Curtain Raiser

Make or Break Democracy, Colltalers

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

Curtain Raiser

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

It’ll be blood, sweat, and tears all over again, that’s for sure. Consider the new research by the Climate Accountability Institute, on the 20 biggest fossil fuel – oil, natural gas, and coal – corporations, that combined have issued since the 1960s 480 billion tons Continue reading

John & Poe

October & the City Link
the Walrus & the Raven

Edgar Allan Poe (d. Oct. 7, 1849, Boston) and John Lennon (b. Oct.9, 1940, Liverpool) would’ve likely enjoyed each other’s company. One could even picture them sharing a coffee in Greenwich Village, just a few blocks from where they both lived briefly in New York.
Sharing a certain sensibility, they’ve twisted rules and noses with their talent and non-conformism. While Poe’s genius was acknowledged mostly after death, Lennon was still shaping his own times when life was brutally taken away from him. Despite their enormous sway over our era, they’ve both died at 40.
Their status as two of the world’s most recognized pop icons often obscures the depth of their art and endurance of their legacy. And maybe their irresistible appeal owes more to a contemporary deficit of revolutionary artists than to their particular take on human expression.
Or it may be that we’re so desperate to find paradigms upon which to pile our frustration about the world, that a walking wound such as Poe, or a talking head like Lennon, may offer the conduit we seek to connect and placate our own shortcomings. Just like it ever was.
They couldn’t help it but being such tragic heroes, either, with terrible upbringings and disturbing deaths to boot. But that’s when shallow similarities between the two begin to falter, and no longer serve us to rescue their relevance out of the amber it’s been encased.
Poe, who lived in three separate places in Greenwich Village, New York City, before moving to a farmhouse uptown where he wrote The Raven at age 36, is the only American writer routinely mentioned along the French poètes maudits.
The Paul Verlaine-concocted term encapsulated the romantic ideal of the artist as a tragic hero, not suited to this world, who inevitably self-immolates. We won’t get into how flawed and self-indulgent it is such a notion, but the literature the group produced transcended it all.
Perhaps the best known among those poets was Charles Baudelaire, who championed, translated and wrote essays about Poe, (more)
Read Also:
* Murder & Unkindness
* Hallowed Ground
* Life W/O Lennon
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Curtain Raiser

The Rot Leaks From the Top, Colltalers

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

Snow & Zuck

There’s a WebCam
Hidden in the Toilet

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

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

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

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Curtain Raiser

No One Said It’d Be Easy, Colltalers

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

Curtain Raiser

The Equinox of Our Discontent, Colltalers

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

Dear Mr. Mayor

A Quick Reminder to
NYC Mayor de Blasio

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

Curtain Raiser

Oil? We Worry About Climate, Colltalers

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

Skating to Kabul

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

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

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

Curtain Raiser

Ready for the Fourth Quarter, Colltalers

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

Curtain Raiser

Climate Needs Warriors, Colltalers

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

Curtain Raiser

Mourning a​ Green Colossus​​, Colltalers

‘The sun shall be turned into darkness…’ As the Amazon burns, perhaps beyond recovery, there’s suddenly the realization that a catastrophic climate collapse – and more biblical quotes – may be all but inevitable. Worst: mankind doesn’t even have a plan yet.
A key to understanding how we got here may be this Women’s Equality Day. It’s the 99th-year from the U.S. Women’s Right to Vote and we’re still far from equality, ruled by a mostly ignorant minority belonging in gender to less than half of the population.
The evidence supporting the realities of these two headlines is overwhelming and frightening. So is the ineffectiveness of the Group of Seven’s annual gatherings. Over the weekend, leaders of Canada, U.K., France, Italy, Germany, Japan, the U.S., and E.U. officials, wined and dined in Biarritz, France, and beyond some vague assertions, offered no practical solutions. As usual.
The 2018 summit at least produced a photo – of said leaders and others, led by Germany’s Angela Merkel, staring at a cross-armed, impervious, Trump – which encapsulated what really went on in closed doors. Still, nothing memorable came out of it.
Trade and Iran, whose Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was a surprise guest, were supposed to dominate the G-7’s concerns this year, that is, until climate emergency kicked the conference doors down and threatened, as France’s Emmanuel Macron would put it, ‘to burn down our house.’ The ‘chosen one’ (his quote) however had his own agenda: to readmit ‘terrific person’ Vladimir Putin to the bloc. It won’t happen.
His insistence on praising the Russian president, who was expelled for invading and annexing Crimea, verges on the pathetic. Continue reading

Amazon Via Acre

I Know Why the
Vultures Laughed

We were all set, strapped onto metal seats when the captain announced: everybody out, we got stuck. After two days flying, and two flawless landings, only the Guajará Mirim ‘runaway’ mud to stop our fearless DC-3 on its tracks. Everyone got dirty pushing the plane.
On the sideways, Native Brazilian Indians laughed out loud. It was not their first time having a blast with visitors, but I never went back for seconds. Once we took off, my mind was racing towards the Acre State, where I’d spend three months with my friend Tonho and his family.
We got to know a stretch of the majestic Amazon Rainforest, three times as big then as it is now. I flew for free as a military officer’s son, aboard a Douglas from the National Air Mail. Tonho left Rio three days later, on a commercial flight, but we got to Rio Branco together.
My place was next to piles of letters and parcels, as DC-3s were still being used on regular post routes within Brazil. No complaints; I didn’t know then, but it turned out to be one of the greatest trips of my life, a real miracle, as I hadn’t a cent to my name but was treated like a king.
On the way, I’ve spent a night in Porto Velho, whose downtown area on that rainy winter of 1973, was occupied by a huge gypsy camp. I had already realized that I was visiting another country, but I felt even more foreigner having a hard time understanding them. Pure prejudice made me wary of the Roma and not to ask for directions.

Brazil’s vast distances and geographical north-south set up has a lot to do with the radical differences among its regions. Getting to the northwest, wild and racially mixed, coming from the south, urban and white European is like a kick in the ass. You get on all your fours and it’s better to take your time getting up again.
Things seemed so odd, that the first thing the two teenagers got was cough medicine, which used to be unwittingly loaded with codeine. We were not into alcohol, and weed was rarer than snow, so pharma high was our tour guide exploring the sights and city blocks.
By far, the two kinds of weather within a single day were our main source of amusement. The whole city life revolved around things happening before and after the rain. Dawn would break already in the 80s and while the thermometer would rise with the sun, sweat would drench us. Suddenly, all would change.
At just a few degrees shy of the 100s, the sky would turn and a monsoon of biblical proportions would come down, all thunder and flood. It’d last less than an hour, though, and then, it’d be gone. Clouds would get quickly driven away and the sun would return to set, at the conclusion of yet another beautiful day.
Many a bottle of syrup we knocked down on our way to the movies – we may have watched the entire Sergio Leone collection, plus every one of the Zapata series – or the ‘boîte,’ where a long-haired crooner singing Roberto Carlos‘ Amada Amante, was a nightly hit. What a life.

When we headed to Xapuri, to try Ayahuasca, we had no idea who Chico Mendes was. Deforestation was all around us, piles of downed trees by the side of the road. At one point, our bus stopped: ahead of us, a tractor-trailer was fully submerged in a small lagoon. Only the top of the cabin was out of the water.
We got to Brasiléia late at night and rented a room in the back of a rest stop. There was no power and we were intrigued when the owner’s son handed us a little fumigator, loaded with kerosene. It didn’t take long to know why: bugs were big as mice and would fly around. We almost suffocated to death, trying to keep them away.
We woke up early, sweaty and nearly deaf. The heat was expected, but what was that loud noise, as if someone was scratching our zinc rooftop with metal nails. Zeeeep, zeeeep, zeeeep, one after another. (more)
Read Also:
* Chico Mendes
* Amazing Zone
* Rainforest Rundown

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Curtain Raiser

This Ship’s About to Sail, Colltalers

‘The U.S. President issued a stern warning to China not to use military force to curb protests in Hong Kong. In other news, the president called his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, to express worldwide concerns about that country’s nuclear program.’
These headlines, which may have flashed in some alternate universe, are made up, but reports of microplastics raining over the U.S. are scaringly real. What links these issues, however, is authoritarianism as it rises in the U.S. and links us to those regimes.
Holding that thought, let’s scan for other news. Starting by the terrorist attack in Kabul, which killed 63 wedding guests. It’s been claimed by Daesh, a.k.a. Isis, not the Taliban with which the administration expects to draw an Afghanistan withdrawal accord.
The new tragedy poses the disturbing prospect that, after the U.S. supposedly leaves the country, the Taliban will again invite the caliphate to rebuild its pre-2003 ruthless, terrorist-training theocratic regime. This time, with the extra advertising prop of a war-ravaged land. The American legacy won’t be of noble efforts to democratize Afghanistan, just the savagery of a useless conflict.
Also within this cycle, the world saw astonishingly what it’s like for a nation to be ruled by a power-hungry leader, staking his political future in a foreign would-be despot: Israel’s P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu’s abided by the U.S. president’s demand to stop U.S. Representatives Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, both Muslims Democrats, from entering the country to visit the Gaza Strip.
Tlaib wanted to see her 90-year-old Palestinian grandmother but obviously also to be there to express critical views of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. In other words, besides having a potentially final reunion with her relative, she and Omar were going there to do their job, which is expected by their constituencies. Ultimately, the ban was lifted but Tlaib gave up on the trip.
There’s no other way to put it, it was Israel’s lamest hour. It may have also deeply embarrassed Israelis who can’t be Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Lowering World Expectations, Colltalers

