For Giving

10 Gifts Shy
Of a Big List

Here’s our much anticipated – by no one – annually compiled, peculiarly picked, and praised often, End of the Year List. A favorite three-years-in-a-row (not really), it’s for someone with a particular set of tastes – or a Web search engine – such as yourself.
From family fare or affair, to smart-ass kids, for bored adults, and to friends or foes, there’s not nearly a thing for everyone. But the best present will be the – uninsured – reaction, or face, the gifted may express at the gifter, or the grifter.
Full disclosure: lists are atrocious. Holidays too, though one mellows about them before going mad. But giving gifts is nice, people like it. Receiving? not so much. Don’t dare mentioning landfills are on their way out, not without looking like one.
Even for the obscenely wealthy, it can a be a chore, but to hell with the lot of them. The poor always finds ways to give some, just not in cash; the other lot has all of it. Either way, to gift loved ones can be fun. And a pain in the butt.
Full disclosure too: no one sent these to the mailbox downstairs, and to some of us, shopping is hideous, no matter how much is the discount coupon. None will ever touch our open hands – or carbon footprint. It’s all for a laugh or chuckle, no adds or sponsors.
Nothing says family like an old-fashioned, vicious card game. Or insulting stickers, to have a saying in the nasty show that follows. Load your stuffings with Stick to the Man decals, or Cards Against Humanity. Hear your phone suddenly stop ringing.
Or you’d rather go higher, and choose instead some choice tree ornaments. Those marking that day when a giant octopus swallowed whole the Staten Island Ferry, in the New York Harbor, are great conversation topics. Oh, you can’t remember that tragedy? That’s odd.
Fear not: Playboy Trump’s Make America Great Again for White Folks With Guns is the perfect alternative to an intelligent conversation about the Long-Playing’s cover model. Yup, time to replay, Go Tell it On Fox News. And have some smocking.

Children are good (arguably). Bundles of joy, or electroshocks to the privates of single people, and psychopaths. Yours, of course, are adorable, but the miniature kind, you know, wee human parrots, silver spoon in the mouth, can all beat it, pardon the Newyorkism.
We’re all biased, though, to the earnest kind, inquiring little big minds, asking questions but having the sense of shutting up in time. For them, the Book of Religions. It’s like a secular tour through naves and catacombs of the earliest form of mass opioid.
In fact, they’ll learn so much, they’d want to create their own, but discourage them immediately. Threaten to place the chainsaw by the tree side; it should do it. Maybe. Or let them be filthy rich pastors, and bad mouth them on social media. Good parenting.
There’s a progression on this section. Start by the Coloring Books for Spicy Adults, a 50s-ish set of ‘ironic’ drawings, inviting you to spill some color on lifeless silhouettes. Hey, when was the last time you were asked to paint the town red?
For the grey hair confident, get the conversation going when the gifted unwraps that 55-Gallon Personal Lube. Rehearse some best-practices about consenting adults having mature exchanges, and go for broke: suggest a party when everyone is doused with it. Get lucky.
For the truly Breaking Bad Series-afficionado, few things spell, I’m ready, than the miniature Meth-Preparing, Lab-Van, Incense Holder. Get those masks going and, while the fumes fill the room, stream the episode when they cook it in their underwear.
The Instant Underwear is the default Plan B for those already acquainted with Depends. Now it’s your chance to show that you care about your old sofa, just as talk veers towards (more)
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Curtain Raiser

