Curtain Raisers

Hail the Earth Protectors, Colltalers

China’s push for what it calls “reunification” is keeping Taiwan up at night, but whatever happens there has the potential to drag the U.S. and the world into an unthinkable conflict. To avert it, only some high-level diplomacy, the kind an underfunded and overpowered U.N. sadly can no longer handle.
Low-turnout parliamentary elections in Iraq and the Czech Republic, where far-right P.M. Andrej Babiš lost his re-election bid, brought no surprises. The Supreme Court’s hearing the first Guantanamo case brought to U.S. soil: Abu Zubaydah, who spent 19 years in the infamous jail without a charge.
We start in Lebanon, where power was finally restored after a 24-hour nationwide blackout. After weeks of providing only a few hours of electricity each day, the power grid was shut down Saturday, as the country’s two main power plants ran out of fuel. Army reserves were used to restart the grid.
In Afghanistan, an Islamic State suicide bomber killed 46 Shiite Muslims in a mosque. Daesh accuses the Taliban of abiding by a request by China to expel Uyghers out of the country. But to Afghans caught in the crosshairs, what comes out of these attacks is always death and heartbreaking despair.
In Gaza, farmers and traders held a rally at Karm Abu Salem crossing, the only one for import and export, as Israel’s constant shutdowns threaten the economy. Palestinians depend on Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Keep the Pressure On, Colltalers

Thousands in the U.S. took the streets to defend women’s reproductive rights. Crowds were also loud in Milan, Italy, where youth activists marched ahead of the U.N. Climate Change summit starting on Oct. 31, and massive across Brazil, protesting President Bolsonaro’s anti-environment policies.
The week’s heartbreak was the totally predictable delisting of 23 species from the endangered status because they’re all but extinct. And of course, the devastation of Covid as 700,000 Americans perished from the virus, and much of the world still remains unvaccinated. But tiny Mercury is rising.
Let’s start with Venezuela which has cut six zeroes of the bolivar so to fight the year-on-year inflation of 1,743%. OPEC’s only Latin American nation member has been battling severe economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. in the past that the Biden administration doesn’t seem too keen on lifting.
Texas, not known for sensible environmental regulations, is now halting new permits for wastewater injection wells, a destructive procedure used in fracking. The relatively surprising decision by the state’s regulator comes after a wave of earthquakes were linked to the practice. Colorado, Oklahoma, and Delaware have also reported fracking-caused quakes recently. By the way, banning fracking was once one of President Biden’s campaign promises.
In Australia, the Eastern Kuku Yalanji people will take ownership of the world heritage-listed Daintree tropical rainforest, Continue reading

Curtain Raisers

The World as We Object it, Colltalers

Angela Merkel ends her 16-year term as German Chancellor just as Europe is left out of a U.S.-U.K.-Australia alliance to build nuclear submarines. But she did restore Germany to the top of the global heap, successfully navigated Brexit, and outclassed France as an interlocutor for western nations.
As the Taliban revives its barbaric repression of women and sexual minorities and hangs alleged wrongdoers in public, the world slowly forgets and U.S. drones prolong the agony of those who can’t escape their fate. And with 70 million refusing vaccines, dead Americans are still leading Covid. Yay.
Let’s start with Del Rio, Texas, where disturbing pictures of mounted U.S. border patrol agents whipping Haitian men, women, and children have shocked the entire world. But not the president, apparently. In fact, the Biden administration actually increased and expedited the deportation of over 2,000 asylum seekers back to their nightmare at home, in frontal contradiction to his campaign promises to lead a more “humane” immigration policy.
Watching Black people again being corralled by armed guards was a painful reminder of a brutal time in America. The area, including the under-the-bridge space that up to last week had “sheltered” thousands of starving asylum seekers, is now clear. Perhaps it attracted too much attention of the wrong kind. But the moral stain of Continue reading

Texting George Kaplan

Highly Successful Habits
of Purely Made Up People

Most of us spend a lifetime struggling to be successful in at least one thing. The writer of this post, for example, after failing in almost everything he’s tried his clumsy hand at, has settled his sights on the promising world of accomplishments only a few dare to pursue.
The last we heard, he’s not doing too well. Apparently, turning off the light switch and landing on a bed before the room goes completely dark has its hazards. It seemed so simple, he told us, when Muhammad Ali revealed to a reporter that it was one of his nightly rituals.
As we talk, our humble scrivener still has at least a few hundred nights to get it done, before every bone of his body is fractured. We’ll keep you posted on that one. Now, where were we? Oh, that’s right, about lifetime achievements, or the lack of them. 
There are those who seem perfectly suited at imprinting their legacy on history books. Others go beyond that, and do it more than once. But none beats the kind of person that, besides all that, also manages to not exist at all. In fact, history records several of these characters.
Take George P. Burdell, for example, after whom the Georgia Institute of Technology named its Student Center after. According to the record, Burdell not just graduated from Georgia Tech, but flew 12 missions over Europe during World War II, served on MAD magazine’s Board of Directors for a dozen years, and in 2001 was almost named TIME magazine’s Person of the Year after garnering 57 percent of online votes. Not even Mozart worked this hard.
Despite his expected old age, he’s kept up with the new world and in touch with his over 4,000 Facebook “friends.” The only thing is, he doesn’t exist. No less distinctive-named William Edgar “Ed” Smith created him in 1927 by enrolling them both at Georgia Tech. For a laugh. In no time, Burdell’s life took off on its own and thrived, as he become one of the institute’s most distinguished legends.

There’s also Nat Tate, a fictional artist whose life existed only in the imagination of Scottish novelist William Boyd. All that it took him was to call Tate “an American artist” on a 1998 “biography” and keep a straight face. His hoax got some mileage from friends Gore Vidal and David Bowie, all in the joke.
Fiction impersonates reality better than life itself. Many lauded the new “artiste” just for the artifice of it. Maybe that was it. Or Boyd was bored and went for, well, a laugh. To cut mankind a break here, few appreciate a hoax when they’re pawns of it. But (more)

Read Also:
* Unanswerable Prayers
* Fools’ Errand
* Spellbound

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Curtain Raiser

Days Last as Long as Nights, Colltalers

It was tragic but not our last mistake in Afghanistan. The Pentagon’s admitted that the Aug. 29 drone strike killed 10 civilians, including seven children, and not an Islamic extremist as first claimed. In Washington, 650,000 white flags mark the now near 700 thousand Americans who have died of Covid.
France’s mad at being left out of a U.S. pact with Australia and the U.K., to build American-technology nuclear-powered submarines to counter China’s growing influence. President Macron’s recalled its ambassadors and will call Biden. And a pro-Kremlin party held its majority in Russia’s Parliament.
More on that later but let’s begin with El Salvador, which is celebrating its 200th anniversary, where protests erupted against far-right President Nayib Bukele after he declared bitcoin as the country’s legal tender. The move has been highly criticized as it’ll leave out millions of poor Salvadoreans who lack bank accounts or smartphones. To prove critics right, the volatile currency often used by criminals for money laundering, has already crashed.
In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterne will face a probe by the International Criminal Court at the Hague, for alleged crimes committed during his brutal anti-drug traffic crackdown. Violent police raids he’s ordered may have killed over 6,000 mostly poor people, often without due process.
In Iran, undercover Israeli agents used a drone to assassinate top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh with a Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Beyond Toppling Statues, Colltalers

Most Americans and the world know by now that the U.S. won’t entirely retire from Afghanistan. New evidence also shows that its latest drone strike, loaded with the Pentagon’s new secret, bladed creepy-named Hellfire missile, may have killed 10 members of a family by an all-too-common mistake.
Led by Indigenous women, thousands have taken to the streets in Brazil to protest President Bolsonaro’s anti-native policies, as the Supreme Court reviews a 1988 landmark land-demarcation law. And it’s been a decade since Occupy Wall Street first posed a challenge to capitalism’s Holy Grail.
Let’s get going in upstate New York, where an uprising at the Attica Correctional Facility 50 years ago led to the killing of 29 inmates and 10 hostages by National Guards and the police sent by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller. The Sept. 9 massacre of American prisoners lasted four days and led to few prison reforms. Half a century later, though, overcrowding, racism, violence, poor health care, and miscarriages of justice still plague the U.S. jail system.
In the unfiltered virtual world, human misery is profitable. Take the uproar over the trading of human bones that now thrives on Instagram, Facebook, eBay, Etsy, TikTok, and other social media. Mapping “the contours of the human remains trade,” History professors Shawn Graham and Damien Huffer see “the powerful collecting the powerless.” Which means, Brown, Black, and Indigenous bodies are the most sought after.
“We shouldn’t need a law explicitly declaring, No one can own dead people,” they write. Yet demand by “collectors” matches that coming from med schools and if private graves or sacred Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