Don’t come to America if you don’t want to get shot. That’s what Amnesty International’s travel advisory means by ‘be extra vigilant’ when traveling to the U.S. Given this country’s 250 mass shootings so far in 2019, the human rights group has a point.
The fair warning came out just as an estimated 400 million people marked the historical significance of Aug. 9. Friday was the World’s Indigenous Peoples Day, and also the five years since an unarmed Michael Brown was killed by a cop in Ferguson, MO.
This August, which got off according to the script of being the month of ‘mad dogs,’ has also another landmark to give it some perspective: the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, a moment in cultural time that has proven surprisingly hard to even celebrate.
For those who lived through it, and actually believed that those ‘three days of love and peace’ were the beginning of something new, there’s now the realization that it exists only as a fantasy, a collective memory barely tettered in reality. On the other hand, it was indeed a moment of transcendence, and because it’s been virtually impossible to reenact, it remains unspoiled and fresh.
Many times people have gathered by the thousands since, under the banner of music, love, and peace, or most commonly these days, to rally for rage, hate, and war. No event has reminded anyone, though, that half-century ago it was possible for thousands of strangers to spent time together in the open, through rain, mud, and no basic sanitation, without a single incident of violence.
It was the 1960s ‘dream’ of living in harmony with nature and each other, now dismissed as a vain utopia. World leaders, and people over 30, were not to be trusted, make love not war and all that, plus the sheer belief that human kindness knows no limits.
Regardless of how or why humanity got so helplessly sidetracked, however, that same dream was as far from reality then as it is today. If anything, we’re now forcibly closer to realize it, Continue reading


When the End (of Summer)
Is All But Nigh, Improvise!

The sinking feeling is happening more often now. As soon as August hits, while some press on to finish the prep work for a memorable vacation, the rest of us is left to deal with the possibility, ever more concrete, that we’re not going anywhere. Now, now, cheer up, though.
Think how you’ll be spared of crowded airports, cesspool-suffused hotel rooms, displays of raw rage, from fellow flyers and underpaid airline staff, and those walks by the water’s edge start to feel pretty satisfying. Go ahead, have another sip of your lemon-wedged iced water.
Considering just such a possibility – and we’re not saying that you’re definitely out of luck – we raided our files for some encouraging season-appropriate stories. You know, to go along with the exquisite shots you took at the neighbor’s B-B-Q, or the sunset at the local park.
So here are three posts and a travelogue. They’re chockfull of tips for the weary tripper; unusual (and cheap) destinations; dos and don’ts for a seasonal pro such as yourself; and a few commute shots to help you prove to everyone how overrated vacations really are.
To take time off is a state of mind, a magical space you pry open and occupy free of thoughts, to reach deep relaxation and strength, and renew every fiber of your being. There’s no need to go anywhere. Not really, but we thought it’d be nice to end this post on that kind of note.
* Checking In
* Skim Vacations
* No Way Vacay
* Train of Moths


(*) Originally published on Aug. 2, 2017.

Curtain Raiser

Make America Grieve No More, Colltalers

It’s mourning in America, yet again: two massacres in Texas and Ohio added 30 more to the 979 people already killed this year in mass shootings. Thus we ask again: will Congress break its recess and pass urgent gun control legislation? Unlikely.
Meanwhile, the world pays annually $307 billion subsidies to the coal, oil, and gas industries so they can keep on wrecking the planet. Yet only a fraction of that could fund a global transition to renewables, according to a new report. Bothered? Not them.
We’ll get to those issues in a few, but let’s briefly check on Brazil’s political turmoil, ignited in part by President Bolsonaro’s just over seven months of multiple mishaps. For instance, his indication of son Eduardo to be the Brazilian ambassador to the U.S.
The move, which needs Senate approval, was greeted by almost universal incredulity. Not just for the house representative’s lack of diplomatic skills, but also for him to have become the butt of jokes in Brazil after his Fox News interview. It turns out, the candidate to one of the top diplomatic jobs in the world can barely speak English, and clips from his language lapses went viral.
Daddy easily topped that, however, when he bragged last week that he knew what happened to Fernando Santa Cruz, an activist who disappeared during the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil between 1964 and 1985. The cruel remark was directed at his political foe, and Santa Cruz’s son, Felipe, president of Brazil’s Bar Association, who supported Adélio Bispo da Cruz’s acquittal.
Cruz, an acquaintance of the Bolsonaro family, stabbed him during a campaign rally. But his case was riddled with suspicion and as the president insisted on his conviction, Brazilians were reminded that the attack propelled Bolsonaro at the polls, preventing him from potentially damaging debates. As for the Armed Forces, it officially does not know the fate of its political enemies.
But the most deleterious diatribe by far-right Bolsonaro is how he’s fulfilling a sinister campaign promise made to his backers to open up the Amazon Rainforest to the fossil-fuel industry. Continue reading

Invisible Hands

Lives in the Background
Keep The City Lights On

Billions believe and worship a cast of invisible beings. Yet those who can save the day have no prayer of being seen by us. They walk miles collecting empty, 5¢ cans for recycling, while we just walk. Cities can’t live without their hands, and yet cast their humanity aside. 
Can collector is a thankless gig, for sure; yet, it’s among the most valuable. Here are three composites, who do it daily, hell or high water, the closer one may get from their stories short of taking their place. Here’s Shi, 68; Simón, 21; and Bobby, 40-ish. (Not their real data).
Recycling has been a survival tool for many species; to discard, instead, it’s our motto and we flaunt it like a birthright. We’re the toss-away kind until the time will come to get dumped into the pile too. Robots? We’ve already operating under an automated central.
Throwaway gizmos; we’ve created A.I. to skip the reusing stage. But there’s no more room for our rubbish, no matter how delirious is our faith. Some never knew another way but to live for loving others; they’re all in for the greater good. Others, for a bigger temple.
A lifetime of scarcity-turned-into-commodity, free for the taking, poises choices. Living along millions, indulging in what we had no part making it possible, are two. But someone in the background may be busy turning our garbage into something else: the future.

Shi is the member every family should have, a professional tracker of discarded containers. An ancient stand-in for those she’s lost, according to her Chinese name. One may only guess when she’s become our helping hands; her Disco 77 brand sneakers proves nothing.
Simón is a force of nature to his 13 relatives. They all live in a two-bedroom apartment in Queens, and some get up with him every day at 4:15am. His run now includes some 54 blocks lined up with plastic bags and without him, 215 or so daily cans will wind up at a landfill.

Bobby is the silent traveler whose blackness gives itself away on a soul-infused voice; his is a killer version of ‘Get On Up.’ That’s all (more)
Read Also:
* Last Call
* Spoiled Leftovers
* Rubbish Wednesday

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Curtain Raiser

Tears in the Rainforest, Colltalers

A desperate appeal was issued on behalf of the Waiãpi, an indigenous community of Amapá, Brazil. Miners have invaded their land over the weekend and killed two of its chiefs. Jawaruwa Waiãpi blamed President Bolsonaro and promised to retaliate.
‘We know what’s happening and what needs to be done.’ Excerpt from the scientists-penned Letter to the Future at a memorial to Okjökull, a.k.a. Ok, Iceland’s first glacier lost to climate change. Yes, it’s heartbreaking and others may follow it soon if we allow it.
Such an eloquent call for urgent action was in sharp contrast to the U.S. president’s viciously racist attack on Elijah Cummings, a black Representative from Maryland. It was vile, just as his previous public insults directed at The Squad. A new low? Hardly.
Fact is, while campaigning for reelection, Trump is casting the darkest, most intolerant and retrograde forces of society, so more is to be expected. At each new slur, slightly more deleterious than the one before, his racism is being normalized. If we allow it.
For too large a swath of Americans haven’t yet realized what’s coming up, with each new frightening rally of his. The roar of hate chanting and idolatry towards him is the glue that sustains his presidency. Sadly, many in his constituency – which is by far the one that depends the most on the welfare system – will soon pay the price for their support. But we won’t say, ‘I told you so.’
As for news from the border trenches, here’s a quick housekeeping tip: there must be constant reminders that the horror show is still on and each new horrifying development is worth noticing. Every American must be fully aware that what’s being done Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Don’t Get Fooled Again, Colltalers

It’s time for a new, all-encompassing anti-war front. Against any war, but first, the one Washington hawks are salivating to start: a disastrous, if not civilization-ending, conflict with Iran. For it’d easily kill millions, and derail the fight against climate change.
Which it’s what we all should be really up in arms against, be it for the accelerating melting of Greenland’s million-year-old ice sheet, or for the fact that this year, the July 4th was hotter in Anchorage, Alaska, than in New York City, over 440 miles south.
There’s been yet another soul-crushing incident at the border with Mexico. Meet Sofi, a 3-year-old from Honduras, who has been asked by an agent to choose which parent she’d like to stay with since the other was going to be kicked out of the country.
It was but a moment, luckily exposed just in time to prevent further damage to her and her family – they were reunited and sent to Juarez, Mexico. But the point is: what have we become? children dying or missing, in cages, filthy, forced to make decisions they can’t grasp? How can Americans be OK with an administration so brutal to kids, wherever they are, come from or why?
The universal right to seek asylum, either for fear of persecution or grave threat, is a juridical concept recognized by ancient Greeks, Egyptians, and Hebrews, adopted by the Christian church and the Western tradition, and still universally accepted as an inherent right. But the president thinks he knows better and wants to change that. And he will if the American people allow him.
The rule may also be illegal, besides being against basic human decency, solidarity, and compassion, the very foundation of living in society. It’s an unfair act inflicted on those who got hurt the most by the U.S.’s Central American policies. Now if only Continue reading

The Apollo Leap

They Went to the Moon
& Discovered Our Earth

This famous shot of the Earth rising above the Moon’s horizon was taken half a century ago by astronaut Bill Anders, helped by Frank Borman and Jim Lovell. But it didn’t come to light until a few months later. When it did, it went straight to my wall.
Like millions of teens, my room in 1968 was a dizzying array of passions and people I admire. There was a spot for the Earthrise shot next to a tongue-stuck-out Einstein, a bonnet-clad Che, a nearly nude Brigitte, Beatles, Hendrix, and Caetano Veloso to boot.
So, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin finally touched down on quaint-named Tranquility Base 50 years ago this Saturday, the deal was already done. Still dauntingly impressive, but the new world had been discovered the previous December. And it was blue.
To this day, we’ve yet to know another heavenly body that, despite being rock-solid, appears translucent and blue in space like no other. No other has oxygen and water enough to nurture life’s exuberance, all packed into such a transfixing image.
No one but this planet is suitable for the likes of us. And never before it was so close to being murdered by the very species that depend on it the most. In 1969, Earth’s blueness was a revelation to be cherished. Now, it’s our only argument for survival.

