A Blast Heard Around the World,
Skies of Blood & New York’s Fate

What an Expressionist masterpiece painted by a Norwegian, the world’s loudest recorded explosion, and New York City’s possible doom may have in common? Not much really, but to think about the eruption of the Krakatoa volcano 130 years ago is a good start.
For while Edvard Munch’s The Scream is the most dramatic depiction of the surreal red sulphur-dioxide skies that covered Europe and circled the world for months after the explosions of Aug. 26, 1883, many wonder what if it’d happen again today.
That’s when that scenario of destruction comes to play, in a way that would shame all those nightmarish visions Hollywood has been concocting for years about NYC, with room to add terrifying touches of real life tragedies, such as the 2004 earthquake and tsunami in Asia.
Before going any further, a bit of a disclaimer of sorts, for we’re fully aware of the tendency of New Yorkers to think themselves as the center of the world, and imagine that there’s always a conspiracy apace against this fair city. But guess what, sometimes they’re right.
Also, we’re far from giving shelter to tabloid doomsday scenarios, for the sake of advancing our unique and highly personal view that, yes, we’re all going to die, and despite our laborious efforts, constructing a pseudo-safe reality to prepare us for the inevitable won’t help us.
We may also need to add that we do resent the fact that New York is always the stand in, and scapegoat, for evil, when it comes to the undying desire of movie execs to make another buck on our account. Like, just blow up the statue (and the box office proceeds), and we’ll be fine. You know who you are.
With that out of the way, let’s now revisit that terrible day in Java and Sumatra, brewed for months prior, then jump to a decade later, when a gifted artist’s visions exploded out of his head and onto the canvas, and then onward to a possible nitty gritty future.

The explosion heard around the world started with a murmur sometime in May of 1883, from the volcano that had been dormant for two centuries. In three months, it built up into a crescendo of small tremblores, dust spewing, earth rattling, and finally to rocks shot 50 miles high into the stratosphere. Blasts were heard 3,000 miles away.
At its peak, the eruption of the Krakatoa volcano is estimated to have reached the energy of 10,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs. It ignited earthquakes and tsunamis that possibly killed 100 thousand people and shrunk the land surrounding the mountain to a fraction.
It covered the sun for several days and affected global climate conditions for years. A two-degree dip in the average temperature in the Northern Hemisphere is thought to have been a direct consequence of the thick cloud of ash, rock and dust that the eruption spewed up to the atmosphere. Even snow has been recorded in some regions during the following summer.
If the explosions were heard so far away from Sumatra, the scarlet sunsets were equally intense all over the world. Fire engines were called in Poughkeepsie, New York, a few weeks after the eruption, by people sure that an inferno was crackling just beyond (more)
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* Going Under
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Here Comes the Monsoon

Hands for Venice, Early
Cicadas & a Flooded Vault

To some, you haven’t lived if you haven’t fallen in love. Or planted a tree. To write a book or have a child, all give us meaning, and reasons to be remembered. Yet to others, pain is life’s truly master and nothing turns you into one faster than a leak dripping on your bed.
Water’s tomorrow’s gold. Without it, there’s no life. Too much of it, and billions lose their roof. As glaciers melt, floods dictate survival. Thus, Venice’s a sinking treasury, cicadas are coming out early, and an Arctic seed vault, our future food insurance, is not ready for doomsday.
‘There occurred violent earthquakes and floods; and in a single day and night of misfortune, all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea.’ The 360 B.C.E. retelling by Plato on an earlier account, still haunt us, even as it’s most likely fictional.
It’s a tale about an once proud civilization doomed by the power of natural forces and succumbing entirely into a watery grave. It can be argued that it’s happening all over again in a larger scale, and that natural power this time has been unleashed not by fate but by the human oversized collective ego.
More recent and certifiably historical catastrophes have happened ever since, as when Pompeii and Herculano were lost to the not so sudden fury of the Vesuvius. The lesson is a recurrent one: force the hands of Earth and she’ll do as it has for millennia. Some see in the mutating climate a harbinger of yet another planetary cleansing.
Speaking of which, Italian artist Lorenzo Quinn prepared a surprise for the 2017 Venice Art Biennale. Support, the two giant hands that emerge from one of the canals of the legendary city on the lagoon, is a stunning statement about global warming. And its striking visual impact leaves no doubt about the power of art promoting awareness.
Among the five or 10 most distinctive cities in the world, Venice is obviously the most vulnerable to rising sea waters. Even as the rapidly eroding coastal lines of Rio or New York, Sydney or Tokyo, place them equally on the crosshairs of a dramatic change in global temperatures, if Venice sinks, so does its irreplaceable architecture and art.
Despite a perennially complicated relationship with its environment, it has overcome centuries of political turmoil and Italy’s rising (more)
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Curtain Raiser