We’ve Got to Make it Better, Colltalers

Over a week since Hurricane Ida wreaked havoc, New Orleans remains in the dark. Help to those stranded by torrential rain and flood may arrive but only after every refinery is back online. It’s the usual special treat granted to a local fossil-fuel industry that is making hurricanes worse, to begin with.
But the week’s biggest storm is over Texas’ decision to ban most abortions, its likely opening salvo to cancel womens’ reproductive rights in America. Women groups and their allies will be marching to prevent it. And two decades since the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, the world’s become a scarier place.
Let’s begin in the U.S. where Covid cases are climbing again after near 700,000 Americans have already died from it, the most in the world. As vaccine rollouts continue to be dictated by the big labs that make them, health justice advocates say that there’s a shortage of two billion doses worldwide, with some nations having none to immunize their people. Wealthy countries are stockpiling doses and plan booster shots while emerging ones are left short.
The U.N.-led efforts to have Western powers engage in the battle to lift pattern restrictions the labs control have been all but ineffective. And then, of course, there are the anti-vaxxers which, despite being driven by conspiracy and paranoia, have now global platforms to spread misinformation. Such combo has been lethal to Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

The Calamities & the Dream, Colltalers

With the precision of well-timed tragedies, Hurricane Ida’s hit New Orleans just about 15 years since Katrina had done the same. Will the levees hold? In Afghanistan, it looks like more U.S. troops than we were told will stay on even as a resurgent ISIS wants to take over the fight against the Taliban.
Covid has become the pandemic that came to stay, as cases rise worldwide, dozens of countries still haven’t got vaccines, and an influential minority continues to scare the unvaccinated. And Brazilians worry President Bolsonaro plans a Trump Jan. 6-style rampage on Sept 7, Brazil’s national day.
Let’s start with a local irony about penalizing 7.5 million Americans who lost their jobs because of the coronavirus: the “Emergency Unemployment Program” is set to expire on Labor Day! Another sign that this business-created fake holiday has nothing to do with the First of May celebrated all over the world but here. The irony is even crueler as the economy is far from firing on all cylinders and, wouldn’t they know it? Covid is getting stronger.
It’s also a sign that U.S. labor policies are fully dictated by corporate needs. And for that, they can always count on the invaluable help of the Supreme Court, which has just overturned a moratorium on evictions. For unless their goal was to increase the number of unhoused people living in the streets, itself a record now, or to make it particularly harder for them to get a new job, it’s a case for asking, what do they mean to accomplish with this ruling?
In Zimbabwe, Mapone, a 12-year-old lion was cowardly ambushed and executed by a “pleasure” hunter. Remember Cecil, killed with an arrow by a wealthy dentist in 2015 and left to agonize for 24 hours? It happened again. Nothing has changed: Zimbabwe Continue reading

Smothering Days

Glad to Miss the Scented
Candles & the Early Bird

Sundays ago, I’ve started but never finished reading an article about a retirement home, whose name I forgot, next to a cemetery in Queens, New York. Wouldn’t know the address even if I were to lay to rest there. Put aside the I article but not because it was numbingly sappy.
In its tightly wounded pinheadedness, it brought up a memory of my Mom to haunt me all over again. And she never spent a night in one of those depositories, or, bless her soul, went through her last years looking out the window facing the Long Island Expressway.
The post-war generation, emperors of the youth who lived lifetimes of celebration and spirited enthusiasm for the new age, is now living in senior facilities. And it’s quite likely that most of them, like me, are still not prepared to leave the world that no longer caters to them.
It takes a person some 30 years to complete the crossing to the other margin, to experience things from the opposite angle they did in their prime. And few enjoy the crash-landing, specially if they arrive there with only a small box of tiny joys, and a huge container of sorrows.
Some turn it into an occasion, expecting the fireworks that sent them off from the other side. But it takes just a few days of looking out that window, or expecting visitors, to strip anyone from vain notions that they still hold anything with any demand in the universe left behind.
They belong now to no guest lists, no attendance calls, no line up of performers warming up backstage. The far away noise of heartbeats is neither of their concern nor brings back the urge to join in the dance. No more nights without getting up to pee, or a full day without a nap.
The world is now a previous address, occupied by new tenants, and all maps leading back to it have been altered to reflect the new ways. An entire armada of desires was sank to make it to the other side, even the most alive among us drowned on the trip across. The crew that finally made it to final port had to be beaten up to disembark.
When you find yourself at that Tuesday Bingo, and most around you can’t remember who they are, is knowing your name really that important? Suddenly, your lifetime wish to be left alone is all you’ve got, and whatever they’re talking about, it’s sure as hell not about you.
People’s expiration date comes before their timely demise, and it’s supposed to be OK to file them in big concrete boxes at the border of city and burbs. Despoiled of their little nothings, deemed (more)
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* Freaky Friday
* Getting There

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Curtain Raiser

We Won’t Look Away, Colltalers

Heartbreaking scenes of Afghans desperate to leave with the Americans highlight 20 years of a brutal, wasteful, and ultimately useless war, our longest. As arms dealers revel in their business prospects, Biden hasn’t been quite up to speed but it’s what he decides to do now that may make a difference.
Meanwhile, wildfires continue undeterred in California. Their cause, climate change, also endangers the survival of over a billion children worldwide due to water scarcity and vector-borne diseases, a study found. All in time to rain at Greenland’s highest point of its ice sheet for the first time ever.
Let’s start in Peru where President Pedro Castillo is struggling to form his cabinet, amid relentless opposition from the conservative media and far-right politicians. A political neophyte, Castillo ran into trouble when he named well-known progressive professor Héctor Bejar for Foreign Minister. But Bejar’s old statements criticizing the CIA came to light and the fallout was immediate. Castillo replaced him with Oscar Maurtua, a career diplomat.
In Gaza, the Israeli army opened fire Saturday at Palestinians protesting blockade restrictions and eviction raids in the occupied territories. The Naftali Bennet administration, which had blocked millions of dollars destined to needy families of an agreement with Egypt, Qatar, and the U.N., said it’ll lift some economic restrictions and allow the payments under a new arrangement. Some 24 Palestinians were shot and wounded, including a 13-year-old.
In France, the great Josephine Baker will be the first Black woman whose remains will rest at the Panthéon Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

No Time to Drift Apart, Colltalers

Hearts go out to Haiti where human resilience is being tested to the hilt. The earthquake was another punch in a devastating series of knockouts as the world’s mostly stood by. But now it has to step in big time. Meanwhile, our collective breaths are equally suspended with the impending fall of Kabul.
Rising Covid numbers in the U.S. and worldwide are kicking people out of their homes in record numbers. The Supreme Court will add some more with a ruling banning parts of an eviction moratorium. And the quest to free embattled Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has just suffered a new blow.
Let’s pick it up with the climate emergency which has just set July as the hottest month on Earth ever. Get to the highest temperature ever registered in Europe, 119.85F in Syracuse, Sicily. And on to the Agora Energiewende’s report foreseeing that Germany may hit this year its biggest greenhouse gas emissions since 1990. While you ruminate on what this all means, just notice that we haven’t even mentioned wildfires, floods, or hurricanes just yet.
On the same theme, a Dutch court has ordered Royal Dutch Shell to pay about $111.6 million to communities in Nigeria over crude oil spills in 1970, and once it does, it’ll potentially end a 13-year legal battle. Two claimant farmers have died while Shell spent the bigger part of half a century trying to deny liability for the Niger Delta’s pollution, but now “ran out of tricks and decided to come to terms,” said the communities’ lawyer Lucious Nwosa.
Since the alarming U.N.’s report on the state of climate change was released last week it became clearer how far we’re from achieving any of the goals set in Paris in 2015. Scientific evidence Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

There’s an Alarm Going Off, Colltalers

“Catastrophic.” Alok Sharma, U.K.’s minister for the next climate change conference, used an appropriate word for the U.N. report on raging wildfires going on around the world. But his personal footprint has been criticized. Another study found that the Atlantic’s Gulf Stream current may collapse.
The tragedy of a resurging Covid goes beyond another wave of casualties and continuous inequality in vaccine distribution. Ignorance is its biggest ally now; it’s too bad that the Biden administration continues to use it to refuse asylum to thousands fleeing from it. Speaking of ignorance, there’s Sturgis.
We start in Peru, where the 1-week-old government of Pedro Castillo is already under relentless pressure from conservatives. Media coverage has been mostly unfavorable to the former rural teacher, for either being too humble or too sympathetic to issues dear to the poor. In the week he planned to nominate his cabinet and announce reforms, the news was mostly about his left leanings and supposed plan for an alliance with Cuba and Venezuela.
The opposition has already organized rallies to call for Castillo’s removal and it’s clear that he won’t have many friends in the White House. But it’d be groundbreaking for the U.S., historically askew about Latin American politics, to support the new government and make new friendships in the region.
In Burma, Min Augh Hlaing, head of the military junta that seized power six months ago, is not even near the same kind of pressure to resign that Castillo is. In fact, he’s just named himself Prime Minister. Despite widespread condemnation and global calls Continue reading

The Space in Between

Silica, New York Hacks
& How to Sell Your Soul

Here’s for holding more than one thought at the time. It’s easy to overlook the many worlds one goes through and ignores in the course of a day. Or curses we allow ourselves to be trapped in. But fear not: others have been there and escaped. All it takes is an unbiased focus.
It’s hard to incorporate certain words into conversation, such as silica, let alone to add tips on how to make the best out of it. Or hacks to suggest out-of-towners. And while at it, souls be damned, but why not get the most out of a good, old-fashioned blood pact with the devil?
It’s all in a New York minute, as they used to say when a movie followed news at 11. You needed change to call and a camera to take a picture. In those deceivingly quaint times, time itself seemed to last longer. But if you could get a real-time glimpse of the past as it’s still happening, through some tech whatever device, you’d catch everybody running.
At some point, we all believed that the world got started when we were born. So hold that door behind you. We’ve just met but we still keep track of four or five hundred people whom we care about or can’t get rid of who give us bearings.
Pay a visit, greet the host, life starts once you get it where it comes from. It’s brief: linger much and it’ll land you on the other side. But while fools dwell on counting waves, the quick sells a self-help kit. Hence, the clues, quirks, and multiple slices of living in the big city.

