Curtain Raiser

The Path We Choose, Colltalers

Why don’t they call it climate change? The apocalyptic wildfires burning California and Oregon are frightening enough to trigger public outrage. But the fact that only 15% of media coverage mentions it shows how gas and oil corporations are spending their Covid-19 bailout money to avoid scrutiny.
It’s the United Nations’ 75th anniversary and the General Assembly gathers in New York to reassess its relevance. It’s not part of Taliban-Afghanistan talks and has had only a limited role in the pandemic, and yet, it’s as crucial today as ever. Meanwhile, there’s been bad news about a virus vaccine.
Before diving into that, let’s also reassess the week that’s been, starting by a WWF report on the two-thirds of the world’s wildlife wiped out by human activity in the past 50 years. It’s a staggering loss only compounded lately by catastrophic wildfires and man-made climate change. A vicious circle, it begins with rising global demand for forest clearings for agriculture, which then become out-of-control fires, ultimately killing more flora and fauna.
Adding to the Amazon Rainforest, for instance, which it’s burning at a faster clip than 2019, fires rage now through Pantanal, Brazil’s wetlands, home to jaguars and other endangered species. Then and now, though, President Bolsonaro remains unmoved to the fate of animals and indigenous peoples. There as in the West Coast, it’s the countless anonymous heroes who supply the compassion that counters these horrifying tales of tragedy and despair.
There’s an uproar in Mexico against femicide, the rampant violence and killing of women, which lockdowns only aggravated and may surpass last year’s record of 3,833 deaths. As President Andrés Lópes Obrador calls such protests a ‘conspiracy,’ feminists Continue reading

Double Intuition

On Their Minds, 9-11
Happened Before 2001

After fifteen years, the tragic imagery of Sept. 11, 2001, has taken deep roots into the collective psyche of our era. It became a visual metaphor to every nightmare bred out of fear of terrorism, even as countless acts of extreme violence have followed that crispy, blue-sky Tuesday in America.
Even more intriguing are depictions of exploding planes and buildings that art and pop culture have produced before 911. Two works are particularly impressive: a sculpture by New York artist Michael Richards, killed that day, and a painting by British Willie Gardner.
Wisely ignoring conspiracy buffs, who like to dwell in a made-up reality with even more odds stacked against us, it’s still possible to appreciate the intuition that led these two black artists to conceive works of such haunting, and premonitory, quality, while sharing not much else in common.
To be sure, anticipation, and the ability to eerily foresee a world not quite here, are integral to creative expression, even when that’s not exactly the author’s intention. Also, it’s not unusual for life to emulate what art, and public sensibility had already made possible to conceive.
After all, we all breathe the same toxic, over-saturated environment, suffused through ages by human interference. And our brains are especially biased to see a connected world that does not exist outside our skulls; life happens independently of our will or whims.
The fact that the two works are not in the same level of artistic sophistication is irrelevant too. Richards was a rising talent, who perished when his studio was crushed by the destruction of the Twin Towers, while Gardner, who died in 2010 and only dabbled in art as an amateur, was thousands of miles away.
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* No Pics
* Flight, Interrupted
* Quantum Leaks

There’s no record that either one was imbued of any anticipatory penchant. Theirs was something out of a vision whose meaning they’ve taken with them. But that something inevitably tickles our minds, still eager to find significance, and sense, in that despicable tragedy.
Yes, there were many others for we are particularly good at inflicting progressively horrifying terrors onto each other. And we could be talking here about the victims, or the evildoers, or any number of the cliches that have piled up about that day. But we’re glad we have Richards and Gardner to memorialize instead.
Every year, we promise not to add anything to the meaningless cacophony of 911’s moaning and complaints. And every time we break our vows. It’s just as well. Art and reality are often unexplainable. We’re doomed to face terror over and over in our lifetimes. So at least, let’s try to do it with fresh eyes.

Curtain Raisers

Prepping Up a New Season, Colltalers

It’s Labor Day in the U.S., Independence Day in Brazil, a coincidence that adds to the ill-advised pax de deux both have been engaged on lately. Other Latin American nations have their own day this month too. But only Canada and the U.S. mark today what everybody else honors on the First of May.
The end of the Northern summer also ushers mournful Sept. 11 remembrances, both from 2001 and 1973. And global isolation as the U.S., leader in Covid-19 cases, is out of the World Health Organization’s 170-nation coordinated strategy against the virus and chooses to ignore the changing climate.
We’ll get to that but first let’s go out to the races, the belated 148th Kentucky Derby, and the almost normalization of sports events being held without a crowd. As it turns, it’s fine, the horses still run and this year Authentic came out on top. What cannot be normalized though is the scary presence of squads of incredibly armed far-right supremacists, aching to pick a fight with social and racial justice protesters, such as Black Lives Matter activists.
It’s no longer possible to believe that Big Media is mistakenly equating their hate and intent to harm with earnest calls for a better nation and a safer planet. Short of condemning civilians for having such easy access to military-grade arsenals, it’s fair to assume that their narrative itself is crooked on purpose. Their faulty reporting benefits the Arsonist-in-Chief on his quest to put the country on fire and name himself as the one who’ll put them out.
The Trump Circus is as ratings-lifting as a train wreck and few can take their eyes off it. Thus, big news corporations have spent the past four years playing on the crowd’s bemusement while collecting fat advertising fees. As the Orange Clown diverts with gimmicks, hordes of pickpocketers feast on gullibility and work the audience. Every time they buy one of his many crate-full of snake-oil bottles, they unwittingly surrender their citizenship.
He cannot conceive of courage because he is a coward.‘ Retired Capt. Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, a pilot who in 2009 safely landed an airliner in NYC’s Hudson River and save all its 155 passengers, has had enough and is not going to take it anymore. His was the indignant response by a combat veteran to a draft dodger Continue reading

Not Human

Humanoids to Replace
Body Parts, Not Maids

Mankind’s ancient dream of creating automatons that can stand in for us, when our bodies no longer function properly, gets closer to reality every day. For instance, thanks to Research developed at Brown University, two-stroke victims, long unable to move or speak, managed to control a robotic arm solely with their minds.
The good news couldn’t come anytime sooner: around the same time, a Tokyo-based robotics team had announced the creation of a highly interactive, and disturbingly human-like, pair of buttocks, that responds to touch and stimuli. To be honest, the robotic butt got us thinking where on earth was this kind of research going.
In a way, it all comes full circle, you see. Humanoids capable of simulating emotions and be responsive to sound, sight, and touch, are ever more likely to become part of our daily life, especially if it’s up to Japanese engineers. They’re on track to develop beings whose extreme similitude to us may actually frighten us. Perhaps we’re not too far from the Blade Runner-class of nightmarish dystopias we once believed we were – what, no flying cars yet?
At the same time, albeit running in a parallel track, research on artificial intelligence and nanotechnology is also well advanced. The natural convergence of these two fields does suggest that reality is tracking closely the visions that Sci-Fi authors had conceived long ago.
To be sure, what’s been studied at Brown diverge fundamentally from research on androids, even though they both follow the same principle: to emulate the human ability to combine thought-processing with physical acts. At one point, their cyber-organically engineered eyes are bound to flick a sudden flash and wake them up to self-awareness.

But whereas at Brown, the practical applications are already evident, the objectives of research into the development of humanoid robots lack clarity, for except in the case of slave labor, is hard to imagine why would anyone need a robot around the house.
Thousands of stroke victims, on the other hand, specially Locked-In Syndrome sufferers, when the body is unresponsive while the brain is still fully functional, could benefit from implants that would allow them to control objects with their minds.
Then again, scientific exploration should not be conditioned to predetermined goals. Much of the technology we benefit from in our daily routines was not necessarily developed, at least not initially, to accomplish the function it eventually wound up serving.
Thus this post being brief and fun since we’re talking about machines that someday, rather than doing our housework for us (more)

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* Man Made
* Tomorrow Never Knows
* Second Variety

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Curtain Raiser

Don’t Watch it From the Shadows, Colltalers

The Democratic Convention brought comfort and hope to part but not all of the party’s constituency. But the Republican one, held while protests raged against police brutality and white supremacists killed three (white) people in the ‘inner-city chaos‘ they see, was everything supporters wished it to be.
Meanwhile, the U.S. still tops the world with six million Covid-19 cases and near 190,000 deaths, California wildfires are burning an area larger than Delaware, and about 20 million Americans are unemployed. To the GOP, though, these are not a priority; only the consecration of Donald Trump is.
We’ll go back to the Democrats’ half-delivered message and to the Republican lying feast, but first, let’s ask once again, why almost as many have rallied in big cities against the use of masks as those denouncing the killing of Blacks and people of color? While the latter rebel against an unjust system that perpetuates itself, the former is an absurd, spoilt demand that could be called ‘Save the Virus,’ for it’s the only one to gain from it.
There’s no global vaccine – and mercifully, no anti-vaxxer to deal with – yet and despite the extraordinary efforts by some nations other than the U.S., the virus is alive and kicking. That’s why many doubt the sincerity of such rallies as they don’t make any sense given rising casualties and seem rather childish on their complaint about social restrictions. So, when do people fight against their own interests? When someone paid them for it, that’s when.
There’s no cynicism or intended irony though after China ordered the arrest last week of Lam Cheuk-ting, a Hong Kong lawmaker. He’s charged with publicizing on social media a 2019 subway attack on activists returning from a pro-Democracy rally by an unidentified group wearing white T-shirts and armed with clubs. Along Continue reading

Earworm Frenemies

When Humming a Dopey Tune
Throws You Into a Mad Loop

A song stuck in the head is akin to Tickle Torture: a lethal pleasure with a level of agony measured in riffs and laughter. Both are hard to take seriously until the feather strikes, or the loop starts. I don’t know about torture, but I could be easily killed by a lovely song.
It’s called Earworm for a reason, but again, its power is deceiving, compared to, say, a spider literally stuck in the canal. Even more so if the song is, well, lovely. But we all know that’s bull; once that beat gets pounding, it’s either dance to it or jump off the roof.
No way around it, the clickable bunch below is mostly preposterous. Maybe not to you, who may’ve heard them on your friend’s wake playlist. But they’ve spoiled the weather, and drove me to that parapet many a day, right to the moment when, suddenly, they were gone.
And yet, they carved, wormed if you would, a deep, warm burrow inside me, that when I’m free from their spell, I may dwell into a brief appreciation of their power. That is, right before I feel what ax murderers must feel whenever someone wishes them a nice day.
Studies and the Internet suggest solutions, strategies, and some comfort for the affliction. King among them is to start humming another tune, but that not always works: since lyrics often falter me, the words-and-music combo of loopy songs always reign supreme.
Here they are, with as much unvarnished commentary as a bad parent can offer of his children. Some notable performances, or impressive chart-climbing, explain nothing of their appeal, or nauseating side effects. No order, only hope it’s the last I hear of them but doubt it.
PINK LEMONADE – Peppermint Rainbow
It’s embarrassing to think that I was once captivated by this preppy-looking New England group of white kids, but that may have to do with their string quartet. Or The Beatles. It was 1968, after all. Even worse is to admit to searching for years, trying to locate this tune. Once I did, I was doomed. But Pink Lemonades, I do like them.
LOVE IS ALL – Malcolm Roberts
Song festivals were all the rage in Brazil of the 1960s, and when this unknown Brit won one, all big voice and arms widespread, some must’ve thought about a flash in the pan. Years later, I interviewed the nice chap, who went back to play much smaller venues. But my fave that year was, brace yourself, the ‘great’ Romuald, of Andorra.