U.S. & Brazil At a Similar Hub, Colltalers

There are many studies pointing to the benefits of being multicultural, that is, a person with more than one country to call their own. But those with that particular point of reference are fully aware of its trappings. One of them is the temptation to engage in generalized comparisons.
So we’re going against the grain here, to find some arguably common denominators between the U.S. and Brazil. For both are indeed facing similar challenges – ignoring for a second their truck full of differences – which may shed some light into the complexities of their politics.
Starting by their presidents, the extreme polarization that brought them both to power, and the coincident timing of their current major crisis. Not many will agree that Donald Trump and Michel Temer are facing the first serious threat to their very position as commanders-in-chief.
But few dispute that they’re fighting for their political future, and that legitimacy, impropriety, and corruption, are issues often strong enough to depose a sitting president. Even those overwhelmingly popular, which they aren’t. They’re both skillful politicians, though, so we’re on.
The catalog of certified lies, incompetent mistakes, intrigue, firings, and increased fear that, if a major global crisis arises, the administration is incapable to protect Americans, which has characterized the Trump presidency in just over four months, has no parallel in U.S. politics.
From nominating a clearly unprepared cabinet, to a number of deeply disturbing executive orders, most of them so far reversed, to failing to unify his Republican Party, which seems poised to back his every diatribe, until his boat is no longer sea-worthy, Trump made a mess of pretty much everything he’s touched (no pun intended). Except for his one sole score: the Neil Gorsuch nomination to the Supreme Court.
But the appointment of former FBI chief Robert Mueller as Special Prosecutor, to investigate his possible ties with Russia, may be the very first warning sign that his support base is treading water. No wonder he’s mad about leaks. To impeachment, though, it’s a long way.
Temer, the vice president who became chief by leading a conspiracy to oust the head of his ticket, Dilma Rousseff, like Trump, Continue reading

Earth Cavities

Worlds Inside, Real & Imagined,
Offer Insights Into Human Psyche

‘Why may we not suppose four ninths of our globe to be cavity?’ Edmond Halley’s 1692 Hollow Earth theory was rightly debunked for its faulty science. But it did lend, at least for a while, credence to a recurrent feature in ancient mythology, folklore, and legends.
No pun intended but underneath it all, he too was drawn to the allure of tunnels, caves, and the underground. The hidden and the obscure are innate to our psyche and beliefs, just as natural or manufactured burrows, are ideal temples for practical and mystical needs.
‘Descend, bold traveller, into the crater of the jökull of Snæfell, (…) to attain the centre of the earth. I did it. Arne Saknussemm.’ Two centuries after the Isaac Newton collaborator made famous by a comet had given up on his idea, Jules Verne concocted his own atemporal version of the enduring myth, in the best-selling novel, Journey to the Center of the Earth.
Halley, an accomplished scientist thought to have been instrumental for the 1687 publishing of the Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, was ironically betrayed by what’s deemed a flaw of the revolutionary treatise: Newton’s erroneous attribution for the mass of the Moon.
By overweighting that mass in relation to Earth, by a factor of 1 to 26, instead of 1:81, the man responsible to our understanding of gravity laws unwittingly gave room to Halley’s supposition: Earth should be hollow, possibly inhabited. And the source of the Aurora Borealis, too.
None of this is detrimental to the two genius of science, or our debt to them. But Halley’s hypothesis did hit a resonant note, if not for its sacred past, then for a long string of mentally ill visionaries and phony prophets, way back from the Enlightenment to, sadly, our days.
Even before antiquity, caverns were considered places of power, dwelling of spirits of good and evil, passages to other worlds. Many peoples and tribes, some whose descendants still walk among us, believed that the’d come from the Earth’s insides, and were supposed to return there someday.
All civilizations had some reference to the underworld, the Hades, the place where the dead lived. Dante Alighieri placed the Christian hell under our feet, so the faithful would live in fear and don’t stray. Throughout history, burials may have been so popular presumably for reasons other than just recycling.
Even today, some believe that UFOs actually come from beneath us. And just like vampires, fly out at night from hidden entrances in the poles. But the fact is, even if it were scientifically possible for this rock to have a giant hole inside, without cracking, it wouldn’t be big enough to accommodate all theories about it.
To be sure, nature is not shy of keeping us away from its secrets, and often land or underwater caves are as inaccessible to most humans as the outer space is. Vietnam’s Hang Son Doong, the world’s largest cave, has its own jungle, rivers, and climate. And lethal challenges and a roll call of dead people too.
Its exploration is beyond most people’s athleticism and endurance. Just like astronauts are a special breed, so are cave enthusiasts. Also, due to Earth’s volatile geological and seismic configuration, while there may be even bigger caves yet to be discovered, some may suddenly cave in or shape up overnight.
Just as their enclosed universe will remain intimate and challenging, so will one’s connexion with those places. They may serve as a meditation sanctuary or a spot to hide, and the strength of one’s (more)
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Curtain Raiser