Sometimes one can’t avoid using one of those detestable buzzwords like iconic, or hacking. But if there’s anything that gets very close to both is those little silica bags that come inside a new shoebox or latest gadget. You’d think they’re poisonous but you’d be dead wrong.
What they are is stuff that clogs our landfills. Good thing then that you can use them for drying you phone, after fishing it out of the toilet bowl. Or stick them into your smelly luggage (please, use another little bag for that). Handy for dissipating fog too, but from then on possible uses kind of make themselves scarce, as they say. Maybe.
Silica is also good at preserving old photos. Chances are, though, your favorites are already on the cloud, and the old ones got trashed by your ex. In any case, be creative and use those bags (more)
Read Also:
* Is It Raining Yet?
* Downtime
* Curb Your God

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Curtain Raiser

The Art of Teaching Change, Colltalers

The U.S. Dept. of Justice said Friday that Congress is entitled to (finally) see Donald Trump’s tax returns. That means hope to many but dread to those who’d rather not write ever again the ex-president’s name, and on the very first line. But for one real, perhaps last shot at justice, it’s definitely worthy.
Daniel Hale is another whistleblower to be sent to jail for exposing the U.S. military, this time its secretive killing drone program. Global heating has reached another critical measure, Big Pharma monopolies make Covid costlier, as if you didn’t know it, and Haiti’s former First Lady Martine speaks.
Let’s begin in Tunisia where concerns mount about President Kais Saied’s decision to seize control, fire Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, and suspend Parliament for 30 days. Opposition leaders have been arrested and public gatherings are banned but there’s been no unrest so far, according to the news. Saied’s told reporters that Tunisia’s still a democracy, the only one sprung out of the so-called Arab Spring, a decade ago. Time and Tunisians will tell.
In Guatemala, a national strike is demanding the resignation of President Alejandro Giammattei and other officials embroiled in corruption allegations. Indigenous communities are denouncing a dire economy and the administration’s mishandling of the pandemic, which has already killed 369.000 or roughly 2% Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

A Still Inconvenient Truth, Colltalers

Near 100 climate change-fueled wildfires are burning in the U.S., which means 1.5 million acres already burnt, and the worst national indexes of air pollution in decades. As Covid starts to rise again, it comes the inevitable realization: thanks to conspiracies, most cases now are of the unvaccinated.
Journalists’ smartphones have been routinely hacked by authoritarian regimes using the spyware Pegasus, a report found. A stunning revelation: thugs who rampaged through Capitol Hill on Jan. 6 were close to getting their hands on the U.S. nuclear codes. And N.Y. has banned child marriage. Bravo.
Let’s begin in Madagascar, the island-state where 400,000 may face famine according to the World Food Program, due to its worst drought in four decades. Unlike other places being affected by factors as natural as disasters or crop failures or man-made like local wars or politics, in the world’s second-largest island-country there’s no water, the land is covered by sand, and people have to eat raw cactus, wild leaves, and locusts to survive.
As Canada started uncovering thousands of unmarked graves of indigenous children “re-educated” by the Catholic Church over a century ago, the search got on to find such graves on American soil too. The U.S. ran boarding schools intended to “civilize the savage,” and during the 1920s nearly 83% of Native American school-age children were in attendance, according to the NYTimes. In both nations, many never returned to their families.
Catholic churches have been burned in Canada since the first discovery of the graves. To investigators, arson is the likely culprit for most fires, but to activists and indigenous rights advocates, Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

I Am Because You Are, Colltalers

As Haiti is set to bury assassinated President Jovenel Moïse while First Lady Martine, wounded in the attack, greets Haitians, the first 500K Covid shots arrived in the 11 million-plus nation. In Cuba, the westward island next door, dueling pro and anti-government rallies all call for a lift of U.S. sanctions.
The dream of a post-apartheid South Africa’s at risk for widespread unrest, looting, and killing of civilians, triggered by ex-President Zuma’s refusal to testify at a corruption probe. And in the front of new threats, humanity has just acquired a newer one: the Amazon Rainforest now emits more CO2 than it absorbs.
We begin with the virus that came to dine on us, Covid, and the one crucial reason for Haiti and other developing nations to have had almost no access to vaccines: Big Pharma’s monopoly over drug patents, many acquired after the drugs had been developed with taxpayer money. Activists did manage to sway President Biden to temporarily suspend patents so poor nations could develop their own therapies. But he couldn’t convince Angela Merkel.
The outgoing German Chancellor’s refusal “delivers a punishing blow to efforts to end the pandemic,” said Public Citizen’s Lori Wallach, as just one percent of people in low-income countries have received at least one jab. “Tens of millions of lives and livelihoods worldwide are left in peril.”
Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka, and Jadon Sancho are three exceptional football players who just helped England reach its first major final in years. They were also the target of a disgustingly racist campaign in social media after Italy beat them Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Hard Times to Keep the Faith, Colltalers

The brutal assassination of President Jovenel Moïse at his home jolted Haiti, a nation that has had its unfair share of tragedies in the past decade. The rise of cases in Africa has shown that Covid is very much alive and lethal, but it’s Brazil that’s getting closer to top the world in the number of fatalities.
In Peru, it’s been over a month since former teacher Pedro Castillo won the most votes for president but fraud claims brought up by his opponent, the daughter of a jailed ex-dictator, have prevented him from being sworn in. And the G20 bloc has agreed to take steps to curb low-tax havens. Maybe.
Let’s start in Hungary, whose Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has received the dubious honor of heading the “Press Freedom Predators,” a list compiled by Reporters Without Borders. He joins a notorious who-is-who among reactionary world leaders, from Kim Jong-Un to Rodrigo Duterte to of course Vladimir Putin, all too happy to brainwash citizens, persecute journalists and minorities, while arguably fattening their bellies and banking accounts.
“Thanks to political-economic maneuvers and the purchase of media companies by oligarchs close to ruling party Fidesz,” (the Magyar government) now controls 80% of the country’s media landscape, the organization reports. Surely many an American far-right would-be despot would love to be included in that list. In the meantime, the European Parliament has condemned “in the strongest possible terms” Hungary’s draconian anti-LGBT law.
Tensions are rising in Afghanistan’s borders as U.S. troops pull out and the Taliban steps in. Even though Iran and the Continue reading

Final Blast

Atlantis & the Last 
Flight of the Shuttles

In the end, it happened on schedule almost to the minute: despite the threatening weather, the last mission for the Space Shuttles began at 11:29am 10 years ago today. A record crowd witnessed the launch, aware that their children won’t get to see a show like that.
Four astronauts headed to the Space Station and when they came back 16 days later, it was all over: the Shuttle Program’s 135th mission, its 30-year history, and possibly NASA’s leading role in space exploration. Our hearts skipped a beat when that era drew to a close.
The future then pointed to what’s happening now: space is a mostly private and commercial enterprise, and a new toy for billionaires. Science now takes a backseat and the technology that made possible the reusable space buses is at least 50 years too old.
It’s been a long way since NASA’s glorious days. After getting us to the Moon, it seemed to have lost its plot. Public interest plunged, federal funds dried up, and criticism mounted for running expensive programs with little hard-science research breakthroughs to account for.
Not much more may be expected from corporations whose main goal may be to fly celebrities to sub-orbital hotels to engorge their bottom line. Still, routine maintenance flights to the ISS and the Hubble Space Telescope will be needed and NASA is the go-to for that.
Read Also:
* The Last Detour
* Enterprise
* Welcome Home

In this era of diminishing ambitions, grandstanding, and a general malaise that we are no longer the people who get to accomplish great things, a few sobering realities have already settled in. Among them is that we badly needed that dream then and that we badly need it now.
As the Shuttle Program ended after three decades fueling our collective imagination to fly ever higher, to dare above our limits, to seek what’s out there, we began a new, more humble journey through the far side of our starstruck dreams. It hasn’t been a happy ride.
It’ll take more than our usual drive to discover, reach out, and transcend. To go where no one has gone before we need to put down our smartphones. Otherwise, only the powerful and those they employ will ever blast off from the Earth as the shuttles did so many times.
But even if we decide to send only rich dopes, or robots, or drones, or mini-satellites, we’ll still need to put our heart into it, something a bit rare lately. Someone will need to dream of blasting into the Space Station but who’ll even don a spacesuit if they don’t know how worthwhile it is to take a shot?
To dream is a serious business and it almost never gives returns from the get go. We must find ways to inspire our kids to believe that it’s worth trying. Even if we, as far as reality and the space program are concerned, are officially giving it all up today.
(*) Originally published on July 8, 2011.