We’re bound to this ship, no matter how far we may go. And we haven’t even got far. In fact, we couldn’t really go anywhere without carrying our home with us. Since that’s impossible, whatever we do to our home, will determine the fate of its dwellers.
Even those who’d like to leave it and live somewhere else, know that it’s a one-way ticket out of life. And maybe to the relevance they’re sure won’t be achieved here. Bon voyage to them, there’ll always be a need for pioneers. But I’m staying put, thank you very much.
The Apollo 11 trip to eternity remains one of mankind’s greatest achievements. But it’s also one of our biggest failures, as we did little to step beyond it, and now it’s as great as a masterpiece in a museum: intriguing but shut away from reality, an end on itself.
We’re inspired by that moment, as we should, and we relish its significance, for it reflects all that’s great about our nature. It transcended everything around it: the nation that finally placed a man on another world; war; the politics; all of it.

But it was but a moment, now lost in time. In five decades, we went from the unshakeable hope for the future, the human genius and the power of technology, to the far-out opposite end of clarity; we simply don’t know how we’ll get through this crisis.
We knew then that a trip to the Moon would be remembered, and celebrated, and it could trigger a new era, fulfilling our destiny as wanderers of the great beyond. Now we’re actually afraid that there won’t be anyone left then to mark its first century anniversary.
For over 200,000 years, we’ve walked all over this planet, explored every nook, probed each hole, went down all abysms, and climbed up mountains high and higher. We dove its deep oceans and tested its fiery volcanos. We died and were reborn many times.
Our civilizations are built out of this world’s dust and bones. But one thing our journey hasn’t quite led us to yet is to the harmony of coexisting with the sphere that supports us. We have nothing on the serenity that the pale blue dot floating in the vacuum exudes.

All we’ve built now conspire to destroy us, and we should be so lucky if, in the process, Earth’s spared. We may not see this, but if it survives us it may no longer be blue and ethereal as it looks now. It’ll have to be violent to rid itself of the plague of us.
And yet the fight to reverse course and start it over, even if not from the very beginning, is not just possible but our best shot. It’s either that or reckoning with angry kids we’ve sentenced to live and die in a poisoned era. That or we will choke on our own mistakes.
It was thrilling to believe we’d stepped up, and anyone could be a guest of another planet. Even that the very fuel and raw materials, (more)
Read Also:
* Window Seat
* Space Odor
* The Last Apollo

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Curtain Raiser

Climate & the Stardust Dream, Colltalers

As hurricane Barry was making its way towards Lousiana’s coast last week, New Orleans was reminded of the trauma inflicted by Katrina in 2005. Barry’s still drenching the state, but mercifully, it all but spared the Big Easy.
Even powerful hurricanes eventually go away, though, unlike the climate emergency we’re facing. That’s why thousands of U.S. colleges are pushing for an action plan, and there’s a new fund helping raise awareness of the issue.
But the week had other themes, with higher or smaller degrees of concern and misery, worth going over before those headlines. Some, such as Iran, are bound to simmer for a while, but since it’s about nukes, let’s not be complacent.
The U.K., a nation with seemingly no one properly minding its business these days, has shown poor judgment again by seizing an Iranian tanker. All that it accomplished was to raise already high tensions between Teheran and Washington. Given the Trump administration’s own mess in the region, it won’t be easy to dial it all down.
In Hong Kong, protesters have spent the past month marching against a new extradition law, that even as it’s officially killed, it still haunts the liberal majority living in the China-controlled territory. No surprise here.
The authoritarian Chinese government would want nothing but to legally do what’s already assumed it does undercover: to bring dissidents to the mainland and shut them down. For that, it counts with a huge ally, the world’s indifference about China’s civil rights violations. But for now, HK activists are keeping the momentum from fading away.
Almost every summer, Rome and most big cities around the world come to a point they can’t handle the gargantuan amount of garbage they produce. The public health and stench Continue reading

The Quiet Knight

Farewell, João Gilberto,
Master of the Silent Music

João is gone. His passing, on July 6, hit the final chords for Bossa Nova as Brazil’s national musical expression. The precision of his nylon-string playing and subtleness of the nearly mute overtones of his voice challenged traditions and forged a place of his own.
When he, his lifelong musical partner Antonio Carlos ‘Tom’ Jobim and others, took the New York Carnegie Hall stage, in 1962, for a historic concert, it marked the moment when a quiet artistic revolution in Brazil got introduced to the world. It was an instant hit.

Bossa Nova became the very sound of the Portuguese-speaking South American nation, Jobim and João as its top ambassadors. The jazz-tinged but unmistakenly Brazilian melodies of one, seamlessly merged with the syncopated guitar beat and well-timed phrasing of the other.
João was the ultimate perfectionist, and a fiery idiosyncratic performer, whose increasingly rarer appearances would convey an almost cult-like devotion from his audience. Declining physical and mental health though led him to spend his last years alone in his apartment in Rio.
Which was fitting for an artist whose rise coincided with Brazil’s quick urbanization. His art spoke to an ascendant intellectual and politically engaged middle class, even though neither Bossa nor João were integral to the social unrest of the 1960s.
Read Also:
* Stone Flower
* 50 Summers
* Multi-Note Samba

João Gilberto, a Brazilian treasure, has elevated popular music to a sophisticated art form, capable of expressing the entire soul of a nation. Despite the current president’s refusal to call this a time for mourning, his voice and guitar will forever be the beating heart of Brazil. R.I.P.

Curtain Raiser

First They Chase Immigrants, Colltalers

June was history’s hottest month on Earth. But such a global emergency is still to be matched by a blunt, effective response from governments and the ownership classes controlling the world. So kids fighting for their future are suing the whole lot of them.
Meanwhile, whether Steve Bannon had big expectations for Jair Bolsonaro, whom he helped elect as Brazil’s president half a year ago, is arguable. But it’s unlikely he’s pleased by this train wreck of an administration either. Most Brazilians are surely not.
Before those headlines, though, let’s have a bumpy ride through other news. The two-punch earthquake that rocked California, for one, the strongest in 20 years. Fears of the ‘big one,’ supposedly due around now, made a few hearts to skip a beat or two, but with no casualties, Californians went right back at worrying about a new, now more predictable scourge: the season of wildfires.
California also looms large in the opposition to the Trump administration’s brutal immigration policies. The president, who’s threatened state laws protecting a quarter of its population who are immigrants, or related to someone who is, is also still trying to add the so-called citizenship question in the 2020 Census, which would shorten federal funds to be allocated to the state.
That, in addition to government-run concentration-like camps, where asylum-seekers are treated as criminals, and nationwide, Gestapo-like raids, have created conditions for a potentially explosive U.S. summer, with yet more grief and misery to boot.
It’s no wonder the sad reoccurrence of adjectives last used in WWII. There’s an entire argument going on about Continue reading

The Other Fourth

The Amendment That Ascertains
Power to This Independence Day

Dispensing all pomp and circumstance, national birthdays have a way of turning into numbing occasions for grandstanding patriotism and overindulgent gluttony. It’s no different in the U.S., even as Independence Day marks a moment of rebellion and self-sacrifice.
That being said, flags and (non-military) parades are ok, but it can’t hurt to focus on the constitutional side of that storied statement signed by the 13 colonies, which Congress adopted 243 years ago today, and whether it still holds sway as the highest law of the land.
As such, after almost two and a half centuries, it’s held up pretty well. As the nation went through its growing pains, it managed to extend the original liberal slant of its founding documents, even as it amended them, while also adding some truly lofty goals as far as individual rights are concerned. Yes, that can, and it seems to be already changing. Still.
The paradox about those high standards is that they’ve made the U.S. Constitution both an example of steely idealism committed to a set of amendments, and also a pragmatic tool, vulnerable to be waged against the very principles it vows to defend. Take now, for instance.
Despite having enjoyed a full century of world economic and military domination, without stealing land or doing away with its institutions, the past decades have presented serious challenges to its tradition of constitutionality and the rule of the law. Need to say more?
It brings no joy to mention this today, but with two long, unjust wars, thousands of American and foreign lives lost, billions of dollars wasted into the buildup of a scary military complex, the U.S. is more than ever perceived globally as a bully, with no respect to its own legal precepts. How did it come to that? Well, way before that rotten orange stench took over the White House’s lawns, that’s for sure.