Still in Brazil, RC was considered the king of rock during that time, but this corny song was what he did best. I Almost Went Looking For You shined for a few months, and then crashed down fast. But not before hooking me up for life. I still hum it on my mind, and once I start it, something inside stops working. The chorus, oh, that chorus.
This song may have split up the band for good, and I always hated it with a vengeance. But while I can listen to all their other ones, without tiring and never having enough, this one has probably played on my mind more than any other. Which crushes my soul. Every time. And you know what? it’s not a bad reggae. Actually, it is.

OH ME OH MY – B.J.Thomas
Hard to believe that Elvis felt threatened by this guy, but he did score a number of hits in the king’s backyard. For some reason, this one stuck with me, and I can’t even listen to the end of it. Actually, I don’t need it: just writing about it gets me going, all the way to the ‘my crazy babe’ part. To use a tired bromide, Sad.
IF – Bread
Two words that should’ve given it away, but millions fell for the cliche-ridden verses and saw-sounding guitar. Not that David Gates lacked talent, or a voice to melt housewives and secretaries alike. But after Telly Savalas talk-sang it to death, only Sinatra to finally bring (more)
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Curtain Raiser

All That We’ll Ever Need, Colltalers

Another week, another member of the Trump administration gets in trouble with the law. But Steve Bannon, the president’s former chief strategist who makes a living advising would-be despots, is arguably the greatest grifter to be caught. Given his influence, though, it’s unlike that he’s down and out.
130° F. That may’ve been the highest temperature ever recorded on Earth if it’s confirmed. The scorching heat in Death Valley, CA, was the opening salvo of yet another season in hell for the state, courtesy of the climate emergency. Wildfires and the deadly coronavirus: 2020 is not nearly done yet.
But before having another crack at those two headlines, let’s get going with the newest episode of poisoning in Russia suffered by a political opponent of Vladimir Putin. Despite his denials, the dissenting voice of Alexei Navalny was muted by strong symptoms of poisoning; he’s now in a coma em Germany, where he’d been flown to. He’s the sixth well-known foe of the Putin regime to suddenly experience a devastating, likely lethal intoxication.
Now, there’s a demonization of Russia spoused by most of the Western media, after it’s been reported that it did interfere in the 2016 election and may be at it again as we speak. Such heavy-handed coverage all but clouds facts and drive us to unwittingly fall prey to conspiracies, for lacking the tools to make the right call. Putin may deny it but these poisoning incidents, if Navalny’s indeed another one, have the clear purpose of silencing his critics.
The armed forces of Mali staged a coup d’etat Tuesday that ousted President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, in office since 2013. EcoWas, a group of West African nations, and the United Continue reading

The Aitch-Old File

Human Horns, a Hell of a Hornets’
Nest & the Holmdel Horn Antenna

With a letter as its leitmotif, there’s no telling where this post may lead us. Some people growing horns for years? Check. A hornet’s nest built around a wooden head? Check. We just weren’t expecting to learn about the cosmic microwave background radiation.
Or the raging argument over how to pronounce H in the English language. But how to get to new places if we only tell old stories? Thus here’s another post for librarians and archivists to hate; how are they supposed to file it under? Down the hatch?
But let’s get to this business of hating the haitch, as pronounced with the H of hot temper, instead of the fluidity of an amicable turn of the tongue, as writer David McKie would ardently prefer it. McKie himself has admitted, though, that the muscular way may have the winning hand.
Apparently, even the ‘haitchers,’ he notes, pronounce the letter as an Aitch when it sits between two indifferent words, but it’s doubtful that anyone is willing to concede doing so intentionally. Still, the last word should be granted to Roy Blount Jr. who took it to another level.
For who’d have the elegance of thinking about a letter near as invisible as H and call it ‘apt for trouble in nightclubs and service in Iraq?’ But if the debate seems too byzantine, you may take it to Effinghan Wilson who published Henry Hon‘s whole little tome on the letter.
You wouldn’t find much about it on Wikipedia, though. Suffice to mention that, however his kin may feel about that now, The Hornet did note in Wilson’s 1868 obituary, that his firm was ‘known throughout the world as one of the foremost houses in the publishing trade.

When white Anglo-Saxon protestants use the self-celebratory acronym to define their disappearing species, the notion that a highly resilient insect, with a powerful venom and a wing-battered soundtrack to match it, can be even remotely compared to them is at best, laughable, and at worst, deeply insulting. To the bugs, of course.
Wasps, after all, are colorful, diverse, independent and capable of great beauty. Well, if you think about the pain that both groups can inflict, perhaps. But the comparison should stop even before that annoyingly preppy brand of self-serving individualists walks into the sunset. Could mass extinction be appropriate? Not for the bugs, please.
Another thing hornets are masters, and Wasps are not, is the art of papermaking.  No other species cultivate such a complex relationship with the flora like them. From the pulp made of pure, selected pieces of wood fiber, curated from an array of sources in your backyard, if you have one, all the way to the exquisite labyrinthine contraptions that served as their dwelling, their lifework is outstanding.
The example above, for all the pretty freakish aspects to it, perfectly capable of scaring the bejeezus out of the most intrepid garden spider, Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

The Cheater’s Playbook, Colltalers

A deceptive Middle East diplomatic agreement has shed some light on what the president is willing to do to get reelected. Sold as a peace accord, it’s in fact a coalition of Israel, the Arab Emirates, and the U.S. to put Iran on notice. If a Covid-19 vaccine won’t work, an Iranian blast could come in handy.
The first-ever virtual Democratic Convention starts today to deliver its strategy to block the White House and the GOP from preventing people from voting them out. It’ll also name Joe Biden for U.S. President and Kamala Harris, the first Black and Asian woman in a presidential ticket, for his VP.
With 78 days before the election, headlines may be dictated by these and other related themes. But let’s begin today with a class of profiteer directly related to people’s misery: health insurers. The pandemic has killed over 170,000 Americans, probably more, but your plan may cost more, thank you.
You may no longer afford it – and still owe for that 10-minute doctor’s visit last March – but top U.S. insurers’ profits doubled in the second quarter compared to the same period last year. They’ll certainly be joined in record-topping earnings by big pharma when a vaccine becomes available. Even if it’s under-tested, useless, or downright dangerous, shareholders and the Trump administration will cash in their investments either way. But not us.
Healthcare coverage in the U.S. was a failure way before the coronavirus scourge. Now it’s also helping the industry to pack billions in profits. That thousands are struggling and can’t spare a dime on their health even if their lives depend on it, which they often do, are not a glitch but a feature of the system. In the richest nation in the world, don’t dare to fall sick unless you’re, say, a CEO of a healthcare corporation. Or work for the White House.
The aggravating factor, of course, is candidate Biden’s refusal to embrace Medicare for All. If the evidence is not enough, that the system is broken and the Obamacre Act has Continue reading

Scary Clowns

But What Is He
Building in There?

Psychopaths believe in a world of order, hierarchy, chains of command. They sit atop; everybody else is food. They’re not above a compliment if it comes from those who share a similar obsession for rituals and lethal games. But despise those they consider prey.
Donald Trump is not a psychopath. He’s a dangerous buffoon, but short of his bounty, won’t last a minute among beasts. Minions at his disposal make him high, but as a predator, he’s like a hyena: rather than mastering the killing hunt, he’d hide and steal the lion’s catch.
Unsavory creatures crave attention but shun the spotlight. While the orange clown works the crowd, an army of crafty shadows pick pockets. Let a raging fool bark, and his unhinged white noise will provide cover to hungry wolves, sinking fangs on flesh and bones of unaware but admiring hordes.
Germans once picked a psychopathic mass murderer to lead them out of chaos; Nero slaughtered his way to Roman power. But neither soaked their hands in blood alone. Amoral commanders love medals and insignias, but worse monsters dwell in the gallows, wearing no uniform or masks.
Naked rulers are always troubling, but watch out for those who lurk in the background. Many a once-proud nation fell under the spell of mad kings and deranged dictators. But it was their enablers who carried out the wreckage of millions of lives left on their wake.
Spoiled child or a wretched demon, worse than Trump is the nutty platoon behind him, holding the launching buttons of U.S. nukes. Statistically, every outfit has a psychopath or two in its midst. But unlike serials about serial killers, no one knows how it all ends (more)
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* Nasty People
* Out to Get You
* Faulty Towers
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Curtain Raiser

Notes on a Planned Failure, Colltalers

When the first American caught Covid-19 in Jan., there’d been plenty of warnings from China to the WHO. But the world was not worried because the U.S. had top epidemiologists and detailed pandemic playbooks to guide us through the crisis. America would lead and save the day as it’d done before.
Instead, it ‘leads’ the world but in cases, over five million, and logic-defying health polices. Everything the Trump administration has done contradicted what we’ve learned in a hundred years of knowledge and public health practices. Puzzling, though, Americans are not quite fired up with indignation.
In fact, one wonders if the Black Lives Matter movement wasn’t already on the streets, people would be even up in arms protesting. In Israel, Bolivia, Lebanon, Russia, and other nations led by authoritarian regimes, citizens are confronting their leaders’ self-serving attempts to cover up the tragedy.
The BLM unrest hasn’t let up either, but its fight against racial prejudice and police violence has been hijacked at times by other pressure points of popular dissatisfaction. It must not lose its clarity but it’ll have to welcome those hurt by Trump’s neglect. All the way to the polling pols of Nov. 3.
For at close to 20 million cases worldwide, Covid-19 has become the darkest horse running against democracy all around. Since it’s still rising and a safe vaccine is at least months away, it’s already exposing the sheer incompetence of some political leaders and leading to multiple, violent rallies.
We’ll come back to that right after checking what else is news. And it turns out, plenty. Starting by the month-long marches in Israel against four-time Prime Minister Netanyahu’s policies, a position he fought charges of bribery and corruption, and three election cycles in one year in order to keep it.
It’s a sight for sore eyes for those who don’t get how come 64% of well-educated Israel’s 18 to 34-year olds identify themselves as right-wing. They’ve been major P.M. supporters Continue reading

