Waters of March

A Fine Day to Salute
Hurricane Elis Regina

‘If she were still alive, Brazilian music wouldn’t be in such a bad shape.’ That’s guitar player Nathan Marques about Elis Regina, likely Brazil’s greatest singer, who’d be 76 today. She died of an accidental overdose in 1982, and the country’s rich musical tradition still mourns her loss.
Most survivors of Brazil’s golden generation of songwriters and musicians, from the 1960s on, would endorse her guitarist’s stinging comment. Besides being impossibly gifted as an artist, Elis is also missed for her uncanny talent scouting skills, as many a career was either launched or enhanced by her renditions.
Her rise from anonymity to national stardom was meteoric. At 20, with Vinicius de Moraes and Edu Lobo‘s Arrastão, she won the TV Excelsior Festival de Música, the first of a series of festivals that took the country by storm, and revealed a new batch of interpreters that would dominate Brazilian music for years to come.
She then co-hosted with Jair Rodrigues O Fino da Bossa and turned it into the most important music program on TV at the time. She seemed born to star in the medium, a crucial part of the young nation’s cultural integration, even as it also served well the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil between 1964 and 85.
In many cases, hers were the first recordings of composers who’d go on to become national treasuries, like Milton Nascimento, Ivan Lins, Beto Guedes, and João Bosco, among others. Or she added considerable wattage to the work of contemporaries, like Lobo, Chico Buarque, Caetano Veloso, and Gilberto Gil, by recording their songs.

Even though they all wrote lyrics, she also helped usher an entirely new lineage of lyricists. Fernando Brant, Ronaldo Bastos, Aldir Blanc, and Victor Martins, to name but few, had their urban poetry-infused words first played on the radio and performed on TV by her, in a country whose majority by now were living in big cities.
By the 1970s, Brazilian music, or MPB, had several streams of high-quality output, and composers of talent to boot. As Bossa Nova entered its second decade, and Tropicália, its own maturity phase, even artists identified with purer musical idioms, such as samba and Chorinho, were registering on vinyl their arguably best work.
Thus as Tom Jobim, João Gilberto, Baden Powell, and so many others were consolidating the then most famous representative of the country’s music, Veloso, Gil, Tom Zé, and Os Mutantes, plus Buarque, Paulinho da Viola, Nascimento, and Bosco were hard at work rewriting popular music to a younger audience.
One of the most remarkable facts about Elis Regina’s trajectory was that she was developing her sophisticated interpretative touch while at the vanguard of all these currents. Credit must be also given to husband and partner Cesar Camargo Mariano, who contributed (more)
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* Lil’ Pepper
* 50 Summers

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Curtain Raiser

What Legacies Are Made of, Colltalers

Daylight Time Savings is on, a sight spring is not too far. Covid-19, though, is yet to receive the memo; global cases have beat the 120 million mark, and the U.S. has a quarter of them. Good and bad news about vaccines: many got their shots in the global north but billions worldwide remain uninoculated.
Brazil, second on that grim list of virus casualties, experienced an earthquake of sorts with the return of former President Lula da Silva to politics. And there’s also a string of sad anniversaries to mark: Breonna Taylor, Marielle Franco, the Syrian civil war, and the Fukushima nuke disaster and tsunami.
Let’s start with Bolivia, where far-right Jeanine Añez was arrested on terrorism and sedition charges. She instigated the 2019 military coup that ousted the country’s first indigenous president, Evo Morales, and led a brutal regime that persecuted and killed countless pro-democracy activists. Morales has since returned and in Oct. his ally Luis Arce won a closely-watched special election. Bolivia, population of 11 million, has 260,000 coronavirus cases.
In Poland, as around the world, massive marches marked Women’s Day on Sat but the focus this year was the draconian anti-abortion law that went into effect on Jan. With increasingly restrictive measures against sex minorities – the country has now what it calls ‘LGBTQ-Free Zones!‘ –  religious zealotry seems to have been inscribed into law. Poland may be ready for a gifted leader to take it out of a past of coal, war, and prejudice and back to the future.
And Scotland, whose efforts to become independent from the United Kingdom have increased since Brexit, was told by the U.K. Prime Minister that he’s against another referendum. The first one, in 2014, failed to grant autonomy to Scots, but F.M. Nicola Sturgeon has since pushed for a new vote.
A few other issues of note include Myanmar, where the now indiscriminate killings of civilians by the military Continue reading

Spinning Wheels

Baby, You Can’t Drive
My Car. Nor Should You

Well, it was a good run. From its late 1600s invention to its 20th-century mass production, the car enjoyed a fast, risky, and racy love affair with people. But alas, it may be over. And the signs of a probable popularity crash are coming from some quite unexpected places.
Mainly, its evolution. See, once we begin traveling in driverless, accident-proof, shape-shifting vehicles, what can possibly come next? The quicksand of moral considerations, of course. Or, rather bluntly, will your model choose to save your life or those in the school bus?

At the very least, that’s what we get when we aim at convenience: we’re so willing to trade our hands-on approach to driving with the exactitude of machines, that they may as well make decisions against our best interests. Meaning, save the kids, dump you down the ravine.
With the vexing plus of such artificial intelligence, now capable of safely handling a one-tone speeding vehicle among hundreds of others, not being even that intelligent. The technology that allows a car to go from point A to point B is as old as that which built the pyramids. Just like pushing blocks onto a prefab grid.
We’re not knocking the brave new world of computer research, and the wonders of such a complex piece of engineering that gets us there faster. An evolutionary leap that, in less than a century, rendered the human factor nearly obsolete, as far as its moving parts are concerned.
And yes, thanks to those who came before, to Ferdinand Verbiest, to Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot, to Gustave Trouvé, and to Karl Benz, as well as to the man many Americans erroneously believe has invented the automobile: Henry Ford. We’ll give you a minute to check these names out.
Ford did leave an indelible imprint on this evolutionary arch, but perhaps much more relevant may have been his contribution in the context of the U.S.’s technological expanse during his lifetime. And, of course, for having resisted the public clamor for what seemed more needed then: a faster horse.


When Google successfully completed tests of its driverless car almost a decade ago, the driver’s license began its final move towards oblivion, along with birth certificates and notary signatures. A scannable eye, voice, or barcode is all that’s needed; everything else about you is already on file.
So will some familiar rites of passage, such as learning how to drive with a relative, or being the designated driver to your friends. It may not happen next month, or after Covid-19, but we’ve been down this road a few times already to know what comes around the corner.
In itself, the concept of being driven (more)
Read Also:
* Get Moving
* Mushroom Car

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Curtain Raiser

Raise Girls as World Leaders, Colltalers

Once again Brazil shocks the world and not in a good way. As President Bolsonaro told Brazilians to ‘stop whining,’ it hit 10 million Covid-19 cases, almost two thousand a day last week. They could use some of the $1.9 trillion relief bill Republicans fought tooth and nail not to give to Americans.
The far-reaching bill seems well poised to boost the U.S. recovery but it also shows the limitations of President Biden’s ‘mandate‘ as it failed to raise the minimum wage. The Pope’s in Iraq and, in Minneapolis, the trial of the police officer who brutally killed George Floyd last May gets started today.
More on that in a moment but let’s start with Myanmar where the military is shooting to kill protesters of the Feb 1 coup and the junta seems unfazed by the international uproar. Not that it’s been particularly strident. While the army reportedly conducts overnight raids, the casualty count rises, and China takes its sweet time before stepping in. Since the European Union is not acting, the U.S. should put its diplomacy corp in a state of high alert.
Serious violations of international law, possibly amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity.‘ Amnesty International’s assessment matches United Nations’ fears that invading Eritrean troops in Ethiopia’s Tigray region may bring about more deaths, violence, and potentially mass starvation.  Eritrea’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who was awarded the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, now is accused of ordering illegal troop raids across the border.
Pope Francis may be arguably presiding over the Catholic church’s biggest decline but no one is crazy to count the Vatican out just yet. Argentina-born Francisco, who leads 1.2 billion devouts, has then been entrusted with revitalizing the church’s dwindling attendance using a favorite from the Dark Ages playbook: playing kingmaker. It’s not clear whether the U.S. has offered him pointers for his meeting with Iran’s Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
$45 billion. That’s the combined amount that Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca are expected to make with vaccine sales in 2021. Which has its upside: after all, these and other companies are offering a safe cure and treatment to an illness that in one year, killed almost three million people, safely developed at a fast clip, and that’s already benefitted some of us. Other companies Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

By All Means Necessary, Colltalers

Lacking strong world censure, the Myanmar military has moved to phase 2 of its power grab: shooting civilians. President Biden, who bombed Syria instead, has also been criticized for ignoring an intelligence report that accuses Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince of murdering journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
But the week in America may be dominated by two arresting issues: the battle to include in the government’s Covid relief package raising the minimum wage to $15h, the first such rise since 2009; and a bombshell revelation about the murder of Black leader Malcolm X, 56 years ago this February.
We begin with a disturbing Guardian report about the more than 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, who died since 2010 while building stadiums and infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The data highlights the failure of the secretive ‘absolute monarchy‘ ruled by the Al Thani family to protect its over two million migrant workers, as it blames the average 12 deaths a week on ‘natural causes.’
As it becomes almost a dark tradition, 317 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped at gunpoint on Friday. What started in 2014 with the abduction of 276 girls by the armed group Boko Haram, which opposes Western education, has become a cottage industry in Nigeria. Different groups have been staging kidnappings for money in Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Percy & Us Will Persevere, Colltalers

There’s no shortage of ‘I told you so’ being thrown at those facing jail for their murderous Capitol Hill rampage last month, and at Texas officials. After all, only the rioters didn’t expect their leader’s cowardice at that key moment. Or only a fossil-fuel-based state economy would deny climate change.
500,000 Americans dead of Covid-19 also means that the U.S.’s less than 4% of the world population has a fifth of all deaths reported. As President Biden reenrolls the country into the Paris Agreement, the WHO, and Iran’s nuclear treaty, still unfulfilled campaign promises are back to pressure him.
We start our roundabout this week celebrating NASA and its nothing-short-of-epic landing of the rover Perseverance on Mars. In usual fashion, the arguably most popular U.S. government agency reliably achieved yet another technological feat. It sent the artifact through seven months and millions of miles to skydive amid toxic fumes and land safely on the Red Planet. All so mankind knows it enough to exercise bragging rights. Well done, Percy.
The Nov. 3 elections will be forever marked as the day a U.S. president was stopped from proclaiming himself a king. The Democratic Party gained control over the Senate, we’re closer than ever to decriminalize pot, and a number of other good things were made into law too. But in ‘liberal’ California, the so-called gig economy scored a major and deeply demoralizing boost: the passing of Prop 22 allows some employers not to comply with labor laws.
Uber and Lyft, the U.S.’s two biggest car-services companies, can keep calling employees ‘independent contractors,’ that is, no benefits, no paid time off, and no health insurance, and it’s all for minimum wages. Oh, and you may be fired too, no questions asked. Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