The framers of the Constitution ‘did not want to rely on the promises of good motivations or good intents from the government,’ Professor of Law Jonathan Turley told the actor John Cusack in a 2013 interview. ‘They created a system where no branch had enough authority to govern alone, a system of shared and balanced powers.’
Turley blasted the Obama administration’s efforts to block prosecution of CIA operatives accused of torture during the Bush era as a flagrant infringement of international law. ‘Soon after 9/11, government officials started to talk about how the Constitution is making us weaker, how we can’t function by giving people due process.’ He was right, of course; some of them are indeed back in power.
Remember, that’s when Edward Snowden offered proof that the NSA had been spying on Americans and even foreign dignitaries for years. But as it happened with rumors (more)
Read Also:
* Natural Law
* Pleading the Fifth

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Curtain Raiser

A Photobook of Tragedies, Colltalers

Heatwaves shouldn’t make summer headlines. Unless they start breaking records at an unusual rate. Recent 114F temperatures that killed dozens, ignited wildfires, and cut power in seven European nations have one unmistakable cause: climate emergency.
19 of the richest nations have tried to show they’re concerned about that, at the just-finished Osaka, Japan, G-20 summit. But their words sounded hollow, and even their final declaration missed the signature of the world’s biggest carbon polluter: the U.S.
But none of the pictures of devastation and misery caused by the continental scorcher had the emotional punch of the one taken at the southern border of the U.S.: a little girl embracing her father, both face down, who drowned crossing the Rio Grande river.
The viral photo of Salvadorean Oscar Alberto Martinez and his 23-month-old daughter, Angie Valeria Martinez, tops an already staggeringly heartbreaking collection of images that summarize the Trump administration’s awfully cruel immigration policies.
In these dark times, toddlers in cages, mothers and kids running from tear gas, plus reports of record numbers of children dying, or being abused at border patrol facilities, almost fail to catch our attention. At each new image, we’re forcibly becoming a bit more acquainted with the infamy. But the fate of Oscar and Angie should, or rather, must put a stop on this madness. But will it?
One wonders, because just a few days prior, a harrowing account of what’s like being detained in an overcrowded Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Time to Fight & Be Proud, Colltalers

It’s deja vu all over again. The Trump administration’s threatened to bomb another country, but Iran may be tougher a foe than North Korea. Whether the crisis is averted, is not the president’s concern; having a war at the ready to help on his reelection is.
But the world is, indeed, concerned about it. Such a conflict would surely spill over the Middle East and boost the more than 70 million kicked out of their homes by wars, according to a United Nations study released on World Refugee Day. Worried yet?
The climate emergency is very much part of both equations. For instance, a report by NOAA, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric agency, found that global carbon dioxide emissions reached the highest levels in 61 years, last May, 3.5 ppm higher than the 411.2 ppm 2018 peak. In the same period, floods and rainfall drove the U.S. to its second-wettest month in 125 years.
A just-arrived traveler from another era would think that mankind’s sole focus would be on these two scourges, war and climate, the only two capable of co-existing, while endlessly feeding each other. But such wanderer would be terribly wrong about that.
When the Federal Reserve’s released its ‘Distributive Financial Accounts’ data series, many an analyst searched it for evidence that would corroborate whatever assumptions they had about the market, the economy, and everything. Except what it all means.
Matt Bruenig, founder of the People’s Policy Project, found something else entirely: that ‘between 1989 and 2018, the top one percent increased its total net worth by $21 trillion,’ while the bottom 50 percent saw its net worth decreased by $900 billion.
And yet, that misguided traveler would again assume, war and climate catastrophe affect everyone equally, so those clearly Continue reading

Paper Planes

404 Pages, Old Hoaxers
& Staying Dry in the Rain

This being Summer Solstice time, it seems appropriate to bring you these stories, each with a temporal slant. One would not be possible a few decades ago; another no longer makes much sense; and yet the other one is ageless. So, no sweat, we’ve got you covered.
On the Internet, no one knows you got lost; or that you landed on a ‘Not Found’ page. The Society Against Quackery would not tolerate such nonsense 130 years ago. And yet, since time immemorial, there’s been Virga, a special kind of rain: the type that doesn’t make you wet.
What? Didn’t they use to count paper planes on New York City streets? Or holes in Blackburn Lancashire? Indeed they did, so it shouldn’t shock you if we pick the odd or the unusual for a summer read, rather than the bloody or the bombastic. For there’ll be plenty of that too.
There’s a new Pride Flag with a welcome element of racial tolerance. And, yes, the season‘s proverbial love stories already abound, along those from the 1967 Summer of Love. And the breeze, and that girl from Ipanema, and all cliches about heat and hurricanes.
Since warm days go by faster in the north, they’ll still be filled with talk about ice cream and beaches, parties and drought. Just as Earth will keep on getting warmer, and this sort of conversation feels like sand inside one’s swimming suits. Blame us for wanting you to take it easy.
So what’s wrong with searching and not finding? Not acceptable these days. See, even when one lands on uncharted territory, it’s no longer an excuse to avoid making assumptions. Or post your cluelessness on Facebook. No opinion should be spared. Thus the 404 pages.
Which is now as entertaining as if you’d reached a site about scientific curiosities. Museums, institutions, companies, and individuals, all jockey to come up with clever ways to cushion your crushing results. It’s Ok, the image and wording seem to say. Here, it’s funny, see?
As for the code number, like a lot of what still compounds our journeys online, it had a nerdy origin, such as some room number in a building once fully occupied by an electronic brain, as it was known. Or it was by chance, depending on who you find still wondering in the space formerly known as cyber.
Way before Tim Berners-Lee was born – the World Wide Web inventor just turned 62 last week – or there was a need for Snopes, a group of Dutch skeptics recognized the potential harm hidden behind human gullibility. And decided to mount a defense against those who’d gladly take advantage of it. Boy, haven’t they got their work cut out for them.
If the Internet metastasized the power of deceivers, in 1881, snake oil salesmen, mystics, end-of-the-world profiteers, and an entire array of their ilk, were already spreading irreparable damage all over. (more)
Read Also:
* 50 Summers
* Freaky Links
* No Way Vacay
Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

A Judge Hero No More, Colltalers

Brazil has been rocked by a series of leaked conversations, suggesting a conspiracy of judge Sérgio Moro, law enforcement, and government officials, to prevent front-runner, two-term ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva from winning the 2018 election.
A ‘gut punch.’ That’s how civil rights groups called the Trump administration’s plan to put asylum-seeking children in internment camps, used to detain Japanese-Americans during WWII. Brazilians took to the streets; reaction in the U.S. was more subdued.
To be sure, it’s been a time for political turmoil in both countries, at the forefront of a global struggle that pits progressive forces of society against the assault of a far-right neo-populism, managed behind the scenes by the likes of Steve Bannon and others.
Before probing further these two explosive headlines, let’s quickly review some of last week’s other events of note. Starting with Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange, whose U.K. court hearing to decide on his extradition to the U.S. has been set for next February.
In a case that undermines one of the main tenets of democracy, that of a free press, Assange has been persecuted for publishing in 2010, classified documents on the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, leaked by court-marshaled Army Officer Chelsea Manning.
Between diplomatic cables and footage shot by Air Force pilots, the trove of material shows possible war crimes committed by the Americans, with potential to indict the entire U.S. Continue reading

The Last Leaves

The Day When Forests
Won’t Have Any Trees

Climate emergency, – a man-made executioner we fear so much that we’ve sent our own children to do battle with – has always had a fierce opponent, even before it needed one: trees. Living beings that ushered us to the present, they’ve got all it takes to save our future.
As long as they’re standing, that is. But stood have many, for millennia. As we see forests, we miss what makes them one. Trees may be downed, but nothing kills their gift for being reborn. The history of the world is told by thousand rings inside their girth.
They tower and endure. They come as big as cathedrals, and as old as a religion. Life travels from roots to high up branches, as they hang on to Earth as its own giant limbs. Trees have been blowing oxygen down our lungs for ages; time to fight fire and scarcity to pay back our dues.
Through their rings, they tell a story of damage humans have inflicted on climate and natural resources, going back centuries. For 300 million years, they’ve been withstanding every era – and unlike with dinosaurs, not even catastrophic asteroid collisions did they in.
But now, our predatory drive is catching up with trees too. That’s why the young is so mad, and the old is none the wise preventing them from grabbing the helm out of our incapable hands and saving the planet already. They were unfairly pushed into this, and are better off not counting on us.

Compared to trees’ estimated appearance on the planet, Mathuselah, the thick twisty Pinus Longaeva that’s been in living in California for 4,850 years, doesn’t seem that impressive. But it is indeed older than the Egyptian pyramids, and yes, Christianity itself.
It certainly predates the biblical figure it’s named after too; that Mathuselah supposedly lived a mere 969 years, but we know how the good book often plays loose with facts and numbers. In any case, the tree is real, even if its exact location is secret to prevent vandalism.
In some ways, it’s even more real than other popular California residents: Joshua trees. That’s because, they’re not trees at all (more)
Read Also:
* Amazon Via Acre
* Safe Arbor Clauses
* Passing Trees

