Curtain Raiser

Taking Care of Each Other, Colltalers

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

Last Call

When You Eat As if
There’s No Tomorrow

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

Their Last Meal Plus
Your Food for Survival

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

Watch Out For Viral Excuses, Colltalers

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

Run for Cover

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

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

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

They Like the World As It Is, Colltalers

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

Curtain Raiser

Let Tomorrow Begin Today, Colltalers

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

Partial Recall

Memories of the Future, or    
What We Forget to Recollect

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

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

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

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