The Hiroshima Cloud

Weary World Marks
a Somber Anniversary

Within a minute, the world would be changed forever. Life ended instantly for 80,000 and would be cut short for twice as many in just a few months. Worst of all was the fear that, for the first time in history, mankind could easily destroy itself, a fear that ushered the Cold War.
From Japan to the U.S., from Germany to Brazil, and all corners in between, millions are joining in to renew vows against the still untamable power of the split atom, even in its limited ‘pacific’ uses. But along with tragedy, the nuclear age has also produced heroes and redemption tales.
At 8:15am local time, the Enola Gay dropped its terrible load, perversely named the Little Boy, over the Japanese city of Hiroshima, after what its inhabitants may have thought was just another air raid siren, alerting for American bombers flying overhead. It wasn’t, or rather, it was way more than that.
Three days later, the Fat Man, another gun-type uranium device, destroyed Nagasaki, the final act of a two-punch strike that, for apologists, broke Japan’s imperial ambitions in the Pacific, and effectively ended World War II. Or so goes the official narrative.
What the mushroom clouds actually ignited was the arms race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, which at few crucial moments almost came to a civilization-ending blow, and a new era of unimaginable terror for all other nations, impotent to stop the two superpowers from acting like the world’s overlords.
But it’s also helped breed a new crop of pacifists who made us understand the risks of having the planet’s fate to rest on so few, and highly belligerent, hands. It’s their activism and courage that have granted the world a reprieve and prevented other cities from being destroyed like those two. For what they don’t have as a personal memory they have as hope for the future.

First, there were the survivors. Even though most of them died within a few years of the explosions, thousands of citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki took upon themselves to show the world what such power really is capable of. As they perished from radiation and other diseases, their legacy passed on.
Soon after, even former Japanese combatants joined in, convinced that they had been part of a war that had no winners on that particular front. The bomb’s destructive power caused many despicable (More)
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* Bloody Throes
* Nukes for Nuts
* Nuking the Future

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Curtain Raiser

Guts to Not Repeat the Past, Colltalers

A sample of four of the biggest threats to the survival of humanity highlights the week ahead: a virus nearing 20 million cases worldwide; the faltering democracy in the world’s strongest nation; a mild but still powerful hurricane; and the sobering 75th anniversary of Hiroshima’s atomic bombing.
Plagues, oppression, climate change, and nuclear power are of course what makes these apparently unrelated events relevant as we’re helpless against any of them. It’s been sheer luck that they’re yet to strike us all at the same time. But it’s getting closer to it and if they do, we’re certainly doomed.
More on that later, but first, Asia’s monsoon season is up to a particularly nasty start and a quarter of Bangladesh is already flooded, with millions left homeless as per reports. Millions more have been dispossessed in China, in torrential, climate change-boosted rainfalls. Monsoons are known for ages but were never as deadly as in the past 30 years. Sad then that, unless we address the climate emergency, all we can do is wait for the water to recede.
Speaking of China, it again did something while no one was looking: it postponed Hong Kong’s September elections that a moribund pro-Democracy movement was counting on to remain breathing. Officially, it was COVID-19 but if you believe that, we’ve got a 2008 Beijing Olympics ticket to sell you. Which does not justify Sec. of Sycophancy Mike Pompeo’s warmongering threats, since his boss wishes and may still do just that in the U.S.
Another piece of scary news comes from Germany, where an underground militia was just uncovered. It had elaborate plans with artillery to match for taking over the government with a Nazi 0.2 regime. Politicians and members of law enforcement were involved in a sort of echo of what’s happening in America, including the police involvement. Even scarier is to think of a present-day Axis, with the U.S. and maybe Russia replacing Italy and Japan.
That’s as good as any a moment to mention the Anti-Fascist movement, born in the 1920s to fight the rise of Benito Mussolini in Italy, and later, Hitler in Germany, and the Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Riding Out the Storm, Colltalers

150,000 Covid-19 deaths; paramilitary forces kidnapping activists; steps curbing minority voting. What’s going on in the U.S. has been alarming. But to Trump believers and the Republicans, all is fine. For he’d promised, ‘We’ll determine the course of America and the world for many years to come.’
But despite a still-rising number of cases worldwide, the European Union for instance is managing to flatten the contagion curve while passing a new stimulus package to help workers and safely reopen their economies. That surely gives Trump’s inaugural speech a dark, contrasting shade, doesn’t it?
If anything, the virus has exposed the contrast between the pandemic response by actual or soon-to-be restrictive regimes, and countries more focused on preserving their democratic ways. It’s a difference that shows how nations led by repressive leaders, China, India, Brazil, Russia, are facing growing resistance and social turmoil, while others have experienced mostly a tragic disruption of their way of life but are still engaged in keeping people safe.
China, which had a strategy in place for the novel coronavirus and followed scientific procedures to control it, couldn’t help itself though, taking the opportunity to crush dissent in Hong Kong. Similar to India, which has been using the virus spread to raid minority communities and arrest dissidents.
For Brazil’s Bolsonaro, four times is apparently a charm: after three positives, he now says he’s tested negative for the virus. For the other 210 million Brazilians, however, it has been an awful escalade of deaths – the second highest in the world, with over 87,000 obits – and despair. As the president is not interested in supporting a stimulus package for a crisis that up to a few weeks ago he denied it even existed, the poor has no way to turn for help.
Except, well, to organized crime, which has been fulfilling the role of local governments and providing minimal aid for people. For a price, of course. Drug and weapon gangs operating in shantytowns are known to dispense exacting policies to those under their aegis and require a pathological, Trump-like style of loyalty. Amazon communities though have no such ‘luxury,’ and the virus has been reported navigating freely through the Amazon river.
There’s a surprisingly robust anti-Putin movement in Russia’s far east region with thousands protesting the arrest of governor Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Lives Making Ours Better, Colltalers

Record COVID-19 cases and no federal action to reverse them show that President Trump’s mind is elsewhere: reelection. But with falling polls, many say he may not leave the White House if he loses. Law enforcement and the military won’t go along with that, but his new, unmarked police force may.
As Black Lives Matter strikes nationally today, after months of protests against racism and police brutality, it’s fitting that two giants of the 1960s’ civil rights struggle, Rep. John Lewis and Rev. C.T. Vivian, passed away on the same Friday. Both have made this world better than when they came to it.
Let’s start the news roundup with the imminent danger of annihilation faced by Brazil’s indigenous peoples due to rampant coronavirus infection rates. President Bolsonaro’s just vetoed legislation that would support heavily affected native communities in the Amazon. Under pressure from corporations and investors, the administration had enacted a bill temporarily banning forest fires but it still refuses to address the seriousness of the pandemic.
A ‘stillborn decree,’ calls it Dinaman Tuxá, coordinator of Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples Articulation, about an act seen as largely ineffective for lacking funding to be enforced. Over 500 natives have died from the virus out of an estimated 15 thousand cases, Tuxá told Mesa Para Seis, a virtual panel with journalists. Over two million Brazilians – and Bolsonaro – have COVID-19, the second-highest number after the U.S.’ near four million cases.
Something else became apparent in the tragically incompetent response to the pandemic by the most powerful country in the world, closely echoed by Brazil, India, and Russia: apart from the fact that most of their misery is of their own making, they’re all regimes ruled by autocrats solely focused on self-preservation. While these nations still call themselves democracies, they’re heading to institutional authoritarianism. So many more will perish.
But don’t count on nature to offer us a reprieve from the climate emergency, while we sort out petty issues related to intellectual property of medicines. A Global Carbon Project Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

A Trail of Tears Haunts Us, Colltalers

It’s now frighteningly easy to predict the COVID-19’s expansion. With the U.S. set to reach 3.5 million cases, and Brazil, two million and counting – the two top spreaders have no discernible health strategy to slow it down – worldwide cases may reach 14 million next week. Will they change? Nah.
Not even if Trump gets sick, as Bolsonaro and many members of their inner circle did. There’s no pro-democracy movement in Brazil, as Hong Kong had, and in the U.S., the Supreme Court just wrapped its ‘full of sound and fury, signifying‘ well, little term. So the president pardoned another crook.
To begin unpacking this chock-full of news week – you’d be surprised – let’s get to the issue affecting most nations around the world: when should kids go back to school? Many leaders have detailed plans to proceed in stages, along with testing and tracing for new cases, while social distance measures are to remain in place. Some countries have also enviable public policies for child care and health coverage so it all can be orchestrated accordingly.
Not the U.S., of course, and neither Brazil, as it’s clear their leaders’ rule number one is to self preserve by any means necessary. They’re not just quickly becoming global pariahs but their policies have the potential to encourage other far-right would-be despots to seize more power on the slight.
India and Russia, the two following coronavirus record-holders, have reportedly close to a million cases each, even though knowing what’s really going on in any of these four nations is a game of educated guesses. The bottom line is countries with virtually half of all cases have no school plan at all. In families struggling to remain above the poverty line, no classes also mean less time to earn income, and worse, no school meals available for the kids.
In the U.S., as daily cases of infections are beating all-time records, the president is bullying schools to open, threatening to suspend federal funds if they don’t. It’s not hard to know why: Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

The Sad Disparity Among Us, Colltalers

Psst, hear that? It’s the frightening silence of China crushing Hong Kong’s bones of democracy. Now there’s a second generation of young Chinese to mourn the missing opportunity for regime change. Not that it was ever in their hands. Would this have happened if the West cared just a little about it?
As if 12 million cases, over 500 thousand obits, and vaccine research still far from trials were not enough, here comes the greed of big pharma not to help us but profit from it all. Gilead has priced its COVID-19 drug, Remdesivir, which is not even a cure at $3,120 per treatment. And ‘experts’ like it.
Throughout the U.S., Black Lives Matter protests continue, even if in a subdued way. But as the movement decides its next steps – may we suggest start working for getting a new president at the White House? – gratuitous police confrontations and despicable acts by white supremacists are still on the rise. Rewards from the top can be significant: the St. Louis couple who pointed loaded guns at peaceful marchers got a tweet from the president.
But in Seattle, it again went too far when a car drove through a police barrier on Saturday hitting a crowd and killing Summer Taylor. The hard-to-watch video, as many to come out lately about police brutality against African-Americans, doesn’t show that the 24-year-old BLM supporter was actually white but it doesn’t matter. Hate towards people of color includes their allies. (In case you’re wondering, we won’t name these criminals here).
The fact that black Americans amount to 12.3% of the U.S. population and yet just in 2020 have already been killed 105 times out of 506 fatal police shootings, according to business platform Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Rulings and Reparations, Colltalers