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Curtain Raiser

Genocides We Ignore, Colltalers

An enquiry on multiple deaths and disappearances of Canada’s indigenous women has shed light on a brutally common reality around the world. But violence against women, just as genital mutilation and murder of transgenders, still remains on the rise.
Another week, another terrifying report or two on the climate emergency. Out of 7.7 billion, six billion breathe life-threatening air. Worse: besides carbon dioxide, 84 times more toxic methane now accounts to a quarter of human-caused global warming.
Before elaborating on these headlines, let’s talk about what’s tickled the angry bone of those still in possession of a brain lately. What about the visit of that ugly American, and his hopeless self-driven family, to Queen and country across the pond? Needless to hide: it was, well, ugly. Even before taking off, Trump’s insulted a member of the Royals, and Sadiq Khan, well-liked mayor of London. Once there, he praised Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, the notoriously reviled architects of the Brexit disaster.
All the while, he tweeted nasty things about veteran Robert Muller – on D Day, no less -, and Betty Midler, of all people. And to some, he committed his worst offense so far, donning a grotesquely undersized evening wear he seems to have had since the 90s.
Nothing of it amounts to anything his supporters care about, though, or that too-intimidated-to-act Democrats can throw at him.
For all heartbreak and embarrassment the 45th is causing to Americans, he’s still in control of the media narrative and got quickly back on the saddle. An example of vintage Trump? the so-called deal he claims to have struck with Mexico over tariffs.
For anyone light on critical thinking about what they read around, the president threatened to raise tariffs on Mexican imports, if our neighbor didn’t prevent immigrants to entry… the U.S. Looking closely, however, nothing of sorts ever happened. Mexico’s been already doing its part, agreed upon months ago, by trying to streamline the immigration flow. Problem is, it simply can’t.
With the Trump administration doing all in its power to prevent them from gaining lawful entry into this country, no matter how much people warehousing Mexico may afford to arrange, the flow will only engorge further. Those who jump all hurdles to get here will still have no prayer to see a judge in reasonable time, or even get the protection they are due to from international laws.
‘Genocide.’ That’s how Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called what happened to thousands of impoverished indigenous women killed between 1980 and 2012, at the release of a government report that also concerns American native populations.
Most had left their places of origin in search for a better life, only to be murdered while negotiating the underworld of sex trade and drug addiction. The fate of many remains unknown, but overall, the episode fits a despicable pattern rooted in class and race.
Although sobering, the enquiry was greeted with support by representatives of North American tribes, traditionally Continue reading

Man Made

We Build Automata So to
Mend Our Broken Dreams

‘We’re not computers, Sebastian, we’re physical,’ says Replicant Roy Batty to the brilliant but emotionally stunted genetic designer J.F., in Blade Runner, after he asked Roy and Priss to ‘do something.’
We’ve been asking these quasi-beings that we create to ever so closely resemble our own likeness, to do things for us since at least the 300s BCE, when mathematician Archytas built his steam powered dove.
From that first artificial bird to today’s wonders of modern animatronics on the screen, and Japanese robots all around, we’ve built a hefty utopian timeline of artificial bodies, made of assorted materials or other body parts. No wonder, they also litter the stuff of our nightmares.
Designed to obey, first, then to go where no human could possibly survived, as Philip K. Dick envisioned, we seemed to have this immemorial angst of beating god at his own game and develop a more faithful companion than our own kind, only to get frustrated, if they’d grow too loyal, or killed, if they’d turn on us.
Fictionally, of course. Even though we should’ve known better by now, we still pursue a variety of traditions of supernatural beings doing things for us or to us, creating and destroying our world at will, acting just like summarized versions of the supreme invisible deity billions believe controls our every move on this planet.
From the Golem to Godzilla, from Adam to Frankenstein, we’re transfixed by the thought of being capable of creating or even conceiving another animated body, made out of mud and plastic, to sooth our desperate loneliness in a vast, totally indifferent universe.
It could as well be that we’re just bored, or no longer can stand any of the other 6,999,999,999 bodies cramped and imprisoned in this tiny rock, swirling steadily but completely out of our control, and dream of one day be on the other side of the puppeteering strings.

Curiously, in our millennial zeal of building the perfect beast, never mind the billions around us we care little about, we got no close to breathe life into any of them. At the most, we may’ve perfected yet another almost obsolete obsession in the process: the clockwork.
Thus the centuries-old automata, marvels of mechanical prowess, and the industry that once thrived manufacturing them, may have reached flights of imagination and promise across time, but are now all but reduced to that wonder of functionality and futility: the Roomba.
About those exquisite androids of yore, The Writer is in a particular time capsule all of its own. Designed by Swiss watchmaker Pierre Jaquet-Droz, his son Henri-Louis, and Jean-Frédéric Leschot, it’s a bundle of 6,000 programmable moving pieces, wrapped within the wooden body of a boy.
It looks like a vintage toy but it’s way more than that. (more)
Read Also:
* Second Variety
* Not Human
* Babies Are Us

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Curtain Raiser

They Were Not Afraid of Tanks, Colltalers

The lives and miserable times of almost a million people living in Bangladesh’s Kutupalong, the world’s largest refugee camp, go on ignored by even the most truly compassionate. But now the U.S. offers a sample of just how miserable such lives really are.
On another front, the massacre of an estimated more than a thousand unarmed civilians in China’s Tiananmen Square, 30 years ago tomorrow, also went on largely ignored. Despite wider awareness of both scourges, they’ve become now painful routines.
We’ll get back to these, but let’s update the news first. Consider the Scott Warren trial, for instance, a humanitarian activist facing up to 20 years in prison for aiding migrants crossing the Arizona desert. His case, as ludicrous and draconian as a Kafkian tale, shows how xenophobia and prejudice can turn any society’s institutions into weapons of oppression against its own citizens.
We’re talking about the U.S. government asking the courts to prosecute a volunteer whose crime was to provide people in dire need with food, water, clean clothes, and beds, even rescuing their bodies for identification, instead of leaving them there to rot.
That’s not too far from prosecuting whistleblower Chelsea Manning, for showing the American people what’s been done on their behalf, or for demanding life in jail for Julian Assange, the journalist who created an online media outlet to publish her findings.
Two more Latin America-related news developments this week were, first, the ever too often heartbreaking prison riots in Brazil, which this time left 55 dead. And the metastatic growth of Trump’s ‘war on tariff,’ still staggeringly out of whack with reality.
Prison overcrowding is obviously not a Brazilian monopoly, as only a dozen or so nations around the world have an effective system for crime and rehabilitation. The majority would rather focus on crime and punishment. But Brazil may be stretching it.
Nothing unusual about its average inmate population, either. The overwhelming majority are, well, minorities, even if the term is not accurate. For in a country where over 50% of the people are of mixed-race, it’s almost an oxymoron to say most Brazilian jailbirds are black. Apart from that, the country shares a common denominator with the U.S. and many others: inmates are poor.
There are many likely reasons for the frequency Continue reading

Vessels of Tears

Beyond Memory, Three
Wrecks That Still Hurt

The schooner that brought the last 110 Africans to be American slaves, in 1860; a boxcar that carried many of the millions of Jews to Germany’s Auschwitz extermination camp, during WWII; a boat that sunk in the Mediterranean in 2015, killing over a thousand migrants.
For their riders, hope for breaking chains, breathe freedom, or find a future, was yanked out of their reach. But even stripped of their dignity, or forced to renounce name and identity, their lives were not wasted. Now, more than ever, they must be known by all.
It’s an intriguing coincidence. The Clotilda, a slave ship just-found in Alabama; a cattle car used in the Holocaust, being exhibited in Manhattan; and the rescued wreck of the Barca Nostra, on display at the Venice Biennale, are sharing a meaningful moment now.
Slavery. Racism. Xenophobia. Neither vanquished, as believed, nor gone. As their murderous spell threatens the world again, it’s timely that all three vessels have been given a new life as beacons of memory and resistance. History is not made to be repeated.
Some are weary of attributing to objects the significance of the pain and suffering experienced by actual human beings; it risks dehumanizing them further. But it beats forgetting it all. It jolts people out of complacency, and gives them agency over the immovable past.

The story of the Clotilda, the boat that transported kidnapped West Africans to Alabama, is well known. The last slave ship to reach the U.S., at the dawn of the Civil War, it was among other things, breaking the federal ban on ‘importation,’ in effect since 1808.
To avoid being caught, after delivering its heartbreaking cargo, the captain burned and sank the boat. But in a generation, the then former slaves founded Africatown, and helped build this country. They did not forget, though, and now there’s proof for the stories they’ve heard.
The discovery is worth being part of the national conversation about the black African-American experience, just like Reparations for Slavery, and prison and drug reforms. All are about giving people and their stories their due acknowledgement and place in history.

In America, circa 2019, when a white supremacist goes in a rampage, killing Jewish people, or another Latino child dies at an immigration facility, the president gives the first a nod, and ignores the other. No wonder that there’s been quite a few of both lately. People of a certain age know how this winds up.
Auschwitz, at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, a show about Germany’s biggest concentration camp between 1940-1945, features a railcar just like the ones Nazis used to ship thousands of Jews and others to gas chambers. But it teaches more than that.
Hate and murder are the stock and trade of psychopaths in power, but they rely on forgetfulness to come back again. If the murder of six million is no longer (more)
Read Also:
* The Journey
* Floating Enigmas
* Second Variety

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Curtain Raiser

Pardon Whistleblowers, Not War Criminals, Colltalers

Grandstanding about troops and the sacrifices of veterans is a political gimmick, always favored by objectionable officials. But Trump’s Memorial Day plans to pardon soldiers found guilty of war crimes is not just morally outrageous. It’s also dangerous.
And so is the indictment of Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange on Espionage Act charges. What would still be abhorrent in some backwater republic, is gravely scandalous as an assault on the very first constitutional amendment of ‘America the Beautiful.’
More in a second, but first, there’s the U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s resignation, and re-emergency of Boris Johnson set to replace her, which has surprised absolutely no one. As European Parliament elections have just shown, though, support to hacks like him is waning. That is, growth of right-wing, conservative populism continues to be a concern, but it did lose some steam.
Or we’re being over optimistic? After all, perennial far-right ghosts, such as National Rally party’s Marine Le Pen, and Hungary P.M. Viktor Orban, have both increased their profile, and Italy didn’t disappoint Steve Bannon either, by going a bit further right.
Brexit helped bring back Le Pen, a collector of major defeats, rejected many times by the French, to once again appear as if she’s less irrelevant than she’s always been. And regimes such as Hungary and Poland to turn into conservative wells, bubbling up a toxic mix of nationalism, religiosity, sectarianism, and anti-civil rights, while pursuing energy policies lethal to the planet.
As it stands, the bloc won’t be dominated by the far-right. While both Germany and France have some about face to do with their own electorate, even if Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron may somehow leave the picture, the Green Party’s stellar showing in the polls is certainly a better bet in the future than a manipulative revival of the worst of Europe’s tragic past of intolerance.
Navy SEAL’s Edward Gallagher, who shot unarmed Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Far From Season Finale, Colltalers

