Curtain Raiser

A Single Healthcare Choice, Colltalers

The defeat of the Trump-proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act, last month, was justly celebrated by a majority of Americans. That includes the president’s supporters, who were covered by it, even if unaware Obamacare – a term most despised – was its other name.
But if partying about it may premature – the GOP will certainly come back for more and, after all, this is just one of a couple of wins so far against the regime’s authoritarian streak, along with the ban to the immigrants ban – there’s something to be built upon the momentum.
When Senator Bernie Sanders introduces his Medicare for All bill later this month in Congress, a full turnaround in the way accessible health insurance is perceived may be completed. The issue may be finally wrestled away from its main detractors, big healthcare companies and the politicians they sponsor, who helped sowed unfounded fears about it, and into the embrace of those it’ll benefit the most, the public.
Such was the fallout from the defeat of the so-called Obamacare ‘replacement,’ that it actually led to a positive outcome: more people now understand that it’s a government constitutional role not just to protect its citizens’ health and well being, but also step in on their behalf against for-profit corporate interests. That is, even before moral considerations and the bottom line for such an intervention: to lower costs.
For most estimates of how much nearly-free health care for every taxpayer would cost, come to the same conclusion: according to Physicians for a Health Care Program, just the $400 billion the industry spends in billing, sales and marketing, mostly to deny coverage, or 31% of its total budget, would be enough to fund much of a single-payer system. PHCP, a trade group, is but one of many non-partisan organizations engaged on this issue.
But let’s understand a bit of each of these systems, and why extending Medicare/Medicaid to everyone is the most rational way of making sure the richest country in the world is no longer one of its sickest too. For they’re all complex but not that complicated.
Take Obamacare, the ex-president’s signature issue Republicans spent eight years, and millions of dollars, trying to prevent, Continue reading

When Beasts Attack

Group of World Famous Animals
Is Killed By Some Stupid Humans

To call it a wave of killings would be an exaggeration. To see it as trending, too perverse to bear. But the spate of killings of iconic animals around the world does have a sinister bend to it, beyond the cruelty that garden-variety sadists usually inflict to them.
A rhino, a flamingo, a hippo, among others, all beloved and popular, have met unexplainable, atrocious fates in the past months. Even if one of them survived the injuries, the brutal attacks some have endured can only be classified as pure bestiality.
That’s why whenever an abuser is sentenced to a rare stiff punishment, there’s discreet celebration. For it goes against the grain: the norm is for them to walk unencumbered, like the dentist who shot Cecil, the Lion, or for people to ignore ethical qualms about slaughtering animals.
News coverage is usually mired in hypocrisy and selective morals. Case in point: the N.Y. Times story on Indonesians’ taste for dog meat, published the other week, which seemed to misplace the outrage on the fact that they like to eat what Westerners consider pets.
The biggest producers of industrialized animal products are not in Asia, but in the U.S., Europe and South America. And despite scandals, poor sanitary conditions, labor violations, and corruption, the environment and healthier alternatives to address world hunger are hardly covered.
The string of unrelated incidents renews calls for a radical change in the approach to crimes against the defenseless. Specially when them are used as a political prop, as was the case in at least one instance. Anyone should be liable for the carcasses their endeavors leave behind.

In Namibia, known for its efforts to protect its wild life, a group trapped a leopard they considered a threat, and helped a pack of dogs maul it to death. Now there’s a global petition demanding that, if not a similar punishment to be exacted onto the culprits, at least, swift justice.
As for what happened to Grizz, it’s unfortunate but not exactly cruel. Two weeks ago, the in-training explosive-detector collie puppy at the Aukland Airport, in New Zealand, got loose on the runaway, freaked out, and failed to respond to couching and return to safety.
After three hours of flight delays, with pilots refusing to take off and risk an accident, a police marksman was called in and put an end to the worst day of his short life. It was an involuntary heartbreaking experience, and even crusty Aussie cops got tear-eyed.

It’s hard to imagine why anyone would want to hurt, let alone, to massacre to death, a pink flamingo. In beautiful Prague, no less. And even worse, that three boys, age 6, 8, and 10, did it. But children can be cruel too, and parents, if around, are liable for what they do.
The killing is a big red flag, since some research confirmed that psychopaths and serial killers use animals as their training grounds. Intervention may help too. As for the 16-year-old bird, (more)
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Curtain Raiser