Curtain Raiser

Brace for a Season on Fire, Colltalers

The fossil-fuel industry is alive and well and may have swayed the Biden administration to drop climate emergency measures off the infrastructure bill, an investigation found. Dread creeps in throughout a scorched-earth Afghanistan as U.S. troops depart. But don’t count on private contractors for help.
Amidst massive rallies demanding President Bolsonaro’s impeachment, Brazil’s highest court ok’d a criminal probe on his role in a vaccine deal scam. The U.S.’s highest court though took yet another double-step towards destroying the Voting Act, as if there hasn’t been enough push to restrict voting.
But since today is “aphelion,” Earth’s farthest distance from the sun of the year, we begin with fire. As in the burning of the Amazon Rainforest which has reached a 14-year high in June, according to Brazil’s space research agency INPE. Researchers brace for the peak of the dry season, Aug. and Sept.
Fire as in the one that consumed an entire British Columbia town last week. “Our poor little town of Lytton is gone,” Edith Loring-Kuhanga wrote on FB. Fire like “molten lava” on the Gulf of Mexico waters, as an underwater gas pipeline controlled by Mexico’s Pemex burned for hours on Friday.
But despite record-breaking heatwaves and wildfires worldwide, media coverage continues to fail to mention the climate emergency as a cause. Either that or it’s downright not financially er motivated to report what it should. We get the brutal scenes, the body count, and then we cut to a commercial.
There’s another type of burning going on too: that of churches in Canada’s First Nations territories which may be arson. Continue reading

New York Bites

A Bridge For Sale, the Train
Savant & the Island’s Sheep

Self-confidence is the New York currency. That’s why stories about the city and its citizens are borderline hyperbolical, lest no one be accused of being meek. No wonder; with 27,000 people per square mile, one needs all the distinction they can muster. Even if involves tall tales.
At least eight million of them, paraphrasing the 1948 classic Naked City. Then as now, all are outstanding. Heard the one about selling the Brooklyn Bridge? Or the guy who went to prison for stealing the subway dozens of times? But fear not, the sheep are safely back to town.
Big Apple. The city that never sleeps. Top of the heap. New Yorkers are fed up with slogans, sobriquets, and movies about their home being destroyed. Specially since it’s now far from the lawless wasteland some still expect from it. Just don’t try to sell cat hair, of course.
But urban myths about sewer alligators, or rats the size of cats, die hard. And so does the belief that residents are rude – they’re not, ok? gotta a problem with that? – or getting rich just by mining the streets. The thing is, real New York stories are much better than these.
So, yes, you hear this place is the greatest of this and greatest of that, and self aggrandizing is a competitive sport. But you’d better back up what you say or you’ll get your behind kicked before you can say, trump. As for that orange sleazyball, don’t worry: we’re working on it.

Speaking of con men, and dealers who can’t close a deal, there’s a New Yorker who truly may’ve been the greatest of them all, or at least, one of the first of a long line of pretenders and liars: George C. Parker. Yes, he did “sell” the Brooklyn Bridge at the turn of the 19th century.
Not once, but twice a week, for 30 years. He was not the only one to try, but seemed to have beaten the competition. His scheme even inspired the Mae West‘s 1937 vehicle, Every Day’s a Holiday. By then, no fraudsters of that ilk were still alive, only their legacy.
Its present-day version may be the infamous Nigerian Prince Internet scam. But Wall Street has perfected it into an industry. The set up and the bill of goods may vary but some things are never missed: snake oil salesmanship and the gullibility of get-rich-quick believers.

Darius McCollum may be many things: impersonator, trespasser, lawbreaker. He also has Asperger’s syndrome, and his feats flared up New Yorkers’ imagination – hey, his train was always on time. But one place he does’t belong to: Rikers Island.
And yet, he’s spent half of his 56 years in prisons like that. His deed: invading the subway system and conducting the train, without working for MTA. Or missing a stop. He did that many times since he was 15, and also tried his able hands on LIRR trains and a Greyhound bus.
Many believed he should’ve gotten the job that’d have saved him. Instead, every one seems to want to lock him up either in a mental institution or in prison, as the agency with a  spotty record running NYC underground trains would prefer. As with most (more)

Read Also:
* Play Dough
* A Tale of Twin Cities
* Sour Apples
Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

The 3,000 Empty Chairs, Colltalers

It’s 118° degrees in Siberia. There’s a record drought in the U.S. Major Asian cities are actually sinking. But new funds for the climate emergency are not the first priority for the world’s richest, arguably most pollutant nation. Unlike defense: apparently, Iraq and Syria needed to be bombed this week.
Reaction to the sentencing of the murderer of George Floyd was restrained as there’s hope his enablers may also face justice. A government report on UFOs caused little shock. But there was heartbreak in Canada with the discovery of more bodies of indigenous children buried in unmarked graves.
We start with the assassination of Saudi-born Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi three yeast ago this October, likely by agents of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. As it turned out, they’d received paramilitary training in the U.S. in 2017 under a State Department-approved contract. To many, Khashoggi’s grisly murder will remain unpunished for as long as the Biden administration keeps selling weapons to the authoritarian regime.
Speaking of guns, parents of a student killed in the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School put together the prank of the year: they had a former NRA president give a graduation speech in front of 3,044 empty white chairs – one chair for each student who won’t graduate this year because they were killed Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Turn Rebellion Into Law, Colltalers

Juneteenth, now a national holiday, is a step further in the current reckoning of the Black experience in America. After massive street rallies of recent years, it’s the recovery of yet another fragment of memory and history to make us all whole. But pro-racial rights aren’t as easy to pass as jubilee dates.
It’s been two weeks since Pedro Castillo won most presidential votes in Peru but no swear-in ceremony yet. Rival Fujimori, daughter of the jailed ex-dictator, won’t concede. And now, the military is saying something. No surprises in Iran, though: new president Ebrahim Raisi is an Ayatollah favorite.
Let’s start with what it’s been already off most headlines: Israel’s bombing of Gaza, breaking the ceasefire yet again, and the deafening silent reaction from the world. That means, Palestinians either being evicted in occupied territories or rebuilding their destroyed open-prison land, have few friends in high places these days. As President Biden refuses to act, it’d be up to the leadership of U.S. Jewish groups to step up to the plate and do the right thing.
In Yemen, scores were killed as Iran-supported Huthi rebels fight government forces and Saudi Arabia’s U.S.-supplied warplanes for control of Marib and, what else? its surrounding oil fields. As it enters its seventh year of virtual Saudi occupation, and the worst humanitarian crisis of modern times, Yemen is Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

The Truth Is No Safe Haven, Colltalers

After 12 years, Benjamin Netanyahu is no longer Israel’s Prime Minister. Successor Naftali Bennett has a similar mindset about the Palestinians, but there may be an opening for a reset in the region. The G7 just ended another purpose-free meeting by both ignoring Israel and the climate emergency.
Atmospheric carbon dioxide just hit its highest level in four million years as the U.S. braces for a record-setting drought. Don’t count on the Supreme Court though: it’s busy ruling on vote restrictions. Or the rich, having fun with tax-free rockets. But do count on Darnella Frazier to make us humans.
We start with two letters: one, an open “Letter Against Apartheid” signed by 1,600+ international artists, expresses solidarity with Palestinians and their plight for decolonization. The other is by a group of House Democrats to Attorney General Merrick Garland about the role the Justice Department may have played on Brazil’s Lava Jato, or Operation Car Wash, an anti-corruption probe that proved itself corrupted. We will be posting all replies here.
In Peru, almost all votes have been tallied from the presidential election a week ago but no winner has been declared yet. Rural teacher Pedro Castillo seems to have won and there are concerns about whether the delay is being somehow orchestrated by the powerful forces his leftist coalition defeated.
“Do not come,” Vice President Kamala Harris said in Guatemala, making immigration activists cringe and triggering protests in Mexico. In her first foray into foreign policy, the VP has displayed an embarrassing ignorance about international treaties that the U.S. is a signatory, including the right to request asylum. She also made no mention or acknowledged our historical role in the political Continue reading