The scary but thoroughly expected explosion of new COVID-19 cases in the world has a common cause, the rush to restart economic activity even if people are dying as a result of it, and a disheartening realization: the coronavirus is now an integral part of our near future. But a vaccine may not be.
Meanwhile, constitutional decisions in Israel, Hong Kong, and Russia may further erode human rights and the ability of democracy to truly represent people. That’s why the Black Lives Matter uprising has been so crucial exposing the racist complacency of American society. Now, to reparations?
But let’s start with the proposed settlements of lawsuits brought up against Bayer and Johnson & Johnson over two of their cancer-causing products. Bayer offered $10.9 billion to settle 75% of 125,000 cases against its subsidiary Monsanto’s weedkiller Roundup. And J&J agreed to pay $2.1 billion in damages for people who got cancer from using its asbestos-suffused talc product. As noted, other lawsuits against the same products will continue.
Don’t get too impressed with the amounts, though, or expect either company to give up or stop pushing those products to impoverished communities and minorities. Even as lawyers have been already paid millions, corporations always try to slash the compensation awarded to its harmed customers.
Furthermore, in the case of Bayer, it’s had the help of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to whom Roundup does not cause cancer, despite all evidence. And J&J, which like Bayer has issued statements supporting the BLM movement, is working hard to deny the allegations. They shouldn’t, people died Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

A Confederacy of Dunces, Colltalers

As long as you keep a person down, you cannot soar. It’s fitting to paraphrase the great Marian Anderson to mark yet another fervid week of protests in America, for black lives lost and re-energized. Nearing the first act’s end, we cannot yet soar. But ours will be a better country by heeding to this struggle.
Despite a brutal push back, racists and xenophobes sustained big blows to their hegemony, as the Supreme Court refused to endorse deporting citizens born here from foreign parents, and supported rights of working LGBTQ people. Would a favorable ruling on abortion be next? Don’t hold your breath.
The world, however, is not helping much as we hit nine million COVID-19 cases, two million in the U.S. and a million in Brazil, the title holders of a ‘confederacy of malefic dunces,’ as an exhausted nurse put it to a sympathetic bodega audience. There and here, as more choose to ignore the reality, the coronavirus keeps its neck-breaking rate of contagion. Half a million lost their lives to it and many will never have one worth living after this.
The protests have been revealing to Americans, in what the majority is now fully behind the Black Lives Matter movement, appalled by police caught on camera murdering black people. Starting of course with the excruciating killing of George Floyd on Memorial Day, which ignited the current unrest.
They displayed a scarily heavily-armed police force acting as the army they are not, ready to steamroll peaceful protesters in the reassurance they won’t be held accountable for their crimes. Well, they now are, and the whole institution of law enforcement was put on notice with calls to defund the police and/or simply, dismantling it. Starting with the Minneapolis cops who killed Floyd and those who’ve tried giving the guilty cover under their badge.
Protests also highlighted the indiscriminate use of tear gas, a so-called ‘safe’ weapon of mass control that nonetheless is banned from the battlefield and has caused permanent injuries to many a peaceful city marcher. An Amnesty study found that its global Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

The Making of a New Day, Colltalers

It’s clear by now that the administration doesn’t care about people. Massive worldwide protests against racism and murder of African-American George Floyd by the police, and eight million COVID-19 cases, are not as important to Trump as the economy. And now, cops killed Rayshard Brooks too.
Many say that Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro closely follows the U.S. president but there’s one big difference: he’s not up to reelection. Thus, besides a threat of a coup, he’s free to pursue his deranged denial of almost a million coronavirus cases and the unforgivable killing of the Rainforest and its natives.
We’ll be back to these two intertwined topics but first, let us have our usual world roundup. Starting with some good Middle East news, as Israel’s High Court canceled the Regulation law that’d retroactively legalize settlements built on Palestinian land. But the ruling may as well be symbolic; on July 1, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will bring up to vote the law for the annexation of West Bank, which may render this and other rulings irrelevant.
Speaking of Israel, Europe’s Court of Human Rights sided up with pro-Palestinian activists convicted of campaigning for the BDS movement, which seeks to condition support to the Israeli government according to its treatment of Palestinians. The non-violent movement has found resonance around the world, from civil rights to peace in the Middle East organizations. But not from Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who spoke against it.
On Saturday, Ilyac Halaq, an autistic Palestinian with a ‘Black Lives Matter’ banner, was killed by the Israeli police. His death happened in the context of traditional Palestinian support to African-American causes. According to black liberation activist and scholar Angela Davis, commonalities of their struggle and alliance reach far back to the 1960s when Palestinians led the international pressure to free Davis, jailed on unproven murder charges.
Also on the good side is the spontaneous Twitter movement of women in Turkey who are switching genders of misogynistic assumptions and making the Turkish society rethink its view of feminism in the process. But don’t let the humor of Tweets such as, ‘I’m a modern woman, so I help my husband with housework,’ or, ‘Men should be chaste. They should not laugh out loud in public,’ fool you: it’s gotten a powerful response. And of course, threats.
A note of solidarity to the heroic Navajo people in New Mexico who are facing yet another devastating battle. Besides being one of the world’s worst-affected communities by COVID-19, they’re also waging an unfair battle against the U.S. Land Management Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Stop the U.S. of Lyncherdom, Colltalers

Get your knees off our necks.‘ The eloquence of Rev. Al Sharpton’s eulogy of George Floyd, choked to death by a white Minneapolis police officer on Memorial Day, was appropriate to match the public horror about his death. Hundreds of thousands across the U.S. and the world marched in protest.
The massive 11-day rallies are not only a response to the horrifying 8:46min video of Floyd’s killing but also a demand for change, redress, renewal of our tenets as human beings. Not surprisingly, the police behaved badly all along, arresting and beating people up. So now there’s talk of defunding it.
The crowd also paid respects to Breonna Taylor, whose 27th birthday was Friday, and countless of young black lives cut short by police brutality and cruel social inequality now reigning in the U.S. Breonna, an African-American medical technician, was shot by police at her own home in the middle of the night, mistaken by someone already in custody. And then there are all the people of color who face daily the wrath of white supremacists.
The grief also brings up our desperate need to comprehend the magnitude of what’s happening for 400 years. The toxic legacy of slavery boils up again about the disproportional number of COVID-19 fatalities among minorities, biased laws, overcrowded jails, prison-for-profit, police unions, restitution, and, yes, police defunding. In four decades, wages, safety nets, health, and education budgets got all savagely slashed. But not the funding for security.
American police forces today act like armies and there’s always a tragedy in the wake of their street deployments. And a crucial reason for such status quo is rarely mentioned in the same sentence, or articles about it: defense budgets. If city and state budgets prioritize police over community building and other badly needed social reforms, it’s almost redundant to remind everyone that the U.S. military budget surpasses entire groups of nations.
That includes billions of dollars allocated yearly to weapon makers, military equipment suppliers, intelligence, and especially, defense contractors, the expression that replaced the word ‘mercenary’ in the crooked lexicon of Pentagon insiders. Now, these Continue reading

Elvis Karaoke

Lonesome King Wins
a Night in Koreatown

I’d spent the whole day with that song playing on my mind. But had no idea that I’d wind up singing it late at night to a room full of Koreans. It was fun, but let’s be clear: it was not the highlight of my life.
The disclaimer is apropos of a coda that my wife always finds a way of inserting, whenever the story pops up at family and friend gatherings. Which, I must quickly add, it’s hardly ever mentioned anyway.
She says it with a sweet smile insulating the blade of her tart tirade. A certain imagined past she swears by I’m still stuck at, can be squeezed out of it, like blood from a surgical scrub. In my defense, I invoke happier times that I’ve spent on stage, to no avail.
For that usually happens only later. No matter how many times I get stung by the putdown, I can never think of an equally sharp rebuff to throw back at her. There, in just four brief paragraphs, I’ve given you all the wonders of married life, warts and all.
There had been a few bar stops before we wandered into this splashing island of colored lights at the heart of Koreatown. In a city full of towns, one can hit Africa and Latin America, skip Europe, and duck right into a dive out of Seoul.
Back in my waiting tables days, I’ve worked for James, a friendly chap whose real name I wouldn’t dare to pronounce. He was the one to educate me on the nocturnal habits of single Koreans, once they’re in a striking mood for finding mates.
Guys sit on one side, and girls on the other, and the waiter is the go-between. You like that gal? tell the waiter and, for a tip, he’ll deliver your message to her. Which may be a flower, a fancy drink, or an entire bottle of Scotch for her and her giggling friends.
Hey, I could do that, I thought, for a moment forgetting that with my looks, I’d never make it as far as the frame of the front door. But couples do get together and fall in love, their secrets safe with the go-betweens. And the tips are outstanding too, I’m told.
Give it a few years, and some of those guys and gals are hitting the karaoke bars, after work. Overtired and thirsty, it’s unreal how well Billy, from Payroll, and Janet, from Receivables, can duet a Whitney Houston tune into a late-night epic apotheosis.
Stats may exist somewhere, about what are the most popular songs, and artists, karaoke enthusiasts prefer, but I suspect that none in the top 10 list is among my favorites. Celine Dion comes to mind. A few-octaves-lower Maria Carey. The theme from Ghost.
Lack of scientific method never stopped the Internet: some lucky keystrokes and voilá, dozens of sites pop up, with popular karaoke lists. And best fits for when you’re drunk. Or throwing a birthday. Or simply out, lonely, searching for a new hit.