They’ll Come Back For More, Colltalers

It’ll be long before we fully take in the implications of the second Trump impeachment acquittal. The unpunished Fascistic rampage at Capitol Hill though has sure pried opened a back door to power. Senate may prevent the ex-president from ever running again but not someone else, likely smarter.
While few are paying attention, femicide continues to wretch the lives of countless women throughout the world. In times of deception, it’s often what we don’t see that hurts us the most. Thus unseen until detected was the serious cyberattack into the water supply of an entire community in Florida.
But before anything, let’s take a moment to carve the half a million mark, as in, 500,000 Covid-19 deaths in America. And the even more staggering fact that despite all celebrated technological breakthroughs, the reality is that not enough vaccines have been produced so far to go around. Globally. Not yet anyway, and part of the glacial path of immunization is due to unaddressed inequalities and the focus of Big Pharma on their own bottom line.
Americans have mourned and grieved for those gone and those being hit by it but still stings to bear witness once again to privilege and influence buying a ticket out of any trouble. It’s not just rich countries purchasing and storing way more shots than they currently need, to detriment of poorer ones. But even within states and cities, wealthier citizens are managing to get spots in suburban lines, originally set to locals. And getting away with it.
That’s why it’s so important for the U.S. and other nations to let the World Health Organizations manage all global health Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

To Impeach a Wrongdoer, Colltalers

5.077 Covid-19 American deaths. That’s the audited total registered Thursday. We’re speeding toward the half-a-million cases before the month is out. The virus spreads by jets while vaccines are hand-delivered; guess which is faster? New variants may arrive even faster but immunization will prevail.
The Burmese are out in the streets trying to undo Myanmar’s military coup before it grows roots. They’ll need help. ‘Incitement of insurrection.’ That’s the charge on the second Trump impeachment starting tomorrow as the FBI rounds up members of the deadly mob that stormed Capitol Hill on Jan. 6.
We start on a related note as Canada has just declared the Proud Boys, which took part in the tragic events in DC, a terrorist organization. Court filings charge that the group spouses political violence, Fascism, misogyny, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-immigrant, and white supremacist ideologies. As many face criminal penalties in the U.S., they may forget delusions of freedom that many a Wild West gunslinger has shared: to run away North.
In Brazil, an investigation on over 230 thousand coronavirus casualties concluded that President Bolsonaro is personally responsible for allowing the pandemic to run amok through an ‘institutional strategy to spread the virus.’ The Conectas Derechos Humanos and São Paulo University study also has exposed the administration’s lack of a national plan or provision for vaccine availability and still blames the media and others for the pandemic.
Meanwhile, indigenous leaders and human rights groups asked the International Criminal Court at The Hague to charge Bolsonaro with ‘ecocide,’ the dismantling of environmental policies and violation of native rights. Since 2018, Amazon deforestation Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

People Own These Vaccines, Colltalers

The expectation, chaos, and general anxiety over a vaccine that’d start defanging Covid-19 are holding for ransom the world’s breath. Over 100 million cases and 2.3 million casualties justify public concerns. But why no one is holding the big labs accountable for such appalling distribution failures?
Also, why terrorists arrested by the FBI for their Jan. 6 Capital Hill murderous rampage have been freed by local judges? And an irrelevant bruhaha, staged by small investors against Wall Street, had predictable results. Hint: they lost. And even without the virus, 2020 was deadly to asylum seekers.
We start the new month near a town across the Rio Grande from Texas, where 19 burned bodies were found a week from last Friday. Believed to be migrants, at least two of them from Guatemala, they’d been shot first, and their full identification may take months. A year and a week before, 21 had been burned to death in nearby Ciudad Mier, which prompted the Mexican army to kill 11 alleged gunmen, which all but doomed the investigation.
In India, tens of thousands of landowning farmers have been protesting new agricultural laws they see as unfairly stacked against them. On Saturday, the government blocked the Internet in areas surrounding Delhi as some started one-day hunger strikes to mark the 48th anniversary of Mohandas Gandhi’s assassination. Clashes with the police left at least one farmer dead last week but it’s unlikely that the Modi administration will back down.
The European Union, however, did back down on sending vaccines to the Republic of Ireland while skipping Northern Ireland and that was perceived as a relief. The open-borders issue that almost derailed Brexit – with many hoping that it would – just proved again how it can still crush some sensitive toes. The real issue, of course, lies elsewhere: the U.K.’s exit from the E.U. was never driven by people’s best interests but by those of its architects.
As for the bumbling handling of the virus, it’s run roughshod of any common sense in the U.K., throughout the E.U., the U.S., and in many countries. For all vaccines now reaching the market and making billions to Big Pharma are mostly funded by taxpayer money and should be labeled as such, say healthcare activists, rather than advertising their maker. Please follow the #ThisIsOurShot hashtag for further actions promoting a ‘People’s Vaccine.’
Concerns about gargantuan inequalities in vaccine access and distribution have grown steadily as the epidemic starts its second year of terror. While rich nations can afford to buy and store extra doses, a global forecast group’s new report has found that 84 of the world’s poorest countries will not get enough for their populations, and some may not get anything before 2024. That’s alarming: Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

A Work Cut Out For Us, Colltalers

There’s a potential new U.S.A. ahead of us. But we may still get stuck with our nation of yore or with what it’s been in the past years. Only a new dawn is worth pursuing, though, and yes, that may include the second impeachment. In any event, Americans must wisely choose before the 2022 elections.
The future we pick may be in response to the Doomsday Clock, which is been closer than ever to midnight, i.e., global annihilation. That may change Wednesday when atomic scientists unveil the new time. But with 25 million COVID cases, the U.S. still has ways before regaining the world’s respect.
Hold those thoughts while we do our abridged version of a news round-up. Starting by Russia where thousands took the streets in support of Aleksei Navalny, the opposition leader Putin tried to kill by poison and who was arrested as soon as he arrived home. As the Kremlin sets up a court hearing in Feb. that may send him to prison on trumped-up charges, most Western nations accused of supporting him have no idea what he actually stands for.
In Portugal, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa won in a landslide five years more in office, while far-right and progressives had mediocre showings. It was likely a vote for continuity as Portugal has now over 600 thousand coronavirus cases and more than 10,000 have already died from the virus.
In a surprising row over media regulations, Australia may face a future without Google, as it presses the search behemoth to pay for the news it quotes from media organizations. It’s unlikely that the trillion-dollar-valued Alphabet Inc., owner of Google, will back down but after recent moves by the European Union to curb its privacy infringements, along with Facebook and other social media Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

The Year We Cannot Forget, Colltalers

If you’re neither a billionaire nor had a lucky break in 2020, chances are you’re happy this year is finally (almost) over. Also, because it’s not hard to feel grateful for having pulled through while so many did not. For it’s Ok to be thankful amid tragedy but it feels better knowing we did make a difference.
Yes, there’s been Covid and the 1.6 million-plus lives it took with it, including over 300,000 Americans. There’s the brutal reality of millions going to bed hungry every day. The scourge of climate emergency and injustice of racism and rising femicide. There was Trump. And yet, we’re still breathing.
Naturally, most of us would like this moment to be a celebration of what humanity has done so well, but we’re at loss for words; so many of us stepped up to the plate and saved lives, showed compassion, risked life and limb, stood on bullets’ way to speak and protect those whose voices were silenced.
Their sacrifice has countered the horror of having a president who lied, mocked, denied, chastised, and ultimately, ignored the pleas of his own citizens at their most vulnerable time. In the end, it didn’t matter whether Trump’s deceived his own supporters or tried to disenfranchise dissenting Americans; everything he’s done in office was to advance his own cause and at times, that of his family and friends. For that, there must be no redemption possible.
We also didn’t want the year to end so badly to Black people, killed mercilessly by a truculent police establishment. We wished for better things to happen to people of color, asylum 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.’

(*) Originally published on the oh-so-long-ago Dec. 3, 2019.

Curtain Raiser

Who’s On First, What’s On Colltalers

The Covid-19 vaccination rollout is about to start and with that comes another stage of the pandemic. And questions such as, who will be first? how will the process work itself out? and how much big pharma corporations stand to make? That’s why there’s the ‘People’s Vaccine Alliance‘ on the rise.
Facebook, the social media that’s richer and more powerful than many nations, is facing antitrust lawsuits filed by the Federal Trade Commission and 48 U.S. states, ultimately seeking to break it up for buying out its competition only to crush it. But hang in there, you may not need to quit it just yet.
Let’s start on a sobering note, though (hoping to improve it later): last Tuesday it’s been 1000 days since Rio’s Black councilwoman, rights activist, and LGBTQ firebrand Marielle Franco was executed, on March 14, 2018. There’s no secret who killed her but seemingly no proof of who ordered the hit.
Hated by corrupt police and militia alike, a fierce advocate for the shantytown dwellers of her city, there’s no mystery why she was murdered either. Her still unpunished assassination is a stain on Brazil’s justice system, and as many fingers point to President Bolsonaro and his politician sons, hers is yet another indictment on the impunity of crimes perpetrated against women, Black communities, sex minorities, and the poor, all of which she not just embodied but used her platform as an elected politician to defend. She’s still sorely missed and the silence about her true killers is simply an outrage.
Four years after the U.K. unexpectedly voted to split up from the European Union, the reality that the vote was a fluke and the separation would be in fact a mistake may have Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Dreamers Have the Power, Colltalers

The repulsive spectacle of our non-conceding president seeking to pre-pardon himself, his family, and friends, is not just an admission of guilt. It’s also why those related to 15 million dead and alive Americans with Covid-19 deserve full accountability for the Trump administration’s criminal ineptitude.
When 65 years ago last week Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a segregated bus in Montgomery, AL, hers was neither a first for such a rebellious act nor the most dramatic but a turning point. Her courage still dwarfs our current resolve to set racial equality in the U.S.
More about that later but let’s start with ‘Make Amazon Pay,’ the movement to force the world’s largest online retailer to fulfill its social obligations. Launched on Black Friday by over 50 organizations, it demands better working conditions and full tax transparency (Amazon paid 0 taxes in 2018).
A letter by over 400 lawmakers from 34 countries to founder Jeff Bezos, who became a trillionaire exactly during the pandemic, says the company has ‘dodged and dismissed … debts to workers, societies, and the planet‘ on its way to market domination and to top the $11 billion profit it made last year.
Good news to those who were born in the U.S. but remain in the limbo of draconian immigration laws: a federal judge ordered the ‘Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,’ or DACA, to be restored to protect the so-called ‘Dreamers‘ from deportation while providing a path to their citizenship. Being but a fraction of undocumented immigrants living in the country, the ruling still benefits over a million and their families, currently terrorized by ICE raids.
An outpour of sadness has been expressed by scientists the world over about the destruction of Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Stand For Those Who Can’t, Colltalers