What Hasn’t Gone Away, Colltalers

Here’s something that cannot be blamed on Trump: the state of permanent war. But it’s another obscenity of our era that his administration may aggravate tenfold. There was another reminder of the issue, if hardly a wake up call, on the March 17 U.S. airstrike in Mosul, Iraq.
In one of the worst civilian massacres, over 200 people were killed, another miscalculation on the battle against Daesh. Yes, the Internet is again under fire, the survival of Obamacare was but a single win amid so much already taken, but there’s no reason to forget about the war.
That’s when archaic notions about good and evil lose substance. We’re down to basics of action-reaction here. While assaulting the concept of shared reality undermines democracy, and ultimately individual freedom, the killing of non-armed citizens can only feed the death cycle.
If proponents of the ‘go back to your country’ motto can’t grasp fundamental principles about American pluralism, then the idea that killing innocent people overseas put us all in mortal danger at home is likely lost to them. But it shouldn’t be to everybody else, no matter how busy we all are trying to salvage humanistic values amid the onslaught of xenophobic intolerance. For nothing compares to a rain of bullets.
It’s indeed ironic that as we play catch up with reality – invented or inexorable -, we also get distracted, unsure where to focus on next. We may list, rearrange, and prioritize things, hoping to get a handle on them, and still miss the point of even caring about it in the first place.
When Hannah Arendt covered the 1963 Jerusalem trial of Adolf Eichmann, in her now famous ‘banality of evil’ report, she was warning in part against what many fear about the Trump administration: that its con, packaged with enticing lies, will now be the ‘new normal.’
But what the thick insulation of oblivion against the horrors of war provides to the West is also a variation of that same normalization of evil. Not the one used to excuse soldiers of a dirty war, under the rubric of ‘following orders.’ But one whose complicity Continue reading

Vice to Meat Ya

Eating Animals May
Be Coming To a Boil

The short-comings of public campaigns about bad health habits are well known.  One the best selling foods ever is not even food – cheerios. But despite knowing that full well, those who eat it, eat it. Period.
That may illustrate without explaining why chastising people only makes them double down on their ways. Rightly so. After all, healthy eaters don’t necessarily preach about it. They just, well, eat.
A week ago, Brazil got embroiled in a stinky scandal of rotten meat, which was already packaged to be shipped to schools, and exported to its trading partners. Major plants were raided and low management was paraded like criminals straight to jail.
The affair is particularly putrid because involves government corruption, and wouldn’t you know it?, and because it exposes once again a multibillion industry which consistently cares little about public health.
But, like the billions spent shaming people about cigarette smoking, with little impact on global tobacco sales, scandals don’t usually dismantle a malodorous industry. Education and awareness do.
Graphic depictions of terminal diseases caused by some nasty habit, tough rhetoric, and draconian laws restricting its practice, do little to curb social habits. A turnaround in public sentiment is all it takes.

In Brazil, social networks reacted to the ‘Carne Fraca’ (weak flesh, as the scandal was called, for some reason) in typical fashion: blame meat eaters. Meat eaters replied in kind. Nastiness ensued, trolls jubilated.
Meanwhile, the pseud0-president went to a churrascaria to show buyers of Brazilian steak, that all was fine, and would’ve gotten away with it, if he wasn’t dumb enough to eat meat imported from Argentina.
Trade partners pressured on, and prices of the commodity collapsed, which is the least that should happen. But will the crisis lead to tighten regulations and stiffen penalties and jail terms and, shock, the closing of some plants? No likely, of course.
No one was cast out from society for smoking; they just had to take their business to the curb and open air. And restaurant and service workers thanked it all, very much; finally their underwear stopped smelling like an ashtray at the end of the night.
But in major economies, the tobacco industry did take a hit when smoked was stripped of its glamour, and the price tag of the public health damage it causes came finally into light. That happened only after stricter laws went into effect and were dutifully enforced.
Government officials and politicians who lied and hid they were sponsored by big tobacco, were also exposed and put out of business. As for smokers, it’s their business what they take a drag on. No one else needs to follow suit, or berate them.
At the end of the day, scary tactics notwithstanding, to quit smoking remains a deeply personal decision, akin of choosing a particular diet regime, or becoming a vegetarian.
Which brings us to the age-old discussion over whether we should or are we even supposed to have the flesh of dead animals as so central a staple of our food consumption.
Growing criticism of the meat industry has reached strident levels. Beyond the usual health-minded professionals, the anti-meat activist movement, and the slow build-up of awareness about animal rights, the industry now is facing a new, formidable foe: climate change.
Scientists are already compiling comprehensive lists of all other contributing factors to climate change, besides our still all-too-encompassing reliance on carbon fuels for energy.
Topping such lists is usually the cycle of raising cattle for human consumption. All over the planet, millions of herds (more)
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Curtain Raiser

Rotten Meat & Sanctimony, Colltalers

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

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 72 this Friday. She died at 36 of an accidental overdose, 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 scouting talents, 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, beside 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 entire 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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Curtain Raiser

Rolling With the Punches, Colltalers

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