Which was probably not what Daisuke Inoue had in mind when he created the machine. It made him famous, but not rich: he’s still not credited as its creator and doesn’t seem to mind. Karaoke exists in its own space and time, and the usual rules hardly apply.
In my book, Elvis is perfect for just such a space and time: his catalog is immense, full of wild rocks and mid-tempos and high-octane semi-standards, and there’s no risk of playing a bigger ass than the 1970s Las Vegas version, or rather, a pastiche of his.
Of course, I grew up with the best and the worst (more)
Read Also:
* Long Live
* The Man Behind the King
* Album Art
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Curtain Raiser

We Do Not Lack Conviction, Colltalers

All the suffering COVID-19 has caused – over six million cases worldwide and close to 400,000 dead – almost pales in comparison with what the 200-year-old open wound of racism has exacted upon people of color in the U.S. Even if they’re also the majority of the virus’ victims. Yup, it’s on again.
The explosion of protests that erupted over the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, knee-chocked to death by a white police officer caught on camera is not only absolutely justified but has now a troubling component too: white supremacists disguised as allies inciting violence and looting.
It’s been hard to focus but did you hear that? It’s the silence about what should’ve been major news: Hong Kong and its struggle with its motherland’s crushing hug. The Trump administration rushed to help Beijing again by revoking H.K.’s special status, a colonial relic that allowed Communist China to do business with the West. No one needs that now. As for the violent repression and persecution of pro-democracy activists, there’s now just silence.
Another one? hunger. Actually, the threat of child starvation, not in remote African villages or war-ravaged Yemen, Gaza, and Syria, all caused at some level by one-sided U.S. foreign policies, but here in America. Be it for the temporary lockdown, as school lunches are often the only meal millions of American children eat daily, draconian cuts in the welfare support systems, or downright neglect by the administration, the fact is, hunger is growing.
Study after study has shown that what was already a disturbing trend, that of academic scores getting lower as food availability becomes scarcer, may become a catastrophe of its own. Given that most data was collected before the crisis forced 40 million to file for unemployment benefits, the potential negative impact of childhood hunger on the future is obvious. Worse, it also exposes how the world’s richest nation treats and feeds its own children.
And Brazil, a sentimental favorite never so riddled with political dysfunction as now. As it’s crossed the half-a-million mark of COVID-19 cases, President Bolsonaro stuck to his ‘little flu’ Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Don’t Let it Happen, Colltalers

Norma McCorvey never meant to be part of an American cultural landmark, the 1973 Roe v Wade Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion in the U.S. Then she switched sides and became a ‘pro-lifer’ activist. But in her deathbed she confessed that she did it for the money. The Evangelical money.
China thought the tragic COVID-19 diversion was perfect to crush Hong Kong pro-democracy movement. Instead, it turned the world against it and fueled President Trump’s conspiracy claims blaming it for the virus and for all he hasn’t done about it. Also, Hongkongers won’t take it lying down.
Not to sound spoiled, but let’s face it, we’re not doing too well. With close to 5.5 million cases worldwide, the coronavirus pandemic is still expanding albeit at a slower rate in some places, and according to epidemiologists we’re still at least a year from a vaccine if one can be developed for this virus.
You’ve seen the numbers, with the U.S.’ unquestionable ‘leadership’ in cases and fatalities, and now Brazil in second place. Numbers may jump again in the coming weeks as U.S. states start to reopen for business and nations that have ‘flatten the curve’ of contagion set to fire up their economic engines.
The rhetoric for some governments to get it all going again, before any semblance of a coordinated global effort is in place, stands at odds with what most citizens think they should be doing instead. But the emergent authoritarianism currently dominant around the world has no place for dissent. Just now, the U.S. threatens to cut funds of the World Health Organization, the very entity that for 70 years has been dealing with this kind of global crisis.
As for Brazil, which seven years ago had the sixth-largest world economy and now is mired in political turmoil and subjugated by the coronavirus, its 360,000 cases may not include the devastation of Amazon indigenous communities. It’s also out of luck with Jair Bolsonaro who’s seen raging in a vulgarity-laced (in-person, mask optional) cabinet meeting viral video against governors, Continue reading


Good Evening, I’m Chip
Fortuna. God’s Off Today

Legendary sportscaster and political commentator Chip Fortuna, who died 60 years ago today, belonged to the golden era of journalistic expression, one devoid of fears of embarrassing powers that be and unbound by the politically correct.
Controversial he was and would often emerge from his well-publicized brawls bruised and execrated by his own peers. Dopes, he’d mutter. A maverick, he could always come out with the perfect quip to ultimately vindicate his position.
A perfect fit for the expression larger than life, many a time he was described as a combo of Ernest Hemingway and James Cagney, and hard-boiled was another expression that was probably created to define his sheer manliness.
There was no half measure to Chip. He could be as viciously cruel, especially when drunk – his operating mode – and unabashed loyal, evidenced by the many potshots he took defending his friends.
Despite his large 6’3″ frame, he could be nimble at tango and a charmer with the ladies. He did well as a war correspondent, becoming fluent in six languages and learning to curse in seven others.
Not a bad banjo player either, according to contemporary Django Reinhardt. But since he detested boasting about anything, no list of celebrity friends will follow, lest not mistreat Chip any more than peacetime has already.
A wolf of another age, it’s easy to imagine his displeasure with the comforts of the modern era. Nonetheless, he would’ve been impressed by the many new ways people invented to justify not moving a muscle to change the world.
For at heart, he was an idealist who’d do no better alive today, than his outdated habit of calling woman dames, and Asians, Orientals; well


Good evening, I’m Chip Fortuna,

* stepping in for god, who’s playing softball for charity at Rikers Island.
 * substituting for god, who got arrested last night. Cops hate the you-know-whom-you’re-talking-to routine.
* doing it for god, who’s in bed, with a migraine and some cough. Don’t worry, I gave him soup and some aspirin.
subbing out for god, who’s locked his keys inside the car. I told him he’s not having mine.
* standing in for god, who’s running a marathon, you know, for the kids.
replacing god, who’s refused to come out of his room today. He must apologize to Aunt Eve; she’s very hurt.
* filling in for god, who’s home nursing a shiner. He got into a fight with a guy claiming to be Jesus at the local soup kitchen.
stepping in for god, who’s taking the cat to the vet. Tough job because they hate each other’s guts.
* substituting god, who’s visiting grandma upstate. She’s doing time for armed robbery.
doing it for god, who’s at home all day waiting for the cable guy. The damned box never worked properly.
* subbing out for god, who’s banned on the air for as long as he keeps screaming his hair is blond. His pubic hair.
standing in for god, who simply can’t handle it today. You people…
* replacing god, who’s gone to the DMV. They’d taken his license away years ago for DWUI.
filling in for god, who got arrested again, last night, for exposing himself on the subway.
* stepping in for god, who’s having some memory issues. Last night, he couldn’t remember who he was.
substituting for god, who got caught partying at a motel with some teens. I need to pick him up downtown.
* doing it for god, who’s making some dough shooting pool at Billy’s.
subbing out for god, who was fired after some child porn was found stashed in his cabinet files.
* standing in for god, who’s skipped town and is on the lam. Watch out, he’s armed and may be dangerous.


at least he’d never call them broads and once punched a guy in Chinatown for using a slur against a florist.
Chip took along with him the now obsolete concept of doing something nice for someone just for the kicks of it. In any case, he’d get quickly deranged by so many flukes and grandstanding phonies babbling around all the time.
A carnivore who suddenly became a vegan before the word was even invented, the reason he gave for the change put to shame many a Christian preacher: for the animals, he chuckled, unconcerned (more)
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* Before Afterlife
* Final Cut
* Out to Get You

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Curtain Raiser

When Leaders Play With Matches, Colltalers

Daily acts of courage, altruism, and compassion by common people have been overwhelming on the Internet. But none has come from Trump, Xi, Putin, Bolsonaro, or others alike. Would it be fair to expect that the three billion-plus under their rule are ready to kick them out of office? Hardly.
The toll of having the coronavirus on the hunt; a continuous flow of lies and false promises; and the staggering pace of deaths of people of color, the elderly, and indigenous natives has caused yet another dark side of the crisis: depression. By the way, Antarctica’s biggest iceberg just broke off. Again.
There have been devastating times in our history before. But none had a combination of too many nuclear bombs, a terminal climate emergency, and the resurgence of lethal viruses to haunt us. As democratic institutions are attacked by many, even those benefitting from them, manipulated by leaders with a book of matches at hand, there comes to mind the acuity of a popular line in a comic book hero: ‘some men just want to watch the world burn.’
But whereas in fiction heroes catch the bad guys to exact revenge, in real life, flesh-and-bone heroes run to tend to the victims left behind from the explosion. They can’t wear capes; in fact, they chronically lack protective gear but still they go, for life wouldn’t be acceptable to them if they wouldn’t. While we’re busy mourning loved Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

The Killing of Native Sons, Colltalers

No matter the national event or moment: a virus killing thousands or a rogue government with no competence or decency: in America, racism is never far away from anything else. COVID-19 should be a glaring example, but there had to be a cold-blooded execution of a black man in the mix too.
‘Skyrocketed.’ That’s what happened to deforestation of Brazil’s Amazon between Jan. and April, according to a Greenpeace analysis. While President Bolsonaro got busy dismissing the coronavirus, the razing of indigenous lands increased by 59%, raising fears of fatal contamination and genocide.
But let’s start with the grim task of reporting the tragic, broad-daylight ‘lynching’ of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old stalked and shotgunned to death in February, while jogging outside Brunswick, Georgia. The father-son duo of murderers was known by local police but hadn’t been charged until now.
That’s because the video of the execution surfaced last week, and while the elder killer has been arrested, neither his son nor the friend who captured it on camera has been so far. The case reminded us of the late Trayvon Martin, another black youth murdered eight years ago, who’d also be 25 now.
Even as the killings of black young men by police or white supremacists, or a combination of both as in this case, is so terribly frequent, just as mass shootings of any kind, it never ceases to devastate us. Their brutality and banality of their killers’ obsession convulse our guts deep down to near exploding our hearts and minds over it. Why? Not why they do it and mostly get away with it, but why we accept living in a society that allows that?
As if the profoundly unfair toll of this pandemic hasn’t been enough to shock us all, for its crushing majority of casualties among people of color. A preliminary study by Amfar, an AIDS research group, found that despite one in five counties nationally is black, representing only 35% of Americans, they account for nearly half of COVID-19 cases and 58% of deaths. As of Sunday, there were 1.35 million U.S. cases with over 80 thousand deaths. Factors such as Continue reading

A Shot of Quarantine

What Are We All Doing
Behind Those Windows?

We’ve seen them all: the outstanding online performances, the eerily empty cities, the constant wailing of sirens. We saw the long food lines and the vigil of families outside hospitals. We didn’t have to but we watched it anyway when a couple broke social distancing and had outdoor sex on a dirty rooftop.
But let’s imagine some of the other things people do mostly behind windows and balconies. But not everything, for St. Fauci’s sake. Just simple queries, like, are they cleaning or having wild dreams? stuffing themselves or Pilate-ing? Gardening naked anyone? Feeling envious of people with nicer, safer masks?
To quarantine and be under lockdown may have now similar meaning but they used to be separate things. Yes, one could be always quarantined for virus exposure, but usually in a medical facility. Astronauts go through an isolated time upon returning from space. And animals still go through a hell of cold cages when plane traveling.
The lockdown is the prison-like part of that compounded meaning. But don’t compare it with the real thing, especially in the U.S., with its largest incarcerated population in the world. If anybody should be let out is them. Now, if someone still doesn’t get it, tell them about prison toilet etiquette. Or how to talk through one.
But either way, we’re in this predicament for an imperative: to stop the spreading that’s killing thousands every day. Humans, we want to get out and away from it all. Beaches? picnics in public parks? public performances? We love them. But to have them reopened now, would reset the high rates of contagion back to January.