These are uncertain times. Covid-19 is at calamity levels of transmission and no healthcare system seems capable of handling its ravenous expansion. Months from a vaccine, we’re all we’ve got to keep ourselves safe. While Americans die by the thousands, a lame-duck president refuses to concede.
The assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, though, fuels rumors of a desperate attempt to keep Trump in office – with a little help from Israel? Elsewhere, there were massive street protests in France and Thailand, and municipal elections in Brazil brought grief to progressives.
For a change, let’s open with some upbeat news: in Scotland, menstruation products will be free and available to anyone. Let’s turn the idea into a right in the entire world; there’s plenty of exploitation and abuse of the female body but not nearly enough support for being a woman and all that it implies.
Tomorrow is World Aids Day and speaking of epidemics past and present, the news about HIV contagion is again mixed. According to the CDC, fewer people died of H.I.V.-related causes, but survival rates for women and people of color did not improve as much. There are surely lessons to be learned from the Aids outbreak and crisis since the 1980s, the wreck it’s left in its wake, and how it came under control, including the fact that’s still around.
France is having its ‘George Floyd moment,’ as cameras captured the violent beating of Michel Zecler, a Black music producer. Thousands took to the streets to protest racial violence Continue reading

Sky-Bound Arrow

The Woman Who Carried
a Son Who Still Carries Her

Gentle Maria Eva of Sagittarius could be a fitting epitaph gracing her tombstone. A coded message to strangers to be. Yet, her repose is all I need to hold a life that expired long ago – squeezed in my hands like wilted flowers and my own past-expiration heart.
She chose the graveside of an unknown child to speak and weep for her own lost girl. As the boy pretended to pray, her tears dripped ever so tenderly onto the humid grass. At a corner inside me, I now quietly sip the brew of the 14 years since she’s gone.
We’re put to run all over the Earth, bouncing on edges of countries and tongues, yet we all come to dive into a hole on the ground, dug by the few who love us. Mariazinha was the unfinished symphony whose more touching segments were left to be written. Or heard. Or lived.
When she departed, that lifetime well was already open, on the same wall where her love already rested waiting for her. I’ve helped shove her brittle body and mind into that place, at the same desolated gallery we’d walked together just a few years earlier.
There lies the first of the many Marias that ruled my life, where I came from and one day will return. From that deep cave, she still looks after me, trying to honor the justice she longed so hard to shine on her own existence. The very first one, just like Eve, her fitting second name.
I once questioned how much of my mother I carried with me; now I’m not sure where she ends and I start. As my own well approaches, I hope she’ll ease me into the great unknown. To grow old come fast, and so does the end, all while we recede quickly back to the beginning.
I never gave her a Mother’s Day card, never once thought I was going
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* Pai Heitor
* Middle Brother
* Unanswerable Prayers

to miss her as I do through the parts of me I no longer control. But here I am, wishing I could ask her, at least once, how come she’s now living inside me. Thus this post, a memento I won’t carry any longer with me.
Make room, mother, prepare my bed as you used to. Soon, I’ll be coming over for my last visit, even without being sure I’ll see you there. It won’t matter, I already have you within me, I already have you anytime. Happy may be your day of all the days that came and went. It won’t take long now, Mom. Love you.

(*) Originally published on May 12, 2018.

Curtain Raiser

Tell Him to Move Out of DC, Colltalers

Georgia’s recounted its votes and certified Joe Biden as the presidential winner. Today Michigan and Pennsylvania will do the same, and by Dec. 1 so will Arizona, Nevada, and Wisconsin. That’s why President Donald Trump may be about to concede his defeat and congratulate his opponent. Not.
Thus, upon careful consideration, we offer that the President-elect should lead a great march to the White House to tell in person our current lame-duck leader that he needs to move out so America may move on. If not by Thursday Thanksgiving then before the 300.000th American dies of coronavirus.
But before dwelling on the disturbing and entirely avoidable constitutional crisis that may make or break the olde U.S. of A., let’s start with the other pandemic which has been unwittingly aggravated by the virus lockdowns: femicide. Even before the global health scare, the number of women being murdered, including transgender and other non-binaries, was already rampant in Latin America, with Brazil and Mexico leading the despicable way.
Now, it’s ever more visible that the sad phenomenon is not restricted to that region only; Australia had 45 women killed this year, according to Destroy the Joint. In the U.K., a Femicide Census found that over a ten-year period, more than 1,400 women have been violently killed by men, foe or friend. Wednesday kicks off a U.N.-sponsored ’16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence,’ which will hold global activities to increase awareness.
Despite significant support from women for the confessed rapist who’s just lost the U.S. presidential race, the trend runs counter wise around the world. Women are having a decisive impact on government and authoritarian regimes, and Turkey, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Canada, South Africa, Israel, France, and many others have seen huge rallies, for not just women’s reproductive rights but also the sacred right to remain alive, being disrupted by the police.
Speaking of Australia, it’s also been shaken by an official report about elite forces that allegedly killed Afghan civilians and prisoners in ‘competition killings.‘ Unlike what happened in the U.S., though where the president granted clemency to war Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Time to Get Those Keys Back, Colltalers

Elections are designed to settle, a period placed at the end of a cycle, a clean slate for the future. Democratic nations rely on such normality. Defeated leaders are to graciously get out of the way, so a new day may rise. But not the president. To Donald Trump, America simply can’t quit Donald Trump.
As the U.S. faces a potential constitutional breakdown, the world shivers. Foes and allies gingerly prepare for what may come but can’t afford to ignore their own political turmoil. Uncertainty spreads like wildfire but ultimately, it’ll be up to Americans to keep it up or stop this whole insanity. Will we?
For while we correctly fret about the presidency, there’s an upsurge – second wave? third wave? does it matter? – of Covid-19 cases. What the president has affirmed at least 38 times it’d ‘disappear, like a miracle,’ has now killed over 250,000 Americans and more than 1.3 million worldwide. Record-breaking spikes threaten to overwhelm healthcare systems and a vaccine is still a long shot, but Trump’s only concerned about remaining in power.
We’ll go back to these issues in a moment but let’s conference the world first. Starting with Bolivia which finds itself in the solitary position of looking forward towards the future. The last Sunday’s inauguration of the socialist Luis Arce government and the return of its first indigenous president, Evo Morales, ousted about a year ago by a coup, has filled the small Andes country with joy and the hope it’ll build this time the nation its majority wants.
But if in the north people are afraid things may go south, in most of the global south, they’re pretty much there already. In Peru, where President Martin Vizcarra was impeached and 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, temporary home to 241 rocket scientists from 19 nationalities, the ISS is almost as long as an American football field. It’s like a six-bedroom hanging aloft, where groups of gifted dwellers extend our own grasp through outer space.

The station is a
scientific research hub, from life to physical sciences, to astronomy to meteorology. Such as the yearlong study that paired and monitored twin astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly for a year. Mark, now a U.S. Senator-elect, remained in Houston, TX, while Scott raced 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 as it’s easy to spot air pollution from above, just like the desertification of land and 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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* Space Droppings
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Curtain Raiser

A Battle Won, More to Come, Colltalers 

It’s been a big ‘Aaaahhhhhh,’ an extended, cathartic, long-overdue sigh of relief. Joe Biden has thoroughly beaten Donald Trump, celebrations erupted across timezones, and America has finally caught its breath. Even the world’s sleeping better too. A swell party but this nightmare is not quite over yet.
For Covid-19 is on the offensive again and several countries are now back into lockdown. 10.2 million Americans got the virus, and worldwide over 1.2 million have already missed the new day. The election is done but the presidency ends only on Jan. 20, so a lot may happen between now and then.
Expect a backlash from the president, and Republicans still pretending to like him. Calls for recounting, lawsuits, desperate appeals to put out the fire. But unlike what many feared, there’s really no close-enough race to justify a recounting and no serious questioning of the system’s integrity. Not that this will keep them from trying. In the end, it’ll be the American people who will guarantee the legality of the process. And they have already decided.
Except for Trump of course. The president who has already turned the U.S. into a Banana Republic now threatens to muck up what makes America functional: the peaceful transition of power. It’s been abundantly clear that he’s not equipped Continue reading

Pai Heitor

If You Could See This World
With Eyes of Your Youngest

Happy 107th Birthday, Dad.

Curtain Raiser

There’d Be Days Like These, Colltalers

We’re entering an extraordinary week in American history. Books, theories, films, college disciplines, and brand new laws will be written about what’s happening in the U.S. Billions of people, entire regimes, wildlife, and the planet itself will be impacted by it. Will Americans choose wisely or poorly?
The terrifying global spike of Covid-19 – the U.S.’ still on top with over 9.4 million cases – and a just-retooled Supreme Court on track to reelect Trump will certainly headline the period. That and the U.S. officially leaving the Paris Agreement. Oh, did we mention there’s a major election tomorrow?
We start the news roundup with the brutal murder of three in Nice, France, by a young Tunisian, supposedly in the name of Muhammad. It’s the third of such attacks in two months, but there were other near-miss tragedies averted by law enforcement. The attacker survived and will stand trial. All because the satirical Charlie Hebdo paper – itself targeted in 2015 – decided to republish cartoons of the prophet. 2020 can’t stop breaking our hearts.
In Poland, it’s been the second week of protests against the far-right Andrzej Duda administration, which has enforced a draconian abortion ban. It’s all part of an effort to cancel women’s reproductive rights, despite them being the majority of the population, by its mostly Catholic male demographics. But it won’t work for that’s a fight conservatives can’t win, neither in Poland nor anywhere else. When women rise, they usually get what they need.
Before going any further, let’s correctly identify the source linking both events: religious intolerance, the exact reason invoked by the Pilgrims to flee 16th century England and settle on its brand new colony. The difference is the degree of violence employed, which by no means is negligible. Still, it’s important to relate both incidents as pre-planned and executed to the letter by its perpetrators and not forget their common goal: to shut down dissent.
Let’s also mention yet another migrant tragedy at sea: the 140 people who drowned off the coast of West Africa last week. Continue reading