The Saddest Song

The Loneliest Whale in the
Ocean Can’t Find Her Mate

Her voice was first heard in 1989. Oceanographers have been following her songs for two decades. It all indicates that she’s a baleen whale, a subspecies that includes the great Blue, the Fin and the Humpback whales. But there’s something very sad about this creature.
Unlike any other in the ocean, she (or he, no one knows its gender) sings at a 51.75Hz frequency, way above the 12 to 25Hz range of every other whale. It’s a frequency her kind can’t hear and as she ages, her songs are getting lower and lower in pitch too.
A study in 2004 determined that the sounds come from a single animal whose movements “appear to be unrelated to the presence of other whale species.” In other words, she’s always alone and even the migration paths that she follows year after year are unique.
And yet she sings. Her elaborate songs come in groups of two to six calls, lasting for five to six seconds each. But it’s unlikely that this whale will ever mate, which is tragic since cetaceans have such a rich and complex social life.
Some insist that there must be something wrong with this whale, called 52 Hertz, in the cold, unsentimental jargon spoken by most scientists. Others blame sound pollution of the oceans, for many, the main reason why large groups of marine mammals beach themselves to death.
In our flawed taste for anthropomorphizing animal behavior, we just feel for this creature, however misplaced the sentiment may be. Of course, we imagine ourselves out there, in the vast ocean with no one
Read Also:
* Floating Enigmas
* Great White Cafe
* Beneath the Waves

to love, talk to, play with, and we feel like crying. Really.
Which would be completely silly and self serving. Still we hope, without any basis on reality, that things are not that bad for this individual who, if life runs its course, still has at least some 20 years left of solitude.
We should always be careful when observing non-human species, though. The sheer brain size of whales, for example, may not add any rationality to their world but certainly gives pause to those quick (and shallow) assumptions about animals.
In terms of species, no other is more solitary than ours. We can’t even imagine a different world without using some hard-wired empathy mechanisms to analyze it. So here’s to the sad songs of an unique marine creature and to the even sadder state of the human condition.

* Originally published in March 2011.

Curtain Raiser

Our Desire For Retribution, Colltalers

Presidential and mid-term elections in Peru and Mexico – one a final round with a leftist frontrunner and the other marked by staggering violence – may finally force the Biden administration to come up with new ideas about Latin America. Or it could just tell us everything it knows about UFOs instead.
Gun ownership has grown in the U.S. but a California judge thinks there’re not enough assault rifles out there. Also senseless are China’s efforts to curb Hong Kong again by suppressing its vigils for the Tiananmen Massacre’s anniversary. And a high-school valedictorian schooled Texas’ abortion limits.
Let’s start in Cali, Colombia, where the police killed five people in ongoing protests against President Iván Duque’s neoliberal policies. After over a month of turmoil and violent repression, he’s proposed his “solution” to the crisis on national TV: more police. With more than 90,000 Covid deaths, Colombia saw its oil production volumes sink and inflation rise under Duque. He should be wary: he may be fired in the May 29 presidential elections.
From Minnesota comes a disturbing report on harassment and sexual abuse of women by contractors brought over by the $2.9 billion Line 3 Pipeline project. According to the Violence Intervention Project, there have been charges of sex trafficking and over 40 reports of assaults on mostly indigenous women and girls. If completed, Line 3 will carry 760,000 oil barrels from Alberta, Canada, to Lake Superior, Earth’s largest freshwater lake by surface area.
Better fortune had the Passamaquoddy, a tribe that has lived in what is today Maine, U.S., for 10,000 years: it’s just bought back an island colonialists have stolen from them in 1820. Charities have helped raise the $355,000 for Kuwesuwi Monihq, or Pine Island, where no Passamaquoddy has set foot in 160 years. It’s the latest successful “land back” purchase by indigenous groups Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Bleak Outlook & Yet We Rise, Colltalers

Israel’s long-sitting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may lose his seat to a political coalition. Palestinians, however, are not counting on support from his challengers. Life in Gaza and occupied territories remains miserable. But there’s an opening and the U.S. and the UN should seize it at once.
Rallies against Brazil’s president, a decision against Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil and Chevron woes, and the horrifying discovery of bodies of native kids mass buried in Canada rocked the week. But today’s 100 years of the Tulsa Massacre, an entire Black neighborhood razed but to be never forgotten again.
In Germany, speaking of unforgettable 20th-century massacres, the government has formally recognized atrocities against Namibia’s Herero and Nama people and pledged to “recognize the immense suffering inflicted.” Regardless of how much such gestures resonate within both nations, it’s fair to expect that they should be coming in cascades from others by now. They haven’t but there’s growing awareness about Europe’s cruel colonial past.
In Italy and the U.S., a Vice News investigation uncovered a disturbing trend: the Catholic Church has reinstated to active positions priests accused of child sexual abuse. A dozen of them have been internally “cleared of charges” and returned to their parishes during the pandemic, no less. In that, the church acts like any other immoral organization: self-preservation trumps the wellbeing of their customers, never mind they’re hurting. Outrageous.
In Canada, the remains of 215 children were found buried around the country’s largest residential school, said Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation. 150,000 indigenous kids were taken from their families from the late 1800s until the 1970s, to assimilate into society. That included conversion to Christianity, a ban on their native languages, and physical punishment. Some 6,000 may have died so more may be discovered.
In Brazil, tens of thousands of people took to the streets against President Bolsonaro’s catastrophic management of Covid-19. Over 460,000 Brazilians have died of the virus, Continue reading

All Together Now

Things People Do on  
Earth & at the Moon

All things considered, it’s been hard to get along these days. So in the interest of building bridges and spreading goodwill to our fellow, jaded humans, we’re revisiting a time when some were happy to just play along together. Thus behold the Earth Jumpathon, and a Point Your Laser to the Moon activity – don’t laugh, it was big in the 2010s.
Granted, you may not have heard of any sillier ways of wasting your time before. But it definitely beats bringing guests to a shooting range, or posting a picture of Big Whopper on social media. Just in case, though, we’re keeping everything bouncy and light, so you won’t get so bored as to walk out like a buzzkiller.
Since the beginning of times, earthlings have found more fulfillment in playing with pretty much anything than getting crushed by yet another mindless task. Like showing pics of you chomping down on some junk. That’s because our brains are better equipped to learn stuff when idle than when hung up on some stupid routine.
It is in fact exactly those mindless activities that better train us to react in a flash when facing the unexpected, according to recent neurobiology studies. The variable in this equation about learning brains is, of course, the other members of our species. No one needs to be reminded about how unreliable that bunch can be.
A playful routine of the likes that help children cope with the natural world can turn into to a wide-ranging social experiment, revealing deeper links underlying any group activity. The roots of our sense of community and mutual collaboration may be traced back to the time our ancestors spent interacting with each other for no apparent gain.
The two activities to be described below also belong to that category, “I always wonder about.” It’s in such file that we keep our sense of curiosity ever simmering with new queries about life, the universe, and everything, to bring up a fine restless mind, that of Douglas Adams, who unfortunately left us 20 years ago this May.

Growing up back in the last century it was common to hear that China had so many people that if they all would jump, they’d move the Earth off its axis. Well, folks at the Straight Dope seemed to have grown up at the same time, for in 1984 (when we were (more)
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* Heavenly Bodies
* Paper Planes
* Tomorrow Never Knows

Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, Colltalers

The world warily exhaled as cannons were silenced by the Gaza ceasefire. It was a step taken at least a hundred lives too late but still necessary. It’ll mean little though if following the temporary peace accord, Israel will be given a slap on the wrist, and the Palestinians, an order to be quiet and take it.
Tuesday will be a year since George Floyd was murdered by a police officer, a seminal moment in America’s race struggle but one still short of stirring up real change. As warmer oceans force yet another mammoth iceberg to break loose, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to get busy trying to ban abortion.
The Yanomami, one of the biggest Amazon tribes, have also suffered oppression and land grabbing throughout its history. It’s a thread they share with all indigenous or occupied peoples on Earth. Now with Covid 19 and a far-right government in Brazil, they’re facing a “humanitarian crisis,” says Ye’kwana Network’s anthropologist Ana Maria Machado, aggravated by malnutrition, violence by landowners’ hired guns, and widespread disease.
In Colombia, popular unrest against President Duque sparkled by a discriminatory tax bill he later recalled have grown to massive protests verging on civil war. But Colombians may have no other alternatives as even reports of live ammo being used onto crowds have failed to appeal to world leaders. That bodes particularly poorly to the U.S., which gives over $200 million annually to the Colombia army, and to President Biden whose Latin America strategy, if it exists, may be under lock and key. As he’d been about the Gaza carnage, Biden’s still astonishingly slow about this horrendous crisis too.
In Mexico, violence by cartels remains unabated. Abel Murieta, a candidate for Mayor of Obregon, was shot dead Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