There are now hundreds of sites with tips about what to do with your time. Play games, they say. Binge on movies and series (but not the news, apparently). Read. Meditate. Do Yoga. Cut your own hair. Mend a sock or ‘try yodeling through an open window’ as the Swiss Embassy in the U.K. just recommended in a list.
People are having wild dreams too and for that, there are already many articles explaining why. We can’t say anything bad about catching up on sleep, so it’s all good. Others are finding lost mementos while cleaning. And there are those who, of course, don’t want and don’t plan to do a damned thing right now. Or ever.
That’s good too. To hell with overachievers who only enjoy breaks if they can squeeze yet another hundred-page long accounting report. Then again, that should be a bother to no one but their mates. Which is another thing being reported often: who are these monsters living here and what did they do with my family?

People do crack up and suddenly turn into beasts. Domestic violence is no fiction and it’s spreading out too. Compared to the evil that humans do to each other, some, er, peculiar habits, or little character flaws, which seem to fester in these times, can be mostly managed. Smoking for instance. Just don’t do it here.
Naturism can’t be considered disturbing anymore. Kudos to a kind of society that doesn’t place a premium on physical beauty even if it doesn’t attract any either. And let’s face, picturing the president naked in the White House is way more offensive. So if you have a garden, by all means, tend to it. Clothing optional.
As for masks, they’re now an essential accessory to go out. Some are even making their own, and it’s all peachy. Even if there’s a little, tiny, itsy bit of envy directed at those who can flaunt (more)
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* Wash Up
* Downtime
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Curtain Raiser

Solidarity Is a Loaded Gun, Colltalers

How to measure a tragedy? by length? global reach? number of casualties? Heading to 70.000 deaths, the U.S. already passed the near 59 thousand American lives lost in Vietnam. The war that left America with PTSD ended 45 years ago last Thursday. Vietnam has reported no COVID-19 deaths.
Calamity also brings up strong feelings for those who’ve experienced it on a personal level. For instance, victims of mass shootings, a preventable social disease. Canada took a step in that direction by banning some assault weapons. Which are mostly purchased in the U.S. and may all return to it.
Let’s leave those heady words ending in Y behind for a moment and take a look at what else is news. Remember the glorious four-time World Cup U.S. Women’s Soccer Team, which had filed a suit against the federation for being paid less than the men’s team? Well, a federal judge dismissed their case.
The ruling found no Equal Pay Act violation, even though they were, in fact, paid less than their less brilliant male counterparts. Hero and all-around awesome person Megan Rapinoe scored another one of her defiant, beautiful goals when she tweeted, ‘We will never stop fighting for EQUALITY.’
Two traditional, community-building, utmost essential American institutions are under threat of being extinguished and that has little to do with the coronavirus crisis: the Postal Service, and restaurants in general. Yes, the tragedy has worsened everything but the former has had long-term foes, eager to privatize it and turn a civil right older than the Constitution into a for-profit cash cow. They’ve been trying for years and this time, they may get it.
Unlike false assumptions capitalized by the president and the Republican Party, the Post Office is not funded by taxpayers; it survives strictly on its own. And despite all bell and whistles advertised for the Internet, that in the future everyone would have access to it, the mail-carrying agency is often the only game in town for citizens to connect. It’d do much better if it could offer banking services too, but heaven forbid if the FDIC would allow it.
It allowed the end of the separation between commercial and investment banking, the root cause of the 2008 catastrophic financial collapse. That, in turn, cost Americans billions Continue reading

Life Inside

Odd Animals & the House
Cats Who Caught a Virus

Now for something completely different. An unknown number of unknown species go extinct every year but there are still plenty to go gaga about the natural world. A 150ft stringlike creature, likely the longest in the ocean? Check. A bug that smells like spring? Check. A ‘nano’ animal that can survive outer space? Check, again.
But I know what you’re thinking: not, ‘what’s with the siphonophore, the springtail, or the tardigrade. No siree, what you wanna know is what the hell is up with those cats? Indeed, many more odd-looking beings sit out there, either to be found or missed, but we’d go to war to keep our Internet Cats Home Improvement Goals.
‘I-ching,’ for short. You know, the science that studies how cats keep us all under their spell, refuse to do a single thing you ask and are known for always landing on their feet. Who would never be on those homecoming videos where humans play god and are welcomed by their slobberingly loving pets. You may’ve won the war but to your cat, it’s, so what?
Or in Cat World we’re all dogs: we sit mesmerized for hours, startled at times, very afraid in others, but ultimately ready to serve and do whatever may appease them. It rarely does. But even as cats seem brutally aware of our flaws and pointless lives, some humans do live to worship them. Just don’t call them ‘chingers.’
Which brings us to those stringlike, buggy, and piggish-looking creatures. There’s no cult dedicated to them nor they set the standard for coolness. But their very existence shows why humans love felines. Who are not above having dopes like Joe Exotic jumping on their bandwagon but let’s not get into all that crap just yet.

The siphonophore lives in deep waters and its relatives have been snaking their way beneath waves for over half a billion years. The specimen captured on camera off Western Australia was a whopping 45m long, which yes, it’s longer (but not as relatable as) the majestic Big Blue. As it turns out, though, neither it needs to be.
For starters, it’s not one but a colony of predators among 175 species. It’s also luminescent and related to one of the oceans’ fiercest, the Portuguese man-of-war. It may look the part but similarities stop there. After all, it’s hard to beat the glamour of a carnivore with a notorious sting and a tentacle stretched back into the Discovery Age.

More U.F.O.-like than medusa, you may bet your goggles nevertheless that the Apulemia uvaria caught on video has its own charms. We just don’t know how do they work, and whether some of its (more)
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Curtain Raiser

Of Failing Leaders & Stardust, Colltalers

Rumors North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, who acts like a king, is dead and will be replaced by his next of kin, sister Kim Yo-jong, haven’t been confirmed yet. But as China, North Korea’s ‘sponsor,’ is expected to handle the situation, no new world order will be established. The future will still be redacted.
Down South America way, turmoil in Brazil reached a feverish pitch, as Minister of Justice Sergio Moro quit, opening a gash on the already porous Jair Bolsonaro administration. The corrupt judge who played a national hero until his illegal deeds were caught, is the latest to jump the sinking ship.
‘Is there a way we can do something like that by injection (of Lysol!) inside?’ It was the most irresponsible and staggeringly ignorant remark uttered by Trump, the world’s most dangerous president. And that on a long, extensive, exhausting list of risky, absolutely non-sensical, self-serving statements. Obviously, calls to poison centers and medical facilities flooded the hotlines with members of his constituency, to whom everything he says is the law, nervously inquiring about the right dosage for their president-prescribed COVID-19 treatment. No, not one has died of it yet, but since when that’s the standard to which we should hold the president accountable for his words? Even Republicans, concerned about their own jobs, acted as if startled.
Don’t believe it for a minute, though. As we approach three million coronavirus cases worldwide, of which almost a third are in the U.S., and over 200 thousand deaths, again, with more than a quarter being Americans, don’t expect there won’t be another outrageous briefing, broadcast live, with some other set of criminally-uninformed statements. Insulated by the GOP and an army of sycophants, our only shot at shutting him down is in November.
If there will be one. Joe Biden, a presidential candidate who believes he can unseat the president from the couch of his basement, fears the elections may be postponed. Gee, who’d have thought Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Racism Is a Deadlier Virus, Colltalers

We’re free but not equal,’ says civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson. He sees the coronavirus as a ‘reality check’ that exposes a disproportionately high rate of COVID-19 infections and death in black and brown communities. That’s not a glitch but a feature of race relations in America, circa 2020.
The world’s largest marine oil spill happened 10 years ago today. The lasting impact of the explosion of Deepwater Horizon’s rig and Trump’s plans to allow drilling in pristine areas will certainly dampen any cheerful mood for the week’s other environmental news, the 50th anniversary of Earth’s Day.
But let’s start by the phony controversy of the week, that of whether to open or not the economy and when. It should be a non-issue whenever there’s no exact account of infections, treatment is not reliable, and no one knows when a vaccine will be available. That is, in the U.S. and most nations. Not to the Trump administration and other far-right regimes around the world, though. They’re set to reopen for business even if kills even more people.
From an initial outrageous statement, that he had the ‘ultimate authority’ to cancel the nationwide lockdown, to a more tactical, constitutional backstep, since it’s up to state governments, not him, to decide, the events are already set in motion. Soon enough we should see some business almost-as-usual along with an inevitable spike in new cases and deaths. Ultimately, no one won the tug of war between Washington and the states, but everybody loses.
The U.S. president, a strict constitutionalist – not really – has already despatched his minions to put up ‘protests’ against the lockdown in the only way he sees fit: by carrying slogans and targeting officials with calls for ‘lock him/her up.’ Plus, by crowding streets that should be traffic-free for first responders, deluded ralliers are in fact endangering even more lives. That’s what ‘state TV’ Fox News won’t show in their round-the-clock coverage.
Don’t bother trying to understand why people whose own lives and those of their loved ones – assuming that they have some – are in mortal risk would willingly support corporate views Continue reading

The Commuter’s Thrill

A Pictorial Travelogue of 
a Fatigued Hand for Hire

Commuting freezes time the same way traveling can extend it. But while staring at fast-moving surroundings can hold the anticipation of wherever one’s is heading to or not, the destination is not really the point of commuting. It’s just getting there and back in time and still in one piece.
So you update your reading, bite your bagel, finish your coffee. Or most likely, fall asleep. Traveling short distances repeatedly has a numbing effect on the mind. Most never get to the sports section. But whether time’s wasted, or enhanced, commuting may offer you a whole lot of things – except the option to abbreviate it.
It’s a way of cutting through a million life stories happening outside your window, that you can’t or won’t care to attend, either because most last just a few seconds, or are simply not that interesting. Commuting is a lesson on indifference about the world around us.

Yet, a lot of us spend an obscene amount of time committed to it, squeezed into it, unmoved by it, back and forth, day in, day out. Like Sisyphus, we keep pushing that hard rock of a day towards the top of the mountain for as long as it’s required. Until someone else takes over and we’re no longer needed. That’s no joyful occasion either.