Hallowed Ground

Poe’s Bronx Cottage &
Houdini’s Queens Grave

Perhaps no other two public figures are more intrinsically connected with Halloween than Harry Houdini and Edgar Allan Poe. Fittingly, there seem to be always fresh new stories about them too.
Houdini, who died 94 years ago tomorrow, famously promised to give us a sign, proving there’s life after death. We’re still waiting.
And Poe, who preceded him to the great beyond by 77 years, will be forever attached to tales of the macabre, even though his claim to literary immortality comes from his detective stories.
Hungarian-born Houdini, escape-artist extraordinaire with a Freudian relationship with his mother, was skeptical about the supernatural but inspired a generation of then-called occultists.
Poe, who was found delirious on the streets of Baltimore was a true believer in the afterlife, but actually became associated with that most rigorous of law-enforcement sciences: forensics.
Lastly, both will be forever connected to New York, by the way of Queens and The Bronx, despite having come from (more)
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* A Halloween Tale
* Heard That?
* Happy Halloweeners

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Curtain Raiser

A Witching Hour Is Upon Us, Colltalers

Many Americans haven’t been sleeping well lately. Some worry about Nov. 3; others about how early voting is beating records across the land. Those concerned about that were sure their anti-democratic efforts to prevent people from voting had been successful. They may be up to a rude awakening.
Yet it’s Covid-19’s record of 83,000 cases in a day that the majority is rightfully scared about. Or an FBI report confirming foreign interference in the elections. On the other hand, most people support an antitrust lawsuit against Google. And others are celebrating the United Nations’ 75th anniversary.
Other issues worrying folks everywhere are climate change-driven wildfires, rising sea levels-boosted coastal flooding, and pandemic-aggravated hunger. In this particular, there’s Brazil, ironically one of the world’s four-largest food producers. In fact, with the U.S. and India, it also shares the top spot of coronavirus-infected countries. Combined, these countries have less than two billion people but over half of the 43 million cases worldwide.
What’s behind the stats however is the brutality of income inequality and our insatiable war machines. Although food insecurity and starvation are old foes of poor Indians and Brazilians, there are more Americans in similar dire straits now than the 35 million with nothing to eat for most of last year.
Colombia’s indigenous peoples took the streets of Bogotá to protest the methodic extermination of natives and environmental activists that’s reaching a fever pitch in the country. Four years since an agreement with leftist guerillas, it’s now right-wing paramilitary groups that are crushing their dreams of peace and stability. More than 230 civic leaders have been killed this year, often in mass executions, to little or no action by President Iván Duque.
Still in South America, an E.U.’s trade accord with Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay, would boost meat and ethanol imports to Europe, and machinery, chemicals, and drugs to the Mercosur countries. But it’d also be bad news for the Amazon forest, which in case you’re wondering, is still burning. Continue reading

Grace Under Rain

Edson Arantes do Nascimento, a.k.a. Pelé, becomes 80 today. Still considered soccer’s G-O-A-T, his popularity is intact after half a century of retirement. Despite his difficult relationship with Brazil, he helped it win three out of five World Cups, the most of any other.
A wee lad in the 1960s, I’ve experienced his magic and seized the memory as one of my most precious. As his celebrated Santos played my Grêmio, I understood what means to embody the dreams of an entire nation with the grace of a generous king.  

As he walked off the field, crowd jeers turned into cheers. He held his head down until they grew louder to grant us his royal smile. It took him only a second for all of us to become his.

Pelé, football’s greatest player, had come to town to play my team. But by the end of the first half, there was no memorable greatness to report. It was just another league game, after all; rough skirmishes in the mud and a cold and unforgiving winter to boot. That night though there was also a shining knight among us. And he acted the part with aplomb.
Sports fans are rude, raw, and irrational the world over. Crude emotions are always at the ready but civility is usually checked at the turnstiles. Just like at the Colosseum: Christians and pagans crowded the pitch but to the beasts belongs the hour.
The birthplace of  ‘jogo bonito‘ is no haven away from this world of unbounded brutality. The exquisite touch of skills, the artistry with the ball are reflected on the Mondo Cane sensibility at the bleaches, the cursing, the unholy screams, and every obscene gesture to match.
Let’s not get into the urine-bag throwing at random, the foul-smelling bathrooms, the fights that break at chance between rivaling factions. And the slurs throw at women, let’s just not go there.
In such a freezing and wet Wednesday, as only a place that close to Antarctica can be, 30,000 or so of us were braving elements and odds but for a glimpse of a special player, to whom songs, and toasts, and accolades are still being raised.
Chanting our undying commitment to follow our blue team ‘barefoot if necessary,’ as its Anthem promises, that’s where we were at that very night. And for a chance to see how memories are built to last.
Ours was the no-nonsense team, whose physical game had almost no room for finesse. We’d kick the ball and the opponent with gusto, and if we’d sneak an offensive play, it’d usually be like a cannon aimed at the other end of the field. All fancy schmancy and flair had no place in the squad.
It was 1969 and Pelé had already won two world championships with the national team. By then though, he was close to retirement, his great glory days left smashed in the grass of England three years earlier. For all it counted, he had nothing else to prove and a lot of reasons to just fade away.
No one knew then that a year later, he’d rise and enchant the world all over again. Football is a game for the minute. All else (more)
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* Pelé At 70
* National Tragedy
* Don Diego de La Argentina
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Marble & Heavenly Bodies

Michelangelo’s Grocery
List & the Finger of Galileo

What if future generations would wind up knowing famous people not for what we celebrate them for, but for something entirely unexpected? What if, in the big scheme, that’s what’s all about, or rather, how would you like to be known a century from now?
Michelangelo Buonarroti and Galileo Galilei, whose mastery of arts and sciences summarizes much of mankind’s greatness, may be safe from such a vexing fate. Nevertheless, recent news about them did make us wonder, over 400 years after their time.
In 2014, Illinois-based weapons maker ArmaLite had an awful idea: to outfit Michelangelo‘s masterpiece David with an assault rifle, committing not just an act of vandalism for profit, but also insulting four centuries of enlightenment to transcend our destructive nature.
Almost as offensive to any human who’s ever contemplated in awe the universe, let alone Galileo‘s memory, was a National Science Foundation study, that found that one in four Americans, or some 80 million of us, simply doesn’t know that the Earth orbits the Sun.

It’s very likely that both ArmaLite and those millions of our fellow voters remain unaware that Michelangelo died over 456 years ago, only three days after Galileo was born, both in the same region known today as Italy. Or even what greatness we’re talking about here.
After all, it’s really a coincidence that they were joined by such a happenstance of date and place. But it’s no casual fact that they both defined their age and set the standards to all others that followed it, in ways that still resonate with our world today.
And it’s a bit petty to castigate people for caring little whether Michelangelo‘s art makes us a bit more deserving of the wonders of our own time, or that Galileo‘s telescope introduced us to the stars, from which we inherited the dust that makes up our bodies.
But times, alas, are barely open to wonders, enigmas, or marvels of the physical world. While the Renaissance bred so many geniuses and they, in return, doted us with their indelible foresight and imagination, we got used to ignoring every star above us, as the song goes.
We’re content to juxtapose the sublime with the abhorrent, like David with a gun, and relish on the comfort of long-debunked beliefs, (more)
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* On This Day
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Curtain Raiser

Sixteen Days to Reality, Colltalers

2020 could end now and still be one of the deadliest. Over a million Covid-19 deaths worldwide, a savage rise of hunger and dispossession, wildfires, climate change-driven superstorms, Democracy at risk, we thought we were done. But no, not until a religious zealotry murder had been committed.
Thousands of women marching over the weekend though offered a powerful counternarrative to the criminal negligence, hate incitement, and sheer malfeasance coming out of the White House lately. Paraphrasing Lincoln, another past, way more dignified occupant, they can’t fool us all, all the time.
It’s great to see a mass mobilization of women at such a crucial juncture. Given that the issue of reproductive rights has just landed at the core of the Nov. 3 U.S. presidential election, any progressive change in the status quo has to necessarily go through how mankind treats half of the population.
But to be fair, women are already protesting in Belarus, France, Mexico, Brazil, and elsewhere, and their fight against corruption, domestic violence, for equal pay, racial justice, and yes, the right to safe, legal abortion, is one with the rest of society. For patriarchy can no longer deliver us our future.
Thus the significance of the re-election by a landslide of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Domestically, it was her outstanding leadership that neutralized the pandemic and kept Kiwi casualties to only five. But even before she’d already become Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Tainted As Sick Folk, Colltalers

It’s disturbing how President Trump’s knowingly contaminating supporters and cabinet members with the coronavirus. It’s execrable he’s spreading it to the press corps and White House staffers too. But it’s downright despicable that the GOP and those invested in his reelection remain oblivious to it all.
A domestic far-right terrorist plot caught by the FBI, to kidnap and harm a sitting governor, or 220,000 American lives lost on the president’s watch are not of their concern. Although history is never kind to lack of moral compass, sycophants and enemies of democracy are seldomly bothered about that.
We begin in Guatemala our news roundup with the calls for justice for Laura Daniela Hernández and Litzy Cordón, kidnapped and murdered a week apart from each other. 350 women are estimated to have been victims of femicide so far this year. Defined as ‘a sex-based hate crime,’ the term coined by author Diana E. H. Russell in 1976 identifies one of the most serious consequences of domestic abuse, which is rising throughout Latin America.
Why Do They Want To Kill Us?‘ The Amnesty report published last week is about the murder of activists in Colombia and the lack of action by the government. Some 223 social leaders Continue reading

Dear John

 No need to rewrite this post, published six years ago today. Its outdated references albeit encrusted, don't touch the meaning. New York City was then ignited by mass rallies demanding action against the climate emergency. As it still must be today and in a month. A few weeks before, passing by The Dakota I thought I saw you in the window, looking happy with your family. It could've seen that the revolution you'd dreamed about - even as being always ambivalent about it as anyone - had come to pay its respects. On that eve of Oct. 9, it'd all come into full-circle but like your life, it didn't last. The streets are now empty and our hearts, broken. Where are the ready-to-battle youthful multitudes who wanted so much a few years ago and now when most badly needed, they falter? The pull must be even stronger for all that push forward built up in 2014 didn't make it to the 2016 ballot. In a month, that battle becomes final. Maybe the grace and power of your comeback then, of your final 60 days on this planet, will rub off on us and we get us the reckoning we need, another time to dawn in a half that time. We'll still be devastated at the end of that last leg, something we're fated to feel it happening over and over, between the 10/9 and the 12/8. But we'll have new dreams to pursue together and new reasons to really give peace a chance.

