas.
For approximately three years now the world has been riding this out-of-control rollercoaster: rigging of the electoral system and prioritizing the wealthy and powerful. Meanwhile, the climate goes berserk on the account of boundless corporation greed. That it makes no sense, since no one may survive when the environment pays them a visit, is apparently not a question they ask ever.
In the U.S., one wonders what would it take to bring down a corrupt president, if Trump beats the rap and sails to reelection. With him, it’ll be more of the unsustainable same: big oil and Continue reading

Snow & Zuck

There’s a WebCam
Hidden in the Toilet

Edward Snowden and Mark Zuckerberg shared a week in the headlines. The whistleblower who exposed the National Security Agency’s dirty secrets has a memoir out. And the Facebook’s inventor was caught on tape expressing fears of a future of greater scrutiny and accountability.
Apart from that, their notoriety, and the fact they were born within a year of each other, they’ve got little in common. One, whose daring act cost him his freedom, is an example of moral clarity, while the other embodies the very disregard for principles driving the ownership class.
The fate of their parallel lives, however, is an imperfect but still fitting metaphor for these times: follow your conscience and face exile and the hounds of the establishment. Use your privilege to generate wealth and soon you’ll get to rub elbows with the rich and the powerful.
Snowden‘s ‘Permanent Record,’ rather than boasting his ‘good guy’ image, as a slayer of sinister state-surveillance agencies, zeroes in on the fractured and the personal. It’s a humble account of surviving the pushback while still honoring ethical and private choices.
The leaked audio of Zuckerberg‘s raging about presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, on the other hand, throws a glare on his shrewd political calculations. As in the 2016 elections, he’s prepping his social media mammoth to play again the role of king’s maker.

Six years ago this November, they were the focus of a Colltales’ Curtain Raiser, an excerpt of which is adapted and reposted below. To many, Snowden’s woes have somehow anticipated our current reality, where a U.S. president uses the government to go after his political enemies.
Or that Facebook, which Zuck started in 2004 – a decade before the NSA scandal broke – would go on to become more powerful than many nations. After all, free, non-regulated access to private citizen’s data is now as common as using cellphones to track people down.
As in 2014, they’re still frozen together in amber: Snowden in the White House’s hit list, unlikely to receive a fair trial if he ever comes back from Russia to fight for his rights; and Zuckerberg, who along the top 0.01% of the population, controls 80% of all the planet’s resources.

‘The Big Brother age has produced its first titans whose duality mirrors the ambiguity and radical change of the way we live now. Born within a year of each other, Snow and Zuck have perhaps unwittingly, defined the times: a reboot of government accountability, or our downgrade to a totalitarian society.
They made their choices and so will we. Zuck’s created FB with one thought on his mind, besides getting dates: get rich. He achieved that by eliminating early collaborators and potential competitors, and swiftly establishing his wraparound, impenetrable hold of a niche market.
He succeeded beyond his most outlandish visions of power by conceiving and enforcing the tenet of his business model: the complete eradication of any notion of personal privacy, except his, and (more)
Read Also:
* Memberships
* Call Upon You
* Middle Brother

Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

No One Said It’d Be Easy, Colltalers

Lies have been the Trump administration’s currency of choice. One of them, from his inauguration, became a signature policy of sorts: (Mexicans) ‘bring crime to this country.’ Everyone knew it was a vicious lie; now there’s research to prove him wrong.
Still, his diatribes and flimflam headlined most weeks since that grey Jan. 20, 2017. Now impeachment is the kerfuffle du jour, unavoidable but disrupting, so get ready for wall-to-wall coverage, and for now, look for climate crisis news below the fold.
But as the 16-year-old giant who’s just left New York, Greta Thunberg, would put it, ‘this is all wrong.’ Progressive Americans count on world support to defeat Trump. They can’t expect it though to follow the intricacies of impeachment, let alone its likely result: a president deemed a criminal but still the president. To the world, the Amazon Rainforest fires are still our top priority.
And warming oceans, whose quickly changing chemistry is depleting seafood supplies, making storms and floods stronger and more frequent, and threatening millions living along coasts, according to a U.N. study. Or air pollution, whose record levels have been shown to impact children’s brains. Or water purity, which has been contaminated by lead in many big cities the world over.
Ironically, those who resisted a probably Pro-forma impeachment process were not invoking climate change against it; they were understandably more concerned about the politics of it, knowing how short the electorate’s attention span really is. Point taken.
But theirs is a misguided concern all the same. For Trump may survive endless battles in Congress, but not a country underwater or on fire. We hardly hear a word about floodings in Nebraska, Missouri, South Dakota, Iowa, and Kansas, which has been going on for three months now, due to overflowing of the Missouri River and its affluents. Thankfully, summer spared Americans from the lethal wildfires of the past two years, for if fire and rain would combine, we’d be toast. Note: all five states voted for Trump.
Contrary to what the president has been claiming since day 1, Germany-based Institute for Labor Studies researchers found that ‘increases in deportation rates did not reduce crime rates for violent offenses or property offense.’ Their findings are Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