Eyes on the Prize, Colltalers

It’s been increasingly challenging to know, among the daily news onslaught, what’s relevant to us and what’s corporate interest. And yet we must. It may be harder now to distinguish the news from fake and biased reporting, and yet it’s our duty to keep our human priorities straight.
For getting blindsided is not an option. Due in part to Trump’s dysfunctional presidency, the U.S. seems to be leading the world into a neck-breaking race back to Cold War paranoia, combined with modern fears of widespread terrorism and xenophobia. But we must know better.
The past week was no different than all weeks since January. The firing of FBI chief James Comey, likely done to derail his probe into a possible collusion of the president with a foreign power, a real, stunning piece of news, got immediately buried by a tsunami of excuses.
That it failed to erase its obvious impact, as Trump wished, is completely beside the point. What the denials were designed to accomplished, they did: to occupy valuable real estate on the headlines and public attention. Space that could obviously be used by other relevant news.
Not that they were in any shortage. During the same news cycle, fewer people than needed became aware that the Pentagon is again pushing to send an additional 5,000 troops to America’s longest war, Afghanistan, to join the 8,000 who see no talk about getting out of there. In what this would contribute to any meaningful solution to that now pointless conflict would certainly deserve to be part of a national conversation.
But it’s not. Just like the unreported oil leak in the Dakota Access Pipeline construction, one of the many in the past year at the project that’s been the focus of protests by native American groups, whose land it’s irreversibly polluting, and a coalition of Veterans and environmental organizations. But neither those following closely the issue, nor the public at large would know it, if they’re to rely on media outlets.
On the international front, a global, coordinated hacking attack affected businesses and healthcare facilities in over 90 countries, and experts are bracing for more of the same this week. The incident, even if it’s somehow contained today, which is unlikely, exposed vulnerabilities of under-funded health institutions and the contemporary nature of modern hacking: dangerously powerful and yet, non-ideological based. While it’s important to keep an eye on the latest diatribe of North Korea, and call for urgent high-level diplomacy, and no Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

The Bitter-Sweetest of Times, Colltalers

This era mirrors what being an adult is about. Take good news, for instance: receiving it is, well, great, for it means that, for a moment, things did take a turn your way. But, and that’s the thing: there’s always a qualifier ‘but,’ following it, and more than ever, what follows cancels it.
Our sense of fulfillment with reality has to be tempered and weather resistant, so we can survive the far more numerous times when it’s not. Life often happens when we’re making those ‘other plans,’ as someone who was killed doing just that, put it on a song. And we carry on.
Good news is that French far-right candidate Marine Le Pen was defeated yesterday. But the next president, Emmanuel Macron, is no poster boy of France’s humanistic ideals. In fact, he may proceed with dismantling them. Besides, Le Pen is in no way done with it.
Make no mistake: Americans wouldn’t be dealing with the onslaught of bad news unleashed by Trump, if Hillary Clinton were the president, and that’s a fact. So, her election would’ve been good news to most. Then again, by now, she’d be facing impeachment for a fraction of flaws she shares with the current president. And just as her GOP opposition has been shameless while in power, it’d arguably be too, if it were not.
It’s all a matter of perspective, one would say. But that’s the false equivalence that fools those who ‘couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Clinton’ then but now don’t have to deal with losing healthcare either, or having to go out of state to have an abortion, or, out of the country for not having papers. Many also like to say that there’s no difference between the two parties, and if the discussion veers that way, run.
Yes, American politics in general, and the two political parties in particular, are money making machines and neither represents fully the people who vote for them. Yes, millions tossed around, to ‘purchase,’ er, fund candidates could boost the economy of many a small country.
And yes, often the realities of being a political leader, or rather, a condition that some are built for them, can change any idealist, if he or she are not swift on their feet, or adapting to new realities without betraying principles. But, and here’s it again, most of them do not, or won’t.
When Trump had his own infamous Mission Accomplished moment, last week, 14 years almost to the day when George W. played dressed up on an aircraft carrier, many of us had trouble holding our meals. A percentage couldn’t do it any longer, when the media showed their smiling beer-swollen faces celebrating a ‘healthcare’ bill that would give a $765 billion tax cut to the very wealthy, over 10 years.
Now, many are still puzzling that a big percentage of Trump supporters are women and an aging, disenfranchised and uneducated white demographics, that’d be hit by some of his campaign promises, but didn’t seem to realize it. Now that both segments are actually facing that reality, and it’s unmistakable who’s responsible f Continue reading