Nukes are not the only way to blast us all back to the past; climate change could do it too. And rich Republican white males, going after a woman’s right to choose. Their hide is doomed, though: half of humankind is coming for them for some serious spanking.
But if in the U.S., all (pothole-filled) roads lead to Nov. 2020, in Brazil the opposition to Jair ‘Model T as in Trump’ Bolsonaro has gained a powerful focus: Brazilians are back in the streets, this time for saving something actually real, access to education.
Back to these in a few, but first two interesting developments last week: Austria’s far-right government resigned over charges of corruption – something to do with the Russians -, and San Francisco’s banned facial recognition technology by law enforcement.
It’s a big win for civil and privacy rights, and California’s capital Oakland, along other American cities may follow the Fog City’s lead. As for so-called rise of rightwing politics, the Austrians just proved that it’s neither doing that well, nor it’s above some old- fashion collusion. Nevertheless, populist demagogues are anxious to score big on this week’s European parliamentary elections.
Thursday and Friday vote may indeed consolidate their momentum, or leverage a curb on their grow. Some expect Brexit to be set by it, and for an increasing majority opposing the U.K.’s exit from the European Union, it’s the moment to seize the narrative.
If they do, it’s likely that British nationalists like Nigel Farange will follow P.M. Teresa May on their own way out, and a new referendum, or general elections, will be set. In many ways, though, the Brexit frenzy has ran its course and fulfilled its goals, seemingly, to demolish Britons’ confidence, and boost the U.K.’s irrelevance in the world. Thanks, Boris Johnson & friends.
No thanks to the Trump administration, though, for promoting the most brutal attack on women’s reproductive rights since a 1973 Supreme Court decision made abortion legal. To reverse Roe v Wade has been a common objective by both the GOP and the religious Continue reading


Choosing a Special Group
That Won’t Crush Your Soul

‘Accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.’ Groucho Marx had a point, but most of us do long to belong. More so now, when so many feel the world has turned against them. Fear not, anti-heroes of the moot field. There’s hope.
And an affiliation just for you. Not the adventurer type? choose among the Bureaucracy Club, the Cloud Appreciation Society, Dull Men Club or, if still follicle-endowed, the Luxuriant Hair Club, but have your PhD ready. In a wretched mood? the Death Cafe will do you wonders.
Sport aficionados get it. The religiously devout most surely do too. And an assortment of clubs that flourish on Facebook or England, of all places, are equally adept at listing names of people who like this, or don’t like that. Prefer red, or despise unsuspecting hamsters.
Deep down, most would like to qualify for the Explorer’s Club, but if you haven’t stepped on the moon, or climbed the Everest, forget it. In another life, perhaps. Better sign on for the Apostrophe Appreciation Society. It’ll won’t give you vertigo. And you’ll be busy, guaranteed.
And before you disrespect good ol’ Groucho, misquoting him again, we know you’re actually jubilant that Twitter accepted your behind and your trolling galore. You don’t fool us. So go ahead, send out that form for the Mediocre Pun Brigade. They’re running a sale this week.

Dull but not boring.’ That’s the main ‘virtue’ required by would-be members of the Dull Men Club. And while ‘optimization of bureaucracies and bureaucrats’ is in the Bureaucracy Club‘s mission statement, both place a premium on a particular personality type: L, as in lukewarm.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Nevertheless, members live fulfilling lives, as long as they don’t involve trying spicy food, taking cold showers, or wearing colorful underwear. They gather periodically to debate mild things. But we hear the coffee is extra strong.

Bald inexperienced need not to apply.’ Nothing is ever safe when The Explorer’s Club and The Luxuriant Flowing Hair Clubs for Scientists break from their accident-provoking agenda, and sit down for a dinner whose menu often includes fried tarantulas and hissing roach snacks.
Living Explorers Buzz Aldrin and Jane Goodall share (more)
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* The Aitch Old File
* Petty Crimes
* Counting Electrical Sockets

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Curtain Raiser

Support Your Local Mona Lisa, Colltalers

It’s scary when war hawks digress on bombing another nation. Even scarier is when their dishonest arguments gain unwarranted currency. The same false pretense that led us to the Iraq invasion is now being used against Iran. What can possibly go wrong?
Also scary is the U.S. spending more in fossil-fuel subsidies than even with its defense budget, according to an I.M.F. report. But the U.K.’s first four days without coal-powered electricity, and the Cloud Peak’s bankruptcy, are both great climate change news.
There’s a constitutional crisis caused by President Trump, who’s all but declared himself and his gang above the law. And there’s a fresh round of saber-rattling and missile-launching by North Korea, aimed at us, but frightening the bejesus out of the world.
Naturally, the Big Tweetor is using his baseless trade war to divert attention from such important issues. And the media is blindly following him accordingly. It also helps that few have a grasp as to what trade war really means. Starting with the man himself.
Just in case, though, Trump spent Saturday tweeting like a deranged toddler, if only toddlers could be so mad. He blasted over 60 attacks on the Russian investigation, Don Jr.’s subpoena, assorted politicians, and Counsel Robert Mueller. Oh, and jobs too.
Trying to manipulate the nation by tweet, however, pales compared to the president’s biggest damage so far inflicted on America: the depletion of our trust on institutions. By counting on the Supreme Court to bail him out – and being probably right about that kind of assumption -, more than the lying, this president is setting the stage for a potential democracy-killing autocratic regime.
As Congress, which has the power to prevent that and has refused to do so, Americans must step up and safeguard the country that the Founding Fathers foresaw. No one else will. Mainly Continue reading

Having Guts

Down the Chute, Where
the Slimming Bacteria Live

The mouth. While some may call it a temple for words and tastes, where great thought are expressed, and divine flavors often pay visits, it has also another, far more reductionist and not so noble, role: it’s only the first of two ends of a very long tube.
Albeit we won’t get it to that other side, not now anyway, our survival as humans still depends on what travels down into our fat lips, crosses the battleground of our guts, and gets out through a drain hole. Not all is turmoil in there, though. So come, let’s meet the locals.
For despite the many realms our thoughts have conquered, and the reasons why we orbit around the universe of the table, and always come back for more, we go out of our way to dissociate such fulfilling parts of life from what they ultimately imply, body-wise.
We made love and food with our months, and often recite with eloquence what they mean to us, and coyly, how we could never ever live without them. However, any mention to what goes on below the belt, and our appetite goes into a receding mode, embarrassed that we’d even thought about it.
And yet, deep down, you know you think about it, all the time. It’s just not something that, thankfully, most people would like to share on Twitter. But from a medical point of view, we really are what we eat, even though no parallel connection has been established yet between thought and personality.
That’s why Gulp, Mary Roach‘s book on the human digestive system in all its warts and, well, more warts, is so illuminating. And also, why there’s reason to some cautiously feel good about research that points to a bacteria that may have been making people fat all along.

In the 1966 movie, a loose adaptation of a series written in the 19th century by Jules Verne, former Bond girl Rachel Welch leads a team of miniaturized scientists who are injected into a man’s carotid artery to destroy a blood clot in his brain. Of course, if they’d fail, the entire world would end.
It was one of the first cinematic incursions into what was known then about the insides of the body, but mercifully, they stayed clear from digging too deep or going down under. Also, because Isaac Asimov wrote a novelization of the movie’s screenplay, published right (more)
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* We’re Not Alone
* Lies & Weight
* The Long Good Friday


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Curtain Raiser

Regulations Went Up in Smoke, Colltalers

As the attempt coup in Venezuela has all but fizzled, its main instigator, the U.S., is scaring the world with disturbing threats of military action if things don’t go its way. Ironic how America went so quickly, from ‘world’s police’ to deranged wounded beast.
A couple of troubling decisions by U.S. agencies will also have a global impact: the approval for Bayer-Monsanto’s herb killer Roundup, banned by the European Union, and Phillip Morris’ iQOS dry tobacco vaporizer, both proven carcinogenic products.
A presidential election in Panama, even with the Venezuelan crisis on the background, is unlikely to move the needle either way; climate change and start of Ramadan usher us into the new week. Plus the return of Halley’s Comet, and we’re off to the races.
Which, in the case of Venezuela, most Latinos hope to be aborted. Despite support to the coup against Maduro, from Brazil, Colombia, even Panama itself, and others, – happy to oblige to war delusions of U.S. V.P. Mike Pence, State Sec. Mike Pompeo, Security Adviser John Bolton, and special envoy Elliott Abrahams – Venezuelan democracy will see the light of another day.
As the foursome have all been accused of xenophobia, corruption, torture, solely or combined, and profess the ‘my-way-or-the-highway,-or-at-least-the-Trump’s-way’ brand of diplomacy, they’ll get some of what they want, or may be oust by their sponsor. Either way, Venezuelans, in particular, Latino Americans em general, or world citizens as a whole may brace for a possible hit.
The biggest news, though, is and will remain being, climate change, or lack of action to counter its catastrophic effects there-of.
Mozambique, which haven’t even recovered from Cyclone Idaí, six weeks ago, was battered again, by an even bigger storm, Kenneth, the most powerful to ever hit the country. It exponentially boost Mozambican misery, while showing us why there’s no coming back from such disasters, no matter where you live, Continue reading