Salvaging the Wreck of 2016, Colltalers

Brexit, the referendum that’s put the U.K. on the verge of leaving the European Union, and Trump’s election as U.S. president, the two biggest politically disruptive events of 2016, were only possible due to similar, dishonest strategies of those who backed them.
After two years, both may be coming to a head, and many say, not a day too soon. Or rather late, since turmoil they’ve caused has already undermined efforts to counter global climate change. Or the rise of extreme white supremacy. So, yes, good riddance.
Since most ‘architects’ of Brexit have since jumped ship, in coward fashion, no less, British P.M. Theresa May is the one left to push through Parliament the latest, and still unsatisfying, deal with the E.U. She’s bound to fail, according to an almost consensus.
That’d throw her government, and 66 million Brits, in disarray, a fact that’s both lamented, for the human costs involved, and also cherished. That’s by those who woke up June 24, 2016, sure that they’d been sold a bag of rotten goods, with no returns accepted.
Something similar happened the following November in the U.S., and last month, heavy loses by the Republican party may also signal that these now former-losing majorities, from both sides of the pond, may win their due rematches. It won’t be soon enough.
It’s appalling that many of those who fought hard to severe the U.K.’s long-lasting ties to Europe – former London Mayor Boris Johnson, Niger Farage, others, plus a variety of unpopular politicians and ‘strategists,’ – who quit when most needed, to pursue their true ambitions, remain unapologetic about the chaos they sowed. Such lack of empathy reminds Americans of someone they know.
Speaking of whom, here’s a dude who had a terrible few days last week. Reports that the Robert Mueller probe has a strong hold on many of his once trusted operatives, who apparently turned on him by the dozen, have truly riled Trump. Among plenty of denials and false accusations, even a superficial analysis of his body language throughout the crisis show that, yes, it’s been bad, indeed.
As it becomes ever more clear that he did collude with Russians to win the White House, some wonder who he’ll throw under the bus in order to save his skin. As the ex-reality TV star turned Continue reading

Life W/O Lennon

That Cold Night
in December 1980

Thanks for always being on our side.

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The Humanities Bill

The Anniversary of a Historic
Step in Defense of Human Rights

In hindsight, every year has its share of earth-shaking events. That said, 1948 stands out for its peculiar transcendence, at least, for armchair dilettantes like us. Gandhi’s murder, South Africa’s Apartheid, and the State of Israel are surely year highlights.
So is the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed 70 years ago next Monday. A plea for the new world gingerly emerging from two global wars in a row, and about to welcome the Nuclear Age, it lined up some of mankind’s most crucial precepts.
The year when the threat of authoritarianism, driven by an ‘us versus them’ mentality, set the grounds for the Cold War, was also when Eric Arthur Blair – a.k.a. George Orwell – penned 1984, a dystopian view of what could be in store for mankind.
Not two centuries before, the French Revolution had produced the defining Declaration of Rights of Man and the Citizen, which is closely associated with the U.S. Bill of Rights. But a renewed set of principles was again necessary. And so is its remembrance today.
Even as we grew wary of commandments and words of order, thanks to tyrants and dictators who betrayed their provisions over and again, this declaration remains relevant for what it projects and to whom it addresses: ethical and compassionate beings.
A ‘standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society (…) shall strive to promote respect for these rights and freedoms (…) to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance.’
Due to its similarities with the U.S. Constitution, some Americans may be jaded about its power to preside over society’s webs and flows. But

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just as any moral edit, its ability to prevent bad deeds is proportional to the willingness of citizens to stand up for it.
For ‘human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,’ endowed with reason to ‘act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.’ Race, color, sex, language, religion, politics, birth or other status, are no longer acceptable excuses to ignore it.
Seven decades later, this document remains vital on its defense of freedom of speech, and right to dissent without fear of retaliation, a reason for rulers to rarely mention it on their calls to arms. It’s too threatening a script to be invoked at a stump speech.
Rather than legitimizing their rule, it democratically provides that ‘everyone has the right to life, liberty and security,’ no need for a father figure to treat them like kids. It recognizes the individual as the sovereign agent of his or her own destiny.
That’s why it should be recited daily by school children around the world, rather than anthems or prayers. It’s a way better tool to engage them into a lifetime defense of rights against all attempts of society, and the state, to control and use them.