You Are Me &
We’re All Together

The other day, when 400,000 people marched in front of your New York City home, I couldn’t help it but think how much you would’ve enjoyed seeing so many taking the streets for a cause – this time to fight Climate Change – just like you, marching against the war.
It also helped that it was the International Peace Day, but what was particularly poignant about Sept. 21st was to realize that many in the crowd had probably been there before, on a cold December night of 1980, to mourn your assassination on the steps of The Dakota.
You would’ve been 74 today, and almost certainly, equally as engaged in progressive causes as you were some forty years ago. And that’s what makes us so sad, that we can no longer hear your voice, and how much the crowd misses the guidance of people like you, and Pete Seeger, to name a like-minded artist.
The fact is, even at that time, such head-first dive into political activism and explicit protesting was not what many musicians considered the best way to go about seeking change. Bob Dylan comes to mind as another influential star who, like many of your contemporaries, was just not into singing songs, carrying slogans, and parading for peace.
But while they may have been a tad too concerned about the impact that an explicit anti-establishment attitude would’ve had on their careers, you were simply not in the same level of showbiz calculation. To you, it seemed only natural to be part of what the people in the streets were protesting about, warts and criticism notwithstanding.

And there were a lot of put-downs about your over-exposure to the media, your peace and bed-in campaigns, your stunts which, to a small segment of the intelligentsia, were perceived as opportunistic and self-promoting. Never mind that your efforts, as off-the-kilt as they were, became somewhat effective.
In perspective, all that fiery anti-war poster and newspaper ad placing, your tireless advocating and support of people such as Angela Davis, John Sinclair, Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, and others, are now an inextricably part of the historical record about mass movements that helped put an end to the Vietnam War.
You should’ve seen how many young, high-school kids were there too, possibly making that beautiful Sunday (more)

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* You Once Belonged
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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’s 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)
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* Murder & Unkindness
* Dear John
* Hallowed Ground

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Every Man

Nobody Told Us That There
Would Be Days Like These

Some of us will complete Friday the four decades separating us from John Lennon’s last birthday, on Oct. 9, 1980. His life had been so intense up to that day that the same length of time following it seems now warped and emptier in comparison.
In his last two months, the man was full of hope, ready for a comeback that’d be only partially realized. Whether his best work was really behind him there’s no way of knowing, but since then, we’ve been badly missing whatever was that only he could’ve delivered.
And he has indeed given us plenty, enough to keep us busy going over it even now, so many years later. Just like a post we’ve published about a particular moment in 1967, documenting what wouldn’t have had any imprint on all of us hadn’t been for him.
Like another way of marking a date that still holds us under its spell. Even without knowing that the next two months were his final countdown, John lived his life with the intensity that only those who know they’ve got just this one chance to do it, really do it.
He’d have been 76, that time around. Instead, he’ll never age a day older than 40. Amazing to learn that many born since then consider him a friend, and his songs, a guide to living intensely and grow wiser. Happy Birthday, John. Thanks for everything.
(*) Originally published on Oct. 6, 2016.

Curtain Raiser

No Karma. Simply Reality, Colltalers

So Trump caught Covid-19, a ‘fake’ virus that’s nevertheless killed over 200 thousand Americans and is nearly lodging 40 million cases worldwide. To say that chickens have come to roost doesn’t do justice to the irony of this cataclysmic event. Now the presidential election is officially up for grabs.
Suddenly all world headlines are locked below yet another stunt by the U.S. President. To the media, the galloping resurgence of coronavirus cases, the Amazon on fire, mass protests in Israel and Mexico, an armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, all pale in comparison. Except that it doesn’t.
Thousands took the Israeli streets over the weekend calling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign. One of Trump’s staunchest supporters, he’s been indicted for bribery, corruption, and breach of trust, but that may not be the rallies’ main reason. Some say there’s anger at surveillance tools used during the virus lockdown, which is being reinstated, that’s made citizens face tough measures long associated with the suppression of Palestinians.
Mexico’s President López Obrador is facing criticism from both civil and women’s rights organizations, for his failure to curb the Covid’s rise, now at almost 800,000, and apathy towards rampant femicides in the country, and by the Chihuahua, the state bordering New Mexico. The president accuses opposition governor Javier Corral of denying by political reasons, to send water to the U.S., as dictated by terms of a little known 1944 bilateral treaty.
And Facebook, which is not a country but has a budget larger than many, has again blocked environmental and social justice groups, this time for an online event against the Coastal GasLink Continue reading

First Ladies

Little-Known Great Women
Who Challenged the World

A Brit who wrote the first book in English and an Italian grandmaster; a sailor disguised as a man and a round-the-world biker; a war photographer and the first female in space. Ground-breaking pioneers, these women beat the odds and inspired mankind.
Julian and Artemísia, Hannah and Annie, Dickie and Valentina, forged a new identity for women everywhere, one that’s often been at odds with male-dominated institutions, and that only modern age could fully embrace. These were no tamed spirits.
Along the way, the mastery of intellect and mysticism, of great art and entrepreneurship, became one with what all that came after. Each generation that followed had more of their independence of thought, the courage to report, and dare to reach for the stars.
These were no followers either. What each carved on the fabric of their own age still stands now, be it as a spiritual path or pictorial record, a skill for subversion or example of non-conformity, the capture of the battlefield or a flight into the future.
But only six, you may ask, and why them, instead of, say, the other few billion? Well, shortlists keep things moving: room only for names, times, and the life that defined their accomplishments. Ultimately, though, it’s our choice and we’re running with it.
That won’t settle the argument, but hope for a first female U.S. president got a boost Tuesday, and next week is International Women’s Day. Both fitting brackets for a possible breakthrough year in equality, a battle these women fought and won, so now we know their names.
Great humans create entire epochs around their existence, not always acknowledged in time. Many would enlist their own mothers on this roll. Shortlists help to leave them out, or yours would be certainly here. It also beats having to rewrite so many well-known bios.

On its way to world domination, 14th century England struggled to survive the wreckage of the Dark Ages. The pestilence and ravaging left in its wake were the cause of much soul searching and exacerbated religiosity. Times were ripe for Julian of Norwich.
After surviving illness, she walked out of public life to become a religious recluse, an anchorite, living her remaining years in closed quarters to ‘speak with god’ full time. While others like her burned at a stake, Her Revelations of Divine Love is considered the first female-penned, English-language book.
Two hundred years after, Rome was at the center of the art and religious world, and artists were busy carving their reputations through the glorious Baroque style. Most were male, but Artemisia Gentileschi would defy gender conventions, even as she was long gone when she was recognized as a grandmaster.
Raped by her tutor, who her family successfully sued – not without enormous public shaming of Artemisia, during the trial – she became a rare female working artist whose talent, and tumultuous relationships, equaled that of established painters, such a Caravaggio, with whom she’s often linked.

There were few options for a woman to sail the world in the 18th century, and to become a soldier of the Royal Marines was hardly one of them. Hanna Snell managed to do both, even as she concealed her gender under the alias James Gray; heaven knows how she survived those long stretches at sea.
Remarkably, her bravery granted her full military pension, and her story, The Female Soldier, made her into a minor celebrity, no small feats for a woman at the time. Till the end, despite three (more)
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* Beautiful Bandit
* Women’s Day
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Curtain Raiser

A High Turnout Beats All Lies, Colltalers

Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s seat at the Supreme Court all but assures two things: the court’s conservative majority for years to come, and the urgent need for its reform. Critics say too that the Obamacare and Roe v Wade rulings now top an endangered list.
It may be worse if the Nov. 3 election is contested and that new majority keeps Trump in power, even if he loses again the popular vote. In these 36 days left, Americans who want to pick a new president must go back to basics: the battle cry now is, break all voting records, win to leave no doubts.
There are indeed few doubts about certain things. Covid-19 will still be rising from the current 33 million-plus cases worldwide, and so will the U.S.’s ‘leadership’ position, after adding a million cases in less than a month, to over seven million. No safe vaccine will be ready before at least six months, no matter how much the administration lies about it, and by then, if there’s no change in Washington, its interest in the cure will be greatly diminished.
Another pattern that emerged early on was that the ranking for most cases and fatalities is headed by nations whose democracy is under siege: the U.S., Brazil, India, and Russia. That is, calling them ‘democracies’ may soon become inappropriate. For obviously, the more economies reopen and public spaces are filled with unconcerned people, the higher will be the contagion rates. Some see the coronavirus becoming endemic just like the annual flu.
But it’s not just that most viruses take time to be studied in-depth and for vaccines and therapies to be safely developed; it’s also for the scandalous U.S. response to the virus, which could’ve inspired the world but rather treated it as a tool for political gain. Continue reading

Getting There

The Dying Art
of Passing Away

There are people who dream about impossible places they’d like to go to when they die. We too imagine someday resting in an improbable place: the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. But just so we’re clear about it, we said ‘someday,’ not now, or tomorrow, well, who knows? In any case, once we cross that threshold, we won’t give a damn.
However, even if you do, you may be still out of luck: some places have the inconvenient rule of forbidding people from dying there. Either because your wasteful body may ruin the environment, or climate won’t decompose it, or perhaps because they just don’t like you. So your choice may be as well to remain alive. Or almost, like the walking dead of Toraja. Good luck keeping your friends close, though.
As for us, we’ll never understand this drive to stay alive at all costs. Doesn’t anyone realize how everything became incredibly expensive? Besides, who wants to last longer than our loved ones? In other words, we’re fine with the expiration date that’s part of the deal of living. Oh, and we don’t need to know the day or the way either.
About those places people imagine will be throwing a red carpet, or rather, a fluffy, white-cloud rug, and a welcoming party, we’re not so sure. It’s kind of taxing to start picturing a whole new set of realities to be faced after however long we’ll spend struggling to make sense of what’s around here. Very distracting.
But so you don’t think we’re knocking anyone’s beliefs, let’s suppose that it’d all be exactly as it is in this presumable afterlife? Why would nature go to such an extent to go after each and every one of us with everything it’s got only to let it all to continue as before just under different circumstances, then what? Oh, never mind.