We All Desire Life, Colltalers

The first crack in the up-to-now overwhelming support for President Biden suddenly exploded like, and due to, Israeli strikes in Gaza, which shocked the world for their viciousness and unrestrained violence. For a change, public opinion is turning and more Americans now care about the Palestinians.
Thousands around the globe rallied to decry Israel’s apartheid policies even as the U.S. stands firmly to its side. We’re on our own again. For if not, this week would be marked by a serious pipeline hack and in Brazil, by a Congressional inquiry into President Bolsonaro’s disastrous handling of Covid.
A Senate panel is trying to establish a timeline of Brazil’s failures to contain the virus and the still current lack of vaccines to cover every citizen. The probe however is unlikely to change what’s already public knowledge: the president downplayed the crisis until it was too late, hence the staggering 430,000 casualties so far. Friday, a Supreme Court Justice ruled that ex-Health Minister Eduardo Pazzuelo won’t even need to take questions about it.
The nightmare of vital energy hubs in the U.S. being attacked was reawakened May 7 when an international extortion ring threatened to disrupt the Colonial Pipeline, which carries transportation fuel to the Southeast and New York area. That it wasn’t attempted by a so-called rogue nation, or a well-known terrorist group brings little comfort: it means we’re more vulnerable than we expected and all talk about national security was just that, talk.
Or, as often, only invoked to go after dissenters. Naturally, the attack had an immediate impact on pump prices; funny that one of the richest, most heavily government-subsidized industries seems to be always on the verge of breaking down if prices Continue reading

Thinking With Tentacles

Mad Penguins & Whale Accents
in the Court of the Octopus King

Research into the natural world has been a reliable way of gauging our walk on this planet, and where we’re probably heading to. But a new approach, devoid of any rancid anthropomorphism, has offered fresh insights into animal intelligence. The results are remarkable.
Heard the one about whales with a Caribbean accent? Or penguins having sex parties wilder than drunken priests? But no one was ready to witness an octopus opening a jar from inside, or sneaking out at night to feed on crabs nearby, before returning to its tank. Who’s observing whom here?
What these and other animals prove is that cognitive ability is not a human monopoly. In fact, whenever the need to compare them with us is subtracted from the equation, crows, cephalopods, and pigeons, to name a few, can outsmart a thinking bloke often in a radical way.
Evolution has proposed alternatives to some species so far from our own, that they could be almost E.T.s raised in Pluto for all we know. Since we no longer equate physiology with identity, it’d be better get acquainted with mental prowess that owes nothing to rationality.
Not that we’re even that rational, or have the natural gift of logic. Far from it. But elephants have always cried of sadness, and chickens do side up with individuals in danger. We were just too busy turning animals into slaves that we oftentimes eat too to pay any attention.

Let’s get this out of the way: penguins are not humans, thus morality is not an issue, even if a colony, in the distance, looks like a black-tie cocktail party. And for belting out loud, the Adélies have nothing on the singing lady Adele. But when it comes to parties, theirs do get wild.
During Capt. Scott‘s second, and doomed, trip to Antarctica, between 1910-13, George Murray Levick wrote of widespread necrophilia, males sexually coercing young chicks, before killing them, and shock, having sex with other males. To him, it was “depravity,” and his notes (in Ancient Greek, to harden access to them) went missing.
Till now: they’ve been uncovered and bad “science” journalism have ensued, of course. But five years ago, the biggest Adélie news had nothing to do with sex. In Feb 2016, it was reported that 150,000 penguins had died, landlocked by the fracture of a giant iceberg.
But that was a hoax, better researched stories confirmed. Neither sex fiends nor massacred by climate change, yet, penguins are just, once again, being victims of bad reporting. Why we care has nothing to do with humanity either: they just look like us. We’re already changing their history. Time to tell their stories way better, too.

Since at least the 1970s, news about whales is always surprising, even as their numbers keeping receding towards extinction. The size of their brains, rich social lives, their songs, complex and uniquely identified with their pods. And then there’s the loneliest of them all.
The fact that research into these massive but elusive species has reached such a level of sophistication is, in itself, (more)
Read Also:
* Beneath the Waves
* Eerie Impersonation
* The Saddest Song
Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Satellites Crash, Ideals Don’t, Colltalers

A police massacre in Rio, political unrest in Bogotá and Jerusalem, and a blast in Kabul; some capitals had a hell of a weekend. Speaking of it, as rich countries walk to full Covid immunization, impoverished ones still suffer from lack of vaccines, even if drug patterns may be temporality lifted.
An assassination attempt against the Maldives’ former president and environmentalist Mohamed Nasheed rocked the tiny archipelago. Which made a  surprising second appearance in the week headlines: as it turned out, the out-of-control 10-store Long March 5B Chinese rocket crashed off its waters.
In the U.S. there’s a growing concern that, unless Congress axes the filibuster, much of the Democratic agenda won’t be even voted on, or it will but after being washed out. The party that controls the presidency, the House, and the Senate hasn’t yet passed any of the badly needed plans outlined in Biden’s campaign and first 100 days in office. Thus a word of advice: stop harassing progressives and do what only you can do, end the filibuster.
In fact, some of those proposals have already been criticized for being too timid, too vague, or not fresh enough, but it’d be definitely worst if they’d be buried before hitting the Senate floor like its ex-leader used to do with bills he didn’t like. Wise up, Lib warriors, the GOPtrumpt is coming to roost.
At this moment, a lot of well-established elected Democrats have been disliked not for being too rich or for lacking cohesion, but for being in the pocket of big corporations. Consider the pharma slash healthcare industries, for instance. Ask, is there something more abject Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Save the Whistleblowers, Colltalers

President Biden has received deserving high marks for his first 100 days in office, mainly for his infrastructure and recovery spending proposals. As for Afghanistan, Iran, and Latin America, though, not so much. That’s why critics are now placing his actions in the context of his own political trajectory.
But for most Americans, relief for not having the ex-president at the White House is still, well, a relief. Trouble is brewing, though as it wont to do. Covid is killing over 600,000 people a day in India and Brazil, there’s a faulty Census to be dealt with, and climate is still an emergency. But we’re Ok.
Certainly way better than the still over a billion with no chance of being inoculated before being killed simply because rich nations won’t do enough to relax patterns that overly-profitable pharmaceutical firms own. Regardless of the surplus doses donated by the U.S., humanitarian initiatives by Cuba and others, and heroic but isolated actions, there’s something very wrong about the global healthcare establishment for such cruelty to even stand.
“Crimes against humanity.” That’s the scathing finding of a report by the U.S.-based National Conference of Black Lawyers, the National Lawyers Guild, and the International Association of Democratic Lawyers on police deadly force against unarmed Black people. The group stepped in after the U.S. pressured the U.N. Continue reading

Grace Ushers

They Care When You Cease
To, After Your Last Breath

In matters of death, we’re pretty much inexperienced. That’s good; we want to keep it that way. And when it strikes, it’s always breaking news, at least to those close by. We all get there and being distracted is no excuse. While some ponder, others keep on walking.
The business of death, though, demands timing and compassion. Just ask Peter Stefan, who’s been burying the undesired for ages. Or the Thompson sisters, whose funeral home doubles as a black history vault. And Isaiah Owen, cosmetologist for the deceased.
What they do takes precedence over your latest tweet and holds more meaning than your life-coaching lessons. So, bid your time before your autopsy but pay respects to those who move in when others avert their eyes. For they do so with the dignity death rarely grants anyone.
Who plans to expire amid a crime scene? Or dictates their own obituary? But we’re always a few degrees away from each other’s last breath. Even as we won’t care one way or another, our loved ones have the right to first pick over our final picture. May they choose wisely.
To many, it’s an unsavory topic, unworthy talking about. Too morbid, or pointless, they say. But to those left standing, making sure those laying on their backs still got their good looks may be a debt paid forward. And that’s when Peter, Lynda and Vicki, and Isaiah work their magic.

Peter Stefan went to work, eight years ago this April, as always: ready for anything. For over four decades, he hosts mourners at his Worcester funeral home and prepares bodies to be buried. On that particular day, the corpse had a name: Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
It was the eldest of the brothers who bombed the Boston Marathon, the one who died in a rain of police bullets. A tragic and hated young man, perpetrator of a despicable act, his body was torn into pieces. And yet, Stefan made sure he was well put back together before interment.
Why? Because that’s what he does. Because everyone is equal at birth and death. Because he’d do the same for much worse and much better people, with the same dedication. Not for being a musician, which he is, but to serve an undervalued human sentiment: compassion.