Curtain Raiser

The Age of Flawed Presidents, Colltalers

There’s America, the myth. The land of the free, a country built by immigrants, founded on values of equality and justice for all. Even as it has hardly realized in full the dreams on which it was found, this is the America-in-progress that’s still attainable.
Then there’s present day U.S.A., still the world’s richest nation but now also quickly becoming the cradle of inequality. A place where over a hundred million simply gave up and don’t even vote, led by a president who’s a constant source of embarrassment.
Take the G-20 in Argentina, for instance. Another high-level world-leaders meeting, another series of photo-ops displaying Trump as the ugly American at its worst. In just a few hours, he’s managed to insult the host, get cozy with Putin, and brag about a deal.
By now, the 18 nations plus the European Union that make up the bloc are not just acquainted with him, but rather act like enablers to his diatribes. They’re falling under his braggadocio, and won’t confront him even over an universal issue such as climate change.
The former reality TV star turned leader of the free world had at the G20, another less than great moment on camera, adding to an already long list: he walked away from Argentina’s Mauricio Macri, who was left standing, arm still stretched, on the stage. Then, despite denials, he met with the Russian president. And lastly, he boasted about an accord with China that, in fact, changes little.
It’s not that other participants didn’t have their own awkward, and revealing, weak moments. There was Germany’s Angela Merkel, who got plane troubles and arrived in Buenos Aires via commercial flight. And France’s Emmanuel Macron, caught on camera pleading, ‘you never listen to me,’ to suspect murderous Saudi Arabian crown prince Muhammed bin Salman. Truly cringe worthy.
Macron, whose new taxation on gas has ignited violent protests by French union workers, never looked more unfit to the crucial leadership role that may be reserved to France, in case Germany turns into a far-right regime, following Merkel’s announced exit.
After all, he was speaking on an intimate tone with someone who the world’s intelligence community is convinced has ordered the murder and dismemberment of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate. Someone who Macron must help bring to justice, and deserves not whispers that sound like lovers talk, but the harsh admonition due to a rogue leader in need of reckoning.
As for trade tariffs, and the accord with China that Trump bragged about, it sounds a lot like what we’ve heard Continue reading

Space Lighthouse

ISS@20, Life Amid Stars
Enters Its Third Decade

Here she comes. And there she goes. 16 times a day. The International Space Station, which completed 20 years in orbit last week, is humankind’s friendliest eye in the sky, a silent witness watching over us at every turn of our home planet.
It’s been an amazing ride and view. Just the sheer technological mastery necessary to keep it afloat, and the wealth of scientific data it provides daily, are enough to fulfill its lofty dream of being the space outpost of everyone of us, Earthlings.
Built by 16 nations, it’s been the temporary home to 230 highly trained rocket scientists who could even play some football up there: the ISS is almost as long as the field, or the equivalent of a six-bedroom house. They’re wiser with their time, though.
The station is a scientific research hub, from life to physical sciences, from astronomy to meteorology. For instance, the yearlong study monitoring twin astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly. Mark in Houston, Texas, and Scott, racing overhead at five miles per second.
Above all, the ISS‘ greatest achievement is being a beacon to our best aspirations, of harmony among nations, working together to build a better future. As such a beautiful dream is far from becoming reality down here, it’s crucial that it survives in space.

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

Just like the dream behind its conception, the ISS is also vulnerable: a little debris the size of a quarter can disable it and risk the lives of its dwellers. And it’s also susceptible to the whims of near-sighted (more)
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Curtain Raiser

A Question Begs to be Asked, Colltalers

Climate has delivered another sobering alert to mankind, with a new report on its impact on the world’s economic outlook. Regardless that we do anything about it, it reaches a chilling conclusion: some of its dire effects are inexorable and will last long.
It comes just as another U.N. environmental conference starts in a week, at that coal-loving country of Poland. Results may be less than promising but still strong enough to upstage the U.K. signing off from the E.U., and another probe set to reach Mars.
But the question that rarely makes it to the headlines, to be asked the top 0.001% of the population is: why most of you are not fully engaged on the quest for our survival on this planet? On the contrary, by not being part of the solution, even a reduced number of the wealthy and most powerful individuals and organizations, is in fact, aggravating the problem of climate change.
Such slimiest of percentage, made of top political leaders, the U.S. president, multinational corporations, billionaires, and global institutions, owns over 90% of the world’s resources and power. The remainder 99% seems helpless to hold them accountable.
There may be some eluding reason as to why the follow up to the Paris Agreement on climate change is being held in Poland for the second time in five years. But other than by chance, that nation along many others in Europe has been a hot bed for the right wing resurgence spreading out everywhere, and a likely result of a global ‘franchising’ of the Trump’s ‘wreaking havoc’ doctrine.
Not that he has a discernible one. But his racist and divisive rhetoric did unlock the gates of hell, unleashing hordes of previously curbed fascists, who became an unfortunate feature today in any urban center. Their scary rallies and propensity to brutality to prove a supremacist point hasn’t changed since the Nazis ruling days; it’s happening even in once liberal Latin American nations.
It’s growing in Brazil, which has elected a defender of torture (and admirer of Trump), to high office, and it now became part of the Mexican reality too: an anti-immigrant protest in Tijuana may be among the first ever staged south of the border. On Friday, Trump had tweeted about an agreement with Mexico, to keep asylum seekers there, but it may be just another one of his lies too.
While the media may distract itself rebroadcasting a few times that claim, before declaring it false, the administration Continue reading