In Japan, there’s an island, Itsukushima, that’s considered so sacred that they don’t want no stinking likes of you there. That is, they’ll put up if you’re still talking, and especially, walking. But go drop dead somewhere else. In fact, since 1878, no one was born or has died there, and they may kill you for even trying it.
The enforcers are a group of otherwise pious priests, who spend the days in prayer at the island’s holy shrine. But all hell may break loose at even a sight of a pregnant woman, an elderly person, or someone who’s terminally ill, although it’s not clear how would they know it. It all started with the Battle of Miyajima in 1555, after which all bodies were immediately removed from the island and the spilled blood was either cleaned or disposed of. Yeah, that kind of piety has been going on for over 400 years, just so you know.
Not so strict but still a difficult place to die at is Longyearbyen in Norway. No priests are banning the dead there, though, just the weather, still cold enough to preserve bodies indefinitely. People buried a century ago look like they’ve just fallen asleep. Which, let’s face it, it’s kind of creepy. Yes, that’s changing due to the climate emergency but just in case, get the hell away from there, fast. One never knows.
Two other places prohibit people from dying there by decree. Both (more)
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* Dead Can Dance
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Curtain Raiser

Real Change Comes at a Cost, Colltalers

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg won many women’s rights battles in her life. In the past years, she became a leading dissenter at the Supreme Court and a hero for her progressive stands. She beat cancer too. But not even her could’ve pulled this one off: when the time came, she crossed it like a champion.
Her death may’ve upended the election – and vaporized Joe Biden’s polling numbers. It’s also topped the week’s other staggering news, from revelations that the U.S. immigration agency forced hysterectomies on asylum seekers, to seven million Americans sick of Covid-19, or climate-change wildfires.
The superstition-inclined sees the ongoing mass die-off of migratory birds across the U.S. and Mexico as an omen for what’s coming. Theories abound but there’s no clear scientific answer to what’s going on. Maybe they took off too early, or maybe it was the wildfires. It’s quite a sight to suddenly see a bird drop lifelessly from the sky, but it does happen. On a related plea, can we be done with the weirdness and heartbreak of this year already? Thanks.
As for the coronavirus, it’s still doing its thing: it passed the 30 million worldwide mark, and daily cases are still on the rise in many countries. Worse, there are unfounded expectations that a vaccine will suddenly deliver us from this scourge. As with most things these days, from rallies ‘for freedom’ against lockdowns to mostly American skirmishes of people refusing to wear masks, it’s all pre-fab and its purpose is to instill confusion and fear.
That’s Trump’s strategy to win. So perhaps getting as many people to vote as to take it to the streets and protest may be the perfect counter-strategy. He wants the chaos that may frighten his base into voting for him; but when the unrest is for racial and social equality, for dignity to dissent and freedom to protest, if it’s all to fulfill citizens’ constitutional right to choose their own leaders, then be it. We’ll be out there too, at the pavement and at the polls.
Speaking of it, Italians are choosing regional representatives today, but the biggest draw is a referendum on whether Continue reading

Looking at You, Kid

The Mystery, Half-Truths &
Misperceptions About Mirrors

If you’re not blind, and there’s nothing neurologically odd with you, how do you know how your face looks like? Your best bet would be using a mirror, right? Well, not quite.
In fact, it’s likely that the image you see in front of you is an emotional, highly-subjective composite of what you think you should look like. In that, mirrors are devilishly deceiving.
For what it’s worth, though, your educated guess is still closer to the truth than anyone else’s. Alas, no one is free from emotional biases when looking at somebody else’s likeness.
In other words, truth doesn’t usually belong in the same sentence with the word mirror. That’s because what you see is an interpretation, yours, of what is supposed to be on the other side.
As you scrutinize that reflection, everything seems to reproduce the side of things that’s surrounding you. And yet, crucial details fool and elude you once and again.
As many mystics have said about the world itself, one may describe and list the inventory of things it contains, and still fail to define it. In the case of mirrors, odds get freaky really fast.
That can be triggered at a first glance by checking one of its supposed qualities: its ability to ‘mirror’ the physical world. For, after your hand suddenly switches to the left, things only unravel even further.
You may understand perfectly how is that so and still be baffled by it. Other oddities, sitting on the outer edge of common perception, may also catch your eye. But nothing compares with the view of your own face.
That’s when we’re more susceptible to inaccuracies of judgment about what we’re seeing, as the brain works overtime to concur pre-determined notions with what’s right ahead.

Scientists now think that what distinguishes animals who are capable of recognizing themselves in a mirror from others, who’re indifferent to it, may be their social lives.
Thus apes, dolphins, and Asian elephants, all living within sophisticated social groups and well aware of their own position in them, are able to watch and check their bodies in front of the mirror the way humans do.
But, since we’re way more complicated, albeit not always more intelligent, we often get spooked at the realization that what we’re seeing may not be completely accurate, even when our brains are not addled by anything.
So much for all that ‘eyes are the mirrors of the soul’ business. More like smoke and mirrors, if you ask psychologists, who keep finding new ways to show how we seem to suspend rationality when looking at ourselves.
Take the so-called Venus effect, for example. Its origin dates back from ancient depictions of the Roman goddess of love, thus Rokeby Venus by Velazquez, who depicted her with a mirror in her hand.
At first, and for countless internalized ‘conclusions’ thereafter, people tend to believe that Venus is looking at herself, which would be virtually impossible given the angle of the mirror.
The precision and vivid accuracy of the Dutch grandmaster Johannes Vermeer‘s paintings have astonished and intrigued scientists and art lovers alike for three centuries. But it was only recently that architect Philip Steadman published his findings about the artist’s likely secret (besides his genius): he may have used a mirror device.
Software designer Tim Jenison went further and created the contraption. Not just that, he taught himself to paint (and to speak Dutch) and use it to create an impressive reproduction of Vermeer’s The Music Lesson. The duo of magicians Penn & Teller shot a documentary on it. It all seemed to make sense but many didn’t buy it.

Clever movie directors have only preserved this illusion by showing an actor, say, Robert de Niro, in that famous ‘Taxi Driver’ scene, in front of the mirror. In that, as in most cases, he’s either looking at the camera, or to a corner of it, but unlike to be ‘facing’ himself.
Since placing lenses directly behind the scene would ruin the take, cameras with a set of, you guessed, mirrors inside, are used these days, to allow a sideways view of both the actor and his image.
Art of course has long traded on the concept of the mirror as a foreign land, laden with mystery and otherness. In Jean Cocteau’s film version of the myth of Orpheus & Eurydice, the character of Jean Marais actually penetrates one to rescue his lover from the depths of Hades.
Arguably, Rene Magritte‘s most celebrated painting is La Reproduction Interdite, but some forget he actually has a work named (more)
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Curtain Raiser

The Path We Choose, Colltalers

Why don’t they call it climate change? The apocalyptic wildfires burning California and Oregon are frightening enough to trigger public outrage. But the fact that only 15% of media coverage mentions it shows how gas and oil corporations are spending their Covid-19 bailout money to avoid scrutiny.
It’s the United Nations’ 75th anniversary and the General Assembly gathers in New York to reassess its relevance. It’s not part of Taliban-Afghanistan talks and has had only a limited role in the pandemic, and yet, it’s as crucial today as ever. Meanwhile, there’s been bad news about a virus vaccine.
Before diving into that, let’s also reassess the week that’s been, starting by a WWF report on the two-thirds of the world’s wildlife wiped out by human activity in the past 50 years. It’s a staggering loss only compounded lately by catastrophic wildfires and man-made climate change. A vicious circle, it begins with rising global demand for forest clearings for agriculture, which then become out-of-control fires, ultimately killing more flora and fauna.
Adding to the Amazon Rainforest, for instance, which it’s burning at a faster clip than 2019, fires rage now through Pantanal, Brazil’s wetlands, home to jaguars and other endangered species. Then and now, though, President Bolsonaro remains unmoved to the fate of animals and indigenous peoples. There as in the West Coast, it’s the countless anonymous heroes who supply the compassion that counters these horrifying tales of tragedy and despair.
There’s an uproar in Mexico against femicide, the rampant violence and killing of women, which lockdowns only aggravated and may surpass last year’s record of 3,833 deaths. As President Andrés Lópes Obrador calls such protests a ‘conspiracy,’ feminists Continue reading

Double Intuition

On Their Minds, 9-11
Happened Before 2001

After fifteen years, the tragic imagery of Sept. 11, 2001, has taken deep roots into the collective psyche of our era. It became a visual metaphor to every nightmare bred out of fear of terrorism, even as countless acts of extreme violence have followed that crispy, blue-sky Tuesday in America.
Even more intriguing are depictions of exploding planes and buildings that art and pop culture have produced before 911. Two works are particularly impressive: a sculpture by New York artist Michael Richards, killed that day, and a painting by British Willie Gardner.
Wisely ignoring conspiracy buffs, who like to dwell in a made-up reality with even more odds stacked against us, it’s still possible to appreciate the intuition that led these two black artists to conceive works of such haunting, and premonitory, quality, while sharing not much else in common.
To be sure, anticipation, and the ability to eerily foresee a world not quite here, are integral to creative expression, even when that’s not exactly the author’s intention. Also, it’s not unusual for life to emulate what art, and public sensibility had already made possible to conceive.
After all, we all breathe the same toxic, over-saturated environment, suffused through ages by human interference. And our brains are especially biased to see a connected world that does not exist outside our skulls; life happens independently of our will or whims.
The fact that the two works are not in the same level of artistic sophistication is irrelevant too. Richards was a rising talent, who perished when his studio was crushed by the destruction of the Twin Towers, while Gardner, who died in 2010 and only dabbled in art as an amateur, was thousands of miles away.
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There’s no record that either one was imbued of any anticipatory penchant. Theirs was something out of a vision whose meaning they’ve taken with them. But that something inevitably tickles our minds, still eager to find significance, and sense, in that despicable tragedy.
Yes, there were many others for we are particularly good at inflicting progressively horrifying terrors onto each other. And we could be talking here about the victims, or the evildoers, or any number of the cliches that have piled up about that day. But we’re glad we have Richards and Gardner to memorialize instead.
Every year, we promise not to add anything to the meaningless cacophony of 911’s moaning and complaints. And every time we break our vows. It’s just as well. Art and reality are often unexplainable. We’re doomed to face terror over and over in our lifetimes. So at least, let’s try to do it with fresh eyes.