Lynda Thompson-Lindsay and Vicki Thompson-Simmons‘ funeral parlor (why this term sounds like an oxymoron?) does everything that most are supposed to, including the combo embalming-the-deceased-and-producing-their family-wake. But it also does something that few can: serve as vault to black history.
For the almost century old home has borne witness to a heartbreaking chapter of American memory which would be, well, forgotten, hadn’t been for its carefully kept records of burials. Many (more)
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* Before Afterlife
* Kicking Ash
* Wake Up
Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Bear Ears Is Listening, Colltalers

There’s a lot of goodwill for U.S. President Biden as we approach his 100th day in office. The economic relief package, rejoining global treaties on Iran nukes and the climate, calling genocide the massacre of over a million Armenians by Ottoman Turks. But do we want more? Let us count the ways.
As Covid-19’s overwhelms India, calls intensify for rich nations to share their vaccine excedent. But they may need to be forced to do it. Elsewhere, FIFA got a rare challenge, and soccer fans, a beef with social media, the FBI needs clues, and it’s the 35th anniversary of Chernobyl’s nuke explosion.
Speaking of radioactivity, there’s a startling new report about American honey, the bee product not the sweetheart of yore. As it turns out, the more than 500 nuclear detonations the world’s superpowers conducted since the late 1940s impacted the sweet nectar loved since ancient times. According to a Nature Communications study, honey in the U.S. has still alarming levels of cesium, the longest-lasting fission product generated by a nuke explosion.
While respected environmental groups cite nuclear power as an unredeemed threat to our civilization, Earth Day celebrations this year were correctly focused on the still weak response by world leaders to the climate emergency threat. But regrettably, all awash in corporate memes and propaganda.
Now, it’s bad enough notorious environment-depleting corporations such as Apple and Google go on capitalizing on concerns about ‘Mother Earth,’ as twisted as the rationale behind it may be. But it’s an outrage that say, gas-burning Florida Power & Light is also welcomed to this free goodness ride.
Reporters Without Borders identified 132 countries where journalists have been routinely attacked or prevented from reporting on the coronavirus. The 2021 World Press Freedom Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Guns, Hate Will Kill America, Colltalers

Would that be possible, America’s longest war will be canceled on Sept. 11 of all days? The president said it so, repeating what Obama and Trump had promised before. Will it happen? it should. Did it work? no, but now it’s done. What it did was what every conflict does: it killed people, lots of them.
Not that we don’t do plenty of that in the U.S. too; there have been new gun massacres we’ll do little or nothing about it. Just as we manage hunger: the media glows over billionaires but food banks are overwhelmed across the nation. Tomorrow is Pot Day, though, and Thursday, Earth Day, so light up.
Let’s begin our weekly world tour in Taiwan, which is nervous about the buildup of Chinese war vessels off its waters. After pulverizing Hong Kong’s drive for democracy, Beijing’s now eager to re-litigate an old imperialistic folly: to rule the democratic-run “Republic of China,” which lost control over the mainland in 1949. The military “drills” seem designed to rattle the pro-West nation, already shaken Sunday by two non-damaging earthquakes.
Questions abound in Russia as it builds up combat troops near Ukraine’s eastern border – the largest since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, according to The Guardian. After being publicly chastised by President Biden, who ordered more sanctions against his country, critics are unsure about Putin’s strategy at this time, since an invasion would not be cost-effective, and he may soon have another problem in his hands: Alexei Nalvany’s death.
But analysts such as Anatol Lieven, senior fellow for Russia and Europe at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, also warn Ukrainians that “they may be a kind of partner of the U.S. but they’re not an ally.” In a DemocracyNow interview, he calls up the example of Georgia and how the U.S. did not, and will not again this time, engage in a war with Russia. And how Putin is unlikely to have plans to wage war with the U.S. over them either.
In France, Kobili Traoré beat Sarah Halimi, 65, before throwing her out the window of her Paris apartment in 2017 to cries of “Allahu akbar,” or god is great, and “I killed the devil.” Now, the country’s highest court has ruled that he cannot stand trial because he was Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Bring Your Whole Crew, Colltalers

The world is about to hit three million obits by Covid-19, with a fifth in the U.S. and Brazil as a steady No. 2 with over 350.000 deaths. Yup, little has improved: rates are still rising in the West, poor nations have had little access to vaccines, and big labs are still unaccountably in control of all patterns.
Elsewhere, the explosion of split-up families and their lost children at the chaotic U.S.-Mexico border is becoming the Biden administration’s greatest challenge. Also, Peru and Ecuador choose a new president, Northern Ireland is in turmoil over Brexit, and somehow related, Prince Philip had died.
Let’s get busy first with Iran, where a suspicious ‘accident‘ disabled the Natanz nuclear facility’s electrical grid just a day after it’d started to enrich uranium. Iran said that it won’t turn off its centrifuges till sanctions that have crippled the country’s economy are fully lifted. Israel, a strong opponent of the nuke agreement that the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from and that now may be revived, is suspected to have a part in the ‘terrorist‘ incident.
Poland, with over 2.6 million coronavirus cases, may be using the pandemic to crackdown on civil rights. The government, which wants ‘repolonize‘ the media, is being accused of picking winners, cutting down on ads for independent newspapers, and Continue reading

We’re Not Alone

The Secret, Trillion Lives
Crawling In & On Your Body

The late Carl Sagan may have said, we’re all made of starstuff. But deep down, what we really are is a multitude of microorganisms, 100 trillion of them, some part of our natural physiology, but most totally foreign. We wouldn’t have lasted this long on Earth without them.
While cells are the bricks that form our bodies, even before birth, an ever growing, self-renewing, array of microscopic creatures call us their home and, gasp, may also call the shots about everything we think we are, from how healthy or moody, to when we’ll finally expire.
So much for freewill. This invisible trillionaire community, living off our so well washed and fed bodies, shelters charitable organisms which allow us to survive what would’ve killed us in the past, and downright lethal pathogens for which there’s no defense. And yet others are content to just control whoever we follow on Twitter.
To learn about these entities, simple but formidable enough to erase a city’s population, is to find multiple new questions to every doubt we may clarify. It’s also to wonder how come a brainless, single-cell being can play such a complex role in the evolutionary ladder.
Notice that we hadn’t mentioned viruses till now; we figure too few would that eager to hear about them once more. But if bacteria can be foreign to us, viruses are totally aliens as they have no cell or internal structure. All killing’s done with the thinnest protein layer and a string of nucleic acid. We’d let those dogs lie for now, if we could.
Bacteria, however, can actually be our allies, and our guts hold enough of them to actually defeat an alien invasion, as H.G. Wells‘ illustrated so well in War of the Worlds. Not for long, though, as we overuse antibiotics, which kill both good and bad ones, and give rise to a new breed of superbugs. Watch out.

Speaking of evolution, a step above, more complex and considerably larger, are parasites, which are tiny insects, still invisible to our poor eye sights, but very capable all the same. Nature is full of them, and now we’re also learning that some can be pretty clever, controlling bigger creatures. Including us.
There’s one, for instance, that once inside a bumblebee, can force it to become food for its larvae, not before digging its own grave, though. They called it a Mafia Bug, but you haven’t heard it from us. Curiously, such approach to domination is emulated by other, larger creatures, such as some kind of wasps.
The Pompiliadae, a.k.a. Spider Wasp, is so called for a reason: it poisons and paralyzes without killing a spider, drags it to its burrow, bury it, and lay eggs on top of it, so it will be eaten still alive by its larvae. Pretty horrific. Another wasp does something similar: it turns the spider into a zombie construction worker.
Well, you may say, at least it teaches it a marketable skill. Except that it also paralyzes the spider and lays its eggs, etc. Not a fate one would think dignified enough for anyone, but, gasp again, it may be already happening. And your favorite pet may have something to do with some of your dark thoughts.

Research is not new, but it goes along with the same M.O. displayed by the parasites we’ve mentioned, except that this time, the joke, er, the zombies may be us. The Toxoplasma gondii infects domestic cats via their food, and can manipulate certain cells to gain access to the central nervous system of a human.
Since the protozoan can live in many environments but survives only in the guts of cats, evolution may have given it a surprising edge. It’s been proven, for instance, that once it’s present (more)

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Curtain Raiser

Kids Are Getting Frustrated, Colltalers

A new Capitol Hill attack showed that the U.S. Congress still hasn’t got the memo. Since the attempted Jan. 6 coup, members who supported it are still in, there’s no attack weapons ban or action on the filibuster. Don’t take for granted what it took to get us a Democratic majority or next year you’ll lose.
The week’s sore points: Biden’s immigration mess and the GOP’s shameful vote suppression efforts. Great news as Iran agrees to revive nuclear talks. But there’s also a new global push for a U.N. treaty banning all nukes and/or any kind of fuel that can kill us and destroy the planet. It makes sense.
We start in Mexico where femicide – women being murdered by former or current partners only for being women – is now rampant, aggravated by lockdowns and a weak judicial system. President Andrés López Obrador, still popular despite coronavirus mismanagements and the poor economy, hasn’t done much about it, as rape and child pregnancy increase. Ten women are killed every day and last year, near two thousand were also murdered.
In Ethiopia, an investigation by BBC Africa Eye found evidence of a massacre of at least 15 men slaughtered by the military. The attack had not been disclosed by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who finally admitted it’s been a ‘difficult and tiresome‘ fight against that Tigray People’s Liberation Front. There are increased concerns about Ahmed, who despite winning the 2019 Peace Nobel, is fully invested in crushing the guerrilla group.
As the U.S. reaches four million Covid-19 doses per day, Brazil had 300,000 deaths on Saturday. It’s Ok to compare the two topping the grimmest list of fatalities and most cases. It shows leadership – and money, surely – can change a nation’s dire straits. But someone with a brain has to be the leader.
Former president Lula da Silva’s return to political life has certainly driven the latest cabinet shake-up by President Continue reading

A Life, Abridged

Having the Final Word
About What We’ve Done

Remarkable sendoffs. Or virtual tombstones. And like the graveyard kind, not everyone will have one. To wrap the experience of living with a sharp focus, few things are more revealing that an obituary. That’s why many are now writing their own.
A well-composed death notice makes even those who knew the person feel special. And jealous if they hadn’t. A favorite of newspaper readers, is not for the feeble neophyte or the phony-flowery scriber. But two of the most remarkable here were self penned.
An obituary is designed to outlive the deceased, but many have beaten it at its own game, and survived it to tell the story. (Somehow, Monty Python comes to mind.) Or Mark Twain, even though that ‘reports of my death were greatly exaggerated‘ quote is, well, a misquote.
He was victim of one of the earliest mistakes about somebody’s passing, and had a chance to have a laugh about it. It still happens: in what became known as the ‘CNN Incident,’ a bunch of celebrities were all declared ‘dead‘ in April 2003.
Fidel Castro, Nelson Mandela, and even Dick Cheney, which was called the ‘U.K.’s favorite grandmother,’ was among them. Parts of a 2002 demise notice of England’s Queen Mother were used for their pre-obituaries, and prematurely leaked online.