The Equinox of Our Discontent, Colltalers

The United Nations Climate Action Summit that begins today in New York City has the oversized task of disarming a bomb that, in a sense, has already been detonated. That is, either the world agrees on the right strategy, or we’ll all be caught on its fallout.
The summit brings world leaders to a country that briefly led the climate change fight but has since become a pariah due to its unhinged president. He’ll surely try to hijack public attention and may even stage another one of his crazy stunts. Brace yourself.
Many people, however, are out to challenge this state of affairs. Last Friday and the next, children and adults have been asked to walk out of school and work, to strike for climate action. The first of this two-punch combination brought millions to the streets of major cities around the world, determined to keep the pressure on; we either rally to save civilization or learn how to swim.
The movement has many leaders and organizations, and at least one now globally recognized face: that of Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager that skipped school every Friday of 2018 to sit in front of the Parliament and demand climate change action. She’s come to symbolize the depth and single-mindedness that’s required at this juncture: we will need to do more, much more.
But as inspiring as her eloquence and candor can be, Thunberg’s made clear that it’s not her, but science that needs to be heard.  ‘We have not come here to beg world leaders to care. You have ignored us in the past and you will ignore us again. You’ve run out of excuses and we’re running out of time. We’ve come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not.’
She’s as direct and straightforward as some world leaders are corrupt and neglectful. Suddenly, sincerity is a fresh weapon, one more to enroll people in the struggle against this unfolding catastrophe. And even better, among the legions now heeding to her call, and lucky to be living in functioning democracies, there are likely thousands of new voters. That’s the kind of math we like.
As for Trump as a dangerous rogue, there’s no surprise, given the appalling record of broken environmental regulations his administration has promoted. More than just rolling back over 80 rules, some that even had been agreed upon by fossil-fuel industries, Continue reading

Dear Mr. Mayor

A Quick Reminder to
NYC Mayor de Blasio

The personal safety, unalienable freedom of expression, and integrity of each one of the thousands of Climate Emergency activists that’ll descend upon New York City today and next Friday are entirely on your hands, Bill. Here’s hoping you’re getting ready as we speak.
That means that today we need you to be on the streets playing the top cop. And the NYPD will do strictly as it’s told. By you. Hold your batons, Bravest, and let the world speak through the young and the old, the poor and the would-never be rich: Climate Action Now.
There must be absolutely no arrests for protesting, no attempt to corral people marching to save the Earth. No harassment, no tear gas or pepper spray against those brave enough to face multibillion-dollar interests with only the power of their conviction.
No police-state threat or intimidation. No A.I. facial recognition of those a misguided law enforcement establishment may intend to persecute. Turn off the too many surveillance cameras everywhere. Curb your worst offenders, ban ICE from even showing up.
The world will be watching more than the usual, and marching along. So be there, on the ground, making sure the voice of the Earth is heard obscenely loud. Forget 2020 for a moment; it’s not your ‘moment to shine,’ but to take responsibility. Show up and scream along.
History won’t forget or forgive those who are betraying the planet now and cashing in while the circus is burned to the ground. Your grandchildren must hear how great you once were, not that you were out there, slandering the faith put upon you to be the mayor of change.
There’s no need for speeches from you or any other fat cat; your job is to safeguard what’s left of the greatness of this city, its immigrant, working-class roots, and its legacy of dissent. New Yorkers don’t expect anything less from you. Don’t screw this up.

Curtain Raiser

Oil? We Worry About Climate, Colltalers

Few expect peace in the Middle East in our lifetime. Saturday’s attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities by Yemen’s Houthi rebels just added ammo to that regrettable realization. It rattled Iran and Israel, but it’s the U.S. that seems eager to jump into the fire.
It’d be a tragic mistake and a diversion from a bigger threat to mankind: climate change. The U.N. Climate Action Summit, that starts next week in New York, is another chance to drive this point: if we’re going to war, let it be it against this existential crisis.
Here’s hoping this is a summit of disruption, of strikes and mass rallies around the world, of citizens of all ages refusing to accept any excuses not to act. But other issues, whether deserving it or not, may compete for headlines and our short-spam attention too.
Tomorrow, Israelis go to the polls for the second time this year, likely to guarantee that P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu will continue dictating the country’s expansionist policies. In exchange, he’s promised to annex more land from occupied territories taken by the 1967 war.
That move, still seen as illegal by the international community, may bury for good the so-called two-state solution. Netanyahu is confident that his most important constituent, the U.S. president, won’t falter on his so far unrestricted support, and he may be right.
Knowing what Trump does to those he initially praises – or names for White House jobs, based solely on their ability to support him back -, such trust is at least risky. But Netanyahu has no other choice but to grasp for straws otherwise.
In other news, Tunisia’s presidential election appears Continue reading