Curtain Raisers

Prepping Up a New Season, Colltalers

It’s Labor Day in the U.S., Independence Day in Brazil, a coincidence that adds to the ill-advised pax de deux both have been engaged on lately. Other Latin American nations have their own day this month too. But only Canada and the U.S. mark today what everybody else honors on the First of May.
The end of the Northern summer also ushers mournful Sept. 11 remembrances, both from 2001 and 1973. And global isolation as the U.S., leader in Covid-19 cases, is out of the World Health Organization’s 170-nation coordinated strategy against the virus and chooses to ignore the changing climate.
We’ll get to that but first let’s go out to the races, the belated 148th Kentucky Derby, and the almost normalization of sports events being held without a crowd. As it turns, it’s fine, the horses still run and this year Authentic came out on top. What cannot be normalized though is the scary presence of squads of incredibly armed far-right supremacists, aching to pick a fight with social and racial justice protesters, such as Black Lives Matter activists.
It’s no longer possible to believe that Big Media is mistakenly equating their hate and intent to harm with earnest calls for a better nation and a safer planet. Short of condemning civilians for having such easy access to military-grade arsenals, it’s fair to assume that their narrative itself is crooked on purpose. Their faulty reporting benefits the Arsonist-in-Chief on his quest to put the country on fire and name himself as the one who’ll put them out.
The Trump Circus is as ratings-lifting as a train wreck and few can take their eyes off it. Thus, big news corporations have spent the past four years playing on the crowd’s bemusement while collecting fat advertising fees. As the Orange Clown diverts with gimmicks, hordes of pickpocketers feast on gullibility and work the audience. Every time they buy one of his many crate-full of snake-oil bottles, they unwittingly surrender their citizenship.
He cannot conceive of courage because he is a coward.‘ Retired Capt. Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, a pilot who in 2009 safely landed an airliner in NYC’s Hudson River and save all its 155 passengers, has had enough and is not going to take it anymore. His was the indignant response by a combat veteran to a draft dodger Continue reading

Not Human

Humanoids to Replace
Body Parts, Not Maids

Mankind’s ancient dream of creating automatons that can stand in for us, when our bodies no longer function properly, gets closer to reality every day. For instance, thanks to Research developed at Brown University, two-stroke victims, long unable to move or speak, managed to control a robotic arm solely with their minds.
The good news couldn’t come anytime sooner: around the same time, a Tokyo-based robotics team had announced the creation of a highly interactive, and disturbingly human-like, pair of buttocks, that responds to touch and stimuli. To be honest, the robotic butt got us thinking where on earth was this kind of research going.
In a way, it all comes full circle, you see. Humanoids capable of simulating emotions and be responsive to sound, sight, and touch, are ever more likely to become part of our daily life, especially if it’s up to Japanese engineers. They’re on track to develop beings whose extreme similitude to us may actually frighten us. Perhaps we’re not too far from the Blade Runner-class of nightmarish dystopias we once believed we were – what, no flying cars yet?
At the same time, albeit running in a parallel track, research on artificial intelligence and nanotechnology is also well advanced. The natural convergence of these two fields does suggest that reality is tracking closely the visions that Sci-Fi authors had conceived long ago.
To be sure, what’s been studied at Brown diverge fundamentally from research on androids, even though they both follow the same principle: to emulate the human ability to combine thought-processing with physical acts. At one point, their cyber-organically engineered eyes are bound to flick a sudden flash and wake them up to self-awareness.

But whereas at Brown, the practical applications are already evident, the objectives of research into the development of humanoid robots lack clarity, for except in the case of slave labor, is hard to imagine why would anyone need a robot around the house.
Thousands of stroke victims, on the other hand, specially Locked-In Syndrome sufferers, when the body is unresponsive while the brain is still fully functional, could benefit from implants that would allow them to control objects with their minds.
Then again, scientific exploration should not be conditioned to predetermined goals. Much of the technology we benefit from in our daily routines was not necessarily developed, at least not initially, to accomplish the function it eventually wound up serving.
Thus this post being brief and fun since we’re talking about machines that someday, rather than doing our housework for us (more)

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* Man Made
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Curtain Raiser

Don’t Watch it From the Shadows, Colltalers

The Democratic Convention brought comfort and hope to part but not all of the party’s constituency. But the Republican one, held while protests raged against police brutality and white supremacists killed three (white) people in the ‘inner-city chaos‘ they see, was everything supporters wished it to be.
Meanwhile, the U.S. still tops the world with six million Covid-19 cases and near 190,000 deaths, California wildfires are burning an area larger than Delaware, and about 20 million Americans are unemployed. To the GOP, though, these are not a priority; only the consecration of Donald Trump is.
We’ll go back to the Democrats’ half-delivered message and to the Republican lying feast, but first, let’s ask once again, why almost as many have rallied in big cities against the use of masks as those denouncing the killing of Blacks and people of color? While the latter rebel against an unjust system that perpetuates itself, the former is an absurd, spoilt demand that could be called ‘Save the Virus,’ for it’s the only one to gain from it.
There’s no global vaccine – and mercifully, no anti-vaxxer to deal with – yet and despite the extraordinary efforts by some nations other than the U.S., the virus is alive and kicking. That’s why many doubt the sincerity of such rallies as they don’t make any sense given rising casualties and seem rather childish on their complaint about social restrictions. So, when do people fight against their own interests? When someone paid them for it, that’s when.
There’s no cynicism or intended irony though after China ordered the arrest last week of Lam Cheuk-ting, a Hong Kong lawmaker. He’s charged with publicizing on social media a 2019 subway attack on activists returning from a pro-Democracy rally by an unidentified group wearing white T-shirts and armed with clubs. Along Continue reading

Earworm Frenemies

When Humming a Dopey Tune
Throws You Into a Mad Loop

A song stuck in the head is akin to Tickle Torture: a lethal pleasure with a level of agony measured in riffs and laughter. Both are hard to take seriously until the feather strikes, or the loop starts. I don’t know about torture, but I could be easily killed by a lovely song.
It’s called Earworm for a reason, but again, its power is deceiving, compared to, say, a spider literally stuck in the canal. Even more so if the song is, well, lovely. But we all know that’s bull; once that beat gets pounding, it’s either dance to it or jump off the roof.
No way around it, the clickable bunch below is mostly preposterous. Maybe not to you, who may’ve heard them on your friend’s wake playlist. But they’ve spoiled the weather, and drove me to that parapet many a day, right to the moment when, suddenly, they were gone.
And yet, they carved, wormed if you would, a deep, warm burrow inside me, that when I’m free from their spell, I may dwell into a brief appreciation of their power. That is, right before I feel what ax murderers must feel whenever someone wishes them a nice day.
Studies and the Internet suggest solutions, strategies, and some comfort for the affliction. King among them is to start humming another tune, but that not always works: since lyrics often falter me, the words-and-music combo of loopy songs always reign supreme.
Here they are, with as much unvarnished commentary as a bad parent can offer of his children. Some notable performances, or impressive chart-climbing, explain nothing of their appeal, or nauseating side effects. No order, only hope it’s the last I hear of them but doubt it.
PINK LEMONADE – Peppermint Rainbow
It’s embarrassing to think that I was once captivated by this preppy-looking New England group of white kids, but that may have to do with their string quartet. Or The Beatles. It was 1968, after all. Even worse is to admit to searching for years, trying to locate this tune. Once I did, I was doomed. But Pink Lemonades, I do like them.
LOVE IS ALL – Malcolm Roberts
Song festivals were all the rage in Brazil of the 1960s, and when this unknown Brit won one, all big voice and arms widespread, some must’ve thought about a flash in the pan. Years later, I interviewed the nice chap, who went back to play much smaller venues. But my fave that year was, brace yourself, the ‘great’ Romuald, of Andorra.

Still in Brazil, RC was considered the king of rock during that time, but this corny song was what he did best. I Almost Went Looking For You shined for a few months, and then crashed down fast. But not before hooking me up for life. I still hum it on my mind, and once I start it, something inside stops working. The chorus, oh, that chorus.
This song may have split up the band for good, and I always hated it with a vengeance. But while I can listen to all their other ones, without tiring and never having enough, this one has probably played on my mind more than any other. Which crushes my soul. Every time. And you know what? it’s not a bad reggae. Actually, it is.

OH ME OH MY – B.J.Thomas
Hard to believe that Elvis felt threatened by this guy, but he did score a number of hits in the king’s backyard. For some reason, this one stuck with me, and I can’t even listen to the end of it. Actually, I don’t need it: just writing about it gets me going, all the way to the ‘my crazy babe’ part. To use a tired bromide, Sad.
IF – Bread
Two words that should’ve given it away, but millions fell for the cliche-ridden verses and saw-sounding guitar. Not that David Gates lacked talent, or a voice to melt housewives and secretaries alike. But after Telly Savalas talk-sang it to death, only Sinatra to finally bring (more)
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Curtain Raiser

All That We’ll Ever Need, Colltalers

Another week, another member of the Trump administration gets in trouble with the law. But Steve Bannon, the president’s former chief strategist who makes a living advising would-be despots, is arguably the greatest grifter to be caught. Given his influence, though, it’s unlike that he’s down and out.
130° F. That may’ve been the highest temperature ever recorded on Earth if it’s confirmed. The scorching heat in Death Valley, CA, was the opening salvo of yet another season in hell for the state, courtesy of the climate emergency. Wildfires and the deadly coronavirus: 2020 is not nearly done yet.
But before having another crack at those two headlines, let’s get going with the newest episode of poisoning in Russia suffered by a political opponent of Vladimir Putin. Despite his denials, the dissenting voice of Alexei Navalny was muted by strong symptoms of poisoning; he’s now in a coma em Germany, where he’d been flown to. He’s the sixth well-known foe of the Putin regime to suddenly experience a devastating, likely lethal intoxication.
Now, there’s a demonization of Russia spoused by most of the Western media, after it’s been reported that it did interfere in the 2016 election and may be at it again as we speak. Such heavy-handed coverage all but clouds facts and drive us to unwittingly fall prey to conspiracies, for lacking the tools to make the right call. Putin may deny it but these poisoning incidents, if Navalny’s indeed another one, have the clear purpose of silencing his critics.
The armed forces of Mali staged a coup d’etat Tuesday that ousted President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, in office since 2013. EcoWas, a group of West African nations, and the United Continue reading

The Aitch-Old File

Human Horns, a Hell of a Hornets’
Nest & the Holmdel Horn Antenna

With a letter as its leitmotif, there’s no telling where this post may lead us. Some people growing horns for years? Check. A hornet’s nest built around a wooden head? Check. We just weren’t expecting to learn about the cosmic microwave background radiation.
Or the raging argument over how to pronounce H in the English language. But how to get to new places if we only tell old stories? Thus here’s another post for librarians and archivists to hate; how are they supposed to file it under? Down the hatch?
But let’s get to this business of hating the haitch, as pronounced with the H of hot temper, instead of the fluidity of an amicable turn of the tongue, as writer David McKie would ardently prefer it. McKie himself has admitted, though, that the muscular way may have the winning hand.
Apparently, even the ‘haitchers,’ he notes, pronounce the letter as an Aitch when it sits between two indifferent words, but it’s doubtful that anyone is willing to concede doing so intentionally. Still, the last word should be granted to Roy Blount Jr. who took it to another level.
For who’d have the elegance of thinking about a letter near as invisible as H and call it ‘apt for trouble in nightclubs and service in Iraq?’ But if the debate seems too byzantine, you may take it to Effinghan Wilson who published Henry Hon‘s whole little tome on the letter.
You wouldn’t find much about it on Wikipedia, though. Suffice to mention that, however his kin may feel about that now, The Hornet did note in Wilson’s 1868 obituary, that his firm was ‘known throughout the world as one of the foremost houses in the publishing trade.