It was an accident, but quite possible: newspapers keep a database of celebrity obituaries ready for when they pass on. Nine years before her death, Queen Mum herself had already had her own untimely death aired by the Australian media.
From the man who said ‘god is dead,’ William Hamilton (whose notice was greeted by a few devilish ‘thank gods‘), to the woman who had more titles than anyone, according to the Guinness, (and 25 names), La Duquesa de Alba, the afterword is often all we’ll ever hear of them.
King of Cat BurglarsPeter Scott, or Madeline Gins, an architect who had ‘decided not to die,’ are two gems of lives we wouldn’t know about it hadn’t been for a few sentences published when they died.

It’s no mystery that writing your own obituary is becoming popular; everything in this era seems to be about promoting a social idea of oneself. It’s just the latest way to control the narrative, and prevent a silly act, or a crime, from seizing a lifetime of trying to look good.
It’s a selfie made up of words, a bit more elaborated than the ancient epitaph (Colltales has a ton here). But its aim is the (more)
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Curtain Raiser

A Fire From Another March, Colltalers

Mexico, pop. 131 million, beat Brazil, 190 million, and India, 1.4 billion to reach the unofficial highest number of Covid-19 deaths behind numero uno U.S.A. Patent monopoly has hampered equitable global distribution, and allowed fully-inoculated Israel for instance, to deny vaccines to Palestinians.
President Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief bill has triggered promising, and not so much legislation, but the latest gun massacres again challenge Congress to enact gun control. It doesn’t look good. Plus, the U.S.’ stuck in its longest war; genocide may come to Myanmar; and a humongous ship clogged Suez.
But let’s begin in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh, the world’s largest refugee camp, where a devastating fire killed scores of the Rohuynga, who’d fled the blood-thirst Myanmar military that staged a coup in 2017. Their plans to return during the brief social stability that followed were dashed with the new Feb. 1 coup. Many lost again everything in the fire while over 100 Burmese were killed by the army this past weekend. Tragically, the world is asleep.
In Yemen, the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis shows no sign of letting it up, despite a new peace proposal by Saudi Arabia, whose daily, seven-year U.S.-backed strikes have reduced the country to rubble. The Saudi aim at exterminating the Houthi, a 100K-strong group of fighters supported by Iran. Like Syria, Yemen is hosting a conflict between proxies of political enemies, Continue reading

Hell Holds No Pets

Meet Some of My
New York Friends

Paraphrasing Mario Puzo, keep your friends close, and the friends of your friends, closer. He may’ve known a thing or two about family sagas, but as far as animals are concerned, not so much. In fact, most of us wouldn’t flinch about harming a pet, even if Hollywood had an offer we couldn’t refuse.
Gentle beasts, they earn from us more than we could ever give friends, lovers, and relatives. So let me introduce you to a few of my acquaintances’ cats, and one tender dog, in the company of whom I satisfy my fix, and sense of loss since mine left me long ago and I’ve run out of time to outlast new ones.
Life gives us no choice: once the time comes, we leave it all behind. Which is fine. But unlike sons and daughters, there’s no telling them, now, go get your own place and pets to tend to. Once you’re together, you’re down for the long, or short, run, or whenever one of you checks out. Try not to be the first.
For the accidental petsitter like me, it’s always clear which one of us is the needier, and who’s actually providing existential relief. Just like it was when they adopted us. So I tackle my duties like a priest sets up the altar for a mass: everything has to be carefully arranged to assure a safe trip to heaven for all involved.
Things usually follow a natural path, from wearily sizing each other’s out to lending a tad of trust to the proceedings, to the time when it gets to be all fun and games. Such a progression may seem casual to the untrained eye, but let’s not let looks deceive us. For in the end, we may all feel better for having shared those moments together.

Ziggy was once the new kid on the block but was never as big as his elder brother, who’s left us. When he finally got his shot at the top, KittyKat showed up and won everybody’s heart. Soon, he grew bigger and is now the dominant dude. Ziggy is right to be bitter.
Two beautiful Coons, they’ve got ways to go to get along, if they’ll ever. Most likely, Ziggy will keep on being cranky, despite such a Reggae name, while Kitty gets away with mayhem. And some dare to say that cats have it easy. Life has no patience for fairness. I love these two.

There are not enough superlatives to describe this lady, and to keep it simple doesn’t do her justice either. Trying to strike a feline-like balance when writing about a cat risks exposing the inadequacy of our own sense of balance. We pinch a nerve while Gracie sails on.
I’m always ready to be entirely at her service. Not that she ever demanded. When she vocalizes her state of mind I understand it perfectly. Many a silent sunset we’ve enjoyed together, as I dabbled in her generous name-sake mood. Everything about her speaks of harmony. I look forward to indulging her light again soon.

These two could be spies, and I swear they like to play doubles. Just when I thought I knew which is which, they’ve proved me wrong. Twice. I’m sure at least one of them flies when no one is looking. Then again, to wonder what cats do when we’re not around is like trying to build walls of shade. I think they can read my mind too.
Once I dozed off and just before I came to, I had this vivid impression they were staring at my reverie. But when I’ve opened my eyes, neither Birdie nor Squirt was anywhere to be seen. I’m sure they know something about me I don’t dare to imagine what. Next time, I’ll try an alias.

Lulu is the girl next door, who flirts with the string I flicker in front of her paws, and then disappears in the back. Princess came after, her beautiful fur covering up her round body. While she hardly moves, Lulu entertains dogs of all sizes. They both live in a pet store, you see.
Lulu‘s the one I seek when I need a quick cat fix. She won’t let (more)
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Curtain Raiser

We All Come From Elsewhere, Colltalers

The Atlanta massage parlor massacre has a clear provenance. It began by the ex-president calling Covid-19 the ‘China virus.’ It escalated unimpeded through attacks on Asian-Americans as police looked into the debunked ‘lone wolf’ theory. Thus who’s ever doubted it all would end up with bullets?
As the U.S. hits the 100-million-dose mark, there’s growing pressure for President Biden and other Western leaders to force a suspension of patterns owned by big labs, so everyone can get a shot. AstraZeneca has some explaining to do. Plus floods and rats in Australia, and the unwavering Burmese.
We start in Russia where President Putin congratulated himself on the anniversary of his unilateral annexation of Crimea in 2014. He’s got away with it so far, except for his complicated relationship with Ukraine and its president, former actor Volodymyr Zelensky – yes, that Zelensky of the first Trump impeachment. See, he may be against it, but millions of Russians, Ukrainians, and even Crimeans may be just fine with it. Thus Putin wins again.
In Brazil, 1,290 people lost their lives to what President Bolsonaro once called it ‘a little flu‘ in just 24 hours last week while adding near 48,000 new cases. Brazil seconds only the U.S. with near 300 thousand Covid deaths, but they’re almost twice those in India, which has 6,5 times its population.
As for Myanmar, the Burmese people are offering the world a tremendous lesson on resilience and dignity, fighting the truculent army that took power on Feb. 1. The military has conducted night raids resulting in thousands of civilians ‘disappeared’ besides enforcing a policy of summary extermination, shooting street protesters at will. As refugees reportedly seek asylum in India, Continue reading

Waters of March

A Fine Day to Salute
Hurricane Elis Regina

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

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

What Legacies Are Made of, Colltalers

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

Spinning Wheels

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

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

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


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

Raise Girls as World Leaders, Colltalers

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

Curtain Raiser

By All Means Necessary, Colltalers

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

Curtain Raiser

Percy & Us Will Persevere, Colltalers

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

Curtain Raiser

They’ll Come Back For More, Colltalers

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

Curtain Raiser

To Impeach a Wrongdoer, Colltalers

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