Skating to Kabul

For Many Afghan Boys, the Future
Lies Between War & Being a Sex Toy

Last week’s tragic killing of two boys in Uruzgan Province, Afghanistan, underlined once again our worst fears about the future of generations of Afghan youth, squeezed between the brutal choices of either being killed by the war, or sexually abused by their country’s older men.
As the U.S. prepares to withdraw from Afghanistan, many fear it will leave it in a much worst shape than it found 12 years ago, choked in the toxic mix of poverty, obscurantism, and the quirks of ancient law. Still, some see skateboarding as a way out for some children.
The shooting of the young cattle herders by a NATO-led strike was obviously a catastrophic mistake, just the latest in a long list. That, however, doesn’t lessen the brunt of their loss to their families, who like many others rely on all labor their youngest can put up to, amid the war-ravaged countryside.
Mistaken strikes, often by drone missiles, have been the most deadly cause for civilian casualties in the Afghan war, and the death of the two boys, ages seven and eight, follows another attack in early February, that left 10 unarmed people dead, five of which children. There’s no sight this can possibly be stopped.

It’s a fitting, albeit calamitous, coda for a war that started with one purpose, to find the responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. It got deflated before such mission had been accomplished, interrupted by the long, and completely baseless, Iraq invasion, and finally restarted with no visible objective.
The result: over 2,000 American troops killed, an estimated 140,000 civilian ‘casualties’ in the combined Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, the biggest U.S. defense budget ever, far more than all the other NATO nations combined, and a domestic economy in tatters due to this overzealous war effort.
A recent U.N. report also pointed at one of the most lasting damages this war will imprint on Afghan’s society, and the Iraqi’s too for that matter, for years to come: the staggering number of children killed, enough to leave a generational gap in the future of those countries.
As for the hunt for Osama bin Laden, the main reason to justify both military adventures, and the most expensive war effort ever undertaken by the U.S., it ended as everybody knows, with his killing in May, 2, Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Ready for the Fourth Quarter, Colltalers

Millions of Brazilians marked Sept. 7, their Independence Day, dressed up in black. It was an angry political statement by a once proud nation, now wounded and humiliated by worldwide criticism. Why, it’s been asked, is the Amazon being burned to death?
Speaking of fire, India – which along with China may soon be home to half the world population – has reignited a largely ignored border crisis with Pakistan, imposing harsh policies on Kashmir and its majority Muslim residents. Note: both have nukes.
But first a quick review of the week, an unfortunate one for thousands affected by Hurricane Dorian. Floods, destruction, and a rising death toll were left in its wake, all to be followed by more misery for years to come if Hurricane Maria is any indication. Like then, the White House had no plan in place and will likely apply the ‘Puerto Rico treatment,’ that is, do nothing about it.
It could be worse, due to its size, reach, and slow-moving pace with which it devastated the Bahamas and the Abaco Islands, and flooded North Carolina. But besides Dorian’s surprising north turn having nothing to do with prayers, other storms will come, as warm and rising waters add power and resilience to natural disasters and no one’s tending the store; Trump’s already moved on.
Let’s not parrot the new series of blatant lies he used to navigate the crisis, between rounds of golf and belligerent tweets. Suffice to say, he’ll probably be greeted with the same deranged ardor by his followers on his next rally, while we’ll fend for ourselves. Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Climate Needs Warriors, Colltalers

When Hitler invaded Poland, 80 years ago Sunday, the world couldn’t possibly take him for the mass-murderer that he became. But his supporters knew. Worst than history repeating itself is to see it’s about to happen again.
Meanwhile, the Amazon continues to burn but the news is already fading. Not that it ever matched the tragedy’s significance to the planet in the first place. But if carbon dioxide is bad, wait for what methane can do to our air.
Speaking of tragedy, August has signed off by claiming its 51th mass-shooting, near Odessa, Texas. The state’s second massacre in a month left eight people dead and over 20 injured. While many don’t expect this issue to be resolved before the next one – and there will be a next one – or ever, Americans must still refuse to normalize it.
History is also at play in Hong Kong’s currently woes, as in the fight between moving toward a real democracy, or acceding to the authoritarian Beijing rule. It’s not a fight to the faint of heart, as shown over the weekend. In some ways, China’s already gaining the upper hand, as it called out its armed troops and arrested protest leaders.
How the world is reacting to the movement for HK independence it’s equally appalling though. So far, no global democratic institution has explicitly lent support to it, and it’s fair to expect that the financial system has also some role undermining the opposition to China rule. It all indicates that once again, Xi Jinping will have his way.
The trial for the accused September 11 masterminds has just been set for 2021, which gives the measure of the George W. administration’s blunder handing the attacks outside a proper legal framework. Instead, it locked up ‘suspects’ without a trial, in Guantanamo, failed to capture Osama Bin Laden, and invaded and destroyed Iraq.
Its immoral lies to justify the invasion are still the biggest scheme ever to get the U.S. involved in a faraway war. That can change though. But the end result of that Pentagon’s wet dream of a war predictably going awry is the dead of thousands and a scorched land left for what was once a proud nation. And a likely endless ISIS’ revival.
Up to not long ago, the ‘virtues’ of the WWII were being chanted and praised: the end of the German Nazi and Italian fascist dictatorships, Continue reading