Nasty People

From Theophrastus to Tyrants & 
Killers, Bad Guys Never Thank Us

On Liberation Day, some Italians chose to praise Mussolini, rather than 74 years without Fascism. It was on those heady days that Eva Braun married and commit suicide with her mentor, Hitler. Even serial killer Ted Bundy had a wife who bored him a child. So what gives?
In ‘Characters,’ Aristotle’s disciple Tyrtamus reveals the appeal of toxic, narcissistic personalities. Although none is a murderer, they and their modern versions are still despicable to most of us. Yet, some long to marry them. Or make them president.
Many ways may frame this line of questioning. One is to explain it with allusions to our thirsty for power, and blood. Another is down the hall, at the corner office, where it says,’Psychology.’ Skip ‘love,’ ‘Masochism,’ and ‘bad luck,’ and pick an inconvenient one: us.
See, none of those monsters would’ve existed if they were not needed. Nature use predators for dirty jobs. Bullies may arguably serve to sharpen our defenses. Nasty people sit at the edge of what’s morally acceptable, and challenge the pious to break the mold. Some do.
Now, humans are given this precious little gift, free will, supposedly to help everyone find their bearings in the great bal masqué of life. There’s much colliding on that dance floor, plenty of jockeying for a better share of the pie, or bite on the carrion.
To become a prey, though, is rarely a choice, and history is littered with doomed attempts to escape the fangs of fate, ready to chew up the juicy meek with a final blow. One the other hand, if the music stops, there’s no need to be a nimble dancer and exit left. Quickly.

In the underworld of repulsive news, psychopaths and bottom feeders are always on the move. Take ‘Pharma bro’ Martin Shkreli, who’s a convicted felon, but not for his most disgusting deed, getting rich while overcharging a vital drug. To the law, securities fraud is worst.
Apparently, he was at it again this week, running a scheme from behind bars. He is unlikely to have the company of any member of the Sackler family, who made billions by selling a drug linked to thousands of deaths by overdose. Unless, of course, they defraud some rich dudes.
And yet one can be almost sure these people have ‘loved ones,’ (more)
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* Out to Get You
* Head & Tails
* Forget Me Not

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Curtain Raiser

Turn Back the Right Tide, Colltalers

Unemployment; corruption; politics. These are priorities to most of the estimated 30-million-plus Spaniards who voted yesterday for a new Spanish parliament. But to the media, it’s Catalonia’s aim to split up from Spain, along immigration, what tops that list.
Meanwhile, the brutal assassination of Northern Ireland journalist Lyra McKee, on the 18th, wound up shaking the foundations of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. The Brexit fiasco notwithstanding, however, Protestants and Catholics must resume talks.
The rise of Vox, Spain’s far right party, will strengthen forces contrary to social equality and political autonomy in Europe, but that’s not this week’s most despondent endorsement of Steve Bannon’s international playbook. Italy ran away with the prize: on the 74th anniversary of Liberation Day, last Thursday, it was dictator Benito Mussolini’s name what was invoked with… pride!
Bannon, the most visible global reactionary since his woeful tenure delivering Trump to the White House, – or political hacks who eagerly emulate his tactics – keeps pushing all the red buttons of hate and intolerance, either in Europe or South America.
A lot of Americans got transfixed with two issues, this waning end of April: the massive body count of entertainment franchises The Avengers, and Game of Thrones, and Beyoncé’s latest chart-breaking CD-film combo. Others had something else in mind.
Has the Robert Mueller Report’s failure to paint a clear picture of the U.S. president’s malfeasances got him reelected next year?
As Trump openly challenges Congress’ authority to subpoena him, or key figures of his organization, naturally counting on a biased Supreme Court to back him up if needed, many wonder if he’ll now act, rather than just speak, as if he’s above the law.
He sure seems ready to do just as such. In over two years, he’s destroyed U.S.’s credibility in a vast array of issues the world’s entrusted to America, from leadership against climate change, to defense of civil rights, free press, and fair immigration Continue reading

Mutants & Chimaeras

Three Man-Made Freaks
& One Beauty All Her Own

To be riveting, a view of the future has to be unsettling, unfamiliar, disturbing even. The whole sci-fi genre is built upon fears of the unexpected, the threat of chaos taking over natural order. In fact, it should first get rid of concepts such as natural and order altogether.
It’s a completely different animal when that extends to our world, and it affects, well, animals. Uneasy when it’s warm in winter? check. Nervous with melting glaciers? check. But have you seen a two-headed snake lately? An odd butterfly? What about a human-milk producing goat?
And the worst part of it all is, we did that. Our so proud species, capable of writing symphonies or reaching for the moon, can also act ever so casually towards that same natural world that was around billions of years before us. And treat Earth as our landfill.
It gets personal when we’re talking about living, breathing, beautiful beings, of course. For the record, though, we’re no prudes; nature has been creating oddities since forever, and to consider it ‘gentle’ is a fatal, wishy-washy mistake, often deservedly punishable by death.
But exactly because we claim to be a step higher of the brutal and uncontrollable forces of the wild, it’s also our responsibility to own up our flaws. For every once in a while, the unpredictable tops itself and produces a creature of rare beauty, even if it may frighten us a bit.

You may say that all animals are routinely harmed in ways our civilization considers acceptable: though the condition that produces a two-face specimen has been around since ancient times, but it seems to be increasingly linked to chemical pollution. The odd butterflies were found around Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plants. And genetic engineering is behind the goats with human milk.
Scary, isn’t it? What man has joined, nature is powerless to put asunder, wrote Aldous Huxley in his 1931 nightmarish, but no longer that far from the present, view of the future. Brave New World may have anticipated out thirst for cellphones, and social media, and gadgets to tell us what to do next, even without mentioning it. Our very best wishes usually lead us to committed misguided deeds.

Surviving on this planet have been always complex, but for as long as natural resources seemed unlimited, we’ve managed it. We’re too many now, though, and such a demographics explosion is virtually intractable. Thus at times, we cheat a bit, just to catch our breath.
Consider hunger: we produce more food than ever before, and yet, many still go to sleep hungry or die of starvation. Science does its part the only way it knows: by trial and painstakingly error, experimenting with this and attempting to use that. But since food is also a big, multi-billion business, so not every side is playing by the rules.
It’s in this vacuum that corporations seize research, and rush to market unproven technologies. After all, there are profits to be made. Genetic manipulation may hold the key to create super crops, able (more)
Read Also:
* Finger Picking
* Nuking the Future
* X-Rated Fruit

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Curtain Raiser

Short-Changing the Earth, Colltalers

Many question having a date to focus on the environment, giving the catastrophic state of the planet, and world leaders’ lack of action on the climate crisis. But a year short of its half-century mark, let’s use the day to demand change, not simply dismiss it.
Specially as we remembered last Saturday, nine years of the worst oil spill in history, the BP-run Gulf of Mexico rig disaster, and the Columbine High School massacre, 20 years before. Sadly, there’s still no real good news about neither of those tragedies.
On that note, Easter started horrifically for Sri Lanka, with multiple terrorist attacks that murdered almost 300 people. Some fear the 3.000-year-old nation, and oldest Asian democracy, may be too vulnerable to politically and religiously-driven bloodshed.
The attacks may be out of some deranged jealousy, others insist, over the global outpouring of support to Catholics, following last Monday’s fire at 800-year-plus Notre Dame Cathedral, in Paris. But terrorism doesn’t have religion, so what’s their point?
In other, seemingly lighter, news, Volodymyr Zelensky, who plays the president of Ukraine on a TV sitcom, just won the election to become the real thing. To supporters, he’s a fresh start, even without expressing his take on any of the country’s hairier issues, such as Russia, and civil liberties. But they sure hope that the comedian is aware that being a president is no laughing matter.
Back in the not so old U.S., Trump, the president who plays a con-artist in real life, seems to have beaten yet another attempt to expose his misdeeds. The Mueller Report, for all its scope and solid investigative approach, has so far not fulfilled its purpose. Even as a fact-full road map to restore truth and dignity to the office of the presidency, a thousand redactions notwithstanding, it didn’t pack enough punch to knock common sense into his political basis, or boost hopes for a new president coming 2020.
Around this time for two decades, we’ve been forced to go back to a terrible Tuesday when two teenagers killed 13 of their mates and school staff, in what was then, history’s worst school mass shooting. Hardly we knew then that Columbine wouldn’t be the worst for long. Not just many more, and deadlier, followed it, but its bottomless grief hasn’t moved congress to pass laws to prevent new ones. Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Tyranny Hates Journalists, Colltalers

The disturbing sight of Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange being dragged out of the Ecuador embassy in London by the British police, last week, sent shock waves through the dwindling democracies around the world. This time, it was him; the next, us?
But democracy isn’t done yet: 800 million Indians vote till May for a new government; 190 million Indonesians choose theirs on Wednesday; and Finland already has a new, leftist, Parliament. Sadly, Democrats in the U.S. Congress haven’t got it together yet.
In 2018, more than 250 journalists were imprisoned, half of them in China, Turkey, and Egypt, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Worse, 53 got murdered, including Saudi Arabia’s Jamal Khashoggi, allegedly killed by his own government.
Like Assange, most of the persecuted is accused of, well, doing their job: uncovering inconvenient facts, cross-referencing them, protecting sources, and reporting about the front lines of the fight between institutional oppression, and those who oppose it.
The arrest, a U.K. gift to the U.S., culminated a truculent campaign to dislodge the Australian activist, and jail him over the 2010 leak of a large but ultimately tame trove of cables exchanged by American officials. Although he may be charged as a hacker, a technicality, the aim is clear: to silence dissent. A shocking difference this time, though, is having the U.S. as leading prosecutor.
To be sure, the British have played a less than dignified role in all this. And so has, arguably, Sweden, set to reopen rape charges against Assange. A shameless, misleading establishment media has also been a factor, as has his own, flawed, moral compass.
Nothing justifies, though, going after a publisher whose revelations showed what a powerful government feels entitled to do, when its people are not looking. The case also produced one conscientious hero, Chelsea Manning, who leaked the cables Continue reading