When white Anglo-Saxon protestants use the self-celebratory acronym to define their disappearing species, the notion that a highly resilient insect, with a powerful venom and a wing-battered soundtrack to match it, can be even remotely compared to them is at best, laughable, and at worst, deeply insulting. To the bugs, of course.
Wasps, after all, are colorful, diverse, independent and capable of great beauty. Well, if you think about the pain that both groups can inflict, perhaps. But the comparison should stop even before that annoyingly preppy brand of self-serving individualists walks into the sunset. Could mass extinction be appropriate? Not for the bugs, please.
Another thing hornets are masters, and Wasps are not, is the art of papermaking.  No other species cultivate such a complex relationship with the flora like them. From the pulp made of pure, selected pieces of wood fiber, curated from an array of sources in your backyard, if you have one, all the way to the exquisite labyrinthine contraptions that served as their dwelling, their lifework is outstanding.
The example above, for all the pretty freakish aspects to it, perfectly capable of scaring the bejeezus out of the most intrepid garden spider, Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

The Cheater’s Playbook, Colltalers

A deceptive Middle East diplomatic agreement has shed some light on what the president is willing to do to get reelected. Sold as a peace accord, it’s in fact a coalition of Israel, the Arab Emirates, and the U.S. to put Iran on notice. If a Covid-19 vaccine won’t work, an Iranian blast could come in handy.
The first-ever virtual Democratic Convention starts today to deliver its strategy to block the White House and the GOP from preventing people from voting them out. It’ll also name Joe Biden for U.S. President and Kamala Harris, the first Black and Asian woman in a presidential ticket, for his VP.
With 78 days before the election, headlines may be dictated by these and other related themes. But let’s begin today with a class of profiteer directly related to people’s misery: health insurers. The pandemic has killed over 170,000 Americans, probably more, but your plan may cost more, thank you.
You may no longer afford it – and still owe for that 10-minute doctor’s visit last March – but top U.S. insurers’ profits doubled in the second quarter compared to the same period last year. They’ll certainly be joined in record-topping earnings by big pharma when a vaccine becomes available. Even if it’s under-tested, useless, or downright dangerous, shareholders and the Trump administration will cash in their investments either way. But not us.
Healthcare coverage in the U.S. was a failure way before the coronavirus scourge. Now it’s also helping the industry to pack billions in profits. That thousands are struggling and can’t spare a dime on their health even if their lives depend on it, which they often do, are not a glitch but a feature of the system. In the richest nation in the world, don’t dare to fall sick unless you’re, say, a CEO of a healthcare corporation. Or work for the White House.
The aggravating factor, of course, is candidate Biden’s refusal to embrace Medicare for All. If the evidence is not enough, that the system is broken and the Obamacre Act has Continue reading

Scary Clowns

But What Is He
Building in There?

Psychopaths believe in a world of order, hierarchy, chains of command. They sit atop; everybody else is food. They’re not above a compliment if it comes from those who share a similar obsession for rituals and lethal games. But despise those they consider prey.
Donald Trump is not a psychopath. He’s a dangerous buffoon, but short of his bounty, won’t last a minute among beasts. Minions at his disposal make him high, but as a predator, he’s like a hyena: rather than mastering the killing hunt, he’d hide and steal the lion’s catch.
Unsavory creatures crave attention but shun the spotlight. While the orange clown works the crowd, an army of crafty shadows pick pockets. Let a raging fool bark, and his unhinged white noise will provide cover to hungry wolves, sinking fangs on flesh and bones of unaware but admiring hordes.
Germans once picked a psychopathic mass murderer to lead them out of chaos; Nero slaughtered his way to Roman power. But neither soaked their hands in blood alone. Amoral commanders love medals and insignias, but worse monsters dwell in the gallows, wearing no uniform or masks.
Naked rulers are always troubling, but watch out for those who lurk in the background. Many a once-proud nation fell under the spell of mad kings and deranged dictators. But it was their enablers who carried out the wreckage of millions of lives left on their wake.
Spoiled child or a wretched demon, worse than Trump is the nutty platoon behind him, holding the launching buttons of U.S. nukes. Statistically, every outfit has a psychopath or two in its midst. But unlike serials about serial killers, no one knows how it all ends (more)
Read Also:
* Nasty People
* Out to Get You
* Faulty Towers
* Worse Than Thou

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Curtain Raiser

Notes on a Planned Failure, Colltalers

When the first American caught Covid-19 in Jan., there’d been plenty of warnings from China to the WHO. But the world was not worried because the U.S. had top epidemiologists and detailed pandemic playbooks to guide us through the crisis. America would lead and save the day as it’d done before.
Instead, it ‘leads’ the world but in cases, over five million, and logic-defying health polices. Everything the Trump administration has done contradicted what we’ve learned in a hundred years of knowledge and public health practices. Puzzling, though, Americans are not quite fired up with indignation.
In fact, one wonders if the Black Lives Matter movement wasn’t already on the streets, people would be even up in arms protesting. In Israel, Bolivia, Lebanon, Russia, and other nations led by authoritarian regimes, citizens are confronting their leaders’ self-serving attempts to cover up the tragedy.
The BLM unrest hasn’t let up either, but its fight against racial prejudice and police violence has been hijacked at times by other pressure points of popular dissatisfaction. It must not lose its clarity but it’ll have to welcome those hurt by Trump’s neglect. All the way to the polling pols of Nov. 3.
For at close to 20 million cases worldwide, Covid-19 has become the darkest horse running against democracy all around. Since it’s still rising and a safe vaccine is at least months away, it’s already exposing the sheer incompetence of some political leaders and leading to multiple, violent rallies.
We’ll come back to that right after checking what else is news. And it turns out, plenty. Starting by the month-long marches in Israel against four-time Prime Minister Netanyahu’s policies, a position he fought charges of bribery and corruption, and three election cycles in one year in order to keep it.
It’s a sight for sore eyes for those who don’t get how come 64% of well-educated Israel’s 18 to 34-year olds identify themselves as right-wing. They’ve been major P.M. supporters Continue reading

The Hiroshima Cloud

Weary World Marks
a Somber Anniversary

Within a minute, the world would be changed forever. Life ended instantly for 80,000 and would be cut short for twice as many in just a few months. Worst of all was the fear that, for the first time in history, mankind could easily destroy itself, a fear that ushered the Cold War.
From Japan to the U.S., from Germany to Brazil, and all corners in between, millions are joining in to renew vows against the still untamable power of the split atom, even in its limited ‘pacific’ uses. But along with tragedy, the nuclear age has also produced heroes and redemption tales.
At 8:15am local time, the Enola Gay dropped its terrible load, perversely named the Little Boy, over the Japanese city of Hiroshima, after what its inhabitants may have thought was just another air raid siren, alerting for American bombers flying overhead. It wasn’t, or rather, it was way more than that.
Three days later, the Fat Man, another gun-type uranium device, destroyed Nagasaki, the final act of a two-punch strike that, for apologists, broke Japan’s imperial ambitions in the Pacific, and effectively ended World War II. Or so goes the official narrative.
What the mushroom clouds actually ignited was the arms race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, which at few crucial moments almost came to a civilization-ending blow, and a new era of unimaginable terror for all other nations, impotent to stop the two superpowers from acting like the world’s overlords.
But it’s also helped breed a new crop of pacifists who made us understand the risks of having the planet’s fate to rest on so few, and highly belligerent, hands. It’s their activism and courage that have granted the world a reprieve and prevented other cities from being destroyed like those two. For what they don’t have as a personal memory they have as hope for the future.

First, there were the survivors. Even though most of them died within a few years of the explosions, thousands of citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki took upon themselves to show the world what such power really is capable of. As they perished from radiation and other diseases, their legacy passed on.
Soon after, even former Japanese combatants joined in, convinced that they had been part of a war that had no winners on that particular front. The bomb’s destructive power caused many despicable (More)
Read Also:
* Bloody Throes
* Nukes for Nuts
* Nuking the Future

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Curtain Raiser

Guts to Not Repeat the Past, Colltalers

A sample of four of the biggest threats to the survival of humanity highlights the week ahead: a virus nearing 20 million cases worldwide; the faltering democracy in the world’s strongest nation; a mild but still powerful hurricane; and the sobering 75th anniversary of Hiroshima’s atomic bombing.
Plagues, oppression, climate change, and nuclear power are of course what makes these apparently unrelated events relevant as we’re helpless against any of them. It’s been sheer luck that they’re yet to strike us all at the same time. But it’s getting closer to it and if they do, we’re certainly doomed.
More on that later, but first, Asia’s monsoon season is up to a particularly nasty start and a quarter of Bangladesh is already flooded, with millions left homeless as per reports. Millions more have been dispossessed in China, in torrential, climate change-boosted rainfalls. Monsoons are known for ages but were never as deadly as in the past 30 years. Sad then that, unless we address the climate emergency, all we can do is wait for the water to recede.
Speaking of China, it again did something while no one was looking: it postponed Hong Kong’s September elections that a moribund pro-Democracy movement was counting on to remain breathing. Officially, it was COVID-19 but if you believe that, we’ve got a 2008 Beijing Olympics ticket to sell you. Which does not justify Sec. of Sycophancy Mike Pompeo’s warmongering threats, since his boss wishes and may still do just that in the U.S.
Another piece of scary news comes from Germany, where an underground militia was just uncovered. It had elaborate plans with artillery to match for taking over the government with a Nazi 0.2 regime. Politicians and members of law enforcement were involved in a sort of echo of what’s happening in America, including the police involvement. Even scarier is to think of a present-day Axis, with the U.S. and maybe Russia replacing Italy and Japan.
That’s as good as any a moment to mention the Anti-Fascist movement, born in the 1920s to fight the rise of Benito Mussolini in Italy, and later, Hitler in Germany, and the Continue reading