Being on a set schedule also breeds an odd wish from deep within that still sleepy mind of yours: that nothing ever happens to it. You’d rather not talk, hate if someone sits close and, knock on wood, dread the possibility a maniac lurks on the loose, or a faulty track lays ahead.

So you default to this limbo where you hold the alertness of a ninja with the moroseness of a deranged monk, ready to spring into (more)
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Curtain Raisers

Beauty That Still Remains, Colltalers

In February, most people here and abroad suspect it; by March, they were sure this was already a tragedy. Now, COVID-19 has killed near two million worldwide, 22,000 just in record-holder U.S., and it’s evident who else also knew it all along: the president. Many told him about it but he ignored them.
As more black and brown people catch the lethal virus, though, the conversation’s shifted: not so much about how this crisis reflects income inequality but when to reopen the economy. Never mind that it may cause a deadly reoccurrence; the established media will latch on this topic the whole week.
It’s the absolutely wrong thing to focus on right now but when did that stop this administration from going ahead and perpetrating another avoidable blunder? Some 2,000 are dying every day in the U.S., there’s no widespread testing or sign of a vaccine, and we don’t even know when it’ll strike next. But the people who dismissed this threat when they’d a chance to stop it, and kept denying it for over a month, now want to make that fatal decision.
The half-full version of any scourge is how some rise to the occasion, usually followed by a technological leap that lands us on the other side with a better outlook in life. The half-empty one sees an epidemy as an opportunity for leaders to tighten up their grip on power. To hold contradictory visions within one’s mind is Ok but while being half-full is grounds for a cheer, leaders trying to seize even more power is something worth fighting against.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet. The past week, all hopes that the U.S. presidential election would represent a change of pace toward a more humanitarian, progressive even direction were dashed. Bernie Sanders has bowed out and Joe Biden is the Democratic presumptive candidate.
It was a contest that started unusual and promising, with lots of diversity candidates, several women to break the glass ceiling, and great debates on issues crucial to the well being Continue reading

Disposal Economics

When Public Executions
Were the Crowd’s Delight

Immortality is one of those dreams that would turn into a nightmare if it’d ever become reality. Even without the proverbial zombies roaming the earth, we still need desperately to die on a regular basis.
Not pretty, for sure, but a vow of support to all blessed forms of natural death, the economics of crime and punishment, and the ecology of making sure we dispose properly of the bodies of those who passed on.
According to the Annals of Improbable Research, modern forms of execution went through considerable changes until reaching the efficiency and swiftness of contemporary death rows. Or so that was the plan. Such evolution also reflects changes in our footprint on the planet.
Thus, if ancient Hebrews, living in barren lands, executed people by stoning, Arabs in nearby deserts used a sword to decapitate them. Impaling was an ancient and popular method, and the Romanian Prince Vlad III, likely to have inspired the myth of the Dracula, was an avid adopter. Turks preferred metal spears, but in most of Asia and the Tropics, bamboo was the preferred method to exact justice. To each its own horror theater.

Arguably, few could beat crucifixion as a public spectacle, though. It was the Roman way, and Jesus, its cèlebre poster boy. It even had an opening act where the condemned had to drag his own wooden crossbar to the site of the execution to the crowds’ delight. Romans could be cruel but not free of ecological concerns, though.
They saw how wasteful the method was – not of blood and guts, which there were plenty to go around – but of trees. And soon, an alternative was devised. They’d bend and tie with ropes two trees, and have the arms and legs of the doomed attached on each of them. Then the ropes would be cut, for a clean, quick end, with no waste of timber.
In Medieval Europe, the auto-de-fé, i.e., to burn alive at the stake, was the sanctioned method of execution. It killed Joana D’Arca and countless others, accused of heresy, witchcraft, and other peccadillos.

In the 18th century, a new method made people literally lose their heads over it, and became forever associated with the French Revolution: the guillotine. It replaced the sword executioner and it killed thousands but it could not slay two popular beliefs: it was not invented by Joseph Guillotin and it did not kill him either.
It never caught on in North America, where hanging was the preferred way. Still, forest depletion was a constant concern, so with the Civil War, death by firing squad was a more economical alternative.
With the added convenience of serving to execute more than one person at a time. As we mentioned before, (more)
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Curtain Raiser

Adopt a Healthcare Worker, Colltalers

The oil industry ‘moved with breathtaking speed‘ to seize the moment, says respected environmentalist Bill McKibben about the outbreak. And so did the whole fossil-fuel complex and their Congress acolytes. And Big Plastic. And an entire cottage conspiracy net that’s freaking out people to death.
But no matter how billionaires may trivialize it, a million of anything is a lot. This threshold of coronavirus cases in the world was vanquished, with no signs of relenting. And yet, it’s Trump’s knuckle-headed decisions, the breakdowns, and vile profiteers what really is making it all much worse.
Some Americans may think they’ve got the answer for the crisis: to buy another gun. Either incentivized by far-right radio talkshow hosts, or by that insane rationale that they’d be able to go to war with the world’s most powerful army, people are lining up to get ‘ready’ for a dystopic future that could come about exactly as a result of their thoughtless behavior. Wanna bet how many feet of distancing they stand from each other in those lines? Don’t.
COVID-19, the respiratory infection caused by the new coronavirus, has lodged some impressive records, and that’s without counting victims or even cataloging the businesses that may have to fold for good. It’s been hard, for instance, to imagine a rebirth for the restaurant industry, which has been plagued for ages by labor violations, wage theft, waste, and plain, old-fashioned corruption. Servers, cooks, and kitchen help are out of luck.
Since the 1980s, the U.S. has moved from manufacturing hub to a finance and services-driven economy, and by a record of technological invention. The latter is hardly true now as brainpower required for scientific breakthroughs comes from access to higher education and smart immigration.
As a result, most of the 13 million-plus restaurant and bar workers are out of jobs they most likely won’t be able to return to. Part of the relief package passed by Congress last week was supposed to provide immediate help to them, the small-business owners employing them, and to countless little eateries that contribute Continue reading

Museums of Something Else

Looking for Van Gogh
in a Roomful of Clicks

You’re about to fulfill a lifelong dream: getting up close with your favorite masterpiece. This painting’s haunted your memories for years, and it’s now about to make living in this city all the worthier. But when you’re finally ready for its close up, your reverie suffers a low blow.
Between you and the frame, a phone-picture-taking crowd is busy, turning your dream into a blurry background to their selfies. Miffed, you swear never to come back again. Which brings us to today’s offering: museums are important, but don’t have to suck. Here’s why.
As depositories of humanity’s cultural and artistic achievements, museums have been incomparable. Often the sole local well of knowledge, they anchor communities around a shared past. No wonder they’re also useful for tyrants to stake a claim into the future.
Besides displaying disturbing mementos of our brutal heritage, and the vanquished civilizations we’ve helped destroy, these warehouses of memory and fractured narratives also face crushing competition of the present day’s increasing obsession with accessibility.
Round-the-clock knowledge at one’s fingertips is rendering irrelevant the need for an actual physical place to house art and the past. But the Internet has the potential to turn voyeurism into something intimate and personal, in ways that museums seem to be faltering at.
We’re not ready to give up on them just yet, though; just pointing to alternatives that may enhance their mission. Read and click on the illustrations to open up new possibilities. It may soothe your soul and give you a healthy reason to skip that rude crowd this weekend.

For a place displaying death-inspiring art objects in its galleries, and housed next to a cemetery, the possibility of sudden demise should be never too far. But since its 1990 inception, the Museum of Mourning Art has thrived, even if it had to auction some of its artifacts to survive.
It sits next to Arlington Cemetery (no, not that Arlington), Philadelphia, and it did have to close briefly, while it sold some items. But unlike its neighbors, it’s bound to come back to life, and in line with Americans’ peculiar taste for anything related to the departed.
Its art focus is distinct from similarly lugubrious institutions such as New Orleans’ Museum of Death, Houston-based National Museum of Funeral History, and New York’s Morbid Anatomy Museum. Step into these places for a glance of what’s literally coming next.

For an unfortunately brief time, New York had its throbbing pulse measured by art. The pop-up Museum of Feelings mixed ‘social media and real-time data from local news, weather reports, flight delays’ and even the Stock Exchange, and translated them into colors.
It was the kind of tactile, refreshing experience traditional museums have to avoid these days, lest not give ideas to deranged minds. It’s now limited by the Web, but it still suggests an alternate reality (more)
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Curtain Raiser

Don’t Die to Save the Dow, Colltalers

Here’s Trump’s America: the world’s biggest climate-denying nation, with the largest prison population and a stellar healthcare system, of course. Also of note about this paradise are its 3.3 million-strong unemployment claims. Good thing Congress just signed a $500 billion relief bill. To corporations.
The world is in lockdown with more confined people than those alive during WWII. Numbers are staggering and bound to increase. But that sort of stats and its big numbers are mind-boggling: good for shocking headlines and little else. There are more important lessons to be learned from this all.
But first, our usual news roundup even as most seems to be either related to the new plague or to the catastrophic leadership of some top world leaders. Following the nefarious sway of the U.S. president, who called the virus a hoax and is still lying and misinforming the American people, many were caught flat-footed and are now behind the curve. Thus, there’s no global coordinated strategy and each country is doing its own thing. That is crazy.
The world spent 70 years signing agreements, forming alliances, and setting international organizations to protect dialog and peace, the food supply, labor and trade disputes, and the rule of law. Whether it succeeded is beside the point; Trump spent three and a half years cutting ties with allies and singing praises to tyrants. The ‘leader of the free world’ sowed distrust, threatened war, acted as a criminal brat while enriching himself and his family.
Even if Trump doesn’t get reelected in Nov. – which is as improbable almost as there will be an election in Nov., – the consequences of his acts will be felt for years. How will we survive in a world where China, Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Venezuela, Ecuador, the entire African continent, and allies such as Germany, France, Continue reading

Scary Night

A Great Ruckus on
Grand Concourse

I was called again to the precinct. It’s the second time this month. I’ve already told Willem that whenever he puts up that sort of stunt, not just me but everyone is affected. I don’t mind it myself, but after all, it’s 3 am and I’ve got patients to see tomorrow morning. But as usual, once out, he’ll likely walk away without listening to anybody.
I can’t bring myself to call his brother, because I know that he and his wife are going through a rough patch, and I don’t need to tell who’s the culprit for that. Their relationship took a hit from Williem’s behavior, showing up at all times, usually drunk, and asking for another loan.
No marriage can withstand that kind of interference. In our talks, I always try to drive home this point. At the end of the day, Theodorus is his only relative to not just care about him but also support him financially. Not so much for that, but without his brother, Willem would be done, couldn’t last another crisis.
As for crisis, well, there were so many that after all these years, I’d need to go over my notes to find out how many. On the other hand, I feel sympathy – not pity – for his plight, the demons he faces daily, the horrors that frighten him and prevent him from getting any sleep. This nightmare-induced insomnia only aggravates his state.
And then, of course, there’s his creative genius, his fury which cuts him off from everyone. To tell you the truth, he scares people away, especially when brandishing threateningly his brushes against the canvas. It’s his armory, to avoid getting hurt but go tell this to those he insulted and yelled at. They’re quite a bunch.