Floating Enigmas

That Time a Ghost Ship, Adrift at
Sea, Carried a Crew of Cannibal Rats

Most eerie accounts of ships lost or found abandoned, without a shadow of life aboard, fuel nightmares and horror tales. Take the Mary Celeste, for instance, whose missing crew left all possessions and jumped out of her in a hurry, on a clear night in 1872.
The Lyubov Orlova cruiser, though, belongs to another category of fright: the life left behind is not human but feral. Rodents with sharp teeth run around breeding and eating each other. As they carry on their blood bath, the ship drifts towards the North Atlantic.
The Russian-made vessel is only the latest to be cast adrift, but unlike memorable cases in the past, the fate of her last crew is well known: unpaid by the owners, they all left her at a Canadian harbor, where she remained until she broke lose during a storm.
Penniless and prosaic, or lucky as some would put it, the fate of the Lyubov Orlova crew diverges from accounts of many a ghost ship, found empty, or lost forever and possibly sunk. At least they lived to hopefully find new employment, or another line of business.
Those who manned other legendary ships, however, were never to be seen again. Besides the Mary Celeste, there’s the Caroll A. Derring, with its 1921 swashbuckling tale of pirates and the Bermuda Triangle, and the Zebrina, found empty in 1917, with likely hints that the war had come on board.
But just before we lose perspective, the worst possible nightmarish scenarios notwithstanding, nothing at sea can be more terrifying than a shipwreck, both for its potential for unredeeming loss and ability to strike fear into the hearts of sailing souls. Neither has any ship disappeared with a large crew so far. Knock on wood.
And no nautical tragedy encapsulates a higher confluence of fears associated with high seas than the wreck of the Essex in 1820, with its horrific tale of a giant whale hitting it twice, and survivors resorting to cannibalism. The episode inspired at least one masterpiece, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, published 30 years later.

Giving its primordial existence, though, the vastness of the bodies of water that interconnect and divide our receding lands do instil an inordinate amount of irrational fears and spikes in our fright bones, in diametrically ways that terra firma represents hope and redemption when it’s finally within reach.
Thalassophobia is, in fact, one of the arguably most primeval fears for humans, more intense than even the fear of heights. For our inadequate bodies, not made to soar above the clouds or breathe underwater, can still better avoid the former, whereas to drown, one Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Israel & the Plastic Quagmire, Colltalers

In the 1960s, it seemed like a good idea: plastic bags to carry stuff. And to pack, ship, roll into a straw, and wrap food and drinks. It was hygienic, versatile, and eternal. A brave new world miracle. Now it’s what it’s stuffing to death the stomachs of whales.
The global right wing wave hijacking democracies, and promoting a populism of oppression, has a major date tomorrow, with the Israeli elections. A win by prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu may dash for good the Palestinians’ dream of a homeland.
Reversing the impact of our toxic lifestyle on the environment, and preventing the expansion of authoritarian regimes, are in fact related issues. For it’s unlikely that a government used to annex territories by force, would also protect its people from pollution and climate change. Netanyahu, who’s played masterfully the ‘fear-your-neighbor’ trump card, has no time for such ‘distractions.’
The demise of the long fought-for two-state solution, sabotaged by everyone but the almost two million living in Gaza strip, has opened the doors for an exceptionally bleak time for Israeli-Palestinian relations. If before, peace negotiations stalled on minutia, but were still on, now, bullets aimed at the protesters’ limbs, and the occasional bomb from beyond the walls, are doing the talk.
For a time, a young, urban generation of Israelis, and their stated foes, Iranians, fed up with the fear of terrorism and external aggression, had represented the world’s biggest hope to a less militarized, more commonwealth-like Middle East. That, and the international pressure for peace in the region. After all, citizens of both nations have been equally victimized by the status quo.
Those hopes began to fade by a spectacular string of bad decisions taken in the past 20 years by the U.S. and its allies, starting by the invasion and destruction on false premises of Iraq. Rhetoric by George W. Bush and his war-mongering cabinet have Continue reading

Traveling Companions

Birds Down Your Pants
& the Frozen Armadillo

Don’t ask us why, but people have been stuffing all sorts of small animals down their pants for years now. They get caught all the time with hairy spiders, rare scorpions, slithering snakes, even live lobsters moving down their legs. Not even airport screeners want to know why.
Some kind of genetic freak calling the shots on this one, that’s what we say. But when they start beating each other up with frozen armadillos, well, that’s when we step in and draw the line, for crying out loud.
So smugglers do that for a living. Low-lifes. Two-time crooks do it on a dare, or for dope money. So what? Even if these bottom feeders show more nerve than noodles, we’re not about to give them a free pass for making their business to traffic on the defenseless.
It doesn’t matter that these critters fetch a lot of dough in the black market, i.e., people even worse than, well. There’s never shortage of grifters out for a quick buck. What gets to us, though, is when it’s personal and, rather than throwing iPhones, as any past-their-prime supermodels would, they toss a pet at their foes.
That really gets our blood boiling. Ok, so it was not a pet, it was an armadillo, and it was frozen, and no one we know raises one of them as a pet, although they might. Still.
So this Texas woman planned to dine on an armadillo’s carcass some guy just happened to be selling out of the back of his car. One should never trust a story that starts with that kind of intro, by the way.
Apparently, she didn’t know or care that you’re not supposed to sell these endangered animals anywhere in the U.S. Actually, to be perfectly truthful, you can sell and buy them, but not live ones or them whole, you got that? Soup, anyone?
Again, as we said, do you really think she cared? Anyway, an argument over the price ensued right there, at the busy parking lot the man had turned into his private marketplace. They disagreed, their voices were raised and, Kaboom!, and then, Kaboom! again.
The police said the man hit the woman twice with the frozen mammal, a species with more about it than meets an untrained eye. Apparently, after all these years, he’s still on the run.

In one of those completely unrelated news about the same animal, it turns out that armadillos are very well endowed. How well? The male organ is two thirds its length, that’s how well. But since we’re down this path anyway, they’re nowhere near barnacles.
The hermaphrodite sea creature is so well hung that it doesn’t even need to move to mate: ‘it’ can be 10 times the length of its body. That’s convenient, because they’s spend their entire lives attached to a rock. Unless of course, they’re found wrapping a Citi Bike.
Besides, being hermaphrodites and all, they really can self-reproduce, so we have no idea why nature even bothered giving them such a ‘reach.’ There, now you know more than you ever wanted to about barnacles. How come we’re talking about barnacles now?

As we were saying, people are used to carry all sorts of scary things in their pants. Take this Alberta man, for example. He was caught trying to cross the U.S. border into Canada with a loaded handgun in his pants and tarantulas, snakes and scorpions in his truck.
Yes, it’s not completely to the point, but still. Want another one? What about Johan Adolfsson, a Swede traveling from Thailand to Australia, who was found to be carrying four king cobras and four (more)
Read Also:
* New Critters on the Block
* Bugs Dummy
* Crusty Catch

Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Climate Is No Fool’s Errand, Colltalers

Floods have taught us yet another practical lesson on climate change: they’ve drowned Mozambicans and Nebraskans this week, with equally destructive, and deadly force. But whereas big offender U.S. denies the evidence, hard hit Africa is busy fighting it.
Speaking of fighting Americans, women have led the charge for change relevant to the poor and our future, even before another rich white male moved in to the White House. But what the Democratic Party wants to find? a new rich white male to beat him.
These two different situations have twin common denominators though: authoritarianism and ignorance, or some combination of the two. And so do three other issues to skim through before we get to them: measles, nukes for Saudis, and the Brazil of Bolsonaro.
For several millennia, mankind’s pace was marked by advances, both glacially slow and lightning fast; trouble came mostly from the unknown and unpredictable natural world. Periodically, evolution selected an entire species to be extinct, and haven’t you heard? dinosaurs were thriving 65 million years ago. Now, we find ourselves fighting old and revived, man made, woes. Again.
When conspiracy theorists rage against mass vaccination, they’re re-staging battles waged a century ago. Outbreaks of measles and other infectious diseases are flare-ups of the obscurantism of past ages. Except that they can still kill people. Naturally, such outbreaks fester first in close-knit, reactionary communities, such as the ultra-Orthodox Jewish ones, in N.Y. Rockland County.
Nuclear power, of course, can also kill people, even end civilization. Now put this power in the hands of extraordinarily wealthy authoritarian rulers, and the risk for annihilation of mankind, and global scale destruction, just got multiplied a few times more.
That’s arguably what happened, as the Trump administration has unwisely allowed U.S. companies to sell nuclear technology and know-how to Saudi Arabia’s murderous regime. Despite denials, few have any doubts about what all that will be used for.
And the third issue, related to ignorance and authoritarianism, comes from Brazil. Sunday was the sad 55th anniversary of the military coup that overtook the nation for 20-plus years. But while millions of Brazilians wore black to denounce the date, far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, an ex-captain ousted from the Army who routinely praises torturers, wanted to celebrate it.
Even as his plan was shot down by a judge, Continue reading