In the end, few get him. To them, his work is offensive, almost pornographic in its distorted colors and shapes. I understand; it’s not easy to appreciate his paintings for what they are, peasants, flowers, landscapes, and stars, but depicted through fouled traces and exacerbated emotions. They’d rather have romance, reassurance in art. Just between us, folks can be boring, but that’s just my opinion.


When we talk, his solitude always comes up. That’s when I truly feel sorry for him. Compassion, even, for no young gal, on her right mind, would put up with such a caustic personality, without being crushed. That’s why, despite the obvious risks to his health, I pretend I don’t mind his habit of sleeping with prostitutes.

For only angels like them can offer comfort and company to such an afflicted soul. At the same time, he’s always getting into trouble, fistfights and drunken stupors, let alone that he spends what he doesn’t have in those sinful nights. Willem has no sense of restraint and is absolutely oblivious to the concept of saving money to pay rent, or even food the following day.
Anyway, I’m here, waiting for Inspector Rolland, who at this point is an old ally. He’s been extremely patient but every time I come, I’m afraid that it’s the moment of rupture when he’ll finally throw the book at Willem. No wonder. He’s been through so much with his superiors, as he always lets such a ‘rowdy dopey,’ as they call him, walk without bail.
A few moments and Rolland brings him over. Disheveled, bloated, covered with the dirty blanket cops who arrested him had given him. This time, he was naked near the Reservoir, doing heaven knows what. I know he’s harmless, incapable of hurting a fly but would believe it?
That is, as long as you don’t pick a fight with him when he’s under the weather. But usually, he’s the kind that directs his anger against himself, which is sad. I’m always afraid of the worst. Thankfully, coming from him, I’m used to be prepared, sort of, and brought him a change of clothes; this is neither the first nor will be the last time that he strips in public.
To him, it’s not even ‘public,’ as in exposing himself. It’s more like an attempt to get himself rid of the chains he imagines (more)
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Curtain Raiser

Six Feet Apart, Not Under, Colltalers

The U.S. is far behind the coronavirus curve and, yes, the Trump administration is responsible for it. All headlines about COVID-19’s stunning spread are related to these two truths. No large scale testing is scheduled; no extra medical supplies will be provided; Americans are sitting ducks. Discuss.
And yet, elected officials have profiteered from the crisis just as Big Pharma and healthcare insurers surely will too. Keep that in mind as a depression approaches; when social justice is restored in this country, they shall be all accountable. Will American compassion have its own day to shine too?
The U.S. woke up this morning in a virtual shutdown. With unemployment set to break records and fatalities from the disease unfortunately set to skyrocket, Americans are doing their best to stay safe and together. But most don’t know whether they’re infected, or if there’s still time to be saved.
There’s such a gargantuan vacuum at the top leadership of this country that even billionaires with the muscle to move markets and create a path to solutions are confused and unarticulated. The same about the legions of healthcare and customer service workers thrown in the trenches of this battle with little more than a thermometer – don’t bother trying to get one; like face masks and rubbing alcohol, most retailers online or not don’t have them.
We’ll be back to that, but let’s first note China, whose brutal tactics to control the virus have finally reversed the curve. It kicked out the NYTimes, Washington Post, and Wall Street journalists in response to U.S. restrictions to its state-run news outlets. Yeah, bash reporters; that’ll teach them well.
On the other side of the spectrum, Cuba has stepped up to the plate and is offering medical and humanitarian help. Besides having developed a drug, Interferon alfa 2b, proven effective with dengue fever and HIV/AIDS, adopted by the Chinese medical Continue reading


Dirty Little Secrets
About Hand Washing

For at least a century now, it’s common knowledge that one of the essential conditions for good health is to wash your hands often. That’s still true in the age of sanitizers and nothing like the virus du jour to highlight that. It’s also when most people realize that six seconds under running water doesn’t clean anything.
The personal care industry makes billions every year but we still prioritize appearance, voice tone, timing, and a series of other silly parameters to gauge whether the person in front of us is friend or foe. And yet they could kill us with a handshake. No wonder the doctor who became obsessed with cleanliness lost his mind.
What’s curious is that a dweller of any modern metropolis does value showering daily or almost, and depending on education, brushing their teeth a least twice a day. Somehow the initial step, though, and despite the usual comforts of contemporary life, like indoor plumbing, taking the time to wash up is treated as a formality.

It’s hard to understand how come such a crucial habit fell through the cracks of culture. Or that we even survived to this age. The evidence clean hands do save lives is around for so long, just like soap, and in the big scheme of things, time spent washing up is negligible compared to other human activities.
And yet, here we are, with the coronavirus wreaking havoc those very activities on a global scale. The benefits of this simple habit to improve global health cannot be overestimated and neither can the growth of the soap and cosmetics industry during the same period. Human awareness though went the other way.
Hand sanitizers are an ultra-modern invention likely devised to quell germophobic anxieties and up to a few months ago, could be found at every counter of every food and retail places in America. It’s not so available anymore and for a while hoarders and mad-greedy merchants thought their price should be many times higher.
Amazon and other delivery companies – which by the way are making a killing – have stepped in to curb price gouging, but the initial widespread adoption of antibacterial soaps prompted a number of alarming studies about their long-term effects. That’s why the FDA banned Triclosan, despite industry efforts against it.
The current virus outbreak may potentially produce yet another unforeseen economic impact: to boost the moribund corn industry. A perennial recipient of government aid, corn depends on two factors for its commercial viability, subsidies and the fact corn syrup is now added to arguably 90% of American food. Thus the demand for corn-made alcohol is expected to spike.
But dirty habits die hard. Consider the study by late 2003 Ig Nobel Prize in Literature John Trinkaus of CUNY, published at the Annals of Improbable Research. It recorded public use of a hand-sanitizing station in the lobby of a teaching hospital, with heavy traffic of medical professionals, patients, and their relatives.
Of a total of 500 observations made, only three out of 108 healthcare practitioners stopped and used the station, which runs (more)
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Curtain Raiser

Taking Care of Each Other, Colltalers

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

Last Call

When You Eat As if
There’s No Tomorrow

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

Their Last Meal Plus
Your Food for Survival

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

Watch Out For Viral Excuses, Colltalers

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

Run for Cover

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

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

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

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Curtain Raiser

They Like the World As It Is, Colltalers

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

Curtain Raiser

Let Tomorrow Begin Today, Colltalers

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

Partial Recall

Memories of the Future, or    
What We Forget to Recollect

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

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

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

Unsung Heroes to the Rescue, Colltalers

We can’t change the world while ignoring Earth defenders in mortal danger for doing our bidding. The Wet’suwet’en nation blocking a gas pipeline, or Amazon warriors, or Mexican butterfly protectors faced police and hit squads but the media’s top week headline was the misleading ‘Trump Acquited.’
The coronavirus is spreading and so are China’s draconian containment measures, but coverage is about death tolls. Climate change-triggered fires and floods abound, the U.S. boosted its brutal immigration raids, racist chants disrupted two major soccer games. But little about the news-related activism.
One promising news this newsletter did miss last week: Ireland. So it goes that Brexit has unwittingly opened the gates to a potential revolution – and likely its sole good news – with the surprising win by Sinn Fein, the political arm of the Irish Revolutionary Army. Suddenly, Ireland’s reunification has re-entered the political lexicon. With Scotland also hot for independence, it’s the U.K. Commonwealth’s own future which is now hanging by a thread.
The possibility has revived old dreams of a stronger Ireland, while also soothing mourners of the Remain movement. They didn’t want any of this but now it actually sounds like a great way to get rid of the corrupted class that cheated and lied on its way to power, so to rebuild England for a new age.
The COVD-19 coronavirus ‘has a stronger ability to spread than the World Health Organization has estimated so far,’ according to researchers at Umeå University in Sweden. Their study considers its transmissibility at least equivalent to SARS, even as its lethality can’t be determined without reliable estimates of infection. There are officially 60,000 cases worldwide but their real number is likely higher than that. Oh, by the way, masks don’t work.
About that: as with any disease, misinformation and unproven methods of cure spread faster than contagion. There are types Continue reading

The Love You Make

For a new hiphood, today belongs to the past just as no-kissing on first dates, or asking parental permission to go out. Some may consider that too cynical but there’s now a big qualitative difference in results between Hallmark cards of yesteryear and their contemporary counterparts, dating apps. That is, at least in the short run.
Love is still as old as time and the fastest access to our best selves. But its meaning is secondary to all other reasons we seek each other’s company. Rather, it’s even arguable whether setting up a perfect Valentine’s Day will lead to passion, romance, or at least a pleasant night afterward. But please don’t call fools those who try.

Chocolate, Roses
& Bleeding Hearts

From the Catholic Church saints that named it to the Hallmark cards that oversell it, the holiday dedicated to lovers is a bonanza for restaurants and pubs in big cities around the world. It’s one of the hardest dates to book a table in any restaurant worth its napkins, and it’s very likely the saddest in bars and watering holes across the land.
Many people propose to their sweethearts on February 14 but no statistics confirm whether this is such a great idea. It’s a high-pressure time for lovers trying to impress their loved ones, and disappointment is always a possibility when stakes are so high.
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* Valentine Sway
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* Bad Valentiming
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If the police have any data on the number of crimes of passion committed on this date, they are not telling. In the end, there’s just one historical fact associated with it, and sorry, it’s not pretty: on February 14, 1929, Al Capone and his minions gunned down seven members of a rival gang, in what became the most reviled event of the Prohibition Era. And the now infamous Parkland, Florida’s Douglas High School massacre two years ago today.
It remains a fact, though, that regardless of the commercialism linked to Valentine’s Day, it does mark a tribute to the affection and romantic ideals lovers share and expect from their partners. Which means that, if you’re not impressed with anything mentioned above, you do deserve to spend the most perfect day with your soul mate. Enjoy it.